SoCal Adventures

What was originally going to be a short trip to Las Vegas for my newest tattoo turned into a 5 day trip that started Saturday, September 30, in La Cañada, California for my darling Emily’s bridal shower!

Emily has been a close friend of mine since she moved to Fresno and started playing for the same volleyball club as I did between 7th and 8th grade. A few months back I visited her and her fiancé Bobby in Santa Barbara. Since then, more wedding plans have come to pass, and we are now a few weeks away from their big day! The shower was brunch in a family member’s backyard. I’m proud to say I won the game that was guessing Em’s age in a collection of 16 pictures!

One of my favorite features of the shower was the video Emily’s sister-in-law Amanda made with Bobby that consisted of Amanda prompting 20 questions to Bobby and him guessing Emily’s response. His answers were so genuine and honest, and Emily’s reaction to some of his answers was priceless.

I ended up staying with Emily’s mom that night near Anaheim. Being the Disney addict that I am (and knowing I was going to bite the bullet and get an annual pass again), I decided to take a quick detour on my way to her home. I was hellbent on seeing Disneyland in all of it’s Halloween glory, so I reinstated my annual pass (I went with the signature pass, I previously had a signature plus pass.. I’ll go more into this on a later post), and went into Disneyland with the intent of walking up Main Street, looking at all the decorations, and riding Haunted Mansion. Yes, that is all that I did in the park that day.

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The next morning, I got up and drove to North Hollywood where another dear friend of mine lives: Catriona. We planned to spend a portion of our Sunday at Universal Studios exploring the Harry Potter section before her show that evening.

While there, we ended up seeing a friend from high school who is currently in the frog choir, and went on a studio tour tram narrated by another cast member of the show she was in that night.

Overall, I thought the Harry Potter section was very well done, and the food was fantastic! The “big” ride that part of the park features, though, is not one that sat well with me because I cannot do 3D or copious amounts of movement in rides (for comparison, I can’t do Star Tours at Disneyland because it gives me motion sickness).

The show Cat was in that night was called The Scarlet Pimpernel, one I wasn’t familiar with. It was a very small production, but the actors were all talented, so it was enjoyable.

The next morning, October 2nd, I started my drive to Las Vegas.

 

..to be continued.

Tuolumne Meadows

Since our trip to Yosemite last September, Lela and I have both been determined to make it to Tuolumne Meadows in a timely manner. We knew going into it that in order to properly do Tuolumne Meadows and surrounding area hikes, we would need more time than we had. Nonetheless, we both wanted to get up there to see what it was about. It took us nearly a year, but on Saturday, August 5th, we finally made it.

As with most Yosemite trips, we left around 6 a.m. to head up the hill. Weather was forecasted to be a reasonable temperature, but there was a good chance of thunderstorms, especially in the afternoon – we planned outfits accordingly. The drive was a relatively easy 3 hours up, and the direction we came from required we go through part of the valley before getting onto 120 for Tioga Road.

Along the way, there were many places to pull off. One was Olmsted Point, which gave us a gorgeous view of Half Dome from the opposite side of the usual Valley view.

Broke out the big lens on my Olympus Camera for this one. It was taken from the same spot the selfie above was.

After that, we approached Tenaya Lake, which was breathtaking. The reflection of the mountains off the lake left us both speechless.

Excitedly running to the end of the log

We reached Tuolumne Meadows midmorning, and as expected, we were met with slightly overcast weather.

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Little Blue handled the drive like a dream

Due to our time constraints, we decided that wandering around the meadows would be the best course of action for this trip. On a map of Tuolumne Meadows, we found a point of interest that we wanted to have as a true “destination” on our walk, so we headed to the east end of the meadows. We parked the car on the dirt road by Lembert Dome that leads to Tuolumne Stables and walked up the road to where the true path to the meadows starts.

Our “set” destination for that day was going to be Soda Springs and the adjacent Parsons Lodge. The path toward the heart of the meadows offered stunning views of the surrounding mountain ranges, including Cathedral Peak (which Lela was rather taken with).

Lela with Cathedral Peak in the background

The paths through Tuolumne Meadows (that we experienced) were roughly car width, and were very well maintained. Altitude was the only thing not on our side, but overall, the weather was lovely, so we didn’t notice it much on our hike/walk.

*Disclaimer: this sign is actually on the part of the path between the springs and Parsons Lodge*

A short while later, we made it to Soda Springs. The springs were small but fascinating:

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From there we continued up the trail to Parsons Lodge, a gorgeous stone structure built in 1915 that is still used for events by the Yosemite Conservancy.

Meadows from the Lodge

When we left the lodge, we headed towards the Tuolumne Meadows Footbridge, which allowed us to cross the Tuolumne River.

View of the bridge and river from Parsons Lodge
Lela and I sitting on the Tuolumne Footbridge (note the Davis Farmers Market hat making a reappearance in our Yosemite trips)

From the bridge, we continued along the path that lead toward the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center, though the visitor center was busy, so we opted to not go that far. Walking through this part of the trail made me feel like I was wandering through the set of Lord of the Rings, which made me even happier than I already was.

Looking back at Lembert Dome

Perhaps my favorite part of the walk led us to a weird rock/embankment on the edge of the river. Water is probably my favorite element, and there were so few people that you could hear everything happening in Tuolumne Meadows. Lela and I sat on the water’s edge for a little while listening to the birds in the nearby trees and the water running down the river.

Some time later we headed back to the car. We decided we would go back by Tenaya Lake to eat lunch; Lela had gone to Subway the night before and picked up sandwiches for our lunch that day. We took our food and made our way down to the edge of the lake. There weren’t many people in this area, so lunch was very peaceful.

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When we were done there, we started to head back toward the valley (Yosemite Valley because we have to pass through it to get back to the 41, and more broadly the Central Valley). By the time we made it back to Yosemite Valley, traffic was getting a little ridiculous, and until that moment we both had forgotten that it was the last real weekend before school was back in session.

We were both very impressed with Tuolumne Meadows, and our only regret is that we didn’t have time for any of the other hikes with true destinations at points of interest like lakes or peaks. I cannot wait to make it back up there, though that will likely have to wait until next year.

Lewis Creek Trail Hike

My dear friend Abigail’s 23rd birthday falls at the beginning of July, and for part of the celebration she wanted to go on a hike somewhere out of town but relatively close by. After browsing the internet and getting suggestions from friends, we decided to do the Lewis Creek Trail just north of Oakhurst the Saturday before her birthday. Earlier in that week over Taco Tuesday at my home, we decided on the more concrete details of our trip, including that we would leave town around 7 a.m. and we would make sure to bring food with us.

The trailhead is just off the 41 a couple miles outside of Oakhurst and is marked by brown signs saying “Lewis Creek Trail.” The term “trailhead” could seem misleading because the parking area looks like a large pull-off; when we got there, only one other car was parked there. We chose a spot, put on sunscreen and bug spray (both are very necessary this summer), and started our trek through the wilderness.

About 100 yards after walking through the main gate, we met a fork in the path. The sign we came across at the fork said the Lewis Creek Trail was to the right, so that’s the direction we started in. Just over 1/2 a mile from that point, we reached Corlieu Falls.

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Corlieu Falls can best be seen from a platform on the path (where the above photos were taken). After a brief stop there, we continued down the trail.

Abigail just downstream of Corlieu Falls

Farther downstream from Corlieu Falls

After the smaller falls farther downstream, the path continues for another ~0.8 miles before you reach a house (and we learned from others on the trail that there is another parking area farther that direction). We turned back when we reached the house (after consulting the internet via our limited cell phone reception) because the other waterfall featured on the hike was off of the path to the left of the fork we encountered at the start of our hike.

It didn’t take us very long to make it back the 1.5 miles we had traveled to the original fork in the path; from there we started on the left path (technically now it was on the right from where we were). This path is much flatter and much more scenic, though it requires a lot more of what I like to refer to as “off roading.” Typically, there is a bridge to cross the river, but that was washed out. Now, there is a decently sized log across the creek and a precarious rope attached to trees on either side of the creek designated (not marked) for hikers to cross.

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Log for crossing the creek

The trail varied between wide and narrow, and was mostly level with some areas that were steep. Areas were also washed out from the recent increase in water coming down the creek, so some places required slightly more creative methods to continue. After about 1.5 miles, we came to a junction where we were met by this sign:

Sign at the fork for the top of Red Rock Falls

From here, we turned right and headed down toward the sound of rushing water to find we were at the top of Red Rock Falls. Above the falls was a lovely spot to stop and sit for awhile. Also while there, we decided to break out the food we brought with us.

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Once we finished eating, we tried to find a way to the bottom of the falls, but didn’t have much luck with what we were able to see. The best we could get was this view off the side of the landing we ate on:

Top/side view of Red Rock Falls

We made our way back toward the car from there. The way back was easy, but we stopped frequently to take advantage of the areas of the path that opened into clearings where we could get close to the creek.

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Overall, this hike was relatively quick (we spent about 3.5 hours up there) and could fall in the easy/moderate category. Most of the featured portions of the trail are shaded by the gorgeous, towering trees of the Sierra National Forest. It’s also worth noting that we were met with quite a few bugs, but got no real bites to speak of (thanks to the bug spray).

I would, and likely will, do this trail again in the future. Come to find out, this was Abigail’s second time doing parts of this hike, and she thoroughly enjoyed the second pass through. If you are looking for a good half day hike in the forest featuring waterfalls, I highly recommend this trail!

Yosemite Falls Had Us Mist-ified!

Hiking is a hobby I picked up while I lived in Colorado. Towards the beginning, I was still experiencing joint pain that was most likely caused by my time playing volleyball, and that limited the types of hikes I could take on. Due to that, I tended to limit my hikes to those rated moderate or below. Three years ago, on June 18, 2014, Charlotte and I attempted Yosemite Falls, rated at moderate to strenuous, and only made it to Columbia Rock before opting to turn back and get into the pools below Lower Yosemite Falls. Reminder: All collages can be clicked on to see the individual images in a larger format.

Charlotte and I met in 7th grade and she has held a special place in my life since. She is one of the most strong willed, ambitious, and charismatic people I know. Our relationship has always been one based in a more “adult” perspective – we can go months without talking but there is no hesitation with picking up right where with left off. For undergrad, Charlotte went to Cal Berkeley, and is continuing her education with Law School at Ole Miss. This trip fell during a break in her school schedule when she happened to not only be in town, but have a full day free.

Our second attempt at the Yosemite Falls Trail (which we were determined to complete) was scheduled for Monday, June 19th, coincidentally just one day after the 3 year anniversary of our first attempt. We left town around 6 o’clock that morning, and by 8 a.m. we were in the valley.

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On our way through the valley just as we crossed the river to get to the north side of the park, we stopped to capture this gorgeous view of our only plan for the day:

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls from the parking lot by Shuttle Stop #11

Spring into May and June is typically when waterfalls in Yosemite experience peak runoff, but due to last week’s snowfall, there is a tree-mendous volume (my dad gets credit for that one!) of water coming over Yosemite Falls right now.

We didn’t take any pictures of the trail while we were on it, but the National Park Service webpage for Yosemite National Park allows you to navigate to the information below about the Yosemite Falls Trail (also linked above):

Yosemite Falls trail stats - captured from nps.gov

Needless to say, we had quite a day ahead of us. We parked the car in the lot just across the road from the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail, and had to walk from there to Campground 4 where the trailhead is located. At 8:53 a.m. we left the valley floor on our journey to summit Yosemite Falls. Note: The only two times we know for sure are when we left the valley and when we got back down, every other time listed is based on picture timestamps.

Around 9:30 a.m., we made it to Columbia Rock. This portion of the journey was much easier to accomplish than I remembered, though my memory served me correctly in just how steep and winding it was.

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View of Half Dome from Columbia Rock (yes, I’m wearing the same Maserati hat as I did the first trip)

From that point, we started the strenuous portion of the hike – 2700 ft elevation gain over about 2.6 miles. About a mile into that, we got gorgeous views of the falls and benefited from all the mist coming off the fall.

After the mist comes what seems like a desert. The trail coverage that is relatively abundant for the first half disappears, and all that is left is the sun and the sandy path. Around 11:40 a.m. we summited the falls and were pretty exhausted. The overlook was an open, rocky area that had signs pointing toward stairs which provided a closer look at the falls.

Excited to *finally* reach the top

Good news – thanks to my beloved Camelbak (this is the one I have), I didn’t run out of water, nor did I feel or exhibit signs of dehydration. Bad news – the muscle fatigue was very real. Getting to the top was a push, but let me be clear, the last few stairs to and from the actual edge of the falls were painful.

As we approached Yosemite Creek, we were expecting just that – a creek. We did not anticipate just how much water would be coming down the mountain. The staircase pictured above was very narrow and led down to a lower lookout point.

From the higher point, we could see a bridge up the Yosemite Creek which was surrounded by a bunch of rocks on the bank that would be great for laying out on. Based on trail markers we saw just before reaching the outlook, we figured the bridge was a short way up the Yosemite Point Trail which branches off of the Yosemite Falls Trail. After crossing the bridge, we opted to go opposite the direction of the trail to get to the rocks on the edge of the creek (this part is definitely not recommended by the NPS as the creek is fast moving and directly above the falls, you should stay on the trails, kids).

While down by the creek, we had the lunch we had packed – crackers, salami, and cheese, various bars, and PB&J sandwiches. We also took this time to soak up some sun, and give our bodies some reprieve from the hike up. The water was quite possibly close to freezing, but it felt great! We spent quite awhile up there, and around 1:30 p.m. or so we started our descent.

Truth be told, we didn’t take many pictures during our ascent because of how strenuous it was and our focus being on reaching the top. The descent was when the bulk of our scenery pictures were taken, and I’ve provided a compilation below.

The trip down the mountain was much faster than the trip up, and we made it back to the valley floor at 3:20 p.m. According to Charlotte’s Fitbit, with all of our adventures included, we took just over 31,000 steps, traveled about 13 miles, and climbed the equivalent of 380 staircases. I am so proud of what we accomplished and the view was worth every muscle-screaming step. On our way down the hill, we stopped at Robert’s Frosty in Coarsegold for soft serve as a reward for making it all the way to the top of the falls.

This trip also marked Lil’ Blue’s first to Yosemite! I greatly appreciate Charlotte letting me be *that* person who stops to take artsy pictures of my car.

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My Outback below the Three Brothers rock formation on the North Side of Yosemite Valley

3 Days in Redwoods National & State Parks

It has officially been one year since Shannon and I went to Redwoods National and State Parks just north of Eureka in Orick, CA. This was a trip we first conceived shortly after finally meeting in our Senior Honor’s Seminar at Colorado State the semester before we both received our Bachelor’s degrees.

Shannon and I had been Facebook friends because of common interests realized from a “CSU Class of 2016” page for four years before we actually had a class together (and realized that we should have been real friends the whole dang time). We are both fans of adventure and loosely structured plans. Our seminar got us talking about National Parks which led Shannon to bring up the Redwoods, I mentioned I hadn’t been before, so we decided right then and there to make a trip together. We got closer over the course of the semester, too, and that definitely encouraged follow through. After graduation, we figured out when we would be in California at the same time and planned from there.

We decided that we would leave on June 5th, and come home on June 9th. It didn’t make sense for either of us to go to the other to begin the journey because of our relative starting points in California, so we opted to meet just off I-5 in Los Banos because it was the least out of the way for Shannon and the most reasonable for me to get to. From there, we got back on the 5 and headed north towards Eureka. We hardly needed directions as Shannon has been going there throughout her life to visit her paternal grandmother. Additionally, her older sister now lives in the Santa Rosa area, which is conveniently on the way to Eureka. We made a stop in Santa Rosa in the early afternoon, and met Shannon’s sister and brother-in-law for lunch.

As we drove up, we searched hotels online and made hotel reservations at the Eureka Inn. From Los Banos to Eureka is about a 6 1/2 hour drive without any stops, and we figured we may as well make it scenic. The next detour we made on the trip was at the Chandelier Tree in Leggett, CA. Unfortunately, Shannon’s truck wouldn’t fit through this tree because of the height, so we settled for walking the property.

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We left from there and continued the journey north. We made it to Eureka in the early evening, checked into the hotel, and settled in for the night.

The next morning, June 6th, we got up bright and early and drove north about an hour to the parks. These parks are particularly unique in the National Park System because there is no true park entrance or exit gate, and thus, no standard park entrance fee (though there are a couple areas that are pay areas, Fern Canyon being one of them).

To start the day we parked in the Big Tree Wayside parking area and sprayed copious amounts of bug spray on our bodies. Our first move was starting up Circle Trail and moving on to Cathedral Trees Trail before crossing the road with the intent of hiking Prairie Creek Trail and finding the Corkscrew Tree. During the latter part of our hike, we definitely got a little bit lost and ended up stumbling upon the tree we were in search of, but there are much worse places to be a little lost. On the way back to the hotel for the day, we stopped in Klamath for lunch. Across the street from the diner we ate at was a drive-thru tree, and Shannon was hell-bent on getting her truck through one, so we went. Spoiler alert, success was hers!

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Shannon is in the truck which very narrowly fit inside the tree

That night, we drove into town and met Shannon’s grandma for dinner. After eating, we went to Humboldt Bay for ice cream.

On the morning of June 7th, we made our way back into the parks early, and decided we would go to the visitor center to get a permit to hike Tall Trees Trail. The road to get to this trail is relatively narrow, tree-lined, and unpaved, and requires passing through a gate that is locked and the code is changed daily. The drive was easy, and we reached the trailhead quickly.

The trail starts with 800 feet of elevation change, going down in order to get to the Tall Trees loop area. This trail was the first we encountered with wildlife that wasn’t flying or trying to bite us – I could hardly contain myself upon finally getting to see banana slugs in person (sorry Shannon!).

The path became relatively leveled out just before reaching the loop portion that runs alongside a river. These trees seemed so diverse in form despite being in such a relatively small area, and the walk was relaxing.

The trail where it levels out just before the loop
Shannon on the loop portion of the trail

Tree burned through the middle
Me getting really excited about the trail and the trees (and the possibility of more banana slugs)

When we were done in the park for the day, we headed south towards Eureka. We stopped in the town of Trinidad for lunch and to sight see.

When we got to the hotel that night and were beat, so we decided to have burritos delivered to our room (yes, to the door of our room) from a local restaurant. They were AH-mazing.

Our final morning to go in the parks, we decided to stop for brunch on the way in downtown Arcata (also known as the cutest little town I’ve seen to date). We went to a local cafe where we could order crepes, and it was a delicious choice! When breakfast was done, we headed north with Fern Canyon on our minds. The 1 1/2 lane “road” that Davidson Road becomes looks like an extended, unintended off-roading adventure through Jurassic Park. This entire day in our trip blew my mind – most of the road in and the trail for the hike looked like it genuinely hadn’t been disturbed for 325 million years.

After we made it back from the trail, we decided to walk out on the beach.

From there, we decided to go to Patrick’s Point State Park. This area was a pay area, and there were a lot of campgrounds, but we also found some fun stone buildings and got to see some whales.

Shannon and I concluded the day with her grandma on the way back towards Eureka. That evening we went back to the hotel and began packing so we could leave as early as possible (and reasonable) the next morning.

The trip was so memorable, and was just the beginning of a string of adventures that Shannon and I have shared in. Since this big trip, the scale has been much smaller (mostly spending time on the Central Coast of California), but there are already more big trips in the works for the two of us, and I couldn’t be more excited!

Baylor Graduation and a Road Trip

Early flights are things I only willingly sign up for in special cases – this was one. Maddy, who has always been more like a sister to me than a friend, was graduating from Baylor after completing her Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science in just 3 years. I was not only flying out to go to her graduation, I was to help her move from Waco, TX to Phoenix, AZ where she is set to start her Master’s Degree in the fall.

My mom, her parents, and I flew out just after 6:00 a.m. on Thursday, May 11th to start our journey to her. After we arrived in Dallas, we waited for her grandpa to land, got the car, and started our ~90 minute drive down to Waco. I had been to Texas during summer prior to this, but I forgot that the weather there can be just as bipolar as the weather in Colorado can, and before the day was up we experienced 2 rain storms and otherwise lovely weather.

After the parents checked into the hotel they were staying at, Maddy joined us and we made our way to the Magnolia Market Silos. As “Fixer Upper” fans, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to stop into the shop and check out what the grounds had to offer.

Prior to this trip, I did not expect the Silos to be located within the city. The property was, however, every bit as precious as I was expecting. We chose to go on the Thursday before graduation ceremonies started, and because of that it wasn’t too busy to fully enjoy the experience.

During our visit we got food from the on-site food trucks, bought our fair share of merchandise from the market, and made sure to hit the bakery and seed shop.

From the Silos, we decided to keep the shopping theme rolling and headed toward Spice Village, which is a single shop that contains and sells products for a bunch of smaller shops. Their products range from jewelry to clothes to home goods and novelty items. On the way in, we stopped for a drink at the bar next door called Cricket’s where Maddy’s mom got wine and the rest of us ordered their frozen Jack & Coke (which was delicious!). We spent a good hour or so wandering around there before heading to the hotel to pick up the rest of our group before heading to dinner.

Dinner for that night was at a BBQ restaurant called Uncle Dan’s that Maddy had stumbled upon about a year before – she accidentally walked in the back door and ran into the Uncle Dan who welcomed her and let her continue on her way to get to the dining area. We were all left stuffed, but not too stuffed to go back to Maddy’s apartment to sample the eclairs she had made that morning. From there, the parents headed back to the hotel, while Maddy, her friend Kailee, and I ended up having a game night.

First thing the next morning, we got up and met the parents so we could get the “Maddy” tour of Baylor.

Our tour led us around the campus starting on one side of Pat Neff Hall, looping up the center mall, and around to the other side. On that far side is a statue of Judge Baylor, the namesake of the University. Apparently a tradition is to climb the statue to sit on his lap (it’s pretty worn down) and I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to do it myself.

The last stop of our tour was at the Armstrong Browning Library, which was also a small museum of sorts and a study area. This building is gorgeous, featuring tons of stained glass windows and marble. We didn’t spend too much time here, but it was definitely worth the stop. I linked the history of the building above in the library’s name.

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The large room to the back of the building. The archival rooms are at either side of the foyer.

After we toured the campus, we went to brunch at IHOP. Once we had finished, it was about time for us to go back to the apartment/hotel to get ready for the ceremony.

Baylor’s graduation ceremony was relatively quick and efficient. Once it was over, our travel group and a few of Maddy’s friends met for dinner. When dinner was through, Maddy, Kailee, Julia (another friend of theirs), and I went back to campus and to the Waco Suspension Bridge to take more pictures.

On campus, the girls climbed the Judge Baylor Statue. After we started taking pictures on the Waco Suspension Bridge, Maddy and I were inspired to take pictures that were reminiscent of a picture she and I took years ago. On the way back to the car, we stopped at the Chisholm Trail sculptures.

From there, we made our way back to Maddy’s apartment where a group was gathering to have another night of games.

Saturday morning Maddy, Kailee, and I met the parents at a local restaurant called Cafe Cappuccino for breakfast (it was adorable and delicious). Once breakfast was done, we made our way to McLane stadium to walk the grounds there a little bit.

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After the stadium, we headed to Maddy’s apartment to pack the clothing and furnishings she still had in the apartment into her car.

Once we were done with our business in Waco, Maddy and I headed towards San Antonio – the first stop in our drive to Phoenix. On our way, we stopped in Temple, TX at a rest stop on steroids (part of a chain) called Buc-ee’s just for the novelty of it.

Pressing on, we made it from Waco to San Antonio in about 3 hours. After checking into the hotel, we walked less than two blocks to get to the Alamo.

Of the more interesting site facts for me included that most of it was rebuilt (very little of the original building exists) and that the original property holdings were surrounding to the front, not the back as the current lot might suggest. Something I appreciated most is that the original property lines on the current lot were marked by small plaques between pavers.

Once we finished with the Alamo, we made our way to the Riverwalk. Starting somewhere in the middle, we picked a direction and just started walking, taking in everything around us. After awhile, we realized we probably needed to find a place to eat, and after picking a direction to search in, found a place within minutes.

Dinner that night was at Casa Rio, the first restaurant to take advantage of the riverwalk. It was easy to see why their business had lasted so long on the river, and after splitting a liter of peach sangria we walked back to the hotel where we called it an early night.

The next day was little more than driving from San Antonio to Las Cruces, New Mexico. We did stop in Fort Stockton at a seemingly random Mexican restaurant called Taqueria Guadalajara (the closest to an actual website I could find).

Our only regret is that we have no real reason to go back to Fort Stockton, TX, ever again.

The journey continued along I-10 West, and we hit a point in the road close enough to the border that our cell carriers believed we had left the country and sent us “Welcome to Mexico!” auto-texts advising us of our rates (this has since been cleared up).

Late in the afternoon we made it to Las Cruces, NM, and settled for the night into our hotel room. There, we had a somewhat healthy meal at Cracker Barrel (I paired vegetables with dumplings and Maddy got a salad with fried chicken on it), I helped Maddy with the basics of WordPress (her newly created page for her wood signs can be found at Maddy Ave Marvels), and we turned on Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix.

On Monday, we were up relatively early (we both originally woke up at 4 a.m., had independent thoughts that we could just get on the road now and decided against it) and on the road to Phoenix.

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For the most part, this drive was uneventful. We did see a few billboards we took interest in, one of which was for Steins Ghost Town. When we got to the exit we decided to get off and see what it might be. It was noteworthy in that (unless we missed something) we were pretty sure we had stumbled into something that was supposed to be a site to stop at, but had since become a residence for about 4 people and no one took down the billboards.

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After re-entering the freeway, we finished our trip to Phoenix. We made it to the house around noon, which gave us plenty of time to unload the car and start unpacking the boxes in the house.

Despite making it to the house early in the day, everything the day entailed did a number on the two of us, and we decided the best course of action for the rest of the night was to have pizza delivered, put on pjs, curl up on the denim couch (aka the best couch ever) and get through a couple episodes of Sherlock.

The next morning, May 16th, I packed for my flight, and we decided we would use the time leading up to my departure to visit the Phoenix Zoo.

We got general admission tickets and spent about 3 hours there. One of the distinguishing features of this zoo is it’s monkey walk area – after taking an anthropology class on primates my last semester of college, it was really awesome to be in a situation where I can get that close to some of the smaller creatures I learned about. I also appreciated that the lemurs had a home on islands in the middle of a gorgeous pond just off of the “Tropics Trail.”

Leaving was bittersweet. This was the first time I had gotten to spend any meaningful amount of time in Phoenix, and what I saw of it was lovely. Truth be told, I enjoyed getting to visit just about everywhere Maddy and I went. Road trips are truly a unique experience, and I’m thankful we had the flexibility in our schedule that a trip like this required. I’m grateful I got to help with this big move, and I’m so excited to see what Maddy does in her life from here!

Dapper Day Spring 2017 at Disneyland

Though I have always been intrigued by the Dapper Day events at (not hosted by) the Disney Parks, it has been a dream of Hannah’s to go to Disneyland during Dapper Day and participate. After she took me for my birthday in March 2015, we decided our next trip together would be sponsored by me so we could celebrate her birthday, and so we could do Dapper Day. The serious planning phase started around February 2016, and it was agreed that the soonest we could make the trip would be the spring of 2017.

When we learned that the Spring 2017 Dapper Day “Outing” event in Disneyland would be April 23, we planned around that. We discussed and concluded that our best bet would be to drive down Saturday, be in the park Sunday and Monday, and then drive home Tuesday.

As planned, Hannah and I left my house on Saturday around 9 a.m. with the intention of being able to avoid the traffic through LA on our way down (unfortunately, that is never actually the case). We checked in to the Disneyland Hotel around 2 p.m. and quickly settled into our room. That afternoon, we opted to walk Downtown Disney before returning to the hotel to camp out at Trader Sam’s.

Headboard lit up at night

The next day we got up early and headed to the park, all decked out in our Dapper Day outfits, ready to participate!

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While I had done a partial day in flip-flops in the park, heels were a new mountain to conquer (spoiler alert: I lasted an hour). For those who are interested, we both got our dresses off of amazon.com and our shoes from DSW (my shoes are Journee Collection, Hannah’s are Crown Vintage).

From pictures, we went to the walk-up Mint Julep bar in New Orleans Square to get Mickey shaped beignets for breakfast. This particular Disney food is a favorite of Hannah’s that she got me hooked on during our 2015 trip together.

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How great do these look!

Once we were done, we started on rides in Adventureland and New Orleans Square. The morning included Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Haunted Mansion. We also walked through Tarzan’s Treehouse.

Before leaving that area, we checked out a fun detail in the park to the right of the FastPass line for Indiana Jones – the home of Peter Begorra, a little man of Disney that had his own “gold book.”

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We moved towards Big Thunder Mountain and Fantasyland from there. For this trip, the rides we had to do were Alice in Wonderland and the teacups. We ended up adding on the Storybook canal boats and Casey Jr. train, and Hannah got to see her favorite princess.

After that, we both needed beverages from Market House *wink wink* and so we went there before heading toward the plaza outside Town Hall to wait for the Dapper Dans. At 1:15 on the dot we heard their voices carrying down Main Street U.S.A from where we had just been, so we wandered down. After their set, we were lucky enough to get a picture with them!

As we left the Dapper Dans, my dear friend Paul made it to the park, so we met him near the Plaza Inn. We made our way to the Mark Twain Riverboat for pictures – Hannah and I begrudgingly put our shoes back on and the three of us boarded the boat. On the second floor of the three floor riverboat, there was a live band performing. It’s interesting to see how Disney doesn’t put on Dapper Day themselves, but they are active participants and do what they can to not only acknowledge the event, but contribute to the experience.

From the Rivers of America we made our way across the park to Tomorrowland so we could ride Space Mountain and drive through Autopia. After that, we switched parks and rode Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, got pizza, and all three of us squeezed into a clam shell to go through Ariel’s Undersea Adventure. Around that time we all parted ways and Hannah and I went back to our hotel room to get ready for dinner. We wandered downstairs for our Steakhouse 55 reservation and were seated almost immediately. Hannah got filet mignon, I got the salmon, we split a side of parmesan scalloped potatoes, and then had a vanilla bean creme brûlée for dessert. We both got adult beverages to accompany our dinner – Hannah got a sangria and I got a Maker’s Mark and Coke.

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After dinner, we changed and headed back to the park. Originally, the intent was to see the 8:30 showing of the Main Street Electrical Parade, but we didn’t even make it to the park until then, so we beelined through Adventureland ahead of the parade path on Main Street U.S.A. to ride Indiana Jones and Haunted Mansion a second time. After hearing an announcement that it was too windy for fireworks, we made our way to Main Street to find a place on the curb for the second run of the Main Street Electrical Parade. We found a spot outside of the Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor, Hannah went inside and got us ice cream, and we waited for the parade to start. Being the second run of the night, it went from the Fire Station back towards Small World (rather than the opposite, which is the path for the earlier showing).

Super Honest Confession: I wasn’t impressed with the parade. at. all. If you know me, you know this is historically one of my favorite parades to the point where I refused to sit through Paint the Night because I thought it was going to be a knockoff. I have vivid memories of being 3 on my dad’s shoulders watching the parade from Main Street, and throughout my childhood wore out a VHS tape of the parade because I loved it so much. I understand that over the course of decades, things will degrade, but for the love of all that is sacred, please do not think it is acceptable to give Tinkerbell and her fairy friends a section of the parade when they were not a focus of Disney until the 2000’s, nor is it necessary to add dancers to the Pinocchio section. If the floats are down, drop the area entirely or keep the parade off the lineup until the problem is remedied. Despite that rant, I do have a few accolades. I was so happy to have the original feelings I had upon seeing the train coming down Main Street, the Alice in Wonderland section with the little animals was still as adorable and quirky as I remember, I appreciate that the characters now have a few extra lights incorporated into the costuming (especially the headpieces so you can see their faces), Pete’s Dragon was present in all it’s glory, and the America finale float and it’s dancing troop were seemingly untouched. I was also excited to see the Dwarves and the mine train intact, and to see the Cinderella section was mostly untouched.

When the parade was over, we decided we had gotten our money’s worth for the day and headed to our room for the night.

The next morning, the parks opened a little later, so we got to sleep in (for us) a little bit. Our plan was to go into Disneyland and have Plaza Inn for breakfast, but when the lines for Disneyland entrance were all the way across the plaza to the entrance for California Adventure at a quarter to nine, we opted to go to Starbucks in Downtown Disney instead. This reserve store is SO cool, and being a nearly 6 month partner now, I have a different appreciation of how the store is set up and everything they offer.

When we finished we headed into California Adventure, which was not slated to open to the public until 10 a.m., but we got a magic morning for staying at a Disney hotel. Once inside, we got a FastPass for Soarin’ and then made our way to Toy Story Midway Mania. I know many people who are upset that Soarin’ Over California was done away with and it changed to a world view, but I have to say, the new version is beautifully done.

Once we left Soarin’ from our FastPass usage, we moved to Ariel’s Undersea Adventure for a second ride. PSA: If you’re in line for a ride, it is rude to hold up that line (which is otherwise essentially a walk-on) so that it backs up onto a major walkway to take pictures of a mini-show for 15 minutes. If you want to watch, exit the line, the ride will still be there.

Following our trip under the sea, we got in the queue for Cove Bar, and I opted to wait for a table on the water. Paul joined us once more on our adventures. All three of us ordered drinks off the *official* secret menu. From left to right, Hannah got a Neverland Tea, Paul got an Earthquake, and I got a Fun Wheel, all of which are plays on a Long Island Ice Tea.

After Cove Bar, Hannah and I needed to swing by the room, and Paul joined us (he hadn’t seen the rooms in the Disneyland Hotel since the remodel). On our way back out, we opened the elevator doors to find Pluto wandering the halls, so naturally we asked if we could take a picture with him.

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After our brief trip to the room, we opted to go to Disneyland for the Tiki Room and some Dole Whip. We rode the monorail from the hotel into Tomorrowland (something I hadn’t done in years) and by that time they were doing test runs on the Matterhorn which had been down for refurbishment, so the water was running. I got the lovely picture below while walking down the steps from the monorail platform..

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After the Tiki Room, Paul had to leave us once more. Hannah and I made another pass through Haunted Mansion before walking through the shops in New Orleans Square. I also took the opportunity to do something I’ve never done before – I got a diagnosis from Shrunken Ned the Jungle Witch Doctor in the Adventureland shops and paid for a fortune from the Pirate near Pieces of Eight (but I ended up with 3).

Hannah’s list of things she had to do on the trip included walking through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, so we made that the next stop on our tour.

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We decided to make Cars Land the next stop from our Castle walk-through, so we headed toward that park. We took a few detours, however, to walk through some of the shops in Hollywood Land. After riding Radiator Springs Racers, I realized I needed mac and cheese in a bread cone from the Cozy Cone Motel.

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#sorrynotsorry #carbsarelife

After my cone, we wandered over and rode Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, followed by a final round of Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.

We went back to the hotel from there because it had cooled off significantly in the park (truth be told, the whole day had been relatively overcast). When we got back, we went to Disneyland because Hannah had the idea to get castle pictures at dusk. This was followed by dinner at Pizza Port in Tomorrowland. From there, it got dark quickly, so we decided to make our way over to Big Thunder Mountain. On our way, we stopped to get a picture of the “Partners” statue with the castle lit behind it.

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Big Thunder Mountain is one of the rides in the park that only gets better as the night goes on, and we were lucky enough to get the last row on the train for this ride.

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The last thing on Hannah’s to-do list was get a Mickey pretzel and cheese, so we made our way to the nearest pretzel stand. We got her pretzel and moved on to sit by the Rivers of America outside the entrance to Pirates so we had a view of Frontierland and the Riverboat lit up.

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Once the pretzel was consumed, we decided to take one last trip among the dead at the Haunted Mansion and one more trip through Pirates of the Caribbean (two days after the fact we were very upset that we missed Johnny Depp on his most recent ride-crashing by one day). After Pirates, we called it a night on our Disney trip.

Tuesday morning we both got up relatively early and explored the grounds of the hotel prior to checkout. The Rose Court had just been visited by the landscapers and looked beautiful.

Overall, the trip was great and Dapper Day was a major success. I am definitely going to be looking for more reasons to wear my dress and shoes from the day, and am not opposed to participating in Dapper Day again in the future.

How I Spent a Day in Santa Barbara

Every few weeks, I get lucky enough to have either a Friday/Saturday or a Saturday/Sunday scheduled off work. With that “rotation” I had Saturday March 3rd free, and so did my dear friend Emily. As such, we made plans so I could visit where she is currently living in the Santa Barbara area.

Due to work, I got to Santa Barbara late Friday. Fortunately, my leaving Friday after work gave us all day Saturday to do fun things. After some brainstorming, we decided that we wanted to make sure the day involved brunch, local restaurants, historical buildings, and getting close to the beach (getting in the water wasn’t a requirement for me on this coastal trip).

For us, the day started off with meeting Emily’s fiancé at her favorite breakfast place, The Cajun Kitchen. Although we each committed to our own entree, we also split a bowl of beignets. From brunch, we regrouped and then decided that our next stop for the day would be the Santa Barbara Mission.

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After wandering around the outside of the mission, we decided to do the self-guided tour that goes through the garden, cemetery, church, and museum.

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Alternate view of the Sacred Garden

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Bay-Fig in the center of the cemetery

This part of the day made me particularly happy because I love the California Missions. As I have previously talked about with reference to National Parks, I took California for granted before I moved to Colorado, and I decided years ago that I wanted to make it a personal goal to see all of the missions. Before this trip, I had toured the missions at San Juan Bautista and Carmel, and had been on the grounds for (but not inside) the mission at San Luis Obispo. At a later date I am sure I will do a more in depth explanation, but in part, I’m drawn to the missions because of their architectural beauty, the fact that parts are still in use, and that people can still be buried there (regardless of religion).

After we finished the tour, we decided to head into Downtown Santa Barbara. There, we went to the County Courthouse to climb four stories worth of stairs to get to the top of the tower. The first two floors of this building consist primarily of public and private offices as well as courtrooms (two of the Supreme Court rooms were actually in use that day). The third floor on the west side of the building had only a small room with the internal components for the clock on the exterior of the building. The fourth floor above the clock was solely an observation deck, and each side offered a panoramic view of the city and it’s surrounding natural features.

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From the second floor of the Courthouse
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Panoramic view facing the ocean
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Panoramic view across the courtyard towards the mountains

Once we were done at the top, we took the elevator back down to the main floor and sat in the courtyard for a little while (we also probably definitely accidentally photobombed a wedding).

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Observation tower from the courtyard

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From there, we decided to drive down the pier and then park by the harbor and walk around some more. We walked past an array of personal boats and a gathering of the Santa Barbara Ukulele Club before reaching the building for the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. We didn’t go in the museum here, but went to the top floor observation deck.

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For dinner, we went to Sandbar in Downtown. After eating more fish tacos than I had intended, I started my drive back to the valley. Although I took no pictures this time, I stopped at the Madonna Inn (which I LOVE) on both the drive down and the drive back.

 

While I live in the valley, these little trips help keep me sane and active, and I am grateful that I’m living in a place that affords me the freedom and fulfillment that my soul finds from travel. I don’t mind traveling by myself, but adventures are that much better when shared. I’m so thankful to Emily and Bobby for spending the day eating delicious food and looking at old buildings with me. I look forward to the next adventure I have with you two!

My Take on How to Keep Families (or Groups) of All Ages Happy at Disneyland

One of my coworkers recently planned a family trip to Disneyland that would be the first where both of her kids are able to participate in and remember the experience. As an avid Disney-goer who has gone with groups as small as 2 people and as large as 8, I offered her advice to make the most of their time once they had made the base decisions, which include where they’re staying, how long they have in the park, budget, etc.

This was a welcomed challenge for me because she has younger kids and I do not have kids, nor does my family have young members (of those we frequently see & travel with, the youngest human member is 19). Despite this, I do know the parks and how to coordinate group trips. No matter the age range, the first step in planning any Disney trip is figuring out how many days you will have in the park and if you will be getting park hopper or single park tickets. The group I was advising had 3 day park hopper tickets (which is plenty of park time to accomplish a lot with a group of any size and age) and were staying in one of the most conveniently located off-site hotels.

With this information, I compiled a list of things that I believe are essential to a successful Disneyland trip. In this version of the information, some of the points are linked to where they can be found on the Disney website. The key to having a successful group trip is figuring out what is important to your individual group members and “planning” time in the park accordingly. To accomplish this, there are a few rules of thumb I like to follow:

  1. Try to limit yourselves to one big show per day (unless they’re in the same park) for a couple of reasons; the first is that a lot of the night shows overlap, so it’s only physically possible to see one, the other is that you don’t want to overload on shows. The shows in the same park could be done on the same night if you wanted to because the only available ones are staggered in the same location. Example I gave for their trip for February of 2017: It would make sense if you wanted to do the Electric Light Parade and the Firework show the same night if you wanted because the Electric Light Parade is at 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on Main Street and fireworks run at 9:25 p.m. Friday night and Saturday night in front of the Castle. World of Color shows in California Adventure at similar times to the shows in Disneyland so it is not possible to see all of both shows.
  2. Make sure everyone is fed and hydrated. I know the coordinator of any group is going to be a “mom” type figure and that goes without saying, but it is honestly amazing how moods can change if one of those things doesn’t happen, even with adults.
  3. Don’t forget to alternate between people’s interests, but also make sure you’re not jumping back and forth across each park or between parks each turn to accomplish this. One way to get through this making sure that everyone is happy is to take turns picking rides. This can be a whole day or part day “rotation” and it is completely up to preference if the choices are just the kids, all members of the group deciding together, or between the kid’s individual choices and a “family” activity (or any other variation thereof).
  4. Although this is a trip intended for the group to be together, there will likely be times where splitting the group and meeting back up is the best choice. For my family, this means that while my dad and brother ride Star Tours, my mom and I will go shop, get snacks, meet princesses, meet with friends, or go on another ride the boys are less interested in like Alice in Wonderland. When we’re done, we would head to a pre-determined location to regroup and decide where to go from there. Also, there were times the line for Star Tours would be short when the boys were done and we had no plans at a set time after, so they would get back in line and text us that it would be another 20-30 minutes or so. For my coworker’s family, I gave the example of taking her daughter to meet Elsa and Anna at Disney Animation in Hollywood Land while her husband and son do California Screamin’ (a ride her daughter might still be too short to ride and I know she has no interest in doing). This way, everyone gets to accomplish something they want to without forcing other group members to do something they don’t want to, and it gives everyone a little break.

Although these seem inclusive of a lot of park decisions, these are not the only things to consider while planning.

During your trip, DO:

  • As a group coordinator, make sure everyone (including yourself) gets to do something they really want to before you stop to have lunch, and everyone gets to do something they really want to do before leaving the parks for the night. This doesn’t have to be a ride, it can be meeting a character, seeing a show, or eating a pretzel (or churro, or Dole whip).
  • Make sure everyone stays hydrated and fed (I know I said it before but it’s important). Bring snacks in a backpack that are easy to eat in line, and bring your own water bottles (you can refill them at drinking fountains throughout the parks) and cups of ice water are free at quick service restaurants.
  • Ask people to take pictures for you. The Disney PhotoPass employees are always happy to take pictures using your camera or phone in iconic locations throughout the parks (it’s literally what they get paid to do.. they will also take some with their cameras that you have no obligation to purchase later). In more obscure park locations, offer to take pictures for other families, and if they don’t offer to do the same, ask them.
  • Give each person an opportunity to get a souvenir that is meaningful to them to commemorate the trip. There are a lot of shops throughout both parks and downtown that offer products of all types and price ranges. One that has always been a fun one for me is using the penny presses, which are very inexpensive. img_0478
  • Spend some time in each park at night just taking in the sights; I think there is something truly magical about Main Street and Cars Land lit up at night.
  • The first two days of the trip should start in different parks. It is a personal preference where to start and can be influenced by the time each park opens and whether or not your tickets have a Magic Morning, but those first two days should not be the same starting park. Any days after that you can start wherever you want to, but each park deserves to be experienced right at open at least one day of the trip. With park openings, we have found that in California Adventure, literally at park opening is the best time to go on Radiator Springs Racers (if you don’t want to get a FastPass) or Toy Story Midway Mania, and in Disneyland this is typically the best time to do Indiana Jones, Space Mountain, and Star Tours if you’re not wanting to get a FastPass, and Peter Pan because it doesn’t have a FastPass option).

During your trip, I RECOMMEND:

  • Taking a break in the early afternoon to go back to your hotel room for a nap/breather (even just an hour will do), especially on day 2 or 3. This has a few perks; it keeps you out of the park during the heat of the day (not as big of an issue in winter) and will help everyone refresh mentally and physically so you can happily make it to park close on the nights the park is open later.
  • Limiting the amount of soda you drink (it loops back to the hydration idea).
  • If it might rain during your trip, go to the Dollar Store before you leave for your trip and get ponchos there. These easily fit in backpacks and are a much better strategy than waiting to buy them in Anaheim or in the parks.
  • Taking band-aids for blisters. Another good trick is putting athletic tape over band-aids to help them stay on in the park. This also significantly cuts down on further rubbing and pain experienced.
  • Bring entertainment activities that aren’t necessarily electronic. Some rides will have longer wait times that are unavoidable. You know your kids/family members and what will keep them occupied best to help ease the wait time. You may not need these type of things at all, but it’s definitely something to consider when packing.
  • Talking to and interacting with employees. Everyone – characters, attraction workers, guest relations, staff cleaning, and more. Main Street just beyond the tunnels is home to guest relations, a fire department that you can explore, and museum type attractions. Ask employees about everything you see; you don’t have to be on a tour to get “tour” type answers. My example here is the gallery right next to Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln which has very expensive artwork in it; there is a massive safe to the left of the register that had an actual function when the park opened, a fact I learned while talking to the cashiers.
  • We like using day 3 of a 3 day trip to do “finishing touches” type things. To do this, we treat the first part of the day as the time to make sure we visit the rides and attractions we haven’t gotten to yet and really want to experience while there, and the rest of the day is used for repeating any rides we want to hit for a second (or third, or fourth) time. This is also the time to make final decisions about souvenirs.  
  • Go to traditional photo places, but look for alternate angles. For example, castle pictures are just as good taken from one of the sides as they are from directly in front of the castle.
  • Go up seemingly obscure paths. There is no part of the park that goes without thought, and there are fun surprises and things to see everywhere.

During your trip, DO NOT:

  • Eat every meal in the park or on park property (hotels, Downtown Disney). Sure, the locations are convenient, but this is a major unnecessary expense. When you are eating in the park, consider splitting entrees between group members or having the meals slightly later than usual because of portion sizes.
  • Feel like you have to buy a ton of Disney Merchandise. It all adds up really quickly, and character preferences will shift as kids grow up. The Dollar Store also has little Disney things that you can get and take with you to give to the kids during the trip (we even do this for travel Kleenex, Q-tips, band-aids, etc. that we want on theme).

Along with this, I offered some other helpful tips:

  • Bring your own water bottles and food into the park. The only rule is that you can’t bring glass (with the exception being pre-packaged baby food jars and smaller things along those lines) or alcohol into the park.
  • As you enter the park, grab maps & show schedules when you get your ticket scanned.
  • Download the Disneyland app for current wait times in both parks. The app also has times for shows, street performances, and events, as well as park hours, character locations, restaurant hours and menus, and bathroom locations.
  • If you don’t want to use the app (or just don’t want to pull your phone out), there is a kiosk with up-to-date wait times outside the Jolly Holiday Café in Disneyland and one on the far side of Carthay Circle in Disney’s California Adventure.
  • The monorail runs between Downtown Disney and Tomorrowland and is particularly useful if you want to spend some time exploring Downtown closer to the Disneyland Hotel and want to go right back into the deeper parts of Disneyland.
  • There are lockers of different sizes available for rent in both parks; these are a good idea for storing bulky sweaters you might need later, coolers (you are allowed to bring small coolers into the park, I recommend using this for cold sandwiches or keeping additional bottles of water cold that you don’t want to carry around all day), stuff you don’t want to carry around, etc.
  • Make sure any and all backpacks/bags/coolers are easily accessible for the security staff checking bags as you enter park property (also keep in mind you now have to go through metal detectors when entering park property, so plan what you wear and how you pack accordingly).
  • Turn your phones on airplane mode if you’re in indoor lines (like Indiana Jones and Soarin’). The buildings aren’t made to receive cell phone reception and your phone will drain it’s battery looking for reception.

A dear friend of mine whose family also frequents Disneyland added that it’s wise to set a daily budget, it will help you watch your spending for the whole trip.

I do my best to make every Disney trip I take a little bit different. Sure, there are staples that must happen on every trip like taking pictures just inside park gates by the flowers and in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, riding Big Thunder Mountain and the new-ish Little Mermaid ride, and eating my weight in churros. Despite that, each trip ends up having it’s own theme which in the past have included my brother’s childhood best friend’s birthday, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, a girls trip with my mom, best friend, and her mom, variations of “Brittany & Hannah Adventures” (the next installation of which is coming April of this year), and my mom’s birthday; almost all of these trips end up having special guests (namely Paul, Emily, and Dani).

I know this seems like a lot of information, but once you’re in the parks it feels much more intuitive. No matter what details your trip includes, what is most important is that everyone enjoys their time.

 

Quilting 101: Basic Steps

The purpose of this post is to serve as a general guide to quilting; it is not for a specific quilt and allows for immense amounts of personalization. All of my methods have been taught to me by an amazing seamstress, they do not cut corners, and they guarantee the same result every time.

*Disclaimer: I deliberately chose these fabric colors, binding, and thread so they would stand out from each other for the purposes of this post. In normal circumstances, I would not have this thread and binding with these fabrics.*

Below I have outlined the steps that are necessary and offer tips that I have found to be particularly useful. I use the term “step” loosely; I mean to describe this process in phases.

The most important advice I can give is this: never skip pinning.

Step 1: Pick a pattern, find fabric, and cut

There are hundreds of patterns and variations of patterns for quilt tops on the internet or printed in books and magazines. You could even make your own! Tip: choose a pattern you truly love – you will hit a point in the process where you want to burn or otherwise destroy the quilt, and if you are not absolutely committed to what you are doing, you may follow through.

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Once you have decided on a pattern, you will need to decide on fabrics unless it is a pattern that has a fabric pack available for purchase. Take your time with picking fabrics; visit multiple stores, take pictures of fabrics you like at each store to compare, mix, and match. Figure out how much of each fabric will be needed, and always get cuts that are slightly more than that.

Always double, triple, and quadruple check measurements before you cut. Especially with bigger projects and cuts, you get one shot at cutting. Fabric is expensive, and it would be awful to have to go buy another large cut because of a negligent first cut. I have had my share of scares (thankfully none have actually been wrong) and it is something I do everything in my power to not repeat.

Step 2: Assemble the quilt top

Once all the pieces have been cut, they must be sewn together (that is a no-brainer, I know). No matter how small the pieces are, pin them together. Sure, it may seem unnecessary and time consuming, but you know what’s more time consuming? Having to seam rip and resew what has just been sewn because it didn’t line up properly (that is also a fast-track to the aforementioned desire to burn everything). Having to rip a seam out also increases the chances of something happening to the fabric and a need to re-cut or get more fabric entirely (which can be tricky depending on the fabric).

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The example I have been using on these quilting posts is a simple block pattern done with fabric I found in my fabric drawer. Seams always have to be pressed; in this case, each row is pressed so the seams will be interlocking when sewn together (the bottom row seams were all pressed to the left, the next row of seams were pressed to the right, then the left, and the top seams were to the right), and the connecting seams are pressed open.

Step 3: Prepare batting and backing

Backing should be purchased at the same time as the fabric for the top to ensure it coordinates. The batting I use for all my quilts (in varying sizes) is found at JoAnn Fabrics.

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They offer a variety of sizes, this just happened to be the bag I could find most readily.

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At this point, you should have three components readily accessible: the completed top of the quilt, backing (in some cases this is two cuts of the same fabric sewn together), and batting. Make sure everything has been rid of wrinkles or there will be issues when it comes to quilting. The quilt top and the backing can be ironed, but I do not recommend this for the batting. To remove the wrinkles from the batting, I lay it over a table and run an iron a few inches above the material using the steam feature, while periodically pausing to straighten it.

Step 4: Assemble the 3 layers

This step requires a lot of space and ventilation. I usually do this in my garage with a boatload of heavy duty plastic, tape or weighted objects, and tables (and clamps) if the size of the project necessitates it. Quilt Basting Spray (pictured below) is one of the single greatest inventions, and it will make this step far less frustrating. This step is a lot easier with two people wrangling the fabric. Assembly can be accomplished in whatever order makes the most sense to you.

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There may be a more efficient way to do this, but the following paragraphs are a description of what I have found to be easiest – bottom to top.

My designated helper (a.k.a. mom) and I lay the backing face down as flat as possible on the plastic and secure the corners with masking tape or weighted objects. The backing should be larger than the top by a minimum of 6″ and possibly larger than the batting. We then (somewhat haphazardly) lay the batting over the backing. In a relatively organized manner, we fold or roll back approximately half of the batting. Start spraying the exposed backing with the basting spray in approximately 1′-2′ widths from person to person working from the middle towards the top or bottom edge. After each section is sprayed, unfold a corresponding amount of batting and “adhere” it to the backing using your hands to smooth any resulting wrinkles (I say “adhere” because while the spray holds the project together, it is very forgiving and can be readjusted as much as necessary). Once the first half is done, fold or roll back the other half and repeat.

Once both halves are adhered, I like to remove the tape or weights from the corners of the backing and flip the whole thing over to make sure no fabric bubbles have been created. If they have, you can pull the backing and batting apart as much as is necessary to flatten the area. Once everything is flat, flip it back over so the batting is on top and replace the tape or weights on the backing. I recommend taping or weighing down the corners of the batting if they extend beyond the backing, just in case.

Laying down the top requires a little more attention to alignment. I find this easiest to accomplish by folding the quilt top in half so the top and bottom edges are buddies. My helper (hi mom!) and I then take the short edges and hold them at either side of the previously laid backing and batting and lay the quilt top so it is centered on the backing (especially in the case of a seam). This is where the backing being larger than the top and batting comes in handy. As with the backing/batting, adhere the quilt top in sections from middle to the edges.

Once the top is adhered, sporadically pin all three layers together throughout the quilt. This helps to not only ensure that you stab yourself no fewer than a half a dozen times in the coming step, but that the quilting process (if done without a long arm machine) does not move any of the layers around; the adhesive can only do so much.

After pinning, use fabric shears to cut the batting and backing layers so they are around 3″ larger than the quilt top.

Step 4: Quilting

There is a lot of flexibility with this step. Some people choose to just stitch in the ditch created by each seam, some (like my example below) sew a wave-like pattern over each seam. Long arm machines are useful for more intricate designs, and some people choose to pay those who have long arm machines to take care of the quilting for them. The quilting step can be accomplished other ways, too. All of these are equally valid ways to quilt, and are truly at the discretion of the quilter.

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Once the sewing is finished, pins can be removed, and the edges need to be squared up.

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The middle and right “quilts” are cut for bias tape binding. Note that all 3 layers are now essentially the same size as the quilt top. The “quilt” on the left is cut for a binding job that is accomplished using the backing, which I discuss briefly in Two Types of Quilt Binding.

Step 5: Binding

I prefer to bind using bias tape. My goal as a quilter is to not make bias tape again, but I know someday a project will come along that will force me to do it, which will be fine, but inconvenient because of the literal day I will have to spend pressing it.

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The specifics of this step are outlined in Quilt Binding with Bias Tape.

Step 6: Admire the finished product!

Congratulations! You have reached the end of your project!

Quilt making is a very involved project, and I thoroughly believe that the finished product is worth it. This is a structured process that allows for enormous amounts of flexibility as far as time commitment, color, size, and level of detail.