Monday, October 27, 2014

Birthday Girls

Celebrating two birthdays: Sarah's 25th and Danielle's 21st!

My sons are used to sharing their birthday celebrations, since their birthdays and their dad's birthday all fall within a 10-day period (June 21 to July 1). For 3 years, I shared my birthday with my second husband, whose birthday was the same day as mine. Sarah, though, has always had her birthday all to herself. Until now!

My attempt at a dual birthday cake, with pink for Danielle and purple for Sarah.
(We couldn't find any purple icing...)

When Jacob married Danielle in June, he brought another October birthday into our immediate family. Not only is Danielle's birthday in the same month as Sarah's, but it's also the very day after: Sarah was born on October 27th, while Danielle was born on October 28th 4 years later!

Gifts from Dylan and me.

Although their Walmart schedules worked out favorably for each of the ladies, with Sarah having the day off on her birthday and Danielle having the day off on her birthday, that didn't help much for getting the entire family together for a celebration. However, no one was scheduled to work yesterday, so we turned our weekly Sunday dinner into a double-birthday party!

Sarah reads a card out loud.

We intended to eat dinner before beginning the party, but the not-entirely-thawed chicken was still pretty pink when I took it out of the oven. We overruled Dylan's suggestion that we eat cake and ice cream first and then dinner later, and we went right into the gift opening segment.

Sarah with her birthday presents.

The two birthday girls took turns, alternating opening their gifts and reading aloud their cards. Sarah received a cute silver puppy necklace-and-earrings from her little brother; a gift card from Jacob and Danielle; a birthday massage from her massage-therapist husband Chris (to be delivered on her actual birthday); and a set of all 4 novels in The Giver series from me. (I love that book! I hope Sarah will, too.)

Danielle and her birthday presents.

Danielle received a pretty pink heart necklace-and-earrings from Dylan; a pink flower necklace, a pink bracelet, and pink nail polish from Sarah and Chris (as Chris burst into song: "It's all about that pink..."); from me, the book version of the new film If I Stay; and from her husband Jacob (who's always been very generous with gifts) she got a pink jacket, a purse, a wallet, a pair of pink shoes, and a beautiful necklace you can see in the next picture.

Do you think she likes it?

Dinnertime at the Carter home.

After 20 minutes more in the oven, the Chicken Parmesan was perfect and we enjoyed our entree with a side of green salad. Danielle chose the dinner menu (Chicken Parmesan has always been a favorite of the whole family) and Sarah chose the chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. They each selected an ice cream flavor: cookies-and-cream for Sarah and strawberry for Danielle (more pink!). And, of course, everyone had a taste of both!

Danielle and Sarah blow out the (wrong) candles!

Finally, we moved on to the cake and ice cream. After we sang "Happy Birthday to You," the girls blew out their candles. That's when Jacob pointed out that they were each on the wrong end of their cake! So we rearranged them, re-sang the quick Alvin-and-the chipmunks version, and took more pictures. Now that Sarah and Danielle got to make a double-wish, I hope all their most beautiful dreams come true!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A California Adventure

Monday, 6 Oct 2014: Disneyland Entrance

We were up bright and early on Monday morning to get to our favorite theme park before the crowds. By 7:15 we were walking through the gates. Because the Disneyland side of the park was closing early (6:00 p.m.) for Mickey's Halloween Party (don't even get me started on that...), we opted to do the first of our three Disney days at California Adventure.

Dylan, Chris, Sarah, Jacob, and Danielle waiting at the left on Buena Vista Street.

Once we were inside California Adventure, we had some more waiting to do. They allowed us to walk up Buena Vista Street just past the fountain, but then we had to hang out until the official opening time of 8:00.

You'll think I've posted an insane number of photos here, but the fact is, I took about 120 pictures on this one day alone, and I narrowed it down to just 38 for this post, so I think I showed great restraint! So many great shots I'd love to share! (And, remember, you can click on any photo to enlarge it and see all those great Disney details close-up!)

Chris, Mary, Dylan, Jacob, Danielle, and Sarah at entrance to cars Land.

None of us had ever been to the new Cars Land area of the park, and I'd read that the new Radiator Springs Racers was the most popular ride in all of CA Adventure, so we made a beeline there first thing. While Sarah and I paused to get Radiator Springs fast passes, the others hurried on to the ride to get in line. Thus we were able to ride twice that morning: once when we caught up to the rest of our group, and again when we were able to use our fast passes about an hour later.

Chris, Jacob, and Danielle have the front seat while we start out on the scenic route.

The. Most. Awesome. Ride. Ever. Omigosh! We loved it. I think we'd have ridden it over and over all day if there weren't so many other great things to see and do!

We all got flashed during the big race at the end!

It begins with a slow, scenic ride through the Southwest and then takes you inside to meet the characters from Cars, who are life-size and incredibly lifelike. It ends with a thrilling race against another group in their racer, soaring at what feels like amazing speeds, flying over hills and down through gullies. Wow, just wow. 

Sarah, Chris, Danielle, Jacob, and Dylan enter our raft
at Grizzly river Run.

Next we headed over to Condor Flats to get fast passes for Soarin' Over California, another of my favorites. Not as thrilling, but still so realistic and breath-taking. In fact, we rode it two or three times during our trip.

Then we went to Grizzly Peak for fast passes to World of Color, an event that takes place after dark. While there, we noticed that there was hardly any line for Grizzly River Run, so we took advantage of the opportunity and rushed to board a raft.

Danielle, Jacob, and Dylan...

...and Sarah and Chris on Grizzly River Run.

We got soaked! And then, at the end of the ride, we saw that there was no one in line. Not one person! So when the cast member came over to get us out of our raft, Jacob asked her if we could just stay on. When she saw that there was no one waiting, she let us stay put for another round. Then we were really soaked!

Love this picture. I never noticed the claws before!

We did a lot of screaming and laughing as the raft spun and dipped and swirled. We never knew who would get drenched as we dropped from churning rapids to swishing pools, because we never knew who would be facing the drop once we reached it.

Dylan, Sarah, Jacob, Danielle, and Chris in the Flying Tires queue.

From there we returned to Cars Land, where we got in line for Luigi's Flying Tires. I liked this ride because it's similar to a "spaceship" ride that Disneyland had when I was about 9 years old. I was fascinated by that old ride, so it was fun to see the same concept resurrected.

The ladies in the queue: Danielle, Mary, and Sarah (and we're still wet).

A group selfie in a mirror: Danielle, Chris, Jacob, Sarah, Dylan, and Mary.

Chris and Sarah in their tire on the left; Danielle and Jacob in their tire in the center.

The tires float across the ground on a cushion of air, and the riders control it by leaning this way or that. Dylan and I rocked this ride, traveling all over the arena, smashing into everyone, while our two young married couples mostly got stuck at one end.

Danielle, Sarah, Jacob, Chris, Dylan, and Mary fool around at Paradise Pier.

Our next stop was Paradise Pier, which has Boardwalk-style booths and games, shops, and rides. There was so much to do here that we didn't have time to do it all, but we tried!

Sarah (age 14), Jacob (age 12), Dylan (age 6), and Mary (age 49)
December 30, 2003

Here's a blast from the past. Kind of fun to see the kids and me in this scene almost 11 years ago (photo taken by the kids' dad, Mark), and then all of us in the same scene this very month...

October 6, 2014: Play it again, 11 years later!
Jacob (age 23), Dylan (age 17), Danielle (almost 21), 
Mary (age 60), Chris (age 36), and Sarah (almost 25).

A waterfall off the trail around the back of Grizzly Peak. I'd never been there before,
so I suggested we use it to return to Condor Flats for another go on Soarin' Over California.
Dylan, Danielle, Jacob, Chris, and Sarah.

Back at Paradise Pier, we stopped to watch these green army men perform. Short and fun.
As we walked away after the performance, I didn't notice their jeep  approaching behind me
until they barked over their loudspeaker: 
"Move aside, ma'am. We're toys and we don't know how to drive."

Our next stop was Goofy's Sky School, a small old-style roller coaster that used to be called Mulholland Madness until it was refurbished awhile back. After that ride, we decided it was good that we rode it before we ate anything! 

Danielle, Jacob, Dylan, and Chris enter the eatery.

About this time we were feeling the grumblies in our tummies, so we stopped for lunch. We ordered our food inside and then found a table at one of the several outdoor seating areas.

My lunch was this yummy chicken-and-Parmesan pasta.

The food was quite good, and slightly more expensive than I would have liked. Guess how much it cost me? Nothing! But more on that later...

Jacob and Danielle enjoy their meal.

Sarah and Chris also got drinks, with adorable Halloween shapes sprinkled on the cups.

Dylan loves spaghetti with meatballs!

The Golden Zephyr as seen over Danielle's shoulder.

After lunch we decided that something slow and sweet like Ariel's Undersea Adventure would be safe for people with full bellies, and it was fun. But then we rode round and round on the Golden Zephyr, and Danielle begged Jacob to ride the Jumpin' Jellyfish with her...

Danielle and Jacob wait to board a gondola.

...and then we decided to ride Mickey's Fun Wheel, a huge Ferris wheel with moving gondolas, and we soon realized that the Boardwalk rides are not all that user-friendly for people who had a big lunch!

The view from our gondola, with Cars Land visible in the distance.

Finally, we got in the long, long line for Toy Story Midway mania, another wildly popular ride consisting of giant video games where you're right in the middle of it all, racking up points. (Dylan kicked all our butts, of course, especially mine). That gave us plenty of time to finish digesting our lunch.

While waiting in line, we passed this human-sized Mr. Potato Head, which was interactive and spoke to people as they passed. As we went by, my son-in-law Chris, in his usual friendly manner, said, "How ya doing?" Mr. Potato Head retorted, "I heard that, you hockey puck!"

Dylan and Chris in the backseat of the 4th car (or 3rd car from back)
on California Screamin'.

At this point, I told Dylan and Chris that it was now or never if they wanted to ride California Screamin'. They were the only two from our group who had the courage to ride the crazy-fast, upside-down-looping roller coaster. And ride it they did!

Dylan and Chris had a great time!

Inside A Bug's Land, the entrance to "It's Tough to Be a Bug!"

By now it was 2:00-ish. It was unseasonably warm for October in California (in fact, a heatwave ended on the day we arrived in the state) and we our excited energy was beginning to wane a bit, so we wandered over to walk around A Bug's Land.

While waiting in the cool, shadowy underground queue for the show to begin,
Danielle, Jacob, and Dylan sneak a nap on the cave floor.

We had fun in the show (especially funny to see Danielle squirm when all the spiders dropped from the ceiling), and then we strolled to the fun little water park in the center of A Bug's Land to cool off.

Chris, Danielle, Sarah, and Jacob cool off under the giant leaky faucet.

While the kids went off to ride a few of the Bug's Life rides (mostly geared for children, but Danielle and Chris are children at heart, being un-jaded by years of Disneyland trips like my own children), I took the opportunity to simply relax near the enormous water faucet and watch the kids play in the gushing water. 

Aladdin and Jasmine take a flying carpet ride.

From A Bug's Land, we took a back trail into Hollywood Land and made our way to the Hyperion Theater, where we queued up to wait for the next performance of "Disney's Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular." It's one of our favorite things to do each time we visit the park. It never gets old! The theater is gorgeous, the acting is great, the sets are amazing, the flying carpet is believable, and the genie never fails to delight with his hilarious ad-libbed performance!

The Twilight Zone's Tower of Terror looms over the landscape near the Hyperion.

After the show, we all dragged Danielle over to the Hollywood Tower Hotel to ride the heart-stopping Tower of Terror. She wasn't thrilled, but she agreed to give it a try (and swore she'd never do it again afterward). It was my first time on the ride, too, since in past years I always seemed to have a young child to stay off with while Mark and the older child/ren went up.

Front row, right: Sarah, Chris, and Mary.
Middle row, right: Jacob, Danielle, and Dylan.

I loved it! There's such a sense of weightlessness as the car drops. My hair rose up around my face, and my butt came gently off the seat just long enough to feel like I was in one of those space shuttle movies where everything floats around after they achieve orbit. It wasn't at all like the stomach-in-your-throat feeling you get on a drop ride like Splash Mountain. It was just so cool! (Danielle would not agree.)

I wanted to ride it again, but even with a 3-day Park-Hopper Pass, there just wasn't enough time!

Flo's V-8 Cafe

By now it was nearing 6:00 and we were thinking about dinner, so we headed back to Cars Land, where we'd decided to dine at Flo's V-8 Cafe. It was a fun, old-fashioned diner with seating out front by the gas pumps. That looked fun, but I'd read that the best place to eat was out back, with a view of the Cadillac Mountain Range and the Radiator Springs Racers. (It pays to do your research!)

Sarah, Chris, Dylan, Jacob, and Danielle at dinner time.

So we opted to eat out back and we're glad we did. It was fun to watch the racers while we dined, and the food was very good.

After dinner we had time for one final ride on the Radiator Springs Racers (love that ride!) and a quick twirl on Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, which looked kind of silly but turned out to be great fun! It really rocks you hard in the back of the trailer pulled by the goofy little tractors.

And, last of all, we finished off the night watching the 8:15 performance of World of Color. For me, the fountains, colored lights, misty scenes, and beloved music started off magically, but soon began to feel very long, and it really was too hard to see for the crowds. I'm afraid I'm not willing to give up 3 hours of park fun to sit on the cement and save myself a good seat 3 hours before the show even begins, like so many do. Surely Disney could come up with a better plan for seating so all could enjoy the magic.

Dylan, Jacob, and Danielle head toward the gates at the end of a long, happy day!

It was a wonderful day and we hated to see it end, but our week held many more such days in store for us!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Girls Next-Door

My mom Jane, our neighbor Judy, Alisa (age 7), Karla (age 19), and Nicole (age 9).
March 4, 1980 (Two days before we moved to Arizona)

For me, one of the best highlights of our trip was being reunited with friends with whom I'd had no contact for over 30 years. That is a whole story in itself!

I was born in Los Angeles, in the city of Hawthorne not too far from the Pacific Ocean. While I was still in kindergarten, my parents moved my baby brother LeRoy and me to Fresno, a large city in the agricultural San Joaquin Valley of Central California. We would be closer to extended family, and there were more job opportunities for my dad, who was only 25. Fresno is where I did most of my growing up. Then in July 1972, a month after I graduated from high school and two months before my 18th birthday, we relocated again to Southern California due to my dad's job as a Greyhound bus driver. 

This time our family (now 7 of us) settled into the small, hilly town of Yorba Linda in Orange County (birthplace of former President Richard Nixon). Our new house was brand-spanking-new, and so were all the houses in our newly established housing tract. No one who moved in was the "new neighbor," because we were all new!

A young couple named Judy and Dale moved into the house next-door to ours on the downhill side. They had an adorable toddler named Nicole, and they were expecting another. Sweet Alisa was born not long after we all settled into the neighborhood. I began babysitting their two little daughters regularly. Eventually, over the eight years that we were neighbors, my sister Karla became their usual sitter.

After Judy and her husband divorced, she went back to work. At that time my mother became Nicole and Alisa's daytime caregiver. By now, Judy was family and her daughters were like our little sisters. We spent a lot of time together! Thus it was very hard to leave them when our family made the decision to move to Mesa, Arizona in March of 1980.

Judy and the girls came to visit us in Mesa once, and Karla kept in touch with them by mail for a few years, but inevitably we all lost touch. Keep in mind that there were no cell phones and the cost of long-distance calls was prohibitive in those days. There was no Internet and no email, just slow letters that usually took 3-4 days to reach their recipients.

Fast forward to July 2014, 34 years after our move. I'd been thinking a lot about Judy, Nicole, and Alisa for a few weeks before it suddenly hit me that I might be able to find them on Facebook. So I did! Karla and I have been thrilled at this opportunity to get caught up with our long-lost friends, and I was even more thrilled when we arranged a get-together for my California visit! But that's at the end of this blog post, so you'll have to wait till we get there (or scroll ahead to peek)!

5 Oct 2014: Sunday morning at the resort.
Sarah, Chris, Danielle, Dylan, and Jacob watch General Conference.

The first weekends in April and October are special for those of us who are LDS (Mormon). A bi-annual General Conference is televised, consisting of five 2-hour sessions featuring speakers from the general authorities of our church, including our prophet, Thomas S. Monson. We were able to listen to 3 or 4 talks from the Saturday sessions as we drove cross-country, but reception was spotty.

But on Sunday morning, our first day at the resort, we were up by 9 a.m. to watch the early session on the flat-screen TV in our condo, via a hook-up to my laptop. Sarah had brought a "General Conference Bingo" game with her, and the kids were enthusiastically covering the pictures on their card with Skittles, which they were allowed to eat if they filled the whole card. Sarah won! Okay, so after she won, everyone else ate their Skittles, too. No self-control!

Hot tubs on the roof of the resort.

After conference, we all went down to the lobby for a free hot breakfast and a sales pitch. Not my favorite thing, but always well worth it. More on that later...

A view of California Adventure and Disneyland from the rooftop.

Jacob, Danielle, Chris, and Dylan decided to go put their feet in the pool while Sarah and I went to take care of some business. More on that later, too.

To the left, California Screamin' and Cars Land; Grizzly Peak and
Twilight Zone's Hollywood Tower of Terror smack dab in the middle!

When we were done with our errands, Sarah and I went back up to the rooftop where we had watched the Disneyland fireworks the previous night. We wanted to see how clear the view of Disneyland was during the daytime. It was pretty darn clear! We were a lot closer to the park than we'd realized in the dark!

Space Mountain with Sleeping Beauty Castle barely visible to the right of it;
and the Matterhorn at dead center.

It was a lot of fun to watch the fireworks, so we returned on Sunday night to see them again. Quite a crowd gathers to view it. We could even see the lower fireworks and flames from the Fantasmic show to the left of the fireworks program.

Our Yorba Linda home, from July 1972 to March 1980.
This picture was taken just days before we moved away, March 1980.

We napped a bit during the afternoon, and then we left the resort just before 3:00 to drive over to my old town of Yorba Linda. On our way to Anaheim the previous day, we'd driven right past the Imperial Highway exit to Yorba Linda, an exit I'd taken to get home many hundreds of times during 1972-80. It was tempting to make that turn then, but I reminded myself that we'd be back on Sunday to see my friends and my old home.

5 Oct 2014: Our old Yorba Linda home as it looks today.

When we arrived in my old neighborhood, we parked and I took pictures of my former home. It just didn't look the same to me, but I wasn't sure why until I got home and found a photo from when we lived in it. First of all, the colors are reversed. The trim is now light and the paint is dark, whereas in our day the trim was dark and the paint light. Also, the plants today are much more sparing than in my mom's lush garden. 

Most shocking, though, is the removal of much of my dad's handiwork. The split-rail fence, the cement borders around the trees (and the trees themselves), and the cement steps flanked by brickwork, all are gone. I may be biased, but I think my parents' landscaping was much more beautiful.

The view uphill from the street in front of our house. Quite a steep hill there!
5 Oct 2014

Judy tells me there have only been two more owners of our house since we moved away: the people who bought it from us, and then the people who live there now. It was a very nice 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom house that only cost my parents $32,000 ($350 monthly payment). I believe they sold it less than 8 years later for about $110,000.

The view downhill from the street in front of our house, 
looking toward the greenbelt where my brothers used to play ball. 
(They broke at least one window in someone's house.) It's fenced now.
That's Judy's house on the right, just below ours.

Judy's house on the left and mine on the right. 
The floor plans are almost identical, 
except ours had a laundry room and 4 bedrooms 
while hers had 3 bedrooms and no laundry room. 

I was surprised to learn that Judy still lived in the same house! Nowadays it's so unusual for people to stay put for that long. I moved so much during my youth (16 homes by the time I was 18) that I truly value putting down roots and staying there. I've lived in my current house for 21 years, since Sarah was 3 and Jacob was 2. My youngest, Dylan, has never lived anywhere else.

5 Oct 2014: Alisa, Judy, and Nicole all grown up!
Aren't they beautiful?

Returning to the same house where I used to babysit Nicole and Alisa just made our visit that much more fun! We spent 4 wonderful hours meeting each others' families, catching up, and reminiscing. We also learned that Judy and her daughters and grandchildren are blessed with a great deal of musical, artistic, and technological talent. Judy herself had some jaw-dropping paintings on display that I wouldn't mind hanging on my walls!

Judy and her husband Val, a very personable guy.

Me with those two sweet little girls!

Alisa and Nicole with some of their children.
Nicole has 2 girls: Lindsey and Lauren (that's Lauren on the right).
Alisa has 3 boys: Daniel, Sean, and Ryan (Ryan and Sean to the left).  

Dining on Judy's back patio: Jacob, Danielle, Chris, Sarah, and Dylan.
Alisa's and Nicole's kids came out and joined them when dinner was served,
leaving us "older" adults to visit in the dining room.

Judy, with the help of her girls, treated us to a chips-and-dip appetizer and a delicious dinner of spaghetti, salad, and garlic bread topped with Parmesan (mmm!), followed by a dessert of yummy cream pies. She cooked up a storm and must have slaved in the kitchen for hours. It was amazing, and we appreciated her efforts so much! It was so nice to eat a leisurely meal while talking, talking, talking!

The fence between Judy's backyard and ours is now hidden by these gorgeous trees.
Love the pink flowers!

But there once was a time when there were no trees and no fence.
That's my brother Jeff in February 1974, when he was 12 years old.
He's standing in our backyard. Judy's backyard is below.
Notice the 15-foot hill behind our house.

Sarah plays "Ave Maria" at everyone's request.
We also enjoyed Val's and Dylan's talents at the grand piano.

It was SOOO hard to leave at the end of the evening. I can't remember the last time I enjoyed being with anyone so much! And when we said good-bye, I learned what a true bear-hug feels like. All three of those ladies give amazing hugs! Alisa said, "Now that we have you here, I don't want to let you go," and I got all choked up. The only thing that could have made it a better evening would have been if Karla could have been there with us. But we'll all get together again someday, I know it.

I love this group!