My visit to Monticello with a 6th grade class.

These photos and captions originally appeared as a series of posts on my Facebook page.

view of the mountains

Today’s field trip is for the 6th grade and is at Monticello. Which either means little mountain or giant cello.

kitchen 1

This the Kitchen at Monticello. With 12 grandchildren, there was almost always a bun in the oven.

Cook's room

The cook’s husband was a blacksmith. With the cook’s room near the kitchen, she had the shorter commute.

I’m waiting.

west lawn

The west lawn was used to hold races among the children and grandchildren. Winners were given dried fruit. Losers were given dried fruit.

Monticello house 1

Jefferson’s favorite shape was the octagon. He invented MMA fighting and one Chuck Norris movie.

Monticello house 2

Jefferson recorded the temperature twice a day. When traveling he would take a thermometer with him.

I didn’t have time to ask if the temperature was take orally.

Monticello entrance 1

Inside the house I am not permitted to take pictures. I can only assume someone here has been reading my Facebook posts.

tall window

Jefferson used extra windows to make things look bigger than they are.

That’s all I have to say about that.

small window 1small window 2

I believe these windows were used to surreptitiously admire the buckles and straps on people’s footwear.

reading building

This is the building Jefferson would sit in to look over the mountain and read.*

*escape the grandchildren

coal sheds sign

Should’ve gotten short-haired coal.

zoolander monticello

“The first Monticello was too small.” – Thomas Zoolander Jefferson.

Jefferson grave

The opinion for why Jefferson did not want “President” as One of the things he wanted to be remembered for is that the three items on the gravestone represented what he gave to the American people.

The presidency represents what the American people gave to him.

Jefferson selfie 1Jefferson selfie 2

This guy has been following me all day. The field trip is almost over.

I’ll miss him.

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A Father’s Choices

I didn’t know my father.  I knew his name and what he looked like.  I kind of even knew what he did.  But I didn’t know what he felt, what he believed, or what he thought about anything.  I believe it’s important for my boys to know me and feel me in their lives.

I talk about my father in the past tense, even though he’s alive.  My last conversation with him was in eighth grade at his father’s funeral.  We spoke for about 10 minutes, although there were equal parts silence and conversation.  Before that, I had seen him for a few days not long after my ninth birthday.  I only remember a couple of other visits between then and when he and mom divorced.  I was three at the time, but I don’t remember that part.

I’ve never felt hate for my father, but I’ve also never felt love.  It’s the lack of his presence in my life that has left me ambivalent towards him.  Maybe it’s worse that I feel nothing.  There are no memories of him that I can react to.  I shape what I want to impart to my children based on my idea of what I would have wanted to know about my father when I was growing up.

My wife and I decided when our oldest was born that I would stay home and take care of him.  I had a job at the time, but wasn’t the primary breadwinner in the family.  Most of my salary would have gone to childcare.  We decided to pay me instead.  When our second son, Noah, came along 19 months later, we stayed the course.

As a stay-at-home dad, I didn’t necessarily stay at home.  I took the boys to half day preschool in the mornings and took them on outings in the afternoon.  There were mommy’s group activities, parks, and play dates with another stay at home dad I met.  When the preschool had a Halloween parade, I went dressed up as well.  One year I went as Hagrid and the boys went as dual Harry Potters.  This led to my being Hagrid for a full week at their Harry Potter themed vacation bible school one summer.

I volunteer in activities that gives my boys visibility to me. I’m an adult Scout leader because I want my boys to know I take an interest in their activities.  I’m on the PTA so that when I ask them how school was during dinner, they’ll answer and then ask how school was for me.

I’ve talk to my boys openly and honestly.  I don’t talk down to them.  I treat them as worthy of respect and expect the same from them.  At age four, Noah asked me about death.  Specifically, he wanted to know about cemeteries.  He didn’t want deep philosophical answers, but he wanted what questions he did have addressed.  The family took a field trip to a nearby cemetery.  Walking along we looked at gravestones for soldiers from the civil war and even earlier.  It wasn’t a sad walk.  I talked about my grandfather who fought in World War II and about my brother who had been in the marines.

My boys don’t always agree with my decisions.  But they always know why I make them.  I apologize when I’m wrong. They know that I expect more of them than some of their friend’s parents expect of their children.  My response is always, I expect what I do from them, because I know who they are and what they’re capable of being.

A few days ago a scout leader took me aside and shared that my oldest boy was one of his favorite scouts.  He commented that my son is thoughtful, respectful, sharp, and when he speaks up, his fellow scouts listen to what he has to say.  The adult believes that he will be a strong leader in and out of scouts.  I’ve had similar experiences where parents, teachers, and adults tell me what great boys I have.  I always do two things.  I thank the person telling me, acknowledging that my wife and I have worked hard helping them grow up.  Then I make sure I tell the boys.  I want them to hear from their father how wonderful they are and how proud I am to be a part of their lives.

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Is the cup half smooth or half crunchy?

Image

There have been a number of attempts over the years to displace Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups from their place atop the candy “bar” alternative.  The only moderate success are those that are seasonal offerings like the peanut butter Easter egg or Halloween Pumpkin.

I picked up the new Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups the other day to see what made Butterfinger go the cup route given that they already had a “bites” product on the market.

If you are looking to see the traditional Butterfinger just in a different shape, you won’t find it here.  However, if you are wanting something that evokes the taste of a Butterfinger without the crumbly mess, then this is it.  The lack of crumbs is because the Butterfinger Bar has corn flakes (not Corn Flakes) in it while the Butterfinger Cups drops the flakes and brings in peanut toffee.  The result is that it’s a smooth peanut butter style with tiny bits of crunch.

It seems to be less salty in taste than the Reese’s counterpart, and it doesn’t try to be a replacement.  Rather, it stands on it’s own as an option for those that want the Butterfinger taste but not the texture.

The Butterfinger Cups have no wrapper and are packaged in a sleeve of two (what I call snack size) and their big four pack (my size).  There seemed to be no more (and for me less) melting than the Reese’s.

For me, it’s a solid entry and as I’m not always sold on the bites format for candy bars (Snicker’s bites being an exception), the Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups are a snack that I would add to my rotation of travel snacks and impulse buys at the convenience store.

If you like the taste of a Butterfinger, but are sometimes put off by the mess or texture, this may be worth checking out.

Professor Snacks rating (on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being best): 4

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Concert Go Er?

Today I went to a concert with my boys who are 8 and 6.  The Fresh Beat Band were performing at a great venue called Wolf Trap, located in Vienna, VA.  However, who we saw and where we saw it are only a small part of this conversation.  It should be noted however, that this concert is geared for the younger crowd.

From the moment the concert began (only five or ten minutes past the planned start time), kids were standing up, waving, their arms, singing along, and demonstrating how strongly genetics plays a part in a child’s natural dancing rhythms.  The adults were a little more reserved overall.  While some stood up to join their kids, most were participating with aggressive head nods, hand-to-knee slaps, and subdued finger waggling.

This level of activity continued up until intermission.  At that point, the performers went off stage to change costumes, rehydrate, and most likely update their social media statuses.  A significant percentage of parents made the journey from covered seats and lawn seats alike to one of two places: the concession stand or the restrooms.  I could usually tell if it were the latter by the wild eyed look of panic in the parent’s eyes.  Long lines awaited all, but only one had an element of risk that proved whether or not an adult had chosen wisely when contemplating packing a change of clothes.

After intermission, everyone settled back in for the second part of energetic dancing and singing.  For the kids, this was like watching two episodes back to back of their favorite show.  For the adults, however, it meant something different.  It meant that it was time to calculate.

I had asked a mom towards the end of the break what she thought of the show.  She responded that she was pleasantly surprised.  The music was better than she anticipated and she was happy that there weren’t just a bunch of costumes moving around to recorded music like she had seen at some recent children’s shows.  Immediately after expressing this though, she commented that she was trying to decided the best time to leave.

She wanted to avoid the crowd, beat the traffic, and get to where she wanted to be next without any hassle. The hard part for her was that she had never been at this venue before and didn’t know what to expect.  As the concert continued and we were two or three songs into the second half, I looked around and realized that she hadn’t been alone in her thoughts.

All through the lawn there were pockets of adults slowly packing up coolers and baskets, folding up chairs, collecting trash and dropping hints to kids that they would be leaving soon.  By the time the next song finished, I had three times the space around me that I had at the beginning of the concert.

There wasn’t a single child that I saw who led the way in this migration.  In fact, there were many kids who balked at the idea.  Why would they leave before the people were done singing?  I confess, I don’t understand it either.  It’s like asking someone to tell you a story, then walking away before they can finish it.  This wasn’t because there were children involved, because the same thing happened two weeks prior at an Emmylou Harris and John Prine concert at the same venue.

It seems that somewhere along the way, the mindset of the live sporting event crowd has infiltrated the concert crowd.  I’m not fully behind it, but I can at least understand the thought process of fan who is attending a baseball game that is a runaway or going much longer than they anticipated.  In those cases, there is an change in game, either in enjoyment or duration.

However, for most live concerts, the spectator has a fairly good idea of how long they are supposed to last.  And in the case of a children’s concert, there is an even better idea because the people that put those together know they have a shorter time frame to work within for their audience to stay engaged.

It must be disheartening to be on stage and seeing an audience slowly (and sometimes not so slowly) become smaller and smaller as you build to what you consider to be your showstopper.  Those that believe the performer doesn’t care, because they already have the money, really don’t understand why someone performs.

I still hold that the idea of a concert, play, show, or event is not an appointment but an experience.  There are positive and negative aspects of that experience.  Sitting in a parking lot for half and hour while waiting to leave isn’t always fun, but I consider that part of the cost, just like the money I spent to attend.  It’s like going on vacation.  There is a lot of work before you leave and after you get back.  But that shouldn’t take away from its pleasure.

There are enough interruptions in our lives taking moments away from us that we don’t have control over.  When you have an opportunity to carve out a little bit of time for yourself, don’t cheat yourself out of it.  By now, I’ve lost some readers because this has gone on too long.  Fortunately, as it’s the written word and not performed live, I didn’t see when they left.

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Ring Toss Today

I spent a majority of the opening and closing Olympic ceremonies on Twitter. I also devoted at least a small handful of tweets each night to either events or NBC’s coverage of the events.

A casual glance through the tweets would lead some to believe that I’m not a fan of the Olympics. They would be correct, in part. However, there is a romantic and sentimentalist in me that believes in everything the Olympics is supposed to represent. At least, what the young boy who grew up watching the events with his grandpa and now deceased grandmother thought they represented.

The idea of nations coming together in a spirit of friendship and competition appealed to this kid from Indiana. While I enjoyed playing sports, it was always in a social setting. For me it was that there were a bunch of us getting together to have fun. I wanted to win of course, but I was never devastated if I lost.

I admire athletes who are driven to win, and I can respect those that take it personally when they don’t. I sympathize with those that deal with a sport that is subjective, even if only in part. I ache for the participants who know they lost because for whatever reason didn’t perform to their fullest potential in a given moment. I rejoice with those that celebrate the fact that they made it to the Olympics and know that they have not chance at a medal or even make it past a qualifying heat.

I like the idea that for a short while, our disagreements or energies are focused on personal, team, and national achievements. I like the idea that the closest thing we have to a weapon to see who is best is either a javelin, a hammer, a discus, or a dolphin kick.

I remember the problems that have plagued the Olympics over the years as the spectre of politics has grown or shrunk depending on the events playing out on the International scene. I also remember that Jim McKay could help us take a break from these distractions for at least 10 minutes, by reminding us that the Olympics is also about overcoming personal difficulties and struggles that are no less of a magnitude for those dealing with them.

I paused at times while I was tweeting to consider whether I’ve grown jaded or too cynical about the Olympics. I also wondered if I was simply tweeting what was expected by others watching the broadcast. But I realized that at heart I still believed in and enjoy the games. But there are many things I like and enjoy that it’s ok to prod a little. Sometimes, it’s in the hope that if enough of us do it, something may change for the better in the future. Sometimes, it’s merely pointing something out in a sport that only comes around on national and international TV every four years.

I do know that I’ll be watching the winter Olympics in two years, and planning a host country themed meal for the opening ceremonies. I’ll be sitting with my boys like I did this year, cheering on teams and individuals, marveling at how much time and effort is put into a dive or a toss of a ball while spinning and flipping. I’ll be tearing up when the National Anthem is played and an athlete loses it on the podium. I’ll curse spoilers and commentators who make it all about themselves. I’ll be the kid sitting there just for a little bit with his grandmother.

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Famous (fake) Diary Excerpts

I found these on my old Tumblr account and thought it might be nice to have them over here as I kick off my blog again. They were discovered by me in a cellar that I don’t have.

Presidential Diary Excerpts

“I cut it down because of the f**king pollen” – G. Washington

“Mary bought a new 8’ bed for the guest room. Toying with idea of introducing internship program.” – A. Lincoln

“I hope no one exploits my fetish for wearing fur while eating lasagna.” – J. Garfield

“Cut 2” off the legs of every chair and lowered all the mirrors. Wish I could see the new guy’s reaction.” – J. Buchanan

“Martha laughs twice as hard when I take my teeth out before I motorboat her.” – G. Washington

“Gave speech today when a carnie yelled he wasn’t running for office. Crowd threw shit at him. Seemed right.” – A. Lincoln

“I wish he’d realize I’m not always interested in the stories and constant chatter afterwards.” – M. T. Lincoln

“I giggle to myself every time I write the word saltpeter to my dear wife in a letter.” – excerpt J. Adams

“The girl’s advice re the beard has helped with public perception. But I have misgivings about the shaved groin.” – A. Lincoln

Diary Excerpts From the Days of Arthur

No longer able to keep track of them, I refer to each Knight as Sir Guyihad. – Lady Guinevere

Today I turned Arthur into a jackass. J/K, he did that on his own. – Myrddin Emrys

If I hear one more “Lanc-e-not” joke, someone is going to get hurt. – L du Lac

I altered Uther’s appearance so he might fornicate. I alter Arthur’s so he might garden. Thus ends the line. – Myrddin Emrys

In Latin it may be Ambrosius, but M should still eat more pineapple. – Niviane

Others see stars on my robe. I see notches. – Myrddin Emrys

I was very very very very very hungry today. And in rut. – U. Pendragon

More Presidential Excerpts

Today I reviewed troops in charge of the cannons. The “I admire your balls” line never gets old despite what McClellan says – A. Lincoln

Met Grant in person for the first time tonight. A few beer bombs later and I felt like we were old friends. Gives good hugs. – A. Lincoln

If I’m really being honest, the hat was a last minute purchase when they said there’d be no bathroom breaks during the debate. – A. Lincoln

Every time Salmon Chase spoke at the cabinet meeting today, I’d interrupt with “Something smells fishy”. LOLs all around. – A. Lincoln

Mary arrived back from her summer visit. Spent most of the night playing with the Lincoln Log. It’s good to be President. – A. Lincoln

Spent the afternoon at the telegraph office. Long wait. Passed time spamming Congressmen with forwarded joke telegrams. – A. Lincoln

Seward and I got drunk again tonight and codified Thanksgiving for all states. Mainly did it to f**k with Gov Milledge Bonham – A. Lincoln

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Going to school for the first time, again.

The school year begins this morning for our area. It’s later than many other school systems, and there have been countless blog posts that chronicle this event in a much better fashion than I could ever hope to.

I have one boy who is entering full day kindergarten and one boy entering second grade. We’ve spent the last couple of weeks preparing for today’s big event. And it is indeed a big event.

Commercials, schools, and parents (including me) are quick to use the phrase “back to school”. The ease with which we assign familiarity and comfort to the beginning of the school year must puzzle some returning students.

Sure, the building may be the same, some of the friends will be the same, and many of the teachers they see every day will be the same. But what is also the same is the nervousness and apprehension that goes with seeing new kids and adults. Educational challenges face them that seem as daunting as the ones they battled last year. Peer pressure comes back and seems stronger than ever.

Kids are saying goodbye to parents and caregivers again. And despite the complaints that were voiced about boredom and strictness, there is a part of them that will miss the comfort and intimacy that a break from competing with 25 other students for attention affords.

My youngest is focused now on the excitement of beginning elementary school, riding on the bus with his big brother, and the pet snake that awaits him in the classroom. He may even be too excited to look back at me from the bus window. But there will be that moment of quiet on the first day, when he turns to ask me a question and realizes I’m not there. I hope that he remembers the question and asks it when he gets home. Too often our kids forget.

My older boy is excited about seeing his friends again, but he’s experienced school for the first time, twice before now. I sense it in the increased frequency and duration of his hugs. I sense it in his quietness as we distributed school supplies and look at calendars. He does great every year, but it doesn’t lessen my concern for him and it doesn’t lessen his nervousness.

As for me, I’ll watch and wave until the bus is out of sight. Only this year, I’ll be waving goodbye to two kids. I won’t be turning to grab anyone’s hand and walking home with them as we plan our morning. I’ll be working on projects that have been neglected, mostly for good cause, as I’ve focused on the dad part of stay-at-home dad. I’ll be looking for part-time work. I’ll be making longer range plans that until now haven’t been feasible. But most of all, I’ll be remembering what my school years were like and wondering how my children are doing.

I’ll also be doing a lot of clock checking to see if it’s time to make my way to the bus stop to greet them. Because it’s not just going to school for the first time again, it’s coming home from school for the first time again.

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