First Day of School, and the Beginning of the End

Today is the first day of the schoolyear, and I'm feeling all nostalgic.  See, it's 3Po's and Jammy's first day of 5th grade, and The Pea's first day of 8th grade.  Next year they'll be moving on to middle school and high school.  That means it's our last year at the elementary school that we've been going to since 2006, when The Pea first entered kindergarten.

Things I didn't know about Monsanto

Monsanto is a company that people love to hate.  There are many companies that attract controversy: Nestle, Walmart, McDonald's, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, to name just a few, not to mention just about any oil company, tobacco company or bank.  But none of them, not even Philip Morris or RJ Reynolds, is as universally negatively viewed (reviled, even) as Monsanto.

So why did I agree to spend a day with Monsanto at their research facility in Woodland?  I guess I wanted to hear what they had to say.  Are they really worse than Morris or RJ Reynolds, the companies who marketed tobacco to minors and concealed research proving that smoking is addictive and lethal?  Or can a company that was recently defended by Neil Degrasse Tyson -- the spokesperson for science and logic, every liberal's hero -- be all bad?  

10 Reasons to Attend Mickey's Halloween Party

photo credit: Disneyland News

We're still on summer vacation, but the Disneyland Resort is already preparing for Halloween!  Their Halloween Time season is set for September 12 through October 31, 2014, and tickets for Mickey's Halloween Party are already on sale.

We attended Mickey's Halloween Party for the first time last year, and it was an amazing experience.  Halloween is my favorite time of the year, and my favorite time to visit the Disneyland Resort, so Mickey's Halloween Party was basically the culmination of everything that I enjoy in a great party!  I would definitely recommend it to any family.  I've listed 10 things that make Mickey's Halloween Party an experience like no other.  Here are 10 reasons why I love Mickey's Halloween Party -- and 10 reasons why you should go:

Changing of the Guard: Is it worth braving the crowds?

Buckingham Palace Changing of the Guard
Quick, what's the most tourist-y thing you can do in London?  Chances are, you thought of the Tower of London, Big Ben, or Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard. We've done the Tower of London and Big Ben on past visits, so I decided to take the kids to see the Changing of the Guard on our most recent visit to London.

A trip to Gretna Green (aka, my teenage romance fantasies come to life)

Do the words "Gretna Green" ring a bell?  If you've read a ton of historical romance novels, they ring more than just a bell, they ring a wedding bell!

When I was a teenager, I read a lot of period romances.  A LOT.  I combed the used bookstores for Barbara Cartland and Mills& Boon, and filled my head with fantasies of debonaire dukes, regency rakes, villainous viscounts, and the fiery ladies they yearned for. Sometimes I wonder if my taste for Georgian era and Regency era romances had any influence in my falling in love with an Englishman fourteen years older than me!

How to Spice Up a Chicken Salad Sandwich

No doubt you already have a tried-and-true recipe for chicken salad. I know I do.  I love chicken salad, whether it's served on a salad, on crackers, in a sandwich, or in a wrap.  Like most of my recipes,  my chicken salad recipe is vague on measurements.  I don't bother with the measuring cups and teaspoons, I just mix it up to taste.

The Best of BlogHer 2014

It has been 2 years since I last attended a BlogHer conference.  I had a great time at BlogHer11 in San Diego, but I skipped BlogHer12 in New York and BlogHer13 in Chicago because I was traveling.  I did attend (and speak) at BlogHer Pro last year, and I had a great time, but I missed the scale and excitement that the main BlogHer conferences generate.  So when BlogHer announced that their 2014 conference would be held in San Jose, right where they started 10 years ago, I knew I had to attend.  Attending the conference was so important to me that I gave up a trip to the Philippines and shortened our trip to the UK in order to attend!  After all, a 10th Anniversary is a special thing, and who knows when it's going to be held in the Bay Area again.

Stonehenge: Visiting in 2014


Today is Throwback Thursday, so I decided today would be the perfect day to blog about our trip to Stonehenge.  There aren't many things that could be more of a throwback than Stonehenge!  A few months ago, I blogged about Stonehenge and its previous visitor facilities, and wondered what the new Visitor Center would be like. Fourty-four years ago, Alfie could stand right next to the stones. Four years ago, we could only stand 100 feet from the stones.  What would our visit be like now?  Would we be even farther away?   Happily, the new logistics don't diminish the experience at all;  in fact, I was able to take exactly the same photo, standing at exactly the same spot, as I did four years ago!   With all the new exhibits, the whole experience is actually much better than it was, because you come out of it with a much better understanding of the history and culture behind this ancient site.

Race for Life 10k: Victoria Park, London

Race for Life
How time flies; it seems like just yesterday that I was donning my caveman costume for Bay to Breakers, but 2 years have gone by in the blink of an eye, and I've been dragging my feet through my fitness routine ever since.  Registering for races always motivates me to maintain a regular running schedule, so I was determined to do a race this year.  The Disney Social Media Moms Fun Run gave me the kickstart I needed, and I decided to go one step further by joining a Race for Life event in London this summer.

5 things that Disney Parks do better than any other theme park

When the schoolyear ended, the kids begged us to get season passes to our local amusement park.  After all, they said, they were only signed up for 1 session of summer camp. A few of The Pea's friends were getting season passes, so they could all go together. Admission to the adjacent water park was included.  You could recoup the prices of a season pass in just 1 visit.  I caved in.

I don't regret buying those passes.  We've already gotten our money's worth.  The kids love visiting.  The park is a lot of fun.  The problem is, every time we go, I'm reminded of how inferior the park is to my favorite theme park of all: Disneyland.  Little things about the park irritate me, and I find myself saying, "Well, at Disney, we wouldn't have this problem, because at Disney, they do it this way.....".  There's no questions that this theme park costs less, and there's no question that the kids enjoy it.  But after 1 visit, I'm done, and I couldn't care less if I didn't go back for another 5 years.  I could go back to Disneyland again and again, year after year, and enjoy it each time.

So what is it that Disney does so much better than other parks? Other parks have rides (and many are much more thrilling than Disney rides).  Other parks have entertainment.  Other parks have characters. I realize I'm biased towards Disney, but I've come up with 5 concrete, objective factors that separate Disney parks from the rest.  Actually, I can think of 6, but I'm not even going to talk about how Disney parks provide an immersive experience and attention to detail like no other brand of theme park in the world (with the exception of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida). I'm just going to talk about operations, i.e. the way Disney runs their theme parks.  Here are five things I think Disney Parks do better than anyone else: