Magic.

Feedback offered to the staff of a world-class mouse-centered theme park in central Florida.
Good evening. 

Although my family decided on a vacation with your primary competitor in Orlando, we were able and fortunate to spend a few days in the Magic Kingdom and Epcot as well. 

I regret not picking up a few Great Service Fanatic cards and taking the time immediately to write. However, please offer the gratitude of the Hokie family from Syracuse, NY. 

First, on Thursday (8/25). I required my family to experience the ultimate bit of nostalgia within an adventure ride, the Jungle Cruise. While this ride didn’t hold a lot of memories from my own childhood (it’s been 26 years since I’ve been on your properties), Weird Al Yankovic has done some great advertising on your behalf with his song, Skipper Dan. We were only briefly disappointed that our skipper was not Dan. My children, who had a low expectation of this ride – we should call it a show – enjoyed every moment of Skipper Patsy Jane’s monologue. The timing of her puns was spot on. My 16 year old daughter laughed heartily when Skipper Patsy pointed out the incredible flora, particularly the hibiscus, lobiscus, midbiscus, dogbiscus, and seabiscus. My family thinks that my puns are lame compared to those regaled to us by the silver-tongued and seemingly quick-witted Skipper Patsy.

Second, the cast members working with Mickey at Tony’s Restaurant for the autographs on the same day (at park opening) did really well to recover after an incident involving the family immediately in front of mine. Mickey was removed from the room and appeared to have debriefed with his handlers and then my family was permitted photos and autographs with him and then Tinker Bell. It took longer than planned, but your cast members responded well and appropriately. 

Third, on Friday, my 14yo and I were building lightsabers (just a fun activity) in Mouse Gear when we were approached by ‘Matt the Jedi’ from the University of Maine. Matt helped us build the sabers and took some photos of my daughter and me (we opted not to purchase, telling Matt we were just browsing, and he encouraged us to have fun). We expressed concern about the wait time for Frozen Ever After and asked about our Fastpass+ to Mission Space and Soarin’, as we also wanted to meet Mulan in the World Showcase temple in China (the afternoon rain pushed the photos inside). Matt assured us that we could be up to ten minutes late for our Fastpass+ windows without losing our ability to use them and encouraged us to join the Orange Team for Mission Space for the complete experience of the attraction. We expressed to him some displeasure over the Ellen DeGeneres attraction focused on energy and the Stitch’s Great Escape (which my entire family experienced on the 25th). Matt confirmed that a lot of guests don’t care for either of these as there are far superior experiences in the parks. Matt advised us, regarding Frozen Ever After, to be there at the attraction entrance by 8:50 to be guaranteed a ride, though the sign and My Disney Experience app on our iPhones had the wait time at 105 minutes throughout much of the day. We followed Matt’s instructions and boarded our boat on the ride by 9:08pm. We also were a few minutes late to Soarin’ and had no problems experiencing this incredible attraction. Matt really did well. I should add that it seemed there were additional character meet and greets scheduled (Mulan and Aladdin) that should be included on the App.  

Fourth, I met Al from Ft. Hood, Texas at the Refreshment Port between Canada in the World Showcase and Future World. Nice guy and he aspires to ultimately work in your IT department. He said he appreciated that I wanted to reuse my soda cup (because it was a large), but that you require fresh cups. However, instead of a small cup, he was kind enough to provide the same size I offered to reuse. 

Fifth, my daughter and I did not have high hopes for the Agent P ‘game’ presented throughout the World Showcase. However, once she identified the display in the entrance to the pyramid in the Mexico area, she was thrilled at the experience. We played through Mexico, China, and Germany – we loved the yodeling steins in the gift shop in Germany! 

Finally, my family has some dietary challenges for one of our children. While not technically an allergy, she has an inability to absorb fructose. Your food service cast members responded well to our questions and concerns throughout the park. 

There were some negatives.  

Although the water was ‘free’ for courtesy cups, my wife and I agree that it tended to taste like ‘hot dog water’. You know, the water that remains after boiling hot dogs in it. 

Additionally, the Stitch’s Great Escape signage offered no indication that smells would be incorporated into the attraction. My wife experienced nausea for several hours due to the aroma of chili dogs.  

Finally, between 8:25 and 8:30pm on 8/26, my 14yo was meeting Joy and Sadness from Inside Out. Evidently, and she told me immediately after meeting them, Sadness was in a hurry to get photos done and whispered to her, ‘let’s take the pictures already’. I didn’t hear it and, frankly, the fact that we weren’t moving more quickly was up to the handlers and photographer. While I was taking photos myself throughout the day of all the meet and greet experiences, I made it a point to tell the photographers that I would be letting them take their photos and managing mine around them – I know how challenging it can be to work around parents and flashing iPhones; I appreciate the work that your photographers do. 

We weren’t sure how our daughters (16 and 14) would like the parks, their first time at WDW resort, and having been at DL in 2009. The challenge we have is that one would prefer to spend her time on your properties while the other with your competitor. I think we were able to spend ample time for each child in her favorite experiences.  

Please thank Skipper Patsy, Al from Ft. Hood, and Matt the Jedi from the family from Syracuse and add this note accordingly to their HR files.  

Thank you for reading all of this and making some dreams come true. 

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College?

In this article, the author tells her children that she “couldn’t care less” if they go to college.  Please read the entire article before continuing with my response.

While I agree with Cathy’s sentiment, I have to wonder who is paying for this adventure of passion of which she is encouraging her children to embark.  When my children graduate from high school, unless they have jobs, they will be lacking in income.  Don’t get me wrong, they are incredibly bright and talented young women who can learn whatever they set their minds and hearts to – one is an aspiring writer at 13 (who has won Nanowrimo now twice) and the other teaching herself to play drums at 15.

The reality is that they may both have to take odd jobs in whatever industry is available wherever they happen to be.  I’m good with that.  But if they run out of money and ideas, is coming back home an option?  Returning to mom and dad’s rules and expectations for living in the community of a family within the house?  That’s really tricky from a human development perspective.  With many different developmental models to choose from, several put the adolescent (10-25 years old, roughly) as beginning to seek out independence.  However, in the 2010’s, as a western society, we are seeing more and more young people not getting jobs right out of college, not even getting driver’s licenses, and not moving out of their parents’ homes.

Cathy doesn’t mention if she will permit her children to come home discouraged or hurt (from presumably falling in love really hard and getting their hearts broken) or financially depleted.  She doesn’t say whether there’s a hefty trust fund to permit this kind of laissez faire parenting and all of its freedoms or what.  She also doesn’t say how she will deal with things like her children getting illness abroad (possibly while still riding on her medical insurance – see Affordable Care Act), or even if she will see their care and transportation as her responsibility.

I want what is best for my children.  I assume you, if you have children, want the same thing for your own.  I don’t pretend to know what that is much beyond today.  I know I want them to be inspired and to feel the full range of human experience with the very core of their beings.  And I want them to find comfort in their mother and me as emotional support and stability, as well as to find hope in a better day tomorrow.

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Road-Trip.

3friends

Adventure.  Something about just saying the word stirs something in my soul.  And adventure just is not the same without friends.  And, when your friends live 650 and 1200 miles away (respectively), much of the fun is getting there!  It was for me.  A full iPhone of music and a 12v adapter were all I needed to get to my friend’s (Ashley)  home.  Those and a supply of road trip food – aka Large Fudge Rounds.  Having the good fortune of a night of sleep at Ash’s house, we headed to Joe’s.  Joe had only begun to do the math that we were coming to visit.

The surprise was worth it – and so was belting Weird Al on shuffle much of Day 2 of my drive.  With Ash.  At the top of our lungs.

Day 2 saw us arriving at Joe’s place in the middle of the afternoon.  He didn’t have to work that day, but was chilling a his house when we pulled up, skimboard in hand.  Ash had the awesome genius to ask him if he wanted to go to the beach (he was severely injured in a skimboard incident about 8 years ago) to which he replied (simply), “No.”

So, we hung out with him, his wife, and his granddaughter for much of the rest of the afternoon and then went out for that southern delicacy, Buffalo Wild Wings, for dinner later, offering Joe anything he needed of our time and our ears. Our mission and our adventure were not about us, but about our friend.  Note: I hadn’t seen Joe in almost 5 years and Ash in almost a year.  Driving to the gulf coast area is not a regular event for me.

As we were talking about what we would do on Saturday, Joe asked if we would be up for helping him with some drama club work.  He was in the middle of building stage platforms for his annual production of Lord of the Rings. Sure! We could turn anything fun and, with three of us, it was fun and efficient.  Joe had all the supplies, so it was a matter of holding 4x4s and plywood while he drilled and drove bolts in.  5 platforms.  Stupid jokes and a lot of laughter, but we worked safely.  Mostly.  At least nobody got hurt.

We ran out of drill/driver power from the batteries, so we charged the battery while we took a side adventure.  So, years ago, I worked for a company that had a presence where Joe lived.  And nearby, there was rumored to be a statue to pay homage to the Boll Weevil, agricultural pest, and destroyer of cotton.

None of us had any better ideas, so Joe took me up on my humble quest.  Not knowing how far away it was, after 10 minutes, I asked Joe where we were going.  His simple answer, “You wanted to see the Boll Weevil statue.  So, that’s where we’re going.”

And that’s where we went.  The selfie above are the adventurers and, featured behind Joe, the only monument ‘dedicated to an agricultural pest’ according to the Wikipedia article that was read to us by Ash in his Colonel Beauregard accent.

After containing ourselves and getting a few selfies with the majesty of the boll weevil monument behind us, we piled into the Cooper and attempted to see the original before it was vandalized over the years.  The museum was supposed to open at 10am, but nobody was there, so we headed back to the school, which included adding some gas to the car.

Then Ash got the idea of pure awesomeness of getting a selfie or two of us disappointed that the museum was closed and locked.  Only, when we got there, it was open.  Wait, what?

Two dollars for each of us was forfeited by the museum employee because she couldn’t make exact change and bartered our admission for help carrying some new properties into the main exhibit area of the museum.  Not much to see, there, but for 3 minutes of work, it was worth it to see the original statue including a not-to-scale boll weevil which made its way into yet another photo with Ash and me.

With some barbecue and newly-charged drill/driver battery, we completed the stage construction and the rest of our day included more laughter and dinner.  The photo above, with more consideration, makes me smile even more knowing that it was pure joy that we had that time together, though it was not nearly enough.  I absolutely love these guys and am already looking forward to seeing them again.  When?  I have no idea.  But it must happen.  I need it to happen.

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Man.

I spend a lot of time considering and discussing with others what it means to be a man.  For me, a man is a male who is comfortable in his own skin.  Sounds simple, right?  It’s more simple on this side of the question than where I was about 10 years ago.

I was quite lost.  I was hyperapologetic toward anyone and everything that I may have offended.  I was afraid – and I had no idea of what.

I posed this question to a few of my friends that I consider to be solidly aware of who they are as men.  Here’s what they came up with.

Not that being self-aware as a man has anything to do with a woman, but one said this, “I hold fast to the need for a man to know himself to have the capacity to enter any relationship of depth with a woman.”  It’s not about her.  It’s about him.

“Manhood entails Courage, confidence, tenderness, toughness, resilience and heart.  All are borne of adventure, failure, victory, and a pursuit of truth.”  

Finally, to even ask the question about what women want in a man is to ask the wrong question.  It reeks of a lack of confidence and going to her to find out who you are.  Men and women are drawn to men who are authentically confident – not those who look to others for validation.

What is interesting to me is that, when I challenged a different audience that was co-ed with the comment (in a thread that someone else had started) about the opinions of women bearing less weight than the opinions of men, the discussion simply ended.  Further, out of 16 individuals who responded to the original question, 2 of us are men.  The other 88% are women.

I feel like it’s pretty telling when men are silent on the question of what it means to be a man.  I think there are a few possible reasons.  it’s most probable that they really do not know the answer to that.  Another possibility is that their answer is so wrapped up in the feminine that they aren’t able to confidently answer it without looking to women to do so.

So, if you’re a man, what do you think makes a man a truly worthwhile friend or ally?  Why?

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Munchkin.

I promised a few friends I’d put together some tabletop game reviews – the same friends who were kind enough to suggest to me family-suitable games, particularly now that my bride and I aren’t working evenings.

The first such game is an award-winning card game called Munchkin, and was developed by Steve Jackson of Austin, TX.  Munchkin is a role-playing game without the role-playing.  Essentially, it’s all about the action.  You know, the opening of doors, the killing of monsters, and the taking of treasure.  There’s one major point of the game that’s different.  While it’s a “collaborative game”, players are encouraged, from time to time, to (within the context of the game) “stab your buddy.”

The rules of the game can be found here in PDF format.  I’,ll not spend time explaining them.  The goal of the game is simple: to get to level 10.  All players start at level 1.  It’s a pretty basic race.  If you want to see game play in action, check out Wil Wheaton’s TableTop episode.

Just like a full-on role-playing adventure game (a la Dungeons & Dragons), players come in various genders, races, and classes.  Only in Munchkin, all player-characters start as humans with no class and with whatever sex their players were born.  Thus, mine is the only male character to start the game in our family.

The game itself comes with a single 6-sided die (d6 for you gamers) and two decks of cards – doors and treasures.  Oh, and the rules.  There is no board (you can make one – like my younger Princess did!) and there are no tokens to count character levels.  In the TableTop episode, they have a board (from the Deluxe version of the game) and tokens to move on the board through the levels.  Another YouTube video shows players using 10-sided dice (d10) to count their levels.  For the uninitated, the d10 counts from 0-9, and, well, the game doesn’t require a 10 because that just means that it’s over and the winner is declared.

The whole game is so tongue-in-cheek from the rules, to the artwork, to the names of the monsters, and even the game mechanics.  Even determining who starts the game is snarky. “Decide who goes first by rolling the dice and arguing about the results and the meaning of this sentence and whether the fact that a word seems to be missing any effect.”  The point is, it really doesn’t matter.

Player-characters take turns “kicking open doors” – that is, taking a door card.  If there’s a monster, they need to fight it or run.  If not, then they are subject to a curse or get to keep whatever card they get and add it to their hand.  If they want, they can fight a monster from within their hands, or do what’s called “looting the room”.  This is simply taking (without showing the other players) another door card to play later.

Play rotates around the table with various activities that earn levels, and some that lose levels.  All monsters have something called “bad stuff” that happens if the player-character is unable to run away.  Not all monsters will actually kill the player-character.  Regardless, characters don’t completely die.  They just start over.  This is better than someone having to leave the game table.

The game mechanics are impressive.  For example, there are Big and Small Items.  Big Items are the only item that a character may hold at a time.  However, an infinite number of Big or Small items may be held in the character’s pack.  And characters (whether elf, halfling, human or other) all only have 2 hands, 2 feet, and 1 head.  So a character may not employ 2 items of headgear or combinations of items that require or more hands.  This just makes sense in the Munchkin world.

One of the awesome mechanics of actual gameplay is that players can bargain for help fighting monsters.  Combat strength of a single character may not happen to be more than that of a particular monster during a turn, so the player may offer some of the monster’s treasure for help.  This might be done with offering any number of treasure items and even to the point of giving the other player the choice of which treasures to receive.  It should be noted that once a character is committed to battle, another player may add difficulty to the monster or decrease combat strength for the character fighting.  No, this is not your average 10 minute card game.

In fact, the game might take an 60-90 minutes or so with characters helping and harming each other.  In fact, I don’t think we actually ever needed to shuffle the cards yet in the middle of a game.  With the Princesses being 14 and 12, there’s been a lot of laughter and fun.  That’s why I chose it – that and the awesome encouragement from several game players I’ve “met” online.  It’s a fun and snarky way to enjoy some quality family time.

I’ll add this.  The game developer recommends ages 10+.  User feedback via BoardGameGeek.com suggests 12+ with 10+ being a close second in the poll.  And it’s suitable for 3-6 players with 4-6 being recommended.  Because it’s hard to gang up on someone when there are only 2 of you.

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Dog.

Have you ever heard of the Restaurant Dog?  No?  I’m surprised, because my family first became aware of this magical little creature several years ago.  We were out to lunch together at a midweek pizza buffet.  My young children had this unsanitary habit of jumping off their booth seats and onto the floor under the table.  Why?  Because they were still of the age they were learning to clean up their own messes.  Note: they are now adolescents and this behavior seems to have self-eradicated.  Every little piece of pepperoni or sausage or breadstick dropped was dutifully followed by a small child near-leaping off her booster seat to scoop it off the floor.  In hindsight, I’m really just glad they didn’t opt to eat the, um, fruits of their labors.

In order to convince the little monsters not to participate in this new ritual, I shared with them and their mother the story of the Restaurant Dog:

At every restaurant, there is a dog.  The dog is not given dog food (much to my professional dog trainers’ chagrin, no doubt) all day, but rather is trained only to eat what has fallen from table, mouth, seat, or lap that falls to the floor.  This phenomenal and magnificent beast (photo above) is permitted, nay required, to eat all the scraps in the restaurant.

When the children have asked why they have never seen the Restaurant Dog, I politely and ever-so-deceitfully explained that the Restaurant Dog isn’t permitted on the restaurant floor in the dining area because there might be someone (heaven forbid) allergic to dogs and the owner would face a grave lawsuit should someone get sick from his or her allergies.  And, we wouldn’t want that.

Over the last several years, the Princesses have given me the, “Dad, we know there’s no Restaurant Dog!” retort.  However, while visiting some friends, it was pure joy when they shared the legend of the Restaurant Dog with their new friends.  Their friends laughed with them at the story and their friends’ parents (our friends) were hearing the same story from my bride and me.

I’m willing to bet that, when they have children of their own, the legend of the mighty Restaurant Dog will be passed on to our grandchildren.

What traditions and stories have you started, on a lark, in an effort to engage your children or nieces or nephews in appropriate behavior?  Please share in the comments.

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