Family: August 2009 Archives

July 25, 2009: Hustontown, Pa.

Our arrival was timed so that we could attend the monthly get-together at the Hustontown Volunteer Fire Department, an open stage night where locals gather to play music, to listen to music, and to visit with one another. Refreshments (including homemade pies) are sold to raise money for the fire department.


The house band is led by a longtime volunteer firefighter, and the group accompanies most of the other performers. Our two oldest kids each signed up to play (fiddle and piano, respectively).

I didn't know what kind of music to expect from amateur night in the middle of rural Pennsylvania. I would never have expected it to be the same sort of music you'd hear at such an amateur night in Kentucky or Arkansas or Oklahoma.

Earlier that day, as we drove through southwestern Pennsylvania, my wife and I were struck by the number of Ulster place names we saw. Two vacations (B.C. -- before children) took us to Counties Antrim and Tyrone and Donegal and the cities of Belfast and Derry, partly in search of traces of my Scotch-Irish ancestors. I knew from some of my genealogical reading that many Ulster Scots who came to America in the 1700s entered at Philadelphia and settled inland; first in Lancaster County, then further west into the Alleghenies, and then south into the Shenandoah Valley, the Cumberland Gap, the Holston Valley, and then, in the 1800s and 1900s, westward to places like Texas, Oklahoma, and California's Central Valley. It was easy to see how Scotch-Irish settlers from the glens of Antrim or the Blue Stack Mountains of Donegal would have felt right at home in western and central Pennsylvania.

A couple of weeks ago, Philadelphia-based blogger Skye made this observation on Twitter, as she drove west to Pittsburgh for the Right Online conference:

So, this is alabama in between

I'm not sure what she saw to lead her to that conclusion, but it makes sense. (I was surprised at the number of Confederate battle flags I saw flying around Fulton County. Not a huge number, but more than the number I expected -- zero.)

The culture of northern Alabama and the culture of south central Pennsylvania are bound together by this Ulster Scots heritage, a heritage that is so ubiquitous in America that it is as invisible as the air that we breathe.

I mentioned the music at the open stage night: There was western swing, there was classic country (e.g. Hank Williams), and there was traditional gospel (e.g., "I've Got a Mansion Just over the Hilltop"). The latter style had many in the crowd singing along. The house band included fiddles, a banjo, an accordion, a pedal steel guitar, and a bunch of electric basses and electric and acoustic guitars.


What clinched the connection for me was the opening tune: A couple of choruses of Bennie Moten's "South", recorded in 1928. Moten was a Kansas City native, and his band included the Kid from Red Bank (as Johnny Martin called him) -- Count Basie. The song entered the western swing repertoire via Bob Wills, who used it each night to lead off his dances. Is it just a coincidence that the Hustontown Fire Department house band opened with the same tune over 70 years later?

Here's my oldest son performing a traditional Irish tune called "Tam Lin" and the classic western swing number, "Faded Love." I love the way the band comes in behind him on Tam Lin. There was a bit of a hiccup on a key change in Faded Love, but everyone got on the same page eventually. I'm proud of him being willing to go up in front of a hundred or so strangers and play with a dozen musicians he'd never played with before.

I was proud of my little girl, too. She played her two recital pieces from Barthelmes -- "Snake" and "Relay Race" -- and remembered to take a bow at the end:

The three-year-old was wiped out from the long drive. Here's one of his few moments of alertness and a more typical moment a short while later:


But he was awake for ice cream. After the show, we headed to a local favorite spot -- the Twist and Shake -- which specializes in unusual flavors of soft serve ice cream. That night the special flavors were chocolate marshmallow and peanut butter. Another night they had grape nuts ice cream and teaberry ice cream. (Teaberry tastes just like Pepto-Bismol.)


Back at the house, we caught fireflies for a while before turning in for the next day's big adventure: A ride on a real steam train.

Tulsa Boy Singers, performing at York Minster, June 10, 2007

The Tulsa Boy Singers, a choral group of boys from ages 8 to 18, is holding a special concert Friday night, August 28, 2009, at 7 p.m. The concert has a dual purpose -- to recruit new members and to raise money. Brief auditions for boys interested in singing with TBS will be held immediately after the concert, and following the concert there will be a wine and cheese reception. There will also be a a silent auction -- bidding starts at 6:30, before the concert -- for products and services from great (and generous) local businesses.

Here's some basic info about TBS:

The Tulsa Boy Singers is a community-based, non-profit, nondenominational organization for musically talented boys from 3rd grade through high school. The choir has been serving Tulsa for over 60 years, presenting concerts each Christmas season and each spring, singing at civic events (such as Philbrook's Festival of Trees), weddings, and other occasions.

Hour-and-a-half rehearsals are held each Monday and Thursday at Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Tulsa. Boys come from all over the metro area and as far away as Wagoner and Ponca City.

As part of their training, the boys go through the Royal Society of Church Music's "Voice for Life" program, which teaches music theory and notation, vocal technique, and musicianship, as well as the personal discipline required to be rehearse and perform as part of a group.

After school is out each summer the choir goes on a brief tour. Recent tours have taken TBS to Texas and around Oklahoma, and in 2007 TBS spent a week performing in the United Kingdom. Each August before school begins, there's a week long camp where the boys learn music for the upcoming season and have time to swim and kayak and enjoy the outdoors.

New singers start out in the Boy Choir, TBS's training choir. When they've developed some basic choral and performance skills, boys can be promoted to the Concert Choir, which brings with it the chance to go on tour and participate in camp.

Funds raised from Friday's auction will go toward scholarships, tour trip costs, camp costs, and overall costs of maintaining the choir.

My oldest son is now in his fifth year with TBS. Although it's a challenge to weave rehearsals into a busy schedule, he enjoys it too much to think of giving it up. Through TBS, he has learned about music, about teamwork, and about poise in front of an audience, giving him skills that are useful far beyond the field of choral music.

I hope you'll attend Friday's concert and learn for yourself what the Tulsa Boy Singers are all about.

MORE: Here are the Tulsa Boy Singers, performing Palestrina's Sicut cervus (Psalm 42:1) at St. Paul's Covent Garden, during their 2007 UK tour.

As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.

Day 3: July 25, 2009, Columbus, Ohio, to Hustontown, Pa., via I-70 and I-76, 320.9 mi., 6:41 en route.


The third day of driving included a swing through historic Zanesville, Ohio, and across its unusual Y bridge and a stop at Wheeling, W. Va.'s Italian Festival on the Ohio River waterfront. Click the "read more" link to read all about it (and see some pictures, too).

Day 2: July 24, 2009, Pacific, Mo. to Columbus, Ohio, via I-44 and I-70, 479.9 mi., 11:30 en route (plus one hour lost to the time change).

11 a.m. was a later start than I'd hoped for, but it was much better than the day before. We sailed through St. Louis without a snarl. The kids were under a no-books, no-DS order until we passed through the city so that they might actually pay attention to what we were driving past. Interest was expressed in going up in the Gateway Arch, but we were too far behind schedule for that to work; we'd try to fit it in on the return trip. I made sure to call their attention to the Eads Bridge, the Mississippi River, and the near-ruin that is downtown East St. Louis. The oldest boy noticed a tall building that no longer had tenants or even windows: "You can see all the way through it!"

We hit construction delays as we approached the point where I-70 and I-55 split, so I opted to drive a while on US 40. That two-lane road was backed up by what looked to be a serious accident. I gave up after about 10 minutes, confessed to my bad call, turned around (traffic was stopped in both directions) and headed back to the jammed interstate. But before we reached the on-ramp, I spotted a streetsign for "Old National Rd." The old highway led us through the village of Troy, Ill., then back to US 40, which we followed through the town of Highland, settled, according to a book I have on the National Road, by Swiss immigrants; the influence was apparent in some of the town's older buildings.

The current alignment of US 40 doesn't go through Highland, but bypasses it. Having missed the spot where the older alignment splits off to go through the main part of town, we turned south on Poplar, following the signs for the business district. I took a guess, based on years of experience following old highway alignments, about which street would take us east out of town on old US 40. After a few blocks it appeared that my guess was wrong, so I pulled into a subdivision, consulted Google Maps on my Treo, and, correctly oriented, got us back on track. Our path back to new US 40 and I-70 took us past a farmhouse with beautifully decorated shutters, spangled with stars in what we guessed was a traditional Swiss immigrant pattern. (Didn't get a picture, sadly.)

As we were nearing three hours on the road and people were complaining about hunger, I decided that we would stop at the Vandalia McDonald's. It had a Playplace, which would give the two younger kids a chance to burn off some energy, and wifi, which would let me get a couple of tasks handled while the kids played. Before the trip, I'd used McDonald's travel planner to find all the locations on our route with a Playplace and wireless internet, and massaged the data into a spreadsheet (a Perl script was involved), which I printed out and put in a binder along with our AAA online Triptik.

Chillin' with Ronald McDonald

Although we often bought sandwiches out, we'd get water and no fries (or maybe one order to share), and make use of our stock of sodas, Vitamin Water, and snacks in the car.

From there, we headed into Vandalia for a visit to the old Illinois State House, which served as the state capitol from 1834-1837 and was the place where Abraham Lincoln first served as an elected official. Foreshadowing the construction of new stadiums to keep the pro sports franchise happy, it was built at local expense in hopes that the legislature would not relocate to another city. (Nevertheless, Lincoln and other upstate legislators made Springfield the capital just three years later.) The rooms had been restored to appear as they would have in the 1830s, with wood-burning stoves for heat and standing desks.

The docent told us a story about the State Auditor's office. When the state offered a bounty for wolves, a hunter had to bring the wolf's scalp to the Auditor in exchange for a voucher, which he then could take to the local bank to receive payment. To prevent someone claiming the bounty more than once for the same wolf, the Auditor kept all the wolf scalps in an ever-growing pile in his office.

Madonna of the Trail, Vandalia, Ill.We paid a visit to the Madonna of the Trail statue on the southwest corner of the State House grounds, marking the western terminus of the National Road. The Daughters of the American Revolution placed 12 of these statues, honoring pioneer mothers, along the National Old Trail Road from Bethesda, Md., to Upland, Calif. (The statues are roughly contemporaneous with E. W. Marland's competition for the design of a Pioneer Woman monument in Ponca City, Okla.)

Across the street from the State House is a pocket park devoted to Abraham Lincoln, with a statue of Lincoln seated, reading the newspaper. There is a display telling the story of Lincoln's odd proposal of marriage to a woman he didn't love and how devastated he was when she turned him down.


Back on the road after our two hours in Vandalia, we stopped for gas in Terre Haute (my original goal for Day 1's overnight stop) at about 5, then picked up a half-dozen sliders at White Castle for a snack. Reviews were mixed: The grownups liked them; the kids, not so much. We zipped through Indiana, passing through Indianapolis (and marveling at the enormous Lucas Oil Stadium), and taking a break at the Greenfield rest area, which had a pretty wetlands and wildflower area to walk along.

My wife picked up a hotel coupon booklet (RoomSaver) at the rest area, and as I drove she combed through it looking for a good deal along our route. I had hoped to make Zanesville, but the rooms there were scarce and surprisingly pricey. She found a coupon for a Hawthorn Suites on the north side of Columbus. It would take us out of our way, but at $50 it seemed like the best deal. I made the final calls from a gas station just east of the Ohio border, where we stopped for yet one more potty break and to take care of a nasty diaper. (This was an old fashioned convenience store with outside-entrance restrooms and no convenient changing table. Had to change him on the floor with the diaper bag as a pillow. Yuck.)

The kids watched The Return of the Pink Panther for a while, then everyone (except me) fell asleep. We wound our way to the Hawthorn Suites Columbus North, arriving about 11:30 Eastern Time.

Without a doubt, this was the tattiest place we stayed on the trip. It was a converted Residence Inn. The room was large and had a full kitchen, but it was musty, the cabinets had some missing veneer, and there was a big crack across the full-length mirror. It could use some refurbishment, and I was a little surprised that the place met Hawthorn's franchise standards. Nevertheless, we managed to get settled, with the grownups on the double bed, the girl on the fold-out couch, and the two boys on sleeping bags on the floor.

The next morning, the breakfast made up for any deficiencies in the room. Fresh biscuits with real sausage gravy with visible chunks of sausage, and freshly cooked scrambled eggs, along with the usual continental breakfast stuff and the make-your-own waffles. Without a doubt it was the best hotel breakfast of the entire trip. I checked out the breakfast while the rest of the family showered, then we swapped: They ate while I fixed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for later in the day and got the car packed. We hit the road for Day 3 at 9:22 a.m.

Vacation 2009: Day 1

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Day 1: Tulsa, Okla. to Pacific, Mo. via I-44, 367.0 mi., 6:20 en route.

We didn't leave until 7 pm.

The plan had been to pack our bags the day before and take care of final errands and packing the morning of, while the minivan was at Cartec for some minor surgery. (The dealership, we believe, had stripped the threads on the bolt that holds the oil pan. Jiffy Lube discovered the problem and installed a temporary fix. We didn't think we should drive more than 3,000 miles on a temporary fix.)

I hoped to make Terre Haute. Then I hoped to make Effingham. I was reconciled to a stop in Vandalia, and by the time we left, I decided I'd be thrilled to make it to St. Louis, which we did.

It always takes us longer than planned to get packed. The challenge is not getting the bags in the car; it's deciding what goes into the bags. My wife thinks and rethinks, wanting to be sure we don't leave anything behind that we might possibly want or need at some point. Plus she was trying to put all that we'd need for the first two nights on the road -- clothes, toiletries, medicine -- into three bags, so even once she'd decided to take something, she still had to figure where it should go.

Only after all the bags are zipped up can I solve the three-dimensional puzzle of fitting them in the car. This did not occur until about 5 pm. I quickly realized that the large rolling suitcase I had packed was simply not going to fit, so in the driveway I swapped the essential contents (clothes) to a roll-aboard suitcase and left the rest (books, mainly) in the bedroom or stowed them in other bags that were going in the car. In the end we had 8 smallish, mostly squishable bags, 2 larger bags, a laptop backpack, and a rolling laptop case. That was just in the back. On top of that we had two sleeping bags and three pillows. Two more big pillows and a small pillow plus three fleece blankets were in the main compartment for the kids' comfort.

The minivan also contained a violin case under the back seat, a large cooler in place of the left middle seat, a rolling hanging file box between the cooler and the driver's seat (containing non-perishable snacks, umbrellas, and travel activities), rolling backpacks for each of the two older kids (normally used or school) containing their travel activities, a small backpack to hold maps and to keep a few cold cans of pop handy up front, two small camera bags, two sets of juggling sticks, a diabolo, two portable DVD players. Around my wife's feet was another bag stuffed with travel activities and books the kids might want to read, plus her purse and at least two canvas tote bags filled with I'm not sure what. The biggest son sat in the right middle seat. The smallest son in his car seat immediately behind, with big sister to his left on her booster and yet another box of toys and amusements (including his Leapster) between them. Big son's job was to pass things between mom and the back seat and was pretty attentive and helpful as long as he didn't have his nose in a book or his Nintendo DS.

S3011572I took these pictures as we unpacked at our first destination, my wife's aunt and uncle's house in Hustontown, Pa. They came in handy five days later when we packed to leave, as I couldn't remember how I'd made everything fit. You can't see the large rolling suitcase behind the two small roll-aboards or the tennis bag at the bottom filled with swim stuff -- suits, sunscreen, goggles, inflatable lily pad. You can barely see the soft-sided light blue suitcase behind the sunshade.S3011571

The other problem that always slows our departure is the urge to get certain tasks done before leaving for two-and-a-half weeks, as if we hadn't already been putting them off for at least twice that long. I spent valuable time the night before departure trying to synchronize our digital photos between the laptop and the home computer. (I never did find a way in Perl to get the size or date of a file in Windows. I wound up running a "find . -depth -exec ls -lR {} \;" command in Cygwin on both computers, then writing a Perl script to parse the output and compare the contents of the two drives, then manually copying folders from one to the other. One vexing problem was Windows XP thinking that the high-speed USB ports on the laptop weren't, slowing file copy speed by a factor of 320.)

My watch battery was dying and the case for my Treo was falling apart, so at 1 p.m., when the car was ready, I walked over to pick it up, paid for it, then drove to Promenade to get a new case and a new watch battery. My wife had me pick up some Arby's sandwiches for a late lunch. I bought enough so we had the leftovers for dinner as we were getting on the road.

Finally, around 6:30, we did the positively final uses of the potty, then I chased everyone out, did my obsessive checks of locks and windows, set the alarm, said a prayer over the house, and got in the car. I asked our three-year-old to say a prayer for a safe trip, and at 6:53 p.m. off we went....

... to the branch library to drop off all the books that were checked out.

At 7 we were truly underway. We made a pitstop at 9:30 at the Quik Trip -- a final outpost of civilization -- on the Kansas Expressway in Springfield. I made some phone calls to book a room on the outskirts of St. Louis, everyone used the bathroom, little bit got a clean diaper, we bought a bismarck, donut holes, and a cheap 32 oz. soda. We set up the DVD player for viewing. My wife and almost-13-year-old son rigged up a kids' car desk that could hang on the back of my seat, reinforced it with long strips of velcro and ribbon, and that became the platform for the portable DVD player. The player plugged into a power strip which plugged into an inverter which plugged into what we used to call a lighter socket.

That pitstop took about 45 minutes.

We made another "brief" stop (about 30 minutes) for gas at about 11:30, in St. Robert. At the first station we tried, a voice over the intercom informed us that there were doing the daily closing and it would be 20 minutes before we could purchase gasoline, but we'd be welcome to wait. No thanks, I replied. Off to another station, where we bought gas, used the restroom, dispensed night time medicine, and turned on the inverter so that it would actually power the DVD player. The kids watched Finding Nemo and at length all fell asleep. About 30 miles west of our hotel, we hit thick fog, which (so I was told by the desk clerk) is fairly common. At 1:20 we pulled up to the Comfort Inn's front door. Everyone was settled by about 2 -- mom and sister in one bed, dad and big brother in the other, three-year-old on his sleeping bag -- except for me, still wound up from the drive, checking e-mail and posting a couple of blog entries.

Next morning, we were up at about 8. We had the hotel's "hot" breakfast (starchy stuff, make-your-own waffles, and thawed and nuked egg patties) along with a Baptist middle school youth group. We let the kids wrestle around as we got packed and then hit the road for day 2 at 11:00 a.m.


Over the last two and a half weeks,

we packed five people and too much stuff into a minivan,
drove it 3,748.1 miles through 11 states and the District of Columbia,
reconnected with dear aunts, uncles, and friends,
met a longtime e-mail and blog pal in person,
bumped into a former co-worker of my wife's,
introduced our kids to the kids of a college friend and watched them hit it off,
enjoyed unseasonably cool weather,
visited Abraham Lincoln's boyhood home and the building where he first served in public office,
ate dinner in Santa Claus (Indiana),
went kayaking in Little Assawoman Bay,
rode a narrow-gauge steam train in the mountains of Pennsylvania,
visited a railroad museum and its elaborate model layouts,
spent the day at an old-fashioned, family-owned amusement park,
went swimming and picnicking at a lake in a Pennsylvania state park,
taught a Maltese dog some new tricks,
sat on a porch and watched the rain come down,
picked zucchini, squash, cucumbers, and broccoli from the garden,
ate fresh sweet corn and tomatoes from a produce stand named Sipes (of all things),
ate zeppolis at an Italian festival in West Virginia,
used the free wifi in a tiny branch library in a tiny Pennsylvania town,
played music at the open stage night at the town's volunteer fire station,
tried exotic ice cream flavors -- chocolate marshmallow, peanut butter, bittersweet, and teaberry (which tastes just like Pepto-Bismol),
tried Pennsylvania Dutch birch beer (liked it) and Ale-8-1 (not so much),
took a guided shorebird tour,
visited an old U. S. Life Saving Station,
swam in the Atlantic Ocean,
watched dolphins at sunrise just offshore,
ate fresh crabs,
ate Herr's Old Bay flavored potato chips,
ate pastrami in a kosher restaurant in Washington,
ate salt water taffy,
managed to offset most of the eating with a lot of walking,
rode the Metro and walked between the hotel and the station,
stayed the night in a two-day-old hotel,
went tax-free shopping at an outlet mall in Delaware,
put up with abysmal internet access and cell phone reception,
looked out over one of the deepest river gorges in America,
visited the Museum of Frontier Cultures,
visited the National Air and Space Museum,
visited the National Museum of Natural History,
rode to the top of the Gateway Arch,
walked around my wife's childhood church,
saw a sand sculpture contest,
stayed in two different houses and five different hotels,
ate some truly loathsome "hot breakfasts" at said hotels,
ate the best breakfast at the tattiest and cheapest hotel on the trip,
managed not to leave behind any beloved blankets or stuffed animals,
managed to suffer only a few minor injuries (an elbow scrape, a couple of head colds, and one wrenching of the knee -- mine) and only one minor ding in the rear fender,
managed to avoid any disasters at home (except for someone not shutting the freezer door all the way),
and generally had a wonderful time,
except that now I need a vacation.

More specifics and pictures in the days to come.

Please join me in wishing a happy 13th birthday to a wonderful, creative, funny young man with a bright future.


(And say a prayer for the father of a teenager.)

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Family category from August 2009.

Family: July 2009 is the previous archive.

Family: October 2009 is the next archive.

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