Florida Vacation

In February Christine took us (Michelle, Rick me and the kids) to Florida, Grandma and Disney for Vacation. I say "Christine took us" rather than "We took the kids" because she made it happen and made it awesome.  She had the uber cool vacation house, disney tickets, disney touring plan, mobile apps that told us which rides had the shortest lines, the visit with Grandma and even a night out with friends from home that were in the area. It was amazing.

We took a little over a thousand pictures and I whittled it down to 82 pics and videos here on flickr. The slideshow is here. But wait, that's not all...

There's also this video montage of those same photos from our trip.

We also captured a few moments that were too fun to pass up. The first was Allison serenading us with her rendition of "We will Rock You."

We went to Mickey's Breakfast and Allison wen't nuts when Mini Mouse came out. Shortly after Conner got in on the action and hilarity ensued.

And lastly this was Conner's big run. He had sprained his knee a few weeks before our trip and we thought it was healed. After the first day his knee was swelling up and he spent the rest of the trip in a carriage or on my shoulders. But the first day he was his usual self jumping around an playing and making us laugh. That's what this video is about.

One last thing. This is one of my favorite pictures pre-kids. We took this on a Florida trip the year before Alex was born. Christine has this knack for spur of the moment hilarity. I guess that's where Conner gets it from. This pic is one of those moments we just happened to capture.


Falklin Hill Scotland - Yet Another Place to Keep Your Pants On

So I find myself in Scotland on business again. Thus far the trip has been much smoother than my last one out here. Since my team is in California, 7 hours behind me, it's really easy to work 2 full days and then burn out. So I've been making a point to get out each day.

Yesterday I decided to climbed up Falklin Hill. It took some searching, but I arrived at a path 1.5 miles from the summit with 143 meters of vertical climb in front of me. I had 65 minutes till sunset.


The start of the path was pretty flat and the sun sank lower as I got closer.


Right around this part I remember thinking that I was all alone out there. Where I to twist my anlkle and I was spending the night where I fell. There was no one out there to help me. It's a strange, but cool feeling.

The Walk up

And as I got closer the texture of the hill started to reveal itself. This was going to be a bit of a climb at the end...


IMG_4621The hill itself was about a 60 degree climb so I looped my water bottle through my belt so I could use my hands to climb.



This was a flat-ish spot where I took a break climbing the hill. I didn't take any pictures of the steep parts because I was trying not to die.


As I reached the top the wind picked up a lot. I made it to the top in 20 minutes and was fairly tired. So I had a drink of water and enjoyed the view while the wind battered me around a bit.



There was not another soul in sight. I was alone. Really, really alone. It's a strange feeling.

hill 2

The sun was getting ready to fall behind that other hill so I decided to make my way down. Wanting to keep my hands free for climbing I again unbuckled my belt and looped my water bottle on it. And then I wasn't alone anymore...

I looked up to find another guy standing 10 feet away from me just staring. And I mean _really_ staring. Like the way you might stare at a guy you just found in the middle of nowhere putting on his pants for no explicable reason. He must have come up over the other side of the hill while I was messing with my belt.

What does one say in this situation? I considered "You come here often?" but that seemed overly provocative. In the end I don't remember what I said, but that guy sure kept his distance from me.

As I made my way down the hill I thought about how privacy is really dead, but on a positive note the likelihood of a sprained ankle leading to death are much lesser for it.

If you're ever in Scotland, I recommend checking out Falklin Hill. You can't take your pants off, but the view is great.


The Hug That Took 4 Years

As a baby my niece Emily took an almost instant disliking to me. I was there the day she was born with a Barbie Corvette, but that only seemed to add to her near instant animus.

We would see each other frequently at family events. Each time I'd ask her for a hug as we were parting and each time she declined. From time to time she and I would play a game but it seemed the games she enjoyed involved alternately hitting me with something or swinging on a swing and kicking me in the chest. At least we were bonding I would tell myself.

With age she became more articulate.

Me: So Emily, you're 4 years old now. Do you think I can get a hug today?
Emily [frustrated voice]: Uncle Paul. I'm only 3 and 3/4.

And so our relationship persisted. Until last year... Until the Story Land Polar rollar coaster.

Last fall we took Emily with us to StoryLand leaving her parents behind with her brother. I saw this as a chance to finally win her over. When we came across the Polar Coaster Emily lit up with excitement. She was literally vibrating with eagerness to go on this ride.

Now except when kicking me in the chest, Emily is not the most agressive kid. She doesn't like cats though she had 4 of them, and movement and sound are not her favorite things. As such I was skeptical, so I repeatedly checked with her.

Me: Emily, are you sure you want to go on this ride?
Emily: Yes! I want to go on now!
Me: You know this is a rollar coaster right?
Emily: I want to go on the roller coaster!!!
Me: You know this goes really fast right?
Emily: Lets go on the rollar coater right now Uncle Paul!

So we got in line and within minutes we were sitting in the rollar coaster seat. She seemed happy, and still I couldn't believe it. Just as the bar came down on our laps I checked one more time.

Me: Are you sure you want to go on this rollar coaster Emily?
Emily [frustrated voice]: Uncle Paul. I've been on a rollar coaster before!
Me [surprised]: You have?!? Where?
Emily: At Chuck-E-Cheese Silly!

Simultaneously the rollar coaster began to move forward and the words "Oh Shit!" poped into my head.

For those of you that have avoided Chuck-E-Cheese I congratulate you. Keep it up. But let me explain what the rollar coaster at Chuck-E-Cheese looks like. It is a box that is bolted to the ground with a TV in front of it that plays a blurry black and white video of an actually roller coaster ride. Emily loves that rollar coaster. The one that doesn't actually move.

As the Polar Coaster ascended making that typical click-clink-clink sound I tried to understand how I could have been so stupid as to take Emily, my niece that doesn't like to swing too high on a 6 foot swing, on an actual rollar coaster.

Me: Chucky-E- WHAT?!?
Emily: Chuck-E-CHEESE SILLY!! [happily oblivious to the meaning of the click-clink-clink sound]
Me: You mean the thing with the TV screen!?!?!?

The rollar coaster crested the hill. 

Emily [frustrated voice again]: Uncle Paul. Don't you know what a rollar coaster is?

And that's when the screaming started...

The coaster smoothly descended as I held my apoplectic niece and tried to calculate how many decades this event was going to push back getting a hug out of her. In the 30 or so seconds it took to complete the ride I came to the conclusion that I was going to have to start investing in cryogenics as I was likely to die of old age before she forgave me for this event.

And then we got off the ride and this happened!

And then this!

Now to an outside observer it may seem as if I'm delighting in the terror of a little girl, but I don't see it that way. When she got off that ride she grabbed on to me and wouldn't let go. It wasn't exactly the hug I'd been looking for, but after 4 years you take what you can get.

The next day the crying had subsided, and in it's place was a new attitude from Emily. I wouldn't call it love, but let's call it tolerance.

Ever since then Emily has had a hug for me whenever we see each other. She even came over a week ago and offered to help me with a house project!

So that's the story of how it took me 4 years to get a hug form my niece Emily. She's a cute kid. Not much for the rollar coasters, but very skilled at bathroom molding installation.

Allison - Master Electrician & Pawn Chess Champion

Since Christine and I instituted a "No TV before school" rule the kids have been coming up with some cool ways to entertain themselves in the morning. Last week Alex took out the snap together electronics kit he got for Christmas and build a circuit that made a small fan take off in the air.

Allison asked me to help her build one so we put together a sound activated happy birthday playing circuit.  She was very proud of her creation.

Allison and the Circuit

Another fun activity of late is "Pawn Chess." Alex is actually a pretty decent chess player and his brother and sister want to play as well. I'm getting them started with a simple game using just the pawns. She gets no end of joy out of taking all of mine.

Pawn Chess

I'm glad to see her growing up so happy and confident. It won't be long before she's rewiring the house and beating me at chess.

The bandage under her chin in the chess picture is covering up the stitches she got after attempting to break a step on a playground slide with her chin. She's since had the stitches removed and has promised me she would not pick a fight with those particular stairs again. 

Conner vs the Museum of Science

Conner and I made our first Father & Son trip to the Boston Museum of Science two weeks ago. He was really excited to go after hearing about Alex's trip. But that was where the similarities ended. Unlike his brother, who want's to see everything, Conner found his "One thing" and focussed in on it with all his energy.

Conner Creating Fish in the Virtual FishTank at the MOS

For Conner the focus of the day was the "Virtual Fish Tank" exhibit. It's a set of screens on a wall that are windows into a virtual fish-tank.
Virtual FishTank®," immerses visitors in a virtual undersea world populated by brightly-colored, cartoon-like fish. Visitors select attributes and behaviors for their fish, launch their creations into the tank, and then see how a few simple choices result in complex behaviors and patterns for a whole group of fish. - MOS website

The look in Conner's eyes when he saw the Virtual FishTank told me we were going to be spending a fair amount of time at that exhibit. He had a blast changing fish attributes, but his favorite part was creating new fish, naming them, and releasing them into the tank. We built a few together and then he was off building on his own.

It was hard, but I did manage to pull him away from the tank for a few other events. We tried out the space ice cream, but it went largely uneaten. He was eager to get back to his fish.

I discovered a new camera feature on my iphone that let us see ourselves when we took a picture. Conner thought this was hilarious.

Conner at the MOS

We took in an awesome lightning show. Conner seemed happy with the idea that the presenter could not get hit by lightning because he was in a cage. I attempted to take a picture of a lightning striking but it's harder than it looks to catch the exact moment.

Before getting back to the fish we checked out some of the rocks, gems and minerals, and did a skull identification activity which was just a little creepy. The skull identification starts with 5 animal skulls on a table. There's a computer program that walks you through figuring out which animal the skulls came from. That's not the creepy part. Alex and I had done it many times before. The creepy part was conner would pick up the skull and say "That's a beaver!" before we even touched the computer. He did that 3 out of 5 times and didn't guess the other two.

Having demonstrated a mildly disturbing set of anthropological skills, Conner insisted we head back to the Virtual FishTank where he dove back in.

Just before we left he discovered Anakin's spaceship. They should really let the kids sit in that thing. Not that my kids have ever asked... I just really want to sit in that ship...

Conner and Anikan's Ship

All in all it was a good day. A day mostly about Virtual Fish because that's the way Conner rolls. He can focus like it's nobody's business. Even so, he seemed to enjoy the one on one trip and made a point of telling me how much fun it was several times later that day.

The rest of the pictures are in this set on flickr.