"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
---Walter Elias Disney

Monday, March 31, 2014

Refuting The Top 13 Reasons Not To Go To Disney, Part 4

So I'm happily looking at my Facebook newsfeed the other day and one of those "Sponsored" things is up there. It's from a site called Viral Travel (which sounds like a bad idea on the face of it) and is entitled 13 Reasons Not To Go To Disney. Of course I bite. Sue me. So its about what I expect, the same things we Disney fans expect from you non-Disney fans-- crowds, expense, capitalism, yadda yadda yadda. The thing is, many of these criticisms are true to a large extent, but avoidable. I hate to see people get spoiled on the Disney I love because they go about the whole experience unprepared logistically or mentally for the realities of the place. I figured just for kicks to take the 13 reasons one by one (or two by two) and try to explain why they don't keep ME from the Magic. This part four, part one is here, two here, and three here.

10. The Princesses Are Snobby

If your kids (or you, for some sick reason) really want to meet the princesses, you have to stand in a long line for more time than even the hottest rides. Once you get up there, you get the crap shoot as far as which princesses are there. To top it off, most of them think they’re pretty hot stuff because nobody told them they aren’t real princesses.

8. Seeing Your Favorite Character Means More Lines

You don’t have to wait in crazy lines just to see the princesses. Disney has decided to not let the characters really roam free in the park. Instead, there are designated areas where you can wait to meet various characters. The newer the character, the longer the line can be, with the hot new ones commanding a 4 hour-plus wait.

The infuriating thing about this whole list is the swing, often within the same paragraph, from truth to complete fabrication. Reason 10 is a great example. Yes, since Frozen was released and became the highest grossing animated feature of all time, the lines for Elsa and Anna have been huge, sometimes reaching a four hour wait. That is more than I've ever seen for a ride. Everything else in that paragraph is utterly false.

The Princesses are not "snobby." I've met a few myself and never had a bad experience. I spend a stupid
Magic, not snobbery
amount of time looking at Disney-related social media and blogs and message boards, much of which is populated with complaints about every aspect of Disney imaginable, and I've never once heard a complaint about a rude character actor. I asked my Disney Geek pal Jen about her experiences as she and her son Max are true Character Hounds with likely over 100 meet and greets under their belts and she couldn't recall even one meet that was less than lovely, particularly with the Princesses. Think about it for a minute. This is a plum job, a stepping stone and resume enhancer like no other. Disney can recruit and choose only the best, most entirely invested people to portray their characters in the parks. The idea that someone with any chance of being "snotty" to a guest would be hired is ludicrous. I mean, I'm still here trying to think of where on Earth the writer came up with this "snobby" idea. I simply don't get it.

I am also completely at a loss as to who can't read the sign or even look at the front of the line to see who they are getting in line to meet. If you don't know which princess is waiting at the end of the line, it's completely your own fault. Not only will there be a sign, and likely a cast member if you can't find a sign, but character meets are advertised in the daily schedule handed out as you enter the park. Downloading the My Disney Experience app to your smartphone will also give you access to a real-time list of every meet and great in every park. Really, it's not rocket science.

But let's be honest, just knowing who is in what line isn't always the goal. Sometimes you have certain characters you wish to meet. Reason 8 here is correct in that there are tons of characters spread throughout all the parks and finding the ones you really MUST see requires a bit of, must I say it again, planning. Here I  once again asked the advice of  Jen, the experienced Character Hound.

First and foremost, she says, prioritize. Decide who you MUST see and schedule around that. Besides the MDE app and the Times Guide, there are websites devoted to Disney character meets, the best by far being Kenny the Pirate. Kenny has all sorts of tips that can help you find exactly who you are looking for, often when others can't, leaving a short wait time. Once you find the characters you're looking for, grab a FastPass (yes there are FastPasses for some meets) or simply try to be the first in line. Many characters don't have much more than a 10 or 15 minute wait, but the hugely popular ones, like Elsa and Anna, will have huge lines. Get a FastPass or get there early. It'a matter of priority and planning.

The easiest way to meet characters is Character Dining. Disney offers meals during which a certain group of characters will come to your table for a meet and photos. There are meals for just about any taste featuring a huge range of Disney friends, and you get to eat while you're at it, so there's no time "wasted" in a line. Here is a handy little chart showing who you are likely to find in which restaurant.

One last bit of advice from Jen, one I hadn't even thought of. If you are not the type to wait in line to meet a character, but your young child is or may be very anxious to meet his particular favorite, it's important for YOU TOO to know where that character will be so that you can avoid the area at the time the character will be there and so also avoid a possible melt down as you try to drag the young fan away from his hero.

As I said at the outset, my family isn't one to go all out to meet certain characters. But these characters are an important part of the magic, even for us. That photo above? One of my top ever experiences at Disney. This was our son John's first time at Walt Dianey World (he was 3 going on 4) and we'd made reservations for King Stefan's (now Cinderella's Royal Table). This was September, so it wasn't a really crowded day in the Magic Kingdom. On our way up to the restaurant we passed through what appeared to be a thrown room. Being us, we stopped to all sit in the thrown, having really very little idea where we were. As we were goofing around, Cinderella appears. She ignored all of us and looked straight to John, who was totally enthralled and shocked. He was a shy little guy but Cinderella simply knelt down to him and spoke, so quietly we couldn't hear. And shy little John spoke back. To this day we have no idea what they said to each other, but John fell head over heels for Cinderella. After their little talk she greeted all of us (my parents were along as well) and posed for that picture with John in her thrown (and gave him a lipsticky kiss) before sending us up for dinner.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Refuting The Top 13 Reasons Not To Go To Disney, Part 3

So I'm happily looking at my Facebook newsfeed the other day and one of those "Sponsored" things is up there. It's from a site called Viral Travel (which sounds like a bad idea on the face of it) and is entitled 13 Reasons Not To Go To Disney. Of course I bite. Sue me. So its about what I expect, the same things we Disney fans fans from you non-Disney fans-- crowds,expense, capitalism, yadda yadda yadda. The thing is, many of these criticisms are true to a large extent, but avoidable. I hate to see people get spoiled on the Disney I love because they go about the whole experience unprepared logistically or mentally for the realities of the place. I figured just for kicks to take the 13 reasons one by one (or two by two) and try to explain why they don't keep ME from the Magic. This part three, part one is here and two here.

11. The Crowds Are Insane

So you’re going to go to Disney when it’s vacation time, but so is everyone else who happens to have time off work and school at the same time. Unless you can go during the off-season, you’re going to be enjoying the park with thousands and thousands of strangers

9. The Lines Are Insane

With the big crowds come big lines. The better the ride, the longer the line. Want to go on Space Mountain? Be prepared to wait well over an hour. The most insulting part is the ride is over in 5 minutes, making you question how worth it the wait really was.

Yes, Walt Disney World is one of the most popular vacation destinations on the planet. It gets crowded, sometimes very crowded.  Crowds equal long lines for some, and sometimes almost all, attractions. But find me a theme park that isn't like this, or a beach, or any popular vacation spot. If you go away to a popular place during a popular time, you likely won't be lonely. Basically, the complaint above is correct in that any time your child is off school, the park will be crowded. And when Disney parks are crowded, there will be lines. There are two ways to deal with this, go when it's less crowded or learn ways to make the most of your time when the lines are long.

The easiest way to deal with Disney crowds is to plan your trip for a time that is less crowded. Sites like touringplans.com offer detailed crowd calendars that can help you pick a less crowded time. In our experience, September is great and we've had good luck doing weekend trips right before Thanksgiving. If your child attends a school with a year-round or other non-traditional calendar (or you home school) you're in luck and it's easy to go at a time when crowds aren't "insane." NEVER go right around Christmas, particularly the week between Christmas and New Years. I am a HUGE fan, know all sorts of ways around crowd problems and have been enough times that I am not dying to ride every ride, but I see pictures from that week and it doesn't look at all like something I want to be involved with. We've had days in September when we walked on every attraction, not a line to be had. Those times are getting fewer and harder to find, but they are still there. It's worth taking your children out of school for your trip, in my opinion, but course that depends on the child involved and the school. We've had good luck is all I can say.

Sometimes, however, you find yourself in the Disney parks with all of humanity trying to ride Space Mountain at once. I'm going to start sounding like a broken record in these posts, but planning and knowledge really are the keys to making a Disney trip fun no matter the circumstances. Understand and use the FastPass system. Period. You are a fool if you don't. FastPass is Disney's way of letting you pre-book an attraction for a specific time window allowing you to return at that time and wait in little or no line. The FastPass system is free to all park guests and it really works, but you need to use it and it helps if you enter the park with a general plan, because using FastPass kills spontaneity to some degree.

I can't explain all there is to know about FastPass in one blog post. Books could be written about FastPass at this point, but they'd likely be obsolete by publication because Disney is in the process of changing how FastPass works. The introduction of MagicBands has turned FastPass into FastPass+, allowing you to make attraction reservations months before you leave your home for your trip. The trade-off is a restriction on the number of attractions you can get a FastPass+ reservation for and a sort of Chinese restaurant menu system for choosing which ones. You can now get one from column A (the most popular) and two from column B (the less popular) in one park each day. Attractions include rides of course, but also reserved parade viewing and character meet and greets. You can use an on-site kiosk while in the parks or the My Disney Experience app to change your FastPass+ reservations at any time, so ALL the spontaneity isn't gone, but it's more complicated.

That's one thing I will admit as a potential drawback to a Disney vacation. It requires a lot of forethought, planning and study to make it all it can be. For me, that's a plus, I LOVE doing those things. But if you don't, Disney can be a hard place to navigate. There are plenty of resources to help you, though. Websites like Chip & Co, the DisBoards, AllEars.net, WDWInfo and touringplans.com are great. Many guidebooks are also available, the best of which is without a doubt The Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World. One caveat about the Unofficial Guide, though, this year's edition went to press before the FastPass+changes were finalized, so it is zero help navigating that system. The 2015 version will be out in the fall and will I'm sure be awesome.

One last note. This might peg me as a total Disney Geek more than anything else, but I actually feel a bit
You wouldn't want to miss the giant balsa wood airplane, would you?
cheated when there is no line. Disney makes their queues interesting, even fun. The "line" such as it is, for the Dumbos is a big indoor playground waiting area. Guest receive a beeper and when their turn to ride comes, it goes off and they collect the rug rats and head onto the Dumbos. I didn't even get to look around this area because there was no line when we rode, twice back-to-back, during the Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. There are video games in the Space Mountain queue and kids' activities in Winnie The Pooh's. The themeing of the hotel housing the Tower of Terror is spectacular, there are tiny details everywhere and it kind of kills me that every time we've visited the attraction, we've walked right by all of them. I annoy the folks behind me stopping to look all the time, and tend to get shuffled along.

I've truly embraced the Disney Magic, I actually LIKE the lines. :-)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Refuting The Top 13 Reasons Not To Go To Disney, Part 2

So I'm happily looking at my Facebook newsfeed the other day and one of those "Sponsored" things is up there. It's from a site called Viral Travel (which sounds like a bad idea on the face of it) and is entitled 13 Reasons Not To Go To Disney. Of course I bite. Sue me. So its about what I expect, the same things we Disney fans fans from you non-Disney fans-- crowds,expense, capitalism, yadda yadda yadda. The thing is, many of these criticisms are true to a large extent, but avoidable. I hate to see people get spoiled on the Disney I love because they go about the whole experience unprepared logistically or mentally for the realities of the place. I figured just for kicks to take the 13 reasons one by one (or two by two) and try to explain why they don't keep ME from the Magic. This part two, part one is here.

12. There Is Constant Construction

You might see this as a positive, but Disney is always under construction. If you see a ride that looks way cool but it’s not complete, that means the kiddos will be bugging you to death to go back so you can endure even more Disney in the near future. Joy.

7. Rides Are Shut Down All The Time

Disney is careful about maintaining rides and keeping them safe, but the flip side is that your favorite ride might not even be open the whole time you’re at the park. Some rides seem to be especially prone to breaking, or always shut down when there’s even the slightest hint of rain. Of course this means you can go back again and hope the ride is open, or you could just go to the beach.

I've bundled these two complaints into one becuase they go hand-in-hand, I think. First off, the writer admits that new construction is really a good thing. I mean if a place that makes you wat to return is a bad thing, maybe stay-cations are more your cup of tea. The second issue, number seven on his list, is also true. In part. Let's look at construction and refurbishment in Disney Parks realistically.

Some "construction" is really upkeep or even seasonal decorating, like in the photo of the Cinderella Castle below being fixed up with Christmas lights during our last trip. Most decorating is done at night out of public view, but the castle is a big job and each year there will be times when it has cranes around it. While you may be disappointed you can't get the "perfect" castle photo on your trip during these times, there's always Photoshop, and besides, as my friend pointed out to me it's kinda cool to have photos of the decorations going up, not everyone gets to see that process.

Hanging Christmas Lights on The Castle

Upkeep is also a constant and closes some attractions and restaurants throughout the year. This can cause hassles if you're ill-prepared. Luckily, there are plenty of on-line resources to keep you up to date on what is going to be closed and when. The Walt Disney World site itself is the last word, but fan sites often have the info just as current and much easier to find all in one place. It's important to check this out, there WILL be rides you can't go on and/or shows you can't see due to refurbishment. Knowing before you go will save you much worse disappointment later, especially with little ones. The writer's contention that "some rides seem to be especially prone to breaking, or always shut down when there’s even the slightest hint of rain" is exaggerated at best. Do the attractions break down and have to close for short periods sometimes, sure, but it's far from common. And besides, there is SO MUCH to do at the Disney parks, that no one attraction is a game-breaker for us.

Actual new construction is also always going on. It's a GOOD thing, even a great thing. Every time you visit Disney there will be something you've never seen before, and often it will something spectacular. During our last visit, Disney was in the process of building a huge expansion of Fantasyland called, rather stupidly, New Fantasyland. I wonder if the creative team was on vacation when they dreamed that one up. Anyhow, it's kinda a big deal and while some of it was open when we were there, we had a ball peeking over and around barricades and walls to catch a glimpse of the Beast's Castle and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. One of the big reasons I planned to get at least half a day in the Magic Kingdom during our upcoming weekend trip was to get a chance to check out the completed New Fantasyland.
New Fantasyland Under Construction

We don't sweat the refurbs, honestly, because we've been enough to see most everything and there's plenty else to do. We actually enjoy the construction both because it means new things on the way and simply for it's own sake. We like watching the Magic being created. We are such Disney Geeks we even took pictures of all the little Walt Disney quotes hanging on the construction barricades. Take some time to read them yourself when you visit, he is the reason this place is magic.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Refuting The Top 13 Reasons Not To Go To Disney, Part 1

So I'm happily looking at my Facebook newsfeed the other day and one of those "Sponsored" things is up there. It's from a site called Viral Travel (which sounds like a bad idea on the face of it) and is entitled 13 Reasons Not To Go To Disney. Of course I bite. Sue me. So its about what I expect, the same things we Disney fans fans from you non-Disney fans-- crowds,expense, capitalism, yadda yadda yadda. The thing is, many of these criticisms are true to a large extent, but avoidable. I hate to see people get spoiled on the Disney I love because they go about the whole experience unprepared logistically or mentally for the realities of the place. I figured just for kicks to take the 13 reasons one by one and try to explain why they don't keep ME from the Magic.

13. The Tickets Are Insanely Expensive
 If you think going to an amusement park and paying $60 a person is steep, wait until you pay the price of admission for Disney. You’ll be looking at well above $100 per person, depending on the type of tickets you get and the time of the year.

Yes, tickets to Disney theme parks are expensive. However, the above item is only half correct. Park tickets do not fluctuate with time of year, but adding certain options CAN increase the cost significantly, depending on how you plan your stay. Like anything Disney vacation-oriented, it's complicated.

A one day ticket to the Magic Kingdom is $99. But the cost per day decreases as you add days to your ticket. Stay for 5 days and the tickets are $60.80/day and each day you add after that only brings the total cost up $10 each. For example, a ticket that gets you into the Magic Kingdom for one day costs $99, one that gets you in for 5 days costs $304 and one that gets you for that extra sixth (perhaps when you arrive in the afternoon) day costs $314.

The "type of ticket" they talk about refers to certain options Disney offers, the most popular being the "Park Hopper" option. A Park Hopper ticket allows you entry to all four Walt Disney World theme parks on the same day and costs $60 more, whether you by it to apply to a one day ticket or a ten day ticket it's a flat $60, once again making it a better value the longer you stay.

You can also add options that allow you entry to the two water parks and/or the DisneyQuest mega-arcade. This is really only a really good value if you plan to vist these places more than once on your trip, as entry to each is less than $60/day.

So, yes, Disney tickets are pricey, especially if you go for one day (as we are doing this fall), but come on, it's the very prototype of the theme park. It's another world, lots of other worlds, actually. Play your cards right and stay long enough to see and appreciate everything, and the tickets per day aren't so bad at all.

Friday, March 14, 2014

"Our Disney Experience" Began Tonight

So we did it. We took that step from finally, definitely planning to really and truly go to Disney World in November to making reservations. It was a pretty good week, I had a pretty big "win" at work yesterday and was pretty pleased with my bad self already, but this just put my Friday night over the top. It's real. I have the confirmation number and email with said confirmation number. And I've hooked my reservation into the My Disney Experience website and app.

I picked out my MagicBand color.


It's really happening. 

This isn't to be a big trip, it's another one of our "commando raids" on Walt Disney World. We are lucky enough to live an easy day's drive from The Dis and we aren't at all averse to long car rides, so nine hours is cake. We usually split it up anyhow, leaving the night before we plan to arrive and driving until I feel tired. This makes it easy for us to go for a long weekend.

This time we are (I just wrote "we plan to" and erased it to write "we are". Heh) leaving Thursday, November 20th after work and arriving at Disney on Friday the 21st, The Lovely Miss Lisa's Birthday. We'll stay at Port Orleans French Quarter, our very favorite resort. We have a strategic plan, because, well, you kinda need one to make a weekend trip to Disney from North Carolina worth it. In the past, we've just resort hopped and explored on arrival day of our commando raids, visited one park the next day, then hit Downtown Disney on our leaving day. This time, I really wanted to try to squeeze a bit more out of our time and I think I came up with a good plan.

We wanted to see the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party because we never have and we loved the Halloween party so very much. I looked at the schedule from 2013 and made the leap that 2014 would be pretty similar. The plan depends on that. It looked to me that MVMCP was held on Fridays but not Saturdays. This works well for us. We'll arrive Friday at about lunchtime, get lunch, check in and be at the gates of the Magic Kingdom in plenty of time to enter as soon as they will let us. We will get from (at the worst) 4 pm until midnight in the Magic Kingdom, plenty of time to experience the party and see the New Fantasyland. Then it's back to our usual schedule and hit Epcot Saturday and Downtown Disney Sunday, leaving about lunchtime Sunday to drive home.

My theory is that this gives us two park days a little less expensively than buying a two-day ticket. MVMCP tickets ran about $65 last year and with park tickets going for about $100, that saves us quite a bit between three tickets. We also lucked out getting a room discount from a friend that saved us a bunch. We'll use those savings to eat very well. We have plans for dining that deserve their own post. There's a bit of a story there....

I like my plan. It's a good plan. And I'm hoping and praying that I can enjoy a little Disney Magic and  actually get us into the Magic Kingdom a couple hours before the official unoffical time of 4:00 pm, because........

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Great It's Almost Umbrella Drink Weather Cool Blogs Giveaway

My windows are open. My doors are open. I drove the boy home from band practice with the windows down and singing very loudly along to the Beach Boys (he loved THAT, let me tell ya). I planted flowers in Estelle. When Lisa gets home we are going to have cocktails on the back porch. May even eat dinner out there, we'll see if it gets cooked before dark (see cocktails above).
What, you don't have a five-foot flamingo planter on your porch? Sorry to hear that :-)

All of these things mean SPRING is here!!!! Or at least coming very soon. And spring means new beginnings and growth and........cocktails in Tiki Head mugs. We -- myself, Lisa and our pal and partner in crime Jen -- are taking the opportunity to get ourselves into the habit of blogging more regular-like. That's more fun with more eyes on our blogs. So we have a plan to entice you.

The Lovely Miss Lisa just started a new blog all about food and the fun that goes along with food. It's called Parmesan and you should check it out. She's the best kind of cook, the kind that loves food, loves to experiment and loves to seek out new ways to make the same old same old new again. I'm a very lucky guy. Food is one of the ties that bind around here, we cook as a family very often and love it, you will, too. 

Jen Iapalucci has been writing on her blog Sartor on and off for several years, but has recently re-invigorated and re-imagined it to reflect her life and loves and adventures. It's a happy place full of wit and ideas and color and imagination. Come to think of it, it's full of many of the things that make Jen the Jen that we love. Stop by and read a bit, explore, and introduce yourself to a really cool woman. You'll be glad you did.

Actually, you'll be REALLY glad. I mentioned an enticement, right? How about a giveaway? Free stuff!!! Who doesn't like free stuff. And it's not just any stuff, it's cool stuff. This stuff:

Anyone can put an umbrella drink in a glass. But YOU will be the envy of the neighborhood with these authentic Tiki Head Mugs. Ready and willing to hold any libation you can dream up. Maybe you'll find a nice drink recipe on Parmesan sometime.....

Guinness Pint Glasses
A set of TWO matching Guinness pint glasses, because 12 ounces of beer is a waste of time. And Guinness Is Good For You.
Pooh Sticks Home Game 
You've read the blog, now go OUT INTO THE WORLD and PLAY!!! That's what the world is there for, for goodness sake. Use it. These handy playing pieces come with instructions and will set you on your way to hours and hours of enjoyment. Watching things float under a bridge is cool. Trust me.

Ok, so how do you win this awesome stuff you ask? EASY! Just visit this link and enter up to six times in one visit. You'll be visiting our blogs and Facebook and Pinterest pages along the way, it's all part of the fun. Stop by, visit with us, and join the happy. I can't wait to send YOU the prize :-)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Exploring Home

The joy of exploring is that every place is unique. I mean, of course it is, right? But some places are just a bit "more unique" than others. Yes, I hate the phrase, too, usually, but in the case of Oak Island it's true. This is a beautiful area, our little corner of North Carolina and the adjacent bit of South Carolina. We have a cute little coastal town in Southport, a wooded lake-filled town in Boiling Spring Lakes, a "charming Southern city" in Wilmington, and plenty of barrier islands filled with vacation homes. All of those places are nice, really nice, but they are very much like other places I've seen. Oak Island is different. It's barrier island like the rest, but not really. It only became a real island once the Intracoastal Waterway came along. It's full of vacation homes, but not really. It has a permanent population of around 7,000, making it one of, if not the, most populous town in the county. Oak Island is the name of the island itself but also one of the two towns on the island. So you can come and be on Oak Island but not be in Oak Island. The place has the worst and best identity crisis of any place I've ever seen. It's nuts and those of us who live here are generally nuts. We've come from all over and settled in the weirdest town we could find. It makes for interesting politics, but it also makes for a place someone like me can feel at home. Make of that what you will.

One of the coolest features of our island is that it's split down the middle (well sort of. It's not the middle and it's only kinda a third of the island that's split) by a water feature with lots of names. See, identity crisis central. Officially on USGS maps it's called Montgomery Slough. No one knows any Montgomery around here nor what a "slough" is, so it is NEVER called that. It is most often called Davis Canal or just "the Canal," as in "I can't believe I just saw a dolphin in the Canal!" But it isn't a canal. At all. My favorite name for it is Davis Ditch. It is a ditch, no matter how you slice it.

Here it is from space.

That thicker body of water at the top is the Intracoastal. Oh, did I mention the other oddity about our island? It runs east-west rather than north-south. When you look out to sea here you aren't looking toward Portugal, you're looking toward Cuba. Makes for a glorious sunset with the sun dipping right into the sea without having to go to Florida or the west coast. But shhhhhhhhh, don't tell anyone. Anyhow, that thick bit of water on top is the Intracoastal and the big blue at the bottom is, of course, the Atlantic Ocean. That bit roughly in the middle with no streets is the Montgomery Slough/Davis Canal/Davis Ditch. A lot of it is marsh, but it has navigable water at the top and sometimes at the bottom. It's open to the Intracoastal at its west end and makes a sort of "U" at the east. Today we went around that "U" in our kayaks for the first time.

The majority of the canal is narrow and at low tide very shallow. The southern leg is mostly too shallow even for a canoe or kayak at low tide, or even anything but high tide in many places. Today, we happened to be out at high tide and made our way around the "U" to explore a part of the canal that we'd never seen before in 20 years living here.

First off, let me say how unbelievably happy I am to have the tides affect my life. I've always been a tide geek. Dad and I would pick up a tide chart first thing upon reaching the shore when I was growing up and visiting south Jersey. Now I find I really don't need one. I see the tides each morning and afternoon or evening at least on my way on and off the island so I generally in a very general way can guess when its going to be high or low tide or if the tide is falling or rising. This makes me very happy.

So, we set off at high tide, slack high tide as well, which was cool as it made for easy paddling both ways.
Today was a glory of early spring weather -- sunny, warm and calm. The marsh smelled marshy and we could hear the surf a couple blocks away. Fish were jumping and a Great Blue Heron decided to follow us and check in from time to time (but never long enough to have his photo taken). We paddled up to the end of the canal and decided to take advantage of the tide to go see what lay around the bend. I find its ALWAYS best to go see what lays beyond the bend. ALWAYS. Just a word of advice. Anyhow, around the bend was new and off we went.

We didn't find anything surprising, really. It isn't like we expected to enter The Land Of The Lost or anything. It was a small, well, ditch, that ran behind some nice homes, some with docks, but a surprising number without. Some of the docks were dilapidated. We were happy as the Lovely Miss Lisa is a huge fan of dilapidation (no jokes about what that means for her fondness for me, please) and while she wasn't with us, we enjoyed thinking how much she'd like it.

A Dilapidated Dock

A Rather Nice Dock w/ crab traps
We stopped to smell the roses, which on the canal means pulling up everyone's crab traps to see what's inside. Nothing was. We paddled under a few walkways, under a few docks and low-hanging trees, because paddling under low things is fun. We don't know why, it just is. We simply enjoyed the day, enjoyed a new view of the old home and enjoyed a couple hours out on the water as father and son.

As we were beginning our trip, John commented that it had been a long time since he was out on the water. It had been a matter of months. To him, that's a long time to not be "on the water." That makes me proud. He takes paradise for granted. Well, not for granted completely because he truly loves it and uses it and wants to be out in it, but he just accepts that this is home. For me, it's still a dream I hope not to wake up from. Each time I come home across that bridge and see the ocean, THE OCEAN, I feel lucky and blessed and like I somehow cheated life. I get to live here. I hear the ocean every morning. I used to wait and wait months for that sound, for that smell. I'd go kinda bonkers during the winter at Penn State. it was just too far away from the sea, I think. But now, I'm here and my son doesn't even know it's not normal.

Life Is Good.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

You Gotta Be Kidding Me

So I found the PERFECT birthday card for my niece who just turned 8 years old. The perfect card isn't easy, especially kids' cards. See, I generally go for a good fart card or a monkey card, but Lindsey is just eight and I thought she needed a nice, normal kids' card. Generally they are terrible and generic and stupid, but I found one that was, as I said, perfect for Lindsey. Here it is, the inside isn't important, it's the outside that rocks.

This has Lindsey written all over it. See, it's a QUIZ! And it's a trick question. See, they ALL belong).

Lindsey loves school. She excels at school. She does math workbooks at home. For fun. She had bugs on her birthday cake because she loves bugs and science and biology and nature. She doesn't carry around a doll, she carries around a microscope. Not a magnifying glass, mind you, a microscope. She makes lists of things, like a miniature Linnaeus. Get the picture?

See that list? Brains, Charm, Talent, Skills. She has it all, in spades. She's smart as a whip and cute as a button. She sings in the church choir and takes dance lessons. She won a prize in the school science fair. That card, and Mickey's list, may as well have been made for HER.

And Mickey. She and her family recently went to Disney, so she is all about Mickey right now. But this isn't just any Mickey, it's Mickey with glasses. Lindsey just got glasses, not too far off from the ones cartoon Mickey is wearing. See?

Told ya she was cute.

Ok, so it's the perfect card, right? It even plays "The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades" when you open it. You'd think I'd be happy. Wal-Mart gets a "win" for having just the right thing, right? Wrong.

This is where the card sits on the shelf.

FOR BOY???!!!???


I'm sold on this card, but just for the heck of it I look in the "For Girl" section for something comparable. Nope. They are all "cute" and "adorable" and "special" and "sparkle". No brains, no talent, no skill. Sparkle.

I'm not one to see creeping sexism (or any other "ism" for that matter) around every corner, but this really burned me up. Why is the one card that perfectly describes my little niece in the "For Boy" section? Why is there no brains-are-good girl card? One more reason I'm thankful I don't have a daughter. I would be a basket-case constantly fighting back against this crap.

But I have nieces. And a wife. And a mother. And a sister. And some really damned spectacular female friends. And they have to live in this world with this silliness all around them. And it was worse yesterday than it is today, but we STILL throw "sparkle" at girls and "brains" and "talent" and "skills" at boys. The women in my life are still judged by how they look and how they present themselves. The doctor has to dress as conservative as she can to be taken seriously at work. The director is condescended to and figuratively patted on the head by men she could run intellectual and creative circles around. The reporter is underestimated. The office professional is taken for granted. It's ridiculous.

This isn't to say these women, and my nieces are following right behind, aren't attractive, cute, adorable or whatever. They are. I guess you could say they even have their own sparkle. But it is in their eyes. It's a reflection of the intelligence, the creativity, the discipline, the drive and the strength that it takes for a woman to overcome a society that puts THAT card in the "For Boy" section.The very things presented as boy traits are exactly what makes these women awesome.

Lindsey's future IS bright. She has it all and she will grow up learning to appreciate herself and use her talent and brains and skills to improve herself and enrich her community. Her parents and family will see to that.

I love that dancing, singing, microscope toting math geek with all my heart. I love that GIRL. Just the way she is.