I'm pretty sure the hottest day of our recent family (well, half-family) day at Disney World was the day we visited the Epcot Center. We were sticky and dehyrdated by the time we paused just inside Epcot for a family picture (above). But we still had fun. 
Our whirlwind trek through Epcot included a Finding Nemo ride (from which Aubrey and Calleigh abstained; Calleigh was still traumatized by the "Lili and Stitch" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride a day or two earlier). But the aquarium was a joy for Avery (above), and for the whole family. So much to see.
The rest of our family experience in Epcot went so fast I could hardly snap a picture. But a day or two later, the lovely Robin and I returned, just the two of us, and took time to enjoy each of the countries on the world tour the park presents. In England, we met two of our oldest and dearest friends (below). 
We also got to hear a "British invasion" band, watched three big screen films featuring the wonders of Canada, France, and China, had a delicious lunch of fish 'n' chips (which a local couple who shared our table said was the best in Orlando), and more. I was even tempted to buy a gift pack of assorted soaps in the Canada gift shop (below). But I refrained.

Breakfast with the Characters

Our family visit to Disney World last week included "Breakfast with the Characters" at the Hollywood & Vine restaurant in Disney's Hollywood Studios. 
Jake (of Jake and the Neverland Pirates) was the first to stop by our table (above), and the only character Ryder would--briefly--have anything to do with.
But Calleigh got into it. She got a hug from Sophia the First....
And allowed Mimi and Avery to get in on the act for a photo with Handy Manny....
But I think her favorite visitor was Doc McStuffins, who she already knew well from T.V.

The event was expensive, but at least it was a high quality breakfast buffet of eggs, bacon, fresh fruit, sausage, pastries, and more (for which I broke my new eating regimen a little. After all, my get-my-money's-worth gene is stronger than my gotta-lose-weight gene).

Pool Day at the Westgate Town Center

Last week during our family vacation in Florida, Mimi and Crappaw enjoyed a day with our three youngest grandkids all to ourselves while their Mom and Dad went to Universal Studios.
We had a blast. Calleigh is a fearless swimmer, and Ryder was thrilled when another family let him borrow one of their shooting water toys.
Avery took a more serene approach, napping and floating throughout her time at the pool.

And thanks to Crappaw's diligence, we mostly avoided sunburns. Calleigh got a little red on her cheeks but otherwise we stayed as white as a Mormon missionary's shirt.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Black Angus Steakhouse, Kissimmee, FL

Last week during our visit to Kissimmee and Orlando, Florida, with the eastern half of our family, the lovely Robin and I had Monday evening all to ourselves while Aubrey, Kevin, Calleigh, Ryder, and Avery were at Disney World. So we made our way just around the corner from our resort to Black Angus Steakhouse at 7516 W Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway in Kissimmee.
Black Angus is a chain of three restaurants in the area that boasts "the best steaks in Orlando." We were seated immediately and served attentively. 
Robin enjoyed her filet medallions, which were cooked just right. 
I thought my prime rib should have been tastier, and the vegetables were blah. But then maybe the head chef has Mondays off. Or something like that. 

In any case, the company couldn't have been better, and we had a great time. Black Angus might not be my top choice when I'm in the area, but I wouldn't hesitate to give it another go. 

The Liberty Tree Tavern at Disney World

You know what's really expensive? Disney World. You know what's really expensive, even for Disney World? Dinner at the Liberty Tree Tavern. But we ate there anyway on our visit last week.
Baby Avery fell asleep sometime before we arrived there so while the rest of the family waited for a table inside, I stayed on the curb next to her stroller. Two women walking by saw her and then saw me and breathed a sigh of relief....I think they were about to report an abandoned baby to the Disney World Police. 
Once we got our table, though, I was allowed inside, where the reproduction of a colonial-era tavern was fun to see. 
Colonial artifacts surround diners and of course the servers are all dressed in period costume. The menu is influenced by New England fare but not confined to it. The meal of pork, turkey, brisket, whipped potatoes, baked corn, green beans, and more was served family style. Mmmmm mmm good.
Not cheap, though: $32 per adult and $15 per child. But all you can eat. So there's that.
Still, it's not every day we get to Disney World, and it was a delicious and memorable experience. And a refreshing respite from the heat and hecticity (yes, I made that word up right on the spot) outside.

Magic Kingdom

Just over a week ago, the lovely Robin and I ventured out with our family (Aubrey, Kevin, Calleigh, Ryder, and Avery) to Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida.
Calleigh and Ryder had no idea what to expect and were clearly overwhelmed by the experience. They had never even been to an amusement park before (though I'm sure they'd been to a carnival or two). So, although the sights and sounds and activity were a sensory overload, they took it all in and had a great time (though Ryder took a couple days at least to decide whether he liked the idea of riding things, etc.). 
Calleigh and Ryder rode the Dumbo ride numerous times, along with Little Mermaid and Winnie the Pooh and more. Avery rode a few of them, too. 
Not surprisingly, one of their favorite activities was trying out all the toys and merchandise in the shops all over the place. One after another. Shop after shop. Toy after toy. 
And though they were utterly exhausted by the time the Electric Light Parade started, they saw it all, and even made it to the fireworks (on one of the nights); they watched mesmerized as the sky over the Magic Kingdom exploded with color. 

What a joy it was to be invited along to share in these kids' first visit to Walt Disney World. 

Westgate Town Center Resort, Kissimmee, FL

I had long looked forward to our vacation last week at the Westgate Town Center Resort in Kissimmee, Florida, with the lovely Robin and our daughter, son-in-law, and three of our five grandchildren. We arrived a week ago Saturday and found the main building (see photos above and below) and check-in process to be what we have come to expect of Westgate, based on our experience at our "home resort" in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Our two-bedroom unit (see photos below) was spacious and Calleigh and Ryder ran through every room with the excitement of a kid at Christmas.

Unfortunately, our experience at this resort was not up to par with what we've come to expect from our regular vacations in Gatlinburg. We found out from our eight-month-old granddaughter's dirty feet and legs that the floors weren't clean.  And when we called to ask for someone to clean our floors, we were told there would be a charge if they came to do so before midweek. So we waited until midweek, and even then, had to call them back later in the day to insist that the floors be mopped.
We discovered at the end of our second day that the hundreds of dollars of groceries we'd put in the refrigerator were frozen solid, and most had to be thrown out (and the control indicator light was broken). Though that was soon repaired, the freezer failed to keep our ice cream from melting. A few other things mitigated our comfort and enjoyment of the week.
Still, I enjoyed my breakfasts on the balcony (above), and we rested well and the trip to Disney World was short. And the grandkids loved the pool where they spent most of Wednesday (while their Mom and Dad visited the Universal theme park).
Maybe I've just been spoiled by the excellence of the Westgate experience in Gatlinburg. Or maybe the demand for the Kissimmee resort is such that they don't have to achieve or maintain the same standards. In any case, we had a wonderful week with the eastern branch of our family, one that makes us look forward even more to a similar week someday (at Disneyland, maybe?) with our western contingent. 

Great Strides Walk 2015

What a great day we had yesterday for the Great Strides Walk (to cure cystic fibrosis) in Oxford, Ohio. And what a contrast to last year, when we weren't just rained out but gullywashered out. And yes, that's a word. I said so. No need to look it up. 
While a little rain came through early in the morning, the skies cleared well before people started registering. With music performed by the Worley Boys and lots of enthusiasm and esprit de corps (yes, I used a little French on you, merci), everything went off without a hitch. 
The lovely Robin and I (along with the rest of our team, McCane's Miracles) were there on behalf of our grandchildren Calleigh and Ryder, who are still too young to grasp what was happening and why. But they had fun. 
And another young member of our team, Ezra Keeton, stole the show by joining the band to sing some country song I didn't know. But man, she was so cute. When the song was over, she wouldn't surrender the mic. She didn't seem to mind the spotlight at all. 
The report at the end of the walk was a great one, too: A total of nearly $19,000 raised to find and fund a cure for cystic fibrosis, and some donations still being processed will add to that total. Sure would love to see it get to $20,000! And Robin and I were so happy to meet our goals of $500 (here's Robin's page if you'd like to help us add to the total) and $3500 (here is my page). And our McCane's Miracles team total so far amounts to $6,198! Thanks so much to everyone who gave, walked, volunteered, and participated. 

Pier Market, San Francisco

You make me walk all over God's green earth, I'm gonna want food, and lots of it. That was my sentiment--and pretty much that of our whole party--on a recent visit to San Francisco that included a walk from Fisherman's Wharf to Pier 39 and all along Pier 39. So we stopped for dinner at Pier Market, hailed as "Best Seafood in San Francisco" by KRON 4 TV's "Best of the Bay."
Truth be told, it was a mixed experience. Nina consumed her crab legs (above) with alacrity, and Robin's chowder was delicious. However, Robin's crab cakes and my chicken breast (give me a break, I'm on a careful eating regimen right now and didn't want to digress, okay?) were overcooked.
The service was excellent, however, and the view wasn't bad either. And the company--well, there's just nothing better in life.

Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39

My recent trip to San Francisco in the company of the lovely Robin, our son Aaron, daughter-in-law Nina, and grandkids Miles and Mia, included a couple rides on the city's historic cable cars and a walk around Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39.
We paused to marvel at the amazing baked bread concoctions in one shop along the way (below).
We listened to an amazing one-man band and met a few living statues. We watched a street airbrush artist. I snapped a photo of Alcatraz Island (in the distance--not the far distance--below).
The best part of the day, though, was just being with each other, watching Miles and Mia delight in things, talking as we walked, laughing, and holding hands. 
We also gawked at the sea lions, who have only been gathering there (in the hundreds) for the last few decades. And, oh yeah, we ate and bought a couple souvenirs. 
It was a great time in a uniquely lively place.

John's Grill, San Francisco

On a recent foot-and-cable-car tour through San Francisco, I happened upon John's Grill, a seafood-and-steak restaurant that is not only (according to them) "one of the city's oldest and most famous establishments," but is also the "home of the Maltese Falcon."
According to the hostess, John's Grill is where Dashiell Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon. It is also a setting in the great detective novel (which, of course, became a film starring Humphrey Bogart).
Aaron and I (we had ducked into the restaurant together, while the rest of the family waited outside) looked at the menu, which was too rich for our blood. But the hostess allowed us to take a quick tour through the place, which occupies three floors.
On the second floor is a display case where we found the falcon himself! And other related memorabilia. Though we didn't stay long, it was a blast seeing the place--with its dark oak paneling and authentic period furnishings, still evoking the days of Dashiell Hammett and Sam Spade. 

John's Grill is located at 63 Ellis Street (between Stockton and Powell, just a few steps away from the Apple Store, which we also visited...of course) in San Francisco.