Bought some new patio furniture on a lark today, now I just need to finish preparing the patio.
We stuck it on the deck in the meantime, where it attracted some squatters almost immediately. I think they like it. They should, as the human children gave me puppy-dog eyes until I caved and agreed to buy it. (Butter had nothing to do with the purchase, but she spent the most time of anyone on it today.)
Our southern friends from Connecticut invited us to go camping at Hammonasset Beach State Park with them. They go every year as a big party, with family and friends.
I only recently found out that this is a thing; our neighbors/friends from across the street go up to a campsite in New Hampshire every year to meet with other friends, some of whom they only know from camping.
This was our first time going camping as a family, ever. I’ve gone deep-woods camping by myself. (No facilities, no roads, no people, no nothing — I’ve never smelled worse than three nights of that.) Meghan had been camping at Pennsic and Gulf Wars during college. (She has stories that amaze.) Beta has been overnight camping (in cabins) as part of Girl Scouts. We’ve all been “camping” in the backyard. This trip was a first for being away from home and trucking everything we would need.
We arrived mid-afternoon and immediately set to pitching our tent, figuring that there could be nothing worse than setting up a tent in the dark when you’re exhausted. Though the tent was new and this was our first time, it went up pretty quickly and cleanly.
Our friends provided dinner: our traditional Friday night get-together victuals, spaghetti with meat sauce and garlic bread, only on a Monday. Being experienced campers with a lot more room to pack stuff, they graciously offered to provide dinner for the two nights we were there. After dinner there were s’mores around a communal campfire, where we got to meet the rest of the party — more Gaileys and some family friends.
There were kids of all ages, including a few that were right around Alpha and Beta’s ages. They played boffer swords until dark, then convinced a couple of us adults to play manhunt.
We didn’t tuck into bed until about 10 pm. As the kids washed up some of us gathered around to chat and stargaze, and we were able to point out some satellites going by. The other adults hadn’t known that you could see them so easily. Schwing!
Sleep, for a variety of reasons, was somewhat elusive the first night, except for Alpha who can sleep through pretty much anything.
We started the day with pancakes, eggs, and bacon. The Gaileys possess a propane-fired flattop grill which made cooking a breeze.
Sam wanted to get the two Hobie Cats they brought along into the water. We got to the beach and set to rigging them, then took ourselves and the kids out for some sails.
We were at the beach for about four hours, and as a group we only got slightly burned — I had planned ahead and coaxed the girls into going to the beach with me for a week leading up to the trip. Meghan got a bit burned across the shoulders, and oddly enough Mu (the junior Gailey) got sunburned on the tops of his feet.
After packing the boats back onto their trailer, we headed back to camp (with a detour into town to get aloe) in order to make dinner. Second night was a communal pot luck, with hot dogs, hamburgers, and a bunch of sides. We got to know the other campers in the party and found that we have a lot in common.
The rain, which had been holding off all day, finally came in the form of a few brief showers and a rumble of thunder. I checked the weather radar back home and, wouldn’t you know it, heavy storms were moving through our town. (I love thunderstorms but seem to have a repelling effect on them. Even the strongest storms peter out as they reach our area.)
We took the opportunity to coax the girls into bed a bit earlier, though sleep was still hard to find the second night. Besides possibly being over-tired, the temperature dropped to nearly 50° F so everyone (except me) was cold despite blankets.
We all got up early to a beautiful morning. Meghan and Joanne took a walk back out to the beach to look for some bald eagles we had noticed the day before.
Checkout is 12 pm, and we planned to swing through Noank on the way home to see the folks, so we packed up the campsite right after breakfast (more bacon, eggs, and pancakes, plus sausages) and hung out with the Gaileys until it was time to go.
We bid adieu and headed out right at noon, spent a few hours having lunch and visiting with Mom and Dad Jones, plus Katie Jones and Eta (my niece). We made it home just in time to get Butter out of doggie daycare.
The Friday before February vacation, Meghan and I meet up for lunch and she drops a bombshell: “what if we take the girls to Disney next week?”
Last minute scheduling aside, this presents some very large hurdles: cost, PTO requests and balances, and arranging transportation. We kind of, sort of had the money but I had earmarked it for other things. I don’t get a lot of time off in my new job, and I’m husbanding what I do get for something we’re planning towards the end of the year — and we’re normally expected to schedule PTO in advance. Last minute plane tickets tend to be expensive, crappy flights.
Meghan wanted to do this, I was on the fence, so we compromised and decided to go. Meghan is vivacious, I’m the responsible one. A decent life lies somewhere in between, and I’ve learned over time to let go a little while still reigning her in enough that we don’t meet financial doom. It did mean that I would be working on this vacation. I’m fortunate to have a job that only needs a laptop and an internet connection, and an accommodating boss.
The most important decision we made was to keep it a secret from the kids. We had to make all the arrangements, prepare for the trip, and talk about it all weekend without letting them catch on — no small feat. Oh, and we had already planned to see some friends in Connecticut on Saturday.
We had to come up with a bunch of cover stories. Beta needed new shorts, and we can’t buy them without her trying them on. We had to get the dog to boarding before Monday without arousing suspicion, since we needed to be at the airport before 6 am. We needed to get the kids showered and in bed a little early, even though Monday’s a vacation day.
The final cover story: why we’re getting up before 5 am, which we had to provide the night before so the kids wouldn’t worry when we woke them, but something that wouldn’t make them too excited to sleep.
Monday: Getting There
4:30 am: Mom and Dad rise and shine!
4:50 am: kids roll out of bed and stumble downstairs
5:00 am: in the car
5:20 am: arrive at the airport long-term parking garage
5:30 am: shuttle drops us off at the airport
5:31 am: Alpha asks “why are we at the airport?”
5:33 am: security line, and we can’t keep the secret anymore
6:20 am: take off!
Our flight to Orlando had a long layover and transfer in Detroit. Both legs were packed solid. There was a class trip going to Disney that got on the plane in Detroit.
During the layover I got some real work done, while Meghan and the girls got some lunch and amused themselves.
3:45 pm: land in Orlando
4:15 pm: arrange some ground transportation
Orlando airport is huge. It has monorails to move passengers between terminals and the main building, but each terminal is pretty big in it’s own right. They’re also building another terminal right now.
We discovered that our on-property hotel of choice, The Swan, is not owned and operated by Disney and does not come with the typical benefits like a free bus ride between the airport and the hotel.
We secured a taxi driven by a guy named Victor, who hails from NYC. Our ride was very entertaining, as he got more comfortable his vernacular got very… colorful¹ but his stories and running commentary were among the best from a taxi that I’ve ever had.
4:45 pm: check into The Swan
5:00 pm: take a shuttle to Disney Springs to get dinner
Disney Springs, formerly known as Downtown Disney, is basically a mall with shops and restaurants dotted throughout. There aren’t any rides, so it doesn’t require a park pass. After looking around a bit and engaging in strong negotiations over who wanted what, we picked The Landing because it offered food that everyone would like while dining on a dock over the water.
To be honest, Disney Springs isn’t quite as much fun as it used to be. The stores aren’t unique anymore — they’re the same as any mall. The Landing was also a little disappointing, with fine-dining prices but takeout-quality food. We refused to let it get us down, though, and watched a beautiful sunset from our table.
7:00 pm: head back to the room
7:30 pm: Beta goes swimming in the hotel pool
8:30 pm: bedtime for everyone
Tuesday: Animal Kingdom
Morning dawned clear, bright, and warm. After a buffest breakfast at the hotel we went our separate ways: Meghan, Alpha, and Beta to Animal Kingdom and I back to our room to work for the day.
At lunch I went exploring to see what was around the hotel and found a beach, playground, and much larger pool complex with a water slide, two hot tubs, and a waterfall/grotto.
About the same time I was wrapping up work, everyone else came back to rest up a bit. Beta wanted to swim a bit, Alpha did not, so Beta, Meghan, and I suited up and walked down to the pool. Alpha stayed behind to charge her introvert batteries.
We played at the big pool for over an hour, until we started getting hungry. We decided to go back to the Animal Kingdom to get dinner, try a few more rides, and watch the light show.
After a light dinner at one of the short-order restaurants we headed over to “the Himalayas” to try out a ride that Alpha wanted to see called Expedition Everest. It’s a roller-coaster that is partially inside the “mountain” (so it’s pitch black, like Space Mountain) and rolls backwards for part of the ride. Very intense, very fun, especially after dark.
The girls also convinced me to take two cruises on the Kali River Rapids. I managed to stay merely damp after the first pass, but I was completely soaked after the second.
We went back to the hotel after that. The light show was wrapping up and we wanted to beat the crowds back to the shuttles. It was also pretty late, after 9 pm, when we finally got upstairs.
This was a rainy day. This was also a tricky day, activity-wise, because Meghan was only able to take half the day off and had to work during the afternoon. We had breakfast at the hotel again, and I headed upstairs while the rest of the family went over to Epcot for a little while.
Everyone was back in the room at noon, as the drizzle started outside. I knocked off work a little early (hooray for getting my crap done!) and took Beta over to the hotel’s game room while Alpha recharged her introvert batteries again.
About 2pm we decided that we wanted to go (back) to Epcot – me, Alpha, and Beta. Meghan was still working but had arranged reservations at the Garden Grill at 4:45. It’s Meghan’s favorite restaurant in Disney.
The rain remained light and drizzley while the girls and I toured the World Showcase in Epcot. We stopped in a few of the “countries” along the way, from France (where the ferry dropped us off) and counter-clockwise around through China, which is almost exactly opposite.
While we poked around a shop in China the rain picked up, then picked up some more, so we stayed inside and waited for it to slow up — the clock was ticking and we had a date with Meghan in an hour. I refused to pay $9 per poncho.
A little after 4 pm the rain appeared to lighten up so we made a break for it. We got out of China and were in front of Norway, the next country over, when the skies opened up into a torrential downpour. We were soaked to the bone in seconds, before we could even dart under an overhang. So much for being dry at dinner.
We squished our way up to The Land in time for our reservation inside, a couple of minutes late but sooner than Meghan. The rain not only stopped after soaking us, but the sun popped out before we arrived at the restaurant.
After dinner we took the slow ride that goes around the restaurant, and headed out to enjoy the rest of Epcot. We went over to the ride in Mission: Space (not to be confused with Spaceship Earth, a.k.a. the golf ball) which is a pretty cool G-force type ride.
The rain continued to come and go so we wound up buying a couple of ponchos and an umbrella for the walk home. This was a fortunate decision on Meghan’s part because the rain came back in earnest while we walked back to the ferry.
Thursday: Boardwalk, DVC, and Heading Home
Our last day, but a late flight (9 pm) so we had time to have some more fun. I arranged with my boss to put off work until late in the day, since there were no meetings scheduled. Meghan had to work in the morning and doesn’t have flexible scheduling.
We were a little disappointed with the Swan overall² so we decamped for the Boardwalk, just next door (and a Disney resort) with shops and things to do. I took the girls out to play and walk around while Meghan sat in the lobby with our bags. We discovered that Epcot is just a short walk away.
After making a circuit around the “harbor” it was lunch time. Alpha wanted to read but Beta and I were still a bit restless. We headed down the walking path towards Hollywood Studios. Not to go into the park, just to see where the path goes and look for alligators. (We didn’t see any.)
Even after all that we had a few hours before we needed to get to the airport so I wandered into the DVC office to gather some information. Meghan and I have talked about buying back into the vacation club for about a year, as changing fortunes have allowed us to travel and vacation more frequently and the DVC can actually be viewed as a money-saving way to travel. As the agent brought our information back up we discovered that Meghan had been making inquiries while she was at Epcot the day before. There was an open house at another resort where we could get all of the information, so game on: I judged that we were both ready to plunge back in, and got us a ride to the open house.
This was late in the day, getting close to the time we should really start heading to the airport, so we had to hew to a tight schedule with the sales guys. We arranged it perfectly, though, and got back to our starting point in time to meet Victor (remember Victor the taxi driver? we liked him so much we called him back for our pick-up³) at our pre-arranged pick-up time.
Our flight out was pretty uneventful. We took off on-time at 8:45 pm and landed at 11:30 pm, a bit of turbulence in between. The kids stayed awake, I worked for a bit, Meghan napped (a first for her on a plane!). We rolled back into our driveway at half-past midnight.
All in all, a success!
1: We don’t worry much about letting our kids hear profanity. We have taught them some simple lessons: profanity is what you say when you don’t have the vocabulary to express yourself; profanity doesn’t make you cool, and certain people will judge you poorly when you use it; profanity is just words. Moreover, making a big deal about “bad words” just increases the taboo-ness of them, which makes them more desirable. Return
2: Our time at the Swan ranged from merely average to disappointing. The room was of average quality, but we’ve stayed in downtown Manhattan for the less per night with more included as part of the nightly fee. Some of the disappointment was due to poor expectations: we thought that it was a Disney resort with same benefits like ground transportation from the airport included; some disappointment was because they nickel-and-dimed us to death (e.g. a $25-per-night “resort fee” to cover the complimentary internet access and pool, which we only got partially refunded). Return
3: Victor’s cell phone is 321-945-1003, call a few hours ahead to arrange a ride with him (dispatch will only send the next available). His voicemail box was full but he responded promptly to our texts. He seemed to genuinely appreciate having a guaranteed fare. There are cheaper methods to get in and out of the airport if you’re by yourself, but none quite so hilarious. Return
The Mystic Jones Clan met us at the Museum of Science today. They’ve never been, we’re long-time members with a fistful of free passes, and the various cousins love seeing each other, so it was a date.
We planned to meet at the museum, but our first hurdle was knowing what time they would arrive — it’s a 90 minute drive for them, but only 20 minutes for us. We made a rough guess on when to leave, and happened to get into the parking garage two cars before they did. The museum garage was full, so we both wound up in overflow parking around the corner at the Galleria Mall.
The MOS is the MOS, which means we all had a good time. Half of us got to see the electricity show, half chose to play in the animal displays. We all got to play in the hands-on bits in the ‘models’ exhibit.
The youngest cousin is not quite six, so we finished with the museum after not too long. He had fun monkeying around in the Discovery Center for a while, but even that’s not enough for a six year old to last all day.
We wandered back to the mall to grab a little food and figure out dinner. A mall-wide fire alarm kept us outside for a bit, but eventually the fire department showed up and disabled it — false alarm. We considered our options while running around Newbury Comics and settled on an early dinner at P. F. Chang’s – right outside the mall.
The food was excellent, the service was terrible, the kids were acceptable. Meghan got in some little boy time, giving Katie a break.
As the sun went down, some flurries kicked up as a fresh storm prepared to roll in overnight. The Mystic Joneses had a long drive home so we all packed up and headed out.
We’ve been a Microsoft-free household for the better part of a decade. I had one lonely copy of Windows XP on a virtual machine so that I could occasionally use iTunes to manage my iPad. Everything else runs some variant of Linux, OSX, or iOS. Until yesterday, Christmas day.
We purchased new hardware so the girls can a) run their Windows-based games, and b) stop fighting over the other “fast” computer. It wasn’t a terribly expensive machine (<$200) but it offers decent performance. We went completely over to the Dark Side and purchased it from our local Microsoft Store.
I was pleased with the whole process — I rather prefer the tenor of the Microsoft Store over the Apple Store (located a few storefronts away in the same mall). Windows 10 is supposed to be so much better, too. I’m not a fan of the interface but it is intuitive for some tasks.
I have just, as I type this, finished removing malware. Already. Less than 24 hours after turning their new, fully-patched Windows laptop over to the kids, there is malware on it. The built-in Windows Defender virus and malware scanner didn’t detect it, of course, but it was clear that something was wrong when I borrowed it back to check on it.
Color me unsurprised. I’m just glad that I took a whole-disk image before first boot. I think I will be restoring it to factory settings before too long. (the bastards don’t include recovery media anymore.) I’m also glad that tools like MalwareBytes and Spybot Search and Destroy have free versions.