Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Montreal, Canada November 2009

This November we traveled north to visit Montreal, Quebec in Canada. It was the kids first trip outside the United States. We drove due north through beautiful Vermont State. On both our trip to and from Montreal we stopped for lunch at the Vermont Brewery & Pub in Burlington. While in Montreal we stayed in a wonderful 2 bedroom apartment owned by and located above the Dieu du Ciel Brew Pub. The apartment had a complete kitchen which made our trip much easier. The Dieu du Ciel brewpub had a great selection of beers. I recommend the stout!

Montreal Montreal is the second-largest city in Canada and the largest city in the province of Quebec. The city gets it's name from Mont-Royal, a triple peaked hill located at the center of the city. The official language on Montreal is French. According to a 2006 census 57% of the population of Montreal have French as their first language. We had the opportunity to try out some of the French we have been studying. While almost everyone we met spoke at least some English all the signs and directions were in French.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

2009 Road Trips and Adventures

This year we again adventured down the east coast to Virginia Beach. This time we spent a great deal of time learning about the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay.

On our drive down we crossed over the truly impressive and terrifying (did I mention I'm claustrophobic) Chesapeak Bay Bridge-TunnelThe Bridge-Tunnel project is a four-lane 20-mile-long vehicular toll crossing of the lower Chesapeake Bay. From shore to shore, the Bridge-Tunnel measures 17.6 miles (28.4 km) and is considered the world's largest bridge-tunnel complex. Construction of the span required undertaking a project of more than 12 milesof low-level trestle, two 1-mile tunnels, two bridges, almost 2 miles of causeway, four manmade islands and 5-1/2 miles of approach roads, totaling 23 miles.

We stayed at the First Landing State park. The park is the first place where members of the Virginia Company landed. They went on to settle Jamestown. The National Register of Natural Landmarks and the National Register of Historic Landmarks have listed First Landing State Park because of its historic heritage. The park is also home to the Chesapeake Bay Beach. This is a beautiful stretch of quiet uncrowded beach. A great place to swim, run, picnic observe the sea life or watch the sunset.

We spent a whole afternoon hiking the Long Creek Trail which follows along the edge of the bay and salt marsh lands for over half its 5 mile length. It also passes near While Hill Lake, offering lovely views of the lake and the open wetlands that surround it. Just south of its northern junction with Long Creek Trail, there is a salt marsh boardwalk and a viewing platform. This trail is a great bird watching spot.We were able to see several Egrets, native oysters, a terrapin and a lot of blue crabs. They were everywhere!

The blue crab is an monivore eating both plants and animals. Blue crabs typically consume thin-shelled bivalves, annelids, small fish, plants and nearly any other item they can find, including carrion, other blue crabs and human waste. Male and female blue crabs can be distinguished by their "aprons", or their abdomens. Male crabs have a long, narrow apron, while mature female crabs have a wide, rounded one. A common mnemonic is to remember that if the apron looks like the Washington Monument, the crab is male; if like the U.S. Capitol, it is female. (This tied in well with the fact that we visited these places last summer)

Both on the trail and at the First Landing Education center we were able to study native oyster beds and learn about the effort to restore them.

While in Virginia Beach we also visited the Abbey Road Pub and Restaurant. This is a must for all Beatles lovers! We had an amazing lunch pouring over all the memorabilia and singing along to the music. Naturally we had to take our picture out back in the parking lot with the GIANT Abbey Road painting.

Flower Show, Adams National Historic Park, Amethyst Brook
In April 2009 we visited the Mount Holyoke Flower show. This is an annual event that we look forward to ever year. This year the event showcased hundreds of spring-blossoming bulbs and plants.

In September we visited Adams National Historic park. The park has two main sites: the Birthplaces of 2nd U.S. President John Adams and 6th U.S. President John Quincy Adams, and Peacefield including the “Old House,” home to four generations of the Adams family, and the Stone Library which contains more than 14,000 historic volumes. The library was wonderful. I just wish they would let us read the books! Outside Peacefield was Abagail Adam's beautiful garden. It was just gorgeous! We have now visited the homes of the first 6 Presidents of the United States: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and Adams.

As usually we spent much of our summer hiking at the Amethyst Brook Conservation area and climbing Mount Orient. This is one of our favorite places. Just before the bridge on the left side of the trail there is a large rock cairn constructed. It is a reminder to all the things in our lives we have to give thanks for. Each time we visit the conservation area we take a small rock from the stream bed and add it to the pile reminding ourselves to be grateful for our abundance. Our neighbors and friends ow regularly add to the pile and it is a beautiful place where we can all share and give thanks. If you walk further down the trail towards the next bridge up on the left you will find an amazing spiral built of stones. I'm not sure who built it. It has been there for years. It is a treasured sacred spot in the woods. The brook is a great place to splash in the water a bit, build a sand castle or fairy house on the stream bed and play with friends in the forest. The top of Mt Orient has an amazing view and a wonderful energy. At the top you can sit in a two person swing and look out over the valley. It is about a mile and a half hike to the peak. The views are worth every inch of the hike.

We had a wonderful, educational and inspiring summer this year. Currently we are planning our next road trip to Montreal for Thanksgiving 2009.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Road School 2008: East Coast History and Geography

Founding Fathers and Revolutionary Times

For the last few months we have been studying early American History. We set out in June 2008 planning to visit NYC, Philadelphia, DC and Virginia. Along the way we will visit the Liberty Bell, Constitution Museum, Independance Park, Ben Franklin's home, the National Mall, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Memorial, Mount Vernon, Monticello and the homes of James Madison and James Monroe. We will visit the American Natural History Museum, Hayden Planetarium, Franklin Science Museum, Smithsonian, the US Mint, US Treasury Deptartment, the Helicopter Museum, Virginia Beach and a several other fun places. We will see 3 different version of the Declaration of Independence and stand only inches from the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
March 31st 2008 We are loaded up and ready to go. First stop is the American Museum of Natural History in NYC followed by a stop at FAO Schwartz toys.
New York city is BIG! It's in the high 80's today and the air is just haze. The Museum of Natural History was nice. (not quite Night at the Museum). Diarama's are always a favorite for our family. The Hayden planetarium was amazing. This was the best planetarium show I have ever seen. We saw the Cosmic Collisions show and would highly recommend it. Kevin decided we had to visit the giant Apple store on Fifth Avenue. It
Philadelphia: Next we travel to beautiful Philadelphia. This is a great city for walking and touring the historic sites many of which are free. We visited the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Independence National Park and Ben Franklin's final resting place and the National Constitution Center. While at the park Jazzy and Atreyu were welcomed into the Continental Army.
The National Constitution Center was quite impressive. There presentation which is part movie and part story telling was an amazing use of the best of multimedia educational tools. The dsiplay is show on the floor of the hall and all the seats are in a circle around the hal. It displays 3-D movie images, has nice music incorporated into it and the woman who narrated our presentation was really great. Even though this was one of the few things we had to pay for it was well worth it.
We had lunch on our final day at the City Tavern. This was a wonderful experience. The staff really stays in character. The food is genuine colonial fare with plenty of choices. The waiter was a wealth of useful information for tourist.
We spent 3 days in Philadelphia. We could have easily stayed longer and we plan to return soon. We stayed at the West Chester KOA were the people were really friendly and the pool a welcome break after a long day of walking in the city. Everyone we met was really excited to hear about our history trip and what we had seen so far.
Washington DC: This is our second trip to Washington DC. This is another great walking city. Washing DC also has a great metro that can get you anywhere you need to go. The kids love riding the metro.
While in DC we visited the National Mall, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the National Archives, the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the National Zoo and a day trip to Mount Vernon.
We stopped for lunch on both days in the city at the Old Ebbitts grill. We highly recommend this place. It was an easy walk from the White House or the mall. The prices were reasonable and the food was great. Our guide book claims that more deals are done at this place over breakfast than in the halls of congress. While this might be a bit of an exaggeration it was still a wonderful place to get a bite. Ask to sit in the center room with the garden (and the palm trees).
The kids favorite stop was the National Zoo. Atreyu was so happy to see the Panda up close and personal. Tigers and Monkeys were also a big hit. The zoo (as most DC attractions are) was free. There are plenty of benches to stop and rest at. As long as you bring water and don't eat at the zoo it makes for a great day trip.
One of the things I most enjoyed about DC was visiting the Jefferson and FDR monuments. While we often see the Lincoln and Washington monuments in movies, we don't hear much about the other monuments on the mall. The Jefferson monument is simply towering and beautiful. It was breathtaking. After visiting his home and spending a week and a half in Virginia I'd have to say this suits the way he is remembered here in Virginia; larger than life.
FDR is my favorite president and a man who I admire. The FDR memorial in his honor is large and contains many quotes from his speeches and radio addresses. There are many fountains and statues. The entire monument is divided into 4 sections representing each of his 4 terms in office. His words spurred many conversations and ideas for the whole family. There is also a wonderful part honoring Eleanor Roosevelt.
Mount Vernon, the home of President George Washington was a beautiful estate right on the Potomac River. The day we visited a storm had knocked out the electricity so the kids were admitted for free. Lack of electricity didn't affect any of the historical buildings, only the gift shop and visitor's center.
The kids gained a lot of perspective in seeing the differences between how the Washington's lived vs the hired help vs the slave workers. On our trip we have continually heard the words of famous men condemning slavery and then stating that in Virginia it was an unavoidable evil. Many of these men including Washington freed all the slaves on their estates upon their death. This has brought up many interesting conversations about the courage it takes to speak out and make change even when it's unpopular. What is political courage? Personal conviction? Does change come from small actions or large? One person or many?
Charlottesville, VA
Monticello: Home of Thomas Jefferson, Ashlawn-Highlands and the Michie Tavern
Monticello was a truly beautiful place. The views are amazing. We could have seen a lot more but the heat was just too bad the day we were there to walk around for a long time. It was in the mid to high 90's. We were not able to take pictures in the house itself. The reason for this is that many of the items in the house are owned by private individuals and the foundation that cares for the property does not have permission to allow photographs to be taken.
The entry way of Monticello was filled with map and items brought back by Lewis and Clark from their journey. Jefferson's home is filled with gadgets. A giant clock run by weights in the floor that tells the day of the week and time, automatic doors run by a bicycle-like mechanism under the floor, a writing device that makes a copy as he writes a document. His home is also filled with portraits of people he met or admired in his lifetime and many musical instruments. Jefferson lived beyond his means and in debt for much of his life. When he died creditors took almost everything. The current organization running Monticello is slowly purchasing back and finding many of his original pieces.
Monticello is a nice place for a day trip. Once you park at the visitors center a shuttle will take you up the hill to the estate and back down every 20 minutes. I recommend purchasing the President's pass which allows you to see James Monroe's home (Ashlawn-Highland) which is down the road and the Michie Tavern. The tavern has some nice examples of period items and is a little more touch friendly than the eastates. Monroe didn't live at Ashlawn-Highland for long and only part of the original house remains. They did have a nice display of period clothing and children's items.
Virginia Beach, VA
We spent a whole week at First Landing State park in Virginina Beach, VA. The park gains it's name from the fact that the settlers of Jamestown landed first at this spot. It turned out to not be a great place to Anchor the ships so they moved up to Jamestown.
The state park is nice. Our site was set back from the room, a short walk to the bathrooms and the beach. The park has a beautiful beach right on the Chesapeake bay. Several times we had the beach all to ourselves. We caught crabs, saw some fish, watched the fishing boats come in and go out each day, observed the sunset from the beach, saw 2 jelly fish and had an up close view of a navy helicopter and some navy fighter jets as they flew overhead from the nearby naval base. One day we drove down the road to the larger beach for bigger waves.
Colonial Williamsburg was wonderful. We were able to meet Thomas Paine and George Washington. We were able to witness the reading of the Declaration of the Independence by the governor, watch the Continental Army test fire cannons, and learn about life in this time period.
Many of the 1775 citizens referred to us as "rebel rousing" Massachusetts folks. They also made plenty of comments on how crazy they thought it was that Massachusetts has compulsory education (in 1775). The actors stayed in character and in the time period. They were more than happy to answer questions and give us plenty of their time. The gun smith and the printer happily took apart their equipment and explained the whole process step by step.
I spent plenty of time in the apocathary shop. It turns out there were 2 female midwives in Williamsburg and 1 male midwife. They had remedies, medicine and equipment from the 1700's.
At Yorktown we were able to make camp with the Continental Army. Indigo was given a uniform and put to work. Jazzy was able to load a 6lb brass cannon and Indigo was able to help fire a mortar. They also learned to load muskets. Check out the pictures in the slideshow of Indigo playing dead after a Continental battle.
Our visit to Jamestown came on a beautiful cool day. We rode the bus out to Jamestown and visited the museum, the settlement and the monument. It was interesting to compare and contrast Jamestown with our visit last year to Plymouth Plantation. All in all we had a wonderful time.
Coming home
The last day of our trip was spent on a straight through drive home from Virginia to Massachusetts. It took us 9 hours. The kids were wonderful and helpful. We stopped for ice cream a few times. Our trip was wonderful. We learned many many things. Now we are happy to be home.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Road School Summer 2006: Amtrak takes us to our Nation's Capital

In October 2006, our family began our study of US History and Geography with a trip to Washington, DC. We began our trip by walking a 1/2 mile down the road to the Amtrak train depot. From there we boarded the Vermonter train to Washington, DC. Riding on the train was relaxing, fun and affordable. We each packed 1 backpack with clothes for the week and some personal items. On the ride to DC we played games, read books, took naps, learned to crochet, snacked on apples and Luna bars and met some really wonderful people. Once in the capital we were able to go from the train to the subway and use public transportation to get everyone. Washington DC has an amazing metro system that was really easy to navigate. The kids loved it. It helped that there were panda's on every ticket.

While in Washington DC we visited the National Zoo, the Smithsonian Museums, the National Mall and the Treasury Department.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Zoology Up Close and Wild

A group of my homeschooling students and I went on a field trip for our Zoology class to the Bronx Zoo. We were lucky enough to be at the zoo while a baby giraffe was born. We saw it take it's first steps. Many thanks to the Bronx Zoo for helping our our group with planning and organizing and letting us be part of this baby giraffe's first moments.