Wednesday, July 29, 2009

No topic here, really. It's just been a while since I posted and the 3 people who read this expect something.

This summer has been an erratic combination of fast and furious, and bits of down time. It's also been a total budget-buster. Sorry, Dave Ramsey, but it seems that until September comes along with it's daily routines and predictable spending patterns, we've gone back to reactive money management. Since February we enjoyed (if you can call it that) planning out where our money would be working for us in the month ahead. We faltered in June, and July has been totally filling in the blanks after the fact to try and find out where the heck our money went. August will be no better with trips and summer treats and always the unplanned expenses. It's too easy to throw 'it's not in the budget!' out the window and just say 'what the heck? It's summer.' in these cases.

I started, and gave up on car shopping again. The Stealth Van has 197,000 miles on the odometer, and may be feeling it's mortality at any moment. I found out that what I'd really love to be driving is way more than I can afford - meaning that what I'd be giving up to purchase a $30,000.00 vehicle is of more value to me than the vehicle itself - so I will continue to drive the van and hope and pray that it continues on in good health because if I have to replace it, it will be with something that might be different, but not that much better - so why bother? I was thinking about those car commercials where one spouse surprises the other with some BMW or Lexus, and then the voice-over talks about payments and financing. How much of a gift is it if the payments have to be taken out of the family budget? I find it unrealistic in the extreme that there are more than a very, very few middle-class types like depicted on those commercials where one spouse has access to $50,000.00 or thereabouts to surprise the other with a luxury car without it adversely affecting family finances. Commercials that plant unrealistic expectations are part of what got us all into this mess. Well, not me personally - but our society in general.

We're visiting Washington DC again in a few weeks. I'm really looking forward to the visit. It will be our third in four years. This will be the visit where we are finally able to slow down a touch without the guilt of regretting what we might miss if we don't keep going full tilt. We will be able to see and do things that were on our 'B' list the last couple of visits - and finally finish up the 'A' list things that we didn't have time for. The National Cathedral, Mt. Vernon, Biking the Potomac tow path, The Holocaust Museum, and perhaps even some of the rest of the small art collections that dot the city are on the list. Perhaps even the Eastern Market and the National Zoo for the simple enjoyment of a morning or afternoon. We are staying the same place we have before, and we are pretty well acquainted with the transportation system - so those normal vacationing in a city adventures will be less noted.

Cheers! ~M.E.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I wonder how we live at all in our nasty, germ-filled world. How is it that the nasties that constantly live around us looking for the least break in our defenses to climb into our warm, nutritious bodies and set up their own shop don't just take over? I do understand - at least in layman's terms - the functions and working of my own immune system, but it is all still a mystery to me.

Hannah is susceptible to the staphylococcus bacteria. Her immune system, which works overtime attacking things like cat dander, molds, and mildew spores is asleep in the watch tower when it comes to staph. Little breaks in her skin will randomly become raging infections over night. This morning it is one on her face - the worst place for your average teen. Three weeks ago, it came up in razer rash on her leg. We have the whole drill down about avoiding the bugs. It doesn't seem to have much of an effect recently. This is the third one in less than two months.

So, here I sit, waiting for 9am, so I can call the doctor. Will it be just another phoned-in prescription this time? Will they make us go see the prompt care doc? Will we actually get to see our own family doctor ?(who has become as busy as a one-armed wallpaper hanger since managed care took over, and his partner retired...) Only time will tell.


Friday, July 10, 2009

My historical love affair with Cedar Point.

Cedar point was the go-to amusement park from where I grew up in Michigan. It was feasible to get up and leave at about 5AM, be at the park when it opened, shut the place down at 9 or 10, and arrive back home at 3AM the next morning. It was the trip than made the summer in my teen aged years. although I have many vivid memories, they tend to blur into one another somewhat.
My first trip to Cedar Point was as a 10 or 11 year old. I was invited to go with a friend of mine - with her mother and grandmother. These weren't your cool mom and grandma, either. They were the house dress-and-sensible shoes wearing pentecostal lady types. I spent the entire day trying not to fly apart from excitement, while being expected to placidly walk along holding the hand of my assigned adult. I remember the best times were when they would take a break to sit in the shade, and my friend and I were allowed to ride the same one or two kiddie rides over and over until they were ready to move on. Back then the park still had a 'Fun House' that you would walk through - silly mirrored rooms, tilted rooms, glow-in-the dark rooms and such. My friend and I gave vent to our ten year old selves by running - howling and cackling all the way - through it several times while mom and grandma sat up our lunch of bologna sandwiches on a nearby picnic table. You could still bring your own food into the park then, I suppose. Those picnic tables are all gone now, and the price of food in the park makes gluttons diet.

My favorite trips as a kid were the trips in Jr. High that the kids in the concert band and select choir got to take. One Saturday in early June we were all delivered to buses at school and sent off with little adult supervision for the day. We'd get booted out with a stern warning to behave at park opening, and told to be back at the bus at 6PM sharp. In 1976, the year it opened, we waited 90 minutes to ride the Corkscrew. It scared us so badly with it's helical turns over the sidewalks where people were standing that we got right back in line to do it again. I think it must have been that ride where they first built the back-and-forth wait line mazes. The line we waited in was all along the midway, and policed by several uniformed officers to keep line-hoppers at bay. The next year the mazes behind the ride had been built. One of those years I inadvertently started some drama by purchasing a visor for a good friend of mine, Jeff, that had his name on it. I wore it throughout the day, starting a roomer that we were a 'thing' and was dismayed that when I gave it to him at school he had already heard the roomer, and hardly spoke to me for weeks. Then one day he wore it to school, and we were friends again. Funny how memories work, isn't it?
Each year when we returned, there was something new in those days. In 1978 it was the Gemini - a record breaking racing coaster, Then in 1980 it was a batch of new spin-and-pukes. Sometimes we went with families - I remember sleeping on the ground under the open wing of a pop-up camper, but can't remember for the life of me who was on the trip - and sometimes it was a batch of friends and whomever could beg the largest car off their parents for the trip. I know some of my fellow travelers from that era read this blog occasionally - you can add your own memories in the comments. The last of these trips was made in 1983, early the summer Harry and I were married. Back then the park only had 5 or 6 coasters, but riding the roller-coasters was still the Big Thing to do at Cedar Point.
The next time I saw the park was the summer of 2001. We had returned to the mid-west a few years previous, and although the intervening years had seen us riding the coasters at other parks, we had not made the now nine hour trip to Cedar Point again. By then the park had 12 major coasters, and was recognised at the Coaster Mecca of the US. Meredith was 15 and in the midst of her first crush, and so we hauled Dan along with us. The Harry, Marci, and Garrett part of the crew was the same as this last week. On that trip we had our first rides on Millennium Force, Magnum XL-200, Raptor, Iron Dragon, Mantis, and the Mean Streak. It was total coaster paradise, and we stayed two days. Garrett suffered from his now-famous coaster headaches, and Meredith had to rest in the afternoons. We found that having a room at the park was the best and most civilized way to experience this phenomenon. Swimming and napping from 2pm to 4pm was heavenly and made the early mornings and late nights easier on 40 year old bones.
In 2004 we returned again, but sadly, Garrett couldn't make the trip and we missed him severely. Nathan, who was a fixture in our lives then went with us, and if he ever needs a roller-coaster reference letter He'll have one with my name on it. He rides coasters with the true spirit of a fanatic. Hannah, on the other hand, was a sore disappointment as a 10 year old. I'll just say that she finally grew out of her reluctance, but spent plenty of time waiting at the exits back then. We had our first shots at Wicked Twister and Top Thrill Dragster that year.
That brings us up to the trip from whence we have just returned, and you have read about that in the other entries.

Now, find a place on your own calendar, and go to Cedar Point. ~M.E.

Coasters 2b.

This is the Blue Streak. I always thought that the local High School named their teams after the coaster, but found out while reading to write this that it was the other way around. The Blue Streak turns 45 in 2009. This is the coaster that started it all for me. A facebook friend from High School reminded me yesterday of one fateful ride where our lap bar didn't catch correctly and we thought we would fly out of the seat and die. This is still rated #48 on the great coasters in the world list because excellent engineering mean that Blue Streak has a huge amount of air time on its 9 hopper hills. Like an excellent aged burgundy, it is the true classic in the park.

Sorry for the tiny picture of the Magnum 200-XL. I didn't take a good one myself and had to snipe one off the web. The Magnum was built in 1989 - just shy of 15 years after steal coasters became de riguer. The designers of this coaster decided to go back to the old-school out-and-back hopper design, and prove that stealies were in it to win it, and could do a wood coaster design better than any ol' tree. In it's first year, it literally blew every former coaster mark to become the first dubbed 'hyper' coaster in the world. It was the first one to top 200 ft, and is considered the coaster that started the 'highest, fastest' record wars. about 2 million people ride it every year, and have since it opened. It's pretzel turn-around simply rocks, and if it weren't at Cedar Point it would be still be a super-star (still rated #7 in the world in 2008 by Golden Ticket voters..) it's a great re-rider because of short lines - everyone is already in line at Dragster, Maverick, and Millennium Force.

Last post tomorrow. ~M.E.

The Roller Coaster Report pt 2

Cedar Point has 17 roller coasters, and about 25 other 'thrill' rides. A person might go to Six Flags to see the shows, or Disney to hang around with the costumed charactors, but at Cedar Point if you aren't riding, you are the poor schlep sitting at the exit gate holding everyone elses crap. It's been voted the best ride park for 11 years in a row.
The Gemini is a roller coaster to ride for the sentimental value - if you are a hardened 'coaster addict. The racing coasters were built 1978, and were at that time the tallest and fastest in the world. It has two parallel tracks and two trains are sent out at a time to 'race' to the finish. The left track always wins. It is a good, old-fashioned bone jarring wooden coaster from the era just before the stealies took over. It still has it's claustrophobic 1 person wide queue fences - from the time before the psychologists found out that while waiting in line people are happier standing two wide. Rode it just once for the nostalgia.
Pictured here is the Gemini in front - and the Top Thrill Dragster (That yellow tower w/ crosspieces) The Dragster was built at a stunning price in 2003 to right a wrong. Back in 2000, the Millennium Force was built as the fastest, highest coaster on the planet - and not long after some upstart park in Japan built a coaster something like the Dragster, and stole the records. Cedar Point built the dragster to temporarily get those records back. The stupid thing is that "fastest, highest' is all it does. Period. The Dragster uses a hydraulic launch system something like is used to shoot planes off from an aircraft carrier, then it shoots the riders straight up 400ft. The trains go over the top of that loop, shoot back down (with one wicked full twist) and then back you go to the station for unloading - for a total of about 25 seconds. It's a ride to say you have done, and it is very cool, don't get me wrong - but not one that your average connoisseur would willingly wait an hour for more than once a park visit. I managed to ride it twice in our two day trip. One with Garrett, and once with the girls.

Part 2 B next since blogger ate the two other pix in this post. ~M.E.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Roller Coaster Report Pt.1

It's no real secret that I've been a roller coaster fan since I rode the Blue Streak as an impressionable 12 year old and it scared the crap totally out of me. I certainly don't get to ride them as much as I wish, but we certainly did it up well this last week. We spent two and a half days at Cedar Point in Sanduskey, Ohio. It is where you find the largest concentration of great 'coasters on Planet Earth. Some other place in the universe might have more great ones, but no place you and I can travel. Pictured are Garrett, Nicole, Me, Harry, and Hannah - The C.P. crew 2009.

This is the first hill on The Mellennium Force. This bad boy is so big, high and fast that they made up a new name - gigacoaster - and plunked it in a class of it's own. It broke almost all Roller Coaster records when it opened in 2000. That hill is 310' tall, the drop is 93 MPH at an 80* angle. It's totally smooth, has three rolling curves (overbanked turns that turn you almost but not quite upside down.), two tunnels, and three air hills. The cars rock, since you are only strapped in from the waist down, and there is no sightline restrictions, and total freedom of upper-body movement. 2minutes and 20 seconds of total, hands up, yelling all the way, awsomeness. It's still my very favorite ever. Rode it 6 times.

This is the Maverick. It's the new kid on the block, and since it knew it couldn't out speed, or out hight the Mellennium Force, it's claim to fame is it's double-linear moter launching systems, and the first drop of more than 90* - Yup, for a split second, that track actually curves under. This one flips and banks like a fighter jet, and adds extra breaks and accellerations just when you don't expect them. The thing about this 'coaster is that it never slows down. The 60MPH you reach flying over the first hill is maintained throughout the first half of the ride, then the second launch - at about 70 mph - lasts for the second half of the heart-pounding 2 minutes 3o seconds. This experienced rider learned to hold on tight to the bars near my neck throughout the whole ride. I think we managed 5 trips on this one.

More later ~M.E.