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, February 24, 2009

Boombox and Musical Progress

I still haven't posted on the last day of our Shenandoah Valley trip, now nearly 10 days ago. I will, but wanted to add a few notes that I don't want to forget.

We stopped at the Wal-Mart in Staunton, VA for a few necessities and because we don't have one near us. Our "few necessities" managed to ratchet up to $141, but the take was worth it.

Our Family Room stereo's five-CD changer is getting sticky even with multiple cleanings, so we looked at CD players. Sarah fell in love with a modernistic shaped boombox that plays both CDs and MP3 players, and it was only $30 so we bought it for her. [Update: For about five days this post has said "it was only $30m so we bought if for her. I would like to clarify -- especially to friends and relatives who might want a loan -- that it was not in fact $30 million, but only $30. The "m" was a typo. We love Sarah, but we will never see $30 million. If we did, the boombox would be on a yacht or a Learjet. That is all.]

Now I've been downloading MP3s of songs she asks for (mostly from Disney Channel or Nickolodeon programs: has Disney become the mysterious master of us all?

So at the Staunton Wal-Mart we got Sarah a boombox. Of her own. That she can use in her room, and that takes earphones when she's in company.

I'm delighted, though, that she likes some of the songs I like. She likes Tennessee Ernie Ford's "16 Tons," and she likes "Yellow Rose of Texas," and Alabama's "Song of the South," and Horton's "Battle of New Orleans." Also "Country Roads." She also likes some at least of the early Rock I've been playing, giving at least a moderate thumb up to Chuck Berry doing "Johnny B. Goode."

It may be the greatest triumph since she started to like chili.

Mardi Gras: Happy Fat Tuesday

It's fat tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnival. I still have a lot of posts to catch up on, but meanwhile a happy last day of debauchery before the onset of Lent. UPDATE: Sarah made a Mardi Gras mask and got beads today. Since her face is not revealed, I'm posting it here.

Outside of New Orleans Mardi Gras doesn't have much hold in this country; maybe a tad in Savannah and in some Spanish communities, but the idea is a good one: we're about to fast for weeks and give up the pleasures of the flesh, so let's indulge them all for a day or a week or whatever. (Actually, lent ain't what it used to be and only the most devout try to fast, but is that any reason not to party?)

Oddly enough, Mardi Gras is pretty much a Catholic thing, though others will join in. Protestants just don't seem to get into the spirit of the thing (for one thing they never did Lent; for another, the Puritan streak doesn't approve of the partying). Catholics -- at least Mediterranean Catholics and their descendants abroad -- seem to still cling to the understanding that repentance is rather empty if you haven't sinned a bit. Before you put on the sackcloth and ashes, party down, dude. Our Orthodox brethren usually start lent on a Monday and their lent makes even the pre-Vatican II version seem hedonistic: they don't eat eggs, fish, cheese, and lots of other stuff (basically if I have it right, all animal products) on most days. I've never heard of an Orthodox Mardi Gras. I think the Greeks have the national panache (though there's probably a better word in Greek) to pull it off if they decided to.

When I say Mardi Gras is a Catholic thing I don't (of course) mean an Irish Catholic thing. It's found in warmer Mediterranean cultures where it's easier to take off most of your clothes in February and March, and where the women drink like the men. An old friend (Portuguese speaking American) once described Carnival in Salvador, Brazil to me. Sounded wilder than Rio or New Orleans, but he was young then. But if you don't have a Lent, how can you appreciate a raucous, orgiastic blowout before it starts?

I've heard that Mardi Gras in New Orleans has gotten pretty tacky at times (usually involving girls lifting their tee-shirts to get more beads), but I'm not sure if that differs much from Rio where (it being summer down there) a lot of clothing doesn't seem to be necessary in the parade. And let's face it, even in non-Mardi Gras seasons, the French Quarter was not exactly Cotton Mather country.

There's an essay waiting here about the differences between Latin Catholicism -- French (New Orleans), Italian, Portuguese (Rio) -- and, say, Irish and Spanish Catholicism have such different attitudes towards such things as Carnival/Mardi Gras. Another time. Begging my Irish ancestors' pardon, I'd rather be Creole on Mardi Gras.

Happy carnival, happy Fat Tuesday. Indulge yourself. Eat, drink and make merry [and yes, I heard the "make Mary" joke before most of you were born], for tomorrow is Lent.

More on other subjects shortly.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More on the Weekend: Day Two

It's harder and harder to find time for the family blog when we're not on the road, since I'm also blogging for work now and obviously, despite massively different subjects, the task is somewhat similar.

I already blogged a little about Saturday of the three-day weekend. Sunday we headed down to Lexington, VA, one of my favorite little towns. Lexington is a fairly small town, but Mecca isn't the biggest city in Saudi Arabia, either. Lexington is the burial place of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Lee's horse Traveler, Jackson's horse Little Sorrel (whose skin is also mounted in the VMI museum), the library/museum of George C. Marshall, and two fine universities: Washington and Lee and VMI.

Now, it just so happens that two of my real heroes are George Marshall and Stonewall Jackson. Lee is another member of the Virginia pantheon, though I've never been as admiring of him. Still, Lexington is a little town with a huge amount of Virginia mythology burned into it.

We also stopped at the Virginia Horse Center since Tam and Sarah are both horse people, and watched a bit of a small competition and then wandered through the stables. ("Don't step in the brown stuff," Sarah noted -- always, I think, a good rule in any context --) I'm no horse expert, basically knowing there's a pretty end and an unpleasant end and you don't step in the brown stuff -- and that I haven't ridden one in so many years I can't remember where the brakes are -- but I also like to indulge my horsey ladies.

Dinner that night was at an Italian place in Waynesboro -- Scotto's -- and that was day two of the three-day weekend. I'll do day three tomorrow or soon.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Days Two and Three

I'm going to have to post about days two and three of the President's Day weekend trip in the next few days. It's now past midnight and tomorrow's a work day. Yesterday (now meaning Sunday as it's past midnight and thus Tuesday) was a good day in Lexington, VA with Stonewall Jackson stuff, today (Monday) a slow progression down the Valley with great scenery Video of Sarah swimming is up at TouTube; today's odyssey is currently a 30-minute film too long for TouTube, which we may package as a DVD for relatives.

More details when I can. Sleep needed.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day in the Valley

It's Valentine's Day and also the first day of the three-day President's Day Weekend, so we're off in the Shenandoah Valley, an area that has always been one of our favorite spots. Though we've been to Winchester recently, we hadn't been to the upper Valley (like the Nile, "upper" means south since the river flows northerly), so we decided to use the three-day weekend for a quick getaway. It's been a mild February, keeping our fingers crossed.

We're staying at a Hampton Inn we call "Sarah's old hotel," since it's one of her favorite places and has been since she was about two. It's located south of Fishersville, Va, between the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro, near the old Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church, one of the oldest congregations in the Valley, where early Scotch-Irish settled in the 1700s.

Tomorrow I think we're going down to Lexington, with its Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee associations. More later or tomorrow. Some video now going up on YouTube.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Day at the Beach: In FEBRUARY!!

Today, the weather hit somewhere past 60, and it was February 8. Only a few days ago the high was in the 20s, so this was an opportunity.

Since I started my work blog about 12 days ago, family blogging has suffered. I don't think that's permanent, but more like birth pangs of something new.

Today we spent time at Leesylvania State Park, a Virginia State Park, down the Potomac between Woodbridge and Dumries, Virginia, which has a little river beach along the estuary Potomac.

Yesterday, we went up to Leesburg, Virginia, ate at the Downtown Saloon (ex-Payne's Biker Bar: yes, I take my daughter to biker bars), visited the Loudon Museum, and then a place we'd never been before (it only opened to the public in 2005), George C. Marshall's home at
Dodona Manor
in Leesburg. I happen to be a big George Marshall fan: the only American general to win the Nobel Peace Prize, the guy whom nobody remembers but whom Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower all credited as the greatest leader of World War II (not a bad audience, that!) and Churchill (I think) called "the noblest Roman of them all." Marshall these days doesn't have a lot of groupies but I'm one of them. When we're in Lexington, VA we visit his library at VMI where I've been many times and even attended conferences, but I hadn't seen his hom ein Leesburg. Marshall ranks, I think, above Eisenhower or MacArthur in WWII for his remarkable skill as Chief of Staff, his willingness to forego commanding Overlord because Roosevelt decided he couldn't do without him in Washington (so Ike got to be President and he didn't), and most of all, his skill at running the war. Forrest Pogue's four-volume authorized biography (GCM was the only biggie of WWII who survived the war but didn't right memoirs, except Stalin) called its third volume "Organizer of Victory." I've said it before and I'll say it again: as the Army says, "Amateurs talk about strategy; professionals talk about logistics." GCM was actually a fine strategist, and managed to hold his own against Churchill, who was no mean strategist himself but had an obsessive fixation on the Mediterranean.

Oh, hell, you're not reading this for a eucomium to George C. Marshall.

We went to the beach, at Leesylvania as I noted earlier. It was great. Tam found several whorl shells. our videos are going up on YouTube as I speak. It was relaxing, a tremendous break from February, a foreshadowing of spring. We're all ready. Bring it on.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Happy Year of the Ox!

Happy Year of the Ox, y'all. It actually started Monday, but Chinese New Year's lasts 15 days till the Lantern Festival, and today was the parade in DC's rather small Chinatown. We went to the parade, ate at the Chinatown Fuddrucker's (Sarah likes their milkshakes), watched the parade, bought some souvenirs in Chinatown shops (mostly dragon related since Sarah was born in the Year of the Dragon and is big on dragons), and came home. Tonight we went out for Italian.

Today was a great day for the parade: low 50s, not a cloud in the sky. Some years it's been bitterly cold. Some years we haven't gone because Sarah didn't want to. She waxes hot and cold on how into her Chinese heritage she is, but we're in a hot period right now and she's really interested and wanted Chinese souvenirs. (She wanted expensive artwork, actually, but settled for stuff under $10, each, all with dragons.) More to come.