Archive for April 2009

2009 Vacation – Yorktown, Baltimore, and Home

Towards the end of our vacation we decided to go to Yorktown, where the British surrendered to the Americans at the end of the Revolutionary War. Yorktown was also the site of action during the Civil War as well. One of the reasons we decided to go to Yorktown is that our National Parks pass we bought earlier in the week for Jamestown was also good at Yorktown. We checked out the Visitors Center and then walked around looking at various captured cannons and other artillery. I really enjoyed the fancy castings and inscriptions on the cannons. My favorite was a captured British mortar with a Latin inscription that translated roughly as “I bring not the rays of the sun but the thunderbolts of Jupiter”.

A Yorktown Cannon

A Yorktown Cannon

After checking out the Yorktown Visitors Center we decided to check out historic Yorktown’s town center. We enjoyed walking around the town – the weather was nice and the kids were good and we were generally having a good time. We took pictures of the kids at the Yorktown victory monument and even found a cannon ball embedded into the wall of a Yorktown house. The cannon ball likely came from a French ship that blockaded Yorktown and cut off any British retreat to the sea.

Yorktown Victory Monument

Yorktown Victory Monument

Kids at the Yorktown Victory Monument

Kids at the Yorktown Victory Monument

A ball in the wall

A ball in the wall

Everything was going well until Diana peed her pants. This was a major annoyance as all the kids are generally well past the “accident” stage and we hadn’t come prepared with extra clothes or underwear. Diana’s accident cut short the walking part of our Yorktown tour but luckily for us there was a driving tour that you could go on as well. We made Diana sit in the back of the car on a towel and struck off for the driving tour which covered both the revolutionary and civil war battlegrounds. We stopped at every information point along the tour and carefully read all the signs. It was beautiful weather and I enjoyed the driving tour through the woods and countryside as much as anything we did the whole vacation.

The next day was our final day of vacation so we headed to Baltimore to turn in the rental car and visit Nancy’s Aunt Joyce. We had lunch with Aunt Joyce and went to their little farm and played with the Shetland ponies that Joyce keeps as a hobby. Unfortunately, it was raining all day long and nobody thought to get the camera out of the car in the rain. On Saturday, we flew from Richmond, VA to Boise, ID via O’Hare without incident and then made the 5 hour drive home from Boise.

All in all, it was a fun vacation even though the airline problems got us started on the wrong foot at the beginning. That being said, now that I’ve taken my family to Washington D.C./Baltimore/Williamsburg/Jamestown/Yorktown once in their life, I have very little desire to return again in my life.

2009 Vacation – Washington D.C.

On Wednesday we had an appointment with our Congressman (Rep. Jason Chaffetz) to tour the U.S. Capitol. We had tried to get a tour of the White House through Rep. Chaffetz but the staff member told us that since Chaffetz was a freshman rep and also a Republican, the Obama Administration wasn’t making any White House tickets available.

We rode the Metro in to Washington D.C. in the morning and made our way to the House office building. The kids probably enjoyed the train as much as they enjoyed anything else in D.C. When we got there Rep. Chaffetz wasn’t in the office but his staff was very nice and they escorted us on a wonderful tour of the capitol building including spending time in the House Gallery watching the debate on the Hate Crimes bill.

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Riding the Metro

Each state had two statues in various parts of the building. Utah was represented by Brigham Young and by Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of television. Brigham Young is about as Utah as you get but Philo is controversial because Idaho often claims him as one of their own.
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Hanging with Brigham Young

The rotunda was impressive and made you dizzy craning your head to look up at the building. We heard the various little tidbits that the congressional aides have been trained to tell about each painting and nook and cranny of the building.
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The impressive Rotunda

After our tour of the Capitol building we found a McDonalds nearby that was jam packed with the DC government employee lunch crowd. We shared tables with a couple of business people who looked upon us and our collection of Happy Meals with bemusement. After lunch we made our way over to the Smithsonian Air and Space museum. I thought the kids would really enjoy this one but they were rather ho hum about it. The place was jam packed with busloads of school kids but our kids didn’t think moon rocks and space shuttle parts and looking up the inside of a Saturn V rocket was as cool as I thought it was back in 1982.

The one thing that Emily and Anne really wanted to see was the Holocaust Museum. We made our way over to the museum and Nancy and I took Caroline, Sam, and Diana through on the quick tour while we let Emily and Anne go slow and spend as much time as they wanted. Anne seemed to be fascinated the most – she spent time reading every display and carefully looking at every exhibit. We let Anne take as much time as she wanted up until the point that Caroline, Sam, and Diana were frustrated and cranky and ready to go home. We had planned on visiting other Smithsonian museums and possibly the National Art Gallery but by the time we were done with the Holocaust Museum everyone was “museumed out” and we decided to catch the Metro home before the rush hour crowd overwhelmed us.

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More Metro

2009 Vacation – Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg

After the frustration and headache of trying to get to Virginia and getting our luggage, we didn’t do much on Monday. We decided to stick at the hotel and swim at the pool and basically just get into a vacation mindset. By Monday afternoon we were bored so we decided to go to Jamestown. I think the kids enjoyed Jamestown pretty well. We got to see the archaeologists digging in the dirt and then got to watch them filter the dirt through a screen to get the little bits of artifacts out of the mud. We spent a little time in the museum and also went to a glass-making demonstration which is one of the first industries the Jamestown colonists tried to start up. For some reason we don’t have any pictures of Jamestown but it was good enough for an hour or two on Monday afternoon.

A word of wisdom to those who travel in historic Virginia. There are two separate visitors centers at Jamestown – one run by the state of Virginia and one run by the U.S. government. The historic Jamestown settlement site is the one run by the U.S. government and the state has a Jamestown site that has a boat in the harbor. If you buy an entrance to one site it is NOT transferable to the other site so make sure you get the right historic Jamestown. We knew from our various trips in U.S. national parks and national monuments that our pass to the Fed’s site would be good for a week and would get us into any other Fed sites in the area, plus we wanted to see the settlement so we bought an entrance to the fed site (something like $20 for the whole family – not too bad). I’m not saying don’t go to the Virginia state Jamestown site – it may be fantastic for all I know – I’m just warning that there is a distinction between the two even though they are right next to each other.

On Tuesday we decided to stay in Virginia and go to Colonial Williamsburg. I remember Williamsburg from when I was a kid. I remember it being interesting for about the first 10 minutes and then boring after that. Well, not much has changed in 28 years. The prices at Williamsburg are relatively outrageous for what you get. It cost something like $125 for our whole family for the opportunity to walk around Williamsburg. There are lots of little “add-on packages” that you can buy – extra money to tour the capitol building, extra money to see the movie, extra money for a historic lunch, etc. It was interesting for the first hour for me (probably 10 minutes for the kids) but after that I was ready to go.

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The Armory

The biggest issue with Williamsburg is that you can hear someone talk about making paper, furniture, bricks, blacksmith stuff, etc. but you don’t ever actually see them making the stuff. At least not on a sweltering Tuesday in late April 2009.

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The obligatory stockade photo

One of the new things at Colonial Williamsburg are “reenactments” of historic moments in colonial history such as the Virginia House of Delegates deciding declaring independence. Throughout the afternoon there were actors in period costumes that acted bits of the drama out through various parts of the town. In addition to the House of Delegates drama there was a fake romance between the daughter of a Tory and the daughter of a revolutionist – kind of a 1776 version of Romeo and Juliet. These historical reenactments were interesting for about the first 30 seconds but quickly became tedious because you couldn’t hear anything and, frankly, dialog about whether or not the House of Delegates should vote for independence just wasn’t very gripping. Aside from the specific character actors in these play bits, none of the Williamsburg staff was “in character” which was a bit of a disappointment.

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Lunch

The best part of Williamsburg was lunch in the shade. We found a picnic area near the parking lot and enjoyed a leisurely lunch.

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Lunch

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Lunch

My recommendation on Colonial Williamsburg: If you’ve never been before, it’s worth going once in your life but don’t bother to spend more than a day there. There are plenty of other interesting historical things in the Virginia and Washington D.C. area that are also much less expensive.

Vacation 2009 – On your mark, get set, fizzle!

2009 is a “big” vacation year and this time we chose to do our vacation in the spring while the elementary kids are off track because it meant only Emily would have to miss class. We thought it would be fun to go back east and visit Williamsburg VA, Washington D.C., and Maryland where Nancy’s aunt lives. I had more United Airlines miles that I was able to use in booking the tickets. Unfortunately, when I tried to book it was impossible to get any flights out of Salt Lake City on United miles. Our only option was to fly out of Boise, ID – a five hour drive from Salt Lake City.

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The Boise airport

We left Salt Lake on Friday and drove up to Boise where we spent the night in a hotel before catching our flight on Saturday morning. The other problem with flying United Airlines is that they often fly through O’Hare airport. I hate flying through O’Hare. Every time I go through there my flight gets delayed and this time was no exception. We flew in from Boise on time but when we got to O’Hare, our connecting flight to Richmond VA was delayed due to bad weather in Chicago. For some reason we were able to fly in but no flights were going out. No worries, we thought, we’ll just wait out the two hour delay and get to our hotel a bit late. Unfortunately, about about an hour’s wait I got an automated email from United stating that our flight had been canceled. I turned to look at the flight board and it was like the classic scene from a movie when all the flight statuses started changing to canceled. There was a mad rush to the ticket and customer service counters as thousands of stranded travelers tried to figure out how to get out of Chicago.

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Waiting around in O’Hare airport

After spending an hour in line I finally got to the ticket counter and reviewed my options with the agent. The agent said she could put us up in a hotel that night and the fly two of us to Richmond VA the next day. The rest of us would have to until Monday or Tuesday (remember it was Saturday) because all the flights to Richmond were already booked due to a NASCAR race. Spending two or three nights in Chicago certainly didn’t appeal to me. Splitting up didn’t appeal to me. I started grasping for straws on ways to get out of Chicago that night (the storms had finally blown over and flights were going out again).

“How about flying into Reagan National?” Nope – full.
“How about Dulles?” Full.
“Newport News VA?” All full.

Finally the ticket lady said, “I can fly all of you into Baltimore. The flight leaves in 45 minutes. Do you want it or not?”. I did the math and it meant that we would get into Baltimore at about 1:00 a.m. with a 3 hour drive to Richmond so we would wind up at the hotel at 4:00 a.m. I weighed that with the prospect of spending 2 or 3 nights in Chicago on a United Airlines hotel voucher and took about 2 seconds to decide: “Book it”. Nancy collected the kids while I got on the phone and started making rental car reservations for a minivan in Baltimore. How difficult is it to rent a minivan in Baltimore MD from your cell phone in Chicago that you want to pick up at 1:00 a.m. and drive out of state one-way to Richmond VA? I’m here to tell you that it’s pretty darn difficult. We eventually found a minivan but the one-way charges were so exorbitant that we had to agree to drop it off in Baltimore before the week was over. No problem, we would just drop it off when we went to visit Nancy’s aunt in Maryland later in the week.

After making the arrangements we caught the flight and winged it to Baltimore. We picked up the car and I managed to stay awake and drive the 3 hours to Richmond where we wearily checked into our hotel to start our vacation. Oh yeah, our luggage didn’t go with us to Baltimore. We were told we would be able to pick it up the next day in Richmond. “No problem”, I thought, “we’ll have time to go to the Richmond airport Sunday morning, pick up our luggage, and still make it to 1:00 church”. Unfortunately, we were once again about to learn the nature of Murphy’s Law.

We went to the Richmond airport on Sunday morning to pick up our luggage at the United baggage office. The first problem: nobody was at the office. The second problem: there were a bunch of bags stacked up outside the office and I could only see one of our bags – two were missing. Nancy tracked down the luggage lady and she investigated where our other two bags were. “Oh”, she said happily, “they’re still in Chicago!” How on earth the airline managed to send one of our bags on to Richmond but leave two in Chicago is beyond me. I was so frustrated and annoyed at the airline that I had to leave the luggage office and let Nancy deal with it because I was afraid would completely lose my temper.

Luckily for Nancy and I, the one bag that made it to Richmond had our clothes and underwear in it. Nancy made arrangements for the airline to drop the missing bags off at the hotel once they finally made it to Richmond and then headed out to Walmart to buy some temporary clothes for the kids. Needless to say we scrapped Church plans and just ended up relaxing at the hotel trying to overcome such an awful start to the vacation.

Buddy’s birthday

Samuel had a friend party last year so he had a family one this year. For his birthday he got a scooter, a toy tank and some army guys to go with the tank. He says his favorite present was the scooter, he rides on it everywhere.

SamuelBirthday

2009 Easter

Easter is a typically low-key event around here and 2009 wasn’t any different. Nancy did some Easter baskets for the kids and we colored eggs (we’ve never pretended the Easter Bunny at our house) and had an Easter egg hunt and that was about it. Oh yeah, we went to church on Easter Sunday but that isn’t anything special for us – we go to church every single week.

All decked out in their Easter finery

All decked out in their Easter finery

I like our low-key Easter because it’s not about candy and presents and silliness such as the Easter Bunny. It’s about the resurrection of Christ. Easter is supposed to be “the most important annual religious feast in the Christian liturgical year” and so we try not to let the various celebratory trappings detract from the significance of the day.

Looking for Easter eggs

Looking for Easter eggs

Interestingly, Easter is often celebrated on different dates by Western Christianity and Eastern Christianity because they originally used different calendars (Gregorian, Julian). This year, the Western Christianity Easter fell on April 12 and the Eastern Christianity Easter fell on April 19. Next year, they fall on the same date. Who knew? It’s amazing the things you can learn while surfing Wikipedia

Dyeing Easter eggs never gets old...

Dyeing Easter eggs never gets old!

...even teenagers still enjoy it

...even teenagers still enjoy it

The completed product

The completed product

I Hate Backflow Valves

After replacing my backflow valve last spring I vowed to remove the entire valve in the fall so that it wouldn’t have any chance of freezing during the winter. Unfortunately, good intentions in spring are often forgotten when summer and fall roll around. Even though I turned off the water I forgot to remove the backflow valve. Yesterday (Friday) I turned on the water and checked the valve and it appeared to be fine – no major leaks of water. “Great!”, I thought, “I lucked out and survived the winter without freezing the valve”. Today Nancy was working outside and noticed that water was dripping off the valve. Not a major leak but just a slow drip drip drip. It turns out that 3 of the 4 testcocks on the valve had cracked.

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Can you spot the crack?

Interestingly, each testcock had cracked in the exact same location – right in the middle of the “China” stamp. Read into that what you will. I got online and ordered three testcock replacements – at $8.00 each plus shipping it came to $30. Not great but better than $250 for a completely new valve. South Jordan requires these things be above ground which is really irritating. At $250 a valve and weighing 10lbs each they are often stolen for their bronze and copper salvage value (I was smart enough to put my valve in the back yard). In addition, the testcocks on the valve provide ready access for a terrorist or some other whacko to easily pump something back into the municipal water supply. In addition the RPZ (Reduced Pressure Zone) valves required by South Jordan are supposed to be tested every year by a certified tester at homeowner’s expense.

They’re also hard to keep from freezing. If I wait until the last spring freeze to turn the water on outside it would be well into May after Mother’s day. Unfortunately, plants need water in April in the desert – even if it may still freeze occasionally – so my only options are to constantly check the weather and shut the water on and off when a freeze is likely or to somehow try and insulate the valve above ground. If the valve was underground with a cover over it the April temperatures would be much less likely to freeze it.

I like living in South Jordan but the requirement to have an RPZ assembly 12″ above ground and inspected every year is just an artifact of South Jordan’s agricultural history (i.e. industrial fertilizers, farm animal waste, and field runoff) and is unnecessary for suburban residential developments (I’m also just mad at myself that I didn’t open the testcocks to drain the valve and keep it from freezing).