Academic Leigh Speaking

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

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!


Nova Scotia or Bust June 30, 2018

After parting with my parents in Portland, (which was a little sad for the boys–especially Harlan who has not enjoyed going to the airport only to drop off favorite family members and not fly himself), we began the next stage of this summer adventure. *I’d be remiss not to mention Rosie’s where we had lunch on the very rainy Thursday. It hit the spot for everyone–black bean sliders, lobster rolls, fish ‘n’ chips, and just plain buns.

We visited with our college friend Gabe and his wife Lotus for the night. Lotus had friends visiting from Beijing, and Gilbert found a new passion. He loved tea service. Mr. Lou made Oolong, white tea, green tea, and a special black tea: it was compressed and he had a huge trunk of it in his house at home. He’d cut off a small branch to bring to visit. Gilbert carefully tasted and discerned which tea he liked best (the Taiwanese oolong until that was displaced by the fragrant green tea).

Afternoon and Morning Tea.

Our friends have chickens and ducklings, and they’re in the process of building a coop for the birds. All the boys enjoyed helping get the poultry up for the night, and Gilbert was pretty happy when he got to bust a rotten watermelon for them.

WARNING: Major Gross Story Ahead–Skip to the end if you don’t want to read it.

The next day, we did some shopping at Trader Joe’s, filled up with gas, and went to catch the CAT to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. We got there at 12:45, since they said check in by 1:00, but we didn’t actually load until 2:50, for a 2:30 ferry. That was a hot and miserable couple of hours, but nothing compared to what came next! We frantically ate a lot of our fruit, since it said we wouldn’t be able to take it into Canada (that turned out okay, and they didn’t care that we had cherries and a watermelon–Poor little Porter asked me so sweetly to buy a watermelon, and it would have been sad to have to throw it out).

On the ferry we settled in, walked around, relaxed, and congratulated ourselves for making it on with our picnic and kids. The movie started, Harlan, then Porter, fell asleep on laps, then Seamus (who’d been sitting where he could see the movie) came to inform me that Gilbert had gone to the bathroom and thrown up. We gave him a sick bag and told him to take it to G in case it happened again. It did. Poor kid. As the movie finished, Harlan woke up and wanted to walk around. He also wanted a nectarine, then he didn’t, so I ate two. Then he wanted to go outside, then come inside, then he wanted Dada, but Porter was still asleep. Then he wanted a cracker, then he didn’t, and I should have known what was about to happen. Yep. All over the little kid area, even though I did manage to get hold of a bag and catch some. I almost succumbed myself at that moment, and a dad who’d just gone through the same with his ashen looking toddler quickly handed me my own back. Harlan is the proud owner of a brand new Nova Scotia t-shirt!

We returned, a little worse for the wear, and I felt bad because Patrick couldn’t have helped me, but also relieved because Harlan hadn’t soaked me like the woman behind me’s child did her. She’s also the proud owner of a brand new Nova Scotia t-shirt…Porter then came over to sit on my lap while Patrick took Harlan to go to the toilet. By this time, we’d smartened up and had a whole stockpile of bags at the ready. Porter was holding his nose and then deliberately brought the bag to his face and proceeded to be the third and final victim of seasickness, at least in our family.

Gilbert and Harlan both had another round of it before the boat docked, and we were never so happy to be in port in our lives. The rest of us didn’t feel too bad, but after we got to our AirBnB and had unpacked the cooler, the whole house started swaying and spinning for me. The bed rocked me to sleep! Haha.

But this is we woke up to, right outside our front window:

Good Morning, foggy Bay of Fundy!

We saw the ferry come in from New Brunswick this morning. We walked to the gorgeous lighthouse and explored the rocks and tide pools. We went into town to get some Canadian dollars and check out the Digby lobster bash. There were bounce houses, cannons, and lots of boats.

Worth it.

We are looking forward to more exploring, but we are taking it easy today, and probably tomorrow. We’re definitely going to visit Gilbert’s Cove, Annapolis Royal, Grand Pre, and Halifax. There’s so much to take in! The house is fantastic, and it has a yard with a breeze that has Seamus and Gilbert reenacting World Cup goals and saves by the hour.


Maine Island Getaway June 28, 2018

Filed under: Friends and Relatives,Holidays,Travel — leighj @ 9:56 am

After leaving Cape Cod, we drove through Boston and up to Maine for a ferry across the Casco Bay to Long Island, ME. We tried to stop for lunch, but Porter threw a massive tantrum that resulted in him hitting me, which meant we hung it up and left right away.

We managed to find the ferry terminal, unload, park the car, and load the ferry with only a brief return to the terminal to get Porter’s jacket, which he’d left on the bench. It was a beautiful cruise across the bay to the island where we’d spend three nights. My parents met us down at the dock, and it was pretty funny to see the boys run toward them and all the people look at them as if these two retirees hang out just waiting for a visit from their grandkids to the island. We had a strange but well-equipped house.

Rushing to get the ferry meant we didn’t have time to stop at Trader Joe’s for food for the week. Instead, we made do with what we’d brought and the little island store. We ate well!

Ferry fun!

The first day we took a walk, enjoyed the island sites, and found a fun sign. The speed limit all over the island is 20 mph, and most people drive more slowly still. Seamus and Gilbert saw a boy wreck his bike in the sand, and then a few days later, he was the kid working at the restaurant/gas station. They recognized him and noticed his bandaged arm! I’d say if you stayed very long out here, you’d get to know everyone.

Seamus didn’t like the “misspelling” on the sign. We explained phonetic spellings…

Our first beach day was idyllic. We went to South Beach, and enjoyed the rocks, sand, lobster pots, and we felt awed when we wandered down the beach and around a corner to a beautiful, clean, crystal clear water, cove. The next day, we discovered that that seems to be them MO of the beaches here. One side is seaweedy and the other side of the same beach is clear and gorgeous. I actually managed to get in a bit!

Skipping rocks on the ocean is big fun!


We were lucky to get two nice sunny days, and today, as we’re getting ready to leave, it’s raining buckets. We ate, read, napped, walked, played on the beach, watched movies, and sat on the elevated deck. All in all, a perfect island getaway!

Somebody got tired of walking!


Cape Cod: Rainy/Cloudy Day Activities June 26, 2018

Filed under: Friends and Relatives,Summer Vacation,Travel — leighj @ 5:42 am

The last few days on the cape, it was a little too cold/rainy to go to the beach for swimming or kayaking. Instead, we took off for a day of tourism in Provincetown. We wanted to climb to the top of the Pilgrim monument to check out the view, and to live up to the little board book we have about Cape Cod. It was the Portuguese parade and festival weekend, but we kind of dipped in and out before that really got started.

Seamus and Gilbert wanted a picture on this bench. They’re having hot chocolate because it was windy, cold, and wet! But still really fun.

We walked out on the pier to see all the fishing boats decorated for the festival–lots of Portuguese flags. The blessing of the fleet was the next day, so others were decorated for that as well. Finally, we found a place to re-up our parking, and we headed off to climb the monument. Some folks coming down said, “Don’t look up!” but of course we did.

Can you see S & G?

116 stairs and 60 ramps to a great view! I carried Harlan up in the Boba, but Porter walked most of the way.

Windy window.

Different windows were open along the way, and this one was the one that the wind whipped in through. Everybody enjoyed the fresh air!

The view from the top was a little less than captivating because we were getting rained on, but we were all elated that we’d gone up. The Monument had a fantastic museum that we didn’t get to explore as fully as we’d have liked, but it was still interesting, even with limited time. A whaling boat captain’s quarters, a mock up of the Mayflower, an antique dollhouse, information about the Providence Players and Eugene O’Neill, a narwhal tusk, and more!

The older boys went go karting one day, and Porter got to join them for The Incredibles 2, which they declared the best movie they’ve ever seen. On Sunday, we headed out early for a last walk on Lighthouse beach.

Beach trash sculpture.

We revisited the fish pier to see the seals. Every time we saw a boat, Harlan started hollering, “Seals! Seals!” I guess he’s learned that where fishing boats go, seals follow. Sunday was low key, with the little ones napping, and Patrick and I taking Seamus and Gilbert to a baseball game. They were excited to collect foul balls, and somehow, they both managed to get one!

Onward to Maine!


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.


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.