Category Archives: Family

Nicky learns to debug

Nicky came with me to work this past Wednesday for “Take your kid to work day”. Not only did he see first hand what I do, he even helped me do it.

I showed him the “Database Explorer” software that I’m helping to develop for the next version of SAP HANA. It allows you, among many other things, to execute arbitrary SQL statements against any HANA database. But before he would have any idea what that was good for, I had to tell him what a database was. I simplified it to: a database is a collection of data stored in tables, where a table has a bunch of columns and each column has a type (i.e. text, numbers, dates, etc.). As an example, we created a table called “person”, with columns like “name”, “height”, “weight”, and “birthdate”. I inserted a row for Nicky and one for me.

Then I showed him how we can use the SELECT statement to get the data back. So “select * from person” shows both of us, with our names, heights, weights, and… incorrect birthdates. Each date was off by one day. Hmmm… that’s weird. Perhaps I made a typo on one of them, but not likely both. I updated a row and double-checked the birthdate but when I retrieved the data again, it was still wrong. OK, well, guess what Nick? We get to look through the code, find the error, and fix it. This is what I do.

I knew where the data retrieval code was, so Nicky and I looked it up and found where we get the data from the database and format it for display. I added some code to print out the value we retrieved and found that we were actually retrieving the correct date. This meant that it had nothing to do with the insertion process, and that the database itself wasn’t involved. Then I added a line that displayed the value again after we formatted it and found that it was wrong. So it was definitely our formatting code that was to blame.


This is written in Javascript, and we were creating a Date object from the original value. We looked up what the Date constructor expects, and found that the format we were passing in was incorrect. Then we parsed the year, month, and day out of the date and used those directly to create the Date object. We fired it up again, and presto, it worked. High five, Nick.

Our next task was to write a barrier test. We have a suite of automated tests that run and must pass before anyone is allowed to make any changes to any piece of code. This is to make sure that nobody ever makes a change in the future that causes existing functionality to stop working. I knew there was a file that contained tests for many different data types, so I loaded that up to add a test for dates. Oddly, I found that there was one already there, but commented out. Then I read the comment, which stated that the test was failing but the author didn’t know why, so he was temporarily disabling it until later when he had some time to figure it out. The comment was signed “gperrow”.

I enabled the test, corrected one typo, and presto, we have a fixed bug and a barrier test. High five, Nick.

Nick said that between the bug squashing (he prefers that term to “debugging”) and playing with the Arduino and 3D printer in the morning, he had a really fun day, as did I.


Guest post from both Nicky and Shadow

For several months now, I’ve had an idea sitting in my list of “blog post ideas”. The idea was a “guest post” written by my cat Shadow, where I would write about his life with us from his own point of view. I thought this would be fun but I never got around to actually writing it.

Then last week, Nicky said that he had a project to do for school where he had to write a short story from an unusual point of view. There were some suggestions given:

  • Tell a story about yourself but in the third-person. Graeme hates this kind of stuff. It really bugs him.
  • Pretend you told a story about yourself to a friend. Tell the story as the friend who’s now re-telling it to someone else.
  • Tell a story from the point of view of an animal or an inanimate object which is involved in the story.
  • etc.

Nicky said he was having trouble coming up with ideas, and so we brainstormed for a while. I mentioned telling a story from Shadow’s point of view, and he immediately thought of telling the story of how we found him. Nicky ran with it. He talked about how we found him and he spent most of the day in my sister’s garage, how they took him to the vet to see if he was microchipped, how we brought him home, and even how we took him to our vet to get him microchipped, though he left out the part about being neutered. That’s probably for the best.

Anyway I thought Nicky did such a good job on the story, I’m reposting it here. He even gave me his permission:

I, Nicky Perrow, give my formal consent to my daddy, Graeme Perrow, to use this story in his Blogs, Facebooks, Tweets, Etc. as much as he may wish.

For posterity, Nicky is 12 and in grade seven.

How I found my cat, Shadow

I was walking around outside for a while, freezing my tail off, when I saw a red van pull up and some friendly-­looking people stepped out. “Salvation!” I purred loudly. I started to wrap myself around their legs and purring as heavily as I could. Soon they were petting me and one even picked me up! Then they put me down and walked away, “MEOW!” I cried. They turned around and gestured for me to follow so I did and I trailed behind them until we got to a door, the door opened and we went inside. It was massive! Some older friendly people came and started petting me. After that, we went down some stairs to a cold room. Not as cold as outside but still a bit chilly. I was left there with one of the smaller friendly people petting me and playing with me. After a while, the other nice people came back with a bed, food, water, and a strange light that is very bright but when I got close to it then I got all warm and fuzzy. Then everyone left and I realized how hungry I was so I started munching away at the food that they had brought me. Then I lay down in the bed and fell asleep right away.

When I woke up, I ate a little bit but my breakfast was interrupted by the older people coming and putting me in a small box with a nice little cloth. Then they started swinging me around! Who did they think they were?! All of a sudden I was in a big vibrating thing. It looked a lot like the red van from earlier but it was black. Birds and trees were racing past me, but then it all stopped. I was taken into a room and let out. A man walked up and waved a small box over me, nothing happened. Next thing I knew, I was zipping by the birds and trees again! Once we got back in the door, I saw the people from the red van! Then they put me in a more comfortable box with a fluffy towel! I was in there for a very long time. I even had a little nap! I awoke to my box being carried through a door into a house that was even more massive than the one before! They let me out and I explored a bit. After a long time I went back into the box and into the red van. I decided to have a bath but it was cut short by me getting carried into another room where I got poked. It hurt a lot! Then a small box was waved over where I got poked, it looked similar to the one that did nothing so I wasn’t worried but just then it beeped loudly causing me to jump back. After that, I went back into the van. I went home.

The people take good care of me and it’s a lot better that living on the street! I’ve been here ever since.

by Nicky Perrow

Nicky And Shadow

Florida 2014: Disney vs. Universal

In August 2014, we spent two weeks on vacation in Florida, which included 4 days at the Universal Studios theme parks and 8 days at Disney World. I’ve summarized our vacation in some detail already (planning, Universal, Disney), but here I’m going to look at the similarities and differences between Universal and Disney. I’m skipping the rides, shows, and food, mainly because they’re so varied and you can find ride reviews anywhere. I wanted to focus on other parts of the experience that may not get talked about as much. Primarily, I want to look at the difference between their two “line-skipping” technologies, Disney’s Fastpass+ and Universal Express.

First I’ll describe each one, and then compare them.


Disney’s Fastpass has been around for a while (it was there when we went in 2002), and it recently got changed and renamed to Fastpass+. It allows you to sign up for a ride hours or days in advance and then skip the line. It’s basically a “reservation” for a ride; you are assigned a time range (usually 15 minutes) and as long as you arrive within that time range, you can go into the Fastpass+ line rather than the regular line, and your wait is significantly decreased. For some rides, this is the only way to get on the ride without waiting an hour or more. You can also get Fastpasses for non-ride things like shows, character greetings, and even some restaurants. However not every ride accepts Fastpasses, and for those that do the number they have is limited so you generally have to get them in advance.

Fastpass+You can only have one FastPass+ per ride at a time, so you can’t get a bunch of Fastpasses for Mission: Space and ride it all day. You can get Fastpasses online or through the Disney app, and there are even stations throughout the parks where you can get them.

Fastpass+ is free for all Disney guests.

Universal Express

Universal Express is similar to Fastpass+ but not quite the same. While Fastpass+ is essentially a reservation system, Universal Express is simply a way of paying extra for the privilege of bypassing the normal lines to wait in much shorter lines. It’s not available on every ride, but almost all of the rides that didn’t offer it were the ones where the lines were short anyway. The big exceptions were the Hogwarts Express and Escape from Gringotts.

Multiple lines at The HulkIf you are a guest at one of the Universal hotels, you get Express for “free” (considering the price of tickets and hotels, it’s hard to use the word “free”. Let’s say it doesn’t cost any extra). But if you’re staying off-site, it’s rather expensive. The Express costs anywhere from $34.99 (with restrictions) up to $149.99 (with none, peak time), and that’s per day per ticket. Express is an add-on, so this cost is on top of your regular ticket price.

Compare and contrast

Both Fastpass+ and Express provided lines that were much shorter than the regular lines and in some cases we just walked straight onto the ride, feeling a bit like a VIP. “Sorry, regular people, these people want to ride now, so you’ll all have to wait.”

There are two big advantages to Fastpass+. The first is that you know when you will be riding certain rides, and you can plan your day around that. This is also the big disadvantage – if you decide to change your plans, you either lose your Fastpass or you can try to change it online. But we found that changing it was generally not possible because the times booked up very quickly. You can also only have one Fastpass for a ride at a time, so if you loved a ride, you can’t just turn around and bypass the line again. You can do that with Universal Express.

The second big advantage is that Fastpass+ doesn’t cost any extra and everyone can use it. For those staying onsite, Universal Express is included but otherwise, it ranges from a bit of a pricey add-on to “holy crap, are you kidding?” expensive. There were stations around Universal advertising “Buy your Express pass here!”, and when we were there the cost was around $89.99 (per day per ticket). Since we went to Universal for four days, that would have cost us over $1400. That’s insane.

The biggest advantages for Universal Express is that it’s available on the majority of rides and it’s very flexible – you just walk onto the ride. You don’t need to plan ahead and you don’t need an app on your phone. If you get the cheaper version you can’t use it more than once for the same ride in a day, but the “Universal unlimited” pass (that we had) allows you to use it as many times as you want.

Since we did stay on-site, the price wasn’t an issue for us and so overall I preferred Universal Express to Fastpass+. it was so much easier to simply walk in the Express line rather than booking the time in advance. Having said that, if I had to pay several hundred bucks per day for the four of us to get the Express tickets, that opinion would change very quickly.

In a nutshell, Universal Express was easier and more flexible than Fastpass+, but unless you’re staying on-site, it’s not worth the crazy amount of money.

I originally thought the price was unrealistically high – who’s going to pay that? Why would Universal charge that much? But I figured out why. Having this feature free for hotel guests may push people to stay at a Universal hotel rather than off-site. The hotel may be a little more expensive, but if you save $1000+ by not having to buy Express for everyone in your family, you may decide that the higher hotel price is worth it. If I were going back to Universal again, I’d certainly consider it.

A few other comparisons:

  • Magic BandsAt Universal, your ticket is a small card (like a credit card) with your name on it and a mag stripe, which you swipe to get into the park and hotel room. Universal Express was a different ticket (WHY?!), and we bought lanyards to keep both tickets easily reachable. For the cost of the vacation, I think Universal could have thrown in four lanyards. Disney used a “magic band” (see right), which is a plastic bracelet with an RFID chip in it. The bracelet was your park ticket (with a fingerprint), Fastpass+ ticket, meal plan ticket, hotel key, and identification for the Disney photographers. You could even use it to charge things to your room (with a PIN). As I said in an earlier article, the only thing it didn’t work for was the in-room safe (which used a large metal key – WHY?!). Advantage: Disney.
  • At a number of rides, there were lockers nearby since they don’t want you bringing cameras and backpacks and such on the rides. At Universal (and at Kennedy Space Center too), there were fingerprint scanners near each bank of lockers. You scanned your finger and it would open an empty locker for you to use. When you came back later, you scanned your finger again and it opened the locker. If you were gone less than 20 minutes or so (the time varied with the general lineup length for the ride), the locker rental was free, otherwise you had to pay to get your stuff back. The boys thought that using the fingerprint scanner was pretty cool, though personally I wasn’t as impressed – I wrote fingerprint scanning software two decades ago. Disney had no such lockers. Advantage: Universal.
  • Both resorts had free wifi throughout the parks and hotels but Universal’s was much spottier. In the hotel, you had to agree to some terms and conditions before it would let you surf, and I had to agree to those terms and conditions a number of times because it seemed to forget. There were a number of places throughout Universal where the wifi signal dropped to nothing. At Disney, the wifi covered just about everywhere (you might say it was universal) and had a much stronger signal. Advantage: Disney.

One other difference was the staff. The Disney staff seemed to truly enjoy being there, and there were quite a few that went above and beyond. While waiting for the boys and I to finish a ride at Epcot, Gail saw an impromptu “concert” by some of the cleaning staff, who put a bunch of upside-down garbage cans and buckets together and started drumming on them. They called themselves the “Jammitors”. Also at Epcot, we saw another member of the cleaning staff “painting” surprisingly good pictures of Goofy and Donald Duck on the ground with a wet broom. This was very shortly after the park opened, and he knew full well that the pictures would only last minutes because of the heat, but it was fun for him and guests liked it. It’s not that we had any negative experiences with the Universal staff, and some of the people in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley did get quite into character, but more often we felt the Disney staff just went that little bit extra.

Florida 2014: By the numbers

Total nights away from home: 15 (1 Buffalo, 2 Titusville, 4 Universal, 8 Disney)

Border wait time going to Buffalo: ~3 minutes

Border wait time coming back from Buffalo: ~45 minutes

Total flying distance: 2064 miles (3321 km)

Total driving distance: 375 miles (603 km) – this does not include driving to and from Buffalo

Total walking distance (Ryan): 178.05 km

Total walking distance (Nicky): 179.17 km (298,702 steps), though we missed counting a day

Total pictures and videos taken: 2292 (9.03 GB). About half were on the actual camera, the other half on our phones. We actually filled the camera’s CF card and had to delete a few before we could continue. Should really get a second card.

Phone pictures taken:

  • Gail: 568 (3.19 GB)
  • Nicky: 411 (573 MB)
  • Graeme: 264 (1.54 GB)
  • Ryan: 1 (291 KB) – he actually took two pictures of the same thing (Bob and Dale)

Temperature: roughly 32-35°C every day, slightly cooler first thing in the morning and in the evening, especially after a thunderstorm

These little guys were everywhereHumidity: roughly 50000% every day. It turns out “humidex” is strictly a Canadian thing, but the American weather reports did have something similar, which I think they called “real feel”. We didn’t check these values often but they were in the low-mid 40’s whenever we did. Apparently the humidex numbers would be slightly higher than this.

Number of pounds gained (Graeme): Astonishingly, 0. In fact, a week after we got back I weighed 1.5 pounds less than a week before we left.

Number of pounds gained (Gail): Yeah, right.

Number of alligators we saw: 1

Number of armadillos: 1

Number of live armadillos: 0

Number of salamanders: many

Number of American white ibises: countless

Florida 2014: Disney

This is part 3 of a multi-part travelogue on our 2014 trip to Florida. Part one described some of the planning of the trip. In part two, we spent a day at Kennedy Space Center and four days at Universal, and Gail spent two days in bed. In this instalment, we travel down the road from Universal to Disney World.

August 21: Early entry at Magic Kingdom today. We tried to get to the Seven Dwarves coaster first since the line-ups on that ride get insane quickly, but it was closed so we rode Buzz Lightyear instead. Since there were no lines, we actually rode it twice. After that, it was over to the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, which I expected to be a short movie with the Monsters Inc. characters, but it was different. It was actually a “live” comedy show featuring a monster. They must have had a comedian in a motion capture suit backstage with cameras on the audience, and the character on screen interacted in real time with audience members. It was very well done and pretty funny.

Obligatory Mickey pictureAfter that, we did more rides: Big Thunder Mountain, Mickey’s Philharmagic, Peter Pan, Under the Sea, Tomorrowland Speedway, Haunted Mansion, Country Bear Jamboree, Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Jungle Cruise. Sounds like a pretty busy day but most of that was before lunch.

Lunch was at a Beauty and the Beast-themed restaurant called Be Our Guest (note that we tried the gray stuff, and it was indeed delicious). During our entire Disney vacation, something we kept coming back to was “Disney does things right”. We were impressed countless times with how efficient or easy things were, from making dinner reservations online to free wifi throughout all of the parks. Lunch at Be Our Guest was one of the very few times that I was surprised at how this was not the case. First off, we did have lunch reservations (which we had made months in advance), and even placed our food orders to speed things up. But we still had to wait in a line for at least 20 minutes before getting inside. This was around noon and there was no shade anywhere near the line. It was around 35° outside so we were melting by the time we got inside, but I felt worse for the family in front of us, with two much younger kids. Once inside, we found that our reservation was there but the lunch order had been lost, so we had to go through the ordering process, which was not very efficient at all. We were sent to a room with terminals where an attendant would enter our food order. But while we were waiting for the group ahead of us to finish, people in line behind us were redirected to other stations and finished far earlier. It seemed very haphazard and slow.

Eventually we got seated and things were fine after that. The food arrived very quickly and it was really good so while the overall experience had some problems, the end result was happy people with full bellies. And some desserts to take back to the hotel.

After a few more rides, we headed back to the hotel around 3:30. The boys and I went for a swim while Gail napped. For dinner, we tried the Pepper Market, a cafeteria-type place within our hotel complex. Coronado Springs is a huge place and since it’s all two-storey buildings spread out around a lake, we actually drove to the front of the hotel for dinner. Let me say that another way: we went to a restaurant within the hotel complex in which we were staying, and we still drove to get there. Anyway, the market had lots of variety and the food was very good. I had enchiladas with green chilies made by a guy from Mexico City. Turns out that Taco Bell is not the best example of Mexican food you can find!

After dinner, we went back to the Magic Kingdom. We were hoping to get a good position for the evening’s parade, but while looking for a spot, some pretty dark clouds started to move in. We were walking by It’s a Small World and Gail suggested we duck inside there to avoid the rain. We rode that and once we came out, the ground was pretty wet but we were not. But the clouds were still there and the parade had been cancelled so we decided to call it a day. On the way out, we stopped by a place near the front gate called Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. This was a scavenger hunt kind of game involving cards and video monitors hidden throughout the Magic Kingdom. It was free to play, so we signed up and found a couple of the easy ones in that area. But it was getting late and the boys were tired so we decided to continue another day.

Ryan: 21.03 km
Nicky: 12.90 km, 21506 steps

August 22: Another early entry day, this time to Hollywood Studios. The first ride was the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, which was very fast and loud. I really enjoyed this one, as did the boys. Gail’s back was feeling much better by this point, but she was taking no chances so she skipped this one, and all of the other intense rides for the rest of the trip. Tower of Terror was right next door so we did that next. I am totally not a fan of this kind of dropping ride, but I remember this one (from when Gail and I went in 1996) as not being all that bad. I was mostly right. It was about as intense as I could handle from a ride like this – any more intense and I wouldn’t have liked it. This was a little beyond Ryan’s limit, however, and he wasn’t happy at all. Nicky, as expected, loved it.

Toy Story Midway ManiaAfter this was Star Tours, and then the Indiana Jones stunt spectacular, Muppet Vision 3D (I’m not a huge Muppet fan but I liked this one), Toy Story Midway Mania, The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow (lame), One Man’s Dream (a historical show about Walt Disney), and Voyage of the Little Mermaid. This was a very hot day, so we spent a lot of time inside. Lunch was Pizza Planet, where Ryan and Nicky had some fun playing overly expensive video games. Dinner was also fun – we went to the Sci-Fi Dine-in Theater. The restaurant is built like a drive-in theater, where all the tables are shaped like cars and they have scenes from very bad 50’s sci-fi movies and old commercials playing on the big screen.

One thing we missed was the Backlot Tour, which we remember enjoying from years ago, but it was closed for renovations. We never managed to get on the Great Movie Ride because the lines were too long.

After dinner, we did one more ride on Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and then Nicky went on Tower of Terror by himself. Once that was done, we hung around for Fantasmic, a firework / film / laser / water live-action show that’s hard to describe but we really enjoyed. After the show I realized that I’d left my Toronto Rock hat on the roller coaster, so we went back there to see if it had been turned in. Just like Nicky’s phone from a few days before, someone had found it and turned it in so I was happy to get it back.

Ryan: 12.35 km
Nicky: 18.47 km, 30799 steps

August 23: A rare non-early entry day so we slept in – until 7am. After breakfast we headed to Epcot. Our first ride of the day was The Sum of all Thrills, which was an interesting combination ride and Raytheon advertisement. You use a fancy computer (created by Raytheon) to design your own roller coaster, then get in a one- or two-person simulator (created by Raytheon) and actually ride it. It wasn’t quite as thrilling as the name implied, but it wasn’t bad. Next was Mission: Space, which ended up as one of my top 3 favourite rides of the whole trip. Right next door was Test Track, which was fun as well. Considering you were sitting in a car with no seat belts or restraining bar, it was quite fast.

Some other rides: Spaceship Earth (the ride through the big golf ball), Ellen’s Energy Adventure (which was fun even though I might have dozed for a few minutes), the Circle of Life (a thinly-veiled “we’re destroying the planet” environmental documentary featuring Timon and Pumbaa), and some parts of Innoventions.

We went into the World Showcase shortly before lunch since we had reservations at the German Biergarten. Lunch was a buffet featuring lots of German specialties and I’m sure our hosts would have been offended if I didn’t have a German beer, so I made that sacrifice. After lunch we headed over to the Canadian pavilion where we saw the 360° movie “O Canada”. This one was new – the pavilion had had a similar movie running since Epcot opened, which Gail and I had seen back in ’96. It was very dated even then, so we warned the boys about it. But the movie we saw was “all-new” and featured Martin Short. It was much more up-to-date and we enjoyed it.

After the movie we were walking back towards the front when the sky started to grow very dark very quickly. Gail said “let’s duck into this store” and within a few minutes it was teeming with rain outside while we were nice and dry inside. There was a cafe attached to the store so we had a little snack while waiting for the rain and thunder to stop. This was at least the third or fourth time we’d missed being outside in a rainstorm by minutes and the boys and I were getting quite impressed at Gail’s ability to make this happen.

The iconic Epcot golf ballDinner that night was at the Maya Grill back at the hotel. Not the quickest place around – it took a long time for our meals to arrive but once they did, they were very good. I had more enchiladas since I liked the ones from the other day, and Nicky ordered chimichangas – I think mainly because he liked to say “chimichanga”.

One thing I noticed back in the hotel room was that there was a safe in the wall – with a metal key. I’ve stayed in many hotels over the last 20 years with safes in the rooms, and they almost always have a numeric keypad that allows you to enter a code to lock it and then enter the same code again to unlock it. Disney issues everyone “Magic Bands” which are RFID bracelets that get you into the parks, act as a room key, allow you to book and redeem FastPasses and dinner reservations, and more – and the room safes use a metal key? Another thing we noticed was that there was no channel on the TV that would list the things you’d charged to your room, or show you your balance owing or anything like that. Nothing personalized at all. This also seemed like 20-year-old technology that Disney just didn’t have.

We were in bed pretty early this night. The early mornings, many kilometres of walking, and the crazy heat (32°-35° all day every day plus humidity – we had several humidex values over 40) are starting to take their toll on us. By the end of every day, we’re all exhausted.

Ryan: 12.33 km
Nicky: 16.53 km, 27551 steps

August 24: Today was supposed to be an early-entry day for Animal Kingdom, but the exhaustion took over and we all slept in. We changed our minds on our destination at that point and around 9:30 (!!) we headed out to Typhoon Lagoon for some water park fun. The boys and I did a few water slides together and then Nicky (Mr. thrill seeker) wanted to do “Humunga Kowabunga”, a slide with a 5-storey drop. After that, we tried to do Shark Reef, which was a pool containing all kinds of fish including small sharks. You get a snorkel and mask and swim through slowly and get a great view of all the ocean life. But at the beginning, Nicky put his mask on and immediately felt a burning sensation in his face. He had to take the mask off right away and was almost in tears because of the pain. Then I put mine on and felt the same thing. It wasn’t terribly painful for me but seriously uncomfortable. Ryan was fine, so off he went, but Nicky and I just returned our equipment and skipped it. We figured it probably had to do with the cleaning solution they used on the goggles.

Baby elephant!After lunch at the Leaning Palm, we did the lazy river around the park and then spent 20 minutes or so in the wave pool. But this wasn’t like other wave pools, where waves come in every few seconds. In this one, you get one wave every minute or so but that one wave is six feet high, blasting everyone off their feet. The boys loved that and I had a bunch of fun too. Around 1:30 we pulled the boys out of the wave pool, got dried and changed, and headed to Animal Kingdom.

At Animal Kingdom, we first rode Dinosaur and then Expedition Everest, which was a very fun coaster that went both forwards and backwards. Then we saw Finding Nemo: The Musical, which was very good, and the Festival of the Lion King, which is an absolute must-see if you go to Animal Kingdom. It’s definitely one of the best shows at any of the parks. Just as we were walking into that one, we felt a few raindrops and sure enough, a few minutes after we got inside (before the show had even started), it was pouring outside. Missed us again, Mother Nature. <sticks tongue out>

After the show, we went to a place called Tusker House, which was another of the places we might not have gone were it not for our free dining plan. It was an African buffet which featured various curry dishes; all kinds of chicken, beef, and pork; tabouleh; plantain; hummus, and a ton of other things you don’t get at your average food court. I wasn’t sure the boys would find enough stuff that they’d eat. As it turns out, they’re pretty good when it comes to things like that. I know people whose kids will only eat a handful of things and basically refuse to eat anything else. They’d rather go hungry than eat anything but chicken fingers or Kraft Dinner. My boys certainly have their favourites and sometimes don’t seem that adventurous (Ryan would happily take a bagel with cream cheese as his lunch for five days straight), but they’ll at least try stuff they’re not familiar with, and have surprised us on more than one occasion.

After dinner we went on the Kilimanjaro safari where we saw rhinos, elephants, a cheetah, antelopes, lions, giraffes, crocodiles, and a bunch more. Being Disney and all, you almost had to remind yourself that these are real animals – no animatronics, no CGI, nothing like that.

Once we came out of the safari, the park was closed so we headed to a place in Downtown Disney called Disney Quest. This was free included for us as part of the package we bought (which included this, the water parks, and a few mini-golf courses that we never had a chance to go to). It was basically a big five-storey arcade with lots of video games, a few simulator rides, and even a virtual-reality ride. The boys are avid gamers so they had fun but quite honestly, I could have easily skipped it.

Ryan: 18.93 km
Nicky: 9.89 km, 16486 steps

August 25: Another Magic Kingdom day, though not early entry this time. We did arrive for park opening though, and then headed straight to Splash Mountain which we missed on our previous day. While we were in line it started to rain and we couldn’t duck into a store or restaurant, so we actually got rained on. Of course, we were doing Splash Mountain anyway, so it didn’t matter much. Big Thunder Mountain was next and by the time we finished that one, the rain had stopped. Other rides: Space Mountain (can’t ride too many mountains, ya know), Buzz Lightyear, Carousel of Progress, Under the Sea, Enchanted Tales with Belle (where Nicky got picked to act in the story – he was a knight), Liberty Square Riverboat, and Swiss Family Treehouse.

Bob and DaleWhile waiting for the train to take us from Libertyville to Tomorrowland, we talked with a “cast member” named Bob. While talking, a squirrel walked fearlessly up to him and climbed his leg. Bob took a peanut from his pocket and gave it to the squirrel, who promptly ran back down and ate it right there. Bob said that he’d tamed this squirrel over the past few months, and calls him “Dale”. He told us that a few months prior, Dale had had some kind of physical problem (don’t remember what it was) and the Disney people had actually captured him and sent him to a vet, who’d performed surgery on him. Surgery. On a squirrel. Just because. Only at Disney.

After lunch at the Liberty Tree Tavern, we did some more of the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game. We ran into another guy playing this and he gave us some hints. He had a big binder with what looked like hundreds of cards. I guess there are many levels to this game, and the further you go, the more accurate you have to be. To “defeat” enemies, the boys had to pick a spell card or two and hold them up – the card would be detected and usually that was it, but at the higher levels you had to pick the right card or series of cards. I think I’m glad we never got to those levels because that’s just too much thinking.

We then a Disney bus from the Magic Kingdom to Downtown Disney where we had dinner at the Portobello Country Italian Trattoria. On most nights I would have said this place was very good, but given the great food we had at a few other places around Disney, this place was just all right. No major complaints and it wasn’t any more overpriced than anywhere else (not that we cared – Dining Plan), but nothing stood out.

After dinner, we did some shopping. There was a Christmas store which had hundreds of Disney-themes ornaments and other Christmas goodies. I saw an ornament of Mickey Mouse holding a lacrosse stick. Since I’m a big lacrosse fan, I tweeted a picture of it and within minutes, I had requests from two people to buy it for them, which I did. We then grabbed the bus back to the Magic Kingdom, arriving just in time to get a good spot for the electrical parade, followed by Celebrate the Magic (a unique show featuring video projected onto the castle itself) and then Wishes, a fireworks show.

As an aside, the rudeness of some people never fails to amaze me. There are security people all over the place and hundreds of people lining the streets waiting for the show to start, and two minutes before it’s supposed to start, a family with three kids tries to squish their way in next to us. There is not enough space for them (and we didn’t move), and thankfully a security guy managed to convince them to move on, but really people? We’ve been standing in our prime spot for an hour (because it’s a prime spot) and you think we should just move over when you arrive two minutes before the show? Once again, Disney got this right. There were taped lines on the roads and sidewalks and if you wanted to stand / sit for the show, you had to be within the taped area. If you weren’t, move along. This made it completely subjective – you can’t argue “but people can still get by!” or things like that. Either you’re inside the line or you’re not. We were. They weren’t.

Ryan: 18.96 km
Nicky: 25.94 km, 43240 steps

August 26: This was another sleep-in day. Nicky in particular took full advantage and slept until about 9:30. We decided to make this another water park day so we headed to Blizzard Beach once we were all dressed. Blizzard Beach had more water slides (and bigger too) than Typhoon Lagoon but a smaller wave pool – or at least the waves were smaller, more like a typical wave pool. There was one slide called Summit Plummet which was (for me) scary even to look at. The tall slide at Typhoon Lagoon was about 5 stories high, but this one was about twelve. Of course, Nicky had to ride it. It took him the better part of an hour in the line and Ryan and I rode a few other slides while he was waiting but he loved it.

We had lunch at the Lotta Watta Lodge and then back for more slides. We left the park around 3:00, went back to the room to change and then headed to Epcot. We rode Mission: Space once again and then all four of us rode Soarin’. Honestly, I didn’t think Soarin’ was the mind-blowing unbelievable experience that others have described, but it was definitely fun. Dinner was at a restaurant in the Chinese pavilion called Nine Dragons, and it was excellent.

After dinner we rode the boat ride in the Mexican pavilion, then saw Turtle Talk with Crush which was similar to the Monsters Inc. comedy show – they had Crush (from Finding Nemo) on the screen and someone talking in his voice but interacting in real-time with the audience. The show was very good. After that we managed to get on the last Spaceship Earth ride of the day before the park closed.

Ryan: 7.36 km
Nicky: 9.49 km, 15827 steps

Looking up Main Street, USAAugust 27: Our last day at Disney. We arrived at the Magic Kingdom at opening and went straight to the Seven Dwarves mine train since we couldn’t get fast passes for it and the lines during the day were always over an hour long. We managed to get on after a short wait and it was OK but it really wasn’t worth an hour wait. We spent the rest of the morning doing the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game, and the boys had a lot of fun with it. Lunch was the Columbia Harbour House where Gail and I each had an amazing lobster roll. After another hour or so of the Sorcerer game, we headed back to Epcot.

We rode the Maelstrom in Norway, then Soarin’ again, and then headed back to China for the Chinese acrobats which are always entertaining. Dinner was at the Coral Reef, and I think this was our best meal of the whole trip. We said that it was our last day at Disney and asked if they could get us a table near the aquarium and after an extra five minute wait, we got a table right next to it. We had a great view of all the fish, sharks, rays, and even scuba divers in this immense aquarium, and the food was outstanding.

After another ride on Mission: Space, we tried another new thing: an “Agent P” adventure. Agent P is a character in the Disney show Phineas and Ferb (which is just as funny for adults as it is for kids), and this game was similar to the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom thing, but using a special smartphone. You’d follow clues and the GPS in the phone would detect when you’d gotten to the right place, then you’d have to answer some questions about where you are, and there were videos on the phone and such. There were different adventures in different countries in the World Showcase but we only did the one in England.

After that we grabbed a spot next to the fence around the lake in the middle of the World Showcase and waited (about an hour) for the IllumiNations show, which was fireworks + laser + fire + water + video + music. It was a great show and a great way to cap off our amazing vacation.

After the show we headed back to the hotel where we packed up everything for the trip home. We could have checked into our flight as early as 48 hours beforehand (i.e. yesterday) but we forgot so we did it tonight. Unfortunately, that meant we had boarding numbers in the C15 range.

Ryan: 19.11 km
Nicky: 23.09 km, 38491 steps

August 28: Home time! We packed everything up last night so there wasn’t much to do this morning. After breakfasting on the remaining breakfasts / desserts / snacks, we packaged up the rest of the food in our carry-on bags and left a note for the cleaning staff, asking them to find a good home for the remaining cans of pop. We packed up the car and headed for the airport, stopping for gas on the way. Dropping the car off was uneventful and after a short wait we checked in and got our boarding passes. We made our way to the gate, with another wait to get through security. Unfortunately, I did a dumb thing and it cost us.

When Gail was laid up in bed and we were walking around Hogsmeade, we bought a bottle of pumpkin juice to bring back to the hotel for her. But she never drank it. She wanted to bring it home. I know that checked bags aren’t in a pressurized section of the plane, and I thought it would be possible the bottle would explode (or at least leak). So I was smart and put it in the carry-on. This was indeed clever until we got to security. While putting my shoes and belt back on, the guy said he had to open my carry-on because something unusual showed up on the X-ray. I figured it was our GPS receiver, but no. It was the pumpkin juice. I immediately smacked myself in the head because we’ve known for years that you can’t bring more than a very small amount of liquids onto a plane. The security guy said that I could either throw it away or go back out into the concourse to drink it, but then I’d have to get back in line to come through security again. With Gail giving me the stink-eye, I reluctantly dropped the bottle into the garbage.

Since we had only checked in the night before, we were very late in the boarding procedure and I ended up sitting in the second- or third-last row next to a guy with a baby girl on his lap, across the aisle from his wife, who had the baby’s twin sister on her lap. Not exactly ideal, but it worked out fine. The babies were cute and quiet, and the guy and his wife were friendly so it was all good. Upon arriving in Buffalo we called the hotel where the van was parked, and they sent a shuttle for us. After picking up the van, we headed to an outlet mall in Buffalo for some back-to-school clothes shopping, then a 45-minute wait at the border, and we were home around dinner time.

So that was our vacation in a nutshell extreme detail. But wait, there’s more! I have two more articles coming, one is something I like to do called “by the numbers”, summarizing our vacation with a bunch of “statistics”: how many nights in different hotels, how many miles we drove, how many pictures we took, that sort of thing. The second is a comparison of the Disney and Universal experiences. This will be primarily a  comparison of Disney’s FastPass and Universal’s Express, their strategies used to reduce wait times.

Florida 2014: Titusville and Universal

This is part II of my Florida 2014 travelogue. Part I described the planning for the trip, and in this article, I’ll discuss the first eight days of the vacation, starting the day we left home, and finishing the day we left Universal for Disney. Disney World is described in the next article.

Wed, Aug 13: This was a working day for me but everything that needed to go had been collected so Gail and the boys spent the day getting everything packed into the van. Our friends Jeff & Kerri were going to be looking after Shadow while we were gone, so Gail had brought him to their place the day before. I got home from work around 4:30 and we left shortly after that, stopping at Subway for dinner. After crossing at Queenston-Lewiston, we headed for Wal-Mart in Buffalo where we bought a few things for the trip and a few snacks to bring home at the end of the trip. The things to bring home were things we can’t buy in Canada like Cherry Coke Zero.

After our shopping trip, we continued to the Clarion Hotel Buffalo Airport.

Thurs, Aug 14: Early morning and a quick breakfast at the hotel before taking the 7:10 shuttle to the airport. We had an uneventful flight to Baltimore, then a 1½ hour wait before our equally-uneventful flight to Orlando. Southwest offers wifi service but if you want actual internet, you have to pay $8 for it. However they do offer free TV service over the wifi, and Nicky was apparently able to get that working. Ryan tried on his tablet but kept getting “Unable to play video”.

On arrival in Orlando, we picked up our rental car – a silver Nissan Maxima. I really liked this car – it held all the luggage easily, and was comfortable and drove nicely. We didn’t get food on the plane so we stopped at Wendy’s for lunch and then drove 45 minutes east to Titusville. Our hotel was the Hampton Inn Titusville which also featured free hot breakfast (Nicky became well acquainted with the waffle-maker) and also had a pool and weight room, neither of which we used. After checking in, we drove out to the nearby Merritt Island Nature Preserve (north of the Space Center, though we could see the Vehicle Assembly Building). The visitor’s center was closed but we want to the Manatee viewing area where we got eaten alive by “no-see-ums” (tiny little biting flies which we don’t have at home) but managed to see a few manatees in the distance as well as some pelicans, storks, buzzards (or vultures), and little salamanders. On the way back to the hotel, we picked up a pizza from Domino’s for dinner and enjoyed it while watching a movie on Gail’s laptop.

Fri, Aug 15: After breakfast, we drove to Kennedy Space Center. This was not the cheapest place around: $50 admission each. But by the end of the day, we all agreed that it was well worth it. We took a short tour of the “rocket garden”, which contained a number of rockets identical to the ones used by the early astronauts. These were missiles that NASA had bought from the military. They removed the warhead and replaced it with a tiny capsule into which they put a person. This was essentially a ten-story fuel tank with a little box on top. It’s one thing to fly in a big space shuttle where you can move around a little but these early astronauts had nowhere to move.

After that tour, we saw a presentation about the new Orion spacecraft that is being built for future missions to Mars. These won’t launch until 2020 or so but we got a good overview of the capabilities and what kind of hurdles the engineers have to overcome. After this we headed over to the Atlantis building, where we saw a very cool movie about the Space Shuttle program, from its beginnings in the late 60’s (!) to the launch of Columbia in 1981 to the other shuttles. At the end of the movie, the wall with the screen was raised and there it was: the actual shuttle Atlantis hanging from the ceiling. Cool trivia: It looks like the shuttle is hanging on a 45° angle, but the angle is actually 43.21°. Get it? 4-3-2-1 – it’s a countdown! There was a ton of information and pictures about all of the shuttles and their missions, as well as a short movie on the Hubble space telescope and the mission to fix it.

AtlantisAfter lunch we got in line for the bus tour around the facility. It started to rain while we were in line but luckily the line was covered so we didn’t get wet (this was a bit of foreshadowing to Disney). The rain got heavier and then the thunder and lightning started. The lightning was very close by and I can’t explain how or why the thunder sounded different than at home, but it did. By the time we got on the bus, the thunder had stopped but the rain continued. The tour went by the Vehicle Assembly Building and then out to the launch pads that were used for the Apollo and shuttle missions, and it then dropped us off at the Apollo / Saturn V center.

Engines on the Saturn VThis building wasn’t there the last time Gail and I were at the KSC, though that was 17 years ago. There was an entire Saturn V rocket inside, broken up into stages so you could see what each stage was used for. The size of this thing was unbelievable. There were plaques for each of the Apollo missions as well as other memorabilia. There were also movies about an Apollo launch and the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. I’ve heard the Apollo 11 landing story many times but I still learned a lot here – for example, the Eagle lander had less than 30 seconds of fuel remaining when it touched down on the moon’s surface.

After the bus tour, we walked around the Early Space Exploration building, which taught us a lot about the pioneers of the space industry. Many of them died long before the space missions actually started, but their work was instrumental, even if it happened fifty years before the space program existed.

The four of us are definitely science and space geeks, and so we really enjoyed KSC. But even if you’re not as into it as we are, I think there was enough at the visitor’s center to interest almost anyone. Everything was really well done, there were lots of informational plaques and videos and such, and there were plenty of interactive exhibits so even if you didn’t want to read all the information, there were still things to do.

After the Space Center, we stopped at Denny’s for dinner on the way back to the hotel.

Starting today, the boys wore pedometers every day, and every night I recorded how far they walked. Neither of the pedometers were calibrated properly though, and some days the distances travelled were wildly different, so while they weren’t completely accurate, they gave us a pretty good indication of how far we walked. Ryan only told me the number of km he walked, while Nicky included the number of steps as well.

Ryan: 4.39 km
Nicky: 11.19 km, 18661 steps

Sat, Aug 16: After packing up and having breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and drove back to the Merritt Island visitor’s center, since it was closed when we went on Thursday. After perusing the visitor’s center, we went on the nature drive just down the road. This is a 5 mile one way driving path through the preserve, on which we saw lots of water birds (mainly storks, herons, and egrets) and one alligator in the water.

Once finished here, we drove back to Orlando where we had lunch reservations at T-Rex in Downtown Disney. If you’ve ever eaten at a Rainforest Cafe, this was very similar except there were animatronic dinosaurs and mammoths and such rather than rainforest animals. I had a proud daddy moment when Nicky pointed out that mammoths lived only 10-15 thousand years ago while the dinosaurs were over 65 million years ago. In another episode of foreshadowing, it began to rain just as we were entering the restaurant. We didn’t get wet, but a few minutes later it was raining hard. Unfortunately, when we left it was still raining pretty hard. Luckily, Gail had packed rain ponchos for all of us. Unluckily, three of the four of them were still in the car. I’ll let you guess who remembered to bring theirs. The boys and I were quite wet when we got back to the parking lot.

After lunch, we drove to the Loews Royal Pacific resort at Universal Studios, our home for the next four nights. We parked the car and then went to check in, but our room was not yet ready. They did have a luggage service so we left our bags there and wandered the hotel for a while. There was a very large pool outside as well as a mini water play area, two ping pong tables, and a pool table as well. There was supposed to be shuffleboard but we never found that. There were also at least three restaurants, a weight room, and a small video game room. We played ping pong for a little while and then went back in to check on our room. Still not ready. Half an hour later, we checked a third time, and it was still not ready. By this point, we had been waiting for well over two hours so as an apology, they gave us a voucher for a free dinner at one of the restaurants while we waited. We chose a place called Jake’s, and shortly into the meal (I don’t think our meal had even arrived yet), I got a text message saying that our room was now ready.

After an excellent dinner, we got into our room on the 7th (top) floor. We had a view of the river running through the resort, and could see parts of the theme parks (including some of the rides – see the picture below. Hulk is the coaster in the middle, Dr. Doom’s Fearfall is the two towers to the left of Hulk, and Rip Ride Rocket is on the far right). At night when there were firework shows, we could see them pretty clearly from our window.

View from our windowWhen the boys went to bed, I went out to find a Wal-Mart to buy some milk, cereal, muffins, and snacks to keep in the room for breakfast. Since neither this hotel nor the one at Disney offered free breakfast, we did this the rest of the trip.

Ryan: 9.96 km
Nicky: unknown

Sun, Aug 17: For those of you who haven’t been (or haven’t been in ten years, like us), there are two Universal theme parks: Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. They are right next to each other, and you can get from one to the other (assuming your tickets allow you) on the Hogwarts Express. The entrance to Islands of Adventure was about a 15 minute walk from our hotel, and Universal Studios was about 5 minutes beyond that.

Gail’s back had been bugging her a little each day on the trip up to this point, but she had brought some Robaxicet (muscle relaxant) with her, and that was enough to make the pain go away. But shortly after her shower on Sunday morning, something in her back “popped” and started hurting much more. She took the last of the Robaxicet and we headed out for Islands of Adventure. Early entry was at 8am but we got there at 7:30, and there were plenty of people ahead of us. Once the doors opened at 8, we followed the crowd to Hogsmeade and the most popular ride in that park, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. All four of us are huge Harry Potter fans, so walking through Hogsmeade and the Hogwarts castle was amazing for us. Since we were there so early, there was almost no line. The entrance to the ride was inside the castle, and we actually felt like we were walking through Hogwarts. We saw the Defense against the Dark Arts and Herbology classrooms, the stairway to the headmaster’s office, moving portraits, the Mirror of Erised, the sorting hat, the Fat Lady, and much more.

Forbidden Journey was one of our favourite rides in any of the six parks we visited on this trip. It combined a moving car with a simulation ride to give you the impression you were actually flying. Most of the cast of the movies played parts in the video on the ride as well as the “pre-show” while walking through the castle.

After that, we rode Flight of the Hippogriff (a fairly tame roller coaster) and then went to Ollivander’s Wand Shop where the boys each bought a wand. The wands were interactive, meaning there were places around both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley (in Universal Studios) where you could use your wand to cast spells, and they had fun with that.

The boys at HogwartsAt this point (it was no later than about 10:30), Gail’s back was hurting much more and she had to go back to the hotel to rest. The boys and I rode Dragon Challenge, which was one of the most intense coasters I’ve ever done. It wasn’t huge but very fast and compact, which means the corners and loops were very tight. There were two coasters intertwined, and they were different so it was like two different rides. The lines were still short so Nicky (he of the iron-clad stomach) actually rode it a second time while Ryan and I sat the second one out. The rest of the morning was all rides: Hulk (Nicky only), Spider-Man (similar to Forbidden Journey), Poseidon’s Fury (a show, not a ride, but very fun), and the River Adventure in Jurassic Park (a cool flume ride). Then it was back to Hogsmeade where Nicky rode Dragon Challenge again.

Our friends the Finnigans (Andrew, Gail, Gareth, and Jenna) were at Universal that day as well. They were near the end of their vacation while we were just starting ours, but we managed to meet up for lunch at the Three Broomsticks. It was there that we first tried butterbeer, both the “cold” and “frozen” varieties, as well as pumpkin juice. All of them were really good; I preferred the cold type of butterbeer (sort of a cream soda kind of thing) while the boys preferred the frozen stuff (same but more of a slushie), and I really enjoyed the pumpkin juice which tasted like liquid pumpkin pie. Ryan is our pumpkin pie fanatic (he prefers that to cake on his birthday), but surprisingly, he didn’t really like the pumpkin juice.

After lunch, Andrew, Gareth, Jenna, Ryan, and Nicky rode Forbidden Journey again while I called Gail to see how she was. Her back was even worse than before so we left the park and went back to the hotel. On the way back to the hotel, Nicky realized that his phone was missing. He thought maybe he had dropped it on Forbidden Journey but by this point were near the front of the park. I told Nicky we’d check back later on or the next day, but we both figured we’d seen the last of it. “Nicky’s phone” was actually my old Android phone and was not actually activated as a phone, but he had it as a wifi device. We brought it so that if he got lost, he could get in touch with us through email. Ryan had a real phone.

Gail’s back had gotten steadily worse throughout the day and by this point, she was barely able to get out of bed to go to the bathroom and couldn’t move to do anything else. One of my work benefits is out-of-country health coverage, so we called Sun Life to see if they could send a doctor to the hotel. They arranged for a doctor, and an hour or two later, Dr. Almond (“like the nut”) arrived. He was very friendly and helpful, and we didn’t have to pay him a cent (thanks SAP!). It turns out that the drug in Robaxicet is only available in the US by prescription so he gave us one, and I went to get it filled and also picked up some sandwiches for dinner.

After dinner, the boys and I went down to the pool for a while before heading to bed.

Ryan: 11.88 km
Nicky: 14.85 km, 24752 steps

Mon, Aug 18: Another early entry day, this time to Universal Studios. Gail’s back was a little better this morning, but not enough to go anywhere. The boys and I arrived at the park a little later than yesterday and got in at 8am. However Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (the most popular ride at Universal, particularly because it had only been open for a couple of months at this point) was closed. It opened later on, but see the picture below for why we didn’t ride it today. This, plus the fact that almost nothing else in the park was open yet, kind of threw a wrench into our plans but Despicable Me was open so we went and did that one. This turned out to be a good idea since the line for this ride was insane later in the day. After that, we did Transformers and then walked around Diagon Alley where the boys did tried more magic with their wands.

The line for GringottsAfter a while we left Diagon Alley and did some more rides. By lunch we had done Men in Black, The Simpsons, Revenge of the Mummy, Twister, Rip Ride Rocket (Nicky only), and Shrek 4-D. After lunch at the Leaky Cauldron, we took the Hogwarts Express over to Islands of Adventure, where we rode Forbidden Journey and Dragon Challenge once again. We headed to the guest services area to ask about Nicky’s phone. We described it and when and where we lost it, and presto! It had been found and returned, and the lady had it. She told Nicky that if he could unlock it, he could have it. He did, and we walked away with the phone. Nicky was ecstatic, and I was pretty surprised and thankful. It wouldn’t be the last time on this trip that something would get lost and then found.

We took the Hogwarts Express back to Universal Studios where we got an ice cream and a bottle of pumpkin juice to bring back to the hotel for Gail (since she hadn’t had a chance to have any yet). We walked back to the hotel where we found Gail in better shape than in the morning. She could get up and walk around the room a little. It wasn’t much, but it was definite improvement. We hung around the hotel for the rest of the day. We watched the reboot of Robocop and the boys and I went for a swim. Dinner was ad hoc – we had some snacks and leftover sandwiches from the previous day, and I think Ryan had a bowl of cereal.

Ryan: 13.5 km
Nicky: 15.37 km, 25623 steps

Tues, Aug 19: It was a sleep-in day for Gail and Ryan, but Nicky and I were up by 8:00 so we got dressed and left them to sleep. We went for a walk around the hotel and played some ping pong before Gail texted me to tell me that they were awake, around 9:45. Gail was feeling much better this morning – so much so that she wanted to leave the hotel room (for the first time in two full days) and go down to City Walk, an outdoor shopping area in between (but outside) the two theme parks. On the way there, she changed her mind and decided she wanted to go to the Three Broomsticks for lunch, and I was very excited that she felt good enough to go into the park. On the way there, we stopped at the ticket counter. We each had a three day ticket and this was our third day, but since Gail had not used her ticket the day before, she still had an extra day to play with. We stopped to see how much it would cost to add an extra day onto our tickets. The answer: $10 each. This was a no-brainer.

GringottsAfter lunch we went back to Forbidden Journey but just did the castle tour rather than the ride, so we could spend as much time in the castle as we wanted without worrying about the lines. Then we took the Hogwarts Express over to Universal Studios and walked Diagon Alley for a while. The boys and I did a few rides, but Gail wasn’t taking any chances with her back so she sat those out. At this point the line for Gringott’s was under an hour so we decided to do that while Gail went back to the hotel for some more meds. This worked out well since Gail couldn’t ride it anyway. The line moved fairly quickly but it still took about 70 minutes before we actually were on the ride. It was similar to Forbidden Journey but more roller coaster and less simulation.

We met Gail at Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Company for dinner and had a wonderful meal before heading back to Universal Studios for the Cinematic Spectacular. This was a combination fireworks / laser / water show with movie clips being projected onto a screen of falling water, which was really cool. Of course, it was only Universal movies, but considering the amount of money they spent on Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, it was odd that there were no clips from Harry Potter movies in the show.

Ryan: 14.8 km
Nicky: 9.2 km, 15341 steps

Wed, Aug 20: This was our transition day from Universal to Disney so the first thing we did was pack up, check out, and put everything in the car. But since we had extended our passes by a day, we went back to Universal rather than driving to Disney. We did Despicable Me first, then took the Hogwarts Express over to Islands of Adventure where we wrote some postcards and got them stamped “Owl Post” before mailing them. The boys practiced their magic before watching the Poseidon’s Fury show again and then heading back to Universal. We saw the Terminator 2 show, which has stood up pretty well since Gail and I first saw it 18 years ago, then had lunch at the Leaky Cauldron. A little more wand work in Diagon Alley, a ride on E.T., and we were done.

We took the water taxi back to the hotel where we piled into the car and drove to Coronado Springs. After checking in and unpacking, we headed over to the Wilderness Lodge resort for dinner at the Whispering Canyon Cafe. I don’t remember the name of the thing we ordered, but it was essentially a huge plate of food for the four of us to share, including roast beef, BBQ chicken, sausages, ribs, corn, baked beans, mashed potatoes, and roasted veggies. The amount of food was unbelievable and we felt really wasteful not finishing it but it was just way too much and not having a microwave in our room, there was no point in taking it to go. The funny thing is that it was all-you-can-eat, so if we wanted, we could have asked for more.

After dinner we wandered around the Lodge, where we saw a blue heron just a few metres away who caught a fish as we watched. We also saw a rabbit under the boardwalk. Then it was back to Coronado Springs where Gail did laundry while the boys and I went for a swim. Once the boys went to bed, I hit Wal-Mart once again for snacks and breakfast foods.

Ryan: 13.45 km
Nicky: 12.25 km, 20425 steps

Our Disney vacation began in earnest the next day, and that will continue in the next article.

Florida 2014: Planning

In August 2014, we spent two weeks in Florida, spending two days in Titusville and the Kennedy Space Center, four days at the Universal theme parks in Orlando, and eight days at the various Disney World theme parks. You know what that means – it’s that time again! That time when Graeme uses his blog to capture a ton of vacation information that you, dear reader, probably don’t care about. But to be honest, it’s not you I’m writing this for, it’s me. I’ve done this in the past for other vacations, and I find it’s a pretty good way of capturing all of the minutiae of the trip that we’d otherwise forget. I find it fun to read them over again a couple of years later. That said, if you don’t happen to be me, I hope you enjoy it too.

This was a pretty long vacation with no “down” days, so there’s a lot of information here. I’ve broken it up into a number of different articles: the first (this one) talks about the planning of the trip, the second covers Titusville and Universal, the third covers Disney World, the fourth contains some stats about our trip, and the fifth is a comparison of the Universal and Disney experiences (i.e. stuff other than rides).

The castleWe began by booking the flights and hotels back in about April. Once we booked Disney, we were given access to a web site called My Disney Experience, where we could look over our information and bookings as well as do things like book lunch and dinner reservations (and in some cases, even order our food in advance), and even book Fast Passes for rides. Gail had fun doing this, but there was one other web site that she frequented in preparation: This is a site that allows you to pick the rides you want to go on at a particular park (it covers all of the Disney and Universal parks) and it will tell you what order to do them in so that you’re not spending half the day waiting in line. There are iOS and Android apps so you can see your plans and even update them on the fly, as well as checking out the current wait times for each and every ride. If it sounds like it’s regimenting your day, it kind of is, but in a good way. Plus these are of course only guidelines so if you want to shuffle things around or skip a ride or do one twice because the line is short or whatever, you can. There were some days where we followed the plan reasonably well and others where for one reason or another we ended up doing our own thing, though having the app really helped. Gail really liked that app – to the point where she was checking ride wait times weeks before we even left. “Look, 158 minutes for Gringotts!” “That’s great, dear, but we don’t leave for another month.”

The cheapest flights we could find were out of Buffalo rather than Toronto. We’d never flown out of Buffalo before but lots of our friends have and the flights were far cheaper than out of Toronto. Buffalo is about an hour from home but our flight was at 8:25am so we elected to book a hotel room and use their shuttle service to get to the airport. Most hotels near the airport also offer shuttles as well as parking services, which were generally cheaper than the $50/week that parking at the airport would have been. We chose the Clarion Hotel Buffalo Airport which included 2 weeks of parking, a hot breakfast, and a shuttle to and from the airport for about $89.

We flew on Southwest, which was unusual compared to other airlines for two reasons: (1) Each of us could check up to 2 bags for free, and (2) there are no assigned seats; instead, you check in online 24 hours in advance and you are assigned a “booking order” (A1-A60, B1-B60, or C1-C60). When the flight starts boarding, the A’s go first in numerical order, then the B’s, then the C’s. When it’s time for you to board, you get on the plane and pick whatever available seat you want. Obviously if you’re C20, you’ll have less to choose from than if you’re A10. We couldn’t get a direct flight on the way down (or didn’t want to pay extra for it), so we flew to Baltimore and then to Orlando an hour later. Our return flight was direct to Buffalo.

At Disney, we originally booked the Port Orleans Riverside resort, based on price as well as recommendations from friends. But after we had booked (and paid), Gail heard from her hairdresser (who heard from her cousin) that Disney sometimes offers a free dining plan, and we should check into that. We did, and the free dining plan offer was only good if you arrived after August 31, so it didn’t apply to us. But we kept checking and after a couple of weeks, they moved the date back to before we arrived, so Gail called them. The deal didn’t apply to our hotel, but they said that if we didn’t mind switching hotels, they could give it to us. We said yes immediately, and chose Coronado Springs, since it was on our original short list anyway. The total cost actually ended up about $80 cheaper, and we now had the free dining plan. This was huge and it sounds weird but words cannot express how excited Gail and I were about this.

The dining plan consisted of one “counter service” meal, one “table service” meal, and one “snack” per person, per day. The meals consisted of an entree, a non-alcoholic drink, and a dessert. So basically, other than breakfast and a couple of appetizers and alcoholic drinks, all of our food at Disney was free. We didn’t do the math (since some of the restaurant bills consisted entirely of $0’s) but we figured this saved us close to $1500. This applied to any restaurant (there may have been restrictions, but we never ran into any) in all four theme parks, Downtown Disney, and all of the resorts. Not only did this save us a bunch of money, but it gave us some freedom as well – if Ryan wanted to order the $29.95 salmon, go for it. We ate at an African buffet for one meal, which we may not have otherwise. We didn’t have to order the $16.95 chicken when we really wanted the $28.95 steak. In many cases, we were too full from dinner to get dessert but since it was free anyway, we got it to go and then ate it for breakfast the next day. That way, breakfast ended up being free as well. Of course, having cheesecake or key lime pie for breakfast isn’t necessarily the healthiest choice but hey, we’re on vacation. And really, is it that much worse than a chocolate chip muffin or waffles with syrup?

In the next article, I’ll cover the first week of our trip.

Our tubing nightmare

One of the more popular natural attractions in south central Ontario is the Elora Gorge. It’s a beautiful 2 kilometre long gorge that the Grand River has cut through 70-foot cliffs north of Guelph. The gorge is contained within the Elora Gorge Conservation Area, and they rent big inner tubes for people to ride down the river. There are sections of rapids as well as some more serene “lazy river” sections. We’ve now been camping there twice, and both times have certainly been eventful – once because we didn’t go tubing, and once because we did.

About a year ago (the summer of 2013), we went for a few days to Elora in the hopes of going tubing. But it had rained quite a bit over the previous week. It was OK the day we got there, but then it rained overnight and the next night too. The tubing run is closed when the river flow exceeds 8 cubic metres per second; the day we wanted to go tubing, it was measuring 98 cubic metres per second. That’s not a typo – the river flow was over twelve times higher than their safety limit. One of the two bridges over the gorge was closed entirely because water was flowing over it, to the point where you couldn’t see the bridge. There was no way we were going anywhere near the water. We had a fun camping trip (despite the rain), but we were disappointed that we didn’t get to go tubing.

Let’s try that again

So this year, we decided to go back and try again. We booked the same campsite as we had the previous year and this time Mother Nature played nice. Our first day we slept late and decided to have more of a lazy day, so we played some cards before lunch and did some geocaching in Elora after lunch. The second day was tubing day. Our plan was to do one run, then walk back to our campsite (about halfway up), have lunch, and then do more runs in the afternoon. If Gail or I got tired, one of us could wait at the bottom with the van and drive everyone back to the top. After getting ready, we drove to the rental place and walked with the tubes to the starting point. This was sometime around 11:00.

Here’s a Google map of the tubing run; I wanted to use the satellite view but it was cloudy the day the satellite took the picture so you can’t see much. I’ve marked approximately where the interesting events happened.

Note that this is not a water ride, it’s just a river. They rent you the tubes and they’ve built stairs to get you to the starting point, but the rest is up to you. There are no lifeguards or attendants at the start, end, or anywhere in between.

At the start, a friendly man was there taking pictures of his grandkids, and noticed our confusion as to where to go. He suggested walking a little further up the river and starting from there, so we did. We didn’t plan it this way (we didn’t really plan anything – more on that later) but Ryan went first, then Gail followed him. Nicky went next and I came last. Before I even started, I noticed that Ryan had flipped over going down the first set of “rapids”, but quickly recovered and gave us the thumbs up. As I was approaching the rapids, I managed to get spun around and didn’t see what happened to Gail or Nicky. When I hit the rapids, I flipped over backwards as well. I managed to stand up and grab my tube, and started to get back on it.

That’s when I noticed Gail sitting on a rock on the right bank. No tube.

Problem #1

Nicky was floating down the middle of the river and an empty tube was floating down in front of him. I hadn’t gotten back on my tube yet, so I managed to walk/swim over to the bank where Gail was. The water was still pretty fast here, so it took a fair bit of effort. It turned out that Gail had also flipped over, but while Ryan and I managed to grab our tubes, Gail did not. She got pounded by multiple waves which bounced her off of the rocky bottom a number of times. She was eventually able to grab some rocks on the bottom and pull herself to the side and get out of the river. Both of her knees were scraped up pretty good, as well as her ankles and the side of her right foot. She had lost her sunglasses and had thought for a minute that her contact lenses had also been washed away, though luckily they hadn’t. I stayed with her until we determined that she could stand and walk back to the start (she was shaking too much for the first couple of minutes). We decided that I would continue and once we were done, the boys and I would walk back to the van and then come and get her.

Elora GorgeThe whole time we were sitting there, we had to watch our children float further away from us, down a river that we hadn’t seen before, and that we had already found to be much more dangerous than any of us had realized. The boys are 14 and 12 and have been taking swimming lessons their whole lives; they’re probably better swimmers now than either me or Gail. That plus the fact that they were wearing helmets and life jackets were the only reasons we were nervous but not panicking.

After making sure that Gail could walk back to the start (maybe 30 metres back), I continued down the river in my tube. I had no watch on and so my sense of time is rather hazy, so I have no idea how long it was before I caught up with the boys, but it couldn’t have been more than about 5 or 10 minutes. They had reached an eddy in the river, so Ryan was essentially sitting in the middle of a big circle, not moving, while Nicky was slowly drifting around the circle, holding on to Gail’s tube which he had managed to grab. I grabbed Gail’s tube from Nicky, then we had to kick our feet for a while to get out of the eddy and start heading back downstream. Ryan had somehow managed to get out of it without kicking at all and was ahead of us again.

Just around the corner from the eddy, there was a shallow area that Nicky and I got caught up in. We had to push along the bottom to get free, and that led us to the second set of rapids. I told Nicky to go down first, then I sent Gail’s tube down by itself (since I figured I wouldn’t be able to hold onto it), and then I came last. I drifted to the right side of the rapids, near the canyon wall. Just as I expected to bounce off the wall, I heard a loud bang and immediately sank into the river.

Problem #2

The water wasn’t deep but the current was very strong. It pushed me through the rapids until I managed to grab another rock on the canyon wall with one hand, while holding onto my deflated tube with the other. Nicky saw this and wanted to know if he should stop or try to grab Gail’s tube, but he was still in some pretty fast-moving water. I told him to just keep going, figuring it was more dangerous for him to try to stop. I had no choice here but to walk down the river. Some parts had a rocky shoreline which was easy navigable, but for most of it I had to walk in the river holding on to the cliff face or trees sticking out. Some places were ankle deep and slippery, while others were deeper – the water came up to my shoulders in one place. There was one area where I had to swim about 30 feet and another where I had to climb through a fallen tree. There were a few areas with big rocks that I had to climb over, and I saw one rock with a big spider on it – must have been 3-4 inches across. I hate spiders, so that would have been the worst moment of most normal days, but it barely even registered. I slipped and fell once but luckily just landed on my butt, with nothing more than a bruise to show for it. Sorry, I don’t have any pictures of it.

Eventually, the river got shallow enough that Nicky was able to grab Gail’s tube once again and get out of the water to wait for me. Again, I have no concept of how long it took for me to get to him – fifteen minutes? Forty five? I really don’t know but from the time my tube burst until the time I met up with Nicky again must have been at least 30 minutes. I stopped there for a rest and then we continued down the river, with me floating on Gail’s tube and carrying mine.

The rest of the way was relatively uneventful but frustratingly slow. Not only was I physically exhausted, but I was anxious to get back to make sure Gail was OK. Problem #2 had slowed us down significantly, so I was sure Gail was wondering where we were. I got caught in another eddy where I had to kick continually for several minutes to get through it. Then Nicky and I hit some more shallows where we had to push off the bottom to move. We eventually arrived at the end of the tubing run where we were finally reunited with Ryan who had finished ages before.

We got out of the river and walked back up to the parking area while I filled Ryan in on what had happened. After about a 10-15 minute walk, we got to the rental place, turned in the punctured tube (“No thanks, I don’t need a replacement”), and picked up our van keys. While tying tube #3 onto the top of the van, Gail’s phone (which was in the van) rang. By the time we found the phone, it had stopped ringing but I noticed that there were eleven missed calls from my phone. Gail had walked back to our campsite and was getting pretty worried that we hadn’t yet reached the van. We called her back and reassured her that everyone was OK. It was now 1:38pm. That one single run – that only three of us finished – had taken us about two and a half hours.

We drove back to the camp site and Gail hobbled over to meet us. She was also doing a little better though her left leg was pretty stiff and it was obvious she was going to have some pretty good bruises in a couple of days. I’m writing this a couple of days later and she does indeed have some bruising (see picture) and her legs are still stiff and achy, but it could certainly have been much worse.


The aftermathDuring lunch, we tried to decide what to do the rest of the day. Gail thought about trying again but skipping the first set of rapids (the subsequent rapids weren’t as bumpy as the first), but she decided her legs hurt too much. I wasn’t really in pain but was still nervous about the river because of my tube bursting. There were a couple of areas during my walk down the river where it had taken most of my strength to avoid getting pulled by the current – what if it had been Nicky’s tube that had burst? Would he have had the strength? Would the current have pulled him along, bouncing him off of rocks the whole way, or worse, dragging him under the surface?

I knew this was a pretty rare occurrence and the odds of it happening again were pretty low, but the tube bursting scared me enough that we decided that we were done tubing. The boys were disappointed but understood. We played some more cards and the boys and I kicked a soccer ball around for a while, and we eventually returned the tubes. The boys and I had one run for our $25 each, and Gail spent about $1 per metre of her tubing adventure.

Gail and I are pretty surprised at ourselves for just jumping in (pun intended) before really examining the river and the rapids and having a plan. We did say to the boys before we started that if we get separated, just keep going and we’ll meet up at the bottom, and maybe there really wasn’t much more we could have done. Hundreds of people do this every day and while I know they’ve had accidents, they’re pretty few and far between. I guess subconsciously we didn’t figure that we needed a “what if one of us gets beaten into the rocks?” plan or a “what if a tube bursts?” plan. Perhaps cancelling the rest of the day entirely rather than letting the boys keep going was a bit extreme, but the what-ifs crept into my brain and took over.

Perhaps we’ll stick to water parks from now on.

Bohemian rhapsody

We moved into our house in Waterdown on July 30, 1997, my 28th birthday. Gail and I had been married for a little over a year and a half, and had lived in a townhouse in Burlington for three years but we were getting ready to start our family and wanted a bigger place with a backyard. One of the things we loved about the house was the fact that it backed onto a banquet centre called The Bohemian. This meant that not only would we not be looking over our fence into someone else’s house, but we had a beautiful view of trees and green space from our kitchen window.

This is a picture we took after we bought the house but before we moved in. It’s is not the best view of the Bohemian grounds, but I was trying to take pictures of our new place, not the place next to it. This is probably sometime in April or May 1997. The building in the distance is the Bohemian itself, and the land to the right of it is maybe half of the whole property. You can see the other half of it in the second picture, below.

April 1997

For the first five years or so, the place was beautiful. The people who ran it kept it up very well. They were out cutting the grass and trimming the hedges and such every week. Whenever I went to cut our grass on weekends, I’d always check to see if there was a wedding going on – they had outdoor weddings there all summer long and I imagined they didn’t want the official screaming “Dearly beloved” over the sound of a lawn mower. There were squirrels everywhere and lots of birds including blue jays, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, finches, chickadees, woodpeckers, and the odd hummingbird. Occasionally we’d even see rabbits and one time an entire family of four raccoons walked along the top of our fence, one after the other. The road you see in the distance is Dundas St. (formerly Hwy 5) which is a fairly major road, but the trees blocked the sound (particularly in the summer) so we rarely ever heard traffic noise. We’d never actually met them, but couldn’t have been happier with our neighbours to the south.

A few years later, things changed a little when the owners sold the property. Soon thereafter they cut down a couple of trees and put in a bigger parking lot, but it was still far enough away that it didn’t really affect us. After a while it became evident that they weren’t as interested in appearances as the previous owners; the grass would sometimes go weeks without being cut, and the trees and bushes furthest away from the building started to look a little neglected. The outdoor weddings ceased. It was a little disappointing, but it really wasn’t a huge deal. We still had our green space and trees and wildlife.

Here’s a picture from about 13 years after the one above, April 21, 2010. This was taken from the kitchen window, basically looking out over top of the stairs to the deck you can see in the picture above.

April 2010

In the top left, you can see poles with lights strung between them that marked the edge of the “new” parking lot, which is to the right of the poles. I built the birdhouse in the foreground, and you can see two doves sitting on top of the fence just to the right of it.

And then we got the letter. I don’t know when it was exactly but sometime in 2012, we received a letter informing us that the Bohemian property had been purchased by a developer who was going to build townhouses there. I don’t believe they were required to inform us but they did anyway. They also notified us of a public meeting to give nearby residents more information about what was going to be happening as well as giving us the ability to ask the developer any questions we might have. We attended along with some of our neighbours and they showed us maps and artist’s renditions of what the property would look like. They told us that they’d be tearing down the existing fences and replacing them with new ones, and that some of the trees would have to be removed. We specifically asked how many trees, and they assured us that they’d make every effort to keep as many as they could. They seemed very accommodating and open and willing to answer all our questions.

On October 12, 2012, I tweeted “Sad day at our house. All the trees behind us are being ripped out” along with this picture:

October 2012

Over the next week or so, a whole bunch of trees were ripped out, including most of the ones you see in this picture. Shortly thereafter, the fence was taken down and replaced with a brand new cedar one. The new one looks much nicer than the old one, so some good has come from this. But over the next year, more and more trees were removed until finally in the fall of 2013 they took out the last ones. The property is currently a wasteland of mud and piles of dirt (note the fancy new fence):

April 2014

I’m very disappointed by this but in all honesty, I can’t say I’m angry. Who should I be angry to, and why? Nobody has any obligation to leave the property as it was. Nobody has any obligation to ensure that I have a lovely view from my kitchen. We live in a capitalist society and people and companies are out there to make money. Should a company be denied the right to make money because it would ruin my kitchen’s view? 66 families will be buying houses in this new development and will hopefully be happy living there – why is my happiness any more important than theirs?

I also can’t say I’m surprised. It’s a prime property for housing in a growing community, and the owner has the right to do with it what he wants. Trees are nice but we all know that if they get in the way of a project, they’re gone. If you were given the opportunity to build a house for a hundred thousand dollars and sell it for four hundred thousand, you’d likely drop a few trees to make that happen too. If you were a developer building 66 such houses (selling for $25+ million), you’d nuke every tree in sight to make sure it happened and I would too. Kinda sad but true.

It’s currently May 2014. The trailer in the last picture above has been removed. Now that the snow has gone, they’ve been out with the loaders bringing in more dirt and spreading it around. I imagine the construction will soon begin in earnest and a year from now there will be 66 townhouses behind us. We’ll be able to look out our kitchen window directly into someone else’s house, and the big picture window in our kitchen, which has never had blinds or curtains of any kind, will become a lens into our life. I guess we had beautiful greenspace behind our house for fifteen years, which is more than most suburban families can boast, so we can’t complain too much. But we will anyway.

No Shadow of a doubt

We have a new addition to our family, an adorable little kitten that we’ve named Shadow. Considering that both Ryan and I are allergic to cats, I never thought this would happen, but it did and it’s been great so far. The story of how little Shadow came into our lives is fairly similar to the story of how our old cat Figaro came into our lives, which is amusing because the two cats couldn’t look more different.

In November 1992, Gail found a pure white cat roaming around outside her apartment on Hamilton mountain. It was starting to get cold outside and this little guy looked all alone. Gail took him in and when nobody claimed him after a while, she named him Figaro (after Geppetto’s cat in Pinocchio). Fig was with us until he died of liver cancer just before our tenth wedding anniversary in 2005. The boys barely remember him, but Gail and I miss him. He was such a people cat – he always wanted to be near us.

It wasn’t long after he passed that we discovered that Ryan was allergic to both cats and dogs, and so the idea of getting a new cat was scuttled. I was also allergic, even to Fig, but it really only showed up if I was petting him or playing with him and then rubbed my eyes afterwards. Then they got itchy and I got stuffy, but once I washed my hands and face it was fine.

Fast forward 8½ years. It’s February 17, 2014, and we’re visiting my sister Trudy for her daughter’s 2nd birthday, as well as my mom’s birthday. We park the van and step out, and there he is. A tiny little completely black kitten. He came over to us right away, and started rubbing around Ryan’s ankles purring all the while. He even took a couple of glances into the open van and I swear I could almost hear him thinking “I GO HOME WIF YOU?”

There was no collar, and we looked around for anyone looking for him, but there was nobody. As we walked across the street to Trudy’s place, he followed and we didn’t discourage him. Trudy has two cats already so rather than bring him into the house, we brought him into the garage and gave him some food and water. Trudy put some litter into a cardboard box and he knew right away what to do with it. That fact, and the fact that he was in good physical shape told us that he did have a home, and recently. Considering our frigid winter, he was lucky he wasn’t outside during one of the –35°C days. That day and the previous couple were in the –5°C range.

ShadowTrudy quickly made up some posters and posted them around her neighbourhood. We looked online for local places where people might report lost pets, but no black cats were reported missing. This was also Family Day, so the Humane Society didn’t open until next morning.

For the rest of the day, we took turns checking on him in the garage. Gail specifically told me to go rub my face against him and see what happened, just in case we couldn’t find the owner. I had no allergic reaction at all, nor did Ryan. Nicky was smitten and spent most of the afternoon sitting on a concrete step in a cold garage with the kitten. When I told him later that he was in the garage for at least two hours, he said “I was?” Honestly though, it was hard not to be smitten. Not only was he so tiny and adorable (I’m talking about the cat here, not Nicky), but he was just so loving. He was purring almost constantly, rubbing around your legs if you were standing, and jumping in your lap if you were sitting. Trudy already lives with two cats, two parents, and a two-year-old daughter, so their place was already full. I don’t know what the boys thought, but Gail and I quickly had a pretty good idea where this kitty was going to end up living if nobody claimed him.

Trudy couldn’t bring herself to leave him in the cold garage overnight so she brought him inside and put him in a downstairs bathroom with some food, water, and litter. A little cramped but warmer than the garage, and no attacks from Trudy’s other cats. The next morning, she took him into the humane society and found he was not microchipped. Nobody had called her asking about him, and there were still no lost cat postings that matched this little guy. She did get a phone call a couple of days later, but the lady was quite far away and was looking for a cat that didn’t match this one.

Shadow on the prowlWe found him on Monday. On Wednesday evening, Gail and Nicky drove back to Trudy’s place, picked him up, and brought him to our place. We figured that even if someone did claim him, at least he’d have a bigger place to hang out for a couple of days than Trudy’s bathroom. And if nobody claimed him, well, he was already home. That night, he hung out with me and Gail, sitting right by (and sometimes on) our heads, purring away, and occasionally head-butting us to try and get us to play with him. Eventually we had to put him outside the room and close the door so we could get some sleep. That only lasted a couple of days though, and then he figured out that he should leave us alone at night. He’s been really good since then.

By Saturday we had bought him a litterbox, food dishes, and toys. At that point we decide to name him. He was our kitten now. If someone else had lost him, they’d done a crappy job of trying to find him, and the statute of limitations (that we had arbitrarily imposed) had expired. We each came up with a few names and wrote down all the ones we liked. From that list of about 10 names, we each chose our top three by secret ballot. One name appeared second on all four ballots – Shadow. Some names we did not choose: Ninja, Shade (also Nightshade), Phantom, and Sir Purrs-a-lot, which I added jokingly but Nicky actually voted for. We also decided against Snowy, which Trudy had suggested. On Monday, Gail brought him to the vet for a check-up and unlike Figaro (who, when we got him, had fleas, worms, and various other things that were expensive to remove), Shadow Perrow was clean and healthy.

Shadow has been part of our family for over a month now and already we can’t imagine life without him. He still purrs and meows all the time and rubs around our legs and jumps in our laps. He loves to play with the toys we bought him but also things like pencils, straws, and Q-tips he digs out of the bathroom garbage. He loves his treats and the wet food he gets in the morning, but isn’t so crazy about the dry food he gets in the evening. He also likes to sit on the toilet seat and dip his paws in the water, then leave little wet footprints around the bathroom, so we always keep the lids down now.

Shadow’s made his way into the garage a couple of times, and seems to really love it there. Who wouldn’t love a cold dirty concrete floor with a half-inch of water in the middle (where all the snow from the cars melts)? So now whenever we come home we park in the garage, then close the garage door (so he can’t get outside), then open the door into the house and catch him before he dives past us. Even when putting stuff in the blue boxes or green bin, we have to close the laundry room door, which had previously stayed open for the past 15 years.

We decided that if we were to go to the local pet shelter and a cat had behaved towards us the way this one did, we’d take him in a heartbeat. Just like Figaro, Shadow chose wisely when he found us.