Learning away from Home: family vacation to Virginia

Learning away from Home: family vacation to Virginia

At a rest stop in Connecticut

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.

Camping out in grandma's basement

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.

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Sharing a frozen yogurt after lunch.

Walking in the garden of Ferry Farm, George Washington's boyhood home.

Anthony in a tree on Ferry Farm, George Washington's boyhood home.

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Dom preparing to dig in at Joe's Crab Shack.

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.

Melanie and Lucia in front of Cassatt's "Baby Reaching for an Apple".

Relaxing in the National Gallery of Art


Isabella watches a painter at work in the National Gallery of Art

Whistler's Symphony in White, No. 1

Robert Gould Shaw memorial

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The comfy couches at the National Gallery of Art

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.

Bella poses at Hill Country BBQ

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iced tea at Hill Country BBQ

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.

Bella and Cecilia holding hands

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Strouds and Bettinellis at National Shrine

Bella and Teresa kneel and pray


group photo national shrine

nursing on steps of national shrine

kids at national shrine

Lucy and Brigid

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.

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  • Sounds like a great vacation! The art museum looked amazing and the BBQ sounded incredible. We are about to do a 17 hour road trip with our 4 kids to Yellowstone so I am gearing up for the long hours in the car.

    • Thanks, Michael, but it’s actually not a headphone plug, but an RCA plug. I did find some videos online on how to remove it, but I haven’t been able to get it to work for me yet.

  • What a great little vacation! I love how you take your littles to museums. I wish I had been brave enough to ignore the dour-eyed docents when mine were little. The couple of times we drove out to AL (12 hours driving time) when mine were littler, we also found that the excitement and newness of the trip was enough to push through and make going out there a (really long) one day trip but on the way back, things went so much nicer when we finally decided to get a hotel and make it a two day trip with a little side trip thrown in. One time, we planned to stop overnight in Vicksburg, MS and tour the Civil War battlefields before we headed back home. Another time, I think it was a petrified forest that we toured to help break up the ride home.

    • I remember built in stops on a lot of trips: stop for a couple of hours to look at a National Monument and hike around a bit sorts of things. Maybe a hotel at a halfway point would make sense.

      It was very disconcerting to Dom and I how long it took. When I was single I made the drive to DC in 8 or 9 hours. But as Dom pointed out kids not only demand more rest stops, but each rest stop, even just a bathroom break, takes at least half an hour. And lunch easily stretches to an hour or an hour and a half.

  • George Washington bought Mt. Vernon not Monticello.

    When we drove to Columbus, we printed out maps on heavy card stock so the kids could follow along and then we promptly forgot them at home. We did pass the big atlas around a bit so it wasn’t a complete loss. Grace decided to keep up with how many different state license plates we saw. Every time she saw a new one, she would write it down in a notebook. I was surprised at how many states we saw. When we got home, I printed out a map of the US with the states labelled for her to color the states from her list. She hasn’t done it yet, but I’ve not forgotten.

    I love that picture of Bella standing near the painting woman. If you photoshop out the people in the next room, it would be worthy to hang as art in itself.

    • Of course I did know it was Mt Vernon. I’ve even been to Monticello! That’s what I get for blogging late at night and rushing to just publish the post already because I want it done.

      I thought about the license plate game, but never got around to suggesting it. Maybe next time.

      That photo of Bella is one of my favorites too.

  • I love your pictures from the gallery and the Shrine! Two of my three favorite DC haunts. I actually think the Strouds were parishioners at my old home parish, St. Bernadette’s. Small online universe. I apologize on behalf of my almost home town for the traffic. It is always horrible. Always. You get used it after a while, which is horrible, too. My husband used to say in DC traffic was like an evil deity. No one really understood it but it was always there making trouble and everyone paid tribute.