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Virginia and Surroundings
August 2020 - July 2021
Virginia Travelogue 4
August 18th - 19th (Tuesday - Wednesday): Cherry Crest Farm
Connie and I planned to do out usual trip to Cherry Crest Farm in Pennsylvania this year, though COVID made everything a bit uncertain for a bit. We had hoped to go to Dutch Wonderland and maybe Hershey Park as well, since Zack likes the rides so much. But, while all of them did reopen by mid-summer, Cherry Crest was the only one of the three that didn't require young children to wear masks. And, aside from the fact that trying to get a three year old to wear a mask all day would likely be impossible to begin with, it would just be cruel on a hot, humid summer day. We thought about just doing a day trip but it's a long enough drive that it's tempting to spend the night and we figured that the farm could easily keep Zack occupied for two days.
Of course, the big attraction for me is the corn maze. The theme this year was in celebration of the maze's 25th anniversary and it was a fun one. On that note, I think I've been there somewhere around 18 - 20 of those 25 years, starting with the second. Makes me feel a little old when I say it that way... Anyway, back in the beginning there was nothing but the maze. Now though, it's practically a full amusement park in its own right and we had no trouble keeping Zack busy for two days (probably could have done a third). There's animals, hay mazes, slides, wagon rides, a very large play town, multiple playgrounds, the corn bin (like sand, but better), and more. Zack really liked the big jumping thing (more like a giant bounce pad than a trampoline). He stayed on it for more than a hour straight the first day. It got to the point where he was too tired to jump anymore but still couldn't bring himself to leave. It's not all for kids though, there's a bounce pad for adults too, paintball, and a few other things that'll appeal to teens and up. This year, we made it to the far end of the farm, which I hadn't visited before, and found a number of attractions I hadn't seen on previous visits, including pig races. Next year, I think I'll try taking Zack through the maze's easy route. Though I'll naturally go through on my own first so I can search out all the map pieces and such.
Like last year, we spent the night at Hershey Farm, which had recently reopened their restaurant. While self-service buffets aren't currently allowed in Pennsylvania (and it appears that some in the area have closed for good), Hershey Farm is trying to provide a similar experience. They offer around 90% of what was on the buffet, you just mark the items you want on a paper and then a server will go and get it for you.
While it's a shame that we couldn't visit an amusement park as well, we had a great trip. It was nice to get away for a couple days and enjoy one of the things I look forward to every summer here (especially considering that just about all the others have been canceled this year). I'm glad Cherry Crest is still going strong. Hopefully they'll still be around in another 25 years.

August 25th - 27th (Tuesday - Thursday): Ocean City Round 2
Since we weren't able to do any big trips this summer, Connie and I had been thinking of going back to Ocean City for a few more days. But this has been a really rainy summer, which limited our options. Fortunately, we finally managed to find a good time before things got really busy. Though, since our last visit, Maryland passed some stricter mask laws, with the end result being that masks are now required on the boardwalk. That actually made me consider going to Virginia Beach instead, but we were already familiar with Ocean City so we decided to just keep it simple. That said, I'd say that only around 50% - 60% of people on the boardwalk were actually wearing masks and I didn't see anyone enforcing the rule. Not to mention that you're allowed to take the mask off to eat or drink, so you could just carry a drink or some fries around to legally go without a mask. In the end, I didn't end up wearing a mask on the boardwalk too much. Which is good because we hit some pretty hot days and wearing a mask in 90 degree weather is not fun. If you're wondering why I'm not more worried about spreading/catching COVID... You can read my series of COVID posts for more details but, long story short... I'm not very worried about COVID in general (it's fairly contagious but the mortality rate is really low). There's no scientific consensus on whether masks actually help much. And the science seems to indicate that you generally need several minutes of close contact with someone to spread the virus, so briefly walking past someone in a large outdoor space seems unlikely to be an issue.
That aside... We once again divided most of our time between the beach and the hotel pool. The beach was just as great as before. Long and wide, with great sand and water. As a note, the only reason it looks rather empty in the photo is because I took that picture fairly early in the morning. There was normally a pretty good crowd. Of course, we also spent some time on the boardwalk, especially when Zack wanted to ride in his stroller, or on his scooter.
This time around, I did manage to go out walking at night, which I didn't have a chance to do before. I also took advantage of the time to go all the way to the south end of the boardwalk. As you get further south, you hit fewer hotels and more shops and restaurants, including some more high end ones than I'd seen before (though Ocean City is no Waikiki in that regard). There's also some assorted attractions on the beach, including a fake dinosaur skeleton, a playground, and some large sand sculptures. Near the end, there's also not one, but two amusement parks (there's also a larger one a bit off the north end up the boardwalk), complete with the usual assortment of ride and games. It was rather late when I made it out there, so I didn't take a close look around the parks. But I did win a prize for hanging from a bar for awhile (it's the grip strength in your fingers that's the main issue, not arm strength). Next time, I'll have to bring Zack down there for some rides.
Anyway, we had a nice low key trip, enjoying the sun and the water. That's probably the end of our beach visits for this year, but I'm sure we'll be back next year (and hopefully not have to deal with any more masks).

October: COVID-19 Part 7

I'm going to talk a bit about COVID again since the situation has been getting on my nerves again lately. Specifically, how many states (Virginia included) seem to have no plan to ever remove their remaining restrictions. Some have even tightened restrictions recently. Meanwhile, some events scheduled to take place next year are already being canceled and my university is going to be keeping its current restrictions in place for spring as well. Environment that, in general, case numbers are far below what they were at the peak and deaths have gone way down.

But haven't over 200,000 people died from COVID-19 in the US? Well, sort of. Let's take a closer look at that. First off, according to the CDC, only 6% of that number (around 12,000 people) died solely from COVID with no other co-morbidity factors (conditions that can cause or contribute to death). As a side note, a number of fact checking sites (including the ones partnered with Facebook) rushed to label that claim false but it is the official data from the CDC. If you actually read the fact check articles, their "reasoning" behind the false label was that people might take the data out of context and misunderstand it. But you could make that claim about literally anything. There's clearly an agenda at play there. Anyway, that aside... So, around 12,000 people died solely because of COVID. What about the remaining 94% of deaths? Well, that's where it gets complicated. First, there's an unknown percentage of them whose death had nothing to do with COVID-19. We know this because, as I preciously explained, most states are reporting everyone who dies after receiving a positive COVID test as a COVID death, even if their cause of death was clearly unrelated. Washington state, for example, admitted to counting a number of gunshot victims. Some states even count people as COVID deaths if they were never tested but the doctors think they might have had COVID. Why take such a liberal approach to counting COVID deaths? I already went over that in a previous post so I won't go back into it now, but there are multiple reasons why doctors and officials might want to inflate the numbers. Next up, we have an unknown percentage of people for which COVID was one of the major causes of their death, but not the only one. Finally, there's another unknown percentage of people who already had a number of serious health problems and COVID was, at worst, the straw that broke the camel's back. In which case, they probably would have died soon regardless of COVID. So where does that leave us? Honestly, it's kind of hard to say. We can safely say that COVID-19 killed more than 12,000 people. But we can also say that it has almost certainly killed less than 200,000 people. As for what the actual number is...we'll probably never know.

To add a little more context to the numbers, in some man-on-the-street interviews I've seen, when asked what percentage of the US population had been killed by COVID, I heard guesses anywhere from 1% to 25%. For convenience sake, let's just go with the 200,000 number. Now, the popular of the US is currently estimated at 331,000,000 So some basic math tells us that COVID hasn't killed 25% of the population. Or 10%. Or even 1%. It's closer to 0.65%, give or take. So even if the number of deaths doubles before COVID is over (which seems unlikely), we'll still be only a little over 1%. Not a particularly scary number. And that's calculated using what we know is an inflated death count.

It all comes back to the question of how deadly COVID-19 is. Well, the CDC recently released its latest data, which reduces COVID's estimated mortality rate even more than it was before. To quickly summarize, if you get COVID-19 (and not everyone does, even without any restrictions), your chances of dieing based on your age group are...
0 - 19: 0.003%
20 - 49: 0.02%
50 - 69: 0.5%
70+: 5.4%
Combing those numbers with other available data once again hammers in that, if you're below around 60 or so years old, and don't have any serious health problems, you have virtually no chance of dieing from COVID-19. In fact, using these numbers, if you're younger than 50, your risk is, at worst, the same or less than that of the season flu. Yes, the one that happens every year and that virtually no one worries about. Yes, the numbers do get notably higher among the elderly, but that applies to nearly every illness since elderly people have weaker immune systems and, often, a large number of pre-existing health problems.

Of course, we should do what we can to protect the elderly, but this data clearly doesn't show any reason to close schools, or lock anything down, really (at most, you could make a case for locking down nursing homes). But will that matter? Probably not. The CDC announced months ago that COVID didn't really spread via surfaces but that hasn't stopped everyone from constantly disinfecting everything. The actual scientific data on masks is really inconclusive, but if anything I see more people wearing them when and where they're not required. And, while the newest data shows the mortality rates to be extremely low, the previous batch of estimates showed them to be pretty low as well and nothing changed. There's too much fear mongering, too many political agendas, and too many reputations on the line for any companies, politicians, or media sources to change their tunes now. Nevermind how many jobs are destroyed and lives are ruined. At this point, it's not at all a matter of when we'll be safe (we always have been, or at least as much as always, give or take), or when COVID will go away, but when the media and politicians who have been fanning the hysteria from the beginning will allow this "pandemic" to end.

December: Random Virginia Comment: Christmas Spirit Revisited
Since moving to Virginia, Connie and I have normally spent the holidays visiting my family in Hawaii. Our first year here was an exception due to the birth of Zack (my son). At the time, I noted that there just didn't seem to be a lot of "Christmas spirit" here compared to other places that I've lived. Well, this year our Hawaii trip got pushed back a bit (not due to COVID, surprisingly enough) so I decided to take another look and see if my first impression was correct. To be fair, this probably isn't the best year to judge due to COVID and all, but Virginia's current restrictions aren't nearly as strict as some states.
So, how was Christmas this year? Unfortunately, I'm going to have to stick with my initial assessment. Sure the shopping malls all had Christmas decorations and places to take photos with Santa (well, more like take photos while in Santa's general vicinity). But only a handful of the the numerous shopping plazas were decorated. The majority of individual stores also seemed to be lacking in both decorations and Christmas music. Some houses were decorated, but less than I would expect. And I only ever encountered a single bell ringing Santa collecting donations for charity. So, while it's not like "Christmas spirit" was entirely absent, there was certainly a lot less of it than in any other part of the US I've lived. Heck, I think even Japan had northern Virginia beaten in some ways. Though I don't celebrate Christmas myself, the lack of Christmas stuff here felt a little sad. But, I guess given both the demographics and the politics in this area, that's just the way it is.

April 9th (Friday): Bad Ax Throwing
Apparently, ax throwing has moved beyond being a Renaissance Fair attraction and changed into a proper pastime. Bad Ax Throwing is a chain of ax throwing...alleys? Arenas? Not sure what the proper term is. Personally, I'm also not sold on the name "Bad" Ax Throwing. That sounds kinda dangerous. But anyway, Connie got a gift certificate to the local Bad Ax Throwing for her birthday and we finally got around to using it. On a side note, unless your group is large enough, you have to wait for their walk-in times, which are kinda random, rather than getting a reservation, which is a bit annoying. But anyway...
Ax throwing is what it sounds like. You can just do it for fun, or treat it like a game of darts and aim for a certain score. Since it was just Connie and I, and she had never tried anything like it before, we didn't bother with a proper game and just had fun. I'd done a little bit of ax throwing before at Renn fairs and it's actually a lot easier than you'd think. There's a couple of ways to do it two-handed and, with proper form, getting the ax into the target is surprisingly simply, requiring very little arm strength. I could land most of my two-handed throws in the target without any trouble. On or near the bull's-eye, for that matter. Though, to be fair, it's not like I could necessarily hit any part of the target I wanted (getting that level of aim would require some practice), but I could hit the center fairly consistently. Throwing the ax one-handed looks cooler and is still fairly easy in terms of strength and such, but keeping it straight enough to stick in the target is a bit tougher. My rate was probably closer to 50% that way (as opposed to 90%+ two-handed). I also saw an employee do an underhand throw, which I tried (and failed) a few times. Anyway, Connie and I spent an hour there and had a rather fun time. In a way, it's not all that different from darts or bowling. Can't say I fell in love with it, but I had fun and wouldn't mind going again. Also, I totally demolished the center of our target. So if you're looking for a group activity that's a little bit unusual and not nearly as dangerous as it sounds, you may want to give ax throwing a try.

July 4th (Sunday): The Museum of the Bible
For the holiday, we decided to get together with some friends. At first, the weather forecast wasn't looking good so we planned to do something indoors. A lot of stuff in DC is still closed, so we ended up deciding on The Museum of the Bible. Of course, later on the forecast changed and the weather ended up being very nice. But whatever.
This was the first time I'd been to downtown DC in over a year due to a mix of COVID restrictions and, for a while, violent riots. And, by now, things were looking fairly normal. If not nearly as crowded as I would normally expect on a Sunday, much less a holiday. The kids played around the National Mall for a while and then we headed off to the museum. As a note, The Museum of the Bible is not part of the Smithsonian so you do have to buy tickets.
Anyway, the first thing you notice when you enter is the large screen on the ceiling, which cycles though a lot of different displays. There are a number of permanent and temporary exhibits, the majority of which are focused on Biblical history and artifacts, the history of the Bible itself, and its cultural influences. Though I'd say that, more than anything else, there were lots and lots of old Bibles (along with some Hebrew books and Torah scrolls, for Jewish visitors). The exhibits are well designed and organized and, whether you're religious, or just interested in the history (the Bible has had far more influence on world history and culture than anything else), there's a lot of interesting stuff. Unfortunately, with a four and five year old in-tow, we had to skim most of it. The coolest exhibit by far was an almost Disney-like mixture of videos and displays tracing the highlights of the Old Testament. Unfortunately, pictures weren't allowed but it was really artistic and well done. There was a New Testament one as well, though we didn't have time to go through the whole thing. It did include a partial recreation of a town from New Testament times, which was cool. But the kids were much more fond of the Bible themed play area. Finally, the top floor had some nice views and a "Biblical" garden. While I didn't get to take a close look at many of the exhibits, the museum was still pretty interesting and I'd like to go back sometime without kids. That said, it's actually one of the better DC museums for young kids thanks to the play area and videos. Over all, I'd say that, even if you're not really religious, The Museum of the Bible is worth visiting. Though, of course, Christians and Jews will certainly get the most out of it.
We spent a few hours going the museum then, after it closed, we let the kids play together for a while longer before heading home. Our friends ended up staying in DC to watch the fireworks show. I would have liked to do that as well, but we probably would have gotten home really late with traffic and Zack had a class in the morning. Maybe next year... But regardless, the museum was interesting and it was nice to spend time with friends. And hey, we lit some sparklers and stuff back home so we still got some fireworks, even if they were small ones.

July 10th - 12th (Saturday - Monday): Ocean City, Maryland
We really enjoyed our trips to Ocean City last year. This year, even though we're no longer trying to escape lockdowns, we wanted to go back and have fun on the beach. The beach and boardwalk were just and nice as before, though a bit more crowded. That could be because more people are traveling compared to last year. Though it likely also has something to do with the fact that we went up on a weekend so Zack wouldn't miss his Tuesday or Thursday classes back home. Anyway, things were at their busiest on Saturday and calmed down a bit after that. I already wrote a lot about the beach and boardwalk last year, so I won't repeat that. Though I did bring a kite this time to take advantage of the frequent windy days.
We ended up at a different hotel than last year (the Grand, a bit further north on the boardwalk). It's a little older, but has two pools and an arcade. It's also part of a campaign that a lot of Ocean City hotels join in which lets you pick several coupons or free vouchers for various local restaurants and attractions. There's some pretty good deals available. For example, I got some free passes for various things at Jolly Roger, the local amusement park. There's actually two locations, one at the far south of the boardwalk (smaller, but with some more intense rides) and a little north of the boardwalk (much larger). We took Zack to the north one for some mini-golf and rides. As a note, while the mini-golf courses are nice enough (though there's a ton of mini-golf all throughout Ocean City to choose from), the rides are nearly all for little kids. To the point where there were only a handful that Zack couldn't ride on his own. He had a lot of fun, but I would have gotten bored pretty quickly if I went by myself. Jolly Roger also has a water park (which requires separate admission) that looks fairly decent, but we didn't have time for it this trip. I do plan to check it out next time though. Then there's Speed World, a go kart park, right next door. Honestly, since I started driving real cars, I never found go karts all that fun, but they did have a number of different types of karts and tracks to choose from. There were a couple slow ones that Zack could drive on his own, but I also took him along as a passenger on two of the bigger, more intense tracks, including a twisting tower of sorts that was actually rather fun (reminded me of Mario Kart a little).
Once again, we had a very enjoyable and relaxing time in Ocean City. And it was fun to explore a bit more and try some different things this time around. Not sure if we'll make a second trip there this summer, but we'll definitely be heading back again sooner or later.

Virginia Travelogue 4

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