You must do the things you think you cannot do.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Charlottesville in May

Our co-op took a super fun overnight field trip to Charlottesville in early May. It rained.

But it was so fun; I wouldn't hesitate to do it again. We left Sunday after church and drove in a rain storm to Montpelier the home of James and Dolly Madison. They recently finished a huge renovation of the property and it is just gorgeous.

We split our group in two - the Grammar kids and then the Dialectic (junior high) and Rhetoric (high school) kids. I hung out with Hank so I don't have any pictures of Jake.

If you're in the area, I very highly recommend a visit. Not only is the property beautiful, but the guides were incredible. I worked with the education coordinator to schedule our tour, and he promised me his guides were good with kids. We've been on some look-but-don't-touch-talk-breathe tours with not so nice guides, and those were some loooong tours.

We were thrilled to find that Mr Cotz delivered. Our kids had just spent nearly 3 hours in the car only to be whisked into a mansion/museum- we were late so we needed to get started right away. The guide for the Grammars engaged them, drew them out, and answered an endless stream of questions with grace.

I asked Mr Cotz to challenge the older kids a little. We have a group of really smart kids so I wanted them to get their money's worth. Again, score! The guide was a college-age guy who knew his stuff and really challenged the kids to think about Madison's many, varied and invaluable contributions to the founding of our country. Very hearty 2 thumbs up for Montpelier.

Then we headed about 20 miles south to eat dinner and check into our hotel in Charlottesville. The next morning was an early start at Monticello. Everyone knows about the home of Thomas Jefferson and his many contributions. He was definitely a smart and creative man.

It was cool to see his actual home filled with actual gifts that Lewis and Clark brought back from their expedition and many of Mr Jefferson's actual inventions. He used to wake up in the morning and put his feet into a basin of cold water; he claimed it invigorated him (would me), and the water stains are on the floor next to his bed.

The house and grounds are beautiful, and we enjoyed just walking around the garden and flower walk even though it was misting. We ended up walking down the mountain instead of riding the shuttle. We followed a sign from the estate cemetary that said "Shuttle Stop" with an arrow. We didn't realize it was the stop for meeting the shuttle to go UP the mountain. It was a long but very nice walk, and the kids enjoyed the chance to run a bit.

You won't want to miss the movie at the visitor's center or the gallery. Of course the gift shop is wonderful with a great selection of things for kids and adults alike. The coolest thing is their newly opened Discovery Room. It was hands on fun for all ages. The older kids played computer games as well as chess and checkers. The little guys got to dress in burlap sacks, 'pump' water, work in a blacksmith shop and cook dinner in their slave cabin. They also got to try their hand at Jefferson's polygraph machine- the writing instrument he invented that had two pens attached in such a way that while Jefferson wrote with one pen, the other copied the letter on another sheet of paper. The first copier. Cool.

All that said, if you are scheduling a group tour, be prepared to work. hard. It took me many, many phone calls and emails to get short, incomplete replies. It was extremely frustrating and our visit wasn't as enjoyable as it could have been had I been able to talk to a live person. We actually ended up leaving early to go to our next stop...

Hanging out in the slave's cabin

Hauling water so the girls can cook

The last stop of our trip was Ash-Lawn Highland, the home of James Monroe. There was just something about this place that was so peaceful and relaxing. We all just wanted to sit on the porch of the gift shop and stay a while longer.
I didn't realize that these three men lived in close proximity for many years and were close friends for over 40 years. What a gift for these men in such important and demanding positions to have nearly life long friends live so close.
The little guys started out doing a lantern making activity while the big kids toured the house and grounds, and then we swapped. They gave us what looked like paint cans they had filled with water and then frozen. We moistened our template - a star drawn on paper- and layed it on the can. It's a one shot deal so be sure you put it where you want it. Then the kids hammered nail holes along the lines of the star in (very) roughly 1/2 inch increments. Then they got to freehand their initials on the other side. When they were done the guide dropped the buckets into a pot of boiling water to melt the ice. So easy and yet even the big kids got a kick out of it.
Mr Reinhart was the education coordinator for this site and he rocked. He answered email and returned phone calls quickly. Gave me great information and was flexible in scheduling. Once again, our guides were great and did wonderfully with the kids. I would love to return to Ash Lawn just to walk the grounds and sit on the porch. Very, very beautiful, peaceful property.

Waiting to go into the house.

They had a handful of peacocks and peahens on the property. Those are some noisy creatures. I took about 50 pictures of this one. He'd start to spread out his tail feathers and then stop. Crazy. He just stood there and let us pose all around him though.
I thought the ladder in the background was very cool for getting over a fence. I could use something like that so the kids can get into the backyard and not worry about leaving the gate open letting the dogs out. I've added building one to my To Do's at the bottom, but it's there. :)

So that was our end of year field trip for Year 3 Tapestry of Grace. We were so glad to spend a day and a half with our good friends and enjoyed a lot of fun and laughter while learning a thing or two.

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