To Dog or Not to Dog?

The following email came to me while I was at work the other day. It was from Tinsley. To put it in context, I should say that we've been contemplating getting a dog. It's been almost three years since Wookie died and we feel like it may be time to fill her shoes, so to speak.

It just occurred why I need us to have a dog.
I have wondered much why I would want an additional source of chaos, feces, noise,
debris, etc... because that really does not make sense. However,

I just put both our kids down for an enforced nap at 11:30. They both totally hate me right now
and are drowsily plotting their next move. I can hear one of them rustling ominously this very moment.

But a dog NEVER does that. Not even terriers. (Cats might.)
A dog's only agenda is love, and maybe stick. And food, but let's face it, compared to being shrieked
at over peanut butter & jelly vs. peanut butter & honey, dogs culinary needs are pretty easy to handle.

Kids make you constantly aware of what a [beep] you are.
I don't even have to compare dogs to that. You know.

Selfish? Maybe.
Balm for the soul? Absolutely.

So I just had to sit here and tell you.

And they lick everything but a few veggies off the floor.

god bless dogs.

Eugene Slug Queen Update

Our roving Oregon reporter, Constance Van Flandern, has updated us with the details of this year's Slug Queen Festival. At the time of her previous post, the details of the coronation hadn't been smoothed out, shall we say. The Festival begins in a little over a couple of weeks on Aug 15, but

"Don't worry if you can't make it to Eugene until after Labor Day--you'll be just in time for the new Slug Queen Art Salon opening reception at the New Zone Gallery (164 West Broadway), August 15th, 2008 at 5pm. There will be live music, art, an d activities for the kids"

Thanks, Constance

Dyce Head Lighthouse in Castine, Maine

Another light house in the quiver of Familyroadtrippers. Me and the kids went for a side trip along with my Dad to Dyce Head Light in Castine, Maine. Tinsley stayed back at Dad's to fix the zipper on our tent (it's what she wanted to do). The drive from Belfast to Castine is beautiful and worth a day trip.

Dyce head light house is a private residence but there's an access trail that goes along side down to a rocky cliff at the shore. This not a place where you want the little ones running around.

After the visit, head down to the Castine waterfront for hot dogs, hamburgers, lobster rolls and/or ice cream.

Choosing a Family Road Trip Vehicle

The polling at indicated that SUV edged out station wagons and "children pulling buggy" and all of them beat mini-vans. But the real choice is a little more complicated.

When we were looking for a new roadtrip vehicle, it was an interesting choice. There are many choices available, station wagons, mini-vans, SUVs, compact SUVs, cross-over vehicles, and stuff like used vanagons and PT Cruisers.

Mini vans let you split up the kids
Mini vans have a few advantages over other vehicles: tons of cargo room, three rows of seats so that you can either carry many people or split up a couple of kids. (This is something they like as much as something we like).
We've used a Dodge Caravan at length because the company I work for has a small fleet of them for us to use on photo shoots and other trips. The Caravan is a wonderful roadtrip vehicle -- comfy, zippy, and there's tons of cargo space. Even a big dog like Wookie would fit quite well for extended trips. We rented a Ford Aerostar for a trip a few years ago and it felt like a hunk of junk. A couple of years ago we rented a Chevy mini van which we liked quite well.

We were looking at a Caravan and a Toyota Sienna.

Crossovers are zippier but still with lots of room
We took a trip from Nashville to New Orleans and back recently in a rented Kia Rondo, a crossover vehicle I guess, but it really felt like a mini mini-van. We liked the ride and the inside setup quite a bit, and there was plenty of cargo room. The gas mileage was OK, a little better than a mini van, but still in the lower 20s. I think this type of vehicle could be a great choice. The Kia's main drawback was that when one of the windows (especially the rear ones) were opened (partially or fully), a horrible pulsing pressurization would overcome the car. Like your ears would explode if subjected to it much more. Other than that, we liked it.

Mazda's and Toyota's mini mini-vans look really good, and we'd like to check them out. Maybe the next time I rent a car, I'll try to get one. Mazda has one with three rows of seats so you can split the kids, boost gas mileage, and maintain quite a bit of cargo room.

Compact SUVs have lots of vertical storage
There's more cargo room in the Subaru Forester than in either the Outback or the Legacy. But the cargo room is vertical -- you need to pack stuff on top of stuff, and long stuff is either out of the question or on the roof. Despite their higher center of gravity and larger shape, the Subaru sales man said that all three models get about the same mileage -- because they have identical power trains, the body shape, he said, was pretty much irrelevant. I suspect he's mostly right, but if so, why do Olympic athletes get so anal about friction and drag?

PT Cruisers are in a class by themselves (so to speak).
I've also rented PT Cruisers a couple of times on photo shoots. I don't know how to classify them. Maybe crossover vehicle? But crossover between what? They're almost like small Chevy Suburbans. There seems to be a lot of space, they're sporty, and they do very well over speed bumps (hey, it was a rental, I owe it to readers to find these things out). The window controls, though are no where near where you would expect them to be: they're in the center of the dashboard. Not on the door or the center console. In the dark, things like this are a pain in the neck.

Station wagons use less gas and have a lot of space.
In the end, we chose a Subaru Legacy. The mileage was purported to be 28 highway, but on our maiden voyage, we got 30 or better (hiper miler techniques employed). The cargo space is plenty sufficient (we were able to bring all of our camping gear). And the cup holders are fine. The look is super sporty. We had a roof racjk added so that we can boost cargo room when needed, but at a gas mileage price. But we figure, Why take the hit on mileage with a mini-van every day of the year when you can only take the hit when you need the extra cargo room?

Cup holders matter more than some might think
The Subaru guy was amazed at the fact that he was about to lose a sale because the '98 Outback (only 68,000 miles!) had cruddy cup holders. I didn't see them on my test drive, and when I returned to the lot, I parked it, walked up to Tinsley, tossed him the keys and said to her "There are no cup holders." Tinsley shook her head, Trevor scrambled to the car to look, and found them: a dinky, rickety little tray the slips in to the dashboard. Tinsley and I rolled our eyes.

What's your road trip vehicle of choice?

City Guide: Belfast, Maine

A waterfront city with magnificent downtown buildings is experiencing a wonderful renewal.

I'm a little prejudiced towards Belfast, Maine. Much of my family lives there, I visit whenever I can, and it feels like home. Home away from home, anyway. We've written about Belfast in the past.

My mom wrote about it when she was in elementary school:

Belfast is a little city
Nestled by the sea.
It's not much, but what the heck
It's good enough for me!

Belfast has gotten even better since then.
The harbor is full of boats, the waterfront is buffered by a park, the downtown is thriving with stores, restaurants, and service providers. And no big box sprawl to speak of. There are big stores, but no sprawling strip like almost every other town in America. The Victorian and classic revival buildings downtown are occupied and busy. There's even a new hotel in an old downtown building shooting for four or five stars. When I remember the name of it, I'll link to it.

If 4 star suites don't fit your bill, the Northport Campground fills in the other end of the spectrum.
We have a very big tent, and we camp there frequently. A tent site is $23 per night, so a week's worth of camping costs the same as a night at the Comfort Inn (every room has a great view of the bay), which is where we stay when camping won't work.

There's a footbridge over the river that feeds the harbor.
The name of the river is the Passagassawakeag River, which is Indian for "Pass a gassy wax egg". I'm not exactly sure what that means; I think maybe something got lost in the translation, but the kids sure enjoy saying it. And the footbridge is fun to run across if you're a kid. It's also a popular fishing spot.

Belfast City Park is a great place to spend the better part of a day.
Playgrounds, tennis courts, basketball courts, a city pool, picnic spots with built-in barbecue grills overlooking Pennobscott Bay. Rolling grassy areas shaded by mature trees. There's even a hot dog/hamburger stand. Why would anyone ever want to leave?

To go to Perry's Nut House, of course.
It's a combination wacky-stuff-candy-nuts-chocolate-fudge store and a weirdy museum. If that makes any sense. Goofy kids toys, books, treats, mummies, and shrunken heads. Not to forget the funny mirrors. And the carousel ride out front goes forever on 50 cents. An excellent value and a good way to amuse youngsters.

The Belfast Coop has good foods and great coffee.
And newspapers if you want one. And wine, beer, meat and cheese.

The Army-Navy store has some odd camp essentials
I went into the Army-Navy store downtown looking for enameled steel coffee mugs and mantels for out Coleman lantern. They had the mugs, but not the mantels. As we were about to leave, I looked up to see a Martin Backpacker guitar. I've been leaving my full size guitar at home over the years because it won't fit in the car and it's too expensive an instrument to take camping or road tripping. The Martin Backpacker isn't that valuable ($200). But what it lacks in value, it gains in portability. What a great score. Who knew an Army-Navy store would sell guitars (they had other styles too)? My kind of Army-Navy store.

One more landmark in Downtown Belfast is Colburn's Shoe store, the oldest shoe store in the country. And my Grammy used to work there when she was a girl. I bought my shoes there as a kid and convinced Tinsley to buy a pair there last month. She was thrilled with the experience, the shoes, and the nice folks who work there.