Academic Leigh Speaking

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

Outings December 3, 2017

Filed under: DC Exploration,Events,Family Life,Holidays,Travel — leighj @ 1:55 pm

It was fun having Seamus play soccer this fall, mostly because he enjoyed it so much and developed some good sportsmanship and teamwork skills. On the other hand, it wrecked our social life. Since he had soccer practice on Friday night and games on Saturdays, we had few options for getting together with friends. We also missed taking family day trips on Saturdays. After soccer ended, we did a trip to Richmond. We had so much fun doing that (which I did manage to write about), we tried to go to Philadelphia the next weekend. Unfortunately, they were having their marathon too! We bailed out and went to Wilmington, DE. The Delaware Natural History Museum was fun and interesting. There was a scavenger hunt to keep S&G entertained, and the shells at Harlan level were lots of interesting textures for him.

In front of the museum.

Then we tried to go to lunch, but we had a mega miss. The food was good, but the atmosphere was way too stuffy for a family. We were particularly alarmed that the internet had suggested the place as family-friendly. To us, family friendly is loud and paper tablecloths. It was fine, though, and everyone got plenty to eat, but Harlan fell off the bench right at the end, so we did have to make a loud exit, even if they’d held it together pretty well up to that point!

We enjoyed our post-Thanksgiving outing with our friends and their kids. The puppet show was entertaining, and Harlan was interested, but he couldn’t sit quietly for 45 minutes. I had to take him out after 25 minutes, and I was able to bring him back in for the dragon and Russian dancers, but he started talking too much about the “DOGGIES” during the sheep scene, so he had to leave again! Soon, we’ll all be able to enjoy a show. I hope.

Scottish Walk 2017!

Yesterday, we went to the Scottish Christmas Walk Parade in Old Town. It seems to get to be more fun every year. The kids waved flags, cheered for the Star Wars characters, petted the doggies that went by, and bounced to the bagpiping. We then went to a party afterward for my colleagues (just Seamus, Gilbert, and me). They ran around the yard for 4 solid hours with all the other kids, and then we caught Metro home. It’s been a long time since we were on Metro, but we got one of the new cars! It was something different from how I usually spend time in transit with the kids, and I found myself thinking it would be fun to metro with them downtown soon.

So, yeah. Our holiday fun is in full swing!

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Family Fun Trip to Richmond November 15, 2017

Filed under: Family Life,Growing up,Travel — leighj @ 5:18 am

We took a trip to Richmond on Saturday, to do the science museum, and try to get our family holiday card photo. So we took the tripod, and loaded ourselves in the car. Who knew Richmond was having a marathon on Saturday!? It was going right through the area we needed, so we parked away from the museum and walked. It was our first really cold day, so we were glad we’d brought plenty of warm gear.

They were happy to be out of the car.

I was feeling pretty glad I wasn’t running a marathon in the sub forty degree morning. There was almost nobody at the science center, because the road closures meant you could not drive to the museum parking lot!

The boys tried to help each other for the picture.

The exhibits did not fail to inspire the kids to think about speed, agility, light, sound, connections, and more. We stayed 2 hours and were reluctant to leave, but we knew we needed to get some food in them!

These light boards are really fun.

Porter was really into stacking and trying to catch small items with another item.

Gilbert and Seamus loved all the kinesthetic body movement exhibits, but I only have a picture of them playing with the magnatiles.

We went to eat at Station 2 firehouse, which is a fun place for kids, because there are waffles for dinner. Patrick and I always go for one of the many veggie burger options.

Bendy straws!

Gilbert wore this blazer, and we marveled at how much he looks like a little clone of my dad. It was a day full of delight.

 

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.

BIG!

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!

 

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.

 

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!