Academic Leigh Speaking

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

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.


Driving and Arrival in Waynesville, North Carolina August 4, 2017

Filed under: Outdoor Pursuits,Summer Vacation,Travel — leighj @ 6:21 pm

We left Birmingham about 8:30 am heading for Chattanooga, and then Waynesville, North Carolina. We had considered stopping in Gadsden, and it was a great city, but we had sleeping kids when we got there, so we moved on. Our first stop was Chattanooga for waterplay, a picnic, and just some quick sightseeing.

An unexpected delight!

Near the river, there is a very steep grassy area just perfect for sliding down on cardboard boxes! We enjoyed several runs. Porter wasn’t heavy enough to slide by himself, so I was thrilled to go with him!

We had heard that there was the Trail of Tears memorial in Chattanooga, but we had some trouble finding it. Once we did (it’s under bridge, right next to the aquarium), we cooled off in the river water, while respecting the memory of thousands of Cherokee who were forced to leave their homes.

Trail of Tears–unending water flow.

After Chattanooga, we headed into the mountains. We traveled along the Ocoee River, observing the rafters. I felt a little guilty exclaiming over the scenery every three seconds, while Patrick had to drive, but he said he didn’t mind. The boys thought rafting looked pretty fun, especially when we stopped to watch the groups put into the river.

They want to get in!

We got to Waynesville in time for dinner at Boojum Brewery. So good! Then to our airbnb rental. It’s a cozy little house with toys, books, and a washing machine!

Our Friday activity was Flat Creek Falls hike in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. It was a little more exciting than I’d hoped. We saw some exceptionally fresh bear scat, Porter lost his shoe in a bog, and we missed the falls! We’ll remember it for sure! After the hike, we found a blackberry bush, and had our fill. That redeemed it.

Seconds before Porter lost his shoe! Gilbert recovered it for him.

I’d wanted to go to Asheville tonight to see the drum circle, but it’s raining, the kids are tired, and we decided to just call it a night. When traveling with kids, dial back your expectations, and everyone will have fun!


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.


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!


Garden Update July 11, 2017

Filed under: Garden,Just Thinking,Outdoor Pursuits — leighj @ 7:55 am

My garden is yellow. I went over to spy on my neighbor’s garden tonight, and hers is super green. And now I’m green with envy. My plants have a yellow tinge, and I’ve tried putting compost around the base of the plants, but I don’t know if it’s working. Do I need more? Less? Water? I’m uncertain.

When we got back from our week away, I had a lot of green bean growth (enough for an actual mess of green beans!), some overly mature snow peas, a cucumber, a patty pan squash, and some good basil growth in the pots by the door. My tomatoes were sprouting, but I know the squirrels have been at them, and today my Cherokee green had blossom rot on one of the promising tomatoes. It’s like my garden has grown into a disappointing teenager from the adorable toddler it was a month ago. I don’t know what to do for it to make it talk to me.

I still love it, but I have more work to do to figure it out. Meanwhile, I go out to stare at it every night and try to train the branches to do what I want. I brought in a few tomatoes tonight to see if I can get them to ripen on the windowsill….


Shenandoah National Park Hikes with Kids July 10, 2017

Well, we didn’t let too much grass grow under our feet!

We were home one day and it rained like crazy. I took Seamus and Gilbert bowling with a friend, went to the library, and met with a student on campus. Just all in a day’s work. On Friday, we packed up to go to Madison, VA for a couple of nights with our friends and their kids. On the way down, we stopped in Culpepper for lunch. The Frost Cafe got good reviews, so we made the stop. It was not crowded, but there were a lot single people taking up large booths. Lucky for us, a man got up from his booth and insisted we occupy it. He went to the lunch counter instead. Those small actions make a big difference to families! We would have had to wait 15-20 minutes with squirmy, hungry kids. The diner was a great choice–big portions, good veggies, and the best was the strawberry milkshake we all five split for dessert. Seamus had trouble with it because he was tired and cranky still and perceived his portion as less than the others. Porter on the other hand, tasted it, looked up and said, “MAMA! WHAT IS THIS?” in the most delighted voice I have ever heard. I couldn’t stop laughing. It was like he’d found nirvana. A Milkshake! I told him. “What? How?” as if you could just shake some milk and why wasn’t he aware of this earlier. He took my explanation of ice cream and milk into a blender like a smoothie and I heard him talking to himself about it a few days later!

Now, if you came here to hear about hiking: We did two shorter hikes with the seven children (ages 8,6,6,4,2,1,1). Three kids were in backpacks, but Porter walked most of the way down both hikes. We did White Oak Canyon Trail lower parking (which does fill up on summer weekends, so get there early; we arrived at 8:45 am and there was still some parking). The hike is about 1.5 miles up to the first set of falls. The falls were beautiful, but the hike was challenging. We passed 3 or 4 swimming holes on the way up. At the top, we picnicked on the rocks, but it was precarious with so many little ones. Some foolish (or brave!) folks were using the lower falls like a water slide. It looked hilarious, and I think Seamus wanted to try it (he didn’t ask to, but looked longingly), but no one was available to save him if he got in trouble. We settled for swimming in a swimming hole about halfway down.

The only one to get fully immersed in the water!

Porter put on his suit and slid down a rock near the swimming hole. He got pretty wet, and he was so pleased. He said, “Mother, I’m sliding down a riverbank on my shell!” This is part of the elaborate game he plays of being Franklin the Turtle. Harlan loved the swimming hole. He got stripped down to his water shoes, and he laughed like a loon the whole time. He splashed himself. He dug for rocks. He thought about full immersion, but it was cold!

All in all, the trail is good for kids, but a little difficult. The 8 year old had no trouble, and the kids in backpacks were fine. The 6 year olds were also fine, if a bit too interested in snacks. The 4 year old made it up and down, slowly, but of his own volition (which was awesome!). We took about 4 hours to do just the lower falls out and back, but we did stop for lunch and to play in the swimming hole. No real need for sunscreen, unless you plan to spend a long time in the swimming holes.

Our second hike was just our family on the Lower Hawksbill Trail. It was straight up for one mile, but it was beautiful at the top. Our younger kids again were in backpacks, with the two year old walking down, but not up. We had a snack and took in the view at the top. Lots of rocks and the trail is gravelly, so kind of slippery, but the 2 year old handled the downhill in flip flops. Harlan even walked a little at the end.

What a view!

The hike did wear them out, but they remained in good spirits, even asking me to take a picture of all of them at the end of the hike:

Adorable goofballs.

Patrick and I talked about how we’ve been prone to the narrative that it’s so hard to do anything, but now, the last few weeks have proven that we can do stuff that we want to do, like go hiking and kayaking, and to the beach or wherever. We just have to remember the pace and the mood.


Cape Cod Activities July 1, 2017

While the kids get up at the crack of dawn (which this far north is like 5:15!), we’ve been making the most of it to get out and about early. Porter and Harlan are now on the same nap schedule most days, which is its own kind of magic. Except I’m trying to sneak in this blog post while they’re napping, and Porter is having none of it at the moment. He really needs to rest though, because he wants to go to “Grandude’s beach” this afternoon and see the ducklings. He’s pretty good, but he melts down on low sleep.

So far, we’ve been to a few beaches. We also checked out the pond on the property. There are two ride on top kayaks, and guess who fell in love?

They are actually pretty good at this!

It wore them out! Patrick gave them some verbal coaching, and with a little trial and error, they were paddling out and back and in small circles around the pond. Pretty cool to see them learn a new skill from apprehension and doubt to confidence and excitement in one afternoon. They’re going out again this afternoon.

We also went down to the fish pier to watch the boats loading up to go out and to see the seals that hang out at the pier looking for handouts. It was a beautiful morning for it. This was after we spent a good part of the morning at a playground working on monkey bars. I do not know where children get their endless reserves of energy.

Fishing pier at the Cape.

The house has a ping-pong table in the basement, and they’ve devised a king of the court style game so everyone can play. Gilbert has a pretty good serve, and Seamus moves quickly, so it’s been hard to win at KotC very long! There’s a pool table, but they can’t really handle the cue sticks yet.

My fishie!

Today, we went to a different playground in the morning (are you sensing a theme?) and then in the face of cloudy and breezy weather, decided to go to Chatham to walk around instead of the beach. The town library was sponsoring a story walk and facepainting. You walk through town stopping to read a page of a story every 30 feet or so, and then end at the library for painting. Porter didn’t want anything at first, but he got so excited by the fish on one arm, that he wanted more on the other. It didn’t happen for him. Gilbert got a smiling puppy dog on his arm, and Seamus went fierce.


I really didn’t want to wait in the long line, but they were so happy, it seemed worth it at the end. Harlan did not get painted, but he mugged for the camera!

My tie dye projects continue to show promise.

Tomorrow the kids are going fishing, and we’re going to take in a Cape league baseball game. It is so nice to be away from home for a while. We have really enjoyed the children and the change of scenery. There’s still dishes and laundry to do, but it doesn’t seem like such a chore when we’re having fun. Also, the three bathrooms at our disposal make a big difference! I think the best thing is that Patrick and I are feeling so relaxed that we are able to have fun with the kids, and in turn, the kids’ behavior is more to our liking.