Academic Leigh Speaking

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

Cape Cod: Rainy/Cloudy Day Activities June 26, 2018

Filed under: Friends and Relatives,Summer Vacation,Travel — leighj @ 5:42 am

The last few days on the cape, it was a little too cold/rainy to go to the beach for swimming or kayaking. Instead, we took off for a day of tourism in Provincetown. We wanted to climb to the top of the Pilgrim monument to check out the view, and to live up to the little board book we have about Cape Cod. It was the Portuguese parade and festival weekend, but we kind of dipped in and out before that really got started.

Seamus and Gilbert wanted a picture on this bench. They’re having hot chocolate because it was windy, cold, and wet! But still really fun.

We walked out on the pier to see all the fishing boats decorated for the festival–lots of Portuguese flags. The blessing of the fleet was the next day, so others were decorated for that as well. Finally, we found a place to re-up our parking, and we headed off to climb the monument. Some folks coming down said, “Don’t look up!” but of course we did.

Can you see S & G?

116 stairs and 60 ramps to a great view! I carried Harlan up in the Boba, but Porter walked most of the way.

Windy window.

Different windows were open along the way, and this one was the one that the wind whipped in through. Everybody enjoyed the fresh air!

The view from the top was a little less than captivating because we were getting rained on, but we were all elated that we’d gone up. The Monument had a fantastic museum that we didn’t get to explore as fully as we’d have liked, but it was still interesting, even with limited time. A whaling boat captain’s quarters, a mock up of the Mayflower, an antique dollhouse, information about the Providence Players and Eugene O’Neill, a narwhal tusk, and more!

The older boys went go karting one day, and Porter got to join them for The Incredibles 2, which they declared the best movie they’ve ever seen. On Sunday, we headed out early for a last walk on Lighthouse beach.

Beach trash sculpture.

We revisited the fish pier to see the seals. Every time we saw a boat, Harlan started hollering, “Seals! Seals!” I guess he’s learned that where fishing boats go, seals follow. Sunday was low key, with the little ones napping, and Patrick and I taking Seamus and Gilbert to a baseball game. They were excited to collect foul balls, and somehow, they both managed to get one!

Onward to Maine!


Salzburg and Dachau: Munich Trip Continued June 25, 2018

We hadn’t planned to go to Salzburg, but when our friends suggested it as an easy day trip, that could be done cheaply, I was sold! It helped that it gave us a day where we didn’t interfere with their family routine for the day. I got the Bayern Pass, 25 Euro for a round trip train after 9:00 am to Salzburg with two kids included; this is a great deal for families, as they can use it for public transit all over Munich and most of Bavaria for a low price. We headed off to the train station, got some snacks for the trip, and set off.

I decided to get the Salzburg card for each of us, which is a tourist card that works for 24 hours. We only used it for 5 hours, but we did “get our money’s worth” although, the card included things that we might not have done had we not bought the card, if that makes sense. Like instead of hike up to the fortress, we took the Funicular, which was fast and awesome. The card ensured that we saw and did more than we would have otherwise, but that meant I totally wore the kids out!

A view from the top of the fortress in Salzburg.

We did the river cruise, hot and not really worth doing. But the river itself is very interesting, as it’s loaded with minerals and goes past a very wealthy area. We did Mozart’s birthplace, which was a really interesting look at the old house interior, and Seamus and Gilbert were more excited about doing that than I’d thought they might be. We got an ice cream and went to the horse fountain that’s featured in The Sound of Music. Finally we checked out the really large church and the catacombs which inspired the ending scene in The Sound of Music. After we wore ourselves out, we rushed to the bus stop to catch our train back to Munich. All told, we traveled from 8 to 8, with 4 hours on the train and a good 5.5. hours poking around Salzburg. (Looking at the timing, I’m not sure where the other hours went…the train station, I guess?).

Another view from the fortress.

Lighting a candle for Old Grand-dad.

In the big church, the boys asked me about lighting candles, and they wanted to do it. I said that you light candles for family members or loved ones who’ve died. Well you should have seen the cogs turning in their heads. Finally, they said, “We could light one for Old Grand-dad.” I wondered if they’d come up with it, and they did! Lighting the candle was then something they noticed much more in each church we visited afterward.

The next day, Tuesday, I took them to Dachau Memorial Site. Dachau was the first Concentration Camp opened by the Nazis, and I guess I hadn’t really realized that Bavaria, and Munich in particular was where Hitler had found a sympathetic audience. It was an experience that I found to be powerful when I visited Munich years ago, and I wanted to share that with the boys. They handled it well, despite the signs everywhere saying that the site was not suggested for children under 12. I think a lot of it went over their heads, but they did understand finally that it was a crime against our human spirit to imprison and target people just because of who they are. The gas chamber made an impression, and the vast space of the barracks awed us.

That afternoon, we headed back into town to do the Rick Steve’s walking tour of Munich. That was a fun way of changing the tone, but it really wore them out. Seamus got in a spectacularly bad mood, which I tried to cure with gelato. That worked. We checked out the baroque Asam Church, the Munich City Museum gift shop (which was super cute), got an ice cream and dunked our heads in a fountain, and visited the Bayern Munchen fan shop.

These were the souvenirs they wanted. Soccer shirts.

Right at the end, one or the other of them declared an urgent need to visit the bathroom, and we were a ways from the house. I noticed a sign for Apple Strudel at a little cafe. I had planned to let them have one in Salzburg the day before, but we were pressed for time, and we didn’t end up sitting down to eat there at all. So we stopped and indulged–and went to the bathroom!

I also had a treat. Haha.

This day exhausted them more than Monday, so we had to take it a bit easier on Wednesday. We just went for a bike ride, hung out in the English Garden, visited a huge toy store to find a present for Porter and Harlan, and enjoyed a last night’s dinner with our friends. It was a wonderful trip. There were many moments when I was annoyed with their behavior, but on the whole, they were delightful travel partners.


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.



Made it Cape Cod! June 19, 2018

Filed under: Family Life,Summer Vacation,Travel — leighj @ 1:37 pm

We made it to the Cape. I feel like this is going much more smoothly now. We left at 4:20 am, after having packed the car for two solid days. That part is not going more smoothly. With Seamus and Gilbert out of school the house was a chaos zone. We had stuff down from the attic, were staging a bunch of stuff, and just generally creating mess. Porter had been at camp the week before, so we didn’t really get many errands done. We did accomplish using the entire CSA box either as prepped food, eaten food, or frozen before we left. I consider that a big win!

Anyway, the drive isn’t that exciting to talk about because it went so quickly. We made it through Baltimore before 6:00 am, New York was busy, but Connecticut wasn’t its usual parking lot. We listened to three books on tape, finishing one, a complete story (Everything on a Waffle), and starting another (Maniac McGee). Porter and Harlan both napped a couple of times, we stopped at the scenic overlook in Mystic, CT, and before 2:00 we were unpacking! Gilbert and I found Skip-Bo and he beat me at a game!

The biggest success was that we got a beach day in yesterday. It’s unprecedented for us to get beach time on the day we arrive. This year, we bought a beach umbrella and a beach chair. I brought Porter and Harlan back sand toys from Germany, but Seamus and Gilbert like digging and sand play too. We also brought along the backpack cooler for beach time lunches. We didn’t get that ambitious yesterday, but we did spend an hour at the beach in the afternoon. We left when Seamus ended up freezing from his dip in the pond. Harlan wanted to play with the ducks, and Porter made friends with a little boy swimming in the water. Gilbert caused general chaos.

This morning, we checked out the fish pier (always a favorite for the seals that hang out there) and Coast Guard Beach (instead of going to the beach, we looked at the boats and cemetery). After we got back to the house, we went off to Ridgevale Beach to play in the tide pools. I made sandwiches and we enjoyed lunch on the beach. Porter loved the tide pool and pretended he was fishing. Harlan made sandcastles and then stomped on them. He threw his bucket in the tide pool, hoping the current would carry it far enough so Gilbert would have to go get it, which he would to many giggles from Harlan. The Nantucket Sound side was calm, so we didn’t do much wave-jumping. Maybe tomorrow. Now the younger boys are napping, and the older boys are kayaking. I’m going to go check them out.

We are so happy to be launched! Porter and Harlan both wanted to stay longer at the beach, but they had gotten so tired. I promised more beach tomorrow. A few years ago, we declared it the Year of the Bike, and another the Year of the Hike. Last year was the Year of the Playground. This year, with kids 9, 7, 3, and 2 is the Year of the Beach!

PS: Bonus funny Harlan story: We were out walking with him in the stroller recently, and a woman said, oh, what a pretty baby. I said thanks, but Harlan said, “I not baby! I not baby!” He will repeat himself until you acknowledge what he said. It’s like an echo chamber sometimes! Porter brought his little piano on the trip so he could practice playing Hot Cross Buns and Mary Had a Little Lamb. Gilbert’s been doing Mad Libs in the car, and Seamus is obsessed with World Cup scores.


Munich Germany with Kids (Part Two: Settling in and Sight-seeing) June 12, 2018

Filed under: Family Life,Travel — leighj @ 1:57 pm

After we settled in, we did enjoy getting out to some of the Munich sights. Germany is very family friendly–I only needed one ticket for myself for the week on the UBahn; at that point Seamus and Gilbert rode free with me. There were lots of options for street snacks, and they particularly liked the pretzels (“We can never eat another American pretzel again” they said) and gelato. On Friday, we rode up to Olympic Park and the BMW Weld. It was a beautiful, sunny, low humidity day, and Olympic park had lots of hiking trails to climb and explore. According to my friend, the rubble from bombed out buildings was moved to this site and eventually grass grew over it, creating some of the only hills around.

Nice views from the hills!

In the picture above, you can see Olympic Tower; we opted to climb the hill for the view instead, and it was pretty magnificent! They boys also liked the BMW show room, which is free to go in. They really liked the motorcycles and the Minis. Here is one of the first places we busted out the Instax cameras. The film is a little pricey, but I think these cameras helped the boys enjoy the trip more. They were thinking about what they’d like to remember with a picture, and it’s really fun to watch the photo develop.

Picture time!

In the afternoon, we came back to pick their friends up from school, and we went off to see the surfers, get a pretzel, and check out the Beer Garden at the Chinese Tower. That was fun, especially since there was a playground and creek to explore as well.

On Saturday, we made a day trip to Garmish, where the 1936 winter Olympics were held. They still have the old stadium and ski jumping equipment, but the bigger draw for us was a hike through a gorge. We drove and took the train, and the train system has loads of hikers on it! Seamus enjoyed the train ride:

My favorite Seamus face!

We marveled at the gorge and the beautiful color of the water. The kids complained a little about the beginning of the hike, but they loved going through the tight gorge and then could have played for hours in the mud/water on the other side of the gorge. On the hike back, we did the switch back trail which led to beautiful mountain views. All the mountains made us think of the Sound of Music, and although it wasn’t initially part of the plan, we decided to make a day trip to Salzburg on Monday!

Sunday found us lazing around–the boys played soccer in the courtyard while I read and watched from the balcony. We ended up checking out a little “beach” near the river, and this time the boys did get to make sandcastles for hours! It was the perfect day for them.

Next up: Salzburg, Dachau, and Munich



Traveling to Munich Germany with Kids (Part One: The Flight and Adjustment) June 10, 2018

Filed under: Travel — leighj @ 3:05 pm
Tags: ,

I’ve been dying to write about our trip to Munich, but I’ve had very little time, what with everyone always needing something! Seamus, Gilbert, and I had a wonderful time visiting our friends. I was really worried about jet lag ruining part of our trip, but it turned out to not be a big deal. Our flight left DC for Detroit at 3:00 pm. I picked the boys up from school at 12:30, and that gave us plenty of time. I bought travel pillows for them (this turned out to be an okay idea, as they did need neck support in order to sleep on the plane), but they were positively thrilled by the screens on the back of every seat complete with movies, TV shows, and games that Delta features. So much for our “no electronics while traveling” rule. (We do not allow the kids to use screens while traveling. We listen to audio books, read, sleep, or otherwise occupy ourselves.) They didn’t have headphones, though, so they begged me for some for the flight. I bought those in Detriot, with the caveat that when it was time to go to sleep, they would do so uncomplainingly. This was a bad idea. I remember from my childhood that overseas flights often provide headphones, but I didn’t know if that had changed, as those old headphones were just empty tubes to pipe in the movie playing at the front for everyone to watch (do you remember these???). The international flight did provide headphones, so now we had a lot of sets! I gave them a melatonin capsule when dinner came around (this was another novelty!). They had a great flight, and then after all was eaten and cleared, they fell asleep. Gilbert slept better and probably got 4 hours in. Seamus had more trouble and probably only got 2-3 hours. When we landed they were game to go, and thank goodness our friend picked us up!

We carried in bags, and because I had decided to not let them sleep, we went out for a walk. This proved challenging, as they were so tired. We did see the Glockenspiel ring, walked past the maypole, and had a pretzel sitting near a fountain. None of this seemed to imprint on Seamus at all, except to make him cranky. Gilbert sort of liked the Glockenspiel, but he was tired too. So we did what all Munich tourists do, and we went to the Haufbrouhous for some beer and lunch. Nothing like an oompha band to make you happy!


Gilbert liked the sparkling apple juice, and it did wonders to pick both kids up. By the time we walked back to the house, the sugar and sitting had given them a second wind. They found a hill to roll down in the Hofgarten, and we were on our way to a fun afternoon.

Kids worldwide.

When their friends got home from school, we went to the English Garden to watch the surfers, had an ice cream, played in the courtyard, and came in for dinner, baths, and bed. Seamus and Gilbert were never so happy to go to bed! They went to sleep at 7:00 pm and didn’t get up until 8:45 the next morning. Once they got up, though, there were no other problems with sleeping. They had adjusted to Munich time, and we were set for fun!