Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Love Story, a Woman Soldier, Brain Teasers and More Revolutionary City

While we had lunch in front of the Raleigh Tavern, we were surprised by a scene that we never got to see before. There is a love story set in Revolutionary City and this scene is the prequel to that. The scene is really cute and well done for the romantics! It begins with a little talk between friends.

Next Revolutionary City began. There are some changes this year, most notably being centered around the newly opened Charleton Coffeehouse. The opening act now opens there.

Now that the Coffeehouse has been built, Rev City opens in 1765 recreating a documented event that occurred here. To open the scene is the retelling of Patrick Henry's famous Caesar Brutus speech.

The actual story line is the arrival of the royal governor to the coffeehouse.  Later the stamp collector arrives and is attacked by a mob of angry citizens, who are not pleased with this latest tax from King George III. Unexpectedly, this scene became a memorable thrill!

 One of our favorite scenes is "Gale from the North". My son was talking the other night that the title is from one of Patrick Henry's speeches, which he had memorized a couple of years ago for a history presentation. My son then went into a recitation of what he could recall of the speech. It's a wonderful line and the scene, with events based on historical fact, is based around that line. I really like how CW ties everything together like this! This will now continue to be a favorite scene for more reasons than before. Also I have seen this scene develop in the last few years. I'll never forget how affected I was the first time I saw this scene. I thought it was wonderful then, but each year this actor does it better and better. It's amazing!


The next morning we went to the Lafayette program. It was great as always.We never know when we'll get to see Lafayette do his program, so whenever we happen to be in town and see it on the program, we go. I am still amazed that a Frenchman was so inspired by our efforts at liberty that he came to serve. On top of this wonderful story, the actor does an incredible job of accurately representing him. From all the reading I've done on Lafayette, I feel as though he comes to life when I see him in CW! Then there are the questions from the audience. Some I would have never thought of, which means we get to learn something new. I confess I like to stand around and hear all the questions be asked afterwards too, because the actor is a prodigious source of information. Also some of the questions during the program allow for hilarious moments! It's always an enjoyable program and definitely one of our favorites.

Afterwards we met up with our friends agoin. On our way to a dancing program, we met with this historical person who asked my son to play "Yankee Doodle" on his fife.


Then we went to the Raleigh Tavern for a dancing program where we get to dance! The dancing teacher was really good at keeping each of the family and friend groups all together. For the first dance, I got to dance with my kids and their friends! The instructor was so patient with us and funny while correcting us. I was wondering how in the world she was going to teach all of us these dances in the allotted time, but she did. We had a lot of fun!

Afterwards we split up and the kids and I had a few bites of lunch, then realized we had to hurry to see a special program. March is Women's History month at CW and one of the programs was at the Magazine. A woman soldier was telling everyone about women who fought in the American Revolution. My son got to do the program with his dad on Sat, but my daughter and I were at the sewing class. I know my son enjoyed the program for a second time. The stories were interesting. As much as I thought I knew, I learned a lot of new stuff. That never surprises me at CW!

As we walked down the street to find a spot for the beginning of Revolutionary City, my kids were asked to come over to this fellow from the past. He is hilarious. You can listen to his podcast where he tells the story of "The Combustible Woman." Well this afternoon he was teasing all the kids by asking them thinking questions that are like riddles. Before he began, he told me to be quiet no matter what, because he knew I would know the answer. He's right, I did know the answer! It was just bugging me! (This is the beginning of Rev City and I knew he'd want a reaction out of me!) He could tell I knew the answer but he told me to just walk away. "Go away Mom," he said, "Let it go. Let it go. This is for your children." It was hilarious watching the kids try to figure out why they couldn't answer these "trick" questions. Finally my son redeemed himself with the final question. However my daughter never got a single one. The man said that's okay, she was pretty enough to marry a smart young man, because that's the way they thought back then.

The kids and I were laughing and laughing at something new we saw that afternoon. The actors will never cease to amaze me! CW is so much fun!  One of the major scenes on this day was the arrival of Benedict Arnold. The actor is excellent in this role! He is so good in fact, that my son who is dressed as Lafayette, always tries to hide from him and not be noticed. My husband however, is a bit of a troublemaker. He always tries to stand as close to the front as possible to yell negative comments at Arnold. My son, however, stands far, far away from his dad during this scene!

After Revolutionary City, we headed towards Market Square to complete an errand before the final scene. After we accomplished our task, we settled under the trees to wait for the fife and drum corps to arrive. The troops meanwhile, were waiting to be inspected.

Soon General Lafayette arrived...

followed by General Washington, who addressed the troops.

Then there was a display of the artillery...


We had an incredible time! We have now re-entered the 21st century, studying the Cold War and the Space Race in history, yet anticipating our next journey through the time travel machine back to the American Revolution.

Monday, March 29, 2010

In Defense of Liberty at Colonial Williamsburg

On our recent visit to Colonial Williamsburg we attended an evening program, "In Defense of Liberty", at the Magazine (where the weapons are stored). Incidentally, we found out our friends had tickets to the same program! My daughter and I were a bit worried about this program. It is a 100% participation program and involves the firing of guns nearby. We "actually" enlist in the army and go through a sort of boot camp.
We recognized the first sergeant as someone we always enjoyed in the EFTs as a calm, mild mannered gentleman. Well, his entire demeanor changed as he became a tough as nails first sergeant.

So here I was in Colonial Williamsburg, enlisting as a soldier in the Continental Army for three years, giving up all my rights, learning to work as a unit, in patriotic duty to my country ready to endure hardship.  We had to conform to the army way, answer the army way and move as a unit the army way. The sergeant had everyone's riveted attention. There was no joking around. We were all quiet and at attention. Whenever we were given orders, we yelled, "Yes Sergeant!" in unison. 

It was also explained to us that banners were used on the battlefield so that soldiers could identify their units and leadership. In the tumult of battle, things get messy and confusing. Being the source of corps morale, the flag bearer has the most important job of keeping the flag flying high in the midst of gun shots and blasting cannons. Even though confusion reigned, as long as the standard bearer kept the flag flying high, a unit could remain organized and motivated to keep fighting. Furthermore, the flag bearer had a most perilous job, because one of the goals of the enemy was to seize the flag in order to bust morale and create confusion in the rank. Most certainly a trophy of honor was to capture the enemy's flag.

Then began our reenactment of a battle. Quite quickly I was killed (a tap on the shoulder by someone from the opposing army meant we had to drop dead). Hmmm...perhaps standard next to the standard bearer wasn't such a good idea after all.
At the end, the first sergeant became himself (nice, gentle, kind, considerate) and gave us some historical background from a famous writer.  Afterwards I went to talk to him and asked him about this writer. He told me about the book, Private Yankee Doodle by Joseph Plumb Martin. That is the second time I've heard that book referenced. The first time it was recommended by my son's favorite actor in reference to his infamous sword question. I have had it in the bookcase for years and have only used it for reference. I'm looking forward to reading it. This is an invaluable book when learning about the American Revolution because Martin fought in the revolution. This first hand account gives many valuable insights. 

As we walked to the vans, my daughter enthusiastically said that she had fun! What? Was I hearing things? My girlie girl daughter, who is normally terrified of loud noises, had fun? Actually, so did I! I gained a huge appreciation for the soldiers who give up their liberties so that we can have ours.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Talking to the Blacksmith about Swords

Then we went to the blacksmith so my son could ask his infamous long term research question, "Were swords ever sharpened historically?" (A Civil War reenactor last summer told us swords were never sharpened or useful, even in eras before the Civil War.) We got an excellent answer with documentation from the blacksmith. I'm sure we'll be continuing this research project as we recycle through our history by returning to the Ancients next year and reading lots more books. Then my son asked about a million more questions about the process of blacksmithing. That day they were making hinges.

That day they were making hinges.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Taming of the Shrew at the Playbooth Theater

One of my favorite programs at Colonial Williamsburg is the work of the Playbooth Theater. On our most recent visit we got to watch some Shakespeare. This picture is from the "Taming of the Shrew." They were encored a lot! Actually I'm surprised I caught her in a smile in this picture, because she did a great job of being an angry, wild shrew. Now that I have sewn a colonial gown, I can appreciate her having to act like a shrew in one!

Afterwards I asked one of the actors several questions and we learned a lot about the use of music with Shakespearan plays as well as imitation vs. creativity in the 18th century. I have learned so much from watching their plays and talking to them about the history of theater.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Peek at the Beginnings of a Gentleman's Winter Coat at the Tailor's

On the day that we visited the tailor he was cutting out patterns in preparation for making a new winter coat for a gentleman. A tailor makes his own patterns and they are exclusively his property. Therefore I knew this was a privilege to get to see him using them.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring Pastel Millinery Offerings

Spring pastel millinery offerings include this lovely soft green gown with sheer striped apron, cape and cap. This is a good color for me. I'd love to recreate this!

My daughter's favorite pastel offering is this lovely soft purple with sheer ruching for a little girl.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Purchasing an American Holly tree at the Colonial Williamsburg Nursery

Did you know you can buy plants at the historic Colonial Williamsburg nursery? I call it historic because unlike other nurseries at historic sites I have visited, this nursery recreates the 18th century gardening experience to the fullest! Plants make a wonderful souvenir of a Colonial Williamsburg visit!
We have recently returned from yet another trip to the historic area. Our first stop was the nursery to purchase the longed for American Holly tree for my husband. We have been fascinated with these beautiful trees all winter as we've traveled out and about in Virginia, admiring their varying topiary shapes, as well as the surprising tall spreading tree form.  We never noticed them in the summer apart from their delightfully needed shade, but in the winter they provide noticeably bright red berries.  We were surprised!  Intrigued, my husband was determined to get one for our yard. He talked to the colonial gardener about them a few week's ago on what ammendments we would need to take in planting it in our yard.  Last Sat night he saw an American Holly for sale at the colonial nursery, but they were closed.  I told my husband that the kids and I wouldn't mind in the least coming back midweek to purchase the tree for him. Besides, I was wanting to spend a little more time with some friends we met up with on Sat. The mom had asked if it was possible for me to make a return visit while they were there, since we wouldn't get to visit again until autumn. Our kids have fun being together and this was something I wanted to make happen. My husband gave us the okay, so I gave the schedule to my kids to choose which days we go. Immediately my son noticed that Lafayette would be speaking Wed morning, so he wanted to go on Wed.  However it would be impossible for us to make the 2.5 hour drive down and be seated at the Palace Garden by the 10am talk. We'd just have to arrive Tues morning and spend two whole days there!  What fun! So...stay tuned for the rest of our visit in Colonial Williamsburg!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bluebirds in a Colonial Birdbottle and Friends

     Last summer we finally got a colonial bird bottle at an auction at Colonial Williamsburg.  We debated on where to put it.  We thought we'd try it on the deck edge, where we could see the bottle from the family room on the deck level or the basement walkout window on the ground level.  Last week we realized some bluebirds moved in!  My son took these terrific pictures!

Here is Mr. Bluebird in all his glory...

Here is Mrs. Bluebird, more subdued...

Here are some friends. We listened to the dove coo all afternoon...

Here is the squirrel. I think he is looking for my hibiscus plant!

 If you are looking for a fun nature project to do with your kids (or on your own), bird bottles from Colonial Williamsburg almost guarantee a bird in your yard!  There is also a cute children's book called The Bottle Babies to use with the bottle! The book is available at Colonial Williamsburg and all the proceeds go towards the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Visiting the Colonial Williamsburg Nursery on My Daughter's Birthday

     Friday was my daughter's birthday. She wanted to spend the occasion in Colonial Williamsburg  and take the button class with me at the Costume Design Center, so off we drove to the historic area!

     We arrived in town by the time Revolutionary City started.  The season began about a week ago. There are some changes to the program. It was fun seeing the action return to the streets again.      

     Afterwards we took some pictures of the kids in their new costumes. 

 My husband suggested we go to the Palace for the picture of the kids. As he took pictures I had my eye on my favorite house, the Robert Carter house. I love the breezeway porch behind the kids!

     On the way to settling down for a late lunch, one of the interpreters stopped to talk to my kids.

     That afternoon we did Revolutionary City again, for the Day 1 program.  There is a new scene there this year, about the Stamp Act in front of the newly opened Charleton Coffee House. 
  I liked this color combination a lot!

    That evening we walked through the Colonial Nursery. Three weeks ago these plants were mere shoots poking out of the ground.  Since then we've had sunny weather in the 60's and 70's.  



Saturday, March 20, 2010

Learning about Market Wallets, Work Bags and Pockets

In March, the Colonial Williamsburg Costume Design Center offered an 18th century sewing class on market wallets, work bags and pockets as part of their 75th anniversary celebration.   This time, my daughter was taking the class as well, using money she received from grandparents for Christmas.  Usually we take classes at Bruton Heights. This time we took the class at the Costume Design Center so that we could use their sewing machines!  Wow! It was incredible to be surrounded by costumes worn in the historic area and to be sitting where those costumes were sewn. (The costumes are partially machine stitched, for the economics of time for a massive production schedule.  However anything that will be seen, is hand sewn.)  Another thrill was using the various sewing implements and opening the drawer in the desk that was full of a rainbow of colored thread, to perfectly match with our fabrics!  On top of that we were surrounded by some of the CDC seamstresses themselves, who helped us as needed.  How could a sewing class be more wonderful than this?

The class began around a work table with displays of the objects we'd be making: market wallets, workbags and pockets. This class is more than how to sew, or even how to sew historically. It is also a history lesson! It is amazing how I feel a stronger sense of history and an appreciation for seamstresses of yore and for those who wore the products, when I leave these classes.  The instructor asked who had no experience with sewing. That was basically my daughter. She struggles with working with her hands and I am always putting projects in them for her to develop skills, however the sewing machine hasn't been one of them.  The instructor was really excited for an opportunity to work with her and encouraged us all to not worry about being neat but to go ahead and have uneven stitches, like many did historically.

     First we made market wallets, which are huge rectangular bags meant to be slung over the shoulder to carry items when going to market.  You can see many of the interpreters in the historic area using these to carry things around in.

My daughter and I each began one for my son. We plan to give these to him for his birthday or Christmas, I guess whenever we get done.  I'm sure he'll be especially enamored with them when I tell him I saw his favorite actor arrive in the historic area for one of the special event weekends with one of these slung over his shoulder.  We are doing a combination of machine stitching and hand stitching on these. We didn't get to finish, because we had two other projects to start. However we were sent home with a packet of instructions.  We did enough to know how to finish the project. This is the one I started.
    Next we made work bags.  These names do not do the gorgeous bags justice. They are an opportunity for a seamstress to showcase her best work. These were for a lady to carry her sewing implements and carry from a strap around her arm, like a purse.

 Our printed directions were for machine sewing, which I've done before. I decided to take the hand sewing challenge, which has a  different sequences of events. I hope I remember what to do!  We didn't have time to decorate them, so I thought I'd save the sewing of the outside bag for when I take another class from the CDC which teaches us how to make trim. I plan to use it for my workbag. My workbag has a sage green silk fabric for the outside and a cream silk for the lining.
Finally we did pockets, which can be as simple as plain linen or as elaborate as embroidery.

Pockets were extremely important to ladies.  They were worn under all the skirts and petticoats.  You never get to see the embroidery.  Ladies owned very little in the 18th century, since everything was in their husbands' name. The few things they might own would be carefully kept in these pockets.  They were hands off to every one else!

I machine sewed mine with a French seam, which was a new skill to me, then I started handsewing the binding which is easy. I chose this fabric, not only because I liked it, but because I hope to pull out elements for a pattern to do crewel work on another piece someday. The instructor  encouraged to piece the pocket together, as in sewing together smaller pieces of fabric for the face of one side. This was commonly done. As proof, she showed us a picture of a pocket in a historical collection, made of many square pieces, like patchwork. As I helped my daughter get started on hers, I found we would have to piece her fabric, as there wasn't enough of one piece. The instructor loved it!  Because I wanted to accomplish much of the pocket, since the directions were completely new to me, I decided not to piece.  I was handsewing the binding and feeling awful about my uneven stitches, but the instructor liked them!


Meanwhile the instructor spent a lot of time teaching my daughter. She was really terrific and my daughter had fun learning from her!