Sunday, December 16, 2012

The National Building Museum: A Brief History

So my friend Patricia pointed out in a comment how absolutely beautiful the National Building Museum is.

I know, right?  Totally gorgeous.  

The building was originally built in the 1880's to host Inaugural Balls and to serve as the offices of U.S. Pension Bureau.  Multi-tasking!   In the years following the Civil War, the U.S. Government paid Union Soldiers increasing amounts for their past services.  This building is where hundreds of Pension Bureau employees worked.  

I teach a program where 6th graders with no knowledge about the history of the building develop the visual vocabulary necessary to figure this out.  There are plenty of good architectural and ornamental  clues that help.  Also plaques.  This is a great example:  

There is a terracotta frieze of Civil War soldiers running along the entire building.  I wonder why?  Do you think this building had something to do with Civil War soldiers?  It's a really neat program, because the kids really learn to look at old buildings in a different way.

I'm also really fascinated with the architect who designed the building, Montgomery C. Meigs.
He was trained at West Point as an Engineer and served for many years as the U.S. Quartermaster General.  Meigs was responsible for Arlington National Cemetery, which he intentionally built ON ROBERT E. LEE's FRONT LAWN.  One of my favorite history facts right there.  Meigs and Lee had served together prior to the Civil War, and Meigs was personally offended at Lee's choices.  That's some good revenge there.  

Aside from the story of Arlington National Cemetery, Meigs was very good at his job.  He designed the Pension Bureau with ventilation holes in the lower floors and opening celestory windows, so air would float into the great hall, be heated, and then rise out of the building through the windows.  Originally, the air in the Great Hall circulated fully within 3 minutes.  That's amazing for the late 19th century!  Partially because of this feat, Pension Bureau employees took on average 5 less sick days each during the first year they moved into the building.  Amazing!  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Museum Teacher

It's been a long time.  I've been busy with school, and I know everyone understands what that's like.  I finished both finals for the semester yesterday. (yay!)  I still have projects and the comprehensive exam and work, but now I'm down to only one more semester in my academic career.  That fact is both exciting and a little terrifying.  I'm ready to be done, but I'm scared about how competitive this field is and how bad the economy is.  I know we're all in the same boat.  Sigh.

Anyway, one thing I really have enjoyed this semester is my job which happily continues through the school year.  I work at the National Building Museum as a museum teacher.

The National Building Museum looks like this:

How lucky am I that I get to work in a building that looks like this?  Very lucky. That's the answer.

I teach school groups, special events like home-school day, and birthday parties on the weekend.  Let's get this straight:  this job is really hard.  It's scary to get up in front of a group of kids, teachers, and parents you've never met and keep their attention and teach them something.  I'm not always very good at it.  I forget classroom management techniques.  I get nervous.  But I love it because it's hard.  And because it's fun.  And because it helps a new generation feel that museums aren't intimidating.  

I hope once I graduate I get to keep teaching in a cool historic place.  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Beautiful World: Metro Ferns

In certain places along the D.C. Metro lines, delicate maidenhair ferns grow.

Isn't that perfect?  There is poetry in the existence of frail green lace down in the industrial deep dark.    

Also, anyone have thoughts on the new layout? 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Public History: Summer Internship

At some point, maybe, I'll go back and write posts about all the things I did during the last two semesters.  As for right now, I'm doing something really exciting this summer and I'd like to tell you about it.  I have an education internship at this lovely place:
This is Tudor Place, the home of one of George Washington's step-granddaughters, Martha Parke Custis Peter.  The house was completed in 1816.  It is a striking example of Federal Period Neoclassical architecture.  This is the view from the Potomac side of the house.  The Peter family lived on the property from about 1805, when the property was purchased, until 1983.

The house is (mostly) not interpreted to one specific period.  Rather, it is decorated with objects and artwork that date throughout the 200 year range of occupancy.  That's how the Peter family decorated, so that's how the curators leave it.  This choice was made in part because the last owner, Armistead Peter III wrote a book in which he sat in each room of the house and described all that was in it and why as well as what happened in the rooms.  It's a great historical tool, a window into the six generations that lived here.   

I'm working for the education department running and developing programs for scout groups, school tours, private events, and summer camps.  It's been very fun so far.
I've learned to lead three main programs so far.  I became comfortable with "Storytime in the Garden" first.  In this program we lead children through the garden and teach them about the parts of plants and how they grow.  We even do plant yoga!

The next program, probably my favorite, is called "History Detectives."  In this program, kids are given flashcards featuring objects in the house that illustrate how household technology has changed over time.  The flashcards include the keys on a gasolier (gas-powered chandelier), 18th century call bells, a 1914 waffle iron, and a Franklin stove.  The children are encouraged to be detectives and spot those objects as we tour the house.  Once they find an object, we speculate about what it was used for and how it's different from what we use now. It’s a great program because you can really see kids figuring things out! 

I am also beginning to give adult house tours.  Those are fun as well, and I always learn something new from the questions guests ask.

Finally, for your enjoyment, here's a 1919 Pierce-Arrow roadster:

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Beautiful World: Star Fruit

This is a star fruit:
Star fruit are tasty, something like apple-grape-lemon-pear in flavor.  I know how to cut one properly (remove the veins running down the points) because my friend Christine taught me.  Christine learned how by watching a lady on a train in China cut one.  Isn't that neat?
I like the world, don't you?  Happy Memorial Day weekend everybody!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Beautiful World: Happy Easter

Happy Easter everyone!  No matter what today means to you, I hope it has been pleasant.  I hope it was filled with caring people and exhilaration for the future.

I thought today about how excited  I am for the summer.  It's the first summer in five years when I haven't had to move somewhere.  I'm not writing final papers and throwing things in boxes simultaneously.  That feels great.  I'm also getting to spend it, all of it, with my fantastic boyfriend.  Last but not least, I'll be doing an awesome internship for a local historic house.  Legitimate experience in the field of my choice feels good.  I can't wait!
P.S.  Does anyone know what this tree is called?  I love it.  One day, I want to plant one in my yard.  Or seven.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Beautiful World: Tenacious Violets

This spring is probably the most beautiful spring I have ever seen.  Just sayin'.  The East Coast knows its business.  There are flowers everywhere, even in between sidewalk bricks.  
Enjoy the spring lovely people!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Malcolm's Fourth Annual Birthday Sandwich

      Malcolm had a birthday last Saturday, and that means sandwich time!  Every year around his birthday I invent him a surprise sandwich.  Last year, I made Malcolm a salmon sandwich with caramelized red onions and a delicious ten-ingredient mayonnaise.    
      This year, I found a use for my new cast-iron skillet, and made a steak sandwich.  I could have cooked the steak a little less, it wasn't as medium-rare as I was shooting for, but it came out tasty anyway.
Malcolm's 4th Annual Birthday Sandwich
      The sandwich was composed of roasted garlic mayonaisse, sliced steak, arugula, roasted red peppers, red onions, cucumbers, and goat cheese.  At the bottom of the post I have step-by-step assembly instructions if you're interested.  
     True to form, the rest of the "picnic" consisted of grapefruit Izzes (which required an entire second trip to Whole Foods), delicious cocktails, Whole Foods spicy olives, chips, and deviled eggs. Somehow this has become the tradition.
Here's the birthday boy and the spread!
Beautiful new egg platter from Crate and Barrel!  I gave it to myself as a Christmas present
     M liked his sandwich very much.  I'm glad, because he had a rough day teaching; he needed a pick-me-up.  
Here's the test.  Does he like it?  He says: "Mmmmhmmm".  Success!
      Whew!  Another birthday handled successfully.  I've done an Italian chicken sandwich, an open-faced stuffed portobella mushroom sandwich, a salmon sandwich, and now a Greek inspired steak sandwich.  What do you think should come next year?   

~Assembly Instructions Follow~  
Step 1: Spread Mayonnaise on the bottom and goat cheese on the top.
Step 2: Add arugula.
Step 3: Add steak
Step 4: Add cucumbers
Step 5: Red onions and marinated red peppers
Step 6: Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Happy Spring!

It's the first day of spring!  It's time to stop and smell the roses.  Or hyacinths, whatever.
I always feel like this should be a national holiday.  After living in Los Angeles for a year, I really appreciate living in a place with real seasons. It feels like spring is special and it feels like I've earned it.  The flowering trees are all looking lovely and the bulbs are just finishing their bombast.
This is from the Enid A. Haupt Garden in front of the Smithsonian Castle.  It's looking just beautiful right now, and if you can visit, you very much should.
You should also visit the U.S. Botanic Garden.  Their Orchid Mystique: Nature's Triumph is ridiculous! So many flowering ethereal plants in one space.  It just doesn't feel real.
I'm continually amazed at the people who can get these plants to grow and flower.  It seems like magic to me.
Happy Spring!  Are you going to do anything in particular to celebrate?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Beautiful World: Cherry Blossoms

Washington D.C.'s cherry blossoms are a few days away from peak bloom.  They looked beautiful when my parents and I visited the Tidal Basin on March 15th.  This year marks the 100th anniversary of Japan's gift of the cherry trees to the United States.  According to some informative signage, 100 of those original trees are still growing.

True story:  sometimes the flowers grow right out of the tree's trunk!
Many thanks to my lovely model, my mom.
For more information about Washington's cherry trees or the National Cherry Blossom Festival, go here:  To see the feed from the Cherry Blossom Webcam, go here:
P.S.  Grad school is hard.  Sorry about that.  I'm baaaack! (Maybe)