Sunday, December 21, 2014

Special Winter Update

I'm temporarily reviving this blog in a decidedly un-summery part of the year to update the followers of the family about what we've been up to in 2014. So, let's call this post what it is, a supplement to the Christmas card (which is about to be renamed New Year's card if it doesn't arrive soon). And for those of you whose address I've misplaced or never had, perhaps this will suffice as a means of knowing what has been going on here in Lansdale.

First, the kids. Here are my two favorite pictures of them from this year.

Okay, so you caught me changing my mind. In a web album, I indicated something else as my favorite Caroline photo. So, let me explain the change of mind (and, while I'm at it, the photo I chose of Sam). We've been fortunate to have schools for our children that give them chances to feel special. Caroline finished her Kindergarten year at Rainbow Express Preschool, a place that has been an academic home for our children since September 2006. I can jest a lot about how good it feels to not write them a tuition check anymore, but for all those years I knew the kids were in good hands. And I appreciate the care they take to have Kindergartners star in their annual musicals. Meanwhile, the photo I have of Sam was taken by a friend from a distance (some lenses there) at a school function. Some parents in the neighborhood put together an awesome night showcasing 2nd graders. The kids wrote books in their classes, and on that night in April the authors got to share their books with parents and friends of parents. The look on Sam's face in that photo is exceptional. It captures him wonderfully.

Of course, it wouldn't be a good blog post without a pair of silly kid photos. Here we go, my favorites from the silly division.

Caroline decided on this outfit while boys were loudly playing with Hero Factories in the house, and while dads were enjoying beers on the porch. 

Sam and the Cherpumple. 
Some big-ticket to-do's got crossed off the list this year. For instance, I really wanted to check out at least one new state park this year, and I did so with a brief trip to Promised Land. The campsite itself was okay (a bit rough) but the view along the lake (within footsteps of our site) and the bathrooms were top notch.

Hickory Run remains our favorite, and we were there three times this year, each time with a (at least slightly) different roster of friends or family. I think the multi-family trip in July, with us renting three adjacent sites, was one of the most fun times I've had in the woods. Almost enough to make me consider forfeiting the Grange Fair tradition in lieu of doing something like that in the woods with the family.

We stayed at 351. Friends took sites adjacent.

Now, that's a tent. Sleeps six comfortably. 
There were some enormous historical site items crossed off the list, too this year. In chronological order, I had chances to visit Gettysburg again (this time with a bike, along the Union lines), a first visit to the Tenement Museum (which was awesome: need to go back there with Sherry and with AP students), Diefenbunker (excessively nerdy fun), and the Henry Ford.

Sam, Caroline, and I pose in front of the Tenement Museum.

Sherry and I being goofy at Henry Ford. 

I really appreciated the rich cultural history at the Henry Ford. 

TVs from three generations on display at Henry Ford.
In between these adventures Sherry and I sneaked in trips to three more presidential homes: Jefferson's, Monroe's, and Wilson's.

The vacation this year was a 2,500-mile odyssey (in an Odyssey, of course) through Ontario and Michigan. I don't want to bore readers with details on it right now. But I think Sherry and I have conceded that despite its length and expense (lots of hotel stays and meals out), it was easily our 2nd favorite vacation ever. I take great pride in the excellent ability to travel Sam and Caroline continue to show.

The path of our trip, kind of. We ended up skipping the Erie part and instead broke north through Ithaca. 
The biggest trip in our family was undertaken by just one of us, Sherry. She traveled to Australia for more than a couple of weeks on business. She has the photos from that experience. I only have photos from the devastation visited on our house by her absence for that time.

Diets get unbalanced when Sherry is away. 

When I'm left in charge, strange things happen, like the appearance of towers of open tissue boxes. 

Utter, complete sadness at Sherry's departure. 

Caroline really liked the gifts Sherry brought back. She donned them immediately in apparel from a gifted box of fragments her grandmother gave to her.

We fared well in Sherry's absence though a few things, in particular, were hard. I dreaded dinners at home without her and appreciate all the help from friends and family to have us over for dinner. I also missed Sherry at incomplete family gatherings, like the July 4 activities down in Glenside. Friends, by the way, were enormously helpful spelling me, spelling Sam, and especially spelling Caroline. Also, our neighbor's granddaughter just happened to be staying with her Nana for a few weeks during Sherry's departure, and she provided invaluable babysitting services.

The Australia trip was the high note of a great year for Sherry at Vanguard. Life for me in Central Bucks was mostly positive. I'm having a lot of fun in the classroom these days, finding new ways to change pace with my teaching. I feel like I'm meeting with fair success warding off staleness.

My students' doodles. 

From a board game my AP U.S. students and I designed. 

Annotations from class. 
One friend retired and two other very close friends left for opportunities outside my district. I'm still struggling to replace their camaraderie. Otherwise, I feel happy and alive as an educator.

When we're not traveling or working we're living a good life. Church continues to be a home for us and I've enjoyed building on friendships there. I've been able to run a lot this past year, and am running for distances I never thought I would be able to complete. Perhaps this upcoming summer I'll see if I can pull off a ten-mile run. Sam and Caroline are both reading and riding bikes now (okay, maybe the bikes not right now because it's winter). They find a way to make me laugh daily. They're trying hard in school, which we appreciate. And our home continues to be a wonderful base for us. It's hard to believe we've been here now more than a dozen years. It'd be nice if it had an extra room, but I can't beat this neighborhood and the good friends we have here.

That's it for now. Thank you for reading. Have a wonderful 2015. And I'll resume writing on this blog in June.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The End

Well, that's over. By that, I mean the summer. By that, I mean this blog, at least for 2014.

Summer 2014 was almost precisely two months this year, a little bit shorter than normal. Storms created a school year that ended unusually late (June 25 was my last day) and Labor Day falls on September 1, which creates a new school year that ends as early as it can in my district. As of Tuesday, I'm back doing work that I love with 11th and 12th graders. Also it means Sam and Caroline return to York Avenue, and I'm optimistic it will be a good year for them. I was impressed at Caroline's willingness to attack works when she learned to read last year, and I'm eager to see how she does in the bigger setting of first grade. Sam is entering third grade, and I remember that my third grade year marked the beginning of a lot of great things for me.

Aside from brevity, adventures far away also characterized the summer of 2014. Sherry traveled to Australia for two weeks. The four of us traveled to Ontario and Michigan for another two weeks. Given that the summer was only about eight weeks long, one or more members of the household were on the go for more than half the summer. Was it too much travel? Perhaps. But I'll look back on this year as one filled with seeing some extraordinary places.

The place we visited that no photo can truly capture: Sleeping Bear Dunes. 

I'll also remember it for the trips not as far away that were just as meaningful. The kids and I got camping three different times, each of those times with friends or family. And after the big adventure in July to Hickory Run, it might be hard to convince them that it's cool to go camping with just Mom and Dad. We got a chance to visit Philadelphia, New York, and Washington again. By the way, we did that New York trip right into Manhattan with a 1:2 parent:child ratio.

Sam, Caroline, and I at Tenement Museum.
I can't help but chuckle when I think of the places where members of this family slept this summer.

Alexandria, VA: 3
Hickory Run State Park: 4
Promised Land State Park: 1
In our tent at Promised Land, July 2014
Over the Pacific Ocean: 2
Melbourne, Victoria: 14
Centre Hall, PA: 3
Ottawa, ON: 4
Sudbury, ON: 1
Mackinaw City: 2
Mackinac Island: 3
Traverse City: 1
Dearborn, MI; 2

I tried not to turn down any invitations or opportunities this summer, and for that I'm glad. I didn't get into school once this summer, which is good. Work intruded into this summer less than it did any other. I might reconsider how good that is on Tuesday when I have to teach again.

I wish I had seen the kids' grandparents more than I did. That is the greatest casualty of a summer filled with some pretty neat adventures. Also, the timing of our big trip was a bit awkward, and when we returned to Lansdale it seemed as if our neighborhood had returned to school year mode.

The final thing I consider as I look back on this summer is how much my daughter seems to have grown. She was the only girl in the house for much of the summer. And when we were on the go during Sherry's Australia trip, I normally had to trust her to go into women's public bathrooms by herself and she had to put up with a motor-mouth dad and a talkative big brother. Through that I see that she's grown into quite a young lady. Heck of a swimmer, too. So I'd like to conclude this blog with one of my favorite photos of the summer. It is of Caroline putting on a fashion show for a friend and I while we sat on the porch sipping beers as boys played inside with Legos.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The kids of a Social Studies teacher get dragged to museums

I guess the statement in that title is true for a lot of kids. But at least the kids of a Social Studies teacher get dragged to quality historical sites. Our odyssey (in an Odyssey no less) through Ontario and Michigan brought us to some of the more interesting historical sites I've ever visited. Here are the favorites.


This might be the most fun time I've had at a historical site in as long as I can remember. It's a four-story complex built beneath the countryside about 40 minutes west of Ottawa. The bunker was meant to be the home for the Canadian government in the event of a nuclear war, and could serve as such for 30 days until food supplies ran out. Of course it was never used. In fact, it became obsolete about 10 years after it was built: it was designed for an era of bombs, not ballistic missiles.

Projected casualties from a bomb dropped at the airbase near Ottawa.

A public relations room in Diefenbunker.

An office for public relations in Diefenbunker.

At a desk in the PM's office.

This freezer would've served as food storage for days 1-12. Then, it would've become a morgue. 

Tunnel leading away from Diefenbunker. 
The guide made the trip worthwhile. Sure, had we done the walk-by-ourselves route we would've picked up some interesting things. A self-guided tour would've generated some goosebumps looking at the period furniture and pastel institutional coloring. But our guide, Les, made the place come alive with his irreverence, rapid-fire recitation of the bunker's capacities, and fairly deep knowledge of what the facility could do. The museum was also bold and blunt in its quest to figure out ways to fund its operations. It rents out space for parties, retreats, and weddings (?!). It hosts Halloween-themed zombie events. It holds spy camps for kids. But, oddly enough, it didn't have a gift shop. I would've spent a mint at such a shop. I did, though, walk away with two mugs, one of which is one of the neatest mug I've ever seen (became a gift for my friend).

One of the greatest gift shop mugs I've ever seen. 
The Henry Ford

I was expecting a museum that was about half automotive history, half stuff. Instead, I found a museum that was about one-third automotive history (and that history stretched beyond just cars) and about two-thirds rich cultural history story telling. In some ways, they're doing some stuff just to impress (to wit, what is the chair in which Lincoln was shot doing there?). For the most part, they're engaged in a valuable story-telling endeavor. I was surprised at the exhibits on culture from the twentieth century contrasting living rooms and bedrooms across the decades. There was more there than I could take in in one day.

Kennedy's limousine. 

Ike's limousine.

The Holiday Inn exhibit. 

1930s era Texaco station. 

Three eras, three tvs. 

An aluminum home designed by Buckminster Fuller. 

The bus Rosa Parks made famous is at the museum there. I was surprised that they gave us the opportunity to get on board and even sit in the seat that Ms. Parks sat in that day in the 1950s. However, they do so because the bus has been extensively renovated (apparently vandalism and age ravaged it before the museum acquired it). Their exhibit regarding Parks is just as moving as is the exhibit at the National Museum of Civil Rights.

Adjacent to the museum is Greenfield Village, which I could've spent an entire day at. For the most part, the village is a recreation of an American town circa 1910, but there is an eclectic collection of other houses spread throughout, such as a southern farmstead from the Great Depression. I enjoyed being in the midst of Model T's sputtering around (yes, we took a ride) alongside omnibuses and Model A buses. There was too much there to take in in one afternoon, and after a little bit I stopped trying to hustle from spot to spot, confident that there's enough there to justify visiting again.

From our Model T Ride. 

A Depression-era home from the south. Newspaper is the insulation. 

Canadian Museum of War and Canadian Museum of History 

These two museums sit across the river in Ottawa and Gatineau, respectively. One doesn't quite associate war with Canada, so I'm a bit surprised at a whole museum dedicated to it in Canada. I was shocked at the number of artifacts there, my favorite being a Canadian-built tank that, while in use by Soviet forces in 1944, broke through a frozen river and remained at its bottom until recovered in the 1990s.

The Canadian War museum begins with an assertion that war is a behavior in which nations engage that gives them definition. I guess I never thought of it that way. It works the visitor through how conflicts with the native peoples, then with the Americans (War of 1812), and then with World War I (Vimy Ridge is an enormous source of pride) gave the Canadian people an identity. It was a very good museum to learn about World War I in particular though it treated other wars (including the Boer War) quite thoroughly.

Sam on the Western Front. 

We had seen the Canadian Museum of History before, when we visited Ottawa last year. It remains one of the better museums I've visited. Rich story-telling and good diversity of exhibits are its strengths (it's not really a showcase of artifacts, however).

Fort Mackinac

I was impressed at the state-run historical site on Mackinac Island. The fort there is a vast facility with a lot of well-maintained buildings. Though it changed hands a few times, no angry shots were ever fired in, at, or over it. They employ a lot of college-age historians as third-person interpreters and those interpreters do a good job showcasing military techinques and ways of life across a couple of eras.

One bit of historical cheese: an animatronic officer spots the approaching British. 

Late 19th-century quartermaster's storeroom. 

The live fire presentation on War of 1812 weapons technology. 

The Fort's properties spill over into the town below to a few buildings such as a fur trading shop as well as a period home and blacksmith shop. The blacksmith shop was more interesting than I expected, largely due to the efforts of good interpreters.