Category Archives: Personal Thoughts

A Legitimate Conversation Which Occurred Naturally

Scene: DYLAN is doing his vocabulary cards.

DYLAN: … wh- ah- t. waaht?

DADDY: Almost. You’ve got the sort of general shape of the word. But what is an actual word that sounds like that?

DYLAN: Wu-hat. Can you just tell me?

DADDY: What is a word that sounds like that.

DYLAN: Just tell me.

DADDY: I am telling you. What is a word that sounds like “that”.

DYLAN: I don’t know!

DADDY: Third base!


A Second Evie Lexicon

A sequel to last year’s Evie Lexicon:

  • Mackie: Milk
  • Bawbal: In a bottle
  • Bee: A bib
  • Bassy: Pacifier
  • Berber: Diaper
  • Bop: A lagomorph
  • Nickey: A mouse, famed of western animation
  • Carlee: A pen, crayon, marker, or paint.
  • Chickie: Chicken (cooked)
  • Basta: Pasta
  • Cah-coo: A cookie or cracker.
  • Ahgan: I am finished
  • Ahwango: Please take me to
  • Hom: home
  • indacar: Via automobile
  • Dadeye: Father
  • Momeye: Mother
  • Broba: Brother
  • Baw: Ball
  • Oh no: I have just thrown something on the floor
  • Stinky: I have soiled myself. How embarrassing.
  • Stinky Bye-bye: A toilet. Yes, really.
  • Stih-kah: Anything with adhesive properties.
  • Beebee: A doll or infant.
  • Ear: An orange muppet, cohabitant with Bert.
  • Hap: I require assistance
  • Hug: Please pick me up.
  • Cheer: A place to sit
  • This, That: You got me. I have no freaking idea what these mean.
  • Pistachio: Oddly enough, pistachio. I don’t know how she got this on her first try. I was six before I could say it properly.

Misspent Youth: Marley Was Dead to Begin With

Doing something different this week because it’s timely. About a week ago, I went to the dentist. On my way back, I reckoned I should stop off at the mall and see if  I could get in any last-minute Christmas Shopping. My predicted flight path would naturally take my past the Annapolis Mall, but I decided that, what the hell, why not do the stupid thing and swing by Marley Station again. I was out of the wrapping paper I’d bought at the dollar store the last time I was there and maybe I could pick up another roll.

Well, they didn’t have the same paper this year, and I didn’t actually find any Christmas presents to buy, but I’m glad I went all the same. You’ll recall from my previous visit to Marley that it’s a slowly dying mall about halfway between Severna Park and Glen Burnie that was, about thirty years ago, the big fancy exciting mall that drove all the small malls up the MD-2 corridor out of business. I’m pleased to report that Marley Station looked far less bleak on this visit. More storefronts were occupied, to the point that it was really only the farthest wings that looked like ghost towns, and there were plenty of people in the mall — not what you’d expect for a holiday crowd perhaps, but certainly a normal number of people for the early afternoon on a weekday.

There’s a used bookstore there now which looks charmingly like they got all their signage by dumpster diving when B. Dalton went under. They look to have opened once and then relocated to a bigger space down the hall in the time since I was last there. The bounce house place has moved over as well. A lot more of the shops were occupied, and even a bunch of the ones that weren’t open looked like they maybe weren’t abandoned — there’s a few fitness-related places that look like they only open for classes in the mornings/evenings. There was an old-fashioned candy shop where I bought a pound of red hots. And a place that specializes in nerd-culture type collectibles — one side anime DVDs and merch, the other side autographed sports stuff. There was one Christmas pop-up store, which is way less than I was expecting.

But the real reason I’m glad I took this most recent trip to Marley Station is this: remember that closed model train place I mentioned last time where the Friendly’s used to be? Turns out that it’s seasonal. Every Christmas, it opens up as a Holiday Train Garden to raise money for the North Counties Emergency Outreach Network. According to the news, they’ve been doing this for twenty-three years now. My first instinct is that they must’ve been doing it somewhere else for part of that time, but then I realize that 23 years only takes me back to High School and it’s entirely possible that the Friendly’s at Marley Station has been gone that long. And also, I feel super, super old.

The first thing you see when you walk in is a layout modeled on DC, which, fair enough; we’re in the greater DC metro area. Further on, there’s a model of Fort McHenry. This isn’t a high-accuracy recreation of the local geography, but instead a fun thematic construct giving a sort of theme park version of the Baltimore-DC corridor. But then you see the face of Donald Trump blasted into the mountain. Which is a horror in its own right, but you can kinda imagine that blasting his own face into a mountain is exactly the sort of thing Trump would do.

Notice the windmill off to the left? The garden has numerous motion features, activated by buttons along the base. There’s a button to activate those windmills, with similar buttons to activate other things like the propellers on the presidential helicopter off to the right, or the Santa orbiting above. But I question the accuracy of placing windmills so close to the White House, given that I’m pretty sure Trump wants to ban them for not using enough coal.

More windmills.

There’s a Christmas village above the giant Trump head. Because of course there is.

This looks nothing at all like Trump Tower, and its placement between the White House and Fort McHenry makes no sense, but I’ll allow it because that is a really clever way to use the old support columns from the Friendly’s.

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Guest Post: Arts & Crafts With Dylan

Since last week was Thanksgiving and I was on the road, I haven’t had time to do even the minimal amount of work I usually do for a filler post. So instead, I’m handing over this Wednesday article to my not-quite-6-year-old. I am sure nothing will go wrong.

Daddy editorials in italics.

Today, we will be recycling our leftover McDonald’s Happy Meal packaging into the beginnings of a model town.

McDonald’s. Made of McDonald’s

  1. Rip the dots that make the top of the box stand up
    (Daddy translation: Tear the flaps at the top of the box at the perforations)
  2. Fold them down, then tape them down.
    (Daddy translation: Fold the flaps over the outside of the box and secure with tape. Turn the box upside-down)
  3. Tape the handles to the side of the box.
  4. Tape the fry container
    (Daddy translation: Center the fry box in the middle of the bottom of the happy meal box and secure with tape)
  5. Decorate it.
    (Don’t forget to draw the drive-thru)
  6. Don’t forget to write your name. That’s all.
  7. The open spot goes on the bottom.
    (This is the point where Dylan realized he’d never told you to turn the box upside-down in step 2)



Stately McNugget Manor

  1. Rip the dots that make the top of the box stand up
  2. Fold them down, then tape them down.
  3. Tape the handles to the side of the box.
  4. Get a 10-piece McNugget Box.
  5. Rip the supports that are the easiest ones to pull off.
    (Daddy translation: Peel apart the glued corner flaps and unfold the box)
  6. Tape the McNugget box to the Happy Meal box.
    (Daddy Translation: Turn the McNugget box upside-down and perch it on top of the upside-down Happy Meal box, secure with tape)
  7. Don’t forget: the open spot goes on the bottom.

An Evie Lexicon

While I buy myself time to struggle through writing about the penultimate War of the Worlds II episode (Hey, you know what character we definitely need more of? Ethan Allen Ratkin), my daughter has undergone a sudden and exponential growth in her vocabulary. Here’s a partial dictionary of the words my daughter can now say:

  • Awansy: Show me
  • Baf: To bathe
  • Side, Aside: Outside
  • Quac: Canine.
  • Fuff: The sound made by a Quac.
  • Daisy: Grandma’s Quac.
  • Caw: Any large herbivore, such as a cow or hippopotamus.
  • Sue: An item of footwear
  • My: More
  • Mama: Food
  • Mom: The sound made by a caw
  • Eye: Any facial feature
  • No: The eye in the center of the face
  • Seep: Ovine
  • Alma: A popular red muppet
  • Bye: (Accompanied by a wave) Please for the love of God don’t leave me
  • Uh-oh: I am about to throw something
  • Rasha: Trash
  • Aster: To climb a flight of steps
  • Nigh-nigh: Farewell
  • Fowl-foe: A flower
  • Ha: Hot
  • Coo: Cold
  • Eat: Feed me.
  • Baby: A baby
  • Butt: Her posterior
  • Wow: wow

Reflections on Disney

Some comments on the various attractions at Walt Disney World, in the approximate order we saw them.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Dylan on the Tower of Terror. He apparently took that “Let’s be stoic” thing to heart.

We visited Hollywood Studios for two half-days. We missed Muppet Courtyard entirely, and only briefly saw Pixar Place.

  • For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration: This is just watching the Frozen sing-a-long DVD in a theater, with some interstitial narration by a pair of actors. This should not be your first Walt Disney World attraction. Evie did really light up when they dropped bubble “snow” on us at the climax though.
  • Twilight Zone Tower of Terror: This is pretty good. I enjoyed the dark ride portion a lot more than the drop tower part, but that’s just me. I broadly enjoy roller coasters, but with most thrill rides, I find that everything happens too quickly for me to take it in. I was hoping for something a little longer, but the pre-show is fantastic.
  • Fantasmic!: Really nice show, though there were bits where I had trouble making out what was meant to be going on. I am most impressed by the climactic bit where the evil queen calls on the powers of Hades, god of the underworld; Maleficent, dark faerie; Jaffar, evil sorcerer; Ursula, the sea-hag; Chernabog, the demon; and Frollo, the archdeacon of Notre Dame de Paris.
  • Star Tours: Best 3D ride we saw the whole time. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been this impressed by 3D. A whole lot of fun. I’d have done this twice if we’d had time.
  • The Great Movie Ride: A good, well-paced dark ride with a lot of neat stuff to see. I worried that the kids would get restless because it’s unusually long for a ride, but the over-the-top live performances kept Dylan engaged.
  • Toy Story Midway Mania: I enjoyed the visual elements, but I’m not hugely interested by shooting galleries, and the 3D didn’t work very well for me. Dylan enjoyed it, but kept getting frustrated with the shooting.
  • Star Wars Launch Bay: We hit this right before closing. I wish we’d had time to look around more. Dylan liked meeting BB-8, but panicked upon meeting Chewbacca. Evie was happy to see everyone.

And here’s Dylan on a speeder bike. Transition! (This picture is 30 seconds before he whacks himself in the crotch getting down)

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

You’re not going to see a lot of pictures of me where I am not damp. What in the world made Walt think that a Florida swamp was a good place to build a theme park?

This was probably the hardest day, with a lot of crossing back and forth across the whole of the park due to having overcommitted. Dylan wished we could’ve spent more time looking at the animals, and spent the second half of the day wanting to go back to the hotel. It’s very beautiful, probably my second-favorite park to just-look-around, which makes it a shame we didn’t have time to. Pandora is beautiful, and I’m glad we circled back at the end to see it at night, even though we were all pretty tired and stressed out by this point.

  • Expedition Everest: One of the roller coasters I’ve enjoyed most. I don’t just mean at Disney. It’s a fairly short coaster with only moderate thrills, but it’s very inventive and visually striking, lots of fun. The pre-ride area is also really good.
  • Na’vi River Journey: Our first dark ride, and it’s beautiful. I was a little worried because the first three quarters of it rely on animation using integrated screens behind static props, and I thought this might be how all the dark rides were these days. There’s one legit animatronic at the end of the ride, though, and it’s clearly where the budget went. I’ve never seen anything like it; truly amazing. Evie loved this. Dylan was disappointed that we weren’t on a real boat (It’s a boat-shaped rail car driving through shallow water). I guess once he had been disabused of the idea, he got over it, because he didn’t complain about any of the other fake boats in the dark rides.
  • Kali River Rapids: It’s a good solid river rapids ride. I don’t like getting wet myself, but I could appreciate it. This is pretty much what broke Dylan for the day: he enjoyed it so much that he wanted to go again, and without a FastPass, this meant standing in line for an hour and a half. Which means that Dylan got to learn about standing in line for ninety minutes for a five minute ride. About seventy minutes in, he discovered that he didn’t actually enjoy the ride enough to justify the wait. He was not much fun for a big chunk of the rest of the day. Evie and I waited nearby, and she enjoyed the water features.
  • Dinosaur: For unclear reasons, Dylan flipped out and wouldn’t go on this one, so I went alone. Leah came back after dinner and took a turn herself. The ride broke down for half an hour so I got stuck in the pre-show theater watching Claire Huxtable and Hodges from CSI in the introductory movie on a loop. The ride itself was pretty cool — you’re not going to find me speaking ill of a dark ride in general — but it’s very dark and moves very fast, so it’s hard to process what you’re seeing before it’s gone. The set design of the queuing area was my favorite part.


I don’t remember this ride being scary. I have no idea why I’m the only one who doesn’t look scared.

This was another tough day. They were basically all tough days until Thursday, when we took half a day off because Dylan was so flustered Wednesday night that “Stop acting up or we won’t go to the park tomorrow,” did not work as a deterrent. Epcot was my favorite part to just-look-around, and we came back for half a day right before we left, and did a circuit of all the countries. Still pretty harried, because we only had a few hours and we wanted to complete our ritual (Get Dylan’s Duffy Bear stamped, spend a few minutes coloring it, throw a penny in the fountain, get a souvinier squished penny) at every stop. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more to Future World.

  • Soarin’ Round the World: The kids loved this; it’s my oldest niece’s favorite ride, I think. I liked it but didn’t love it.
  • Frozen Ever After: Absolutely magnificent dark ride, with a really good waiting area. I’m just a bit sad I never got to see the ride’s previous incarnation, Maelstrom, but the animatronics in this, much like in the Na’vi River Journey, were amazing. Even moreso because they match perfectly with the CG cartoonish style of the film. This has got to be Disney’s biggest success at making a ride literally look like one of their animated films brought to life.
  • The Seas With Nemo and Friends: This is an interesting one; the dark ride is primarily done through CG animation rather than animatronics, which is disappointing, except that there’s a gimmick where the animated characters are projected into a physical aquarium tank alongside real fish, so it’s a hybrid between a traditional dark ride and an aquarium tour. I dig aquariums, so this was cool.
  • I might have to do a followup post which is all just “Evie being starstruck by costumed characters.” It was real hard to pick just one.

    Space Ship Earth: This was one of the rides I was most looking forward to, but I ended up more sort of “appreciating” it than actually enjoying it. It’s a very set-heavy ride, and you don’t really get a chance to look at things as much as I’d have liked. I was surprised how much Dylan liked it, though the face-detection glitched and it only took a picture of the top of his head.

  • Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros: Dylan and I hit this up while everyone else failed to do Test Track due to an encroaching storm. This was another one I was really looking forward to. I was worried at first, because, again, there’s a lot of video screens in the first part of the ride. But the majority of it is an old fashioned dark ride and is just wonderful. A particular bright spot is the finale, featuring animatronics that date back to the opening of the Magic Kingdom in the ’70s (Donald in particular has a charming physicality to him from being a fifty-year-old puppet). I’m told that there’s also an original 1956 Disneyland animatronic in the ride too, though I didn’t spot it.
  • O Canada!: I wanted to see this because it’s a recent refit (Wikipedia says 2007, but it’s been updated since then, because Martin Short namechecks Frozen). If you have an infinite amount of time to spend at Epcot, it’s nice. We didn’t, so I regret having spent so long on it. This is also technically the last discrete, named attraction that we did during our trip (we spent the rest of our time wandering the World Showcase).

Magic Kingdom

I shouldn’t have, on paper, but I found Magic Kingdom the least interesting park to walk around and take in. We barely spent any time at all in Frontierland, Adventureland, or Main Street USA, though, so that might influence my experience. But for rides, this is the park. Frozen Ever After was great. Gran Fiesta Tour was great. Na’vi River Journey was great. But all of my favorite rides were at Magic Kingdom.

  • Peter Pan’s Flight: My favorite ride of the whole trip. Old school animatronics, blacklight effects, and big, swooping vistas. Dylan and I went back for a second ride, and I’d have happily done a third. Leah had a hard time seeing, due to her position in the ship and Evie-wrangling.
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh: My second-favorite ride of the whole trip. Winnie-the-Pooh is a particular favorite of mine, and the ride captures the “Strolling through a storybook” feel of the movies. Dylan, Evie and I went back for a second ride while Leah and the others did Splash Mountain.
  • It’s a Small World: Well, you pretty much have to, don’t you? It’s everything I want in a dark ride, full of things to look at and slow enough that you can. I didn’t find it cloying or too saccharine like I hear a lot of people do. My only negative is that the specific visual style of the animatronics isn’t really my cup of tea. Speaking of:
  • Mad Tea Party: It’s a spinning cup ride. Okay. The kids loved it. I’m sad that there is not currently an Alice dark ride.
  • Mickey’s PhilharMagic: A cute 4D movie. Dylan really liked this a lot. I thought the story was good, but the CG animation wasn’t up to Disney standards (and I have a particular dislike of using CG for their classic characters. I did not mind being gently splashed a bit. The 3D worked pretty well, but not as well as Star Tours. Evie slept through the whole thing.
  • Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress: This is real cute. There’s something very charming about how the final scene appears to be simultaneously set in the ’80s, ’90s, and ambiguous-near-future. Wish it were feasible to add new chapters. Due to its provenance, it feels uneven, with the first three acts waltzing through the 20th century a generation at a time, then jumping to “Today” for the finale. I’d love to see the worlds of the ’60s and ’80s portrayed. Even better if they showed them in their Zeerust “What we imagine the coming decade is going to be like” glory.
  • Pirates of the Carribbean: Good, solid dark ride. I was worried that the post-film-series changes would be intrusive, but they’re not; the new Captain Jack Sparrow animatronics are stylistically consistent with the older ones and sufficiently unobtrusive that they’re almost more like an easter egg for the sharp-eyed. The one thing that really surprised me is that it wasn’t more fantastical in nature. I always assumed that the spooky skeleton pirates from the first movie were based on something from the ride, but the ride is all about your ordinary non-zombie pirates; the closest thing is a tableau of some skeletonized non-animated remains.
  • Walt Disney Railroad: It’s a train. It was nice. There’s a few places where you can see details of some of the other attractions that aren’t visible from the ride proper, and that’s cool.
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train: The only parts I really liked were the dark ride elements, of which there aren’t enough. I’d have preferred the original Snow White ride, which apparently was scary. Dylan kept saying he only liked it a “smidge”, but wanted to go a second time. I feel like I preferred the Snow White ride at Enchanted Forest, but there is so much chance of my memory cheating on this that I’m not 100% sure there actually was a Snow White dark ride at the Enchanted Forest.
  • Haunted Mansion: So close to perfect. The thing that keeps this from being one of my favorites is that it’s a little too dark; after being outside under the angry, murderous gaze of the burning orange ball of hydrogen (I mean the sun, not Donald Trump), my vision wasn’t good enough to catch all the detail. Obviously the ambiance relies on the ride being dark, but you could bring the lights up maybe about 5-10% and it’d be a lot more satisfying.
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad: A pleasant, moderate roller-coaster. The only ride Leah and I went on alone.
  • Jungle Cruise: A good way to bring things down at the end of a long day. Holds up really well at night, though I imagine the colors would be more striking during the day. The animatronic animals are charmingly fake.

Obvious Omissions:

  • Space Mountain: Just didn’t have time. And being an eyeglass-wearer, indoor coasters lose a lot of their effectiveness for me, since I’m pretty much completely blind for them.
  • Swiss Family Treehouse: Was closed for the day at the one point where we were in the right part of the park and not in a hurry to make our next FastPass
  • The Hall of Presidents: Closed while Imagineers tried to find a line of dialogue to give the current President of the Electoral College of the United States that wouldn’t traumatize children, while they work out whether they’ll need to rush-order a Mike Pence, and while they try to figure out what to do with the Hillary Clinton robot they’ve had in storage since 2008.
  • Country Bear Jamboree: Everyone else thought I was crazy for wanting to see this.
  • Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin: Dylan did this while Leah and I did Haunted Mansion.
  • Living With the Land: Was closed for repairs
  • Journey into Imagination with Figment: I did not push for this, having heard that Figment was no Eric Idle.
  • Ellen’s Energy Adventure: Leah would have liked to see this one, but Epcot was one of our very-busy days and we didn’t even really get to that corner of the park.
  • Mission: Space: Don’t even recall walking by.
  • Innoventions: We just forgot about it. Shame.
  • Avatar Flight of Passage: It is apparently impossible to ride this unless you are willing to spend the entire day queuing for it.
  • Indiana Jones Stunt Show Spectacular: The one time we might have been able to see it, there was a sudden downpour.
  • Rock n Roller Coaster: See Mountain, Space.
  • Voyage of the Little Mermaid: Narrowly missed the last showing.

And just to send us off, what the heck, here’s another picture of my daughter being starstruck by a Disney character.

Scenes from Walt Disney World with Dylan

At the Tower of Terror:

DADDY: Shall we be stoic, or shall we go crazy?

DYLAN: What does “Go crazy” mean?

While Tossing Coins into a fountain:

DYLAN: You know what I’m going to wish for? I’m going to wish that you didn’t have to wear your magicband.

DADDY: That seems like a silly thing to wish for.

DYLAN: Oh. What should I wish for?

DADDY: I don’t know, Something big, like world peace.

DYLAN: What’s world peace?

DADDY: It’s when all the people in the world stop fighting.

DYLAN: Okay, I’ll wish for that.

(Throws coin)

DYLAN: You know what I’m going to wish for next time? That there were more robots. Lots and lots of robots.

DADDY: (later, to mommy) <robot voice>AND-THEN-THERE-WILL-BE-PEACE</robot voice>

Halfway through a long, wet day at the Magic Kingdom:

DYLAN: If I had unlimited fastpasses, you know what I’d use them for? The bus back to the resort.


Misspent Youth: Robinson Nature Center

Robinson Nature CenterOne of my minor disappointments living in the planned town of Columbia, Maryland, is that while it’s an exceedingly nice place to live, it’s sort of… Characterless. Like, if you were writing a nondescript mid-atlantic medium-large semi-urban community to use as a setting for a TV show, and you didn’t want anything too distinctive or quirky that might make take your audience out of the vague sense of familiarity with the setting. You’d basically be writing Columbia, except for the fact that it might come off a little too generic without any specific named points of interest to send the characters to. I mean, we’ve got just about every chain restaurant you can think of, but hardly any non-chain restaurants. And we’ve got a Wal-Mart and a Target and multiple GameStops and a Pier One and Home Depot and a Lowes, but I can’t think of a single mom-n-pop store. The town was built with a deliberation that “normal” towns aren’t, so it largely lacks the character that comes from a long history of piecemeal development and redevelopment. And it’s only about ten years older than I am, so it doesn’t really have much history of any other sort either. I know this sounds like the whitest white guy complaint in the history of white guys complaining about things that aren’t coal mining jobs, but that’s part of the problem. Columbia is the khaki-wearing white guy of towns. Not that it isn’t a racially diverse community in the literal sense, but in the sense of being a projection of our dominant cultural image of what “generic normal entity with no distinctive features or rough edges” looks like (This is not an endorsement of “white guy in khakis” being or dominant cultural image of what “default human” looks like. Again, it’s part of the problem). Even the whimsy (there’s part of town where all the streets are named for things out of Tolkien) feels manufactured.You know how some cities have “Keep [city] Weird” bumper stickers? You’d never see a “Keep Columbia Weird” bumper sticker. I think the last Columbia-themed bumper sticker I saw bore the legend “Choose Civility”.

I should probably also moderate myself a bit by pointing out that Columbia does pretty well in terms of cultural events. Mostly at Symphony Woods. But there’s plenty of concerts and local theater and wine festivals and art festivals. And this is great, but it’s also very temporally bound, and that can be a big burden when you’re a parent with a full time job and basically have the time you have, and also kinda hate people as a class and are more interested in the experience of place rather than event. This is why I’m glad that a couple of weeks ago, the dad of one of Dylan’s friends tipped me off about the James and Anne Robinson Nature Center. “Nature Center” maybe isn’t something I’d naturally seek out on my own, having memories of boring field trips to the local wildlife refuge to see local trees and fauna which, being local, I could already see by going to my back yard.

That is, I think, part of what the Robinson Nature Center is about. It’s got nature trails and gardens and tree planting projects and scenic overlooks the Middle Patuxent River, and oyster shell recycling, and an area where they demonstrate compost. But in addition to all that, there’s also this big L-shaped building right at the center, and that’s the part that made this a thing I wanted to do with my son.

The indoor part of the Nature Center is essentially a small nature museum. It’s kinda like they just ripped the nature room out of a really good science center and plopped it down in the middle of a park. The indoor exhibition is small, but it’s really well done. As you enter, there’s a small gift shop on your left next to the admissions desk. We didn’t stop at the gift shop on this trip because I was pretty much letting Dylan drive and he didn’t notice it. To the left is a sort of small reading room, cozy and softly lit, lined with bookshelves, with a fireplace and comfy chairs. Reminds me of the first floor lounge in the Humanities building back at Loyola, in the part of the building that still retains its original Tudor stylings from when it was the Jesuit residences half a century ago.

Robinson Nature Center

He’s in the middle of making a new friend out-of-frame to the right.

The temporary exhibits are beyond. Currently, they’re exhibiting some mixed media photographics by local artist Denée Barr. There’s also a large wooden tractor on loan from Port Discovery for the kids to climb on as part of the “Here We Grow” exhibit, running until July. The rest of that exhibit, downstairs, consists of a beanbag toss game based on Maryland agriculture, and a collection of wooden parts and plastic connectors with which children can try to invent their own novel piece of farm equipment. Other agriculture-themed displays line the downstairs hallway.

Robinson Nature CenterThe first permanent exhibit you come to is on the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The main feature is one of those tilt-table displays where you tilt the table to control a helicopter as it flies around the Chesapeake Bay area, hovering over points of historical and ecological interest to bring up little information screens. I think this maybe could have used an audio component for younger visitors, but Dylan had plenty of fun just flying the helicopter around even if he didn’t care to hold it still long enough for me to read him the text about the fate of watermen or the dangers of agricultural runoff.

An alcove to the left houses the “Changing Lives, Changing Landscapes” exhibit, showing, I think, the history of human inhabitants in the Howard County area. Dylan pulled me through too fast for me to get a good look. It’s pretty brief, close as I could tell, basically just one panel on Native Americans, and then a somewhat larger one about European settlers. A reproduction flintlock rifle and ax are mounted to the wall, but I didn’t get a chance to read the text. It was kinda similar to the first part of the Chester River room at the Chesapeake Heritage and Visitor Center, but a lot more abbreviated. It also contains an animatronic model of an 18th century grist mill, which Dylan liked a lot, but not enough to stand still for the entire length of time it took me to explain the process of grinding wheat into flour. You turn a big wall-mounted wheel to set the thing off and watch elevators and archimedes screws and grinding stones all move and turn and it’s kinda cool and I wish I knew of a nearby museum that was all just this kind of exhibit.

Robinson Nature CenterThe real centerpiece of the collection is the “Life of the Forest” exhibit, though. This is a big section all about the various things that live in different parts of the forest environment. It’s subdivided into three distinct sections. The upper gallery is this large, open, naturally-lit room where images of forest life appear on leaf-shaped tiles hanging from display trees. Information panels describe life in the treetops, with buttons scattered about that activate birdsongs. Binoculars mounted in places give you a chance to look out into the surrounding woods to see the local inhabitants firsthand. Dylan grew increasingly excited as we proceeded through this section, almost enough that we didn’t really get to see much as his anticipation kept driving him onward.

Robinson Nature Center

No lie: I asked Dylan if what he could see in the forest, and he told me he couldn’t see anything because of all the trees in the way.

You descend down a long ramp to the lower gallery which focuses on the forest floor. This was probably my favorite part, and Dylan lingered here longer than anywhere else as well. The upper gallery is very beautiful, but the lower one is very dense and full of lots of individual things to look at. Dylan was, for reasons of his own, really excited by the sticks. Because there were sticks. I mean, duh.

Robinson Nature Center

I do not wish to show you the dead deer, so here is a gratuitous beaver shot instead.

One word of caution here: when you reach the bottom of the ramp, the very first thing you will see on entering the forest floor is a dead deer being eaten by buzzards. It’s under a sign bearing the legend, “Nature’s Recycling”, or words to that effect, explaining the whole circle of life thing, and it’s a good and important exhibit and very well-made, but I don’t know what they were thinking making it what they chose to lead off on. In this section, mounted flashlights illuminate messages carved into tree trunks about nature. Spring-loaded panels can be pulled out from below the displays to read information about the animals.

I was particularly impressed by the quality of the water displays. Lucite-filled cavities in the simulated forest floor give you a cross-sectional look into shallow pools and rivers. There’s a small pond prominently displaying stages of amphibian life, with frogs and salamanders frozen in various stages of development, and a larger section displaying beavers hard at work building a dam. There’s a hollowed out log in which one lizard protects its eggs as its mate loses a fight to a snake, and a hollow tree trunk you can step inside to see baby bats asleep on the ceiling. All the animals are models, just in case you were concerned. I’m sure a place like this would only have used ethically taxidermied animals if they were real, but the use of models removes any worries about that.

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One Thousand Eight Hundred Twenty-Seven

I’d stayed up too late making a shepherd’s pie for dinner that night. And bolting the DVD cabinets to the wall in the basement. I don’t know what I was thinking. Leah had been sleeping in the guest bedroom — she’d been growing progressively more and more dissatisfied with the queen-sized bed she’d bought years ago not long after she moved to Maryland, but it would be a few more years until we replaced it — or trying to sleep, or whatever, and she came in and said, in a one-in-the-morning sort of noncommittal way that it was possible that her water had broken, but she wasn’t sure. Though she’d be pretty confident about it when talking to anyone else. She called the OBGYN once they opened, and they said we should come in, so we did. The nurse midwife was surprised that we’d come in, despite having been told to, because she reckoned it was pretty straightforward at this point that what we ought to do was to go to the hospital and, y’know, have a baby. So we did that. Fortunately, the hospital was right next door. So about twelve hours later, we had a baby.

And then one thousand eight hundred twenty-seven days passed. A bunch of stuff happened in the mean time. Back in the days before I almost always had a camera in arm’s reach, there was this one afternoon where he looked up at me from playing on his activity mat and then flopped forward onto his hands in a pose so cute I really wished I’d gotten a picture so I could post it to the internet with a black matte around it bearing the caption “Baby Facepalm: He doesn’t even have object permanence, yet he knows what you just did was dumb”. A couple of years passed. Leah went up to take a shower, and he started hopping on the spot, explaining, “Mommy jump in shower. Didi jump in kitchen.” That’s what he called himself back then, until he mastered L-sounds. One Easter, he found a chocolate egg intended for the hunt early and when asked where he found it, he held up the flattened foil wrapper. “It was inside this.”

I had to hold him one night as he cried over a friend I’d never heard of before who just moved away. And another when we explained that in the event of a fire, no, he had to get out of the house right away and not stop to gather his favorite toys, even the magnet-handed shark that came with his bicycle helmet which he loved more than life itself. He lost the shark about a month later. He asked me easy questions, like “What’s your favorite color?” and “Can two men get married?” He asked hard questions like, “If the president does bad things, why don’t the police arrest him?” and “Which of your children do you love most?”

Yesterday, we went swimming and ate pizza with his friends, and then we came home and he opened presents, shouting “I always wanted one of those!” as he revealed things he’d never seen or heard of before in his life. And he went to bed. And a few hours later, I opened the door to his room, and for the one thousand eight hundred and twenty-sixth time (modulo about a month’s worth of overnight visits to grandma), I listened to make sure he was breathing, and whispered, “I love you, son.”

Happy Birthday, Dylan.