Thursday, July 30, 2015

Longing for Disneyland

It's a slow day at work.  I'm sitting at my desk, and Lotso is staring at me.  My Toy Story collection is close at hand, as our my Disney villains.  I took my car for a wash today, and had to remove the Mickey antenna ears so I didn't lose them.  My Mickey sticker in the back window is nice and clean now.  Our trip to Disneyland for December is booked, and I have a countdown up and running on my phone.

I'm trying to decide what some of my favorite moments are at the park.  I get a bit cranky, edgy and excited finding my way to the parking lot.  I willingly hand over a king's ransom for parking, then want to sprint to the shuttle line.  Upon exit from the tram or bus, it's another full on sprint.  I am not patient if you lag behind, so if you are with me, let's do this thing!

I endure the baggage screening, making sure the entire party has made it through.  Now it's off to get into the park!

I love handing over my ticket, having it scanned through and getting in.  Don't forget to grab a map and a show schedule!  I'm in the park now!  Characters are generally roaming around, and families are trying to get that perfect photo op.  If I'm lucky, the Santa Fe will pass as I'm standing there!

What to do first?  You pass under the railroad, and there you are!  I always enter to the right, by the way.  Are there characters waiting here?  I love the looks on my kids faces when they get their photo ops!

Let's walk down main street now.  How often do you stop into these shops?  I can't wait!

A few of my favorite things you ask?  Oh, pretty much everything.  But here, in no particular order, are a few of mine.

- On a hot day, the moment when your frozen lemonade thaws enough that you can start shoveling it in.

- The first bite of a Mickey jalapeno cheese pretzel.

- The mess a churro can make as it spills cinnamon all over you.

- The feel of the GetAwayToday lanyard around my neck, and adding a fast pass or two into there.

- The look on my families faces as they exit a favorite ride.

- The rare time when you outwit the crowds and find a short line.

- Sitting down for a rest and watching a great show, like Aladdin or Mickey and the Magical Map.

- Soarin'.

- The feeling like I'm home.  Knowing every path, every shortcut.

- The sounds and smells.

- Knowing that, worst case, Bug's Land is never crowded.  Someday, Traven will outgrow that, but for now, it's a life saver.

- Using a FastPass and blowing by all the people standing in line.

- Picking out souvenirs.  Spending entirely too much on them.

Family and friends, what do I need to add to this list?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Phoenix Vacation

I'm not feeling too great, and sitting here is actually quite painful, but I still want to get down a few thoughts that have been shuffling around in my head.

First off, I would just like to thank my family for a great vacation.  We spent over 8 days together, and there was no fighting.  Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and get along.  Braden and Kaylee had an introduction to LONG drives, and they were troopers.  Spanish Fork to Phoenix is a long drive.  Braden drove his Grandma's car, with her and his Grandpa.  Kaylee drove my little Focus with Alyssa and Emily.  And Lori, Traven and I were in the Pilot.  Everyone did great!  The exact amount of time Emily slept is still open to debate, but I figure that's up to that car!

Our vacation rental was sweet!  Well, the master suite was enormous, so I lived like a king.  Traven ended up with his own room, as Braden preferred the air bed to having T sleep on his head.  Kaylee took the other air bed, while Emily and Alyssa shared a bedroom and the grandparents were in another.

We only ate out 3 times.  The rest of the time we cooked at the house.  It was such a relaxing vacation!  The one time we did eat out was at China Red.  Holy smokes, it was so good and the portions were gigantic.  We had leftover Chinese food into Tuesday!

We bought the POGO pass, which got us in to many events for a way discounted price.  Great idea if you are ever down in Phoenix for a week!

We did Makutu's Island, mainly for T, but it was actually Alyssa who got our money's worth out of it.  And she made Braden climb and slide along with her, so that was good.  Even Kaylee and Lori took a turn sliding.

We went to the Phoenix temple.  That helped with the relaxation part of the trip!  Of course, no POGO required for temple work.....

Some of us went to a Diamondbacks MLB game, and I loved it!  Ok, baseball games are too long, but for the part I was there, I loved it.

We did some laser tag, which was fun.  Traven really got into that.

The Phoenix zoo was a great time.  It was a lot bigger than I figured it would be.

Castles and Coasters was fun, although Lori and Kaylee ended up getting sick from a ride, so that sucked.  But some of us stuck it out, rode the rides and went miniature golfing.

On the way home, we went to the Grand Canyon.  What an incredible sight!

Sunday started the journey home.  Well except for me.  I'm in Las Vegas at a database conference.

Did I mention I love my family?  I think this was a great vacation.  Definitely more relaxing than many others I have been on.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Christmas Time at Disneyland!

I am a Disney addict.  I'm not ashamed to say it.  I love the parks, the movies and the characters.  My home features many Disney decorations.  My home office is wall to wall with Disney decor.  I fancy myself a bit of a Disney expert.  No, I can't recite numerous Disney facts, but I know quite a bit, and of importance to this blog entry, I know my way around Disneyland!

When my wife Lori first approached me about a trip around the holidays to Disneyland, with her brother Glenn and his family, I of course was on board.  It meant we'd have to go without our other children - Kaylee, Braden, Jason and Alyssa - which would be painful, but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make.  I imagined it would be different, but I was not prepared for the vast number of nuances and changes.  I have to say, Disney nailed it once again.  My Christmas may never be the same!

Before I dig right into the park experience, let me give you a run down of the drive from Utah down to California.  This was our youngest Traven's first time driving, and it had been years since Lori made the drive.  I have to say, they both did great!  Traven watched a lot of movies, played on the iPads, and for the most part was an angel.  Lori and I listened to a cheesy audio book, when she wasn't sleeping.  Honestly, she was out from Spanish Fork to the Arizona border!

We stayed at the Ayers Inn, the one a few miles from the park.  I enjoyed it.  There were not a large number of fellow park visitors.  It was more a mix of business people and other travelers.  It didn't feel as rushed as some of the other places we've stayed.

I have to say a bit about parking.  I know, who cares right?  I learned a couple of things.  First off, the Toy Story parking lot is quickest for getting in and out. Second, the Mickey parking structure opens earlier than Toy Story.  Third, Mickey is TONS busier, but we didn't really have to wait very long.  And fourth, Mickey is awesome for buying the customary souvenirs then taking them back to the car.  We did our shopping around lunch time, which was a phenomenal idea.

On a related note, booking with Get Away Today was once again a no-brainer.  We had our park tickets in hand.  No standing in line to swap a voucher or something lame like that.  The hotel worked flawlessly.  Get Away Today is a well oiled machine.

Now, a bit about the holidays at Disneyland.  Absolutely wonderful!  There was a giant Christmas tree at the start of Main Street.  Wreaths and lights everywhere.  Carolers randomly singing everywhere.  All the characters in their holiday attire.

The holiday fireworks show featured not only holiday music and fireworks, but snow.  Yes, Disney made it snow at Disneyland.  The lighting at the end of the snow highlighted each snowflake, making it feel like a winter wonderland.  I loved how Disney featured not just secular music, but some Silent Night, Joy to the World and other more religious fare.  Our initial strategy for fireworks watching was to arrive 2 hours early and get a seat.  Two hours before, it was already packed.  We opted to take a bench with a completely blocked view of the castle.  Strange, you say?  Well at about 10 minutes before, we simply walked into the street with those that had been standing for two hours, with fresh legs and ready to take in a show!  It worked out brilliantly.

World of Color got its Frozen on!  Olaf was the host.  He even led us in a giant sing-a-long.  And they didn't mess around, either.  Disney knew the vast majority of the crowd would want to "Let It Go", so BAM!  That was the show finale.  They didn't try to work it into the show or anything forced.  They knew it wasn't really a holiday song, but with Olaf hosting and other Frozen songs already having been played, it needed to be done.

They did away with the World of Color lunch special, so we sprung for lunch at Carthay Circle.  $40 a plate, $20 for children under 9.  And plan on about two hours to complete your dining experience.  I felt for the food it was a bit overpriced, but I actually enjoyed just relaxing and enjoying a good meal!  One thing about a trip to Disneyland, you need to plan in rest times!  Even with that, by the end of three days I was ready to be done.  Of course, I'd love to be back TODAY, but that's a problem I just have to live with.

The lines were non-existent.  We were so spoiled.  The longest we waited was for Toy Story Midway Mania and Peter Pan, and both waits were under 30 minutes.  We pretty much walked onto rides.  The only fast passes we really needed were Radiator Springs Racers, and we did that twice.  By the way, what an amazing ride.  I think I liked it even more at night.

My favorite holiday themed ride has to be Haunted Mansion.  It is pretty much completely different.  The music and sound effects all seemed so crisp and clear.  The decorations, down to the smallest detail, are all done just right.  Did I mention it's all based off The Nightmare Before Christmas?  So cool!

It's a Small World is also worked over for the holidays, but it just doesn't measure up to Haunted Mansion.  I mean, it's still way cooler than normal, though!

A word about positive peer pressure now, if you don't mind.  We vacationed with Lori's parents, her sister Emily, and her brother Glenn with his family (Allison, Annie, Eric, Eli and Caleb).  Traven is a just a bit younger than Caleb, and when they weren't fighting, they were best buddies.  And Caleb was up for any ride.  Traven had in the past vowed to never ride a LOT of rides again, but when paired with Caleb, he found a new level of braveness!  And it turns out he loved Big Thunder Mountain, Tower of Terror and the Matterhorn.  He was not really crazy about Indiana Jones, and still refused Splash Mountain and Space Mountain.  But all in all, he did great!  He now says Tower of Terror is his favorite.  And on a related note, vacationing with the extended family was wonderful.

I am going back in two years with the whole family.  It will be epic!  I can't wait to experience it with all my kids!  And it would be great to have the rest of the family there as well.  Something tells me Lucy might have a good time there.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Disney World Review

Well, I know I already have one Disney World post, but this one is more just general notes for me on things that worked and things that didn't.

1.  One sit down lunch was wonderful, something I'll be doing on all subsequent trips to Disney.  It took over an hour, but it was amazing.  Just sitting down, away from the crowds, in an air conditioned environment was energizing.  And enjoying something other than the typical burger or chicken sandwich was a nice change of pace.

2.  My Disney Experience, with FastPass+, was beyond cool.  I could book my fast passes before hand, so rather than bouncing around the park, we could be more organized.  I could see the wait times in the app and adjust my passes accordingly.  Shoot, the thing will work as a compass and take you to the nearest bathroom!

3.  The Magic Bands are genius.  Honestly, I still feel a bit naked not wearing one.  It was the key to our room, our entry to the park, and it controlled our Fast Pass entrances.  You can even set them up so you can pay with them.

4.  Did you know some of the lines at Disney World have built in time killers?  We waited 40 minutes for Pooh, but T played the entire time.  It worked really well.  And the line for Space Mountain has a giant video game.  I tell you, Disney is a well oiled machine.

5.  Staying on a Disney property has me spoiled.  I don't know if I can go back!  Not paying for parking should be taken into consideration.  $17 a day down there.  Wowzers.

6.  A backpack, with supplies such as a water bottle and snacks, worked well.  There were plenty of places to fill up the bottles, and staying hydrated is important.  I had those 99 cent rain ponchos in there as well, so when the rains came, we were prepared.  I also took some zip lock bags to hold my wallet and phone, and a pair of sandals for the water ride.

7.  I say this every time, but a down day is nice.  Our fifth day was very relaxing.  We spent just a few hours in Magic Kingdom, then shopped, swam and packed up for the return trip.

Well, that's it for this short entry.  Enjoy!

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Disney World

I realize my children, along with one  particular sister in law, are probably the only people that will read this entire thing, but so be it!  This will be a work in progress as our vacation progresses.

Day one was a travel day.  We left for the airport around 8:30 am.  We paid a bit extra to have 4 of our party of 10 board early, and that was a stroke of genius!  We were all able to sit together.  Well, except for Grandpa, who chose to sit alone.  Well, not so much alone as with strangers.  But, on a somewhat related note, I have not witnessed a Grandpa vs. Grandma argument yet on this trip!

We did use the Disney Magical Express, and their luggage service.  My first clue that something was amiss was when I noted most of the tags were for "Unknown Elquist".  When we went to board the shuttle, that's when we found out our Magic Bands were non functional.  They assured us they could straighten it up at the hotel.


The desk clerks said to come back at 9 in the morning, that their wholesale department would have to negotiate with Travelocity in order for our reservations to get fixed.  And when we got to our rooms, no luggage.  There we were, no Magic Bands and no luggage.  It was a dark time.  However, luggage showed up around 1:40 am, so that was a good sign.

Cut to 9:00 am in the morning.  That's when we met Todd, the most amazing Disney worker EVER!  He saw me there with my 10 bands, a look of despair on my face.  Todd went to work!  In about 15 minutes, our bands were good, we had 10 "Family Reunion" pins, 10 "First Time Visiting" pins and 10 bonus Fast Pass tickets for use in Epcot.  I've never wanted to hug another man quite like Todd.  Love is a strong word, but I think most of the family is feeling a little for Todd!

After a questionable start, the day took off from there.  We went to Epcot.  We first rode Spaceship Earth, which Traven described as "the best ride ever".  He did feel the Romans were actually Lamanites, but at least I know he listens in Primary.

Next was Nemo.  Same ride as Disneyland, but no submarines.  But at the end, there is this whole real aquarium.  Again, Traven was a big fan!  Toad fish = ugly, that's all I've got to say.

Soarin' was identical to Disneyland, which is fine.  Never mess with perfection.

We also rode Living with the Land, which Grandma loved.  This is a very green ride, with lots of talk about how we can grow things differently to help the earth.  It pretty much sails through greenhouses.

We ate lunch in "The Land" building.  The turkey sandwich was good, and some went with Chinese, which was also ok.

Our family favorite for the day was next.  Test Track!  I thought it would be more like Radiator Springs, but it was a lot more thrill ride than that.  Lots of speed and turns.  AWESOME.

Mission Space was next.  We split half and half for Orange and Green.  Orange was amazing.  Disney, how do you make me feel like I'm pulling several Gs on blast off.  Seriously, I could feel my face sucking back!  What an incredible, unique experience.

We next rode Ellen's Energy Adventure, which added up to nap time for several of us.  Not me and Traven mind you.  We continued our day long conversation!

Two hours.  That was the line to meet Anna and Elsa.  Um, no thanks.

Maelstrom was the most overrated, boring ride I've experienced.  Big disappointment.

The whole countries thing in Epcot is not a big win for me.  But others in the family loved it.

The short 3 Cabbelleros ride was fun.  It felt a bit like Small World.

Dinner was at Mexico, which was basically chicken tacos for all.   Again, it was good.

Traven and Jason bailed to go swim, and the rest of us watched Illuminations.  Great show.  There's a freakin' giant globe that comes out, lights up and has all sorts of effects.  It's literally the size of a small planet.

All in all, for a day that started with a feeling of doom, it was a great day!  More to come.......

DAY TWO:  Hollywood Studios

We started the day with Tower of Terror.  Just different enough here to have you a bit more in suspense, a bit more nervous, all adding up to a bit more fun!

We followed that up with the Rock and Roller Coaster.  Sweet mother of monkey milk, that was a fast, exhilarating ride.  Aerosmith music blasting, going 0 to who knows what in the blink of an eye, corkscrews, twists, dives, turns - WOW.  Loved it!

We hit a bit of a snag here, with some health issues and the temperatures.  Combine that with Braden accidentally giving T his bedtime pill, and T needing a Benadryl, we were in for some grumpiness.  But we persevered and had fun.

Beauty and the Beast was a very nice production, and I'm told Little Mermaid was as well.  We loved the Indiana Jones stunt spectacular.  Some of us even took in Muppet Vision 3D, which is a classic.  Alyssa took Traven on the "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" playset, and took him to meet Phineus and Ferb as well as Mike and Sulley.  Oh, and we even got a photo with a green army man.

We paid a kings ransom for lunch at Mama Melroses, but it was worth it.  The pace was slower, there was no crowd and we just had about an hour to relax and enjoy some incredible food.  We did the Fantasmic Lunch!, which came with appetizers, entrees and two dessert plates.  Unlimited drinks and bread were included as well.  And VIP seating for Fantasmic!

As a bit of a Disney fan, I find it amazing that this was my first Fantasmic! performance. They do it in a stadium here, with seating kind of like you'd find at Sea World.  We were smack dab in the middle.  It was like World of Color meets a fireworks show, with a bit of parade tossed in.  We simply loved watching Mickey's imagination run wild, then the villains trying to take it over.  But in the end, Mickey triumphs (oh sorry, spoiler alert!), a ton of characters come out on the steam boat, fireworks erupt and I left feeling like it was a highlight for this trip!

Oh snap, I forgot at least two!  The Great Movie Ride was fun, as we got to see highlights from several films.  I'm a bit shocked that some of us did not recognize Ridley and a face sucking alien, but I did!

The backlot tour was LAME.  Hard pass on that one next time.

Oh, and of course Toy Story Midway Mania.  Rock solid, identical experience to California Adventure.

DAY THREE.  First off, a couple of lessons learned.  First off, the wait times can be deceiving.  Jungle Cruise said 15 miutes - we were in line around 70.  Second, Stich's Escape is far and away the worst ride in existence.

Today was a day with a lot of rides in common with Disneyland.
Peter Pan felt identical.
Small World was similar, but did not have the built in Disney characters.
Pirates was about 50 percent shorter.  Lame.
They have two Dumbos, both identical to Disneyland.
The train has three stops and is much shorter.
 Buzz Lightyear was identical.
The Tomorrowland Speedway was pretty much the same as Autopia.

It was a nice pleasure to see the Country Bears again.  I loved it.  Still funny after all these years.

Aladdin was a fan favorite, in particular for Kaylee.

The People Mover was awesome!  What a great, simple ride to kill a few minutes.

Mickey's Philharmagic was a lot like Muppet Vision, but was still cool.

Nighttime was amazing.  Electric Light Parade, followed by the show on the castle.  How they make the castle look like a movie screen is unreal.  And they've already factored in some new family favorites, such as Tangled and Frozen.  Traven was signing "Let it Go" at the top of his lungs.  And "Wishes" fireworks had some of the same music as the original in Disneyland, but was somewhat shorter.  Still it was a magical end to the day.

By the way, as soon as one raindrop came down tonight, people started scurrying.  It was odd to say the least.  I mean, it wasn't even a proper storm!

Lunch was at the Tortuga Tavern.  I had a taco salad.  It was nice to basically build my own.  Dinner was at the main cafe by the Speedway.  Bacon cheeseburger.  Yum.  I think it's the Starlight Cafe?

The Magic Bands are finally working like a charm.  We had to fix Eric's / Grandpa's at Hollywood yesterday.

DAY FOUR.  Today, it rained.  We had about every type of rain you can imagine.  Sprinkles, down pours, wind driven - we had it all going on.  This made for a wet day, but the lines were pretty much not there.

We arrived at Animal Kingdom around 9, and jumped right on the Primeval Whirl twice.  It's like the old Wild Mouse at Lagoon, but with some spinning tossed in.  We then rode some sort of Dumbo-esque Dino ride, which was still fun.  After that, Finding Nemo the Musical was next.  It was well done.  I don't think I'd drop everything to do it again, but I'm glad we went.

Ah, next was Dinosaur, which sent Traven into a screaming fit.  Honestly, he was screaming like he was near death.  I think the rest of us liked it, but not poor T!  We did the Whirl again, then went to Expedition Everest.  Well done Disney!  This is another winner.  Fast, twists, backwards, dark - it had it all working.  Loved it!  We then did the Khali River Rapids, which is not on par with Grizzly Rapids.  We finished off our rain soaked adventure with the safari, which I think most of us enjoyed.

Tonight, we had some go to downtown Disney, while some returned to Hollywood.  We were able to get in two trips to the Tower of Terror and a ride on the Rock and Roller.  Finished off our adventure with some pretzels and called it a day.  On day four, this was a good day to have less to do and be at a slower pace.  I think we are wearing out the Grandparents.

DAY FIVE.  Today was a nice and slow day.  This is good, because Magic Kingdom was beyond  crowded.  Like, you almost couldn't move in spots there were so many people.  We did Splash Mountain, which to me seemed a bit longer and better than at Disneyland.  We then lost Traven's MagicBand, which was ok since we are on day 5.  Probably, if I did this again, I might not let Traven wear his own band.  We then did Haunted Mansion, which seemed a bit longer as well.  It definitely has a different look on the outside.  We then journeyed to Space Mountain, which it turns out I am not a fan of.  Grandpa took Traven on the Speedway again, and Traven, Grandpa and I went on the Astro Orbiter.  That ride actually soars above the park, which was pretty awesome.  You ride an elevator up to get on the ride.  We then split up, with Traven, Alyssa and I going to the Pooh ride.  The line was long, but there were things for T to do the whole time.  He had a blast.  Drumming, spinning things, moving bees along a line, playing a touch screen thing, etc.  It was great for him.  We then came back, with Traven, Jason, Braden and Alyssa swimming.

All in all, a great trip.  The MagicBands are very convenient, once they are up and working.  FastPass+ with My Disney Experience is wonderful.  They need to let you reserve more than 3 attractions a day.  Oh, and staying on Disney property is the way to go.  I think I'd try a meal plan next time as well.  Probably have an extra rest/laundry day.

I can't believe it's over.  I can't wait to gather up our photos and relive the magic over and over again.  I really treasure these times, having all the kids together.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How to NOT coach a team

As a parent, I have discovered true agony.  It is watching your beautiful, talented daughter, surrounded by her talented friends, squander a year away, due to ineptitude at coaching.  I've sat through a lot of games as a parent, across several different sports.  This marks the first season I have been disgusted by the coaching.  Revolted.  Appalled.  Embarrassed for Spanish Fork High.  The girls sophomore basketball team is a wreck, and it is 100 percent on the coaches head.

99 percent of the time she sits there, as if she isn't even watching the game.  The head coach of the team has either a blank stare, or this bewildered look on her face.  She never calls timeouts, never even gets up off her feet.  She has them run the same play over and over again.  She plays favorites, often leaving in the wrong players for too long.  She doesn't substitute often enough.  Instead of improving over the season, the team seems to be slowly imploding.

Top 10 lessons learned this season about coaching basketball.  I need to watch more jv and varsity I guess....

1.  Always run the same play.
2.  Ensure that play never works.
3.  Choose your favorite players, and play them no matter what.
4.  Never use a timeout.
5.  Never stand up.
6.  Always take out the player who is scoring.
7.  Never work the officials.
8.  Never cheer or give encouragement to your team.
9.  Never change your lineup when the team is struggling.
10.  Appear disinterested as often as possible.

I have never, ever been so excited for a season to be over.  The head coach would do well to have different sophomore coaches next year.  This is not the pattern for building and sustaining a successful program.  

Last night's game pretty much sums up the season.  We started ok, were down by only 7 at the half.  We had energy, we had actually been subbing in and out with regularity and things looked up.  Then they start the 3rd quarter, and I note our leading scorers and most tenacious defenders are on the bench.  And we play the same players pretty much the entire quarter with no subs.  And we fall behind by almost 30 points, with no timeouts taken.  We get destroyed, and the coach gives a player of the game award to a girl who only played a total of maybe 5 minutes, all in the 2nd half.

And that my friends is how to destroy a team.  Pretty sure my 6 year old would be a far better coach.

I am so looking forward to volleyball season.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas talk 2013

What, nobody is going to volunteer as tribute?  Well, please consider this talk your first gift this Christmas!  You’re welcome!

What wonderful music and talks we have enjoyed so far.  Christmas truly is a magical season.  It amplifies our reverence towards our Savior, and reminds us of God’s great gift to us, providing for us a way to be saved and returned to His presence.

You know, it’s funny.  I thought with the recent emphasis on missionary work, I’d consult my mission journals for some inspiration.  I am so disappointed in myself.  I did discover one gem, though.  A bit of a Christmas miracle.  Is it tacky to quote yourself?  Oh well, here we go.  “Last night we went to a Christmas party.  Brazilian Christmas is different.  They have a huge dinner Christmas Eve, sometime around 11 at night.  There’s not a lot of things better than a Brazilian Churraso.  The bad part was it didn’t get over until 1:00 am.  We left the house, walked to the bus stop and realized – no more buses until morning.  However, just then a bus passed and stopped for us.  He wasn’t supposed to be picking up passengers – he was done and heading home.  But, he stopped, drove us to our doorstep and did it all free of charge.  A little bit of a Christmas miracle.”

Christmas has many lessons to teach us, but they are simple and pure.  I’m not going to stand here today and unleash some groundbreaking doctrine about Christmas.  Have you ever contrasted the birth of Jesus with that of earthly royalty?  Think of the pageantry, the extravagant nature of things when a new child is born into a royal family.  The press coverage, the non-stop attention given to the event.  Now think on the birth of Jesus.  He could not have come into more humble circumstances.  There was no ceremony, no processions, just a very humble manger, surrounded by humble people.  I think we sometimes lose sight of this in our own Christmas traditions and celebrations.  Maybe we could all set aside a few moments and just enjoy the simple nature of Christmas this season.  Read the scriptures together, sing some carols, even watch one of the films the church provides, and just reflect upon the simple, humble, reverent aspects of the holiday season.  One year one of my brothers in law decided we should do a reading from the scriptures to help teach the true meaning of Christmas to some our nephews that have never set foot in a church.  Was it a blazing success?  I’d say kind of.  I’m glad he made the effort, and I’m grateful it taught all of us the value of patience.  And I’d say we learned we should have started sooner and done it each year.

When I think of my own fondest Christmas memories, I’m so grateful for them.  They aren’t about presents, but instead focus on people and service.  I recall being invited to perform in a Brass quartet for a Christmas festival up in Morgan.  It was outdoors at night, and it was so cold the valves on my baritone would freeze shut.  I must have used a quart of valve oil to keep that bad boy purring along.  But I also recall the beauty of the event, and the spirit that was there.  Honestly, we sounded really good, and the Christmas hymns and carols resonated throughout the scene.  There was a live nativity portrayal, and something about it all was just magical.  I don’t think it’s any wonder or miracle that Christmas events can so easily take on a reverent, spiritual nature.

Build memories with your families.  Now that my Mother is no longer with us, I’m thankful to be able to remember Christmas time with her.  I can remember we always had this worn out fake Christmas tree, and she decided we needed some pine scents in the air.  She asked me to trim some of the evergreen shrubs from out in front of the house.  We then took those clippings and lined them along the top of the window valances, then placed various Christmas decorations in them.  I’m not sure Dad was 100 percent appreciative of my winter pruning job, but the shrubs lived, Mom had per pine scent and I was convinced there were pine shrubs in Bethlehem for a bit.

My Grandpa would go crazy with Christmas decorations in his yard.  I do wish I had a picture of it.  It was seriously a yard of signs, figures, lights and other Christmas items.  No real order to the thing, just utter chaos.  It was pure genius!  But his real Christmas thing was if it snowed on Christmas eve or Christmas morning, which it often did up in Morgan.  You could count on the old Allis Chalmers tractor firing up and plowing every road, driveway and parking lot in sight.  No cab on that tractor, just a seat up there in the open.  But that man would plow until everyone could get out and enjoy Christmas with others.  And when his health failed, my Dad took over plowing duties.  Neither man was much of a church goer, but I knew by their service that they place special importance on the Christmas holiday.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t work some Dr. Seuss in to this talk.  You know, if you really listen to the words, I think he was really onto something.  “And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”  I spent two Christmas seasons in Brazil, with people that had little to nothing.  But they still celebrated the holiday, without presents or any fancy decorations or events.

Charles Dickens taught another way we can help see Christmas correctly.  He wrote “For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”

The songs we sing have lessons to teach us as well.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel.  Isaiah taught “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman* is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”.  This prophecy was fulfiled as indicated by Matthew “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
   and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’”

Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains.  An interesting side note, this is one of the few LDS hymns to be embraced by the broader Christian community.  It was written in 1869 for a Christmas program in our own St. George.  I’d share more, but Elder Rasband kind of stole my thunder with his Christmas message.  He did a great job, so if you are curious to learn more, watch this years Christmas devotional.

Now, one of my favorite Christmas songs is I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.  I love the version by the Christian rock group Casting Crowns.  If you haven’t heard it, you should.  It really seems to convey the thoughts and emotions of Longfellow, the author of the poem on which the song is based.  The song tells of the narrator's despair, upon hearing Christmas bells, that "hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men". The carol concludes with the bells carrying renewed hope for peace among mankind.  During the American Civil War, Longfellow's oldest son joined the Union cause as a soldier without his father's blessing. Longfellow was informed by a letter dated March 14, 1863, after his son had left. The son soon got an appointment as a lieutenant but, in November, he was severely wounded[3] in the Battle of New Hope Church. Coupled with the recent loss of his wife Frances, who died as a result of an accidental fire, Longfellow was inspired to write "Christmas Bells".

He first wrote the poem on Christmas Day in 1863.  What a powerful Christmas lesson about hope.

In 1914, during World War I, the sacred nature of Christmas was even able to stop war, at least for a day.  The war had raged for several years, and many soldiers had hoped it would end by Christmas.  Yet Christmas Eve came, and they were still in the wet trenches doing battle.  Then, on Christmas Eve itself, several weeks of mild but miserably soaking weather gave way to a sudden, hard frost, creating a dusting of ice and snow along the front that made the men on both sides feel that something spiritual was taking place.  Christmas greetings were shouted across the battle front, and soon carols could be heard.  The German Silent Night was answered by The First Noel.  Before long, soldiers were out of the trenches, shaking hands and exchanging gifts.  Fighting resumed the next day, but for Christmas, along some of the battle lines, a Christmas miracle occurred.

As time has permitted a bit longer up here, I’d like to remind you of the story The Other Wise Man.  Artaban followed the same signs as the other wise men did.  And he had gifts for the newborn king – a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl of great price.  However, he stops along the way to help a dying man, which makes him late to meet with the caravan of the other three wise men (from the Bible). Since he missed the caravan, and he can't cross the desert with only a horse, he is forced to sell one of his treasures in order to buy the camels and supplies necessary for the trip. He then commences his journey but arrives in Bethlehem too late to see the child, whose parents have fled to Egypt. He saves the life of a child at the price of another of his treasures. He then travels to Egypt and to many other countries, searching for Jesus for many years and performing acts of charity along the way. After thirty-three years, Artaban is still a pilgrim, and a seeker after light. Artaban arrives in Jerusalem in time for the crucifixion of Jesus. He spends his last treasure, the pearl, to ransom a young woman from being sold into slavery. He is then struck in the temple by a falling roof tile, and is about to die, having failed in his quest, and yet he knew that all was well, because he had done the best he could. A voice tells him "Verily I say unto thee, Inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me," and he dies in a calm radiance of wonder and joy. His treasures were accepted, and the Other Wise Man found his King.

One final story for you.  A candy maker wanted to make a candy that would help us remember what Christmas is really about.  So he made a Christmas Candy Cane.  He incorporated several symbols for the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ.

He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy.  White symbolizes the virgin birth and sinless nature of Jesus.  Hard candy was used to symbolize the solid rock, the foundation of the church, and firmness of the promises of God.

The candymaker made the candy in the form of a “J” to represent the name of Jesus.  It also represented the staff of the Good Shepherd.

The candymaker then included red stripes.  He used three small stripes and one large red stripe to represent the suffering Christ endured at the end of his life.  The candy became known as the candy cane decoration seen at Christmas time.  The meaning has faded, but still gives joy to the children young and old, whom Jesus loves and treasures.