Wednesday, October 26, 2016

American Revolution Road Trip: Mount Vernon

On our last day in the Washington, D.C., area, we packed up (how can we have made such a clutter out of our efficiency in only four days?!?), headed out, and were waiting at the front gates of Mount Vernon, happily right in front of a giant busload of field trippers, when they opened for business.

We met the Washington family--

--and then while Matt and Will subjected the model Mount Vernon to close inspection, Syd and I raced down the connecting footpaths and winding ways so that we could see the real thing before it became crowded with tourists!

Although it didn't rain, it was overcast off and on, so you'll have to excuse the color scheme of my photos. I still haven't gotten the hang of shooting on cloudy days.

This one's okay.

But I seriously back-lit this photo, underestimating how bright that cloud-covered sun would be, and there's only so much that you can do in post-production. Oh, well!

We weren't allowed to take photos inside Mount Vernon (although they do have an app that has a decent floorplan that you can peruse), so I snapped this photo from their front porch, looking out onto the Potomac:

Matt is a huge George Washington fanboy, and with his running commentary (he's read this amazing biography, which is on my to-do list), and the authentic set-up, you really could gain some interesting insights into Washington's life, times, and personality:
Will beelined towards the stable. Washington took a long ride around his property every morning.
 Washington was really invested in making his property productive and prosperous, and he invented quite a few novel techniques and designs:

 This leads me to a fascination that I had no idea would be so intense before we arrived, but oh, my goodness: THE GARDENS! I was deeply fascinated with the gardens.

Here you can see fruit-bearing trees, grapes trained on a fence that both marks the path and makes harvesting simple, and plots for produce, most with borders made from perennial herbs.
 I was fairly sure that you weren't allowed to pick anything, I mean of course, but I wanted a little cutting of lavender to keep as a souvenir so badly that Will and I concocted a plan. She fell behind us, hopped into a bed and picked a little cutting, then ran up to show it to me, whereupon I scolded her, took the cutting from her and pocketed it, then squeezed her hand and quietly told her that she was my good girl.

I promise that one day I WILL try to martial her powers for good, not evil!
Look how orderly and lovely everything is! 
I also really love the groundcover on the path between plots.
I had a major crisis of self-worth in this garden. I want to have a lovely garden so badly, but I clearly don't want to put in the work or invest my time, so I'm just a lazy, brown-thumbed, garden failure with a trashy yard. I express this, pretty much just as I said, and Matt's all, "Um, you were listening to the tour, right? Washington ENSLAVED PEOPLE and made THEM work these gardens for him! You want to enslave 40 people and put them to work 16 hours a day? Your yard would look nice, too! 
 Point to Matt, I guess.

Here's another garden that the enslaved people made awesome:

There's a giant greenhouse on one side of this giant, ornamental garden, and in the winter, Washington made one of his enslaved workers, often a child, sleep in front of a fire that warmed it so that they could keep the fire going all day and night.


Random, but I taught Syd this hysterically funny mash-up of the Running Man and the Cabbage Patch, and I am constantly making her perform it for me so I can laugh:

She's such a good sport.

We made a pilgrimage to Washington's tomb--

Awww, look at that fanboy's face!
 --and then made a pilgrimage to the memorial for his enslaved workers:

The memorial is on the site of the old cemetery, where all of the enslaved people, even the ones who were "special" to Washington, were buried in unmarked graves:

Archaeologists are using imaging techniques to identify where there remains lie, so that their burial spots can be honored:

They've laid out the outlines of their remains. Some of them are very small, and there are a lot of them:

Another part of Mount Vernon recreates a working farm of the time, with historical reenactors in some areas to show you how they worked:

We found that everywhere we went, we were able to easily learn about the likely experiences of the enslaved people who lived and worked here. Here, for instance, is the small shack of a family whose wife/mother worked on one of Washington's farms. The husband worked on another farm miles away, and was permitted to walk home on Saturday nights, spend Sunday with his family, then walk back on Sunday nights.

Other enslaved people lived in dormitories behind the greenhouse, and others, of course, lived all over, in areas that haven't been recreated.

Below, I'll share with you more of the resources that we used to prepare for this visit, but the most valuable of these was the Youtube channel, Ask a Slave. There's some language that's not kid-friendly in it, but on the whole, it's highly educational and makes the experiences of the enslaved people feel more immediate and real (and it helped us answer a couple of the docent questions on our tour!):

The museum inside Mount Vernon also had an excellent exhibit on his enslaved people, with a lot of artifacts and original documents to explore. I was a little burned out on Washington by the time we hit the part of the museum that was actually about him, but Matt pored over every. Single. thing, and I did find some things to entertain me:

Such as Syd wearing Washington's dentures!
And to answer what I'm sure is your burning question from my last post, no, I did not buy a stuffed George Washington. We zipped straight through that gift shop when we were done, made sandwiches at the car and took them to our seats, and drove to Maryland, marveling, as we left the neighborhood of Mount Vernon, how the area that we were driving through, with its houses and strip malls, was likely once part of Washington's vast estate.

But why Maryland, you ask?

Because that's where the fossilized shark teeth live, of course!

Here are some of the resources that we used in our study of George Washington:

Monday, October 24, 2016

American Revolution Road Trip: Smithsonian National Zoo

Will has been wanting to go visit Smithsonian's National Zoo since we were planning our last trip to Washington, D.C., years ago, so I was thrilled that we could finally take her!

And nope, we didn't let the all-day rain stop us!

While we did see every single animal who lives in the National Zoo, the highlight for me (the kids saw some at the San Diego Zoo) was the pandas!!!!!!!
One panda was hanging out in the rain...

...but all the other pandas were staying comfy and warm inside.

Comfy, indeed!

See? Proof that I am both on this trip, AND saw a panda!
 Syd's camera battery died halfway through, so we shared my camera for the rest of our visit:

Will really wants peafowl, and I even know where to buy the chicks, but they're 50 freakin' bucks unsexed, so I've told her that she has to spend her own money if she wants one.
 All of the exotic birds on display, and Syd was the most fascinated with these...

We stayed so late at the zoo that all of the gift shops were even closed by the time we walked out, meaning that I could not buy myself a stuffed panda souvenir. Yay for saving money, although I really want a stuffed panda souvenir!

Would I settle for a stuffed George Washington instead? Stay tuned and find out!

Friday, October 21, 2016

American Revolution Road Trip: A Tour of the US Capitol, Etc.

Sorry, but you don't get any photos of our morning spent at the National Archives, on account of there are no photos allowed. It was for sure a highlight of the trip, though, especially for me! We got to see a 1275 copy of the Magna Carta (this was a major reference point in our History of Us spine), and the Declaration of Independence, and the Articles of Confederation, AND the Constitution!!!

Some takeaways:

  1. You would not believe how faded the Declaration of Independence is. Much of it is completely illegible to the naked eye by now. This website explains why, and in fact, we have that entire NOVA episode on hold for us at the library to watch next week.
  2. Americans cannot handle not standing in line. To get into the Charters of Freedom gallery, we did have to stand in line, and the guard would let in 30 or so of us at a time. As the guard verbally instructed, AND as the display of rules clearly stated, we were not to stand in line in front of the various documents; instead, we were to simply pick our way through the gaps in an organized scrum. So what do 90% of the people do, then, as soon as we're let in? They form a long line wrapping around the gallery, blocking the exit and keeping other people from being able to enter the gallery while these particular people stood in line in front of nothing rather than simply looking at what they wanted to look at and then leaving. Will and I pick our way through the gaps to see the various documents, ignoring the stink-eye that we get from tourists who've been standing in line for 20 minutes for no reason. Those tourists then continue to stand behind us, leaving the document displays on our other side completely empty, until a guard takes pity on them and says to them, "There is no line. You don't have to wait."
  3. Nothing beats primary resources! Over a week later at our tour of Independence Hall, the tour guide asked which colony didn't show up to the Constitutional Convention. Both of my kids knew that it was Rhode Island, because I'd stood each of them in front of the signatures on the Constitution and had them recite the colonies while finding them on the document. Rhode Island was missing! Alexander Hamilton was there, though, and we knew where to look for him thanks to my obsessive listening to the Hamilton soundtrack.

We didn't get the White House tour that I super wanted (it's my hazy understanding that it was too close to Election Day?), but we DID score a private tour of the US Capitol through the office of one of our senators. It was especially cool because we didn't meet at the Capitol itself (although we did walk right past it)--

--but at our senator's office building. Side note: the office building had a giant sculpture that was bafflingly by Calder, and Matt I were both like, "Since when does Calder do big-ass sculptures that aren't mobiles?" I just looked it up, and there was totally supposed to be a mobile there above that giant floor piece

The cool thing about meeting at the office, though, isn't the installation art: it's the secret underground senator train!

Friends, there is an honest-to-gawd secret underground senator train:

There are even celebrity senator sightings--we saw Richard Lugar!

The train takes you right to the basement of the US Capitol building--

--and I was even more excited about our tour group of six when I saw the giant public tour groups milling around, so large that everyone had to wear headphones so they could still hear their guide.

Here we are in the Crypt, standing by the origin point of Washington, DC's street numbering system.

This is the old Supreme Court chamber. I'll show you the new one in a little bit!

Senate Rotunda--my color is off, but it was dim.

This is the ceiling of the Rotunda, with the most insane painting of George Washington
George Washington would NOT have approved of this depiction of himself.

Sister suffragists! See the unsculpted marble at the back left? There's also room for you!
Look whose office we found! These offices are right in the middle of public spaces, I was surprised to note. Our tour guide said that while they do have extra security at times, the Speaker of the House does, indeed, need to walk through throngs of tourists to get to and from his office.

Here's the view from the front door of the Capitol--the Supreme Court is on the left and the Library of Congress is on the right.
 We couldn't take photos of the Senate or House chambers, although we did get to go sit in the galleries and look around as much as we wanted. The gallery tickets that we were given are good for the entire season, though, so maybe the kids and I will travel back to DC and sit in sometime when they're actually in session.

After the Capitol, we zipped across the street and raced over to see the Supreme Court right before the building closed for the day.
Up the stairs...

---and to the gallery!
 Bizarrely, a wedding party passed us as we were hanging out in front of this room. Seriously, someone was getting married in the Supreme Court! I even tried to look it up when we got home, but I can find no page for reserving a room in the Supreme Court in which to get married.

Yes, I still make the kids imitate sculptures.
 We did get to see everything that we wanted to see in (and outside of) the Supreme Court--

--but that left no time for actually going into the Library of Congress, alas: 

Good thing it's not going anywhere, then! We'll see it some other time.

Not on the next day, though. On the next day, we went to see the pandas!!!


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