Academic Leigh Speaking

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

Happenings–Last Day of Summer and Gilbert’s Birthday Weekend September 4, 2017

Filed under: Events,Family Life,Growing up,Outdoor Pursuits,Summer Vacation — leighj @ 3:12 pm

Well, it’s been a long time since I posted anything, but largely that’s down to I went back to work two weeks ago! This weekend was Gilbert’s birthday. He’s seven! I feel like he was too old to be six, but it’s funny that his birthday is always coming to quickly (maybe because it is the last bit of summer). We celebrated with Lego Figure Cake, some legos, a book, and time with grandparents. He declared it the “Best Birthday Ever” so you know it was fine.

In other recent events:

Gilbert at the batting cage.

Seamus awaits a pitch.

It was a rather cold day for the water park.

I took all four kids to the water park and batting cages, even though it was a bit overcast and cold. They enjoyed themselves immensely anyway. It’s been too cold to swim the last two weeks, but here’s hoping we get a couple more days in before the end of the season.

We enjoyed a beautiful evening on the Georgetown waterfront.

Harlan’s language has exploded. He said ducks, airplane, I go, fountain, and some more words this night. We also cut off this cute little mullet over the weekend.

Early morning duck feeding.

See the trim?

Gilbert wanted to swing. It was pretty funny.

Best Birthday–to be Davy Crockett, or Daniel Boone?

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Summer Reading August 22, 2017

Filed under: Books,Family Life,Fourth Baby,Summer Vacation — leighj @ 11:55 am

We signed up for summer reading at the library. Seamus and Gilbert each had to read five books, whereas Porter and Harlan had to have 30 books read to them. Who do you think had the most trouble? If you guessed Harlan, you’re correct! He is the only one not finished with his. We sit and try to read to him frequently, and we’re often reading to Porter where he could join us, but he chooses not to sit for a book. Sometimes he closes the book on your fingers or grabs it and hits you with it. However, I do think summer reading is a success because I only have to read him two more books, and in the last week, he’s gotten much more interested in reading.

Seamus and Gilbert finished their five books pretty quickly and have read like wildfire all summer. We’ve been to libraries on vacation just to meet their reading needs. That’s been fun to see develop. Porter loves to “read” at night before bed, just like the big boys do.

I had to read five books, and there was a point at which I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish it! To be fair, my summer reading time was May 18-June 22, and the library summer reading didn’t start until June 22, when I had to be very present at home. I’ve exceeded my goal, though, now, partly due to figuring out how to use the Libby app to download books to my iPad. I recommend it.

The total eclipse was really cool! We only got 80% here, but I’m planning for 2024! I hadn’t procured glasses, but that’s what astronomy professor colleagues are for, am I right? That’s to indicate I got some from going into work yesterday. Yes, I’m back at work.

 

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.

 

Home August 10, 2017

We made it home, and it’s been nice to be here. We won’t be for long, though! Porter immediately set in to playing with his toys, especially his birthday presents. Seamus and Gilbert wanted to go to the library to replenish their book stash. Harlan was just happy to toddle around and rediscover his digs.

Speaking of digs, we did rearrange the house a bit. Porter now shares a room with Harlan, and Seamus and Gilbert have Legos spread all over their room. It seems to be working out for now. I never did get the Legos well organized…someday.

Yesterday, Porter says to me “I’m a worm.” I said, “Okay. Why are you a worm?” He said, “Because I live in a hole. Hahahaha!” What a funny boy, until he pitched a huge fit today because I put mustard on his hot dog bun when he wanted to do it himself. Oh, 3–it’s a great age. (I do love three-year-olds, but occasionally I wonder.)

Seamus walked to the library and back by himself today. I made fried green tomatoes with CSA tomatoes. Delicious. Gilbert had to clean the entire car as an act of contrition. Porter went for his 3 year old well child visit. We’re glad to be home, but it’s just more of the same, but not. Everyone is growing, becoming more independent and responsible, and that’s the way it should be, I suppose.

In the next few days, we might shop for school supplies, swim, play with friends, and fill our discovery maps.

 

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!

 

Birmingham Day Three August 3, 2017

We’re trying not to do too many things we could do at home, but I have been to Trader Joe’s and now, Whole Foods (mostly so Porter could go to the bathroom!). We realize that we are East Coast suburban annoying people when we stop at WF for a bathroom rather than McDonalds. To be fair, I needed to buy diapers…

Anyway, day three in Birmingham found us looking for something to do in the early morning before the other things we wanted to see opened. Traffic in Birmingham is special. By that I mean horrible, but once you get where you want to be, nothing is crowded or unpleasant. Parking is super easy, and there’s so much space for people to move around in–which is not the case in DC! We did the botanical garden in the morning because we like native plants and Japanese gardens. The Birmingham gardens are free, have bench swings strategically placed at beautiful intervals, and offers lots of shade. We enjoyed that the kids could wander (as long as they stayed on the path) and talk in their normal tones of voice without bothering anyone. We spent a lovely hour in the gardens.

A more manageable Vulcan.

Vulcan is the guardian of the city. We’ve thought about going up there, but I don’t know if we’ll make it. I think if we had one more day in the city, we’d do Vulcan and Sloss, but we’ve run out of time for those things.

Koi!

All the kids love koi fish, and these were some big ones!

After the gardens, we were ready for a snack (I’ve been getting snacks at the grocery and hiding them until 9:30 or 10:00 am–it’s working pretty well). I had tentatively thought we might go to Peanut Depot, where you can see peanut roasters and learn about the goobers. There wasn’t much going on there this morning, so we met the owner and he toured us around the roasting area. I learned how they salt peanuts, how they harvest peanuts, and how the roaster works. It takes about 90 minutes to roast 100 pounds of peanuts. Seamus enjoyed connecting his knowledge of George Washington Carver. Gilbert loved the roaster and tasting the peanuts. Porter was a little scared of the roasting drum, and Harlan enjoyed his taste of peanut.

Railroad Park

We decided to visit Railroad park next to the Negro Southern Baseball League museum. These barrier cones were part of a playground, and the kids were busy playing Piston Cup from the Cars movie for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, Patrick and I ate peanuts, watched the train tracks, and talked. I love a city park that encourages imaginative play!

We did check out the baseball museum, but I think it would be better for slightly older children. It was neat to see the old gloves, bats, and catcher’s masks, but everything was behind glass and text heavy. Worth a quick stop, though!

Seamus and Gilbert wanted to go back to the McWane Science Center, so Patrick took them back while Harlan and Porter napped. This blog brought to you by IMAX! Haha.

From the other day at the Berger Motorsports Museum. Who’s in the sidecar?

He isn’t really in the sidecar. Patrick said it was cool to see the old JetSkis, but that it’s not a great place to take children after they’ve been touching everything at the science museum since they can’t touch anything there!

Birmingham has been a wonderful place for a family vacation. Its spaciousness makes it nice for even really little kids to have fun, and for parents to be less stressed.

Today, we’re off to Waynesville, NC, via Chattanooga, TN, where we’ll see the starting point of the Trail of Tears. I’ve been researching Asheville, and we’re hoping to see the drum circle, do some hiking, and drink a beer at one of the kid-friendly breweries!