2 Moms. 5 kids. 1 van. 3 weeks. 3000 miles. Are we amazing or are we crazy? You decide.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Washington

This post is really long, as it covers all three days in Washington.

In Washington, we stayed at the Capitol KOA. Their website had promised a shuttle to the nearest Metro station. What they neglected to inform us was that the shuttle stopped running Sep 1st. The nice young man behind the counter when I checked in assured me the metro station was 15 minutes away. He lied. Even accounting for morning traffic, it was more like 30 minutes, 45 in the morning traffic. However we finally made it, and rode the Metro into Washington, DC.

For some reason, our nearest and dearest thought that by the time we reached Washington, we might be a bit tired. Us? Tired? My parents, AtlMom’s husband, father, and mother-in-law were going to meet us in Washington. The theory was that they would be able to give us a break, and we could divide and conquer a bit more, since there is so much in Washington to see. It also helped us to tailor events to our age ranges. On M’s must-see list was the Spy Museum. We thought that might be a little above J’s head, but the carousel on the Mall would be right up his alley (and way to Un-cool for M)

AtlDad stayed in the campground with us. We met Jaxgrandparents at the metro stop. Our first stop was the National Archives, which was to be the culmination of all this History. As we went in, I informed M that he was NOT to try and steal the Declaration, even if there was a map on the back! The Charters of Freedom were pretty awesome. We also got to see a copy of the Magna Charta – one of only four in existence. 1215. Think about that. 1215. Almost 800 years old. What was interesting was that the ink on the Magna Charta was a lot less faded than the ink on the Declaration.
There was also a very neat exhibit called “From Schoolhouse to White House”, about the education of our Presidents. We got to see Jimmy Carter’s 4th grade Geography test, among other things.

For lunch we went to an International Food Court in the Old Post Office. A great choice, as everyone could find something they liked. (I tried to get M to be adventurous, and not order a hamburger. He came back with a Polish Sausage. “It’s not a hotdog, Mom!”) After lunch it was off to the Museum of Natural History. Here the extra adults really came in handy, as each one could follow a child to their first interest. M wanted to see the dinosaurs, C wanted to see the bugs, and P wanted to see the jewels (including the Hope Diamond). Guess which child I followed? P and I also got to touch a piece of Mars.

My father is a truly hospitable person, and one of his favorite things to do is to feed people. And to feed them well. We ate that night at McCormick and Schmick’s, a fabulous seafood restaurant. They also make a heavenly chocolate flourless cake – very truffle like in texture. Then it was off to the Metro station and back to the campground.


Our second day we had decided to see the monuments and memorials. The Jax crew is usually up and about earlier than the Atl crew. We now had two cars, thanks to AtlGrandad. So JaxMom and kids took the van, and AtlDad and Grandad took A and J in grandad’s car a bit later. AtlMom took a well-deserved rest day, and stayed at the campground. Because the Jefferson Memorial was a bit further away, we got trolley tickets rather than walking. I thought that Lincoln and Washington would get to me more, but at the Jefferson, I got all choked up. I think it was the story that he was built facing the oval office, and one of the Presidents actually had some trees cut down, so that each man who sat in the oval office, could see the Jefferson Memorial, and remember the ideals that he fought for. “I have sworn upon the alter of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” I especially like the quotes from Jefferson that were on the four sides of the Memorial.

We then took the trolley to the Lincoln Memorial. The Atl crew called just as we were finishing up with Lincoln, and they met us at the Washington Memorial. You have to get timed tickets to go up to the top. We had thought that there would be some exhibits at the bottom, like there were at the Jefferson. After going through security, we realized that the only thing there was an elevator. My mother immediately turned around. My daughter decided that she would go with her grandmother. Although I was a bit uncertain about this, I bravely climbed aboard the elevator. They squished us in like sardines. And then the thing went up, and up, and up. There was time for the guard operating the elevator to give a complete dissertation in the time it took for the elevator to reach the top! I couldn’t really pay attention to what he was saying, because not only were my fears acting up, so were M’s. (Remember the bridge in Boston?) He started shaking about halfway up. I put my arm around him and told him that he did not have to get out of the elevator. (Inside cheering “Yea! I don’t have to get out of the elevator either!”) Then the guard informed the group that after they were ready to go down they should walk down one flight of stairs and pick up the elevator there. I knew that there was no way we were getting off that elevator. I looked at the guard with my most piteous look, and asked if we could please stay on the elevator. He looked at M (still shaking) and told us that was fine. I think the trip down took longer.
So C is the only one from Jax who actually looked out the windows at the top of the Washington Monument. Although I told M that he could say with perfect truth that he had been to the top of the Washington Monument.
After lunch, M and Jaxgrandad went off to the Spy Museum, where because M was 12, he could participate in a program called Operation Spy. You don’t read about spies, you ARE the Spy.
The drivers of the trolleys had been full of fun facts about Washington, so Jaxgrandmother and I decided to take P and C on the whole tour. We got a great tour of Washington. There are two trolley loops, the red line and the green line. The red line takes you around the central part of Washington. The green line goes up toward the National Cathedral, and comes back down through Embassy Row and Georgetown. Jaxgrandmother took P and C off to the Spy Museum, and I took the green line tour. Although the trolley tours had not been on our original itinerary, it was one of the best things I did in Washington. My driver Bob gets big kudos, as he could drive down Embassy Row and tell us each Embassy as we passed it.
When I met up with my Jax crew again, the Atl crew had gone back to the campground. The Jax crew was staying in town that night, as we had 9:00 AM tickets for a tour of the White House, and it would have been very difficult to get there on time from the campground.
Jaxgrandad had found this fabulous Greek/Lebanese/Middle eastern restaurant. They served very small portions, which is just how we like it, so then we can all get a taste of everything, and order lots of dishes to try. My elder son decided he wanted to try rabbit. Not to be outdone, my younger decided that that was what he wanted to. My daughter (who had already placed her order for lamb) was not able to handle this. P doesn’t really burst into tears, she just overflows. So I didn’t realize she was upset for a few minutes. When I realized what was bothering her, I tried to talk to her reasonably.
P: They’re (sob) going to (sob) kill (sob, sob) the bunnies!
JaxMom: Well, honey, all life lives at the expense of every other life. They’re going to kill the lamb too.
P: I’m (sob) never (sob) eating meat (sob sob) EVER again! (great big huge sob)
I told her that that was certainly her choice, but she had to let everyone else make their own choice.
She did not eat the lamb.
She has not eaten meat since.
She’s pretty firm about it, and I’ll be interested to see if it lasts.

The next morning, we had a fabulous breakfast at the hotel (much better than I had been giving them out at the campground). P had actually served some sausage gravy until her brother reminded her that it had meat in it. We made it to the White House with lots of time to spare, and since it was a self-guided tour, they let us go ahead on in. My favorite story from the White House brochure.
In 1835, Andrew Jackson received a strange gift: a huge cheddar cheese, 4 feet round and 2 feet thick, weighing 1400 pounds. It sat in the EntranceHall for two years while it cured. Jackson invited the public to visit and eat the cheese on Washington’s Birthday, 1837. Within two hours, the cheese was gone (but the smell remained!)
We had a little bit of time after the White House, and Jaxgrandad decided that Tea at the Willard Hotel would be nice. As early as 1818 this corner was the site of a hotel, which was extensively remodeled and expanded by the Willard brothers in the 1850s. President and Mrs. Lincoln lived here before they moved into the White House, and a copy of their bill is displayed in the hotel's gallery. Julia Ward Howe wrote the words to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," a tribute to Lincoln, while she was a guest at the Willard. The term "lobbyist" originated here, first used by Ulysses S. Grant to describe the political wheelers and dealers who frequented the hotel's lobby after they learned that Grant was often to be found there, enjoying his cigar and a brandy.
We had a lovely tea, and watched all the bigwigs come and go. Next we were meeting AtlGrandad and A, who were joining us for our tour of the Capitol. When my father had first proposed the tour of the Capitol, I was not sure I wanted to go. (I wanted my kids to go, though). I am really glad we did the tour. We started out at Ander Crenshaw's office (one of FL's Representatives). The kids all got to sit at his desk. Our guide showed us all the architectural features of the Capitol, and the frieze around the dome (which shows scenes from American History) was a great review for the kids, as it covered just about everything we had done. We actually got to watch a vote taken in the House of Representatives. The kids liked watching all the little red and green marks appear before each representative’s name. I think they got more out of it than I would have expected them to.
We then went to the Air and Space Museum, and met up with AtlMom and Dad, and J. AtlMom and I snuck off to the café to have some caffeine and grease, while the grandparents followed the kids. The Museum of American History is closed for refurbishment, but a few of the items are on exhibit at the Air and Space as Treasures of the American Past. I made sure the kids all went through, and we saw Lincoln’s hat, Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers, and Frank Gilbreth’s watch. (If you don’t know who that is, go read Cheaper by the Dozen) C was most impressed with George Washington’s coat and sword. I think M was most impressed with Lewis and Clark’s compass. That was the only exhibit I saw, as I was pretty much done. I did visit the gift shop and got sucked in by the bookstore (and got some great books for JaxDad to read when he gets back). I did resist the temptation to go to the lower floor of the gift shop, which was the toy floor. JaxGrandmother (who had C in tow) was not quite as resistant. The next time I saw C, he was wearing a bright orange space suit. He hasn’t taken it off since.
JaxGrandparents once again took us to a spectacular place for dinner – this time the top of the Washington Hotel. We could look out over the White House (and see the snipers), and we had a fabulous sunset. The sky changed color ever couple of minutes, until it was purply black. Washington was a great place to end the tour. Lots of things there sort of reviewed the History we had studied along the way, and we showed the kids just how all that History had ended up, and what it was that our forefathers were fighting for. We couldn’t have done it without the extra adult help in Washington, so a big Thank-You to all the relatives that came along.
On Friday we packed the car and drove back to our aunt’s house in Kinston. On Saturday, we each took our respective cars home. As we approached Jax, M cried out “I recognize that skyline! It’s not Philly, it’s not Boston, It’s not Washington, it’s JACKSONVILLE!” I think we were all glad to finally sleep in our own beds that night.
We had a fabulous tour, and someone asked me if I would do it again. “Of course!” was my reply. Maybe not anytime soon, but I think next year we’re studying the Civil War. Hmmmmmm.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Java Teas

Since AtlMom had gone out the night before to go read her email and surf the web, on our last morning in PA Dutch country it was my turn. Besides the Italian Place, there was one other place that provided Wireless Internet. (One of things AtlMom forgot to tell you about, is that the bridge on the main road through Denver was under construction. All of our directions had us going by the main road. So getting anywhere around Denver was quite a challenge)
I finally made it to Java Teas. When I walked in, the place looked like a modern Starbucks. Lots of flavored coffees, different varieties, very modern furniture, etc. But as I sat there munching my Moravian Bun (I made out better in the pastry department than AtlMom did - mine was delicious!) I noticed that the atmosphere was more like the corner coffee shop. The two girls behind the counter greeted 90% of the customers by name - and most of the time already knew what they were going to order. In the corner there was a group of older men, having their morning coffee and gossip. I had a delightful time just watching the people and enjoying the atmosphere. When I left, my energy was restored and I was ready to go pack the car. (And I did make up for being gone so long by bringing a Moravian Bun to everyone back at the cabin!)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sticky post--dates of updates

Since the posting is somewhat erratic, and we're not nearly live-blogging, we thought we'd list the posts that we're making tonight. Does this help? (I should point out that because of the irregularity of the posts, sometimes they're off the front page before they get posted, poor things.)

I also need to point out that we changed the tag line at the header. We're going to exceed 1600 miles. I know this, because we're already at 2125, and we're still in PA.

9/22
Things I Didn't See in Boston

9/21
Day 14: From Boston to Denver, PA

9/17
Day 11 (part 2): 13 Colonies
Day 12: Boston
Day 12 (part 2): My Godson, M, who is perfect
Day 13: Boston, day 2
The Brockton Super 8

9/15
Day 10: Sleepy Hollow and Traveling to Boston
Day 10: Why There Are So Many Dead Yankees

And later that day:
Day 10: NYC Skyline
Day 11: "The British are coming! The British are coming!"

9/13
A Moment of Clarity (follow-up to "Birthday Gone Bad")
Lights of Liberty
Day 9: Valley Forge

Monday, September 17, 2007

Days 15-17: Nope, nothing educational going on here.

Learning something, learning anything in our second stay in PA was against the rules. We were there strictly to decompress. Smell the flowers. Muse. Feed the ducks. And eat, don't forget the eating.

My own favorite decompression method was out of reach, though. Our first day in the bustling metropolis of Denver, PA, we ate lunch at an Italian restaurant which featured free WiFi. My cousin thought she would have to blast me out of there with some sort of substance that's now banned in airplanes and federal buildings. In fact, she did leave me there while she went grocery shopping. I indulged in coffee and a bad cannoli. No, I also would have thought that cannoli was much the same as pizza, that there was no such thing as a bad one. However, I left most of the cannoli on the plate, and while that's happened to the occasional dessert, it's because I could no longer force anything down. Even a wafer thin mint. That was not the case with the cannoli.
For the record, the picture of the ham? That would be ham for which my son and daughter begged, after I ordered them the cheese pizza slices they usually get. (The infidels! They are not worthy of the vowel ending their last name!) Yes, begged for. . .and then picked off. That's okay, though. I put it on a ham sandwich that night.

We had a great time at the campground. The kids rented paddle boats, and managed after some very entertaining stunts to get control of them. We bought duck food and fed the ducks. (My alma mater, Furman, now frowns on the feeding of the ducks, which is a shame. I understand the argument, though, having been tossed into the lake for my birthday at least once, and thinking that I would be poisoned. The overpopulation of the ducks was not good.)

That night, the campground had a barbeque dinner, and the smell of the open pit was wonderful. We'd bought the last few spots the night before, and were able to bring the food back to the cabin. The portions were so huge, even though we only purchased 6 for our group of 7, we were able to eat from that dinner for the rest of the trip.

And, yes. I snuck out that night, updated this very blog and surfed the net for a while. Why do you ask? (blinks innocently)

The next day, it was time for some Chocolate Therapy. When we planned the trip, I had found this, this and this. We decided against the amusement park for a couple of reasons. Half of the party lives just a couple of hours from The Happiest Place on Earth, and we saw no reason to accumulate the misery and crankiness that comes with a visit to any park, even the happiest one. This was our day of relaxation. And while I know that the Chocolate Spa fits right into that relaxation. . .the price tag was a bit steep for chocolate I wouldn't even get to eat. Better to get a regular pedicure/manicure/massage when I got home, along with a bag of peanut butter M&Ms. Please tell me I'm right. (Maybe if I win the lottery, I can do this sometime. Note to self: must play to win.)

On the third day, we left. We had to make a tour of Amish Country, and did indeed see many a horse-drawn carriage. We did not, for the record, see any blue doors. Isn't that one of the Amish things? (I may be making that up, though.) We also saw several Mennonite families, who are similar to Amish, but more 20th century than 19th. They also wear colors. (And, the Mennonites are the authors of Rod & Staff curricula, which JaxMom uses for grammar.) We made a quite interesting geographical survey of the area. As we headed into our campground a few days before, we had passed through Virginville, PA, and crossed Maidenhead Creek. As we left, we made a special point to also go through Blue Ball, PA, Intercourse, PA and Paradise, PA.

One does wonder what the Amish do after the sun goes down.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Things I didn't see in Boston & surrounding area (and why I must return without kids)

  • Bunker Hill
  • Beacon Hill
  • Hahvahd Yahd
  • molasses stains
  • anyone rowing on Charles River (does that only happen in books/movies?)
  • Walden Pond & spot of Thoreau's cabin
  • Wayside (where the writers stayed, next door to Miss Alcott. I laughed at the line in the Winona Ryder remake of Little Women, when she said that her parents were AT's, since the book's theme & plot reflect more traditional Christianity. Could it be that I was--gasp--wrong?)
  • Salem, Mass: I'm always interested in Mass hysteria
  • the ZOOM sound stage. I was never even proficient in Ubbie Dubbie, although I am quite fluent in Pig Latin.
  • Fenway Park (but I did realize that it was named such because it was built--wait for it--in the fens! Sounds straight out of Tolkein, doesn't it.)
  • Parker House Hotel (to eat some rolls, of course.)
  • Commonwealth Books (which also caught my attention, as I drove past it 42 times)

Any takers for a weekend in Boston? Round trip from Atlanta for $158 through Orbitz.

Also? I've decided that the appropriate name for this is "Colonial/Revolutionary American Progam." More appropriate acronym, in any case.

Day 14: From Boston to Denver PA

After we recovered from the tragedy of losing our garbage (!!), we finished loading the car and hit the road. JaxMom and I had discovered a happy coincidence: we were well matched in terms of preferences for long drives. She prefers to ride, and I prefer to drive. So I drove.

We had to make two stops in order to knock out all 13 English colonies. First up, Rhode Island. We had each purchased the Drive 95 book to prepare for the trip, and selected the Modern Diner for lunch. The food was good, but what stands out in my mind was that the other customers were all pretty impressed with how we were disciplining our kids. We weren't making them march in a line or answer to whistles like the von Trapp kids, but just trying to keep them from annoying the other patrons.

Our next stop was Aleia's Bakery, which happened to be in Connecticut! JaxMom had promised C something from an Italian Bakery in Boston, but we ended up passing them at a sprint, running to the USS Constitution. When we invaded the bakery, the very nice lady behind the counter offered all 7 of us a sample chocolate chip cookie. We then picked out what we wanted (and some of us opted for more cookies) and hit the road once more. JaxMom was very glad to have been able to fulfill this promise, as for most of the trip, we'd gone by two Dunkin Donuts for every other single eatery. (No kidding. One McDonalds, two Dunkin Donuts. A Subway, two Dunkin Donuts.)

Finally, we got off of the main roads and were on track to hit our campgrounds, when J spoke up from the back seat.

"I have to go to the potty."

Unfortunately, there were no potties within reasonable distance. We were about 20 minutes from a PA rest area, but who wants to trust the bladder of a 3 year old for that long? Not I. After we searched our second exit for a restroom, JaxMom said that she thought we'd save time by letting him pee by the side of the road.

I was skeptical. J tends to be a bit fastidious in his personal habits, so I didn't think that would work, and said as much. But since she was so convincing, we pulled over. And J scrambled over the middle row of seats, followed by C. (C got out to be a cheerleader, and perhaps lead by example.)

There was no peeing by the side of the road.

Did I mention that we were in the entrance to a subdivision?

And that cars were pulling around us to leave? As other residents came home?

I was beginning to be worried that one of those residents would wonder at the minivan, mistaking J & C for miniature thieves. (Actually, that's not too big of a stretch, but they probably aren't ready for a life of crime.) I kept waiting for a patrol car to come and ask us what we were doing. Finally, they gave up, and J said that he could wait the 20 minutes for the rest area.

As we drove, JaxMom turned to me and said, "Your husband needs to teach him how to pee outside."

I turned to her, confused, and asked, "Have you met my husband?"

The Brockton Super 8

I want to preface this story with the disclaimer that at no time during our stay at the Brockton Super 8 did we feel unsafe. The hotel was next to a mall, and in a pretty good area of town. The rooms were all interior rooms, and the staff was all very helpful. In fact, it was the nicest Super 8 I’ve ever stayed at. Well, before we stuffed the car with our myriad of belongings to drive back down to Pennsylvania, we needed to clean it out. It was pretty well trashed. I took M out with me, and since I could find no handy WalMart bag to use as a trashcan, I used the laundry bin from the Dollar Store. It was a good thing I had the bin, as we filled it pretty full of trash. I had been rearranging and loading stuff as we went along, and then I came to the point where I needed to go for a final cleanout of the hotel rooms. I put everything valuable back into the car, and locked it. I spent some time in the rooms with AtlMom making sure all of our stuff was ready to go out to the car. P went out to put something else in the car, and I followed a minute later. As I approached the car, I realized that the trash bin was gone from beside the car. I asked P if she had moved it. “Moved what?”

Someone had stolen our laundry bin full of trash.

It took me quite a while to stop laughing.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Day 13 - Boston (Day 2)

We had a relaxed morning, with plans to mosey up to the T station when everyone was ready. The flaw in this plan was that we arrived after the morning commute, and all of the parking spaces were full. We were even willing to try the garage parking, but the entrance was off of the interstate, and completely hidden from the tourists. AtlMom had had enough of driving around the parking lot (I had taken several children into the Home Depot for a bathroom break.) When I returned, she suggested driving all the way into Boston. I was not terribly enthusiastic about this plan, but reluctantly, I agreed.
We made it into Boston, and after some confusion found the Boston Common. The plan was that I would take the kids and find a place to buy a picnic lunch, while AtlMom found a place to park the car. Believe me, I had the better end of the deal. While we were trying to navigate through downtown Boston, A was impersonating a feral cat, and needed another “Come to Jesus meeting.” She stayed in the car with her mother. AtlMom dropped us off right next to Boston Common, and we set out to find lunch. I had to be dragged past Commonwealth Books, by my children, who knew to grab me before I bolted in and was not seen for the rest of the day. Emerson’s Café was right inside the park, and we bought a wonderful picnic. We had agreed to meet AtlMom at the Information Booth, so we strolled along, and picked out a nice tree to sit under. AtlMom called at this point, and sounded slightly frustrated, as she had not found a place to park. She wanted to know if we had found lunch yet. She said she would keep trying. The kids and I had a great lunch, and ran around a bit. The phone rang again, and AtlMom said she was driving up the side of the park to drop A off. I collected A, took her back to the picnic spot, and fed her lunch. Just as I was thinking we would start heading to the Swan Boats, the phone rang again. AtlMom (near tears) asked if I would mind if she went to go see Harvard. She said she might as well go see something rather than driving aimlessly in circles, since she was never going to find a parking space. With some trepidation, I agreed (5 kids on the Swan Boats – by myself??). Just as we were headed out of the park, she called again, triumphant. She had finally parked! She joined us on the way to the Public Gardens, and as we rounded the corner – there they were! Mrs. Mallard and Jack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Oack Pack and Quack! There were about a million children playing on the statues, and I am amazed that I got this picture of J. AtlMom, meanwhile, was wolfing down her lunch. We played by the ducks for a while, and then set off to find the Swan Boats. M, being Way Too Cool for his family, elected not to ride, and AtlMom had a headache, so she stayed out of the sun also. P, A, C, J and I climbed aboard. C was disappointed there were no peanuts to throw to the ducks.
We then headed back to the car (picnicking and playing with ducks takes a long time!) Both moms were determined that we were going to get back to the Super 8 at a reasonable hour tonight.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Day 12 (part 2): My Godson, M, (who is perfect)

I’ve said often enough that my family is perfect. Not the immediate family, but my extended family, the assorted aunts, token uncle, in-laws and out-laws that make up my mother’s family. I told someone that once, and her reaction was of horror, that perfection was awfully hard to live up to. She had it wrong. Perfection was not the standard set for us to meet; we were the standard. Whatever we did was, by definition, perfect. That’s how it seemed, anyway, because we’re a diverse group of over 40 individuals. And I do mean individuals. We pretty much span the political/lifestyle/opinion spectrum. I mentioned the Army Major in Djibouti, and my grandmother was the one with the bumper sticker on the refrigerator. (She wouldn’t put it on the car and drive with it, though. Give the woman some credit.) (Told you to watch for it. Djibouti! Djibouti!)

The first great-grandchild was M. He’s 12-going-on-13 now, but in his glory years as the only one in his generation, his nickname was “El Diablo.” (No, we didn’t know that future children would meet and surpass him in demon-like behavior.) He earned it. Smart as anything else out there, he’d tie you up in knots until you forgot just who was supposed to be the adult and who was the child.

And he was the one who needed a “Come to Jesus” meeting on our first day touring Boston. He’s got the whole “WHAT?” eye-rolling, sullen “I can’t believe I’m stuck with these crazy folks” attitude down pat, which I guess means he’s normal. Or as normal as anyone from my family can be, because we’re all our own extremes. I don’t know what precipitated this particular display of teenaged angst, but we were all pretty wiped out from our sprint across the Charles River (visions of Rosie Ruiz ducked into my head close to the finish line, of course) and the really long day. We all wanted to go home. M hadn’t quite finished perusing the wares of the gift shop, however, and didn’t react appropriately when his mother told him it was time to leave.

And then? Things got worse.

I didn’t want my cousin to take him on either—I didn’t have bail money for either of them—so I told her to take the children who were behaving onto the ferry. M and I would have it out on the banks of the Charles.

When a 3-year old or 7-year old throws a tantrum, you get them under control and don’t let them hurt themselves or you; it's euphemistically called a therapeutic hug. I didn’t think I had it in me to take the 12-year old adolescent quite the same way as I had dragged the 7-year old through the streets of Philadelphia. (Now I’ll be singing Bruce for the next few hours.) He told me to go away, and I told him that I wouldn’t, but I wouldn’t make him talk. That he needed to get over being such a (insert appropriate curse word here), and when he did we would go back. That I couldn’t make him do anything. (I have done something to my left shoulder, and have been popping advil and using the hot/cold packs. I am feeling every one of my 39 years.) Being a teenager is tough. You think you need to know and be so many things, and you don’t have the experience for any of them. When he calmed down a little bit, I talked to him about the same things I talk to my 7-year old about after she gets out of control. Throwing a temper tantrum isn’t any more fun for the person on the inside of the tantrum than it is for the casual bystander. (Is that the voice of experience? Why ever would you ask?)

M is turning into an exceptional teenager, and I think he’ll continue our tradition of perfect people when he gets to be a Real Person. (We’ve had to remind him that he’s a serf still, which fits in a historical lesson quite nicely, thankyewverymuch.) As we sat on our bench and on the ferry (yes! another ferryboat!), we talked about everything. . .shoes and ships and sealing wax, cabbages and kings, why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings. I told him that I expected him to apologize to his mother, but that he didn’t need to make a huge production of it. He wanted to rehash the event, but I didn’t. So I told him that I didn’t doubt that his mom didn’t handle yanking him out of the gift shop in the best possible way, but that didn’t mean he had to be such a jerk. (Except, of course, since I’m the cool Godmommy, I didn’t say jerk. I used the profanity. Mommies can’t do that; Godmommies can.)

We’ve all taken turns this trip getting angry and getting over it. Some of us more often than others, but that’s all part of growing up. Maybe at some point I’ll be all grown up as well, but I wouldn’t bet anything on that. But the me that I was had a lot in common with the person that M is right now. So even if he's working on his sullen teenager face, he's worth it to hang out with.

Day 12 - Boston

Having heard horror stories about parking in Boston, and having learned our lesson with the car top carrier, we wisely decided to use public transportation. We drove a little way north, to the subway station at the end of the Red Line. In Boston they call it the “T”. We were delighted to learn that children under 11 were free.
After much deliberation, we had decided to go on a Duck Tour. The Ducks (or DUKW) are WWII amphibious vehicles. The Boston tour went to almost all of the sights on the Freedom Trail, and splashed into the Charles River as well. We have been traveling for 12 days and have walked our poor children’s feet off. So we decided to spare them a bit in Boston. We figured anything the duck didn’t fly by; we could go back and do afterwards.
The duck ride was definitely the highlight of Boston. Our driver (Captain Culvert) was excellent, and kept us all in stitches, while throwing in some history as well. In fact, M and C wanted his autograph when we were done, so apparently he made an impression. The kids were sitting in the front rows on either side of the aisle. After splashing into the Charles River (with a bugle charge for sound effects), Captain Culvert asked “Who wants to drive?” How many hands do you think went up in the first row? M was the first picked, and although he did an excellent job of driving the duck, he did not pass the listening portion of the exam.




At the beginning of the tour, CPT Culvert told us that the first elected Governor of MA was John Hancock. As M was driving, Capt. Culvert was asking him where he was from and what he had visited. M told him that he was homeschooled and about the Great American History Tour. CPT Culvert asked “Who was the 1st Gov of MA?” M failed the quiz. So did all the other children when he asked them. But they all got to drive the Duck, even J. Our driver also called back to headquarters, to ask them to give us a copy of their educational packet which they use for school tours (I guess he thought we really needed it!). Having looked at the packet online the night before, I was really excited, as they get an A+ for the most interesting and well put together packet.
Of course, ever since then, we have been randomly asking them who the first elected Gov of MA was. I think they’ll remember.
Although the duck could not get through the narrow streets of the North End, our captain was very enthusiastic about the restaurants there. The North End is mainly Italian now, and he said you couldn’t pick a bad one. Since Paul Revere’s House is also in the North End, and that was next on our list, we decided to wander up there and eat lunch. We did pick the first restaurant we came to, since everyone was hungry. It was a little tiny Italian restaurant named Antico Forno. If anyone is ever in Boston, I recommend it.









M and P had seen a play about Paul Revere last year, so P was really excited to see “his actual house”. I was pretty excited myself. They have some furniture that actually belonged to the Reveres. Did you know that Paul Revere had 16 children? 8 by his first wife, and 8 by his second. That’s in addition to being a well-known silversmith, Son of Liberty, engraver, pioneer in the production of copper-plating, and a few more things. We then set off for the North Church, but you can’t climb the tower. The church was nice, though. We were starting the Freedom Trail somewhere in the middle, since we had both agreed that Paul Revere’s House, the Old North Church, and the USS Constitution would be more meaningful (and interesting) to the kids. As we left the Old North Church, I realized that it was 3:10. The last guided tour of the Constitution was at 3:30. I was ready to throw up my hands in disgust, since that was one of the few things I had really wanted to do. (you only get to go below decks on the guided tour). AtlMom was convinced we could make it. I was not so sure, as you have to cross the Charles River over a huge bridge (on foot), and then walk along the docks forever. She was determined. Actually, she shouted (channeling her inner drill seargent) “Go on, and we’ll catch up later”. (I don’t think the big ship was as important to her. I knew M and C would think it was really neat.) We were doing great up until the middle of the bridge. I was so focused on moving quickly, that I hadn’t really noticed how the bridge was constructed. P and C were ahead of me, and I realized M was behind me at a dead stop. I looked down, and realized I was on a grate with nothing between me and the Charles River except a thin piece of metalwork (we were REALLY high up!) And I had to be grownup about it and go reassure my son. (At that point I really gave up on getting there by 3:30) He was seriously panicked, and not going to move an inch over the grate. Although I had given up on the 3:30 tour, I still wanted to see the Constitution, and the long way around was REALLY long – involving a ferry and LOTS of walking. So I tried to calm M’s fears (while still being a bit freaked out myself), and told him he could close his eyes and I’d take him across. Nope, that wasn’t going to work. We talked a bit more, and decided we would run across and not look down. I am very proud of my son for overcoming his fear, and making it across the bridge . We made it across at 3:25Although we missed the first few minutes of the tour (because we had to slow down for the security checkpoint), the very nice Navy guy let us go onboard and catch up with the rest of the tour. So we got to go below decks and see the whole ship.






















They also have a very hands-on Museum for the Constitution, where kids can go through the steps of loading a cannon, sleep in a hammock, walk the rigging (just not 80 feet up), and experience a sailor’s life in general.
We did take the ferry back, as it let us out right by a T station, and we were all ready to go back to the hotel. We did stop and throw some tea into the water before we left.























On the way home, AtlMom looked at me and said, “How would you feel if we ditched Plimoth?” Funny, I had been thinking the same thing, but hadn’t wanted to mention it because I thought she really wanted to see Plimoth. Tomorrow would be our last day in the Boston area, and while I thought I could live without seeing Plimoth Rock (which I’ve heard is really small), I was not sure I could go home and face my extended family without seeing the Ducks Statue in the Public garden (of Make Way for Ducklings fame),and riding the Swan Boats.
We decided that Plimoth was very much like Jamestown (a boat, a Native American Village, and an English Settlement), and that our time would be better spent giving Boston an extra day.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Day 11 (Part 2): Thirteen Colonies

Along our trip, as we got further and further from home, people asked about our journey. One of those people—best recollection has it as one of the volunteer sailors on a Jamestowne ship—said that we would be going through just about every one of the 13 Colonies. We looked at our maps and realized that we were going through twelve of them, missing only New Hampshire. And we saw how close the towns of Lexington and Concord were to the NH border.

The rules for checking off a state as being visited are that you can’t just drive through and breathe the air. Foot must touch earth in the state. Not only that, the earth must not be in an interstate rest area or airport. You actually have to get out and do something. So we decided that we’d go to New Hampshire for lunch.

This is not to be confused at all with going to Paris for dinner, even if the “Welcome to New Hampshire” signs are also in French. (And hat-tip to an internet friend who made the comparison for me.)

We stopped in Derry, which was a far cry from the Derry, Maine featured in Stephen King books. (If I recall correctly, that town was destroyed at some point, so it probably wouldn’t have been the best lunch spot in any case.) We were just looking to see what we found, knowing that to be a risky gamble already. Luck and New Hampshire smiled on us, though, and we saw a sign for C & K Family Restaurant.

Exactly what the kids needed—the menu was full of the carb heavy foods that stick to your ribs and keep you going, even when it’s raining and your mom insists on singing the Preamble one more time. I highly recommend the C & K Family Restaurant next time you are in New Hampshire with a destructive horde. Even the more delicate among us laid waste to the table.

Upon our return to Massachusetts, we went to the portion of Minuteman National Park that’s in Lexington, pretty near where Mr. Revere was captured. I cast a longing look and sighed in the direction of Wayside House—where some of my old American Transcendentalist friends lived once upon a time—but we just went to the visitor center.

I’m glad we did.

That visitor center boasts (with every right) the absolute best presentation for subject that I’ve ever seen in a national park, ever in all of my life. And while I’m not as old as some of you reading, I’m certainly as old as I’ve ever been up to now. I don’t want to admit how much I learned from the presentation, but let’s just say that having little red lights on the map for the British, blue lights on the map for the Patriots (or Rebels, whichever way you’re more comfortable putting it) as well as some reenactments made it come clear to me. For some reason, I thought that I hated history all through school. Well, I did. But I think it probably had something to do with the way that the coaches taught it rather than the subject matter.

That’s when it became clear to me that this trip wasn’t completely about educating the kids; sometimes the mommies needed some smartening as well.


On the way back to Boston—or rather Brockton, where we were staying at the super swank Super 8 Hotel—we got caught in some horrendous traffic. So our hour trip up morphed into a 2+ hour trip back. And there was much whining. But overall, that day was a winner. Two states, not including panic, denial and euphoria. Big lunch. And then, to sleep.

Day 11: "The British are coming! The British are coming!"

Most parents today are close enough in age to me to remember waking up for Saturday morning cartoons. Real cartoons, the ones that had Wile E. Coyote blowing himself up (due to user error, of course, and not reading the small print on the directions for ACME Explosives) and Bugs Bunny making double entendre comments to Elmer Fudd, as the latter chased the former. That’s where I learned most of what I know about opera, for instance, because having heard “Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit!” once, I never forgot it.

Every now and then, the regularly scheduled programming would be interrupted by a short educational clip that somehow kept the kids glued to the television set. (Of course, I’ve seen this also in my children, and know now that it takes real talent to be so boring that you don’t keep the kids glued to the magic box that shows the moving pictures.)

Anyway, my knowledge of American History was formed at an early age by Schoolhouse Rock, as was my inner grammar nerd. (Come on, didn’t you rock out to ‘Conjunction Junction’ and ‘Lolly Lolly Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here’?) So when we began planning the trip, I watched I played America Rock for my kids more than once. They’re memorizing the Preamble to the Constitution in much the same way we did, by singing along. So of course, today we sang as we drove north (much to the annoyance of M, the sullen teenager, who is Far Too Cool for his family. Ah, the tragedies of birth.) Sing with me now:

Now the ride of Paul Revere
Set the nation on its ear,
As the shot at Lexington heard ‘round the world
When the British fired at early dawn
The War of Independence had begun,
The die was cast, the rebel flag unfurled. . .

Before we made it to Minuteman NP, I had to be talked out of driving the gang past Walden Pond. I was a junior in college when I first read Thoreau & other American Transcendentalists, and remember being floored. (There, Dad, that should make up for driving to Hendersonville on Sundays for beer. I actually learned something, in between plays and parties. Money well spent, right?) I highlighted the texts wherever I found a quotable quote, and found that more words were highlighted than not. I don’t have the quote memorized, and don’t remember whether it was Emerson or Thoreau, but one of them wrote that consistency was overrated—a ship doesn’t sail in a straight line, but rather makes a thousand tacks. I called my mother, who had recently taken up sailing in her mid-40s—an age that sounds younger every year—and delighted her with the quote. We had more in common than I’ll ever admit. She was (and I am) a person of inconstant extremes, so finding an excuse for such was wonderful.

(Edit: Have found the quote. Emerson, from Self Reliance:
The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency. Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing.

End edit.)
Did I mention the rain? The torrential rain, which made me gloat—I had brought the umbrellas out of the van. It had only been sprinkling then, and I had been mocked. I did insist that the mockers apologize before using umbrellas, because I am just that way. We made it to the North Bridge, without a rowboat, where we had a view of the Old Manse, where Emerson lived, which made my little liberal arts heart go pitter pat. We’d planned on reading the Emerson poem, but didn’t want to lug the laptop that far (didn’t travel with the printer), so settled for a dramatic! reading! of Longfellow. I’d have to say that reads almost as well as The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and yes, I did tear up.

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year. . .
Of course, Longfellow was no more historically accurate than the John Jakes novels. Revere was one of several riders that night; William Dawes and Dr. Samuel Prescott. Dawes and Revere met Dr. Prescott by accident that night; he was returning home to Concord after going courting in Lexington. Dr. Prescott was actually the only rider to make it to Concord—Revere was arrested, and Dawes escaped and went home, the laggard. But Revere had the better press agent. Remember that; good press can overcome many a flaw.

When we got back to the car, soaked and muddied, we did boot up and read Concord Hymn by Emerson.

Concord Hymn
Ralph Waldo Emerson

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.
Yeah. We teared up again. At least the sentimental grownups did.

I have more to blog about this day, but since this is already at 4 pages, I’ll stop. I need to drive about 15 minutes to be able to steal bandwidth to put this and some other posts up.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Day 10: NYC Skyline

Six years plus a few days ago, I was visiting New York City. Primarily to visit the in-laws, showing off the wonder-child that has since grown to be my wonderful daughter. We hit all of the normal tourist spots, but decided to skip the trip to the top of the World Trade Centers. There was a line, and I much preferred to be at ground level, seeing the people and sights, feeling the electricity and smelling the potpourri that did and still does make up The City. We did take pictures on the Staten Island ferry, though, even though at the time, I didn’t have a thing for ferryboats. Not as much as I do now, anyway.

The pictures on the ferry have the WTC in the background, and are dated September 4, 2001.

Driving back by this skyline, this week, I feel old. Each generation has a loss of innocence and faith in government. For my generation, it was the vulnerability that 9/11 exposed. For my parents, it was Watergate, Vietnam—or the Kennedy assassination. For those who were young adults in the late 18th century, it was the declining faith and trust in the king and Parliament. They took matters in their own hands, and by the fortune of having some really remarkable minds in their midst, were able to hold some very important truths to be self-evident. (I don’t know if that phrase is entirely accurate, as no generation before theirs had really believed that all men were created equal. Even the writer of those words had a few stumbles along the way.)

They did the right thing; it wasn’t legal, it was dangerous and it was revolutionary on more than one level.

I wonder if successive generations haven’t descended into complacency. Such a rebellion seems fairly impossible today.

No, I’m not thinking of any particular political issue of today. Even if I were, I’d know better than to raise it here, on a blog that will be read by an Army Major in Dijbouti as well as those who agree with the bumper sticker saying “The road to hell is paved with Republicans.” Let’s keep it friendly here, folks. My wondering and thinking is more of the Radical Homeschooler bent—that children today learn there is one right answer, and that questioning authority is wrong. That the right answer is usually B, and when you’re taking the SAT, it’s not good to guess. (I like working the name of that particular country into conversation whenever possible, so keep an eye out for it. Dijbouti! Dijbouti!)

Life isn’t like that. There’s more than one right answer, sometimes even in math. Questioning authority is good. Sometimes you need to push the limits. I’ve been testing my own limits, pushing my own personal boundaries ever since I started on my homeschool adventure. This trip, as frustrating and exhilarating as it has been, is typical of homeschooling in general. And homeschooling is typical of parenting in general. You keep trucking, day after day, becoming frustrated and tired. Then something happens. It could be a parenting first—a gummy smile, first step—or educational first, connecting facts learned at separate times into thoughts and questions, applying knowledge. But whatever the moment is, you realize that your efforts aren’t in vain. That you are helping to shape a small person, and gradually they take their own shapes, individual shapes that perhaps aren’t best accommodated by the rows of desks found in traditional schooling.

My point? Well now, I don’t really have one. Just that rebellion isn’t always a bad thing, and when one does rebel, the consequences can be wonderful.

Day 10: Why There Are So Many Dead Yankees

They starved to death.

Seriously.

After we left Sleepy Hollow, we had a while to go before hitting the interstate, so we were sure that we'd hit something worth eating before long. Even when you drive from Greenville, SC to Hendersonville, NC on a Sunday afternoon, you'll hit "World Famous Hamburgers" which does indeed serve a nice burger. (There's no need to mention to my father exactly why I made that trip on Sunday afternoons, is there?) And in Traveler's Rest, SC, you can find "Feed Store" which not only has great hot dogs, but also has a sign that they serve "Dranks". And yes, they do say it just that way.

But when you drive on the side roads between Sleepy Hollow NY, and wherever we picked up the interstate. . .pack a snack, lest ye end up in one of the very many graveyards you pass. For a while, the highway was limited access, but the region has not yet picked up on the trick of putting the Food/Fuel/Lodging signs before the exit, only actually on the exit ramp. We missed a couple that way.

We passed by Chappaqua, New York, and I gave a little fangirl squee for love of a woman who lives there. No, not that one; the other one. We cranked the radio and bopped around to "Christians and the Pagans." The music was only slightly marred by the grumblings of our hungry bellies.

Finally, the limited access ended, and after who knows how many miles and minutes--I've blocked it out, so I don't--we passed something that said "CAFE". I pulled in, not even taking a vote. We'd found a small Hispanic grocery, exactly like the many that line Buford Highway back home. I thought we'd taken pictures, but it appears we were too busy eating. My recollection is that it was 4:00 by the time we ate lunch, and if you know my daughter, you know that she believes that lunch is late by 12:01.

She managed to get over it, and so did the rest of us.

Day 10 - Sleepy Hollow and travelling to Boston

Day 10 – Sleepy Hollow

For some reason, (5 chldren having nothing to do with it), we did not get started quite as early as we had planned. Loading the car took a bit longer, as we had to suck all the air out of our bedding and towels (for the space bags) so that it would all fit in the car top carrier. Finally, we got on the road, and set off for Sleepy Hollow. This was going to be our longest drive, so we were trying to break it up a bit with a fun stop for lunch.

We were driving on I95, so we passed close enough to New York to see the skyline. My children were very excited to realize that we were so close to New York. A’s comment was “What’s that smell??!!”

Answer: “That’s New Jersey!”

We crossed the George Washington Bridge (reviewing all of G.W.’s accomplishments), and pointed out the Tappen Zee Bridge. We discussed the Dutch influence of New York and touched on Sleepy hollow and Washington Irving. We aren’t sure that anyone was listening except ourselves. We stopped at the Vince Lombardi rest area, and realized very quickly that we were “not in Kansas anymore" (or at least not in the South). Many New Jersey accents surrounded us.
We arrived in Sleepy Hollow and pulled up at the Old Dutch church. M is somewhat tired of his mother's insistence on documenting every detail of our trip. Washington Irving is buried in the graveyard there, and AtlMom wanted to find his grave. The graveyard is much bigger than we realized and I gave up. I wanted to go find the bridge. P and C were back at the car, so we drove down the lane, and in about ½ mile, we came upon the Headless Horseman bridge. C wanted to get out and take pictures, but I knew that M would never forgive me if I left him out of the pictures. So we turned around, using the bridge (which made P really nervous). We arrived back where we had left the others, and they reported success in finding Washington Irving’s grave. They placed coins on it, just like Ben Franklin’s grave. We all piled into the car and drove back to the bridge. M, C, A, and J piled out of the car and started running across the bridge. M and C pretended to be running from the Headless Horseman. P exercised her right to stay in the car. She still was not convinced that the Horseman would not make an appearance.

We were all fairly hungry at this point and promised the children we would stop at the next acceptable restaurant for lunch. (McDonalds not being an acceptable restaurant at this point.) I am going to let AtlMom tell you about our lunch stop.
For some reason (again, 5 children with different bladder habits having nothing to do with it) we arrived at the Super 8 in Brockton, MA much later than planned. Thankfully, we did not have to make up beds, and no one was hungry after such a late lunch, so we threw all the children in bed as soon as we could. The hotel very nicely gave us adjoining rooms right off the lobby, so AtlMom and I were able to sit in the lobby after the kids went to bed and plan the next day.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Day 9 - Valley Forge

After two long days in Philly, we wanted the last day in Pennsylvania to be more relaxing. So Valley Forge was the only thing on our itinerary. We slept late, and had a slow morning. So slow, in fact, that by the time we got out the door, it was closer to lunchtime. I had read in one of the guidebooks that Valley Forge has a cafe, so we decided to do that for lunch, and then go on the tour. Well, there was a cafe - but it was closed. On to Plan B - which definitely included feeding 5 hungry kids before trying to teach them about history. We relied on the Lady-in-the-box to direct us to a restaurant. The first one she picked was in a convention center. We thought that one might not appreciate the 5 bouncing kids. We decided to continue down the road, which looked promising, and see what we could find. There appeared to our left an oasis, a modern mecca, the destination for consumer therapy. My 10 year old daughter (who sometimes thinks she's 16) said "Let's go to the MALL!" with great glee in her voice. However, dragging five children through the mall also did not fit in with our plans for the day, so we continued on. Then we came upon a Chili's, which was acceptable to all in the car (no minor feat!)
After lunch we went back to Valley Forge. We had the ritual stamping of the passports, and then we went to see the movie, which was pretty good. I especially liked the description of the teams of 12 men building the huts and then living in them all winter (See M - being squished in a car with 6 other people is really not that bad - especially since we let you out to use the bathroom!)
We had some tired kids then, so we drove around the park, hitting the highlights. We did stop at George Washington's headquarters, at which point AtlMom remarked "Everybody take note - it's always better to be the General, not the foot soldier".
C was especially fascinated by where George Washington had stayed. With some of his tickets, he bought a set of plastic Revolutionary Army men. We are assuming that the red ones are British, the blue are American, and the black are the French. There is one white one which C immediately decided was George Washington. There is also a white horse, so that sounded fairly logical. I heard him playing with them this morning as I was getting ready. He was making booming cannon noises, gun shots, and wounded soldier noises. Then he picked up one of the "red guys", and said "I'm Cornwallis, I surrender!". So at least some of all this is sinking in!
At Valley Forge, there is also a cave in which a large number of fossils have been found. M liked the picture showing the relative size of a black bear compared to the lesser short-faced bear.
Back at the KOA, we needed to do laundry before heading on to Boston. M helped me to carry it down to laundry room. As I was feeding lots of quarters into the machines, the gentleman who was also doing his family's laundry stuck up a conversation with M. It turns out that he and his family were also Homeschoolers. They had bought an RV a couple of years ago, and they were on almost the exact same itinerary we were (They were from Texas). They had done the Historic Triangle, were almost done with Philly, and were heading to Boston. I think they were also going to Washington. He was amazed that we were doing it in a minivan. (We had seriously considered renting an RV, but somehow got talked out of it. Hindsight being 20/20, I am regretting not renting the RV. I am getting awfully tired of unpacking and repacking the car).
Tomorrow we will be travelling to Boston, with a stop in Sleepy Hollow on the way. Some of the kids are really excited about that, others are not so sure. I told them the Headless Horseman doesn't come out during the day.

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From the Kids: C


C: In Jamestown I liked the ships. The biggest one had armor in it. I liked trying the armor on because it felt like I was in the war. In Williamsburg I liked seeing them make the guns. At the Magazine I liked learning how to shoot a red suit guy.
I saw where George Washington slept and also his assistants. (Valley Forge)

From the Kids: A

A: Well, I like seeing the old liberty bell the best. In Jamestown I didn't like scraping the canoe because it got my hands dirty and Jaxmom's shirt too. (Note from JaxMom: My shirt got dirty because C and A wiped their dirty hands on it. I never got near the canoe!)

From the Kids: P

P: Seeing the huts (that the soldiers stayed in) at Valley Forge was fun. I liked Williamsburg because it was just like a Rennaissance Faire but in a different time zone. You got to see all this cool history stuff and actually touch it. The wigmaker told A and JaxMom that they were hussies because they had their hair down. AtlMom and I were ladies because we had ours up. She also offered to shave our heads to fit the wigs on us.

I liked the milliner’s shop because she told us about the different clothes and petticoats that ladies wore. We got to sign the Constitution in Philadelphia and got our picture taken with Ben Franklin. I liked seeing the real Liberty Bell.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Lights of Liberty: Great Idea, Mediocre Follow-Through

While investigating the wealth of educational opportunities available in Philly, I found the Lights of Liberty tour. Billed as "the first ambulatory sound and light show of its kind in the world," I was sure it would be the single thing that would pull together our Philadelphia experience, letting the knowledge the children had gained settle into their tiny little minds.

Not so much.

We got there, mingled in the lobby and gift shop (because we must visit every gift shop for every site we visit), and then were called for our tour. We were given headsets to listen to the "moving musical score" and various actors tell the tale of the 1770s. Except before we walked to the first scene, the headsets were nearly done with their part of it. We were all frustrated, as was every other member of the group. We did eventually catch up to the audio, and the middle and ending scenes were quite compelling.

I'm being supervised because I'm making it sound like it wasn't great. It was. The final scene had those rabble-rousers debating the Declaration of Independence, and finally coming to agreement. "We Hold These Truths. . ." Yes. I was moved. I laughed. I cried. I hugged my children. If you are in Philly, I recommend it overall.

Figuring into the recommendation was the very polite and apologetic way that they handled the chaos. They cheerfully refunded the arm and leg we were charged for the tour. I'm sure those will come in handy in Boston.

Day 8: Second Day in Philly

Thoroughly recovered from the events of the day before, we set out again to try and conquer Philly. The night before, AtlMom and I had pared down the tour list, and tried to arrive at a realistic goal for the day. We started out with a bribe for the kids if they had good behavior. All of them had been begging for a carriage ride the day before, so that was the reward for a good day.
We started out (as all families with small children do) at the bathrooms. One of us adamantly refused to go, and it came to blows. The offending child was promptly removed back to the car, and JaxMom continued with the other kids, while AtlMom had a “Come to Jesus Meeting” with the aberrant child.
The rest of the group proceeded to Christ Church Burying Ground to view Ben Franklin’s Grave. The tradition is that if you throw a penny on Ben Franklin’s grave you will have good luck. I threw a penny on for AtlMom, since she needed all the luck she could get.
Christ Church itself was beautiful. The docent was excellent, and we got to sit in George Washington’s, Betsy Ross’s, and Ben Franklin’s pews. The picture is in George Washington's pew. The organ still has some of the original pipes (over 6000 pipes in all). Christ Church has only had 9 rectors since the Revolutionary War!
A had finished her time out, so we met them for lunch and had an authentic Philly Cheese steak. M decided that it was his new favorite sandwich, and bought a magnet with the recipe on it.


Elfreth’s Alley is the oldest continually inhabited street in America. It is a small street of tiny row houses, with pretty window boxes. All the doors are different, and one of the gift stores had a book about the doors of Elfreth’s Alley. P’s favorite part was the cat sitting in one of the window boxes.


When we got to the Betsy Ross House, there was a performance going on in the courtyard. The comedy duo Joke and Dagger were entertaining the audience, while sneaking a bit of history in as well. As they asked the kids questions, the ones who got the answers right were invited up on the stage to learn sword fighting.

We were very proud of M as he knew the name of the book Thomas Payne had written. He and three other children went up on stage to learn to “sword fight”.

We decided that the carriage ride took precedence over touring the Betsy Ross House, so we skipped the inside. J had reached his limit, so he and AtlMom hung out watching the movie at the Visitor’s Center while the rest of us picked out our carriage. The carriage ride was very entertaining. My favorite part was the sign over one building that said “Hats trimmed free of charge”.

The big disappointment with running out of time in Philly was that we missed the Ben Franklin Museum, and the Please Touch Museum. For those of you who have never heard of the Please Touch Museum, it is the coolest children’s museum in the world (at least of the ones I’ve been to). When M was 4 and P was 2, we went to Philly to visit my brother (he lives in Jax now). We could have spent several days just at the Please Touch Museum. (Independence Hall was lost on them at that age)
Since we didn’t have time to go down to the Museums, we went to the Constitution Center, which is a fairly new museum right behind the Visitor’s Center, entirely devoted to the Constitution. It had some very interesting exhibits. You could sign the Constitution. You could participate in Supreme Court decisions, and the Passing of a Bill in Congress. There was a very interesting audiovisual exhibit about the balance of power between the three branches of government. You could take the Presidential Oath of Office.
(I’m going to preface this next story with some background info. M, P, and C’s father is in the Army. He is currently deployed for year in Africa) As we wandered through, I realized that we had lost C. I went back a couple of exhibits and found him in front of the “Provide for the Common Defense” exhibit. It had a video of a soldier marching that morphed into all of the different uniforms that the Army has worn since the Revolutionary War. C was marching back and forth, back and forth, with the soldier in the video.
After the Constitution Center, we split up and the Jax contingent went to church. We went to Old St Mary’s, which was beautiful. The ceiling was deep blue with gold stars, and a painting of Mary in Heaven. The stained glass windows were amazing. One row depicted scenes from Mary’s life and the upper row was pictures of the saints.
We were staying late in Philly tonight, because we were splurging on the Lights of Liberty show. More about that later.

Friday, September 7, 2007

A Moment of Clarity

I only need add a few details to my cousin’s well-written summary of the straws that broke the back of her birthday. When we left the restaurant without having eaten, one member of the party didn’t understand the reasoning, and didn’t understand that yes, lunch was still in her future. So as A and I walked along Seventh Street, she would periodically collapse onto the sidewalk, howling bitterly, lashing out with hands, nails, teeth, feet—anything she could use as a weapon. We got more than our share of attention, I think. No one stopped to ask why I was brutalizing a child, so it must have been clear who the brutal one was.

Eventually, she calmed down, I met the rest of the gang back at the van. JaxMom was still on the phone, so I headed them up and moved them out, meeting her at the exit to the parking lot. We did indeed go back to the cabin where I threw peanut butter, jelly and bread at the children, then got them interested in a math game. (Muggins! I do love the Muggins math games.) JaxMom took a walk to the campground store and a nap.

When M and I went to go get dinner that evening—this would be my godson, M, who is perfect—he turned to me with a guilty smirk and said, “You know earlier, in the restaurant, when Mom snapped? And she said, ‘Forget it! We’ll just go through McDonald’s drive-through on the way back to the cabin!’? That was completely something that I would have said!” I agreed. I’ve never wondered where a certain perfect godchild got his flair for the dramatic. (Not that I’m casting any stones, mind you. Just an observation.)

Birthday Gone Bad

September 7, 2007

My birthday started out earlier than I had planned. J woke up at quarter to nothing. I let him live for a couple of reasons: he’s three, and he’s not my kid. He’s a very noisy child, and brings his own percussion everywhere we travel. The bright side to waking up so early was that P had promised me her specialty breakfast—pancakes. I opened up my laptop to check for birthday greetings. JaxDad is in the last couple of months of a one-year excursion to Djibouti (7 hours ahead of us), so I just knew he would have sent me an email to find when I woke.

No such luck. Men just don’t get it.

And then my daughter told me we had no eggs for the pancakes.

Fine. Plan B. We’d have the same breakfast we’d eaten every day so far—bagels, oatmeal, toast. Not so much of a birthday celebration, but that was fine. The saving grace would be the nice lunch that we’d promised ourselves in Philadelphia. Not too nice, because we were accompanied by the rabble. But nicer than peanut butter and jelly.

Changing breakfast plans, getting our ducklings dressed and lined up and ready to go, and my cousin’s lack of coherence in the morning meant that we didn’t get out the door until 8:30, which was cutting it fine for our deadline to pick up tickets to Independence Hall. And then, as the cousin said, we took the scenic route through a part of town that wasn’t very scenic. Even with the historic tree.

We made it through Independence Hall and saw the Liberty Bell. J made up for the early wake-up call by pointing out the crack in the bell, and telling us all “I didn’t break that.” Since he does break a good many things, I guess he thought that needed to be made clear.
I had asked at the visitors center where a good, kid friendly restaurant was for lunch, and they were very helpful. It was a few blocks away, so we set off.

On the way there, AtlMom and I had a brief conversation about afternoon plans. Our recollections differ. I heard her say that she wanted to go back to the cabin after lunch. She claims that she said we should consider, because some of the kids were fading. In any case, it was clear that my plans for the day had continued to fall apart.

We made it to the restaurant, and it was packed. When I told them we were a party of seven, the hostess told me that it would be 10 to 15 minutes. I might be imagining the slight sneer on her face as she said it, and then again, I might not. The children were as patient as hungry children generally are while waiting in a restaurant. As they created havoc, the servers ducked past them with food, giving us and them the hairy eyeball.

This was not working out as I had planned. In fact, it was too much. I gave up.
I knew that the relaxing birthday lunch I had envisioned was not going to be relaxing in a nice restaurant with 5 kids. So we left. As we walked back to the car, my husband, with impeccable timing, called to wish me a Happy Birthday. I was able to vent my frustrations without getting sent to jail for child abuse. I don’t think it was the birthday call he had envisioned. We did go back to the cabin, as it was obvious that everyone needed a rest. After a nap, things looked much better, and we were able to have a birthday celebration for dinner. Tomorrow we will regroup and try Philadelphia again.

Phirst Day in Philly: Phunny and Phrightening

Not really frightening, though. More of a subtle uneasiness, but that couldn't be spelled with a ph now, could it?

For her recent 40th birthday, my cousin and fellow traveler was given a Lady in a Box, also known as a GPS navigation system by her parents. (I wondered if they lacked confidence in her map-reading skills, but haven't asked. I still have to spend a couple of weeks with her.) The Lady is pretty good to have around, for the most part. If we miss a turn (or decide not to turn) somewhere she's instructed us, she reprimands the driver with a terse "Recalculating!" Awfully snooty for someone who has never driven a car. On our way into Philadelphia today, she gave us a set of directions that had us going via interstate for the most part, then hopping off, then hopping back on. Having given up free will to The Lady, we followed, unquestioning. And things were fine, at first, but then we noticed that block by block, the buildings were shabbier. The graffiti was more frequent and layered. The loiterers were more common and less friendly. We weren't really scared, but it did make us decide to stick to the interstates for the most part. Unfortunately, "avoiding inhospitable areas" is not an option for The Lady.

I was grateful for this route for at least one thing, something that wasn't mentioned in any of the tourist books. As we idled at a red light, I looked out the window and saw a tree. In front of the tree was a sign.

"Historical Tree"

No other details were provided.

Our phirst stop in Philly was to pick up tour tickets for Independence Hall, 60 minutes before our scheduled tour time. We barely made it. Parking was made complicated by the fact that we'd decided not to take the clamshell car top carrier off of the van, which made the height exceed the 6'6" that would fit in the official parking lot. Of course, we didn't actually realize we were too tall until the carrier bounced the warning sign around. Then I had to reverse back onto the busy city street, and go find another place to park. Preferably one under the blue sky, as I'd already proven my idiot status.

After Independence Hall, which was interesting, we went to go see the Liberty Bell. J had been waiting for this the whole trip! In fact, outside of Independence Hall, he pointed to the tower and said, "That's where the Liberty Bell used to hang." I have no idea how he knew that. We'd read a book about the bell the night before, but it was more about the crack. And he's 3.

There's more, but I have to get permission to post about it, and let my cousin approve. As I said. . .I'm going to be with her for two more weeks.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Dotting the 't's and crossing the 'i's

A couple of nuts & bolts things before I start this post:

Please comment. Seriously. You don't realize how much it means to us. And the kids. I hope to get some posts from them up; let's face it, they're more entertaining than we are. You're not reading this to find out about us.

Also, we're a couple of days behind. We know that. But we're posting with the dates/times they were written. Remember we spent a few days without internet, so there's a little matter of checking the 1,593 emails in my box. So if there's a new post at the top, scroll down. There's probably another one below.

Finally. . .crap. I knew there was a finally, but I don't know what it was. I'll get back to you on it, so I guess instead of finally, it's more like to be continued.

Day 6: Travelling to Philly

Today was our travel day to Philly. All of the kids have passports, which they can get stamped at each National Park. Somewhere between taking the last picture at the Yorktown battlefield, and getting back into the car, C lost his beltpack with his passport in it. So we did a quick drive-by of Jamestown to buy another passport and get it stamped there, and then we went back to Yorktown Battlefield, since the Visitor's Center had been closed when we visited before.

After the ritual stamping (C's passport went in MY backpack after that), we toured the museum. We got to see the actual tent that George Washington slept in! They also had a recreation of one of the French ships that blockaded Cornwallis. This was C and J's favorite part. You could go into it and see the sailor's bunks and all the cannons.










After the obligatory picture on the cannons we were headed to Philly. (We had thought we would make it to the Yorktown Victory Center, but with a 5 hour drive to Philly, and a somewhat late start, we decided to head north)
We went by way of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. (The Bridge-Tunnel project is a four-lane 20-mile-long crossing of the lower Chesapeake Bay. The facility provides the only direct link between Virginia's Eastern Shore and south Hampton Roads, Virginia. The crossing consists of a series of low-level trestles interrupted by two approximately one-mile-long tunnels beneath Thimble Shoals and Chesapeake navigation channels.)





We drove up US 13, which was a very pretty drive - however, there are NO McDonalds with Playplaces on US 13. When we had finally given up on finding a playplace, we went ahead and stopped at a plain McDonalds. We then discovered that there are no McDonalds with Wireless Internet on US 13. This is actually more dire than it sounds, as AtlMom had to email a press release (the deadline was 5 PM). After lunch we pulled into a hotel parking lot and pirated their Internet long enough to send off the press release.
The kids were all excited when we got to Philly, because we had crossed four states that day (Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania). AtlMom and I had been through a few more (Confusion, Anxiety, Denial). But we arrived safely at the KOA Campground, and settled into our 2 room cabin. With 1 bathroom. We had been very careful to make sure everyone had a bed when we made the reservations, however, we had forgotten to do the math - 7 people (including 1 toddler) and 1 bathroom.
Tomorrow we will visit Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. This is one of the highlights of our trip for me. Incidentally, tomorrow is also my 40th Birthday. What better way to spend your 40th Birthday than immersing yourself in American History with your children?