Monday, October 31, 2011

Scaring Up Frights, Beaufort Style

No one does ghost stories better than Southerners.  It's who we are.  We love passionately and long. We live with our past.  I'm not sure why this is, but it is something I have had instilled in me all my life.  I don't know if it's the tragedy of choosing the wrong path during colonial times by going with the slow agrarian way of life which demanded the torturous use of slaves (although most Southerners' ancestors never owned slaves- I know mine didn't) or if the slower way of life just lent itself to dwelling on the past and passing these reminisces down, generation after generation.  Lesson to remember?  Never double cross a Southerner... we never forget.

This Halloween weekend, our family had the pleasure of hearing some of the local low country tales as they were meant to be told: by a local dressed as a specter, riding on a carriage through the 300 year old streets of Beaufort, SC.  It was ghostly perfection.

After a day spent meeting park rangers at Hunting Island State Park, getting faces painted, climbing to the top of a 122 year old lighthouse, and then, picking out the perfect pumpkin at Dempsey Farms, straight from the most sincere pumpkin patch I have ever seen, we were ready to be scared... so we headed into town for the 19th Annual Exchange Club of Beaufort's Ghost Tour.

The tour began with our spiritual guide handing out previously lit matches; she claimed the smell of sulfur from a lit match would be enough to protect us from the spirits on this ghostly tour.  As our horse began his slow sashaying walk through downtown, the stories of Beaufort's past inhabitants unfolded....

During a renovation of a downtown hotel, a historian from USC had been asked to oversee the changes by staying on the premises during the construction.    With all expenses paid, he jumped at the chance to experience history first hand.  He only stayed one night. After being awoken time and again by crying in the downstair's parlor and finding no one there, his small professor's home on the USC campus looked much better.

The horse meandered down Bay Street, out of the downtown lights and into the gaslit streets of the Old Point neighborhood...

Only one original house still stands on Bay Street with all the others lost in the great fire of 1907 that was started by boys sneaking a smoke too near bales of hay.  With only a bucket brigade to fight the ever consuming fire, more than homes were lost.

Suddenly, a girl comes running up to the carriage.  Is this part of the tour?  She is screaming for help.  Her child is inside one of the homes...

We turned the first point corner and headed toward "The Castle."  Built in 1859 by Dr. Joseph Johnson, it is said to be haunted by a small male ghost named "Pinky."  Pinky likes children and many families who have lived in the home have scolded their kids for being too sleepy at the breakfast table.  Finding their kids unable to go to school or out to play with other children, each parent discovered that their children had been kept up all night playing games with a "man" named Pinky.  Soon after these nightly outings and subsequent stays at home, other children would fall ill with a current disease or infection, but "The Castle" children would be spared.  Definitely the kind of ghost to have around!

Our carriage approached a practice field and we noticed a woman pacing back and forth.  As we drew closer, she began telling us of her beau who had gone away to fight the Yankees, but was due back any day now as "The War of Northern Aggression" was over.  Had we seen him?

On a backstreet of the Old Point, we venture by a home that was once a house of ill repute.  Our guide warned us to hold on to our husbands or boyfriends as the Madam of the house still haunts the street looking for her next love.  As I reached for Greg's hand, I amazingly smelled her perfume...

All ghoulishness aside, this was the best ghost tour I have ever experienced.  There were people in character all along the ride, each one telling their personal and sad tale.  There were a few surprises that I won't divulge;  I've probably said too much already. Without a doubt, it was the best family Halloween outing we have ever had!

If you are planning for next year, check out the Exchange Club's 20th Annual Ghost Tour.  All proceeds benefit CAPA (Child Abuse Prevention Alliance.)

Our Children...of the Corn!

Happy Halloween!

Had a frightening Halloween?  Tell me about it.. comment below!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fall Photo Scavenger Hunt

I took this photo on our second hunt!
Tired of the kids under your feet? Are they always on the computer/video game/television and not outside? Do you just need a little time alone? Send the kids outside for a fun, fall photo scavenger hunt!

Whether on foot or on bike, here's a list of ideas to send them searching to capture on a digital camera:

corn stalks
spider webs
red leaves
yellow leaves
brown leaves

To make the hunt a little more challenging (and take longer!), adjust the number of each item, like find 3 pumpkins, 6 jack-o-lanterns or 3 skeletons, according to your area's fall treasures.

 I recently sent my three kids on a Fall Hunt and required that they get at least one of them in each picture. That way, they not only took turns with the camera, but I got some pretty funny pictures of my kids, not just random fall pics.

I'll admit, my kids left grumbling about having to go outside, etc., but they returned excited to show me all their great photos. They even wanted me to create a second hunt!

I got to read for 45 uninterrupted minutes and they got fresh air and a sense of communal accomplishment.  They also learned what mums, pansies and gourds were, as well as, noticing how our island was decorated for fall.  It was definitely a win/win/win activity!

I'd love to see the fruits of your labor! Send me your favorite kid pics from their hunts and I'll post them on my blog!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Port Royal Pirate Festival

Everyone knows fall is festival time and we made it back home in time to enjoy a local favorite: The Pirate Festival.  The Barrier Islands of coastal Georgia and South Carolina were once teaming with pirates from Blackbeard to Captain Morgan of Spiced Rum fame.  Rumors still abound about Blackbeard's buried treasure still hidden somewhere on one of the barrier islands.  Our island is named for a privateer, Captain John Fripp.  Privateers were basically pirates with permission.  As long as you stole only from the enemy (aka The Spanish), you could rob and pillage to your heart's content.  Pretty sweet deal!

While I didn't witness any looting, The Pirate Festival, held right on the water in beautiful Port Royal, SC, brought out many pirate wannabes. I could almost hear Jimmy Buffett singing in the background, "Yes, I am a pirate; two hundred years too late. The cannons don't thunder; There's nothing to plunder; I'm an over forty victim of fate.  Arriving too late."

Enough with adults in costume.

The festival food was some of the best I've ever had with many stands to choose from; such as: Sea Island Market had fresh fish, shrimp and gator bites; Bricks' Restaurant served excellent South Carolina BBQ and burgers;  and Berry Island Cafe had fresh deli sandwiches and homemade ice cream.  There were also shaved ice, a taco stand, beer and wine and a wicked Pirate's Punch.  We enjoyed all the food, but, as at most festivals, the music and people watching were the highlights.

The local band, The Accomplices, played a nice Americana/blue grassy mix.  Greg supported their effort with a purchase of their new CD.

The most unusual, and coincidentally, the kids' favorite, was the free petting zoo.  What's so unusual about a petting zoo, you say?  Well, how many petting zoos have you been to with parrots, cockatoos, puppies, and SNAKES?  The other pleasantly strange thing about the zoo?  If you leave your car keys with the owner, you can walk around the festival with a parrot or a snake on your shoulder.  See, I told you it was unusual.

Less unusual, but still fun, were the classic cars on display.  We thought of Uncle Shannon as we looked at all the cool cars.  He would have loved the Cobra especially.  Greg's favorite was the Rolls Royce complete with a jar of Grey Poupon. (The chef in Greg always comes out at the strangest moments.)

Emma and Anabel's favorite car was the tricked out golf cart made to look like a pirate ship.  They have big plans for ours now!  Good luck, Girls!

All in all, the Pirate Festival was a perfect way to spend a beautiful fall Saturday!  Thanks for the fun, Port Royal!

If you have a chance this weekend, take my advice and go visit your local fall festival.  Let me know if you see anything unusual...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Taste of America Tour Ends

Just the tip of our travels this year!
What can I say?  It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.  We traveled over 3500 miles together as a family and loved every minute of it... even the parts we hated, we look back on with a smile and love in our hearts.

We visited ten cities in 15 days and saw more historical sites in America than we ever have before.  We learned where the Boston Massacre took place and why it happened, and found the best place to wash clothes in Bar Harbor, Maine.  We learned you should clean out your car THOROUGHLY before crossing a national border and we learned that the family that travels together can survive French Canadian border searches and granola bars.

Our Taste of America Tour was just that... a taste to whet our appetites for more travel, more adventure and more learning about our great nation.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Washington, D.C. - Part Four - The American History Museum

Finally!  We made to to my favorite museum. Since my first visit to D.C. when I was eleven, I have loved the Smithsonian and especially the American History Museum.  Inside this massive building lives and breathes the momentous artifacts of our country.  From the desk where Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence to Dorothy's ruby slippers, visitors can witness the rise of America.

Since exhaustion precluded my creating a museum scavenger hunt, I stopped by the visitor's information desk to see what they had for kids. Jackpot!  They had ready made knowledge hunts arranged by ages.  I picked up two maps and three hunts and off we went. Since we only had a few hours, we mapped out our must sees and then checked out other items along the way to those.

[Family Field Trip Tip: If a museum has an education department, it will have packets or hunts like the ones we found at the Smithsonian.  Just ask!]

The Star Spangled Banner was our first stop.  This is the actual flag that Francis Scott Key observed during the Battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore and wrote our national anthem.  Amazing!  There is an interactive flag that you can touch and find out about each section of the flag.  Then, the flag, itself, is hanging in low light for all to see.  The exhibit tells of Key's inspiration during the War of 1812 and how his poem became our national anthem.  It also tells of the never ending effort of preserving this 200 year old battle-worn flag.  Definitely a National Treasure!  No photos were allowed in this exhibit so check out the website to see the flag.

Next, we headed to the First Ladies exhibit.  Greg and Wyatt thought it uninteresting, but the inauguration gowns can really be a window into history reflecting the time period and the lady's personality.  I thought it was interesting to see which of the modern dresses looked better on or off the First Lady.  Example: Hilary Clinton's dressed looked much better off than on her and Laura Bush's and Michelle Obama's gowns looked much better on them than off. (This is just a fashion observation and not politically motivated.)  Anabel's favorite gown was Mary Todd Lincoln's: tiny, simple, elegant.  Three words I would never have used to describe Mrs. Lincoln.

On the third floor were the Presidents and the Pop Culture exhibits.  There are personal objects from all the presidents from George Washington's chair to Lincoln's stove pipe hat to JFK's little black book (just kidding about the book.)  We loved the Pop Culture hall.  It was fun showing the kids artifacts from our childhood and explaining some of the earlier twentieth century articles.   Just a few of the items were:  Archie and Edith's chairs, the Muppets, original drawings of Charlie Brown, Cat Woman's costume, Michael Jackson's hat and a Tony Hawk skateboard exactly like Greg's.

With our information hunt almost complete, we headed for the exhibit I had been dying to see: Julia's Kitchen!  Ever since reading My Life in France and seeing Julie and Julia, I have been fascinated by this Julia Child's life, passions and pursuits.  She has been an inspiration to me while writing my book.  Each time I have gotten stuck or frustrated with writing direction after direction, I would think of Julia and the eight years she spent writing and rewriting her magnum opus - Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I think about how hard it would have been to write all those recipes either by hand or typing with carbons and then editing without a computer.  Wow!  Then, I pray my book will be at least a quarter as successful as her book.  Her kitchen exhibit is her actual kitchen from her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts where she filmed her original PBS television series, The French Chef. She donated her entire kitchen when she moved to California in 2001.  Like Julie Powell (fellow blogger, writer and Julia fan), I felt closer to Julia just being in her kitchen.  Silly, but true.

Once again, the kids sniffed out the hands-on exhibit in the museum: Invention at Play.  Here, Anabel tried a little windsurfing while Wyatt and Emma experimented with the best way to get a ball in a hole using only kitchen utensils.  Both were successful with very different techniques:

With 33 current exhibits, the National Museum of American History is a must see for any trip to Washington, D.C.  I'm so glad we saved the best for last and can't wait to return when we have time for more than just a taste of America.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Washington, D.C. - Part Three - The Memorials

Our family awoke to another gorgeous day for our second full day of sightseeing in our nation's capital.  After eating more than Washington's army combined at the Embassy Suites' full buffet breakfast, we grabbed a taxi that dropped us almost at Lincoln's feet.

[Family Field Trip tip: remember I said five in a taxi is cheaper than the metro?  Well, the taxi can also take you straight to the entrances of most museums and monuments along The Mall.  The Metro station is close, but still quite a walk away.  Your family will be doing tons of walking, around and within the museums and monuments, so the taxi to and from is well worth it.]

Two words best describe the feelings the Lincoln Memorial represent to me: Awe and Reverence.  With the Gettysburg Address to one side and his second inaugural address to the other, Lincoln sits watching the America he saved from itself.  While the kids understood the solemnity of the monument, I don't think they got the awesomeness of what Lincoln did.  Greg read the Gettysburg Address quietly to the kids explaining what each sentence meant.  Anabel was moved most of all.  After looking at various statues together this year, she asked great questions about what his pose represented.  "It looks like he has one hand relaxed and one clenched on the chair.  Does that mean he could be kind, but firm?"

Greg was disappointed that they now have a bookstore inside the Lincoln Memorial.  I got his point, but I also think it is a great location to spread the ideals of democracy, freedom, and, yes, capitalism.  Anyway, there were mainly only history books; no red, white and blue t-shirts, lunch boxes or bumper stickers to clash with the importance of the monument.

Leaving Lincoln, we headed towards the Korean War Memorial.  These frozen in time soldiers walking through a battlefield gave me chills.  Again, there was the feeling of solemnity and remembrance all around.

As we walked back in front of Lincoln to the other side where the Vietnam War Memorial is located, I gave an impromptu history lesson on the wars of the twentieth century to Anabel and Wyatt.  After giving a brief overview of the four major wars that involved America, we discussed the major differences and perceptions of each.  Scholars may disagree, but my nutshell version for my kids was: WWI, we tried to be isolationists, but our alliances by providing supplies and aid eventually led to our relatively short involvement; WWII, again, we tried to just provide supplies, but after Japan attacked Americans, we could ignore their aggressive regime and Hitler's successes against our allies no longer.  In both World Wars, we had been attacked and the lines of black and white, good vs. evil were clear.  With the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the lines were a bit blurry.  Trying to explain Communism and our policy of  Containment to 10 and 12 year olds on a beautiful day seems a waste of time now, but when a teachable moment presents itself, you go with it.  I think the most powerful point they understood was the difference television made with the Vietnam War.  Seeing a war in your living room is never a pretty thing.

By the time we reached the Vietnam War Memorial Wall of Names, the kids were rightly overwhelmed.  (Greg and Emma walked behind us because she was having a hard time wrapping her young mind around all these wars and deaths.  Honestly, I still have a hard time myself.)

Strangely enough, the World War II Memorial ended up being a very uplifting monument.  We loved the ring of states around the memorial and the wall plates that tell the story of the Atlantic War and the Pacific War.  We met a lone WWII veteran who asked us to take his picture by his state sign.  He described his experience in the South Pacific and the battles he fought in.  Just talking to him for five minutes revived our patriotism and cemented our belief that he and his fellow soldiers were of the greatest generation our country has ever seen.  He thanked us for taking his picture and we thanked him for his service and sacrifice for our country.  Our words of gratitude for their contribution to our country are insufficient for what these great men and women sacrificed and accomplished.

We left the memorial area and headed past the great Washington Monument ready for lunch, but first, we paused for a moment of reflection in the shadow of that great obelisk.  What will the memorial for the still going wars in Iraq and Afghanistan look like?  What other wars will the twenty-first century hold?  Too depressing to think about for long... Carpe diem!  Let's eat!

Life is short so "Gather ye rose buds while ye may!"

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Washington, D.C. - Part Two - The Natural History Museum

"I prefer living things to mechanical things any day," said Anabel as we headed across The Mall to the Natural History Museum, our next stop of the 19 Smithsonian museums.  Seeing people walking with their smart phones in hand or hunched over a computer and not noticing the beautiful day around them made me agree with her completely.  With our iPhones on vibrate (because you never know who might call...), we headed inside and were greeted by the famously recognizable entrance rotunda elephant.  Hello, Natural History!

The kids' dream!
The National Natural History Museum currently hosts 28 permanent and traveling exhibits with millions of artifacts from around the world.  Again, a person could easily spend an entire week in this one museum and be unable to see it all; in our taste of America tour (as we have dubbed this trip), we gave ourselves 3 hours.  Unhappy with this time limit, Anabel and Emma started looking for good hiding places so they could get locked inside and spend the night a la Night at the Museum. (Wish I had thought of this earlier as it would probably be cheaper than a hotel.  Let's see... must hide far from the security of the Hope Diamond...) With ten minutes wasted on that dream, we headed for the mammals.

With stuffed lions and tigers and bears, (oh, my!) the mammals exhibit teaches lots of facts, IF you read all the fine print.  Our kids loved walking through all the animals, but rarely stopped to read.  A family field trip suggestion is to make a scavenger hunt of facts sheet before you arrive or stop by the museum's visitor's information center for age appropriate guides and activities.  If the kids were having to find a certain animal and identify where it's found in the world or when it became extinct, it would have slowed them down long enough to read and learn more about the artifacts.  I had planned activities for many stops on this east coast tour, but by the time we reached D.C.... Well, let's face it; I was tired.

Bones, Bones, Bones could sum up our next three exhibits.  Emma loved the dinosaurs looming high above her head, but thrilled at the 4 foot wide jaw bone of a great white shark.  Greg and I were captivated by the Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th-Century Chesapeake which investigated the recently discovered bones at the Jamestown Settlement archeological dig (our first stop on this Taste of America tour.  How's that for symmetry!)  The exhibit shows step by step how forensic science identified several bones dating around 1607.  Bones can tell what person did for a living, how hard their work was, any diseases the person may have had and of course, how the person ultimately died.

Without a doubt, hands-on is the best way to learn!
As at the Air and Space Museum, the kids favorite spot was the hands-on Insect Zoo (sponsored by Orkin, of course!)  Here, they have cases and cases of rare and exotic bugs and common varieties in various stages of their life cycle.  We stared at each case examining the stick bugs, tarantulas, praying mantises and scorpions.  I about came out of my own skin as an entomologist's hand reached in from above one case and placed a giant insect on a branch.  You can't sit that close and stare at bugs without getting a little jumpy.
Is that a crack?

At the end of the day, we were tired and hungry and ready for room service after all the walking we had done in the museums. (Field trip tip: wear comfortable shoes!)  Have I told you that a family of five can take a taxi cheaper than the subway?  Taxi!  Take us home to rest up for Washington, D.C. - Day Two.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Washington, D.C.- The Mother of All Field Trips! (Part One- The National Air and Space Museum)

On a crisp fall morning, we drove the short distance from Baltimore to D.C. paying our last toll of the trip on the way.  The pristine blue of the sky made each monument and memorial stand out even more glorious than normal.  What a perfect day to visit our nation's capital!

Emma loved it when she discovered
the Wrights first flight was on her birthday!
The wonderful thing about Washington, D. C. is that everywhere you turn there is something significant to see and do; and the good news is most of it is FREE!  The brightest spot in all that freedom is our nation's treasury of museums, The Smithsonian.  We began our family field trip at Wyatt's most anticipated stop, the National Air and Space Museum.  Here, the treasures span from the Wright Brothers' first plane flown successfully at Kitty Hawk, NC to a moon rock gathered during the Apollo missions that tourists can actually touch.  Pretty cool, huh?

How many places can a family touch a piece of the moon and visit Orville and Wilbur's bike shop in Ohio?  There is so much to see and do here between the exhibits, the planetarium, the IMAX theater and the simulators that a family could easily spend a week just exploring this one museum of the Smithsonian; However, we were crunched for time so we had allotted 3 hours... Ready, Set, GO EXPLORE!

The kids made a beeline for the interactive exhibit, "How Things Fly."  Here, Anabel experimented with lift, thrust and drag:

And Wyatt and Emma learned how a satellite orbits the earth by actually becoming one (temporarily, of course.)  Watching the "Explainer" demonstrate with Emma and Wyatt taught me, too.  If you're interested in how a satellite works, check out our movie:

Our favorite exhibits were "The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age," "Apollo to the Moon," "Exploring the Planets," and "Legend, Memory and the Great War in the Air."  All these exhibits display real artifacts and take you through the science and history behind each.  Who could ask for better educational lessons?

 I walked with Anabel through the Wright Brothers' timeline and we discussed the drive and the bravery it took to attempt to fly.

Greg and Wyatt toured the Apollo missions together amazed at our scientists' accomplishments.  How did we get from the first flight in 1903 to landing on the moon just 66 years later?  Amazing!

Emma and I loved the scale models of our Solar System in Exploring the Planets.  We studied details about each planet and NASA's work exploring them.

History came to life in the World War I exhibit, Legend and Memory and the Great War in the Air.  Having just read The House at Riverton and watching My Boy Jack (the story of Rudyard Kipling's son) and being obsessed with the PBS series, Downton Abbey, I was extremely enthralled by the many details in the exhibit about World War I and the affect the new invention of the plane had on the war.

All the exhibits highlighted the most rewarding aspect of family field trips: learning and creating memories at the same time.

After touring most of the Air and Space Museum and playing with hands-on science, we were off to another museum.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Road School

I'm thinking about pitching a new series to TLC or Discovery Network called Road School.  We take turns driving and teaching the kids as we travel the USA!  What do you think?  Would you watch as Greg navigates his way around ten eighteen wheelers (narrowly missing a baby carriage) while I discuss the finer points of the Declaration of Independence?  I'm just saying...  could be as good as Ice Road Truckers, right?

What's a baby carriage doing on I95?
LAPs are great!

If you have been wondering how we are teaching the kids while traveling, wonder no more.  I call them: Learning Activity Packets or LAPs because the kids work them in their laps.  I made ten packets; one for each road travel day.  I included critical thinking skills, grammar, math, reading and some science and social studies.  Most of their science and social studies took place at the actual places: Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Boston Harbor, Franklin Institute, Champlain's statue in Quebec, etc.  We took advantage of any and every hands-on experience we could.
Working in parking lot hence seatbelt unfastened.
Hands-on problem solving and inventive thinking

Then, there were the lessons I didn't plan like how (or how not) to smuggle goods into Canada or how to use a GPS when you just missed the turn you should have taken or how great it is to be a citizen of the USA.

Life lessons learned... on the road.  Hey!  That could be our catch phrase! I can almost hear Mike Rowe's voiceover right now!