Worst Western

Sarah’s first course of antibiotics didn’t wipe out her strep. She started feeling ill again as her New York weekend wrapped up, and it was clear as we began driving north that she was going to need to see another doctor. After doing a bit of smartphone research, we found an urgent care outside Albany and stopped there on our way to Vermont to meet the Redmonds. (Our road trip, it turns out, was sponsored by urgent care…” this was our third visit since leaving Minnesota.)

Strep test came back positive again, and Sarah got another, different, course of antibiotics. She was in pretty bad shape, so we postponed Vermont and found a hotel for the night.

Unfortunately, I booked us at a pretty vile hotel—a musty “Best Western” that was undergoing renovations. It wasn’t truly terrible, but had lots of minor issues that grated—doors that wouldn’t close right, loose faucets, slow-as-molasses internet, etc. We dubbed it the “Worst Western” because that’s the kind of mood we were in. Note to self: next time someone is so sick that we need to recuperate in a hotel, aim for a few more stars.

Despite this, there were a few highlights:

When I asked Griffin what he liked about staying in Albany, he said, without hesitation, “The pool the pool the pool!” I remember it with less fondness, but I did take the kids down to the pool before dinner to burn off some energy and give Sarah some quiet time. Griffin practiced diving for plastic sharks while Maggie practiced drowning. To be fair, she didn’t know that that’s what she was doing, but she was so bloody fearless that she scared me out of my wits. As I was helping Griffin with his goggles, she walked down the stairs until the water was over her head. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her flailing around underwater. I dove for her and pulled her out, expecting her to come up scared and possibly spitting up water, trying to remember my water first aid (which adds up to finding someone who actually knows something). Instead, she laughed and shouted, “I was under water!” Uh huh. Definitely time for swimming lessons.

Another highlight was a great bar, City Line, not far from the hotel. I took the kids there for dinner and brought food back for Sarah, who was dozing off with Seinfeld. A modern, industrial sports bar, it was not the sort of place we usually attend, especially with kids, but we had an excellent dinner and the kids were mesmerized by the dim lights, big TVs, and pyramids of glowing liquor. Seriously, I’ve rarely had a meal out with less kid drama. And the mango jalapeno (!) cocktail I ordered didn’t hurt either.

City Line kiddos
City Line kiddos
The hypnotic array
The hypnotic array
Gourmet mac'n'cheese
Gourmet mac’n’cheese + hypnotism


From Ithaca, we headed south to New Jersey. We dropped Sarah at a train station so that she could head into New York for a weekend of fun with Alli and Pam. Griffin, Maggie, and I continued south to Lawrenceville where the Seliquinis generously shared their home with us. This was a happy surprise because I wasn’t able to get in touch with Aaron ahead of time, so we only connected a few days in advance.


Purple Cow

Going to the local ice cream parlor, The Purple Cow. Griffin ordered moose tracks: “It was yummy!” Maggie had cotton candy (which she likes to call “rainbow”) and it was “YUMMMM!” I don’t remember what I had because I was distracted by the cascades of ice cream pouring onto my children’s hands and clothing.


Griffin and Maggie both loved playing with Anna, Camille, and Sophia. They introduced us to a number of new board games including, Trouble, Connect Four, and Gravity Maze. (According to Griffin, they were “awesome!” He double-checked to make sure I included that.)

Lots of outside play. I love it that the Seliquini girls were so eager to run around outside. Griffin described one activity this way: “We went up to the end of the driveway and the very very end of the street, by ourselves. We played spies and when we were playing spies we did the cash register and then we did house numbers on the cash register so that no one could ever know what the house numbers were. Camille rode her unicycle.” Maggie added, “And I rode on a tiny tiny tiny tiny wagon!”

wild things
Wild Things
wild things
wild things

Reading together. Maggie fell in love with Where the Wild Things Are. (We have read it before, and have a copy at home, but something clicked for her during this visit. She loved it, and wanted to read it over and over again.) Camille was the preferred reader, but I was acceptable if she was otherwise occupied.

Making a huge pannakukken for breakfast on Sunday. We were very excited to introduce the Seliquinis to our favorite special breakfast, and the doubled recipe vanished in no time.

For me, of course, the highlight was catching up with Aaron and Marian, and getting to know their wonderful children. I hope we can do this more often in the future.

Leveled readers
Leveled readers


the bumper sticker
the bumper sticker

Our good friend Karen lives in Ithaca with her husband and daughter, born only a few weeks after Maggie. We haven’t seen them since their wedding, so we spent a few glorious days catching up and seeing the glories of Ithaca. My only “knowledge” of Ithaca prior to this was the Ithaca is Gorges bumper sticker that I saw with some frequency in college and in places east. I always enjoyed the play on words, but never got around to visiting. After only a few hours there, Sarah and I both agreed that it would be high on the list of places where we might happily live. (You know, in case we have to flee Saint Paul in the night.) It felt like a bit of a wonderland, with dramatic vistas and sparkling waterfalls around every turn.

This was our first time meeting Lila, and the kids had a blast together. We tried letting them all sleep together in a big pile of blankets in Lila’s room, but it became quickly apparent that sleep would never happen. So they were separated, to some tears and ultimatums (from Griffin, a la, “I’m never going to sleep again!”). They wreaked their revenge, however, by sleeping poorly and waking us up multiple times each night. On the first night, for example, Griffin came padding into our room and asked where Maggie was. I got up to verify that she was in the blankets next to him, but indeed she was missing. I searched the room, checked Lila’s room, checked the bathroom, and started to get nervous. Got Sarah up and she checked downstairs while I double-checked everywhere. I even looked behind the couch in the room where they were sleeping. No Maggie. Finally got Karen up too, just in case Maggie had gone into the master bedroom by accident. No luck. Beginning to imagine her out wandering among the gorges in the dark. Sarah cries out from the kids’ room, and I see her pulling Maggie out from beneath the couch where she had been invisibly wedged. Fun times.

The most important element of the trip, from Maggie’s perspective, was the discovery that Lila also has a rainbow dress—the very same rainbow dress that has been Maggie’s favorite since Sarah bought it last month.

Susquehanna River

We left Bethesda on June 23 and headed north toward Ithaca. We let Google guide us on an unexpectedly beautiful journey. For much of our time in Pennsylvania, we followed route 15 along the Susquehanna River. It was sunny, warm, and breezy. Idyllic.

We didn’t have a planned lunch-stop, and began hunting for a good spot in the early afternoon. Usually we just zoom in to our digital map and look for green blotches that indicate parks (hopefully with playgrounds). This time, however, we were stymied with very little green during our lunch window. As we were considering our options, we almost missed a tiny little rest area sandwiched between the road and the river (McKee’s Half Falls Rest Area, in case anyone is taking notes). It was a jewel of a stop, with picnic tables perched on a tree-lined bluff over some rapids. There were rocks to climb on, narrow beaches to explore, and stunning views.


We scheduled our Bethesda segment with my parents primarily to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday and originally planned to stay for five or six days and then do some Appalachian camping on our way north to Ithaca.  As it turned out, we needed all the time we could get for some family R&R.

Shortly after our arrival, Sarah was stricken with strep throat and Maggie had an infected finger, requiring multiple trips to urgent care. I was fighting a cold (we feared it might be strep, but I dodged that bullet) and my poor dad was hit with a powerful cold as well. But it was the perfect place to curl up and lick our wounds. The kids love it there and adore their grandparents. (One of my favorite moments of the trip was when Maggie refused to follow us downstairs for dinner, stating firmly, while sitting at the top of the stairs, “I want to wait for Grandpa!”)

Despite all of the illnesses, we did manage to get out with the kids a fair amount. The pictures below make it look like all we did was romp around, but really we just never took out the camera when we were convalescing.

Review: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My introduction to Patrick Rothfuss was his fantastic short story, “The Lightning Tree,” in the Rogues anthology (2014). I was immediately hooked by both his world, where the fantasy elements are deliciously subtle, and his writing style. The story was beautiful and left me wanting to learn more about this world. I was thrilled to learn that he has a whole series of books revolving around the characters and setting.

There was much that I found compelling with the first novel in this series. I particularly liked the frame story which maintained some of the languid pace that I enjoyed in the short story. There were elements of the primary narrative that I also enjoyed: traveling minstrels, fantasy elements fading into myth, hints of darker realities. I continue to appreciate the setting, particularly the university library, the Underthing, a whole town devoted to the arts, and layers of history both physically present in the architecture and landscape, and figuratively present in layered stories and songs. Some surprising characters, especially Devi the moneylender, were fun to get to know. And I like the style of magic—it felt appropriate to the setting, the in-story fluff was plausible, and, at its best, it evoked a genuine sense of mystery and awe.

Oddly, though I began the book loving the slow pace, which felt luxurious, I came to resent it later on. I enjoy a story that takes its time, but not if it starts feeling predictable or like I’m being strung along. In particular, the frame story makes it clear that Kvothe (our hero and narrator) just wants to nail down the essential elements, yet he meanders all over the place. Yeah yeah yeah, I know he’s going to screw things up with the girl again. Let’s get on with it. And he’s going to have umpteen run-ins with the snooty rich kid at the university. Yawn. And one-dimensional Professor Snape-I-mean-Hemme? Either breathe life into him or find a better obstacle.

In a similar vein, I couldn’t quite buy into the challenges Kvothe faced. How could this brilliant, talented prodigy not figure out a way to earn a living? I get it that the rich kid scared off all the noble patrons, but if he was 10% the minstrel that the story implies that he was, I’d think he could do a lot better than simply getting an attic room at the inn. He could have earned enough through busking alone. His financial plight kept the tension up, but it was forced. I kept waiting for him to get his bloody act together.

In general Kvothe’s level of obtuseness appeared to be in service to the plot. Most of the time he was a super-genius, but then he would suddenly become dumb as a stump. Of course real people are brilliant in some areas and have blind spots, but Kvothe is wildly inconsistent. With “magic,” for example, he usually runs circles around his classmates, but he becomes braindead when he talks to Master Elodin. For example, he’s fully aware that Elodin has the keys to the Real Magic that he’s after, but he describes him as a loony bin: “He talks in circles about names and words and power. It sounds good while he’s saying it. But it doesn’t really mean anything.” Really? Why not apply yourself to figure out what Elodin is talking about, like you do most of the time? Besides, as someone as steeped in folklore as Kvothe, who often says things like, “that’s how this would go if it were a story…,” I’d think he’d recognize the absent-minded professor archetype.

I’m rounding down to three stars, though I’m definitely interested enough in the core story to continue on with the next book.

View all my reviews

Family Talk

Packed in our car are two bags of surprise gifts for the kids. They’re not secret, but they are wrapped so that the kids don’t know what they are. They only get to open one on days when we drive a long distance; they get very excited about this. Some of the gifts are intended for them individually, others are for the whole family.


The first family gift that we opened was a set of little cards called Family Talk. It’s like The Book of Questions and similar products that include a bunch of random questions to get interesting conversations started. I’ve used things like this in my classes and advisory groups to generate discussion and writing prompts. Works great on a road trip too.

The first time we played, I whipped out a pad of paper and scribbled down some notes to capture the contrast between the minds of our three- and six-year-old. This all comes from my scrawled notes from the first three questions, so quotes are not exact, but I’ve tried to reconstruct things as accurately as possible.

Describe your dream bike.

Griffin: “My dream bike would have a rocket booster, an invisible candy machine, and sticky sticky wheels that can go up walls or trees or upside-down.”

Maggie: “Pink!”

<pause, before continuing with gusto>

“Ice cream machine with a pink ball and it was blue and it had a pretend tree on it and it was YUM!”

What does this have to do with a bike? We have no freaking clue.

If you could change one thing about your school, what would it be?

Griffin: “Make an experiment room. Putting water into one thing and then adding something else like orange juice and vinegar and then what was that stuff that makes it explode? Baking soda!”

Maggie: “Get a pool! Pond! We can’t go in because ducks might bite you. Go to the park. Get a coloring book. Get stickers. Actually I do want to do music and experiments. And I would build legos. And go under the fort if there’s thunder. And I’ll do music in there so the rain and thunder and lightning will stop.”

Once again, we thought she was done, but then she dove back in:

“And I would get a pretend moon and a pretend orange juice and a pretend trees and a pretend hat and a pretend glasses and a pretend shoes and a pretend napkins and a pretend…”

This went on for so long that I couldn’t write it all down. She was mostly describing things that she could see in the car (or through the windows). Eventually, she settled down and we moved on to the next question.

What are some qualities of good friends?

Griffin: “They like playing together!” <pauses to consider other qualities>

Maggie: “And a pretend light and pretend grass and pretend seats!”

Griffin: “Help you if you need help. Helping you read.”

Maggie: “And I have another thing! A pretend car and pretend clouds and pretend mountains!”

Griffin: Maggie! That’s the wrong question!”

Maggie: “I want Griffin to stop talking because I want to talk. And also I got one more thing! Pretend stripes and real stripes.”

Griffin: <glaring at Maggie> “Good friends treat you with respect and treat you with kindness.”

Maggie: “That’s a LOT of things!”


Two glorious days in Charlottesville, Virginia, with Kate, Paul, Sam, and Toby. Heat wave made outdoor activities difficult at times, and the kids were not on their best behavior (see below), but the company couldn’t have been better. Sipping wine with old friends after the kids have gone to bed, talking about whatever comes to mind, is a solid 10 on my scale of favorite things.

Click on any image to see a larger slide-show version.


Meltdown about too much sunscreen.
Meltdown about too much sunscreen.

Despite enjoying this visit as adults, it was clear that our kids haven’t adapted as well to this trip as they did last summer. They’ve just been off—crying over small stuff, bickering more than usual, an uptick in meanness and defiance. We think it’s a combination of sleep deprivation (not excessive, but later bedtimes have added up), too much driving in the first few days, and transition stress for Griffin leaving Kindergarten. We’re hopeful that a low-key week with their grandparents in Bethesda (our next stop) will help reset things.


Hungry Mother

On Thursday we left North Carolina and headed into Virginia. We stopped for lunch at a rest stop with the iconic Virginia slogan, “Virginia is for Lovers.” (It’s hard for me to believe that this 1969 campaign wasn’t referencing the 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision, but a quick on-line investigation wasn’t conclusive. If anyone has good sources on this, I’m interested in learning more about it.)

We stopped in the early afternoon at Hungry Mother State Park; it came recommended as a family-friendly spot not far from the highway. It’s a great park with trails, swimming, boating, and lots of other fun activities. Definitely aimed at families, there are plenty of things intended specifically for kids. We loved, for example, a nature scavenger hunt brochure that had Griffin and Maggie hunting for mushrooms, wildflowers, and other features of the region. We had nothing but positive interactions with park staff and a super-friendly ranger.

Two down-sides for us, that don’t reflect on the park at all:

  1. Hot and humid—it was tough getting to sleep with all of us in a steamy tent together. We ended up taking off the rain fly even though there was a decent chance of rain. Even so, the tent was uncomfortable. So between the thunderstorm in Illinois and the heat in Virginia, we’ve not done well with sleep while camping yet.
  2. Aggressive wasps—Sarah was stung on Friday morning outside the tent. Then Maggie and I were both stung (Maggie twice!) crossing a bridge by the lake. In a totally bizarre turn of events, Griffin was stung in downtown Charlottesville on Saturday—this is more stings in 24 hours than I’ve dealt with in my entire life. Fortunately, none of us have allergies to stings yet.

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Virginia is for Lovers

Tent pads on steroids at Hungry Mother State Park

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Tree hugger (shortly before being stung by an angry yellow jacket)