Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sagamore Hill

Sherry and I spent the weekend on Long Island. This trip represented a somewhat delayed delivery of a Christmas gift: two nights away so we could visit another presidential home: Theodore Roosevelt's at Sagamore Hill.

The President's Home
Certainly it wasn't our most efficient trip. We traversed Long Island twice on Saturday. We visited Roosevelt's birthplace in Lower Manhattan on the way home this morning. One considerable victory: for the first time ever I parked in Manhattan for FREE.

Our two-day odyssey. 
I'm not sure Sagamore Hill beats FDR's Hyde Park as my favorite presidential home, but, wow, it's close. The house is inseparable from the character of the man who owned it. The interior (which I couldn't photograph) is filled with the trophies he won in the wilderness and in diplomacy. It was a space that was both dark and alive, given the menagerie of artifacts and the heavy wood trim. It's almost as if this home has an unfair advantage over the other presidential homes: an effervescent tenant and family.

The warts, though, were visible. I was struck by how so many of TR's children struggled later in life. Alice was about as successful as a ne'er-do-well could ever be. Two of the boys struggled with alcoholism (and one of them took his life). Edith saw three of her sons die before she passed on herself. Engaged and loving, to his brood at Sagamore Hill, TR could also be domineering. And I imagine the anxiety of his children trying to live up to his example. 

I came across the grave marker for Quentin there. Quentin was killed in World War I when the plane he was flying was felled by German fire. Originally, Quentin was buried near the site of the crash. Eventually, he was re-interred next to his brother in Normandy Cemetery. The original tombstone, however, is now at Sagamore Hill.

Quentin's gravestone. 
One of the great surprises in my marriage has been my wife's recent fascination with presidents' homes. This is the twelfth we have visited together. I'm appreciative of how her keenness for doing these trips is giving me a chance to re-engage with some of my favorite stories in history. Sadly, we have now visited the last of the nearby homes. We're going to have to strike out further and to homes with more obscure owners.

So, I actually find myself a bit sad tonight. In some ways I wish I could forget I took this trip and do it over again. For 36 hours I got to travel with my best companion to see a site riddled with wonderful stories, and it might be a while until I get to take that kind of a small adventure again. And I am afraid that my second trip to see this home will miss the magic of seeing it for the first time.

Sunday, at TR's birthplace.

Fire Island.


The Girl Over My Shoulder

Did you hear that selfies make one's nose appear bigger?

No? Then maybe you want to read this recent article.

I've noticed the effect myself. Don't worry, faithful readers: no chance I'll pursue rhinoplasty. I'm too busy figuring out what to do with eye wear now that my favorite glasses of all time broke AND I decided to experiment with contact lenses. Just as some have faces made for radio, some of us have faces made for, well, wearing glasses.

Anyway, there's a funny side effect to this whole nose appears bigger thing, and Sherry figured it out. Take a look at these two recent selfies . . .

At Lincoln Center, early March. 

At Roosevelt Birthplace, two weeks later (but I'm still wearing the same shirt). 

See what Sherry figured out? If one gets behind the selfie-taker, the large schnazz of the selfie subject complements the cuteness of the one who lurks behind said subject.

These might be two of my favorite photos of her.

Thursday, March 1, 2018


My daughter turns ten today.

Caroline and I have a relationship in which teasing plays a big part. A canon of dumb tales will indicate why she's permitted 242 guests at her wedding, why she always gets served a butter knife at dinner, and why I can use the number 6 as a threat that will stop her in her tracks.

There are also some reasons why I cannot ever brush her hair, why I wear purple on Thursdays, and why, today, I didn't wear purple (or the contacts I'm trying to get used to).

The teasing has led to a long roster of nicknames over the years: Kabiddle (Biddler), Tulip, HRH, Emmeline Pankhurst.

As a gift though, I've decided to get her something money cannot buy. I'm going to tease her older brother, an individual who could use some help in learning how to be teased.

Here's the setup.

On the night of the Eagles' Superbowl vicotry I got a really good selfie with Caroline. I love it. Her smile can light up a room, and I love how this photo catches it in all its crookedness (Did you know we've started orthodonture?). So I gave this photo the ultimate compliment: I made it the lock screen on my phone!

It didn't take too long for the oldest child to notice this and, as the oldest child is wont to do, to demand justice.

Sam: How come Caroline is on your lockscreen? 

Me: It's a great photo? 

Sam: Why am I not on the lockscreen? 

Me: You want me to kick her off? 

Sam: No, no. I'm not saying that. 


Sam: But you should put me on the homescreen. 


I think I found a solution.

See, there he is. On the left. And there she is, with her great smile. Like she snuck into the photograph. I wonder when Sam will notice.

Happy birthday, Caroline.

Saturday, August 26, 2017


I've been very quiet on this blog this summer. Perhaps that is because it's been a summer not as filled with spectacular events as others. Our travels as a family were more modest. The pace my kids and I maintained at home was more relaxed. There is a little bit of regret that Sherry and I didn't lead the kids on some sort of big far-reaching vacation this summer. Then again, maybe it was good to have a summer where we didn't force a big trip: it might have sharpened our appetite for such adventures.

It was a summer, though, that saw us focus more on family, which is a very good thing. Our longest time away from the house was a week we spent at the New Jersey shore, something we had never done before. There were fourteen of us living for a week in Cape May. Though I can't point to any one thing we did that was necessarily postcard worthy, I can point to a week that permitted me a great deal of time with family members I don't see as often as I'd like. It was priceless time for my kids to better know their cousins. It was priceless time for their uncles and aunts to better know them.

My final adventure of the summer took me to McConnellsburg where I had the chance to visit my grandmother. Sam and Caroline came along. We also traveled with Mom, Kendra, and Miriam, the newest addition to the family. This was the first time Gram got to meet Miriam, and I'm glad I was there for that.

Gram and Miriam.
Caroline and Miriam. 
I can't help but think of the laughs we'll share someday when we see photos of one cousin holding another, reminiscing when the one was little enough for that.

While visiting, I had the chance to leaf through some photographs, and I encountered this one I don't remember seeing before of my grandfather. Pap died in March of 1990. This photo was likely taken around 1985. It captures his appearance very closely to how I remember him. There's no shortage of photos of Pap, but most come from his younger years. I'm glad to get this image of him and how he looked when I knew him.

Picture of Pap taken near 1985 at the plant he worked in Lock Haven. 

Only one problem with this photograph: he's not smiling. In nearly every other picture he's grinning, or laughing, or trying to suppress a laugh. This is one of the few I've ever seen with a serious expression.

This summer has been a helpful one for me in gaining the perspective of a family that has gotten this numerous. Eleven summers ago, there was one child, Sam, four happy grandparents, and a small but loving group of excited uncles and aunts. A proud great grandmother, too. Now, added to that number, is a sister, ten (!) cousins, an uncle, and a couple of aunts.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Playing with Caroline and the Camera

Sunset Beach, Cape May 

Caroline Boutique, Cape May 

Cucumber Falls, Ohiopyle

This pose works better when you hear her ask "How's your fannypack?" 

Reaction to dad joke. 

Good sandwich. 

With newest family member, Chuck. 

National Road.

Really, Dad.

Lecturing in the Japanese Room, Cathedral of Learning. 

Western PA and Roads

Mad I am that mulch covers the eastern terminus of the Abandoned PA Turnpike. 

Our vacation this year was a bit atypical. So much so I didn't really have a chance to blog about it as we did it, so this might be one in a series of posts about our travels. And those posts won't take report on our travels in chronological order. You've been warned.

We ended our vacation with a jaunt to Western Pennsylvania. And I'm coming to believe in the value of a Pennsylvania-themed trip every summer. Not necessarily as the vacation, but as an extended weekend trip. The state is vast and diverse and, of course, it's filled with a ridiculous amount of . . . wait for it . . . 


Oh no, he's about to talk history.

There were some hidden gems out west, among them Fort Necessity. Before leaving our cabin at Ohiopyle, Sherry suggested we check a National Park Service site off the list. I was split between Fort Necessity and the Flight 93 Memorial leaning toward the latter because, well, I thought the former was a rinky little reconstruction of an important event that would be lost on the kids. 

I was wrong. 

I was wrong, first, in that it wasn't rinky. Well, the actual site of the battle is. A relatively young George Washington led a small force of Virginia troops that lost a battle defending an improvised fort in southwestern Pennsylvania. The fort itself is pretty insignificant: a crude wooden stockade surrounded by an earthen star-shaped "fort." And that fort was burnt down by the French upon its surrender. So what's there is a reconstruction. However, my hat is off to the National Park Service for the reconstruction and interpretation of it. That interpretation included a couple of living history guides who fired off a musket for us. That interpretation also included a good visitor center that put the event in context. 

By the way, I have a recessive sweet tooth for the French and Indian War. It's a conflict I often forget about. Then I get to a site like Ft. Necessity and I realize a) how fascinating I find the era and b) how good of a job Dr. Shannon did teaching me about the era in college. 

Oh, and another bonus: The NPS realizes that the story of Ft. Necessity alone might not be enough to captivate the audience, so they added an interpretive center about the National Road. Okay, now that scratches another itch. It also helps satisfy the needs of a parent traveling with a daughter who, frankly, couldn't really care that much about the battle of Ft. Necessity. She and I had fun imitating the travelers at an inn debating the financing of the national road. 

We took U.S. 40 toward Pittsburgh when we were done visiting. That was the original National Road. On our return Sunday we took part of the original Lincoln Highway (U.S. 30) out near Bedford. Heaven for me, though at times slow driving. 

Interesting fact: the PA wilderness was so challenging in the late 18th century that a farmer wishing to sell his grain or corn to a market in Philadelphia would more quickly get his product there floating it down the Ohio and Mississippi then by boat to Philly than if he were to send it via horse or oxen directly east. 

Falls on the Youghiogheny River, part of that wilderness. George Washington ditched his raft before trying to go down this waterfall in Ohiopyle. 
The many attempts to traverse that wilderness led to some of our more fascinating highways and stories in our state's history. 

And it was interest in that wilderness that sparked a war between Britain and France, a war that lit a not-so-long fuse to our own revolution. 

Do you see the material I have to work with? Definitely worth a trip every year with the kids and Sherry. 

Some Guiding Principles for Eating while Traveling with Children

I don't normally complain on this blog. But there might be an unmistakable tone of complaint on this post. For it is here that I wish to outline Some Guiding Principles for Eating while Traveling with Children.

Note the two McDonald's Restaurant stops within one Turnpike exit of one another. 

Whereas I am a father who just completed a two-week period of vacation with kids and

Whereas just yesterday I drove with said family on a trip home from Pittsburgh and

Whereas I have a combined 20 years experience traveling with hungry children and

Whereas I have been teaching for nearly twenty years and have been on at least that many trips with hungry adolescent students and

Whereas I am a former employee of the food service industry

Be it hereby RESOLVED that . . .

One should not stop for lunch after 11:30 am and before 1:00 pm and

One should question the wisdom of offering a 9- and 11-year-old the choice of where to eat and

One should especially question that wisdom if the answer is McDonalds and

One should especially question that wisdom if said McDonalds is attached to a gasoline station and

One should expecially question that wisdom if said McDonalds is located across the street from a pleasant sit-down chain such as Bob Evans

. . . or Hoss's and

One should question the wisdom of a child making an order that asks said McDonalds to "hold" a condiment (i.e. ketchup) from one's burger, given that McDonalds model is built so particularly to efficiency and speed.

Thereby this parent resolves to be more active and less passive in plotting out meals at restaurants while driving on the final day of a vacation.