Monday, August 31, 2009

Twelve Years Ago Today

Twenty three years ago, I had to find a new job, since my company was going out of business. My then fiance suggested I work for his employer, but we couldn't work at the same location. So, I got a job at one of their other locations, and the guy who trained me? Ed.

A friendship blossomed. Ed became a great friend to me and the fiance and joined our circle of friends. Many years later, when I was newly single, I realized that this was the person who I should spend my life with.
Chicago, 1995. My goofball and me.

Along the way, he's moved 1,000 miles here, 1,000 miles there. Sometimes, the journey hasn't been fun, but he is always there, trying to make me laugh.

Skyline Drive, 2009. Some things never change, like getting Ed to take a serious picture.

Twelve years ago today, we stood in front of family and friends and declared our love for each other. Some in that crowd were probably thinking 'it's about time!'

Much like I said when I got a GOOD picture of the two of us!

Thank you for all the laughs, putting up with me having to be right, for being my rock and loving me despite driving you nuts.

At least, this year, I was able to give you a laugh:

Happy Anniversary, Eddiebear. May we have many, many more.

I love you!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Suzanne's Soundtrack Sunday

Since beginning writing about music every Sunday, today's topic had come up many times. Never on Sunday, though-so it remained unwritten. However, I got a new headset for the laptop this week to better participate in those Elluminate sessions (and FNLs at MomDot, too), and had to test the sound quality.

This meant I had to open Pandora's box. She of the musical genome project, of determining my likes, playing those and then branching out into other songs I might like with similar characteristics.

I got some favorites, alright. Some really good sad songs. I am a sucker for a good sad song, for several reasons. When I was going through a bad time years ago, I could sing along with them and wallow in the misery contained in the words. It was therapy in the simplest sense. Elton John even wrote a song about the concept, but of course-it's not the slightest bit sad!

Some of the songs in my Sad song hit list:

Trisha Yearwood, Hearts In Armor. This album has a plethora of sad songs, but the title track? Simple, well stated and powerful.
Kelly Coffey, I Would Die For That. Disney fans will know Kelly from singing "We Go On" and "Promise" on the IllumiNations soundtrack. She wrote this song about her struggle with infertility and it makes me sad that not everyone who want to be a parent is given the opportunity.
Suzy Boggus, Part of Me. I owned her Aces album for a few years, but it was one that got me through that rough patch.
Enya, Miss Clare Remembers. Even instrumental pieces rate. This melancholy piano piece reeks of sadness for me.
Billy Joel, Goodnight Saigon. Most will beg to differ, but this is possibly my favorite of his albums, with this song easily my all time favorite. If I recall correctly, Billy drew a high number for his year and wasn't drafted. To an extent, the Vietnam war had an impact on those who didn't get called to duty.
Julia Fordham, Girlfriend. The whole Porcelain album reeks of broken heart. This one is the saddest.
Beatles, Eleanor Rigby. Probably one of the first sad songs that when I could understand the words, just struck me at how sad it was that these people were lonely.
Gilbert O'Sullivan, Alone Again, Naturally. I was captivated by the melody and the song structure. It wasn't until I was a teen that I realized the song was a suicide declaration.
Wilson Phillips, Flesh and Blood. Carnie and Wendy's song to their dad has a happy ending-they have been reunited with Brian, but this song speaks of the long estrangement that the father and his daughters had.

The list easily has twenty or thirty more. Thing is, I only can think of a dozen or so at a time because they are so sad.

How about you? Any songs that just make you feel bad for the artist, because it is just so sad?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Type A, Reporting For Duty

The other night, during that Elluminate session, my IT Ethics prof stated that she would assign us our groups after the drop/add period had passed. Then, once she assigned the groups, we would have one week to meet online, draft our group contract and submit it to her.

Well, last night, just before 11pm, the lists were issued in an email, along with telling us we needed to get together and return our contracts to her SUNDAY night,

Less than 48 hours.

I was okay with that, as there is an assignment due next Friday night. Let's get this group stuff out of the way and get to work on delegating our roles along with working on the individual assignments.

Except that not one person had sent out an email or posted on the group section of Blackboard. My Type A personality was champing at the bit, but I held off on posting. I really don't think it's a good idea to lead, in case I do find employment. Yes, it's my strength, but I don't think it'd be fair to my fellow classmates if I'm juggling family, school, work and scouts AND group leader duties.

So I waited for someone, anyone to post. Something. Heck, I know other classmates were on the class discussion board last night-they just weren't in my group. Sitting on hands, trying to be patient when I know a deadline is looming? Definitely not my strong suit.

I lasted 14 hours before I had to do something. Went into my group tools, then sent out a friendly email, asking what ideas others had for the group. What are your strengths, things you'd like to do? Weaknesses or jobs you'd like ot avoid? Important things the group should know?

The crickets were chirping. Nothing.

Four hours later, I got the first email back. My classmate apologized "I'm sorry I'm so late in replying." I think I can relate to the shock she had when I responded that she was the first. Her best friend is also in the class and that group has already drafted and approved a contract AND assigned roles for their project.


Then I wondered if we had team members who'd dropped. Looked through the tools we have at our disposal and no one has dropped, but four of the ten team members never posted to the mandatory introduction thread.


The professor has access to all the group boards, as she will base some of our indivdual grade on how much we contribute to the group. Another classmate called her on the comment during Elluminate, when she had stated we had one week. The two factors resulted in an email tonight-you can have until September 2nd.

That's fine, but heck, I'm looking at a job that has to be done and not enjoying the fact that I cannot do it alone. In my introduction, I even admitted serious reservations about the group project component.

She responded on my thread that in the workforce, we have to work as a team, so that's why she expects it in the class. I get that-I've worked in the real world for 25 years. It's far different when your paycheck or even your job depend on you working as a team. Every college group project story I've heard details the lazy team members that do nothing, but get full credit. THAT is what I was afraid of happening, and that the laziness of someone else could cost me the grade I busted my butt to earn.

Remind me of this the next time a syllabus says that 60% of the grade will come from working in a group.

Night Time Shuttle Launch Video 8-28-09

We had a perfect night for a shuttle launch!

Forgive the low resolution video. Someday, I'll have a fancy, HD video recorder!

Friday, August 28, 2009

No More Capuchins

Remember how I sweated writing a paper last semester? I walked around with a monkey on my back, procrastinating until the day the thing was due. Then, once I started working on it, the monkey was determined to be a nice, cute, itty bitty capuchin.

With two classes under my belt, I don't even consider these writing assignments a monkey of small stature. Instead, they're more like short, regular or long blog posts. 150 words, like the discussion paper I'm about to put up? Short post. 200-300 word written assignment? Okay, maybe a regular blog post, but still short. The 2,000 word paper? A two part long post. Then of course, there is the blog post assignment.

Yep. You read that right.

I have to write a BLOG POST every week for one of my classes.

This was announced, but the feature was not yet activated in Blackboard. I'm sure I was the only student champing at the bit, all ready with my impressions but no place to put them! As soon as that button showed up last night, I wrote easily 500 words.

I will get graded for blogging, 15% of the grade, to be exact. As I'm hearing this, I had to restrain myself from giggling like a nut, because this is one part of the class that I can do standing on my head. There is the possibility that I'll leave class some weeks, sit down right there on campus, and write my impressions ASAP. Talk about jumping right into the homework.

Pretty darn cool, don't you think?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

One Week Down, Fourteen to Go

The first week of the semester is done (for me, anyway) and not only am I starting to learn new things about the world around me, the classes included some learning about myself.

While the semester technically started Monday, USF activated Blackboard, our computer system that encompasses everything relating to the college, back on August 10th. One of my web classes, IT Ethics, had active participation on the discussion boards as soon as that sucker went live. That's a good sign, especially since 60% of the grade in the class relies on group projects.

The instructor had an Elluminate session Tuesday night. We don't have a designated meeting time as a web course, but she chose a time and informed us we needed to be online together for a 45 minute session to review the syllabus and ask any questions we might have. Silly me, I thought 45 minutes meant I'd be done in ample time to get to scouts. Wrong. That session was over two hours long, finishing 5 minutes after scouts started.

Still, it was pretty cool. The Elluminate session was like a lecture, we could see her computer, had a chat feature and we could raise our hand to ask questions. You could converse with the group or have a private IM with a classmate, but the instructor could see it-and as a result, we all did. Two classes will be using Elluminate, so I'm tempering my annoyance at the time over run.

The other web course is an interesting story. I wanted to get a jump on the semester's work, so I emailed my advisor to find out how to contact the instructor (she wasn't in the USF email directory) to find out what book we'd be using and the books we'd use as examples in the course work. I got an email back with the instructor and text information, emailed her, and never got a reply.

When Blackboard populated on August 10th, all the course materials from last fall's section of the class did as well-the whole discussion board, assignments-everything. The instructor was listed as the one I'd emailed. As of last Friday, she was still listed on all documentation. Tuesday, we got an email apologizing that the materials were incorrect-from a different instructor!

Everything came down off Blackboard for a day, then went back up. However, the syllabus and assignments are the same (except for shifting the due dates one day). The way I can tell is that I'd printed hard copies of both a few weeks ago. It's supposed to be an easy class, it just has required readings. The textbook is a breeze.

Onto the on campus classes. It is serendipitous that somehow, both of the classes pertaining to my major actually meet on campus. Polytechnic appears to rely on a good portion of course content being web based. I guess it should be no surprise when there are only 1,300 students at the campus.

When I attended Nassau, other than the technical theatre classes, I can't remember a time when I had classmates in more than one class. Ever. HJC, the other school I attended, even though it was much smaller, it was the same deal. This time? I've got several classmates that share the two courses. This is good-we can confer over any questions we might have.

Monday night, first time in a classroom in 15 years. It's a full class, the instructor is funny and it's a subject I gravitate towards. She posts the notes on Blackboard prior to class, so all I have to do is cut and paste into word, follow along during class and add as needed. It will be hands on, since we have labs to do. This is good-I prefer cementing all the reading with something tangible. I'm a little worried about writing an AMA quality paper, but the last time I worried about a class paper, it wasn't that big a deal.

Wednesday morning. While waiting for the instructor, a few of us were chatting about the bookstore website saying there was no book designated, but that B&N handed me a text. One of our little group commented about my Monday night class and asked if I had Prof. H, too. Yep-that was cool.

Once in the class, the professor tells us there is no text, because she and her colleague are writing one. (Back to the bookstore for me!) This class will be mostly hands on, attendance is required and we have to write a blog entry about each class on Blackboard. The instructor works in private practice and has offered to sit down with the psych majors to give a real world view of what career options there are.

Then we did some personality tests and were sorted into our colors. (I thought I was a nurturer/Blue more than an academic/Green, but I was wrong). The groups then had to find their traits in common. Some of the things we found about the Green group were pretty cool, but I still found a lot of what Blue described as commonalities fit as well. The instructor said that typically, this exercise nets her a class that is overwhelmingly Blues, because psych majors want to help people. Our class was dominated by greens (to which I said "you've got a class of academics" and she laughed)

Then, we sorted into groups that had a blend of the colors (hard, since we only had three yellows and four reds) and were given a word problem to solve. Apparently, in each group, we Greens dominated. Hmmm, maybe this green thing fits.

It was important to me to get a mixture of on and off campus classes to get the most out of the return to college. So far, I'm happy with the courses I chose and the mode that they are being instructed. The two on campus classes are going to be pretty involved and are better suited to the in person interaction. The web classes look to have very active online discussion, but don't appear to be missing a thing by not meeting in the traditional setting.

There's still a lot of semester left to go, but the choices I made appear to be good on many fronts. Monday's nerves have been replaced by anticipation and excitement. I can't complain about that.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What's For Dinner Wednesday

Jane actually requested today's meal.

When I mentioned that I would be making some marinara sauce, she asked if I'd make sausages to go with it. Normally, sausages are only paired with onions and peppers in my kitchen. What the heck, I'll give it a go. (I was a little too tired to make the other option for me for tonight).

Chef Jr has a strange pasta quirk. He doesn't like spaghetti, but he'll eat any other type of noodle. It makes no sense, but I have to roll with it. Ther were only two choices in the pantry today. Remember, I'm the weird person who hardly makes pasta, right?

So, sausages, sauteed with onions, homemade marinara and elbow macaroni ended up being tonight's dinner. It was pretty filling, too.

My original plan for tonight was one of my mom's meals. I'll hold that in reserve for a different WFDW.

Now I am stuffed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back to School Times Three!

The alarm went off at 5:10am yesterday. Yep, it's time for school.

First up, Game Teen. He has to be up so early because his bus arrives before 6am. Strangely, when I went to wake the child, he was awake. We later found out that he'd gone into Chef Jrs room at 3am and woke him up! I think we're in for an interesting week adjusting to the school routine again. (I've got some out takes, but I like this one from the bus stop of my 8th grader.)
Game Teen at the bus stop at o'dark thirty

7am, it's Chef Jr's turn. Fifth grade, ready to rule the school. What I like is how Chef will get himself up and ready with minimal assistance. This year, he gets to experience the concept of changing classes to prepare for next year at middle school.


Ready for a new year of adventure!

Then there's the third student. The boys had been to school and home before my turn arrived. At 5pm, I loaded up my backpack and hopped in the car for the drive to campus. My backpack is so heavy that it was told it needed to wear a seat belt by my car!

On campus for the first time in 15 years. It did cause a few butterflies, especially after reading a couple of chapters for class in the very dry text book. Am I crazy? Is this going to be too much for me?

After getting my back to school gear from the SGA (yay, I finally have something that says "Poly" on it!), and a free dinner, I headed to class. Seems I wasn't the only one schlepping the laptop to class. It makes more sense to type rather than write.

The professor is funny and the class is exactly what I expected (and nothing like the text). It ends up I was given the WRONG text at the bookstore. The shelves were stocked wrong, as another student who had driven over to Tampa had the same issue. Good, that was some dry, boring reading about a subject that fascinates me.

What's cool about this class is that the instructor puts the notes for each week's lecture on Blackboard, but we expand on it during the lecture. I took that opportunity to cut and paste the notes into a Word document and add notes as we went along. I think I'm really going to like this part.

Maybe I'm not so crazy, after all.

It's shaping up to be a good year.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Sounds of Silence Breed More Sound

Ahhhhh. Do you hear it?


Complete and utter silence. No tv, no bickering, no humming, no one calling "Mooooom, he won't let me...". Granted, no Ed and no kids after a summer of cacophony means I'm singing to myself.

Singing to myself means that I have to go hit up iTunes for songs I don't have in my Cd library. If I was the average person, that would probably mean I was hitting up the latest from a favorite artist or a current hit. Not me.

I'm trolling iTunes and buying choral music. Some observations:

If a composer has a popular title, like say 'Movin' On', unless you know who performed it, it will not be found.

Choral masterworks performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir ALWAYS are the most popular version of the choices available. My apologies to the esteemed Mr. Jessup, but I HATE his interpretations of many works I have performed. If there isn't specific notation for dynamic, he leans towards staccato phrasing-even in a song that is described by the composer as "like a lullabye". (The piece in question? I purchased the Choir of St. George's Cathedral's recording because the organist was stunning, too.)

ITunes is probably going to think someone hacked my account, because I purchased three songs in one day. Considering that I've had my iPod since Christmas 2005 and have only spent 33.00 on their site (9.99 for a movie and 4.99 for Mah Jongg in that total), it is not my typical buying pattern.

If I don't find it on iTunes for the reason mentioned above, You Tube is more than likely going to deliver the goods. When they do, odds are great that it will be performed by the choir directed by a high school classmate.

Final thought, I really need to crack the books! At least I've got some more music to break the silence in a good way.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Suzanne's Soundtrack Sunday

Normally, you'd get a nice little essay about the music that impacts my life. Sometimes, it inspires you to seek out the artists I talk about. Even better, there are times that the comments bring new sounds into my life.

Today, I am going to give you the annoying earwig that I've been dealing with, because I am hearing two of my menfolk sing it off and on through out the day.

Kudos to Baskin Robbins-you've succeeded masterfully with this one:

Through the years, we all have fallen victim to those jingles that won't get out of our heads. From "I'm a Pepper", to "I'd like to buy the world a Coke", to "Sometimes you feel like a nut, some times you don't", to "Choo choo Charlie" to a song where you sing the ingredients of a Big Mac quickly. The effective ad man knows he's got 15 to 30 seconds to hook us, to get that song in our head. When the job is well done, we are singing it EVERYWHERE.

Viral video? No, viral commercials have been around for decades. Please tell me I'm not the only one who trots out the Almond Joy jingle to sing at my kids every once in a while? I am? Oh well, I am a sucker for the viral jingle.

Like right now. All I hear is do the ice cream and cake...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Visiting Sea World Orlando With the Kids

One of my friends of longest standing (we won't say old), Joyce, is heading here to Florida to visit ME in a couple of weeks.

Okay, so I lied. She's bringing the family and we're just going to gather both families up for an evening while they're enjoying a nice break from her husband's crazy work schedule. (I've mentioned before, but she's married to one of Ed's friends of longest standing-and they've known each other since they were THREE!)

Normally, a trip to central Florida means visiting Mickey and friends, but this time, they're just staying at Mickey's house. They'll be enjoying some of the other fun activities in Disney's back yard. One of them is Sea World.

Once I left the employ of Disney several years ago, my family got Busch Gardens/Sea World/Aquatica Gold Passports, we haven't looked back. The parks are nice and we've been known to venture forth for short day trips. Joyce, on the other hand, has not been to Sea World and was curious about how kid friendly the park might be. If you're wondering, too, you can benefit from what I promised Joyce: a review of the park from a parent's perspective. It made more sense to blog it than to email, anyway! The things we like the best and think shouldn't be missed will be noted with Suzanne Says SEE!

What I like about Sea World is that the park is well shaded, very clean and has very pleasant staff. I especially like how walker friendly it is, now that I use that to navigate theme parks-this means that it is stroller accessible, too. A day at Sea World will provide plenty of entertainment for all ages, interaction with water creatures, good food and a thrill or two for the older set.

When you first enter the park turnstiles, you will find park maps to your right before you come to Guest Relations. Grab one (or more for the kids, if they like to see what's ahead). A park with so many shows requires some planning to see all those you'd like. It would be bad to plan for a 2:00 Blue Horizons Show and then miss a chance to see Believe because you're all the way on the other side of the park! Once you have that map, enter the plaza and find a seat so the adults can look at the timetables for the shows and figure out what the family will see.

Then, look up and wave at the people looking down from Manta, the newest attraction in the park. (I haven't been on it yet, I'm wating for school to start for the crowds to die down). there's a walkway that goes under Manta and brings you to the left of the park. Hey, I'm a lefty, so I end up going to the left.

While the park isn't completely made up of 'areas', you will happen upon Key West, First up is Turtle Point, which has several hundred rescued sea turtles (and more than a few birds hanging around).

Then, if you make a left, you can visit Stingray Lagoon. This is my boy's must see destination every trip, because you can pet the very friendly stingrays. Don't worry, their stingers have been removed. You can buy trays of food to feed the Cownose and common stingrays (put the food in between two fingers sticking up, then put your hand on the bottom of their tank). It's not uncommon to get splashed, but it happens most often when you've got food, because 50 rays will converge on you. (We find it cool, actually) Suzanne Says SEE!

Funny thing here is that a few of the rays have earned names from my kids. Chef Jr is always asking if were gonna see "Big Dude", who dwarfs ever other ray in the area. Their tank is under cover and is a good place to be when the afternoon rain occurs.

If you continue on to your left, you'll find the always crowded Dolphin Cove. At selected times through the day, you can feed the dolphins, but we've never taken the opportunity. Instead, we pass the crowds that line the outdoor waters, hoping to pet these gentle creatures. Instead, there is a underwater viewing area at the other end of the cove that the dolphins will swim by at high speed. It's air conditioned, so it's a nice cool down spot on a hot day. Suzanne Says SEE! (from the underwater viewing area)

When you come out of Dolphin Cove, in front of you will be one of the entrances to the Whale and Dolphin Theatre for Blue Horizon, but for now, continue to your left to the Manatee Rescue. The name is a misnomer, because there is also an Alligator pond at the entrance.

The entrance to the Manatee viewing area is a path that grades downward to a well hidden building. As you enter the building, there is a small theatre to the right that tells about the gentle manatee, why they are endangered and what we can do to help protect the remaining population. Then, as you exit, floor to ceiling glass gives you a front row seat to watching the manatees swim and eat lots of lettuce.

Continuing on, make a left after leaving Manatee Rescue and you'll find a quiet pathway that leads to some thrill rides and another entrance to Blue Horizon. Blue Horizon has great music, fantastic entertainers who dive and do acrobatics and features dolphins, false killer whales and beautiful birds. It entertains little kids through my two and adults alike. Suzanne Says SEE!

Since we're talking about kid friendly attractions, I'm skipping information about Journey to Atlantis (but there's a small aquarium in the gift shop for all ages), Kraken and Manta, which are all found in this section of the park.

If the time works out for you to see Blue Horizon, the next place to go is easily Ed's favorite, the Penguin Encounter. In this nice, chilly building, penguins and puffins make their home. The kids love it! It has a lot of educational information mixed in with views of Rockhoppers, Gentus, Adelies and Macaroni Penguins and the very cute puffins. Suzanne Says SEE!

Behind Penguin Encounter is the Pacific Point Preserve, where many Sea Lions make their home. These guys are smart-if they see you with a food tray, they WILL make lots of noise at you. The only reason why we don't spend a lot of time here is that it is one of the few areas in the park where shade is at a minimum.

Leaving Pacific Point, on your left is the Sea Lion and Otter Stadium, the home of Clyde and Seamore take Pirate Island. The best part of the show happens about 20 minutes before show time. There are several pirate mimes who take turns doing the pre-show. They are much better than the actual show, which I think is purposely full of bad acting. At one point, I was trying to duck out before the show began, how I just watch to see how many times the cast crack themselves up with the blunders.

Those who know the park, I am skipping a section. I'll get back to it later.

Continuing on the pathway to your left, the attraction that terrified Chef so much, he didn't want to visit the first time, now we have to drag him out, Shark Encounter. You enter the darkened building and see many of the oceans predators, like eels, scorpion fish, jelly fish, barracudas and many sharks. There is also a tank that features the fish that looks like a salad and an area with frogs. Outside the attraction, there are tanks where you'll find more sea creatures swimming. Suzanne Says SEE!

The first few times we visited the park, we saw the presentation in the Nautilus theatre and the music reminded us of the Six Flags commercials-the show did not (it was MUCH better). Now, there is a new show, A'lure, the Call of the Ocean. We haven't seen it yet, but the Cirque de Soleil like show is getting good reviews.

What is Anheuser Busch (oops, InBev) known for? The Clydesdales. They reside in the Clydesdale Hamlet. The kids can meet and have their picture taken with one of the giant workhorses.

Leaving the Hamlet, you're lead into the Hospitality House. At one time, you got complimentary beer-now, you just want to detour out the entrance, then make a left to get on the path towards Shamu Stadium.

As a summer visitor, you have two options for seeing Sea World's Mascot, Believe or Shamu Rocks! Both shows are fantastic, but for younger kids, I'd lean towards Believe. My kids love both. You want to arrive at the stadium a half hour before showtime to ensure getting a seat.

If you have a wait before the next show, go across the way to Shamu's Happy Harbor and let the kids run off some steam. There are rope walls to climb, a pirate ship to board, water attractions to splash in, a carousel and a few other rides geared for the little kids. It is a great place for the adults to rest (maybe with a cold beverage) and let the kids have some fun. Suzanne Says SEE!

Next to the Happy Harbor, you'll want to visit Wild Arctic. There is a choice to wait and board the vehicle which takes you on a bumpy 'helicopter' ride to the chilly north or you can take the alternate entrance with a stroller. Honestly, with a little one, skip the ride. Once inside, you'll see Beluga Whales, Polar Bears and Walruses. The theming is pretty neat, too-and school age kids will want to spend a while checking it out. Suzanne Says SEE!

There are several ways to get back to the Waterside area, but we like to walk around Shamu Stadium and take the boardwalk path over the water. Once you cross over to the other side, go to the right and you can take a ride on the Sky Tower. It's like Hershey's Kissing Tower and takes you 400 feet above the park. There is a fee for this, but it's free for Gold and Platinum Passholders, which means I don't know how much they charge!

If there wasn't a fee, I'd tell you this is a must do, but the fee for a family might be pricey.

Also in the Waterside area is the Pets Ahoy show. Sea World's animal trainers visit local shelters and rescue all sorts of animals. Then they are trained to perform in the show. Adults will find this a groan fest, but the kids LOVE this one. See it for the kids, and they'll be happy.

As you head out of the show, bear to your right, as if you're leaving the park and you'll find the Dolphin Nursery. Here's where the dolphin calves and their mamas stay until the little ones are weaned. It fun to watch them frolic and swim around. You'll have to pick up the little ones to give them a good view, but it's a nice, area where the kids seem to just be quiet! Suzanne Says See!

If you're smart and get to the park at park opening, with the plan to stay all day, get the All Day Dining Deal. I cannot stress this one enough, because you get a lot of bang for your buck. Kids 3-9 are 13.95 each (to get kid's meals) and adults are 29.95. It can be purchased at the first restaurant you dine at and you'll get a wrist band.

Each time through a restaurant line and the designated quick service places, you can get up to one entree platter, one side item and one non alcoholic drink. We did this with the kids and got two meals and a snack break and it more than paid for itself.

Which brings me to the food. There are only three places in the park we haven't eaten yet-but give us time. My favorite places are Voyager's Smokehouse and the Spice Mill, but my favorite dish is the Hospitality Beef Stew at the Terrace Cafe. It is this beer braised beef stew served in a sourdough bread bowl. I love it.

I think the thing I like about this park is the amount of shows and opportunities to just stop and soak it all in. I hope you will, too.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Wal Mart Your Zone $500.00 Gift Card Contest!

Note to new visitors-this contest has ended. Thank you.

For several months now, I have participated in WalMart's Beyond Eleven Moms, a collective of bloggers who partner with WalMart to give feedback on products already in stores and ideas about products that the company can offer in their stores.

Last month, I was approached to help test out a new product line in the stores. Many retailers offer room decor for youngsters and college students, but affordable furniture, bedding and decor for teens was hard to find. Enter Your Zone!

We were sent a $500.00 WalMart gift card and given a mission: redo a bedroom whatever way you like within that amount for your teen. If you asked me to do it anywhere else, I think I could buy a bed and a dresser and be done. The whole point of Your Zone is that your teen can change things without breaking the bank.

First up, let's find a bed! The beds the boys have are the bunk beds we bought at Ikea back when Chef graduated out of a crib. They are sturdy, but utilitarian. The fun began by checking out the website with both boys looking over my shoulder. As soon as we viewed the choices, both boys were clamoring for this one.

My feet approved of the choice of a loft bed. Why? Because the lack of usable floor space in either bedroom means that the kids bring their Legos into the living room to play with-and I inevitably end up stepping on and hurting myself. Okay, we've got a bed choice. (I should note that there are some incredible headboards that you can plug iPods into. Considering that each person in this house has an iPod, that option seemed pretty cool, but a loft bed was chosen and that's what we stuck with.

Next, what's going under that loft bed, since there's so much room. The dressers and nightstands we have are a light maple finish, purchased from Ashley when we moved to Florida. The goal with Your Zone is to find items that would match. The bed was $170, so we still had plenty of money to decorate. Game Teen liked the Gaming Center, but we don't allow the game systems out of the living room. Scratch that choice.

Next, Chef said a desk would be a good idea. There are currently two options, a walnut desk with a hutch and a light maple rolling desk. To keep things coordinated, this is what was chosen and put in our cart online. After joking that I was going to get pink, we ordered a black tractor chair from Site to Store, too. Another $126 spent, but we've got $204 left to find decorations.

How about seating? There was a cool wave lounger on the website, originally we put it in the cart and saved it. However, the next day we went to our local Wal Mart and didn't like the sturdiness of the one on display. Instead, the decision was made to switch to the Got Game Lounger. The reviews on Wal Mart's website were positive and the ability to rock the thing? A definite plus. $55.00 spent, balance $150.00.

Let's stop here. I've perused a couple of other retailer's websites and stores since WalMart asked me to shop Your Zone, and those four items would have cost me more than $500! I won't name the four I checked out, but they are all national chains.

Now that the furniture has been chosen, it's time to add some COLOR!!! For boys and girls, there are about a half dozen bedding choices, all reasonably priced. A twin comforter and sham set is only $29.50, and a twin sheet set is only $12.00. Even better, the palettes match some of the Mainstay body pillows we purchased for the kids a few months back. Since everything in the in-store collection coordinated, two sets of sheets went into our cart along with that comforter and sham set.

To round things out with the remaining 96.50, we got curtains(19.97), A very cool floor lamp seen in the previous post (19.97), a desk lamp (9.00), a gadget charging station for the desk (12.00), A pop it storage bin to use as a hamper (12.00), some light bulbs and the tax and we were just a hair over the $500.00.

Initially, the plan was to makeover my older son's Game Teen's room. He decided that he no longer wanted this generous gift because it involved him preparing his room to be made over. Instead, my younger son, Chef Jr, is the one whose room has been transformed. Strangely enough, both boys were interested in the exact same items. (Methinks there is a second room makeover in my future)

All the furniture is ready to assemble, which keeps the costs reasonable. Both Ed and I are handy with tools (which these come with, actually), but Ed took great pleasure in assembling all of it. From beginning to end, it took six hours to transform the room from this:
To this:

You want to know about the products, don't you? The bed went together fairly quickly, and while it does wobble a bit, it is extremely sturdy. There is a weight limit of 150 pounds, so football linebackers might want to chose another bed in the line. The desk has a weight limit, too-so no sitting on yours. It looks great and my son is looking forward to having a place to do his homework where he can shut the door. The big piece of advice is to keep all pieces in their bags until you need it, because they might be numbered on the bags instead of the piece.

Oh, if you do get the gaming chair-there's a zipper that doesn't have a tab. That's NOT the side you will put the frame inside! :)

The video will be added to the Your Zone site shortly, then I'll add it here, but in the interim, a vlog to tell you more: video

Yes, you can WIN a Your Zone room makeover of your own! WalMart has graciously offered a $500.00 gift card to a reader of Suzanne Calling. To enter, you must write a blog post about WalMart's new Your Zone product line for teens, linking to WalMart's Your Zone section of their site AND to this post. THIS IS REQUIRED TO BE ELIGIBLE TO WIN!!! This is worth five entries. Make sure you put a link to your blog post in each of the five comments that will be your entries.

Additional entries can be earned AFTER the required blog post:
**Twitter this contest-one extra entry, up to three per day. (Put a link to your tweet in the entry comment)
**Follow me on Twitter @Suzannadanna and leave me a comment for an extra entry.
**Become a follower of Suzanne Calling for two extra entrie comments.
**Tell me about a product in the Your Zone line that you'd like for yourself or your teen. You can do this via comment once a day.

The contest runs from now until Wednesday, September 10th at 6pm Eastern time. You must be 18 or older to enter and be a United States resident to be eligible. Winner will be drawn via and a vlog will be posted with the winner's information. Winner will be sent an email and has 48 hours to claim their prize.

NOTE: This contest has closed. Congratulations to Baba, the winner of the room makeover!

If you'd like more chances to win, or aren't a blogger, please check out my friend's blogs and increase your chances to win :
A Happy Hippy Mom
Three Different Directions
Is It Naptime Yet?

Isn't it time your teen has a Zone of their own?

More Clues

The BIG post should be up around 6pm. In the meantime:

We have an Allen key, we have the technology!

Wonderful, wonderful COLOR!
We have an Allen key, we have the technology!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Watch This Space For Something BIG Tomorrow!

Tomorrow, all will be revealed.

A makeover, a contest and a vlog

Hey, Jim Cantore

Ed and I were wondering a few things while watching the Weather Channel tonight. Things like:

*Poor Jim Cantore must have been BORED this summer until a few days ago.
*Perhaps he was complaining about how he hasn't gone anywhere AT ALL!
*Maybe even having to scrap a family vacation because he hasn't been getting the usual allotment of frequent flier miles.
*Feeling out of sorts because he hasn't had an 80mph gust blowing him all over the place, or water dousing him from over a nearby sea wall.

Damn, that stupid recession is hitting everything, wouldn't you say? Even weather reporters are experiencing cutbacks in storms to cover!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What's For Dinner Wednesday

Or, why does my camera let me take pictures without a #$%@#$$% SD card in it?

I am back to cooking meals for two households. There was a misunderstanding before that Ed and I had ample income to buy food for seven-it's been remedied. Most nights, it's not really any extra effort.

Tonight, the quantity of ground beef in the freezer dictated that we would use it. The plan? Meatloaf. That is, until Ed told me his mom HATES it, despite her making it all the time. Then, Chef Jr informs me that he hates it, too. There's more than one way to prepare it. I asked Chef if he'd like Gyro loaf and his two thumbs up told me everything I needed to know. (I asked Ed's mom what she'd like with the ground beef. Burgers.)

Ed's plate, which is unsullied with the peas I enjoyed with mine.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Many Faces of Chef Junior

It all started with a simple statement. "Chef, I think I need to get you a haircut this week before school starts?"
"But Moooooooooom, the bush is my friend!" As he plays with his curly locks.
"Kiddo, I think if you ran a comb through your hair, they'd find out where Jimmy Hoffa has been hidden!"
After explaining who Jimmy Hoffa was, he reacted like this after realizing I was implying a dead body could be lost in that mess:
"My curls are me, Mom. Stay away with the clippers, dude!"
(yes, I am dude. Everyone is dude.)

Here's the deal. He'll want to cut his hair sometime after the school year begins. Whenever that happens AFTER the first week of school, everyone seems bummed that his locks are gone.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Looking Towards the Future

Today, I visted an Assisted Living Facility with Jane.

The time has come, as Ed's Mom expects Jane to wait on her hand and foot, even though Jane is the least healthy of the two. Yes, even though Jane got out of Rehabilitation today and is having great difficult moving (due to a scooter mishap), Mom will expect Jane to come running whenever she calls out. It's a vicious cycle that often ends with Jane returning to the hospital.

Jane is tired of it and has come to a conclusion that makes sense-Assisted Living. As none of us have any experience with them, the social worker at the facility that was caring for Jane gave her a few brochures. I was given the names and I did some research online. Two had forms on their websites that could be filled out to receive more information. Of course, I filled them out.

In those forms, I gave a brief summary of their health concerns, the issue with Ed's mom's dementia and that neither can do any household maintenance without assistance. (Which makes me realize that they have no cleaning woman and no Mike-things could get interesting...). The next day, a gentleman called from one of the places and invited us to come tour the residences.

I suggested to him and Jane separately that she and I tour without Ed's mom. At best, his mom would be making snide comments under her breath, at worst, she'd be loudly arguing. Neither would be condusive to focusing on getting the information we needed. Besides, it makes more sense to get an idea of what these places are like BEFORE having that conversation with Ed's mom. Knowledge is power and all that jazz.

So, we arrived a few minutes before the appointed time and in short order, met Brian and went back to his office. He gave us basic information about their facility, which is hybrid Independent and Assisted Living. They are a rental community, so ya security deposit and activities fee are expected upon move in. Meals are served in the community dining hall (which is honestly like an on site restaurant) or the two private dining rooms on the assisted living wings. I forgot to ask if they handle dietary restrictions, but that is probable, given the population and intent of the property.

Jane's big question was if pets were allowed. Relief was apparent when she was told that cats are welcome. Then Brian mentioned cost and the different floor plans they have. While it might seem expensive, when one breaks down all the services they are providing, including all utilities, the cost is reasonable.

We toured an apartment that the two of them could rent. It's about 970 square feet, so they'd definitely be downsizing. That said, they're not using about 700 sf of their house regularly, so to me, it's a wash.

The activity board was impressive, as were all the community areas. There's plenty to do for a social butterfly wannabe like Jane, but Ed's mom can be more of a hermit if she wants (though she'd have to take meals in the large or private dining room, there is no in-apartment dining).

There is a lot to consider, and more places to tour. However, there's more concrete information about what to expect and what the expenses look like. Instead of flying into that conversation with Ed's mom with a lot of "I don't know", Jane now has the tools to overcome the many objections Ed's mom will have.

What remains to be seen is if she can overcome all of the objections without a battle royal. One thing is for certain-I do NOT want a ring side seat for the conversation.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


The first chore I had as a kid was setting the table and drying the evening dishes every night. About a year later, I was 'promoted' to washing the dishes.

By hand.

Every night.

Did I mention that we usually had eight people at a meal, and up to 15 around the table?

This was in the days when dishwashers were a rare kitchen appliance and the dish detergents were harsh, so my hands look like I was a lumberjack in a previous life. I grew the dread the task, so if I could talk on the phone while doing the drudgery, it wasn't as bad. When cooking was added to my nightly chores at 12, I never seemed to need anyone to keep me company!

When I moved out of my mom's, I entered the world of dishwashers. My ex husband grew up with one in the house and hated the fact that we did not have one. For our first wedding anniversary, I gave him a dishwasher. He picked it out-one with a timed fill cycle. For about a year, we were back in the high life, until we moved out onto a mountain and our well could not fill that thing quick enough. He began to use the dishwasher as a place to stow the dishes he didn't want to wash.

I became so used to hand washing dishes that when Ed and I moved into an apartment with one, he would stand me in front of the thing and have me repeat "We have a dishwasher" after finding a drain board filled with dishes.

That was all she wrote.

Other than a brief hiccup when our crappy builder's grade GE started peeing all over the kitchen floor, I haven't been without one for as long as Game Teen has been alive.

Until last night.

My usual M.O is to load the dishwasher and then go do something elsewhere.
Chef Jr went into the kitchen and said "Mom, the dishwasher's leaking". It's happened before, and usually it is something small blocking the drain in the machine. But when I walked into the kitchen, our dishwasher had thrown up ALL the water it had consumed to start this load (FYI, the average dishwasher uses 7 gallons per cycle-my front load washer uses five), so there was a lake in my kitchen.

Eight soaked towels later, I thought I'd removed the offending blockage and started the machine again.


When Ed came home, I was rather pissy, because I was cleaning up lake 2.0. He investigated and determined the pump is dead. Our landlord will probably replace it, or deduct the purchase of the pump from our rent. I'll call him tomorrow and let him knwo

In the meantime, I'm back to the drainboard.

Oh, and Madge? You're wrong, because I DO get dishpan hands using Palmolive.