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Life in CA

Summer Outdoors

I’d like to think that my seemingly more active lifestyle has inspired the rest of the family to be active as well.

We purposely took away a few of our regular activities to make time to just be outdoors.  My girls love being outdoors anyway, more than I’d care to admit.  Thankfully, I dodged a camping trip this summer.  Whew!  I probably was the only one happy about that though.  But I want to say, we more than made up for it!

We did spend a lot of time at the pool this past summer.

with Maga in the pool!

We had play dates and friends, and all sorts of good fun over the 4th of July weekend.

As my mom says, more summer fun!

On another night, we were able to get them out and bike.

Chasing them down the path.

One of my prouder moments last summer was teaching Sam how to ride her bike.  Jamie has the balance bike and soon hopefully she will join her sister pedaling away.  It’s nice to see she’s not as timid about taking risks.

For our 13th year anniversary, the girls requested to go to the beach.  My children are like me – we love the sand and the sea.

Strong waves, cold water.

Although I’m not particularly too fond of this sea because it is COLD!

We spent a good portion of the day in the cold water and on the sand.  The girls were happy to build their little creations and turn into mermaids.

Then went to visit some of the tide pools.  I have to admit it was fun, although I was mostly worried about the slipping and hitting of the head.  Thankfully there was none of that, but now I have a mental note to buy water shoes for next time.

She’d escape to the sea if she could.

And I didn’t have to worry about cleaning off, we had our trusty portable shower!

We don’t leave home without it.

We did more than one beach clean-up over the summer too (Yes, a True Girl Scout makes the world a better place!).

Separating the plastic and fishing lines from the seaweed.

We pretty much marked all the major holidays this summer and special occasions with some outdoor fun.

Over the Labor Day weekend we went up to Big Bear and did a quick hike around the neighborhood.

Climbing uphill.

Then there was some kayaking fun in the lake filled with moss.  Ewww.  I can’t say the girls didn’t enjoy it though.

At least Dad got some exercise.

As we move into fall, we look back and it still felt like a jam-packed summer.  I think I’m still recovering from it all.  But I can’t deny it was a lot of fun!

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Life in CA Mommy Discoveries My Mommyology Recommends

MyMommyology’s #FieldtripFriday: Huntington Gardens

Except, this particular field trip happened on a Monday.

With Maga in town, and the girls out of school, we thought we’d continue our field trips here and there.

A good friend recommended we take her to the Huntington Botanical Gardens, just because it’s beautiful.  So we packed up the car and drove out there for the day.

I’d say off the bat, that a membership there would be worth it if you can go three or more times.  The gardens are very open and spacious, and a good place to let the kids run around and be outdoors, especially during the summer months.

And on that note, when bringing children, I would encourage packing a backpack of food, drinks and snacks.  You technically aren’t allowed to take any outside food into the grounds, but there is an area before you enter where you can sit and eat before exploring.  If anything, we found the food inside the cafes and tea houses were a little overpriced for what it was.  

There is a lot to see — beginning with Huntington’s old home with all the European Art collection.  My kids were not as interested to stay in the building (granted that everything else was outdoors), but we did go into the hall where the Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough was located.

The room where the painting resides.

We were able to go around a little bit and explore the library.  The girls sat on typical chairs the Huntingtons would sit on back in their time.

Chair templates

Needless to say, we didn’t enter the American Art museum because the girls just wanted to stay in the gardens.

The Rose Garden is very colorful, and reminds me distinctly of Beauty and the Beast’s Gardens.  Who knew there would be more than one type of rose?  I didn’t.

Using the panoramic view of the iPhone.

We also downloaded a QR scanner on our phones to learn a little bit more about the roses in that garden.

My personal favorite was the Japanese Garden.

Beautiful view, with a little moon bridge and all!

The docent explained that the Japanese Garden was a surprise gift by Mr. Huntington to his wife.  She didn’t like it at first but then she eventually grew accustomed to it.  They used to have tea in the Japanese tea house up the hill.  This was transported out of Japan during the great earthquake in the early 1900s and brought here.

I love that the girls get a little bit of history as they appreciate some natural beauty all around them.

The Japanese gardens also have a Bonsai Court — my guess is it’s Jamie’s favorite since she said “all the trees are smaller than me!”

So cute these tiny trees!

We walked past the Chinese Gardens too, and some Lily Ponds to get to the Desert Gardens, which was sprawled very widely.  There were a lot of cacti.  And a lot of animals as well — I think the girls liked these gardens best.

I would go to the restrooms before heading over to these gardens — you wouldn’t want to rush through cacti when you need it!

Entering the Desert Gardens

Before we left for the afternoon, we went through the Brody Botanical Center, which housed a learning lab for the kids.  It was pretty humid inside, but the girls still loved going around and trying the different experiments that were laid out.

My scientist loving every minute of it.

They loved looking through the microscopes and magnifying glasses to learn about the seeds and plants.  There was a whole lot of information to take home.

At the end of the day, our heads and hearts were full as our feet were tired.  I feel like a massage at the end would be a great profit-generator for them.  You can’t deny though, you’ll definitely get you your steps in!

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Life in CA Mommy Discoveries

MyMommyology’s #FieldtripFriday at LACMA

Friday is here.  It brings back memories of #Fieldtripfridays we took during our summer days.

One favorite that we talk about to this day, was to LACMA, or the LA County Museum of Art.  You know the place with the famous lampposts outside, where everyone takes pictures?  Yeah…. everyone except us of course.

See, I don’t know much about art, and that is one thing I want my kids to appreciate.  They love museums and little exploration trips, so when we go, I have to remember to try to see things from their eyes, and have their agenda in mind.  We just go with the flow.  Sometimes it means not being able to see everything, and that’s okay too.

I tell them though that I expect to hear three things they discovered or learned on the trip.  It could be anything at all, from what they saw, to what they learned about themselves.

We entered the different LACMA collections with the question, “What is art anyway?” And together decided that some of these pieces weren’t art really… and some were.  Like for instance, Monet’s paintings.  The girls have learned about this artists’ style at school, and clearly thought — this was art.

The Claude Monet area – and his contemporaries.

Then there were many different historical collections.  We spent a lot of time at the Egyptian Art Collection (which is closely linked to Egyptian mythology, a current favorite interest).

Peekaboo. I see you…

There was art bigger than them too.  Modern Art they called it, and often times the girls said, “huh?!”

Mom, it echoes! (echoes, echoes, echoes….)

And art that we didn’t understand.

Why, they asked. Why?

I have to admit though, it made for good conversation.  Why is this on display?  What criteria did they use that it passed?  And so many other questions, which was a pleasant surprise.

And just parts of the museum that looked good in pictures.

Okay, maybe not the Urban Lights. But we did get… “pillars”. 😉

There was a Kids’ art space too, the Boone Children’s Gallery where the kids made their own art and explored different media.

This was clearly an inspiration as when I got home, I found them outside, creating their own art, and using different media!

Jamie stuck with the traditional beach scene.  But she also managed to paint my tiles in the process.

 

So that’s where my toilet paper rolls went…

In the end the girls said, “art is what you make of it mom,” which I thought was very profound.  It could have also been said so that I stop asking questions.  Either way, I’ll take what I can get.

LACMA is a museum that we would visit again and again if we could.  It didn’t hurt that kids 17 years and under can go in for free.  Plus, we didn’t finish one or two areas.  If I know my kids, they’d want to see what they missed.  It’s like a book that you can read over and over again — you always get something new each time you go.

***

Here’s a tip:  When visiting LACMA, pack your own food and snacks and leave them in the car.  We went back for it when the girls were hungry and ate it in the open space outside. 

 

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Mommy Anecdotes

Trekking Through Yosemite

Let today be a Throwback Travel Thursday! 🙂

Not too long ago we went on a summer family vacation with my husband’s brother and their family.  I’ve already talked about our first two legs on the Disney Cruise and Chapel Hill.  Now we move on to the West Coast part of our travels.

My husband and his brother grew up visiting National Parks and mountains.  I never did, so this was all new to me.  My husband once took us up to a National Park within North Carolina but I thought it was just for us to get away during Thanksgiving.  This trip to Yosemite was actually Sam’s and my second and Jamie’s first.  Thankfully, our little family is really okay with nature – and it turned out to be quite the adventure for us.

The first was the drive.  It was approximately two hours heading up, maybe three with some stops along the way.  I always stress about the long drives because I know that my kids don’t like being stuck in their car seats for very long.  Jamie especially gets really antsy and wants to be freed from her seat.  Unless of course they fall asleep, and then we’re pretty good for an hour or more out.  And then there’s the rest room stops in God-knows-where.  Hence I always travel with my Lysol in tow.

Going up wasn’t so much the problem; it was more when we got inside the National Park itself.  The roads became twisty and bendy, and even I got a little dizzy.

Here we go!
Here we go!

Once inside though, the sights were totally amazing.  Our first stop inside Yosemite was the Mariposa Grove, home of the Giant Sequoias.

After hours of winding roads, we arrive.
After hours of winding roads, we arrive.

Apparently there are two ways to get around, by foot or by tram.  We, the uber excited bunch chose to get around by foot.  (In hindsight, when traveling with small children AND if you get there in the afternoon — take the tram!)

Remember, you have to DOUBLE this distance because you've to WALK BACK!
Remember, you have to DOUBLE this distance because you’ve to WALK BACK!

The initial treks up were fairly easy, and the trees were really A-MAZING.  There was the famous Grizzly Giant.  The kids loved the idea that the branches of this tree were small trees in themselves.

The Grizzly Giant as far as we can see on the left, and a close up shot with my little hobbits on the right.
The Grizzly Giant as far as we can see on the left, and a close up shot with my little hobbits on the right.

And then there was the tree that you could walk through.

Little hitchhiker
Little hitchhiker

Everything was giant-sized.

B-I-G!
B-I-G!

We couldn’t even wrap ourselves around ONE tree!

Streeee-eetch!
Streeee-eetch!

Eventually the kids got tired and so we never made it up to the big Sequoia museum, where we’re told it’s a forest of all these big chunks of trees one after the other.  There weren’t many wild animals, just a few deer and some squirrels and birds.

The other thing about Yosemite, we discovered, that hotels and restaurants close early.  So it’s best to carry food and water with you in the car and have your meals there, in case you get stuck on some winding set of roads on the way back to the hotel.  In our case, we had gotten back from our 4 mile trek close to sundown, and ended up eating cereal and fruits for dinner.

Hungry Brood.
Hungry Brood.

OH!  A must-share:  Be prepared to pee (and poop) in holes.  HOLES!  The toilets inside the National Park are just that — holes with toilet seats over them.  There is no flush, no swishing of the water… none of that.  I still cringe when I think of the smell!  While I understand it is the most natural thing to do while out in the wild, I have to say I know my limits.  Especially when I bring the children along!  Good heavens!  I died with the toilet situation.  DIED.  My stress levels shot up (as high as them sequoias I tell ya!)

I forgot to take a photo of the lodge we stayed in but it was outside the National Park (my husband says it’s “more affordable” that way).   That meant another hour’s drive on winding roads in the dark.  Naturally with all the walking and the cold weather, we knocked out in the car, leaving our driver to the clear night sky and the stars.  We’d wake up close to midnight when we’d arrive because the cold sub-zero air temperature was like a splash of cold water on the body once you open the car door.  If memory serves me right, our place was called the Evergreen Lodge.   It’s your typical cozy cabin in the woods, and I quite liked it.  No TV, natural air but comfy, clean and spacious.  And they had wonderful bathrooms too!  😉

This was just the sofa bed.  There was a real bed on the other side of the room!
This was just the sofa bed. There was a real bed on the other side of the room!

The next day, the kids were excited to explore again and so we headed on over to the more famous sites, like El Capitan.  The best view of this (unless you decide to climb it!) is in the valley, or the El Capitan Meadow.   Across it are also a great view of Cathedral Rocks.  We had the kids climb some fallen trees (well, the reality of it all was we weren’t able to stop them — and of course my heart was in my throat the whole time!), and got some awesome pictures in the process.

Saluting to El Capitan on the left, and the Cathedral Rocks on the right.
Saluting to El Capitan on the left, and the Cathedral Rocks on the right.

There are picnic areas as well where you can stop and grill some food, and the boys did just that.

We call it, The Brothers' Grill.
We call it, The Brothers’ Grill.

We had a nice outdoor picnic somewhere in the middle of the forest.  A sort of upgrade from the usual camping if you will.  The kids had some fun, running about in nature with no iPad in sight.  They played knights and princesses and all sorts of things in the trees.

Brave knights battle in the woods.
Brave knights battle in the woods.

Sam and her cousins also got to see Yosemite falls, but Jamie was asleep in the car and so I stayed with her (and got to nap for an hour too!)

If you got close enough you could feel the spray!
If you got close enough you could feel the spray!

The thing about National Parks, is that you have to be ready to get in and out of the car to stop and enjoy the view.  There was this one point called the Tunnel View which gives you a view of El Capitan, the Half Dome and Bridalveil Falls all in one sight.  That was just one of the many “pull over!” moments we had.

Can you spot the three main attractions behind us?
Can you spot the three main attractions behind us?

And then — there was Glacier Point.  Now this is literally taking you from one climate change to the next.  Suddenly, there was snow!

It's a good thing we brought our winter gear!
It’s a good thing we brought our winter gear!

We were about 6,000 feet above sea level and lucky for us, the pass to Glacier Point had just opened the day before.  So we put on the winter gear and trekked up to Glacier Point.  The view was spectacular.  And even if you’re not fond of nature treks, it’s hard not to appreciate the natural wonders right in front of you.  It’s all breathtakingly beautiful.

We let the kids enjoy the snow / slush as we let them play in an area close by after.  It was Jamie’s first time to feel actual snow.  I don’t think she liked it as much! 😉

Frolicking in the cold snow (slush).
Frolicking in the cold snow (slush).

One the whole, it’s not such a bad idea going and staying in a National Park.  I wish we saw more wildlife though.  The experience is more challenging when you have little kids in tow.  Jamie couldn’t walk far, and so for most of the time, I had to carry her around.  And as it is with Jamie, she only wanted me and no one else.  Even Sam would get tired so after a while, she wanted to be carried too.  My body ached for most of the trip and I was always exhausted, but I think I lost 5 pounds in the process (Woohoo!).

If I were to go back, I’d do it when the kids were older, and they could appreciate a little bit more of the history behind the place.  And by then maybe I’d bring my own clean, disinfected private bathroom with me!!

 

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Mommy Anecdotes Mommy Discoveries

Our Disney Dream Favorites (Part 2)

And so goes the continuation of the Disney Dream favoritesYou may like these ones because they are highlights from our ports of call in the Bahamas.

The Dolphin Encounter at Atlantis, Bahamas.  When my husband and my brother-in-law were planning the trip, they asked the kids if they’d like to have a dolphin encounter.  Who wouldn’t want to meet a dolphin up close?  Even Jamie was excited and she talked about it for weeks on end.  And so for our first port of call at Nassau Bahamas, we visited the lost city of Atlantis.

The entire Dolphin encounter took most of the day.  We got our tags at 1030AM; disembarked and got to Atlantis at 1130AM, and made our way on foot to Dolphin Cay.  We got briefed close to 1215pm and finally had the 90-minute encounter.  By the time we washed, dressed and finished it was 2pm and the kids were cranky for their lunch.  In any case, I digress.

The wonderful thing about the Dolphin encounter is that the keepers there truly love and care for all the dolphins.  You can see and feel it in the way they handle the groups and the dolphins themselves.  They all say they love their job (and it doesn’t sound like they’re just saying it too, you know what I mean?)  The briefing is important so you know what parts of the Dolphin NOT to touch, and what you can do with them.  Here we also understood that they had to adjust the water temperature and make it cooler so that it is more comfortable for the Dolphins to live in.

At the beginning of the encounter, they encourage everyone to stay in the shallows and stay still if possible.  I think the kids were just too excited that they kept moving about, and so it took a while for a dolphin to want to come to us and be comfortable with us.

See the guide up front?  He's telling everyone to hush.
See the guide up front? He’s telling everyone to hush.

Finally the baby of the bunch, 2-yr old Sans, decided to stick around.

The keepers then showed us how to hug and kiss them and one by one everyone was given a turn to be near baby Sans.  At first the adults accompanied the kids to pet and hug and kissOnce everyone was done, Sam asked them if she could do it herself.  They said yes of course and with my heart in my throat, I watched her approach and do the whole thing all by herself.

She's really an adventure-seeker, I must say.
She’s really an adventure-seeker, I must say.

I was worried not-so-light Sans would snap the nose off my little girl, but the guides said dolphins are gentle.  And they like to be kissed!  She even got to feed him this time around.

Catch!
Catch!

Jamie was excited too and she did kiss the baby dolphin smack on the lips.

Kissy kissy!
Kissy kissy!

But then when it was time to “hug” him and I bent down into the water the cold sensation and his gurgling noises frightened her.  She wouldn’t even let me go near him on my own. The funny part about it was that when she started to cry, he started to cry with her as well.

You can't hear him, but he's crying too!
You can’t hear him, but he’s crying too!

Strangely enough, he didn’t seem scared of her.  They say that if the child is scared, you shouldn’t force them to approach because the dolphins can sense the fear and they too will shy away.  I suppose because Jamie got a kiss in Sans decided she was okay.

It was an incredible and unforgettable experience.  I’d never gotten that close to a dolphin before.  They feel very soft and squishy.  And they’re surprisingly heavy too!  You feel the weight when you “hug” them as you wrap one arm gently around their bottom and slightly press against them as if you wanted to carry them.

Of course, these dolphins are trained to pose for the pictures (and smile even!) but you can still feel the weight of them on you.  Even little baby Sans was quite heavy – we never expected it!

At the end of it all the dolphins come together and perform several tricks for everyone.  The keepers encourage you to clap and cheer for them because dolphins are like kids they say, they love positive reinforcement.

Everything is provided for, before and after the encounter:  water (with fresh pineapple bits!), towels and wetsuits.  Basically you just have to worry about food and a change of clothes for after.  (Incidentally, you can also swim through some slide tunnel surrounded by sharks, but our kids were all too young for it — something to consider for families with older kids!).

We killed some time walking around Atlantis and looking at the sunken parts as well as the sharks and other sea life that were there, but the kids were tired and it was soon time to head back to the boat anyway.

Castaway Cay.  Quite honestly, I had no idea that Castaway Cay was a privately owned Disney island until I got there.  What gorgeous sand (it feels like our very own Boracay!).  The island is partitioned in such a way that there’s (again) something for everyone.

The map around the island.
The map around the island.

And there are areas designated for you to eat, with buffet set-ups in two areas.  It’s like a replica of the ship’s buffet set-up… but on the island!

The kids were supposed to do a stingray encounter (Jamie wasn’t allowed as she was under 5-yrs old), but in the end the crew decided to cancel it due to the weather.  Instead the kids chose to play on the beach, but Jamie and I hung around the cabana with the dance party, and so she got to dance with two of the Disney characters — Minnie and Goofy (I’m told that the characters change every time, but you always get two to dance with the kids).

Jamie (and Sam) totally rocked this dance party too!
Jamie (and Sam) totally rocked this dance party too!

Afterwards we moved to the family area of the island where the kids found a giant slide that leads into the ocean.

The giant slide in the middle of the sea.
The giant slide in the middle of the sea.

All the kids need life vests to cross and go on it (because the water is more than 6-feet deep), but they loved it.  Sam went back on it at least 6 times.  Jamie on the other hand, discovered a little sprinklers park and had her fun there.

There are other parts of the island where you can bike, play beach volleyball, shop or simply just lazy around.

And of course, there was also free ice cream!

nom-nom-nom
nom-nom-nom

It is definitely worth disembarking and spending the day out on Castaway Cay.  In fact the cruise moves a majority of its activities on the island (also because the crew on the boat are the crew that run the island as well), to encourage you to get off and pay it a visit.  It makes you want to buy an island too actually! 😉

So there we have it!  The last items on our Disney Dream favorites list.  If I said anymore then the rest of the cruise wouldn’t be a surprise (should you choose to go on one in the near future!).

Essentially like every cruise, it’s what you make of it.  Everything is set up for you to enjoy, you just need to pick and choose and go.  And really when it’s a Disney Cruise, I doubt very much that you wouldn’t enjoy it!