Category Archives: Family

The Big Day, pt. 4 – Recap

Our biggest fan, Mother Dillon, flies from hundreds of miles away to see us. She comes every year, except the one year where our recital conflicted with our niece Elizabeth’s ballet recital. In the hierarchy of these things, the grandchild takes precedence, we understand. Second biggest fan Dr. Bob attends, of course, but this year he is accompanied by Sharon, who doesn’t always get to come.

And special guest stars Aida and Helena really make it such a treat for us. Goodness, we’ve been practicing all year.

Afterward we repair to the traditional locale, Tortilla Coast, for margaritas. And we are devastatingly disappointed when we arrive and discover that they are closed for a private party. So we trudge back, almost all the way back to St. Mark’s, and go to La Lomita instead. At first I’m worried that they’re not even open yet. They don’t look especially open. But they are, and in fact they’re surprisingly full. We have a party of 7, (the above-mentioned fans, plus Dawn, me, and Jessica R.), so then I’m worried they won’t have room for us. Apparently I worry too much, because they have a whole ‘nother room downstairs, which we get all to ourselves.

The food is not all that memorable, but that kinda fits since our dancing isn’t all that memorable either. But the tequila does its magic, and it’s good to have old company and new company. And did I mention the tequila?

See you next year.

Happy Birthday, Rob!

carol_and_robMy big brother turns 45 today.

We ride our bikes to Phillips down on the SW waterfront to have dinner with Rob and Carol. On the way, while I’m leading the way, while we’re flying past a row of cars parked on the right side of M Street SW, some guy opens his driver’s side door right in front of me. I jam on the brakes but still crash head-on into the door.

Bike’s mostly okay. Bent front wheel, just a little. Can feel it while braking. Damn.

edward_and_dawnPhillips is a gigantic place. Roman orgy levels of food. Buffet style with various stations. Place is oh so very crowded. We have a grand time at a table in a sort of patio area, covered this time of year. But still, we overlook the marina. Pretty close to our bikes too, locked to the fences down below us.

We do not discuss politics in any way, shape, or form. Rob and Carol are about as far to the right as we are to the left. If such a thing is possible.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Dawn!

The tulips, of which Dawn took a picture and sent to me with her phone.

Dawn’s quite the frugal gal. She forbids me to send flowers to her actually on Valentine’s Day. So I send her the tulips the day before. It’s apparently not any cheaper the day before though. And the red tulips don’t seem to want to live very long. We immediately start planning for next year, for maybe yellow roses the week before.

She’s a Magnet; I’m a Refrigerator

So, we take this online personality quiz thingy, taken by and blogged about by Red7Eric over at Secrets of the Red Seven. He turns out to be a benevolent creator, which sounds like it’s probably not so bad for a playwright. Myself, I’m a benevolent realist, whereas Dawn is a respectful architect. I’m not really sure what those are.

Mostly, Dawn and I are about opposite in everything. She’s marginally more masculine than I am, and I’m way more feminine than she is. I really am a pretty girl after all.

Attribute –Edward– –Dawn–
Confidence 6 94
Openness 24 2
Extroversion 88 10
Empathy 74 20
Trust in others 96 82
Agency 8 78
Masculinity 36 56
Femininity 74 2
Spontaneity 62 4
Attention to style 34 64
Authoritarianism 26 58
Imaginative <---> Earthy 48 92
Functional <---> Aesthetic 16 76

The first eleven are your basic zero to one-hundred percent type deals. The last two are scales from one to the other. As in I’m halfway between imaginative and earthy, while Dawn’s barely imaginative and mostly earthy. I’m apparently very functional. That’d be somewhat funny, given my relative inability to function, but on a scale of functional to aesthetic, I’m more functional than. Again, apparently.

Good fun anyway.

Christmas at Rob’s

Semi low key day at Rob’s. I meet Goombah for the first time, and we really hit it off. He parks himself on my lap for quite a while, getting prodigious amounts of dog hair all over my sweater.

Mom totally rocks, straying off the reservation that is the Amazon wish list, somehow being completely inspired and getting me a digital protractor.


Later we go to our usual Mexican restaurant near Rob & Carol’s, Los Toltecos.

Christmas at Dad’s

Very enjoyable, low key day at Dad’s.

Presents are generally kept to a minimum, as we have worked out beforehand with Main that we’ll just exchange donations to favorite charities. She gives to typhoon victims in Bangladesh and we give to help restore Ellis Island. Dad gives us checks, which is good in the sense that shopping is easier on all involved. But it’s bad because it kinda gets deposited into the bank as general revenue rather than as specifically marked as for goodies and toys.

There’s some distraction as we have on the football game for a while. Dad has a big HDTV, but we can’t find the game in actual HD. We view in regular D. Washington seems to have spent all their energy beating Dallas the previous week. When we leave the score is 14-13, Washington winning by one. I ask Dad if he thinks they can hold on. He says he’s pessimistic. When we get home they’ve lost like 14-35 or something ridiculous.

Return of the Heroes

We split out of work right on time and zip home. Then we jump in the car and head to BWI. We’re picking up Dawn’s brother Shawn, a Major in the U.S. Army on his way back from his tour in Afghanistan.

He’s been winding his way back for a number of days now, is my understanding. I had thought he was going from Afghanistan to Kuwait, or maybe then it was Kyrgyzstan. I expect he’s coming this latest hop from Frankfurt, Germany. (He tells us later that he spent time in Turkey, and his last hop has been from Ramstein Air Base, which isn’t in Frankfurt.) We also seem to understand that he comes into the US through BWI, rather than straight down to Atlanta, his final destination, because he’s carrying a service weapon and thus is required to go through BWI. We’ve convinced him to stay the night with us. We’re proud and pleased to pick him up.

At BWI we can find no listing of any flight arriving from Ramstein. We ask at the USO office and they tell us to go to the international terminal E. Look for World Airways. We find their counter and the guy there is pretty damn cryptic. I ask if the flight is in fact on time or landed, or if Maj. Dillon is on the flight. All he’ll say is that we’ll see him coming out of customs around eight. We grab a quick beer and bar chum and then come back to wait.

It’s quite a charming little arrival scene, actually. Girl scouts are there to cheer the returning troops. A couple of old vets too, seems like. Finally people in uniform start coming out from the double doors. An old vet directs them down our way so we can clap and cheer and the girl scouts can hand out cookies and candy.

It’s really quite a moving scene. As much as I’m against war, and especially this war, as much as I’m against much of what our military does and is for, it just feels like the right thing to do to welcome back, with honor and gratitude, these men and women.

Finally Shawn comes out with shitloads of luggage. Hugs and greetings and we get him in the car and back to our house, where we feed him good home cooking and give him beer and his own room and a comfy bed. And cats.

Welcome home.

Dawn + Evie


An older picture, from back in May when we first got Evie. Notice that her belly is still shaved, so you can still see her scar from the spay surgery.

Christmas at Dad and Sharon’s

The other reason for going to the early Mass this morning is that we’re due at Dad’s at two o’clock for celebrating. We’ve got to fit grocery shopping in between church and Dad’s, so the usually long ten o’clock Mass, and maybe even longer special Mass for Archbishop Wuerl, isn’t working so well for us today.

I’m especially excited because we’re giving Dad a scarf that Dawn knitted. It’s actually like a lot more expensive than just buying a scarf, because the scarf companies get like huge volume discounts on yarn, whereas we pay shockingly high prices at the local Stitch DC store. But it’s the hours and hours of work that she put into making it, making it especially for him, that makes me so excited that we’re giving it to him.

Well, not exactly we. I even put simply “to Dad from Dawn” on the tag when I wrapped it, since it was Dawn with the hours and hours of work, not me at all.

And we don’t eat a sit-down dinner either, just snacking on a constant flow of appetizers that Sharon keeps bringing out. I’m not sure if it’s easier or harder for her, not having to prepare anything complicated, but rather having to heat up and serve a lot of different things. But it works out much better for being able to just sit around and hang out and catch up and be together.

Dad takes me on a quick tour of the basement, showing me where he wants to install some electrical outlets, which activity he asks for my assistance. Should be a lot of fun. I’m expecting to be dazzled and confused by the circuitry in his house, enormous compared to mine and its little 100 amp box with ten circuits.

Christmas at Rob & Carol’s

We’re supposed to meet up with everybody at Los Toltecos at five, but we’re late. We get stuck in traffic of 66. Why is there rush hour traffic on a Saturday?

Granted, we left a little later than we maybe should have. I got kinda stuck at Home Depot, looking for plywood and paint to fix the skylight. (The roof is still leaking. Leaking less, but still leaking nevertheless.) I take a lot longer looking at and for stuff at Home Depot when Dawn isn’t with me.

And I’m sore already from yoga this morning. I’ve graduated to Kevin’s Yoga 2 class on Saturday mornings, since Carol isn’t teaching the Yoga 1 class anymore. Lots of vinyasa flows from down dog to plank to baby cobra (or up dog) and back to down dog. Lots.

But we get to the restaurant about twenty minutes late. Could be worse. And everybody is still eating chips and salsa, and chips and guacamole, and chips and some sort of Monterey Jack queso. Dawn gets frozen margaritas, whereas I go for plain old on the rocks. Hate the brain freeze.

We caravan back to Rob & Carol’s. I have to move the car from the visitor parking space, since apparently they require some sort of visitor parking pass now as well. It’s somewhat cloudy but Orion is still prominent, big and fat up in the southeast. They sure do have better stars out here in Sterling.

Good coffee and cake and company and celebration. Poor Scilla coughs and coughs. It’s good to see Mom, who’s been here since Thursday and is staying until Monday, but today’s my only chance to see her.

Happy Birthday, Grandpa

Virgil Paul Bohls, my paternal grandfather, would have been 96 today.

Oh, but he passed away twenty-five years ago now. But still, I remember when he died. He’d been in the hospital, and I was living with my father in Minnesota, so Dad and I drove to Toledo. I didn’t get to see him, but I think maybe Dad did, at the hospital. But anyway he died early on Thanksgiving Day. It was really hard praying for all the things we were thankful for as we said grace before Thanksgiving dinner. I remember Grandma sobbing and Dad reaching across the table to hold her hand.

I hadn’t had much experience with funerals and funeral homes, and I was terribly upset by the open casket and the viewing. I was all of eighteen then. Years later now I’m much more used to funerals, even feeling and understanding the need and benefit for ceremony and a defined time to grieve and say goodbye and celebrate someone’s life and death, the whole thing. But it was new to me then and, like I said, upsetting.

I got to be a pallbearer; in fact I was the oldest of the pallbearers. There were six or eight of us, his grandchildren, who carried him. I remember being astonished at how heavy the casket was. But I was glad that I got to carry him. I remember my cousin Mary Pat as one of the other pallbearers, but I can’t remember who else it was.

I had visited him the previous summer, when I was driving through Toledo on my way to moving to Minnesota. I seem to remember spending the night, although I’m not entirely sure. I definitely remember spending a night with my other grandparents, my Nana and Papa. And I definitely remember having dinner with Grandma and Grandpa, where it was a relatively quiet affair. I was a pretty sad wrecked depressed wretch back in those days and didn’t have a whole lot to say. Grandpa himself was a pretty reserved guy. So it was a quiet dinner.

He built that house, where my father and his siblings grew up, and where my Aunt Carol lives now. Apparently they used a team of horses to dig the hole for the foundation. But then after a few years Grandpa built an addition on to the house. And then he dug the basement under the addition himself, with a shovel and a bucket. Took him two years to dig that basement.

Sometimes my father brags about me to his friends, about like how Dawn and I do work around the house, remodling the kitchen or whatnot. Dad will say that I get the knack to do such things from Grandpa. I just about burst with pride to hear that.

Happy Birthday, Grandpa!


We have much to be thankful for this year. And we start out being thankful for the annual Thanksgiving Day hayride.

I go to help Papa Joe load up the bales of hay on the trailers promptly at 8:00 a.m., but he’s almost finished by the time I get down there. I feel terribly guilty. I try to grab two bales in each hand at once, to try to make up for lost time. I have trouble getting both hands loaded. Joe yells at me, saying I’m going to bust them.

My main job is to drive the Gator behind Joe on the tractor pulling the trailers, while he takes the rig up to the road and turns it around. I wait to drive him back to the house. People are starting to arrive. Getting closer to 9:00 we head down to the road to load up.

Riding around the farms, sitting on the bales, we drink Bloody Marys out of styrofoam cups. Heidi helpfully opens and closes the gates. Back at the house we have food, especially Mary’s biscuits and sausage gravy, and hot buttered rum. Then it’s downstairs to Joe’s pub where Jake is pouring the beers.

It’s good to be totally drunk at 10:30 a.m.

Happy Birthday, Ma!

My mother, Patricia Marie, was born this day. Some years ago, we won’t say when.

She retired to Florida this year. Was able to sell the house in Fairfax County and use the proceeds to buy a nice little place in the middle of the state. I’d never been to Florida, not before last week when I went to visit Ma’s new place and help install a door.

My mother’s a very private person. Even now I think I’m maybe revealing too much here.

It’s funny. Just now I’m thinking of memories I have of my mother, from when I was a little kid. And the first two that come to mind are, this one time when she was bundling me up to go out ice skating with the other kids and I stepped on her bare foot with my skate, and the other was when my dad got back from Vietnam. And I realize that I’m thinking of times when she cried. Wonder what that means.

When I was learning to drive, when I had my learner’s permit, I remember going out with my parents to drive the neighborhood when it was their turn to drive around for the neighborhood watch. We had this 1975 Buick Skylark. Had an eight track player, and I was playing Bruce Springsteen’s The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. My mother declared Incident of 57th Street to be the dumbest song she’d ever heard. I don’t know why, but that still tickles me to this day.

As a kid I used to complain about her smoking. She was surprised when as an adult I took up smoking too. I remember her dancing with Nana at my sister’s wedding. And she took me in and took care of me after my first marriage collapsed.

Happy Birthday, Sweetest Sexy Babe Wife


Happy happiest of birthdays to my lovely wife Dawn.

I met Dawn in an elevator, sometime around Thanksgiving 2001. She was leaving early to go to ballet class and I was heading down for some free turkey in the lobby courtesy of the building management at 1666 K Street. I asked her if she was going for the food and then teased her when she said she was leaving early.

When later I showed her that I knew first, second, third, etc., foot positions, apparently she found me charming.

I soon started dating someone else, but that ended fairly quickly. Soon after that Dawn and I were dating. Then we got engaged. Then we moved in together. Then we got married.

Apparently she still finds me at least somewhat charming. She hasn’t traded me in yet anyway.

Happy birthday, to you, my dulcet darling.

Happy Birthday, Papa!

Edward Francis Wojtkowiak was born this day in 1908.

I see at least from the 1910 census that he lived at 1257 Hamilton Street on April 26, 1910. He may have been born there on Hamilton Street, but I’m not sure. Says that his father’s name was Peter, mother’s was Rose. Peter & Rose had been married fourteen years. Says Rose (and, one assumes, Peter as well) had eight children, six still living: Michael, John, Roman, Leo-something, Julia, and Edward. Seems like Peter and Rose were born back in the old country, although it just says “Ger Polish O,” whatever that means. The kids all born in Ohio. Says year of immigration for Peter and Rose was 1896, about the same time as their marriage, seems to me.

I’m named after him, clearly, although I was dubbed Edward John rather than Edward Francis. I later took Francis as my confirmation name though.

Papa was a grocer and a butcher. Got his start working at Kroger, is my understanding. Got kidnapped once with the payroll. Later had his own store at 1111 Ketcham, where I knew him best. When I was a kid, though, Papa worked for Spangler, a tobacco and candy distributer. All I knew is that my grandfather worked for the candy store. That’s the ultimate in cool for a kid.

Papa died on August 4, 1994. Happy birthday, Papa. We love you and miss you.

My Brother Hits the Big Time

Rob is fast on the story of the of the doctored photo of smoke over Beirut, picking it up from Little Green Footballs. He quickly puts together a nifty animated GIF showing cloned areas. LGF links back to Rob and the GIF, and Rob’s traffic goes through the roof. Where normally Rob will see tens of hits per day, maybe thirty or forty, he now starts getting tens of thousands.

Congrats to Rob!

Happy Birthday, Paul!

Born this day, in 1962, minutes after his brother Andrew. I met Paul via Crown Books and Bruce Springsteen, in 1984. I know that Joe and Gordon were somehow involved, where Paul was connected somehow to Joe and I was connected to Gordon. I don’t really remember how, exactly, anymore. Doesn’t so much matter.

Paul and I went camping together in the summer of 1998, to the Great Smoky Mountains, in Tennesse and North Carolina. We drove out to Skyline Drive, down that to the Blue Ridge Parkway, all the way down to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We stayed a couple night at Cosby campground in Tennesee, then another couple nights in Balsam Mountain in North Carolina. Paul was a great companion to have, being the expert birder that he is. He most famously spotted a magnificent hawk while we were driving this puke-y windy road.

Paul kept pages and pages of a journal on that trip, and I have a copy of those pages somewhere. And there were some pictures taken as well. (The above picture was not taken on that trip, obviously. I need to find a picture from the park and post it here, in lieu of the one above that I stole borrowed from his brother’s website.) I think maybe some blog entries, or maybe a separate blog, would be a good way to feature that trip. We’ll see.

I love Paul dearly and don’t see him nearly enough. He lives in Nashville now, having moved out there for a job. Someday maybe he’ll move back east.

Happy Birthday, Grandma!

Laura Bohls (née Hosfeld) was born this day, the thirty-first of July, in nineteen-eleven. The census of 1920 lists her as eight-year old Laura C., for Catherine, I believe, one of two children, her younger brother Alfred being the other, of Alfred H. and Catherine Hosfeld. Looks like they lived at 1454 Ontario Street in Toledo OH.

I can’t find any record of such an address in the Lucas County Auditor’s Real Estate Information System. There’s a 1452 next door to a 1456 North Ontario Street, but the records say they were both built in the early 1890s. Where was 1454 then? Where is it now?

I know the house pictured above, a house she helped to build in 1936. That’s the only house I knew for my Grandma and Grandpa. That’s the house where we watched the Moon landing in 1969.

The census records say that Alfred Sr. was born in Ohio, whereas Catherine was born in Illinois. Says Alfred’s father and mother were both born in Germany and spoke German. Catherine’s father was born in England but spoke French, and her mother was born in Ireland and spoke English.

Isn’t it amazing what you can just go find on the Internets these days?

Grandma had ten children. Lordy, that’s a lot of kids. My father was her second born, after first-born Virgil Jr.

She passed away on April 16, 1999. She would have been ninety-five today.

Happy Birthday, Grandma!

Mother Dillon

We took yoga yesterday, because Dawn’s mother is visiting us this weekend and arrives today. We get to the airport about half an hour before her flight is due. And, see, this is the great thing about National Airport: we park in the B terminal hourly lot, and get a space next to the walkway to the terminal. It’s about a two minute walk into the terminal proper, and National’s so small that it’s about thirty seconds to walk to the B gates. Sarah’s plane lands a few minutes early, so we’re in and out and on our way after 33 minutes, so says our parking chit.

On the way back to our house we stop at the VW dealer where we bought the Jetta for some windshield wiper fluid. Damn thing’s been beeping at us and scaring the shit out of me every time it does. The salesman who sold us the car had said that it was vitally important that we use this special stuff, available only thru VW, and not use the cheap blue stuff found everywhere. I discuss this with the guy at the parts counter, and he laughs at such a silly notion. But we buy the VW potion anyway. I mean, what’s four dollars per year versus ninety-nine cents?

Says it’s methanol on the container. Should we be spewing this from our car?

We stop at the Safeway on our way home as well, to pick up more things for the retirement party we’re (now not so) secretly throwing for Sarah tomorrow. While looking for cat food I walk by the toys and junk aisle and spot a selection of kites. It’s somewhat breezy today, so I grab one for all of $3.99.

After lunch we go for a walk in Congressional Cemetary. I spend over an hour and a half trying to get the nasty little thing aloft, suffering humiliating defeat at every attempt.

I try standing there and playing out the string slowly. I try tossing it up. I try running with it. I stand on a mound on top of a crypt. I play out fifty feet of string and get Dawn to toss it up. Sarah holds it fifty feet away and runs with me as I try to get it to launch.

I try adjusting the crossbars. I try attaching the string higher and lower and on the other side even. Sarah and I spend a good deal of time turning every which way, stretching the kite between us, yours truly holding the string while Sarah holds the tail.

Every so often the kite will dance out the end of the string about five feet away from me, just above my head, tantalizingly close to actual flying, before plummeting back down and crashing. One time while running it actually gets out and up maybe fifteen feet up before crapping out.

Still, it’s grand fun, at least for me. Sarah is super patient with the whole process, while Dawn has taken the opportunity to go wandering off by herself through the cemetary for a while. Finally we regroup and head for home.

On the way out we walk by an older couple on their way into the cemetary. I stop them and ask if either of them is an aeronautical engineer. Sadly, neither is, and they kindly sympathize with my lack of flight. And by this time I’ve recognized the man. “You’re Robert Prosky,” I say. “Have you ever played an aeronautical engineer?” He says he never has but that he has done Thomas Edison. This makes me think of Benjamin Franklin. I tell him he should play Benjamin Franklin, because he really knew how to fly a kite.

Mom Update

Called Main’s house to talk to Ma and Main answered. She’s home today, turns out, because she’s going into the city (NYC) to see Cirque du Soleil tonight. But the big big biggest news is that closing happened on Mom’s house yesterday.


Oh, thank God.

The delays and all were probably pretty standard in the real estate biz, but I was getting worried. I’m so utterly relieved that it’s all over.

When I talked to Mom on Tuesday she said that she’s getting to see spring all over again, seeing that she’s gone a bit North. She said right now the forsythia are blooming. We’re just about at the end of azaleas down here.

Goodbye and Good Luck

Mom moved to New Jersey yesterday.

Actually, I suppose she moved back to New Jersey, since she’d moved from New Jersey to Virginia in January 1979. And she stayed there while everybody else left: Main went back to NJ that summer, Rob moved to Atlanta in 1981 (but came back to VA in 1993), Dad moved to Minnesota in 1982 (but came back in 1992, I think it was), and I moved to MN in 82 but came back and move to GA in 95 but came back and now live in DC.

But anyway, Mom was waiting waiting for the closing on her house, but everything was out of the house except for some couch cushions on the floor on which she was sleeping. Her car was packed full of stuff, so she couldn’t like drive anywhere, like go shopping or anything, so she was just stuck there in the house waiting for closing. Finally she just signed her side of the settlement papers at the realtor’s house and left. The woman buying the house will sign when she signs, I guess.

Mom will be staying with Main and John and Erin until her house is ready in Florida. They’re still building it, seems like. She’ll move down there sometime this summer. I’ve never been to Florida, actually. Never been to the Land of the Mouse, which is where she’ll be near. I have no interest in the Land of the Mouse, but I wouldn’t mind seeing the Kennedy Space Center. They have a Saturn V there. Cool.

Battlefield and Lumber Yard

Up early, but not for working out, not today. I drop off Dawn and then head south to pick up Dad for a boys’ day. I choose the HOV lanes by the Pentagon, even though it’s Saturday morning, feeling like the last time I passed up the chance to use them I ended up stuck in horrible traffic. And just a couple miles down I see that traffic in the regular lanes is stopped. Completely stopped. I’m really glad I took the HOV lanes.

Some ways up they’re letting cars go one by one through a break in the guard rail from the regular lanes into the HOV lanes. That’s going to take a while. Interstate 395 south is then completely closed and empty past this. I sail on by, wondering what the deal is. A little further down are a ton of cops, both county and state. Then, finally, off to the left, against the guard rail, is a charter bus. There’s a sheet covering the front left corner, but you can still see a great deal of blood splashed down the side. God, it looks like the bus hit somebody.

There’s a lot of that going around lately, people getting hit by cars. A lot of immigrants in the area are from places without a lot of traffic, or if there’s a lot of traffic it isn’t particularly regulated, so they’re crossing like Route 50 in Seven Corners not at the lights or crosswalks but just anywhere in between. And they’re getting hit. Lately there are ads on billboards and the sides of buses reminding pedestrians to look both ways and be aware of traffic. So I figure that the bus has hit someone who was, dangerously, trying to cross the interstate.

(Later I find out that something happened to the driver of the bus, something bizarre, that it was he himself who was the accident victim.)

I get to Dad’s about 9:30 and have a cup of coffee with Sharon while Dad gets some pants on and finds various gear for our outing today. We leave about 10:00 and get to Manassas National Battlefield Park about 10:30. Rob’s supposed to have been meeting us here between 10:00 and 10:30, so I’m sheepish when we arrive that maybe we’ve kept him waiting. But he’s nowhere to be found. Finally I call him on his cell, and I find that he’s still at home. He says he’s leaving and on his way, but it takes him like forty-five minutes to arrive. Dad’s quite antsy as we sit on the Jetta tailgate until Rob finally pulls up.

We walk the Henry Hill Loop Trail, about a mile long, which starts and ends at the Visitor Center. This gives us a fairly good sense of the first battle; the second battle was apparently much bigger and is better seen with a driving tour. The first battle started with some diversion type deal down at the Stone Bridge, which we can’t see from here, and then there was the main attack over to our north on Matthews Hill. The Confederate lines broke down and they retreated to Henry Hill. It was on Henry Hill, as the southern forces rallied, that Gen. Barnard Bee shouted out the thing about Gen. Thomas Jackson standing like a stone wall, before Bee was mortally wounded.

The trail starts at the line of cannon from Capt. Rickett’s battery into the face of which the South’s rally began. Dad and I had time before Rob arrived to see the exhibit in the Visitor’s Center about how guns like these were manned and moved and set up during battle. We argue over what’s a caisson and what’s a limber. Rob’s been playing some computer game that’s some sort of simulation game of the First Battle of Manassas, so he tells us how deadly guns like these were. They look so funny to my modern eyes, so small compared to like the giant howitzers of nowadays, or like the 16-inch guns on battleships that shoot shells the size of VW Bugs. But Rob says that these cannons have a range of about 200 yards. Every time he gets off a shot in the game with one of these he kills about 90 guys. Call them the weapons of mass destruction of their day.

Next to the north is the actual Henry House itself, which Judith Henry refused to leave, and then where she was shot and killed. The house that we see is some sort of recreation and is itself being restored somehow. We see inside all sorts of construction and equipment; it looks like my house some weekends.

We go next a little further north to see Matthews Hill in the distance. Then east downhill to some cut of water, some branch maybe of Bull Run or Catharpin Run, then back uphill to Robinson House. All that’s left of Robinson House is a rock foundation. I’ve been noticing the really rustic split rail fencing that’s all around, and here Dad and I grab and shake some fence to see how strong it is. And it’s really strong. There’s no mechanical fasteners at all. It’s all held together by the weight of the rails. It’s really cool. And the rails themselves look like split logs, hewn rather than ripped, although they’ve clearly been crosscut to length.

Back along the southeast of the battlefield are a length of Confederate cannon. We spend some time trying to figure out what part of the guns and assembly were originally made of wood and what was made of iron. Everything in the displays we see is metal, with some of it textured to look like wood. I guess real wood needs a lot more maintenance and attention than these iron reproductions. Even the wheels are metal.

Almost back to the Visitors Center there’s a marker that notes a point where some assemblage of Confederate soldiers were under bombardment and then made a charge at two guns about 100 yards away. Dad marks off and counts the steps/yards to the two cannon, declaring it to be about right despite having judged it much closer initially. I think it’s the way that it sort of crests a hill that way, makes it look shorter maybe. For some reason the Confederates were able to make the 100-yard dash without the cannons firing and ripping them apart. A marker at the guns notes that further investigations never could determine why the Union soldiers never fired.

Finally back at the Visitors Center we check out the bookstore/giftshop. I find a Marvel Comics series on Civil War battles and so check out the one on First Manassas. I show it to Rob and declare the comic book format a great way to display information about events like this. Pictures are the best, I say. Pictures and maps. Rob says maps do it for him. And they’re graphic novels, he says.

We head out together down 234 looking for a place to eat. The woman at the cash register had suggested Cracker Barrel, but I’ve never eaten at a Cracker Barrel, and now I don’t want to break my streak. Rob says there’s a Damons a little ways down. We ate at a Damons back in January when we went to the Air & Space Museum, so I declare that we’ll always go to a Damons, we’ll make it our place, and so we go there. When we get there it’s closed.

So Rob says there’s a Mikes further down, and Dad says he loves Mikes so we go looking for Mikes. But we never find Mikes. Rob says that if we get to the hospital we’ve gone too far, and then we get to the hospital and we still haven’t found it. Finally we get to a shopping center where a sign says they’ve got a sports bar, so Dad and I decide that we’re eating there. And so we do.

But it also turns out that Rob’s played here in his band. And the one time I saw the band they played at the Roadhouse and then Rob & Chris & I came to eat here, at the Clubhouse Sports Bar. I order a Yuengling on draft to go with the pulled pork barbecue sandwich they’ve got on special, Dad gets a can of Guinness and the special as well, and Rob gets a Coke and chicken wings and fries.

I had been planning to go to a lumber yard if I had time, beforehand, but now we’re actually only a couple blocks away now that we’ve come so far south for lunch, so we all go there after finishing eating. The place is called Northland Forest Products. I’d been trying to get to Vienna Hardwoods the last couple weeks and just haven’t found the time, but I’m glad now to go to NFP since they and/or what they sell is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC was set up after the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio to establish standards for sustainable harvesting of forests. The cabinet maker I had met last year, Curt Barger, had recommended NFP because of their certification.

I was a little nervous about how things would work, but I feel like I do okay. When we first walk in there’s all the wood to the left and like a little office building to the right, all of this inside a small warehouse, and I wasn’t sure if I should check in at the office. But then I thought that maybe they were conducting some business in there and I should wait outside until someone came out. We wandered around looking at and for wood for a little while, since there wasn’t like anywhere we could disappear to and you can’t exactly boost boards by slipping them in your jacket or pocket or anything. I was looking for about eight board feet of 6/4 southern yellow pine and about 3 board feet of a 3/4 softish hardwood like aspen or butternut. It seemed like the wood was labeled in actual thickness rather than nominal. I found 1/2″ S2S poplar, which was perfect, and I set aside a straight board of that.

About that time a guy comes out of the office. I introduce myself, as does he, name of Warren, and I explain that I’m not sure how things work, and he’s very helpful. He only has eastern white pine in 5/4″, but he suggests that will work better than southern yellow pine anyway. And he helpfully suggests two of the 7′ boards, when I think that I could probably get away with one. (When I get home and do some better measuring of the wood, I figure that I can get from the boards 20 spindles, when I need 18. Only one board clearly would have left me way short.)

Warren goes into the office to write up the order after telling me that I can crosscut the boards myself to fit them in the car. I do so using this nifty Ryobi 8 1/2″ sliding miter saw. The pine boards are ten inches wide, but with the sliding saw it’s fun and easy to cut them. I put the boards aside and follow Warren into the office. In there, while he’s processing my credit card, he invites me to look through a photo album of furniture and other projects that customers have made with wood from here. Lots of stuff that’s way beyond what I’ll ever be able to do, but he tells me that everybody has to start somewhere. He also suggests classes taught by the local counties.

When I tell him that I’ve taken classes at Woodcraft in Springfield, he notes that they get all the wood that they sell from him. I say that I haven’t taken the plunge yet to joining the club there, what with the initial and monthly fees. He suggests the Reston Community Center woodshop, where non-residents can use the shop for seven bucks. He gives me a flyer.

Make the Cut at RCC’s Open Woodshop

Do you want to do woodworking projects,but have no place to work or lack essential woodworking tools? RCC has the answer! You are invited to use RCC’s open woodshop. The woodshop offers ample workspace and has equipment such as table saws, sanders, drills, worktables and a lathe.

In addition to a large and well-lit workspace and access to professional tools, the open woodshop enables crafters at all levels of skill to draw inspiration and advice from their fellow woodworkers.

The woodshop is located at the Reston Community Center, Hunters Woods. The woodshop fee is $5 for people who live or work in Reston and $7 for all others. Woodshop hours are Tuesday, 6-10 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Registration is not required for this program.

It sounds too good to be true, but I’m definitely giving them a call.


My lovely bride and I today celebrate three years together as husband and wife. We were married at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 26, 2003, by the Rev. Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, in the St. Anthony of Padua Chapel, in the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, in Washington DC.

Well, I suppose the Mass started at 10:00 a.m.; what time the actual moment of “I now pronounce you husband and wife” occurred, I can’t tell you. Or whenever it is in the Catholic wedding Mass that the actual moment of marriage occurs. The procession itself, such as it was, started at ten o’clock, with the wedding party of our sisters and Dawn and I each brought in by our parents, and Paul playing the organ and Jenny our cantor leading the processional hymn. The cathedral was undergoing major renovations at the time, and the back of the nave where we gathered was filled with scaffolding, kind of a cool effect, like a tunnel or cave, from which we emerged to go up the steps into the chapel.

Writing that just now, not having thought about it quite that way before, it strikes me that that imagery mirrors of course what we celebrate at Easter. And so I like that, the idea that marrying is not just changing our lives, but truly starting a new life, a rebirth into something completely different and special and wonderful. Not to mention that her very name is Dawn.

And a lot of days it is that, different and special and wonderful, and but then naturally some days it takes a lot of effort for me to try to be agreeable and not cranky or in a funk, to be somebody loveable and worth staying with, but really most days it’s not even something we have to think much about, it’s just so easy. And that’s what surprises me the most, how easy it is most days, the vast majority of days.

And for some reason this, and thinking all this week about Dawn and how crazy in love I am with her, it all makes me think of some of my favorite poems, by Amy Lowell. First, from Venus Transiens:

Tell me,
Was Venus more beautiful
Than you are,
When she topped
The crinkled waves,
Drifting shoreward
On her plaited shell?

On our honeymoon we went to the Uffizi and together saw the Botticelli that Amy Lowell is talking about, even more so then for me it made this poem all about Dawn. And I love Dawn’s cute little feet, and Venus has funny little cartoon feet in the painting. My wife is beautiful, my goddess of love.

Then there’s Decade:

When you came, you were like red wine and honey,
And the taste of you burnt my mouth with its sweetness.
Now you are like morning bread,
Smooth and pleasant.
I hardly taste you at all for I know your savour,
But I am completely nourished.

And that of course is the easy part. Hopefully I’m not taking it for granted surely, but then not so much tasting as savoring.

Finally, this, from Interlude:

You shine, Beloved,
You and the moon.
But which is the reflection?
The clock is striking eleven.
I think, when we have shut and barred the door,
The night will be dark

I love that, that sexy sort of aside that ends the poem. Saying it ain’t dark in here, baby. It’s going to shine. It’ll be hot.

Being married to Dawn is all of these.

Helping at Mom’s

After we get home from church and change, we head south to Springfield, to help Mom pack. My sister Main and niece Erin are there, with Mom, surrounded by boxes. My specific job is to empty and take down the shed in the back yard. It’s a refreshingly discrete and concrete task, as opposed to all the ambiguities involved in deciding what to pack and what to throw away, decisions that require Mom or Main. So I don’t know how Dawn and Erin keep themselves busy without getting in trouble.

The shed was originally constructed with screws, but the screws are pretty much all rusted and just spin and don’t come out when I apply the power screwdriver to them. So I end up mostly kicking apart the shed. I use a hammer a little bit, but even better is a short length of two-by that I use as a battering ram. I have some tin snips that I use a couple times too.

The shed is full of dimensional lumber that apparently was once a deck off the back of the house. Glenn saved all the wood, like he saved everything else. There’s nails sticking out of the deck wood, and I try pounding them down, but give up after a while. There’s just too many boards. There are old lawnmower parts in there too. And two tires from Mom’s car three cars ago. And lots of plastic flower pots. Dog dishes. A big old folding sandwich-like sign. Fence parts. Just a lot of junk.

After I remove and separate all the junk and take down the shed I realize that I probably could have just dumped the shed over, over the stuff inside, without moving and separating everything, because the shed doesn’t have a floor. But I didn’t really know that until after I took stuff out. Then I knock apart the doghouse that none of Mom’s dogs would ever use. Then I join the gang inside for pizza.

Visitors and a Trip to the Zoo

We have had out-of-town guests yesterday and today, Dawn’s sister Laura and Laura’s daughter, our niece, Elizabeth, visiting us from Georgia. Elizabeth is five-almost-six and on spring break this week, so mom and daughter took a little trip, leaving dad and brother at home.

I had walked to the Capitol South station with Dawn yesterday, who then rode the train to National Airport to meet Laura & Elizabeth. They then did stuff around town, having lunch on the roof deck where Dawn works, across the street from the Old Post Office Pavillion, and visiting the Natural History Museum. They were at home when I got home from work, just slightly late.

We drank wine before and during dinner. Dawn & I have given up alcohol during the week, Monday through Thursday, for Lent. So we’ve traded away now Good Friday, so that we could drink wine on a Wednesday. Dawn made lasagna for dinner, although Elizabeth had some pasta shells with butter and cheese that she didn’t especially eat. They watched Charlotte’s Web while I did the dishes. Whew, I’m not used to doing dishes for four.

Then I took today off so I could join them in frolics. Specifically, we were going to the zoo.

We got up early today for breakfast. Elizabeth didn’t eat much of her part of the omelette. Then after showers and dishes, we were off to the zoo. We got off the Metro at the Woodley Park stop at Dawn’s behest, rather than my suggestion of Cleveland Park, so we walked uphill instead of down, as well as into the wind. We hit the restrooms right away. As I was waiting for the gals, a young lad came out of mens room still zipping up. He needs to learn to take care of that before exiting.

First animal we saw was the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus). We saw one pacing back and forth by a fence, on the other side of which a female human (zoo worker) was cleaning up what looked pretty much like a giant litter box. Around the corner we saw napping on like a front porch, in like a sandbox, a whole family of cheetah. Or cheetahs. Cheetae. Whatever. We saw a zebra (Equus grevyi) bashing around a tub, which we guessed was supposed to contain lunch, and the zebra was annoyed that it did not in fact contain lunch.We saw an emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) but no kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus).

Next up was a maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus), snoring away in a little doghouse. We couldn’t help but notice the stench. A sign helpfully noted that the maned wolf has mighty powerful urine for marking territory. The scent followed us for a while, and later we knew where we were in the zoo, that we had returned to this point, when we smelled it again.

Then the star attraction, of course, the pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). Mom and Butterstick (Mei Xiang and Tai Shan to you pandamaniacs) were in one area eating, while Dad (Tian Tian) was off by himself. Mom was generally concentrating on eating, while Butterstick was mostly concentrating on hijinks and antics. There was the climbing of the log, then the falling off same, then the rolling down the hill. The climbing of the Mom earned him an annoyed swat from her, to everyone’s amusement. We watched all this from the terrace of the Panda Cafe, which is totally the best place for panda action but is never nearly as crowded as the much inferior Panda Walk below.

Next to the Elephant House. There was one giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi) outside, but inside a number of elephants (Elephas maximus) were getting fed. We got some good hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius) action too. We also saw two capybara (Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris); capybara evidently are the largest rodents in the world.

Lots of cute little things in the Small Mammal House. Around the Great Ape House we see no primates taking the O Line above our heads. I’ve never seen anyone ever traversing the thing. I think it’s fake, at this point. And it may sound like a joke, but it’s not: the taxonomy for gorilla is Gorilla gorilla gorilla. Isn’t that awesome? They’re all sleeping when we arrive, however. We see only one orangutan, but whether Bornean (Pongo pygmaeus) or Sumatran-Bornean (Pongo pygmaeus abelii) I don’t know. He’s awake but just kinda slumped sitting there.

We have lunch at the Mane Restaurant, burgers for the adults (veggie for us, cow for Laura) and a hotdog for the kid. And fries for all. And Elizabeth actually manages to eat most of her hotdog, although she skips on the applesauce. Laura suggests we leave the applesauce, but I stuff the package in my backpack for later.

We make our way by the Great Cats on our way back, but we see pretty much only the backs of a sleeping lion (Panthera leo leo) and a tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae). That’s about our only disappointment of the day. We also check out the komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis).

Lots of creepy crawly things in the Reptile Discovery Center, but the aldabra tortoise (Geochelone gigantea) is always a favorite. The Invertebrates Exhibit turns out to be totally surprisingly cool. Well, I’m a little creeped out by the cnidarians, but then the giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) is stately, graceful, and beautiful, and I find hanging out with him an oddly moving experience. Then I go watch the terrarium packed with hissing cockroaches (Gramphadorina portentosa). Mostly they’re all hanging out and dormant, but for this one guy who seems to be silently grooving to music only he can hear. Nearby there’s a lobster (Panulirus argas) with this spectacularly enormous claw, almost like it’s some sort of prismatic trick of the thick glass or something.

Elizabeth and Laura buy stuff in the Panda Pavillion gift shop while Dawn and I sit and snuggle and snooze outside. Then we make our way back home. Downhill this time.

Spackling for Mom

I’m taking the day off from work on Friday, so I end up working late and missing ballet. Then I’m off to my mother’s house to help her get ready for house inspection, since she’s got a contract on her house. (Yay!)

I get off 395 at Duke Street to get some fast food at a drive-thru. There’s a KFC where there used to be a Roy’s, so I get dinner there. They’ve only got Pepsi products, which is okay, I suppose, in an emergency. I get a chicken sandwich which isn’t bad, and their fries are like homestyle wedges and are pretty good.

At Mom’s I spackle a hole in the wall near the ceiling in the office. It looks like maybe some foam insulation, around a vent pipe in the wall, is pushing out and caused the hole. I had brought joint compound and a mud pan in case I needed to do a bigger section, but it seems small enough for just spackle. I also change 2 of the 4 burnt out bulbs in the ceiling fan in her bedroom. The other two bulbs are stubborn and won’t come out. And they won’t break either, like the first bulb did, to allow extraction with needle-nose pliers.

More Rob

I can’t understand how my brother became such a dittohead winger freeper. He was a total stoner in high school, and even beyond that. I always sort of viewed his crowd as somewhat akin to hippies, so I thought of them as sort of anti-war, commune-dwelling, free-love kinda folk. Apparently no so.

One guess maybe is that Rob’s political awareness developed during the Carter administration, and so he reacted strongly against Democrats. Whereas I, maybe a year or so later, reacted strongly against Reagan and Republicans. At all plausible? Who knows how these things happen.

So Rob blogs, of course. And as a right-wing blogger he’s totally a member of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders, at various times urging execution of war protesters and genital mutilation of prisoners at Guantanamo.

Happy Birthday, Rob!

My brother turns forty-three today.

When my mother’s dog Nikki got too old, and was unable to even pick herself up, Mom made the decision to have her put down. Rob and I went over to help take her to the vet. I remember standing over Nikki, trying to figure out how to maneuver this smelly old urine-soaked dog onto the blanket so that we could lift her into the car. Rob finally just pushed me out of the way and reached down and wrapped around her and lifted her up gently in his arms.

To me Nikki was pretty much just my mother’s dog — I mean I liked the dog, don’t get me wrong — but Rob was really quite upset about losing his long-time friend. And yet even with that, Rob was far, far stronger than I was at that moment, visibly grieving but not caring or especially noticing the mess or smell while he was helping his friend at the end of her life.

My brother’s a good guy that way.

Day with the Boys

Dawn and I go to 8:30 a.m. Mass so that we can get home in time for lunch, where my father and brother are joining us. Dad calls from the car about 12:30 p.m., on I-395, just before the 12th Street exit. I guide him to the 6th Street exit. We make pizza for lunch when they arrive. After lunch, Dad, Rob and I go downtown to see the Capitals play the Ottowa Senators. The Senators stomp the Caps 5-2. We come back home for cheese and crackers.

Happy Birthday, Allison!

Allison Margaret Scott turns 10 today. This is a very big deal, you know, turning double digits.

Ally’s the daughter of my best friend Gordon and his lovely wife Babs. Gordon worked for Eileen at Crown Books, when she was manager of store #828, when I met him in August of 1983, when I was visiting Linky at her store. He rang up my purchase of a magazine that day as well. He made me show ID and was surprised that I was younger than he was.

Ally was born on a Tuesday. I was living in Atlanta at the time, but happened to be back in town for my brother’s wedding. Tuesday was my day for visiting with Gordon and the very pregnant Babs, and Babs happened to go into labor. So instead of hanging out with them at home or going to a movie or whatever it was that we had planned, I met them at Alexandria Hospital.

And I got to listen to Ally be born, and meet her right away just minutes later. What a treat.

She has perfect attendance at school, unlike her ne’er-do-well father. She also looks less and less like him each day, and more and more like her gorgeous mom.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

My father, Robert Joseph, born 4 March 1939, in Toledo OH, the second son of Virgil Paul and Laura Catherine Bohls of Toledo, known to them as Bobby or even Bobby Joe, as an adult generally known as Bob, turns 67 today.

A graduate of Central Catholic High School in 1957, he went on to a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Toledo, graduating first in his ROTC class and receving a commission in the United States Army. In 1968 he received a master’s degree in operations research from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey CA, then served a tour of duty in Vietnam. He retired in 1982 after 22 years of service. Afterwards an executive with FMC Corporation, he now is a professor at the Defense Acquisition University at Fort Belvoir in Virgnia. In 2004 he earned a doctorate of education from George Mason University in Fairfax VA.

One of my earliest, earliest memories, if not the earliest memory I have, is watching my father sweep the front porch of the apartment where we lived. I remember when I was around ten or so, if my brother and I would help him with yard work on a hot summer day, we’d get to drink some from a can of Budweiser. When I was a teenager we used to play racquetball, and I never could beat him.