Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Richmond Holocaust Museum Field Trip

I teach a weekly U.S. History class to 12 teens and tweens in our Co-op.  We recently went on a field trip to the Richmond Holocaust Museum which I have to say is a fabulous museum.  In fact, I believe it's even better than the D.C. Holocaust Museum. It's fascinating, heartbreaking and very interactive.

Mikaela wrote the following article about our fieldtrip for The Voice, a statewide homeschooling magazine.  I'll let her tell you all about it:

The Richmond Holocaust Museum Field Trip by Mikaela
Recently, my homeschool co-op has been learning about the Holocaust in our history class.  In order to understand it better, we read The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom as well as The Diary of Anne Frank. We also watched the movie The Boy in Stripped Pajamas. All of these assignments were based on true stories and I felt like I had a pretty good understanding of the Holocaust, but then our co-op went on a field trip to the Richmond Holocaust Museum.  It wasn’t until I went there that I actually felt the true horror of that tragedy.
            The Richmond Holocaust Museum is located on East Cary Street in the Shockhoe Bottom area of the city.  Instead of going directly to the museum, we decided to take the “scenic route” there, so we parked at Tredegar Iron Works and had an enjoyable, mile long hike along the Canal Walk.  

Here's some street art along the Canal Walk

           When we arrived at the museum, our tour guide had us watch a video about the Holocaust.  The video recounted the horrific experiences of the Ipson family. The Ipson family were Lithuanian Jews who were rounded up and put into a ghetto, which was basically a Nazi- run work camp where Jews were forced to work long hours for no pay and very little food.   Most of the people in the ghetto died.  The educated professionals were executed outright because the Nazis feared they would outsmart them and rebel.  Many others were shipped out to concentration camps where they were also killed.  The Ipson family was lucky because the Nazis mistakenly believed that Mr. Ipson was a mechanic, so he and his family were not killed.  Instead, they used him to fix their vehicles.  Eventually, the Ipsons escaped from the ghetto and spent the next 9 months in hiding.  For most of this time, they lived underground in a small hole used by a local farmer to store potatoes.  At the end of the war, they were repatriated by the Russians and ultimately immigrated to Richmond, Virginia.  After arriving in America, the Ipsons started a successful auto parts business and used the proceeds to help fund the Holocaust Museum.  

             The museum educated us greatly about the Holocaust, but what I found most interesting were the exhibits about the concentration camps. I learned that the Nazis had literally thousands of concentration camps which were used to eliminate people they considered undesirable.  These included Jews, gypsies, mentally and physically handicapped people, as well as prisoners of war.  The exhibit had a real rail car that was used to transport prisoners, a “shower room” which was really a gas chamber, a crematorium, as well as a room that was a bunkhouse.   

 One thing I will never forget is the exhibit about the harmful “medical experiments” the Nazis did on the prisoners, even children.  The Germans did these experiments often just to torture people.  For example, they would seal people in a tube and see how much air pressure the human body could endure.  Or they would put prisoners in a bath of ice cold water and then put them in boiling water to see how quickly their bodies could adapt to different temperatures.  The museum had exhibits showing many of these experiments.
            The Richmond Holocaust Museum is not the most uplifting place, but I believe it’s important that everyone visit it.  The Ipson family founded the Museum to make sure that people never forget what happened and to ensure something like the Holocaust never happens again. I know that it worked for me, because I most definitely will never forget!

Catching Up

It's amazing just how fast time flies...I can't believe that it's already been a month since I last blogged about what's been going on in our lives other than the arrival of our new dog, Zeke, whom we may yet rename "Trouble"--a much more appropriate moniker (especially since we've had quite a few setbacks :-)).

Lately, life has been busy--but a good sort of busy.  Here are a few highlights of some of the things we've been up to:

Several weeks ago, Bob took Connor to Legofest when it came to Richmond.  For years, Connor has been absolutely crazy about Legos and Bionicles.  Each month, when his Lego magazine arrived, he was as excited about it as a 15 year old boy would be to find a Victoria's Secret catalog in the mailbox.  Unfortunately, I think those days may be just about behind us.  They went to Legofest, but Connor said he felt like he was almost too old to be there.  After about an hour and a half, they left and did the next best male bonding thing the could think of--they went to the theater and watched some movie about zombies.

Connor at Richmond LegoFest
Connor may no longer be obsessed with Legos, but he certainly has found something to take its place, and that is snowboarding.  I mentioned that the kids and I have been going skiing at Massanutten Resort every Friday since early January.  After taking 4 ski lessons, Connor decided he wanted to try snowboarding instead.  His friend Nick gave him a quick lesson--and that was all it took.  He picked it up right away and 2 hours later, he was at the terrain park trying the jumps.  Connor absolutely loves it and begs me at least several times a week to take him boarding.  It's fun to see him so enthusiastic about this new sport, but on the downside, I don't think I'll ever get skis on him again. 

Mikaela has also been enthusiastically pursuing her passions, many of which revolve around music.  She recently wrote her first song, "Better Off Now" -- which she played on the piano and sang at our Homeschool Group's Talent Show last week.  The song was really good--full of all sorts of teenage angst and heartbreak.  Mikaela did great!  To be honest, I'm in awe of her willingness to put herself "out there."  She got up in front of 80 people and confidently sang and played three songs--one on the piano and two on the guitar.  (Here's a funny side story--one of the songs she sang was "The A Team" by Edward Sheeran.  I have to say that I am terrible when it comes to song lyrics--if it wasn't written in the 1970's or 80's, I can't remember the words.  Anyhow, Mikaela and her friend Olivia were going to sing this song as a duet so about a week before the Talent Show, I suggested she sing the song for her voice teacher to see if she had any helpful suggestions.  Mikaela's voice teacher is a very sweet, Mormon homeschool Mom.  Anyhow, Mikaela began singing the song and for the first time I listened to the words and realized the song was about a drug addict who was prostituting her body to get money for her next high.  Let's just say that I wanted to crawl under the couch...Yeppers, we sure know how to pick the perfect music for some good, ol' wholesome family fun!

Anyhow,  I videotaped her performances with my ipad and if I can ever figure out how to download them, I'll post them here.

We also had another recent interesting "performance" experience--Believe it or not, the kids were videotaped by al Jezeera for a segment they are going to do about homeschooling in America.   One of the families on Connor and Mikaela's Future Problem Solving (FPS) Team was contacted by al Jezeera to see if they would be interested in having a camera crew videotape them for half a day.  They agreed and so the television crew came to the kids' FPS practice.   For this practice, both teams were working on their acting skills (part of the FPS competition includes putting together a skit about your problem and solution).  We had arranged for the teams to go to Collegiate High School and work with one of their uber talented drama students.  The kids had a ton of fun learning how to improve their acting skills, primarily by playing a variety of "drama" games for almost 2 hours.  

Here's a terrible picture I took of the al-Jezeera cameraman.  He was actaully much more pleasant looking than this photo depicts.

We've also been back to Woodville Elementary, the inner-city school where we volunteer every other week.  All 3 of us really enjoy the kids in the class.  They are so affectionate and fun.  In fact, the last time we were there, I had such a good time I left the school wondering if I missed my calling in life--should I have been a kindergarten teacher?

This little boy is a total character

And this little guy is just as cute and as sweet as can be.

We also had a recent "surprise" winter storm that dumped 7 inches of wet snow and left us without power. 

As a result, we had several downed trees blocking our long, gravel drive (which is about 1/2 mile long). Bob, the kids and I had the chainsaw out and were clearing away the trees when we came upon a downed squirrel nest that held 2 baby squirrels. 

Unfortunately, since we didn't have electricity, our house was c-c-cold which meant I couldn't plug in a heating pad for them.  So instead I wound up being a marsupial mama and kept the baby squirrels tucked under my shirt and pressed against my tummy until I could get them to a wildlife rehabber. They're still alive (yay!) and if they make it, Alvin and Simon will be released on our property.

And speaking of surprises, I decided to surprise Bob last week by unexpectedly showing up at his school with all of our cold weather biking gear.  It was a brisk afternoon--maybe 38 degrees, but we had a blast riding the trails at Pocohontas State Park for a couple of hours.  Bob said it was very romantic--as you can see, we're perfect for each other.  Who needs flowers and fancy dinners, when you can be out riding together?   We've also managed to squeeze in a few trail runs together.

After being afflicted with plantar fasciitis for the past 18 - 24 months, I am FINALLY able to run relatively pain free several days a week.  I have a long way to go before I get back to where I was, but it feels great to be back out there on the trails.

And speaking of trails, Connor and I (and about a dozen other people) spent this morning volunteering with MORE-Richmond (a local mt bike advocacy group), building a new mountain bike trail extension at the Scout Camp in Goochland. The Scout Camp has an awesome mt bike course that they periodically open to the public. In fact, I did an 18 hr mt bike race there last fall and also did some night rides at the camp over the winter. I thought it might be nice to give back. Fortunately, Connor is just starting to get "into" mt biking on technical trails and I'm really looking forward to sharing this passion with him. He also enjoys doing trail work--especially when he can wield an axe or in this case, a leaf blower. :)
In addition to the above, the kids have stayed busy with their homeschooling, playdates, sleepovers and a variety of other activities.  Connor received his "brown stripe" belt in karate and both kids recently spent a day playing paintball with friends.  Bob is working crazy hours--pretty much 7 days a week for now, but he is enjoying his new job.  Fortunately, I really enjoy mine as well.  This semester I am teaching four classes, including a new course I am building from scratch.  It's difficult and time consuming--but I am really enjoying the challenge and am learning quite a bit in the process.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Our newest "family" member

Just over a week ago, as I was on my way to "the dump," I saw a stray dog running down the side of a busy road.  Naturally, I stopped my van and to my surprise, he hopped right inside.  I continued on my way and about 10 minutes later, I noticed my new "friend" was beginning to salivate profusely.  Seconds later, he proceeded to vomit all over the front console--and I watched in utter horror and disgust as it rolled and dripped down the sides and into every small crevice between the seats.  (Yes, yet another critter we have who has severe motion sickness!)

We eventually made it to my house whereupon StrayDog immediately made himself right at home.  He ran into the family room, lifted his leg and promptly peed on the entertainment center.   Needless to say, he was quickly put outside.  I called our local pound who advised they were currently full, but would pick him up the following day if need be.  I replied that I'd keep him for a few days in hopes that his owner would turn up.  I subsequently e-mailed our animal control officer a photo and description of the dog.  As you can probably tell, StrayDog is very clearly a beagle/australian shepherd mix--he has a beagle's face and an australian shepherd's body and coloring.  Oh, and have I mentioned that he also has one blue eye and one brown eye?  (I'm a total sucker for blue eyed dogs...and llamas for that matter!)   

As the days passed, StrayDog began to grow on me...despite a few "minor" setbacks.  For example, on the first day, he ate the book the kids and I are currently "reading aloud."

I don't know if he can "Do Hard Things" but he can certainly "Eat Hard Things!"

The following day, he ate the pillow sham on our bed.


I won't even mention the dog bed, the bag of napkins or the throw pillow he's also managed to eat destroy.  Nor will I describe how I awoke one morning only to find over a dozen puddles of dog pee through-out the house--it was evident that StrayDog and Shasta (our 13 yr old husky/border collie mix) literally had an all-night pissing contest! 

Yet despite a few quirks, StrayDog is surprisingly turning out to be a good dog.  On the positive side--he isn't peeing in the house anymore and he's significantly cut down on the number of household items he's destroying.  He's also great with the our cats and he doesn't chase the chicken or other barn animals.  He  doesn't wander off and for the most part, he usually comes when he's called.  Best of all, he loves to go for runs!  I think once he gets neutered (later this month) and gets a bit of training, he's going to be a really great dog.  So much so, I think he's a keeper...and now that he's ours, he has a name.  Meet Zeke (who was almost named PEEter or CHEWbacca).