The Photos I Promised

NaNi, on her second day riding.

This is the scene that made Nichelle all teary-eyed, NaNi taking off up the street with Isaac. (We threatened to send her off with a Brides magazine in one hand and a college application in the other.)

Cuteness, as usual.

The two weasels (Nichelle and NaNi) went to DisneyWorld without us.

Phil taught Naomi to blow bubbles. I couldn't even chew gum without swallowing it until I was 6.

Sky Venture, Indoor Sky Diving, Nashua, New Hampshire.

Isaac at Sky Venture, Nashua.

Indoor skydiving: This flight suit makes me look fat.

There’s a really amusing story that goes with this picture, but I need to wait a few years for Nichelle’s anger to calm down before I can tell it.

Isaac and David with Jim, a former sailor who served on the boomer USS Henry Clay. This was taken at the Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Connecticut, home of the world’s first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus.

Isaac and David at the helm stations of a nuclear submarine.

A quick family update….

When Naomi woke up this morning, I asked her if she slept well, and also told her that I was happy she slept all night in her own bed. With the cutest glimmer in her eyes, she then told me that she had “the most wonderful dream in the world.” She then explained that she dreamt about Speed Racer, and that she was 5, and they went on vacation and they visited her and they talked. She had this twinkle in her eyes and the sweetest smile. She said that she never had this dream in her whole life.

Naomi’s been using Isaac’s scooter in the house for a bit now and has great balance. Phil pointed out to her that she may be ready to use her bike without training wheels because she can balance so well on the scooter. Man, oh, man, did she like that idea. She was quick to ask Doug to take the training wheels off her bike and is doing amazingly well. We took video of her mastering her skill at the two wheeler. It’s too soon for my liking, although that’s a mom thing!!! I’m, of course, proud of her accomplishments, but she’s growing up too fast.

David, after years of begging for glasses, got his wish. Doug took the kids to their appts a few weekends ago (Naomi’s first eye exam, too), and David was told that he needed glasses. He picked out the ones he wanted, and was told that they’d be ready in a week, but … the week came and went and still no glasses. He was disappointed to find out that he needed to wait several more days because there was a problem with the lenses and needed to be returned to the company to have them corrected. He finally got his glasses yesterday, and of course, he’s thrilled.

Isaac celebrated his 13th birthday the end of April and we’ll be celebrating with a party this weekend. Can’t believe he’s already a teen. [Doug’s note: He’s had the attitude of a teen for at least five years now, it certainly doesn’t surprise me.]

At the end of April, Naomi and I spent 4 days in DisneyWorld. Yup, just us girls, with two of Phil’s sisters and niece. We had a great time. Loads of fun watching Naomi’s expressions on the rides and just the fun she had with MacKenzie. Doug and the boys had a great time, too, as expected by me anyways. He took the boys indoor skydiving, which I’ll be doing sometime soon. We have a video of that along with pictures that David took. Those should be posted soon, too.

More from Doug. Nichelle is the biggest weasel in the world for going to DisneyWorld without us. I would certainly never go on such a trip without my wife.

In addition to indoor skydiving, David, Isaac, nephew Andrew Roberts, and I visited the U.S. Navy Submarine Force Museum, which is home to the USS Nautilus, the world’s very first nuclear-powered submarine. For technophiles like us, this was a perfect trip. In fact, we were late picking Nichelle and NaNi up at the airport because we got to talking to a submariner who was stationed on the USS Henry Clay (a “boomer”—a ballistic missile submarine) in the 1960s. In addition to touring the Nautilus, we got to play with various submarine control stations, see a lot of weapons, including a disassembled Polaris 3 MIRV, use working periscopes, and learn a lot about the history of the US submarine force. Jim, the sailor from the Henry Clay, also answered a question that was very important to me: Which movies about submarines are actually accurate. He said the Widowmaker was highly accurate, but admitted that others could still be entertaining. I’ll post pictures from this trip soon.

Belittled by PETCO: A Bad Customer Experience

Two weeks ago, Isaac spent some of his savings on purchasing a new tarantula, to replace Chandan, one that had died after about 3.5 years in our care. (The tarantula was fully grown when we purchased it, so we expect the death was due to old age, as these Chilean spiders, typically sold in pet shops, live only to 5-8 moltings, and she had molted thrice, about once a year, while we had her.)

However, the new tarantula did not fare so well. After a week, Isaac noted that she had some trouble climbing, within another week she was dead.

PETCO issues a 15-day guarantee on "companion animals" they sell, so we headed back to PETCO to see if we could get an exchange. To prove to them that we had adequate and appropriate housing, we brought the large plastic shoebox type storage container (about 2.5 gallons in volume) containing the spider.

That is where the trouble started.

The attendant examined the box, and said, “You’ve used fertilized potting soil; it looks like you killed it.”

(For the record, we did use potting soil. Potting soil often contains Styrofoam, perlite, or vermiculite to improve aeration and water retention. In this case, our soil contained perlite, which is completely harmless. Of course, some potting soils, even organic ones, contain fertilizers and insecticides, but I was very careful to avoid selecting one of those.)

“No, I replied carefully, "we used sterilized potting soil with no chemical additives. You must understand we had a tarantula living for nearly four years in exactly these conditions, and it was an adult when we bought it."

Then he seemed to express concern over the container. I quickly pointed out, "The container is not airtight,” which, after some seemed to satisfy him.

By this time I was seething, although outwardly completely controlling my anger. We are not idiots. We have been keeping tarantulas for four years now. Chandan, the one who died several months ago, exhibited no problems of any kind during her life. I even keep a tarantula (named after one of our VPs) at my office. I strongly resented the immediate and obvious blaming, and felt even worse because essentially everything I said was ignored, even when I was correct.

Reluctantly, the clerk issued me a refund, and we headed off to the reptile and fish department, which houses tarantulas and such. The fish display featured a wall of Betas, all in tiny, nonaerated plastic containers. Great way to take care of those fish!

And there we waited. And waited. And waited. Isaac repeatedly spoke to the staff, who assured us they would be “right with us.” This went on for about 30 minutes. (Thankfully I’d brought a book to read.)

Finally, the “spider guy” came out. He claimed the soil contained “chemical crystals” that kill insects. I explained the reality to him, which he clearly didn’t accept, and recommended peat instead. He also claimed we had told him we would be keeping the tarantula in a 10-gallon aquarium, which, we, of course had not, and he wondered, “How do you expect to regulate the temperature in a plastic container?” (I did not want to go into physics with him.)

Initially and over the years, we’ve done most of our research on tarantula care via the Internet, from a variety of sources. If we go the experts, the American Tarantula Society, we can see what their articles and care guides say:

Pet Pals sold in pet shops, work well for many species. Many plastic and glass containers can be adapted for tarantula homes.

They also recommend topsoil or potting soil as the ideal substrate for tarantulas. Peat was only second-best.

Good air circulation in a container has been thought by some in the past to be a requirement, however, serious doubt has been cast on this idea in the last few years. The up side is good air circulation may prevent stagnant conditions with very high humidity that can easily breed mold, fungi, bacteria, nematodes and mites.

The clerk said he might not sell us another tarantula, and that he would have to talk to the other clerk and check. After a few minutes, he returned, and informed us that we could buy a replacement tarantula, but they would not provide a guarantee this time. We paid for the new tarantula with our refund money, and left.

Over the week I triple-checked our information. The ATS agreed with our care policies completely, contrary to the details the PETCO personnel provided. So, the next weekend, I went back to the store and spoke with the manager. I told him that I understood people do not typically do the research into caring for exotics, but that we were experienced tarantula owners who were thorough about what we were doing. I explained that we were very dissatisfied with our treatment, and pointed out where the ATS recommendations were contrary to the store’s advice.

He apologized for how we were treated, and said he had all our information, and that he would have the regional controller call us.

We’re still waiting for the call …

But at least the new tarantula is doing well.

2008: Year of the Nerd

I hesitate to include this, but this is the sort of thing that goes on at a New Year’s Eve party at Heritage Baptist Church.

In addition to “praying in” the new year, we also spent several hours playing board games and doing improv skits. Lynn B., our great game organizer, ran a Family Feud session, which was quite fun, although at first we demonstrated our vast lack of knowledge in how this particular game show operated. Once it got going, the competition was fierce.

I loved the fact that all the kids were involved as well. David was interviewed by me in one of the skits as an eyewitness to the events of “The Ugly Duckling”; in his version he ran over the Ugly Duckling with his car! Tom H. brought a snowball inside, which ended up recycled a number of times by being thrown or dropped down the back of people’s shirts. Pastor Erik told people (not necessarily children) not to run about 4,328 times. Phil L. and David E. carried Isaac outside a couple of times and threw him in a snowbank.

Afterward we went home and let the kids stay up as long as they wanted, as is our tradition on New Year’s. NaNi didn’t make it much after 1:00. David was up until about 4:30. Isaac stayed awake until 6:40 p.m. on the first. We woke him up for dinner, and trounced him at Halo 3, which is extremely unusual, but shows how drastically sleep deprivation can affect performance and critical skills.

Late afternoon on the first, we were in the process of getting ready to go see Enchanted, when David came in calling, “It stings! It stings!” I thought he’d hurt or frozen his hands, until he pointed to his head. Isaac had accidentally hit him across the eyebrow with a snow shovel, splitting the skin open quite deeply, so we went to the emergency department at SNHMC instead of to the movies. (The physician’s office had just closed.) David was very worried about stitches, but got to have his skin superglued together instead.

While David and I waited, and waited, and waited in the waiting room, Nichelle was at home making beef enchiladas, our last bit of holiday eating-too-much-for-our-own-good.

Welcome, 2008!

Skvid Number One

Skvid = SKit on VIDeo

Last week our pastor asked me to put together a video skit to help illustrate a sermon in a series of lessons on stewardship: What happens when we overwhelm ourselves with choices and activities? Of course, it also illustrates beautifully the quirkiness of the Wilcox family.

I did the video in Windows Movie Maker, a free download for Windows XP. I had to overcome a quirk that kept locking the software up, discovering that previewing clips in the preview window wouldn’t work correctly, unless I dragged the clips to the timeline first. I can’t explain that, but wish I’d found the answer hours earlier. Movie Maker isn’t bad, but I need something that will let me treat the audio track from the video separately, as well as add more audio layers.

The film was shot entirely out of sequence, in order to meet the availability schedule of the actors (my kids), over the course of a very busy Saturday. The Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back clip was created by shooting our own HDTV, the quickest way I could think of to get the piece I needed.

Background music includes Ella Fitzgerald’s, “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” and the title theme from Back to the Future.

Overall, it’s a tad too long at just over 6 minutes (the goal was 5 minutes), and I never got around to including any video transitions. I may tweak it a bit in the next few days, especially if I try out a more advanced software package, and hope to get it down to 4 to 4.5 minutes. I recall seeing George Lucas talking about an old filmmaker adage, “Films are never finished, just abandoned,” and how he had the technology (and money) to keep going back to his films to finish them the way he wanted.

Shootin’ with the Brethren

Back in September, Nichelle, Isaac, Phil, and I participating in our church’s extremely informal, annual skeet shoot. (I know not all churches go shooting together, and one certainly won’t find the Apostle Paul writing about it, but we do, after all, live in New Hampshire.)

Neither Nichelle nor I hit any of the clay pigeons with our 12-gauges. Phil nicked one or two, but didn’t really fare much better than we. Isaac, however, managed to nail three of them (putting him in 5th place for the day), with a more-his-size 410.

We also did some handgun shooting. I found that to be highly invigorating. (Translation: “Quite the rush!”) Target shooting is also a little easier than skeet shooting, so doing that last helped rebuild my shattered ego after being trounced by Isaac.

Game Camp Nation – “Isaacing”

Isaac and David spent two weeks this year at Game Camp Nation, which has been operated for a number of years by our friends Phil Luchon and Steve Deyesso and their staff, originally under the name of “Camp Turing.”

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All the photos from those weeks can also be viewed here on Google Photos.

David and Isaac were among the first students to test a new curriculum designed for younger students. They developed games using the GameMaker software, which allows sprite-based games to be created using a relatively simple properties-panel-driven model. (Game Maker also features its own scripting language, and the ability to do more advanced things, even as much as a 3D FPS game.) Game Camp Nation also offers courses in game programming using C++ (which will probably be switched to Java next year), and 3D modeling and animation using AutoDesk’s Maya.

Each student gets his own computer to work and play on all day. Attendees also have some non-computer time to play board games and enjoy meals. Still, this was more of a “Geek Heaven” kind of place than one might be expecting in a summer camp. (I wonder if any of the children noticed that the conference room the hotel gave them didn’t have any windows.)

Isaac and David Outside the Conference Center used by Game Camp Nation for their Waltham, Ma., sessions.

Both weasels enjoyed camp immensely, and readily learned to create and debug games. They were up before I was every morning, and I let them stay late almost every night to participate in the network gaming tournaments that the camp runs at the end of the day. David got so tired one day that he fell asleep in the car in the morning, and then on the couch in seconds when we got home, sleeping there nearly 12 hours through the night.

Isaac and David with Game Camp Nation staff members Chris, Steve, and Joy.

We Have a Weiner Winner!

The game tournament is open to all camp attendees, whether they stay overnight or not. To keep things balanced among different types of games, they played FPS games (Halo and Call of Duty), RTS games (StarCraft and Command & Conquer 3), and Motocross Madness 2. Scores were kept all week, and the winner each week got a $50 gift certificate to Best Buy.

Of course that meant that Isaac and David were staying until 8:30 every night, but I figured it was worth the effort for two weeks.

Isaac came in first the first week, despite my dragging him out early one night. During the second week, he was leading by 100% of the second-place person’s score. Steve decided that dominating by that much for two weeks in a row would be called “Isaacing.”

Isaac with the huge Lego set he purchased, #7662 Trade Federation MTT

Bizarre Family Re-Invades Moultonborough

Our boring, personality-less family.

Well, we’re back (again) from our now-annual trip to Moultonborough, New Hampshire.


  • NaNi woke me up every morning by knocking on my head as one would a door, and announcing, “Dad, look out the window.” Thankfully, it was never very early, but to her, daylight meant it was time to do things.
  • Isaac and I climbed Mt. Percival, elevation 2,212 feet, near Squam Lake. (A full 1,000-feet higher than our usual hike across the street.) Nichelle, NaNi, David, my niece Jenn, and my sister Cindy made it much of the way, but didn’t get to the summit. (They were scared off by a report more seasoned hikers.) This is the first “moderate”-rated trail from our new AMC White Mountain Guide, 28th: Hiking trails in the White Mountain National Forest (Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide), and it was wonderful. While the others went slowly down the first part of the hike, Isaac and I really pushed it to get to the summit, but the view was worth it. The trail back, only 1.9 miles, seemed much longer. I couldn’t have done any of this without the 6-day-a-week weight training program my beautiful Nichelle has me on. (The hike was a great leg and cardio workout; the next two days I could feel muscles I didn’t knew I had.)
  • Neither Isaac nor David caught any pickerel this year. They didn’t spend as much time fishing, but more time swimming. We had bait left at the end of the week, even.
  • NaNi caught the biggest sunfish we have seen to date. It was actually too big for her to hold up the pole as Nichelle took a picture.
  • In an incident involving a fishing reel NaNi managed to disassemble, recovering the same reel from the bottom, getting the line tangled up in the paddleboat pedals, losing the reel permanently in the pond, getting stuck, and prayer … NaNi and David had quite an adventure. NaNi was very impressed that David “prayed to God twice,” and “knew the right thing to do.”
  • One of the few down sides to this trip was that Naomi has developed an unprecedented degree of fear of bugs and spiders, especially considering in whose family she is. She spent an hour or two one night, quite literally screaming, apparently from some nightmare about spiders which persisted into her mostly-woken state. (She was afraid of a lot of things, compared to earlier in her life, and was highly suggestible, but I expect she’ll have outgrown those issues by next year.)
  • We did our first all-family picture at Clark’s Trading Post, and Nichelle and NaNi did their traditional “Southern Belle” photos. I’ll try to get pictures up tonight.

We’ll post a Picasa Web Albums slide show after we go through the pictures.

Week of a Million Smiles

Well, we’re back from vacation and what an amazing and wonderful time we all had.

To start off the vacation was Mom’s wedding. What a lovely couple Mom and Dad make! They are truly in love and so very sweet together. (Pictures taken by our “official” Wedding photographer Mike Matheson are available here.)

We spent a few days with Mom, Dad and family before heading to Orlando, where the Hinxmans arranged for us to stay at a borrowed apartment. They also are tireless park-attenders, and took us around Disney World and Sea World on a six-day sprint.

NaNi tells Cinderella a story about a ball she plans to attend.

What an amazing time, jammed packed and loads of fun. So much to share, too late now to do it, but you can check out the pics in the Picasa album. We have loads to share so check back in a day or two.

Picasa Web Album
Disney PhotoPass Album

Isaac and David pose with Stormtroopers at the last of MGM’s “Star Wars Weekends.”

Photos via Picasa Web Albums

I started experimenting with Picasa’s (Google’s) free Web Albums last night. One gigabyte of storage, seamlessly integrated with Picasa, which is the free photo management software God would use if He didn’t run Linux.

Check out our new Picasa Web Albums, which I’ll be updating over the next week, and which are also linked to our sidebar. You can even subscribe to them via RSS!

And, here’s the photo I promised of my Mom and her fiancé, George Fortini:

And here’s another image of NaNi, the world’s cutest 3-year-old. She’s got the Wii controller in her hand, and is beating nearly everyone at bowling. This was taken at Nichelle’s birthday party in March: