Celebrating 100 Blog Posts!

As we reach the beginning of February the novelty of the new year starts to wear off, but here at It’s a Schmahl World, we are celebrating a blogging milestone! Today we are posting our 100th post! When we started this blog to write about our travels, we didn’t expect to be where we are today. In this post, we’ll look back at how our lives have changed from being two young professionals working full time to a Peace Corps volunteer and an engineering graduate student.

 

 

Back to where it all began, our first post It’s a Schmahl World after all… published in February of 2016. Both Kim and I were working full time saving up all our paid time off to travel. We went on trips with our family to Washington DC for the 4th of July and a quick trip to Colombia for our first time in South America! Kim was able to go to Europe with her college roommates, 5 years after graduation! Highlights of their two week trip were hiking through Plitvice Park in Croatia, visiting the baths and ruin bars in Budapest, exploring palaces and the opera house in Vienna, and wandering the narrow streets and canals of Venice.

 

 

Occasionally I was lucky enough to travel for work, one time all the way across the globe to Japan for two weeks. For my first time in Asia, I got the chance to attend a festival the small city of Utsunomiya, wander the temples of Nikko and explore parts of Tokyo for a day. I even reached waaayyyy out of my comfort zone to experience a Japanese onsen (or a naked bath house).

 

 

September of 2016 came with an exciting road trip around Iceland’s Ring Road for Nelson and I. We snorkeled between the tectonic plates, hiked on a glacier, saw some amazing waterfalls and last but not least we got engaged! While planning is still in the works over a year later, Nelson and I are finally going to tie the knot in July of 2018.

 

 

Kim was the next to have a major life change when she decided to join the American Peace Corps to teach high school math in Liberia. Before she left we went on one last family vacation to Florida. We made the most of our limited time together exploring Key West, Disney World and the Ringling Museum.

 

 

In June of 2017, Kim packed her bags and began the long journey to Liberia. After a bit of training in Washington DC, they received 3 months of training in the of Kakata, just an hour outside of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. Currently she has been teaching at her site for the last 5 months and learning the ins and outs of her community. See all of her updates about living in Liberia here!

 

 

To wrap up our life changes through 100 posts we’ll look at a recent big change in my life. I left my full time job and my first order of business was to go on an amazing week long 10 year friendaversary trip to Tuscany, Italy with two friends from Girl Scouts. I traveled solo for the first time to Copenhagen, Denmark and now after my sabbatical I have started going to school full time to get my masters degree in Mechanical Engineering!

 

 

When we began this blog, we never would have guessed where we’d be now, after 100 posts… who knows where we will be after the next 100 posts, but we are excited to continue the journey!

img_7181

 

Staging in Washington D.C. & Off to Liberia!

I made it to Liberia!  I’ve been here almost two weeks, I’m working on catching up on blog posts about everything here, but first I want to start from the beginning! 

Armed with two checked bags each 50 pounds or less (after some last minute shuffling at the airport) and my back pack and day pack, I began my Peace Corps journey by reporting to “staging” in Washington D.C. The 56 of us in my group, LR-7 (the 7th group of 2-year volunteers to go to Liberia), were in D.C. for just two days.

Peace Corps Liberia
I arrived in the afternoon and the first session wasn’t until that evening, so I went out to lunch with some fellow volunteers (when we all had crazy amounts of luggage and were on the shuttle headed to the same hotel, it was pretty obvious that we were in the same group!). Then we had a quick registration and intro session and were free for the rest of the evening. So a group of us went to a nearby restaurant intending to get burgers (possibly our last for a while!) only to realize that the burgers were only on their lunch menu! But no matter, the food was still good and it was fun to get to know some of the other volunteers – which I was quickly realizing would be a big part of staging!

The next day kicked off what would not be the last of long days of training! We were in sessions all morning and afternoon, our first overall introduction to the Peace Corps (not just Peace Corps Liberia). We did a couple ice breakers, talked about the Peace Corps core expectations and broke into groups to do skits around some of the different scenarios that we may face. Another thing that I really appreciated was that we talked about what everyone is excited about and anxious about – it was nice to hear that a lot of people were feeling the same things!

Peace Corps Liberia Group Photo

We finished up around 5:00 and then were free for the evening. A group of us decided to rent bikes and ride to the National Mall! Our hotel in Virginia was only about 5 miles away. At first I wasn’t sure we were headed in the right direction but we eventually found the right bridge and just across the river was the Lincoln Memorial!

Seeing the Mall by bike was so much faster than walking it like we did on our family vacation last summer! We stopped at the Lincoln Memorial, rode by the Washington Monument, stopped for ice cream and rode past the White House before returning our bikes. And we stumbled upon a free concert in front of the Capitol building!

After watching some of the concert we ordered an uber to head back towards the hotel and we ended up having a very inspiring conversation with our uber driver! When our driver found out we were leaving for Peace Corps, he told us that he had so much respect for Peace Corps volunteers because the first Americans he had ever met were his Peace Corps teachers when he was growing up in Swaziland. They were the reason he wanted to come to America! It was so fitting for our last night in the U.S.!

The next morning, we checked out of our hotel and headed to the airport. The only hiccup was right at the beginning when we were checking our bags. We had thought that the weight of our carry-on bags didn’t matter so, of course, that’s where we packed our heaviest stuff, but then some people were getting their carry-on’s weight checked too! It turned out fine for me, but I was definitely nervous! The rest of the 28-hour trip went smoothly, flying from D.C. to Brussels to Monrovia. Arriving in Liberia, after going through customs and picking up our bags at a very chaotic baggage claim (with no missing bags for the group!), we were greeted outside by Peace Corps staff and volunteers!

img_6141

Then we headed to the city of Kakatta for the start of our pre-service training, more about the first week of PST in my next post!

Washington, DC: Ford’s Theatre and Abraham Lincoln’s Legacy

Abraham Lincoln holds a vital place in American history, and reminders of him can be found in many places throughout the nation’s capital, Washington DC. The Lincoln Memorial, located at the west end of the National Mall, is the most obvious dedication to the late President. The structure is 99 ft tall and 202 ft wide and the statue of Lincoln inside is 19ft tall. Many historic gatherings have happened here, including Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a Dream” speech!

Also on the National Mall, the National Museum of American History houses many amazing artifacts from America’s history. From the American Flag that inspired the Star Spangled banner, to Dorothy’s shoes from The Wizard of Oz. One exhibition is called “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden”. It has artifacts from all of the Presidents and First Families but the most notable for Abraham Lincoln was the top hat he wore to Ford’s Theater the night he was assassinated.


The last Lincoln tribute we visited was Ford’s Theater, which is all about Abraham Lincoln. They give out free tickets in the morning on a first come first serve basis but they also sell tickets ahead of time online. We opted to buy ours online to make sure we didn’t miss out! The tour started in a museum underneath the theater. Its exhibits follow Lincoln’s life from when he first arrives in Washington to the night he was assassinated. You can learn about Lincoln’s political policies, his important role in the Civil War, and they even have the gun John Wilkes Booth used to kill the President on display.


The next step of the tour is in the actual theater. They start to tell everyone to move to the theater when you still have 10 minutes or so to explore the museum, but you don’t need to rush, there are plenty of seats. If you didn’t purchase the audio tour you can’t come back down, so make sure to see your fill downstairs first. Once in the theater, a National Park Service Ranger walks you though April 14th, 1865 from both Lincoln and Booth’s perspectives. The ranger’s monologue is well done and very informative. Once they are done you are able to explore the theater and get a better view of where the president was sitting on that fateful night.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Included in the Ford’s Theater ticket is a visit to the Peterson House across the street. This is where Lincoln was taken and tended to before dying at 7:22 am on April 15th, 1865. The house is staged similar to how it was the night Lincoln died. After going through the Peterson house, you come out in more exhibits about that night in the building next door.

img_6856

There are many statues of Abraham Lincoln but none are more accurate than the bust in the U.S. Capital Building. Lincoln’s bust was carved in 1908 straight out of marble instead of making it from a plaster cast made from a clay model. The scale of Lincoln’s head was too large for the marble stone the sculptor had to work with. If you look closely you can see he is missing his left ear! Throughout Washington DC, you can see small pieces of Abraham Lincoln’s legacy. He has left his mark on this nation’s capital as well as United States history.

 

More Washington DC: U.S. Capitol Building, the Library of Congress and the Bureau of Engraving

img_0058While we were in Washington DC over 4th of July weekend, we took a break from museums for a day to see a few other places – we visited the U.S. Capitol building, stopped by the Library of Congress and took a tour of the Bureau of Engraving.

We started by touring the U.S. Capitol building in the morning. A few months before our trip we had reached out to the office of our congressman to schedule our tour – and I would definitely recommend doing the same! Instead of waiting in line at the visitor’s entrance we met our tour guide, a summer intern, at our congressman’s office and took a tunnel from an adjacent building right inside to begin our tour. We began in the exhibit hall where there are displays about the history of the building, a model of the dome, and a true-to-life replica of the Statue of Freedom (the statue on top of the dome).

From the exhibit hall, we went up to the ground floor, aka the Crypt – a creepy name but there’s no one actually buried there. It got its nickname because George Washington was originally supposed to be buried right in the center of the capitol building. The Crypt separates the two sides of the Capitol building, one for the Senate and the other for the House of Representatives. Next we went up stairs to the rotunda. Unfortunately it was under construction, but as our tour guide put it, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the rotunda with scaffolding all around it!

After our tour, we stopped in the Library of Congress (taking another tunnel to get there!). It was beautiful! We walked through the Great Hall and then got to take a peek into the Main Reading Room from an overlook balcony.

Then we stopped for lunch before heading to our tour at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing – where they print billions of American dollars each year! To go on a tour, you can’t schedule it beforehand, you have to go to the ticket office in the morning to reserve a spot later that same day. The tour was really interesting, we learned about the entire process behind printing money and got to see some of the production lines in action. And they told us some fun facts:

  • The average $1 bill typically lasts about 4-5 years before it gets worn out and 95% of the money printed is to replace money that is currently in circulation.
  • They have many quality checks throughout production and if they find a defect the bills are taken to be destroyed. But they still want to use the serial numbers from the defected bills so they re-print them and put a * at the end of the serial number – I’ve been keeping an eye out for these ever since!

They didn’t allow us to take any photos on the tour, but afterwards in the giftshop, we got a couple photos showing how tall we are in $100 dollar bills – yes, even though I’m older, Kathryn is about 5 inches or $116,500 taller than me!

In all, it was a really interesting day… if you’re planning a trip to DC, don’t forget to try to fit in some non-museum attractions!

Washington DC: So Many Museums!

When we started planning everything we were going to do while we were in Washington DC for our family vacation, I have to admit, I was so excited about all of the museums! We had about 4 days in the city and spent a lot of our time exploring the museums around the National Mall. Here are the ones we got to visit on our trip…

One of the many Smithsonian museums right along the National Mall is the Air & Space Museum, and we spent a couple of hours there on the morning of 4th of July. Half the museum is about space and the other exhibits are all about flight. The museum is huge and we only had time to see the flight side, more about what we saw in this post!

We also visited the American History Museum on the 4th which is full of exhibits and artifacts from all throughout our country’s history. We saw the original Star Spangled Banner, dresses from a lot of the first ladies, Abraham Lincoln’s top hat and Dorothy’s ruby red slippers!

Right next door to the American History Museum is the National Museum of Natural History. The first thing you’ll see when you walk in is a 14-foot-tall African Elephant in the lobby! Then there’s three floors of exhibits to explore, including huge galleries of mammals and ocean life on the first floor and an extensive gems and minerals exhibit upstairs where the Hope Diamond is on display!

img_3568

Another museum we spent a lot of time at was the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. At the entrance to the exhibits, everyone is given a card with the name and story of a real person who lived during the Holocaust. So as you go through the museum learning about the events leading up to and during the Holocaust, you also follow your person’s story along the way. The museum really illustrated the horrors of the Holocaust as well as served as a moving memorial to the millions lost.

And on our last day in DC, we visited the Newseum and it was one of our favorites. It was all about – you guessed it – the news! It was a mix of history and current events. One of my favorite exhibits was full of front page newspapers from hundreds of important days in history like Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the first man on the moon. More on the Newseum in our last post!

After visiting all of these museums, we felt like we could have spent hours longer in each of them. And this is not an inclusive list of museums in DC, there are plenty of others that we didn’t fit into this trip, which just means we are going to have to make it back sometime! Up next is a post about day we spent taking a break from the museums to see some other sites…

A Visit to the Newseum in Washington, DC

Washington DC is full of museums and we spent most of our 4 days there visiting as many as we could. We had heard great things about the Newseum and it did not disappoint – it was one of our favorites!

After buying our tickets (while most of the museums in DC are free, there is an admission cost to the Newseum – but it is worth it!) and watching the quick introduction video, we began to explore. The first exhibit we came to was about the Berlin Wall, complete with actual pieces of the wall! We had visited the actual wall while we were in Berlin for a day, but seeing it here was interesting because the exhibit talked about how the media played a part in communication between the two sides of the wall until it fell in 1989.

img_3620

From there, we headed up to the top floor of the museum – they tell you the best way to see it is to start at the top and work your way down. On the 6th floor there is a rooftop terrace with a view of the Capitol building! They also have an exhibit of today’s front pages, where they have that day’s newspapers from every state.

The next exhibit really gets into the history of the news, with displays all about the different forms of news media. And they had front page newspapers from hundreds of important days in history, going all the way back to the 1400s. It was fascinating to look through all of them, from the Titanic sinking, to women getting the right to vote, to the headlines from the end of World War II.

Next was a very moving exhibit about 9/11. They had dozens of front page papers from around the world and the actual antenna from the top of the World Trade Center that was damaged in the attacks. And there was a video with footage and interviews from reporters who were there at the World Trade Center risking their lives to report from ground zero. I was 12 years old on 9/11 and like most Americans I remember where I was when I heard about the attacks but hearing from the point of view of the reporters gave a whole new perspective.

On the next floor was a gallery with a map of World Press Freedom showing how freedom of press varies greatly around the world, as well as a memorial to more than 2,000 journalists who lost their lives on the job. Then there was an interesting gallery about the development of radio, television and internet and how they changed the way information spread.

Next was an exhibit about all of the First Dogs of America – a welcome light-hearted exhibit after some emotionally heavy ones! It was neat to see photos or the Presidents’ dogs and read short little stories about them, like how President Gerald R. Ford got his golden retriever, Liberty. Ford’s photographer got the dog from a breeder who wanted more information about the new owner, “Does he rent or own?” Wanting to keep the President’s identity a secret he replied “I guess you could say he lives in public housing.”

And then we came to one of the most fun parts of the Museum – the NBC Interactive Newsroom where we starred in our own news broadcasts! They have actual cameras set up to record you in front of a green screen as you read your lines off of a monitor and then play it back for you. Let me tell you, it was a lot harder than it looked!

The last exhibit was the Pulitzer Prize photo gallery, full of incredible photographs that have won over the last century!

img_3668

There was so much to see at the Newseum that we were there right up until it closed that evening. A quote on the wall in one of the galleries really illustrated what the Newseum is about: “News is history in the making.” A mix of history and current events, its exhibits were so interesting to explore!

4th of July in Washington, DC!

IMG_2846This year, our family spent a few days in Washington DC over the 4th of July – what better place to celebrate Independence Day than in our nation’s capital! We had a little hiccup on our way  to DC: our flight from Cincinnati was delayed 18 hours so we arrived a day later than planned, but we were still in time to take full advantage of the city’s 4th of July celebrations!

We spent most of our 4th at the National Mall, beginning with a visit to the Air and Space Museum. The museum is huge – you could spend hours in it – and is split into two parts, about half the exhibits are about space and the other half about flight. We only had just about an hour and started on the flight side and didn’t even make it to the space exhibits! The flight exhibits cover the history of flying starting even before the Wright brothers, then onto the growth of aviation including exhibits on Charles and Anne Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart and the incredible flights they made. They even had the Spirit of St. Louis on display – it was the plane that Charles Lindbergh flew on the first solo flight across the Atlantic back in 1927! And there was an exhibit about how flying went from being something that was only done by great pilots and the military to becoming commercialized and available to everyone. It was all so interesting, we definitely would have liked to spend more time there!

Then it was time for the National Independence Day Parade! We headed over to Constitution Ave. and found a spot across the street from the National Archives Building. We got there just before the parade started, but wished we would have gotten there earlier – on the steps of the National Archives they had actors dressed up as the founding fathers to read the Declaration of Independence and then had a band playing up until the parade started!

After the parade, we went to the American History Museum. One of the coolest exhibits (especially to see on the 4th of July!) was the Star-Spangled Banner exhibit. They had the actual flag that inspired the national anthem on display! We also visited the American Presidency exhibit (including Lincoln’s top hat!) and saw all of the First Ladies’ dresses on display. Other highlights were the We the People video, Julia Child’s kitchen and Dorothy’s ruby red slippers.

After being on the go all day so far, we were ready for a break so we headed back to our Airbnb to rest for a bit and have dinner. Then later in the evening we headed back to the National Mall, this time to the Capitol Building. On the west lawn, we went to the free 4th of July concert, A Capitol Fourth! It was packed by the time we got there and standing room only (well, there was room to sit but you wouldn’t be able to see anything with everyone standing around you!), but it was a neat show. It was hosted by Tom Bergeron (of Dancing with the Stars) and we saw performances by Kenny Loggins, Gavin DeGraw, Cassadee Pope, Amber Riley (from Glee) and the National Symphony Orchestra! Then the fireworks started – we had expected to be able to see them from there, as they are shot off from the lawn of the National Mall, but they were hidden behind some trees. Plus it was cloudy and a little bit drizzly so even once we moved over a bit they were still kind of hard to see.  Since we couldn’t see them very well anyways, we ended up leaving a little early hoping to beat the rush on the metro!

Even though the weather wasn’t great for the fireworks, we still had a great time celebrating the 4th in Washington DC. On top of seeing the parade, the concert and some artifacts in the museums that are an important part of American history, it was awesome to be a part of the energy and excitement in the city on Independence Day!