Saturday, August 29, 2009

Road Tripping, Days Six and Seven

And then we went home, the end.

I knew if I put off writing about our trip until we got home I'd be in trouble. I'm using the cop-out that I always used when writing stories in school. I'd come up with a fantastic plot, get the story going, and after a couple of pages (when I was tired of writing and/or found something better to do) I'd polish it off by saying something like the above sentence.

It's hard to get all worked up about the drive from Los Angeles back to Utah via Las Vegas, since we've done that drive about one gazillion times, and so has pretty much everyone I know. We stopped in Mesquite for the night, since my dad wanted one more chance to enjoy sleeping in a casino. I've got some things written in a notebook around here somewhere, and if I ever dig it up, I may elaborate. Suffice it to say that the kids continued to be fabulous, with the exception of Darcey who continued her screaming, but since we've heard it so often on this trip, no one could really work up any emotion for her anymore. As I predicted, she fell asleep in Provo, not 15 minutes from home. Why do they do that? Stay awake for the long, boring part of the trip and then fall asleep right when things are starting to look familiar and hope (and their bed!) is in sight.

So that about does it. The consensus is that the trip was a success. Next year my parents want to go to Seattle to visit a college roommate of my mom's. I'd love to do the Washington/Oregon coast, see some big trees, and purposely avoid Forks just on principle. I'm still keeping my fingers crossed that we can scrape together enough money to go back to England next summer, or maybe the summer after that. I don't know what it is that makes me love traveling as much as I do, but even if all we do next summer is the drive from here to L.A. through Las Vegas again, I'd be happy.

I put all the pictures from our trip in a folder called "august 2009" on this site:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Road Tripping, Day Five

Day five’s theme was relax. We did a lot of hanging out, sitting around, talking, playing, and not getting stuff done. We’re on vacation – why should we get stuff done? I realized that it had been days since I attempted to multitask anything, and day five wasn’t going to be any different.

We started the day with my Aunt HoSoon’s traditional Saturday family breakfast. My aunt loves to cook for other people, and fortunately she is also a good cook. We had eggs, waffles, pancakes, hash browns, and fresh fruit. Have I mentioned how much I love eating a full breakfast? I love it, although not enough to actually cook every morning. That’s one of the things that make vacations so delightful – all the good meals that I don’t have to cook, especially breakfast.

Anna (and her family) got to the house after we had finished eating, and Darcey instantly grabbed Anna’s shoes. This time Anna wasn’t taking it lying down, and it looked like the two of them might duke it out over who gets the Little Mermaid flip-flops. There was basically no way in heck I could get the flip-flops off of Darcey at that point, so it was fortunate that Anna chose to be the bigger person here. I vowed that we would not return to the house without some new flip-flops for Darcey.

My mom missed the mall trip yesterday, so we went back. I hung out at the play area again while she shopped. When the kids got restless I took them to a gelateria for a cup of gelato. A small cup can hold three flavors. I let the kids pick their flavors, and Noah was the only one who liked what he picked. I ended up pushing Darcey in her stroller holding a cup of abandoned gelato in either hand, swapping with Darcey and watching my cup melt. I think I ended up trying 9 different flavors. When we met up with my mom again, we found ourselves next to a fountain while we discussed where we parked the car. I looked over and found Zack laying on the fountain, his arm up to his shoulder in the fountain, grabbing coins like a prospector who just found the motherlode. Did I mention exactly how upscale this mall is? Yeah, I thought so. We were the unwitting stars of The Clampetts Go Shopping.

My mom dropped us off back at the hotel so we could go swimming. Ryan’s sister Shauna had stayed over so she hung out with us while the kids swam. Noah and Zack were proving the value of the swim lessons they took this year, and making me wish I had done more. Darcey decided to start jumping into the water from the side, going all the way under, so I spent two hours catching her. I had packed sunscreen, but left it in the car, which I realized about one millisecond after my mom drove away. They boys’ swimsuits were in the car, too, but they just wore their shorts and were fine. I made them wear t-shirts, since I didn’t have sunscreen and didn’t want them to bake. I’m all for poolside modesty, but I’m sure we looked a little extreme. I was the only one who ended up getting burned. I think of it as taking one for the family.

After we swam, we went back to my aunt and uncle’s house for Anna’s 3rd birthday party. My cousin Jenny had invited the 8 kids in Anna’s playgroup, plus their entire families, over for dinner and to play in the inflatable jumper they rented. I had completely forgotten how big a production I made over Brad’s birthdays when we lived in California. I didn’t have a yard, so I couldn’t rent a jumper, but all of the parties that we threw or attended (from our playgroup friends) were elaborate and expensive productions. Compare that to the birthdays I throw now: pre-done parties at Classic Skating or Chuck E. Cheese’s, or a few baby pools in the backyard. Cake, or more likely cupcakes, and ice cream at the most. I can’t decide which version I prefer. Possibly if I had more energy or fewer children (who sap my energy of course) I could use my kids’ birthdays as an excuse for a shindig with all our friends. But my friends and my kids’ friends aren’t always two circles that intersect. I’ll have to think about this some more.

Before the party itself started, we had one minor incident. Darcey was the proud recipient of brand-new, white and sparkly pink flip-flops. They put the old, worn Little Mermaid flip-flops to shame with their gleaming glitteriness. The shoes went perfectly with the Disney Princess fanny pack (containing fake lipstick, fake eyeshadow, and sunglasses that Darcey also adored.) Darcey immediately adored these shoes and wore them around the backyard with great fanfare. There was no parting this girl from her new shoes.

And then there was the jumper. Frankly, I didn’t care if she wore her new flip-flops inside of the jumper. How much harm is a 25 pound girl going to do to the plastic? It’s not like she was wearing spike heels, which would be obviously damaging, plus really uncomfortable to jump in. Well, my uncle thought otherwise and attempted to convince her to take her brand-new shoes off. She would have none of that. So he told me that Darcey wouldn’t take off her shoes and that she couldn’t wear them in the jumper. Ahhhhh. Right. Okay.

I wanted to protest, to say, “Is this really the hill you want to die on?” But, of course, it wouldn’t be HIM battling this one – this is the hill he wants ME to die on. It was with sinking heart that I trudged over to the jumper and kindly requested Darcey give me her new shoes. She, ever so gently, said no. I pleaded, she demurred. I persuaded, she resisted. If you’ve had a two year old, you can, I’m sure, understand the tenor and pitch of this conversation. Eventually, to spare the ears of all those around us, we took our debate into the house. After 15 minutes or so, my aunt came into the house to see what the problem was. I explained that Uncle Jim didn’t want shoes on the jumper. She looked at me blankly and after a pause said, “Why?” I don’t know, I told her, I’m just doing what he said. She thought about this and with a slightly incredulous voice said, “Just let her wear her shoes!” Duh! Is what I wanted to say. That is so obviously the right answer, but I was a guest in someone else’s house and while I can generally hold my own, I could not disobey a direct order. I conceded to Darcey and eventually she went out and continued playing. But I’m not sure she ever forgave me.

Other than that, the evening itself was great. The backyard had a great social atmosphere, but I felt no obligation to chat with anyone that I didn’t want to. That was liberating to me. We had pizza and some fizzy juice drinks and Costco birthday cake, the kind with vanilla cheesecake in the center. The weather was so perfect that I had to ask myself out loud why I moved away from here in the first place. I had determined that we’d head back to the hotel so the kids could have an early bedtime, but I couldn’t leave. It was just so delightful outside. The kids had a fantastic time playing with all of these new kids. The jumper, shoes or no, was a big hit. They never fought with each other, they didn’t need constant monitoring – it was the first time on the trip that I could truly relax. And that’s what a vacation is all about.

Here's Darcey with the birthday girl, Anna.

Don't be swayed by this face - no one was feeding him anything gross. He's learning how to ham it up for the camera.

I love the wrinkled nose and the look on her face like she's not had the best day. Notice the shoes on the jumper.
My uncle Jim, my mom Joan and my dad Fred.
Darcey and the shoes.
Me and my sister-in-law Shauna, who visited us for the day.
Aunt Shauna and Noah. The kids adore their aunt.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Road Tripping, Day Four

One of the best things in life has got to be a pleasant stroll down memory lane. Today I got to revisit my stomping grounds from one of the best chunks of my life, when I moved to California at age 18 and lived in Thousand Oaks until I got married. I grew up a lot here – figured out how to live away from my parents, I got a real job, bought a new car, made a whole set of new friends, met my future husband. This is where I understood what true independence feels like, and frankly, I loved it. It’s not something you can always learn while you live with your parents, I don’t think.

Of course, and I should have expected this, nothing is ever quite the same when you come back after (in my case) fifteen years or so. The city has grown and I’m looking at it through different eyes. The road names that I remember from that period of my life (Los Arboles, Gainsborough, Kanan Dume) still sounded familiar, but I couldn’t remember why, or where they went. There’s something poignant about that.

So I found myself sitting in The Oaks mall watching Darcey play in the jungle-themed playground. I worked at the mall for about six months in the lingerie department of a department store called Robinsons-May. As I sat there, I pondered the differences between The Oaks mall and the University Mall in Orem.

1. Diversity. Seven years in Utah starts to make you think that people only come in two flavors – white and Hispanic (or Mormon and –non, but that’s more subtle.) Here at the play area, there are white people, Asians of many varieties, Indians, Hispanics. No black people so far, but this was a quick 15 minute survey. I love seeing so much diversity. +1 The Oaks

2. Image Is Everything, Part One. Everyone here dresses nicely. No jeans and t-shirts in this crowd. I could only pick out a couple of women that looked slightly dumpy, and that’s still better than the workout-clothes-turned-outfit that is perfectly acceptable in Orem. Not all Utah moms are dumpy, but I think the most casual of us would feel out place here. While I think women feel better about themselves when they dress nicely, I wouldn’t want the pressure of being completely underdressed every time I went to the mall. +1 University Mall

3. Image Is Everything, Part Two. There are surprisingly few fat people here. There were some, but not the statistical average I would have expected. That’s okay, we need a place like this to balance out places like Walt Disney World, which was bursting at the seams with fat people. +1 The Oaks

4. Shopping. While both The Oaks and the University Mall have a Macy’s and a Nordstrom, it is the balance of the stores that makes this mall more elite. Swarovski. Coach. Kate Spade. Sephora. The McDonald’s and the Dairy Queen of the mall from the 90’s have been replaced with a Sisley Italian Restaurant and a Cheesecake Factory. We are really Dairy Queen people. I’m still mourning the DQ on 800 North that closed two years ago. On the other hand, I totally enjoy the free wifi at the play area. It’s about the only thing in this mall I can afford. +1 University Mall

Post-mall, I took the kids to Zuma beach. This the first Pacific Ocean experience for Zack and Darcey (well, except for yesterday’s foot-dipping) and the first real ocean that Noah can remember. I was intimidated to take them alone, but the trip proved much less work than I expected. Ryan’s sister Shauna came out to be with us for the day, so there was an extra adult on hand. Darcey decided to sit in the sand the whole time, and was easy to keep track of. Noah pretty much stayed in the water. Zack went back and forth, playing in the water and then coming back to work on his “sand castle” – mostly a big pile of sand with a moat dug around it. It was great weather – sunny but with a cool ocean breeze. Plus it didn’t smell all gross like rotting fish and seaweed.

We went back to my aunt and uncle’s house and hung out with the family. Before we went to the mall this morning, we spent time with my aunt and uncle, my cousin Jenny (who is a few years younger than me) and her kids, Anna and Evan. My kids enjoyed playing with her kids, which is great. It’s the closest thing to a cousin experience they’ve ever had, although I’m still a little fuzzy on how my kids are related to my cousin’s kids. (I’m thinking second cousins.) All day at the beach they asked if they’d be going back to play with Anna and Evan. Isn’t that sweet?

Darcey loved Anna, but she especially loved Anna’s Little Mermaid flip-flops. My aunt and uncle have a Korean household, which for Darcey means a pile of abandoned shoes right there at the doorway for her to pick from. I hope they weren’t completely offended by her clomping around in shoes - it didn’t seem worth the fight to keep her out of the shoe pile. To her Little Mermaid flip-flops, Darcey added a Disney Princess fanny pack complete with sunglasses, pretend lipstick, and pretend eyeshadow. This girl loved her fanny pack so much it was like she had died and gone to Disney Princess heaven, where all the clouds are pink and all the harps play love ballads. For all the screaming Darcey has done on this trip, it was great to find something to make her so happy.

No pictures from today, but coming up tomorrow: Family party in T.O.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Road Tripping, Day Three

Today we were in our traveling groove. We started the morning with a wake-up call by the family alarm clock, Zack. He was generous enough to come into my room from my parents’ room (where he slept) in order to fulfill his role as Darcey-waker-upper. Why that boy doesn’t come with a snooze button is beyond me.

Zack was campaigning for another McDonald’s breakfast, which was soundly vetoed by all involved. We ended up with a nice compromise – Jamba Juice and Winchester’s Donuts. The perfect combination of sweet and too sweet.

In what is starting to become a vacation tradition, it occurred to me about two hours outside of Salinas that I hadn’t seen my cell phone in a while. If you recall, in June I left my cell phone in my shorts pocket and ran it through the washing machine. I replaced it, only to have it start working again three weeks later (and after I had given it to Noah who gave it to a friend.) I called the hotel after searching through the mounds of rubble in the minivan, but no luck. I keep thinking it’ll turn up somewhere, but I recall Darcey bringing the phone into the bathroom and when I took it out, I put it somewhere secure, so she wouldn’t get it again. Neither did I, apparently. Vacations are murder on my cell phones.

We decided to head down the Pacific Coast Highway for the scenic coastal drive. This was one of the things that my mom had on her list of things to do before she dies. Anytime we can mark something off someone’s list, we’ll totally do that thing. The Pacific coast drive is at once stunning and nauseating. It’s especially painful for a person who gets carsick easily, who is also trying to write things down for her blog. Two Dramamine and moving to the front seat cleared things up before I got too miserable, and putting away the notebook helped a lot too.

The highlight of day three was the pit stops. Every time we stopped for gas, a bathroom break, or to stretch our legs, we were treated to beautiful vistas. The kids’ favorite stop was Morro Bay where I let them “get their feet wet” in the ocean. Yeah, well, apparently they think their feet grow out of their shoulders, because they were soaked to the bone within five minutes. But they adored it.

Noah and Zack had the time of their lives. We only played for maybe 20 minutes but they enjoyed every second of it. Darcey got freaked out by the first wave, but as long as Grandma or I were holding both her hands she was fine.

Today we found our road tripping sweet spot. We had a good six hours of driving time, but we broke it into two hour chunks. Two hours seems to be about the time that everyone is getting a little restless and could use a 15 minute break. Since the point of this trip is to enjoy the journey and not just rush to the destination, two hour breaks work. And we’ve broken Darcey to the point where she only had one minor freak-out today. The boys, who have heretofore been nearly invisible, were starting to make their presence known, so it’s probably good to put in a couple of rest days in Thousand Oaks.

Tomorrow: Hanging out in T.O. with family, going to the beach.

Here are some pictures from Day Three:

At some random roadside restaurant with a gorgeous backyard. And public bathrooms.

What is up with this pose?? I have no idea if he's trying to shoot me or just be cool.

This is hilarious - it's the first time these kids have ever seen a pay phone. I had to tell them what it was called.

At Morro Bay, getting our feet (and a little more) wet.

Before Morro Bay, we stopped at this sea lion preserve. Or possibly they were seals. Whatever they are, they're safe here.

Road Tripping, Day Two

Today is actually Day Five, so I'm clearly behind. Being behind on my vacation blog is either a sign that I'm having way too much fun to write or I don't have time to myself or I don't have internet access. This week it's been a combination of all three at different times.

Day Two of our west coast excursion found us making our way from Reno to Salinas, California. The kids were up early so we hit the road first thing in the morning. My dad lamented having to leave such a nice hotel room - in my opinion, the Atlantis Resort & Casino was a too nice a hotel room to start the trip with. We haven't stayed anywhere nearly as nice since, and we've been kind of ruined by it. In direct contrast, the night of Day Two was spent at the Good Nite Inn which was less good than the name implies. I was still getting out of "destination" mode, hadn't quite made it to "enjoy the journey" mode, which accounts for our hasty retreat from the Lost Casino of Atlantis.

We ate breakfast at McDonalds, which the kids have never done before, and Noah for one never wants to do again. Darcey had pancakes and the rest of us had McGrease Patties with a side order of pure lard. Ick. This might be traditional road food, but just ick.

We did a little less driving than on Day One and there was a little less screaming from the terrorist in the backseat. Our highlight of the day was our stop at the Jelly Belly Factory for a tour. I walked into the building and saw a Disneyland-style queue of about 40 people or so. Not bad, I thought, and then I looked down the hallway. True to Disneyland-style queues, the line actually extended the length of the building, down a hallway and then back-and-forth in the cafe area. The sign at the end of the line said, "Approximate wait time from this point: 1 hour." Sheesh! We had come all this way with the Jelly Belly Factory as one of our destinations, and we weren't about to turn back because of some measly little sign, but seriously, an HOUR?? For jelly beans??

We did our hour and then were escorted to the factory tour. It was cool to see the giant robot arms picking up huge trays of cooling beans and stacking them in a pile. I don't think I was the only one wishing that an arm would come alive and just go crazy and start flinging beans around the factory. But they didn't, they all stuck to the job of stacking and left the havoc-wreaking for another lucky tour group. All we got on our tour was this screaming two-year-old that didn't want to be held up to the window to see the factory, but also didn't want to be put on the floor to walk, nor did she want to go in the stroller. I think a giant jelly bean flinging robot arm would have kept her attention, but I probably would have missed that, along with the rest of the tour as I took her screaming out of the factory. Grrr.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. We got to the hotel room with just enough time for Zack to jump on the beds until losing my mind was a likely possibility. Eventually I sent him in to sleep in my parents' room. I put Darcey down to sleep in a bed and Noah and I hid in the bathroom until she fell asleep. That was actually a delightful time - Noah thought it was cool to stay up late and we got the internet cooking on the ipod touch for him to play with. Noah and I don't get many opportunities to do things just the two of us, so this was fun, if a little uncomfortable (the Good Nite Inn didn't exactly have spacious, Atlantis-style bathrooms.)

Up next: A drive down the coast from Salinas to Thousand Oaks.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Road Tripping, Day One

There’s nothing like getting out of your summer funk by piling all your funk into a car and hitting the open road. Of course, a car full of funk isn’t necessarily as fun as it sounds, but we’re planning on shedding our funk along the way.

I’m road tripping with my parents, Noah, Zack, and Darcey. Brad has Young Men’s Camp this week, and Ryan needed to stay home with him; plus, Ryan thinks this whole idea is nuts. He’s partially right about this. The plan may, in fact, be nuts. But we won’t know until it’s over.

My parents and my husband have very different ideas of what makes traveling fun. For my parents, a road trip is about enjoying the journey. They are laid back about schedules, ETA’s, rest stops and hotel rooms. They enjoy being together and, in this case, being with me and my kids. Ryan, on the other hand, finds the journey the torturous part that you have to get through in order to get to the fun part. Mostly that’s because he travels with four little kids and my parents have many traveling years with older kids. We aren’t comparing apples to apples.

I’m somewhere in the middle of these two theories – I grew up with my parents’ road trips for the first 18 years of life and have traveled with Ryan for the last 13. I want to like road trips more than I actually do, at least when traveling with small children is concerned. But I also don’t like my tendency towards ultra-scheduled vacations, either. So this trip is a trial run in some ways. If it works out well, I can confidently say that I’m in the flexible roadtripping category of travelers. If it works out poorly, I can try again in a few years. (I have too much of my upbringing in me to rule them out altogether.)

Day one of this trip had us driving from Orem, Utah to Reno, Nevada which is a good 500 miles of nothing. I had been warned that this section of road was a vast wilderness, but my dad had always wanted to go this way. He needed to check out the nothingness for himself. And yes, there was nothing, but there wasn’t any more nothing than the nothing from Orem to Las Vegas, say, or that big swath of land in the middle of America, all those states that are so full of nothing that I can’t remember which one is which. This country has plenty of nothing, let me just say. We could pick up several East Coast states and sprinkle the residents all over Nevada and still have room left over. So, yeah, there was just as much nothing as was promised during this part of the drive.

We stayed in a casino hotel in Reno, which is a conflicting issue for a Mormon like me. On the one hand, I’m not gambling, just sleeping there. But the people who were staring catatonically at the computer screens, pushing buttons like so many lab rats searching for cheese, those sad folks are the ones subsidizing my $50 a night room. I know some people view gambling as cheap entertainment, but the people there at 11:30p.m. on a Tuesday looked like they would have their Social Security checks direct deposited at the casino if they could. And then there’s my kids: we pulled up in front of the glass doors and they could not get over the gigantic “arcade.” But we have to sleep somewhere, right? It’s a quandary.

The only real problem we are having on the trip so far is this new thing that Darcey’s trying out. It’s a little trick she likes to call “ear-piercing shrieks at the top of her lungs for no apparent reason.” The first three displays of this little show had me (and my parents; they each took a turn) scrambling frantically to find the one thing that she wants so badly that will make her be quiet. After that, though, we are realizing that this is just her way of expressing just how boring a car ride can be. As my dad said, she’s saying what we’re all feeling. I hate the screaming for several reasons, the details of which would require a separate blog entry at the least, or several sessions with a therapist at most to fully understand. Suffice it to say that my ears aren’t the only part of me wanting the screaming to stop.

At one point my mom said, "I want to give her what she wants, I just wish I could understand her!" Zack piped up from the backseat and said, "I wish I could speak monkey." We all burst out laughing, which was just what I needed to remind me that this isn't life-altering screaming; it's just a whining two year old. Two-year-olds do this kind of thing all the time - it's not surprising and no one should take it personally (meaning me). Sure it's unpleasant, but it's survivable.

Tomorrow's agenda: Jelly Belly Factory tour in Fairfield, CA and then down to Salinas for the night.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Rewards of Motherhood

I woke up to glorious quiet today. No one fighting over spots on the couch, no one changing the channel from PBS kids' shows to boring news, no one poking me awake to reattach an arm to a disfigured Lego man. I did hear one sweet little voice calling "Mom?" from her crib at 8:45, but I was awake by then - I woke up on my own! - so I didn't mind getting up.

This weekend is the annual Fathers and Sons campout, which is my reward for having three boys. As a person with a fairly independent personality, you can't blame me for looking forward to a whole night to myself. It was just me and Darcey, and we could do whatever we wanted. We could have gone out to dinner, gone to a movie, hit the mall, anything. It was party time, girls only!

Partying? Not so much. You can take away 3/4ths of my responsibilities, but you can't stop be from being responsible, I guess. No, instead of partying with my little girl, I put her to bed at 8:00 and stayed up until midnight writing a paper about health care reform for my final business class. Ironically, the same topic that kept me awake last week kept threatening to put me to sleep when it came time to actually write about it.

I did do my share of whimsical things last night, just because I could. Darcey and I watched episodes of Design Star on She fluffed my hair and I combed hers. I helped her change shoes many, many times. Later, I went to the bathroom without locking the door. I know, crazy! That's how I let loose around here! Plus, I ate ice cream at 7:00 while sitting at the dining room table, instead of hiding in my bedroom!

If Fathers and Sons is my reward for having three boys, it's Ryan's punishment for the same thing. He Hates camping, with a capital H. Hates it. He has a hard enough time sleeping in a comfy, climate-controlled bedroom, so putting him in a sleeping bag on the ground in the mountains can't be a good idea. Well, if you're trying to punish him, I guess it's a great idea, but it's supposed to be fun. The boys will have an absolute blast, and that's why Ryan goes, although he grumbles about it and takes any minor scheduling conflict as an opportunity to revisit whether they really have to go this year.

The boys will all be home soon and my peaceful girls' weekend will be over. We didn't even have time to paint each other's toenails, but we can always save that for next year. It'll be my reward for surviving another year with three boys.