Sunday, December 14, 2014

Photographs and Memories


J.P. and Joe, watching the wild animals from the balcony of our room at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.


I took this photo from the balcony of our room at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.


Joe, for the first time ever, sleeping on the bottom bunk of a "big boy bed" in our room at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  He fell out of bed early Friday morning, but survived to enjoy the rest of the trip.


The petting zoo at Animal Kingdom.

The petting zoo at Animal Kingdom.


More petting zoo.


J.P., getting a sticker in his wildlife book at the Animal Kingdom.  As you and can see, the staff were amazingly sweet to all of the children.


Safari!


J.P. going native!


Digging for dinosaur bones at Animal Kingdom.


Entering the Magic Kingdom.


View of the castle as we entered the Magic Kingdom.


J.P. and Mickey Mouse.


J.P. w/Mickey and Minnie Mouse.  Joe was too scared to get his photo taken with Mickey and Minnie. Go figure.

Speed racers.


J.P. loved the shooting gallery.  Old school.


J.P., fighting off the enemy from the fort on Tom Sawyer's Island.


Joe and J.P. on Tom Sawyer's Island.


Joe. 


J.P.  I love this photo.


J.P. and the Mayor.


J.P. and the old man, preparing to enter the Magic Kingdom Saturday morning.


J.P. and Finn, Saturday night.  


A Vacation to Remember

Our vacation with the boys at Disney World was damn near perfect.

We had so much fun as a family.  It really was the trip of a lifetime and, hopefully, we have a lifetime's worth of memories to keep with us.  

For the boys, anyway the memories will fade away as they get older and experience so many other things in their lives.  For Jude and me, though, I think the memory of taking them on their first trip to Disney World will always be special.  Perhaps I'm wrong, but I think even the small details of the trip will be etched in our minds for all time.  

Highlights?  Too many to capture, but I'll give it a shot.

  • J.P. turned into a real "world traveler" for the first time, as he carried his own suitcase through the airport.  More importantly, for the first time ever, he didn't vomit on the flight to Orlando or on the return flight to Nashville.  Progress?  I'd say so.
  • Expedition Everest.  An error in judgment by Jude and me to let him ride it with his old man, as I think we ruined all roller coasters for J.P. for a long, long time.  Afterwards, he was almost catatonic for an hour or so as we walked around the Animal Kingdom Thursday morning.  If only that damn "yeti" wouldn't have torn up the track!
  • The safari at Animal Kingdom.  A true highlight of the trip.  It's well documented that I don't like zoos, aquariums, circuses, etc., because I'm bothered by the animals being caged up so far away from their natural habitats.  It seemed different, somehow, for the animals on the safari, because their was so much open space in which they could roam.  I realize it's just a bigger cage on a certain level, but it felt different.  Really cool.
  • Being able to watch, from the balcony of our hotel room at Animal Kingdom Lodge, as the giraffes ambled over to the pond for dinner each evening was awe inspiring.  Such graceful, peaceful animals.
  • Joe, being Joe, delighted in screaming out "yeti" throughout our stay, having heard J.P. and I talk about the "yeti" on "Expedition Everest."  It became a running joke, as each time we returned to the hotel and disembarked from the bus, J.P. and Joe would run ahead, hide, then jump out and scream "yeti!"  Jude and I looked at each other and smiled as the boys laughed uproariously together.
  • J.P. loved, and I mean loved, "the Hall of Presidents," of all things.  We watched the 20+ minute historical film on Friday and Saturday.  On the return visit Saturday, we sat in the front row of the large theater, so J.P. could see for himself whether all of the presidents who appear "in person" at the end of the film were actors or robots.  He had convinced himself after our Friday visit that the presidents were actors, so he was a bit disappointed to learn otherwise on Saturday.
  • J.P. and I laughed (as did those around us) Saturday afternoon and evening, as we took turns calling out an obscure president's name (i.e. Millard Fillmore), then slowly nodding our heads like each presidential robot did when his name was called out after the film at "the Hall of Presidents."  I don't know why we thought it was so funny, but we did.  Cyndi (Baines), Cyndi's mom (Sue) and Jude laughed right along with us.
  • J.P. and Joe loved the Peter Pan ride.  It was old school, nice and slow, but I think what the boys liked was "flying" slowly over London.  Not at all like "flying" backwards down Mount Everest through dark tunnels with a "yeti" chasing you.   
  • I'm not sure why, but J.P. fell in love with the old time "shooting gallery" in Frontierland.  4 quarters for 35 shots at various "targets."  It was so unlike Xbox, Playstation, etc., which I why I think I liked it.  Well, that and the look of horror on Jude's face as J.P. held a "rifle," grinning from ear to ear.  
  • Tom Sawyer's Island was really, really cool.  J.P. and Joe loved exploring the fort there.  Keeping with our gun theme, J.P. got a kick out of firing the guns on the top of the fort, as imaginary attackers tried to sneak up the riverbank.  Jude just shook her head sadly.  Boys, indeed, will be boys.
  • The Swiss Family Robinson tree house was also cool, for a lot of the same reasons the fort on Tom Sawyer's Island was.  
  • J.P. and I rode "Pirates of the Caribbean," which he enjoyed after I convinced him it wasn't another roller coaster.  Boys, pirates?  Always a winner combination.
  • We all rode "It's a Small World" on Friday and Saturday.  An old school ride for sure, but the boys liked it (especially Joe).  I'm pretty sure it hasn't changed a bit since I was a kid. 
  • It was great to spend some time with Cyndi Baines, Finn, Sue Debula (Cyndi's mom) and Jake (Cydi's 6 year old nephew).  They drove over from Jacksonville/Neptune Beach Saturday morning and we had dinner together Saturday night at Planet Hollywood in Downtown Disney.
  • For me, the highlight of the trip may well have been arriving at the Magic Kingdom on Saturday morning in time to line up and wait for the official opening of the park.  More on that later, but it was great to feel the anticipation build in the crowd outside the park until "the mayor" finally walked out and made note of the approaching train carrying Mickey, Minnie and their friends.
  • J.P. loved "the racetrack."  He "drove" a car with me working the gas peddle and him steering once on Friday and 3 or 4 times Saturday morning.  In fact, we were the very first drivers on racetrack Saturday morning, which was awesome.
 



We'll got back to Disney World, of that I'm sure.  But we'll never go to Disney World together for the first time, again.  

The Magic Kingdom really is the happiest place on earth.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Just Plain Magic

I'm sitting in the bar at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, day 2 of our Disneyworld adventure in the books.  The boys are asleep in the room and Jude is licking her wounds after I smoked her 5 or 6 games in a row in iPad Boggle.  The bar seems to be populated by parents, relaxing without the kids after a long day marching through the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot Center, Universal Studios, etc. 

We're having a great time, even better than I imagined we would have.  It really is a magical place.

After a surprisingly easy flight in Wednesday night (as in no vomiting!), we checked into or room at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  The Lodge is a pretty amazing place, insofar as we can look out our window and see giraffes, zebras, ostriches and many other animals roaming around the grounds.  Pretty cool for parents and children alike.

Yesterday, we left early for a 10 minute bus ride to the Animal Kingdom.  First up, "Expedition Everest," which Jude had booked for us via Fastpass (no waiting in line for the ride).  J.P. and I almost skipped up to the ride with absolutely no idea what we were in for.  In short, it's a roller coaster that travels up "Mt. Everest" through a series of caves, only to find that a "yeti" has torn up the track, as a result of which the roller coaster rolls down hill through a series of twists and turns at breakneck speed. 

It was terrifying. 

At one point during the ride, J.P. looked at me and said, "I knew I wouldn't like this," followed by "you made me ride this."  Of course, neither of those statements was true.  Still, he was not a happy camper. 

When we safely disembarked from "Expedition Everest," J.P. and I both felt like we were going to throw up.  For the next couple of hours, he was quiet, subdued even, I think because his stomach felt queasy.  I felt the same way.  Fortunately, though, he rallied after we ate lunch and was his normal self the rest of the day.

J.P. and Joe particularly enjoyed "the safari," during which we saw a variety of exotic animals.  White rhinos, elephants, giraffes, hippos, gnus, etc.  It was really cool. 

Last night, we had dinner in a restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge, then put the boys to bed.  Today, really early, it was off to Magic Kingdom.  More on that later. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Interludes

It's the calm before the storm, as we're headed to Disney World this evening.  I don't think I could be more excited for the trip - for the very adventure of it all.  I can't wait to experience Disney World through the eyes of my boys.  I think at 6 + and 2 +, they're at the perfect age for a trip to Disney World. 

Jude has worked so hard to plan this trip and I'm so appreciative of her efforts.  I had no idea how involved a trip to Disney World can be, at least not until I watched her on the computer, on the telephone,  night after night, making reservations for our hotel and dinner, ordering food, ordering our Fast Passes, etc.  It's going to be a wild ride and I can't wait to get on it.

But, really, I'm not here to talk about our trip to Disney World.  Not yet.

I'm sitting upstairs in the student center at Belmont U., taking a quiet minute or two to relax in a spot where I've spent so much time over the years, sometimes alone, more often with J.P., then later, with Joe.  I've always enjoyed the changing of the seasons, so to speak, at Belmont U.  The students start school in late summer, when it's still hot, arriving in droves, many with their parents in tow.  There's a palpable buzz in the air as they reconnect with friends or meet and make new friends.

As the leaves change and the temperature begins to drop, thankfully after another long, hot summer, the students ease into a routine of classes, meals, social time, etc.  On campus, things seem to get  quieter, a bit more subdued.  Thanksgiving comes and goes and when the students arrive back on campus after the holiday, exam preparation begins in earnest.  Exams were earlier this year than normal, and as they approached the energy on campus increased as I began to see students huddled together, studying, at Bongo Java and in the student center.  As always, there seemed to be an intensity about their conversations, as they worked on their laptops.

Today, exams are over and most of the students have departed campus or are in the process of doing so, headed home for a long, well deserved Christmas break.  As I write this, the students I see walking through the student center are by and large alone and have a relaxed air about them.  No one is hurrying to get anywhere.  I saw a student sitting outside Bongo Java with his suitcase, having a last cup of coffee I suppose, waiting on his ride. 

This campus has meant so much to me the last 10-15 years.  I've said it before and it's really the best way to describe it - I see ghosts wherever I walk or sit, on campus.  From the early days of our relationship when Jude and I played tennis with Kelly McAbee and Cyndi Baines on the public tennis courts (long gone due to building, building and more building) to the halcyon days when J.P. and I came to "Belmont School" almost every night after dinner, I have so many memories of time spent here. 

J.P. took some of his first, unsteady, steps on the soccer field, surrounded by the track (also long gone due to building, building and more building).  Joe took his first steps within sight of where I am sitting right now and I've got the video to prove it, running to J.P. with Jude and his grandma walking protectively beside him. 

To my right is the upstairs heavy door leading to the stairwell, where J.P. and I played "doctor's office" (he would open the door and call my name like it was my turn to go to see the doctor) as he worked through his fear of going to see Dr. Godfrey.  Through the same door, in the stairwell, we played "teenager," where he asked for me keys to "borrow the car" and go see a movie with his friends.  We played "college," where he walked thought the door into the stairwell and sat down as if in a classroom while I asked him history questions he knew the answer to. 

To my immediate right are several chairs and a bench underneath three black and white photos of Belmont U.'s campus.  We played "dorm room" and pretended the photos were windows.  He made a pretend breakfast for us as we "studied" or we went to the "cafeteria."  Wow.

I've rolled the City Elite stroller through this building many, many times, often with J.P. or Joe sleeping contentedly all the while.  Joe and I have ridden the elevators up and down, up and down, to his heart's delight.  J.P. has run pass patterns in the atrium outside the Curb Center, Belmont U.'s gym, while I threw a Nerf football to him and Joe squealed with delight as he watched. 

Jude, J.P., Joe and I have had family picnics on the soccer field (again, gone now).  On that field, we've kicked soccer balls, thrown the Frisbee, hit wiffle balls, played with the "stomp rocket" and thrown the football.

And last but certainly not least, I've walked home through campus on many a night, coffee in hand, after finishing a run at Bongo Java, lost in my thoughts.

Belmont U. is a special, special place to me.  And it always will be.   

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Leaf Party 2014 Photos


Roseann Maikis and her son, Jordan.


My sister, Tracy Hearn, and her daughter, Kaitlyn.


Meemaw, getting kisses from her grandchildren, Kaitlyn and Matthew.


Scout Baines and her mother, Cyndi.


Jude and Joe.


Jude, Joe, J.P. and me.


Finn and J.P.


Hurricane Baines.

World Famous Leaf Party 2014

It really is a tradition unlike any other.  The World Famous Leaf Party.



It began 10 or so years ago, as a party in honor of our friends, Troy and Cyndi Baines, who had recently moved back home to Florida.  Jude and I convinced them to return with the kids (Wolf and Scout) to Nashville for a weekend in the fall.  We thought it would be cool to host a party at our house while they were here and invite a lot of their (and our) friends to attend.  We also thought it would be fund for the kids to have a chance to play in the leaves that had fallen from the beautiful, stately maple tree in our front yard.

And just like that, the World Famous Leaf Party was born.

We've hosted the Leaf Party every year since then.  The faces of the attendees have changed over the years, as some kids have aged out or families have moved away.  Year in and year out, though, Troy, Cyndi, Wolf, Scout and Finn have continued to pile in the car and drive to Nashville, then pile in our house for the weekend.  It's chaotic and a bit crazy and I wouldn't have it any other way.

We've watched Wolf and Scout grow from toddlers, really, wearing Halloween costumes and playing in the leaves to teenagers (Wolf) and pre-teenagers (Scout) texting on their iPhones.  We've watched with unbridled joy as our son, J.P., and Finn played together developed a real friendship.  And for the last couple years, we've watched Joe toddle along behind all of them.

Every year, we look forward to "Hurricane Baines" arrival, then we're sad when the weekend is over all too soon.  And this year was no different.

_____________________________________

Friday, much to my chagrin, I got stuck mediating a case at work and didn't finish until almost 9 p.m.  The Baines' clan arrived Friday afternoon, so I missed dinner.  When I got home, everyone was already in bed.  I unloaded my Yukon and packed the coolers with beer and ice while everyone slept.  I got to bed about midnight, looking forward to the Leaf Party the next morning.

Saturday morning, J.P. and Finn awoke early from their sleeping spot on the floor at the foot of J.P.'s bed, cuddled up in sleeping bags laid on top of quilts and blankets.  It looked terribly uncomfortable to me, but they didn't mind a bit.  We ate breakfast, then drove to J.P.'s basketball game at First Presbyterian Church.  It was cool for him to have a such a big cheering section, as my sister, Tracy, and her kids, Kaitlyn and Matthew, came to the game, along with Jude's folks and the Baines.  

After the game, we beat feet home to start the party.  Duane Pierce, who has done our yard work for years, had blown the leaves up in a giant pile in the middle of the front yard.  Guests began arriving right at 11 a.m., including several members of J.P.'s basketball team and their parents.  As always, the kids loved, loved, loved playing in the leaves.  While the parents socialized on the front porch, the kids ran, danced and wrestled in the leaves, laughing the entire time.  In our back yard, some of the younger kids played in the sandbox.  It was damn near a perfect day.

After the party wound down in the mid-afternoon and it was time for Joe's (and Jude's) nap, I went for a walk with Wolf, Scout, Finn and J.P.  It's a tradition Wolf, Scout and I started years ago, one we dubbed "the secret walk," as we used to walk to Bongo Java through alleys, pretending we were spies hiding from the enemy all the way there and back.  It's always been special to me, because it's my time to spend with the kids alone and catch up on how they're doing.

This time, we talked to Bongo Java, where we ordered hot chocolate and, of course, a Mood Elevator for me, then sat upstairs in my "annex office," while we drank our drinks.  Next, we walked down to an apartment complex on Belmont Blvd. that has a large swath of green space out front.  We threw the frisbee, then played a spirited game of touch football.  Wolf, Finn and J.P. scored late to beat Scout and me.  It was pretty awesome.  

We walked through Belmont U. on the way home, then pretended we were hiding from "alley zombies" as dusk turned to darkness and we walked down the alleys toward home.  Finn and J.P. squealed every time Wolf jumped out from behind a garbage can or tree in an alley and pretended to be a zombie.  

Last night, Troy and I picked up pizzas from Mellow Mushroom, and the gang watched UT lose to Missouri before we turned in early.

This morning, Cyndi went for an early morning run.  We met her at Bongo Java for a family breakfast. Fortunately, Bongo Java wasn't crowded and we all sat around the big table and drank coffee, ate, talked and laughed.  J.P. and Finn sat next to us at "the kids' table."  

Then, it was back home, where Wolf had to climb over over our privacy fence and use our ladder to reach our bathroom window, so he could climb through and let us in the side door.  The lock on our front door was broken, so Wolf saved the day, for sure.  

A little while later, the Baines packed, loaded the car and drove down Elliott Avenue, on the way home to Neptune Beach, FL.  Jude, J.P., Joe and I waved as they pulled away, another Leaf Party weekend in the books.

2 or 3 times today, as we watched football and hung around the house, J.P. said, "I'm kind of sad the weekend is over and the Baines are gone."  

Yep, me too. 




Thursday, October 30, 2014

Surreality

I'm sitting on the porch at Bongo Java, taking a mental health day off of work and enjoying a breathtaking beautiful fall afternoon before I pick up J.P. at school.


When I "googled" the blog to get started with his post, I was directed to an old post from March 28, 2010, J.P.'s  2nd birthday.  I read the post and was instantly and somewhat nostalgically transported back in time. 


The link is here:  http://thestorkstopshere.blogspot.com/2010_03_01_archive.html.


When I read the post form 4 + years ago, the first thing I noticed was I listening to John Coltrane when I was writing it.  As I sit here now, I'm listening to John Coltrane.


Surreal.


The other night, I asked J.P. to recycle a plastic bottle of water for me.  To entice him and half-kidding, I added, "I'll be your best friend."


J.P. took the plastic bottle out of my hand, looked at me quizzically, and said, "Daddy, you already are my best friend."


I looked away, so he couldn't see the tears in my eyes.