Jones Summer Gathering

Saturday we hosted a K Jones family gathering.  Sandy and Lori were going to be in the area for the weekend (from Texas), so it seemed like a good time to invite everyone over to the house for the first time for a cookout!

The food was great (thank you everyone for bring a dish to share), the conversation as lively as ever, and overall I think everyone had a great time!

Busy Week

This week has been a busy crazy week of yard work! We asked to host the Jones family gathering at the end of July and had no idea how quickly the the weeds would take over while we were in Florida and then busy with end of the semester things.

The week started with the following text I got Monday afternoon while I was still at work:

Mom: ETA 6:00 your pool.

Me: today or tomorrow?

Mom: today

This was crazy and caught me off guard because even though I knew they were heading home from Florida and were thinking about stopping by our house to visit, I knew they had just left that morning and that it was a long (almost 22 hour) drive to get back to Illinois.  Regardless, James and I were happy to have visit and quickly arranged a steak dinner and put fresh sheets on the guest bed!

Mom and dad arrived shortly after 6pm and as promised, we had a steaks right off the grill waiting for them!  They were completely exhausted, but managed to eat and go out to admire James’ new tractor before heading to bed.  I later found out Dad literally put the “pedal-to-the-medal” and barely stopped for breaks the whole way!

The next morning they were up and ready to leave by 7:30 AM and as I got a big hug from mom, she asked it it was OK if she came back Wednesday evening and then spent the day Thursday weeding around the pool.  Yes, she actually asked if it was OK if she could come weed my yard!! Silly lady!!As if that’s a question that even needed answering!

So Wednesday evening, Mom was back again and ready to work.  She got up bright and early Thursday morning and while I was at work (it was the end of the semester I just couldn’t take the day off), she and James proceeded to devastate the weed population around the pool! She started around the rose bushes and corn lilies and it was quite a shock to James to realize there were actually rocks around the plants! There had been so many weeds growing around the flowers, you couldn’t even see the rocks between them!

I managed to get home a little early and was amazed by how much was accomplished while I was gone.  Yet, there was still more to do, so I put on my work clothes and buckled down pulling and cutting weeds like crazy.  Mom worked along side me for a while before taking a break to go inside and make dinner (yes, not only did she come to pull weeds, but she also brought dinner and made it for us!!!).

After dinner (and much thanks), Mom headed home and James and I collapsed from the hard work.

Friday went pretty much the same way with me working and then coming home to pull, pull, pull weeds.  James had been pretty busy as well, and between the two of us, we were able to finish whipping the yard into shape!

And what did we learn from this experience? Preen and weed killer are necessities that should be used early in the season and liberally!!

Dragonflies and butterflies in the garden

For those of you know me well or have been to our house, you know I love dragonflies!  I’ve got dragonfly sun-catchers, yard ornaments, kitchen towels, vases, shower curtain, and the list goes on and on… Yet, I try not to overwhelm the theme and tastefully have them scattered all over, but not on everything!!  So how does this dragonfly collection carry over to the garden?  We’ve got dragonflies zipping around all over the garden and yard!! They don’t stop often for pictures, but the other evening I was able to catch this one enjoying the last bit of warmth from the sun!

Dragonfly

One of the many dragonflies zipping around the yard!

While I was out taking pictures of dragonflies, I also decided to do a montage of flowers from the garden! The different colors and textures were just all so beautiful that I found it hard  to pick my favorites!

While out in the garden getting some up close shots in the flowers, there were also a number of butterflies flitting around that I patiently stalked to get a few good pictures!

And, what walk around the garden and yard would be complete without a few shots from the vegetable garden!!  It’s amazing how much everything has grown… especially the pumpkins and watermelon!!

I love wandering around my gardens and hopefully these walks and pictures will be enough to get me through a white cold winter!!

Titanic

Sunday morning James and I slept in again and barely made it out of the hotel by 11AM for checkout!  The humidity and heat were still pretty overwhelming, so we decided to stay inside as much as possible.  We had a late breakfast/early lunch at Ponderosa, where my food was decent, but James told the waitress his reminded him of why he doesn’t eat at Ponderosa.  Poor lady! She offered to bring him something different, but James told her he was fine and that it probably wouldn’t be any better.  After our meal, we wandered around the souvenir shop connected to the restaurant, where James pointed out the men’s briefs that said on the back, “Farting means I love you.”  This made me laugh and tell him he must REALLY love me a lot then!! 😉

Finishing up at the gift shop and with plenty of time to spare before we needed to be at the airport for our trip home, James relented and took us to Titanic the Experience.  I love Titanic (and no, not because of the movie), but because it’s what got me interested in science and history (both areas I later got degrees in!).  I can still remember the morning they found Titanic back in 1985.  My mom told me a little about the history of the ship and later I read more books about it and even did a book report or two on the topic!  James on the other hand has absolutely NO interest in Titanic, probably due to him (1) not really caring for history museums and (2) never watching the movie and not being interested in ever watching the movie.

I had a good time at the experience, it was a tour led by 2 different guides (both playing the role as someone from Titanic) who took us through the building of Titanic, the disaster, and then to her discovery at the bottom of the ocean. James of course had to be a smart-ass, which caused the first guide to pick on him a little during one of the interactive parts.

James: The guy was really being a sarcastic jerk from the time we bought the tickets.  All I did was answer his question.  He asked if anyone knew where the last rivet in the Titanic went?  I raised my hand and answered “In the last hole?”  For this I get picked on and singled out to answer questions about the Titanic in next stop.

Overall, I had a good time and enjoyed the emotional side of the story and the historical accuracy throughout the exhibits.  While there was mention of the movie, the focus was on the true story of Titanic.

After finishing up at Titanic we walked across the street and did more browsing at some of the souvenir shops, but eventually decided to just go ahead and head to the airport.  Our plane wasn’t scheduled to leave until @6pm, so we went ahead and had a nice meal at Outback Steakhouse in the airport before heading to our gate.  Our plane ended up being delayed a little over an hour due to bad weather in Atlanta, but we made it to Atlanta with a little time to spare before catching our connecting flight to Bloomington.

Sleuths Murder Mystery

After the long week and late night Friday, we slept in Saturday and didn’t roll out of the hotel until noon! Due to the heat and humidity we really didn’t want to do anything outside, so we decided to start our day by going to the movies to see Despicable Me.  It started badly with our 3D glasses not working, but luckily after the manager made some adjustments to the picture everything looked much better!  The movie had some really funny and cute parts… and of course made me cry, but overall it wasn’t quite as good as Toy Story.

After the movie, we still had some time left before we needed to be at the Sleuths Murder Mystery Dinner theater, so we decided to check out the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum.  In the past I’ve always enjoyed the Ripley’s books and TV show, so I assumed this would be entertaining as well.  I’m not sure if it’s because we were spoiled by Wonderworks the night before, but neither of us was really that impressed with the museum.  I admit some of the stuff was kind of cool and interesting, but overall for the price, $18.99/person + tax, it was definitely not worth it.  Yet, since we made it through the museum so quickly, we were able to go back to the hotel and take a quick nap before heading to the dinner show.

We arrived at the theater around 6pm and were in pretty good spirits about the show we were going to see, Holidaze.

Holidaze – Mayor Rockwell and the citizens of Hillendale invite you to their quaint Americana town to celebrate their Annual Holiday Pageant and compete for fame and fortune on TV’s #1 reality show. The contestants will do anything to win even if it means taking out the competition!

The waiting area was pretty full and it was nice when we finally got seated at our table.  It was a little ways back, but luckily our seats were facing the stage.  Our table mates were an extended family from Scotland and we had a good time talking and trying to understand each other!

Dressed up for dinner and a show!

The show didn’t really line up with the description online, but otherwise it was decently entertaining.  It felt like I was watching a community players group of amateur actors (actually I’ve seen better community groups), but during the meal when one of the actors actually went around the tables and had us ask the actors questions in an attempt to figure out, “Who done it?”, it got much better.  The salad and meal (I had the prime rib and James had the Cornish hen) were not that appetizing (the pizza from the Comedy show was much better), but the chocolate cake for dessert was excellent!  Unfortunately our overall feeling was that the price of the show ($52.95/per person) was definitely not worth it.  Thus in December, when we’re in Orlando next, I think we’re going to try one of the big production dinner shows that James has been to and enjoyed.

Wonderworks

When planning our anniversary weekend in Orlando, one of the things James really wanted me to experience was a dinner theater.   James has gone to a number of them in the Orlando area in the past and really enjoyed them, so we started searching online to see what our options were.  James wanted to do one of the big shows like Medieval Times or the Pirate dinner show, but I really wanted to do something he hadn’t done before.  In addition, Ty and Austin were coming over to spend the evening with us Friday, so I wanted to make sure we did something they would enjoy as well.

As we searched, one show in particular kept coming up again and again as one of the best shows in the area.  It was the Wonderworks Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show.  Trip Adviser had it listed as the #3 best rated attraction (not just dinner theater) in Orlando and after reading some of the reviews and then going to their website and checking out the description of the show, I was hooked!

Expect to be impressed at this interactive, entertaining and hilariously funny dinner show. Amazing magic, impersonations and high-energy improvisational comedy will have you on the edge of your seat.

In addition, after looking through the Wonderworks website I realized that it wasn’t just a comedy show, but also an “amusement park for your mind” and that they had a three story indoor ropes challenge course as well!  You had to pay extra to do everything, but I figured it was worth it for the fun we’d have! James on the other hand, was not sold on the show and said he really wanted me to experience a “real” dinner show.  Thus we decided to go ahead and do the Magic Comedy show and Wonderworks on Friday with Ty and Austin and then do the Sleuths Murder Mystery Dinner show Saturday night.

We arrived at Wonderworks a little after 7pm for the 8pm show and were met with an upside down building! How cool is that?  It even had sound effects of creaking noises to make it sound like it was still moving!

Wonderworks Upside-Down Building

The Outta Control show was first and even though it started kind of strangely, it quickly became very entertaining. It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed that much and even James (the naysayer) was laughing and enjoying himself!  The entertainer was Tony Brent and he definitely made sure we got our money’s worth.  The humor was pretty clean (this was a family environment) and yet just cutting enough that the adults laughed just as much as the kids.  The magic might not have been earth shattering, but it was definitely entertaining and made you wonder how he was doing it!  As for the food, it was pizza, salads, popcorn, unlimited drinks, and cake for dessert, and while it was nothing to write home to mom about, there was nothing wrong with it and there was plenty of it!  And, for $25/person we all felt that we definitely got our money’s worth out of the show and food and would definitely recommend it to others!

After the show, we wandered around a little before deciding to do the three story rope challenge.  The actual ropes weren’t three stories tall, they were three stories up in the air!! This was pretty cool though because it meant you were climbing around looking down at the arcade games and people beneath you!  Luckily none of us has problems with heights, so we were all able to climb, stretch, and shimmy across the different rope combinations they had set up. After a while, James took one for the team and went down to take pictures so we could document our fun!

After the ropes, we headed down to the exhibits and where the “amusement park for the mind” was at.  By this time it was pretty late, around 10:45-11:00 PM (the place was open until midnight), so we were the only ones in the exhibit area.  This made it even more fun because we were able to run around like kids in a candy store trying everything as quickly or for as long as we wanted.  It was also nice because we didn’t have to worry about being self conscious and were able to be as silly as we wanted!

As you can see from the pictures above, we had a great time and tried so many things it’s hard to remember everything!  The whole evening was a complete success and all of us were tired, but happy at the end of the night!!

Pirates Cove

After getting Michelle on her train to Miami, James and I decided to play a little miniature golf before checking into the hotel.

It had been probably 8 years since I’d played miniature golf, so I was really excited about our game. What I wasn’t excited about though was the heat! It was around 2-3pm and the humidity was a killer.  Luckily, it didn’t completely effect my game.  James ended up winning both times (18 holes and then another 18 holes), but I kept up pretty good and even got TWO holes-in-one compared to his one!

Other than the heat, we had a great time and I can’t wait to go back and do it again in December… hopefully when it’s much cooler!

Gaylord Palms

The Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Kissimmee has to be seen to be believed. It was a visual playground that made it hard to not stare as you wandered around the hotel… even after being there almost four days!!

One of my favorite areas in the hotel was a pirate ship in the middle of one of the ponds! It served as the bar area for one of the five restaurants inside hotel!!

Gaylord also has four and a half acres (yes acres) of indoor gardens that are meticulously kept! There wasn’t a brown leave or a stem out of place anywhere! And the colors! The colors were absolutely amazing!!

Equally amazing were the animals that inhabited the hotel.  Throughout the ponds and waterways in the hotel you’ll find all types of fish, and Gatorland graciously keeps the hotel supplied with young alligators and turtles for the pond off their main entrance.

And if that wasn’t enough, how about these details?!

Basically this place was just amazing, amazing, amazing!! Definitely the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in and it was great that I was also able to share it with James!

BbWorld 2010

Tuesday morning, my colleague Michelle and I flew out of Bloomington to Orlando, Florida for the Blackboard World 2010 (BbWorld) annual conference.  Blackboard is the company that owns the Angel, the learning management system (LMS) that we use at Richland.  In the past we haven’t been huge fans of Blackboard, but Michelle and I were still pretty excited about going to the conference. Michelle had been choosen as a client reporter, which meant her job during the conference was to go around and interview random people at the conference.  I on the other hand was presenting a conference session about the student orientation we developed at Richland.  In addition, Michelle and I were both really interested in connecting with our fellow Angel users and hearing what Blackboard had to say about their support of Angel.

The conference was being held at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Kissimmee, FL, and to say we were impressed was an understatement!

Blackboard World 2010 Conference

The Gaylord was absolutely amazing!  In fact so amazing I’m dedicating an entire post just to the conference center, which you can find on this page about the hotel (and trust me it’s worth looking at!).

From the very first night, Michelle and I got involved with the various activities.  One of our favorite involved a contest to collect at least 20 different vendor and Blackboard pins, which you were then to wear on your conference lanyard as flair.  We had a blast talking to the vendors and Blackboard employees while trying to get them to give us their different pins (some weren’t nearly as generous as others!).  Being the overachievers that we were, we quickly decided to go for it and get every single pin at the conference and ended up with @34 different pins, including the coveted and highly elusive Blackboard Executive Pin (worn only by the higher ups in Bb!).

Wednesday was a jammed packed day starting at 7am with breakfast, the keynote, back to back conference sessions, lunch, Michelle interviewing people, and in the evening an Angel appreciation dinner.

Thursday was just as busy if not busier, with breakfast again at 7am, a Bb 9.1 usability study, more great presentations, lunch (which the desserts, all four of them, were to DIE for!), an executive session with Ray Henderson (the President of Bb Learn), more interviewing for Michelle, and then in the evening the Bb customer appreciation party.

The appreciation party was amazing… imagine over 1800 people in a ballroom with the lights down, club music blaring, a jammed packed dance floor, gourmet food of all types, and a completely open bar.  This atmosphere was only enhanced by the coolest conversations ever! Michelle and I actually got to meet the men who created rubrics for Angel (which might not sound like a huge deal, but really was for us), in addition to a variety of equally amazing people.  The other highlights of the night include dancing with the president of Bb and then getting invited to the after party by Ray (from the executive session earlier in the day)… can you say surreal? The after party was held at The Grove on Universals City Walk and Bb rented four charter buses to take people there and then shuttle them back (they had buses leaving every 30 minutes).  Michelle and I tagged along to the after party just to check things out, but with James arriving late that night and my conference presentation the next morning at 8:30AM, we decided to head back to the hotel shortly after midnight.

When we got to the hotel I expected James to already be in our room (I had paid for an individual room for us out of my pocket), but he wasn’t there.  I was slightly worried because I had expected him to get in around 11-11:30PM, but his plane had been delayed (which he couldn’t let me know because he refused to get a cell phone!) and he ended up not arriving until shortly after I got back (@1AM).

After such a late and crazy night, Friday morning was a little hectic, but I was still able to make it to my presentation with plenty of time to spare.  My presentation was at 8:30AM, the last day of the conference and the morning after the big party, yet I still had a full audience in attendance!

The presentation went quite well and I had a number of people with additional questions, wanted my business card for follow-up, and even a few people who told me it was the best session they had attended at the conference!! Wow did that make me feel great!  Even James surprised me by not only giving me a big hug and telling me amazing job, but also giving me a full kiss on the mouth in front of people! Yes, I guess my presentation was *that* good! 😉

After my presentation, we finished packing and then wandered around the hotel for a bit before declaring the conference officially over!  James and I were staying in Orlando for the rest of the weekend, but Michelle was taking the train to Miami to meet up with some friends before meeting back up with us in the airport at Atlanta (Michelle coming from Miami and us from Orlando, all on our way to Bloomington).

James had rented a car when he got in the night before, so we offered to drive Michelle to the train station.  This ended up being a good idea because the train station in Orlando was in a slightly seedy location, yet it did have a little old school charm to it!

Michelle’s train was right on time and after seeing her boarded, James and I headed off for our next adventure.

Overall for the conference, Michelle and I had a great time, met a lot of amazing people, learned a lot, and are looking forward to next year’s conference…. Bb World 2011 in Vegas!!

Anniversary Weekend

Even though this weekend (Sunday) is our 1st wedding anniversary, we decided not to do much and instead save it for the following weekend when we’re in Orlando.  Yet we had to do someting, so I got two really nice steaks (a 1.4 lb porterhouse for James and a smaller strip for me) from the local meat market and some fresh from the field corn on the cob for lunch for our anniversary meal.

We also spent some time outside Saturday.  The weather was perfect for lounging by the pool and enjoying the warm summer sun!

James relaxing and enjoying the weather!

I additionally took some time to walked around the yard admiring the blooming flowers…

As well as checking on our flourishing garden!

The rest of the weekend James kept busy with his new tractor and school work, while I did some housework and started packing for the Orlando trip. Tuesday morning I’m leaving for Orlando with a colleague for the Blackboard World 2010 conference, which runs from Tuesday-Friday (I present Friday morning).  James is flying down Thursday after work and then after my conference is done Friday, we’re spending the rest of the weekend in Orlando celebrating our anniversary.  We’re really looking forward to this mini-vacation and hope to meet up with Ty & Austin for dinner while we’re there!