Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Visit to Monticello

the girls on the grounds of Monticello
On Thursday, May 24th we visited the home of Thomas Jefferson! It was really amazing to see the home he designed, and even more astonishing to learn that the material to build the house were all made on the site...including the bricks and nails!

north side of Monticello

We took a guided tour of inside his house but no photography was allowed. However if you would like to take a virtual tour you can take one here: http://www.monticello.org/house/index.html

Monticello, Jefferson's 5,000 acre plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia, in Italian means "little mountain."

We entered the house through the East Portico.

We first entered the double-storied Entrance Hall where Jefferson created a museum. Exhibits included hand drawn maps, European art, bones, horns, and skins of extinct and living North American animals, and Native American objects given by western tribes to Lewis and Clark. One of his most prized specimens were the thigh, jawbone, and tusk of a mastodon found at Big Bone Lick, Kentucky. Another interesting item was his Great Clock that he designed. This clock uses cannonball-like weights to drive the seven day calender clock.

Next we entered the Parlor, which was the principal social space for family and guests. Here they gathered to play games, play and listen to music, read, or take tea. Weddings and christenings also took place in the parlor. Jefferson also used the parlor as an opportunity to educate his family and friends. He understood that the future of the United States depended upon the ability of its people to make informed decisions. Wanting to "improve the taste of his countrymen", Jefferson exhibited fifty-seven works of art here. The walls were crowded with thirty-five portraits of men who had shaped Jefferson's values as well as American and world history. Most important were "the three greatest men that have ever lived"- John Locke, Isaac Newton, and Francis Bacon. We also saw portraits of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, the Marquis de Lafayette, Columbus, Magellan, Cortez, Raleigh, Vespucci, John Adams, Madison, David Rittenhouse, Thomas Paine, and others.

Next we entered the Dining Room and Tea Room where family members and guests met for two meals each day, breakfast and dinner. The meals were described as being a mixture of French and Virginian cuisine. Because the dining room in located on the cold north side of the house, he installed a window with triple-hung sash that was double-glazed to conserve heat. Two dumbwaiters were installed on either side of the fireplace to receive bottles of wine from the wine cellar below.

We then entered the guest bedroom that was named "Mr. Madison's Room", as James and Dolly Madison were frequent visitors at Monticello.

After Jefferson's retirement, his daughter, Martha's family moved to Monticello. The Family Sitting Room acted as the "school room" to their children, as well as an office for Martha to manage the household and dependencies. It is worth noting that Thomas Jefferson himself was homeschooled!

Jefferson's "Sanctum Sanctorium" consisted of four connected rooms: his Bed Chamber, Cabinet, Greenhouse, and Book Room. These rooms were rarely entered by others. His habit was to rise at dawn, or "as soon as he can see the hands of his clock." His bed chamber is really interesting. His bed sits in an alcove that connects two rooms. If he gets up on one side of the bed he is in the Cabinet, the other side he is in his bedroom. His Cabinet is where he wrote a lot of his letters. We also saw a lot of Jefferson's meteorologic instruments and some of his inventions. (even though he is only credited for one invention he continually improved upon others' inventions to make them more efficient)

the girls on the west piazza

We also toured the grounds of Monticello. We saw where his gardens were, as well as his flower beds and fishing pond on the west side. We walked both the North and South terraces that connected to the North and South Pavilions. The South Pavilion is the oldest building at Monticello and is where Jefferson and his wife lived during the initial construction of Monticello. Their first child was born there also.

south side of Monticello

Under the house there lies a passageway from north to south in the middle of the cellar. We saw the ice house, privies, the ware room, wine cellar, and three other cellars. Under the north terrace we saw the stables and feed room. Under the south terrace we saw the kitchen, cook's room, smokehouse, and dairy.

the girls in the stables

The kitchen was completed in 1809. It was outfitted with French copper cookware and up-to-date gadgets such as a macaroni machine and an ice cream freezer.


The ware room was kept locked and housed some of Monticello's most valuable stores, such as, anchovies, almonds, pickles, sugar, chocolate, mustard, cheese, spices, olive oil, rice, beef tongues, and coffee.

The wine room housed imported wines from France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Portugal. Dumbwaiters lifted wine bottles directly from the wine room to the dining room above.

Three cellars were used for making and bottling beer and cider, as well as storing fat, hard soap, tallow, rum, and pipes of wine.

The ice house was used to preserve butter and fresh meat. Ice was hauled from the Rivanna River to the ice house by wagon. Jefferson noted that some years the ice lasted until October!

There was also an archeology exhibit in the cellar that talked about how artifacts were found and pieced together at Monticello.

vegetable gardens

Lastly, we visited the burial ground. Jefferson left precise instructions as to what should be inscribed on his tombstone, though his family changed it a little. It reads:










He purposefully left out a lot of his achievements, including President of the United States. He wanted to be remembered for things that he gave to people, and not for what people gave to him, which is how he felt about his presidency.
I was surprised to see that the burial ground is still being used as a burial place. There were tombstones dated as recently as the late 1990s.
We had a great time at Monticello and learned a lot about our third president.

Monday, May 21, 2007

On Vacation...

We are on vacation! We spent a couple nights in Washington DC and are now enjoying the rest of the week at Virginia Beach. After that we're heading off to Charlottesville to check out Monticello. More updates when we return home!

Olivia at the Washington Monument in DC
The girls at Virginia Beach

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mother's Day!

When asked what I wanted to do on Mother's Day this year, I chose a nature walk at a place we have not explored. We brought along our camera, some specimen bags, and paper and pencils for sketching. (We forgot the new binoculars at home!)

Georgia told us about some of the wildflowers we saw on the way.

We saw some deer tracks, and different types of bugs and spiders.
and caterpillars...

and a toad...

that peed on my hand!

We saw some spittle bugs,

and some beautiful trees. This one was HUGE compared to the others. We wondered how old it could be.

Our walk lasted two and a half hours.

And we had a great time!

We didn't get a chance to sketch in the field. When we got home we looked through our specimens that we collected and sketched some entries in our nature journals.

Georgia studied some of the seeds she had collected and tried to identify what plant they were from. She also opened up some seed pods to see the seeds inside. We talked about different methods for seed dispersal. We even had some burrs on our pants which helped demonstrate the hitchhiker method.

The girls also painted me some pictures to hang in my bedroom!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Spiders, Flowers, and Cookies! (5/11 & 5/12)

On Friday, Olivia and I baked some peanutbutter cookies. Olivia measured the ingredients and added them to the mixer. She helped roll the dough into balls and roll them in sugar...

And she made fork impressions by herself!

I wanted to have a picture of the final product but they disappeared rather quickly!

We studied our new spider friend.

Georgia looked in her Children's Guide to Insects & Spiders and identified what type of spider he is. He is a jumping spider from the family Salticidae.
Here's what we learned about the jumping spider...

These spiders are so named because of their jumping ability. They can jump many times their own length. They make quick, sudden jumps to capture prey or avoid a threat. They also can walk backward.
These common spiders are about 1/8 – 3/4 inches long, very hairy, stocky built, and short-legged. Two of their eight eyes are very large. They have the keenest vision of all spiders. Many species have patches of brightly colored or iridescent scales. Some are black with spots of orange or red on the upper surface of the abdomen, at times confused with black widow spiders.
Jumping spiders are active during the day and prefer sunshine. They normally live outdoors, but jumping spiders can become established indoors and their hunting activities often center about windows and entry doors where their prey is most common.

We also found another spider in the bathtub. When I saw it I thought he was coming after us for capturing his fellow spider! But we went after him first, and now we are studying him, too.

Georgia found that he is a spitting spider. His markings are identical, and he has the same size and shape as a spitting spider, or the Scytodes thoracica.

We learned that...It is able to "spit" a mixture of glue and venom over its prey. For this reason the prosoma has a domed shape to make room for the requiered glands. Scytodes is a small spider, smaller than 8 mm, and is accurate over a distance of about 2 cm. Spitting Spiders originally are tropical and subtropical species. In the temperate regions you can find them in houses.

Originally tropical, huh? That might explain the whole bathtub thing!

We read through the Children's Guide Insects & Spiders, learning about different types of creepy crawlers and their life cycles. We talked about the differences in insects and spiders. And we researched how to start a bug collection. We'll have to order some equipment, such as insect pins and a collection display box. We may try to make a collection display box ourselves, but that will have to wait until after our vacation.

Georgia, Olivia, and I played Scrabble Jr.. We used the beginner side of the board in which words are already displayed in criss-cross fashion. We needed to match up our letters to what is on the board, but we had to do it starting with the beginning of the words. Each time we completed a word we received a token. The person with the most tokens at the end of the game won. Olivia did really well with this game. She knew her letters and learned fairly quickly where the beginning of the word was.

Olivia and I also played Husker Du. It is a memory match game.

The girls each looked through their seashell collection. Georgia tried to match up pieces of a broken shell, and then she sketched them for her nature journal. We also pressed a couple flowers to add to the journal, too.

The girls have been doing great in taking care of the house plants. They love to water and mist them.

On Saturday, Georgia had her Park PALS class. Instead of being at the nature center the class met at the wildflower/woodland preserve. Olivia and I stayed with the class for a bit. They identified different wildflowers on the walk and discussed various terms, such as, weed, and alien plants, and they learned about poison ivy. They each had a clipboard with paper to sketch things they saw. After the class, Georgia told me it was her favorite one so far. She told me all about the flowers she saw, and she remembered a lot of their names too.
Georgia said her next class will be about owls, and that she might see some bats, too, because the class will be in the evening. This started a conversation about the differences between bats and owls. We discussed cold-blooded versus warm-blooded, and the characteristics of mammals. Saturday night the girls both painted me a picture for Mother's Day. Look for pictures of their paintings in a seperate Mother's Day post.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

This week

On Saturday we cooked up a Mexican feast and listened to regional Mexican music on XM satellite radio for el Cinco de Mayo. We discussed the day's history and significance, with the Battle of Pueblo on May 5, 1862 in which the Mexican Army defeated the invading French Army, Napolean's Army which hadn't been defeated in fifty years! We also discussed the consequences for the US if the French had won, specifically how the French planned to help the South win the Civil War.

We learned about geodes and how they are formed. We have some geodes to crack open but we need to get some safety goggles before we do this.

Georgia and I keep a running list of questions or topics she has throughout the week. Then we sit down at the computer together and look up answers to the questions. Some of the questions/topics from our last research session were:

Why is the Ohio buckeye poisonous? The buckeye is poisonous because it contains chemicals, such as, glycosides, saponins, and alkaloids. The leaves and sprouts are poisonous as well. Side effects of ingestion include stomach, intestinal, and nervous system problems, such as, vomiting, muscle spasms, coma, and even death. The common chestnut and the California Buckeye are toxic, too. We discussed how being poisonous is a good adaptation for the plants to avoid being eaten.

Why is it called the United States? The name came from the end of the Declaration of Independence, "We, therefore, the representatives of the united States of America, in general congress, assembled..." The document used the term united States instead of listing the individual states and colonies because at the time they did not know which states/colonies would accept the document. The most popular theory for the origin of the term "America" is that it comes from the latinized name of explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci.

What is albinism/albino? It is the lack of pigment in the eyes skin and hair. We also looked at pictures of people and animals with albinism.

What is a bull frog and how did it get its name? The American Bullfrog is the largest frog in North America. They can grow up to 8" in length. They are aquatic and carnivorous, eating anything that will fit in their mouth (which is fairly large). The name comes from the bull-like bellowing sound made by male bullfrogs.

Do worms have eyes? While digging out back the girls found some worms. So we also looked up info on worms, which included topics of anatamy, life cycle, reproduction (they are both male and female), diet, senses, etc. As to the eye question...no, worms do not have eyes, but they do have light and touch sensative organs. They can sense differences in light intensity, and can feel vibrations in the ground.

How many eyes do spiders have? Most spiders have eight eyes, but some have six or fewer. We looked at pictures of different types of spiders and their eyes. (freeeeeaky!)

How many arms does a squid have? A squid has ten arms: eight arms with two longer tentacles.

How do cats see in the dark? Cats have a special layer of cells at the back of their retinas called the tapetum lucidum. This shiny layer acts as a mirror reflecting light back to the retina. Cows have this, too. This led to a whole discussion about the parts of the eye. We looked at an eye model and saw the different parts with the muscles and bones. We also conducted a pupil demonstration in which we looked at our pupils in the mirror in a darkened room, then with a flashlight. Georgia was able to see the pupil constricting and dilating. We also watched a video of a kid dissecting a cow's eye, which is similar to our eye except for the tapetum lucidum. You can see it too here http://www.exploratorium.edu/learning_studio/cow_eye/index.html

Another topic we discussed was the various ways to measure a circle. We talked about the circumference, diameter, and radius, and we measured a few to practice.

We finally read the news article on the mysterious honey bee killer and the theories on its origination. We talked about how important bees are to us as pollinators for over 90 different plants we consume. We discussed the terms pesticide, parasite, virus, and bacteria. (and how fitting......)

At Tuesday's soccer game, Georgia got sick on the field. The next morning she was still feeling ill, so Olivia did not get to go to her Nature Center class. (I couldn't leave G home, and I wasn't going to have someone watch a sick kid, poor girl)

We talked more about George Washington and read a biography on him. Afterwards she answered some questions about what she read. She loved the part about him having false teeth made from hippopotamus ivory!

We talked about taxes and the Boston Tea Party. She wanted to know how presidential elections were different in the beginning so I explained that to her. (In November we had a mock election with a ballot box...she loved that. She had us vote on what we wanted for supper, too!) And we talked about the roles of the President and Vice President.

We talked about transportation in George Washington's time, as well as daily life.

We talked about Washington DC and why it was named and placed where it is. And we read about the first two capitals before it, New York City and Philadelphia.

Georgia did her own research on ancient civiliztions found in the game Age of Empires. She read about their history, technologies, architecture, etc. And I explained to her about the terms BC or BCE, and AD or CE. And we made up a time line putting in dates from her studies on civilizations and added or subtracted the years to find out how many years passed since those dates.

Today we found a scary spider in the kitchen. We trapped it in a jar and want to look up what kind of spider it is. (I nearly had a heart attack from the rush of adrenaline I got from trying to capture the spider......creepy crawly things freak me out!!!!)

Saturday, Georgia has a class about wildflowers at a local nature preserve. Hopefully she is feeling better for that. And at the end of next week we leave for our DC and Virginia Beach vacation....a lot to do for that!

Hope everyone has a great weekend!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

5/02 to 5/04

On Wednesday we looked at our plants and discussed how their leaves and blossoms have turned toward the sun. We talked about this being a characteristic of living things in how they are reacting to their environment. We also discussed the process of photosynthesis and chlorophyll.

Georgia filled out a KWHL chart on George Washington. (K= what I know, W=what I want to know, H=how I can learn more, L=what I learned) And she worked on a biography of George Washington, reading about his early life, the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the Constitution, his Presidency, Legacy, and time line of events. The book includes activities and questions to answer as she goes through the book. I printed the book from http://www.enchantedlearning.com/.

On Thursday, Georgia finished the George Washington book. She also read about how plants make food and about pollination from http://www.mbgnet.net/bioplants. Afterwards, she dissected a flower from one of our hanging baskets and identified its different parts.

Georgia worked in her math workbook reviewing money and making change. She practiced addition and subtraction with four digit numbers.

The girls went to the library. Afterwards, Georgia read from Fudge-a-mania by Judy Blume, and Olivia and I read her new National Geographic Kids magazine.

Olivia also practiced rhymes, counting, identifying numbers, writing, and reading.

The girls both checked out the ASPCA's kids site at http://www.aspca.org/site/PageServer?pagename=kids_home. They read about different types of pets and watched some cartoons on helpful pet owner tips.

For snack we had watermelon and had fun making a bowl out of the rind and making watermelon balls with a melon baller.

On Friday the girls watched the Standard Deviants School Geology 1: The Basics DVD. Georgia learned about the various disciplines in geology, relative versus absolute dating, geologic time, eras, ages, epochs, and periods, sedimentary and igneous rocks and how they are formed, and some geologic principles such as the principle of original horizontality, superposition, faunal succession, etc. I don't expect her to remember these terms, of course, but she understood the principles themselves.

We also learned about honey bees and their anatomy and life cycle. And Georgia filled out a worksheet on what she had learned. I printed out an article from CNN.com about the honeybee's decline but we did not get to it yet. (article is at http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/science/05/03/honeybees.dying.ap/index.html)

In the evening we watched A Night at the Museum and loved it! We borrowed it from Netflix but this is definitely a movie that we would like to own. And it made us all excited about learning history!

Georgia's Saturday soccer game was canceled due to the rain. Mark is at work, but when he comes home we will celebrate el Cinco de Mayo with a Mexican fiesta!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


Today was another beautiful day, so after running some errands we went to North Park. The girls had lots of fun playing on the playground with other kids. But it proved too exhausting and Olivia fell asleep on the couch afterwards!

Georgia worked on her dictionary skills today. She had a couple words she wanted to look up but after finding them and reading their definitions she wanted to keep learning new words. So she browsed the dictionary, sharing with me the interesting ones. I also asked her a few words to look up.

Georgia had her first soccer game today. She had a lot of fun, but after returning home I noticed her face and arms were extremely red. I put sunblock on both her and her sister when we go to the parks, and for her softball and soccer practices. She had mentioned the night before that her arms were itchy and I just thought it was from getting some sun. But today after soccer practice I noticed she had a rash on every place I put sunblock on her. She had a rash on her arms, face, back of the neck... Today was the only day that I put sunblock on her twice. I guess it was too much for sensative skin. The sunblock is for kids and is supposed to be hypoallergenic, but I guess I will need to go back to the baby sunblock. We never had a problem with that.

This picture was taken before her soccer game today.

The girls both played Age of Empires and read some books and magazines before bed. I let them stay up a little later tonight because Olivia was not ready for bed after her nap this afternoon.
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Today was a beautiful sunny day, so we went to the park!

The girls played on the playground for quite a while. Livy mastered rock climbing, and Georgia worked on the balance beam for a bit. They had fun sliding, climbing, swinging, crawling, and laughing!

After a picnic lunch we went on a walk and visited the peacocks.

The trees were beautiful, the grass green, and the wildflowers colorful.

After we got home, the girls played checkers together and then took turns playing Zoo Tycoon. We watched the Standard Deviants School:Spanish 1 video on the alphabet, pronunciation, diphthongs, cognates, and vocabulary words.

After supper, Mark and the girls went to the library and then practiced softball in the backyard. We read books at bedtime, and then Georgia read aloud a chapter in the book she is currently reading.

Tomorrow Georgia has both a soccer game and softball practice. It is also supposed to be picture day for softball. I hope the weather cooperates; they are predicting thunderstorms.