Wednesday 30 November 2011

Disneyland Hotel - Time for Another Try?

I stayed in the Disneyland Hotel for the first time in 1980 and I loved it. It was my first experience with a themed hotel, and my first trip to Disneyland, so my opinion of it might be a little jaded, but it became the standard by which all holiday hotels were measured for the rest of my childhood.

Twenty five years later, I brought my kids (and their grandparents) to the Disneyland Hotel for their first visit. It was neither my kids first experience with a themed hotel, nor their first trip to Disneyland, but it was still a great trip. The problem was, that twenty five years later, it was still essentially the same room. Considering you pay a fairly stiff premium to stay in the Disneyland Hotel compared to the other hotels across the street from the park, it didn't take long to decide that we didn't want to take out a second mortgage to stay in a room in significant need of upgrades. We haven't been back since.

2005 Disneyland Hotel room
Then yesterday, I was reading a post on the Travel Mamas (Seriously? Am I really going to complain about being called a "Mommy Blogger" and then tell you to go check out a site called Travel Mamas? Yes I am, because it's a great site, and kind of the whole motivation behind this post.) about the completion of renovations to the Disneyland Hotel. Her pictures are showing a very different room than the one I stayed in last time I was there, and I'm starting to get the itch to go back and check it out for myself.

We seem to visit Disneyland a lot during the Christmas season, and no matter how short a walk it can be from the Good Neighbor hotels across the street, there's something really magical about never leaving the Disney property on your way to and from the park. The Disney controlled atmosphere extends all the way from the back room in the Disneyland Hotel to the front gate of the park (at which point you have to pay for your tickets, and a little bit of that magic disappears). The Christmas season is particularly enthralling - to me a season of Christmas carols and festivities with no snow is the equivalent of a world filled with chocolate and no dentists - but if you prefer to avoid the walk or the Christmas music (You Scrooge you!) then you can always just ride the monorail into the park from right outside the hotel (Assuming it's running. It seems to have about the same track record as the 1980 Chevrolet Citation that I drove in high school.).

The service at the Disneyland Hotel was always great (probably because I never tipped anyone in quarters), and there were always benefits for the premium that you paid. Staying at the Disneyland Hotel, you can get guaranteed reservations at the character breakfast buffet, which is my kids favorite one, probably because of the amount of chocolate that's available so early in the morning (Ironically, there was a dentist office in the Disneyland Hotel when it originally opened.). You get to use the early admittance every day it's available, not just the one time that you're allowed with a three day or more park hopper ticket, and my wife's favorite feature, you can charge all your purchases in the park to your room key and have them delivered back to your room. I'm sure this is a terrible idea, but at least I don't have to carry things around the park this way.

 Travel Mamas also has pictures of the redone pools. I'm glad they've put in some waterslides and expanded the pools a little, but I have to confess that Disneyland is not one of those destinations where I'm all that concerned about the elaborateness of the pool area. It's probably a good thing that they've expanded, but what I hope is that they didn't make it so big that it takes out the area where you used to be able to drive remote control boats. Actually what I really hope is that they combined the two. I was always willing to pay $2 to drive a boat around a mini-lake, but I'd definitely be willing to pay more if I could chase my kids around the swimming pool with it. Run kiddies run!

2005 pool view from room
It seems that they've also redone the suites at the Disneyland Hotel, and this is a huge selling point for me. We almost always get a suite at the Disney properties, and while renovating the normal suites is great, the addition of some Signature Theme Suites is really tempting, yet somewhat terrifying at the same time. I know my wife is going to want to stay in the Pirates of the Caribbean suite, but I know she's going to want me to dress up like Captain Jack. Of course if that room's booked up, we could always get the Princess suite and there's this whole Jasmine outfit....ummmm....maybe we'll just bring the kids and stay in a regular room.

I have to say that I'm really hopeful the renovations to the Disneyland Hotel will put it back into consideration for us as a place to stay while we visit Disneyland. The location, service, and atmosphere were always top notch, it was only the rooms that were lacking. If they've addressed that problem, then it's probably time to give the hotel another try. It'll make my wife happy. I wonder if anyone has ever needed a credit limit increase on their room key before?

Tuesday 29 November 2011

I Hate the Word "Recalculating"

I wonder what it was like to be a navigator on a 16th century exploring ship. When you didn't know where your destination was, did people still try and second guess the route you were taking? Would the captain of the ship sit beside you while you were studying the charts and keep saying "I think we should go this way because there will be more places to stop and look around."? I mean, you had the whole ocean to aim at. Short of telling the captain to just keep turning right, it seems like it would have been a pretty hard job to mess up.

I used to have charts. Well not really charts, but I had maps. Lots of them. Actually way too many of them. I used to keep them all folded up in the glove compartment of my car, and if you wanted to find your way to somewhere in Vancouver you'd have to sort through maps of Utah, Newfoundland, and a tourist map of Knotts Berry Farm. It was the perfect system for me, not because I was the only one who could read the maps, but because I was the only one willing to sort through the mess to find the right one. It didn't matter where you wanted to go...I was ready, and I had a map to get you there.

Now I have Mandy. Mandy is the TomTom GPS system that the Rio gave us a few years ago, and she's now in charge of directions in our car. Mandy has all the maps, and she never loses any or folds them backwards and puts them away in the wrong place. When Mandy plots a route she never follows the blue line of a river, figuring that they're probably just color coding the roads. She's never accidentally torn the corner off one of her maps, or written a phone number on one of them making it impossible to tell if Saskatoon is in section A-1 or B-14. Mandy can figure out the shortest route, the fastest route, or even the route that will pass you by the most Krispy Kreme stores if you want (and believe me...I want!).

The kicker is, she'll do all this without arguing with you once. If you take a wrong turn, Mandy simply recalculates your route, and starts calling out new directions. Try that with your wife giving you directions from the passenger seat. If Lori was struggling with one of these football field sized maps, trying to help me get to a library or (more likely) a Dairy Queen somewhere, and I decided to ignore her instructions and take a random side road, I promise you that the first words out of her mouth would not be "recalculating".

The beach is around here somewhere....
Of course, while good for marital harmony, Mandy can take the fun out of life sometimes. One of my favorite travel stories to tell is about driving through San Francisco when I was sixteen and running the toll booth on the Golden Gate Bridge in the middle of the night because I didn't realize it was there (Ummm...we're passed the statute of limitations on something like that right?). If I'd had Mandy along with me, it would have been the story of how we realized that there was a "toll road ahead" and decided to "take the exit right" to avoid it. Not really as compelling a story, although certainly a much more responsible one to share with my kids.

I doubt that I need to set that example with my children though, because they're already convinced that Mandy is the pinnacle of travel knowledge. In fact, despite my having been around almost 40 years longer than Mandy, my opinion no longer matters when it comes to travel times. If I tell my kids to pack up because we're about 15 minutes from our destination, but they check and see that Mandy says it's going to be an hour, they'll launch into a new movie on their iPad's without any hesitation. Mandy also seems to have some kind of telepathic communication ability with my children. When they have their headphones on, I can yell and scream at my kids but they'll never hear a word I say. The second I miss a turn however, and Mandy says the word "recalculating", off come all the headphones and there's a collective groan of "Daaaaad! Listen to Mandy!" from the back.

To make it clear, we didn't name Mandy. When you do the setup on a GPS there's a list of preprogrammed voices that you can select from, and the default voice on ours was called Mandy. It never occurred to us to change the selection, but there has been one drawback. Amidst the collection of 80's hair metal that populates my playlist for long drives, are some token classic tracks from the artists of yesteryear. One of these is Barry Manilow's "Mandy". The first couple of times my kids heard the song, they thought it was cute that Barry had written a song about our GPS, but of course they couldn't let it go at that. A little while ago I noticed that the sing-along participation ratio was increasing drastically every time "Mandy" came on. Then I started to listen a little more carefully:

Oh Mandy well
You came and you gave us directions,
But Dad still went the wrong way,
Oh, Mandy, you
Figured out the route we should be taking,
It still takes Dad all day,
Oh, Mandy.

Barry Manilow is now banned from our car.

Monday 28 November 2011

5 Las Vegas Casino Offers We're Mad We Missed

We've taken advantage of a ton of offers from Las Vegas casinos. They've given us cash, pre-paid Visa's, jackets, electronics, and purses. We've been guests of the casinos at concerts by some of the biggest name performers in the world. We've spent over 150 complimentary nights in the hotels of Las Vegas, and we've given even more free nights to friends. The casinos have treated us very well, and we're very thankful that we've had the opportunity to take advantage of so many offers.

Of course, that doesn't mean that we got to do everything we would have liked. Since there's so many casino companies in Las Vegas, we get way more offers than we could ever take advantage of. There's only so many days in a month, and there's always that whole work/school thing that seems to get in the way of travel plans. Yesterday I told you about ten great offers that we were lucky enough to take advantage of. Here's five that we're kicking ourselves for passing on:

Tiffany Gift Card Offer
Seriously, I didn't know. Nobody ever told me about the importance of the "Little Blue Box". With all of the women I know, you'd figure somebody would have tipped me off to this one, but I found out the hard way by leaving this offer lying beside the computer. When Lori asked me why I wasn't quitting my job to fly to Vegas and pick her up this gift card, I began to suspect that there might be something important about this whole "Tiffany" thing. It really hit home about a year later, when I found myself paying out of pocket for something from the store, including a little blue box (which I still don't understand the significance of).

Fight Night Offer
I'm not a particular boxing fan, but fight night in Vegas is one of those iconic moments that just seem like you should experience once in your life. We've been in town on nights when a fight is taking place in Vegas before, but we've never been to the actual fight, and at the price they charge for these things, I doubt we'd ever pay to go. Occasionally however, offers to go to the fight filter down to the low rollers, and from time to time they even get as far down the list as Lori and I. The offer I've pictured here was even more enticing, as it was taking place on the July 4th weekend, and thus included a poolside barbecue with live music and the Hawaiian Tropic girls, who are not an important part of this offer (although I'll bet that one of them would have told me about the importance of the Little Blue Box).

Sports Memorabilia Offer
I'm a huge sports fan, and for a while I used to buy and sell sports memorabilia. I still have a huge collection buried in the back of a closet that in all likelihood my children will have to sort through one day. That being said, there's always something more that I'd love to have. I may not understand the importance of a Little Blue Box, but I know exactly the value of a signed Dan Marino helmet from his rookie year. I'll bet Lori's guy friends have never explained the importance of that to her!

8 Wonders of the World Offer
I don't usually like taking offers that are based around a drawing, giving each person a "chance" to win. I prefer something tangible that I can keep (or more likely, give to my wife) to trying to beat the odds and win a prize. This offer was a little different though. They were giving away one trip to each of the Wonders of the World, but I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that there's only Seven Wonders of the World right? You're right (unless you include the results of strange voting competitions). So Caesars Palace declared itself the Eighth Wonder of the World, which seems fair since it's their promotion. Of course winning a trip to Las Vegas pales a little in comparison with a trip to the Taj Mahal in India, so Caesars offered a cash equivalent option for each trip.....of $80,000! I'd really love to go to the Colosseum in Rome, but you can bet I'd be taking the $80,000 and making my own way there. I'd have loved to be there just to see if anybody didn't take the money.

Cruise Giveaway Offer
Ever think something is too good to be true? That's what I figured with this offer. In all fairness, I'd never been on a cruise when this offer came out, so I wasn't really sure what I was looking at here. The deal was simple...Come to Vegas for three days and they give you a voucher good for a five day Caribbean cruise for two, valid for up to a year. All you pay is taxes. I'd love to know what part of this didn't seem like a good deal to me at the time, but I have no idea what I was thinking. Maybe I was still trying to process the concept of the Little Blue Box. Yeah, let's blame it on that.

Sunday 27 November 2011

My 10 Favorite Las Vegas Casino Offers

Las Vegas and I have a love/love relationship. I love to go there, and they love to invite me back. Quite frequently. With all the different casino companies, I have a drawer full of hundreds and hundreds of invitations to come back to Las Vegas. A lot of them aren't interesting enough to draw me back unless I was already planning on being in town, but some have tempted me to plan a trip around them.

I've written before about what got us hooked on Vegas, what we do in Vegas, and some of the better wins we've had in Vegas. These are the best offers that have kept us coming back to Vegas:

#10) Tom Tom GPS Giveaway
Might as well start with the bad news about these offers. If you want them to keep coming, you have to keep gambling, and sometimes that doesn't work out too well for you. This was a great offer for us, as we got three free nights and a GPS which has been a life saver for us on many occasions since, plus it was right at the end of the school year, so when we were done in Vegas we just grabbed a van and headed for California. It ranks so low because, let's face it, for what we lost gambling we could have easily bought a GPS and paid for the rooms ourselves.

Gambling Win/Loss - (-$900)

#9) Visa Gift Card Giveaway
You know what would make offers like this work out even better for me? If I actually got to use the prepaid Visa. We all know that's not going to happen though right? We qualified for a $250 prepaid Visa card this time, which Lori promptly confiscated and headed to the mall. I suppose if I count the card as money that I would have paid out anyways then we did OK, but since accounting isn't my strong suit, I just consider it a present for my wife. Which is handy, because that's how she sees it too.

Gambling Win/Loss - (-$235)

#8) Elton John Tickets
Hey kids! Remember when I took you to the Lady Gaga concert, and we thought it might have been pushing the envelope a little too far? It could have been worse. Oh boy, could it have been worse! Setting aside the appropriateness of Elton's show for children (which probably was never really in doubt), the chance to see a music legend for free while spending a few nights in Caesars Palace was too good to pass up. The giant banana rising up from between two cherries while Pamela Anderson did a pole dance, made me glad there were only two tickets.

Gambling Win/Loss - (-$600)

#7) Dooney & Bourke Purse
If you thought that I got very little out of the Visa giveaway, this offer should put that one in perspective. Outside of the three free nights, there's very little in this offer for me. On the other hand, it doesn't make it very hard to convince my wife to go to Vegas. "Hey baby, there's a free Dooney & Bourke purse waiting for us at the Paris casino. Want to come pick it up with me?" Works every time. What's really impressive though, is that Paris sent us this offer only one year after the Paris Pool Incident. Good to know they don't hold a grudge.

Gambling Win/Loss - (-$55)

#6) Free Leather Jacket
This was one of the very first offers that we ever redeemed in Vegas, and I was so thrilled to be offered anything in excess of a free room that I jumped on it. We actually used another offer for almost the same thing later, only my son got a jacket that says "Rio" on it instead of "Paris". It did set a bit of a bad precedent however, as we won money on the trip, thus convincing me that I could accept as many of these offers as I wanted since all I had to do was win enough money to cover the airfares. That kind of logic didn't last long.

Gambling Win/Loss - (+$155)

#5) Garth Brooks Concert
This was an invitation to the Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids charity concert. I've never felt like such a non-VIP in my life, as the concert was filled with all sorts of sports stars and celebrities, yet Lori and I still found ourselves seated in the lower level of the Colosseum. In fact, when Garth had all of the athletes who participate in his charity stand up, we had better seats than quite a few of them. Combine the star-studded audience with the fact that Garth Brooks is an amazing performer, and this show probably should rank higher. If only I was capable of winning at Caesars Palace.

Gambling Win/Loss - (-$220)

#4) Tim/Faith Concert
Private concerts are usually a little dull. It doesn't matter how great a performer you are, it's tough to energize a crowd who are largely there simply because it was free. This one was different though. I wrote about the show here, but in short, the crowd was amazing, Tim and Faith were amazing, and the room...well it was free. It didn't hurt that this offer fell on my birthday weekend, and that we followed up our Vegas stay with a night in the Presidential suite at the Fairmont San Francisco. Even suffering a small loss, this was a fantastic trip.

Gambling Win/Loss - (-$115)

#3) Fashion Show Mall Shopping Spree
It's not often that both Lori and I would agree on one of these offers, but this one worked out brilliantly for us. Bally's gave Lori a $500 prepaid Visa to go shopping with (it says Fashion Show Mall, but you could take the card anywhere) and while she shopped I stayed at Bally's, where I was on a pretty serious winning streak. Don't feel bad for Bally's. Over the years we've had a very up and down relationship, but there always has to be some give and take, and this was my turn to take. If it makes you feel any better, I didn't argue that rather adult sounding movie that showed up on our hotel bill when we left, even though I swear we didn't order it.

Gambling Win/Loss - (+1700)

#2) The Las Vegas Comedy Festival
How much do I love stand up comedy? Consider that I'm ranking this offer above one where I came out $1700 up, even though this one involved spending three nights at Caesars Palace where I never, ever win. There were four headliner shows in the festival, and the offer included two tickets to two shows of your choice. We took Jerry Seinfeld and Dane Cook, both of who put on fantastic shows. We had planned to buy tickets to the Russell Peters show, which was taking place in a smaller venue, but his time slot unfortunately got moved to the same time as Dane Cook, so it didn't happen. An added bonus to this stay was that for some reason we got upgraded into a newly renovated suite in the Palace Tower. It was a ton of fun, and I promise you that if we had actually won on this trip, it would have held the #1 spot. This is Caesars Palace however. I'm sure somebody has won here at some time, but it's never been me.

Gambling Win/Loss - (-$300)

#1) Bally's Free Money Offer
If you consider that Bally's and Paris are essentially the same casino (they operate under the same gaming license) then it's impressive that they have four of my ten favorite offers, and two of the top three. This is the biggest offer we've been given - $600 in cash for spending three nights at Bally's. We grabbed the offer, figuring that the money would cover the cost of our airfares to visit, but then Allegiant Airlines ran a $7 special on flights to Vegas, and we ended up pocketing all of the money for ourselves. Of course, by pocketing the money I mean that Lori went shopping, although I think she bought me a new shirt so I guess that's fair. Add on the fact that this was a winning trip for us, and you can understand how this gets the number one spot.

Gambling Win/Loss - (+$400)

Saturday 26 November 2011

My Kids Can Sleep Anywhere

People say there's no more miracles in today's world. Sure there's people who claim they can heal the sick or turn water in to wine, but in general our miracles of today tend more towards bearded faces in peanut butter. You'd think this would make it tough to maintain faith in the "Show me the money!" world that we live in, but I'm fortunate enough to not have this problem. Every morning my faith in God is restored when I witness a true modern day miracle - my kids getting out of bed and off to school on time.

OK, maybe it doesn't rank with the feeding of five thousand, but getting my kids to stop sleeping is no easy chore. They love their ZZZZ's, but this can present a bit of a problem when we're traveling. Between time zone changes, early morning flights, and having to share a room with a certain snoring member of the family who shall remain nameless (but who does have the power to edit any comments posted on here), it can be a bit of a battle to keep up with the recommended eight hours a night. Luckily, as demonstrated by our title picture, our kids are willing to adapt and work hard to make sure they meet that eight hour goal. If only they'd put as much effort into getting their homework done.

The picture that heads every page on this website, was taken in the car rental center of Las Vegas at the unfathomable hour of 8:04am. Granted, 8am is probably a little more unfathomable in Las Vegas than in other cities, but I'm pretty sure nobody in this picture is trying to sleep off the previous night's activities. Still, there was an opportunity here to add a few minutes towards the eight hour goal, and apparently two of my three children decided that their minimum requirement of a level surface and a pillow had been met. I'm sure my other daughter is studying her homework.

Of course, the real value in the ability to sleep anywhere comes in hotel rooms. If we're staying anywhere for more than a night, we usually either get a suite or a second room, but it's those one night stays where you really just need a place to crash for a few hours that don't seem worth spending a ton of extra money on. Here we can simply grab a standard room, and anybody who doesn't want to share a bed can find a chair/counter/closet/bathtub/spot on the floor (Yes, we've used all of those at one time or another.) and spread out as much as they want. It's probably not as good as having your own Simmons Beautyrest, but it should get you at least half way to your eight hour goal.

The rest of the needed sleep, has to be found on the road. Each of my kids has a slightly different way of going about this. My youngest daughter is the most flexible. She can sleep almost anywhere, as long as there's a pillow and a stuffed animal. Planes, cars, makes no difference to her. If there's a pillow and a stuffed puppy, she's good to go.

My older daughter has mastered the art of sleeping at airports. She doesn't even need those (really great) seats with no arms between them so she can lay down. Any chair will do as long as it's relatively quiet and not next to her sister.  Nothing puts the brakes on a good nap like a loud game of "She's on my side!"

The boy is more of a ground transportation kind of person. Shuttles, buses and vans are prime hibernating time for him. He's also been known to have a fondness for a good deck chair, yet for some reason, he can't sleep on planes despite almost always having a window seat. This makes it a little harder for him to get his eight hours in, but my son does have a sleep super power....There is no church service that he can't sleep through. Seriously, I've thought of having him tested to see if he was hypnotized at a young age and now the phrase "Please bow your heads" puts him under. I suppose he needs to catch up on his sleep somewhere, but this just doesn't seem like a very good idea. For a kid who counts on a Divine miracle to get him out of bed and off to school each morning, this might just be pushing his luck.

Friday 25 November 2011

Magic Mirror

This photo may be my favorite picture out of all of our visits to Disneyland. It was taken inside Mickey Mouse's house on our very first trip, and it reminds me of the wonder and awe that Disney can bring to young children. It reminds me of a time when it didn't take a thousand dollars in electronics to keep my kids entertained. It reminds me how anything can be enthralling when you haven't encountered it before.

Of course, most of all, it reminds me of a time when seeing my daughter in front of a mirror didn't mean I was about to be 15 minutes late for something while she fixed her hair.

Ahhhh Memories.....

This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby. If you didn't get here from there, you should really go check them out. There's people there whose kids already understand how a mirror works!

Thursday 24 November 2011

Why I Take the Middle Seat

5 to a room is a little crowded
There's a lot of things that being a family of five doesn't lend itself well to. Amusement park rides are usually two people per row, so somebody (that would be me) has to ride by themselves. Hotel rooms are usually set up for a maximum of four people, so somebody (me again) has to sleep on an air mattress or on the floor. Airline seats are a little different, as they normally have three people per row, but that means that a family of five are still going to be sitting with one stranger.

Not always though. The Alaska Airlines MVP desk suggested to me that I book both the window and the aisle seat for the row where two of us will be sitting, leaving the middle seat empty. This idea had occurred to me before, but it seemed a little mean to leave the airline with only middle seats to sell. However, if they were going to suggest the idea to me, I was more than willing. It's definitely had it's good side, as I'd say about 35-40% of our flights go off with that middle seat empty, leaving the boy and I in poor man's first class.

The side with no seat worries
Almost as much fun as the empty seat though, is getting to make somebody else's day. When the middle seat does sell, we're obviously not going to make somebody sit between me and my son, so when the poor person who thinks he's been consigned to a middle seat between two strangers for six hours gets there, we offer him the choice of moving to either the window or the aisle. This makes for some happy people! I take the middle seat, and my son gets the remaining edge seat. Strangely, only once has anybody taken the window seat, but that works out well as my son prefers to sit there, and when you've let somebody escape the middle, they very rarely complain about having to get up and let you out if you need to move.

The best part of this maneuver though, is some of the people you get to meet. When somebody's mood swings from depressed to relieved, they're usually fairly friendly, and I've been offered an endless amount of free drinks and heard tons of great stories from people as a result. I once got to give an aisle seat to a military K9 handler making his way back from Korea on leave. He'd already been traveling for almost 24 hours, but he still took the time to tell me some stories about working with dogs, including a rather funny one about Korean prostitutes, dog biscuits, and a gender confused elephant (yes, I did think long and hard about making that the title of this post).

Not everybody is friendly though. We came on the plane once to find an Asian man sitting in our aisle seat. He was trying very hard not to make eye contact with anybody, but since we were going to let him move to that seat anyways, we decided to just squeeze past and take the other two seats. Even once we sat down he wouldn't look our way, so we decided that maybe he just didn't speak English or didn't realize that he was in our seat. It really didn't matter, so we settled in, but then just before takeoff his wife came up from the back of the plane and told him that she wanted his seat and that he could go back and sit in 29B. He knew enough English to argue that with her, but as you can imagine, she won the argument and he trudged off to the back of the plane. The lady sat down and right away checked to see if she was in the right seat. When I explained that she was welcome to the aisle seat, she thanked us profusely and offered to buy me a drink (I really need to start drinking something other than Diet Coke). I hope her husband enjoyed row 29.

Of course sometimes we never make it to offering somebody a choice of which seat they'd like. On occasion gate agents have asked us to free up a seat for somebody, and we've always done that for them. Same thing when flight attendants ask. I lost an empty middle seat one time when my daughter gave it to a lady who was traveling with a puppy that she wanted to sit next to, and I nearly lost my middle seat to my wife another time when I found myself seated next to a Patrick Dempsey look-a-like who, ironically, was on his way to a doctor's conference in Orlando.

The dog my daughter gave our empty seat to.
Even though the middle seat wouldn't be my first choice of places to sit, it makes it a little more tolerable when you know you've made somebody else's day better. Of course, one of these days I'm probably going to run in to somebody who actually prefers the middle seat. I'm not too sure what I'll do when that happens. I guess I'll offer to buy them a drink, be in a really good mood, and hope that they have a puppy.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

5 Ways Canadians will be Celebrating American Thanksgiving

No, I'm not jealous of my American friends. Why would you think that? Is it because we had our Thanksgiving a month ago and we only got a three day weekend, which our neighbors to the south joined us in while celebrating Columbus day? Yet now here we are in late November and America is taking a four day weekend to give thanks and apparently the powers that be in Canada couldn't think of a reason for us to have a day off. No...I'm not bitter.

Still, every dark cloud must have a rainy day (or something like that), so while all of my American friends are enjoying their time off, here's how us Canadians will be attempting to share just a little in your celebrations:

We'll be giving thanks too:
Mainly we'll be giving thanks that we're not part of the 23.2 million of you who are flying this weekend. I've flown on the American Thanksgiving weekend before, and I'm always shocked at how many people don't travel at any other time of year. At least I assume that they don't. You'd figure that anybody who's been through an airport more than once would realize that yes, a bottle of Jack Daniels is indeed considered a liquid, and no, you can't just chug it to get under the three ounce limit.

We'll be watching the new movies early:
Despite the fact that we're not getting any time off this weekend, we're still going to open our new movies for the week two days early. I suppose this makes some sense since 80-85% of the marketing that we see on TV up here is from American sources, but I can't help but wonder just how many people are going to be at the 9:30 showing of the Muppets tonight, when there's still school tomorrow. Of course, I don't have school tomorrow. So basically the theater will be filled with old people who love talking frogs. Works for me.

We'll be watching football:
My absolute favorite part of American Thanksgiving is that there's a Thursday filled with football. This year is even extra special as my beloved Miami Dolphins get to play in the afternoon game (Watch out Dallas! Here come the 3-7 Dolphins!!). Also, although I'm not sure of the logic behind the decision, bonus points to the Detroit Lions for inviting Canadian rock band Nickelback to play at the half time show.

We'll be shopping your sales:
While I think it's kind of silly that Canada and America have their Thanksgiving on different days, I have no problems with the two countries having different days for their major shopping events. Getting two shots at saving lots of money seems like a good deal to me. Of course, I don't do a whole lot of the shopping in our house. I leave that to Lori, and while I know she's on top of the Boxing Day sales in Canada, I'm not sure that she's fully grasped the concept of Black Friday. I don't think it's supposed to mean that you spend every Friday shopping. I guess at least that way she knows she won't miss it.

We'll be invading your country:
Aha! Thought it was all friendly and stuff between our two countries didn't you? Well it's not! We're just biding our time up here, looking all neutral and innocent, but this is our chance. Nobody is going to suspect an attack from the Great White North. Heck, nobody even suspects that Nickelback is our secret advance team (except maybe the 50,000 people who signed the petition to stop them from playing...they might be on to us), but while all the Americans are too full from turkey to notice, it's time for Canadians to act! Of course, most of us will either be shopping or watching football, and a good chunk of us will probably be at a matinee of the Muppets. Then there's the small detail that we turned most of our military submarines into a kiddie ride at the West Edmonton Mall, and we obviously can't fight on Saturdays, that's hockey night. Hmmm, maybe we'll give you one more year of enjoying your four day weekend. Somebody tell Justin Bieber the attack is off.

Monday 21 November 2011

Rawhide Western Town - The Shotgun Wedding

I hate Friday night TV. None of the shows that I like to watch are on Fridays, the sports schedule is usually pretty light, and worst of all, it's the night that Say Yes to the Dress is on. All of my girls have some sort of fascination with this show, and I don't get it. Apparently there's some sort of natural attraction towards weddings, even after you've already gotten married. Yet while I don't understand it, I've come to realize that it's not a battle worth fighting. If my girls want to spend their Friday nights fantasizing about a wedding that one of them has already had, and two of them are years (ummm..let's say decades) away from having, then that's fine with me.

Proper attire for watching TLC on a Friday night.
Yesterday I told you about getting my wife thrown in jail for $10, and how doing this sort of thing was the sole source of income for the Rawhide sheriff's department. Well it turns out that's not quite true. See like most men, I saw "Arrest-A-Guest" and my mind shifted into "Let's put Lori in jail" mode. Wiser men (and most women) would have read a little further down and realized that the sheriff actually does have another source of making money. It's not just arresting guests...

There's also shotgun weddings.

Yes for the same $10 that it costs to get somebody locked up in Rawhide, you can have the sheriff go and drag that person whose been avoiding making a commitment to the altar. Or maybe just have him rustle up that cute cowboy you saw out by the saloon. I'm pretty sure that as long as you're helping out the Rawhide sheriff department's budget, they'll make it happen.

Rounding up contestants for the Rawhide version of the Bachelor
Actually I know they will, because five minutes after Lori got out of jail, I was standing in front of a (really hungover) judge, my wife with a bouquet on my right and a deputy with a gun on my left. I found myself wearing a leather vest and a black cowboy hat appeared from somewhere and was placed on my head. I might actually have missed noticing even these details, except the wedding got off to a rough start while the (really, really, hungover) judge tried to figure out which one of us was Steve and which one was Lori.

Explaining who's who.
Now let me say that I love my wife dearly, and I've often said that I would be happy to renew my vows with her. I just thought that since we've already done the big, public wedding that the renewal of vows would be something a little smaller and simpler. Kind of like a user agreement, where you can't be bothered to read all the details so you just scroll down to the bottom and click "I agree". That's my idea of a perfect vow renewal.

The one I found myself experiencing at Rawhide, was slightly different. It contained phrases like "Awful wedded wife" and "I promise to wear this ring most of the time". It wasn't exactly an inspiring speech to start a newlywed life with, but I suspect that it's main goal was to entertain the three kids watching their parents get married. Judging from the amount of laughter coming from behind us, I'd say it was accomplishing that goal just fine.

 If you're in to the whole "value for your dollar" thing, it takes far longer to get married in Rawhide than it does to serve a jail sentence. It might be quicker if you got a sober judge, but I get the feeling that there aren't too many of those around. At the completion of your sentencing ceremony, they take a picture of you (On a Polaroid! I didn't know they even made those anymore!) and give you your official marriage certificate, which of course I can't find anymore. Don't be too surprised. I can't tell you where my real marriage certificate is either.

So in exchange for sending my wife to prison, I had to marry her. It really sounds like some kind of twisted soap opera doesn't it? I guess I should just be happy that I got the payback out of the way early, and I didn't have to spend a long time wondering when Lori was going to get even. Of course, what I should really be happy about, is that my wife still chose to marry me again and not one of the cute cowboys hanging out at the saloon. I get the feeling that after I locked her up, the thought might have crossed her mind.

Rawhide Western Town - How I Sent My Wife To Jail

Things weren't the same in the old west. In the old days a man had to answer for the wicked that he done (thank you Willie Nelson). There was no "suspended sentence" or "probation". You were either innocent and you went free, or you were guilty and you went to jail (or the noose if you'd been particularly naughty).

Of course, different places in the old west had different ideas of what would get you thrown in jail. My wife found that out the hard way when we spent an afternoon at Rawhide Western Town, located just south of Phoenix in Chandler, Arizona. Rawhide is a replica of an 1880's western town, and although they say it's authentic, I suspect that they may have taken a few liberties when writing out the penal code for the city.

The town is full of fun adventures like stage coach rides, panning for gold, riding mechanical bulls, and a Wild West show loaded with shootouts and stunts. Plenty of shopping and restaurants are available too, but our fun started at the sheriff's office.

Now unlike (or maybe alike, I guess it depends on where you live) your local sheriff's office, the Rawhide law officers are very open to accepting bribes. Actually it's their only source of income, so bribes are highly encouraged. For $10, you can suggest to the sheriff that "somebody" might have broken one of the very liberal sets of laws that Rawhide enforces.

Probable Cause doesn't seem to be much of a stumbling block for law enforcement in these parts. You only need three witnesses (and the sheriff and deputy are more than happy to be two of them) to send law enforcement out into the streets, guns firing, to round up the suspected criminal. Once located, the outlaw will have the charges read to him (If you really want to embarrass your kid, have them arrested for having Dirty Undies.), and the culprit will be led off to jail.

Sorry Lori. We asked around, but even people who had never met you before were pretty sure you were guilty of Over Shoppin'. Actually neither the sheriff, the deputy, or I had to testify against you, as all three of your kids were more than happy to send you up the river. I told you we were paying them too much allowance.

Luckily, the length of sentences in Rawhide seems to correspond to the seriousness of the crimes. I saw some children sentenced to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, others who had to recite a poem, and some who chose to stay in jail rather than promise to obey their parents (Occupy Wall Street, I've found your future leaders).

Lori was sentenced to do the Can Can. And we all smiled. Singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star would have been nothing for Lori (she's a preschool teacher), but dancing in public would probably rank very low on her list of preferred punishments. The sheriff stepped up and showed her all the moves she would need to perform for her release, and then it was showtime!

There is video of this performance, but I'm still in the doghouse for the Captain Jack Sparrow post, so I'm afraid I won't be able to post it here. Suffice to say that it was the highlight of my kids day in Rawhide. It took Lori a few tries to get it right, but eventually she was able to get those legs up high enough and earn her release from jail. They gave her the copy of her arrest warrant (which unfortunately had my signature on it) and her mugshot then sent her on her way, reminding her that if she didn't behave, she was only another $10 from being sent back to jail.

They say doing time changes a person. It gives you time to think. Of course we all know what that really means. It gives you time to plot your revenge. I fully expected some payback. You don't lock your wife up and laugh at her while she dances her way out, then expect that you'll never hear about it again. I was prepared to suffer the same fate (I'm a great Can Can dancer anyways), but my wife is far more creative than that. She got me back alright. I only wish that I could have danced my way out of this one...

Saturday 19 November 2011

I'm a WHAT Kind of Blogger?

There's some things that nobody told me (and I didn't bother to research) when I started writing this blog. Nobody told me that the actual "writing" wouldn't be the hardest part. For a guy coming in with zero knowledge of HTML (and after a while it gets embarrassing asking your kids to explain it to you again) it never occurred to me that things would go wrong with the website. The hours spent trying to get things running the way I want have far exceeded the actual time I get to spend putting posts together.

Ummm, baby...Can you help me with my HTML now?
It also wasn't pointed out to me that the world wouldn't beat a path to my site. I had a vision of everybody waking up in the morning and Googling "What did Steve say today" to make sure that they didn't miss out on my latest brilliant train of thought. (Ironically, I now know that "What did Steve say today" wouldn't get them to my website, even if they did Google it.)

Most importantly though, nobody told me what happens when you decide to write about your kids. Oh they told me not to give out too much information about my kids. They also told me that, on occasion, my kids would take exception to what I wrote, and it would be the cause of some friction. They were right, but neither of those have been a major issue. No, it was something far more important that they forgot to point out:

They didn't tell me I'd be writing in the realm of the Mommy blogger.

How did I discover this alarming bit of news? Well the first hint came the other day when, during a link exchange, I got a comment from a new visitor on one of my posts. As I always do, I followed the link back to her site to take a look around, and hopefully find somewhere that I could return the comment. There was lots of great articles, but everywhere I looked were the words "For Moms". Seriously, it was everywhere, in the header, footer, sidebar, and pop-up. There was no mistaking who her target audience was, but it made me feel like I'd ended up somewhere I wasn't supposed to be. Kind of like the time I got lost in Compton at 4am on the way back to the airport, only maybe a little less hostile.

A second clue came later, when I came across a discussion for a blogging camp that sounded interesting (It's in Mexico in January. Of course it sounded interesting!). Lots of the writers who I follow were talking about it, so I thought I'd check it out, but when I clicked through on the link to get more information, I found out the name of the event was "Mom Blogger Camp". Now I'm sure that it wouldn't be a problem if I wanted to attend,
but that's not how my mind works. I envisioned an entire Mrs. Doubtfire scenario where I had to get into a dress and talk in a super high voice to attend the camp. Even if I was willing to go to that extreme, the plan would certainly fall apart during the cocktail receptions. High heels and I just aren't going to work together enough to pull that off.

Now despite my chagrin at this discovery, it's not that I don't want to be associated with Mommy bloggers. There's some absolutely fantastic content out there being written by people that I would consider a stereotypical Mommy blogger. Most of them can put me to shame with their writing ability and creative ideas, and the business acumen of some of these ladies is phenomenal.

They're also exceptionally welcoming. Every single Mommy blogger that I've had a chance to talk to has been super friendly, and many have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome when visiting their site. I've been included in blogging groups, encouraged to cross post with many of their sites, and they've helped me out with any problems that I've had without even a snicker at my "rookie questions". Short of inviting me on their girls-only weekends, I'm not sure what more they could do to make me feel more included.

What happens when Dad's in charge....
So what's my problem? Testosterone I guess, and probably a little male paranoia. Nobody has ever called me a Mommy blogger, and considering the ensuing chaos whenever my wife leaves me in charge for more than a few minutes, it's doubtful that they ever will. Yet it seems that everywhere I go on the web, I find myself running into that term, and it makes me want to go screaming back to ESPN (where my football picking pool is currently being led by a Mom of twins). I love the genre of the Mommy blogger, I just hate the name.

Alas it seems to be my fate. Writing about traveling with my kids is what I like to do, and if the only price I have to pay for that is occasionally being placed in the company of Mommy bloggers, then I guess it's time for me to accept that. It's a fun group of people to be involved with, and despite occasionally feeling like I'm trespassing in the girls locker room, there's usually a way to fit in to conversations. One day there will hopefully be enough Dad's writing about their kids to level the playing field, but until then I guess I'll just keep learning from the Mom's who do such great work. Just for my own sake of manliness though, I'm going to have to pick it up in the football pool. 28th place just isn't going to do it.