2019-10-31 Thu: Sleep & Swim

Posted 2019-11-05

That pretty much describes this day! The kids slept in late after their late-night swim, and as soon as the pool was mostly shaded they hit the water again.

Gee, Matthew's camera is nice! (click to enlarge)

2019-10-30 Wed: Do we have a house?

Posted 2019-11-05

We hit the road at 6:15 and most of the family slept for the first 3 hours of the trip, until after we'd passed through Savannah (about which, after reading "The Work and the Glory" series, a couple of family members jokingly asked if it counted as a Church History site). The decrease in latitude as we've traveled down the east coast showed, as it was after 6PM and still light when we found our house in Cape Coral. We felt some consternation as we pulled up; there was a car in the driveway, and a man (homeowner?) was talking the garbage out. We double-checked the address, and Matthew even verified that our GPS position matched that shown on the AirBnB site. Charles got out and talked to the man, a big black fellow who spoke no English. (Fortunately, he spoke Spanish, not French as feared, and Charles was able to communicate well enough to determine that he didn't live there, but was just a maintenance man taking care of a few things. He left and we parked and begin the house inspection and room assignment process. The house has a beautiful pool, outdoors but fully screened on top and sides to keep insects and debris out. After unpacking, the kids hit the pool and some swam until well past midnight. Charles surprised a few of them when he stopped work and jumped in. Michele later joined as well. We were surprised by how happy little Christopher was; he handled the occasional splashes very well, and was satisfied to be pulled around half-submerged in his baby floatie.

2019-10-29 Tue: Toilet Paper Delivery

Posted 2019-11-05

We slept in until 9:00 this morning, and the kids enjoyed another day of swimming as the adults' thoughts turned toward pre-departure. We reported last night that we were running low on toilet pape, and this evening our host, who works in Columbia and lives on the other side of the metro area, visited us, delivered the paper, and took a family picture. Charles talked with him outside (in the rain) for a bit, discussing his son, who has some college and wants a career as a software engineer. We prepared for an early departure, knowing that we had a long drive to our next stop in southern Florida.

2019-10-28 Mon: The Electricians

Posted 2019-11-03

The kids had a blast playing in the back yard and swimming in the cove. Shana and Matthew stayed busy w/ lifeguard duty. (When their mom agreed to the sacrifice required for them to take a lifeguard course last year, did they realize that they'd pay for it by having to work for the family later?) An electrician came to solve the problem and ran a new circuit. Got the microwave and fridge working right again, and sorted through some of the wiring mysteries, but left w/ 3 outlets still not working, at least not consistently (they turned on briefly a couple of times while he, Charles and Alexander were probing wiring, but we were never able to reproduce it), and he was having trouble tracing the flow of power [that wasn't there], so he promised to come back tomorrow to get to the bottom of it and finish the job. Late at night, Michele accidentally solved the mystery and the problem: there was a light switch far away that controlled the "bad" outlets. Why did it seem like an intermittent problem? While we were diagnosing it other people were flipping switches on and off trying to find the right one for their desired light! Charles couldn't believe how much time "the guys" spent trying to figure that out, only to have Michele come along and flip a switch. :-) The next morning he phoned the electrician to let him know he didn't need to come....

2019-10-27 Sun: Chapin, SC

Posted 2019-11-03

Despite being up into the wee morning hours waiting for the house to cool and air out (planning a place to attend church occupied some of our time), we were out of the house at 7:00. Charles said that he felt a huge feeling of relief as he finally escaped the neighborhood and hit the Interstate, watching the nightmare disappear in the rear-view mirror. We stopped in North Carolina for church, and as is fairly typical, stayed a while visiting and showing the bus to someone who was particularly interested. The church building was interesting, too, having been added onto and being a split level to adapt to the slope of the lot. An old road used to go through there, and there were several trails and driveways through the trees leading to other places, partly because people hadn't wanted to sell their land to the church.

We were still a little early for check-in to our house, so we drove 30min (longer w/ traffic problems) to the other side of Columbia and visited the temple. The gates were closed, but there was just enough room for us to squeeze the bus into the driveway without hanging out into the road. We enjoyed the variety of rich native plant and animal life that we haven't found elsewhere.

Arriving at our house, we were relieved to find it in a much nicer state than the previous one. (Not terribly surprising, when you consider that it has developed lake frontage, and we paid 2.5x the price of the last place, but still, you never know! This home is a split-level, with the main floor apparently built in the 50's and the 2-story portion added in 1970. The older part needs the electical upgraded; it's still low-capacity with non-grounded outlets, except for some added circuits in the kitchen.

The evening was made more difficult when the microwave (with the fridge on the same outlet) blew the circuit, and we couldn't find the breaker. We finally determined that there had to be a sub-panel somewhere (the main box was newer), and searched the house but were unable to find it. The host finally responded and let us know that there were a couple of panels hidden behind a credenza in Miriana's bedrooom. Still, it didn't solve the problem, and Charles and Alexander worked late into the evening trying to diagnose it. In the meantime, after blowing another circuit (which took out the Internet -- that one we were able to reset after finding the subpanel, though 3 outlets remained dead) we brought in our microwave from the bus and plugged it in out on the covered back porch so we could finish dinner, and plugged the refrigerator into an extension cord run to another circuit across the kitchen.

The other thing that made for a tough night was that it was warm. The A/C cooled the main floor, but the upstairs remained hot. We later realized that with two thermostats (one for the main floor, the other for the newer basement/upstairs) and the thermostat for the upstairs located within the zone cooled by the other system, that thermostat needed to be set cooler than the main floor or it would seldom if ever turn on. Once we figured that out the next day, the kids were much more comfortable at night.

2019-10-26 Sat: Knoxville, TN

Posted 2019-11-03

We again avoided the Interstate and took a more meandering route along the border of Kentucky and Virginia, and stopping at the Cumberland Gap National Park visitor center. We were a little nervous about the place we were staying at because it had very mixed reviews. It was dark when we arrived, and when we opened the front door of our "no smoking" house, our noses were assaulted with cigarette smoke, mold, dust, and who knows what-all. The wood floors hadn't seen more than a cursory sweep, the thermostat had a note on it asking us to keep it between 75 & 78 degrees (apparently for the comfort of the chain-smoking resident who occupies part of the house). Alexander (not our cleanest kid) lifted the lid on the toilet and complained that his had came away covered w/ some sort of slime; all of the bathroom fixtures were dirty. None of the cookware, etc. looked like it had been properly washed; the whole place was pretty gross. The sheets had been washed, though the pillows smelled just from being there.

We further discovered that in the process of making our reservation (which had been hard because the host was a poor communicator, language issues aside), though we'd said we had a "large" family, we were officially booking the place for 1 guest. The AirBnB UI didn't allow registering nearly as many people as we had (a very common problem for our family), but she charges extra per guest, and trying to figure out how to do that and...we really didn't want to open that can of worms. Lacking any other place to stay, We just wanted to make it through the night, touch the place as little as possible, and get out ASAP. Thus we were quiet and kept a low profile, and tried to give as little reason as possible to complain about us.

In spite of the wind and rain coming in, we opened what windows we could (typical old place: not all windows could open, ones that could were tough, screens were few, and they were dirty and many interesting things fell into the room upon opening the windows. After being opened up for a few hours, the air in the house was breathable, if not pleasant, so we fell asleep on top of the covers w/ the house making noise and stuff blowing in, and for a few hours we forgot about the hole.

2019-10-25 Fri: Caldwell, WV

Posted 2019-11-03

This home hasn't been around quite as long or had as many different additions as some we've been in, but still tells its story in its construction and layout. The 2 bedrooms and bath upstairs provided extra room, and the large luxurious master bath (and attached utility room off) added to the side, while it didn't exactly go with the rest of the house, was nice. The home is in a wooded area and has a creek that runs through the back yard, which the kids had fun exploring today.

Last night the kitchen flooded; the hose came loose from the pull-out faucet (it's the same design that flooded our own kitchen cabinets more than once before we finally replaced it. Who thought that it was a good idea to put a hand-tightened fitting that's constantly tugged and twisted in a shaft that invisibly pours right into the cabinet below?) The entire faucet's loose and leakes when used, which didn't help. We cleaned out the cabinets and left them open to air and just made the best of the situation, and let the host take care of it after we left. By the time all that was done, Charles had a nice migraine.

Today we'd planned to take at least part of the family to visit the Green Bank Observatory, but realizing just how long the drive would be (wouldn't have been bad had we been able to visit it on our way from D.C.), we decided to stay home, rest & regroup for the next leg of the journey.

2019-10-24 Thu: Washington, D.C. Temple

Posted 2019-11-03

The family slept in until 8:00 and made a hasty departure. Traffic on the beltway doubled the trip time to the Washington D.C. Temple, and when we arrived we were reminded that it's closed for a 2-year renovation, and there were trees . The visitor center was open, though, and we enjoyed learning a lot of interesting bits about the temple from the missionary couple who were supervising the reconstruction project, as well as the fellow who was reupholstering a couch while we were there and has been involved in many parts of temple maintenance, including fixing Moroni after decades of rain, lighting strikes, and air pollution had taken their toll on him. Miriana initiated a lengthy Home Schooling conversation with him, which Michele joined and pointed him to some online resources to help his wife and hopefully boost her confidence.

5 hours later we arrived at our house in West Virginia, after arriving in town and finding that we had to take a long winding detour because the standard route included a 10ft high tunnel....

2019-10-23 Wed: Surgery & The Capitol

Posted 2019-11-01

Mid-morning SMS exchange:

  • Charles: Sitting in pre-op waiting after changing a diaper
  • Matthew: Standing 500 feet up on the Washington Monument waiting for the elevator

Everyone drug themselves out of bed again for another early Washington day. Timothy's appointment wasn't until later in the morning, so he and charles actually left shortly after everyone else to make the 3-hour trip back to Philly.

Miriana and some of her siblings particularly enjoyed the White House tour, because the inside of that building is available using Google Maps' "street view", and they'd spent some time touring via that venue a couple of years ago. There were a lot of places that they'd seen online that were roped off and they couldn't see on the live tour. Behind a closed door lay the China Room, or the "Fancy dishware!" (spoken w/ a British accent) room, in the kids' vernacular. About 10 minutes after a couple of Secret Service agents learned of Miriana's particular interest in that room, she was found, ledback upstairs to the now-open door, the security rope opened, and she walked the room by herself, marveling at the beautiful pieces while listening to the crowd outside wonder why she was in there, and mentally nominating her favorite before exiting and thanking the agent again. It was pretty special.

Matthew & Michele drove to the Capitol and started lunch preparations while the rest of the family meandered over on foot, stopping to view the Lincoln Memorial and other attractions. On the way into the the tour, we lost Grandpa again and had to send someone to retrieve him; he left the group and insisted on following the established public tour signs, whereas the rest of the family was making their way back to Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler's office (past all the scary "Staff Only" signs and the like), where one of her aides was ready to conduct our family on a prearranged tour. After the capitol tour, we visited the visitor center at the Library of Congress (the library itself having closed before we arrived), and headed home.

Meanwhile, back in Pennsylvania, Timothy's procedure went quickly, and Charles visited with the medical staff in the recovery room while Timothy awakened, ate a bit, and got dressed to go. He was pretty tipsy (the effects of the anesthesia being expected to take up to 24 hrs to wear off) so Charles carried him out to the car. They stopped by the place where we stayed to share the happy news with our hosts that the kernel was out. Then it was a trip to Costco to gas up, walk/ride around the store collecting samples, and eating a hot dog, taking plenty of time so that hopefully if Timothy decided to vomit, it would be in a nice easy-to-clean (if public) place instead of in the back of Cookes' car. He did well, and they proceeded home. Once back in the neighborhood, Charles stopped by Walmart to get some supplies that the house lacked, and after taking a shopping list from Michele over the phone and fighting traffic the short distance back to the house, it was well into a late dinner preparation.

Timothy is glad to be rid of the popcorn, and -- let it be recorded -- vows not to put something like that in his ear again.

2019-10-22 Tue: White House, Engraving, Smithsonian

Posted 2019-11-01

After a short night we left the house at 6:00 to make it to Washington in time for the first of our scheduled White House tours. Tours are difficult to arrange, requiring scheduling months in advance and not knowing for sure if you will get in or what time your tour will be until a few days before. Although it's a "self-guided" tour where hundreds of people follow each other through the designated route, they would only schedule half of our group at a time, so the other half are going tomorrow. We'd paid $65 for a parking spot at Union Station for the day, but were pleased when we found 2-hour parking near the White House, especially since Michele will be alone tomorrow without an extra driver, and the weather turned wet.

Everything takes longer in D.C. because of constantly having to go through airport-style security checkpoints, unloading everyone's pockets, having baggage examined, etc. Some places (e.g. the Whitehouse) required multiple trips through nested security areas.

Nothing else was open that early in the morning, so Michele's group stayed on the bus for a bit while Charles's group went through the White House. After the tour, they all met at the White House Visitor Center (occupying the bottom floor of the Dept. of Commerce building) and enjoyed the exhibits there -- everyone, that is, except Grandpa. Yes, for the 2nd time in 3 days, we lost a "child"! When the rest of the Charles's group left the White House, he stayed behind talking to he guards outside. They stalled as long as the little ones would stand it, and finally walked slowly to the visitor center. He never made it. He also forgot(?) that they were going to the Visitor Center, hadn't paid attention and couldn't find his way back to the bus (where Matthew was waiting in case he showed up), had adamantly refused to take his phone with him on the White House tour, and didn't think to borrow someone else's phone. What he did remember was his childhood training to stay in one place when lost, and he finally asked a "nice policeman" (Secret Service agent) to borrow his phone; he called his own phone (not remembering other numbers), which Matthew answered. After an hour and a half, we'd already involved other SS agents in the search for him, so after finding where he was, one of them escorted us to his location and we were reunited.

Charles took the bus to Union Station and everyone else headed to the Washington Monument, where they found that the day's allotment of tickets had been dispensed, so they hung around and breakfasted, while awaiting their appt. at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. After that tour, they stopped at a park for lunch (Michele's as tired of making sandwiches as we are of eating them!) and headed to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, finally getting drenched by the promised rain.

Charles had been disappointed by the lack of a "drivers lounge" at Union Station, but had moved stuff around in the back of the bus so that he could sit and work in it a little. He was close to the edge of the parking garage, so cellular signal was sufficient. He walked to the Smithsonian and arrived some time before the others. He stayed around for a while to help, but finding that he wasn't needed (Michele broke everyone up into small groups that didn't include him) he walked around a little longer, satisfying his own interests (the history of time keeping and navigation was quite comprehensive), and returned to the station, getting soaked in the process and not drying out until after a shower that night.

Michele and the kids (and grandparents) stayed at the A&S Museum until closing. All of the kids enjoyed themselves, even those for whom subjects like physics and aerospace were not enticing. Charles left Union Station some time before 5:00, but underestimated the amount of gridlock that would be created by the rain at rush hour. It took over an hour to go a couple of miles, and the others were nice and wet by the time they were picked up by the bus and begin the battle to get out of the city.

2019-10-21 Mon: Delayed departure

Posted 2019-11-01

Our hosts were kind, and told us that we could delay our departure as long as we needed today. Charles took Timothy in and didn't have to wait long to see the specialist, who pretty quickly determined that he wasn't going to accomplish anything useful without putting him under. Scheduling an anesthesiologist suddenly turns it into the equivalent of any other surgical procedure requiring a general anesthetic, so it wasn't going to happen. We'd considered trying to get him seen in Washington DC, but the Children's Hospital Of Philadelphia (commonly referred to as CHOP -- how's that for a comforting acronym?) doesn't have a facility near there, we figured that if we tried to make an appt. w/ another hospital, they wouldn't want to go right to surgery, even w/ his records, but since it was non-emergency, they'd want to make us go through all the pre-op appts. again. Since we weren't there long, and we had two very busy days w/ pre-scheduled White House tours & such, that wasn't a good option. From there was short trips to West Virginia and Tennessee, so it was "now or never" and we decided that the lesser of the evils was for Charles to return one of the days to Pennsylvania w/ Timothy to have the procedure done.

Our next house didn't accept check-ins until 6PM, and the kids were having fun, so Michele wasn't in a great hurry to leave anyway. After standing around a bit longer visiting w/ our host (who started to become concerned about us getting stuck in rush hour on the way out), the caravan didn't end up pulling out until 4PM. A quick stop at Ham Radio Outlet in Newcastle and another much longer stop for groceries delayed our arrival until 8PM.

The house in Bowie, MD, just east of D.C. was large enough, w/ two floors, and was fairly new (and thus was cheaply made, falling apart before its time), but was frustratingly lacking in supplies (there wasn't even toilet paper in all the bathrooms). The owner wasn't terribly helpful in their communication, either, and we wasted a lot of time trying to decide if he was going to respond beyond the equivalent of a grunt or not. The parents' bed hadn't been properly cleaned and made either, and there were other things like the broken bypass doors covering the washer and dryer that were irksome.

2019-10-20 Sun: Urgent Care

Posted 2019-11-01

We attended church today. The local ward's Primary was practicing for their upcoming Sacrament Meeting program, so we sent Joseph to nursery with Timothy, and the rest of that age sat in the congregational area and watched the dress rehearsal.

We found that the urgent care clinic doesn't open until 2PM on weekdays! That, combined w/ a foreboding that this wasn't going to be as easy as we'd hoped, prompted Charles to take Timothy down there right after an early dinner today. After a long wait, the staff tried the same techniques that we tried at home, albeit w/ fancier instruments, but was still unable to extract it, and referred him to an otolaryngologist (ENT specialist) w/ access to more tools & techniques than they were allowed.

2019-10-19 Sat: Philadelphia

Posted 2019-10-27

Staying home yesterday meant touring Philly on a Saturday, when crowds are significantly larger than on weekdays this time of year. While Charles's major adventure of the day was walking to Costco mid-day, the rest of the gang drove to the city and fought the masses to see the Liberty Bell, pausing along the way, entranced by a fellow in costume playing an Irish tune on a dulcimer. As with Plymouth Rock, Miriana reported the bell's size as smaller than expected, and she'd hoped to see something more grand after having to go through airport-style security for the privilege. Independence Hall was a scheduled tour, with an engaging guide who involved the kids and stressed the responsibility of maintaining what was gained by such hard work.

The surprise was the National Museum of Jewish History. Admission was a bit steep in the summer for 16 people, but in the off season we found that it was free, and it was a fascinating place that we wish we could've spent more time there before it closed for the day.

Gathering up the family to depart, 2 were missing. After the guards searched the entire building without success, Wayne got a phone call from a stranger. As it turned out, William and Ariana strayed and never left the Philosophical Museum of American History! Fortunately, William remembered Cookes' home phone number, which was forwarded to Wayne's cell phone. It was a long, late drive home.

2019-10-18 Fri: Popcorn Popping

Posted 2019-10-26

With 4 nights here, we took today off to enjoy our home in Thornton, PA. It's really a pretty large place, really (especially when you consider the additional space occupied by the hosts' "apartment") with 3 floors. Most of the basement is a dandy playroom with lots of toys for the kids; we also stuffed all the little boys down there. The big boys slept in the living room on the main floor, and the girls occupied a bedroom upstairs. Michele and I took the master bedroom, and the other 2 bedrooms went to Wayne and Bev.

Fall is in full swing, and Joseph and Ariana had great fun while helping our hosts by gathering leaves and bagging them. According to Miriana, the two major accomplishments of the day were:

  • Steven (11) achieving over 3,000 consecutive jumps on a pogo stick, and
  • Timothy (3) sticking a popcorn kernel so far up his ear that we have been unable to retrieve it.

Yup, that he did. We tried several creative ways to extract it, including adhesive on a stick, suction through an appropriately sized straw, and tweezers. Our hosts called their daughter, a nurse, to see if she had any ideas. Of course, she was all about letting the professionals handle it. (Would that be a professional plumber? The clog's pretty deep. Or perhaps a miner, who is skilled at extracting things from deep below the surface?) Trying to hold Timothy's head still while we worked (important so you don't jab it into his eardrum) was tough, and we finally gave up. It didn't seem to be an emergency, so we opted to wait until Monday morning, delaying our departure to take him to urgent care.

2019-10-17 Thu: The Big Apple

Posted 2019-10-21

Departure almost always means a short night, and this was no different. Heavy rain was forecast for this morning, so we tried to do as much the evening before as possible. Naturally, the storm pushed up and soaked people & goods as we were loading the bus, Michele endured a noisy, rocking bus for hours as she worked under the nor'easter, and when she finished and came in at 3:00 it had blown the rain past, and left us a nice dry breeze for loading the remaining things in the morning. With the gale beating against the house, she wasn't the only one short on sleep. The routine commenced: parents up at 5:30, start pushing kids through the bathroom at 6:00, and try to be out by 7:00, pulling out this morning about 10 minutes behind schedule.

We knew that the "no traffic" drive was short, but we figured on NYC traffic adding an extra 2-4 hours and weren't mistaken. It didn't take long to get into the metro area, but once we got into Manhattan and heading towards the area where we planned to park, it was all stop with a little bit of go. New York drivers live up to their reputation; all it needed was to add a lot more bicycles and it would've pretty closely matched what we experienced in Guangzhou 9 years ago when we adopted Jonathan. Aggressive and just downright nutty. You have to fight for every foot -- seriously, if you leave 4 feet between you and the bumper in front, you'll find the corner of a car stuck inserted between you. Bikes, skateboards, pedestrians? Just as crazy; they know you're in trouble if you hit them, and they take advantage of that. At one point, we were stuck in an intersection, had someone wanting to merge from the right, someone who had pushed in from the left and had gone ahead into the intersection, leaving a gap in front of us and needlessly blocking the intersection more completely than anyone else, when an ambulance joined the fray. The guy on the right backed off and motioned for the guy in front to scoot back so the ambulance could get through, but no way -- he was going to keep every inch of forward movement he'd fought for, ambulance or not -- and in the middle of it, here comes a woman pushing a baby in a stroller, squeezing between vehicles diagonally across the mess, paying no more attention to the sirens blaring from the ambulance she pushed past than any of the other vehicles.

After driving around the block and not finding any better option, we joined the vehicles parked in the designated tour bus parking area by Cinton DeWitt Park, close to the street corner but not quite hanging into the intersection, and completely blocking the view of the bus stop that the box trailer (most of the bus parking seemed to be occupied by commercial trucks) in front of us was blocking, along with the fire hydrant. Charles and Alexander stayed in the bus (the driver is required to stay with the vehicle; apparently the city tolerates you blocking bus stops and fire hydrants as long as you're available to move if asked; nobody's sure why Alexander didn't want to get out) and Charles worked, admiring the steady stream of emergency vehicles going past on the parkway, while the rest of the family hiked a couple of miles to the corner of Central Park, with Cookes joining them in their trek once they found a place for their car to perch.

Once the group finished touring the park and came back to the bus, it was nearly 4:00 so traffic was intensifying, so we got moving. We toured downtown Manhattan, walking and driving past a lot of famous places like The Broadway, Empire State Building, Macey' on 34th St., and 5th Ave. We drove across the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, then headed for New Jersey.

Even with a lot of advance research & planning, driving a big bus in some of these big cities is a challenge, esp. if plans go awry. We ended up driving on a few "passenger cars only" roads and at one point, after missing a potential escape (they sometimes don't post warning signs until you're already committed!), we had Cookes act as a pilot car, driving ahead and warning of any low clearances before we reached them. At Battery Park, the two families got separated and went through two different tunnels under the Hudson River to get to New Jersey. Tunnel? Oops! Thought that was a bridge! Only 12.5ft clearance, so while stopped, Alexander crawled out of the roof hatch in the back of the bus, ran to the front of the bus, unscrewed the tallest antenna, and scurried back and down the hatch, much to the amusements of fellow traffic jam participants. It was nearly dark by the time we got through Jersey City with its bad streets and low overpasses, and arrived at Liberty State Park, where we had a fine view of the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline. (Alex also put the antenna back on so that we had a little more range to talk to Cookes, who, after finally getting under the river had to deal with a closed exit, accident, and more traffic before they could join us an hour later.

A few more wrong turns (but fortunately, less traffic) and we were finally out of New Jersey. We didn't get to our home in Pennsylvania until nearly midnight, and were all very tired. Our host introduced us to our quarters, and his wife was very understanding when bleary-eyed Miriana accidentally stumbled into their home instead of ours. :-)

2019-10-16 Wed: Cape Cod & Plymouth

Posted 2019-10-16

Another late morning, awful traffic, and a desire to see Cape Cod banished Boston Day 2 to the "Could've" bin and made for a little more relaxed day. The drive up the cape wasn't quite as scenic as hoped for by some, but was still nice. After lunch, time on the beach, and the drive back, there was no time for Boston but we were able to catch Plymouth, much closer and smaller.

Yes, Plymouth Rock really is as unimpressive as it looks in the picture.

2019-10-15 Tue: Boston

Posted 2019-10-16

It took a while to get the kids moving this morning, and as a result it was 10:00 before the gang left for Boston -- and the 57-mile drive still took two hours because of wrecks and the resulting traffic backups. Rant (from Michele; paraphrased by Charles): Bostonians can't drive! No wonder they have wrecks everywhere and constant traffic problems! They're crazy -- not crazy like a fox, like they are in L.A. or Seattle, but crazy like an idiot! -- they don't pay attention and constantly have to take emergeny action, and then they go all over the place like panicked rodents. Even the emergency vehicles don't seem to have rules. 4 vehicles try to thread their way through traffic to get to an accident, and every one of them picks a different route, forcing the stopped vehicles to try to scoot back and forth to let them through.

Then, after getting the bus parked and literally spending 45 minutes getting everything and everyone unloaded for the day, yes then an attendant comes over and insists that she can't let anyone off there -- that it's far too dangerous for the kids to walk across the busy lot (which was absolutely dead, because it was lunch time, but was, he promised, going to be moving "any time"), and he wanted her to load everyone back on, drive to another place to drop them off, and then come back to park the bus. Not a happy situation. She compromised and left Wayne with a loaded stroller, and took the rest of the kids over to drop off. As a result of all of this, we only got to visit two major exhibits (Bunker Hill and the U.S.S. Constitution) before it was time to leave. Traffic was still horrible late in the evening, so it still took a 2 hours to return home, arriving at 8:45 and fixing a rather late supper for those who were hungry.

After some amount of rest yesterday and a pretty good night's sleep, Charles felt better today, so he stayed busy at home, taking a break mid-day to walk around the neighborhood the wraps around an inlet of the Wareham river, which itself empties into Buzzards Bay.

2019-10-14 Mon: Vermont / Massachusetts

Posted 2019-10-16

The direct drive from Maine to our place in Wareham, MA wasn't to be very long -- unless you factor in the typical 2 hour delay going through Boston at rush hour -- so we took an inland route that curved around a national forest in Vermont and came back in South of the big city. We hadn't originally planned to go that far inland, but looking back at our route as I write this, I see that we went far enough west that it would've only taken another 45 minutes of driving to visit another church history site near Sharon, VT.

Michele wanted to drive through the scenic area, so once the fog started to lift Charles went to the back of the bus. A sinus infection that he'd been battling, along with a lack of sleep amplified his car sickness, and he spent most of the rest of the trip in a miserable semi-conscious state, wishing for sleep and starting drift off just in time to be awakened at the next stop. We arrived at twilight, and went through the usual unpacking routine. Our place is a nice little cottage, but not big enough to accommodate grandparents (unless they wanted to sleep under the screened porch -- the glassed-in porch was already filled with bodies), esp. not with only one bathroom, so they left us and went to their own place, Wayne returning later to borrow our WiFi so that he could go on the Web to look up the WiFi password for his place. (Living without cellular data requires careful planning sometimes, esp. where AirBnB is concerned!)

2019-10-13 Sun: Creeks & Creaks

Posted 2019-10-16

Nobody was up before 7:00 this morning, because church wasn't until 9:30 and was only a 10-minute drive away. As we were getting ready, a powered paraglider buzzed the house, but by the time a camera was taken outdoors, he was far away.

Music accompaniment for Sacrament meeting consisted of two fingers on a piano. Charles followed the younger kids into Primary, and when he saw the kids getting rowdy and no pianist (or adult leaders) he sat down and played to redirect their attention. The stake primary presidency was visiting, and he stayed to play and offer what help he could as they split into two groups and the half that wasn't well informed about what was planned were trying to figure things out, before finally joining Alexander and Wayne in Elders Quorum. Michele got to attend Relief Society, and the teens attended their respective classes.

After church, the kids explored a trail leading past a creek and down to the river. Right before dinnertime, we messaged our host and invited him to come meet us and tell us what he knew about the history of the aged house and attached carriagehouse. He came over, so we paused our spaghetti consumption to listen and walk around with him.

He'd lived next door for a few years when the lady who lived there -- granddaughter of the builder -- died, leaving it to her caretakers as a group, who knew he wanted it and happily sold it to him. The lady had fairly severe cerebral palsy and spent her life in a wheelchair which explains the odd placement of a lot of things. ("Why in the world did they put the thermostats at toddler height?") 3/4 of the house was never even touched during the latter years of her life. He's chosen not to spend the money to completely renovate/restore the place; instead he's done what had to be done (e.g. electrical) and is slowly making repairs and improvements, but largely leaving it as it is: a really old house that was redone in the 60's, then some things undone because the original stuff was still in better shape than what was added later.

2019-10-12 Sat: Ferry Ride

Posted 2019-10-16

Since we arose early because we had a full day's drive ahead of us, naturally our host informed us that nobody else was coming in so we could linger as long as we wanted today! We thanked them and took off. More sleep would've been nice for the adults, because we'd been up late that night with a last minute change of plans. INTRO: There are two ways to get on and off PEI: the bridge (finished in 1997) and the ferry. Both are free to get to the island (unless you want a guaranteed reservation, in which case the ferry costs ~$80), but the bridge toll is about $50 the other direction, and the ferry is $108 for our bus. (All amts. Canadian).

We were going to take the bridge back across to save time (likely 2 hrs or more, depending on the schedule) and money, but realizing that the ferry wasn't that much more, that the ride would be a neat experience for the kids, and we'd get to see some more Nova Scotia scenery. Unfortunately, big vehicles can't use the web-based reservation system, and the office didn't open until 8:00, so we delayed our planned 7:00 departure a bit and hit the road w/ Michele driving and Charles calling to make arrangement en-route, knowing that it would amount to a 40-minute detour if we had to abort the ferry idea and return via bridge. Everything worked out (the port official advised the toll booth that despite appearances, we were a camper, not a $465 bus) and after nearly an hour we boarded the 9:30. The vehicle area was vacated, and we roamed around the passenger cabin, passing all the high-priced food places and settling in the general seating or just milling around looking out the windows.

The weather was a bit stormy, and the seas proved rougher than they looked from the shore. We weren't there long before Charles began mentally slapping his forehead for not thinking to pass out Dramamine (which we had) while sitting waiting for the ferry. Charles & Michele had both been sick on a ferry ride during their honeymoon to Vancouver Island 22 years before, so he really should've known better. Some family members had no problem, some were able to lessen their nausea somewhat with occasional forays out onto the deck (though we'd been advised to stay inside because of conditions) and others huddled miserably in chairs and and tried to sleep through it. Alexander joked that they couldn't lose anyone overboard on the windward side; if someone jumped off the wind coming up and over the side of the vessel would blow them back onboard.

After we disembarked, we drove -- and drove, and drove -- with Cookes trailing us. About 6PM we stopped at a Walmart close to our route to buy groceries. After Michele had been shopping for a while, Charles suddenly remembered that he'd seen a Lowes nearby and he had a shopping list. Talking to her over the radio, he got permission to head over there for a while. There's where things went South. See, Cookes didn't bring a radio into the store with them, so they didn't hear that or any other conversation. When they came out and the bus was gone, they assumed we'd left them behind. Wayne made a single call saying "It looks like someone stole your bus!" and then took off in pursuit of us. Charles heard his call on his HT down at Lowes, but it was weak so he asked the kids on the bus to reply -- and then failed to follow up to make sure that someone *did* reply. The kids were having fun and could hear the conversation, but ignored it. Michele was in the store and should have heard Wayne clearly, but apparently her volume was low and the store noise was high, so she didn't catch it either. Charles gave no more thought about it until we went to leave Walmart and couldn't raise Cookes -- at which time he figured out the likely scenario. Matthew called Wayne's cell phone, but got no answer so left voicemail, and it was our turn to race off in pursuit. Aggressive driving took its toll on the fuel supply, and we thought it prudent to add some along the route instead of waiting until we got to our destination, as Charles originally figured. While trying to leave, Wayne called from our house in Farmington wondering where we were. After arriving and finding that we weren't there, he checked his voicemail, found that he had 19 messages waiting (he hadn't checked since before we entered Canada the week before), and didn't want to wade through them all (no smartphone, so he'd have to listen to each to determine if it was important), so was completely in the dark about what had really happened. Knowing that it was going to take a long time to work through a phone conversation with him, we traded drivers and Michele drove the rest of the way at a much slower rate.

Cookes didn't have to sit in their car for an hour waiting for us; Charles informed them that the door was open, so they went on in and started getting the place ready. Bev found that parts of it were pretty dirty, so she spent much of the time sweeping and such (though it remained a "shoes on" place). The rest of us got there, negotiated sleeping places (Bev put a mattress on the floor in an unused upstairs hallway in preference to sleeping in the enclosed porch on the cot that looked and smelled like an animal bed), and we had a late supper before bringing in the Sunday clothes.

2019-10-11 Fri: Green Gables

Posted 2019-10-16

Today the group (minus Charles) visited Green Gables in Cavendish, where Miriana felt a kindred spirit in LM Montgomery (and Anne!) and a reawakening of her desire to write something besides school papers. The kids had fun dressing up and learning more about the place and woman behind the books many of them had read. In the evening, despite a slew of technical difficulties (How many devices can one try?) the family watched the Anne of Green Gables movie (most for the first time) before retiring or staying up to prepare for departure.

2019-10-10 Thu: The Beaches of Prince Edward

Posted 2019-10-16

The family (sans Charles) spent the day exploring various parks and beaches on our part of the island. As with some of the other places we've been, we noted the many different rock and sand colors not normally found in the Northwest. (Some places have varied colorful road pavement; PE has colorful beaches.) We ran into an Amish group, and though Miriana found them to be to reserved for her comfort and soon tired of thinking of questions to ask in exchange for terse answers, Grandpa, ever the conversationalist, visited for quite some time, comparing LDS and Amish communities (e.g. we're both "weird" and abstain from things that much of the world views as essential) and covering a variety of other topics. Evening excitement was had as someone didn't pay attention to the gaps in the upstairs tub surround, and we found water dripping on us in the kitchen.

Trivia: Christopher is our first child to learn to crawl in another country -- or on an island.

2019-10-09 Wed: Annandale

Posted 2019-10-16

Knowing that we had a long drive across New Brunswick, and wanting to cross the 8-mile bridge onto Prince Edward Island when we could enjoy the view, we left at 6. We in the bus enjoyed the bridge more than Grandma & Grandpa in their little car, who primarily viewed 8 miles of Jersey barriers! Another hour and a half of driving brought us to our house, an old farm house whose previous tenant also served as the keeper of the lighthouse in our backyard. It was roomy enough that the kids could scrunch together and the Cookes were able to stay with us and have their own bedrooms. It still being light when we arrived, the kids walked across the grass to the lighthouse, scrambled down the embankment, and explored the small rocky shore below before coming back in to dinner.

2019-10-08 Tue: Catching up in Quebec

Posted 2019-10-16

Today was a "no place to go" day, the first in a while. We walked down the highway and visited the Cookes in the old little farm house where they were staying. Shana said that she felt odd to be walking around such an old house, with "skinny doorways and lumpy mattresses" and filled with antiques, and not have an elderly missionary there telling her not to touch anything. :-) In the afternoon, most of the kids went to the park, Charles puttered in the back of the bus for a while, and the teens caught up on various things. Everyone enjoyed hot apple crisp in the evening, then we packed as much as possible for morning.

2019-10-07 Mon: Le Canada à nouveau

Posted 2019-10-16

Time to head into Canada again! We aimed to leave at 7:00, but the bus didn't leave until 8:00, our departure not being helped by Charles forgetting to download offline maps the night before, and fighting extremely slow download speeds. Another border crossing, and we were into Québec. Elsewhere in Canada, all signs are required to have French in addition to English; in Québec they apparently didn't get the memo about the English part; their signage is exclusively Français. Fortunately, most North American signs are fairly universal in the two countries, so it didn't take a translator to figure out where to go and what to do. It was 7PM & dark when we passed our little historic home, La Blue Casa (yes, French/English/Spanish) in the village of Berthier-sur-Mer near Québec City -- and had to drive an extra 3 km before we found a place where we could turn the bus around so we could approach the house and park on the right side of the narrow street. Of course, in the other direction, cross streets were plentiful.... The girls noted that the local citizens aren't in the habit of closing their curtains at night, and they enjoyed watching the neighbors' shocked reaction to our bus parking across the street.

Nothing particularly special about this house; just a small old house that a woman -- quite the world traveler -- is restoring. The quality of work is better in this home is better than most of the others we've stayed in; it's apparent that she cares about the house for the house, rather than just slapping some paint on a pig to make a quick buck on AirBnB. That she only charged $50/night + a $15 cleaning fee -- and includes all the basic things you'd expect plus a few thoughtful extras -- supports her stated goal of providing a nice, inexpensive place for travelers to rest.

2019-10-06 Sun: Whitmer Farm

Posted 2019-10-15

General Conference weekend! We opted not to sit around watching conference yesterday, having places to go. Most of the visitor centers were pretty dead, so the missionaries were sitting around watching or listening to conference, making us feel a little funny about interrupting them; we had to remind ourselves that their job was to serve us, and they, like we, could re-watch it later.

We started off the Sabbath by watching yesterday morning's conference session (downloaded last night) on the big TV in the living room. In the afternoon we drove to the Whitmer Farm in Fayette. It was neat to stand, on General Conference Sunday (and occasionally hear the proceedings), in the cabin where the first official meeting of the restored church was held 189-1/2 years before on April 6th.

The visitor center on the farm is odd; it shares a building with the local meetinghouse. Looking at the front of the symmetrical building, the left wing is the visitor center, and the right wing is the church! People were attending conference in one side while we were touring the other. On the way to/from the farm, we watched the Saturday afternoon session, Alexander having finished the work to pipe the audio from the Android set-top box behind the driver seat to the main controller/amplifier in the dash. (The next day's drive to Quebec was filled w/ more conference viewing -- listening for those up front.)

In the evening we went next door to tour the servants' quarters. Fun fact: The home was constructed after the legislature determined that having servants living in the mansion (where they could overhear sensitive political meetings) was a bad idea. The senator was a tightwad; it was his wife who insisted on building a home for her faithful staff that was of such high quality that it still stands solid.

It was neat to listen to their story of the series of miracles that led to their acquisition of this place. Like Indiana, we were amazed at how low real estate prices can be (and how quickly they're climbing here); they only paid about $55k 2 years ago for the place, which admittedly needed some work. It has proven to be of excellent service to them and to their service. After the tour, Sister Meyers let each of the kids pick a toy out of a tub -- and she loaned Shana the book missing out of the middle of the series that she's currently reading to the other kids! That was nice, and well worth the postage to return it to her.

Another fun fact: Our hosts aren't LDS, but they love hosting Latter-Day Saint families visiting the church sites (and/or attending the pageant) because they find them to be good tenants. We'll try to maintain the reputation and avoid holding any drunken parties, trashing their place, etc.

2019-10-05 Sat: Palmyra / Manchester

Posted 2019-10-15


Our hosts visited us and spent an hour telling us of the history of where we're staying, and it was fun learning a little about their family, too. They enjoy travel, and invited us to stay in their FL home sometime.

We visited the Smith Farm, where Joseph Smith Jr. was raised. We stood in the upstairs bedroom where the the prophet Moroni first appeared to him. And of course, no visit to the farm would be complete without a walk through the grove of trees where, in 1820, an imperfect but humble 14 year-old boy knelt, poured out his soul to his maker, sought the wisdom promised in the Epistle of James, and saw the heavens open and was visited by God the Father and His son Jesus Christ, marking the most significant epiphany in 2000 years and ushering in the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times. It was humbling to consider the faith and integrity of the simple God-fearing folks who raised their children here, without many of the distractions that we suffer today, yet with much work required to satisfy basic needs. In the "careful what you pray for" category, it also inspired respect for the boy -- later the man -- who gave his entire self to the work that he was given to do, and later sealed his testimony with his blood. As with many of the sites, it also reminded us that there have been so many others, most practically unknown, who have been no less faithful to the Lord, in this and previous ages.

As we toured the Smith home and a gentleman described the chain of events, from a worldwide calamity that brought the family from Vermont here to experiences of the young Joseph, he was effective at helping us, particularly the youth, to mentally place ourselves in the scenes he described. In Miriana's words:

...he was an awesome tour guide. Instead of telling us “this happened here and this happened here” he put some acting into it. He had Matthew be Joseph Smith, because Matthew was the closest boy to his age.... I felt like I was watching Joseph Smith sitting on the bed, wearing Matthew’s baseball cap, sunglasses, and camera...

Before we left the farm, we dined on apples we plucked from the trees. One day we shall have to thank Father Smith for having the foresight to plant those 35 apple trees over 200 years ago just so that we could enjoy a good lunch today. ;-) We went back to town and toured the Grandin shop in Palmyra, where the first edition of the Book of Mormon was printed, and heading south again, we climbed the Hill Cumorah.

Our hosts had made sure that the heated backyard pool was available for us, so we did our part by getting home in time to let the kids enjoy a swim before bedtime!

2019-10-04 Fri: Niagara

Posted 2019-10-15

It's only a short hop from Ohio to New York (there are going to be lots of these shorter trips around New England), so to ensure that we didn't see our new home before nightfall, we visited Niagrara Falls. Hmmm, waterfalls with a gift store and lots of casinos across the river. Big, but falls in a more natural setting are a lot prettier.

Another old house! This one (ca. 1880) is quite interesting; it was the carriage house for the senator's mansion next door. Charles ensured that we met our host (who lives upstairs) when he disconnected their Internet router, thinking it was powered off! (It eschews bright blinking lights in favor of a tiny power savings.) While unloading the bus, he also met a couple who bought the servants' quarters on the other side of us (same senator), and serve in the Palmyra Temple.

2019-10-03 Thu: Kirtland

Posted 2019-10-15

Today, was a visit to Kirtland, Ohio, which played a prominent role in early Church history. Smaller that Nauvoo, it didn't take as long to tour, but we enjoyed being able to visit and hear about sites like the ashery & sawmill, and the Newel K. Witney store, where the School of the Prophets was first held. We looked at the outside of the Kirtland Temple, which, unlike the Nauvoo temple, was not completely destroyed, and is now owned by the RLDS Church (recently rebranded as "Community of Christ"), but opted not to pay for an inside tour for 17 people. We drove a short distance to the John Johnson home, another site where many revelations were received and other events occurred which were significant in the early days of the restored Church.

When we got back home, we walked down the street to Walnut Beach on Lake Erie, and in spite of the oncoming wind, the kids enjoyed spending time on the playground, in the sand, and in the water.

2019-10-02 Wed: Flames and Dungeons

Posted 2019-10-15

The weather changes have continued to entertain us. Back in Montana, where we enjoyed the sunshine, they've gotten a ton of snow, and there is already snow in the passes back home.

Yesterday, Alexander spent all day redoing various circuits on the bus to his satisfaction. As is not terribly uncommon, he worked until late in the evening to get everything put back together so that we could leave this morning.

This has been the funnest place for the kids to stay (and the best Internet for Charles and the schoolies) -- though the kids didn't have quite as much fun yesterday evening during their 4-hour search for the kayak paddles that they lost at the bottom of the lake.... We were disappointed that we didn't get to visit with the family (met the dad and a daughter briefly once, then they were gone); such a fine place must have a fine family living there! We did get a gentle chastisement via SMS, though, because check-out time was noon but we didn't leave until 1:15 (The kids were having too much fun!), and they had more guests coming in.

It wasn't a terribly long drive, but because of the late departure, it was nearly 8PM when, after skirting around Columbus and Cleveland -- oops, navigator goofed, and we went right through the middle of Cleveland during rush hour -- we got to Ashtabula. Ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself in the tale (easy to do when you're trying to remember things that happened nearly two weeks ago)! Roughly mid-way between Cleveland and Astabula, we caught a piece of a call from Cookes that sounded something like "The motorhome's on fire". A few minutes later, we were passed by a couple of fire engines, which soon pulled in behind a familiar-looking RV. We parked a ways ahead of them, and got out to investigate.

Long story short: Their transmission self-destructed, overheating in the process until it started a small fire. It didn't destroy the vehicle, but at the least it will need a new trannie and minor repairs. (As of this writing, it's still in the shop.) Because Matthew had gone with them to get some driving in (he wasn't driving at the time) and Alexander had changed their oil for them the day before (also unrelated), they (and Bev, who was driving, and Wayne, who's Wayne) have endured many jokes about just who caused the transmission to go up in flames and how. Anyway, after an hour in the rain there, we hit the road, with Cookes following us in their car (after emptying a fire extinguisher unsuccessfully and calling 911, the next thing Wayne did was disconnect their car and back it a safe distance away) loaded with a few of their belongings from the RV. Cancel the RV park reservation -- looks like they'll be camping out with us tonight!

Consider: Cookes had stopped for a while earlier, and we were well ahead of them on the road. Had it not been for the goof that stuck us in rush hour traffic, we would've been almost to our destination when the incident happened, instead of right behind them where we could receive their call and stop very conveniently. How many times do we curse events and never know for what what good they may have been orchestrated?

Fortunately, The 1888 House was roomy, so they "camped" in style. This house is really neat old Victorian style home that has been restored to retain much of the original flavor. The upstairs area has its own kitchen, two sets of stairs, and a bathroom. With a couple of bathrooms downstairs, there was room enough for everyone without too much contention for the potty. It was a neat home to explore and dissect, trying to figure out its history. The cellar was a particular adventure, with multiple time periods represented in a fashion that almost represented an archeological dig. Particularly entertaining was a small area that was apparently walled off but then broken through perhaps to provide access to maintain the corner of the foundation or something. We don't know what it was later used for -- why the door on it and light inside. Maybe somebody's dog slept there. Solitary confinement for naughty children? :-)

The original foundation and chimney base, shored up by concrete and surrounded by a taller basement under a newer part of the house, with jacks giving additional support to the 1st floor beams.

Making arrangements for the RV...

At least nobody had to sleep in "the cell!"

Published in reverse order, some pictures make great teasers for the stories!

2019-10-01 Tue: Fun on the lake

Posted 2019-10-07

The kids sunscreened and took full advantage of the lake today. Michele set up a canopy on the little beach so she could take care of the baby while being out there with the others. Charles only poked his head out a couple of times; otherwise he stayed inside to work. More on the lake from Miriana:

The property is partially in the woods, and also on the edge of large fields. It’s a very large lake, and only about 16 feet deep in the deepest areas, so it is warm. There are four kayaks (and paddles) a rowboat, and a paddle boat that are free for guests to use. There are two docks, two huge snapping turtles, and an inflated trampoline. We had a fantastic time.

Charles: Springport is also just south of Muncie, headquarters of Ontario Systems, owner of the two collection platforms that represent 95% of our client base at work, and we have a couple of employees that live in the area. I sent my coworker Tyler a "honk honk" SMS as we drove by his exit. (It wasn't until after we left Springport that I realized that after finding out what the place was like, I'd forgotten to invite Tyler and his family over as I'd planned. What a dolt! They may not have been able to come, and it would've been at the expense of work for both of us, but it sure would've been fun!)

We were amazed at the low real estate prices here. The whole property (w/ 3600/7200sf house, near-exclusive lake access) sold for only $400k a few years ago, and Zillow suggested a current value of something like $570, only $100k more than our home. (More entertaining, though not necessarily realistic, was the rent estimate: $2200/month for our place vs. $725 for here. Guess it's a renter's market!