Thursday, October 27, 2011

Adventures after Disneyland

If you’re driving all the way to CA, you can’t just go to Disneyland for three days and come home. Okay, you might be able to, but I can’t. There’s an ocean over there, not to mention awesome friends that have moved to CA that need to be visited once in awhile. So, after spending three days at Disneyland (we do have our priorities straight), we spent a day doing “nothing” which means we get to relax. We certainly do stuff but we’re not necessarily on a time schedule. For example, I napped for several hours, trying to recover from walking for three days straight so Matt and my younger boys went down to the pool for a couple hours. That was all they wanted to do that day.

Matt and I had decided we wanted to take the kids to dinner on the pier. Matt looked up the beach towns and found one that’s very public friendly and not the party crowds. Huntington Beach has a Ruby’s Diner out on the edge of the pier over the ocean! SO cool. I wanted to see the sunset over the ocean, so we combined the two. The kids came back from the pool and I had them change into their regular clothes and we all hopped into the van to head to the beach!

We got there and decided to let the kids play in the sand while we watched the sun set. Of course this turned into, “Can I get my feet wet in the ocean.” And then next thing I know, all three of my boys are soaked up to the top of their legs. What was I thinking? “Okay kids, change out of your bathing suits so we can go to the beach and swim in our jeans!” To make matters worse, I hadn’t brought any sand toys or towels. Obviously I’m not well practiced at planning an outing to the beach. In my defense Matt told the kids, “There are six brains among us. She does not have to be the only one to use her brain to realize we need bathing suits and towels.”

The sunset was absolutely pathetic. heavy sigh I was hoping that between the fog and the smog the sunset would be absolutely gorgeous. The fog was very thick out on the ocean, so as the sun went down, it got completely eaten by the fog with no color to light up the rest of the sky. Seriously? Well yes, after all, since I was not prepared to be on the beach, apparently mother nature hadn’t planned to entertain me. We finally got the kids out of the water and walked down the pier to the Diner with three of us dripping wet. I’m surprised they even let us in, but I guess they’ve seen this before. If not, then I’m the only one that has ever brought her family to the beach unprepared.

Anyway, the food was typical diner food, the service was great until we got our food. Then suddenly the place was packed and we didn’t see our server again for ages and had to hunt him down to get refills on drinks, fries, and the check. Ummm, no refills on the check please!

We had planned to spend Friday evening with friends but needed to check out of the resort by noon. We had a few hours to kill (or so we thought) and since the kids had such a good time at the beach we decided to go back. This time we put the kids in their bathing suits and brought towels. Hurray! This time I drove to the beach. We were at the stoplight waiting for a protected left green light when some pedestrians were crossing in front of us. I started hollering at the kids, “Look at that guy, he’s got a shark in a bucket! Look, right there! Do you see him? And that guy has two sharks in his bucket and he can hardly cross the street!” It was one of the oddest sights I’ve ever seen apparently they were fishermen (they had fishing poles, that was the dead give away) and they had already gutted the sharks. They had a look of embarrassed excitement on their faces as they could hardly get those sharks across the street. By the way, these sharks were the ones that have a saw for a nose that’s about four feet long. I seriously wish I would have gotten out of my car and taken a picture of those guys.

Okay, back to our visit to the beach. Elijah’s all excited to get in the ocean and asks, “Is it all chlorinated like the pool?” That’s a big deal at home because Zack and Sara have serious issues with the chlorine affecting their eyes. I thought it was a very funny comment. Matt and I noticed a farmer’s market going on in the parking lot and sent the kids to play in the sand for a few minutes. We bought amazing plums that were larger than your average apple and so juicy! I bought a dragon fruit to try for the first time, and we also bought a photo on canvas of a beautiful sunset on Huntington Beach. That was the sunset I wanted to see. But since I had been to the beach and seen the sunset, I felt like it was a good alternative to the pathetic sunset I saw. Matt and I chipped in our fun money to pay the lady the $45 she was charging and we were very excited to have bought a piece of artwork!

Back on the beach the boys were getting antsy to get into the water. For one hour the boys played in the ocean and battled the waves. Sara sat under and umbrella and read her novel. Matt played in the sand and I wandered between everyone making sure everyone was okay. It was about 65 degrees on the beach, which was wonderful unless you’d been in the ocean. Elijah commented that he wished it was in the middle of the summer and also said, “At the pool you get used to the temperature of the water, but here, you don’t get used to it,” as he stood on the beach sopping wet and shivering.

The time arrived in which we needed to dry off and head towards Bakersfield to a town called Lehiccup, no, Techoo, no, Tehechapi. UGH, I’m really not sure if that’s right. It’s up in the mountains outside of Bakersfield. Anyway, we were headed there to visit my High School friend, Kristin! I haven’t kept in touch with anyone from High School. The interesting thing is that we didn’t go to the same school, but we were in the same ward. So we spent as much time together at church and YW activities and occasionally got together for more fun when possible.

In planning our drive to Tehechapi, we did not take into account that there would be traffic. The GPS said it would take us 3 hours to get there, so that is what we had planned. We got stuck in rush hour traffic for not only L.A., but every other city between L.A., and Tehechapi, adding an hour to our trip. UGH. We’d just get through a major slowdown and get going the speed limit and Matt would say something about being excited that it’s clear sailing from here on out. I told him, “Shhh!” and then around the next corner we’d be at a stand still again. About the third time this happened, Matt said, “Nobody’s ever heard of a traffic jam in the Mojave Desert.” And then around the corner we were at a stand still again. Yes folks, that is because people LIVE in the Mojave Desert. That’s pretty crazy if you ask me.

We stayed the night with Kristin and Todd’s family and had such a good time. Her six kids range from 9 years old down to 2 years old, with a set of twins in there. My teenagers were a bit bored, but my younger boys had such a good time! After joking and laughing for hours, we finally got some sleep. We had delicious pumpkin muffins for breakfast, as well as eggs and sausage. YUM! Then after getting everyone dressed for the day, we packed up what little we’d brought in and left to visit more friends.

Next stop, the Granados family. Now some of you readers happen to know the Granados family! They haven’t changed a bit, except that Jory is 6’2” and the other three kids have grown like crazy as well. Rumor has it that’s what happens when you feed your kids healthy food. Timi has lost a bunch of weight to relieve complications from some serious health problems. She looks great! After visiting for about an hour, we decided to leave the kids at the house and we went on a double date to lunch at their favorite Mexican restaurant. Timi and I both had fajitas and their salsa was delicious! I could eat that stuff all day long. The guys had Mexican food, too. LOL! Oh, right. Matt got his usual favorite, Carne Asada Burrito smothered in Chili Verde. I don’t remember what Nash ate.

As part of our date, we went Walmart hopping. The day before when checking out of the resort, the battery died. A guy that worked at the resort had the nerve to tell me, “I guess you’ll have to call AAA road side assistance.” The thought that went through my head was, “You’re not in Utah anymore, Christy.” I begged the retired couple behind us to help with a jump start. Luckily I carry jumper cables with me. He didn’t even know where his battery was in the engine. Phfftt. To own a sports car. I may never know what that’s like. The van barely started that morning when leaving Kristin’s so we decided to buy a new battery. heavy sigh Well, the first Walmart we went to didn’t have many batteries on the shelf. We headed to another Walmart. This one did have the battery we needed! The cool thing about buying Walmart batteries and the habits our kids have of leaving a light on in the van is that the battery has a 3 year warranty. Without the receipt, the sticker on the battery shows that we bought it two years ago. Woohoo! All I had to pay for the new battery was the core charge fee of $10. I shouldn’t have had to pay that, but they couldn’t figure out how to delete the charge. I’m not complaining!

After finally getting the battery back home and into the van, we decided to take both family’s out for ice cream at DaddyO’s! This is one of those places where you fill your own cup, then dump how ever much topping on top you could possibly want. Then…you pay by weight. This was a particularly fun activity since Timi and I used to go out for ice cream when one of us was having a particularly bad day. Wow, I just used “particularly” twice in one sentence. Anyway, due to dairy issues, Timi and I both resorted to sorbet, but it was yummy and a good time was had by all.

It was time to hit the road and come home. The day before, Matt and I discussed the difficulty of driving all the way home after spending so much of the day visiting with friends. We decided it would be helpful to stop in Las Vegas for the night instead of driving straight through. Luckily the nice man on the other end of the phone found us a room after someone cancelled so that we’d have a place to stay. Hurray! Another resort! We love those places. This one has three pools and about a dozen buildings as part of the resort and they were booked solid. Crazy. The weather was unseasonably nice so we let the kids play in the pool before hitting the road again the next morning. We milked it for all it was worth and checked out right at noon.

Of course by then the kids were hungry. Feeling tapped out financially, we weighed our options and decided to eat at a Del Taco just up the road. I was so excited! We got six tacos, six bean burritos, and 4 little cheesecake tasters for $12. Wow! That’s the cheapest meal we’ve eaten out in ages. Each person ate a taco and a bean and cheese burrito. Then I started to have second thoughts about this decision of a cheap lunch stock full of beans. We would be in the car for probably seven hours; in close quarters with fully digested beans. To make matters worse, we hit UEA traffic driving through Utah! Then there was an accident in Spanish Fork and we crept along the highway for quite awhile until we passed it. Yes, those beans did come back to haunt us. Enough said. My travel tip to you, eat more tacos, not burritos if Del Taco is your meal of choice during a road trip.

After walking for three days straight and sleeping in beds that were not my own, doing laundry in tiny loads at the resort and trying to be frugal while having a good time, I was so very grateful to be home and sleep in my own bed again! That is until reality hit at 5am when the alarm went off. Time to cook for the kids and get Sara out the door to early morning seminary. So much fun.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Adventures in Disneyland: part 2

So how does a family entertain themselves in line at Disneyland? By day three the park was pretty crowded and the lines were a bit longer. We would collect our fast pass for a ride but still had to wait in line at other rides without fast passes. First of all, Matt discovered the coolest app for the iphone. It would tell us how long the wait is at each ride! There was only one time that by the time we got to the ride the wait time had dramatically increased. But this was a very helpful app as we chose which rides to hit nearby. Most of our wait time involved deciding who was going to sit beside whom for the ride. A decision would be made, people would be informed as to where to sit, and then somebody would change their mind and we’d start over on the decision making. A couple of times, I was assigned to each person in the family before a final decision was made. Once in awhile, I even got to sit beside my sweet Matthew, though this was pretty rare as we often were assigned to sit beside a younger child in order to comfort them if needed.

We are a very musical family and I knew the kids would eventually miss their practice time and instruments. For example, during one particularly long line, which of course was also a noisy wait, Sara decided to do her vocal warm ups. Not quietly, either. I don’t blame her. I think she should have broken into song after her 40 minutes of warm ups were done. She’s got tons of music she’s working on and heaven knows she sings like an angel. We totally could have done full fledged performances while in line. I will admit we got some weird looks. Zack, our drummer, beats on everything and everybody as he constantly hears rhythms in his head. One of our very favorite parts of Disneyland is the Innoventions Center. SO cool we could spend days in there. In the basement they have a dream home tour of futuristic technology we might like to have in our homes. One of which was a beautiful player piano with a computer monitor showing the guy playing exactly what was being play on the piano, as it was being played. I was very intrigued by this. Zack figured out how to pause the player piano so that he could have a turn and of course he played a very difficult piece by Jon Schmidt that he’s been working on this month.

At one point in line, the kids broke into a game of rock, paper, scissors. But of course that’s not enough of a challenge so they add in the “lizard, Spock” part as seen on The Big Bang Theory. And they played it very loudly. I wasn’t going to stop them, it was entertaining me, but they sure got some funny looks. Obviously not everyone at Disneyland is caught up with the seasons of The Big Bang Theory. That’s serious business at our house.

My youngest child is Joshua, who is seven years old. He’s a big kid for only being seven, but this was his first experience on roller coasters. He declined the opportunity to ride CA Screamin’ even though he’s tall enough. Holy Cow that ride is fast. Elijah loved that roller coaster. So Joshua’s very first roller coaster was Space Mountain. Not necessarily a good one for his first, as most of the ride is in the dark and you don’t know if you’re going up, down, or sideways. He was sitting beside me and I could tell he had reached a point of anxiety. I couldn’t see him at all to see how he was doing, so I reached over and touched his hand during the ride. When we got off the ride everyone asked him what he thought of it and he said very exuberantly, “That was awesome!” I was a bit surprised by this, and then we saw the picture of our family on the ride. Five of us have our heads up, our eyes wide open and our mouths wide open, probably screaming. Joshua had his head tucked down and you can’t see him at all. I thought this was so funny I decided I had to buy the photo.

Josh thoroughly enjoyed other roller coaster rides, but there was one more that put him to the test. But I have to tell you that background story. About five years ago, Sara was on a competition dance team in Tooele and we went to Disneyland as a dance group to dance in the parade. Just Sara and I took the trip. To avoid the lines we did several of the single passenger lines that gets you on the ride pretty quickly. We decided to do this on Splash Mountain. Sara was going first and climbed onto the log with a family of five. Their youngest freaked out and they all got off the ride and the log left with just Sara on it. I bought that picture all those years ago because it was a priceless expression on her face as she’s alone, on the back of the log, going down this huge water slide. So, knowing how Sara had reacted, I figured I’d want to buy the picture again, this time with the whole family. But for it to be a good picture, we placed everyone shortest to tallest. Unfairly, this puts Joshua on the front of the roller coaster ride to get soaked and shocked as he sees what is to come. As I suspected, the picture is hilarious. I posted it on my FB page last week and if I ever get on the ball, I’ll post it here as well. Everyone voted we do this ride again on day 3 and Josh begged to be at the front of the ride again. Apparently he had a good time.

High Adventures

It’s hard to remember all the details of the trip I hope to remember. But there are certain things that stand out that I hope to never forget.

The first two days we were in Anaheim were Saturday and Sunday. Matt had been fighting a headache so we pulled out the new bottle of Tylenol in hopes to get rid of his headache. Shortly after taking the meds, Matt collapsed. “I’m not sure why, but I’m extremely tired. I’m going to take a nap.” After this happening two days in a row, we figured out that he had been taking Tylenol PM, which has a sleeping agent in it. So…I guess we won’t be taking this as a pain killer while in Disneyland. LOL! So funny! After walking through Disneyland for a day, we were very tired and very sore. Matt and I distributed Tylenol PM to four of the six of us and we slept great!

To save money on lunches, we packed a picnic lunch two of the days. Once you reach Disneyland proper, you go through bag check stations. They didn’t mind that we were bringing food into the park, but they don’t allow rolling bags of any kind. Nothing can be pulled behind us. The first day we were sent over to a locker area. I was strictly instructed to not set down the bag, I had to carry it across the way to the lockers. These lockers were smaller. We had to take stuff out of our rolling cooler and stuff it in to the locker. Lovely. That evening after leaving CA Adventure, we had to cross to the other side and go through baggage search again where they proceeded to chew us out for using such a big bag in those lockers. “But that’s where they told me to go this morning.” So the lady told me about the “right” place for larger bags where there are larger lockers. Hallelujah! Except that the lady escorted us to the other baggage search to make sure our rolling bag did not touch the ground.

The next morning we knew where to go. At the baggage search, they sent someone with us to make sure once again that our rolling bag did not touch the ground, AND to make sure we actually put it into the locker.

On day three we decided to skip lunch, leave the bag at the pad, snack a lot, and have an early dinner. heavy sigh What a relief it was to not have to deal with the roller bag cops.

Just in case roller bag cops was not enough, there are also shoe cops in Disneyland. On the first day we were in CA Adventure. We were so excited to be there that we walked fast everywhere we went. Elijah’s feet started to hurt, so he took off his socks and shoes and stuffed them into his pull string bag to carry on his back. I was thrilled he’d found a solution and I didn’t have to carry his shoes. A few minutes later, apparently one of the Disney workers told him to put his shoes on. Matt didn’t see it happen and neither did I, but he was scrambling to get them on. Okay, whatever. Day two in Disneyland Sara took off her shoes and put them in Matt’s little backpack. I knew this would come back to bite us. Matt, Zack and Eli headed over to the Tower of Terrors while Sara, Josh, and I went to It’s a Bug’s Life. While waiting to get in, Sara sat down on the floor. There weren’t many people around and sure enough, the Shoe cops show up. “Put your shoes on.” We explained they’re in dad’s backpack in another part of the park and we’ll get them on as soon as we can. He repeated himself like ten times and would not let us in to the show where you just sit and watch. UGH. We back tracked out the entrance and waited for the guys to arrive.

At one point in the day I also took my shoes off. It felt so good to not have them on. But only a few minutes later, somebody noticed and told me to put my shoes back on. Nice try.

Sara and I had only brought our Vibram’s to Disneyland and our feet were hurting and swollen. I had a huge blister as well. We made a quick trip to Ross Dress for Less and found shoes to accommodate our swollen feet. I have wide feet anyway and I was worried we wouldn’t be able to find anything that would fit. After trying on more than a dozen pairs of shoes, I found a pair. They were DC’s. Yes, they are the skater shoes that are so very popular. They’re cute with stripes and wide enough for my feet. Hurray! Sara also found a cute pair to wear and we bought them. At the register Sara starts making fun of me. “Mom, something’s wrong with this picture. I think we have a generation problem here. Mom’s aren’t supposed to wear skater shoes.” Oh-well. Elijah thinks it’s the coolest thing that I bought skater shoes like his.

(more stories to come later!)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

We can't afford to go to Disneyland...

So how was it possible for the Barnson’s to go to Disneyland? Holy Cow, I never thought it would be possible. I’m quite the bargain shopper and couldn’t imagine spending the rates to get into Disneyland. Three days for four adults and two children would cost us $1088. Ouch! That’s crazy. Not to mention the cost of a hotel stay for several nights costing another thousand dollars. Then there’s the cost of gas and food for several days as well as souvenirs. Here’s my trick.

Several years ago Matt and I paid off our credit card and switched it over to a “Rewards Visa,” which raised our interest rate by a couple percentage points. We decided we wanted to use it to fly places when the opportunity arose. We used it two or three times and then didn’t use it again for years. Trying to keep our credit card purchases within our usual monthly budget, we charged everything from gas to food expenses on the card. Typically in December the bank offered double points for purchases since people are spending so much extra money for Christmas. When we looked up how we could use our reward points, there were so many options! Gift cards, hotels, air fair, gas cards, tickets to anything you could imagine and Disneyland!

This trip has been a couple years in the planning and the timing was everything. Matt and I are owners of a resort club that allows us to use our points at any of their several dozen locations. We had some leftover points from last year that were about to expire so Matt said to me, “Book something fun.” Well, we’ve had fun at all the resorts we’ve visited, but having points from last year to use, this year’s points and next year’s points available to borrow, it was the perfect time. I got on the website and found one room available that sleeps six at our resort just around the corner from Disneyland. I was so excited I could hardly stand it. I booked the room and called Matt. “We’re going to Disneyland!” I had booked it six months in advance so that our trip would be during cooler weather in CA and during UEA so that the kids wouldn’t miss much school.

Then a couple months before our trip, Matt called the rewards company and got us tickets for two days at Disneyland for FREE! Plus $500 cash to cover gas money. They didn’t offer children’s tickets so when we got to Disneyland we wanted to add one more day to our stay. At the ticket counter, they credited me the price of 6 adult tickets for two days and subtracted that from the cost of 4 adults and 2 children for three days. I paid the difference of $274. Woohoo! That still amazes me. Essentially, we got into Disneyland and California Adventure for three days at the cost of $274. Amazing!

That doesn’t cover all our concerns. With four children, plus Matt and myself, we needed a game plan to pay for personal expenses. For FHE the Monday after we told the kids we were going to Disneyland, we decorated plastic bins with Disney scrapbook paper for each person to have a place to stash money to be spent in Disneyland. This gave us approximately six months to save our allowances to have spending money in Disneyland. My younger two boys saved about $50 each, my teenagers saved about $75 each, Matt saved $150, and I saved $250 to spend.

The next concern is meals. The cost of food in Disneyland or CA Adventure is pretty much ridiculous. For example, Matt paid $10 for a cup of coffee and a muffin. Multiply that times six of us per meal, plus 50% for dinner pretty much blows the whole idea of a cheap vacation. Our game plan was created with the help of our FB friends’ suggestions! Staying at a resort allowed us to cook breakfast before we left the condo. We brought tons of snacks to eat throughout the day. Two of the days we took our rolling cooler full of lunch foods. The difficult thing about this is Disneyland has very strict rules against rolling bags in either of the parks. So we ended up renting a locker to the tune of $12 a day. That was cheaper than feeding us all lunch so it was a good option. They provide a nice picnic area by the lockers so you don’t have to go anywhere with your rolling bag. Then we bought dinner. On the third day, we took extra snacks and left our rolling cooler at the condo with the plan to snack more, then have a late lunch/early dinner. Then if we needed more food we could eat back at the condo at the end of the day. This was still pretty expensive, but was a happy medium for us.

We decided for Thursday to be a relaxing day after having spent three days on our feet mile after mile. We decided to go to the beach to watch the sunset and eat at a restaurant that is at the end of a pier so we were surrounded by the ocean! UGH. Another expensive meal to pay for. The resort tries to sell us more points every time we take a long vacation. They give an incentive of an American Express gift card just to listen. This time around the gift card was worth $75, which is what dinner cost! All we had to cover was the tip. Not bad, if I do say so myself!

So I was able to bring the cost of a several thousand-dollar trip down to $1000 or less. For us this may be a once in a lifetime trip. I’m so glad we found a way to do it!