Trip

US Open 2018

Posted in Family outings, Trip on September 4th, 2018 by c-had – Be the first to comment

After a day of touring around New York, we were ready for a day of tennis. I actually waited to buy tickets until the night before in our hotel room. This meant we could see who was playing when selecting our tickets, and that we could get a great last minute deal (our tickets were just $47 each for some good seats in Armstrong). We woke up, ate breakfast, checked on Leah’s teacher assignment, checked out of our hotel and drove over to Flushing Meadows. We got in the gates just before 11:00 when the action began.

US Open

We wanted to see some different things while at the US Open. Instead of starting with big names, we started with women’s doubles with some future stars. Whitney Osuigwe here recently won the Girls 18s Nationals (she’s 16), but we got to see her playing with the adults.

Young Americans

Caty McNally was the older member of her doubles team at 16 and a half.

Young Americans

Back in March, Leah moved up to a bigger racquet (a 25” Babolat Pure Drive), but I guess she’s ready to move up to something bigger. That racquet may be taller than she is. Molly said the giant ball was the same size as a basketball.

Bigger gear

We got tickets to the brand new Armstrong Stadium. We made sure to get to our seats early so we didn’t miss any of Venus Williams’s match. It was very hot (95 degrees plus serious humidity), but I made sure our seats were in the shade at least. The seats on the other side in the sun were mostly empty as no one was willing to bake in them.

New Armstrong Stadium

We got to see Venus Williams take on Camila Giorgi in a very tough second round match. Despite being almost as old as me, she survived the heat and humidity to win the match.

Venus Williams

The new Armstrong stadium is really nice. I think I may keep trying to get tickets there. It still has big names like Ashe (maybe slightly smaller), but you get to be so much closer to the action without spending the big bucks. Just make sure to get seats in the shade. As you can see, the sunny seats are mostly empty because it was so hot.

Louis Armstrong Stadium

When we walked in, we passed a kiosk called Melt selling fancy ice cream sandwiches. After the match, we headed straight for it to get a cool treat. Both the girls went for the “Lovelet” (red velvet with cream cheese ice cream). Jen and I split a Brambleberry (honeycomb cookies with blackberry and lavender ice cream). They were delicious and refreshing in that heat.

Melt ice cream sandwiches

After the Venus Williams match, we watched a bit more women’s doubles. Here’s Taylor Townsend (who we’d see play for the Philadelphia Freedoms just a few weeks earlier).

Taylor Townsend

The great part about the outer courts is you can get so close to the action. Leah and Molly were especially close as they tried to find some shade to hide in. They could have easily reached over the fence to hand a ball to the players (they didn’t, that’s frowned upon).

Close to the action

We headed back to our seats in Armstrong stadium to catch the last set of the Juan Martin del Potro match. American Denis Kudla tried his best, but del Potro was just too much for him.

Juan Martin del Potro

Denis Kudla

Then we headed to the Food Village for some dinner (we’d had lunch there too) before hitting the road to drive home. We got home around 11:15, which was a vast improvement over 1:22am from two years ago.

New York Trip

Posted in Family outings, Trip on September 3rd, 2018 by c-had – Be the first to comment

When our school year shifted to starting after Labor Day, a new opportunity became available to us. This meant that the first week of the US Open now happened during summer vacation. Two years ago we went to the Open for one day during the very busy Labor Day weekend, but this change meant we could go during the less busy opening week. So, this year we decided to make the trip.

The girls really wanted to see a bit of New York as well, so we decided to make it a two day trip. We’d drive up, see a bit of New York on day one, then see some tennis and drive home on the second day. So, Tuesday we got up and drove straight to our hotel (the Belvedere, one block away from Times Square) to check in.

After we checked into our hotel, we first took the subway down to the World Trade Center. We wanted to go up high to see the city, and chose the new One World Observatory to do it. The building is pretty impressive from the outside.

One World

They had tablets to rent that would tell you about what you were looking at. I wasn’t interested, but the girls really wanted to get them. I’m glad we did. I imagine the girls would have gotten bored quickly without them. With the tablets, they enjoyed learning all about New York and the landmarks we were looking at from above.

Tablets

Here’s the view of Manhattan from the One World Observatory.

Manhattan

The girls wanted a picture of themselves with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

Girls and Lady Liberty

The place the girls were most excited to go was American Girl Place, the large American Girl store by Rockefeller Plaza. Molly has been saving gift cards for more than a year. We’d offered to take her to the Washington store, but she wanted to wait to go to the fancy New York store. The girls of course brought their dolls.

American Girl Place

Molly used her gift cards to buy the Girl of the Year - Luciana. Leah also got an outfit and a pet (not pictured).

New doll

Our dinner plan was to go to Ellen’s Stardust Diner (where the wait staff are aspiring Broadway folks who sing while serving you). We got there and got in line (there’s often a line) for 10 minutes or so, when the staff came out and said they were not taking any more customers that day (no idea why). So, we found a pizza joint for some New York pizza. However, it had no seating, so we opted to take our pizza back to the hotel to eat.

New York pizza

After dinner we headed back out to M&M’s World. It’s a fun store with everything M&M you could imagine.

M&M World

The coolest thing at M&M’s World is customizing your own M&M’s. You get to create 4 custom designs to put on your M&M’s. Ours were “Leah is cool”, “Molly is awesome”, a picture of a unicorn, and a picture of a microphone.

Personalized M&M's

The next step was to fill a cup with M&M’s of the colors of your choosing. Ours were yellow, pink, teal, and purple.

Choose your colors

You then pour those M&M’s into the printing machine.

Pour them in

And the printed M&M’s come out at the bottom. The M&M’s still have an M on one side. The machine prints your designs on the other side.

Here they come

And here’s our finished product. It was fun to make, if a bit overprices for M&M’s (that cup cost $20).

Finished product

Then we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep before a fun day of tennis. More on that to come.

Alabama without Dad

Posted in Family visits, Trip on August 31st, 2018 by c-had – 1 Comment

Over July 4th week, Jen and the girls spent a few days at Lay Lake in Alabama, while I was on mission trip to VA. So, for the first time in forever, Jen had to sit with the girls on the plane.

Flying with Mom

It didn’t take long for the family to be out on the Dottie B.

Sunset cruise

Sunset smiles

Jen made all the kids festive July 4th tees.

Festive cousins

Sporting the red, white, and blue

She also made a patriotic fruit trifle for the July 4th dessert.

Patriotic trifle

A trip to Lay Lake is not complete without tubing!

Ready for tubing

G’mom and Grampa surprised everyone by being the first out on the tube.

Grandparents can tube too

Molly's going solo.

Molly's going solo

Jen and Leah too.

Hang on tight

One last picture opportunity before leaving.

Family photo

Back at Aunt ‘Chile’s house, the kids had fun on the double Slip ’n Slide.

Slip 'n Slide kids

Molly's run

Leah's turn

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.