Category Archives: Fun

We did finally make it to the Potomac

For a summer that doesn’t feel like we had any vacation, it occurs to me that we have done some pretty fun things.  Earlier in the summer, we had planned to tube on the Potomac River.  Of course we were rained out and altered our trip some.

Family time!
Family time!

A month ago, we actually made it to the Potomac, but rather than tubing, we spent the weekend boating.  My brother and sister-in-law have a river house along the river and invited the family for the weekend.  My parents and aunt came from PA and my crew drove in from Charleston.

The dock and watercraft
The dock and watercraft

Rock and roll!

So, their place has a dock which was begging for something to be tied to it.  My brother has a saying:  “If you’re gonna be a bear, be a grizzly.”  We use that all the time, but in our case, it’s usually when we screw something up…we go all-in.  Anyhow, my brother goes all-in also but not usually in the screw-up department.  My point is that when the decision to buy a boat came up, he decided not to settle for a mere 16 foot boat, but rather to buy a 30 foot long pontoon and two jet-skis that will knock the tears out of your eyes.

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When I was a younger man, I had a motorcycle that I rode everywhere in all weather…even once in the snow…don’t ride a motorcycle in the snow…it’s cold and really really hard to not slide.  Anyhow, I loved riding my bike but as newlyweds, we really needed a washer and dryer.  I sold my motorcycle and never got another.  So, the jet ski was a perfect sort of hearkening back to my motorcycle days.  I could go crazy fast, do stupid stuff and have a much lower risk of getting killed compared to a motorcycle.  It was perfect!

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Anyhow, we had a great time at the river house and boating and eating all sorts of food.  My brother cooked bacon outside on an electric skillet and my kids raved and raved about it.  It’s hard to beat camp food or anything cooked outside for that matter.  And of course, anything cooked by their uncle is good too.

That's the bacon
That’s the bacon

I love these family times and boating and the Potomac, at least where we were, was absolutely beautiful  There were eagles and lots of fish and turtles and ducks.  People were nice and we all had a wonderful time sharing each other’s company!  I’d call that a good trip!

The rest of the trip

So a few days ago, I mentioned a trip we took and how it changed because of rain.  As you may remember, we had planned to tube the Potomac River on day 2 but the rain was so bad that the river was not going to be fun.  Still, we wanted to save the weekend so we decided to visit Cass Scenic Railroad in Cass, WV.

Cass Scenic Railroad
Cass Scenic Railroad
At the Company Store
At the Company Store

The Cass Railroad used to service a series of lumber camps on top of the mountain.  The town was a company store kind of town which has been pretty well restored.  The rail line is also well maintained and has covered train cars so it was perfect for a rainy day!

At the Company Store
At the Company Store

The trip to Cass requires a winding trip through some beautiful scenic territory in the Eastern Mountains of WV.  It’s amazing getting to Cass and even cooler once you get there.  We wandered about the town waiting for trip up the mountain.  I love trains and this trip reminded me of the several trips my family took when I was a kid.  We rode several steam engines around NY and PA on trips just like this one.

Shay locomotive at Cass
Shay locomotive at Cass
Ready for our trip up the mountain
Ready for our trip up the mountain

I think I irritated Emily, but I just couldn’t get enough of looking at the trains and the dirty coal-men and the company store.  I know it was a hard life and definitely not a romantic era for working folks, but for some reason, I sort of visualize the turn of the century as a special time that is intriguing to me if I had a time machine.  Goofy, I know.  Anyhow, I stared at the trains and imagined the people who used to live and die in the forest cutting massive trees with hand saws.  I imagined the raucous parties when the men had a chance to go to town and I wondered if the life that seems so simple in my mind was something I would want to live.  And then I remember that the average lifespan was poor and the time between birth and death for many of those guys was no dream…at least not a good dream.

Huge drive arms
Huge drive arms

Anyhow, we rode the specially built train up the mountain where it traversed an 11% grade.  For modern locomotives, a 2% grade is steep.  The train travels a series of switchbacks to climb and descend the mountain and I cannot imagine the guys who used to haul huge loads of timber down the mountain, counting on the brakes to keep them from rolling down the hill out of control.

One of the switchbacks
One of the switchbacks
Selfie on the ride up
Selfie on the ride up

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Almost to Whittaker Station
Almost to Whittaker Station
Touring the logging camp
Touring the logging camp

I guess this train ride will be one I won’t ever forget.  It was just special.  The kids and I sucked on hard candy we bought at the company store and found ourselves chatting about…stuff.  We took silly pictures and had absolutely no cell service at all so had to resort to conversation and our imaginations.  We jabbered and day-dreamed as the scenery passed us by on the trip.  In my mind, it was just perfect and without the rain, we would never have seen this part of WV!

The family at Whittaker Station
The family at Whittaker Station
CassVideo
Click for a cool video with the train whistle…wait for it

(If the video above doesn’t work for you or if you want a smaller but lower quality version, try this link)

After the train ride, we decided to go to Snowshoe Mountain Resort which is a well-known ski area in the winter.  In the summer, it is sort of nothing I guess.  There aren’t too many people around, but the mountain and scenery remain beautiful.  We were fairly near the Greenbank Radio Observatory, a national radio quiet zone.

Greenbank Radio Observatory
Greenbank Radio Observatory…in the rain

Cell service was sketchy and the resort facilities where we stayed were even sketchier…summer visitors have to endure repairs and upgrades from the ski season I guess.  Anyhow, the technology-free weekend was a lot of fun.  Of course, the rain continued and storms rolled in as well.  We jumped into the pool at one point and 5 minutes later, they booted us out because of impending lightning.

In Lewisburg

In Lewisburg
In Lewisburg

We survived the night, had a great and greasy breakfast and drove to Lewisburg, WV where we ate lunch and walked around in town a bit.  Lewisburg is an awesome town and we love visiting, even if we just walk up and down the street.  It has a small-town-America feel…back to that romantic vision of a different time I guess!  Anyhow, we ended up having a fantastic trip, even though our plans were so significantly different from what we originally planned.  I think those sorts of trips may be the best kind!

Change of Plans

A little over a month ago, we took a trip with our aunt and uncle.  We all like to get outside and kayak, hike, swim, etc, so this was going to be a great trip doing a little of all of that.

Dam at Stonewall Jackson Lake
Dam at Stonewall Jackson Lake

The plan was to head to Stonewall Jackson Resort in Roanoke West Virginia (not Roanoke, East Virginia) Friday morning, where we would rent a pontoon boat and tube/swim/boat on Stonewall Jackson Lake.  The next day, we planned to drive to the Eastern Panhandle of WV where we would spend all day tubing down the South Branch of the Potomac River.

Does anything ever go as planned?

Nope.

Carp at Stonewall Jackson Lake
Carp at Stonewall Jackson Lake

Well, we did leave Charleston on Friday morning, but it was raining as we pulled out.  Still, we drove to Stonewall Resort, about 2 hours away.  Just as we pulled into the resort, the clouds parted, the sun came out and our day was saved!  Stonewall Jackson Lake, we discovered, has a carp population, to say the least.  So, we watched the carp a little and headed out on the boat.  It was an absolutely great time and we trolled around the lake taking time to swim here and there.  The water was nice and we just had a wonderful time.

Trust us...we have a map
Trust us…we have a map

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We returned the boat and decided to use the bicycle rental pass we got for staying at the resort.  The lady at the counter warned us of a coming storm and that we simply had to be back by 8pm.  She was certain that at exactly 8pm we would be under fire, so to speak.  We looked that the radar and sort of figured she was crazy.  Sure a storm was coming but it was a ways off.

It fits...I guess
It fits…I guess
I love this pic!
I love this pic!
And this one too!
And this one too!

So we rode our bikes and had a lot of fun.  We decided Abigail was not quite ready to drive a car as she was a bit wild.  Poor Emily got the only non-mountain bike so she worked hard on the hills.  She chose the bike though so…

And this one too!
And this one too!

Anyhow, our time was up so we returned the bikes.  At 8:03 pm, I’ll be darned if the storm didn’t drop!  We sat in the library at the resort and played cards while the storm raged a bit.  The outdoor wedding on the patio below the library was sort of…ruined I guess.  It was impressive and the rain was substantial.

Planning for the next day!
Planning for the next day!

With as much rain as we got and with the forecast for Saturday to be full or rain, we sort of figured that the plan to tube the Potomac was out of the question as it would be raging.  We worked out plan b which ended up being a blast…stay tuned…

All-County Band

I know I have been posting a lot of band stuff lately but it has been our lives lately.  School is winding down so band is slowing too although lessons and playing are definitely not!  Anyhow, I have been remiss in posting about our kids’ participation in All-County Band for Kanawha County!

All-County Band
All-County Band…They can get along!

Abigail started lessons a few years ago as a younger-than-normal flute student.  She had her ups and downs with it initially, but has developed into quite a flutist.  Jump ahead to this year, the first year she is actually old enough to play in band.  She was ahead of the curve some from experience which set her up well to try out for All-County Band.  As I understand it, she was the only 6th grader in the county to make the band and to boot, she made 9th chair out of 22!  I am so proud of her and she really stepped up her game.  She rose well to the challenge and plays all the time now around the house.

Music Of John Williams
Pride Of Wv
Rage
Tempest
America The Beautiful
Lullaby

Isaac also made the high school All-County Band for tenor sax. He’s such a funny kid…he did his audition but felt like he didn’t play as well as he had hoped. He was disappointed and never bothered to even look at the list of students who made the band when it was released. By dumb-luck, one of his friends made a comment along the lines of “See you at practice tonight.” He had to query what the friend meant who of course, let him know that he was in the band…the day of the first rehearsal!  Isaac had no idea that he had made the band as second chair!  Anyhow, he also played very well and I am so proud of his playing as well.  Band truly does mean a lot in our house and we enjoy watching the kids develop into really great musicians!

Give Us Peace
A Slavic Farewell
American Riversongs
Americans We
Fiddler On The Roof

Outdoor band concert

It’s the season of band!  Well. it seems like it anyhow.  Last night, Isaac played in 2 separate concerts.  First, the George Washington High School band played their final concert together as the 2015 band last night.  Seniors are hitting the road so this was a nice opportunity for them to get together one last time as a group and play a killer concert.

GWHS Band
GWHS Band

I think what made it especially nice was that it was outside and that the weather was perfect!  We enjoyed their music as always and especially liked the opportunity for a little vitamin D!

Don't look...it's Dad
Don’t look…it’s Dad

Like any good kid, Isaac refused to look up at his parents so I sort of had to sneak a few pics.  Meh. I’m good with that.  More excellent were the selections they played…of course, it was outside with my cell phone sitting on metal bleachers where kids played and adults shifted about so please excuse the extraneous noises:

Visions Of Flight
America The Beautiful
American Folk Rhapsody
Desert Patrol
Rough Riders
Loch Lomond

After that concert, a number of the high school band members ran over to the middle school which was performing their annual arts showcase. The middle school jazz band director had arranged with a few former-middle-school-jazz-band-now-high-school-band members to return to perform in an alumni jazz band as part of the larger concert…and of course, they were great!

Sesame Street
In The mood
Hey Jude
Lean On Me

Tonight we celebrate the end of high school band season with a banquet. After that, we have one middle school band concert, a banquet and an end of the year trip. It’s been a little wild around our neck of the woods lately, but I am so proud of my kids in particular and the entire bands in which they both play as well!

George Washington Band Concert

I have mentioned many times that the kids are both very involved with band in their schools.  Band means many things to different people but I never ceased to be amazed at how incredible these kids play and how truly kind and awesome the majority of our band kinds are.

Isaac at the GW Band concert
Isaac at the GW Band concert

Isaac’s high school band played their spring concert this week at the Clay Center in Charleston.  Truly, Charleston is fortunate to have such an amazing performance hall.  And even more fortunate is that our high school has the opportunity to play in the same hall as the WV Symphony.  It’s a high-class, beautiful location!

The GW Band
The GW Band

Synergies
Shepherds Hey
Belgian Paratroopers
Stella Maris
Korean Folk song
Chanson de l’adieu
Trieste
(click above to listen)

Isaac was principle chair for his instrument, the tenor sax.  I am very proud as you might imagine.  His band-mates all seem to be very driven and really respect their band director.  He’s a serious man, and demands excellence from these kids and absolutely gets it.  I think the kids very much respect him for helping them to see how great they can be.  I am very pleased with his ability to inspire the band to play as he does.  It’s clear he loves the music and the kids and that’s just perfect in my mind!

Cool pic outside the Clay Center
Cool pic outside the Clay Center…Venus (I think) in the night sky also

So friends, I know that these may take a bit to download, but if you find the time or the inclination, please enjoy the music from the George Washington High School Spring Concert – 2015!

Mellencamp

Last weekend, Emily and I had the opportunity to see John Mellencamp in concert.  Like about everyone who grew up in the 80s, we really enjoy his music and had great memories of the “glory days” in school when his music meant so much to us.

We stopped and actually had good BBQ...a rarity outside the South
We stopped and actually had good BBQ…a rarity outside the South

We did a ricochet trip to Charlotte, NC…we basically drove in, heard the concert, spent the night and returned the next morning.  Maybe it was a bit like our care-free time of growing up…or more likely my cheapskate kicking in so we didn’t have to pay for another night at a hotel.

A pig...eating pig
A pig…eating pig

Anyhow, the concert was in a mid-sized arena…maybe 5-6k people attended.  At first, we were the youngest people there which sort of surprised me.   Soon enough though we were in a sea of people of all ages.  Mellencamp is 63 and has been playing for a long time so I guess his music has appeal across many years though I am sure his most famous period was when I was a teenager.

Ready for the concert
Ready for the concert

John puts on a good old-fashioned rock-and-roll show.  It’s not full of flames and lights and dancing all over stage, but it’s loud enough and his songs are just plain awesome!  He mostly played his famous songs, Jack and Diane, Hurts So Good, Small Town, and Authority Song.  Emily, not being a true fan apparently, had never heard of his absolute best song, Rain on the Scarecrow.  I know it is probably not as well known as many of his others so I was surprised (and nearly brought to tears…except I don’t cry), when he fired up that song during the concert!  It was fantastic!

With my sweetie...
With my sweetie…

On stage with him, he had a fantastic violinist and another musician who played “everything else” including piano, accordion and harmonica.  It was sort of classic Mellencamp sounds but I guess I never really thought about what went into his music.  I loved it!

Mellencamp stage
Mellencamp stage

Unlike many current musicians, John Mellencamp sounded great live and pretty much exactly like he does on his produced versions (geez…I struggled with what to say there…cassettes, LPs, mp3s…he’s been around for it all!)  I was a little surprised when he lit up a cigarette on stage, but I guess that’s an 80s throwback thing too maybe.

I almost forgot…the concert  was opened by Carlene Carter which seemed like a huge surprise as she is most definitely in the  style of her mother and grandmother…i.e. older style country.  I really enjoyed her songs and singing as well, but it was a surprise.  We later found out that she and John and working together on a project so it did make sense…her opening was a nice bonus!

Friends, if you are a child of the 80s and get the opportunity to hear John Mellencamp, buy some tickets and enjoy an fun evening!  Sing as loud as you can and take your kids so they can be thoroughly embarrassed…but show them how rock and roll was meant to be done!

Making truffles

In town, there is a business called “Uncork and Create“.  I’ll make up some of the history but mostly, it started as a place where an artist walks a group of people through doing a painting…everyone does the same painting with their own unique touches.  Wine and snacks are welcome and it’s a fairly social gathering.  They have since branched out from painting into all sorts of cooking/food classes.

Uncork and Create
Uncork and Create

Uncork and Create

Emily got me a gift certificate to go to one of their classes for Christmas.  I am no cook, but I do like wine and sweets, so when I saw that they were offering a class on making chocolate truffles, I decided it was a perfect opportunity to give the place a try!

Truffle making supplies
Truffle making supplies

My class was offered on Valentine’s Day so taking it was either a really good idea or a really bad idea.  I figured that if I arrived home with a pile of homemade truffles for my Valentine, I would be off the hook.

Making truffles
Making truffles

Making truffles

They have a local chef prepare a few easy recipes and we dug in with ingredients and kitcheny tools and stuff needed to make our recipes.  The chef was a fun woman who was easy going and clearly enjoyed what she was doing.  She teased and played and taught us some tricks for proper chocolate coating.  There were a number of ingredients she brought so we could customize our truffles also.  Several couples attended so I was at the “singles table”.  We all agreed to customize our truffles with Grand Marnier orange liqueur.  We tasted it and decided it wasn’t flavorful enough so we added more…and more.  Well, you get the idea.

Making truffles

Making truffles

Once the truffle ganache is mixed, we had to refrigerate it so it would set up…chef came to our table after a bit and asked us how much hooch we had added to our mix…it turns out our mix was slow to set up…ooops!  It wasn’t that much was it?

Finished truffles
The finished product
Finished truffles
My doggie bag!

We finally got everything pulled together and made some really delicious truffles.  I guess they aren’t as beautiful as I had hoped but for my first go at it, I was pleased.  I had a lot of fun and really enjoyed my time at the event.  I won’t be able to make these things too often though or I’ll either be three sheets to the wind or overweight!

Our new driver

We are pleased to introduce the newest driver in our house!  Isaac passed his learner’s permit test yesterday.   As soon as I got home from work, he bounced into the kitchen, license in hand.  Of course, I knew he wanted to go drive.  I suspect he had planned on my tossing him the keys and saying “let’s go.”

New Driver

Although he has driven many times out at the executive deer stand, he had not driven at any real speed with opposing 2 ton hunks of rolling metal coming at him.  Instead, I drove him to a nearby neighborhood with flat straight streets.  He was a mix of excited and nervous…and so was I honestly.

He got into the driver’s seat and we went over the “make it go forward” checklist.  Isaac tended to hug the white line as we drove house, cars, and mailboxes.    Of course, he was still a little jerky with the gas pedal and the steering but he was very cautious and seemed to take it seriously enough to satisfy my nerves a little.  I guess we drove for 40 minutes and had a lot of fun.

Probably my favorite part of the trip happened at the end of our drive.  There is a church near our house where I asked Isaac to pull in so I could take us home.  Our road is steep and windy and has a blind crest.  We weren’t ready for that yet.  Anyhow, we pulled into the parking lot and miscommunicated where we were going to park.  Isaac got it between the parking lines so all was fine, but I suppose it looked funny to the older couple sitting in the car across the parking bumper from us.  The look on their face was, at first, one of slight confusion with our antics.  As soon as Isaac and I got out and switched seats, they got big goofy grins on their faces.  It was obvious…we were practicing driving.  In response to their big goofy grins, I grinned right back and nodded my head.  I suspect they said a quick prayer for both me and them as, that night, a new driver was unleashed on the road!

Squeak Stick

It seems like we have been involved with a lot of musical stuff lately in our house.  The kids have had band stuff pretty regularly since Christmas.  They played holiday concerts and, this week, are trying out for “All-County” band which is a band comprised of the best players in the county as determined during a blind audition.

Scaredy cat
Scaredy cat

All of that involves a good bit of practicing pieces and trying new things.  What has been especially fun is when Abigail (flute), Isaac (tenor sax) and I (clarinet) all get to playing at the same time, we can make a powerful lot of noise in the house.  It might be a pleasing noise if we played the same song, or even complementary songs, but that is never the case.

Scaredy cat

Isaac is the most experienced player and has the loudest instrument, by far.  He plays complex pieces and often plays them very loudly.  Abigail is playing very well also and her range is fairly high pitched.  Finally, on my “squeak stick”, I have a good range between high and low but I am not a great player yet.  I just changed reeds so I actually squeak a lot trying to get used to the new feel.  All three of us together makes for quite a…performance I am sure.

Another Scaredy cat
Another Scaredy cat

We practice every evening (or at least 5/7 days) for 30-60 minutes.  During that time, Emily holes up in the bedroom where the cats take cover.  They literally tremble in fear under the bed covers or wrapped up in Emily’s robe.  I don’t think of myself as a particularly cruel person, but there is some sort of special pleasure in seeing the cats respond as they do.  I do not know if it is the volume or the tone, or just the squeaks, but the mere sight of our instruments, especially my clarinet, sends them running for cover!