Saturday, March 30, 2019

California Spring Break Days 6-8: Seals, Sand, and Sunsets

I'm at the airport waiting to fly to Colorado. This might be the earliest I've ever been at the boarding area for a flight- as it turns out, getting one person out the door is way faster than getting five. I'm headed to Denver to meet my newest baby niece, see my sister and brother-in-law and cook them lots of food, and play with my newly crowned big sister niece. Southwest unceremoniously canceled my original direct flight 5 days ago but were able to book me on another. I just have to layover in Lubbock. I didn't even realize Lubbock had an airport, but I'll be there about 20 minutes after we take off from Dallas. But before I bounce around in Texas and land in the mile high city, let's go back to California.

We woke up on Day 6 of our vacation to the sound of waves and absolutely nowhere to be. The house we rented is one of the only single family residences left on South Mission Beach. The current owner, now in his mid-60's, grew up in it, something my children were very jealous of when they heard him say so. Now he and his brother rent it out and we are so glad! It was wonderful to have our own house- no shared walls, no shared patios, just our own space to spread out and make our own for three days.

So back to Day 6 - everyone slept in and woke up to a lazy breakfast on the beach-side patio. We discovered a giant sand pile directly in front of us (extra sand from smoothing the volleyball courts, I'd guess?) and the kids (James included) immediately jumped on it and started digging. I drank tea in my pj's and a sweatshirt under the shade of our patio umbrella and watched the volleyball players volley and my family members dig... whatever they were digging

Since the sand was still pretty cool (it was in the 50's in the morning and upper 60's/low 70's in the afternoon), we decided to go on a morning adventure, eat lunch out, and then come back for an afternoon of sand and sea. A few blog commenters had mentioned the seals and cliffs at La Jolla and we thought that sounded fun. I typed in "Seal Rock" to google maps and off we went, about 5 miles and 20 minutes away to the stunningly beautiful La Jolla Children's Beach/Seal Rock.

And it is CRAZY beautiful. The kids were delighted to find cliffs right up by the water. I mean, is it even a Lag Liv family vacation if we aren't climbing on something?

It is NOT. We felt right at home.

The water was SO beautiful and it was absolutely surreal to be so close to the seals and see them swimming, sunning, and nursing their pups.

After running around on the sand, admiring the seals, and just hanging out, I googled a lunch place and decided on The Taco Stand. It had a couple thousand reviews and a line out the door when we arrived.

We ordered many things. I went with the California Burrito which involves steak, french fries (oh yes), sour cream, guacamole, pico de gallo, queso, and maybe other things? I don't remember the specifics through the haze of deep, true love I tumbled into upon my first bite. This is my platonic ideal of a burrito. I savored every bite, even all the ones I took past the point I was full to burst.

We added the carne asada fries (fries! with steak and queso and all the other delicious California things!) at the end for dessert and I regret nothing.

We drove back to our "new house," stopping at the store again quickly for a third shovel (the house had many beach toys, but only two large shovels and I decided we could invest $2.99 in my children's joy and my own sanity), more strawberries (we'd inhaled the two giant cartons I'd bought the day before), and something for dinner. Once home, James decided we needed to rent a motorized scooter to putz up and down along the little walkway in front of our house.

I got a ride too- and love that I was in a sweatshirt and jeans while Cora was in a sleeveless sundress. We were both very comfortable.

Later we moved on to sand castling.

While I sat in the sand, still in my jeans and sweatshirt, reading under my beach umbrella we found at the house. It was perfection.

A couple hours and a lot of sand later, we ate dinner on the deck, and then made use of the now-empty volleyball courts for a little ball before bed. It felt like the Mission Beach thing to do.

James and I watched a movie, the kids slept soundly in their rooms at the back of the house... this is my favorite kind of vacation.

On Day 7, our last full day, we allowed ourselves the luxury of doing exactly what we wanted to do and nothing we thought we should. We contemplated going somewhere new - there is so much to see and in/around Mission Beach and San Diego, but what we wanted to do was stay in pj's for 2 hours and watch a movie with all the windows open and then go back and visit our seals. So that is exactly what we did.

And the seals rewarded us by hanging out even closer on the sand when we arrived!

We had the beach to ourselves and this time the kids (and James) wore swim suits because they are crazy. The water was FREEZING. I got my toes wet one time and was glad for my jeans and jacket. But man, was it beautiful.

Watching Cora at the beach is nearly as much fun as watching Cora on a roller coaster. She bursts with joy, that one.

Landon found cliffs to climb, of course.

And then everyone decided to go in the water because 59 degrees sounded refreshing.

James said it was colder than Lake Superior, but he got to watch the seals swim under water and declared it totally worth it.

As I was walking back up the path to our car, a woman stopped me and showed a picture she took of me and the kids sitting out on the point earlier in our adventure. In halting English she said she thought we looked "so beautiful" and wondered if I'd like it. And I did!!! I'm the photographer, I so rarely end up in the candid pictures. It was the most thoughtful special thing and I ADORE the picture.

We stopped at the Taco Stand yet again because it was delicious and all I wanted in my life was another 15 bites of California Burrito. It's true love and I will not apologize for it. And even though we knew we probably should stop somewhere new, nobody had any objections.

We spent the rest of the day on the sand. Volleyball, digging, running in the surf, reading (me!), snacking, playing volleyball, frisbee, football, and whatever else they could come up with. It was so lovely and relaxing. I love the beach. I love having kids old enough to just go play while we occasionally perform a headcount. A new family came in to the rental house next to ours and they had 3 kids, including a son (10) named Landon James, which was crazy and confusing and fun, and a daughter Claire's age, which was so great. Landon was throwing the frisbee with the other Landon until the last ray of sun left the land and then up again at 6:30 to do it again until the last minute we had to leave.

On our last day we checked out of our house, drove back up the coast, stopping in Dana Point for brunch (Cap'n Crunch french toast, you are my second love), Crystal Cove for a goodbye to the beach, and then LAX to drop off our car and fly home. Our flight was delayed so we had a high-priced mediocre dinner at an airport restaurant (the reason we are almost always able to avoid those), but our plane was a jumbo jet that had just flown in from Beijing and the kids were delighted with the 9-seats across, the in-flight entertainment, and the double snacks.

We pulled up to our "old house" just before midnight, another fabulous vacation in the books and a to-do list that included laundry, grocery shopping, and calling the insurance company in the morning.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

California Spring Break Days 4-5: Car Wrecks, Legos, and Sandy Beaches

I had jury duty today. I was not selected, though my not being selected still took over 6 hours to complete. But it was an overall positive experience-the Fort Worth Municipal Courts are well run- though I did wish for my laptop since they had free WiFi and I could have done so much backed up blogging! But I'm home now, the kids are in bed, and the bulldog is snoring (and James is icing; extensive gum grafting surgery is no joke), so back to the West Coast we go!

As alluded to in the last vacation post, our "off day" wasn't quite as "off" as it was supposed to be. Or maybe it was exactly as off as it was supposed to be, just not how I intended.

We woke up in our cheap 1 star motel just outside Anaheim/Disneyland and pretty quickly packed up and headed to the free breakfast buffet. The food was classic breakfast buffet material and the kids found it delightful while James sniffed disdainfully over his sad bowl of plain oatmeal, the only item he deemed acceptable to eat. We were on the road about 9 and aiming for the coast! On the advice of many, we planned to head to Laguna Beach and then continue stopping at places of interest along the coast on our way to Carlsbad and the Legoland Hotel. Landon was desperate to get there right at 3 (the earliest check-in possible) so we could explore and swim in the pool I'd shown him online and we told him that should be no problem.

Except it was. Because precisely 1.5 miles from Laguna Beach, just past Crystal Cove, we were sitting peacefully at a red light, just waiting for it to change, when we heard the screaming of tires and felt the jolt of impact. Honestly, for the first few seconds, I couldn't even figure out what had just happened. We'd been sitting at the red light all alone for at least a minute, looking forward to some sand and then bam. A Lexus SUV had hit us on the side and then continued forward and into the short highway wall before bouncing off that and coming to a stop right in front of us.

We quickly ascertained that everyone in our car was fine. The driver of the other car was getting out of his car and seemed to be okay too. Our car was not fine- it was scratched and dented along the back corner and along the side and the rear right tire was turned perpendicular to where it should be. We realized James still had the car in drive, but the car wasn't moving forward and was definitely not drivable. He turned it off and unsure of what to do- there should really be an adulting class on these things- I called 911 to report the accident.

police car Uber!

It took a while to get transferred to the right precinct. As it turns out, we got hit in a tiny sliver of unincorporated land juuuuuuust between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach and the department who patrolled it was way far away and it took an hour for a policeman to arrive. The kids had to stay seated with their seat belts buckled because we couldn't move the car (luckily we were already in the far right lane and had gotten pushed as far over to the small shoulder as we could have moved anyway by the car who hit us) and there was a wall beside us. The policeman finally arrived and he was very nice, but it took a while to talk to everyone and get next steps. He called for a tow truck. 45 minutes later one arrived. Our day was draining away and we were still in the car, 1.5 miles from our destination, staring at a concrete wall. The rental company would not come get the car, so James had to ride with the tow truck ALL the way back to LAX, 90 minutes away. We couldn't all fit in the tow truck, so the friendly police man offered to drop us off at Laguna Beach just ahead. And so he did, and in just a few minutes, it was me, 3 kids, and the contents of my purse, in a gas station parking lot across the street from the beach.

There are worse places to be. There are better ways to be there! Like with your spouse, towels, sandals, swim suits, snacks, and other supplies that are all carefully packed in the back of your mildly crunched in car... but there are certainly worse places!

It was lunchtime, so though we felt bad for our spouse/dad trapped in the tow truck, we immediately headed to The Cliff, a restaurant a blog commenter mentioned on my packing post, secured a table right on the edge of the patio looking over the water, and took a nice deep breath. I can't remember what I had, but I know it was delicious, and, knowing I had a long afternoon ahead of me, I had iced tea instead of the wine I wanted, but it was an absolutely lovely meal with an even better view and we all felt much better when it was over.

We walked back to the beach where we found a playground, sand, many children, and a nice shady tree for me to sit under and read.

And then the best thing happened! LEO, from the Better Together blog of yore, messaged me that she lived nearby and asked if I needed anything! I didn't, besides a husband and a car, but I told her I'd love to meet her! And then I did!!

LEO first sent me an email in January of 2008, somehow 11 years ago, telling me she loved my blog and also that we might be the same person. It was one of the first "fan" emails I ever received and it meant the world to me. I wrote back something equally enthusiastic. We stayed email, then facebook, then blog buddies, but -- and this seems crazy -- we had never actually met! But now we have! And she brought along her kid #2 who immediately became best friends with Claire and she and I got to talk for well over an hour.

My kids had organized a 15+ kid tag game around the playground and were sharing snacks with strangers and having a GLORIOUS time while I mostly just got to chat with my new friend and occasionally talk to James while he was still stuck filling out insurance and accident paper work and paying $800 for our tow at the rental car agency. James finally got to join us at the beach at 4:30- over SIX hours after the accident first happened, starving and a little frustrated by California traffic, but overall taking the whole incident in stride. He's better at frustration than I am. But I am good at hanging out on a beach for 5 hours with kids and new friends, so we played to our strengths and made the best of it.


Not the day we had planned by any means, but the guy who hit us had insurance and we were all physically okay so it could have been much worse. And the kids got to ride in the back of a police car "where the bad guys go" which was quite the thrill. We all packed into our new car, waved goodbye to LEO and daughter and beautiful Laguna Beach for being there for us when we needed them, and continued down the coast to San Clemente where we stopped for dinner and a sunset.

Dinner was at Pierside and it was SO GOOD. They had a happy hour special for a bunch of their tapas type plates and we ordered all of them. The waiter looked skeptical, but there wasn't a crumb left behind and we were all happy and full. We walked down the pier for the sunset and then continued on to Carlsbad for an understanding but increasingly stressed out Landon who was missing SO MUCH Legoland Hotel time.

Our hotel! Viewed in daylight the next day

I have to be honest. I had little to no expectations about Legoland. We were here for Landon. He saw a flyer for it in a Lego set he got when he was about 4 and has talked about going ever since. I only hoped we weren't too late (I mean, he's almost 12 and rarely plays Legos anymore) and that it wouldn't be too much of a disappointment to his long-held dreams and expectations.

And you guys, it was GREAT.

I am SO SO glad we splurged on the hotel. It was honestly 50% of the magic and fun. It's so colorfully and cleverly designed- so incredibly LEGO-Y. It's really more themed out than any of the Disney hotels we've been in.

You check in at a front desk with thousands of Lego mini figures behind it. There's a literal pool of Legos in the middle and the kids immediately jumped in and started building while I checked in.

We'd sprung for a Ninjago themed suite and again, if you can, DO IT. It was totally worth it. It was SO THEMED! Legos everywhere. Ninjago EVERYWHERE. A bunk bed with pull-out trundle for the kids with their own TV, bin of legos, lego baseboard built into the wall, and little nightlights they could each control. Then there was a nice sized bathroom, and then our king-sized bed, some comfortable side chairs, a desk, fridge, microwave, and good sized closet and shelves that were perfect for a line of 5 pairs of shoes. It was genuinely comfortable for our family of 5 and that is worth quite a lot even without the pretty awesome Lego creations all over the place.

There was a treasure hunt given to each kid when we checked in. Answering the clues gave them a code to type into our in-room safe where they found three special Lego sets, one for each of them, which was quite a thrill.

And then, even though it was the LAST thing James and I wanted to do (I mean, our day had involved a car wreck only 11 or 100 hours earlier), we took the kids down to the pool so Landon could experience the Lego buildable floats he'd seen on the website the year before.

And it was awesome. We stayed until close and then tucked the kids into their little bunk bed Ninjago nook.

In need of a good night's sleep, James and I were delighted to hear the theme park didn't open until 10. Our hotel stay got us early access at 9:30, but that was still a leisurely amount of time to get up, pack up, and head to the complimentary hotel breakfast. A hotel breakfast that was AMAZING. A smoothie bar! Tons of fruit! A salad bar for weirdos like James who want a good leafy green salad at 8 a.m. So many teas! All the bacon and eggs and ham and waffles and pancakes and toast and bagels and breads and oatmeal and omelettes and huevos rancheros and whatever else I don't even remember you can eat! And we ate MUCH.

We headed in to the park, which is directly connected to the hotel, a few minutes before our early access time. I'd bought tickets online using the Lego Movie "one kid free per adult ticket" special which saved us many dollars and also provided tickets to the separate Aquarium, which was surprisingly great!

The park is definitely geared for the 5-10 year old set. Cora could ride every ride no problem and Landon was definitely too old for a few, though he spent the whole day enthusiastically pretending otherwise.

The park is beautifully landscaped and Lego creations are everywhere and a part of everything. Little things, big things, clever thoughtful things... we enjoyed it so much.

There was a Mini Land where much of the world is recreated in Legos down to precise detail. It was a favorite of James and mine- we could have wandered for hours, but the kids, while generally admiring of the detail, pushed us through.

Claire loves the Lego Friends TV show and was delighted to find her friends in their own area of the park. Cora was too, and seemed to express this by grabbing the boobs of the one in this picture.

We enjoyed perfect weather and only occasional interruptions from the insurance company regarding the wreck we'd had the day before that no longer seemed part of real life. There was a driving school where each kid got to drive their own Lego car, something they enjoyed VERY MUCH, and a boat they could drive by themselves (except for Cora, who took over steering for me in the boat we shared) around in a circle lake.

The food was also quite good, and far more reasonably priced than Disney. James and I had Ramen bowls that were very tasty and the kids' meals had fresh fruit, milk, a side, and an entree for about $9. $9 was a single hot dog at California Adventure Park a few days before (but a DELICIOUS hot dog, reminded Landon).

It was a really fun day. We'd all prefer more big rides (we went on maybe 3-4 roller coasters? Only one of which I'd consider a "thrill" type ride), but for the complete lack of crowds and relative ease of the day, it was exactly a perfect thing to sandwich between the crazy Disney days and the lazy beach days ahead. The kids enjoyed the minifigure trading you could do with any employee and loved pointing out the clever Lego creations tucked all around the park (in addition to the giant ones often standing right in front of you).

We left the park around 3, feeling like we'd soaked up enough of the Lego magic. There was more to do, and certainly things we could have done again, but we felt good about it and were ready to head to the last leg of our adventure.

And so we headed south again, now to our rental home on Mission Beach in San Diego. We forced ourselves to stop at the grocery store on the way in (sooo hard to do, but we wanted simple food eaten at home and knew we would NOT want to go out again to get it) and pulled up to our temporary house 30 minutes before sunset. We dumped our things inside, kicked off our shoes, and raced out to the sand located just over the tiny fence surrounding our patio.

It was chilly and beautiful and the last 30 minutes felt like a cleansing for the soul. The kids dug holes in the sand. James and I held hands and strolled along the surf, glad to be somewhere without lines or hours or schedules of any kind.

We soaked up the last ray of sun and headed back to our "new house" as Cora always calls anywhere we stay on vacation, made our dinner of simple pasta and so many veggies, sent the kids on to their showers and tucked them in their beds. It was a 3 bedroom house, just like ours at home, so everyone could spread out and be comfortable and SLEEP IN.

And so began the last segment of our California Adventure and it was my favorite chapter of all.