Puppy LOVE!

HersheyThe holidays are flying by, but luckily we still have one month to go! Summer is generally the time that I plough through my giant list of things to do, but not this year…..July has been spent training and caring for our new puppy!

After approximately 4 years of debating the pros and cons of getting a dog…we finally did it and couldn’t be happier! Tim and I always wanted a dog and of course the kids have been begging us for years, but the truth is we were terrified of the commitment. Although our kids insisted they would take care of a dog, their track record with past pets (fish, toad, crayfish- yuck!!) would state otherwise. I believed they’d help out, but the reality was… it would be Tim and I taking on the responsibility. We knew that we didn’t want to be dog owners that don’t walk their dog or leave him/her kennelled for hours on end. I finally decided I was ready and it was time…we needed some positive energy in our home and what better way to bring that in, than with the joy and excitement of a new puppy! Tim was still hesitant, but left the final decision up to me. The kids and I went to meet the one remaining puppy from the litter and absolutely fell in love. I must say, I NEVER in a million years could have anticipated falling in love with a dog. I am now officially a dog person! I could never understand when someone said they had to get home to the dog or spent oodles of cash on vet bills and yet, here we are obsessed with the health and well being of our precious Morkie-Poo ~ “Hershey”! Although there are times, when I feel tied down by the commitment (especially now when we are still training him), 95% of the time, I am thrilled to take him for a walk, play with him or just cuddle. My shortfall is easily consumed with the abounding  love and affection of Tim and the kids!

I honestly can’t believe what he has brought to our family. He is calming, funny, affectionate, playful and a smile maker! There is plenty of research supporting the positive impact of owning a dog on both physical and mental health. Owning a dog can reduce stress, cholesterol, high blood pressure, risk of cardiovascular disease and help relieve depression and anxiety. There is also evidence stating that infants that are exposed to dogs develop stronger immune systems and are less prone to allergies. If you’ve been tossing around the idea of getting a dog, check out these two articles to learn more about what a dog can bring to your home…. extending far beyond the love and companionship you’d expect.

We chose to go with a smaller breed and one that was non-shedding, as I knew the dog hair would drive me crazy. We definitely consider “Hershey” when planning any outing, but know that this will be less restricting once he is trained and can be left alone for longer periods of time. We chose to kennel train him and that has been wonderful. His kennel is his safe place and it helps us to keep track of him throughout the day/night when he’s sleeping. This also helps to make bathroom training easier as he always “needs to go” after a nap. The “cons” list seems to have dwindled in our eyes, but those things that remain would really be limited to the occasional inconvenience when you need to be out or are trying to tackle a big project and would prefer not to be interrupted with “puppy business”, as well as the financial expenses associated with owing a dog (food, toys, kennel, bed, blankets, treats, leash, collar, vet bills, etc.). The bottom line is that “it is all worth it!”  Tim and I took a long time to make our decision and most of our concerns were “logically based”, but you can’t possibly calculate in the positive emotional impact that a puppy has on your family life. It is so much more than a point on your “pros” list ~ a puppy literally has the power to change the dynamics and relationships within a family. Hershey brings joy to our home everyday! This positive energy is created by observing and interacting with him, as well as sharing in the stories told by other family members experiences. You have new topics for conversation, share many “ooh’s”, “aww’s” and laughs and have far less time to focus on the issues of life.  For us, it feels like it has allowed us to take our eyes off that which can sometimes drag you down, and instead direct your focus on the fun and playful nature of a new puppy.

Getting a puppy was truly life changing for our family and the best decision we ever made! If you are sitting on the fence and like us are having trouble making the commitment ~ take the plunge and just do it! I promise any compromises will be worth it!

Happy Father’s Day!

As always, the service at Springs Church was excellent today. The praise and worship team did a couple of special numbers, both of which were fabulous tributes to DADS.

Eden managed to video this performance, so she could show her dad later today, when he gets up for work. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did…..so hilarious (and true)! They sang this parody based on the Brittany Spears song “Hit Me Baby, One More Time”.

PS Dads, you may think you have us all figured out….don’t bet on it!

Happy Father’s Day!

 

Spare Room Make-over: Scrapbooking Storage Bench

When planning out the space, we decided that the spare room would become my dressing room as well as my new scrapbooking room. I already had a scrapbooking room located off the back of the spare room. I loved the room as it was banked with a wall of windows and offered great light. However, it wasn’t very functional and I found most of my projects were done in the evening and I rarely got to enjoy the windows anyway. After years of contemplation, I finally relented and we both decided that the benefits of main floor laundry far out weighed my reasons for keeping it as my scrapbooking room. So I needed to create a space that was visually appealing, functional and could be kept neat and tidy.

Once again, I decided that in order to make this really work, I had to go through the painstaking task of sorting through all of my scrapbooking and project supplies. Although I still had Marie Kondo fresh on my mind, it was impossible to follow the same steps I used for sorting my clothes only two days before. This job involved literally hundreds of small items that needed to be sorted, organized and in some cases tossed or donated. I literally went through every piece of paper and brad I had in my possession. Purging my clothes was a big job, but this was a monster. It took me two very long days to get through everything, but in the end, every item would have a proper home.

As I cleaned and sorted, I tried to think about how I was going organize everything neatly into the new space. The scrapbooking albums were a bit of a challenge to figure out. They are large and needed a shelf that would be about 14″ deep and approximately 3 feet long. They are very heavy and the books themselves are several different colours. I really wanted the colour scheme to be very neutral with white accessories. After pondering for a few days, I stumbled upon a bench seat that had been given to me by a colleague. She thought I might be able to use it for a project some day. Although the bench was rather plain and needed some work, it was sturdy. I was so excited when I tried an album and discovered that it held my whole collection perfectly. I decided to give it a fresh coat of white paint and upholster the top to create a comfortable seat to use while dressing. Here is what the bench looked like before I started.

Upholstering the top what quite easy. I just removed it and added foam and padding from an old leather chair Tim had just dismantled. It was really just a matter of using a staple gun to secure the padding and fabric. I then added a piece of white material to give it more of a finished look when you lift the lid. The fabric was discounted and I managed to pick it up for around $7.  After adding the extra piece of wood along the front and upholstering the top, the bench boasts a whole new look. Simple, but lovely.

I couldn’t be more pleased with the finished bench. I am so glad I figured out how to make the albums accessible and yet out of site. The thought of having all of the different coloured albums up on a shelf was just not the look I was going for. Can’t wait until the whole room is pulled together. Just a few more projects and it will be done.  Stay tuned for the next project I have to share from our spare room make-over.

Spare Room Make-over: The Purge ~ Clothing Cast-a-ways!

As mentioned in a previous post, one of the struggles with an older home is the lack of suitable closet space. I never realized how disorganized my clothes were until my friend Robin began sharing with me some of what she learned by reading Marie Kondo’s book on how to organize your life. While we painted the spare room, she shared some of Marie’s thoughts on how to de-clutter and free yourself/life of the weight of all of those things you’ve collected, but don’t really need or even use. I must confess, I haven’t yet read the book. Never the less, I decided to take action and apply some of the tips I learned. I got up the next morning feeling inspired and began to tackle my clothing problem.

Clothing Cast-a-ways:

Step 1:

Collect all of your clothing and I mean all. Every stitch ~ from off-season to outerwear. Dump it all in the centre of a room on the floor. This is key – you must see it all together in order to be able to truly sort it. pile of clothes

I have never felt that I own many clothes. I hate shopping and seem to add only a few new items a year to what I already own. I don’t believe in waste and am not one to spoil myself. Having grown up with very little money, I learned at an early age how to stretch a dollar. (This is not always good, sometimes we need to learn to break free of the belief systems from our past as they can in fact hold us back in life ~ I’m still working on this.) I regularly donate clothes that we no longer wear and I honestly didn’t believe that this would be too big of a job for me. Wrong.

Step 2:

Sort the clothes into three piles: keep, donate and toss

Keep Donate Toss

The far pile is my “keep” pile, the one to the right for “donation” and the smallest was what I deemed garbage. (You can see the bottom two shelves of the armoire in the background ~ this is a mad mess of board games that now have a new home – yay!)

Step 3:

Toss the garbage and bag up the items to be donated.

Left over hangers

Here is a tub with the left over hangers.

I was astounded when I ended up with one black garbage bag of clothes to toss and three more to donate. How was it even possible that I had 4 black garbage bags of clothes that I didn’t really want or need? I felt like I had been through my clothes regularly, but the difference really was having it all in one place. One of the things that my friend shared that really helped me to part with items was to stop and ask myself how a particular item made me feel when I wore it. If I didn’t love it and feel great in it, then why keep it. I quickly realized that I had kept many items that I would try-on and end up hanging back-up because I really didn’t like the way it made me feel. Some of the items were virtually new and just never made me feel good about myself when I put them on. It was so freeing to finally just allow myself to be honest and discard what I really didn’t like without feeling guilty. After all, someone else might embrace that same item and be blessed by it.

Step 4:

Sort the “keep” pile ~ t-shirts, pants, scarves, underwear, socks, etc.

Step 5:

Fold and organize all of the clothing that you are planning to keep.

Traditionally, I have hung most of my clothes. I don’t know why I opted to hang, but I think I believed that it would save me having to press everything before wearing it. I’m a pretty low maintenance person and the thought of ironing all of my laundry was just not going to fly. I spend enough hours doing laundry as it is and my iron is used only on a “as necessary” basis. However, when your clothes are crammed onto hangers and squeezed into closets that are too small, they rarely escape without creases. The idea of folding everything seemed almost foreign to me, but I decided to do what Marie suggested and give it a try because what I was doing just wasn’t working. I even followed her suggestions on how to fold the items. I was already doing the vertical folding, but this took it all to a whole new level. She doesn’t believe in storing clothes and says you should be able to see every item of clothing you own.

My plan was to use the armoire which had previously housed a mish-mash of items including my pants, board games, linen, fabric, batteries and a few other odds and ends. This meant finding new homes for everything that didn’t fit into the category “Cindy’s Clothes”. The armoire has mesh wire doors and you can see into it. I know Marie suggests using containers/boxes you already own, but I wasn’t okay with this since they would be visible. I didn’t spend much, but did pick-up a few containers to add to what I already owned. I really just wanted them all to be white. I began the process of folding my clothes with the goal being to fit everything in one cabinet and one closet.

In the end, I was able to downsize considerably. I no longer store my off-season clothes in a huge tub in the basement and was able to give up the dresser I was using in the master bedroom. I now have almost everything in one place. The armoire is full, but completely organized and not cluttered at all. It contains both my summer and winter clothes. My main closet has the few items I chose to hang. All of those easily fit on the top bar in the closet. The bottom bar was completely empty, but I decided to move my hoodies from the hook on the back of the master bedroom door to the bottom bar in the closet. I do still have the closet in the master bedroom for longer items such as dresses. It isn’t very full, but the length doesn’t allow them to fit in my main closet in the spare room. My outerwear is still kept at the back door.

It feels so light and airy with all the extra clothes gone. So far I haven’t missed one item. Everything I own is at my fingertips and visible. The change is dramatic, but I will admit it took me a long time to complete this job. I was so busy that week that I honestly don’t remember exactly how many hours I worked on this from start to finish, but I think it was more than 10. It is a huge task, but the payoff is tremendous. I love how accessible everything is and find that I spend so much less time getting ready in the morning because I only kept items I like!

The time spent definitely took away from the time I had to work on transforming the spare room, but was completely necessary if the make-over was going to be successful in the end.

If you are interested in learning more about what Marie has to say in her book, but aren’t ready to buy it, check-out One Kings Lane for a post outlining 8 of Marie’s decluttering lessons. I for one can’t wait to read the book!

Dutch Elm Disease: The Destruction of a Neighborhood

BEFORE Dutch Elm Disease

Just updated the post with this photo. A great shot of our street in July 2012.

I have to admit, I’m no “tree-hugger”. I like camping and appreciate the beauty of nature, but by no means consider myself to be any sort of activist. However, today I can honestly say….I’m saddened to the core. I fell in love with our street long before we ever bought a house here. The heritage homes were beautiful, but what captivated me most was the incredible canopy of hundred year old trees that lined the street. It was simply gorgeous in the summer when the leaves of the huge trees were fully grown and the expanse of green foliage created a tunnel-like effect when looking down the street. In fact, I remember telling Tim, “Someday I want to live on Machray.”

Although I have oodles of pictures, it amazed me that I had few that really captivated the beauty of the street. I guess that is often how life goes, you don’t truly appreciate what is before you until you lose it. I managed to find a few pictures that give a bit of an example of how our street looked clothed in the beauty of those huge trees.

Over that past few years, we’ve watched as the city has “tagged” the odd tree here and there, indicating it has been infected with Dutch Elm Disease. Eventually, the crews would come and remove the tree, to the disappointment of the entire block. However, this fall things took a huge turn for the worse.  We watched as tree after tree was tagged and how the process seemed to quicken from months to mere weeks. Last week, on my day off, the usual silence of our street was disrupted by the sounds of chain saws and falling trees.  I would have prefered to be at work.  It was bad enough to come home at the end of a work day to see which trees had been removed, but clearly the city was trying to beat the snow and seemed to be on a mission. I listened as the chain saws fired up, felt the shake as those near our home hit the ground and looked on with a deep sadness as our street evolved into something more reminiscent of a war zone.

One of the workers said our street had been one of the hardest hit. I am not surprised by this news. The initial length of time between tagging and removal seemed like a long drawn out process ~ with plenty of time to for the disease to spread from tree to tree. Although they are now working diligently to remove the infected trees in a timely manner, it is much too late for our beautiful street.

The canopy that first drew us here has been stripped away and the dreary day seemed almost fitting to the mood on the street. A piece of our neighborhood is gone, but our spirits won’t be broken. We are blessed to have such awesome neighbors and although it will never be as beautiful as it was, we can not let the absence of trees ruin the street we have grown to love and appreciate so much. I know deep down it is not the trees that make a neighborhood, but rather the people who live here. I was actually surprised by my own feelings as I watched it all unfold, it feels like such a significant loss. Despite this,  we will continue to love this street we call home. Hip-Hip Machray!!

Thrift Store Score!

I have been totally ignoring my blog over the last couple of weeks because I’ve been crazy busy trying to get through everything that needed to be done after being on the road for 3 weeks and with school just two weeks away. So, here’s a little update on what I’ve been up to.

After spending about 3 days unpacking, doing laundry and reorganizing the camping gear to be put away for the season, it was crucial I moved on to my giant “to do” list before the summer ended. So, with the trip behind us, it was time to start the “back to school” list. You know… doctor’s appointments, eye appointments, back to school shopping, renting instruments, picking up supplies, writing cheques for fees, fall activity registrations and for me getting into my classroom, as well as doing computer and prep work at home. Eden came to school with me for a whole day and although it was a long one, we got lots done…she was so much help.

drum shade

A drum shade is one that is not tapered, but the same diameter on both the top and bottom.

Aside from all of this, I’ve been arranging my errands and knocking of “jobs” between paint coats. I was bound and determined to repaint the vanity in my bathroom…a big job that really needed to be done and was daunting because of the amount of work and upheaval it would cause. To make things even more hectic, I still had projects to complete in Eden’s room.

One of the projects I wanted to do for her new room involved upcycling an old lamp and it required a drum style shade. I made my rounds to my favourite thrift stores as well as a few garage sales, but unfortunately have come up empty-handed so far. If any one has a small (6″ to 8″) drum style shade that is collecting dust in your basement ~ let me know as I really need one. Although I wont’ get to it before school now, I’m thinking I might need to resort to building one. I really don’t want to pay top dollar for a new one because I may ruin it completely in my attempt to create the look I want. In reality, it is only the bones that I need. I thought Michael’s might have lamp kits or something, but in looking on-line it doesn’t seem like it.

So, this brings me to my thrift store find. I have an ongoing shopping list that is specifically for thrift stores (and/or garage sales). Although I love to browse when I have the time, I often whip in and check for the items on my list and nothing more. It sometimes takes months for me to find the things I’m looking for, so they are often future project items or pieces that I would like, but don’t need. Such was the case with the following.

Board Game Snag:

We have a cupboard packed full of awesome board games and to my dismay, my kids complain about how boring “bored” games are. I love games! Aside from sleeping and reading, playing board/card games is one of my favourite things to do. I’m an early to bed person, but get me in a game of Settlers of Catan or Canasta and I can pull an all nighter….seriously ~ I love games and my kids don’t. How sad. They will enjoy the odd game of Apples to Apples and a few others, but one round and they are literally begging release like I’m inflicting bodily harm or something.

Last winter, I thought that maybe I’d give Rummoli a try. I loved Rummoli when I was a kid and although the chances were slim, I thought I might be able to hook them with it. I refused to pay top dollar for another game that would probably serve as nothing more than a dust collector in my games cupboard, so it went on the “thrift store list”. Needless to say, I’ve been on the look out for months and not a one. Recently when out searching for the drum shade, I finally came across a Rummoli game at Value Village. There was also a traditional Monopoly game that was in mint condition ~ perhaps never used. The kids used to like Monopoly when they were younger, but the Princess version was sold in a garage sale years ago. I decided to pick-up both. The Rummoli game was $2.99  which was actually kind of a rip off when you consider that it only comes with a plastic mat and a deck of cards as compared to the “mint” condition Monopoly game that was selling for $2. I always check the games because the last thing you want is a game that is missing pieces. As mentioned, the Monopoly was perfect and looked brand new. The Rummoli box was kind of falling apart and felt surprisingly heavy. I opened it up to check and to my surprise it included a bag of money! (Not such a bad deal after all!)

So in the end, I left with a pillow case ($2), a black fleece throw ($4) and two board games ($3 and $2). When I got home, I was curious enough to count the money and was surprised to find $10.41 worth of Rummoli change. So, I paid less than a dollar for it all ~ SCORE!!

On Saturday night, a friend came for the evening and she loves games just as much as I do. She is a close friend and an “Auntie” to my kids. We will often try to get them playing games. She was totally up for a game of Rummoli and so we insisted the kids joined us at the table for a post dinner game. They weren’t excited about the prospect of another “bored game”, but loved the idea of spending time with “Auntie”. We fumbled through the first round or two until they got the hang of it and they both loved it. Shay wanted to play again on Sunday and insisted that 8 o’clock is much too late to start a great game like Rummoli. Even Eden was happy to set her iPod aside and was totally engaged in the game. I think I finally found a game that we can all enjoy ~ YAY! You really can’t put a price on that ~ there’s nothing like quality family time that everyone agrees on.

Road Trip 2015: Chapter 9 ~ The Final Chapter

Day 19

My dad has travelled to several places throughout the world and he’s always said that of all the places he’s been Lake Tahoe is one of the most spectacular, so it’s been on my bucket list for years. Although it meant a significant detour, I really wanted to visit Tahoe. We arrived there in the early afternoon and were blown away by the amazing views. It is truly a magnificent place, but we only had the opportunity to explore a very small portion. The lake is quite large and the water is the most amazing colour. It’s nestled in the mountains, so the atmosphere is serene and relaxing. The plan was to spend a few hours on the beach and then begin our trek back to the coastal highway. We had only been there a short time, when it was unanimously decided that we would all happily abort our original plan to drive the rest of the Pacific Coast Highway, see the Redwood Forest and visit Fort Bragg, in exchange for more time in the beautiful Lake Tahoe. We were lucky enough to find a great campsite and ended up staying the night and most of the following day enjoying the lake. It is the most beautiful, clear, clean lake I’ve ever been to. We will definitely be back to Lake Tahoe. We stayed at D.L. Bliss State Park. The campsites were large and had flush toilets and showers (although not usable because of the drought conditions.) One thing that was different was the “bear locker” in each site. You were required by law to remove all scented items (food, lotions, soaps, chapsticks, sunscreen, etc.) from your tent and vehicle and place them inside your campsite’s bear locker. This was a bit of work, but well worth the effort.

We entered the Lake Tahoe area from the south and then headed up the west side towards Tahoe City. The campground was located just a bit north of the spectacular Emerald Bay. We were close enough to hike to Emerald Bay and did do a portion of it, but didn’t have the time to do the whole 4.5 mile hike each way. Instead, we spent the time relaxing on the campground beach and playing in the water. The water was cold, but nice once you got in and super refreshing. We all loved Lake Tahoe!

 

Days 20 to 22

The last 3 days were mostly spent on the road. We planned to drive about 8 hours per day and really only stopped for food and gas. We took I84 East to Pocatella, Idaho and then took I90 across to Billings, Montana. Just after Billings, we continued our journey east on I94 to Fargo and then straight up I29 to Winnipeg. We stayed in Twin Falls, Idaho at a really nice Best Western and then camped the following night in Billings at Yellowstone RV Park. It was a little more expensive at $36 (similar to a KOA), but had flush toilets, showers, pool, hot tub, laundry and of course, the crown jewel…..wifi! We had planned to stop for our last night just west of Fargo and then do a bit of shopping before completing the short drive home on the last day. By the time we reached our planned destination, it was still early and we were all feeling excited to get home. We weren’t expecting the shopping to be that great and all agreed it would be worth it to push through and drive the rest of the way home, so we ended up arriving home at 1:30 a.m. on the 22nd day. We had just driven through the “time change” in the last day, so we were still on California time and to us it seemed more like 11:30. 

The trip was fabulous, but we were all glad to be home. We were so fortunate to have had such great weather, no sickness or injuries, safe travels and a life time of great memories. We are so blessed!

Road Trip 2015: Chapter 8

Pacific Coast HighwayDay 17

The 17th day was spent driving up along the breath-taking Pacific Coast. We were on the road most of the day, but the hills, hairpin curves and incredible views captivated our attention, so it went quickly. Of course there were lots of photo opportunities, so we made several “vista stops” along the route.

The highlights of the day included our stop at San Simeon Pier where we spent about half an hour watching the otters play and the humpback whales hunt in the open water close to the shore/pier. I don’t actually have a pictures of the pier. I think Eden edited right out of the photos, but it really is beautiful and there is a beach at the base of the pier. (If you head east, up the hill, you can visit Hearst Castle. Tim and I did this tour years ago and the kids weren’t that interested so we didn’t do it this time.) 

Just a short drive north of the pier, we stopped to see the Elephant Seals basking in the sun along the shore. There are signs that direct you to them, but the area is only a few miles from San Simeon.

Big Sur area is also incredible. There were many spectacular things to see along the road, as we drove through this section of the highway. Our final stop before Carmel/Monterey was at the Bixby Bridge just south of Carmel. It is truly a beautiful bridge, but we didn’t get very many good shots. The drive north was very hazy and this made it really difficult to capture the beauty of the drive.

Besides the haze, I have always been a bit afraid of heights and must say having my kids and Tim explore the views from the unguarded cliff edges had me very uptight and anxious. To be honest, I didn’t expect to be so scared and was taken off guard by the level of anxiety I felt. We snapped a few pictures and a man took a few family photos before I escaped  and got back to the comfort of the van. The irrational fear of dying or losing a loved one over the cliff,  kind of ruined the moment for me.

We stayed in Monterey for the night, knowing that we would be paying top dollar at a hotel, but that finding a camp spot would be nearly impossible.

Day 18

We began the day by heading back to Carmel and doing the famous “17 Mile Drive”. Tim and I had done it before, but really wanted to drive it again with the kids. Of course, this is the drive on which you find the famous “Lone Cypress” resting on the cliffs by the sea. They say it is one of the most photographed trees in the world.

17 mile drive

The Lone Cypress

The views were spectacular, but none could compare to the site we saw when we pulled into one of the vista points along the highway.

One of the items on Shay’s road trip bucket list was to see some high end cars: a Ferrari, Lamborghini and Bugatti. We had told him there would be many expensive cars on the road, especially in California. He saw two Ferraris and 3 Lamborghinis. (Tim saw more, but Shay often missed them by the time he looked in the right direction.) Although it wasn’t on his list (he’d never heard of it before), he was also lucky enough to see a Maserati on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. We knew the chances of him seeing a Bugatti were slim to none, but he and Tim kept their eyes peeled. (I wouldn’t know a Bugatti if it ran over my toe.) So, we pull into this vista point on the 17 mile drive and what do we see parked in the lot (gaining much more attention than the beautiful scenic views)…..not one, but two Bugattis! Tim and Shay couldn’t believe it! We aren’t sure who the 3 guys were, but they all had Bugatti jackets and hats and what seemed to be British accents. They were really nice allowed Tim and Shay to take several pictures. Shay asked how much the cars cost and was told the new Bugatti is worth $1.5 million and the 1926 model beside it is worth $10,000,000! The guy told Shay, “If you put $5 a day in your piggy bank, you’ll be able to buy a Bugatti when you are about 1000 years old!” I’m not really a car person, but I can appreciate that seeing a Bugatti out and about (not in a show room) is probably a once in a life time thing and seeing a 1926 model is a true privilege. One of the highlights of the trip for the boys! (When we got home we googled it and learned that there was a Bugatti event being held a Pebble Beach when we were in the area. Obviously, these fellows were associated with it.)

As we were passing one of the beaches near Carmel, we noticed many people with their cameras out and they were clearly looking at something along the shore. We got out and once again were lucky enough to witness a “school” of whales hunting/swimming near the shore. It was so neat to watch them. On several occasions, they actually dove up to the surface in unison with their noses together almost like they were performing or playing. At one time, we counted a group of 4 jump out together. It was pretty cool!Whale Watching near Carmel

We pulled into San Francisco in the late afternoon. It was a cold day and although we had initially planned to do Alcatraz, we hadn’t confirmed our schedule and thus I hadn’t booked a tour. Alcatraz sells out in advance, so we knew we risked not getting tickets if we didn’t pre-buy. In the end, we were thankful we hadn’t bought tickets. I think we were all ready to slow down a bit. Tim and I had done the tour before and the kids were fine with missing it. We did go to Fisherman’s Wharf where we visited the Ghirardelli Chocolate store, took some pictures of Alcatraz Island and the Wharf, and then made the strenuous 4 block hike up the hill to the famous curvy road ~ Lombard Street. We also opted to skip the long line and take pictures of the cable cars instead of riding. This was the one and only cold weather we experienced. It was very windy and cool on the wharf, so our short stay was long enough to show the kids a few of the sights and then we were all happy to get back in the van and carry on. We left the city via the Golden Gate Bridge and managed to snap a few pictures en route.

One of the few disappointments of the trip was the amount of haze there was on many of the days…..especially those days when we were doing the coastal drive. The weather was great, but the haze just meant we couldn’t get really great clear views or photos. Too bad.

We only drove a few more hours before stopping to set-up camp in Placerville, California. We had a nice stay at the KOA there and were up and away in good time the next morning.

Road Trip 2015: Chapter 7

We stayed in the Los Angeles area for the following two nights. We had booked a room in Reseda, California which is just north of Hollywood. It was a good location for the attractions we wanted to take in and the prices were significantly less in this area. It was safe, the rooms were clean and the price included a simple continental breakfast.

Day 15: Hollywood Tours

I had pre-booked two Hollywood tours with our “Go Cards” prior to our trip. We wanted to do a third, but they didn’t take advanced reservations. We got up early and headed for the Warner Bros. VIP Studio Tour. It was excellent! All of us enjoyed it. The tour was very informative and although we didn’t have any actual “star” encounters, we thought it was really cool to see some of the props/sets from our favourite shows and movies. There was lots of memorabilia set up for both Batman and Harry Potter, as well as various other shows and movies. We got to see the various Batmobiles used in the movies. The kids got to go on the set of one of the shows they like to watch and we had a family photo taken on the “Friends” set. We sat on the couch in Central Perk in the exact same spot where the cast used to sit and listen to Phoebe sing “Smelly Cat!” So fun!

When we were reminiscing about the trip, Tim and the kids agreed my acting debut in “Gravity” was their favourite memory. At Warner Studios, part of the behind the scenes tour demonstrates how a movie is pulled together from costume design to filming. Near the end, you have an opportunity to get filmed in front of a green screen using props from either Batman, Harry Potter or Gravity. We all went our separate ways and although I wasn’t too keen, I didn’t want to be a party pooper. I chose the “Gravity” scene mostly because I thought it looked easy and there was no line. Once in costume, I quickly realized two things. First, how the space helmet accentuated my overly small head and second how difficulty it is to act when nothing is really happening around you. (It’s all pretend when you are using a green screen.) You can watch yourself on the screen as they are filming the short clip and even though my “director/coach” was talking me through and telling me how to react, by my own confession, it was the sorriest case of acting you’ve ever seen. When everyone finished, we headed to the viewing area where you could purchase the videos/photos of your experience. I told my family how bad mine was, but everyone said the same thing. It wasn’t until my video played that we all almost died in hysterics. I was soooooo bad! In the words of my husband….”Well, let’s just say you’re no Sandra Bullock.” We had lots of fun and my acting expressions/moves became the brunt of many jokes for the remained of the trip. It was super funny! In all honesty, we later regretted not buying my video just because it was so hilariously bad. Fortunately, I think the visual of that awkward “Gravity” scene is forever ingrained in our memories.

After the Warner Bros. tour, we left Burbank and headed to Hollywood Boulevard. I had booked a “Behind the Scenes” walking tour through Red Line tours. It was a one hour walking tour and despite the record high temperature of 103 degrees, it was excellent. Through the tour, we learned about the history of Hollywood with stops at the Egyptian Theatre (where the “Hollywood” phenomenon all began with the first ever movie premiers), the Chinese Theatre (with the hand/foot prints of the stars) and the Dolby Theatre which is home to the Oscars. Did you know the Dolby Theatre is actually located in a shopping mall ~ who would have guessed? Of course, it was also interesting to see our favourite stars on the Walk of Fame and learn some of the history and interesting facts about them. Did you know that anyone can nominate a star, but the nominations are put through a selection process and the stars that are picked are approached to see if they actually want one. Many popular stars have actually declined and do not have stars such as Angelina Jolie, Clint Eastwood, Julia Roberts and George Clooney. They decline for different reasons and although I’m sure money isn’t one of them, it does cost the stars $30,000 to have a star placed on the Walk of Fame.

We had planned to take a “Hollywood Homes of the Stars” tour, but it was hot and we decided we’d much rather head to Santa Monica Pier for the evening. We had to have our tickets scanned before the 5:30 cut-off, so we headed over, got our wrist bands for the Pier midway and then headed south to explore Venice Beach. Venice Beach is really something to see. It is a totally different experience than Santa Monica Pier where there is more of an upscale feel. Venice Beach is hard to describe. The beach is beautiful and the boardwalk is lined with little kiosks and it has kind of an artsy vibe. People wander in and out of the t-shirt, skateboard and jewelry shops along the walk. There are also many people set-up along the beach selling their own handmade wares, henna tattoos and various knickknacks. Street performers and buskers are in abundance….some talented, but many not. You never quite know what to expect. We were captivated by one street performer, who despite his foul language, was hilarious and attracted quite a crowd. His “talent” was stepping on and lying down on broken glass. It wasn’t really the act of bravery that captivated his audience, but rather the hilarious delivery leading up to the actual performance. We also were witness to one of Los Angeles “Snapchat” highlights for the day. Police had cordoned off an area around a bicycle on which a swarm of wasps had made themselves at home over the course of the day. So weird! We loved Venice Beach and all the people we encountered.

After a few hours at Venice Beach, we headed back the few miles north to Santa Monica and enjoyed a full evening of fun on the Pier. The Pier is always really “rockin”’” with the midway rides and the various street performers lining the pier. The wrist bands are around $28 for adults, so again, it was nice to have this included with our “Go Cards”.

Day 16

Hollywood SignAfter several days of being on the go, we packed up the van, checked out of the hotel and decided to only do one attraction on our final day. We all felt a bit done. We headed back to Hollywood and did the Tour of the Homes of the Stars (by LA City Tours) that we skipped the day before. I had just done a similar tour in February with another company (Starline Tours) and must say I found this one to be much better. Our tour guide was very knowledgable and we had way better views of the homes. The tour in February had a very fast talking guide who was hard to follow and the tour mostly consisted of driving by and seeing the hedges that hid the homes. Many of the homes are well protected and hidden, as you’d expect, but surprisingly the tour with LA City Tours seemed much better. We got great views of several homes and upscale communities that we didn’t even pass through on the previous tour. We wanted to take the open top van, but with temperatures soaring, we opted for the 3 hour tour in the air conditioned van. It was comfortable and enjoyable.

Following the tour, we began our journey north. Although we still had a week to go, we had not booked any accommodations for the last leg of the trip. We weren’t sure what time we would get away from LA and didn’t want to rush our drive up the coast to San Francisco. Tim and I had done the Pacific Coast drive many years ago and we really wanted the time to enjoy it without being stuck to a schedule. The trouble with this is that you risk the possibility of paying more for lodging than you would if you were pre-booked. We only drove as far north as Camarillo, California and then decided to shop for a few hours at the outlet mall before settling at a hotel for the night. Again, the shopping wasn’t great, sales were marginal at best and with the poor exchange rate, it just didn’t make sense to do much shopping.

Road Trip 2015: Chapter 6

San Diego Safari Park

San Diego Safari Park ~ the sparring elephants were quite entertaining!

Day 12

We purchased discounted tickets online for both the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park. They are affiliated and there is a reduced cost when you purchase tickets for both parks. (They are located about 40 minutes apart.) Tim and I had visited both parks back in 1996 when we travelled to California. We enjoyed both, but especially loved the Safari Park. It has changed a lot over the years and actually there has been so much added on that it didn’t even seem familiar. The animals were active and we especially enjoyed watching the elephants “spar”. Although my memory is not the best, I really don’t remember there being so many “á la carte” options. It was a bit annoying to be honest. They have jungle climbing ropes, a caravan safari ride, a zip-line, a hot air balloon type ride, a biking tour (and more), but all at significant additional costs (Eg. zip-line for $35).  General admission is $48, but everything other than the African Tram is at an additional cost. We spent a few hours walking around and then took the African Tram around the park. This is a must, as its very informative and you get a great view of the animals in their “natural” habitats. (Of course, they’re not completely natural, but the purpose of the Safari Park is to help prevent extinction and it plays a major role in helping to replenish endangered species, so the animal’s habitats are created to closely replicated their natural surroundings.)

It was hot and we decided to cut our day short and arrived at Oceanside Pier by early afternoon. We still had a few great hours to enjoy the beach. The kids had a blast riding the big waves with their boogie boards. In all honesty I found it hard to get great ocean pictures as we were always facing the intense afternoon sun.Oceanside Pier

Day 13

Today was a planned beach day. We really loved Oceanside Pier, but with so many beaches to choose from we thought that we should try something different. We ended up going to Moonlight Beach at Encinitas. It’s a lovely beach that sits in a bit of a cove. Again, the kids had lots of fun playing in the waves and I enjoyed relaxing on the beach.  Although I kept a close eye on the kids, I did feel a bit more comfortable with them having boogie boards strapped to their arms. Both our kids swim well, but swimming in the ocean is a very different experience and I felt a bit uneasy.  Boogie boards are certainly not life saving devices, but the ocean can be unpredictable and I felt better with them having the boards. Tim is a great sport and spent time lots of time in the water with the kids. I found it a bit cold and was happy to just wade in when I got hot and then head back to the beach to relax.

Day 14

We were so sad to be leaving the guest house today. We all felt very welcome and comfortable here. The host family was lovely and I know our kids would have loved getting to know their kids better, but our time with them was limited as we were always on the go.

We packed up and began our journey north up the coast. We used our “Go Cards” and spent the day at Knott’s Berry Farm Soak City. Although the day ended well, our visit to Soak City was a disappointment. The park was packed and when I say packed I mean …. busting at the seams. To make matters worse, it was the most inefficiently run water park we’ve visited and we’ve been to several. There was only one lifeguard per post and they were responsible for six slides. They had riders wait behind a chain and then allowed six new riders to enter together, once the previous group had left, completed the slide and safely exited at the bottom. When you entered, they quickly reviewed the rules and even asked each rider if they had read and understood the park safety regulations. Needless to say, the lines moved super slow. We only stayed 3 1/2 hours because of this. In that time, we left the wave pool because there were too many people, avoided the single tube slides because it was virtually impossible to get a tube. (Although they are “included” in the park entry fee, there is an option to rent tubes to use all day for $10. Clearly this is what most people do because the number in circulation to be used with your general admission is minimal at best.) Tim and Shay made it through the lines of four rides while Eden and I only made it to three. The pavement was so hot it actually felt like your feet were burning. The slides and facilities were good, but the management was poor ~ too many people, not enough guards and a poor system for getting slides through the lines. We’ll never go there again. As well, you need to pay $17 to park and the rental of the smallest locker was a whopping $14 for the day. Overall poor value, but because we did it with the “Go Card” we didn’t feel completely ripped off. Despite this, it was hot and still nice to be near the water 🙂