Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Beginner's Guide To Pepper Drive Christmas Lights

I had initially intended to post this much earlier in the season, but here I am and it's already the wee hours of Christmas morning. So, while this write-up certainly comes too late to help out light seekers this year, I figure it is still a nice way to celebrate the season and extend my kudos to the residents who expend much energy to light up our neighborhood!

When I first moved to El Cajon over a decade ago, I remember people talking about going to see Christmas lights "on Pepper Drive." Curious to check out this local attraction, I drove down Pepper looking for a bunch of lights, but nothing stood out as extraordinary. It turns out that while you do enter the target area off of Pepper, the famous lights are not on that street itself. Being mindful of my past confusion, I figured I would try to offer some hints about enjoying the "Pepper Drive Christmas Lights." So, if you read on, you'll find a little basic advice, but then you'll also find my reflections about the lights and about life.

Pepper Drive is officially Christmas Headquarters! All throughout the year, I drive by the Family Christmas Tree Farm and find it amazing how--much like Santa's elves--its year revolves around preparing to shine during the month or so of the Christmas season. Many people come from all around town just to purchase a Christmas tree at this location at the corner of Pepper Drive and Graves Avenue. Perhaps while they're out here, they also make a quick jaunt over to see the Christmas lights nearby.

After all, from this intersection, you just have to take a short drive down Pepper Drive toward the east and you will encounter a sign warning: "TRAFFIC DELAYS POSSIBLE DECEMBER 1-31 5PM-MIDNIGHT." This official traffic sign is an alert that you are indeed in close proximity to the "Pepper Drive Christmas Lights." I always wonder who exactly is responsible for posting these signs each year. If anyone out there knows, let me know in a comment!

Check out this map to see the path from the Family Christmas Tree Farm to the decorated region, which in recent years has featured a tree farm of another sort! The map also outlines some recommended paths for viewing lights.

Although I'm sure that many people have different paths they are accustomed to following, I will share the one that has become my family's tradition. We always enter the area via Lindenwood Drive. (I suppose it's possible to enter via Rockview Drive, but then you'd be going against the main flow of traffic.)

In case you're heading to the area from the south, a hint is that Lindenwood is basically an extension of Mollison Avenue. If you follow Mollison all of the way north until it ends at Pepper Drive, you can continue straight ahead onto Lindenwood by just jogging over a little to the left. Another hint is to be careful at the four way stop since I have found that drivers are notoriously bad at this intersection when it comes to making a complete stop or properly taking turns.

If you turn onto Lindenwood during a peak evening viewing time, you will have no trouble figuring out where to head next since there will likely be a lot of cars already lined up. If you're not sure where exactly to go, though, you can refer to the path outlined on the map.

Although my family will occasionally join in the train of cars, we most often choose to park and walk instead. In order to avoid the traffic, we park on Arboldeda Road (also marked on the map). My only caution is that there is no sidewalk until you get onto Limon Lane. (There is also no sidewalk on most of Sheila Street, Brockway Street, and Rockview Drive). Luckily, most of the heavy traffic is not concentrated in the sidewalk-less areas and most of the drivers seem to be pretty cautious and courteous overall. All the same, stay aware and avoid wearing dark colors!

If you do happen to take the grand tour by car, you will find that most drivers follow the courtesy of driving without regular headlights. If you look at the picture below, you'll see the car in front with its regular lights on, but the car behind it is how most people drive, with just the fog lights. Occasionally, we will see cars with no lights on at all, but this is not safe, because then there are no tail lights as there are with "fog light mode." (I'm certain I'm using all of this car terminology incorrectly since I'm quite ignorant in this field. Feel free to clarify terminology in a comment!)

Once you've gotten your bearings, you can settle into enjoying the wonderful light show around you. On the night when I took these photos, my family and I passed by the house below twice, first as we started our walking loop and again as we finished. By the time we reached it the second time, it was a little past nine o'clock and all of the lights had been turned off, presumably for the night. It made me think that people are probably choosing to dim the lights earlier more often these days, perhaps due to the bad economy and/or to conserve energy. Whatever the case, it made me stop and reflect on how cool it is that this beautiful, free-for-us show is really a generous gift of the neighborhood, with residents willingly spending their own effort and money for the enjoyment of complete strangers.

The value of the gift that these residents provide should not be underestimated. After all, in addition to spending time and money decorating their homes, they also have to demonstrate patience in navigating and planning around the traffic jam that takes over their streets each December.

I always wonder how various residents handle the influx of outsiders. There must be some people who dread the season. Perhaps some people are even driven away! This year, we passed by a few "For Sale" and rental signs as we walked the neighborhood, and although the moves may be completely unrelated to the Christmas light traffic, I couldn't help but wonder if it is a factor.

While I imagine there are some residents who despise the holiday hoopla, I know that there are certainly a fair share who love living in their homes exactly because they enjoy partaking in the festivities. There are always, for example, people who take the opportunity to turn their homes into party central. Even on a weekday night, we will find at least a couple of houses with people hanging out around a fire pit in the driveway with family and friends.

It's hard to see, but there are people hanging out around a fire in a driveway here.
I love the fact that this is one of those rare opportunities (Halloween is another one), where we actually have an excuse to meet--or at least greet--the people in our neighborhood. On the night I took these pictures, a cute little boy greeted my kids with peppermint candies as we walked by. We've become so accustomed to teaching our children about "stranger danger" that it is nice to balance out those important safety lessons with learning to open our hearts as friendly members of a community. 

Now, back to the lights. You can enjoy lights up high! One of our favorite homes to see each year isn't even part of the route, but visible on the hill above. We always think it looks like a little gingerbread house.

You can enjoy lights down below! Again, some more great lights to enjoy aren't part of the actual route, but all of the lights in the distance. Oconnell Road and Soloman Avenue are both very steep, making for some great views. Just keep the steep grade in mind when thinking about traveling by foot. My husband and I usually enjoy the challenge since we undoubtedly have plenty of seasonal sweets to burn off, but on the years when I happened to be pregnant, walking was unbearable. And these days, walking with both of our kids in strollers, we always make sure to keep an extra tight grip on the walk downhill.

One fun game to play is "Spot the Santa." Here is a good ol' fashioned Santa in a traditional sleigh.

This impressive display spotlights Santa in a hot air balloon!

Can you find Santa below? He's peeking out the window! I always love when houses set up displays in their windows!

As a nod to East County, here's Santa on a motorcycle...

...and Frosty is by his side!

But again, back to the lights. Here are a few of our family favorites from this year. We really loved the Nightmare Before Christmas themed home. We have a bit of a soft spot for this movie since it was one of our son's favorites for a while. On top of that, though, the decorations looked completely magical when standing up close. I'm not sure that you could get the same effect when viewing it from a car, but standing right in front of the home, you were completely surrounded by twinkling lights.

My husband's hands down favorite house this year is shown below. He loved it based on its elegant simplicity and immaculate delivery. I'm not sure that I would have noticed the detail, but he was sure to point out how each light along the rooftop was perfectly placed pointing in the same direction. He also loved the elves, especially the one hanging upside down from the roof.

Now, as for my favorite photo of the lights, I love the snowman and the blue reindeer below. I took a ton of photos knowing that most would not come out well since I have a simple point-and-shoot camera and since I don't have any trained skill as a photographer. I'm not sure what caused the glow around the reindeer, but I like to imagine that perhaps it's some sort of spirit of Christmas past.

This year in particular, walking the Pepper Drive Christmas Lights was a reflective experience. We've walked this route for enough years now that we are able to mark the passage of time by the changes of the homes and their displays. In the past, for example, one of the attractions we always anticipated was a row of homes on the eastern side of Solomon Avenue. There used to be Santa's sleigh on the top of the first home that connected with a string of lights to a reindeer on the roof of the next home, and so forth until reaching Rudolph with a red nose on the final home in the row. It was memorable to say the least, and now it just a memory. 

These are some of the former "Reindeer Row" homes that seem so empty now.
Below is another home that we have distinct memories of. Years ago, before my husband and I had kids of our own, we walked by with our niece, who was about ten years old then. Outside of the house, there was a father with his super excited daughter about the same age as our niece. The girl greeted us, gleefully showing off all of her family's elaborate decorations that she had helped put up. There was even a wall-sized video projection set up with footage of the family's vacation to Disneyland! Just as our young niece was so excited to walk Pepper with us, we could tell that the girl we met was at the same magical age of being both grown up enough to help out and yet just young enough to really want to help.

Fast forward through the girl's teen years and we can only guess that she quickly outgrew her excitement of hanging up Christmas lights. Just as we would see our niece progress through years of preferring time with her friends or of being embarrassed by her family, we imagine the girl breaking her father's heart at some point when he asked for her help and she quietly or not so quietly declined. The decorations are much more simple now, with an angry looking Rudolph most prominently displayed. Although our imagined history about the girl growing up is conjecture on our part, Rudolph's glare seers into us, charging us to fully appreciate the time we have with our young kids.

This snowman family is another marker we have enjoyed each year, and yet, I wonder how big the little snowman is in real life today. Then again, I hear plenty of parents reassure me that no matter how old (and hopefully healthily independent) my kids get, they will always remain my "babies" at heart. Thus for me, as I see this this snowman family for yet another year, it reminds me that even as my children grow up, I can still hold them as dear and as precious as when they were so small.

As we finished our walking loop on the night I took these pictures, I noticed the star up in the distance above us. It's a star that is visible from not only the Pepper Drive area, but even far reaches of El Cajon and perhaps beyond. I'm not sure where the star is actually located or who puts it up, but if the person responsible should ever read this, I hope they know that someone out there does notice. For any residents of the Pepper Drive Christmas Lights area, I hope you know that someone out there notices--my family appreciates your neighborhood's gift each year. So, until next year...

Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

When The Circus Came To Parkway Plaza

Last night as I was driving home, I passed by Parkway Plaza and noticed a red and white circus tent set up in the parking lot. Since we've never taken my son to a circus before, I asked him if he would want to go and without pause, he answered, "Yes!"

When we got home, I figured it would be easy enough to check the Internet for ticket information, but much to my surprise, I couldn't find any mention of it on the event listings of several major local web sites and not even on the hosting Westfield site.
The Big Top nestled in the mall parking lot
I guess using the tent itself as advertisement was good enough since it worked for my family. After all, here we are a day after first spotting the tent, and we now have fun memories to share of an evening spent at the circus.
Our view of the tent as we waited at a signal to enter the mall parking lot.
Now, while I have gone to see the Ringling Bros. before and I have heard of Circus Vargas, I had never heard of the Atayde Bros. until tonight. It is understandable that I haven't heard of Atayde since it is based in Mexico. Still, after doing a little research, I am a little surprised that I have never come across the name since the company has been in the circus business since 1888.
The circus truck dons a clown with a sombrero.
If you take a look at the Circo Atayde web site, you'll see that the company does offer a big scale circus fit to fill a large venue. The traveling show that has come to El Cajon, however, falls on the humble side. This is not intended to be a negative comment, though. If anything, the small scale is something that my husband and I found endearing.
Our tickets and free child coupon
For one thing, the small size of the operation meant that there was not a bad seat in the house. When we bought our tickets, there were three options for seating. I chose the least expensive option, the bleacher section, and I am so glad that I did not bother to pay for more expensive seats. The tent was so small that we were easily within ten feet of the center ring. Even if someone had to sit in the last row--which was not the case since the attendance was pretty low with only maybe about 150 people in the audience--they would have a great view since there were only twelve rows total.
I've seen these set-ups for pony rides before, but not for llama rides.
Before I go on, I will quickly get my main criticism for the show out of the way. I know that animal rights advocates often protest circuses, and while watching the show, I can kind of understand why. The llama rides out front weren't even the problem. It was the animal-taming segment of the show that made me cringe and wince. 

A "tamer" brought out an adult and young camel to parade around the ring. He wanted them to do various tricks such as step up on the side of the ring and also kneel down before him. Perhaps it was just for show effect, but the cracking of his whip on the ground was unsettling. My son whispered to me, "That is a bad man." I asked him why and he said, "They [the camels] don't like him."

My son and I weren't the only ones who seemed to feel this way since the audience barely applauded at the act's end, when the tamer made the camels walk submissively out of the ring on their "elbows." The poor camels looked so uncomfortable doing this, but the cracking whip made them scurry along the best they could. Fortunately, other than a short llama-taming stint that followed the camels, there were no other live animals that had to perform in the show. 
The live performers were a joy to watch.
The circus really could have done well--actually, better--without the use of the animals, because the human performers were the best part by far. We enjoyed the opening magic act and the clown segment that came after that was very cleverly done, featuring a live performer who portrayed a rag doll clown with amazing physicality.

Some of the feats that were displayed were downright impressive. One of our favorite segments was the metal ball shown in the picture below. I've seen a single motorcyclist ride in one of these types of balls in the past, but in this show, they added a second motorcyclist into the mix. And, as a grand finale, they added a third! I worry about my son wanting to ride a motorcycle at all in the future--I can't imagine how I could ever handle him doing stunts like this.
Three motorcyclists ended up riding in this ball together at the same time!
Although it is a little hard to make out, the picture above also shows an object suspended above the ball. This object is a large metal airplane that was used in the final act. While I had wondered if the plane would feature someone riding in it, this was not the case. Instead, it sat on one end of a two-blade propeller-like set-up. The prop plane "flew" around the circle, while opposite it, a man and woman dangled and performed strength-based acrobatics. Try to imagine yourself hanging from high up and rotating in fast-moving circles, all while doing tricks like using only your feet to hold yourself upside down from a bar...and there is no safety net. What impressive talent!

Another potential criticism of the circus is the way that they tried to monetize everything. For instance, from the moment we entered the tent, they were heavily pushing "Star Wars" light sabers over the loud speaker. 

I was honestly surprised that my son maturely accepted the fact that we wouldn't buy him any of the toys that were being pushed since the announcer made continuous and impressively convincing pitches, playing upon every tactic possible, "Let's see everyone who has a light saber wave it around!" How left out does a kid feel upon hearing this over and over and seeing a growing number of kids waving swords of flashing light all around them?

In between one set of acts, we were told that today was our "lucky day," because there were balloons "for every kid in the room"...well, for every kid with $3 we soon found out. During intermission, there was face painting and photo opportunities with animals for another fee, and while the constant monetizing almost turned us off, we couldn't get upset in the end, because the workers were all so hardworking.
Our souvenir from the circus! (Notice a couple of light sabers behind us.)

As the circus truly was a small operation, we started to notice that the guy who had taken our ticket at the door was also one of the motorcyclists. We spotted the featured hula hooper working the snack cart during intermission and the rag doll clown walking the aisles selling toys in between acts. The juggler talent had to rush off stage only to juggle other duties--they all did. Seeing them work so hard was admirable and thus, we didn't feel bad when we did end up buying a souvenir of the night: a family photo of us in our seats.
On the back of our souvenir photo.
The back of our souvenir photo featured a signature quote that the Master of Ceremonies also announced at the end of the show. As he sent us off, he wished us that all our days be "circus days." But honestly, if this would mean we'd have to work as hard as the Atayde Brothers performers, I don't know if I could survive.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

El Cajon Mama's Been Out of Commission!

I love writing as El Cajon Mama, but life has been so busy and stressful lately that I haven't found time to do much writing at all. I've been so behind with life in general that at home, our cupboards seem to be perpetually at what we call "Old Mother Hubbard" levels while our dirty laundry piles continue to reproduce.

Although I haven't added a post to this blog for a while, I have added a few posts to La Mesa Patch during recent months:
I don't have time to write much right now, but I do want to put up a couple of quick El Cajon tidbits.

Today, after a full week of working 10-12 hours a day on a big project at work, I was never so appreciative of arriving at the weekend. Driving home, not even an angry driver in front of me could dampen my mood. Instead, I found myself so giddy about the weekend that just the simplest things made me smile.

Here are a couple of things that made me grin. (Don't worry, both times I was at a stop light when I snapped the photos.) HINT: Click on the photos to open them up larger.

#1: While stuck on the Bradly Avenue off ramp off of the 67 (and if know the area, you'll know that you can get stuck there forever), my son and I were entertained by a bird taking a break in front of the red traffic light. It was fun to see its outline as we sat there waiting for a green.

#2: Again at another traffic light, I was amused when the car in front of us had some family stickers. While it's quite normal to see cars with a dad, mom, a few kids, and maybe a dog or cat...I have never seen a line up like this one! This animal loving vehicle was a fun sight.

This El Cajon mama hopes that life slows down its pace soon, but in the meantime, maybe some more red lights will bring some unexpected joy. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Beginner's Guide To The Yogurt Mill

The tower of yogurt
If you live in East County, chances are that you not only know of The Yogurt Mill, but you are also probably a fan. For those of you not familiar with the Mill, I took some pictures last night that I will use to illustrate an beginner's guide to this El Cajon standby.

1. Finding Yogurt Mill - If you're coming by freeway, just take Interstate 8 to the Mollison Avenue exit. Head north to the corner of Mollison and Broadway and look for the unique leaning tower tucked back a little between Rodeo Market and a dentist's office. You'll know you're in the right place if you see a Starbucks, Panda Rice, and Subway since they share the same parking lot.

The line from our son's point of view
2. Expect a line - If you go during the day, you may often avoid the crowds, but if you go in the evening, you will likely end up waiting in a long line. Last night was an ordinary Wednesday in May that didn't coincide with school vacations nor particularly hot weather. Still, at 8:30 pm, we faced a twenty minute wait. Though our son was the one who originally requested we go to "Yo-gurt Miiiiiiill," the longer we waited, the more squirrely he became. I explained to him that in life we have to wait for a lot of things, but luckily, in this case, the wait is worth it. He agreed.

3. The line forms to the left - If you happen to get in line right when the line is just starting to spill outside, do not stand so that it heads straight out into the parking lot. This is dangerous! That is why there is a sign on the door with instructions to form the line to the left. You may not think this is a big deal when if the line is just a few people deep outside, but it is common that before you know it, there will be twenty or more. Don’t be surprised if you see the end of the line reach the dentist’s office! This brings me to the next point: Read the signs!

4. Read the signs - As mentioned above, there is a sign about forming the line to the left, and yet people don’t seem to read signs, because we will occasionally arrive to find the end of the line in the middle of the parking lot. We sigh, “Rookies,” and the staff also seems to sigh as they end up having to come outside to redirect the line. The staff is obviously trying to get a few important points across to customers, because there are a lot of signs and most of them repeat the same thing. I can just picture a weary employee muttering, “There is a sign that says we do not accept cash. Why did that customer go ballistic that we won’t take their credit card? I guess it’s time to make another sign...”

5. Bring cash - There are in fact several signs inside the Mill that spell out that cash is king, but just so you know before you go there, I’m writing it here: BRING CASH! I admit that it is jolting to go places these days that don’t accept plastic, but this is one of those places, so just make sure to stop by the ATM on your way.
6. Check Facebook for daily flavors - Yogurt Mill always has about ten flavors to pick from. There are five flavors that they offer daily: chocolate, vanilla, coconut, strawberry, and peanut butter. The other flavors, which include no lactose and nutrasweet options, rotate each day. In the past, we’d hear people call in to see what flavors were being offered on a particular day, because regulars definitely end up waiting for their favorite ones to come into rotation. Now, though, it’s easy to see what flavors are up by checking Yogurt Mill’s Facebook page. I’m personally waiting for York Peppermint Patty’s turn.

This lady came prepared with a coupon.
7. Bring coupons - Plan your visit ahead of time and save yourself a little money. There are always current coupons available for Yogurt Mill, whether you find them in local circulars or if you simply do a search online and print them out. The staff is so used to taking coupons that they do not blink when you present them. Just make sure the coupons have not already expired and that they are actually printed out. I’m guessing that is a rampant enough problem, since there are plenty of signs posted about proper coupon use.

Child size on left; Baby size on right
8. Expect large portions - If you’re on a diet, then you might like how you can control your portion size at self-serve frozen yogurt shops. This is not the case at Yogurt Mill. You don’t serve yourself, and the portions are huge. If you used to frequent the Mill in the past, you’ll remember the insider lingo of getting your sizes “dropped.” I think the logic was that they piled yogurt so precariously high that it was necessary to drop whatever size you ordered into a larger cup. Thus, if you ordered a “Child” size, it ended up in effect being a “Junior” and so forth. It was a fun thought, but perhaps in an effort to save our environment from the doubling up of Styrofoam containers, dropping is now a thing of the past. You’ll see that the new size options simply assume the larger size cups, forgoing the internal layer of smaller cups altogether. Thus, today’s “Child” size is now yesterday’s starting “Junior.” As it is, the smallest size available—the “Baby”—is so generous that this is the size I get for myself and my son. As filling as it is, the name pressures my son into thinking that it’s not enough: “I don’t want a Baby size. I’m not a baby!” I have to tell him, “Too bad. I know you’re not a baby. But, at Yogurt Mill, Baby is what you get.” (Just so you know, out of all of the times we’ve been to Yogurt Mill, I have yet to see anyone ever order a cone!)

Our daughter's frozen yogurt mustache
9. The toppings won't disappoint - In recent years, self-serve frozen yogurt shops have popped up all over the place. My husband I have gone to some of them, thinking that it’s fun to be able to add a whole assortment of different toppings. But, having been to these novel newer shops, I have to say that there is something to be said for sticking to the classics. I think that sometimes having too many options is not always the best thing in terms of quality. At other shops, I may end up piling on ten different toppings, but is it really more satisfying than when I get one topping at Yogurt Mill? Not in my experience. The staff at Yogurt Mill somehow seems to add toppings in just the perfect way. They layer toppings throughout the yogurt--except for the baby size, which just has a single layer on top--so that you are able to enjoy toppings with each bite the whole way through. As someone who is prone to worrying about ridiculous things like budgeting toppings as I eat, this is a detail that I appreciate.

The police cars of the officers waiting in line
10. You might find yourself in the midst of local heroes - When you have young children, you learn that firefighters and police officers are akin to major celebrities. In popular culture, people may make jokes about how police like to frequent donut shops, but in El Cajon, it is much more likely you’ll find them at Yogurt Mill. It is actually quite common that you will see a fire truck or police car parked outside of the Mill, but luckily, the only emergency is usually just one involving a yogurt craving. The exception is that one time when we were in line, there was a girl who actually collapsed and had a seizure. While no rescue workers happened to be present then, they did arrive in record time. And, after the girl was safely carried away by ambulance, the remaining rescuers decided that they may as well make the best of it and stay to enjoy some yogurt before heading out. I couldn’t think of a better reward for a job well done.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Three Simple Lessons From An Evening At Peter Piper

Tonight, my husband and I took our kids on their class field trip to Peter Piper Pizza in Rancho San Diego. We used to frequent this location often with my husband's family since my father-in-law is a big fan of their lunch buffet and he used to treat us to it whenever we could coordinate our schedules.

Last year, though, my husband suffered gallstone pancreatitis and had to get his gall bladder removed. This whole ordeal not only inspired my husband to improve his eating habits in general, but it caused him to give up dairy almost entirely. Not fitting into his new diet, we've pretty much sworn off pizza and so our former Peter Piper dates have gone by the wayside.

The field trip tonight was the first time that we've taken our son back to Peter Piper since he's been old enough to actually enjoy the arcade games. Through the critical lens of an adult, the place is not overly impressive. The games seem overpriced and many of them don't seem like they are working all that well.

But, from the viewpoint of my son and his peers, the place is amazing. I have to toss aside my cynicism when seeing the joy in their faces, and open myself up to the lessons these preschoolers have to offer.

Lesson #1: Keep it simple
Our son "making" his own pizza

When our son's teacher mentioned that the kids would get to make their own pizzas, I imagined--in the least--them rolling out their own dough, ladling out sauce, and sprinkling on cheese. As it turns out, the sweet Peter Piper staff member assigned to be our guide brought out pre-rolled dough with sauce already spread. The only "making" necessary was to disperse the cheese that was pre-piled in the middle of the sauce to the edges. (There was also a cupful of pepperoni that kids could add to their pizzas, but our son didn't want any.)

To my delight, our son was not disappointed in the least by the simplicity of the cooking activity. He seemed to take pride in spreading out the cheese before the raw pizzas were whisked away back into the kitchen to be baked. And, ten minutes later, when the hot pizzas were returned to our table, my son glowed as he announced, "I made that!"

As someone who is often guilty of overdoing things, the pizza was a good lesson that all that is necessary is often the most simple.

Lesson #2: Enjoy the game

Even not being that into tickets, our son still came home with these goodies.
Even as a kid, I was kind of a spoilsport. When my parents would take our family to an arcade or carnival, they would give my brother and me each some money. My brother would always spend his money on games, but I always saved mine. I think that fiscal responsibility is important, but seeing my son enjoying games tonight makes me feel bad that I couldn't allow myself to let loose even when I was young.

I am particularly impressed with the way that my son selects the games that he plays. Perhaps his tastes will change as he grows older, but for now, he seems to care more about enjoying the actual gameplay than in winning. Even when he knows that certain games yield more tickets in return, he would rather experience a variety of different games than simply play the same one just to win more tickets.

Lesson #3: Let go of your inhibitions

This last lesson of the night doesn't come from my son, but from one of his classmates. It's a lesson that my son could stand to learn from, too, because he is often shy like me. As evidence of my son's reserve, when the Peter Piper worker was giving the kids a tour of the arcade area, she allowed the children to play some games for free. When she got to the Skeeball section, she asked for volunteers to play, and some kids quickly ran up as fast as she could put tokens into the machines.

With one empty machine left, the worker encouraged my son to play, but as much as I know he likes Skeeball, he just hid behind me and looked at the ground. I can hardly blame him, though, because I have never been the kind of person to raise my hand when a volunteer from the crowd is solicited.

This is where the classmate enters the scene. Not only was this kid happily one of the Skeeball volunteers, he was also the first to step up when the Peter Piper guide brought us to the grand finale of the arcade "tour," which consisted of a brand new game machine that she was quite proud to show off: Deal or No Deal.

To start with, I couldn't believe that this four-year-old kid seemed to understand the concept behind the game, because having only seen the original television show once long ago myself, I am barely familiar with it. The whole experience was surreal. Watching this boy play was like seeing some seasoned adult contestant on a real-life game show. He was so confident, scanning the briefcases with a look indicating he understood that he had to pick the right ones, yet never looking intimidated in the least that a whole crowd had gathered to watch him.

After each round, he kept pressing his luck without hesitation, confidently choosing "No Deal." I know that if I had switched places with him, at thirty years his senior, I would have been nervous having all of these people watch me, and I definitely would have been guilty of being indecisively slow when picking suitcases.

In the end, the kid won the grand prize of 1000 tickets. Just as on a television game show, he didn't disappoint the crowd as he started jumping around with his arms raised in victory. While the game is obviously a matter of luck, I swear that it was his complete lack of inhibition that opened up the gates to fortune.

I don't feel too bad that my son and I are more restrained, because I see the practical benefits of being cautious. All the same, I am inspired that a child so young can have the confidence to stand out in the crowd without the slightest hint of embarrassment and just go for the win.