It was, by all accounts, a meteorologically dreary weekend, with rain that started sometime Friday and lasting through the duration, but it was nevertheless enjoyable. I took in my first movie in the theaters in months, and managed to get a number of miscellaneous items completed (as I’ve always got some side hustles going, I was able to dedicate some time to them, though I still need to work on editing my collection of Inspector Gerard stories).
Besides seeing friends and loved ones, though, I try to use these days to take care of routine maintenance—on the house, on my cars, whatever the case might be. Lately I’ve been borderline fanatical about organization, particularly keeping my desk at home tidy, various writing utensils and calendars at the ready when needed.
This weekend, though, I dedicated several hours to reviving my long lost love: my busted up 2006 Dodge Caravan.
Well, here it is—the week of Christmas, and the beginning of my glorious, two-week Christmas break. If this blog post feels a bit like I’m rubbing in readers’ faces the bloated excess of education’s vacation time, my apologies. I will note, though, that if you spent hours everyday as a surrogate parent to other people’s children, you, too, would want two weeks off at Christmas.
Indeed, I would argue that more professions deserve more time off at Christmastime. Naturally, I realize that many folks save up their hard-earned vacation days to do just that: enjoy a week or so with their families by the yule log, sipping eggnog and hot cocoa in their festive Cosby sweaters. What I’m advocating for, though, is a widespread cultural movement—maybe even to the point of declaring some federal holidays—in the days leading up to and/or immediately after Christmas. It always blows my mind when people work a full day—even a measly half-day—on Christmas Eve.
Against all odds, I recently took an unprecedented fourth trip to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida this past weekend. The occasion was visiting my girlfriend’s family, and to take advantage of an Orlando Informer meetup.
Apparently, Orlando Informer is a blog dedicated to the major theme parks in Orlando—Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World, etc.—and various deals and special events in the parks. In scrolling through their website on our trip, I found, for example, a post about a one-day-only Beetlejuice haunted house that Universal slapped together for Halloween (I was able to get to the other two, longer-running houses on my last trip). For theme park enthusiasts, it seems like a great website.
The publication also organizes vacation packages, as well as twice annual “meetups,” special after-hour events that give guests extended park time and—and this one is huge—unlimited concessions. We had passes for the 12 December 2020 meetup, which meant we could stay in the park until 1:30 AM. Access with the passes began at 3 PM, so we used our Seasonal Passes to enjoy the park beforehand.
It truly made for an unforgettable—and long—park experience. We hit Islands of Adventure around 9 AM Saturday morning, and did a long stretch there until we went to get our meetup passes (we did manage a late lunch at Mythos, a must-visit on any trip to Islands of Adventure). As we were essentially in Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios for fifteen hours—essentially two park days—we managed to hit up almost everything we wanted to ride and see on Saturday (other than the ever-elusive Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which is virtually impossible to get into via the Virtual Line feature).
It’s been a wonderful Thanksgiving Break for yours portly, full of two of the most important things in life: family and food. Indeed, there’s probably been too much of the latter. The “portly” in this blog’s title is more than just a humorous pun, after all.
This weekend is a big deal for Americans. It’s the gateway to Christmas, and it’s the first major of holiday of what Americans broadly call “the holiday season” (or “the Christmas season,” as we Christians prefer). There’s a flurry of social and commercial activities this time of year, but it’s also a time for slowing down. From Thanksgiving through New Years’, the entire country feels like after lunch on a Friday at a government bureau—no one is answering the phones, because everyone’s taken off for the weekend.
In the spirit of celebrating this slower, more reflective, more generous time of year, here is a rundown of my long Thanksgiving Weekend.
My uncharacteristic year of travel continued this weekend with a trip to Asheville, North Carolina, the hipster capital of the Southeast. After our family trip to Burnsville, North Carolina, my girlfriend was itching to get back to the mountains, so we decided to come up and spend a day exploring the area.
It’s the first weekend in a few weeks that’s it actually been cold, and we reveled in the cold mountain air. The high was around 60—perfect autumnal sweater weather. It also made the hike up Bearwallow Mountain more pleasant and endurable.
As I noted yesterday, I’m still on vacation, so today’s Lazy Sunday will be delayed as well. I will hopefully have it written tonight.
Subscribers, I’ll post the $1 SubscribeStar Saturday post later in the week. Sunday Doodles should get up this evening, as that’s pretty easy to slam out, even when I’m running on fumes.
Yesterday my pedometer app reported I walked just over 20,000 steps. We made a full day of it, as Universal City was open until 9 PM. We didn’t quite make it that long, but we certainly got the most of our season passes.
It’s another long day today, so hopefully I won’t collapse into bed like I did last night and will have something of substance for you.
I spent this past weekend at Fripp Island—one last hurrah before reality resumes (while teachers start back at my little school next Monday, with classes resuming on the 20th, I’ve been asked to come in to paint some classrooms, as one of our top Buildings & Grounds workers is in the hospital with meningitis). It was an amazing weekend for many reasons: family time, excellent seafood, good swimming, etc.
But something magical happened. Around 7:45 PM EST on 1 August 2020, my girlfriend and I were taking a walk on the beach and saw this little guy:
Yep. That’s a baby sea turtle, freshly hatched, waddling his way into the ocean.
Readers who grew up, as I did, with constant sea turtle propaganda in schools and beachside signage will appreciate the majesty of this little turtle struggling to reach the mighty sea. I never thought I would actually see a sea turtle hatchling in the wild. It’s the real-world equivalent of seeing a unicorn.
Sure, I’d always supposed it was possible, but incredibly implausible. My girlfriend—a chemist, not a biologist—positively shrieked with surprised joy.
We figured out the little guy had floated down on a current through a small tide pool, as we realized there weren’t others near him. After he made it into the ocean, we walked up the beach another hundred feet or so and saw people watching another little guy straining seaward. The lady picked the turtle up and placed him into the ocean, which (per my years of sea turtle propaganda) is a big no-no. However, we soon realized it was a team of sea turtle conservationists (they had matching Sea Turtle shirts), so we figured they had the clearance to give Mother Nature a little push.
What a joyful happenstance. Had we waited even a few moments longer to take our walk, we never would have known what we had missed. God’s Creation is beautiful and wonderful; I am thankful He gave us the opportunity to see one tiny example of His ultimate Creativity.
This weekend I’m visiting Fripp Island, which is about forty-five minutes past Beaufort, South Carolina on US-21. If you’ve ever visited Hunting Island State Park, Fripp is the island just past it. One reason I attended the Yemassee Shrimp Festival last fall is because we always drive through Yemassee on our way to Fripp Island.
Fripp Island is also where I revived this blog in 2016. I harbor some romantic sentiments about writing (such as writing shirtless in a hot attic, a la every Stephen King protagonist in his earlier novels), and there’s something about being at the beach that brings out the literary side in me. Perhaps it’s the general sense of escaping from reality—and even from the Internet—for a bit that gets the juices flowing.
Regardless, I have come to realize how spoiled I am: since about 1988, I have enjoyed—through no effort of my own—mostly ready access to a beach house on relatively uncrowded beaches. Even now, the one-day beach trip—a summertime ceremony for most Americans—is foreign to me. Muscling through throngs of dad bods to grab a spot of sand at Myrtle Beach in August is my idea of torture, but that’s the reality for most beach-goers.
As such, my beach-going experience is far more cossetted and luxurious than the average American’s. I’m very thankful for my grandfather’s business savvy and years of hard work, which have made possible thirty-two years of beachy lethargy.
All that aside, Fripp Island is, truly, one of the most wonderful places on Earth. Let me tell you about it.
Today I am back at Universal Studios! I didn’t expect I’d be back so soon, but Universal has lifted their Season Pass blackout dates for Summer 2020 due to The Virus, so my brothers and our significant others and I decided to take advantage of it and come down for a few days. It’s always fun with the niece and nephews, too.
As my younger brother put it, we’re probably safer strolling around Universal Studios than eating at restaurants (which we’ve all been doing to some extent), as the park is sanitizing everything in hyper drive. We’re also all masked up, and social distancing is in force—all the usual protocols we’ve come to endure in The Age of The Virus. Why not enjoy safety and spectacular theming?
As I wrote yesterday, I’m out on a rare vacation (other than Christmas, Spring Break, all summer, and every second- and third-tier holiday that falls on a Monday in the winter). I’m down in Florida visiting Universal Studios Orlando with my family, and it’s been an amazing, tiring trip. I tried filing away blog posts for while I was away, but couldn’t get enough done to have every day of my trip covered.
That said, we got back from Day 2 in the park a little while ago, and I’m slamming something out while playing with Mario Kart Hot Wheels with my almost-three-year old nephew. Here are just some observations from my vacation.
I love Universal Studios. The highlight has been riding rides with my niece and my nephew. One of the first rides we rode was E.T. It’s definitely an older ride, but the nostalgia factor and magic really make it an incredible ride. Riding it with my niece was probably what I was most looking forward to doing on this trip.
That and the Pteradon Gliders ride, which adults can only ride if they have a child with them. It was a bit more intense than I thought it would be for a little kiddie ride, and is super fun. You also get to see the entire park!
As much as I love Universal, I hate crowds. I was trained from an early age to stay out of the way. Apparently, no one else was. I understand people are confused or trying to figure out where to go next, but folks are absolutely oblivious to what is going on around them. You’d think someone coming at you with a stroller would at least make a little room, rather than dashing out in front of you like a squirrel (or, worse, plodding along in the exact middle of your path.
It’s still jarring for me, even in our multicultural age, to hear different languages, even Spanish. It doesn’t grate me the same way as when I hear it elsewhere, because I realize there are a ton of tourists, but it still makes me realize how—as I heard someone put it recently, citing (I believe) Mark Steyn—the future belongs to those who show up. In our hemisphere, the people showing up are Latin Americans.
More reflections to come—and a more complete account of the trip—to come.