Thursday 31 May 2012

My Kids Plans for Their Frequent Flyer Miles

Alaska MVP Gold
One of my pet peeves about frequent flyer programs is that the miles are credited to the person who does the flying. As a Dad I'd be much more amenable to crediting the miles to the person who does the paying, but that's not how these programs work, so while our family travels around, my kids are racking up frequent flyer points in their account. Quite a lot of miles actually. In fact at this moment, each of my three kids has more points in their frequent flyer account than I do (Our frequent flying stuffed animals would too, if they were eligible.). I suppose I could cash the points in for a flight somewhere, but let's face it: My kids aren't very likely to inherit much from Lori and myself, so if I can leave them a few points to get them started on the road to independent traveling, it seems like the least I can do.

The question of course, is what are they going to do with these points? I have visions of them jetting off to Europe or Australia in first class. Maybe a leisurely round-the-world trip after graduation to get a more worldly perspective on things, or perhaps they'd like to use the points to pursue missions trips, helping out people in need all around the globe. There's so many possibilities, and the world is just waiting for them to arrive.

The kids however, are young, and have a slightly less globe-oriented view of their future travels. They know that they have points stored up and that at some point I'll most likely just turn their accounts over to them, but I think I'm going to have to work a little harder to inspire them because at the moment, their plans for these points lack a little grandeur.

Griffiths Observatory view
The boy is the oldest, and as such he probably has the best grasp of the value of airline miles. When I asked him what his plans were for this future haul of frequent flyer points that was going to inherit, he said that he would probably use the points to fund his honeymoon trip. A great plan to be sure, but I wanted a few more details. I pushed further, asking him where he thought he might go on his honeymoon, and his response was "Wherever my wife tells me we're going to go."

Seriously ladies, this one is well trained. You might want to snap him up soon.

My older daughter kind of has the right idea, in that at least she's looking to go somewhere warm, although heading to Hawaii again when you have the entire world to choose from might qualify as less than visionary. Still, it was a step in the
Rio Casino Pool Chairright direction so I congratulated her on her choice. She then turned around and asked me how many hotel points she had saved up. I was caught a little off guard, but I explained to her that the rules for hotel programs and airline programs were very different, and that she wouldn't be allowed to accumulate hotel points until she was 18. She began a rant about the unfairness of this rule, so I stopped her and asked why she thought she would need enough points to be checking in to a hotel on her own before her 18th birthday?

She suddenly remembered some math homework she had to do.

Finally there's my youngest daughter. This is the one that still has me shaking my head. Her big plans for her points are that she wants to go to.....Edmonton. Seriously Edmonton? Nothing against the place, but I'm pretty sure we earn enough miles to get to Edmonton and back every time we park the car. Besides, it's something like a $59 ticket from here to there. I get it...she's her mother's daughter and there's that whole "Largest mall in North America" thing, but if my daughter uses miles to fly to Edmonton, then I've failed as a frequent flyer father.

Fortunately there's still quite a bit of time before my kids get their hands on their mileage accounts. I've got time to show them some of the amazing places in the world they haven't been yet. I might be able to convince them to explore other cultures, countries, and even continents. There's still a chance that they might become true citizens of the world!

Failing that, I can at least remind them why they shouldn't use their miles for flights to Edmonton.

Written by Steve Pratt

Wednesday 30 May 2012

The A's of Disneyland Coasters

I'm back with another week of Wordless Wednesday hosted by Deb at Focused on the Magic. This weeks theme is: The letter "A". I think Deb has been watching too much Sesame Street. If next weeks post is brought to you by the number "7", then we'll need to have a word with her.

This week my son is away on his year end school trip. They've gone to some island where there are no electronics allowed, and I'm pretty sure he's made a few attempts to swim to the mainland by now. Three days without the internet is probably the worst thing you could do to that boy. I don't know where he gets this inability to survive without technology from.

Since my son is my roller coaster guy, I decided that I would write this "A" post about the Disneyland roller coasters. Between the two parks there quite a few to choose from. There's Gadget's Go-Coaster which is:


My least favorite roller coaster has to be Goofy's Fly School, which in my view is:

Alarmingly Angled.

and my favorite roller coaster in the park, California Screamin', which is:

Awesome and Amazing (Wonder where I got those words from?)

There's another side to the Disneyland coasters though. One that gets to use a different set of "A" words. For instance, on Indiana Jones, there's a good chance that you may find yourself:


If you ride California Screamin' enough, you'll eventually find yourself on a ride that gets:


and of course, if you ride Space Mountain, you'd better be prepared to:

Abandon Ship

Really though, what's a visit to Disneyland without being stuck on Space Mountain at least once?

This post is a part of Wordless Wednesday over at Focused on the Magic. If you didn't get here from there, you should really head on over and check out some of the fantastic people that hang out there on Wednesdays. Most of them probably didn't need to use a dictionary to come up with enough "A" words for their post, although I'm betting a few of us would have to explain to our kids what a dictionary actually is (It's like an alphabetical Google kids).

Focused on the Magic

Written by Steve Pratt

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Tips for Affording Travel

Since I've found myself becoming famous from writing this blog, people come up to me all the time and want to ask me travel questions. Some want to know where they can find a great deal on a trip. Some want to know if I think Disneyland is worth the money. Most want to know if the Paris Pool incident actually happened (it did). By far though, the most frequent question I get asked is how we can afford to travel so much. The answer to that one is a long, drawn out, complicated explanation that could take weeks to cover, but since I'm not that friendly a person when it comes to answering questions, I've boiled it down to a simple, concise response that people seem more than happy to accept:

We can't.

As accurate as that is though, it doesn't exactly help other people figure out how they can travel, so I decided to write down a few tips that other people can use to help themselves better afford to hit the road. This worked out well as my friends Jessica at Suitcases and Sippycups and Keryn at Walkingon Travels have started a weekly series where people can offer helpful tips to make travel easier for people. I've wanted to write something for their series since they started it, but nothing really came to me and let's face it, I'm not exactly known for my helpful hints.

Somehow I doubt this will be any different.

Hint #1 - Your kids have more money than you.
This is more true the older your kids are. In our family, the kids get an allowance for helping out around the house and at school. With three children, that's a fair amount of money that goes out each month, but simply telling your kids that you need their allowance for travel isn't likely to go over well. Instead, I recommend telling them that the government has implemented a tax on allowances, and that you'll have to start withholding a certain percentage of their allowance to make sure they don't have any tax trouble down the road. If you need the money in a hurry, tell them that the tax is retroactive and that you'll need them to pay back taxes. Might as well get them started hating the tax code while their young.

Hint #2 - How much Coke can you drink?
There's a lot of Coke in our garage. Seriously...a lot. In fact, when we did the calculations, there was almost enough bottle deposit available to cover a flight for one person. Of course there's a lot of work involved in actually sorting and returning the bottles, but that much hard work should just make you thirsty, and that helps keep the cycle going. Have a Coke and a smile, then book your next flight.

Hint #3 - Be vague about your destination.
If you want to see people be envious of your travel plans, tell them that you're going to Paris. You'll hear things like "Oh you're so lucky!" and "I wish I could afford to go there." What you most likely won't hear is anybody ask "Paris, Texas?" Sure you could tell them that you're headed to the "other" Paris where hotel rates are a tenth of what they are in France, but what does that really do to advance the conversation? Besides, if all you need as a keepsake of a trip to Paris is a picture with the Eiffel Tower, then Texas has got you covered. You might have to photoshop the hat though.

Hint #4 - Consider alternate transportation
Hey, we all like to travel in first class on the plane, but do ALL of you have to do it? Unless you're crossing oceans, there's plenty of other ways for the kids to get where you're going. Just make sure the driver knows he has to stop if his sister falls off.

Hint #5 - Bring your own food.
We all know that resort destinations jack up the price on their food, so bringing your own makes perfect sense. It also helps ensure that the pickier eaters in your family will be able to find something healthy and nutritious to keep them going.

Ummm...the broccoli and carrots are on the next shelf over. I swear!

This post is a part of Travel Tips Tuesday at Suitcases and Sippycups and Walkingon Travels. If you didn't get here from there, you should go check it out. There's people there who can give you some actual tips on how to save money for traveling. Although I still recommend taxing you children's allowance. Just don't let them file for a refund at the end of the year.

Written by Steve Pratt

Monday 28 May 2012

Getting You Ready to Sit with My Children

Family on plane
So they want to implement an airline fee for me to sit with my family? I find this kind of funny, mainly because I've tried to book seats away from my family before, and the airlines didn't like that one bit. There was a flight where I could only get four seats together, so I dropped my family off in row 7 and then proceeded to settle in to my exit row window seat for what I anticipated would be one of the most relaxing flights of my life, only to have the flight attendant move Heaven and Earth to find somebody willing to switch with me so that I would be within reach of my children in case of an emergency (Not surprisingly, somebody in a middle seat was willing to switch). We got even more grief the time the computer automatically upgraded Lori and I to first class, leaving our children alone back in coach. Something about leaving them "unsupervised". Hey, they weren't unsupervised...I left them their iPads.

The fact is though, that my kids are old enough now that separating us throughout a plane isn't that big a deal. If the airline wants to charge us $25 per person to make sure that we sit next to each other, I'm more than happy to let the dice roll and see what kind of seat assignments we end up with. My kids are pretty good at handling themselves on planes, so I don't feel the need to warn them about the kind of behavior I expect from them. I do however, feel the need to warn the people who find themselves seated next to my children, what they're getting into.

United plane interior

For instance, should you find yourself seated next to my son on a flight, do not, under any circumstances, open up a laptop. Doing so will invite a non-stop critique of whatever device you're using, unless you've purchased the latest and greatest Alienware device within the last week. You should also be prepared to analyze every possible place that a portal can be placed in order to shave seconds off your Portal 2 time, and if you're crazy enough to purchase online access during a flight, get ready to delve into the ridiculous effect that lag time has on the gaming experience at 35,000 feet. Your best bet for productivity is to simply buy him his own access to the in-flight Wi-Fi and then try and pretend that you're taking a nap. You'll probably still hear the words "Ping time" over and over again in your sleep, but at least he won't make you run speed tests over each state.

If you find yourself sharing a row with my red-headed daughter, congratulations. You've lucked out and gotten a seat next to the easiest one of my children to deal long as you come prepared. This is my chatterbox child, and once you get her started (and I still haven't figured out how to avoid doing that) there is no stopping her. Unless you have chocolate. My wife has a saying that "Chewy stops the chatter" and I'm pretty sure that it was based on dealing with this daughter of ours. If you come prepared with a bag of treats, you'll be able to enjoy a nice, peaceful flight. If you forget...well...the airlines still take plastic at the food and beverage cart right?

Meal in first

My last child is going to lure you into a false sense of security. She'll settle into her seat and get out her iPad and headphones so that you think she'll just entertain herself throughout the flight. And she will, but great entertainment is meant to be shared, so you should be prepared to be interrupted every five minutes and told to "Watch this" or that "You have to see this. It's the best part!" I also hope that you're a One Direction fan, because unless you have no peripheral vision, you're going to see their latest video at least fifty times during the flight, and every time Harry comes on you'll be told "It's the best part!"

So now you're ready to sit next to my kids. Would it be better for you if the airlines would just let my family book it's seats together so that you don't have to know this stuff? Probably. Would it be easier for the gate agents and flight attendants, who are going to have to deal with all the problems this policy causes, to let people book seats next to each other? Definitely. Honestly the only people properly equipped to sit next to my family on a plane are the other members of our family. The rest of you might want to look into paying the $25 fee to sit away from us. Or for $5 I'll teach you the words to the new One Direction song. 10% off if you can tell me which one is Harry.

Written by Steve Pratt

Friday 25 May 2012

Surfing in Hawaii

Carrying surfboard at sunset

While my girls were out racing on the beach, I was spending some of my time admiring the crazy people challenging the surf in Hawaii. There's a wide range of people in Hawaii willing to launch themselves into the ocean on a small sliver of wood, but in general I categorized the surfers into four main classes.

There's the beginners, who are pretty much content to just paddle around on their surfboard and look at the pretty scenery:

Turtle Bay surfers at sunset

There's those who are actually attempting to learn how to surf and can stand up on their board:

Turtle Bay surfer

The more advanced surfers start adding to their bag of tricks by bringing people (or animals) along with them:

dog on surfboard

Then there's the true expert surfers. Those who have mastered their craft, and now have to think outside the box to find new ways to keep the thrills alive:

surfboard Disneyland

Really though, once you don't even need water to surf, you've taken things about as far as you can go.

This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby and Friday Daydreamin at R We There Yet Mom. If you didn't get here from one of those sites, you should really go check them out. There's people there who are still using water to surf in. Don't worry, they'll get to my day.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Running on the Beach

Sometimes there's nothing like a little run on the beach. You get bonus points if the beach happens to be Waikiki Beach, and you get extra bonus points if there isn't anybody else around to get in your way. Ditching your sandals and racing your sister down the beach is definitely a great memory to have, but that memory isn't going to include who won the race...

...because sometimes who wins isn't the most important part of the race. Yesterday I pointed out that the girls could be a little competitive when it came to posing for pictures at Sleeping Beauty's castle, but more often than not these days, they get along just fine. They can start a race, take a break to play in the waves, then get right back to the race without having any fights or arguments at all. After years of sibling rivalry, it's so great to see them treat each other as friends.

Ummm...should I be worried that there's only one of them coming back?

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday over at Budget Travelers Sandbox. If you didn't get here from there, you should go visit. There's people over there who get along with their brothers and sisters, although I'm not going to tell you what they say about them when you're not around.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

How to Pose with a Disney Castle

It's kind of hard to miss. As soon as you walk in to Disneyland your eyes are immediately drawn to the Sleeping Beauty castle at the end of Main Street. It's big, it's beautiful, and it belongs to a Disney Princess. It's an iconic image of Disneyland, and whether you use a professional or take your own, you have to get your picture taken in front of the castle. It's practically Disney castle law.

The catch is, once you've been to Disneyland a few times, getting your standard picture in front of the castle gets to be a little mundane. Sure you can mix it up a little...ears on...ears off...Grandma on all fours while everybody dog piles on top of her...but after a while even these get a little boring. Fortunately, I've got some new ideas for you. Here's five veteran poses that you can try at any Disney castle to give you that little extra spice in your holiday photos:

#1 - The "Block my sister out of the shot" pose:
Works best when it's the taller sister blocking the shorter one, but both ways have their benefits. It's usually best to get this shot after touring the park for a while, allowing time for some animosity and conflict to build between the two siblings. If you keep the camera steady after taking the shot, you can sometimes capture the elusive "My sister pushed me to the ground!" picture.

#2 - The "How can my parents be so mean?" pose:
This is a great contrast piece as most people associate Disneyland with "The Happiest Place on Earth", yet here is someone who obviously is pretty upset that her parents have made her come to Disneyland again. You'll notice Lori with one hand on each girl, thus preventing a repeat of the "Block my sister out of the shot" pose.

#3 - The "Ta-da!/I'm a rap star" pose:
Obviously a trickier pose as it requires two participants to hold their positions, yet fairly attainable since there isn't really a need to be too close to the castle. There is an advanced level of this pose where the third party does an eye-roll while looking sideways at the other two, but I don't recommend trying that until the teenage years. (In really advanced shots, the photographer even holds the camera level.)

#4 - The "Dad told me to smile" pose:
Sarcastic smiles are a bit of an art form, but fortunately for us we have a bona fide artist on staff. This pose is easily attained after the "How can my parents be so mean?" picture by adding the phrase "You'd better smile or else!" The rain is a purely optional add-on, but it does create an extra challenge for the other three subjects to maintain a naturally happy demeanor.

#5 - The "Over-dramatic pulling of the sword" pose:
A lot of people don't think about going around to the back of the castle for their picture, but with Excalibur here it's a perfectly viable angle for a castle shot. The official Kodak picture spot recommendation is to use the Snow White ride as the backdrop for your photo, but I prefer turning just a little to use the castle instead. I suggest only using one person in this picture however, as coordinating a look of effort is hard to do, and when your subjects take different approaches to the picture, the results are...well strange to say the least.

This post is a part of Wordless Wednesday over at Focused on the Magic. If you didn't get here from there, you should really head on over and check out some of the fantastic people that hang out there on Wednesdays. I'm betting most of them already have at least four of these five pictures. Probably not the Ta-Da/Rap Star one though. That one's kind of a speciality of ours.

Focused on the Magic

Monday 21 May 2012

Blanking My Bookmarks

Slowly, but surely, I'm getting myself organized. A little while ago I told you about emptying my iPhone after it filled near capacity from all the strange pictures I take. Now I'm turning my attention to the bookmarks on my computer. I really need to learn how to bookmark better. Yesterday I went to look for a file that I'd bookmarked a couple of days ago, and when I opened the file that I'd placed it in, the list of bookmarks covered my entire screen. That's a hint that it's time to organize a little better, so I spent some time last night cleaning out my favorites folder. Most of it was just organizing and adding sub-folders, but a few of the things I'd bookmarked gave me cause to think for a minute or two.

#1) Ten Day forecast for Hattiesburg, Mississippi -
I do have lots of 10 day forecasts bookmarked on my computer, but I didn't even know where Hattiesburg was until I found this and looked it up. I have no idea why I would need to know the long term weather in Mississippi, but if you happen to live anywhere near Hattiesburg, Thursday is looking a little dicey and I'd be sure to bring your umbrella.

Mac King - Still the only man who understands invisibility
#2) How to Become Invisible -
OK, I don't remember bookmarking this page, but I totally would. Actually when I came across this bookmark, I got kind of excited. Here was the secret to invisibility and I'd been smart enough to bookmark the page for future reference! Unfortunately it probably should have been a hint that I found the bookmark under the file marked "Stupid Stuff". Let me assure you that there is no need to spend any time on this site, unless you truly believe that concentrating hard enough can make you invisible. It can't. You still need a cloak of invisibility, and as far as I know, Mac King is still the only man alive who has one.

#3) - 
Sounds like I was looking for clothing for our next Lady Gaga concert doesn't it? I'll confess that when I saw the bookmark, western wear was the first thing that came to my mind. Turns out though that in this case, CHAPS stands for Cow Herd Appraisal Performance Software. Why in the world I'm looking for cow management software is beyond me. The closest I can come to taking a guess is that at one point I was looking for a system to use to keep our Sunday school class a little more orderly. Sounds applicable to me.

#4) The Men of True Blood
OK, I'm pretty sure that I actually know where this bookmark came from. I just wanted to take this opportunity to say "Lori, you've got your own file for bookmarks". Nothing like trying to explain to your son why you've got this bookmarked under "important stuff".

#5) - 
Yeah, that's exactly what I thought too. What in the world am I doing visiting this site and in what moment of ridiculously low self-esteem did I decide that I needed to bookmark it? Worse yet, if I didn't bookmark it, does that mean my wife did? These are the kind of paranoid thoughts that shoot through my mind late at night, so you can imagine my relief to find out that is actually a strength and wellness supplement store. Of course when you consider the kind of food we normally eat, it still doesn't really explain why this site is bookmarked, but considering the alternative, I don't think this is something I'm going to delve into too closely.

Friday 18 May 2012

Huntington Beach Hardships

One of our favorite places to spend time during the winter (That's October - March for those of you who don't live up north.) is on the beaches of California. Huntington Beach in particular, is one of our favorites. It seems that the locals deem the winter months too cold to spend time at the beach, but coming from someplace where dog sledding is an acceptable form of transportation, we find the climate just perfect.

Well, almost perfect. See there's a small problem with Huntington Beach in the winter. Come with me and I'll show you what I mean:

Here's our family, first thing in the morning, all ready to go for a walk along the beach. We're hoping to get a nice family shot that we can use on our Christmas cards this year. You'll notice that one of us looks a little more awake that the others. Apparently coffee really does work.

We decided to head out on the pier for our picture. It's completely empty, and we have the place to ourselves, but it does seem to be a tad windy out here. 

Did I say a tad? The good news is that our hair is just about dry, and if we hang on to these railings real tight, we shouldn't get blown too far away. 

Apparently the longer your hair is, the better it looks in the wind. Still, for three of the four of us, this isn't exactly the Christmas card shot that I was hoping for. Maybe just being on the pier is causing the problem here. Let's go down onto the beach and see if that helps.

Ummm've got to stand up straight. No, lean back the other way. No further. You know what, let's just go with the pictures from the Hyatt in Scottsdale.

This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby and Friday Daydreamin at R We There Yet Mom. If you didn't get here from one of those sites, you should really go check them out. There's people there who don't try and take their family Christmas pictures on December 23rd. They think they're so organized.

Thursday 17 May 2012

Our Outdoor Experience

There seems to have been a little misconception about our family here. Recently I was participating in a forum discussion about the average costs of a vacation and I made a quip about camping probably being the most expensive vacation for us due to the cost of the therapy bills. This prompted not one, not two, but seven different people to indicate that they would be willing to pay for our family to go camping just to hear the stories that would come out of it.

Hey, we've been outside before. We've even spent a night in a tent once. Sure, we were camping at the San Diego Zoo, but there was no pillow top mattress, no cable, and the wireless signal was weaker than the coffee they served. Still, we spent the night, so it's not like we're total strangers to roughing it. Let me prove to you that we're a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the great outdoors: dear called a tent. Our tent. Well not exactly ours, but it was ours for the night. Plus, whoever set it up for us didn't even bother to turn the window part away from the sun. Barbaric conditions I tell you! By the way, you'll notice that all our gear (including our "camping" is that?) is lying around on the ground. We'll clean that up in a few minutes when somebody comes along and shows us how to get into this thing.

We've had to forage for our own food. No sit down table service out here. It's all self-serve, and let me tell you that you'd better be quick if you want to survive. The Dijon mustard ran out half way through the evening and after that you had to use regular. Oh, and by the see that guy at the far right? He totally cut the line. Obviously the rules of civilization don't apply out here in the wilderness.

We've also done the whole "campfire" thing. Cooking our own food over the open flames (Sadly, marshmallows and chocolate would be considered a normal dinner at home as well.) kind of gives you that "I can survive on my own" feeling. Hey Tal...we're getting low. Run into the store and pick up another S'mores kit will ya?

See? These things come completely disassembled. How primitive can you get?

So as you can see, we're perfectly at home in the rough and tumble outdoors. I may joke about our camping ineptitude, but I'm fairly sure that we'd be just fine if you dropped us off on an island somewhere and left us to survive on our own (Aruba is an island right?). Still, for those of you who may still have doubts, and particularly for those who offered to pay for our next camping trip, here is our plan for the next time we feel the urge to go "roughing it"...

Park Hyatt Aviara
Cabanas are the same as tents right? Yeah, that's what I thought.

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday over at Budget Travelers Sandbox. If you didn't get here from there, you should go visit. There's people over there who actually know what they're doing when they go outdoors. They probably don't know where they can buy S'mores kits though, and I'm not telling.