A Mind Needs Books

“My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer and I have my mind…and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge. That’s why I read so much Jon Snow.”

Tyrion Lannister, A Game of Thrones

One should always strive for self-improvement, and reading is, dare I say, fundamental to that cause. Unfortunately, over the last six years as I’ve gotten further along this crazy journey of life and parenting, I’ve found myself reading less than I ever have before averaging maybe two or three books every year. I’ve recently set-out to rectify this situation, lest my mind lose its edge, by dedicating myself to reading a biography of Winston Churchill Hero of the Empire. I got the book as a gift over a year ago, and it has sat on my bookshelf gathering dust ever since!

I started in early December, making slow progress here and there, but this week I’ve made sure to sit down to read at least 10-12 pages each night, and it just so happens that each chapter is about that length!. I’m currently on page 66 and the book is listed at 400 pages, but that includes the acknowledgements, index, and sourcing etc starting on page 321. That leaves me with 254 pages to go, which should put me on pace to finish by the end of January. A book a month over the course of this year would be a huge improvement over my recent average, even though ol’ Winston might scoff at such a pedestrian goal!

I’ll lay out some of my other goals in future posts, and hopefully keep all five of you who read this blog updated along the way.

Also, don’t forget to like/follow the Trails and Tributaries Facebook page as well since I often share interesting articles and videos there that don’t make it into a blog post.





Jelling Thoughts

It’s important to learn new things. I can’t say that I learn something new every day, but I always enjoy learning something new. So in that vein, I share something I learned this morning.

I was reading a news article about a football team’s lack of cohesion. It quoted a player as saying “we have to jell as a team,” and I immediately seized upon that in a fit of self-righteousness thinking “That’s not a word! It should be ‘gel’ not ‘jell’.” I found myself quickly humbled to discover that jell is indeed a word, and that the two have distinct meanings.

From grammarist.com:

  • Gel is a substance that has a consistency similar to jelly. A gel may be a cosmetic, a hair product, a medicinal product or other substance. Gel may be used as a noun or a verb, when used as a verb gel means to form something into a gel. Related words are gels, gelled, gelling. Thomas Graham coined the word gel around 1900, as a back-formation from the word gelatin.
  • Jell is a verb that means to become a consistency similar to jelly. Related words are jells, jelled, jelling, the noun form is jelly. Jellmay also be used to mean that something is growing firmer or is becoming set. Last of all, jell is sometimes used to describe the process of a project taking shape or the process of a group of people coming together in harmony, especially when working on a project together. Jell is a back-formation from jelly, coming into the language in the latter 1800s.

Go forth now, share your newfound knowledge, and feel good that you learned something new today.

What’s that? You already knew everything I just told you?!


A New Year

It’s a cold start to 2018 here in Round Hill. We’ve had a few dustings of snow in the last few days that are still sticking around, and I can safely say that this is the longest I’ve ever seen an inch of snow last here.

Despite the below-freezing temperatures I’m hoping to get outside today to walk along the lake and see what the beavers have been up to. They’ve apparently done quite the number on the trees down there and our HOA has contracted with a trapper to evict them before they completely decimate the woods. Maybe I’ll be able to convince one of the kids to accompany me on this mini-adventure. Maybe.

Hopefully the New Year finds you all well!

(I’m not going to call it a resolution, but I am hoping that this is the first of what will be many posts written this year!)

The Farmer in the…

Who hasn’t at some point heard the classic children’s song and wondered “What’s a dell?” 

Well, that moment happened for my four-year-old son the other night. Naturally he turned to his ever knowledgeable dad and asked the question. I deftly fielded his inquiry, described the features of a dell, and even provided him with a reference point in our neighborhood that is dell-like. No doubt he’ll wow his mother and sisters with his knowledge the next time they walk there. 

It was a proud parental moment, but then I had a moment of doubt. Did I really know what a dell was? Had I led my son astray? Years from now, would he confidently raise his hand in middle school social studies and provide my description of a dell only to have his teacher and classmates mock him for his obviously wrong answer?! 

Thankfully, a quick search of the interwebs confirmed my definition, and all of my fear and self-doubt had been for naught. Fatherly crisis averted!

In case you’re wondering, you can find the textbook definition a dell (ok, Wikipedia definition), and even a picture here.

Until next time readers!

(If you like this post, and want more, like and follow Trails and Tributaries on Facebook!)

Living Simply

We strive to live simply in our house. I say strive because sometimes living simply isn’t quite so simple nowadays, and sometimes we just don’t succeed at keeping things as simple as we’d like.

    Our house is often messy and cluttered, but we’re getting better, and with a gaggle of kids and a dog running around there’s going to be a certain amount of mess. I’m sure if we were minimalists our house would be cleaner, but with little kids comes a certain amount of “stuff” and we’re (mostly) ok with that. We’re willing to accept the mess that comes from all that “stuff” because we’re pretty anti-tech when it comes to our kids. As much as I hate that there are Legos all over my son’s room, I’ll take that over him staring at a tablet playing Minecraft for hours. 

    Recently, I found myself on a restless Friday night with a sleeping wife on the couch watching a documentary about minimalism on Netflix. (I know, I know, I better chill out on this wild lifestyle I lead!) Anyway, it’s worth a watch, but the basic gist isn’t some crazy idea that you have to sell off all your possessions and buy a tiny house, but instead to not let “things” dominate your life. 

    That’s an important message in today’s world, and one that the wife and I find ourselves trying to live by and instill in our kids. Like I said, it’s not always easy, but I think as long as we’re making the effort, we’re succeeding. 

    Right? At least a little? E for effort maybe? #notanexpert

    Tech No?

    We’ve been pretty tech-averse in our house for awhile, that is until Christmas when welcomed a brand new Amazon Echo into our lives. 

    We’ve had it for five months now and I can’t really say that it’s changed our lives or anything (ok, maybe there are a few more impromptu dance parties than before), but it’s been a semi-helpful addition at least. 

    Need some soothing classical music when the kids are nuts? No problemo.
    Need a quick weather report? Got you covered.

    Have no idea what the family schedule looks like today? Just ask!

    Am I worried about the NSA spying on me? Nope. I’m probably more worried about Amazon and Google getting together to form SkyNet and an army of Terminators, but I think as long as we keep Asimov’s rules in order we’ll all be just fine with our new friend Alexa.


    I probably travel more than most, but my hotel points and frequent flier miles tell me I’m nowhere near road warrior status. One thing I can say though is that I never get tired of flying! Maybe not all the annoyances of getting through the airport, packing myself into the plane like a sardine, or having to hurry for a connecting flight, but there’s plenty to appreciate also.

    The actual act of flying along and looking out the window and seeing a high-altitude view of the world.

    Seeing random clouds in the distance and the torrents of rain pouring out of them while we fly through endless sunshine.

    Arriving in a new place and seeing it on approach for the first time. Conversely, I also love arriving home, or another familiar place, and being able to pick out landmarks from the air.

    Writing this makes me realize how lucky I am to be able to have these experiences. Air travel has become more and more accessible worldwide, but there are still many people who will never set foot on an airplane. To be among those who get to experience flight makes me extremely blessed, and I’m thankful for it.


    Although they may look otherworldly, they’re not aliens. They’re called tomato hornworms, they ARE disgusting, and they are a scourge on my tomatoes this year.

    Where did they come from? What are they? Why my tomatoes? What did I do to deserve this?!

    It turns out that they are the larval stage of the hummingbird moth. Had I known this I would have swatted those suckers when I saw them flitting around the garden earlier this year, but they were pretty cool looking, and as many people do, we initially mistook them for actual hummingbirds!

    What’s a guy to do about these little terrors? Well it turns out that unless I want to douse my tomatoes in insecticide (no thanks!) picking them off is the best I can do. Their natural predators are wasps, (unfortunately I killed all the wasps around the house earlier in the summer!) and ladybugs. Although I’d love to see a boatload of ladybugs battle it out for supremacy against the hornworm hoard, I don’t know if that’s a great option this late in the game. I’ll just have to stay vigilant and keep checking daily for more signs of these monsters.

    The only upside here is that my kids LOVE playing with them. They were so excited coming home from Costco today because they wanted to go outside to “check on their babies” that I had picked and put in their bucket this morning. They’re outside right now as I type this poking and prodding and doing who knows what to them. It’s fun to see them excited about nature and animals and exploring their curiosity about things, and as long as they’re nowhere near my tomatoes I’m happy to let them go to town!

    If summer comes and goes without me blogging about it, does it make a sound?

    Suddenly I looked up and it was September. Summer flew by, and boy was it a hot one here in Northern Virginia. We had more 90+ degree days here than last year, and frankly I hate the heat and humidity, so to say that it limited my desire to be outside for extended periods would be an understatement! I didn’t hike, paddle, fish, or anything else nearly as much as I would have liked, but such is life.

    The summer wasn’t a total waste by any stretch of the imagination. Probably the highlight of the summer was having the chance to visit St. Thomas where I checked off a bucket-list item by snorkeling around a coral reef with sea turtles! If you have the chance, I highly recommend it.

    I’ll try to be back with more posts on a much more regular basis. I still have several posts in various levels of draft status so hopefully this is the start of T&T’s rebirth this fall.


    Nature in Your Own Backyard

    It’s been a crazy month so far and it’s left me with little time for managing the blog, so I hope you haven’t missed me too much!

    Late Spring and early summer have had the critters out and about, and we’ve been pretty lucky here at the ol’ suburban homestead to have some friendly creature visitors. I guess that’s what happens when you buy the lot that backs up to the woods!

    Robins Under the Deck
    So it’s not bats in the belfry, but still pretty fun. Mr. And Mrs. Robin decided to make the underside of our deck their home. I noticed it last month, and a few weeks ago saw these eggs in there.

    The kids loved to peek up there to see the eggs, and I tried to give the nest as much space as possible to not stress them out, but unfortunately I discovered last week that the nest had been abandoned and there was no sign of the eggs. That led me to believe that perhaps our next visitor, or one of his friends, had something to do with the disappearance since there wasn’t even a fleck of broken shell in the nest.

    “Hey daddy, there’s a snake right there.”
    Said my son calmly as he pointed at the four-foot Eastern Rat Snake in our front flower bed.


    I am by no means a snake expert, but a quick look at our visitor told me he wasn’t venomous or a threat as long as we gave him some space. I of course backed that up with a quick search of the interwebs, and once it was clear that it wasn’t going to eat any of the kids we actually had a fun time watching our new friend slither around back and off into the woods.



    My wife was decidedly less amused when she later saw another snake lounging on our back patio while she was out there with the kids one morning. However, we have haven’t seen any since, which lends credence to my theory that they may have come for a little snack at the robins’ nest.

    “What the heck is THAT?!”
    Is what I said when walked out onto the patio, looked at the stairs leading up to the deck, and saw this:

    Easily one of the bigger winged insects I’ve seen! I took this picture fully terrified that this guy was going to attack me like Mothra going after Godzilla. However, once I consulted the trusty interwebs, I discovered that this is a Luna Moth, and they only fly at night. I’ll pause for a second to let you contemplate the thought of one of these things landing on your face while you sit on your patio at night…

    Now that you’ve thought that through hopefully you can move on and appreciate how cool looking this thing is! The kids never really got to that point though, because apparently dad’s reassurances that it wouldn’t fly during the day couldn’t make them want to get anywhere near him.

    That’s all for now, and I’ll try to get back on schedule here.

    Cheers everyone!