Tag Archives: vacation

The Astros’ Good Luck Charm

It’s been a long time since the Astros have been successful.

It’s been a long time since the Astros have been successful.

When I was a kid growing up on the north side of Chicago, I was a huge Cubs fan. My kid brother and I loved watching our beloved Cubbies play on WGN-TV and, occasionally, in person (my mom actually would take the four of us kids on the train to Wrigley Field on Ladies’ Days).

Back then one of my fondest dreams was to see a Cubs spring training game. I could just imagine traveling to Mesa, Arizona, to watch Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and the rest of my blue-clad heroes. Maybe I’d even be able to work up the courage to score an autograph or two!

The starting lineups

The starting lineups

Fast forward to a week ago Sunday. My spring training game dream finally came true! However, this time it was in the Grapefruit League instead of its Cactus counterpart, as our family watched our Houston Astros play the Toronto Blue Jays at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, which is near Orlando.

When we were making plans for Jake’s last spring break, I pitched the idea of going to Universal Studios Orlando for a couple days. Then I threw in what I knew would be a home run: Watching our first spring training game. All four of us love baseball, so all of us were excited.

Too close for comfort?

Too close for comfort?

At the Mister’s suggestion, I bought a fresh baseball in case the guys wanted to get autographs. What a great idea! Our seats were one row from the field next to the Astros’ dugout, which gave us a great, albeit potentially scary view.

The pen confuses Jonathan Singleton.

The pen confuses Jonathan Singleton.

All of the players walked past us, with some of them stopping to sign. At first, C.J., who had the ball and the pen, seemed a little shy. But with prodding from his mom who didn’t want him to have any regrets, he stood up and handed the tricky SHSU pen and ball to Jon Singleton, our hopefully great first base prospect.

C.J. holds the ball with his first autograph.

C.J. holds the ball with his first autograph.

After that, it was easier for him to ask. Plus our hometown heroes seemed glad that we cared.

Carlos Corporan, our catcher, gives the ball back.

Carlos Corporan, our catcher, gives the ball and pen back.

Up until that point, C.J. had told me he was sick of me snapping photos of him. But, suddenly, having his own personal photographer (I was wielding my small but mighty Nikon V1) was advantageous.

Thank you, Jarred Cosart!

Thank you, Jarred Cosart!

What a great memory for my boys! I must admit I felt a pang of jealousy wishing that had been me back in the 1960s.

Rudy Owens, who was the starting pitcher, will start the season in the minors.

Rudy Owens, who was the starting pitcher, will begin the season in the minors.

When the game finally started, we couldn’t help but notice that even though this was the Astros’ home park, we were surrounded by Blue Jays fans. We had seen cars in the parking lot with Ontario license plates, so it looks like Canadians also like to travel to Florida to watch baseball. They cheered loud and long for their favorite team.

The Astros’ mascot Orbit was large and in charge.

The Astros’ mascot Orbit was large and in charge.

Some aspects of the game reminded us of the Sugar Land Skeeters, our town’s Atlantic League team. There were condiment and tricycle races, as well as Orbit the mascot mixing things up with the fans. You can’t beat fun at the ballpark, spring or summer!

One thing that was odd, though, was what happened during the game. After watching the Blue Jays plate two runs, the four of us visited the team shop. When we got back to our seats, we were surprised to see the score was 2-2. At no time did we hear the crowd yelling about a two-run Astros’ homer. Weird.

After the Jays went up 3-2, we made our usual early exit in the bottom of the eighth to beat the traffic and head to Orlando and the Hard Rock Hotel. So imagine how shocked we were when we found out that the good guys actually won 4-3! We spent all that time at the game without seeing the Astros score a run. Talk about your reverse good luck charms!

Our family selfie

Our family selfie (the sun was so bright!)

Don’t be surprised if the Astros pay us to stay away from the games this season!

Seattle Trip Day 2: A Ferry, a Needle, Music, and a Baby

Approaching Bainbridge Island from the ferry

Approaching Bainbridge Island from the ferry

For our first full day in Seattle, we chose to spend time with our relatives sightseeing. Our group consisted of the four of us plus my mom and her two sisters, as well as my brother, his wife, and their two daughters. Neat, tidy, and relatively easy to keep together. Well, except for one of my boys, of course.

Scenery, scmenery! The #1 son would rather read.

Scenery, scmenery! The #1 son would rather read.

We took a scenic ferry trip across the Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island. Well, scenic for some of us!

My hair-tousled sister-in-law, F.W.

My hair-tousled sister-in-law, F.W.

It was very windy and chilly in the front of the boat, a welcome change from the 100-degree temps we had left behind in south Texas. I actually had to wear a jacket! I had almost forgotten what one looked like.

Is the #2 son really listening to his grandma?

Is the #2 son really listening to his grandma?

We had fun exploring the touristy town on the island, stopping for lunch and to look into shops. It also gave the older generation a little time to impart some wisdom to the young ’uns. Way to pay attention to your grandmother, #2 son!

The seagull show, take one

The seagull show, take one

On the way back to Seattle, I noticed some of the passengers trying to feed the seagulls flying close to the ferry. Glad I had my Nikon 105mm lens ready to go on my Nikon D300!

Eye on the prize!

Eye on the prize!

Snack time!

Snack time!

See ya later!

See ya later!

We drove our rental car onto the ferry for easy transportation on the island. As we approached Seattle, we were told to return to our cars as soon as possible. Which three of our family did. But where was number four? Apparently, lost in his book reading. Yep, the #1 son failed to get down to the car in time to drive off the ferry with us. When you’re in a line of cars, you can’t just wait for slow-moving family members. Eventually, he did catch up with us once he walked off the ferry. It’s not quite as scary as when he wandered off at age 3, but we definitely were glad to see him safely on land again and in our car.

The Space Needle from the ferry

The Space Needle from the ferry

The next part of our day moved us from the Puget Sound to the Space Needle, something I had always wanted to visit. A long-time Seattle landmark, it’s a great way to see a 360-degree view of the area from 520 feet up.

Under the Space Needle

Under the Space Needle's observation deck

Fortunately, there wasn’t a long wait to go up the elevator to the observation deck.

The view from the observation deck

The view from the observation deck

Walking around the observation deck checking out the different views was breathtaking, especially for those of us who don’t like heights!

EMP/SFM poster

EMP/SFM poster

Near the bottom of the Space Needle is the unique Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. It’s a fascinating mix of sci fi and music. The boys really enjoyed the interactive music lab that allowed them to play drums, electric pianos, and electric guitars. What I didn’t like was that cameras weren’t allowed due to copyright concerns. I felt almost lost looking at the exhibits without my D300 in my hand.

Part of a large instrument sculpture at the EFM

Part of a large instrument sculpture at the EFM

Of course, I just had to snap a pix or two to document our experience. I figured my iPhone 3GS wouldn’t be noticed by security. But the image quality just isn’t the same.

The best part of the day was still to come. I was most anxious to meet the newest member of our extended family, my great-nephew Zeke, the four-month-old son of my beloved #2 niece, Ralphie (sister of the bride-to-be), and her husband Chris. I just knew that the Z-babe would be gorgeous . . .

The cutest baby ever? Quite possibly!

The cutest baby ever? Quite possibly!

. . . and he is! Welcome to the family, little guy!

Skedaddle to Seattle . . . Very Slowly

The *!@#* garment bag

The *!@#* garment bag

This is a sad tale of what happens when several dumb decisions plus poor timing multiplied by awful luck equal missing a flight to Seattle.

And it all centers around a garment bag.

Last Thursday we were supposed to be on the 8:55 a.m. flight from Houston’s Intercontinental Airport to Seattle. The main purpose of the four-day trip? My beloved #1 niece’s wedding. Oh, we made it to Seattle, but we had to wait until 2:20 p.m. to board the plane. Then again, who wouldn’t want to spend their first Pacific Northwest vacation in the airport for five and a half hours?!? The excitement, the thrills, the drama!

The #2 son is momentarily happy in the airport.

The #2 son is momentarily happy in the airport.

The bottom line is that when you’re a little bit late getting out of the house and into the car, as we were by five or 10 minutes, every extra minute of delay seems to increase exponentially. There’s bound to be more traffic. And the shuttle bus driver is bound to pick up two more slow passengers. And then you’re going to make a fatal mistake: You’re not going to see curbside check-in when the line inside to check bags is really long.

The #1 son reads in the airport.

The #1 son reads in the airport.

The basic problem for us was that we rarely fly anywhere. That’s because we rarely go anywhere. But when we do fly, we carry everything on. Each of us has a wheeled carry-on case (love those wheels!) and a backpack. But because we were going to the wedding, we had to have our grown-up clothes with us. You know, fancy duds. Yep, I even had a dress! There’s no stuffing that kind of garb in a carry-on. Hence the too-big, too-heavy garment bag that needed to be checked.

The Mister reads.

The Mister reads.

Suffice it to say, by the time we got the garment bag to check-in, we had less than 30 minutes before our flight was to take off. Did you know that you can’t check in a bag for a flight that has less than 30 minutes before taking off? I didn’t before, but I sure know that now! Very stressful!! The check-in gal suggested that the guys make the 8:55 a.m. flight, while the garment bag and the old bag travel on the next one at 12:30 p.m. I gave the guys their boarding passes and told them to make like Usain Bolt and speed to gate 39. Which, of course, was the furthest one from the security checkpoint.

A bored #2 son checks the Tour de France results on my iPhone.

A bored #2 son checks the Tour de France results on my iPhone.

I went back and leisurely finished checking in the garment bag and then went through security. Of course, by this time, which was almost 9 a.m., there were hardly any people around. Figures. My one thought was that as long as I don’t get a phone call from the Mister, all was well, and they’re on their way to Seattle.

#2's self-portrait taken with the camera upside-down.

#2's self-portrait taken with the camera upside-down.

“When a Man Loves a Woman” started playing from my iPhone at 8:55 a.m. Oh, oh . . . that’s the Mister’s ring tone. Not a good sign. Sigh! They missed the flight. We didn’t realize that the gate had been changed from 39 to 31; by the time they got there, the doors were closed to them. And the Mister was very tired and winded. And, of course, unhappy.

Yay, we made it!

Yay, we made it!

So I gave up my 12:30 p.m. seat, and we were confirmed on the 2:20 p.m. plane. Which meant lots of time together in the airport. The highlight was probably seeing the Houston Dynamo soccer team’s players, who eventually were on our flight. I don’t think the Mister and I were ever so happy to get on a plane! And then to finally land in Seattle, where the temperature was about 20 degrees cooler than in Houston. I loved that part the best!

Safeco Field—home of the Seattle Mariners

Safeco Field—home of the Seattle Mariners

That night we attended the Seattle Mariners baseball game at Safeco Field with our relatives and my niece Becky’s friends. The Mariners were playing the Texas Rangers.

Sidebar: Even though we live in Texas, we are not Rangers fans; we are Houston Astros fans! We prefer the National League. I’m originally from Chicago, and I’m a lifelong Cubs follower. I will never like the White Sox. Hope I’ve made that clear!

A Mariners' wild pitch gets past the catcher.

A Mariners' wild pitch gets past the catcher.

Of course, I had my Nikon D300 with me with the Nikon 105mm lens. We were in the upper deck near home plate, and I was able to get a few good photos from that vantage point.

The Rangers score their only run.

The Rangers score their only run.

It was great relaxing with my mom, her two sisters, and my oldest sister Fran (Becky’s mom). The Mariners managed to win the game 3-1, the boys got to see a major league baseball game in a park in a different state, and I was beginning to shed the airport-saga stress.

And the irony of the whole flight-missing tale? The garment bag made it to Seattle before we did! It was on the 12:30 p.m. plane and was waiting for us in the airport. Hope it had a good time!

Going to the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo . . . in Poverty, Too, Too, Too

 

OMG! So expensive!

OMG! So expensive!

Have you ever gone somewhere with your kids, paid the expensive fees, and then been determined to experience every inch of the grounds for how ever long it takes? But then it never takes very long, so you feel a little bit cheated?

Welcome to the Zoo of Northwest Florida in Gulf Breeze. Just empty out your wallet at the cash register and prepare to pay the most money for possibly the lamest zoo for the price in the civilized world. What sounded so good online was almost laughable in person. According to the website, there should be more than 1,200 animals at the zoo. I think we literally walked every inch of the place, and I’d say their calculations are off by, oh, a good thousand. Well, unless that thou was doing a great job of hiding.

Golden-headed tamarin peeks out from its cage.

Golden-headed tamarin peeks out from its cage.

Now I’m not saying it wasn’t an enjoyable experience. I happen to be a zoo lover, so I like seeing each city’s interpretation of how best to display their animals for everyone’s safety. However, at most zoos, I would want to have my Nikon 70-200mm lens on my Nikon D300, the better to really zoom in and capture the animals. At this zoo, my Nikon 105mm was plenty of zoom . . . when there was something to see.

A goat gets up close and personal.

A goat gets up close and personal.

Let’s just say that when the petting zoo is the highlight of the place, it’s not the greatest zoo on earth. Definitely not for $11.50 per person!

Baby black swan swims near its mother.

Baby black swan swims near its mother.

Every zoo has its contrast of cute vs. ugly and deadly, and this one was no different. Some of those adorable things included the tamarin and baby black swan shown above. As well as the one below:

Sometimes an animal, the #2 son has fun on a very small merry-go-round.

The #2 son has fun on a very small merry-go-round.

And then there’s the not-so-cute. Florida, of course, is known for its alligators. The zoo had lots of them. Interesting to photograph, but they still give me the creeps.

What lies in those murky waters?

What lies in those murky waters?

I know what this one was thinking!

I know what this one was thinking!

And, of course, there are always snakes. Indiana Jones would’ve hated seeing this Burmese python:

Both sons check out the Burmese python; the OGF seems wary, though.

Both sons check out the Burmese python; the OGF seems intrigued.

See the online girlfriend (OGF) in the above photo? Yes, she came with us. As we walked through the zoo, it seemed like there were animals cheering for her and my #1 son’s relationship.

Some loving gators

Some loving gators

Peach-faced lovebirds

Peach-faced lovebirds

Sidebar: I snapped a photo of what two of the peach-faced lovebirds were doing right there in public (a little too much love for those particular birds to be on display), but I’d like to keep this a G- or PG-rated blog. You can thank me later.

OGF and the #1 son

OGF and the #1 son

Yes, #1 and OGF were the true lovebirds in this little, expensive zoo. I don’t think they really saw any of the animals; they usually only had eyes for each other.

Well, they might have noticed that peach-faced lovebird pair!

A final thought

Choo choo!

Choo choo!

We took a short train ride around a free-roaming wildlife area. Ka-ching three more dollars per for something that should be included in the general admission price, because you can’t really see this part of the zoo on foot. The tour “guide” was a cute but often-confused young man who often told us animals were on the right side of the train when they really were on the left.

But his unintentionally funniest line came when he pointed out the caged komodo dragons.

“Komodo dragons are native to Indiana,” he claimed.

Yes, maybe in the zoos in Indiana! Then he caught himself.

“Make that India!”

Or should it really be Indonesia?!? Whatever!