Sunday, January 25, 2015

San Diego Summer Beach Days

Beach Time!

[Note: continuing with the catch-up posts - this one is from August 2014 -- ed.]

The summer is best spent at the beach, and there is no better beach in California to enjoy warm temperatures and a refreshing ocean than Del Mar.

Nieve loved finding kelp, and then chasing people around with it

Sure, I'm biased as Del Mar is the beach I grew up on. But it really is an ideal spot for a family; in August the water is cool but not cold, the waves are small but still present, and the sandy beach, especially at low tide, is wide and soft, accommodating all kinds of games.

Nieve about to start excavation on the quarry for her very own drip castle

I love watching the kids use the beach to their own ends, and what each chooses is very different from one another. Nieve loves to find and use materials; she collects shells, pulls kelp, and stacks rocks. She can spend an hour or more simply building drip castles, watching how the sand collects to form Gaudí-like spires.

Heading out to sea

She also enjoys the water, but she is still a bit timid in the waves and typically requires one of us to accompany her. Her favorite game is to stare down an incoming wave and have me lift her over it in the nick of time time. Once safely over it she yells, "not today Mr. wave, not today!"

Surf's up!

Wave riding is a blast

Ronan is less intimidated by the turbulent water. He's happiest when charging into the water with a boogie board, trying to catch and ride the waves in. Thankfully he's a fairly strong swimmer and is wise enough not to push his limits too far.

What time is it? Yep, it's dig-a-hole time.

Ronan goofing in front of the camera

He is also equally happy to be digging in the sand, be it a large hole or creating a sand fortress. He seems to delight in getting sand to cover his entire body (hair and ears included); many times he buries himself in the holes that he digs.

"When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die." Life as a boss on the beach.

Nieve reheating and recharging

But both kids very much enjoy 'lizarding' - lying on a spot of undisturbed sand that has been heated by the sun - after they have sufficiently cooled their core body temperatures while playing in the waves.

A relaxed, stress-free moment for Mom? Inconceivable!

For Mom and I the beach is a place where we don't have to incessantly nag the kids. I cannot overstate how valuable this is for parental sanity. Only very rudimentary safety and courtesy rules need to be reinforced, and at this age Ronan and Nieve can go the whole day at the beach without requiring behavioral (or judgement) corrections.

At the beach even Ronan takes breaks to simply sit and enjoy the scenery

"See Dad? Nothing! There is nothing you have to worry about."

At the beach the kids can be silly, loud, messy, and crazy without creating problems. Pretty much all we do is force them to drink (fresh) water occasionally and reapply sunscreen every couple of hours. The beach for kids is a garden of saltwater, sand, sun and pure joy.

A prelude to a tattoo? If so, I hope he refines the design.

Predictably, Nieve ended up with Mom's hat. To be fair, Nieve wears it well.

So if you have kids, I strongly recommend you take them to the beach. Frequently. Your kids will love it, and while you might get irritated by the sand you'll find in the car, your kid's hair, and on just about anything else you come in contact with in the following forty eight hours, it will be worth it.

[note: a *huge* apology and THANK YOU to Nana, as it was her house, towels, containers, toys, and everything else that ended up covered in sand from our beach adventures.]

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 (√° 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.