Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Back to Arizona

11 Oct 2014: Anaheim Police Department

Isn't it funny how we take a ton of pictures as soon as we head out on a vacation, but by the time we are homeward bound it's almost like we forget we own a camera? Well, our California trip was no exception, so this will be a short post.

We checked out of our resort at 12:00 sharp, and then our first destination was the Anaheim Police Department. I still needed to file a police report regarding our little "accident" at Disneyland on Thursday morning. It seems the Anaheim police won't respond to incidents that occur on private property (like the Mickey and Friends parking garage), so we had to tell our story to the two officers at the station, one of whom was clearly still a wet-behind-the-ears rookie. They took copious notes, then went out to the parking lot to take pictures of the damage to my car. 

Both officers were sympathetic to our situation and felt that Disneyland Security had let the other driver off too lightly, but it appears doubtful that their report will have any affect on the outcome of the investigation, since they were not present to witness the incident or its immediate aftermath. Still, my insurance agent said I needed a police report, so there we were. 

I expect I'll be able to blog about the accident (I use that term loosely) in January. The other driver's insurance company claims to still be investigating, but my company has already told me what the outcome is likely to be, given the circumstances. So it's almost over.

My Carl's Jr. Super Star lettuce wrap, plus fried zucchini and ranch!
I don't even eat burgers on buns anymore. I love them best as lettuce wraps!

Our next stop was a gas station to fill up. That was our first clue that gas prices had started moving downward. Our last fill-up, of the rental van for our coastal cruise 4 days earlier, had still been quite pricey. When I spied a Carl's Jr. next door to the gas station--my most favorite fast food restaurant ever--we headed there for lunch. And then we were back on the road toward home.  

Crossing the Colorado River and looking toward Arizona on the other side.

The trip home always seems so much longer than the trip toward the vacation destination. By then, everyone is tired and missing their own beds, and usually you're driving back over the same route you arrived by.

Welcome to Arizona! We stopped for dinner at Wendy's in Ehrenberg, AZ,
just the other side of the Colorado River, around 6:00 p.m.

Dylan captured this cute picture of his sister Sarah.

We were still crossing the desert when it grew dark. Even now, almost 3 months later, I remember how hard it was to keep my eyes open, the way my vision kept blurring, when Jacob called me from his car to suggest we make a stop at the next convenience store in the middle of nowhere. We did, and it helped.

I think it was about 9:00 when we reached my sister Karla's house in Mesa. We had a nice visit before we crashed all over her living room. I took the couch under the front window.

My Sunday lunch at Del Taco in Phoenix.

The next morning we said good-bye to Karla and her crew as they headed off to church, and then we loaded ourselves back up for the final leg of the journey home. But we still had one stop to make.

My good friend Gwen became gravely ill back in August, so much so that she was unconscious for weeks, and they finally had to evacuate her from our mountain's medical center to a Valley hospital. By the time we arrived in Mesa, she was recovering and was now in an assisted care facility in Phoenix. So, of course, we had to make a stop to spend a couple of hours visiting her and reassuring ourselves that she was really all right! It was so good to spend time with her.

This was my first time to eat at a Del Taco. I think I'll stick with Taco Bell.
We stopped here on our way to see Gwen.

And then, at last, we were on our way home and back to our real lives. We were sad to see it end, but what a pleasant interlude it was!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Park Hopping

Pumpkin statuary at the start of Main Street, USA.
Friday, October 10, 2014

I really must finish blogging our 2014 vacation before 2015 gets here! So here are some pictures from our final day at Disneyland and California Adventure, which was also our final full day in California. At noon the following day, Saturday, we checked out of the WorldMark Anaheim Resort and turned back toward Arizona.

The day started off a little rough. Since we'd closed the resort late Thursday night and didn't get to bed until about 2:00 a.m., we'd decided to sleep an extra hour. Instead of arriving when California Adventure opened at 8:00, we arrived an hour later to find that the Anaheim Police Dept. had decided to reroute parking to an area about a quarter-mile from the park, with no tram service. Then, after making the unexpected hike to CA Adventure, we realized we'd left our Photo Pass card back at the resort.

By now I was a tad cranky, due to my left knee and right hip aching, as well as the prospect of a goodly hike back to our car at the end of a busy, tiring day when I knew I'd be too exhausted to do it. So I announced that I was going to drive back to the resort for the Photo Pass and I'd meet up with everyone later. The kids tried to talk me out of it, but I told them they'd have more fun without me, given my current foul mood. They saw the wisdom in that and let me go.

Looking up Main Street toward Sleeping beauty's Castle.

The brisk hike back to the car helped me burn off a lot of my frustration, and when I returned to the resort I found the WorldMark staff giving away big, sticky-sweet pastries in the lobby. I grabbed one and took it with me to our unit on the 11th floor, where I put my feet up and drowned my sorrows in chocolate for a short time. Then I retrieved the Photo Pass and drove back to Disneyland. By this time, the parking lot I'd departed earlier had filled up and I was now diverted to another parking lot, farther away (in fact, a block from our resort) but with bus service to the park. Hallelujah! 

We ate lunch at Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country, 
with a nice view of the Rivers of America.

As soon as I was back at the gates of Disneyland, I called the kids. They had gotten fast passes for World of Color and Radiator Springs Racers at California Adventure to be used later that evening, and then they'd crossed the way to Disneyland. There, they had gotten fast passes for Indiana Jones Adventure before boarding the Jungle Cruise, which they were still riding when I called. So it turned out that I hadn't missed much, though I was sorry I missed my chance to ride the Jungle Cruise, another oldie I've loved from my childhood.

I enjoyed strolling up Main Street on my own, and then we all met in Adventureland. The kids informed me that they were starving, so we went to lunch. I had hoped to try the skewers at Bengal Barbecue across from Indiana Jones, but they all wanted something more hearty (I had eaten that pastry, after all), so we headed to Hungry Bear.

The sailing ship Columbia cruised by while we ate lunch.

The Haunted Mansion was all spruced up for Halloween.

On our way back from lunch, we decided to get in the long line for the Haunted Mansion, which is especially popular at Halloween time. Fortunately, the line moves quickly, and the grounds around the mansion are fun to see along the way, including an old-fashioned hearse and a pet cemetery. Jack Skellington of Nightmare Before Christmas was even there to take pictures with those willing to step out of line for a moment.

"When you see a hearse go by..." (Remember that old song, Cousin Raelene?)

Dylan took this picture of me after I had a "senior moment."

We'd been in line for about 20 minutes when I had a moment of panic and exclaimed, "Oh no, my sunglasses! I think I left them at the restaurant!" Dylan looked down at me and said dryly, "They're on your head, Mom."

A Halloween scene from inside the haunted Mansion.
Personally, I prefer the off-season Haunted Mansion without all the
Jack Skellington extras, the way it used to be in the olden days...

They were celebrating Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Frontierland.

Chris, Sarah, Dylan, Jacob, and Danielle kicking it at Frontierland in Zocalo Park.

Danielle and Dylan get to know the goats at Big Thunder Ranch.

After seeing the Haunted Mansion, we wandered through Frontierland and spent some time at Big Thunder Ranch, where they have a petting zoo full of friendly goats. This was definitely a highlight of the day for Sarah, Danielle, and Chris.

Sarah makes a new friend.

Chris loves animals, too.

Just had to share this toothy smile!

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was our next stop.

Practically next-door to Big Thunder Ranch is one of our most favorite rides, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. We always manage to ride it several times using the fast pass system, and this trip was no exception. It's an old-fashioned wooden roller coaster, so you really feel the rocking and rolling, and they've added some very cool new effects that make it even better. The goat chewing the dynamite is still my favorite part, though!

A portion of the tracks for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

The train disappears into the darkness of the mines.

Chris, Danielle, Jacob, Sarah, and Dylan waiting to board the train.

These vehicles take you on a very rough ride in Indiana Jones Adventure.

One of my regrets is that I never took any good pictures inside either the queue or the actual ride at Indiana Jones Adventure. I was just enjoying the sights too much! However, I forgot to mention in my last Disneyland post that we had our own little adventure at the end of our second ride on Indiana Jones Adventure on Thursday night.

When you enter the vehicle, you are instructed to put your belongings into a netted bag suspended in front of your knees, because the ride tosses you about quite a lot. I did so, and at the end of the ride I retrieved my things from the bag. Then, as I was stepping out of the vehicle, I noticed something flutter to the ground near my feet. I picked it up and stared at it in horror. It was one of our Disneyland tickets, one of our six 3-day park hopper passes required for entry into the parks. And we still had one day left for which we needed those tickets (this happened on Thursday, remember).

As the reality of a possible total disaster trickled into my brain, I hastily opened the small envelope in my hand, still fastened tight by a small clip, in which I'd carried all six tickets throughout our time in the parks. My blood ran cold when I found the envelope was empty, not a single ticket inside, thanks to one edge of the envelope having worn so thin that it separated, allowing the  tickets to fall out. In my panic I wanted to scream at the crowds, "Nobody move!"

I didn't, of course. The people in the queue continued to surge forward, loading up the vehicles and lurching forward into the dark realms of Indiana Jones Adventure. By now our vehicle was long gone, carrying a new group of riders. It took me a few minutes to get the attention of a busy cast member, who finally noticed I was still loitering in the area which I should have vacated long ago.

I explained our emergency and, now that the blood had returned to my brain so I could think clearly, I suggested that the tickets might have fallen into the net bag when I put all my things into it. Hope, hope, hope... After that, I could only wait while the cast members searched every returning vehicle as the riders disembarked, holding up the next batch of riders until they finished. After about half a dozen vehicles had been searched, we had success at last! The other 5 tickets, along with our Splash Mountain fast passes, were indeed still in the net. We were so relieved and grateful!

Thankfully, our third time on Indiana Jones Adventure, on Friday, went smoothly!

Sleeping Beauty Castle as seen from Snow White's Wishing Well.

At 4:00, Disneyland began to fill up with costumed visitors who'd paid $60 to attend Mickey's Halloween Party, which started at 7:00, meaning that those of us who'd "only" paid $265 for each of our tickets, planning and saving for this trip all year and traveling from another state, had to leave the park by 7:00 (don't even get me started). This Halloween party was scheduled for three of our five possible Disneyland days, so our options were limited. Let's just say, I'll never do Disneyland in October again.

Snow White's Grotto and Wishing Well: you can just spy a woman by the well
dressed as Merida from Brave. She wasn't a cast member, but she was so convincing
that she was soon surrounded by a gaggle of adoring little girls.

By now, after another turn on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Pirates of the Caribbean, it was about 5:00, so we headed back toward Main Street. The kids paused to walk through Sleeping Beauty Castle, but I regrettably opted out because I went ahead to locate the stand that sells frozen treats in Main Street. I have a long-standing tradition of enjoying a chocolate-covered frozen banana before I leave Disneyland on my final day, and I had no intention of missing out!

"Partners" statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse on Main Street.
Each of the pumpkins around them was carved with Disney characters.

It was disappointing that we didn't have time to revisit any of our favorite rides in Tomorrowland, and we never made it back to ToonTown. We didn't get a second ride on Splash Mountain, and we didn't see any of the parades at Disneyland at all. I think I've reached the age where I need a 4-day pass spread over two full weeks to see everything I want to see and do everything I want to do! 

Ending a Disneyland trip with a frozen chocolate banana is my tradition!
(Funny side-note: notice all the people talking on cell phones behind me!)

After one last stop to take pictures inside the front gate at Disneyland, we crossed back over to California Adventure before 6:00, where we spent the remainder of the night. The rides there were open until midnight, and the shops were open until 1:00 a.m. Again, we closed the park.

We had a Mexican dinner at Cocina Cucamonga at California Adventure.

Around 6:30 we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill in Pacific Wharf. It's one of the few Disneyland Resort restaurants that still gives a 10% discount for using your Disney Visa card. I like that!

You must be quick to snap this picture when the curtain opens!
I finally got it on my fourth try!

After dinner, it was time to use our Radiator Springs Racers fast passes. We enjoyed our fourth and final turn on what is now our favorite Disneyland Resort ride!

Chris, Sarah, and Mary in back; Dylan, Jacob, and Danielle in front.

Danielle and Jacob in front of Mickey's Fun Wheel after World of Color.
We had to beg permission to go in this area to take pictures between shows,
and then the cast members watched us like hawks!

Overall, after two nights of trying to see the World of Color show, we found it to be a poorly planned mess. Typically, Disneyland deals so much better with crowd control and view availability, but I give them an epic fail on this one. Just to be sure that we got good places to stand, after barely being able to see the show on our first try Monday, Chris went early to hold us a place, but he was turned away because our whole group wasn't with him. I'm sorry, but I wasn't going to miss two hours of rides to stand on hard cement (nowhere to sit) for so long. Some of us are a bit too old (with serious back problems) for that sort of nonsense. 

As 8:30 approached, Jacob, Danielle, Dylan, and Chris made their way through the crowds to see the program as best they could manage, which I understand involved Danielle standing on Dylan's back so she could see over the tall men around her! Sarah and I didn't feel it was worth it, so we found a bench near a little restaurant and relaxed, enjoying the program's music from afar.

Sarah and Chris's picture is darker because my camera battery died,
and I had to take the rest of the night's pictures with my cell phone.

One of my frustrations is that we were surrounded by six-feet-tall (and taller) men, none of whom were willing to allow little children and shorter people like Danielle to stand in front of them. They could easily have seen over their heads, but I guess the age of chivalry is truly gone. My suggestion to Disneyland is simple: put in some bleachers! Let people sit in tiers so they can see over the heads in front of them! It works for high school football games, for Pete's sake!

Dylan, Mary, Jacob, Danielle, Sarah, and Chris in front of the Cadillac Mountain Range.
Photo by PhotoPass personnel.

After World of Color, we all headed back to our favorite section of California Adventure, Cars Land. It's exceptionally awesome at night, when the street is all lit up with neon lights. 

Danielle, Jacob, Dylan, Mary, Sarah, and Chris in Cars Land after dark.
Also taken by PhotoPass staff.

We wandered over to Cozy Cone Motel, where they sell a variety of snacks from traffic cone-shaped buildings: "cone queso," "popcone," etc. Very cute! I enjoyed a frozen strawberry-lemonade from "cone-coctions."

Dylan and Mary got to meet Tow Mater in person!
His eyes moved and he spoke to us. He's a very witty jokester!

Chris and Sarah with Mater.

Jacob and Danielle with Mater.

Chris and Sarah with a Cars Land tractor.

Danielle, Dylan, and Jacob with a Cars Land tractor.

Turtle Talk with Crush.

Sometime after 10:30 we headed over to Hollywood Land, which we had sadly neglected thus far. We went first to the Disney Animation building, where we enjoyed a visit with Crush, the laid-back turtle from Finding Nemo. He's always so clever and fun. Chris had a humorous conversation with him, all of which was recorded on Danielle's cell phone.

Over in the Hollywood Studios lot, the Mad T Party was in full swing,
including a Mad Hatter dee-jay, loud music, dancing, and alcoholic drinks.
(See Dylan at far right of photo.)

Sully and Mike rescue Boo.

We walked through the crazy disco-type party and enjoyed the two attractions we like in that area: the Monsters Inc: Mike and Sully to the Rescue! ride and the Muppet Vision 3-D show. That final one has aged a bit, but I read that it's due for a makeover soon and will be shut down temporarily.

Danielle and Jacob, the newlyweds, found appropriate Mickey Mouse ears to model!

Once midnight came and the rides closed down, we spent quite a bit of time wandering through the shops of California Adventure, looking for our final souvenirs. We hated for the fun to end, but ultimately we had to depart the gates and ride the bus back to our car and, finally, drive back to our resort for a short night's sleep. In the morning, our California adventure would begin moving toward its conclusion.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Carter Christmas

Dylan models his Christmas stocking on Christmas Eve 2014.

I wasn't sure what to expect of Christmas this year, with only two of us in the house now. Even after Jacob left on his mission and Sarah married Chris, there were still three of us because I was married to my ex, Ed, at the time. And last Christmas, after Ed and I split up, there were five of us because Jacob had moved back home and then my stepson and his girlfriend (now wife), Ryan and Shera, had moved in with us two weeks before Christmas. That was a busy, fun-filled, merry Christmas.

But two of us? I wasn't so sure what kind of Christmas that would make.

All the gifts were snuggled under the tree.

My married children, Sarah and Chris and Jacob and Danielle, had decided they'd like to have a quiet Christmas morning alone with their spouses, opening their gifts to each other privately. Then at 10:30 we would all gather at my house and open the presents we'd gotten for one another.

I asked Dylan if he wanted to do the same, or if he'd rather open our gifts to each other after his siblings came over at 10:30. He decided it would be better to wait so he could sleep later!

Santa filled Dylan's stocking to the brim. For me, he went for quality rather than quantity.
Chocolate oranges are the best!

I stayed up until after midnight, making fudge and baking a razzleberry pie, and prepping the potatoes for boiling and the green bean casserole for baking. Then I set the alarm for 8:00 a.m. so I could get up and get the turkey into the oven and complete other kitchen tasks. I was relieved that I was going to be able to sleep in a bit later since Dylan had decided to sleep in and open gifts later in the morning.

Dylan investigates the contents of his stocking.

At 7:30 I groggily came awake to a quiet sound at my bedroom door (I sleep lightly). It was Dylan. "Mom, I can't sleep. Can we open our presents now?" Groan...

"I think Santa's trying to fatten me up, " said Dylan.

So I dragged myself out of bed, combed my hair, and shuffled into the living room where my son awaited. I guess at seventeen you aren't too old and too cool to lose sleep in anticipation of Christmas morning!

Dylan with his pile of gifts.

Dylan had already received his big gift for this Christmas. The TV he once used for his Xbox went to Ed in the divorce (I never liked that TV anyway, due to its tinny sound), so Dylan suggested we replace it with a computer monitor as his main Christmas present. I agreed, so the gifts he opened this morning were pretty minor, mostly for the fun of having something to open.

Dylan opens a DVD of The Fluffy Movie, by his favorite comedian, Gabriel Iglesias.

Dylan's morning haul of Christmas loot. Notice Santa gave him some coal,
just to remind him that there's always room for improvement!

Besides The Fluffy Movie DVD, Dylan received a large bag of M&Ms for the M&M candy dispenser he got several years ago (a big refill bag is an annual tradition now); a Minecraft wall calendar (calendars are another traditional annual gift); a box of chocolate-covered cherries; a small iron skillet with brownie mix to cook up in it; and speakers to go with his new monitor.

Turkey in the oven and rolls rising on the warm stove top.

After the fun of opening our presents, I got back to work in the kitchen until the older kids arrived for our gift exchange.

A plate full of yummy, melt-in-your-mouth fudge.

Danielle brought more luscious fudge, as well as chocolate chip cookies
and sugar corn in both peppermint and cherry flavors.

Once we were all together, we took turns opening the gifts we'd been dying to open for weeks, starting with the youngest.

Dylan gets a Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare shirt from Jacob and Danielle.

Dylan bursts into laughter when he realizes that 
Sarah and Chris gave him the exact same shirt!

Danielle loves her new jewelry box from Sarah and Chris.

I missed getting a picture of Jacob and Chris as they both opened their gifts from me at the same time. Knowing how much they loved our eight attraction photos (Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, etc.) from Disneyland, I had 8x10 prints made of all eight pictures for each of the guys.

Sarah got a Willow Tree figurine from me and treble clef earrings from Dylan.
She can wear them on concert days, along with her violin necklace.

Chris got a can of popcorn, featuring Olaf, from Jacob and Danielle.
He loves Olaf the snowman, of the film Frozen!

Another fun highlight of our day was a phone call from Ryan and Shera, wishing us a Merry Christmas from Missouri. It was so good to hear from them on this special day!

Here I am with my gifts. Jacob and Danielle gave me the lovely blue nightgown.
Sarah and Chris gave me the sweet "Gracious" Willow tree figure holding a golden pineapple.
Dylan gave me the beautiful butterfly earrings and the butterfly in the jar. It's amazing.
The butterfly flutters around inside when you tap the jar, and it looks so real!
I'll keep it on my desk at school, where my students will be entranced by it.
My children know I love these types of whimsical gifts!

In addition to the gifts mentioned above, Chris and Sarah got a fuzzy wolf blanket
from Jacob and Danielle; and the DVD Just Go with It from Dylan.

We enjoyed our Christmas dinner at 1:30, and we were especially pleased to have the Elders (two young, full-time missionaries from our ward at church) join us. They stayed for 2 hours of fun conversation and food. We made sure they enjoyed some pie before we sent them on their way. It's always such a privilege to have them and their sweet spirit in our home. They were looking forward to this evening, when they would Skype their families back home in Montana and Georgia, one of only two times per year that they get to call home (the other being Mother's Day).

During dinner we were also blessed with a light snowfall of fat flakes, giving us a real White Christmas. It only dropped about a quarter-inch dusting of snow, but they say we might get 2 inches more overnight.

Jacob and Danielle's other gifts included the novel The Fault in Our Stars for Dani
from Dylan; a soft puppy-shaped neck massager for Danielle from me;
a tee-shirt and Zombie-Strike Nerf-gun for Jacob from Sarah and Chris; and
an 11x14 frame with a promise to fill it with a wedding sketch by Valentine's Day,
like the sketch I did of Chris and Sarah for Christmas last year.

Sarah and Chris had to leave us at 3:30. Chris's sister Sara had arrived this afternoon from her San Diego home, and they were having their family Christmas dinner at Chris's mom's house at 4:00. We were so grateful that they were able to spend about five hours with us first.

In addition to his gifts from Mom and the matching tee-shirts from his siblings
(notice he's wearing one and one is on the table), Dylan also got a 
Zombie-Strike Nerf-gun, which he has already used to irritate most of his family!

After they left us, Jacob, Danielle, and I fell asleep in my extremely comfortable recliners for about an hour. They are both fighting off bad colds. Me? Well, I'm just old! When we were awakened by a knock on the front door (an unexpected visit from an old friend of Dylan's), we watched a DVD together, Dolphin Tale 2. Then Jacob and Danielle headed back home for a good night's sleep before returning to work tomorrow.

Now the house is once again quiet and calm. But it's also filled with warm memories of our time together. I'm so grateful to be part of a family and to have such great kids. I feel so blessed. A Christmas of two people expanded and filled the day with joy!

Dylan with his new monitor and speakers.

I feel truly blessed to have my entire family around me this Christmas. It must be difficult for Danielle's parents, who moved to Utah after the wedding this summer, to have their little girl so far away at Christmas time. I'm aware that the time may come when my kids won't live this close, and so I intend to enjoy every second for as long as it lasts!

After all, this is the true meaning of Christmas: to give love as the Savior taught, and to receive the gifts of love with gratitude in our hearts.

Merry Christmas with love from our home to yours!