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!


Digby, Nova Scotia and Around July 3, 2018

Quick post today! It’s early morning, and I’m watching the sunlight play on the Bay of Fundy, and I’m just never bored with the interaction between light, water, and clouds here. Ships come and go, and there are cliff along the opposite shore. It’s stunning.

Where we left off was our attempt at recovering from an exhausting day of travel. Naptime was a good restorative, and Seamus and Gilbert played soccer in the nice big yard at the AirBnB house. Then they went down to the lighthouse rocks to explore.

Patrick got this cute shot of them.

We took it pretty easy, but because Porter and Harlan napped so long, they had a really hard time going to sleep. We put them in their beds at 8:00, but they didn’t actually stop getting up and talking until 9:30, I think. Of course, that was also an hour ahead. We all had better rest for the next day, when we headed off to Annapolis Royal.

Fort Anne National Historic Site was fascinating, if a bit dangerous. There were steep hills all over the fort and the sense that you could fall off the battlements. The fort is built in the shape of a star to be defended on multiple sides. The oldest European building maintained by the Canadian Parks service is there. It was a great spot to learn about the history of colonization in Nova Scotia. Views from the fort showed why the site would have been highly desirable.

They just wanted to play on the cannons!

We went to a playground and got a muffin, and overheard some parents talking about a place called Upper Clements Park

. There were multiple tantrums, and Porter sat down on the sidewalk, at which point another family wryly wished us a “Happy Canada Day.” Haha. So back to the house, for some world cup watching (two shootouts in one day!), naps, and Seamus and Gilbert’s first trip to the laundromat.

They were not impressed.

As it was Sunday, and Canada Day, the grocery store was not open. We tried to go to the fish market yesterday, but that wasn’t open either. It seems that this is bound to be the trip to the seafood rich areas of the world in which we will eat no seafood! We looked up Upper Clements Park online, and decided to veer from my trip planning to take the kids there.

Yesterday was a perfect day.

We made an early morning trip to Gilbert’s Cove Lighthouse on the Acadian Shore. The guidebook says that it’s a good place for beach combing, and it did not disappoint! We found a place to throw rocks in the water (Gilbert’s one goal every day), observed crabs and snails, studied tidal patterns, played frisbee on the lawn, and climbed to the top of the lighthouse. I felt like we got a cultural experience, and the kids had fun.

Gilbert’s Cove Lighthouse

Next up was Upper Clements Park. It’s an amusement park, of sorts. There were plenty of activities for each age. Porter and Harlan liked the ball pit, bumper boats, and train ride.

Kiddie boats!

Zoom Flume

The teenagers working the place were pretty bored, but they were sweet to the kids, and didn’t seem to care much about enforcing height restrictions. The Canadians kept talking about how hot it was, and it was 80, so I guess that’s hot here!

Cooling off

They had a little kiddie wading pool, and we did that last to cool Porter and Harlan off. Seamus and Gilbert liked the Laser Tag activity. We hurried back to the house so Patrick could take a phone call, and I went off to the park and grocery with the kids. We found the Digby public swimming pool, where we chatted with the teenage lifeguards who couldn’t believe we’d come all the way to Digby just to visit the place–not to visit people. Later I laughed, imagining myself at their age, if I’d met Canadian tourists in my hometown just visiting to see what there was to see there.

We’re three kids up now, and thinking about how to spend the day!


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.


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.