She's An American Girl
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It's Like A Zoo Up In Here


Day Two of our trip to Washington. We woke up - well, I should say, Chloë woke up, packed up as much as she could, and then woke me up to shower and finish getting our stuff together, because she's just that grown now - and checked out of the hotel. We left our American Girl stuff and suitcase at their baggage check so we wouldn't have to lug it all over D.C. and headed two doors down to Burger King to fill my girl's little belly. She was impressed by the three-story BK, this "car" table, and other little interesting things about the place, so she lingered while I put my head down and practically fell asleep there. I was so tired!


We only had a few stops down on the red line to get to our destination: the National Zoo, where we'd been once before when Sophia was about halfway grown in my belly, so she had no recollection of the trip. This was on the very long escalator, which she didn't like very much. She didn't fuss as much as Jack would have, though - they freak him OUT!


As soon as we neared the top, the melodic notes from this wooden flautist filled the air. He was using some kind of recorded background music as well, and the combination was delightful. I like a good busker, so we stayed a minute for a listen.


Chloë enjoyed the music, too, so I let her put a dollar in the tips box. Little things like that thrill her.


She thought these flowers were beautiful and asked to have her photo taken in front of them. The poor dear is forever asking what kind of flower this or that is, and unless it's an extremely well-known thing like a rose or a daffodil or what-not, I'm afraid I don't have the foggiest clue.


When she commented, "Hey, I've never seen a mailbox like that before," I made her stand by it so I'd remember to tell you exactly that bit. Seriously? I guess they aren't a common sight 'round here.


We spotted a 7-Eleven on our walk to the Zoo, and so of course I had to go in for a pick-me-up Diet Coke. I had to get a new cup, because my li'l girl had left my giant X-Treme Gulp cup (I call it my quarter-keg) on the train the day before. I let her get a Slurpee as a treat. The kids are always asking for Slurpees, and I'm always saying "no." But we were on a bit of a treat weekend, so what the hey?

I asked the cashier how close to the zoo we were by that point, and he pointed out the window, across the street. "It's right there," he said, with slight exasperation. "Oh," I replied sheepishly. "So it is." So we crossed the street, where I couldn't get a suddenly very shy Curls to ask the nice police officer - who desperately wanted to talk to her - whether our drinks were allowed in the Zoo. I finally asked the question while she peeked out from behind me bashfully, and found they were all right, so in we went.


If you've been to the Smithsonian Zoo there, in DC, then you know there are all kinds of educational looky-loo things like this one for kids and adults alike. Chloë stopped and peered into each one she could find, soaking up facts about the animals we were about to see and dropping knowledge on me during the actual viewing.


They were pretty cool, like giant View-Masters®. I enjoyed a few myself.


The Clouded Leopard was napping far away in a perch, so it was hard for me to get a good picture of him. Chloë kept telling me little factoids from the View-Master® about them.


You can see me taking the picture better than you can the two Fishing Cats napping just behind the glass, but there they were. One opened his eyes in his upside-down head and blinked sleepily at us, reminding us both of our own fat cat, Tinkerbell.


Chloë stopped to look at all the hands-on and interactive educational posts in the park that we passed, and I liked that about her. She didn't want to just go in and be a casual observer. She was an active participant, and I, well, I was observing her.


We didn't actually get to spot any of the Asian Small-Clawed Otters in the tank, but she's still talking about how soft the fur was in this touchy-feely doohickey. And when you pulled on the tab on the same otter, it made the noise. She's still mimicking that, too.


There was no shortage of bumblebees in the flowers we passed that day in the park.


Soon, we were on a bridge overlooking the Asian elephants, and the one on the right was putting on a show. She kept scooping up dirt with her agile trunk and tossing it onto her back, presumably to keep cool or keep the flies off or something, and then she would pull out hunks of grass and feed them into her gaping maw. The second or third time she did that, her enormous tongue came licking out of her mouth, and I'm sorry I wasn't able to get a picture of that. It was impressively large! As were the coconut-sized piles of dung, as Chloë pointed out, giggling.


There were some wee birds flitting about right next to us, so Curls stopped to watch them for a few moments.


Off they went... out of sight.


Moving along, we came to the Red Panda exhibit. We stayed here a very long time. Chloë was enthralled with these two. This one spent the entire time napping in the perch, while his partner wandered around in the habitat, entertaining us.


Chloë "awwed" over him the whole time we were there, seemingly louder as he came closer to our position.


Chloë laughed uproariously when the red panda stopped to hump up and down, shaking its rear at us. I couldn't tell if it was going to the bathroom or what, because it didn't seem like much, if anything, was left behind there when it moved along, so I'm not sure what that was about!


Finally, the Ailurid climbed the branches with fantastic agility and perched its adorable head on its front paws and sat there for a time, watching us watching it. We stayed a few moments longer and then kept going, but the red panda had stolen Chloë's heart.


The little girl by my side requested that I take a picture of these flowers and ask you (Miss Erin? Grandma?) what they were. So, what are they?


I'm afraid this is the best view we got of Tian Tian, one of the Giant Pandas on display. This was way zoomed and cropped, too, as the habitat was huge and the panda stayed in a far corner with its back to us. For that reason, we didn't stay and observe for long.


You might remember we are avid Penny Press collectors, so we pressed 6 or 7 pennies during our visit to the Zoo, every chance we got. Chloë was glad to just be able to watch the automated machinery for once, instead of having to crank it herself. This is the panda penny.


Oh, look! There's Mei Xiang!


Just past the panda exhibit, there was an all-you-can-panda gift shop, so we stopped in and had a look around. We found this HEE-larious pooping panda keychain, which squeezed out more doo-doo when you squeezed the panda's belly.


At $4, we decided it wasn't in our price range, but that didn't stop us from squeezing-and-pooping for a good three or four minutes, laughing and laughing and making the shop clerks laugh, in turn, at us and our amusement. I mean, c'mon! How funny is this thing?!

We picked up some souvenirs for each of us at this shop: a small stuffed red panda for Chloë, and a matching stuffed giant panda for Sophia, which we named Beijing and Shanghai, respectively, for their home country. Jack was to receive a Zoo-themed truck, which matched his growing collection of otherwise-identical trucks from NYC, Kings Dominion theme park, and... Busch Gardens, maybe? A t-shirt for Rob, a shot glass for my collection, and a postcard for Erin, who collects, and we were on our way. No plastic bag, thank you, we'll just tuck them into our backpack, here. Except for Beijing, which was Curls' constant companion for the remainder of the day.

A note about Beijing: since she came from D.C., just like Faith Misty, her new American Girl doll, Chloë decided that this would be Faith's pet, since we weren't able to get Ginger the cat for her. I liked that idea, too, and I liked that Chloë came up with it and was satisfied by it.


Doing the elephant penny press outside, inexplicably, the panda shop


And here was one for the tigers, which was nowhere near the actual tiger exhibit. We never got a chance to see those, on this visit. See Beijing tucked into her pocket?


We were getting short on time by then, so we made the decision that our last stop of the day would be to the Great Ape house. This Western Lowland Gorilla was a shy girl, peeking out at us occasionally from the corner, but mostly hiding away.


Another lowland gorilla was less shy and, in fact, startled the whole crowd watching by slamming herself into the window at us, perhaps in a display of agression? I'm not sure, but everyone jumped about a foot back when she did that! I found this highly entertaining.


In the orangutan habitat, Chloë was amused to find one playful critter and one covered up in a sheet, eating a banana. It rolled around in the sheet, and never let it drop. She decided that was funny enough to keep reminding me about it all the way home.


It stunk to high heaven in the Great Ape house. The smell of primate poop was... whew! Just thick in the air. So when we found the two penny machines at the end of the building, I was dismayed to discover that I was out of quarters by that point. We couldn't not get the pennies, so that meant we had to go out and change some dollars into quarters and then go back into that awful stench.

When we went outside, we discovered at last where all the vendors were for the Fiesta Musical, a celebration for Hispanic Heritage Month that was going on at the Zoo that day. I approached the first one and asked for change for a dollar and was denied. Huh! Like he didn't have quarters. C'mon. I supposed I had to buy something to earn that privilege. Well, I had one quarter, and a very darling young lady came up to me and handed me 50¢, saying she didn't need it. She wouldn't accept a dollar or even dimes in return. I was touched, as I always am by people practicing random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty...

Back into the Stench Great Ape House we went, to press our pennies. Luckily, the other machine accepted dollar bills.

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So this was our collection of pressed pennies for the day, to go into collection book #2. It's almost filled; we'll need to get a third soon. Look at that blank! It came out, along with our penny, from one of the presses. I've decided it's my favorite.


I noticed this tree growing outside the Great Ape house. Is that an actual bunch of bananas? In D.C.? I've never seen such a thing, in real life. It fascinated me to find it there.


Soon, it was time to rush-rush-rush back to the hotel where we'd stayed. We had less than two hours to huff down to the Metro station, zip over to the stop by the hotel, huff down to the hotel, (pee), collect our bags, and get back on the Metro to Union Station, where we would catch the Amtrak back for home. While we waited for the elevator to take us down to the trains at the zoo stop, I photoed this awesomely painted bear. Cool, right?


Anyway, thankfully, we did make our train, with a mere 20 minutes to spare. Whew!! I was a little panicky. Chloë was a trooper, rushing along beside me and dragging the rolling suitcase while I carried everything else. Oh. After we picked up our bags and got back to the Metro station by the hotel, I put in her fare card and let her through the turnstile. Then I put in my fare card and got denied! Eek! Mine was out of money; I hadn't used them evenly, apparently. I had to leave her there and race back to the fare card vending machine, where I couldn't see her, to buy a new ticket. And the first machine was out of order, the second rejected my $10 bill and my credit card, and I had to go to a third one. I kept hollering out, "Are you okay, Chloë?" and heaving a sigh of relief when she would answer back in the affirmative. She wasn't scared, but I didn't enjoy that experience one little bit.


At last, we were seated back on the train to go home, Faith Misty in her box by our feet, luggage overhead, Curls by the window with Beijing to keep her company, and me drooling on my pillow-coat for two-thirds of the trip. I was tired. TIE-YURD.


After another four-plus hours, we had a sweet, happy family reunion at the depot in Newport News, and the kids fast-chatted all the way home about what they'd done in each others' absences, while Rob and I tried to get words in edgewise. Once at home, I gave Jacky his truck and Sophia her panda, Shanghai.


Rob was game to model his t-shirt for me. He's a sport, that one.


For the Fiesta Musical, I picked up these souvenir birds from Peru that, when filled with water, make real-sounding bird calls that vary with the shape of the ceramic creatures. They are LOUD, too. I like them, but the kids blew them half of today, and I sho'nuff did get a headache from that! Sophia's, sadly, is already broken, but it was an accident, and she was sad. Me, too.

The kids stayed up late last night, looking at Faith Misty and hearing all about our trip, despite our best efforts to get them to settle down and go to sleep. I expected nothing less, though.

And that was our trip. Big fun!