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My Kind of Camping

The year was 1993 and my parents gave me a choice: I could go to Space Camp or the whole family could go on a cross-country camping trip to California and back.

Not much of a choice, really. When you’re a good kid, as I was, you end up volunteering to test your family bonds for weeks of travel in a minivan. You let the idea of Space Camp, which you’ve dreamt of attending since you were eight years old, go.

Fast forward a little more than a decade and you’ve become an adult, you have a job, you’ve found the love of your life and get a new job in the big city. The world is looking pretty good and you’re content. You then find out that your betrothed is going to Space Camp for work. You then become more jealous than you’ve ever been since you were a child.

Amanda in her NASA flight suit

Amanda wears her NASA flight suit at pretty much every opportunity.

Jump forward another decade and you realize you’re closer to retirement than you were to being eight. You’re thinking about summer vacation plans when you see a tweet track by in your Twitter stream and it’s someone talking about Adult Space Camp. You immediately forward that tweet to your nerd of a wife and suggest going. She says yes. You are so happy you find yourself dancing like Snoopy when you tell your boss you’re going.

I guess the whole point of this somewhat rambling post is that I will finally be living a childhood dream this summer. (Amanda notes this is becoming a theme; we fulfilled my dream of learning to sail this past November.) We will have much more information about the trip as the the date gets closer.

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Errant Comma at 1K +

The Errant (Fiat Shown For Scale)

I received some amazing news from my sister and her husband this week. The YouTube channel they started to document work on their sailboat, Errant Comma, has gained more than 1,000 subscribers. We’ve mentioned before (in the post titled The Fulfillment of a Childhood Dream) that Amanda and I along with my sister Andi and her husband Matt bought a sailboat together. The boat was then dubbed “Errant” — as in a a wandering knight due to Matt’s love of medieval history. Andi, being a dork, decided to name the dingy “Comma” so together they read “Errant Comma.” Amanda and I moved for work shortly after we got the boat, so Matt and Andi have been handling the refit in a dry dock we constructed in my parents’ pasture.

The two have been documenting the long (and we mean l-o-n-g) process of gutting the boat down to its hull and rebuilding it from the inside out. The videos they’ve done so far have focused on things like gutting of the boat, restoring the toe rails, installing new bulkheads, and replacing the core-balsa and plywood.

I’m absolutely amazed at the 7,100 views they got on that one about replacing the core-balsa. I’m also extremely proud of their diligence in this project. The two are both working full-time jobs and yet have found time to continue the project. You aren’t really watching a pair of polished sailing and engineering pros, either. Matt is an IT guy and Andi is a American Sign Language interpreter and Paraeducator. The two of them are learning as they go and sharing what they learn along the way.

If you like watching a DIY project or love boats and want to learn more about how they are repaired and constructed, you should check Errant Comma out.

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Pro Football Hall of Fame

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is the museum and monument to the men and women of the NFL. The museum opened in 1963 enshrines players, coaches, franchise owners and front-office personnel for their exceptional contributions to the league. The HOF is located in Canton, Ohio. Why Canton, you ask? The American Professional Football Association, later to be known as the NFL, was founded in Canton in 1920. The other reason, the Canton Bulldogs were a successful team in the early years of the league. In 1921–1923, the Bulldogs played 25 straight games without a defeat (including 3 ties), which as of 2018 remains an NFL record. The team was then moved to Cleveland where it was eventually dismantled after the owner couldn’t find another buyer.

Football Hall of Fame

The Hall of Fame sees 200,000 visitors annually and brings in roughly 18-20 million in revenue much of which goes into its festivals, the museum and a massive expansion project called the Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village.

“It will be the first-ever sports and entertainment ‘Smart City.’ Ten major components will be integrated through technology to subtlety and seamlessly share the values from the game – commitment, integrity, courage, respect and excellence – with guests in a way that will impact their lives.” according to the HOF website.

From our current home base in Pittsburgh, the Hall is less than two hours away; it was an easy day trip even through the snow flurries. As lifelong Washington Redskins fans, we were most excited to see the memorabilia from the team’s better days in the 1990s. We spotted an Art Monk trading card, Robert Griffin III’s grass-stained jersey from a game against Cleveland where he broke a record for rushing, and Jordan Reed’s jersey from the game where he became the fastest tight end to complete 200 catches. We were on the lookout for Zeke’s grandfather’s marching band uniform — it’s at the Hall but was not on display during our visit.

Another highlight of any visit to the Hall is the Hall of Fame Gallery, which is where the busts of every inductee are displayed.

HOF Class of 2008

The HOF class of 2008 included Redskins’ greats Art Monk (top) and Darrell Green (bottom left).

Amanda was quick to move down the line to spot her favorite Hall of Fame members: Art Monk and Darrell Green. Green even responded to her tweet about our visit.

Tickets to the Hall range from $18 for children to $21 for seniors and $25 for adults. There is also a $10 parking fee.

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Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh

The legacy of 19th century steel baron Andrew Carnegie isn’t in the business he built, it’s what he built with his business.  Carnegie was a believer in concept of the self-made man, like himself, and believed the masses would need access to education and cultural enrichment to fully realize their potential. He went about sponsoring many philanthropic works including 2,509 Carnegie libraries. Some of the libraries had an event space attached, the most ornate and grandiose of those spaces are sister music halls in New York and Pittsburgh.

The Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland, a neighborhood in Pittsburgh, was built in 1895 and is a grand example of the guilded age with gold leaf, marble, and frescos. The 1,928 seats in the theater are built from mahogany and covered with crimson velvet cushions. We learned that they also have wire cages under the seats where gentlemen once stored their top hats.

The acoustics are excellent. We recently visited to hear former Vice President Joe Biden speak and think even without the microphone he could have been heard loud and clear. If you have the chance to visit the hall, take it.  You’ll be impressed with the design and wonder why they don’t build buildings this beautiful anymore.




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Showcasing Pittsburgh’s German Heritage

Have you ever passed a place all the time and thought you should really check it out? Amanda and I felt that way about Pittsburgh’s Penn Brewery. It sits just up the hill from our apartment (although there are several major highways crossing any direct path) and we finally decided to hop in the car and drive up for an early dinner last weekend.

Penn Brewery is Pittsburgh’s oldest and largest brewery. It’s housed in the mid nineteenth-century landmark E&O Brewery Building in the North Side’s Deutschtown neighborhood, which was settled by German immigrants. The current brewery has been onsite producing craft beer since 1986 — long before many of us had ever even heard of the small-batch brewery concept. Penn Brewery do their best to craft award-winning German-style beers brewed in the tradition of the early German immigrants of Western Pennsylvania. Penn Brewery tells the story of Pittsburgh’s European immigrants through its craft beer and homemade cuisine.

Our flight of Penn Brewery’s beers

We started out with a flight of the brewery’s year-round beers which include:

  • Penn Pilsner
  • Penn Dark
  • Penn Gold
  • Penn Weizen
  • Penn Kaiser Pils
  • Penn IPA

We enjoyed all of them, although we were split when it came to our favorites. Amanda was partial to the darker options and the Weizen (it had an almost-spicy finish) and I was more fond of the lighter craft creations.

We sipped and sampled until our German-inspired food was ready. I opted for a braut — and I’ve been thinking about its delicious, sweet flavor all week; it was THAT good. Amanda mixed and matched her order, getting the traditional pierogi appetizer and a side dish of Penn Brewery’s mac and cheese (mmm, beer cheese).

The food was excellent, the beer was cold and refreshing and the atmosphere was comfortable and cozy. Our only regret is that we waited four years to visit; we’re sure to be back soon.

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Nassau’s Coming Attractions

The Minister of Tourism and Aviation getting a look at the model of the planned development. Photo Credit: Kemuel Stubbs

A lot construction will be happening near downtown Nassau as a $250 million project begins to take shape.  The unveiling of the project with the Bahamas’ Minister of Tourism and Aviation showed a large hotel complex to the west of the British Colonial Hilton.

“This is very exciting. It starts the revitalization of Bay Street. It’s a modern project that is very different from the colonial feeling of Bay Street and it is going to add something even more exciting for our visitors to experience when they get off the cruise ships,”  said Minister Dioniso James D’Aguilar.

The project is expected to begin a phased opening in mid-2019 and will feature a 150-room Margaritaville Beach Resort. Nearby, you’ll find a 150-unit luxury oceanfront residence that will be branded One Particular Harbour at The Pointe.

You will also eventually see a marina, waterpark, spa, retail shops and of course a Margaritaville restaurant and kids’ club.

“What I find really wonderful about this is the water park; that will provide something different for all visitors to do,” the Tourism and Aviation minister added.  The minister believes that The Pointe is including all the elements to be a successful project by having a mix of residential, commercial, food options and parking.

“We need all of those components to bring about the revitalization of Bay Street. We have millions of visitors coming to our country. Now, we have to create experiences that will get them to spend money here.”

The Ministry of Tourism and Aviation and the Downtown Nassau Partnership (DNP) are working together to finalize plans for the revitalization and beautification of Bay Street in its entirety.

We’ve been to Nassau twice and stayed at the British Colonial Hilton each time. We really enjoyed our stay each time and wonder if the new luxury development will change the authentic local feel of the neighborhood. I think it will be really interesting to go back after the projects have been completed.


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It’s Just Like Being There? (Well, Kind Of)

Merge VR Headgear

We tend to be techies here at No Kids and are often early adopters of new technologies. We had a DVR when TiVo was the only game in town. We got a plasma TV when LCD was the only alternative and LED hadn’t been introduced yet. We even got on to platforms like Twitter really early, too, when there were 18 million users compared to the 328 million users there are today. Yet, it took me a very long time to try virtual reality. I just couldn’t find a use for it other than a simple distraction, not to mention the start-up cost seemed really high until recently.

I finally bit the bullet and decided to spend a little money ($50, about the same amount it cost to fill up the tank in my Jeep a few years ago) and buy the best VR headset for the lowest cost that would work well with my phone. I settled on the Merge VR, a headset made out of molded foam with simple functionality. The Merge Miniverse is a store on their website with a large selection of apps for VR beginners and has been a place to play around and get used to the concept.

I had to explore the net to find the travel-based apps. I’d seen virtual tours of places on my laptop but now wanted to try them in a true 360° experience. I was disappointed in the Apple app store when they didn’t offer a VR tour of the Uffizi in Florence or even one to explore the Colosseum in Rome. But I was able to find a few videos on YouTube to get my fix. I went to Italy in Virtual Reality and found a good collection of 360 videos on some of my favorite spaces. The videos aren’t interactive but you can turn your head in any direction and see what is around you. The tour of Florence, Italy by TravelingMel is pretty good, too. The tour guide explains the history and significance of the location and you stand in one spot and look around. I really enjoyed walking across the Ponte Vecchio in Florence and taking a tour of the Piazza Del Duomo, being able to look up and see the bell tower and then turn behind me and see Ghiberti’s Doors on the Baptistry. The experience is good and we can’t wait to show our parents.

Florence Italy Tour in 360 Virtual Reality by TravelingMel

I think the VR experience still needs a little work. You can see the sites and in some cases move around the virtual landscape but it lacks a few of the important experiences, like touch and taste. We won’t be giving up exploring the world in real life anytime soon but VR is certainly a way of getting a fix of a sunny place you love.