Academic Leigh Speaking

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

Summer Reading August 22, 2017

Filed under: Books,Family Life,Fourth Baby,Summer Vacation — leighj @ 11:55 am

We signed up for summer reading at the library. Seamus and Gilbert each had to read five books, whereas Porter and Harlan had to have 30 books read to them. Who do you think had the most trouble? If you guessed Harlan, you’re correct! He is the only one not finished with his. We sit and try to read to him frequently, and we’re often reading to Porter where he could join us, but he chooses not to sit for a book. Sometimes he closes the book on your fingers or grabs it and hits you with it. However, I do think summer reading is a success because I only have to read him two more books, and in the last week, he’s gotten much more interested in reading.

Seamus and Gilbert finished their five books pretty quickly and have read like wildfire all summer. We’ve been to libraries on vacation just to meet their reading needs. That’s been fun to see develop. Porter loves to “read” at night before bed, just like the big boys do.

I had to read five books, and there was a point at which I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish it! To be fair, my summer reading time was May 18-June 22, and the library summer reading didn’t start until June 22, when I had to be very present at home. I’ve exceeded my goal, though, now, partly due to figuring out how to use the Libby app to download books to my iPad. I recommend it.

The total eclipse was really cool! We only got 80% here, but I’m planning for 2024! I hadn’t procured glasses, but that’s what astronomy professor colleagues are for, am I right? That’s to indicate I got some from going into work yesterday. Yes, I’m back at work.

 

A Trip to the Beach–Last Summer Hurrah August 18, 2017

We headed off to the beach on Sunday, after an excellent visit with Patrick’s cousin on Saturday. We made a 4:00 am departure, but we got to our ferry too early! We had to wait. Next time, we’ll remember that it just doesn’t take that long in the wee hours with no traffic.

Waiting for the ferry.

While we waited, they played with the wind. I loved doing that as a child. The wind on the ferries in Washington would practically hold you up! My brothers and I were enthralled. These guys liked tossing a flower over the fence and watching them blow back.

Windy on the ferry!

We did it all, it seems. Beach, boogie boarding, bike riding, bobbing the waves, sand play, shell finding, surfer watching, seawall walking, waterpark playing, riding rides on the boardwalk, and eating a ton of food.

It was a great trip!

We went out early to watch the surfers.

One day there was amazing surf. We saw 20 surfers riding waves, and Seamus casually spotted dolphins jumping out of the water just behind them. It was amazing!

We rode bikes on Monday, and Gilbert was so happy to be on a bike. He said, “Let’s do this everyday!” but Monday was the only day that was perfect for it. Tuesday, it rained, and we went to the library. The boys checked out books and sat and read for 2 hours. A lovely way to pass a rainy day. Monday, the older boys played minigolf, and I guess Seamus got a little too competitive.

One day, we did the water park, and everyone had fun. Seamus and Gilbert did all the park on their own in the morning, and then I did it with them in the afternoon. They talked nonstop. We also managed to finally pack enough snacks to make it through the day!

The sky pools ride was their favorite.

Gilbert made it all the way across the pool on the rope.

They both swam so much, and so hard, that we didn’t hear a peep from them after 7:00 pm. Thursday was more beach (but a little scary because Seamus was getting carried off, without his realizing it). We converted the excursion to shell finding, which they enjoyed with gusto. Harlan LOVES the water and the waves. He toddles down to the contact point and squeals with delight. When Porter, who doesn’t love the waves this year, notices Harlan is there, he runs down, and stands way back and screams for Harlan to come back, get away from the water! It’s endearing, and hilarious, and heart-breaking. I hope next year Porter loves the waves…but probably Harlan will be afraid (who am I kidding? that kid is fearless!).

Porter did drum up some enthusiasm for pizza!

Thursday also found us at the Tourney Towns, as the boys call the boardwalk. Gilbert was finally tall enough for the big rollercoaster, which I rode with him. At the top, he confessed he was terrified, but he handled it like a champ, until he told Seamus he’d go again, only to back out at the last minute, so Seamus couldn’t go again…I don’t know why Seamus puts up with it, but he does. He even gave Gilbert the yogurt he’d picked out for himself, so Gilbert would be mollified one morning.

Harlan’s first day at the Tourney Towns.

Harlan had no trouble jumping into the fray with both feet! He loved being part of it.

We had a great week, but I tell you, it is nice to go on vacation and distance oneself from the news. Unfortunately in the last two weeks, the news hasn’t gone on vacation. I’m gearing up for the semester and thinking about ways to challenge all sorts of things.

 

One Day in Asheville and Pisgah National Forest: Sliding Rock August 6, 2017

Filed under: Family Life,Outdoor Pursuits,Summer Vacation,Travel — leighj @ 8:30 am

We are staying at a cute little AirBnB in Waynesville, NC. We have a donkey and goats out in the side yard, but they’re not ours to take care of! An apple tree is in the yard, and the smell of fermenting apples greets us every time we pull into the driveway. I love it.

Apple bowling!

Saturday, we got up early to go check out Sliding Rock, a 60-foot waterfalls (natural water slide) that lands in an 8 foot deep pool of water. I read that it starts to get crowded at 10 am, so we aimed for 9:00 am. Seamus and Gilbert both bravely took on the falls. One run was plenty for Gilbert as he had a terrifying slide into a really deep section. It was also a plunge into 60 degree water! Seamus did the run about 10 times and then we called it quits. It was fun to watch people do it and we didn’t have to wait in line because it wasn’t too crowded. We were glad we got there early because, as cold as it was, we didn’t think it’d get much warmer later in the day.

Seamus is in the middle of the picture.

After this, we drove the Blue Ridge Parkway to Asheville. Stunning views, pretty mountain tunnels, and harrowing fog! Our next stop was WNC Nature Center, which is a small wildlife area. We enjoyed watching the otters and bears play. We were certainly glad not to have encountered a full grown black bear on our hike the day before! Those things just toss around their toys…

Looking at the cougars.

We had a nice lunch in downtown Asheville, even though I don’t think we realized we were headed into downtown! There were tons of people out, so we braved the crowds (which we haven’t had at all on this trip), and explored the downtown area. A place that pops up on all kinds of lists is French Broad Chocolate Lounge. I told the boys they could each pick a truffle and we’d have them for a treat later.

Porter chose the Raspberry, Seamus and Gilbert chose turtles, Patrick had the Buddha, and I had Maple Sea Salt. The other was Coconut Porter, chosen for its name.

It was fun to be in the mix, and the kids have handled themselves so well. Today we head to Raleigh to visit with friends. We plan to stop in Greensboro for the, you guessed it, science museum!

Fun statues in downtown Asheville.

 

Birmingham Day Three August 3, 2017

We’re trying not to do too many things we could do at home, but I have been to Trader Joe’s and now, Whole Foods (mostly so Porter could go to the bathroom!). We realize that we are East Coast suburban annoying people when we stop at WF for a bathroom rather than McDonalds. To be fair, I needed to buy diapers…

Anyway, day three in Birmingham found us looking for something to do in the early morning before the other things we wanted to see opened. Traffic in Birmingham is special. By that I mean horrible, but once you get where you want to be, nothing is crowded or unpleasant. Parking is super easy, and there’s so much space for people to move around in–which is not the case in DC! We did the botanical garden in the morning because we like native plants and Japanese gardens. The Birmingham gardens are free, have bench swings strategically placed at beautiful intervals, and offers lots of shade. We enjoyed that the kids could wander (as long as they stayed on the path) and talk in their normal tones of voice without bothering anyone. We spent a lovely hour in the gardens.

A more manageable Vulcan.

Vulcan is the guardian of the city. We’ve thought about going up there, but I don’t know if we’ll make it. I think if we had one more day in the city, we’d do Vulcan and Sloss, but we’ve run out of time for those things.

Koi!

All the kids love koi fish, and these were some big ones!

After the gardens, we were ready for a snack (I’ve been getting snacks at the grocery and hiding them until 9:30 or 10:00 am–it’s working pretty well). I had tentatively thought we might go to Peanut Depot, where you can see peanut roasters and learn about the goobers. There wasn’t much going on there this morning, so we met the owner and he toured us around the roasting area. I learned how they salt peanuts, how they harvest peanuts, and how the roaster works. It takes about 90 minutes to roast 100 pounds of peanuts. Seamus enjoyed connecting his knowledge of George Washington Carver. Gilbert loved the roaster and tasting the peanuts. Porter was a little scared of the roasting drum, and Harlan enjoyed his taste of peanut.

Railroad Park

We decided to visit Railroad park next to the Negro Southern Baseball League museum. These barrier cones were part of a playground, and the kids were busy playing Piston Cup from the Cars movie for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, Patrick and I ate peanuts, watched the train tracks, and talked. I love a city park that encourages imaginative play!

We did check out the baseball museum, but I think it would be better for slightly older children. It was neat to see the old gloves, bats, and catcher’s masks, but everything was behind glass and text heavy. Worth a quick stop, though!

Seamus and Gilbert wanted to go back to the McWane Science Center, so Patrick took them back while Harlan and Porter napped. This blog brought to you by IMAX! Haha.

From the other day at the Berger Motorsports Museum. Who’s in the sidecar?

He isn’t really in the sidecar. Patrick said it was cool to see the old JetSkis, but that it’s not a great place to take children after they’ve been touching everything at the science museum since they can’t touch anything there!

Birmingham has been a wonderful place for a family vacation. Its spaciousness makes it nice for even really little kids to have fun, and for parents to be less stressed.

Today, we’re off to Waynesville, NC, via Chattanooga, TN, where we’ll see the starting point of the Trail of Tears. I’ve been researching Asheville, and we’re hoping to see the drum circle, do some hiking, and drink a beer at one of the kid-friendly breweries!

 

Day Trip to Montgomery August 2, 2017

Tuesday we took a day trip to Montgomery (about 1.5 hours southeast of Birmingham). As we drove, we could tell it was getting more southern, and we were enjoying the scenery, and feeling super-lucky that we hit Alabama in early August at dry, cooler than usual temperatures!

Our plan was in flux (when isn’t it!?) and so we did the Rosa Parks Museum first. It was fascinating! Harlan had a hard time with the video at the beginning, so I took him out. Then I went back in when the group had moved on, and I got to read the stuff in that room. A few things I learned: the bus boycott was sort of a test case for non-violent activism and pressure, Black travelers had a green book that would tell them where they’d be allowed to buy gas, and get a bite to eat (I was horrified thinking of traveling with a family and not knowing if you’d be able to buy gas), and white insurance companies retaliated against the bus boycotters by changing insurance policies on cars to prevent carpooling and church shuttle wagons. The museum sits on the place where Rosa Parks was arrested.

Porter stands with the statue of Rosa Parks.

We spent an hour at the museum and it went by really quickly. Then, we tried to visit the Dexter Ave Parsonage Museum where Martin Luther King, Jr. lived while the Montgomery bus boycott was happening. One thing we discovered in Montgomery is that most places are actual tours to lead you through a place. I like that and I think that we learn more with a guide, but Harlan is so difficult to manage in enclosed spaces that it sometimes isn’t feasible for us. Instead of doing the tour, we visited the meditation garden and had a snack. Then we were kind of at loose ends, as the other places we’d thought to go weren’t open yet.

Patrick said, “Well, what about the Capitol building.” That seemed like a good idea, and it was close by. We went there and discovered the Dexter Ave King Memorial Church. That was our first amazing find of the day. We walked in, and there was already a tour going, so we couldn’t join in, but a wonderful woman took us all over the downstairs of the church, and invited the boys to sit at Dr. King’s desk, look at his phone and typewriter, and then she took us up to the sanctuary where he gave sermons from 1954-1960. She said the organist at the church today is the same organist from the 1950s! We enjoyed this experience so much, and this is what a personable tour guide can do. She also felt mission to spread the message and love, I believe.

They think they might be the only one’s at school who’ve sat at Dr. King’s desk!

After saving our trip to Montgomery, we walked up to the Capitol. It was interesting, but mostly because the statue in front of the building is a statue of Jefferson Davis. Yet, this is also where MLK gave his “How Long, Not Long” speech after the march from Selma to Montgomery. We talked a little with the kids about why people think these statues should be removed. They agreed and thought a statue to MLK out to replace Davis. We wandered all around the grounds, enjoying finding state flags, looking at a lollypine tree grown from seeds taken to the moon, and viewed from afar the first White House of the Confederacy. Not all the statues are confederates! A pioneer in Gynecology was honored too, and the boys got a big kick out of that.

Alabama Capitol

On this trip, I’ve been to the capital of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama. Before we’re done, we’ll also be in the capital of North Carolina and Virginia!

One thing that I think the older boys are starting to understand that racism may not look the same today, but it still exists and we are responsible for helping to make sure that people aren’t treated unfairly because of who they are. We’ve tried to create teachable moments on this trip, but man, they often pop up out of the kids mouths! I think it’s been confusing for Seamus when he should use different words, especially since the museums use different words to denote different time periods (colored for Jim Crow era segregation, Negro baseball leagues, Black or African American for current day, etc).

After touring downtown, we headed out of town for our picnic at Fort Tolouse-Jackson State Historic Park.

1000 year old Mississippian Mounds

The fort was a fascinating palimpsest of cultures. In a not very long walk, you could see the ancient Mississippian mound (which impressed Patrick and me far more than it did the boys), a reconstructed French Fort Tolouse used to fend off British and Spanish armies in the mid-1700s, the ruins of the American Fort Jackson built for the War of 1812 and to defend against the French and Creek Indians until 1836.

Fort Tolouse

Creek winter and summer dwellings. Alabama is named after the Alabama tribe, part of the Creek confederacy.

Seamus studied American Indian dwellings this year in school, so I asked him if these were similar to those he’d studied. He said no, and I asked him why he thought they weren’t. He did a decent job thinking about how the landscape and customs of different tribes affected how they lived. Gilbert then asked if Creeks still lived in these houses? I asked him, “Do you still live in a fort?” And he got it! Yay!

It was an incredibly busy and fun day. We drove back to Birmingham via the scenic route, passing through the Talladega national forest. Beautiful!

For a treat we stopped at Steel City Pops for a popsicle. I read about the store in 3 days with kids in Birmingham post, and it was definitely special enough to make it an event in itself. Seamus got lavender lemonade and has been talking about it ever since. He is the most adventurous in an ice cream store.

Sweet end to the day!

We came back for a swim and dinner, then bed. They hit the sack with few complaints, thank goodness.

 

Birmingham With Kids July 31, 2017

We got up at 6:15 (yes, life with children is not for those who like to sleep in) for a dynamite breakfast at the Residence Inn Birmingham Inverness. Seriously: oatmeal with lots of fixin’s, croissants and brie, breakfast burritos, and tons of fruit. We didn’t even touch the waffles yet. It was only mildly discouraging to have them get in the car at 8:15 and say, “I’m hungry” which in our house is often code for “I’m bored.” I said, “get back in that breakfast room then!” and we all laughed.

Our first day in Birmingham was meticulously planned and replanned by me. We were to go to Kelly Ingram Park, view the 16th Street Baptist Church, and walk on part of the Civil Rights Heritage Trail. Then we’d go to the Negro Southern Leagues Museum, view Railroad Park, and stop by the Sloss Ironworks Factory Historical Site. Finally, we’d end the morning with lunch (pizza and Avondale Brews) at Post Office Pies. HAHAHAHAHA! Can you see the flaw(s) in the plan?

Actually it started off really well: Kelly Ingram Park is inspiring, moving, and engaging for children. I mentioned the other day that the kids had listened to the excellent Christopher Paul Curtis’s book The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963, which tells the story of that charged summer of selective buying (because boycotts were illegal), children skipping school to protest so their parents wouldn’t be fired from their jobs, dogs and water cannons fired at children, and ultimately a bombing at the church that killed four young girls. As we toured through the park, Seamus was very knowledgeable about the history, and the statues really came alive for him. He also has a You Choose book about the Civil Rights Movement that has been educational, and Gilbert has a book about Ruby Bridges that has helped him understand the history as well. They asked a lot of questions and really thought about the space and history for an hour. One of their questions was, “What happened if a white family had an African American child?” We talked about it, but it shows how they’d been thinking about segregation.

“I Ain’t Afraid”

These dogs were terrifying.

We decided to continue on, about 9:30 am. Well, as we were driving, we discovered that the Negro Southern Leagues Museum didn’t open until 11:00, which didn’t work for us. The Sloss Museum wasn’t open on Monday! We were busting everywhere! But we kept our cool and decided to go to the McWane Science Center. It was a great mulligan. (Thank goodness, because the trip planner was about to be in the doghouse.)

McWane totally lived up to its reputation as a fantastic place to go with kids. The older boys loved all the pulleys and mechanical advantage demonstrations. Porter and Harlan got a kick out of Itty Bitty Magic City, building with foam blocks, and bubbles. We were all able to enjoy the small aquarium with coral reef fish and Alabama swamp recreations. Enormous catfish! The touch tank with sharks and rays was also a hit. We mostly stayed together, but we split up for about 40 minutes so the younger boys could do the toddler area and the older boys could see the dinosaurs. We are almost ready to go back! But there’s so much more to see and do!

Exploring fulcrums and mechanical advantage. Gilbert was able to “beat” Seamus, Porter, and me!

The perspective room.

Harlan loved this contraption.

So with much of our morning scrapped and revised, we did manage to hang on to our lunch plans. Post Office Pies was in a hipster area, and while it was hilarious to seek out the hipsters, the beer and pizza did not disappoint. It was a perfect, casual, order at the counter, but nice seating and atmosphere for a lunch with kids. Now, I’m enjoying some quiet in the room (and trying to plan our next two day–checking opening hours!) while the younger boys sleep. Patrick, Seamus, and Gilbert are off checking out the motorcycle museum and racetrack. They’re under orders to take pictures!

Tentative plans tomorrow: day trip to Montgomery for the Rosa Parks memorial, MLK’s parsonage, Freedom Riders Museum, and Fort Tolouse Creek Indian Mounds (too ambitious?). And on Thursday, we aim for the things we missed today.

Takeaways:

  1. We did do some preparation to contextualize what we’d see on this trip, and it’s paying off with Seamus and Gilbert. They’re able to use the knowledge they have from the past to add ideas and perspective to what they’re seeing. I’d say that’s a must for future trips in order to get real educational value.
  2. Snacks are necessary. I’d sort of gotten lazy, but the kids do need a refill every couple of hours, even if I don’t. Also, when travelling in the South, or anywhere you might be outside and warm, pack water bottles.
  3. Spontaneity and flexibility will take you far, but don’t be afraid to bag a spontaneous plan if it’s not working. The covered bridge was cool and worth a detour; the spray park wasn’t (so we didn’t stay).
  4. The kids might impress you with their stamina or insights. That’s something that surprises me at every turn. I love seeing this world, and occasionally I’m irritated that I can’t read every plaque or walk the whole trail because they’re done, but then they ask a question or make a comment about something I did not notice, and I realize that they are teaching me too.
 

Braver with Friends: Nashville, Huntsville, and Birmingham July 30, 2017

Filed under: Family Life,Friends and Relatives,Summer Vacation,Travel — leighj @ 9:46 pm

We had some fantastic days in Kentucky as we wrapped up our visit. I think I’m going to do bullets, because I don’t have much time, and there was a lot going on.

  • We swam with my high school friend and her children, who are nearly adults. After we swam, her kids took my kids to the park, and she and I went out for a margarita. That’s what I call a win-win-win-win! So fun, and so glad we are close still.
  • On Friday, I took the boys to the Adventure Science Center in Nashville. Two of my friends came along to help and enjoy the science center. Harlan did not like being confined to the stroller and wanted to jump into the water maze. Porter, surprisingly, loved the dark and eerie “Starwalk” and asked to do it twice. Seamus and Gilbert liked the build your own volcano, Burnulli’s principle, and a few other things. My dad had packed us a picnic, which was a lot of fun to enjoy under the solar panels, until we realized, we’d picked the panels with gaps! It started raining….

    They liked the build it center.

  • Saturday, we picked up Patrick from the airport and started our family vacation in earnest. Our first stop was at our friends’ pool south of Nashville. They have a three year old too, and it was fun to see what he could do and to encourage Porter to be a little more adventurous. By the time we left, 4.5 hours later (oh, how time flew!), Porter was comfortable jumping off the side of the pool, but only if Heather was catching him, chilling in water over his head with his floaties on, and getting a little bit of water splashed on him. In fact, he was having so much fun and being so praised, he didn’t want to leave, and had a big tantrum. Gordon, our friends’ son, got brave enough to jump in without his floatie. We marveled at the positive effects peer pressure can have.

    So much more fun to swim with friends!

  • After our pool fun, we headed to Huntsville, Alabama to spend the night. It was a nice drive and we were tired, but not totally exhausted. I went to an Aldi to get some snacks and breakfast items. I wasn’t as impressed as some people with the store. It was chaotic and confusing, but I did accomplish the desired shopping. There’s supposedly one getting ready to move into our town in Virginia, but I don’t think I’ll become a devotee.
  • The US Space and Rocket Center was so much fun! I remembered it being so from when I was a kid, but it still holds much charm. We played and looked at exhibits and rode some rides. Afterwards, we had a picnic on the lawn and tasted astronaut ice cream. Seamus was really interested in the moon flights exhibit; Gilbert was a little bored in the way Seamus was bored at Boonesborough; Porter liked seeing the rockets and doing the flight simulator; and Harlan was pretty happy in his stroller. The Saturn V rocket hall was really cool. I wish we could have walked through the replica space station, but moods were souring fast!

    Shuttle behind us!

    Will we learn anything?

    Driving the rocket!

  • We took the “scenic” route to Birmingham, and I’m so glad we did, because we sponataneously decided to take a detour and see a covered bridge, and because the younger boys napped really well, and the older boys were able to finish listening to The Watsons Go To Birmingham–1963, which tells a fictional, heart-wrenching story of the bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church, which we’ll see tomorrow. More then!
  • The covered bridge was a gratifying detour.