Call For Volunteers

I mentioned this in our thread over on the Disboards, but thought it would be easier to keep track of here. If you are interested and willing to become a regular DISDads.com contributor, please comment below. What I’m looking for, primarily, are people willing to do a couple of things:
1. Post regularly to this blog (frequency would depend on the number of volunteers we get to do this, but my goal is that we get 8 volunteers who are each willing to post once/month, which would give us two fresh blog posts/week).
2. Participate in a podcast – at this point, I’m thinking that once/month is a good starting point. If we develop a following and we all get into it, we can consider doing it more frequently. I’d like to get three Dads who’d be willing to join me. We’d probably record in the late evening (after the younguns are off to bed). My plan is to do a recorded Skype teleconference. It doesn’t have to be the same three Dads every month. A rotation would be great too – fresh perspectives and all. Once we get a group of participants, we can start brainstorming topics. In true DISDads form, I’d like to keep the podcast fairly short – no more than 30 minutes. If we end up with more than 30 minutes worth of content, maybe we can cut it up into multiple episodes.

Once we get those two things up and running, we can talk more about using other social media to promote our blog and podcast (like our existing DisDads group on Facebook).

Long-Term Planning

So, our last (and first-ever) Walt Disney World trip was, in many ways, a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip. A majority of the cost of the trip was covered by a small inheritance from my grandmother (I think I’ve mentioned that here before), so we were able to do it up in ways that we could never afford to out of our own pockets (like staying at the Polynesian Concierge Level). We had a wonderful time and all I’ve been able to think about since we left is when and how we’d get back to visit WDW again.

Squeaker (who is now four-years-old) has been talking about going back to Disney World a LOT lately as well (he talks about going to Disneyland too, but that’s another story that I’m going to save for another entry). He was pretty shy during our trip, and wasn’t quite ready to try a lot of the attractions. He’s already talking like he’s ready for more. And the Bug is always ready for more Disney. Mrs. AJRitz has taken a bit more convincing. There are plenty of long-delayed projects around the house that she wants to get going on. And she wonders about other travel destinations (I’m pretty convinced at this point that I don’t much care about other destinations). And she has some perfectly legitimate budget concerns.

But I’ve finally prevailed – we have a trip on the calendar. It won’t be until Winter 2013, but I’ve been given the go ahead to start getting organized and doing the budgeting for it. I’m looking very seriously at going ahead and buying our tickets before the next round of expected price increases in August. That would allow us to buy child tickets for The Bug (even though she’ll be 10-years-old by the time we use them) and avoid a couple of rounds of price increases. I tried to covince Mrs. AJRitz that we should go ahead and buy tickets now for a 2015 trip as well, but she wasn’t sold on that one. :p

It’s a long way away, but at least I have a trip to look forward to. And by the January/February 2013 timeframe we’re looking at, the Fantasyland Expansion project should either be complete or at least mostly complete. With two full years to plan, and one trip already under my belt, this trip should run perfectly! 🙂 So the only question remaining is, do we make it another surprise trip, or do we let the kids help with the planning (and deal with the inevitable “how many more days until Walt Disney World” for two years)?

Midnight Run to Minneapolis – A Mini Trip Report (Part 3)

After a pretty good night’s sleep Friday night, we woke up Saturday morning and the kids were ready to head to what Squeaker had been referring to for weeks as the “amazement park” – Nickelodeon Universe at Mall of America. I’d scored four unlimited rides wristbands on EBay for $71 – they’re usually $39/each. Rather than try and find an inexpensive breakfast downtown, we headed toward the Mall of America (even though we were a couple of hours early for opening). I pulled into a parking lot near the Mall, whipped out my new iPad, and looked to Yelp! again for breakfast suggestions. The most interesting thing that came up was a place that it said served breakfast and brunch called Patrick’s.

We had some difficulty finding Patrick’s at first, even with the help of GPS. Then, we saw the Patrick’s catering van in the parking lot of a huge lawn and garden store. It turns out that Patrick’s Bakery & Cafe dining room is essentially in a greenhouse. The food was outstanding. We got a huge almond croissant, a huge chocolate croissant, an immense cinnamon roll, and a small (about 6″ round) but VERY rich and tasty four cheese quiche. We shared all of the goodies, Mrs. AJRitz and I got wonderful, fresh, french roast coffee and the kids had orange juice. It was like eating breakfast in the garden of a French hotel.

After breakfast, we loaded back up the car and headed back to Mall of America, arriving shortly after the Mall and Nick Universe had opened. With a wink to Mrs. AJRitz, I dropped a subtle hint to the kids about our still-secret trip to Disney World (scheduled for October), by parking the car on the 4th parking level of the Mall of America. As you can see from the picture I took of the parking location sign nearest our car, the levels are identified by states.

Our trip to Nick Universe essentially confirmed what we already thought we knew about each of our children’s reactions to amusement parks. The Bug is an adrenaline junkie. The first things she and I rode when we entered the park were The Fairly OddParents coaster (featuring free-spinning ride vehicles) and the Pineapple Plunge (starring a straight vertical climb, followed by a straight vertical drop and several upside down loops). I’m all for the coasters, but she rode things even I won’t get on. In this picture, The Bug is the girl in pink. The apparatus she’s strapped into is part of the Avatar Airbender ride. And this is the one ride on which she started to get nervous while waiting for the ride to begin. I asked her three times before she got into the ride line whether she was sure that she wanted to ride it. She insisted she was, and once she was strapped in it was too late to get off the ride. But her trepidation turned to joy as soon as the ride got underway, I watched as the ride vehicle whipped by and her frown had been replaced by a huge grin. It’s difficult to pinpoint The Bug in this short cellphone video, but it gives you an idea of what the ride does.

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If The Bug is the amusement park superfan, Squeaker is the opposite. He rode a few rides. The bumper cars were the only one he didn’t hate, and he didn’t really like that one much. He didn’t like rides that took him up in the air and didn’t like rides that moved “too fast.” Despite Nick Universe featuring three of his favorite TV characters as costumed characters – Dora the Explorer, Diego, and Blue from Blue’s Clues – Squeaker refused to have his picture taken with any of them. He didn’t want to be that close to them. He would nervously watch them from afar, Even after watching other children hug and have their pictures taken with the characters, he stood his ground and refused to get any closer than about six feet. He explained that, though they looked like the characters he liked, they were “TOO BIG!” Finding things for Squeaker to enjoy at Disney may be a bit of a challenge.

We took a lunch break in the Mall foodcourt, opting to sit down at Noodles and Company, rather than fight the huge crowd around the food court McDonald’s. While eating lunch, we noticed that a showing of Toy Story 3 in 3D was starting soon at the movie theater upstairs, so we extended the break a bit to catch Toy Story on opening weekend. The Bug was enthralled. It was Squeaker’s first movie in a theater, and he did pretty well for the first 2/3 of the movie or so, but then got bored. He ran laps in the hallway just outside the theater, while Mrs. AJRitz kept track of him from the doorway (so that she could still watch most of the movie).

After the movie, we did a quick circuit of The Bug’s five favorite attractions and then headed back to the hotel to wash up and relax a bit before meeting my college buddy and his family for dinner (he’d finally managed to get back in town from Chicago).

Midnight Run to Minneapolis – A Mini Trip Report (Part 2)

Mrs. AJRitz took over the driving as we pulled away from the Clear Lake Denny’s. The kids initially asked for another movie, but we told them that we’d probably be at the hotel before another movie ended, and they again fell asleep by the time we were back on the highway.

After about a half-hour driving, Mrs. AJRitz asked if I could take the wheel back. The lack of sleep was getting to her. So we pulled off of the highway for a quick Chinese fire drill (which the kids slept through) and I took us on to the hotel. We had called ahead to the hotel at about 8 a.m., to let them know that we were arriving early, and to our delight they had our room ready for us shortly after we pulled up at about 10:00 a.m. The PLAN had been to take a nap until lunch, but those couple of hours of sleep the kids had in the car after breakfast had them ready and raring to go. I did really need a rest, so Mrs. AJRitz took the kids for a walk around downtown Minneapolis while I got my nap.

Our original plan for Friday afternoon/evening was to spend it with one of my old college buddies and his family. We’d hooked up with them on last year’s trip, and The Bug and his daughter had become instant friends. Unfortunately, my friend sent a text at about the time I woke up, letting us know that he’d gotten stuck in Chicago on a business trip, due to weather. So we went to the well of things we’d enjoyed doing last year, and headed toward the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul. We were all hungry by the time we got there, and luckily there was a table for four open in the tiny Mickey’s Diner. Mickey’s was a great find for us – we didn’t realize it, but it’s on the National Register of Historic places, and had appeared on a couple of Food Network shows. Sorry, no food porn pics – there was barely room for the four of us to sit, let alone to whip out a camera.

The kids had a great time at the Minnesota Children’s Museum again. They started in the nature/habitat areas, crawling through ant tunnels and beaver dams and moving clouds to create a thunderstorm. From there, they moved on to the traveling Wizard of Oz exhibition, and then the “occupations” area. Squeaker thought looking at x-rays was pretty cool, and The Bug liked pretending to drive the bus. But both kids’ favorite area was still the one where they make “music videos.” Squeaker always grabbed an instrument, but The Bug preferred scarves that would flow while she danced and sang. Both kids were wearing out as we made our way through the water play area, and they briefly napped again as we headed back to downtown Minneapolis and our hotel.

For our evening entertainment, we lucked into a street festival of sorts just a couple of blocks from our hotel. We walked over, but were ultimately disappointed in the choices available from the food carts. With an assist from Yelp! on my Palm Pre, we discovered that Ping’s Szechuan Bar & Grill was nearby – a name Mrs. AJRitz remembered from her days as a student at the U. We had a really nice Chinese dinner. The Bug tried egg rolls for the first time, and liked them. The kids impressed the restaurant staff by eating with chopsticks (sort of). The food was excellent, and the staff was wonderful – from seating us where the kids could watch the fish in the fish tank to chatting with the kids while we were waiting for our food, to help keep them from getting antsy. After dinner, we had promised the kids ice cream, so we headed back to the street festival and the Ben & Jerry’s cart. As you can see in the picture, I think Squeaker wore as much of his ice cream as he ate.

We returned to the hotel after ice cream, got everyone bathed, and got to bed not too far past usual bedtime, with promises of starting our morning on Saturday at Nick Universe at the Mall of America.

Midnight Run to Minneapolis – A Mini Trip Report (Part 1)

We took our second annual summer road trip to Minneapolis, MN from June 18-20. My wife graduated from the University of Minnesota, and her brothers still live in Rochester, MN. So we took a family weekend trip to Minneapolis, and then DW and the kids continued for a week in Rochester (visiting with brothers-in-law and DW’s parents, with whom we’d coordinated our trip) while I headed back home and to work. All of this background is to explain the decision to get the kids up at midnight on Friday, June 18 to start the drive to Minneapolis. With the “vacation” part of this trip for me limited to Friday-Sunday, I really didn’t want to lose an entire day of that to travel.

The trip couldn’t have started more perfectly. I took a few hours off from work on Thursday afternoon, got the last of my packing done, and went to bed by 4 p.m. (I’d been staying up really late all week, so that I’d be good and tired). DW took Squeaker and the Bug swimming and to dinner at a McDonald’s PlayPlace, with the explicit goal of wearing them out. She put them to bed near their usual 8 p.m. bedtime. I got up at 11 p.m., took a shower to help wake myself up fully, started the coffee maker, and woke DW around 11:30 p.m. We filled a couple of insulated coffee mugs for each of us and put the last few things into the car. We woke The Bug and she dazedly walked to the car, and we carried Squeaker to his seat. We pulled out of the garage at almost exactly midnight, and the kids were sound asleep again before we hit the highway entrance. While DW and the kids dozed, I had Disney Podcasts playing on my iPad to one ear of my headphones.

Just before 2 a.m., DW requested a bathroom stop and the kids woke up in the lights of the Kum & Go in middle of nowhere Northern Missouri. So after that brief stop, the kids decided that it was movie time, and The Rescuers was popped into the DVD player while the kids snacked on Froot Loops.

After The Rescuers, the kids switched to Muppet Show episodes on DVD, and watched a marathon of Muppet Shows until our stop for breakfast just before 6 a.m. Just in case you happen to be driving through Northern Iowa, I caution you to avoid the Denny’s in Clear Lake. Not only was the service bad and the restaurant dirty, but the coffee was lousy. If the kids hadn’t been complaining about being hungry for breakfast for close to half-an-hour before we stopped, we probably would have left and looked for someplace else. Unfortunately, the Perkins Restaurant across the street didn’t open until 7 a.m., and we weren’t up to waiting an hour.

Aside from the coffee, at least the food was OK. Even Squeaker, who frequently considers mealtimes merely suggestions that eating might be involved, ate his entire children’s meal and some of my pancakes too. We were back on the road at about 7:00 a.m., next stop, Hotel Ivy, Minneapolis.

Movie Review: Toy Story 3

Toy Story ThreeFinally – the review I promised a few days ago. Sorry for the delay. I hadn’t figured on the “hangover effect” from the trip home from Minnesota, followed by waking up at 3:00 a.m. to get in line for iPhone 4 (another story, for another time).

I did get to see Toy Story 3 on the Saturday of opening weekend, with Mrs. AJRitz and both kids (it was Squeaker’s first in-theater movie). We saw it in 3D at the movie theater at Mall of American in Minneapolis. There have been plenty of reviews of this movie published all over the ‘net, so I’m not going to spend time rehashing plot details. Rather, I’m going to focus on a few distinct things that I’ve been thinking about since seeing the movie.

Overall Impression
Toy Story 3 gets an A+ from me. I thought it was a terrific film. The script was outstanding – it did a nice job of weaving together a story that children could follow with deeper subtexts for the parents. I challenge any DISDad to leave the theater without shedding a tear – I know I didn’t.

Visual Presentation
As always, the animation from Pixar was gorgeous. No animation house does a better job conveying story with the expressions on characters’ faces than Pixar. The 3D was very well done, it added depth without becoming a gimmick. That said, I think I could have saved the 3D surcharge and been perfectly happy seeing Toy Story 3 on a big screen in 2D.

Story Notes
(Warning: Possible Spoiler Material Contained Herein) There is no doubt that the Toy Story 3 story is substantially darker than either of the first two films. I think the reason for this is that, in previous Toy Story movies, the villain was always a person.  In the first movie, the villain was Sid, the child who abused toys. Woody overcame his jealousy and he and Buzz united the toys to teach Sid a lesson. In the second movie, we actually get our first exposure to a “bad toy” – Stinky Pete. But the real villain is still Al, who would lock toys away in a museum for profit, instead of put them in the hands of children to be played with. Again, the toys come together in a show of true friendship. Woody and Buzz ultimately put all of the Roundup Gang in the hands of children to be played with – even Stinky Pete.

In Toy Story 3, the people barely exist. They are merely tools for transporting toys from place to place or playing with/abusing toys for the vast majority of the film. But the villains are toys – a whole preschool room full of them. I think that this is the real source of Toy Story 3’s darkness. We’ve seen Woody and Buzz and friends in “mortal peril” over and over again in the previous films. But this is the first time that we’ve seen toys act maliciously toward one another, without remorse or regret. It’s the first time that the Toy Story movies have revealed that there ARE evil toys. (In the original film, the toys that we are led to think  might be evil turn out to be helpful, they’re just victims of Sid).

I don’t point this out to denigrate TS3’s story. As I said earlier, I think this script is brilliant. It does a remarkable job of telling a multi-layered story and of hearkening back to the earlier films in ways that make all three feel of a piece. But as DISDads, we probably need to go in prepared both to talk to elementary-aged kids about the scary parts and to deal with younger kids who may be legitimately scared by the “evil” toys.