Academic Leigh Speaking

A professor, four kids, and a crash course in work/life balance

Visit From Friends June 21, 2017

We were so excited to see our friends from Albuquerque, who now live in California, that we got all discombobulated and got our schedule messed up. It worked out fine though, in the end, and I hope that they got a good balance of time to explore DC with their kids and time to hang out with us. We recommended some things, but this is always hard for us because the things we like aren’t things that you’d go back to California and say that you did (we saw some boats and airplanes!). Doesn’t really have a ring to it. Anyway, we settled on having a picnic at Haines Point, where there were several families having family reunions, but we staked out a picnic table and enjoyed the beautiful weather, the river, sailboats, planes landing, helicopters circling, and the kids playing. The older boys found a game of soccer with the kids at the family reunion, and they all had a great time.

Saturday evening was a little complicated by Seamus having a sleepover, but it worked out. He had a fun time with his friends and Gilbert got to have the little brother of Seamus’s friend over for a sleepover here. They played, ate, watched Robin Hood, and actually went to sleep by 8:30. Seamus had stayed up later, and he was pretty tired on Sunday. We made him lay down and read for the afternoon.

On Sunday, we did a nice Father’s Day lunch at home with Grandude and Grandma, and then we had a fun time hosting our friends for dinner. We were even able to have a fire and make s’mores. The kids found we’ll of energy that surprised us, and they went to bed later than I will admit here. We planned to do a picnic and a visit to the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum the next day, so the older boys skipped school. They looked around at the museum for a while, but then got tired and wanted to see an IMAX. I loved that we just did what the kids could handle, and we all got our needs meet. We are already strategizing for a visit to California!

It is so hard to get a decent shot of four kids! This clearly isn’t it!

Porter took a rain check on the IMAX.

After we were home, Seamus asked if he’d missed anything in the IMAX because he’d let his eyes shut just for a second…There were lots of tears when our friends departed.


Things We’re Looking Forward to This Summer June 17, 2017

Filed under: DC Exploration,Events,Family Life,Holidays,Summer Vacation — leighj @ 3:26 pm

This post will probably come off as really annoying, so sorry in advance. Don’t read it if you’re not someone who likes to gleefully gloss over the potential pitfalls. I simply cannot wait for the kids to be out of school and for us to start the summer. So forgive me (and ignore the hypocrisy) in a few weeks when I’m ready for them to go back! In no particular order:

I’m looking forward to so many things. I don’t know if eight weeks will really be enough:

  1. Travel plans (Cape Cod, Southeast, Jersey Shore, Virginia)
  2. Visits from friends
  3. The water parks and exploring our immediate areas
  4. Reading for fun (I think I have more stacked up than I can do)
  5. Writing two articles (maybe three, if I can eek it out)
  6. Watching the kids grow and learn (the pool is a huge marker of success so far–I set a goal to swim every day it’s not raining, and that we’re here. We haven’t quite made that, but we’ve been close.)
  7. Yoga
  8. The CSA and the garden
  9. Getting out on the bikes with the kids. This year the two younger boys fit on the seats on the adult bikes, and the older boys are proficient on their own bikes.
  10. Our neighbor babysitting the kids some

I guess you could say I’m caught between two wonderful tensions of being home for the comforts and delights that home promises and being away for the excitement and adventure that vacation promises.

The older boys want to swim and travel. They want to see grandparents and friends. They especially want to do things like go bowling, play mini-golf, have a baseball game with friends, eat ice cream, and get their summer reading prizes. They even are looking forward to the reading and listening to books on tape.

Porter wants to swim and play. He dreams of going to his friend Max’s basement. He also is ready to go to school. The other day, he came across Gilbert’s unattended backpack and put it on. He proceeded to have a whole dialogue with himself about going to school.

I’m not sure Harlan knows what summer means, but he’s pretty excited about the pool and being outside every minute he can be. Patrick has some wonderful professional things in the works, but those are his story to tell.


Memorial Day Festivities May 31, 2017

Filed under: DC Exploration,Events,Growing up,Holidays,In My Neighborhood — leighj @ 3:17 pm

We had a great Memorial Day weekend, with the exception of the rain which kept us on our toes. We had some friends and neighbors over for hot dogs on Saturday; on Sunday, we visited with Patrick’s cousins (I played a mean game of Can Jam for the first time!); and on Monday, we lived it up in our community. In the morning, there is a family 3K fun run. We let Seamus and Gilbert go ahead of us, with a prearranged meeting spot at the finish. They loved doing the run with friends (and by themselves). We’re trying to let them build independence in ways that are safe, with the idea that when they’re 18 they’ll be ready to leave home for good. Haha. I think the tight quarters will convince them of that! Anyway. Seamus very much wanted it to be a race, and we think Gilbert just ran along thinking thoughts to himself and drinking from every water station. I had expected the boys to stay together, but they didn’t, which was fine. Patrick pushed the stroller, and we walked in the throngs then finally jogged, and toward the end of the run, it thinned out so we could run. I haven’t run in about five years, so that was both delightful and painful.

After the run, we collected our t-shirts and went home to rest up before the parade. Both older boys completed their Operation EarthWatch activities this year, thus were eligible to march in the parade:

Seamus has the four Rs (Reduce, Recycle, Reuse, and Repair), and Gilbert wants you to “Save the Earthworms”

I have to admit that I was much more comfortable with the logistics this year, so I could get them easily and know where to drop them, etc. Porter wasn’t too impressed with the parade:

We planned for him to sleep in the stroller.

The regular parade fare: marching bands, dancers, school mascots, and more. When the Earthwatchers went by, Gilbert had a surprise for me:

Here’s my tooth!

He had lost a tooth as he was marching along! That evening, he hid it in his bed, and the tooth fairy couldn’t find it. So the TF left him a note saying that he’d get his money when the TF got the tooth. He said the handwriting looked like Grandaddy’s and maybe Grandaddy was the Tooth Fairy! So he did a better job the next night, and got his four quarters.

Between walking to the Community Center and back twice, marching the parade route, and running the 3K, I think we easily logged 5 miles on Monday. The kids were pooped! And so were we. It was a wonderful family weekend.



Because the fun never stops! A Nats game April 18, 2017

Filed under: DC Exploration,Events,Family Life — leighj @ 7:19 am

We took in a Nats game on Easter Sunday. It’s an unconventional way to celebrate. We drove back from NY early Sunday morning after a challenging night’s rest, but we only had to make one stop the whole way home. I debated stopping after Baltimore to avoid emergency situations on the Beltway, but by not stopping, we missed a major backup on the Beltway. Traffic. This city. I could tell we were home.

Anyway, the game. (I swore when we moved here I wouldn’t talk about traffic all the time, but I guess I’ve devolved…) We ate a quick lunch, and then threw everyone back in the car for the game. We made it to the stadium and our seats in time for first pitch–a feat we have never, to my memory, achieved. It was an exciting game between the Nats and the Phillies. Seamus was torn about who to root for: the Phillies had done well in this series against the Nats, and Seamus loves to win, and PopPop is a Phillies fan, and we were sitting on the visitor’s side. On the other hand, the Nats were up 3-2 for a lot of the game. When the Phillies looked like they might take it in the top of the 9th, he was feeling good! Then there were two runners on in the bottom of the ninth, Bryce Harper had 3 balls, 2 strikes, and 2 outs, and he hit a home run! Seamus was bummed, but he was still happy it had been a close, fun game to watch. I usually find baseball slow, but this was a game I could get behind. The usher was brand new, and she was so thrilled to have been there for the hit. It was cute to see how happy she was.

The weather was hot at first, and we were glad that we’d remembered to bring water. At the top of the 4th, I thought I might have to call it a day, but then the clouds moved over the sun, Porter relaxed, and Harlan moved to Patrick’s lap. By the time the 9th inning rolled around, I wouldn’t have minded extra innings! A beautiful evening.

We had debated the configuration of who should go, especially thinking that Porter would need a nap. However, we decided it might be the only game we go to this year, so we should all go and have the best time we could have. That was the right choice, as you can see above.


Holiday Fun Continued December 18, 2016

Filed under: DC Exploration,Family Life,Holidays,In My Neighborhood — leighj @ 2:42 pm

We’ve been to some holiday parties (the boys love a party when there are other kids around!). We’ve also baked and delivered cookies to our neighbors, gone to Union Station to see the train and go to the postal museum, and run out for the Santa fire truck. If that sounds like we’re batting a thousand, well that’d be the glossy image, and not the truth of the matter. For instance, when we delivered cookies, we delivered to our next door neighbors. Three neighborhood girls were there. We’d only baked enough cookies for two of their families. Now I don’t know–bake more cookies and take them around to the left out neighbors this week, or say, whatever we don’t see them that much anyway? Either way, I feel hamstrung. A friend told me the other day, “Oh, don’t worry about that; I don’t think you need to feel bad about it.” I said, “Oh, but I can find a way to feel guilty about anything!”

As far at the Union Station event, that went pretty well, except the train wasn’t on. Nevermind, there was a huge tree gift from Norway to look at. Haha. There were displays about the melting polar ice all around it. The Postal Museum is cool–definitely worth a visit if you live in the area. Empty, lots of hands on exhibits, with some inappropriate humor thrown in for adults. I like to park at Union Station because it’s convenient, and if you get your parking validated, relatively inexpensive. Today…I lost the ticket…so we had to pay the daily maximum…which, if you’re wondering, is not relatively inexpensive for a Sunday morning.

The Santa fire truck is fun. The kids were totally wound up about it coming by. It didn’t make it to our street until 9:07 pm, and we yanked them out of bed to go see it. We missed it though, as it’d already turned the corner by the time we got to the corner. We tried to run, but it didn’t work. Porter was freezing, and instead of magic Santa looks, he just asked if he could go back to bed.

Mostly though, it’s been fine. I played a game with Seamus and Gilbert yesterday morning while Harlan napped and Porter was deeply involved in his trains. Today, Harlan and Porter are having a simultaneous afternoon nap, and Patrick has taken the older boys bowling. One thing they are loving is Egg Nog. I’ve bought some organic egg nog, and we’ve tried all the vegan varieties (Silk Nog, Almond Nog, Holiday Nog–Coconut). The boys have it for dessert at night, and they love sprinkling their own nutmeg on top. Overall, even if the big events aren’t a shining success, they are memorable, and we’re having lots of nice smaller moments. I’m planning to make a Yule Log for Christmas dessert. I’ve never done that before, so it should be a fun project.

And now, for the big question: Should I bake more cookies?


Passport for Fairfax County Parks Discovery August 31, 2016

Adventures at the parks.

Adventures at the parks.

Seamus and Gilbert picked up a passport for the Fairfax County parks a few weeks ago, and we’ve been going to the different parks to see what there was to see. The passport definitely achieved its goal to get people checking out new parks they’ve never been to before. If you go: Many of the visitors centers are closed on Tuedsay, even though the park is open.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center: A fun park! It has two easy hiking trails, blazed orange and blue/gray. The orange trail has animal prints to guess at certain points, and the blue/gray trail crosses a little stream. The visitor center is big with lots to play with/touch. It was a little crowded in there the day we visited, but the trails were almost empty. Nice little suburban park.

Huntley Meadows: We’ve been there many times. The visitor center closes early on weekends. However, the boardwalk is a ton of fun for a hike. Lots of birds, turtles, and beavers.

Riverbend: We like this park because you can hike through to Great Falls Park without paying the parking fee at Great Falls. They rent canoes and kayaks here. Lots of close to the river hiking and interesting bird sightings. On our trip we saw a huge caterpillar, lots of spiders and daddy long legs, and ducks. A very productive nature walk, in which we learned about clearing spider webs, rock scrambles, and water buoys.

Frying Pan Farm: I trekked there with my four boys and a friend, the same age as Gilbert. I got a lot of looks. This was really neat, and not particularly well advertised. Lots of animals, the 4-H barns, a country store. The old farmhouse and kitchen was terrific. We took a wagon ride, and Porter was a little afraid of the animals, but he liked them from the safety of the wagon. The pigs made the boys nervous, after listening to the terror of the hogs in Old Yeller, they didn’t want anything to do with them!

Wagon Ride

Wagon Ride

Lake Fairfax: We’ve camped here, been to the skate park, and seen a band in the amphitheater. On this visit we saw the marina, geese, and playground.

Hidden Pond: Seamus’s class had a field trip here earlier this year. The pond has a lot of scum on it, but it also lives up to the name. There are turtles and ducks easily spotted. A couple of nice hiking trails. Porter liked the visitor’s center, which had a copperhead, several different turtles, fish, and motion sensor water fountains. There’s also a nice playground at the park.

Green Spring Gardens: A surprisingly fun place with ponds, plants, and a cool greenhouse.

Ellanor Lawrence Park: I am so happy we went here because I got to see a friend I haven’t seen in a year, but. I should have worn the Ergo despite the heat. I tried the stroller, but the trails were too bumpy. The redeeming part for the boys was wading in the creek. And hearing the story of my friend being trapped in a sleeping bag. Also my friend announced, “Hey, my mom got married here!” which was awesome!

The Prize!

Both Seamus and Gilbert received a terrific prize pack with coupons for mini golf, wagon rides, carousel rides, camping, swimming, boats rentals, and more. They are all to use at the parks in the future.

This is one of the most spontaneous and fun things we decided to do this summer. Right on, Fairfax County!


Pirate Cruise August 5, 2016

Filed under: DC Exploration,Family Life,Summer Vacation — leighj @ 1:24 pm

We did one of the pirate cruises, which was excellent, in large part because of the crew (energetic 20somethings), the weather (low 80s and breezy) and the boys (deeply enthusiastic). Seamus and Gilbert weren’t sure what to expect, but after they got their new pirate names (Salty Seamus and Gruesome Gilbert), tattoos, and markered-on facial hair, they were very excited!

Shooting the water cannons

Shooting the water cannons

This dude loved posing for photos. I have no idea how many of my photos he would show up in when I was taking them, but in almost all, he’s looking at the camera. Hilarious!

Anyway, the boys liked dancing, the pirate story time, learning pirate words (booty and poopdeck), getting dressed up, etc. But they loved when the real adventure started and they got to shoot the water cannons at the bad pirate in the little boat. Gilbert and Seamus were laughing so hard and they swear they shot him on the tongue he was sticking out at them.

At the end came one of my favorite moments, when we entered negotiations with the pirate. He asked for Max’s shoes in exchange for the treasure. Gilbert bent down and immediately started telling Max that it would be okay to give his shoes to the pirate, because he could get some more, and those were getting old. Gilbert really wanted to get the treasure. I was impressed by how into the whole thing the boys got, wanting to read the note, offer their ideas, and more. Usually, the boys are a little slow to warm up in these kind of events. Porter also had fun shooting the water cannons.

It was a fun excursion. I don’t ever need to do it again, unless Harlan is really into pirates, but I’m glad we did it once. It’s pretty fun for ages 5-9, I think. Patrick pointed out that they have just as much fun riding their bicycles, which is probably true.