Michael J. Quinlan

Remembering “The Master” Michael J. Quinlan

Death approaches.  Be dignified.

It was August, but an unseasonably chilly wind nipped at the ankles.  Dark, threatening clouds darted across the sky and before it was all over, cold raindrops splashed down on the crowd gathered around the grave.

Michael J. Quinlan

Michael Quinlan

I first met Michael J. Quinlan at Shannon Airport in Co. Clare, Ireland.

My group and I arrived from the States, bleary-eyed and sleep deprived, but happy to be in Ireland.  It was my first group tour and I was anxious for everything to run smoothly.  Much of that depended on the tour bus driver.  And that driver was Michael J. Quinlan. 

I spotted him immediately as we exited the baggage claim area.  He held a placard with my name on it.  “You must be Deirdre,” his blue eyes twinkled as I approached.  “And you must be Michael,” I replied, immediately charmed.

I had no idea that at that moment I had met one of the most interesting, educated, fascinating and yes, charming individuals I would ever have the pleasure to know.

The Shanachie

Over the next five years, Michael carted my groups all over Ireland.  He was so much more than a driver and guide.  He shared stories of his teaching career that spanned more than 30 years.  He always referred to himself as a teacher – never once did he mention that he was actually principal of the local school.  I only found that out much later. 

Michael explaining architecture

He was a masterful shanachie – a storyteller.  Whether a ‘story’ (joke), folklore or a legend – Michael could spin a yarn that kept his audience rapt.  He had farmed land and milked cows. He showed us the village in Co. Cork where his grandparents had lived.  He shared tales of his volunteer experiences teaching the people of Belize how to grow potatoes. 

Michael loved to sing.  And loved getting others to sing as well.  As we traversed the winding backroads of Ireland, he would find any opportunity to break into song. “Come on now, Deirdre,” he’d say.  “Let’s have a song!” My feeble protests were no match for Michael’s enthusiasm.  Even I, who couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, sang my heart out!  I am pretty sure that he might even have gone out of his way as we were driving through Co. Kerry, to detour through the town of Castlemaine – just so he could share this familiar song with his guests:

There was a wild colonial boy

Jack Duggan was his name.

He was born and raised in Ireland

In a place called Castlemaine

 

Michael once asked me if I spoke Irish.  “Sadly, no,” I replied.  My mother, who completed her entire education in Irish, told me my pronunciation was awful so I never pursued it.  Michael encouraged me.  He gave me book titles, tips on how to learn the grammar and assured me that I was quite capable of learning to speak it.  He pushed me to try and then patiently corrected my horrid pronunciation. 

A Renaissance Man

As my groups traversed Ireland with Michael at the wheel, we learned snippets of his life.  He was always more interested in talking to and about his visitors, but occasionally he would share some of his own stories as well.  We learned that he had a lovely wife, Anne and six grown children scattered all over the world.  After he “retired” from the primary school in Bruff, he earned a degree in Archeology and loved working on site excavations throughout Ireland. Like all Irish, he passionately followed hurling and was thrilled to watch his grandson play. 

No site in Ireland was too remote for Michael to find or visit.  No matter where my guests asked to go, he would always figure out a way to get us there. On time.  And be waiting for us upon our return.

Michael the teacher

The consummate teacher

We often wondered what he did during all the “down” time of driving us around. Some drivers get coffee or chat with other drivers.  Maybe polish the fenders.

Not Michael.

He read.  Avidly.  He always had three or four books with him on a trip and he would spend his free time devouring them. 

 He also wrote.  Every single day.  For years, he had kept a journal.  Once I asked him what he wrote about.  Thinking – presumptuously – it was probably accounts of his travels with tourists, he said, “Today is my daughter’s birthday.  So I’m writing about her.”  Poetry, songs, anecdotes, stories, memories, Michael kept journals for more than twenty-five years. He joked that they would probably make a great bonfire – but I highly doubt that anyone will be burning them. 

This year, when I rang to make my coach/driver arrangements for my tour group, the young woman quietly told me that Michael was not available to drive.  My concerned queries were, as is so typical of the Irish, answered very vaguely.  “Oh, he isn’t well.”  “No, we’re not sure when he’ll be driving again.” “Yes, actually it is a bit serious.”

Michael explaining stone circles

Michael explaining stone circles

Too Late

I had planned to ring him when my guests left Ireland.

I was one day too late. 

Sadly, Michael J. Quinlan slipped into a coma and died on August 4, 2018.

I could not leave Ireland without going to the funeral.  Despite going alone and knowing no one there, I felt compelled. Michael brought such joy and laughter to my groups of visitors; I had to represent them.    

St. Patrick’s Church in Loch Gur is a tiny, wooden, country church and yard that stands next to the Honey Fitz Theatre at a crossroads in Co. Limerick.  The entire parish turned out to help it seemed, with men in neon yellow safety vests, directing traffic into adjoining fields that local farmers had opened to allow parking.  Ladies stood in groups, chatting quietly. Guests waited patiently in the queue to sign the guestbook before filing into the church.  Surprisingly, there were lots of young people.  Former students, I guessed.

As is the tradition, the casket was already at the front of the church, having been brought there from the home the evening before to remain in the church overnight. I was early, but nearly every seat was already filled.  I paused in the back for a few minutes, then walked up the aisle to pay my respects to the family. 

On top of the casket was a photograph of Michael, all decked out in cycling gear and grinning out from under his bike helmet.  It was perfect.

I introduced myself to Anne.  At first, she looked puzzled, as of course, she did not know me.  But when I explained that Michael had been our driver for so many trips, her face broke into a great smile, she hugged me and said excitedly to her children, “Dad was their driver for their tours!”  By then I couldn’t hold back tears anymore, but I was so glad I’d come.  

As the time approached for the Mass to begin, the church was bursting at the seams.  The ushers found me a seat much nearer to the front than I wanted, but in the end, I was happy to be able to see and hear Michael’s children and grandchildren speak and sing as we celebrated his life. The songs and prayers were in both English and Irish. 

I learned so much more about this amazing man that day. The choir, which he founded and led at St. Patrick’s aptly dubbed him “The Master.”  I discovered that he had been guiding tourists for more than 30 years.  I realized that he was the driving force behind having his beloved Lough Gur established and developed as a World Class Heritage Center. He had personally trained all the guides. 

His friend, Fr. Liam Holmes, said that Michael’s accomplishments were so great that he fitted two lifetimes into his 80 years.  He spoke of Michael’s writing and the pages of words he would produce every day.  However, on the day that Michael learned about the aggressive cancer that was attacking his body, he wrote only four words: 

Death approaches. Be dignified. 

Sword fight

Sword (cane) fight

At the conclusion of the Mass, the men took their turns under the casket, shouldering Michael’s mortal remains on the final journey to the tiny churchyard outside.  As the large extended family surrounded the grave, scores of mourners braved the unseasonable wind and stood back a bit, making room.  Everyone joined in praying the Rosary and the graveside prayers. Songs followed.  The family members tossed the traditional handfuls of sod into the grave.  The raindrops fell.  It was, as they say, a fitting send-off.

TEAMPALL NUA

Oh! I long to see that churchyard

By Lough Gur’s romantic shore,

Where the shamrock and the ivy ever grow;

Where the wild dove and the raven like protecting spirits soar

O’er the green graves of silent Teampall Nua.

Christmas at the White House

Nobody gets in to see the wizard.  Nobody.  No how.

That’s how it feels trying to get into a post 9-11 White House.

White House East Door

There is considerable ‘hoop jumping’ involved.  However, if you can get past the procedural challenges, the reward is worth it.  Especially at Christmas time.

Yesterday, after literally months of planning, we were able to do just that.  Beyond clearing two security checkpoints, we were able to walk virtually unimpeded up to the East Wing entrance where we were greeted by a giant red bow-topped “package” leading up to the doors

Red Garland White House

Garlands everywhere!

Garlands of every colour and style graced the doorways throughout the House.  Balls, baubles, leaves, fruit, ribbons, bows and raffia!  Whatever you can imagine – in every color!  Simply gorgeous!

White House Pups

Down the hallway to the East Landing giant furry replicas of the First Dogs, Bo and Sunny greet visitors.  Volunteers are standing by to take guests’ photos in front of the dogs – normally I don’t like to be in the pictures, but who could resist these two cuties?

East Wing Colonnade

Draped from the ceiling along the colonnade, thousands of sparkling crystals danced among the ribbons.  It is such a simple decoration –  lengths of ribbon hanging in streamers – but it created a dazzling effect.

White House Christmas

The real White House Pups

It was at this point, while looking up and admiring all the ribbons, that I heard a commotion behind me.  I spun around just in time to see the two Portuguese Water Dogs, Bo and Sunny, come trotting by with a handler no doubt on the way to an event.  I managed to snap a quick photo – not the best, but certainly a keeper!   After having just stood next to the giant ones, the real Bo and Sunny were surprisingly small!

Christmas, and more!

Even though the point of our visit was to see the White House dressed up for Christmas, seeing the portraits of past Presidents and First Ladies was quite a thrill.

White House First Lady

 

White House Library

 

decorations detail

 

Christmas decor

 

East Room Window Wreath

Entering the East Room is breathtaking!  Decorated in traditional colors of red, gold, burgundy and silver, it also contained a nearly life-size crèche prominently placed between the fireplaces in the center of the room.  Here, again, volunteers were conveniently waiting to take photos for all who ask.

White House Christmas

White House Gingerbread

 

 

Nutcracker in East Room

The tour is self-guided and so during the course of our visit, our group had become intermingled with a group from Gettysburg, PA who were dressed in Civil War Period costumes.  Their presence added a certain mystique to the White House, as if transporting it back in time.  I admit that I tried to photograph them whenever I could!

Christmas White House

Gettysburg Ladies at White House

Red Room Christmas

Very limited photography

As you can imagine, security is very strict.  While photos are allowed, they can only be with a camera phone or a small camera without a detachable lens.  I took mine with my phone which was kind of disappointing.  However, it is only recently that photography is allowed inside at all, so no complaints!

Red Room Bow

 

Green Room Fireplace

 

White House Foyer

 

White House Foyer

For more information

All tour requests must go through the office of a Congressman and may be made 3 months to 21 days in advance of your visit.  The Secret Service is very strict about what is allowed inside so it is important to follow the instructions.  Everyone goes through a security check before being allowed to tour.  Complete instructions are available here.

Do you have a favourite place to visit during the Christmas Holidays?  Tell us about it in the comments!

 

Pursuing Thoroughbred Royalty: Claiborne Farm

The name Claiborne Farm is synonymous with greatness in the Thoroughbred Racing. 

That is why, on a recent driving trip from Colorado Springs back to the east, I could not pass up the chance to venture just 12 short miles off the interstate and stop in Paris, Kentucky to visit the final resting place of the incomparable Secretariat. Having had the good fortune to have seen him win the Preakness during his Triple Crown campaign, Claiborne was an obvious stop.

Most people are probably familiar with Secretariat, indisputably one of the greatest thoroughbred horses of all time. But if not, Big Red, as he was fondly called around the stable area, won racing’s illusive Triple Crown in 1973. The chestnut son of Bold Ruler out of a mare by Princequillo still holds the record in all three of the Triple Crown races:  The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness and The Belmont Stakes. 

Once Secretariat was retired from racing, he stood as a stallion at Claiborne and remained there until his death in 1989 at the ripe old age – for a racehorse – of 19.

Arrival

Despite the day being showery and wet, Claiborne was beautiful. The field stone pillars gracing the entrance proudly proclaimed the name given by founder Arthur B. Hancock in the 19th century. The tree lined drive wound down to the office which gave way to miles of black board fencing and cream colored barns and outbuildings. Over 3000 acres of rolling fields and paddocks are home to more than 250 thoroughbred mares, foals, weanlings, yearlings, horses in training and, of course, the stallions. 

IMG_0157

I stepped into the office to check in for my pre-arranged tour and stopped dead in my tracks. The room was cozy and comfortable, with wing chairs and small tables strategically arranged around the stone fireplace.  But what instantly caught my attention were the leather halters hanging on the walls.  At first I could hardly believe they were real, but then I began reading the names:  Nasrullah, Bold Ruler, Nijinsky II, Danzig, Princequillo, Swale.  I touched them almost reverently, quietly  breathing some of the greatest names in horse racing history.  I stroked the brass nameplates imagining each one, not hanging in orderly rows on the wall, but rather gracing the noble heads of their respective owners. I felt as if I were in the presence of royalty.  These were the names of great sires that I had been hearing since I was a child.  Some of my earliest memories are of discussions of racing pedigrees and these names were nearly as familiar as my own.

IMG_0166

Path leading to the stallion barns and breeding facilities

Wandering outside to await my guide, my gaze drifted out across the green meadows drinking in the tranquility.  The pleasant silence was broken only by the chirping of birds and the occasional distant whinny of an unseen horse.  As it turned out, the other visitors who had signed up for the tour decided to postpone due to the inclement weather.  I got a private tour.   

IMG_0165

The Stallions

Late summer is a quiet time at Claiborne; there isn’t as much going on as during the late winter breeding season and spring foaling season.  John, my guide, and I strolled and chatted beneath the shade of the sycamore trees, some of which were planted by Arthur Hancock himself.  Only a few buildings are included on the tour.   In the c.1860 tobacco barn turned breeding shed, we discussed the merits of artificial turf and decided that it is better suited for breeding barns than racetrack surfaces.

In one of the stallion barns, Algorithms and Orb were lying down, taking a late morning nap.  Their box stalls were immense, bedded in fresh straw with screens painted the signature cream color.   The barn was immaculate, the aisles and walkways paved with rubberized bricks. 

Claiborne Farm nameplates

Brass nameplates adorn the stalls with the most recent occupant listed first

 

IMG_0167

Secretariat’s name appears just over that of his sire, Bold Ruler

 

IMG_0177

Circling around to the six-stall barn, I met Blame, notorious for his defeat of Zenyatta in the 2010 Breeders Cup Classic, and War Front. On each stall door was the name of the current occupant (first) and all those famous horses that had lived there previously.  John carried a stash of red and white mints in his pocket and the clever horses knew to come to the door for a treat when we arrived.  Blame, in particular, who licked my hand after I produced the mint, seemed to relish his sweets.  Perhaps he knows that he is “equine-nongrata” in the eyes of many visitors to Claiborne.  Some have never forgiven him for ending the winning streak of the great filly Zenyatta.

Blame looking for sweets

Blame looking for sweets

War Front refuses to pose for the camersa

War Front refuses to pose for the camersa

We paused at each stall where John was able to tell me about pedigrees and statistics about every horse.  He was a wealth of information, had some great stories about each animal and easily answered all my questions. 

John pointed out the paddock where Secretariat used to be turned out and explained the need for the privacy fence that had been installed along the road.  Apparently when Secretariat was retired to Claiborne Farm, there were so many people who wanted to catch a glimpse of him that they would stop along the road clogging up the traffic. If the tours were filled and they couldn’t get in, some people had even climbed the fences to get in to see him!  Imagine the potential danger for people unaccustomed to thoroughbred horses – especially stallions!  

The Stallion Cemetery

Our final stop on the tour was one of four thoroughbred graveyards at Claiborne – the main stallion cemetery.  There are 21 stallions buried on the site located just behind the main office.  It is framed by manicured hedges, and once again I found myself standing in awe of the great names.  Beginning with Swale, the son of Seattle Slew who died suddenly of a heart attack just 8 days after his Belmont Stakes win,  I moved silently around, stopping at each grey, moss-covered stone to pay my respects:  Gallant Fox, Buckpasser, Mr. Prospector, Riva Ridge, Round Table and finally, Secretariat

IMG_0160

IMG_0161

20150806_095018

Mission accomplished.  But so much more.  Even for someone like me who was raised on thoroughbred farms, knows racing and understands the business, it was a wonderful day.  I would highly recommend it.  Claiborne Farm will not disappoint. 

Continuing the legacy

Today, the fourth generation of the Hancock family has taken over the reins of Claiborne operations.  There are currently 11 stallions continuing the long tradition of Classic race winners, Horses of the Year, Leading Sires and Triple Crown Winners.  Visitors are invited to come for guided tours at 10 and 11 am daily.  The tours are free, but it is customary to provide a gratuity to the guide. 

Contact:  http://www.claibornefarm.com/     703 Winchester Road, Paris, KY 40361   Phone:  (859) 987-2330   (859) 233-4252 

 

 

A Little Kindness Goes a Long Way

This is a little different type of post today.


This has been a tough week. All over the world the anger and hatred of certain people is boiling over to affect other innocent people who have no part in the fight. As a traveler, and one who will be boarding an international flight tomorrow, I was particularly troubled by the crash of the Malaysian flight over the Ukraine. I found myself disconcerted, troubled, morose.

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial


So it was a happy respite to have a tour to do on Saturday. My group of guests came from various southern states and included couples and families. We had a beautiful, coolish, breezy day and they got to see nearly everything on their “must see” list of Washington, D.C.

US Capital Dome

US Capital Dome

 

Towards the end of the tour, one of the guests, a college student named Emily (not her real name) asked me where would be a good place for a friend to meet her. After asking a few questions, I learned that Emily, a college senior, had come up from North Carolina with her parents and was embarking on one of those cool, crazy, fun things that college students do – c’mon, you all remember them – and parents fret about.

 

One friend was driving to DC from New Jersey to pick her up. They were going to go back to New Jersey and then on into New York City where another friend is interning for the summer. The problem was, that the NJ friend was stuck in traffic and the parents were reluctant to drop their daughter off alone on the streets of D.C. The bus and group had a 4pm deadline to leave Washington.

 

So I chimed in, “Tell your friend to meet you at Union Station. It’s an easily accessible, well-known location and my car is parked nearby so I will take you there and stay with you until she arrives.”

 


It was all arranged and after kisses and hugs, Emily hopped off the tour bus with me at Union Station. We went in, I showed her around and we got a coffee while awaiting the arrival of her friend. They were texting back and forth about locations and arrival times – the mom in me hoped that her friend wasn’t texting and driving. And of course, I said so. We chatted about college and plans and what to do in NYC.

 

Union Station, Washington,D.C.

Union Station, Washington,D.C.


I asked how long they were going to be staying in New York – it was about 4:30 on Saturday afternoon at that point – she said, “Not too long, I have to be back at work in on Monday morning.” I just laughed and wondered if she realized that it was going to take about 5 hours to drive to New York from DC. This truly was one of those crazy things you do when you are 20-ish, but I knew, given the opportunity, I’d have done exactly the same thing at that age!


Within a few minutes, her friend arrived. We waved her down and my parting words to Emily were, “Be sure to text your dad!” I am a mother, after all.


I headed across the plaza towards my car and before I even got there, my phone was ringing. It was Emily’s father, thanking me again for staying with his daughter and helping her make the connection. It was such a simple thing, really, just a little human kindness. A half-hour of my time to ease the anxiety and uncertainty of so many people. I felt great.

 


It’s amazing that something so simple can make you feel so good. Amid all the chaos of life it is easy to forget that. It’s likely I’ll never see her again – but those 30 minutes made my week. It truly is in giving that we receive.

The Daily Post – Honey vs. Vinegar

Touring Washington, D.C. – Never a Dull Moment!

Besides being a teacher, an avid traveler, an aspiring writer and photographer, I am a tourist guide in Washington, D.C.  While we are winding down our busiest time of year, there are still a bazillion school groups coming to the Nation’s Capital.  It seems that every 8th grade in the entire country comes to Washington in the spring (and many 5th, 6th and 7th grades as well!). 

This week, I have had a group of adults from Finland and 5 different school groups; 4 from various places in Michigan and one from Texas.  While they generally all want to see the same things, there is variation based on time, weather and schedule.  But there is never a dull moment in Washington.  Something new and strange is always happening. 

Sacred Air Space

On Saturday, my Finnish adults stopped at the Capitol to take photos.  We had just gotten off the bus, when I noticed 20130928_133901that the Capitol police were shrilly blowing their whistles and seemed to be clearing people from the plaza immediately in front of the building itself.  I thought that perhaps one of the Honor Flight groups was coming and they wanted to give them space. 

But suddenly, the Capitol Police officer was running towards us, shouting at people to clear the area and urgently waving them away from the Capitol grounds. I ran back to our bus, which had not yet pulled away and asked our driver  not to leave as I thought we might have to re-board.  Then the police officer is up in front of the bus window telling the driver to “get that bus out of here!” (My guests were beginning to re-board as quickly as possible) So I asked the officer, “Can I please get my group back on the bus?”  His response?  (In a very LOUD voice)”There is a plane headed toward the Capitol.  Do you want this bus here when it arrives? Get it OUT of here!”  I just about shoved the last few people on the bus and our driver, bless his heart, moved it. 

Lunch was next on the agenda, so we proceeded there without further incident.  Many of the guests understood English, but some hardly any so I think that they really didn’t know what was happening. 

I did a little research during lunch and afterwards told them the story. 

Apparently a small private plane flown by a new pilot had violated D.C. airspace and didn’t immediately respond to calls for identification.  They went into emergency mode, scrambled F-16’s, and when the poor pilot, who was just flying to North Carolina to visit his daughter, landed, he was met by CIA and FBI.  Probably not a good day for him.

We were able to visit the Capitol (without incident) after dinner.  And they had a great story to tell when they got home! 

 

Wait – who was that guy?

 On Tuesday, I had a group of middle school students from Texas.  They had a scheduled tour inside the Capitol.  We unloaded the bus on the west side of the building and walked up to the Visitor Center, stopping along the way so everyone could catch up and I could explain all the sights.  We had reached the southeast corner, the House side of the Capitol, and they had a great view of the Library of Congress.  So I commented, “The green domed building you see behind me is The Library of Congress, and behind you is Senator Charles Rangle!” (D-NY)  As I was facing my group I suddenly noticed that he was walking behind them.  I didn’t actually mean to blurt it out, but he was literally a step away from my students. 

He smiled, waved and a few parents shook his hand. 

20140611_121609We proceeded into the Visitor Center for their tour.  I usually don’t accompany the groups on the tour – but the dome is under major renovation in the rotunda and I wanted to see for myself how it looked.  It was a very busy day – not just because of the tour groups, but there were hearings going on, television cameras and newscasters everywhere; the place was a buzz of activity. 

On the tour, the groups move from the Rotunda into Statuary Hall, through a narrow corridor, passing by the Office of the Speaker of the House.  As we passed through the passageway, who should approach from the House Chambers, but Speaker John Boehner himself (surrounded by the usual cadre of Secret Service).  He passed about three feet away from us!  One of the parent chaperones in the group got a photograph!  I wasn’t that quick. 

1, 2, 3 helicopters!

It is uncommon to see the President (or POTUS – President Of The United States, as he is commonly called in D.C.) out and about in Washington.  When he does ‘move’, it is generally in a large motorcade; streets are closed, traffic is snarled and everything generally comes to a halt.  But while stopped at a traffic light on Friday evening with a group of students from Michigan, we suddenly spotted the tell-tale triple helicopters flying low over the Mall.  Sure enough, Marine One was transporting the President from Andrews Air Force Base where he had just arrived back from France and the D-Day/Normandy Commemorations, to the White House.  The students were able to see the helicopter disappear below the trees as it landed on the south lawn.    imgres 

Thundering Hordes

One of the very special things to do while in Washington DC is to tour the monuments at night.  On warm evenings, it is a spectacularly beautiful city – the monuments and buildings are all illuminated; the fountains and pools are bathed in soft light.  Unfortunately, the hot, humid weather of the DC summer often gives way to an evening thunderstorm, some of which can be quite severe.  Last week, while on one of those idyllic evening tours with my group of students from Texas, I noticed the evening sky was darkening ominously in the distance.  Like a hen ushering chicks, I urged my young charges to move a little faster.  We rapidly crossed the plaza in front of the Lincoln Memorial and raced up the stairs just as the first gigantic drops of rain began to fall.  Safely beneath the sheltering marble pillars I explained the memorial and allowed the students some free time to explore while I figured out our next move in the rain and storm.  imgres Suddenly there was a flash of lightening followed immediately by a huge clap of thunder seemingly right above our heads!  But the subsequent piercing screams of pre-adolescent girls were far worse than any amount of thunder.  They echoed in the cavernous space of the memorial and made my ears ring! 

The downpour began in earnest and most of the noise created by the hundreds of people crowded into the Memorial was drowned out.  Some of the students wanted to make a “run for it” to the bus but fortunately sane adults prevailed.  The gift shop made a small fortune in the space of 20 minutes selling rain ponchos and anyone moving about was ducking and weaving to avoid being hit in the eye by an umbrella! 

After about 20 minutes, the thunder and lightning had moved away and the rain had abated slightly.  The 70 or so marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial are slick as ice when they are wet, so I guided my charges to the handrail with strict orders to “hold-on and don’t run” as they descended.  Across the plaza, through the trees and out to the waiting bus, all the while leaping and avoiding puddles and lochs of water (at least I was!), you could hear the exuberance of the kids after surviving their great adventure! 

Guests visiting Washington often ask me if I get tired of explaining or describing the same things over and over again.  Never!  Because it is never the same, there is always something new and different to see or tell about.  While the basic scenery may stay the same, the people, the activity and the ambiance are ever-changing.  There is never a dull moment!