Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day!

Merry Christmas!  It was a beautiful white Christmas here, and it was so great to spend it with Julie's family.  My wife is so amazing, she managed to surprise me so many times with presents, which is no easy feat when we live together and didn't even really go shopping separately.  My favorite presents are this, this and this, but ask me sometime about the fortune cookie...  !!!!!  (Though seriously, in this day and age, I love getting the practical things like sweaters and shoes and dress socks too, not to mention the pearl snaps.)  I managed to throw her off the scent for a couple of mine too, and Julie's special surprise presents for her family were a big hit.  Our new photobook from Blurb even came a couple days earlier than expected, so we were able to enjoy that for the big day as well.

We're also really excited about a couple new Wii games, but we're still quite baffled at the source of one of them...  In case any of you don't know, it appeared at our house a few weeks ago in an Amazon package addressed to me, but without a packing slip or note or anything, and neither of us ordered it.  I thought it would be revealed throughout the course of this moste special day, but alas, not a word!  I wonder if the mystery will ever be solved.  I guess it must truly have come from Santa Claus, but whoever it was, much thanks!  William quite enjoyed playing it with me this afternoon.  I just love that Diddy Kong, and now he has a jet pack!  It's a Christmas miracle!

For those who didn't see it, here is our delightful Christmas card.  We were so excited to do one!  We didn't really have time to get one together last year, so this is our very first.
Much thanks to Artography by Kami for the great photo, and for Julie for making it look even better.

God bless us, every one!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve!

'Tis the night before Christmas!  We are in Missouri spending the week with The Wife's family for the first time.  Here's the rundown of what has happened so far today:
  • Had pancake breakfast with so many wee niece and nephew types!
  • Watched fresh snow fall beautifully, and the kids excitedly get in their snowclothes and run out to play.
    • Took a Walmart (etc.) run with the brother-in-law and his Santa hat-wearing 1.5-year-old daughter for some last-minute presents.  We had a great chat about society and iPods and modern parenting and running. 
    • Had a delicious lunch of Reuben sandwiches.
      • Wrapped Julie's presents and added them to the pile under the tree while talking to the sister-in-law (brother-in-law's wife) about our respective family traditions.
      • Tried to make friends with some sassy household felines. (I'm getting there.)
        • Played "Balter" with the kids (they had watched Balto earlier that day.  My part was Boris, the goose).
        • Had an awesome, festive buffet dinner, which included ham, French onion soup, fruit and vegetables, a meat, cheese and cracker tray, clams and oysters, cranberry juice, and egg nog.
          • Was dogpiled violently and mercilessly by three kids under the age of six.  I was laughing so hard.
          • Watched and participated in the Christmas Eve program, which included musical numbers, a reading from The Friend, a viewing of Luke II, setting up the porcelain crèche, a live (brief) Nativity, a couple rounds of Telephone at William's insistence, trying not to fall asleep (still recovering from our late arrival last night) during a reading of the Christmas story from the New Testament (though the little ones made sure I didn't nod off), and playing Christmas songs on the piano while the kids put on their new pajamas and made ready for bed.  (I should mention here that Julie played a duet with me.  *sigh*)
          • Had an impromptu photo shoot with Julie in front of the Christmas tree.  She was exceedingly fierce and really worked her angles.  I was similarly smoldering.
          • Opened an early Christmas present from a six-year-old nephew (an envelope containing sixteen cents in change).
            • Currently watching It's a Wonderful Life with the in-laws while Julie gets in some girl-talk time with her sister in the other room and people make final preparations for the morning, and getting ready to put on the pajamas Mom sent along with us.
            I love Christmas Eve.

            (Consider this my Annual Christmas Eve Journal Write, Melody.)

              Tuesday, December 21, 2010

              The Chronciles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

              A couple of weeks ago the latest installment of the Narnia film series was released.  We went on opening night and I really loved it!  I guess I can't say I was more excited to see this than I was to see the latest Harry Potter, but I did have to think about it for a few minutes.  I get more into the hype of HP, but Narnia makes me feel all happy and warm inside.

              So Disney has for some ridiculous reason(s) relinquished their hold on the Narnia film franchise, but luckily Fox teamed up with Walden Media to produce the third in the series.

              It was wonderful to see that with a new director and even a new studio, the film is very consistent with the world and feeling created by the first two movies.  It feels very much like a believable continuation, picking up with a slightly older Edmund and Lucy, as well as newcomer Eustace Clarence Scrubb as they join King Caspian on board The Dawn Treader.  It was great to see Caspian again (having by now thankfully ditched the distracting accent in favor of his natural English inflection), and Eustace was a nice addition, though I'm afraid to say the actor chosen was sort of repulsive at times (and yes, I know that's sort of the point of Eustace, at least at the start, but it made it kind of difficult to even watch him act for a while).  The (almost completely) returning cast are always great to see, even as far as Tilda Swinton returning with yet another cameo as Jadis, which would lead nicely to her possibly playing the Lady of the Green Kirtle in The Silver Chair, should the film series continue, and there are brief appearances by Peter and Susan as well.  The movie was as faithful an adaptation as the films ever have been, sincere in theme and message, making slight story adjustments as needed, and as appropriate, but maintaining the established Narnia feeling and tone.  The score was excellent, incorporating a few new nautical themes while maintaining the major Narnia themes thus far expected, even though a new composer has been enlisted (unlike the composers for other recent franchise films, who totally ignore the iconic themes of the series up until that point...  Yes, I'm looking at you, Deathly Hallows composer Alexandre Desplat...).

              I admit The Voyage of the Dawn Treader didn't affect me as emotionally as the previous two (especially Prince Caspian--that movie made me feel some kind of miraculous cinematic emotion for whatever reason), but I think that's just because the story structure and one-quest-to-the-next format of the storytelling don't really get to me quite as much.  It was still excellent, even if just to see them continue the wonderful series in such a consistent and quality manner.

              So it was an excellent evening in the theater, and I was glad to see a good number of people present, though from what I hear, I still fear that low numbers could be the demise of this series from this point (which is, I think, why Disney passed over the reins after unfortunately lackluster box office numbers for Prince Caspian, which is also a bummer since now I won't hear about it on my various Disney podcasts or see it in any capacity in the parks).  I encourage everyone to see this movie, take your family, tell your friends, spread the joy.  There's so much rubbish in the theaters these days, I think we really need to support when such quality films come out.  It seems like a lot of people didn't even realize it was out yet.

              I really can't think of a way this movie could have been better.  Keep it up, Narnia.  I'll be buying my tickets to The Silver Chair around 2012 or so.

              Tuesday, December 14, 2010

              Pen and Pencil

              Hello!  I write to you today with a short but shameless little plug.
              Official logo currently in progress
              As most of you know, one of the many things that Julie and I have in common is our inclination toward the visual arts.  My degree is in animation, and there was a time Julie studied illustration.  We both keep regular sketchbooks and love to draw.  And, while we both have art websites and/or online portfolios, we were thinking it would be fun to have some kind of joint online project where we could post some of our more current work (and sometimes maybe not so current), even if just for a few interested parties to see, and of course for our own pure joy of creating and sharing art, not to mention motivation to try new things and keep creating, even when we're busy or artistically frustrated.  We decided the easiest way to do this would be to create a blog on which we could both post and contribute.  So, we are very proud to announce the launch of Pen and Pencil*, our brand new space on the interwebs devoted to our art!  It's very much a work-in-progress at the moment, and there will new posts and overall design updates as time goes by, but for now, there's a welcome note, and there's a first joint post.  We will be posting artwork there occasionally, some by me, some by her, and some by us, since we have taken to joining artistic forces lately (a lot of times, I'll do the rough sketch and Julie will take it onto Photoshop and work her magic there, or some variation of that formula).  We're not sure how often we'll post, but we'll have regular updates, so visit often and take a few moments to experience some visual and artistic stimulation.

              If it's your kind of thing, we would be ever so glad if you would follow us, or link to us (we're happy to exchange links with other art blogs or websites we like), and/or add us to your blog Reader/bloglines.  So, visit!  Enjoy!  Comment!  Subscribe and follow!  Tell your friends!  Add us to your Reader!  Return often for updates and original arts by me, her, or us!

              Much thanks. 

              ... Tell your friends.


              * Blog name derived from the fact that I generally use a pen when it comes to sketching, while Julie usually prefers pencil.

              Friday, December 10, 2010

              Thanksgiving 2010

              Has it really been two weeks since Thanksgiving?...  Wow.

              Well, we had Thanksgiving!  It was a delight from start to finish.  Of course I was still kind of glowing from the Tangled experience, but there were good times to be had, so off we went.

              We started with Amber's annual Cedar Hollow Turkey Trot in Lehi.  Julie wasn't feeling well, so she wasn't able to attend (though she was much missed by all), but Mom, Dad, Cami, Melody, Jonny and I all had a good time running the 4-mile race in temperature that measured in the mid-teens (yeah, it was cold).  I came in second overall at about 30:17, just a few minutes after Jonny, and everyone made good time.  It might have been the option of either hurrying really fast or dying from cold.  The hot chocolate and cider at the finish line was certainly much appreciated.

              I went home to retrieve my now feeling-much-better wife, and we made a few dishes and headed to Mom's house.  It was a delicious feast including all the things we hoped to see, a it was great to be with such a lot of family (though Emily, Elise and Matt and their respective families were missed).  Julie's doubled-recipe green bean casserole was a big hit (which you can observe below), as was her now-famous Pumpkin Whoopee.
              We relaxed for the rest of the day and tried to get some rest so we could be ready for Black Friday the next day (never has been one of my traditions, but Julie thinks it's fun).  In short:

              • Target with its insane line-up outside the store and wanna-be security "cops" with a power complex manhandling people = FAIL.
              • Target with its no Lego Harry Potter for the Wii = FAIL.
              • Target with an open express lane so we could buy our two DVDs without having to wait three hours in line = win.
              • Walmart with its "on-sale starting at 5 am, but really we're giving out tickets at around midnight, so don't bother trying to come later than that to get that really good deal" = FAIL.
              • Walmart with its "ON SALE camera price, but really it's the regular sale price" = semi-fail.
              • Sam's Club, with its low crowds and regular sale price of a beautiful new LCD TV, which we much needed, and which I love = WIN.
              It was so nice to spend another Thanksgiving here at home, but according to schedule, we should be in Missouri next year, and I look forward to enjoying the holiday the Christensen way for my first time.

              I am thankful for so many things, but what I am most thankful for is my beautiful and patient wife and the Gospel that allows me the very real opportunity I have to be with her forevermore.  Smooches.

              Monday, December 6, 2010


              It's out!  I have seen it!  (Twice now!)  I really liked it!  (Even more the second time!)
              Here are my animation-major (that is, -snob) thoughts.  I'll try not to make it TOO long, and break it up for easier perusal.

              First, some pros:

              •  It was a Disney movie through and through.  As much as the trailer tried to convince me that it was a so-so Shrek knock-off, this is no film from DreamWorks.  There's nothing cynical or sarcastic about it at all.  It was sincere and sweet, honestly funny and genuinely warm (without, I should point out, being sappy).
              • It did look quite beautiful as a film.  Rapunzel's hair was really pretty stunning to watch, and it was interesting to see how they handled it, even as sort of a character itself (though not as a sentient, thinking entity as the previews made it seem).  The light and the colors and the sets were all really interesting and notably Disney as well.
              • The story was strong and the characters really propelled it.  It didn't rely on potty humor (at all) or cliché plot devices.  In hindsight, there are hints of previous Disney films reflected in the story (Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Aladdin), which is probably partly why it fits so well in the Disney canon.  It was contemporary without being overly-anachronistic, and it really surprised me in a couple of places (since I was pretty much spoiler-free with this one, which is not my usual thing with Disney movies).  I won't give it all here, so as not to ruin anyone's future enjoyment, but it really was funny and the ending was surprisingly touching.
              • The characters were charming and likeable.  Rapunzel and Flynn Rider are an excellent unlikely duo, and their relationship is believable but also really fun.  Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi provide both the speaking as well as singing voices for their respective characters, and are both fine voice actors.  I was hesitant about Mandy Moore, but as it turns out, she does pretty well with voicework for animation.  At times I forgot entirely it was Mandy Moore, she just knew the character so well.  Design-wise, she was cute and believably young, naive and optimistic, but still spunky and funny.  She had a really nice arc of development, growing up just enough to keep her endearing but making you care about what happened to her.  Zachary Levi also played his part with charm and swagger, but also really knew his character and where he was supposed to go.  I don't really know him as Chuck, but word is that a lot of people are surprised at his performance in this, especially his unexpected singing voice.  His development was a little more subtle than Rapunzel's, but it was just as it needed to be for who he was.  Mother Gothel is a standout Disney villain, with a surprisingly subtle and nuanced character, and Broadway veteran Donna Murphy was an excellent casting choice.  There was a slew of secondary characters (the "Pub Thugs") who perform their function adequately and amusingly.  Also, as a sort of departure for this sort of film from Disney, the animal sidekicks did not speak, but their acting was perfectly clear regardless (which is a real sign of great animation--non-speaking characters emoting and expressing dialogue--see Dumbo and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron).
              • The music!  Don't get me wrong, Randy Newman did a fantastic job with his work on The Princess and the Frog, but it was great to see (read: hear) Alan Menken back in action.  The man really is the sound of "New Disney," and his writing was in fine form for Tangled.  It's interesting because it is sort of a unique sound compared to some of his other work for the studio (a little more pop than his other more Broadway-styled work, think Enchanted rather than Beauty and the Beast), but it's still decidedly Disney.  I liked the songs and score when I watched it, but it grew on me even more each time I listened to the soundtrack (which is to say at least once every day since I saw the movie--in fact, I'm listening to it even now).  It has all the types of song you would hope to hear in a Disney movie:  The main character's "I Want" song, setting the stage and developing the character; a fun and memorable villain song (with its more sinister and dynamic reprise); a random story progression showstopper featuring a band of secondary characters; the love song; a thrilling and moving score.  "I See the Light" is a lovely and understated love song, and fits perfectly in the Disney songbook:

              Now for just a few minor cons:
              • I just kept wishing the entire time it were a traditionally-animated film.  I love the look and feel of 2D animation so much, it just seemed in some ways a shame that Disney's "50th Animated Feature" should deviated in such a fundamental way from the artform that the studio is so famous for and perfected.  It was pretty enough, and in a lot of ways really played like a 2D film though, so I was able to mostly get over that (after all, it's not like I'm against ALL 3D films, as Pixar has yet to let me down).  It was more about the characters and the story than the medium, and it didn't rely entirely on the form of visuals used, but there were a couple of visual/story things that didn't seem to work quite as well.  For example, someone flying through the air over a castle tower and landing astride a horse or sliding down a conveniently-placed slope to safety after falling hundreds of feet down a ravine just seem to work when they're hand-drawn, but the element of slightly more realism in a 3D film seems to just make those sorts of things... kind of hard to accept.  Also, Rapunzel's eyes are just SO big.  It worked with Ariel and Jasmine, because they were drawings, but when it comes to this, it's a little off-putting and distracting.  You get used to it, sure, but I muttered to Julie about how big they were more than a few times.  Sometimes I see drawings of the characters and just sigh at how it could have been, the drawings are just so beautiful (see here and here and here).  Anyway, I could go on, but there you go.
              • I still think it should just have been called Rapunzel.  I know the reasons they changed the title (a few times actually), or the few reasons they seem to hand out, and they make sense to me, but I just don't think it was necessary.  It just doesn't seem like the Disney thing, but then again, neither did the marketing campaign, which, I should say, according to box office reports, seems to have worked.
              • It made me the slightest bit sad to see the Disney movie I've been dreaming of working on for over a decade made without me (yes, I have character sketches of Rapunzel from 9th grade), but at least it was made, you know?
              So yeah, I had some minor issues with it, but I just can't not like it, it's just too much of everything I love about Disney movies.  It wasn't directed by Glen Keane, as had originally been announced, but his influence was quite evident in the character design and general look of the movie.  Overall, I really liked it, but it just didn't make me feel like The Princess and the Frog did.  (I still cry when I watch that movie, and this one did get me a little emotional, but not to quite the same level.)  I do get a tad defensive when people say things like "the first classic Disney film in years!" or "FINALLY a Disney princess movie!", because, HELLO, there was one barely one year ago!  And it was classic in a couple of ways that Tangled never could be.  That was the one that really needed the box office attention, which, sadly, it didn't seem to get.  I believe Disney will on occasion go back to their roots, since I really think both 2D and 3D animation can co-exist in life, but at least 3D films are getting better and not relying so much on the gimmick of the shiny look and feel.  And anyway, Tangled was a sight better than Disney's previous computer-animated films (don't get me started on Chicken Little...), and I'm glad to see it doing well.

              As a sidenote, one of my friends from school worked on it, and I was inordinately excited to see the name of someone I know personally in the credits for a Disney movie.  He has achieved one of my life goals, now I hope to one day do likewise.

              I highly recommend it, but REALLY people, if you haven't seen The Princess and the Frog yet, PLEASE do.  I have it on DVD and even Blu-Ray if you need to borrow it.

              Sunday, November 21, 2010

              HP7.1, take 2

              Yes, we saw it again last night.  Some friends who hadn't seen it yet really wanted to see it with us.  We didn't get to sit with them (assigned seating when ordering movie tickets online has its drawbacks), but they were pretty close, and it was still SO good.  And we didn't die on the freeway due to the blizzard on the way there or back.

              Did I already say "ACCIO PART 2"?...

              Friday, November 19, 2010

              Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

              I have seen it.  It was amazing.  I looked like this the entire time:  O.O
              As much as I complained about them splitting it into two movies, this gave them a lot more time to really show more of the events of the book and develop these kids into the grown-ups they're being forced to become.  Gone are the days of Potions finals and Quidditch matches.  Harry and Co. are have much bigger fish to fry.  In past movies they were able to cut a lot of extra things that didn't really have to do with Harry directly, but in this book, just about everything centers around Undesirable No. 1, so it seems like the right decision to split it up into two (not to mention the obvious financial benefits to breaking your big finale into two huge cinematic events).

              Yesterday to get into the spirit of things, I did this during some downtime at work.  It's not anything super special, but it's fun to try new things with layers and shading and gradients, and angsty Harry is always an interesting subject.

              We had fun at my first-ever HP midnight showing.  The crowd was energetic but under control, and we had a fun time with the Lius, the Barbers and cousin Britney (we missed Elise and Jeff desperately).  I didn't even feel any overwhelming effects of sleepiness throughout the day.  I kind of thought it might hit me when the 3 pm wall came around, but it wasn't too bad.  Now, at about 11 pm, however...

              Today I celebrated Harry Potter Day 2010 by basking in the memories of HP7.1 and by holding a personal iPod HP soundtrack marathon. 175 tracks, 8.5 hours of songs, 7 full (and/or enhanced) chronological scores, 4 different composers, 1 incredible musical journey

              ACCIO PART 2.

              Wednesday, November 17, 2010

              Three Things I Miss:

              My hair, my beard and my Lili.*  Fortunately at least two of these things are on their way back in full force.  As for the third, we'll just have to wait to be reunited, I guess.

              Also, I kind of miss that Asphalt Pie.

              * For those who don't know, my BFF and youngest sister Elise packed up her family and moved to Maryland a couple months ago.  This is a picture from the last time we had lunch together, just the two of us before they moved.  I've been meaning to post this for ages, but have only just now sat down and done it.  Drili 4eva.

              Sunday, November 14, 2010

              35th Dam Run

              Jonny insisted we refer to this race by its proper name.  It's been going for 35 years, so "First Dam Run" is evidently no longer accurate (even though the 10K course does still technically go to the first dam).

              Last weekend we (Dad, Mom, Amber, Katy, Brady, Melody, Jonny, Julia, Gabe and me and The Wife) joined Grandma in Logan for the weekend.  We had a fun night of watching more of Grandpa's old film reels, now on DVD thanks to Bree and those who contributed financially, and then went to bed to be nice and rested for the big race the next morning.

              Julie and I decided at quite literally the last second to register to do the 10K instead of the 5K again this year.  We ran the 10K last year (our first ever) and had a good time, but we were worried we hadn't quite prepared ourselves enough this year.  We just decided to go for it anyway.  The course was nice and long, but the weather was cooperative and not too cold.  My iPod worked perfectly the entire time (not like last year), and it was a pretty nice run, rough, but not brutal.  Honestly, after the killer hill of the Hale race the week before, the slope up to the dam seemed pretty mild.  We both had slightly slower times than last year, but we both felt good about our pace and our performance.  I placed 19th overall, 17th in men overall, and 2nd in my age group at 45:11.5.

              Katy was a great babysitter, and although none of us won the treadmill raffle, it was still fun.  Grandma, Dad, Mom, Jonny, Melody and I all won second place in our division, so we all were awarded matching red ribbons.
              And here's the the 36th!  (Hopefully it won't cost quite as much next year.)

              Sunday, November 7, 2010

              Halloween in Provo

              The weekend after our Disneyland trip was of course Halloween proper, and it brought a few key events.

              First, on Utah Halloween (Saturday the 30th), we started out with a 5K in Orem--Highway to Hale, sponsored by the Hale Center Theater.  We ran their winter race earlier this year, and were looking forward to their fall offering, when costumes were encouraged.  We decided to go with modified versions of our Harry and Hermione costumes, and met Mom and Dad for a great morning.  The weather was perfect and the crowd was great, and there were some really creative costumes (among our favorites were two guys dressed as Slinky Dog from Toy Story).  Mom and Dad came dressed as...  Mom and Dad, I guess.  It's a pretty fun course, but has a fairly brutal hill at the start of mile 2, but then levels out for the last half mile or so.  According to the results website, I placed third in my age group and 5th overall with a chip time of 22:01 (and a gun time of 22:39).  I was awarded the medal for 1st, since the overall winners were in my age group and they gave them different awards.  Woot!  Julie did great and was in the top 20 of her age group, Mom was in the top 4 of hers, and Dad placed 1st.

              And no, we didn't run with our scarves, wands or Snitch.
              Go, go, Gryffindor!!!
              But yes, I did run with my glasses on, though I didn't realize it until about halfway through, and by then they weren't really bothering me anyway.
              Later that day (after a sorrowful, but necessary haircut), we were getting ready for the stake trunk-or-treat, and we were excited to try some new costumes this year.  Usually we go with the tried and true fallback of Harry and Hermione (see above), but last year Julie had a last-minute brainwave and this year we followed through.  So, without further ado, I present to you...
              Captain Hammer and Penny!

              Stand back, everyone, nothing here to see.  Just imminent danger, in the middle of it: Me.

              Will you lend a caring hand?

              (If you're among the poor few who still don't know what Dr. Horrible is, by the way, find out.)

              Gathering the costume pieces (at least for mine) was something of a labor of love, but we were glad it all finally came together.  We spent a little time at the stake activity and then to the party a friend and her roommates were hosting, and it was gratifying to be recognized in relatively obscure costume choices.

              The next day, which was actually Halloween, we celebrated by having Lacie and Leland over for a pumpkin feast, including Dinner-in-a-Pumpkin, Pumpkin Whoopee, a little pumpkin ice cream and of course, leftover pumpkin trick-or-treating candy.  It was delicious (and so were the leftovers).

              Almost The Wife is persuading me to like this Halloween thing.

              Thursday, November 4, 2010

              Halloween at Disneyland

              For the first time ever (that I can remember anyway), I have finally visited Disneyland during one of the major holidays.  Halloween at Disneyland is a much enhanced experience, featuring a couple pretty major ride overlays and a significant amount of decorations.  Kids are even encouraged to dress up in costumes, as you can see from Marissa as Snow White in a dress that Julie's mom made years ago, and both Julie and Marci wore when they were very young.  We've been planning this trip for several months, determined to get as much of Julie's family as possible to attend as a sort of family reunion.  We were very excited when it was confirmed that Mom, Marci and the kids were making their way over from Missouri, and of course when Tyler, Sarah and the girls confirmed they would be joining the fun as well.

              Julie and I left on Thursday morning, made great time (without the slightest incident with the local highway patrolmen), and were at our hotel by mid-afternoon.  The others were traveling from Arizona, and with four kids, so they were running a little later than we were, so we checked into our hotel room to rest a little.  We stayed at a favorite of Sarah's, the Del Sol Inn, immediately (and I mean immediately) across the street from the walkway to the esplanade and entrance to Disneyland.  We had two rooms for the whole group, and had been informed that each room only had one bed (Julie and I had brought the air mattress), but were surprised to find spacious rooms with two beds each!  The air mattress turned out to be a big hit with the little kids though, so bringing that ended up being a good call anyway.  We met the rest of our group when they arrived in town at Huntington Beach.  It was a little later than we expected, so we just caught sunset and a pretty much deserted beach at nighttime.  A couple of the kids had "never seen the sea," so that was pretty exciting for everyone.  The water was warm and lovely, but it was night, so we just rolled up our jeans and waded in the shallow water and chased the waves.

              The next day started our two-day Disneyland Halloween extravaganza!  I will illustrate highlights by way of bulleted list:

              • Spending time with Julie's family!  As much as we love to do Disneyland as a couple, it's sometimes fun to go to Disneyland with kids--A couple of the kids were pretty new to Disneyland, but a couple of them are old pros already.  Julie and I were glad to serve as runners for fastpasses and to check on wait times and ride closures opening back up.  It was fun to have a bigger group for rides that take your photo, like the Tower of Terror, Space Mountain and Splash Mountain, and to switch it up with who you sit next to on each ride.  Having so many people was a different experience, we knew before going that it was going to have to be a lot more fluid and flexible, and we didn't do everything we might usually do, or as many times as we usually do, but we did a lot of other things we don't usually GET to do, because we're just two, so it was a great time.  We even had seating for dinner and Fantasmic, which was unusual and delightful.  (Now if only that new dragon would ever be up and running when I go there...)  Plus, Sarah's love of and history with Disneyland rivals mine, so it's fun to go with her in company so we can swap stories and share secrets.  We even met a young couple vacationing from Canada on their first-ever trip to Disneyland while we all waited to order our Dole Whips in the queue area for the Enchanted Tiki Room.  We gave them some tips and ideas to make the most of their trip despite the crowds.
              Rapunzel was in there!  You can tell because her hair is coming out of the tower!

              (That girl behind me was actually really annoying.)

              • Speaking of which, the crowds were great on Friday, and pretty good on Saturday morning.  By Saturday afternoon and night, it was pretty crazy, but we know how to work a busy park.  The weather was fantastic the entire time, I wore long sleeves and was perfectly comfortable with an overcast morning at Disneyland.
              • I came prepared with dramamine this time around.  I am sorry to say that these days I start to get a little queasy after a few of my favorite rides, so I decided I would take something to take the edge off, even if it meant being a little drowsy.  I would rather be a little tired at Disneyland than nauseated at Disneyland.  It worked pretty well, and we even found a kind that was non-drowsy.  Brilliant.
              Silly Symphony Swings!  It's like the Orange Stingers ride they used to have, except now it's Disney-themed.  We had to go on it because it's new, but maybe we won't again for a while because it made us feel really dizzy.

              • Club 33!  Thanks to the generosity of a family friend, we were able to get our entire party into lunch at Walt Disney's super-exclusive restaurant above New Orleans Square that most park guests don't even know exists.  Julie and I had eaten there on our honeymoon, and we were excited to share it with the rest of the family.  Although the reservations had been available in two separate groups, at least they were only 30 minutes apart and we sat in the same dining room.  The lunch buffet was amazing as ever (crab claws!!!) and the entrées were excellent--Tyler even declared his chateaubriand was the best steak he ever had.

              • Halloween Festivities!  Most notable of course is the Haunted Mansion Holiday.  How many years have they been doing this, how many years have I been hearing about it and longing to do, dying with jealousy at all the friends who have gone and seen it?  Too many!  No more!  It was amazing!  The entire Haunted Mansion is re-themed as if the characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas have taken over, and it's a perfect cross-over.  Running from early October to the new year, it's still the beloved Haunted Mansion, but it's an explosion of Halloween, Christmas, the Haunted Mansion and Jack et al.  Amazing.  We rode it once on the first day, and then Julie and I rode it three times in a row the next morning.  I would loved to have gone a few more times (just SO much to look at!), but by mid-day the line was insane, and it didn't let up.  Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy was a fun change for the beloved roller coaster, featuring a new spooky soundtrack and several projected instances of an eerie ghost/alien/creature/comet thing grabbing at you and chasing you.  Main Street was decked out with carved pumpkins and yellow and orange banners, as well as a giant Mickey jack-o-lantern at the entrance hub.  Unfortunately the Halloween Screams fireworks show has been relegated to the twice-weekly, separate-entrance-fee Mickey's Halloween Party trick-or-treating event (along with the costume cavalcade parade), so we were unable to see that (hosted by Jack and featuring flying Zero!!!), but they're only fireworks, right?  Maybe one day.

              • WORLD OF COLOR!!!  So it's been running since June, but this water/light/color/laser/music/film projection show was nothing short of amazing!  The screen of water is enormous, and the dancing colors and lights can only be compared to the Bellagio light show in Las Vegas, but just so much more.  It's hard to explain, but it's incredible.  You can find videos of it on youtube, and while I recommend checking those out to get the idea, you really just can't get the idea of the scope of the show without seeing it in person.  The wait for fastpasses and crowds were unexpectedly pretty minimal, and our view from the bridge to Paradise Pier were perfect.  I've been singing the theme song (alternating with themes from The Nightmare Before Christmas) almost non-stop since.

              It was a great two days, and I'm thinking we just have to make our next Disney trip to the southeastern coast...  It's just been too long for me, and it's been never for Julie.
              Much thanks to Sarah for capturing perhaps our best jumping photo to date.

              So there you go!  A fairly concise trip report by my standards, I think.  You can find more pictures on facebook, which are very entertaining.  I feel so fulfilled to have checked off all of my top priorities for this trip, a couple of them things I've been looking forward to seeing for years.  Lily even declared that she loves me as much as Disneyland, and if you know Lily, that is really saying something.

              Wednesday, October 13, 2010

              Timely Message


              Thank you, President Packer, for saying what I wait every General Conference to hear.  On some issues it just seems that, for whatever reason, the Brethren speak vaguely or generally, their words are twisted and manipulated to meet certain persons' needs and desires.  But in this instance, I felt the purpose and point of the talk were crystal clear.  President Packer's conference address, regardless of the incredible amount of political, social and religious (not to mention hypocritical and pathetic) backlash, was one of humility, compassion and love.  To infer anything else would be willfully and knowingly contrary to the intent and delivery, as would be obvious to any open-minded person who actually bothered to listen to/read the talk.  I've been feeling lately there's a pretty big problem with the rising generation having to do with victim mentality, a sense of entitlement and an overall know-it-all attitude (and I don't exclude myself in said generation).  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a doctrine of empowerment and encouragement, perspective and humility, understanding we are basically nothing without Him.  Ignoring all of that would be a huge personal and eternal disservice.

              Things are getting more and more black and white these days, for better or worse, and lines are definitely being drawn and sides are definitely being taken.  I believe I said several years ago that this would be the issue that divides the Church, and it breaks my heart to see it happening more and more openly and blatantly.  Sinful tendencies, behavior, or even thought patterns of any kind (that's ANY kind) can and must be overcome.  Such is the state of humanity and the promise of the Atonement.  This is refreshing and necessary to constantly review, and really quite empowering.  Thank you again for the reminder, President Packer.

              Thursday, September 30, 2010

              La Caille, Little America and Lion King

              After spending a couple months in England we had grown so accustomed to weekend excursions, so when we came home, probably in an attempt to acclimate ourselves to regular life, we've had a couple of fun outings.  First, after the Beat Beethoven 5K, we had an afternoon visit to Park City where we did a little shopping and a little buying and tried some famous shakes from the legendary Granny's Drive-In in Heber.
              It was nice, but the big plans happened the next weekend.

              Three semi-unrelated short stories:

              • We went to a bridal show at the ultra-deluxe La Caille last summer, and they gave us a gift certificate good for $50 toward dinner on a future visit.  We put it off all winter and spring and said we would use it for an anniversary outing of some sort in the summer or fall.
              • The day we were married we stayed at Salt Lake City's Little America Hotel, and enjoyed the honeymoon package of chocolate-dipped strawberries, bubbly and a souvenir key engraved with our names and our wedding date.  Of course, as we flew to California early the next morning, we didn't have long to enjoy the amenities, atmosphere or area of the hotel, so we thought we should come back at a later date to spend a little more time and explore.
              • When I heard The Lion King was coming to Salt Lake City I decided it was time to finally see it, having read about it and seen pictures from it and listened to the recording a thousand times, so in the spring I bought two tickets for several months later (of course you have to buy tickets six months in advance...  but at least then when the time comes to see it you don't have to put up much cash).  Though Julie suspected that I had bought tickets, I didn't actually break the news until mid-August as an anniversary surprise.  She was really tipped off when I wasn't insisting that we see it in London, where it was heavily advertised.
              Of course, we were in England for our actual anniversary, and we did have a really wonderful time in Windermere, but now we had all these other plans, some of which had practically already been paid for!  So we decided to celebrate our first anniversary again, locally this time.  Luckily the tickets I bought happened to be just days after we came back to town, but imagine our surprise when we learned the gift certificate had expired at the end of July!  I called and explained that we were out of the country but were really looking forward to visiting their ever so fine restaurant, and the fellow on the phone told me if we made a reservation for a day within the week he would approve our use of the almost two-months expired coupon (now THAT is customer service, and a good thing too, because we would have just gone elsewhere otherwise).  Everything was falling into place, and we even had a discounted rate for our two nights in Little America.

              On Friday then, we packed up a honeymoon basket of treats and bubbly and headed up to La Caille in Sandy.  The help was distractingly scantily-clad, but the atmosphere was luxe and interesting and the food was delicious, though obviously a little overpriced.  (As I said, without such a hefty coupon, we both agreed we probably wouldn't have gone).  We felt like it was a little too fancy a place to take photos, but if you do get a chance to go there for whatever reason, even for an event or a bridal show, it really is a charming location.  We went to the hotel, and this time took advantage of the flat-screen TV, the balcony with north view and the indoor/outdoor pool.
              On Saturday, after a little detective work, we bought lunch at our well-loved traveling Chinese restaurant, The Chow Truck, then did some shopping (Gateway, Sam's Club, and the infamous NPS), took an afternoon swim in the ground-level outdoor pool and then had another dinner at Meditrina, a small tapas restaurant on West Temple (again, with a coupon--we know how to eat out).  It was also quite delicious (though again, a little expensive), and good to eat tapas style and finally understand the joke in The IT Crowd about it.

              Then it was time for our evening at the theatre!  After all these years, it was nice to finally be in the audience in front of The Lion King, but I'm afraid to say I wasn't blown away like I thought I would be.  (Mini-review:  It's a fantastic movie, and it fits together so nicely, but on stage it seems a little overwhelmed by its creativity and artistry and comes across as a little pretentious, like one Julie Taymor was showing off her puppetry/mixed-media expertise and aesthetic the whole time, while seemingly ignoring the sets and backgrounds.  The music seemed a little more disjointed in style, going from lush Hans Zimmer orchestrations to funky Lebo M African chants to ultra-pop/rock Elton John a little abruptly at times.)  I did like it, and was quite amazed with the opening of "Circle of Life," I just didn't love it like I thought I would.  It wasn't magical in the way some of the other Disney stage ventures have been.  The African vibe just isn't my thing, I guess.  We suspected it might have been a little more impressive in a larger, more permanent venue, like in New York or in London, where they would have the scope to really spread out and get the idea of the expanse of the setting.  Anyway, it was good to be in the theater again, and I am glad to check The Lion King off my list.

              One more night in our lovely hotel room, and the next morning we were back home.
               Look!  It's Big Ben!  Sort of.
               So there are a couple of our weekend excursions.  The weekends since and in the future include a lot of wedding receptions, General Conference and who knows, maybe even grabbing a redbox and a carton of ice cream and staying in.

              Tuesday, September 28, 2010

              Beat Beethoven 2010

              A few weeks ago a big group of us ran Pleasant Grove's annual Beat Beethoven 5K.  (The idea is to run the race in less time than it takes to play Beethoven's 5th Symphony, roughly 32 minutes.)  There were some early grumblings in the ranks about a higher participation cost this year, but after some savvy PR work by Melody, they actually offered a group rate without a shirt for a much lower cost, though Julie and I opted to pay full price to get the shirts, which were pretty nice this year.  Dad, Amber, Cami, Melody, Jonny (and Gabe and Julia), Julie and I had a good time and everyone beat Beethoven.  Dad's running speed is increasing at an alarming rate, Amber is getting right back into the swing of things, Cami is doing better than ever, and of course no one can touch the Rejholecs (but watch out when the race directors try to pronounce their names to collect their awards), Julie always shows a remarkable final burst of speed in the last stage of the race, and I did better than last year (21:16, 5th place in my age group--which I still think is too broad, 20-29--and 13th overall).

              Notice Beethoven himself in the background.

              It was great fun, and I'm glad everyone was able to participate.  There are quite a few 5Ks coming up in the fall, so we look forward to those.

              Friday, September 17, 2010

              Ye Olde Englande, Week 8: A Lot of Goodbyes

              So just about two weeks ago, we finally packed up our things for the last time, and left our last London dwelling place and headed to the airport.  Unfortunately the last few days were marked by noteworthy head-colds, first me over the weekend, and then The Wife for a couple days after just as I was getting better.  It put a sort of damper on our final plans, but we still managed to see a few new museums and a kind of boring 3D IMAX movie.  Highlights also included climbing approximately 528 stairs to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral (and an equal number of steps down).  We couldn't quite figure out the Whispering Gallery, but the view from the top of the dome was glorious.  Exploring St. Paul's may even have been in my top 3 activities of the entire trip.
               But-but-but...  The song!  It said!

              We had a quick look at Notting Hill Carnival, but saw nothing really for us there, and the next day we stood for two-plus hours in the yard at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre to see an actual Shakespearean play, The Comedy of Errors.  It was another high point, it just felt like a scene out of Shakespeare in Love.
               The theatre!!!
              Oh, the drama!
              Tickets to the standing-only Yard area were only 5 pounds!  Of course then we had to deal with some vulgar German teeny-boppers who chatted the whole time, but I guess that's what happens sometimes when you stand in the commoners' section.

              After Julie's last day of wrapping up her work in perfect time, we had one last dinner out with co-worker Caity and saw Abbey Road (which, to my great surprise, was within easy walking distance from our previous residence).
               Love:  All you need is it.

              Then we had some issues with online check-in for our flight the next morning.  Evidently when they switched our connecting flight back in July from Chicago to Denver, they canceled my returning flight.  So, with the stress of packing and making sure our bags weren't too heavy, wondering if I was actually going to get on the flight, we felt ready to go home, but still were always aware in the back of our minds that we were actually leaving the UK.  It didn't take long at check-in for them to sort out the mix-up with my ticket, and they even managed to get us seats next to each other for both flights.  I read a lot of Tolkien and Julie read a little Rowling, and after a day and a night of time-traveling, we said hello to the mountains of Salt Lake City (after a minor security kerfuffle at O'Hare...  bleh), had no trouble getting through customs, and just like that, we were on the other side of this London experience.

              Also, since we didn't actually take a single picture of all four of us when Kent and Eliza were in town, here's one that Eliza sent me taken on her camera from our ill-fated, but ultimately successful outing to The Phantom of the Opera:

              Great friends, great times!

              I'm sure Julie is planning to write a little blogpost wrapping up the experience too, but here ends my "weekly" report.  It was amazing!  Thanks, Julie's work!  (Even though they never did get us the paperwork we needed to leave the country...  Disneyland Paris, one day we will visit you!  I promise!)