Friday, September 30, 2011

We’re Full of Brotherly Love for Philadelphia…. But not the Phillies!

I want to get this straight from the start:  Philadelphia is a cool town, but I am a diehard Braves fan so it is really hard to admit that I loved this city.  The people we met were friendly and helpful, giving us great suggestions and directions whenever we asked.

On our first night, we ordered pizza for the kids and locked them up tight in our Embassy Suites Suite and headed to one of Greg’s culinary stops: Morimoto (He’s one of the Iron Chef’s from Food Network.)

Greg ordered the chef’s choice meal where they bring you 7-8 courses and you sit back and enjoy.  Each course was a work of art:

Our sightseeing day began at the Franklin Institute (see ultimate field trip post.)  After three incredible hours working with hands-on science experiments, we headed to the Reading Street Market for lunch.  What an awesome place!  If you love food like we do, you’ll love these pictures:

Full of ethnic food, we headed to Old Towne and Independence Hall.

(I love old cities because they are planned.  You can easily find your way around when everything is laid out in a grid.  We had no problem walking all the way from the museum district to the convention district to the old/historic section of Philadelphia.)

Independence Hall:  the place where our founding documents were planned, discussed, voted on and then, finally, signed.  Amazing!  I couldn’t help but feel in awe of the whole place.  Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams, George Washington sat here, argued here, laughed here, thought here. And we are the winners of their radical experiment of self-government.  Awesome!

The tour, led by National Park Rangers, gave another great history lesson to all of us, but especially the kids.  Emma was hearing a lot of this information for the first time and I was proud of the close attention she paid.  I don’t know how much it meant to her at age eight, but I am glad she was listening.  First, we were led from the east wing into the judicial room where the colonists held court.  After a brief explanation of the British and American court system, we walked into the Signing Room.  The room you see in all the portraits of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  George Washington’s chair as president of the Constitutional Convention is still there, presiding over all.  Words can’t describe what the events in this room have meant to the world so I won’t even try.
Kids learning something (hopefully...)

Judicial Room

Signing Room

If you are ever in Philadelphia, obviously, go see it for yourself.

The Liberty Bell no longer hangs in the Independence Hall belfry, but it sits just across the street in a glass building next to the visitor’s center.  You need to go to the visitor’s center first to get free timed-tickets to enter Independence Hall.  We didn’t know this and walked straight to the hall and had to double-back.

After all this walking, we took the Philly Phlash trolley back to the hotel.  Only $2 each will get you to all the major historical places in Philly and they’ll even drop you right at your hotel.

That night, we ventured out in our own car for a little driving tour through the old city and down to South Philly for some cheesesteaks.  Yes, we made it safely to the famous Gino’s and Pat’s intersection.  We ate at Pat’s because we heard they were nicer to out-of-towners.   I highly recommend the “steak, wiz, wit.”

While the Phillies will never be close to my heart, I would like to return to Philadelphia for some more brotherly love and a cheesesteak or two.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Leaving Williamsburg

Our last morning in Colonial Williamsburg was spent doing what most tourists do first:  visit the Visitor’s Center.  Our hotel, Williamsburg Woodlands, was located directly beside the visitor’s center so we, of course, ignored it till the last day.  (Unfortunately, I have a habit of not seeing the sites closest to me.  It’s like locals never going to the famous landmarks in your own town.  I don’t know why this is, but it is true.) This time, I was glad we waited.  They show the oldest continuously running film called “Williamsburg - The Story of a Patriot” which premiered in 1957 starring Jack Lord (Yes, the guy from Hawaii 5-O.  Talk about stepping back in time… check out the clip of Jack Lord with a pony tail.)  
Watching Felicity in our room

The film was a great history lesson, but would have made little sense to our kids if we hadn’t already visited most of the sights in the film and heard many of the stories from the movie.  As it was, we all loved spotting the places we sat in the capitol building or where we ate in the town.  (Of course, we preferred spotting places in the American Girl movie, Felicity.  If you'd like to watch Felicity, Click Below:)

The Visitor’s Center also contains a huge bookstore and gift shop for all your colonial needs (I know you have many.)  If you missed anything in the market place in town, you can get it here.

Any one need a trihorn hat and musket?

Slates, Chalk, Cards?

Overall, we loved our visit to Colonial Williamsburg!  What a fantastic history lesson for the entire family!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Our long day’s journey into the past… Part two (so tired and only our first stop)

Tired of walking? Complainers are punished.

After enjoying ginger cake for a light lunch on the street, we ended our walking tour of Colonial Williamsburg with a stop at the Capitol Building.  I am so glad we started at the Palace and ended at the Capitol because, here, it is June of 1776 and the colony of Virginia has just declared itself independent from Britain and written its own Bill of Rights from which Thomas Jefferson would take many ideas from while writing the Declaration of Independence. For this reason, if you are doing Williamsburg in one day, start at the Palace in 1775 and end at the Capitol in 1776.
Emma in the House of Burgesses

Our tour guide in the capitol was totally into her role as well.   She told of being allowed to watch the many debates in the former House of Burgesses and gave details of how Patrick Henry had rallied the colonists into patriots.  He had ordered the Royal Governor’s office to be left as is so we could see how quickly he had departed, but he had plans to sell all of the items to raise money to support the new Continental Army. 

Don’t I sound like I was really there?  That’s how they make you feel in Williamsburg and it is the beauty of it all.  When Rector W.A.R. Goodwin imagined and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. funded the restoration, they created the largest living museum in the world.  They wanted Americans to step back in time and remember the life as our founding fathers knew it.  Thankfully, the actors, historians and many other workers dedicate their work to this preservation so we can travel back in time and drag our kids with us.

Game Pie at King's Arms
We dined at another historic tavern on our last night, Christiana Campbell’s tavern.  Offering a more seafood based menu, this tavern also had actors and musicians traveling around the tables engaging each in conversation and song.  Personally, I liked the food better at the King’s Arms, but I enjoyed the food at Christiana’s, too.

Anabel and I enjoyed the King's Arms Tavern the best.
Finally, we ended our evening with a tavern ghost tour- not as scary or even slightly chilling as the ghost tour in Savannah, but fun just the same.  While we enjoyed walking the old town streets at night, Tour Guide Lindsay (a history student working on her doctorate at nearby William and Mary) spun tales about the many ghosts that roam the taverns and shops of Williamsburg.  We recommend this tour for good old family fun; no worries about nightmares.  After this day, we were too tired to dream, anyway.

Our Long Day's Journey into the Past...Part One (I said it was long!)

With one small step off the shuttle bus for our bodies, it was one giant leap back in time for our minds.  Colonial Williamsburg doesn’t disappoint history buffs or novices alike. 

As we entered the historic area, we met colonial actors dressed in authentic garb greeting families at the Gateway and Kids’ Zone entrance.  Here, we got an introduction to the colonial way of life through children’s eyes.  They have examples of children's clothing, toys, schoolwork, and maps that help transport you back to the 18th century.  There are family orientation tours offered every 30 minutes from the Gateway that will give you an overview of the historic area.  We were bold tourists, however, and oriented ourselves as we went.

Our guide really liked his job!  The kids believed!
First, we stopped at the Royal Governor’s Palace.  Do not miss this tour!  The colonial actors at the Palace are in complete character and talk to you like you have arrived at the Palace for the Queen’s Birthday Ball that evening in January 1775.  Of course, our guide thought we must be hired help for the evening’s festivities as we were not dressed to attend a ball.  The kids loved it especially when he kept looking for the housekeeper as we toured the Palace so we could leave the tour and get about our duties.  The tour takes you all through the Palace rooms which are decorated as they were before the last Royal Governor fled the Palace in June of 1775 just as things were heating up in the colony and Lord Dunmore feared for his family’s safety.  After independence was declared in 1776, the Palace became the home of the first two Virginia governors, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.  After the house tour, we strolled about the formal English gardens and even took a try at the Palace Maze, a six-foot high hedge maze in the middle of the garden.  In the outer buildings of the kitchen and scullery, we watched as they demonstrated the (still) important art of beer making.

Beer anyone?  It should be ready in 3 days.
Next, we meandered up the Palace Green toward Duke of Gloucester Street stopping at the Wythe house tour and the colony’s blacksmith and wagon/wheel makers.  Wyatt loved the blacksmith’s shop and peppered the craftsman on duty with many questions.  “What’s the pointy end of an anvil for?”  (Making small or curved objects)  “How do you make a screw?” (Same as big stuff, then tap it.)  “How do you make spoons and ladles?”  (Some special thingy…)

Touring the Wythe House where Thomas Jefferson studied law among other things, Greg and I thought the best examples of 18th century life were in the details all around the home:

Felicity buys a cone of sugar to make ginger cake.
The girls loved the shops on Duke of Gloucester Street, but were disappointed at the high prices of the colonial costumes.  They had hoped to get dresses just like their American Girl dolls, Felicity and Elizabeth.  (Yes, they brought both dolls.) They used their chore money to purchase a shift and apron each.  Now they can play colonial times and the shifts make great nightgowns.  (We found out later that we could have rented dresses for the day for $24.95 each girl.  I know it may sound weird, but there were a lot of tourist dressed colonial, too.) 

We ended our shopping when the fife and drum parade marched by.  It made me smile to see children fall in step behind the parade ready to join the Revolutionaries and become mini-Minute Men.

Stay tuned for Williamsburg: Part 2.  

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Budgeting for Williamsburg

If only...
In case anyone would like to visit the places we’re going, I’m including blogs about our expenses for each stop.

When planning our trip to Williamsburg, I researched online for hotel deals.  We have happily used Priceline in the past so I searched there, as well.  I found lots of 3 star hotels in the Colonial Triangle priced between $90 and $300 a night.  However, the best bang for your buck deal I found was on the official Colonial Williamsburg website.  Colonial Williamsburg operates six hotels within walking distance/shuttle service to the historic section.  The hotels vary from the luxurious Williamsburg Inn and Spa to the economical Governor’s Inn. 

We chose the family friendly Williamsburg Woodlands Motel and Suites which offered the Autumn Stories Package.  For a total (including taxes and fees) of $524, we received 2 nights’ accommodations, length of stay admission to Colonial Williamsburg exhibits and museums, Tavern Ghost Tour tickets, daily deluxe (hot food, too!) continental breakfast and $100 Colonial Williamsburg gift card.   For our family of five, we slept, ate huge breakfasts, toured all of historic Williamsburg, enjoyed a fabulous meal at one of the taverns with our $100 gift card and had a spooky nighttime tour of several taverns all for around $100 each.  When you take into account that a 3-day ticket for the exhibits is $46/adult and $23/kid, the package was a very good deal.  We also had the luxury of staying on the Colonial property so we didn’t have to get back in our car for the entire stay.

We visited the historic area all three days and made reservations for taverns both nights during our stay.  The taverns were expensive, but dinner included entertainment, as well, with traveling actors speaking with you at your table and colonial musicians.  Authentic colonial adult meals ran around $30-35; luckily all our kids are 12 and under so they could order off the kids’ menu which ran between $6-11 and offered authentic colonial meals, too.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Wet Welcome to Jamestown

No matter what age, time period, or place, you can always talk about the weather.  Mother Nature treated us to a deluge of the wet stuff and a tornado warning just south of Jamestown.   Luckily, there's not that much to see outside. (Just the recreated Powhatan village and the excavation of the original fort possibly built by John Smith.) They have a wonderful museum about the original Jamestown Settlement, but it was raining too hard to even face the walk from the parking lot to the door.  We chose to take the driving tour instead. (Hey, we were tired.  Our drive from Fripp had taken us over 8 hours!  Yea, we know it took the colonists over 2 months on a small ship crossing the Atlantic, but they could stand and walk around when they wanted so it's not really the same thing.  Don't judge us.)

Gorgeous WET Virginia 
There is a lovely road called the Colonial parkway that encircles the historic triangle cities of Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg.  We drove and read from our history book and discussed how beautiful the Jamestown Island and isthmus are.  The rain did not do it justice.  We played our pretend game and tried to imagine we were Powhatan indians and saw the English ship sailing up the James River for the first time.  How unbelievable that would have been! We read about The Virginia Company's difficult times and how they almost didn't make it.

Greg took a wrong turn (at my direction) and we ended up on a private tour bus driveway, but we got a great illicit picture of the kids with Pocahontas's official historical marker.  Anabel was not happy, but she posed for the picture anyway.  Thanks, Kids!

If you're interested in the official history of the first English colony in the Americas (Jamestown founded 1607), check out the Jamestown Settlement website.

As for us we're headed to the dry hotel in Williamsburg...

Travel Games

Game anyone? 
Great games for the car:

Educational (but they won't know it!)-

Start with any place in the world (You can limit it to just your country depending on ages of players).  Georgia, for example.  The next player has to think of a place that begins with the last letter of "Georgia," like Arkansas.  The next player needs a place that starts with an S.  No places can be used twice in the same game and each place named must be real!

(I used to play this all the time with my class at school because it makes kids think and can be played with any number of players.)

One player choses a number: example, 3.  Then, starting at one and counting up, each player says a number except multiples of the chosen number and instead, the player says, "Buzz!"  Example, 1, 2, buzz, 4, 5, buzz, 7, 8, buzz, etc.  If a person makes a mistake, the game starts over.  The goal is to make it to 100 without making a mistake.  Great practice for multiplication and paying attention!

Minister's Cat
This is an alphabet adjective game.  Each player fills in the blank for describing the minister's cat alphabetically and then play moves to the next player.  Example:  It goes to the beat of (feel free to clap along) "The minister's cat is a... angry cat."  Next player, "The minister's cat is a bald cat." Next player, "The minister's cat is a cranky cat." etc.  If someone can't think of an adjective with the correct letter, they are out of that alphabetical round.

(Variation for older children:  each player must say an adjective for the same letter before play moves to the next letter in the alphabet.)

Just for Fun (but you may learn something!)-

Would You Rather?
(This is a great getting to know your family game!)

Brainstorm opposites.

Ask players would you rather... live the the mountains or by the ocean?  visit the zoo or the aquarium?  read a book or play a game? eat a candy bar or potato chips?  go snow skiing or snorkeling?  etc.

Players take turns answering and EXPLAINING why they would rather do that.

Teddy pens another classic.
Pretend Your Bear Can Write Short Children's Stories

Anabel wins this game every time so unless you are extremely creative, don't bother competing against her.

Great games for restaurants:

Sugar Magic
While waiting our your food, lay three sugar/sweetener packets flat on the table.  Place one coin under one packet.  Move the packets around and let players take turns guessing where the coin is.  (optional: if the kids guess correctly, you can let them have the coin to add to their travel spending money.)

What's Different
Again, while waiting on your food, have children close their eyes (or go to the bathroom) and change one thing on the table or about your appearance and have each player take turns guessing what is different.

Memory Game
Using your napkin and 7-10 objects found on the table or from your purse or pocket, give players 10 seconds to study the chosen items.  Cover the items with your napkin and chose a player to name the covered objects.

Great games for sightseeing:

Educational (they may have guessed what you're up to by now...)

Scavenger Hunt
(This game helps focus children on the items in the museum, exhibit or tour.)

Create a list (length is up to you) of items that can be found where you are going (use a the location's website or brochure for items.)  Give a copy of the list to each player and have them check off each as they find them.

(Variation:  Create a list of questions for each player to answer while in the museum, exhibit or tour.  I made a list of random questions for students during a field trip to the High Museum in Atlanta.  The children, ages 9 and 10, didn't run through the art.  Instead, they looked for answers to the questions.  Example:  Find Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" painting.  What year did Van Gogh paint "Sunflowers?"  How many sunflowers are in the painting?  etc.  I gave out prizes to the ones with the most correct questions.  Prizes could be anything to enhance your trip - treat, game, or extra spending money- that you were probably going to give them anyway, but they don't have to know that.)

I-Spy Letter Art

If you've got a digital camera and an eye for art, this is the game for you and your family!  While taking an unguided walking tour of a new city or historical location (which, let's be honest, can be pretty boring for kids),  play a game of I-Spy.  Look for letter outlines in found materials and oddly shaped windows, doors, signs, etc.  Make a check list of letters found and create an entire Letter Photo Album when you return home from your travels!  Check out these examples:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

And We're Off...

Tomorrow morning, we are finally off on our first family journey up the eastern seaboard following the colonial coastal history.  Our first stop is Williamsburg then on to Philadelphia, Boston, and Bar Harbor, Maine (not sure of the colonial history here, but we love lobster.)  I plan to teach the kids about our colonial and revolutionary periods.  Greg plans to eat in all the restaurants he's read about in Bon Appetite magazine.  It's a win/win either way for all of us.

After Maine, we are leaving the good ol' US of A and heading over to Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island (I'm a huge Anne of Green Gables fan), then across New Brunswick to Quebec City and Montreal, Canada.  None of us have ever been to Canada so we are extremely excited and would welcome any advice from Canada savvy folks.

We'll reenter the states via Vermont and hope that the flood damaged areas are recovering well.  Our last stop is the newly formed nation's capital city, Washington, D. C.

Follow our route on the maps below:

Eastern USA
Eastern Canada

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Life Science on Fripp Island

What a better way to learn life science than to go out and just observe the world around you?  As a teacher, I couldn't think of a better assignment while living on the island so the kids have done just that:  they have observed the trees, plants, insects and animals of Fripp, researched information about each and compiled that information into a presentation for our family.

Here are some samples of their work:

If you're curious about more life on Fripp and the barrier islands of Georgia and South Carolina, check out these websites:

How stuff works?

Coastal Georgia Conservation

Hunting Island  (The state park island next to Fripp)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Family Matters

As many people have discovered before me, Thomas Wolfe was right on the money when he wrote, "You can't go home again."  I recently returned home to help my mom get settled after knee replacement surgery.  I spent three days and three long nights in the house I grew up in and never felt more homesick.  Homesick for my kids, my husband, my life as I know it now, not as I knew it then.

I thought about this a lot while "not sleeping" in my mother's bed.  Greg and I wanted to do this sabbatical thing (as my friends call it) to create special memories with and for our kids.  Will they someday feel like a stranger in a strange land in our home?  Sad, but possibly true.  I believe that it isn't just making happy memories that keeps families close; it is CONTINUING to make happy memories.  New memories each day for each age or time period we have together.  I hope this sabbatical year is full of happy memories for us and our kids, but I hope that our taking a year off to spend with the kids shows them how important they are to us; now and in the future.  I hope we can make many fun, exciting, "traveling to new places and seeing new things" memories for the rest of our lives.  I know they will grow up and leave us one day, but I hope we can have a relationship that our kids can always come home to- no matter what age.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Turtle Patrol

One of the cool things about coming to Fripp this time of year is getting to participate in the Loggerhead Turtle Nest Inventory.  Found in warm waters of all the oceans of the world, many Loggerhead sea turtles lay their nests along the southern US coastline every year from May to July with nests hatching August to October.  Currently on the endangered list, these turtles are threatened by predators in the wild, but the main threat to their survival is human encroachment into nesting areas.  Because of this many communities have their own turtle patrol which marks and protects these important nests.  Recently, we got to go along with the Fripp Island Turtle  Patrol on a nest inventory.

A nest inventory occurs three days after movement of sand outside the nest has occurred which is usually around 60 days from being laid.  According to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, nest incubation can vary due to sand temperature and weather.  This year, there were more nests on Fripp than in recent years and the nests were laid earlier than usual.  One of the nests we observed had hatched the night Hurricane Irene blew by which I thought was super cool!  It meant the water was closer to the nest so the hatchlings had less space to travel to open water.

To take inventory, one patrol member digs (with his or her hands) down to the nest and pulls up any shells, unhatched eggs or hatchlings.  As the head patrol person stated, "We know y'all want to see some cute little hatchlings, but we want to find empty eggs cause that means all eggs hatched and the hatchlings were strong and healthy enough to claw their own way out of the nest.  If they are strong enough to do that, they have a better chance of making it in the open ocean."

So, while we wanted to see this:
We got to see this:

Which was awesome (for the turtles)!  113 eggs in the clutch and 106 empty, hatched eggs!  Only 7 undeveloped eggs. The patrol was pleased.

Here are some other photos from our experience:

If you are on the east coast during the late summer or early fall, we highly recommend contacting the local turtle patrol to find out when the next nest inventory will be.  Go check out some nature for yourself, but never do it by yourself.  If you see one of these signs, please leave the baby turtles to grow.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells Book Report by Emma

In the beginning of the book, Junie b. was writing in her journal and May saw. The PTO was coming up and room one got the outfit. The PTO is like we have PTA and classes get to perform. Next, Secret Santa came and she got May’s name.  Junie B. only got stuff for herself.  Junie got May some coal.  The teacher switched the coal with a toy. Junie and May have been enemies for a long time, but she was glad the teacher switched the gifts because it was Christmas.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Wrinkle in Time Book Report by Wyatt

A Wrinkle in Time By: Madeleine L’enge

Original Cover

The Murry family was like any other family, or at least that’s how it seemed. The youngest, Charles Wallace and the oldest, Meg had special powers that would help them later on. One day, during a Hurricane a woman named Mrs. Whatsit came into the Murry’s home for shelter. She was an old lady, but she moved very quickly. The next day, Charles and Meg went for a walk and met Calvin O’Keeffe, a boy in Meg's class at school, by Mrs. Whatsit’s house and they all went inside.

Then Mrs. Witch, another old lady, tessered them to a planet called Uriel. Tessering is like if you were on a long string, you would bend the string to get to the end of it quicker. While on Uriel, they see the black thing. It is the thing everyone in the universe is fighting (including their dad who disappeared months earlier.) It made everyone feel sad and lonely. Then Mrs. Witch tessered them to Camazotz where they met the man with red eyes who hypnotized Charles Wallace. When Hypnotized, Charles didn’t care about anything except IT. IT is Camazotz's leader.

It is pretty much a giant brain.

Afterwards, they find their dad trapped in a transparent column and take him to a different planet where they meet “Aunt Beast”, a hairy tentacle monster who helps them regain their strength. Finally, Meg goes alone back to Camazotz to save Charles by finding the only thing IT doesn’t have and that is love. Finally, they all get back home safely.       The end!