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.

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My Last Baby Tooth – The Conclusion

Click here for Part 1
Click here for Part 2
Click here for Part 3

At long last, the series of dental procedures to replace my baby tooth have completed.  Last Wednesday, I went in for the final appointment where the dentist set the crown (the artificial tooth) onto the implant. 

About 3 weeks before, I went in to get fitted for the crown.  Unexpectedly, this turned out to be one of the more unpleasant parts of the process.  The main part of this process was taking wax impressions of my teeth that a lab would then be able to manufacture a properly fitting crown.  To do this, they stuck a fairly large wad of the wax impression material into my mouth, had me bite down, and then I had to keep it in place for about 10 minutes or so until it set.

They started off by taking the impression of my upper teeth (the implant is on the bottom).  This was kind of uncomfortable, but not too exceptionally bad.  The worst part was that the wax had a very slight, strangely spicy flavor to it and I found that it kind of burned my lip a bit while it was in place.  While waiting for the impression to set, the staff left me alone in the room and went off to gather supplies and/or tend to other patients.  For some reason, I kind of felt oddly self-conscious during that time.

After the upper impression was completed, they next took a couple X-rays to verify the exact angle and positioning of the implant.  I thought it was interesting, and encouraging, that while reviewing the X-ray, the dentist spontaneously exclaimed that the oral surgeon is “a master”.  Apparently, the implant was very precisely and cleanly positioned, creating a pretty ideal situation for the placement of the crown.

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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.

My Last Baby Tooth – Part 3

Click here for Part 1
Click here for Part 2

I am way past due in getting around to writing the next part of this story.  As you might recall from the first 2 parts, I had one baby tooth that I had never lost as a child due to the permanent tooth never coming in.  Back in April, the tooth started bothering me and the dentist informed me that it was going to have to come out.  I had it extracted in early-May.

On August 22, I had oral surgery to put in a dental implant, the first part of the process of replacing the lost tooth with an artificial one.  This was the most invasive, and only surgical, part of the procedure.  The surgery involved the insertion of a titanium artificial root into the jawbone through an incision at the gap where the extracted tooth used to be.  Once the surgery has fully healed and the oral surgeon confirms that the bone has fused appropriately with the implant, my regular dentist will be able to affix a crown to the root, completing the process of replacing the lost tooth.

After I had the tooth extracted in late May, I had to wait a minimum of 6 or 7 weeks to allow it to fully heal before proceeding with the implant.  That timing pretty much ran right into a vacation that we had planned for the end of June as well as the July 4th holiday, so I ended up deciding to just put up with the gap in my teeth for a bit longer.  I finally contacted the oral surgeon’s office and set up an appointment for a consultation at the end of May.

The oral surgeon that I went to specializes in implant procedures.  I think that might be the only thing he does, although I’m not entirely certain.  Dental implants are expensive and generally considered by insurance companies to be an "elective" procedure (more on that later), so there actually was kind of a salesmanship element to the consultation.  I even felt a bit like I had been to a luxury dental office, with such amenities as bottled water offered while waiting for the dentist and even sunglasses provided during the exam to shade by eyes from the examination light.

After the examination, the oral surgeon told me that I was a good candidate for the procedure and spent a little time going over the procedure in more detail.  One key topic that he brought up in this discussion was the available options for anesthesia for the surgery.  He indicated that general anesthesia wasn’t usually needed for this (I’m not entirely sure, but I don’t think he even offers that as an option), but he did pretty strongly recommend the use of an oral sedative during the surgery in order to help me to relax and also to help to avoid movement during the procedure.

I then met briefly with a member of the office staff who went over some of the financial details of the procedure with me.  She indicated a cost of a little over $2000 for the implant.  Many dental insurance plans apparently do not cover implants, considering them to be fully optional, cosmetic procedures, even though they are now widely considered to keep the gums/jawbone much stronger and are also longer lasting than dental bridges.  Fortunately, my insurance does cover about 50% of the cost, although apparently it is 50% of what the insurance company thinks the cost should be rather than 50% of what the oral surgeon actually charges (and the patient has to make up the difference).  There are also annual maximums that come into play.  As of the time that I’m writing this, my insurance company still hasn’t finished processing the claim and I don’t yet know how much they will cover.

After the financial discussion, we then scheduled the appointment for the procedure.  I decided that I wanted to have it done on a Friday, which would then give me a couple days to recover without having to take more than one day off from work.  We initially scheduled an appointment for the next Friday after the consultation, but they called the next day and let me know that the office staff had incorrectly recorded the itinerary for an upcoming vacation the oral surgeon was taking and would have to push it back a couple weeks.  The August 22 appointment was the next available Friday.  I wasn’t entirely thrilled that the only time available was 7:30am, but I still took the appointment since the only alternatives were to either switch to another day of the week or put the procedure off for almost another month.

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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.

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