Wednesday, July 22, 2015

20 Child-Free Days

Only July 1 Ashley left us to spend 20 days in Europe with People to People. She went to England, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and a bonus stop in Lithuania. The bonus stop meant they visited 5 countries in one day (France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein). I know I can't profess to have ever done that.

While she was gone, we made it our mission to do things she would not enjoy doing. From the mundane, such as watching fireworks (this picture taken over Stacy's house), to the Kennedy Space Center, our days were nearly as busy as hers, plus Don worked much of the time, and I covered stories for the paper.

Here are links to our adventures in one place:

As soon as we dropped her off at the bus for the flight, we visited with the Thomas Side of the family post Great Aunt Lee's funeral (she would have enjoyed seeing everyone, I just wanted to include the picture).

That weekend we went for a 16 mile bike ride in NYC to see the new High Bridge Park.

On Fourth of July we went on a shorter bike ride / tour of the NJ State House.

The following weekend we went to Music in the Park in the new rain location on Thursday (the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville). a barn dance at Howell (it was nice not
having to share a partner), and celebrated Bastille Day in Frenchtown (something that has been on Don's recurring calendar for six years) on Saturday. On Sunday we returned to NYC for Manhattanhenge and a bonus viewing of Seward Johnson sculptures (which we will return to NYC for Ashley to see), after eating at a new restaurant in Trenton that supports legalizing marijuana.

In between days I had lunch with friends Nancy and (a different) Stacy and worked on projects around the house. I tried to see the Magna Carta on display in Trenton, but the 800 year old document did not make its way to Trenton, only the display.

We end our child-free days with a trip to Florida to see friends. While in the area we went to Universal Studios, had lunch at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and nearly went to outer space.

We finished our adventures just in time to pick Ashley up from the airport and to learn about her experiences.

It was a lot of fun and very exhausting at the same time. It is also a lot of fun having Ashley home with us, even if she is jet lagged and sleeping a lot, allowing me plenty of time to write blog posts. I hope I can convince her to share some of her stories with my loyal Pillsbury Press readers.

Night all!

We think Kitty Lucy was happy to see Ashley

Florida Friends

A trip to Florida is not complete without visiting some of Don's long-time friends. How long? At least a decade longer than he has known me.

Bob was the hardest to find as he recently changed his phone / internet service. Fortunately through some detective work, we were able to find him, and his dog, Candy, before we left New Jersey.

It was a real treat to see Andy, Linda, and their kids and grandkids. The stars were in alignment and we were able to see everyone for a delicious dinner. I'm still amazed we all fit around one giant table. Everyone looked great. This was the one part of our trip Ashley wished she had been around to see. She was certainly a topic of conversation.

Kennedy Space Center

As Ashley's departure date neared, we solicited advice about what we should do without her. Twenty days is a long time, worthy of a second honeymoon, or maybe by now a second babymoon. Megan suggested we go to the Kennedy Space Center. Immediately our eyes lit up! Yes! The perfect way to spend time in Florida doing something Ashley would tolerate, but not necessarily enjoy.

We honestly had no idea just how much we would enjoy it. 

As soon as we pulled into the parking lot we were told "the first thing you should do is take the bus ride." We could list a few things to do before that, like park, buy tickets, and go to the bathroom, but their point was well taken and we obeyed. On line with us was a large group from Rider University -- located less than two miles from our home in New Jersey.

The tallest one-story building --
the flag alone is the equivalent of a 21-story building
The launch pad where the shuttle missions took place,
future home of the planned Mars missions.
The bus tour was a necessary evil. Our bus was super hot. More than that, though, we felt bad for those passengers who do not speak English. We did not see any translations throughout our trip. You have to take the free bus ride to see the launch site, and to be dropped off at the Apollo missions part of the complex. Once at the Apollo site, you see a presentation (completely in English, of course) about the Apollo launch (gaps to be filled in when I'm in the mood to do the research). They say the room we were looking at is the original room where the launch was witnessed in Houston. I wouldn't be overly shocked if I learned there was a similar set up in Houston. They do bill themselves as another Florida theme park.

Once the movie/presentation was complete we were free to roam around the hanger-like area. This area also had a decent restaurant for lunch. It was very neat getting up close with the rocket

The Apollo VII rocket

Touching a moon rock

Back in the bus to return to where we started. To the right was the Shuttle Atlantis. To the left were two IMAX movies -- one on the Hubble Telescope and a new one on search for planets about the future of the space program.

Atlantis was amazing. She was smaller than I imagined. I was surprised by how much empty space she had, until we saw the Hubble IMAX movie and realized the "empty" space is her trunk. There were stations that talked about how the crew eats, sleeps, etc. 

By being child-free, I felt more free to be a child. Though I was wearing a skirt (and asked several people to avert their eyes when I got out of tricky situations), I climbed through the tunnel and went down the giant slide. While on line for the giant slide (not pictured) there were three little kids who barely made the height requirement, and a bunch of adults. I was probably one of the younger adults. One of the kids turned to his friends and commented "there are only PARENTS on this line, no kids like us." How did he know we were parents if we didn't have any kids with us? I thought it was a silly remark.

In the movie before seeing Atlantis, the main character tosses a model like this in the "1970s" and explains their next goal is to build a reusable rocket.

We rounded out our adventures with two IMAX movies that were also only in English (no headphones with translations offered) and had bad seating policies (they kept telling us to move to the center to make seating easier, but they only opened doors from one side, how does this help?). Fortunately we snagged good seats and speak English.

We ended our full day with a visit to the Rocket Garden and peek at Mars exploration -- past, present, and future. NASA plans to have a manned mission to Mars by the end of the 2030s. I hope to live long enough to be able to witness that historic moment, especially since I missed the first lunar landing by about 6 weeks.

I can't imagine sitting in anything this small for any length of time. The controls were above the astronaut's head. Obviously there was a door sealing him him. I'm claustrophobic just thinking about it.

The present of Mars exploration -- a model of the Mars Rover.

The future of Mars exploration -- what they anticipate the space ship taking people to Mars will look like. Four people will travel 6 months to get to Mars, where they will conduct scientific experiments for over a year before returning home again in another 6 month journey. Prior to the mission, unmanned space crafts will drop off food and supplies. The side of the rocket will have solar panels on it to generate fuel. I'm writing this all here so that in another decade or two as it becomes a reality, I can easily find what I wrote in 2015. Of course 25 years in the future, who knows how we will be accessing the Pillsbury Press.

NASA is trying to team up with corporate sponsors to continue to make space exploration a reality.

If you do go, purchase tickets from AAA before arriving to save money. A tip I hope we can keep in mind in the future, especially since there is now a AAA office about 3 miles from our house on Route 1.

Universal Studios

Continuation of our 20 Child-free Days adventures took us to Universal Studios. "Wait a minute..." you are thinking "you said you did things Ashley does not enjoy." For adventuresome as our girl is, and for as much as she loves Disney, she does not like roller coasters. Don won two tickets to Universal Studios through Comcast (NBC and Comcast merged a couple of years ago, bringing Universal Studios along for the ride). We were thrilled to learn they were true park hopper passes, meaning we could ride the Hogwarts Express. Score!

When the merger first took place, he scored four one park tickets to the park, and we went with Masumi and Hiroko (and Ashley). Back in January 2012, we wanted to see the new Harry Potter land, the Hogwarts Express was still a dream. 

Fast forward to July 2015. We started in the "other" Universal Studios park (Universal Studios instead of Islands of Adventure). It was pouring as we parked our car, typical Florida thunderstorm, so I left the big camera in the car. 

I was Don's "plus one." He entered the turnstile, and had to press his finger to prove it was really him returning. I could only re-enter with him. We left and returned about five times during the day (what is the sense of having a park hopper, if you don't hop parks?). Each time the person at the gate handled it differently -- some needed ID, some got flustered and just let us pass, one asked for my ticket. It was comical to see what combination would arise next.

I'll spare you the boring parts of the day, and post some pictures of the Hogwarts Express.

The "theming" is worthy of Disney.

You know me and my "lizards"

You walk through a "wall" to get to Platform 9 3/4

Inside you are seated in a compartment that barely fits 8 people. Once the ride starts, they show you a movie that makes you feel as if you are being transported alongside Harry and his friends. Of course we had to do the return trip, too. Yes, they show a different movie as you return to "London."

Other highlights of the day were seeing characters:

Marilyn was a major flirt. She made sure all of the men left with smiles on their faces. It was quite entertaining to watch the men trip over themselves to be in a picture with her. When it came to our turn, she surprised me by talking to me more than to Don.

When we started to stand in line, Fiona and Donkey were with Shriek. They all left when it rained, and only Shrek returned.

We did a lot of walking around, and riding coasters. They have some rides, such as Hurricane, where they will not let you go on it with anything extra. They do provide free lockers for up to 80 minutes, which made us a little nervous when the ride broke down. Do the lockers just open up at that point? The ride itself was not that serious. My purse would have been fine. We secured the hats in Don's cargo shorts. A little unnecessary stress at the end, though, when the locker would not open up for Don (he used his finger for identification). We also saw a couple of 4-D movies (Shrek and Minions).

A little better planning (i.e., figuring out what to do for dinner) and we would have stayed for the light show at 9:45. Instead, we left at 9 to forage for food. No matter how good it is, theme park food is never THAT great.

One bonus for the day -- the park was filled with Xfinity hot spots so I could text Ashley throughout the day. Yes, I know I need to go into the 21st century and get a phone that can do that. It was fun being able to stay connected to her throughout the day.

Disney, but not Disney

Our 20 Child-free Days continued with a quick trip down to Orlando, Florida. The plan was to continue spending time doing things we enjoy, that Ashley does not necessarily enjoy, though she is often a good sport.

On the other hand, how could we go to Orlando without visiting Walt Disney World. Hmm... 

We opted to have lunch at Sanaa, located in the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Due to my restricted diet of carb counting, we went with fairly boring food choices. The menu is African/Indian food. Don used to babysit the head chef. I wanted to go with something more exciting, but didn't feel like figuring out how many carbs were in a serving of lentils and Jasmine rice, so I went with the chicken on naan. Don's choice of beef on potato with veggies and "the green stuff" would have also worked.

 The food was delicious (thanks to Chef Andy's team). We scored a table with a lovely view of the vistas. During lunch we could watch the zebras in the distance, but were more distracted by the lizards close up. Made us miss Sandy, who was staying with a friend. It was fun looking out the window, but it was even more fun spending time with Don.
Looking cool and relaxed

After lunch, we strolled around the hotel looking at more animals and enjoying the beautiful day. Our Disney, but not Disney time continued with strolling around Downtown Disney and being amazed by all of the construction and the upscale shops. We left there without buying anything but the chocolate mouse ears we shared. 

Actually, this was taken on our way to the airport a few days later.

Following are more pictures of animals.

One of Sandy's cousins?

Reminded us the view we often have of our cats