We're slowly unpacking boxes and watching as items are reabsorbed into the house. It's quite remarkable. Box after box is emptied out, with no noticeable change in the house's appearances. Items go into closets, drawers, shelves. They sit on dressers, and on top of the stove, and behind the fridge. Packed into the car and into boxes, the detritus of our daily lives looks overwhelming. Unpacked, it soaks into our surroundings and becomes part of the fabric of daily life.
July 2006 Archives
Wow, it feels good to be home. Warmly welcomed by neighbors, kids having a great time with friends, takeout food from our favorite Indian restaurant en route to our table.
The house feels small and a bit shabby compared to where we've been living, but it won't be hard to spruce it up, and I'd rather have it than all the mini-mansions in Seattle. Walking down the warm sidewalk to visit with neighbors, watching the evening thunderstorm approach, listening to Lane laughing and hanging out with his buds...it's all good.
We pulled into our driveway a little after 1pm, and found a neighbor and two of Lane's friends waiting for us on the front porch.
It's good to be home!
Time Warner says it could be ten days before our local phone, cable, and broadband are installed...eek! The phone's not a big deal, since they seem to have put in a new tower near here--we're finally getting decent signals on our cell phones. And while Gerald and the boys will miss the TV, I never watch, so that's not an issue. But ten days without network access? Eeek!
Happily, I've got the EVDO card. And it appears that we're picking up a faint but usable open wifi network from one of our neighbors. Hurrah for ubiquitous wireless!
Now the unpacking and settling in begins. A lot of work, but more fun (and rewarding) than the packing and moving out. :)
We made it past Toledo today and were still feeling fine, so we decided to push on past Cleveland...meaning we'll be home early tomorrow! (Gerald and I were considering just heading all the way home tonight, but Lane vetoed that idea.)
So we're spending the night in a Fairfield Inn just east of Cleveland, and we'll try to get an early start tomorrow morning. Woohoo! Almost home!
It took nearly four hours to tour the whole thing, which included going through twisted passageways and up and down spiraling ramps, all in dim lighting, often with strangely discordant music emanating from the self-operating musical instrument displays.
I took a few photos, all up at Flickr, but there's really no way to capture the utter bizarreness of the place.
In other news, Lane and I had an enjoyable breakfast with a number of folks from my WoW guild this morning, at the Original Pancake House--which was one of the best breakfast spots I can remember eating at. Highly recommended if you ever find yourself in Madison.
We're in Madison tonight, after a few hours of parental suffering in the Mall of America, and a relatively uneventful drive down I-94. Dinner plans fell through, so I took the kids out for dinner while Gerald relaxed, and I'm now drinking a glass of chardonnay in the "Highland Club" that our "premium room" gives us access to. A nice perk, but they'll be kicking me out in 4 minutes (we're on central time now, so it's 8:56), which means I have to type fast.
Tomorrow, breakfast at 7:30am at the Original Pancake House here in Madison, with a bunch of games & learning friends (well, actually, they're really WoW friends. but it's the same thing). Then we head to the House on the Rock, and back here for another night in Madison--I expect there will be some interesting photos from the day's adventures.. Friday morning we'll start back on the road home.
(The boys have taken over the PC laptops for gaming, so I'm using my Powerbook tonight...thus no Streets & Trips image. Happily, it was a route simple enough for even Google Maps to display.)
Today's drive was boring, the only decent hotel near the Mall of America that wasn't fully booked up only had a smoking room (ick), and I just spent four hours in a mall/amusement park with two kids. Not my favorite day of the trip, but the kids loved it.
Tomorrow we'll go back to the mall for more rides, and the kids will get to spend a little money now that they've window-shopped. (The extended visit is for them, since this is the only place they've actually asked to stay longer at.) Then we'll get back on the road and see how far into Wisconsin we can get before Gerald and I get worn out...which means tomorrow's entry will be equally boring. However, Thursday morning we plan to hit the House on the Rock, and Thursday evening I hope to spend visiting with friends in Madison.
Friday we'll shoot for Toledo, which means we'll get back to Rochester on Saturday, assuming no other delays or distractions. (My original prediction of Friday was based on a futile hope that I could convince the boys that they really weren't that interested in the Mall of America. Silly me.)
Alex was greatly recovered this morning, so we got on the road at around 9:30 and headed east. It was a busy day, which started with the famous Wall Drug Store in Wall, SD, where we drank deeply of their famous ice water, bought a few souvenirs, and gazed upon the jackelope and T-Rex in the backyard.
It was a good thing we drank plenty of ice water--and carried cold drinks in our cooler--because it was HOT HOT HOT in the Badlands. I took a picture when my car's outside temperature gauge showed 106 degrees, thinking that was as hot as it would get. I was wrong. At one point it actually went as high as 109. As a result, we kept our stops very short, took some photos, and got back into the air conditioned comfort of our cars. Still, it was spectacular.
We arrived in Mitchell, SD, at about 7pm (local time; we crossed from Mountain to Central time along the way). After settling into a lovely suite at the Hampton Inn, we headed out to see the Corn Palace, which was everything I expected. The boys were only able to tolerate about 30 minutes of it, after which we grabbed KFC for dinner and headed back here to relax.
Oh...and we got great news today. It seems our tenants decided to leave a week early, which means we'll be able to move right back into our house as soon as we arrive. So we could arrive back in our house as early as this Friday, if all goes as planned. Yay!
I've learned a few things this week about using my computer for travel planning. A few sites that have become indispensable for us as we do our day-to-day reservations (we didn't want to book too far in advance because we weren't sure how far we'd get each day):
- TripAdvisor, which has the greatest number of consumer reviews of hotels, and has helped us avoid hotels that people said were particularly dirty or unpleasant. As a result, we've had no terrible experiences with hotels.
- Orbitz, which let us see at a glance which hotels have free wifi, free breakfast, and a pool--three things we like on road trips.
- Priceline, which let us book a hotel even when all the other sites (Expedia, Orbitz, and the hotel chain sites themselves) said there weren't any rooms available.
- America's Byways, which provides photos and maps of the scenic byways if you want to avoid the boring interstates.
For offline computer-based planning, I've found that Microsoft Streets & Trips is significantly more useful than any of the online mapping tools. It allows you to specify your typical driving speeds and frequency of rest stops, your daily start and stop times, and waypoints--including the length of time (in hours or days) that you plan to stay. This has made it possible for us to reroute along the way, and get accurate, detailed estimates of time for each leg of the trip. I have the GPS unit that's supposed to work with it, but after a few months of flawless operation it stopped working. :(
Our Garmin GPS, however, came back to life--just in time for us to embark on this trip. Hallelujah! It really is useful to have, especially when you take a wrong turn, or decide to leave your original route for a scenic byway. Another nice feature is that it provides your elevation, which was fun to track as we made our way across the Rockies. (I think the highest point for us was leaving Yellowstone, where our elevation was over 9,000 feet.) The unit we have was the most economical one we could find, and except for the unexpected refusal to work for the first two weeks of July, it's been a great investment.
And while it's not computer-related, our AAA membership continues to be a good investment. The guidebooks and maps are great, and if we'd stuck with our original routing, the TripTik would have been useful as well.
Lane's first reaction upon seeing Mount Rushmore from the road? "I didn't expect it to be so small." To be honest, from far away it did look a lot smaller than the postcard photos make it seem. When we got closer, however, we were properly impressed by its grandeur. Unfortunately, we made the mistake of taking the .6 mile path around the base of the monument, and while Gerald and Lane and I all drank our bottles of water, Alex didn't. When we got into the car, my outside temperature thermometer read 104, and by the time we got down the road to Custer State Park and stopped for lunch, Alex was exhibiting signs of heat exhaustion. So, Gerald took Alex back to the hotel, and Lane and I drove around the wildlife loop at the park, where we saw burros, deer, and herds of bison.
(We got a lot closer than that, but this photo fit best in the entry.)
The interesting thing about South Dakota is that the view from the interstate (at least here in Rapid City) is really deceptive. From I-90 (and our hotel) it looks flat as a pancake. But go 20 miles south and you're in the mountainous Black Hills area, with twisting roads running through hilly terrain. These are the hills that spurred the phrase "there's gold in them thar hills." You certainly wouldn't know it if you just drove through on the interstate.
This evening we're hanging around the hotel so that Alex can recover. Lane and I went out to dinner at the Denny's across the street and had a great time...he's such good company when it's just the two of us. Now that we're back, we're sitting in the hotel lobby where Lane's watching the big HDTV and I'm soaking up the free wifi, while Gerald does the laundry (hey, I offered to do it, but he insisted).
I'm hoping Alex will be feeling better enough for us to leave Rapid City tomorrow...he's sleeping right now, and hasn't thrown up in a few hours, so if we can get some liquids into him tonight we should be fine. In that case, tomorrow will be a South Dakota tourist day--Wall Drug, followed by the scenic loop through Badlands N.P. (we'll stay in the cars, since it's supposed to be pretty hot again tomorrow), and ending up in Mitchell, home of the world-famous Corn Palace.
Update, 8pm: Alex has woken up, and has energy and an appetite. I'm greatly relieved, and it looks like our original travel plan for tomorrow holds.
We left Cody at around 9 this morning, expecting that today's drive would be somewhat tedious. We were totally unprepared for how astoundingly beautiful the Shell Basin in the Bighorn National Forest would be. The road winds through gorgeous rock formations, with lots of places to pull off and gaze wonderingly at the creek rushing through the gorge below, or the incredible layers of rock visible on the sheer cliff faces.
I took a ton of photos, but Lane is currently using my Powerbook and I don't (yet) have an easy way to get the pictures off my camera and onto this PC laptop.
Now we're settled into the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites in Rapid City, SD, where we'll stay for two whole nights. (Point of information: it's very hard to find a room in a decent hotel in Rapid City on a Saturday night in July. Happily, even though the Holiday Inn site and Expedia both claimed this hotel was fully booked, Priceline managed to find a us a room.) Tomorrow is tourist day...we'll be visiting Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, and Wind Cave National Park, returning to Rapid City via the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway. On our way out of Rapid City on Tuesday, we'll stop at Badlands National Park, on our way to the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.
(I couldn't get Google Maps to map this the way we went; I'll need to grab a screen from Streets & Trips on my PC laptop sometime tomorrow to replace the shot above. But this is close enough for now.)
(Streets & Trips does a much better job of showing the routes we're taking than Google Maps, particularly when we take detours, so I'll be using it for the illustrations.)
I took photos today, but not one of them captures even a fraction of the beauty of Yellowstone. It was, I think, the most beautiful place I've ever been. If I'd been traveling alone, I would have pulled over 50 times today to soak in the views and take photos to remember them.
For the boys, the highlight of the day was definitely seeing Old Faithful. We got there just in time to see it spout, and it was fun to watch. For me, it was the incredible views of rivers, rocks, mountains, and lakes. We saw bison by the side of the road, and watched an osprey grab a fish out of a stream and swoop past our car. Driving the scenic byway from the park to Cody in the early evening sun was heartbreakingly beautiful. I think I'm in love with this region.
Tomorrow, South Dakota...including Deadwood (since Gerald loves the show), Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, and Badlands National Park. I suspect we'll need to spend two nights in Rapid City to do it all, but we'll see.
Yesterday was a long driving day--nearly 500 miles. Lots of beautiful views from the roads (and one impressive but slightly scary view of a big wildfire in Montana), but we didn't stop to take any photos. We crashed at a Best Western in Butte, with a nice pool & hot tub, free wifi, and a free breakfast.
I'm actually finding myself energized rather than drained by the trip, which is why (despite the time change) I find myself up well before Gerald and the boys. If I come out to Seattle again next summer, I'm definitely driving. In fact, I wouldn't rule out renting a convertible to do the drive. (Weez, we should do it together! LIke Thelma and Louise, but with a happier ending!)
Today we'll be heading into Yellowstone from the west, stopping at lots of scenic overlooks and visiting Old Faithful. We'll exit on the east side, and spend the night in Cody, Wyoming. So tonight's entry (or tomorrow morning's) will definitely include photos.
We left Bellevue late this morning, and set out on the first leg of our cross-country adventure. On the nights that I have internet access (and energy), I'll try to post about our day.
Today's drive was nothing short of spectacular. We took SR-20 through North Cascades National Park, and loved every minute of it. We took our time, stopped for a picnic lunch along the way, and ended up at our destination--the delightfully quaint "old west" town of Winthrop, Washington. We're staying at The Virginian, in a cute little cabin that has air conditioning, separate beds for the boys, and even--much to our surprise--free wifi! Everyone's in good spirits, though we're a bit tired from driving and walking.
Tomorrow will be a longer driving day, with an as-yet unknown stopping point (I'm guessing somewhere around Butte, Montana, but we'll see how we do during the day).
We moved out of the boat this morning (another gray and damp morning, so I wasn't too sorry to leave), packed the cars full of our "can't ship it, can't live without it" stuff, and headed back across Puget Sound to Bellevue, where we're staying with friends until next Wednesday. (I'm speaking at the MSR Faculty Summit on Tuesday, so we can't leave 'til after that.) I'm glad to be in more spacious quarters, and the boys are particularly happy to be with their friends for a few days, and to have cable TV and easy wifi access. But it's still not home. :(
The next few days will be busy. I have to get my presentation put together for next week, there are a series of goodbye dinners and parties to attend, we've promised the boys a trip to Leavenworth or the San Juan Islands before we leave, and then there's the conference on Monday and Tuesday.
Wednesday we'll start the cross-country trek home. Since we're taking both of our cars, it means Gerald and I both have to drive the whole time. On the plus side, it also means the boys will be in separate cars, which will make the trip significantly less stressful for everyone. (After a few hour with both of them in my car this morning I was almost ready to dump them by the side of the road...)
If TypeKey (and TypePad!) had to go down for several hours, it would have been nice if it was't during the one block of time I'd set aside this week for downloading current versions of MovableType to upgrade my various course weblog servers.
The lack of information provided on the status site is frustrating, as are the inaccurate promises (at 3pm, there's still a note from 1:30pm saying it should be up within the hour).
Come on, SixApart. If you want people to buy into your centralized authentication (and blogging) services, you can't have outages of four or more hours at a time.
To amuse myself when it rains (and when I can wrest connectivity from the kids), I've been looking for interesting places to visit on our trip back home. The Roadside America link that Alice Yucht wrote about in a comment here has been extremely helpful in finding the most unusual spots.
I also just finished reading the amazing book American Gods by Neil Gaiman, in which the roadside attraction House on the Rock in Wisconsin figures prominently. I was delighted to find that it's not out of our way, so that's a definite stop on the tour. We'll also be making stops at the Corn Palace in South Dakota, and the Spam Museum in Minnesota. While in Minnesota we'll also pay a visit to the Mall of America.
That's in addition to the national parks and monuments we've already tagged for visits...North Cascades NP on our way out of the state, followed by Yellowstone NP , Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave NP, and Badlands NP. Alex will get new stamps for his passport, and we'll get to see some beautiful areas that none of us have visited before.
I suspect that I'll be in less of a funk when we're moving than I am here--it won't feel so much like we're pretending to be at home while we're on the road.
As a child, I had a luxury that many people don't have...we moved into a house when I was four that I lived in until I went to college--and that my father still occupies. During the more tumultuous periods of my life, I found that having a stable place to call home made a huge difference. When my parents divorced, everyone else in my family changed houses at least once; my father moved out until my mother remarried, upon which she and my sister moved to Rochester and my father moved back in. My mom points out that not even the location of my furniture moved during that time.
Having a physical space that I can claim as my own has remained important to me. I don't think I realized how important until this month, which we're spending without any place to call our own. The boat would probably be great if this were simply a vacation from our usual home, but knowing there's nowhere else to call home makes it feel less like a retreat and more like an exile. Things that don't usually bother me when I'm traveling--living out of a suitcase, eating out a lot, not having a familiar space to sit and work--are making me miserable here. We've got several generous offers to stay with friends in Seattle, but that won't really address the underlying discomfort with not being on familiar ground.
It's not as bad when we're out and about--visiting parks and exploring local towns. But when we're sitting around the boat on a gray day like today (or yesterday, or tomorrow...it's not shaping up to be a great week) I feel trapped and uncomfortable and unhappy.
I'd be sorely tempted to bail on the conference I'm speaking at next week and head straight back to Rochester immediately, but our tenants are in our house until August 1, so I'm stuck in this in-between state for another 3 weeks. In the meantime, I'm hoping the funk I'm in is temporary, and will lift when we're back in our house again next month.
I see from the wiki for BarCampRochester that someone has proposed a session to talk about the online professor rating system. I wish I could go. I'd love to ask some hard questions about these systems generally.
For example, would the people who champion these systems be just as enthusiastic about a publicly accessible "student rating system" that let professors share their opinions about students?
I'm really torn about these rating systems. I understand the desire and the need for them. I remember using a print version of them when I was an undergrad at Michigan. But too often the systems I've seen on the web turn into the worst example of online character assassination. I may not be the best professor there is, but how helpful is it to have a system that lets people write (as I found on one site several years ago) "She should be chasing chickens on a farm, not teaching information technology." Yes, I can laugh at the absurdity of it. But I've seen some that were far worse and more damaging than that. Comments about people's sexual preferences, their physical appearance, and more.
As soon as you allow anonymous free-text commenting, you get the worst of what people have to offer. And unlike in-class evaluations, where you get a full sample of student views--good, bad, and indifferent--on these opt-in systems you tend to get comments only from people with the strongest of opinions, skewing the accuracy.
If these professor rating systems are inevitable, what checks and balances can be put in place to keep them from being overrun with personal attacks? Is it realistic to have content editors? To limit to a preset list of comments? It's not reasonable, I think, to put the burden on the professor to police his or her own evaluations.
What if it were turned around? What if professors could warn each other about problem students--the ones who regularly fall asleep in class, the ones who consistently cause discord in group projects, the ones whose grandmothers have died at least six times since their freshman year? And what if these systems were as publicly available as the professor rating systems? Is that somehow worse? If so, why? (I can think of some reasons, but I think it's a valuable exercise to discuss this.)
We figured it would be safe to spend two weeks on the water in July. But the skies have been gray for two days, and even at noon the temperature's only up to 58 degrees today. Over the weekend we may break 70 again, but then they're predicting clouds, rain, and chilly temperatures for the rest of the week.
It's cold and damp and I'm feeling quite out of sorts. If we have to be in transition for a month, was it so much to ask that the transtional period be enjoyable? The first week was dominated by illness and far too much driving (I went back to Seattle again yesterday to drop off two of four kids, and with ferry wait times added in it took nearly 8 hours round trip). Now that we're inching towards a better healthy adult to child ratio, the weather turns rotten.
Okay, that's the end of my self-pitying rant. I'm sure it will get better. We have books and movies and music and computers. There are far worse places to be stuck inside. I just wish I'd brought more sweatshirts and fewer sleeveless tops.
Gerald took himself to the hospital this morning, where they said he had bacterial gastroenteritis, and weren't sure if it was from the tap water on the boat or the raw oysters...both of which we'll be avoiding for the rest of the trip. They rehydrated him, gave him something for the cramps, and sent him back with an Rx for an antibiotic to kill off what's left of the bacteria. He's napping on the boat now, and we're hoping to have him back to full strength soon.
Tomorrow we'll send two of the four boys back to Bellevue for a few days. Hopefully Lili won't notice that we've swapped one of her children for one of ours...or, if she does, that she won't mind. :) Over the weekend we'll set things back to normal configurations.
And tonight we'll grill steaks and bake potatoes, and watch the fireworks over Pleasant Harbor from the top deck of the boat.
This fall I'm going to be teaching a graduate class on CSCW--computer-supported collaborative work. In many ways, CSCW is the academic field of social computing, although social computing goes well beyond collaborative work.
As a result, I'll be covering not just the more traditional forms of CSCW (groupware, email, etc), but also the newer forms of social computing that are becoming increasingly influential in business contexts--blogs, wikis, social networking tools, social bookmarking, and more.
Right now, the course only has three students enrolled (in part because it's seldom offered, and people don't really know what's covered in it), and I need ten in order for it to run in the fall. So if you're an RIT graduate student (or advanced undergraduate, or even a colleague) interested in a distance-learning class on social technologies, please consider enrolling in 4002.892.90!
Later this week I'll work on putting up a tentative course outline, and I'll post an update when that's available. (I need to get my MT courseware updated first.)
It seems that we're not able to have a vacation free of stresses.
On the plus side, the weather has (mostly) been great...a little cool in the morning until the fog burns off (which isn't 'til after lunch if you try to go up to Port Townsend, as I did today), but lovely in the afternoons. And now that we've added a few more lights, the boat's becoming quite homey. Each of the boys has a friend here now, imported from Seattle for a few days, and that's been good for them. And something about lots of outdoor time seems to have reset their body clocks, so they're voluntarily going to bed not long after it gets dark. The kids and I were all up at 7 this morning, and I baked cinnamon rolls for us and then drank my coffee out on the deck--even with the low clouds, it was peaceful and beautiful.
On the down side, I spent most of yesterday driving to and from Seattle, to fetch the boys' friends and attend Scoble's bbq (and drop off a key, and rent some movies, and buy a book, and stock up on groceries...). I started the trip off with the first speeding ticket I've had in about 20 years, which didn't do much for my mood, and I didn't get back 'til after dinnertime, by which point I was completely worn out from the driving and from the sibling squabbles (which were doubled rather than reduced by the presence of a second set of siblings). When I got back, I discovered that Gerald's upset stomach had gotten worse, not better. And by tonight, it still hadn't improved much. So there's a good chance we'll start our 4th of July with a trip back to Port Townsend (45 minutes north), which is the closest place with a hospital. There's a clinic in Quilcene, about 20 miles from here, but it's unlikely to be open on a holiday.
Since both vehicles are heavily laden with household goods, there's no way we can get all six of us into a car, so I've got to figure out what combination is most realistic for reducing risk to everyone. I think I'll let the 12yos stay here on their own recognizance, and take the 9-10yos with us. Not a perfect solution, but probably the best we can manage. I don't want Gerald to drive himself, and I don't want to leave the younger boys here without us.
Maybe we'll wake up tomorrow and Gerald will be feeling healthy again. I hope so.
I just did some online research, and am suddenly more concerned about Gerald than I was. On Saturday he ate raw oysters that he'd harvested himself at a beach down the road, but he assured me that if they'd been tainted that he would have been violently ill. After reading about vibrio vulnificus I'm not so sure. And I think we'll definitely be making that hospital trip tomorrow if he's not significantly better. :(
Gerald got in late last night, and took the boys from tears to laughter in minutes. I fell asleep listening to them horsing around up above me in the hot tub.
And I was right...everything was better this morning. I woke around 6am to the sound of wind chimes, the feel of a cool breeze through the window, and a view of green pine trees against a clear blue sky.
Today we'll figure out what we need to feel comfortable here (more food, for sure; more lights, definitely), and tomorrow when we're back in Seattle for a party I'll stock up at Target.
I realized this morning that staying here is much less like the hotels that we're used to staying in, and much more like the cabin in northern Ontario that I used to vacation at with friends, back in high school and college. Not much to do there but eat, sleep, fish, swim, read, and listen to music. Here we add a bit of high-speed computing, some TVs that we can hook up a DVR to (and play back the many episodes of Family Guy that my kids recorded before we left), and easy access to several nearby parks. It's all about perspective--which we always seem to have more of when Gerald's here :)
I've been trying to remember when the last time I took a real vacation was--a vacation of more than a day or two, with nothing to do but relax. I honestly can't remember, and that's not a good thing. So I'll use this month to make up for it.