Ta Ta to ToonTown

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Been  a week since the news came out, and I am finally able to process enough to write: Toontown Online is closing on Sept. 19, 2013.

Toontown has been around for a little over 10 years, and, surprisingly, we must have been playing for 7 or 8 of those years. It was the first MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game) that my son played.

At the beginning the whole family played.  We opened one account and each of us got one of the six toons to create; the kids got two each.

Betsy and Carly played awhile but eventually tapered off. Nathan and I continued.

My toon is Prof Alvin Wonderbrains. Nathan submitted and got approved the name of Dash for his toon.

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At first Nathan was the one dashing through Toontown ahead of me, but eventually the professor caught up, as Nathan’s main interest shifted to other MMOGs — VMK (virtual Magic Kingdom), Lego Universe, Wizard 101, Pirate101.  Yet Toontown kept a place in his gaming universe, even when it was following the progress of Wonderbrains, or the latest new development to the game.

“Hey Nathan, a Cold Caller invasion just started.  What level are cold callers?”

“Level one sellbot, Maximum level 5.”

As you can see from the above snippet, he is my walking talking Toontown Wiki.

Earlier on they had one of the annual fishing contests, and I stayed up 24 hours continuously fishing, relieved by Nathan periodically, and we won the contest, and a very small Disney digital camera.

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More recently, in the past couple of years, I started doing cog buildings as my main way of earning points for top cog promotions, earning stars as part of the “Toon Platoon” and found I’d accidentally one month became the top toon for taking over cog buildings that month. Wonderbrains managed that feet 5 or 6 times in the ensuing months.

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VMK and Lego Universe closed awhile ago, Nathan felt a pain when they closed. Seemed to him that the things he like are the things that go away.

He’d just gotten back into a little more regular Toontown the past few months, and then they announced its closure.  The idea of our toon  characters going into oblivion, being deleted from file servers, is a little hard to bear. We are taking screenshots of important moments and places to save as our memories and mementos of this decade of our leisure lives.

Memories of battling the VP, CFO, CJ and CEO,

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Driving our carts on Goofy’s Speedway,

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Playing Chip N Dale’s Mini Golf

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Toon fishing, playing cannons at our estates and hosting toon parties.

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Then of course all tho toony holidays and their celebrations

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Houghton College Retrospective #2: Roommates

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(Note: This blog walks a very fine line of compassionate perspective in writing versus being very truthful with my impressions from the period 29 years ago)

How many of you remember filling out the survey before freshman year to help the college line you up with a compatible roommate in the dorm? I don’t really remember filling out the form, or anything specific about it, but I do remember trying to be as accurate as possible to get a good match.

And then I got to college, in Shenawana Hall, and met my first roommate, David. We were housed on second floor, on the front side, at the far end from the floor lounge. As I read it today, it seems that I almost immediately began to wonder if this person I was matched with had filled out his application honestly, or if the person pairing us up hadn’t bothered to read the applications before making room assignments (It isn’t anywhere in my journal from the time, but perhaps we were the final applications left, the oddballs after everyone else matched up well, that they threw together). He seemed amiable enough, but our taste in waking vs. sleeping hours,  music and volume levels, just didn’t seem to match up AT ALL.

In the light of 29 years distance, reading my own writing, I wonder how I must have appeared to him. My own notes from the period are quite one-sided when talking about him. A specific example I want to bring up I copy below, because it feeds into the next stage of my roommate saga:

Nov. 18, 1984

I couldn’t believe it. I had turned on my tape player with the volume set low, turned off the lights and gone to bed.  David came in and turned on one of his records. After laying there for a while I turned mine up, and he turned up. A few more minutes were by before I turned off my take and spoke.

“David, I handled this wrong, but we have to talk.”

“What do you want to talk about?”

“I had my music on when you came in, they you turned yours on.”

“Sure, I thought you were going to sleep listening to yours so I was going to go to sleep listening to mine. Yours doesn’t bother me.”

I had thought that perhaps he hadn’t heard my music, I had it so low. Rather, he had heard and had turned his on anyways. Maybe his music doesn’t mind other music going at the same tie, but mine does.

“Oh forget it,” I said. Getting my earplugs out of the drawer I put them in. They cut all sound, David’s music was quiet enough.

This was followed 2 days later by:

Nov. 20, 1984

Last night I had gone to bed at 9:52 p.m. EST. Waking up at 12:09 I see David’s carpet is gone. The computer photo of Sandy and Jim was on the door to the other closet. I looked around, taking a more careful evaluation. Sure enough, Jim had moved in and David out. He (Jim) came in a few minutes later with the last of his things. Certainly I would have awaken during their moving but for the earplugs I had used last night.

And so here we both are this morning. Lord may this be right, may it work out.

Thus my first college roommate and I didn’t mesh, so without discussing it with me, and I am not sure whether they discussed it with the R.A.’s or anyone else, David moved out and Jim moved it.

Jim was a better match in how we could get along in ignoring each other. We certainly didn’t move around in the same social circles. I remembered being fascinated by the seeming carefree way he dealt with everything.  One weekend he went over to Olean and came back with an entirely new stereo system.  When I asked him how he could just go out and spend money like that, he said “My dad can pay for my education here in an afternoon’s surgery.” (His dad was an eye surgeon.)

What I didn’t remember, but see as I read my journals, is that he seemed to have a troubled family life that I worried about. He would also disappear for long periods of time and then show back up without my having any idea what he was up to.

But we made it through the rest of that year as roommates, and then came the time to choose roommates for sophomore year.  Jim was going to room with someone else, and I was left to find someone else. But I didn’t really have any prospects in mind.  Oh, there was one person, Matthew, but there was also one reason I wasn’t sure I wanted him for a roommate.

You see, earlier in the year, he had pulled this particular, spectacular stunt on his roommate Dan.  He had moved all of Dan’s stuff out of the room, and into the lounge. So while we seemed to get along in most ways, I really wasn’t sure I wanted to risk experiencing something like that. Yet when he asked if I wanted to be his roommate, I decided to say yes.  So we went together to the room drawing, and managed to get the same room on second floor, near the entrance, that he had freshman year.

It took until the beginning of sophomore year for Matthew to tell me that he had promised himself that he wasn’t going to pull a stunt like he did on Dan. I remember feeling relieved when he said that. And that was that as far as roommates were concerned.  Matthew and I roomed together for the next three years, two more at Shenawana, and the final, senior year off-campus at Havenwood.

Houghton College Retrospective #1: Intoduction and answer to “why I went to Houghton College”

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It is hard to believe that I graduated from college 25 years ago. Yet as I look around at my life, enough has certainly gone on between now and then for it to be a fact. My college reunion is going to be in October during Homecoming Weekend.  So perhaps now is a good time to do a series of blogs related to college, specifically my Houghton College experience, and related events.

Let me begin with a caveat. While I am intending to write truthfully and factually (as my story will show, much of my background, at college and after, was related to journalism and reporting), I am probably as prone as anyone else to “rewriting history” to fit the narrative of what we know must have happened, whether my first person experiences agree with it or not.  Memory being memory, when faced with a hard fact (something in print) versus the narrative, narrative often wins. (For a very good explanation of this, see Sarah Hoyt’s blog here.)

But I will at least, through many of the blogs, attempt to reference actual hard copy sources. I have four year’s worth of The Houghton Star (student newspaper) and The Boulder (yearbook) as something to anchor my musings to something solid.  But whether the anchor or the narrative reigns …. probably remains to be seen.  And those readers who shared some of the experiences, and might know, might still disagree on which side wins.

So with that introduction, I am going to start by trying to answer a pre-college question: Why I chose to go to Houghton College.

Part of that question of course is why I chose to go to college at all. That goes to family history, and the high school I attended.

I grew up in a farm family. Both my grandmother’s were school teachers. Both had taught in one-room school houses early in their careers before entering more consolidated districts later. I am sure both attended some sort of school, though whether it was college, a teacher’s college, or other, I don’t really know.  But I know that education was important to them, and that their grandchildren went to college.

Neither of my grandfathers went to college, to my knowledge. My maternal grandfather was going to go on and be an engineer, but his elder brother died suddenly and he ended up taking over the farm.  I don’t think he ever completed anything beyond the 8th grade, yet he was one of the most educated and well read men I have known.

My mother attended college, but didn’t complete, and after a year or two enlisted in the air force for 3 years. After she got out she met my father and married him.  My dad didn’t attend school. He graduated high school just before World War II and spent the war years either working on airplanes in plants in Buffalo, NY, or providing vital war efforts on the farm he took over from his father.

So education was important, but not the specific form of college.

Now about high school. My parents enrolled my siblings and I in a private school, Horseheads Christian School, when I was in third grade, and from there we went to Twin Tiers Baptist High School. My brother was valedictorian of his class of 11, I became valedictorian of  my  class of 28. We obviously had the brains for college.  Both of us earned Regents diplomas in New York in addition to local diplomas. So college was assumed. The question was where, what to study, and why.

What was easy for me at the time: writing. Somewhere in high school I had gotten interested in writing (I had always been interested in words), and at the time had a fiction idea and was going to write and publish a novel.

Why I wanted to go to college?  One thing it certainly wasn’t — a means to a job. I had no thoughts about studying something to make a career path to earn money at something. It was for the learning and education itself. I didn’t know it at the time, but I picked up the formalized version of the concept at Houghton — the idea of the liberal arts education preparing one for life, not a vocation.

But where? The limiting factor for me, at the start, was a private school, even a faith-based school. 4-year, no community college. I had placed very well on the PSAT in 11th grade, and received a form that would send my results to 3 interested schools. I already had two schools on my horizon: Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA (my brother’s school), and Cedarville College, Cedarville, Ohio, but what school for the third school? (I had looked at Bob Jones University, and the program just didn’t seem right — I wasn’t put off by the strict attendance or dress code policies, they would have felt right at home compared to TTBHS).

My Grandmother Lightfoot asked me to consider another school that I had never heard of before. She had an article about it having just turned 100 years old. It was a very strong school academically, and she was very impressed with it.  It also happened to be closer to home than either of the other two, though that didn’t make a difference to me. So I put down Houghton College.

All three schools sent information, and I visited all three. All three had good cases, but only Houghton had an actual writing program, and even had a program where I could major in writing fiction.

I was impressed with the program, with the campus, the relaxed dress code and atmosphere was okay. I was impressed with the faculty, and the faith mission of the school.

But it was sponsored by the Wesleyan Church. When I announced my plans, as the other seniors were announcing, back at TTBHS, I got intent questions from people, many of them faculty, at the school.  As Baptists, they wanted to know if I was sure about going to a Wesleyan school.  The only teacher who didn’t seem to blink an eye at it was Mr. Wilson, our Bible teacher, and perhaps the most favorite teacher and father figure we had at Twin Tiers.

And thus the decision was made, and that is how and why I chose to attend Houghton College.

When Jesus Wept

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“When Jesus wept a  falling tear in mercy flowed beyond all bounds.

When Jesus groaned a trembling fear seized all the guilty world around.”

This College Choir lyric started running about in my head, a few days ago.  When I was singing it in college I had no idea it was a classic text.

Avondale UMC Youth have fundraising round-up at Pizza Ranch

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Monday night was Avondale Youth Night at the local Pizza Ranch on North Oak here in Kansas City. The youth from Avondale United Methodist Church bussed the tables from 5-9 p.m. In exchange, Pizza Ranch graciously allowed the youth to keep tips received as well as sharing in part of the evening’s proceeds.

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The evening for the youth began at 4:30 with an orientation by the Pizza Ranch staff, followed by heading out to bussing tables, sweeping floors, etc.

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Betsy dropped off our children, Nathan and Carly, at 4:30, with the plan to come back at 7 p.m., when we would all have dinner together, our deal with the kids for them to join the youth group for the fundraiser.

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We arrived at 6:45 p.m., so I could catch the kids in action, before giving them their supper break. We seemed to be arriving near the end of the heavy rush. The restaurant seemed full of customers, and movement of green Avondale shirts was visible throughout.

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We paid, sat down to eat, and watched our kids work the rest of their shift before giving them their break. And as they ate, I quizzed them on what they had learned, what they had observed.

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“We were told to always put the lighter condiment on the right” Nathan said, pointing to the salt/pepper and pepper/cheese shakers, “for those who are colorblind.”

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He also said they were instructed when cleaning up the tables to put the advertising tent cards at the end of the table near the outside end of the table. But he had observed that people tended to move the tent cards to the middle or inside ends of the table when they sat down.

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The youth had also been told that Monday night’s were usually a slower night, which is one of the reasons they offer them as fund-raising nights. But this Monday night also happened to be a double points night for Pizza Ranch card holders. Which would mean extra patrons — an extra bonus opportunity for the fund-raiser.

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We saw a lot of people from church who might ordinarily not have been there all at the same time — like us there were there on Monday to help support the church youth group.

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But more than just the funds raised by youth for their mission projects, the youth also gained valuable work experience. Though for just a few hours, on a volunteer basis, they got the chance to see inside the operation of a local business. They learned the value of seemingly small things to an operation — like proper placement of salt shakers — that attention to detail, and doing a job well is worth doing.

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And from my observation, they all showed they could work hard and conscientiously.

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So, let me say thank you to Pizza Ranch for its support of the community from an appreciative parent of a couple of Avondale United Methodist Church youth.

Sofia — To Latvia, With Love

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A poster saying farewell to Sofia, with pictures from her life to date.

Though she won’t be flying away until Aug. 23, yesterday afternoon was the farewell party for my niece Sofia, who will be traveling to Latvia to spend her senior year of high school as an exchange student.

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Sofia beside the sandwich spread.

The party was held at her home in Kearney, where her parents recently greeted a German exchange student, Lina, who will be using Sofia’s room and experiencing life in America for the same year that Sofia is experiencing life in Latvia.

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Weather was perfect for people to congregate on the outside deck

The come and go event lasted 7 hours, from 3-10 p.m. By the time we arrived at 3:30 there was a nice group there, and the people seemed to flow in.  We were there along with other family members, and we were way outnumbered by the many friends from both school and church that came to wish her farewell.

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The lights and balloons made the outdoors festive.

The downstairs family room was laid with a nice spread of sandwiches and chips, etc, but the weather was so nice that many people moved outside to the festively decorated deck and lawn.

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The bonfire put off a lot of heat.

By late afternoon They started a bonfire, and by the time the sun was going down, the smores and hot dogs came out.

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Sofia (center) with her cousins Carly (left) and Nathan (right)

It was a fun time, but also a little sad for her cousins, who won’t get to see her for the next year.

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The cousins acting a little crazy.

Anyone interested in following her journey, can read her own blog here.

KC Starlight VIP Club

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Betsy and I attended the performance of Footloose at Starlight Thursday.  Wasn’t really interested in the show, though it was better than I expected, But what I really wanted to do a review of this time, was the VIP Club dining, this year catered by Plaza Catering, which also runs Cinzetti’s Italian Market Restaurant in Overland Park, KS.

When we purchased our season dining passes for Starlight this year, we received gift coupons to Cinzetti’s which we tried out before our first visit to Starlight.

Come On a Tour With Us!

Cinzetti’s is a single price restaurant with a large central marketplace-style display kitchen that includes fourteen exhibition cooking stations offering classic Italian foods. Each time we have gone they asked us if we had been there before, and offered us a tour before we started our dining experience. The buffet is a feast to both eye and palate. In fact, it was so excellent that we had high hopes for our visit to the Starlight VIP Club.

Which was a minor let-down.  Don’t get me wrong, the food at Starlight was very good.  But we had experienced such a high quality of food at Cinzetti’s that it didn’t seem to measure up.

Now, I say all that to get to the one other really important point about my dining review.  In previous years, the Hereford House had catered to Starlight.  Now, with a premiere beef name catering, you’d expect to have excellent beef served. But I always found whatever beef entree was being served to be dry and tough.

This year, Plaza Catering, associated with an Italian Restaurant, and no special connection to beef, has always had a beef entree that has been better, more moist and tender, than the most moist and tender beef I ever experienced while Hereford House was catering.

On Thursday they had something that sounded unusual and not especially appealing: salmon in barbecue sauce. Amazingly, it was quite good. the balance of the barbecue sauce and the fish was perfect. They also had mini-sliders that you could prepare with your own choice of pulled chicken, pork or beef.  I served mine up with just the sauce already on the pork.  Betsy tried pouring the sauce out of the available bottles.  She expected the consistency of ketchup; instead it was the consistency of viniagrette and went all over her plate and the floor.

Last night was also the first time this year that we experienced extensive lines at the buffet.  I think we each spent at least 25 minutes of our dining experience waiting in line. And since we finished our plates and went up at different times, it meant we didn’t get to dine together as much as we might otherwise have.

Overall this year the service of Plaza Catering was good, though they still haven’t quite got all the service points smoothed out.  We think the long lines came from trying to make things nicer and fancier.  If they had broken up the lines into more stations, like at Cinzetti’s, things might have moved faster with less clutter.

One other thing we noticed last night: for the first time on our table was a card inside the centerpiece that said “thank you” and “gratuity not included.” Now, gratuity has been sort of a hot topic at Starlight in previous years.  When we first started attending the VIP Club gratuity wasn’t included, and since it was a buffet, and since we didn’t purchase any of the extra-price beverages, we tended to tip a dollar or two per person.  Then came a year where they switched caterers, and suddenly there were these bright pink cards in our final sign-out letting us know that expected gratuity was 20-30%. Well, as a student of Miss Manners I was shocked at this breach of common etiquette.  A gratuity is a gift, not something you should expect, and not something you should so brazenly mention.  I wrote in. I think several others did too. Because next time and for years afterward, gratuity was included.

So I never saw anything this year about a gratuity until last night.  And of course I hadn’t carried any cash on me, because I hadn’t expected to need it.  I liked my waiter — would have give him a tip if I had known to be prepared.  I came away feeling bad that this change wasn’t more clearly spelled out. I’m still a fan of paying a higher front price, giving the staff a decent wage, and not worrying about a tip, But if there is to be a policy change, I wish it would be more clearly spelled out (though not in the brazen manner of the previous “expectation” of tip).

So, to conclude, I hope Plaza Catering wants to do VIP Club next year, and I hope Starlight wants to hire them again. And I hope the gratuity thing gets worked out and spelled out clearly next year (slightly higher price no tip is my suggestion). And if you haven’t been to Cinzetti’s — go soon.