Sunday, June 28, 2009

Da Dells Part 1: Carter vs Poseidon

We are finally well-rested enough from our vacation to write about it. From Thursday to Saturday, our family was at Wisconsin Dells for our summer vacation along with the Maynes. Many thanks to Sheila for being our unofficial events coordinator and helping us find a $750 vacation for a mere $100.

For our readers that have no idea what the Dells are, imagine Las replace the gambling and gals with waterparks and cheesy museums. Now place it right over some beautiful lakes and rivers in the heart of the Midwest...voila! Wisconsin Dells, the waterpark capital of the world!

I was somewhat unsure about the whole vacation because I'm not a big fan of amusement parks, but it was an absolute blast. We kept the kids up much later than we should have, packed all three days chock-full and could have easily stayed a few days more.

This post and the following two are some of our highlights.

We spent all day Saturday at Mount Olympus Theme and Water Park. This was probably the least favorite of the three days as we spent a ton of time waiting in queues. It may have been more fun to just stay at the motel swimming pool, but there were still some fun moments. Like finding out that Jordan is becoming quite fearless and may soon join his mother as a thrill-seeker. He loved the roller coasters, the huge water slides, and anything else that got his adrenaline going.

One such thrill was Poseidon's Rage, the largest wave pool in the Dells. It sends out a 9 foot tall wave every 90 seconds that completely envelops a throng of people over the 100 foot width of the pool. I've been in wave pools before, but Poseidon means business. Perhaps that's why there's a giant painting on the front wall of the pool that looks like this:

oooh, I'm shakin'!

Jordan and Cyn were having a grand time getting as close as possible to be completely swept away by the tsunami. Carter and I were having a grand time being sane. We stayed WAY at the back of the pool - basically just enough for the dying wave to hit my knees and Carter's chest. Carter was having so much fun here that he was dancing and jumping around.

But, it was a bit overcast on Saturday and Carter started getting a little cold. I left the pool to put his t-shirt back on, and then we headed back in. This time though, I had to carry him to keep his shirt from getting wet.

Cyn was feeling the need for adventure and wanted to head in alone. No problem, I still had a free arm...I could hold Jordan's hand too. Cyn went WAY WAY WAY up front. I saw the wave, I heard the screams, and then I saw Cyn consumed by the epic wave. Man, that was scary to watch. So scary, that I didn't realize how close I was and I wasn't very careful about my positioning. I lost my footing. Jordan was swept away, I landed rump first in the pool, and Carter's shirt was now completely soaked. His merriment immediately ceased for the duration of our stay.

I did the only reasonable thing. I dumped the kids on Cynthia (along with my glasses) and tried my hand at Poseidon's fury. Same thing happened. I was enveloped and when I came above the water line, Cyn was down along with two kids...and my glasses. She scraped her back pretty well (drawing blood) and all three of them looked a little shell-shocked.

So Carter had now been dropped twice. Wearing his only shirt. In the cold water. And then it began to rain. I gave him my shirt, but he was still pretty upset.

If there's one person in our family you don't cross, it's Carter. He will come after you, your family, your dog, etc., until he feels better. He shot stern glance after stern glance to that painting of Poseidon and said, among other things, "Mommy, that bad man doesn't say sorry!"

30 minutes later in the car on the way home he continued his verbal retort: "When I change into a bad guy I will scare that bad man..." Watch it, Poseidon. Carter has a score to settle.

Da Dells Part 2: Geek's Quest

One of the many free attractions offered was one called Wizard Quest. From the way it was described to me and the way their website looked, I imagined a name like "Geek's Quest" to be more appropriate.

I knew that it was a fantasy-themed labyrinth where you interact with a computer to complete some quest. My mind created an image of pimply tweeners dressed as fairies and mages playing something like Dungeons and Dragons while entering info on a Commodore 64. I was not very excited to say the least. Nevertheless, we heard good reviews about it and everyone else wanted to go. So in we went.

Yeah, turned out that this was our favorite part of the whole trip. Every team is given a barcode to interact with scanners and computers (which are modern touchscreens, not C64s) scattered across the labyrinth. Your progress and time remaining are tracked through this system. Despite a time limit of 90 minutes, we were there for 2 hours and still didn't find everything there was to find. The whole point of the attraction was to free four wizards, but to do so you had to collect points by searching for clues. We managed to find about 80% of the clues, but we only found 3 of the wizards and saved 1 of them before our time limit was up. I couldn't believe how hard it was to find those wizards! All in all, I highly recommend Wizard Quest if you're planning a trip to the Dells.

I was really bummed when our time ran out and we hadn't completed everything. I really wanted to go back again and find that fourth wizard. I'm sure we'll go back again someday with visiting family members. Problem is, the puzzles change every year, so it will be just as hard next time!

Cameras weren't allowed inside the building, so here's a clip I remixed from their promotional video. Bonus points if you can figure out what song I added. Still, the video doesn't do the place justice. Just go try it out.

Da Dells Part 3: River of Caramel

On Friday morning we took a boat tour of the dells on the Wisconsin river. It was a beautiful two-hour tour. Cyn said that it felt like home to her as we got off the boat to hike through a narrow gulch reminiscent of the narrows in Zion. It was my favorite part of the vacation.

The weirdest part of the tour? The river itself. It's brown. Not sorta-kinda looks like caramel. So I was relieved when the tour guide started off by telling us it's not pollution. The Wisconsin flows through a tamarack swamp and picks up enough tannic acid from the roots there that it dyes the entire river brown. Tannic acid, when used for culinary purposes, is called 'caramel color'. Who knew? I couldn't help but think of Willy Wonka's chocolate river after learning that.

Here's the trusty vessel we were on. We were inside the boat, which worked out well because it was over 90 degrees.

Above are two sandstone walls around the Wisconsin river. Notice the caramel colored water. Hot chocolate anyone?

Above are two pictures from Witches' Gulch, which was extremely hard to get good pictures of. It was a really pretty area where you're basically walking through a river-cut path in the hillside no more than 15 feet at its widest and only about 3 feet at it's most narrow point.

It may be a little hard to see, but there's a dog jumping between the two rocks here. The rock on the left is called Stand Rock and is probably about 50 feet tall. Silly dog.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Big Reveal

It's finally ready! My crokinole board is ready! Here she is:

The playing surface is 26" in diameter, with a base of 30". The playing surface and base are made of birch, the rails are made of poplar, and the 'buttons' and posts are maple. If you click on the image to get a closer look, you'll see that there are decorative inlays around the posts. These inlays and the center hole (called the 20 hole) are made of mother of pearl - much like you'd find on a guitar fretboard. As the pearl inlays are the most unique feature of the board, I've named the board "Pearly Gates". Cheesy, I know.

Soon it will be hanging on our wall, right above our fireplace. That wall is still bare after a year in this apartment.

Hurry and make your reservations to come over and try it out! Be warned though, that it's probably the most addicting game ever.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Kids Say the Darndest Things

One of my favorite sections of this blog is the running collection of quotes we keep from the boys. Those quotes crack me up no matter how old they are. However, it's starting to get a little large, so I'm going to archive the oldest 10 here (leaving the most recent two quotes) and repeat this process whenever there are more than 10 quotes in the sidebar.

The sad part of this though, is that Jordan hasn't been saying a whole lot of crazy/weird things lately. 4 year old kindergarten refined him just a little too much. But our ears will definitely be waiting for any zingers that come along. Also, I wish we started this blog 3 years ago to have a place to record the funny things our kids said. I'm sure we'll one day regret not writing these down sooner.

Enough mushy's the first archival of quotes.

Carter- "Mommy! Today the sunny is going to stay up FOREVER!"
Carter regularly refers to the sun as 'the sunny' and is obsessed with 'pushing the sunny button' to make the sun go up and down each day. Go figure.

Carter - "Where's my unca-munca-monica?" (harmonica)
We got a cheap plastic harmonica for the boys several months ago, and Carter just can't seem to say the name correctly. He does play pretty well, though! The boy has an ear!

Jordan - "Babies only drink milk...and mac & cheese."
As mac & cheese is his favorite meal, I'm sure he regards it as manna from heaven.

Carter - "Darth Mater is his mommy."
The boys love playing Lego Star Wars and Jordan enjoys watching the movies...but Carter is just a tad confused about the storyline.

Carter pulling out a 2-quart pitcher of chicken stock - "I want juice!". Daddy - "That's not juice, it's chicken-flavored water". Carter - "......I want chicken-flavored water!"
Carter is a very demanding little boy. I was shocked when he was taking out the chicken stock (which was quite heavy) and demanded to drink it even after hearing about the contents.

Jordan - "Well hello, Pop Tarts! Nice to see you again!"
We purchased one box of pop tarts. Jordan liked it and requested more. A week later we purchased another box; he polished it off and soon requested another. When he awoke to the sight of pop tarts, this is the reply we got.

Jordan - "Happiness is the love of happiness"
We were having a simple talk in the car about what brings happiness. Then Socrates, aka Jordan, surprised us with this comment. Very deep, at any age of thought.

Carter with ear infection - "I have touchin's in my ears"
Well, how else would you describe an ear infection with a 3-year old's vocabulary?

Jordan to Mommy - "I wonder how many days are left until spring. I'll ask Daddy...he's the smart one." Mommy - "I'm smart too." Jordan - "But I thought you were cute..."
Tee hee!

Carter- "My eyes are playing hide and seek."
Carter discovering the power of eyelids.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Weekend Roundup

Another insane week. I've got to stop these weekend updates before they become a habit. Though, if you hear me out about this week, you may understand why.

Monday - I get into work at 6:30 to get a ton of work done. By 7:30 I hear murmurs about a new guy on our team. I wonder if I'm getting fired. At 8:00 I get a meeting request from my boss' boss. Now I'm more worried. At 8:30, I'm told that I have officially been transferred to a new department. Phew! Still employed. At 9:00, my new boss finds out I'm now her direct report. Noone was all very sudden. So most of my week was spent training 'the new guy' to fill my role and still produce tons of work. Quite a few extra hours this week.

Thursday - Company picnic. These are never as stress-free as a typical picnic, but this year was pretty enjoyable. It helped that the boys are old enough now that they can play some games and we can still maintain some decent conversations.

Saturday - Got Cynthia off to the temple. I was scheduled to go with her, but I had to stay and write my talk.

Sunday - Spent all morning writing my talk. Finished just 20 minutes before church. It went very well. Then, I was released from my calling! I'm out of the Elder's Quorum! In fact...I'm completely without a calling right now. I'm sure that will last all of 7 days. After church we went over to the Thompson's house for a lovely dinner and conversation.

I didn't get a moment in to call my Dad. So, Happy Father's Day, Dad. Hope it was a good one.

Cynthia and the boys made a delightful card and bookmark for me and gave me chocolate, Cinnabons, a strawberry shortcake, and a new electric toothbrush! That combo is beyond compare!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Better Board Games

In case you haven't noticed from our blog, I love board games.

It hasn't always been like this though.For 20+ years, I was a serious computer gamer. I have a great affinity for the old-school games (that I’ll probably blog about some day), but my all-time favorites involve large-scale economies like the Civilization series and the SimCity series - lots of time required and no social interaction.

If you’ve ever known a serious computer gamer, you’ve already realized that computer games and raising families just don’t mix. I was introduced to three European board games (Settlers, Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne) through friends and family a few years ago and I found the cure to my computer game withdrawals – it’s gaming, it allows me to game in a social setting instead of solitaire, and it’s wife approved!

It’s really hard explaining the board game hobby to the uninitiated. Due to many unfortunate circumstances (which I won’t expound here), most people in the USA think of Monopoly and Life when I mention board games…and those ‘games’ just aren’t fun…at all.

So what makes a better board game? Here are the most important characteristics:

  1. Most important, it has to be FUN.
  2. It should be EYE-CATCHING. Just like great cuisine, the gaming experience is increased if it's pleasing to look at.
  3. It should require players to make CHOICES. This is what draws people into games.
  4. It should be EASY TO TEACH in less than 5 minutes. Any longer, and most people will shut off their ears. True story.
  5. It must be SOCIAL. In board games, you're meant to have fun with other people. The best games promote conversation among those playing.
There are many good games with exceptions to these rules and I own quite a few; and that's ok. After all, there’s no such thing as ‘The One Perfect Board Game’TM. Here then are five examples that we own of better board games.


Thanks to Erik Gibbons for use of the image

In this press-your-luck game, players risk horrible obstacles to grab more treasure. It's a bit of gambling, a bit of bluffing, and very addictive. And just look at those cute li'l jewels!


It's hard to imagine a more natural game than this; the only things working against you are gravity and magnetism. It's an edge-of-your-seat 2-player strategy game where you balance leaning magnets on existing magnetic fields.

Galaxy Trucker

Thanks to Gary James for use of the image

In this game, you play a galaxy trucker shipping radioactive goods across space in ships made out of prefabricated sewer parts. Yes, you read that correctly! It's a mad dash to grab ship parts as quickly as possible, fit them into the puzzle of your ship and then race your opponents through dangerous cosmos. There's no other game quite like it.


Thanks to Daniel666 for use of the image

Hive is a two-player strategy game in which each player tries to capture their opponent's queen bee. Each of the five types of insects has a different movement pattern. For these reasons, Hive is often referred to as "Bug Chess". Don't let that turn you off - even though it's a deep strategy game, it's very simple to learn.

There isn't a board and the pieces are made of near-indestructable bakelite, so you can play it ANYWHERE. I took this to the Father and Son's campout and played 3 different opponents for about three hours total.


Thanks to Dustin Miller for use of the 3D rendering
I love this game. No board, 2-6+ people can play, it can be cutthroat or relaxing, and the "board" is absolutely beautiful by the time you finish the game. Players build up the French city of Carcassonne and use the cute li'l wooden guys (known as Meeples) to score points. The essence of this game is hard to describe - you've just got to experience it.

So there you have it. These aren't the most played games in our house and may not be our best, but they are GREAT games. If you (yes, YOU!) come over on a weekend or for dinner sometime, I'd be happy to introduce you to some others. But be warned: Cynthia does NOT like losing. :)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Weekend Rundown

We had a pretty full week. And yet, I have no pictures of it.

Last Sunday - I single-handedly taught the worst Elder's Quorum lesson ever. I left half of my material at home and an open fight almost erupted. Sheesh. I actually considered not going back today and apparently I wasn't the only one, because only half of last week's attendees showed up.

Later, we had the Maynes over for dinner and then a planning session for a joint vacation to the Dells. Though the evening was productive, Marty and I basically just watched videos online and talked about open-source software while our wives filled out the schedule.

Monday - Joint family home evening with the Thomas family. Emily did a fine job teaching an effective lesson in a very short time so we could have time for the REAL reason for the get-together...we played Rock Band for at least an hour. It was my first time playing - super fun.

Tuesday - Exhausted from work, I fell asleep for most of the evening. Then I forced Cynthia to watch Star Trek II with me. KHAAAAAANNN!!!!

Wednesday - For the first time in my nearly 7 years of marriage, I left both my wife and kids at home to just have fun. And that was a record that was really hard to break. I felt very guilty for spending any money on myself and leaving the fam behind, but I guess it had to happen sometime. I went to a Brewers game with Tyce and friends. Brewers lost, I left early because I was tired, but it was still fun.

Thursday - Jordan finished his last day of 4K! I'm pretty sure it was just a few days ago that the school year started...

Cynthia went to Madison with 'the ladies' to see The Lucas Cates Band. If you have no idea what that is, you can read about it here or here. I fully support these band outings with the hopes that someday a band I'm interested in (sorry, TLCB) will show up in Madison and I'll be able to go see them.

Friday - Date night! Mini golf and Potbelly. Someday I may have to write an ode to the Potbelly pizza sandwich. Potbelly is my favorite sandwich shop (though Panera is the best sandwich around) - I could just sit inside Potbelly and talk or read for hours.

Saturday - Super Why day at Toys 'R Us! They launched a new line of Super Why toys and had a 'play date' to celebrate. It wasn't as long or fabulous as we would have liked, but there was storytime, free masks, stickers, coloring pages, tattoos, etc. We bought a Super Why action figure for Jordan and an Alpha Pig action figure for Carter...and they're actually well-made and really cute! Bonzer!

The rest of the day was spent cleaning up our filthy apartment for Faith/Tyce. They came over to eat some Chinese and get in a few games of Crokinole. (Very soon I'll be totally finished with my board and I'll post a picture of it.) Then the gals watched and discussed the (de)merits of Persuasion and Tyce and I played Agricola.

Sunday - Smoked steak and shrimp for dinner. Turned out fabulous. And I was asked to speak in church again. That's the second time in 3 months and this time I only have one week to prepare. I guess I'll get off now and start reading materials. Ho hum.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

First Father and Sons' Campout

The boys and I went to our first Father and Sons' Campout over the weekend in Menomonee Park. What a great time it was. It was also the first time Carter had ever been camping. We played games, ate tons of junk food, broke the tent we just got as a hand-me-down, went fishing, and got very little sleep due to the cold and the loud noise of high winds rustling the aspen trees right behind our tent.

Still, it was a great time. I hope the boys are excited to campout in future years because I absolutely loved the 'bonding time' I was able to spend with them.

I don't have to look presentable on a campout at 6 am after 4 hours of sleep, right?

Cynthia also enjoyed her alone time. She went shopping at Kohl's super-mega-extravaganza sale and then watched movies at Faith's house until 4:30 in the freakin' morning. That's one hour before I woke up for the day, folks.

Talent Show

Our Primary had their annual talent show last week. Jordan really wanted to participate, but we really couldn't think of anything for him to do. I imagined a bunch of the kids playing violin and perhaps a piano performance or two. Luckily, our primary has a loose view of what is considered 'talent'.

One counselor recommended that Jordan show off his hissing goose book and teach everyone yoga. Yes! Yoga! A perfect opportunity to expose everyone to Yoga for Kids, By KidsTM.

Here then, is the brave little Jordan doing his yoga instruction at the primary talent show.

What a funny kid! He was SOOO excited to do yoga for everyone. We practiced the whole routine a little before the event, but it was a long wait and he went a little 'mavericky' on us. It was two parts cute, one part hilarious, and one large dosage of confusion.

I was surprised at the variety in some of the other acts. Kids wrote their own poems and songs, did comedy skits, demonstrated origami and balloon animals, and one gal did gymnastics.

Oh, and those kids playing violins? Yeah...they've improved their act a bit...

WARNING: Do not attempt this at home!