Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4 and 5, 2011

Days 10 and 11

Monday and Tuesday were travel days. It was time to go home. Once we left New York City, we didn’t see much of anything noteworthy. Travel days can be long, and by this time, I was really getting tired of some of the kids on that bus. I didn’t really have any notes to take, and I didn’t want to take pictures of the same things I saw on the way here! It was nice to recognize those landmarks on the road, and realize that we were getting closer to home. I think July 4th was the day I felt homesick the most, because it was the first Independence Day I can remember that I didn’t spend with my family. And, after 11 days, it started to dawn on me that I just might be missing Joseph and Caleb. Imagine that.

I don’t think I have enough words to express the impact that this trip had on me.  For starters, it made me realize how involved I could have been in 4-H the last few years. The 2010-11 year was my last, and everything I did at CWF made me even sadder about being finished. I also learned some things that were even more important than that. The Newton County 4-H Council helped pay half of my fee for CWF, and I sent them a note to thank them for their generosity. Let me share a little bit of that note to show you what I learned:

“I don’t mean it lightly when I say that this trip has impacted my life permanently. I have gained a greater appreciation for my government and my country. It’s even piqued my interest in political things. I made some new friends and even forced myself to learn some new things that helped me grow. I learned how to deal with different personalities. I had to conquer my struggle with talking to new people, and made new friendships in the process. I discovered my new love for writing and putting my thoughts on paper. I even gained a new appreciation for my family and friends.”

And I didn’t make any of that up. I went into the trip expecting to learn something, and I definitely did that. But you can’t go on learning grand, important things forever, and I was more than ready to return to my parents and friends as a world traveler.  I think Grandfather Alden said it pretty well: “East or West, home is best.” Although, ‘East’ is mighty inviting…

We traveled through 11 states:

Missouri, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, and Ohio

At Day Ten, I was getting a little more pensive…
Sometimes you think you've missed out on things your peers do, but you really haven’t missed anything worth missing. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.  There's no place like home.  Mt. Hookie, instead of Mt. Dew. Let's just say, me, Kim, Sarah Young, and Dana Battles got a little giggly at 11:00 pm. The Foot!!!!! (Or maybe not so pensive.)
…and by Day Eleven, I was completely “lesson-ed” out:
Temple Grandin inspires me, and we watched her movie. Forget our regular stops: I'm ready to drop some of these people off right now!

Movies Watched Monday:

Dances with Wolves, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, Meet the Robinsons, Step Up, Pursuit of Happyness.

Movies Watched Tuesday:

Finding Nemo, Temple Grandin, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Made of Honor, Napoleon Dynamite, August Rush.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

July 3, 2011

Day 9

Sunday started off with a pity-party. I’m a little embarrassed at myself now. Let’s just skip this part.

6:15 a.m. It was so nice to get my own bed last night. And a queen-sized at that! It is unreal how bad my right leg hurts. My hip socket feels like the bones are rubbing together. Either the bones in my calf are fractured or the muscles/ ligaments are severely stressed. And I’m still gingerly stretching my right foot so that I don’t get a Charlie horse from the muscles in my nonexistent arch. Oh, that is my bad foot, isn’t it?
(This was my view from my breakfast table. Kinda nice, isn’t it?)
Our first stop this day was the one and only Statue of Liberty. I was super excited to go see this. Not even a steady drizzle of rain could dampen this girl’s spirits. :-)
8:06 a.m. I had to be in New York when it rains. And my hair’s perfectly straight! Nooooo.
Of course, we took a ferry to the Statue, and I wondered if anyone would get seasick. I didn’t, and I sort of enjoyed the boat ride, but I heard one guy from our group was barfing.

(Me, on the ferry. Yes, I am fully aware that rain and sunglasses are an oxymoron, but it wasn’t raining when I put them on at 7 a.m.)

8:41 a.m. According to Cheyenne, I sang in my sleep yesterday morning. And the preacher in Philly embarrassed me. (He was a street preacher in the middle of Independence Square, and he was claiming that the bell tower in Independence Hall stood for evil in the American government—or something like that. He really was crazy.)
(My second “first view” of Miss Liberty herself.)
On the way to the statue, you will pass Ellis Island: the gateway to America. Our group didn’t have time to tour it, but we stopped to let off other passengers.
9:40 a.m. I’m thinking about Grandma Sofia Stasik taking her first steps on a boat to Ellis Island. Five generations later, I’m here at the same place, and seeing the Statue of Liberty.
My great-great-grandma was either Polish or Austrian; nobody knows for sure. I wonder if Ellis Island looked the same all those years ago.

After we landed, we started in the pedestal of the statue. Down there is a large museum full of information, artifacts, and pictures of the Statue’s history. I tried to look at everything as quickly as possible, because we had a schedule to keep, and there was a lot of stuff.
(Unless I’m mistaken, this is the original flame. It’s lit up with light bulbs. How would you like to have THAT job of changing burnt-out bulbs?!)
(This plaque speaks for itself.)
We kids then had the wonderful opportunity to climb 167 steps to the top of the pedestal, as that was as high as our tickets took us. Well, I think several teenagers took the elevators, but I wasn’t about to miss this opportunity. I already had the distinction of saying “I toured the Statue of Liberty in the rain,” so I might as well add “I walked all 167 steps to the pedestal.” The climb wasn’t as glamorous as I was imagining. I forgot how much I loathe stairs. But the view of New York City, and the ocean, and Ellis Island (all through a rain-drizzle) made up for the exercise.
On the return trip, sitting on the ferry floor, I had a unique experience:
11:50 p.m. So we are the melting pot. In front of me are some Asian guys, on my left are some girls with a British accent, on my right is a guy from India, and behind me are some folks speaking a European language I can’t identify! German, maybe? No. I dunno.
Our next stop was New York City itself. First, our tour guide took us through a bit of Central Park, where we saw this sculpture…
…and its explanatory sign.
Second, we walked through parts of the city. An interesting observation I’ll include here was voiced by several different kids. We seemed to notice that of the three cities, D.C. was the cleanest “looking,” Philly was kind of in between, and New York was the dirtiest. We weren’t really criticizing, just observing. Some of the other trivia I learned here in the “big city” was: Germ-ex is your friend, never use the handrails, use a purse that you can keep closest to your body, and, if you’re new to the city, don’t buy everything somebody wants to sell.
Then we had to eat lunch. Our guide led us to a little pizza place that just happened to be next to some kind of international food festival on a street. We had plenty of options, but I only wanted New York pizza. And it did not disappoint, either. One piece is huge. And delicious. Then Kim and I went to the little festival to see what there was. We found shirts, jewelry, gadgets, and a lot of Chinese-made junk, but the most interesting thing was this:
Anyone wanna take a guess what that is?? It’s two fried Oreos. They were good; a little soggy, but oh-so-yummy!! I doubt they were healthy, but who cares.
After lunch, we walked down to the site where they’re building World Trade Center One, formerly known as “Ground Zero.” This was an interesting place. I didn’t take any pictures, because it was hard to recognize anything. Our tour guide did show us the fire station was the first to respond that day, and that was really neat.
After Ground Zero, we took the bus over to Chinatown for some shopping. This was a little exciting, a little jostling, and a little frightening. Jeremy and the tour guide threw us little tidbits of trivia, like, “Some of the shops here have been closed because of illegal stuff,” and “If a little Chinese lady asks you if you want a purse, tell her no thank you. She’ll lead you a basement of illegal junk, where the police have busted people, and then you’ll be lost.” You know, not to worry us or anything. I don’t have any pictures from here, either, because I was too busy trying to ignore the pushy shopkeepers. I have always preferred to shop by myself, and ask a store associate if I need something. Here in Chinatown, if you even admire the fringe on the pretty orange scarf, they’re there in a flash trying to sell the dumb thing. I know: they weren’t being rude, and they were just doing their job, I just wasn’t used to that. :-) I liked the prices, though. I got a few things pretty cheaply, and I love being able to say that I got my scarf in New York.
2:00 p.m. I’m on Wall Street, and I ate NY pizza, and a fried Oreo. The pizza is great, and the Oreo was amazing!
Our next destination was Trump Tower, and then Times Square!!
(On the way, we passed the world’s largest department store. You know, the one in Miracle on 34th Street.)
(The business of Mr. Donald Trump himself. And, on the top 6 floors, I think, his home.)
Trump Tower was cool, but I wasn’t half as excited about it as I was about Times Square. Which is why it was even more maddening that about 8 of our kids made us late?!?! They thought they needed Starbucks, and when the kind policeman let us know we’d reached our parking time limit, they were called multiple times and told to “leave the line, there are 4 Starbucks at Times Square.” But no, they didn’t move. We were 20 minutes late to Times Square, and we nearly got a $300 parking ticket. Excuse me while I go bang my head on a wall.
Pardon me. I was super excited about Times Square, because of all the times I’d seen it in movies, and TV, and the news. I wanted to stand right in the famous “center,” and so we ran to get there before we had to get back to the bus.
(This was my view from the middle.)
(This is the theater where they film the NY auditions for America’s Got Talent. I like that show, so this was pretty cool.)
By 5:30, we were back on the bus, and headed to our NJ motel.
5:40 p.m. I can’t believe it’s over! I feel like I just left home. It has been everything I expected and more. I did already say that, didn’t I? Oh, well, it bears repeating. I miss everybody at home. And I desperately hope I packed my previous notes in my big suitcase. (Teehee: I had accumulated so much stuff, I was starting to lose track of things.)
I never dreamed you could pack so much excitement into one day.

Day Nine’s lessons were clearly impressed on my memory:
If you're not 100% sure about it, vote NO. This goes for congressional sessions, but it applies to shopping for souvenirs, too. If you're early, you're on time; if you're on time, you're late; and if you're late, you're left! No, really!!

Monday, July 2, 2012

July 2, 2011

Day 8

In a way, I was sad to leave the conference center. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay there. But at the same time, I was ready and raring to go see Philadelphia and New York!!

7:02 a.m. I can’t believe it’s my last day here. I feel like I just got here yesterday. This week has been everything I expected and more. My last breakfast here…I have enjoyed them. And I only ate 1 donut all week!!! Hooray for me!

7:45 a.m. And we’re off! It’s amazing: French Vanilla cappuccino really does wake me up. Or maybe it’s just the excitement.

8:21 a.m. We. Are. In. BALTIMORE! And we’re driving under Chesapeake Bay!

9:56 a.m. Welcome to Philadelphia! Apparently, we’ve been through Maryland and Pennsylvania and have driven the whole length of Delaware. Where did I miss the state signs??
(We parked next to one of the factories of the United States Mint.)
Our first tour guide took us around the square of Independence Hall, and through a few other historically important buildings.
(Independence Hall was undergoing renovations on her bell tower. I hadn’t seen this building in 10 years. No, literally.)
(This is one of the streets we walked. See how the size of the cobblestones differs? The smaller ones on the sides are for pedestrians and animals. The larger ones are for buggies and carriages and wagons. This way, you won’t hurt your feet.)
(This is the Second National Bank. The First National Bank was closed by Andrew Jackson, and the building was sold to a business (or something like that). )
(This is Christ Church, where many of the founding fathers visited at least once. I’m not sure how many actually attended and were members here.)
(I got to sit in the very same pew Benjamin Franklin sat in 300 years ago. How cool is that?!)
(This was our tour guide. We were waiting to go inside Betsy Ross’ house (which I don’t have any pictures; sorry!), and he decided to use Kim as an arm rest.)
One bit of trivia that our tour guide shared with us was very interesting to me. Back in Colonial days, young ladies judged the young men by how stout and muscular their calves were. This sounds pretty weird to us today, but that was just part of their culture. If you had particularly skinny legs, you could put small sandbags in your tights to give the appearance of muscular calves, but you had to take care not to get a hole in these, because you would get fat ankles instead of muscular calves. This concept gave us our saying “Put your best foot forward:” when you presented yourself to people, you stuck out the leg that looked the most muscular.
We finished up with the outdoor tour, and took a break for lunch. I knew I had to get an authentic Philadelphia Cheesesteak while I was here, and the restaurant we went to did not disappoint.
1:35 p.m. I ate my first official Philly Cheesesteak today. It was quite delicious.
Once we got our bellies full, we changed tour guides and toured the inside of Independence Hall.
1:58 p.m. I feel so bad fighting sleep during a tour. But I am tired, and this tour guide has the most ridiculously pompous voice. And he’s loud. I’m tired. (I really did try to pay attention.)
(This is the Signers’ Room, where they, duh, signed the Declaration of Independence. It was a little surreal standing in the same room where, 300 years ago, great men changed history.)
In the summer of 2001, my family took an epic expedition to Washington, D.C., Gettysburg, Philadelphia, Hershey, Baltimore, and Virginia. It was an expedition because we traveled, like, 2000 miles total, I think, and it was epic because my parents carted around 4 kids under the age of 12. And we get pretty loud in the car. Just ask my mom. Anyways, I, my brothers, and my two cousins posed next to the Liberty Bell, of course. Aren’t we adorable?
Well, I thought for nostalgia’s sake I would pose for the Liberty Bell while I was here this time.
Haven’t aged a bit, have I?
Philadelphia was great. It’s awe-inspiring to stand in the same places as great men like George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. I appreciate history, and I don’t think we should ever let ourselves forget about the lengths to which people went to make our country what it is.
But I still was more excited about our final destination. I think our chaperones saved the best for last. I am a drama buff at heart, and I always dreamed about being in New York, that glorious place immortalized in song, dance, and story. Like this.

5:19 p.m. I…am…in…New York City! We’re going into Manhattan. I mean, Manhattan. I’ve never been there. You only hear about it on TV and movies. Oh my word.
(I don’t know what this is, but it’s my first glimpse of the Big Apple. Should I, or should I not, admit that I was so excited I teared up? Probably not.)
(This was on the other side of my frame of reference. I think this might’ve been Staten Island.)
Our first stop in this city was DINNER. We had reservations at the Heartland Brewery, which was located in the basement (it was at the bottom, whatever it was) of the Empire State Building. Yes, it technically was a pub, and no, we didn’t get any alcohol. There was a bar area about 10 feet from our section, but I don’t remember seeing anyone working there, and I don’t remember seeing anyone else in our area drinking. I got tickled because on the other side of the bar area, about 10 feet from it, were the bathrooms. With a large neon sign that said “Restrooms.” I imagined tipsy customers staggering towards the bathroom, and needing the neon sign to see where they were going. That’s funny right there.
The food was good, albeit very plentiful. I think I ate a salad, chicken tenders with honey mustard, a few fries, and key lime pie. Oh, man, that key lime pie was the best.
(This was our table: L to R, JD Fields, me, Kim Parker, and Grace Gist.)
After dinner, it was time for our tour of the Empire State Building.
(They told us that this was in the movie Elf, but I wouldn’t know, because I haven’t seen it. If you’ve seen the movie, there ya go. We were waiting in line to get on the elevators.)
After multiple lines, and multiple elevators, and multiple sets of stairs, we finally reached the 84th floor (I think). We had about two minutes to look at New York City from the windows before we had to get back in the line.
(It was here that I caught my first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. I tell you, I came this close to screaming.)
(This was the view through a different window.)
Then we hopped on the last elevator to go the famous 86th floor observatory. The view was breathtaking. (Also, a little frightening if I looked down.) There’s nothing quite like viewing the sunset from that high in the air.
We didn’t stay up on the observatory very long, because it was getting pretty crowded. After we stayed long enough to get the effect, we took a couple elevators back down to the street, so we could go back to sleep at our hotel.
(My last look up at the Empire State Building while I sat on the sidewalk and waited for our bus.)
On the way back to our hotel, though, we drove down Broadway. No, we actually drove down Broadway Avenue at night. It was cool, for lack of a better word. Everything was lit up, and colorful, and flashing. This small-town girl had never seen anything like it.
(This was McDonald’s on Broadway. How often do you see that?)
11:17 p.m. Crowne Plaza Motel, Secausa, New Jersey.  So we ate at a bar (Heartland Brewery) and all us kids were under 21. Hmm. Then we went all the way to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building. I almost screamed when I got my first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. The sunset was breathtaking. Kim Parker and I had a great time together. Then we drove down Broadway on our way back to here. Oh, man. Broadway is unreal at night. The lights and signs are surreal. Oh, and Kim and I used British accents almost all the way up in the lines and the elevators. Plus, there were these 3 cute French guys in front of us. I think they were laughing at us. (Sigh. Let’s not dwell on past discrepancies.) And I have never experienced the numbers of diverse nationalities! Here or D.C.! We are the melting pot.

On Day Eight, I learned a good number of things:
Impressions are important to a degree; but first impressions are not always correct. Never judge a book by its cover. Live in the moment. Appreciate history. Don't choose Clay Schmidli as your life partner: he's lousy. Learn the proper way to get attention from the right guys. Respect authority!!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

July 1, 2011

Day 7

Friday…the last day at CWF!! Today was all play, and no work!! Each delegation chose where they wanted to see the sights, and our leaders had decided to go to the Washington Monument, the Holocaust Museum, and the Smithsonian. We had the option of either the Holocaust Museum, or the White House, but since we didn’t get an actual tour of the White House, I chose the Holocaust Museum. Other kids opted for the White House, since they didn’t feel emotionally okay to see the Holocaust Museum.

(Remember that “better shot of the White House” I promised?? Here you go, straight from my bus seat.)
This is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It is “America’s national institution for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history, and serves as this country’s memorial to the millions of people murdered during the Holocaust.” This is the most sobering museum I have ever toured. I don’t have any pictures of it, because many of the exhibits and artifacts are borrowed from other museums. And honestly, I’m glad I don’t have any pictures to show my friends and family. Not because the exhibits are revolting and too realistic, but because you won’t completely grasp all of the solemnity through a book or someone else’s pictures. You can find out more information at their website, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, but I highly recommend that you put this on your itinerary if you’re in D.C.
So after a dose of sad, cheerless history, I got a dose of good ol’ Americana history via the Smithsonian.
12:28 p.m. The Holocaust museum is so depressing. So sad. But we’re at Smithsonian Museum of American History eating lunch, and I can’t believe people pay this much for food every day! It’s nice to be with people who like to be frugal with food money. (No, I wasn’t a cheapskate when it came to iconic meals and such, but when it was just a cafeteria, you better believe I watched my money!)
(Here’s the front entrance.)
About 11 years ago, my family and I went on a big trip to Baltimore, D.C., Philadelphia, and Gettysburg. In Baltimore, we visited Fort McHenry, where the original Star Spangled Banner was displayed. (You know, the flag that was actually flying when the song was written.) Anyways, I got to see that flag for the second time in my life at the Smithsonian.
(Well, the actual flag is kept in special, no-camera conditions because of its age, but the front of the exhibit was cool.)
The next three pictures are some old cars at the museum. I took pictures because I wanted to know what the cars were, and no one’s been able to tell me yet. So, anyone wanna divulge me??
(This is not an old car. This is, from L to R, Clay, Greg, Jesse, Victoria, and me in an old subway car.)
(These are the [one of many, actually] pair of ruby red slippers that Judy Garland wore as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.)
That’s all the pictures I took at the Museum. There was seemingly no end to the exhibits. It would take me years to actually see everything in the Smithsonian’s collection of museums. After the Smithsonian, we went to the Washington Monument.
(Disclaimer: this was not my idea. I just took the photo. This is, L to R, Victoria, Jesse, and Madelaine in their sunglasses and Confederate hats.)
(This is the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II memorial from the top of the Washington Memorial.)
(And this is the Capitol and several of the Smithsonians from another window at the top.)
(Inside the top of the monument is a large pillar, and then a walk space around that pillar where you look out the windows. This is one side of the pillar.)
This day was the last day we spent with our amazing Program Assistant, Dani Hopper. Dani was a great PA: patient, fun, flexible, and chock full of information!
5:50 p.m. Why does my bus have to have the idiots? Alex Jenkins just drank a mixture of all the soda, ice cream toppings, ketchup/mustard, pickle juice, and tomatoes. For a $2 bet. Yikes and ick. Why us?
After an amazing day of touring our beautiful capital, we headed back to our beautiful conference center for a little more fun. Namely, the Talent Show. Remember I told you that I auditioned with a sign language solo? Well, I did qualify, so along with about 14 other kids, I performed my talent in front of nearly 600 people.
The song I signed was “He is With You” by Mandisa, and I wanted to do it because this song held a lot of significance to me in 2011. Since I was representing Missouri here, and Joplin’s tornado was still fresh on our minds, I dedicated my performance to all the people affected by the tornado. (You may want to turn your volume WAY up. My camera’s not the best; sorry!)
(By the way, all the credit goes to Daniel and Tonia Walker, my ASL teachers. They literally taught me everything I know!!)
And remember that newsletter we sweated over?? Here it is!!

We ended our day, and our week, with the Closing Ceremony. All of the PAs gave their goodbye speeches to their delegations, and we reflected on everything we had learned here. At CWF, I met so many exceptional kids (as well as some real duds, but I just ignored them) who give 4-H a good name. I learned way more than I had expected to learn. I went on some once-in-a-lifetime tours, which are so special because I don’t know when I’ll be back to the East coast. I had nothing but good things to say about this conference.

But hang on a second…my trip’s not even over! We may have been finished with Washington, D.C., but the Missouri chaperones had something extra up their sleeve. Tomorrow, we would leave the conference center, and head…not home, but to Philadelphia, and then to NEW YORK CITY!!

My lesson for Day Seven started out sobering, but I can’t be serious for long:
Never forget those who suffered a tragedy at the hands of evil. And always watch where you're going. (I cannot stress enough the importance of this concept.)