Saturday, 27 August 2016

Ihr Bier ist lecker, aber teuer

With the crazy late-summer heat continuing, there was only one place to go to cool off: a big tent full of music, shouting, and cold beer.  Augustoberfest is an annual celebration of the relationship between Hagerstown here in Maryland and Wesel in the North Rhine region of Germany, a relationship that seems mainly based on partying, and there's nothing wrong with that.

The Muckers, who have lived and worked in Germany for several army generations, alerted us to the fun and so we met them there, grabbing our seats in the coolest and quietest corner of the beer tent (i.e. not very cool or quiet).  We dined on Frankfurter and spatzle while quenching our thirst with Weiss and Oktoberfest, standing up to toast whenever the band demanded, which was often.  I'm always dubious of any menu that prefaces itself with "Authentic" but everything was delicious, and there was a kids' tent where a Punch and Judy show took place - not the most German of traditions but from the other side of the Atlantic, so close enough.  They were also selling ear plugs for $3.


Just like the real thing.

Who knew there were so many Germans around here?

Full band.

First beer of the morning.

A (fake?) German family photobombed our lunch.

Claire, who speaks fluent German, lent some authenticity to proceedings.

In the kids' tent.

In the adults' tent.

Horn section.

Authentic hunger.

Nothing authentic here.

Come with a child, leave with a Smurf.  Or is that Belgium?

Friday, 26 August 2016

Fair enough

I've always been a fan of a good agricultural fair, ever since we were given the day off school every year to go to the Frome Cheese Show.  Ah...the tractors, the fruit and veg competitions, watching animals paraded around a ring and then being able to eat bits of them deep fried.

Thankfully Pete feels the same so today we drove just north of Baltimore to attend the Maryland State Fair.  We arrived in time to watch the dairy steers being judged before moving on to a pony gala.  The day heated up as quickly as the competition and soon we were sweltering in 95F heat (why do they hold this show in the summer?) but discovered that the vegetable building was refrigerated so went there to join the frozen peas.

The highlight of the day was, without a doubt, the swimming pig show.  Although - in the tradition of many a carnival - the build-up was rather more exciting than the payoff, which was basically a piglet jumping into a bath.  Still, that's not something you see every day.  We cooled down again with an ice cream as we watched a chainsaw demonstration and then made our way back to air-conditioned, urban civilisation.

It's easy to tell who the judges are at state fairs.

Casting a critical eye over the livestock.

But we're really more into machines.  Big machines.

Pete finally got his cattle tag!  Now we can legally send him to auction.

A sand pit?  No, a corn pit!  If it gets much hotter there'll be plenty of popcorn to go around.

Roast pork.

Is there any other way to have veggies?

Pony club.

A fully automated singing vegetable puppet show!  Hmm.

And vegetables for lunch too.

More vegetables, but ones to be judged.

The very best of the bunch.


Racing pigs!  You could win a plastic pig nose if your pig came first.  None of ours did.

Swifty gets ready, and..., that's about it.

Chainsaw magic, although Pete decided it was too loud so we didn't get to actually see what the finished product was.  Looks good so far.

Better than aircon.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Spaceman, I always wanted you to go into space, man

Aside from Twinkies, NASA is the coolest thing that America has ever invented.  Firstly, they go into space.  Secondly...well, you don't need a secondly.  And while I'd assumed that NASA stuff only happens in Houston or Florida, it turns out the Goddard Space Flight Center is right here on our doorstep!  And it's free!  As my entertain-a-vacationing-three-year-old quest continues, this was almost literally manna from heaven.

They don't do any launches from over here - it's where all the scientists and engineers live (presumably so that if a rocket goes wrong it doesn't wipe all of NASA out in one big explosion).  They also manage the communications between Earth and various satellites, and oversee things like the Hubble Space Telescope and the new James Webb Space Telescope that will be launching soon (although this has been delayed because of a change to how Chamber A cool down specifics will be handled.  Typical).

Most importantly, the place was full of touch-screens and had a Gemini space capsule that you could play in.  Even though I was Mission Control, astronaut Pete generously allowed me to sit in the passenger seat.  We left enthused about the future of humanity and the possibility of colonising the galaxy.  Stop spending so much on the military/elections/guns America, and give the money to NASA!  Then they can open more great visitor centres where I can entertain my child during school holidays.

Possibly not the latest in space technology.

A rather un-Biblical explanation of the origins of life.

The Moon hitting the Earth (not actual size).

We applied factor 50 before we left the house.

Exploring the planets.

Houston, we have a three-foot-tall problem.

But I want to be a spaceman too!

After the Sun, the Moon.

Two hot guys.

A Moon tree!  Its seed was flown to the Moon and back on Apollo 14 before being planted here.  It didn't seem to suffer any untoward effects, except that now it bleeds acid and tries to attach to your face.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Vacation for whom?

"School's shut for the next two weeks," Pete's teacher casually mentioned on Friday.  After I'd got my hyperventilating under control thanks to the school nurse, everybody had left.  Two weeks!?  There was a time when a bouncy chair and a Baby Einstein DVD got me most of the day to myself, but no more.  Without visitors booked - in this situation I'd even be happy for my sister to stay! - I needed a plan.

OK, I thought, what 3-yr-old doesn't like abstract expressionism?  On Monday morning we took the train into DC for a wander around the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, "a leading voice for contemporary art and culture".  And things went alright.  While Pete admitted to leaning more towards fauvism and neo-dada in his tastes, we spent a good twenty minutes watching a repeating video of houseplants being thrown out of windows.


After that I needed to get back down to earth, so took the literal route of going to a farm.  Loudon Heritage Farm is a little way off into Virginia, but I'm always amazed how quickly the US capital gives way to the rural spread of the Shenandoah.  Unfortunately there were no actual living things at this farm, but far better than that were the stuffed animals, general store, post office and kitchen, all fully stocked to allow kids to do anything they wanted.  And they did anything.  The stove was filled with plastic fruit, whole chickens cooked and served with chocolate brownies.  Chaos reigned, and Pete loved it.

On day three I managed to convince Sarah, mother of Pete's classmate Zachary, to join us, so I had at least some adult conversation while the kids explored the indoor cave at Meadowside Nature Center.  My plan was to take a rowboat out on the nearby lake afterwards but Sarah could not be convinced to join us, even after my exhaustive recounting of British naval history and its countless triumphs.  Pete and I ended up paddling around in circles on our own.

How many days left now?

You park the car outside for five minutes and this happens.

This is a self-portrait of me on washing day in our house.

In Virginia it's legal to drive a tractor from the age of three!

Pete on Secretariat.

A bit of post-race grooming.

Prices have gone up in general store.

Disappointed that real milk didn't come out.

Chicken selfie!

Sarah receives medical attention.  Doctors are looking so much younger these days.

Right!  Which way to Gibraltar?