As we say above, this is mainly for friends and family. Michael's blog on the Middle East can be found here. Most of our other links can be found below on the right, but be sure to keep up as well with our family website, here. We also have discussion groups for genealogy, links to genealogical information on us, and our (semi-private) Flickr and YouTube accounts for those who are invited. You can also get a quick-navigation guide here.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holiday

What holiday did you have in mind, exactly? Not the fourth of July, surely?

Oh, yeah ...

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. ([And] this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this [shall be] a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

That holiday.

I'm Catholic, but I can't resist the King James Version. Shakespeare couldn't have written it better.

(Of course, there are those who suggest he did. In Psalm 46, the 46th word from the beginning is "Shake" and the 46th word from the end is "spear," and when the KJV appeared Shakespeare was 46 years old, but heck, that can't mean anything.) (If you're a real conspiracy theorist you'll have already noted that 46 is twice 23. If you don't know the significance of 23 congratulations, you're not actually paranoid and probably don't spend most of your days worrying about the Kennedy assassination, the Knights Templars, the freemasons and the street pattern of the District of Columbia.) (I won't bring up the Denver airport: you're not supposed to know about that one.)

Anyone who understands the previous paragraph spends too much time reading weird Internet sites. Go back to work.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2007

God Bless Us, Every One

By the time I post this it will be past midnight and it will be Christmas. I've got the late shift to prepare the roof for the reindeer etc., so things will be ready for morning. And we got off to a good start. Aunt Kate arrived this evening; Sarah had started asking when she would arrive roughly when she got up, and once she called from her hotel to say she was here Sarah patrolled the door with an "Is she here yet? Is she here yet?" constant querying (but with a greater sense of urgency) while, regularly, bouncing from the couch to the other furniture despite being told not to, and just bouncing in general. We let her open a few presents early for fear she was going to explode otherwise, and yet when we did start opening presents she was quite happy to save some for Christmas day itself.

Merry Christmas all. The clock just turned 12. Hodie Christus Natus Est. More tomorrow.

UPDATE: Okay, Blogger says it's 11:56. I say it's Christmas and that's my story and I'm sticking with it. My computer says it's 12:02, and so does my watch..

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Visions of Sugarplums (SAY WHAT?) Dance in Her Head

Putting Sarah to bed tonight, on the night before Christmas eve, I said I hoped visions of sugarplums would dance in her head. Though she knows and can recite "The Night Before Christmas," she promptly said, "Dad, I don't know what those are. I've never seen one. Have you?" Umm, well, actually now that you mention it, I assume it's some kind of candied plum or something (CANDIED PLUM? WHY WOULD THEY DO THAT?) but no, I guess I've never seen one, either, Umm, Mom, have you ever seen or tasted a sugarplum? Well, no...

Okay. I guess visions of sugarplums won't dance in her head. Or mine, unless I overindulge on plum wine. I'm wondering, did I never ask what a sugarplum was when I was a kid? Heck, what was a tuffet? What were curds and whey? (Kurds and Hue maybe? Those I've heard of.) Why didn't I ask these questions? Or did I? I know, I know, Google, Wikipedia, etc. But it's more fun to post this first. Wikipedia later.

Visions of sugarplums, y'all, if you know what they are. Or even if you don't.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Deck the halls with boughs of jolly..."

That's Sarah's version. Not as great as Pogo's immortal "Deck us all with Boston Charlie," but then Walt Kelly's been gone a long time and only a few of us Old Believers still remember that song. (Along with "Good King Sauerkraut looked out, on his feets uneven...") For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, which includes my daughter and perhaps my wife, too bad. But do deck your halls with boughs of jolly.

As the holidays approach with what seems like the speed of an onrushing train, I guess I should update the blog. On Thursday Tam called me at work, to say that Sarah was at the school nurse's, complaining of a headache and running a temperature, and since Tam was preparing for a Friday office move (cleverly timed for just before Christmas!) she needed me to pick up Sarah. Needless to say I did my Daddy-ly duty and did so, though it complicated my attempts to wrap up things I wanted to finish before the weekend. Also, as I normally have Fridays off, I was the one who had to take Sarah to the doctor's on Friday. I did so, but it meant that for about the fourth Friday straight various duties relating to house or family got in the way of getting any work done.

Adding to the complication was the fact that my father-in-law and his companion Marge, who were planning to visit at Christmas along with my sister-in-law, called last week to say that Marge was down with a bad case of flu, and, given their age and the trials of travel (they were connecting through O'Hare on Christmas eve and my father-in-law is an octogenarian; I haven't been through O'Hare at Christmas since the TSA intensified security, but I'd be hesitant even at my age), they felt it wiser not to come. Sarah is disappointed her grandpa won't be coming, but she's eager to see her Aunt Kate, who is coming. So it will be four of us rather than six this Christmas.

Needless to say, the house isn't ready yet (it's the Saturday before Christmas), but there are presents under the tree, and we're making some progress on the house and other stuff.

Since we haven't gotten around to a Christmas letter for several years now, this blog is our replacement; we're trying to let as many relatives as possible know about it. If you're new to this blog, for some reason for those reading it in Firefox, the links and categories have been shoved down to the bottom of the page for a while now, because the earlier posts run across the page for no known reason. It displays properly in Internet Explorer, which I hate; I hope it will straighten out soon. Blogger is free and easy to use but notoriously doesn't have very good tech support: hey, it's free.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Tree is Up

I've been fairly absent here lately, mostly because of the approach of the holidays. On the weekend, when I normally might find time for a bit of blogging, we were busy with holiday preparations. On Saturday Sarah had a birthday party for a friend at a place where the kids can paint clay pottery; then immediately after we went to the Middle East Institute's holiday gathering at the President's home; she was gracious enough to invite kids so Sarah attended, along with a colleague's son who's close to her age.

Sunday was tree day. The photo shown here may be a bit askew composition-wise, but that's because it was taken by Sarah. I took over 30 minutes of video which is going to take some processing before I can put it on YouTube due to their limitations on length.

We got a somewhat smaller tree than in past years at Sarah's request, so she could reach more of it to hang decorations.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas is Coming, the Goose is Getting Fat ...

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, which is not, of course, all that good news if you're the parent of a 7 and a half year old. Though there's still a certain demeanor to be enforced by the "Santa's Watching" warning, it's getting close to the holiday and there is a proliferation of stuff to do.

I'm proud to edit The Middle East Journal, first founded over 60 years ago. But back sometime in 1946, when they decided to launch in January 1947, presumably back then, in the days of mailed-in galleys and hot lead typesetting, they no doubt closed the issue to appear in January well before Christmas. But in our age of galleys in .pdf and in-house typesetting and layout, we tend to get really weird deadlines. This year it's January 2. Oh, I can change it, but I want to keep us on schedule and other things are backed up behind it. So there's a lot of work to do just when everybody else is getting to slack off for a bit.

Add to that all the parties. Tuesday night was Sarah's school Christmas pageant, in which the second graders (making their First Communion this year) and the eighth graders (their "sacramental partners" to help them prepare) sang Christmas carols together. It's on the YouTube site. I'm also trying to prepare some DVDs for the family, and of course there's Christmas shopping. Oh yes, and the plumber's coming tomorrow, and we've got to replace the furnace in January. (Not like we had to spend any money on presents or anything, of course.) Saturday we have both a birthday party for one of Sarah's friends from school, and our Middle East Institute Christmas party (also, they say, possibly a winter storm). Oh, did I mention I'm on deadline?

And, of course, there's always Sarah's anticipation. She's excited and therefore hyper.

I know Christmas is stressful for many people, but I must confess it's fun to do it with a seven year old.

Monday, December 10, 2007


I think we may be reaching the point where there are doubts about Santa. We've never sought to outright lie to Sarah, when she asks, making instead vague comments about the idea of Santa, or the spirit of Santa. I think the Catholic school's emphadsis on the historical Saint Nicholas has raised questions too, since Sarah asked Tam the other day if Santa was a ghost.

One of the gifts she wanted from Santa this year was an elaborate construction and water thing called a hydrodynamic something or other. It was age 10 and above (had both an electrical pump and water involved) and was also ninety bucks. She said she hoped Santa could make one that was smaller, less messy, and for her age. Well, it happens that there is a "beginners'" version, but it's sold out well into the new year. I tried to suggest maybe she should settle for something less, just some construction stuff, until the water version became available. At first she argued that Santa's elves could build one to order, but when I suggested Santa worked better with existing products, she didn't blink.

I know that I, personally, figured the whole thing out a lot earlier than I admitted to. (I mean, come on, you get stuff from your folks and from Santa. If you admit you know about Santa, you could cut your take in half.) (And I was smart enough to notice that as we left for midnight mass on Christmas eve, either my Mom or my Dad found reasons to be a long time in the house while I sat in the car with the other parent. Amazingly, when we got home from midnight mass, Santa had already made his deliveries. We don't do it quite that way with Sarah, but I don't think she's significantly denser than I was. I also think she's as calculating as I was. I also assume she's not reading this blog; though she reads pretty well now, I don't think she can log on by herself.

Anyway, I want to write more about Christmas in the 1950s. After all, some of us are getting older, though not at Christmastime, of course. I hope that if I write more, we'll be able to record some memories that someday Sarah will find rewarding.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

If You Have Trouble Viewing the Blog

...If you're using Firefox, I'm trying to figure out why it's displaying wrong. It still looks right in Internet Explorer. Sometime after I put the Pearl Harbor video up, the stuff that normally appears along the right side: the picture, the categories, and the archive -- all migrated down the page. They are now down at the bottom if you scroll down. I'm trying to figure out if anything changed in the commands or layout, but I haven't found it yet. Like I say it looks okay in Internet Explorer. But Firefox on both my laptop and desktop display it weird.

I'll continue trying to figure this out and may contact Blogger, but don't know what the solution is at the moment. Meanwhile, you'll have to scroll down for the links, archies, etc.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Something's Wrong

My Pearl Harbor post has messed up the blog: I'm making another post to see if it fixes it.l I fit doesn't I may kill the PH post.

Still trying to figure out why when viewed in Firefox the blog appears with all the right-column stuff down at the bottom. It appears normal in Internet Explorer. I'll try to figure this out as I prefer Firefox myself.

Day of Infamy: Remembering Pearl Harbor 66 Years On

It's December 7. It's time to remember Pearl Harbor. Though the Post had an article today, I haven't seen anything much on the TV news. December 7 just doesn't stick in our heads the way it did for our parents' generation. I'm not trying to bash Japan, but my generation was the heir to the generation that never forgot Pearl Harbor. For them, it was rather like the Kennedy assassination for me, or 9/11 for all of us. This isn't my video: it's one from YouTube. The Roosevelt speech is here in full, but some of the graphics may be a bit propagandistic.

Nevertheless, I've always felt that Pearl Harbor was a profound lesson in intelligence failure. I've read a lot on the subject; have a pretty full library in fact. I'm not a conspiracy theorist on it: I've always thought Roberta Wohlstetter explained it best with her "signal" versus "noise" explanation of how intelligence failures happen: as they did again at 9/11. After the fact, Monday-morning quarterbacking, it's a lot easier to see what was coming, or "connect the dots" as we say these days. I wrote a little about this in The Estimate after 9/11, referencing Pearl Harbor, in this article. And, of course, Pearl Harbor began for the US its role in the greatest war in history, one that China had already been in for years and Europe for a couple of years as well. I always tell Sarah that China had the longest war of World War II. Her home town of Changde suffered terribly, including from biological warfare, but never fell to the Japanese.

And, much as I hate to refer to the television of the newspaper world, USA Today, this article reminds us of the dwindling number of those who remember Pearl Harbor in the most direct way.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

First Snow

Yesterday (December 5) we got our first snow of the season. Not much -- two or three inches at most, not sticking to the roads since temps were in the 30s -- but school still opened two hours late this morning due to worries about ice. Sarah had a lot of fun last night playing in the snow with neighbors. I stayed home yesterday, not because of the snow (though it's always a nuisance here where people drive like it's dry) but for a mental health day.

Thinking of snow reminds me of a page on our longstanding website, showing Sarah's first snow. From, based on the text, sometime in January 2002, when she was only about 21 months old. It's been online so long that I don't feel it violates her privacy; she doesn't look like this anymore anyway, and I'm sure it's been archived by various web search engines. So I'll link to it.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The National Gallery Trip

Tam has posted her thoughts on Philadelphia below, and if you haven't seen that yet, please do. I hope she starts posting more.

Yesterday we had planned to go to the National Gallery of Art for the J.M.W. Turner exhibit -- the biggest exhibit of Turner's work ever shown in the US -- since Turner is a favorite of Tam's. I like him too. Sarah likes to paint and says she likes art but we hadn't gotten her to a real art museum yet. We had a blowup -- she wanted to go back to the Marine Corps museum, which we'll do in time -- but eventually we got there. Pics of Sarah are available on our picture site, though she went reluctantly at first. She tolerated Turner and even declared some of it beautiful, but wasn't prepared to explore the rest of the gallery. Much as she likes art, during our Philadelphia visit one outdoor sculpture provoked the remark, "Eewww, they're naked!!" which probably means the more art galleries we visit, the more she'll notice this...

Later we went to see Enchanted, which I would highly recommend except that, since it's been the biggest grossing movie for two weekends straight, I guess I don't have to. The Disney folks do know how to market. But I'll never be able to watch Snow White again without thinking of the rats, pigeons and cockroaches all working together (while the heroine sings) to clean a New York apartment.

One more comment on Disney. Those of you with no preteens in the house probably don't know who "Hannah Montana" is: she's a Disney channel teen star played by the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus, oddly enough, but the Hannah Montana concert in DC sold out in eleven minutes even though it's in the biggest arena in town, the Verizon center. It sold out faster than Bruce Springsteen.

If Disney ever wants to take over the country, they can probably do it. Oh, sorry. I guess they already have.

Tam's impressions of Philadelphia

Well hello! Yes, it's been a while since I last wrote. But I just wanted to add my own brief impressions of our wonderful trip to Philadelphia, and if time permits, offer another life-saver recipe that Sarah loves.

All in all, I thought we ended up visiting Philly at just the right time. Gorgeous fall foliage was still on the trees, and on the ground, we enjoyed a beautiful drive into downtown Philly on Saturday morning along the Schuylkilll River, the hills were just covered with golden-laden leaves, and the ground was covered with them, too. The air was very crisp and clear, cold but invigorating. I had forgotten how lovely and stimulating the autumn is in the north. (I regard Philly as the North, whereas I live in northern Virginia, to me, the South). That ride alone, to me, was worth the trip.

Even as Fall still surrounded Philly, though, Christmas holiday signs of cheer were everywhere as well. Driving in the dark on Friday night, to our hotel (Hampton Inn) in King of Prussia, along highway 676, on our right the houses went right down to the Schuylkill River's edge, and their outlines of the roofs, windows and doors facing the water had all been festooned with white Christmas lights. Just stunning. I was so glad we were able to see that!

The downtown streets were decorated with Christmas street lights and wreaths. I felt good all weekend, being in Philly. I liked the surroundings, yes, it is a gritty town, but I really like the sense of "realness" the comes across in interactions with the Philadelphians. There's no, or at least very little, pretense. (Unlike in Washington.) Philly is this magnificent mix of history, intellectual life (there seem to innumerable colleges, universities, special schools and academies, etc.), down to earth city life, and rich cultural activities. A very wooing blend to me.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Philadelphia Story: Some More Details

Okay, it's already Wednesday. This is typical of the front-loaded work week. We got back, exhausted, Sunday night, as noted. Saturday had already had only a short posting. Monday and Tuesday, catch-up. First time to recap some of the Philadelphia trip, that would be now.

We hadn't had a serious trip out of town, I don't think, since our vacation in August. We, as a family, don't handle that well. We need to get away. And if we do the same old places -- Shenandoah Valley, Solomon's Island, etc. -- at least Mom and I get less and less return. We like to show Sarah new places, new things. As I've noted earlier, she herself chose a city over country for the Thanksgiving trip; New York being beyond our reach in three days, we chose Philly. So far as I can tell, it was a great success, though being seven, she is still unwilling to say so in so many words.

I already blogged day one pretty well. And the pictures on our private sites ought to tell a lot more of the story. The huge hits of day one were the Italian food at the Reading Terminal Market, and the (rather cold) horse-and-buggy ride. We got the Liberty Bell in too, but she claimed it didn't look like it did in National Treasure, which as I've noted was our main way of persuading her to go to Philadelphia in the first place.

Day two we started at Independence Hall. (You have to get timed tickets and we were too late the day before.) I think she was impressed, though she often doesn't admit to it. The guide was a good one, and when he asked who came from outside the United States we urged Sarah to tell him she came from China but was now from Virginia. She did.

The whole afternoon was spent at the Franklin Institute, the great science museum in Philly. Tam had wanted a better lunch but we ended up in the museum cafeteria. But Sarah really got into the museum. Videos on our site.

One interesting discovery we made lately: because we are members of the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore, we can get in, free of charge, at a consortium of science museums all over the country. So far we've gotten in free at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond, the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton, I think the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, and now the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. A great deal. Join your local science museum. Even if we don't go back to Baltimore all year, we've saved enough in other cities to make it worth our annual membership.

By the time she'd exhausted much of the Franklin Institute it was time to head back to the hotel. We at at a nice Italian restaurant (Bertolini's, which also has restaurants in Las Vegas and Indianapolis [!?!] in King of Prussia Mall, a huge, up-market shopping center.)

The third day started at Valley Forge where, as I've noted before, my/Sarah's ancestor William Martin spent that rough winter in '77. Then we made our way home trying to avoid I-95, rather successfully. In fact we zigged and zagged over back roads and alternatives and probably added an hour to the trip (turns out I-95 wasn't all that backed up) but also giving us a sense of outsmarting the traffic.

More as time permits.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Philadelphia Story

The weekend was, I think, a great success. We're still tired, my feet hurt for no visible reason, and tonight is a crash night to try to finish a book report Sarah has due tomorrow, so the rundown on Philadelphia may have to wait. Or I'll do it later. Be patient, please.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Philadelphia Day 3: Valley Forge and Home

We're home, but we're pretty wasted. I'll post more later, but the pics and videos are up for those who can see them. By the time we got home we were really out of it. So suffice it to say the high point of today was Valley Forge, and the rest will follow later.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Philadelphia Trip, Day 2

Exhausted. This will be short with follow-up later. Started the day at Independence Hall, then to the Franklin Institute. Sarah very eager, very engaged, very tiring. My feet ached from early afternoon on. A good, full day, but one I'm too tired to blog much about, at least tonight. So here's a pic to hold you, and I'll update later. Pics and some video are in the usual places.

Oh yes, the budget is pretty much blown.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Philadelphia Trip, Day 1

Okay, we made it. We're here. For background see the last few days' postings. We actually got a fairly early start: out of the driveway at 9:30. (I know, you hunters and other early risers will be derisive, but we've got a 7 year old.) Only one gas stop and one potty stop, so we rolled into Philadelphia before 1:00. Even before we left the Interstate Sarah was looking at the skyline (Washington doesn't allow tall buildings lest they conflict with the monuments), the rivers, the Navy Yard, New Jersey (I am not making this up) and announced she'd like to live here. "Do they have schools here?"

We spent the afternoon downtown. Ate lunch at the Reading Terminal Market, as planned, and Sarah had long announced her desire for Italian. She had a huge spaghetti with two big meatballs, Tam had lasagna and I had a sausage sandwich. You could feel the arteries clogging, but it was great food and cost no more than a regular lunch at a DC museum.

Then, because we went online too late to book ahead for Independence Hall, we went to see if any tickets were available for the next day. They said come back tomorrow morning. Since it was already 2:30 we decided to save the Franklin Institute for another day, and see some stuff around Independence Hall. Sarah begged to go on a horse-and-buggy ride, though it was bitter cold. She said she'd never ridden in a carriage. She's done so at least twice in Lexington, Virginia, and probably at least once somewhere else, but we yielded. When that was over the driver tried to take our picture and dropped our camera, knocking the batteries out and lenscap off, but leaving it apparently working, though the date reset backward by a month and I don't have the manual with me.

We then went and took some pictures of the Liberty Bell, and those with Sarah can be found on our usual sites. Mao is rolling over in his grave.

We then visited the site of Ben Franklin's home, took the subway back to the car, and headed for our hotel, out in the suburbs (in King of Prussia, near Valley Forge). We ate at a chain Lone Star Steak House (Sarah's choice) with Mom getting to choose tomorrow night. Photos and a video are up. Next report tomorrow night.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving 2007.

The Turkey, originally uploaded by michaelcollinsdunn.

Here's the Turkey. A very Happy Thanksgiving to all our friends and relatives. We've recorded a message -- both video and audio -- which is on our private sites but is also being E-mailed to those whose current E-mails we have. The online version is higher quality than the E-mail version. A quiet, at-home Thanksgiving, but with us planning to show Sarah Philadelphia starting tomorrow. The rest from Tam:

Happy Thanksgiving from the cook! or cooks, more properly: Sarah helped by snapping the green beans, mixing, seasoning and tasting the stuffing, and stirring the mashed potatoes. Everything turned out well, although I'm really tired now! I hope we get a good night's sleep in store for Philly tomorrow. Maybe next year we will just order a meal to be picked up. It's a lot of work if you don't do it for more than a couple times a year.

Mike again: one update. If you're on our E-mail list you should have received a better link than the (really bad) E-mailed video. I posted it on an unlinked page of our website.

Tomorrow, we're off to Philadelphia. Conversation tonight with Sarah (a bedtime question of course, which all parents will recognize as an attempt not to go to sleep just yet if we can keep the conversation going):

Sarah: What will Philadelphia be like?

Me: Well, it's a big city, it...

Sarah: It has a lot of history?

Me: Yes, a lot of history, and it...

Sarah: And it's important because they made a movie there! [Again referring to National Treasure, noted previously as a favorite.]

Me: Well, yes, but a lot of that movie was here in Washington, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the FBI, the ...

Sarah: Don't forget New York!

Anyplace is more interesting than Washington. Must be. She lives here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Liberty, Independence, Cheesesteaks

We're going to Philadelphia. A Thanksgiving day at home, then on Friday we head to Philly. We'll stay there a couple of nights, coming back Sunday, though I know that's a terrible day to travel. Maybe we'll go back roads.

Sarah knows Virginia and Maryland well. She loves Baltimore, does well in Richmond and Norfolk, but her experience of cities north of the Mason-Dixon line is limited to smaller places like Gettysburg, Lancaster, and York. We asked if she'd like a small city/country trip or a big city and she promptly said big city. We said, great, let's go to Philadelphia and she said no, let's go to New York. I dearly hope to show her New York in the coming year, but it ain't possible on a Thanksgiving holiday when we're having Thanksgiving at home, unless you do something like my insane friend Marty Berglas and I did back in about 1970ish when my Dad was in Washington: we drove him to New York, showed him everything on a Sunday, but only got out of the car for lunch. It was a "that's the United Nations, that's the Empire State Building, we'll drive through Central Park.." sort of thing. Lunch was Katz's Deli on the Lower East Side. (If you've never been to New York, most people will recognize Katz's Deli from the "I'll have what she's having" scene in "When Harry Met Sally.") (If you have been to New York and don't know Katz's deli, I can't help you.) My Dad's entire experience of New York in his life was limited to one Sunday, and we drove back to DC that night. We were young and crazy. But my Dad at least saw the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and I guess (I think they were built by then) the World Trade Center Towers. I'm too old to do that stuff anymore, and Sarah deserves better. (So did my Dad, but neither he nor I had the money then.) But then, back to Philadelphia.

I noted in the previous post that Sarah likes the movie "National Treasure." It's hard to describe the film if you haven't seen it since it involves stealing the Declaration of Independence to find the lost treasure of the Knights Templars and stuff even less probable than that, if possible, but it's filmed in real historical sites including Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, etc. So she's seen a lot of central Philly (including things like Reading Terminal Market, which ought to be good for lunch). (Other parts of the movie are set in DC and New York, and she's seen most of the DC sites and we're getting her ready for the Big Apple.) To me, Sarah is insisting she thinks Philadelphia will be boring, but Tam informed me that it was all she could talk about on the way to school this morning. (Tam drops her off; I pick her up.) And we're explaining good Italian food, good pizza, and soft pretzels and, of course, cheesesteaks. (I still think if John Kerry had not asked for Swiss Cheese instead of Cheese Whiz on his cheeseteak, he might be President today. It certainly doomed him in Philly.)

Anyway I will of course blog the trip, post photos and videos. We'll be staying in the suburbs at King of Prussia (great name for a town, I've always thought, especially in Philadelphia), near Valley Forge, another place I hope we can show Sarah. She had a great-great-great-great-great-grandfather -- William Martin of the Virginia Line -- who spent that winter of 1777 -- just 230 years ago this winter -- with the army there. It always moved me at Valley Forge even before I learned I had an ancestor there. I have his comments on it in his pension application and should dig those out. (They aren't a major contribution: something like "he well remembers the winter at Valley Forge and the hardships there" He was a Virginian who after the war moved first to Georgia and then to Tennessee, so I'd imagine he had more colorful things to say about the winter at Valley Forge, at least the temperature, in person.)

I think Sarah's eager, but doing the usual 7 year old feigning of boredom since it's Daddy's idea. We'll see.

We're also promoting the Franklin Institute and the Archaeology Museum at Penn, but if I can just get her to the Liberty Bell I'll be happy. But then, she's at an age to first resist, then love. The Marine Corps Museum she didn't want to visit, then didn't want to leave. Ditto with many other adventures. I'm sure Philadelphia will captivate her.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

More Travel Nostalgia

I've written about travel before the era of the Interstates and the cookie-cutter food and motel chains before, in dealing with the impact a 1958 trip throughout the West, when I was 10 and a half, had on me.

No need to repeat what I've said there. But even on a short excursion down to Quantico today we got into a discussion of places Sarah still needs to see. She hasn't seen New York. Or even Philadelphia. Of course, I didn't see these places till I was in college, but I grew up in the Midwest. Sarah had traveled farther at the age of 15 months than I ever did until I was a mature adult, but of course she didn't remember it. I well recall standing in the aisle with her as we approached the coast of California on the Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles: I saw the coastline suddenly in view through the window and sat her in the seat and said, "Sarah, that's your new country, your first view of your new country." She pointed straight up at the reading light, which was on, and burbled. She didn't look out the window at all: the light was prettier than the California coast. Not long after that, she pulled my glasses out of my pocket and dropped them on the floor. This knocked a lens out, which eventually, I lost, and had to buy a new set of progressive lenses for about $600. So don't try to be overly romantic about showing a baby the California coast.

But it's different now. She may pretend boredom because it's someplace Dad and Mom want her to see, but often she becomes engaged once she gets there. She's a fan of the movie "National Treasure," a rather improbable story but one filmed in real historic sites, and it helped get her to the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, and will, I think, help when we get to Philadelphia and New York.

All of which reminds me that there was a time I hadn't been to any of those places. I didn't cross the Mississippi till sometime around (I think) 1961 when we took a trip to St. Louis and decided to go on to Springfield, Illinois. Out of that came a lifelong fascination with Lincoln, and at least indirectly my involvement in genealogy (I'll tell that story separately), but even so I never got east of Springfield, Illinois, until I went to college.

That sounds strange today, when everybody travels so much. I committed to four years of college in a city I'd never visited. I didn't do interviews at Georgetown, and didn't visit the campus. Similarly. when in 1972 I set out for Cairo for a year, in a country where the US had no diplomatic relations at the time, my only foreign travel had been to Montreal and a couple of other Canadian locales, and one Mexican border town. Okay, let's go live in the third world without a US Embassy.

Looking back, it seems strange, maybe even a little brave, though I survived and flourished, obviously. But it is also a reminder of how things change. Sarah's world is different. The Internet makes it so much easier to know the rest of the world, to talk to people there, to learn.

More on this anon. It's too late to keep going right now. But I want to talk more about travel in my youth and in Sarah's.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

They Grow Up So Fast

Just yesterday she was in diapers, and now she's handling automatic weapons...Not really, not quite anyway, so don't call child protective services just yet. (And for the usual privacy reasons I'm using a picture that doesn't give a good view of her face. Though this is the first time it's been obscured by an M-16.) Today, at the National Museum of the United States Marine Corps, opened last year at Quantico, I asked Sarah if she wanted me to try the laser simulator firing range, thinking she'd be amused at her Dad's inability to hit the broadside of a barn. She said no, but she'd like to try it. I asked the attendant what the lower age limit was, assuming that it would be older than seven, but heck, this is the Marines, no political correctness here, can't start 'em too young. So, with considerable help from the attendant (not in uniform but his demeanor, haircut and handling of the weapon make me think he's an off-duty Marine), Sarah set out to shoot. (And I lectured her about what to do if she ever sees a real weapon: call an adult, don't touch it, etc.) While it's not firing live rounds but is equipped with a laser, it seemed otherwise to be a full-sized M-16; she obviously couldn't shoulder it: as you can see she has the barrel resting on a brace, is actually holding one hand on the magazine, not on the barrel stock, and for whatever reason she's got her left hand on the trigger, though she writes and does other things right-handed. The attendant is steadying the shoulder stock and helping her aim. And, lacking a real round, the simulator lacked the kick of a real M-16 (though I've seen simulators that can reproduce that, too.)

Be afraid...be very afraid. Her results are at left. One bullseye. All but one of 10 clustered in the inner rings. One on the outside. Heck, that one would only have wounded you. The others would probably be lethal. Now, I'll admit, the attendant helped by aiming the stock as she pointed the weapon, and he let her shoot more than ten shots to get ten on the target, but one of those is a bulls-eye. And she's a right-hander shooting left-handed, here!

True, she had help, and he definitely wanted her to do well, but I can't do that well and today I didn't even try. I knew she had good eyesight. She can put a pattern on target pretty well as well.

Okay, I won't worry as much when she's out on dates as a teenager, provided she's packing. This is Virginia, after all, where the legislature would like to require everybody in the state to conceal carry, but has yielded to northern Virginia to merely permit everyone to, not require them to.

They do grow up so fast.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

I'm Baaaackkk....

Or at least I think I'm back. It's Friday night and we went to a party so I'm posting quite late, actually I guess it's now Saturday morning. Anyway, I hope to get this going on a more regular basis. I look at our archive on the right side of this page and note the number of posts: June 19, July 21, August 17, September 9, October 8, November (so far) 2. June was a partial blogging month, but otherwise it's been going down ever since the start.

There are reasons. "I've been busy" is the most important. I don't blog from work is another, though of course I surf the web from work and otherwise use the Internet. Maybe I'm too scrupulous, but I don't want to do personal blogging on company time. Mostly, it's been my busiest time of year, our Annual Conference and other things. I think you'll see more from me in the next few days, inshallah.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Remember Me?

How do the prolific bloggers do it? All I can figure is that they don't have a) two jobs, b) a seven-year-old or c) 60 years under their belts. I'm going to get back into this this weekend, and I really will. I mean it. I do.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Trying to Get Back to Normal

The past week has seen the Middle East Institute's annual banquet and conference, the Board of Governors' meeting, and on Thursday, my Board of Advsiory Editors' meeting. Though I had Friday off we took Sarah to the doctor and I was sufficiently exshuasted to feel like I needed one myself. The coming week should be much less stressful and with luck, I'll be back to posting more often.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Angel on the Frightful Night

(The angel herself wrote the title above.) Happy Halloween. In keeping with my blog policy we don't show Sarah's face on the blog, except when she was a baby, for her privacy and safety, but you see her at left as a trick-or-treating angel, out there among the witches and such. Our family and friends have previously been invited to join our secure sites at Flickr (for stills) and YouTube for videos, where you'll get the full record, but few have. The invitation is open.

For the second year in a row, Sarah was an angel, though perhaps I should note that this is a halloween costume, and not always a description of her behavior. Tonight, she insisted that we keep trick-or-treating until her plastic pumpkin (yes, it's a pink, not an orange, pumpkin) was full. We hit the local streets, mostly people who know her and think she's darling. The angel outfit no doubt helped add to the image.

Earlier in the day both Tam and I were able to take time off work to see her school's halloween parade. Pics of that are on the Flickr and YouTube sites. When I went to pick her up at school, she was still in her angel costume, on the monkey bars on the school playground. (Sorry, since I wasn't expecting this, I didn't have a camera with me.) Having visions of the costume being destroyed before trick-or-treating I tried to get her home quickly.

Real conversation:

Me: What did you do in your class halloween party?

Sarah: We had relay races.

Me: Relay races?

Sarah: Yes, we wrapped up Adam as a mummy. Four people were mummies.

Me: Mummies?

Sarah: Yes. We wrapped them in toilet paper. Good thing it hadn't been used.

Yes, obviously, though I'm still far from clear what they did during their halloween party.

While trick-or-treating, as I noted earlier, she announced she wanted to fill the pumpkin to the brim. It wasn't quite to the brim, but as this photo shows, it was a pretty good haul of loot.

Oh, yes, if you wonder where I've been, it's been the Middle East Institute's 61st Annual Conference. That link already has the audio and will eventually have transcripts and stuff if you're really interested. Banquet Monday, conference all day Tuesday, my Board meets tomorrow. Craziest week of the year for me,and this year halloween was right in the middle.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Some Follow-ups

Okay, I should add a few comments to the last post. I don't think Sarah asked if I knew how to make a nuclear weapon because all the other kids are bringing them to school, and my honest answer was not just "no". I said that I understood the general principles of building a nuclear weapon but had neither the engineering skills, the machine shop or the fissionable materials to do so. And, [any homeland security folks reading this please note] I clearly noted, I had no desire to have one. (Well, no more than the next guy who gets cut off in traffic.) I didn't say it in those words exactly, but then Sarah has often said to me, "Dad, when I ask you a question, I want a short answer." Therefore I did not discuss the pros and cons of an implosion weapon versus a gun-type weapon (Fat Man vs. Little Boy, Nagasaki vs. Hiroshima) or the differences between highly enriched uranium, plutonium, and various thermonuclear and other enhanced options. Okay? Department of Homeland Security, I am not teaching my seven year old to build a nuclear weapon. I don't know how. Okay? And even if Sarah builds one, she won't be allowed to take it to school. Not even for Show and Tell day.

On my posting on my Mom's death, several relatives commented kindly when I e-mailed them the post, but nobody has yet commented at the site. I guess none of my relatives know how to post to a blog. Okay.

Sarah is going to be doing her first communion next spring, and I have a photo of my Mom at her first communion, and several of me at mine, and maybe we'll post these as the time approaches. I want to give her a sense of continuity through time.

That's it for now. I'm trying to race to keep up.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Has second grade changed a lot since my day?

Asked by Sarah, at Mount Vernon, in a very public place:

"Dad, do you know how to make a nuclear weapon?"

Umm, no?

Mount Vernon for Harvest Days

"George Washington", originally uploaded by michaelcollinsdunn.

Harvest Days today at Mount Vernon; Sarah enjoyed the pioneer farm stuff. Fairly decent George impersonator shown in the picture.

Sarah spent quite a long time petting two ponies; she also watched avidly as a group played 18th century instruments and as volunteers demonstrated the making and spinning of flax. Though she will insist when asked (by me) that she finds history boring, she's in fact getting more and more interested. She also watched the end of the presentation by the impersonator shown above. (Tam asked if he would run in 2008.)

The time spent with the ponies suggests we're moving into horse-loving age, I guess. My digestive tract was acting up so I wasn't enjoying things as much as Sarah was. It was the first visit in a while that she didn't spend most of in the kid's activity room doing hands-on archaeology. We have been annual members at Mount Vernon which saves a lot of money, and it's close enough to allow us to get down there fairly often. There was also a hay maze which she talked about as we looked for it but was disappointed in (not enough bales high, so she could see to solve it: no real puzzle). The animals and activities she liked; there were also wagon rides we didn't take, river cruises at a discount (she's still in her "remember the Titanic" mode about boats, unfortunately, despite there being remarkably few icebergs in the Potomac this time of year).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Unfinished Business

Okay, I'm not posting often. I said I'd post more about my Mom, about our anniversary, about Sarah's second grade experiences, about turning 60. Except for the latter (I've decided to do a Jack Benny and scale back to 39) (Daddy, who was Jack Benny? None of my friends' parents' know either?), I actually will do so soon. We're two weeks out from my job's big annual conference, I'm behind on bills, taxes, and probably breathing, and so I'll get to it when I get to it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Remembering my Mother, I

My mother, Sarah Agnes Jones Dunn, died 41 years ago today on October 9, 1966. I was only 19. She was only 54, six years younger than I am now. If she had lived, she'd now be 95.

Those four sentences provide the major facts. I could write a book about my mother. I may someday. In fact, I think over the days to come I'll try to blog a bit about her, and what her death meant to my life. Maybe not tonight -- it's late, I'm tired -- but I wanted to note something on the day itself.

Her name was Sarah Agnes. She always said she preferred Sarah to Agnes, joking that "in movies and on TV, Agnes is usually the name of the mule." But her family -- everybody, sisters, brothers, even my Dad -- always called her Agnes or Ag. (I think she disliked Ag even more than Agnes.) Once, when I was in high school and she was starting to look for a job to help out financially now that I was old enough to be on my own during the day, I answered the phone and someone asked for Sarah Dunn and I told them they had the wrong number. My mother was furious; she feared it was a possible job offer. I was innocently ignorant: I knew somehow that her name was Sarah Agnes but I'd never heard her called that.

I hope she's aware of the fact that my daughter is named Sarah, not Agnes. Just as Sarah is named for her grandmother, my mother was almost certainly named for her grandmother, Sarah Fitzpatrick Cleary, shown in the second photo here. If you look at the two photos, this one and the one above (I'm the kid if you haven't figured that out yet), I think you'll see a clear family resemblance in the eyes, eybrows, nose, and facial structure.

It was traumatic, of course, to lose my mother when I was 19; it seems impossible that it can have been 41 years. But it also gave me an early lesson in the uncertainties and foul balls life can throw at you. My Dad lived another 10 years after that, but by the time I was in my late 20s I was without my parents, an orphan at 28. Not alone in the world: I had and still have valued relatives, aunts and uncles then, cousins now. I owe them a great deal. If my Aunt Kathleen Landis had not left me a comfortable bequest, the Chinese adoption would not have been affordable.

Sarah Grace Dunn has an interesting pedigree, even if not a genetic one. The Sarah Fitzpatrick Cleary on the right was born in Ireland (either Leix or Tipperary, there are conflicting reports); Sarah Agnes Jones Dunn was born in Galena, Kansas, and my Sarah was born in Changde, Hunan, but they alternate generations by passing down the name. Her middle name, Grace, comes from Tam's great aunt, a powerful figure in her family apparently. I'll let her tell that story. I'll tell more of my Mom's in coming days.

Miss you, Mama, even now. More later.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

An October Update

If anyone is actually reading this, even occasionally, it will be fairly obvious that I haven't been very active as a blogger. And Tam barely posts at all. Consider it a result of our jobs, an overwhelming backlog of other stuff to do (including clean house) Sarah's demands, etc. etc. I keep planning to come back and reflect more on my 60th birthday, or Tam and my 14th wedding anniversary, or Sarah's early weeks in the second grade. But E-mail unanswered, bills unpaid, and just being more TIRED than I used to be, tend to deter spending time at the keyboard.

At one point we thought we'd visit Tam's dad in Colorado Springs this fall. Now that looks more likely in the spring, but he and his friend/companion Marge are planning to visit us again at Christmas. There just isn't enough time to get things done.

Same with the blog. My biweekly newsletter, which began in 1989, went into hiatus earlier this year and needs to be brought back, this time in an electronic incarnations. But I still have much to do to bring that incarnation about.. The information revolution makes it easier to deliver information quickly, but also makes the infrastructure more difficult to put in place.

I've also been helping a neighbor get computer literate for his kids. It's a reminder that while half of the country is on Facebook or Myspace, the other half is still trying to figure out how to get online, or how to boot their computer.

I'm not the only person with a blog (I have two actually, the other being The Estimate's blog) who never has time to post. Forgive me and stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

14th Wedding Anniversary

I haven't written much lately because of the press of other duties, but today (or really yesterday as I'm posting after midnight) was our 14th wedding anniversary. I had known Tam for a decade before we got married, and our original marriage date was the year before, but finally, on October 2, 1993, we did it. It's too late to post a lot about it now, but Tam has expressed a desire to record some of her memories and I'll probably do the same, in coming days.

Anyway we went out to eat at Clyde's. Sarah had been balking a bit but liked it in the end. More to come, I hope.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Comments, RSS Feeds

It's possible that nobody's reading this blog, though some of my relatives have told me they have checked it out. One aspect of blogging that some of you may not be familiar with is the ability to comment on a posting, to tell me how brilliant I am or (hypothetically of course) to disagree with me. Until now I've had "moderated" comments, which means I have to look at it before it appears online. Not a single comment yet. So I'm dropping the moderated part. If some spam computer gets this address it may fill the comments with spam, and I'll have to rethink whether to moderate or not. But for now, all you need to do is click on "comments" at the bottom of the posting, write what you want, and it will appear. It's one way to turn this into a conversation.

Some of you may be familiar with RSS feeds, which lets you tell a program (your browser may have the capability, Google offers it, etc.) to post headlines of new postings on your favorite blogs. Thus you can learn if I've posted anything new without actually going to the blog (new postings on your favorite blogs can all appear on one page if you like), and get a teaser headline at least. Yea, even this humble blog can do an RSS feed: just go down to the bottom of the page where it says "Subscribe to Posts (Atom)" [which is not, I'll admit, intuitively clear in its purpose] and click on it. You'll need to have some kind of RSS reader but I think most browsers can do it now (I know Firefox can) as well as various things free from Google and Yahoo.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Fine Young Lady

I want to praise my daughter. I complain about her enough, whenever she's bad, or won't listen, or runs wild. So when she does something great I want to praise her.

One of my oldest friends, Chris Eccel, whom I've known since 1977 in Cairo, is passing through town. He's just back from Damascus, is retiring from the Foreign Service, and after heading home to Wyoming and Utah he's moving to Hawaii. Along with another old Cairo hand, Mike Albin, long the Library of Congress' man for the Middle East book-buying trade, we met at a Vietnamese restaurant (Minh's: my first time, highly recommended) in Arlington. We couldn't get a baby-sitter so Sarah came along.

She behaved perfectly. Read her books, ate her dinner (brought from home, except she ordered dessert there), didn't interrupt but talked to the grownups when they talked to her.

Not only did Chris and Mike compliment her, but a stranger from the next table came over to remark on how well-behaved she was.

Daddy's real proud of his big girl tonight.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Israeli raid

This blog is for family, not for our business stuff. But some folks might find my comments on the recent Israeli raid in Syria of interest. It also gives you the link to my Estimate blog.

Once again, a busy week

As is often the case I just can't blog during the week. This was the next to last week before the Autumn issue of The Middle East Journal goes to press, and by the time I get home I'm tired and ready to read, rather than write. Now that it's Friday there's a window of opportunity. Hopefully the weekend will generate something worth writing about. Stay tuned.

Besides, what do you expect from a geezer past 60?

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Big Six O: Let's Drop Churchill's Name

Okay, I'm 60 today. Tonight's going to be a quiet one at home; it's a school night. We went out for a nice Thai meal last night.

My thought for the day: Winston Churchill turned 60 in 1934. He was a has-been, a political outcast. So 60's hardly the end. Not that I expect to be called upon to save civilization, exactly. But there's still a lot to be done.

On the other hand, besides that saving Western Civilization thing, Churchill was a great writer and speaker and able to consume incredible quantities of brandy while smoking cigars constantly and, predictably, it killed him by the time he was in his mid-90s. You sort of have to admire that. Not emulate it: most of us wouldn't last so long.

It is said that when Roosevelt and Churchill were preparing to meet Ibn Saud on the Suez Canal in Egypt, Ibn Saud sent word that his religion forbade there to be any smoking or drinking in his presence, and Churchill allegedly replied along the lines that his religion required him to drink brandy and smoke cigars throughout the day and at every meal. For all my own personal respect for Muslim mores when in a Muslim environment, I really like that story nonetheless.

Churchill was, of course, politically incorrect in many ways (Gandhi was "a half-naked fakir" and "I did not become His Majesty's Chief Minister to preside over the dissolution of the British Empire") but when it came to the back-to-the-wall moment, he had what was needed. And then, after he'd saved Britain and the war was won, he was repudiated at the polls, and democrat that he was ("the worst form of government except for all the others"), he went home. Not that he then happily supported Attlee ("a modest man with much to be modest about") or anything.

Anyone who cut their history-of-World War II-teeth on Churchill's memoirs, by the way, needs to read David Reynolds' In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War, possibly the best book I've ever seen about how a major work of (history? memoir? self-creation?) was written. The Amazon link is for the hardover but the paper is apparently due out in November. A good read, and an illuminating one.

Churchill never wrote history quite like anybody else did. It was either memoir (even his multi-volume The World Crisis about World War I was a memoir encased in a narrative of the rest of the war) or a personal story (his Marlborough was, like his biography of his father, about an ancestor and hardly objective. It's still the best book on the subject. Even the juvenile stuff is well written. (I first read The River War, about the Sudan campaign and Omdurman, in high school, but even then was impressed with the prose.) And of course, he deliberately did not call The Second World War "A History of the Second World War" because it was his own view, the second world war as seen by Winnie. (And, by the way, he made "The Second World War" canonical even though we Yanks may still say "World War II"more often.) UPDATE: Someone might object, I suppose, that his History of the English-Speaking Peoples is not a personal history. But if you'll note that Australians, Canadians, and (especially) Indians and Nigerians and other darker English-speaking peoples don't get much space, I think it is pretty clear that in Winston's view, the whole history of the English-speaking peoples was aimed at producing Great Britain and the United States, and perhaps someday culminating in a British Prime Minister with an American mother ... (This last comment was added Sept. 28.)

Okay, enough. Churchill was a 19th century man in so many ways, particularly in his imperial views and his comfortable use of "the English race" and even (what...?) "the American race"; his History of the English Speaking Peoples slights India, the most populous English-speaking nation then and now. But I'm still glad we (all of us English speaking peoples, and the rest as well) had him when we needed him.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Reflections on Turning 60. SIXTY?

Monday I turn 60. How did that happen? Isn't 60 supposed to be old? Oh, sure, I don't feel 20 anymore. (Thank God.) But sixty? Bear in mind my mother died at 56, my father at 65, so the genes aren't all that reassuring, though except for fairly typical stuff for an overweight guy (high cholesterol, high blood pressure, both controlled by medication), I don't have any major health challenges.

Oh, I know, calendars are artificial. In the Muslim calendar (354-day years) I'd be nearly 62. The Chinese consider you one on the day you're born, I'm told. The Babylonians counted by twelves. And the Biblical threescore years and ten was a long time ago in a pre-medical society. Other rationalizations are welcome in the comments section. And while my parents didn't live to ripe old ages, some of their siblings/cousins etc. did, so there may be some good recessive genes in there somewhere.

I am, however, turning 60 on a Monday. That is never a good omen. It's a Monday.

I'm posting the first version of this Friday night, but intend to add to it over the weekend. So watch this space.

Sunday, September 16. It's been two days so perhaps I should have made this a separate post. But it's on the same subject. Sixty years old is one of those landmarks that is, as I noted earlier, mostly numerical. I married at 46, became a father at 53, so everything has been a little behind schedule for me. My cousin Linda, only about three weeks older than I, is a grandmother several times over, with a grandson older than my daughter. Further complicating the family tree is the fact that Linda's mother, Dorothy Hendricks, was a daughter of the eldest of 12 kids in a big Irish family and my mother was the youngest. Dorothy's older sister, Mildred, was born before my Mom, yet my Mom was her aunt,because of the 25 years between her father and my Mom in the same group of siblings. [And in the first version I posted I got this backwards myself. It confuses everybody.] Dorothy was six years younger than my Mom (who was her aunt), but only that, and their kids were born almost at the same time in 1947. We aren't the only weird genealogy tree of course, but it's hard to explain sometimes. Sarah's cousin Daniel, who's a few months older than she, and his sisters, who are younger, is actually (doing this in my head, anyway) Sarah's second cousin, twice removed.

Back to me, the newly created geezer. As I noted, my parents died close to this age. But I also listen to my doctors, and even (sometimes) take their advice. On both sides of my family the men who died young generally died of heart attacks, and heart disease is more treatable than ever in this country. Still, I have the problems: high cholesterol and high blood pressure, though I'm treated for both.

Sixty as a Landmark. I suppose 60 is also one of those "benchmark" moments in your life, though I'm not sure that most of the benchmarks have been that great for me. I turned 18 literally two or three days before leaving for college in September 1965, and one of the key things I had to do (emphasis on the "had") was register for the draft. My draft card stayed with me (you weren't allowed to leave home without it basically) till the draft ended, but even then I think we had to keep them for years until, finally, it was discarded, unwept, unhonored, and unsung. (But also, please note, unburnt.) If you have no idea what I'm talking about, say a brief prayer of thanks and move on.

I have no memory of my 20th birthday in 1967; at that age (especially then, when you couldn't vote till 21), the 21st was more important. The memories are vague but I think I had the 21st birthday at home before returning to school, but am uncertain.

I turned 25 in Cairo. I think I went out to a good restaurant with flatmates and other friends, but the memories are vague.

I also turned 30 overseas, this time in London, en route to Cairo. I think I celebrated alone in some good restaurant (I was staying in a friend's flat off Kensington High Street, but the friend was in Scotland or Spain or some other place) and possibly one or more pubs. Probably one or more pubs. Almost certainly one or more pubs. Which may be why the memories are vague.

I would have turned 35 in 1982 and have no idea what I did. I'd have been in Washington, but can't place it in context right now, though it was half my threescore years and ten. I turned 40 in 1987, and went out with a large group of friends to a local Greek place.. That I do remember.

Tam and I tried to remember my turning 50; we'd have been married and it would have been 1997, but like much of our memory as you get closer to what we might call the Parenthood Horizon, the memories start to fade. (Possibly we took a trip somewhere.) 55 is totally unmemorable because Sarah was two and a half and all consciousness was dissolved into parenthood.

I'm sure these won't be my last reflections on turning 60. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Where I've Been (Partly)

If anybody's reading this (still not clear to me), one reason I've been so quiet is I've been working on getting my newsletter, The Estimate, back up in a new electronic form after a months-long hiatus. I've got a now-active blog going on, and am trying to get a mailing ready. More when I can come up for air.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Still Here

It's been nearly a week. Sorry. More soon.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Labor Day Weekend

Saturday of Labor Day weekend was spent with very old friends visiting town. More soon.

I keep slipping and referring to this as Memorial Day. I think this is mainly because it doesn't seem possible that the summer is gone already. What happened? Wasn't it just April?

Friday, August 31, 2007

Fashion Tips

More coming soon, but meanwhile I need to record for posterity a conversation when I picked up Sarah from school tonight. I was wearing a new pair of shoes I bought last weekend.

Sarah: Are those your new shoes?

Me: Yes, they are.

Sarah: Awesome. Really cool. But Dad, can I tell you something?

Me: Sure.

Sarah: Can I give you a fashion tip?

Me: Okay.

Sarah: They really don't go with that shirt.

Me: Well, maybe not. But I was just trying to come and get you from school.

Sarah: I can give you some fashion tips later on.

Me: It may already be too late for me.

Sarah really does have a sense of fashion and style that is pretty alien to both Tam and myself. She has a sense of color and arrangement and what goes with what that seems to be innate. I don't record this conversation to make fun of her at all: I'm sure the shoes didn't go with the shirt. (I'm not sure I've ever thought of whether my shoes went with my shirt, to tell you the truth. I don't always stop to think whether the shoes even go with the socks.) I never own more than about four pairs of shoes at a time anyway. Dress, loafers, sneakers, maybe one other comfortable pair. Who needs more? I'm not Imelda Marcos. (Of course, nobody remembers Imelda now anyway, so I'm probably showing my age again.)

But at seven, Sarah really has a sense of style. I'll be 60 in 17 days. I'm still waiting for mine to develop.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Still Alive...

It's the old story: you come back from vacation and find tons of stuff waiting for you. In my capacity as Editor of The Middle East Journal, I found that in seven days, eight manuscripts had been submitted. Each author expects an expedited assessment through peer review of his/her manuscript. Also in the first two days there were two general meetings of department heads, a problem with my car (replaced battery, hopefully solved it), and of course the first day of second grade. I hope to post more shortly. There's still much to say about the vacation, not to mention some family history stuff. But right now I'm still playing catchup.

Monday, August 27, 2007

First Day of Second Grade

I'll catch up on my blogging soon. Meanwhile I just wanted to note for the record the first day of second grade. It was nowhere near as momentous as the first day of first grade. I managed to get four photos which are up at Flickr, but several times when I asked Sarah "Do you want me to take a picture" she just said "no". We also were asked to drop them outside, not accompany them inside as last year, and even before we got to the door of the school Sarah announced she was going on in and headed off away from us, the big second grader totally in control. She's an old hand at this now. No big deal, so don't make a big deal of it.

China doesn't seem that long ago to me...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Back Home

Vacation's over. We came back yesterday (Saturday) since Sarah starts second grade tomorrow. It was good to get away, good to have a week with family, but between the pinkeye (Tam and I both may have relapses) and the cold or allergies or whatever I had affecting my nasal passages and causing me to cough (which worsens my hernia), it wasn't as relaxing as it might have been. The heat on Friday also got the better of us, and plans to do a kids' museum in Porsmouth, VA before leaving Saturday got canceled when Tam got pinkeye again, since we didn't want to infect other kids on the eve of school starting. Sarah extracted a promise that we'll do something special to make it up to her. We ended up seeing a movie to keep cool in the afternoon, hardly the ideal thing to do when on vacation. ("Mr. Bean's Holiday," the only thing G-rated at the theater near our hotel, which was, well, not quite as bad as I expected. I've never been a great Rowan Atkinson fan.)

I'll have more on Jamestown at some point.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Jamestown Again

Dig at Jamestown Fort, originally uploaded by michaelcollinsdunn.

Earlier this summer on a trip to Richmond we stopped on the way back to see Jamestown Settlement, the State of Virginia-run reconstruction of Jamestown, an Indian village, and the three ships that came over. We didn't have time on that trip to stop at the original site, now called Historic Jamestowne, run by the National Park Service and the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. Both sites had had remakes for the 400th anniversary this year (the Queen's visit and all that), a huge new museum at Jamestown Settlement and a new visitor center at Historic Jamestowne, along with the new archaeology museum (the "Archaearium") which had opened just before we were down here last summer.

As I explained elsewhere, I'm a bit of a Jamestown buff, and blogged earlier about the 400th and some personal connections. I wanted to see the new visitor's center but also catch up on the dig itself, where they're excavating the original 1607 fort, originally thought lost under the James.

We got to see the new stuff, but the heat was considerable and the Jamestown settlement was, of course, founded in a swamp. Sarah melted down quickly and I wasn't far behind. I do recommend both the new Visitor's Center and the Archaearium, and as always, I recommend that anyone visiting Jamestown do both the federal and state sites: one is for the archaeology and original site, the other a superb reconstruction and interpretaiton. You should see both.

Tam and I both prefer both Jamestown sites to Williamsburg, and they cost less, too.

I'll blog more on the day later. It was too hot to do too much outside, so we ate lunch (there is a Williamsburg MacDonalds), and retreated to a movie.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Day at the Beach

Virginia Beach, originally uploaded by michaelcollinsdunn.

I'll post more at some point. Today we simply let Sarah have her day at Virginia Beach. Mostly running into the surf and laughing hysterically, plus building a sand castle.Took a while to get all the sand off. More at another time.

Day to Regroup

The vacation, as previous posts may have indicated, has not been completely smooth. Yesterday was the first really by-the-book, as-planned day. Today (Wednesday, August 22, though this post will go up after midnight), at midweek, we took a down day, to get our act together, rest and recover. Tam and Sarah got haircuts, I did a laundry, Tam and Sarah spent quite a bit of time in the hotel pool, and Tam and I crashed for maybe a two hour nap in the afternoon while Sarah watched cartoons on TV. We ate at an old-fashioned hot dog joint in Newport News for lunch (Gus's Hot Dog King) and at a great, small, mom-and-pop Italian restaurant tucked into a shopping mall (Mamma Lina's) for dinner. [UPDATE: We went back for pizza our last night in Newport News.] Sarah liked it so much she asked if we could make them honorary members of our family. I'll blog about them instead. A guy dressed as a chef came out and asked if everything was okay in a sort of New York/Italian accent; Sarah asked if he was the chef and he said, "I'm the chef, the pizza guy, the manager and the owner." I guess that means he's also Mamma Lina, but we didn't ask. [UPDATE: Later I saw a review saying Mamma Lina's son runs the place now so I guess that's him.] Very good Italian food for a shopping mall. We may go back before we leave. Sarah still wants them to be honorary family members.

I know I've blogged more on weekend trips to Baltimore than I have on this week-long vacation. Mostly it's because we've been feeling poorly. We all started with pinkeye; Tam and I have some kind of coughing/nose running/eye itching thing that could be allergies, a summer cold, or a low-grade bug of some sort. I've also got diarrhea. I have an untreated hernia (I won't burden you with the details right now, but it'll be fixed soon I hope), and everytime I cough I pull bits and pieces of my abdomen apart, and it hurts.

Okay, enough about my intestines and such. We're doing okay, though the first couple of days were a washout and there've been a couple of bad thunderstorms while we've been here. The hotel pool at least, is indoors; pics of Sarah's increasing prowess at swimming are on the YouTube site. We haven't actually been at a beach yet though we did see the ocean yesterday. Tam and I like the open, bare beach at Cape Henry in Fort Story at the First Landing Site, where the Jamestown colonists erected their first cross and where one of the country's oldest lighthouses still stands, but Sarah says she wants an urban beach, so we'll go to Virginia Beach tomorrow and re-visit the Virginia Aquarium so she can pet the stingrays some more. It amazes me that she loves it so much; when younger at most touch tanks/petting zoos etc., she insisted Tam or I do the actual touching while she watched. And the stingrays are amazingly friendly for creatures not as far evolved as sharks: they seem to like being touched, stick their noses (if that's the right term) out of the water and flap their wings against the side of the tank.

Sarah wants one as a pet, but for that, I think, we can cite the laws to say we can't do it.

More tomorrow.

UPDATE: Belatedly it occurs to me I should record for the record where we're staying: it's here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Much Better Day

Above, a carrier -- not sure which one -- at Naval Station Norfolk, the world's largest navy base. I think it's standing out to sea, as earlier in the day it seemed to be docked. Your naval intelligence report of the day. We were stuck in traffic at the Hampton Roads tunnel approaches. If you don't know this area, it's very military intensive (if you're a hostile, you might say target rich): besides the world's biggest naval base, there's the Newport News Shipbuilding, which actually builds the carriers and other major combatants; Oceana Naval Air Station, which hosts the air groups from the carriers among other things; Langley Air Force Base, which hosts F-22s and once trained the Mercury astronauts; a Marine base at Little Creek; the Army's Fort Eustis and the soon to be decomissioned Fort Monroe (where you can still see Jeff Davis' prison cell); Fort Story; probably some others I'm not thinking of. And the CIA's famous if not acknowledged training camp known as "the Farm" is somewhere between Yorktown and Williamsburg, I think. Today we saw a lot of Navy F/A-18s flying out of Oceana.

This is technically day four of our vacation, though I've called yesterday "Day 2" on our Flickr/YouTube files because Saturday, our first day, wasn't vacation at all, but a hellish day on the road, eight hours to go a three hour distance. So I'm calling it day three. Call it denial.

In some ways it was day one. It's the first day things went pretty smoothly, without either outright battles with Sarah, trouble with the hotel, or traffic problems. It actually worked well. It may be tomorrow before I can log more of what's been going on, but today went well. Pics are already at Flickr and YouTube, but of those we've invited not many have joined.

Meanwhile, till I have time (hopefully tomorrow) to blog more, here's what we've done so far:

Sunday, August 19: Virginia Living Museum, in Newport News, followed by the Virginia Air and Space Museum, in Hampton.

Monday, August 20: Nauticus in Norfolk.

Tuesday: August 21: The new Monitor Center at the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, followed by the Virignia Aquarium in Virginia Beach. Details soon. Pics already up.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Coming Up for Air

Okay, last Friday I said we'd be blogging regularly from the road. That was 72 hours ago. It's been a somewhat rough beginning, and I don't think I can give the full blow-by-blow. As I noted, we all had pinkeye to one degree or another when we started. Tam and I were suffereing from what we thought were bad allergies but which I now think is/are either summer colds or sinus infections. We've been feellng lousy most of the trip. In addition, an untreated hernia I've been putting off the surgery for has been giving me trouble, especially since I tried to push something for Sarah at a museum yesterday. So nobody's been feeling good, me least of all.

And that, oddly enough, is the good news. The trip down on Saturday was horrendous. We left fairly early (about 10:30, which with a seven year old is up with the chickens when you have to make sure you have everything you need). It shouldn't take more than three to, at the most, four hours to get here from home. After three hours we weren't even at Fredericksburg, 50 miles south of home. We were starting to feel like the Union Army of the Potomac, which took four years to make it the 110 miles to Richmond. I-95 was moving at a snail's pace. The radio kept saying there were no obstacles, though we later heard there'd been a bad truck accident somewhere. We bailed to US 1, the old road, but so had everyone else. Finally I decided to strike out for the territories, driving on back roads clear over to the Bristow/Nokesville area, then south, then across on Route 17. We'd hoped to get down here in time to do at least one sight before checking in. We hit the motel at 6 pm, nearly 8 hours after leaving.

Okay. Sarah loves the indoor pool at this hotel, and had a great time there. Then I fired up the laptop and checked my bank account. Instead of deducting a week's stay on my debit card (I was trying not to dip into credit but to use money set aside for the trip) I found the hotel had posted the charge twice. Long story short, I got several different explanations but not until this morning (Monday: we checked in Saturday) did I get this rectified.

So we've had money and traffic hassles, aren't feeling well, and Sarah has been pretty obstreperous for much of the trip, sassing back more than usual and arguing with everything we say. So I haven't felt much like blogging up to now. We've seen some things and had some fun, and I will post details soon.

But so far, not the relaxing escape I needed.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Family that Has Pinkeye Together...

Friday evening. Tomorrow morning, we leave on vacation. This morning, I woke up with an inflamed left eye. Two days ago, Tam did the same. As I mentioned a few posts ago, Sarah had pinkeye (conjunctivitis) last week. Guess who's got it this week? Right both times. One thing about being a parent of a grade-schooler as you approach 60 is the opportunity to get any childhood diseases you may have missed the first time around. (Actually I probably didn't miss it; I know I had to take eyedrops from time to time for something; I'm just not remembering pinkeye specifically. [How clearly do you remember the late Truman and early Eisenhower Administrations, you young whippernappers?!] And I had mumps and measles and chickenpox and stuff that Sarah is thankfully vaccinated against. But anyway, here I am on the eve of my vacation with a childhood disease. And Tam too. Sarah, of course, is fully recovered.)

Sarah's pediatrician told her not to go into a pool when she had it, since that is a prime place to spread it. The doctor Tam saw told her not to go in the water for two days. My doctor said, oh no, the pool's fine, the chlorine will kill the bacteria instantly. Ah, the certainties of 21st century medicine.

Our major concern is not having it go back to Sarah, so we're telling her not to touch our faces, and we're washing our hands a lot. So's she.

We'll be blogging our vacation unless the laptop gives out (it's six years old, bought before we went to China), and we'll also be putting stuff on Flickr and YouTube as we can.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Vacation's coming and we're swamped. As usual, to take a week off you have to work twice as hard the week before. Standby for vacation blogging, and don't expect much before that.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

County Fair!

The Fair, originally uploaded by michaelcollinsdunn.

Tam and I, being Midwesterners, have always wanted to make sure that Sarah, despite her urban East Coast upbringing, understands the rest of America as well. So we try to take in such things as county fairs, complete with blue-ribbon pigs and prize pies. Today we went to the Prince William County (VA) Fair, just south of Manassas, VA. It's one of the better ones in the area that still has an agricultural side to it. Pic of the Midway above. If you have access to our Flickr and YouTube family accounts you'll be able to see more pics of Sarah enjoying it.

Some observations: A county fair that is ride-intensive can be pretty expensive. Now that Sarah's over 6 and I'm not yet 60 (only about a one-year window) everybody has to pay $7 a head to get in. Only $21. But tickets are $1 each and most rides require three or four tickets, whereas for $20 you can get a ride-all-day wristband. I bought wristbands for both Sarah and Tam since often Sarah wants one of us with her on the ride. So before we'd done anything we'd managed to spend $61. Then, of course, there are the games: the sort of thing where for anywhere from $2 to $5 you can win your kid a poorly made stuffed animal worth maybe $1 max. And of course, the food. One of the stands was actually called "Fry City": I guess they're not even trying to pretend to be healthy. Actually Tam and I ate at a stand from one of the better barbecue joints, Dixie Bones of Woodbridge, VA. (As those who've been following us online for awhile will recall, we take barbecue seriously. See our The Search for Barbecue pages for more on this.) Anyway, by the time you've bought this stuff plus ice cream and popcorn etc., a mere county fair makes you wonder why we cringe at the idea of King's Dominion or Hersheypark, which tend to charge $80 to $90 to get in. but may be higher class on the rides, most of which are included.

Anyway we visited the animals, both the petting zoo (Tam and I are both having bad allergies tonight, Tam especially, perhaps because of the petting zoo), and the competition animals, and Sarah enjoyed looking at all the crafts, cakes, knitting, embroidery, and other competitions. She is shown in some of the pics and video doing this.

I think we all had a very good day. We did some Wal-Mart shopping after, so it was also an expensive day, but got us out of the city.

More later, perhaps.