Friday, May 29, 2009

No Desk!

I've been the butt of a running joke on this trip. When we were preparing for the trip the kids and I watched a history channel series on the American Revolution loaned to us by my friend at West Vista Urban Farm. In one dramatic reenactment Thomas Jefferson is in Philadelphia, seated at a wooden desk, writing the Declaration of Independence. The voiceover says, In this room Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence.

"This is so exciting!" I say to the kids. "When we are in Philadelphia we might see that!"

"What?" Evelyn says, "The Declaration of Independence?"

"Well, no," I say, "That is in DC. I meant the desk."

"Ooooh! The desk! The desk!" Evelyn says. She then goes on to say things like, oh, maybe we'll see the pants he was wearing when he sat at the desk!

So imagine my surprise when, in perusing a DC visitor's guide, I discover that Thomas Jefferson's desk is in fact on display in DC in the Museum of American History. I was ready to go right away.

But there was the Museum of Natural History to visit, and an exhibit on the Unsettlement of the Contintent, about the settlement of Jamestown, Santa Fe and Quebec. Having just visited Jamestown I thought it would be fascinating to see the very different histories of the settlement of Santa Fe and Quebec. (It was.) And there were tours of the Library of Congress and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to make and monuments to see.

It didn't help that whenever anyone mentioned the desk Greta would lie down on the floor and kick and scream "No desk!" This trip has not been tailor made for a 4 year old.

So on our last day in DC we finally made it to the American Presidency exhibit of the Museum of American History. And there it was, in the center of the room, in glass.

The desk.

It looked nothing like the one in the dramatic reenactment. It was a small, portable desk of Jefferson's own design. I was snapping away, trying to hold still enough to get photos without flash in the dim light.

And Mike and Evelyn start cracking up.

They had been reading. The desk is flanked by two quotations. Jefferson, when he gave the desk to his granddaughter and her husband, attached this note inside the desk:

Politics as well as religion has its superstitions. These, gaining strength with time, may, one day, give imaginary value to this relic, for its great association with the birth of the Great Charter of our Independence.

And to his granddaughter, Eleanora Randolph Coolidge, he wrote in a letter:

Mr. Coolidge must do me the favor of accepting this. Its imaginary value will increase with years and if he lives to my age, or another half-century, he may see it carried in the procession of our nation's birthday, as the relics of the saints are in those of the Church.

What I did not suffer after having been made fun of by Jefferson himself. Evelyn said, "Can you see it? The desk has an aura of power and magic!" For the rest of the American Presidency exhibit Evelyn ran to me with, "Oooh! The wedge that Lincoln used to split wood!" and "Look! Look! Warren Harding's silk pajamas! He slept in those pajamas!"

The great irony is that after being so excited merely by the desk that the Great Charter of our Independence was written on I did not make it to see the charter itself. We kept passing the National Archives and deciding not to wait in the 45 minute line. We planned to go the last day after school groups had left for the day, but we arrived moments too late. It was closed. We did not see either the Declaration of Independence or The Constitution in person.

However, I, ahem, am no longer one to give too much importance to a relic. It is not the paper (or the desk) they are written on, but the words that matter.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Washington DC

Six museums, five memorials, four miles of walking, three government buildings, two tours, and one monument.

Here's Clem last night at dinner. Too tired to eat.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memory Lane

Calvert Cliffs
These crumbly cliffs of sedimentary rock filled with fossils were a beloved destination of my childhood. I once found a beautiful great white shark tooth here. Other times we sifted and pored and found nothing. Last time I brought the kids they did not find any shark teeth, but at 2 and 4 they were certain their shell fragments were teeth. Now they knew better and I hoped this time the sands would yield their most prized treasures.

On this trip the 1.8 mile walk to the beach passed faster, or maybe slower, but more interestingly than it did in my childhood. For one thing, I no longer take the mountain laurel for granted.
When I was a child we trudged the sandy trail to the beach through an unremarkable pine forest. But some years ago beavers moved in and dammed a small creek. Now the area is a wetland teeming with life.
Frogs abound.

As do lizards

and snakes

and unusual bees

and dragonflies

and turtles

Just when we caught this turtle a young couple was passing by.
Do you know your turtles? I asked. We'd never seen a turtle with the little hedgehog nose of this turtle. And you never know what people will know.
The woman cocked her thumb and her partner.
"He does."
He took a quick look. "Musk turtle."
Glad I asked!

The old pines stand dead in the water, or lie down across the water, that is the ones that the beavers haven't carted off, leaving only their pointed stumps.

And there was honeysuckle growing in profusion.
Later I remarked to my friend of 34 years that it was so great to see the kids doing the things I had done as a child, eating honeysuckle nectar, pulling sea nettles out of the water, hunting for shark teeth at Calvert Cliffs and not finding any.
For those that don't find any this guy has set up shop on the road across from the park.
But we didn't need him. Persistence at last paid off. Our finds, like the memories of childhood, were small but precious.

Three shark teeth, three crab claws, one barbed skate tail, and three skate crushing plates.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Yorktown Journal

We slowed down on our fourth day in the Historic Triangle of Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown. We did not get out until just before 10am. Our energy was just flagging a bit. Everything was just a bit off in the morning. The tour we waited a long time for was so dry we ducked out after 15 minutes and wandered down to a beach.

We were hot and hungry after the beach but neither the Yorktown Pub nor The Delly looked promising.

Me: Kids, we're having Ben and Jerry's for lunch!
Greta: Yuuuuuuck!
Clem: Greta, that's ice cream.
Greta: Oh. Yuuuuuum!

Finally around 2pm we rolled into the Yorktown Victory Center. And then I wished that we hadn't lolled around most of the day. There were lots of new things to see. The kids perked up right away.

Clementine got to be the artillery captain in a demonstration and shout the commands. Evelyn enjoyed the fire starting demonstration. I was impressed by the camp kitchen: a circular trench with holes dug into the walls, each hole like a small cave with a hole through the top.

Soldiers built a fire in the cavity and put their pots and pans over the hole. This kept the cooking fires contained so they didn't start tent fires. Greta ground some resin into powder with a mortar and pestle in the doctor's tent. You can see the three girls standing in a tent. A tent like that would have slept six.

The kitchen interpreter passed around a piece of hard tack. This bread had quite a shelf life. She said that when the nation was preparing for the war of 1812 soldiers discovered a storehouse of hard tack left over from the battle of Yorktown in 1781. Not ones to waste, they passed out the 30 year old hockey pucks to the new recruits.

I thought back to our decadent lunch. What an unimaginable luxury it would have been to Revolutionary War Soldiers camped out here 233 years ago.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Dipping into the Inkwell

One thing you notice when you visit Williamsburg after visiting Jamestown is how much things have changed. Small wonder. For those living in Williamsburg in 1776 the settlement of Jamestown was nearly 200 years ago. It is almost as long ago for the well-wigged residents of Williamsburg as their time is for us.

18th century curling irons

The girls in costume seemed to delight people everywhere they went. They had their pictures taken many times. People struck up conversation with us and said they'd been watching the girls for the whole day, or even two days.

Clem playing with a hoop and stick

One woman overheard Greta singing Take Me Home Country Roads (it is on our We Sing America CD) and said she was from West Virginia and that Greta had made her day. They sang half the song together, then Greta said, "you can figure out the rest."
"Oh I could just eat you up with a spoon!" the woman said.

While Greta and Clem (mostly) smiled for each shot, Evelyn was likely to shoot back.

One of the highlights was a concert on glass instruments. The first instrument that Dean Shostaks played was this glass armonica that Ben Franklin invented. After inventing it Ben commissioned someone to construct one. It arrived in pieces. He was up half the night putting it together. When he finally had it assembled he couldn't wait for morning. He began to play and woke his wife who thought she had died and the angels were singing to her.

There was a brief fad for the glass armonica which arrived on the musical scene along with the piano. Mozart composed several pieces for the glass armonica. By 1830 the fad was over. No glass armonicas survived intact. It is only recently that one was reconstructed.
Greta was in love with this glass violin, one of two in the world.
We learned so much at the elbow of various craftsmen and guides.

One of the things I hope the kids take away from this is to follow their passions. If your passion is glass instruments you can find a way to make that your life. If your passion is 18th century silversmithing, there is a place for that, too.

Clementine got to carry the lantern on our lantern tour.
Clem and Greta often looked like sentimental paintings of 18th century scenes.
Evelyn shoots back again.

You might remember that I wanted to interview the potter. The potter was one of the few things I remembered from my trip. In St. Augustine at the Castillo de San Marcos gift shop I saw the very inkwell I bought in 1980 to its last detail. The one my mother still has in her glass cabinet. I was so disappointed to find that this thing that had meant so much to me as a kid (even though the ink seeped right through it) was some mass produced thing you could buy anywhere.

Clementine was buying a cannon. The cashier told her it was a good choice, made in Philadelphia. She then went on to tell us all the things in the store that were made in the U.S. "The pottery," she said, "is from Williamsburg."

My heart soared. At least it was really from Williamsburg.

So we got here and we saw the printer, the brickmaker, the milliner, the silversmith, the blacksmith, the gunsmith, but no potter!
At the gunsmith's shop

On the second day I asked.
We haven't had a potter in years, they told me. You see, there were no potters in Williamsburg. It was illegal for colonists to make pots. They had to buy them from England.

So the one thing I remembered was not even true to the time. I wonder what the girls will remember.

Off to Yorktown!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Memory Pot and Wishbone Doll

Here are two colonial crafts to try out. Sorry my photos are so bad. A delightful docent rushed over to us at the DeWitt museum to tell us to go right to a thrift store and get an old plate and then to the hardware store for putty. And then as we travel we should affix odds and ends we gather to our memory pot with the putty.

I love this idea because we know what to do with the scraps and what to do with the photos, but what to do with seashells, the flattened pennies and so on? Now I know.

We'll be making these when we go home. Wishbone dolls. Just a wishbone and wax to make the doll, and fabric for the clothes.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Jamestown Journal

Jamestown Settlement
Armor--metal for protection against the Spanish, but thick batting in quilted cotton was good against Native American arrows.
The girls had made burn spoons this year. The canoe was just a very big burn spoon. They got to scrape out the charred parts with clam shells.
They each learned to tie a knot.
I'm all tied up in knots because I feel like we are just scraping the surface of everything.

Even so I try to remember that we need time to just play in the sand. I liked sitting here, too. The vista across the bay was green and almost empty of buildings. After the recreated Indian Village I could almost imagine what it was like to arrive here in 1607. And after the facts have faded, that feeling, for me, and for the kids,I hope, will endure.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Charleston Journal

What did the kids enjoy most about Charleston?
Was it the pirate stories?

Or the beautiful old buildings?
The cobblestone streets?
Or perhaps the dungeon tour?
No, it was the fountain in Waterfront Park, filled with soap suds.