Academic Leigh Speaking

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

A Visit to Kentucky October 15, 2017

Filed under: Family Life,Friends and Relatives,Travel — leighj @ 10:08 pm

Yep. Another fall break, another visit to Kentucky. This one was fun; the six of us went to the science museum in Nashville with my brother and then went to Rainforest Cafe to eat. It was hokey, but what fun for the kids! Every half hour there was a thunderstorm when the animitronic animals moved. There were real fish to watch. Harlan was very interested and occupied with the scenery. The flight was fine, the van we rented had very uncomfortable head rests.

The older boys really learned to play Rook this time. Porter read hundreds of books, and Harlan ate his weight in applesauce. It seemed like a low key visit (except for the 5:00 am wake ups), but we accomplished a lot of fun and activities, with a minimal disruption to our lives in Virginia. The kids missed one day of school, and I didn’t miss any. I still had to play catch up (and, indeed, I’m still doing so), but we had a pleasant visit with good food, family, and fun.

Not in Kentucky: We watched Cool Runnings about the Jamaica Bobsled team. I’d never seen it, and it was a classic moment when Gilbert didn’t want to watch it because it wasn’t his pick, but within 15 minutes, he was laughing hysterically at the movie.

Rainforest Cafe Watching the Thunderstorm.


Seamus got to try out the Astronaut Walk exhibit at the Science Museum. He was excited!

A family tradition!

Getting some tooth love from Granny.

He almost ate the whole bowl.

Harlan makes a new friend.

Home again!


Breaking the ice October 5, 2017

Filed under: Family Life,Food,Friends and Relatives,Uncategorized — leighj @ 9:18 am

Whew. I haven’t written in a while. Currently there are items in every room of the house that need something. For instance, in the living room, there is a new toilet; in Porter and Harlan’s room, there is a large tub of camping equipment.

Love the old timey press. Collected the apples from under the tree.

There’s a huge number of apples in the kitchen. We made cider!

Seamus has played in more soccer games. Porter loves school. Gilbert reads a lot and helps out with chores. Harlan is wonderful but exhausting, especially with all the stuff out of place in the house.

I’m waiting for the plumber, typing on my phone, trying to figure out how to do it all today. Probably not possible.

More later.


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.


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.


In and Around Bowling Green, Kentucky July 28, 2017

Filed under: Family Life,Friends and Relatives,Summer Vacation,Travel — leighj @ 6:52 am

My parents and I have been happier since we started hammering out what we all need and expect in a day of intensive kid-time (we started this about a year and a half ago). One thing that everyone needs is some downtime in the afternoon. Tuesday, I took Seamus and Gilbert to the public library while Porter and Harlan napped. That was a stroke of genius! I got an hour of writing in, they were thrilled to find books they wanted to read, and Porter and Harlan got terrifically long, uninterrupted naps.

Stacks of books!

They were particularly excited that the library had books that they’ve been waiting for in Falls Church. I couldn’t believe how quiet the children’s section was…it was a dreamy place to get some work done.

Later, I went to yoga and met up with one of my mentors from my master’s program. Wednesday, we went to the spraypark in Bowling Green with a friend from grad school and her daughter. I always enjoy that place, and it didn’t disappoint. Gilbert stayed with my parents to get his orthodontia accomplished, while Seamus, Porter, and Harlan got wet and had a picnic. I think the key to finding things to do in a place where there’s not a lot of appropriate touristy stuff is to try to think about what I do at home and then to replicate that in the other place. That’s how we took to going to the park here on every visit. We just have to adjust to the idea that we’re going to drive to the park, and it’s going to be empty, and that’s okay.

Or, you could just play with cats.

And sip some water.


First Leg of Long Road Trip: Lexington, KY July 27, 2017

We made it to Lexington. I drove four kids, myself, and a large piece of furniture across West Virginia. That part of the trip was beautiful. There was fog on the mountains coming across from Virginia, and I kept exclaiming to the boys to “Look!”

Our objectives in Lexington were fairly simple: eat, swim, see family, and go to Fort Boonesborough State Park. We accomplished all of that and more. I asked the two older boys what they learned from visiting Boonesborough, and Seamus listed candle making, the doors on the buildings, and that sometimes in the early days of the settlement, they slept on the floor. Gilbert listed how to fire a flintlock rifle, how to throw a tomahawk, and how to make candles. It was interesting and the people wearing period costumes were knowledgable and friendly. Harlan wasn’t that into it until it started raining and he found a puddle to sit down in!

Everyone else had run for cover!

Lexington was a fun place to spend a few nights. The hotel had a salt water pool, and we swam a lot. Porter played with the shark nets and sinking fish. He loves to imitate Bruce in Finding Nemo and he said, “I’m having fish tonight!” every time he caught one in his net. On Monday, my parents were eager to get back to their cats and dog, so they left early with Seamus, Gilbert, and Porter.

I left later with my grandmother and Harlan. I got to see my brother another day, and we went to the Arboretum on UK’s campus. I used to find botanical gardens kind of boring, but they are nice places for families to explore, and we had enjoyed looking at the different plants. Bret got me pretty good, with naming a bunch of plants and then he got stuck, and I said, “You were just making all that up, right?” and he laughed and laughed. It was pretty funny.

After Bret left, Granny and I went over to McConnell Springs (I told her I wasn’t going if it was named after Mitch–it wasn’t) to see where one of the first settlements in Lexington had been. The park was nice with a short paved walking trail. We didn’t take the stroller, and Harlan really got a kick out of walking around there, but then he got tired and uncooperative, so I had to manhandle him out of the place.

A cold spring!

He was grinning in this picture, but his face is so changeable it’s hard to snap him in the right look. Afterwards, we drove Old Frankfort Pike to Frankfort. The road is a must if you’re thinking of going that way. Frankfort has a small, but thriving, downtown. It was a highlight! Of course, Granny knows all the good places, and I learned more about the capital of Kentucky in one hour with her than I had in my whole life. We saw the governor’s mansion, a Frank Lloyd Wright house, the floral clock, and the Capitol from below and above!

I took her back to my aunt and uncle’s house where we stretched our legs a bit, and then I drove the rest of the way to my parents’ house. And the adventures continued!


Traditions: And Traveling with Another Family July 12, 2017

Patrick and I have been talking about the merits of going someplace new vs someplace you’ve been. We have come up with a good sense of reasons to do both. I think I may have blogged about that before. However, now we can add the tradition of going different places with the same people. The family we went to Madison, VA with is a family we’ve rented a place with three summers in a row now. This summer, it really felt like we got into the groove. The last few times we tried to plan the food and activities but we ended up with way too much food and too difficult activities.

This year, we had difficult activities (see the hiking event), but they were perfect. We also simplified our standards for food. It was still good, but it was easier to prepare and get on the table for four adults and seven hungry kids. We put the kids to bed and the adults sat around a campfire talking and laughing. The kids were up for breakfast, but we had made that one smooth too with granola, yogurt, and fruit for a highly customizable breakfast experience. We’d also done bagels, but that didn’t get food on the table as fast.

One night, we did fireworks and sparklers with the kids. I think it’s the first one they remember. Harlan liked the fireworks until it started banging!


Tips for traveling with another family:

  1. If one person is in charge of multiple kids, that person needs to lay down the expectations for behavior.
  2. Food should be simple but not just chips and dip.
  3. Kids have to go to bed so the adults get to feel like they had some down time.
  4. Quiet reading time is great. Better if an adult sits with the quiet readers and reads too. (That was me! I loved it!)
  5. Nappers should not skip naps.
  6. A morning activity is best. Evening activities should be low key.
  7. Good games: Outburst Jr, Apples to Apples Jr, and a deck of cards. Outdoors: Cornhole, a wifflebat, or a playground ball.
  8. Whoever is in the kitchen should be cleaning.
  9. Give the other family some privacy if a child is melting down.
  10. Relax. Everybody wants to have fun.

We are already planning for next year! (Not overplanning, just planning to go again!)