Writing about: Family Travel, kids, places, food…

Month: August 2008

Max’s big news

Have to include this photo of Max (5) as it shows his big news. Last week he lost both his bottom two baby teeth! He is very excited about it and has Charlotte shine the flashlight into the cavities to check for the new teeth almost hourly.


Boating on the river

I have to apologize for the lack of photographs and only boring text! It’s sad how busy our regular home life can get and probably why I appreciate the slow travel days with a more relaxed schedule!

But last Friday we did have a day of fun. Everyone had a day off work or switched schedules, public school is back in session (as homeschoolers we like having places to ourselves) and so we took a pontoon boat out for a day of boating, picnicking, and fishing. It was lovely just hanging out together.

Here’s Ben:

And Jacob:

Charlotte and Ben:

Charlotte and Max:

Ben and brothers all wanted to drive. It’s so nice to sit back and do nothing on these trips!


And our fashion boating queen Charlotte:


No fish were caught but no anchors were lost this boat trip and no one fell in. Just good fun with family.

LA trip

Last Wednesday I had to fly out to LA for a couple of days of consulting work. The amount of travel probably out did the number of hours spent in work but it was a great time as I got to meet up with people I have been working with for months now but never actually seen in person. LA was hot but actually had clear skies and I must say I longed to be heading over to the beach or hitting the theme parks with the children as we usually do there. This is one of only two times that I have left the two little ones and three days was hard enough without taking any longer time for relaxation.

I have to say though that as much as I love “being” in new places, I am beginning to dislike the “going” to new places. Travel, specifically airline travel, is just no fun. I understand the need for security but when you accidentally leave half a bottle of water in your bag it seems overdone to notch the interrogation and disgusted looks up to criminal activity level. And having the metal detector machine go off as you walk through with only 3 items of clothing already ON leaves you to wonder how much else you should be leaving off prior to flying. I’m only glad the potential UK bomber was using shoes and not underwear to hide explosives in. Imagine the interesting scenes we would be having now!

And when you finally hit the gate, having listened to an unintelligent but head splittingly loud intercom, you may be admonished to “WAIT OVER THERE” because you unwittingly tried to enter at the mumbled call for zone 10 and you are (gasp) zone 11!

Once on the plane you stagger down a sardine-can aisle giving internal prayers to any and all gods you so summon that the seat next to you will be empty or at least a noninvasive person in it. For my 4 hour flight segment this time I had the gods apparently against me when I had to hunker down sideways to try and squeeze into my seat from which about one third of the (already Tinkerbell proportioned) seat had been claimed by a woman whose weight I wouldn’t want to estimate (let’s just say big gal). She and her equally large window seat companion were I am sure delightful but, (and this could simply be my British roots coming through) I find it very hard to have someone else’s thigh, back and arms pushing me against my arm rest. There is something too personal about that level of touch at first meeting. I honestly feel great compassion for people of all weights and don’t want to sound discriminatory but if I cannot have the arm rest down (her body was too large to allow this) and I am forced to rest sideways with half of my body leaning against someone else’s for four hours of an overpriced airplane ride then I do think guidelines should be in place. It’s a tricky situation for the airlines given lawsuits and existing bad press but given the projected size changes for the next decades it doesn’t seem as if the situation is going to (dare I say it) shrink.

I will say I was somewhat cheered to hear my row companions’ self assurance despite their larger sizes. They entertained by loudly discussing the various people in the movie and subsequent advertisements with statements of “I’d ‘do’ him; would you?” Their range and lack of discrimination was quite amazing, with members of the Blue Man group equally included. I quietly read my book and tried not to let my mind wander.

OK rant over. And I am happy to report the flight home was much improved on that account; I think anyway. I was heading back on the red eye and determined to attempt sleep for at least 3.5 of the 4 hours, I took a Dramamine pill and thus have little memory of the flight. The only sad thing was I took it before the drive to the airport only to discover that on the return path the company had kindly sent a stretch limo to take my work partner and I back. We were both so exhausted (and I was doped up) that we couldn’t even muster the energy to press all the myriad buttons in the back seat and our exit in front of large, staring crowds at the airport probably fell short of their hoped for star sightings. Two rumpled, working moms bracing for long flights home to bouncy kids was probably disappointing.

And travel aside, the trip was very good. I spent 2 full days in the company of some fantastic women, all of whom are incredibly talented writers and artists and moms. The creative energy they produce towards helping young children learn through joy and excitement (and sound pedagogy) is wonderful and I am so honored to be a part of this team. Life is pretty darn good.

Our church

Just wanted to say thanks to all the people who have sent their messages of hope and good thoughts to our family and our congregation. There have been so many good things to come out of something so awful that it shows the power of love and peace.

Our friend Tammy is the only person left in the hospital and she has been moved to the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center and is doing pretty well all things considered. The love and strength of her family and friends is a testament to Tammy’s own positive traits and the care she has shown others in the past. Fingers crossed she will be home soon.

The minister of our church when I first joined was with us all last week which I know many people found helpful. She wrote a lovely article for the Washington Post which I’m going to put in the extended entry here as the link isn’t working for me now. I think it again shows the way Knoxville came together to show care and love. That has been very powerful for our own family.


And here’s the text:

Lynn Thomas Strauss
Post-Traumatic Unity
August 5, 2008

This past Sunday, I participated in the service of re-dedication at the
Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, TN. It is eight
years since I served there as minister, and one week since a man entered
that sanctuary intending to be a mass murderer, intending to be a murderer
of children. He killed two adults and seriously wounded 6 other adults
before he was quickly subdued by members of the congregation.

That beautiful sanctuary that I helped build and bless, had, through a
horrible, senseless act of violence been turned into a crime scene, a trauma
center, a wake, a memorial, a weeklong media event.

That Sunday, the children and teens of both the Tennessee Valley Church and
the Westside Unitarian Universalist church were presenting the play, “Annie
Jr.” But, instead of seeing a play, they saw murder, instead of hearing a
musical, they heard shattering shotgun blasts.

It was hard to believe it had really happened until I ran my hands over the
scarred walls where pellets were embedded. It was hard to believe until I
heard the accounts told in still-shaky voices, over and over. It was hard to
believe until I saw signs of traumatic stress in the reddened, tired eyes of
so many. It was hard to believe until the names of those killed and wounded
were spoken.

The Tennessee Valley congregation was the first church I served as a UU
minister. Moving from Chicago to Knoxville and learning ministry in the
Bible Belt was a profound experience for me. The need for liberal ministry
is clear there, where Christian fundamentalism is strong. The Tennessee
Valley congregation has always stood up for equality, diversity, and
religious liberty. Unitarian Universalism is a faith that values difference
of opinion and belief . As a liberal religion we value people of different
colors, genders and sexual orientations. We believe that all people have
worth and dignity, and we try to live that belief.

Religious groups sometimes build walls, high brick walls between different
faiths and denominations. Some think that those on the other side of their
carefully constructed walls are to be feared or hated. Some apply labels,
and teach prejudice.
In Knoxville, Unitarian Universalists were routinely labeled “Other”.
Unitarian Universalists were often marginalized within the larger faith
community. Our children were regularly told by other children that “they
were going to go to hell” unless they believed a certain doctrine. The walls
between the churches were old and sturdy; the walls were high and

But last week, those walls came tumbling down. Last week the Tennessee
Valley Unitarian Church was the recipient of wondrous love and generous
compassion. Last week, the Presbyterians took in our children as they ran
from the gunman. Last week the Baptists brought food everyday. Last week,
the Jews lit candles for us and attended our vigil. Last week the Muslims
prayed for us. Last week, the Quakers and the Catholics and the
Episcopalians brought flowers and sent cards. Strings and strings of
colorful paper peace doves were brought for the children.

All last week the church was open to the community, open for silent
meditation in the sanctuary, open for shared meals, open for prayer, open
for sharing pain and compassion, open for all who brought blessings and good
wishes. The church was filled with people all day, every day.

Last week, the walls of religious separation came tumbling down. It was a
kind of miracle. A miracle of grace and the human spirit. As Rev. William
Sinkford, Unitarian, Universalist Association President, wrote in a letter
read at the service: “Your love has overpowered fear”. For one week there
were no separate denominations or faith groups in the city of Knoxville. For
one week, we were one grieving family, one in our sorrow, and one in our
resolve to witness to peace.

As the service ended yesterday, lay and ordained ministers walked to the
back of the crowded sanctuary and stood shoulder to shoulder with the Rev.
Chris Buice, minister of the Tennessee Valley Church as he spoke words of
re-dedication of that sacred space. We stood on the spot where the gunman
had stood, near where the first victim was killed; we stood confident that
love overcomes hate, that love is the spirit of our church. We stood as the
congregation joined the children and teens in singing, “The sun will come
out tomorrow” – the song they had not gotten to sing a week earlier. We were
standing on the side of love.

Rev. Lynn Thomas Strauss is minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of
Rockville, MD.

Aquarium and butterflies

Yesterday we decided to take the children to Chattanooga and go to the big aquarium there.


We have all had such a rough week that a family outing seemed appropriate and healing for all. The aquarium has grown since we have been going and is now two large buildings and with both you start at the top floor and work your way down, passing huge tanks and glass walls of every variety of fish you could think of. They have a special exhibit right now with tons of sea horses and sea dragons – favorites with our children (and me).

The second (newer) building starts you out in a tropical environment and we were full of mixed emotions looking at the plants and trees that were exactly the same as Costa Rica. Ben (13) kept pointing and saying “Look. The same flowers!” Then we headed into the butterfly exhibit which again was very similar to Costa Rica’s flora and fauna and, after reading the information sheet, we realized why. All the butterflies are imported from the Butterfly Farm in Costa Rica. We visited there earlier in July (see July 7th post here) and it was really lovely. At the end of the visit we watched the women packing up boxes of larva ready to be sent around the world and we had asked if they shipped to Tennessee. They do, and the aquarium receives a box from the Farm every Monday and Wednesday with about 500 new butterflies a week coming in.

As Max (5) was holding a butterfly on his finger he said “I wonder if we got to see this little guy when he was just an egg in Costa Rica?” Doing the math we figured that, yes, we were probably there when “he” was in that early stage. We were all again amazed at how small our world really is, and how learning and travel make connections that stir our souls in so many complex ways.

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