Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Disneyland Dos and Don'ts...what I learned

A few months ago I blogged about the anticipation of visiting Disneyland for the first time as a parent. Well, the big day came and went and much to my surprise we wound up staying until 7 PM, with everyone still composed and in fairly good spirits as we left the park. I left a wiser man than when I arrived, gathering some Disneyland Dos and Don'ts to share here on this blog.

Do- Go on a Thursday morning in January a few days after a holiday (when everyone else already went) on a day when it looks like it's going to rain but doesn't ever do anything more than spit. Park workers told us it was the slowest day of the year so far. I can't imagine lines on a normal day.

Don't- Try going to Toontown first thing. We were going to try to beat everyone to see Mickey, but it opened later than the other areas.

Do- Bring your own food. The stuff inside the park is about two times what it should regularly cost. Save the money for a treat at the end of the day.

Don't- Buy a bag of jelly beans without weighing them ($12/lb!)

Do- Ride the teacups. It was a great starter ride for our 3 year old son, for whom Disneyland had been the "Scariest place on Earth" up to that point. Also, I calculated that they can easily move over 50 people through the teacup ride at a time, so the line moves pretty fast.

Don't- Start spinning the wheel in the middle of the teacup or look at the other teacups until you near the end of the ride...unless you want to be sick.

Do- Ride the Matterhorn Bobsleds with your spouse in a double car. Make sure the male sits in front unless you are finished having children. Stop making out after about 15 seconds in the tunnel up the first climb unless you want to lose some teeth. This ride is bone-chilling not because of the architecture of the roller coaster, but because of how old and rickety it is.

Don't- Fall for the Autopia ride. It looks like cool go-karts, but you cannot really steer and you are limited to a low cruising speed. To make the car go you have to keep your foot all the way down on the pedal, which gets tiring. If a small kid is trying to drive in front of you, they will not have the strength to keep the pedal down, and you will not be able to get around them. This ride had one of the longest lines at Disneyland and a lot of it was in the path of gas fumes from the cars. Wish I would have braved the Finding Nemo line instead.

Do- Go on the Indiana Jones ride, but only on a slow day. If the lines were on the order of 1-2 hours, I would rather spend that time doing other things at Disneyland. The line for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was pretty short and if you are into speed or drops that is better than Indiana Jones. Indy is just for special effects.

Don't- Ride on the deceptively benign-looking train that goes around the periphery of Disneyland if you have children who are scared of pitch dark tunnels and violent dinosaur dioramas. That was about the scariest thing we could have imagined for my son, but we had no idea the train would go through those kind of scenes. This scary stretch is between Tomorrowland and the main entrance.

Do- Get the Mickey ears. The kids kept them on all day (surprising) and looked cute in them. (Did I use the word "cute" again on this manly blog?)

Don't- Be afraid to park your stroller. Just make sure there are enough stains on it to render the stroller unattractive to thieves and easy to identify.

Do- Check out the Lego store in Downtown Disney. It has giant Lego sculptures (including R2D2) and about every Lego set you can think of. This is a good place to hit on the way out if you're staying in one of the hotels.

Don't- Think about the ticket price if you want to have a priceless experience.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Wasabi game is a winner

Christmas at our house usually involves at least one new board game. This year we found a winner in Wasabi! by Z-Man Games.

In Wasabi! you take on the role of gourmet sushi chefs. The ingredients are square tiles that you take turns placing onto the board, or "kitchen". The object of the game is to assemble ingredients into adjacent squares to complete sushi "recipes" that carry exotic names such as Squid Salad Sandwich, Snapper Crunch, Poison Pill, and so on.

You get extra points for completing longer recipes or assembling your recipes in the exact order. When space runs out, or you complete all your recipes, you tally up the points and see who wins.

There are multiple reasons to like Wasabi!
  • A 2-player game only takes 30-45 minutes to complete.
  • Gameplay is mostly based on strategy; the only luck involved is the recipe-drawing.
  • The theme is creative and the artwork beautiful. I don't even like sushi and it makes me hungry. If this wasn't such a macho blog I would go so far as to call it "cute".

The theme also causes this game to have many pieces that require about 5 - 10 minutes to set up. You need to have a large table available, especially for a 3 or 4 player game. The pieces are brightly colored and probably attractive to young children. We don't know. It's one of those items where my wife and I have vowed, "The kids must never know this exists."

Wasabi! is not the kind of game you find at Target (that's also reflected in the price). A good place to get it is boardgamegeek.com, Amazon, or eBay.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Bringing Grandpa's mission journal to light

My grandfather joined the Mormon church at age 18. Two years later, he left his home in Idaho to preach the Gospel in the Great Lakes Mission. I first learned that Grandpa kept a daily journal of his mission when I was serving a mission myself in Argentina. My mom obtained it somehow and typed out sections to send me.

Reading about Grandpa's difficulties and successes, as well as his dilligent work ethic, inspired me to work harder and lift up my head during the rough times that all missionaries face. It was comforting to know someone I knew and loved so well had experienced the same thing before.

This past year my wife and I embarked on a project to make Grandpa's journal more widely available to the family. I had run across the original copy and did not want it to remain hidden in my grandparents' house for occasional discovery. With their permission, we took the journal home and did the following with it:
  1. Type - We transcribed the journal into Microsoft Word, preserving the original spelling and grammar as much as possible. Grandpa wrote most of the entries quickly at night and did not bother with periods or capital letters, so we divided the text into sentences as best we could. Once we finished the transcription, we gave the text a full proofread to fix our own typos and review parts that were difficult to interpret the first time around.

  2. Add mission letters - For a long time we've had the text of a handful of letters Grandpa sent home while on his mission. We put these in italic font and inserted them in the journal at the appropriate places in the chronology.

  3. Add pictures - We have several pictures of Grandpa near his mission age, which we inserted into the journal at appropriate spots. We also have his mission "business card" which we scanned and added to the journal near the beginning.

  4. Add maps - At the time of Grandpa's mission there tended to be only one branch or ward per large city, so he did a lot of traveling to surrounding towns. To help the reader follow the geography, we copied out maps of each area from Google Maps and placed them on a title page for each area.

  5. Add foreword - We wrote a brief introduction to the journal that communicated the journal's value to us, how we transcribed it, and what to expect when reading it.

  6. Print - With the above additions, the journal wound up taking about 50 double-sided pages. At 12 copies we calculated it was cheaper to buy a print cartridge or two and print the journals ourselves, rather than make 600 copies. We put the printer on a lower-quality "Fast" setting which, from what I could tell, printed everything well enough for distribution.

  7. Bind - We took the manuscripts to Office Depot and got them spiral bound with a plastic cover for several bucks each.

  8. Distribute - Our goal was to get a copy of the journal to each branch of Grandpa's posterity. We enjoyed wrapping up the journals as Christmas presents and mailing them to Grandpa, his seven children, and his three grandchildren currently serving or called on missions.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Spirit of Speedy Joe

The Utah football team honored the late Mormon Apostle Joseph B. Wirthlin this week by wearing the initials "JBW" on their helmets during the Sugar Bowl. Wirthlin played for Utah in the 1930's and remained a fan and "self-appointed chaplain" of the team for decades.

Maybe some of the spirit of "Speedy Joe Wirthlin" was with the Utes in their 31-17 romp over Alabama. It's painful to admit this, but this season Utah executed every time and place that BYU didn't, and they have the BCS bowl win to show for it. The Cougs should take note of this for next year.

Hopefully this Utah win will take us one step closer to either a playoff system or an automatic BCS berth for the Mountain West Conference. It's unfortunate that MWC teams have to run the table to get in a BCS bowl. There are other teams in the conference that are perennially good enough to compete on the national stage. For example, this year's TCU squad is better than at least Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, Ohio State, and possibly other teams that got a BCS bowl invitation this season (I don't want to talk about Penn State right now).