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.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day in Baltimore: Day 3

Okay, we're home. More will be blogged as I can. For the record today (Memorial Day May 26) included the National Aquarium (dolphin show, frog exhibit we hadn't seen before), the USS Torsk (another exhibit in the maritime museum of old ships, a WWII sub), and that was mostly it. More anon.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day in Baltimore: Day Two

USS Constellation, originally uploaded by michaelcollinsdunn.

This is kind of a placeholder post until I have a little more time as it's already 11:20 and Sarah's still up. Our second day of our three-day to Baltimore consisted of a quick lunch, then renewing our membership in the Science Museum (which is part of a consortium so our membership gets us in at museums anywhere outside of a 50 mile radius, which has gotten us in free at museums in Richmond, Hampton Roads, and Philadelphia (including the Franklin Institute), so it's worth it even if we only go to Baltimore once or twice next year.

We also visited the USS Constellation. A mainstay of the Inner Harbor, it's now interpreted as what it apparently is, an 1854 construction that was the last all-sail-only warship built by the Navy. For years it was interpreted as the 1794 frigate Constellation, one of the founding frigates of the US Navy and a sister ship of the Constitution (Old Ironsides). It's now being preserved as a pre-civil war vessel that saw antislavery and Civil War era duties. The reinterpretation some years back upset a lot of old Baltimoreans who were convinced they had one of the frigates of '94. The website is here. Wikipedia explains it here. There are still some hangers-on who insist she's at least partly the 1794 frigate, including this site which otherwise seems to be a comic book fancier. Unfortunately for the deadenders, the Navy and most historians now agree she's an 1854 build, maybe with a few timbers from her namesake.

Sarah particularly liked lounging in the seamens' hammocks, but did seem to enjoy the visit. At one point she said, "Dad, are you ready to go belowdecks?" Aye aye, cap'n. I think she'd heard me use the term.

Then we watched a comedian/juggler do a street performance at the Inner Harbor, which fascinated Sarah. We ate tonight at a restaurant called The Olive Tree near our hotel, instead of going back into Baltimore. Good Italian place, Sarah picked it, and way too much food. (Our hotel lacks a refrigerator in the room and we didn't have a cooler so we had to leave what we couldn't eat. Sad.)

More on today at some point I hope.

Memorial Day in Baltimore: Day One

Okay, it's not far. But for a three day weekend, there's something to be said for nearby locales, so you don't spend two of the three days on the road (Sarah's first choices were Williamsburg and New York, which wouldn't work for just those reasons) and also given the fact that gas now costs more than some cheap wines.

So as already noted we're spending the Memorial Day weekend in far away, exotic, Baltimore! For those of you not from this part of the country, it's about 55 miles from Washington and maybe 65 or 70 from our house. It's a day trip, but we always do the same stuff on the day trips, so we decided on a three-day. It helped that we had enough frequent traveler points with Hampton Inn/Hilton to stay two nights free if we stayed in the suburbs. So, while we could have gotten one night free in downtown Baltimore, we got the whole weekend free in Glen Burnie (It's A on the link) at a Hampton Inn that is literally built into a mall (the ground floor is shops). Maybe 20 minutes or less south of the Inner Harbor, so not bad. We could have gotten one night at the Inner Harbor, but the same points got us two nights in Glen Burnie.

More on this tomorrow; it's 12:30 and everyone else is asleep. We did three major things: Lunch at Lexington Market, since Sarah fell in love with urban markets at Reading Market in Philly last November, and then after that (she had spaghetti) we went to Fort McHenry. I need to blog at greater length about this since we stumbled into a special Memorial Day ceremony where we all helped bring down a full-size copy of the enormous flag that flew there when the Star Spangled Banner was written, and Sarah was one of four kids (the only girl) to help carry the flag to storage. Also she really got interested in the place more than on previous trips, and I want to write about this at greater length.

Then we went to our hotel, and after a period of relaxation back to Baltimore to eat in Little Italy. You may recall that last summer Sarah went wild about a restaurant in Little Italy, (now alas confirmed to be closed), but this time we ate at a small but great place called Caesar's Den, which, despite the tacky name, was very fine. Sarah had (surprise, surprise!) spaghetti and meatballs. I had gamberi arrabiati, shrimp in a spicy arrabiata sauce, and Tam had veal marsala. We aren't telling Sarah about those just yet. Meatballs are cheaper.

Two quotes I want to preserve before I forget, but then more on today tomorrow (if that makes any sense):

1. We stopped briefly to pick up some beer since in MD you have to buy it at liquor stores and I thought they'd be closed Sunday. Sarah said, "can you get me some licorice?" I didn't register why, but they didn't have any, and then she said, "why would a liquor store not have licorice?" Interesting question.

2. We saw a bunch of War of 1812 reenactors at Ft. McHenry. (I know, of all the wars to reenact... why the one in which we basically only one one land battle, New Orleans, and lost all those around here, getting the White House burned in the bargain?) I asked Sarah what she thought of the reenactors. She said the uniforms were silly: the hats (shakos? the tall cylindrical hats the US army wore in 1812 and still as late as some units in Mexico I think) in particular. "You should see what a British grenadier was wearing," I said. I'll try to link to photos or paintings of these later to make my point.

More on today tomorrow or, since it's late, I guess later today.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

At Long Last, a Weekend Away!

If you know us (and if you don't what are you doing here anyway?) you probably know that we can be homebodies for a while but not forever. We need to get away, not just on day trips but, if possible, on overnights, preferably once a month, to keep us happy; minimally once a quarter, to keep us sane. The last time we spent a night outside our house was Thanksgiving. It's Memorial Day. Winter and Spring have come and gone without a single overnight.

There are plenty of reasons. Deadlines, weather, sickness, gas prices. But yaaargggghhhYAARRGGHHEGEHHH! (Attempt at existential cry of anguish.) Hurry up please, it's time. We needed this badly.

I'm also pretty sure that this has something to do with the infrequency of blogging in fall and spring. I look at the posts list and it shows only 2 or 3 per month during January to March, while April and May have been much more lively. We need something to blog about, and work isn't it.

Okay, given the fact that we didn't get around to making plans till, well, today (actually Friday the 23rd: this got posted after midnight), the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, it is perhaps not surprising that our options were limited. Our usual places in the Shenandoah Valley were booked. Most of Pennsylvania (at least within 3-day weekend range) was too. We really wanted to save money by spending some Hampton Inn frequent traveler points, and the best options were southern Maryland or suburban Baltimore. Sarah at first countered with Williamsburg (too far: a day each way to get there on a three day weekend) and New York (same problem and even more so, plus who wants to go up 95 on Memorial Day?). She opted for Baltimore. We'll be staying in the suburbs (Glen Burnie, about 9 miles from Inner Harbor) but since she knows Baltimore entirely from day trips, this will give us an opportunity to see much more of the town. It's urban (I'd have preferred mountains) but does give us harbor/bay stuff and we'll be between Baltimore and Annapolis if we want some variety. And Sarah prefers urban: she says because she comes from a city in China.

Anyhow, more from Bawlmer, Murrland, over the next few days.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"This Needs More Chili"

Okay, I've already noted that one of the truly great moments of being a father, up there with the first time she said, "Daddy," or "You're the greatest Daddy in the world," or "Can you teach me to..." came recently when my daughter laughed hysterically at Night at the Opera, and thus fell in love with the Marx Brothers. But tonight, she said the words that I've waited seven years to hear: "This needs more chili."

I will explain in detail shortly, but this was a great moment!

Today will also mark my father's birthday, May 21. Had he lived he would have been 97 today. I can't conceive of him at that age, or at any age past his mid-60s when he died, but it always makes me remember him.

I believe I've mentioned Hard Times Cafe before. It's a local chili place Tam and I have gone to many times. In fact, we went to various Hard Times restaurants when dating, and on certain key moments in our life, including (though we didn't tell the relatives) our wedding night, when we took a cab (our car was hidden to avoid decorations). It was where we went after our miscarriage, but also one of the first if not the first places we took Sarah.

She's always liked it, but she always ate spaghetti with cheese, not chili. But she's been having some symptoms her doctor thinks may be lactose intolerance --a huge number of Asians develop lactose intolerance sometime in their life -- so she's off cheese, milk, and other dairy products (ice cream!) for two weeks at least. So tonight at Hard Times, she ordered a chiliburger, chili on the side. She loved it. When she said, "This needs more chili,"
I knew my daughter was growing up. Along with the Marx Brothers moment
and, of course, her first use of an assault weapon, I really think this ranks as one of the transformative moments.

She was, of course, weaned on one of the great chili parlors of history, Fred & Red's in Joplin, Missouri. For background, see here, and here and especially here, with the unnerving news that it may be sold (though so far as I can determine this hasn't yet happened.) (Fred & Red's does not have a website. In fact, it does not currently even have a telephone. It's always full, and reservations are not required.) It was once famous enough that model railroaders even have created a model of it in its earlier form. Sarah is at least the third generation in my family to have gone there. The photo above, taken in 2005, doesn't, I think, give enough detail of Sarah's face to invade her privacy today.

I'm pretty sure it's the greatest chili parlor in the world, and makes the second greatest chili (mine is first), but of course I'm biased.

So you can see why, "This needs more chili!," makes me proud.

The place started downtown somewhere in 1923, and in 1943 -- already an institution -- moved to its present location in the 1700 block of Main Street. Fred Herring founded it and at one time he had a partner named Grover. In the 1950s Fred and Grover had split, and Grover started his own place with a similar if not identical secret recipe. Loyalists went with either Fred or Grover; my family was a Fred's family. So were enough to mean Grover went out of business. Red Wilcoxson joined with Fred and it became, sometime in the 50s I think, Fred & Red's. Though they put aluminum siding on around the white-painted cinder blocks sometime in the 50s or 60s, they never made other changes. (They did go from paper-cone chili bowls to plastic sometime after the 60s, apparently because the state insisted for health reasons.) They are still making tamales with a press Fred acquired in the 1920s.

Fred, who was white-haired even when I was a grade-schooler, died long ago. Red ran the place through much of my adolescence, but also died some years back, and his son has owned it since, but is getting out of the business. It is truly a classic chili parlor, remarkably unchanged. The menu is what it was when I was a kid: chili, hamburgers, hot dogs (steamed in the old days and perhaps still), "spaghetti red" (chili with spaghetti, what in Cincinnati is called "chili mac"), and my own favorite, the tamale spread (tamales with chili over them). Other than the prices (naturally) and the aforementioned abandonment of paper cones, it has changed not at all since my childhood, though the neighborhood has: most of the neighboring stores are closed; the Piggly Wiggly next door is now a thrift store, and the area is somewhat depressed. But at lunchtime, last time I was there, you still had to stand and wait for a stool to come free. (The sites I linked to say there are either 22 or 23 stools: Must count next time I'm there.)

That reminds me, though, of the famous legend that no one can count the stones at Stonehenge twice and get the same number (a variant is that you can't measure them twice and get the same measurements). Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary you still hear this legend. Is it possible the 23rd seat at Fred and Red's is impossible to count? Is it a phantom seat? Fred's? Or Red's? (Or Grover's?) There's some sci-fi image I'm thinking of right now but I can't figure out at the moment what it is. (Ray Bradbury maybe? Anybody, add a comment?)

I note too that Red's son is trying to sell the place through a guy named Bob Garvin, certainly a son or grandson of the Burl M. Garvin who was a big Joplin realtor in my youth. The 50s are still making themselves felt into the new millennium, but I'm worried about Fred and Red's. It may be the canary in the coal mine. When it's gone, something fundamental will be lost.

Because This needs more chili.

And is there any one of us, or anything, of which that cannot be said?

One question I've always had, especially since the rest of the block has become full of parking lots and remnant stores: why not expand the place? This place could even be franchised! But part of its charm is its unchangeability.

I want to be there right now. I ate at Hard Times tonight, but Fred's is better.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Updates on Marx Brothers, the Poop on Caterpillar Poop

Updating the previous posts below.

Unable to find Duck Soup in our local Borders and Best Buy, I was however able to acquire the MGM set of Marx Brothers movies, which includes Day at the Races and many others, though not some of the greatest which they did for Paramount earlier. (Borders' computer said they had one set in stock of the Paramount films. But no one could find it.) Sarah has now watched all the MGM movies except Room Service, which I expect she'll watch tomorrow. She's loved them all, even the ones (like A Night in Casablanca) I consider substandard. Harpo is her favorite, but she's definitely a committed Marxist at this point. Although she (quite rightly) thinks the musical numbers and romantic stuff is an intrusion in the insanity, she actually asked me to be quiet during one of Harpo's harp solos. (Some of the racial stereotypes in several of the films -- mostly blacks but also Indians in Go West -- are rather embarrassing to modern sensibilities, but she doesn't seem to be picking up on it. So we're not commenting. There were some stereotyped Chinese in The Big Store but I don't think she even knew what they were supposed to be. That's one stereotype I don't want her seeing too much of.)

The caterpillar love continues. Each evening that it hasn't been pouring rain she's insisted on handling, playing with, and moving caterpillars. They fascinate her. She put some on the hood of my car and they promptly disappeared into the vent; we opened the hood but could not find them. I hope the car starts tomorrow.

There is some growing confusion over what she previously thought was caterpillar poop, and whether it might have been something else because now something else may be caterpillar poop, and what is the green stuff anyway, and so on... I've tried to help using the internet but you know "caterpillar poop" doesn't bring much up on Google and "caterpillar blood" brings up some highly scientific incomprehensible stuff. Anyone know what the green stuff is? She now thinks it may be caterpillar spit.

Now you know.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Eleven Months

I've been blogging 11 months on May 11; first post was June 11, 2007. I know I've been very sporadic: work is demanding and I make it a practice never to blog from work (I know myself too well); home is hectic too with Sarah being eight. But I'm still here, and in a month will have been here a year.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Vindication! Sarah Loves the Marx Brothers!

For every parent there must be that moment of vindication when you realize you have, indeed, raised your kid right, because they just won the Nobel Peace Prize, or were named Chief Justice, or won the Medal of Honor. Such high achievements are probably too much to expect from an eight year old (and only eight for couple of weeks at that), but something equally vindicating has occurred: my daughter has laughed herself silly watching A Night at the Opera and then asked to see it again.

Like most kids, she's generally been convinced that anything her parents want her to watch must be boring or educational or most likely both. Tonight after watching Lady and the Tramp, and not liking what was on TV, and with a half hour or so left before bedtime, we asked her to try something different and watch not a movie but a single scene: the stateroom scene from Night at the Opera.

[If you do not know A Night at the Opera drop whatever you are doing and go see it immediately. Rent it, buy it, order it online, download it to your Ipod, whatever. If you are not a Marx Brothers fan, please seek professional help immediately. Your loved ones will be grateful if you do.]

She laughed hysterically, even though she hadn't seen the first part of the movie. (Since the plot is pretty much irrelevant that's not really a disadvantage, though she still hasn't seen the "party of the first part" scene.)

You guessed it. Bedtime notwithstanding she insisted on watching the whole movie. And then made us replay the breakfast/bed scene (in a hotel room, you either know it or you don't) and laughed hysterically both the first and second times.

Tomorrow she can see the first part. And then we go out and buy Duck Soup, which I thought I might own but can't find anywhere.

By the way, she calls Harpo "Hobo." She knows better, but says she likes it better.

They grow up so fast.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Caterpillar Poop

Two words I never thought I'd use in a title: caterpillar poop.

This week has been the week of the tent caterpillars. They're all over. Our driveway, the sidewalks, the streets have caterpillars heading for wherever caterpillars head. The Washington Post has been on the story, here. Anyway, the kids in second grade have been very interested. Until yesterday and today, when we had a lot of rain, they've been examining the caterpillars on the playground, and walking Sarah home from school (literally around the corner) has taken a long time as she stops to watch the caterpillars, get them to crawl onto sticks, take them to places where they can find food, etc. There are several tents in our yard's big trees. These are apparently Easterrn Tent Caterpillars.

Things learned from my daughter which I may have known at her age but didn't recall:

If you squish one, green stuff comes out.

If you watch them eat, they get fatter as the food goes in.

Their poop is small and, I believe she said, triangular.

She asked if I'd ever seen caterpillar poop. I've done a lot in my 60 years, but I cannot recall ever looking at caterpillar poop.

"You didn't know caterpillars poop?"

"Well, they eat, they eat our leaves for example, and everything that eats poops, but I'd never actually thought about it..."

"Plants eat but they don't poop."

"Well, yes, but plants eat liquids from the soil, but I mean every animal that eats has to poop. I just don't think I ever thought about it with caterpillars."

And I hadn't. Not even with the really big caterpillar we videoed a while back.

Anyway, this was caterpillar week.

UPDATE: I started this post on Wednesday night and finished it Friday so the time stamp is a little misleading. The two days of rain were Thursday and Friday.