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Surprise - We're Going to Disney World

11 min read

Last week was Spring Break for the girls and Lisa and I had a wickedly fun plan to surprise them with a trip to Disney World. On Monday morning Lisa took the girls to Patti's house as she normally would if we were going to work and then she came back home where she and I worked on finishing the packing before we headed back over to get the girls.

When we got there Shannon was pretty confused. She wanted to know why we were there and we told her that since it was the first day of Spring Break that we had taken the afternoon off to have some fun with her and Emily. Emily suggested we go to Ritter park - so I asked if maybe she'd like to go to a larger park. Shannon said sure. I asked them if maybe they'd like to go to Disney World and Emily said "YES!" and Shannon said "Sure." I told Emily "OK, Let's go" and Emily started to hop around in excitement. Shannon very skeptically said again, "Sure, let's go to Disney World." I agreed with the idea again and old her I was serious, that we could go to Disney World that day. Shannon didn't believe me at all but Emily did and she was stoked. I ended up pulling our suitcases out and showing Shannon all of the stuff we packed before she seemed convinced.

From Patti's we went to Arby's for a light lunch and then the local, small, airport for a direct flight to Orlando Stanford Airport. It is a smaller airport about 45 minutes from Disney - but we had a car waiting on us and we went straight to our hotel, The Port Orleans. In the past we've always stayed at the All Star hotels - but we decided to upgrade our accommodations this time so that our bus rides to each park would be a bit shorter. Overall we were glad we did. The hotel was nice, the food was better than that at the All Star, and the bus ride was a lot shorter. Plus, the swimming pool looked really cool and had a neat water slide.

After we settled in we decided to head to the Magic Kingdom part of the park (the traditional Disney World) in order to get in some rides and enjoy one of the many parades. We stayed at the park until around midnight before we headed back to the hotel for some sleep. Everyone had a nice time and, I think, by this time Shannon was fully convinced. Our first full day, Tuesday, also took place at the Magic Kingdom.

We started Tuesday off by waiting to meet with Rapunzel - Emily's current favorite princess. The wait was pretty lengthy so while Lisa and Emily waited Shannon and I went to Tomorrowland and took in the Stich Experience which we knew Emily wouldn't like. Once that was done we headed back to Emily and Lisa for the Rapunzel experience. Rapunzel's bit lasted for about an hour because the girls were given a craft to do, then they danced with Rapunzel and her beau Flint Ryder. Finally they each got to have their picture taken with the pair. Rapunzel did a great job of playing the part but I have to say Flint did an even better job - he had the Flint Ryder smirk down pat. Their helpers also did a great job of keeping all of the kids engaged while they waited on their turn to have their photo taken. It was the most interactive experience they've had with a Disney character so far.

After the Rapunzel experience we walked around Fantasy Land and took in some rides like the teacups which Emily and Shanon both loved; especially since I was tasked with making the cup spin as fast as possible. We also made sure to go on the rest of Emily's favorite rides like "A Small World" and "Dumbo" it was great watching her have so much fun.

Four years ago, on our first trip to Disney World, I tricked Shannon into going on Space Mountain with my brother and his two kids. I was pretty worried about her and was not a good companion for the ride and I undoubtedly made the experience more stressful for her than it had to be. Earlier this school year, for English class, Shannon wrote a paper about how terrified she was on the ride but how she also had a lot of fun. With that in mind she decided she wanted to try out Space Mountain again so we got in line. However, just before we could get on the ride she backed out and decided against it.

A bit later that evening the four of us went on Thunder Mountain which is an outside roller coaster themed like an old train. Emily had been on it before but wasn't thrilled with going on it again on this trip but both she and Shannon enjoyed themselves. When we had finished I mentioned to Shannon that Space Mountain wasn't much different but that it was indoors and dark. She decided again to go on the ride and this time she didn't back out. Instead she had a blast and asked to go right back on it.

It was around 11:30pm and the park was mostly empty so we were able to go through the line without waiting. She was addicted to the ride and wanted to go on it again and again but, sadly, the park was closing so we couldn't do it more than twice. I was super proud of her for overcoming her fear and trying it again.

On Wednesday we went to Epcot Center. There we went on Mission: Earth which is a cool NASA simulation that sort of feels like you're taking off in a rocket and sling-shotting around the moon to Mars. It's pretty fun and Shannon, who had done it on our last trip, still really enjoyed it. A bit later we went to one of Emily's favorite rides "Finding Nemo" which has some pretty cool technology in it that makes the animated fish seem to be existing in the real world artifacts of the ride. I'm not sure how it works but it is cool and all four of us enjoyed it.

Before dinner we headed back to the hotel to spend some time in the pool. We had actually spent a little bit of time in it the day before but without Lisa. On Wednesday Lisa came to the pool too and the girls were able to show her how they could use the water slide. Shannon just learned how to basically swim last summer and Emily still can't. Thus, at the slide Shannon got the hang of it and was willing to slide off and submerse herself - a particularly cool trick considering her prior reluctance to put her head under water. Emily wasn't really ready to do the slide by herself so she would get to the top of the slide and call out my name and then give me a thumbs up. She wouldn't slide down until I returned the thumbs up signal. It was pretty cute.

That night we had dinner at a restaurant with Chip 'n Dale (Pluto and Mickey were there as well). It was a neat restaurant that rotates above one of the rides we had gone on earlier in the day. The girls really enjoyed the meal, the changing scenery, and the characters. After that we headed to Downtown Disney for some shopping and we finally made it back to the hotel by midnight. It was a great day but also exhausting so when we finally got back to the hotel we all fell into a deep sleep for a later wake up the next morning for a day at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Hollywood Studios is a more "adult" themed park with bigger rides and more "extreme" shows. Overally I think it was Emily's least favorite day with the exception of a neat magical experience that evening that had Mickey replaying his role as the Sorcerer's Apprentice. Honestly, I thought the show was bit disjointed but some of the effects in it were pretty cool. However, it was not the highlight of my day - instead Shannon turned the trip from a good one into a great one by opening my eyes.

Earlier in the day she had asked me about the Aerosmith Rockin Roller Coaster. I told her, based on part of my memory, that it was like a much faster Space Mountain. I didn't mention the loop-the-loop or the corkscrew. She decided she wanted to go on it so we headed over. There was a 70 minute line! In hopes that we could shortcut the line we went in the single-rider line where they separate groups and fill in empty seats. Our wait was still about 60 minutes but eventually we were put on the ride. We were actually in the same car but she was about 10 rows behind me. I was pretty worried about her but because we were so far apart I couldn't talk to her or really think about how she was doing - I just had to hold on and enjoy the ride.

I'm glad we were apart. I think, had I been with her, that I would have ruined the ride for her with my stress. Instead she thought it was the best ride ever. She loved it and wanted to go right back on it. She loved the loop-the-loop and thought going upside down was amazing. She couldn't have been happier and I was super proud of her. As we left the ride I asked her if she wanted to go on the Tower of Terror and she declined. It was at this point that we had to go to the big Mickey show so she had about an hour to contemplate the Tower. When the show ended she told me she did want to give the tower a try. I was a little surprised but I wasn't worried considering how well she handled the Rocking Roller Coaster so we hurried over and got in the empty line.

As we were getting in she said she was a little worried and I said, "don't be, the roller coaster is scarier than this" and I meant it. We rode up and then the drops began. We fell about five stories, bounced back up, fell again, zoomed up and down and up and down. After about five bounces she said she felt like she was going to get sick and I told her to hold on, we only had one bounce left. She smirked in disbelief but I was lucky and we only had one left - it was a big one though. She didn't get sick but she was glad it was over. I gave her five and we walked away from the ride where she decided she was swearing it off and wouldn't ride it again.

As we walked down the path, away from the ride, a mother was talking to her son telling him he could handle the Tower that the Rocking Roller Coaster was scarier. Shannon turned around and yelled, "NOT IT ISN'T! DON'T BELIEVE HER THIS IS MUCH WORSE!!" It was hilarious. Needless to say the boy did not get up to go on the ride.

From there we reconnected with Lisa and Emily, had our photo taken by the huge Mickey Sorcerers Hat, and then headed back to the hotel for some sleep before our flight home.

It was our best, and shortest, Disney trip yet. The lines were, generally, non-existent and the weather was perfect (mid 80s, sunny, and no-humidity). The girls both did things they had never done before, neither one of them was sick at all, and they will both remember this trip for years to come. It was awesome to see them both have so much fun. All in all it was a great surprise for their Spring Break and Shannon's 10th birthday. I'll post photo's as soon as I have a chance.

My Mice

1 min read



The girls took a small break at Disney World at the Hall of Presidents

On a picnic

1 min read


The girls and I had a nice picnic in the park today.

Half-Literate Vandals

3 min read

Yesterday, Martin Luther King Jr Day, Lisa was at home enjoying the day off when she heard a group of teenagers outside the house. She looked out the upper story window and saw that they were messing around with the neighborhood garden that had been planted this past summer on the corner of Division and Riverview. Concerned they were up to no good she stepped out on to the porch and told them, "If you are doing good then that's great but know that if you are doing something you shouldn't be we're watching." One of the kids responded "We're doing good" and Lisa said, "Great" before going back in the house (but not all the way so she could hear what happened next).

A moment later one of the boys said "What difference does it make to her, it isn't her property" to which Lisa responded by stepping back out and saying, "It is our concern, we keep it up; it's the neighborhoods park." The boy just shrugged and mumbled "whatever" before the group wandered off. Lisa called me and told me about the exchange and then we basically just forgot about it.

Until this morning. When I went out for Rosie's morning walk I noticed that there was some spray painted vandalism on our sidewalk that said "Mob for Life" I also saw the same tag along the 4x4 that borders the garden Lisa was protecting yesterday as well as some other errant bits of paint scattered around the street, on some poles, and on a no-parking sign. I walked Rosie then took Lisa out to show her and she saw another part of our sidewalk had been painted. This one said "niger" except the single 'g' was painted backwards. There was also an arrow going from the word pointing directly at our house. Signal received loud and clear.

Mob For Life

I called the cops and reported it though I doubt that will make much of a difference; our police force is pretty busy dealing with more destructive issues than some teens painting on our sidewalk. So, tonight, when I get home I'll be pressure washing off the sidewalk - hopefully it will come off without too much trouble; otherwise I'll have to bleach it or something which will leave its own mark.

Overall I was pretty glad it was just the sidewalk - they didn't mess with our cars or the house and they also left the playground alone (a first for taggers in our area). I'm tempted to silently snipe out on the porch tonight with my paintball gun - I figure they like paint so much maybe they'd enjoy getting some back. Of course, that would just escalate everything and I really don't want things getting worse. Hopefully just removing the current stuff will be enough to move on.


UPDATE: The cops came by this morning, took photos of everything and told us that we are the 3rd or 4th complaint about the vandals. The taggers are new to the area and one of the boys is known by someone in our neighborhood.

Carbinite Play-Doh

1 min read


I participated in an online secret santa program this year.  I sent out three books and a framed poster.  In exchange, from a different person I received a starwars play-doh kit featuring r2-d2.   It's pretty cool and has a bunch of neat tools including a mold that looks like they replaced Han with Luke in the carbonite.

Here is a photo of the kit along with luke made from blue doh.

2010 - A Year In Review

8 min read

Normally I get pretty wordy when I get around to posting a real entry on this site. Maybe I will again this time but it doesn't feel like a lot happened with my this past year. However, that doesn't mean nothing did.

  • I effectively started the year out with a crazy trip to New Orleans.  It was my first and only visit to the big easy and, with some minor travel hiccups, I enjoyed it.  I'd love to go back when the weather is better and when I don't have to work.  The architecture was really cool, the people were generally very welcoming, and there seemed to be a lot of nooks and crannies I'd love to explore.
  • Work also sent me to Stamford Conn where I resumed accomplishing things for a major bank.  I actually really enjoy doing the work for them especially since I don't have to deal with the huge hierarchy that is the bank on a daily basis.  I doubt I'd enjoy working at the bank but I do enjoy working for them.  On the trip I also made my first ever walking visit to Harlem (pretty cool) and I wandered around Central Park West.  I could easily live there.  Well, so long as easily didn't include "afford."
  • I joined the board of a non-profit, Create Huntington.  I'm still not sure exactly why I was asked to be on the board but I've enjoyed trying to help.  I also helped start a really cool micro-grant program here in town called Cafe-Huntington.  You should check it out if you haven't already.
  • Lisa and the Girls took me on a great trip to Niagara Falls and Toronto.  I really dug Toronto though though the girls didn't seem to like it as much as me.  I think I am discovering I really like the urban setting.  I totally dig rural life at times but big cities are more my speed.  We also had the opportunity to spend a couple days with my mom and Susan which was nice.  We don't typically see them often and this visit was particularly relaxing.  I think meeting on neutral territory has the advantage that the host never feels like they aren't entertaining their guests.  Niagara was a nice middle distance for us both to drive as well so it wasn't a big chore for either half of the family.  A big plus in my book.
  • Shannon turned 9 and Emily turned 7!  What the hell is going on?  How is Shannon almost 10? And, how in the world did Emily get so damn big?  I wonder if someone is playing a joke on me.
  • The girls switched schools from a private Catholic school to a public one.  Hooray!  Not only is it significantly cheaper but the girls are actually getting to do some stuff after school with some of their friends on occasion.  The fact that the school is directly across the street from the sitters house is a huge plus.  While I'm not thrilled with everything about their new school I'm pretty damn happy they are there.  Shannon is excelling while Emily is continuing much like she did last year - reluctantly.  She is stubborn.
  • I gained something like 18 pounds between April and December.  Some of that is clothing but not much.  What the hell happened there?  I realize I wasn't as active as I usually am but I still got out and played Ultimate whenever I could.  I'll talk more about this later.
  • November-December where the months of visiting.  We didn't travel but our home for three straight weeks was full of visitors.  First my mom and Susan came down for Thanksgiving and to celebrate Emily's birthday.  I feel bad we didn't have a real party type thing for my mom but she liked her birthday gifts as well so that was cool.  The following week Lisa's parents came down to celebrate Emily's birthday.  Then, the next week my surrounding brothers came to visit.  Why?
  • My Dad had a heart attack.  It was a pretty close call I guess and he easily could have died.  He turns 65 this week.  Now a days that's like 40 or something.  Where does he get off nearly dying?  Well, he didn't and all five of the Rawlinson brothers were in town together for the first time in about 11 years.  We had some fun hanging out though two nights in a row Ted and I were at a bar/club until 3:30-4:00am which, really, is crazy on our parts.  Ted insists he is to old for that shit - I am not convinced.
  • Lisa was pretty worried about me after my dad's heart attack so I had another Dr appointment to get some blood work done.  I don't know how but all of my bad numbers got substantially better in the past year.  They aren't great but they are insanely better.  I'm on a fish oil type pill at the moment and I'll have another test in March.  We shall see how it goes.
  • I had my first ever (real; not counting removal of wisdom teeth) surgery in September.  I had a small umbilical hernia removed.  It was pretty darn easy and Dr. Morgan did a fine job of giving me back a belly button without installing a huge scar.  Pretty sweet deal.  I still don't care for anesthesia but I'm happy with the results.
  • I spammed everyone on the mailing list for this site with 300+ new posts as I combined my blogs.  Oops.  I'll make sure I don't do that again I assure you.

There were probably a bunch of  other interesting things that happened over the past year but frankly I can't really remember them.   In fact, I'm pretty happy with the way 2010 worked out.  It was pretty chill, I got to travel on a real vacation and I was able to see everyone in my immediate family.   Not much more I can ask for in a year.  However, this year I am going to try and improve things  a little.

  • We are going to Chicago and we will be seeing  a Cubs game at Wrigley field.  The last time I was there I forgot my camera; that will not happen this time.  While my seats aren't AS good as they were last time they are pretty close.  I'm excited.
  • We are going to have season tickets to a new indoor football team; the Huntington Hammer.  I think we get 7 or 8 home games in the deal.  That should be fun - I've never seen an indoor football game live.
  • We may be going to Myrtle Beach for a couple days with my dad and Patty.  I haven't been since I was 2 or so and this time I will be golfing.  It should be a nice trip.
  • We may be going to Disney World for a short 2-3 day trip.  The girls would get to go for free (except air-fare) so it might actually be affordable.  We are still investigating this.
  • We may be going to Hilton Head for a short trip as well; we just have to make sure it doesn't interfere with school.    Honestly, if we do the other two trips I am not sure I'll have the vacation time for this one (or the energy).
  • I'm going to start Mountain Biking again.  I only went one time last year and I was a scared little school boy on my bike.  I need to get back into it.  My new tire-pump (thanks Ted) will come in very handy in keeping me on the trails.
  • I have started to run again.  I actually competed (cough) in a cross-country 5k last month and I was reminded by my body that I'm in horrid shape so I have to fix that.  I am tracking my running with a cool free app called runkeeper.  You can see my runs on my profile there.
  • I'm actually going to set a new years resolution this year.  I normally don't do this because I don' t have something realistic to focus on .  However, I have decided to make this the year where I actively work on being a better listener.  I try at times but I often fail.  I'm like a gnat that jumps from one tidbit to another all the time.  I actually used to be a good listener but something has happened (maybe I've grown more selfish?) but I suck at it now so it's high time I improve.

That's it for now - hopefully I'm still here this time next year doing a 2011 year in review.

Money Free Month

1 min read

Next month Lisa and I will be challenging ourselves to not spend any money on discretionary items. Nothing, $0. We'll still be able to buy food and pay our bills but anything that doesn't fall directly into those two budget categories will be completely forbidden. 31days of pure frugality. If you see one of us and we are thinking about buying something please, help us out and remind us about our Money Free Month pledge.

International Kids

24 min read

Over the past 11 days we went on a grand adventure to Niagara Falls and Toronto for the kids first trip out of the USA. We headed out to Niagara from Huntington with a stop-over in Cleveland to visit with Lisa's parents. They too were about to embark on an adventure to the west (Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, and Seattle) so it was nice to see them just before we all began our treks. From Cleveland we headed to Niagara Falls NY where Lisa had arranged for us to stay at a Bed and Breakfast right near the Niagara river (just before the falls) called the Red Coach Inn. The BnB is a sprawling building with a bunch of suites to choose from. It is also pretty expensive and not in the greatest state of repair; however it was still nice. Once we checked in we met up with my Mom and her wife Susan to begin exploring the area for a couple days. My Mom and Susan were on their own trip to celebrate their 3rd anniversary so they had arrived a couple days before us and stayed with us for about 2 full days worth of time.

That afternoon we just walked around on the American side of the falls and spent a bit of time on Goat Island before heading back to the Hotel Restaurant where we had a gift certificate we had purchased at (great deal). I had Ostrich for dinner (my first time) and it was pretty good. It didn't have a bird like texture at all instead it was more like beef. After dinner we all hung out in our suite for a bit and chatted before my Mom and Susan headed back to Canada and their BnB. The next morning, around noon, we all met back up to take a trip on the Maid of the Mist and then to do a "Journey Behind the Falls" and to watch a movie about the falls. We had bought a single ticket package that would get us into four different things for a much lower cost and I would advise anyone to do the same deal. The Maid of the Mist was, to put it simply, Awesome. The wait wasn't too bad and once on board the mist really hit the spot since the temperature was over 90F (32C). The first part of the voyage takes you close to the American falls where you are lightly misted. At that point I was a little disappointed in how little mist there was. I shouldn't have been because as soon as we headed toward the Horseshoe Falls (Canadian falls) the blanket of mist grew substantially and, before I knew it, I was soaked from head to toe. I chose not to wear the provided poncho (it was too hot out) so I was really drenched and I couldn't have been happier. Eventually the ship broke through the curtain of moisture and arrived at a calm pool near the center of the horseshoe. From there the view up at the falls was extraordinary. In fact, however much the whole four event ticket cost - that view was worth it and everything else was just a bonus. As a kid we visited the falls but we couldn't afford the Maid of the Mist. I'm very glad we were able to this time around.

After disembarking from the ship we had a short bus ride (Susan's knees and ankle were in a bit of pain after all our walking) down to the "Walk Behind The Falls" attraction. We did the Canadian side events instead of the US ones so the Walk Behind the Falls is a bit different than the US version "The Cavern Of The Winds". I think the US version looked a bit more exciting because you spent more time out on the ground near the falls - but the Canadian one was pretty cool too. Before we headed outside there were two long tunnels that ended about 15 feet from the actual downfall so that we were looking at the falls from directly behind. It was cool to hear and feel the rumble from so close but it seemed disconnected from the actual falls because you had nothing to provide a frame of reference. It was just a hole in the cliffside wall about 20' in diameter so all you could see was the sheet of water. After checking out the two tunnels we headed down a third tunnel which deposited us on a two-story viewing platform. The upper deck remained surprisingly dry considering the proximity to the falls but, on the lower deck, you were hit with the full mist experience again and, before long, we were all soaked to the bone again. My Mom and Lisa both seemed to really like spending time on the lower deck and it was nice seeing them so obviously enjoying their time together.

After leaving the falls we went and watched a short movie about the formation of the falls which was, ultimately, a little dull even though it did further drench us thanks to a built in sprinkler system designed to simulate rain. After the movie we headed to a nice restaurant, Elements on the Falls Restaurant, in the same building for dinner. I had the mushroom ravioli with seafood medley which was OK but not that great. The highlights of the restaurant, however, were the view and the head chef. The view from our table was great (though a little low) and we could easily see the Canadian falls. After dinner Shannon and I were waiting for the other four to use the restroom so we were checking out the desert display. Inside were some fruit filled crepes and some kind of blueberry looking cake. I mentioned, in passing, to the chef that it was too bad the crepes weren't on the menu (they were made for a tour group) and I asked if the other thing was for a tour group too. He said it was. Shannon then asked him what the blueberry thing was and, as we expected, it was a blueberry cake. It looked very good. Shannon thanked him for the info and then he surprised her by asking if she would like to taste it. She nodded enthusiastically so he asked her to wait a moment and he headed back to the kitchen. I told her that she had to make sure to thank him for the bite he was bringing her back. About 20 seconds passed and he returned with a styrafoam to-go container and he looked a little annoyed. Then he opened the dessert display and said, "I guess I just have to give you this one there is no more left in the back" then he opened the container, placed the whole piece of cake in it and then grabbed a piping bag and squeezed some whipped creme into the container. He handed it to me and said "I put a couple crepes in there for you to, enjoy!" Shannon and I were both stunned and we thanked him for his kindness. Shannon could barely contain herself she was so happy.

Eventually the others came out of the restroom and Shannon almost exploded trying to tell everyone what had just happened. She was talking faster than she ever has before and my Mom had to ask her to slow down just so she could understand her. It was great and definitely made Shannon's day. We were all stuffed from dinner and the desert we had just had so we couldn't eat any of what he gave us until the next morning - fortunately our room had a full fridge (and kitchen) to store it in.

The next morning, our last with my Mom and Susan, took us to the "White Water Walk" which is a cool little boardwalk type trail along some class six rapids. At the beginning they didn't seem too crazy and I had thought it would be cool to have a raft or a kayak to explore them with. However, before too long we started to see why they were classified as unsafe for humans. They became amazingly turbulent and some of the dips and rises changed elevation by well over 20 feet from top to bottom I would imagine. It was pretty cool to see. After our brief tour of the rapids it was time to say farewell to my Mom and Susan and then we headed to a small city called Niagara on the Lake to walk around and have lunch before heading to Toronto for the next three days.

I had booked us a room at the Grand Hotel on Jarvis Road in Toronto. We haven't stayed overnight in Toronto before so we were just hoping for the best at a reasonable price. We ended up being very happy with the hotel. The room was pretty large and the bedroom and "living room" were pretty well divided by a short hallway and the only bathroom. The couch opened into a bed for the girls and we had a king sized bed. The room had a pretty modern "European" feel to it because it felt a little spartan and had hardwood floors. The room also had a refrigerator which was a real bonus because while we were in Toronto it was really hot. Fortunately I had brought my camel-back bladder in the backpack so we could fill it and three water bottles each night to carry around town.

On our first full day in Toronto we walked down Jarvis to Queens St East and headed west which is filled with interesting shops and specialty boutiques. We were a bit unprepared for the overall length of Queens St. but we persevered and made it all the way before stopping at a cool little hamburger joint called "Oh Boy Burger Market" where I had a tasty Buffalo burger. The waitress there was really cool and brought over some spinning barstools for the girls to sit on and play. She also gave us some scratch off instant win tickets for a Budweiser World Cup promotion. Emily's second ticket won so the lady let both girls pick out a prize from the three options; a heavy floppy hat, a Budweiser baseball cap, and a couple sticks you hit together to make noise. The girls both took the ball caps as they wanted to put their hair up due to all the heat outside. For the rest of the day they kept their beer hats on and we felt like the parents of the year.

After our walk down Queens St we headed up Spadina Ave to College St (through a bit of Chinatown) where we headed west again in order to see the Kensington Market. By this point the girls (all three of them) were pretty miserable from the heat. We walked down Augusta Ave and discovered a pleasant surprise for the girls - Bellevue Square which is a cool little neighborhood park. In the park is a big fountian/wading pool so Shannon and Emily ran right in and played for a bit to cool off. Lisa and I sat off to the side with a bunch of guys who seem to be regular's that use the park as a hangout. After about 30-40 minutes an older white guy with an aggressive demeanor showed up (the rest of the crew in the park was predominately young black men). The white guy made a not-too subtle reminder to one of the young guys (a Jamaican I'd guess) that he was indebted to the older white guy. The mood seemed to tense up a bit so we gathered the girls up and headed out of the park going to Dundas St and heading east back toward our hotel. About half way back we stopped off at a little coffee shop that sold ice-cream and had a little treat. We also swung by the large Eaton Center shopping mall. It is 3 storys tall and pretty long. We wandered around in there for a bit to help cool off before exiting via Dundas Square (sort of the Toronto Times Square) and then heading further east to reach the hotel.

After getting back to the hotel we had to find a place to eat so we headed off to the Distillery District via a long driving tour around Toronto that took us through Chinatown, Little Italy, Portugal Village, and along the waterfront via Queens Quay. Most of the Distillery District was closed by the time we reached the area (around 7 or 8 I think) but it was still a pretty cool little area. There were a bunch of neat looking shops, a collection of cool restaurants, and a neat theater that was just about to start a show when we found it. We ended up eating at the Mill Street Brewery which is a micro that brews the beer right in the restaurant. I had a really tasty, and large, chicken pot pie and I tried two of their beers; their Tankhouse Amber which was a little bitter and not really very good and their Helles Bock which I liked quite a bit. The restaurant is really big and spacious and you definitely don't have any privacy at your table. However, even with the very open seating the room didn't feel overly large thanks to the darker colors and the mostly full dining room. I liked the pot pie enough where I would definitely go back.

While I enjoyed walking around the town it was apparent that it wasn't really the girls cup of tea. Lisa's heel spur was killing her and both Shannon and Emily were a little bored if they weren't checking out a shop (they picked far more shops to check out than Lisa did). Thus, on the next day we decided to head to the Toronto Zoo. The zoo is a bit expensive so before heading out we tried to find a discount ticket but we couldn't. Instead I found a citypass which lets you save 50% on the cost of doing five different things; the zoo, the CN tower, Casa Loma, the Science Museum, and the Royal Ontario Museum. We actually only managed to do three things and we still saved money.

The Toronto Zoo was better than I expected though, perhaps, not as good as Lisa had thought it would be. More than anything I had anticipated that most of the animals would be hiding from the heat but we were really fortunate and the vast majority of the animals were out and active when we came to see them. I think our favorite animal there was a young monkey that kept showing off near the window and that was just as curious about us as we were about him. He was super fun looking and more than once an adult monkey came over and tried to restrain him and get him to come away from the window. He would escape though and come right back to us. He was awesome.

After leaving the zoo (did I mention it was really hot there?) we decided to go downtown to visit the CN Tower before dinner. The CN Tower is a really tall freestanding tower right in the middle of downtown Toronto. The basic purpose of the tower seems to be to provide a great view of both the city and the harbor on Lake Ontario. Along with our ticket to go up in the tower we also got to watch a cool 3D movie about Kelly Slater surfing in Tahiti. The movie was particularly cool because it used 3D to help illustrate and educate the audience about how the island was formed, how the waves are generated, and a bunch of other things. It was a really cool view in how 3D movies could actually be used to help educate kids in schools (if they could afford the cameras needed to show the movies).

The CN Tower also has a cool, but slightly disturbing, feature. After you go up 1000 feet or so to the observation level there is a section of the floor that is made of glass so you can stand there and look straight down. It's a little disconcerting to see the world from so high up without anything visible to support you. It's also a pretty cool way to look down at the world. Lisa wasn't willing to step onto the glass but Shannon, Emily, and I all goofed off on it for a while.

The next morning we went to Casa Loma which is a castle right in Toronto. It was built by a wealthy businessman back in the early 1900's but, because of changes in tax laws and the great depression, he lost his fortune and his Estate. The castle is pretty cool and is undergoing some much needed restoration. The parts that have been restored (or perhaps never damaged) are pretty nice. For example, for the main office on the first floor there are two secret passageways one that leads up to the sleeping quarters and another that heads down to the basement and wine cellar. His secret doorway's were so well done I'm reminded that I need to get my dad to come down and help me finish mine up. That's right, I have a secret passage in my house; eat your heart out.

After finishing up at the castle we checked out of the hotel a day early and headed south back towards Niagara Falls. On the way there we stopped at an Ikea where Lisa was able to pick up a couple cool bottles and to force me to buy a new pillow and she finds my old one disgusting. The bad part of heading out of Toronto in the middle of the afternoon became immediately apparent as we got on the QEW and instantly got stuck in traffic. However, even with the stop and go driving the trip down to Niagara didn't seem to take too long. We had booked a room on priceline at the Marriott Fallsview hotel. From the outside the hotel looks a little dated but, like any good book, you can't judge it by it's cover. The interior was very nice and our room offered an amazing view of the falls (both the American and Canadian falls). The view from that room was, without a doubt, the best view of the falls we had the entire trip. Priceline really came through on that room as it was less than we had paid for any night previously on the trip and the view was incredible.

The next day we headed to Marineland which was supposed to be like Seaworld except that it wasn't. Before departing for the park, because it was raining, Lisa called and asked if they were open. The assured her they were and that only 2 of their rides would be closed due to the rain. When we arrived, after paying $170 for the four of us to enter, we found out only about 5 rides were open and that Marineland never quite reached it's full potential. There is only one stadium for shows there (a dolphin show) and there are huge areas of nothing that you have to walk through to get from one attraction to the next. It really felt like the original idea was for a huge Disney World scale park in Canada but that the owners never had enough money to really pull it off. That didn't stop them from charging an arm and a leg for everything. Food was outrageous (2 chicken finger baskets with fries and a hamburger with fries was $45) and most of the "extra" things you might want to do at the park cost extra as well. Overall, while I was disappointed with the park I still had a great time simply because the girls enjoyed themselves so much. Emily wanted to go back the next day - it was cool (but we didn't).

Our hotel reservation at the falls view Marriott was just for the prior night so we logged into priceline again and tried to get another room. This time we ended up at the Sheraton At The Falls. It is close to the rainbow bridge, again on the Canadian side, and has rooms with both a view of the falls and a view of the city. We received a complimentary upgrade on check in from an internal room to a city-view room. Our room was on the 15th floor and overlooked the Clifton Hill part of the town. Clifton Hill is sort of like Myrtle Beach entertainment condensed into a 1/3 mile long hill. There are all sorts of touristy places to visit like the Guiness Book of World Records museum, was museums, about 10 haunted houses, various putt-putt courses, restaurants, a big funky bowling alley, a giant ferris wheel, and a bunch of other stuff like a Professional Wrestling themed place with it's own "tower of terror" type ride. If you are unfamiliar with the tower-of-terror it is basically a big compartment of strapped in people. The cart sits still for a bit and then, suddenly, at some random interval, it drops back down the tower. It drops variable distances and then goes back up and drops again. These drops happen between 5-10 times before the cart is brough back to the bottom for everyone to unload.

Lucky for us the tower for the wrestling place was even with, and just next door, to our window. Thus, throughout the night, until the ride shut down, we would hear random screams from terrified and excited riders. Needless to say it didn't make for the best night of sleep ever. At one point Emily came around our bed to talk to Lisa (about 3 in the morning). Emily was pretty upset and when Lisa encouraged her to go back to bed she just said "I can't." Naturally, we just figured she was saying she couldn't go back to sleep because of all the noise. Next Lisa told her to just get in bed and close her eyes and eventually she would fall back asleep. Emily replied again that she couldn't. I knew she had to be frustrated, I certainly was - heck it was 3 in t he morning - so I asked her to come around to me and I would try to calm her down so she could get in bed. Then i had an epiphany. I asked her why she couldn't go to bed, was Shannon in her way? She said yes. I got up and looked in their bed and sure enough Shannon was sprawled across the head of the bed. She had, in her sleep, managed to shove Emily out of the bed and use the entire pillow line as her own mattress. After a few moments of repositioning Emily was back in bed and asleep in no time. It seemed only Lisa and I were bothered by the outside noise and we had just projected that on Emily when she woke up. I'm still not sure she ever heard it.

The next morning we got up and hit all of the touristy stuff on Clifton Hill. We played glow-in-the-dark min-golf, we went to a lego city, we watched some 3-D interactive movies (where your seat moves around), and then we packed up and headed for home. Or at least Cleveland. Well, I thought that was our immediate destination. First we had to go to the duty free store where I was able to replace the bottle of Sheridan's I had bought Lisa in London but had been unable to deliver. Then we drove across the bridge to the US where we did a little bit of Geocaching before heading to the highway. Once on the highway we stopped at a few more places to geocache (we didn't have phone data in Canada so we did very little caching there). Eventually we got off the freeway near Erie to eat at a great little bar and grill that served an insane version of Shepherds Pie (and to do a bit more geocaching). Then we felt inspired to drive off the beaten path a bit to visit a well remembered spot from Lisa's childhood - Pymatuning Lake.

Lisa and her family used to camp there every summer while she was growing up. Lisa always speaks fondly of it and, after having seen a carp pond at Marineland, Lisa had the itch to visit the area and its spillway. Just off the spillway is a huge collection of carp. In fact there are so many and they are so big the area has the motto "Where the ducks walk on the fish." While that might seem like hyperbole it isn't. The ducks really do walk around on the carp. We stopped off and bought three loaves of bread (no sales tax on groceries in PA, nice!) and then went to feed the fish. At marineland the seagulls kept snatching up all the food but on Pymatuning Lake's spillway the birds had little chance. At times huge carp would literally be laying on the top of the water being held up by their brethren as the feeding frenzy played out. The surfaced fish would be trapped for up to ten seconds before the mass beneath it would break up and let it submerge again. It was actually a bit grotesque to watch. It was also pretty cool and the girls really got a kick out of feeding the fish and, occasionally, a duck or two.

Eventually it started to get dark so we hopped in he car again, did another geocache where we dropped off one of the geo-coins Lisa gave me for Christmas, and then we worked our way toward Cleveland. To get from Pymatuning to Cleveland you have to take a couple small state routes before getting on interstate 90N. As we tried to merge on to I90 we were flagged down by two people with cell phones standing behind a motorcycle. Lisa stopped and I suggested we offer them a flare if we had one because they were stopped in a pretty dangerous place to only have flashlights for warning off cars. I got out and searched for a flare but couldn't find one so I grabbed my flashlight with the intention of giving them it. I walked over and asked if they had any better lights and I noticed there were two people up near the front of the motorcycle as well - one of whom had a flashlight and I could hear some talking from them also. The ladies with the cellphones said they had nothing else to wave with so I said I'd see if my flashlight could help (or if there was anything I could do to help fix the bike). As I walked around the bike I looked down to see what they were working on and I suddenly saw that one of two people was lying on their back, blood all over her neck, and she was barely conscious. I asked what happened and one of the ladies with the cell phones said that the lady on the ground had been run off the road by a passing car and she had wrecked her bike. The guy who I had heard near the front of the bike before was her husband and he was just bent over her, not the bike, talking to her and trying to keep her conscious. I headed back to the car to let Lisa know what was going on and as I did so a volunteer fireman showed up so I gave him the rundown as well. He got on his CB radio and called in for some additional help. Between his CB call and the other ladies 911 calls the ambulance (from Lake Pymatuning) arrived within a minute or so and at that point we decided to get out of the way and get back on the road. I felt bad afterward that I didn't think to offer any advice to help prevent shock or about keeping her head stationary, while we waited on the ambulance.

Once we got back on the highway the rest of the trip to Cleveland and then back to Huntington the next morning was uneventful. All-in-all it was a nice relaxing trip. It was however very expensive. Food everywhere on the trip (except in Erie) was insanely expensive and we definitely exceeded our budget. However, I have no regrets and I'm really glad everyone seemed to have a good time.

Here are some photos from the trip:

Old Glass Jug

3 min read

A few years ago our home was broken into while we were at work and a bunch of valuable (though not expensive) stuff was stolen. One of our more interesting bits was our 10 gallon glass water jug. It was filled, to about 3-5" with loose change. We figured, once it disappeared that we'd never see it again.

[Edit: Lisa says the Jug was left, just the change was taken, but the Police took the jug to print it.]

Then, last summer, the local police department called and said they had some evidence for us to pick up so I walked over and was pleasantly surprised to be handed my 10 gallon glass water jug (without the change). I was pretty stoked to get anything back from the robbery but I was really glad to get the jug back because I'd never seen another one like it.

When I brought it home I "hid" it behind our bedroom door and then, a a few months ago, Lisa moved it into our bathroom next to my sink. Last night, when I came home from work, I headed upstairs and much to my dismay I saw the jug shattered into a jagged mess on the floor. The top 2/3 of the jug was in pieces and what remained of the base was a horridly sharp and wicked looking set of glass spikes.

Shannon was taking a shower in our bathroom so I asked her if she knew what happened and she said she broke it when she fell. I looked at the jug and the bits of glass and didn't see any blood so I asked her to explain. She said that as she got into the shower she was carrying her shampoo bottle and then slipped and fell backwards out of the shower. As she fell the bottle flew from her hand and smashed into the jug shattering it.

Her fall happened while I was driving home and Lisa was out walking the dog. Had it been her that had hit the jug she would have died. There is no question in my mind; the way the jug shattered leaves little doubt. Instead, she was completely unharmed and unconcerned about the shattered glass and just hopped in the shower. I'm not sure how she planned on getting out of the bathroom when her shower was done considering how many large shards of glass were on the floor between the shower and the exit.

[Edit: Lisa says' Shannon actually did leave the bathroom to look for Lisa to tell her about the broken jug but didn't find her so went back in and then took her shower. If this happened I don't see how her feet didn't get sliced up.]

Fortunately she is OK and I was able to find and clean up the glass before she had to get out of the shower; at which point Lisa carried her out just to be on the safe side so I could vacuum any tiny pieces up. It's pretty amazing, really, to think that our jug survived a theft from our second floor, 4-5 years of who knows what kind of handling before coming back to us, and then was broken by a shampoo bottle.

Now our loose change is in a tuperware box. It seems unlikely that will ever become a deadly trap.

Cat-ch me If You Can

5 min read

Yesterday, as I drove down the street to our house, I saw Lisa and Emily standing in front of a neighbors yard looking skyward. I wasn't exactly sure what was going on so, after I parked, I walked over to Lisa to see what they were doing. It turns out a cat, one we see on a regular basis and which likes to harass our cat when we go for a walk, was stuck in a tree and Lisa wanted me to rescue it. The scene brought on a flashback of last November.

Near the end of November we were packed up for a trip to my Mom's house for a surprise birthday party for her 60th. We figured, as we drove, that we would stop off on occasion and do a little Geocaching so we took State Route 2 towards Ravenswood instead of the highway to escape WV. In Point Pleasant WV there is a great park that we've often wanted to stop at; and, since the weather was great, we got out and fired up the GPS to look for a cache or two. We found our first and then had to cross RT 2 to reach a boat launch where a second was supposedly hidden. As we walked toward the cache we heard the plaintive wail of a cat. It sounded like it was coming from closer to the boat launch where an old bearded guy and his truck were resting. We ignored the cat cry and headed onward to our cache. After finding the cache we noticed the guy and his truck were gone but we could still hear the cat. Concerned I decided to head over to see what the heck was going on and Lisa and the girls followed. Unsurprisingly it was very easy to find the source of the wail because it was so incredibly loud and sad sounding - we walked right to a tall narrow tree that was off in a little patch of briers, brambles, and trees and which contained a small pure white cat. The cat was sitting in the nook created by two branches about 40-50' in the air. There was no easy path down and the kitten wasn't looking too brave.

Initially I just tried to talk the cat down and, amazingly, the little guy started to work his way down. He looked scared as hell but kept on pushing forward a foot at at time, head first, down the main trunk of the tree that was no more than 6" thick. He made it about 10' down before deciding to take a detour out on a smaller branch that pointed toward me. This was not the path the cat needed to be taking though. the branch quickly narrowed to about 1" thick and just got thinner and thinner until it tapered off. I quickly pulled off my sweatshirt, spread it out in my arms and plowed through the briers to get under the cat in case it fell; it still had about 30-40' of air to fall through. The cat kept creeping forward and I kept trying, vainly, to tell the cat to turn around. Suddenly, the cat slipped and one of his back paws came off the branch. Then, just as suddenly, he slipped again and his entire body was dangling by just his front paws. He pulled and wiggled his body until he had his body fully supported again but that only lasted a moment before he slipped again and was once more holding on with just his front claws. Amazingly, in a display of sheer power, the cat continued to walk, front paw over front paw, along the branch about five or six more inches while his body dangled precariously. He tried to pull himself up but you could tell he was getting tired and he just couldn't do it and then he fell. He tumbled and did his cat tail twitch to flip his body over and landed squarely in my sweatshirt before bounding, instantly out of it and running into the briers.

Lisa and the girls had been waiting with baited breath on the other side of the briers and, as soon as the cat, hid Lisa called to him and amazingly he came right to her. The poor cat was emaciated and scared but was still willing to trust us so Lisa wrapped him up in her sweatshirt to keep him warm and we carried him back to our car. On the way I called my dad who lives nearby and asked him if he'd like a cat. He agreed to take him! The girls wanted to name the cat Poe if it was a boy or Poetry if it was a girl. We agreed with one caveat; it's full name had to be Poe-a-Tree-fiddy. The "fiddy" part was because we found the cat while also finding our fiftieth geocache. Plus, if you ever watch south park there is a hilarious episode concerning the value tree-fiddy.

Last night, as I sat under a tree in my neighbors yard with my coat extended between my arms to catch a small pregnant cat that was about 15' up I couldn't help but think about the amazing bravery and strength that Poe-a-tree-fiddy showed that day and how cowardly this new cat was being. My arms were getting tired and this cat wouldn't budge. Oh, she'd turn around and stick one foot out and then turn around again and tease me as if she were going to jump the 6 feet or so down to my coat which was extended all the way above my head but she wouldn't commit; so, eventually, I gave up. Of course, as soon as I started to walk away the cat ran down the side of the tree and into the yard. She was probably staying in the tree in order to avoid me.