Month: February 2020 (Page 1 of 2)

Auto-generated videos

Google photos made these videos by itself.  Darn them with their emotionally sweet music!  It’s not a balanced look at each year, and  I’m sure Jack would like to erase all evidence that he took dance class.  But I thought it was worth sharing, might bring a smile.



“You’re older than you’ve ever been and now you’re even older…”

Thursday was my birthday and I now 38 years old.  Getting up there, aren’t I?  😉


I had a relaxing mid-week celebration.  Ben worked from home so I could have “time off work.”  He made the kids their meals and took them to school and parent-teacher conferences.   First we opened presents; I got many thoughtful things.  Ben got me this tortilla blanket that has become a family favorite.  (And a Le Creuset pot and Kate Spade earrings, and many other lovely things.)


I had a massage at a nearby spa, followed by a lunch date with Ben at Hops and Pie.  Love that place.  Every meal I’ve had there is delicious.

Mom and Dad were planning to come up this weekend, but alas, another snowstorm has blown through.  They made the safe and reasonable choice to stay home.

My penpal Steffi also had her birthday this month.  I asked her what sort of cake she had, and she said she made a “Donauwelle” cake.  Despite my years watching Food Network and GBBO and collecting cookbooks, I have never heard of this cake that she claims is very popular in her country.  Intrigued, she linked me a recipe and I made my own!

Delicious!  I found “Morello cherries” imported from Germany at Trader Joe’s (Thanks, Amanda!) that looked like the ones I saw used by German youtubers making the cake.  My chocolate layer is not very dark, and the sponge was a bit dry.  Maybe I overbaked it or added too much flour (for high altitude).  But Ben and my friends, who came to share, all loved it.  Unlike American cakes, it was only mildly sweet.  I loved the pudding buttercream layer.  I’ll have to try this one again someday.  I sent a picture to Steffi to see if she approves 🙂

Snowy February

After a fairly dry January, we had a string of snowstorms blow through Colorado.  One week had a delayed start Tuesday and then a snow day Friday.  The kids gleefully got up earlier than usual to watch Star Wars in their jammies.


Later that day we put them to work, helping Ben shovel out the walkways.  I think Ben shoveled 4 times on Friday – the snow just kept coming!


Saturday was warm, helping to thaw out the ice a bit.  The Sunday we had another storm big enough to cancel church and my Oscars party.


We had a few more flurries during this past week, but not too much more.  Here’s the kids in the yard on Valentine’s Day showing off the accumulation that came up to their knees.

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I fulfilled my last room parent party duty by organizing and hosting the 4th grade Valentine’s party on Thursday, Friday the 14th being a teacher work-day. Tomorrow is also off school for President’s Day.   Between this four day weekend, the previous week’s snow days, and extra volunteer time in the school, I’m pretty sick of my kids.  Love em to bits, but man, can’t wait for them to go away.

Sadly, Jack has been fighting a cold all weekend.  He’s got a productive cough and had a fever of 101 this afternoon.  Feeling better tonight after some ibuprofen and a hot bath.  I hope after his day off tomorrow he’s ready to go back to school on Tuesday.


As I said earlier, part of our welcome package included a free lanyard and starter pin.  Jack was IN.


He proudly wore his swag, but quickly brewed some jealousy when he saw the many other park goers with their weighty bands of enamel proudly on display.  We discussed that if he wanted to forgo other souvenirs, he could focus on collecting pins from his most favorite attractions.  I think it was a great choice for him.  He carefully weighed whether he “earned” or loved a ride enough to merit a pin.  Then he hunted the gift shops to find the best ones.  It was funny that he ended up picking pins for all the attractions we rode twice!  Didn’t do that on purpose, but I think it shows his good judgement.  He also got a t-shirt 🙂


From top left going down = Big Thunder Mountain, Radiator Springs Racers, and Guardians Mission Breakout.  From top right going down = Soarin, Galaxy’s Edge (the freebie, a stand-in for Rise of the Resistance and Smugglers Run), and Small World.  At the very bottom he has a pin for the castle with Mickey and friends and the year 2020.

Sam was, predictably, into the stuffies. This shop in Galaxy’s Edge had an animatronic of this cat-like creature.  He wanted its toy version, but decided it wasn’t cuddly enough.


He picked a mini porg instead.  They came with a magnetic base so he can perch on your shoulder.


But the connection was a bit weak, so he cradled the porg in his hoodie for most of the day.


Sam also picked out a big stuffy of Stitch on that last day of shopping.  I don’t have a picture, but he’ll probably come visit you with Sam’s next trip.  He’s already been to school on an approved toy day.

I decided early on that I wanted old-fashioned paper cut silhouettes of the boys for my souvenir.


The kids patiently posed.  These wonderful ladies were a hoot and snipped them up in a jiffy!IMG_1042


Character interactions

The kids were adamant that they do NOT care about characters.  They said they were a little creepy even.  So I didn’t reserve a character dining meal or plan to attend any meet-and-greets.  I still enthusiastically pointed out all the characters we passed by (Sleeping Beauty! Goofy! Mickey! Alice and the Mad Hatter! Fairy Godmother! Zootopia dudes I couldn’t remember their names!)

We were in Galaxy’s Edge and crossed paths with Chewie.  He stopped his entourage to tell Ben how great his Ramen Kitty T-shirt looked (“very yummy” he mimed!).


Then he noticed Ben’s hat based on Boba Fett and delivered the greatest stink-eye.



Never disappoint a wookie.


The next day we were had triumphantly finished the Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Break-out ride, high on adrenaline and accomplishment.  When we exited the gift shop we walked straight into a Groot meet-and-greet.  Ignoring the previous ban, I pulled the kids into line with me.

Groot admired the tree on Jack’s hat.  I also pointed out his face on my t-shirt and he made the most delightful reaction face, pulling his human wrangler over to point out his lovely visage on my shirt (I wish I had pictures of that!).



Towering over Sam.


I couldn’t persuade the kids to wait in lines to meet anyone else as we walked by the future Marvel Campus.  Spider-man had the longest line.  I got a cheater pic with Cap. IMG_20200129_125602

On the third day, we ran into our hotel mascots, Chip and Dale, at the Wilderness Challenge trail.  To my delight, Ben encouraged Sam to say hi and got some pictures with Dale.


Chip obliged me with a selfie from afar.



True life image

Amanda was really sweet to say I looked good in these photos.  So nice to hear!  However I feel obligated to share this picture that Ben took shortly after we arrived:


Still sick, cold, exhausted, and craving our room to be ready, with the kids tussling in the background.  Shows how much your outward appearance expresses your inner feelings.  Shows how truly happy I was later on.


Treats and Eats

We ate so much good food on this trip!  Here’s some pics of us enjoying the SoCal theme park treats. This isn’t ALL the food we ate, but a lot of it.

Full meals:


First meal in Downtown Disney, dinner at Earl of Sandwich while doing Disney trivia.


Dinner at the Jolly Holiday (I love the Merry Poppins decor in here!)

The terrace at Jolly Holiday

Lunch at the Smokerjumpers Grill on their beautiful patio.  

Waiting for our hot dogs at Award Weiner’s.   We used the mobile ordering option where ever possible.  The same menu and prices, but instead of standing in line, you order from anywhere and pick it up when you want.

The only day we took time for breakfast, here at the Craftsman Grill in our hotel the day we came home.

Not pictured, the Alien Pizza buffet in Tomorrowland and Ronto Wraps in Galaxy’s Edge 🙂

Ice Cream (and dairy free for me!)

Ice cream from Salt and Straw.  Oh my gosh, I haven’t had vegan ice cream this good anywhere else!  I wasn’t that hungry (still sick) but HAD to get a whole cone of their mint chip.  


Dole Whips from Adventureland.  Sure, we have a fro-yo place in Arvada that serves them, but I think they taste better here. 

Yellow Snow (aka lemonade ice cream) from the Abominable/Adorable Snowman.  Another dairy free frozen treat!

img_0511img_0512 Gross tongues after.

Ghiradelli in the afternoon.  I REALLY should have gotten them only one to share.  They are massive there!

More Dole Whips!  This time I got a float and the boys wanted their own.  


Such a great treat while watching the Tiki Room show.  This is one of my fondest memories from the trip.


Walking with Treats:


Cotton candy is so gross, but Sam was asking for it all morning.  There was plenty for them to share.


How does this happen??


Plain old popcorn becomes special in Disneyland.

Spicy beef kabobs and bacon wrapped asparagus from Bengal Bites.  One of my favorite things we ate!

Had to get a turkey leg.  If you don’t look for them they are easy to miss. 




The first time, when I foolishly thought we could share two between the four of us.

More churros, better distribution.

Again, they want the churros!

Those same churros, while I enjoyed a Star Wars style Diet Coke.

The very last thing before we called a car to the airport, we bought Good-bye Disneyland Churros.  And we took one more to-go to eat at the airport gate. 


Photopass Pictures

As I said before, at Disneyland Resort you have the option to purchase Maxpass. I think it was completely worth it for the ride Fastpass access alone.  So much easier using the app rather than paper kiosks or standby lines only.  Included with the cost of Maxpass are all the photos taken by Disney photographers.  That means ride photos, scenic stations around the park, and character meet and greets.

We only met one character officially (Groot) and I only stopped at the park photographers if there wasn’t a line.  Still, I feel like we got a great collection of photos with all four of us in them!  I would definitely get Maxpass again.

Here’s the photos from the rides:

(there aren’t many – we did all the available ride photos except the Incredicoaster)

(I cropped in a close-up for each, if you want to scroll down for more detail)











Meeting Groot!


Photos around the park:



Jack later told me his mouth was full of churro, so his face looked weird.



Sooo sunny when we took this one.



They have these “extra magic” photos where they put in after effects.  I usually forgot to ask, or they didn’t offer them at that location.  This one turned out kind of fun though!

Staying at the Grand Californian Hotel

When we last visited Disneyland I declared it my dream to stay at the Grand Californian Hotel one day.  Not only is it a beautiful luxury hotel with all the Disney theming and service you expect, but it’s as close as you can get to staying IN the parks.

The Grand Californian Hotel is a the ONLY hotel that actually touches the theme parks.  All other hotels in both California and Florida require a shuttle/bus/train/skyliner/ferry or a walk across streets to enter the theme parks.  But this GCH is has its own security check point into Downtown Disney, which leads directly to the plaza for DL and DCA parks.  The GCH also has a private security AND ticketing entrance into DCA.  You really can’t stay any closer to the action.

So when Ben and I dreamed up this trip in the fall, we decided to take advantage of the off-season room rates and reach for the sky.  We booked a premium view room at the GCH instead of our default choice of the nearest budget Marriott.

We were informed at check-in that we had a pool-view room, and that no theme-park views were available.  I was bummed, since I had put in a special request for a park view.  However, I was delighted that we could clearly see the tops of Pixar Pier from our balcony.  Good enough for me!

This hotel delivered.  Spacious and lovely with hidden Chip and Dale chipmunks all over.  The lobby had a roaring fire and cartoons and a live pianist all day long.  The room had lots of clever design features to make it comfortable.  Friendly housekeeping gave us extra pillows and blankets and turn-down service with chocolates on the bed.

Sam on his fold-out bed, waking up ready for the first day in the parks.

Jack fell asleep shortly after 8pm on Tuesday, despite lights and TV blaring.

Ben took the kids swimming Sunday after we got our room.  You can see them from our balcony (Ben is in green and red).  He had to drag them out after an hour when they couldn’t talk without chattering teeth.



But really, the access to the parks was amazing.  Only on Tuesday, when every hotel guest was trying to get into the Extra Magic Morning hour at DL, did we have to wait maybe 15 minutes to get through security.  Every other time we got out with practically no wait. Here, I took a screen shot of the park map and circled our room.


And here Ben is pointing it out from inside the Wilderness Trail Challenge course in DCA.

I was so happy with the location, I even took a video of the walk from room-to-park on our last day, when I made a quick stop in the room midday.

And after I passed the security and ticket turnstiles I was here: Right?!  Right?!

Overview of the whole trip

Planning the Trip

We flew in on Sunday, had MTW in the parks, and came home Thursday.  We really packed in a lot of rides during our trip, and it never felt rushed.  Three days for two parks was perfect.  I planned this trip for the off season for low crowds.  I think it worked, since most rides never reached 1 hour wait time, and most were 10-25 minute stand-by lines.

But there was a new ride in Galaxy’s Edge, The Rise of the Resistance, that inflated crowds a bit.  Especially in the morning, because you had to be in the park at exactly opening time in order to get a boarding group for the ride.  So there were massive lines to get through the turnstiles, and then roaming around Main Street prior to rope drop.  I think more locals were visiting than usual, and sticking around until their boarding groups, because of the new ride.  Even so, compared to the previous week and the weekend crowds, we had a relatively low crowd situation.

I also rocked the Fastpass system.  In Disneyland they use kiosks to distribute paper tickets for Fastpass, or you can pay a daily fee per ticket to use the phone app called Maxpass.  We took this option and we certainly got our money’s worth.  We were able to practically walk on to the most popular rides, and using my phone I was able to stack up many Fastpasses as soon as we were eligible to get more.  The Maxpass also lets you keep all the ride and pro-photographers shots from the park.  I had fun collecting those and trying to get some good family shots.

Oh, let me add that a downside to the off-season is that they do a lot of closures for refurbishments.  The biggest disappointment was that the Haunted Mansion was closed.   It’s my favorite attraction and I had even talked with customer service back in November, to try to make sure it would be open when we came.  It usually closes/reopens to remove the holiday overlay, and should have been open for us the last week of January.  But in late December, after we booked, they announced it will stay closed until Spring for major cleaning and repairs.   Dagnabbit!  Other (less important) closures were the Carrousel, Snow White Scary Adventures, Grizzly River Run, the Red Trolley, the canoes and the riverboat.


Sad faces.  Jack bemoaned its closure every time we walked by.

Getting There

(Side note here:  I was SICK.  Like, seriously ill.  I had had a head cold for a week, and then Friday night I got food poisoning or a virus of some kind.  Saturday I had no strength.  Literally, Ben had to pack for me and I could barely sit up on my bed to fold my clothes into the suitcase.  It was miserable.  We thought we might have to cancel the trip.  I slept most of the day and worked on taking in water and simple carbs.  Sunday morning I felt somewhat functional when we woke at 5 AM – meaning I could walk without feeling faint and eat/drink a little more. Still had a stuffy nose and head, but we decided we could continue our trip.  So that first day I was pretty out of it still.)

(PS Ben was amazing at rallying everyone and doing double duty on the kids, plus making sure I was comfortable.  He’s the best!)

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We flew Southwest Airlines to California on Sunday into John Wayne airport.  I strongly prefer using this little airport over LAX because of its size and proximity to Anaheim.  We took a ride-share to our hotel with almost no traffic.  When we got to the hotel it was too early to get our room, but they held our luggage so we could explore.

We toured the hotel and then Downtown Disney.  Our vacation package included a free pin and lanyard from the Pin Trader’s shop.  We collected our freebies and thus sparked a collecting quest for Jack (more on that later).  We got burgers for lunch, picked out Mickey treats, and toured the Lego Store.  Needing to sit down, we found the observation deck in the hotel and enjoyed the view until our room was ready.



The room was great (more on that later).  The kids went swimming in the barely warm pool.  After I had a good rest we went out for dinner and dessert again, then back to an early bedtime.  Gotta be rested so we could hit the park early!

The next three days were all park days.  We had park hopper tickets, so we could go back and forth as we pleased 😀  Here’s a rundown of all the attractions we saw:


  • Sleeping Beauty windows in the castle
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Rise of the Resistance
  • Space Mountain
  • Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
  • It’s a Small World
  • Matterhorn
  • Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
  • Tarzan’s Tree House (I sat out and had a Dole Whip)
  • Splash Mountain (Jack and Ben only)
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  • Big Thunder Mountain
  • Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade
  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • The Jungle Cruise
  • Enchanted Windows at the Emporium



  • Soarin’ Around the World
  • Radiator Springs Racers
  • The Little Mermaid
  • Toy Story Midway Mania
  • Pixar Pal-A-Round (the ferris wheel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout
  • Star Tours
  • Snow White’s Wishing Well
  • Sleeping Beauty windows in the castle (again)
  • Peter Pan’s Flight
  • Mad Tea Party (I sat out)
  • Explored Toon Town houses
  • Gadget’s Go Coaster
  • Big Thunder Mountain (again)
  • Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run





  • Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Storybrook Land Canal Boats
  • It’s a Small World (again)
  • Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin x2 (no line)
  • Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run (again)
  • Rise of the Resistance (again) (just half the ride: it broke down and we were escorted out)
  • The Enchanted Tiki Room (with Dole Whips and Floats for all!)
  • Tarzan’s Treehouse (again) (just Sam and Ben)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout (again)
  • Monsters, Inc.
  •  Soarin’ Around the World (again)
  • We spied a resident Disneyland cat!
  • Redwood Creek Challenge Trail
  • Radiator Springs Racers (again)
  • Rise of the Resistance (again) (third time and it worked)
  • Splash Mountain x2 (2nd and 3rd time for Jack and Ben only)
  • Main Street Cinema (me and Sam)
  • World of Color water and light show


So that was a lot!

Last time we came it was for two days.  It felt very luxurious to have three days.  No frantic planning to try to get it all in quickly, no stress when we came upon an extra long wait, we could come back later!

By the end of the first day I felt fully recovered with just that lingering stuffy nose and cough.  Good thing too, for all the walking and crazy rides we did!

Thursday we slept in and got breakfast at the hotel Craftsman Grill.  We did some last minute souvenir shopping in Downtown Disney, then left for the airport as late as possible.  The flight choices were either early morning or mid-afternoon.  So we got to the airport with no security lines to fight, and hours to rest, have lunch, etc.

A straightforward flight home took us from the land of warm palm trees to an icy snowfall.  Ben said he felt ready to go home, but me and the boys were sad to see it end.  It was really a top notch vacation.  Jack and Sam are already talking about what they want to do on their next Disney trip 🙂



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