The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Disney World Secrets

Oh, by the way, if you're going to Disney World, there are a few extra things you should know.

Now, the most important secret is for grown ups. If you find yourself in any of the parks "in distress" of the digestive or intestinal sort, there is hope for you. Go into any of the shops and quietly ask if they have something to take. From behind a counter they will bring a small box filled with remedies you need. Little double pill packets of Immodium AD or Tums or some other chemical salvation. Long flights and eating on the fly will get you every time. But you have to know to ask because nothing is out in the open. The illusion that everyone is having a Zippity Doo Dah day is always maintained.

Another essential secret concerns breakfast. If you're staying in the hotels, the breakfast food opportunities are vast and varied. However, remember, this is Florida. It is hot. You will be in and out of that heat all morning. Consider twice before eating anything heavy. Better to stick with cereal, toast, or fruit rather than having to ask at a shop for relief later on.

Finally, in the food department, you can eat at Disney on a budget. There are some beautiful and wonderful restaurants of course, but you didn't come for those did you. What you need to know is that two adults can easily eat from a single large salad with slabs of chicken thrown in and do very nicely indeed. For finicky young eaters, we found the found the peanut butter and jelly sandwich pockets (that's not what they're called but they're sandwiches with the ends sealed shut, they're from Smuckers and little kids love 'em) to be salvation.

Oh yeah, one more thing, if you're in the Epcot Center sphere, taking the ride, and you see a night scene with beautiful starry panoramas, don't be a doofus and take a flash picture. You'll ruin the effect for everyone, be roundly cursed, and end up with a picture of a curved white wall. Spare yourself the ire!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Disneyland and Disney World Still Great Vacation Spots for Kids

Hey parents, set aside the postmodern sophistication and jaded view of the world and take your kids on a Disney vacation. Sure, corporate Disney is huge and owns a lot, but the Mouse still puts on a good show.

But you do need a disclaimer. I don't work for Disney. Disney doesn't pay me (I should be so lucky). But, I grew up as a red blooded all-American Mouseketeer and a religious "Wonderful World of Disney" viewer (8 pm Sundays). I watched Walt give us eager 1960s kids a tour of Disneyland (there was no Disney World then) and really, really wanted to go. We went when I was 13 and my brother was 7 ... despite being a teen (especially since nobody I knew was there), I loved the place. I still do.

Disney makes it easy for families. Purchase their package deal (check on prices, we last went in 2003) and you get your airfare, room, and pass to the Kingdom all in one. You won't need to worry about transport from the airport to the park either, Disney has you covered. A bus meets you at the airport and whisks you off to the park. Once there, busses get you to whichever park you want to visit (I'm speaking of Disney World here as that is my point of reference as an East Coast parent). Once inside, the monorail system will take you to all the parks Disney has to offer. It's simplicity itself. Save your pennies and take the 5 day package. You'll be able to visit all 4 parks without rushing and have a fifth day to relax at the water park there midweek.

A word to the wise, however. Wait until your youngest child is at least 6 years old. I've seen too many parents dragging around a kid far to young to enjoy the place and nobody wins in that situation. Everybody is mad at each other, the kid ends up in tears, the parents are red-faced with frustration (we paid good money for this darn it ... now enjoy yourself!!!), and not even Disney magic can defeat that. If your youngest is around six, you'll want to rent the Disney double stroller. Your child sits in one side, your gear rests in the other, and you get to move at an adult pace without the little one wearing out. Our daughter was able to go from park opening to park closing at 10 pm using this system. Best of all, as you move from park to park, you pick up a new stroller at each park but ... if I'm remembering correctly ... there's no fee after the first rental charge. It's a beautiful thing.

Of the parks at Disney World, The Magic Kingdom, Epcot and the Hollywood Studios are our favorites. Plenty to do and see. Surprisingly, the kids loved Epcot (our daughter felt it was the world of shopping) and our son loved all the twists and turns in each "nation." Epcot is best at night by the way.

Best of all, all the favorite rides (Space Mountain and Mission to Mars are musts if you don't have health issues) have fast pass features. You reserve a time with your card (which is also your room key so don't lose it) and enter a short line at the appointed hour. Works like a charm. You've also got to ride "It's a small world" and the Mexico pavilion ride at Epcot (which is the Spanish version of It's a small world") for the "cheese" factor!

When you come back, let me know what you liked best. Also, if you've got stories to report from Disneyland, I'd love to hear them. Why, "because we like you", just like the ol' Mickey Mouse Club members used to say when they closed the show!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Christian Moderates and Liberals, Find a Way to Speak UP, PLEASE!!!

For far too long, Christian moderates and liberals have given the public podium, the airwaves, the television broadcasts, the blogs, ... and every other public media over to the conservatives. Amongst conservative Christians, the ones who really make a splash in the 24 hour news cycle are the most strident voices, those who tend to alienate others rather than show them the love of Jesus, the ones who cast Christianity as a very private club rather than Jesus' healing message intended for all. It's time to speak up in every way possible.

The general sentiment tends to be that Christians of moderate to liberal persuasion don't want to speak up as they don't want to be associated with the far right folks on the airwaves. This is a problem. How do we ever change peoples' minds and redefine Christianity in the minds of others if we don't speak up? We know we are called to witness to others. We know we are instructed to help others and let them know who inspires us to help. We have been so quiet for so long that when others generalize about us and characterize us all as conservative fundamentalists, no one speaks up to deny this or to offer another point of view. Check out the blogs railing against Christianity if you don't believe me and you'll see the trend there. It's all on us to change this view of us, who we are, and what we believe. Today I say a Facebook post for Dr. Pepper that makes a clever evolutionary joke including their soda. The title of the article boldly stated Christians protest this Facebook page. Well, let me tell you, this Christian has no problem with what Dr. Pepper has done or with science in general.

So, I'm asking you to find a way that plays to your strengths to speak out and let others know there are other kinds of Christians out there than those who now have the mics and the public attention. I've chosen to start a little project of electronic evangelism on Hub Pages. You can see what I've done under I admit it's a small start. But in a few months, ten articles from a more moderate to liberal Christian have (last time I checked) been read over 620 times. It's a small beginning. But, if each of us does our part and speaks out in the ways that play to our God-given strengths, we stand a chance of presenting Christ's loving message in a different voice from the strident tone currently reaching the public and shaping opinions at the moment. Give it a shot. We've got a lot to gain ... and too much to lose.

NOTE: Since this was written, I've extended the project into this blog site with my Good News From Christianity posts. Baby steps for now. But I'm learning and expect to expand outward more soon in bolder ways. What about you? 

God bless you.

Scientists: Communicate Better on Climate Change!

The new Pew Research poll is out. Only 57 percent of the populace in the U.S. believes climate change is real. This is down from 77 percent in 2006. AND only 36 percent believe humans are responsible for the mess. Okay guys and gals, scientists who are paniced by the implications of global warming, it is time for you to speak up clearly and directly to the general public. But first, get out there and speak with people. Find out what they really think. You'll discover there are many out there who think this is just you opinion and they have plenty of scientists who feel otherwise in their pockets. Others will tell you this is part of the natural entropy of the universe ... things just fall apart. So, it's time to listen and the to communicate. You all need to find yourselves another Carl Sagan, someone who speaks clearly and engagingly on the topic who can get through to people before it is too late.

For the 36 percent out there who feel humans are responsible, is holding rallies across the nation this Sunday, October 24, to raise awareness about global warming. Be a part of one near you if possible. Speak up and let people know how you feel.

It's time to talk folks. In fact, it's overdue.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Star Trek XI Coming to the Small Screen for Christmas

I'm ready to see it again, twice over the summer just wasn't enough. Star Trek XI, the movie the reintroduces the original cast (with new, young, strong actors and actresses who look like they just came out of Star Fleet Academy training) to an new generation of potential "Trekkers" and gladdened the hearts of longtime fans, will be out on DVD on November 17. Enterprise will be surely warping through many a Christmas afternoon or evening this year!

Please note, however, there is at least one scene that is too intense for younger viewers. I know a 13 year old who found herself squirming through it ... so be careful parents.

If you didn't see this film over the summer, now's your chance to catch up on the action. For you skeptics who roll your eyes and pooh-pooh, you really should give this one a try. Sure you're skeptical after the franchise blew its warp core with the ill-fated "Enterprise," preceded by the lack-luster and all too long lasting "Voyager," but it's time to put all that away and move on. Yes, there are standard sci-fi ploys involved, including time travel and alternate universes (hey old Spock and young Spock meet without destroying universes, which is a nice twist). But get over it, see the film, and you'll most likely find you enjoy yourself in spite of your jaded skepticism.

What makes this Star Trek different is ... well, it's a really good movie first and a Star Trek movie second. The characters are a fresh look at the original crew, updated for today. You see the original characters in the new cast, but you also see them given new depth and taken further. I won't bore you with all the details, but let's take a brief look at one character, Lt. Uhura. In the original series, Uhura was basically a switchboard operator who fell to the floor and shrieked when the going got rough. Today's Uhura does a lot more. She's a zeno-linguist, talented, tough, and passionately in love with one character who ... well never mind. I don't want to spoil things for you. Never once when the going gets tough does she fall to the floor and shriek.

Dr. McCoy is fantastic and played to cranky perfection. The rest of the cast is equally entertaining and gives new twists to their old roles. The ship is beautiful and detailed. The secondary hull is very mechanical, engineering is a maze of hardware and piping, the shuttle bay appears voluminous.

The interactions amongst the crew are enough to keep you thoroughly entertained if you're a fan. Then you still have a villain. He takes a back seat to the crew in some ways but provides plenty of action and thrills as a deranged Romulan playing the 23rd century equivalent of Captain Nemo, gunning for whole planets instead of slave ships to assuage his wrath and pain.

For those of you who grew up with the original series and have seen the much-loved episodes look a little dated over time, rest assured (that is if there are really any of you out there who haven't seen this movie on the big screen already ... if there are where were you this summer .... are you all right, did you fully recover?!) there are no singing hipsters in this version, the camera does not zoom in and out at the red alert panel when trouble is coming, and a damaged ship does not tilt on the screen to indicate serious damage has occurred (I always wondered, since space has no real up or down but only out, from whose point of view was the suffering vessel tipped?), but all of the fun and plenty of new technology are packed in for your entertainment.

So, come November 17th, buy this Sci-fi movie for a friend or loved one. Make it a Star Trek Christmas for you ... and profitable enough for Paramount to do it again with the same crew and director soon!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Writing a Children's Book, Part 3: Characters

While the plot gives your children's book structure, the characters truly drive the story. If you have interesting characters a child can relate to, a main character that your readers will quickly care about, and supporting characters who are rich and surprising, your story will go far.

In the beginning, you introduce your characters to the readers. Let's focus on the main character. At the beginning, you need to establish who the main character is and how he or she thinks by how that character acts, interacts with others, and responds to whatever problem faces him or her. For beginners, it is best to make the main character likeable. Antiheroes are harder to write and relate to ... and they don't crop up all that often in children's literature. In Michael and the New Baby, the main character is awakened early by the very problem that he will have to grapple with ... and come to terms with ... over the course of the book, the new baby in the house who wakes him up early with a loud cry. We quickly get to know Michael as he navigates through the day and understand the various aspects of his fear.

Give your main character some depth. Likes and dislikes, favorite objects, particular outlooks on the world, unusual quirks and fears all add dimension to your characters. You don't want one dimensional action figures, not even in a story for young children. If a character has no other purpose in life than to follow the plot, you have yourself a boring, one dimensional characature rather than a character. (You'll quickly realize you probably need to create for yourself something called the author's "bible" in which you create an entire back history for each character and a listing of all of the necessary traits, clothing, objects associated with the characters, etc., so that you can keep it all straight. It seems like busy work ... and most of it truly will not end up in the book ... but it will help you flesh out the characters, give them depth, and develop connections between them that you might not have come up with otherwise.)

To give your main character as sense of reality, give that character history. Make references to the character's friends, to incidents that occured in particular locations, to his or her favorite spots, foods, etc. Have others refer to things that have happened between them or to anticipated events to occur later in the day/week/month, etc. All of this gives a sense of a richer world surrounding your character.

Other characters need to be more than one dimensional stick figures who move into and out of the set to propel the plot forward. They too need to have a past, need to have feelings and complications that give them depth and interest. Nothing is more boring than a series of characters who are paper cut outs readers are simply waiting for something to happen to (like in a bad slasher movie where the only thing you wonder is how a particular character will die, not whether or not he or she will survive, because the writer gave you no reason to care about that character). My antagonists in the story, the oddly named Stinky Roos (again, this was initially written to amuse a 6 year old boy and the name just stuck), have a bit of history to them and a variety of characters with a variety of jobs and roles to play. They represent for Michael what he is becoming by succumbing to his fears rather than facing them. They are exaggerations of the angrier emotions and thoughts Michael is facing and help Michael, the main character, see that those fears can and should be mastered to avoid ending up like the cantankerous Stinky Roos and that babies just aren't that bad!

Giving your character an interesting prop to work with at the begining of the story adds a certain amount of interest. Readers will wonder why the character always carries that item around. Then later in the story, the character can put the object to good and surprising use later on. However, don't cheat. Make sure to incorporate that object at the beginning of the story. Otherwise it'll just feel like you're cheating by springing the object later when needed and are just coming up with a feeble way to get yourself out of a corner you've painted yourself into. Handled well, you'll make readers curious. Handled poorly, you'll end up with eyerolling.

Give your characters depth, make the main character likable so readers have a reason to feel concern about what happens to him/her and can root for the character, and give them history. Make a character's bible to keep it all straight. Do all this and then your characters can help carry the story!

We Didn't Hurt the Moon

When the LCROSS spacecraft crashed into the moon at 5,000 miles per hour, the Centaur rocket booster created a crater 93 feet across. The plume produced, however, was not visible from Earth as it was hidden behind the rim of a 2 mile high crater wall. That crater was created by a rock far bigger than any spacecraft we have ever launched into space. The moon is hit regularly by rocks large and small as may be seen by its pockmarked visage. We are small, the moon is big. We will do it no lasting damage beyond littering tiny portions with some techno-debris ... which we might be able to clean up if space agencies receive the necessary funding to establish human bases there.

When the comet fragments of Shoemaker Levy 9 impacted Jupiter, each of the 14 strikes released the equivalent energy of all of humanity's nuclear weapons exploding at once. Jupiter's response to what would have wiped life off the face of the Earth ... 14 dark smudges that disapated over time. So, rest assured, we are small, the universe is large, the LCROSS impactor caused no lasting harm. For more on the LCROSS mission, visit the Universe Today website or NASA. Either one will be glad you came.
So have no fear, the moon of Good Night Moon and other beloved stories is intact and rising in the night sky. Lovers may go out on warm nights and "rope the moon" for each other just like Jimmy Stewart. The much loved "man in the moon" does not have a rocketship sticking out of one eye, forever disfigured while sailing across the night sky. Nor is the moon now about to leave orbit to drift haplessly among the stars as it did in "Space 1999." But soon, very soon, we may know if water ice hides in that deep dark crater at the moon's southern pole. And that, given how important such water ice could be to the future of human spaceflight, is worth a little dust up to discover.

Speak with Care, People!

We are living in a highly polarized world. There are over 6 billion of us and we're feeling the stress. Resources are limited and all too often hoarded by those who need them least. In the technological West we are burning the candle at both ends and up the middle as we are led by the nose by the gadgets that are supposed to give us more free time ... and a paperless office ... both of which turned out to be cruel jokes. We seek out the latest gadget while folks in struggling nations face starvation. We're sitting on a powder keg ... and many of us light matches almost every time we speak, some with malice and others without any forethought at all.

Before you speak, or email, or blog, or Tweet, pause for a moment of reflection. Think about whether the opinion you are about the express or the words of wisdom you intend to impart will edify or enrage people. Will what you say build bridges of understanding or walls of hatred? Go for the bridges.

The other day I heard an evangelical say in a news piece that his version of Christian faith was the only one to "take the Bible seriously." As a member of one of the more moderate to liberal Christian denominations, I was irritated and failed to hear the speakers subsequent points. He'd lost me on a few ill-chosen words. In point of fact, Christianity uses the Bible as the foundation of the faith and all serious, practicing Christians take the Bible very seriously. Scripture interpretation methods differ from those of the evangelicals, but, let me repeat, all take the Bible very seriously.

It is far too easy these days to alienate one another, especially in the charged atmosphere we all live in. Decide today not to add to the anger, not to build walls, but to build bridges instead. Avoid the knee jerk rhetoric and common wisdom, refrain from the cruel jokes and barbed remarks, and instead speak in ways that will extend joy, establish peace, and build bridges.

Take a moment to remember what your mother taught you, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." Words to live by ... and it may be words that keep us alive or drive us to extinction.

Have a blessed day.

Fiji Island Mermaid Press: Home of Tiny Books

All of you who are passionate about books need to take a look at the website faomously known by the acronym FIMP (Fiji Island Mermaid Press) and run by print artist Marc Snyder. The artist's work as a printmaker may be found there (which is really impressive) ... but, and you bookish sort have to be wondering where I'm going with this, you really need to check out FIMP's miniature books! They have toured at shows, been purchased by museums, and are available to the lucky few who have signed up for the prestigious FIMP Book of the Month Club. Made from a single sheet of paper reduced to measurements that make them miniature books, these tiny volumes have a lot to say. Some books are serious statements about politics, culture, and other burning issues of the day like the book titled Makes a Lousy Gift! 6 Things You Shouldn't Give That Special Someone, while others are pure whimsy. As a long-time member of the book of the month club, I highly recommend stopping by FIMP and checking it out. Let him know I sent you. Hell, let me know you went!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Celebrating Twilight Zone's 50th Anniversary!

Let's hear it for Rod Serling. It was 50 years ago this year that Rod first brought us his thought provoking and always entertaining Twilight Zone. The series that dared to ask the truly thought provoking questions of the day and to deal with hot issues couched in strange settings and unusual circumstances. Rod grappled with life and death issues, heaven and hell issues, end of the world issues, and far more. He showed us aliens who manipulated a sleeply little neighborhood until the frightened neighbors blamed each other for the strange events taking place on their street and turned on each other. Too bad today neighborhood violence is common in so many areas without any need of alien influence. He showed us a man who returned to the small town where he grew up on a nostalgic journey and discovered he had returned to the days of his childhood. He tried to tell his young self to enjoy those years and live them to the fullest ... with tragic, Twilight Zone results. Serling dealt with difficulties in the workplace, difficulties in relationships, and so much more. Personally, I thank him for making the stories accessible to teens as well as adults. Twilight Zone was a staple of my teenage years.

To celebrate I recommend the DVD box set if you have deep pockets. Parents, take the time to watch these episodes with your older kids and talk with them about the issues afterwards. You could do far worse for shared TV viewing than that.

If you are the more cerebral sort, check out the book Serling: The Rise and Twilight of Television's Last Angry Man by Gordon F. Sander. It was published in 1992 and remains a very good read. You'll come to understand the complexities ... and the foibles ... of the creative genius behind the series. You'll also find some really good photos of Rod himself included.

Thanks, Rod, thanks for everything.