Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Disneyland, 2014

California Adventure, at night. Lots of sparkly lights.

[Note: yet another catch-up post - this one is from February 2014 -- ed.]

2014 marked Ronan and Nieve's first trip to Disneyland, an apparent rite of passage for any American child. Poppa turned something-greater-than-twenty-nine and wanted to celebrate his milestone by treating his kids and grandkids to a couple of days at the oft marketed, "Happiest Place on Earth".

California The kids & cousins. Happy? Yep, happy.

Footage of our time on some rides

I, for one, never liked Disneyland, even as a kid. I've always had an aversion to highly controlled, artificial spaces, I loathe waiting in lines, and the It's A Small World ride scares me. Mostly, though, I get anxious in crowds. All that said, I am impressed (terrified?) at how well Disney understands the psychology of children; given how Ronan and Nieve seem utterly engrossed in all things Disney/Pixar, it appears the corporation has already set it's hooks in our family.

Want to make Disneyland more exciting? Add Stormtroopers!

Rather than fight a losing effort against the Disney manipulation machine, I decided to do my best to have a blast with the kids. Given it was Disneyland, with all of Mom's family, all I really had to do was not get thrown out of the park. I'm pleased that I can say, with accuracy, "mission accomplished."

Ronan, Mom and Poppa enjoying A Bug's Life ride

Ronan and the cousins riding a grouchy ladybug

I cannot say that I enjoyed the park itself, *but* I very much enjoyed watching Ronan and Nieve experience the parks with the family. That part was fantastic. Here are my top ten observations from our time at the theme parks:

Tea Cups!!!

Ronan's first ride at Disneyland? The Matterhorn.

1. There is a certain amount of charm in the old rides like the Matterhorn or the Tea Cups, but they don't compare with the sensory overload of the new rides, so best to do the old ones first.

Did you get your V8?

This sums up Day 1 at Disneyland. Radiator Springs at night was fantastic.
"Kachow!" Nieve nearly jumped a mile when Lightning McQueen started his engine.

2. Radiator Springs at night is fantastic. Given the neon lights and the build quality of the props, it seems as if you are on a movie set. It's engrossing and the kids thought it magical. If you are at Disneyland at night, this is a must-do.

Ronan loving the Pixar parade

Nieve pointing out the acrobats on the Bug's Life float

3. The parades are *loved* by children. Adults seemed to enjoy it as well. Who doesn't love a parade?

The California Adventure Carosoul at night. Pretty, but a very short ride.

A thoughtful Nieve on a carousel

Ronan is always a good sport, but the short carousel ride (at the cost of a long line) was not his cup of tea

4. Skip the carousels. Nieve tried both of them, and while she liked them (she *loves* carousels), neither was worth the wait.

Fun at Toontown

Arms out appears to be the proper pose for photos taken in Toontown

5. Toontown was great fun. The kids were able to run around, climb all over fun looking stuff, and have the freedom to play in a faux cartoon world. Ronan tried to leave his body silhouette by running full speed into a door (á la Wiley Coyote). Sadly Toontown only implemented cartoon aesthetics, not cartoon physics.

This photo cost us 45 minutes in a line. Ronan thought it was worth it; my math disagrees with his.

Nieve loved Minnie Mouse. She loved Cinderella more, but she still loved Minnie.

6. "Meeting" Disney characters, such as Minnie or Pluto, seems to be a hit with kids. I'm not sure why, but it is. Yes, autograph collecting from those characters is a thing. Just roll with it.

Crowd watching at Disneyland perplexed even Ronan and Nieve. Viewing was best done from the upper deck of the steamboat.

7. Disneyland may be the happiest place on earth, but it is filled with plenty of odd people. Bring lots of hand sanitizer. Use it religiously.

Nieve got her groove on, even to the fireman jazz brigade

When you get the urge... best to listen to your body and go with the music

8. If your child loves to dance, let him/her do it when he/she gets the urge. Hilarity may ensue.

Spend too much time at Disneyland and you will grow pink ears! Bow sold separately.

Or it may convince you that it may be possible to pull a sword from a stone

What does 10 straight hours at Disneyland do to you? This is what.

9. The cocktail of Disney-induced excitement, junk food, and sleep depravation makes for a powerful personality modifier. By the end of the trip, Ronan and Nieve were entirely different children. It took a week of sleep & mellow activities for their systems to return to normal.

A happy Ronan with cousins Maia and Makena

10. Disneyland is best enjoyed with a group of family or friends. The kids loved having their older cousins show them how to navigate the parks. It also affords tired parents small moments of reprieve that are invaluable for maintaining sanity.

The Disneyland 2014 crew. Yes, we are all wearing matching light-pink t-shirts to mark the occasion.

Thank you Grammy & Poppa for a fun trip!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

In Costume @ the Monterey Bay Aquarium

A unicorn, pausing at the Ocean's Edge

[Note: apologies on the delay in the post... I am still catching up on a large backlog of photos/stories -- ed.]

No weekend in Monterey would be complete without visiting at a one of Ronan and Nieve's favorite spots: The Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Ronan watches a leopard shark glide gracefully by

A leopard shark and a unicorn, eyeing each other

Given it was Halloween, Nieve and Ronan decided it best to wear their costumes. Ronan claims, "Neymar would love visit. He loves things that swim fast, like he runs." Nieve tried to convince me that, "Unicorns are magic. Fish would appreciate that."

Eagerly watching the penguin feed

I have no idea if either of them are correct, but I can attest to the fun they had being dressed up at the aquarium. During the penguin feeding the docent announced, "I see we have Neymar and his friend the unicorn in the the front row..." which elicited big smiles from Ronan and Nieve.

Neymar and Nemo - a photo request from Ronan

When we visited the Splash Zone (an area for young children), Ronan saw a clown fish swimming and said, "Dad - take a picture Neymar and Nemo!" Of course, I obliged.

Ronan says "hello" to his little friend (a puffin). In a kind, sweet way, not like Scarface.

Nieve acting cute for the murres and puffins

Ronan and Nieve love cramming into the small porthole together to watch the puffins and murres swim under the water

The puffin/murre exhibit is fast becoming a favorite due to the natural curiosity and assertiveness of the birds. Without fail, Ronan's able to get a puffin (or two) to follow him around as he walks back and forth across the large glass pane. Equally repeatable repeatable is his signature nose-to-beak greeting against the glass.

Nieve demanded that I take this picture of her. I have no idea why. But, when possible, I try to humor her requests. It was extremely dark (much darker than the photo reveals) and the camera's autofocus was having fits trying to find her. After several attempts we finally got an image that she was satisfied with. This is the result.

Ronan, always able to make friends with even the crabbiest of creatures

After our time with the aquatic birds, Ronan asked to get his hands wet. It's become a rule of his - we are not allowed to leave the aquarium without spending time at the touch pools. Ronan loves trying to pet the bat rays, while Nieve's favorite sea creature to pet is the urchin (go figure). This time Ronan and Nieve loved playing with the hermit crabs, letting them crawl over their hands and tickling their fingers.

Sparkly light always bedazzles Ronan. He'd be easy prey for an angler fish.

Nieve could happily spend a half hour quietly watching the happenings of the kelp forest exhibit

One of the secret ingredients of the aquarium is it's ability to sooth and relax children. When the excitement level gets too high, I simply lead Ronan and Nieve to the darker portions of the Ocean's Edge exhibit an let the gently swaying light do it's magic. The children, ensorcelled by the hypnotic movements and gracefully swimming fish, enter a quiet, more introspective state.

The anticipation...

...the crash...

Of course, they are children, so down-time can only last for so long. Then it's back to sensory overload at the Wave Crash Tunnel where Nieve loves ramping up her screeches in anticipation of the water splashing onto the acrylic above her head.

...and the elated response!

Eventually we had pull ourselves from the fun given the night of trick-or-treating that lay ahead. It was clear, though, that spending Halloween in costume at the Monterey Bay Aquarium was a fantastic way to spend the day.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Rancho Siempre Verde, 2014

The big swing! Always a blast.

On Saturday we completed our annual pilgrimage to Rancho Siempre Verde, the delightfully eclectic Christmas tree farm off Highway 1, next to Año Nuevo State Park.

Ronan, trying to get inverted

Nieve swinging while Ronan watches

Happy? Yep, happy.

Ronan's smile would not go away

The farm was as it always is - campy, inviting, and filled with mirth. We arrived early (before 10:00am) and lucky Ronan was able to help stress-test a newly hung swing. Like all the other swings at the farm, the new one elicited gleeful squeals from the kids.

Even Mom tried her hand on a swing

Nieve loving her time on the swings

What made this year even more fun for the kids was the mud. Recent heavy rains left the ground saturated, making for the perfect splish-sploshing in rubber boots.

Three generations! The future is in good hands.

It doesn't get much tastier than lunch with Grammy & Poppa

We also lucked with out with Grammy & Poppa being able to join us this year; and as it was Grammy's first time at the farm, Nieve was excited to show her around.

Yum.... smores

Safe? Hmm, maybe not. Fun? You bet.

It's always fun exploring the haystack maze

She showed her all of the special quirks of the farm; the old backhoe, the large hay-bale stack and maze, dozens of swings, the small apple orchard, the giant wooden xylophone, and of course the bonfire used to roast marshmallows.

Ronan in a backhoe vs. Mom & Grammy

Ronan kept the tractor on the path, but I will note that he failed to indicate when he made turns

A tractor-driving Ronan and his full load of passengers

Nieve was pleased with Ronan's efforts

Ronan applied his boyish charm and was successful in finagling his way into driving the tractor. He loves piloting it down the muddy paths between sections of trees; he really is in his element when 'working' on the farm.

Success! Ronan and Nieve deem this tree the best.

Nieve ensured the tree wrapper was fully operational

And of course, we were successful in finding the perfect little tree. It was not tall nor particularly bushy, and it was noticeably asymmetric, but the kids loved it and it's uniqueness charmed the whole family. The same could be said about RSV.

A happy Nieve on a swing, clearly loving her time @ RSV