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.

Thursday, July 20, 2017


I've noticed a trend in what I wear regarding headwear.

Left-most Phillies hat: this is for grungy jobs outside
Middle Fightin' Phils hat: default I'm going out with kids, might be a little dirty hat
Right-most IronPigs hat: an occasion that will likely be clean and neat . . . summer formal attire

As for the Ted Williams and Gettysburg caps, they're for the gray area between what's described above.

Caroline approves of this message.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Watching Kids Grow Up Before My Eyes

Some photos don't need a caption. 
We celebrated Sam's birthday almost six months late Thursday with a trip to the Ironpigs in Allentown. Or is it Bethlehem? The team's name is Lehigh Valley, the park hugs the border . . . I guess all that is somewhat irrelevant.

I'll confess that few things make me as anxious as hosting a birthday party for one of my kids. What do the kids want to do? Who does one invite? What budget does one set? What does one do when a participant (the birthday boy or another) gets upset? Let's not forget, also, that the kids are at an age younger than what I'm used to working with. What will the parents of the invitees think about my decisions? Argh. Hosting a birthday party for kids sits right there along presenting staff development to teachers and playing the trombone alone in front of a crowd as a white-knuckle event for me.

Did the night go perfectly? No. Did it go well? I think so. And my son went to bed pretty happy. It was a win. A minor league park is a great place to celebrate a birthday, and we got lucky with some minor league experiences. Six boys came along. Two got balls tossed to them from players. One got to do a half inning of batter announcements. Sam and one other friend got to take water out to umpires at the end of the sixth inning.

Sam awaits his chance to take the field. 

Sam talks with the umpire calling 3rd base. 

Sam's friend and the 1st-base ump. 
But here's where the growing up piece was big: we survived a 1:40 rain delay. One hour and forty minutes! With hardly a complaint from the kids. Just two years ago, or even one, this could have been the occasion for a catastrophic fail of an event. But this assemblage of 11- and 12-year-olds took it in stride, and enjoyed passing the time under rain ponchos (thankfully brought by a dad) as if they were 31- and 32-year-olds.

There's a chance this is the final "birthday party" for Sam. Sherry shares my anxiety over birthday celebrations and we allow a party with friends every other year. When he turns 13, his attitude might change, and something lower key might be in order. If this was our last one, we went out in style.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Camping and Math

Looking at the approximate location of our site from Conservation Island. 
Sam, Caroline, and I made our third visit to Promised Land State Park this weekend. For Sherry it was her second . . . maybe. She has memory of being there as a kid. For the whole group, it was the second trip.

I'm on the fence as to whether or not I prefer Promised Land to Hickory Run. The walks at Hickory Run are simply more stunning. That being said, we found a decent new trail at Promised Land and got out for a walk on it. We also had the chance to stroll through Conservation Island near sunset.

The group travels along Whittaker Trail. 

The forest along Whittaker Trail. 

Conservation Island
Mike knew of a spot worth checking out off the Park's property. Actually, it's land that belongs to Skytop Lodge but I got the sense that the lodge didn't care too much if free-riders availed themselves of the trail. There were some pretty stunning sites along it as the paths meandered along and down into a ravine cut by a waterfall.

Lower Falls.

That's a really bad selfie but a really close deer. 

A shelf near the lower fall. 

Using ropes to climb down the trail along Skytop's property. 
I've now been out and camping more than a dozen times and still love it. It seems, though, as if now two nights isn't enough. Two nights really gives you one day. I think three would be more appropriate. I know I could use a full two days at a site like Promised Land.

View along lake near our campsite. 

View along lake near our campsite. 

Some of the terrain near our campsite. 

Also, I'm learning that a four-person tent is really a three-person tent and I seized on a Prime Day offer to get a six-person tent, which should be adequate for a family of four. It seems as if the tents over promise by a 5-to-4 factor when they advertise their tents.

Our 3.2-person tent. 
The math still doesn't add up for a camper, at least not yet. The camper, though, might have to be the eventual mid-life crisis purchase for me. One of the other parents wondered if we should have a nameplate for our campsites and my response was that one didn't earn the right to a nameplate until one had a camper. Maybe I'm wrong.

Still, the thought of spending a whole week with a camper at a site like Promised Land is intriguing, and doable in another decade or so.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A long weekend in the life of a girl (and her dad)

I'm proud of how Caroline is such an excellent traveling and adventuring companion. Here's where she ventured over the recent weekend: 

Friday: Time with friends at Legoland in Plymouth Meeting

She was moving too fast for me to catch up with her. I took a selfie with Caroline's stand-in instead. 
Saturday: Lunch with family atop Mount Pocono followed by setting up our campsite at Promised Land. 

A bit too much haze for good photographs of the landscape. 

Site 120, established with Caroline's help. 
Sunday: Adventures in Promised Land 

Taken from atop a rock on Whittaker Trail

Caroline and her friend along the trail at Conservation Island. 
Friday: Take down the campsite and go to a neurologist appointment in Philadelphia

MacMart lunch after the appointment. 
She holds up well under travel.


Many, many years ago I regularly subscribed to the Philadelphia Inquirer. I would stare out the window hoping for it to show up in the morning, refusing to start my day until I had my fifteen minutes with it. The paper got thinner, though, and copies of it piled up unread, so I moved my subscription to an electronic one, then stopped it entirely.

When, however, a few summers back, I found myself having to explain the concept of a Sunday comic to my son, I realized that I needed the newspaper back. I've been subscribing again now for about two years. The quality of the paper has deteriorated over time: it offers less news and feels even thinner. But I liked being able to simply open up the paper today and show Sam where the MLB standings truly stood.

Reinforcing the sad truth of the Phillies' woeful season. Sam and I were shocked to see how well Atlanta is playing. 
Sports section on the day before the slowest sports day of the summer. 

When we eat breakfast together on weekend mornings, the newspapers are a nice substitute for screens.

There are two other subscriptions I invite into the home. One is The Week, which is a really good news review. Sam eagerly waits its arrival, and he was rather frustrated that it didn't show up this week (that publication takes off four weeks a year). So, he told me, he was left with The Economist, the cover of which he immediately quizzed me about.

Sam surprised me by recognizing the symbol as one Germany used in the World War I era. Then he asked me to summarize the relevant news story. My answer: the German economy is very strong, but there's a chance that the Germans save so much money it hurts the economies of countries they trade with. Sam immediately followed up: "Why?"

I decided, though, there wasn't time just then to get into the paradox of thrift and financial-account imbalances. However, if that publication piqued my son's interest, for just a little bit, about such abstract but important concepts, and if that publication's cover gives him a chance to reinforce learning about symbolism and history, then it's worth every penny of the overpriced subscription.

Sam and I do disagree about which covers tend to be better, those from The Week or those from The Economist. This sounds like a good debate to have over the years.

This cover, too, led to some schooling, but more about inside baseball than big macroeconomic things.