Lunch and a Movie

Today was another stay close to home (away from home) day. The trip is winding down and I’m okay with it because I’m starting to feel a little homesick. Venice is a weird place. We’re staying in a multi-million dollar home with a teeny-tiny empty lot next to it that’s listed for $1.5 million (empty) or $3.3 million with a home on it. Less than a block from us is a row of derelict cars parked along the street that have people living in them. We passed a McLaren parked in someone’s drive yesterday. It’s a study in extreme wealth and poverty.

We saw the same thing in Hawaii. The consistently good weather and beautiful scenery brings extreme wealth. The lack of harsh conditions brings homeless people. Minneapolis is too cold in the winter and Phoenix is too hot in the summer to attract the same mass of homeless people. Frankly, I’m just not used to seeing it.

We spent about an hour at the beach and playground in the late morning. At the playground there was a beer bottle filled with bright yellow liquid next to the swing set. I’m really hoping it was beer. I should have thrown it out, but I was afraid to touch it.

Our big afternoon was lunch and a movie. We all had lunch together. Once again, the food was excellent. The only problem was that my panini filling had the temperature of molten lead. We split up for the movie part. I went to Moana with Nola and her mom and my husband and his other sister went to Arrival. The movie theater sold wine and popcorn with real butter, so I was a happy camper.

Back in Venice

After our marathon Disney adventure, no one felt like doing much of anything today. After breakfast, the girls went out shopping. The primary destination was a shop called Books and Cookies. I was expecting a combination bookstore and bakery, but it was really just a children’s bookstore that sold a small assortment of cookies.

Then we went for lunch at the Firehouse Restaurant. The building was cool, but the food was the worst we’ve had on the trip so far. We followed up with another trip to the grocery store to get dinner supplies. We had a celebrity sighting on the way, one of those actresses you recognize by face but not by name.

By the time we got home, nearly four hours had passed and my husband had successfully completed his car repair. We now have working brake lights. Yippee! Our vodka supply was perilously low, so my husband and I took the now totally functioning car to Costco.

I had purchased steaks for dinner, but we filled up on chips and guacamole instead, so I guess we’ll save those for tomorrow. I’m thinking that will be another low key day.

California Adventure

Our second day at Disney was spent in the California Adventure Park. As usual, we got off to a slow start. We had a lunch reservation for 11:30, so we didn’t want to have a full breakfast. Luckily there was a coffee shop in the hotel, so we fueled up on muffins and java in our rooms. By the time we got the car loaded with our luggage it was after 10:00.

Nola wanted a princess dress, so she went shopping with her mom and Aunty. My husband and I took the opportunity to get a caricature done. This is our third. The first two were done on trips to Las Vegas. By the time we headed for the park entrance it was 10:45 and the line was ridiculously long. Fortunately, they have an alternate entrance for hotel guests, so we walked there and zipped right into the park.

We were able to go on one ride and walk around a little before our appointed lunch time at Ariel’s Grotto. I had booked the full Princess lunch. Every little girl was wearing a princess dress, so it was a good thing Nola had picked one up before we got in the park. A photo op with Ariel was the first order of business. The rest of the princesses came while we were eating. The food was really good and they had fancy adult beverages, so everyone was happy.

While we were having dessert, we noticed that the roller coaster stopped running. They ended up having to evacuate everyone from the cars. So happy we weren’t on it. The line for the Ferris Wheel was too long (40 minutes) so we left Paradise Pier and went to Cars Town. After one ride there, we headed to a Bug’s Land. The rides and the lines were kid friendly, so Nola was able to go on several.

Our final “must do” was a meet and greet with Anna and Elsa from Frozen. Another 20 minute wait. I realized when we got to the front of the line that they actually had at least 4, maybe 5 separate rooms each occupied by the pair of characters. You have to admire their ability to manage a long line while still maintaining the illusion that there’s only one Anna and Elsa.

There was one more round of shopping before we headed to the car. We made a last bathroom stop in the hotel lobby and just then Santa decided to show up. So of course Nola wanted to wait in line to see him. We persuaded her to use the toilet while I held her place in line, in order to save a little time. By the time we got to the car it was 5:30.

Our ETA for the holiday house kept getting longer as we battled the ridiculous LA traffic. It was an insane drive. I was horrified by the number of cars that just randomly drifted into adjoining lanes, as if they were trying to get hit. I held my breath, hoping no on would rear end us due to our malfunctioning brake lights. I’ve never been so happy to pull into a garage.


Unfortunately, while checking out the car yesterday, my husband discovered that the brake lights on the car aren’t going on and he needs a replacement part to fix them. He found a Nissan dealership near Disneyland that has the part in stock.

Yes, today marks the halfway point of our trip and the wildly anticipated trek to Disneyland. I’m not sure who’s excited more – Nola or the adults. We got a slow start and needed to stop at the dealership, so by the time we actually arrived at the park and checked in at the hotel, it was 11:00. The line to get in wasn’t too bad, but the TSA has nothing on Disneyland. Bag check and metal detector – they want to make sure the happiest place on earth is also the safest.

We started with Sleeping Beauty’s castle, followed by the Dumbo ride. The park was crazy and just got crazier as the day went on. Our strategy was mainly to find rides with the shortest wait time. We all went on “It’s a Small World” together. It’s a lame ride, but Nola’s reaction to all of the animated characters was priceless. Then we left Fantasyland for Toontown, which is the most toddler friendly area of Disneyland.

We had a quick lunch at Pluto’s Dog Stand. Afterwards Nola, her mom and Aunty went to see Mickey (30 minute wait), while my husband and I noticed the mini coaster had a short line so we went for a ride on it. Then they rode the teacups while my husband and I went to Hyperspace Mountain to get a fastpass. That would allow us to cut the line at a designated time, in this case it was 7:55-8:55 pm. Yes, they are that precise.

We met up at the statue of Walt Disney and then started heading to the car to bring up our luggage. The morning arrival time meant our rooms weren’t available, but they give you the keys and send you a text with the room number when it’s ready.  We were almost out of the park when Nola overheard an announcement that the parade was about to start. So she and her mom stayed to watch while the rest of us dealt with the luggage.

The rooms had a view of the pool and featured touches such as Mickey Mouse faucet handles. At 5:30 we went out to find some dinner before heading back into the park. We ended up at an outdoor cafe and ordered nearly every appetizer on the menu plus a pitcher of Sangria and several other drinks. Nola treated us to some disco dancing. The tab ended up being 75% alcohol. It was awesome.

We headed to New Orleans Square and all rode “Pirates of the Caribbean” together. That was one of the few rides I remembered from my previous visit to Disneyland (age 12-13ish). The wait was 20 minutes but the line moved constantly, so it felt shorter. They do a great job managing logistics at the park.

We had reached our appointed time for Hyperspace Mountain, so my husband and I walked to Tomorrowland. The ride was short but awesome. When we rejoined the group, they were all eating ice cream and Nola was starting to fade. We decided to take a pass on the fireworks and headed back to our rooms for the night. An exhausting but magical day.



Venice Canals

Since we took a road trip yesterday, today we decided to stay close to home. We were running low on some grocery staples, so I made an early trip to the store. I managed to get there and back without incident. Provisions secured, we were able to have a decent breakfast. I also brought out our Christmas presents for Nola.

There were three dresses from Princess Awesome (one with dinosaurs, one with Pi symbols and one with airplanes), a pair of sandals and a pair of sneakers. Everything was a big hit. She tried on all the dresses, but settled on the airplane one, as it was deemed the most twirly. The sneakers were just in the nick of time, as the ones she had been wearing were getting tight.

Then I got tapped for babysitting duties while my sisters-in-law ran errands. Of course Nola needed to use the toilet about 5 minutes after they left. She really doesn’t need assistance, but prefers an adult to be present. She also prefers to take off all of her clothes before getting on the toilet.

My husband’s day ended up being largely occupied by trying to figure out why he was getting warning lights on the car. He was under the hood with a headlamp on when Nola, her mom and I went out for a late afternoon walk. We went to the Venice canals and spent some time at a small playground, walking back along the beach. Venice is a weird place.

Santa Barbara

Today we took a road trip to Santa Barbara. We had been on the road about 10 minutes when Nola piped up from the back, “Uncle Tim’s a dodgy driver.” The commentary was more a reflection of the bumpy road condition than my husband’s driving ability, but it was hilarious nonetheless.

We arrived in downtown Santa Barbara right around lunch time, so that was our first stop. Then we took a little stroll down the street and back, stopping for ice cream before heading back to the car. We went to the Old Mission Santa Barbara and took some photos, but no one seemed interested in taking the tour. Nola loudly announced in the gift shop that she wanted to go someplace more exciting.

So we went to the beach, or rather a park with a nice view of the beach. After some running around and somersaulting, Nola decided she wanted to go to the actual beach. On the way there I realized I was missing one of my lens hoods. I had changed lenses soon after getting out of the car and stuffed it in my bag, but it must have fallen out. My husband dropped the rest of the group at the beach and we headed back to look for it.

Fortunately, I found it about 15 feet from where I had changed lenses. I ran back to the car and we returned to the beach and parked. The girls were sitting at a table at a cafe right on the sand. It seemed an opportune spot for a round of cocktails. Nola ran around and dug in the sand while we enjoyed some adult beverages. By the time we left, the sun was just starting to set.

Back at the house, Nola finally seemed to be warming up to me. I was the recipient of unsolicited cuddles and she sat in my lap while finishing her dinner. I also had the privilege of being offered a piece of her pear, because she’s good at sharing. Then she wanted me to watch a couple of cartoons with her. I have no idea what I did to get into her good graces, but I’ll take it.

Venice Weird

After our Target run yesterday afternoon, we headed back to the house and holed up for the evening. Aunty made rice krispie treats. When I came upstairs this morning, 2/3rds of the pan was gone. It was one of those nights. It made for a very slow start this morning.

Instead of walking north towards Santa Monica along the beach, today we headed south towards Venice. The plan was to experience some of the Venice Beach weirdness and then check out the Venice canals. Like most plans, it went a little sideways.

We happened upon some street performers (a sort of breakdance/tumbling routine) and sat down to watch. Nola ended up stealing the show with a wild dancing/somersault routine. I didn’t watch much of the performance, but I gave them a big tip at the end just because Nola had such a good time.

After it was over we met up with my husband for lunch. By the time we got back to the house it was 3:30 and everyone was exhausted. We had a round of cocktails and treats in order to fortify ourselves, then we went back out at 5:30 to walk to a nearby holiday celebration that included a Christmas tree lighting. You almost couldn’t see the tree over the heads of the people in the crowd. Seriously, it was maybe 8 feet tall.

On the way back to the house, we stopped at a burger restaurant. None of the adults were hungry, but Nola wanted dinner. We managed to put away a basket of fries and onion rings as well as a round of cocktails. By the time we got home, it was Nola’s bedtime.

Christmas in L.A.

Today’s outing was to a Farmer’s Market and big outdoor shopping mall. The drive was uneventful, except for the last two miles taking longer than the first six. Traffic here really sucks. Then we had a major scare in the parking garage at the mall. After my husband parked and shut off the car, he decided to pull up a little further. Except the car didn’t turn over when he tried to restart it. Not even a click.

I was just starting to envision an afternoon filled with the trauma of getting the car towed to a garage for repairs, when my husband did some magical trick under the hood and the car restarted immediately. Turns out the battery shutoff switch had loosened slightly. Crisis averted. We were off to the mall.

Despite our many years of spending Christmas in Phoenix, seeing signs of the holiday in warm weather still weirds me out. There was a giant Christmas tree next to a fountain in the mall courtyard and when we turned right there was a Santa House. So Nola’s mom went to check on getting Santa photos. They actually take reservations for the photos, but it was a relatively slow time, so they let us queue up.

After about 20 minutes of waiting in line, during which Santa only got through a few rounds of photos, we were told that Santa needed a short break. At that point there was only one woman with two kids in front of us and no one behind us. Santa’s short break turned out to be 20 minutes. Maybe he has a prostate issue. One of the more annoying things was an adult couple who not only took photos wearing matching hideous holiday sweaters, but spent a considerable amount of time talking with Santa. If they had just taken the photo and left, Santa could have cleared the line before his break.

By the time we finished with the photo, we were starving, so we headed to the Farmer’s Market. It’s one of those permanent ones that sells every kind of food in addition to lots of little tchotkes. Our lunch choices covered cuisine around the world – sushi, enchiladas, shawarma, corned beef and a hot dog. Everything was delicious.

We walked around the market after lunch, buying all manner of evil things (toffee, fudge, chocolates), spotted a couple of minor celebrities and headed back through the mall to our car, stopping at a few stores along the way. We needed to make a Target run, so we navigated to the closest one on the way to our house. It took 45 minutes to drive the 3 miles. I’m pretty sure I could have walked faster.

Venice Beach

So yesterday turned out to be a total bust because of all the flight delays. We managed to settle in to our house and stock up on some groceries, but had no opportunity to check out the neighborhood. We made up for that today. But first, my husband and I did an early run to Whole Foods to get a few things he needed to make breakfast.

And make breakfast he did – pancakes and sausages. Suitably fortified, the girls set out to find the beach. Nola decided to wear her princess dress and a pair of butterfly antennae, with a long sleeve t-shirt and leggings underneath. Her other Aunty had brought her a Christmas present of roller skates and she was determined to try them out. But first she spent time on the sand with a bucket and a shovel, followed by a short stint at a nearby playground. That was tiring enough that we all needed to take a frozen yogurt break.

The roller skating tryout happened as we walked along the path next to the beach. Nola did really well for her first time (excepting a short stint in the house yesterday) but got frustrated that it was considerably more difficult than she was expecting. So after a short trial, she decided to ride in her stroller as we walked to Santa Monica Pier.

We purchased ride tickets and Nola went on almost all of the rides that were suitable for her height. Then we played a racing arcade game that guaranteed a winner if you had four players. Nola “won” a floppy stuffed purple dog. At this point we had been out for almost five hours and were facing a two mile walk back to the house. So I called for a husband “uber.” Nola had fallen asleep in her stroller by then, so her mom walked back with her while Aunty and I went to the grocery store with my husband to get supplies for dinner.

Back at the house we had a taco feast, followed by watching Pete’s Dragon. I managed to undo all of the benefits of walking most of the day by consuming several margaritas and entirely too much guacamole and chips. Totally worth it.

Welcome to L.A.

As expected, our drive yesterday was uneventful. We were running ahead of schedule, thanks to my inability to account for California being an hour earlier than Arizona this time of year. (AZ doesn’t observe Daylight Savings) So when we stopped for gas and saw a sign for the General Patton Memorial Museum, it seemed to serendipitious not to check it out. The inside was pretty musty (literally) but the outside was full of wonderful, photographic tanks. A perfect, albeit quirky way to fill an extra half hour.

Consequently, we arrive at Shame on the Moon about 10 minutes after they opened for dinner. It was well worth the little bit of extra effort to get there. The dinner stop also put our arrival into the L.A. area well after 7:00 pm, avoiding the worst of rush hour traffic. If you’re interested in how we found this particular restaurant, refer to

We stayed at a hotel near LAX last night, as Nola and her mom were scheduled to arrive at 9:00 this morning. And they were on time, sort of. Their plane landed at 9:00 but they waited 45 minutes for a gate. By the time they cleared customs it was nearly 11:00. That turned out to be nothing compared to what my husband’s other sister went through to finally get here.

Her plane had pushed back from the gate when they determined it had a mechanical issue. After multiple attempts at repair and multiple hours of being trapped on the plane, her flight was finally given a new plane. It landed nearly 5 1/2 hours late. Her total transit time ended up being as long as the flight from Australia. During the delay we went and checked into our vacation home.

It’s huge and just about a block from the beach. The only thing I can fault it for is traffic noise and a slightly awkward garage entrance. A vast improvement over our digs in Hawaii. The return trip to LAX was made via side streets and only took about 30 minutes. We’re finally all together again.