I needed a picture of a puppy to offset the news this morning.
We’re at that point in the porch project where we’ve got the bones of it 95% complete, but all of the stuff that has to happen now is taking forever to come together. This past week it crawled along while I applied successive layers of polyurethane to the floor—five in total, equalling about 3/4 of a gallon. We’d decided we didn’t want to see the pattern get worn off immediately, so some serious protection was in order. Now there’s a hard candy shell on the whole thing, and hopefully it won’t come off for a long time.
So my focus was mostly elsewhere on Saturday and Sunday. I pulled a stepladder out of the garage and started scraping and priming windows on the driveway side of the house, working my way around to the two jalousie windows on the porch—which haven’t been touched in the 17 years we’ve lived here. Late in the morning we had a visit from the invisible fence guy, who fixed the wire that had been cut when the driveway went in, as well as altered the layout so the backyard is its own zone to keep Hazel from rushing dogs passing by the front yard.
After he’d left, I took Finn on a bike ride down the hill to the asylum, figuring it would be something interesting to look at. The roads were closed to through traffic, but we pedaled around the campus and looked at the crumbling buildings while I managed Finn’s anxieties about trespassing and breaking laws. She is a rule-follower, except when it involves chocolate. On our way out a nice security guard told us they’d closed the campus up because there was an outbreak of COVID in the wards that are still open, but since we’d only been on our bikes he wasn’t worried about us.
Sunday was overcast and cooler, so I pulled the Scout out into the driveway and swapped out the starter. When I’d finished up that and some other smaller projects, I pulled the pressure washer out of the garage and cleaned the backs of the Adirondack chairs so that they’d be dry for paint on Monday.
Monday broke sunny and warm, and the fifth coat of poly was dry on the floor, so I patched the final areas on the porch that needed attention and left them to dry. Out in the backyard I set the Adirondack chairs up behind the greenhouse and sprayed them with primer and then two coats of white semigloss. I have to say, other than the fact that the container only holds a quart of paint, the sprayer is fantastic to work with, and worth every penny I spent on it. What would have easily taken all day to paint with a brush got done in about two hours time—including cleanup. The area behind the greenhouse looks like someone murdered a snowman, but the chairs look damn good.
While the chairs were drying I went inside and cleaned up the patches on the porch, and then we hauled the furniture around to the front of the house to bring inside. I’m going to let Jen do the big reveal when it’s ready, but it really looks great in here (I’m sipping coffee and writing this on one of the new chairs).
We took a quick ride in the Scout to drop off a birthday present Finn made for a friend, and when we got back it was the perfect weather to light a fire in the backyard. While the fire was getting warm, Jen brought the clippers down and she shaved my quarantine fro down to a manageable 3/4″. It’s choppy and patchy in places but it’s worlds better than the giant bushy mess I’d been hiding under hats for the past month. Finn walked over to invite the neighbors over for some socially distant s’mores. We stayed out and chatted until 10:30, grateful for conversation and company, and then all staggered off to bed smelling of woodsmoke and chocolate.
As of tonight I’ve got a total of 560 slides processed from a scanned pool of 877, and I scanned another 195 this evening. I pushed through and made it to the end of the carousels, so I can send the scanning equipment back without late charges and store the slides away. It’s been a slog but I feel good about getting it all done, and I’ll have plenty of time to go back and clean up the scans that aren’t perfect.
Oh, and it was my birthday. It was a quiet one. We took a family walk at noon to the local café to get some takeout lunch, and promised we’d be back to support them. It was a brisk but sunny day, and it felt great to be outside with the girls. At dinner, Jen cooked a delicious roast with mashed potatoes (I had seconds) and then we had a flourless torte with three candles for dessert. Finn was worried that I wouldn’t be happy with my birthday, but I told her I had everything I wanted: we’re together, we’re all healthy, and things are OK.
I scanned about 300 slides last night after the girls went to bed. I have no idea if this sounds easy or not, but it’s definitely a pain in the lower back. Doing the math, I was averaging 2 slides a minute, with two quick breaks along the way. What I’ve got to do is pull each individual slide out of the carousel and hold it up to see if it’s something worth scanning. Is it people? Is it people we know? Is it a landscape shot? Is it a picture of cars or lawnmowers or random flowers? Is it a duplicate shot of something I’ve seen before—and if so, is it better or worse? When I’ve found two I like, I put them in the carrier, put that on the adapter mounted to the front of the camera, and zoom in to the first slide to adjust the focus. When it looks sharp, I shoot the picture and repeat for the second slide. Then I pull it all apart, turn off Live View on the camera, put the slides back, and repeat the process, going all the way around the carousel.
At the rate I’m going I don’t think I’ll make it through all of the carousels. There are just too many of them and a lot of them are double-capacity, meaning they hold 140 slides instead of the standard 70—Dad used to curse these larger trays because half the time they wouldn’t work in his projectors and get all jammed up. Two trays a night is about all my lower back can handle.
He made some Greatest Hits carousels over the years where he’d pull one or two good shots from an event and put them in a new carousel, so things have slowly been mixed up over time. I’m running into photos that belong in a carousel I’ve already put back somewhere and thus are out of sync; the OCD part of me wants to organize them all and the practical side of me says fuck that, keep scanning, you only have the gear until Friday.
I know I won’t be able to post-process them all before the gear goes back, and that’s fine, because I’ll have plenty of time here at the house to do that. As mentioned before, there are so many variations on film stock and exposure settings that I’m constantly shifting settings around, but Lightroom has some nifty tools to apply settings to a batch of photos (a series of shots taken with the same film stock on the same day in the same conditions, can, with a few slight tweaks, all benefit from the same base adjustments).
I think what’s required is some triage of the last box-and-a-half of carousels to see what’s there and what demands archiving; if the number of carousels is high I might extend the rental for a few days, but if I can jam through the rest in the next three nights, I’ll do that instead.
And in the future, there are a bunch of pictures that are definitely worth doing some precision dust and scratch removal on—today I sent Renie a link to a portrait when she was maybe four; her hair is a beautiful curly mess, Dad got the focus and exposure right, the depth of field is perfect, the light is perfect, and she looks like an angel.
See that truck parked behind us? We drove all the way across the country in that, with no air conditioning, in August.
I’ve been promising both Finn and Zachary we’d go snowboarding for two years now. Last year was a bust for a couple of different reasons, but I wanted to make good on it so they didn’t think I was a complete loser. I planned out a Tuesday night dropoff with Karean so we could hit the road early on Wednesday and be at the slopes by 10. In a rare display of foresight, I prebought the tickets online and downloaded rental forms so that they’d be pre-filled when we walked in to the shop.
Our drive up was uneventful, and we were in the parking lot by 10:10. At 10:30 we were sitting on benches in the rental barn putting on boots and zipping up snowpants. They issued us boards and we walked out to the bunny slope to wait for our instructor, an amiable fellow whose name I forgot, who ended every sentence with “Word.” Nobody else was there, so we had Word all to ourselves, and he took us up the Magic Carpet to the halfway point on the bunny slope and he showed the kids the basics. Finn has been through this twice but still hadn’t mastered stopping without falling, so we worked on that while Word helped Zachary get his basics down.
We moseyed to the bottom of the hill and then climbed on the chair lift to the top of the bunny slope, and wade our way down from the top again. I let Word work with Zachary while I tried to get Finn to stay upright, and she began to get real frustrated. At the point where our patience for each other was running out, Word and I switched and I asked him to help her with stopping. By the time we all made it down the mountain, she was stopping in complete control and Zachary was in control of his board.
We agreed to stop and get some lunch, so we thanked Word and headed into the lodge. After they downed a pizza and a burger they were ready to hit the hill again. We used the magic carpet for the rest of the day (I didn’t want to leave one of them to ride the chair lift alone) and Finn did three runs on her own without falling down once, practicing her stopping on her heel edge. I helped Zachary with his control and we worked on braking as well.
Finley, whose outright fear of the Magic Carpet kept us from riding it the entire second half of our last trip, was so confident in herself that she rode it alone several times, as did Zachary. We stayed out on the bunny slope for two and a half hours, practicing our control, and I showed Finn how to turn into her right foot and brake on her toe side.
By 3:30 we were all a little tired, and Zachary had fallen on his butt one too many times, so we packed up our stuff and headed home.
There was a point in the day where I was sitting on the slope in the sunshine, watching the two of them push off and glide down the hill, turning into the board or away from it, pushing out with their feet, and stopping upright, smiles on their faces, and it about made my heart explode with pride and joy for the both of them. And I was glad to be here, on this earth, under that warm sun, with a body that still works, strapped to a board so that I could stand on two feet and glide down behind them and tell them how fucking good they were doing.
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.
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!
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.
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.