Spring break continued

Warm sun. Blue skies. We saw one day of rain when we first arrived in town, and then the weather was just about perfect after that. Spring break in Florida is always a good idea.

Here is Nick in front of our favorite restaurant, the Sweet Tomatoes on Dale Mabry:


Anna got in her photo op on the little back porch behind my mother-in-law’s house, which is a spot where we’ve been taking pictures of the kids for many years now:


We spent some time during the week working on Mary’s house, pictured here:


Mary has been staying with us here in Philadelphia for several months, and is going to come back and stay with us a while longer. In the meantime, she is hoping to rent out her place. So we got started with some painting and some trim work:




Spring break also marks the beginning of Nick’s annual birthday season, during which we celebrate his birthday in Tampa and then again in Philadelphia. Lucky bugger:


On Saturday we spent the day with our Tampa friends, the Chapmans, who have daughters the same age as Nick and Maria. We went out to Clearwater Beach briefly, though a standing 25 mph (40km/h) south wind was blasting us with sand and bits of seashells:


Chelsea and Ginger at Clearwater Beach



Because of the wind the beach was deserted:


So we retreated to the swim club at Carlouel, a private club and neighborhood at the north end of Clearwater Beach:


That night we had another birthday celebration for Nick, this time at the Chapmans’ house. The Chapman girls gave him a Manchester United jersey, which he was delighted to receive:


All good things must come to an end, of course, and the following morning we began our drive back home. We stopped for an early dinner in Atlanta to visit with Chelsea’s dad Tom, her grandmother Frances, her cousin Mandy, and her aunt Pam. Here are Tom, Mandy, and Pam together on the front porch of the Cracker Barrel:


Chels and her dad:


Chels and Grandma Frances:


From Atlanta we pressed on, heading north and east through South Carolina and North Carolina before stopping for the night in Dublin, Virginia. That put us on I-81 right around the 100-mile marker, leaving us with about 7-8 hours of driving for the second day.

It was a great trip, and we’re glad to be home! Chelsea took a ton more pictures than what I have, so I’ll see if I can snag those and post them over the rest of the week.

One more before we go dark

I’m able to grab a wireless signal while sitting here on the porch at Mary’s house, so I’ll post once more before we disappear for the weekend and our drive back home. This is Nick hanging upside down in a bouldering room at the rock gym back home in Doylestown:


That photo has not been altered in any way! That is indeed my son standing on the ceiling of the room. It’s hard to see in the picture, but there is a big grab handle hanging from the ceiling. Nick figured out that if he could plant his feet on the ceiling, he could grab that handle and “stand up” for a few seconds.

We went rock climbing last week while our friend Bethany was in town to visit. (This visit coincided with our bathroom repair adventure. C’est la vie.)

Here is Nick, right side up, doing his best Spider-Man impression:


Anna is learning to climb too:


Three guesses which of my kids is the most fearless on the rocks:




Chelsea and Maria even raced each other to the top:


I am not so fearless, but I like to climb a little:


We love family rock climbing!


On the road again

It’s been a while since we took a big road trip, so everybody was excited when we rolled out of bed early Saturday morning and started making our way to Tampa. We broke the trip over two days. On the first we drove from Philadelphia to Bryson City, NC (700mi/1,120km), where several of Chelsea’s relatives on her mom’s side of the family live. The second day we drove from Bryson City to Tampa by way of Atlanta (600mi/1,000km). It’s a long drive!

Fortunately, the route we take keeps us off the busy Eastern seaboard corridor. We travel further inland, taking the PA Turnpike west to Interstate 81, and then following I-81 all the way south to Tennessee before dropping into North Carolina. For much of the first day we essentially had the road to ourselves:


The kids spend their time in the car watching movies, playing video games, and reading books. We usually put Nick and Anna together in the back row, and Maria in the middle row. The seat behind Chelsea usually gets left empty so that she can recline for naps. Here are the kids in our typical setup:


Just less than half of the total drive on the first day is within the state of Virginia, which has about 325 miles (520km) of mileage on I-81. It feels endless. Here we are stopped about two thirds of the way through heading south:



As the kids get older, road trips like this are becoming easier for us. They can more easily keep themselves entertained, and they’re also more comfortable with dozing off for a nap from time to time without us coercing them into it:


I-81 takes us alongside the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Great Smoky Mountains, both part of the Appalachian Mountain range that runs south to north along the East Coast from Georgia to Maine. We mostly drive in valleys until we turn to enter North Carolina, at which point we go up into the range. The border between Tennessee and North Carolina on I-26 is at an altitude of about 3,500 feet (1,100m) above sea level, and even this is low ground between peaks:


We stayed for the night with Chelsea’s cousin Jessica and her family. They built their own house on some family land several years ago, and the view from their property is spectacular:


We arrived around dinnertime, and the first order of business for the kids – big and small – was to jump around on the trampoline:





Thanks, Jess and Scott, for hosting us!



Sunday we had a big breakfast and set out for Atlanta. We drove out of the mountains and into the rolling hills of north Georgia:


We met up with Chelsea’s dad and his wife, Alison, for a late lunch at a Sweet Tomatoes in Atlanta. We were remiss in taking photos:


After the late lunch it was time for one more big push. We encountered a lot of traffic between Atlanta and Macon, which is par for the course. But as the sun set and the road opened up, we made good time and got into Tampa late that night.

I’ll have more pictures and a recap of the whole trip next week. I will not be online tomorrow, so this will be the last update until we’re home again in Philadelphia. See you again soon!

Breaking bad: Update

A quick update on the bathroom: We made enough progress before leaving last week that the bathroom is fully usable once again. We have major work ahead of us, to be sure, but at least we can take showers and brush our teeth. The following is how things looked when the plumbers were done with this round on Thursday.

The floor in the bathroom is torn up and will need replacing, but the toilet is back in place and functional:



We have a nice new PVC pipe serving as our soil stack:


We replaced everything from the bathroom down to the horizontal run in the basement, a portion of which was previously updated with PVC before we bought the house:


The drive time to Florida has been useful for thinking about our options. I’m hopeful we will reach a good outcome in the end.

More pictures on the way!

I ran out to Target over lunch and got a card reader that will allow me to get pictures off my digital camera even though I forgot the connection cable. Woo hoo! Best of all, the card reader only cost $5. I love cheap technology.

We’re still in Florida and the weather is fabulous today, after a cool and rainy start yesterday. I’ll be posting photos in earnest over the course of the week. Meantime, I had this cute one of Anna that I wanted to be sure to post:

Anna steals my headset

I use this telephone headset for work because I’m on conference calls all the time. Anna came into my office the other day and stole it away from me so she could try it. I told her if she wanted to keep the headset, she had to learn PowerPoint. Also, she would have to use the word “synergy” at least five times a day.

She gave it back.

Florida, here we are

We arrived in Florida late last night, and have started to settle in for our week here. I took many pictures on the way down. I also realized that I didn’t bring the cable to connect my camera with my computer, so I will have to figure out some other means to upload photos. Back soon.

Breaking bad

This was the view from our second floor bathroom to our first floor dining room Wednesday night:


It was an interesting day.

Regular readers of this blog will remember that last month, Nick and I did some sleuthing to discover the source of some moisture in the basement. We found that our soil stack pipe in the dining room wall was cracked, and I was able to patch it so that we didn’t have to make an emergency call to a plumber during the weekend.

After getting a couple of bids, we went with a plumber named Joe DeMarco for our work, and he came Wednesday to get started. Here’s a look at the pipe (with the fully opened wall) just before they got underway:


Joe and his brother had been working for about an hour when they brought us some news: The T-joint connecting the bathroom fixtures to the soil stack was also cracked, meaning that it, too, had to be replaced. This would require ripping into the bathroom wall and floor in order to get at the misbehaving pipe. So we said sure, why not? We love the smell of napalm in the morning.

Here’s the bathroom, sans toilet, getting ready for its close-up:


The toilet ended up in the hallway, just like a bad college party:


No more soil stack in the wall, at least for a day:



Some damage to the foyer side of the wall from removing the pipe:


Bad pipe. Out to the yard with you:


Ceci n’est pas une pipe in the basement:


Now, for the T-joint:


Getting it out required shearing off the ends of the sink and tub lines, which fortunately had been replaced with PVC by a previous owner:


Partners in crime, now in exile:


I got some new riser valves for the bathroom supply lines out of the deal… someday I’m going to buy my own acetylene torch:


We’re back up and running now – I’ll take and post some pictures of where things stand today. Having returned the bathroom to service, albeit with great collateral damage to the house, we can now decide how much further we want to go with our impromptu bathroom remodel. Thing is, the floor has to come all the way out now, and the rest of the bathroom was not in fabulous shape to begin with. This may have effectively been the point of no return on a remodel.

As Gramps says, it’s never a good time for anything.

Spring break plans

We’re getting ready to take a trip to Florida for the kids’ spring break, which actually started late last week for Anna, and begins in earnest tomorrow as Nick and Maria start their break. We are driving down beginning as early on Saturday morning as we can manage. Saturday night we will spend the night with Chelsea’s cousins in North Carolina, and Sunday we will finish out the drive.

Our plan is to spend about a week in Tampa. We’ll be doing some work on Chelsea’s mom’s house so that she can either rent it out or sell it. We will also take a few opportunities to enjoy the 80-degree sunshine, maybe with a trip to the beach. Nick has already submitted a request for baseball practice while we’re there, so he and I will look for some batting cages and will also get him practicing his pitching.

I am hoping we can visit one of the YMCA locations in Tampa that has a rock climbing wall – rock climbing up here is expensive, but if you’re a Y member in Tampa, even a visitor, there are several facilities which feature climbing walls that are free for members.

And then there’s Sweet Tomatoes, our all-time favorite salad buffet restaurant. (They operate in California as Souplantation, and it’s the same thing.) We have an abiding love for Sweet Tomatoes, and over the years we’ve hoped in vain that they would expand north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Driving with the kids is getting easier as they get older. We also have copious amounts of technology to keep them entertained, including portable DVD players, Nintendo DS handheld games, and iPods. Shockingly, they even read books in the car sometimes. So old-fashioned.

Rittenhouse Town

The last stop from our whirlwind weekend was Rittenhouse Town, which is along the banks of the Wissahickon Creek on the twisty part of the Lincoln Drive. We stopped there on a lark while heading home from the Art Museum, mainly because we wanted to get outside and take a walk while there was still daylight and some reasonably warm air.

All of the buildings were closed up, but still picturesque:




A brief walk creekside led us to the Forbidden Drive, which runs from the edge of the city down to the Schuylkill River at Manayunk. The kids and I have ridden on the Drive in the past; Maria still remembers riding in a child seat on the back of my bike, down the Forbidden Drive to the Reading Terminal Market on a Saturday morning.

Here are Chels, Mary, and the girls on the Forbidden Drive:


At one point we climbed uphill from Forbidden Drive to a stone wall that had been built into the hillside. It actually looked like it was supposed to be a dam, since it was built into the valley between two steeper sections of hill, but it had an arched passageway through the middle. We couldn’t make head or tail of it, so we reverted to our usual mode: photo op!



You could walk on top of the wall, which had a curved top and seemed to be part of a hiking trail. Between the curve of the wall top and the absence of rail or guards, it was an unsettling feeling. Naturally, Maria went out there with no trouble at all:


With that we had just about run out of daylight, so we headed home. Just wait until the weather really gets warm and sunny! We’ll be taking 500 pictures a day as we ramble through the countryside.

Last weekend: Philly Art Museum

Another weekend has passed since then, but I’m still sorting through photos from our action-packed first full weekend of March. Sunday afternoon we went to the Philadelphia Art Museum – it was me, Chels, Maria, Anna, and Chelsea’s mom Mary. Though our kids have limited stamina for art museums at this point in their lives, we are determined to give them some exposure, with the hope that they will return on their own as they get older.

We started out in the Asian galleries, and marched the girls down to the Japanese Tea House to see if that would pique their interest. This is a set of traditional Japanese houses arranged in an indoor gallery:




We also saw some beautiful Indian artifacts in the Asian wing:


To the surprise of no one, though, Maria was more at home with the Degas collection:


And for Anna, the best part of the day was the transportation: