25 October 2009

Random Pictures

I've had a friend bug me to put some recent pictures of my kids up for her to see. Here you go, Emilie!

Here's Brennan at his 5th grade State Fair. We had fun learning about his state and trying to figure out what to put on his float. It was hard to make a clay mountain that looks like Mount Rushmore!

Here's Mandi and Kimmie at Author's Night. Mandi's 2nd grade teacher asked Mandi to submit a poem for a writing contest. Mandi's poem was printed in a book with all the winners' writings!

Kimmie loves the camera. She asks me all the time to take her picture just because. This is one such time. What a cutie!

Here are my twin rug rats. Ryan is on the left. Andrew is on the right. They keep me more than busy and always on my toes!

I had to put in this picture of Brennan and Jeff. This is Brennan's first real suit. He was so excited to become a deacon! (Check out how tall he is compared to Jeff.)

16 October 2009

Kids are So Much Fun!

My twin boys are so ingenious! They love to climb, so all our kitchen chairs stay in the laundry room until they are ready to be occupied at the table. That does not stop Ryan and Andrew! They pulled out the dish drainer, turned it over, and used it as a stool to pull the rolls and muffins down from off the counter. Then Andrew pushed it over to the fridge to try and get himself a drink of water! (And I would have had a picture of Andrew at the fridge, but Kimmie had too much fun with the camera earlier in the day--the camera shut off before I could snap the shutter!)

25 August 2009

Going Back to the 80's

With all the talk lately about Def Leppard, Poison, Depeche Mode concerts and more... I couldn't resist throwing up my own little throwback to the 80's:

Photon - the first laser tag arena in Utah

This one goes out to my good friend Russ Peacock. Remember when, my friend?! Good times... good times... :)

(Oh, and yes, that's me with a mullet; and yes, that's my gargantuan tongue; and yes, I'm proud of it!)

For those that don't know, Photon was the first laser tag arena in Utah. It was located across the street from The Sports Park (remember that?) just West of I-15 near the 9000 South exit. Its building has since been several other things, including Paintball Planet, but I'll always remember it as the place Russ and I used to go kick trash and take names as laser tag champions; or so we thought... til the one day we got ganged up on! I know you remember that one, Russ.

09 August 2009

Thoughts About Life

The past few months have been quite a whirlwind for me. I've been MIA from the blog due to being way tied up in 2 jobs, my 11-year-old scout leader calling and spending time with my family.

This past week has been an especially "high category" storm, if you will, because on top of all that, my mother was admitted to the hospital. Without divulging details, we almost lost her this week, but she's made some drastic improvements and hopefully she'll be pulling through very soon and will recover as well as possible over the next few weeks.

During this, I also had the blessed opportunity of attending the memorial service of a good friend of mine from high school, and true American Hero, Jeremy Clawson. The words spoken in honor of this great man moved me deeply.

Both of these experiences have caused me to stop at times in deep reflection on my own life; and how I live it.

If I were to suddenly be gone, what would people say about me? Would I have made the effort to make the difference in others' lives to deserve the same honor? I wouldn't be trying to make that difference for that reason, of course, but would I have succeeded in making that difference?

I've also been seriously reminded at how much our relationships should mean to us. Life's too short to let the little things get in the way. I need to make more time to visit my loved ones.

Most of you that know me know I do alright keeping in touch with friends. I thank the Lord for blessing me with knowledge of technology and a passion for staying in touch, as the internet and its many tools allow me to do so quite easily. It still consumes time, but it's worth every minute.

I got to talking with my friend Aaron from Jordan High at the reception following our friend Jer's memorial service. We conversed about how sad it is that some our friends feel like they can't attend reunions for various reasons.

I have to say something about this... I've attended a lot of reunions, many of which have not been my own (thanks to being a part of the Jordan Alumni Association), and I've yet to see someone come to a reunion and regret that they did. There is always someone (or several someones) they haven't thought about that they reunite with and are so glad they did.

My cry out to the rest of the world is to please not let one bad relationship from your past, or even a handful, keep you from enjoying the sweet reunions you could be having with the tons of other friends you did still cherish back then. Instead of letting that keep you from going, go with the attitude in mind that you'll either reconcile the differences if you chance to encounter that person, or that you'll avoid them and interact with the others you wish to. But make the effort to go, you'll be glad you did.

My challenge to those who aren't so excited to go their reunions: Make the effort to go to the next one you're invited to, and give it at least 10 minutes of your time with a positive attitude. I guarantee you'll find someone in that time that will make the whole thing worth it (assuming you haven't arrived before everyone else... heh... make sure the 10-minute timer doesn't start until the majority of the guests have arrived.)

A few weeks ago, a Utah's PRIDE reunion was put together by my good friend Mary Pearson and others from her group. It was for the final two years of the program, 1994-1996. Since my years were 1989-1991 and I'd only spent time with the groups until I left on my mission in 1993, I figured I wouldn't know enough of the attendees to justify my going.

Since I had other things going that day as well, I assumed my wife would prefer to have me home to help with the kids. Well, the reunion was broken into two parts that day; an informal lunch in the park that all family members were invited to, and a dinner that night that only the PRIDEsters and their significant others were invited to.

After the lunch event, some had requested that I come to the dinner... I was called by my good friend Jarin who convinced me to go. Gwen gave me the green light, so I went; again nervous that it wouldn't be rewarding for me because I thought I wouldn't know anyone.

I was happy to see that I knew at least half of the people there! I hadn't realized that many of them were people I hooked up with from running the PRIDE site, or knew them from being friends with their older siblings who were also involved in PRIDE.

The reunion was very enjoyable for me, and even though I hadn't experienced things with their group; I still loved watching their slideshow and felt the same feelings remembering the experiences I had with my own groups (and the few years after I was still involved with.) True, the situations were different, but the feelings fostered and cherished as happy memories as a result of those situations is exactly the same; and it carries on exactly the same... because those are the things that shape our character going forward.

I may have mentioned this in a prior post, but it's worht saying again... When it came time for me to leave this particular reunion, I'd already become emotional about how wonderful it is to reunite with old friends... no matter how often I do it, the same intense happiness is there, it never dulls and never goes away. I found myself inclined to stand up and say a few words to the group, despite the fact that I wasn't technically a part of it.

I asked the group to raise hands for all who had attended this reunion from out-of-town. I don't remember how many there were, but it seems like it was 1/3 to 1/2 of them, if not more. I was amazed to see that many hands, as it was a testament to me at how important those relationships were/are to those great people. It literally brought tears to my eyes, and I had a hard time expressing my thoughts/feelings to them. I hope whatever I said came across right and they got the spirit of what I really wanted to say. I think they did.

The point was that these are the things we take with us. These are things that mold who we are. Our relationships define us; and they're too important to take for granted... because we never know when these loved ones will be called to return to their Maker, and we won't have the opportunity anymore on this Earth at this time to enjoy those sweet reunions.

Make the time and the effort to get out of your comfort zone and take advantage of those opportunities. Don't worry about forgetting people's names... we're all in the same boat, we all understand... ask them to remind you, and after the 30-seconds of awkweirdness, you'll be laughing and smiling about old times again. Getting over that first awkward moment is the hardest part... but PLEASE don't let those kinds of things stop you from going. Again, life's too short; it's not worth it.

I've veered off into reunions, and typically those are usually big family or high school reunions... but they don't have to be.

I'm known for trying to find out when friends are in town from out-of-town, or I've discovered someone in-town that I haven't seen forever, and then trying to throw something informal together to get a bunch of common friends together to see that friend. It's probably selfish of me, but it's a dang good excuse to get together, and I don't always want to keep it to myself. I cherish these get-togethers so very much... you can probably see it in my face when I post the pics.

I keep telling people, I wish I could bottle those feelings up, and share them with all of you individually. I know that if I could, there probably wouldn't be a one of you that would resist an opportunity to get-together with an old friend again. But I can't, so the best I can do is try to convince through posts like this... yes it's a soapbox, but one I'm more than happy to get on from time-to-time; it's that important to me.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. This life is all about people... and life is too short to let these opportunities to enhance/embrace/reunite these relationships pass us by. Make the time/effort to rekindle relationships with those you love, and to reconcile any differences that might keep you from doing so.

He/she who dies with the most friends, wins. :)

I love you all... thanks for being my friends.

07 June 2009

What An AWESOME Birthday!

I just had an awesome birthday and had to blog about it. It all started with a breakfast of ham, egg and cheese omelets, toast, grapes and milk--made by Jeff! Anyone who knows Jeff knows what a great feat that is. It was wonderful! The rest of the morning went on normally with Jeff heading off to work and the kids enjoying another off-track day of playing. Then there came a knock at the door around noon. It was the florist delivery guy with a delivery for me. He let me sign his log, then ran back to the truck to get the delivery. My mouth dropped open when he returned to the door with this! (The picture still doesn't do it justice. You really had to see it in person to behold it's greatness.)

I was breathless from the sight of this gorgeous vase of roses--then I read the card. "One rose for every year this world has been blessed with your presence. Thanks for letting me share 40% of your life so far!" Happy tears followed. The day ended with dinner at Village Inn with family and french silk pie! I have a wonderful husband. Thanks again, Jeffie, for an awesome day of love and surprises!

04 June 2009

Walmart Fail - Disney Channel Original Movie gets R-Rating warning during pre-order

This had me laughing so hard... I had to share. :) I was trying to pre-order this for the family on Walmart.com

24 May 2009

Of Mice and Jedi - Disneyland Vacation: Day 3 (Return of the Jedi)

We were pretty wiped out after visiting the entire Disneyland park during our first two days. We originally planned to hit California Adventure the third day, but opted to just casually stroll around Disneyland and ride any rides we'd missed and repeat any rides the kids wanted to ride. We ended up back in Fantasyland where we rode the Snow White and Pinocchio rides, then headed back to Tomorrowland for one more Buzz Lightyear ride and some souvenir shopping.

So you've probably been wondering why I entitled this series of posts "Of Mice and Jedi"... today it will finally make sense.

Brennan really wanted to see the Jedi Training Academy show in Tomorrowland, and we saw the end of it before the Space Mountain trauma on the first day; so we decided to catch the whole thing.

Disneyland - Jedi Training Academy

Disneyland - Master Jedi

Mandi and Kimmie both really wanted to get trained, so Brennan and I tried to hold them up to get noticed in the crowds of screaming kids all trying to get their chance to master the ways of the Force.

Finally, on the Master Jedi's third pass, he called on our "levitating princess" (Mandi) to join them. Unfortunately, Kimmie didn't get picked, and there was much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. I'm surprised she didn't go full Sith before the show was over.

Nevertheless, the rest of us had a great time watching as Mandi and her fellow Padawan younglings learned how to use a lightsaber.

Disneyland - Padawan Mandi

Disneyland - Mandi wielding her lightsaber

Disneyland - Mandi executing a duck maneuver

In the middle of their training, two Stormtroopers invaded the scene, and raised a platform with Darth Maul and Darth Vader on it. After Lord Vader failed to convince the strong minds of the young Jedi to come over to the Dark Side, each Padawan had the opportunity to engage one of the Sith Lords.

Disneyland - Darth Maul and Darth Vader

Mandi engaged in a duel with Darth Maul and successfully executed her training, rivaling the sabersmanship (is that a word?) of the red-faced Sith.

(High Quality ~49MB) Right-click .. Save-As

After successfully defeating the Sith and inviting those of the Empire to leave the training grounds, the younglings all went up on the stage and were pronounced official Jedi. Go Mandi!

Disneyland - Mandi the Triumphant Jedi

Afterwards, the kids just HAD to have a lightsaber, so we went to the nearby souvenir shop and let them build their own. We bought a few more items, then headed to Downtown Disney on our way back to the hotel, so we could rest up for Fantasmic later that night.

We stopped in the Lego store in Downtown Disney and had fun seeing all of the huge creations they made from legos, including a 15-foot tall (maybe taller) giraffe. The kids favorite, of course, was the Lego Darth Vader, in front of which they proudly activated their lightsabers and posed for a picture.

Downtown Disney - Kids at the Lego store

We took the long walk back to the hotel, and were glad we did, because we saw another cool Disney structure and some fun Disney gardening on the way back. When we returned to the Hotel, the kids watched Disney Channel while mom and dad took a nap. (We're old...)

Disneyland Hotel hat and stars

Disneyland - Pluto, Mickey and Minnie bushes

The highlight of our day/night was seeing Fantasmic. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it on your next trip to Disneyland; it's amazing and magical. They do some fun effects with water, fire, lasers and more; and have a really fun scene with the Jolly Roger floating around the riverbend of the Rivers of America, loaded with characters from Peter Pan... including a fight scene with Peter Pan and Captain Hook up in the sails. It ends with a fantastic curtain call of a boat-load of Disney characters. It's literally a boat-load, as it is the Mark Twain Riverboat, piloted by Steamboat Willie Mickey. I tried to capture a good picture of it, but failed miserably, so you're stuck with the best one out of the bunch.

The music lived up to its name, fantasmic. I loved it so much I came home and ordered the CD (which included the Main Street Electrical Parade music... double bonus!)

Disneyland - Fantasmic steamboat curtain call

Not only was Fantasmic enjoyable, but we paid the ghastly fee to get preferred seating, which offered us the ability to not have to waste several hours holding our spot for the show, as well as treats and free drinks through the production. The treats were some of the tastiest gourmet goodies I've ever eaten. Soooooo yummy!

Disneyland - Fantasmic Treats!

Near the end of the show, Gwen had to take the girls to the restroom, and they weren't back when the fireworks were finished. Brennan and I hit the restrooms after and started looking for them. It took us all about a half-hour or more of searching for and missing each other before we finally reunited. We're thankful that was the only bit of "lost" drama we had during the trip... It wouldn't have been a problem, 'cept Gwen's cell phone had been left in her purse (which was still with me) instead of being in her pocket. Lesson learned. heh

Pooped again, we headed home to rest up for our Character Breakfast in the PCH Grill on the main floor of the Paradise Pier the next morning. We thought that would be a fun way to end the trip and still have a little of the Disney experience before our return home.

I'll post those pictures in the next entry... along with our final thoughts of our first-ever big family vacation.

Of Mice and Jedi - Disneyland Vacation: Day 2 (Magical Morning - Meet the Characters)

Disneyland - head of Main Street

After an exhausting first day at Disneyland, we had a pleasant night's sleep at the hotel (which is rare) and woke up early and had breakfast delivered to our room so we could hit the park the instant they let the "Magical Morning" guests in.

Despite the fact that we already covered the two sections of the park that were open early, we still got to maximize the extra hour.

We weren't first in line to get into the park, but it actually served advantageous. The minute we stepped into the park and were came around to Main Street, we saw 6-8 Disney characters coming out to sign autographs and let people take pictures with them. We happened to be right there when Minnie Mouse came out and were 2nd in line to see her. Likewise, as soon as we were finished with her, we were able to get autographs and pictures with Pluto, Goofy, Chip and Dale.

Disneyland - Litsters and Minnie Mouse

The characters were a blast. Pluto signed all of the kids' books on his nose; and Goofy, well, he was true-to-form.

Disneyland - Gwen and the kids with Pluto

Brennan handed his book to Goofy. He promptly put it on Brennan's head and began signing. Then it was Mandi's turn, so she handed her book over. Mandi was wearing her Mickey ears that morning, so for Goofy to sign the book on her head, naturally he would need the ears removed. With great finesse, he swiftly knocked her ears down over her face... then straightway put Mandi's book on BRENNAN'S head and commenced signing. *CACKLE!* It was hilarious and the kids loved it.

Disneyland - Goofy being... goofy

After the autographs, we headed over to TomorrowLand again to let the kids ride the Buzz Lightyear ride and the rockets again. Then we realized we had a shot at being first in the Princess Faire line, so we hauled butt over in that direction. Crew members were standing guard near "It's a Small World" to keep guests from going further into the park since they hadn't opened those sections yet. There was already a plethora of people present, so we were bummed that we missed that boat. However, we soon discovered that some were there for the Small World ride, and others were there for Toon Town. The crew member asked us to form distinct lines and we were fortunate enough to be third or fourth in the Princess Faire line. Booya!

This was one of the most important factors in our Disneyland adventure, as Mandi and Kimmie are quite fond of the Princesses. You'll remember from Day 1 that we were told the line was a 2.5 to 3 hour wait, so we averted that crisis. The other catch was to get there when the "right" princesses were present. They rotate Disney Princesses every 45 minutes. We were hoping that Mandi and Kimmie's favorites were there, cause there was no way in a-place-very-much-opposite-of-the-Magical-Kingdom we were going to torture ourselves with a return trip to the longest line in Disneyland.

The heavens were smiling down on us that day... As the girls got to visit Snow White, Aurora and Cinderella; their three favorites. This was the most magical of the character encounters for us, because it wasn't as rushed as the other autograph/photo moments with other characters. They actually got to chit-chat with each princess for a couple of minutes before moving on to the next. Magical.

Disneyland - Snow White and the Two Litster Princesses

Disneyland - Aurora and the Litster Princesses

Disneyland - Cinderella hugging the Litster Princesses

We ran back to ToonTown (since it's next-door to the Princess Fantasy Faire) to get Mickey's autograph, since we hadn't had books the day before; and we wanted to beat the crowds there. Of course he had to hug on Gwen, because, you know, she is his 2nd-to-Minnie. After ToonTown, we stopped for a treat near the Princess Faire and made our plan-of-attack for the rest of the day, as we still had a lot of park to cover.

Disneyland - Gwennie and Mickey

We headed over to New Orleans Square where the Pirates of the Carribean is. That is one of my favorite rides and it was cooler than I remembered it. For those that don't know (or don't remember...) it's a boat ride, and it starts by floating you around the back of the Blue Bayou restaurant, then up a hill and down into the main parts of the ride, what feels like deep below New Orleans square. The ride was longer and cooler than I remember, and has been updated to reflect characters from the movies.

My favorite part was when we rode past the pirate ship attacking the fort, cannon fire being exchanged back-and-forth. I was sitting in just the right seat, as I felt a cannon blast whoosh through my hair! That, by itself, made the whole trip worth it... dang that was a cool effect. :)

We were fairly close to the Indiana Jones ride at that point, so I dragged the family in that direction, and we made a short stop through Tarzan's Treehouse. When we got to the Indiana Jones ride, Brennan and Mandi were too jaded to ride (Space Mountain trauma from Day 1), and we found out Kimmie was too short. So I was denied the ride I wanted to ride most while we were there; as it wasn't there when I was a kid.

Disneyland does a special pass for parents that have to stay behind with kids to be able to immediately board the ride after the other parent goes first... Unfortunately, we learned about this AFTER we came home... anger ensues.

In my angered state... we wandered over near Aladdin's Oasis, and happened to see Aladdin and Jasmine signing autographs, so we jumped in line. We fortunately were the last to get autographs/pictures before they had to leave... but unfortunately, they were very apparently in a hurried state and rushed the kids' signing and picture. That was the only thing close to a bad experience our entire trip (and it wasn't even a bad experience, really) so I was very thankful for that.

Since the kids weren't too into wanting to rides in Adventureland, we decided to head over to Critter Country and nabbed some lunch. After lunch, we hit Splash Mountain. Dang that is a cool ride. It was much longer than I remembered it and just as fun. We hit it just before the line got REALLY long. The kids said they enjoyed it, but when I recommended using the Fast Pass to do it again, they're all "no, my tummy needs a rest... blah blah blah." Repeat goodness denied.

We saw Winnie the Pooh and Rabbit signing autographs, so we figured that was something mellow the kids could handle... besides, we were on an autograph frenzy today, so why not fill the books! We jumped in line; and met a cast member from Salt Lake City who had fun talking to the crowd as they waited in line. He was a walking databank of Disney trivia. Meanwhile, in the not-so-hundred-acre-wood, time came for the characters to rotate, so instead of getting a picture of Winnie-the-Pooh with Gwennie-the-Pooh, we got to meet and take pics with Tigger and Eeyore. Not a bad trade.

Disneyland - Tiggerific

We wandered over to Frontierland, where any hope of riding any "scary" rides for Brennan and Mandi had past. Gwen and I both wanted to hit "Big Thunder Railroad", but Kimmie was the only child brave enough to ride it. Gwen told me to take Kimmie and she'd go after me (wish I'd known about the "No Parent Left-Behind" pass! Anger ensues again...) By the time Kimmie and I got off the ride, Gwen, Brennan and Mandi had wandered over by the Mark Twain Riverboat. When we met up with them, who was to appear, but Woody and Jessie from Toy Story 2! More autographs, more pics... uh booya!

Disneyland - Woody and Jessie with the kids

By then we were getting tired, and I wanted to have the kids see Disneyland lit up at night, so we decided to return to the hotel for some rest. I, of course, was half-tempted to let the kids stay at the hotel and watch Disney Channel while Gwen and I returned to the park ourselves and rode the rides we were denied earlier. :) But, being a good parent, we brought them back with us... heh.

Now, the first night we were there, we heard the fireworks show, but hadn't seen it... and I figured, "It's just another fireworks show, so I won't have my feelings hurt if we don't see it; plus, we'll see it after Fantasmic tomorrow..." So the original plan was not to worry about making sure we saw it. However, one of the cast members told us that if we wanted to see the fireworks show, we had to do it from Main Street, or we would miss some of the effects and fun of the show.

Well, we happened to re-enter the park just-in-time for the fireworks show; so we decided to stay with the masses gathered in front of the Castle. We're glad we did; the show is amazing. Narrated by Julie Andrews, the fireworks are put to music and the narration walks through some of the history of Disney and his vision for creating magical memories for all. There are also tie-ins with George Lucas stuff that appears at Disneyland (like Indiana Jones and Star Wars.) At one point we saw Tinkerbell fly around the castle and wave her wand to make fireworks, see huge flames shoot out the tops of the Castle during the Indiana Jones part, and see green lasers firing all around you during the Star Wars part. It's quite cool, and I'm glad we didn't miss that.

It was wonderful way to end Day 2... (except getting out of the park, carrying a sleeping 4-year-old.)

Stay tuned for Day 3!!! (And my apologies for no pics of the rides... I wish I'd snapped some of Pirates, but I was having too much fun to think about it.)

30 April 2009

Of Mice and Jedi - Disneyland Vacation: Day 1

The second week of March was a memorable one for our family. It was so special, because it was the week of our first-ever official family vacation.

We decided to leave the twins home, so we could focus on the older kids; since they have at many times gotten the shaft since the twins demand so much time and attention right now, being so small. The older kids really wanted to go to Disneyland; and since Gwen and I hadn't been since we were kids, we were excited to go too.

We booked our vacation through a travel agency, and since Disneyland was our focus for this trip, we arranged it so we would be shuttled from the airport to the hotel (and back) so we wouldn't have to rent a car. We also opted to do two of the three days during the week, so we could hit most everything without the super-busy crowds and let Friday be a more casual day, with its big focus being on Fantasmic. We also flew out Tuesday evening, so I could take one less day off from work. That all worked out very well.

That is, until we landed in Cali and we almost missed the shuttle due to our checked bags being taken off the baggage claim carousel before we got to it... so we thought they were lost. Fortunately one of the information desk employees pointed me in the right direction and we caught the last bus to the Paradise Pier Hotel where we stayed during our trip.

Now I have to say something here... there is a reason they call it the Happiest Place on Earth. Every employee, pardon me, "crew member" we encountered during our stay at Disneyland was incredibly friendly; and not just in the park, but the hotels as well. I don't know how many employees Disney has, but to have everyone of us treat us so well was no less than an amazing feat. And I know we only interacted with a tiny percentage of the whole. Needless to say, we were VERY impressed; so one huge shout-out to Disneyland for their incredible crew. Even a groundskeeper we stopped to ask for directions dropped what he was doing to walk us near a block and point out the rest of the way for us; as well as answer a few questions for several minutes. It was awesome. I'll share more about the killer customer service in a bit.

On to the good stuff... (Forgive me... I'm a month-and-a-half late posting this... so the details and timeline may get a little sketchy)

Entering the Magic Kingdom - look how excited they are!!!

We started our first day in the Magical Kingdom a little late due to arriving so late the night before and not being able to awaken as early as we'd have liked to (good thing it wasn't the day of our "Magical Morning") :) We walked all the way across to the other end of the park and hit Denny's for breakfast, then walked back to Disneyland and entered the park.

Right as we walked into the gate, memories of my first visit to Disneyland came flooding back, and I instantly recognized the flowers on display as you enter the park.

Mandi and Kimmie in front of the Mickey flowers

We then went under the railroad bridge and onto Main Street. It was just as I remembered it, and I was so excited to be there. The kids were ecstatic. The first ride they wanted to go on was Autopia, since they could drive the cars. Mandi was especially excited for that one. Her dreams were nearly dashed when we got in line and she didn't meet the height requirement to drive by herself. We misinterpreted and thought that meant she'd have to be a passenger with an adult driver; but I decided to ask one of the ride attendants and they corrected us, letting us know Mandi could drive, but had to have an adult passenger. Kimmie was stoked too, because she also got to drive... (I had to push the gas, but hey...)

I didn't get a good picture of Brennan, but here are Mandi and Kimmie driving their cars... Lesson One, Mandi: Keep your hands on the wheel, and your eyes on the road!!!

Kimmie driving her Autopia car

Mommy and Mandi in their Autopia car

The kids were pretty stoked to get their Autopia drivers licenses after (can you say "money sucker," neighbor?)...

Since we started at the back of TomorrowLand, I figured we might as well hit everything we wanted to there to make the best use of our time. That was a big mistake, as Space Mountain was our second ride, and it pretty much ruined Mandi and Brennan for any other more intense rides for the rest of our stay. :) I guess I didn't remember it being that bad as a kid.

We hit the Buzz Lightyear ride (which ended up being a family favorite and the most ridden ride for us during our stay.) We then rode the rockets, and decided to move on to FantasyLand.

The family in front of the Magic Castle at the entrance of Fantasyland

It also was just how I remembered it. We walked through the story of Sleeping Beauty in the castle. Then we made sure to hit Peter Pan (one of my favorite rides, and now Kimmie's also.) After that, the Magic Carousel, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, the Tea Cups and Alice in Wonderland rides then got some lunch.

Interestingly enough, riding the rides in Fantasyland reminded me that the old-school Disney movies really had a contrast of good and evil, and how dark the evil was. The corresponding rides contained the same contrast.

After lunch, we hit the ride that no one can miss when visiting Disneyland... It's a Small World.

It has been upgraded some since I went, with relevant Disney characters added in their respective cultures. That was really fun, as was watching Gwen mad-snapping pictures throughout the ride. I asked her when we finished if she even got to enjoy the ride (heh.) But what I loved most was the very end of the ride. And not because I was sick of hearing the song over and over and OVER AND OVER... but because of the coolness of the last room before you exit the ride.

What makes it so cool?

Well, when you go through the ride, you get to see all kinds of cultures from around the world, displayed in splendid and vivid color, and it is wonderful. When you get to the end, they re-present the cultures all together in a huge final room. But the really neat thing is that they display them all in white... which to me represented equality for all mankind, regardless of culture. It was very VERY cool. Kudos again, Disneyland; very well done.

It's a Small World

Inside It's a Small World

Inside It's a Small World

After Small World, we made our way up near ToonTown, and noticed a spectacular medieval-looking stage where the Disney Princess Fantasy Faire appeared on the park map. We ventured there since that was going to be the highlight of Mandi's and Kimmie's sojourn in the Magic Kingdom. I asked the crew member managing the 2-mile-long winding line to the Princess Faire how long the wait was. She replied with a smile, "2 1/2 to 3 hours."

I replied, "Wow, so I guess the only real way to handle this attraction is to get here first thing in the morning?" She confirmed, so we decided that would be one of our plans-of-attack for our remaining two mornings.

We made a quick run through ToonTown with the intent of coming back the next morning for our "Magical Morning", because we thought we got to meet the characters there first thing in the morning and what not. While there we snapped a picture with Mickey, but didn't have anything to get his autograph with, so we figured we'd need another encounter before we headed home.

ToonTown - The Roger Rabbit fountain

ToonTown has this cool fireworks building with a detonator out front that the kids can play with to make things explode in the building. We watched a kid set them off. Brennan was intrigued and had to go give it a shot...

Brennan went to the detonator and tried a couple of times to get it to work. When he couldn't, I went over to him and tried to offer assistance, telling him he needed to put more "oomph" in his push on the detonator. It failed for me too... so I left him to try again. Another fail.

What happened next was hilarious... watch and enjoy (make sure to click on the HQ if you can.)

By now, we were pretty tired (legs hurt from walking around all day), hungry (dinner time was fast approaching) and the kids were dying to get Mickey-Ear hats. So we made a stop to let them pick their personalized hats, took one more ride on the carousel in Fantasyland, then headed out of the park to Downtown Disney for some dinner before heading back to the hotel for a break.

Brennan is infatuated with Wizard's Apprentice Mickey lately, so he was euphoric when he found out he could get a Wizard's Apprentice Mickey-Ear hat. Mandi and Kimmie picked cute hats too (Kimmie's has a cute princess train flowing off the back):

Sorcerer's Apprentice Mickey and the Kids

Sorcerer's Apprentice Brennan

Mickey Mandi

Princess Kimmie (front)

Princess Kimmie (back)

We were planning on heading back to the park after dark, to see it while all lit up, but found ourselves so tuckered out that we decided to crash for the night. Besides, the next day was our "Magical Morning" and we wanted to take full advantage.

To make sure we could do so, I talked with Guest Services in the lobby of our hotel, the Paradise Pier. I discovered a misunderstanding I'd had about our vacation package: the "Magical Morning" isn't the same deal as the ToonTown special ceremony; that's a separate additional purchase. So I asked what the "Magical Morning" entailed, and he kindly told me that we got to enter the park and hour early, and that only Tomorrowland and Fantasyland were open at that time.

"Well crap!!!" I thought out loud, "... Those are the two areas of the park we focused on today! We would have saved them for tomorrow had we known that!"

Bless the good man's heart, he took pity on me, apologized profusely, despite the fact that it wasn't at all his fault, and asked me for the names of a couple of rides we were really wanting to go on, so he could give us unconditional fast passes for those rides. I told him we really wanted to hit Splash Mountain and the Indiana Jones ride (the Indiana Jones ride being my most anticipated ride, as I'd never been on it; and I thought the kids would love it, since they've been so into the movies lately. Remember this later when we get to that part of the park...)

Now, if you're not familiar with Disneyland's Fast Pass system, many of the more popular/crowded rides have a mechanism where you can use your ticket to get a special pass for a certain time block where you can return during that time block and advance to near the head of the line, regardless of its length. The pass is only good for your time block and you can only have one in your possession per ticket at-a-time, if I understand correctly.

Well, this fine gentleman gave us a super pass that we could use whenever we wanted (no time constraints.) It was an incredibly nice gesture and was more than appreciated with this newb failure on my part. You'll see how everything worked out better-than-planned when I recount entering the park for our "Magical Morning" in the next post.

Paradise Pier hotel entrance

Stay tuned for Day Two of our Disneyland Adventures...

06 April 2009

As Sisters in Zion

I had the blessed opportunity to live in a little piece of heaven known as Big Stone Gap, VA and Wise, Virginia (southwest corner) for about 6 months of my life while serving in the Tennessee Knoxville Mission (TKM) during the latter-half of 1993.

While there, I fell in love with the people there, including Bishop Yates' family. We had some special times while I served there and I miss them dearly. They and their extended family "adopted" me while I was there. I spent 6 months in their ward, and for 3 of them, kept guessing I would get transferred the next month. My final month there, some of the members joked that if I didn't get transferred that time, I would become the ward's next Bishop. Too funny.

In this post, I'll be focusing on the Yates' oldest daughter, Courtney and her youngest sister, Kristen.

Kristen was 4-5 years old at the time, and one of the cutest little girls I'd ever met. As you can see from the back of the picture of me holding Kristen, her family (including extended family) and I used to joke around about Kristen being my future wife. :)

At the risk of embarassing them (bless their hearts, nothin' but love!!!) this is what we all looked like back then:

Kristen Yates and Elder Litster - Fall 1993
Kristen Yates and I - Fall 1993

Kristen Yates and I (back of photo)

Courtney Yates - Christmas 1993
Courtney Yates - Christmas 1993

So I'd tried and failed twice to hook up with their family while they made two sojourns to Utah for weddings of sisters between Courtney and Kristen.

Luckily, I found Kristen on Facebook a couple of months ago (thank heavens for modern technology!) As we started catching up with each other, I discovered she is currently at BYU. Of course, I had to invite her for dinner, so I could catch-up in person, being as I haven't seen her in 15 years, not to mention I'd like to pay back at least a small inkling of what her parents did for me while I was serving my missin in Wise!

We planned a "dinner appointment" and I brought her to my home on 22 March. The cutie I knew back then has blossomed into a beautiful young woman her parents can be proud of. I was so happy to see her, to hear that she's strong in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and happy.

We talked, looked through some of my mission pictures, ate dinner, played Apples-to-Apples with the fmaily, watched "It's Latter-Day Night" (well, most of it... it locked up on us during the last act) and had a wonderful time. Talking with her, hearing that Southern accent, took me "home" to my mission long ago; so many dear friends that I long terribly to see more now, than ever. (Now, there is more to the story of this night, but I have to wait until later to tell it; for reasons that will reveal themselves then.)

After taking Kristen home, I wanted to detour to the airport and fly out to Virginia. I was hoping to see her again soon, and got my wish earlier than I thought would happen. I learned that Courtney (who now lives in Arizona) was coming up two weekends later to go to General Conference with Kristen. Selfishly, I begged them to come to my homs for Sunday dinner again, so I could see Kristen again and Courtney for my first time in 15 years.

Oh, the trip we took down memory lane; sweet nostalgic goodness. We laughed about all the goofy things we used to do when I got to spend time with their family (I had an electronic whoopee cushion, we played fun mind games with the kids, etc.) There was one time they reminded me of when I was with their "mamaw" (grandma) who happens to be a germaphobe and I love to life (which, for the record, is a bit better than loving someone to death.)

I put a big glob of lotion into some tissue when she wasn't looking. I then pretended to sneeze into it when she was looking, and showed it to her afterward. I'm rotten to the core; but what can I say? Boys will be boys. Good times.

Back to the story. I got to catch up with Courtney, hear about her awesome adoption of a beautiful baby from the Ukraine, learn of her family in Arizona where she is also strong in the Gospel. I was happy to hear about friends back in the Powell Valley ward, sad to hear about some unfortunate things that happened in some of their lives, but overall wanting even more to return and spend more time with those wonderful friends.

We ate gabbed and gabbed, ate dinner, played Phase 10 with the family, feasted on Gwen's world-famous chocolate-chip cookies, and re-watched a new copy of "It's Latter-Day Night" that wouldn't freeze up on us.

I was sad to see it end, but again, the night drew to a close and Courtney and Kristen had to head for home. They either had a good time, or would good sports and humored me when it was time for pictures.

So you've seen the before, here is the after (Note the Celestial glow beaming from the ladies; I'm not worthy to be that close to any of them...):

Kristen, Jeff, Gwen - March 2009

Courtney and Kristen - April 2009

Gwen, Jeff, Courtney and Kristen - April 2009

I'm grateful Courtney and Kristen were kind enough to bless me and my family with their presence, sacrificing their short time together to come patronize my need for nostalgia. :) I sure hope I'll get to see the rest of the family soon *NUDGE NUDGE*

I'm seriously tempted to buy airline tickets to fly out there for a weekend soon. I'm dying to visit!

This was another one of those times where I'm reminded that this life is all about people. We don't get to take anything with us but the knowledge we gain here and the relationships we build with people.

Tread lightly and handle those relationships with care. Don't waste a moment, because you'll treasure them later, even some of the bad moments. I'll never forget those I left in that small corner of Virginia. As Courtney and Kristen were in my home, we repeatedly said how floods of memories came back, as if it were yesterday. It's amazing what a few minutes with someone you haven't seen in years will do for you. So much happiness filled my heart. It always does with reunions like these.

Keep that in mind next time your High School, Mission or other reunion comes around. Too many times, I talk with friends who have no interest in going, but don't know what you're missing. Try it, you'll be glad you did.

Thanks, Courtney and Kristenl "Ah love ye!" And thanks Mom and Dad Yates for raising such a wonderful family, and sharing yourselves with me! You've officially stolen a part of my heart, and I send my love to you. God bless!