A few weeks ago, a new pedestrian bridge opened up on the trail that occupies the old path of the railroad that once ran through our neighborhood. I noticed that off to one side, a little garden railway was visible. I took a few long-distance pics for Henry, figuring that that’s about as close as we’d get.
This Tuesday, however, both boys joined me on a walk with Seamus, and Henry—visiting this spot for the first time—decided to get a closer look. As luck would have it, a nice lady named Cathy was out walking her dog—and it turned out to be her house!
Minutes later we found ourselves in the back yard, checking out & even riding the train with Severn, a retired machinist who’s been building up the railroad. Even more amazingly, they have a full-sized caboose in the back yard! 🤯
The dogs played happily while we soaked it all in, swapping all kinds of nerdy railroad facts & planning our return visit this Sunday—when we hope to help with the construction of a miniature water tower! It’s like we’ve all died & gone to Henry Heaven. 🥰
Last week’s journey out to Death Valley marks the first time I’ve headed that way without the family or friends. The endless desert drives were made less lonely, however, as I’d reach into my pocket to feel the reassuring jangle of the “Nanonaxx”—little Lego copies of the four of us + Seamy.
Having come into a little Christmas cash, Henry was delighted to find & acquire some Lego “Forestmen” (a Robin Hood-style theme he’d never had). Neighbor kid Nathan shares his interest in Lego photography, so last weekend we trucked over to the Santa Cruz mountains for some hiking & shooting—and Lego versions of Finn, Hen, and Seamy came along for the ride! Here’s our gallery from the day.
When some people watch scary movies, they cover their eyes & peer through their fingers. I’m a little like that with Notre Dame playoff games, so when Henry asked to head to the beach while the Irish battled Alabama, I didn’t push back.
Thus we spent New Year’s Day on the sand in Aptos, south of Santa Cruz. I was delighted that Hen wanted to keep advancing his Lego photography skills & brought along a handful of swarthy buccaneers to pose in the surf. Check out a little gallery of the getaway.
Our story begins when Henry showed us a video of the Lego designer and the architect who created the most colossal Lego set ever, the Roman Colosseum – over 9,000 pieces! Upon seeing the video, I completely flipped out – I had no idea Lego had created a Colosseum set, and I knew right then that’s what I hoped to get for Christmas 2020.
My loyal and big-hearted boy Henry immediately went to work on making some Christmas magic with John, and they secretly set out to find the set (limited edition!) and give it to me.
Within a few days there was an extremely large wrapped box underneath the tree, and Henry worked hard to cover his tracks when I started playing Twenty Questions. He spooled out an elaborate story about a new Japanese store at the mall called “Clown Town,” telling me that he and John had obtained an amazing hat made of shards of glass, and a huge clown wig. I kept my fingers crossed that it was really the Lego set, and not a giant pair of clown shoes!
You can imagine my glee when I opened the set on Christmas day and it really was what I had hoped. I sent out an SOS to borrow a neighbor’s card table so we had a place to build, and soon enough, Henry and I were set up in the master bedroom with task lighting, two chairs, and dozens of bags full of thousands of Lego bricks. Hen was my right-hand man all the way – after I completed the base, we took turns building the Colosseum itself – which is ingeniously designed into vertical slices that snap together with ball and socket joints.
This set really activated all my nerd buttons: archaeology, Roman history, architecture, and Lego! It really is the best set they’ve ever made, and we had a ball putting it together. You can get a sense of the intricate details and overall design in the photo gallery, which also features Henry’s minifig Egyptian archaeological explorers checking out the ruins. (They are from a different set but had to come check out the scene!) We worked for 5 days in a row, reading up on the Colosseum’s history, and the Roman Empire in general, while also enjoying dumb TV game shows in the background, and just chitchatting the afternoons away. Now that it is finished, Hen and I have had a few “appreciation sesh’s” (as he puts it) just to marvel at our accomplishment and the neat details of the set. It is 2 feet in diameter and warranted its own display table (seriously, we had nowhere to put it that was dog-safe or big enough!). Best. Christmas gift. Ever!
Christmas this year was different, but we tried to bring as much Santa Claus magic as possible to the boys. As they’ve gotten older, the gift requests have become very short and very specific, and happily we were able to deliver on the specifics, as well as throwing in some excellent surprises.
Even Seamus got in on the action, helping to tear open the wrapping paper (a gift in itself!), and reaping a few gifts of his own.
Each human got a much-coveted Lego set – Star Wars & Mandalorian sets for John and Finn, a vintage pirate set for Henry, and the quite literally colossal Roman Coliseum set for Classical history-nerd mom. Santa also brought fun novelty socks, books, games, handmade stuffed animals, candy, and some incredibly soft and fuzzy new jackets for the boys. Seamus got a new leash and toy, new portable food and water bowls and a doggy water bottle for hikes.
The best surprise gifts came in the form of Seamus portraits. Grandpa Liggett had a friend do a beautiful pencil portrait of our boy, and I commissioned a custom illustration of Seamus in a Venetian Doge costume (dog, doge…get it?). Finn absolutely flipped out upon opening them – and now he has both portraits hanging above his bed where he can admire them anytime he likes.
Here is our Christmas Day gallery, where you can see the shock and awe Santa was able to deliver this year. We surely missed sharing it in person with family, and hope that 2021 permits us to travel and celebrate together!
Continuing our efforts to bring the party to the people, we keep driving the blinged-out Westy around San Jose & points beyond. Last night was no exception as we headed over to Los Gatos to take in their Fantasy of Lights—one of our favorite Christmas traditions. Like last week & last year, my co-pilot Hen hung himself out the window to get the best look, but this time he was content to put down his camera & just enjoy the moments.
2020 is, of course, all about adaptation & flexibility, so San Jose has converted its traditional Christmas in the Park into a driving tour for this year. The five of us (Seamus included!) piled into the car on Friday evening, and after a long wait in line we were rewarded with a gorgeous & festive spectacle. Braving the (relative) cold, Henry hung out the window & captured a nice gallery of images while I made this fun little time-lapse video. Check it out!
Finn is very sentimental about the holidays. He loves our annual rituals, which we add to each year. The pandemic has certainly done its part to hamper our normal activities like going to the Nutcracker, Christmas tree lightings and parties, and the like, and to prevent us from traveling to see our families.
To that end, we are trying to create some safe, local joy that will keep our Christmas spirits up. I saw a photo recently of an old VW microbus that was decorated with Christmas lights, and I thought it would be fun to do the same with the Westy, and drive around spreading some Christmas cheer. I asked Mr. Christmas, Finn, what he thought, and he loved the idea. Last weekend, we headed out to Ace Hardware and picked up some colorful lights, and some small suction cups with hooks that we could safely stick to the van. We already have a big rechargeable battery in the Westy that we can plug the lights into.
Needless to say, we got the lights strung, plugged in, and did our first Christmas Lights Cruise around the neighborhood on Sunday night. A few observant passersby noticed our moving light show and seemed charmed. Most of all, though, Finn and Henry both love it, and they’re all smiles when we light up Westy and hit the streets, playing Christmas music on the radio. Seamus seems to enjoy it as well, cuddled up on his boy’s lap, watching the world go by. We plan to cruise around in our portable light show as often as possible over the next few weeks. Maybe we’ll even hand out candy canes!
Thanks to the friendly & talkative artists at the campground where we stayed following Thanksgiving, we learned about Railtown 1897 in Jamestown, CA. It’s home of various historic steam engines that have been featured in Back To The Future, Petticoat Junction, and numerous other productions, as well as one of the country’s last working roundhouses.
Needless to say this was 100% up Henry’s alley, and even Finn was a good sport about visiting—as was Seamus, of course. The friendly staff were more than happy to take us on a short cruise via their old “speeder” (of the sort we explored in Leadville when the boys were just 2 & 3; see previous).
“The days are long but the years are short,” and that applies to four-legged kids just as much as the two-legged kind. We can’t believe this lovable man has been on this planet for two years, and in our home for nearly that long. We couldn’t ask for a better quarantine buddy.
To celebrate we got him a smart-looking kerchief & party hat, plus a new chew toy he immediately put into play. Check out a little gallery of the good times.
Finn’s a huge fan of late-year holidays, so while all of us were bummed that trick-or-treating had to be called off due to the pandemic, he was especially sad. Happily, though, we found ways to rally and keep things “festive,” as he likes to say: Mom-O & the guys carved pumpkins, and then all five of us (including Seamus!) donned costumes before heading to a socially distant party at our friends Matthias & Samantha’s little farm.
From fires to droughts to quakes, the California environment can be a handful—but boy is it beautiful. On a couple of recent weekends we’ve been able to get away to the beach—first in Santa Cruz, and then in Half Moon Bay.
In SC Hen & I trekked around the old railroad tracks and bridge, and up north Hen buried Finn in sand while Seamy met some “big giant dogs” (horses). One of my old Lego knights made an appearance on the dunes so that Hen could get artsy serving his Instagram feed. 😌 Later we swung by one of Half Moon Bay’s famous pumpkin patches for some gourds n’ tacos while Seamus amused himself making friends with a piglet at the petting zoo.
“Life is as big as you make it,” and expanding the bounds often doesn’t require traveling far. With a long weekend at our disposal, we headed down to nearby Morgan Hill to stay in a 1964 “Airstream Among The Vines.” Antique-loving Hen was of course in vintage heaven, and the boys joined me for an impromptu round of horseshoes (probably the first I’d played in 30-some years!). The boys took turns in the hammock, and Finn even slept out in it overnight.
With temperatures due to hit 108º, the idea of baking in a large tin can all day (especially with Seamus) sounded pretty bad, so we cruised down to seaside Monterey for Saturday afternoon. There Mom-O & Hen got up close with otters & seals (!) via a kayak rental while Finn & I toured around with Seamus (master maker of friends & general Doodle Goodwill Ambassador).
I always used to joke that half the reason I wanted to have kids was so that I could go to the Lego store without feeling like quite such an old weirdo. 😌 Happily, the boys provided many years of Legonic enjoyment.
During the pandemic Hen has really applied himself to the task of “restoring your childhood,” as he puts it. In addition to reconstructing some of my old train & boat sets, he’s lately turned to one of my all-time favorite sets, the King’s Castle from circa 1984. I have such strong, fond memories of asking for it at Christmas, thinking (based on box size as the pile of presents was dwindling) that I hadn’t gotten it, and then GOING OUT OF MY MIND upon realizing that it was to be mine after all.
Check out this set of photos that Henry captured on his own, especially to show off to our cousin Tony (for whom he also narrated a private tour).
In recent days, Hen & our neighbor Nathan have also discovered a shared love of Legos & making stop-motion films. Check out how they put the new-old castle & knights to use this weekend:
Whereas our previous trip through the old Route 66 waypoint of Barstow had seen Henry & me chilling—literally—in the high-desert January cold, this time was just the opposite: we delayed our evening foray to the train yard in the face of triple-digit heat that persisted past sundown, and we opted instead of drop by first thing Sunday morning.
Hen of course regaled me with insane amounts of railroading history as we scrambled around old engines and watched innumerable freight trains chug past us. This kid is such a piece of work—and we love him for it. 😌
If you want to behold the wonders of the cosmos, it’s hard to beat sitting at 10,200 ft., far from the light & atmospheric pollution of any big city. Leadville—and specifically nearby areas like the beautiful Turquoise Lake—provide just such an environment.
In past years Margot & I have stopped by ourselves to stare up in awe, and this year we had the chance to bring along the lads & the Wiggin crew. With a phalanx of lawn chairs in tow, we set up shop alongside the dam and took in the view, using phones to help locate planets and constellations.
Figuring we’d make it three-for-three on aquatic fun, the guys and I (minus Mom & Seamus) headed to Buena Vista with the Wiggii to take on our old favorite rafting spot, Brown’s Canyon (see semi-infamous 2016 outing 😛). While the moms biked on their own & the dogs held down their respective forts, the rest of us plowed right down the rapids, to everyone’s delight—and we even had a guide named Margo! (We’ll forgive the lack of “t.”)
Check out our gallery (featuring clips of Finn & Cyrus plunging off the raft into the not-so-icy waves) plus the video below: