Monday, October 6, 2014

Women's retreat

We got home from our California vacation on a Sunday and I went straight into finalizing plans for a women's retreat for my church (I was one of the organizers) that following weekend.  I'm not much for camping - I like the idea of it a lot more than I like the actual practice - but I have to say this place we went to was fantastic.  It's the Heber Valley Camp, owned and operated by our church primarily for our youth girls' summer camps.  We stayed in log cabins with bunk beds (we provided our own air mattress and bedding), had a large covered pavilion with fridges and a propane stove, and a camp fire ring with all the wood provided.  It was nice to get to know the other women better, and the scenery was breathtaking. 

There were hiking trails and wildlife everywhere.  We saw a moose cow with her calves on our way back from our sunset hike, and there were several deer around the fire pit when we woke up the following morning.
Our group had signed up for a challenge course that involved swinging from a bungeed harness.  I was having some serious anxiety as my turn came up, then as they pulled the rope to lift me way up high (think majestic pine tree high) I really started to panic! Suddenly, the words "Maxine, let go!" floated up to me from somewhere way too far below, and... I let go!  The thrill that rushed through my body as I plunged downward and then back up again was indescribable.  I was flying!  And I hadn't died!  And I was still flying!  And again!  And again!  I quickly grew comfortable enough to strike my favorite Tinkerbell pose.

Then I tried letting go with both hands...
...and instantly realized that I was indeed going to DIE if I didn't grab that rope again and fast!
Phew! That was a graceful recovery, right? That look of sheer terror and impending demise?  Totally planned that.
It was a fantastic weekend and it recharged me for weeks to come!


Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Happiest Vacation on Earth

We had to go to California for my brother William's wedding on Sept. 13, so we decided to go a week early and make it a fun vacation.  We stayed at the Lexington Hotel in St. George Friday, arriving early enough to swim, then drove the rest of the way to San Diego on Saturday and spent the day unwinding and catching up with Grandma Coco.  Sunday was Beach Day.  The kids loved going to the beach!  Elinor had never been to the ocean and was at first hesitant to touch the water or go barefoot in the sand.  In fact, she pretty much clung to one of us the entire time, but she did eventually enjoy the water and sand.  One hand holding us, the other hand gripping a little bucket to fill with water each time a wave rolled in.  The boys, on the other hand, were ALL over that!  The sand, the water - it was all good.  Sammy wiped out in the waves a couple times, but he loved every minute of it.  Isaac was just fearless.  We were only there for 2 hours, but the amount of fun they had should be enough to get them through til next year.

After we got cleaned up from the beach, we headed up to the Desert Inn hotel in Anaheim with Grandma Coco.  The kids had no idea why we were staying there or where we were going; they just sort of went with it.  Finally, after eating a simple dinner of sandwiches in our hotel room (which was directly across the street from Disneyland), we all took a pleasant evening stroll.  I filmed the kids as Isaac read the sign that was across the street:
I've gotta say I'm a little disappointed with Isaac's somewhat reserved reaction, but he truly was excited and his energy at the parks during all four days of our visit was proof enough.  Speaking of four days at Disneyland and California Adventure, we thought we were insane to go for so long, but veryone did so well right up til the end!  It was the perfect amount of time for us.   

After the big reveal Sunday evening we kept walking over to Downtown Disney to check out the fun shops.  The kids' favorite was the Lego Store, of course (but that may be because we skipped the World of Disney store).

We arrived 30 minutes early each morning, and even then there were pretty big crowds waiting to get in.
Thankfully the excitement of going to Disneyland kept the kids happy while waiting for the park to open.

The nice thing about going right after Labor Day is that all the kids are just starting school, so the parks are very uncrowded.  Most rides had a wait time of 5-10 minutes, just enough time for little ones to play a quick game of Squish Daddy's Face.
Because of the short waits, we got to ride our favorite attractions multiple times.  We even got to ride the relatively new Radiator Springs Racers 4 times in one day (we could have gone more but Isaac finally got sick of it).
By far their favorite place to be was Cars Land, which was a perfect replica of Radiator Springs in the movie.  We spent an awful lot of time there.

Sammy was especially blown away by the talking Mater and Lightning McQueen that actually interacted with people.  The first time he saw them I think he stood there for over half an hour just watching them interact with other people.  Heaven for a little boy!



Grandma Coco has a season pass, so it was nice to have her along with us for the first two days.
She took the younger two back to the hotel each afternoon for naps and resting time while we stayed and played with Isaac on Monday and had a nice little date on Tuesday (Isaac wanted to go back with them that day). 

My friend Julie also has a pass and was able to join us in the afternoons on Monday and Wednesday.  The boys adore her and Elinor tolerated her (which is high praise indeed for this shy girl).  It was fun to have a friend along, and she was (and always is) a fantastic help with the kids. 

Isaac was the only one tall enough to ride most of the roller coasters (Sammy was about an inch too short - drat!), so we took him while the younger two were at the hotel.  His first-ever roller coaster was the Matterhorn, which he LOVED!  Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain (Space Mtn. was closed) thrilled him perhaps a bit too much; once was enough for him on each of those.  He was so nervous about Grizzly River Run but ended up loving it and wanting to ride it multiple times.


In general though, the slower rides were more his (and everyone's) speed.






Remember when we were kids and we went to Disneyland with our families and our parents would always want to stop and eat or sit and rest or watch the shows and parades, and we thought they were ruining everything with their slowness because all those things were just taking away from time we could be spending on rides?  Maybe I'm the only one, but it turns out our kids didn't take after Collin and me.  They loved going to the restaurants and watching the shows and parades.  Elinor surprised us all with her enthusiasm for the parades.  She would stand there waving like a lunatic and calling out to any character she recognized.  "Hi Goofy!  Hi Mickey!" 
It was HOT that week - solidly in the 90s!  Thank goodness for the splash pad in A Bug's Land!  We spent a fair amount of time there getting soaked and revisited whenever it got unbearably hot.

And we of course made sure to stay hydrated throughout the day.
Overall favorite attractions: Radiator Springs Racers, Star Tours, Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, Ariel's Undersea Adventure (no line ever + air conditioning = we rode this one so. many. times.), Gadget's Go-Coaster (Sammy LOVED being able to go on a roller coaster and rode it three times in a row!), Haunted Mansion Holiday (totally not scary for the kids!), Pirates of the Caribbean, Buzz Lightyear's Astroblasters, Toy Story Midway Mania, and the carousels (Elle's personal favorite), all the Bug's Land rides (even Isaac liked them), and Muppets 3D (it was such a hoot!).

 



I worked at Disneyland my senior year in high school.  My friend told me about auditions they were holding for an attraction called Innoventions, so I auditioned and got the job.  It was a really fun job, but I could never recommend the attraction to people because it was so lame.  Disney apparently got the memo, because they made a huge overhaul at some point since and now the top floor is all Marvel superheroes - awesome!


Fortune favored us for all the shows and parades; we always scored fantastic seats!  Even for Fantasmic, which gets so crazy crowded hours in advance, we had a man approach us an hour beforehand and ask if we wanted better seats, then proceed to lead us to a spot front row center.  Awesome!  Too bad the younger two were terrified of Fantasmic and the fireworks - too loud and too late for them.  Isaac loved them though.

And let's not forget about the food!  Favorite food by far this trip: the Matterhorn Macaroon! This isn't my picture (I was too busy stuffing my face with these beauties to bother with cameras!), but you can see how darling and decently sized (especially for only $2!) it is.  And the white chocolate coating?  Fuggeddaboutit!  So. Good.

Of course, there were the usual other treats: Dole whips, churros, corn dogs.  We regret not getting around to picking up a mint julep or beignets this time, as the lines were always too long.  Hazardous consequence of 90-degree weather.  Seriously, 4 days and we couldn't manage a single julep!  Alas.  But we did find a few other new favorites: the lemon honey cupcake at the Hungry Bear Restaurant, the apple-cheddar pie at Flo's V8 Cafe, the pear soda at the Cozy Cone, and these delightful create-your-own ice cream bars from Clarabelle's Hand-Scooped Ice Cream (I got the berry sorbet with dark chocolate coating and blue raspberry pop rocks.  Yeah.).

We were surprised at how much we enjoyed the California park.  When we were originally planning our trip, we were going to get 3-day one-park-per-day passes, thinking we'd spend two days at Disneyland and one day at California Adventure.  I'm so glad we got the 4-day park hoppers, because we ended up spending slightly more time at California Adventure than Disneyland. 
What epic vacation is complete without some souvenirs to remember it by?  We have a tradition of getting Christmas ornaments for every vacation, and I've recently ditched our standard matching mug set in favor of an eclectic mix, so we picked out an ornament and a mug for our family souvenirs.  The boys each made their own light sabers, and Elinor got a Tigger pillow pet. 


Basically, this was the perfect trip.  Everything fell into place to make it as stress-free as a theme park vacation can be.  We even got to inadvertently experience Dapper Day on Friday: a day when people dress up... uh... dapperly to go to the parks.  We miss it already and can't wait to go back in 4 years!