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Friday, April 25, 2008

Vacation, Writing and Research

Since the kids are on spring vacation this week, my husband and I thought this would be a fine time to visit Virginia. His sister and her husband live just outside Washington, D.C., and we couldn't wait to check out all the touristy things in the city. Like the Smithosonian--see the awesome picture of the SpaceLab?

We decided to drive to Virginia, from Massachusetts. What better way to introduce the children to a small part of our country by driving through Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and a tiny part of Virginia? Are you laughing? A little bit?

On Saturday, about an hour after we should have left, we started our adventure. Even with the "Are we there yet's" and the bathroom stops, my husband and I remained optimistic, thanks to beautiful weather and promising calculations from modern GPS technology, that we would make the trip to Virginia in about eight and a half hours. We neglected to factor in the New York and New Jersey traffic.

Once we got past all the bumper to bumper traffic, the endless whines from the children every one of us, and a few pitstops for a respite from the cramped space, my thoughts meandered over to my writing. I've reached a pivotal scene in my historical novel, and the pacing is a little off. Nothing to lose sleep over, but irritating, nonetheless.

It occurred to me that the pacing of a story is a journey. For me, anyway, when I start a new manuscript, words flow easily and I'm one with the story. But inevitably, as time goes on, there are frequent stand still moments where I'm not sure how I'm going to get the story from Point A to Point B. But, when I study the story and then write again, a word at a time, the story regains life and I fly along.

The best part of the remainder of the car drive was I managed to plot out the next few chapters. I've had a few days to outline this, and test drive a few sentences. Now, I'm raring to go write this next section.

Okay, back to the trip. Once we arrived in Virginia, we hung out and decided we'd take the train into D.C. the next day and visit the Smithsonian. Wouldn't you know it, it poured the next day. But we weren't deterred from our mission.  Plus, the kids were determined to ride the train. We arrived in D.C. and walked around The National Mall.

There was this cool Earth Day celebration in the Mall. Unfortunately, with all the downpours, there wasn't a huge Earth Day turnout. But it was perfect for all the college students and young people who danced to the music and listened to the speakers. Ahhh...to be young again...

But, I digress.  Most of the people ended up waiting in lines to get out of the rain and into the Smithsonian Museums.   These museums are awesome. Did you know that it's free to go into all the incredible museums? I could spend days exploring every museum and filling my brain with cool facts. However, since the kids were with us, we focused on speed museum hopping.

The kids loved almost everything we saw--the space ships, the dinosaurs, the mummies, the butterfly garden, the Ice Age, the sculpture garden...the list goes on. They were just a bit tired of the rain. So was I.  There's only so much wet clothing one can take.  

My discomfort was soon erased when I discovered a small exhibit of historical artifacts important to my story.  Nothing like some research when you least expect it.    

The rain continued into the next day, so we just hung out.  My brother-in-law brought out this 500 piece puzzle, and we spent a good few hours working on it.  I love puzzles.   

On Tuesday, we decided to go to the National Zoo, which is part of the Smithsonian. Entrance is free; you just pay for parking.  This place is huge so wear good walking shoes/sneakers.  You also have to plan out your restroom breaks well, if you have young children.  The restrooms are far away when you have a little one who decides she's got to go.  

After our third trip to the restroom, my four-year-old decided she had it with all the walking and looking at the animals.  She decided it was more fun picking up all the cherry blossoms that fell on the ground.  Until, she spied some animals that she wanted to watch, more than anything.  
The prairie dogs. A member of the rodent family. Isn't the little guy cute? He'd peek out of his burrow, a few times for show, and then finally come out. These prairie dogs are a blast to watch. Every once in awhile, they jump up, paws in the air, and cheer.  They actually "yip," but they really look like they're cheering.  

We ended up sitting by the prairie dogs, watching them "yip" for about an hour, until the rest of the family came back.  My youngest and I had a great time.  We had ice cream, did some facetime, and were amused at the group of teenagers who cheered whenever the prairie dogs cheered. 

Isn't it great when simple things make people happy?


Christine M said...

Sounds like you had a good trip.
Sorry about that Jersey traffic. It will get you every time.

PJ Hoover said...

Oooh, I can't wait to go visit again. I grew up there and always took for granted the museums being so close and free. And darn right about the prairie dogs. They are darling!
Thanks for the trip report!

Jill said...

Glad you enjoyed your visit. We live in VA, right outside of DC and don't go into the city as much as we should. We did go to the zoo a couple of weeks ago, and my one year old was most interested in the common birds that were eating popcorn from the sidewalks. Go figure.

HipWriterMama said...

No worries about the New Jersey traffic. We were amazed at how cheap the gas was, but couldn't bear to sit in the long lines to get gas. Of course we regretted it as the gas prices promptly spiked in ten cent increments every forty miles or so.

We drove home via Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, thinking the traffic would move faster so we could cover the vastness of the state in about the same time as it took us to get through the Jersey traffic...but the Pennsylvania roadways were under some sort of construction, with blocked off lanes, and also seemed to be the preferred route for a gazillion trucks. We were doomed. The trip home took an hour longer. Oh well. We had fun.

D.C. would be a great place to live. Definitely make a trip soon! The Smithsonian awaits.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Hope you stop by again.

And enjoy the city, though it will be much easier when your little one is older. Funny about kids, isn't it?

jama said...

Glad you had a nice time in our neck of the woods! I love the prairie dogs, too :).

Libby said...

We make a similar drive pretty often in reverse (south to north), but from two hours south of DC. We've lived here 15 years and the PA roadways have been under construction the entire time. Of course, the NJTpk has been backed up the entire time, too. You can't win, but we always decide the drive is worth it anyway.

Patty P said...

I've never been to DC. I've always wanted to take the kids there. Someday...
Glad you had some time to reflect on your novel. It's amazing how our stories live within us and when, given a moment of quiet, they seep out.
Your story is rich and detailed...perfect for dreaming over.

MotherReader said...

You were probably leaving VA just as we were coming back to it from FL. Too bad. I would have loved to meet you. Next time we need to work out the timing. I live about thirty minutes from DC and don't get there as much as I should, but we usually make it to the National Zoo a couple times a year. The prairie dogs are one of my personal favorites as well.

jules said...

So glad you got to work as you travelled and found artifacts for your book. We lived near D.C. for about half a year, and can you believe I never made it to The Library of Congress? Anyway, it's a great place to go with the kids. You're right, and I'm glad you had fun. What my girls wouldn't give NOW to see those dinosaurs!

HipWriterMama said...

I didn't know you lived near D.C. It is a great place!

Thanks for stopping by. The drive is worth it, isn't it?

It's definitely worth a visit. I'm so glad you like my story. Isn't our critique group the best?

It's a deal. I'd love to meet you, too. Glad you had a great time in Disney.

We didn't make it to the Library of Congress, either. Though that is definitely a place to go alone.

The dinosaurs were awesome. I only have a few pictures, but I'll send copies of them to your e-mail later.

Blink said...

The amount of quick comments on this post tells you what a great spot Washington, DC is for any visitor. I too, live nearby and love to tell new friends about the other mall in the area! I also serve on a committee that is writing field trip curriculum for the National Zoo (presently for grades 3-6) that teachers can virtually pick up as they get off the bus that will be rich, includes national standards, expose kids to the exhibits and one of the missions of the zoo (global conservation, and FUN, so I love hearing comments about visits to the zoo. Awesome family field trip! Thanks for sharing.

HipWriterMama said...

That is so cool about the field trip curriculum for the National Zoo. Congrats!

I was so impressed with the zoo, and the interactive educational center they have there was awesome.

I was so surprised at the number of teens that I saw there. You know when teens like hanging out somewhere, it's a cool place.

Definitely a great place.