The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia

The Academy of Natural Sciences hasn’t been on my radar for long. When doing internet searches for things to do and see in Philadelphia, it never came up, and I didn’t really know it existed until DH and I walked past it a while back.


The building caught our attention due to the dinosaur statue out front, but we learned that admission was over $15 a person, and that seemed a little steep for what essentially felt like a secret museum that no one ever told us we should visit.


But I kept the museum in mind for a day of solo wandering, and then earlier this month I noticed that they were offering pay-as-you-wish admission in honor of their founding anniversary.


I wished five dollars.


The museum is not as visually impressive as those old-school natural history museums with the high-ceiling-ed foyers and the super tall dinosaur bone extravaganzas. The Academy of Natural Sciences is low-ceiling-ed and little scruffy around the edges. It also feels very much like a workplace. I kept stumbling upon private doors, and “employees only” sections of the museum, and a very cool reading room where I felt a little unwelcome because I only wanted to take pictures for non academic purposes.


But even with the workplace vibe, this museum is charming and informative, especially if you have kids in tow.


I felt a little out of place being childless, alone, and unloved (just kidding, obviously I am beloved by all) since the exhibits were definitely catered towards kids and families, but on the upside I did visit during peak nap hours, so I had a lot of exhibits entirely to my selfish self.


I enjoyed the butterfly exhibit (with real live butterflies!), but I mostly wanted to see the dioramas, because I am a sucker for them, and they were totally worth the price of pay-as-you-wish admission.


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The Betsy Ross House


Of all the things on my list of sights to see in Philadelphia, the Betsy Ross House was the one most begrudgingly added. But I finally overcame my disinterest last weekend, when I walked through extreme winds to get to her house in Old City. The extreme winds are important, because you should know that I could have stayed home in front of my TV fireplace, but instead I chose to go out and learn some history. That kind of determination might be worth something, I don’t know. I demand the begrudging respect of my peers, at the very least!


Likely because of the extreme winds, the Besty Ross House was relatively deserted while I toured (I imagined everyone else sitting in front of their TV fireplaces and, I’ll admit, I felt a little bitter).


The gift shop had a few people straggling about, but I had Ross’ actual house-cum-museum all to myself. It was sufficiently old, and had convincingly creaky stairs, and I learned that poor ol’ Betsy lost a whole lot of her relatives to death and had to share that creaky house with other people because of falling on hard times.


So I was wandering around (to the tune of Celine Dion’s “ALL BY MYSELF”), taking some pictures, and I descended downstairs, where I was greeted by a Betsy Ross impersonator who scared me half to death. I thought I was alone! I had been about to take an ill-advised selfie!


I got over my shock and a had lovely chat with Betsy, who told me the history of the flag she made. I learned that she was not responsible for the actual flag design, but she did tweak the design she was given because she was a bold and saucy lady. Okay, I don’t actually know about the “saucy” part, but she was bold, I think. However, I can 100%, definitely attest to the fact that Betsy was a seamstress by trade.


The museum seemed like it would be especially well-suited to kids, since there were some hands-on exhibits and lots of information on what it was like to live during the “ye olden days” era. In conclusion, it was actually a pretty fun little tour, and I’m glad I made the effort. But I did practically run home afterwards to get to the warmth of my TV fireplace.

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The National Mall

Last Saturday we boarded a train in Philadelphia and got out at Union Station in Washington, DC. Then we took a long walk through the National Mall and took a train back home in time to walk the dog. It was an incredibly pleasant day.

This was my very first time in the DC, and DH’s first time at the National Mall. There’s so much to see along the route of the National Mall alone, including many amazing Smithsonian museums, but we just wanted a general overview. Mostly, we were craving exercise and the sunshine. Other than a pick-me-up coffee stop after we saw the White House, we stuck outside to the sights.

1. Union Station.


2. The Capitol Building.


3. The Supreme Court in the distance.


4. Capitol Hill.


5. The Washington Monument.


6. The White House.


7. View of the Washington Monument from the National World War II Memorial.


8. Attempted Washington Monument selfie from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.


9. The Lincoln Memorial.


10. Not pictured: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which we saw on foot, and the Jefferson Memorial, which we saw from our taxi on the way back to the train station. We’re also sad to have missed the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Next time.

P.S. We took so many pictures of each other on this trip, almost all of them totally unusable. We think we may have actually forgotten how to smile like normal people over these past few winter months. Here’s one of the better duds:


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One perk of our latest snow storm was that people started selling their Flyers tickets en masse, and for cheap. DH scored a great deal in classic DH fashion and we were off to the races.


The Flyers played the St. Louis Blues, and for the first two periods the Blues dominated the game. But the Flyers came back in kind of spectacular fashion in the third period with three goals. The very small crowd went wild!


Aside from winning, the night held additional perks, such as free pretzels and hot dogs, because the Flyers were so thankful we braved the storm for them. We felt super appreciated.


The downside of the storm was that there was no entertainment between the periods – apparently, all the acts had cancelled (except for the Mites on Ice, who played for a mere three minutes). But that just meant more time for us to stand in line for free pretzels and hot dogs, so it was still basically a glass half full kind of evening.


And because I’m incapable of mentioning hockey without also quoting the greatest sports AND hockey movie of all time, I’m sure you’ll allow me just one Mighty Ducks quote: “Now here’s the long and short of it: I hate hockey and I don’t like kids.” Oh, Gordon Bombay, you cad.




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One more thing about the Flower Show: it’s part exhibition, part competition. And it’s gets very competitive. A section of the Convention Center floor was devoted to various smaller-scale plant life competitions, all related to the theme of Hollywood. For example, there was a row of “jewelry” made out of plant life, and the jewelry was supposed to be inspired by Elizabeth Taylor’s style. As you might expect for a show of this size, the submissions were elaborate and impressive. It all looked like real jewelry to me and was all worthy of praise.


The judges, whose comments were printed above each entry, seemed to have felt differently.

Here are some of the judges’ comments for the Elizabeth Taylor jewelry competition:

“Admirable intricate, well-interpreted design; unfortunately, visibility of cotton stringing violates rules that mechanics must not show and that manufactured materials are not permitted.”

“Length of entire drop creates imbalance and weight allows wire to show.”

“Questionable connection to class theme.”

“Distinction affected by inconsistent metal texture on leaves.”

Then there was a competition to create a flower display inspired by a Bollywood movie poster. The judges, even for winning entries, remained basically unmoved:

“Top curly willow out of scale.”

“Static placement of components creates imbalances.”

“Lotus leaves dominate the design.”

Some of my favorite comments came on the diorama competition, in which participants created intricate dioramas inspired by movies.

The judge of the diorama of Little Shop of Horrors had this to say about the entry:

“Ineffective sight line.”

And regarding a scene from Lady and the Tramp:

“A whimsical ‘take.’ Minor scratch-built details could be improved.”

[I’m not sure if putting “take” in quotation marks indicates criticism or praise.]

Regarding a diorama of a scene from The Wizard of Oz, one judge went the nonsensical criticism route:

“Willingly palpable energy.”

And my favorite comment of the event, regarding a scene from Sleeping Beauty:

“A well-crafted juxtaposition of good and evil. More menacing plant material would enhance the evil.”

And now, let us all go forth and enhance the evil with more menacing plant material, shall we?


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The Flower Show

Philadelphia hosts an annual Flower Show at its Convention Center. According to various sources, it’s either the largest indoor flower show in the United States or in the whole wide world. Impressive, either way. But I had heard that admission was expensive, and it never really seemed like my kind of bag (I barely have a windowsill, let alone a garden), but many of my Philly friends attend loyally every year and they all say it’s a must-see event. Of course, nothing convinced me to go quite like the offer of a free extra ticket, courtesy of a colleague. So now I know what everyone was talking about.


According to the Flower Show promotional video, this event was once (somehow, someway – no details were given) voted winner of the impressive, if broad, “best event in the world” category. That could be super prestigious, or it could be a made-up award voted on by some loner from his or her shag-carpeted, wood-paneled basement. But no judgment – I sure don’t have a basement to my name.

Whether or not it’s “best event in the world” amazing, the Flower Show, hosted by the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, is a super big deal for the city. There’s a new theme every year – this year’s was Hollywood, which meant entering in on a red carpet as famous movie clips played on a big screen overhead. It was all a bunch of spectacle, and I mean that as a compliment.


Different organizations put together flower displays based on the theme – all of them elaborate and amazing. There were displays based on Frozen, Disney princesses, Peter Pan, Ratatouille, and on and on.


There were also flowers and seeds for purchase, plus all the other garden-y stuff you could want: gnomes, outdoor rocking chairs, and whatever else it is that green-thumbs with disposable income go nuts for.


I sent DH pictures from the convention center floor, but he didn’t quite get the appeal. For me, it was a pleasant excuse to get out of the house, and I really felt like I was among my people: the slightly older than middle aged.


The best thing about the Flower Show, I think, is the timing. We’re in the midst of another stupid winter storm. I almost didn’t make it intact to the Convention Center because the sidewalks outside were so dangerously slick. So after all that weather nastiness, it was super refreshing to smell beautiful fragrances from lovely living things.


Spring will come! I believe!

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On a recent February Saturday, a one foot of snow kind of day, we mustered up the courage to leave the house for a much-needed grocery shop. And, because it was on our route, we also stopped by our local German-themed restaurant to have a Rothaus Pilsner. It’s a favorite beer of ours, and newly on tap at Brauhas Schmitz.

I thought that the pub would be empty, because I assumed that most people would look out of their windows, see the sorry state of the world, and then barricade themselves inside until spring, like reasonable people. In reality, the place was packed with an amazingly jolly crowd, everyone seemingly at peace with the world. So I guess some people just go out and about, regardless of weather? And they enjoy it? Weird.

DH and I did enjoy our beers, but we did not enjoy being away from home, nor did we care for the pervasive goodwill and overall cheeriness that surrounded us. We drank our beers, took some pictures as evidence of our winter pluck, and then sped home with our groceries to barricade ourselves indoors. Apparently we’re not what you would call “people” people, at least not on snowy Saturdays in February.


P.S. The crazy eyes and smile in this picture are a mere imitation of the Rothaus logo in the background, more indicative of winter madness than anything (although, again, the beer was delightful). But just so you don’t worry, we have one more storm to get through today, and then we might be through the worst of winter has to offer. In fact, we seem to be experiencing a strange sensation, possibly akin to hope? Time will tell if it’s misplaced.


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