Sunday, August 27, 2017

Six years doesn't seem like a lot of time

My niece recently went off to college. It's kind of a big deal in our extended family because Blondie was the first-born grandchild, niece, etc. She's currently a freshman at Penn State (more specifically, she's in the honors college - we're all very proud of that). My sister has three other kids at home to drive her insane take care of but I know she misses her college kid desperately. I cried right along with her when she had to leave her daughter in the dorms and turn around and head back home.

Having my niece head off to college got me thinking . . . I only have six years before my kid leaves, too! I am pretty sure that she'll go to an in-state school (unless some college in New Hampshire throws a bajillion dollars at her or something), so she probably won't be more than a few hours away. But, still. I know she wants to study music but I may encourage her to choose a minor in something else. As talented as she is, the pool of talent is quite large and I don't want her living in a van down by the river. A few weeks ago, I stopped to have a drink at a local bar. A small bluegrass band was playing. They were so talented and yet, there were only around eight people in the bar listening to them. It's gotta be hard to make a living that way. I once heard a talented folk artist sing a song with the lyric "there's no stage too small." That's true, of course, but rents must be paid and all that jazz.

I feel like there is so much to teach my kid before she leaves for college. I keep meaning to teach her how to do laundry. How to mince garlic and peel potatoes. How to level a teaspoon when baking. How to make yeast rolls. What bra to wear with what type of clothing. How to merge into traffic properly (I can assure you that her father can't teach her this one). How to balance a checkbook. Why white leggings should not be worn (and probably shouldn't exist). There is much to know.

I think I've mostly been focused on sending a decent human being into the world but I should probably start working on those other parental obligations, too. Last week she surprised me by grabbing one of my cookbooks and making (vegan) french toast muffins. They were perfect! Yesterday she tried to make snickerdoodles for church and I don't know what went wrong, but something definitely went very, very wrong. I assured her that I've ruined more than a few batches of cookies along the way. Maybe some lessons simply must be learned the hard way. It's kind of like taking a little bite of baking chocolate because your eyes have not convinced your brain that it really is not edible in its original form. But, everyone tries it and everyone learns.

I took her to the middle school for registration last week. She received her schedule and had her photo taken for her student ID card. She dismissed the photo almost immediately. "I look like I have a spray tan!" she wailed. I saw something different. If you compare her sixth grade ID photo and her seventh grade photo, it's easy to notice some differences. The girl in the new photo has the confidence of a young woman who has already tackled her first year of middle school. She's a girl who has learned a few things about mean girls in the cafeteria and teachers who are not messing around. She's a girl who makes friends easily and sometimes loses them, too. She knows she has talent but remembers not to get too cocky. She knows that others are talented, too, and that she has to work hard.

School starts next week. I know I'll have to replace that school ID at least once (at five bucks a pop). As always, I'll tell her that I'm adding it to her tab.

Friday, August 25, 2017

August was good except for the whole nazi thing

Our little clan recently returned from a week at the beach. It takes about 18 hours to get to my dad and stepmom's condo in Ocean City, but we had six glorious days of sun and sand before we had to turn around and head back. A co-worker let me borrow his toll thingie (that's the technical term) and let me just say that this was a game changer. I think it cut at least an hour off our trip. The mister and I didn't have to waste time fighting over where the toll ticket was, how many quarters we needed, etc. We just sailed right through. My co-worker will just let me know how much we owe him. Easy-squeezy. We've now ordered our own toll thingie. We can't believe we've lived without one for so long. We've been driving cross-country at least once a year for 22 years.

We didn't drive straight through on this trip, of course. We left our house on Friday the 11th and stayed at a hotel that night. We finished the drive on Saturday the 11th. When it was my husband's turn to drive, I checked the news app on my phone. My heart broke over the events happening in Charlottesville that day. I don't think of myself as a naive person, but I honestly didn't think that many boneheads would turn out for a show of "white pride." It makes me sick to my stomach.

From what I've read, the overlord of the neanderthals told them to dress nicely for this event.  I guess the effect worked because now I am legitimately scared that neo-Nazi buffoons and/or white supremacists are everywhere - selling me appliances at Best Buy and sitting next to me at the movie theater. Gross.

As tragic as the events in Charlottesville were, I raise my glass to the "we won't let hate win" people who came out to protest the alt-right people. Thank goodness for the people who speak up.

As I understand it, the special white people planned the protest because of the upcoming removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park in Charlottesville. Here are my thoughts on that: if something upsets a group of people for good reason, maybe it's just fine for it to go. I attended Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, Virginia. I never thought twice about the name. (In my defense, I was just a teenager and was mostly concerned with getting a ride to the mall.) There is a movement underway to change the name of the school. Fine with me. As a child, I thought the confederate flag was, essentially, a symbol of southern pride and not of oppression of minorities. However, it seems that I was wrong about that, and that's great. I don't mind being wrong about things. I'd rather be on the right side of history in the long run.

Anyway, back to the beach. We did a couple of things this year that we hadn't done in the past. We booked ourselves on a speed boat tour.  It was a lot of fun. The boat zooms down the coast and then the captain stops when he spots some dolphins. I didn't get any great photos of the dolphins, but it was pretty darned exciting to be near them. I've always been fascinated by the ocean, which is why I initially set out to be a marine biologist oh-so-many years ago. I wanted to learn more about what's in there. I guess humans have done our level best to make sure the answer is: mostly, our garbage. But, I digress.

We also took a tour boat to Assateague Island. You may have heard of Assateague (Maryland side) and its sister Chincoteague Island (Virginia side).  The island is known mainly for its wild ponies. We did get to see one! My bestie and her family drove down from New Jersey so they joined us on the boat tour as well. Her youngest son (my Godson) is not a fan of boats, as it turned out.  He was a pretty good sport, though.

Something new that I tried this year: yoga on the beach! My middle sister and her family were in town for the first two days that we were there, and she joined me for yoga on Sunday. It's definitely a different sensation. The sand shifts under your mat so you don't feel as grounded, but some poses (such as balance poses) are a little bit easier in the sand. And of course, there is nothing like being in savasana and hearing the waves crashing on the shore. I went back for another class on Wednesday. I would have gone to another class after that but my kid gave me a cold mid-week and I didn't want to leave snot all over my yoga mat. I also rented a bike one morning and cruised up and down the boardwalk. I'd never done that before either.

Let's see . . . what else?  We did some back to school shopping because Maryland was having a tax-free week. We ate Thrasher's fries. I also went back to the boardwalk on the last day to get one some fries just for myself - no sharing. What I usually do is to put vinegar on them (don't worry - this is a thing) and then my husband and daughter don't want them. We played games at Marty's Playland. We rode rides at the amusement park. We drove go-karts, of course. We toured a Spanish galleon (tall ship that was visiting). We celebrated my dad's birthday with a too-large ice cream cake that I think he is still working on.

So, now that I've taken two vacations in a row, I'll be at work for the next 50+ weeks in a row. Here's to next summer!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Here's to 20 more

We made it back from our anniversary trip to Orlando. Pro tip: it's hot there.  It's so hot that I wore shorts every day. Normally, I would not subject the general public to my legs but apparently I am getting to the "let it all hang out" stage of my life.

Our vacation technically started on Friday the 21st. P dropped the dogs off for boarding while I took our kid to the airport. She flew to DC to hang out with my middle sister and her family. Since the airport is a couple hours from home, we booked a hotel room. Our flight was scheduled for the next day. I didn't want to fly out the same day as our daughter - it just seemed too risky. If her flight had been delayed or canceled, we wouldn't have been able to catch our flight. (Can you imagine us catching our flight anyway and yelling, "Okay, good luck with everything!" as we headed to the gate?)

Fortunately, everything went as planned. The kid caught her flight on Friday and we caught ours on Saturday. We had some time to kill on Saturday morning so I found a place that sells vegan doughnuts. My obvious excitement over the doughnuts seemed to elicit a look of pity from the cashier. We still had time to kill after that. I suggested that we could just spend the rest of the morning petting a dog who was also hanging out in the doughnut shop. The dog was like, "Hells yeah!" We did give him a few pat-pats before heading out and driving to the airport.

We arrived in Orlando Saturday afternoon after an uneventful flight. The palm trees are the best welcoming committee ever. They remind me of summer vacations in Myrtle Beach when I was a kid.

We grabbed our suitcases and headed for the rental car counter. We had our pick from any mid-size car in Row 2 - so wondrous! We chose a nondescript Nissan and drove towards a resort area (just outside Orlando) called Champions Gate, which sounded super fancy. Our friends from Minnesota had arrived a few hours before we did, so we met them at Red Robin for food and drinks. The four of us would be spending the week together. Our friends were celebrating their 20th anniversary, too. They were married a month after we were. P and I offer them marital advice from time to time since we do have the extra four weeks under our belts.

On our first night in Florida, we went on an airboat tour. It was a blast - in a few different ways. We flew across Lake Tohopekaliga, propelled by a gigantic fan. The tour guide sported a headlamp. He could see alligator eyes shining back at him from amazing distances. He would then slow down so that we could get a closer look. Some of the alligators swam away. Some dove under the water (I imagined them saying, "The 9 o'clock tour is the worst!"). Some actually charged the boat. We were given goggle to wear so that bugs wouldn't assault our eyeballs as we flew across the swampy lake. It was definitely an experience.

We spent the next three days at Universal, rising early each day to arrive at each park just as it opened (which is basically the only way to get on the Harry Potter rides that are so popular). We started with Universal Studios, then Islands of Adventure, and then Volcano Bay (the new water park at Universal). It may have seemed odd to some that we didn't bring any children but hey, we didn't feel guilty at all. The four of us had been planning the trip for a couple of years. Sherri served as our master planner and map reader, guiding us to key attractions each day.

We spent Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at Disney. We started with Animal Kingdom, then Epcot, then Hollywood Studios (which is my favorite). The new ride at Animal Kingdom is the Avatar virtual reality ride. The line was super long even though we got there right when the park opened. P and I decided to pass on riding it since the line was so long and I'm not supposed to bake in the sun for hours. It was extra hot that day. We found a gift shop and looked for a souvenir for our kid. We basked in the air conditioning. "Is it okay if we just stay in here all day?" I asked the cashier. I was only half-kidding. I love rides but on this trip, I also looked for as many shows as I could find. There is a Monster Make-up Show at Universal that was hilarious - check it out if you get a chance.

Later in the day on our visit to Animal Kingdom, the Avatar line was a bit shorter so we ended up riding that ride after all. I had to admit that it was truly amazing. By that point, I had grown a bit wary of virtual reality rides (all of the newer rides use virtual reality). Or at least my stomach was starting to distrust them. However, a lot of those rides were very jerky and the Avatar one was smooth. You really felt like you were gliding on the back of a Banshee. It was amazing. I was impressed with the way Universal and Disney take advantage of technology - even right down to little things like showing how many parking spaces are available in each row of the parking garage at Disney Springs (which is an entertainment district open to anyone - you don't have to pay to get in).

Thursday at Epcot was also a lot of fun. It was a low-key day for us. We walked around in the shops in Norway, Italy, etc. In the afternoon, we ended up in the basement in Mexico for margaritas. They keep it almost pitch-black down there. Drinking margaritas in the dark, you could almost forget what time it is, the fact that you have a job, etc.

Friday was probably my favorite day. I just love Hollywood Studios. I know that the Tower of Terror and the Rock-n-Roller Coaster are older rides, but I just love them. I also picked up some souvenirs for me and the kid - they have some great gift shops at Hollywood Studios.

After spending three days at Universal (my first visit to Universal) and three days at Disney (my second visit to Disney), I can't help but draw some comparisons. Overall, Universal is more visually interesting. The Dr. Seuss area of Universal Studios really blew me away. Same with the Simpsons area. The Harry Potter stuff is amazing. You can see the castle from miles away. I think a lot of people would probably rate the thrill rides at Universal as being newer and better than at Disney.

Universal is pretty great but I definitely preferred Disney. I know that "cast members" at Disney are required to be nice to the guests but I like it, dammit! I started to get on the wrong car at one of the rides and the Disney chick said, "Oops! This one, Princess!" I'm 47 (and a half) and I don't get called princess very often. I also think Disney does a better job of entertaining people while they are waiting. We attended a "Music of Pixar" show (with a live orchestra) and the green army men from Toy Story entertained the crowd before the show. They put one audience member in time-out because he was looking at his phone instead of following their orders. Random side note: kids like to get autographs from the characters they meet in the parks. The green army men sign their names like this: Green Army Man.  I thought that was pretty funny.

Both parks do a great job of getting you to part with your money. However, Disney seems to find a way to do it that doesn't leave you feeling annoyed. Universal is clearly more focused on pure profit. When you buy a soda, the cups have a little code on the bottom. The soda machine reads that code and prevents you from using the cup for a refill.  Part of me was like, "You suck, Universal" and part of me was like, "That's genius." While I am not usually one to try to get a free refill, I also know that when a company charges you $6.00 for a soda, the actual soda only costs them a few cents. So, even if you refill your cup, they are still doing a-okay in the profit department. At Disney, I saw a cast member give a kid a free dessert because it was his birthday. I feel like Universal would have shaken that kid down for cash first.

Disney gives out pins if it's your birthday, anniversary, first visit, etc. My friend Sherri got all of us "Happily Ever After" pins to wear in the parks. A cast member had written "20 'ears!" on them. People were congratulating us left and right, which was fun.  On Friday, Sherri and I went to Hollywood Studios by ourselves so that the boys could sleep in and join us later. She and I wore our pins anyway.  The lady selling frozen lemonade congratulated us on our union. It seemed easiest just to say, "Thanks!"

You may be wondering if I found anything to eat at the parks. I will say that Disney is more vegan-friendly. At Epcot, we ate lunch at the Liberty Inn and I almost cried when the cashier told me that I could choose from three different dishes. I did have to do some research ahead of time, though. I had a hard time finding food at Animal Kingdom (I did end up finding falafel later in the day after I was already in a bad mood about finding nothing but hummus for lunch). I learned that I needed to do more research ahead of time and was more prepared when we went to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Also, I found a Facebook page called Veg Disney on which people will just list everything a vegan/vegetarian can eat at Disney. I wish I'd discovered that a little bit sooner! At Volcano Bay (Universal), our friends rented a cabana for our little group (which was amazing because that way I could stay out of the sun when I wasn't on a ride). We even had our own server, who made sure I got a vegan lunch. So, props to Universal for that.

When Saturday rolled around, it was time to check out of the townhouse in which we'd been staying. The four of us decided to go to the City Walk at Universal to catch an IMAX movie (we saw Dunkirk). After that, we parted ways. Their flight was leaving quite a bit earlier than ours and they still wanted to do some souvenir shopping.

P wanted to check out a couple of comic book shops, so I dutifully drove him to two different ones. He didn't like the first one, but he was ready to stay all day in the second one. I killed as much time as I could in a nearby Marshalls, but eventually I had to pry him out of there so that we could get some lunch. I scouted out a place called Market on South. This joint made all of my dreams come true. Vegan food galore! The mister ordered a burrito and I had two chili dogs with a side of cajun boiled peanuts. There was also a bakery so we ate lunch and then went back to the counter to partake of the baked goods. I had a massive doughnut with sprinkles. When I left, I had food on my shirt and I didn't even care.

We still had some time to kill before our flight. P asked the cashier at the restaurant for recommendations. He started talking about a lake with lots of shops, bars, etc. I told my husband that unless Orlando stores that lake indoors, we were not going. I was just tired of sweating at that point. Instead, we headed to the Orlando Science Center. On the way there, I turned a corner and saw some rainbow flags out of the corner of my eye. It was the Pulse Night Club, where 49 people were gunned down a year ago. I decided to turn the car around to stop. It seemed too important not to stop and honor those who died there. I couldn't believe that I stumbled upon the building like that. Had I know that there was a memorial there, I would have sought it out. The building itself is fenced off. There are tall vinyl canvases covering the fencing. From what I could tell, artists had been invited to add to the canvases but the general public had chimed in, too. There were 49 potted plants (succulents) lined up along the fence. There were photos of the dead, along with messages of hope and despair. Just standing there was very sobering. I felt like crying. I don't know what the plans are for that building, but it would be a great place to (permanently) honor diversity, loss, and love.

Our final stop before the airport was the science center. We were definitely the only people there without children. We had fun, though. We played with the exhibits and built some stuff. There was a show starting at 5:00 in the dome theater, so we decided to check it out. It turned out to be a laser show. Basically, pictures flashed across the screen while popular songs played. It went on and on and on. It was profoundly lame. Every time a song would end, some kid in the audience would ask "Is it over YET?" People would leave after each song until the theater was half empty. P and I were falling asleep. Eventually, we started amusing ourselves by pointing out any laser image that even remotely resembled a penis. Then we laughed a bit too loudly. I'm glad that he and I got to spend so much time together last week. I don't mind telling you that we hadn't really been clicking all that well for the past six months or so. It was good to reconnect, I think.

Our flight left Orlando at 10:30 Saturday night (35 minutes late). We got a hotel for the night and then picked up the kid the next day, when her flight arrived from DC. Speaking of the kid . . . I didn't feel guilty about going on vacation without her (we have a family vacation coming up next week), but I did decide to take her to Disney for Christmas 2018. It'll be her Christmas gift.