More Snow Before the Slow Down

Days before California, along with much of the United States, was locked down and nearly everything was closed and cancelled due to the rapid outbreak and spread of COVID-19, I took Vivian to Snow Valley Mountain Resort in our local SoCal mountains for a day of skiing. She loves skiing so much and did so well her last two days on the slopes and I wanted to continue to build on that. We were having a wet March near the coast, which translates to a snowy March in the mountains, and so it was a good time to go (I did not yet know how restricted movement and life would become in the days and weeks (please not months!) ahead).

Ready to Ski!

I signed Vivian up for a morning ski lesson at the resort’s Children’s Learning Center. Growing up, my parents always put us in morning ski lessons and then skied with us in the afternoon and I wanted to do that with her on this day. We think it’s very important for her to take a lesson every time she goes skiing so that she continues to improve. Also, I am not a ski instructor; I’m a mom. Trying to do both just leads to frustration for everyone. So, she went off to ski school and I spent the morning skiing by myself. Unfortunately for me, on this day, the clouds were very low and viability was, at times, only a few feet. Also, only three chairlifts (1, 6, and 13) and a handful of runs on the lower part of the mountain were open. It was perfect for Viv, but I got bored pretty quickly skiing by myself. Plus, I could hardly see where I was going and did not have any sense of what was where on the mountain since it was my first time skiing there. Anyways…Vivian…ski school: They put her in a group with two or three other little kids. I told them that she had just been skiing in the Sierras and was quickly gaining skills. Still, when I went to check in on her after a few solitary runs of my own, she was still on the small magic carpet right outside the ski school. It was so obvious that she did not belong in the same class with the other newbies. Thankfully, the instructors saw this also and so, for the remaining two hours of her class, she got a private lesson from a wonderful and experienced ski instructor. He took her all over the mountain – on both green and blue runs – and, by the end of her lesson, he was very impressed with and proud of her (as was I!). She was doing a great job turning and even starting to do some hockey stops. And her confidence was high. I was, once again, thrilled for her.

At the Top of Chair 1

Awful Visibility, But Still Skiing

After her lesson, we ate lunch in the lodge, and then we spent the rest of the afternoon skiing together. She continued to do awesome and I was giddy with excitement over her progress. She could get on the chairlift, get off the chairlift, ski down the hill, and get back in line to reboard the chairlift without me helping her at all. I laughed as she zoomed off the chairlift and took off down the hill. She skied the entire mountain that was open – she definitely wasn’t just confined to the bunny hill. I had so much fun with her – it was definitely a special day.

Riding the Chairlift

Mama and Daughter Skiing

All of the ski resorts are shut down now and so I doubt we’ll get in anymore days on the slopes this season. I’m already looking forward to many more days skiing together next season, though!

Until Next Season!

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Frozen II: Chambers Family Edition

For the second year in a row, our family road-tripped up to Mammoth Lakes for a “snow vacation.” We planned this trip in early January with another family and were anticipating a long weekend with lots of snow. In 2019, Mammoth Mountain recorded one of their biggest February months ever with 207″ of snow. This year, less snow was falling, but we were still hopeful that there would be a few feet of fresh snow for us to enjoy. But, week after week, as we approached our vacation, no snow fell. In 2020, for the first time in recorded history, absolutely no new snow fell in February. What.the.heck?

Even though we didn’t have any fresh snow for our vacation (except for the morning that we left to go back home), there was still snow on the mountain. It was a stark contrast from last year, though, and there was no snow in town. Still, we all got to go skiing and snowboarding and we took full advantage of the snow that was there. We had a wonderful time with our friends, still got to ski/ride across the entire mountain, and Vivian progressed in her skiing drastically.

Day 1: Drive North, Park Play, Welcome Center, Pizza
We left our house at 6:21am for our six-hour drive north. I am not a morning person at all, but it’s a point of pride for me now to leave the house early for our road trips. It took a lot of careful and extensive planning and preparing for all five of us to be buckled up and in the truck at that early hour, but by God, we did it.

We got coffee at Starbucks and then drove, drove, drove. It took nearly no time at all for the kids to start asking when we’d be there. They are not really used to long road trips. In fact, the girls kept asking why we weren’t flying there instead. However, they all actually did really well in the truck. We have a very limited media policy (TV only on weekends and vacations; no tablet use at all except on airplanes and by Vivian during weekend nap time to work on math/reading programs for school; no phone use at all), so the kids did not have a tablet or phone to entertain them. They’ve never used a device in the car, though, so they don’t even know that it could be an option. Instead, we listened to a lot of music, played games, napped, and snacked. After about five hours, we stopped in Bishop at Schat’s Bakery for a little break and some homemade (or, well, bakery-made) bread. An hour later, we checked into our rented condo.

Ye-haw!

Our friends weren’t arriving until much later that night, so after we unpacked, we went to Shady Rest Park for what we thought would be some snow playLast year, we went sledding at this park. This year, there was no snow on the sledding hill – wah!

No Snow for Sledding

After some halfhearted attempts to make a snowman, we gave up and drove over to the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center. Last year, there was too much snow to even walk around the outside of the Center, but this year we were able to take a walk and explore more.

Inside the Welcome Center – Don’t Feed the Bears!

By now, Dan and I were ready to put the kids to bed and settle down with our books, but we had to feed them. So we settled for a few beers instead of some rest and took the kids out for pizza and pasta.

We did get the kids bathed and to bed at an early time – well before our friends arrived at 9pm. When our kids woke up in the middle of the night, though, they were so excited to see their friends next to them that they all thought it would be perfectly fine to start playing together at 3:30am. After night 1, I put some hard restrictions in place surrounding the time that they were allowed to leave their room and we all got a *little* more sleep on nights 2 and 3.

Day 2: Skiing at Mammoth
At this point, I pause to remember what ski trips were like pre-kids. We’d get up in the morning, grab our gear, drive to the mountain, and just start skiing. No big deal. Oh.my.gosh. Now, it’s like running a marathon before you even get your first ski run in. First you have to appropriately dress and feed all the children. Then you need to make sure that they have all of their gear. Then there are child care dropoffs, ski school dropoffs, rental fittings and pickups, and making sure that all the kids are where they need to be (which is never all in the same place together) on time. Then you remember that you made sure that they had all of their gear, but you forgot half of yours, so someone needs to run back to the condo. Finally, you park far, far away because all the good spots got taken while you were dealing with all the kids stuff, haul your stuff to the lifts, and then, finally, hours after you arrived at the mountain, take your first run. And don’t even get me started on the cost of taking three kids skiing with you…

Skiing Sisters

Anyways, once we got all the kids where they were supposed to be, Dan and I, along with our friends, had a great day on the mountain. The snow wasn’t fresh and there were even some bare spots and closed trails, but overall, the snow was decent. It was a little like Spring skiing, without the warmer temperatures. We stopped for a beer and lunch in the Main Lodge and peeked in on the big kids at ski school.

Beautiful Day on the Slopes – Sans Kids!

Vivian at Ski School

We picked up the big kids (including Vivian) after their full day of ski school in the late afternoon and then took them on a run down a bunny hill. Vivian immediately informed us that she did not need any help getting on or off the chairlift.

Dan and Vivian on the Chairlift

When she skied off the chairlift, she pointed in the direction that she wanted to go, and she went! Even after being very tired after a long day of lessons, she was doing awesome! I was so impressed that she retained some of what she learned a year ago and built on it. And oh my – she LOVES skiing. I was just giddy with happiness for her.

After our green run, we picked up the little kids from child care and took a group gondola ride to the top of Mammoth Mountain.

Mammoth Kids

Chamberses at the Top of Mammoth Mountain, 2020

After a full and long day, we ate dinner back at our condo and all fell asleep fairly early.

Day 3: Skiing at Mammoth & June
On our second day on the slopes, Dan, Lil, William, and I went to Mammoth, and Viv accompanied our friends to nearby June Mountain. William went to child care all day, Lil took another half-day morning ski lesson (that, honestly, was too much for her – she only lasted a little while before she went in for hot cocoa and then joined the other child care kids for a gondola ride to the top of the mountain), Viv took another full-day ski lesson, and Dan and I enjoyed a full day of skiing all over the mountain by ourselves and with some Baker Ranch friends who also happened to be at Mammoth at the same time as us. We ate lunch at The Mill with our friends and then did a quick run up Chair 23 right before they closed many lifts at the top due to high winds.

Skiing with Woolly on Day #3

Although we didn’t get to see Vivian ski at all on this day, we were told that she was advancing and doing really well. She was independently skiing green runs and even went down her first blue run. We are thrilled that she’s learning how to ski well so young!

BFF Hot Cocoa Break at June Mountain

On this night, I made dinner for the gang – baked chicken, roasted vegetables from our biweekly farmer’s box, and parsley noodles. And then, once again, we all collapsed in exhaustion.

Day 4: Snow Play & Drive Home
After getting 0″ of snow in February, we woke up on March 1 to 9″ of the fresh stuff. The kids were able to play in the snow in the condo complex. I also pulled them on the sled to Mammoth Creek Park next door. There was a mixed bag of emotion in the snow – from excitement to screaming and crying. It was probably good that Dan picked the kids and me up directly from the park to begin our drive back to SoCal.

Snow and Sled Play!

We, once again, powered through our drive home, only stopping once for gas. It was a great weekend and I’m so excited to continue to build upon Viv’s ski skills over the next few years!

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A Cold Ohio MLK Weekend

William and I went on our first trip of 2020 – to Ohio – in January. I know – it doesn’t really make sense. We went because my sister and her family had a break in their farming and ranching work and they were flying to Ohio from Colorado. Since they were going to be in Ohio, and my brother and SIL were going to be at my parents’ houses also, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go home and see everyone at once. William still flies for free, so he came along with me. The girls stayed in California with Dan to keep up with school and Spanish lessons.

I have not had the best of luck when flying across the country to Ohio (especially by myself) with the kids. There was that time with Dan and Vivian when I was pregnant that we got rerouted to St. Louis and then ultimately stranded in Chicago in November with no luggage or winter coats due to weather. That time I was by myself with both girls when I was newly pregnant and our plane’s landing gear wouldn’t close after takeoff and we were rerouted to LAX. That time I cried because I was 33 weeks pregnant and flying by myself with Lillian as a lap child and Vivian as a toddler and I was so uncomfortable and thought that the flight was never ever going to end. That time I was by myself with a 2 year old, 4 year old, and 4 month old and got stranded overnight in Chicago with no luggage due to weather. And that time that I flew direct and the airline still lost all of our luggage for two days. And now, once again, I had plans to fly across the country alone with a baby – in the winter – through Chicago. Oh, also, it happened to be on the same day that a huge snowstorm was moving through the Midwest. Luck was not on my side!

This time, though, I was prepared. I packed extra clothes for both of us in my backpack; I refused to check a bag and instead lugged our suitcase on the plane with me; and I carried our winter coats with me on board the plane (this meant that I had to walk through three airports carrying a toddler on my back/front (I didn’t bring a stroller), coats in my arms, and a backpack in my arms/on my back – all while dragging our suitcase). If I got stranded in Chicago, I was not going to be without coats and luggage this time!

We flew over the snowstorm in our path and landed in Chicago at 1pm. There was no snow on the ground, but all of the big yellow snowplows were lined up next to the runways ready and waiting for it. I kept obsessively checking the radar. We boarded our small regional jet and took off from Chicago at 3pm. The snowstorm was right behind us. Within hours, O’Hare had issued a ground stop for all flights. Over 800 flights were cancelled in Chicago. But not ours. We had made it out in the nick of time and landed on time in Toledo. That night, the snowstorm rolled through Ohio and when we awoke the next morning from our safe and cozy beds, a beautiful white (and cold) world awaited us. Perhaps my luck has changed!

Exploring the New Family Lounge at O’Hare

We – And Our Luggage! – Made it to Toledo On Time

California Boy in Snow

I spent most of the weekend relaxing. Really. I only had one child to care for and my Mom was, as usual, extremely helpful. She woke up every morning with William and made him breakfast while I slept in. She gave him every bath. She made dinners and snacks for us. She did our laundry. I was utterly spoiled. I caught up with family, read a lot, and was actually pretty lazy.

We spent most of our time during the day at my Dad’s house since my brother and sister and their families were staying there and my aunts and uncles gathered there. My Mom cooked a “Christmas” turkey dinner for us one day since we didn’t have one together as a family last season. My Dad had his right foot and lower leg amputated right before Christmas (as a result of his heart attack and its aftermath last April) and so we helped him some with things around his house since he doesn’t yet have a prosthetic. The baby cousins, who are six months apart in age, had a blast together and it melted my sister’s and my hearts to hear their hilarious and loud laughter.

One night, us “kids” went with my aunt and two uncles to dinner in my old college town and to watch an ice hockey game at my undergraduate alma mater. I hadn’t even driven through campus in nearly a decade, so it was interesting to see the university’s changes and fun to be back on campus. BGSU lost to Minnesota State 3-6 in overtime, but we still celebrated our night out sans kids (my Mom watched the babies) with after-game drinks downtown at Reverend’s Bar & Grill.

Hockey Night Out

Besides eating pizza out one night at a new-to-us pizza joint in Clyde, our only other outing was to storytime at the library and shopping at a kids’ thrift store in downtown Fremont that is closing soon.

Library Storytime

Our flights home, although long, were uneventful (especially for us). We are looking forward to another trip to Ohio later this year. That one, with all three kids in tow, though, will, I’m sure, be much less relaxing!

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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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