Friday, September 30, 2011

Covered Bridges


For all the planning and misplanning I did for our recent Pennsylvania vacation, I completely forgot about covered bridges! While waiting for Brandywine Battlefield to open, we drove around and around. As we turned one of the bends, we discovered this gorgeous red covered bridge spanning Brandywine Creek. Thinking we were in Pennsylvania I later discovered this bridge is in Delaware! Imagine that! It's only a few minutes from the battlefield. I had no idea we'd be so close to Delaware. Originally built in 1839, this is Smith's Bridge.

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The next evening we were driving through Valley Forge when we turned a bend and there was a whitish grey covered bridge! Built in 1869, this is the Knox Bridge or Valley Forge Bridge.

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Discovering these two bridges finally triggered my memory that Lancaster Country is reknown for a plethora of covered bridges. We found that our tour map had the bridges marked, but only a few major roads were named. We only found one bridge, this red one that is no longer functional. Built in 1844, this is the Herr's Mill Bridge...

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Nearby is the gristmill...
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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Valley Forge, Lafayette's Rescue, the Continental Congress and a Mild Winter?


Purposely choosing to stay at a hotel with historic connections galore, in the town of King of Prussia, on DeKalb Pike, only a few miles from Valley Forge, the infamous winter encampment of the Continental Army in 1777-1778, I also thought the convenience of proximity would ensure a fabulous full day of touring. Valley Forge offers an incredible range of fun opportunities. I thought our problem would be in choosing which ones to do.

Activities galore abound at Valley Forge National Historical Park. There are many reenactors who wore the most authentic costumes I had seen on our Pennsylvania tour. (We didn't get to see their interpretations but we did see them walking home at the end of the day.) Everyone knows how much we enjoy reenactors who bring history to life! There were special evening programs for eating in a tavern and more reenactments. Various tours are offered from bus tours to ranger tours. Horseback riding is available! We wanted to do that! Bikes are available for rent! Let's do that! And so on and so forth...

Instead the problem became finding an opportunity to actually tour Valley Forge due to my scheduling mishaps of my own making. At best we made late afternoon arrivals on Saturday and Sunday to squeeze in a few of the basic offerings. We only got to see the movie and do the driving tour. Best laid plans...

The best laid plans of Washington failed at Brandywine due to conflicting reconnaissance reports on September 11, 1777. The victorious British army swept through Valley Forge seven days later, damaging resources before moving on to occupy Philadelphia. Meanwhile the Continental Congress fled Philadelphia. According to the link, delegate Henry Laurens of South Carolina left at a more leisurely rate than one would expect. Apparently he even stopped by Bristol first, in his carriage, to pick up the wounded Marquis de Lafayette, who had sustained a severe injury at the Battle of Brandywine. After taking Lafayette to Bethlehem, to be left in the care of a Moravian family and further away from the British, he left for Lancaster. Lancaster was only 69 miles from Philadelphia, whereas the quiet little town of York was 101 miles further west on the other side of the mighty Susquehanna River. Strategically the delegates moved to York. Eight days later, they began debating the Articles of Confederation. (Many thanks to Stephanie for sharing with me this information about York!)

On October 19, news arrived in York that General Benedict Arnold had led the charge at Saratoga, resulting in the Continental Army's first major victory! For hours, bells rang through York! General Burgoyne surrendered 6000 troops. Perhaps the French could now be influenced to become official allies? The delegates set aside a day in December for Thanksgiving and Praise.

The Continental Army arrived at Valley Forge for winter quarters, to act as a buffer between the British in Philadelphia and Continental Congress in York. Strategically this was an ideal position. The impressive valley views as we drove throughout the park, even driving a few switchbacks, proved that the range of sight was indeed breathtaking and incredible.
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That winter was moderate, mostly above freezing. The problem was that soldiers had few clothes and little food to adequately endure a typical winter. Each soldier was provided for from his own state. Not all states sent provisions. The delegates of the Continental Congress could request supplies for the army from each of the states, but they did not have the power to enforce anything. We were told at the Visitor Center that soldiers from some states had supplies and some did not. Lafayette himself was known for supplying his men from his own account. In fact, Lafayette served in the Continental Army free of pay.

Washington's Guard lived in these huts, overlooking his headquarters. Today the tradition continues at Arlington National Cemetary at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
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A few yards away is Washington's Headquarters...
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Further along the driving tour is an equestrian statue of General Anthony Wayne of Pennsylvania, looking towards his home in the distance...

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Nearby earthwork fortification...

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On February 23, 1778, Baron von Steubon arrived from Europe, having volunteered his services to the American cause. He had trained in Prussia, under the highly esteemed Frederick the Great. General von Steubon drilled the American soldiers in European battle technique. He wrote the military manual, which is still in use in the American military today. 

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In the spring news arrived that France had joined America as allies in the Revolution. The Continental Army marched out of winter camp, newly invorgorated with hope.

Today Valley Forge is memorialized in the tradition of Rome with this triumphal arch styled after that of Titus, dating back to AD 81.
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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Toadstools, Moss and Dewdrops on a Nature Walk


It's been rather moist around here. Several inches of rain courtesy of Hurricane Ida. Several more from Tropical Depression Lee. And more from...of whichI don't know the origins..all in the span of one month! When we left for our vacation to Pennsylvania right after Ida, the grass around here was the typical summery crispy brown. Five days later we came home to Lee's rainfall and the grass was a verdant green! Everything is lush and beautiful again with a tinge of autumn. All of this moisture was bound to lead to the plethora of toadstools popping up. Imagine the surprise my kids and I had when we went for a walk the other night in our neighborhood. We've never seen toadstools like these before!

On the beautiful tree lined parkway that leads into our neighborhood were a mass of red toadstools over here...

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There's lots of moss growing too!

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A few steps further down the path, we found all these yellow toadstools...

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Over there were some interesting tannish toadstools...

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Then there were a bunch of these with interesting shapes!

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All of these were intermixed under the evergreen trees throughout our walk. With each step we wondered what we'd find next. Here and there we even found dewdrops puddled on spider webs for good measure. I love Virginia!

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

18th Century Englishback Gown-White Floral on Blue

At long last my daughter has a new colonial gown! It's her birthday present...6 months late. =/ I purchased the fabric from Colonial Williamsburg's Mary Dickenson store last March. She wasn't too certain of this colonial print or any colonial print for that matter. Nor was she so certain of the color blue. She is a purple gal. Over time, she has adopted pink as her second favorite color. That's funny, because pink is my favorite color but
purple lavendar
has become a close second. We did not try to influence each other. Apparently exposure to color can influence us into appreciating it more. Perhaps that is what happened to the color blue.

After the fabric arrived (it's ordered in person but arrives via snail mail) I pre-washed it, ironed it, then tucked it away. My daughter has been happily content with her current gowns. Meanwhile I busied myself with my reproduction fabric gown and my son's blue waistcoat. By the time I pulled out the blue floral fabric again, my daughter was excited about it!

I'm thrilled about this gown because it marks some new achievements for me in my journey to learn 18th century sewing technique. The fabric is 100% cotton, period accurate to the 18th century. It is also handsewn a bit more than the others in the manner of an 18th century mantua maker. In the 18th century, mantua makers sewed gowns by draping instead of by patterns. They laid fabric upon a lady's body and cut away unnecessary fabric.  The bodice closes in front in the 18th century manner of pinning. The trim is made from scraps of self-fabric that are pinked. It's a bit full and fluffy now, which my daughter loves. It will tame down once it goes through the laundry and is pressed.

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Happy Belated Birthday! She loves it! Some of the ladies who intepret for Colonial Williamsburg have costumes with the same fabric. Also there are gowns to rent or purchase at Colonial Williamsburg, but they don't look exactly the same as this one. My daughter says this is her new good gown. In town, she'll be wearing it with a white neckerchief. I plan to surprise her with a white bow and perhaps with an apron.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Brandywine Battlefield


With great anticipation we arrived at Brandywine Battlefield on Sunday morning at 10am...to closed gates. Oh no! This was all my fault! Usually I'm quite the organizer but I forgot to get basic diretions to Amish country, left all my print outs on historic Philadelphia at home then messed up the schedule this morning. What to do with 2 hours??? Valley Forge was an hour away and the only time to tour some of the buildings and see some of the reenactors and do some of the special events was on the weekend, so I was trying to do the battlefields on the weekends. Also Brandywine would be closed Mon and Tues and we were leaving Monday. This was really a crazy trip. We arrived right after locals had power restored from Hurricane Ida and we left the day the Tropical Depression Lee started flooding Pennsylvania.

The countryside is beautiful. How about a Sunday drive? My husband is usually up for that kind of thing. So we drove over the river and through the woods to...a covered bridge!
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We did lots of driving around the battlefield. No one was hungry to eat before the park opened because we had gotten free pastries from Panera the night before...they offered us anything we wanted since they were about to close and they'd just be thrown away. So we picked up hoagies (No, not as good as I had growing up.) to eat after our tour of Brandywine.

Finally the park was open and we followed the volunteers into the park. Everyone else seemed to pull in behind us. Because we had driven around for two hours, my husband asked the people who got out of their car next to us if they also drove around for two hours. They said they were from France! (My mind started tumbling the significance...France? Brandywine? Lafayette!) I exclaimed, "Bienvenu!" which I learned in one of Colonial Williamsburg's Revolutionary City scenes when they tell us to welcome France as our allies! These visitors were so tickled that I welcomed them in French, that they got huge smiles on their faces and started speaking to me in French! (Oh dear. How do I say, "I speak only a very little French?" in French?) I motioned with teeny tiny finger motions and one of the men said, "Ah, petit," or something like that. Okay, I understood that and smiled and nodded my head!

After paying our fees, we explored their small museum which is very well done. Then we watched a movie. This is a small historic site and there are two buildings to tour. The web site had said we could tour General Washington's headquarters and the Gilpin House where Lafayette stayed...or did he? More on that later...

A book I purchased at the visitor center, by an author I told was a Brandywine expert, said that this area was predominantly a Quaker community. Quakers are pacifists who do not choose sides during war. Some Quakers though did join the patriot cause and were shunned. The author made an interesting observation. Being predominantly Quaker, this quiet haven became the scene of the largest battle in the American Revolution. There is a quote from General Pickering (whom we've met in Colonial Williamsburg's Prelude to Victory) in a letter to his brother that war coming to this quiet land is judgement from Heaven "for their defection, that their country should be the seat of war."

Washington's Headquarter's was located in the home of Benjamin Ring, a Quaker, who served in the Chester County militia. This house is not all that large, considering that Ring's family consisted of 9 people. Washington's military family consisted of even more. The book relates, "9 aides-de-camp, 9 servants and household staff, plus numerous" others "moving in and out." The debate is: Did Lafayette stay here? While researching the trip, I found sources that said he stayed at the Gilpin House. When I asked the tour guide about that, he said that was old information and now they know he stayed with Washington with everyone else. (The French visitors moved in to hear every word and positively reacted every time Lafayette was mentioned!) The book I read said due to Lafayette being young, age 19, having recently arrived from France, this was his first engagement in battle, he was automatically promoted to Maj Gen but had no command, he likely stayed in Washington's Headquarters the first night and due to the crowd moved to the Gilpin house the second night. So how's that for clarification?
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Then we toured the grounds of the Gilpin house, where Lafayette may or may not have stayed. He did visit Mr. Gilpin here on his Grand Tour in 1824.
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Brandywine was Lafayette's first battle, interestingly fought on September 11, 1777. Many comments were made about that, being that we were visiting a week away from that date. The tour guide told us that Washington thought he had all the river crossings well defended by his army on the Brandywine River. Meanwhile the guide stressed the signifance of the British battle plan. The British troops had been on a ship for weeks. Imagine that...hot, cramped, seasick, foul air, dead horses, food gone bad... After landing in secret, they marched in high humidity from near Head of Elk in Maryland to Brandywine Creek. Those men were not in tip top form.

Later, conflicting reconaissance reports as to battle positions destroyed Washington's strategy. The British crossed the river successfully and won the battle in the highest heat and humidity of the day. Lafayette sustained a serious leg wound and later woke up in Bethlehem. Pennsylvania, in the care of a Moravian family. Another famed Revolutionary figure from this battle who also received care from this family was Peter Francisco who was sort of a legendary "Hercules."

The British took over Washington's Headquarters and did not treat the family very kindly, since they had helped Washington. The road was now open for the British to take Philadelphia, which they did. Washington's winter camp was stationed in the nearby town of Valley Forge, protecting our government in York, Pennsylvania while the British were in Philadelphia. Driving to and from all these places came to life with our visiting them. We now understood their proximity better than having merely looked at maps before.

Now that I'm home and have read the book, I found details on several sites relating to Lafayette fans. There is marker engraved with poetry regarding the battle and Lafayette. A cannon apparently marks the spot where Lafayette was injured. There is even a marker that was erected by children remembering Lafayette's battle wounds. Lafayette is indeed held in fond memory in this corner of America so that even admirers from as far as France come to visit.

After a late picnic lunch near Washington's headquarters we drove off to Valley Forge. Stay tuned...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Who's Who? Is he? Am I?-Marfan's Syndrome Part IV


While I sat in the foyer of Rockford Plantation in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I sat under a painting of General Edward Hand. All I could think of was, "Did he have Marfan's Syndrome?" Interestingly the tour guide even sat there and made note of his exceptional height. Recently I found out someone did a google search on "Michael Phelps Marfans Syndrome" and found my blog. Many athletes have "the look" and therefore are prime candidates for the testing. I decided to check into Phelps' story.

Only a small percentage of the population has Marfan's Syndrome, so I was actually encouraged after reading a news article about Olympic gold medalist swimmer, Michael Phelps. For another news article with more details, read this. Apparently he went in to Johns Hopkins, *the* research hospital for Marfan's Syndrome research. Very interesting in that his story began the same as my son's: Phelps mentioned a rapid heart rate and my son has mentioned the same along with a few other things. Also I put my son in swimming lessons one summer, 2005, where he took all 4 levels in one summer. He was getting that swimmer's thick neck from all that swimming. It was that very summer that a weight gain check (because he's always had trouble gaining weight, he was born a preemie and the rest is a very long story) that the doctors started examining him for Marfan's.

Because Marfan's Disease is a genetic condition that affects connective tissue, which is throughout the body, many other body systems can be affected. The most dangerous is that the aorta has been known to rip away from the heart, so a yearly checkup with the cardiologist for an EKG is imperative. Phelps said he has yearly checks at Johns Hopkins and all is well. My son had his EKG last July and all was well. My son's geneticist asked me if I ever had an EKG and I did about 5 years ago. My cardiologist was also my friend's husband and was doing this due to other reasons. He confirmed mitro valve prolapse but he said that was minimal enough to not require further concerns. Other than that all looked well. By the way, mitro valve prolapse is an indicator for Mafan's Syndrome.

For me Marfan's has only come up two times that I'm aware of. When I had my first dizzy spells after I graduated from college, I was in the emergency room and the doctor asked my mom if I had Marfan's. We had never heard of that before. Then when my kids saw the developmental pediatrician due to developmental delays when they were toddlers, the first thing the doctor asked me was, "Are you related to Abraham Lincoln?" I thought he was nuts because I don't think I look anything like the extremely tall and lean man with dark features and a beard in black and white photos. (The medical profession is debating whether Lincoln had Marfan's Syndrome.) Then he explained the Marfan's characteristics as he asked if I played the piano. Yes. How many keys can I span? Nine! That is a great thing when playing more certain compositions. We talked about how this "good thing" in piano playing was an idicator for a serious medical issue. And that was the last I heard of that until my son's exam around 2005.

We've watched Michael Phelps win every single one of his gold medals. My son knows exactly who he is. Not that I'm glad Phelps may have this condition (I'm still not sure if he has this disease but he still gets yearly checks, like my son will, regardless of the outcome of the tests, because it is life and death and they are still learning about the disease), but it is encouraging to not be alone in the journey. Here's another fascinating article on how the symptoms that look like Marfan's may contribute to his prowess in the pool. I thought these articles would help the family know what to expect where the articles can be easily found and accessed.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Visiting General Hand in Lancaster at Rock Ford Plantation


When we first arrived in Lancaster County we were lost. Assuming there'd be signs to the Amish area, I directed the gps to the city of Lancaster where we found a tourist center and had to pay for parking...just to hop out for a few minutes to ask for directions. The lady showed me a map of the Amish country, explained that the key towns to find the food, quilts, train, etc, were Bird-in-Hand, Intercourse and Strasburg. Then she showed which backroads to take to see more of the farms. After getting my bearings I went to the wall full of brochures. I selected whatever might look fun and interesting to the family...food, train, quilts...GENERAL HAND????? I had no idea he lived out here!
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I first met General Hand two years ago at Colonial Williamsburg's Prelude to Victory.
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Born in Ireland, he trained as a doctor at Trinity College in Dublin. He served as a Surgeon's Mate with the 18th Royal Irish Regiment of Foot and was stationed at Fort Pitt in America. Eventually he resigned from the British military and practiced medicine in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When the American Revolution began, he was commissioned as Lt. Colonel of the 1st Battalion of Pennsylvania Riflemen. In 1781 he became Adjutant General to General Washington.

During Prelude to Victory, General Hand can be seen preparing for the seige on Yorktown, which resulted in an astounding American victory. It was the last major battle of the American Revolution.
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I had carefully planned our days to visit Philadelphia, Brandywine Battlefield and Valley Forge in three days. Suddenly we had to squeeze in a visit to General Hand's plantation house! After looking at the tour offerings (closed two days a week, which was part of the time we were to be in the area) I had it all figured out! We could easily tour his home and property in 2 hours. So we would leave our hotel in King of Prussia (yes, that's the name of the town near Valley Forge) and drive to Lancaster first thing in the morning, arriving as soon as they open. By the time the tour is over, it will be lunch time. Then we can spend the afternoon at Valley Forge. The next morning we can easily do Brandywine and then spend the afternoon doing the rest of Valley Forge. Perfect!
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We arrived at Rock Ford Plantation...to a wedding! The website said the house was open. I called the office to ask about hours, if we were supposed to start the tour elsewhere, etc, but I could only leave a message. We met the tour guide in the parking lot and she didn't even know a wedding was going to happen. So Saturdays are not the best days to go if you are on a tight schedule. The tour guide tried to talk us into seeing other area sites. I told her we found this place at the last moment and had to visit, because we *knew* General Hand himself! She was delighted to hear that, but still encouraged us to go to other things and come back later. But what if there is an afternoon wedding, we'd miss the house completely. She assured us there would be no more weddings that day. How does she know if she didn't know if there was a morning wedding? I'd rather wait. Besides we had driven nearly 2 hours to get here and still needed to tour Valley Forge and Brandywine this weekend, because we also *know* Generals Lafayette and Washington! She was laughing now! She decided to start the tour right there in the parking lot, while the wedding continued on the front porch of the house.
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Since we *knew* General Hand personally, she thought it imperative that we learn every single detail about him, so she began his life story in the parking lot. About an hour later the tour continued from within the house as the wedding festivities moved to the barn.

The inside is a typical colonial house layout, just like you'd see in Colonial Williamsburg, with a hall-like entrance and stairs. This "hall entrance" is used for English Country Dancing. She had us sit there as we relaxed, had some 21st century chit chat and leisurely reminisced of all the details of General Hand and the house. (We were going to be here for ever! We might never make it to Valley Forge before they close!)
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The house was built after the American Revolution in 1794. We learned every single detail of construction, furniture and knick knack. We learned about all the family members and descendants and then there were the 21st century bunny trails. (I was trying very hard not to fidget!) They did have Society of Cincinnati medals on display in the entrance hall.
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Upstairs we got to see one room that was unfinished so we could see some of the original construction, which my husband absolutely loved! There was even a bona fide water closet at the end of the hall which I've never seen in a historic house this old before. As we neared the end of the tour, more guests rang the door bell and we eventually all gathered in the basement to pay the fee for the tour. After that we all went to the kitchen to learn about every piece of equipment, etc, etc, etc. Then the husbands got together and my husband was told about all these Civil War places we had to visit in Front Royal, since we don't live far from there. Since it was a long list, the tour guide very kindly got pencil and paper for the man to write out all this pertinent information for my husband. We are not Civil War buffs by any stretch of the imagination, so I was surprised my husband was waiting and waiting and waiting for all this information. Meanwhile I'm thinking (um, Valley Forge?) That night at the hotel my husband found the paper in his pocket and asked me, "Why did that man give me this list of places to visit in Front Royal?" Then he threw the list in the trash. My husband just likes to chit chat. He didn't care about the list.
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While waiting I went outside with my son to visit General Hand's kitty.
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Finally, I dared to go inside to try to gently take his arm to slowly lead him out and he followed willingly! So we left them to continue their tour as we finished the tour on the grounds ourselves, after the extremely knowledge and super friendly tour guide bid us a lovely farewell. ( I really did like the tour guide, she's great! We were just pressed for time. You can see the chairs from the wedding held hours before.)
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We didn't learn much related to Gen Hand during the war, because this is a house tour and their focus was the house itself: it's structure, it's belongings, and it's occupants. Probably most interesting were the letters that General Hand and President Washington wrote to each other, including invitations between the two of them for dinner when Washington served as President in Philadelphia.

When you tour historic homes, the the tour is usually primarily about the home and secondarily about the family. We've done house tours in Colonial Williamsburg during Grand Illumination. One of the interpreters asked me about the history I learned and I told him I didn't learn any. He was shocked but I laughed and said the tours are run by the Garden Club, so their focus is the house itself, a few comments about the inhabitants, and definitely about the centerpieces they made! LOL Well this interpreter is so great he gave me some of the history in one of those houses I was in which was great! Just the thing I was looking for.

Even so, as the guide and my husband engaged in 21st century chit chat, I let my imagination go back to what I did know of General Hand, his contribution during the war, his time at Williamsburg in preparation for the seige on Yorktown...I create my own little tour in my mind and go back in time, imagining the person I've "met" through a book or through an interpretation and try to set the things I've learned in that physical space, to make the house tour more special.

Last weekend when we were at Jamestown, we saw the interpreter who has portrayed Gen. Hand and for the first time ever he stepped out of character to talk to us. I mentioned having visited this house and we had a good time talking a bit more about General Hand.

The tour guide herself really was a nice lady and great to work with. She did ask me questions about the interpreter who portrayed Gen. Hand. She has a real fondness for this house, as she should since she gives tours there, and was so touched that Colonial Williamsburg portrays one of Lancaster's own! So there really were great moments to the tour!

By the time we got to Valley Forge, it was 4pm. In the end, and I knew this would happen because I know my family, everyone was hugely disappointed that we never got to do much at Valley Forge, which was supposed to be a leisurely highlight of the trip. We are all glad we got to tour General Hand's home but because of the way things went, Valley Forge was overly rushed. The actual tour is of the house and can easily be done fully and completely in one hour max. Then you are free to roam the beautiful grounds, which can easily be done in less than 30 minutes. There was just a lot of 21st century chit chat...and then the wedding. This is a private foundation and most of their support comes through rentals for weddings and such, so that is a necessary thing. It is certainly a lovely spot for a wedding. But if you want to avoid weddings, during the week might be best to visit. I definitely recommend this lovely house to visit.

And a word about chit chat...normally I am quite open to chit chat! =) We chit chat all the time in Colonial Williamsburg where we have visited often enough that we can be more leisurely. In fact, most times at CW we are looking for things to do between programs! If anything I only ever pull back when I fear the other person (guest or employee) has places to go and things to do, which I completely understand. I don't know when my husband will bring us back to the Lancaster area, so I have no idea when we'll have an opportunity to catch up on the great things we missed. As with every vacation, my husband wants to visit new areas of the country, instead of returning to a previous spot, so I knew we had to seize the moment and use our time economically on this trip. With our track record, it could be 5, 10 or 20 years before we return to Lancaster or any other vacation spot.

Stay tuned for the on-going saga of Valley Forge and Brandywine...and our subsequent visit with "General Hand" last weekend in Virginia!