Entry for August 14, 2007: Virginia visit

On Saturday, 4 August 2007, Janice and I drove south to visit my family. We avoided metropolitan New York but still hit some traffic in New Jersey before arriving at my younger brother Peter's new home in Burke, Virginia.

The suburban sprawl around Washington D.C. has continued to worsen since Janice and I moved to New England almost a decade ago, but we had little difficulty finding Pete and his wife Kelly's place, which is spacious. Their deck overlooks a nicely landscaped backyard, and their young daughters Ava and Lili will have plenty of room to grow up. Even cat Riley has settled into their new digs.

I helped Peter wrestle a new armoire into his master bedroom, and we enjoyed playing with the girls, both of whom are precociously smart and cute (well, I'm biased). Ava is toilet-trained and is becoming quite the conversationalist, and Lili is sitting up unaided and is as alert as ever. As with all my nieces and nephews, I look forward to seeing how their personalities and talents continue to develop and diverge.

After a pizza dinner, we watched the premiere of ABC's "Masters of Science Fiction" anthology. The first episode featured Sam Waterston as an amnesiac in a postapocalyptic world. Like the "Twilight Zone," the television show is hit or miss in terms of stories and acting, but this one was properly depressing.

On that Sunday, my parents joined us from the Blue Ridge Mountains in western Virginia. We celebrated their birthdays with a steak and salad lunch followed by a chocolate cake that Janice had baked the night before. As always, our time together as a family was too short.

That evening, we took advantage of Verizon's FiOS on-demand and rented "Children of Men," starring Clive Owen and Michael Caine in an adaptation of P.D. James' dystopian novel. Although Janice noted that the movie's end differed from that of the book, we liked it (I'd give it about an 8 out of 10, or an B+/A-), even if it was as depressing as the previous night's "Masters of Science Fiction."

On Monday, Peter drove Janice, Ava, and me to the Udvar-Hazy Center, an extension of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum near Dulles Airport. (Kelly had to work, and Lili stayed with nanny Linda.) We were impressed at a century's worth of aircraft and spacecraft, including the Concorde, a variety of helicopters and fighter planes, and the prototype space shuttle "Enterprise."

Having studied the military history and U.S. space policy in graduate school at the George Washington University in the early 1990s, it was interesting to see the actual artifacts in a larger hangar than available on the National Mall. Peter's favorite design is the SR-71 Blackbird spyplane, while I like the clean lines and muscular engines of the P-51 Mustang and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Ava's favorite was orange… :)

On the other hand, humanity's ingenuity is equaled by our ability to destroy, as evidenced by the presence of the Enola Gay, which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, killing thousands and hastening the end of World War II. As it happens, we were at the museum on the anniversary of that bombing, and security was heightened.

Janice and I later drove to visit Corbin A.Y. & Andria K.Y. at their current apartment in Shirlington, the neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia, where they and Peter had once lived! Their place was nice (they plan to buy another townhouse in the area soon), and their cat Pandora was also friendly. Unfortunately, Janice and I didn't get to see other friends from when we lived in the area ourselves.

We then went out to dinner at "Aladdin's Eatery," a very good Middle Eastern restaurant. Corb, Andria, Janice, and I caught up on the affairs of our college acquaintances, commiserated on politics and the high cost of living, and chatted about genre entertainment. After that, Janice and I managed to find our way back to Peter & Kelly's despite getting turned around, and we watched a more cheerful episode of the now-classic "Justice League Unlimited" on Boomerang.

Janice and I left toward the end of the local rush hour for the long drive back to Massachusetts. We encountered relatively little traffic, dined at "Olive Garden," and reluctantly returned to work on Wednesday, Aug. 8. It took a few days to catch up on e-mail and telephone calls, newspapers and magazines, and recorded television shows (more on those in coming posts). This past weekend was one of the few in recent months where we didn't have houseguests or travel planned, and we took advantage of the state's tax holiday by going to the outlets in Wrentham.

Although I was glad for the break from the busy regular schedule of gaming, I did meet with prospective role-player Ben R. at "Tennessee's Barbeque" for lunch. He recently moved to Framingham, near where I work, and I look forward to seeing his Zarendo Islander (proto-East African) human Illusionist join "the Broken Chains" at tonight's D&D3.5 "Vanished Lands" Arabian fantasy session!