On the Care and Feeding of a Depressed Friend

I recently wrote an email to the woman I’ve been spending time with lately. I was feeling depression creeping in around the edges of my mind, and wanted to warn her that it was coming, what to expect from it, and give her a good idea of what I would need during the time I’d be dealing with it. After I sent the message, it occurred to me that this might be a helpful window for other folks who have people they care about who deal with this malady as well, so have lightly edited it to share here. I hope it’s valuable for someone out there.

This morning sometime, I started to feel the Black Dog of Depression nipping at me. It’s not severe yet, and I hope to head it off before it gets there. But, since you haven’t gotten to put up with me during a bout of depression yet, I thought I’d provide a bit of a primer.

Things to know:

  • It’s not about you. It’s not about us. It’s not really about anything in my life. It’s mostly about brain chemistry. Sometimes an event will trigger it, but that’s only the domino that happens to start the chain reaction.
  • I’ll function fairly normally, though I may seem a bit listless and sigh a lot like some 19th century Byronic ninny.
  • Sometimes while a bout is active, it will recede for a bit, but then come back. Usually my depression lasts between a couple of days and a couple of weeks (shorter is more common), and ranges in intensity from “a little bummed out” to “emo band lead singer and songwriter.”
  • I should not be trusted to make any decisions of import during times when my depression is active. It poisons my thinking. Most (but not all) of the time I’m aware of this effect at work and deliberately avoid doing anything important until my head is clearer.
  • Again: it’s not about you.

Things to do:

  • Be sympathetic. Feel free to ask how I’m feeling and about the depression specifically.
  • Gently check on how I’m doing with exercise, sleep, nutrition, and spiritual disciplines. These are the things that seem to help, though at the speed of a cruise ship changing direction. (Playing music is also often cathartic for me.)
  • Perhaps encourage me to get off the phone in time to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep. 🙂
  • Be patient.
  • Offer me delicious food. This is a pretty benign indulgence I will treat myself to.
  • When we’re together, give me hugs, hold my hand, be with me.

Things not to do:

  • Feel obliged to try to fix it for me. I’ve got a pretty good grasp on how it works and runs its course at this point.
  • Take it personally if I act a bit grouchy or withdrawn.
  • Avoid being around me.
  • Expect me to be terribly motivated toward big life goals. Or even little ones.
  • Offer me alcohol. I don’t drink when I’m depressed. (See the “can’t be trusted to make rational decisions” item above.)
  • Be concerned if I disappear into books, naps, movies, or video games for a bit. (More benign indulgences.)

Hope that’s a helpful user guide.

Marvelous Birthday Present

As all you regular readers of this blog already know, my friend Jason Young and I are rather prone to building things that break other things. For my 40th birthday, we built a potato cannon and used it to shoot down my birthday piñata. For my 41st birthday, Jason used this photo from the 40th:

To commission this original artwork for the 41st:

Utterly freaking awesome, I think you’ll agree.

The best part? As the guy who did the drawing detailed in his blog post, it was not until Jason actually ordered it that he realized the artist, who he had discovered out in the untamed wilds of the Internet, lives two doors down the street from him.

Thanks Jason! (And Ben the artist!) This is now one of my most prized possessions. Great stuff.

Mad Science: Jam Jar Jet

This past Friday, Jason Young and I got together for a visit. Since Baylor Sing had just wrapped up for him, and I was starting 3 days of unemployment, we decided to drown our sorrows with alcohol.

But, being the mildly destructive nerds that we are, we decided it would be more fun to set it on fire than to drink it. So we printed our William Gurstelle’s excellent article from Make Magazine #5, gathered the necessary supplies, and got to it. Here are the results:

15th Anniversary Weekend

Kathy and I spent this past weekend down in San Antonio to celebrate our 15th anniversary. We had considered traveling farther afield in recognition of the significance of the milestone, but after recently replacing both our van and our home’s air conditioning system, we decided that something more modest would be in order. Since we love the Riverwalk and being able to comfortably walk around a downtown, we decided that would be a great destination for us.

Our plans to start off with tubing on the Comal River — at 3 miles long, the shortest in Texas — were foiled by the recent flooding in New Braunfels. We instead spent the day lounging about the hotel, enjoying some terrific food, and walking the Riverwalk with Adam, my stepbrother, and his wife Celeste. Since we rarely have opportunity to spend time without a juvenile escort from one side or the other, it was a rare treat to simply meander about and have conversations with actual pauses.

I had an idea that on Saturday we should do something truly grand. We started with a game of Carcassonne, got some mexican pastries and a huge glass of horchata to share (yum!), chatted with a photographer we met, did a little shopping for gifts for the kid, and then went back and took a nap. Given how much we have going on around the house most days, the luxury of being able to have a snooze at the same time was a nearly unprecedented delight.

We ate some more wonderful food that afternoon, went out to Mission Concepción for a bit, and then prowled the Riverwalk some more, reveling in the unhurried pace and the chance to soak in each other’s company at length.

Sunday saw us heading for St. Thomas Episcopal Church for a Jazz Mass service, at which our friends Barry Brake, Darren Kuper, and Greg Norris (a.k.a. The Jazz Protagonists) provided the music. We were delighted to also bump into Paul Soupiset and Jason and Erin Young, who had come down for the mass as well. The service was terrific, the music both organic to the service and thoroughly delightful. We afterwards enjoyed the afternoon with the Youngs, Barry and his wife Catherine, with a too-brief stop to visit my dad, my step-mom, and my sister Meara before finally heading back home for a happy reunion with the kiddos.

Our excellent, unhurried, relaxed weekend, full of good friends, good food, and beautiful places was just what we needed. Many thanks to all with whom we got to visit over the weekend, and especially our dear friends who were gracious to take good care of our spawn while we were gone: Faith, my Mom, Steven & Christina, and Sam & Alba. You guys are great, and we deeply appreciate the generosity and love you showed us and our young ones.

Tweeku Launches

Congratulations to my friend Greg Pierce, who launched Tweeku today, a super-nifty iPhone app he wrote for composing Twitter messages and other short-form texts (including haiku)! I’ve been testing it off and on for a few weeks, and am really impressed with what he’s done with it. Here’s the company line:

Tweeku is a twitter writing tool. Do you tweet Haiku? Short-form poetry? Or just care about improving the quality of your status updates? Then Tweeku is for you!

Tweeku is not a traditional Twitter client. It does not download your tweet stream, or show you trending topics. Tweeku lets you focus on writing. Store unlimited drafts, and tweak them until you are ready to post.

Go beyond character counts! Tweeku analyzes your text, counting lines, syllables, mentions and hashtags — and provides easy two-click Thesaurus lookup and word substitution.

Features

  • Write notes, save drafts, online or offline. Publish later when you are ready.
  • Not just character counts but line, syllable, mention and hashtag counts.
  • Easy Thesaurus lookup and word substitution.
  • Multiple accounts, publish to multiple twitter accounts.
  • Connects with Twitter OAuth, no need to store your password in the App.
  • Email your drafts.
  • Send drafts to Tweetie.

app_store

My Favorite 40th Birthday Party Ever

Over the weekend I celebrated my 40th birthday along with a pile of family and friends. The party was terrific — everything I had hoped that it would be and more. Thanks to all who attended and helped to make it such a delightful, memorable time!

I had a magnificent surprise shortly after the party got underway: my father, who is still in a wheelchair from an accident three weeks ago, turned up along with all of the family members who had schemed and conspired to get him up for a visit. I had just spoken to my stepmom the day before, who had confirmed my suspicion that they wouldn’t be coming, and then was wracked with guilt for the next day at leading me astray to preserve the surprise. What a delight to have them all there together! Special thanks to my brother, who found a van with a wheelchair lift to make that possible.

I had decided a few weeks before the party that, per our family tradition, I wanted a piñata. I didn’t, however, want to do the usual boring thing of hitting it with a stick. My kids are getting too big for it to last long under those circumstances, and adults rarely get to participate. Thus was born what I suspect may become another family tradition: the birthday party piñata potato cannon.

My partner in crime Jason and I got together the week before to cobble together a cannon for the occasion. Because the circumstances would be a bit less controlled than those under which we usually fire such things, we built in extra safety features: a smaller-than-usual air chamber, a shorter barrel, the ability to break it down into smaller, harmless parts when not in use, and electrical safety triggers that required two buttons to be depressed simultaneously to fire the thing. Even so, we were hyper-careful the whole time that it was assembled, with at least one of us standing right next to it guiding its use at all times.

It was a tremendous hit. We ended up with a big crowd (standing at a respectful and safe distance) watching and cheering lustily as the magnificent tank-shaped piñata Kathy had found for the occasion gradually disintegrated under the starchy fusillade. My brother fired the decisive shot that finally peeled the top from the tank, causing the crowds of children to charge in and finish it off.

In spite of my insistence that no presents were needed, a few folks went renegade and brought some anyway. Maggie had bought me both a pair of hilarious “Happy Beerday” sunglasses and a wonderful “I Love my Daddy” frame with a photo of her months-old self. Abby came up with Ned Flanders’ book of wisdom. Jason and his wife Erin gave me a Maker’s notebook, with many pages of graph paper and conversion charts for the budding mad scientist — the perfect complement to the subscription to Make magazine that Kathy provided! (Hopefully she won’t come to regret that gift over time as my ridiculous projects become even more extravagant.) Dad & Lana gave me an astonishing pop-up book of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions, and also joined forces with much of the rest of the extended family to provide a bagpipe! (With a meerschaum in a ziploc as a proxy at the party.) With my daily walk through the cemetery on the way to work, I’m sure I’ll be tooting out Amazing Grace to the great annoyance of my neighbors very shortly. Or hyperventilating in the attempt.

Other highlights included some great conversations with wonderful friends, seeing a big circle of folks enjoying a round of my friend Barry’s game-in-development “Prince Carl”, enjoying some terrific food and drink, and reading all the birthday cards together in bed with Kathy after all of our guests had moseyed on.

Thank you again to all of you who came by and helped make this occasion such a joyful one for me. I am immensely grateful to have such a wonderful collection of friends and family to celebrate with me the achievement of this milestone, the reaching of the next decade in my life as I turn 40 years old.

Now, get off of my lawn.

Honor Roll

Kathy and I are just back from a 10 day trip to Switzerland which was alternately the most amazing and the most harrowing experience of our recent lives. I’ll write more on the trip itself later, but wanted to post immediately about the extraordinary kindness and care we were shown by a variety of people over the course of this trip and to publicly thank the folks involved:

  • Thank you to my brother Chris, who stayed with our kiddos for the first half of the week, and to his wife Becky for being willing to share him!
  • Thank you to my mother Diane, who took several days off from her pediatric private practice to care for our kids the remainder of the time we would be gone. When we missed our flight out of Switzerland, she  stayed another night to make sure the young people got off to school OK the next morning.
  • Thank you to Karl, the proprietor of Transcom Accommodation, who came in after hours to check us into our rental apartment and was extraordinarily friendly, patient and helpful when the B&B where we were supposed to be staying lost our reservation. Thanks also to Eva, his neighbor, who invited us into her kitchen while she called around and found Karl after hours.
  • Thank you to Boris, the CTO of Magnolia, and his family. Not only did they make us feel very welcome in Basel and give us some great ideas for things to see and do, but they also had us over for dinner and treated us to a delightful evening of excellent food and conversation. It was one of the high points of our time away.
  • Thank you to Daniel and again to my brother Chris, who surreptitiously did an entire garden installation in our backyard while we were gone. We were astounded to find two large raised beds and an irrigation system (complete with a new water supply line) installed, with Bok Choy, lettuce, and Swiss Chard (appropriate!) already sprouting, where the remnants of our pool had been when we left. Amazing!
  • Thank you to Mike McGinnis for picking us up from the airport when we came in a day later than anticipated and bringing us home.
  • Thank you to all the friends who offered thoughts, prayers, and words of reassurance while we were on the road. They meant more than you can imagine!
  • Thank you to Leslie for staying with the kids after school on the day we were returning and greeting us with a big hug and a bigger Mexican food meal — just the thing to make us feel well and truly back home. (Thanks also to Charles & Lydia, Faith, my Dad, and the other folks who offered to help out that afternoon!)

We are amazingly humbled and grateful to have friends who are far better than what we deserve. Thank you all for your love and your very concrete support.

Facebook and the Coming Zombie Apocalypse

My good friend Daniel Priest recently posted the following to his Facebook profile:

Daniel Priest is a tree climbing fool

I thought that it was important that the conversation that ensued be available for posterity outside of Facebook’s domain, so here it is. When the undead rise up, you’ll thank me.

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 8

Fanny, apparently you’ve married a monkey. I bet he looks cute in a ten-gallon hat.

Jonathan Hunter, May 9

Trees are pretty.

Sean McMains, May 10

It’s good to know that when the zombie uprising comes and I need someone to hoist me into the upper branches of a magnificent magnolia to escape the zombies’ brain lust, you’ll be around.

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 10

Wow, I just learned that zombies can’t climb trees.

Sean McMains, May 10

Have you ever seen a zombie perched in a tree? Well, there you go.

Jonathan Hunter, May 10

Matthew, Sean may have learned this from Shaun of the Dead. One of the characters, Diane, is able to escape the zombies by hanging out in a tree until she is rescued by the British Army.

Sean McMains, May 10

(Of course, I’m discounting the rare South American Arboreal Zombie here…)

Daniel Priest, May 10

The zombie lore on display here is sadly lacking. Zombies may not climb trees, but they do climb other zombies. And when the moaning, staggering pile of mindless undead under the tree reaches high enough…

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 10

The only thing I have ever heard of zombies being able to ‘climb’ is stairs. You would have to have a zombie staircase. That would pretty much never happen, since zombies are not capable of cooperating intelligently.

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 10

Zombies might be able to pull themselves out of their graves by using the bodies of other zombies if they were buried in mass graves, but to accept the possibility of anything beyond that I would have to see an example.

Jonathan Hunter, May 10

I think Matthew is onto something here. In order to make plans and such, one has to be conscious. But zombies aren’t conscious, so they can’t make plans. It’s logic.

The only way, then, that a zombie could get someone from a tree would be if it just so happened that a bunch of bodies and other artifacts were piled up in a a certain way and that zombie just so happened to make its way up that pile. But, as Matthew said, that would pretty much never happen.

Sean McMains, May 10

Jonathan: I call shenanigans on your logic here. How can you possible assert that zombies aren’t conscious? Certainly it takes consciousness to shamble and to cry “brains! BRAAAAIIIINS!”

I think you’re just a closed-minded lifeist.

Daniel Priest, May 10

Big sigh.

Let me spell it out here, since the bunch of you have evidently watched a total of about 25 minutes worth of zombie movie material. Zombies smell living human flesh up in the tree. The first zombies start moaning and clawing at the tree. Additional zombies are drawn by the moaning of the first zombies. As the mob grows, zombies at the middle of the pile are trampled, piled upon, etc. Over the course of the night this zombie mound gets higher and higher.

Y’all are the meat snacks in the film who climb the tree at the beginning of the night, look down at the zombies, and say something like “Alright, I think we’ll be safe here,” before being awakened in the middle of the night by a cold hand gripping your ankle, dragging you down to immediate dismemberment.

It’s when you think you’re safe that you’re in the most danger. When you think you’re in danger, well, you’re in danger then too. You’re never safe. Remember that.

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 10

Daniel,

It’s not the herd instinct that I question. It’s the sheer physics. I don’t believe everything I see in movies. Movies are unreal scenarios as we all know well.

Any movie maker who scripted the scene you’re describing would have to be ignorant of the problem. As soon as your hypothetical mound reaches the height of a human being, unless it is the width of a football field with a gradual grade, zombies have to climb. Zombies don’t climb. They walk.

By the time enough zombies have pooled to create a nice pleasant hillside stroll to the top of my tree, the US Marines have arrived and helicoptered me out of the joint because it has been three days.

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 10

I never said zombies weren’t conscious, for the record. I don’t care if they’re conscious. They’re not capable of cooperating intelligently.

Ross Richie, May 10

SIGH.

Okay, everyone take notes. THIS IS HOW IT REALLY WORKS (points to Priest for trying):

ROMERO ZOMBIES: are mindless. Priest’s example is true there.

RUSSO ZOMBIES: are smart, capable of thought, can wield tools, etc., and can talk to you, crying out for brains. Those zombies will climb that tree, no problem, and this is NSFW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPc7c4W6btY&feature=related

Or, as you can see in this clip, they have the ability to try to talk to you and smash through the trap door in the attic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LD8_GFEO-HY&feature=related

For those taking notes at home: Russo and Romero collaborated and created the genre in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, got into a Lennon and McCartney-esque squabble, split up, and individually created competing zombie franchises, hence creating seemingly conflicting rules to how the zombie mythology works.

Ross Richie, May 10

Amateurs. I love you guys.

Jonathan Hunter, May 10

I was going to let Daniel have the last word, but I can’t let this go.

Romero zombies wouldn’t be able to climb trees, as Matthew has demonstrated. And if we’re talking about Russo zombies, then you wouldn’t be silly enough to climb a tree. So, it doesn’t matter what kind of zombie we’re dealing with. They wouldn’t be able to pluck you out of a tree.

Ross Richie, May 10

HOOO-KAY. Didn’t wanna play this card, but looks like I’ll have to.

Everyone that’s published (i.e. poured 10s of thousands of dollars into) a series called ZOMBIE TALES that is a signature part of your corporate identity, raise your hands.

Now that we’ve gotten that outta the way… (HARSH!)

Romero zombies will get you in exactly the way Daniel laid out. They’re a swarm monster, and the swarm will pile up and attain height….

RE: climbing a tree in a Russo flick, if you’re willing to hide in an attic, you’ll hide in a tree. And they’ll climb it, while crowing about the need to snack on your brains.

LOVE YOU JONATHAN, MEAN IT!!!

Jonathan Hunter, May 10

I feel like I’m in crazy town and Ross is the mayor.

Everyone that had a normal childhood (i.e. played outside with other children instead of rotting away in front of the television box while eating pork rinds) that is a signature part of your personal identity, raise your hands.

Romero zombies COULD get you in that way, but they don’t swarm fast enough. The Marines would rescue you first.

I wouldn’t hide in the attic, so I also wouldn’t hide in a tree.

Matthew Christopher Davidson, May 11

Pouring 10s of thousands of dollars into zombie literature doesn’t automatically make you right. In fact, it might make you stupid. Oh snap.

I am grateful for this broadening lesson, however.

I know very little about zombies, but I do not accept statements merely on the basis of varying and respectively unquestionable zombie traditions. I am trying to learn by questioning everything and using careful reasoning. In this way I hope to one day truly be a philosopher.

Daniel Priest, May 11

Ross–thanks for the input. What did you think of World War Z?

Jonathan–I think you’re right. You aren’t the sort to hide in an attic or tree. I think you might be the zombie imitation sort, try to make your way into the countryside by walking, moaning, etc. like a zombie, thereby escaping notice. Good luck with that.

Matthew–Physics of zombie accumulation. We assume a maximum slope of 45 degrees and a cone height of 40 feet. Sean specified the upper branches of a magnificent magnolia. In the thin alkaline soils of central Texas <i>Magnolia grandiflora</i> will attain a height of no more than 50 feet, so if we’re in the very upper branches the zombies would need to be approximately 40 feet high to be in ankle grabbing distance. This is an absurdly generous estimate of both tree height and sturdiness of upper branches, btw. But I’m a generous guy.

The zombie cone will have a volume of approximately 67000 cubic feet. Assuming an average zombie volume of 10 cubic feet, you’ll need 6700 zombies to arrive during the night. If zombies shamble at 4 miles an hour every zombie within 32 miles could conceivably arrive within the course of the night. And there’s a hell of a lot more recently dead and/or soon to be bitten and infected people within 32 miles of San Marcos, Texas.

If only 3 zombies spot us initially, and each of them with their moaning alerts only 3 additional zombies, each of whom alert 3 more, etc, and each of them does so within 30 minutes (again, very generous–in an urban setting far more zombies are likely to hear, and much more quickly), then we could conceivably have 20,000 zombies at the tree within 5 hours.

Not that they’re all going to come for us–there are presumably other equally tasty people in other trees–but I think the plausibility of the scenario has now been pretty well established.

Jonathan Hunter, May 11

Daniel, I thought you would know me better than that. I’m not the imitating type. I’m the joining type. I wouldn’t hide in a tree or attic because I would rather become a zombie and come after all of you myself. I’ll admit that I don’t understand how the conversion process works, but that would be optimal.

Ross Richie, May 11

MCMAINS!!!! MCMAINS!!!! THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT, MCMAINS!!!!

Sean McMains, May 11

Ross,

If my studies in Zombie Lit. have taught me anything, it’s that the person who sets himself up as a pompous authority figure will be among the first to be devoured by the ravenous hordes.

Thus, by erecting yourself as an authority figure — a verb I here find particularly apt, given your apparent desire to turn this into an exercise in comparative phallic metrics — you have thrust yourself — verb, ditto — into the head — noun, ditto — of the line of victims.

Sean

P.S. New personal best for oblique naughty jokes in one sentence! YES!

Sean McMains, May 11

Daniel,

While I’m loathe to give offense to the very person on whom I will be relying to save me from the apocalypse, I do find a few of your premises troubling:

1. A 45° slope seems singularly optimistic, especially with modern, low-friction synthetic clothing. Perhaps this would be reasonable if the zombies weren’t wearing much (not unreasonable in San Marcos), or were wearing clothing with natural fibers that would have a higher coefficient of friction. I would hold that a figure closer to 30° is likely. That would give us a radius for the cone of 69′, and therefore a volume of 199,427 cubic feet.

2. 10 cubic feet is an absurdly large figure. Consider that human bodies are approximately as dense as fresh water, as shown by the fact that many of us can sink or float in a pool depending on how deeply we breathe in. Water weighs 62.4 pounds/cubic foot. American men average around 180 pounds, women around 140. Thus, a 160 pound “average person” would have a volume of around 2.56 cubic feet. (Alternately, think about how many foot-square boxes Steve Buscemi would fill at the end of Fargo.)

Thus, with the new figures, we’d need 77,901 zombies to build a sufficient pile.

3. Your zombie-alert figures presuppose that zombies’ communication is at least sophisticated enough to convey bearing and distance over miles. I’m not sure how much nuance one can pack into the word “Braaaaiins…”, but my tentative experiments this morning with my coworkers aren’t promising.

Alternatively, perhaps zombies work like ants do, and leave a pheromone trail to food sources. This bears further investigation.

Ross Richie, May 11

McMains — the new popular variant in horror is that they can SMELL the living.

Doesn’t make a whole lotta sense to me, but characters in THE WALKING DEAD smear themselves with zombie smell and sneak past the zoms undetected. The horror community’s glommed onto that and adopted it.

Of course, all this goes out the window if you are loyal to Romero, who established the zoms are getting smarter in LAND OF THE DEAD, where they begin to use tools. LAND OF THE DEAD zoms would be able to scale that tree, no problem. Hell, they’d prolly grab some power tools and just cut it down…

In the trailer here, you’ll see they reference “they’re thinking, they’re communicating” and there’s a brief clip of them using a machine gun, so maybe it’s all moot, they’d just SHOOTCHA OUTTA THE TREE!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atXJB9luiko

The Man Who Makes Sing…Awesome

A couple weeks ago, Kathy and I went up to Baylor University in Waco for their annual Sing event, a four-hour long song and dance revue. The show was, as always, terrific. The best part for me, however, is the post-performance debrief with my friends Jason Young and Barry Brake, who are integral parts of the event, having long been key figures in selecting, arranging, and performing (in the pit band) the music that makes up the show. This year, the Baylor newspaper published an excellent article on Jason that captures nicely what a labor of love the show is for him. (They did omit the fact that he also builds a number of large-scale props for the various acts.)

It’s great to see these guys doing something they so clearly love, and to be able to so directly enjoy the fruits of their labors.

UPDATE: for those of you wondering about Sing, here’s a good overview of this year’s acts and a nice photo gallery.

Mistletoe Furlough Redux

We’ve made it home safely from our grand Christmas roadtrip, and are enjoying the comfort of sleeping in our own beds once more. I don’t have the time or skill to do the trip justice, but here are a few of the highlights that stick out in my memory:

  • A wonderful extended time of visiting with the Adams family. Though we unfortunately never were able to visit them in Uganda while they were doing teaching and mission work there, having a full week with them was a good bit of make-up. It was terrific to get to enjoy long talks, trips to the park, ice cream, Carcassonne games, etc. without the time pressure that often characterizes our visits with family and friends.
  • Visiting the Frontier Culture Museum. This historical park recreates farms from the homelands of the various people groups that settled in the area by transporting buildings piece-by-piece from their land of origin and training guides to explain life at that time in character. It’s a fascinating place with  sound educational value.
  • A mini college reunion. My old college friends Jonathan and Nadja were kind enough to put us up for two nights in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. To my surprise, they also coordinated with Steve and Debbie and Bob and Sonia to bring together a wonderful dinner of old college chums. It had been a decade since I’d seen most of these folks, and I was struck with how much I still enjoy their company and the richness of their friendship.
  • Laughing about the “5 kid tour”. Three of the families we visited with over the course of our trip had 5 children in their family. For the first time ever, I felt like a bit of a procreative underachiever!
  • Going snow tubing at Ski Roundtop. We had hoped to do a day of snowboarding at some point on the trip, but weather and schedules conspired to make that an impossibility. Two hours sliding down a snow-packed hill on tubes was a decent substitute, good enough that Liam declared it his favorite part of the trip.
  • Visiting the museums and zoo in Washington DC. I was particularly thrilled to see Spaceship One, as well as a giant piece by Andy Goldsworthy at the National Gallery. (If you haven’t seen Rivers and Tides, the documentary on Andy’s work, it’s well worth renting.) We also got to see the Giant Pandas at the zoo feeding and quite enjoyed the bird displays.
  • Staying with Rob and Kim and Glenn and Michelle in Nashville. Glenn and Rob were among my closest college friends, and it was an absolute pleasure to get to catch up with each of them and their families. I only wish we had been able to linger — the visits both seemed far too brief!

To my surprise, the kids did really well with the long car rides, which topped out at about 14 hours in a single day. They were, however, pretty gleeful to see the end of their time trapped in the back of the vehicle, rolling around on the ground and squealing with glee when we returned home at last.

Thanks to all who contributed to the success of the trip. We enjoyed it a great deal, and are very glad to be home safely!