Category Archives: Fun With The Family

Universal Studios and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Part Two

My last post was about our recent trip to Universal Studios, but there was so much to tell that I simply couldn’t complete it in one post. I don’t know how many posts it will come out as, but probably a few. So this is part two. 

After wandering around Diagon Alley and attempting to absorb it all, we decided to head to one of The Wizarding World’s rides. Strolling through one line which led straight through Gringotts bank,  I continually gasped and pointed at small details only a true fan would notice. As we passed a set of golden doors engraved with a poem I knew by heart, I recited dramatically:

“Enter, Stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed.
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
So if you seek beneath these floors,
A treasure that was never yours,
Thief, you have been warned, beware,
Of finding more than treasure there.”

Goblins

In the ride, you were led through several top-security vaults by Bill Weasley and Griphook the goblin, while being attacked by many security measures which Gringotts puts up against intruders. It was a ride of great quality, being mostly digital but very well done.

Knockturn Alley we had yet to visit. I knew, of course, what it was supposed to be like, and upon finding it I was not in the slightest disappointed. There was Borgin and Burke’s, a store of dark magic into which Harry had once inadvertently stumbled, and in the corner was a vanishing cabinet, and in a glass case was a cursed necklace, and you could there by a “hand of glory,” a severed hand which gave a light which only the holder could benefit from. Or rather, that was the idea; but, of course, these were only skeletal plastic hands with a hole for a tea-candle. I cast a silencing charm on some severed heads, lit a digital bird on fire, and magically unlocked a door – though it still couldn’t be opened. Everything was dark in Knockturn Alley, though outside the world was bright and cheery. A couple cloaked and hooded wizards roamed the streets, looking forbidding; they were only kids in costume, but they had gotten quite into character.

Hogwarts castle in the distance.
Hogwarts castle in the distance.

We stopped into Florean Fortescue’s for earl grey and lavender flavored ice cream, which turned out to be pretty good but still tasted far more like lavender than the earl grey we were hoping for. We drank some delicious butterbeer, enjoyed pumpkin juice, and nibbled a gigantic chocolate frog. Every frog comes with a famous witch or wizard card, and I, a Hufflepuff, got a Helga Hufflepuff card with my first and only frog! We got some gillywater as well, which is nothing more than regular water with a fancy sticker on the bottle, but throughout the day we kept refilling both its bottle and that of the pumpkin juice.

Diagon Alley, I think, was the best part of Universal. Everything else was really fantastic as well, but nothing, not one single thing, could top the magic of this magical shopping centre.

Universal Studios and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Part One

The occurrences of this post took place some time ago, but due to several distractions I am only writing them out now.

Gordon and I were given tickets to Universal Studios for Christmas – it was a three-day pass, including both the Universal Studios park (with Diagon Alley) and Islands of Adventure (boasting Hogwarts and Hogsmeade), and a park-to-park pass which allowed us to ride the Hogwarts Express between the two. Now, if you’re one of the few unfortunate people in this world who hasn’t read J.K. Rowling’s enchanted Harry Potter series, I’ll have to explain some things. Diagon Alley is a street full of wizarding shops, in between Horizont Alley and Knockturn Alley – which is crammed with stores for dark wizards. Hogwarts is, of course, the wizarding school which students attend between the ages of eleven and seventeen, and Hogsmeade is “the only all-magic village in Britain,” located right by Hogwarts. So now that you know the basics, let’s begin.

IMG_0056
Just me, being astonished.

I don’t want to give too much away for those of you who may be going in future, but at the same time I’d rather not make this a bland article, so I’ll do my best to obtain a spot in the happy medium.

We started at Universal Studios and hurried through the New York and San Francisco sections of the park to reach The Wizarding World right away. Each area of Universal Studios is arranged to appear as a real city. Walking by the “ocean” in San Francisco with seagulls over my head, I nearly forgot that I was in Florida. I was already grinning madly as we entered the park, but I became truly giddy upon seeing London. There, in the middle of Florida, are King’s Cross Station, Big Ben, several small bookshops, and a row of apartments on Grimmauld Place. There’s the triple-decker Knight Bus, and Stan Shunpike leaning against its purple exterior chatting idly with Ernie, the driver. And a stereotypical London phone booth, which I later slipped inside to dial 62442, the code to enter the Ministry of Magic, though to my disappointment no cool female voice spoke into the air, asking my name and business.

IMG_0058

But the true magic lay behind a brick wall passageway discreetly hidden in Muggle London. I stepped hastily through and saw to my pure joy and astonishment a very nearly perfect replica of Diagon Alley. I stood there for several moments with my jaw hanging open, filled with amazement, hardly able to breath for happiness, admiring Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes on my right, Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor on my left, and straight ahead, Gringotts bank, topped by a blind albino dragon which breathed fire every ten minutes. After recovering myself, I set off down the street taking it all in. It was a bit crowded, by not overly, being a Friday when most visitors with annual passes were busy with school and work. The cobbled road was wet, though it hadn’t rained in a week, because it was London, and in London it’s always just rained.

IMG_0073

I gaped at Ollivander’s wand shop (since 382 B.C.), grinned at Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, and continually reminded myself to breathe. In Horizont Alley, I watched Celestina Warbeck perform several songs I knew (A Cauldron Full of Hot Strong Love, You Charmed the Heart Right out of Me), and several I didn’t (the Quidditch anthem, for example). I bought a wand from Ollivander’s, because there are interactive sites throughout Universal’s Wizarding World which allow you to “perform magic” if you have the proper wand, and that was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

I also pretended that it was me causing the dragon to breath fire, and every time it happened I held up my wand with a look of intense concentration and cried aloud “incendio!” It was fantastic to explore Diagon Alley and imagine myself in the world of Harry Potter (after Voldemort’s time, of course).

Julia Belle’s Southern Restaurant

It’s getting cold all around the country, and my long pants had come out of retirement; that meant it was time to go south. From Fuquay (near Raleigh, North Carolina), where we were visiting friends, we headed to South Carolina, in order to see an aunt of mine who has a restaurant there (specifically, in Florence). It’s called Julia Belle’s, and is widely considered more than fantastic; even one of Guy Fieri’s friends was in raptures with my Aunt Fran’s macaroni and cheese.

The restaurant is in a large red barn, which is divided into many sections; it used to be used for animals, and so the rooms are small and slightly awkward. Despite this, Julia Belle’s  manages a homey, comfortable feeling, with many small dining rooms. The first room on one side of the building is the kitchen and main sitting area, and directly opposite is the bakery, where buns, pie, and things of that sort are made, with another space for eating. It’s a beautiful but difficult old building, and though many restaurants have attempted to make it work over time, it’s only Julia Belle’s that has managed to pull it off.

image

And now onto the food. I’m really not the best person for the job, being gluten-free (and also not a fan of eating in general), but I’m the only critic available at the moment, so I’ll have to do. Truthfully, the options for someone like me were fairly limited, but I settled on mashed potatoes, green beans, and a burger without a bun. Gordon, who could elaborate on his food for hours, got the chicken and waffles, which came topped with cinnamon-covered peaches. Mom got the same thing, but then she started to wish she hadn’t; what she’d really wanted had been the shrimp-and-chilli sandwich that Dad had gotten. But the moment she took the first bite of her chicken and waffles, her expression was beyond words. I can’t tell you what it looked like, but I can tell you that it conveyed a simple but clear message: wow.

Dad loved his sandwich as well, and by the time we were stuffed to the gills with wholesome food, we were also convinced that dessert could only be better. So Mom and Dad got a piece of White Russian Pecan Pie, Gordon got a small “fried pie” that looked like a strudel. Meanwhile, I asked what they had gluten-free. My options? Zip. Having nothing for me on the menu didn’t hold the kind folks at Julia Belle’s back, however. Before long, I had some banana pudding filling in a small bowl in front of me, and boy was it good. There was a strong yogurt base, with sweet, banana-y flavor throughout, and I found myself eating slowly to savor the taste.

The bakery.
The bakery.

Having eaten our fill, and hugged Aunt Fran goodbye, we waddled out of the restaurant to the motorhome. Dad got into his van, Gordon, Mom, and I piled into our house, and off we went. That day we would cross South Carolina, Georgia, and get a decent way into Florida. Then we would arrive at TTO (Thousand Trails RV Park, Orlando) and meet up with friends. We’ll all be here until early February, when the families will start to disperse. And that’s when Turtletells will leave, headed out West once more.

Kentucky Meetup and Unit Study

We spent the month of October in Kentucky with friends this year. Last week Gordon wrote about Halloween and our cave excursions, but what he didn’t mention was the Kentucky Unit Study.

It was the first activity, and everyone met up in the game room that morning. Mr. Burrell explained the plan: we would be learning about a different aspect of Kentucky with each segment, and then working with a randomly chosen partner to create a Kentucky Fact trifold board. At the end of two days’ hard work, impartial judges would pick a winner, providing constructive criticism, and then we would tour Diamond Caverns the next day.

And so it began. I was paired with my friend Emma, and we set to work creating a layout for our board. That morning the lesson had been based around Kentucky state symbols and general facts, so we incorporated those new findings into our plan. Emma wrote “Kentucky” in a large, neat cursive at the top of the page, and traced it with green colored pencil topped with blue, providing a bluegrass look. I looked over the symbols list that Mr. Burrell had printed out, marking particularly interesting items to add, and then we started drawing them. I did a cartoonish cow labeled “Kentucky state drink: milk!,” and Emma drew a big, beautiful cardinal. After about an hour and a half, we had completed the middle of our poster board, detailing many obscure facts about the Bluegrass State. A tidy Appalachian Dulcimer sat near the top, and a baseball bat marked “Louisville Slugger” leaned against the K that headed our page. One of my favorite parts of the trifold board’s midsection was Emma’s beautiful disco ball drawing, which was adorned with green and blue lights coming out at all angles. Next to the art was a square of writing. “Did you know,” it said, “that 90% of America’s disco ball supply is made in Louisville, Kentucky?”

image
The board that Emma and I designed and created.

The class let out for a two hour lunch break, and we all went to our respective homes to eat. After lunch we kids played several enthusiastic games of dodge ball in the field, and then we headed back inside the building to continue our work. That afternoon the topic of study was famous Kentuckians, and I had had a brainwave. Instead of attempting to actually draw people, we drew out some item that was directly related to what they were famous for. Johnny Depp’s was a pirate hat, Muhammad Ali’s a pair of boxing gloves, Loretta Lynn’s a microphone, etc. Then the drawings were accompanied by a short paragraph of their life, or a compilation of facts. We used one of the smaller side pieces for that, and it turned out very neat and organized.

 

The next morning, we learned about the Appalachian lifestyle and history, and used half of the remaining side piece to write about what we’d found out, accompanied by pictures. I wrote a small thing on the Hatfields and McCoys, famous Appalachian rivals, and asked Mr. Burrell to print out a related picture to cover a torn spot on the poster board. Emma explained about homelessness and hunger in Appalachian communities, accompanied by a chart on poverty rates in Kentucky. After our lunch break, we all returned to finish our projects. We had decided to use our last remaining space (half of a side piece) for geography. I made a small cartoon cave, and Emma drew a waterway streaming across the page. We then each wrote small explanations of our drawings. I tried to make mine a readable size, but that’s a big problem for me; in order for my handwriting to look nice, it has to be tiny, and the bigger it is the messier it looks. There was still some space left, so I dedicated the bottom of the page to the Kentucky Bend, an incredibly unique geographical phenomenon, and the only one of its kind. It’s a small area of land that is completely separated from Kentucky, and is the only piece of one state that is entirely surrounded by other states. In a great earthquake, it was moved, and now parts of Tennessee and Missouri stand between it and its main state. After we had finished work, we all hung around the room for a while longer, helping to clean up. The judging would take place pretty soon.

Gordon's board.
Gordon’s board, which he created with his team mates Camden and Bennett.

It wasn’t too long until Mr. Burrell was showing in our honorary judges; they were campers at the park, but we didn’t know them. Perhaps some were out for a weekend with their grandkids. Anyway, they walked around the room for a while, conversing in whispers and looking at the entries. I cringed as I watched one lady pick up the board that Emma and I had made. She was trying to read what I’d written about the caves, I knew it, and that was far too small. Perhaps she would stop bothering, and walk away without finding that I knew my stuff. After ages of wandering from board to board, one kind-faced woman came to the front of the group. Mr. Burrell signaled for attention, and then she spoke. She told us how we had all done very well, and that she had only found one wrong article of information on any of the boards. My breath caught in my throat; I had stubbornly written on my piece about Jim Bowie that he hadn’t invented the Bowie Knife, as many believed. I knew that I was right, but these judges might believe differently. But much to my relief, the woman explained that one competitor had written that Mammoth Cave was a state park. It was truly a national park. She praised us for a moment longer, and then the judges left. Mr. Burrell stepped up to where they had stood, and started telling us about parts that had been loved and appreciated in each board. Apparently, my little Kentucky Bend had been much appreciated, and we had been the only ones to include it. But we still hadn’t heard who the winner was, and so we sat with baited breath, waiting to be told. Mr. Burrell used all of the typical drama, the drawing out and the dramatizing, just as I am doing here and now. But finally the verdict came out: Lucas Muller and Camden Walker had won. We all went over to admire their work, and Mr. Burrell told us that the thing that had really pushed it over was a large coal cart that Camden had drawn. The judges had apparently said that the coal industry was a large part of their culture, and they loved that this team had featured it so prominently. 

So congratulations to Lucas and Camden, winners of the official Kentucky Unit Study Trifold Board Competition. You earned it.

Oklahoma in a Nutshell

Oklahoma doesn’t have the best reputation; it’s renowned for being frigid in the winter and sweltering hot in the summer, and when the temperature isn’t going to kill you the tornadoes might. All the same, it was a gaping white hole on our sticker map of visited states, and we had to fill it while we had the chance on our way to the Nomadic Homeschoolers Halloween Meetup in Kentucky.


After a few days in Texas (which is fairly nice, very interesting, remarkably smelly, and really quite windy), we drove on to Oklahoma, complete with unsettlingly flat lands and an enormous sun rising just ahead. There was nothing particular to interest me on the drive to Oklahoma City, so I settled down with a book and tried not to get car sick until we arrived. Finally we rolled into the outskirts of the state’s capital, and parked outside the Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.


Gordon and I looked at a few galleries, then split off to check out the rodeo segment. On the way there we were sidetracked by a room full of cowboy history and techniques, and entertained ourselves by reading plaques rich in detail and examining old-fashioned barbed wire and branding irons. After we had discovered all that there was to find there, we moved on to the film area. There was a small theatre were Gordon and I watched a fascinating movie about the history of westerns, and a collection of John-Wayne-related items, including several guns of his, mostly gifts. We tried a “guess the TV show” game in which you had to pick out the show that matched a playing theme song, and also attempted to name the horses of famous movie cowboys. I did pitifully.


We finally made our way to several rooms filled with information about the rodeo business, both in the early days and now. There were videos of different events, accompanied by details. For example, you could watch bits of a calf roping competition, and every so often there would be a little box on the screen saying “The damages suffered in this event make up 8% of all rodeo-induced injuries,” or “Rope around the calf’s ankles must hold for six seconds to be considered ‘tied.’” Finally, Gordon got bored of all this and, though I was still interested, he dragged me off to the next place.
Next we examined Indian clothing, including beaded shoes and belts, roughly woven dresses, animal skin outfits, and feathered headdresses. Traditional cowboy wear was in the next room, so we looked at that, too. In an art gallery off the main hall we met up with Mom, who wanted to see the rodeo stuff we had just been looking at; we led her away, starting to shiver in the highly air-conditioned building.


The last attraction was outside: a horse graveyard. Several famous bucking broncos whom Gordon and I had read about inside were buried underneath the path, with tombstones bearing inscriptions about their lives. Five Minutes ‘Till Midnight was there, along side Midnight and Tornado, all famous broncos in their days. Each of these horses had strived to never let a man stay on them for eight seconds, and Tornado was only ever beaten once, just before his retirement. It was a beautiful courtyard garden, with streams and large, exotic flowers around every bend. After we had finished there, Mom dropped into the gift shop to find a book, Dad looked into one last gallery, and Gordon and I read outside in the shade, before setting off again on our trip to Kentucky. 

P.S. Sorry there are no pictures. I couldn’t take any, as museums usually don’t allow it.

Backpacking Around Fish Lake

I sit down at my computer, trying to put 101 mosquito bites out of my mind for now. I have a post to write, I remind myself, and no time to delay: I’d better get it down on paper while my memories, and those bites, are fresh. But how did I come to have so many bug bites and memories to write down?

It all started with an idea, like most adventures. It was simple enough: Mom and I were going to backpack around Fish Lake, Utah. It was, allegedly, an eleven mile hike, and we planned to take two days for it. We would hike up to the summit, set up camp and spend the night, and then we would head down the mountain again and around to the car.

image

We reached the lake at about 1:00, and started up with a pre-hike paddle. Kind of ridiculous, really, but we  kayaked for an hour. It was a good warm up. Then we tied the kayaks back on top of the Jeep and put on our backpacks. It was time to get going.

At first, my backpack felt a bit strange. I wasn’t used to carrying something this heavy, and it cut into my legs and shoulders a bit, but I ignored the discomfort and it soon passed. After a short while we had gotten around the edge of the lake and we were on the other side, but we hadn’t yet started the assent. We needed to stop, however, because we were already getting eaten by mosquitoes. We put on leggings and long-sleeve shirts to protect ourselves, and then got back on the trail.

image

The hike was fairly steep once we started up the mountain, but we were fresh and energetic, and we got up easily with the help of trail mix. I was, at the time, practicing for a Radio Drama, in which I was doing sound effects, and so I passed the time by practicing. Mostly, it was frog noises. Angry frog, encouraged frog, hungry frog, offended frog… the list went on, and I had to come up with a sound for each. As Mom and I walked up the trail, I discovered and perfected each noise, with her help.

A couple of hours before sunset we had arrived at the peak, and it was time to start looking for a campsite. Ideally, it would be a fair-sized clearing amidst the quakie (also called aspen) trees, close to the trail and with plenty of wood at hand for a fire. After a while of “That one’s good,” and “But maybe there’s a better one just ahead,” we found a site that was indisputably perfect. It was even near a nice overlook from which we could see over the whole lake. We took off our packs and I started clearing up the site, gathering kindling and bigger bits of fire wood, while Mom made our tarp tent in the trees. When camp was all ready we made a fire. Mom had brought a lighter, but we made the kindling up in a sort of “nest,” as is the primitive way. While tending the fire we started on our dinner, eating pineapple out of cans. Once we had finished, the cans were our pots to cook soup, which was eaten with beef jerky. Mom had brought a book on constellations, which I read while we ate. After dinner, we crawled into our sleeping bags, on our ground pads, under our tarp tent, and fell quickly asleep.

The next day we woke early and had a breakfast of tea and sandwiches, before clearing up camp. We were back on the trail by nine o’clock, and I was terribly sore. The places where my pack rubbed on my legs and shoulders were bruised, and it took quite a while to get used to. Our first hour or so of walking was uneventful and quiet, until Mom found a raspberry bush. We picked berries for a minute, and then got going again, but it wasn’t long before a second patch came up. It was absolutely huge, and after a minute we had the sense to take off our packs. With mine on, every time I leaned over to get a particularly juicy berry I nearly toppled over. After several minutes of raspberry picking, however, Mom remarked that it was like the Land of the Lotus Eaters. You couldn’t leave, you simply couldn’t, but the paradise was guarded by monsters… er, mosquitoes. Same thing. Finally, we hoisted our packs on our backs and got going again.

image
Picking raspberries.

We headed on until two o’clock, by which time Mom and I both felt we ought to have reached the end of our journey. We had walked at least five miles since the morning, and that was what we had estimated was left. Had we really covered such a small distance yesterday? There was a bridge just ahead that lead over the creek at the end of Fish Lake and connected the lake to a bay about a mile north. We would stop for lunch in a trail-head parking lot near the river.
We ate sandwiches and, since our water was running low, made a fire and boiled some river water for tea. I made three trips across a trail to the creek to get water, but all in vain. For when I finally sat down  with my lunch, I spilled my tea all over my leggings. I drank the remaining half a cup and changed into shorts, but my legs were much more susceptible to mosquito bites after that.

The last several miles were draining. It was threatening to rain, and Mom was on the lookout for a patch of quakies to set up a temporary camp in. She was even up for hitchhiking  the rest of the way, but I wouldn’t hear of it.  We had come at least eleven miles, I wasn’t going to give in at the end! After a while, lightning flashed. In Southern Utah, lightning is no laughing matter. Everyone in Wayne County has a story about someone they know being struck, or almost struck. So we headed for the quakies (which, though trees, are great protection, because they’re so much shorter than the others around them), and made a hasty shelter. Pushing under our backpacks, we sat under the tarp until the storm passed over. It never got really bad, but it poured pretty hard, and better safe than sorry!

 

image

After the storm we started up again. It didn’t take long to reach a marina store, where we got sodas to give us a bit of fresh energy, and then we lost the trail several times and followed the water instead. Eventually we made it back to our path, and found we were so close to the car, but yet so, so far away! Mom began a song about “The trail that never ends,” and we were kept occupied by trying to make up new verses without messing up the rhythm. For example:
And when your back does cease to bend
It is the trail that never ends!
And when your knees will never mend
It is the trail that never ends! 

It went on for quite a while, while we searched high and low for the Jeep. Finally, Mom looked back and saw that we had passed it! Needless to say, we hurried back, dropped our packs in the trunk, and drove home, exhausted. We ate at a burger place that night with Dad, and whenever Mom or I tried to walk we stumbled and tripped over our own stiff legs.

image
The finish!

 

BY THE WAY: I updated the About Page.

 

TobyMac Concert in Phoenix

For my twelfth birthday, Mom and I went to a TobyMac concert with my friend Cali and her mom. TobyMac, for those of you who don’t know, is a Christian hip hop artist. One of my favorites. There were five other Christian artists in the concert as well, all of whom are under his label.

image
Image by Lillian Dumas.

At 5:00 we got on the train and rode until we reached the Phoenix Suns Stadium, where the concert was being held. We got there about 6:00 and the concert wasn’t until 7:00, but it took a while to get to our seats. When we finally got there, Cali and I took a few selfies to pass the time and speculated about the coming music.

It started out with two songs from Hollyn. She’s this really cool girl singer, and she’s pretty new. Hollyn’s one of my top five favorite singers now, but I hadn’t heard of her before then. She sang Alone, and All I Need is You. The latter is actually my favorite song by Lacrae, a Christian rap artist.

download (2)
Image from I Am Hollyn on Facebook.

After her came Colton Dixon, an awesome guy with an awesome bleached mohawk. It was really hard to hear some of the lyrics because the music was so loud, and I figured out how to filter out background noise! All you have to do is press down on that little skin flap on the front of your ear, and you can hear way better!

Colton Dixon played five songs, the names of which I can’t remember, and then Finding Favour came on. I did spell it the English way on purpose. They did five songs as well. By this time I was getting fairly used to the volume of things, but once I made the mistake of covering my ears; when I uncovered them it was really loud.

Casting Crowns played next. I’d heard them a lot, but I didn’t know many of their songs really well. And then Building 429 came on. I hadn’t heard of them before, but I really like them now.

Britt Nicole, I think, had put on the best show so far. She had break dancers, and did things like falling off the stage into their arms while she sang. Britt did two songs that I knew, and then four more that I didn’t know.

After these five artists there was an intermission: it had already been about two hours! We stretched, and talked, and walked around. I couldn’t believe it was already 9 o’ clock!

image
Image by Mom.

After a twenty-minute intermission, we returned for the main event. TobyMac did another two hours!! I knew almost every song, and it was so fun! Hollyn is actually in TobyMac’s band, so she was up on stage then, too. I remember listening to those songs years ago, and thinking how cool it would be to see them performed live. It’s so cool that those daydreams came true!

Screenshot 2016-03-24 at 11.54.51 AM
Image by Lillian Dumas.

The whole thing was so incredible I can’t really describe it. If you’ve been to a big concert, you understand that sort of dumbfounded amazement. If you haven’t, all I can say is, you’ve never properly understood the word “loud,” or that particular sort of excitement that goes with carefully engineered noise.

Header image from Talking Stick Resort

A Condo in Encinitas

Grammy and Grandpa got a condo in Encinitas  as a Christmas present to us. They brought our aunt and uncle, and cousins Cam and Christian (whom we call BooBoo).

Encinitas is a little beach town about 20 miles north of San Diego. There are cliffs leading down to the beaches there, and after going down a steep staircase you arrive at about 12 yards of open sand. When we were there, there were piles of rocks on the beach, but by the time we had gone, nearly all of them had been pulled back out to sea.

Screenshot 2016-02-10 at 10.28.26 AM

On the second-to-last day there, we had a big storm, which ripped up trees and pulled one person’s back porch off. But no biggie. We went to the (outdoor) pool. In Utah, trees don’t go flying because of a little storm. Utah trees need something good, like direct lightning, to kill them. So we played football in the pool for a while, and then sat in the hot tub.

image

It wasn’t all storm, though. The majority of our time was sunny and warm. On these days, we went down to the beach, swam in the pool, or went on an outing. One day we went to San Diego Safari Park, a sort of zoo, with a more wild sort of feel. That was really cool.

 

We went to a trampoline park, which had a ninja course. It was pretty hard, and we had a lot of fun. Gordon also met his favorite skateboard legend, Stevie Cab.

Gordon, Cam, and I played hide-and-seek a lot, which was really fun in the condo because it had a bunch of hidden, totally unexplored places. We all slept in the basement, and every night we would watch a movie down there on our own TV.

After such a fun weekend, it was hard to say goodbye, but we knew we’d be seeing each other again. We had a great time In Encinitas, California.

Las Vegas 2016

First off, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and welcome back! You may remember last time we went to Las Vegas. It was almost three years ago, and one of the first places we went on this huge adventure. So now, as the TurtleTells Trip comes full circle, with only six states left to see, here we are again.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how you can get used to almost anything? Last Las Vegas, for example (I don’t use months and years to remember things so much as places anymore), my maximum driving time per day was two and a half hours, maybe three if I was feeling especially cheerful. But now a standard moving day is 3 to 5 hours, no big deal. It’s business-as-usual to pack up all the fragile stuff in my room, unhook from the water and electric, “stow” the kitchen while Mom and Gordon put the car on the tow dolly, and snuggle up with a fat book for a few hours (not that I’m not constantly reading some big book or other anyway.) I’m even getting over my motion sickness.

But enough reminiscing. 186 words already, and I haven’t said a thing about what we’ve done in Las Vegas this time around! For starters, we had an, er, eventful first night. We were driving back from our Grandparent’s house, where we had spent Christmas and New Years, and we were going to have to stay the night in a hotel. See, we had left our motor home in storage, and we had started so late that morning that we couldn’t complete the six hour drive before the storage place closed. After a lot of searching for a hotel, we got one. It looked pretty nice when we got there, and we were all looking forward to collapsing in bed as we opened the door to our room. One minor problem, though: There weren’t any beds to collapse in. There was a low-definition TV on a dresser, an armchair, a swivel chair, and a half-ripped up carpet. Uh oh.  So Mom and Dad went down to sort it out, and it turns out that some of the rooms were being remodeled, and that happened to be one of them. So no big deal, we got another room and it was fine. But that’s one new experience, and those are getting rare.

At our Las Vegas Church, Central Christian, we saw a mini Elvis impersonator show!

We also went to The Mentalist, a show that’s full of mind tricks so crazy you’re sure they’re set up: but they’re not. The Mentalist is a man named Gerry McCambridge, who plays serious tricks with your brain. He chose three random people from the front row, and had them each in turn choose  a side of a die, one particular number, without letting him see it. Then he would guess what number they chose, and each time he got it right.

image
The thing that sets this apart from “magic,” is that Gerry McCambridge tells you how he does things, and they’re still amazing! He tells you what technique he used each time to influence the people to choose one number, so that he could guess the number correctly. For example, he kept pointing, but used four fingers instead of one, to influence one guy to choose four. And it worked! It’s incredible.

He had someone draw something, and he guessed, blindfolded, what it was she drew. He could tell just by listening!  He also knows statistics of everything, which helps. He knew most women of her age would draw a wheelchair, for whatever reason, and so when he heard her drawing he had hints. It was, in fact, a wheelchair, and he did get it right.


imageThen, with his blindfold still on, and silver dollars taped over his eyes so he couldn’t see at all, he proceeded to guess initials of people in the room and then guess their full names, their occupations, and all sorts of things about them. It was a little unsettling. I’ve got to go now, but if ever you’re in Las Vegas and get the opportunity, it’s absolutely amazing to see The Mentalist at work.

A Crazy Christmas Celebration

Cottonwood, Arizona is a tiny town. You would think, from driving through it, that it was totally empty of anything interesting. And you’d be right. Almost.

Now, maybe if you were there at Christmas time you would look for something to do. Just in case there was anything. And then, you would find the Celebration of Christmas by efProductions. It’s kind of… Wowing.

The whole thing started off with a vigorous round of the “12 Days of Christmas,” and then fell into a Dickens-ish sort of musical. After a few minutes an angel was introduced.  She had come to earth to spark happiness into the lives of the people.

The show continued along quite normally (except for the horse-drawn sleigh riding through the isles), until there was a dream sequence. And you probably know what happens when there’s a dream sequence. Things get interesting. A giant light up train was pulled through the gaps between seating rows, and then there was a disco ball being hit with laser lights up at the ceiling. Confetti shot into the faces of the people in the middle rows, and toy army men slid down a rope descending from the ceiling. There were ballerinas and dancing and music and I can’t even remember everything that happened. But then they brought in the animals. Alpacas, a horse, a zebra, a donkey,  lambs, until I wouldn’t be surprised if a kangaroo got loose in the orchestra. Seriously, I knew I wouldn’t be surprised because it actually happened and I wasn’t a bit astonished.
Screenshot 2015-12-14 at 10.07.12 AM

Finally the sleeping person woke up, and it was intermission. I just sat there trying to digest it all. After the break they played out the baby Jesus story. It was actually kind of what you’d expect, until the wise men came. RIDING CAMELS!! Okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement. Only two were riding camels, but they were huge. They were each followed by their own processions, including people who held flaming sticks and twirled them, and people who held up canopies to protect people’s heads from the burning sun (kind of unnecessary, seeing as it was the dead of night in a building in December). Another procession came following their king, who was riding on a peacock feather covered chariot.

image
There were more songs, and acrobats, and dancing, and things coming out of the ceiling. We went over everything that came out of the ceiling afterwords, and determined that at least nine different things came out. That’s nine different things, not nine individual
things. There were usually at least three of each thing. If you’re ever in Cottonwood at Christmas time in need of a crazy Christmas celebration, I advise you to go. It’ll give you something to talk about for days afterwards.