Day 8 The Last Hours of the Last Day

Like NASA, so much had to go right to make sure it all didn’t blow up in our faces.

We’d not seen everything there was to see at the Kennedy Space Center and (The-Youngest would like to point out), we didn’t do the only ride there (a shuttle launch simulation.)

But we had to get on the road. We were about ½ an hour behind what was already a tight schedule. To make it, we would need the luck of the Irish to catch our flight.

Basically, we had to have no problems on the road, no problems turning in the car, no problems at the check-in counter, and, lastly, no problems going through security.

Easy, right?

By the time we pulled out onto the highway, even I was stressed, and The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World kept checking her watch like a terrorist wearing a bomb vest about to go off.

I drove as fast as I could without being super crazy. The roads in Florida are Albertan in their straightness, and a huge hill in Florida is about the height of our car. So we made good progress and we blazed through the toll stations (not stopping to pay because we had a pass that captured our rental car’s license plate and we’d be charged later).

We made it to the airport at 4.

The first hurdle overcome!

Thanks to the superior navigating team of The-Youngest and The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, we didn’t make any mistakes finding the rental-car parking lot. And, as we pulled in, someone came out immediately to check the car in. Alamo did a fantastic job speeding us through the process. A quick read of the mileage, a quick check for damage, and we were in the airport by 4:15.

Second hurdle overcome.

We found the counter for Alaska Airlines and, again, everything went smoothly, the woman behind the counter ensuring we found seats together – and even upgraded us to the comfy-seat section (not first-class but apparently the seats had more legroom.)

Third hurdle overcome!

It was about 4:45 when we reached the security line, a line as long as any in Disney World and with far less fun at the end (unless you enjoy your bags being scanned, opened, and your bottled water taken). Without slowing, we got in line and waited because, at that point, that’s all you can do. Passports were pulled from backpacks, water was thrown out, and The-Oldest kept his eye out for a piano.

It took a while to get through the various stations. Passport control (where I always look guilty of something for some reason), then the baggage check (where I always forget I left something in my carryon like suntan lotion) and finally the human scanner (where I have to enter, beltless, holding up my pants like a failed German general in Hitler’s kangaroo court).

But we played the lines like pro’s (and very un-Canadians), leaping into one that just opened up by the baggage scanners.

We’d cleared security by about 5:45.

We’d cleared our last hurdle with a good hour to spare.

Huzzah, I say, Huzzah!

Stress melting away, we ate in the food-court, looking like people with peanut allergies surviving eating 10 peanut butter sandwiches. Due to time constraints, this was the only meal we’d had since breakfast, 7 hours earlier.

As we boarded our plane, only one problem

remained. We had a tight turnaround for our connecting flight in Seattle. Everyone said it wouldn’t be a problem, but then everyone thought the new Star Wars movies would be awesome.

In the end, like any good story, it all worked out

But the luck of the Irish was indeed with us as we arrived at the Seattle Airport 20 mins ahead of schedule! I credit The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World (for using her mystic power to bend the world to her will.) I suspect she may have promised the dark gods a sacrifice of a chubby, nerdish husband, but that’s another story.

This story, however, ends well, with us arriving home at about 3am, very tired, very happy to sleep in our own beds. It had been a perfect end to an epic trip.

A final few blogs remain, blogs I’ve promised. Stay tuned!

Day 8 – The Day That Broke the Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World

NASA awaits!

Now you have to understand. The Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World is the most easy-going, fun-loving, goofy, giggly, accepting, loving, tolerant, patient, understanding, funny, and positive person I know.

But not by the end of this day, the Day That Broke the Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World.

In hindsight, we fell victim to one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is “Never get involved in a land war in Asia,” but only slightly less well known is this: “Never go in against a Sicilian, when death is on the line!” Or, the much lesser know, trying to do too much in one day, especially with a need to be at an airport at a specific time.

See, we’d planned to get up, drive out to the Kennedy Space Center, on a Sunday, see all we could see, then, casually drive back, looking at all the lovely Floridian scenery.

The plan faulted at the start, with no one super keen to get up, eat and get on the road. So, instead of arriving there at 10, we got there at 12. Not a big deal, I thought. Our flight was at 7, and we had to be there about 5, so taking two hours to drive there, say 2 ½ to include parking and me taking the wrong exit off the freeway… that left, ah, wait, 12 minus 5, minus, uhm 2 ½, carry the two, errrrrhm, about 2 ½ hours there. Plenty of time, right?

Wrong.

But that time crunch was only a part of what broke The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World. That stress of having to do stuff quickly was bad enough, but all of the waiting in line had to be outside in the scorching heat of the Florida summer sun!

Plus, on a Sunday, in the middle of the day, the crowds were thick and nasty.

It began well enough as we raced (and The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World HATES racing) past the JFK Monument to the entrance, past all the cool rockets on display outside, to stand in line for the Heroes and Legends Museum. It was hot, and while it wasn’t humid, the heat cooked us like a turkey at thanksgiving.

In the line, I became Chatty-Joe for some reason and we talked with a nice, wheelchair-bound lady Floridian who was originally from Bawston, her accent still thick and delightful. We met two guys from Kentucky who were very outgoing and entertaining, and one fellow from California who seemed like a very nice young man. (Good lord, when did I get old????)

Inside, the museum was extremely well put-together but we moved through it like coffee through my colon. Pictures were taken, one plaque was read but I’m pretty sure The-Youngest fondled everything in the building. Twice.

By the time we left, it was 1ish. We had found out that the big tour, the one where you get on a bus and see the launch sites and the big Saturn rockets took about 45min. That was doable, since we would finish about 2, and needed to leave by 2:30.

So we got into line. We could do this, I said, perhaps blindingly optimistic, but while we stood in the heat, again, sweat running down my back, The-Youngest took this time to start acting up. I have no idea why. The-Oldest will stoically endure anything, but The-Youngest, the moment he gets his nose out of joint at something, he can be a bit of a challenge.

We almost called it at that point, but we’d stood in line for about 15 min and we had that weird choice where you invest a ton of time in something that abandoning it seems like a failure, yet other factors (the heat, the time stress and, now, The-Youngest) seemed to make leaving a good idea.

This is the moment that The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World broke. Unlike me when I break, there’s not a lot of swearing and stomping of feet, she just frowns and withdraws. Instead of her normal chatty self, she’s monosyllabic. Instead of having a cheerful air, she radiates murderous discontent.

Being me, I wanted to fix it, but I was way, way too late on that one. Like realizing I should have put on suntan lotion at 9am, not after 8 hours in the sun.

But she was still determined to see the rockets. We still had enough time, and the bus would have A/C.

The countdown to launch clock, or our clock as we ran out of time

At about 1:45, we got on the bus. 45 min to finish, that left us at 2:30. Tight, but we could still get to the plane on time.

The actual tour was fantastic, with a grumpy old bus driver taking us past the launch sites, the MASSIVE vehicle assembly building, and even an alligator lurking in the water. I took lots of pictures while The-Youngest came out of his funk and gaped at all the rockets.

It really is a fantastic tour and I would highly recommend it, and when the tour ended it, was 2:35.

Good, right?

No, because the tour didn’t end at the main site, (where our car was), oh, no, it ended in the building with the Saturn Rocket, and we had to take a bus to get back.

The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, now in DESPERATE need of a bathroom, gave me a look that said, “if there’s a cliff, I’m pushing you off it,” but I was still hopeful. All we had to do was race through the building and get to the bus.

Only one problem! There was no direct route. We had to go through the space shows, normally very interesting histories of what happened or recreations of the space launches in the control room, but when you’re already behind schedule the inability to race through the damn place was super, super stressful.

However, after we cleared the first room, I went up and asked an attendant if we could just skip this and go through ‘that there door,’ like my life depended on a yes answer. She did say yes and we moved with astonishing speed through the building, ignoring astronaut memorials, cool suits to touch, and even another control room where it looked like we could control stuff.

By the incredibly huge Saturn rocket, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World found a bathroom, but like all women’s bathrooms, there was a huge wait. Bouncing from foot to foot, she waited while a family of 10 decided to have a chat in one of the stalls, all the while our clock ticking down.

The-Boyz mugging it up on the ass-end of the Saturn Rocket. That rocket is HUGE!

While The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World nearly exploded waiting for a toilet, The Boys and I wandered around the Saturn rocket. Honestly, you wouldn’t believe how big that thing is, and looking at it, walking along its length, it hits home just how incredible this achievement was. Putting a man on the moon was one of the most epic moments in history and those going up into space risked their lives to accomplish something extraordinary.

When we finally took the bus ride back to the main site, ran through the space center like we were being chased by rabid dog zombies, and reached our car, it was 3:07. We were now seriously behind schedule and in danger of missing our flight.

Everything had to go our way not to make this one of the biggest traveling mistakes I’ve ever made.

Day 7 – Universal’s Wizard World Part 2 and the Hulk

universal them park orlando florida hogswart school
Taking the Hogwart’s Express Train to the other side of the Universal Theme Park

With my tummy full of Butter Beer, my skin warmed by Dragon’s breath, and my nerdy gauge filled up with magic, we left Diagon Alley to take the Hogwarts Express Train to Hogsmead, AKA, the 2nd part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Theme Park.

The Hogwarts Express is a ride itself, and we boarded with little wait. Inside, we were locked in our cabins while the Potter gang wandered in the corridor and Dementors flew by our window, feeding on our happiness (which I think they do on a daily basis for me).

I could see why this could be terrifying to young kids (being locked in a small room and then have the spooky, ghost-like Dementors wail outside the window), but for us, it was just fun.

Hungry, the lines now HUGE for most rides, the weather blazing hot and stiflingly humid, we chose to eat. That took a good 40 min of sweating in the Leaky Cauldron’s line-up, but the food was delicious, (all very British with fish and chips, toad in the hole and cottage pie!) Set in a medieval setting, we sat at wooden picnic tables and ate our fill.

Recharged and re-energized, we strode back into the crowds as thick as Mrs. Dursley’s Pudding. The-Boyz went on Flight of the Hippogriff, while The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World and I tried to shop for something special.

However, the crowds inside the stores, and bumping against sweaty muggles made it hard to fondle things like a Gryffindor House scarf, a Howler pop-up card or a Sorting Hat, so we left to find what shade we could and wait.

See, the thing that both Disney World and Universal don’t seem to understand is that it’s hot outside and we muggles need shade. Or AC.

A Wizarding cloak!!! With a Hufflepuff scarf! OMG. I want. I want

Waiting for the young wizards to finish rides in the sweltering sun is not fun – It’s draining and uncomfortable and I’m pretty sure I end up smelling like a homeless hobo.

The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, being Hermione-Granger-smarter than me believes this is on purpose, to drive us into the shops or restaurants which are air-conditioned.

She could be right.

With the line soooo long, we couldn’t do the newest ride, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, so we made our way out of the Wizarding World and into the rest of the park, jumping on the Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls ride, then lining up for the terrifying Hulk Coaster.

The Hulk was something to see (and probably ride, but there was no way I was going on that behemoth). As the coaster shot out of the loading area, it roared so loudly that you could hear it from the parking lot, then it flung the riders down a steep incline, then around and around, and somewhere along the lines, I would have thrown up or passed out. (Video HERE)

For The-Youngest, this was the reason for coming to Universal… that and getting a good wand, but the coaster, (like Volcano Bay), well, he had dreamed about it, researched it, and watched every youtube video on it (including how it was built!).

But, the truth be told, he too was terrified, and (as he explained) had worked his way through the rides in the park to build up his courage.

However, despite the fear that was making him bounce around like a drop of water on a hot pan, he wasn’t going to back down. To me, that’s brave – He did something he was scared to do.

For The-Oldest, he really didn’t get a HUGE kick out of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, (which is completely wrong to me) but he did enjoy the terrifying rides. Those things don’t scare him at all. Nor do heights. Jump scares. Or It-like clowns.

Hulk Coaster in the Universal theme park. Not the MOST terrifying, but close!

S0 that Hulk coaster certainly met his criteria for a good ride. Fast. Good drops. And a great start to the ride.

By the time The-Boyz came back, the line-ups were too long to do the MOST terrifying ride, the Rip Rocket, and, frankly, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World and I were done. Exhausted, sweaty, wet from a small rain shower, we slogged back to the car and drove back to the resort where we all passed out about 8pm.

It had been a great day, even if we missed about 2/3rds of the rides there, and even if we failed at sticking to our tried-and-true plan of getting there at rope drop, going back to the resort to recuperate, and then heading back to the theme park.

However, the toughest day was yet to come, the day that broke The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World.

Day 7 Universal Theme Park – The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter

Diagon Alley in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Would The Wizarding World of Harry Potter live up to its hype?

As we approached the secret entrance to Diagon Alley, I became even more childlike than usual.

I won’t lie, I was super excited about wandering around Diagon Alley, going on the Gringott’s ride, and maybe even buying a wand. Both The-Youngest and I had done our research. We knew exactly where to look for the secret entrance so we weaved our way through the passage into Diagon Alley.

It wasn’t the best weather and here the crowds were as thick as Mandrakes in Professor Sprout’s greenhouse, but it didn’t matter. We had been transported to a different world.

Crooked buildings lined the street, strange signs swinging over colorfully painted doors. Arcane goods could be seen in foggy windows. Kids stood on brass plates, waving their wands, making a curtain move or a house-elf look up. Stands had been set up for multi-colored potions in antiquarian bottles.

But at the far end of the Alley, looming above it all, stood a dragon, waiting to breathe fire upon unsuspecting muggles.

At that moment, I realized I should have brought my wizard robes because this was the place to wear them (though, apparently, NOT at my wedding). Quite a few people, and not all of them kids, were decked out in Potter fashion. Wands. Robes. Wizard hat. House scarf. House-elf stuffie.

This was a zone of nerdishness, a zone of non-judgment.

The-Youngest and I bounded from shop to shop, looking around. We found Ollivanders Wand Shop soon enough, but it was far too crowded inside. However, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World found a girl in wizard robes who told us the actual wand show wasn’t busy at the moment.

OMG. We raced inside and soon stood in front of an old wizard behind a counter, books and wand boxes filled the walls around us. The old wizard would determine what wand would be the best fit for an aspiring magic-user.

Despite me waving my arms and saying “pick me, pick me, oooooh,  ME! Me-me mememememememe, meeeeeeeeeeee,” he chose The-Youngest.

The-Youngest marched up looking like he was about to be turned into a newt, took the wand offered and tested it out. Chaos ensued – Bookshelves fell, bells rang, wands failed to move as each wand he tried, failed. Then, finally, The-Youngest chose the right one, the best one for him, and all his spells worked. (see how he used them in Diagon Alley HERE.)

We left through a secret entrance back into the shop where The-Youngest bought his wand after much dithering.

See, the most powerful wand is Elder wand, perhaps created by death himself, so The-Youngest wanted that one, but wait, he also wanted the wand that had for chosen him since every wizard knows the wand chooses the wizard, not the other way around, but then, again, the Elder wand is made from “Elder wood” and has a “Thestraltail-hair core” and was owned by Dumbledoor, but then, hmmmm, the wand that had chosen him could be as powerful as….

It took about 20 min for him to decide, but in the end, he went with the Oak Wand with a Dragonheart String core, the wand that had chosen him. With crowds of muggles gathering like there was a Black Friday Sale at Walmart, we made our way to the Gringott’s Ride.

The amazing entrance into Gringott’s Goblin bank in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal

The line-up wasn’t that long and, like Disney World, there was so much to see along the way. It started out with a spectacular Goblin bank entrance, a diamond chandelier overhead, shining marble floors at our feet, and goblins grimly going about their banking tasks.

The ride itself was good, telling a decent story as we weaved our way down through the secret vaults, pursued by Voldemort and his Death Eaters, and to make the occasion, we bought an expensive photo of us at Gringott’s

As soon as we got outside, The-Youngest went about using his wand at all the wizarding stations. (see video here!)

Butter Beer! Not everyone liked it

I didn’t get a wand, since none had chosen me, so I went to get a Butter Beer, bought a potion, and tried to get a picture of the dragon breathing fire on all the muggles.

As The-Youngest gagged on the Butter Beer and The-Oldest announced it tasted like sweet vomit, the moving river of people slowed around us. Not because The-Boyz were complaining about Butter Beer, but because a man had knelt on one knee outside of one of the wizarding shops and asked his girl to marry him.

Like The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, she jumped up and down, happy, and like The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, she agreed to marry the nerdy guy. The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World teared up, fluttering her hands around her eyes as if she could evaporate the happy tears.

Our visit to Diagon Alley couldn’t have ended better, as the Dragon breathed fire above us all, bathing us in heat, and the happy couple looked up.

We left, having seen all we could see, done all we could do, and, at least for me, had the most magical of times.

Did Harry Potter’s Wizarding World live up to the hype? Gosh, yes! Because, at least for me, as Hagrid would say, “I am what I am an’ I’m not ashamed.”

Day 7 Universal Studios Begins

universal globe at universal studios theme park
universal globe at universal studios theme park
Time for Universal Studios!

At 10:40, the crowds at Universal Studios were beginning to grow, so we had to choose wisely.

So, we decided to do the important adventures, first. Not the Hulk ride. Not the Rip Ride Rocket. Not one of the water rides.

No. We were going to do something for me. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Expecto Patronum!

The lineups to get into Universal Theme Park were longish, but not bad, and we had the best attendant help us get through. I had booked tickets online and wasn’t sure how that would work, but it turned out all we had to do was use my phone to show them, then press our finger for the fingerprint scanner, and that was that.

The attendant was an older fella. Older than me, anyway, and he had the biggest smile on his face, and when he found out where we were from, he talked hockey. His team was, and always will be, the NY Islanders. Where he was from.

I can’t tell you how impressive it is to be greeted in a positive way when you start out in a park. Disney does this well, no, really, really, really well. So, too, it seems, does Universal.

We made our way out of the crowds into the Universal Studio streets. The-Youngest loved that he could walk in the middle of the road and no one yelled at him. The-Oldest saw ‘Doc’ from Back to the Future walking around, and waved at him. Marilyn Munro walked by in her iconic white dress and looked at The-Youngest, saying “I think that one’s giving me a look.”

The-Youngest is about to meet Marilyn Monroe

The-Youngest blushed so red, he looked like someone had lit a fire inside his head. Before she could say anything more, he rushed away from her like an energizer bunny suddenly hit by lightning.

Then we entered one of the BEST parts of Universal. Simpson’s land.

Now, it’s not the BEST place for rides, sure, but it ignited the nerd inside of me. There was the Springfield sign, and over there, the Kwik-E-Mart. Over there, look, there’s Krusty Burger, OMG, we HAVE to have a Krusty Burger, and there’s Duff Beer, OMG, I have to have some Duff beer, OMG, there’s Mo’s Tavern, we have to go in and burb with Barney, and there’s Lard Land Donuts, OMG, we have to get a Homer donut!

See, I guess at my core, I’m less of a Disney guy and more of a movie and TV guy.

As I hopped around pointing at everything in Simpson’s Land, the Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World looking at me like I was having a seizure, The Boyz decided they’d go on a ride – The not-too-scary Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl. The-Youngest told me, “Joe, did you know, it’s a good plan to do easier rides before you do the Hulk ride. You have to work up to it.” (The highlight of his plan was going on the terrifying Hulk Coaster.)

Kang and Kodo didn’t disappoint. At least didn’t disappoint The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World and I. We watched the boys go around and around, and laughed out loud at the commentary. “You will know the ride has ended when your vehicle comes to a complete stop, or you have been eaten…I didn’t just say that.” “Thank you for betraying mankind. Go home and enjoy your shame.”

After The Boyz got off, The-Oldest, much to our surprise, decided he HAD to have a Homer t-shirt. No words on it, just a Homer face. All yellow.

Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone. This is the secret entrance to Harry Potters Wizarding World.

Since it was so very, very, very rare for The-Oldest to want anything that didn’t involve a piano, we got him the shirt. Could it be that he was going to have a good time here?

I looked over towards Diagon Alley. I knew I was.

Time for some magic!

Day 6 Universal’s Volcano Bay Waterpark in the Rain

volcano bay universal theme park waterpark orlando florida
universal volcano bay orlando florida rainstorm
Was it a dream? Did we really go back to Volcano Bay?

I won’t lie.

We were desperate to salvage the day. Maybe a movie? Maybe find an indoor race track? Maybe a gun range. Wait, what, no guns for The-Youngest? Ok. But something. Something…

After successfully bra shopping for The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, (The Boyz remaining in the car to avoid awkwardly looking at women trying on bras), we decided to give Volcano Bay one last look on the way back to our resort to reconsider possibilities.

With the rain still pouring down, our thinking was, yes, it was still raining in a way only a tropical location or movie shoot can rain, but we hadn’t heard or seen lightning for a while, so where was the harm in checking Volcano Bay?

So we drove past more churches than I’ve seen in my life, through lakes forming on the roads, beside rivers raging in what had been drainage ditches, past houses darkly stained by mildew, hoping against hope.

By now The-Youngest had come to terms with the idea his life was over and all that he had ever hope for, dreamed about, lay in ashen ruins. But when we drove near Volcano Bay, despite the rain still falling, we saw people climbing steps. To rides!

The-Youngest sat up so quickly that I think he popped a joint, but he’s young and joint popping isn’t that big a deal. Excitedly, he bounced up and down, as we took the turn into the parking lot.

Now, I won’t say this was my finest driving moment, but it was one of the oddest. The cones were all over the place and I had to stop in a parking lot so vast it can be seen from Mars to figure out where to go. As I did so, dozens of cars literally raced around me, like I was a frightened rabbit on Lightning McQueen’s race track (when in fact, I was just a confused old guy!)

It didn’t take long for us to get into the park as no one was there. It was a little spooky, but kind of cool as well. Maybe 200 people wandered around, (which I totally get is not ‘no one’, but in a park built for tens of thousands, it seemed to have more staff than customers.)

So, we made a plan, cuz, you know, that’s what we do.

Hit the most important rides first! We didn’t know how long they’d allow us to stay in the park.

We could still lose the park to lightning or a North Korean attack, so doing the rides in any other order made no sense.

The ride The-Youngest chose was the Krakatoa, a ride like a roller coaster where we sit in a canoe-like thingee and get shot through tubes, up hills and down, through waterfalls, all by magnets.

Without ANY lineup we got on and shot off like a rocket. Wow. Every hill we crested we got air. Every turn we made in the tunnel seemed one inch from being an exercise in physics to see if we could glide on the roof.

Volcano Bay. With the soft, tropical downpour, we had the park to ourselves, making this one of the best days ever!

It was amazing fun!

Then, because we were old and slow, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World and I went on the lazy rivers. Again, with no people, the faster river was a completely different ride, the waves much, much higher, the speed much, much faster, and there weren’t a thousand people constantly accidentally punching you in the face.

We had a blast, but man, was it ever a workout to try to keep together, to dodge the painfully, powerful waterfalls and avoid the few numbers of little kids who rocketed the rapids like insane otters.

The slower river was better for us, though if you saw me trying to get into an inner tube, you would have laughed. It was like trying to fit a polar bear into a lifesaver.

But, as we got our lazy river on, The-Oldest and The-Youngest went on ride after ride after ride, literally walking on to any ride they wanted. Their bare feet slapped on the wet concrete as they raced from the Krakatau Aqua Coaster to the Kala and Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides then to the Ohyah and Ohno Drop Slides.

No line ups. None.

With the most beautiful purple sky overhead, we joined them for the Krakatau Aqua Coaster (which was a powered by jets of water), and boy, was that fun, especially since all we had to do was climb a few steps and go right on it.

While the rain continued to fall, as the light began to fade, The-Boyz raced away from us to do their final rides before the park shut down. We floated in the lazy river one last time as I soaked up the experience.

The rain was soft and heavy, but warm, not pelting down like ice needles. I didn’t care about the rain, we were in a waterpark getting soaked, so getting extra soaked really made the experience even better. No, wait, more than better, it made the experience immortal.

We were in the rain in a waterpark that we basically had to ourselves. Like we were billionaires.

I wandered around a bit, taking pictures of the stunning sky, I but I knew, I just KNEW I would remember this magical night forever. Like when I first looked upon the green, rolling hills of England when I was 18, like when I first smelled a peat fire when I was 24, like when I saw The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World walk down the aisle to marry me, breathtakingly beautiful, me wondering how I managed to get so lucky.

What had started out as a disaster had ended up being an amazing day!

One of the best pictures I’ve even taken – of one of the best nights I’ve ever had traveling. No filter on this shot at all, but (to be honest), the light was even more spectacular in person.

Day 6 Universal’s Volcano Bay – The End of the World

universal volcano bay orlando florida
Universal’s Volcano Bay Waterpark. A great start. Good weather, few people, full tummies.

The-Youngest’s most anticipated theme park was Universal’s Volcano Bay.

He had watched hours and hours of videos. POV videos. Review videos. Park exploration videos. He knew how to use the Fastpasses, how to use the Taputapu wrist bands, where we should get our lockers, where the best food was, and, of course, what the best rides would be.

He’d even planned out a route, taking advantage of the fact we’d get there before a lot of the crowds, and had plotted how best to use the Taputapu bands (simply tap the wristband to the icon at the ride you want, it assigns a time for you to return for your ride. The clock on the wristband counts down and buzzes when it is time to return to your selection.)

In short, he was one super prepared little kid. Or to quote him, “I’ve been planning and dreaming about his park for 6 years!” Ok, maybe a bit overdramatic, but he was so excited, he was quivering.

And by the time we arrived, there were a few clouds drifting off in the distance, another warning of rain, thunder and lightning had been issued, but the sky was blue, the lines were light, and after applying so much sunscreen we would survive on the surface of the sun, we raced off to have us some fun.

Our tour guide, The-Youngest, took us to our first ride in Volcano Bay. Maku Puihi. Something everyone could do, even if they couldn’t pronounce it.

Our tour guide, The-Youngest, took us to his first choice, a good family ride, he said, knowing that his mom and I would not be super keen on the drop slides or super fast ones. He wanted us to share this experience with him as much as possible.

We had to climb a lot of stairs to reach the top of the ride, but I have to say, it was a blast going down. Then we did the lesser one, which was, for me, more fun since I didn’t risk flying off the side of the ride.

Excited, clouds beginning to form above us, The-Youngest raced off to do the ‘fun’ rides, the Krakatau Aquacoaster, the Kala & Tui Nui Serpentine Body Slides, the Ohyay  and Ohno drop slides, and the very, very terrifying Ko’kiri body plunge (“Featuring a 70-degree fall through a drop door and 125 feet of white-knuckle fun, this dizzying descent ends with a watery tribute from Vol himself.”) Here is a vid if you want to see what it’s like.

Even thinking about that last one made my stomach leap into my throat.

So, after securing chairs, while the-Boyz enacted The-Youngest’s masterplan, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World and I went on the Swift Flowing Lazy River, which is an oxymoron (like saying jumbo shrimp or Microsoft works), but it was relaxing, and little by little, the stress from the past few days melted away into the water,

But as we began our second lazy river run, the clouds overhead had thickened and blotted out the sun. Tiny raindrops began to fall. Not a big deal. We’re from Vancouver. We’re used to rain.

Then the clouds overhead became dark and menacing, like something looming over Mordor. Thunder cracked in the distance and the rain began to fall like it had on the first day we’d arrived. Heavy, wet drops, fell, the sound like a waterfall.

No problem, we’re used  … then came the announcement. The rides were being closed due to the storm. I mean, it kind of makes sense if the lightning came our way because the last thing the park would want is a whole pool of people being electrocuted, but for The-Youngest, it was the end of the world.

Dark clouds over Volcano Bay. Soon the rains came, followed by thunder and lightning and one sad little boy

At 11am, his plan of doing the entire park in one day, of sliding on all the cool slides of experiencing that terrifying Ko’kiri body plunge, fell to pieces.

He was, in a word, devastated.

We returned to our seats, under an umbrella, and tried to wait it out. By 12:30, it had only gotten worse.

So, we decided it was pointless to wait around. We had to declare the park a disaster and think of doing something else.

The-Youngest slumped back to the car, completely unexcited about going bra shopping for The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, but none of us had any idea how the day would really work out.

Father’s Day Done Right

What is the greatest gift you can get on Father’s Day?

playing the board game, pandemic on Father's Day at Mr. Mikes.
Getting ready to play the board game Pandemic on Father’s Day

I think every dad has a different idea of what makes the BEST Father’s Day: fishing, bowling, golfing, camping, whiskey, strippers… but for me, it’s playing a game with my family.

So, this year, I chose for forgo presents, dinner, and whiskey to play a game.

See, I love to play games. Risk. Life. Chess. Apples To Apples. Catan. But the games I love the most are the cooperative ones. D&D is such a game, where a group gathers to overcome obstacles by working together, but I would have more luck getting The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World to shave her head than play that game, so I found another one. Pandemic.

There’s a cool video on the game below, but basically, 2-4 players must cure 4 plagues before they become pandemics and wipe out the world. We either all win together, or we lose together.

It’s a cool life lesson.

Now the challenge was that we had never played this game before. None of us.

In a perfect world, the boys would have learned the rules but that was a bridge too far, sort of like getting your dog to write letters to the editor complaining about lack of fire hydrants. So I did what you do these days – I watched YouTube videos.

After about an hour of watching tutorials and gamers gaming, I was ready, more or less. It looked simple enough, but the devil, as they say, is in the details. Basically, you win by defeating the 4 diseases, but you could lose if you run out of territory cards, if you run out of disease counters, or the outbreaks become so many that they overwhelmed the world.

Whew. I’d never played a game with so many ways to lose.

We drove down to Mr. Mikes, where they encourage you to play games, and set up the board. The manager came over immediately, excited by our choice and after we told him this was our first time playing Pandemic, he told us to get him ANYTIME you have a question.

That was cool. Plus, Mr. Mikes has the Mike burger and that’s one of my favourite burgers (mostly based on my childhood, where a visit to Mr. Mikes was, at least for us, 5 star dining!)

The game began well enough and we pounced on the diseases sprouting up around the world like Harvey Weinstein pounces on vulnerable women. We even managed to eradicate one, and stop numerous outbreaks from spreading too far.

The-Youngest was amazing, often thinking 2-3 moves ahead, but in the end, we ran out of territory cards, and lost. I see this as running out of resources, like suddenly someone defunds the program and starts up a starbucks somewhere.

But I had a ton of fun. Not sure everyone else did, but they were troopers and had done something that 2 of 4 didn’t particularly enjoy.

It was a great Father’s Day!

But to answer the question posed in the first sentence, the greatest Father’s Day gift that can be given is not playing a game.

No.

It’s the gift of time. It is the most precious commodity we possess, the only one that matters in the long run.

Father’s Day was the best because 3 people gave their time to me so I could have some fun. How awesome is that?

Advice from a Stepdad on Father’s Day

Things they do not tell you about being a stepdad

So, I’ve been a stepdad for about 5 years now, and I have some observations I’d like to share… the top 5 things that no one will tell you about being a stepdad.

  1. As a stepdad, you start to worry a lot more. For me, this has led to more grey hair, a weird twitch in my eye when I hear a siren and the boys aren’t home, and (best of all), a massive worry-line in the middle of my forehead. It’s a line soooo deep that I can hold a fork in it. Without even being stressed.

I worry about their safety, their health, their happiness. I worry if they’ll make friends, if they’ll make good friends, if they’ll find a girl (or guy) at some point who will love them the way they deserve to be loved.

I worry about if they’re eating right, if they’re watching too much YouTube, if they’re becoming more like a robot than a human. I worry if they’ll be able to afford to buy a house in Greater Vancouver, if they’ll be destroyed when AI takes over the world, or if they’ll drown when the polar ice caps on mars melts.

In other words, I worry a lot. There’s a 24-page list. Single spaced. 10.5 font. As a stepdad, you will be exhausted … like Fred Flintstone working as a Bronto-crane operator at the Slate Rock and Gravel Company kind of tired.

2. After a full day with the boys (and remember, I don’t even work), I can literally pass out on the couch with a bottle of whiskey clutched in my trembling hands. Ok, the bottle is a lie, but the rest is true.

A day of taking one biking, another to music, of cooking supper and forcing one of them to do homework, and listening to the other play the piano and trying to get them to reveal intimate details of their life so I can blog out them, well, yes, it takes it out of me.

I totally get why having kids at 25 is a great idea. At 55, gosh, it’s tough.

3. As a stepdad, you will discover that you are not a god.

This came as a big surprise to me. I so wanted to be god-like, for little faces to look up to me and soak up all my vast stores of knowledge, to listen to my every word like I was a YouTuber or a rapper or sit in awe as I pontificate about history, philosophy, tanks, or politics.

Instead, I’ve had to reset my expectations.

Now, I’m insanely excited if they ask me about the weather.

4. Being a stepdad is COMPLETELY different from being Uncle-Joe. Uncle Joe never had to get someone to bed who didn’t want to go to bed. Uncle Joe never had to nag someone to finish a project or threaten to take away electronic time. Uncle Joe never had to explain what an erection is or what to do about bullies.

Uncle Joe had an amazing life of giving out ice cream, of taking kids mini-golfing, or showing them how He could leave whenever things got, to quote The-Oldest “Real”. Being Uncle Joe was easy. Being stepdad Joe, a lot harder!

5. There’s a ton of stuff that you will do that you will not want to do as a stepdad, but you will do it anyway. I’m not talking about changing diapers, I missed that fun, but other stuff that’s hard.

I mean, honestly listening to a grade 4 band play something is like having someone stick a screeching cat in your ear, then set it on fire. But at least the grade 4s playing their little hearts out has a cuteness factor.

Being a baseball scorekeeper or hockey treasurer, well, that’s just pure stress that you take on for no other reason than you have to do it. Or the pure joy of getting up at 5am to take a boy to a practice then driving back to get something he forgot. Or the racing to the school after a terrifying call that you need to be in the principal’s office NOW!

Fun times. Yes.

*****

So, yeah, those are some of the things they don’t tell you about being a stepdad or stepmom or hell, just a parent in general.

teaching the boys about chess

But here’s the deepest truth of all – being a stepdad, even a massively flawed one, has given my some of the greatest experiences of my life, and watching the boys grow from little goobers to decent, amazing men is something I wouldn’t trade for all the chocolate in the world.

Honestly, it’s the last thing no one tells you about – All those things above pale in comparison to the joy of being a stepdad.

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Driving Mr. Daisy

What The-Oldest is thinking.

One of the great events in our early lives is learning to drive. Driving equals independence. It’s a milestone in life.

And it’s something that can drive parents crazy.

It’s all because we think, gosh, we can teach our child to drive. We’re good drivers, right? We’ve been doing it for years, right? We love our child so we will teach him with patience and understanding how to drive a car, right? Right?

Oh, how we forget what it was like when we learned to drive.

I remember being so excited about driving that when I turned 16, I immediately went down to get my licence and began bugging mom to teach me to drive. However, this was back in the Flintstone era when there weren’t such things as L’s or N’s or seatbelts or internal combustion engines.

However, I learned quickly, as did my mom, that she should not be teaching me. Not that she was a bad driver per se, but more like one of us would end up having a nervous breakdown. Speed up, slow down, hand over hand, check the rear view mirror, shoulder check, look out for that little old lady crossing the street! Look  out! Hit the breaks!!!!! Ok, find a phone and call an ambulance.

Now, did I remember any of this?

No. It all faded into the background of my mind when I offered to take The-Oldest for his first drive. I have to confess, I was super excited. He was super nervous.

The plan was simple. We’d take out the Rav4 and drive around the local theater parking lot. It’s a nice safe place and likely would be empty at 3pm on a Monday afternoon.

The-Oldest started off well enough. He quickly got over the whole go-cart way of driving (using his left foot for the break) and began to learn how far to push down on the gas to go, then how hard to press the break so as to actually stop the car and not send his favourite stepdad flying through the windshield.

But then things took a turn.

There was no reason that the parking lot shouldn’t have been empty, but the moment he put his foot on the gas, someone pulled into the center of the parking lot and took out their little 2-year-old who went charging around like she wanted to be hit by an overwhelmed sixteen-year-old. Then, another car arrived and parked on the edge and just sat there, the driver and passenger smoking and basically acting like THEY wanted to be t-boned by an overwhelmed sixteen-year-old.

If that wasn’t bad enough, someone else decided it would be nice to teach their son how to drive in the same lot.

What had been a great idea, (you know, find empty lot, train boy to drive) became avoid running over 2-year-old, don’t hit the couple doing, ah something, in the car, and please avoid ramming into that white-knuckled, pimply-faced boy with a terrified-looking mom in the front seat.

Fun.

Well, it was, actually. Fun, I mean. The-Oldest got used to the pedals, he learned to break and steer, he took WIDE turns to avoid cars, curbs and 2-year-olds, and he even managed to back up without running over anyone or anything (more than I can say most times.)

He did amazing. Sure he started out looking like we were about to make him do a public speech about girl’s anatomy, but he ended up confidently parking between the lines (again, something I can’t often do.) He was proud of himself and he began to feel like he could totally learn this whole driving thing. I know this because he said, “I can totally learn this whole driving thing.”

Parenting win! A win for The-Oldest!

Next up, we’ll see if he can drive in some lanes around that parking lot.

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Why ‘Firsts’ Matter

poo cupcakes

A week for 1sts

poo cupcakes
Never, ever look up a picture of poo on the internet.

The best part of being a parent is experiencing the firsts with your kids. First steps. First words. First poo in the toilet.

Sadly, I missed those so the firsts that come my way I eat up like a starving puppy thrown into a pit of pupperoni. But this week had a ton. A cluster of firsts. Even one that was a first for me.

The-Youngest had his first dance. Much of it I have been banned from talking about, but I was so proud of him for going. Alone. No wingman. No backup.

I remember my first dance. It was 70s line dancing. Disco, god help me. And it was such a terrible experience, that (to this day), I am still super conscious of how badly I dance. But The-Youngest stayed an hour, did his best to mingle (gosh, that’s hard to do) and finally left, vowing to have a friend go with him next time.

Soon to come, his first dance with a girl, then first date (NOT a date, Joe, we’re just getting a slice of pizza!), then first kiss, then the next thing you know, we’ll be at a wedding.

Learning to drive in the Toyota Rav4
The training car of choice, Rav4, Toyota. Not the mustang. No.

Next first was first time driving for The-Oldest. As he can’t actually go on the road, yet, we drove in the driveway, going in and out of gear, moving forward, backward, and figuring out what everything did in the car. I was super excited to be a part of that.

I remember my mom trying to teach me and it ended with me getting professional lessons (either that or mom would have ended up in the mental ward).

I honestly don’t think I could teach either of the boys to actually drive, not only because I’d freak out when they came close to clipping another car or running over a baby, but because I’d teach him all my bad habits. “Oh, hit the gas, you can rip through that yellow light.” “A double line passing restriction doesn’t apply to mustangs.” “Let’s see if I can actually do double the speed limit.”

So soon he’ll be taking lessons. I think it’ll go well. He did amazingly well n the driveway. More than I can say about myself these days.

First hockey tournament win
Hockey win!
His first!

Third first was The-Youngest’s, again.

He won a hockey tournament! Or rather his team did. They fought like lions (if lions could, you know, skate) and beat several pretty damn fine teams.

The last game for the gold aged me about 10 years, so if you haven’t seen me in a few months, I look like Stan Lee (may he rest in peace) after a bad night of drinking.

I was so proud of him and so happy to be a part of something he’d remember for the rest of his life. That kick out save at the start of the first game. The other team hitting the post not once, but twice in the final 2 minutes of the gold game. He’ll remember skating around, holding the trophy high. He’ll remember how the team mobbed him after an outstanding last game. He’ll remember the feeling of that win, that success, that payoff for a lot of hard work forever.

Or at least until that first kiss drives everything else out of his mind.

Lastly, something new for me. A first. My first baby shower.

Now, normally guys aren’t allowed to these things, though, why, I’m not quite sure. But we hosted the event, and The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World and her parents worked very hard at making sure it was a success, cooking up a storm, setting up the rooms for nearly 60 people (YIKES!) and then making sure everyone felt welcome when they came over.

My quick observations of the event are as follows. I don’t think the mom touched her baby in 3 hours. I think both are going to be incredible parents. I think grand-babies are the best anti-aging method out there (and no, I don’t mean eating them or something, but holding them, snuggling them, feeding them) – it takes years off the grandparent’s faces.

baby shower
Cutest baby ever at her first Baby Shower. My first baby shower, too

Apart from all the cool presents, though, I think the best thing about a shower is that the mom realizes that she’s not alone, that what she feels, what she fears, what she hates or loves are all things other moms have experienced. There is help out there. Empathy. Support.

And also a year supply of diapers.

Other firsts zipped by almost unnoticed. The-Oldest’s first sr. concert (he was, as always, outstanding) and The-Youngest’s first time in the front seat (a little ahead of schedule),

But there are many more coming and I mean to be a part of as many as I can, because their firsts are mine, too.

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Mayne Island Getaway

parenting meme

parenting meme
Ah, parenting, the greatest thing we’ll do in our lives. Yes?

I think one of the things guys/boyfriends/husbands/stepdads/gigolos don’t realize is how much work and stress goes into being a mom.

Now that’s not to say that we don’t have our own challenges, stresses or times when we need a break, but moms take on a lot more than they let on.

So, every so often, it’s good to get away from the kids, the dog, the house. Good to get away from all those things that stack up in a mom’s mind and weigh her down.

But going away together also gives us a chance to reconnect as a couple. You might think, well, couldn’t we do that at home? And the simple answer is, not always. In fact, not often.

See, as amazing an experience as being a parent can be, kids can also become the focus of your lives. You worry about them, you nag them, advise them, encourage them, praise them, tease them, make them eat their vegetables, make them take their vitamins and do their homework, make them go to bed on time, take them to hockey games, classical music concerts, out to mountain bike courses, watch Rick and Morty with them, read to them, laugh with them, try to raise them right, and after they’ve gone to bed, you talk about them.

It’s what parents do.

So this year, time and money being tight, we chose to go to Mayne Island for our anniversary. Our 2nd.

I’d never been to Mayne Island before, despite it being part of the Gulf Islands which are not that far away. We chose Mayne over the other islands because it seemed calmer, like a place a stoned sloth would go to relax. Because relaxing was what this mini-trip would be about.

As anyone who’s read my blog knows, I love to plan things out. You know, see all that there is to see, do all that there is to do. But on a relaxing vacation, I must put this aside and simply book the hotel and ferries, then sit back and see what happens. Play it by ear. Wing it.

mayne island resort view, gulf islands 2018
Mayne Island Resort 2018

So here was my plan. Get off the ferry. Drive to hotel. Return to ferry in 2 days.

Sad, right, but also relaxing. No stress of having to be up at 8 to get a kayak. No tour bus to board at 10. No movie at 7.  We could eat when we wanted, watch the ocean do oceanie things, maybe go for a walk, read, write, hold hands, breathe in the fresh, salt air, talk, listen to the silence and take pictures of natural things like huge, frightening spiders.

In other words, reconnect and give mom a chance to recharge a bit.

Our hotel, the Mayne Island Resort. Quiet. Quaint.

Mayne Island Resort would be the perfect place for this.

 

 

 

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Will the Pandas Be Awesome at the Calgary Zoo?

pandas at calgary zoo

Calgary Alberta Zoo and pandas
Pandas at the Calgary Zoo. Posters and signs were everywhere.

The Truth About Pandas.

We had a choice to make early in the planning stage. The Calgary Zoo or the Calaway Amusement Park. The-Youngest argued for the park, since it had, you know, rides and cotton candy and rides and pop and rollercoasters and popcorn and more rides.

All good points.

But since we were going to the West Edmonton Mall, and they had rides and waterslides and rollercoasters, it was decided to see the zoo. The zoo had pandas, and pandas trump terrifying machines of death every time.

We arrived at 3:10, the panda exhibit reservation was at 3:30, at the far end of the zoo. We knew if we hoofed it, we’d arrive there.

We confirmed the location of the pandas with the ticket guy who seemed vaguely amused that we thought they’d moved them, but then again pandas are known for their blinding speed and ability to Tarzan from tree to tree so who knows, right?

We speed-marched to the panda exhibit like housewives trying to wiggle walk-off 20lbs in one journey. All along the way, there were posters of pandas looking cute. We weren’t deceived, we knew they were ferocious killers that took down mammoths once upon a time. They were known to move faster than cheetahs, and make homes from rocks they carved from the mountains.

Ok, all we really knew is that they were super cute and ate shoots and leaves. We’d seen pictures. And watched videos. Seems they did a lot of looking cute, a lot of munching on things and, every so often, they’d lumber around their enclosure like me with a foot cramp.

To our surprise, there were no line-ups and we got to go right in.

It was then we found out the real truth about pandas. Like me, also super cute, they like to nap. A lot. Seems it’s their favourite thing to do.

So, we got to see one napping on a big rock. She had managed to lay in such a way that it looked like one bad shift in her dreams and she’d fall off the rock and into the water. There are a lot of videos of pandas sleep-falling off of trees, rocks, and buildings. It could be that they are not the smartest animals in the kingdom.

I waited for her to fall off, but she didn’t shift a bit, happy to be inside, and warm and with her children safe and sound in another room. Her children were likewise asleep, happy to snuggle with each other. They weren’t as white and black as I thought they’d be, more a muddy white and a greyish-black, but their cuteness was undeniable. I waited my turn with all the other children who wanted to get close and take a picture, then snapped a few of them cuddled up.

The biggest difference between the older generation and the younger could be summed up here. I waited for my turn. Kids pushed their way in (and I’m not talking 5-year-olds who have an excuse for bad manners) but those horrible teenagers, the ones without social skills, no understanding of lines and raised by parents who thought that being their friend was the same as, you know, parenting.

pandas at calgary zoo
The panda babies didn’t really look like babies. If they had cell phones, they would have been taking selfies. http://joecummings.ca/travel/

No matter. I snapped a few pictures of the cuties, then took a bit of time to actually watch the pandas with my own eyes while teenagers cycled past the glass taking selfies. I took in the smell, which wasn’t that great, the sounds (only one seemed to snore) and wondered why they’d chosen those spots to snooze. The kids took a picture and moved on to something else.

Drops mic.

To be fair, the boys couldn’t really see the point of watching pandas sleeping either, but at least they didn’t just selfie the darned things.

As for the pandas, well, they really needed to do better. I’ll be writing a letter to their leader in China. They need to be more active and entertaining. Cute is not good enough.

But that was the great panda adventure.

The rest of the zoo, however, didn’t disappoint.

 

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Family First in BC.

Osoyoos Okanagan BC

Family First…

As I write out my notes, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World’s Baba has just gotten out of the hospital after having major emergency surgery.

At 94, she may be one of the most incredible people I’ve met with her Old World wisdom, quick wit, and constitution of Rasputin.

Osoyoos Okanagan BC
Osoyoos Camping Atop a Mountain

But as we pulled into her parent’s driveway high atop a mountain in Osoyoos, we had no idea how sick she was.

So no matter what adventures we would have, this was a good reminder of what’s important.

Family.

As we ate like kings (endless amounts of scrambled eggs, toast, sausages, bacon, hash browns), we caught up with our relatives. We learned that names have been chosen for a soon-to-arrive baby, though none of them are mine (frankly the world needs more Joes), and listened to everyone’s adventures since we last saw them.

We joked with The-Youngest about catching rattlesnakes by kissing them, which, in hindsight, may have been bad idea –  and if he dies while trying to catch one, that’s on me.

I also may have advised him on such things as how to talk to girls, how to sleep while driving, and how to find gold in abandoned mine shafts. More great examples of epic parenting from me.

The-Oldest held up well during both visits, trying out his new social self. Like me, he’s more comfortable talking to himself than others, but he was on fire with the grandparents, asking engaging questions, making terrible puns, and being able to explain musical theory so it doesn’t sound like new math.

The-Youngest did his best not to fiddle with stuff, like the hot BBQ, the brakes on the RV, the nailgun in the house being built, or the satellite cable dish.

He’s a fiddler, and not the musical kind, oh no, he’d fiddle with the wires of a bomb as you tried to disarm it, and not because he’s cruel, but because his fingers have to find something to do. Stick in something. Twist something. Worm their way into something. Dismantle something. Poke something (mostly his brother).

Give him 20 minutes and I swear he could completely dismantle a tank.

Family first
Vacationing with family in Osoyoos, BC.

The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World was in her element, though.

Unlike me, she’s a people person and her friends or family are the whipped cream on top of her ice-cream life. If she had her way, she would have spent days with her family, sitting under the RV awning, looking out of Osoyoos Lake and talking about life.

But, sadly, The-Oldest’s head would explode without a piano to play, The-Youngest would end up finding a way to pry out every nail in the house under construction and cause it to collapse, and me, I would be run out of super witty things to say and be forced to share.

It would be traumatic.

So we stayed a few hours, had a great time, then drove off. The schedule demanded we be on the road by 12. We had a long drive ahead of us, a drive more eventful than we planned, but I was glad we’d stopped to catch up with family. It was time well spent!

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Alberta Trip 2018 – As Planned By An Eleven-Year-Old

Trip to BC, Rockies, Alberta, Drumheller, West Ed Mall

 

Trip to BC, Rockies, Alberta, Drumheller, West Ed Mall
This planning a trip to Alberta is serious business!

The-Youngest Made Plans for Our Trip

Unlike his brother, The-Youngest looked at the google map we printed out, and then planned out what to do.

First stop, Oliver.

See Grandpa and Grandma. 5-hour drive to get there, so, download movies. Lots of movies. And bring something to play in the car with his brother. A good card game. Arrange ice tea and candy at top of food bag for easy access. Keep a bag of chips near feet for late afternoon snacks.

Remember to look for Ogopogo. 

When we arrive, it’ll be at night. Right. Not much to do at night. Talk with adults as needed. Sneak away to watch TV if possible. Take brother’s music out of his bag and move it to mom’s bag.

******

 

Trip to Alberta
The plan is put into effect. On the road to Cranbrook, the Rockies, Calgary, Drumheller, and the West Edmonton Mall.

The next day, Sunday,

Visit with other grandparents, endure another 5-hour drive. Presort snacks by sugar content. 

Begin the campaign to see the Calgary Tower.  Talk to mom about how unscary it really is.

Watch more movies. Arrive in exciting Cranbrook.  Try not to sigh heavily when Joe starts talking about the history of Cranbrook.

Continue to point out how awesome Calgary would look from the top of the tower. Swim in pool. 

If weather bad, bug brother until he snaps. If good weather, bug brother until he snaps.

******

Monday, sleep in, endure 3-hour drive to Calgary. Start by eating pancakes. Look at the mountains. Try to see a bear. Or a unicorn. No, no unicorns. Sheep. Find some sheep on the side of mountains, yeah, that would be cool. Or a cougar chasing a hitchhiker. Assign the job of keeping an eye out for neat stuff to Joe and mom.

Arrive at the zoo, see pandas, snakes, elephants, and alpacas. Alpacas are cool. Eat popcorn. Point at Calgary Tower a lot. Try not to look embarrassed as Joe reads all the plaques and sings “I can talk to the animals.” Make sure to not let mom hang with the pandas too long. If it were up to her, we might be staring at them for hours and saying, ‘awwww, aren’t they cute?” a lot.

Hope that my campaign to see the Calgary Tower is successful. If so, visit the tower. If not, rethink manipulation strategies. 

Try not to look bored when we go to see where Joe grew up. It’s a big thing for him. Don’t mention it’s not a big thing for me.

At the hotel, swim in the pool. Eat at Mr. Mikes so we can play board games and eat. Stay up as late as I can. No reason, but staying up late is cool. Take all of my brother’s pillows while he sleeps and hide them in the bathroom.

******

Tuesday, a big day. Get up early with Joe and see the tank museum. Joe likes tanks and no one else has any interest, so go with Joe so he doesn’t feel bad. Climb on a tank. And under one. And stick fingers in all the tankie holes.

Drive out to Drumheller. Run through the museum at top speed. Finish in 10 minutes. Take a selfie with a dinosaur. Ignore Joe’s joke about being a dinosaur or meeting a dinosaur or having one as a next door neighbour. Read no more than 1 plaque. Sit and play games because the museum has wi-fi. Avoid getting all interested in dinosaurs since that’s way too close to learning stuff. Eat a hot dog. Finish off chips in the car.

Endure yet another long drive. Plan out nerf war strategies. Review guns brought. Recount nerf bullets. Roll eyes every time Joe remarks on how straight the roads are. Try to see a buffalo. 

Get mom to talk about her friend and how many nerf guns her kids have.

Arrive at mom’s friend’s place. Say hi. Play nerf wars until 2 am. Try not to win every time -That makes people not want to play with me. Try not to gloat and giggle and point at the losers – That seems to make people really, really not want to play with me.

Food unnecessary. Nerf wars will feed me. Hide my brother’s underwear somewhere. 

******

West Edmonton Mall
St.Maria pirate vessel in the West Edmonton Mall. It’s the largest shopping mall in North America and the tenth largest in the world.

Wednesday, West Ed Mall. 9am-10pm. Waterslides. Rides. Free pop. Eat hamburgers. Eat Fries. Drink slushies. Refer to specific 4-page waterslide plan made a month, ago. Refer to specific 2-page ride plan made at the same time. Do not deviate from the plan. Try to eat my weight in pizza.

Mom will not be there. She’ll be off with her friend, ‘catching up’ which totally means drinking. Joe will look after us so look for opportunities. “No, Joe, you said you’d buy me a t-shirt, don’t you remember?” or “Wait, Joe, I know that zip-line costs a lot, but wouldn’t it make a good topic for a blog?” or, “Joe, if you buy me this new controller, we can play games together and that’s fun, right?”

Should be easy pickings.

The goal, come back sore, exhausted and feeling like I need to throw up. At night, take all the laces out of my brother’s shoes.

******

Thursday. Get up. Visit with mom’s friend, again. Talk to adults if needed, but if it can be avoided, even better. Remember to thank moms’ friend for breakfast. Remember not to complain if it’s something that tastes terrible – like anything with vegetables, fruit or healthy meats.

Watch more videos on the drive back to BC and tell mom about nerf wars, the West Ed Mall, and playing the Smash-up card game. Ignore pleas to stop. Ignore anyone saying they’ve heard all this yesterday. Poke brother a lot.

Try not to look afraid in freaky cabin we’re staying at. Keep nerf gun close. Keep it loaded. Keep brother closer to doors and windows so bears, ghosts or rabid unicorns will eat him first. 

*****

Friday, long drive, again. Watch last of my movies. Eat last of snack supplies. Avoid asking how much longer will it be? Avoid talking about last report card. Avoid talking about the trip ending.

Plan the next trip. Harrison. Plan sleepover with friends and next nerf-war battles. Plan which Youtube videos to watch over summer. Interrupt brother whenever he wants to talk about Liszt, Beethoven, Wagner, Rachmaninov, or any composers. In fact, interrupt him whenever he talks. 

When home, log on to the internet and see what Logan Paul is up to. Ignore Joe yelling at me to stop watching that freaking moron.

Go to bed only after being asked 12 times.

Remember to thank Mom and Joe for taking me on the trip. Give mom a big hug. She’s the best.

******

And that’s about it.

Too bad it didn’t turn out the way he planned.