Curator-led Tour of the Ocean Hall

Posted by barb on Mar 13, 2016 in Around DC, Recreation

Last year we bid on, and won, a curator-led tour of the Sant Ocean Hall at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum during the National Zoo‘s Zoofari auction. And, today, we got to cash in our prize.

We arrived at the museum early so that we could have some time in the exhibit before the “hordes” arrived. We met Dr. Nancy Knowlton, a coral reef marine biologist and Sant Chair of Marine Science.

She and I had emailed a bit beforehand, and she had asked what kinds of interests our group had, so she could concentrate on those with her tour. Since we had all been through the ocean hall before, I suggested that she choose some of her favorite objects or objects with an interesting story.

After signing us in, Dr. Knowlton brought us to the entrance of the Ocean Hall. She took us to several things around the exhibit and we asked loads of questions. This included talking about cuttlefish camouflage, the Science on a Sphere, the coral reef aquarium, and the P-T extinction event.

A couple of the most interesting things we talked about were the fluid that the specimens are displayed in, the life in one square foot exhibit, shifting baselines, ocean positivity, and our behind-the-scenes look at the collections.

We stopped to look at one of the giant squid specimens, and Dr. Knowlton talked about the fluid that it is stored in. Originally, such specimens were kept in formaldehyde or alcohol. But, formaldehyde is toxic and that much alcohol in one place could destroy the museum if there was an accident. 3M created a different solution that wouldn’t be as dangerous. However, it turns out the solution is about three times more dense than water. When they put the solution in with the specimens, the specimens floated right up to the top! So, if you look closely at the specimens on display, there are cables and poles keeping them in place.

Dr. Knowlton describing her work

Dr. Knowlton had a chance to tell us more about her research when she took us back to the Life in One Cubic Foot temporary exhibit. She had developed a way to repeatably test the diversity of coral reefs. To do this, they place a stack of metal plates that’s about a cubic foot in volume. After about a year, they pick the stack up and catalog the large life within it. Then they scrape off the rest of the life and make a “smoothie” that they then identify the various DNAs present to get a catalog of life that’s present. The photographer that was involved in this project was inspired to look at what other life is in one cubic foot elsewhere in the world. This exhibit showcases some of those cubic feet.

We stopped in the fossil area to take our picture with the ancient shark jaws – a shark that makes a great white look like a guppy.

Group photo of the ocean hall tour

Then Dr. Knowlton brought us to a new education center at the museum – a center where they have a selection of the collection in drawers that visitors can look at, handle (in some cases), and get more information about. She showed us some of the ocean specimens behind the scenes collections at the museum, laboratory.

Finally, she took us back behind-the-scenes. Most of the collections have been moved off-site, due to the dangers of keeping that much alcohol and formaldehyde in one place. However, there are still a few things on the premises – we saw a huge bank of cabinets which held various plant life. She also brought us down to the lab where graduate students and postdocs work on identifying DNA strands of various animals.

To make the day’s adventures complete, we stumbled upon the St. Patrick’s Day parade in DC when we left the museum (on our way to the National Art Gallery to see the Greek Bronzes exhibition), so we stopped to watch.

Pot 'o Gold in the St. Paddy's parade

Dancers in the St. Paddy's parade

Bikes in the St. Paddy's parade


Zoo Zoom 8k

Posted by barb on Nov 23, 2014 in Running


Sure, I completed a half marathon last weekend, so maybe I should have taken a week or two off from racing. But, I had wanted to do this race last year, but wasn’t able to, so I decided to go for it this year. I talked my friend Stef into doing it with me.

It was in the upper 30s when we got to the zoo — not the coldest I’ve run in, but not my first choice. Apparently it was in the teens last year, so we couldn’t complain too much. We tried to stay warm while waiting for the start.

Ready to race!

Here’s Stef crossing the start:
Go Stef, go!

I hung back a bit more, because I wanted to stay out of the way of the faster runners. The first part of the route went through Druid Park – near a lake, and the looping back to the zoo’s entrance.

Runners in the park

Andrew caught me near the zoo entrance:

Shortly after I hit the half-way mark, Stef was nearing the finish. (She used to race competitively…she tried to tell me how “slow” she would be in the race. She finished 7th in her age group, and pulled off 8:20 minute miles. Yeah…so slow!)

Stef nearing the finish

In Mile 3, the course plunged down a hill. I had fun running down the whole hill — my 30-30 intervals be damned! I knew I’d have to come back up it, walking, so I wanted to enjoy the downhill. I slogged up the hill, through part of the zoo, and into another uphill. But I knew the end was close.

I stopped to hug the penguin on the way to the finish.

Hugs for the penguin

Finish lin

Afterwards, we stuck around the zoo to say high to some of the animals.

Barb and the goats Stef and a new friend





Avengers Half Marathon

Posted by barb on Nov 16, 2014 in Running

Disney pulled me back in — I thought I was done with running half marathons, but then Disney goes and puts on an Avengers-themed race. (And a Star Wars-themed race, which I will also be doing in January.)

I started getting into the theme right away at the expo. Here I am with my new boyfriend:
Me and my new boyfriend

I stayed on East-Coast time, so getting up at 3:30 AM wasn’t TOO bad. I had flat Barb ready to go.
Flat Barb is ready

So I got up and ready in a flash.
Captain Barb ready to run

The hotel was fairly close to Disneyland (just across the street), so I walked over the start, dropped off my bag, and a that point the runners were being called to the corrals. There were lots of runners in costume all over. I loved this Tony Stark, playboy, though I can’t imaging running in a tux!
Tony Stark, playboy

Corral H, the last corral for those of us slow-pokes, was HUGE. It had more people in it than the first three combined (give or take). I made my way close to the front of the corral and seeing the rest of the people stream in over the next 30 minutes gave me hope that I’d have the extra time I needed to finish the race. I started chatting with a couple of other ladies – one of whom had followed me as I was threading my way through the people in the corral to get as close to the front as I could. It was their first half marathon, so I chatted about my experiences at my previous halfs, and I think it helped them feel a little better. If nothing else, it helped pass the time until we were able to move up to the start.

Start line

One thing I did this time that I forgot to do at Dumbo, was I enjoyed the course. I took the time to take in the sights and all of the other people in awesome costumes. Sure, I got into my own groove, focused on my intervals, and tried to keep up my pace, but I also remembered to look around. In particular, I remembered to look for the photographers, so I have a slew of decent race photos this time. (Though, I accidentally ordered them on CD, rather than as downloads, so I have to wait a couple weeks to get them.)

I didn’t stop much through the parks, but I had to grab a picture of the Haunted Mansion, all dressed up for the holidays.
Haunted Mansion dressed for the holidays

The parks took just the first 3 or so miles of the race. Once we got out of the park, it was much less crowded, making for easier running. But, around mile 5, the wind picked up. When I checked the weather later, we had been having gusts of 20-25 mph (!). Starting around Mile 5, many of the mile markers were down – we could see the clocks, but the rest of the signs were down.

The wind took out many mile markers

I kept up my running through the 6 mile mark, managing a negative 10k split. But then, the wind overtook me. Either that, or I had gone out too fast — my training maybe didn’t prepare me to keep up the pace I had initially set. I’m not sure which.

The other problem was that the course then turned onto the Santa Ana River Trail — a big dirt trail. Combined with the wind, it was hard to run. We were treated to the this street art, though:

Street art for the race

Around Mile 7-8, Disney had invited a cosplay club to cheer us on. I didn’t count how many were there, but it seemed like a lot. My favorite was Star Lord, who, sadly, I didn’t get a picture of.

Soon thereafter, we got to Angels Stadium. I remembered to enjoy this experience, which I’m not sure I did last time. Taking in the stands, and they had a marching band going on the field as we ran through.

Entering the stadium

I was excited when I passed Mile 10, because they tend to relax the sweep a bit at that point. Though, that was also when I noticed the pace bikes more and more, so I didn’t get too complacent. I was walking full time, but didn’t let myself slack.

The wind had not let up at all. There was a f–king tumbleweed rolling down the street. A TUMBLEWEED.

There was an f---ing tumbleweed!

I walked in the rest of the race, crossed the finish and got my medal. I managed not to cry after crossing the finish – that’s a first for me.

Finish line

The family reunion area was closed due to the wind, and I suspect they had taken down the backdrops for finisher photos (though maybe they didn’t have them to begin with??).

Turns out, I had a PR…by 8 seconds. Heh. Not much to write home about, but given the change in my training, I’m actually happy. This time around, I trained at a slower pace than my previous races. I think this strategy helped me avoid injury during training, but didn’t do anything for my confidence. I’m going to change up my training plan a bit for Star Wars, but I’m jumping into the middle of the plan, so I don’t want to do anything too radical.



Philadelphia – Day 5

Posted by barb on Sep 22, 2014 in Travels

We decided to see one last site in Philly before we drove home today – the Philadelphia Zoo.

Philadelphia Zoo

I wanted to go partly because they had an okapi there – one of my favorite animals &#150 but also because I’m just a sucker for zoos.

We found the giraffes.


And hippos.

Hippo shake

Andrew had a moment with the otters.

Andrew and the giant otter

The orangutans had sheets in their enclosure for some enrichment today. When we got there, one of the orangutans had her sheet on like a veil. Then she dropped that one and followed the other orangutan, who had a purple sheet. They both hid under that sheet for a few moments, then got up and walked off together, one holding the other’s shoulder. Very cute.

Orangutans huddled under a sheet

Orangutans ditching the sheet


One really cool thing this zoo had was what it calls “Zoo 360.” Essentially they have “tunnels” through parts of the zoo so that some of the animals can roam a bit further than their normal enclosures. I think they had it for some of the primates, but we experienced it in the big cat area. As we were walking through the exhibits, we saw a pair of clouded leopards meandering over us.

Zoo 360 - clouded leopards exlporing

And while we were having lunch, across from the big cats, a jaguar came over to see what was up. (It’s a little hard to see in this picture, but the “tunnel” was near the window of the cafe.) It happened that some of the zoo’s maintenance workers needed to get to something near the tunnel, so we watched them wait until the jaguar turned back around to a point where a zookeeper could close off the tunnel.

Zoo 360 - a jaguar visits near the cafe where we ate lunch

In the small mammal house, we saw the aardvarks sleeping together. Look at that belly!

Sleeping aardvarks

And, of course, we found the okapi!


We did take a moment to get a picture of the two of us.

Happy 10th Anniversary to Us!

Andrew and Me



Philadelphia – Day 4

Posted by barb on Sep 21, 2014 in Travels

One of the things Andrew and I have talked about seeing in Philly for a long time was the Mütter Museum. It’s one of the offbeat museums that we’re attracted to across the country, though a bit more legitimate (or at least more successful) than some of the others we’ve gone to (for example, the Dime Museum in Baltimore and the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices in Minnesota both closed a couple years after we had visited them).

Unfortunately, the M&uulm;tter doesn’t allow pictures inside the museum. Or maybe that’s fortunate. It’s a museum of medical curiosities, with loads of specimens collected through the 19th century. Andrew and I wandered on our own, taking in whatever interested each of us. At one point I passed him as I was walking into another room, and he just looked at me, shook his head, and said, “So much can go wrong.”

There was an extensive skull collection from a variety of people who died in a lot of different ways and with different ailments evidenced in their skulls. I was struck by the side-by-side skeletons of two women, one who had regularly worn a tightly-laced corset and one who did not – the damage to the ribcage was spectacular. Also noteworthy was the drawers full of things people have swallowed. Each drawer was labeled with things such as, “hardware,” “buttons,” “pins,” and “toys.”

[The Mütter Museum was free with our Philadelphia Pass, a $15 value.]

From there, we thought we might try to take in part of The Barnes Foundation Museum. However, when we got there, we found that they sold timed tickets, and the next entrance was a couple hours off. I didn’t really feel like waiting that long, especially since the museum would close just a couple hours after we got in, so we took a pass.

Instead, we hopped the hop-on-hop-off bus for the last time, and circled around the loop past the Philadelphia Art Museum where I snapped a few pictures from the bus.

Joan of Arc statue


We rode the bus almost to the end of their tour route and hopped off to see Elfreth’s Alley. This is the oldest continuously-inhabited residential neighborhood in the U.S.

Felicia at Elfreth’s Alley

Elfreth’s Alley selfie

From there, we weren’t too far from our hotel, so we walked back. On the way, I made us stop at the Besty Ross House gift shop to pick up a scrapbook kit I had seen there yesterday, but didn’t want to carry around all day. We also stopped at a comic book and game store, grabbing The Reef 2-player game that we played in our hotel when we got back.

Playing a new game

Final tally on the Philadelphia Pass?

Paid: $80 for a 3-day pass (which was an internet special that got us a 3-day pass for the price of a 2-day pass)

Which got us:

  • 3-day pass on the Big Bus Tour, $48 value
  • The Franklin Institute admission, $18.50 value
  • Betsy Ross House admission, $5 value
  • Eastern State Penitentiary admission, $14 value
  • Ghost Tour of Philadelphia, $17 value
  • Mütter Museum admission, $15 value

Grand total: $117.50

So, even at full price of $100, the 3-day pass would have been worth the money. (No, I’m not being paid by the Philly Pass folks – I was just curious to see if we got our money’s worth!)



Philadelphia – Day 3

Posted by barb on Sep 20, 2014 in Travels

Half-marathon training doesn’t take a break, even for 10th anniversary vacations, and I had a 9.5 mile run on my schedule for this weekend. The plan was for us to head up to Fairmount Park where Andrew would rent a bike (with his newly-purchased bike shorts from the night before) and we would both do the 8-mile loop (Andrew a couple times, resupplying me with water along the way). That was the plan.

Little did we know there was a big 5k going on in addition to normal Saturday busy-ness. We ended up driving pretty far past the bike rental place before we could find a parking spot. We dithered for a while about what to do. I *could* still do my run while Andrew sat and read his book a the car. But, then I would have no back-up – no source of fresh water or Gu/sports beans to ensure I didn’t run out. And, I’d be feeling bad about leaving Andrew just sitting there for a couple hours. In the end, we drove back to the hotel, run not accomplished. I decided I would make it up one evening on the treadmill after work next week.

The revised plan for the day was to start at the Betsy Ross house. We toured the house, meeting Betsy Ross on the way.

Betsy Ross' House

Betsy Ross' House

[We got in free here with our Philadelphia Pass, a $5 value.]

Then we hopped the hop-on-hop-off bus again (our 3-day passes from yesterday were still good!) to the Eastern State Penitentiary. It was an active prison from 1829 to 1971. It was a new type of prison, where inmates were isolated from everyone. They had a small room with just a small opening for food, and that opened to a small private outdoor area. From the time they went in to the time they went out, they saw no one else. The idea was that they were to ponder what they had done wrong. Not much had been done to the site since it closed in 1971, so it stands in ruin. Very cool.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary

Felicia behind bars

Al Capone was even here for a little while.

Al Capone's cell at Eastern State Penitentiary

[We got in free to the Eastern State Penitentiary with our Philadelphia Pass, a $14 value.]

We didn’t want to pack too much in to the day, so we went back to the hotel and kicked back for a little while before heading off to Ghost Tour of Philadelphia

It was fun to hear ghost stories of the area. Do I believe them? Not really, but still fun to scare yourself every once in a while.

Ready for a ghost walk

[We got our ghost tour free with our Philadelphia Pass, a $17 value.]

Our tour ended at Washington Square, where we stopped to look at the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier – beautiful at night.

Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier



Philadelphia – Day 2

Posted by barb on Sep 19, 2014 in Travels

We started Day 2 of our adventure by returning to the Independence Hall visitor’s center. We had picked up a brochure yesterday for the Philadelphia Pass – a pass that gets you into a bunch of sites for free. It included one of the hop-on-hop-off bus tours, and we found an online special to get the 3-day pass for the price of the 2-day pass. It seemed like a good deal – I’ll summarize how we did with that on the last day.

Our plan was to go to the Franklin Institute, and the best way to get there (without walking) was to grab the hop-on-hop-off bus, so we picked up the Big Bus Tour near Independence Hall.

[We got a 3-day pass for the Big Bus Tour free with our Philadelphia Pass – a $48 value.]

The Franklin Institute is a science museum. It was between traveling exhibits, so we missed out on a couple of the exhibit halls, but the permanent exhibits were still well worth our time.

Franklin Institute

There was an exhibit on the brain, which included a segment on optical illusions and tricking the brain. The most striking thing in the exhibit was an illusion where you and a friend enter a hotel room. The room is slanted, as is a bed that one of you lays down on. Within a couple seconds, your brain is convinced that your still-standing friend is standing at an angle, not that you are laying at an angle. Very freaky.

Sidewalk painting optical illusion

There couldn’t very well be a science museum named after Benjamin Franklin without a hall on electricity! The electricity exhibit included some historic pieces from Franklin’s research on electricity and some things to try ourselves.

Andrew was playing with an exhibit, and ended up with a bit of static electricity in his hair!

Electrified Andrew

There was also a big exhibit on flying and air flow – the Franklin Air Show. Felicia *had* to try out the fighter jet cockpit.

Felicia in the cockpit

We also took in an IMAX show, walked around Sir Isaac’s Loft (exploring forces and gravity), and spent a little time in the Amazing Machine’s (exploring mechanics and machines).

[The Franklin Institute was another thing included in the Philadelphia Pass, an $18.50 value.]

Since today was officially our anniversary, we tried to find a nice-ish restaurant on our way back to the hotel. We settled on a Thai place on South Street. It was a great choice for us – not too upscale (because we just don’t *do* that), but very good food. While at dinner, Andrew realized that he had forgotten bike shorts for our planned run (me)/bike (him) expedition tomorrow. So, he ran off after dinner to see if he could get to a nearby bike shop before they closed. I walked back to the hotel, and found this sign along the way.

Philly sign



Philadelphia – Day 1

Posted by barb on Sep 18, 2014 in Travels

Andrew and I decided that we needed to do something for our 10th anniversary. Sure, we’re planning a big trip in a year or two, which is really our anniversary present to each other (much like we waited a couple years for our “real” honeymoon – a Mediterranean cruise to see the 2006 total solar eclipse &#150 but had a few-day getaway a B&B nearby right after our wedding). We decided on Philadelphia because it’s close, and we’ve been talking about wanting to go for a while.

We started up in the morning, not too early, but with a goal of getting there before lunch so we would have the afternoon to walk around and decide how we would spend the rest of our trip. It was a quick drive (< 3 hours). Our hotel room wasn't ready yet (no surprise, since check-in was at 3PM). So, we dropped off our car and luggage, grabbed a quick lunch, and started walking toward the Independence Hall area.

We started at the Liberty Bell, since the line was fairly short. Learned (again, since I had been there once before) that the famous crack appears the way it does due to efforts to fix it. It had a small crack and was re-cast twice before this crack was widened in an attempt to fix it. No luck, so they finally gave up.

Liberty Bell selfie

Next we walked across the street to the Independence Visitor Center. We grabbed a bunch of brochures for other places we wanted to visit, and then found out that we could get (free) tickets to see Independence Hall – where the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Signing room in Independence Hall

At that point, it was getting too late to see much else, so we walked around to the Philadelphia City Hall and found a couple of nearby parks with sculptures. One of my favorites is the “Your Move” sculpture, a park with oversized game pieces scattered around.

Andrew with "Your Move"

Barb with "Your Move"

Finally, we made our way back to our hotel – a long walk from where we ended up. We saw Benjamin Franklin’s gravesite on the way. People, inspired by his saying, “a penny saved is a penny earned” leave pennies on his grave. We later heard that the grave makes about $4,000 per year in pennies.

Franklin's grave

We also found dinner near our hotel at a place called Lucha Cartel. I particularly taken by their take on The Last Supper – done with Mexican wrestlers painted on the backs of skateboards.

The Last Supper, at Lucha Cartel in Philadelphia

I had a pineapple jalapeño margarita, which was hot, but tasty.

Pineapple Jalapeno margarita



Ghostly Gallop 5k

Posted by barb on Oct 27, 2013 in Running

It’s been turning cold here in the DC-metro area, and I did NOT want to get out of bed this morning to run. But, my t-shirt and medal had already arrived, so guilt won out over warm blankets and cuddly cats.

I haven’t been running for several weeks, because my ankle started giving me problems a couple weeks after Dumbo. I’ve gotten out on my bike a few times, but didn’t want to aggravate my ankle. However, it’s been feeling better, so I decided to go out using the run-walk strategy from C25k week 1. Honestly I wasn’t sure if I would make it for the full 3.1, given I hadn’t run in a while, but I made every single run interval. Yay!

Not my fastest 5k, but not my slowest, either. Overall I’m happy with my 49:47 time.

Ghostly Gallop Finish!

When I got home, I changed into my t-shirt, and donned my medal for a couple pics.

Ghostly Gallop medal


M&LG Mini-Tri

Posted by barb on Oct 20, 2013 in Running

A few months ago, my crazy aunt posted this to Facebook:

My crazy aunt posted this to FB

It sounded nice and easy, especially since I knew at the time that I would have finished Dumbo a few weeks earlier, and should have some time to get back on the bike. The big unknown was the swimming, since I haven’t really swum in…oh…a few decades. I’ve played around in the water, but swimming to actually get somewhere? Not so much. Though, since we were going to just hop in the river and let the current take us, I figured it would be a fun post-Dumbo goal.

I made up t-shirts and bibs for us, and for our road crew (my husband and my uncle, who would both be accompanying us on the bike portion of our tri).

My bib for our mini-tri

The big hitch in our plan was that the river and air temperatures were too low for us to swim in the river. My aunt lives out in the sticks, so our only alternative was the closest YMCA a half hour away.

Since it was unseasonably chilly, we didn’t hurry out in the morning. Plus, the YMCA didn’t open until 1PM, so we wanted to time it so that we would finish the bike and run, hop in the car, and arrive at the Y just after they opened.

We took off at about 10:30 AM on our bikes with our road crew. My uncle, Jim, took the lead so he could take a few pictures along the way. My husband, Andrew, played the role of the sweep, making sure that nothing went wrong.

Ready to go!
Jim - part of our road crew Andrew - the other member of the road crew

I was probably the most worried about the bike ride, because our route was primarily on gravel roads. I have hybrid tires on my bike, so I can handle gravel; however, as a kid, I had a pretty good spill on sand, and ever since, I’ve been a bit skittish about biking on gravel or sand. I worried for no reason, though, because our ride went really well. We did 6.4 bumpy miles.

M&LG Mini-tri bike ride M&LG Mini-tri bike ride

The finish line for biking was my aunt and uncle’s driveway. Amazingly, Maggie and I arrived at exactly the same time 🙂

M&LG Mini-tri bike ride Finish!

Next, we were off for our walk. I had hoped to run part of this, but we were going on a trail and my ankle has been a bit iffy still, so Maggie and I both walked together.

Ready for our run (walk)

The walk was 1.3 miles through the woods, and it took us way longer than it felt like. I was just glad I didn’t trip on the tree roots!

Next we hopped in the car off to the YMCA. Our legs started getting a little stiff on the way, which we had worried about, but nothing to do, but get there and knock out our 400 meters. No pictures were allowed during the swim portion (our rules, not the Y!). The pool was saltwater and heated, so definitely much better than the river on that account, but we didn’t have the current to help push us along. No matter, we did our 16 laps for 400 meters.

M&LG Mini-tri finishers

And then we had a little party at Maggie’s that evening…after a spin in the hot tub, that is.

Copyright © 2017 My Silly Life All rights reserved. Theme by Laptop Geek.