Joel’s review of Les Misérables (2012)

My wife is a huge fan of the musical Les Misérables. I watched it once on Broadway back in the late 90’s and I didn’t find it memorable or altogether interesting. I know, I know, it’s heresy. There was a film version that came out back in 2012, and Nums borrowed it from the library last week for us to watch.

The film stars Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe as Javert, Anne Hathaway has Fantine, and Amanda Seyfried as older Cosette. [Side note: Amanda Seyfried in a serious role? Good for her!] You’ve also got Eddie Redmayne as a guy named Marius, Sacha Baron Cohen (!) and Helena Bonham Carter.

Do you know the story? I barely remembered it, so I’ll recap it. The film is set in a post-revolutionary period in France. We’re introduced to Jean Valjean, known as Prisoner 24601, who is released from prison to start a new life, but it isn’t a new life. Due to his  criminal past (of stealing a loaf of bread), he’s unable to find work or lodging or food. He ultimately decides to break parole to create a new life for himself while evading the grip of the persistent Inspector Javert. Valjean becomes mayor of a town, but he’s worried about getting recognized, because Javert keeps popping up everywhere.

We’re also introduced to Fantine, a poor young woman who hits some bad luck, ends up on the street, and unfortunately becomes a prostitute. At this point, with the kids watching with us, we had to skip ahead to the next chapter. While the story is interesting, it’s not quite appropriate for children. Valjean finds and adopts eventually Fantine’s daughter Cosette. They run off, and years pass.

After fast-forwarding, the June Rebellion is starting up, and a number of peasants are planning for a big show to demonstrate their unhappiness with the current economy and their difficulties to survive while the rich enjoy their lives. It all comes together as Cosette gets involved with one of the leaders of the rebellion. Meanwhile, Javert keeps finding Valjean.

I have to admit, even with this 2nd go around, I still wasn’t particularly moved by the story. It has its moments, but maybe I’m dead inside. Maybe it was all the singing, and there’s a lot. Maybe I found it a little over-dramatic at times. I don’t know. I feel bad, because my wife definitely feels like it’s an amazing story. The songs are good, though. I’ll give her that.

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Josh and the middle school 7th and 8th grade bands playing at Arm & Hammer Park

Recently, the 7th and 8th grade bands at Josh’s middle school were invited to play the Star Spangled Banner before a Trenton Thunder game. The only hitch was that this was for a Tuesday night game? A school night? I don’t consider myself lame, a school night is a little tough. Also, I had to leave early from work in order to get home in time to change, pick up another neighborhood boy also in the band, and drive them both to the park.

We made it through, and we had time to get cash for parking, park the car, and walk over to the staging area along the back outside. The kids all practiced a few times, then I went inside the stadium. There were also little kids invited to march before the game started. Once I got inside the stadium and looked around, I noticed the stadium was very empty. I wondered how the minor leagues would promote attendance to weeknight baseball game. If the organization invites school clubs and kids, their parents will come as well. That’s how you fill the seats on a weeknight. Interesting.

I hung out for a bit waiting for them to come out. I took a few more pictures, and recorded the anthem. Afterwards I met both boys, and we walked back to the car to drop off their trumpets. Walked back again to the stadium to grab dinner and our seats. Josh and his friend ended up hanging with some of their other friends, and I chatted with another parent. We stayed until about the 5th inning, and then made our exit. I would have loved to stay longer, but Josh and I still had homework/officework to do when we got home.

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How did I spend my birthday weekend? A whole lotta running around!

This year, my birthday fell on a Sunday, so hey! Weekend birthday!

Joshua was away for most of the weekend, off camping in Pennsylvania with his Boy Scout Troop. We helped him double check the items he was packing, to reduce the risk of him forgetting anything. I ended up dropping him off at the meeting spot, and I got out of having to drive anyone to the camp site. I would have if needed, but hey, I didn’t have to.

Saturday morning, I slept in a bit, then we drove down to south Jersey for our nephew Ben’s 4th birthday party at my sister’s house. Fun time but we had to roll around 2 PM.

Back home and I hit the gym. Back to the house to clean myself up, for us three to get ready, and to drop off Lily to a neighbor’s house for a sleepover. Nums and drove down to Philadelphia to meet Julie and Robbie for dinner at Cuba Libre.

Dinner at Cuba Libre

Cuba Libre was nice but our server was a little slow and slightly clueless. After dinner we hit up Bootleggers down the street for drinks, music, and to play some games. I think we left around midnight.

Sunday morning was sleeping in time. I later picked up Josh after his camping trip around noon. Lily had a birthday party for a a classmate and his little brother in the afternoon, and Josh rested. In the evening, I took the kids to Six Flags to ride the rollercoasters. This was the first day of the season, so Six Flags also had a mini food truck festival going on near the Batman rides. While there appeared to way more people and cars in the parking lot when we arrived, by the time we got in, the rides were fairly empty. Lily recently hit 54″ (by a hair) so she qualifies now to ride the big rollercoasters.

We rode on Superman, Green Lantern, Kingda Ka, that Metropolis 4D ride. Kingda Ka had the longest wait of 30 minutes, while Green Lantern had barely anybody on line.

The chicken came out so good, so thieves couldn’t wait to get their hands on some.

Before it got too dark, we left so that I could get home and grill some chicken for dinner. That was a full weekend!

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Our nephew Ben’s 4th birthday party

Our nephew Ben turned 4 this month! My sister and her husband Robbie put together a fun party at their house for a lot kids and their parents. It was some children’s car-themed party (I wasn’t familiar with the show), and the kids enjoyed the great weather that day by running around and playing games.

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I think Spring is finally here

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We bought Lily a new bike for her birthday

Lily has been riding a 20″ bicycle for a few years now. Late last year, I noticed that she was either looking really big, or the bicycle was looking awfully small. At the time, we agreed that she needs a new bike for 2018, and decided to wait for the Spring. Lily dropped by our local bicycle shop a few times this year and she picked out a 24″ GT Stomper kid mountain bike.

It’s obviously bigger, features 7 gears, handbrakes, and has some some minor shock absorption on the front. On April 12, we traded in her old bicycle for this one. So far, she likes it. I would have preferred an even larger bike and more gearing options, but 26″ seems a little too big for her to handle.

It’s nice. I’m a little worried that she will outgrow this one sooner than expected. We shall see.

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The kids and their CMB Karate Demo Team performed at the Wells Fargo Center in April 2018

The Sunday after we got back from Florida, the kids and their CMB Karate Demo Team were performing at the Wells Fargo Center before a 76ers basketball game. We skipped church in the morning, then drove them down to Philadelphia.

Joshua and Lily [CMB Karate Demo Team] performing at Wells Fargo Center on April 8 2018 from Joel Ipe on Vimeo.

The performance went well, but we had nosebleed seats again. If you squinted, you could tell when the local sportsball team was winning. 😉 All kidding aside, I’m glad the 76ers have a much better team this year.


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Our Road Trip to Orlando – Days 7 & 8 – The road home

I’ll combine the last two days, because it was not a super complicated road trip, apart from traffic. The plan was to hit the road after breakfast, and make the 10 hour drive (plus fuel stops & rest breaks) to our already-reserved hotel room in Richmond. It had been a long week, and while I entertained a 3 hour detour through Shenandoah National Park and the famous Skyline Drive, everyone wanted to get home. It’s understandable.

I’m glad we didn’t go ahead with the detour because we hit so much traffic, it would never have worked. The entire northern stretch of Florida leaving Orlando, the entire length of Georgia, and parts of South Carolina was 30 MPH. Traffic, traffic, and more traffic. Rather fed up near the Georgia – South Carolina border, Nums navigatedus along a local route in order to recoup some time. Despite lunch while driving on the road, the gas stops, and maybe two stretch breaks, the unexpected traffic added three whole hours to the trip.

It’s 2D Daryl vs 3D Joel – fight!

I will take a moment to comment on a Georgia rest area with visitor center we stopped at briefly for a restroom / stretch break. It had couches (with tv!) and a life-size cutout of Daryl from The Walking Dead. Funny.

By 9:30 pm, we were still 90 mins away from the hotel, and hungry for dinner. We stopped into a CiCi’s Pizza for the first time ever to eat before they (and most other restaurants) closed by 10 pm. I gotta say, those CiCi tv ads (pizza buffet?) really make their pizza look like they taste good. In reality, they reminded me of cafeteria pizza. It’s quantity over quality. Then again, as the well-being adage goes…. when you’re hungry, any pizza buffet in a storm.

This Georgia Visitor Center has its very own living room

Around 11 pm, we had mapped our route to the Garden Inn in the “Richmond South” area. While the number of restaurants and other establishments seemed greater than I anticipated, maybe I remembered it wrong. Unfortunately, we parked, happily unloaded the car, walked into the lobby, and the Front Desk couldn’t find out reservation. Turns out, we mapped it to the wrong Hilton property. We were staying at the Hampton Inn Richmond South, not Garden Inn Richmond South.

Exasperated, we loaded the car back up, and drove 15 mins north to the Hampton Inn Richmond South. Not as nice a hotel, not as nice a neighborhood. Lesson learned – next time on a road trip, if we’re just planning to stay at a roadside hotel, we don’t need to book the hotel in advance. We all would have gladly stopped hours earlier and checked into a hotel along the way. We grabbed one suitcase, checked in, and quickly got to bed for some much-desired sleep.

I woke up 7 hours later to a very loud alarm and watching Lily slamming anything on the night table between beds trying to shut off the alarm. Why was the alarm clock so obnoxiously loud? Who set the hotel alarm clock anyway? It was no alarm clock – it was the hotel fire alarm. With no idea what time it was, we dressed (I grabbed the car keys) and stumbled downstairs and outside.

It was around 8 am. Not as early as I thought but we were all a little delirious. We sat in the car for 20 mins, watched the police cars and fire trucks arrive. No fire, somebody was smoking apparently we learned later. Now awake, we went back to the room to get ready, have breakfast at the hotel, and get home.

Lily enjoying her hot chocolate at Waffle House

Thankfully the drive on Saturday was smoother and less eventful. We grabbed lunch at a Waffle House in Maryland, and arrived home around 2 pm. What a long week it was!

Overall, we had a good time. The drive was probably slightly less expensive than driving, but we haven’t done the exact math on that yet. I liked that we had the car to use freely in Orlando. I also liked our pit stop in Charleston, and a unique opportunity to celebrate Easter so far from home.

We had a fun time hanging out with the Winters as much as we did. EPCOT was my favorite day because we got to see and do so much more than at the other parks. I was personally a little disappointed in Hollywood Studios as it didn’t offer as much as I hoped. I don’t know if we would do Universal again without the Express Pass. It’s either that or try to go back during non-peak season. Next time, we have to see Cape Canaveral.

Another successful Ipe vacation!

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Our Road Trip to Orlando – Day 6 – The Ipes take a low key day to recharge

We had a grand day planned for Kennedy Space Center. Unfortunately 50 – 75% of the family was exhausted and that’s no way to enjoy a fun family day out at a Cape Canerval. Or anyone’s vacation day. Instead we decided to lounge around locally. We slept in (a little because we are not missing breakfast), slept a little, and the kids watched some tv and played Nintendo.

We grabbed same takeout / ate leftovers for lunch, hit the pool, and washed our clothes in the hotel laundry room. Glad we brought some laundry detergent! The kids were definitely happy to have some downtime, and it was nice to spend some time by the pool. The kids also discovered that one of the arcade games was malfunctioning by not needing new tokens. Free games!

In the late afternoon, we drove to a local amusement park that featured two large gas-powered go-kart tracks. Not only that, but they were multi-level. Ooooh aaaaah. It cost about $10 a person for Josh, Lily, and I to go racing. Fun for sure, and Lily was ecstatic that she is (barely) tall enough to finally ride on her own. I wasn’t sure they were going to allow her at the second, but the guy measured her again and let her go. Nums has some good pictures and video, I think, so I’ll have to grab them from her.

Afterwards, we did some grocery shopping at a nearby Wal-Mart for supplies needed for the drive home. Drinks, stuff for sandwiches, and snacks. Really exciting stuff.

We soon got home and got ready for our last dinner in Orlando. We went to Cuba Libre in Disney Springs, which is partially owned by Gloria & Emile Estefan. Even with reservations, there was a long line to check in, and a bit of a wait as well. We somewhat expectedly ran into some friends from the Northeast who were also vacationing in Orlando this week, and were having dinner too. Dinner was good overall, but we probably ordered too much food. Josh barely touched his entree after appetizers. We also ordered a $38 pitcher of mojitos, which seemed like a value, but beers were only $6. By the time we got the check, I nearly fell out of my seat. Ah well.

That was it. Our last big day in Orlando. Not exactly what we had originally planned, but it was fun anyway.

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Our Road Trip to Orlando – Day 5 – Hollywood Studios

Hello, Wednesday and Hollywood Studios. While the rest of the family has never been, it’s been over 20 years since I stepped foot onto Hollywood Studios. I don’t remember too much from our family trip back in the mid 90’s, but I remember enjoying it. Although the new Toy Story Land doesn’t open until June 2018 and Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge doesn’t open until sometime in 2019, we assumed there would be plenty to do. Hmmm more on that later.

After breakfast, we arrived at the entrance, paid for Standard parking again, and found a crowded parking lot. Huh, it’s only 9 am. Taking the next tram the short distance to the main entrance, we were unpleasantly surprised by huge security lines. We may have waited a good 30 minutes to make it into the park. We had two key Magic Pass reservations for the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, Star Tours, and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. We also had lunch reservations with the Winters family at the Brown Derby, and dinner reservations at the Sci-Fi Drive-in Theater restaurant.

With ample time between these reservations, we wandered the park leisurely throughout the day. To put it simply, I don’t there is a lot yet to do at Hollywood Studios. Not yet anyway. Apart from the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular (which is a must), or the Frozen ride (which we skipped), or the Tower of Terror (pretty good), there’s only small little things to do there. We did watch a small film at an exhibit on Walt Disney. That was nice

Muppet Vision 3D? Nice diversion, but it felt like a 10 min short film.

Star Tours? Decent, but it’s blink-and-you-missed-it short. If you’re considering standing on line for an hour for it, stop.

Star Wars Launch Bay? It’s an 8 min infomercial for Star Wars under Disney. The only other thing to do there is meet characters and see some models. We had so much time, we stood on line to meet Kylo Ren and BB-8. See? We had spare time to stand in line for unplanned opportunities.

The nine of us had lunch at the Brown Derby, which is a fancy-ish place to eat, although everyone is wearing shorts and t-shirts. More expensive than we expexted.

Beyond that, we were wandering around looking at the scenery. We knew Toy Story Land was opening later this year, but I figured there would be enough to keep us busy in the mean time. Not…. really.

We had dinner reservations at the Sci-Fi Drive-in restaurant where you sit in tables shaped like 1950s American cars, eat diner food, and watch old sci fi clips. We ran out of stuff to do, so Nums luckily moved our Tower of Terror reservation up 2 hours, rode it, decided to cancel our dinner reservation, then head back to the hotel.

It’s a decent park, but’s there is not enough value for the price today. My recommendation to you is wait to visit Hollywood Studios until end of 2019. Wait until Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge are up and running. Or do a Park Hopper, hit up what you want strategically, then head somewhere else.

It was a shorter day at the park than we planned, but the Winters and the Ipes made up for it by hitting the pool and hot tub in the evening. We ordered food to eat at the pool (delivery through Uber Eats) from Fuddruckers, but the restaurant cancelled the order on us mysteriously. I didn’t know they could do that. We placed a new delivery order at a different local restaurant, and we all ate in our hotel suite. The kids ran off into the bedrooms to watch TV or play Nintendo. Fine by me, because that left the adults time to talk and drink!

The Winters were flying home in the morning, so this was our last hurrah together. We had one more day in Orlando.

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