Saturday, September 19, 2015

Talk like a pirate day 2015

One young scallywag was willing to dress up as a pirate and go to Krispy Kreme with me this morning to get a dozen free donuts for National Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Love the treasure chest inspired box.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Nashville wedding

(Just looked at May pictures and realized there is a whole bunch more I missed blogging about -- doh!)

Back in May, I got to be the Matron of Honor at my best friend's wedding. This wasn't my friend's first marriage, but it was the first time she had a formal ceremony, so I was honored she asked me to participate.

The best part is that Joy and Natasha moved back to the States!!! Granted, they are way across the country in Tennessee, but much closer than Japan where they lived previously.

I flew out to Nashville for 5 days. Due to expense and not wanting Hank to miss school, it was just me. So -- it was kind of a super awesome free from kids weekend as well, lol.

Joy's husband is a Nashville native, so he knew all the good food places to take me to (since that's how I get to know a place now).

Loveless Cafe

Jack's Bar-B-Que

Biscuit Love -- bronuts and hot chicken sandwich

One touristy thing we did was go to the Belle Meade Plantation -- it was very pretty and interesting.

These stacked limestone walls are everywhere -- some old, some new. Very distinct to the area.
We also visited a local brewery. Oh -- and a grocery store. Things that stood out to me at the restaurants and at the grocery store that make Tennessee unique -- boiled peanuts, a vast array of pimento spread (you're lucky to find one small jar of it at stores here, but in Tennessee there are dozens of varieties and container sizes), pickles, and "hot chicken."

Then it was on to wedding stuff. One day we spent getting pampered -- love! We also made our bouquets. Neither of us had a clue as to what we were doing, but I think they turned out alright.

The rest of the time was pretty much wedding focused. They had the ceremony and reception in a cool brick building. They merged elements from Japan, where they met through their teaching assignments, Spain, where they realized they both wanted to travel when they met through a teacher training assignment, and their love of music. I loved the centerpieces most of all, and all the paper cranes.

Wore my blue suede shoes in honor of Elvis

Turntable wedding cake and pie

I realized I need to bug Joy for wedding pictures, lol.

Dada's 40th birthday

Almost caught up with blogging! This was another summer trip -- for Dada's 40th birthday. BT's work has made it difficult to plan things in advance. Usually I have to just go ahead and plan something, and hope it works out for him, or we have been planning things totally last minute. For the weekend of his 40th birthday, there were multiple elements to consider. One -- he couldn't take any extra time off, like the Friday or Monday surrounding the weekend. Two -- we had been invited to two events down in San Diego for the same weekend -- one was inland a bit, and the other near the airport. Three -- it was Comic Con weekend, so many hotels were sold out and those left, no matter how far away from the convention center, had exorbitant prices.

We hemmed and hawed about what to do. I kept looking at hotels, and was surprised when two weeks before our trip some rooms all of the sudden popped up at a place I have been wanting to stay at. Actually, it is a place I knew of from when I lived in San Diego, but seems to have reinvented itself in recent years. Growing up, the Rancho Bernardo Inn was for wealthy golfers. It was a special thing for my parents to go to any event there. It was most definitely not a place for kids. Well, that seems to have changed. A lot of popular southern California bloggers I follow started staying there and promoting the place (just for the record -- they were comped, I was not, lol). All of the sudden, kids are the focus -- there is a kids club, a summer fun package,

Summer package includes free meals for kids, free golf at putting range, a mini golf course, scavenger hunt with prize, movie at the pool in the evening, buckets with toys for each kid, and other freebies.
a "s'mores and snores" package,

S'mores and snores includes the use of a pop up tent and sleeping bags, and then baggies with s'more ingredients you can take to several locations at the resort to make, and an animal and glow sticks to keep.
kids eat free promos, etc.

The kids loooove room service after this summer
I was so excited to stay there, and booked our room immediately.

Ok -- now we had a place to stay. How to work out other elements -- getting BT there, celebrating his birthday (which was on the Friday of that weekend) but also participating in the other activities we had been invited to, and avoiding Comic Con. I decided I would still drive down on Friday to spend some time at the hotel with the kids and avoid traffic (our use of the T word, "traffic," was an entity onto itself that weekend -- every plan we discussed included some mention of the T word and how to avoid it). BT drove from work to a nearby train station, and took the Amtrak down to San Diego. We met him at the train station with a sign Hank made, birthday cake shaped glasses, and noisemakers.

This added a fun unexpected element to celebrating him that day. Afterwards we went to a brewery, of course -- you can't take a beer guy to San Diego on his 40th birthday and not let him partake.

Are we having fun yet?
Getting back to the room, BT saw one of the reasons I wanted to get down there early -- we set up some decorations in the room to wish him a Happy Birthday. I got stuck on this lumberjack theme in relation to knowing we would have a tent in the room, so that's what we did.

Purchased wood print fabric. Banner in fire colors purchased on clearance at Michaels. Pool noodle cut up and wrapped in wood print wrapping paper to make logs, and there is a Mason jar with tissue paper flames that has a battery powered tea light in it to represent a campfire.
The red solo cup battery powered lights are from Dollar Tree -- they also helped guide the theme. Plastic hatchet from the kids' dress up box (firefighter costume), and my co-worker helped give the squirrel ornament suspenders. I also brought suspenders and knit hats for the kids to wear, but too hot.

Another "figuring out" element was finding a special place to get a cake. There was a nearby bakery I vaguely remembered which worked well for a birthday cheesecake, breakfast danishes, and cookies for one of the events we went to.

Are we having fun YET?

Rancho Bernardo Inn has dozens of beautiful fountains.
Saturday we played at the pool and did some of the activities, then off to another brewery and one of the parties. There we saw this gorgeous penny wall -- so much creativity, and great location.

You can read more about the penny wall here.

Just one more activity to figure out. My high school friends, twin sisters, had flown in for the weekend to celebrate their 40th birthdays. Their mom had rented a vacation house for them that was sorta downtown, but not where Comic Con was taking place. They had invited those of us on Facebook down to the house for an afternoon of swimming and a barbeque. Most of us haven't seen each other in 20 years! Well, I knew I would never hear the end of it if I dragged BT to this event (on my birthday weekend!), so I thought and figured out an alternative. I let the girls know I would come with just the kids (they had kids as well, so it was cool -- and kids always give you an excuse to duck away if the conversation gets awkward, am I right?), but we would need to be there a little early so we could leave early and beat the Comic Con traffic (there's the T word again). Since I would be taking the truck, and for safety purposes, BT could Uber from the hotel and go to -- more breweries, of course. He was happy with this idea, and had a great time. I was glad to get to the reunion house early to connect with the people there before the whole group got there. Granted, it was super awkward as the kids wanted to get in the pool as soon as we got there, so 15 minutes after greeting people I haven't seen in forever, I am standing there in my swimsuit. Everything worked out great (and we brought good cookies, remember?), and I patted myself on the back for some expert planning.

2015 Summer fun part 2

After our Disneyland trip, we still had more fun-filled days planned for our staycation.

I planned two LA days. On the first day, we went to Skirball Center. If nothing else, it was good to get a picture of Everett scooping fake poop to match one we have of his brother doing the same.

Oh, and it happened to be free that day -- always good when you time a visit to a museum/event on a free day!

We didn't go through the rest of the center, nor did we see the exhibit about Bill Graham. We did spend some time in the retro 70s living room they had set up (music, clothes, games, decor) to accompany the exhibit, and visited the art studio where kids were invited to make an instrument.

I had more planned for the day, such as lunch at a revolving sushi restaurant and ice cream sandwiches at Diddy Riese, but we ran out of time and energy.

The 2nd LA day started with California Donuts. I am jealous when I go to cities where all the coolness is packed into one compact area. LA has everything you could want or need, but it is just spread all over the damn place, lol. Anyway -- this is one of those donut stores that places that puts the fun toppings on donuts, has characters (pandas, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and even does custom letter orders.

We took our donuts up to Griffith Observatory. I can't recall the last time we were here -- my mom thinks I took her and my dad there while I was at UCLA, so 1999? Yikes - time flies! Well -- it is and isn't the most kid friendly place. There are lots of buttons to push, so kids love that. But -- the exhibits are pretty wordy and, well, scientific, so it takes a savvy parent to break it down to something the kids can understand.

Two smart guys
Highlights included an 80s era simulator where you design a meteor (size, material, density) and hurtle it towards earth. Hank's goal -- total annihilation, which he managed to do. There were also scales showing what you would weigh on other planets. Kids have to be 5 and up to see most of the shows in the planetarium including the one about the universe, so we will for sure need to make a trip back.

Trying to get all of us with Hollywood Sign in background

Mama I want piture -- one like dis (holds arm out)

Oh -- you want a selfie!
Good views from up top.

After the observatory, we had lunch at Langer's -- one of those old pastrami serving deli LA icons. I don't think I had been to Langer's -- typically I took out-of-town friends to Canter's. Our real reason for visiting this part of town was to catch a glimpse of these large painted balls at MacArthur Park -- The Spheres -- as they are called. This is not the best of areas, so most folks just hopped out of their cars, snapped a pic, and drove off.

The next day was a relax day, with a trip out to Nana's to check on her kitties. Then, Sunday morning, we drove to the San Diego Zoo.

Koala face

They still have the mouse house!
This is another spot my mom and I hadn't been to for some time. It was great to see how the Zoo has grown and changed. One thing that hasn't changed -- all the hills! Definitely got my workout pushing the stroller up and down. Sunday night we stayed at our favorite San Diego hotel.

This hotel stay was a much better deal (compared to Disneyland). $99 got us a suite, $25 credit for food at the hotel plus other coupons, and a bottle champagne. We had fun swimming, and then that night we ate at our favorite San Diego restaurant right across the street from our favorite hotel.

Missed my big tiki guy for this trip
In the morning, the kids ate their breakfast on the patio waving to everybody walking by.

They also got to watch Navy boats leaving the harbor. I got lots more hugs, and was told I am the most awesome mom ever. If nothing else, I know Hank will always enjoy staying in hotels (with 2 TVs, mama!) and getting room service.

Memories of my mom getting the ring so we could get another free ride
The last day of our vacation was a very quick visit to Balboa Park. We were only there for about an hour, and saw the botanical garden and rode on the carousel and the train. We dropped Nana off, and then back home. The next day I went back to work, and BT spent the day before school started with the boys eating snacks, watching TV, and playing video games. They deserved a break after all the running around mama made them do!

2015 Summer fun part 1

Our summer fun time and vacation time already seems like a distant memory.

We had beach trips

pool trips

a movie in the park.

We did our (usually) annual trip to the Hollywood Bowl (Looney Tunes) with Bowl first timers Nana and Grandpa.

We had two camping trips with friends

where we got to use our new camping bed (glamping at its best!)

and then we had a super ambitious "staycation." I planned activities for 9 days. It was me, the boys, and my mom, as my dad and BT decided they were too busy for vacation this year.

The highlight was a trip to Disneyland and California Adventure with an overnight stay at the Disneyland Hotel. This is a super hard expense to justify for a family who lives 20 minutes away, but it was sooo worth it. I personally don't think the park ticket prices are that bad. Considering a 2 hour movie is $15 nowadays ($7.50/hour), a $99 Disneyland ticket seems like a value ($99 for 14 hours if you were there 8am-10pm = $7/hour). The real expense for out of town guests is going to be travel to the area, Disney lodging (if you want the true Disney experience), and food at Disneyland. There are 3 Disneyland hotels (in order of expense) -- Paradise Pier, Disneyland Hotel, and the Grand Californian. I wanted to stay at Disneyland Hotel to use the monorail to get to the park, and to go to Trader Sam's and Goofy's Kitchen at the hotel. The website indicates Disneyland Hotel rooms start at $329. I have seen much higher than that in the past for busy times of the year -- usually over $500. When I looked for a date during our vacation week and saw there was a pool view room for (supposedly) the cheapest rate offered, I jumped on it. And prepared for an argument with BT, lol.

Surprisingly he was ok with it -- especially since I noted he could still stay with us for the night even if he couldn't go to the parks with us. My mom, the boys and I arrived around 1:00 the day of our hotel stay. It is amazing to see how streamlined the service is -- that they have a parking placard with your name on it, a bellhop ticket, and valet and said bellhop are ready to help you as soon as you pull up.

We played at the pool until 4:00. There is free ice water, towels, flotation devices for the kids, even free swim diapers and tampons! At least you don't feel like you are getting nickeled and dimed to stay there. There is always somebody nearby to take a food or drink order

We stayed at the Frontier Tower (there are also the Adventure and Fantasy towers). There was a cool model of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad downstairs.

The room was nice, and had some fun hidden Mickeys. The thing I most wanted to see was the scene behind the bed, and surprise the kids with it lit up when we returned to our room at night. It also plays When You Wish Upon a Star when you first turn it on.

For dinner, we went to the buffet at Goofy's Kitchen. This is another one of those -- am I really spending this much money to do this? -- moments. But -- it makes the experience fun and over the top, as a trip to Disneyland should be. The food is good, and the kids got to meet all of the characters. My kids are not the super excited types, and a few characters had to work hard to get their attention (meanwhile they were shoveling food in their face like they hadn't eaten in weeks, and had the don't bother me I'm eating look on their faces). Minnie is Everett's favorite, so she got a good smile, and Pluto was the best at getting my three grumps (BT was with us for the dinner) laughing.

After dinner, BT and I were able to go to Trader Sam's (a tiki bar at Disneyland Hotel) alone, since my mom was with the boys. I had a difficult time to get the old man talking about something besides work until we were a couple drinks in.

Another perk of staying at one of the official Disneyland hotels is that you can get into one of the parks an hour early the morning after your stay. It alternates based on the day of the week as to which park you get into early. Luckily our morning was for California Adventure, which is the park I wanted to go to early. We were able to go on the popular Cars ride with minimal line, and eat breakfast at Flo's V8 Cafe.

Paint the Night parade -- so good!
The boys did better this trip. One of our theories in working to understand what makes Hank tick is that he is a real homebody. He would be perfectly happy never going anywhere. But, we realized, he didn't seem to put up a fuss when we said we were going camping or staying at a hotel. We thought maybe he thinks of these places as equivalent to his house, so he is ok doing these activities. Sure enough, the hotel before Disneyland seemed to do the trick -- he was happy to go to the parks, hugged me a lot, and even said it was a trip of a lifetime. My kid getting excited about something?? I'd say that experience was priceless :) 

Ways to make a Disneyland stay less expensive: There are plenty of other hotels to stay at in the area -- some are walking distance or have shuttles to the parks. There are also lots of rental homes in the area. Here is a site with homes that are decorated with Disney themes to add to your experience. You can even stay way outside the area and drive in, but note parking is $18/day. You can bring outside food to eat at a picnic area just outside of Disneyland -- but I think this area is past where they check your bags (I know soda definitely not allowed), so not sure how that works. But -- the locals know the food is part of the experience, so at least plan to get a Mickey pretzel or "world famous" corndog or something. Disney items can be purchased at local 99 Cents Only stores, Disney store, etc., so you could buy treats and toys ahead of time. If you have time, there are several local Disney outlet stores. If you're in the know, park employees have silver passes allowing them to get 3 additional people in for free. They can also get you in to the Company D store. 

Ways to make a Disneyland stay more expensive: There is some crazy expensive welcome package that costs more than a room. Also, there are theme suites.