Sunday, January 1, 2017

Favorite Photos from 2016

The year 2016 was one of the most rewarding for me as a husband and father. Here's some photographic evidence.

We were hit by only one snowstorm in 2016. It was deep. It was beautiful. Coming on a Saturday, it didn't disrupt our lives too much, simply led to a peaceful and enjoyable weekend. 

The home of one of America's worst presidents was a side trip on our annual weekend with the Kosters. Sherry and I have continued our tour of presidential homes. Buchannan's was the only one we visited in 2016. 

Stephen spent a lot of 2016 with us as he finished his senior year at North Penn. Uncles get few opportunities to spend time with nephews; in this way 2016 will remain a precious memory. 

A general store? The Landis Valley Museum was another side trip for us on another weekend in Lancaster, this time with Andrew, Amy, and their family.

My days as an orchestra dad started in May with a trip to Dorney. The minivan, by the way, has a good 84,000 miles on it at years end and has proven to be a wonderful family hauler. 

Caroline competed in her first ever Iron Knights Triathlon. She also lent her bike to her brother when a flat tire threatened to end his day early at this annual event, one of the neatest I've ever seen a public school conduct.  

A successful return to one of my favorite places of my youth, Knoebels Park. Still one of the finest amusement parks around. 

We can explain, really we can. 

An outstanding fireworks display made a short trip to Pittsburgh all the more special. 

I'm thrilled that my children get as excited by historical places as they do. This was Sam on the final day of an exhausting tour of England. 

She's *this close to smiling. My niece, Lilith, and I share a moment in the backyard at Mom and Dad's. We now have nine nephews and nieces, with a tenth expected in spring of 2017. 

Sam handled the broken pinkie much better than I expected. It was our biggest medical scare of the year. We're lucky. But it is amazing how costly a broken pinkie on the non-dominant hand can be. 

I'm still obsessed with camping and now dream of someday getting one of these Crickets. 

Wow, our girl is growing up. Here's Caroline on the day of her dance performances at the local mall. It's also the first time since we can remember that she wore jeans. She liked posing in them. 
Happy New Year, readers. May 2017 be a year of joy and good health.

Sunday, November 20, 2016


I finally got inside one. I'm in love. It's a Cricket!

I foolishly took this shot after the roof had been lowered. 

At the back of the trailer. The back wall lifts, though. Seriously, it does. 

The bunk that claims to support 130 pounds of kid! There are two in the model I looked at, each hanging above the v-shaped (or should I say heart-shaped) double bed for parents. 

Now that's a small kitchen. 
So, I'm smitten with what is essentially an aluminum, tow-able tent. Probably $20-$21,000 is too much to pay for such a thing. But it's so awesome. And now my head is filled with the dreams of simply backing into a spot at Hickory Run, popping the top, and having an instant outdoor home.

Oh, and I think it's small enough I could even fit it in my garage. That is, I could fit it in the garage if I could somehow figure out the angle that would allow me to get in there in our alley.

The saleswoman was skeptical that I was thinking about towing it with the purple Honda Fit I drove to the dealership. Fear not, I said, I have a minivan.

I've seen so few other poor uses of money that seem so fun. I want it. I don't care if I'm not quite in the target demographic (seriously, check out the site: their models look a lot younger, less clean-shaven, and more granola than Sherry and I). I want it. Christmas isn't far away. One only lives once.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Odyssey in an Odyssey (2017)

The newest addition to our kitchen is the 16-month calendar from the Pennsylvania State Parks and Forest Foundation. It's a much more adequate calendar for our kitchen than the free one we got from Gettysburg College which, for 2016, seemed to be trying too hard in its photographs. Now, though, as the weather gets colder and the family and work schedules less forgiving, I'm taunted by photographs of beautiful parks I want to visit.

Salt Springs is this month's temptation. 
The calendar got me to thinking, could I get to all sixteen parks during the time this calendar is hanging on our wall? A park a month might seem too ambitious. However, I could exclude from the list the parks I've already visited, so that would make this quest more doable.

That's Shades of Death Trail!
So, I got to thinking. What about a road trip that would take us through the parks on the calendar that we haven't yet visited. If we did that, here's what the trip would look like:

This 700-mile trip has been arranged for efficiency. It doesn't include the trip home, which would tack on a mere 268 miles to this odyssey.
Setting up and taking down campsites at nine state parks seems like a poor use of our time. Obviously, we'd have to simply stop and see some of the parks. Neshaminy, for instance, might be worthy of a quick hello rather than an overnight stay. Bald Eagle, too, might just get the drive-by as we make our way from Raymond B. Winter to Cook Forest. The tough call would be whether to stay the night at Cook Forest or Moraine.

To further minimize the time and effort consumed by setting up and taking down, we'll obviously require a camper. However, I don't want to get something that would tax my minivan as we traverse the Commonwealth's countryside. Good thing that I know of a place that sells Cricket trailers nearby.

This daydream is becoming expensive.

And I interrupted this blog to look more at the TaxaOutdoors website and I'm seeing other ways to spend money there.

Our family took what has proven to be our favorite vacation last year to England. But trips to England are expensive and we had resolved to be more frugal with our vacationing in 2017. It would appear as if a relatively inexpensive wall calendar is tempting me to backtrack on that resolution.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The First Family Fracture

So the streak ends at 10 years, 8 months, and 14 days. That's how long Sherry and I made it as parents before we had our first fracture.

Sam injured his left pinkie breaking his fall during a game of tag at the park. In the grand scheme of things, not that terrible of an injury. As you can tell from the photos below, his mood increased considerably as we waiting for the conclusion of treatment at the ER.

Just after taking a dose of Tylenol.

After the dose kicked in, and after seeing the X-Rays we were able to joke more about it. 
Sam was a trooper at the hospital. Didn't accept the offer for a shot that would numb the injury. Held in there during the setting of it. Polite with the staff. And we had the chance to make good conversation as we waited out our stay. We were there for three and a half hours.

Sam cried when the injury first occurred but didn't again until he saw the well wishes back at his uncle and aunt's home upon his return.

On a more somber note, this was my first trip that I can remember to an ER and I couldn't help but think about how sad of a place it can be. Sam and I had it easy. A fixable injury that was obviously the result of innocent play. Father with son. Father has insurance coverage. Kid has a good attitude about the situation. Pretty clean incident. But as we waited I couldn't help but overhear the difficult cases that came in: the hurts that aren't so fixable, the patients for whom the means isn't there, the woes that could have been combated more easily at an earlier stage. It's humbling.

By the way, no less than six medical professionals were involved in this one visit to the ER. Number seven (the orthopedist) will see Sam tomorrow when we figure out how to expedite the healing.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Hampton Court! That's what I forgot to write on!

Our penultimate day in England featured a trip to Hampton Court. It's the day I'll remember as the day Sam hit his wall of fatigue. That being said, the way a 10-year-old expresses fatigue is a lot easier to deal with than the way I remember he and Caroline doing so when they were younger. In fact, both of the kids held up very, very well on this long trip.

I should point out, though, that I dealt with fatigue, too. I was darn near impossible to deal with regarding dinner when we arrived in Windsor late Thursday, insisting that we had to eat at Pizza Express, figuring it was a chain I could rely on after a long day of travel.

We had a tough call to make on Friday of our trip. Our original plan had been to visit Legoland Windsor, but the online materials made it seem as if it was too kiddish for our biggest amusement park fan. So we then had a choice of Chartwell, Windsor Castle, or Hampton Court. We opted for Hampton Court.

And it was splendid, but may have been palace overkill. It was the third one we visited. Here are some photos.

So, let me get off my chest an irritation at this site. This was one of about five sites where we had a portable, hand-held audio guide. Generally, it was good. But it required one to move sequentially through the narrations, offering few numbered locations so one could quickly find the track for where one should be if you got out of sequence. Also, they didn't recommend having an adult on the adult one and a child on the child one ("You'll be unable to stay together"). These were minor annoyances which goes to say that I learned from England that . . .

Stuffy old museums have a great ability to be un-stuffy with a little bit of ingenuity.

Generally, I was impressed with the museums we visited in England. These institutions are blessed with places that could just speak for themselves. Charge admission, have people walk around and look at old, then move on their way. However, virtually every place we visited figured out a way to engage. Lyme Park might have done this best, what with the Edwardian apparel they let visitors wear and the archery lessons for kids. The Roman Bathhouse in Bath had a superb kids' version for the audio guide. Parliament and Westminster did too. Two museums we visited offered lunch rooms for families who packed, and the British Museum even had a family locker room / bathroom / table arrangement. Hampton Palace had a troupe of actors who gave a fairly accurate, kid-appropriate dramatization of Henry's marriage and divorce to Catherine of Aragon. There was a genuine effort to make the museums and historic homes we saw somewhat kid friendly.

Hampton Court did impress me. They permitted us to see and get into more spaces than I expected. The guides who watched over the rooms would, when prompted, share a great deal of knowledge with you. Though the palace is most famous for its link to Henry VIII, a guide in one room talked at great length about William of Orange's legacy as king. While he was doing that, Sherry was getting a good earful from another guide about the constant relevance of the monarchy in Britain.

In short, I had the privilege of seeing a lot of sites that showed evidence of a lot of care and thought by their staffs.

Wait a minute

I wrote a post on York and forgot I wrote a post on York. That was silly. I guess my readers can choose which one was best.

Between London and Bath

We've been home from England now for nearly two weeks, and two weeks has passed since we left York for Windsor. This modest anniversary reminds me that I did little posting about our adventures after leaving London but before our final day. Though York was quite nice, our stay there didn't afford me good chances to blog about our adventures. When we left York, there were some challenges with cell phone reception and battery life that challenged my ability to post as well. Then, of course, there was the fatigue-from travel factor as well. Here's a belated update. 

Sam at the photo-stop version of Platform 9 3/4. 

The real Platform 9 3/4 probably looks more like this. 

Sherry and Caroline on the trip to York. 
We left London early Monday. The staff at Dolphin House assured us that the Tube was the best was to get to that station, and they were right. The train ride was, well, civilised. Britain de-nationalized the trains, which means for-profit companies run the system. Virgin runs this line, and we had reserved seats around a table. The ride was quick. It was pleasant. Nothing to complain about.

We lunched in front of these ruins. 
We arrived in York around lunch time and picknicked in the gardens outside York's museum. We were on the look out for supposedly ravenous squirrels, but apparently they were so well-fed they didn't beg for food.
Display of boys' luggage set for a trip to Preparatory School at National Railway Museum. 
Our first site in York was the National Railway Museum, which was a very good museum. However, it had the unintended effect of making me quite homesick. First, it reminded me a lot of the good railway museums I've seen in Pennsylvania: a little bit like swirling together Steamtown and the Railroad Museum in Strasburg. It's funny how steam-era railroads pretty much smell the same on both sides of the pond. Secondly, seeing engines, cars, and destinations native to England made me realize how little of the country's geography I knew and made me wish for some U.S. companies and destinations. I purposely spent most of my time there looking at the excellent displays about station culture: luggage, ticket purchasing, and other aspects of being a passenger.
Caroline at York Minster.
Tower at York Minster.
After our museum adventure we wandered over to York Minster, the cathedral of the town. It might have been Sherry's favorite site (after Tower of London). Sam enjoyed it a lot too. In fact, the Minster kindled some sort of dormant appreciation for sculpture in the boy. The Minster meant so much to them that the two of them returned later in the trip for a guided tour of the tower.

We might have had our best meal of the trip in York at Mr. Chippy's. Fantastic fish and chips that will someday fatten the wallet of my yet-to-be-named cardiologist. Also, I found my favorite beer in England there. Oh, and the waiter gave us a great tip for where to eat the next night, York Roast Co.

Along the fortifications.

Display at Castle Museum. Nineteenth-century farm house. 

Display at Castle Museum. Dresses (Caroline's request).

Display at Castle Museum. Victorian era street scene. 

Display at Castle Museum on food preparation. Food preparation?!?!?

Roman era human remains. 
York's museums, as did the museums throughout our trip, impressed me. We visited the Castle Museum on our second morning and found out the name was a misnomer. It had little to do with any castle. It had everything to do with telling the life of ordinary people over the decades in York. Very well done. Lot more in there than I expected. In the afternoon we visited a kid-centered museum called Dig which meant to replicate an archaeological dig in York. It's an offshoot of the Jorvik Viking Centre, which is unfortunately closed due to a recent flood.

Sam lost two teeth in York. Here's #1.

Our hotel.
Our accommodations in York featured the only hotel of the trip. Very nice place, though small to Americans. It featured lots of Churchill images, a cigar bunker (in which I did enjoy a beer one night) and an outstanding breakfast each morning. I'm still mourning the loss of English breakfasts now that I'm back home. My attempts to make them upon returning didn't survive our first week back.
Clifford's Tower, what remains of York's castle. 

Atop Clifford's Tower, what remains of York's castle. 

Clifford's Tower, what remains of York's castle. 

The York Minstermen's pitch. 
Our final day in York was a relaxing one, though I noticed it was the day Caroline seemed to wear down (Sam had his own fatigue day . . . see the next post). In retrospect, I wish we had gotten the car one day earlier so that on the last day Sherry and Sam could have seen more of York on foot, which they did, and Caroline and I could have driven to something worthwhile outside of town. I forget how a car ride can be a refuge for a kid on a trip . . . a time when they don't have to walk or follow or wait or exert. They can simply move and zone out while the parents do the work. 

More late.