The Scratches Family’s Excellent Adventure, Part 1: In which we learn that everything’s more fun when I gag the voices in my head

Listen, I don’t know if it’s because I don’t get much time off, or because we rarely travel, or because the smog blanketing Los Angeles is actually laughing gas, or because the comparative horror of spending all day trapped in a windowless cubicle makes anything seem glorious by comparison … but, whatever the case, I have never had more fun with my family than I did during our recent California vacation.

It is a massive relief to be able to say that … because I planned my ass off for this trip. I spent hours searching for the right hotel and reading an endless stream of reviews and poring over Disneyland messageboards and plotting our every move with the kind of near-maniacal zeal that only a borderline-OCD-sufferer can muster.

The thing that vexed me the most — the thing I downright agonized over — was where we should stay while visiting Disneyland. Should we stay at one of the three Disney hotels? Or should we stay at one of the many “Good Neighbor” hotels?

“Jon, what are ‘Good Neighbor’ hotels?”

I’m glad you asked. “Good Neighbor” hotels are the hotels you stay at when you don’t wanna dish out the kind of cash it takes to stay “on property” (which is Disney parlance for “at a Disney owned-and-operated hotel”). And I convinced myself that we should go that route … because we don’t have a ton of dough … and the kids wouldn’t know what they were missing anyway … and, hey, I never stayed “on property” when I was a kid, so what’s the big deal?

Except, here’s the thing: I knew it would be more fun, and more special, to stay “on property” … and I had always told myself that I would do just that when it came time to take my own kids to Disneyland. But let me remind you here that the loudest voice living in my head is the voice of my father, and “Woe be unto he who splurges to stay ‘on property’ when there’s a perfectly good homeless shelter just up the street!” boomed that voice.

So I found, and booked, a “Good Neighbor” hotel that seemed decent enough … and then spent days reading the latest guest reviews of said hotel. Here’s how those went:

“What an AMAZING hotel! The room was modern, clean, spacious and well-lit! There were unicorns and free puppies and waffles powdered with complimentary organic cocaine. The ghost of Walt Disney even served us breakfast in bed while singing an original song titled ‘You’re So Smart for Not Staying On-Property!’ Best vacation ever!”

“What an AWFUL hotel! The rooms were run-down, filthy, cramped and dark. The roaches were so big and vicious that we initially thought they were velociraptors. One of them ate my 2-year-old, and the manager refused to compensate us for the funeral. As if that wasn’t bad enough, we also had to pay for parking. Worst vacation ever!”

Inconsistency abounded, and the odds of my family having a great experience versus the odds of my family having a bad experience seemed to be 50/50 at best. Needless to say, I was filled with hotel-roulette-induced anxiety.

Meanwhile, reviews of the “on property” lodging I had considered (Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel) went something like this:

“What a WONDERFUL hotel! We loved the beach theme, the kids had a blast on the rooftop waterslide, the rooms were spacious and clean, the customer service was fantastic, and the little Disney touches made us feel like we never left the amusement park!”

“What an OVERPRICED hotel! We loved the beach theme, the kids had a blast on the rooftop waterslide, the rooms were spacious and clean, the customer service was fantastic, and the little Disney touches made us feel like we never left the amusement park … but we could have saved a lot of money by staying at the velociraptor-cockroach place!”

“See?” said my father’s imaginary voice. “The velociraptor-cockroach place is the way to go!”

And that’s when I shoved a sock in his imaginary mouth, canceled the “Good Neighbor” reservation and booked us a room at the Paradise Pier Hotel … because I suddenly remembered that I’m a 43-year-old man who doesn’t have to listen to my father’s imaginary voice, and that my family is worth spending a few extra bucks on in order to guarantee a wonderful experience during a once-in-a-lifetime trip. So there. (In related news: Thank you, psychotherapy!)

And I couldn’t be happier with my decision … because guiding the minivan off of the freeway and onto Disneyland Drive, and then remaining on Disneyland Drive all the way to the Paradise Pier Hotel, was so much more fun and exciting than it would have been to leave Disneyland Drive and head down So-Totally-Not-Disneyland Drive to a “Good Neighbor” hotel. I wanted the kids to have a full-on Disneyland-immersion experience … and that is just what they got.

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In the weeks and months leading up to our trip, I would often sit on the couch between Zan and Jayna, the three of us sightseeing our way through the Disneyland Explorer app, which features a graphical representation of all of the Disneyland attractions, hotels and shops … and as we began to spot those now-familiar sights in person, Jayna blurted out, “PEOPLE, WE ARE IN THE IPAD!”

Yes, we were. And it was fucking awesome.

TO BE CONTINUED …

[Click here for Part 2]

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I’m goin’ back to Cali

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Comin’ atcha live from 35,000 feet, it’s the Scratches Family Vacation. Next stop: Los Angeles.

So here’s the deal: My brother calls us last December and tells us he’s getting married. Woohoo! In August, while the kids are out of school. Nice! In California. Ouch!

Yeah, a cross-country trip for a family of four wasn’t exactly in our budget this year. Or any year, for that matter. Partly because we don’t actually have a budget … but mostly because we don’t have any, you know, money.

But, OK, so we’re headed to California. And, hey, since we’re gonna be in So Cal anyway, we might as well go all out, don’tcha think?

Which brings us to:

"Welcome to Disneyland! Now hand over your wallet and nobody gets hurt!"

“Hand over your wallet and nobody gets hurt!”

Yes, y’all, when this bird touches down, we’ll be grabbing a sweet minivan and heading to Walt’s place. Today’s plan is to simply check in and shake off the jet-lag by the pool … but tomorrow we are launching an all-out, military-style assault on Disneyland.

No, I mean it. The reconnaissance I’ve conducted for this mission is nothing short of epic. Or, more accurately, it’s nothing short of proof positive that I’m a control freak with substantial psychiatric issues.

Did you know that there are online subscription services where you can enter the dates and times of your planned visit to Disneyland, along with the attractions you wish to hit, and a complex algorithm will spit out the suggested order and times at which you should hit those attractions? Because there are. And I know this because I subscribed to two of them.

Did you also know that, in addition to the classic Disneyland amusement park, there now exists Disney’s California Adventure, an adjacent, entirely separate, equally massive amusement park? And did you further know that it is considered downright maniacal to try to hit all of the must-do rides in both parks on the same day? I’m pretty sure everybody’s gonna love it when Daddy turns our visit to the Happiest Place on Earth into a forced road march from Hell. (OK, maybe not … but I’m sure they’ll thank me for it later.)

Come Thursday, with our feet sore, our pockets empty and our credit cards full, we’ll head up the coast to Santa Barbara … where, thankfully for us, soon-to-be-sister-in-law’s family has hooked us up with what appears to be a sweet house near the beach. (That fortuitous arrangement, along with a generous airfare contribution from my parents, largely explains why we decided to splurge on the Disneyland trip. And so, on behalf of myself, my wife, my children, and the entire accounting department at The Walt Disney Company, I would like to thank my family — in-laws and outlaws alike — for their charitable contributions.)

Once we arrive in Santa Barbara, we’ll be up to our mouse ears in wedding-related mayhem straight through the weekend… which reminds me: I have to write a speech. Gah!

Alright, enough of my high-altitude blogging. I’ll keep you posted on all the fun via Twitter (where highlights will include up-to-the-minute illness reports on the kids, who have been perfectly healthy all summer long, but have come down with colds just in time for our cross-country adventure), and I, of course, will file a full report upon our return.

Wish us luck, people.

DS out.

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Mac amor

Mac amor
Click the image above to view full-size photo.

Oh yes I did.… [read the rest]

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The writer who cried wolf … except, instead of “wolf,” he cried “I’m a writer.”

Remember last year, when I had that mini-nervous-breakdown in the parking lot at work and swore that it would serve as the launching pad for my creative-writing career? Well, since that time, I have successfully completed my first draft of … nothing.

Yes, that’s correct: Other than writing a few dozen posts for this blog, I, during the 18 months that have passed since I made that lofty proclamation, have done very little in the way of inching towards my goal of producing a complete written work. And by “very little,” I mean “nothing.”

Sure, there was that months-long foray into studying the art of fiction and screenwriting … but the primary outcome of that adventure was the realization that I’m infinitely more comfortable writing about my own life, even at its most unflattering, than I am at making up stories about other (fictional) people’s lives. Someday? Maybe. Right now? Not so much.

Thankfully (or perhaps regrettably; we’ll see) I still feel compelled to write, and still have people in my life encouraging me to do so … to include my mother-in-law, who last night took me into the big city to attend a memoir-writing workshop led by local author Beth Kephart. Beth’s appearance in Philadelphia marked yesterday’s release of her latest book, “Handling the Truth: On the writing of memoir.”

Handling the Truth

I can handle the truth … I think. Maybe.

Memoir is the thing I keep circling back to when I agonize over just what it is I should be writing … which probably comes as no surprise, since, as this blog’s mere existence would suggest, my favorite thing to write about is: Me.

And so, memoir. I’m going to try to write one. I even said as much to Beth Kephart last night while she was signing my copy of “Handling the Truth.” (I apparently realized the folly of my statement and subsequently burst into an awkward-looking fit of uncomfortable laughter, as captured in a picture Beth posted at her blog today.)

She graciously played along by acting as though she believed me, and even went so far as to inscribe my book with words of encouragement:

"To Jon, In honor of your memoir to be."

“For Jon – In honor of your memoir to be.”

So now I feel like I have to write one. Sheesh. Thanks for the pressure, Beth.

But, OK, I’m going to write one … just as soon as I get the cacophony of doubtful, self-defeating voices in my head to shut the fuck up, that is. I’m quite certain I’ve been listening to them for long enough.

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The awesome trip to Florida I never told you about

Sunset over Sanibel Island, Florida - February 2013

Way back in February, I mentioned the awesome trip to Florida that we took … and then I got sucked into a roughly four-month-long black hole that involved spending all day in a cubicle writing code for my employer and all night in my basement writing code for a freelance project … a lethal combination that left this blog moldering by the side of the digital road. And I’m sure that you’d love to hear every mind-numbing detail about those four long months, but I instead am going to tell you about the awesome trip to Florida that we took, m’kay?

So last Christmas, my mother-in-law said that, if we were willing to accept delayed gratification, she would forego the usual holiday gift-giving ritual and instead fly us down to Florida in February to visit with her on Sanibel Island.

Let’s review: A free trip. To an island. Off the coast of Southwest Florida. In February. Um, lemme think about that for a—

Sanibel Island, Florida - February 2013

OK, WE’LL DO IT!

Phew. That was a tough decision.

And so, after waking in the cold and desolate wastelands of suburban Philadelphia one dreary February morning, we boarded a plane and, in a matter of hours, were strolling along the beach in Sanibel … which, I learned, is famous for its bevy of seashells.

Sanibel Seashell

See? Shells.

More seashells on Sanibel Island, Florida - February 2013

More seashells

Sanibel Island, Florida - February 2013

Enough already with the freakin’ seashells!

Yes, I shouldn’t focus on the seashells so much … especially when we also saw …

Sanibel Island, Florida - February 2013

… dead fish!

Sanibel Island, Florida - February 2013

“Hello, dead horseshoe crab! I’m a dead fish! How are you today?”
“Um … well, I’m kind of, you know … DEAD! So, yeah … not so great! How are you, genius?”

Sanibel Island, Florida - February 2013

“Oh, I’m fine … or at least I was until this girl came along and made it look like I’m MAKING OUT WITH A DEAD HORSESHOE CRAB! Scram, kid!”

This is what happens when you let your 9-year-old use the camera.

Of course, as fate would have it, the weather in Sanibel on the first night of our stay was unseasonably cold … like, the coldest it had been in that region of Florida in roughly two decades (because apparently Mother Nature still hasn’t gotten over the smack I talked about her after she almost killed me; chick knows how to hold a grudge) … which explains why my mother-in-law, the kids and I were dressed like this by sunset on the day we arrived:

Sanibel Island, Florida - February 2013

The bad news: I had to wear jeans and a fleece at the beach in February.
The good news: I WAS AT THE BEACH IN FEBRUARY!

The chilly weather didn’t pass until about midway through the second day of our vacation … which turned out to be a good thing, because it gave us a reason to skip a previously planned morning at the beach and instead go visit with some friends from Boston. OK, technically, they’re not friends … but they’re definitely not strangers, either.

Sanibel Island, Florida - February 2013

Big Papi was excited to see us … or he might have just been laughing about something else while I snapped his picture with a telephoto lens from very far away through a chain-link fence. One of those.
(Bonus points if you can name the mustacheoed former Sox pitcher shown above.)

Sanibel Island, Florida - February 2013

Hey, it’s Shane Victorino! Lookin’ good in your new Red Sox duds, my man! (Shane used to be on our second favorite team, the Phillies. As you can imagine, he was thrilled to see some familiar faces from the Philadelphia area. At least, I’m sure he would have been thrilled if he had any clue who we were and had noticed us amidst the throng of people pressed up against a fence located
a great distance away from him.)

Sanibel Island, Florida - February 2013

Look, it’s Jarrod Saltalamacchia! Yo, Salty! Got any catching tips for my son? Salty! Hey, Salty! Salty? Hello? Um, OK, maybe later, then!

So, yeah, we took a little drive over to the Red Sox’s Spring Training Camp in Fort Myers … and even though we didn’t get any face time with the above big-name players, the kiddos did get score autographs from some other Red Sox notables … including …

Sanibel Island, Florida - February 2013

… first-basemen & slugger extraordinaire Mike Napoli …

Sanibel Island, Florida - February 2013

… and rookie phenom Jackie Bradley Jr.

Red Sox Spring Training Camp - February 2013

Jayna even got a little history lesson from our resident Ted Williams fan.

Sanibel Island, Florida - February 2013

Suffice it to say, our first family visit to Red Sox Spring Training Camp won’t be our last … and I now have my eye on a retirement gig as a turnstile operator at the ball field. Or a hot-dog vendor. Or a parking attendant. Or whatever. (Listen, I love Fenway, but if it means never seeing another snowflake for as long as I live, I’m happy to settle for Fenway South.)

By the time we wrapped up our visit with the Sox, it was warm enough to do this:

(Zan’s an excellent driver, by the way. Which is good … because it gave Wonder Woman and I the chance to really enjoy the local drink specials. I knew having these kids would start paying off at some point.)

With our visit to Red Sox Spring Training Camp out of the way, the rest of our vacation was all this …

Sanibel Island, Florida - February 2013

and this ….

Sanibel Island, Florida - February 2013

and this …

When will this nightmare end?

and this …

Sanibel Island, Florida - February 2013

and even some of this …

Sanibel Island, Florida - February 2013

That there is a picture of the kids during a sunset cruise my mother-in-law chartered for our last night on the island. Sunset, ocean, leaping dolphins, Tostitos, fresh salsa and Coronas with a lime … and, yeah, it’s basically a goddamn miracle that my family was able to get me back on the plane when it was time to go home the next day.

The good news is, we all agree that returning next winter is a top priority.

The bad news is, we don’t all agree that we should move there permanently, right now.

*sigh*

Sanibel Island, Florida - February 2013

Someday …

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