Vacation Recap & Back In The Saddle

Pic 1

On Tuesday, it was the day to do the thing that Winston was most excited to do, Lego Land. Unfortunately, we drove all the way out there and it was closed. Since I’m the world’s greatest dad, I had a backup plan. We would go to the Lego Store at Downtown Disney. Winston loved the Lego store (see picture above), he stood in this spot building lego race cars for about an hour. The track in front of him was for time trials, once your ride was build to your satisfaction, you took the vehicle to another track and raced other builders. I was getting bored and it looked like Winston could use some help so I started to assist him, next thing I know, I’m just as sucked in and want to build my own car. Ultimately, I decided that it would not be fair for me to compete against the other 8 year olds, so I gave my build to a kid looking to get involved in the action. In front of the store, there was a Lock Ness Monster build entirely out of legos in a lake and there was a great design of a knight battling a dragon (image below).

Pic 2

Winston could have played with those legos all day, but it was now lunch and the rest of us were all getting hungry. The kids were allowed to pick the restaurant and they decided on T-Rex. T-Rex was a crazy restaurant with dinosaurs, meteors, wooly mammoths, and even a 50 foot octopus that was adhered to the ceiling. Every five seconds, the restaurant would rumble with thunder and lightning, meteors would shoot across the ceiling and rattle the place, and a pterodactyl would scream in my ear. It was like eating lunch during the apocalypse and my kids loved it (see image below).

Pic 3

That night we went back to the Hilton hotel, which was wonderful, I cannot recommend Hilton Bonnet Creek enough. We hung out in the hot tub and got some much needed rest. On Wednesday morning, we tried to check in at the Disney Animal Kingdom Lodge at 7:30AM before heading to the park, amazingly, we were allowed in and got to set our bags down and get settled before heading to the Animal Kingdom.

The first thing we did at the Animal Kingdom park was to ride the safari. We had a Fast Pass for the safari and didn’t have to wait in the line at all. We walked up to a giant bus with about 16 seats and headed into out. It was great because there were no fences, tracks, or roads, you just drove up to animals and took tons of pictures. On several occasions, we drove love streams which caused a big splash. We saw all kinds of animals, too many to mention, it was one of my favorite things about the entire trip.

Pic 4 Pic 5

After the safari, we rode a roller coaster called Expedition Everest, picture below. It was a fast roller coaster which the kids have wanted to ride since they were toddlers, now that they were confronted with the actual ride, they were pretty nervous to get on it. I forced them both on and after a lot of screaming and a few tears, we all enjoyed the experience.

Pic 6

Animal Kingdom was a lot of fun, it is like a zoo on steroids. Not a ton of rides, but it was a beautiful place and definitely the coolest zoo I’ve ever been in (Washington DC’s zoo is in second place, I’ve only been in a fraction of the San Diego zoo, but know that is supposedly the best).

After a long day at the Animal Kingdom, we hopped on the bus back to our hotel room. Check out the image below of the view from our hotel balcony. These animals stayed out all night. Jac & I sat outside one night with a bottle of wine and watched the animals until 11PM. The other image was breakfast, it featured waffles shaped like Micky.

Pic 7 Pic 8

The next day we went to Magic Kingdom, we did a ton of rides, but split up on a couple occasions because Dalia was adamant that she no longer ride roller coasters. Winston and I rode Space Mountain (he loved it), see image below of the lighted tunnel. Jaclyn begged us to do It’s A Small World and we complied, Dalia loved it! She is still singing the song a week later. Dalia begged us to go to Epcot to meet Princess Aurora (she could only be found in France), we ran across the park, hopped on the monorail and then hustled to France. We walked around the entire world (in Epcot for about 2 hours), then hopped back on the monorail to get back to Magic Kingdom for the parade and fireworks. We were there for over 12 hours, it was exhausting, but fun.

Pic 9 Pic 10 Pic 11 Pic 12 Pic 13 Pic 14 Pic 15

Lastly, upon returning, we heard something scurrying above the ceiling in my bedroom one night when trying to sleep. It is impossible to enter, just a tiny hole to access it in a closet. I snapped some pictures, I could barely fit my arm into the hole. The insulation is over 50 years old and is not in good shape. I’ve set up a couple mousetraps up there and check them every night, no casualties yet.

Vacation Recap 2

Vacation recap number two focuses on SeaWorld. Dalia has always wanted to go to SeaWorld, it was her dream destination. I’m not even sure how she even learned about SeaWorld, but she’s been excited to go there for years. SeaWorld is worth the price of admission, especially if you can track down discount tickets like we did on their website ($30 off for going on a weekday). The park is enormous, the landscaping is sensational, and the whole park does a phenomenal job of being immersive. You are often in settings where the floor beneath you is an aquarium with fish beneath you or sharks swimming above you over the ceiling, there’s water slides that go under water with dolphins swimming by you, you are surrounded by sea. The day at SeaWorld is punctuated by crazy performances, jumping dolphins, flying birds, divers, dancing, and even singing.

My highlight of the day is going to the big Shamu show and since we’re in January and the temperature was in the high 60’s, no one really wanted to be in the splash zone, in fact, the first 10-15 rows were completely empty. Dalia wanted to sit in the first row and since it was her day, I joined her in ground zero of the Soak Zone. There’s a video below and a good picture of Dalia in the aftermath. After a full day in SeaWorld, Jac went to the spa for a mani/pedi and I took the kids to the lazy river. Afterwards, we went to a fancy restaurant in the hotel and the kids stunned me with excellent behavior. Midway through the meal, they were asleep at the table. It was a good day in Orlando. Our next recap brings us Legoland.

Fam Jac Lion Leapfy Dragonfish Soakzone

Vacation Recap 1

Our trip got off to an ominous beginning with icy weather and significant delays, but we finally touched down in sunny Florida. Here’s an image of us above the clouds.

Plane

We had a reservation at Hertz and piled into a Dodge Journey and went straight for Kissimmee, Florida to do an airboat ride that I scheduled awhile back. Captain Bill knew his stuff and pushed his airboat through all kinds of gunk that would have been impossible to paddle through to find the gators. Almost as equally impressive was the birds, many prehistoric looking creatures in the swamp. Dalia cried and scream during several parts of the airboat ride, but the gators didn’t seem to bother her. Here’s a video of the airboat ride, followed by a closeup of an alligator. We actually got a little too close to the alligator and he was about 3 feet away from me hissing like crazy, I was a little worried that the situation might escalate and I’d have to battle the reptile, fortunately, we just both stared at each other with equal parts aggression and fear.

Gator Jac and DD

After the 90 minute airboat ride, we checked in the hotel. It is magnificent, best Hilton property I’ve ever stayed in. The kids enjoyed the Hilton Bonnet Creek’s Lazy River and Jaclyn soaked in the hot tub.

We had an early start and everyone went to bed early too. The next post will cover Sea World.

Work Misc

Work Anecdote

At my work we often hold big conference calls with our entire sales force, we’re talking hundreds of people. We go into a conference room and dial in, an operator greets us once we dial in. We ask the operator how many of our sales representatives are on the phone and the operator tells us. This number is about 50 fewer than we were expecting, we decide to hold off on starting the call for another 5 minutes to allow the stragglers more time to dial in. We check back in 5 minutes later and now we’re only 15 people short of the targeted number, we hold off on starting the call for another 2 minutes before we finally begin.

A couple of weeks ago, I run into a sales rep and he says, “Why in the world do you always start your conference calls 7-10 minutes late, since you guys never start on time, everyone knows to just dial in 5 minutes late.”

Work & Food

I feel like I can associate each of my jobs with a specific meal. Here we go:

  • The first job I really took seriously was Heller’s Seafood. They make fresh tuna salad by cooking up actual tuna steaks and then mashing them up into a delicious salad. One summer, I ate that tuna salad every single day. Years later I realized that tuna contains high amounts of mercury and eating it daily is a great way to get mad hatters disease which can cause insanity.
  • After Heller’s, I transitioned to Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Doylestown, I would go to Pina’s Pizza 3 for lunch. They had an amazing selection of pizza, it was like you could get any kind of meal on a pizza. They had taco pizza, cheesesteak pizza, General Tso’s pizza, and anything else you could imagine. It is silly that they make it known that they are the third Pina’s Pizza…for all those people keeping track.
  • Then I moved to a pharma company and they had a giant cafeteria where they had numerous stations for different types of foods, it was incredible. This is the kind of thing that could only happen when you’re young & dumb, but I somehow convinced the president of the company to host a softball tournament with a huge barbeque cookout during the final game. I need to put that on my resume.
  • Pharma ad agency in Parsippany, NJ. No cafeteria was present and I was over an hour away from home, I often went to the Shop Rite, order two slices of pizza, and went back to my Honda Accord in the parking lot and ate while listening to Sports Talk radio. One day the wind was blowing real hard and I saw a shopping cart rolling in the direction of my car, it gained speed exponentially, and by the time I realized it was going to hit my car with tremendous force, I tried to open the door but the wind was blowing against it so hard I couldn’t open it and the cart wailed against the car and dented the side.
  • Pharma ad agency in Far Hills, NJ. This was a small start up company and it was located in an old house and garage. It was in a real rich old town and right next store was a deli called The Butler’s Pantry. We went there almost daily and the people who made our sandwiches never washed their hands. They would sneeze, take cash out the register, sweep the floor, and then make a sandwich, no washing of hands. It was close and still tasted good, I lived through it.
  • Pharma ad agency in Horsham, PA. On most days, I worked in a pharma company with a cafeteria. I ordered mozzarella sticks and a salad. I became a connoisseur of mozzarella sticks, I could tell just by looking at them if they’d be a good batch or dried out and hollow on the inside.
  • Pharma Company in Horsham (same company that I supported with the ad agency), but now Tonelli’s was open! Tonelli’s was legendary, great pizza, lots of TVs, cheese steaks were great!
  • Pharma Sales all over mid-Atlantic area, favorite place that I ate was Denino’s Pizzeria & Tavern in Staten Island (opened in 1937). Cash only, but incredible pizza and mozzarella sticks.
  • Pharma Company South of Pittsburgh. Over the past 3 months I’ve been on a soup kick, eating soup for lunch on a regular basis. Real big fan of chicken tortilla soup. This location has also introduced me to banana peppers and I’m eating spicy foods on a more regular basis.

2014 Best & Worst

10. My favorite albums that I discovered in 2014 were Barchords by the group Bahamas. I listened to it all the way through on many commutes back and forth to Pittsburgh. The mood was perfect for leaving your family, driving through a snowstorm, and heading to a pitiful apartment complex. My other favorite album was Bright Mississippi by Allen Toussaint, there’s no bumps along the way, just a perfect album to listen all the way through on a Sunday morning or early Saturday evening.

9. Favorite movie from 2014 was Guardians of the Galaxy. The movie is ridiculous and I’m probably juvenile for enjoying so much, but sometimes you just need to savor a great summer action movie. I loved the cast of characters and far fetched scenery, if I could be any animal, I would be Rocket Racoon. I also loved the Imitation Game and almost gave it the top spot, but think I may just be giving it more credit because I am so fascinated with Alan Turing. Fury was also an excellent movie, worth checking out.

8. Favorite book that I read in 2014 was Flash Boys by Michael Lewis, I’ll read any book he writes (assuming it is non-fiction). This was about high frequency trading among Wall Street firms and the escalating war for faster broadband connection to receive market information (job numbers, oil production, etc.) faster than their competitors, make trades based on that information a split second faster than the competition, and building computer programs that can process all this information and make trading decisions in nanoseconds (a billionth of a second). The most terrible book I read was about the actors who were present in Ford’s Theater during the Lincoln assassination. Other books I completed in 2014 were; a biography on Alexander Hamilton and an excellent book about…you guessed it, Alan Turing, called The Enigma. The Enigma wasn’t my favorite book because while I loved most of it, there were technical areas that were tough to plow through. I am now reading a book about the dangers of artificial intelligence and will read David vs Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell next.

7. My favorite place I had to travel this year was easily driving through Southern Califonia with a rental car. I got to visit San Diego Dave, drive to Palm Springs, and hit up Leguna Beach. I also enjoyed a November trip to Venice Beach, CA. Other exotic destinations included driving to Toledo, OH (there’s an amazing minor league ballpark there that I hope to visit someday, I ate the chewiest piece of meat ever there, we wondered if they fed the cattle racquetballs), Louisville, KY(boring), Niagara Falls (fun family trip), West Palm Beach, FL and Columbus, OH (where I had the best cheeseburger of the year at The Thurman Cafe, seriously, you need to go there if you’re ever in Columbus).

6. Best toy of 2014, I assembled a Lego Millennium Falcon in my Pittsburgh apartment. It took my several days after work. I watched Pirates games on TV while putting it together…bliss! My father got me a drone that is pretty awesome too, Jaclyn says my years of video game skills have prepared me well to pilot the device as I can chase after her with the device.

5. Least favorite thing about 2014, working with realtors. I hope the day comes when the real estate process can be handled online without a realtor. I know, you might say, if you use an online tool, you may get exposed and lose money or purchase get misled in a contract. Well, we effectively lost money and had misleading contracts with a realtor, so I’d rather do that without giving up the commission. Hopefully, we’ll be in this house for a long time!

4. Favorite snack of 2014 was popcorn. For the first 35 years of my life, I could care less about popcorn, but my kids are obsessed with it. If they smell popcorn, they have to have it. We used to walk through Doylestown and stop in the County Theater to just pick up some popcorn. Now we go to the Popcorn Factory on The Strip in Pittsburgh and try out all the flavors. Definitely acquired a huge taste for popcorn in 2014.

3. Favorite sports moment of 2014 was getting out of a business meeting in downtown Pittsburgh around 5:30, seeing a Pirates game scheduled for 7PM, walking a couple blocks across the Roberto Clemente bridge, buying a solo ticket and watching the game in the cheap seats by myself on a summer weeknight. I also developed a small obsession with Steve Blass, a former Pirates pitcher who was dominate in his first couple of years as a pro, won the World Series, and then lost the ability to throw strikes. Heard about him on NPR’s This American Life and then unearthed an old article about him in The New Yorker magazine from 1973. He is now a Pirates broadcaster and does a great job, I love stories of people who have to face their kryptonite and how they handle it, he handled it with dignity and courage. Now when a baseball player struggles to throw the ball (see Mackey Sasser), they call it Steve Blass disease, but he takes it all in stride and is a great face of Pittsburgh.

2. Best Pittsburgh moments were having our families come out and visit us, loved giving tours of the Steel City. A close second is the day when we finally were capable of navigating around the city without Google Maps. Really enjoyed driving out to Ohiopyle, PA and seeing Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water.

1. Best thing about 2014 was the cultural institutions. The family belongs to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Art Museum, Carnegie Science Center, Andy Warhol Museum, and National Aviary. Between all these places, the family has probably made 20 visits and they’re actually learning something each time they go. There’s no way we would have gone into downtown Philly 20 times, too much traffic & parking is outrageously expensive, we just love the convenience of Pittsburgh, plus, there’s a ton to do. Hope we continue to get visitors in 2015!