My wife is the coolest ever.

My wife decided to surprise me last night. We won’t be able to spend Valentine’s Day together this year—I will be at the Pink Elephant IT Service Management Conference—so she decided that we would celebrate it last night. I had already been planning to grill some steaks, but she added a surprise to the mix: a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse for our computer, and an AirClick USB to allow me to control iTunes playback from other rooms. Very important, since the Mac is now the source of our dinner party music.

I’m very lucky to have a wife who likes Apple and speaks geek.

Home is where the contractors are

Lisa got stuck in the Logan radar mess this week; a quick day trip down to Richmond via National Airport turned into an extended travel trauma when her flight back to Boston was cancelled. Fortunately her flight was early enough—and she learned that it was cancelled early enough—that she was able to take advantage of the time to drive up to her parents for a day.

I’m looking forward to seeing her tonight when she gets in. I’m also envious, as she got a chance to be with our dogs, who are currently bunking in New Jersey while our bathroom renovations take place. (Aside: I never thought I would be the sort of pet owner who gets teary eyed—hell, occasionally bawls—when his dogs drive away. Don’t tell anyone.)

Demolition for the downstairs shower starts next week. I can’t wait. This will be the last set of major contractor projects (except for the replacement of our front door, which will necessitate a day’s worth of carpentry due to water and sill problems) for a while, and then we get our house back to ourselves again.

Lordy, lordy, look who’s…


…No, Esta isn’t 40, but today is one of those other big milestone birthdays for my kid sister. What a long strange ride it’s been: a ballerina, cellist, artist, writer, Wahoo, archaeologist, financial analyst, sometime blogger, preacher, and all around great person. I’d be happy to recommend her as one of the finest people I know… odd incriminating bandana’d pictures notwithstanding. And she’s just entering the best years of her life, whether she knows it or not.

By way of present, I offer these words from a better writer than I:

you shall above all things be glad and young
For if you're young,whatever life you wear
it will become you;and if you are glad
whatever's living will yourself become.

Feel free to send her happy birthday wishes using this handy spam-free form. Or check out her 2001 proto-blog on this site (her personal blog is no longer available).

Wonder and loss

white building on brackbill farm against the sky, lancaster

It was good to see my extended family over the last two days, but sad as well. My great-uncle Hershey Brackbill passed away on Saturday. What was originally going to be just another annual family reunion turned into a commemoration of Hershey.

To back up: My grandfather had eleven brothers and sisters, of whom all but two survived to adulthood. For many years the ten remaining siblings, even after the passing of my great grandfather Harry, have brought the family together summer after summer, and the part of the family that stayed in Lancaster County (virtually everyone in that generation and most of their children) formed a tight knit extended family.

But recently the family has been thinning. After the second church service this morning I walked with Esta down the hill to pay respects to my grandmother. On the way I passed the markers of Hershey’s brother Jake, who died earlier this year, and Florence, who passed away several years ago. I also passed Hershey’s tombstone, which he will share with his first wife Jane; his stone was awaiting his final date. So the family is coming together in a corner of the cemetery at Leacock Presbyterian.

Fortunately the living family was able to come together in a more substantial tribute this morning. My second cousin Don Brackbill got a chorus of eleven Brackbill men, whether by blood or marriage, to sing an anthem at both Sunday services—in the Old Leacock church, which dates back to 1750 and is as historic as it is sweltering on an August morning, and the “new” Leacock church, which is probably close to 100 years old and is the one that was a block and a half down Route 30 from my grandparents’ home when I was growing up. The music was nice, the theology—the wonder of God’s love—somewhat better.

After services we all headed to the picnic, where my mother decided it was time for a changing of the guard and had me lead the family in the singing of the doxology (something my father or my cousin Lee would have otherwise done) and my sister the seminarian, as the most ecclesiastical person there, lead the prayer. Given how rarely I can spend time with the family, I didn’t feel entirely comfortable leading the song, which may have been the point for all I know, but it felt like a passing of the torch anyway.

And who is grabbing it? My mother’s generation, with a few exceptions, stayed pretty close to Lancaster and the rest of the family. My generation? One of my cousins is close by but the other is in Puerto Rico; other cousins were getting married in Michigan this weekend while another, my cousin Chris, lives on the west coast. As we spread further apart, the capacity of the yearly gatherings in Lancaster to keep the family bonds together is likely to strain.

There are solutions, I think, but I’m too tired to chase them tonight. Instead, I’ll close with an assortment of photos from the day. They won’t win any awards, but at least the resolution is higher than my last batch of Lancaster County photos.

Family updates

I updated the genealogy section of the site; this long overdue update added in all my living Brackbill second and third cousins. I had never had a chance to transcribe the Brackbill Book, the 1989 compilation of our family tree from Great-Grandfather Harry on down, and so I was in the embarrassing position of having tons of information about people born in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries and no representation of my living cousins. The updated genealogy has been uploaded to the site; as always, please note the caution about the Freeman data.

Holiday with friends

We had Shel and Erik over last night and inaugurated our second floor guest bedroom, which has been “just” a storage room since we moved in. By “inaugurated” I mean we shoved some boxes in the storage space under the eaves and pushed the others out of the way; it’s not remotely close to being finished, but it’s a start. Maybe I’ll hang pictures up there this afternoon—in time for Charlie and Carie, who will ring in the new year with us, to have the option to stay there rather than dodge drunk drivers on the way home to New Hampshire after midnight. And Esta and one of her fellow seminarians will join us week after next. As I said to Greg over IM last night, we’re turning into quite the little bed and breakfast. Y’all come.


Today I’m thankful for a whole bunch of things, including:

  • My wonderful wife
  • My family, including my amazing mother, who’s on a pilgrimage to Guatemala this week—this being the first time she’s been out of the country in 30 years
  • My in-laws who are with us enjoying the day
  • Our dogs, who have I think finally given up on getting at the turkey now that it’s been put away
  • Our house, even though it’s too damn warm in here after baking a pie, roasting a turkey, and doing countless other stovetop and oven dishes
  • About a bajillion bloggers
  • You, my readers
  • This blog, which makes me keep my brain exercised and keeps me honest


Esta and I were at the MFA today (pictures to come). On the way home, we were discussing “Long Distance Salvation,” which Esta has yet to receive (once I design the CD label, we’ll be in business). I was giving her a track-by-track breakdown, and said,“I am living liner notes.”

She said, “Huh?”

I said, “There are no liner notes for this mix, so I’m giving you your living liner notes.”

She said, “Ah. I thought you said you were living liner notes.”

We were silent for a second. I said, “I’ve been living liner notes. But it’s been for a John Cage album. And I don’t know what the hell is going on.”

—Hey, it was funny at the time.

Distributed census records

I periodically get email questions from people who have come to my site by searching Google for their ancestors and have found my genealogical records. (In fact, I’m currently working through a backlog of six questions, some of which have sat in my inbox for six months…the shame.) Anyway, in looking up some information about a distant cousin, I found out that there’s a regional repository of census microfilm in the Boston area at the Frederick C. Murphy Federal Center in Waltham. Since driving to Waltham is cheaper than paying $20 a month for access to the records, I may have to make a little field trip…

Happy Birthday, Dad

My dad hits one of those milestone birthdays today (the Beatles one, for those of you playing along at home). After the excitement earlier this year, it’s especially good to be able to wish him many happy returns.

Of course, today is also the 35th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing—serendipitously enough, given my dad’s thirty-something year history as a NASA employee. That (unfortunately pop-up laden) page on, in which the moon mission is discussed in the context of a return to space, carries a little of how I feel today. The significance of a birthday or anniversary like today isn’t what went before, but in what is still to come. In both cases for today, I’m feeling pretty good about what’s coming next.

Many happy returns, Dad.

No catfish, just blueberries

Doc Searls: And the living is easy. Doc writes about his childhood summers in Brick Township, New Jersey, just a few stoplights away from the part of Lakewood in which I spent my Independence Day weekend this year. I was probably even in the parking lot that now sits over where the Searls family played hide and seek fifty-plus years ago. When Lisa visits the beach with her parents this month, she’ll go to Mantoloking (mentioned in Doc’s post from last year about summers at the Shore).

For what it’s worth, Doc, I’m with you on the fresh blueberries. Only my version was late July/early August harvest in southeastern Virginia. For many summers we’d visit a berry farm in Gloucester, across the mouth of the York River from Yorktown, and fill a 16″ by 30″ by 24″ Igloo cooler half full of blackberries and a smaller one full of blueberries. The tradition (started as a birthday gift for my dad, later moved to my Mom’s birthday because the blueberries were riper) lasted from about the time I was 10 or 12 in the early to mid 80s until just before I went to grad school in 2000. That fall my parents sold the house in which I grew up in Newport News, Virginia, and moved to my dad’s family farm outside Asheville, NC. To the best of my knowledge, they haven’t found a pick-your-own place there yet. But I still keep my eyes out for the first blueberries every summer, and am still quite capable of devouring several quarts of them without blinking or losing stride.

(Fellow Jarretts, I can’t remember the name of the farm we patronized; feel free to jump in on the comments.)