We were out the door at 8:15 a.m., after a 20 minute math session for both kids. I have read so much in the last few years about how kids learn, and how they learn math in particular. I found a workbook for math that just gets their brains going each day and it’s been awesome. (Or so I think!) It’s the basics, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to start with, even though they are more advanced than that. It’s amazing how our brains are able to let go of the basics and everything I’ve read says we need them each day. So, we are practicing. Eliza goes for speed and accuracy and keeps track of her time, averaging about 5 minutes a page, instead of 20. Nate started off really slow like I knew he would because we hadn’t done math since mid-May when they finished school. He’s gotten much quicker, but he is still deliberate about it. I challenge everyone to try this each day – it’s harder than it sounds!
We hopped in the car for the short drive to Mt. Vernon, the home of George and Martha Washington. The grounds are beautiful as you drive in, and they have built a HUGE new visitor center, with the name Ford on it. The introductory movie at the visitor center wasn’t working, so we walked around the grounds before our 10:20 a.m. tour of the actual house. The grounds were much smaller than Dan and I remembered from our trip here in 1987, and the house has been painted a light brown, which was quite a shock. It’s not the white from previous years and what you see in every picture. One of the guides said that they recently discovered the house was really this color back when George lived here. They paint it, and then literally throw light brown sand on it, so it has a rough texture. It was a little strange to see the house and all the outbuildings painted this color, but they were all in excellent condition. The grounds and house have been well cared for by the Mt. Vernon women’s group that started the restoration, the numerous volunteers, and the tourists who pay $25/each to enter.
The house tour itself was interesting, with the guides telling us a little bit about how they actually lived in the rooms. George really cared about impressing people, so he had the finest furnishings and real art and china. Martha managed the household from their beautiful all white bedroom on the second floor. They didn’t live in the house full-time because George was often away for various reasons: the French-American War, the Revolutionary War, the founding of our country and the Presidency. Martha would often join him. Later he was able to spend more time at home because their dock was an easy commute from many locations. One funny fact was that the year after he was President, they had over 600 guests. People would just be travelling by and would stop in to meet him. They were allowed to stay for as long as they wished. George put in his diary that he sometimes he wished he didn’t live somewhere so convenient, he just wanted to enjoy his home, gardens and the farm.
They didn’t have any biological children, but Martha had 2 survive from a previous marriage, and they raised them at Mt. Vernon. Then they raised their son’s two children. When they died, George emancipated all his slaves, and his heirs couldn’t keep up the huge plantation. It had been neglected for years when a group of local women got together and decided to save it as the historical treasure it has become. The women had to get permission from the “town fathers” to purchase the property because women didn’t own property then. Grr, that’s so silly. And well done Mt. Vernon women!
The best part of the whole tour is the front porch. There are chairs and rockers lining it, it faces the Potomac River, and it’s breathtaking. With the trees and the river flowing by it was very peaceful. We sat for awhile and enjoyed it, and then we headed to the rest of the museum. Similar to other places we’ve been, they wanted to leave the land intact, so this museum is partially underground. It told the story of George’s life in an interesting, interactive manner and we were glad we had taken the time to go through it. Then it was back to the car for a quick sandwich and off to the next historical spot.
The drive from Mt. Vernon to Arlington National Cemetery is an easy one up the George Washington Parkway. It was an overcast, grey day, but there were still people out running and biking on the path along the river. We easily found a parking spot, and walked into the visitor center. It was completely new, and had more information than we could process. We grabbed a map and headed for the most famous grave – JFK.
The eternal flame was burning, and the view of Washington D.C. across the river was spectacular. Trees had grown up in the area, however, and I saw why we wouldn’t be able to see the eternal flame from the back of the Lincoln Monument anymore, darn. It’s quite the sight at night. People were respectful as they viewed the graves of the Kennedy family, and I was surprised to see Teddy’s grave, there, too. I had met him just once in 1984, and he was so cordial and kind, behaving as though he were interested in meeting another one of Senator Hatfield’s interns.
We walked down the “streets”, past thousands of white crosses, talking about who gets to be buried here, and what they sacrificed for the USA. I was limping because I’d re-injured my foot again, but everyone else quickly climbed the stairs so we could watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It gave me chills. The men guarding the tomb do so 24 hours a day and they consider it a privilege. They stood as the hurricane hit D.C., they stood as 9/11 was occurring, and they stood today in the drizzle. Very humbling to watch. Yet again, so proud to be an American.
We walked through more of the cemetery and headed over to Robert E. Lee’s old house on a whim. It was the best part of the day. I have never been able to figure out how his marriage connected him to George Washington, but the park ranger had a huge org chart with pictures of the families– Lee married Washington’s grandson’s daughter. Got it?!
Robert E. Lee had been a firm friend of Washington and many of the Union officers, so when he resigned from the Continental Army and defected to the south, many of them were angry with him. They took over his house for a Union headquarters and a hospital. One of his old friends authorized the burying of several of the dead in Lee’s rose garden, so that Lee would never come back there to live. Really, it sounded like the Union stole the property from him and in later years his heirs brought a lawsuit against the government and won a small monetary compensation. Lee never lived there again, and the whole hill turned into our National Cemetery. Well worth a visit and a good end to a perfect day.