First Week of Kindergarten

Our son started Kindergarten this week, officially starting his journey through the public school system.  This is definitely one of the most prominent of the well-known moments of mixed emotions experienced by parents.  I am immensely proud of the smart and very personable kid and thoroughly enjoy the experience of seeing him grow and mature. At the same time, I miss the baby that he was and the ability for my wife and/or me to be there for every part of his life.  Even as I write this, I know that this whole dilemma sounds kind of clichéd, but it also is unquestionably real.

I’m sure it is normal for us as parents to have quite a bit of apprehension and uncertainty as our son starts school.  We have a lot of awareness of both his strengths and weaknesses and can’t help but wonder how each will affect his experience.  We do know that our son is quite smart, even already having some pretty decent reading skills.  He has known basics like his alphabet and counting since not too long after he learned to talk and he has even learned some simple math.

On the other hand, he also has some definite problems with listening and following directions, which are going to take some work to overcome.  After his very first day of school, the teacher already noted that he wasn’t listening as well as he should and moved him to a desk closer to the front of the room.  We’ve also recently learned that his eyesight is not very good.  While he got his first set of eyeglasses yesterday, he is still nearly blind in one eye even with the lenses.  Obviously, that is going to be a bit of a challenge to overcome and probably also explains why his motor skills haven’t been as strong as his intellectual talents.

Our son has been through 2 years of pre-school as well as a few months at a drop-off school-skills class, so we didn’t experience as much separation anxiety as some families do.  Even when he first started pre-school, there really wasn’t any major problem when my wife left him for the first time, something that surprised us a bit since he had always had a really difficult time with babysitters.  My wife, who is a stay-at-home mom, has probably had more of a difficult time with the adjustment than my son has.

The shift from pre-school to Kindergarten is still a big adjustment.  His pre-school was only 4 days a week, 3-hours per day.  The elementary school he is going to has a full day Kindergarten, which means 5 days a week, 6 1/2 hours per day.  This includes lunch at school, which is also a pretty big change.  The pre-school was a cooperative type, which meant that my wife stayed to assist with the class one day a week.  It also had pretty much an open-door policy where parents were pretty free to stick around if there was something going on that they wanted to observe.  Not surprisingly, Kindergarten has much more of a closed atmosphere.

We definitely do still intend to be very involved in our son’s school experience wherever we can.  My wife has already made certain that the teacher and the parent’s organization are aware that she is available to volunteer as needed and we expect that there will be many opportunities.  The class has 24 students and there are no teaching assistants, so the teacher did indicate that parents should have opportunities to stick around and assist in the classroom periodically.

While my work schedule limits my availability, I certainly hope to be able to take part whenever I can as well.  I did take the day off of work this week so that I could go along to the parent orientation on Tuesday, which gave me the opportunity to meet his teacher and see the classroom.  I expect to attend parent activities and meetings whenever my schedule allows.  I also definitely plan to continue to spend lots of time working with my son directly to help reinforce and practice the lessons he is learning in school.

I was impressed by the teacher and the classroom during the orientation on Tuesday.  The classroom immediately made a very good first impression due to the teacher’s decision to heavily feature “The Cat in the Hat” as a central theme to the decoration.  That was one of the very first books that we bought for my son and we have read it (and its sequels) together numerous times over the years.  My son’s reading skills have been improving rapidly and, just last weekend, I helped to guide my son through his first time reading “The Cat in the Hat” himself. 

The teacher herself definitely seemed very kind and skilled to me, based on my first impression.  She has quite a bit of teaching experience and seemed to have a good handle on how to work with kids this age.  After the first 2 days, my son’s impression of her is very positive and he still seems excited about going back again tomorrow.

While it is not always easy to watch my child gain independence and move forward, he is also my greatest pride and the most important part of my wife’s and my lives.  I look forward to continuing to share this adventure with my family!

Fourth of July Memories

I’ve always really liked the 4th of July, a holiday that has always seemed particularly celebratory while still being generally more casual and lower pressure than most.  I’ve always had a bit of a patriotic streak and enjoy the day of paying tribute to the United States.  I also have a definite fondness for the marches and other patriotic tunes that dominate the holiday.

For the past several years, my family has been going to Disneyland on the 4th of July to see their special fireworks show.  We have learned how best to manage the crowds on that very busy day, making it a pretty easy experience.  We also get a hotel room close-by in order to avoid having to deal with the night-time traffic.

When I was growing up, more often than not we spent 4th of July at home instead of trying to go out to see a professional fireworks show or some other public event.  Generally, we were pretty satisfied simply enjoying the day at home as a family.  This would usually include watching the Boston Pops’ 4th of July concert on TV or other similar patriotic shows.  We would often have a BBQ dinner at home.  There were a few years that we did go out to municipal fireworks displays, though, so I did at least have that experience a few times as a kid. 

The most memorable trip out to see a 4th of July fireworks show was in 1977.  That summer, my father had just taken a new job that required our family to move from Florida to Flint, Michigan.  For the first couple months, we had to find an alternative place to live while we were waiting for the house my family had purchased to be vacant and ready for us.  We had a Starcraft pop-up style camper that we used on vacations, so we spent that time staying at the Holly Hills Campground (based on an online search, I think it is a KOA now) in nearby Holly, which was just a short distance outside of Flint.

On that 4th, we decided to drive into Flint for their big municipal fireworks show downtown, but it ended up being Mother Nature that put on the more memorable performance that night.  There was a huge rainstorm and I honestly can’t remember for certain whether or not the fireworks display actually took place, although I think it did.  The most memorable part was returning that evening to learn that a tornado had touched down in the campground while we were gone!  We were lucky that the actual touchdown (and most of the damage) was on the opposite end from where our campsite was located, which meant that our camper was ok.  It was definitely a bit of a fright and still is the closest call with a tornado that I ever experienced.

I don’t remember completely for certain, but I don’t think we ever went out to public events on the 4th of July in any of the other years that we lived in Flint, instead opting for celebration at home.  In the late 70s and early 80s, Michigan had pretty loose restrictions on the sale of fireworks for home use, which meant that every supermarket had big display tables with a big selection of firecrackers, sparklers, roman candles, bottle rockets, and other similar items.  My parents were appropriately nervous about these types of things, though, and would only allow us to get some sparklers, which we would only use with close supervision.

Many of the neighbors did buy and use the other kinds of home fireworks, which meant that there was always a sort of second-hand display that we were able to watch a bit on the evening of the 4th.  On the 5th, the neighborhood streets would be very littered with the spent casings from many of the fireworks and firecrackers that had been set off the night before. 

My best friend and I had a tradition, which we obviously never told our parents about (this post may end up as a confession…), walking through the neighborhood on the 5th examining the litter from the night before searching for accidentally discarded fireworks and firecrackers that had not yet been fired.  Each year, we found and gathered up quite a bit of stuff that was still live.  I remember one year we even found an unexploded cherry bomb, which was a particularly exciting find for a couple pre-teen boys.  I don’t remember exactly what we did, but I remember that it was never much of a problem finding a spot outside of eye and earshot of parents in order to light off everything we found.

Regardless of whether I just stayed at home with family or went out to do something special for the holiday, my memories of the 4th of July are pretty much all positive.  Here’s hoping for another great 4th of July holiday tomorrow.  Happy Birthday, USA!

Holiday Memory: The Disneyland Candlelight Stampede of 1998

As a very regular visitor to Disneyland over the last 12 years or so, I have seen a lot of major events at the park and have been there for a few customer-relations stumbles as well.  In one case in particular, namely the poorly run ticket-distribution for the 1998 Candlelight Processional show, one of Disneyland’s less shining moments ended up being one of my personally most important and memorable experiences at the park.

The Candlelight Processional is a long running holiday tradition at Disneyland.  It is a concert program that they typically run around the first week of December, which is a musical celebration of the religious aspect of the Christmas holiday, featuring a professional orchestra and a large massed choir formed from numerous church and school choirs as well as some Disney employees.  The show also features a celebrity narrator, who tells the Biblical Christmas story in between the songs.  This show has been a favorite Christmas season tradition for me for as long as I have lived out here in Southern California.  It is something I really look forward to every year.

Traditionally, this concert is performed on a stage set up in the Town Square area of Main Street, with the Railroad Station used as the backdrop.  In most years, there are just 4 evening performances of the show, two each on Saturday and Sunday.  The majority of the Town Square area is blocked off for the stage as well as for a large seating area.  Tickets for viewing the show in the seating area are mainly distributed to Disney’s corporate partners and other VIPs while regular park guests start staking out seats early to the sides and further back in order to get even an obstructed view of the show.

This can result in a lot of logistics problems and major bottlenecks in that part of the park on those days.  Because of this, Disney a fairly short-lived (5 years) experiment starting in 1998 of moving the show to the Fantasyland Theater, an outdoor performance venue located across from "It’s a Small World".  Walt Disney World had moved their version of the show from Town Square in the Magic Kingdom to a similar theater in Epcot a few years earlier and had eventually managed to expand it multiple shows a night throughout the holiday season, with reserved seating tickets being sold through popular dining packages.  There was a lot of speculation that this experiment with a change of venue at Disneyland was also hoped to eventually lead to a similar expansion of the program, although that never materialized and the show was finally moved back to Main Street starting in 2003.

Read More »

Thanksgiving at Disneyland

We have had an exceptionally busy month of visiting relatives and our son’s birthday celebration and, to top it off, we have a trip to Florida coming up next week.  With all that going on, we decided that we just didn’t feel like going through all the work of preparing a big Thanksgiving dinner at home this year.  Knowing from past experience that, on Thanksgiving, Disneyland isn’t overly busy and they offer special menus of traditional turkey dinners at most of their restaurants, we decided that a day at the park was an ideal way for us to spend the holiday.

We left for the park around 11am and I was pretty surprised at how heavy the traffic on the south 5 freeway was.  In the past, I’ve usually found that traffic is pretty light on Thanksgiving, but the drive this time turned out to be pretty slow-going.  We didn’t see indications of any accidents or other problems, so I suspect that our timing was such that there were just a lot of people heading down to Orange County or San Diego for holiday gatherings.  The drive wasn’t particularly unpleasant, though, and we enjoyed listening to the Christmas music station on XM satellite radio during the drive.  Thanksgiving is the first day that I’m generally willing to start listening to Christmas music, even though it seems like some stations start playing it earlier every year.

We occasionally switched over to the traffic reports on XM, but didn’t get any information from that either.  We found it weird when they were reporting one major incident on “southbound I-10”, considering that the 10 is an east-west freeway.  Eventually, we figured out that the traffic reporter was misreading the first digit of “110” as an “I”.  We often find the traffic reports on there a bit amusing since the reporters are clearly not in Southern California and often seriously butcher pronunciations.  It is particularly fun listening to some of them trying to pronounce “Cahuenga” or “Sepulveda”.

By the time we actually got into the park, it was close to 1pm.  During a previous Thanksgiving visit, we had eaten at Carnation Restaurant on Main Street and had found that to be an especially good choice.  It is a table-service restaurant, which is preferable to cafeteria style for Thanksgiving dinner, and the Americana setting of Main Street just seems exceptionally suited to the holiday.  We were briefly concerned that the weather was a bit drizzly and overcast and the restaurant has all outdoor seating, but the weather was already clearing by the time we got there and we noted that they had large umbrella coverings over all the tables, so we decided to go ahead with it.  Even though we didn’t have reservations, we were seated with only about a 15 minute or so wait.

When they brought the menus and explained to us about the special Thanksgiving dinner, we immediately ran into a very large irritation, although it was one that wasn’t entirely unexpected based on a previous experience.  Despite the fact that it was Thanksgiving and the fact that Disneyland is obviously well-known for attracting families with small children, they were not offering a children’s portion of the turkey dinner.  Basically, children had to either order the adult portion (at the full price) or settle for a choice of chicken strips, macaroni & cheese, or PB&J.  Our 5-year-old most certainly was not going to willingly accept anything other than a turkey dinner, which is one of his favorite meals even when it isn’t Thanksgiving.

When this came up 2-years ago (and our son was only 3), we ended up escalating the issue to a manager and eventually the chef actually came out and offered to prepare a half-portion for our son.  He also instructed the servers to make that option available to any other families and we saw several other families order the same while we were at the restaurant.  I had hoped that after that experience they would start simply placing it on the menu, but I guess that didn’t happen.

Our son’s appetite has grown quite a bit and, quite honestly, we just weren’t in the mood to go through the big hassle of escalating the issue again this year.  Therefore, we just went ahead and ordered 3 adult meals.  We figured my wife and I can also augment our own meals a bit, if it proved to be too much food.  The portions were really quite large, though, and he did end up leaving some of the turkey (and most of the stuffing) on the plate, even after we did both take some of his food as our own second helpings.  We did see other children in the restaurant also struggling through the large portions and I suspect they ended up with a bunch of waste.  In retrospect, I do kind of wish that we had made more of an issue out of it again.

The food was generally pretty good, although we did agree on one complaint.  The gravy used on the potatoes and turkey was quite a bit more salty than it should have been.  It certainly didn’t help that it didn’t occur to me to test it before adding a little additional salt.  It still wasn’t bad enough to warrant sending the food back, but I did find myself scraping off much of the gravy.  Other than that, the turkey was served hot and wasn’t overly dry and the potatoes and stuffing were good as well.  The meal also came with some cooked vegetables which aren’t to my taste (I really don’t like any cooked veggies other than corn) and some fresh cranberry sauce and a dinner roll.  With the obvious caveats above, it was a pretty decent Thanksgiving meal for about $15/person and the location certainly was top-notch for it.

While pumpkin pie was available as a special Thanksgiving-only dessert option, none of us really care for that and decided to opt out from it.  Instead, we got ice cream sundaes from the Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor as our dessert and enjoyed them while listening to the piano player at Refreshment Corner.  One of Disneyland’s long-standing traditions for the holiday season is to offer special seasonal food choices at some locations and one of my absolute favorite is peppermint stick ice cream.  That was a key motivation for me wanting to get ice cream for dessert and it was as good as ever.

During the remainder of the afternoon, we took the opportunity to enjoy some of the park’s special offerings for the holidays.  This included two rides (one during the day and one after dark) on It’s a Small World, which they have been extensively decorating for the holidays for a number of years now.  That is something we look forward to every year and we were particularly excited to see this time, since the attraction had been down for a major refurbishment since the beginning of the year.  We only noticed a few minor changes (most notable being all new boats), but everything looked to be in excellent condition.  This is a very popular attraction during the holidays, but the lines were very short (10 minutes or so) each time.  Thanksgiving just isn’t a very busy day at the park.

Other than the two rides on Small World and one ride on King Arthur’s Carrousel, we didn’t actually do any other rides that day.  Instead, we spent some time looking at the various decorations as well as paying a visit to the "Reindeer Roundup" area on Big Thunder Trail to see the pardoned national turkeys (who usually end up at Disneyland after the ceremony with the president) and pay a visit to Santa Goofy.  We also enjoyed a walk through the newly re-opened and updated Sleeping Beauty dioramas in the castle.  This had been closed for about 7 years and it was nice to see it return.  After dark, while my wife went off to do some shopping, my son and I enjoyed sitting for a while at the hub waiting for and watching the lighting ceremony where they turn on the elaborate Christmas lights on the castle.

We left the park for home around 7:30pm or so and found traffic to be fairly light for the drive home.  We made a couple attempts to see if we could find any fast food restaurants opened for a small and quick dinner, but found that everything we checked was closed.  I guess there just isn’t much demand for McDonalds or Burger King on Thanksgiving. While we were getting a bit hungry by the time we made it home (and fixed some hot dogs), I did think it was nice that those places let their employees spend the holiday evening wieh their families.

This was a nice Thanksgiving and, despite some complaints about the meal, I felt we made a good choice as to how to spend the day.

Week in Review 11/24/08: Pre-holiday Work Rush, Bolt, and Farrell’s

The work week last week was pretty busy and stressful due to the rush to get various projects finished before the Thanksgiving holiday.  The team that I lead is most actively involved with projects during the early parts of the quality assurance process.  Since many teams really want their projects to complete over the first couple days of this week, the work piled on us quite a bit last week.  Our office is closed for Thanksgiving on Thursday and Friday, while the day before Thanksgiving is traditionally a 1/2 day with most staff wrapping up around 1pm or so.  That really only gives two full work days for this week.

Fortunately, the work load was such that I was really busy (and a bit stressed) while at the office last week, but it didn’t result in overly late schedules at the office or anything much in the way of weekend work.  I was typically pretty tired when I got home from work last week, but I still made it home in time to have dinner and help get my son off to bed each night.  I don’t really mind being very busy at work in cases like this where it doesn’t really interfere too much with my own time.

While I was a little concerned late last week that I would have to put in some time for work over the weekend, that turned out not to be the case allowing us to have quite a bit of time for family activities.  On Saturday afternoon, we took our son to see Bolt, Disney’s new animated feature which opened on Friday.  We have been pretty conservative when it comes to taking our son to the movies and this was only the third that he had seen in a theater (the two previous were Horton Hears a Who and a revival showing of The Muppet Movie).  So far, we have been very proud of his behavior at movies.  He did get a little fidgety around the hour mark, but we were able to settle him down very quickly.  He stayed very quiet throughout the movie, having taken very seriously our repeated reminders beforehand that a movie theater is a quiet place.  He seemed to enjoy the movie, although his attention did wander a little bit  The movie was targeted perhaps a bit older than we had expected.

I enjoyed the movie a lot, finding it to be fun, charming, and very funny.  The action sequences were surprisingly good for this kind of animated film as well.  I thought the voice cast was well selected and the character designs were appealing.  The film had some genuine heart as well, with the character of Mittens the cat being particularly effective in this regard.  On the downside, though, the film did have a pretty conventional look and style to it and the story line was almost entirely predictable.  My reaction was that this was a very good film, but not a particularly inventive one.  The end result was a fun movie, but one that is on a somewhat lower tier among Disney’s animated films.

Like The Emperor’s New Groove a few years ago, I think that Bolt is going to remain a film that I enjoy and admire, but where I also can’t help but wonder what might have been.  Both films evolved from projects that seemed much more ambitious than the final versions, but were halted when Disney management felt that they weren’t coming together in a commercially viable way.  In the case of Bolt, the film evolved from American Dog, which was to be director Chris Sanders’ follow up to Lilo and Stitch, which I believe to be Disney’s best, and most creative, animated feature since Beauty and the Beast.  Sanders was ultimately fired from the project and is now making films for Dreamworks.  As much as I enjoyed the final version of Bolt, I can’t help wonder if this fairly conventional film could have been something much more.

Shifting topics again (yes, these "week in review" posts can’t help being a bit rambling), yesterday’s main activity was a somewhat more intimate continuation of our celebration of our son Andy’s birthday.  For the big party last weekend on his actual birthday, we had to kind of go against his wishes in our choice of venue.  For his last two birthdays, we had taken him to Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour for dinner/dessert with a few of our adult friends.  He remembered last year’s party and really wanted to go back there again this year.  That isn’t really the best venue for a party with a large group of pre-schoolers, so we ended up promising him that we would take him to Farrell’s the following week instead.

The Farrell’s chain is one that I remember well from my childhood.  They have a very boisterous, celebratory atmosphere, with sirens and a big drum used to regularly announce birthdays and other special occasions as well as to herald the delivery of such large and elaborate ice cream concoctions as "The Zoo" or the "Pig Trough".  The chain all but disappeared about 15-20 years ago, but a new set of owners are now trying to revive it.  One of the only three current locations is up in Santa Clarita, only about 20 miles from our house (the other two are in Hawaii).  The Santa Clarita location is inside of Mountasia Fun Center, an amusement facility featuring various video and carnival games as well as miniature golf, batting cages, go-karts, and other similar items. 

Yesterday afternoon, we drove up there around mid-afternoon and spent an hour and half or so playing some of the various games while waiting for a few friends to arrive.  They have a small merry-go-round (basically one of the miniature coin-operated type) which Andy especially enjoys and was, in fact, one of his main reasons for wanting to go back there.  He spent a lot of time playing that, while my wife and I took turns wandering around playing some of the various carnival and ticket-vending games.  Andy did take a bit of an interest in a couple of the other games this time, particularly enjoying a basketball game (it was cool that that they had a child-sized one in addition to the full-sized adult game) as well as a race-car video game.

After our friends arrived, we went into Farrell’s for dinner and ice cream.  My wife and I both had pizza slices for dinner, which were pretty greasy, but still not too bad.  I was particularly surprised by how generous they were with the toppings.  They, of course, have a good variety of ice cream sundaes available for dessert.  I selected one called the "Hot Caramel Nutty Nutty", which pretty much is what it sounds like: vanilla ice cream covered in hot caramel with lots of pecans and Spanish peanuts.  My wife had an Oreo sundae and Andy had the kid’s "clown sundae", which was a scoop of ice cream with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and sprinkles and then a sugar cone placed on top such that it looks like a clown’s hat.

It was a fun evening that provided a chance to spend some time with a few good friends as well as to enjoy some family time.  It made for a good supplement to the bigger, more chaotic party of the week before.

Happy 5th Birthday, Andy!

Andy5BDay

Yesterday was my son Andy’s 5th birthday!  This was an event that leaves me with some fairly paradoxical feelings.  I can’t believe that it has already been 5 years since he was born as the time does seem to fly quickly.  On the other hand, he has become such an integrated and vital part of our family that the time before he was there now feels a lot like a part of a different life.

Becoming a parent is unquestionably the best thing that I have ever done, with only the decision to marry my wonderful wife even coming close.  I’m well aware that I run the risk of becoming potentially intolerably sappy and sentimental in this post, but I simply don’t know how to accurately express my feelings towards my family without sounding that way.  For any readers of this blog that are turned off by an excess of sentiment, I’ll try to post a review of the new James Bond movie in the next day or two. 🙂

After 5 years, a bit of reflection pretty much comes automatically.  One thing that I’ve often heard repeated, both before and after becoming a father, is that parenthood involves a lot of sacrifice.  While I definitely understand the meaning behind such statements, I’m not so inclined to agree that “sacrifice” is really the right word.  Unquestionably, there are a lot of things that my wife and I did before Andy’s arrival that are much less common, if they still occur at all.  Reductions range from such small-scale activities as TV and movie viewing or nights out with friends, all the way up to substantial changes in vacation planning, major purchases and pretty much every other major life decision.

I tend to look at these as trade-offs rather than sacrifices, though, as the pleasures and benefits of being a father push way into the background any significant thoughts about what I might be missing.  While such activities as visiting a theme park or going to the movies have become more complicated (and in some ways restrictive), and often more tiring, I also find them to be rewarding in a whole new way.  Andy is mostly in a constant state of discovery and I find it tremendously rewarding to share with him many of the things that have brought a lot of joy to my own life.

The day to day routine is also full of moments that I treasure.  I absolutely love hearing Andy tell me about his day when I get home from work.  When I ask him about what he did at school, his answer always starts excitedly with "I played!", but it doesn’t usually take too much effort to coax longer and more detailed stories out of him.  His stories can be rather hard to follow and don’t always make a lot of sense, but they are told with a compellingly breathless enthusiasm that is usually a delight.

Andy has a tremendous imagination, so his stories of the days activities are often filled with rather colorful stories about pretending games involving such favorite things as cars, airplanes, fire trucks, and hotels.  Like many kids his age, he has an imaginary friend, but in his case that friend is an airplane who goes on all kinds of interesting adventures, although a lot of them seem to be more focused on the hotels where it stays rather than on the actual exotic (or not so exotic) destinations. 

Another favorite pretending game of Andy’s is bringing people imaginary food items.  During phone calls with his grandparents (via speakerphone), he likes to occasionally run off and then come back and announce that he is delivering some food item to them.  They get a big kick out of that.  He was similarly providing imaginary appetizers to our friends while we were waiting at a restaurant for our table during a dinner party a few weeks ago.  After finishing his cake at his birthday party last night, he also had to go around and serve other pretend food to many of the party-goers.

As I just mentioned, we did have a big birthday party yesterday afternoon.  We have been taking Andy to a class at the local Gymboree facility for a couple years.  For his party yesterday, we rented the facility for a couple hours and had a party for Andy and 19 other kids from his pre-school and Gymboree classes.  We were fortunate enough to be able to arrange for his usual Gymboree teacher to host and run the event, which ended up being a huge success.  The teacher did an outstanding job of providing a pretty much perfect mix of organized activities and free play time and really kept the kids all highly entertained for two hours.  It was a lot of fun and an event that I think will be pretty memorable both for Andy and for us.

Yesterday’s party brings me full circle back to the trade-offs that come from being a parent, but my hesitance to call them sacrifices.  Yesterday, many of our long time friends (most are not parents) spent what sounds like an exceptionally fun day at Disneyland.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading the various reports from and about their day.  Six years ago, I’m pretty sure my wife and I would have been there as well and it sounds like we would have had a great time.  Andy’s birthday party is absolutely where I wanted to be yesterday, though. 

Week in Review 11/9/08: Elections and In-Laws

Depending on whether I have enough to say and how disciplined about it I end up being, this may or may not turn into a weekly post on here.  I’m a terrible procrastinator when it comes to writing, but maybe I can talk myself into spending a little time each weekend writing up a few thoughts about whatever caught my attention during the previous week.

On a national (and probably even world) scale, the biggest event of the past week was obviously last Tuesday’s election.  I haven’t really made it a secret in previous posts that I’m a Democrat and supported Barack Obama’s run for president.  Therefore, I was happy with the results of the presidential election.  After the past 8 years, it is definitely nice to be back on the winning side and I do have hope that this will signal a positive change in direction for the country.

I do think that President-elect Obama has a very difficult job ahead of him.  More so than in the other presidential elections that have taken place since I’ve been old enough to vote, I genuinely felt quite a bit of enthusiasm as I voted for him.  I was certainly very aware of his policy positions and agree with him on most issues, but I also have an impression that he is someone with a vision that could genuinely lead to correcting some of the biggest negatives that I have seen in our political system, particularly in areas of corruption and cronyism and a sometimes stifling fear of trying something different.   It is pretty clear to me that I am not alone in feeling that way about what Obama has to offer, but I also think that will prove to be both a blessing and a major challenge for him.  He goes into office with a remarkably supportive public, but he also faces the potential to disappoint dramatically if he fails to live up to his promise.

Of course, this election also represented an historic breakthrough as this country selected its first African-American president.  I was very disappointed, though, that I couldn’t help feel the euphoria surrounding that was blunted dramatically by the fact that a majority of voters here in California, among others, also decided to vote in favor of continued discrimination against homosexuals.  At least here in California, many of the arguments used in support of Proposition 8 were so ludicrous that I can’t  help but see it as simple excuse-making by those that don’t want to admit bigotry even to themselves.  I do still believe that the clear trend is in the right direction here and I was at least heartened somewhat by how close the vote was on Proposition 8, particularly with younger voters pretty decisively opposing the continued discrimination. I do believe this setback to be temporary, but I was truly hoping that this would be more of a year of breakthroughs on multiple fronts.

Shifting gears to my personal life, this week was dominated by one of the recurring events regularly experienced by those of us who do have marriage rights: a visit by the in-laws.  My wife’s parents currently live in Arizona and we typically manage two visits with them per year, usually with us making one trip out there (which we did last February) and them coming out here one time.  For this visit, they arrived last Wednesday and will be staying through tomorrow.  While they aren’t quite the constantly "on-the-go tourists" that my parents usually are during their visits, I’m still pretty tired after a weekend of company, even though it was a very pleasant and positive visit.  I think maybe I’m becoming too used my wife’s and my usual weekend ritual of tag-team napping, making the change of pace a bit harder.

It has been a good visit and I’ve been very pleased with the amount of quality time that they have had with their grandson.  Andy’s grandmother has particularly bonded very well with him, spending quite a bit of time playing toys and reading with him.  Both grandparents have put in some time working on drawing and writing with him and he has also enjoyed demonstrating his various computer games to them.  His grandparents also joined us for his weekly Gymboree class this morning and our usual Sunday morning breakfast at McDonalds.  This afternoon, we had an early birthday celebration for him where we had a small cake and they gave him his presents.  Tomorrow, grandma is going to accompany Andy for at least the first part of his day at pre-school. 

Looking forward to the week ahead, it is back to work tomorrow although it looks like it could be another rather quiet week there.  Between the upcoming holidays and the slowing economy, there aren’t a lot of active projects going on right now, which has kept the stress level and number of work hours somewhat more manageable the past couple weeks.  I don’t really anticipate that changing.  Other big events of the coming week include the appointment to get the crown attached to my dental implant on Tuesday (hopefully the last step of that long process) and Andy’s actual birthday and birthday party next weekend.

Our Hurricane Wilma Experience (October, 2005)

A post on The Disney Blog on Friday reported on the threat that Tropical Storm Fay poses to the Orlando area.  In October of 2005, we were on vacation at Walt Disney World when Hurricane Wilma came through Florida.  I wrote up a few paragraphs in that blog post’s “comments” section and it occurred to me that it might be worthwhile to expand those comments into a full report on that experience.  These are based on nearly 3 year old recollections, but hopefully it will still be reasonably accurate.

Most people will likely remember that an unusually large number of strong hurricanes hit the southwestern USA, including Florida, during the Summer and early Fall of 2005.  This, of course, included Hurricane Katrina, which so severely devastated New Orleans and other communities in that part of the country.  Orlando was in the direct path of a few of these hurricanes and at least suffered some severe weather from most of them.  Having family in the Orlando area, we had followed these events very closely, but we generally weren’t giving too much thought to any potential impact on our late-October vacation plans, since major hurricanes that late in the season were previously exceptionally unusual.

It did start to grow into a concern during the last week or so prior to our trip as Tropical Storm Wilma formed and eventually was upgraded into a very strong hurricane.  It pretty quickly became apparent that Florida was within its most likely path.  Out travel plans had us arriving in Orlando on the evening of Saturday, October 22. Initially, Wilma looked pretty likely to pass through before our trip, but the storm slowed down somewhat and it ended up making landfall on the southern part of Florida very early in the morning of Monday, October 24.

As the timing of the hurricane became more obvious, we did give some consideration about whether to change our travel plans. While we had heard that Disney and the airlines were generally being pretty generous about waving penalties for late changes to reservations due to the hurricanes, we had also heard numerous reports (including first-hand accounts from family) on how WDW had generally fared well during the previous storms of the season.  The combination of my work schedule and the typically long lead time needed for most WDW reservations led us to realize that our only likely alternatives to going as planned would be to either cut the trip short by a couple days or cancel it altogether.  We ended up deciding to take our chances.

I admit that we did come awfully close to canceling on Friday, though, as our son (just under 2-years-old at the time) woke up that morning with a bad case of pink eye.  We did get him in to see his doctor that day, who very helpfully prescribed a liquid antibiotic that required refrigeration, not exactly the best thing when we had a full day of air travel coming up the next day.  That problem was solved by a quick trip to the store to buy a soft-side cooler and some Blue Ice, but it still was yet another concern.  Late that afternoon when my wife started complaining of a sore throat (typically the first sign of a cold for her), I couldn’t help but wonder if we were seriously tempting fate by planning to continue the trip.  Fortunately, neither of their ailments actually turned out to be overly long-lasting or severe (they were both pretty much fine by Sunday), but we didn’t know that at the time and I admit to being something of a nervous wreck by Friday evening.

Read More »

Disneyland Resort Trips Report – June/July 2008 Part 2: Attractions and Shows

In part 1 of this report, I mentioned that over multi-day visit to the Disneyland Resort was a replacement for an originally planned trip to Walt Disney World around the same time and that we decided to delay the trip because our son had become skittish about visiting theme park attractions. Since the Disneyland Resort is so much closer to home and we visit it much more frequently, we figured that our visit there would be a better opportunity to keep trying to re-build his courage while not really feeling like we are missing all that much if what we can do remains pretty limited.

During this visit, we let our son largely set the pace and do a lot of the choosing when it came to the rides and shows that we visited, but we also gave him a lot of encouragement to work some new experiences into the visit as well. He visited his favorite attractions (King Arthur’s and King Triton’s Carousels, Mad Tea Party, Tuck and Roll Drive ’em Buggies, Goofy’s Playhouse, Playhouse Disney Live, Enchanted Tiki Room) while also talking him into visiting several that weren’t on his previous "approved" list (such as MuppetVision 3D, the Aladdin stage show, Toy Story Midway Mania, and the Mark Twain Riverboat). We still didn’t do any of the major thrill rides, even though he is now tall enough for many, but he definitely is making progress.

One thing to note is that we did almost entirely stick to visiting attractions that our whole family could do together. I really was the only one in our party that could have done most of the major thrill rides, since our son isn’t really up to them yet and everyone else in our group has restrictions due to medical conditions. I’m certain I could have gone off to do some of the coasters had I wanted to, but I really was far more interested in family time. I do look forward to the time when my son is ready to do some of those bigger rides with me, but I’m also in no rush about it. The experience of seeing the attractions with my child is so rewarding that I don’t miss the thrill rides.

In the rest of this post, I’m going to write up specific notes on a few key attractions. Our visits to the Disneyland Resort have become less frequent than they used to be and these trips ended up being the first opportunity to see a few new attractions and shows. I’ll also include a few notes about some of the other attractions and shows that included some memorable element.

Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage

The re-themed and re-opened version of Disneyland’s classic Submarine Voyage was the major new attraction for summer of 2007. Due to the extremely long lines (often over 2 hours or more) combined with our son’s skittishness, we hadn’t yet visited it before this trip. We were pretty determined to finally see the ride on this visit, with my father (who is a major Disney-enthusiast) being particularly excited to have the opportunity to ride the subs again.

Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage

During our first full day at the parks (Monday 6/23) the ride was having a lot of technical difficulties, resulting in it being closed for much of the day. I’m not really sure if it ever actually opened that day as it was listed as "temporarily closed’ every time we checked in. We did leave the resort for dinner at Knott’s that evening, though, so it may very well have opened later in the day. Seeing it closed so much on Monday did make us (my father in particular) pretty nervous about whether or not we would actually get an opportunity to ride it. On Tuesday, though, the ride was opened and we found that it had a posted wait time of around an hour shortly after we had finished our lunch at the Blue Bayou.

One really nice feature of the ride is that they offer a special, alternative experience for disabled guests who are unable to board the submarines. Off to the side of the dock where guests board the regular ride, there is a building containing a small theater (it seats about 30 guests) where they show a high-definition video presentation of the full ride experience. My mother suffers from severe arthritis in her legs (she has to use a motorized scooter much of the time) and couldn’t possibly have managed the narrow ladder to get onto the ride. My wife has a back condition and also had doubts about whether or not she could board, thus she decided to join my mother and attend the alternate version. They took our son along as well, since we were pretty doubtful that he would be willing to board the rather claustrophobic submarine.

Guests using the alternate experience enter through an entrance near the monorail entrance. With the fairly high-capacity and fairly low-demand for it, they found that they only had to wait for the next available showing. After helping them to get situated in the line for the alternate experience and arranging where to meet later, my father and I were prepared to head around to get into the hour-long queue for the regular ride. Much to our surprise, the ride attendants instead escorted us to a nearby waiting area and told us that we would be put onto the next submarine. That means that we boarded the regular ride about the same time that the others entered the theater, thus minimizing the amount of time our family was separated.

Read More »

A Dozen Years as a Californian

This week marks the 12th anniversary since I moved from Columbus, Ohio to Southern California.  Those 12 years have resulted in so many major changes in almost every aspect of my life that looking back at that move almost feels like I’m looking back at a different lifetime.

My father (who has now retired to Florida) was a social worker and typically worked in non-profit or government agencies that didn’t always have a lot of long-term stability.  As a result, we moved around a lot.  Prior to my move to California, I lived for various lengths of time in Illinois, Iowa, Florida, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio.  As long as I can remember, though, I always had a dream of eventually settling in the Los Angeles area once I grew up and was on my own.  I never really liked the cold mid-western winters (I don’t care for snow) and the stories of the very mild Southern California weather along with my affinity for the entertainment industry combined to form a very appealing destination.

After finishing college in Milwaukee, I actually sent a lot of resumes and applications out to various California-based companies, but without any success.  I ended up spending that summer with my parents back in Ohio and then found a job with Columbus-based CompuServe, the online information service pioneer.  Although I spent the next 4 1/2 years living and working in Columbus, I never really lost the interest in a life in California and I even privately set a 5-year goal for eventually figuring out how to make that change.

In 1995, my sister and I started having conversations about vacationing together in Los Angeles.  She lived in Orlando (actually still does), so our idea was for each of us to fly out there separately, but split the cost of hotel accommodations, rental car, and other expenses.  We ended up actually making the trip in September of that year.  Other than a family trip when I was too young to remember, this was my first actual visit to the Los Angeles area.  During those 10-days, we visited many common tourist destinations (Hollywood, Disneyland, Universal Studios, Magic  Mountain, Santa Monica Pier, Griffith Park, Century City, Beverly Hills, etc.) and, thanks to a friend that I knew from the old GEnie information service, we even were able to visit the Paramount studio lot and the non-public part of the Universal lot.  As a special splurge, we even ate dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s famous Spago restaurant one night.

My reaction to this vacation was that my expectations for the area were pretty much met.  What had been a personal dream based largely on stories and reputation was now much more rooted in reality.  I returned to Columbus determined to start a very concentrated job search with a goal of getting moved as soon as possible.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was starting to see the future at CompuServe as somewhat limited with the rise of AOL to industry leader and the growing influence of the World Wide Web.  I was increasingly aware that my career would benefit from a change of employer, regardless of whether I moved or not.

Read More »