Saturday, November 24, 2007

Closing A Window

We bought our first house about six years ago. And after we'd addressed the basic building blocks of life - food, light bulbs, cable television - we turned our attention to the need for a home computer. There was no great mystery or indecision about where to go next, we did what everyone we knew was doing back then. Dudes! We were gettin' a Dell!

I was vaguely aware that there was a company out in California named Apple that dabbled in funky computers, it didn't matter, didn't apply to me, even though I'd had a little bit of experience with one of its early, iconic products.

My first job out of college was writing for a weekly newspaper in my hometown - and the desktop I was issued for this purpose was an Apple Macintosh. It was nice, I liked working on it, but I can't say I spent too much time focused on the machine itself. This was the late 1980s, and computers at that point were about grayscale graphics and simple tasks. There was no Internet, no e-mail, no digital photos or music, no advanced applications, no color. None of the things that, today, make these devices such central fixtures in our lives and increasingly personal extensions of ourselves. I left that first job, and that oddly endearing little Macintosh, and never looked back.

And then, about 15 years later, I got my first iPod. It was only the second generation model, and was still so much cooler and elegantly functional than anything I'd seen before that I almost couldn't believe I was allowed to own it. And it turned me into the cliché, the personification of the "halo effect," because within just a few minutes of clickwheeling to that first song I knew I was going to have to find a way to give these people more of my money. I just wasn't sure how.

Apple computers had come a long way from the Macintosh I'd used to bang out stories as a cub reporter, but there was still something scary and uncertain about the proposition of converting to a Mac. Everything I knew was Windows-based. The documents that were so critical to my professional life were Word documents, presentations were in PowerPoint, those grid-like things I could never figure out how to manipulate that people sent me sometimes were in a program called Excel. These were essential tools, supporting work that was frequently circulated and shared under deadline pressures. I couldn't put my livelihood and ability to bankroll future Disney vacations with Gwen and the kids at risk playing around with some kind of computer that thought different, as much as I wanted to.

But the Apple fixation took hold, I couldn't shake it. I started talking to people who used Macs at home, with Office products designed for the platform, and who seemed to move files around without a problem. This ground had obviously been covered before. I noted from afar the company's switch to Intel processors, which made it clear to me that the good folks out there in Cupertino were trying. They were trying to make it easier for people like me to become people like them.

By the spring of last year, I was ready to dip at least one toe in the Mac pond. I noticed a new line of MacBook computers and bought one as an early birthday present to myself. It was perfect. Adapting to life on a Mac was effortless, and delivered a much easier, better and more intuitive computing experience for everything I needed and wanted to do than any of the Windows-based PCs that littered the previous two decades. I started taking the MacBook to the office, had a second data line installed, and it quickly became my primary "work" computer. I had turned a corner.

I found my way to a few great and affirmational Mac-related podcasts, notably Ken Ray's terrific daily dose of "You Rock!" news and Mac-attitude, Mac OS Ken, and the MacCast, through which host Adam Christianson provides a truly mind-boggling (and occasionally mind-numbing) array of valuable information for Mac geeks every week.

A year into the MacBook, I was ready to once again tithe in the Church of Steve Jobs. I waited for the company to update the slick MacBook Pro line, and when it did I jumped. I gave Gwen the MacBook (endured a few short-lived grumbles about subjecting my better half to a "hand-me-down" computer), bought myself a MacBook Pro and connected an AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi base station to our cable modem so we could get online anywhere in the house.

It was phenomenal. Changed the way we live. And, most importantly, it passed the toughest test of all in our family when it comes to new technology - Gwen saw the merit in it. Believe me when I tell you that is one high bar. We maintained our AOL account for years, unnecessarily, just because my wife liked her e-mail address and buddy list. Then I found Google's Gmail, got her on board, and we never looked back.

The arrival of Mac computers and the AirPort Extreme in our house was like that. Gwen used to go days - sometimes weeks - before shaking free of the kids long enough to actually visit our desktop and check her e-mail. Suddenly I was getting little mid-afternoon "Madison's home" updates and messages asking what I felt like having for dinner, or reminding me to pick something up on my way home. The phone calls asking me to decipher some cryptic error message, or explain why the "printer won't print," stopped cold. Coordinating soccer practices and dance rehearsals and all of the other elements of our day-to-day lives was exponentially easier. We were on the same platform, and that platform was Mac OS X.

The only item left to address was that old Dell stack computer still sitting upstairs in our spare bedroom/home office, a vestige of the past that unfortunately had all of our music on it - more than 4,000 songs in our iTunes library - and a good five or six years worth of digital photos and Word documents. I decided not to renew our anti-virus software, in anticipation of dumping the PC for a Mac desktop that would serve as the central storage repository for our increasingly digital lives, and while I dragged my feet I was frequently greeted with jarring Norton reminders that my computer was NOT PROTECTED AGAINST NEW THREATS! The Dell's 60GB hard drive was also basically consumed, so the other fun message that kept popping up related to the fact that the computer's "virtual memory was full," which might cause some programs not to work. Surfing the Web was painfully slow. Other times, the thing just froze, or crashed.

I told myself I would make the final switch when Apple's new Leopard operating system came out, but then the release was delayed. Around the same time, I started reading about an alleged new version of the iMac desktop computer, with "striking industrial design." Hmm, I thought, that sounds kind of interesting. Well, the rumors turned out to be true, and over the summer Apple unveiled an insanely great update to a computer line that was already the coolest desktop on the market. Then, on the last Friday in October, Leopard arrived. I went out that first weekend, bought a disk to update our notebooks, and liked everything I saw.

And finally, last Sunday, the arc was complete. Dudes! I dismantled the Dell! Pulled the old thing apart, disconnected the rats nest of wires and cables under the desk and stuffed the stack into an enormous suitcase on wheels, lint older than Ava falling out of the air vents. I asked Madison whether or not she wanted to go to the Apple store with me and her eyes lit up with the unique glow of relentless parental brainwashing childhood enthusiasm and wonder.

We navigated our way through the packed and active store, found someone to help us, and in just a few minutes our mission was accomplished. I left the Dell behind, with instructions to move everything we wanted onto the iMac. They said it would take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to transfer our files onto the new computer, I'd get a call when it was ready. That call came the next day, and I stopped off on my way home from the office to retrieve our new desktop, which looks even better in our house than it did in the store.

So we got there. We closed the Window, and it may as well be locked and painted shut, because we're never going back. Bill - you've lost a whole family of customers, but look on the bright side. You got about 20 years of licensing fees out of me for the technology you appropriated invented, and that's not bad. Steve - we know we're late to the party, we understand that, but put us down for four lifetime seats on the Apple bandwagon. Mad props and much love. Namaste.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Weekend, 2007

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Conversations With Ava

We did our typical weekend "divide and conquer" thing early yesterday - Gwen and Madison went to Costco for a pre-Thanksgiving stock up - and I took Ava to a local grocery store to try to work through some of our list. We are hosting again this year, Thanksgiving has sort of turned into "our" holiday, an arrangement we're happy with.

On the drive to the store we talked about stopping off for some fresh mozzarella on the way home and Ava said, "And why don't we have pasta for dinner, 'cause usually these days, when we're all together and don't have anything to do, like work or school, we have pasta for dinner!"

As we were driving home, during a lull between Jonas Brothers songs, she said, "Madison has a friend who had a cat that got runned over and it was, like dead."

"Oh, that's terrible," I said.

"Yeah," she continued. "And no one was even there."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean the cats' parents, friends, they weren't even there. And cats have Mommies and Daddies that are married, too."

"They do?"

"Yeah, how else could the babies get out of the belly?"

Friday, November 16, 2007

"A Trip To The Library"

Madison has been writing short stories, mainly at night before she goes to bed. She'll take a few piece of paper, fold them down the middle and staple along the folded side to make a kind of binder, then she writes out the words around little pictures she draws with crayons. The pictures are important, she says, because it makes her both an author and an illustrator.

"That's very rare, Daddy," she told me with complete conviction when she first introduced the concept a few months ago. "Most times there is someone who does the words and someone else who draws the pictures. It's very rare to be the author and the illustrator." Who am I to argue?

I was wandering around my MacBook Pro tonight, playing with Leopard and looking at documents and other files in "cover flow" (Thanks very much, Steve), when I stumbled upon a story Madison had written at some point over the summer, one I actually typed into my computer as she dictated it, and had long since forgotten.

Gwen was tucking her into bed a little while ago. I went upstairs and said I'd found an old story of hers on my computer, a story about a little boy who went to the library. I asked if she remembered it and what happened and after about half a second she said, "Yeah, the one with the trucks, right? The boy gets the book about the trucks?" I have to admit I was stunned, and amazed, particularly since she's related to me and at this moment I can't remember what I had for breakfast this morning.

Anyway, here's Madison's story:

A Trip To The Library

Once upon a time, a little boy went to the library with his mother. He went to the librarian and said, “Do you have any books about trucks?” The librarian took him to the kids’ section and she found a book about trucks. “Here’s a good one,” she said.

The little boy said, “Look, Mommy, can we get it?” And she said, “Sure, let’s go check it out.”

They checked the book out and they brought it home. Then the little boy said, “Mommy, Mommy, can you read it to me?”

She said, “Sure, let’s go to the comfy couch and read it.”

On the first page, it talked about cranes. On the second page, it talked about dump trucks. On the third page, it talked about cement mixers.

At the end of the story, the little boy said, “Mommy, it was a long day.” And she took him to his room and put him to bed.

The end.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

"An Honor Just To Be Nominated..."

You hear this line a lot during Hollywood award season, delivered with varying degrees of believability and conviction by actors, writers and other creative people teetering on the verge of a complete mental collapse after having been denied the opportunity to be formally declared a "winner" and have their photo taken clutching some form of shiny gold statue.

And now it's our turn to sell the moment, which should be relatively easy because we really do mean it. No way to sugar coat the thing, we got stomped down in the 2007 Weblog Awards - finishing tenth out of 10 finalists, attracting just 184 out of the 9,624 ballots cast in the Best Parenting Blog category. That's slightly less than 2 percent of the total, more than 100 votes off the pace of the #9 finisher and 2,641 behind the winner, Amalah. But what's 2,641 votes among friends?

As I wrote in my initial plea for support, I was humbled and surprised to even make this list of great and established blogs, particularly since we violate so many of the blogosphere's standard conventions here at "I think this world is perfect..." We do not accept advertising or sell T-Shirts, we don't enable comments - preferring instead to engage in personal dialogue via e-mail with anyone who cares enough to write - and, most importantly, we do not condone or conduct any form of animal testing. I have it on good authority that several thousand pigs and geese have been slaughtered to make Amalah the site it is today, and if she's willing to make that trade, well good for her. Dad Gone Mad has killed more chickens than Bell & Evans.

So thank you, to the 184 people who voted for this site, or to the roughly 26 people who voted every 24 hours while the polls were open. It doesn't much matter which, I'm grateful for the support. And even though the button displayed up there to the right will not evolve beyond the word "finalist," there have been some other benefits. We've generated more traffic in the first six days of November than in any other full month since this little writing project began in May, 2006, and that means there are 15 more people in the world who know about the food at Disney, the wonder of Apple products, losing a tooth, the awesome disciplinary power of a threatened e-mail to Santa, and our daughter Ava.

And that's something.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

(Definitely Not) Definitive Disney

OK, we made it. We overcame adversity and survived. We’re back home now, I’m feeling better. Our digestive systems are slowly coming back on line as we reintroduce formerly familiar materials and substances. And now that we’re through the week, we have license to look back through rose-colored glasses and say it was nothing short of spectacular, a must-do, a birthright for the children of this great nation, and to offer up some hints and suggestions for those who may choose to follow us to the place Where Dreams Come True.

Let’s start with the kids, who absolutely loved it. As I observed the other day, they are the reason we do this, why we spend the money, sacrifice precious vacation time, endure sugar-fueled tantrums, frayed nerves and dog-tired walks out of theme parks after nightfall. The smiles on their faces and light of uniquely Disney-inspired amazement sparkling in their eyes makes it seem eminently reasonable to trade a leisurely week spent somewhere like the Villa d’Este or Four Seasons Nevis for thrill rides, cotton candy, parades, crowds and books filled with crudely scrawled autographs, courtesy of large costumed characters.

We actually began negotiating the timing of a return trip over breakfast yesterday morning, before we even left, during the last of three “character meals” we experienced during our visit. Ava started things off by saying that she wanted to “live” in our hotel, but we convinced her to return home with the rest of us. Madison was seeking a firm commitment we would come back next year, and Gwen (who actually did enjoy basically all elements of the vacation – don’t worry, we’re going to investigate counseling, once we decide which one of us really needs it) supported Madison’s timing. I was comfortable committing to a return within three to five years. We coalesced around the notion of two, which gives me plenty of time to individually lobby the other members of our group behind the scenes, while building alliances and investigating selectively-appealing alternatives.

Let’s start with a few broad points. We stayed in the Beach Club, which is next to the Yacht Club, in a section of the property just steps away from the back entrance of Epcot, and a short ferry ride away from MGM. There are buses to the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, and they were relatively frequent and easy to manage. The key advantages, as far as we could tell, to staying in this area are that the better food (wink, wink) is located in Epcot, and also these hotels are within easy walking distance of the Boardwalk, which features still another hotel and a number of additional dining options, an ice cream and candy shop, ESPN Zone and other attractions.

The best food we had all week, and it really was very good (not winking, not winking), was at a restaurant called the Flying Fish Café on the Boardwalk. We went there on Monday night and it was so good we booked a return engagement the following night. There are cool old-fashioned multi-passenger bicycles for rent on the Boardwalk, and it’s a fun loop, especially for a family after dinner.

The other major benefit of staying at the Beach or Yacht Club is the massive pool complex that the hotels share, which is phenomenal. At least three or four different pools, all very close to each other and sand-bottomed. There’s a lazy river in the mix, too. We hit this spot on the afternoon we arrived and two other times over the course of the week and it was a real highlight of the trip. Even the girls appreciated the opportunity to amp down the sensory overload of the parks and splash around in the water or grab some quiet time on a lounge.

The major downside of this lodging choice is that is it not on the monorail, and as noted above we had to rely on buses to get back and forth to the Magic Kingdom, which was a little bit of a hassle, particularly when returning after late nights in the park. Ava, our 4-year-old, typically fell asleep on these bus rides, and I had to carry her from the hotel bus stop through the lobby and back up to our room. I did not notice an itemized charge on our bill for the crushed vertebrae, but I haven’t seen a final statement yet.

It should come as no surprise that the good people of Disney have really perfected many elements of the park-going and revenue-generating experience. As a child, I remember my parents buying books of different-colored tickets and then using these precious documents to gain admission to individual rides. Later on they moved to a “pay for entrance and ride anything you want” model. Now, with four different parks, they offer a “park hopper” admission that lets visitors wander across all locations for a designated number of days.

A one-day pass is about $75 for an adult (less for kids) and that goes to about $150 for a two-day pass, but at that point the incremental expense of additional park privileges becomes negligible. We bought 5-day park-hoppers, and the cost of adding a sixth day onto our passes would have been something like an extra $2 for each of us. So if you think there is even a remote chance you might want to go back into the park on a travel day, maybe to grab a final ride or two in the morning before the lines kick in, it probably makes sense to pay up front for the option.

The other new money-making scheme nice thing for the kids that Disney has recently added is pin-trading with park employees, who are called “Cast Members.” These little ornamental pins are sold everywhere – in the hotel gift shops, park stores, at little kiosks that line the walkways linking all the rides and attractions. Kids purchase a kind of pin-holding ribbon that they wear around their necks, displaying their current collection, dedicated to specific characters, rides, etc. Cast Member also wear little pin-display cloths, and the legend goes that they cannot refuse any trade request from a visitor, so kids can go up and demand an exchange, offer whatever pin they want and get one in return from a cast member.

Whoever came up with this new revenue stream must be Disney’s employee of the millennium, because the girls did $100 worth of damage at one of these kiosks in about five minutes, then Ava proceeded to trade away her most expensive pin almost immediately, before we were able to assert parental privilege and stop the insanity. I got to feel like Scott Boras for a minute, which was a nice little perk, although I never saw my 10 percent.

Here are some suggestions, based on our experiences.

If you are staying at a hotel on property, or nearby, take advantage of this proximity by getting into the parks early and focusing on the important window from 9 to 11 a.m., before the throng arrives. You can get a whole afternoon’s activity accomplished during these two hours, when it’s not necessary to fight lines or crowds, particularly on the high-demand rides.

“Fast Pass” is another nice option they’ve added in recent years, which essentially gives visitors the option of holding one VIP “no waiting” pass to a single ride, during a defined time period. If there is a particularly long wait for one of the big-ticket rides, which offer Fast Pass, visitors can go to a little kiosk near the admission area, insert their card, and receive a printed pass to return to that ride within a one-hour period (usually at least an hour later) and basically walk right on. You can only hold one Fast Pass at a time, across all of the rides in the park, so it pays to use this option judiciously.

Epcot – in addition to the countries section of Epcot, which allows visitors to experience many of the world’s great nations during a short walk around a manufactured lake in central Florida, the park features a number of rides and attractions.

Soarin’ – great ride, maybe my favorite of the week, and Madison loved it as well. Ava was too young and walked out in tears, terrorized by the notion that one of her new Disney Crocs was going to fall off her feet while she was flying over the Golden Gate Bridge. I don’t want to give too much away, or spoil anything for anyone, trust me when I say this is well worth experiencing. And it was even better the second time around, the night before we left, after a couple of glasses of wine at dinner.

The Seas with Nemo & Friends – this was actually our first ride of the trip, and it was a nice gentle landing for the girls, who immediately demanded we go on it again.

Turtle Talk With Crush – the novelty here seems to be that Crush from Finding Nemo (who appears on a screen) can actually see and interact with the real little kids fanned out in front of him. This extended Q&A gets a little tiresome, I’ve never heard the word “dude” so many times in one sitting, but the kids seemed to like it.

Test Track – Ava’s favorite ride of the week, up to six passengers sitting in a car going through various “test track” paces – accelerating, braking, bumpy roads. The ride ends outside, flying around an actual track at speeds in excess of 60 miles-per-hour, another terrific new attraction.

Magic Kingdom
– no real mystery here, all the usual suspects. Some of the old favorites very much reflect their age, others were newer and better. The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was a fun little roller-coaster, probably Ava’s second favorite ride.

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Cinderella's Castle - a highlight of the trip, without question. Madison and Ava picked out dresses and were made up like princesses. Worked out well because we did this in the afternoon before going to Mickey's "Not So Scary" Halloween Parade/Event, and the day before their princess breakfast in Epcot's Norway, so we got additional mileage out of the hair extensions and dresses, which cost more than our flights. I'm not kidding. In the immortal words of Forrest Gump, "and that's all I have to say about that."

“it’s a small world” – obligatory, especially with young kids, and the ride feels just as old as it is, going on 40 years now. Ava liked it, before she started making fun of it. She's 4.

Peter Pan’s Flight – see note above relative to a ride feeling as old as it is.

Dumbo the Flying Elephant – kids loved it, another very long line most of the time, but sort of a command performance. Basically a circle of elephants that fly around a central axis, glorified carnival ride. But the kids can control how high they fly using a little joystick in each compartment, which only adds to the madcap fun.

Ariel’s Grotto – get here early, right after the park opens, and meet Ariel for autograph signings and photos before the lines get really unmanageable. This is really the only reliable way to meet this fin-bound character for an autograph and photo, since she can't exactly wander around a breakfast, and Disney has so far resisted the temptation to relegate her to flopping around the floor of a restaurant. We got to this spot very early, right after 9 a.m., and it was the one line of the week that Did Not Move. We almost bailed a number of times but stayed the course and ultimately triumphed in our Little Mermaid quest.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh - Ava liked this, particularly the black light effect at the end that made her white sweater glow.

Minnie’s Country House - interesting, crowded, leads to a long line and a character signing/photo opportunity. Mickey's house next door was closed for renovations, prompting Ava, who is still apparently scarred from our own home improvement projects, to ask whether he was getting a new kitchen or basement.

Tomorrowland Indy Speedway - let your kids drive, they can't do much damage here, can't go too fast, although it gets interesting when the ride ends and the cars collide into each other waiting to disembark in the pits.

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin - fun. Aim at the Zs. We went on this a few times.

Walt Disney World Railroad - the standard, a good way to get around. Nice peaceful respite and it's fun to try to convince your kids that the Indians camped out along one section of the tracks are real.

Animal Kingdom – this is basically a half-day park, which is to say if you get in there when it opens around 9 a.m. and experience everything worth doing you can be out the door and on your way somewhere else by 1 or 2 p.m. The main attraction is the Kilimanjaro Safaris, which is an actual bus ride (you are not in cart, being pulled by a chain) in and around various animal exhibits. Real animals, memorable animals, who are apparently most active in the morning. Get to the park early, dash over to this ride and either board immediately or grab a Fast Pass and you’ve accomplished most of what you need to do here.

It’s Tough to be a Bug! – fun little show, the audience is given 3-D glasses, which make things even more interesting. There are some cool surprises here I don’t want to ruin. We waited about 20 minutes to get into this attraction, and I was glad in the end it wasn't 40, because at that point I might have had a problem with the cost-benefit analysis.

Pagani Forest Exploration Trail - they talk you into this after you exit the safari, in my opinion it was a waste, and was particularly tight and frustrating when pushing a stroller in a crowd. There is a cool Gorilla, though.

Festival of the Lion King – great show, one of the highlights of our morning at Animal Kingdom. Lively and fun and terrific for the kids, who get involved in the action at the end. This was well worth doing.

Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends – another good option for the kids. The girls sat in the front row and were mesmerized by Pocahontas and her talking tree. You can see Ava in her blue hat (Disney branded, thank you) in the front row in this photo.

Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant – we had dinner in here one night, one of those signature eat-in-the-dark Disney dining experiences, but if you can get over not really being able to see your food this was an interesting option. The tables are in cars, and the setting is a drive-in theater showing science fiction movies from the 1950s. The girls got a kick out of it.

Voyage of The Little Mermaid - nice little show, girls enjoyed it.

The Magic of Disney Animation - this was actually a very interesting experience, the visitors get desks and paper and are taught to draw a famous figure of Disney animation. Madison and Ava's class drew Mickey Mouse, and even though he came out looking like a bizarre set of circles, they liked it.

Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage - great show. MGM is show-heavy, and this one was memorable.

Fantasmic! – another terrific performance, worth a visit to MGM in itself. Films projected on spraying water, special effects, lasers, fireworks, Mickey stars in a classic battle of good vs. evil. Guess who wins?

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith – Madison loved this roller coaster, to our great amazement. Ava wasn’t tall enough (48-inch height requirement, vigorously enforced) and was reduced to tears as a result. Gwen soothed her frustrations by getting her some frozen lemonade and a Belle tattoo while Madison and I enjoyed the initial blast-off the ride is famous for, zero to 60 in about two seconds - and the initial flight continues just long enough for riders to wonder whether it's ever going to stop. Nice unsettling little moment, Walt would have been proud.

Yes, it was an active week. Let me close on a photo that Ava took, at our "character dinner" in the Magic Kingdom's Crystal Palace. I think this sums up the week, and the Disney experience, as well as anything. Yes, that's her finger to the upper left. You want a concrete example of the magic of Disney? Here it is, through the eyes of a 4-year-old.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Kar-ma... Po-lice...

Well, Walt got his revenge. I guess I should have known better than to post anything negative before we were safely off property, because this morning the old guy thawed himself out and got medieval on our asses. Specifically our 6-year-old, Madison, who abruptly sat up in bed around 7:30 a.m. and announced to the room that her tummy REALLY hurt, before running to the bathroom and expunging its contents into the receptacle waiting there.

We believe Walt's agent of doom was Chef Mickey, either the gelatinous perfectly al-dente mouse-eared ravioli covered in ketchup tasty marinara sauce or the self-serve ice cream sundae bar featuring a half dozen candy toppings. Madison thinks it was the sundae, and who are we to argue. She briefly fell asleep earlier lying prone in the doorway to the bathroom, but seems better now. We're still in our room, I'm feeding her Sprite and we're watching the DVD to Cinderella. You hear that, Walt? We're recovering on brand. That should count for something.

Gwen took Ava back to the Magic Kingdom, they are determined to find Chicken Little. Madison is now back up on her feet, and she's not dashing for the toilet. I take that as a good sign. I just asked her whether or not she wanted to wander into Epcot, which is near our hotel. She nodded and then said, "Dad, can we start off in the gift shop downstairs, 'cause if I'm feeling OK in there I'll be OK in Epcot." No dummy, our Madison.

Mr. Disney, we're sorry. I shouldn't have been so critical last night, but don't worry, very few people read this blog, as evidenced by the fact that it is currently tenth out of 10 finalists in that little blog competition I shamelessly mentioned the other day. If you will let my daughter manage solid food again we will be eternally grateful. We might even come back someday.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


We've arrived at the place Where Dreams Come True, and quickly come to the conclusion that this designation does not apply to anyone old enough to buy a drink or participate in our nation's democratic process. Gwen and I shuffled through the Orlando Airport like inmates on the way to central booking - we didn't know exactly what was in store, but we had a pretty good idea it wasn't going to be pleasant.

And the reality waiting at the other end did not disappoint. Epcot, the Magic Kingdom and MGM - rides and characters and standing in line. It all blurs together into some kind of prefab nightmare that includes foot blisters, shuttle buses and the notes from "it's a small world," pulsing through dehydrated brain cells.

And then there's the food. How exactly to describe the food at Disney? Here's a word - horrendous. If they are ever looking for a place to host a Fried Carbohydrates Convention, Orlando is it. And luckily enough the facilities are expansive enough to simultaneously accommodate the first annual meeting of the Fresh Green Produce Haters of America. The only apparent nod to the growing worldwide focus on healthy eating took the form of a few small carts (which we saw only in Epcot) featuring pre-bagged celery and carrot sticks that looked like they were pulled out of the ground shortly after the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971.

I'd pay good money to see Gordon Ramsay come down here and take a chunk out of the people dishing out this mass-produced cuisine. He can start at Epcot's "Mexico," where we had a lunch yesterday that was bad enough to scotch the NAFTA accord. Larded up international "classics" in styrofoam clamshells waiting dutifully in line under heat lamps. Cue Gordon, getting in the face of some plump and sweaty manager:"What are you DOING man? Have you ever heard of cholesterol? Fat? You call that a taaco? Come here, you, I'll show you a bloody taaco! These people are on holiday... do you want to KILL someone on their holiday?!"

No way to get through a trip like this unless you decide early on to live it from behind the eyes of your children, because they are in heaven. This is not a shared vacation - a little bit for them and a little bit for you. This is all them. This is taking one for the team. This is something you do for your offspring, a pilgrimage you make, not necessarily because you want to, but because you should, because it's part of the deal. Like saving for a college education, or agreeing not to smoke cigars in the house.

I'll post a more complete summary in the coming days, probably when we're home and I've been able to find and devour some form of leafy green vegetable not from the Phylum Iceberg. We're going to a place called Chef Mickey's for dinner tonight, something they refer to down here as "character dining." Mickey, Minnie, Donald, they'll all be there, wandering from table to table signing autographs and posing for photos. The kids will be beaming, and I'll be scanning the room for Tony Bourdain, who is the kind of character I'd like to dine with. I'm pretty sure he won't be around.

Here are a few so-far photos, in addition to the one above, which was taken on the way to our "princess breakfast" at Epcot's Norway:

[Four different parks, four different maps, and Madison has helped herself to at least five of each so far. Here, we see the girls consulting the map of Epcot.]

[Main Street Parade in the Magic Kingdom. "Beast" scowls down at our little ones, which momentarily shocks them out of demanding unhealthy snacks or overpriced souvenirs.]

[Ariel in her grotto. This was the highlight of the morning.]

[Oh, the humanity...]

Friday, November 02, 2007

Our Little Bartles & Jaymes Moment

I’ve gone more than 40 years on this planet without ever knowingly uttering the phrase, “labor of love,” and I’m proud of that. But I’m about to break the streak, writing here on my blog, about my blog.

Because a labor of love is exactly what this has been. As I’ve noted before, when I sat down that first night and knocked out this first post, stealing a title and a theme from my daughter Madison, who was then 5, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be back. But I found that I really enjoyed celebrating the little moments in our day-to-day lives in this way, sharing words and photos with family and friends, and ultimately an even broader group of people.

Last spring, I got involved in a blog competition called The Best of Blogs, and to my surprise I actually won the parenting blog category. I was proud of this, it resulted in new readers from around the world (this blog is HUGE in Australia) and also gave me license to add a cool little “winner” button to the upper right-hand corner of my site.

And now I find myself a finalist in another blog contest (to quote Jerry Seinfeld, in one of the best throwaway lines ever on that show, “I’m not sure how official any of these rankings really are,”) – the 2007 Weblog Awards. This one is much larger and more formidable. Any time your fellow nominees (in other categories) include Gawker, Perez Hilton, Post Secret, Mark Cuban and Engadget, not to mention Dooce, you know you are dealing with serious stuff. I am humbled, amazed and slightly intimidated by the company I find myself in.

So here is where I ask my loyal readers, and occasional passers-by, for their support and their votes. It’s a very easy process that will take all of two seconds. Just follow this link to get to the ballot for the parenting category, click the button next to “I think this world is perfect…” and that’s it. You’re done for the day.

Polls are only open for one week, starting today, and you are allowed to vote once every 24 hours. Since I don’t know many people, I’m clearly counting on the power of multiplication. So vote early, and often (another cliché I’ve happily avoided until now), and – above all else – thank you for your support.