Happiness Highlights from Washington DC

Last week was a time of refilling my soul. I gave myself permission to catch up on work, I hung out with friends, and I fell madly and deeply in love with my country. As a result, I feel like I’m settling back into my own skin again a tiny bit and enjoying a heightened sense of peace.

Preparing for this post helped with that peaceful feeling. It’s so easy to forget how much joy is in our lives; it’s like we can only see what is within several hours of right now. But every week when I sit down to go over the photos and events of the past week, specifically focusing on the highlights, I am consistently amazed at just how good life is. Speaking of a good life…

Happiness Highlights: Washington DC

DC 4th of July 012

We got up early last Monday on the 4th of July and hopped on a train into DC. We arrived at the National Archives just before 9 am and grabbed a seat on the ground among the crowd. We had all come, not for fireworks, but to hear a reading of the Declaration of Independence. (OK, and for the parade that started at noon. But also for the patriotic reading of this very important document!) Part of the text was read by local sports figures, and the grievances against King George were read by three actors dressed as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams.

I expected to be moved by the reading; I wasn’t prepared for the impact the list of grievances would have on me. I don’t remember reading these in school (although I’m sure I did at some point), and I felt like the grievances more than the promise of inalienable rights gave me a deeper understanding of what our forefathers were really fighting for. I developed another layer of understanding for a lot of things that day.

DC 4th of July 164

This is Nuha. She is an English teacher from Egypt visiting the United States as part of an educational program, and by some strange twist of fate we ended up watching the Independence Day Parade together. I’m not sure why she chose to sit by us, or why she picked me out of a throng of spectators to introduce herself to. I’m certain I wasn’t the most qualified person on the street to answer her many questions, but there could not have been anyone who would have been more deeply moved than I was. Her questions about the things I take for granted breathed life into principles I have given lip service to my entire life.

Why did we let those Bolivians dance in our parade?

Why did those Sikhs march waving American flags?

Who are those Vietnamese people in the parade, and what right do they have to be there?

Over and over I told her the same thing.

They’re American.

Neither ethnicity, heritage, nor religion – nor pride in any of those things – made any of them less American. This inclusiveness is something I know intellectually – it’s a lesson I wanted my kids to learn on this trip – but it’s something I take for granted as normal and universal. Nuha’s curiosity and astonishment reminded me just how remarkable that inclusiveness is.

family at fireworks This picture was actually taken by Shiny, one of the friends we watched the fireworks with at the foot of the Washington Monument.

Let me say that again:

We watched the 4th of July Fireworks in Washington DC at the foot of the Washington Monument.

It was fan-flipping-tastic and an experience worthy of a life list. A huge thank you to Mike and Kyra and Cissa for making the night both possible and magical. Both of your families have a permanent place in our hearts – and scrapbook.

Museum Day 083

Also in my heart permanently is the Smithsonian. Last week we hit up two of the free museums that line the National Mall: the National Museum of American History and the Natural History Museum. They were both fabulous in their own way and I could easily spend several more hours in each. What I really loved was watching Emma’s absolutely ecstasy at seeing the dinosaur exhibit in the Natural History Museum. The child practically shook with glee.

I love that my kids love museums. I love museums, and it’s wonderful to see that they share my love of learning. Watching them move from exhibit to exhibit, making notes and asking questions, vowing to dig deeper when they got home, any doubts I had about this year away from school were completely erased. There are lots of places outside of the classroom where learning can take place if you only open your heart to the opportunities.

Farmers Market 020

I finally got to go to a farmers’ market this weekend. I’ve been wanting to do this since we started our trip, with the goal being to give back to the communities we’re taking from by buying local, but this is the first time it’s actually worked out. It feels damn good to put my money where my values are – and it tastes pretty good, too!

What did you learn this week?

Weekly Happiness Highlights are a list of things that brought me joy, peace, or happiness in the last week. The point is to remember to be grateful, to focus on the good, and to be able to better answer the question “what makes me happy?” If you decide to post your own Happiness Highlights, please feel free to share the link in the comments. I’d love to see what’s making you happy right now!

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  1. Heather Schiavo says:

    DC is my very favorite city in the world, ever since my 8th grade class visit. It is beautiful and exciting and wonderful and it IS deeply moving, even if that wasn’t part of your plan for the visit. I could walk around and look at the beautiful monuments and read the inspirational quotes all day long. I was just able to introduce the area to my kids this past Spring Break and it meant so much to me. They appreciated it for completely different reasons than I do, but still, they both saw something there (at just 5 & 8). I’m so glad you had an amazing, moving time there and got to visit at such an extra meaningful time of the year.

  2. naomi says:

    This post is just quite lovely, made me cry and was just wonderful. Loving it all.

  3. Oh wow, Britt. I never thought of how awesome it would be to be in DC on 4th of July! I ama history buff and loved studying history when we were homeschooling, I can only imagine what this would’ve been like. Thank you for sharing with us! I have New Years Eve in TImes Square on my life list, I will have to add 4th of July in DC as well!
    I have to concur with you on the Smithsonian. We visited back when homeschooling 3 elementary and middle school kids. We had an awesome time. So much to see and do and learn, and all for free! Even though the kids are grown, I want to go back again myself!
    Glad that you are feeling a little bit better this week, and that the stress has settled a bit for you! Way to go!
    Learning to celebrate your strengths

  4. Tara R. says:

    One of the best family vacations we’ve ever had was visiting D.C. and roaming around in the many museums. There is always something that interested someone. We really need to go back again soon.

  5. Megan says:

    Got tears in my eyes thinking of you talking to Nuha (interesting that’s her name, no?). A little perspective does wonders.

    So jealous of you in DC on the 4th. Awesome!

  6. cagey says:

    I love DC. Sigh. We used to have a house on the Virginia side of things and I miss having a free place to stay out there (free when the house wasn’t rented out) One of my happiest times there was when I hugely pregnant with my first kid and I spent a week waddling my way through the Smithsonian.

  7. Jared says:

    Best fireworks I’ve ever seen.

  8. Lula Lola says:

    I’m hoping to take the kids to D.C. this fall. You’re really lucky to have gotten to share the experience with someone who illuminated the stuff that goes unnoticed to Americans. Glad it was a happy holiday!

  9. Robin says:

    I so want to go back to the Smithsonian. You can do a week’s vacation just focusing on that stretch of museums! Washington DC is like Philly to me – I truly believe we Americans take it for granted. There’s so much to see and do and learn about our history.

  10. Karen says:

    Walking around D.C. is one of my favorite things to do. Now that we live in OK (courtesy of the government), I don’t get to do it nearly enough. Great pictures!

  11. Rita says:

    This week my kids are in DC with my parents, going to so many of the places you wrote about. Your post made me even more grateful for the experience they are having. I hope you got to (get to?) see the Vietnam memorial. I’ve only been to DC once myself (in high school), and that was hands-down the most moving piece of public remembrance I’ve had the privilege to experience. I cannot explain the power of it. Because of that, I can imagine what the reading of the Declaration of Independence was like. Much as I sometimes bitch about things in our country, it is pretty fan-flipping-tastic. Thanks for the reminder of that.

  12. muskrat says:

    Now I wish we’d been there on July 4th! We got to experience MLK Day at the Lincoln Memorial, Easter at the National Cathedral, St Paddy’s in Alexandria, Memorial Day at Arlington cemetery, and the cherry blossoms at least.

  13. We were so glad we got to spend Independence Day with you and your family Britt! My youngest has mentioned your son a few times since then. Should I start getting togetehr the dowry contract? hehe. The oldest has asked if I can call you with hair questions because she was marveled at how “awesome” it was and since her hair is naturally curly too, she wants pointers. I think the best part of the day honestly, besides the fireworks, was the scavenger hunts we sent the kids on! So simple, and they had SUCH a good time with it. I hope I might get to see you again on your travels, but if not, I know someday I will get to see you again. Travel safe and have fun! Hugs to you all!

  14. martymankins says:

    Following your tweets and now reading this post and seeing photos, no wonder you had an awesome time. Incredible.

  15. Suzi says:

    Whistful….and a tad bit jealous. What an amazing journey. DC for fireworks and the 4th! AWESOME!!!

    I was wondering if the kids have camera’s? I would be great to have their image of what really sparks their interest and what inspires them. Also, not for nothing, it makes for great keepsakes, they tend to remember the most what THEY take the pictures of.

    Blessings to you and yours!


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  17. i keep putting dc off since i really want to do at least a week, if not two, there. considering how close it is to pittsburgh i really should just do a few long weekends.
    but dc on independence day? i’m not certain i could handle the crowds with the heat. as much as i love people, well…i’m not sure i could deal with that many on that day. regardless, i loved reading about your experiences and was thrilled that you all had such a tremendous experience.
    hope you hugged nuha.

  18. [...] are so many things to see and do in Washington D.C., and many of them are free. This makes it a great place to visit with children, especially if your [...]

  19. [...] responsibilities, and the immense privilege that comes with calling this country home. Perhaps the best thing about Washington, D.C. is that you can get all of that without spending a dime on admission [...]

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