Thursday, October 30, 2008

Shelf Reliance

Ever since we went to the dry-pack for the first time we've had a problem: How to store all of those boxes. We've got the space for them. but keeping the #10 cans in their six-pack cases was not working for us - too much shifting and restacking whenever we needed to find a particular item.

Surely by now you have seen these heavy-duty canned food racks from Shelf-Reliance. They look awesome. They are industrial strength with retail-style features, most notably how they allow you to rotate your food so that you're always using the oldest stuff first so you don't get stuck with a 20 year-old can of nastiness. FIFO, or "first in, first out," is the accounting term for this type of inventory management system.

There are several different setups, but the one I've had my eye on for the past couple of years is the Harvest 72" #10, denoting it's six foot height and that it stores #10 cans. In fact each unit holds 112 #10 cans. A big 'BUT' - each unit retails for $460! Yowsers! Occasionally I find a discount code for $75 off, $100 off, or free shipping. I even came really close to placing an order at one point.

I hesitated because I was considering additional details like where to put them in the garage and how many racks I would need just to store all of the cans I already had in boxes, in addition to the non-trivial price. 

The only place that made sense to put the racks was in the same place I intended to build a workbench. So...

- A trip to Home Depot
- 15 2x4s
- 3 4x4s
- a bunch of 5/16" hex bolts, washers, nuts and nails

... and, viola!

My self-shelf-reliance holds 231 #10 cans (a bit more than twice as many as the Harvest 72" #10). It cost less than $100 in materials. I would have needed to buy two Harvests ($920) to equal the storage capacity I built for $100. Plus, my homebrew Harvest is more practical for me. I sized it such that it is the same height as my table saw, allowing me to use it as a workbench/outfeed table. When loaded up with food, it is also very heavy which makes for a nice sturdy work surface. 

The dimensions are approximately eight feet wide by three and a half feet deep by however high to the top of my table saw. This allowed for three levels of cans, seven cans deep and eleven across (3 x 7 x 11 = 231). I had orginally envisioned four levels of cans, which would have increased capacity by 77 cans, but I decided the value of having it match the height of my table saw was worth more to me. Like the rack from Shelf Reliance, the rails on mine are slightly angled so that the cans roll to the front. Like the rack from Shelf Reliance, my system employes FIFO inventory management, with the ability to load cans from the back of the unit.

I still need to add the table surface, and there is plenty of room directly underneath the suface for drawers and a woodworking vise, which I intend to add at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Perhaps the best part is that my system holds all of my current inventory, with some capacity left unused. It is easy to see exactly how much we have of particular item, and use that information to determine the amount we still need to acquire. I take that back - the best part is that Sara actually likes it and doesn't think (not anymore, anyway) this project was a waste of time. I take that back again - the best part is that we can now walk all the way around the car when it is parked in the garage now that the boxes of food are out of the way. Ah, nevermind. I think the first one really is the best. Organization has a way of making a person feel in control of things. I won't be blindsided with surprise about what I have or don't have in my dry-pack inventory.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Good Boy

Madison has been working to develop Karsten's language skills for a couple of months now. She interprets his various noises into complete sentences to help us understand what he is trying to say. One of the first "words" she claims to have taught him is "dada" because that is one of the sounds he makes as he babbles. Well, she did work with him to tone it down on the repetition, to just say "dada" instead of "dadadadadadadada". 

Madison and Brookie have been trying to convince Sara that Karsten is now capable of talking, but she wasn't buying it. "He's just making sounds," she'd say. Meanwhile, Sara has been desperately trying to get Karsten to say "mama". 

So tonight as Sara was feeding Karsten just before bedtime - Karsten always gets silly with giggles and noises during this time - Sara once again tried to steer his babbling into a "mama". I was sitting nearby on the couch. As usual Karsten wouldn't do it. Sara tried again, "mama". No response. One more try, then Karsten tilted his head all the way back so that he could look at me and said, "dada" and smiled really big.

As of Oct. 28th, 2008 and much to her chagrin, Sara finally accepted that Karsten really has learned and said his first word. The actual date was probably August 28th, but today is the day that will be recorded in official Wilcox family historical records: the scrapbook.

Monday, October 27, 2008


I have never really liked carving pumpkins for Halloween. Pumpkins, to me, are slimy and smelly and the act of dealing with them in their non-pie state makes me less inclined to consume their 8" round offspring - even when topped generously with Cool Whip.

But, parenthood demands tremendous sacrifices for the childrens' sake. Madison and Brooklyn promised to help scoop out the guts if I would make them a jack-o-lantern. 

Grandpa and Grandma Wilcox came over to help out. Grandma helped by finding the most artistically complex design ever conceived and then selling the girls on it. It was some kind of pirate-ty skull with snakes and flames and smoke and fog, and called for Michelangelo-like skill in order to remove all of the pumpkin that didn't belong in the sculpture. I had to put my foot down. We Googled for some other ideas and found one we liked a lot that wasn't too difficult.

I mentioned in an early post that the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland gets completely redesigned during the holidays (Halloween through New Year's) based on Tim Burton's "Nightmare Before Christmas" - a movie we have not yet seen. However, the image we found looked a lot like the pumpkin-head guy from that movie/ride. We're pretty sure his name is "Jack".

One flame didn't cut it so we overclocked it with three tea candles.

I was pleasantly surprised with the results and may have another go at it next year.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Two Free iPods

Several years ago a new Internet business model emerged. It is the model that allows consumers to receive free products by completing offers from third party merchants and signing up "friends" underneath you to do the same. The free products, at that point in time, included things like golf clubs, an LCD monitor and, my choice, an iPod. was the site I felt comfortable with. I chose a two week trial membership from Blockbuster's DVD rent-by-mail program. The service was quite a bit slower than the Netflix service we already subscribed to, so I cancelled it. My obligation was complete. Blockbuster paid some amount of money for the chance to earn my business.

Then I needed to find five other people to sign up and complete one offer apiece. After that I would qualify for my free iPod. I quickly got my brother and mom to sign up, more out of sympathy than anything. I don't know that either of them ever really intended to try for their own iPod. My third person took a little bit of work. My brother-in-law was not interested, but had mentioned it to his brother-in-law who, with a little bit of incentive ($$$), signed up. Incidentally, he wound up doing a whole bunch of these things and got tons of free gear (PSP, GameCube, etc.). At that point I had three people and the end looked attainable. However, I had exhausted all of the people I knew that I felt comfortable exploiting. I didn't want to ask coworkers, friends, neighbors or other acquaintances. There was still a very good chance that the whole scheme was a hoax, and a lot of people believed that. Me - I was willing to take a chance. I took precautions like setting up a new, generic, web-based email account to use for the program.

I resorted Craigslist to find my last two people. My posts kept getting flagged and removed because some people didn't read my ad thoroughly to understand what I was offering. My ad basically said I would pay them for their time and risk of completing an offer for me. I had a small, but steady stream of curious responses, but had to keep raising the ante until it was substantial enough to persuade two people to participate. I PayPal'ed the money to them and submitted my completion to A few weeks later - a brand new, free, $300 iPod arrived at my door via FedEx. Mine wasn't entirely free due to the bribes I had to pay, but it was still a steal of a deal. My iPod was the white 20 GB, monochrome model, and I was very happy with it.

Jump ahead to a couple of months ago. Sara's new office was hosting an open house to introduce themselves to the new neighborhood. They wanted music and Sara was put in charge of it. We'd do this all the time at home when we were hosting some type of gathering - create a playlist on the iPod then plug it into the whole-house speaker system. Everything was great at the open house until "someone" decided to set the iPod in a precarious and insecure position high atop one of the speakers that were brought in for the event. Apparently iPods aren't designed to withstand a six-foot drop onto concrete.

That same week I got a solicitation in the mail from KeyBank. It was offering a free 4GB iPod nano to new customers that opened a checking account and met certain transactional requirements. I saw no downside. It wouldn't cost me to open or maintain the account. And I was going to use the specified banking services anyway, whether it was through Key or my regular bank. In other words, aside from jumping through a few hoops, the impact to me would be extremely small.

So, all online, I transferred $500 to Key to open a new account. The offer stipulated that I needed to make one point-of-sale purchase using the debit card. That was easy enough. Additionally, I needed to transact any two direct deposits or two electronic payments or one of each. I wasn't prepared to change my direct deposits to Key, but the electronic payments was a piece of cake. Normally I use BillPay, exclusively, to pay bills. Key wanted me to provide my payees with my account information and have the payee draft the money from my account. That was okay with me. I picked two non-critical bills that offered that payment option and set them up. 

That was it. I just had to do those three things before the end of October to meet the requirements of the offer. The Terms and Conditions stated that my iPod would be shipped within 90 days of the end of the promotion. I set a mental timeline of the first of the year. Just a few days after completing the three requirements, the Manager of the local KeyBank called me to let me know I had qualified for the iPod and could expect to receive it by November 5th. Sweet! 

In the meantime, Apple announced upgrades to their entire iPod product line. The nano got a redesign, memory increase, and a larger video screen, in addition to several software changes. I figured beggars can't be choosers, and if I was happy with the old nano a month ago, I should still be happy with it; and I was.

On October 1st I got an email from FedEx advising me that my iPod was being shipped that day and to expect it on October 3rd, our last day in town before leaving for Disneyland.

The tiniest of packages arrived around mid-day. It was literally inside a small bubble-wrap-lined yellow envelope. Much to my delight, they sent me the latest and greatest. Instead of 4GB, I got 8. I got the larger video screen. It even has an "excelerometer" inside that responds to movement and orientation (Want to mix up the songs? Shake the iPod like a Polaroid picture.) And I got it a full month sooner than promised and four months sooner than I had originally expected. And I've diversified my banking servicers just a smidgen.

Sara is forgiven.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Student Becomes the Master

Like a lot of kids, Brookie has long had issues with hitting. She hits walls, toys, legs, Madison, herself, Karsten, and anything else within arm's length. I'm getting pretty tired of dealing with it.

Yesterday she hit Madison and made her cry. Madison cries until someone acknowledges that she is crying, and then she stops. Frustrated that time-outs, spankings, removal of privileges and banishment to the garage are failed strategies, I asked Madison, "Why don't you hit her back and see how she likes it?"

Madison started crying even harder, "No, no. I won't do it!"

"Why not? Maybe she'll learn to stop hitting you if she knows what it feels like."

"But Heavenly Father wouldn't be happy if I hit her back."

She's only five, yet she has already buried her weapons. Then there's dad, encouraging her to slug her little sister.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Princess Renaissance

We were at a barbeque recently where a little girl showed up in a Cinderella dress. I've long been fascinated with the gradual, yet sudden, emergence of the Disney Princesses as a leading brand within the Disney empire. Like an old, dilapidated heirloom furniture piece, Disney has been able to dust off, clean up, repair and reintroduce many of their princesses as modern and hip. In conjunction with that, they have developed new princesses of the same mold to join forces with their predecessors and create the now familiar Disney Princesses. It's Voltron for little girls - and we've got the backpacks, coloring books and pajamas to prove it. It's to the point that the movies and merchandise has no real theme or story other than the fact that they include two or more princesses on a given product. 

Snow White was the first. Then came Cinderella and Aurora. Each of them had to stand on their own. In modern times, the new lineup saw the addition of Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine. It was all about the movie, the message. "Someday my prince will come." "A dream is a wish your heart makes." (Uh oh!) Don't pretend to be someone you're not. Miracles cease to be miracles at midnight local time. Love conquers all. A kiss from a stranger can raise the dead. Wait until the day AFTER the expiration date on the evil sorceress' curse before coming out of hiding. 

Then, some genius recognized the assets Disney already had. They didn't need to, and probably couldn't (see Mulan, Pocahontas) keep churning out new heroins with each successive animated feature. By packaging the top six princesses together, making them friends of each other, aligning their historical time lines, ages, and locations so that they can all exist in our present day, Disney has created a all-star team for girls. In the process, the new princesses have given face lifts to the original princesses and, in turn, the originals have provided instant street cred to the new ones. We are judged by who are friends are. Well, Jasmine's friends are Cinderella and Aurora, so Jasmine must be of pretty high caliber herself. Snow White hangs out with Hot Belle, so she must be sophisticated and modern, too. I would argue that the original princesses have earned their almost mythological celebrity by withstanding the test of time, but were fairly simple characters in their films. The new princesses are much more complex, but relied on the reputations of their fore bearers to quickly vault them into rock-star status.

It all comes down to merchandising. There are a few extreme people that obsess over a particular subject. People that collect everything with a cat on it, or Star Wars. There's a commercial running right now about a Pittsburgh Steeler fan with a room in his house where everything is Steeler-branded, except the table lamp. In the Disney realm there are a few people that collect Mickey Mouse stuff and flaunt it. I think in most cases we would view those people as outliers - not the norm.

But in the case of the Disney Princesses, Disney has positioned the brand as mainstream. They've made it acceptable and actually normal for every girl to obsess. Every other girl at Disneyland has a princess dress on. Entire shops and restaurants are exclusively devoted to them. There are series of DVD based on their collective star power. The nightly parade is designed around their popularity. New attractions, shows, and ice-capades are based on their joint stardom. There is even a closed circuit television channel at the resorts that runs all-princesses, all the time programming. There is also a "Dream Suite" contest where someone can win a night's stay inside a princess castle-like hotel suite inside of Disneyland (It is located directly above Pirates of the Caribbean.)

At our house we've got board games, toys, DVDs, storybooks, clothes, hats, shoes, pajamas, pillows, stickers, coloring books, chairs, jackets, jewelery, dolls, costumes, crowns, and wands, all with "Disney" and "Princess" marked somewhere on them. I'd really like to think that my girls aren't as odd as some of the other obsessive aggregators of themed items. Maybe they are and we're facilitating that behavior. 

At lease we already know and accept that we are suckers. We decided early on that we would allow this obsession as long as the girls were only cuckoo for one thing. We don't have Barbie or Care Bears or My Little Pony. We're exactly the kind of people Disney is looking for - chasing look-a-likes all over Disneyland for their signature instead of riding rides, paying Ariel's Grotto prices for lunch, watching the princess channel every waking hour even though it repeated the same 10 minute program all day long, and spending an entire half day standing in line at the Princess Faire all for the right to shop at the Princess Store.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mickey Mouse Hats

We knew before we arrived that we wanted to do something fun as a family to mark our vacation. We had noticed previously, and on this trip, that some families all had matching hats or custom t-shirts made for their group. We decided we would all get mouse ear hats.

The problem is, a mouse ear hat is not the kind of hat that can be worn outside of Disneyland. It is basically a one-time-use product - like a $15.00 yogurt cup - except that afterwards you've got figure out what to do with it. It cost too much to throw it away. Five mouse ear hats take up a lot of space on the bookcase. We're probably not smart enough to take them with us on our next trip to Disneyland. Or too proud.

Brooklyn and Madison chose matching Princess mouse ear hats, which is just as well. They always want what the other one has, so by getting the same thing, there is little incentive to covet. I wanted a Captain Jack Sparrow hat, but it failed the ears requirement, so I found the manliest ear hat I could fine, a white one with embroidered character signatures all over it. Karsten chose the classic, standard issue Mickey Mouse hat. Sara's was the best. She got a Pirate Princess hat, complete with a silky bandana. I'm not kidding, it looks great. I think she should wear it more often.

Djeryd, Erik and Anna also got hats. Anna got a Minnie Mouse hat (correct me if I'm wrong, My) and Erik got a baseball hat with included sunglasses. This was also the day Djeryd was first smitten by and mind-melded with - you guessed it - the skunk hat.

We posed for pictures in front of the castle. 

Then we tried to figure out how to get them home without crushing them.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Downtown Disney

As you are probably aware, the giant parking lot that used to be out front of Disneyland is now history. California Adventure occupies much of that vacated property. The rest has been converted into a huge, linear, outdoor mall and entertainment plaza. Think Bridgeport Village but with one long, very wide corridor down the middle and super-sized edifices. At one end is a gateway to Disneyland and California Adventure. At the other end is the original Disneyland Hotel, now renamed the Disneyland Resort. If you're really hauling hawkins you can make the walk in approximately 10 minutes.

The district is full of everything you might expect in a traditional mall: clothing boutiques, jewelers, food shops (e.g. Wetzel's Pretzels, Jamba Juice, Haagen Dazs), anchor restaurants (e.g. ESPN Zone, House of Blues, Rainforest Cafe), a cinema complex, cart vendors, fountains, and other typical mall-like stores (e.g. Fossil, a bookstore, Anne Geddes, a travel company, Build-A-Bear). Mixed in are a shuttle terminal to transport people to and from the new parking facilities (wherever that is) and a direct entrance to the hotel we stayed at, the Grand Californian. So I guess the Grand also fits into the old parking lot as well, as it sits between California Adventure and Downtown Disney, and also runs up against Disneyland Dr.

The favorite destinations among our group were definitely the World of Disney and the LEGO store. For World of Disney, imagine the Disney Store at the mall, add everything you can buy at any of the shops inside the parks, add design by the Disney Imagineers, and stuff it all into 50,000 square feet (that's 15 of our houses, both floors including the bonus room), then you've got the World of Disney. It is truly impressive.

The LEGO store was Djeryd's favorite destination in all of Southern California. It is everything you might expect from a store so named. 

Any enthusiasm or interest from either park that may have distracted Djeryd was always very short-lived. 

Space Mountain: "That was fun. I want to show you something really cool at the LEGO store."

In line for Nemo (taking Monorail to Downtown Disney afterwards): "Do you think we can go to go to the LEGO store later, before we go back to our hotel?"

On Indiana Jones: Me: "Are you doing okay, Djeryd?" Djeryd: "I don't like the cockroaches. I think we should go to the LEGO store after this."

While My and Sean were on Indiana Jones: "Let's go to the LEGO store while we're waiting for my mom and dad."

After Jedi training: "I want to see if they have Captain Rex at the LEGO store." Me: "Who?"

Waiting for our table at Rainforest Cafe: "Let's go to the LEGO store really quick while we're waiting." (It was only 100 yards away.)

Moping at Disneyland: Me: "What's wrong?" Djeryd: "Mom said something I didn't like." Me: "Is it about the LEGO store?" (wild guess) Djeryd: "It's not fair that we always do the things that everyone else wants to do (i.e. go to Disneyland) but never what I want to do (i.e. go to the LEGO store).

Unloading our cars at Enterprise, pulling his kit out of his backpack: "Look at what I got with my money at the LEGO store."

Asking Djeryd to open his LEGO bag to see if there was a receipt with the store's phone number on it so that we could call to see if they had Sean's wallet: "Wait. Look at what I bought at the LEGO store."

Going through security at the airport: "Look at what my Star Wars LEGO kit has inside."

Stowing our carry-ons on the airplane: "Can I get out my LEGO set and hold it on my lap. I won't open it. I just want to look at it."

Collecting our bags from the baggage claim and herding all of the kids together: "Do you want to see what I got at the LEGO store?"

Whoever has Djeryd for Christmas, two words:

Hot Wheels

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Great and Powerful Wizard of Disneyland

Other than the occasional 'log jam' while waiting to disembark, I can't recall ever having been stuck on a broken down amusement park ride. No elevators or revolving doors. Really just traffic and the occasional airplane while it sits on the tarmac and pumps fresh jet fuel-laden air into the cabin.

That's what I would have told you 10 days ago. Now, however, I can recall quite a number of occasions, all within the very recent past, in which my presence was the common denominator in the malfunction of several attractions. 

This is one of the newer attractions at Disneyland, and it is very original, I think. It's like a hybrid roller coaster/standard ride. You ride in a giant Jeep with third-row seating (must be a Commander), seated four across. The Jeep rolls along a track at varying speeds to coincide with the events taking place in the attraction. The part I think is clever is that the Jeep itself moves up, down, forward, backward, and side-to-side, as in the 'road' is a smooth path, but hydraulics in the Jeep make for a very bumpy ride.

The premise is that Indiana Jones has made a new discovery that includes some kind of idol which grants wishes. But if anyone looks directly into the idols' eyes, they meet their end. Consequently, people have been flocking to the dig site (AKA the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland). Indiana, however, entered the temple several days prior and has yet to emerge. Uh oh!

We had gotten FastPasses, as the lines are typically quite long. The FastPass allowed us to go through a special entrance and walk right past 40 minutes worth of waiting patrons. Standing in line isn't so bad. The lines are staged in corridors of the archaeological dig. There are torches on the wall, wooden trunks, scaffolding, chains, and a slew of other artifacts strewn about that make for an entertaining wait. The last stage of the line collects people into a large room within the temple (50 people or so). They show a black and white old-time news reel film about the dig, the idol, Indiana, the wishes that have been granted. They also show a safety video for the ride in the same style. I'd say it's about a 3 minute loop so that everyone sees it as they pass through that area.

That is where the trouble began. Our FastPasses let us skip directly to that room. Sara, Djeryd and I were going to ride while Sean and My were watching the little kids, then switch (Sean and My had FastPasses, too). When we were approximately 15 people away from getting out of that room and into the Jeep-loading lines, everything stopped. The special effects stopped. The ride stopped. The background music stopped. Everything stopped - except for that newsreel film! First we were told that the ride had gone down twice before on that day, and that both times it took about five minutes to recover. We waited the five minutes. Then we waited five more. And another five. Some people started asking about accommodations should they exit the line. The rule was, as laid out by our guide, if you leave the line on your accord, you've given up your place in line and must start at the beginning upon return. If you are asked to leave by the ride operators, you will be given a FastPass good anytime for the remainder of the day. FastPasses generally specify a one hour window of validity. A couple of people left. They'd waited in the 40 minutes line and then an additional 15 minutes in the room with that newsreel playing over and over again. I can't really blame them. After about 20 minutes the guide announced that everything was coming back up and it would take a couple of minutes to cycle through the 'log jam'. We didn't make it that far. You know that moment during a power outage when you hear the refrigerator power up again, maybe the furnace and some lights? And then a split second later everything cuts out again? That's what happened. A few more people exited the line, including a couple ahead of us which made us feel like we were getting closer.

FINALLY, after 25-30 minutes of our 'FastPass' wait, and 25-30 minutes of that maddening film, the ride really did get fixed and we rode it, and it was great, and Djeryd only liked some parts. Not the cockroaches and not the bumps and not the "waiting in that one room" so much, just the parts with Indiana Jones in them.

When we finally made it out of the cursed temple alive, the FastPass line was actually longer than the regular line. Sean and My decided to save their adventure for another day.

Astro Blasters is also fairly new, though it was already there two years ago. It is also a unique/hybrid-type ride. You sit in what I presume is a Buzz Lightyear spaceship, two per. There is a laser blaster for each person and a spin control knob. The spaceships are all mounted on a moving sidewalk - think baggage claim with the U-shaped segments that can turn corners. The best part about this design is the waiting line is constantly moving as people load onto the constantly moving spaceships. There is something like a freeway merge where the people standing in line step onto a moving sidewalk that runs parallel to the conveyor toting the spaceships. Then just grab your blaster, buckle up and go. 

Here's the hybrid part. Not only are you riding in the spaceship through Buzz Lightyear-themed sets, but you're also playing a gigantic one-sided game of laser tag - nobody is shooting at you. There are targets located everywhere throughout, and you collect points for hitting the targets. Some of them move, some are stationary, and some only appear for a split-second. In other words, this is a great ride to be on when it breaks down. When the conveyor stops, you can keep shooting and racking up the points - not that you win anything as a result; it's just fun. UNLESS, you happen to get stuck where My was when I broke the ride. She was in a pitch-black tunnel with no targets. Bummer.

There are hundreds of great places one could run aground on Pirates. In the middle of the splashing cannonballs, perhaps? The treasure room? The wench market or, Brookie's favorite, the dog with the keys in his mouth? Any of those would have been fascinating.

Our boat stopped in the middle of the long, 30 degree climb back to sea-level at the end of the ride.

Different ride, same story. Except on Spash Mountain the long climb is immediately before the long fall. Kinda took the buzz out of the ride. Normally, you're cruising along through the middle of some rocky river basin, no decorations, just your log and the people in it. Then you float past some singing bears, foxes and birds on a steamboat. These are the tolls one must pay if one wants to take the 52 foot plunge down the front of the mountain, which of course one does, or one would not have waited in the long line.

So Sara, Madison, Erik and I made it through the line and all of the silly stuff and the anticipation was building for our big splash. Then we stopped near the top of the lift and waited for a few minutes, wondering if we might soon be using the emergency exit stairs adjacent to our log. It was not to be. We soon started moving again and went over the top and down to the bottom. Sara was hoping they would immediately let us run through it again as we had heard was the case on Indiana Jones that fateful day. That was not to be, either.

This was the strangest of them all and finally put an end to speculation that Sara might somehow have been the source of the curse. Up until Monsters, Sara and I had been together for all of the mishaps.

Monsters is located in California Adventure. It is a fun little ride where you ride inside taxi cabs all through the city of Monstropolis. All of our favorite characters are represented - Sully, Mike, Randall, the CDA guys, Mike's girlfriend, that pimple-faced skinny monster that is starstruck by Sully, and of course, Boo. On our last day we were close by, and the line was short so I suggested to Sean and My that we should all ride it (it is little kid and infant-safe). Our adventure was cut short maybe 100 feet in. And I do mean cut short. The ride was out of commission. Everything turned off. Lights, music, animation, everything. They brought up the house lights and we could essentially see behind the scenes - stuff you can't see when the ride is running and everything is dark. 

They ask you not to take flash pictures while on the ride. It is nearly impossible to take non-flash pictures in near darkness. But when the ride stops and the regular lights are turned on, it becomes much easier to dial in that perfect scene.

This video clip didn't happen at Disneyland, but it captures many of the thoughts and feelings we experienced each time I broke one of our rides.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Macaronis et Fromage

Brookie wanted me to write about the Tour de Macaroni & Cheese she conducted during our vacation to Disneyland. You may not have known this about her, but Brookie has long been a connoisseur of that fine cheesy cuisine. If you've got her name for Christmas this year, a box of Kraft might make her the happiest kid in the room.

I can only think of one meal at which Brookie did NOT order mac and cheese. That was Monday night after the Parade of Dreams when we all went to a friendly little restaurant called Millie's, which was located just across the street from Disneyland on Harbor Blvd. Brookie got the cheese pizza and fries, just like the other kids. Madsion, however, DID order the macaroni and cheese, and I think they switched meals halfway through. I confess that I also ordered macaroni and cheese that night, but it was a more sophisticated version that included bacon, diced tomatoes and cilantro, plus a house salad - so it was okay for me.

I don't really care so much when the kid's menu is simple and the prices are inexpensive. For $4.99 they can order a corn dog or a grilled cheese sandwich or mac & cheese, it doesn't matter much to me. However, there were a few gooey meals that left me less than enthused with her customary selection.

California Adventure has several interesting food production facilities located inside the park. For example, they grow grapes and press their own wine, much of which is used inside the parks' and hotels' own restaurants, and some is sold at retail. There is also a live Mission tortilla factory that we toured (and ate the free samples). Another such enterprise is a bakery, and this is what brought us to Pacific Wharf - Sara wanted cheese soup in a freshly baked sourdough bread bowl. Brookie ordered the usual, but at an unusually good price - $3.50. All was good until we opened up the kid's meal box. Her macaroni and cheese was in a container the size of those tiny little plastic bowls that you put pickles and banana peppers in at Quizno's. There were literally only like 15-20 noodles inside. In a price-per-noodle comparison, this may have been the most expensive of the trip.

I briefly touched on some of the crazy items in the breakfast buffet at Goofy's Kitchen; peanut butter and jelly pizza, gummy worms, and ice cream. There is also an outstanding assortment of great food like waffles, french toast, made-to-order omelets and egg scrambles, breakfast potatoes, oatmeal with various toppings, cold cereals, pastries, fresh fruits, and... you guessed it, macaroni and cheese. Brookie did branch out a bit; apple juice, mac and cheese, and gummy worms. I can't complain though, since they considered her an infant and didn't charge us for her meal.

For $18.00 I want to see something involving a decent-sized cut of what used to be a cow, grilled and seasoned to perfection. If the chef wants to throw in mac and cheese on the side, so be it. But 18 bucks for a kid-sized portion of that ubiquitous pasta made my stomach churn. As if that wasn't bad enough, Madison ordered the same thing. To add insult to injury, they didn't even save any for me. I can't say that I blame them for choosing the cheesy goodness - the alternatives were chicken nuggets or mini-corn dogs.

UPDATE: 10/17/08 - I was just cleaning up some papers on my desk and came across a copy of the kid's menu from Ariel's Grotto. Turns out the girls had an excellent selection including glazed chicken skewers, "meatball lollipops", and my favorite, a kid-sized tri-tip like I ate. In hindsight I should have had them order one macaroni and cheese and one tri-tip which could have been like a side dish for my main course tri-tip.

Friday, October 10, 2008

All Good Things

My apologies for the one-day lag getting this out. I'll say this about vacations - they are not relaxing. They don't reinvigorate me or make me feel ready or anxious to jump back into work and everyday life. They wear me out. It is stressful business trying to ensure that everything flows smoothly and everyone returns home safely. Hence the delay; I was merely dormant while my body repaired itself.

We needed to check out of the hotel by 11:00 AM, but we wanted to be in the park by 9:00 AM (Thursday was another "Magic Morning" early entry day for certain ticket holders) to squeeze every possible minute out of our last day. Factoring in time for breakfast, we woke up at 7:00 AM to shower, pack up and load the car. We were allowed to park at the hotel until midnight. In one final troop surge designed to fill the last remaining pages of Brooklyn's autograph book, we hit the Storyteller's Cafe in our hotel. This is another character restaurant/buffet similar to Goofy's Kitchen, but with relatively innocuous characters and therefore not nearly as expensive. Chip 'n Dale are the headliners. Others include Rosie O'Donnell's monkey from Tarzan and a bunch of bears that looked somewhat familiar; the old Country Bears maybe?

Problem was, we already had both Chip and Dale's autographs, and most of the others declined due to excessively large stuffed paws where hands would normally be. We called it quits on the signatures. When Dale stopped by he tried to help Karsten entertain himself by dumping out the little basket of jellies and syrups out onto the table in front of him. Several minutes later Brooklyn got out of her chair and started to walk away "to go spank Dale because he made a big mess." Corporal punishment works.

I'm not sure what the point is of Disneyland saying only certain types of ticket holders can enter the parks early for the Magic Morning. When we got to the main entrances at 9:15 AM, 45 minutes before the gates open to the public, there were absolutely no lines. No normal lines for 10:00 AM entry. No special lines for the Magic Morning. Everyone was already inside. Both parks were jam packed with people all day - on Thursday. Those were by far the longest lines we'd seen the entire week. The Matterhorn line wrapped all the way around the mountain just like the old days when it was one of the best rides available. At any rate, we 'hauled hawkins'* over to Splash Mountain to begin our farewell tour. We asked the girls how they wanted to spend their final day. Madison chose Splash Mountain, Brooklyn chose the 'unicorns' (AKA King Arthur Carousel). We stopped by Indiana Jones to grab FastPasses for 10:30 for My and Sean (see forthcoming entry about the power I seem to possess over rides). We noted that Pirates was only a 5 minute wait at that point. So after Sara and Madison rode Splash Mountain and Brooklyn let a very nice elderly Japanese tourist gentleman tie her shoe (the intent of which was entirely communicated through hand gestures), we switched and I went with Madison again. Disneyland gives out a family switch pass for people with small children (that can't go on the ride). The parent who waits plus one additional person can basically go straight to the front of the line.

My and Sean weren't quite into the park yet to give them their FastPasses and take their kids, so we ducked into Pirates one last time. Pirates is located nearly halfway between Splash Mountain and Indiana Jones. They really did an excellent job of integrating the brand enhancements brought about by the movies while preserving the feel of the original attraction. The timing was perfect and we met up with My and Sean. Djeryd didn't want to do Indiana Jones again, so they snuck Erik onto it despite the two inches in height he was lacking. He loved it. We had five kids to manage for a while, so we ducked into Pirates one last time, again, because the line was still so short. Brookie was heard singing "a pirate's life for me" repeatedly throughout the remainder of the day.

After that we split up because Djeryd and Erik wanted to go to Tom Sawyer's Island (now called "Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer Island") and we had promised Brookie she could ride the unicorns again. We still wanted to get over to California Adventure before we were through. We coincidentally reunited with My and Sean on Main Street as we were both heading out.

In California Adventure we went straight for Turtle Talk with Crush because My and Sean had missed it the day before. The show was completely different from the one I described in an earlier entry when Madison was chosen from the audience. My thinks the voice-guy wears a bunch of sensors on his face in order to capture the facial expressions and mouth movement. I really have no idea - it could be. I totally like, do not know the answer, dude, but I'll be anxious to see the featurette someday. Sean, Sara and Djeryd rode the big roller coaster "California Screamin'". We tried to do the Monsters, Inc. ride (see forthcoming entry about the now certain power I possess over rides), then wrapped up in A Bug's Land. I sat in a nice, big shady spot with a sleeping Anna and Karsten to wait for everyone to finish up.

To get to our cars we made the 10 minute walk through Downtown Disney, the retail, dining and entertainment district between the entrances to the two parks and the old Disneyland Hotel. This fit perfectly into Djeryd's grand scheme to dip into the Lego store for one final indulgence. He picked out a Star Wars set while Erik selected an Indiana Jones-themed set. It is unknown at this point whether Lego still makes/sells rectangular and square-shaped pieces anymore.

The additional time we allowed ourselves to combat rush hour was unneeded - traffic was great. However, those minutes came in particularly useful for Sean when he discovered his wallet was missing. Evidently they don't much like for unidentifiable persons to fly on airplanes. We checked with the car rental company, the Lego store, the Rainforest Cafe where we'd eaten the night prior - no hits. The kids were terrorizing the airport while Sara tried to keep any of them from escaping (there were automatic doors on two fronts). They allowed Sean to fly, albeit with 'extra' security screening. Our plane was a bit late. They changed our gate after we'd settled in. Sean called everyone he could think of to suspend his accounts. The flight crew gave the kids wing badges and chocolate. Brooklyn drove us crazy from asking, literally every 20 seconds, if we were off the ground yet. As soon as we were finally off the ground for real, she said "time for snacks" and her motives all became clear as she lowered her little tray. 

Karsten slept almost the entire flight. Brookie slept after her snacks. Djeryd made a little place for Madison to sleep in the row ahead of us using his Davy Crockett/Daniel Boone hat. When Madison wakes up quickly she talks a lot like Wesley from Princess Bride after he swallows Miracle Max's chocolate coated pill. After we had landed and the plane was unloading, Madison woke up and told the whole plane how she "was sleeping on the airplane and Djeryd was very nice and made a bed for [her] and made a pillow for [her] head with his 'skunk hat'".

We got home at 11:30 PM. Straight to bed for everyone.

We had such a great trip with My and Sean and their family. It is so much more fun (and convenient) to go to Disneyland with another family. The benefit of the extra adults far outweighs the challenge of the extra kids. It was very cool to stay on the premises and be so close to everything. Sean found his wallet this morning inside one of their checked bags.

I will post a few Disney-related follow-up posts over the next several days to cover some miscellaneous subjects, before deciding what to do with this blog in the long-term. Thanks for reading.

* The term 'haul hawkins' was coined on 10/09/08 during our return trip. I thought Sean had used those words and asked him to confirm, because I thought it was clever. Sean said that was not what he had said, but he liked it. We held a vote and the phrase was adopted immediately thereafter by a margin of 2-0.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Madison's Crush

We gamed the system just a bit. This time we knew where to sit and what they were looking for, thanks to the reconnasaince we ran two years ago during our previous trip to Disneyland.

There is an incredibly inovative attaction at CA called "Turtle Talk With Crush". Crush is the giant sea turtle from Finding Nemo that talks like a surfer. Kids and parents fill a dark room with stadium seating and a large carpeted area in front where the kids sit. There is a large fish tank-looking movie screen as the focal point of the room.

Crush enters the picture and refers to the audience as "the human tank". He then picks an especially cute little kid from the carpeted area on his right. We'll call her 'Madison', or as Crush dubbed her, 'Malibu Madison'.

Crush: Who's this cute little chicklette in the front with the pink flippers and the white shell.
Madison: Madison
C: Let's call you Malibu Madison. Malibu Madison, do you know how to talk like a turtle?
M: Yes.
C: Cha. You're talking to me right now, little dudette! You totally rock! I'm going to teach to how to speak turtle. Say 'totally'.
M: Totally.
C: Awesome. Okay, say 'sweet'.
M: [Suddenly bashful]
Sara: Say 'sweet'.
M: Sweet.
C: You are a natural, little dudette. Okay, now put them together.
M: Totally sweet.
C: Whoa! That was totally sweet, young human. It's like we're on the same - whoa - that was weird. We totally like, connected. Malibu Madison, where are you from?
S: Say Oregon
M: Oregon
C: Oregon. [blank stare] I do not know where that is. Is there good surfing in Oregon?
S: No
M: No
C: Whoa, that sounds [long pause] nice. Malibu Madison, who brought you here to Disneyland today? Who are you here with?
M: My mom and my daddy.
C: Is your mom the chicklette whispering to you what to say?
M: Yeah.
C: Whoa! Hey Mom, you've got a mini-grommet on your lap there. What's your name, Malibu Madison's mom?
S: Sara.
C: Surfin' Sara, how many little grommets do you have?
S: Three.
C: Oh, you're just getting started! I have 65 offspring. Surfin' Sara - do your little frys constantly ask you, like, a lot of questions, like, all the time? I mean mine are always like, and I'm like, I do not know.
S: Yes, they do. Actually, Madison has a question for you, Crush.
C: Oh, righteous! What is your question Malibu Madison?
S: Why do turtles have shells? (This really was Madison's question. We had asked her beforehand so that she would be ready with something in case she got chosen, which she did. We thought it was a very good question considering the typical "what's your favorite color" or "what do turtles eat" that kid's usually ask him. She came up with it entirely on her own.)
C: To protect us from being eaten by tiger sharks.

A brief explanation followed, then Crush solicited the audience for a few other questions. Madison was so giddy after that.

I haven't figured out how they pull this act off. They obviously have either the actual voice of Crush or a very good impersonator voicing the character. But the movement and animation and the dialog and the events that transpire are all custom to each show. It's quite impressive. We tried to get My and her kids in to see the show after the CA parade, but we missed the last showing (parade was at 5:00 PM, last showing was at 5:30 PM, CA closes at 6:00 PM - earlier than most businesses nowadays.) We'll get-er-done tomorrow for sure.

Just a couple of additions to Brookie's autograph collection today: Farmer Mickey and Minnie and the Queen of Hearts from Alice In Wonderland. We ignored some dude from Pocahontas twice; a purple, Captain Hook-like figure. We tried but couldn't catch Mr. Incredible or the old-lady witch from Snow White.

The CA parade at 5:00 was very entertaining. I'd rather call it the Pixar Parade, though, as all of the characters and floats are from the Pixar successes of recent history: Cars, Ratatouille, Monster's, Inc., A Bug's Life, Finding Nemo and Toy Story. It was a lot more entertaining and fun for everyone than the 50th Anniversary parade at Disneyland. For everyone, that is, except Madison. She refuses to choose a favorite.

We've got a busy day ahead tomorrow. We have to pack up and check out before going into the parks at 9:00 AM. We will leave the parks by about 4:30 PM to allow enough time to get to the airport during rush hour for our flight home.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

You Can't Please Everybody

Brooklyn was the first one to wake up this morning. "Wake up, Dad. It's time-a-go Disneyland again," was the first thing to come out of her mouth while the rest of us were still mostly asleep. Indeed it was. This morning was a day when they allow certain ticket-holders to enter two lands in Disneyland 1 hour early. We'd been trying to go on the new Finding Nemo ride that was still under construction two years ago during our last trip, but its lines have been crazy long. It is in the same place as the old submarine ride in Tomorrow Land. In fact, it IS the old submarine ride. The only thing different is that at about the halfway point, we started seeing characters from and hearing sound bites (made possible by the leading-edge sonar fish translating device; really, that's what they said) from the movie. They're employing some sort of digital projection to create the images. I felt let down. I was expecting so much more.

So we did the early entry hoping to catch Finding Nemo before the long wait. That was what everyone else was doing as well. We saw Mary Poppins and Bert in front of City Hall but consciously ignored them in order to get to Nemo quickly. We didn't get on until 7:30 at night, during the parade, and still had to wait 30 minutes in line. Thinking about missing out on Mary Poppins' photo and signature only adds salt to the wound.

Still, Brookie's quest for autographs is progressing very nicely. Today saw the addition of Aladdin and Jasmine, Woody and Jesse, Pooh and Tigger. Not counting the two pages Brookie scribbled on when we weren't paying attention, she only needs a few more characters to fill her book.

We got on some big rides today, including: Indiana Jones, Splash Mountain, the Haunted Mansion (which has been entirely reinvented with a Nightmare Before Christmas theme, which incidentally none of us had actually seen and likely did not appreciate many of the attraction's finer points), Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and technically Finding Nemo, although there will be virtually zero demand from our group to revisit that one. Djeryd said Indiana Jones was too scary - well, some parts he liked. Two parts anyway. Erik said Splash Mountain was scary, except for the scary part when you think you're falling to your death. That part he liked. Madison thought the Haunted Mansion was going to be scary, but it wasn't. And Brookie thinks everything and everybody is scary.

The most amazing thing about the day was that we stayed out the entire time. Didn't come back to the hotel for anything. Didn't hop over to California Adventure. All day, all Disneyland. The kids were incredible and really, all things considered, have been extremely well mannered and mostly obedient. They don't mind standing in lines. They don't mind standing by strollers waiting for others to ride attractions (when they're too little). They don't mind walking all over the place. They don't mind sharing the three available stroller seats (poor Djeryd never gets to ride).

The kids were so tired that we modified our dinner plans on the fly. Sean and I ran out to grab some Carl's Jr. just to fill tummies. Without going into detail pending possible legal proceedings, that experience left a sour note on the entire day. I am officially boycotting Carl's Jr. and will be writing a letter to their consumer affairs department to make my dissatisfaction known. I also will no longer appear at promotional events for my old soccer team, the Happy Stars, unless Carl's Jr. withdraws their title sponsorship.

Too Late To Bed, Too Early To Rise

We started before sunrise. Had to make our reservation at Goofy's Kitchen for 7:00 AM because the only other option was 11:00 AM on Tuesday, which would have cut into playtime severely. Two surprises: Brookie and Anna are considered infants and therefore ate for free, and my AAA membership scored a significant discount for both families. We didn't even have to ask for either - just told them how many adults and the ages of the kids and they asked if we had AAA. This is the goofiest buffet-style dining I'm aware of. Part of your complete breakfast includes hot dogs, peanut butter and jelly pizza, cupcakes and ice cream sundaes. Oh, and Gummy Worms. Then the parade of characters begins. Brookie got Pluto, Chef Goofy, Baloo, Chip, Dale and Alice to sign her autograph book and we made the kids pose for pictures with all of them. Pre-princess Belle (blue Mormon dress, not yellow gown) was there also but she never made it to our table while we were there.

My and Sean went swimming prior to meeting Timmy by the dog kennels at 11:00 to gain park entry. We headed out to cross off one more item from our long list of everything princess: the Princess Faire, where little princesses and knights can meet their favorite princesses, learn to wave like a princess, learn to bow like a prince and curtsy like a princess, learn to dance at a ball should they ever attend one, and shop at the princesses' own store and beauty salon. Brookie added Mulan to her collection. Ariel, Aurora and Hot Belle (yellow gown) were there as well, but they were yesterday's news. It turns out some of the princesses are available outside of Ariel's Grotto. But I'll say this: we waited about three or four times longer in that line than we have for any other so far. Longer than Space Mountain. Longer than Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. Longer than Autopia or Grizzly River Run. Ariel's Grotto was worth the expense compared to waiting in that line, considering we got to eat and sit down. I hope a huge promotion went to the guy that figured out how to exploit the princess characters at the expense of parents of little girls (see future post about the Disney princess revival).

We stopped for ice cream on Main Street USA in the early afternoon. We're being told that the temperature only reached 82 degrees, but it felt like 102. The ice cream cooled most of us down, Erik being the exception as the ice cream merely turned him into human fly paper. The "infants" were getting cranky so I reluctantly volunteered to watch over them back at the hotel while Sara, My and Sean went out with the three kids that didn't earn us breakfast savings to do some of the rides that I can't stomach, namely Space Mountain and Star Tours. They have added a bunch of lights to Space Mountain - like stars and a hyper-space-type feature - and those really mess with my eyes and brain. Before our non-Disney dinner we caught the Parade of Dreams.

Sara and Sean both recorded new personal bests in the mad dash. First Sara when she ran all the way back to our room to get our park passes after bringing the babies back for naps. The passes were in my pocket. Then Sean when we walked all the way to our cars in the self-parking lot after the parade before realizing that neither of us had our car keys with us. Upon returning from Kris and Vicki's Sunday night we had both stored them safely away so as not to lose them in the parks during the week ahead. Sean owed me big-time for being able to use my AAA discount, so we gave him our room key and he ran for two.

As we were approaching the cars to go to dinner, this time with keys, Brookie turned and waved, "See you tomorrow, Disneyland."

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Magical Meals

There is a restaurant on a fake wharf alongside a man-made lake in California Adventure by the name of Ariel's Grotto. Yes, it is a Little Mermaid-themed restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. It's expensive as kid-friendly restaurants go; $32 per adult and $18 per child (infants are free). Adults choose from one of six entrees, children from three. Everyone shares an appetizer spread consisting of a small salad, a variety of vegetables and cheeses, breads and Jello laced with shredded fruits. A dessert sampler platter of eight or so different items completes the meal. Soft drinks are included in the price, though apparently the kids' lemonade is not ($6.50 each!!!). The food is far from ordinary and probably on par with many upper-echelon restaurants. But nobody pays for the food.

At Ariel's Grotto, diners, especially little princesses, are treated to personal visits from each of the five major Disney princess icons: Ariel, Belle, Cinderella, Aurora and Snow White. The princesses enter the dining room and talk to the people at each table. They sign autograph books and pose for pictures with whoever wants one. $32 and $18 is the price to see all of those princesses - not just in one location but exclusively, as far as we can tell; they are not available anywhere else in either park except in the parades. The food is just a footnote. I, however, am of the opinion that the beef tri-tip I ordered, in conjunction with the appetizers and chocolate-laden dessert offering (and free pop w/ refills), was well worth my $32. It was the $18 for the girls' macaroni and cheese that left me questioning my judgement - at least until I saw our girls' faces as their favorite princesses spent time with them.

That was lunch!

For dinner Aunt Kathy had arranged a mini Locken family reunion at Kris and Vicki's house. Aunt Vicki, with only a tiny bit of help I'm told, prepared an enormous barbecue for our enjoyment with every imaginable food item present. It would have fed 50 people easily. The only people missing were Uncle Larry, Kiffy and his wife, and Todd who is on his mission. Even Aunt Vicki's parents, the Stevensons, were there and spent quite a bit of time talking with Sara in particular. Djeryd and Erik had a great time playing some sort of trampoline dodge ball with Brian's girls and Kris' boys. Erik, justifiably declared himself "the best". Madison found a huge stockpile of Barbie stuff and spread out all over the living room floor. Anna adhered herself to cousin Emily. Brooklyn was the rover, wandering around from person to person, doling out instruction and filling the air with nonsense. For his part, Karsten was the only one of the six that would let Uncle Kris near him.

After a few very satisfying hours, Brooklyn made her rounds and informed everyone that she was tired and was "going hotel" (as opposed to going home) to take a nap. And so we did.

Tomorrow will mark the beginning of our full-scale assault on the Disney properties of Southern California.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Grand

Our morning was uneventful. Everything went according to plan. We woke up on time. Got out the door on time. We left the OC and got to the airport, boarded our flight and arrived at Santa Ana/Orange County/John Wayne Airport all without incident. All of the kids were wonderful. We had a block of nine seats in the back of the plane. My and Sean sat with Anna in the front row. Sara, Karsten, Erik and I sat in the back row. Brookie, Djeryd and Madison sat in the middle all by themselves and were so well behaved. Djeryd took great care of the girls - he entertained them with his backpack full of books, toys and other activities (great preparation, My!), and he made sure their seat belts were always fastened and properly tightened.

We split up for a bit - My and Sean took their boys to LegoLand for the afternoon, much to their delight. Djeryd (and Sean) have been describing its many wonders practically non-stop ever since.

We checked into our hotel and hit California Adventure right away, determined to get in a full day. I say checked in and most people assume that means we began to occupy a room in the hotel. Apparently the Grand Californian has found a way to let guests check in without actually providing a room. We got our key cards. We got the hotel map. Cousin Timmy came through with the Cast Member discount voucher. But they wouldn't tell us our room number. It was "still being cleaned" and they provided us with a telephone number to call to learn our room number when it became available. A very long story short, after six hours and multiple phone calls to various entities within the Disney empire, our room number was finally revealed to us. By the time we physically arrived at our room, Sean and My were already settled into their connecting room next door. Recall that they first drove to San Diego and spent several hours at LegoLand before driving back - and they still beat us; and had time to take a nap and for Hannah Montana to jump into fourth place on Djeryd's interest radar (trailing only Star Wars, Indiana Jones and now, Legoland).

We didn't spend that six hours sitting around. Ever since our Disneyland trip in 2006, Madison has had just one thing on her brain. There was a particular ride that she had been too short to ride. She's prayed every single night that she would someday be big enough to go on the Jumping Jellyfish. The what?

Jumping Jellyfish is a ride in the new park, California Adventure. As far as we can tell, it is not based on anything Disney. Passengers 42 inches and taller sit in a chair with a giant Jellyfish attached overhead. The ride lifts the passengers up, slowly, before bringing them back down, also slowly. One time only. Having fulfilled a nearly lifelong pursuit and received an answer to countless prayers, Madison immediately constructed a new agenda. We all got to ride on the Ferris wheel and all the girls rode on Ariel's sea creature carousel.

We then headed over to the world of A Bug's Life for a while. Madison also discovered that 42 inches gains access to other, even more compelling rides than the the Jumping Jellyfish. Namely, the roaring river raft ride (Grizzly River Run) which is literally just a few steps away from the private entrance to California Adventure directly from the spectacularly rustic Grand Californian hotel where we are staying. Part of the hotel is actually inside of the park. Upon being completely drenched, Madison had the surprisingly brilliant and sensible idea that she be allowed to wear her swimsuit the next time she does it. I don't see why not.

Our original plan (after our original, original plan of actually checking into The Grand had failed) was to play around in California Adventure (hereafter referred to as "CA") for a couple of hours until our room became available. We would then settle in, grab some dinner at the famous Chicken Pie Shop, and re-enter the parks for the rest of the evening, culminating in the Friday/Saturday-only fireworks above the Matterhorn. Most of that was rendered impossible when both Sara and I neglected to get our hands stamped upon exiting CA. No hand stamp, no re-entry. Period. Brookie and Madison got theirs stamped and they, in the words of the friendly Cast Member I spoke with, could "re-enter the parks themselves but there is absolutely no way [Sara or I] could get back in without purchasing another ticket." Lesson learned.

It actually worked out great because My and Sean didn't have park tickets for the day anyway and we would have had to separate according to our second original plan. We asked our friends at the other end of one of the Disney phone numbers for the best place to see the fireworks and ended up in the plaza/mall at the vortex created where the entrances to Disneyland, CA and Downtown Disney (to be addressed in a future post) converge. We ducked into the World of Disney store in Downtown Disney to get Brooklyn an autograph book for when we meet Disney characters. Everything around Disneyland is super clean (especially the trash cans; Walt Disney himself decreed that his park would even be free of chewing gum) so we staked out a spot right on the ground in front of the giant "California" sign at CA's entrance. If their cheering and clapping were any indication, the kids LOVED the fireworks.

That capped an 18-hour, napless day for those kids. A day that saw us safely arrive in the other OC. A day that launched our long-awaited Disney vacation. A day in which I, through my many, many phone calls, forged a first-name relationship with The Grand.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Saturday - 5:15 AM

That's the time we need to leave the house in the morning.

We've never made our kids get up that early before. Sure, they do it on their own every now and then. Why just yesterday Brookie woke up at 5:15 AM to tell us she was hungry and cold. She had fallen asleep in the car on the way home from Grandma's the day before and didn't want to wake up. So we put her down for the night around 6:30. The past few weeks she has been undressing herself in her sleep (we think). So there she was, hungry from not having eaten since lunch the previous day, cold because she'd stripped down to her panties, and wide awake at 5:15 AM. 

But forcing them to get up and get moving is asking for a rough start to what is sure to be a very long day. After that comes the fun of wrangling three kids with suitcases, strollers and car seats through the airport, security, etc. And of course there's the prospect of keeping everyone quiet and well-behaved on the flight.

It's sure to be exciting, which is really what a vacation to Disneyland is supposed to be. I really hope that getting there isn't half of the fun, though. 2-3% of the fun, max. We've got six days of Disney fun ahead!