Tuesday, November 15, 2016

California Dreamin'

In years past, when we were a little more fancy-free with sports schedules and school/work obligations and pressures, we'd take the month of November to escape to the sunshine of California or Florida.

Well, with older kids (hello, high school!), rep hockey, basketball (both for the kids and running programs for us) and other activities and sports, we just don't seem to have the month to spare. But somehow the lack of time doesn't lessen our desire for a dose of natural Vitamin D. So, modifications are required. 

Eric had a basketball tournament in Phoenix from Thursday to Sunday last week. He flew down on Wednesday. We decided to meet when he was done in California. As soon as the kids were done school on Friday, we jumped into the car and turned south. 

It was pouring rain and it was dark and cold. So much fun to feel we were leaving it behind (even if it was very temporary). We made it to Tumwater, Oregon for our first night (after a pretty grim Denny's dinner...our server was overwhelmed by the small crowd we entered with. He told us he stopped and prayed for Jesus' help with getting in our orders up. I gave him a nice tip...I think he needed it.)

We woke up the next morning, had a nice hotel breakfast and drove into Portland. I am physically incapable of driving past Portland without visiting Powell Books. So detour, we did. We were each allowed a purchase (except for me...I bought a Powell mug, a Powell water bottle, and a book...plus, the kids had to talk me out of a Powell t-shirt and a Powell bag. Hmm, as I write it down, I think they had a point...). 

We hit a Trader Joe outside of Portland and settled in for a long drive. We didn't even stop for dinner. But we did make it to Redding, California. Woohoo!

The next morning, we set a goal of making it to the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield by 1:00 for a tour. Lots of jelly beans tasted...but none of us had the courage to try the new flavour: dead fish. 

We had a few hours before we had to pick Eric up at the Oakland airport at 9:30. So we headed into San Francisco for a quick visit. We drove the waterfront, both bridges, had a nice dinner and walked the pier. 

Then it was time to get our silver medalist from the airport. Pick up was smooth and in no time we were driving the long and lonely I-5 between San Fran and L.A. We made it to Los Banos for the night. 

In the morning, we had breakfast and the kids went for a swim. Then off to L.A. to find the perfect neighbourhood for trick or treating. We grabbed some last minute costume items and had a quick dress-up session: Finny was Medusa and Molly and Lukey were basketball hoops (using their basketball hoop garbage bins from their bedrooms they brought all the way from home). Finny, who always take a lot of care with her costumes was dismayed by the popularity of the other two's costumes. People had a lot of fun trying to score by shooting their candy into the baskets. This resulted in extra candy scoring. Finny's quote of the night was, "I'm taking field notes...next year, an interactive costume". 

We chose Studio City for trick or treating. It's hard to know if there was anything any more Halloween festive in the area, but I doubt it. The neighbourhood was awesome. So many decorated houses and streets blocked off for block parties. We loved it. 

We walked around for a couple of hours and really enjoyed the feeling of a "foreign" Halloween experience. 

The next morning, we got up early to drive to Anaheim. Disney!!

I love Disney days. They are so special and each time we go, the kids are at different ages and it's a different experience. 

Right away, Finny scored us a spot at the front of the line to get a picture with Mickey. A good omen.  

The weather was perfect, the crowds were light. The only downside of visiting in November is the Disney powers-that-be choose the quiet time to refurbish some rides and lots were closed. Some weren't sad at all, like It's a Small World (who needs that song stuck in their head?). Some were a bummer, like the Jungle Cruise (I love that one), all of Critter Country and Space Mountain. Still, there was lots to ride, so it was all okay. 

We discovered that even though the kids are older and presumably more coordinated, they still aren't good at driving at Autopia...

After much discussion, deliberation and what felt like endless self-debate, Finny purchased her long-desired mouse ears, complete with her name embroidered on the back in gold. 

There are so few days in your life as a family that are purely devoted to fun (even a really great party ends with doing dishes at the end of the night). I really feel that days spent at a place like Disney (or other magical places we've been on holiday, too) push us into a special space where we have a different fun and create unique memories. I suppose that exact concept is what Disney has been marketing so successfully for decades, so I am not really offering up any revelation here...but, there are only so many years we can take this sort of trip and have the magic of a place like Disney play a role. So we have to enjoy it.

The next morning, we slept in a bit, made a mess of the hotel breakfast room (those make-your-own waffle machines are like cat nip to our kids...I should try getting them to make waffles at home!) and then headed off to Huntington beach for the day.

A ginormous beach, awesome surf, sand as far as the eye could see...I was even in the middle of a good book. It doesn't really get any better. The kids were playing a bit of baseball and picked up a stranger (adult!) on the beach who wanted to get in on their (pretty pitiful) game. He played with them for about an hour (!).

We packed up a little early to get back into downtown in time for the Clippers game (they were playing OKC). We grabbed dinner on our way into the Staples Centre and headed to our seats (Lukey, Finny and I were in one section and Molly and Eric in another). It was great luck that we happened to catch a great game. I also really enjoyed the fully-French girl sitting behind us. There was a promotion on that if the other team missed two consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter, the whole place got a free chicken sandwich (the promo was called "Miss it for chicken!"). She was SCREAMING behind us every single time in an incredibly thick French accent, "Meeees eeeet, meeeeees eeeet for cheeeeecken!!!!" I almost died.

It was a great and amazingly cheap evening out (it is criminal how inexpensive tickets are for some truly good sporting events in L.A....I think Lukey and Eric would be out every night of the week if we lived there).

The next morning, we headed off to Universal Studios for more fun.

There were NO crowds...we walked on every ride, including the Harry Potter ride three times in a row, with no delay at all. The kids rode the roller coaster in Harry Potter six times without even getting off...(I made it for three and then practically sprinted away...gak!).

The Studio Tour was a big hit. They have upgraded it a bunch and it was an amazingly entertaining hour.

Some of the special effects were really incredible to see.

Because it was so uncrowded, we pretty much had the run of the place and we made it everywhere we wanted to see.

But I have to say, my favourite was the Jurassic Park ride...because Molly, for some weird reason, was convinced that she was going to die on that ride. For real. I laughed and laughed and laughed. The last time we went on, she refused. She didn't want to wait alone outside...so...wait for it...she sat in the Child Swap area for us to be done. Normally that is where parents switch places on the ride so they can supervise their kids who are too small to ride...or, it's where 14 year olds with active imaginations hide out UNSUPERVISED while BOTH their parents ride with their siblings. It. Was. Hilarious.

We should have sent her to hang out with the girls from Despicable Me, instead. That's more her speed.

I don't know if I was just in a really good mood that day, but the purple minion's arms also made me laugh...the way they drag on the ground. Ha!

That night, we left for dinner at Red Robin and then we were going to head to the LA Kings game (they were playing Pittsburgh!!), but somehow StubHub steered us wrong on the time of the puck drop. We didn't leave the restaurant until the end of the first period. So, we decided just Eric and Lukey would go and watch the rest of the game (they got tickets for $6/each!!!!!! I guess because the game had already started...). The girls and I hung out in Whole Foods close by and waited for the game to be done. 

The next morning, after breakfast room destruction, there was some pool time before heading back to Universal Studios.

Some more shows, more rides...and of course, more Jurassic Park!

It was wonderful and tortuous. We knew we were starting our drive back to Vancouver and rain as soon as we left that evening. The sun was shining...the rides were all open and empty. There was an In and Out close by...but we had the I-5 calling our names.

One quick ride in the train compartment to Hogwarts (apparently Eric WAS NOT supposed to take this picture!)

We had time for one more angry Raptor encounter (there's video) where Finny stared down a Raptor and got screamed at (again, I nearly peed my pants I was laughing so hard)...but then we had to face facts that our California Dream was pretty much done...

Goodbye L.A!

Homeward bound, we came across this gem in Oregon (somewhat alarming!!!). I have to admit, that made the drive home to CANADA a little less hard. Of course, I never imagined that two days later...they would ELECT him!!!!??

It was nice to be home, after all.

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