5 Things About Mount Vernon That Surprised Me

This past weekend I had the chance to visit Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, for the first time ever. As you know, I always enjoy visiting historic sites, but I especially enjoy the ones I’ve never been to before. Why? Because it allows me the chance to share with you my fresh perspective of my experience!

With that said, here are 5 things that surprised me during my visit to Mount Vernon:

  1. It isn’t just a mansion and gardens. Okay, well that’s not something that totally surprised me. Mount Vernon’s website indicated that there were other sites besides the mansion such as Pioneer Farm,  the tombs, the Distillery & Gristmill, and the museum. I was, however, pleasantly surprised that Pioneer Farm, the tombs, and the museum were right in walking distance from the mansion. If you do plan to visit and want to see the estate in its entirety, plan for the trip to take a few hours. We spent approximately 3.5 hours walking around and completing the mansion tour, but still did not visit the Distillery & Gristmill.
  2. There’s an old tomb and a new tomb. George Washington believed the old family tomb needed some repairs. In his will, he instructed a new tomb to be constructed according to his specifications. In 1831, his body (along with Martha’s and the remnants of fellow family members) were moved to the new tomb. You can visit both of the tombs today.
  3. The front of the home is not made of stone. This fact did surprise me! The front of the mansion looks as if it was built with large, smooth stone. But it’s actually made of wood. Apparently when George Washington was abroad, he witnessed a process called rustication. He copied this process when he returned home. Painting the wood, sand was then thrown onto the wet paint in order to create a stone-like texture. This practice of rustication is still used when restorations/renovations on the exterior of the mansion are needed.
  4. An efficient but rushed tour. I was under the impression that the guided tour (we picked the 12:00PM tour time) would be led by one tour guide as we moved about the house. (Like in the style of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello or DuPont’s Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library). However, it turned out to be a “conveyor belt” style tour. As the line moved forward, the tour guides (who were stationed in specific spots) would share information every 15 seconds or so. While it was efficient (especially with so many visitors) I felt uncomfortable to ask questions or to stop and really take in the various rooms. With that said, it was still a delightful time and I plan to visit again in the future.
  5. It took George Washington over 30 years to renovate. Once George Washington inherited Mount Vernon, it took over 30 years to reach the appearance it has today.

Historic Sites Summer Bucket List

I shared in this post that a fellow intern and I sat down to create a list of historic sites we hope to visit in the Maryland/D.C./Virginia area. Below is a list of sites we’ve compiled. While it does set a fun goal for the summer, we are unsure whether we will reach all of our destinations.

This page will be updated when visits and reviews are completed. For now, click the names of the historic sites to see their respective websites.

Check back to see our progress!

  1. George Washington’s Mount Vernon – status: visited on June 10th, 2018. Review in progress.
  2. Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens – status: date set.
  3. President Lincoln’s Cottage – status: date set.
  4. Tudor Place
  5. Old Stone House (currently temporarily closed)
  6. Ford’s Theater
  7. Petersen House
  8. Anderson House
  9. Riversdale House Museum
  10. William Paca House

NASA Social

This past weekend I had the opportunity and honor to attend my first NASA Social down at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, where I witnessed the launch of Orbital ATK’s CRS-9 mission to the International Space Station. This two and a half day event allowed almost 40 participants to tour the facilities, be briefed pre-launch, meet fellow science and space enthusiasts, and witness the launch.

I had applied to this opportunity back in late April (the deadline being April 30, 2018). As an undergrad student who is interested in communications (primarily being able to take information and make it accessible for public consumption), and space (I began asking my parents about black holes when I was around five years old), I was intrigued by this amazing opportunity. Talk about witnessing history in the making!

The application itself was simple to fill out, and took only a few minutes to fill out. I received a confirmation that my application had delivered and was under review. A week later, NASA emailed me back saying I had been approved! I quickly confirmed my attendance, booked my hotel, packed my bags, and waited for Friday to arrive!

On Friday, I headed down to Wallops near Assateague and Chincoteague islands (Remember the children’s book Misty of Chincoteague).

Here is a brief breakdown on what happened each day:

Friday, May, 18th, 2018.

  • Driving to Wallops. I stayed in Pocomoke City which was about a 22 minute drive away from Wallops. (And Wallops is about 20 minutes away from the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge which is a great place to hike, bike, and relax on the beach.)

Saturday, May 19th, 2018.

  • Registration. Lanyard, OA-9 information booklet, and cute spacesuit wearing stuffed animal duck included.
  • Introductions. Name, occupation, and favorite celestial object.
  • Pre-launch briefing on what’s on board the OA-9. Yes, it was a resupply mission – meaning food and other materials were on board. But in addition, science experiments were included as well. For example, one study being included was cement solidification in space. (This study would be useful for potential habitable infrastructure in space.)

Sunday, May 20th, 2018.

  • Launch Pad OA Visit. We were able to be a few hundred yards away from the launch pad, the closest a civilian would be able to get. It was amazing to see the rocket in the light of day.

    Launch Pad.
    View of the launch pad. The water tower helps suppress the sound of the rocket during the launch.
  • Tour of the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF). Where the pieces of the rocket are brought together and assembled. After being assembled, the rocket is moved to a launch pad and raised vertically. It was neat to see the process, as well as have our questions answered.
    Outside the HIF.

  • Pre-launch press conference. About the launch, and what they hoped to achieve.
  • Lunch. (On the note of food, I ate at Ray’s Shanty every night during my time at Wallops/Chincoteague. It had great reviews, and wonderful seafood. In fact, I had the best tuna in my life there! Even if you’re not a fan of seafood, they have other options such as burgers, hotdogs, grilled cheeses, chicken strips, and prime rib.)
  • Range control center (RCC). It reminded me a lot of what I imagined mission control to be like. The RCC checks and ensures that the launch operations are in place. Once the rocket launches, the RCC continues to monitor it until a certain point. At that point, control is then transferred to another site.
  • Sounding rocket & Balloon research development laboratory tour.  On these two tours of the separate facilities, we were able to see where sound rockets were produced and gained an explanation of what balloons are and what the purpose of balloon research is.  One aspect that surprised me was the work that many universities conduct with the balloon research development team.

    Sounding Rocket Tour.
    Inside the sounding rocket facility.
  • Astronaut meeting. It was a honor to be able to meet an astronaut and hear about their experience on earth and in space.

Monday, May 21st, 2018.

  • Launch time. Since we were expected the board the buses at 2:30 AM, I woke up at 12:45AM in order to grab a couple of granola bars, my camera, and a sweatshirt. The Antares launch was scheduled for 4:39AM. I was actually a bit nervous since storms and rain were rolling through the sky. But the RCC confirmed that the weather was good enough for the launch, and the rain and storms ceased. What in particularly made me nervous was the fact that they pushed the launch back until 4:44AM, the very end of their five minute window.

The launch itself was absolutely incredible. We were about 1.8 miles away from the launch pad – the closest media could get to the rocket. After all the checks were completed, the countdown began. At 3…2…1…, I held my breath because there was a lag of silence. I was scared that something went wrong. But then the rocket began to rise ever so peacefully. It was beautiful. The noise then began to hit us only after it had risen, and the vibrations of the sound and sheer power hit us.

Launch time.
The rocket taking off.

Summary. Overall it was a fantastic experience that I would completely recommend to anyone who is on social media, and is interested in space, NASA, and technology. Not only did I gain media access, but I meet some incredible people along the way.

It was truly an honor to have been selected, and I hope to attend another NASA Social soon. What a historic moment!

Some of My Favorite Colonial Williamsburg Photos

Later this May, I will be back in Colonial Williamsburg (Huzzah)!  As my journey to Colonial Williamsburg nears, I wanted to share with you some of my favorite Colonial Williamsburg photos that I have taken and shared on my Instagram account. This is only a selection, and does not represent all the photos I have enjoyed taking during my time in Colonial Williamsburg.

DoG Street

DoG Street
Featuring some of the shoppes on Duke of Gloucester Street – affectionately dubbed by some as DoG Street.

The Tailor Shop

The Tailor Shop
The Tailor Shop. I absolutely love all the beautiful colors and patterns of the fabrics featured on the shelves.

The Prentis Shop

The Prentis Shop
The Prentis Shop.

A Garden Gate

Colonial Garden Gate
One of the garden gates in Colonial Williamsburg.

A Well

A well
One of the wells in Colonial Williamsburg.

In the Gardens of the Governor’s Palace

In the Governor's Palace Gardens
A photo taken in the Governor’s Palace gardens.


Boxes outside the James Craig Jeweller Shop.

The People of Colonial Williamsburg:

The Tailor

The Tailor
The tailor.

A Colonial Lady

A Colonial Lady
A photo of Mairin, a colonial lady. I had the pleasure of meeting her during my last visit to Colonial Williamsburg.

Martha Jefferson

Mrs. Martha Jefferson
I was fortunate enough to meet her and Mr. Thomas Jefferson last Fourth of July.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson
Mr. Thomas Jefferson with the Declaration of Independence.

The Harpsichord Maker

The Harpsichord Maker
The harpsichord maker in the Cabinet Maker Shop.


My Book Problem & Summer Reading List

Currently I am at home, typing away as I work on some of my last papers and assignments. Home presents a variety of comforts including my mum’s cooking, the ability to ditch my shower shoes in my dorm room, and being reunited with my cat and dog (the last point I would like to emphasize since college students tend to miss their pets very much).

Every time I return home and enter my bedroom, I am confronted with the ever growing pile of books. The latest stack includes ancient classical literature from authors such as Homer and Sophocles, as well as the variety of texts I utilized for the Modern Australia course.

Works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are stacked on the corner, and the various texts that were employed during my British history days accompany Lewis & Tolkien. Books I purchased this past winter include Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera, William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Biographies are also neatly stacked near the rocking chair in my room: a biography each on John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Patrick Henry, and Abraham Lincoln. In fact, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals can perhaps be the first biography I ever received.

“These” I say to myself, “are the books that are the foundation to my future library.” Excuse me while I think about the having a private library in my future home. (Insert dreamy sigh here.)

Indeed, I tend to keep all of the books I have ever used in college – even my macroeconomics textbook. But isn’t there something about books – in particular well-loved books – that just seems so lovely? I may have read Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice many times –  and the 2004 movie even more – but I still pick it up, brew myself a cup of tea, and read it on a rainy summer’s day.

Here are five books in particular I would like to read this summer:

  1. Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South: I stumbled upon the BBC production of North and South starring Richard Armitage (who would later play Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit). The chemistry between the main characters, Margaret Hale and John Thorton, is absolutely amazing and the series is completely captivating. (Would totally recommend for those who like Pride & Prejudice, BBC, or British period romantic dramas. I have not, however, gotten the chance to read the novel. I would like to remedy this during the summer, and perhaps discuss the differences and similarities that appear between the novel and series adaptation.
  2. Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power:  A biography on Jefferson written in 2012. Last time I was in the Colonial Williamsburg bookstore, this was noted as a staff favorite. As someone who is intrigued by Jefferson, I purchased it but have yet to read it.
  3. Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life: A biography on Washington written in 2010. This was also featured in the Colonial Williamsburg bookstore last time I was there, which motivated me to purchase it. After reading the chapter on Washington in Gordon Wood’s Revolutionary Characters, I eager to learn more about Washington. (As I mentioned in one of my posts, Wood’s Revolutionary Characters was a delight to read – and a fun, accessible read in my opinion.
  4.  Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia: I purchased this novel about a week or so after it first came out. I was originally hesitant since I read mixed online reviews, but in the end my love for a potential Downton Abbey-ish story convinced me to purchase it.
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings: Okay, this is slightly a repeat since I read The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring during my first year in college. But I have yet to finish the series, or other works such as his Unfinished Tales, and the Children of Hurin.

Q: What books are on your summer reading list? 

6 Skills I Have Learned as a History Major

A short, sweet, and to the point list of six skills I have learned as a history and classics double major.

  1. The ability to think critically. 
  2. The ability to communicate effectively through both the power of speech and the written word. My history courses have offered me various opportunities to foster and improve my presentation skills, as well as my writing skills.
  3. The ability to analyze material. Journal articles and books are the main secondary sources I use as a history major. In regards to primary sources, I have been fortunate enough to have some incredible experiences such as reading World War II era letters, pouring over college history documents, conducting a 90 minute interview that became a part of an oral history collection, and reading colonial era newspapers via microfilm.
  4. The ability to conduct research on a specific theme or topic.
  5. The ability to format a clear thought or argument. Crafting a clear, concise and original thesis statement takes critical thinking, revision, and even more revision. In fact, I consider writing the first paragraph of a paper the most difficult part. However, forming a thesis statement becomes easier with practice, and as a history major I am given ample opportunity to practice.
  6. The ability to understand why a specific event occurred. Yes, the American Revolution happened, but why did it happen? What policies, attitudes, ideas, people, and prior events led to the American Revolution? What was the aftermath of the American Revolution, and how did it shape – and continue to shape – future historical events?

Normandy: Preparation & Travel

It should be explained clearly that I am by no means a World War II expert. I remember covering it in AP US History during my high school years. In one of my college history courses I had transcribed a World War II letter collection, following the journey of a soldier who was put into a German POW camp. In another course, I had written about World War children’s literature (what can I say, I love C.S. Lewis & A.A. Milne). But that was about it. I had never taken a course just about World War II – nor could I recite numerous facts, dates, or statistics about World War II.

In order to strengthen my knowledge of basic information (e.g. 1939-1945, D-Day was on June 6, Allies vs. Axis, etc.) I spent some time researching and reading about World War II prior to the trip. As I shared in an Instagram post, I purchased Ambrose’s D-Day and Band of Brothers. I watched documentaries, looked at historical pictures, and used resources from my university’s library. I was still no professional scholar on World War II or even D-Day, but I felt more comfortable with the subject.

And somehow, the day finally drew near. On Friday,  March 9th, I found myself on a plane ready to take off for the seven hour flight to France. Opening this paragraph with that sentence may suggest that it was some kind of fluke I was traveling to France. It really wasn’t. This trip had been planned for a couple of months, but the reality that I was actually traveling internationally to Europe for the first time didn’t feel like reality. Maybe it was because I had just finished a final only a couple of hours ago.

Regardless, here I was traveling to France! Suitcase packed, raincoat in hand, euros exchanged, and camera ready, seven hours later I found myself in France 7:00AM in the morning. (Remember the time difference!) Jet lagged but nevertheless excited, I landed in Paris and drove to Bayeux, Normandy – one of the few villages that was not totaled in the area during World War II.

The first day in France, I was able to walk around Bayeux and explore. Like I stated before on my Instagram, it is a charming place and easily reminds me of the village from Beauty and the Beast. The chapel is gorgeous and can be easily seen if one just simply looks up from whatever street they are on, and a watermill can be found in the town. Tourist shops can be located on several streets, and cobblestone streets can be found everywhere (insert drool here).

By making myself stay up until the evening, I was able to adjust to the time difference more quickly than if I had taken a nap at some point during the day. Exhausted, I climbed under the covers and was out instantaneously.