Academic Leigh Speaking

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

Playing Together July 20, 2018

When we got home from our vacation, Porter sighed: “Our house is beautiful!” He was so happy to be home. Harlan was just happy to be out of the car. He kept calling for bathroom breaks on the last day of travel, and I finally asked him, “Do you need to go, or do you just want out of your carseat?” OUT OF MY CARSEAT! He demanded. Gilbert and Seamus headed to the back yard to play, but after 10 minutes, Seamus came back in and said he wished we were still on vacation in the North. “It’s cooler there, and there aren’t any gnatty bugs!” And that sums up our return.

Now that we’ve been home, we had the girl next door baby sit a few days, and Harlan cried every day when we left, but finally on the last day, he cried when she left, so, progress? I suppose. A few of the days we had a sitter we took Seamus and Gilbert out to do something fun–a spray park and lunch, but mostly we enjoyed some time just the two of us. One morning, we went for a hike along the Potomac, and we said, “Isn’t it nice to hike without anyone complaining?” And then we saw a snake on the riverbank eating a fish! At that point, we missed the kids, and wished we could have shown it to them. Then we realized we might not have seen it at all if they’d been along, because we don’t pay much attention to nature when hiking with them. We had dinner with friends this week (who are about to embark on their own family Vacation to Nova Scotia), and we were all kind of laughing about the way kids turn into people. Our friend was laughing about how she loves to hike, but when she was a kid, she complained about it all the time, but if she hadn’t done it as a kid, would she like it now? It’s a real puzzler.

One thing has sort of turned a corner, and it’s that all four kids have started playing together. It kind of started in Nova Scotia, and they played Paw Patrol together, but it’s happening more and more frequently at home as well. It means that it’s louder around here, for one thing, but for another, it means that we have to do less intervention. They all seem invested in the game. Before, the youngest kid was always too little for this to work, but now it seems that Harlan is finally big enough and understands enough to be a playmate. That’s pretty cool.

My garden was dry when we got back, but nothing was too worse for the wear, and I’m starting to see some produce. We’ve got cukes, squash, some little okra starting, basil, and some oregano coming along. I’m excited! My neighbor encouraged me to pick some of the squash blossoms, so I did and put them on top of a quiche. Yum!

Decorative, but I’m not sure they made a difference in taste!

We’re glad to be home for a couple of weeks. Seamus and Gilbert are in camp (soccer for S, basketball for G) and the time apart is doing them a world of good. Porter’s birthday is coming up this weekend, and we’re starting to imagine school for Harlan in the fall. Patrick had a birthday, and his dad gave us a night out at a great place to celebrate. It was not something we would have thought we needed, but it recharged our batteries–delicious food, fine dining, good service, creative cocktails, and just a clear mental space to enjoy summer and a new year of life for Patrick!


Last Leg of Our Trip: Vermont July 19, 2018

The last leg of our trip was to Vermont to spend time with Patrick’s Aunt and Uncle who have recently moved there. Nana and PopPop were there too, so we had a fun family visit to cap off our long vacation. It was so nice to have a place to stay with people who wanted to hang out with the kids after being just us in Nova Scotia! An added bonus were the two pups, who Porter and Harlan fell in love with. Seamus and Gilbert were more enchanted with the video game system! Haha, no surprise there! Seriously, though. Porter and Harlan loved playing with the dogs:

Get this boy a dog!

If you ask Harlan what his favorite part of Vermont was, he says “Penny Wane.” He’s also started saying his name. Most of the time if you ask him “Who are you?” he says, “Me!” but occassionally, he says, “I Hahlon!”

Chug chug tug boat.

Playing in the Pond.

We enjoyed the inflatables, and who says Gilbert isn’t sweet and caring when he plays with his brothers? The park in town was deightful, with a playground, swimming pond, tennis courts, and the biggest draw: a river just right for floating down. With so many adults, we could do a river tubing trip, and while my backside is only now recovering from the rocky rapids, it was quite a treat.

Fun with the older boys.

We were so happy there were people willing to watch the little guys so we could do something more grown up with the bigger kids. Which is not to say that they didn’t complain and make it challenging at different points, we were just more willing to shrug off complaints because there were fewer kids to please! And of course, we had a slight mishap:

What are we looking for?

Seamus wanted to ride in Gilbert’s boat. Gilbert wasn’t really big enough for the tubes, but he gave it a shot. However, we all said, “Get out and go this way.” He got out and went the other way. And lost his shoe. I almost lost my mind, but I held it together. We’re doing full press work right now on following directions. It’s going about as you’d expect.

For me one of the delights of the trip was river tubing, and I know that we made lots of lasting family memories at each stop. It was great to get to spend time with family at different stops. Each place was different, thrilling, hilarious, touching, and just exactly what we needed at the time. Here’s to more family trips!


Travelling Brings Ups and Downs July 8, 2018

Our trip down to the islands along Digby Neck, Nova Scotia convinced us that there was more to do there, and we should head back there for our last day before leaving. We decided to take it a bit easy that day, because the kids (and we) were tired. It had gotten very hot, and the house was unairconditioned, which meant it was in the 80s in the house four nights in a row.

On Brier Island, we did a couple of hikes, and Porter used the binoculars to “take pictures.” It was really cute. He also made friends with our friends.

Taking pictures.

On Thursday morning, we headed to Sandy Cove beach along the Bay of Fundy. I had low expectations but it was so incredible. I remain convinced (but sometimes unable to practice) the process of having low expectations for family outings is the way to be delighted and not disappointed.

This is what we found!

The beach was perfect for looking for pretty rocks, swimming a little (as it was hot in the air, and not too cold), and Seamus noticed the schools of fish and tried to catch one. It was neat to be able to see all the fish scurrying one way and another as a group to evade him. The water was that clear. Harlan had a little white rock that looked like an egg. He threw it in the water over and over.

We headed back for lunch and naps, laundromat, and more. Right after I bought the Canadian equivalent of Dramamine, I got an email that our ferry back had been cancelled for sea conditions. So we transferred our reservation to the Digby-Saint John ferry.

Gilbert’s request was lobster for the last night:

They were alternately frustrated and delighted by cracking it open.

Then, since we didn’t have to be up so early, we took in the sunset at the point.

Pretty light.

I’m sure the kids destroyed the mood for some of the other people out there, and then Gilbert had a big bad mood (probably because he didn’t eat much of the lobster) and we called it a night.

The next morning, there was a lot of stress around cleaning and packing. So much and then the host thought we’d made off with some pillow shams that we’d stripped off because they were dirty, and it was just difficult. The ferry was at 11:00, and this was probably the best part of our day. It had childcare for Porter and Harlan for an hour and 45 minutes. Seamus and Gilbert watched the movie and Seamus slept. We got back in the car and Porter and Harlan fell right asleep. US border crossing was easy, but if you do this, go ahead and fill up at the gas station on the US side right across. There’s no more gas for 100 miles!

We got to our hotel in Massachusetts around 8:30 pm. It had been a long day, with lots of tears, screeching, tantrums, and fighting. We hoped for a better day the next day.

We headed to Vermont to visit with Patrick’s aunt and uncle and Nana and PopPop. It’s a good break from what we’re coming off of.

Dogs to play with!

Today, we’re going to tube the river!

Patrick blew these up manually!


Finding Our Groove in Nova Scotia July 5, 2018

Filed under: Family Life,Summer Vacation,Travel — leighj @ 8:40 am

Traveling with four kids is exhausting and rewarding. We make excursions not knowing whether they are going to be disasters or once in a lifetime experiences. The last few days, we’ve had some good luck, after having moments where it seemed that disaster was in the cards for us.

(Like right now, the three older kids are watching Odd Squad and PAW Patrol, and Harlan is acting really naughty!)

On Tuesday, we were waiting for friends to see if they were going to make the ferry; when they didn’t we went to our plan to go to Wolfville and Grand Pre. Wolfville was a cute little town, but it wasn’t really doing much for us. We did end up have a great lunch at the Naked Crepe, recommended by the guidebook. Food in Canada is cheap, and gasoline is expensive.

Harlan was a fan.

Porter was getting tired, and meltdown was possible. We drove to Grand Pre, where there is a great interpretive National Historic Site about the Acadians of the area. Sadly, that wasn’t possible for us to see. Instead, we saw a sign for Evangeline Beach, and we decided to go there. It was incoming tide, and we had one of the best experiences of the whole trip! Gilbert declared it “The Coolest Thing He’s Ever Seen.”

Putting the FUN in the Bay of Fundy!

In the background, you can see Cape Blomiden. According to Mi’Kmaq legend, the god came up and opened the gate here after a fight with the great beaver. It created amazing tides. We enjoyed getting muddy, feeling the snails squish between our toes, and standing on a rock waiting for the tide to come up over our rock.

Even Porter enjoyed getting a bit dirty.

This experience turned a day that was almost a bust into a surreal, transcendent moment. I don’t know if the lesson is just keep trying or take a break, or what, but this was a great way to physically experience something new.

We also got some mussels and scallops and had a seafood feast with our friends who came to visit. That set us up for more the next day. The fish market kept being closed when we went, but we hit it right yesterday, and got some of the best scallops in the world (or so I heard–vegetarian, here).

Grilled, or steamed, or pan seared, or broiled–Digby scallops are the best.

Yesterday, we dialed back expectations and drove down Digby Neck to Whale Cove, Long Island, and Brier Island. It turned out to be the best decision we could have made! We took ferries between the islands, did a couple of hikes, enjoyed a picnic.

Perfect spot!

I guess this post is to be continued, because we are too distracted and getting ready to venture out this morning…


Salzburg and Dachau: Munich Trip Continued June 25, 2018

We hadn’t planned to go to Salzburg, but when our friends suggested it as an easy day trip, that could be done cheaply, I was sold! It helped that it gave us a day where we didn’t interfere with their family routine for the day. I got the Bayern Pass, 25 Euro for a round trip train after 9:00 am to Salzburg with two kids included; this is a great deal for families, as they can use it for public transit all over Munich and most of Bavaria for a low price. We headed off to the train station, got some snacks for the trip, and set off.

I decided to get the Salzburg card for each of us, which is a tourist card that works for 24 hours. We only used it for 5 hours, but we did “get our money’s worth” although, the card included things that we might not have done had we not bought the card, if that makes sense. Like instead of hike up to the fortress, we took the Funicular, which was fast and awesome. The card ensured that we saw and did more than we would have otherwise, but that meant I totally wore the kids out!

A view from the top of the fortress in Salzburg.

We did the river cruise, hot and not really worth doing. But the river itself is very interesting, as it’s loaded with minerals and goes past a very wealthy area. We did Mozart’s birthplace, which was a really interesting look at the old house interior, and Seamus and Gilbert were more excited about doing that than I’d thought they might be. We got an ice cream and went to the horse fountain that’s featured in The Sound of Music. Finally we checked out the really large church and the catacombs which inspired the ending scene in The Sound of Music. After we wore ourselves out, we rushed to the bus stop to catch our train back to Munich. All told, we traveled from 8 to 8, with 4 hours on the train and a good 5.5. hours poking around Salzburg. (Looking at the timing, I’m not sure where the other hours went…the train station, I guess?).

Another view from the fortress.

Lighting a candle for Old Grand-dad.

In the big church, the boys asked me about lighting candles, and they wanted to do it. I said that you light candles for family members or loved ones who’ve died. Well you should have seen the cogs turning in their heads. Finally, they said, “We could light one for Old Grand-dad.” I wondered if they’d come up with it, and they did! Lighting the candle was then something they noticed much more in each church we visited afterward.

The next day, Tuesday, I took them to Dachau Memorial Site. Dachau was the first Concentration Camp opened by the Nazis, and I guess I hadn’t really realized that Bavaria, and Munich in particular was where Hitler had found a sympathetic audience. It was an experience that I found to be powerful when I visited Munich years ago, and I wanted to share that with the boys. They handled it well, despite the signs everywhere saying that the site was not suggested for children under 12. I think a lot of it went over their heads, but they did understand finally that it was a crime against our human spirit to imprison and target people just because of who they are. The gas chamber made an impression, and the vast space of the barracks awed us.

That afternoon, we headed back into town to do the Rick Steve’s walking tour of Munich. That was a fun way of changing the tone, but it really wore them out. Seamus got in a spectacularly bad mood, which I tried to cure with gelato. That worked. We checked out the baroque Asam Church, the Munich City Museum gift shop (which was super cute), got an ice cream and dunked our heads in a fountain, and visited the Bayern Munchen fan shop.

These were the souvenirs they wanted. Soccer shirts.

Right at the end, one or the other of them declared an urgent need to visit the bathroom, and we were a ways from the house. I noticed a sign for Apple Strudel at a little cafe. I had planned to let them have one in Salzburg the day before, but we were pressed for time, and we didn’t end up sitting down to eat there at all. So we stopped and indulged–and went to the bathroom!

I also had a treat. Haha.

This day exhausted them more than Monday, so we had to take it a bit easier on Wednesday. We just went for a bike ride, hung out in the English Garden, visited a huge toy store to find a present for Porter and Harlan, and enjoyed a last night’s dinner with our friends. It was a wonderful trip. There were many moments when I was annoyed with their behavior, but on the whole, they were delightful travel partners.


Another Day in Cape Cod June 22, 2018

Well, perhaps I should amend my earlier comments. This year seems to be the year of the water play. We have been to the beach, and we went to another beach yesterday (we’re here early enough we don’t need beach stickers!) and the water wasn’t quite warm, but it was fun to go out a bit into the waves and frolic. Gilbert didn’t like the seaweed, so he didn’t go in very much, but we found two horseshoe crabs washed up on the beach that Aunt Kathy turned over and buried with seaweed. It was very entertaining. I did a few handstands and backbends in the sand, and then ran some sand races with Seamus. I used to let him win, but now I think he actually beats me…

Otherwise, the kids have loved going down to the dock on the property and using the paddleboat and the sit on top kayaks.

Seamus on the SUP.

This is from a few days ago when we rented the Stand Up Paddle boards. They were super fun until the wind kicked up and the waves started disrupting the calm surface of the pond.

Sitting or kneeling is also a good option, according to Gilbert.

Porter’s imagination knows no bounds. He rides all around on the paddle boat with a noodle, talking about fishing, and when he gets out, he does the same thing.


We went to a Cape Cod League baseball game last night. We did leave early with Porter and Harlan, but overall, it was a much more pleasant experience than last year when Harlan would not sit still in the stands. He was pretty pleased with the beach ball the waitress gave him at the restaurant the night before!

Beach ball!

And this morning, we went back to the playground where Porter plays that he’s the school bus driver. Then we took a walk to check out our favorite summer art display, the sharks on the library lawn. Each boy picked his favorite, and got to have his picture made in front of it.

Harlan’s Favorite.

The weather report keeps telling us it’s going to rain or be cold, but that is happily an incorrect forecast!


Water Dogs–Cape Cod SUP Edition June 20, 2018

Patrick and I have been wanting to try stand up paddleboards (SUP) for ages, but there’s never been a good time when we could either get away from the kids and do it or a way to try them safely with the kids. This was the year though! I’ll have to put up some pictures later, but trust me that they’re fun. I fell off a couple of times when the wind kicked up and I lost my balance on the board. The first time, I just fell backwards on the board, but the second time, I fell all the way off. It’s warm enough that the water feels good–not freezing.

Anyway, yesterday during naps, Patrick checked out the kayaks with Seamus and Gilbert, which we were pleasantly surprised that they remembered how to do them, and we even got out the paddleboat to try out as well this year. With three vessels in commission and another adult on hand, we decided we could go for the SUP this year.

Gilbert hasn’t lost the skills.

The weather has been lovely, two dry warm days in a row. It kind of reminds me of how great the weather in Munich was and how much the weather in DC is challenging to get maximum enjoyment out of. Anyway, today we rollicked with two kayaks, the paddle boat (whoever was in this was usually tooling around with Porter and Harlan, adorable in hats and life jackets), and two SUPs. Everybody tried everything, and we worked hard for and hour and forty five minutes. Porter is dying to go back out on the kayaks (he means the paddle boat, I think), but he has to take a nap. Harlan is exhausted and fell asleep before he even laid down, I think. Gilbert and Patrick are back out on the kayaks, and Seamus is taking a little break and watching the World Cup. I got to finish a novel yesterday, and I’m looking forward to this relaxing delightful time with the kids/family to come.

Lunch on the beach.

As I said, yesterday we had sandwiches on the beach, and Porter was a big fan. He ate more than usual, as the sea air helped his appetite. Today, he barely touched his food indoors.

Seamus in the tidal pools.

The beach yesterday had nice tidal pools for swimming, catching crabs, and building sandcastles.

Lighthouse beach.

This morning we had our annual walk (sometimes we do it more than once), on Coast Guard Beach. It’s such a force of nature, where the currents come in, the sandbars jut out, the seals play, the fishing boats chug into the ocean, and this year, where the jellyfish wash up: Eeek! Porter was freaked out, and I couldn’t figure out why because I approached the situation calmly. Then I realized that in Finding Nemo, Dory gets stung by a jellyfish and almost died, so he was worried about that. He was somewhat reassured when we showed him how to spot them, but not completely fearless.