Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving Delayed

We started our Thanksgiving Day by attending church together.
30 Nov 2014: Danielle, Jacob, Dylan, Mary, Chris, and Sarah.

We just couldn't get together on Thanksgiving Day this year. Or the day after. Or even the day after that. Sarah, Jacob, and Danielle's Walmart schedules were all over the map (think Black Friday) and there was no way we could all get together in the same place at the same time long enough to have a meal. So, instead, we took our regular Sunday family dinner today and turned it into our Thanksgiving Feast!

Since we all attend different wards at church (all meeting in the same building but at different times), my married children and their spouses decreed that we would all attend my ward since it has the earliest starting time, 9:00. Then, after church, we converged on my house, where we cooked up a storm for the next few hours.

It was fun this Thanksgiving to have matching plates, glasses, and silverware for the first time since the earliest years of my first marriage, when Sarah and Jacob were babies. My new set of silverware was a gift from Sarah last Christmas, and I treated myself to new plates, glasses, and cookware, among other fun things, this year.

Jacob, Sarah, and I handled most of the cooking for dinner, while Dylan had charge of the tables and chairs. Danielle provided two of our desserts. Our joint efforts led to a scrumptious feast, which led to uncomfortably full tummies. It was about 3:00 when we ate dinner, and we couldn't even think about dessert until 7:00 rolled around!

Sarah, Chris, Dylan, Danielle, and Jacob at the feast.

Danielle, Jacob, Mary, Sarah, and Chris gathered at the Thanksgiving table.

After dinner, I prepared a plate for my good friend Gwen, who was unable to join us this year due to some serious health challenges that kept her in a Valley hospital for a couple of months. We're so happy to have her back on the mountain, and my kids gladly delivered her feast to her. They stayed and visited with her for quite a long time!

The table is laden with too many desserts for just six people!

When they returned, Jacob suggested we watch the DVD of that classic holiday movie, A Christmas Story, which Danielle had never seen before. We enjoyed the film together before breaking out the pies and Danielle's Jello salad. It was a lovely, delayed Thanksgiving Day and it was worth the wait to be able to spend it together.

And, after all, Thanksgiving is in our hearts every day of the year!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Day at Disneyland

9 Oct 2014: The Carters and Kinskys on Splash Mountain at Disneyland!

I'm determined to finish blogging our October vacation in California, sometime before the end of November!

Halloween decorations were everywhere in Disneyland, even the entrance.

And so...on Thursday, October 9, we spent the entire day at Disneyland. We arrived at the parking garage at 7:10 a.m., prepared to take advantage of the extra hour starting at 8:00, one hour before the park's official 9:00 opening (a perk for holders of 3-day park hopper passes) and then to close the park at midnight (or 1:00 a.m. after souvenir shopping, since the shops stay open an extra hour).

Well, it didn't quite happen as we'd planned, thanks to an incident in the parking garage. Let's just call it "parking garage rage" for now, since the incident is still under investigation. Once the matter is settled, I'll share all the lurid details here. Suffice it to say, we didn't enter the park until after 8:30. 

I love the small details found everywhere in Disneyland.
This is outside Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

Shaking off the unhappy parking garage event, we went on to enjoy a wonderful day, starting in Fantasyland. Fantasyland may not have the most exciting rides in the park, being among the original attractions from long ago, yet I love them. Admittedly, they are pretty tame compared to rides like Space Mountain, but they're a big part of my magical memories of growing up.

Sleeping Beauty's Wicked Witch appears in the window above the ride.
You have to watch for her. (Click on the photo to enlarge it and, maybe, see her.)

Danielle had been telling us about her only visit to Disneyland, a one-day stop during her senior trip a few years ago, and how she had to be escorted out of the Alice in Wonderland ride when it broke down. That seemed so funny to me, because I'd never experienced a ride breakdown in all the many years I've frequented Disneyland, since it's opening in 1955!

A Mary-and-Sarah selfie in the Pinocchio ride when it broke down.

Famous last words! After our first ride, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, we ambled over to Pinocchio's Daring Journey. We were about halfway through it when it suddenly halted. Sarah and I sat in our car in the dark and heard Dylan, somewhere behind us, yell, "Dani!" (As if it were her fault.) After a few moments, all the lights came on, which effectively destroyed the magic of the ride.

Eventually a cast member came to get us out of our cars and escort us in an ever-growing group (as we passed each car and picked up more people) back to the front of the line. Explaining that Monstro the Whale had broken loose, the staff did some practice runs before loading us back up and sending us back through the ride. No problems this time!

Danielle and Sarah in a pink teacup. On the other side of the yellow teacup,
Jacob, Dylan, and Chris were spinning like crazy in the green (on the right).

I wish I could say that this was our only breakdown incident, but, alas, there were many more to follow. We became well acquainted with the Disneyland techs, appearing from nowhere, clad in jumpsuits and rushing in to efficiently restore our fun. At no time did we ever seem to be in any danger. It was simply annoying and time consuming. However, as one who recently turned sixty, I reasoned that this shouldn't be unexpected since Disneyland will turn sixty come July 2015. It seems we are both starting to feel our age!

We hit most of the rides in Fantasyland despite our late start. Besides Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and Pinocchio's Daring Journey, we enjoyed Peter Pan's Flight, Snow White's Scary Adventure, and Mad Tea Party. However, as the morning wore on, we decided to skip Alice in Wonderland, King Arthur's CarouselStorybook Land Canal Boats (one of my favorites, dang!), and Casey Jr. Circus Train. As for the Matterhorn Bobsleds, forget it. The line was always wrapped all the way around the mountain. Next time...

A life-size Buzz Lightyear and a ginormous Etch-a-Sketch!

Dylan and Mary on Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters.
Yeah, he kicked my butt!

We went next to Tomorrowland, which the guys were dying to get to. The gentle Fantasyland rides were a bit too tame, too unexciting for them. There, we rode Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Space Mountain, Star Tours: the Adventure Continues, the Monorail, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (minus the submarine, on the Observation Deck), and Autopia. The only ride we passed up was the Astro Orbiter, which is really more of a carnival-type ride for kids, although I hear it's pretty cool after dark.

Dylan, Jacob, Danielle, Chris, and Sarah waiting in the Space Mountain queue.

The next breakdown we experienced was on Space Mountain. We were all loaded up into our little "spaceships" and started moving up the track. However, while the car ahead of ours continued forward, ours unexpectedly took a track to the left. At first I thought there might be two different tracks for the ride, but no, we stopped at a small landing, where cast members rolled out a wheeled platform with stairs. 

Sarah climbs out of the Space Mountain car and onto the rolling platform.

They assisted us out of our car and explained that our ride had audio problems. Thus they were taking us back to the beginning, to start anew in a car with a working audio system. They wanted to be sure we enjoyed the "full experience"!

We were taken right back to the front of the line.

I must say, as they led us through back corridors to the boarding platform, we got to see behind-the-scenes places in Disneyland that most people never see! Finally, we were back on board and on our way. Although, I'm not sure that Danielle truly "enjoyed" the full experience. Look at the picture below and decide for yourself! 

Mary and Dylan, Jacob and Danielle, and Chris and Sarah.

Chris, Jacob, and Dylan spin this huge ball, which floats on a layer of water.
Lots of cool stuff in Tomorrowland!

Jedi Training Academy at Tomorrowland Terrace.

By the time we got off Space Mountain, it was late morning and our tummies were rumbling. We headed over to Tomorrowland Terrace for lunch. We arrived just as the Jedi Training Academy was starting, an audience-participation show they do at Tomorrowland Terrace about 6 times daily. Involving children from the crowd, it's fun to watch. In fact, Dylan shyly volunteered to participate back in 2003, when he was six, but they chose the more boisterous, outgoing kids. Too bad; he was so disappointed.

Dylan, Danielle, Sarah, Chris, and Jacob enjoy some lunch.

See-threepio at Star Tours. Artoo-detoo was there, as well!

Once our bellies were satisfied, we headed back out for more fun. Star Tours: the Adventure Continues is one of my favorite rides. I do love all things Star Wars!

Chris, Sarah, and Dylan on the Monorail.

Next we rode the Monorail, which I hadn't done since I was a teenager. It's not a must-do, but it was interesting to see, from above, how much Disneyland has grown over the past 40 years!

Jacob and Danielle on the Monorail.

Matterhorn Mountain provides the backdrop for Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage.

Chris and Danielle were sorely disappointed, but the submarines had ridiculously long lines and we decided not to do this ride. I used to enjoy it when I was younger, but in 2007--the year they revamped it with the Finding Nemo theme--the kids and I had waited in line for well over an hour and then found it to be most disappointing. Certainly not worth the wait. We weren't anxious to repeat the experience.

Finding Nemo, as seen from the Observation Deck.

However, I had read that there is an "Observation Deck" where you can watch everything seen from the submarine, while sitting comfortably in a spacious room. I decided to check it out. It was true. The room was large with wide seats and the entire show was telecast "from undersea" via a large screen. Unfortunately, without the claustrophobic conditions and the sense of being underwater in the subs, it was quite dull. I think all the guys fell asleep (Dylan on the floor). We all agreed, it was easy but boring.

If, however, you are interested in checking it out yourself, just approach a cast member along the long line (toward the front end) and they'll direct you to a small bunker near the front of the line. You walk in the door, and voila!

Jacob and Danielle at a "Frozen" photo op.

The submarines are not too far from it's a small world, so we headed that direction. Along the way we passed some scenery and props with a "Frozen" theme, so we paused there for a few pictures. "Frozen" is a big thing at Disneyland right now. They've added Elsa and Anna to the Princess Meet-and-Greets, and Olaf the Snowman now adorns the snow-covered roof of Village Haus in Fantasyland.

Sarah and Chris also have a "Frozen" moment.

it's a small world

I love it when we're in line at just the right time to see the clock strike the hour
at it's a small world. This was at 2:00.

Jacob, Danielle, and Dylan in the front seat of our boat as we enter.

it's a small world is definitely a must-do ride, if for no other reason than for old times' sake. It is, literally, the longest ride at Disneyland, and the song does get tedious after hearing it about 87 times. Yet, it is very sweet and calming, a good time to relax and enjoy the peaceful sights and the rocking of the boat. The dolls are adorable and the sense of belonging to an international community is hope-inducing.

A scene inside it's a small world.

Even so, once per Disneyland trip is more than enough. Unless, of course, you have small children who adore the ride. Then you'll need to repeat the experience, well, repeatedly.

The entrance to Mickey's ToonTown, just as the Disneyland Railroad crosses over.

The one area we were unable to fully explore during our 3 days at Disneyland Resort was ToonTown. We had planned to spend an hour or two there (it's a small area and it doesn't take long to see everything unless, again, you have small children), but our first ride there broke down and we spent a ridiculously long time waiting in line while it was repaired. So we never made it past Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin near the entrance to ToonTown.

Danielle and Jacob inside Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin.

I really only wanted to walk through and see the clever architecture and silly details put into ToonTown, especially because Danielle had never been there before. And it's fun to walk through Mickey's and Minnie's houses (hilariously furnished), next-door to each other, and get your picture taken with Mickey and Minnie at the end.

A fun fountain outside Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin.
There's an even more clever fountain of silly musical instruments further up the road.

Dylan, Chris, Jacob, Danielle, and Sarah in line for Autopia.
Thank goodness for Fast Passes!

And so we had to leave ToonTown and return to Tomorrowland, because our Fast Passes for the Autopia cars were about to expire. This is another ride that we did just once, for old times' sake. I remember how much I loved Autopia as a kid and teenager, being behind the wheel of a car that I could actually control to a limited degree.

I shot this picture up over my head and behind me, without looking, just hoping 
I'd get Jacob and Danielle and Chris and Sarah in the cars following ours!

By now, however, the adrenaline-infused excitement of the Radiator Springs Racers in California Adventure had won first place in our exhilaration-loving hearts! That is the ride to which we will devote our Fast Passes in the future!

Dylan and me in a selfie gone wrong. My sunglasses had clearly been knocked askew!
(Yes, those are the funky glasses I bought on Huntington Beach Pier. Don't judge me!)

Sarah, Jacob, Danielle, and Chris make their way up and out of Autopia.

By now, we'd been inside Disneyland for about 8 hours, and closing time (midnight) was less than 8 hours away, but we'd only explored the eastern half of the park. It was time to head over to the "Lands" on the western side: Adventureland, Frontierland, New Orleans Square, and Critter Country.

Performers in the Enchanted Tiki Room.

Just inside the entrance of Adventureland, across Main Street from Tomorrowland, is the Enchanted Tiki Room. That was our first stop. I can't recall how long it's been since I watched this cute program of animatronic birds performing their little mechanical hearts out.

After the show, we ordered yummy Dole Whips at this kiosk.

And the Dole Whips (soft-serve ice cream whipped with pineapple) we devoured later were a great follow-up to the show!

A stream runs down beside Tarzan's Tree-house.

Next, we climbed to the top of Tarzan's Tree-house (once upon a time known as the Swiss Family Robinson Tree-house to us old-timers), from which we were able to enjoy the distant views of Big Thunder Mountain in Frontierland to the right and Splash Mountain in Critter Country to the left. Before us were huge crowds lined up for Pirates of the Caribbean, Danielle's personal favorite.

That was our next destination. Luckily, Pirates of the Caribbean is a "people-eater" (meaning it moves the crowds fairly quickly). We still had quite a long line to pass through, but not nearly as long as might have been expected, given the crowds.

Night-time view of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

By now we were ready to eat dinner, so we headed into Frontierland to Rancho del Zocalo for a delicious Mexican meal. I can't believe I didn't take any pictures there!

At this point, I was beginning to think that we'll need 4-day park-hopper passes for any future trips to Disneyland! There is just so much to do and see. The restaurant is right next to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, one of my family's favorite rides, but there just wasn't time to do it. The same for Disneyland Railroad, which circles the entire park in 18 minutes. And the same for another of my all-time favorites, the Haunted Mansion. We kept saying, "We'll have to do those tomorrow."

We were also unable to stop and watch any of the big parades, see the "Mickey and the Magical Map" show at Fantasyland Theater, or drop in to the Golden Horseshoe Saloon to watch the incredible Golden Horseshoe Revue (my friend Peggi and I always used to make room for that one!).

Peter Pan and Captain Hook battle it out aboard the sailing ship Columbia in Fantasmic!

One attraction we were determined to see, though, was Fantasmic! With two showings, 9:00 and 10:30, we decided to wait for the second show since the later shows are always less crowded. 

So while the first performance raged on, we used our Fast Passes for another of our ultimate favorite rides, Indiana Jones Adventure. Too bad it was another ride that broke down and took forever to fix. Fast Passes don't help much when repairs are going slowly. Nonetheless, this is one ride that is definitely worth waiting for! (And another one I can't believe I didn't take pictures of. It's not as if I didn't have time, waiting in line for an hour!)

Then we went to Splash Mountain, where the line was much shorter than usual, with so many people attending Fantasmic!, but it still took an incredibly long time to get on the ride. We eventually got there, though, and by the end we were as soaked as if we'd stood under a very cold shower for 10 minutes! As the front person in our boat, I got the worst of it. (See the first photo at the top of this post.)

Various princesses dance with their princes on barges during Fantasmic!

After these last two rides ate up so much of our evening, it was nearly time for the second performance of Fantasmic! With squishy shoes, sagging pants, and dripping shirts, we found a place from which to watch the show and soon became lost in the music, lights, and special effects. For Danielle, it was truly magical, because she'd never seen it before.

On that note, we ended our evening. We passed through a series of Main Street shops on our way out, purchasing a few souvenirs, and then we were on our way back to our condo. The next day would start early again, our last chance to experience Disneyland and California Adventure...

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Stay Calm and Eat Cheesecake

8 Oct 2014: Jacob and Dylan share a manic, brotherly selfie 
in our resort suite on Wednesday morning.

Friday, 10/3: We drove down from our beloved mountain to The Valley and met my newest grand-nephew.

Saturday, 10/4: We drove on to California, got settled into our Anaheim resort, went grocery shopping, grilled up some dinner, swam, and watched Disneyland fireworks from the roof.

Sunday, 10/5: We watched General Conference online, attended a sales presentation, took care of some details (like renting a van), and spent the evening loving a reunion with wonderful friends we hadn't seen in 30+ years.

Monday, 10/6: We spent the day at California Adventure in Disneyland resort.

Tuesday, 10/7: We spent the day driving down the California coast, stopping at beaches along the way.

And then, on Wednesday, 10/8: We took the day off!

High-carb breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, and English muffins.

By this time, we were really ready for a leisurely day. We slept late, puttered around the condo, did some laundry (washer and dryer in our unit, a WorldMark feature I love!), and napped a bit. We enjoyed a big breakfast and then later Chris grilled burgers for us to enjoy with chips and dip for lunch. Jacob and Danielle decided they needed some newlywed alone time, so they spent a couple of afternoon hours wandering around Downtown Disney.

My kids enter Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Anaheim GardenWalk.

Other than laundry and meals, my only plan for the entire day was to explore the mall right across the street from our resort, called Anaheim GardenWalk. This renowned mall turned out to be not as large as I'd expected, and it was clear that it had fallen on hard times like the rest of the nation, because more than half the spaces were empty. The upper floor was entirely deserted other than one restaurant.

Danielle and Sarah make new friends in GardenWalk.
(Notice the escalators blocked to the second floor.)

We had a good time there, nonetheless, just being together. There was interesting artwork throughout, and some interesting shops, our favorite being Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. We salivated over their amazing chocolate creations, although I couldn't bring myself to pay their prices, such as $8.00 for one large, luscious, chocolate-covered strawberry. The most reasonably-priced item in the store was a $2.00 chocolate almond bar. Dylan offered to help pay for it, so we bought one, and everyone else in our group followed suit.

Danielle and Jacob

Sarah and Chris

Cheesecake Factory was directly across the road from WorldMark Anaheim!

One thing GardenWalk still had aplenty was several big-name restaurants. Right on the corner, across from our resort, was The Cheesecake Factory. A stop there was definitely built into my vacation plan!

Jacob and Dylan consider their options.

Yes, Cheesecake Factory is pricey, which is why we only go there when we vacation. (Besides, they don't have any in our rural town!) Last year in Las Vegas, the kids and I had lunch at the Cheesecake Factory inside Caesar's Palace, one we frequent every time we're in Vegas. For this trip, though, with the high expense of Disneyland, we decided to forego dining in Cheesecake Factory and instead buy a slice of their amazing cheesecake to take back to the resort for that evening's dessert. Even paying $7.50 to $7.95 per slice seems like a lot, but for us it is well worth it!

Decisions, decisions...they all look perfectly scrumptious!

It's hard to decide upon which flavor to get when everything is so tempting, but I ordered what I always order: the 6-carb slice with whipped cream and strawberries. I have a recipe at home that is supposedly like Cheesecake Factory's 6-carb cheesecake, and we do love it, but I have to say it isn't even close to the creamy flavor and texture of the real thing. I wish I knew how they do it!

Wednesday night's dinner at the resort.

When we got back, everyone wanted to skip dinner and go straight to dessert, but I turned on Mom's Tough Love and prevailed upon them to wait until later. Jacob grilled us a platter full of chicken thighs while Sarah and crew tackled a big bowl of potato salad, and we enjoyed a yummy dinner together.

After dinner and a short wait, the kids all went down to the pool for an evening swim. I joined them long enough to take some pictures and watch them splash and play.

Then we returned to the condo to savor the delectable creaminess that is a slice of cheesecake from Cheesecake factory!

No words to describe how we love this cheesecake!
(The center of my lens was still foggy from the pool.)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to bake me up some decadent chocolate chip cheesecake!