Author Archive for Merriweather

Exploring Roman Britain in York and St. Albans


Sting sings, “The teachers told us, the Romans built this place. They built a wall and a temple, an edge of the empire.” With every trip to the UK, we look for opportunities to walk along those walls and touch the foundations of those temples. In 2012, we walked through the remains of the Roman baths in Bath, and in 2010, we visited the Museum of London and followed the Roman Wall trail in London. This year we visited two museums which had some great Roman displays. The Yorkshire Museum in York has a very nice collection of artifacts and some surprisingly good exhibits. While there is a gorgeous theater with a nice movie on the history of the town and a high-tech display that lets you meet a number of locals from York’s Roman past, our favorite presentation was a video produced by some local students on the story behind the museum’s interesting bust of Constantine the Great. The Yorkshire Museum is one of York’s best attractions. While in London we took a quick day trip to St. Albans to visit the Verulamium Museum. The museum was built in 2005 and holds a great collection of Roman archaeology pulled from the surrounding area. The current city of St. Albans grew next to, not on top of, the old Roman city of Verulanium, so the collection is remarkably well preserved. We loved the mosaic floors (much better than the British Museum’s collection) and the drawers full of little Roman artifacts. St. Albans also has a gorgeous cathedral and shrine to England’s first martyr. If you visit, have lunch at Baked Nation, about half way on the walk between the train station and the center of town. For explorers of Roman Britain, St. Albans is very much worth a visit!

Hitting the Road in the UK

We got summer off to a quick start this year, heading straight to the UK just days after Peabody’s last day of fifth grade and Nettie’s high school graduation. It was our longest trip yet, almost two weeks that would take us as far north as Edinburgh. Our first stop was Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s hometown and a typical destination on many English holiday itineraries. While we enjoyed the Elizabethan sites, a fun production at the RSC and a nice B&B, the highlight of this stop for me and Peabody was a tour of the Land Rover factory in nearby Solihul. We were the only civilians on the tour – the other half dozen people were car dealers from Russia and South Africa. The three hour tour started off in the modern plant where massive robots assemble hundreds of Range Rovers each day. It’s impressive to see how a vehicle is put together piece-by-piece over a 15 hour span. Across the complex we also visited the original factory building which still bares some of its of WWII era camouflage paint from when they made airplane engines. This is where the classic Defender is built in basically the same, human intensive, manner it was in the 1950′s. There was a line of military spec trucks being prepped for shipment to Iraq. These are some of the last Defenders to ever be built as the vehicle is being discontinued in 2015. While we were there we also got a sneak peek at what they’ll be making instead – a new Jaguar. It’s the end of an era. Anyone can visit the facility for a fee. Information can be found here.

Fireworks from our roof

This was our first July 4th in our new home and thanks to the clear weather we were able to watch fireworks from all over the Bay area. Even from a distance, the San Francisco fireworks were spectacular.

Lodge log books

When you’re on an overnight trip with 30 fourth and fifth graders (see Peabody’s earlier post), it’s a pleasure to find a safe place for a bit of peace and quiet. At the Clair Tappaan Lodge in the Sierras, that place is the Library, a medium sized reading room with a cozy wood stove and eclectic collection of donated fiction, travel and natural history books. On one of the lower shelves, are large Tupperware containers filled with visitor log books dating back to the 1930s. The oldest books simply list names and dates. But many are packed with the personal accounts of the Boy Scout troops, nature clubs, families, couples and individuals who have used the lodge as a base for exploring the area. My favorites were illustrated with maps and pictures or random doodles. Check out a few pictures here.

Happy May the Fourth


No, we didn’t build a replica of a speeder bike in the back yard. A couple weeks ago we visited Disney World for Spring Break. This was the first time Peabody and Nettie had gone to Hollywood Studios. They have a small Star Wars themed area with a 1:2 scale AT-AT, the short but awesome Star Tours ride and a super cute Jedi Training program for little kids (they fight Darth Vader at the end). You can even sit on an actual 74-Z! Now that Disney owns LucasFilm, we are hoping that Mickey will open a Star Wars Land devoted to one of our favorite movie franchises. Imagine the possibilities! Get a refreshing drink at the Mos Eisely Cantina. Ride the Kessel Run roller coaster. Eat roast Wampa arm as you wander through the Forest Moon of Endor!

Handmade Halloween

We spent the weekend and a few nights assembling our Halloween costumes. Nettie has been going to school in a different costume every day for Spirit Week. For Halloween day she sewed her own Alice in Wonderland dress and apron. For night, Nettie wore a vintage costume she picked up in Temescal Alley. Peabody created the Candy-bot 3000 using cardboard boxes, Styrofoam, dryer vents and LEDs. Slots in the front of the torso allowed for various sizes of candy samples to fall into an internal storage box. Unfortunately no “King size” samples were obtained. Annabelle and my attempts at creating crepe paper giant heads failed in pools of paper mush. Next time we’ll make use of metal armatures and Dap! We ended the night at the Off The Grid food trucks. Just as we got back to the car with our falafel, the night’s drizzle turned into a shower. We sat and ate, having another great Halloween behind us!

Pumpkins picked

We made our annual trek to Monterey Market to pick our Jack-o-Lantern pumpkins. Nettie and Peabody scored some nice 20-pounders. We’ll be getting to work on them tomorrow after we spend some time on costumes. Annabelle and I are going to try our hands at paper mache masks. Wish us luck!

An owl joins us for dinner

At sunset tonight an owl landed on the tree right outside our dining room. It was there for ten minutes before swooping after some prey below. A good omen as we prepare for a weekend of Halloween prep.

Nettie’s Clever Case

A few years ago, Nettie created this case for her Nintendo DS using duct tape. Today, Treehugger recognized it as #19 in their 20 Clever Uses for Duct Tape list. See Nettie’s original story here. There are a bunch of great ideas in the Treehugger article, but of course #19 is my favorite!

Aboard the USS Spruance

This morning we visited the USS Spruance which is in San Francisco for Fleet Week. The ships gunnery officer, she’s the one in charge of the 5-inch gun behind Peabody, guided us through the ship which is the Navy’s newest guided missile destroyer. Most of the crew was on shore leave which gave us the opportunity to visit the Combat Information Center, the heart of the Spruance’s operations. It’s tight and dark with seat-belted chairs and monitors everywhere. Two big screens provide a video feed from the deck. It reminded us of the screen from Star Trek’s Enterprise. The mess hall holds the bell from the original Spruance, a destroyer that served from 1973-2005. Babies born to crew members can be baptized in the bell. We’ll be looking out for the Spruance as she raises anchor and heads out under the Golden Gate Bridge tomorrow. And if you wondered what the proper procedures for abandoning ship are, read this ship’s sign.