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.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas 2010

I imagine most of you reading this blog already are on our e-mail or Facebook lists, but for any who aren't, you can read our Christmas letter here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


I'll be blogging again over the holidays. It's just that we're so busy, occasional Facebook is all I've had time for.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Wired Family Room

I was talking about technology earlier. I looked up from my computer and saw the accompanying view: four screens on for a three-person family. The TV is presumably on for the dog. So I pulled out my phone (fifth screen) and took the picture. I put it immediately on Facebook but, for old times' sake, put it here as well.

A Farewell and a Reunion

Remember the movie The Big Chill? This weekend was something like that. One of my oldest friends, Bruce Carter, a friend since undergraduate days, died on Columbus day. Bruce, an avid athlete in great shape, died of a massive heart attack, totally unexpected, so it was a shock to those of us in a lot worse shape than he.

The memorial service was this weekend in his native Bristol, PA., north of Philadelphia. Many old friends, including some who live nearby but I never see and others farther afield, gathered to remember and tell stories. I told the story of how we once traded Bruce's dog for car repairs, a story I must record here sometime soon.

It was an emotional day, full of memories. And after many tales of long ago road trips, the drive up and back (though Tam drove) left us drained, so today is a crash day.

Sometimes when I remember the 1960s and 1970s, it seems pretty recent. Then I look up and see my daughter and her friend playing "Super Mario Strikers" on the Wii on a wide screen TVm and remember how fascinating "Pong" seemed when it was introduced. I love the resources technology makes available and the force multiplier effect, but sometimes I do feel my age.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Anniversary Weekend

This past weekend was our 17th wedding anniversary, and on Saturday we went over to St. Michaels, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay. Sarah hadn't seen the Eastern Shore before, and we had a good crabcake lunch and a wonderful day in the Bay air.

We were, however, sorry to see so many people out with their dogs; if Coco could tolerate the presence of other dogs, he could have gone with us. But he can't, so he didn't.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Home Again

Well, our little odyssey is over, and we're back home. I'll try to reflect on it over the next few days.

Actually, I guess I shouldn't call it an odyssey. It didn't take 10 years, there was no 10 years of war beforehand, we didn't encounter a cyclops, a sea monster, a whirlpool, lotus eaters, nor were we turned into pigs even once. And since the dog went with us, we didn't even have the only-his-faithful-dog-recognized-him bit.

Yesterday we made the trip from Pigeon Forge to Roanoke, today, Roanoke home. We had few major adventures. More to come though.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Days Five through Seven

I've been remiss about posting, but then, I didn't have much to report. Let me first give you a brief précis of the last couple of days. Today (day 7) I missed the main event, so I hope Tam and/or Sarah will fill the gap. Tam, in fact, has already posted on day 7 before I got to days five and six.

Day Five: August 25. When last I left our little adventure, we'd decided to bug out of Franklin for Asheville due to poor Wi-Fi. We did so, but intending to spend the day around Franklin before going, and letting Sarah do gem-hunting (a local activity which allows kids to get very muddy). In the morning, we went to downtown Franklin so Sarah could visit Ruby City, which is to your usual rock shop what Tiffany is to the jewelry counter at Wal-Mart. I visited the town bookstore, and Tam a gourmet kitchen shop she'd liked two years ago. Apparently small towns in Western North Carolina carry things you can't find in Metropolitan Washington, DC.

Anyway, since most places (with the exception of Ruby City, which invited us to bring Coco in) aren't dog friendly, at each spot one of us had to stay outside with the dog. During the gourmet kitchen shop phase, it was I. Franklin has old-fashioned benches in front of the Main Street businesses, so I sat on one, with my cane (from my surgery, but still occasionally useful) and Coco. This being a small southern town I naturally nodded or spoke to most passersby. We have begun to learn that if Coco is being held, he is less likely to try to attack every passing person. So I held him tight. Many people addressed him ("Hello, puppy." Or in one case. "Hi, stubby puppy." When Sarah heard this she started calling him "stubby puppy.") He was pretty stoic, not barking at nearly as many people as usual.

Along the way I suddenly had an epiphany: while I still think like I did at 35 or 45, I've actually become the white-haired old guy sitting on a Main Street bench in a small Southern town, with his hound dog, leaning on his cane and making pleasantries with the locals. I'm just one stop shy of settin' and whittlin' on the front steps of the courthouse.

The next step was to be the gem mining. Sarah did it first when she was three or four and again two years ago and loves it. She likes the "seeded" buckets that guarantee you'll find pretty semi=precious stones but also won't likely produce the rubies and sapphires that really are found there. The Sheffield Mine where we'd been before still has the best reputation so we set out, but with us having lefgt our Franklin hotel I figured we'd just keep the dog on the sidelines since there was nowhere for me to stay with him. When we got there, we were greeted by a great, friendly, tongue hanging out happy-to-see-us southern coonhound (He was eager to meet Coco; Coco was eager to attack him) and a "No dogs allowed" sign. After trying to think of ways to square the circle (I go back to town while they stay at the mine? I sit with Coco in either a brutally hot car for several hours or one in which we run the air and use up a full tank of gas,

Assured we would go to the Gatlinburg Aquarium, Sarah acceded to the idea we just couldn't make the mining work.

So day five ended driving to Asheville, checking in, and Sarah spending time in the pool. Nobody took any video.

Day 6: August 26. Asheville and the park We took the Blue Ridge Parkway towards Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We picked up a picnic lunch but, thrown off the parkway by repair work from a storm, we found a barbecue place in Waynesville and bought that two. Once in the park we had a picnuc lunch (with the BBQ; the rest is spoiled now). On to New Found Gap on the state line. Lots of pictures and the video is up.

Day 7: August 27. Over the mountains to Tennessee, to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Tam's post on the Aquarium visit will have to serve since I was waiting in the hotel with the dog. They were profligate in their photography and we'll produce a movie from their clips and stills.

A Note on the YouTube videos: As you may recall, I didn't upload the two part Day Four video from Franklin because of the poor Internet connection. Last night in Asheville I tried three more times without suceess, though Part Two went up without a glitch, as did yesterday's Day Six video. Tonight, in Pigeon Forge, I finally got Part One of Day 4 to upload. So on YouTube (where they're displayed, like this blog, newest first) the order is from oldest to newest Day Four Part Two/ Day Six/ Day Four Part One. (There is no Day Five.)

Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg

Friday night, Aug. 27, Pigeon Forge: First, the picture at left: This is one reason I find it hard to blog! We are settled into the Quality Inn Parkway, after a great late afternoon visit by Sarah and me to Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg, a special request of Sarah's for the last several days of vacation. Mike volunteered to stay in the hotel room with Coco, and let Sarah and me go see it.

I did not know what to expect, since we know and like the Baltimore and Virginia Aquariums so much. And although the Ripley's Aquarium is in the Volunteer State, it ranks right up there with the two coastal ones. We were so impressed! A huge glass column of silvery lookdown fish greets you at the entrance, then you are drawn through a course that features a huge open pool of swimming sharks, including sand sharks, hammerheads and sawtooths, various small and enormous stingrays, then separate areas devoted to coastal fish and ecosystems, seahorses, dragon fish, and garden eels. Other exhibits include huge Japanese crabs, whose claws can extend several feet, pirhanas, etc.

The highlight of the whole place is the acryllic tunnel that allows you to walk below the sealife, while it swims around and above you. It is an amazing experience! The hammerhead sharks eerily lounge langorously across the top of the tunnel, while you gaze at them from below. Just amazing. Really it filled me with wonder and joy at the marvelous color and diversity of sea life, what amazing life it is. It was a real joy to be there and to share it with Sarah. She took literally hundreds of pictures, while I videotaped it extensively, in order to show Mike. We will put some of it on our family You tube for friends and family viewing.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Day Four: Great Day, Lousy Evening

Today was a great day, the best yet. I use "day," however, not in the sense "24 hour period" but in the sense "not night." The evening has been frustrating, enough to make us change plans.

The day is well documented in a video that will take up two parts on YouTube even though their limit is now 15 minutes instead of 10. The bad news is that as I write this it's not yet on YouTube, for the reason the evening was a disappointment.

The day was a great deep draught of lakes and mountains and waterfalls and really helped fill my Scotch-Irish need for mountain and glen; we started with the Cullasaja Gorge with its multiple waterfalls, including one you can walk behind and one you can drive behind; then over Wayah Gap to Nantahala Lake and down Nantahala Gorge with lots of whitewater rafters (stopping at a little stream called Patton's Run where Sarah seemed to really enjoy it: very reminiscent of an Ozark stream). Then along Fontana Lake (above picture) to Fontana Dam, a TVA dam which is said to be the highest dam in the east, giving us a chance to explain the TVA to Sarah. (She likes Alabama's "Song of the South" which includes a line that roughly goes, "Papa got a job with the TVA; we bought a washing machine and then a Chevrolet," so we had a point of reference.) (By rhe way, what do the Tea Partiers who call Obama a socialist think of the TVA, anyway? Would they sell it off? De-electrify the South?)

It was a good day, but the evening was not. Around 7 or so as I was working on the day's videos and Sarah was watching video cartoons online, both our computers lost Internet. The whole hotel had. We were down for an hour or more, sporadic at best for an hour or two more. Though we're up and stable again, when I tried to upload to YouTube a file that should upload in under 30 minutes said it would take 190, or over three hours. So I stopped the upload.

Worse, another guest said she'd had trouble her first two days here, but no more trouble till tonight, and suggested she'd had trouble with connectivity here before.

The Internet is too mluch a part of us — this blog, our videos, researching where to eat, GoogleEarth — that we feel any unreliability is, in the 21st century, what an air conditioning failure would have been in the last. It's not management's fault if it happens rarely, but if it happens a lot it suggests stinting on the bandwidth or needing a new Internet Service Provider. Anyway, on a one-week vacation a single night's major inconvenience is enough to make us move. Instead of staying four days here, we're cutting it off after two. We're returning to our nice hotel in Asheville from Sunday night.

I didn't name our hotel yet because I believe they are trying to fix it. But I don't want to risk staying if this happens often.

And yes, I can acceas the Internet on my Smartphone. But I can't blog on the tiny keyboard (my fat fingers find Tam's netbook hard to manage), and besides, WiFi is advertised as part of the deal.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Days Two and Three: Coco Gets Crazier

So far I've done better at getting video up at YouTube than blogging here; but then, Tam and Sarah's intents to blog haven't produced a post yet. So let me catch up a bit. The videos are at YouTube, though the most video-ready moments of the trip have been missed, the bear cub I mentioned on day one, and another bear-related story for later in this post.

Yesterday, day two, was the second day of travel down, and again mostly engaged in burning miles. When we weren't on the Interstates however, Sarah began to understand the appeal (and variety) of old roads, as we went through the towns of Southwest Virginia, ranging from industrial and railroad towns that were long strips of trailer parks with double-wides, to charming towns like Abingdon, where the State Theater of Virginia is located and there's a flourishing artistic community. Otherwise we cut across northeastern Tennessee via the Tri-Cities and the new (well, we first used it two years ago, so still new to us) I-16, down to Asheville.

It was a nice hotel, a Comfort Suites, and dog-friendly as well. But we've discovered that many pet-friendly places put all the pet rooms in a single corridor. In Asheville, as in Roanoke, there was a dog in the room across the hall. Actually, in Asheville apparently two, crated, and while never actually seen, clearly of the small, shrill, yippy persuasion. When they started out, Coco responded with wild barking and a furious attempt to go through the door. Fortunately the desk clerk actually found this amusing, but I think he was off duty when it started up again around dawn. Tam and I thought we were off-duty too, being sound asleep, until our dachshund went off.

Now, this was not the first problem of the day. In the afternoon, Sarah wanted to swim in the pool and since the night before we'd had no time and the next few days would be poolless, we decided Tam would watch her while I either stayed with the dog in the room , or walked him outside. We tried the latter first, but when he saw them going to the pool but me pulling him the other way he started barking, leaping about madly, and trying to bite through his leash.

You see, Coco tolerates me. He understands that during the school year, I'm home on Fridays and no one else is, so I'm his sofa/food source, but when either Sarah or Tam is available, I'm dog food. He's a ladies' dog; I'm the only adult male he doesn't act like he wants to dismember, and he's not much better with males Sarah's age. We think his bark is worse than his bite, but don't plan to test it.

As for other dogs, forget it. Though we met Coco at an adoption fair where he was around a lot of other dogs, as he was at his (brief) foster home, he has challenged other dogs at every opportunity, not just on his home turf but in public places. At the vet's to get checked out for the trip he tried to go after a Rottweiler; once at Great Falls he tried to go after a pair of mastiffs; he's also confronted a German Shepherd. That any of these dogs could snap him in two with one bite seems to elude him; dachshunds, or at least Coco, seem unaware that they're five inches tall. Of course, they were bred to go after European badgers, so perhaps foolhardy courage against impossible odds is in their DNA.

We've already decided we need to get him a chain-based leash. Two of the three we brought on vacation are partly chewed through by day three.

But this maniacal hound of hell is not the homebound Coco. He's a sweet, loving, totally loyal ultimate cuteness, so long as no other dogs, or adult males other than me, or most females for that matter, enter his field of vision. (My physical therapist after my surgery came to our house three times a week for three weeks and he went berserk every time.)

Of course, we decided to get him obedience training. We even paid for the course. Then I broke my hip.

Anyway, we need to keep him fairly sequestered, so logistics are a problem. Day three (today if I post this by midnight: anyway, Monday, August 23, was spent mostly in Cherokee, NC. I'll post more on it later, though, except for this one story alluded to earlier: our second missed video moment. Sarah and I were shopping while Tam had Coco duty; we'd just switched shifts She was walking him when they came upon one of many bear sculptures in Cherokee (like a number of places they encourage artists to address a common theme: Norfolk does mermaids, Winchester, apples, and Cherokee, bears.

Well, as Tam tells it (I hope she'll tell it herself here), Coco saw one of these bear statues, and started barking and growling at it, all the while with his tail between his legs. He wasn't, apparently, trying to attack this bigger challenger.

But what kind of hound dog doesn't know a statue from a real animal?


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Roanoke: Day One

Day one of the 2010 vacation was mostly a driving day, pushing to Roanoke, VA. The dog behaved well in the car, but not so much around other people and, particularly, other dogs. Though we did end up taking the Interstate the last 75 miles or so of the 250 mile trip, we also did one stretch of Skyline Drive.

And what surely was the high point of the day came on Skyline Drive, when we came upon a black bear cub playing by the side of the road. Despite having three cameras, plus three phones that take pictures as well (also a Nintendo DSi) for a total of at least seven photographic devices (not counting the webcams), of course none of us got a picture. Wed didn't linger because we assumed Mama bear was somewhere nearby.

Besides not getting much sleep last night, I find that my surgeon was right and I need to move around every hour or so; long stretches in the car are uncomfortable.

More as we have something to report; Tam and Sarah say they want to post too, so keep watching this space.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Counting Down to Vacation

Saturday we leave on a delayed and truncated vacation, giving the family some much-earned respite in a difficult summer largely devoted to Tam and Sarah having to nurse me through my broken hip, surgery, and convalescence. (And Tam settling into a new job: same organization but new department.)

Instead of two weeks driving across country to Missouri and back in July, we're making do with a one week trip to the Great Smokies in August. And because we're insane, we're doing it with Coco, our dog. That means not a lot of eating in restaurants; lots of picnics, drive-through, carry-out, or delivery to the hotel. We might save money.

We'll be carrying two laptops, a netbook, and two smartphones so we should be pretty well wired and equipped to post to the blog, Flicker, and YouTube. Tam wants to blog more, and Sarah wants to try it, so you may see both of them here. The Flickr and YouTube accounts, because they show Sarah's face, are family-and-friends only, and while we've invited many to join our list few have, but the invitation is still open. (Either post a comment in the comments box (click on "Comment" below) or send me an E-mail.) We may also do short posts on Facebook from time to time, though we'll keep our main posts here. Though I have a dormant Twitter account I don't tweet: too talkative for that. Can't keep to 140 characters. (My work blog, the MEI Editor's Blog, does feed post titles to the MEI Twitter feed.) Besides YouTube videos we might try a podcast our two.

So do drop by.


Saturday, July 31, 2010

On the Road with Coco

The summer that disappeared is proceeding apace with tomorrow being the first of August. Plans for a two week driving vacation to Missouri in July were vetoed by my broken hip and the doctors saying I couldn't drive so far so soon (they're right: I need to stretch my legs frequently). We're going down to the Great Smokeys for a week in August instead, and will try for Missouri later, perhaps over the holidays.

We are, wisely or unwisely, thinking of taking the dog along on the trip to the mountains, and to try out the feasibility, we're doing an overnight tonight in Winchester, VA, only 75 miles or so from home (in case we had to bail). We're at a Comfort Inn; our usual Hampton Inns don't take pets. So far, it's working. He gets upset when one of us isn't with him, but is enjoying the outdoor time. A video of the day, or parts of it, is on the private YouTube channel.

More blogging coming, I hope.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Missing Month

On the night of June 1/2, taking out the recycling, I fell and broke my left hip. On June 3, I had full hip replacement surgery, so I now have a bionic butt, so to speak. A month later, I'm still on a cane, just beginning to ease back into going to the office. The Journal will go to press a couple of weeks late for the first time in my tenure. My backlog is proliferating. I've lost a month of my life

My family has been magnificent. They have supported me, nursed me, put up with me. My boss and staff have been supportive as well, so far, but there's a lot of catchup to do. Today I found myself snapping at Sarah, who after all is enjoying summer vacation, and realized I had my priorities wrong: family is more important than work; it's my family that sustained me through this nightmare.

Until June 3, I had spent only one night in a hospital as a patient: when my tonsils were out at age four. I've only broken two little toes and cracked a rib: never a broken bone of bigger import. I was expecting to have a hernia fixed this summer, perhaps in late June, had all this not happened, but that would not have even required an overnight in the hospital. Then, suddenly, a broken hip, major hip replacement surgery.

Our original vacation plans were for an ambitious driving trip to Missouri the last two weeks of July. We were even planning to take the dog. That's gone with the wind now; maybe something could happen in August if I work like hell all July, but the long trip is probably put off till some future point. I can't do long driving without frequent stops due to worries about clotting, the doctors say; I don't have the stamina rebuilt yet anyway.

Now that I have a titanium butt, I can sit and blog more readily; perhaps I'll be posting here more often. I hope so. I've been forcibly reminded what's important.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Recycling Bin

For now, I'll use the same post I posted on the work blog:

In case you've been wondering where I've been: on Tuesday night while taking out the recycling, I fell and hit my driveway. Hard. An ambulance ride later I learn I have a broken hip. Yep, the thighbone was no longer connected to the hipbone. After two immobilized days, l had a hip replacement yesterday. So I'll be having even more fun at airport security from here on out.

I'm still in the hospital, and my first priority is the summer issue of the Journal, but on the other hand, I'm going to be immobilized for a while, so when I can I'll resume regular posting, perhaps later today.

Sorry if there are typos. Blame the painkillers.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend 2010

It's not just about the beach. Not with two live wars. For my ancestors who fought in most of America's wars, my friends who served in Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan, and especially those who didn't make it home, ave atque vale.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Space Station, the Shuttle, Venus and the Moon

In 1957, a month after I turned 10, I watched the launch vehicle of Sputnik I go by in orbit (the satellite itself wasn't visible 5to the naked eye, but the booster remained in orbit too). Though I didn't become a father till past 50, tonight I took my daughter out to watch the moon and Venus in conjunction, as well as the International Space Station passing by the moon and Venus with the Shuttle Atlantis in pursuit, on Atlantis' last mission.

Three quarters successful. In the 15 minutes between the ISS' passage and the pursuing Atlantis' scheduled arrival, some light clouds rolled in near the horizon, and whereas ISS went up to 52 degrees elevation, Atlantis was much lower down and so we didn't see the shuttle, but she did see the station sail past Venus and a crescent moon lit by earthshine. Cool.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day Weekend

A fairly quiet Mother's Day weekend. Everybody was tired. Saturday was an errand-running day; Sunday included a Mother's Day brunch at our local Indian restaurant, and not much else.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Baltimore Again

A great, warm day. Almost summery. We went to Baltimore. Rejoined the Aquarium. Visited the much hyped jellyfish exhibit. (Fascinating, if a little smaller than some of the TV ads had implied.) I took 19 video clips. Sarah took 184. I will put this together evenutally, but since Sarah may have essentially videotaped the whole aquarium, it isn't going to work as a ten minute YouTube.

Tomorrow, we're going to try to get the dog out somewhere, which has not worked as well as we might have wished.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The 10th Birthday Adventure

Beginning April 9 and ending earlier today we have been engaged in the week-plus-long celebration of Sarah's 10th birthday. (I know, the cake is short a couple of candles. She said not to put any more on.)

I've posted to Facebook a couple of times, to update folks, but I should record the fuller version here for posterity.

The actual birthday weekend began with Friday the 9th, the day before her birthday, since her school was closed for the week after Easter (and I work from home on Fridays). So it was an old-fashioned "Daddy day." She had asked for lunch at La Madeleine, which I had promised to accommodate, except our local branch was closed for technical reasons. (Oven or refrigeration I would assume.) So instead we at Moe's Mexican semi-fast food, and then went to a local music store because one of her requests was a keyboard. Though we were prepared to order online, in fact she found one she liked within our budget, so we bought it on the spot. We also visited Best Buy for a video game and a DVD, and Tam gave her clothes.

Friday evening was a standard evening at home, but Saturday was entirely her call. She wanted to go to the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, MD, one of her favorite museums on sea life. We did so (Sarah and Tam trying to see a snake swimming under the boardwalk in pic at right), had barbecue for First Lunch and crabcakes for Second Lunch (sort of high tea: when we're on the road and there's good food to be had, we do not limit stops). Sarah used to order chicken fingers at the crab place. Now she likes crabcakes. A sign of maturity, but of course it costs more.

We went on down to Point Lookout, where the Potomac flows into Chesapeake bay, and collected seashells along the bay (the final picture below), then returned to Virginia, stopped at Hard Times Cafe for carryout chili (another specific request), and headed home.

On Sunday it was quieter; we took the dog for a walk mostly, though we did get lunch at La Madeleine, which had reopened since Friday, thus crossing that request off the list. And then we did the big dinner she had requested: Peking Gourmet, a very upmarket Chinese place in our neighborhood. (In the link you can see the many pictures on the walls: this was a big hangout for the George H.W. Bush (Bush 41) Administration, but also draws lots of other celebrities. We knew we'd never get it on Saturday (the actual birthday), so we did it on Sunday. Mom and Dad splurged for Peking Duck, the specialty; Sarah had a Singapore noodle dish.

That was the actual birthday weekend. But she had also asked for a small sleepover with some of her best friends, and since one of them was in California on the actual birthday weekend, we put it on the following weekend, this one. Her friends — Elizabeth and Katerhine — got together at 6:30 yesterday and finally dispersed at noon today. They may have slept in there somewhere. Despite a TV, a laptop with Internet, and a Wii with three controllers and several games, we did get at least one "Mom, Dad, we don't have anything to do." All requested snacks and stuff were provided. Late at night they started on ghost stories. They were up long past Tam and a bit past me, but were still up by 9:30 or so on Sunday.

So there. You only turn ten once, and while this one has left the budget a bit thin till payday, I think we delivered in style. Every requested meal and venue, within reason and budget.

Ten years. In July we'll have been her parents for nine. And in only eight, she'll be going to college. A watershed has been passed. She's not a little kid anymore.

I feel old. But then, I'm 62, and most of my contemporaries were doing this in their early 30s. So I guess I am old.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Into Spring: The Dog is Crazy but the Snow is Gone

After the record-breaking snows of winter, which amounted to 57 inches at National Airport and 62 inches at Dulles, spring is welcome relief. Last weekend was in the low 70s, sunny, no humidity. So we took the family — dog and all — to Great Falls.

Coco is mostly a very sweet dog. He loves human contact, whines when we go to work, is pretty gentle except when protecting a bone. But Great Falls this weekend was dog walking central: everybody was out, and so Coco, who is none too tolerant of other dogs, simply went completely Incredible Hulk on us. Violent conniptions, trying to chew through his leash, etc. Even a proffered hot dog did not assuage him. Among those he sought to challenge were two enormous mastiffs who could have swallowed him whole without stopping to chew. For his safety and ours, we departed quickly. This is not a good augury: he hates to be home alone, but if he's going to melt down in public if other dogs are present, we can't take him on our day trips on weekends. He needs some dachshund school.

Other news: Tam is shifting jobs, still within AFA, but moving from the magazine to the membership side; we hope it will be a good move. My job has been crazy due to deadlines and staff transitions, but as we come into spring I hope to blog more.

Also: Sarah has her own computer now. The hand-me-down Windows ME computer I had given her a couple of years ago isn't good for much more than a paperweight these days, so we bought her her own Dell laptop for schoolwork and other things. Mostly she watches video on it, but that's okay if homework is done.

I really do intend to spend more time here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


May everyone be this relaxed.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Thaw from The Long Winter Silence

It's been such a godawful winter — Washington broke all existing snowfall records with something like 56 or 58 inches (and that's at the airport, where the measurements are usually lower than places farther from the river), mostly in three big storms of about two feet each. Work's been stressful, we've been dealing with some (non-serious) medical issues, and the snows were horrendous. I've dropped out of sight on this blog.

Today was still chilly and breezy, but it's March, it was at least sunny, and a lot of people were on the road. I think we all are hungry for spring. Left, Coco and Mom feeling good about things at Jammin Joe's BBQ, a barbecue joint with only outdoor tables.

More soon, but we're coming back, and I don't plan to ignore this blog so much.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Snow is Several Dachshunds Deep

We' ve now had a near record snowfall that seems to be in the 20 to 25 inch range over most of the area, up to 30 in places. It's the second huge fall of the season and the fourth or fifth overall. When did we become Buffalo?

At left, Coco contemplating the wall of snow where we're shoveling out the driveway. This snow is several dachshunds deep.

Both our jobs follow the Federal government, which has already announced it's closed on Monday. So, of course, are the schools. Our neighborhood has not yet seen a plow, though we did get the driveway clear with the help of friends. But till the streets are plowed, we aren't going far.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Snowed In: Again

Three to six inches of snow today. Nothing like the two feet dropped on us December 19, but till it stops and we can dig the cars out, it's kind of annoying. Also since it's a Saturday, our usual errand-running day, lots of stuff didn't get done. And we'll have to dig out tomorrow.

It's been a rough winter and it's still not February.

Sarah's new friend Elizabeth, who lives around the corner, spent much of the day over here and they plan a sleepover tonight, making a virtue of necessity. The dog kept whining to go out, but once he sampled the temperaturers (some wind chills in the single digits) he thought better of it. Dachshunds are built a bit too close to the ground to enjoy a snowfall.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Cross-Post: Stone Pasha and the Khedive Isma‘il's Yanks and Rebs

I rarely cross-post from my Middle East blog, but I thought some readers of the family blog, especially Civil War buffs, might find this interesting.

This is going to be one of my "And now for something completely different" posts. I've mentioned an interest in military history and you know my interest in Egypt. This post combines the two.

At left, Brigadier General Charles Pomeroy Stone of the Union Army, early in the US Civil War. Below, Lieutenant General Charles Pomeroy Stone (Stone Pasha) during his 13-year tenure (1871-1883) as Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Army under the Khedives Isma‘il and Tawfiq.

Probably relatively few Americans, other than Civil War buffs and historians interested in 19th century Egyptian history, are aware of Isma‘il's recruitment of a number of American officers, both former Union and former Confederate, in the years after the American Civil War.

It's not hard to understand why the Khedive was interested in Americans. He hoped to keep up the expansionist policies of his predecessors Muhammad ‘Ali Pasha and Ibrahim Pasha, especially in the Sudan; the country was already incurring large debts in Europe, that would ultimately lead to a British (unofficial but de facto) protectorate, and therefore France and Britain were not a good source of military advice since you don't want your potential colonizers to have intimate knowledge of your military. The United States, on the other hand, had no visible interests in the Middle East (except for Christian missions) in those days.

And having just fought the bloodiest war in its history (which proved a temporary boon to Egypt since Southern US cotton was blockaded from the world market), the US also was a source of experienced and underemployed military officers. To the Egyptians, which army they had served in was moot. It would be nice to say it was moot to the Americans as well, but there was one notorious shootout in Alexandria between ex-Rebs and ex-Yanks.

According to the most detailed study of the Americans who served in Egypt, William B. Hesseltine and Hazel C. Wolf's The Blue and the Gray on the Nile (University of Chicago Press, 1961; still some copies listed on Amazon), around 50 Americans eventually were recruited for Egyptian service. A few of them were prominent enough that the average Civil War buff may know them, among them Stone (more on whom in a moment); Henry Sibley, inventor of the Sibley tent and who, as a colonel, led the Confederate invasion of New Mexico until defeated at Glorieta; William W. Loring, who reached Corps command in the Confederate Army; and a few others. Some would make their name in Egyptian service, however, notably Charles Chaillé-Long, who only rose to be a captain in the Union Army, but achieved lasting fame as an explorer of sub-Saharan Africa, serving under Gordon in Equatoria, then exploring the great lakes (he was the second explorer to visit Lake Victoria), and writing a number of books. (Though I suspect Central Africa: Naked Truths of Naked People would not be given that title today.)

Many prominent ex-Confederate generals reportedly considered Egyptian service, among them P.G.T. Beauregard and Joseph Johnston, but didn't go. William Tecumseh Sherman, General in Chief of the US Army in the late 186os (under the Presidency of his close friend and predecessor, U.S. Grant), encouraged the Egyptian adventure and even released some serving officers to participate.

The driving force of this whole adventure was Thaddeus P. Mott. Before the Civil War he had lived in Constantinople, was a favorite at the Ottoman Sultan's court, married a Turkish wife and was reportedly quite at home in the East. He went home to serve in the Civil War, rose to colonel in the Union Army, then returned to Turkey after the war. There he met the Khedive Isma‘il and soon found himself in Egyptian service in time for the grand opening of the Suez Canal. He became Khedivial chamberlain and went to the US to recruit for the Egyptian Army.

Which brings us back to Charles Pomeroy Stone. Stone had been badly treated by the Army and the political authorities, so much so that later some would refer to him as an "American Dreyfus" for his alleged culpability in the military disaster that was the Battle of Ball's Bluff, up the Potomac from Washington, on October 21, 1861.

Stone's war started well: a West Pointer and a Mexican War veteran, he was considered a favorite of General-in-Chief Winfield Scott. He famously secured the City of Washington before President Lincoln's arrival, and helped set up its defenses.

But Stone was no politician, and he fell out with two key figures from his home state: Massachusetts Governor John Andrew and Senator Charles Sumner, both Radical Republicans and abolitionists. The exact details are not so important as that he made powerful political enemies early on, but among the charges were that he returned runaway slaves in Maryland. But Maryland was a Union state which had slavery, and its law required that, as did Federal law.

In October, with George McClellan having replaced Scott, Stone was given command of a "Corps of Observation" and sent up the Potomac to observe the fords of the river. He was ordered to make a "demonstration" against Leesburg, Virginia.

Stone held a position south of Leesburg and sent half his force, under Colonel Edward Baker, to the north to make a landing and push towards Leesburg from the river. Now, Colonel Baker was also a sitting United States Senator from Oregon. (Yes, a sitting Senator was commanding an Army regiment.) But Colonel/Senator Baker had friends in high places. He'd started out as a lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, and had worked with a chap called Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln's son Eddie's full name was Edward Baker Lincoln. Is a picture starting to emerge?

Now it's important to realize that, though ultimate command was his, General Stone was not present at the Battle of Ball's Bluff. Baker was the senior officer on the scene. If you go to the Battlefield today, you will find it still fairly unspoiled (though a Leesburg subdivision is creeping closer) and what you see is this: a steep bluff over the Potomac which required men to physically haul cannon up the cliff face while making an opposed landing on a hostile shore with a river at their back. My nine-year-old daughter has commented that that makes no sense. She's quite right. One look at the position should have been enough to warn off anyone over age nine. Let's see: steep bluffs we had to climb and drag our cannons up, check; superior enemy forces to our front, check; river at our back and no retreat possible, check; let's attack.

At first things seemed to go all right, and then the Confederates noticed the Union troops were there. The Confederate commander was Nathan "Shanks" Evans, who had a reputation (whether justified or not) for sometimes going into battle drunk, but given the situation at Ball's Bluff, that was no impediment to victory.

In the heated battle that followed, the Union troops found themselves pushed off the steep bluff, some falling to the river below. It's said that for a day or two bodies were washing up on the bridges of Georgetown. During the battle, Senator Baker made his only good career move of the day: he got himself killed, heroically of course. (I'm sure the image at right is highly accurate historically.)

Now, here's a powerful Republican senator and old personal friend of Lincoln (despite his actually having beaten Lincoln for a nomination in earlier years). He has proceeded to die a martyr's death. The war was only some six months old at this point and the carnage to come was only beginning. Somebody had to take the blame.

And it wasn't going to be the ruling party's newly martyred Senator/General.

And Stone, remember, had powerful enemies. The Radical Republican-controlled Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, a Congressional watchdog, called hearings.

Ball's Bluff was a disaster, and professional officers naturally may expect a disaster on their watch, even if due to a subordinate's incomprehensible decisions, to affect their career. But Ball's Bluff didn't just tarnish Stone's career. Amid charges of suspicious links with Confederates (his wife's father had been a roommate of Jeff Davis at West Point or something like that, but of course Jefferson Davis had later been the US Secretary of War) and hints of treason, Stone was arrested and confined to prison.

That was in January of 1862. He served in various fort-prisons until August when, no charges ever having been filed against him or specified, he was released. No apologies, explanations, or charges were ever forthcoming.

Of course his military career in US service was over. So when the war ended, he was looking for a way to vindicate is reputation. And Mott showed up, recruiting for the Khedive.

Stone became Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Army in 1871 and served in that post until 1883, serving Isma‘il and, from 1879, his son and successor Tawfiq. He built up a general staff (though it drastically countered the traditional command structure of Egyptian military forces) and also participated in some campaigns.

Most of the Americans did not stay as long as Stone Pasha. Ultimately, when Colonel ‘Urabi's revolt broke out in 1882, Stone stayed with the Khedive in Alexandria though his wife and children were in Cairo.

The British intervention ended the ‘Urabi revolt, but also brought new masters to Egypt. Frustrated by the emerging British protectorate-in-all-but-name, Stone finally stepped down in 1883.

His reputation seemingly redeemed in his homeland, Stone later directed the construction of the base on which the Statue of Liberty stands in New York harbor.

Since I've shown the US and Egyptian photos of Stone above, it is perhaps appropriate to do the same for one of his Confederate analogs: General William "Old Blizzards" Loring, one of the more senior Confederates in Egyptian service (probably the most senior since he'd held Corps command in the CSA), first as a Confederate General, then as Loring Pasha, variously Inspector General of the Egyptian Infantry, chief of Coastal Defenses, and a field commander. (You may note the empty sleeve in both pictures: he lost his left arm in Mexico City in his first war. For those of you reading this outside the US or Mexico, the US-Mexican war of 1846-48 was the training ground for a lot of Civil War generals, then junior company and field officers for the most part.)

There's a fan site for Old Blizzards in fact, with the motto "Three Flags, Four Continents" (the flags are the US, the Confederacy, and Egypt, though they (correctly for the era) use the Turkish flag. I think the continents are North America, Europe, Asia and Africa).

The name "Old Blizzards" comes from the early days of the Civil War when, opposing George McClellan in what was to become West Virginia, he supposedly gave the battle cry, "Give them blizzards, boys! Give them blizzards!" (Wouldn't have worked in Egypt, I fear.)

The site says he's the only one of the Americans who actually commanded Egyptian troops, but I'm not certain about that as some of the other Americans went on Egyptian operations from Sudan to the Indian Ocean.

Friday, January 15, 2010

One Month of These Big, Brown Eyes

We've had Coco for a month now. One month of looking at those big, brown eyes and trying not to give him hamburger.
Resist that, if you can.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Coco: The Official Portrait

Sarah spent some time taking pictures of Coco tonight with her camera. This is the best by far. Handsome fellow, isn't he?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Our Holidays

Here's Tam, Coco and Sarah on December 28; Sarah's face as usual is not shown on the blog. And below that, our tree this year.

After the arrival of Coco, we were hit over the weekend before Christmas by the huge snowfall that whacked the whole east coast: 18 to 20 inches in much of the area. One of the worst in memory. Why is it when we get our usual four inch snowfalls lots of people show up wanting to shovel the driveway, but when we get two feet, no one comes? It took us two days to dig ourselves out.

Anyway, Tam's sister Kate came in from Michigan for Christmas, with her friend Brenda and Brenda's two daughters. On Christmas Eve, a beautiful sunny day but with still plenty of snow on the ground, we all did Mount Vernon. Crowds weren't bad and Sarah finally got the tour of the interior of the mansion, which included the usually closed third floor. Everybody then retreated to our house and went out for a nice Thai dinner.

Kate spent Christmas day with us. Limited gift exchanges because Sarah had already got her Wii and lots of dog-related things, and the loss of the weekend before to the snow meant that some gifts were picked up after Christmas.

The day after Christmas we joined Kate and Brenda and the girls for a nighttime tour of the monuments. It was a cold night, but I think Sarah was pleased to see stuff she's more used to seeing in the daytime.

I had the week off between Christmas and New Year's, though I did continue blogging about Christmas in the Middle East (see previous post and links). It gave Coco lots of time to get used to us, Sarah lots of time to bond with him (though as I said previously they pretty much mind-melded right away). Now we're in a bitter cold and high wind pattern, but dry. Back to work and school on Monday.

On the whole a quiet holiday once Kate left; low-key Christmas dinner; low-key New Year's as well.

I really hope to get back to family blogging more regularly in 2010.

Christmas in the Middle East: Posts on my MEI Blog

On my Middle East Institute Editor's Blog, I've been blogging a lot about Christmas in the Middle East with music videos, commentary, folklore etc. You can read all the Christmas posts collected at this link.

A post about our holidays, with pics, is coming later tonight.