One More Sleep to Reunions

Harper returns from her long trip to Europe tomorrow! My Lovely Bride will pick her up at the airport tomorrow afternoon! Our pupper will be so happy! I’ll pick up her favorite fast food on the way home (she says she’s been missing air conditioning and queso the most). I’ve heard differing reports on whether it’s harder to adjust to the time returning or not but nevertheless it’s going to be an adjustment. She has to drag herself up Thursday for high school registration business, but other than that she can chill until Monday and the first day of school.

MLB and I are already back to the pre-planning teacher week. Woo hoo. It’s more meetings than planning but by this point I’m used to it.

She was based in Cologne, Germany. They traveled to other German towns as well as Amsterdam and Paris. What questions do you have about this amazing trip? I’ll get the answers from her between bouts of sleeping and let you know in few days.

Finally, a smile

It’s been about a month since Lilly left us to go back home to Germany. I thought I would write a post about her leaving but couldn’t. It was just too hard.

But now it’s been a month and she and a friend are at a reggae festival and she posted a picture on Snapchat of them smiling and it’s the first real smile I’ve seen form her since she left.

We’ve all been fine, it just sucks. We’ve kept busy. Harper has been driving and seeing some friends. We went to Florida to visit my folks and they just happen to live in a beautiful spot, so that helped. We’ve been working on the house and reading and watching shows and movies and just getting along with summer life.

One of the crazier things was when we were in Florida we went on a college visit with my daughter and her friend. We went to my old college and man oh man was it ever surreal. There is a lot of it that is exactly the same but there is so much more and all the new stuff is WAY better than when I was there. The marine biology lab is to die for. The new collaboration rooms in the library are super cool. The only thing that was weird to me was they now stuff three students in one (relatively large, but still) dorm room of the same size I shred with just one other person. But now that I think about it we had a friend who pretty much lived with us my first year since he couldn’t stand his roommate so I guess I can relate.

I don’t know if she’ll go there but she was very impressed and it’s in her top three now. So. Weird.

The next super weird and exciting thing is that Harper is going to go Europe next week to hang out with Lilly and her family for 20 DAYS! Ahhhhh! It will be the coolest and most nerve-wracking thing we’ve ever let her do. But I mean, come on. Like we wouldn’t let her. Such a cool adventure for her.

She comes back on July 31st and will have until the first day of school, August 5th, to figure out how to get over jet lag. It’s like a six hour difference over there and I’ve heard it’s worse coming than going so that will be an interesting back-to-school weekend!

Coming to the End

Lilly has had prom. The end of the school year has come. She even had an awesome pool party with all her friends this past Friday.

We are about to leave on a couple day trip to North Carolina with her and Harper to look at a couple more colleges and go zip lining. THEY are zip lining! I am not. Sheesh.

Then she packs up and we take her to the airport next Wednesday. It will be so weird. She’s “only” been with us for ten months but it seems much longer. I don’t know what we’ll be like when she’s gone.

In other news, our book club book for this month is Lock In by John Scalzi. I’d already read it so I went ahead and read the sequel, Head On but I now realize I won’t be able to make that book club meeting. I’ll be in Florida. Ah well, it was a quick read.

The next one I just started is the July book. The Cooking Gene by Michael Twitty. It’s just…wow. It’s amazing. It’s long too. I’m going to get through as much as I can but I’m also reading Reader’s Rally books for next year and it’s summer so I’m not on ANY kind of schedule so who knows. Sometimes that means I read way more and sometimes that means I don’t.

Plus, I’m anticipating grieving over the loss of Lilly. Of course, Harper is going to go to Germany to see her in July so that’ll be even weirder with BOTH of them gone off to do who knows what all over Europe. I know they’ll have a great time. Can’t wait to hear the stories. Maybe I’ll even share some here.

Spring Break and More

I only spent one day at the Georgia Children’s Book Award Conference in Athens, GA since we took off for vacation on Saturday the 30th but I got to meet Ben Clanton, Alan Gratz, Kwame Alexander and many more. It was awesome as always.

Kwame Alexander!

But this post is about the fun time we had after that. We went to Sapelo Island, GA. You’ve never heard of it? That’s exactly why we go there! We saw two cars on the road one day and thought it was a traffic jam.

It was us, Lilly, and another family with two kids. We were in a big vacation rental house in the middle of nowhere. We hiked. We cooked out. We unsuccessfully seined for fish. We toured the Reynolds Mansion and surrounding areas. We wandered a nearly empty beach for hours at a time. We saw crocodiles and snakes and spiders and squid and all kinds of cool birds. It was lovely.

As soon as we got back I got hit with a massive cold that I’m still recovering from. I’m also recovering from the prednisone they gave me to treat the cold. Blargh.

But now I’m mostly better and we’re back into the swing of school for the last couple of weeks. This past Saturday another momentous thing happened. My daughter got her DRIVER’S LICENCE. My favorite part of that story was the female officer who gave her the test. The very last part was parallel parking. She pulled up and parked next to a curb with a bench full of men and boys waiting. She was a few inches further from the curb than she should be. The officer whispered, “Technically I should deduct a few points for that but since all these MEN are watching” then she raised her voice, “that was the most perfect parking job I’ve seen all day!”

I’m not even going to make jokes. She’s a good driver!

This morning as she grabbed her keys my daughter said, “I’m swinging by the store after school, Dad. Need anything?” I need to know who you are and how this happened is what I was thinking. Sheesh.

On Sunday I was wandering around the house and notinced it was quiet. Too quiet. I asked where everyone was. Harper had taken Lilly and Willow to a dog park for the afternoon. So that’s a thing that will be happening now. Everyone just disappearing. Weird.

Birthday Girls

Lilly’s was on the seventh. We had to celebrate first thing in the morning because right after school she had a track event that lasted until after nine. So we gave her her cards and gifts from us and from friends and family from Germany we’d stashed.

That Saturday both girls had their young men over for movies and video games and we had birthday cake. Aw, shucks.

Then Sunday we all went to see CAPTAIN MARVEL oh yeah baby. Super fun.

This past Friday all of my helping with prom dress shopping really didn’t pay off. Friends of the girls (two sisters) sent over some dresses for them to try that they’d worn the year before. They fit perfectly and the girls loved them. WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF THAT I ASK YOU?!

Then Saturday was the amazing Bob Ross themed party. Yes, you heard me. They love that guy. We rented one of those painting lesson party places where a bunch of us painted happy little trees and listened to cheesy 80s music. My Lovely Bride gave everyone cupcakes (regular or vegan, your choice) on little plastic painting palettes with little dabs of different colored frosting so you could decorate your own. Of course the girls also decorated each other’s faces because they are all crazy. We even gave them a full sized cardboard stand-up Bob Ross with his squirrel friend “Peapod” which is their favorite thing ever. And yes, we had afro wigs for them to get pictures taken in.

Now we play the “Hide Bob Ross around the house to scare people” game. It really is unnerving when you catch a full sized person standing there in a room you thought was empty. Works every time.

It’s March Already?!?

Well the gals (Harper and Lilly), being Parks & Rec fans had a lovely Galentines Day last month. They also went prom dress shopping.

And let me be clear, because I want to publicly flaunt the Dad points I received from these outings that I was the one who took them prom dress shopping! To more than one store! On more than one weekend! They still haven’t bought dresses though. Lilly is the one going to prom in May since she’s a junior. It was funny because Annette was going to take them but something came up and I said that I’d do it. I mean I have a book. I have bluetooth headphones. I can keep myself busy. And I don’t mind taking pictures of them in a million dresses so they can debate about them later. But Lilly was like, “My dad would have NEVER done this!” So I got points!

Last month Harper’s orchestra did this fund raiser thing where instead of a full orchestra concert, they split into groups and do whatever music they want. It’s fun but takes a good long time to get through all the groups. Harper had a friend play violin and accompanied her on piano which she prefers to play anyway.

Oh, and Annette has started taking them on college visits! Lilly is mostly just curious. She’s talking about attending college in Sweden. But four of them went up to North Georgia for one and somewhere in middle Georgia for another. Harper liked the one in the mountains. Lilly like the other one because it seemed more sporty. Neither knows what they want to be when they grow up, but hey, neither do I.

Lilly can run again! Not for long and she has many exercises to do to build her strength back up, but she’s gotten the green light to run for track! Up until now she’s had to just be the time keeper and lug those starting blocks around. So she’s excited to get back into it before the end of the school year. Her boyfriend is ranked second IN THE COUNTRY in one event. So he’s got that going for him.

Last weekend we had out district’s Reader’s Rally event. Our team was the first runner up in our division, which wasn’t too shabby. Plus we had cool t-shirts. They were dark grey with red lettering in the “Stranger Things” font but they said “Starling Reads” instead. Cool group of kids.

This past weekend we (the fam) all went to the fabulous Fox Theater to see Les Miserables. It was quite a production and Annette, who is the biggest fan, said it was super well done. We even had the understudy Javert and he was great! The only drawback to going to a super popular show like that though is that it was so crowded that we couldn’t really show Lilly around the Fox. But she’s from Europe. She’s visited freaking castles before so maybe it’s no big whoop.

After the show I went to my Guys Who Read book club discussion of Othello. I’d just seen Les Mis where EVERYONE DIES. Then we discussed Othello where EVERYONE DIES. So apparently, to have the best story ever, just make sure you kill everyone off in the end.

Next month we’ll be discussing Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime which is amazing. And not everyone dies! How ever did he ever pull that off?

Wanderings and Readings

Lilly and Harper have been having a ball between bouts of terrible high school homework.

One thing they’ve been up to is occasionally finding weird places to sleep on the weekends. In the basement a couple times but once out on the screened in porch all night! They’re crazy.

They also spent most of Sunday just exploring the creek behind our house and the land around it. There are some crazy things on and around our property and it is endlessly fascinating. Glad they had plenty of outdoors time.

And Lilly made us dinner the other night! Crepes! They were delicious.

Oh, and I almost forgot. I have a stealth reader. My college roommate sent me an Xmas card and mentioned the blog. Seems he’s been following along with the adventures of H&L during this exchange year.

That guy should write a blog. He’s got THREE BOYS. I can’t even imagine.

One last thing. So the list of book for my school’s Reader’s Rally quiz bowl has been released for next year.

  • Ada’s Violin by Hood
  • At the Bottom of the World by Nye
  • Ban This Book by Gratz
  • Barbed Wire Baseball by Moss
  • Beauty and the Beak by Rose
  • Found by Haddix
  • Framed by Ponti
  • Hello, Universe by Kelly
  • The Hero Two Doors Down by Robinson
  • The Last Kids on Earth by Brallier
  • Lions & Liars by Beasley
  • Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by McAnulty
  • Poppy by Avi
  • Tapper Twins Go to War by Rodkey
  • and The Wolf’s Boy by Beckhorn

Looks like a pretty wide-ranging list for my future 4th and 5th graders. I’ve already read and made up questions for two of them. My goal is to get the whole list knocked out this year before school is out. I probably won’t reach this goal, but it’s something to aim for anyway. I still have my book club books and other things to read but who knows? It could happen. (Of course this would be a regular weekend’s reading for Ms. Yingling…)

 

A few more bits about our trip…

More about Disney Trip:

The pizza place at Disney Springs was great. I gotta say though, I like Universal’s Citywalk a bit better than Disney Springs. More open, and fun for some reason.

We stayed at the Art of Animation resort and were very happy with it. The food court there was perfect for most of our eating needs. It’s worth the hike to check out all of the themed areas and playgrounds and pools. There are sections of the resort that are Little Mermaid, Lion King, Cars and Finding Nemo themed. We stayed in a Nemo one by the amazing big pool. Too bad it was mostly too cold during our trip to enjoy that. I made a short video of the arcade to show my brother and he and his son were salivating.

The resort has all kinds of fun extras. There’s an artist three times a day who will give you drawing tips. Just walking around the lobby and looking at all the art (don’t miss the chandelier with art as well) is like a cool pop culture museum. And for the holidays they had a tree set up with a fancy chair. When nothing was there you could use it for photos. There was often musicians and other things. One evening we came in and there was one of the best Santa’s I’d ever seen and barely a line. He chatted with my girls for a while then I took pictures. They stood on either side of him. “Don’t want to sit on my lap?” he asked them. He was an older gentleman and they said they were fine. “Don’t worry about me! Have you seen Mrs. Claus? She’s a sturdy girl and she sits in my lap all the time!”

The room we had was perfect for us because we were too cheap to get two rooms and this was nearly a suite. It has a master bedroom with it’s own bathroom but in the main room there is another full bathroom. There is a couch that folds out into a bed but there is also a table that is hiding a Murphy bed! So each teen got their own bed. We were happy in the bedroom but the girls complained of hallway and outside noise. For some reason they wouldn’t take me up on using some of my inexpensive but magically effective Mack’s foam earplugs. Next to prescriptions, those are my most valuable traveling items. I’m not buying $300 noise cancelling headphones (and how could you sleep in those?) but these babies make snoozing in the car and on planes or in strange places as nice as can be. Love and fully endorse this product!

Again with the Disney Christmas decorations. They go all out and before we went I realized Lilly was a real sucker for Christmas music and lights and the whole thing. So whenever we would return to the parks in the evening and it was all lit up with music playing, she was in heaven. And on the main streets of the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios there was fake snow drifting down! (Some kind of soap bubbles.) Made it, well, magical.

Okay, enough with Disney. We had a few days in Sarasota after that and it was much warmer and Florida-like there. Then a few days at home to decompress before the back to school nuttiness.

What did you do over your holidays?

Awesome Achieved!

So we did Disney for Christmas. Hoo boy was it ever something different.

So first of all, if you ever plan on going to Disney or Universal or whatever, definitely get a copy of the most recent applicable Unnoficial Guide books. Those guys are geniuses and will save you tons of time and money (if saving money is even possible on a Disney trip). Then go to their website (tourinplans.com) and download their Lines app. The official Disney app is great and helpful but the Lines app has things you’ll also need, especially info on, well, lines. So if there’s a 90 minute wait sign posted on a ride at Disney, the Lines app will let you know that it’s really more like 55-60 minutes, for one example. Everything great about the vacation was because of my pre-planning mostly using these tools.

We were there for four days so did a park a day. Epcot (with the Christmas Candlelight Processional), Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom (with character brunch), and Hollywood Studios (with Fantasmic! show). It was fun but crazy. I learned that you want to do all your touring of the parks (including booking extra stuff) for the first 2-4 hours the park is open and the last 2-4 hours the park is open and between say lunch and dinner you want to get out of that park and go nap or swim or chill out some way or you will all hit a wall and be loopy and grumpy. It’s the only way to really enjoy your time there. I also learned that sometimes if you need that nap? It’s better to spring for a Lyft and not wait for those buses. For real.

All the following reviews are based only on our experience (me, my lovely bride, and two teenagers one of which doesn’t like roller coasters) and includes only what we got to do. You just can’t do everything and probably wouldn’t want to.

Best Epcot ride: Soarin’ without a doubt. We rode it twice. We enjoyed shopping in “Japan” the best. The Candlelight Processional with guest narrator Auli’i (“Moana”) Cravalho was also a highlight.

Best Animal Kingdom ride: Avatar Flight of Passage. It’s like Soarin’ times a thousand. Only way to ride it is to get a fastpass or get to the park early and ride it first thing. But I’m not knocking the Safari. It’s just not really a ride. It’s amazing and the closest thing you’ll get to going on an actual safari. A giraffe walked across the path in front of our vehicle! The whole thing was awe-inspiring. Best show: Festival of the Lion King. The folks who like roller coasters loved Expedition Everest.

Best Magic Kingdom Ride: I mean it’s not really about the rides there. If you like roller coasters we had the most fun Big Thunder Mountain. It’s a nice long ride compared to others and the theme is delightful. It’s faster and longer than Space Mountain. Best Show: Mickey’s PhilharMagic. Biggest Mistake: While waiting for my daughter and I to return from Big Thunder, my lovely bride took our exchange student on “It’s a Small World” because “it’s iconic.” Our exchange student has PTSD due to this ride.

Hollywood Studios is waiting for the Star Wars section to open and it probably won’t be worth visiting for years after it’s open unless you like five hour lines. In the meantime our favorite ride was the updated and super fun Star-Wars-themed Star Tours. The Toy Story Mania! ride is cool and a step up from the similar Buzz Lightyear ride in the Magic Kingdom. There are more shows in this park but we didn’t have that much time to tour it. The MuppetsVision 3D show was our favorite and I found it even more entertaining than the similar Mickey’s PhilharMagic.

But the most amazing thing we saw the whole time was the very last. It was the Fantasmic! show which closes out the night at this park. We sprung for lunch at the Mama Mia’s Italian restaurant so we could get preferred seating at the show. Totally worth it unless you don’t mind sitting for many hours in a crowded stadium waiting for a show. I mean it’s a truly unique and mind-blowing show, but still. We got there 30 minutes before it started and sat dead center and were very happy.

As you may have inferred, the Magic Kingdom was my least favorite of the four parks. It’s not the Magic Kingdom’s fault but it was also the most insanely crowded of the four. I mean to the point where we left the main drag waiting for the evening fireworks to find some hot chocolate and never could go back. Hot chocolate, you ask? Yes, it was weirdly chilly during our visit (which made the Expedition Everest ride more authentic!) and we found some hot chocolate and churros in Frontierland. Then they announced Main Street and the plaza in front of the castle were at capacity and not to return there. It was fine. We had a great view from the side but man oh man were we ever glad we left and came back. If we had tried to stay there all day there would have been headlines. It was too crowded. The Lines app gave it a 9 out of 10 for the day. I simply cannot imagine a 10 out of 10. But in the morning? For the first couple of hours? It was great. Go early. Leave and come back and stay late. That is the key to sanity I tell ya.

Other things I learned at Disney: babies hate Disney! Don’t take any kids to Disney parks unless they are at least seven years old or over 45 inches tall. If you have to rent a stroller for your kid then your kid is too young to really enjoy the experience. (Clearly no one listens to this advice because the number of strollers and crying infants and toddlers in the parks were on an epic scale). Oh and if you have mobility issues, reconsider a Disney trip, especially at peak crowd times of year. There are so many more people on those red scooters. I saw one 90-something old grandma with her family who was happily smiling ear to ear on one of those things. I give her a pass. Everyone else didn’t seem to either really need a scooter or didn’t seem to really need to be there. Sorry, just my unnecessary opinion.

The trip was mostly for our exchange student, Lilly. I think the best moment for her was just getting to see the castle up close. It was like you getting to see the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel Tower in real life for the first time. And every single park was much better when we returned in the evening and everything was lit up, especially all the Christmas decorations (and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, but mostly Christmas). A great vantage point at night in the Magic Kingdom is the top of the nearly empty Swiss Family Robinson tree house. Gorgeous nighttime view!

I doubt I’ll be returning in the near future. We like Universal Studios better. But my favorite park was Animal Kingdom. I also enjoyed what there was of Hollywood Studios and may return there in a decade or so to see their additional Star Wars stuff. Now to get back to the school grindstone!

Happy New Year everyone!

Guys Who Read 2019

Here’s the list of books that made it through the vigorous selection process (heh, heh) and have been chosen by my face to face book group, the Guys Who Read:

January – Uprooted by Naomi Novik

February – Othello by William Shakespeare

March – Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

April – Gods of Howl Mountain by Taylor Brown

May – They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurriaqib

June – Lock in by John Scalzi

July – The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael Twitty

August – The Shotgun Rule by Charlie Huston

September – Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips

October – My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

November – World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler

December – Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynaman! by Richard Feynaman

Let me know in the comments if you read along with us on any of these!