Vacation, Phase 6: Montana De Oro side trip

You might think that after our Moonstone Beach expedition, we’d be ready to rest at Pismo Beach and count our shiny stones, but we decided to head out for another side trip to one of the coolest places along California’s Central Coast: Montana De Oro state park.

We all have happy memories from past visits to this rocky coastline, which is less than an hour from Pismo. This time, however, there was some kind of ferocious windstorm going on and we froze and were whipped with sand. It was actually kind of awful and while we tried to recapture earlier good times, instead we finally had to confess we were suffering and wanted to leave ASAP. I didn’t get very good pictures either, but I did get several. It is amazing terrain there as well. I sure love rocks! After Montana De Oro, we took another quick detour by Spooner’s Cove, which while still experiencing some excess wind, was more sheltered. The boys played in the surf and on the rocks and Mark, Alaina, and I looked for…rocks. Yep, more of them.

Picture gallery: if a closer view is needed, just click one and then follow through them in slideshow format.

In case anyone is tiring of these seemingly endless vacation posts, know that I’m almost done—just the pix from Pismo to come. I write blog posts for various reasons and one of them is for my own family/memory banks. This series of vacation posts is, for me, in lieu of printing the pix for a scrapbook! 🙂

Anniversary Mini-Vacation

I’m not sure exactly what I was thinking in planning a mini-vacation right on the heels of getting back from our California adventure! Post-vacation-survival euphoria may have played a part, but the main reason is that today is our fifteenth anniversary and it felt like we really needed to do something for it. Fifteen years is a pretty big deal! On our fifth anniversary, when I was pregnant with our first baby, we took a mini vacation to Elephant Rocks State Park. We haven’t been back since then. So, it seemed fitting to return, ten years later, with our three children in tow this time! We went to Johnson’s Shut-Ins first, which I’d never been to, and then went to Elephant Rocks the next day. We stayed at Arcadia Academy, a restored former boarding school (and once Civil War hospital) originally built in the 1800’s. I splurged and rented a “third floor apartment,” which was still comparably priced to any regular hotel room, but had two bedrooms and a kitchen/living room (with another bed and a pull-out sofa). I’ve wanted to stay there ever since we walked around the grounds on our last visit ten years ago. On that trip we went in and smelled cinnamon rolls cooking and wished we hadn’t reserved a B & B further down the road! So, on this trip we did it right 🙂

This was a pretty easy, low-key, quick little vacation and while I groaned and moaned about what was I thinking, I don’t have any regrets about going. All of the kids have mild colds and Alaina had a fever the day we left, which was unfortunate. Johnson Shut-Ins was pretty crazy/felt kind of dangerous with a toddler. While we had a really good time there overall, as I staggered and slipped in chest-deep water carrying both Alaina and my little purse (dumb!!! But, I needed somewhere to put my keys and my camera!), it reminded me a lot of the bad dreams I have about water sometimes. The Shut-Ins are kind of a “natural water park” formed by large slabs and chunks of volcanic rock that are resistant to erosion. Very cool looking and fun to play in too. Lann referred to it as: “Treacherous Adventure” and then “Crystal Insanity” when we started finding cool agates in the water. We thought perhaps they’d get even more visitors if they rebranded the park using these terms…

Elephant Rocks is a “tor”—a rocky granite peak composed of large, round boulders that kind of look like massive elephants. Alaina kept spotting “baby elephants” and also obsessing about when we were going to get to, “Batman’s Squeezer” (really a narrow rock passageway called “Fat Man’s Squeeze”).

I wanted to find pictures from our fifth anniversary trip to compare, but apparently the only pictures we have from that visit were from the dark ages of pre-digital cameras. So, just some pictures from our current, fifteen year anniversary trip instead!

When we got home, Alaina tripped on a ball and fell backwards on our hard, concrete floor (though on the living room section where there is carpet). It made the most horrible “head-cracking” sound that I have ever heard (and I’ve had two boys fall on this floor as well!). She vomited copiously immediately afterwards and we were all freaked out, but then she stopped and seemed “normal,” so we’re just keeping a close eye on her tonight!

I don’t have a lot of marriage thoughts to share specifically this year. I have the same thoughts I already shared last year:

I personally don’t experience my marriage as being hard work or difficult. Though I do understand that this is not everyone’s experience, I have a lot of difficulty understanding or appreciating comments that I see repeated in various Facebook-type locations that come from the, “love is a choice that you make every day” angle. Really?!?! I have trouble getting on board with that, because it sounds like if you don’t make the “love” choice, the alternative is just naturally disliking or not enjoying your spouse? My love for my husband feels similar to the love I feel for my children—it is a constant, it is not choice based. It is deep, abiding, and embedded. It doesn’t feel optional, which is what the word “choice” makes it sound like to me. If you choose to love your family, you can also choose not to love them on a daily basis. This doesn’t reflect my own experience in my relationship or my mothering.

via Marriage thoughts | Talk Birth.

I read a similar article along this “daily choice” line in another blog post just this week (written by someone on their first anniversary) and once again I thought the same. Loving Mark is not a “choice” for me, it simply is.

And, as we do every year, we reflected on that longer-and-longer ago Rainy Wedding day:

…But the day hung like an iron bell
tolling rain, rain, rain
all down the metalled sky.

The stones stood dark and forbidding
as thunder upon the earth,
and all our tinseled plans
for a bright and delicate day
were washed away in gray cascades
above and below us.

Yet, there was another kind of beauty there:
Small boys slid like silver minnows
in that heavy green light between the trees.
Garlanded little girls yearned
toward the coming of the bride,
tugged at their mothers’ hands,
pulled at their mothers’ hearts
with the brevity of their innocence.

Family and friends gathered
and sheltering, made a chapel
of their bodies and faces and wishes.

There, in the unplanned darkness,
was unlooked for wonder,
joy beyond ornament,
song beyond instruments.

At last the bride came and like a white flame
blazed among her maidens,
in brilliance more stern and starlike
and vastly more magnificent
than the ribbons and confections
we had planned for that day…

via Rainy Wedding | Talk Birth.

Vacation, Phase 5: Moonstone Beach

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With my brother and sister midday through our Moonstone Beach adventure

After my grandma’s Mamoorial services, we hit the road in her car heading for the beach. When she was planning the details for her own Celebration of Life luncheon, she had also requested that her three kids and their families meet the beach afterward and spend several days there together having fun. For a while, it looked like the beach part of the request wasn’t going to work out due to scheduling conflicts, but then it did and I’m really grateful, because it is what she asked for. And, we love the beach! I have two natural places on the planet in which I feel most comfortable, at home, and happy with the environment. One is my own woods at my own home—I think that the Missouri Ozarks with its rocks and hills and trees, trees, trees, and incredible, rich biodiversity is truly one of the most beautiful places in the world. I love it. I love living where I live (even though there are lots of bugs and the summers are horrendously humid). The second place is Pismo Beach, CA. Pismo is on California’s Central Coast, so it is pretty cold and not like the beaches you see on TV. There are no people roller blading by wearing bikinis (usually). It is a beach upon which to take foggy early morning walks and to surf wearing wetsuits, not a beach on which to sunbathe or swim. Quite a few years ago, my uncle bought a condo at Pismo that he rents out throughout the year. He was nice enough to reserve it for our families following the Mamoorials. My aunt rented a condo right below it for her family and my mom rented the one next door and stayed there with my sister, my brother, and my sister-in-law. My mom and my aunt stayed behind in Fresno for an extra day after the Mamoorials to take care of some more details at my grandma’s house and so our first day at Pismo was just my own little family, my sister, my brother and his wife, and my uncle and his daughter and son. So, we decided it was the perfect day to take a little detour to Moonstone Beach, another Central Coast beach about one hour away from Pismo. Thankfully, my uncle and cousins volunteered to take care of Lann and Zander, and so the rest of us were able to cram into my grandma’s car and take our side trip.

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There was some wild terrain at this beach! I like this pic my sister-in-law took because it looks like we’re really hiking around (I guess we are!)

This little trip to Moonstone Beach remains one of my high points from our trip. Like our unexpected laidback good fun at Legoland, I learned from this trip that the best experiences often arise from surprises or the unexpected, rather than that which is carefully planned. All we knew about Moonstone Beach was what little I had read online and reports were extremely varied. I read that it was the most beautiful beach in all the world with sunsets to rival Hawaii’s. I read that it was the stinkiest beach in all the world and that you had to flee gagging because it smelled like dumped out portapotties. I read that you could find hundreds of moonstones. I read that you could find no moonstones. I read there was a delightful boardwalk. I read that it was dirty and there was no where to walk. I read that, “it is nice except for all the tar that oozes up everywhere and gets all over.” (??!! My uncle then reported that the word Pismo actually means “tar”!! 😉 ) Interestingly, we discovered this was all true, except we didn’t stay long enough for a sunset. Moonstone Beach stretched for quite a way along the coast and depending on where you stopped, you had different experiences. We saw the tarry areas, we saw the beautiful areas, we saw the boardwalk, we saw the mounds of horridly stinky, putrid seaweed. We saw sections where copious stones sparkled in the sun and sections where there was not a single stone. Apparently other random internet reviewers didn’t bother driving any further than where they first stopped and made their pronouncement!

We followed an intuitive hunch and did not stop at the first turn off that actually said Moonstone Beach, but proceeded further down the highway until we saw an unmarked parking area. And, oh my, it was beautiful. Stones sparkled on the beach like we were at a jewelry store. In addition to moonstone, the Central Coast is also home to California Jade, agate, serpentine, and some other semiprecious stones. We immediately found large hunks of jade and then started to find moonstones. We spent ages sitting/lying on the rocky beach sorting through stones and finding treasures and it was so much fun! The thrill of discovery was huge and we felt like we’d really figured out something special 🙂

Later, at Pismo Beach, we found a small section of beach with some really lovely agates, and I already collected a bunch of plain beach stones in Carlsbad. So, we had to sort through a lot of rocks when it was time to go home—it is so wise to travel 2000 miles from home and bring back a bunch of…rocks. We ended up Priority mailing two boxes of rocks home to ourselves, actually. As we sorted through them the day before leaving, I composed some joke beach poetry:

Time to sort rocks
Cast off the non-shiny
Previously gathered
In a fit of mistaken beauty…

Picture gallery! If you wish to see bigger versions, just click one and then proceed through the rest as a slide show.

Vacation Phase 4: Mamoorials

Today is my grandma’s birthday and so it seems fitting that I’ve coincidentally reached the point in my vacation recap of writing about her memorial services. We called my grandma Mamoo and so I refer to her committal and Celebration of Life events as her Mamoorials and these were the real reason we went to California in the first place. When I tell people that my grandma died, I’ve noticed two common responses: “How old was she?” and “Were you close?” It is as if people are evaluating how “sorry” to be or much condolences to offer, with the older the person, the more appropriate the loss, or something like that. Anyway, she would have been 84 today. She has a beautifully long and vibrant life that was full of activity and experiences right up until the end. However, I had great-grandmas of my own until my late teen years and I fully and completely expected my kids to have the same experience. I heard from my mom that my grandma’s life insurance company still had her life expectancy at 15 more years, so forget the “how old” question and believe me when I say that her death came as an unexpected shock, even if it was in the “right” generational order and even though she was “old enough” that it doesn’t count as tragic. Since we always lived far away from each other and thus often went six months without seeing her, it is easy to forget that she’s gone and not at her home in California volunteering at the zoo and working in her sewing room. There is a definite sense of her life being “cut short,” regardless of her actual age. When we were at the beach following her Mamoorials, Zander found a whole tiny crab. He saved it and took it back to the condo saying as we walked, “I’m saving this for Mamoo! She’s going to love it!” (She did the children’s program at the zoo and she often carted strange artifacts of the natural world back to California from her visits to Missouri, including a whole donkey skull, but also things like a turtle shell and a hummingbird’s nest, and a whole well-preserved stag beetle. My dad often saved weird, dead things for her and she was always happy to receive them and add to the zoo’s demo collection.)

When I left off my vacation recapping last we had finished a fab stint at Legoland and were still in Carlsbad, California, which is about a six hour drive from Fresno, where my grandma lived. We opted, perhaps bizarrely perhaps geniusly, to fly to Fresno from San Diego, rather than making a long car trip. Tickets were only $60 each between the two and it seemed worth it to us. However, in my frenzy before leaving, I neglected to notice the difference between AM and PM on the tickets and accidentally booked a 10:00 PM flight to Fresno. After some intense lamenting that actually involved flinging myself on the bed and sobbing hysterically and then yelling about my own stupidity and what kind of IDIOT does that?!?! Someone who is too busy and MUST QUIT EVERYTHING AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, I decided to then, again perhaps bizarrely and perhaps geniusly, to buy new plane tickets for the correct AM flight, thus completely wasting $300, but restoring the “rightful” order of my plans. I tried to never think about it again, though as we enjoyed pizza with our extended family that evening in Fresno and rehearsed for the Mamoorial, I wondered if they were paging us for our PM flight back in San Diego…(why not switch tickets you ask, because there was a $200 penalty per ticket for doing so? I may not be a genius, but I can do enough math to realize that paying $200 to change a $60 ticket is not a realistic option).

The San Diego flight was awesome and easy and we got to Fresno right at 11:00 (a.m. 😉 ) and my dad picked us up at the airport in my grandma’s car. I knew as we started to descend into the Fresno airport and saw those so familiar flat, flat, flat squares of irrigated desert farmland, but without my grandma waiting there to meet us for the first time in my entire life, that I had significantly underestimated how difficult this was going to be. Getting into her familiar boat of a car that smelled like her and that had her sunglasses under the seat and her water bottle in the console with her name tidily written on it with Sharpie was hideous. Pulling into her little condo was even worse, but going inside was the worsest. My aunt and mom and sister were already there and had been there since the night before and they had a sort of rhythm and plan going on with sorting through my grandma’s things. The “bandaid had already been ripped off” in their case, as my aunt put it. I, however, was a complete mess. I could NOT believe how awful it was to be there and see her home without her in it. Again, there was that sense of her life cut short—her mousepad by the computer, her zoo jacket hanging on the door, her calendar on the wall with her writing on it, her exercise video in the VCR. So familiar and so over. I cried and cried and felt sort of stupid and also “drama queenish,” because everyone else was so busy and methodical and I felt like I was all like, “but look at me, I’m totally sad!” My aunt sat with me and then suggested I go ahead and keep ripping the bandaid by advance-watching the memorial slideshow for the Celebration of Life luncheon the next day. This was a spectacularly good idea and really helped. Her house was so full of things familiar to me from my childhood and it was also remarkably and beautifully full of us, pictures of my kids all over, things I made for her on walls and shelves. It was a mirror experience of what I already observed at my own home on the day that she died:

…it is amazing to think about all the ways her presence is woven through my days even though she lives 2000 miles away–the sweater I put on every morning is one she knit for me, her quilts are on my kids’ bedroom walls and on all our beds, magazine subscriptions she gifts us with are in the car and bathroom…we’re connected in many ways and I don’t know what life will look like without her in it.

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Dinner with cousins/siblings.

via Goodbye | Talk Birth.

After losing it with all the pictures and memories, I then sort of helped my mom, sister, aunt, and sister-in-law go through my grandma’s things. Later we checked into our hotel and Mark took the kids down to the pool while I rehearsed for my Mamoorial speeches/service. I cried and cried as I practiced my speech until my eyes were horribly puffy and I looked awful. “At least I’m getting this out before tomorrow!” I thought optimistically. I texted my mom that my plan for the next day was “teary-eyed and with a tasteful catch in my voice” rather than the wreck I was today. We had a family dinner that night at a cousin’s house and while there, I enlisted my cousins in a plan for a grandchild responsive reading of a version of “Song of the Open Road” at the first Mamoorial. We actually had a really fun time laughing and rehearsing our poem.


At least the kids hitched a ride on a luggage cart.

We stayed a horrible hotel with the worst breakfast in the history of hotel breakfasts. We so missed our beloved Drury Inns on this trip!

We headed over to the Chapel of the Light where Mamoo’s ashes were to be placed in the above-ground chamber in which my grandpa is interred. I was asked to officiate at a brief committal service before we placed the ashes and this ceremony was attended by only close relatives. After my grandpa died in 1989, my grandma remarried so my step-grandfather and most of his children and their children were there. Mamoo always kept our families kind of separate, even though she was married for more than 20 years to this “new” husband. It was easy for me to forget that she had another life with a whole set of other local grandchildren that I didn’t have a lot of contact with, but for whom she was the only grandmother, the only Mamoo, they’d ever known too. I quickly enlisted the aid of these grandchildren as well for my Song of the Open Road plan. The service I planned went well, but the grandchildren piece was the highlight, in my opinion. I’m not sure if other people specifically liked it, but it was so important to me that each grandchild’s voice be represented during the ceremony. While I don’t know that she liked Walt Whitman at all, my grandma was a traveler and so this poem felt absolutely perfect to me. My grandpa loved his boat and they used to go on boat trips together as well and so the section about taking to the seas, to me, felt like this perfect tie-in to our return of the remains of her body to his:

Song of the Open Road (responsive)

(modified from Walt Whitman)


Riding an elephant in Africa

Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road
Healthy, free, the world before me.

Henceforth, I ask not good fortune—
I myself am good-forturne
Strong and content
I travel the open road.

I inhale great draughts of space;
the east and the west are mine,
and the north and the south are mine.

All seems beautiful to me;
I can repeat over to men and women,
You have done such good to me,
I would do the same to you.


Ready to hit the road!

Whoever you are, come travel with me!
However sweet these laid-up stores—
however convenient this dwelling,
we cannot remain here;

However sheltered this port,
And however calm these waters,
We must not anchor here;

Together! The inducements shall be greater;
We will sail pathless and wild seas;

We will go where winds blow,
Waves dash, and the Yankee clipper
Speeds by under full sail.

Forward! After the great companions!
And to belong to them!
They too are on the road!

Onward! To that which is endless,
As it was beginningless,
To undergo much, journeys of days,
Rests of nights,

To look up or down no road

As I made Mamoo's name, I thought about how I hadn't had any "signs" from her. Then, in the middle of that thought, I looked down and right by the "M" in her name was this rock. I held it all through the memorial service I did at the internment of her ashes and all through my speech at her Celebration of Life luncheon.

I held this stone all through the memorial service I did at the internment of her ashes and all through my speech at her Celebration of Life luncheon.

But it stretches and waits for you—

To know the universe itself as a road—
As many roads—
As roads for traveling souls…

It was a lot of pressure to be responsible for this ceremony. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted it to be what she deserved. I wanted it to “speak” to every person there. I wanted it to be worthy of her. I hope it was enough.

Before she died, Mamoo got some details l all planned out with my aunt. She wanted a specific banquet center for a celebration of life lunch with chicken salad, no traditional funeral. She wanted the theme music from Out of Africa played and she wanted chocolate chip ice cream bon bons (which was the only thing that couldn’t be worked out–we had chocolate chip cookies instead and the rest was just like she asked for). After the committal service, we went to Tornino’s banquet center for the Celebration of Life. People came and came and came. We exceeded the capacity of the banquet room and emergency additional food had to be prepared. She didn’t want a “funeral service” type of feeling and it wasn’t. The slideshow played, the theme music from Out of Africa played, we ate chicken salad and visited with distant relatives and friends. My aunt spoke briefly and explained the planning of the event. She did a beautiful job honoring my grandma’s wishes and planning an special, lovely lunch in her honor. My grandma’s stepson read a poem written by my step-grandpa about “My Lyla, My Lyla.” It was heart-rending and I suddenly realized I might have made a huge mistake in saying I’d be the last speaker. My grandma’s stepdaughter spoke. My uncle spoke. And, then it was my turn. I was speaking on behalf of all the grandkids, each had sent me a favorite Mamoo memory to share. Remember my plan for the tasteful, teary-eyes? Yeah, that. Instead, I failed to even see the handy Kleenex on the podium and instead wiped my nose with my hand while I was talking. There were 260 people there, which is a much larger group than I’ve spoken before in the past. I didn’t feel nervous really, but I did feel sad and I cried much more than I’d wanted to or expected to. People afterward told me they’d never experienced anything like what I’d said at a memorial before and they hoped someone would do the same for them someday. I apparently talked really fast, but that is not a big surprise. It was hard, but I did it.

For the story from my boys for the speech, they had this to say: Mamoo was really epic.

And, she was.

For my own memory contribution I shared that I picture her in a little jacket and jaunty scarf and zoo necklace and her ball ring, with slightly bent knees and open arms ready for a hug of greeting and she’d smile in that welcoming way. We got too big to be greeted in that way, but I saw her do it again with my own kids. And, I shared what I wrote in my last card to her:

I’ve always been proud of you—your smart, creative, adeventuresome self. Best. Grandma. Ever. You’ve been a beautiful example to us of how to live, both in the practical sense in terms of being frugal and in the more esoteric sense of how to be of service to the community, to take risks, to be productive, and to age gracefully and with a neverending zest for new experiences. We’re grateful to you also for her generosity over the years, particularly for the gift of my college education and the debt-free legacy that left for us and our children. I don’t know that I can ever explain in full what a potent gift that was—one that lasts our lifetime.

I closed with a slightly edited version of a poem I originally shared here:

Last Words

We learned from you
we loved with you
we heard you
we saw you
we hugged you
and held you
we mourned with you July 2013 035
we mourned for you
we have been dazzled by your radiance
inspired by your adventures
and touched by your generosity.

Three generations of people
sat in your lap as children
were covered by your quilts
and zipped into your sweaters
you carried each of us on your hip
and held us each in your heart

We respect you
we cherish you
we appreciate you
we’ve learned so much from you
we’ve laughed with you
and lived with you
and traveled with you

and now
we open up our hands
we open up our hearts July 2013 036
and we let you go.
Be free.
Continue your travels
on the currents of time and space…

Go in peace
go in love
and go knowing that you have left behind
something beautiful
something marvelous
something that matters
The fabric of a life well-lived
the hearth of a family well-tended
the heart of a community strengthened
and a never-ending chain of generations

You’re our Mamoo

June 3, 1979

You’re our grandmother
and we say goodbye
and thank you.

Sink deeply
and gently
into the arms and lap
of time
the great mother of us all

She holds you now.
We let go

Then, we left the Mamoorial and headed out for the beach, a little over three-hour drive. We drove her car…

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When we got home from California, the Mamoorial blue hydrangea we’d planted was blooming beautifully!

One of my earliest memories of Mamoo is of sitting on her lap and playing with a gold ball ring on her finger. I don’t know the story behind that ring, I feel as if I should, but from the time I was a tiny girl she always wore it when she visited her grandchildren and we all liked to play with it. I imagine it was a coincidence that she wore it around a grandchild in the first place, but then it became a thing that she did and that all of us associated with her. When my aunt and mom were going through her jewelry they asked if there was something I wanted and I asked for the ring. Later, my two sisters both mentioned it as well and I feel guilty or selfish for being the one to get it. At this point, I can’t wear it. It makes me feel awful to see it on my own hand. Its hers. It belongs on her hand. The whole reason I wanted it was because it was something that reminds me very concretely of her, but that is the exact same reason that I can’t wear it right now. I hope my own grandchildren will play with it though when I wear it to meet them. It fits on the same finger on my hand that it fit on hers.

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They also gave me her Hitty doll. Hitty: Her First Hundred Years is a classic children’s novel by Rachel Field. It was published in 1929 and wasJune 2013 005 one of my grandma’s favorite books. Hitty is a small ashwood doll who travels the world. In 1997, my grandma bought her own Hitty replica and did, in fact, take Hitty with her on some travels as her travel doll. My dad made replicas of Hitty’s key furniture pieces for my grandma and they were all set up as a display in her house, along with a tiny wooden peg person Hitty I’d made for my grandma, but completely forgotten about. I sat the ball ring on a Hitty’s lap for a while and then ended up putting it into a little shadow box with her on the replica of Hitty’s bench that my dad made for my grandma and a set of my grandma’s Dionne Quintuplet dolls. Those who know me in real life may puzzle somewhat over my extensive and non-frugal American Girl doll collection, but I come by this doll thing genetically, I swear. It is in my blood! I remember the Dionne Quintuplet dolls from when I was a little girl. They were my grandma’s when she was a girl herself and she was fascinated by the story of the Quints.

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Last month, I took the ring to the woods and wrote a sort of “poem” about it, excerpted below. After doing so, I became obsessed with finding a picture of her wearing the ring, because suddenly I worried that I’d imagined or exaggerated that she always wore it to see us. Indeed, I don’t know if she ever wore at other times, but around the grandchildren, it was a fixture. And, I did readily locate pictures from her eightieth birthday party in which you can see the ring on her hand where it belongs and pictures from when I was younger and pictures from when she came to meet Alaina.

…Ball ring
has been a lot of places
told a lot of stories
seen a lot of things
and it is still here
a reminder
of what has gone before.

Thank you.


Bill's Beach Pix 03620130715-140057.jpgSANYO DIGITAL CAMERAI had to include this picture even though I, personally, look like a mutant, because Mamoo is so cute in it!

0070She passed along her smile to my whole family! 🙂

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This is the kind of picture that really twists my heart, because she looks like Alaina in it and the world spins so fast…

Happy birthday, Mamoo! My mom sent me a text to tell me that your birthday club friends went out to lunch for your birthday. They’ve been going out to lunch on birthdays for 50 years.

And, today the investment statements came from the college funds you set up for my kids. Thank you.

Vacation, Phase 3: Legoland

I apologize to any new followers who are wondering where the birth stuff is on this birth blog anyway! I’m on a roll with my vacation recap posts, so bear with me as I finish my series, then I’ll get back to business 🙂

After the tourmaline mine, we checked into our new hotel, The Carlsbad by the Sea Resort, and left behind our beloved Ramada Carlsbad (lamented over for every day we spent in a hotel after that!). We went to the beach and out to dinner with Mark’s best childhood friend and his wife who coincidentally now live not that far away from where we were in CA. The next morning, we hopped up for phase three of our journey, two days at Legoland. We started out the day feeling like we’d made a pretty grievous error in thinking it was remotely sensible to go to two different theme parks back-to-back (three if you count California Adventure as separate from Disneyland–you do have to pay more for it and go through a totally separate gate to get in, have your ticket scanned again, etc.), with only a single day’s break doing hard manual labor digging through rocks in the hot sun in between the big park adventures. We were all super tired, the kids said they would rather just go to the beach, and it was Memorial Day. Actual bleeping Memorial Day and there we were headed off to join the masses of other yahoos getting spun around in the sun. I was also worried that Legoland’s rides/atmosphere would not measure up to Disney’s and with only a day’s separation, the contrast would be just too clear. We ended up leaving the hotel a little later than I wanted and got to the park only fifteen minutes early. I fretted all the way over about the “crowds” and we cooked up a plan to leave and go to the attached SeaLife Aquarium as soon as it got too crowded at Legoland, then return to do the rest of the park the following day when we anticipated it would be less crowded. We decided to pay to park there, so that we could go back to our car to feast upon peanut butter sandwiches rather than expensive park food. Imagine our surprise to pull into a nearly empty parking lot…then walk right through the entrance gate and straight up to stand right by the rope closing off the attractions until the opening moment. Turns out that Memorial Day at Legoland was the best. It was practically empty all day and was basically perfect.

Since I didn’t have a lot of foreknowledge or expectation of what the park would be like, I just enjoyed it a lot. Very Zen of me, but this loosening of any attachment to outcome or experience, really freed us up to just enjoy what is. Legoland was one of the highlights of our whole trip for me because we actually felt laid back and relaxed there and it was so unexpected. Alaina was big enough to go on just about every ride and we were flexible about stopping to play on “little” stuff we would have breezed right by at Disneyland. I’d read a tip online not to go to Legoland for the rides, but to go for the experience. The post I read said that if you went for the rides you’d be disappointed, but if you went to watch your kids have a good time and to enjoy the full experience of just being at Legoland, you’d have a blast and we did. We sat in the Duplo Village and let the kids build with huge Legos and climb into big Duplo playhouses, we actually went to The Big Store and to the Minifigure Market and let them buy (surprisingly affordable) souvenirs. We never shopped at all at Disneyland, too much GO! Keep MOVING! Oh, and remember my “get your money’s worth” obsession? Legoland is practically free compared to Disneyland too. And, we actually found on clearance cool stuff at one of the shops that we bought for people for Christmas—cheap, significantly discounted, things that people will actually want (can’t say what in case they read my post!). When I think about Disneyland, I remember how hard we pushed and how we “triumphed” and enjoyed pretty spectacular highlights like working the single-rider line at Radiator Springs Racers. I felt really successful about getting the max we could out of Disneyland for our dollars spent. And, almost all of the rides there truly amazing events and not mere “rides.”

When I think about Leogland, I remember things like watching the kids play in the water park area and pushing Alaina on the swing and watching her “drive” the blue Lego car she was obsessed with and of all of us sliding down the big slides of Dune Raiders in sacks as a family and riding up to the top of the Beetle Bounce all together and feeling our stomachs wooosh as we rode back down, of sharing tasty Granny Apple Fries without feeling like we were “missing” something or “wasting time,” of my boys’ faces as they ran through the Aquarium exclaiming in amazement at everything they saw as well as their sheer delight at touching real sea cucumbers and sea stars. I remember Alaina lifting her arms above her head and screaming as we zoomed around the Coastersaurus together and of Mark shoving another mom and kid’s little Lego boat around as we crept around the little Lego boat school riverway at a total snail’s pace, but with our kids really driving their own Lego boats. We did almost nothing at Disneyland that involved all of being able to go together as a family, since we had to keep switching off with one adult going on the little rides with Alaina and one boy, while the other maximized the efficiency of going on a big ride with the other boy. Legoland is built for kids in the 3-12 range, basically. It was all families with kids at about those ages—we saw no teenagers in the whole place, it was like an entire demographic was missing. Lann, at almost ten, was almost “too old” for a lot of it (but he wasn’t and he never said anything like that). Alaina, at two, was “just right” for almost everything and probably had the most fun of us all. My expectations of Legoland were lower, but the experience was actually richer in many ways. I loved it! Of course, I loved Disney too and it was a trip to remember, but there is something to be said for just having fun with your family. Duh.

As far as the rides, think kind of like basic carnival type stuff, no show-stoppers or big thrills. The very “biggest” rides at Legoland are about as good as the rides at Disneyland like Gadget’s Go Coaster and Goofy’s Sky School and most of them were much tamer and not as good as things like Alice and Little Mermaid. And, they’ve got no clue how to do ambiance like Disney does. It is really a park for pretty young people, which is fine, because that’s what we’ve got! Many of the rides were very sloooooow paced, but having the whole family be able to ride them together was pretty priceless. And, my boys never complained about anything being too slow. I will always remember the thrill of shared discovery of going together to somewhere that none of us had ever been and didn’t know what to expect and of the sense of the “bonus” surprise of having a practically empty park to ourselves to enjoy. It put us on the same playing field in a sense, in which we could all discover and experience things together for the first time, rather than having the parents already know everything about Disneyland.

Oh, they had big signs all over about NO OUTSIDE FOOD OR WATER, so we dutifully left ours in the car and went back out at lunchtime (which was a genius plan, btw), but everyone and their brother brought water in…we saw them…and no one ever said anything to stop them.

The second day was surprisingly much more crowded than actual Memorial Day—there were lots of school buses there for end-of-the-year trips. So, after enjoying some of the things we missed the day before, we headed to the Sealife Aquarium, which was another unexpected sleeper hit. It is structured oddly in that they only let you in as a group and you have to wait for group to go in with. And, once inside, you process sequentially through without any real opportunity for backtracking to see anything you’d like to see again. It had a very one-way-street feel and you just kept going until you came out at the food court at the end. Alaina desperately wanted to go back to see tiny turtles, but there was no real way to do that without being re-admitted. Anyway, at the Aquarium is where we finally saw the looks of joy and delight and excitement on Lann and Zander’s faces that we’d expected to see at Disneyland. They had so much fun and acted like it was the greatest place they’d ever been.

Interestingly, I note that I have way more pictures of our Legoland expedition as well, because I actually was moving slowly enough to pay attention and enjoy what was around me! As always, click on any picture to enlarge and then scroll through slide-show style to see bigger images and captions.

Legoland closed at around 5:00, so we actually had plenty of time to go back to enjoy the beach!

Vacation, Phase 2: Himalaya Tourmaline Mine

When I say we went on a trip to California, I’m seriously talking about a trip. This was a multi-phase, multi-destination, multi-purpose, multi-plane-trips, heck of a trip. Essentially, it was four different vacations in one, plus it was a family visit for my grandma’s memorial services. The second phase of the journey was a trip to the Himalaya Tourmaline Mine near Lake Henshaw, California. We’re a family of rockhounds and have wanted to go to this mine ever since we saw it on Cash and Treasures a couple of years ago! Unfortunately, we discovered that it was not a good match for the toddler among us. If we were doing it again, we would have only paid for Mark to dig (kids dig free), because I seriously wasted my money by paying for me—I did almost nothing, because Alaina got so clingy and crabby and whiny and wanted to be held the whole time (incompatible with digging up piles of rocks and carrying them around in buckets and lifting them into washing pans and sorting through them). It was hot and all the kids got fed up and really wanted to leave. We did not find very much in general and it did not feel like it was worth the money and time we spent. We did find some small pieces of pink and green tourmaline, so it wasn’t a total bust, plus we were able to check this off our bucket list! Lake Henshaw was about an hour’s drive from Carlsbad and it took us through several reservations. I felt sad to see the apparent poverty all around and then a gleaming, tricked out Harrah’s right in the middle of the dust and scrub of what was clearly very undesirable, inhospitable desert land.

After driving from Anaheim the night before our mining expedition, we checked in to the Ramada Carlsbad. They had overbooked during Memorial Day weekend and so upgraded us to a suite. And, it was a sweet suite! It was our most favorite hotel room we’ve ever stayed in. We loved it! I need to start checking out suites everywhere, because it was SO much better than a regular hotel room. We hated to leave it—unfortunately, it was only a brief stopover of a hotel and we had to switch to the Carlsbad-by-the-Sea Resort instead (which had also been overbooked for Memorial Day and was unavailable on this one night that we stayed at the Ramada. Since the Carlsbad-by-the Sea Resort seemed completely unprepared for us to arrive, in hindsight, I wish I would cancelled that reservation and remained at our beloved Ramada for the remainder of our time in Carlsbad). We barely had time to take advantage of the sweet suite though. We didn’t arrive until the late evening and then left immediately to go to the OCEAN! It was Alaina’s first glimpse of “big water” and the boys wanted to play on the beach even though it was dusk. We then left and went to Wal-Mart to get something for dinner to microwave in the awesome kitchen of our sweet suite. Our credit card was denied for the first and only time on our trip while on this expedition—apparently, plane tickets and Disneyland tickets, and rental vans, and gas purchased up and down the state do not raise any flags, but a 9:00 stop at a Wal-Mart in Oceanside is a red flag for likely fraud! I got multiple text messages and an email from the credit card company and had to call them the next day to sort it out properly!

Now, pictures! (to enlarge, just click any picture and then continue to click through the slide-show format rather than the thumbnail views below)

Next, we headed for Legoland for two days!

Trumpet blast! This is my 800th post on this blog! I wanted to do something fun/special for my 800th post, but I couldn’t really think of anything, so I just went with what I felt like writing, which was this second installment in our vacation saga. I’ll do something special when I hit 1000 instead! 😉

Vacation, Phase 1: Disneyland and California Adventure

Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping and I have been torn about whether or not to do any California trip recap posts the way I had intended. I had a lot of thoughts, observations, tips, and memories that I felt like sharing, but as more time has passed the “have to” element is starting to feel burdensome rather than enriching. I took all the pictures though and thought of the tips…

We flew into LAX on a Wednesday, rented a van and then drove to Anaheim where we stayed in the Clarion Anaheim. I specifically picked the hotel because it had a little café in it in which kids could eat free breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There was no free breakfast for adults, but I figured that was outweighed by the kids also being able to dinner for free. The little restaurant was called the Palm Tree Cafe and it was so good. I read mixed reviews online, but the paninis we had there were truly the food-highlight of our entire vacation. We never ended up eating better food anywhere else that we stayed during the whole two weeks. Of course, hunger is the best seasoning and all and when we staggered in exhausted from our Disney fun, we were so grateful to have food that it was the best food on earth. The breakfast buffet was really good also with lots of fresh fruit and also bacon. And, the dishes were all real—cloth napkins, real forks, etc. I feel like the hotel choice was smart for the food, but it was longer walk from Disneyland than I anticipated and we ended up having to buy the ART pass after all so we could take a shuttle to and from the park. It wasn’t expensive and it was totally worth it.

We did walk to Downtown Disney on Wednesday night and we also walked home from the park one afternoon and to it one morning.  We accidentally were there during the Monster summer event (celebrating the release of Monsters University) in which the park was open 24 hours and it was also Memorial Day weekend. Pretty unexpected bad moves for us! Oh yeah, and it was also Grad Night on both Friday and Saturday nights, for which all the graduating high school seniors in the state were there for a special event (apparently 10,000 of them, I read!). In hindsight, since we had three-day park hopper passes, we totally should have gone to the park for half a day the day we arrived on a Wednesday, rather than going on the Saturday of Memorial Day for a partial day. I guarantee that Wednesday afternoon/evening would have been more “productive” than Saturday was. Thank goodness we had Thursday and a “Magic Morning” (get in one hour early) that day, because Friday night (the 24 hour event night) was insane and Saturday was pretty horrible after about noon (it only opened at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday too, which was a bummer).

Things I wanted to remember to say or wish I had remembered to do:

  • Needed long-sleeves for the kids–it was surprisingly chilly a lot of the time.
  • and needed hats to protect from sun. Mark, Alaina, and I all had one, but the boys did not.
  • the Ergo was an absolutely life-saver. I do not know what we would have done without it. Alaina rode in it constantly. I joked that I felt like I was “two years pregnant” because of how I waddled all over the park with her strapped to my chest. (I’ve never been one for the back carry with the Ergo—it puts pressure on my neck/shoulders that way and feels like it is pulling me over backwards. It also gives me tension headache-migraine-of-awfulness, which I had the entire first day, but ignored in the spirit of fabulous fun, even though a part of me imagined drilling several small holes in my skull to let out the pressure. On the front, we’re golden, except for the two-years-pregnant waddle and the slight ridiculousness of carrying a massive person around on your chest instead of back.)
  • a nice, everyone-wins compromise about expensive food in the parks is to get things to share so that everyone gets a “taste” of park food and then supplement with packed snacks or leave the park to eat other food. For example, we went to the Hungry Bear restaurant, but instead of getting a whole lunch for everyone, we got a chicken sandwich for the adults to split and one kids meal for the kids to split and two of the big, fancy lemon cupcakes for the family to split—so, everyone got to enjoy the satisfaction of eating a fancy cupcake, without actually having to buy five of them! This cut down on some of the bugging from the kids about buying food all of the time, but saved us money. And, btw, the boys didn’t even finish eating their entire pieces of the split-in-thirds $6 cupcake, so I’m triply glad I didn’t buy them each one!)
  • I read a tip online that if you are doing Disney with young kids, you should to go back to your hotel room for a midday siesta and recharge time–this would be during the hottest part of the day when things haven gotten crowded. Then, go back over in the late afternoon when daytime visitors are heading home. We did this on Friday and it was a good choice, because we were able to eat our beloved, life-saving paninis at the Palm Tree Cafe and rest a bit, before heading back into what had become madness.
  • If children are bugging for yet another treat, go to the Ghiradelli chocolate store at California Adventure and they’ll give you free chocolates!
  • Good shoes really matter. Even though they didn’t match my outfits, I brought my favorite pair of Teva Terradactyls to wear and never regretted it.

Here is my Facebook summary of our Disneyland and California Adventure adventure:

Thursday at Disney was great. We ran ourselves ragged and were exhausted and hungry, but we did almost everything there was to do at Magic Kingdom. We had a “Magic Morning” on our tickets for that morning, so we got in an hour early. Plus, we quickly learned that Alaina was our best “fast pass” ever and took the slightly scammish approach of collecting as many rider switch passes as we could in the morning when lines were short and then going back in the afternoon and actually using them when lines were longer. We felt like we’d gotten our money’s worth and fully “done” Disneyland by the end of the day on Thursday. On Friday, the parks opened at 6:00 in the morning and so we did California Adventure that day. It was pretty good in the morning though headliner rides were closed until 9:00, which was obnoxious, but smaller rides were walk right on affairs. The big Cars ride was a different story, but we worked the single rider line and the rider switch (because of Alaina) and got it done swiftly too. We also looked pathetic enough, I guess, at the Toy Story ride, which was the last ride we hadn’t done there, that the entrance guy gave us a special pass to come back in an hour and go straight through the fast pass entrance.

Most of the smaller rides remained walk right on or maybe 15 minutes—so, Little Mermaid was gone on like five times or more and the Monster’s Inc ride and Muppets 3D, etc. were all easy access as were all the little rides in Bug’s Land (Alaina’s favorite) and things like Mater’s Tractors in Cars Land. It was the night when it started to get insane–we went back to Disneyland thinking we’d do a few things before Fantasmic and it was an awful mob scene over there that was virtually unwalkable (but, it was how I worried the whole three days might be, so I shouldn’t complain that it was really only that time). We found a place for Fantasmic that was actually good viewing because we stood behind the chairs for the premium viewing, which meant people were sitting and thus we could see over them. And, the nice people in front of us said our kids could come stand in front of them so they could see even better. They actually closed access to Fantasmic then and wouldn’t let anyone else in to that section of the park. When it was over, we staggered slowly away through unbelievable crowds and out a “secret escape route” we were directed through that took us behind the kitchens and where the Jungle Boats are stored and stuff like that. Handily, we watched the fireworks as we staggered and then went gratefully to the hotel even though it was not even 10:00 and the parks were still open until 6:00 in the morning!

On Saturday, the parks didn’t open until 10:00 and were already pretty busy. We did as many favorite rides as we could and got some rider switch passes for big ones and fast passes for Space Mountain (Lann actually ended up going on Star Tours four different times thanks to our fab strategies), but it quickly turned into even 45 minute waits for things like Alice and Roger Rabbit. We went back to California Adventure and did some final rides there, either on the little kids stuff which still was only five-minute waiting, or to things we’d gotten switch passes for in the morning (so, we successfully did Cars with less than a 20 minute wait two different times, even though the regular line was 120 minutes and the line to even get a fast pass was crazy). So, it wasn’t really THAT bad, all things considered! 🙂 We just had to push really hard and drag kids to things they were saying they were too tired for, because we knew it was getting worse all the time. We were worn out! But, we got our money’s worth anyway! Legoland was much slower paced.

In general, I feel like maybe we actually pushed too hard—I felt like we didn’t have enough food, enough clothes, enough water, enough sleep, or enough rest pretty much the whole time and the kids got pretty whiny and complained a lot more than I ever did at Disneyland as a kid (and my mom was the exact same kind of pusher that I was, so it wasn’t that I had a more laidback time—getting our money’s worth is a powerful motivator in this family!). We walked a LOT and got pretty exhausted and depleted (the kids more than the adults—I felt pretty hyped up and almost “manic” the whole time!). The kids all had colds and mild fevers for at least one of the days. Mark got horrible “burns” on the backs of his knees from his shorts rubbing against them and I got a similar spot on my shoulder from my hat. All of our feet ached like crazy by the end of the day even with our carefully selected good shoes–I felt like perhaps I wore my heels to the bone! I feel like our kids will mainly remember excessive walking and being hustled from one place to another and usually getting NO for an answer about buying more and more and more expensive snacks, rather than all the fun we actually had once we got on the rides!

While I toted Alaina around in the Ergo for hours (often while nursing) at Disneyland and Legoland, I also had a lot of reminders that she is not really a baby anymore: strolling up to real babies to check them out and saying gently, “hi, baby!” with her knees bent slightly, head inclined, and hand outstretched in friendly manner; riding on genuine rollercoasters at three theme parks while laughing and (fake) screaming and raising her hands in the air and saying “fun!”; crabby expression and raised hands and “yes, bigger!” when told she is too small to ride something…she’s a real girl now!

Pictures, pictures, pictures! (Click on any to enlarge to full size and then scroll through like a slide show, rather than peering at the tiny gallery pictures)

We left after the parade and drove to Carlsbad, California to prepare to go tourmaline mining!