I got back from Florida and fell immediately into a grind at work so I haven’t had any time to collect my thoughts about the Wizarding World in one place. Currently I’m sitting in the doctor’s office (Saturday morning) being tested for the flu, because both Finn and Jen tested positive for it in the last five days.
But let me back up. Our flight to Florida was uneventful. Finn was much more anxious about this flight than she was when we went to Kansas City, but once we made it into the air she did great. On the ground in Orlando we collected our bags almost immediately and then waited a full hour for the shuttle to arrive to take us to the hotel.
We stayed at the Aventura, which is the cheapest of the three available through Universal but about five levels above a normal hotel: multiple choices of food in the lobby, staffed from 7AM to 11PM, a rooftop bar/bistro, a heated outdoor pool with its own bar, etc. Our room was on the small side but perfectly functional for our needs, and from the 8th floor we could look out and see the park (and Hogwarts Castle) from our bed.
On the first morning we were on one of the first shuttles (our tickets included an hour’s early admittance), and within 10 minutes they’d dropped us off at the entrance to Citywalk, which is a giant outdoor mall in between the real world and the entrance to the park. We followed groups of people in Hogwart’s robes to the entrance, scanned our tickets, and then followed them further through the park, past a 50’s Main Street, the San Francisco dockyards, and New York City to the facade of Kings Crossing Station. Through a crack in the wall, at about 8:15, we walked out of Orlando and into Diagon Alley. Finley’s breath caught in her throat. Sloping gently uphill, the shops and stores led to Gringott’s Bank, on top of which perched a bloodied, angry dragon. It was good enough that if I squinted in the early morning (before the throngs of tourists really descended on it) at the families wearing their robes, under the overcast Orlando sky, I was as close as I could actually get to the world of the books.
We’d been advised to go to Ollivander’s straight away, so we got in a short line and soon found ourselves queuing up inside for a private wand selection. Inside a closed room, a wizard stood behind a desk and drew one of the kids out of the crowd (not Finley, but some chump who was celebrating a birthday). His show was great. He made cabinets move and lights dim and had the crowd in his hand. When he was done we filed out into the main shop.
Finley walked almost immediately over to a wall containing hundreds of boxes, chose a blue one, and said, “What’s this one?”
A man in Ollivander’s costume overheard this and walked over. He asked Finley if she had lots of energy and if she wanted to share that energy with other people, and we all smiled with agreement. It was pretty clear Finley’s birch wand had chosen her. He then matched Jen and I with our wands (holly and reed) like a boss.
Outside, we practiced our spells at the medallions set in the ground and began to explore the Alley. We sampled hot butterbeer—which is liquid heroin—and looked through the shops, exchanged $10 for Goblin money, walked down the dark alley at Borgin and Burke’s, and looked over the flavors of ice cream at Mrs. Fortescue’s. After a thorough inspection of Diagon Alley, we found the Hogwarts Express and queued up on line there.
As with much of our stay, the lines were relatively short, and we filed into a compartment on the train. This ride is an experiential one, where there’s a projection on the “outside” wall, where we could see ourselves passing out of London, then over the countryside and past Malfoy Manor, through the Forbidden Forest (where Hagrid joined us for a while on the motorcycle) and the Weasley’s car chased alongside. Interspersed with that was a projection on the inside compartment windows where Harry, Ron and a terrible Hermione impersonator battled a dementor and bought candy from the trolley.
Walking into Hogsmeade is another moment of awe. The buildings stretch out into the distance, snow-covered roofs piled high with leaning chimneys and towering dormers, and the castle looms off in the distance. In the afternoon it’s mobbed with people, so the effect isn’t quite the same as Diagon Alley, but we still had loads of fun looking in the shops, casting spells, and walking up the lane.
Here I was able to talk Finley into going on the Hogwart’s ride, which, as we found out, is a mixture of live-action and projection. You strap into a chair four seats wide, which is connected to a hydraulic arm. The arm is on a track that takes you through an immersive story experience through Hogwarts, flying across the Quidditch pitch, and down into caverns to face off with dragons. I reached out and held Finley’s hand through the whole thing, as it was a little more intense than I was expecting, and I figured she was having a good time (I heard her laughing at certain points, but the way the chairs are set up you can’t see your neighbors). When we got off the ride she immediately told us with a solemn face that she didn’t want to ride any more rides.
We took a break from Harry Potter and wandered out into the rest of the park, starting with a strange area that wasn’t tied to any property we could identify. There we found some lunch and then went on a ride called Posiedon’s Fury, which felt like it dated back to 1998 or so. It’s basically a show, where the audience is led from one room to the next, and you stand on a low stage while they project video, shoot fire, and spray water on you. Finley thought that was great, probably because she wasn’t on a moving car.
From there we wandered out to the Jurassic Park area and the Kong experience, where we were unable to get her to ride any of the other rides. Finley played a game, and then we walked to the other side of the park to try and find our way out.
Returning back to the hotel, we took a brief break while Jen slept off a headache. Finn and I went down and sat by the pool, where I read a book and she did some of her homework. Then we shuttled back to the CityWalk, where we met the Matejowskis for dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. I haven’t seen them since 2007, when I arranged for Jen to fall out of a plane, although the girls met with them for a hike a few years ago while I was traveling for work. It was great to catch up with them (this little girl is now driving), and we all had a great time.
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We rose early on Sunday to to have breakfast at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. The only problem was that it’s very hard to get to Hogsmeade early without taking the Hogwarts Express unless you’ve got a different ticket than we did. So we hustled to King’s Cross and queued on line, rode the train, and got there early enough to be the first family on line. The food was passable at best but the ambiance was excellent, and we were able to relax for a little while before heading back out. We deliberated over what to do with a cup of butterbeer, then dove into the rest of the Universal park.
First up was Seussland, where the three of us rode the Sneetches ride, and then Finn and I rode One Fish Two Fish and the carousel. I do love the fact that she’s 11 and still loves a carousel.
Finn and I queued up for the Minions ride, which was an indoor experiential ride centered around a large screen with moving seats. That was so much fun we convinced Jen to try it with us, and she liked it up until the seats went backwards and then she white-knuckled it through the rest of the show.
Down the street was Jimmy Fallon’s Race Through New York, which again was an experiential ride with 3D glasses. Finn and I tried that one and she proclaimed it her favorite of the day up to that point. Jen sat out in the park square and got her stomach back in order, watching a parade down Main Street.
We then wandered through the Simpsons area, where Finn and I rode another spinning ride (this one hosted by Kang, the alien) and then I stopped in for a frosty Duff. Further on, we found the younger kids’ section of the park and checked out the Curious George area, which was basically a huge water park/exploration area and then a giant air-powered ball pit/gladiator arena. Six-year-old Finley would have spent the whole fucking day in there. As it was, we had to ask her to leave.
Walking towards the exit, we stopped in at the ET ride, which we’d been told was a throwback acid trip from the park’s opening in 1990. It did not disappoint. Like many of the other rides, it’s an experiential ride, where you get on a bike on a track and ride through the forest, ultimately going to “ET’s home planet” where a bunch of crappy rubber dummies sing a mind-numbingly bad song. Seriously. This would have been the perfect opportunity for experimentation with recreational drugs.
Walking back toward the entrance, we noticed a light show going on in the lake between areas and stopped to watch. They projected clips of their films on spraying water, synchronized with other jets of water, projections on the buildings behind, and fireworks overhead. It was, I must admit, pretty cool. When it was finished, we hurried out of the park to get ahead of the throngs.
Back at the hotel, Finn asked if she could check out the pool, so the two of us got suited up and went down to try it out. The weather was cold enough that a pool heated to 85˚ still felt freezing to me, so we stayed out and watched Back to the Future while Finn swam—and ultimately made a friend!
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Jen and I were determined to ride some rides together, so we prepared Finley to hang out while we waited on the lines. But we planned things so that the lines would be as short as possible. Hustling into the park in the morning, we hit the Escape from Gringott’s line with a 20-minute wait and wound our way through the building until we boarded a mine car and headed into the dark. Again, it’s an experiential ride augmented with 3D glasses, with live-action elements and projection, where we followed Harry, Ron and Hermione and evaded Bellatrix and Voldemort, who were shooting spells directly in our faces.
Exhilarated, we found Finley where we’d left her and hustled over to Hogsmeade, where we queued up for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. We didn’t know much about this one going in, other than that it’s the newest of the rides in this section of the park. As we walked up to the building where the queue starts, we saw part of the ride flying past, and I have to admit, both of us got really nervous. I don’t like roller coasters all that much and I knew this was going to be outdoors, but I also knew Jen really wanted to ride it, so we continued in line.
The cars are shaped like a motorcycle and a sidecar, with a restraining pad that comes down over your legs. I took the motorcycle so I was sitting up the whole ride, which ramped up my anxiety, and Jen was in the sidecar. Normally when I’m in a roller coaster I squinch down into the seat as much as possible so I can pretend I’m not dangling from a pipe twelve stories above hard concrete. This was like standing on top of a speeding train.
Luckily, as you can see, there are no giant climbs or loops, which would have had me shitting my pants (I’m afraid of heights; anything above 3 stories has my palms sweating) but the acceleration and physical movement was absolutely fantastic. We were both cackling like idiots at the end of the ride; if we’d not had Finn waiting on us, we would have immediately gone back on line.
As it was, Finn was feeling lousy at that point, and by the time we’d made it back to the entrance she was really down. We got back to the hotel and put her in bed for a couple of hours until she woke up with a fever, at which point we Uber’d to an urgent care. We then got a car to take us to the nearest Walgreens to pick up a Tamiflu prescription, where we found they had not received the prescription. I called a car for the girls and waited around an hour for them to fill the script, then came back and delivered her medicine.
We quietly packed our gear while she slept and the next morning hit the ground running. Our Uber driver was a nice man from Venezuela who didn’t complain at all when Finn got sick in his van. I tried to catch as much as I could with a plastic bag but didn’t have time to actually open it, so most of it was in my hands. In the airport we checked our bag and then washed up in the lavatories, sailing through security relatively quickly. We prepped for more sick on the plane but Finn did great and thankfully had no further issues.
Getting home was uneventful, and Finn laid down immediately on the couch, where she stayed for the next two days. As she got better, Jen got worse and she was diagnosed with the flu on Friday.
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I spend most of my life worrying about money, so it’s strange that I get so zen about money when we’re on vacation. Basically, I’m willing to spend whatever on whatever if it makes our life easier, especially when I know that we’re going to be spending more on food than I normally would. Even so, the numbers were kind of staggering for the time we spent in the parks. Overall, we spent $848.05 on food of all types, from airport to airport; this equals a little over $200/day on meals, butterbeer, drinks from the bar, butterbeer, snacks, and butterbeer. We spent a total of $200 on Uber rides, $80 of which was a cleanup fee for our Venezuelan friend, and a further $25 for travel to and from the urgent care/pharmacy.
Where we were relatively chill was in merchandise. Given that Every. Single. Ride. Ended in a gift shop, and there was a gift shop in the lobby of the hotel selling merch, we got away with only spending $202.31 on branded stuff: 3 wands and a hippogriff. Finley was really restrained in the face of all this consumerism; she never bugged us for a robe or a T-shirt or jewelry or any of the other thousand items available. When she latched on to the hippogriff, I made that happen, but waited until the final day in the park and made her carry it in her own backpack. It was fun to watch her walk the park with Buckbeak’s head sticking out of the pack, and it made her happy—and that was worth every penny spent.
Here’s where the bathroom at Bob’s stands. To recap, the Thompson Creek guys came and replaced the whole tub/shower section after I did all of the demo. I patched up the subfloor and put in 1/2″ tile backer board on the bare section last week, and we sourced and ordered new tile. I rented a tile saw up here and brought it with us to get the cuts done. I had to work fast to beat the clock due to a late start and Lowe’s getting the tile order wrong; After going back to exchange three boxes of the wrong tile with the right stuff, I got the floor marked off, some mastic mixed, and started laying it down. The tile saw wasn’t aligned properly so the first three cuts I made were off by 1/8″ over each foot, but once I sorted out the angle I made the cuts freehand and got it done. The other MVP was a little tile blade I bought when I did the backsplashes in the kitchen: they helped with the cuts around the toilet flange and small trim cuts elsewhere.
So the floor is in and curing. Next up will be floating all the grout to get things sealed in place. That shouldn’t take too long; following that I’ll set a vanity in place and putting some kind of moulding around the floor edge.
Well, this week has been a real test of my sanity; there were points when I felt like I was doing OK and at other times I was a terrible husband, father, and Co-Acting-Director-whatever. I’m not used to the sheer amount of meetings coming at us now, and the immediate need to be caught up with all of the inside information we don’t know is overwhelming. My friend Lauren comiserated with me last week, saying, one day you’re looking around for the adult in the room to make a decision, and you suddenly realize that’s you. So much truth in that observation.
Stories to Watch launched on time after an intense three weeks of shooting, editing, organizing, and producing. This year’s production was, in a lot of ways, easier than last year’s (and I wasn’t trapped in my bedroom with COVID, which was nice) but other stressors were still front and center up until the morning of the event. The video portion, if I do say so, looked fantastic. We got a lot of great feedback on the presentation, and when I was in the office later that day, my CEO found me and shook my hand to thank me and the team for all our work. That felt very good.
I was in the office not for the event, but because I had to help another team mix epoxy and glue laser-etched plaques to the front of five trophies that had been 3D printed with sand and shipped from Germany. Don’t let ’em tell you different: the life of a Co-Acting-Director-whatever is full of glamour. Due to some internal production confusion we had to source the plaques and some laser-cut felt to complete the pieces in-house, so I brought tools and a pile of nitrile gloves and we got down to business. They made me glue and set the plaques: no pressure. This coming Tuesday I’m headed up to New York City to help produce the awards event itself, where I’ll be shooting video. Two nights in Manhattan ain’t so bad, I guess.
Meanwhile we visited with Jen’s Dad last Saturday, and I got to work setting a subfloor in the common bathroom. This involved cutting and fitting two sheets of waterproof hardi-board, mixing a bed of thinset, and setting them in place before screwing everything down. It went in with only a few small hitches, and should be good to go for the next step: this coming weekend I’m renting a wet saw and laying the tile. It did involve a ton of work on my knees, cutting, fitting, troweling, and screwing, and I felt it in my back that evening. Between that and 9-hour days at my desk my whole body is pretty pissed at me right now. Hazel got her first walk in 5 days this afternoon; it was like we’d sprung her from Solitary.
And the built-in project is moving along. I found a decent 12′ board for the top shelf and cut it into place. Then I cut and fit small insets under each of the shelves that dress up the horizontals and give them a little visual weight. Jen and I discussed how to finish off the top and after some negotiation we agreed upon a solution to box in and frame out the top shelf with a section of moulding that matches the stuff above all our windows. So I’ve got to get a 12′ piece of that from the mill in Glen Burnie on a dry sunny day ’cause it won’t fit inside the car.
Wow, look at that. Fifteen years ago this week I started demoing the old exam room in preparation for a renovation; I think it was this same day Jen came in and told me she’d just gotten a positive result on a pregnancy test.
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I’ve been using a cast-off MacBook Pro from work for email since before the pandemic; I have one good machine cobbled together from multiple out-of-service 2013 Retina models—this one has a drive from one machine, a replacement battery from another, and a screen from a third. It’s serviceable for what I’m doing on it, mainly email, photo selection/cataloguing, and other basics. But I’m stuck at OS 10.14 on this machine and I’d really like to upgrade to the latest version for security and modern features. It can’t talk to my iPad, which kind of sucks. It suffers from random 1-5 second freezes. There are some applications I can’t run anymore.
I think it’s time to upgrade my personal system here, given that the last truly new MacBook I bought was back in 2011, funded partially by the sale of my previous laptop. I’m looking at something ligher and slimmer (and cheaper) than a true MacBook Pro, which points at a MacBook Air: They’ve just updated the model to the new M2 chip and it goes head-to-head with the 13″ MBP with only a few minor omissions that I don’t care about at all. I’m waiting for a large expense report check to come in from work, and when that does, I’m going to pull the trigger.
2022 was an odd year for a lot of reasons. World events just seemed to get stranger and stranger; 2012 Bill would have laughed at a description of the state of the world in 2022. Shit, 2021 Bill is still trying to process the last twelve months.
Most of the progress we made this year was at a house we don’t live in. Having spent every weekend between the end of March to the beginning of November and my father in law’s, I’m proud of the work the three of us did to improve his quality of life, as much as it took out of us. That meant that there’s little to show for our efforts here at the house. Our vacation to Austin was fantastic; everything about the trip was better than I could have hoped. We all got COVID at different times of the year, and apart from Jen’s missing taste and smell we came through OK. There have been a lot of challenges over the last twelve months, some of which we overcame and some of which we’re still working through.
Over here at the weblog, I’ve kept busy; the frequency of posts has fallen off slightly, but I’m averaging about 20 a month.
Lining up the category counts, it’s interesting to see what’s been focused on and what hasn’t. Clearly I’m not using some of the categories, so I’m going to consolidate some and add some new ones. Some of these categories are artificially inflated—everything posted on the Scout blog gets cross-posted here, and every post with a photo linked from Flickr gets tagged “photo”. I think categories like Album of the Week and Favorite Things will be decommissioned and I’ll find new homes for those few posts.
It’s five degrees outside, but with the wind the temperature is negative ten. Hazel got up with Finley and wanted to go outside, so I put on a pair of bike tights under my jeans, bundled in my puffy down coat, and took her for a walk around the school. After about ten minutes I couldn’t feel my face, even though the sun was out and shining. We did a short loop, only 1/3 our normal route, and headed back inside for warm coffee and warmer paws.
Apart from the wind taking the power down for about five minutes and a brief hiccup without FIOS until I reset the battery, we made it through the storm just fine. Down the street there’s a tree that’s been dead for years, rotten from the inside and with a hole in its trunk that we pass daily on our walk; it finally blew over in the storm and out onto Frederick Road.
I took the girls out for a fancy Christmas dinner at the Milton Inn on Thursday evening as part of our advent activities. The Milton Inn was a famous restaurant for years and recently closed its doors during COVID, but was reopened by the Foreman Group as part of their portfolio. We were treated to a fantastic meal: Jen had a griled venison leg in cognac and peppercorn sauce, Finn had the duck leg confit, and I had a prix fixe menu with a plate of oysters to start and seared veal in a wine reduction for my main course. They paired two excellent glasses of wine with our meals and made Finn a delicious virgin cocktail. We ate every bite, left happy and stuffed, and I think we all went straight to bed when we got home.