Author Archives: Peter

10 Year Anniversary Trip

Rebecca and I have just returned from a seven-day trip to Puerto Rico to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. It was supposed to be a five-day trip, but thanks to “Superstorm” Sandy, our flight home was canceled, the rebooked flight was canceled, and we ended up needing to stay two extra nights. We knew that the girls were fine staying at our house with my in-laws, but we missed getting to go home to them when planned.

Other than that, we had a great trip. I wanted to tell you a little bit about what we did, and share some of the photos that we took.

On Friday the 26th (our anniversary date), we flew US Airways from Boston to San Juan, Puerto Rico by way of Philadelphia. The trip was pretty smooth, except for the extra delay before our plane took off from Philadelphia, since they had to plot a route to get around Hurricane Sandy, which, at the time, was churning through the Caribbean. (pics of this leg of the trip: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/Flight-to-Puerto-Rico/26307923_897XBq).

Flight to Puerto Rico

Flight to Puerto Rico

Once in Puerto Rico, we got our rental car at the airport and drove for about four hours from San Juan to Las Marias, a town in the middle of the eastern central mountains of Puerto Rico. Some of that time was due to rush hour traffic getting out of San Juan, but it also had to do with the winding, 25mph roads going through the mountains. They were quite challenging to drive, especially at night! By the end of the trip, though, I had become fairly proficient at navigating them.

Road near the guesthouse

Road near the guesthouse

We eventually reached our destination, Maravilla Mountain, after darkness had fallen. Maravilla Mountain is a vegan/vegetarian bed and breakfast in an incredibly remote location in the middle of the forest. We were the only people staying there at the time, so we had our bedroom, plus a sitting room and bathroom, all to ourselves for the duration of our stay. We had purchased their “all-inclusive DIY” meal plan, which meant that they prepared all of our meals ahead of time and refrigerated or froze them, and we simply heated them up whenever we were ready – breakfast, lunch and dinner. The hosts, Margo and Mark, were incredibly hospitable. Margo’s cooking was delicious and filling, Mark’s woodworking and decor was fascinating, and the house was very comfortable. It was particularly relaxing to sit on the porch hammock-swings at night, overlooking the forest. They also had a massive movie collection, which I learned that Margo had picked out herself, and a huge flatscreen TV, which was great for watching in the evenings. (pics, including photos of most of our meals: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/Maravilla-Guesthouse-and/26307973_c487FW)

Journaling at the guesthouse

Journaling at the guesthouse

In general, each day of the trip followed a similar pattern: we would get up early to go out and do some adventuring, then return home in the mid-afternoon to relax, have dinner, and relax some more. 🙂

On Saturday, we drove southwest to Cabo Rojo, a town on the far southwest corner of the island. There, we hiked up to the Los Morillos lighthouse, and down to a small beach in a cove. The views of the Caribbean Sea and the cliffs of Cabo Rojo were incredible, and the beach was very nice. It even had natural cabanas – the beach was lined with shade trees that provided a place to change into swimsuits and sit when a shade break was needed. (pics: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/Cabo-Rojo/26308166_D57zPR).

Cliffs of Cabo Rojo

Cliffs of Cabo Rojo

On Sunday, we drove northeast to Camuy and Arecibo. In Camuy, we visited the Rio Camuy Caverns, a massive cave system formed by an underground river. We took a tram ride deep down to the entrance to the cave, and had a guided tour around inside the cave. It was very hard to capture in photos, but it was incredible in size and variety of rock formations. (pics: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/Rio-Camuy-Caverns/26308304_hRTszQ)

Rio Camuy Caverns

Rio Camuy Caverns

We then drove to Arecibo to visit the Arecibo Observatory, the world’s largest single-dish radiotelescope. You may recognize it from such movies as GoldenEye or Contact. It’s a massive structure built out in the middle of the hilly northern country (“Karst” country) of Puerto Rico – a huge reflector dish in the ground, three massive towers surrounding it, with cables holding up an array of instruments designed to receive radio signals reflected by the dish. There is a visitor center that explains much of the history and science behind the telescope, and an observation deck that allows visitors to have a good view of the telescope. As a science geek, it was definitely a must-see for me! (pics: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/Arecibo-Observatory/26308901_tnRc9b)

Arecibo Observatory

Arecibo Observatory

On Monday, we drove southeast to Guanica to visit the Guanica State Forest, a dry forest on the southern coast. After winding up a mountain road to a parking area, we took a hike down one of the trails. It started out looking much like our own forests and ended up looking more like a desert. At the bottom of the trail, we walked along a road and eventually came to a beach with a view of the Caribbean Sea. It was a sweltering day, and we ended up quite hot and sweaty, but we got to see some incredible plants and ocean views. (pics: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/Guanica-State-Forest/26312477_BTvMwL)

Guanica State Forest

Guanica State Forest

After we left the forest, we headed back towards Las Marias and the guest house, but on the way, we stopped in Mayaguez to visit the USDA Tropical Agriculture Research Station (TARS). The TARS performs research and experiments in a variety of agricultural areas. They make a big point of saying that they are not a botanical garden, which basically means that the layout of their grounds was not chosen to be particularly aesthetically pleasing. It was still very cool to see all of the cataloged tropical plant species that they had. (pics: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/USDA-Tropical-Agriculture/26312520_kNJc74)

USDA TARS

USDA TARS

Monday night was our last night at Maravilla Mountain, but our rebooked flights were on Thursday, so we still had to fill up Tuesday and Wednesday with activities. On Tuesday morning, we drove to our hotel in San Juan. We had booked a room at the Borinquen Beach Inn, a small motel in the Isla Verde area of San Juan. It was the cheapest hotel we could find that was near the airport. It also happened to be close to the beach – just one or two minutes to walk there from our room. It was definitely not a fancy beach resort, but it had the basics that we needed. It was also right across the street from Taco Bell and Walgreens, so we had access to cheap food to help save money during this unplanned portion of our trip. 🙂 (pics of Isla Verde, the beach, and our hotel: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/Isla-Verde/26312786_h829L7)

Borinquen Beach Inn

Borinquen Beach Inn

After checking in, we drove to Old San Juan to explore its historical sites. We visited Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a fort that was built by the Spanish in 1539 and occupied by them until it was won by the Americans in 1898. The views of the old city and the ocean from the fort are incredible. (pics: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/Castillo-San-Felipe-del-Morro/26312569_bvczk5 ) We took a free tram from El Morro to Castillo de San Cristobal, another fortress in Old San Juan. Where El Morro was designed to protect against sea attacks, San Cristobal was built to protect from land attacks, right at the entrance to Old San Juan. (pics: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/Castillo-de-San-Cristobal/26312618_WrqdMH)

El Morro

El Morro

We also walked around Old San Juan a bit, and had a meal at Cafe Berlin, a restaurant with Puerto Rican, international, and vegan/vegetarian cuisine. Rebecca had a veggie sandwich while I tried mofongo, a Puerto Rican specialty. It was tasty, although I probably wouldn’t choose to eat it often. (pics of Old San Juan: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/Old-San-Juan/26312743_5kQ3cj)

Street in Old San Juan

Street in Old San Juan

On Wednesday morning, we drove to El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rain forest in the US national forest system. As the island goes, it’s a relatively small piece of land, but it seems pretty big when you’re driving through it. We went up an observation tower to get a great view of the forest, we hiked down a trail to a waterfall, where Rebecca took a dip in a natural pool, and we visited the El Portal Rain Forest Center, which had a video presentation narrated by Puerto Rico native Benicio del Toro. (pics: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/El-Yunque-National-Forest/26312825_cvGtw7)

Peter in El Yunque

Peter in El Yunque

On Wednesday afternoon, we went back to Old San Juan again, as I wanted to visit the Pablo Casals Museum. We first went to the location as listed in our travel guides, but found a sign saying that it had moved to another location (or, that’s what I thought it said). So we asked around and tried to find its new location. We were pointed in the general direction of another art gallery which this museum was said to have moved into, but after walking around in circles for a bit, we finally learned the truth – the museum was in the process of moving, and neither the old nor the new location was open. In any case, we had a nice walk around Old San Juan. The architecture of the art museums we walked around was beautiful, and I’m sure that the next time we have a chance to take a trip to Puerto Rico, the new location will be open.

Future Location of the Pablo Casals Museum

Future Location of the Pablo Casals Museum

On both Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, and on Thursday morning before leaving, we spent time swimming, or rather trying to dodge huge waves, in the beach behind our hotel. The late afternoon was a nice, quiet, not too hot time to enjoy the warm Caribbean water.

The Beach

The Beach

At last, on Thursday morning, we drove to the airport, dropped off our rental car, and got ourselves to the gate for our flight. We had learned the previous day that our rebooked flight put us into first class, an experience that neither of us was accustomed to. We boarded the plane and sat in the first row (seats 1A and 1C), and enjoyed our first class experience… nice food, big comfortable seats, first on and off the plane… really nice, and at no extra charge, I assume due to the fact that we’d been bumped from our flights. (pics of the first class experience: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/First-Class-Experience/26312992_vcNNrx)

Getting to know your first class seat

Getting to know your first class seat

We made a smooth connection in Philadelphia, had a quick flight to Boston (coach class, but still very comfortable), and zipped out of the airport, to our car, and drove home as quickly as possible. We arrived home to finally see our girls again, and to thank Nonni and Grandpa for hanging in there with the girls for two extra days.

Overall, it was a great trip and a great way to celebrate our 10th anniversary.

Father’s Day 2012: The Direction of Adventure!

The morning of Father’s Day started rather early for me, as I had to head in to work around 6:30 a.m. for an early-morning planned maintenance. The whole team was there early to help out, so at least there was some camaraderie. The maintenance ended after church had already started, so even though I drove like the wind, I still missed most of church. Luckily, this sort of maintenance doesn’t happen very often.

Early Morning Work

Early Morning Work

For Father’s Day this year, Rebecca planned a surprise outing for me. I had no idea where we were going until we got there, which is not typical for me, but was exciting!

The "Plans"

The “Plans”

After church, we headed over on Route 62 towards I-95. I thought we were going to get on I-95 North, but I was surprised as Rebecca went past it. I expressed my surprise, pointing at the I-95 sign and saying that I thought we’d be going that way, because “That’s the direction of adventure!”

As it turns out, we were just stopping to get gas. But shortly after that, we doubled back and, indeed, headed “in the direction of adventure!”

I-95 North: The Direction of Adventure!

I-95 North: The Direction of Adventure!

As it turns out, our destination was the Portsmouth, NH area. This marks the third Father’s Day that I’ve spent there. One year we went on a cruise out to the Isles of Shoals, and another year we visited the USS Albacore. This time, our first stop was for lunch at Street 360, a funky little restaurant that celebrates street food from all over the world.

Me and the girls at Street 360

Me and the girls at Street 360

In addition to enjoying the funky atmosphere of the restaurant, and noticing that they used a wall-mounted iPad as an order-entry device, we thought the food was great. I enjoyed a ‘Singapore Salad,’ which was a bowl of salad that had: “Daikon, cucumber, cabbage, carrot, celery, scallions, zucchini, cilantro, mint, Thai basil and peanuts with fresh and delicious sesame ginger dressing.” I also chose to add avocado slices and grilled chicken to the mix. It made for a very tasty, hearty and filling salad.

After lunch, Rebecca drove us to our next mystery destination, for which I had been instructed to pack ‘adventuring clothes’. I soon learned that we were visiting Odiorne Point State Park in Rye, NH. We changed into our adventure clothes, and then headed out for a nice long walk along the rocky shores, through the woods, and around the ruins of a World War II-era coastal gun battery installation.

Rocky Shores

Rocky Shores

Gun battery

Gun battery

Papa, Catherine and Esme are "sea monsters"

Papa, Catherine and Esme are “sea monsters”

Great food and great adventure was the perfect way to spend Father’s Day with my girls. I’m thankful to Rebecca for her efforts in helping plan out a great day, and I highly recommend Portsmouth, NH and the surrounding area for great adventures, Father’s Day or otherwise!

For all of the photos from the day, visit the gallery.

Spark Plugs

The “Check Engine” light in our 2002 Subaru Legacy came on a while back. The symptoms were a sputtering, jumpy engine only on cold or wet mornings. The symptoms went away after the car had been driven for a few minutes. An OBD check revealed that the issue was a cylinder misfire. My mechanic said that it could either be bad spark plugs or bad wires going to the spark plugs. It would have cost several hundred dollars to have him do the replacement, so we put it off for a while. The spark plugs are the cheaper of the two parts to replace, so eventually, I decided that I’d like to try replacing them myself to see if it fixed the problem. I have the Haynes manual for our Legacy, which details the procedure, so I felt like it was pretty do-able. In additional, I also found this video that details the entire process on the exact same engine as we have.

The process went pretty smoothly overall. I had to remove some unrelated parts from under the hood in order to get access to the plugs, which are mounted on the sides of the engine. The air intake had to come off completely, and the wiper fluid reservoir had to be disconnected and moved out of the way. Other than that, it was pretty straightforward.

New spark plug

New spark plug

It was a bit nerve-racking as I prepared to turn the engine on for the first time after the replacement. I wondered what would happen if I hadn’t installed things quite right. But I had nothing to worry about, as the engine started up just fine. I took a test drive and everything ran smoothly. That was a week ago, and the car has been running great ever since! No bad starts, and the check engine light turned itself off. The cost for the spark plugs was only $10, and I also had to buy a longer extender for my ratcheting wrench so that it could reach far enough to grab the spark plugs, but other than that it was pretty cheap and a good investment of my time.

You can see some more pics from the procedure in the gallery.

Rainbows and Unicorns, or, Catherine’s Sixth Birthday

It seems unbelievable, but this past Saturday, Catherine turned six. Six! It’s strange to think that we’ve had a child for longer than the time we spent in college, that we’ve had a child now for longer than we were married without kids. Strange but wonderful.

Birthday Girl

Birthday Girl

The theme for Catherine’s party was “unicorns,” a theme chosen by Catherine and developed as a family collaboration. Catherine wanted a unicorn cake and to play a game of pin the horn on the unicorn. Rebecca made the cake and the game board, made unicorn-themed invitations, and also made wearable unicorn horns for the guests:

Unicorn Girl

Unicorn Girl

I was pleased to be able to help with enlarging the sketch Rebecca had made of a My Little Pony unicorn to use for the ‘pin the horn on the unicorn’ game board.

How do you like my interpretation of this unicorn?

How do you like my interpretation of this unicorn?

I’m rather proud of my work.

The party itself was a great success. We were spending Memorial Day weekend at my in-laws’ cottage in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, and we held the party right in their yard. Everyone seemed to enjoy wearing the unicorn horns and eating the cake, and everyone was a good sport while playing ‘pin the horn on the unicorn’.

Pin the horn

Pin the horn

Happy Birthday, Catherine! Let’s see what the next year has in store!

Six Candles

Six Candles

For all of the photos from Catherine’s birthday, visit our gallery.

Beverly Conservation Area

On Sunday afternoon, we took a hike with some friends from Dane Street. We wanted an easy, family-friendly hike, so we headed to the Beverly Conservation Area. The hike ended up taking about two and a half hours, a bit longer than we had planned, but everyone powered through until the end. The kids had a great time exploring the woods, playing with sticks, rocks, leaves and water.

Our girls

Our girls

There was an especially exciting spot towards the middle of the hike. There was a bridge across a small stream, but high up above the bridge (right at about my shoulder level), there was a log that had fallen across the stream. It had platforms built onto either end of it, and the top of the log had been leveled into a flat, but skinny walkway. You can see it here in this shot from Appu’s camera:

Esme boldly walks across

Esme boldly walks across

Catherine went across first, a bit skittish, on her hands and knees. Esme and I followed behind, and though I tried to keep a hand on Esme to steady her, she would have none of it, and strode boldly across the log on her own, then came back, then went over again! “Papa, I don’t want you to hold me!” she said. In the photo above, you can see her coming back across. Check out the far end in the photo… the nice big drop didn’t scare her at all!

Everyone was exhausted by the end of the hike, but it was worth it to get lots of great exercise and spend time with friends! You can see all of the photos from our hike here.

Castle Hill

One of the places that I wanted to visit during my week of vacation was Castle Hill on the Crane Estate in Ipswich.

Though we had previously been to nearby Crane Beach (one of the best/most expensive beaches to visit in MA, if you have a chance), none of us had been to Castle Hill. I had seen photos of its beauty, and was quite excited to visit. It didn’t disappoint me.

We hiked up a steep hill, and explored the remains of a once-grand vegetable garden.

Gorgeous

Gorgeous

We continued hiking, up to the main house. It looked like something out of Downton Abbey, and indeed was designed after an English country house.

Front of the house

Front of the house

After admiring the front, we hiked through the woods to the back of the house, where we came to my favorite part of the visit. While the entire grounds of Castle Hill are beautiful, the centerpiece in my opinion is the Grand Allee, a beautifully landscaped hill rolling down toward the ocean. It blows my mind. Just think: at one time, this was somebody’s backyard. I walk out onto my back deck and see a swingset, some trees, some grass. These people could take a morning stroll out to their back porch and see THIS.

Esme stands on the Grand Allée

Esme stands on the Grand Allée

Nice. Here’s a Photosynth embedded Panorama I created, showing the view from the top (let me know if it doesn’t work for you):

I highly recommend a visit to Castle Hill if you can make it there. You can see all of our photos from this beautiful place here.

“Two if by train…,” to the Museum of Science

Since Catherine and I had a chance to take a train ride in to Boston earlier in the week, we decided that Esme should have a chance, too. We also wanted to go to the Museum of Science as a family. So we decided that Esme and I would take the train in, and Rebecca and Catherine would drive in.

Rebecca dropped Esme and I off at the Beverly Depot commuter rail station to catch an 8:15am train.

Esme at Beverly Depot

Esme at Beverly Depot

Esme and I had an extremely smooth trip in, unlike the trip Catherine and I took earlier. We even ran into our friends Chris and Kylie, who commute together to their jobs in the city. It was fun to chat with them as we all rode in to the city.

Chris and Kylie

Chris and Kylie

After arriving at North Station, Esme and I got breakfast at Dunkin’ Donuts, and then we took a pleasant stroll along the Esplanade (or at least the Nashua Street Park section of it) to the MoS.

Rawr.

Rawr.

Even though we’ve been to the MoS many times, it seems that we see or learn something new almost every time we visit. For example, Objet was demonstrating their 3-D printing technology, with which they had created a scale model of Fenway Park to commemorate its 100th anniversary. This company’s printers are used by companies such as Speck, to make prototypes of their cases, and Specialized, to model parts for their bikes. Also, I think they have a very clever name.

Objet

Objet

But the highlight of the MoS visit was the Butterfly Garden. We all loved looking around at the flowers and the colorful butterflies and moths flitting back and forth. I even had a butterfly land on me… but it was on my back, so I didn’t get to see it. The girls had a great time in this room. Catherine had hoped that a butterfly would land on her since she was wearing a flowered dress, but it was not to be.

The butterfly garden

The butterfly garden

When we were finished at the museum, we all drove back together, but stopped for lunch at Kowloon, a Chinese restaurant in Saugus. The girls and I had never been there, but Catherine had seen it on her favorite TV show, Fetch with Ruff Ruffman, as one of the locations where the contestants go to perform a task. The food was nothing to write home about, but the girls did enjoy the fountains throughout.

Admiring the fountains at Kowloon

Admiring the fountains at Kowloon

See all of our photos from the day here.

Day with the girls

On Thursday, I spent much of my day with Catherine and Esme. From roughly 9:30am until 4:00pm, here’s what we did.

We started off the day by heading in to work. What? I’m on vacation, right? Well, as it turns out, CBD‘s Bring Your Child To Work day was on Thursday. This is one of the girls’ favorite days ever, and to miss it would be like missing Christmas. So we went in just for an hour to get some company-provided goodies, take a walk around the building, play in the games/crafts room, and say hi to my co-workers. I think it actually worked out better this way, as my job isn’t one that the girls can really grasp at the moment, and usually if they do come in, they end up being more of a distraction to my co-workers than anything else. So this way, everyone got what they wanted.

The games/crafts room

The games/crafts room

Watching packages

Watching packages

After visiting work, we walked across the street to get lunch at the Subway I frequently visit.

Subway lunch

Subway lunch

After lunch, we drove up to Cherry Farm Creamery for some ice cream, and then drove into downtown Beverly for an afternoon of storytime and activities at the library. Esme has a 3-year-olds storytime at 1pm on Thursdays, and Catherine has a science club at 3pm on Thursdays, so Rebecca generally makes an afternoon of it when she does it with the girls, so I did the same.

I played Checkers with Esme while Catherine was in science club

I played Checkers with Esme while Catherine was in science club

At the end of the day, I was exhausted, and I told Rebecca that she could keep her job. 🙂 But overall I did have a good time with the girls. It is good for me to have a chance to spend a lot of time around them during the daily routine, and learn more about what they’re like outside of my usual evenings-and-weekends window.

Wright’s Tower

Our outing of choice for today was a hike to Wright’s Tower in Medford, MA. This tower is in the southern part of the Middlesex Fells Reservation. The Fells were one of my go-to places for hikes when I lived in Woburn, as it was pretty easy to get to. I’d never hiked to Wright’s Tower, however.

I picked this hike for today because it is a fairly short hike, and the view from the top is pretty rewarding. The hike starts next to Bellvue Pond, where we saw some ducks and geese.

Bellvue Pond

Bellvue Pond

We walked along a fire road for a bit before turning off onto the Skyline Trail. This makes a fairly steep cut up Pine Hill towards Wright’s Tower.

Esme points the way up the hill

Esme points the way up the hill

Once at the top, you’re treated to some amazing views – both from the top of the hill itself, and from the top of Wright’s Tower.

 

View of Boston from the top of the hill

View of Boston from the top of the hill

 

View of Boston from Wright's Tower

View of Boston from Wright's Tower

As an added bonus, at the top of the hill, we also met another family with two kids who were relatively close to Catherine and Esme’s age. Catherine was her usual outgoing self, walked right up and introduced herself to the kids, and before long they were all playing together and building a fairy house up at the top of the tower. I stayed up at the top of the tower while Rebecca was at the bottom with the kids’ mom, and the kids showed enormous resolve in trudging up and down the stairs carrying sticks, stones, grass, and other things to build the house.

Catherine, Esme and friends building their fairy house

Catherine, Esme and friends building their fairy house

Catherine got some scraped knees when she tripped on the way back down (later tonight, she took off the band-aid and declared: “It’s healed!”), which soured her mood, but other than that, everyone had a terrific time!

I’d highly recommend this easy hike for anybody who lives near Boston and wants some great views of the Boston skyline!

You can see all of my photos here.

The great outdoors

We are fortunate to have such a great variety of natural beauty here in our area, most of it just a short drive away.

Yesterday, we took a walk at Strawberry Hill in Ipswich. This is a great country walk that takes you up and down a hill, across a causeway, and up onto an island. The island has some great rocky beaches and a big grassy clearing. Our girls love the rocks, sticks, and straw that you can find all over the place.

The girls at Strawberry Hill

The girls at Strawberry Hill

More photos from Strawberry Hill.

Today we spent the afternoon at Wingaersheek Beach in Ipswich. It’s one of our favorite  beaches – when we can get to it! During the summer we only go after 5pm, when they stop collecting a parking fee, but off-season they don’t charge for parking. The parking lots were understandably full today, given that it’s Patriot’s Day and the start of the local school vacation week. Many people were out enjoying the vast expanses of shallow water and sandy beaches, and terrific collections of rocks for climbing and hopping. Our girls love digging in the sand, climbing the rocks, and splashing in the tidal pools. I love it for the wide open space in which we can walk around, relax, and enjoy the outdoors.

Rocks at Wingaersheek

Rocks at Wingaersheek

See more photos from Wingaersheek.