I’ve been absent on here unfortunately, but today marks a big event in our house…the return to school! School continues to start earlier and earlier, and typically, I don’t really care. For some reason, this year, I am really bothered by its early return. Summer just passed by too quickly!
We have had a busy summer I guess which explains it all. We took a tour of a lot of WV. We visited family in Montgomery Alabama…in July (it’s hot and humid…don’t do that). We worked on the house and caught up on doctor visits. Last week, Isaac was away at band camp all week which definitely signals the end off Summer! And now, here we are back to school!
Per tradition, I interviewed the kids asking them what they want to be when they grow up, who their friends are, what excites them about starting a new year, etc. I promised them I wouldn’t post the videos, but I love to look back at them from earlier years and see what changes and what stays the same. My kids are growing up into wonderful people and I am so very proud of them…of what they think about and what the see for the future!
So, even though getting back to school might seem like a drag to me sometimes, it is the marking of another year forward toward such exciting futures!
A few weeks ago, Isaac and his school band went to Chicago to play a special performance in the Chicago’s Symphony Center. We drove separately as we didn’t want to ride the bus and he didn’t want us tagging along separately. So, we made a family-1 affair of it and had a lot of fun touring around Chicago seeing the sites and having a great time!
We did stay in the same hotel as the band…The Palmer House Hilton in downtown, right near Millennium Park. The hotel is listed as an historical landmark and I can see why…it is a beautiful hotel and well worth the experience! I loved being able to step outside and see the “L” pass by. We could walk to almost everything. I especially love that part.
We had Chicago deep-dish pizza the first night at Giordano’s. I typically do not like deep-dish as all of the bread wears me out but it was a cool ambiance and the flavor was really great! I especially loved to start off with a Chicago staple as well! I know Jon Stewart gave Trump a hard time about eating New York pizza with a fork, but with deep-dish, we had no choice!
Abigail, Emily’s parents and I braved the Sky Deck in the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower). The Sky Deck is a set of glass push-outs near the top of the building where visitors can step out into what seems like thin air at 1353 feet up! It was really neat to do and the views were simply amazing. To me, the Sky Deck was so high up that it didn’t feel like a scary thing at all. It was sort of like flying in a plane…I think 100 feet would have been more scary. Anyhow, it was worth the trip. We bought a City Pass there which gave access to a lot of the cool exhibits throughout the city and saved us a lot of money.
We walked around in the cool air a number of days and nights and saw Calder’s Flamingo, Cloud Gate (aka the “Bean”), and the Chicago Board of Trade. Really, Chicago is a fantastic city to visit. We took in the Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago. There is just so much in Chicago and it is a shame we didn’t have a lot more time to really take in more of the city. We spent some time seeing Van Gogh’s work in the Art Institute but that was only the tip of the ice berg of the famous works that are housed there. We saw American Gothic and Nighthawks and A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. We saw Monets and Picassos and works of the ancients. It is truly a remarkable collection which I would like to further explore.
Finally, we did get a chance to actually lay eyes on Isaac and his his fantastic band play fantastic pieces in a fantastic hall! I think they were all so very proud to play and their love of music was quite evident! I so enjoy seeing Isaac and everyone in the band in tuxeudos / formal dresses and I am very proud of the hard work that led them to be able to play at this venue.
Even though it snowed while we were in Chicago, it was a marvelous trip and one I would love to repeat!
Earlier this month, Abigail, my precious little baby, had another birthday. It was a big one…the big thirteen! My adorable baby has turned into…a teenager!
I do not know if I am lucky or what, but aside from first thing in the morning 🙂 , Abigail is an absolute joy. We were out of state on her birthday so didn’t get to properly celebrate, but we will remedy that this weekend.
Like most teens, she loves to listen to music and see movies, but where she really shines, I think, is that she is capable of and really enjoys thinking about all sorts of interesting subjects. She has opinions on politics and the future, and the world around us and can elucidate her thoughts very well. I always say that I don’t think I ever progressed, mentally, beyond age 13, but then I see how mature Abigail is, and I think I over-estimated my mental age. She makes me so proud and I am happy to welcome another teenager into the world!
It’s hard for me to write this, not because I am displeased, but rather because I cannot believe it is possible. Yesterday, Isaac passed his driving test making him our street’s newest driver. It seems like he is still my precious little boy, but he has gone ahead and grown up (into a fine young man…who now has a driver’s license!) and is finding his freedom!
In WV, as elsewhere, a person can earn their driving permit when they are 15. Isaac was kinda interested, but not really. I sort of had to push him to take his permit test because I wanted to have plenty of time to drive with him while he was still at home. Lots of kids these days are disinterested in driving I guess, and some parents don’t make their kids get their license until they are older. That’s ok, but for me, I wanted him to have more experience under my tutelage so we got his permit soon after his 15th birthday
We drove a lot under different conditions as I wanted him to experience many aspects of driving with my eyes helping him merge, see hazards, etc. Isaac has a car for his use and has spent a good bit of time getting used to it and has done an absolutely fantastic job of learning how to drive. He seems to be very conscientious and aware of things around him. I knew he was ready to take the next step.
I was most concerned with whether he could pass the parallel parking test. We put it off quite awhile, but it was time. I gathered a step stool and a large box to work as markers to practice and asked him to watch a few quick youtube videos while I got the stuff loaded into his car.
We measured out a parking bay near our house. I figured the youtube video would give him some general info, but that I would have to explain and demonstrate how to properly parallel park. We decided to just let him try it once, and lo and behold, he parked beautifully on the first try! I kid you not! I didn’t believe it so I jumped out and made him do it again…and he did it again. All-told, he did it 15-20 times with only 1 failed attempt so we called it a night. Two nights ago we went to the actual testing location to practice on the space the tester uses…same story. He parked several times flawlessly, so we knew it was time.
Emily took him after school and he passed beautifully. The tester said he was the first person she had passed all day…and that was at 5pm…that’s rough. Anyhow, we went out to eat and celebrate, but Isaac was anxious to get back home to dump me off so he could drive around some.
He can’t haul friends yet until he is accident-free for 6 months, but he wanted to go out on his own. It was one of the harder things I have done recently, watching him drive off all by himself. He rolled his eyes when I went into Dad-mode, “You’re gaining freedom and I am giving up control over you…and it’s hard…be careful” Eye-roll, “Yeah Dad, I know…” Eye-roll. It’s all good though. He drove around our area for an hour and returned, obviously excited and a little tired. I can still remember both the thrill and exhaustion of the first hundred times driving solo. He’s growing up though and learning to manage both very well. If you see him on the road though, don’t honk or wave…I need him to focus on the road!
The Greenbrier Resort and Hotel is a bit of a legend in WV. The Greenbrier is located in White Sulphur Springs, WV, where rich folks used to come to drink/bathe in the sulphur waters in the area. People believed that there were medicinal powers in the water so they flocked to the area to cure all sorts of things. Of course, amenities built up around as the influx of people grew and the Greenbrier Hotel was built. It’s a palatial structure situated on 11,000 or so acres and it caters to all sorts of outdoor activities including pheasant hunting, horseback riding, off-road Jeeping and high-end golf. The PGA holds the Greenbrier Classic there each Summer and it draws all sorts of golf-y folks.
People still travel from far and wide to partake of the ambiance of the area and it truly is beautiful in the Greenbrier Valley area. We have visited Lewisburg as well as the Greenbrier Hotel to do the bunker tour, but we had never stayed at the hotel itself before.
Some have said that I am a bit thrifty. Emily calls it other things, but I prefer to find a value whenever I can. A few months before Christmas this year, I saw that the hotel was running a special deal on a weekend stay in January. It was perfect! We could stay at the hotel and take in all that is the Greenbrier, and I could feel content in having gotten a “bargain”. Please note that the Greenbrier’s special price was a “bargain”, not a bargain. It still cost us around $500 for two nights, but we had a nice enough room and the opportunity to stay!
Upon our arrival, a gate-man had a card for our car with our name already printed. He ushered us through to the grand entrance where bellhops grabbed our bags and hustled them inside out of the snow. I couldn’t bear to pay the valet so I parked the car myself…at least 100 miles away…in the newly falling snow/rain. But it’s good…and definitely cheaper.
Anyhow, we received champagne and our room keys and were good to go. All checked in, we decided to explore the massive building. There are ballrooms and great foyers. Enormous fireplaces burned delightful fires and the atmosphere was rich. There is a dress-code at the Greenbrier which we followed to the letter, but it appeared that not everyone bothered. I was a bit disappointed, frankly, that people chose not to follow the rules and that the hotel allowed them to get away with it. I normally hate dress-code stuff, but it just felt right there…like people should be dressed up.
Anyhow, we caught a live singing performance where a really talented group sang a variety of tunes and did a great job interacting with the crowd. We clapped and sang along like good tourists…it was a blast!
We took the bunker tour again and visited all of the shops (or are they shoppes?) in the Greenbrier. The weather was not amenable to our touring the grounds or doing many of the outdoorsy things, but we really enjoyed the time to lounge around and talk and read. All-in-all, it was a nice trip.
The only complaint I had was with the food. We chose to stay in and eat at the hotel. It was convenient and part of the experience in my mind. It cost more for four of us to eat three meals than the room cost and we didn’t eat high-end at the hotel. Food was really expensive there. We ate breakfast at the main dining room and both the food and service were really great. Lunch and dinner, however, were no better than what we would have gotten at Applebees, but at 3x or more the price. Both service and food were average which was a shame for how much it cost…live and learn I guess.
Anyhow, I would like to go back and visit in the Spring when I am sure the place really shows its beauty. I am not much of a golfer but I hear that part of the fee includes a guy who will stand out in the fairway and watch where the balls land. For golfers, the savings in lost balls may make up for the expense in the food department!
I am glad to have stayed at the Greenbrier and look forward to the continued improvements that the fairly new owner is making after years of neglect by the previous owner!
So I didn’t do a great job of sticking with my declaration that I would post more. My diary has been fairly quiet lately and that is a drag for me. We did have a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s season and are racing towards the most important of all holidays, Groundhog’s Day!
Anyhow, I took a bunch of pictures of stuff we have been up to lately…
I love our fireplace area at Christmas…we still put out cookies for me Santa to eat
We pretty much only do sugar cookies at Christmas…and I mostly eat them in dough form leaving few to actually make it to the oven. The kids “decorate” them in interesting patterns.
And by patterns, I mean globs and piles…which makes them perfect to eat!
Best Christmas present ever!
I buried my nephew under his new blocks. I loved those kind of blocks when I was in school…We had a large, ride-able wooden train in kindergarten that we used to drive through great walls made from similar blocks. Anyhow, we had a lot of fun “hulking” out from under these blocks!
My brother mentioned that he always wanted the game Operation as a kid. We obliged this year although it is a much different game now. Still, they talked trash and left a watch or two inside the body…it was good fun!
Sober…all of us, sober. We do New Year’s with Emily’s folks. It’s a great time and we made it clear until midnight!
Somewhere during the holidays, we replaced two windows in our house. All together, I think we have replaced 21 windows or something like that. We have become old hands at it. It made a huge difference in both warmth and sound control. It’s always so striking to see a gaping hole in the house.
Well, we have had a busy few weeks lately including the crummy snow storm. I have lots more pics to post soon. I hope you are dug out wherever you are!
My baby turns 16 today. I started off his day with the well-known, “Sweet 16 and never been kissed.” Cooly, he replied, “Yeah, let’s just go with that.” How can it be that the tiny baby so long ago has turned into a nearly grown man?! And just who did he kiss?! Anyhow, this is a big year for him and Emily and I are so excited to see what comes next!
Some pics with his friends from his Winter Concert last night:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
(If the video above doesn’t work for you or if you want a smaller but lower quality version, try this link)
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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…
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.
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…