Academic Leigh Speaking

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

All I’ve Got These Days is a Quick Update September 28, 2016

Filed under: Academic,Family Life,Summer Vacation,Travel — leighj @ 4:26 pm
  1. Porter is talking a lot more. Naturally, I think it’s really cute. He says “No fair!” with no idea what that means. He’s just echoing his brothers. He says: Uh oh, naughty toe! New disc! (he doesn’t know what that means either, but in the car it leads to a lot of kerfuffle and excitement) Apple crisp! Butter! (for peanut butter)
  2. He can answer questions now. Where’s Gilbert? Me to Patrick. Porter, listening in, “Outside.”
  3. Harlan loves to smile at people. He waits until you’re talking to him, and then he kills you with a smile.

Work is busy, but mostly rewarding. Patrick is busy with work too.

  1. I tried to watch the debate on Monday. I watched about 20 minutes, and then I gave up, read for class, and followed along on Twitter. I was inspired by the debate to go buy some Hillary merchandise. I hope it’s better than the John Kerry shirt I bought back in the day that had two different sized sleeves.
  2. I really enjoyed reading Demetria Martinez’s Confessions of a Berlitz Tape Chicana. It filled in a lot of gaps for me on this piece of research I’m working on.
  3. I’m officially headed to Houston for a conference in February. I’m a bit sad because I’d really like to go to the conference in New York in April (an awesome speaker is slated) but I just cannot do more than one conference a semester. Getting old.
  4. I agreed to be a supporting room parent for Gilbert’s class. I just want to make the musical costumes again. Should be fun (or make me crazy).

We went to NJ for Irish weekend and a last time at the shore. We checked out the secret beach to great effect. Seamus loves the water and will go in even if it means he’s going to freeze. Gilbert loves collecting shells. Porter liked running on the beach, and Harlan went to sleep in the Ergo. Patrick and I enjoyed the scenery and sunshine.

On the ferry!

On the ferry!

We had fun riding the rides. The boardwalk is so pleasant when it’s not 98 degrees! We got on the ferry home, and it was fun, but the kids were tired enough to be a bit cranky. Still, we made it and that’s what matters.

 

Lucky Boys September 4, 2016

Filed under: Family Life,Outdoor Pursuits,Summer Vacation — leighj @ 9:57 am
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Finding four leaf clovers is a thing that comes easily to me and has since I was little. When talking with someone, or walking, I can look down, see one, pick it, and keep going. This usually prompts a, “How do you do that?” I’ve been trying to get the boys trained to find them too.

A few days ago, we came across a mutated patch of clover in which about one in four was a four leaf, and one in 20 was a five leaf. I encouraged them to look, and at first they didn’t want to, since when I’ve made them look before it was hard. This time though, they started having fun finding them.

Gilbert shows his lucky clovers.

Gilbert shows his lucky clovers.

Seamus only wants the five leaf clovers.

Seamus only wants the five leaf clovers.

Maybe they’ll get into it now!

 

Passport for Fairfax County Parks Discovery August 31, 2016

Adventures at the parks.

Adventures at the parks.

Seamus and Gilbert picked up a passport for the Fairfax County parks a few weeks ago, and we’ve been going to the different parks to see what there was to see. The passport definitely achieved its goal to get people checking out new parks they’ve never been to before. If you go: Many of the visitors centers are closed on Tuedsay, even though the park is open.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center: A fun park! It has two easy hiking trails, blazed orange and blue/gray. The orange trail has animal prints to guess at certain points, and the blue/gray trail crosses a little stream. The visitor center is big with lots to play with/touch. It was a little crowded in there the day we visited, but the trails were almost empty. Nice little suburban park.

Huntley Meadows: We’ve been there many times. The visitor center closes early on weekends. However, the boardwalk is a ton of fun for a hike. Lots of birds, turtles, and beavers.

Riverbend: We like this park because you can hike through to Great Falls Park without paying the parking fee at Great Falls. They rent canoes and kayaks here. Lots of close to the river hiking and interesting bird sightings. On our trip we saw a huge caterpillar, lots of spiders and daddy long legs, and ducks. A very productive nature walk, in which we learned about clearing spider webs, rock scrambles, and water buoys.

Frying Pan Farm: I trekked there with my four boys and a friend, the same age as Gilbert. I got a lot of looks. This was really neat, and not particularly well advertised. Lots of animals, the 4-H barns, a country store. The old farmhouse and kitchen was terrific. We took a wagon ride, and Porter was a little afraid of the animals, but he liked them from the safety of the wagon. The pigs made the boys nervous, after listening to the terror of the hogs in Old Yeller, they didn’t want anything to do with them!

Wagon Ride

Wagon Ride

Lake Fairfax: We’ve camped here, been to the skate park, and seen a band in the amphitheater. On this visit we saw the marina, geese, and playground.

Hidden Pond: Seamus’s class had a field trip here earlier this year. The pond has a lot of scum on it, but it also lives up to the name. There are turtles and ducks easily spotted. A couple of nice hiking trails. Porter liked the visitor’s center, which had a copperhead, several different turtles, fish, and motion sensor water fountains. There’s also a nice playground at the park.

Green Spring Gardens: A surprisingly fun place with ponds, plants, and a cool greenhouse.

Ellanor Lawrence Park: I am so happy we went here because I got to see a friend I haven’t seen in a year, but. I should have worn the Ergo despite the heat. I tried the stroller, but the trails were too bumpy. The redeeming part for the boys was wading in the creek. And hearing the story of my friend being trapped in a sleeping bag. Also my friend announced, “Hey, my mom got married here!” which was awesome!

The Prize!

Both Seamus and Gilbert received a terrific prize pack with coupons for mini golf, wagon rides, carousel rides, camping, swimming, boats rentals, and more. They are all to use at the parks in the future.

This is one of the most spontaneous and fun things we decided to do this summer. Right on, Fairfax County!

 

Some Photo Evidence of Our Summer August 23, 2016

Filed under: Outdoor Pursuits,Summer Vacation,Uncategorized — leighj @ 6:36 am
Porter encounters the bears at the Cape May zoo.

Porter encounters the bears at the Cape May zoo.

Seamus and Gilbert play a video game at the restaurant. They've been begging to do it again ever since.

Seamus and Gilbert play a video game at the restaurant. They’ve been begging to do it again ever since.

Seamus and I make pickles.

Seamus and I make pickles.

Porter and Gilbert in the kiddie pool.

Porter and Gilbert in the kiddie pool.

Seamus, Gilbert, and I ride Rip Tide!

Seamus, Gilbert, and I ride Rip Tide!

Gilbert and Patrick ride the lighthouse ride.

Gilbert and Patrick ride the lighthouse ride.

Gilbert jumps at the Lego fair.

Gilbert jumps at the Lego fair.

Porter needs a haircut.

Porter needs a haircut.

Seamus holds Harlan.

Seamus holds Harlan.

 

It Changes Every Year August 20, 2016

I think what I’ve been struggling to capture over the last few blog posts and before I go back to school/work is a sense of how we go to the same places every year or season with the children, and yet, it’s so different every time because they are different ages and abilities (and numbers). And Patrick and I often ask each other, would you rather go to the same place over and over or different places on vacation with the kids?

We take this from our own experiences as children. I remember going to my aunt and uncle’s house every summer. It was always the same in that we swam a lot, ate a lot, watched movies, and went places. It was always different in that we talked about different music, topics, books, in each summer. There was Beatles summer, Shakespeare summer, Elvis summer. It was never boring. And being an only for a week was great. On family vacations we rarely went to the same places, but it seems like things were still always the same. We went skiing in Taos and had three feet of snow dump on us. We tried to go skiing in Wyoming, but it was so cold they had the lifts shut down. We did have some excellent ski vacations, but there was always a hitch–brakes catching on fire going down the mountain and packing snow around them, losing Bret in the village, somebody not stopping at the fork in the trail. My dad says he mostly remembers having to stop and get us hot chocolate all the time because kids get cold.

Patrick and I both say pretty reliably that we liked to explore new places, but looking back over the last few summers, we’ve been to the same places–Cape Cod, New Jersey shore, DC, and sometimes Kentucky. Yet, these places aren’t boring to do over and over because the kids are so different that we do different things.

We definitely hit a reset in having Porter and Harlan. I see how easy it would be with Gilbert and Seamus–we could go to the beach as a family with little fanfare. If we go now, we have to arrange for someone to watch Harlan, usually while he’s napping, and I have a limited block of time before he needs me again. We beg a shuttle ride, because Porter’s legs are too short to walk to the beach, and a stroller just won’t go over the sand. Then one person has to supervise wave jumping, while someone else supervises sand play. It’s fun, but a lot of logistics for a couple of hours. Is it worth it? In some ways, this is what makes going to the same place with kids easier–we already know many of the variables, so the logistics are easier to figure out. Maybe not easier to manage, but there are knowns and known unknowns that we can work with. Next year the kid variables will all be different, but the beach will be the same.

For instance, we went to ride the rides. Good times, and an easy marker of how much they change year to year. Gilbert still isn’t tall enough for some of them, but he did add a few this year. They were so excited to add bumper cars, but that was a huge disappointment, because they weren’t allowed to drive them (not tall enough). They did like the roller coaster and the rip tide that swings back and forth. We talked about rules: we all stay together, if Porter’s riding something, you can too, or you can wait. Seamus and I did sneak off for the big roller coaster because we didn’t want Porter to see us leave. Gilbert loved riding with Porter on all the baby rides. Porter, once he had a taste of riding was a basket case if he wasn’t big enough for a ride. I was glad we started with a few he couldn’t do so he wouldn’t know what he was missing. Seamus only wanted to do the big ones, and he did wait, mostly patiently, but he didn’t get to do the swings, as moods soured rapidly after the bumper cars.

Things to note in the above story. Most things didn’t change. Fundamental personalities didn’t change. Porter wanted to be part of it. Gilbert liked being safe and secure but had his own ideas about things like driving. Seamus wanted to do more with his competitive spirit. Harlan slept in the stroller, totally relaxed until he got too hot. Patrick and I didn’t realize when they’d had enough and tried to do one more thing.

But the surroundings meant a whole new generation for us of children being able to go on rides. We got to do it again and still see Seamus and Gilbert grow and interact with Porter on the rides. We get to superimpose our memories from years past onto this year. The tantrums or heat or whatever made parts of it unpleasant fade (or sometimes come into sharp relief!) and this year’s memory goes on top to get muddled up with the others next year. At the end of our lives we have a mishmash, that we won’t be able to tell you, the summer of ’16 this is what happened, but we will remember the sheer joy of watching the boys twirl around with the wind in their crazy surfer hair. We might also laugh about how each one generally reacted.

What we can do and enjoy changes every year, but the core of it stays the same. I’m sad to let this sense of growth and development go away from my minute to minute experiences.

 

Growing up in the Water August 19, 2016

Well, I can safely say that Seamus is a pretty strong swimmer. We did the beach and the water park, and he more than handled it all. There was a clear sign at the end of the day that they were done (kicking each other under water where we couldn’t see them), but they held up.

Patrick and Nana and PopPop took Seamus and Gilbert to the boardwalk water park. I took Porter and Harlan to the zoo. The zoo was very pleasant, with lots more shade than I remember. Porter especially liked the ostriches, bears, and the turtles. He demanded more animals frequently. Now when asked “One or two?” he’s cottoned on to Two being more, so that’s a new favorite word. When we got back, I asked him what we saw. “Owl.” Now if you ask, Did you see ___? He says yes to everything, even things like elephants, which we did not see. Not quite a reliable witness yet.

At the waterpark, the boys went down a waterslide called Shotgun Falls, which drops you in a tank of water 10 feet deep from a 6 foot drop. I about had a heart attack thinking about Gilbert doing that. Luckily he was wearing a life vest. They liked the rope swing, lazy river, and lily pads. I went back to the water park with them after lunch, leaving the two little ones napping. It was crazy and nerve-wracking, but ultimately a lot of fun. Last year, Seamus was brave enough to try the diving board at my friend’s house (in Kentucky) and then to try boogie boarding in the waves. This year, he’s fearless. We did some waterslides with double tubes, and then we tried single tubes. Then we went for the racing mat slides. Hilarious. Patrick talked me into the Shotgun falls, and I tried it, but it’s not for me. I got a chlorine rinse for my sinuses and thank goodness I invested in the “no-move” mom suit this year….that’s all I have to say about that.

Then we tried the water slides where you go down head first on the mats. Holy moly. I went first because I was worried about Seamus not being able to swim the distance to get out, but after I got to the bottom and anxiously awaited the rest of my family, I was so nervous that Gilbert would come down crying. I caught air going down that slide. I was terrified, and I was pretty sure Gilbert would be too. That’s the only one they didn’t come down begging to do it again, but it’s also the only one the said was their favorite when we checked back in after dinner.

The beach, as a free waterpark, also ranks highly. Seamus and Gilbert were attacking the waves when we went. It helps that in NJ the shallow area goes on forever. We were past the break but the waves weren’t over their heads. They were diving into them (I think they learned this from Grandma’s sister on our Cape Cod trip) and doggy paddling through them. Even Gilbert. Porter was up with Patrick getting just enough waves to keep him cool and interested. Everytime one got him, he’d giggle, shake himself off, look around, and say more!

 

Anniversary Party August 16, 2016

Filed under: Events,Family Life,Summer Vacation — leighj @ 3:31 pm

We headed out of town one last time for an anniversary celebration. We had no idea that we’d meet such fun and interesting people. Patrick’s aunt and uncle were celebrating their 10th anniversary, and they invited his family and her family to celebrate with them. I met some of Patrick’s cousins who I’d never met (and there were so many, I’m not sure I’ve got everyone placed right!). The boys made friends with Patrick’s uncle’s nieces and nephews on the other side of the family. It helped we all stayed at the same hotel with a pool, because when you’re six, all it takes to make friends is a pool, some goggles, and a competitive (or cooperative) spirit.

Patrick’s aunt hosted a beautiful party on Saturday, despite the oppressive heat. Kiddos got their faces–and arms–painted, and they challenged the balloon man to make pirates, pirate ships, swords, crowns, and all sorts of things. I don’t think anyone asked for a puppy dog, which is what every balloon artist starts with, I’m pretty sure. This crowd was cosmopolitan. The food was great. Seamus indulged his newfound love for crab cakes, and even Gilbert could be convinced to sit and eat.

What was really fun–aside from the kids in their matching shirts–was the sense of family and community. I always enjoy seeing people gather and celebrate being part of a community, even if they don’t agree politically, religiously, or otherwise. It is also astounding how people can be raised in the same family and come to very different conclusions about the world, or that two people raised in very different families come to similar conclusions and decide to make a go of it. A few years ago, the family gatherings we attended convinced us that we were ready for more children. That’s not the case this year, because we could see how much fun we’ll be having in a few years when they get just a touch older, but we also feel that having a bigger family was right for us. Anyway, we are also grateful people will host us, now that we’re a big commitment!

Happy anniversary, John and Denise! Thank you for including us in your celebration!