March 7, 2013

Vermont....Tradition (And not the Fiddler on the Roof Kind...Or Is It?)

In the beginning, and I’m not sure when exactly that was, there was a President’s Day Weekend trip to the Hill Farm Inn in Arlington, Vermont.  Each year, my aunt and uncle and their friends would head up to Vermont for the weekend, and occupy most, if not all, of the rooms in the inn.  This was a special group of people, not only colorful interesting characters but also, on average, brilliant.  Most were also gamers; the kind of people who did the Sunday London Times Crossword puzzle.  And finished it.  Many had met playing bridge, or at Harvard.

Oh.  And also, there were no kids. 

During the days, people may go out cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, lounge about by the fireplace playing games, and a handful may have gone downhill skiing at Bromley.  One of the popular daytime activities was to take a group walk from Arlington into Manchester, walking sticks in hand, along the country back-road, slowly, talking, enjoying the air.  There was a School of Falconry.  There was a terrific roadside sign that read “Slow.  Dog crossing.  Geese crossing.  And One Old Man.”  And Manchester, both then and now, has the distinction of being home to the most fabulous bookstore in the entire world, NorthShire Bookstore.  (It’s only gotten better with time.)

On Saturday night, everyone participated in the epic “Pub Quiz” trivia contest, which put together each year by my uncle.  It was extremely difficult and competitive, covering literature, history, science, geography, math, pop culture, music, film, and many other categories. 

There was also music: piano and guitar, sometimes a fiddle, and one year a dulcimer.  There was raucous singing.  Tom Lehrer songs, like The Elements and Poisoning Pigeons in the Park were all the rage.  As was Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant.  In later years there were beautifully haunting waltz trios on the piano, fiddle, and flute.

By dint of family and perhaps our supposed maturity, myself and my brother and sister became the first “kids” to be allowed on the trip.  My first trip had to be around 1989 or 1990; I was in high school and remember working on a term paper on Brown vs. the Board of Education.  I also remember learning about single malt scotch, the thrill of playing poker for the first time, and the group sing-alongs.  We were allowed to participate in the pub quiz, and eventually I became my uncle’s apprentice, helping him to put the quiz together.

I also have distinct memories of my first times cross-country skiing.  Trying to make up in youth what I lacked in ability to actually cross-country ski, I was continually falling behind the group.  Each time, they would wait for me, all resting up.  As soon as I arrived (exhausted), they would say “OK!” and push off again.  No rest for the weary.  Though to be fair, at my favorite place, Wild Wings, there was an excellent “warming hut” where you could recharge with home-made brownies.  Afterwards, we would go out for glog or gimlets in Manchester.  We were welcomed into the mix.  I loved it.
The group had specific requirements for inns.  Our inn had to be big enough to accommodate the group, it had to have great common spaces for the pub quiz, it had to serve not only breakfast but also dinner, and it had to have inn-keepers who were hearty and patient enough to deal with our group.  Over the many years, for one reason or another, we have moved from The Hill Farm Inn in Arlington to the nearby Green River Inn, to the Silas GriffithInn in Danby, to one ill-fated year at the Salt Ash Inn near Okemo, to the Vermont Inn, and now to the Mountain Meadows Lodge, near Killington and Pico.

With the exception of the year we got married and the years we lived in Japan, I have been going on this weekend trip to Vermont every year for almost twenty-five years.

The trip has transitioned over time.  We still fill all the rooms in the inn.  But none of the original group still comes.  Now, the Vermont weekend is made up of our generation, mostly friends from college and town.  One significant difference is that there are now many many many (did I say many?) kids.  Almost as many small people as big people.  There is still gaming, and lounging by the fireplace.  Most of the group now skis downhill, though many also go tubing, sledding, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing.  There is also still music.  And this year a karaoke machine was added to the mix. The jury is still out on that one.  (Actually, I have to say that, but who are we kidding?  It was awesome.)

My uncle used to serve as both “Tripmeister” (AKA organizer of the trip) and “Quizmeister” (AKA organizer and administrator of the Saturday night Pub Quiz).  Now Ilena has taken over as “Tripmeistress,” while I have taken over as “Quizmeister.”  Lauren is my apprentice.

This year, I memorialized “The PQ Rules” for the first time, as follows:

  1. Four teams.  Team with most points: wins.
  2. Have fun.
  3. But winning is the most important.  (Duh).
  4. No “devices” please.
  5. Obey the time-limits and pencils down requests, the first time.  (Or we’ll never get through it to play cards, drink, or sleep.)
  6. None of my answers is “wrong.”  (Also, two wrongs don’t make a right.)  There are no “challenges.”  I will serve as judge, jury, and - if necessary - executioner.
  7. Ties will be broken this year with a physical challenge.
Below is a picture of this year's winners, the aptly named #Winners (AKA The Hashtag Winners, which Jacob referred to all night as The Hashbrown Winners.).  They beat out The Hedgerow Bustlers by a point, narrowly avoiding the need for a physical challenge tie-breaker. 

So.  I’ve been doing this trip for a long long time now.  When it comes time to welcome everyone back for another year at dinner on Friday Night, I get sentimental.  And I probably give the same speech every year.  It’s about friendship and togetherness.  It’s about taking the time to get away.  It’s about our tradition.  About it’s about building a tradition for our children that includes the same types of experiences and fond memories that inspired me to write this in the first place. 

That’s what its all about.

March 3, 2013

The Backyard Rollercoaster Project

Inspired by Gever Tulley’s Life Lessons Through Tinkering TED Talk, some recent trips with our kids to Coney Island to ride The Cyclone, and the epic episode of the iconic cartoon, Phineas and Ferb, where they build a roller coaster in their backyard, we have convened a group of local mostly Maplewood and South Orange dads and tinkerers with a bent towards, well, “interesting projects.”

We plan to work together and with our kids (and with others in the neighborhood who would like to join us) to plan and build a backyard roller coaster in Spring/Summer of 2013.


We think that this project will be good for the kids (and parents!) in the hands-on get-outside and learn-by doing that we can actually MAKE stuff way that none of us – grown-ups or kids – seem to be getting enough of these days.  We do not have grand aspirations and want to go where the kids will take us.

Should be interesting.

For more about this project, click here.  For our current thoughts on schedule and how we will go about this, click here.

**This production is brought to you by Dads Living Vicariously.