Post #200! Halloween wayback special

It’s a landmark for the blog – our 200th post! In honor of the occasion, and the Halloween celebration this weekend, we’re hopping into the Wayback Machine to look back at Halloween 2004.

Here are Nick and Maria carving pumpkins:


Anna looked on with delight:


Finished products:


And a portrait of the young family:


Next week we’ll have some pictures from this Halloween. Enjoy!

Advertisement: Chelsea’s updated photo page

A quick note to let you know that Chelsea has updated the site for her photography work, including a set of great new photos that she has taken in recent months. You can visit at:

Unrelated: Looks like we’re going to have some beautifully warm weather for Halloween on Saturday. Earlier in the week it looked like it would be colder and rainy. Hopefully the new forecast holds!

Pigeon Forge conclusion: Family unity!

One last note on our Pigeon Forge adventure: We got some great opportunities to spend time all together as a family – not just the time we spent with cousins and friends, but among the five of us who ride in the minivan together. I wanted to show you some of my favorite pictures of our gang from moments throughout the trip:




I also owe you one more picture of my Dale Jr. hat… and a funny story. At the end of our day at Dollywood, we were heading out to the parking lot shuttle. We were among the last folks to catch a shuttle, for whatever reason, so there was no one else around when we got to the queue area.

Chels, the kids, and I got there ahead of our cousins, and so we had to wait a few minutes for them. In the meantime, a shuttle bus was sitting there and was just about ready to go. The driver called to us, “Hey! Dale Junior! You gettin’ on?” When we motioned that we weren’t going to board and he pulled away, we could hear him saying to the passengers, “I can’t believe Dale Junior would refuse to ride my bus.”

This is the hat that set it all in motion:


Incidentally, I don’t think I have worn it since we crossed back over the Mason-Dixon line. The Yankees around here wouldn’t understand.

Pigeon Forge part 3: Go-karts

Nick and I are committed go-kart drivers. Do you remember that GEICO commercial with the go-kart kid? That’s us: “He comes near me, I’ll put him in the wall.”

And unbeknownst to us, Pigeon Forge is the go-kart racing capital of the world. Oh, the tracks these people build! They look like fortresses – swooping curves, multiple levels, hills that are made to fly over at the top. This picture from the track we raced gives you a little bit of a sense for the sheer mass of the track:


You’re looking at an upward spiral that led to a small rise, which crested and then led into a steep descent and another spiral on the far side. It was awesome.

Maria and I rode together… fortunately, she let me drive:


Nick went solo in the #2 car:



Our cousins were also on the course, but they were in the fastest car of all of us, and I don’t think we managed to get any pictures of them.

It was a slow night at this particular track, so they were pretty generous with the length of the race. I think we did about ten laps.

It’s hard going back to the go-kart tracks at the Jersey shore after having this transcendent racing experience. It would be like a major league baseball player getting busted back down to his high school junior varsity team. We have been among the greats, and we will return.

Pigeon Forge part 2: Dollywood rides

One of the neat things when we get out of the usual Disney/Jersey Shore loop is that we get to see some really different kinds of amusement park rides. You go a couple places most of the time and get a set idea of what’s possible, and then you go somewhere else and get a completely new perspective.

Dollywood had some neat things to offer. In addition to the obligatory wooden roller coaster and looping steel coaster, they had some brilliantly simple rides that offered small-t thrills. Here we are on the Lumberjack Lifts. Concept: You and a friend pull up on a shared rope (the ride does most of the lifting) and you hoist yourself up to the top of a 25-foot tower, which is slowly spinning to afford you a 360-degree view of the park.



Another ride is something like the Buzz Lightyear shoot-’em-up game at the Magic Kingdom, only it’s outside, and with water:


They also had a kids’ play area that was generously shaded with trees and big canvas panels. It was a great place for us to take refuge in the heat of the afternoon:



Other rides took concepts we’d seen before, and, well, took them to the max. In the second picture, my older two kids are one of those specks way up in the sky… sorry, Grandma, but they did come home safe:



Compared with that flight, I can’t imagine this one half as impressive:



Maria soon went back to more ambitious rides… this one spun in a large circle while swooping back and forth in the air on a half-moon steel track. The pictures don’t even begin to do it justice, but what you can see is that Maria looks completely serene. In fact, she rode twice.





Fortunately for Chels, Nick, and Anna, the teacups are a near-universal offering at theme parks, so they could do some slightly less intense spinning:


Chels likes to ride big thrill rides, and I can’t usually get pictures of her while I’m cowering in fear under a bench. But I was able to snap one late in the day:


It was a full day! In fact, notice how zonked Anna looks on the carousel:


No surprise, then, that the day ended for our girl like this:


Tomorrow: Go-karts!

Pigeon Forge part 1: Shopping and swimming

During our NC swing in August we spent two days in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, home of the Dollywood amusement park and many other diversions. We drove up Sunday mid-day and came back late Monday night.

The drive to Pigeon Forge from North Carolina looks deceptively short on a map. It actually involves driving up and then down a pretty high mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At the top, which forms the NC/TN state line, you can hike up a path to Clingmans Dome, which is the highest point in Tennessee and is also the highest point along the length of the Appalachian Trail. We were caravaning with a couple of other families, and had many small kids in our tribe, so we skipped the hiking and went straight for the commerce on the other side.

Pigeon Forge is a sight to behold – a multi-lane highway with traffic lights runs through town, and there are motels, restaurants, outlet malls, and goofy tourist attractions as far as the eye can see. The only thing I’ve seen before that even comes close is US-192 in Kissimmee, on the southern border of the Disney World empire.

An important part of the timing of our trip was that Tennessee was having a sales tax holiday over the weekend. We don’t pay sales tax on clothing or shoes here in Pennsylvania, but most other states do, and so the lure of tax-free outlet shopping was too much for our gang to resist.

Enough with the narrative already! Here are some pictures of us swimming and splashing at our hotel:




Nick in particular took a shine to getting water dumped on his head… have I mentioned it was really hot that weekend? This was the one stretch during the whole trip where we saw some real Southern heat and humidity:




Next week: Rides, smiles, tears, and go-karts.

Dollywood! How could I forget?


Gentle readers, you have been wronged. I’ve been sitting here with a treasure trove of pictures from our visit to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and I completely forgot to write up that part of our summer adventure. I’m short on time today but you will get a full report tomorrow. Meantime, yes, that’s me in a Dale Earnhardt Jr. baseball cap. When in Rome….

She shoots, she scores

I mentioned earlier in the soccer season that Anna had a game where she scored two goals, and since she had her face painted, we concluded that she needed the face paint in order to secure her luck. The following week she had no face paint and scored no goals. The week after that, a dab of marker over her right eyebrow seemed to be all she needed – two more goals scored.

Regrettably, her game got postponed this past weekend, because they had face painting at the book fair at school:


Anna has really been wanting to paint a soccer ball on her face like this for a game, because we believe it will confuse her opponents – wait, which ball is the one we’re supposed to chase?

Human chess

The kids had a book fair at school over the weekend, and part of the festivities was a game of human chess. 32 brave volunteers donned swords, shields, and funny hats to stand on the field of battle. Naturally, all three of our grandmasters were on the scene.

Would you be surprised if I told you that Maria managed to get herself designated as a king? You would not:


Anna served as the white pawn directly in front of Maria:


And Nick was a black knight:


This is how the board looked mid-match:


And here are the guys who are actually deciding the moves:


Black ended up taking the win. Along the way, Maria gained a new appreciation for the fact that the kings stay on the board all the way to the end:


Nick and Anna got to be on the board for a gratifyingly long time, and they also saw some direct action – I believe Nick was the one who took out Anna’s pawn, and Nick also put Maria in check a couple times.

Saturday mornings with Anna

Anna and I are both early risers. On Saturday mornings, she comes in and wakes me up so we can play together; I’ve realized that she considers Saturday mornings with me to be a basic right of hers, the Right to Some Attention for the Third Kid.

This past weekend, our Saturday morning involved American Girl and Bitty Baby dolls, many of whom needed some hairstyle help:


Those dolls don’t dress themselves, either:



Meanwhile, we’ve got Nick roaming around the house these days wearing a hat he received as a party favor the other week. Makes it look like he’s got a wild mop of hair going in place of his usual buzz cut and mini-mohawk:


Side note: There are lots of people in Philadelphia with superstitions about the Phillies, and I regret to say that my son is among them. It seems that he turned on a Phillies-Pirates game late in the regular season, and found the Phillies with a comfortable lead. After he started watching, though, the Phillies gave up a walk-off home run to the Pirates, losing the game. He now believes – you guessed it – that his watching the Phillies will cause them to lose, so he now refuses to watch or listen to any live broadcast of the game.

I’ll say this for him: With crazy logic like that, there can be no doubt he’s a Philly boy through and through.