We’re so happy to say that Finn has finished up his grade school career with flying colors! Over the course of several days last week, we got to join him to receive awards marking his accomplishments in bilingual learning & theater arts…
…plus his official graduation from Hoover Middle School!
Following the ceremony we forced him to hold still for a few family pics😉…
…and then headed to Palermo Italian Restaurant for a joint celebration of his milestones + Margot’s birthday. Check out the gallery!
It’s pretty rare to get the ol’ Finnster interested in camping these days, so I was especially delighted that he wanted to mark the end of eighth grade (!) with me & Seamus by spending a couple of nights amongst the redwoods near Santa Cruz.
We headed out on Friday night following his school dance, and we spent a chill Saturday cruising up Highway 1 to his favorite restaurant (the Roadhouse in Davenport), letting Seamy cavort on the beach (tiring out a small new pal!), and generally relaxing at our campsite. Check out a gallery from our dudes’ weekend.
Even though we’d just taken in two insulator-themed shows in the past month or so, Hen couldn’t pass up one last chance (until fall) to catch up with his tribe, so on Friday we left Finn & Seamus at home, then headed south to the beachside community of Cayucos. After battling through horrible traffic, we treated ourselves to sandwiches & sundaes at the Sea Shanty:
Afterwards we headed to our campsite where—in the absence of Margot and Finn—we found ourselves absent proper sleeping gear, making for a chilly night. Ah well: both the stars & the sunrise were spectacular:
After fueling up our cars & bods, we headed over to the pier where table upon table was teeming with insulators & other ephemera. It was heaven for Hen, in both his real & Lego forms:
The crowd was, as always, beguiled with our guy’s superhuman knowledge of the hobby, and they were incredibly generous in handing him freebies. (Tell mom not to worry, it’s all going in the basement. 😌)
On our way down we’d spotted various old insulators “in the wild,” still clinging to abandoned poles. Thus we stopped off at the funky little town of Bradley, CA (pop. 150). We contented ourselves with taking only pictures of our finds, and happily we saw dozens of old vehicles up close:
All in all it made for a memorable 24 hours—and I’m glad we’ll be getting a respite to recharge from these things for at least the next few months. 🙃 Here’s a gallery from the journey, and below you can click and drag to explore a 360º bird’s-eye view of our campsite, captured via my drone:
You know the phrase “red letter day”? You could say that Henry has had a few “blue bubble days” circled on his calendar for months—those being the first gatherings of glass insulator enthusiasts in the year since he discovered this funky passion.
Two weeks ago we took in our first show, up in Antioch, CA, but last weekend was the main event—a big meet-up in the farmland north of Fresno. Over a 100 folks descended on “Rohde Ranch” for the 26th annual such event.
Given that the median age of guys at the show is roughly 350 years old 😅, Hen was quite the point of fascination. People loved meeting him (naturally), and he was equally thrilled to meet many of the guys who write articles in Crown Jewels Of The Wire.
Folks were incredibly generous with their time, knowledge, and even (to Margot’s slight chagrin) boxes of free or dirt-cheap insulators. Henry made a new friend (14-year-old Jason), and we (okay, mainly he) look forward to future events.
Hey everyone—Happy Easter! We had low-key but fun celebrations here, hunting for & then cracking some beloved confetti-filled “rompecabeza” eggs on one another’s heads.
These things—which I discovered through cousin Alicia in Texas years ago—are really called “cascarones,” but we insist on calling them “rompecabezas” (literally “head breakers”), which is the word for puzzle. In any case, we had a smashing good time with the kinetic redistribution of their contents, and Seamus enjoyed trying to eat their colorful shells.
Later in the day we revived the new tradition we started in 2020—that of each person making an egg for each other person, filling it with a custom message & promise of a little gift (e.g. Hen promising Mom unlimited hugs anytime, now & forever).
With Finn off touring DC with his class, the rest of us decided to make a quick overnight jaunt down to Monterey & Carmel.
First up, we swung by Henry’s favorite antique store, where we were delighted to find a toy BMW Isetta. Years ago, when I first met Margot & asked what kind of car she’d be, she immediately replied, “Ooh, I’d be one of those little three-wheeled jobs that Audrey Hepburn drove in Roman Holiday.” Thus we loved finding this one, and then introducing it to its real-life, not-so-big brother.
Our overnight accommodations (waaaaaay out in Carmel Valley) were delightfully bizarre. A couple of old coots run a little campground that’s replete with some 90 peacocks and peahens (!).
Besides constantly strutting their stuff, these flashy little guys kept warbling like crazy little dinosaurs. Following our cold evening in the van, Henry observed, “Those chatty guys were going off all night!”
Seamus was of course fascinated & tried his hand (er, mouth), at devouring their feathers. 😛
The campground features all matter of decrepit old equipment (including a couple of glass insulators that Henry was all too happy to accept), and our hosts encouraged us to add our artwork to their dump truck:
Later in the day we headed back to Monterey with an eye to visiting the aquarium & kayaking around the bay. It was too cold for the latter, but Seamus kept warm gallivanting with his new friend Orca.
Check out our gallery to see the full set of photos.
Somehow we hadn’t been to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in what feels like ages, so last week we welcomed the occasion our friends’ B’nei Mitzvah celebration provided to get back in the literal swing of things. Here Henry & I take a quick sunset flight over & around the joint:
And just for tangential fun, here’s a video I set to the same music thirteen years ago, showing Finn’s very first train ride. 😌
Our second full day of desert adventures saw us awaken from a fairly brutal night. I’d been unable to locate our campsite, leading to lots of circling in the dark before finally, in desperation, picking a bare patch of gravel.
Mercifully Hen had long since nodded off, but the next hours featured me struggling to sleep on the van floor before he woke up & we stretched out the bed. (Oddball upside: Spotting a midnight coyote patrolling the campground just a few feet from us.) Little did I know that our cousin Sarah Murray was sleeping not more than a few campsites away—but that’s a story for another day!
We skedaddled down to catch some morning light on an old engine of the Death Valley Railroad, bringing our Lego selves & engineers in tow.
We followed up by making the most of the tourist-gouging breakfast buffet, carrying off approximately 936 buttermilk biscuits. Hen kinda overdid it, as you can see in our gallery. 😛 Now suitably refueled, we explored the nearby visitors center & ruins of some old borax works
Soon after, our Adobe friends began to roll in, and we strategized about our photography plans at Badwater Basin, the nearby dry lake. Hen had thought ahead & brought along a collection of vintage Lego spacemen & vehicles, including a number from my childhood. It was particularly special to me that Henry chose to include a moon buggy through whose windows I remember peering up at the stars while my mom drove us home from Rockford, circa 1981.
While our friends conducted an eye-popping photo shoot with a talented acrobat performing handstands atop a stack of chairs (!)…
I joke with Henry that our adventures often consist of four days of doing stuff, followed by four weeks of editing the photographic results. That’s not much of an exaggeration, as we love to capture so many moments that it’s a bit daunting to figure out what to share!
Most recently, he & I headed to Death Valley (hence “DV22” in the title of this & the related posts) for some picture-taking fun with a couple of my Adobe colleagues, plus a fire breather & acrobat (!).
First up was our stop in Tehachapi, site of the famous railroad loop that we’ve visited the last two summers. As we were watching trains back in June (gallery), we ran into a couple who said they were staying at an AirBnB with its own caboose (!) just down the hill. Here’s Hen just outside the fence last year:
Naturally it’s been on our to-see list ever since, so we were delighted to book a spot.
For some people the location would be a nightmare, with freight trains rumbling past at all hours, reminding me of the Blues Brothers yelling over the El noise, “How often does the train go by?” “So often you won’t notice!” For Hen this was of course a feature, not a bug! At 3am I awoke to find him pressed to the glass, watching the action, and the next morning we spent hours getting a tour from the friendly & local proprietor.
Check out the detailed narrative Hen made for his YouTube channel:
After we finally tore ourselves away, we made our way to Tehachapi proper, where we toured the local train depot/museum as well as a funky antique store Henry dubbed “the man-cave-iest man cave that ever man caved!”
With many miles to go before we could sleep, we then headed north towards Death Valley. First we stopped off at Trona, home of the famous fish rocks…
…as well as some great derelict train cars to explore.
We are equal parts delighted & amazed to wish a very happy 14th (!!) birthday to our tall drink of water, aspiring DJ, and doodle-wrangler par excellence Mr. Finn Nack!
Ahead of his birthday, Finn let it be known that he’d like to expand upon his recent piano-learning forays by getting a little MIDI mixing device. He was chomping at the bit to order it himself, not knowing that Margot had pulled the trigger some days earlier—so it was all we could do to delay him until it arrived, as shown below. 😛
We planned to celebrate the birthday itself in pretty low-key fashion—but before we headed out to dinner, Seamus made things unexpectedly exciting by helping himself to a big chunk of the cake!
Thankfully the chocolate didn’t do him any lasting harm, and we enjoyed a lovely meal out at Palermo, followed by the opening of presents. Finn’s now in receipt of some great books and a puzzle from Grandma & Grandpa Nack, plus a root-beer-making kit from Auntie Laura & Uncle James. Check out some pics from the occasion.
One recent pleasure of the boys growing up is that we can get onto the same wavelength about various nerdy pursuits. For Finn & me it’s been Kurt Vonnegut, while Hen & I have focused on all things historical—particularly cars & planes.
With the latter in mind, Henry & I headed up to Hiller Aviation Museum to hear a talk by Brian Shul, one of just 90 men ever to fly the Mach 3 SR-71 Blackbird aircraft & an accomplished photographer to boot. We quite enjoyed his presentation, as well as our walk around the museum afterwards.
Wrapping up our Christmas adventure for 2021, here’s a gallery showing some of the great gifts we exchanged with the fam amidst ingestions of mass quantities of fondue (the boys’ first, and quite a hit!), shrimp dip 🤤, and more.
One particular highlight was getting to make Lego versions of Jenna, Austin, and Morgan, then give them to the kids in person:
And to close things out, here’s a draggable interactive panorama of our pretty little town:
One of the real highlights of our trip to Big G was seeing Grandpa Nack pass a piece of family railroading heritage on to Henry. His grandfather from Ireland has emigrated to New York state & become an engineer (on the NY Central RR, we think), and during summer visits he’d call my dad “Seamus” (Irish for James). Happily, the beautiful gold watch he received upon his retirement made its way to my dad, and it’s now in the very appreciative hands of one Henry Seamus. 🥰 Here’s a little gallery showing the passing of this cherished torch.
Our man Henry is nothing if not just a little bit obsessive 🙃, and he spent many weeks ahead of our trip to Galena—where he caught the insulator-collecting bug during our March trip—plotting efforts to grab more of the little glass gems.
On our very first afternoon in town, we headed to Dubuque to meet up with Uncle Ted’s friend Tom who gave us three insulators!
The following morning, we grabbed some equipment & root beer at the hardware store, then headed out to the 1888 Winston Tunnel. The winding path got us turned around a few times, but thankfully Uncle Ted was our eye in the sky, texting us guidance right to the tunnel.
Despite a huge application of my elbow grease as I stood atop a very sketchy stump, we just couldn’t dislodge any of the insulators we found. At least the root beers hit the spot before we refueled with fried cheese curds at Culver’s.
The next day (Christmas), Hen & I took a long walk down the tracks below Grandpa Nack’s childhood home. “I feel like Tantalus,” he said, as we noted tons of insulators that were just out of reach. We came away with just a shard of glass as a consolation prize.
Afterwards we dropped by Uncle Louie & Aunt Dolores’s house, and in the course of catching up with their family, we talked insulators with Joe Nack. Having gathered insulators as a kid, he gave us some good pointers on where to go Sunday.
To our great surprise, Joe showed up at our house on Sunday morning, offering to take us out on a hunt. Thanks to his ladder & tools, we immediately scored an insulator that had previously eluded us, and shortly thereafter we hit pay dirt—finding tons of poles out past Rec Park. “I hope you brought diapers, Henry,” said Joe, “’cause you’re about to crap your pants.” 😝
In the end Joe & I teamed up to climb high & score an additional five insulators for Henry. As Margot texted in response, “Joe Nack saves Christmas!”
Check out our gallery, as well as Henry’s video recap of our three outings:
Though I can hardly believe it, nine years have passed since our last Christmastime visit to Chicago and Galena. Back then we took the dudes around the city (see gallery & post) and to the Murrays’ house before heading to Big G. This year we were all set to see the gang at Liz’s house, but sadly Covid put the kibosh on those plans. Thankfully, we were able to see Aunt Jane for a bit & fuel up on Lou Malnati’s before heading down to the Palmer House.
I have fond memories of visiting the Marshall Field’s windows & Walnut Room with its giant tree, as well as of myriad trips to Water Tower Place, so the next morning we enjoyed bundling up & taking the dudes to these old haunts.
Our pal Samantha (who escorted Henry on a little train & photo safari back in 2018; see post) lives right downtown, and it was great to drop by her place & warm up over good stories & a little Irish whiskey. Afterwards, while Margot & Finn took a pit stop at the hotel, the rest of us stopped by Millennium Park to visit the “Bean” and the start of Route 66:
Afterwards the four Nacks headed to one of my folks’ old haunts, the Italian Village restaurant that’s just across the street from the building where they both worked. We had a ball hiding out in one of the tiny dinner alcoves that probably haven’t changed in all the intervening decades.
Lastly, after a second night at the hotel, Henry & I took a whirlwind tour of the former State of Illinois Building (one of my favorite places to visit & photograph as a kid), noticing & posing with various Blues Brothers movie locations along the way.
For many, many months now, our former nanny Yvonne’s brother in law has been quietly applying his patience & skills to the task of carving some really amazing, beautiful animals for the boys—a lion for Finn & an owl for Henry. It was great catching up with Yvonne after all these years, and Seamus took a shine to our new animal buddies. Check them out in our gallery!
I’m thrilled to say that our theatrical young Henry recently made his triumphant stage debut, revolutionizing the character of Yellowbeard in Hoover Elementary’s rousing rendition of “Pirates! The Musical.” 😛 His drama class took their bow right before the four of us saw Hamilton on stage in downtown San Jose, making for quite a night.
Check out a few photos I snapped from the crowd, along with a video of the production recorded by his teacher. As you may hear, Hen is one of the few (if not the only) kids to go the extra mile in affecting a piratical accent. Arrr son is alright. 😌
As it happens, Finn is preparing for tomorrow’s debut of his class production (for which he’s handling props), and hopefully these will be just the first of many exciting shows to come!
Thanks to a chatty Ace Hardware employee who talked me up after seeing my ND jacket, we learned about Russian Gulch and its striking waterfall just outside of Mendocino. As we began our trip south, we did a quick detour to take in the beautiful redwoods.
And for the piece de resistance, our budding naturalist Hen, aka Dr. Alias Fakename (“Elias Fah-ke-nah-may”) filmed “The Wild Maria” traipsing around her natural habitat, Sasquatch-style. Check out his report (sound on!).