Monday, August 31, 2015

Well, that's over

Ready for the first wave in eight minutes. 
The above picture means my classroom is ready. It also means the summer is concluded. Sam and Caroline return to their school tomorrow. I have one day of teaching under my belt, which means another summer of Fridays is only 183 teaching days away.

I don't know how to summarize this summer, other than to say that I leave it stunned at how good, how mature, how fun of kids my Sam and Caroline are. They grew up a lot this summer. I trusted them with more this summer, and they rarely let me down. Other summers stand out for me in terms of trips taken or experienced, uh, experienced. This one will be the year I remember of my two children really acting more like big kids, and I mean that in every positive way I can.

Caroline's fall fashion show. 

At Woody's, Hartford.

Feeding Giraffes

We did finally get to that sixth city I forecast in a previous post. We called Richmond home for the final full weekend of Virginia, visiting our brother-in-law's new home, playing with a pair of cousins we don't see often enough, and sightseeing. 

Sherry got off lucky. No historical boondoggle this time. Instead . . .

the Richmond Metro Zoo

Honestly, I didn't have high hopes. Richmond is a small city. How good of a zoo could it have. 

However, they sold animal kibble at the gate, and allowed you to feed several of the animals as you visited. 

A few observations: 

An emu doesn't hurt one as badly as one would expect when feeding them from the hand. 

An ill-tempered pig will bite you, and it will hurt, when you aren't careful. 

Some animals are so ugly it's hard to imagine they have any redeeming qualities, even if they don't bite. 

Feeding a giraffe is one of the most entertaining and disgusting things one can do at a zoo. 

I appreciate how this zoo let one get fairly close to the animals, and for some reason many of them showed quite a bit of personality. Our three hours there were filled with more laughs than a typical zoo trip. 

Donuts with Dad

On our most recent trip to Richmond, I took Sam with me on a most critical errand: sample a donut from a different Richmond establishment. This time our destination was Sugar Shack.

My accomplice has the goods. 

There was a seventh one we ate. By the way, that blueberry in bottom right corner was one of the best donuts I've ever had. 

The chocolate donut Sam and I shared. 

For as good as the donuts were the trip is more memorable for me because Sam came with me. As we were maneuvering car seats for his cousins, Sam got to wondering when he would be allowed to sit up front. We tested him in the seat to see if the airbag sensor went off, and it did. When I looked at the manual, that seemed to suggest that he was heavy enough and tall enough to sit there safely. But I was bothered by the number 12, thinking that age 12 is when one has clearance to sit up front. So I did some digging: 12 is the widely accepted standard due to size (Sam's okay there) and the nature of squirming kids. Usually a kid younger than 12 will squirm too much for an airbag to be of use. So I gave Sam a stern warning about posture and we were off.

Before I'm cast out into the leper colony of bad parents, I'd like to defend myself. Nine years old is a precious age. I'm still a hero in his eyes. Twelve ain't so precious, or at least so I hear. Rather than wait until a ceremonious day on or near the first of February in 2018, when the pre-teen Sam might prefer the back seat and his iPhone (or 2018 equivalent), I'd like to welcome up front with me the wonderful, cheerful companion I have now. Sometimes the safety and risk has to be secondary, and the chance to capitalize on age and attitude needs to take priority.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My Wise Daughter

Last week Caroline proposed that she and I complete a screen-free day. I suggested we do so yesterday. Now it wasn't an absolute ban on screens (even the Amish use electricity). Displays, like the radio in my car, are obviously permitted. I used my phone to communicate via text message or e-mail. But she and I vowed to not use screens for entertainment.

I was able to honor the vow, though I snuck in one turn of Star Realms so my games against Gary and Ben wouldn't expire. Oh, and I updated my running app to reflect the run I took yesterday. Otherwise, I went without.

And when I saw the flurry of e-mails in my work inbox timestamped near 11 am yesterday, I realized how wise she was. There were a lot of urgent 11th-hour e-mails related to the start of school, some of which suggested I should go in today. Yesterday could have been so much more stressful had I not followed Caroline's advice.

Monday, August 24, 2015


I've had the chance to visit a good number of cities this summer. In fact, in just the last month I've been to six. By the end of this week, I'll have visited a seventh. Some ruminations about these cities follow.

Boston (late July) 

I like it. It's grown on me, a lot. This was my fourth trip to the city, and my longest. It's a bewildering town. In fact, I didn't even know where Copley Square was until my final full day in the city when my cousin, Ted, gave us a driving tour of the town. Even as late as the last day, I found myself locked in an orbit of just thinking left-right-left-right off of the GPS rather than seeing where I was going. I don't know how anyone navigated it before the era of the GPS.

The bewildering street layout is actually a charming aspect of Boston, so please don't take the previous paragraph as a complaint. My one complaint of the town concerns the disappointing beer options. I know it's the home of Sam Adams, New England's Yuengling. But I think being able to claim that brand has made the town somewhat lazy in cultivating such a culture.

This history of the city appeals most strongly to me. Being there is like watching a familiar movie in which my mind is humming with details and abstractions about the Revolutionary Era. This is despite the fact that a lot of modern construction interrupts the revolutionary era sites.

Our Boston home, the finest vacation home we've yet rented. 
In front of the presidents' home. 
The presidents' home.  
John Adams's birthplace.
Looking out west from Skydeck in Boston. 

And to the East.
Portland, Maine (early August) 

This is a city that has clearly figured out its beer scene as well as its dining.

It's been a while since we had such a good photo taken of the two of us. 
So, this muddy rudder at the SeaDogs was good but . . . 

. . . words fail me describing this ice cream sandwich.
We did a few goofy things in Portland with an old friend of mine, Rob. First, we visited the DeLorme store, home to Eartha, the world's largest globe.

Trusting elementary school kids with photography.


Obligatory selfie with Eartha.
We also hit a series of lighthouses so Sherry could get some more stamps in the book.

And, we took in some minor league baseball. Best beer at any ballpark I've visited. Again, this city has the beer scene figured out.
Caroline enjoys late-inning minor league baseball
Hartford, Conn. (early August) 

We didn't get to see the city's best sites in this quick visit. But we did an outstanding job with the dining. First, we visited a hot dog joint that was out of this world, Woody's. Sherry was brilliant in finding this hole in the wall, a place that provided our most fun meal of the summer.

New favorite photo of Sam and I.
The whole meal. Note the Moxie. The proprietor wanted to make sure I knew what I was ordering when I asked for one. 
For dinner we found an excellent brewpub inside an even more awesome building. Seriously, it was a department store I had studied in my undergrad historical architecture course.

Washington, D.C. (early August) 

I'm so fortunate I have family living here. I love all the things one can do in our nation's capital. Sam and I did get to the Spy Museum on this trip, which he enjoyed. Otherwise, I am coming to appreciate what there is to do in neighboring Alexandria. Next time, I'll get to an apothecary museum as the next spot on my obscure historical hit parade.

Pittsburgh, Penn. (late August) 

My fourth trip to this city was my favorite. I've never been to the city with the same configuration of people more than once: In 1993 with my mom, in 1996 (?) with a college ensemble, in 2005 with Sherry, and now in 2015 with my friend, Ken. I'm ashamed that it took me until my fourth trip to actually get into the downtown area. That city's downtown might be one of my favorites. The topography means there's a ridiculously compact concentration of high-rises. It's easy to walk the whole downtown in one stretch.

I guess what appeals to me most about the downtown of Pittsburgh is what it says about the brash, powerful young country that made it. Many of the buildings are relics of our great industrial era, and in that way it reminds me of Chicago. The numerous bridges crossing the rivers seem to brag, "Oh, yes, we have the steel for that."

Not exactly a spectacular view of PNC Park. It's nothing compared to the view one gets from inside of it. 
From Point State Park looking up the Allegheny. 
I'm not sure if PNC park was as splendid a ballpark as I had expected. It seemed a bit smaller than I would have liked. I prefer Citizens Bank to it just from the standpoint of architecture and seating. But the view of the city from the field is spectacular. And it's proximity to the downtown (we walked back to our downtown hotel in twenty minutes, or perhaps less) makes one realize the Philly might have really missed something big putting Citizens Bank Park in South Philly.

Richmond, Vir. (end of August) 

to be continued


An observation: I have not been as prolific with my blogging this summer as I was last. In fact, I seemed to hit a lull when our vacation switched over to Maine, and I didn't quite recover from it.

In some ways, returning from vacation was very anticlimactic this year. We received good news while away: a construction project that would turn our basement into a recreation room was commencing upon our return. However, that meant we had to immediately empty out said basement.

There was nothing fancy about our basement. It was something of a spill-over living space. Somewhat dark, somewhat humid, quite cluttered, it served as a place to assemble Legos, occasionally do school work, and store stuff. Emptying it meant turning our garage into a temporary storage locker (not too much of a loss, really). But it also led to a lot more clutter on our main floor.

The project is underway (more details in a few moments) and I'm eager to live in the finished product. But it's becoming a bit claustrophobic inside the house. I recently relented and pulled the Legos from their temporary storage in the attic (that made Sam and Caroline much happier) but that's pretty much rendered the dining room unusable to adults. Ah, tradeoffs.

Note the Costco pack of paper towels in the background. Where does one put the fruits of a Costco visit when the basement is out of commission?

Adults used to be able to eat and do work here. 
But we are excited about the basement. It's changed a lot since we flipped our calendars over to August.

After water mitigation.

In the midst of framing.

New rear doorway. 

Framing and insulation near closet spaces. 

New windows, framing, and insulation along our exterior wall. 
The hard work these contractors are doing is contrasting with the little work it appears I'm doing in the waning days of summer. One day, the young man who does landscaping for me appeared to care for a neglected tree in the backyard. I couldn't help but chuckle at how little I was working but how much three adults on the property were.

Our sugar maple after Nathaniel was finished. 
When I began teaching macroeconomics I found myself becoming much more at ease paying professionals to do things many would do on their own. I think, though, it's gotten a bit out of hand.

Sunday, August 16, 2015


Goodness gracious, how did we ever get up to nine nephews and nieces?!?!? Keeping up with the birthdays is going to be difficult.

Matt and Carrie's twins were born Friday. All is well. We had our first chance to meet them yesterday, and I had my first chance to carry a pair of twins simultaneously. Better do it while they're small (which won't be long: they're both well over six pounds already!).
Sherry with Tess. 

Me with Tess (l) and Ben (r).

Finally, I finished a project

I hatched a scheme back while Sherry was in Australia to make the one wall in our living room a display wall of some of my favorite photos of the family. Today, I finally got them all up.

Progress on this became herky-jerky after printing the photos. Finding the right number of frames for the somewhat random dimensions of the photos was tricky. Originally my idea was to finish this as a surprise for Sherry before her July 4 return to the States. I guess I wasn't even close on that one. However, a cool benefit to waiting was getting her help. Sherry and I spent some time last week sorting the photos on our dining room table, trying to mimic the positions they'd take on the wall. She also had some good ideas about matting some of the photographs. In many ways it hit her scrapbooking acumen.

There are some other thank-you's I need to acknowledge:

  • Our friend Becky supplied critical advice as to how to arrange them and how to affix them (psst: 3M Command). 
  • Our friend Ken who was happened to be the photographer of several of the photos. 
  • Wal-Mart for offering a ridiculously good deal on simple frames. 
  • Caroline for not losing it that the only LARGE photograph is of Sam. There's some serious grounds for jealousy. Unfortunately, attempts to blow a photograph featuring her up to those dimensions ran into pixelation problems. This is art, not Wreck-It Ralph. She's handling this with dignity and grace. Either that or she didn't notice. 

The idea is for this project to be organic. At some point (perhaps you'll see it here on this blog first) I'll cull some photos from this summer to add. There's room. Especially room to cover that spot to the bottom left that was marred by a furniture mishap.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Extra Room

This summer's big house project involves the renovation of our basement. Its a space that's never had a clear purpose. Too small to be a true extra living area but too big to be unused, we've often kicked around the idea of turning it into a recreation room. This summer, it's happening. Work began last week to mitigate the occasional water problems. Starting tomorrow, the contractor will put the walls up.

photo of the common wall where a drain pipe was being buried. 

Water mitigation in the utility area of our basement. 

After the drain pipe had been covered.

After cement work in utility area was completed. 

There might be some decisions we come to regret. For instance, we decided not to dig down which will inconvenience our future 6' friends. We also decided against re-making the back portion of the basement, which could benefit from a more attractive entrance way.

The goal, however, is to make this a place for the kids, and to do so while they're still kids. I'm coming to appreciate the preciously short time where they still want to play with toys in their home. I think it's more likely we'll look back on this project and say we did it a year or two too late.