Thursday, March 16

Disney Awards

After three days at Disneyland, I figured I should do a "review". It's not like the world is lacking for books and blogs about Disneyland, and how to do it "right", so I don't care about trying to help you plan your next vacation. Besides, pretty much everyone I know goes to Disneyland way more often than I do anyway. Instead, I'm handing out awards from our trip. (Only things that we actually did were up for consideration here.)

Best Ride: California Screamin'
Julia and Ella don't hesitate to list this as their favorite ride in the park. Ella was just barely tall enough to go on it. Going in to the week, we weren't sure if the girls would like the bigger rides, but it turns out, the faster the better as far as they are concerned. Also, we went on this twice, with no waiting at all. We could have done it again, but I think my insides would have turned to jelly. It's been a long time since I went on roller coasters.

Most Ridden: Big Thunder Mountain
I think Shannon and I did this 5 times? It was just happenstance that every time we went anywhere near it, the line was either short, or the fast pass time was both short and convenient. It's a solid ride, so we didn't mind going on it again and again.

Worst Ride, kids vote: Indiana Jones
The girls did not like that the ride was dark, scary and jerky.

Worst Ride, adult vote: Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
Longest Wait: Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (54 minutes)
The app said the wait would be 20 minutes. Upon arrival at the line, the sign said 40 minutes. We'd been checking throughout the three days, and found that generally the wait times were a bit shorter than what the signs said. Not this time. 54 minutes, mostly in the sun. Plus, you can get the same experience in your dentist's waiting area if you position the fish tank between you and the TV.

Most Expensive Letter: G
California Screamin', Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters, Soarin' Around the World. Can Disney not afford to put that extra letter on the signs?

Most Closed Ride: Pirates of the Carribean, Matterhorn (tie)
I guess this is what you get for going the first three days in March.

Longest Wait/Ride Ratio: Peter Pan
First, Shannon and I waited in line for 20 minutes or so by ourselves on night, only to have the ride break down. After another 10 minutes of not moving, we got out of line. Of course, the ride started back up again as soon as we were out of line. (We had fast passes that we didn't want to miss.) The next day we waited through another 30 or 35 minutes of the line with the girls. As the ride was ending, Ella's first comment was, "That was short." So, there you go, an hour in line, 3 minutes of Peter Pan.

Best Food: Churros
Duh!

Most Broken Ride: The Haunted Mansion
The line stopped moving for about 10 minutes while we were waiting. We had literally just stepped out of line when it started moving again. (We just stepped right back in to line.) Then the ride stopped 4 or 5 times while we were going through, though never for more than about a minute.

Most Surprisingly OK ride: It's a Small World
The song wasn't nearly as annoying as I anticipated, and the girls loved all the terrible animatronics. It was worth it just to see their eyes light up at the hundreds of dancing dolls. Plus, the line was about 5 minutes long.

Most Realistic Ride: Disneyland Monorail
It was designed decades ago, but somehow Disneyland looked into their crystal ball and perfectly captured modern mass transit. The wait was way too long, there weren't nearly enough trains running, and even when it did come, 20% of the cars were empty because they were broken. The ride itself was perfectly boring.

Most Unknown Attraction: Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk-through
Did you know you can go inside the castle? Does anyone? There's no line, and it only takes a few minutes. You get to see a series of window displays that tell the story of Sleeping Beauty. Very low time investment, if you've got little kids who think going inside the castle is neat.

Most Anticipated Ride: Autopia
Julia was really looking forward to "auto-topia". I think she was a little bit underwhelmed. I think she was expecting something more like go-carts and less like riding lawnmowers on a guide rail.

Thursday, February 2

FHE Activity Plan

This week for family home evening, Ella was in charge of the activity. She's never been a fan of simplicity of succinctness, instead choosing to concoct something of her own. Because I know that many people find it a constant challenge to come up with new ideas for FHE, I decided to take some notes so I could write up Ella's activity so you can use it in your home. Hopefully I captured all the vital details for the activity - if you find yourself confused by any of the steps, we can go to Ella for clarification. This is designed for a family of four, so you may need to make a few adjustments depending on your family size.

Materials needed:
- A broad range of candy. Leftovers from Halloween will do nicely.
- Paper and pen.
- Lego animal minifigs, one for each person.
- Two hats, bags, boxes or something you can draw names out of.

Preparation:
- Gather 5 hard back books of a reasonable size. The topic of the book does not matter.
- Write the name of each person on a slip of paper and put these in a hat.
- Ask each person to select their favorite Lego pet, and put these in the other hat. Make sure you remember who chose which animal.

Activity:
1. Draw a name out of the hat. (Person #1)
2. Ask Person #1 to name their favorite candy. Based on their selection, chose a candy theme. (In our case, this was "chocolate and peanut butter".)
3. Hand out (or let people chose) from the candy selection an appropriate piece of candy matching the candy theme. Things will go somewhat smoother from here on out if there is a diversity of candies picked.
4. Everyone gets to eat the candy. Yum!
5. Collect the wrappers.
6. Draw a second name out of the hat. (Person #2)
7. Ask person #2 to pick a book (Book #1) from the stack of books.
8. Draw another name from the hat (Person #3)
9. Set Book #1 on a table and lay out all the candy wrappers on top of it. Explain that this book represents our pre-earth life as spirits.
10. Have Person #3 select a book (Book #2)
11. Use book #2 to smash all the candy wrappers.
12. Take the candy wrapper of the oldest person out from between the two books. Explain that while the wrapper is in your hand, this represents a baby in the womb. Then set the wrapper down on top of book #2, which represents birth.
13. Choose another name out of the hat (#4) and have that person select a book (#3).
14. Complete the gestation and birth of each other person/wrapper, in age order of course, by taking the wrappers one at a time, holding them in your hand for a few seconds and placing them on top of book #2 (which is still on top of book #1).
15. Once ever wrapper has been born, take book #3 and smash all of the wrappers with it. Explain that the squishing represents death.
16. Pick a Lego pet out of the second hat. (If you haven't exhausted names from the first hat, presumably you would still use those names until everyone has been chosen.)
17. Ask the person whose favorite Lego pet you have selected to pick a book (#4).
18. Move all the wrappers to the top of book #3 (death) moving each wrapper in age order. Explain that the oldest people will die first. Look right at the oldest person in the family during this part.
19. Smash all the wrappers with the 4th book. Explain that this book represents the Spirit World and move all the wrappers to the top of the 4th book.
20. Draw a lollipop from the hat. I lost track of what the purpose of this was, or if the lollipop somehow indicated a specific person, but in any case, this is used to select the 5th and final book, so it doesn't really matter who it represents, because there's only one book to choose from at this point anyway.
21. Explain that all of us (the candy wrappers) will be resurrected.
22. Smash all the wrappers with the 5th book and state: "This represents Jesus' love."
23. Conclude by asking everyone to consider the stack of books and what the represent.
24. Ask each family member to throw away their candy wrapper before going to get ready for bed.

THE END.

Saturday, January 28

Recent Books

Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card
There are books by Orson Scott Card that I haven't read! This is not one of them. I had not, however, read this book since high school. The story takes place on a future earth where the technology has been developed to be able to watch the past. Basically the ultimate DVR machine. Go anywhere in time, see anything you want. Historians clearly work a bit differently with this new tool - they actually watch the past. A few of the people decide that the general conquering of the Americas by Europe lead to a great deal of suffering and lead the world down a very destructive past. Coincidentally, the world is in need to saving, and someone has discovered that they can send things back in time to chance the past. So, three of these historians go back to stop Columbus and re-create the world.

Dead Wake by Erik Larson
From the author of The Devil in the White City, this book is about the sinking of the Lusitania, a big and fancy passenger ship that was sunk by a German U-Boat on its was from NYC to England during WWI. Sorry for the spoilers, but it happened over 100 years ago people. C'mon, read a newspaper! The book spends a lot of time building up to the actual sinking, covering the loading of the boat, the captain, the famous passengers, the not-famous passengers, the weather, President Wilson's dating life, etc. It was interesting, but not terrific.

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
From the author of Dead Wake, this book is about the tenure of the US Ambassador to Germany in the 1930s. If this book doesn't sound absolutely thrilling, you have successfully judged the book without even looking at the cover! The 1930s was a terrible time for a lot of people in Germany - you know, Hitler and all that. But I'm not sure that the viewpoint of William Dodd and his promiscuous 20-something daughter was the most exciting angle. The book covers Dodds attempts to work with the Nazi government to protect Americans from harassment in Germany, get American debts repaid, and encourage the Nazis to not, well, do all those things the Nazis are famous for. His daughter, in the mean time, was dating Nazi officials, that is, while she wasn't dating Russian diplomats. (She was a real piece of work.) This book took me a long time to read, because it just wasn't interesting enough to make me want to stay up reading - 4 pages and I'd be ready to turn out the light and go to sleep.

Friday, January 27

Old Shoes Never Die, They Just Get Thrown Away

Because cleaning out stuff you don't use is nice to do, I finally got rid of a bunch of old running shoes. Consider this the eulogy:

Here lies a bunch of old shoes that have holes in them. I don't wear them any more. The end.


 Don't worry though, because I have new ones.


Tuesday, January 3

The 2016 Yearly Review

It's been a big year here at the Bethletard. How big, you wonder? One bigger than last year.

One part of my daily routine is to read Significant Digits from fivethirtyeight.com, that delivers interesting tidbits of info in the form of numbers, and I like numberse. Sounds like something I can borrow.

1 airplane (round-)trip
It was never intentional or anything, but I boarded a plane for the first time in over 3 years for a trip to Utah. I'd link to the blog posts about it, but we forgot to generate much evidence of our making the trip. You'll just have to trust me.

3 hours, 14 minutes, 25 seconds
Marathons take a long time to run. Also, marathons are dumb. But I ran the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon anyway.

6 years
Ella is as bouncy and talkative as ever. She's really enjoying first grade and has turned in to quite the reader. She loves also loves talking. Also, telling you whatever she is thinking at the moment. We're still working on her "fear of werewolves" that keeps her from going anywhere in the house by herself. She loves to turn everything into a game, project or "experience" (because she cannot for the life of her remember the word "experiment"). Family home evening lessons, for instance, turn into a confusing series of picking things out of a hat, writing lists on papers, folding the papers up, putting them back in the hat, re-drawing them from the hat, and, well, we had to cut her off and tell her to wrap it up, because she could have continued adding steps to the procedure all night long.

7 states + 1 district
Our big trip this year took us through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington DC on our way to see Gettysburg, Washington DC, Shenandoah National Park and Harper's Ferry. Total driving distance was about 1,617 miles. The trip generated one blog post that made the top 10 all time on my blog: DC Trip, Day 3. Evidently the rest of the trip (1 & 2, 4, 5, and 6 & 7) was significantly less interesting. I think we walked about 1600 miles on that trip, too.

8 years
Julia's year was highlighted by her baptism in April. Next on her list might be starting violin and irish dance lessons. She seems to enjoy them both - you'll have to wait until after concert/recital season if you want to know how I've enjoyed them. We have had our first practices with the Blockburger 100% Natural Good-Time Family Band with Shannon on piano, Julia on violin, Clark on ukulele and Ella on wood block bells.

10 years
In October, this blog hit it's tenth anniversary. Apparently I haven't given up on it yet.

33 books
I read 33 books and 12,883 pages this year which divide up nicely into three nearly equal groups: Non-fiction, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and Fiction. My books tag will take you to my thoughts on all the individual books, but I'll hit a few highlights here. I sorted through the list and found that the Fiction group was, far better as a group than the other two. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (3 books) was very gripping, The Rent Collector and All the Light We Cannot See were both beautiful books about people in trying circumstances that I could recommend to nearly anyone. Trigger was a very interesting fiction novel (as I classify them, at least) about gun control. Wonder should be required reading for all of humanity (it is only this far down the list because I've read it before).

In contrast, the Sci-Fi/Fantasy list is topped by books 5 and 6 from the Mistborn Series, which were good, are probably don't even make my top 10 for Brandon Sanderson books. The next two books on my list are Harry Potter 4 and 5, which I've read 3 or 4 times at least, which means the books below that aren't even worth mentioning.

As for non-fiction, Shadow Divers (WWII submarine wreck), Seabiscuit (race horse), and Lost in Shangri-La (WWII plane crash) top the list. They were interesting, but I'm not going to tell you to push them to the top of your reading list.

1281.2 miles
Total distance I ran in 2016. Not all at once, of course. I dragged my butt out of bed 195 times in order to get that done. My only two races of the year were the aforementioned marathon and a 1:28:32 half marathon.  There's a whole tag for running if you really want to know more.

115,359 pages
Total number of pages read by our family. Over half of this was Julia, with Shannon, Ella and me contributing roughly equal amounts.


Thursday, December 22

My Christmas Tradition

I'm not big on traditions, generally. Around the start of December each year Shannon wants to make a list of all the Christmas things that we need to do - places to go, things to see. She's a champion list maker. I don't really care much one way or the other if we watch certain Christmas movies and TV shows (Charlie Brown, Elf, etc.) - with the exception of the Muppet Christmas Carol. I enjoy pretty much all Christmas junk food, but there's no particular one that I find vital to capturing the Christmas spirit.

There is, however, one Christmas tradition that I do keep, and that is to listen to Handel's Messiah, in its entirety on the last work day before Christmas. That's today for me this year. I've been doing this for at least a half dozen years. I've typically used up most of my vacation days for the year in the summer making long trips to Utah, so by the time we get close to Christmas, most of my co-workers are taking lots of time off leaving me in a mostly empty office. It's the perfect setting to crank up some tiny speakers and enjoy some fabulous music. There are several good recordings available on YouTube - I pretty much just pick one at random. So if you're looking for something good to listen to for a few hours you can't do much better than the Messiah, particularly around the Christmas (or Easter, or any other) season.

Wednesday, December 21

I keep reading books

Bertie Wooster Sees it Through by P.G. Wodehouse
If you're not familiar with Hugh Laurie playing Bertie Wooster (and Stephen Fry as Jeeves), well you should be. Of course, once you do, it will be impossible not to imagine those two when you read a Jeeves and Wooster book. I've read several of the books, and they're all largely the same: Bertie gets mixed up with a girl he doesn't really want to be in a relationship with, he offends some stodgy old gentleman, generally makes a mess of a weekend at Aunt Agatha's and then Jeeves, the trusty, ingenious valet fixes everything. The story is narrated by Bertie with his characteristic speaking style. Honestly, these books are one of the rare instances where hearing it (or seeing it) might actually be better than reading it yourself. (As a note, the original title when published in the UK was Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit.)

Duskfall by Christopher Husberg
Have you ever wondered aloud: "What would happen if Jason Bourne was a Jedi, lived in Middle Earth, and teamed up with a pair of sisters that we will call Josephine Smith and Olivia Cowdery?" What? You haven't wondered that? (But I bet now you are . . . aren't you?) Anyway, that's the basic premise for this fantasy novel, which is clearly the first in a series. It's actually pretty good, despite my silly introduction. (Seriously, those parallels are unavoidable - one main character is pulled from the ocean after being shot, suffers from amnesia and is a super assassin, while another pair of characters are working on a miraculous translation of ancient scripture found buried somewhere. Yes, the author is LDS. And presumably has seen (or read) the Bourne movies/books.) But again, the writing is solid, and while some elements may have been borrowed, the story is not ripped off, nor overly formulaic.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling
I read this one aloud to the girls. I wanted to finish it myself just to see it through (Bertie Wooster and I are a lot alike), but I have decided that Shannon will be included in the remaining Harry Potter books. It's been a lot of fun to read these books as a family. As an added bonus, reading them aloud is an excellent way to notice every single time those kids struggle with a challenge that could be solved simply and easily by using a piece of magic they mastered years ago. I can only conclude that wizards are amazingly un-resourceful.

All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
You should read this book. Shannon told me to read this book ages ago, and it sat on my pile. It's about WWII, and Shannon is a sucker for anything about people during WWII, but I wasn't sure that I was excited for a fictional story about the lives of a young French girl and a German boy during the war. But you don't have to be dumb like me, and should just go ahead and read the book. It's both exciting and beautifully written. It's almost like it won a Pulitzer and spent 118 weeks on the New York Times best seller list for a reason.

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
This is the first novel featuring Miss Marple, who went on to solve many more mysteries. While this is not her best work, Agatha Christie novels are always solid with a mystery that seems impossible until the hero finally works it out for you. It's also fun to read a story written in 1930, when telephones were new things, most people didn't own cars and evidently the Vicar could just tag along with the police during murder investigations and no one batted an eye.

Thursday, November 17

Heavy Bag

The other night, Ella put her socks on her hands and set up a pillow from the couch to work on her boxing. She only spent about 30 seconds working the heavy bag before moving on to some other activity.


Tuesday, November 15

Royal Wreath

Here's Ella's most sophisticated hairstyle: the Royal Wreath. She wears this to church nearly every Sunday and 100% of the credit goes to her. (And not her parents.)


Sunday, November 13

Fall at Dawn

The absolute, hands down, best time to be outside is the moments just before and just after dawn. Now, don't misunderstand me. Before dawn is one of the worst times to wake up and get out of bed. But if you manage to do it, it's often worth it.

One of the best things about running is that it gets me outside, sometimes even at this magical hour. And even better, when the sun is coming up later in the fall, and the leaves are changing color, it is fabulous. Most days I run through a wooded area on a dirt path and when the leaves are changing color, its magical.

I am not a photographer. I don't find it an interesting hobby. I don't often take pictures, and I don't own a decent camera. But fall leaves at dawn, when you're underneath them, and the light comes in at a low angle so that every tree for as far as you can see if back lit is breath taking. Its pretty much the only time I ever wish that I could take a good photograph.

The leaves are falling rapidly by now, at least, they are at my house. But here's a picture I took, with my crummy phone, not at dawn, which does a terrible job of capturing how wonderful these woods can look. But I like it anyway.