31 May, 2008

Byer's Lake Camping

On the second day after our return from Florida, we headed out for the first camping trip of the season. Byer's Lake is approximately 150 miles north of Anchorage. Thursday evening was lovely - blue skies, warm (tho not like FL, so we didn't use the air conditioner in the car), and the start of our next adventure.
The Mountain
(Denali, aka Mt McKinley)

Trip went smooth, and we stopped short of the campground at a pull off to get some pictures of the mountains. It's not very often that you can get a clear shot of Denali (aka Mount McKinley), so we figured we should take the chance that was offered. Somewhere in these shots is the Mooses Tooth - my favorite restaurant is named after it. I'm especially glad we stopped, because this was the nicest weather all weekend. These mountains are the results of magma upthrust, then being cut over time by glaciers. Very interesting - and amazing.
Mountain Views

When we got to the campground, we were in for a bit of a surprise. SNOW. Not what I wanted to see at the end of May, when I'm going to be sleeping outside... and we *are* going to be investing in a tent heater before the next trip! We drove through the sites, looking for three together that were dry and easy to get to. Some of the road had enough snow that I switched into 4-wheel just so we could get around. Trees & bushes had buds, but no real leaves or green things growing yet. Not a good sign.
Snow Infested Campground

We eventually found what we were looking for, set up tents, settled in and (the best part) started a fire. I spent most of the rest of the weekend around the fire - yay! - reading, visiting, enjoying the heat...
Setup Crew

More people showed up on Friday. There was hiking and kayaking and visiting and relaxing around the fire. Thankfully, people brought extra tarps, as we had to string one up Saturday night to keep out of the rain. Nights were cold, but I warmed up enough during the day that I wasn't a popsicle the whole time. I'm looking forward to the trip in July - it'll be warmer, plus we're going back to Squirrell Creek (which means a visit to Sara in Valdez - Wahoo!).

We headed home on Sunday - so we could have Monday to recuperate from all the traveling and to prep for going back to work (*lots* of laundry!). As part of our recuperation efforts, we went to see the new Indiana Jones movie - very funny & enjoyable! And now I've been back to work for a week (a short week) and I'm wishing I were still on vacation. Oh well. Isn't that always the case?!?

21 May, 2008

This is for you, Chad!!

Dinner while we're getting organized for camping this weekend... Mmmmmm... Pepperoni Lover's Pizza!! =)

Home Again

So we spent almost all the day Tuesday traveling. But before we hit the road, Angie filled us up with some wonderful french toast - breakfast on the lanai again... just lovely! We visited just a bit and said our farewells before we hit the road.

It took just about three hours to drive back to Orlando, where we filled up & returned the car and got checked in at the airport with just a bit of time to spare. The flight was 4-1/2 hours to SLC - and it was just my luck that I was in front of someone with long legs (who made sure to groan real loud when I first reclined my seat), so I kept my seat in the upright position for the entire trip. If you think sleeping on an airplane is uncomfortable, try being in the middle seat, fully upright. Oh well. At least I have the ability to fly - otherwise a trip to sunny Florida would be out of the question!!

We were supposed to have an hour between flights, but by the time we landed, deplaned, and got to our next gate they were already boarding. Greg got us some snack mix food for dinner - but it turns out they gave us food on this flight. Like, a sandwich & chips - not just the snack mix or peanuts we've been getting on the other flights. Don't know what was different, I just know I was really hungry and the sandwich hit the spot. It also helped that I was able to recline my seat this leg (another 4-1/2 hour flight).

The cats definitely missed us. =) And it's good to be home. As far as vacations go, this was one of the best - particularly because we got to visit with Chad & Angie (and Abby!!). It was lovely to spend time with such soul-beautiful people. I've got my fingers crossed that we can do it again next year!! =)

19 May, 2008

Davie Monday

Monday was my favorite day yet - and since Tuesday was spent traveling home, this means that Monday was the best day of vacation! =)

We slept in just a bit, then Chad made some great pancakes and we ate breakfast on the lanai. A lovely way to start the morning. We were trying to get some geocaching in before Chad's classes, but it just didn't work out. Angie had just finished work, so we all met at the school. We traded Chad for Angie, and then went back to the house where we left Angie & Abby so Abby could have her nap. From there, Greg & I headed out to see the Everglades.

We stopped en-route for an earth cache (of course there was a cache!) - learned loads about the Everglades and saw another strange vending machine. We don't have branded vending machines here (except maybe soda), so these are interesting to me...

And so you know that wasn't the only interesting thing there, here is some of what I learned about the Everglades: Because of the expansion of humans, the Everglades are shrinking - they're currently only 50% of what they used to be. Five major bodies of water feed the Everglades (can't name them). There are only two seasons: wet and dry. They can absorb trillions of gallons of water in just a year. There are several projects in progress or being planned to help preserve the Everglades and strike a balance between the needs of people, and the survival of the animals that inhabit the Everglades.

Our date with the Everglades was on the Seminole indian reservation, with a company named Billie Swamp Safari. Options were an airboat ride or an eco-tour. The eco-tour is done over land in a monster dune buggy-type rig - looked like it would be fun, but in the interest of time (and seeing alligators), we opted to do the airboat ride.
Monster buggy

Airboat transport

We had a bit of time before our ride, so we wandered around the premises. They had a mini-zoo, with some fun (?!?) exhibits: alligators, lizards, colorful birds (that bite), and turtles.

On the ride, we saw plenty of animals. Because of my seating location, I didn't really get a good photo opportunity until the boat was close to or passing the animals. Which means that I got lots of animal butt shots. =) And I finally got to see a wild pig. After missing out on them yesterday, it was cool to see them today - along with the water buffalo, land buffalo (bison?), alligators (galor!), ostriches (we saw two!), cows, and various birds. It was great!!
Wild pig!

Water buffalo butts

Hungry alligator

Once we were done safari-ing, we headed back to Davie so we could hook up with Chad & Angie again. Plan for the evening: hang out, geocache, eat, have fun... in no particular order. We headed out to one of the local beaches. It wasn't that far away - maybe 10-15 minutes from the house. We wandered the boardwalk (which was really a stonewalk), played in the ocean, watched some people dancing, and had dinner. The moon was bright and full.
Sea Oats are important

All our feet in the Altantic

Dinner by the shore

A lovely moon

After dinner, we cached our way home. Although we tried for several, unfortunately we were only successful in getting one cache. But we're all on the log - Abby & Angie are cachers now too... I suppose I should start logging my finds. =)

The only way the evening could've been more perfect was if we had some famous key lime pie... Oh, right! We did!! And then we stayed up entirely to late, visiting and chatting and enjoying each other's company. All in all, the most perfect day of my little vacation.

On tap for tomorrow: time to go home. =(

Space Center Sunday

We said goodbye to our temporary Orlando home Sunday morning and headed out to Cape Canaveral to visit the John F. Kennedy Space Center. It was amazing!
Fountain in front of our hotel

We were told to spend the extra money and do the tour that goes up close & personal to the launch pads - there are two: 39A & 39B. Definitely worth the extra dough! There's a rocket on 39B - scheduled for liftoff the end of May. Everything is GINORMOUS. I suppose it has to be, to get enough power for liftoff, but seeing the scale in person really brings it home.
Launch Pad 39A

Launch Pad 39B

Rocket Assembly Building
(look how tiny the cars are!!)
(the stripes on the flag are the length of a bus)

Rocket Exhibit

We found out all kinds of interesting things. They flood the launchpad with hundreds of thousands of gallons of water - to use as sound insulation. The sound of a liftoff can be fatal, if you're within 800 feet (400 feet will get you fried). The "official" safest distance for viewing a liftoff is 3 miles - although they have emergency personnel as close as 1.5 miles. They have to bolt down the generator and some of the equipment that is used (that's not on the launchpad) because one time the vibrations shot the generator into the ocean. They re-use the parachutes on the fuel cells approximately 20 times, and the fuel cells themselves get reused a few times also. There's a dive team whose job it is to recover the fuel cells after they've been ejected from the shuttle liftoff.
Shuttle on Display

Turns out the Space Center hosts a 140k acre wildlife preserve, so while we were touring, we saw alligators, eagles, two eagle nests, lots of different kinds of birds, and a turtle - but no wild pigs (Greg saw a manatee, but I missed that one). To prevent harm to the animals during a liftoff, they come out days beforehand and broadcast predator sounds over speakers to drive the animals away. They also have orange groves on the property. Who knew?!?

There were loads of displays and interesting things to see and do. We went to an IMAX presentation about the space station; a simulation of a liftoff; the memorial; the rocket garden; and two bus tours. We saw several learning displays and even touched a moon rock! And of course there was a cache...
Greg on the Moon

Touching the Moon
(my manicure from less than a week ago
obviously wasn't that good)

The center closed at 6 - but we were already in the souvenir shop, so they didn't have the heart to kick us out until a bit later. From there, we headed to Coco Beach to check out some touristy things and found a nice place for dinner. We used Mom & Sara's gift card to buy dinner - thanks guys!! And it was yummy! I had blackened chicken alfredo - too bad I couldn't eat it all and we couldn't take the leftovers - and Greg had snapper done in the St. Claire style. Both were fantastic!

From there we headed south to Davie. Apparently we took the "scenic" route for part of the way, since the highest speed limit we encountered was 45mph - and most of the time it was lower. After talking to Chad, we followed signs to a major freeway and disregarded the directions on the GPS - since it was determined to take us on a more direct, but much slower route. We made it to Chad & Angie's really late, but safe & sound. On tap for Monday: hanging out, caching, visiting, airboat ride in the Everglades, visiting more & having fun.

17 May, 2008

Universal Saturday

Today we spent all day at Universal Studios. It was a great day!! We got to the park around 9:30am - after stopping by a grocery store with Chad & Angie to get breakfast. They have a season pass to the park, and helped us get cheap tickets - additionally, because they've been a couple of times already, they're marvelous tour guides!! Abby was ready to go in her sunbonnet and shades.

We started with the closest ride, the Hulk... *fantastic*!! Lots of screaming, twists & turns, upsidedown - a real heart-pounding thriller. From there, Greg & Chad did a ride similar to the teacups. The whole point is to get your little "cup" spinning as fast as you can while the cups are on a section that spins three, and the whole group is going 'round in circles. I'm sure the reason more people don't puke is that they don't get the little cup going very good. Greg & Chad were really spinning... (but no puking!)

We did the 3-D SpiderMan next, then a couple water rides. The first one totally drenched my bottom half and did a fair job at soaking the rest too. One gal in our conveyance was drenched head to toe - not a dry spot anywhere, and most areas were waterlogged enough to need wringing out. She hit every spot there was to get extra water dumped on her. The next water ride succeeded in soaking my top front side. So the only dry space I had was my shoulder blades. Good thing it was warm & sunny... Angie missed most of the dousing on the second one by ducking behind me for the big splash. Next time, I'll make sure she's on the first ride with us... =)

By the end of that run, it was time for lunch. Mmmm. Pizza! =) We ate expensive park food, but it was fun and filling. From there, we hooked up with some of Angie's family and spent a most enjoyable afternoon touring the rest of the park. While we were waiting in line for the Simpsons ride (new this year, and the only ride we opted to go on thats wait time was more than an hour and a half), a stranger offered us a couple express pass tickets. This allows the holder to bypass the regular line and go directly to the front. We originally opted not to get them, as it's more expensive. Now I may have changed my mind. I think it would depend on the time of year - if it's off-season and the lines are short, no need. But May through August or September might warrant the extra cost. It's amazing how much more time we had when we weren't stuck in line waiting. There was at least one ride we chose not to experience because the wait was going to be at least 45 minutes. Instead of almost two hours, the Simpsons took us maybe just a bit longer than a half hour.

We had a wonderful day with Chad & Angie, made even better when Angie's family shared their time with us. To close the evening, we had good food at the Hard Rock Cafe. The waiter was fun (although a bit slow), but they forgot to make my bacon crispy. Oh well. The burger was still good. By the time we headed out, lots of little ones were asleep or ready to go there (except Samuel, who was wide awake and ready to play), and I was ready to hit the road too. We made a couple stops on the way out of the park, and by the time we got to the car my dawgs were barkin'!!

We finished packing just a bit ago. We're going to check out of the hotel tomorrow morning, then head to the Kennedy Space Center. We'll spend the day there, exploring, learning, taking pictures, and having fun. Then we'll head down to visit Chad & Angie in their natural habitat. =) Should be another fun day tomorrow!!

16 May, 2008

Family Dinner Night - Friday

I spent most of the day doing domestic things... sleeping in, working out, doing laundry, etc. All in preparation for the arrival of Chad & Angie - the part of this vacation that I've been looking forward to the most. Wahoo!! Today was also the last day of Greg's conference, so now it's Play Time. =)

Turns out the laundry was pretty much a waste of an hour and a half. According to hotel rules, I'm not supposed to leave my laundry unattended. So I took the paper to read and do puzzles while I was waiting. The machines have automatic soap dispensers, just have to pay $2 to wash and another $2 for 30 minutes of dry time. I didn't figure out until I finished one dry cycle that the soap dispenser was probably out - mostly because my sweaty workout shirt still smelled like sweat - wet, then warm air-dried sweat, but definitely not clean. And of course the first 30 minutes didn't dry them, so I had to fork over another $2 and wait another 30 minutes before I was free to take my dirty clean clothes back to the room. Nice...

Anyway, we hooked up with Chad & Co. right after I picked Greg up, and came back to the hotel room where we got to show off some of the swag Greg has collected and the souvenirs we've accumulated. Abby tried on Greg's new hat - almost looks cuter on her than on Greg. =)

We opted for Cuban cuisine for dinner - a very local flair. Thanks to GPS's, we found Bob Marley's Tribute to Freedom, in the Universal park. We'll be back tomorrow for the rides and more fun, but tonight was dinner with family. Ahhhh. The food was good, but it was particularly satisfying to visit. Everyone had something different for dinner and we all shared. I had a jerk chicken dish, Chad had Jamaican curry chicken, Angie had mango chicken with habanero, and Greg had curry lamb with potatoes & vegetables. Very tasty!! Abby liked the strawberries from dessert (chocolate mango cake with a caramel drizzle), but we accidentally fed her something spicy and she didn't appreciate that at all!

On tap for tomorrow: Univeral, baby! We're meeting Chad, Angie & Abby around 8am, grabbing food, and heading to the park (which doesn't close until 8pm)... A long day of fun in the sun!!

Shopping Again on Thursday

Yesterday was a laid-back, lazy day. I made it to Bennigan's for lunch - the food was good and it had a nice atmosphere. I had their signature chicken salad, a spicy cheese dip w/ chips, and a blackberry lemonade. Very tasty! From there, the outlet mall...

This whole week makes it seem like I'm an avid shopper, when in reality I usually go shopping with a list and get in & out as quickly as possible. I'm just about shopped out! This outlet mall has some of the same stores, some new. Didn't find the Crocs I was looking for, but got a book from the Borders outlet store - our discount number even works in Florida! =) I think I looked around for 45 minutes, then was done. I took my new book to a sunny corner of the world and read until Greg was ready to be picked up.

From there, we headed to dinner. Another new place for both of us: Red Lobster. They had some of the best biscuits I've ever had!! Light & fluffy, with some kind of seasoning.... I had a shrimp, chicken, & scallop combo that was delicious! And Greg had lobster, shrimp & scallops. We were too full to try the key lime pie - Greg says it's really good here in Florida, so we're going to make an effort to get some before we head home.
Lego Tourists (probably shopping)

The rest of the evening was spent at Disney Downtown. It's kind of crazy there! They have shops, eateries, and clubs. As we were leaving (at around 11pm) the clubs were just gearing up. We (of course) did more shopping - I've shopped more this week than I normally do in a month back home. But we found some fun things. There's a Lego store that has all kinds of amazing things to buy, cool displays, and even people showing how to build things (we watched a guy put together a "stone" skull for a pyramid display). And outside, there were other huge displays done by the "master builders". Most of my pictures didn't turn out because it was too dark to get good ones. I especially liked the sea serpent that wound in & out of the water, but I couldn't get a good photo. Oh well.
Fighter Dude in the Lego store

Lego T-Rex
(complete with moving head)

We also spent some time watching a glass shaper make a dragon figurine. Cool - and amazing to realize how much work goes into those things. They didn't have anything I liked featuring Grumpy. Oh well. A stop by the Ghirardelli store for some fine chocolate made for a nice interlude. Then more shopping as we headed back towards the car.
Fixing a crack in the dragon's neck

Today's agenda: get in a workout, do some laundry, read & relax (NO shopping) until Chad & Angie get here, then hang out with them (maybe shop for my Crocs). Greg gets done by 5pm at the latest, so we'll all be hooked up then...

15 May, 2008

House of Blues Wednesday

Wednesday was pretty laid back - until the evening, when we went to Disney's House of Blues. Wahoo!! I spent the day primarily (ok, entirely) at the hotel. Not necessarily in the room, but on the premises. Since I was determined to go somewhere not available in Alaska for lunch, I hit the Village Marketplace (owned by the hotel). I took the puzzle section from the complimentary newspaper we've been getting so I could sit in the sun, eat, & do puzzles. The food was just fine - but expensive... it was $20 for lunch, for just me. I had a chicken sandwich, onion rings, and a slushee. Crazy!! Today, I'm definitely going off-site for lunch. I've already picked the place: Bennigan's (because it's close to a Wal-green's, and I need to get some dental floss).

Greg got done a bit early, so I picked him up. He wanted to get out in the sunshine and away from the convention center - and we had an hour to kill until tonight's entertainment. So we went caching - got two more - and back to the hotel for a bit.

As previously mentioned, the entertainment for tonight was at the House of Blues - a concert by Hootie & the Blowfish. YES!! Including the two concerts I've been to this week, that makes a total of 7 that I've been to in my lifetime. I have to say that the last two, so far, have been the best - although Blues Traveler was pretty good too (especially once we got to sit for a while).
At the Hootie Show
(thanks for the pic Vicki!)

We hooked up with Vicki again - Paul & Eric attended different events. We were bussed over from the convention center, so we didn't have to worry about transportation or parking (or getting back after). Food and beverages were provided on site, so once we arrived and scored seats, we started taking turns hitting the food tables. Once again, the food was delicious. And we continued to make merry while the music flowed and we had a great time! We tried to call Brian & Heather, but couldn't hear enough over the music to let them know we were on the line - left a loud, noisy message on Heather's cell, and Brian hung up on us. =)

All in all, the evening was *fantastic*! The icing on the cake was learning that I'd get my very own Blackberry Pearl, just for attending the concert. Sweet!! Greg got one too (in addition to another Blackberry of a different type that he won earlier in the week), but it's a different color. Looks like we'll be a Blackberry family...

On tap for today: Chad mentioned some really comfortable sandals made by Croc - I'm going to see if I can find them. Also found another outlet mall (thanks, Eric!) that I think I'll check out. There is no convention sponsored dinner or entertainment tonight, so Greg & I will be on our own... =)

14 May, 2008

Shopping Spree Tuesday

It seems that I've been spending the first part of my day... sleeping in. =) Since I'm not meeting anyone and don't have a particular schedule to keep, that works fine for me. It's been a little disconcerting for the hotel staff - they keep trying to clean the room around 9am (when I'm still in bed), and again around 11am (I'm still there, but usually dressed and lounging around by then).

Yesterday was a day for shopping. Monday I located one of the outlet malls, so Tuesday was time to see what's there. On my list of things to get: new sunglasses, clothes for work, and new sandals that hopefully won't kill my feel when we're wandering around Universal on Saturday. Oh - and anything else that catches my eye. =)

I did lunch at the mall - thinking it'd be close so I could get shopping as soon as I was done, and they'd have something unique to try. I got as unique as A&W... but I don't go there at home, and I had the corndog bites. They were good, but could have been better if they were jalapeƱo cheese corndog bites. And I had the fountain rootbeer - it'd be a shame to go to A&W and have a Diet Coke... =) Today's lunch will be someplace truly unique - at least, not in Alaska.

I found most of what I was looking for - which means that while I *can* go shopping today, there's not lots of motivation to go. I'm not sure what I'll do, but I have to get out and about - at least for lunch...
An M&M Vending Machine

In addition to the "list" items, I went looking for a beverage - and found a fudge shop. Free samples... Yum! So I got one slice - and then they told me that if I bought another, I'd get a third free. What am I going to do with my three slices of fudge?!? Hopefully Chad & Angie like maple nut, dark chocolate w/ nuts, or rocky road fudge... =)
Todd's Shop - I didn't go in
since it was men's clothing

I took my booty back to the hotel, and decided to finish reading my travel book: Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. I know several people who've read the book and really enjoyed it. I have to say it was very entertaining, and I'll be picking up the sequels sometime. My next travel book is The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. I saw the previews and thought it'd be a very interesting movie - so when Greg found the book at the airport book shop, I figured it would work for travel entertainment.

And then it was time for the evening entertainment. Tonight, the conference was hosting a John Mayer concert. This also included dinner, Cirque USA performances (jugglers, contortionists, aerial performances, a cube spinner, fire jugglers, and more), a band (Mechanical Soul), and a DJ (Soul Kitchen). The room was set up almost like a lounge area - very relaxed - with huge displays to show what was happening on stage (or the dance floor, where most of the Cirque performances happened), but most people gravitated towards the live performance, so there was always a wall of people wherever things were happening. It was still an amazing night of performances.
Mechanical Soul

Igor the Cube Spinner

Stilt Walker

John Mayer
(picture by Vicki - thanks!!)

It was an enjoyable evening. I met some of the people that Greg is attending the conference with. Vicki braved the crowds to get us some great pictures of John Mayer. Eric was disappointed that no one was going to be tasered (because John Mayer music is just not conducive to taser-deserving behavior), and Paul performed the dyslexic version of YMCA. Plus, the DJ at the end was fantastic! The dance floor was packed and he kept the crowd enthralled - which meant there were plenty of people for me to watch. =)
The Fun Group: Paul, Greg, & Vicki
(Eric was called away before I could get the picture)