Washington, DC

Friday morning, we drove from Norfolk to Washington, DC to pick up Vijay from the airport.  The kids and I were all excited to see him; it was great to have family time after a week apart.  We had a great weekend in DC starting with sight seeing and museum hopping. The National Muesum of Art, Smithsonian Natural History Museum, International Spy Museum, the National Archives…It is so easy to focus on what we didn’t see, what we did see was wonderful. It was so inspiring to see these symbols of our Nation.  It was fun for all of us as a family too because it was a first time for us all.

The weekend ended  relaxing with family.  Vijay’s entire immediate family was there, a rarity.   It was great fun to see nieces and nephews and watch all the cousins together.  I love the time that the kids can spend together.  As other’s with families spread across the country know, any time together is a gift and a blessing.  Every moment is one to be cherished.

Virginia Beach

Yesterday we spent the day at the beach. The little girl with us in my cousin’s granddaughter.  It was a fantastic and fun day….waves, sandcastle, little girls as mermaids, picnic food with a little extra sand for flavor and snow cones.  We had an exciting sighting of several dolphins, no pics they were too far out, but we did see one jump out of the water and my little one swears one did a tail walk.  Not much to say, just a lot of snaps to enjoy!

 

Ok, one reflection and looking at the pictures, I have more to say.  You  are not really that surprised, are you?  Our little cousin was an awesome trooper to spend the day with us, as we live cross-country.  She is just a joy to be around.  I was so proud of my kids too, watching all three of them around their cousin.  They were so solicitous of her, the boys carrying her beach bag, holding her hands when she went in the waves.  It was one of those days were as a parent you feel you are doing something right.  I know however it is not all my husband and I.  Much of the credit goes to my kid’s older cousins how always take care of them, play games with them and are just generally wonderful to their younger cousins.  So a big thank you Prashant, Jay, Shruti, Alex, Vishna & Haley.  And so it goes in family, passing it forward to the next generation.

 

 

Colonial Williamsburg

The kids and I were so excited to go to Williamsburg and see a living museum.  It gives such a great sense of what is was like to live at the time of the Revolutionary War.  As an adult, it also made me aware that we are struggling today with some of the same issues that they did then mostly all centering on the role of government vs our individual freedoms.

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Check out Sam with his new musket!

We began with a tour of the Governor’s Palace.  The boys loved the entry hall and were fascinated by all the weaponry.  I was fascinated by the room layouts and how that reflected family life at the time.

We went the the courthouse to view a trial.  India became my sewing apprentice for the next 6 years, wonder what use I can make of that?

 

We spent a little time preparing clay for brickmaking.  Based upon the questioned asked about the composition of the soil at home, I think someone (or two) is planning a little brickmaking at home.

 

It was great to hear the workers give you a perspective of how sociatal norms had change, what the courts were like and the perspective that while the American Revolution brought change, it really strove to preserve much of the British system of government.

The day ended with a viewing of the troops on the green.

Charlottesville and Monticello

Today was a day I was really excited about.  We went to visit Monticello, Thomas Jefferson home.  We started the day with a drive and said goodbye to the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.  Yes, Max looks as if he is sleeping.  I didn’t notice that on the photo until I posted it.  Sorry, Max.  Knowing Max’s sense of humor that might be on purpose.

One last goodbye.

One last goodbye.

We arrived in Charlottesville ready to go to the ACE Biscuit and BBQ, since we had struck out the night before for southern BBQ.  We found this little out of the way gem.  It was closed.  India told me it didn’t open until noon, it was 11:40.  So I said lets take a little drive and see the town.  As we drove away we saw a car pull into the lot.  We viewed Charlottesville with its cute downtown and pastel colored house and returned.  Still closed…the sign on the door said it was their birthday and they were closed!  Boo Hoo and off to the Buttz BBQ.  Bonus, we also got to see a bit of the University of Virgina campus.  I should say, we really got to see the University of Virginia Campus as the traffic was worse than the Loop….slow slow down a two-way twisty road with twice as many pedestrians as cars.  The Buttz BBQ did not disappoint with our brisket and pulled pork.  Max finished his lunch, than ordered a second.  I guess I better get used to this, with Sam soon following in his brother’s footsteps.   Then a surprise stop in a used bookstore and a box of books purchase. (Yes, Honey, more books!)

 

Off to Monticello.  I really cannot begin to say how beautiful and wonderful Monticello is.  It is a tribute to our second presidency.  They have three tours:  The House Tour; Slavery at Monticello; and the grounds and the gardens. Words fail me here and I cannot of course begin to describe Thomas Jefferson.  However, the tours did allow me to understand Thomas Jefferson, the man and politician, as a complex and multifaceted man with great gifts as well as great failings.  The Slavery at Monticello tour was really well done.  I was impressed at how the issue of slavery was addressed in a way that was appropriate for young children, yet still described the horrors of that time in out history.

Finally dinner in Richmond.  To bring the day full circle, decided to end with more BBQ.  Off to the Hogshead Cafe, for a Hog’s Dog.  A hotdog, wrapped in bacon, deep-fried and topped with pulled pork and coleslaw!  Virginia’s response to the Springfield horseshoe!  Unfortunately for us, it was Monday and the Hogshead Cafe was closed.  Off to a local pizza joint instead, to top off a great day!WP_20130826_038

Visiting Virginia

Chicago to Virginia Beach to Washington, DC and back.  I thought I would document our fall trip with photos and commentary…I never seem to document our day-to-day.  Armed with only a camera phone, I decided to move forward and write something each night of our trip.

Day One – Driving

This day was really a long one.    We decided to do the bulk of the driving in one day.  Armed with luggage for 11 days, lunches and snacks for the road we set out.  Not much to say here, except the kids were awesome in the car and Indiana’s rest stops are the pits, but Ohio and Pennsylvania, do a very nice job as rest stops go.

Day 2 – Shenandoah Valley

We packed it up early in the am and drove to Virginia.  The kids were so excited.  I didn’t realize when we left that the kids had never seen mountains.  After all that car time, we felt a little nature would be in order.  Our first stop was supposed to be Luray Caverns, but based on a travel video, Max wanted to see the Skyline Caverns.  We started our afternoon with a tour.

Caves really amaze me.  I think it is so inspiring what nature can create underground.  The kids must like them too, this is our 3rd cave in as many years.

We ended the afternoon by driving Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park.  I don’t know if I even have words for how beautiful it is here.  The kids had a blast, hiking, finding salamanders and centipedes.  We all agreed we wish we had more time here and would like to come back and just stay for several days.

A Day at the Bog

Picking Garlic Mustard Plants

The indoor, nothing better than a good book girl had a to have a nature boy for a son.  Somewhere, someone is laughing up there.  I love this boy…and so, armed with a pair of gardening gloves, we spent Sunday afternoon at the Volo Bog.  It was a habitat restoration day and we decided to go and work at the bog.

For those that haven’t been the Volo Bog is an incredible place.  Any bog really.  When I worked at the College of Lake County, I remember a co-worker who used to say that if there was one place everyone should see in Illinois it was the Volo Bog.  Fast forward 10 years, to nature boy.  Still haven’t been to the Volo Bog despite the fact that I have lived my entire life less than an hour away.  Last year on a rare open Sunday we took the kids to the Bog.  It was fantastic and amazing, a truly magical place!

Garlic Mustard

So now we are having a truly wonderful day, pulling Garlic Mustard plants, an invasive species from Europe.  It was easy work for the kids, although overwhelming to say the least when they saw how much there was.  And hopeful too, when they heard the undergrowth of the woods had once been covered with Garlic Mustard and now it was mostly on the fringes.  The kids and I also spent time cutting willow branches to make fencing to protect the returning native species.  Simple things so often bring the most satisfaction!

Cutting Willow Branches

 

All week as we have been driving through the suburbs we have spotted garlic mustard.  I have the strangest desire to stop the car and begin weeding!

It was really wonderful to spend an afternoon in the peace of the woods, spending time looking at moths and watching the joy the kids had releasing turtles into the wetlands around the bog (they were found in the parking lot).

Turtles

All in all, a truly wonderful day.  One that I would like to repeat soon!

 

It’s Greek to Me!

On the roof of the National Hellenic Museum

This past week we had a great time visiting the National Hellenic Museum in Greektown.  This is a new museum, one we will definitely be back to visit.

The first floor is for children and allows the children to imagine life in ancient Greece.  A portion of the exhibit focuses on the Odyssey.  The kids had great fun inside of the Cyclops cave as well as spending time inside the Trojan Horse.

Inside the Trojan Horse

Inside the Trojan Horse

Making Mosaics

In the cyclops cave

 

We had a great class discussing Greek art, seeing examples of the black figure vases we had learned about and the kids were able learn about making mosaics.  As our tour closed, they had an opportunity to make their own mosaics.

The museum just opened in 2011, so the exhibit space is not yet finished.  I found this charming and a great way for the kids and I to see the thought process behind a museum exhibit.   I also liked seeing the history of Greektown in Chicago, the interactive nature of the exhibits allowing both children and adults to learn about the history of the Greek population in Chicago.

Add to the day, lunch in Greektown and a visit to the Sears Tower and we had a perfect day!

Sand Mandalas

Today the children and I spent an amazing morning.  We were able to be part of a small group of families to spending the morning with 8 monks from the Drepung Monastery.  This was part of a  goodwill tour to share Tibetan culture and raise funds for the monastery, exiled from Tibet and now located in south India.

 

The morning began with chanting and prayers.  Then for about two hours the children learned about sand mandalas, by creating them with the help of the monks.  The sand mandalas are traditionally created by the monks, chanting prayers to infuse the mandala with the spirit of peace.  After they are created, they are swept away to remind one of the impermanence in the world.  The sand is then taken to a river and lake as all water is connected.  Then the spirit of peace in the sand can spread everywhere.  It was amazing to see the concentration and focus the little ones showed when creating these mandalas.

We also spent time creating sculptures from playdoh.  Traditionally the monks create these beautiful little sculptures using flour and yak butter.  I guess playdoh will do!

I feel so honored and blessed to have been a part of this amazing opportunity!  I know the children do as well.

 

 

That’s A Lot of Bees!

This past week we went to the Heller Nature Center in Highland Park for a class on honeybees!  The kids were so excited as we know several families that have their own hives.  My kids would like to have hives, but I have nixed the idea, for now, as we still frequently have toddlers and preschoolers in our yard.

The class was informative and fun.  I was really impressed by the staff at the nature center.  Many times when organizations have classes offered to both school groups and home school groups they struggle with the multi-age format home school families need.  Not so here, the class was engaging for all  the children and the adults as well!

It was fun to suit up and go see a hive.  I had seen hives on film, but it was amazing to see one up close.  The organization and innate intelligence of these insects is really amazing.  It makes me aware of how much there is to learn!  And how much we don’t know.

After the class, we enjoyed the walking the trails a the Nature Center.   The highlight of the walk was a doe in the woods.  The kids and I loved that the doe did not start and seemed as curious about us as we were about her.  This is a little gem owned and operated by the Highland Park Park District and we will definitely be back both for classes and to enjoy.

Cantigny – A Hidden Chicago Gem

Last week, I visited Cantigny for the first time with my boys.  It is a wonderful park, hosting formal gardens, walking paths, golf course and two museums.  We had limited time and were unable to tour the entire park.  This affords us the opportunity to go back and visit another day.

Cantigny was the estate and experimental gardens of Colonel Robert McCormick, longtime editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune and WWI soldier.  Coming from a Tribune family (my grandfather and uncle were both Tribune photographers), I remember hearing about “the Colonel” as a child, even though he died before I was born.

Our day started in the gardens, with the boys exploring and finding fish in the ponds.

We met our friends and spent a lot of time with the kids in the Tank Park, a collection of tanks from different times of American History.  We then toured the First Division Museum, filled with amazing displays, chronicling the history of the First Division from WWI to present.  I was hesitant at first about bringing small children into the museum, but the displays are created in such a way that children can understand based upon their ability, without unnecessarily frightening them.  The first rooms were incredibly moving to me, conveying in a very concrete way a WWI bunker.  While far removed from the horrors of war, I felt I was able to process the my ideas of war in a new way.

We continued the afternoon exploring the varied gardens in the park.  We needed to leave before touring the McCormick Museum.  We will come back soon to see the house and spend more time in this magnificent setting.

For more information visit the Cantigny Park website.