Monday, September 02, 2013

WDW With The Girls

Wow, it's been a while since I updated this. In keeping with tradition, I will detail our latest Florida trip.

We had long wanted to bring our grand-nieces along for their first trip to Florida. Hang out on the beach, see the sights, a day or two at Disney to round it out. We would drive down, but logistics dictated two cars would be best, bringing the kid's mother along as well, and her fiancé. We were waiting until the youngest girl was old enough to actually experience the trip and remember it. This was the year: she is five-and-a-half.

Then our plans got pre-empted; the fiancé's family decided it was a good idea, and arranged a trip for an extended group, getting a good rate that included a flight down, stay at a Disney resort, and 8-day ticket package. This was out of our price range, so we scheduled a trip for the same time, stayed at our usual resort in Kissimmee, and got a two-day ticket to WDW intending to meet at the Magic Kingdom.

The trip down was uneventful; it was early May, and the traffic was relatively light. Being after Spring Break, the venues were not over-crowded. We timed our arrival for the same day as the family, and since they were delayed actually beat them there. They hit the Hollywood Studios the first day, and then we joined them at the Magic Kingdom. Because we intended to do it over two days, we could take our time and not rush from attraction to attraction. We skipped a day while they went to Sea World and we lounged around, and then met them again. The girls had appointments for a Princess Dinner, and brought dresses with them for the occasion. We went back with them to their resort and Sue splashed around with them in the pool

while I lounged. We visited the Disney Marketplace, where the fiancé was captivated by the bacon-wrapped steak at Wolfgang Puck's. The last full day, Friday, they wanted to go back to the Magic Kingdom, and Sue was easily persuaded; we got our ticket extended. The last day, when they were to leave in late afternoon, we went to the resort again and joined them in a water-taxi ride back to the Marketplace. After seeing them off, we left ourselves, and had another uneventful trip home.

For the week, the weather cooperated; until the day before last, it was sunny and dry; then a bit more humid. The last day saw typical central Florida weather: hot, muggy, and afternoon thundershowers.

Overall, a good time was had by all. The girls enjoyed themselves, we had a good time, and at least as far as we were concerned there was a minimum of typical family vacation fuss. The girl's mother was a bit frazzled, but that's the way it goes.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Yes, Again

Our long-weekend road trip to Florida for Uncle Hal's service didn't count, of course, vacation-wise (although Someone insisted on a swing through Orlando and the Disney Marketplace on the way home from that). No, the vacation came in the last week of July, 2010. And why would anyone in their right mind go to Florida in July? To ask the question is to provide the answer.

After a day with cousin Paula in Boynton Beach, we went to the Radisson in Kissimee again, staying several days. It was rather hot, of course, but overall we enjoyed ourselves.

This blog is turning into a chronicle of Florida journeys. I'm really just trying to catch up. Our 2011 trek took place in late September/early October, since our 2010 trip at that time worked out so well. Still fairly hot without being blistering, and not crowded at all: too soon after the beginning of the school year for anyone to vacation. Again at the Radisson, this time staying five days with a great rate. We endured a vacation-club presentation to get a 50% discount on Disney tickets, and went to the Magic Kingdom again. It rained in the afternoon, but sporadically enough that we were able to avoid the worst showers. The park closed at 7:00 PM in order to open again for Mickey's Halloween Party, which cost an additional arm and leg. Needless to say, we didn't stay for it.

Other than those showers, the weather was cooperative, with a big storm rolling in only as we left Saturday morning and staying with us to Jacksonville. The rest of the trip was smooth sailing.

I bought myself a new camera, a Canon EOS DSLR, that I am very pleased with. I have to get the hang of the auto-focus, but otherwise it's great. I find that I literally can't give away my old film SLR, a Canon AE-1 Program. It's still working fine, with a good 70-210 zoom, but it's been overtaken by the digital revolution.

We returned home to find in my email pictures from a friend's Italy trip. This couple previously had gone to Hawaii and San Francisco. Maybe we can get some variety in our holidays. I really would like to sit out next year and build our funds, so we are not living on spaghetti for months after every vacation. We really want to bring the grand-nieces and their mother with us to Florida; the youngest will be five-and-a-half in summer 2013, and that's a good age to have and remember experiences.

Hal Ewing, 1930-2010

My post for March 02, 2010, "Florida, Take Two" told of our second 2009 vacation. I spoke of how old my Uncle Hal seemed. He passed away on Sunday, May 23, 2010, eight months after we last saw him in October 2009. Harold J. Ewing was born on July 26, 1930, and was 79 when he died. He faded physically in his last weeks, I'm told, but was still mentally alert. There was enough time to gather his immediate family and they were at his side when he passed.

A memorial service was held the next Saturday, May 29th, and Sue and I were able to attend; we took that Friday off and drove down, leaving Thursday evening as usual. It was Memorial Day weekend, which gave us enough time for the trip. The ceremony was at the church of one of Hal's daughters. It was informal, with some prayer and then the family and friends eulogizing him. He was well-loved and regarded, and I think would have appreciated the laughter which the anecdotes from friends, family and co-workers elicited.

Afterwards, the family and some guests went to a Cuban restaurant, one of his favorites, and had lunch.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Halloween 2011

I am not a Halloween fanatic, as my niece is, but I do enjoy seeing all the young folks out and enjoying themselves. We decorate the house with some nice lighted window decorations upstairs, and lighted plastic pumpkins in the basement windows, and some scarecrows in the yard. This year the scarecrows stayed in the garage, and the pumpkin's bulbs all failed, but the window decorations were admired by several kids.

The past few years the weather has been mild, and this year was no exception. In my southeast corner of Connecticut, the unprecedented October snow two days before was relatively light, only a couple of inches, quickly melted. The rest of the state was socked with over a foot, and power lost over most of that, since with leaves still on the trees they held the wet snow and broke under the strain. In many towns, trick-or-treating was postponed until the next Saturday: too dangerous with downed power lines and dangling branches.

My town went forward with our celebration, however, and I rushed to get home, arriving at 6:00pm. My wife was working that night, and she didn't mind: she doesn't like giving out candy. I insisted this time on buying it myself; she tends to buy a variety of different candy, and I end up being the one who has to decide whether a particular kid gets, say, an Almond Joy (good) or Gummy Bears (lame). And she over-buys; we still have candy from last year. I got six bags of Fun-Size Snickers, and two just-in-case bags of Peanut M&Ms packs. For the little kids, a bag of mini-Tootsie Pops rounded out the supplies.

We live in a development of roughly 50 houses that has only one entrance, so no through-traffic. A lot of people bring their kids over as a result. I was eager to get started, and it was already dark when I got home. I hooked a trouble light outside the garage to cast better light on our steps, and had the car pulled up close to the house. SiriusXM satellite radio had a channel dedicated to spooky sounds, and I rolled the windows down and had that blasting out on the car stereo. I prefer to sit outside, rather than coming to the door repeatedly. It gives me a good view of the scene. I brought out a chair and small table. The table had a bowl for the Snickers, and one for the lollipops, and my toy stuffed cat. The latter is very realistic, and fooled many kids-- they'd come creeping up to it, to see if it would react when they petted it.

I was set up by 6:15pm, and  just in time: a lot of trick-or-treaters for about an hour, and then a lull with another set of groups from about 7:30 to 8:00. Just a few after that, and I went inside at 8:30, finally dousing the decorations and porch light at 9:00pm. I went through 5 bags of Snickers (saving one for myself) and half one of M&Ms, and about half of the lollipops: because they were so small I was giving out two at a time, though. Figuring about 20 bars per bag, that's a good 120-odd trick-or-treaters: a good turn-out. Not too many older kids this year, though; past years they used to go around in groups later in the evening, and it was fun watching them messing around as they paraded the street.

Good costumes, too: an excellent Michael Jackson, complete with sunglasses, which the kid had to keep looking over in the dark; one home-made robot head, a cardboard box with blinking lights for eyes; many Jasons and Freddies and vampires. Cute little girls, and sturdy young Army men. All were saying "thank you," and I am always a jerk and insist on them saying "Trick Or Treat!"

One thing I did notice: I could see about 16 houses from my steps, and only seven had lights on. Next door is vacant; the family opposite is on shift work and did light up after about 8:00, missing most of the traffic. Slim pickings. The kids and parents all seemed to be having a good time, and I certainly did; I went through three cups of (decaf) coffee and only three Snickers.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Dietary Righteousness

I have Type II diabetes. After a long period of gradually increasing pills and shots, I have begun using an insulin pump. This delivers quick-acting insulin in small doses around the clock, mimicking the action of the pancreas.

With the pump, there is an associated Palm app to calculate the extra doses for meals, but Palm Pilots are no longer made: you get a Palm-based phone instead. I don't need another device to lug around; I have a perfectly good (better, in fact) iPhone app for counting carbs (CarbsControl). The only thing it lacks is the calculation function to convert grams of carbs into units of insulin. The dosage must be tailored to the individual, but given the factor and the formula I can calculate it myself.

So I'm at the doctor's office. In the break room, actually, discussing carb counting with a traveling specialist from the insulin pump folks. I demonstrated the iPhone app. A nurse/staffer comes in and grabs a bagel with a schmear from the bag someone brought, and mentions how she usually eats only whole grains. The specialist volunteers that I could tell her how many carbs were in the bagel. I obligingly look it up: one Dunkin' Donuts plain bagel (no cream cheese): 63g carbs, 320 calories.

The nurse goes into a spiel as to how she just made pancakes for her children for breakfast: quinoa with blueberries and chocolate chips. Quinoa is high in protein, has all the essential amino acids, etc. etc. Mixed with frozen organic blueberries, Ghirardelli dark chocolate, and of course her home-made pancake batter: organic flour and aluminum-free baking soda, eggs from her own free-range chickens, flax seed-- I interject, her kids will never be out of the bathroom; oh, no, you get used to it, she says, and continues. You make a big batch and freeze it, see, so it doesn't take long to prepare...

She has been detailing this recipe for five minutes. My eyes are glazing over, and hers are glowing in dietary righteousness. She doesn't like to eat too much meat, but bought a side of beef in collaboration with a few friends-- she never gets red meat from the grocery store. Her kids, I comment, will be saying, "Hot dog? What's that?" and the nurse exclaims, "Oh, they've never had a hot dog. One had a turkey dog once, but the younger one, two and a half and never had a hot dog." She herself is 40, she told us. I said, "You're going to eat right, organic, whole-grain, and walk out the door and get hit by a bus. Just for the record, for breakfast I have a bowl of low-sugar instant oatmeal, that I eat standing at the sink." That prompted the nurse: "Oh, the regular oatmeal is better, and takes just as long to make: I add agave syrup because it has a low glycemic index, and some walnuts, and..."

The specialist and I went back to our carb-counting.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Power of Smartphones

I was at CVS last night when an older man came up to me and asked the name of the battery manufacturer in Pawcatuck (CT). I didn't know off-hand (though I was a good choice to ask, given my appearance and age). "What kind of batteries?" I asked him. "Batteries for submarines, and like that," he told me, and turned away. "Hold on," I said, and pulled out my trusty iPhone. A quick Google of "pawcatuck batteries" gave me the answer. "Yardney?" "That's it!" he exclaimed. "What is that magic device?" "An iPhone," I showed him. Interesting-- I couldn't tell if he was unfamiliar with the idea of an Internet search, or just unaware that you could do one from your phone.


During the week of President's Day, the local schools had snow-day makeup classes during what was originally scheduled as a winter vacation. My grand-nieces from NJ still had off, though. My wife and I both took vacation from work that week, and I drove down from Hartford after work Friday and picked up the two oldest, eight and six. The 3-yo was sick, and still not potty-trained, so two strikes and she's not coming.

Saturday while Sue was working we went to the Submarine Force Museum and USS Nautilus, which doesn't really interest her. The kids had a blast, and it was free! Touring the boat was cool, and so was seeing a 688i submarine heading out to sea (unusual for a Saturday), though it was so cold and windy on the pier we didn't linger to watch.
In the museum proper there was a President's Day scavenger hunt (find these specific  exhibits for the USS George Washington, USS John Adams, and USS Thomas Jefferson). They made an instant friend or two and played on the steering and diving station, the BCP, and fire control station while I chatted with the resident SubVet, another former QM. They launched torpedos and missiles, and rescued men overboard, and had a grand time flipping switches and pushing buttons.

I gave them a two-wheeler lesson, starting with the 6-yo. I tried pushing her, while exhorting her to balance. She oversteered and we took a dump; I managed to avoid landing on her and she was unscathed but refused to try again. The 8-yo did better, since I learned my lesson and took it a bit easier. We are on a big hill, but there is a fairly level spot in front of the house. I am not up to running around too much, so I pushed her up the slight slope while she pedaled, and she coasted back with her feet down to practice balancing. It is something you have to practice, but the poor weather precluded any more sessions. Eight is pretty old to not ride a bike, to my way of thinking, and I would have liked to have had her zooming around on her own before they left. Maybe in the spring. I'll bet once the younger girl sees her sister having such fun she will be anxious to ride herself.

We hit the Mystic Aquarium, too. I am not a big fish person, but the kids enjoyed it. It was just under $80 for the four of us, with a discount of a few dollars courtesy of our supermarket loyalty card.
We saw the blue lobster that was caught last year in the mouth of the Thames River, and the sea lion show, and saw the beluga whales getting trained. The African penguins interested the 8-yo, since she was studying penguins in school. She had told me that King penguins could dive to 400 feet. I didn't believe it (that's pretty deep) but looked it up, and sure enough she was right. Learn something new...

The rest of the week the weather was cold, windy, rainy; we went to TJMaxx (twice!) so Sue could show the girls off to her co-workers, and to Macy's at the mall so her friend at the makeup counter could meet them and give them a little work-up. Then downstairs for a bit in the play area. The next day we went to the park, a really nice one, but it was so blustery for those of us not running around that we went back to the mall and spent another hour and a half in the play area again.

The girls each had new Webkinz, and together we set up their online accounts. I have my old computer in the (finished) basement set up for them, safely isolated from my network, and the older girl went to town on it: you earn "money" to buy your Webkinz food and items by winning points in various arcade games. She monopolized the computer to such an extent that I let her sister play "Angry Birds" on my PC upstairs. She had trouble mastering my trackball but it kept her happy.

They got plenty of exercise running up and downstairs while playing. We don't care to keep them inside in front of the TV or the computer, but the weather dictated they stay in. Come summer we just throw them outside, in the old tradition.

To the astonishment of their mother, both girls were well-behaved. I took them to see Mr. B, the resident cat of a local insurance agency, and they were perfect angels. They had to come with us while we had our taxes done, and they played quietly with some activity books they brought. The only downside to having them is what incredibly picky eaters they are. One likes this, the other doesn't. We went for Mexican; one had a taco with just meat. No lettuce, no tomato, no sauce, nothing. They like pizza, but one doesn't like cheese: she picks off the pepperoni and eats it, then picks off the cheese and eats just the crust. She also doesn't like cold sandwiches. No PB&J for either. One likes hamburgers, not the other. At least this time they both like hot dogs: last time we had them the hamburger girl wouldn't eat hot dogs. They are lucky they have Aunt Sue around, because if I had my way they would still be sitting at the table with the food I made for them congealing on their plates. At some point I believe in giving a choice: eat it, or starve.

We took them home on Sunday. We had planned for their mother to bring the youngest up on Friday and then bring them all home herself, but she was still sick. It is a 2.5- to 3-hour trip each way; not horrible if you don't hit any traffic. We hope to have them up again in the summer: they love to visit our local beach.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Big Apple

The last time I was in NYC, it was to see the tree at Rockefeller Center with Susan. The trip was notable because I managed to hit the Lincoln Tunnel: it was sunny, and as we exited the tunnel I was swapping to my prescription sunglasses. A tire brushed the Jersey barrier which was fastened down with protruding spikes, which kind of ruins the point of a Jersey barrier: it ripped a hole in my tire and I had to change it while squeezed onto the shoulder.

That was in the mid-Nineties. No further visits to see What Rudy Hath Wrought, until Sue expressed a desire to see the famed Disney Store in Times Square, surely a magnificence that  exceeded the massive one at Disney World. We picked a weekend with two criteria: she had to be off that weekend, and it had to be between storms. As it happened, it started snowing as we left the city, but that's neither here nor there.

Sue was underwhelmed by the whole experience. Back in the days before I drove, I used the Port Authority Bus Terminal a lot, Greyhounding from New London and catching the locals to home in NJ. Or I'd take the Amtrak to/from New London, and walk between the PABT and Penn Station. Sometimes I'd stroll around for a bit. So, I had the basic area down; it's the easy section of town, with everything clustered together and the avenues and streets in the basic grid. We drove from Connecticut, stopping for brunch at 10:00 AM. Sue wasn't really hungry, but I knew if we waited and she had a pretzel or something in the city, she wouldn't want dinner. Her two goals were to see the Disney Store, and have a meal in a Real New York Deli. If she could have convinced me to drive to Brooklyn or Coney Island (the "old country" of her parents) we would have gone there for dinner.

We took the Lincoln Tunnel to the PABT, avoiding any hard objects at the sides of the road, and parked there at about 1:00 PM: it was easiest, and I wasn't going to drive in circles to save a few bucks.
Out into the streets: they were pretty clear, snow-wise, except for piles of slush at every corner. I was impressed at the absence of the X-rated shops, and the pedestrian sections of the square. So, okay, points for improvements. It was still crowded, and I hate crowds, but we worked our way north, pausing to snap photos of the New Year's ball. We went right past the Disney store: the facade is impressive from across the street, but the entrance itself is just a pair of doors, and we didn't notice the signs above our heads. We went up 7th Avenue and finally cut across to Broadway and back, asking Elmo and SpongeBob for directions outside the M&M store. From that side of the street we could see our goal.

The Disney Store was Not Too Much.
Narrow, filled with standard Disney stuff. The employees were standard-issue nice and friendly. Sue had expected more from the website descriptions and the wide-angle photos. She (after much waffling) got a NYC-themed Disney T-shirt. I explained how expensive Times Square real estate was, but she was still disappointed. We then schlepped up to F.A.O. Schwartz, which was quite a bit bigger, and looked around. It was then getting dark, and we headed back to the Carnegie and Stage Delis. Sue checked out the menus (I had previewed them from home, and warned her how large the sandwiches were, and expensive) and, as predicted, decided she wasn't that hungry and it was too much to spend. We saw down a side street one of the Famous Famiglia pizzerias which for reasons unknown had a branch in Maitland, FL, in the plaza next to where I was living in the late 80s, and also in Groton, CT, since under new management. I was tempted...

Arriving back at the Port Authority, it was getting cold and flurrying, and Sue wanted to leave. It was after 5:00 PM, and it cost us $28.00 (!!!!) for parking. I had thought of going up an avenue to the Cross-Bronx for the sight-seeing, but decided, nah, just get out of there through NJ. Sue wanted the scenic route, though, so off we went. The scenery was mainly rows of cars buried in snow from the plows-- evidence of how you don't need a car in NYC, and also of how valuable a parking spot is. We finally made it to Connecticut, where we had a late dinner in West Haven and on to home.

Verdict: bleah. She wants to go to Coney Island when the weather is nicer to visit relatives, but otherwise Sue is unimpressed with the glamour of the Big City. Fine by me.

Monday, November 08, 2010

My First Car

My FIL just passed around an email showing some automobiles from the 1950s.  I replied with the following:

My first car, inherited from my grandmother, was a 1966 Chevy II (AKA Nova).  This is her with her new baby.

4-door, straight-six engine with the vaunted 2-speed Power-Glide automatic transmission.  On the highway it was like driving in passing gear.

I got a lot of offers from mechanics-- even a sedan was valued for racing.  I learned to work on cars on it: it was dirt-simple, power nothing, no A/C and you could climb into the engine compartment.  It was considered a compact car, but I could roll my 10-speed bicycle into the back seat.  I can only get my bike into my current minivan if I take out all the seats.

I remember when I took out the AM radio and put in a AM/FM stereo cassette player.  No way could I get it to fill the gaping hole left by the radio, so I just braced it and it hung there in the dash.  To put in the speakers on the deck behind the rear seats was an adventure: nowadays the deck is plastic, or cardboard with a few metal braces.  In this car it was thick sheet steel, with a zig-zag fold from one side to the other to stiffen it.  I had to use a jigsaw from underneath in the trunk, with the shavings falling in my face, through the fold, and then file to fit.  What a chore.  Sounded nice, though.

When I traded it in on a used 1982 Trans-Am, it was at Valenti's in Mystic.  As I was driving it into the dealer for the last time, someone was leaving-- in a 1966 Chevy II wagon!  He gave me a big grin and wave, and I felt like a heel, a traitor.  I got over it, though: mmm, but that Trans-Am was nice!