Trip

Old friends

Posted in Family outings, Trip on October 22nd, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

After spending Friday at the beach, it was time to leave L.A. However, rather than head back east, we chose to head south to see an old friend. Bill’s my best friend from high school, and he now lives (with his wife, Lauren, and daughter, Sloan) in San Diego. So, we though we could spend an extra day in California to see him. This was tough, as the girls started school that week and Bill’s family was flying in from Hawaii Friday, but we were determined to make it work.

We planned to leave very early Saturday morning, hoping to get to San Diego in time to go to the zoo around when it opened. Sadly, Molly didn’t feel well before we even got in the car. She felt sick the whole way, and we had 4 vomit stops along the way. Given how hot it was, we decided taking her to the zoo was a bad plan. Instead, we headed to Bill’s house to hang out and let her rest.

Amazingly, after we arrived and she got some time out of the car, she was fine. We hung out at their house for a bit, and got to meet Sloan. Since Molly was doing better, we decided she could handle going out and doing something. They live right off the beach, and the girls were begging to go back to the beach, so that’s what we did. We figured if Molly relapsed, at least it wasn’t far to get back. She didn’t though, and we had a lot of fun at the beach.

San Diego beach

The girls enjoyed playing with Sloan. They may be much older than her, but Sloan has much more beach experience than them, making her the beach expert of the bunch.

Kids on the beach

Kids on the beach

Sloan on the beach

After the beach, we got cleaned up and headed to a local pizza place (which our girls were really pushing for).

Pizza time

Old friends

We had intended to get a hotel room that night. Since hotels in San Diego are expensive, I’d been trying to grab a deal last minute on Hotwire. But Bill and Lauren were very kind and offered for us to stay with them instead, despite the fact that they’d just gotten back in town the night before. Bill and I even got to go on an early morning run together for the first time since high school cross country.

Then we got ready and headed to the airport, ready to get home Sunday night after a long but very fun trip. The girls at least got the next day (Labor Day) off before starting school on Tuesday. The timezone change right before starting school wasn’t ideal, but we managed.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Posted in Family outings, Trip on October 21st, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

OK, I guess this post should be titled Universal Studios Hollywood as we did explore the whole park, but honestly, the part we were really excited about was The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Thursday we skipped the beach and drove to Hollywood to go to Universal Studios (and Molly again got carsick on the drive there). The girls were decked out in their Gryffindor robes and Harry Potter shirts that Jen made them (and I’ve got a Harry Potter shirt as well).

Universal Studios Hollywood

We got to the park when it opened and headed straight to Hogsmeade. As there weren’t many people there yet, the conductor of the Hogwarts Express motioned our girls over to talk about the train and take a picture.

Hogwarts Express

Hogwarts Express

It’s Hogwarts!

Hogwarts

We then got in line for the wand choosing experience at Olivander’s. It was really cool. They pick one child from each group and replicate the wand choosing experience (like in the Sorcerer’s Stone). Sadly the wandkeeper did not choose one of our children, but the show was still really cool. After the experience, you go into Olivander’s where you can purchase a wand. We opted to wait to do so, but had fun looking at all the wands (can you identify the wand Leah is looking at?).

Olivander's

Harry Potter world is so fantastic. Part of the fun is using a special wand (you can buy them there, but we already had one that we borrowed from Aunt EA and Uncle Scott) to make magic. Three are lots of places around Hogsmeade that have spells for you to do. If you say the magic words and move your wand in the proper motion (which is actually quite hard to do), things will happen. Here Molly was making some Quidditch balls fly around.

Magic

Leah managed to unlock the magic hidden inside this window with Alohomora.

Alohomora

We did this a lot all over Hogsmeade, and it never got old.

They had a lovely a cappella performance of Harry Potter songs (some from the movies, some new) by these students and their toads.

A cappella

We rode the Flight of the Hippogriff a couple times. It’s a small, family-friendly roller coaster, but it’s still a lot of fun. And there was hardly any line.

The most impressive ride in Harry Potter world was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It’s a hybrid ride - part simulator, part practical. Your seats are moved around by by a giant arm, sometimes with screens simulating flying on a broom, sometimes being surprised by giant dementors. It’s a lot of fun. And even better, the line goes through Hogwarts castle, making it the most fun I’ve ever had in a line. I rank this as definitely the best ride at Universal.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

The morning was nice, but as it approached noon, it started to get really hot. So, we got a couple Butterbeers. Molly has the soda variety (similar to cream soda) while Jen has the frozen version. Both were delicious.

Butterbeer

We explored some of the shops in Hogsmeade, all made to be like those in the films. One of the best was Honeydukes, where the girls were very excited about the chocolate frogs. We didn’t get anything at that point, though we came back later for some treats.

Honeydukes

We then left Hogsmeade to check out the other parts of Universal Studios. Unfortunately, it started to really get hot (like around 100 degrees hot), which made walking around and standing in line outside tough. We went to the Special Effects Show, which was fun and indoors, where we learned about how they do different special effects in movies.

Then we went on the studio tour, which rides through many of the places Universal shoots movies and TV shows. Here’s a city hall, notably used in Back to the Future.

Studio tour

The studio tour was more than an hour long. It included lots of the individual attractions that are separate in Orlando (Jaws, Fast & Furious, King Kong, Earthquake, and more). It was somewhat fun, but again, it was hot and we would have skipped lots of the parts of it if we could have.

We wandered around a bit looking at rides but deciding their lines weren’t worth the wait in the heat. We tried to get the girls to go on the Jurassic Park ride to cool off, but they clearly had the water turned up due to the heat, so everyone got off completely drenched. None of us was looking forward to that, so we skipped it.

We tried and failed to get ice cream a couple places, and decided to head back to Hogsmeade instead for a treat. We bought those treats at Honeydukes, then found a table in the Three Broomsticks (which is air conditioned) to eat them. Molly loved her chocolate frog, though she would have preferred a different card than Lockhart. Leah had a giant lollipop that she still hasn’t finished.

Three Broomsticks

In addition to the packaged treats, Honeydukes had some fresher options in their glass counter. When I saw they had Butterbeer fudge, I couldn’t pass it up. It was wonderful.

Butterbeer fudge

We then rode Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, which was a lot of fun. It’s a simulator ride, and has all the fun silliness of the Minions. Then we headed to the WaterWorld show, which was pretty good. We at least got to sit in the shade, though the bursts of fire weren’t helping the heat.

As our day was coming to an end, we went back to Olivander’s to buy the girls wands. They’ve wanted them for a long time, and we told them they could each get one as a toy/souvenir. They both chose to get replica wands of characters from the films. Leah chose Hermione’s wand, and Molly chose Luna’s wand (technically, Luna’s second wand). Sadly, they only got to use them a couple of times before it started raining (you can see the ground is already damp).

Wands

As it got close to park closing time, it started to rain. This left us with a choice to find a place to hide and hope it passed, or try to leave before the rain got bad. We were hungry and it did not look like it would blow over quickly, so we chose to leave before it got bad. Sadly, it quickly got bad. And as you might expect, it was a long walk to get out of the park and to our car. Soon, we were completely drenched. After such an exhaustingly hot afternoon, ending with a long hike through a downpour was a bit too much for Jen. She was not amused.

Not amused

Between the heat, the downpour, and us not being into much of the stuff outside of Harry Potter world, the day definitely had its problems. In my opinion, the awesomeness of Harry Potter world totally made up for all that. Jen may disagree with me.

The beach

Posted in Family outings, Trip on October 20th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

A cool thing about staying in a house by the beach in L.A. is that you can easily interleave beach vacation days with the theme park vacation days. The girls loved the beach, and we ended up spending a lot of time there. You already saw some of our beach fun on Sunday and Monday. After Tuesday at Disneyland, we were back on the beach on Wednesday.

Back to the beach

The house we were staying in had a couple of boogie boards, and Molly was excited to learn how to use them. She took to it quickly, despite the continual threat of being bowled over by the waves (they were pretty big). She left me in the waves many times as she glided toward the sand.

Molly boogie board

She had me come out with her as her coach, telling her which waves to let pass and which to try to catch. Plus, I could give her a little push off when she tried to catch one for a bit of extra speed.

Boogie boarding

Boogie boarding

Chris (my long time friend and boss) joined us on the beach for the boogie board fun.

Chris boogie board

Boogie boards

Molly and Chris even got to do some fun side-by-side boogie boarding.

Boogie boarding with Chris

Leah asked to try the boogie boards once, but changed her mind when she got part way out and found the waves crashing on her. Instead, she preferred the sand. She loved building sand castles (this time with lots of tools).

Sand castles

Thursday we went to Universal Studios (more on that in the next post), but Friday we were back at the beach again. Molly again wanted to play in the water, boogie board, and be active, and I was happy to join her. Leah, on the other hand, is discovering she prefers the calmer version of the beach like Jen. In addition to sand castles, she loved reading in a beach chair under an umbrella, just like her mom.

Reading on the beach

We rarely go to the beach, but we may need to make an effort to go more. These girls love it.

Disneyland

Posted in Family outings, Trip on October 19th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment
Castle pic

On Tuesday, the four of us took a break from the beach to go to Disneyland. We had hoped to go with one of my coworkers and his family, but they ended up not being able to go. So, it was just a Sellers family outing. We left our beach house early in the morning to avoid traffic and get to Anaheim before the park opened. Sadly, Molly got carsick on the way there, but she recovered quickly after we arrived.

Our first stop was to sign up for Jedi Training. We were expecting a long line like we found in Orlando, but found there to be no line at all and we had our pick of times to train.

We had hoped to take the girls on Space Mountain for the first time, but it was sadly closed during our visit. So, instead, we got on our first ride - Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters (which also had no line).

Buzz Lightyear

Buzz Lightyear

We then went across the park to the Indiana Jones Adventure. The girls did not like this one (too scary), but they made it through. I think Leah said she just kept her eyes closed the entire time.

There was much debate about whether to do Splash Mountain or not, as the girls didn’t want to get soaked. After seeing it, they were happy to try it. Here we go down the big drop at the end.

Splash Mountain

We ate our packed lunches in New Orleans Square, then went on one of our favorite rides - Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, which we actually rode a second time later in the day because we liked it so much.

The girls did Jedi Training, as they had done in Orlando. Leah is excellent at calming her mind to use the Force.

Use the force

Half the kids fight Darth Vader, while the other half fight the Seventh Sister. In Orlando, they fought the Seventh Sister, so I was glad they got to fight Darth Vader this time.

Fighting Vader

Fighting Vader

Fighting Vader

After Jedi Training, we had to ride on Star Tours to continue the Star Wars fun. We only rode it one time this trip.

That wasn’t true of the Matterhorn Bobsleds, which we rode twice unintentionally. We rode it once, but then the staff said they needed to take our sled off the course for a minute to help with flow control. So, we slid off to side for a couple of minutes. When they let us back on the course, they told us we’d get to ride for a second time for our trouble without even having to get out of the sled.

It was a hot day, and we got the perfect cold treat. As a kid, my favorite thing at Disney World was the Mickey Mouse ice cream pop. So, we of course all got one. It was fantastic.

The best treat

Most of the stuff in Toontown was geared toward little kids and uninteresting to our girls, but Gadget’s Go Coaster caught their eye. It’s really small and short, but there was no line. So, we rode it three times in a row.

Gadget's Go Coaster

We enjoyed the afternoon parade, including Mary Poppins.

Mary Poppins

We rode on the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, cooling off under the sea.

Finding Nemo

We ate dinner at the Jolly Holiday Bakery Café. We walked through the castle, and then went on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Afterward, the girls demonstrated how they looked while riding it.

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

We rode the Mad Tea Party, and did Big Thunder Mountain Railroad again.

We stayed all day, so got a picture in front of the lit up castle at night. The girls appreciated that Disneyland has a different castle than Disney World (Sleeping Beauty’s instead of Cinderella’s).

Night-time castle

I think we all gave Disneyland a big thumbs up.

California trip

Posted in Trip on October 18th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

I work for an incredibly awesome company. We’re a fairly small team, somewhat distributed geographically across the United States. We decided that we should really hang out together some. This resulted in a company-wide retreat to Los Angeles. So, the company flew all of us, and our families, to California. We rented a couple of big fancy houses on Venice Beach for the week and had a great time.

We left a day late (since we had to stay in town for Molly’s belt test) and arrived late Saturday. Sunday was a relaxed day, just hanging out and exploring around the area. We walked down the Venice Beach Boardwalk for a while (which is cool, though not exactly our thing) and then wandered down to the ocean. This meant the girls got to see and touch the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

Pacific first

Cold splash

Chilly ocean

Leah was excited about playing in the sand, and we made plans to return with proper sand castle tools.

Sand play

That night, we joined up with everyone else at the house we were staying at for dinner and fellowship. It was fun to get to meet co-workers and their families in person for the first time. Three of us decided to go running together in the morning, which we did.

After lunch on Monday, my family decided to head up the beach a bit to the Santa Monica Pier. It has a bunch of fun stuff (ferris wheel, roller coaster, games, etc.). After we got there, we found it to be more of a tourist trap than we hoped (every little thing cost way too much). We ended up skipping the rides and just getting some fun ice cream cones from Scoops (Cookie Monster, Salted Caramel, Mango, and Cookie Dough). They were a total mess, but very yummy.

Santa Monica Pier

After our failed adventure to Santa Monica Pier, we decided to hit the beach by our house. Leah was still a little timid around the ocean water, but Molly loved playing in the surf.

To the beach

In the surf

Beach fun

Getting wet

Strike a pose

Strike a pose

Get wet

But that was just the start to our trip. There’s a lot to do in L.A. besides the beach, so the next day we headed to the happiest place on Earth. That deserves its own post, of course.

Goodbye Aruba

Posted in Celebrations, Trip on August 19th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

Eventually, our trip to Aruba had to come to an end. It was a great trip, and it was great to get away together. I don’t think it was our favorite island destination we’ve been to (that would probably go to our Puerto Rico trip or the Bahamas), but it was a great place. And, if you’re the sort that likes to just sit on the beach for a long time, Aruba’s beaches are awesome. Sadly, that’s not us.

I think this will be our last trip to an island for a while. Jen’s motion sickness keeps getting worse, so water activities are becoming bad choices as evidenced by this trip. So, maybe next time we’ll have to check out the Grand Canyon or New England or something.

I can’t end this on a negative note. We had a great trip to Aruba, and got to spend an entire week just the two of us. Thanks again to Grams for keeping the girls so we could do this.

Sun and aloe

Posted in Celebrations, Trip on August 18th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

We tend to focus more on active things than chilling on the beach, but we did spend a little bit of time on the beach in front of our resort. We also discovered that by staying in the area that caters more to Europeans, you get the occasional (to our right and our left) topless sunbather (not pictured).

Beach time

Most of Aruba is dedicated to the tourism industry, but they do have at least one product that they are known for exporting. Given that they get so much sun, that product is a logical choice - aloe. We went to the Aruba Aloe factory and got the tour. Here our guide shows us the inside of the aloe plant right next to rows of aloe on the aloe farm.

Aruba Aloe

Aloe farm

Aruba Aloe farm

We also got to tour the factory, though it wasn’t fully operating since it was the weekend.

Aruba Aloe factory

Aruba Aloe factory

They make lotions, creams, soaps, and more. And we managed to make it out of the place having only bought a couple of things, which I call a win.

Eating around Aruba

Posted in Celebrations, Trip on August 17th, 2017 by c-had – 1 Comment

We try not to eat out all the time when on vacation. Thankfully, with a kitchenette in our hotel room and a grocery store within walking distance, we managed to avoid restaurants for a couple meals a day. That said, we still ate out several times and had some excellent meals.

The night we arrived, we went to Yemanja Woodfired Grill in Oranjestad. It’s a nice restaurant with good food. It was a bit of a pain to get to since there were cruise ships in port creating a lot of traffic, but that was thankfully the only day cruise ships were in port during our trip. Not cheap, but nothing in Aruba seems to be cheap. I had the BBQ mahi-mahi and Jen had the grilled swordfish. Jen’s favorite part of the meal was the pesto risotto. This turned out to be our only meal we ate indoors - most restaurants had outdoor seating given the always perfect weather. We failed to get a picture at dinner (sorry).

A couple days later after our busted eco-tour, we decided to find some dinner near the hotel. Our concierge recommended we try Tulip, a restaurant offering traditional Aruban food down the street that seemed to be somehow associated with our hotel. We arrived and found the place deserted (we were actually the only patrons for part of our meal). I had the Keshi Yena, a traditional Aruban casserole with pulled chicken in tomato sauce with raisins and green olives, gratinated with Gouda cheese. It was different, but good. Jen had grouper, and learned that she’s not the biggest fan of grouper. We failed to get a picture at dinner again (sorry again).

Saturday for lunch we decided to skip the PB&J and try something different. There was a fish monger next to the grocery store called Daily Fish. In addition to buying fish to cook yourself, they would fry the seafood for you. It was much more reasonably priced than the other restaurants (around $10 per person), so we thought we’d try it. I had fried cod and Jen had the calamari, both with potato wedges and coleslaw. We also tried a coconut soda there for the first time, which Jen liked so much she started searching Amazon to see if she could get it in the states. The lunch certainly wasn’t fancy, but it was good and inexpensive, which was perfect for us.

Daily Fish

Saturday night we went to Madame Janette, a restaurant known for great food, and it did not disappoint. What’s in front of me may look like a potato, but it’s actually their Cordon Bleu Schnitzel. They took ham and dutch gouda, then wrapped it in their famous schnitzel. It was delicious, as was Jen’s gnocchi fungi e tartufi.

Madame Janette's

Despite being very full from an excellent meal, we still ordered dessert. It was delicious.

Dessert

We knew we had to try Dutch Pancakes at some point on our trip. So, on Sunday we ventured into Oranjestad again to wander around and get lunch at the Dutch Pancake House. I had a Dutch pancake (it covers the whole plate, thinner than American pancakes but thicker than a crepe) with fruit and whipped cream. Jen had poffertjes (kind of like silver dollar pancakes but puffier). They were delicious, as was the fresh squeezed orange juice.

Dutch Pancake House

Monday, we had reservations at The Flying Fishbone for a fancy dinner. However, we had just been on a long excursion (and eaten a late lunch). We also discovered that we were going to have a 40 minute cab ride to get to the restaurant. Neither of us was up for that. So, we cancelled and ate at our hotel’s Passions on the Beach. It’s a restaurant that is set up daily on the beach.

Final dinner date

Here’s a view of the restaurant. Every afternoon at 4:30 they clear this area of all beach-goers and set up tables for dinner. The kitchen is a permanent building behind the tables.

Passions on the Beach

We sat down just before sunset, and got to watch the sun set on the beach as we waited for our food to arrive. It got a bit dark while we were actually eating, but it was still very nice. I had the grouper with scallops and shrimp, and Jen had the Mediterranean shrimp. It was good, though not great. It was also quite expensive, but at least we saved the money from that long cab ride.

Our table

Overall, we ate really well. Just be prepared to spend a lot on food if you’re planning a trip to Aruba.

Finally, a complete eco-tour

Posted in Celebrations, Trip on August 16th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

After the failure that was our first excursion into Aruba’s natural wonders, we debated about what to do. We’d been looking forward to that tour more than anything, and we felt like we were cheated out of the experience we wanted. We didn’t really want to spend more money on another tour (we’d already spent enough money on this vacation), but we really wanted to see more of the undeveloped part of Aruba. So, we eventually decided to book another one with a more reputable company (thanks to Courtney for recommending them). They had jeeps that actually worked (and were surprisingly comfortable, though Jen did have to hold the door closed up front since it didn’t latch). And we were glad to have the jeeps, since the terrain was pretty rough.

Jeep tour number 2

We drove the jeeps up a hill to see the view of the coastline.

View from on high

Our tour took us back the the Natural Bridge. It was pretty much the same as our first visit there.

Back at the Natural Bridge

We then went to another place nearby to explore a cave at the coast. Here’s Jen climbing down.

Cave exploring

We walked along some rocks toward our cave destination.

On a rock

Eventually, we came upon a cave with a pool of water, protected from the ocean by some rocks. Our guide Eduardo (next to me) told us to jump in. Many thought he was joking (it was about 10 feet down), but Jen and I were ready to go. Here I go.

Jump

Mid-air

Falling

Splash down

Then it was Jen’s turn to jump. She went for the cannonball approach.

Jen ready to jump

Cannonball

It was a very nice pool in a cave. We explored it for a while before climbing out to continue our tour.

In a cave

We then went to the Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins, where the Dutch used to process the gold before shipping it back to The Netherlands.

Gold mill

Gold mill ruins

Gold mill inside

We saw the Ayo Rock Formation, but did not go up to it. It gets really hot in the middle of the day as it is made of volcanic rock (like much of Aruba).

Ayo Rock Formation

We also visited Fontein Cave in Arikok National Park, which was inland a bit.

Fontein Cave

Fontein Cave contained lots of cave drawings from the Arawak Indians.

Cave drawings

This is what you look like in a dark cave when someone takes your picture with a flashlight.

In headlights

We then drove on to Baby Beach again, which was actually supposed to be part of this tour (unlike our previous one). While most of Baby Beach was very shallow, a small part of it was deep enough to snorkel (snorkel gear was provided on this tour). Jen tried snorkeling again at Baby Beach, and didn’t get seasick. Hurray!

Snorkeling

There were lots of fish there. Some of them were quite large.

Big fish

Black fish

A fish

This visit to Baby Beach was much more enjoyable than the first.

Baby Beach selfie

We then dried off and headed back to the ABC Tours facility where they provided lunch. They have a little restaurant on site which served the lunch that was included in the tour. It was quite good.

The tour was great. I’d highly recommend ABC Tours to anyone. We wish we’d decided to go with them originally. Our guides were great, the sites were good, the lunch was good, and most importantly, the jeep never broke down.

Our jeep

Sunset kayaking

Posted in Celebrations, Trip on August 15th, 2017 by c-had – Be the first to comment

After Jen getting seasick on our sailing adventure and having a busted eco-tour, we were excited to try a different excursion. This time, we went for a night kayak tour. We’ve done kayaking on previous trips and really enjoyed it. We were excited to do it in Aruba. Jen was a little worried about being on the sea again, but she took two Bonine and thought she’d be fine.

The tour was supposed to have other people, but they cancelled at the last minute. So, it was just us and our guides. We had a clear bottom kayak to see the marine life under the boat. Jen’s smiling at the beginning of the adventure.

Kayaking

We got started as the sun went down so we could see the sunset from the ocean.

Kayaking

Sunset from a kayak

Sunset behind Jen

Sunset

Kayaking

Our clear bottom kayak was equipped with underwater lights so we can see the fish after the sun goes down.

Lights

We didn’t see any larger or more colorful fish under the lights (like those we’d seen snorkeling a couple days before). I guess they had all gone to bed. We did see some little fish, though.

Little fish

Sadly, this was where things went wrong. Despite taking two Bonine, Jen got seasick. Our guide asked if everything was OK, and she told him the situation. So, we stopped paddling around and just headed straight back to the beach.

Once we got there, we sat in the parking lot while Jen recovered and our guides packed up the boats. We could see the lighthouse well from there.

Lighthouse

They gave us some fruit, iced tea, and water as post-paddling refreshment. After 20 minutes or so, the stuff was packed and Jen was feeling up to driving back to our hotel.

Our guides were great. I’d definitely recommend a kayak tour with Clear Kayak Aruba, though I’d probably choose one of their day tours in a different area to see more life under the water. That of course assumes that you don’t have major problems with motion sickness. For us, I think this’ll be our last kayak tour. I don’t think our next anniversary trip will involve any boats.