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.
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!).
Following our railbike outing, Hen & I met back up with the crew for Giant Burgers at Jenny’s (“next to Denny’s,” the locals helpfully noted—as apparently all directions are relative to Denny’s).
Margot & Finn were looking for a little downtime, so they peaced out to the campsite with Seamus. Maria had dropped by the local Sea Glass Museum, so armed with new knowledge & a little guide book, she took Hen & me out to Sea Glass Beach to hunt for treasure:
If you squint, you can just see the two of them hunting amongst the crags in this interactive drone panorama:
I swear, I almost had to crowbar the two of them off the beach as the sun set. 😌 It was worth it, though, as they collected quite the haul:
Some locals had recommend a funky local seafood joint called The Sea Pal Cove, where fishing boats pull right up to the pier to drop off their hauls. While Hen & Maria got us a table, I drove back to reclaim the rest of the crew & bring them to the fishy scene.
After a good night’s sleep, we again hit the beach. Talk about live & learn: Seamus grinding his face into a log full of barnacles left him smelling deeply gross for our four-hour ride home. 🙄
And Maria learned just how quickly the sea can turn on you & soak your feet 😅, necessitating some fireside steaming:
After having a terrific Thanksgiving at home with our visiting pal Maria, we packed up the Westy—complete with the spacious new “techno-yurt” Margot bought for my birthday & which finally arrived at the last possible minute.
First we zipped across the Golden Gate Bridge under picture-perfect skies:
Afterwards we made our way north to Hopland & Ukiah, where we visited an antique store & then an army surplus store, both recommended by our friend Marcos who grew up in the area. From glass insulators to fake teeth to all manner of MAGA madness, the selection & clientele were eclectic & memorable, to say the least.
From there we made the long and very winding path out to the coast, arriving in Fort Bragg to set up camp just outside of town, then score some pizza and supplies. The new tent went up like a champ & kept Finn and Maria cozy all night, with an assist from space heater Seamus.
The campsite was located just a short walk from the beach—which proved delightful to visit the next morning.
Henry, man… “character” doesn’t begin to describe him, as I’m sure you know. Being a man of somewhat obsessive interests, he’s lately dived head-first into the arcane but charming world of old glass insulators for telephone wires—something, oddly enough, that I used to collect while walking around Galena as a kid. He will gladly tell you the entire history of the Hemingray company while proudly showing off his collection.
Having noticed a promising-looking abandoned pole near the freeway, on Sunday he persuaded me to drive him up to Pleasanton & scramble around some abandoned tracks. Through the miracle of my 10-foot-long selfie stick, we were even able to wiggle a few loose & collect them! (This is the weirdest game of Pokemon ever. 🙃) I mean, just look at the sheer joy on our man’s face:
With Margot off in Seattle to visit Alethea for the weekend, the we four remaining dudes (Seamus included) headed up north of Sacramento for some quick camping & exploration. As you can see in our gallery, we were nestled in a neat spot along the banks of the American River.
It was fun getting my drone aloft for the first time in a while, and you can drag this panorama around to see more:
Following camping, we all headed back towards Sacramento to check out a big Lego show full of cool creations & vintage bricks for sale. With an eye towards our friend Maria’s upcoming visit, we even found a little Lego representation of her dog Tippy—seen here proudly astride her stegosaurus steed. 🦖😌