Archive for January, 2010

They Have Giraffes at Disney World?

Day Three brought the Offermann/Reeves to the Animal Kingdom theme park. Besprinkled throughout this post are Tom’s photos of the wildlife that we spied while on a safari truck that took us on a poacher laden adventure (don’t ask) through the Disney preserve. (These shots came out surprisingly well since they make the trek as authentic as possible by including rough bridges and water filled potholes wherever possible.)

This was by far my favorite park. It was lush and green and actually afforded the visitor a relaxing ambience with fresh clean air, courtesy of the copious canopy of plants. In this location, Disney has concocted an interesting mix of modern rides, shows, and educational content.

We learned about and viewed up close and personal some babirusa or “pig deer,” naked mole rats (a family favorite), pygmy geese, and a pancake tortoise. We also had the pleasure of running into some gigantic bats, watching a hippo running around under water, and even spotted a huge rhino, which I learned has a hide that is about 1 inch in thickness and which they said cannot be penetrated by much in the wild. The guide relayed that the number one threat to the incredibly small rhino population remains poachers supplying the horn to the Chinese, who use it as a traditional medication for fever and convulsions.

I give a thumbs up to the live show Birds of Wonder, which offers a wide array of attention-getting avian performers in action, seen up close and personal. It was popular with the whole family, from smallest to tallest. The other live show we took in was The Lion King, which I give a thumbs down. It was kind of a mini-Cirque set to the music of the Lion King with the worst extras I have ever seen dancing. (The bar aerialist monkeys were pretty good though.)

Ride recommendations include two coasters: Expedition Everest and Primeval Whirl, as well as exciting animatronic adventure ride called Dinosaur.

Kennedy Space Center Is a Blast

Our second full day in Florida involved leaving Orlando and heading out to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, which also happens to be home to the Kennedy Space Center, which is, in turn, the home of the Space Shuttle.

We got an early start to the day (for us), rented a minivan, piled in the whole family and used up my Droid battery getting turn-by-turn directions to the coast. (This may have brought back some bad memories for Peter and Kathy of riding in the third seat of our Dodge Caravan while Tom and I nattered at each other while driving, as couples are wont to do.)

Was it worth it? Totally.

We saw an amazing Imax film on the Apollo space missions narrated by Tom Hanks. There was a Shuttle launch simulator that is supposed to give a great approximation of what it’s like to travel from liftoff into orbit — very intense! Pictured above is the top of one of the Saturn V multistage rockets that sent the moonwalkers into space — it runs nearly the entire length to the back of the open hangar door you can see in the photo. We all got to touch a moon rock. The vehicles that move the Shuttle to the launching pad are amazing and get something like 43 feet to the gallon. The hangar where the Shuttles live can house 4 Statues of Liberty, complete with base.

It was a lovely day that was, in part, inspiring, exciting, and moving…what people can accomplish with so little technology and so much desire is amazing.

On a side note, you can also see some gators, manatees and a ton of bird species in the nature reserve as you are touring the various sites that comprise the high-tech complex. Having said that, I couldn’t suppress a smirk regarding the Space Center propaganda stating that NASA is a great force for natural preservation — let’s be honest folks, launching rockets with the force of a nuclear bomb on a routine basis is not beneficial for wild creatures living nearby.

Where Animatronics Go to Die

Our first full day at Disney World was spent at the Magic Kingdom Theme Park, or as we like to think of it, Old School Disney.

The Good. They can work miracles with sparkle paint, black light, and plywood. Evening fireworks (no parade the night we were there) are awesome. We especially marveled at the crazy woman in the role of Tinker Bell, who sailed down a zip line from the top of the castle at the end of the fireworks show. Main Street is appealing at night when it’s crowded and beautifully lit. (Pictured above with Tom’s family.)

The Bad. All of the traditional stuff that I feel nostalgic about from my visits to Disneyland as a kid — It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Carribean, and the Country Bear Jamboree — well, let’s just say that they seem incredibly and hopelessly outdated, both from a technology and content perspective. When three female bears began singing a song about how much difficulty they were experiencing in catching a man, I leaned over to Zoe and said, “How does your mother feel about this song?” Zoe whispered back to me, “you think it’s stupid.” I nodded, proudly. It made me realize that the age at which traditional Disney becomes lame and uncool must be plummeting. (You can see how Disney is reacting to this in their newer content options, which I will talk about in other theme park reviews.)

The Ugly. This prize goes to the Jungle Cruise, which is so bad, it’s almost good. This is a trip on a boat where you gaze upon some of the oldest and worst animatronic animals I have ever seen. Add in a dose of politically incorrect head hunting natives, and it’s really a spectacular train wreck. They have tried to salvage this ride by having comedians work their own schtick on board, making fun of the attractions as they give you a tour. The kids thought the comedian was hilarious, but really didn’t get the whole bad mechanized animal thing.

And lastly, a warning. In trying to upgrade the Tiki Bird show, they have added the character of Iago. Suffice to say, building an entire extravaganza around the blaring voice of Gilbert Gottfried is a horrible idea. I was nauseous and my ears were ringing by the end.

Traveling to Orlando World

Nothing like waking up at 3:30 am to catch a 6:00 am flight from Portland to Orlando, via Atlanta. As Zelda described us today, in a philosophic voice, “we are a family who are professional travelers…it’s like our job.”

As flying goes, it was pretty pain free. My just-awarded Silver Medallion status on Delta netted us the ability to check two 70 pound bags for free. We were shy of that weight limit, so Tom pointed out that we could go all American and buy a bunch of crap while here, so our new family motto is We Can Buy 40 Pounds of Stuff We Don’t Need! My frequent traveler status also earned us the right to bypass the boarding line, which we took advantage of to ensure that we had overhead bin space. The latter is important now that they are charging for checked bags, of course.

The trips in the air were relatively smooth and both touched down early. Yahhh! No one threw up, spilled anything, and arguing was at a minimum amongst the small and the blond (they really are becoming professional travelers).

After wending our way through the Orlando airport to the Disney Magical Express area, we were greeted by the somewhat creepy vision of an utterly vacant system of human corrals designed to sort and transport thousands of visitors. Our magical bus, pictured above, was half empty. (The girls were mesmerized by the piped in video propaganda, as you can see!)

We wondered, are we the only people going to Disney World??

We arrived at our hotel, the Grand Floridian, and were cheerfully greeted by a bunch of freezing Disney employees bundled in Disney coats. Zoe, who hates being the center of attention, grumbled, “They are very welcoming here.” She did not consider this to be a good thing!

We were reunited with Tom’s parents for the first time since our trips south of the border, and it has been lovely to catch up. Tom’s poor sister, whose flight had been canceled coming out of JFK, did arrive, but not until very late. Unfortunately, her bags didn’t benefit from any Disney magic, making it here the day after she arrived.

Hey, I thought everyone was guaranteed a perfect happy ending in Mouskateerville!

Pre-Disney Euphoria

Okay, that headline is not entirely accurate.

We are t-minus nine hours to lift off and are still packing and straightening. (Who planned a cross country trip leaving at 6:00 am anyway?)

We get up at 3:30 am. Girls will rise at 4:00 am. Cab comes at 4:30 am. We have checked into hotel and flight, with the added bonus that we won’t have to pay for baggage because of my Silver Medallion status! Hooray.

We will arrive in Orlando, via Atlanta in the late afternoon armed with our layers and layers of paperwork.

Disney’s Magical Express. This is the service where Disney takes your luggage directly from the plane and transports it to your hotel room — you never touch it. We have special tags we have to put on our suitcases and they are to “magically” arrive without our assistance. We are somewhat nervous about this. The Magic Express also will effect the transport of our persons,

Dining Confirmation Numbers. Disney has this crazy system where you can make your reservations 180 days in advance of your stay, which people actually do. If you are going to have a party of 7 (as we will since we’re meeting Tom’s parents and his sister there), and you want to eat at a reasonably decent restaurant, you have no chance without a reservation. This certainly complicates things because it means you have to think about your entire park plan so you can be sure to make it to your reserved dining spot.

Walking Maps. For a fee, you can access optimized walking maps of all of Disney World from the crazy folks at Touring Plans. These guys have traversed all of the parks and figured out the best days and hours from which to approach them to minimize waiting times. You can get plans for demographics that range from small kids through to retired folks, or combinations thereof. We selected the tween walking maps and pretty much planned our entire week’s stay months ago just so that we could reserve our dining! We have a printed version in hand and pdf versions on our iPhone and Droid.

Rental Car. We are going to visit the Kennedy Space Center on one of the days, so we have reserved a van that will hopefully carry all 7 of us! Can’t wait to use my superior Droid GPS turn-by-turn driving directions.

We have overpacked (the weather has been crazy cold up until this week), are feeling righteous for cooking a fresh Minestrone soup today, are watering the ficus tree of love, are desperately searching for sun screen, and are making sure we have all of the crazy electronic devices that follow us everywhere now, including requisite chargers and cables.

Wish us luck!

Celebrating 2007 Technology

We are all agog in the Reeves/Offermann house over 2007 technology.

The Zs saved up their money, pooled it, and bought a Wii after the holidays. They have had a ball making a Mii (an avatar) for every member of the family and delight in luring unsuspecting visitors into a game of Mario Kart, no matter their age or previous experience with video games. Tom and I are ready to start practicing after the kids go to bed because they are kicking our asses.

(So far my mother, who now has a Mii, thanks to the girls, has managed to avoid the ski jumping event in Wii Fit, but it’s coming Mom, Ian can’t wait!)

And then our phones — who knew that we needed to be connected to the Internet 24/7!?! And we do, need to be connected. All.Day.Long. The funny things is, we hardly use it as a phone, which is a good thing, because in reality, they perform worst as phones.

Tom and Michele’s Handy Mobile Computer Moments:

  1. Shopping at Whole Foods for tangerines for a recipe. Did they have them? Nope, fresh out. But, they had minneolas. What the hell are minneolas? Boom, look it up on the iPhone — they are a cross between a Duncan grapefruit and a Dancy tangerine.
  2. Checking email to make sure you are in the right room when you show up for a meeting and it’s filled with Japanese bureaucrats on a tour — in other words, not your meeting.
  3. Bar code scanning the toner at Office Max and running a price check at stores around the city to make sure you’re not getting fleeced.
  4. Looking up Streetcar/Bus/Max schedules to get up-to-the-minute route info.
  5. Killing time while waiting for said Streetcar/Bus/Max.
  6. Obsessively chatting with each other.
  7. Finding an alternative for risotto when the store is out of arborio rice. They did have carnaroli rice, so we google that and learn it’s supposed to be even better for the creamy rice dish. Who knew?

How Hard Is It to Buy a Freaking Vacuum? Let Me Tell You…

One of the things we ditched when we left Portland in 2008 was our vacuum, which broke all of the time, and, as a result, we hated it.

After moving into an apartment that had never been lived in before, we noticed that the carpets in the bedrooms were really shedding, and we knew that we had to get a vacuum post haste. I thought to myself, “no problem, I will just hop onto Consumer Reports and pick out a machine…wham bam, we’ll get it done.”

Well, suffice to say after my online tour of reviewed vacuums, I sunk into a deep depression. During my research, I learned several things:

1) Nearly every person in America dislikes their vacuum.
2) Most of the dirt suckers were not very highly rated.
3) The vacuums that Consumer Reports liked were insanely expensive.

I just gave up…which, when you are married, means you pass the mantle to your spouse.

Tom launched his own exploration, filled with optimism and hope. Sadly, when faced with the vitriol felt by vacuum owners the country over, he too fell into a deep funk.

First, my dearest husband briefly had a geek-induced love affair with the Kirby vacuum, which costs about a million dollars and was also a carpet shampooer, floor buffer, and came with a myriad of attachments. I put the kibosh on that one. Next, he flirted with a Miele model that was going to set us back about $600. While it was reasonably well reviewed, I am just genetically incapable of paying $600 for a vacuum.

We ultimately settled on a $75 Hoover model that Amazon could deliver in 2 days for free (pictured above). I didn’t even care that it was rated a bit further down the list on Consumer Reports. It was $75 — I loved it.

Report after our first use? It’s $75-good, baby. I just don’t think a vacuum could perform to my expectations if I spent $600 on it!

Reports from the Zipcar Front Lines

We have officially done it — used our Zipcar membership for the first time.

Although we attempt to utilize public transportation, or our feet, for nearly everything, this last Tuesday we just couldn’t do it. We had a 2:15 pm school pick up, after which we had to race to buy soccer cleats and shin guards for Zoe. Next, we flew across the river to a 3:30 pm doctor’s appointment for Zoe. At the end of that, we commandeered a bathroom where Zoe had to change into her soccer clothes. Back into the Zipcar we went and I dropped Zoe off at a Portland Streetcar stop where Tom and Zelda were waiting.

The hubby and I switched kids right there on the street corner, with Tom taking Zoe to her first soccer practice since returning to the US (she loved it). Zelda and I were entrusted with returning our lovely Zipcar, which occurred without mishap.

After soccer practice, we had a Blazer game to go to, so Tom and Zoe hotfooted it to Hot Lips Pizza, where she changed out of her soccer gear, and then they caught the Max to the Rose Garden. Meanwhile, Zelda and I walked over the Broadway Bridge to the arena — something I would have never done if I had a car.

Anyway, our first experience with Zipcar was fabulous. We drove a Prius and it was really fun to maneuver around town. It had separate little buttons to start the car and to put the car in park. The gear shift was a kind of video game joy stick thingy in the dash.

We had about a page of instructions on the newfangled stuff, but it was all well explained and we returned it on time (which is something you worry about since they charge you an arm and a leg if you’re even the slightest bit late).

One of the interesting things we’ve noticed about participating in a car share versus owning our own car is that it really quantifies, by the hour, the cost of operating a vehicle. And I mean the whole cost, not just the gas! Having the real cost of driving spelled out for us really motivates us to try and avoid it as much as possible!

Droid Versus iPhone,
Can this Marriage Be Saved?

Tom didn’t get an iPhone after they first came out because he knew we were going to be making some life changes, so it didn’t make sense to sign up for the two year commitment. Yes, that means my poor husband read about it, pined for it, checked out friends’ phones…it’s a sad tale.

I know with the subtle foreshadowing, you will never guess what Tommy’s first order of business was upon our arrival back in the US. Yes, that’s right, buying an iPhone. He loves it in every way. Me, not so much, especially after I spent the entire Christmas holiday mocking his iPhone because, with the AT&T network, it was entirely useless as a phone. We had to drive at least 15 minutes from my parents’ place to get a signal, and forget about any data.

Prior to our holiday by the sea, I was on the fence…Should I get a Droid and the fabu Verizon network? Should I wait for the Google phone rumored to be coming out in January (which it just did)? Or, should I join my husband as an iPhonophile?

After our ill-fated trip to the coast with zero coverage, i decided the iPhone was out. I told Tom, “at least one of us needs an actual telephone.” So, I went with the Verizon network and bought the Droid, because I didn’t feel like waiting for the Google phone to be available on Verizon. How do we feel about our choices? We are both happy. My turn-by-turn GPS navigation is better and Tom envies my automatically updated gmail. I, in turn, am jealous of Tom’s sync with iTunes and the zillion apps that are useful and well written.

While it’s impossible to completely suppress a superior smirk toward the other if our phone has performed a task better, I think that we are, for the most part, behaving in an incredibly adult manner in light of our little phone-on phone-competition. Except, of course, when the GPS on Tom’s phone keeps locating our apartment on the wrong side of the river…

Moving Back Learning Curve

I am sharing our latest moving wisdoms…

Deep sinks. Our new apartment has a double sink that seems to be as deep as a utility sink. At first, i wasn’t sure how i felt about it, but I’ve discovered it’s primary function — hiding dirty dishes. You can pile up those bad boys in the sink for days and not notice them unless you are standing right over the sink.

Disappearing Stuff. As with any move, something will go missing. We have unpacked all of the boxes and have lost a) microwave safe glass containers with lids that we used for the Z’s lunches; and, b) all of the Zs twin-sized sheets. *sigh*

Fancy Swedish Appliances. I have learned that I cannot operate a Swedish washing machine without a manual, to the point of not even being able to open the front loading door.

Downsizing Reflections. A smaller apartment means that moving in will take longer, even if you are shrinking the amount of crap in your life, because you have less room for stowing things as you unpack, and you have to be more efficient as you cram it all in there (there’s always an element of stuffing, no matter how much crap you think you’ve gotten rid of)! Which leads me to my second point about living simpler, if you are moving into a building that offers a small storage unit, take it — even if you can fit everything in your apartment, it’s nice to be able to put luggage, etc. somewhere else.

Ikea Sales. We needed a TV stand and 2 desks for the Zs. I saw that Ikea was going to have a one-day sale of both of those items at DIRT CHEAP prices yesterday, but only while supplies lasted. Our intention was to arrive at the store as it opened, but of course, getting the Zs out of the house is nigh on impossible, so we were about half an hour late. As we walked into the store, people were streaming out with boxes piled high of the very items we were there to purchase. I panicked. We raced in the back door, found our items in the warehouse, and staked our claim. If we had been just 10 minutes later, we wouldn’t have gotten a desk. Whew.

Putting Together Ikea Furniture. If you do this with your children, it takes 3 times longer.

Vases. I know I got rid of many vases before we left for Argentina, but I could have done so much more. After a while, I felt like every box I opened contained a vase and I didn’t know where to put them all. I don’t even have fresh cut flowers in the house very often (I’m pretty lazy). What is with all the vases?

Mysteries. You wonder why you got rid of some things and why you kept others. Aside from the vases, the other big surprise for me was end tables/night stands. I think we had about 5 of them before leaving, but I must have given them all away in a fit of downsizing because we don’t have any left!