mt. osceola

July 20, 2012 Comments Off on mt. osceola


We upped the hiking game considerably this year. 4000 feet is the New England division between heavyweight and lightweight. The kids had done three 3000-footers. This year, we all agreed they were ready for the heavy stuff.

Mt. Osceola clicks in at just barely 4000 feet, and it’s the traditional first. I’d never been up it, but my dad climbed it when he was something like ten. So this seemed a safe bet. (they did things differently 60 years ago–sending a ten year old up this today would border on illegal). And it was a healthy climb–2000 feet up, 6.4 miles round trip. It took us four and a half hours, including a half hour lunch break on the summit, not bad all around.

The mountain gods continue to smile on us. Each year we book the lodge in early spring and I think this is the hurricane year. But so far we’ve had nothing but stellar weather, which is not the New Hampshire I remember. Today was maybe the best day we’ve had yet–75 degrees, light breeze, absolutely no fog. It felt like you could see to Boston as we got up into the scrub pines.

The kids have turned into really diligent hikers. They keep a single file, and C always goes in front, on the theory that you don’t want the faster folks leaving the smaller ones behind. He’s turning into the real serious hiker of the two, though. O is the one calling for the rest/water/shoe break–C is the one saying “this is an AWESOME” trail just as his dad and grandfather are thinking “cripes, could this trail be any more bouldery?”. We were all puffing a bit as the trees thinned out, and as the mountain above us started to get noticeably smaller. They can smell the summit, it seems, especially when they have a lodge-packed lunch waiting for them up there.


And, it has to be said, Dad did us all right in his mountain pick. The view from the top was ridiculous, helped by a perfectly clear day. We celebrated their first 4k with sandwiches, bottled water, and gorp, chatted with a few other hikers who made it up just in time for lunch, too, and Grandpa pointed out which peaks were which. Washington loomed in the distance. C sized it up, and figured out with Grandpa’s help that it was roughly twice the hike, twice the climb. He was unfazed.

We got down in about the time it took us to get up, the mark of a trail with more than a few spots that made me glad their mother couldn’t see what they were up to (just kidding, K!) (not actually kidding). We hit the parking lot just as the Princess was beginning to lose her mountain cool, a situation quickly and radically restored with gigantic bowls of ice cream at a roadside stand in Lincoln, just up the road.


Did that spoil anyone’s appetite for dinner? Um, no. And they’re playing ping-pong now, so they clearly had something left in the tank. We asked them whether we should do a mountain or a gentler waterfall hike tomorrow, and they both thought mountain. Dad is thinking Pierce, which is about the same deal as today. But C has other ideas. He wants to do Washington.


Next year, kiddo. Next year.


back to the woods

July 19, 2012 Comments Off on back to the woods

Today started at 5:00 with the realization that the “Albany Airport Comfort Inn” was so-called because of its proximity to the business end of the airport’s main runway. Today is finishing up like this:


Only four hours in the car, which felt like a sprint after Tuesday. The GPS took us on all back roads through Vermont, the kind of roads that make O ask to turn up the AC so she doesn’t barf. Assuming that doesn’t happen, I really like those roads. And the GTI likes those roads. Given its age and its looming replacement, I sort of felt like it deserved the opportunity to live out a road rally fantasy or two.

We made the annual stop in Hanover for lunch at Lou’s, a good childhood memory that has morphed into a really good diner with a vegan edge. And we visited my grandparents under their tree on the Appalachian Trail. The kids bought them some fresh flowers, and we sat with them for a while. “They’re turning out to be great kids,” I told them as O and C headed back to the car. “I know you’d enjoy them.” The four of them would, I think, get along famously. Something in the trees agreed.


We made it to the AMC Highland Center just after Dad, and had time for a quick boot fitting and a test run around the neighboring lake. The shoes all fit, we almost but not quite earned our hiker’s dinner in the lodge, and the kids settled right into the routine, bailing after dessert for the nightly campfire. We have plans for their first 4000′ mountain tomorrow, and their second on Saturday. The weather looks to be cooperative, the kids are happy as hell to be out of the car, and since this trip has come to be an annual check-in with myself, I feel like I’ve done everything possible with the last year. And I can’t wait to get back into the woods with these two.


July 18, 2012 Comments Off on hof


A big day, parent-wise. The kids have always been casual baseball fans, and I have to confess that with my teams well out of contention and a few other things on my plate, I haven’t paid as much attention as I normally might.

But Cooperstown was more or less on the direct line between Athens, OH, and Crawford Notch, NH. I’d always thought it would be the most Dad thing ever to take the kids to the Hall of Fame (especially after reading Richard Ford again…), and the timing looked like it would work out pretty well. We almost made it there for lunch, but had to stop for emergency sandwiches on the way in.

Mid-week just before the induction weekend is, it turns out, kind of low season. We didn’t have any trouble finding on-street parking, and we walked right in with no lines. The Hall is right in the middle of town, and you could tell that this place gets pretty tough to get to on weekend. We didn’t quite have the place to ourselves, but close enough.

O and C are, as you can see, dedicated Cubs fans, and they picked out the relevant bits of history. Tinkers to Evers to Chance. The Hawk. And, as of next weekend, Santo. In the interests of full family history, I steered them toward plenty of Boston stuff, too. “There’s a lot of Yankees stuff here, Dad,” O said, consolingly. “Yup,” I agreed. “That’s Reggie Jackson. He was a mortal enemy.”

There was a nice exhibit on the Sox, in honor of Fenway’s 100th anniversary this year. We saw Fisk’s jersey and bat from the 1975 series, Ted Williams’ bat and shoes. Yastrzemski’s jersey from 1976 (which I might have seen him wear in my first game). And there was this:


That’s the ball from the last play of the 2004 World Series. Did I cry? Maybe.

The hall itself was less awe-inspiring than I’d expected. The kids found a few Cubs, and C found Babe Ruth. I showed them Wade Boggs, and they were impressed that my brother got to see a hall of famer’s first major league game. I bought them hats, got a shirt or two, and we headed up through rural New York to dinner and a night in lovely suburban Albany. A really fun afternoon, and even with this season’s casual indifference to the baseball gods, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more like an American dad…


avalanche pizza

July 17, 2012 Comments Off on avalanche pizza

So, uh, yeah. This morning did not start on a culinary high note:


The kids begged for it, and being more of a softie than I probably let on, I let them have their waffles. I settled for a yogurt and Raisin Bran in the motel breakfast bar and just had a large coffee. The largest, crappiest cup of coffee you can possibly imagine. I walked out of there thinking that hey, we gave it a good 236 years, but really, the entire American Experiment had, in fact, run itself into the ground.

Three hours later, after hanging a right at Columbus and rocketing through southern Ohio (rivers and woods, even, toward the end), this was waiting for us:


Food and Wine calls that one of the best pies in America, and I can’t see why you’d argue. Avalanche and it’s proprietor, John Gutekanst, have put themselves on the map by winning eight major pizza competitions, including one in Italy recently that we’d read about in Gastronomica. His blog, Pizza Goon is one of the best baking blogs I keep track of, and the online reviews of his place in Athens, Ohio, consistently sing his praises. So, I asked the kids, worth an extra hundred or so miles? Absolutely, they said. They’ve had pizza in Naples, in Florence, all over Rome–this was right up their alley. We’d drive across the state of Ohio for lunch.


Avalanche is pretty close to the highway, and easy to miss. It’s in a former service station, and it is seriously about the product–no seating, just a counter and some benches. But the Pizza Goons behind the counter could not have been cooler. There were a couple of benches, which were comfortable enough, and they let us use the employee restroom, which after a cross-Ohio dash was a needed thing. We went with two simple pies–pepperoni for the boy, who loves the classics, and potato for the girl. What, no wasabi and sriracha? Not this time, I guess, though the Godzilla pie, which actually won the Italian competition, looked like the next step.

And, as advertised, it was pretty sublime. Neapolitan, for sure, but definitely American–think of the best possible college-town pizza with a light, crackling crust that stays crisp even under the weight of American-quantity toppings and you’re there. The toppings are mostly local, all top notch, and there’s a nice balance between those and the baking. I had sort of expected less on top, but I imagine that on a day-to-day basis the good folks of Athens want their sauce and cheese, in addition to the world-beating crust. Avalanche has clearly got this down to a science, with a well-oiled, deeply fermented crust, though from the blog it seems like they don’t use the magical 00 flour that seems to be the not-so-secret light and crispy weapon.

Still, pretty perfect crust to crumb, with a nice corn meal base. And those crusts, brother, got eaten. Nothing left of the slices, though we had a few leftover that made for good afternoon snacking. I asked about some of the breads that show up on Pizza Goon, but those are, apparently, weekly masterpieces that go straight to the Athens farmer’s market. That might be worth another trip.

We stopped for gas about three hours later. “Anyone need a snack?” I asked. Nope. And dinner was sandwiches at a veggie place in State College. Nothing to write home about, but none of us felt like the day needed any more culinary greatness, either.

champaign, il

July 8, 2011 Comments Off on champaign, il

OK, actually Urbana, but that Old 97s song has been going through my head all day.  A fine start to the road trip, according to Google Maps we’re exactly 25% of the way to Crawford Notch.  Yikes.  This is going to be a long trip.

But spirits are high.  We got a mid-morning start today, which gave me time to get a pretty fierce workout in and let the kids sleep in for a bit.  Breakfast was whatever was in the fridge (a lot of yogurt, which probably wasn’t wise), and the first tomato of the season, which I just grabbed as I was getting in the car.  I think we managed to get everything required, though I’m sure we’ve forgotten something crucial.

The drive was pretty standard.  Lunch at the Iowa City Steak and Shake, where this time we remembered to get kids shakes for both of them, eliminating the gross imbalance that happened last week.  And we stocked a cooler full of apples, carrots, and candy, the deal being that we only re-stock candy when we need to re-stock healthy food.  It worked–we made it through a whole bag of apples today.

Shampoo-Banana is both hometown and alma mater, so the kids asked to see the spots we saw in the Spring again–the old family homestead, the Quad, the church where K and I got married, etc.  We ran around on the cross country course for a while, and C asked whether we’d ever sled down it.  Oh, man, I said, and regaled them with tales of our old Yankee Flyer, a pilfered candle or two, and break-neck runs down the steeper bits on wobbly metal runners.

Papa Del’s for dinner, of course.  When we got into the hotel room there was a menu from Pizza Hut sitting on the desk.  “Why would you ever get Pizza Hut in this place,” C asked, “when Papa Del’s is right down the street?”  Why, indeed.  The boy definitely has a pretty refined pizza palate, at any rate.

We’re all pretty tired tonight, but we have a BIG DAY planned tomorrow, one that’s probably just a bit too crazy and that probably won’t all work, but if it does it will be, as O says, epic.

road trip–big kahuna

July 7, 2011 Comments Off on road trip–big kahuna

The kids and I take off tomorrow for points east.  Points seriously east, like 24 hours of driving east.  My dad volunteers a week each year at the Appalachian Mountain Club lodge in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and like last year he’s invited me and the kids out for a couple of days in the woods.  I spent a lot of time as a kid in the New Hampshire mountains, with grandparents whose house backed up to the Appalachian Trail and who wasted no opportunity–rain or shine–to get their grandkids out into nature.  Last year we got out of the car in Crawford Notch and the smell of mountain pine was an amazingly strong memory.  As were the noodly knees coming down the kids’ first serious mountain climb.

This year, of course, is a little different, but it also feels like the first in what will inevitably be a long series of one-year anniversaries.  In a lot of ways, the New Hampshire trip last year marked the start of a lot of hard, sad times for me and K, and me and the kids being there again, her being in Canada again, and all that’s going on back here make this trip feel a bit like coming full circle.  Not necessarily in an unhappy way, but in a way that I know will have some tough moments.  And, no doubt, some utterly joyous ones, especially if the weather holds.

Anyway.  The three of us are planning to get a modestly early start tomorrow so we can lunch at the traditional Iowa City Steak and Shake, followed by a leisurely afternoon in Champaign-Urbana and dinner at Papa Del’s, which is honestly the best pizza in the state of Illinois.  I’ve planned a big run around the old cross-country course Saturday morning to burn all that off, and I’m hoping we can hit the Air Force Museum in Dayton that afternoon and maybe end up in Akron or some equally salubrious place that night.  The kids are, I think, looking forward to another road adventure, and I’m looking forward to getting them back into the woods.

We bought road candy and an assortment of supplies and floppy trail hats tonight at Target, after a Last Supper of sorts at the local rib joint, courtesy of the softball parents.  For years I’ve shared a banana split with O after a rib dinner there, but I can’t do that anymore, and C has now taken my place as her ice cream nemesis.

Further details/reports as events and free wi-fi dictate…


June 29, 2011 Comments Off on wrigley


The kids get an annual trip to Wrigley to see the Cubs play, and neither rain nor cold shall keep us from our appointed rounds.  Except this year, since the game we picked happened to be the one 40° windy day in May.  The Cubs wisely postponed (perhaps sensing that the Giants’ ace would eat them up no matter what the weather) and yesterday was the makeup date.  Academia means never having to take Tuesdays during the summer seriously, so I re-booked the hotel (the Rafaello, which is small but comes with big suites) and we hit the road again.

The Cubs, I should point out, are my adopted team.  I haven’t suffered with them as long as most of K’s family, so I can’t really claim them as my own.  I grew up a Red Sox fan, though, so I know what it’s like.  When we moved to Illinois I was 12, and I think my father looked at the options for a kid growing up in downstate Illinois and made a cultural decision.  The White Sox were another AL team, so we couldn’t really root for them.  And the Cardinals?  Well, they’d beaten Boston in the 1967 series.  I suspect it still stung a little bit. They weren’t great, but the Cubs were worse.  Dad looked at the options and decided that the Cubs wouldn’t do anything to erase the long-suffering self-denial that was a Red Sox fan’s birthright.  K, on the other hand, grew up in a die-hard Cubs family, with the kind of people who look at a 7-run deficit in the eighth inning and say “hey, we’ve come back from worse.”  It’s kind of sad, but occasionally uplifting.  The kids have been indoctrinated, and beers at Wrigley are absolutely no problem with me.  They like the Red Sox, too, but they’ve been to a bunch of Cubs games now and, I guess, are completely warped with that combination of ridiculous optimism and sort of lackadaisical enjoyment of summer afternoons with, hey!  a ballgame down there! attitude that seems to spring from the Northsiders.

Driving to Chicago is no longer the nine-hour marathon it used to be with potty breaks, playground breaks, and three full meals.  We can do it in one stop, though on the way in we usually hit Iowa City for Steak’n’Shake and the gas station in DeKalb to avoid having to pee in the middle of a traffic jam (I’ve done it, on the Dan Ryan, and it’s kind of fun, but more than a little dangerous and embarrassing).  Re: Steak’n’Shake.   Tough lesson there to the left about how one has to make sure to order the SMALL MILKSHAKE with the grownup meal when someone else at the table has ordered the SMALL MILKSHAKE that comes with the kids’ meal.  Crap.

Anyhoo.  We got to the hotel late but in time to get a good night’s sleep.  I got a six-mile lakeshore run in with some new shoes (emergency purchase in Iowa City–there was no way K was spending a day with me and no workout), and we ambled up to Wrigley in time to watch the Giants finish batting practice.  The kids were both born in SF, so there’s no small amount of affection for the Giants, especially Panda Sandoval, whose nickname alone merits inclusion in the family pantheon.

The girl and I opted for brats and beers (OK, she had a Pepsi, but the guy at the beer stand carded her just for fun.  Right, guy, good move, you get the tip).  She knows the drill.  Onions and mustard, and don’t even look at the ketchup.  We’ve raised her right.  Both kids found t-shirts they liked, I got a new hat, and we got our scorecards filled out.  As you can see, the makeup game discouraged regular attendance–we actually had empty seats around us.

So, as you can see from the scorecard, it was  a train-wreck of a game.  The Cubs gave up 18 hits–many of them in the first inning–and lost in style.  Soriano dropped his annual “Welcome, Domestically Challenged Family!” fly ball, the home team threw every pitcher they could at the Giants, calls were blown, throws were not in time, and the Cubs FORGOT TO COVER FIRST on a key play.  A pretty normal day at the ballpark, this season.  Fire Quade.

We got out of there at about 5, but did stay for the whole damned thing.  We dropped K off at the hotel, hit the Whole Foods for carrots and pretzels, and then spent an hour in traffic, finally getting home at midnight.  Despite the late finish and the middle-school like level of play, it was a great day out, of course.  This is the Cubs’ problem–fans will show up at Wrigley to watch almost anything on the playing field, whether it’s decent baseball or not.

So now the kids and I have a week or so on our own before we’re off for New Hampshire.  K is in Toronto, so we’re reprising our winter arrangements.  Stir fry tonight, probably pasta tomorrow and grilling somewhere down the line.  It feels kind of comfortable, and we’ve slipped into the morning routine right away, at least.  O slept until 10:30, making my daily note (“Gone running, back at 7:30”) vaguely ridiculous…


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