New Year, New Hikes

What better way to start out a new year – 2020, no less – than with some fresh air, green hills, and exercise in the form of a hike (it sure beats a hangover!). We took the kids to Cave Rock and Dripping Cave in Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park on New Year’s Day. The hike was 5 miles roundtrip and, of course, took us approximately ten times longer than it should have.  We brought our jogging stroller with us, which was easy to do on this mostly flat hike. My Mom was with us, too. She and I had actually ran here before and I had hiked here many times in the past (the park is close to our old condos in Aliso Viejo). This was Dan and the kids’ first time back to Cave Rock and Dripping Cave, though. The girls absolutely loved our destinations and although they weren’t quite as enthusiastic about hiking 5 miles, they did it (well, when they weren’t riding in the stroller, being carried on my back or hip, being carried on my Mom’s back or hip, or being carried on Dan’s shoulders or hip).

Sweet Sisters Hiking in Aliso & Wood Canyons

Atop Cave Rock

Dripping (Literally!) Cave

Dripping Cave

We kept on hiking right into the second weekend of the new year, this time in El Moro Canyon at Crystal Cove State Park. With our three kids in tow, we hiked about 3 miles, following the park’s “moderate” loop. Unlike our New Year’s Day hike, this hike had some elevation gains and losses – and it had some amazing ocean views! I had hiked here a few times many years ago, but Dan and the kids had never been here. We definitely want to go back again to hike other trails, now, too. The trails had many families with small children/babies on them, so we felt a shared connection with our fellow hikers.

Hiking at Crystal Cove State Park

William the Hiker

Vivian the Poser

Hiking Babes

Two weekends of the new year down and two hikes, too! We’re excited to see what other trails life leads our family down in 2020!

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A SoCal Christmas

We spent the month leading up to Christmas preparing for the big holiday by decorating, baking a ton of cookies, and participating in some favorite holiday events and some new ones. Here’s a quick recap of what we did for posterity.

Lil Mailed Her Letter to Santa (He always writes back and includes lots and lots and lots of “snow” glitter. We now carefully open it over the sink or outside!)

Our Christmas Tree & the Star

New This Year! Peter Pan and Tinker Bell: A Pirates Christmas at the Laguna Playhouse

New This Year! Christmas with the Critters at Rancho Las Lomas

Kid 2, Year 4: Preschool Holiday Singing Program

Santa Sighting at the Baker Ranch HOA Holiday Event

New This Year! Renegade Race Series Santa Run Kids Run 1/2 Mile Race

New This Year! Neighborhood Light Scavenger Hunt

A Favorite Tradition: Seeing A Charlie Brown Christmas at Chance Theater

Ready for Santa on Christmas Eve

Santa Came! Christmas Morning in Matching Jammies

Our holiday celebrations continued after Christmas day (technically, we did still have 12 more days of the season).

My Mom came into town for a week, which, as always, was awesome. She was a huge help with the kids and we also got to do some fun local activities with her.

Holiday Hangout at the Irvine Spectrum

New This Year! Capistrano Lights at Mission San Juan Capistrano

SeaWorld Day (My Mom’s First!)

Day with the Monkeys at the Santa Ana Zoo

It was a fun holiday season participating in some of our favorite traditions, making some new traditions, and just hanging out and being together. After a very busy Fall and holiday season, though, we’re ready to coast into the new year and slow down a bit (as much as we can slow down with three active children).

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An Awesome Hawaiian Thanksgiving at the Aulani

We went on an awesome family vacation to Oahu, Hawaii, during Thanksgiving week…two months ago…in 2019. I am just now getting around to writing about it. I don’t think that anyone outside of our immediate family really cares to read about our goings-on, but I like to write about the things we do, especially the vacations, so that 1) my memories stay strong and 2) so that if we ever go back, I have detailed notes on where we might want to go again (or not!) and what we might want to do again (or not!). Every once in awhile, someone else has an interest in going somewhere we went or doing something we did and so it is nice to be able to just send them a link to one of my blog posts if they ask for recommendations and information. Anyway…that’s a long paragraph to say we went to Hawaii awhile ago and here is my belated recap of it:

Planning
Months before our trip, on a recommendation from a friend, I booked a 1-bedroom villa at the Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa, through David’s Vacation Club Rentals. At the time I booked, this was cheaper than booking directly on the Aulani website, however, the rates did go down on the Aulani website in the Fall. Booking through DVC did give us free parking, though, so in the end, I think we still saved some money by going this route. We booked our trip using someone else’s Disney timeshare points, and so we were treated as if we were Disney Vacation Club members. When I booked our trip, I knew that some of the resort pools would be undergoing renovations while we were there and we would get a $50/day resort credit during our stay (too bad $50 doesn’t go very far with Disney!).

Prior to our trip, I also booked everything else…rental car, multiple dinner reservations, a family photography session, and a train ride at the Dole Plantation. I pre-registered the girls at Aunty’s Beach House. I set up our hotel address to use with Instacart for grocery delivery (note that groceries in Hawaii are expensive!). I picked out our Thanksgiving meal recipes. I bought clothes, shoes, and kid items that we’d need for the trip, including coordinating outfits for our family photography session. I checked us into the resort online and tried my best to pack as lightly as possible (swimsuits, sundresses, and flip flops!).

Getting There & Exploring the Resort
Our family of five flew from San Diego to Honolulu and my Mom, who joined us on the trip, flew across the country and Pacific Ocean from Detroit. Our outbound flight on Hawaiian Airlines was great – we had enough space, the kids were relatively well behaved and calm, and I even watched a movie on the flight (say what?!). We scheduled our flights so that we had enough time to get our luggage, pick up our rental minivan, install our three car seats, and then pick my Mom up at the airport curb shortly after she landed.

On the way to the resort, we stopped at Poke On Da Run for takeout. When we did finally arrive (the resort is about 30 minutes away from the airport), we were greeted in true Hawaiian and Disney fashion with leis and the aloha spirit. The entire resort was already decorated for Christmas and everywhere we looked, great attention had been paid to all details.

Arrival at the Aulani

After we settled into our awesome villa, we walked around the resort. One thing that I really appreciated was that the resort put a big emphasis on Hawaiian culture and a very small emphasis on Disney. We dipped our toes in the ocean lagoon (well, William, in his excitement, ran straight into the ocean in his clothes) and then the kids fell asleep hard and early. My Mom, who had flown for over 11 hours and been up for over 24 hours, I think, was already such a huge help with the kids on day one and we were so very grateful to have her with us. This was her (and Lillian and William’s) first trip to Hawaii and we were all excited for the fun week ahead!

A few notes about our villa: first of all, it was, as I said, awesome. Yes, it was crazy expensive. But for that money, we had a gorgeous and expansive ocean view, Dan and I got our own bedroom, and my Mom and the girls all had ample sleeping space in the living room (there was a queen-size pullout sofa and a twin-size Murphy bed). The bathroom was big and had two parts to it – one with a closet, deep jetted tub, and sink – and one with a shower, toilet, and sink. This worked out very well for us, as we put William’s Pack n’ Play (provided by the hotel – with linens) in the tub part of the bathroom. We had two balconies that looked out over the pools and ocean (we were on a high floor, so our view was really awesome), a kitchen (which helped keep our food costs somewhat under control), high chair, and a washer/dryer (which helped keep our suitcases somewhat under control). The only negative part about our villa was that since we were staying in it using Disney Vacation Club points, we didn’t have daily maid service; instead, we had biweekly trash and towel service.

One way that we got to really know and see the resort was through two scavenger hunts that we did with the girls in search of Menehune. Vivian, especially, loved this, just as she loved completing the scavenger hunt at our resort in Colorado last summer. After checking out a tablet in the Pau Hana Room – Community Hall, we followed its (many, many) clues around the lobby and pools to interactively search for Menehune. We were very impressed with the digital aspects of these hunts. We were only allowed to check out the tablets for an hour at a time, so it took us a few nights to finish the scavenger hunts (our progress was saved for us, though) and provided us with a great after-dinner activity for a few nights.

Vivian Searching for Menehune

We spent a lot of money to stay at the Aulani, so we wanted to actually stay there (instead of using it as a base solely to explore other areas of the island). In addition to spending time at the pools and ocean lagoon, we also let the girls rent two Disney movies each night from the Community Hall to watch in our villa, listened to evening firepit storytelling, relaxed with live entertainment (which we could hear from our balconies each night), and attended other daily events at the resort like a live outdoor production of Moana.

The Girls, After a Live Moana Production 

Babysitting
Aunty’s Beach House is an awesome, FREE, all day onsite childcare facility for kids ages 3-12. If we didn’t have my Mom with us, if William was old enough to use it, and if we didn’t feel guilty about leaving our kids behind on a family vacation, we would have used it even more than we did. They have open play in the mornings for kids of all ages, so on many mornings we’d all go there so that the girls could show us their favorite things to do there and William could also play there. Dan and I were simply wowed by this amenity.

Vivian Hula Dancing at Aunty’s Beach House 

Swimming
The pools at the resort were top notch. But it wasn’t just pools…there were water slides, a lazy river, a splash pad, hot tubs, and an awesome (I know I’ve used that adjective many times already, but it’s absolutely appropriate!) kids waterplay structure. And, of course, the ocean lagoon. We spent much of our time hopping from water activity to water activity. Vivian, at 5.5 years old, is very capable of swimming independently on her own, so it was easy to hang out with her in the pools. Lillian is still learning how to swim and, well, William doesn’t know anything, so it was definitely more work to be at the pools and ocean with them. But still, it was so fun.

Family Picture in the Wailana Pool

Dining
In between pool hops, we’d grab shave ice or a tropical cocktail. We used our room key to easily purchase anything and everything around the resort (convenience that equaled expense!).

At the end of our first full day in Hawaii, we went to a character buffet dinner at one of the resort’s restaurants – Makahiki — The Bounty of the Islands. The girls loved this and the characters that they met (Stitch, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, and Pluto), but William was super freaked out by the characters. Every time he saw one, he immediately started screaming. Luckily, his character dining experience was free!

Character Dinner 

Dan and I went on two dinner dates and one cocktail date, thanks to my Mom. I booked our first dinner date on a recommendation from a friend who used to live on Oahu. We walked next door to the Four Seasons and enjoyed a romantic and quiet dinner at Noe. We couldn’t help but laugh at the huge difference in atmosphere between the Aulani and the Four Seasons. The Aulani is vibrant, energetic, and full of happy noise and families. The Four Seasons was quiet. So very, very, very quiet. It was calm, painted white, and serene. We loved our dinner there, but were glad that we were not staying there with our three crazy kids! In addition to Noe, we also ate dinner one night at the Aulani’s nice restaurant, and had drinks at The ‘Ōlelo Room.

Dinner Date at Noe 

After spending one morning in Waikiki during the week, we all lunched and drank at the Kona Brewing Company at the Koko Marina Pub. We went to their main restaurant on Kona when we were there in 2015. We had great views of the marina and Koko Head (another hike I want to do on Oahu someday!) while we dined.

Cheers at Kona Brewing! 

Relaxing
On Thanksgiving day, while my Mom prepped our meal (a sheet pan dinner, rolls, pecan pie bars, and chocolate pie), the littles napped, and Vivian played at Aunty’s Beach House, Dan and I spent a few hours at the very tranquil onsite Laniwai spa. I got a facial and Dan got a massage and we spent a lot of time relaxing in the outdoor hydrotherapy garden. It was glorious. We left with our own custom body polish from the Pulu Bar and calm and thankful attitudes. It was the perfect way to spend Thanksgiving afternoon (you know, besides actually spending it with all of our family).

Riding the Dole Pineapple Express Train
On one our our two planned outside-the-resort excursions, we visited the Dole Pineapple Plantation. While there, we walked through the (free) gardens, rode the Pineapple Express Train, and ate foods made with pineapple (like ice cream). Admittedly, this is a tourist trap. It was overrun with vacationers, housed a huge (like, really huge) gift shop, and mostly existed to sell you things. We did enjoy the train ride, but it’s not a place that I would recommend adding to your “must see” list on Oahu.

Riding the Pineapple Express 

Seeing the North Shore & Eating Shrimp
After our Pineapple Express Train ride, we kept driving north to see the famed North Shore and grab lunch at a shrimp truck in Haleiwa. After being out in the unrelenting heat at the pineapple plantation, it sounded nice to cool off at the North Shore. And it was. But getting lunch was not so nice. There was no parking, it was crowded, and most trucks only took cash. It probably all would have been fine, but once you add (tired, hungry, cranky) kids into that equation, it just equals frustration for everyone. The garlic shrimp, though, was sooooo good!

North Shore Views 

Hiking Diamond Head
I had never hiked Diamond Head before and my Mom was eager to hike it with me, so on our second planned outside-the-resort excursion day, she and I hiked 0.8 miles to the top of the crater while Dan took the kids to the Waikīkī Aquarium. We each brought a bottle of water on the hike and were prepared for a strenuous uphill hike, but we were pleasantly surprised that the hike was not all that difficult, dangerous, or long. It was quite crowded, of course, but the views along the way and at the top were worth it.

Hiking Diamond Head 

Visiting the Waikiki Aquarium
While my Mom and I hiked Diamond Head, Dan took the kids to the very small Waikīkī Aquarium. In the amount of time that it took us to complete the less-than-2-mile hike, he drove to and parked at the aquarium, saw the aquarium in its entirety, lost William’s shoes, loaded the kids back into the minivan, and drove back to the Diamond Head State Monument entrance to pick Mom and me up. This is another place that should not be on your “must see” Oahu list, but it did provide a little bit of kid entertainment when it was needed.

Vivian and an Octopus at the Aquarium

Departing & Recommendations
After six nights at the Aulani, we have nothing but great things to say about it. If you’re willing and able to fork over the money to stay there, do it. You won’t regret it. We had a ton of fun, despite still having to care for and chase after three small children.

Before departing on our return flight on Alaska Airlines (which was not nearly as nice as Hawaiian Airlines), we ate lunch at Monkeypod Kitchen across the street from the Aulani. This was a delicious last vacation meal and while we were eating we got to listen to live music (in between kids crying and whining).

On our vacation, we were able to experience nearly everything that the resort offered, enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in our villa kitchen, explore some of the island, get to know Ko Olina through oceanfront walks, and make many happy memories together (and some not so happy ones, like Dan’s late night visit to an ER one night, but in the end, he was fine, and that’s certainly not what we want to remember about this trip!). We loved it so much that we want to go back again someday when all of the kids are old enough to go to Aunty’s Beach House and swim independently. Until then, Aloha!

Aloha Hawaii!

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Veteran’s Day Weekend in Wine Country & the East Bay

We started a new tradition (we hope) this year and flew up to Oakland over the long Veteran’s Day weekend. While there, we visited Dan’s parents and brother and – the best part of all – escaped for a parents’ only night away to Napa/Sonoma. This was my first night ever away from William, but at nearly 19 months old, he was fine with it and I was ready for some rest. Grandma and Grandpa watched our three kids for the 24 hours that we were gone (this is the part that we’re hoping becomes a tradition!).

After packing everything the night before our trip, waking up super early, driving to the airport, getting all three kids through checkin and security by myself, flying up to Oakland, taking the BART Connector and then BART to Dublin/Pleasanton, and then waiting on the curb for Dan’s parents to pick us up and take us back to their house, well, I already needed a vacation from our vacation! I got the kids settled, grabbed some car keys, and then left to enjoy a quiet lunch by myself reading and then a manicure and pedicure. After I regrouped, I helped put the kids down for their naps and then Dan and I drove up to Napa and Sonoma.

Our first stop was the Roots Run Deep Winery. We’ve liked their Educated Guess wine for years, so when we drove by the winery that makes it, we turned around and made our way to the tasting room, even though the sign outside of it said “tastings by appointment only.” We enjoyed a relaxing tasting on their wrap-around porch right before sunset. Perfect.

First Stop in Napa – Roots Run Deep Winery

We spent our one night away at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa. We enjoyed a luxurious dinner in their AAA Four-Diamond restaurant and then a full night of sleep!

Well Rested Parents!

After a wonderful breakfast in downtown Sonoma, we toured and tasted wines at Benziger Winery. This winery operates using biodynamic farming principles, which was especially fascinating to me since I watched The Biggest Little Farm last August. In fact, Benziger used the same consultant, Alan York, who was highlighted in the movie!

Touring the Benziger Wine Caves

Our 24 hours was up, so we headed back to Dan’s parents’ house to rejoin the chaos. We spent the rest of the weekend hanging out with family, taking the kids on a walk, bowling with Uncle Alex, celebrating Dan’s dad’s 71st birthday, and exploring the Mt. Diablo summit.

Bowling with Uncle Alex

Mt. Diablo Summit

Hiking the Mary Bowerman Trail

Hiking the Mary Bowerman Trail

It was especially good that we had this weekend away to relax a little bit and enjoy some special time together because the second we got home (literally!), Dan started writhing in pain and puking. I rushed him off to the ER where he was diagnosed with a kidney stone. He’s spent the past ten days in the ER (twice), the doctor’s office, hospital (he had surgery), and recovering at home. Hopefully he’s feeling much better very quickly, as we leave on our next trip (Oahu, Hawaii!!) in two days!

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All We Did This Fall

Technically, it’s still Fall, but we mostly crammed all of our main Fall activities into late September and all of October, so that’s what this blog post is going to be focused on. Every year we do a few fun favorite Fall activities and a few new ones.

Disneyland
Dan’s parents and his sister and her family flew into Orange County in September to spend some time at Disneyland. We joined up with them one day to ride the rides, eat the treats, and make some special family memories. You can read more about our day on Dan’s mom’s blog. The park was already decorated for Halloween and so we, of course, had to take some iconic and festive pictures there during our visit.

Halloween at the Happiest Place on Earth

SeaWorld
We’ve been trying to get as much use as possible out of our annual SeaWorld passes and so I visited once with my sister, niece, and the girls in September, and we visited once as a family with the Turners in November. Our trip there with Anna and Ava was especially nice as it wasn’t crowded and the girls got to participate in some Halloween activities at the park (and us adults got to drink some seasonal beers that were on tap!).

Pumpkin Princess at SeaWorld

Irvine Park Railroad Pumpkin Patch
On September 30, we went on our our first seasonal trip to one of our favorite pumpkin patches. My sister and niece were in town visiting us and we took just the littles with us, since Vivian is required to be in school now. We had a lovely afternoon and William even got to ride his first pony!

Train Ride

William’s First Pony Ride

Dresses
The girls started wearing their wardrobe of Halloween dresses on October 1 and didn’t stop until October 31.

Pumpkin Dresses

Acorn Day
For the second year in a row, we went to Acorn Day at O’Neill Regional Park. Last year, we had a really great time at Acorn Day and I was excited to repeat that this year. Unfortunately, it was very hot this year, more crowded, and Lillian was being especially incorrigible. You can’t win them all!

Acorn Day

Home Depot Pumpkins
Every year since Vivian was 6 months old, we’ve done a Home Depot run in October and propped or sat the kids next to their pumpkin and straw display for a photo. Now it’s an established tradition!

Pile o’ Pumpkins at Home Depot

Pumpkin City
Another one of our favorite pumpkin patches is Pumpkin City. This year, I took all three kids by myself while Dan was in Phoenix at a conference for his work. Vivian’s school’s PTA was having a fundraiser at the pumpkin patch and so we also went on this specific day to support the PTA.

Pumpkin Lights

Getting Tall

Tanaka Farms
Vivian was lucky to be invited to visit a local farm’s pumpkin patch with her BFF. The girls went on a wagon ride, watched the pumpkin cannon, ran around the patch, and got their face painted.

BFFs at the Pumpkin Patch

Zoomars Petting Zoo
While Vivian was at Tanaka Farms, we took the littles to the pumpkin patch at Zoomars. We’ve taken the kids here many times before, but never during their pumpkin patch. William was not at all into it, but Lil had fun riding the train and horse, petting the guinea pigs, and playing with the goats.

Zoomars

Boo at the Zoo
For the first time ever, we went to a “Boo at the Zoo” event. We are members at the Santa Ana Zoo and attended their event one warm Sunday evening. We really enjoyed this new activity! We couldn’t see many animals since it was already dark out, but the kids had a ton of fun walking the trick-or-treat trail and we were happy to be somewhere that wasn’t overcrowded.

Boo at the Zoo

Fall Festival
To support another fundraiser for the PTA at Vivian’s school, we attended the school’s Fall Festival. The kids ate, bounced, played games, danced, and walked a small trick-or-treat trail. I even won a gift card to a restaurant in a raffle!

Fall Festival 2019

Halloween Carnival
Our community hosted a carnival at our clubhouse and I took Vivian and William while Lillian and Dan napped. The kids rode rides, jumped in the bounce house, and picked out small pumpkins.

Fast Ferris Wheel Ride

Little Pumpkin

Carving Pumpkins
Just like every other year that we’ve carved pumpkins (we skipped this activity last year), Dan and I carved the pumpkins while the kids played around us. The girls still won’t touch the pumpkin guts. This year they did draw faces on the pumpkins and Dan carved what they drew.

Carved Pumpkins – And New Halloween Outdoor Decorations

Neighborhood Potluck
As per another tradition, we got together with we our wonderful neighbors for our annual potluck and chili cookoff. This year, Dan and I even dressed up in costumes. I was told that I was dressed as “Unikitty!”

Couple Costume

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
We recorded this classic 30-minute show and, just like in years’ past, watched it over and over and over. We generally only let the girls watch TV some on the weekends, but for this show, we made an exception. By the end of the month, Vivian had memorized most of the lines from the show! William even sat still every now and then to watch a few minutes of it (as long as he was also simultaneously occupied stuffing food into his face).

William Watching The Great Pumpkin

Preschool Parades & Parties
For the past two years, Vivian participated in Halloween parades and parties at preschool. This year, it was Lillian’s turn! (Vivian’s school hosted a STEAM-o-ween for the kindergartners during the day, which I volunteered at, but other than that, the school didn’t host any Halloween events.)

Parading Cinderella

Halloween Party

Trick-or-Treating
Finally, on October 31, we celebrated the BIG day by dressing up and trick-or-treating. William briefly put on a duck costume that Vivian wore four years ago, but he switched back into his bat outfit for the rest of the night. Lillian dressed as Rapunzel, but one street over from our house, she said that her costume was too itchy and she abruptly took it off and spent the rest of the night trick-or-treating in her panties, pink cowgirl boots, and pink John Deere hooded sweatshirt. Vivian dressed as a butterfly princess. And once again, Dan and I dressed as LEGO characters.

Dan on Halloween at Work

The Chambers Kids – Ready for Tricks and Treats!

William LOVED Trick-or-Treating!

Happy Halloween!

In between all of the activities, we listened to a lot of kids Halloween music in the car and on Alexa. Dan bought and put up a lot of new outdoor Halloween decorations. I hosted my annual Pumpkin Dinner with a group of girlfriends where I cooked and served pumpkin lasagne. And I baked all sorts of pumpkin and Halloween goodies – cake, cheesecake, cookies, cutouts, pumpkin energy balls, bread, bark, and more. I think it really is safe to say – we did it all this Fall!

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Annual August Ohio Pilgrimage

It was that time of the year – very hot, very humid, the week that preschool is closed, and the week before the new school year begins. For us now, that all signifies that a trip to Ohio to visit my family is on the horizon. This year, since Dan had a business leadership training trip scheduled in Las Vegas, he did not come with us. The three kids and I are used to traveling alone, though, so it wasn’t a big deal. As in year’s past (2018, 2017), we had some mild drama with our flight to Ohio – the airline managed to lose our luggage for two days (on a DIRECT flight), but since we were staying at my Mom’s house, we weren’t without anything that we absolutely needed. I heard one woman mutter to her friend, as I ushered my three small children on to the plane, “I’m so glad that I’m not her,” but honestly, since I got to actually watch an entire movie on the flight (while flying alone with three kids!), it was one of my better cross-country flights with kids. (Unbelievably, I also got to watch another entire movie on the way home to California.) My sister and her daughter flew in, also, from Colorado and we all settled in for a week of family visits and Ohio fun.

Park Play
We took the kids to one new and one old (to us) park. It was crazy hot and sticky out, but the kids still had fun running, climbing, and exploring.

Maumee River at Farnsworth Metropark

Sliding Cousins at Helena Village Park

Sandusky County Fair
We certainly couldn’t miss a trip to the county fair, no matter how hot it was outside. This was the fair that I grew up going to and participating in every year.

Lillian Loved Petting the Fair Animals

Fair Rides

The Highlight of My Dad’s Summer – The Fair with All of His Grandkids

African Safari Wildlife Park
I’ve been wanting to take the kids to this drive-through and walk-through wildlife park where you get to pet and feed the animals, but since every other year that I’ve been in Ohio, I’ve had an infant who screams incessantly in the car, this wasn’t possible – until this year! The girls loved helping Nana drive the car through the park and they also loved feeding the animals who quite literally stuck their heads in our car windows. At first William was completely freaked out to have a deer’s head an inch away from him in our car, but he, too, soon found fun in the activity. The girls also got to ride a camel and all of them got to feed (or, in William’s case, chase) the budgie birds.

Girls’ First Camel Ride

Feeding the Budgie Birds

Beers and Babies
After our safari expedition one day, we went to a really beautiful and very kid-friendly brewery on Catawba Island.

Beer Snuggles

Brewery Baby in a Box

Children’s Museum
One day when my Mom had to work, my sister and I took the kids to an indoor children’s museum at a nearly empty local mall. The weather had changed and it was cooler and drizzly outside, so it was the perfect day to play inside. The museum had great sight lines, lots of fun areas to explore, and was well equipped.

Driving Miss A

Fun at the Children’s Museum

Covered in Babies at the Museum

Family Time
Obviously, the main reason for our trip was to visit with family, and we did that with an evening BBQ, morning brunch, pizza and beer at the local hangout, dinners, and more. We spent a lot of time with my Mom, sister, and niece; visited my Dad in the nursing home; caught up with my aunts, uncles, and cousins on both sides of my family; and enjoyed way too brief of a visit with my brother and his wife. The kids loved all of the family attention.

Damschroder Pizza Night

Sweet Second Cousins

William’s First ATV Ride with Papa

Evening Visits with Catch Me (He’s Kind of Like Family!)

Goodbye Ohio!
After a week in Ohio, we went back to California. My Dad is continuing to slowly heal from his heart attack, bypass surgery, complications, and toe amputations. A week after we went back to California, he was released from the nursing home. He still can’t put weight on his right foot and he still needs a lot of physical and cardiac therapy, but he’s alive and improving, and we can truly be nothing except grateful. We’re not sure when we’ll be in Ohio again, but we’re excited to see my sister and niece again very soon when they visit us in California and also super excited to see my Mom in Hawaii for Thanksgiving.

Loaded Up to Fly Home

Like most people, I probably remember the most and build the most memories through photos. This trip, though, tucked a few memories into my heart that have no accompanying pictures. One really rainy evening, right before bath time, I told all three kids that they could strip down naked and play outside in the pouring rain. The girls could not believe that I was shooing them outside without any clothes on to jump in puddles, catch raindrops on their tongues, and dance under the overflowing gutters. This is something that you can only do when you’re in the country, surrounded by corn fields.

Ohio: Summer 2019

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Colorado Resort Weekend

In mid-July, our entire family of five flew to Denver, Colorado, to spend a long weekend at the new Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center with my sister and her family (they live less than an hour away from the resort). We had a very fun weekend at this gorgeous resort and we are all hoping to make this an annual summer tradition!

Travel to Denver
After driving to the Orange County airport airport, flying to Denver, walking to the airport light rail station (and arriving just in time to watch the train pull out of the station, not to return for another 30 minutes), taking the 11:30pm train to a station closer to our hotel, and then riding a midnight shuttle with three sleeping children from the train station to the hotel, we arrived. Whew. We checked into our room and then collapsed into our beds.

Flying Children

Hotel Exploration
On our first full day in Colorado, we explored the massive resort. Dan described this resort as something Cabela’s would build if they built hotels. The resort is so big that there is an app dedicated just to helping people find their way around it. Think Vegas hotel big.

Exploring the Kuckelman Caboose in the Grand Lodge

Family Picture in the Grand Lodge

Pools
My sister and niece joined us and we spent our days at the resort enjoying the massive pool facilities – multiple pools, hot tubs, water slides, lazy river, splash pad, and water fountains. The kids had a blast, as did we! As everyone knows, kids can swim for like 10 hours straight, and ours (especially Vivian, who no longer naps, and is a pretty good swimmer for a 5 year old) are no exception. Our kids were too little to go down the two big indoor water slides (us adults went down them, though!), but Vivian loved going down the outdoor water slide by herself. When we got tired of one pool or slide or fountain, we moved on to another. Or, the adults got a frozen drink and watched the kids play in a different pool area. This resort had so many pool amenities and catered to family fun – we were wowed, for sure. The girls even got to go to two “dive-in” movies at the pools in the evenings after dinner.

Ready to Swim!

Lighted Splash Pad Fun

Sleeping Babies in the Lazy River

Fountain Fun

Desserts at an Evening “Dive-In” Movie

I think that my fondest memories of our pool time at the resort are the afternoons spent with Vivian and my sister while everyone else napped and when William fell asleep on me as we floated the lazy river.

Miniature Golf
When we needed a break from the water, we grabbed some clubs and went putt-putting. Each child had a…um…unique approach to getting their golf ball into the holes. Vivian’s technique helped her score a hole-in-one, though, when we also went putt-putt golfing at the Denver airport while waiting for our return flight home!

Mama and Daughter at Hole #9

Family Putt-Putt

Hole in One!

Alice in Wonderland Adventures
The resort was hosting a “Summerfest” event themed with Alice in Wonderland. Alice and her friends hosted a daily “Splash Party” at the pool with a lot of fun games (that Vivian loved to watch other kids play, but refused to participate in herself). We also went to breakfast with Alice, the Mad Hatter, and the White Rabbit. And we all marched around the resort searching for and solving clues in the Cheshire Cat’s Colorado Adventure Scavenger Hunt (one of Vivian’s favorite activities on this trip).

Breakfast with Alice

Breakfast with the White Rabbit

Cheshire Cat’s Colorado Adventure Scavenger Hunt

Family Time
When we weren’t exploring, swimming, golfing, or scavenger hunting, we were, well, mostly eating! We ate at the resort’s Monte Jade, Vista Montagne, Mountain Pass Sports Bar, Rockies Marketplace, and Arapahoe Springs Bar & Grill restaurants. They all were good and they all were expensive! On Saturday night, our brother-in-law brought s’mores ingredients to the hotel when he visited and we quickly roasted marshmallows over one of the outdoor firepits at the tail end of a storm.

Before checking out, we, of course, had to get a picture of these four cute kids. They’ll be reunited again in August in Ohio and again in September in California, which makes my heart very happy.

Cousin Love

Travel Home
After a whirlwind, yet relaxing (if that’s possible?!), three days, we again took the shuttle back to the light rail back to the airport back to California back to our truck and back home to our beds.

Traveling Home

Like I said at the beginning of this post, we LOVED the Gaylord Rockies Resort and hope to go back again next year. If you’re looking for a one-stop travel destination with kids, we highly recommend checking this place out!

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