Last week we went on a fairly last-minute family trip to visit Dom’s mother and sister in Virginia. It was a lightning visit. We left here early Monday morning and got to Fredricksburg at dinner time. We got home late Friday night and I’m still recovering. The trip was fun, awesome, exhausting.
Monday was a grand adventure. Our kids have driven to Maine and have flown to Texas. They have never been on a long road trip. Dom printed off maps so Bella and Sophie and Ben could follow along. Eight states plus the District of Columbia, that’s quite a few places to add to their list.
Most of the drive is beautiful. Crossing the George Washington Bridge from Manhattan to New Jersey was amazing. We hit a lot of traffic. Every bathroom break took at least half an hour. The trip, which I made in 8 hours when I was a grad student, took us 13 with all the stops five kids entail.
The kids tolerated it fairly well, even the getting up at 5 am. We had new books and crayons and all sorts of stuff to do in the car. After lunch I put on a movie (our van has a dvd player which we never use) and that mollified them for a bit. The Secret of Roan Inish, one of my favorites and the first live action movie they’d seen. Sadly, it was the only kids DVD I could find, all other movies being digital files, which we couldn’t play because a plug broke off in the audio input jack and now we can’t play anything on the car stereo except the radio and cds. So long, gigantic iPod digital library, you are now useless. Sigh. We also listened to a Little House cd and did a lot of radio surfing, especially during our traverse of New York.
The last hour before we stopped for dinner, stuck in DC area traffic, was pretty horrific. The big kids were all antsy and loud and fighting. Lucy was screaming and would only stop so long as I contorted myself into a pretzel shape and stuck my hand into the back so she could grip my finger. Every time I even adjusted my arm position, she’d start howling again.
Fredricksburg, Archaeology, and George Washington
On Tuesday we decided to recover from our trip and hang about in Fredricksburg with Grandma. We drove downtown and parked and walked around. Had lunch and ice cream. Identified a bunch of plants. Admired the blooming redbud trees.
Then after lunch we drove to the Ferry Farm where George Washington lived from when he was six until he was twenty when he sold the farm and purchased Monticello. The farm was a well curated site. They had a nice iPad tour of the grounds. There was an exhibition garden where all sorts of flowers and food plants were growing. Although the original farm buildings are no longer standing, archaeologists were in the middle of excavating the outbuildings of the farm. (They had excavated the farmhouse a few years ago and the site was indicated with four stone markers.) You could peek into the lab and see the artifacts the archaeologists were currently examining as well as examples of what they’d already found and identified. Bella enjoyed talking to the archaeologists. Ben found a piece of burnt brick which the kids were sure were significant and dutifully carried to the archaeologists so they could examine it.
It was hot and Sophie was tired so we didn’t see the site as thoroughly as we could have, but we did enjoy our visit. We went to Joe’s Crab Shack for dinner and got home very late.
Mary Cassatt at the National Gallery
On Wednesday we drove into DC and visited the National Gallery. There was a special exhibit of Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas. Since Cassatt is Bella’s favorite artist, we couldn’t not go.
The exhibit was wonderful. We were familiar with most of the Cassatt pieces from books, but seeing them in person is always such a treat. I wish I could have lingered longer over the exhibition descriptions about the relationship between Degas and Cassatt. Interestingly many (most? all?) of the pieces in the exhibit were works by Degas that Cassatt collected and works by Cassatt that Degas collected. I think my favorite room in the exhibition held a series of pictures of Cassatt done by Degas. There was one portrait of Mary seated, leaning forward with her elbows resting on her knees. The card said that it hung in Cassatt’s studio but later in life she decided she didn’t like it and quietly sold it. Most of the rest were studies of Cassatt at the Louvre, mostly pictures of her from the back. She has a distinctive stance, one hand on one hip, leaning on an umbrella, head tilted to the side and in the one profile picture her jaw juts at a decided angle as she seriously ponders the picture she’s studying. There were several sketches, a painting, a series of prints. So interesting to see how an artist explores one subject in different media. How two artists work together, influencing each other.
After the Cassatt/Degas we wandered through the nearby American galleries. We really enjoyed it and wished we could linger much longer. But we had to eat.
Real Texas BBQ in Our Nation’s Capital
So after we left the National Gallery we wandered back towards where we parked, hoping to find a good restaurant. And we hit the jackpot. We found Hill Country BBQ, a restaurant that serves not just Texas BBQ, but Austin BBQ. I was in heaven. The brisket was awesome and so was the sausage. We also had sides of bourbon mashed sweet potatoes, the best green bean casserole I’ve ever had, bbq beans, cornbread with sweet butter, and mac-n-cheese. Oh and Blue Bell ice cream for dessert.
Lunch took forever– almost two hours. It was hot and we were tired and so we decided to ditch our plans for the Air and Space Museum. We drove around a bit and looked at monuments and then showed up ridiculously early for our dinner date.
Celine is one of my great friends from college and the last time I saw her was at my wedding. I missed her wedding five years ago because I was still recovering from Ben’s birth. It was lovely to catch up with her, meet her husband, Mo, and her son, Ronan. The kids hit it off. I was a bit worried Ronan might be overwhelmed, but he has five cousins who live nearby so he’s used to crowds of kids invading his space.
Again we got back to Grandma’s just in time to tuck the kids into bed.
Meeting Virtual Friends at the National Shrine
On Thursday we decided to go into DC again to see the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. We were met there by Katherine of Having Left the Altar. Katherine and I have been pregnant at the same time five different times. Yes, all five of her girls match up in age with all five of my kids. (She’s expecting a boy now, so soon we will diverge.) We both went to the University of Dallas and we’ve known each other online for forever, but this was our first chance to meet in person. And for our kids to meet.
Most of the kids were shy. I don’t think Sophie or Ben talked to any of the Strouds at all. But Bella and Cecilia hit it off almost immediately and were soon walking around holding hands. It was very sweet.
Meeting Katherine was just like every other time I’ve met a blog friend. We were instantly comfortable with each other and enjoyed out visit very well as we ushered our troop of ten kids from one shrine to another. It was fun to see all the personalities of the kids play out. Fun to see how amazed my kids were at the beautiful church and “all the Marys” as Ben put it. I could have spent five times as long, but of course children have much shorter attention spans. All too soon we ushered them down to the gift shops where Dom picked out some art for his new office, I gathered a few new kids’ books. Then we said goodbye to the Stroud family, but not before posing for a group photo on the basilica steps. (And pausing for me to nurse a cranky Lucy.) It took us two hours to get there and two and a half hours to get back. A lot of time in the car for such a brief visit to the shrine. But I was so very glad we’d made the trip.
East, West, Home Is Best
On Friday we drove back home. Another long day and this time tempers were even thinner after a busy week in Dc with lots of walking, time in the car, and late bedtimes. We listened to a Little House cd, two cds of The Silver Chair. No movies. At one point I handed Lucy and Anthony each an iPad and let them play for about an hour. That got us through the worst of the pre-lunch crankies. The last hour before home Ben cried nonstop and Lucy again did the thing where she wailed when she wasn’t touching my fingers. I thought my arm was going to fall off. We got home after 11, a very long day and a late night.
We were all very happy to have gone on a great adventure. And very happy to be home again.