Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Weekend in Maine

When we booked our flight to Maine several months ago, Kathy and I decided to add an extra couple of days at the end of the trip to do additional exploring. By Friday, with the lack of sleep and the extra effort of watching Suz's three kids, Kathy was ready to skip the extra days in order to relax at home, going so far as to look into the cost of going back on Saturday. Alas, there was nothing available, so we were "forced" to spend those days on vacation.

We left the house Saturday morning, and made it a whopping 1.5 miles down the road before I spontaneously decided to pull over, so we could take a trail walk in the marshes. It was lovely and peaceful, and I was a bit amused that we had stayed so close to this spot without exploring it sooner. Still, it was a good way to signal the break from our week at the beach, and 45 minutes later, we resumed our trip North.

Next stop was Freeport, and damn is that a silly place to visit. Headquarters of L.L. Bean and a massive array of "outlets" that seemed to be offering products at retail price, we wandered there for about an hour under ominous skies. Before leaving, however, we stopped at Derosiers, which has a good selection of local beers that I purchased for later, and ate an inexpensive lunch. We learned that while Emelia is quite comfortable in a high chair, she's not yet ready for a booster chair.

After Freeport we continued to make our way up the coast. We drove around Bath, but didn't stop -- nothing looked inviting enough for us to wake up a sleeping baby. In reading the brochures we picked up at the Visitors center in Freeport, Kathy noticed that Boothbay Harbor is home to the Maine State Aquarium (and Kathy's an aquarium junkie), so we turned off U.S. 1 and headed there. And while the aquarium was a disappointment (it's one large room that took less than 20 minutes to look at), its location was a treat. It's right at the edge of the harbor, across from the town, and we must have stayed outside there for a solid hour, enjoying the picturesque views while Emelia was feeling fairly miserable (not sure what the problem was, but she wasn't happy).

One other note about our time in Boothbay was that right when we sat down outside the aquarium, someone with a toy Doberman came over. Emelia has always loved dogs, and not been intimidated by them in the slightest. But she was terrified of this friendly three-pound dog named Grace, and wouldn't stop crying until the owner took Grace away.

While we thought about staying in such a nice coastal town, we wanted to see more of the coast, so we pressed northward. We stopped at another beer store right on U.S. 1, but otherwise didn't stop until we reached Rockland, where we grabbed one of the last rooms available at a hotel across from the ferry station, loaded our stuff into the room, and walked around town some before stopping for dinner. After we ate, we returned to our room, got Emelia to sleep, and went outside onto the little balcony for conversation, enjoying the beautiful evening as the sky gradually darkened, and drinking three of the beers we had bought that day.

The next morning we took our time getting rolling, but eventually checked out and made our way to the Maine Lighthouse Museum. It was by no means large or particularly impressive, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, as there were many exhibits and lots of information to take in. Afterwards, Emelia was tired and went back to sleep as soon as we put her in the car, but we only let her rest 15 minutes before we got out again to walk on the Rockland breakwater (though we didn't walk the 7/8-mile to the lighthouse at the end).

Back into the car, but already we were approaching lunchtime, so we picked up sandwiches at a Subway just south of Camden, drove through the town, entered Camden Hills State Park, and drove up Mt. Battie to enjoy a beautiful setting with our lunch. The skies were clear, and below us we could see a good chunk of Penobscot Bay.

From there we drove north to Belfast. Belfast seemed like a town we'd want to explore, but with Emelia sleeping, we limited ourselves to a drive through. After Belfast, we decided it was time to start making our way back to Portland. Rather than retrace our path, we elected to drive to Augusta, the state capital. We didn't see much to do in town, though we did give Emelia the opportunity to crawl around some in Capitol Park, across from the Capitol building. Next stop was a brewpub conveniently located less than two miles away, The Liberal Cup, where we enjoyed beers and a snack. We would have liked to stay longer, but Emelia wasn't up for it, so we hit the road again, to make our way back to the Portland area. We stopped at a Super 8 on the edge of town, took a quick swim, and realized that it was too late for us to go into town for dinner as we had intended. So Kathy hit a supermarket for carrots, hummus, and a loaf of French bread, and upon her return we sat in the stairwell next to our room while we (unsuccessfully) tried to get Emelia to sleep. It ultimately took a couple of hours for Emelia to go to sleep, and that was only when we went to sleep ourselves.

On Monday morning we did a quick drive through some of Portland before we went back to the airport for our 12:20 flight, and you already know what happened next. Still, we had a great couple of days, and by the end both Kathy and I were glad that we weren't able to come home early.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Week in Maine

Several years ago, my Mom decided that she wanted to spend her inheritance on family vacations, and the decision on where to hold the annual vacation is rotated among the folks and their four children. In year one, my folks selected Crescent Beach, Florida, near where we grew up. For the second year, my brother selected the Outer Banks of North Carolina. My sister selected Myrtle Beach in year three. If you've noticed a trend, then you're not alone, so this year, when it was our turn, we decided to break out of the Southern beach rut and head north. We first started looking at Newfoundland and Nova Scotia -- as much as those places seemed like they'd be fantastic, we were unable to find houses that would contain all 14 of us (two parents, four children, three spouses, and five grandchildren), especially in the lifestyle to which my family had grown accustomed the past couple of years. Settling on Maine, we came across this house just south of Portland. The house even came with the all-important heated pool for the family members who wouldn't be up for swimming in the ocean so far north (and for the grandchildren too young to swim in the ocean).

Overall, I'd say it was probably our best family vacation yet. The house could have used a little more effort in the upkeep (e.g., sliding glass doors and screens that worked properly), but it was more than adequate, despite everyone not having private bathrooms like in years past. We got rain for a couple of days, but it never got too hot (or too cold). And this was about the extent of the complaints. People got along better than in past years, the beach itself was awesome, and the usual fights about food (e.g., eating out vs. cooking; and parental complaints about buying too much) never seemed to materialize, due partly to better planning this year.

With all the people around her, Emelia stayed pretty wound up. As a result, she slept poorly, meaning that Kathy (mostly) or I (occasionally) would be up with her while everyone else slept, and we got more tired as the week wore on. Still, it was great seeing Emelia interact with all of her first cousins. And I mean it when I say "all," because we had Suz's kids with us for three days -- their Dad lives in Maine, and he was nice enough to let them stay with us. It also meant that Hunter, my brother's son, had peers with him (with whom he got along great), instead of being over five years older than the next cousin (his sister). Having to supervise four kids instead of one sometimes felt a bit overwhelming, but Suz's children are generally great, though they did get a little grumpy the last day with us.

Emelia with her parents and all her first cousins. I'm holding Luke, three months Emelia's junior, whom we got to meet for the first time on this trip.

Josh, Kim, Hunter, and Lauren, at Cape Elizabeth (Two Lights), a must visit if you're ever in the area.

Josh, Mom, Aaron, Shari, Dad, and Rebecca

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Choice

Say your flight out of Portland, Maine is already late, you've been at the airport for over three hours, and you've got a overtired 8.5 month old and an airport with almost no place to let her run around. The airline informs you that the delay was due to an engine problem, and because the problem can't be fully resolved, 55 people are going to have to be bumped. Before you say that you'd rather be bumped than fly on such a risky flight, you should know that the airline is fully booked for the next three days, so if you choose to be bumped, instead of waiting for another flight, you'll be in charge of getting yourself down to Boston (2.5 hours away) for a flight out of there, and be reimbursed for the bus fare.

Kathy was awfully nervous about getting on the plane, but I was relatively calm about the whole thing. The unpleasant alternative of extending the necessary travel with Emelia as miserable as she felt was part of it. The fact that the captain was willing to risk his life in flying was a consideration as well. But the deciding factor came from the lawyer in me -- any airline that knew it had a problem and nevertheless risked the lives of its passengers would be doubly damned in the resulting lawsuits. Under such circumstances, I felt sure that the airline would triple check everything before proceeding.

Only after we boarded and before we took off did we receive a complete explanation of the problem from the captain. From how it was described, the deicing mechanism on one of the engines couldn't be turned off, which in turn limits the amount of thrust available for taking off, which meant they needed to reduce the load. It sounded reasonable to me, and the flight was without incident (except for a bit of turbulence during our descent, during which Kathy was kind enough to only dig her fingers (and not her nails) into my leg).

I'll try to describe other aspects of the trip over the next few days.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Wall of Voodoo

Do you have albums by artists that are considered one-hit wonders, and if you do, do they stay in your rotation for more than a couple of plays?

It's hard to believe "Mexican Radio" came out 25 years ago. For some reason, Wall of Voodoo only had that single hit -- once they were compartmentalized as a novelty group on the basis of that tune, I guess that was all she wrote. At some point a few years ago, I saw the CD it was on, Call of the West, in a used CD bin, and I've been listening to it every so often since. "Mexican Radio" is probably the poppiest of the tunes, but the rest of it is pretty catchy as well, with Stan Ridgway's distinctive vocals being supported by creative percussion and a Western synth sound. There's a fair amount of darkness in the lyrics and tone, something that's hardly noticeable in "Mexican Radio" when heard outside of the context of the album.

Regardless, you already know "Mexican Radio," so have a listen to a couple of other tracks off the album, "Factory" and the title track (I find it amazing that not only are they on youtube, but several others tracks are as well). They're not wholly true to the album versions -- in particular the percussion's a bit different -- but after all, that's the point of live performances. That, and to show off the early '80s threads.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Move, or, How Many Parentheticals Can I Stuff into a Single Post?

On Friday we head to Maine for the annual weekly family vacation with my family. We're heading up a day early and staying an extra couple of days, in case we need some down time that a week with my family may not provide (my brother's post from yesterday provides some indication on why we might need additional down time). As Kathy's been looking up possible things to do in the area for those extra days as well as the rest of the time we're in the general area, she's come to the conclusion that Portland's a pretty neat town. In fact, she's interested in moving there, and has already picked out the house she wants to move into (I said to her that I'd actually like to visit before making such a commitment).

We have a love/hate relationship with DC that probably is worth an entirely separate post if I could accurately put it into words. We like our house, and given inertia, it's easy to do nothing and stay here. But with the arrival of Emelia, time is no longer our ally. We're zoned for an awful school, which means that we can either try out a charter school (DC has a ton of them, and hopefully the next few years will provide some data on how good they actually are), spring for private school (o u c h !), hope that rezoning occurs (we're actually only a couple of blocks from a decent school -- it's just that we're zoned for the rotten one that's a tiny bit closer), take our chances and apply for an out-of-zone school (lottery process), keep our fingers crossed that the new school boss will do what none of her predecessors could (improve the public schools), consider homeschooling (don't laugh -- Kathy talks about it), or move. If we were to move, we could go a few blocks from here to get into a better school on Capitol Hill, move into one of the suburbs with a good school system, or leave the area altogether.

As for the latter option, moving somewhere else is something of a running joke with us that started several years before Emelia entered our lives. After the 2004 election we said we wanted to leave the country, and looked into the possibility of a number of places, particularly Canada. After our trip to Costa Rica the following year, we, along with Kathy's family (they went with us to Costa Rica), toyed with the idea of moving down there (given that the country abolished its army 50 years ago, what more could a Quaker family want)? From then on we've had talks with Kathy's family of creating a "family compound" somewhere, though these days it's usually somewhere in the U.S. Exactly where that compound would be has been the topic of many discussions. In February Kathy's folks took a two-week look around that extended from New York to North Carolina looking for rural land on which to move the family.

Even if there's no family compound, Kathy wants to live closer to her family. Of course, what will be closer to her family is something of an open question due to the variable that is Kathy's sister Suz. Suz has wanted to stay relatively North because her kids' Dad lives in Maine, but doesn't want to go too far North because she has Seasonal Affective Disorder. At the time we took a trip to New England in November 2005, that area was one of the ones in which Suz was interested (her boyfriend was attending school in that general area). But that boyfriend is now an ex, and Suz has recently found her soulmate who lives in northern New York (north of Syracuse, closer to Ottawa than anywhere anyone's ever heard of in New York) and doesn't want to move. So now she's focusing on that area (which is why Kathy sent around this property that we found last week), even though it's a couple of hours south of where the soulmate lives, eight hours from where Suz and the folks currently live, almost as far from her kids' Dad (google maps says the best route sends you through Montreal), and North of the farthest North she's ever lived. This isn't to say that Suz has made up her mind about moving out there (and these drawbacks are presumably why she's struggling with the decision).

Sometimes in considering possible move destinations, we decide that we don't want to be dependent on whether, when or where anyone else moves, and so we focus on places that interest us. Thus Portland, or Ithaca -- we do like the idea of being fairly close to some vestige of culture. Most of the time, however, our dreams take us into somewhere rural or small town, where housing is inexpensive, and we can toy with the idea of retiring out there (if we just put in a few more years, the stock market cooperates, we live much more frugally than we do now, and we win the lottery) rather than wrestle with what I as an administrative law attorney want to do when I grow up (or failing that, what I would do if I left the DC area). Then again, how good are the schools at any of these places?

Ah, decisions.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Uh oh

Guess who climbed up the stairs this evening? Not just one or two either, but all of them (with Kathy right behind her but never needing to catch or support her). Hint: it's the same individual who kept her parents up for most of last night from 2am onward. This kid is Trouble (with a capital T that rhymes with E), and we really should get some gates.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Two Weeks Ago

Emelia went swimming for the first time when we were in Minneapolis. On Saturday Kathy took her, and on Sunday I went in with her. As fearless in the water as she is outside it, while I had her on the steps she lunged into the water, fully submerging herself before I could get her. But when I grabbed her a second later, she was fine, not even the slightest bit of fear in her eyes or water in her mouth.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Library Blues

My mother is a librarian, and she imparted to me a lifelong love of reading. I go through phases when I'm not doing much reading,* but on average I read a couple of books a month. This morning Kathy, Emelia and I went to the local library branch so Kathy and I could check out some books for our upcoming trip to the beach. Upon our arrival we discovered that in the four months or so since we'd last been (it's embarrassing to admit that it's been so long, though we had visited the main library in the meantime), the library had undergone a renovation.

In the middle of the room were eight computer terminals, and on either side were new bookshelves. The bookshelves had glass sides with art and literary quotes on them, and looked beautiful. Unfortunately, one thing that they didn't have was two-thirds of the books that had been in the library before the renovation. There were fewer shelves, they weren't close to being filled, and now some of them had CDs and DVDs instead of books. I was dismayed to realize that my library had become one of those lovely painted eggshells that had been hollowed out.

I understand the desire to provide multiple services for the public, but I don't understand why doing that means that you have to reduce the number of books at all, much less so dramatically -- it seems that a library should, first and foremost, be a resource for books. Does it make sense to attempt to attract people who might not come at the expense of those of us who have been using it?

We ended up checking out three paperbacks. In the future, I fear we'll have to make more frequent visits downtown if we want to find stuff we want to read, and overall we'll check out fewer books. I had a conversation with someone else who was making her first post-renovation visit, and she was equally disappointed with what the library had become. Sadly, if enough of us feel that way, that means that fewer people will visit this library to check out books, thereby vindicating the library's decision and possibly leading to the removal of even more books and creating a nasty little feedback loop. Yuck.
* -- As used in this sentence, the term reading refers only to reading books. I am constantly reading news, sports, blogs, forums, etc. ad infinitum. Not to mention that my job requires a great deal of reading. I could no sooner go long periods without reading much of anything than stop breathing.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Onion

About the time I returned from paternity leave, The Onion started a DC edition, and it's definitely helped with the transition back to work. Since then, I've been looking forward to each Thursday morning, as that's when I can pick up the latest edition. Without fail, I always find something during those 12 minutes before I reach the office that gets me in the right frame of mind for the day, be it politics, news, sports, or pop culture.

Not only that, now The Onion offers video features as well (not available in the print edition). Here's one from this week that seems particularly relevant to my life.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Independence Day

At 10am we go to a parade -- a band, a Go Kart, balloons aplenty, a bulldozer, various cars decked out in flags, various marchers, a little kid dressed up as Spiderman and escorted by his (her?) Dad. Interesting to see a small slice of Americana right here in DC, on Capitol Hill no less. This parade has been taking place for many years, but it's the first time we check it out. I'm not sure we even knew it took place before this year -- something about having a child, I suppose.

At 1:30 we head out to McLean to attend a picnic put together by a college friend of Kathy's that we've hardly seen in the 10 months since he and his family moved into the area (they're foreign service, and head for Kyrgyzstan in a couple of months). We'd love to stay for a while, but we're out of there after 90 minutes, so much left to do.

At 4:30 we're back in DC, amazingly enough no traffic getting back into town. We do a quick clean-up, and Kathy starts the food prep for having a small gathering of our own.

At 9pm, after we've finished dinner, about 12 of us head to our roof, where we can see the fireworks on the Mall (due West), and in pretty much every other direction. We've got the tallest roof on our side of the street, and are afforded pretty good views -- a veritable 360 of explosions continues long after the "big event" had finished, and several sites were still lighting up the sky when we finally left the roof at 10:30.

All in all, an active but very enjoyable holiday. I hope everyone's 4th of July was equally satisfying.