Tag Archives: parents

Going, going – almost gone!

5 May




My parents visited from Michigan back in March. I’d been itching to visit the Renwick Gallery since it reopened in November, and my parents were game to check it out.

If you’re not familiar with the Renwick, here’s the quick back-story on it:

  • It is part of the Smithsonian. (And because I answer this question for almost every visitor to Washington: the Smithsonian is a collection of museums and galleries – not a single destination – and they are all open free of charge to the public.)
  • The Renwick was the first art gallery built in the US intended to be used as an art gallery. (A lot of the other older art galleries were originally private homes.)
  • The exterior was completed in 1861 – and then the construction was paused because of the Civil War.
  • In the 20th century, there was talk of tearing it down, but Jacqueline Kennedy led a successful crusade to save it, and it returned to use as an art gallery in 1972.
  • It closed again for renovations in 2013 and just reopened in November.

To re-open the Renwick, the entire building was used for an installation of nine works by different artists, each specifically designed for and filling an entire room. The theme of the exhibit was, “Wonder” and I have to say: Mission Accomplished. I can’t imagine anyone going through the entire exhibit without at least one, “WHOA!” moment.

Here’s the exhibit’s opening plaque, which provides a bit of context for what it contains:

People have debated the meaning and value of wonder for more than two thousand years. It has been described as everything from the origins of our understanding of the universe, to how we respond to something defying categorization, to a naïve emotion delaying us from reason, to a shock to the heart, and a surprise of the soul.

The two rooms that provided me with the most amazement were those where common items were used to create very uncommon results.

The first example was Jennifer Angus’s pink-washed room that used insects for three-dimensional wall decoration. When we walked in the room, our initial reaction was, “Cool,” as we saw the “dia de los muertos” skeletons covering the walls. We quickly followed that by asking, “Those can’t be REAL beetles, can they?”

As it turns out, they WERE. Which then made the whole room a bit more creepy. And I felt compelled to try to approximate how many little insect corpses were pinned to the walls. It made my head hurt. Further, the wall plaque informed us that the pink of the walls was created by using the “juice” from other insects. Ew? And still – ahhhh!

Here are a few photos I snapped that don’t do it justice:

The other example that had me rubbing my chin in wonder was what appeared to be a simple construction of colored thread – pinned to the floor, then running to the ceiling, where it was pinned at a right angle. Sounds boring, but the effect was surprising. As we moved around it, it shifted from being individual clusters of thread to a see-through rainbow that seemed to be made from light.

Again, it doesn’t translate well in photos, but here’s an attempt – and no, I have no idea who that dude is posing in this shot:


Those were the two creations that I found most provoking, but I heard people exclaiming in delight in every room, whether it was John Grade’s over-sized tree trunk constructed from small blocks of wood, or the glass ball formation created by Maya Lin (of Vietnam Wall fame), that climbed the walls of one room.

In addition to the art work, there were quotes in each room related to the theme. A few of my favorite examples include:

“It is not understanding that destroys wonder, it is familiarity.” —John Stuart Mill

“The mere knowledge that such a work could be created makes me twice the person I was.” —Goethe

The full exhibit is only available through Sunday (May 8), so if you’re in the DC area, if you hustle you can hit it! Even if you’re not usually a fan of art, I’d be willing to offer a money-back satisfaction guarantee. (Did I mention that it’s free?!)

Paved with good intentions…

5 Mar

My parents were in town this last weekend, so we walked down to the Smithsonian to see an Annie Lebowitz exhibit at the American Art Museum. On our way, we swung into Five Guys to grab a burger for lunch.

The portions are huge, so although we’d only ordered a small fry, we ended up with (what appeared to be) an entire order left over. Rather than toss the food, we packaged it neatly with some ketchup, napkins and a dish of peanuts to give to a homeless person.

Nice thought, right? Turns out, it was better in theory.

The first homeless man we passed was peering into a garbage can when we spotted him. I approached and held out the bag, saying, “Would you like some french fries?”

He didn’t make eye contact and just turned his head away from me a hawked a loogey on the sidewalk in response.

I’ll take that as a no.

The next person I approached was a disheveled looking guy pacing around a newspaper box talking to himself. I walked up and was in the process of presenting the bag to him, about to open my mouth, when I noticed he had a bluetooth in his ear and was apparently on the phone.

I quickly retracted my arm, leaving him standing there, staring at me, no doubt wondering why I’d just come and waved my Five Guys bag in his face.

Remarkably, as we neared the entrance to the museum, I still hadn’t found anyone to give the food to. I eyed the trashcan nervously and scanned the benches flanking the steps.

BINGO. An elderly woman sat there, looking a bit out of it and decidedly homeless. She was the last possibility to keep those fries from going in the trashcan. I strode up to her and – as I got closer – I realized she had a full goatee.

And yet, as we made eye contact, I had my doubts. Was she homeless? Or did she just lack a razor? Confused, I simply set the bag of french fries on the bench next to her and — not wanting to offend her if she wasn’t homeless — simply said — [ready for this?] —

“You might want to check this out.” 

Um. WHAT?! What kind of approach was that? It totally sounded creepy. Like – “Go ahead. Open this. There’s some crazy shit in here.”

She gave me a puzzled, searching look and I hustled back to my parents. “Quick! Let’s get in the museum,” I urged them.

“Why?” my mom asked. “What did she say?”

“Nothing,” I told her. “But I’m worried she might not be homeless and she might throw those fries at us.”

My mom shook her head. “No way. She was definitely homeless. She didn’t have any teeth, Alison.”

And at this point, I’m pretty sure my dad – who had watched all this silently – interjected with all seriousness, “Then those peanuts might have been a bad inclusion.”


Next time? I’ll just buy a paper from the Street Sense vendor. At least now I know why they wear flourescent vests.

This has nothing to do with this post. Other than that it's about a peanut and it's hilarious. That's where the relevance ends.


In other news: Mom hates museums.

7 Apr

Last week when I posted about our trip to the Library of Congress, I was primarily fixated on the bitchy woman who worked security. I completely didn’t do the rest of the visit justice.

If you like books or architecture, then the LOC should be on your must-see list when you visit DC. It’s free (like almost every other cultural destination in this fine city), and it’s a gem.

I take any willing guest there if faced with a rainy day, but it’s been years since I took the guided tour. The building is loaded with symbolism, and over the years my explanations have gotten a bit thin.

“See that statue there? She represents travel, which is why she’s holding onto a train.”

<A docent sadly shakes his head as he walks by.>

So this time, knowing my dad is history buff, I suggested we all take the guided tour. Much better than me making shit up that he’d be able to call me on.

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Two tinkles to a flush?

26 Jul

My father is an ardent environmentalist, so I grew up accepting certain practices as normal, only to discover as an adult that most people do not, in fact, live that way. I’ve been away from home long enough that when I do go back, I am guiltily reminded of how far off the farm I’ve wandered.

I was on the back porch of my parents’ home in Michigan this last week, eating dinner with them, when the phone rang. My mom took the call and it was one of her fellow members from Garden Club. They talked for a surprising length of time since my mom is not a phone person, but even more surprising was what they talked about.

“Two tinkles to a flush,” I heard her proclaim. “That’s the only rule!”

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