Donkey Song

I was driving home from Washington DC and both kids broke out into this song, it starts out slow and progressively gets faster:

Icky bicky bonky, Daddy had a donkey.

The donkey died.

Daddy cried.

Jaclyn and I just looked at each other and laughed hysterically.

American Airlines and US Airways merged and they provided me a tally of my combined flights on their airline in all my years flying with them. I have 206,000 miles with them, which means I could have flown around the world 8 times. They have a million mile club and I do not think I will reach it in my lifetime (at least I hope I don’t).

I have to be in San Antonio on Dalia’s actual birthday, so I am pushing up her birthday by a week so we can have a party while I am around. We are going to be going to this massive trampoline center on Sunday to celebrate, can’t wait to wish her a happy seventh birthday.

Washington DC

I was in DC for a sales conference and the wife & kids tagged along. As we walked by the Washington Monument, I thought about this picture. I asked my kids if they remembered being here, their memory was hazy. I then asked them about the Lincoln Memorial. They said no. Then I asked if they remembered me taking them to a giant memorial with tons of steps and I told them at the top there was going to be a huge statue of me sitting on a couch, but when they got to the top, it was Abraham Lincoln instead? YES, they remembered that!

In between meetings, I managed to take the kids to the Ford Theater where Lincoln was assassinated, continues to be one of my favorite historical places. The park ranger gave a great presentation on the events that took place, scared the kids a little bit, but I am sure the experience will stick.

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On Sunday, I dragged the gang to the Air & Space museum. This is one of the places I remember seeing as a child, what a place to spark your imagination. I was especially interested as I had just finished reading, The Right Stuff, about the test pilots who flew rocket planes and became our country’s first astronauts. I was like a little kid taking pictures of the X-15:

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People do a lot of crazy things, but I cannot imagine a crazier thing than flying the X-15. The X-15 took off like a typical airplane and landed like a typical airplane, but it was a rocket. This airplane set all kinds of records and established the boundaries of speed & altitude of flying, here are a couple records worth noting (keep in mind that achieved an altitude of greater than 50 miles was considered reaching space and you received astronaut wings):

Highest flight in X-15 was set by Joseph Walker in 1963, 67 miles up (over 350,000 feet up)

A speed of 3,831 MPH was reached in 1962, keep in mind, the jet from Top Gun (F-14) flies at 1,544 MPH.

These planes & pilots were just insane.

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This is the real Wright Brothers plane, pretty amazing to see the difference a 60 years can make.

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Stayed at a nice hotel, Winston enjoyed the reading light. When he gets a book, he typically reads the entire thing in a single night. This is what happened on Friday night.

Vegas – Not Too Bad

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There was a movie theater about a mile down Flamingo Avenue from my hotel, walking there I passed Hugh Hefner drive.

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There are many methods where I can waste money joyfully, gambling is on the other list which includes speeding tickets and dentist visits. I am out here for a sales meeting and instead of going out to a big meal that dragged on way too late at night, I saw a movie both nights I was here. I saw The Martian and Bridge of Spies, both were outstanding flicks which I would recommend to anyone.

Since I was up at 3:30AM (6:30AM EST), I decided to walk around town to find a Starbucks that was open 24 hours. There was one about a mile and half away on The Strip. It was funny to pass people who were hitting their last gear of partying, while I was wide eyed and sober. One man approached me, “Where’s da party at, yo!?” To which I replied, “I am sure you know better than I”.

I never really appreciated Las Vegas and to be honest, it is still far down on my list of places I’d ever want to go on vacation, but it does seem nicer than I recall. There’s still a bunch of riff raff, the scene is dominated by gambling, and it is a desert, but there’s been a concerted effort to class up the joint and if you were willing to spend an arm and a leg, you could have one heck of a time at world class restaurants, shows, and clubs.

The New Orleans experience is much more attainable to all. The rich and poor can savor the beignet, rowdy street jazz performance, baked oysters, or a century old restaurant where memories color the grimy walls. I guess that has its pluses and minuses, but you cannot deny the authenticity.

I am at the Vegas airport now, return to Pittsburgh today, and head to DC tomorrow for the weekend to attend a conference.

Coudersport Vacation

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Coudersport, Pennsylvania bills itself as having the darkest skies on this side of the Mississippi. This sort of darkness is achieved with an abundance or rural isolation and lack of industry. The sky is so dark, people claim you can see the Milky Way with the naked eye. I wanted to get away from cities, industry, and any remnant of work, Coudersport beckoned me and if all went well, we might see some spectacular stars.

We rented a cabin in the mountains and it had all the amenities, except cable TV, internet, or cell service. The cabin was only accessible by a long unpaved driveway (about 3/4 mile long) that went up and down serious bumps, but this only added to the adventure. The cabin was surrounded by wilderness, hundreds, if not, thousands of acres of forest. However, they did clear a field about 100 square yards that was nicely mowed and perfectly flat, this was where you could do your serious star gazing. The image on top is of Dalia, Win, and their cousin Iona on the stargazing field.

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Believe it or not, it snowed on Saturday and Sunday while we were at the cabin. It didn’t accumulate too much, but it was definitely falling down. The skies were gray and could filled, which made stargazing impossible for the most part. The weatherman predicted that it would be cloudy until 9PM on Saturday night. Jaclyn, Shanna, and I all sat by a toasty camp fire and waited for the clouds to clear. It was truly a dark place in those woods, if not for the fire, it would have been a world of blackness, not even the moon was visible. As I sat next to the fire and looked straight up into the sky, I could only see the snow flakes falling onto my glasses. After awhile, I finally noticed a single star in the sky. We all celebrated and thought it was comical that we drove 3 hours to see fewer stars than we can see in our own backyard. But then, around 9:30PM on Saturday night, a couple more stars appeared, dozens, hundreds, and then, the sky was filled with them. They were on every horizon, they seemed close and clear, we ran onto the stargazing field and couldn’t believe our eyes. We retrieved the kids and plopped them down on a blanket on the field, we laid down and stared at the sky, I saw about 5 shooting stars that night and was completely mesmorized until an hour lately when the clouds returned and ended our fun. I will be back with my tent next summer, a very unique and powerful experience.

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We went to the town of Austin and saw the site of the second worst dam disaster in Pennsylvania. The dam pictured above broke in the early 1900’s (after Johnstown) and destroyed an entire town and killed 78 people. We spent a solid hour hiking through the ruins, looking at old photos in the pavilion, and imaging the power of the water that ripped the concrete and steal a part like it was created by children.

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On our way home, we stopped at the Kinzua Bridge Skywalk. This place was totally insane. First off, we got caught in an intense snow storm (mid October) and driving through the Allegheny National Forest was perilous. This was one of the highest and longest railroad bridges in the world, in 2011, a tornado ripped half of it down and they now made it into a really awesome national park. You can walk out to this bridge, look out over the edge, and they also have a glass floor at the end where you can walk onto the glass and poop your pants in horror as you’re relying exclusively on a piece of glass to prevent you from falling 300 feet to your death. Jaclyn dared to step out and you can see the pic above, it is hard to see the glass because the snow is covering it, but she did it, and it was terrifying. The one picture is somewhat obscured by snow, but it shows the wreckage from the tornado. I will 100% come back here and hike the path beneath the bridge and explore the wreckage.

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We explored the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum – Jaclyn found an old train there (Dalia was inside the conductor’s area ringing a bell on a long rope).

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Earlier last week, I had to travel to New Orleans for work and then came home on Wednesday night to see one of my favorite bands, Luna, perform at the Warhol Museum. I got an autographed poster that I cherish!

Ligonier Fall Festival

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One thing I miss about Bucks County is the small beautiful towns, I miss Doylestown, I miss New Hope, I miss Lambertville. When I ask folks around Pittsburgh if any towns like that exist around here, they tell me to check out Ligonier. Ligonier is almost an hour and 30 minutes away from our home, so the payoff needs to be pretty big to justify the trip. This weekend, Ligonier had a fall festival, so I figured, this would be a good time to take the family, if the town stinks, there will at least be kettle corn and hot dogs to improve their mood.

Once you exit the Turnpike, it is a beautiful drive up route 711. The road passes century old beautiful farms, white fences, horses, mountains, and rustic cabins. Not that the kids have an appreciation for what is out the window, they spend their time playing a game they invented called, “Guess What I Am Thinking?”. They love this game and it keeps them pretty occupied for most of the trip, occasionally, they just break out into uncontrollable laughter.

As we approached the town of Ligonier, we were waved into a large field with thousands of cars packed into it. I looked at Jaclyn as we both recognized that this was bigger than the average festival. We walked through the field to a school bus that shuttled us into town. We watched a top notch parade featuring a banana car, shriners, bag pipers, marching bands, a variety of “queens” from respective agriculture fairs, and a juggling Ronald McDonald. The town was a total mob, much too packed to really explore it, we estimated that 100,000 people were in attendance (but we are not good estimators).

Dalia wanted ice cream so we stopped in a Creamery in the center square, it was tasty and everything an ice cream parlor should be.

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The above image is taken from a clothing store in Ligonier. The town looked beautiful and Jaclyn & I vowed to return on a less busy weekend.

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A work colleague gave me a dozen eggs from his chicken coop (I almost spelled it “coup”, which made me smile envisioning a chicken coup in the coop). On Sunday morning, I started making 6 scrambled eggs for the family, when I realized no one else wanted scrambled eggs. As a result, I ate a 6 egg omelet myself and covered it with hot sauce from St. Augustine, FL that my parents got for me. It was absolutely delicious and seemed to be the perfect breakfast treat, but my mind told me that 6 eggs may be considered eggcessive, so I gained permission to take a long hike and burn off the calories.

I hiked along the Slippery Rock Gorge trail, did about 4 miles each way, but it features dramatic inclines and declines, so it whooped me pretty good. My left foot has some sort of injury which only makes itself known about 6 miles into a hike, making the last 2 miles very uncomfortable.

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After the hike, met the kids at the shopping mall. I’ve created an incentive system predicated on test/quiz scores exceeding 90% and the kids are churning out a ridiculous amount of good grades, so they cashed in their rewards for a variety of knick-knacks.

This weekend coming up, I have to make a 18 hour trip to New Orleans and then on Friday we head to the cabin in Coudersport, PA.