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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Planning for, like, EVERYTHING

Guys, I'm fricking stressing and I need to take a deep breath and a deep swig of booze and just chill the eff out.

We're going to Disney World next month. The week before we leave is Carys's birthday party.

Now, I LOVE planning a birthday party. I might definitely go a little crazy (proof), but my god, I love it. Trust me, I wouldn't go through that shit if I didn't love it. I see absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating at a pizza place with family and no decorations. Those are some of my favorite parties to attend. But...dude, I live for it. Birthday party planning is in the back of my head basically all year long and I'm always thinking of themes (although now both of my kids are old enough to request their own themes, so most of them just are totally wasted.). I want to have another kid just so I have a third party to plan and I'm really only like 17% joking about that. So planning for Carys's birthday has been fun for me and while I COULD have given it up to focus on our other big summer event...I didn't want to.

I usually also love planning trips. I love spreadsheets and guidebooks and collecting hundreds of hints and tips and making schedules and confirmation numbers and packing lists. But this trip? This Disney trip? It's stressing me the fuck out. Like whoa. It's basically something I'm thinking about every second of ever day. I have NEVER been to Disney World so I have NO IDEA WHAT TO EXPECT. Honestly, before we found out we were going, I didn't even really know what Disney WAS. A place with a bunch of rides??  A place with shows? I know there are characters but, like, just thought they were walking around everywhere. I had no idea there were four parks, guys. I knew about the Epcot geodesic dome building but (feel free to laugh) I just thought it was a building at Disney World. Like down the sidewalk from the castle or something. And I thought that Epcot was just what was in the dome. I literally thought that Epcot was housed entirely in the dome. YES. I seriously thought that. I DON'T KNOW.

I earned the trip for myself through Usborne so I started doing some research as soon as I heard about it. I got a couple guide books and found ten bazillion websites to read and joined like forty Facebook groups and solicited advice from friends and immersed myself in all things Disney.

And now I have a schedule, and FastPass reservations, and restaurant reservations, and touring plans, and pages of tips and hints, and notes about where to go in each park if it's raining, and notes about where to go if it's too hot, and lists of the best restaurants and the worst restaurants, and custom maps, and I've basically memorized the layout of all of the parks.

Yet, as prepared as I feel I am and as much research as I've done...I still am MASSIVELY stressing about it. I'm worried that everyone is going to be miserable in the heat and crowds (specifically, my heat- and crowd-averse husband). I'm worried we're going to miss something amazing. I'm worried that our feet will hurt. I'm worried it's going to not just rain, but STORM every day and everything will be closed the whole week. I'm worried that we're trying to squeeze too much in. I'm worried that we're not squeezing ENOUGH in. I'm worried that we're spending way too much money. I'm worried that I'm going to forget a poncho and have to pay $40 for one at the parks. I'm worried about losing a kid in the crowds. I'm worried about one or both kids being scared of the characters until the very last day and then being upset that they missed all the characters and wanting to go back to meet them, but we can't. I'm worried about one or both kid flipping out on the top of a ride and causing the entire ride to shut down in order to let us get a screaming child off the ride.

I just cannot shake the feeling that I'm missing something important or that if I just do one more minute of research, I'll find that hint that I've never seen before that will make all the difference in the trip.

I mean, I planned a 12-day, multi-country, plane/train/car/bus trip through Europe. Why is a trip to Florida my downfall?!?!

Vacation 2016 : California

A couple years ago, in a move that truly devastated me (because it's all about me, right?!?!), my little sister Kimberly moved to the Palo Alto area in California. I have one other sister and a brother who I love dearly still here locally, but we don't see them nearly as often as we used to see Kimberly. I worked with her, so I saw her regularly at work, but we also just loved hanging out with her. The girls adored her (well, Carys did - she moved before Emmeline was able to get to know her). I adored her. She helped with birthday parties, she went to the zoo with us, we made cookies together, she went camping with us - she was basically a second mom to Carys for the short time she lived here before she moved. When she moved, she promised she'd be back a few times a year, but of course - once you actually move, you find that's totally impractical and too expensive, so we usually only see her once during the year. And sadly (for me, not her), she LOVES her new home and is working her dream job - I'm so proud of her - so....I think we're stuck without her for the long haul, and just typing that makes me want to cry. But I'm happy for her and insanely jealous of the fun adventures she's going on like basically every day. But I miss her a lot.

Kim and Carys before the big move

My mom was visiting Kimberly over the summer (this is last year, because I'm SO ON TOP OF BLOGGING) and it worked out that we were able to go - my angel of a sister-in-law had enough airline points that we were able to get the girls both tickets for free, and we stayed with my sister (her boyfriend was out of town, so there was room in their apartment). Because of that, it wasn't nearly as expensive as it could have been, and obviously I really wanted to visit her and see her.

Rosie, the ever-present American Girl doll

The four of us on the plane. We took both car seats with us since we would be driving a lot once there - we checked Carys's and took Emmeline's on the plane. 

Carys made friends with this little girl who was sitting behind us, so a few minutes into the flight, the little girl moved up to the empty seat between me and Carys for the rest of the flight.

We basically dropped off our bags and then the girls wanted to swim in the pool at Kimberly's apartment. I don't know why the girls look miserable here. Probably because I told them they needed to be done swimming and we were going to go eat or something. I don't remember because this was A YEAR AGO.

At one point, a huge family came down to swim and grill, and fed us like five plates of food each - when we declined the food initially, the daughter explained that since they were Hmong, feeding anyone within a five mile radius was basically required and that her mom would be insulted if we didn't eat.

A trail/nature area by her apartment.

We drove to an upscale shopping plaza, basically only to fulfill my dream of taking Carys to an American Girl store, and...the girls both fell asleep on the ride there. So while they napped in the car, my mom and Kimberly shopped and we went to the AG store when they woke up.


Out of all the things she could have gotten...she picked a bunny. Since it was her birthday, they also gave her a sticker and a little bag of Melody goodies, including a matching girl-doll kerchief set. 

Super adorable restaurant called Coconuts in Palo Alto.

Carys in her American Girl kerchief; Emmeline eating the food of our people.

We also got to visit the WINCHESTER MYSTERY HOUSE which yes, deserves those capital letters and OMG guys is like a dream come true. I didn't even realize it was so close to Kimberly (in San Jose) and probably came close to tears of joy when I found out. It's one of those places I've always known and read about - like since I was a little kid - and was fascinated by. If you're not aware - it's a huge mansion that was built with tons of oddities, like stairs to nowhere, doors to nowhere, rooms that don't line up, secret passages, etc. AND THEY HAVE TOURS AND NOW I'M DEAD JUST LIKE MRS. WINCHESTER. No photos were allowed inside, so I bought a souvenir book (probably the point) and took tons of pictures of the exterior. (Hint: lots of pics on Wikipedia!)

One thing I hadn't realized is that they don't actually know for sure why the house was built so oddly. Sarah Winchester married into the Winchester rifle family, and when her husband died, she inherited a shit ton of money. There's a theory that at some point after her husband (and infant daughter) died, a medium told her that she was going to be haunted by the ghosts of everyone ever killed by a Winchester rifle and that the only way to appease the spirits was to travel west and build a home where construction could never end, and that the curiosities of the house (i.e. the doors to nowhere) were built to confuse the spirits (although other accounts say that the spirits guided her in the design and what to build). Supposedly her favorite number was 13 and instances of this number can be found throughout the house (which is true - we found a ton of them, like 13 stairs in a flight, 13 panes of glass, 13 spindles, etc.). She also loved spider webs, with the mystical explanation being that they would 'catch' the spirits, and the spider web motif is woven throughout the house in the form of wallpapers and stained glass windows, etc.

But during the tour we learned that no one knows that for sure, and that she might have just been bored and keen to indulge her interest in architecture - only since she was completely untrained and there was no master plan for adding on to the house, it ended up with a number of bizarre features, like the aforementioned stairs and doors to nowhere. And maybe she just liked the number 13 and spider webs for reasons that had nothing to do with anything else.

 A door to nowhere. See it?

Or maybe it was a little bit of both.

The house now sits on 4.5 acres, but originally there were over 160 acres. There are beautiful gardens and statuary and outbuildings surrounding the main house. I can't imagine what it was like before they pared it down!

One super creepy part of the house tour was that we learned that in the earthquake of 1906, the house was significantly damaged - three stories of a seven-story tower fell down, and the front half of the house was essentially sealed off and closed. Plaster had fallen from the walls and floors had buckled. But rather than fixing it...she just sealed it off and continued building on the back half of the house and made a new main entrance (she was trapped in one of the front rooms and supposedly thought the spirits were sending her a message to stop working on that part of the house). We walked through some of the damaged rooms and it was incredibly creepy.

While all of the furniture was sold or bequeathed after her death (so nothing is original to Sarah, though it is from the correct time period and in the right style), the house itself was opened as a tourist attraction fairly quickly (I think it was five months after she died?). However, there were SO many rooms that were sealed up and impossible to get to that a number of original items were found hidden away - including a storage room full of priceless Tiffany windows and custom wallpapers, and just recently an attic with a couch and dress form and some other random items.

We also went to the Exploratorium in San Francisco, which was AMAZING. I would book an entire trip just to go there again. It's an interactive science museum for all ages - and I mean that quite literally. It was almost more geared towards adults than kids (though the kids had a BLAST).  I could have stayed there all day. I wish we had planned two days for it.

They had a strandbeest exhibit, which was fascinating, and we got to walk a strandbeest (video). It's literally  made with just PVC pipe and zipties. No motors. HOW?!?!?!?! 

We also hit up Santa Cruz, which has a pier full of sea lions, an old-fashioned boardwalk lined with carnival games and dining, as well as a (totally packed) beach.  They also have a little Marine Discovery Center that was REALLY neat and almost empty, with a little underwater submersible that you can motor around a large aquarium. 

The discovery center

  We ate lunch on the pier and passed this amazing octopus water fountain.

Discovering a geocache on the pier. 


Someone was fishing from the boardwalk (actually lots and lots of someones) and caught a baby octopus and let us hold it.

Clever cropping makes it look like we were the only ones here. 


We weren't.

But despite the insane crowds (and the boardwalk was like wall-to-wall people crowded) it was beautiful.

See? INSANE crowds. Like crowds don't generally bother me too much but even I was like, "OMG we need to leave this place."

But not before we got ice cream, of course.

Isn't my sister adorable? Wouldn't you miss her too?


Another geocache we found on the way back to the car (Carys wrapped in a towel because she didn't want to wear wet swimsuit bottoms anymore, so she stripped.)

We took a day to hike among the sequoia trees at Purisma reserve. Gorgeous. Like grab-me-some-sticks-I'm-building-a-cabin-and-never-leaving gorgeous.

Also full of banana slugs. I would not be exaggerating to say we saw probably close to ten million of them.








 Of course, no visit to the area would be complete without a walk on the Golden Gate Bridge. It was gorgeous, and at the same time far more imposing and far less imposing than I thought. I also got a little bit of vertigo walking across it. About ten feet onto the bridge, I realized we couldn't take Emmeline. She ONLY wanted to look over the edge and she could TOTALLY fall through the spaces - they weren't toddler safe in the slightest. So I had to run her back to my mom (who refused to go on due to fear of heights) while Carys, Kimberly, and I continued onward.

The area surrounding the bridge is gorgeous and there's an old military base (??? I should look this up and see what exactly it was because, you know, A YEAR LATER I don't remember).

Love me a good vintage, colored door.

Gotta love a screaming kid picture

On the way back, we stopped for a picnic lunch in this gorgeous little ocean-side town, which was possibly called Half-Moon Bay if I remember right, but...again...a year later, I might be completely wrong. We ate on the rocks and watched surfers. 

I've been to San Francisco once before, maybe ten years ago, but it was a very brief stay for a work convention and I was really only able to explore the part of the city within walking distance of my hotel. The guy I was with gave me a super fast, whirlwind tour of the city, so I drove by the super windy street, the piers, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Palace of Fine Arts. And the Palace of Fine Arts has always stuck out to me as something I wanted to see again, so I was excited to check it out in detail instead of just flying by in a car. 

There were girls getting their wedding and quinceanera pictures taken all over the place, and Carys was particularly enamored with this girl, in the "most amazing dress ever." When she noticed Carys eyeing her, she asked if she wanted to take a picture together. 

One of the last things we did was the San Jose Zoo, which is actually more like an amusement park + zoo combination. The girls LOVED it. If we lived in the area, we'd have a membership for sure. It was small, but packed full of activities and we spent much longer there than we'd originally anticipated. Carys discovered her love of roller coasters there (video) and has asked to go back on a roller coaster just about every day since.

We had a really great time - Chris always has the opportunity to move to the area for his work, and we've thought many times about making the move ourselves - only to pull back on the decision due to the crazy high cost of living in the area. But having visited, I have to say...it's not the worst idea in the world. And being closer to my sister would be icing on the cake. What do you say, Kimberly? Ready to have all four of us come live with you?!?