Sunday, July 31, 2011

On This Date...

JK Rowling turns 46
Harry Potter turns 31
and Bingo the cat?
18 baby!
Now that's old!
Happy Birthday Bing!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

For the Birds

The dry summer we are having has made the ripening tomatoes in the garden verrry appealing to the birds. They just peck through the wall of the not-quite-ready tomatoes and sip out the juice. Isn't that clever? How refreshing it must be for them. Last year, they didn't go near them, but now they don't even hesitate when I am standing right there.

I'd like to peacefully co-exist with the other creatures in the neighborhood, and I can share, even, but I threw out at least a dozen disintegrating tomatoes this afternoon. This is war, birds.

Friday, July 29, 2011

We Open Late

You can imagine how it is when some people, newly-met, learn that one is an English teacher-- I'll have to be careful of what I say, they might remark, although that response was much more common when I started teaching. I did have a friend once tell me that he would never write to me again if I ever corrected his grammar, and of course I agreed. (To be honest, it was worse when I was a cook and people would never invite me over for dinner.)

In fact, people who know me know that I'm not a language nit-picker. Particularly as a teacher, I err on the side of meaningful communication every time, because you can always fix your grammar mistakes. For my birthday, my mom gave me a copy of Grammar Rants by Patricia A. Dunn and Ken Lindblom, the premise of which is that by analyzing the denunciations of language critics we can educate students (and ourselves) about language and correctness and how they impact good writing.

Still, I giggled a little today when I read the marquis at a fast food restaurant. For want of a verb, the message was lost.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Apocalypse Later

This phrase can apply to so many things today, not the least of which is our movie viewing plans for Josh's last night here. We also went to the Newseum today, which was a nice companion visit to the Capitol. One of the many cool features of this museum dedicated to the press and its constitutionally guaranteed freedom is the daily display of a newspaper front page from each state. May I tell you, fellow beltway insiders, that very few of them even mentioned the debt ceiling.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The People's Office Building

We visited the US Capitol today and were fortunate to have a friend give us a "beyond the public tour" tour. She works for the Senate, so we stayed on the northside of the rotunda, and the insiders view of that place was fascinating. Starting with the fresco restoration project and carrying through to the floor tiles, picture frames, office assignments, stairways, balconies, and the actual chamber itself, "the Capitol" became a much more concrete place, even to this inside the beltway denizen. As we walked the halls and passageways, we saw Senators Boxer, Webb, Leahy, Rockefeller, Hagan, and Coburn, mere mortals, one and all.

I can't decide if the fact that our representatives are just people is heartening or not. I guess we'll all find out in the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

ADD Woman

Since one of the themes of our summer so far has been characters with extraordinary capabilities, I suppose it's only reasonable to speculate about my own super power. Hmmmm. Well if forced to guess, I might say I am an effective multitasker who is yet able to hyperfocus in a split second.

Why, just today, caught a package of chicken wings midair as it plunged from its shelf in the grocery cold case. Later, at the check out, I handed a little boy a copy of the New Yorker split seconds after his grandmother asked him to fetch it for her. His amazement was palpable in the thanks he gave me, so present in fact that I felt the need to apologize and explain that I was really not eavesdropping.

Surely Nick Fury will be calling on me any day.

(Did I mention I can hold my breath a really long time, too?)

Monday, July 25, 2011


"I don't think I'll be eating any more burgers," Josh whispered to me as the lights went down in the theater. We were seeing the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie and had just checked Five Guys off our summer burger list. I nodded with understanding. Science can exact a hefty toll on even the most dedicated researcher.

Just so you know-- it was the bacon cheeseburger, fries, and a coke that put him over, and there will be more to come on this grand experiment when we analyze our data.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Que Lastima

Why is it that there are so many TV shows these days that are predicated on witnessing/exploring/causing(?) somebody's misfortune? What do we as viewers gain from this spectacle?

Just wondering.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Another of our summer serial pursuits has been to see the new Marvel Comics based movies and revisit the past ones, as well. We started with X-men First Class and saw all the earlier ones, then Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man 2. It's been especially fun to look for the connections they have worked into all of those movies in order to set up the first Avengers movie next year.

As a kid I was never a big comic book reader. Sure, I bought Archie at the airport news stand whenever we traveled, but not much else beyond that. I think I may have missed out, but fortunately, it's not too late.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Drear Light of Zoo

I had my writing group last night and as implausible as it seems, I found myself sitting at the desk in my classroom at 3:30 with no idea of what I wanted to write and bring to share. Sure, the classroom was bare, walls empty and brown paper neatly taped over the bookshelves, but it was also quiet, and I brooded without interruption.

I had come mostly because my printer is acting up and I just haven't taken the time to troubleshoot it, but I also had a hunch that away from the distractions of home, I might be a bit more productive. Writing has been hard for me this summer; I cling to my daily devotions, but it has been a while since I was satisfied with the product. And so here I was, all alone, printer at the ready, and still bereft of inspiration. Sigh. I turned to my writing notebook, though, and it came through for me in a satisfying enough way. I liked what I wrote.

Tonight we are watching the movie Howl with James Franco as Alan Ginsberg, mostly because Josh has been on a Jack Kerouac kick this summer. There are many observations I could make about teenaged boys, sexuality, and the Beats, but let's just say that this movie definitely moves the conversation forward. For me, it is also an excellent opportunity to revisit what I know of those disillusioned, self-destructive, but very creative young people, most of which I learned in grad school.

Ginsberg's words on creativity and life and living a creative life with integrity make my own writing struggles seem a bit petty and amateur. I may be tortured, but I'm certainly no genius. In fact, I'd love to commune more nakedly with my muse right now, but I really need to get dinner on the table.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

In Support of Courteous Discourse OR Watch Your Tone, Buddy

There's just something about the anonymity of the internet that brings out the worst in some people.

For instance I like to read a certain blog; published by a former news writer/producer and focusing only on what's happening in our small county, to the exclusion of the larger metro area we are a part of, it has a lot of information I might otherwise miss. As much as I appreciate the inside tidings, though, I try never to read the comments on any of the stories, because I'm usually discouraged (and sometimes shocked) by the negative, vitriolic tone adopted by so many people who post.

As an example, there was a story published today about the departure of one of the assistant superintendents for our school system. The brief piece was accompanied by a photograph and stated simply that he was leaving and gave an overview of his accomplishments while he was on the job. Here's a sample of the comments:

That is an immensely creepy picture.

yep, creeeeeepy!

From the picture he looks awfully young to “retire.” Are taxpayers now going to have to pay gold-plated pension benefits for the next 30 years for him?

Ever hear of “early retirement,” Or “Just for Men” hair dye?

That’s like one of those real estate agent pictures — way old. He’s put on at least 50 pounds since that picture was shot.

That explains the size of the picture, then–it was taken in the 1960s

He looks like Jack Black.

Umm, why are so many high level school district leaders leaving?

rats fleeing a sinking ship? or the pay is crap

Such comments are an issue I struggle with as a teacher who administers a blog and discussion board for my students. I want them to express their thoughts and ideas in writing, and I want them to do so freely, but I also want the discourse to be respectful and relevant, so what happens is, I often take students aside to discuss their intentions when they have posted remarks that don't fit my idea of courtesy. I don't censor them, but usually they edit themselves.

Seems like those guys on that blog need a little talking to.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Are You Really Going to Go Down in History Looking Like That?

We visited Madame Tussaud's wax museum today and there were some interesting facts to be gleaned, most of them having to do with the hall of presidents. Coming eye to eye, so to speak, with so many of our chief executives, it didn't take me long to notice that most of them were... yes, they were white men, but they were also blue-eyed white men. I was curious enough to do a little research, and it turns out that only six, six! of our presidents have had brown eyes. Can you guess who? The answer will appear at the bottom of this post.

Another fascinating detail was that our shortest president, James Madison, was officially 5'4", but seriously? That measurement HAD to be in either on his toes or in his clunky shoes, because that guy was super short. Our final bit of presidential trivia had to do with facial hair. The founding fathers were clean shaven with the following chief executives transitioning to some serious mutton chops. After that, beards and mustaches were quite common until the early 20th century. Think about it, dear reader, what serious candidate for that office has had facial hair in your memory? If you can remember Thomas Dewey, then that's who, but the last president with any kinda anything on his face was Taft.

Of all the 43, my personal favorite was Andrew Jackson; there was something very old hickory about the guy, but that's hardly surprising, right?

Brown-eyed Presidents: John Quincy Adams, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Barack Obama. (For the record, three of the six were not elected president, but only took office after their predecessor was assassinated.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


We ran into a friend from work at Target today. It was a bit of a challenge to shop and catch up, but the three of us veteran multitaskers managed nicely, even separating and then reuniting in the checkout line for the last little chat.

Of course the conversation turned to summer activities, and for us that report always includes Josh. "I just don't get it," our friend said. "How can his mom let him go?"

We get that a lot. Our history with Josh is sort of complicated, but really? Lots of parents part with their kids for extended lengths of time for many reasons: boarding school, camp, etc. Such separation always has its pros and cons, and I'm not a parent, but why judge?

Tonight I asked Josh if he missed home and he said, "Not really, it hasn't been THAT long. Besides, I needed a break. They were really starting to bug me."

I was curious. "What were they doing to bother you?" I asked.

"Well, my brother and sister are probably the most annoying people on the planet."

"They're little," I said. "What can you do?" Then I added, "When you were that little, people put up with you."

"I know," he conceded.

"Wait, I take that back," I said. "When you were little, we passed you around like a hot potato, and I guess we still do," I laughed.

"Yup," he answered, but he definitely smiled.

Monday, July 18, 2011


This morning we woke Josh up around 9:30 and then Heidi drove us out to Historic Downtown Herndon where we hopped on the W&OD bike trail for the 21 mile ride home. It was hot and sunny, but still fun, and one of the highlights was the young indigo bunting that hopped-flew along the trail with us for a a few seconds, long enough to get a good look at that usually shy bird. We made a pit-stop at the Whole Foods in Vienna and fueled up for the rest of the ride. Once home, we quickly showered and then went to get Victor and Treat for another hamburger tasting. This one was at Carlyle, technically not a burger joint at all, but, before all the tasting, it was home to my favorite burger in town, so I wanted to see how it held up. Beautifully, as it turns out, and their pommes frites style fries are simply unbeatable. Another reason we chose that place for lunch is because we wanted to catch the new documentary on the hip-hop band A Tribe Called Quest. Directed by Michael Rappaport, I thought it was a pretty good movie. Next, it was off to the pool, and now, here we are, tired but satisfied, another summer day drawing to dark.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Summer Boy

The other day, we went to the pool with a neighbor and her kids. She's met Josh before, and she kind of knows the story of how he is our summer child, but I don't think she really gets it.

"How's it going?" she asked me.

"Oh, y'know, it's always kind of an adjustment at first," I said.

"Why?" she wondered. "Is it typical teenaged defiance?"

I think I actually snorted at the very notion of that. "No!" I told her. "It's just that we're not used to adjusting our plans for a kid!"

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Harry-Shaped Hole

Well, we did it. We managed to watch all the Harry Potter movies including the latest and last one, within the space of five days. Like any ambitious endeavor, this one became a bit consuming-- it filled nearly 25% of our waking time, not to mention our conversations and dreams.

"Sad but satisfying," seems to be the prevailing review of HPDH2, and I will echo that. As we stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house I had two things on my mind, the genius of JK Rowling and how to fill the infinite Harry-less hours ahead.

Friday, July 15, 2011

My July Almanac

Average length of daylight: 14 hours, 38 minutes
Family Birthdays: 8
Miles from our house to Mount Vernon by bike: 16.52
Number of different state license plates in the parking lot: 36
Pool water temperature: 88
Number of green tomatoes in the garden: 200+
Minutes of Harry Potter movies combined: 1179 (19 hours, 36 minutes)
Average burger consumption: 6 per person
Smoothie flavor: Peach
Full Moon: July 15, nicknamed "The Full Buck Moon"

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Time Zones

During the school year I must rise at 5:30 to get all my morning chores done and still arrive at work on time. If you had asked me twenty-five years ago if such a thing was possible for me, I would likely have called it a deal breaker. I was a night owl and a late sleeper and I'm quite certain that it would have been my opinion that no job could possibly be worth such a drastic schedule change. Back then, the few times I had ever seen that hour were either at the end of an all-nighter or the beginning of a trip, and the grey light of dawn was always accompanied by that sick tiredness in my stomach.

I was wrong about that though. When I went back to school to get my education degree and teaching license, I had to switch my cooking shift at the flight kitchen where I was working. 2 PM to 10 was out, 6 AM to 2 was in, and my alarm was set for 4:45. Ugh. In light of those days, 5:30 seems like sleeping in. To be honest, though, even after 20 years of early rising, I do not pop brightly out of bed, ever, and even if 7:30 or 8 is "sleeping late," it still seems early. (For the record: teaching is a career that is worth it.)

I recognize the up side of starting your day way before noon, though, and so I find living with a teenaged boy who wants to sleep until 2 in the afternoon to be just a little irritating. We're six hours or more into our day before Josh ever makes an appearance, and then he's surprised when we turn at midnight. It seems silly (and maybe a little bit petty) to wake him up on principle, though, so I'm planning a few fun things over the next couple of weeks that just happen to begin in the AM.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Halfway There

We are watching all the Harry Potter movies this week in order to prepare for the very last of them all, Deathly Hallows 2, which will be released on Friday. Tonight we saw Goblet of Fire, and as Hermione says at the end, "Everything is going to change now, isn't it?" Well maybe not everything, but it certainly will be the end of an era.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What Goes Around Comes Around

I thought it was cool when my nephew asked for a turn table for Christmas last year. I had heard vague things about a renaissance of vinyl records and that just seemed like so much more proof. For his birthday today, we got him the new Wilco album on vinyl.

I remember when I bought my first CD. It was 25 years ago, and I loved how compact it was and how clear the sound was. I loved the whirring of the CD player, the way the tray opened and closed at the touch of the button. By comparison to that clean plastic case and shiny disc, my records and their cardboard covers seemed heavy, dusty, and old-fashioned. Within ten years the turntables were gone from our stereo cabinet and all the vinyl was in the basement.

But vinyl's decline was only temporary. It seems that most audiophiles actually prefer the quality of sound on a vinyl recording. Pair that with the convenience of mp3 recordings, and it turns out that it is now the CD which is endangered.

It was funny to see a wrapped LP today for the first time in at least 30 years. It used to be such a tell-tale package. "But you don't know which album it is," we would always say, "so it's still a surprise."

Nobody at the family birthday dinner tonight seemed to recognize the shape when we brought it in, though, even though I jokingly told everyone it was a calendar. "You don't know what year it is," I added, "so it will still be a surprise." They didn't really get it, but when Treat opened the gift, he was pleased.

The older folks among us started gushing about how much better the artwork was on a larger scale and how great it was to have all the words to the songs printed inside. My sister-in-law told us that at first, Treat wasn't sure where to put the needle to play an album. How would he? And in his own defense, he shrugged and pointed out that records are round, they don't really have a starting place.

"You know you can put the needle down on any track you want, though, right?" I asked. "You just look at the fat lines." He didn't know what I was talking about, and started to open the album to see. There followed a lot of direction about the best way to pull a record from the sleeve and the best way to hold it once it's out. All that audio etiquette that went out with the CD player is suddenly relevant again. Not only that, there's a whole skill set that almost skipped a generation. Fortunately? My nephew's a smart kid, so I'm sure he'll be able to spin a disc in no time.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Continuing Education

Today my friend and colleague Ellen and I went to a presentation at our local chapter of the National Writing Project Summer Institute. We are both Teacher Consultants, having gone through the 5 week SI ourselves-- me five years ago, and Ellen 12 years ago.

The presentation this morning was given by a dynamic young teacher and was on the topic of writing profiles with your students. I was especially interested, because I tried this genre for the first time just last month at the end of the school year, and I was very pleased with the results.

It was cool to hear how someone else taught it-- her approach was much more involved and well-developed-- but what was even cooler, both Ellen and I agreed, was to be surrounded by teachers with the same frame of mind about writing and teaching and teaching writing. The NWP is all about engaging, student-centered instruction, authentic writing, and writing to learn as well as learning to write. For example, one of the themes of today's presentation was using writing to give voice to ordinary people and uncovering, recognizing, and celebrating the extraordinary in all of us.

As we walked back to our car, we both wondered what it might be like if everyone taught that way, and we were both baffled as to why they don't.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Here's the thing about being off in the summer. Unlike during the school year where weekends are precious and never long enough, and you try to cram in as many errands and as much fun and relaxation as possible, now weekends seem needlessly crowded with all those workaday folks by the pool, in the store, at the movies, or on the trails. In fact, one quickly adjusts and replans most activities to take advantage of that midweek downtime. It only seems right to spread out the usage and patronize the off hours.

Someone's gotta do it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Heidi is always super-appreciative to any who will listen about the vegan cooking I do for her, but I have to confess that I may be totally starting to believe my own press about it. Plus, I like the challenge of it! Today? Breakfast was light and crispy waffles, Carolina peaches, toasted walnuts, and maple syrup. For lunch? Spelt spaghetti with a lemon-basil marinara and a zesty green olive, caper, toasted almond, and nutritional yeast topping. Dinner was beer-battered zucchini finger tacos with lime slaw and roasted corn, tomato and avocado salad.

I'm sayin!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Planet of the Burgers

Today was a classic summer vacation day around here. I spent a few hours at the garden this morning, weeding watering and pruning and harvesting 20 pounds of humongous zucchini and yellow squash, then it was time for lunch.

In these tough economic times, the humble hamburger has become king. Steak houses might be fewer and fewer, but there are at least a half-dozen high end burger joints within a five mile radius. With this in mind, I proposed a summer project to my three teenaged nephews: Let's find the best darn burger in the area. The rules are simple, but evolving. They must have a veggie burger for Heidi, and we will rate them on their burgers, buns, sauces, and of course fries. We will consider service and decor, beverages and music, but they will only be deciding factors in case of a tie.

Our beta burger review took place today at a branch of the chain BGR. The burgers were huge (too huge, even for the boys) and juicy (too juicy-- our buns became soggy, because Treat didn't tell us until half-way through to turn the sandwich over when you get it) and the servings of hot hot hot crispy crispy fries were more than generous. Heidi liked the molasses in her veggie burger (it gave it a smoky BBQ note), but it was a tad too sweet. We may have to take a day or two off before our next stop.

After that, what else? A movie. We saw Super 8, and it was very satisfying. Before the show, though, they previewed the new Planet of the Apes prequel, and Josh was intrigued. He had no idea it was part of a classic franchise, so when we got home I promptly downloaded both the 1968 original (yes, Charleton Heston, pre-NRA, and younger than I am now) and the 2001 Tim Burton re-make with Marky-Mark and Helena Bonham Carter. We watched the first, and I would have totally double featured it, but after such a fun-filled day, it's a little too late tonight.

Fortunately, we have time.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

In Season

When I was four we moved to a house that had a peach tree in the backyard, and so summer mornings meant padding outside barefoot in our pajamas to choose a perfectly ripe peach to eat, warm and juicy, for breakfast. A couple years later blight forced my parents to take the tree down, but to be honest, I mourn it still.

Peaches are the one fruit that I refuse to buy out of season. The apple is admirable in its longevity, berries and asparagus from South America, while not preferable, are edible, and I can even work with those hard greenish tomatoes, but crunchy winter, sour spring, or mealy fall peaches? No thank you.

Today on our trip north from Atlanta, we made a peach pit stop. It's usually easy to pass those well-advertised places by, knowing that most of the their inventory is limited to pickled peaches, peach preserves, peach cider, and peach pecan syrup, but early July in South Carolina? Irresistible! We bought a big basket of small freestone peaches and placed them carefully on the backseat so that for the next 450 miles the scent of fresh peaches occasionally drifted up front. When we stopped for gas, I ate two, standing in the warm evening air and dripping sweet juice onto the pavement, and well-sustained and very satisfied, I drove the rest of the way home.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Age difference can be a tricky thing. Whether we are considering siblings, students in a grade, friends, or spouses, a couple or twelve years can definitely shape the relationship. What makes things interesting is that usual complicating variable-- relativity, particularly of the human kind. There is no recipe for perfection, and any age difference can work for or against you. My father was one of eight siblings in his family; there were seven boys and one sister; he was the second youngest, she was the second oldest, and yet, as adults, they were closest to each other.

Who knows why? Certainly, as we get older, age differences that once seemed insurmountable become much more workable. On my team of teachers, we have people ranging in age from 25 to 63, but we all do the same job, and for the most part, we work well together. Contrast that to a conversation I overheard one day shortly before the end of the school year. It was the annual visit of the next year's students, so for two days, we had fifth graders and their teachers touring the halls and peeking in our classrooms, trying to get a feel for middle school. One of the girls in my class recognized a boy from her elementary school. "I always thought he was kind of cute," she said to the girl next to her.

Her friend looked at her in disbelief. "Omigah! You are such a cougar!"

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Paying It Forward

Around the same time that we were having treasure hunts on rainy days, courtesy of my mom, Saturday mornings were spent under the care of my dad while my mother taught religion classes at our church. He always fried bacon, cut oranges into eighths, and served us coffee with lots of milk and sugar. He would also use all the furniture cushions and some blankets to help us make forts in the living room where we would eat our bacon and oranges, drink our coffee, and peek out to watch cartoons on TV.

As I write, Richard and Annabelle are camped out on top of their bed pillows, surrounded by couch cushions with a Diego blanket draped over the top, and watching Scooby Doo on the iPad. It is a pretty impressive structure, if I do say so myself. Thanks, Dad.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Timeless Pursuit

When we were very young, before we could read even, my mom had a special game for rainy days when we were stuck in the house. On small folded pieces of paper, she drew pictures of certain pieces of furniture in our house. Then she would set up a treasure hunt. Each of us would start with a different clue and then make our way from landmark to landmark until at the end we would find a prize, usually just a cookie or some other treat. That activity always lifted the gloom from any stormy day.

There's something about a hunt, whether scavenger, treasure, or other, that captures the imagination. Yesterday, when we arrived in Atlanta for our four day visit with my sister's family, one of the first things that Richard wanted to do was to "make a treasure hunt." At almost six, he had some complex ideas about hiding and seeking treasure, and even though I immediately recalled my mother's version, we played his way, and it was fun. This afternoon, though, as the threatening rain clouds ultimately gave way to thunder, lightning, and even some heavy rain, I sat down with a pencil and some slips of colored paper, and sketched a few of the more easily recognizable cardinal points in the house. Next I placed them carefully just as I remembered my mother doing, and then I handed Richard the first clue, and off he went on a hunt for treasure through his very own home. It was as big a hit with him and his three-and-a-half year old sister, Annabelle, as I remember it being with us.

I was a little worried that the kids wouldn't recognize my drawings, but they did pretty well.

"That's my hamper!" Annabelle exclaimed, looking at one of the clues.

"No, it's the basket in the dining room," I gently corrected her.

"That is her hamper," my sister told me, "I just haven't put it away, yet."

"I know just what this is," Richard assured me a few minutes later with a confident grin as he scanned another of the clues, "I've lived here a long time." And with that, he dashed off in search of treasure.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Well, If You Put it THAT Way

I was feeling impatient with my pasty white fellow guests as we tried to check out of the hotel this morning. The place was built some time in the early 80's and consists of studio- style rooms with kitchenettes and balconies. Each unit is independently owned and therefore individually furnished and decorated, and let's just say that our studio was a little dated and worn. I don't think that was true of all the accommodations, but the establishment itself had a bit of a cut-rate air to it. Take, for example, the free continental breakfast for two: an apple, an orange, a plastic-wrapped cheese Danish, and a pop tart, all stuffed into a small shopping bag. It reminded me of a cross between the bag lunches they used to give us in high school and the free breakfast my brother, sister, and I got in an economical hotel we stayed at in Israel: hard boiled eggs, breakfast treats, and tang.

The entire complex in Orlando had that sort of international bargain feel to it. I think Virgin Atlantic cut some kind of deal with the management, because the majority of folks that we ran into seemed to be solidly middle class British and Irish, hence the pallor I mentioned at the top of the post. There were several Asian families as well, not to mention many Spanish-speaking groups. It was kind of cool, but a little baffling to think that these people had traveled so far to visit... Orlando.

Well, that was my frame of mind, anyway, this morning in the 90 degree heat as I dodged groups of hotel patrons marching resolutely to this or that shuttle bus or pool, all the while trying to load the car. I was still a little grumbly as we made a last stop at the Whole Foods grocery to stock up on snacks before getting on the road to Atlanta. As we exited the store, a man approached us and handed us each a little card labeled "compassion exercise." in halting English, he asked us to read it.

The directions were simple: Choose a person who is a stranger to you and direct the following thoughts at them:

Just like me, this person is seeking some happiness in his/her life

Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life

Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness, and despair.

Just like me, this person is seeking to fulfill his/her needs.

Just like me, this person is learning about life.

That put a different spin on my morning.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Five Lessons of the Day

Mango-avocado sushi rolls make an excellent breakfast.

Those little nylon bags with the strings that you can wear on your back are pretty damn handy.

They make child leashes that are like plush harnesses complete with a stuffed animal that rides piggyback.

Simulations are not as good as rides. Corollary: Old rides are not as good as simulations, but they have a certain nostalgic charm. (Ahem Jaws and ET)

It's a total buzz kill when the people ahead of you on the moving sidewalk stand still and block your way, especially when the people on foot pass you by.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Respecting the Line

Those theme park people really know their business. It was just a little after 8 AM that the shuttle from our hotel dropped us off at Universal Studios. Despite my misgivings, I felt my heart rate rise with the escalator that lifted us to the breezeway bridging the parking garages and the "City Walk." Moving sidewalks couldn't get us there quickly enough, and even in the harsh daylight, the neon lights were vibrant and exciting as loud music pounded from huge speakers and Carrie Underwood sang on a ginormous LCD screen overhead. We were practically giddy as we were swept along with the tide of tourists eager to enter Islands of Adventure.

And so the day progressed from there. Every detail in the park is well planned: the bathrooms are plentiful and clean, the lines are well marked with estimated wait times, and the baffles are all shaded, or even better, air-conditioned. Most rides with long waits have introductory sections that are actually an integral part of the attraction, for example Harry Potter's Forbidden Journey turnstiles you through the Great Hall, past the talking portrait marking the entry to the Gryffindor common room, and through Dumbledore's office, too. If it's possible, it almost seemed like our line moved a little too fast.

To be sure, it's a fine line between cheesy and cool, or between weird and cool, or creepy and cool, or almost anything and cool, but it is amazing how the most successful theme parks do cartwheels up and down those fine lines, ricocheting between meeting, disappointing, and, yes, even defying expectations to deliver something cool to almost everyone.