Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Vacation Day 4 - Boston (final day)

The day began again with a run. I had the chance to see a little bit more of the Emerald Necklace. I ran mostly on the side of the park opposite our neighborhood. It was a little bit more level and open then the side I ran yesterday.

As you can see from these photos, it's a pretty ideal trail for biking with the kids. Unless there's some miracle waking them and me up early tomorrow, though, we will miss a chance to explore it on two wheels.

Our travels today took us to two historical sites. The first was the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, which was about as outstanding as I had hoped it would be. After lunch we saw one that was more kid-themed, the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum. Those sites, really all the historical ones we've visited, leave me with so much to say I'll have to set aside time to post separately on them.

Sam and Caroline in a mock-up of a 1960 television debate studio. 

Tossing tea into the harbor. 
I belatedly reached out to my cousin, Ted, to see if we could meet up with him today and, as luck would have it, he was free. I haven't seen Ted in many, many years. In fact, I can't remember when I saw him last. He hasn't had the chance to meet my Sherry and the kids yet. He treated us to a 90-minute tour that included some points of interest we haven't seen yet (I was embarrassed to know that I had been to this city four times and was here on my fourth day and didn't know what Copley Square was).

The police car some MIT students reassembled atop an academic hall a few decades ago in one of their famous pranks. 

An intriguing building on campus (horrible angle relative to the Sun)

We ended our day with a trip to the Skywalk Observation Deck downtown. It wasn't nearly as high as decks I've been to in other cities, but it afforded a more meaningful view of the city than I might have gotten from a higher elevation. I liked what I was able to pick out down below. With the aid of Google Maps on my phone I could identify many of the sites we had visited in our days here. I was impressed at what they do with the space there at Sky Deck. There was a very good set of documents about immigration and Boston as well as a few brief but interesting film clips that oriented us to the city. Sherry and I realized from what we saw up there that Ted's impromptu tour of the city actually closed a few holes in what we had seen.

Looking East from Sky Walk
Looking west. Note Fenway Park.

A good map atop Sky Walk showing the changing shoreline of the city. 
The naturalization exam game show at Sky Walk. 
Tomorrow we depart Boston. We plan a quick stop at two or three sites before making our way to Bar Harbor.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Day 3 of Vacation - Quincy and Boston (brief update)

My single biggest takeaway from today is that we're staying in Boston for one less day than we should. Here are five photos offering glimpses at today.

Jamaica Pond . . . again. I got out for a run early today. 

We're actually all still smiling after our trip through the houses at Adams National Historic Site. 

Sam and I got goofy at the Pixar exhibit at MOS. We decided to make Jessie look like Ernie. 

The first dessert fail of the vacation. Okay, fail might be too strong a word. Kids weren't in to soy-, coconut-, or almost-based ice cream. 

She's much cheerier tonight. 
I'll have more thoughtful updates later. This is a great city.

Day 2 of our Vacation - Boston

Our first full day in Boston had us downtown nearly all day. We had a walking tour reservation for 10 am and resolved to ad lib our adventures after that concluded.

Our tour was a good way to start knowing the city, but I'm not sure it worked quite as well as I had hoped. I would've liked to have covered more territory on the tour, but I think that's easier said than done. Once down there I remembered how cramped the downtown area is. Besides, the tour guide had to fight crowds and noise enough in what he did do with us.

Burial Ground near the Commons. The guide did a good job providing context about the imprecision of the grave markers. Actually, he had some very good stuff to share about death in late 18th-century America.  
Sam and Caroline with our guide. 

The old State House and site of the Boston Massacre. 
The guide was very knowledgeable but a bit more sarcastic and dry in his approach than I wanted. In many ways, he reminded me of the guide that we had for Diefenbunker last August outside of Ottawa. But the irony and sarcasm there worked better. He was a historian though. He didn't simply deliver a script of things one could've learned through Google. He was providing context and presenting what was plausible about what took place. He was friendly, too.

The teaching I received at Gettysburg and Villanova was very, very strong concerning Revolutionary America. Therefore, being along the Freedom Trail is very familiar to me. It's one of those places that I can return to many, many times. It's also something I can do some tour-guiding of myself. I spent quite a bit of the time there boiling down the history for Sam, talking a lot about smuggling, the tensions between Redcoats and Bostonians, and what exactly happened at the Boston Tea Party.

The walking tour began at Boston Common, where I thought it would end. I was wrong about that. The tour actually concluded down by Faneuil Hall. We improvised lunch down there and then traveled to the New England Aquarium.

The Aquarium proved to be quite crowded, though not as crowded as that zoo we visited in Quebec two years ago (nothing will likely compare to that anytime soon in our travels). There were good exhibits for the animals there. Their penguins were especially good, as was the massive deep water tank that serves as the focal point of the aquarium.

A stern looking penguin. 

Caroline at the deep water tank. 

Sam listens to an answer to his question about fish diet. 

Sam worms his way in to touch some rays. 
There's a chance we wore Caroline out today. More walking than we planned. I'll confess to a penny-wise, pound-foolish moment of judgement: I parked for free on Beacon Hill! I couldn't give up the spot, which meant the whole family had to hoof it back from the Aquarium to the Common, which is a short but uphill walk. That walk, and a mishap at the splash park near the Aquarium I think Sherry recorded, might have been a bridge too far for a seven-year-old.

Massachusetts State House. Unfortunately one can't simply walk in and see the cod anymore. 

The 54th Maine memorial gave me a chance to talk with Sam and Caroline about the Civil War. 
We returned to the house in time for a quick dinner and then Sam and I explored the nearby park on bike. He and I found some neat stuff atop Pinewoods Promontory, a hill overlooking Jamaica Pond. The park has preserved the imprint of a large mansion that once rested up there. There are granite slabs marking the original foundation.

Sam surveys Jamaica Pond. 

My picture might not show well how beautiful the sky was that night. 

Mansion outline at Pinewoods Promontory.

Resting along our bike adventure. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Vacation - Day 1 (en route Boston)

Our first day ended up being almost exclusively a travel day. That's a fact for which I feel a little sheepish: Sherry had been pushing to get an early start and I wasn't able to get the lead out. I kept thinking that Google says Boston is a 5-hr. trip with no traffic. But it was naive to expect something other than the gummy conditions we experienced as we drove. We therefore didn't arrive in Boston until nearly 5 pm.

Of course, an arrival around 5 pm meant we still had time to find ice cream near our home.

The drive up was pleasant, though somewhat slow going. The drive through Connecticut from New York through to Hartford is quite attractive. Then again, that shouldn't come as a surprise given how smitten I can get with old highways like the Merritt Parkway.

Reference map at the rest stop we paused at after crossing the border.
I'm telling this tale out of order, aren't I? I'm saving the best part of day 1 for the end. Here it is: The home we rented in Boston is much nicer than I anticipated. 

In earlier posts I've admitted that I often get an uneasy feeling just as we are about to arrive at the place we have rented. Sure enough that happened again. Just blocks away I'm worried about the condition, neighborhood, the distance from what we want to see. But there's a chance this might be the nicest rental we've found in our years using Homeaway and VRBO. 

The home is a craftsman style home, approximately 100 or 120 years old. We're renting the first floor: three bedrooms, one bath, a kitchen, a dining room, and living room. The owner lives upstairs. (We've met her already: she's a wonderful woman.)

Entryway of our home.

Living room.
Dining Room.

A pretty private backyard.
We're situated in the Jamaica Plains neighborhood of Boston. Near us is a relatively large pond that used to be a retreat for wealthy Bostonians in the summer, or so says our landlord. That pone is part of a series of parks designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. And one of these parks is less than a block away. 

The neighborhood itself is quite nice, though it's not pretentious. Right near the lake are some massive homes. And about a block the other direction are some properties that look a little run-down. But the block we're on . . . I'd raise a family here. 

Unfortunately, our late start yesterday prevented us from doing much more than seeing the neighborhood that will be our home until Wednesday. I need to better apply that lesson Wednesday when it's time to lift our tent stakes and move to Bar Harbor. At this point I don't know if we'll choose to leave early and make it a Bar Harbor Day or stay late and steal one more day out of Boston. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Departing for Vacation

We leave for vacation tomorrow. It's a more modest trip than last year's. We're headed to Boston for four nights, Acadia for two, and then meeting up with an old friend in Portland on the way home.

I always get antsy on the eve of a vacation. What happens if our place to stay doesn't work out? What happens if the kids tire us out? What happens to the house while we're gone?

Truth be told, it's the perfect time to leave. This summer has been outstanding so far. In fact, it's been my favorite summer that I can remember. We're on the precipice, however, of getting into that summertime rut that makes us restless and wonder if we're squandering something special: time away from school. It's time we took an adventure.

Boston is the first stop, and I've actually been to that city several times now. This will be my fourth trip. That should allow me to take more risks on this trip in that there will be less fumbling around in terms of knowing what to do. Acadia, also, is a repeat of sorts for us. We stopped there briefly in 2012, just long enough to realize that it's not a drive-by sort of destination.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Mid-Summer Statistics


That was my accuracy on some Facebook quiz about how well one knows M*A*S*H trivia. I didn't even need the multiple choice options. This development gave me the opportunity to explain to Sam why Hawkeye Pierce was such a hero to me.


I found out today that Chik-Fil-A's policy is to permit only children less than 54 inches in height into their play area. Sam, as you can see in the photo below is well above that.

Caroline wondered if we were including Sam's hair in our judgment that he was too big to go into the play area, but I believe the determination was correct. I also had reinforced today that kid-sized meals at that particular venue are no longer acceptable. They're now getting the full-sized sandwich and fries.

Have you noticed that Sam's hair style is changing slightly? Starting this summer he didn't want it cut anymore. We compromised on getting it trimmed but allowing the top to grow out a little bit. I like the outcome.

Both of them are too tall for discounts at Bruster's, too. 

The number of college recommendation letters I've written. While the kids took swimming lessons, I rolled on through the list of students who asked me to write letters. It's really not an unpleasant chore, but it's a chore. It becomes an ugly one if left until fall. I liked the reminders of these neat kids and what I saw from them this year. I'm teaching six of them this upcoming school year.

As part of a group of friends, we earned six bands at the one borough pool. Our two pools have kids qualify for bands that signify the swimmer is qualified to be in deeper areas of the pool. Yesterday, Caroline earned an orange band for qualifying to go down Fourth Street Pool's twisted slide. About 90 minutes later, she tested for the green band to be eligible in the deepest parts of that pool and at Whites Road.

Caroline's ankles after earning both bands. 

After qualifying for orange yesterday. 

Taking advantage of the green band today. 

Consecutive days spent recreationally at one of our two borough pools. I'm actually worn out after the past two days' time there. However, it is nice that the kids have gotten to a point where I'm not needed as much anymore. I completed crossword puzzles three days in a row while they frolicked. I also engaged in quite a bit of diving board activity with the kids and their friends. That is what wore me out.


There are four different food / beverage items that I have prepared this week but won't be able to eat for weeks or months. First, there was a beer that I brewed with some new equipment for brewing outside.

Might be the most relaxing moment of the whole summer. 
But then I had to deal with the abundance of cucumbers from our garden, which led to me canning pickles. Pickles? What's happened to me?

Taken two weeks ago, just as the garden was beginning to grow out of control.
Oh, I know what happened to me. A deep level of relaxation. I think the most stressful thing to occur in the past week was wondering how I would synchronize the canning of these items before they went bad.

I also had to deal with the abundance of fruits we picked at Weaver's Orchard. Cherry preserves and blackberry jam. Canned them both.

This fruit-picking trip was actually my idea.

Battery life remaining on this Chromebook. Time to wrap it up.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Perkiomen Trail

In the epoch of my life that existed before kids I had the chance to bike several segments of the Perkiomen Trail. It's a meandering 19-mile trail that follows an old railroad path through the center of Montgomery County. It makes for pleasant biking, travelling a level path mostly through woods but occasionally crossing the roadways up that valley. I drive by and over it quite a bit, in particular when I'm traveling back to Elverson to visit Mom and Dad. It's been a dream of mine to bike portions of it with the kids. But I knew that I had to wait until they were able to do so.

Sam has probably been ready to bike portions of it for a few years now. A month and a half ago I never would have guessed Caroline would be ready to do so too. However . . .

Taken during our return to the van. It brings me joy to see how far ahead of me they were. I had to hustle to catch up with them after getting the camera away. 
I didn't put much planning in to today's trip. While eating lunch I saw there was a break in the poor weather. So I quickly put the rack on the van, loaded up the bikes, and told the kids "We're going." When we arrived I simply asked Caroline to choose between right (the Schuylkill River Trail) or left (Perkiomen). She chose left, I told Sam to take the lead, and we were off.

Sam doesn't necessarily like surprises. He asked me early how far I thought we'd go and I said, "I guess about three miles." He surmised a six-mile round trip would be fine and we went with that purpose. He did give me a punch on the arm when we came across this marker, showing that we had gone further than intended.

Obligatory selfie. 
I'm not sure we entered the trail at mile marker 0. I think we started at about 0.5 miles in, so our round trip was likely 7 miles.

The biking was pretty smooth. It started with a paved path along the swollen Perkiomen Creek. It briefly took us uphill on pavement then crushed gravel. After that, it was a straight shot through the woods. At a few points there was erosion that meant we had to stay a bit to one side rather than stay religiously to the right. Certainly it was more easily navigable than the alleged trail I tried to take at Delaware Water Gap.

Sam's worried expression as we took the trail that didn't really exist at Delaware Water Gap back in May. 
Typically Sam was out front and Caroline and I followed. There was only one tricky part, coming down the hill about 0.5 miles from the parking lot. Sam actually clipped the pole at the bottom of the hill as he turned onto the final paved stretch. But he had his bike under control as he was coming down so he avoided falling. After he and I debriefed for a about a minute I saw Caroline had really gone quite a ways up the path and I had to hustle in my attempts to catch up with her.

The path spends about one mile in a rather impressive (for this area of the state) gorge. I hope this photo of Caroline captures some of the cliff faces.

I've been spending quite a bit of time teaching the kids about the concept of right of way. I like how this sign clarifies the matter.

During our return I stopped and took a few photos of the kids moving on down the path in front of me. Here's a repeat of the one starting this blog along with another, without the zoom.

This is my seventh summer at home with my two kids and it's hard to believe we're at the point where I can do an adventure like this. I see that photo of them way down the trail and I can't help but think I've got a precious amount of time here where they're big enough to do these adventures, small enough to think of them as an adventure, and young enough to think of doing this with their Dad as a great way to pass a summer day.

Next time we take Sherry.