To Watch A Child Bleed

I am what people would consider a helicopter parent.  I’m the kind of guy who simply doesn’t want anything bad to ever happen to my child.  Ever.  I realize that’s not a realistic expectation, but that’s just who I am.

Last night Ankle Biter and I were on our way into my current home for supper when something happened that was simply out of my control…but it certainly didn’t make me feel any better.

We sometimes like to race into the house…where my son likes to “beat daddy” to the front door.

Last night I was unlocking the door, Ankle Biter came tearing up the front steps.  Unbeknown to me, he had a small toy in each hand.  On the steps was about an inch or two of snow that I hadn’t cleaned up yet.  As I was trying to unlock the door, he was trying to push me aside and get through the door first.

He slipped.

Head-first.

His face hit the metal bottom of the front door.  Y’know, the base of the door itself.  He immediately began to cry.  I immediately began to panic.

The blood began to run down his chin.

I was mortified.  I didn’t know if it was his teeth or his gums or what it was.  All I knew was that he was crying and bleeding and all I wanted to do was comfort him as much as I possibly could.

In the end, he just split open his lip…but it could have been much worse.  When I close my eyes and picture it, I cringe at what could have happened and all I can think about it was I could have done to prevent it.

I know the whole deal, though: boys will be boys.  Children aren’t made of glass. He’ll survive. Blah blah blah.

Still…those thoughts did NOTHING to make me feel any better once I came home after dropping him off and seeing this at my front door:

I GOT A HOUSE~!!

It”s funny…my house sold just a couple of short weeks ago and the market didn’t look good.  I saw a house on Tuesday, my dad saw it again on Wednesday, we made an offer and after a compromise BOOM~!! I’m no longer a mini-home owner in a trailer park…I’m about to be an actual house owner!!

I haven’t taken any pictures yet, but between the real estate listing website and Google’s street view software, I am able to show you what it looks like…

Trust me...it only looks crooked because the pic is from Google's street view.
CBG house - front view
CBG house - kitchen

CBG house - living room
CBG house - bathroom
CBG house - main bedroom
CBG house - secondary bedroom
CBG house - back deck
CBG house - back yard
This is another pic from Google's street view software (so no...those cars aren't mine). The back deck is new as of 2009 and the back yard is well maintained. I'm REALLY happy with what I've got.

At the end of the day, this is a nice home with a basement apartment that will bring in a bit of income…enough to lower my monthly payments.  It’s in a good neighborhood and the home has been extremely well-maintained over the years.

It’s all still surreal…but my hope is that everything will get a LOT more real once I sign the paperwork.

The Portofino Bay Hotel

This isn’t a paid advertisement…not by any stretch.  I was just so impressed at the hotel I stayed at in Orlando that I just wanted to give credit where it was due.

I had seen the pictures and had visited the Portofino Bay Hotel website, but nothing really prepared me for just how amazing this hotel would be.  Here is how the hotel is described on their website:

Inspired by the picturesque Mediterranean seaside resort, our Orlando FL hotel is a romantic getaway reminiscent of sunny days on the Italian Riviera. Every guest room features authentic Italian furnishings and marble accents.

And it really was all about Italy at this hotel.  They even had pictures of Portofino, Italy inside at the hotel looked remarkably similar.

Here are my pics…

The front entrance of the hotel has an amazing fountain with some Italian vehicles stationed around it. It immediately sets the tone.
This was the fountain INSIDE the lobby.
This is another part of the lobby.
The description of the guest rooms were apt, as I was thoroughly impressed.
Whether it was all man-made or not, how could you NOT appreciate the balcony view??
This was what the interior courtyard looked like. It was just as beautiful as the exterior.
The architecture truly was tremendous.
This is Bice Ristorante, an on-site restaurant that I passed by each day on the way to the water taxi.
This is the view from the water taxi area back towards the hotel.
I believe this was the "West Wing" of the hotel.
En route to the meeting room section of the hotel, the interior was also designed to reflect Italian side streets.
Another view of the interior of the Portofino Bay Hotel. One of the things I loved about the hotel was that there was always Italian music playing in the background, both inside AND outside. It truly was a full-on Italian experience.
This was the view from the lobby area, once you went down the stairs and started on your way outside. To say the view was "spectacular" would be an understatement.
This is another picture of the interior courtyard. I didn't get any pics at night, but trust me when I say it was just as beautiful with the lights all turned on.

At the end of the day, I’d like to thank the tremendous staff at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel in Orlando, Florida for one of the most memorable hotel stays I’ve ever had.  The hotel is first class from top to bottom.  And with the ability to travel easily back and forth between the hotel and the theme parks, the ability to get to the front of lines at the rides, and the ability to enter the nightclubs without having to pay cover charges all made for an even MORE enjoyable trip.

If I get ever get a chance to stay here again, you better believe I will.  It’s worth every penny.

Orlando Part Four: Magic & Bahama breezes

Last Thursday was BRUTAL.

I had gotten 4 hours of sleep each of the previous three nights and it was absolutely catching up to me.  And what was worse was that the day was going to be all talk and no action: speakers and lectures and no interaction…just sitting there trying to stay awake.

Trust me…this was WORK.

At one point after lunch, I actually thought I was going to go back to my hotel room to “nap for 30 minutes”.  Once I got up and walked around the hotel a bit, I saw a store that actually had 5-hour energy drinks.  I’d never tried one before but at this point I was desperate.  I bought one and immediately drank it before heading back to the room to hear more talking.

I was WIDE AWAKE.  And while it was supposed to work for five hours, I think because I’m a bit bigger it wore off after about 2.5 hours…but that was okay because it served its purpose.  I’m not going to pop these things like candy or anything, but if I ever need a jolt of “wake-up juice”, I’m definitely considering these things again.

Once the meetings wrapped for the day, I had 90 minutes to head back to my room and relax before going out to the Orlando Magic basketball game.  I called my mom (she was in the hospital recovering from another surgery on her broken leg…this time getting a steel rod placed in between her unhealing bones, so her leg should be stronger now than it was before) and jumped on line for awhile.  I was afraid of falling asleep because I’d never wake up (lol).

Let me say that I haven’t gone to very many sporting events. I’ve seen a few major league baseball games, a NASCAR race, and that’s about it.  While seeing an NBA game wasn’t high on my list, I ended up having a great time.

This is the new home of the Orlando Magic, the Amway Center. It just opened this season and truly was a top-of-the-line arena. Great spot.
Before the game started, some Orlando Magic cheerleaders were in multiple locations around the arena, allowing fans to take pictures with them. Hey...I got a picture with the Simpsons and Popeye, why not these cheerleaders?
My seat was pretty close to the floor and I really did my best to take everything in. This was a shot of the crowd pre-game.
This was about as good a picture as I could get of the Orlando Magic starting line-up introductions. It was difficult trying to time the camera with the fire without it getting blurry, but I think I did okay.
This is one of my favorite shots from the night. I loved the energy that the crowd provided and you could tell the Magic fed off of it throughout the night.
Their big screen above the court was incredible. To say it was "HD" would be an understatement. Sometimes it was preferable to watch the screen instead of the game itself.
Awww...the Kiss Cam! Some people hate this, but I get a kick out of it...especially after watching some guy propose at a Houston Astros game a few years ago. You just never know what's going to show up on that screen.
This goof was a piece of work. He called himself the Magic Maniac (at least that's what was on his CAPE). Every single time the Magic scored, this guy would stand up, turn sideways, and do something to garner attention to himself. It was funny for the first five or ten minutes but quickly turned annoying. Luckily, he wasn't directly in front of me. The poor shmuck behind him must've wanted to punch him by the time the night was over. Oh...and he had a girlfriend/wife with him, so the masked moron didn't come alone. Wouldn't you want to be her?
Yeah...I was pretty happy with my seats.
As the fourth quarter started, the crowd was jacked!
During a time-out, they brought out a t-shirt cannon. This thing was pretty cool and the t-shirts actually got some distance.
It's amazing to me just how clear this picture turned out. This was taken from my seat and was of the big screen over center court. They definitely spared no expense on this thing.
Trust me...the final score was NOT indicative of the game. Most of the fourth quarter had the Magic up by 30 points. Seriously. The Suns were destroyed on this night.
Lobster & Shrimp Quesadilla

Once the game was over and we got back to the hotel, one of the sales guys invited us out to ride with him around Orlando (he had lived there for 10 years).  We ended up at a Bahama Breeze restaurant just after 11pm and I, for one, was quite impressed.  The live Caribbean music…the lobster & shrimp quesadillas…the atmosphere…it was almost surreal. I mean, here we were surrounded by palm trees and torches…and just one day away from snowy weather back home.

This is the Bahama Breeze in Orlando. We were seated right there on the left, which was a windowless seating area right in front of the live entertainment. "Surreal" is how I'd describe it all...at least to somebody who doesn't live down there and sees it all the time.

It was almost 1am by the time we got back to the hotel.  But with only three hours of meetings scheduled in the morning before catching our flights back home, I was pretty sure I could handle the lack of sleep…again.

All in all, this business trip turned into a lot more fun than I could have imagined before heading down.  Orlando is, always has and always will be, one of my favorite places in the world to visit.

Orlando part three: Universal Studios & Emeril!

Getting up on Wednesday morning was difficult after being up so late on Tuesday.  Luckily, I was still riding on a “second wind”…still excited about actually being in Orlando.  I got to my meetings at 8am and was ready to start the day.

The meetings were originally scheduled to be over at 2pm but ran a little long.  The plan was to head over to Universal Studios for the afternoon, get back to the hotel to change, and then meet the rest of the group by 6:15pm so we could head over to Emeril’s for a group dinner.  I didn’t get to head down to the water taxi until about 2:20pm, so I felt a bit rushed.

But then I saw the view and immediately realized that I was in no hurry to go anywhere…

This was the view from the stairs that exited the lobby of the Portofino Bay Hotel. In the distance to the right you can see the water taxi. The water taxi would head to the upper right (there's a bridge in there) and then slowly cruise to Universal's CityWalk. How could I be in a hurry with a view like this??
This was one of the water taxi's that went back and forth to the CityWalk area and the three different Universal Orlando resorts.
I met this little guy after getting off the water taxi at Universal's CityWalk. I saw quite a few of them over the course of the week. I'm assuming it's a Florida thing.
Okay...I need to pat myself on the back for this picture. I'm actually quite impressed with it. If I was tired at all from my meetings, seeing this entrance definitely woke me back up again.
When I entered the park, I noticed to my right than there was a small line-up of people waiting to get their picture taken. When I realized that they were waiting to get their picture taken with the Simpsons...well, I couldn't just stand back. I absolutely NEEDED to get my picture taken. It's funny...my friends back home find this picture to be their favorite out of all of the pics on my Facebook page. I guess this cartoon's popularity hasn't died down yet. So yeah...be jealous. Heh.
After wussing out on yesterday's Incredible Hulk roller coaster, I was feeling a bit more adventurous on this day. I decided to try this: the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit!! When you sit down in the car, you have a screen asking you to choose music to listen to on your ride (dance, rock, etc.). I chose "Kickstart My Heart" by Motley Crue...which ended up being an excellent choice. So the picture you're seeing here is of the very beginning of the ride. That's right...you don't just have a vertical incline, you go STRAIGHT UP!! For me, this was actually the scariest part of the entire ride. So as Motley Crue blared in my ears, this coaster took off on one helluva journey. I loved every single second of it. It actually hit a top speed of 65mph (104kph) and was just an amazing adrenaline rush. How good was it? Mr. Scared of Roller Coasters (i.e. me) went on this thing TWICE!! Simply awesome.
This is an indoor roller coaster ride...and definitely my favorite of either park. The lines wind through the insides of tombs with mummy statues at every turn, which really help the line-up move along (oh...except on this day there weren't any line-ups to worry about...heh). The ride actually starts like a slow-moving animatronics show, with mummies and fire and lights all over the place. Then, without warning, you race up an incline and into total darkness...and the roller coaster experience begins. With speeds of up to 45 mph (72kph) in the dark, this ride REALLY rocks your socks. I loved every single second of this ride and, as with the previous one, was one I went on twice without hesitation.
One of the fun things about both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios was that they had characters walking around or standing to take pictures with the guests. There were actually quite a few moments where I could have gotten my picture taken but didn't (I didn't think I needed a picture with Dora the Explorer...lol). This was a woman dressed-up like Anck Su Namun from the Mummy movies. She actually acted the part, too...and I couldn't figure out if I found that campy fun or cheesy nonsense. Either way, I had to get a pic!
One of the guilty pleasures of either park is the classic ride that I remember going on when I was first here back in 1991: The Jaws Ride. As explained on the Universal website: "A leisurely boat tour off the coast of Amity goes horribly wrong when you suddenly come face to face with the largest Great White shark ever seen in these parts." The shark famously known as Bruce is recreated here and is made out of steel, fiberglass, & latex. With fire and explosions and the possibility of getting wet, this never fails to put a smile on my face.

At this point, we realized that it was after 5pm and we needed to get back to the hotel to change for dinner.  That was okay, because I had been on the Shrek 4-D, Men In Black, E.T. Adventure, Twister, and Terminator 2 in 3D attractions when I was here five years ago.

The only attraction that I never got to go on but wish I had was The Simpsons Ride…and from what QT Mama told me, I missed out on the best ride in the park.

This was the entrance to the Simpsons Ride. It was set-up to look like a low-budget theme park created by Krusty the Clown. Once inside, it's actually a massive motion simulator and you feel like you're on a Simpson's roller coaster ride. I wish I could have gone, but I'm sure I'll get back there one day.
The other guys I was with were in a hurry to leave and get back to the hotel, so I couldn't get a picture of this with me in the frame. But yes...this looked as cool in person as it does here.
Unfortunately, I never got the time to go inside...but how awesome is it that they've actually got a Kwik-E-Mart at Universal Studios?!? Actually, I'm kinda glad that I never went inside...my wallet is thanking me.
I could be wrong, but I believe this Mel's Drive-In is supposed to be an homage to the Hollywood restaurant chain that was created back in the late 1940's. I remember this place from when I was here back in 1991. I've never been inside, though. I'm sure the burgers and shakes are amazing.

In fact, I think I’ve actually got a photo from that 1991 family trip…

Wow...how's THIS for a trip back in time???

So we made our way back to the water taxi and to the hotel to change.  The reason we needed to dress-up a bit?  Everybody attending the meetings were being treated to Emeril’s for dinner!

Emeril Lagasse is a famous celebrity chef ("BAM!!"). And trust me when I say that his menu was out of this world...as were the prices (lol).
http://www.emerils.com
This is a picture I got from Emeril's website (www.emerils.com). In the distance, you can see stairs leading up. We went up the stairs and the 14 of us sat in a private room, where we were treated to one of the greatest meals I've ever had.
This is one of the appetizers that I had: New Orleans barbeque shrimp. UNBELIEVABLE! As the alcohol flowed and the food continued to arrive, I ended up trying cavier and roasted duck for the first time before polishing off one of the greatest filet mignons I've ever had. Bar none, this was one of the best meals I can remember having and I would highly recommend this place if you've got a few extra bucks lying around (or a couple hundred, anyway).

Once we finished our meal it was 9:30pm, and since we were already at Universal’s CityWalk (and since some of the sales guys hadn’t seen my performance from the night before), it was decided that we’d go back to Rising Star for another musical odyssey.

While there is video of my second performance, it’s currently on a sales guy’s phone and he doesn’t know how to get it online (lol).  So until that happens, you’ll just have to wait.  I ended up singing “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond…which was awesome because the crowd sings back to you a few different times in the song (I didn’t know about it until it happened…VERY cool!!).

As with the night before, we stumbled our way back to the water taxi just after midnight and head back to the hotel.  The next day was going to be brutal…guest speakers and lectures from 8am to 4pm.  More on that tomorrow.

Orlando part two: MORE Islands of Adventure!

When last I left you hanging by the seat of your pants, I had just finished downing a couple mouthfuls of pumpkin juice and wasn’t feeling all that great.  For whatever reason, my co-workers decided it was the perfect time to check out the Dragon Challenge roller coasters.

Hey…judging from the outside, it looked pretty safe to me.

Seriously...does it look that imposing? Well...other than that dude just standing there staring at me.

I am NOT a roller coaster dude…so going on the “red one” just about killed me (there was a story behind the whole thing…something about the Tri-Wizard Tournament…but where the lines were non-existent we just walked right up to the coaster without any wait at all and I never stopped to figure out the tie-in with the movie).  Immediately after nearly dieing, the crew talked me into going on the “blue one”.

Kids…unless you’re a roller coaster fan, or a fan of somersaults and flips and such nonsense…you may want to limit yourself to one roller coaster every 30 minutes or so.  I felt fortunate that I never got sick once these two rides were done, but my stomach was definitely telling me to take it easy.

Here’s what the two coasters look like from above:

Yeah.  At one point, the red and the blue actually MEET each other….

So needless to say, I was ready to take it easy for awhile.

We left the confines of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and made our way to Jurassic Park…

It was difficult to enter the gates of Jurassic Park without hearing Sir Richard Attenborough's voice saying, "Welcome...to Jurassic Park!!" And really...they spared no expense!
I am a MASSIVE fan of the Jurassic Park movies, so this was quite a treat for me (c'mon...I'm just a big kid at heart anyway).
We had all heard tremendous things about the River Adventure ride, but the one thing that stood out was that you were probably going to get quite wet. So three of the five of us decided to buy rain ponchos and give it a go (hey...I didn't want to mess up my hair, y'know). Without exaggerating, let me say that this was an AWESOME ride!! From the initial slow moving though "Jurassic Park" to venturing into the velociraptor cage (where they had "broken free") to the final meeting face-to-face with a T-rex to the free-fall at the end...this was just an awesome theme park experience.
This is what the end of the ride looked like after going down the MASSIVE 85 foot plunge at the end of the ride. Incredible!!
When acting immature isn't enough, try heading into a place where acting like a kid is encouraged!

We entered “Toon Lagoon” in an attempt to make our way to the Incredible Hulk roller coaster (which I was NOT going to go on) and realized that because of the lack of line-ups anywhere, we still had lots of time to hit more rides. So we decided that since we had rain ponchos, we’d give Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls ride a go.

There weren’t any pictures that I took because my camera was firmly hidden in my pocket tucked under my poncho, but trust me when I say that these three photos (found at the Universal Orlando website) sum up the end of the ride extremely well…

You'd think that this is steep enough, but this is only the TOP of the end of the ride!
THIS is how big the final drop was!!
And yes...THIS is how wet you got at the bottom of it all. AWESOME ride!!
After I dried off a bit, I just HAD to get my picture taken with Olive Oyl and Popeye. In fact, after watching me flex my HUGE muscles, Popeye told me that he felt as though he was looking in the mirror. I wonder if he meant that....
THIS ride absolutely rocked! As described on the Universal website: "3-D filmed images, live special effects including flames and water, and "roving motion based simulator" vehicles that move throughout the building totally immerse you in the story and make you feel like you’re right in the middle of the action." This is no word of lie!! I was laughing and having a blast the entire time. Definitely worth checking out! And even better was that we had no line-ups to worry about!

We finally made our way to the Incredible Hulk roller coaster. After taking one look at the thing, there was NO WAY IN HELL I was going to get on it. I have realized that I’m good with roller coasters that DON’T do somersaults or take me upside down. I’m good with the occasional twist, I suppose…but there were way too many flips for me to handle.

Seriously…just LOOK at this thing:

AIN'T NO F*CKIN' WAY!!!

So needless to say, I sat on the bench holding the women’s purses (lol). Sad…I know. Eff-it…I hit more rides than I ever thought I was going to and I’m deathly afraid of heights, so I was pretty content with my day.

At this point it was almost 6pm so we jumped into our water taxi and head back to the Portofino Bay Hotel (more on that amazing hotel another day). We changed and head out to the Hard Rock Cafe for supper.

This restaurant was incredible on the inside...just an awesome atmosphere. The food? Well...needless to say it probably wasn't worth the money we paid. It wasn't terrible, it just wasn't as good as I would have hoped.

After supper was over, we head over to the Rising Star. It was at this point that I got to fulfill an item on my bucket list. Haven’t heard me sing yet?

Check it out!!

Let me just say that at night, Universal’s CityWalk is an incredible sight. It’s just a myriad of lights and sounds that makes it difficult for you to NOT want to smile at your surroundings.

Once the crew stumbled out of the bar (hey…when a sales guy opens up a tab, you take advantage of it!!) it was after midnight and we had to be at our meetings for 8am. So we made our way to the water taxi and got back to the hotel before 1am.

And kids…this was DAY ONE!! More to come….