Monday, March 27, 2017

Harry Potter World at Universal Studios Hollywood Date

For Christmas this past year, my sister Jessica offered to fly out and watch the girls for us so we could do a quick getaway.  So we decided to take her up on it and do a fast trip down to Southern California to see Harry Potter World at Universal Studios.  We have wanted to go ever since it opened but heard it wasn't the kind of place where we could go with the girls very easily.  And that's definitely true.  I hadn't been to Universal Studios since I was a kid but it's not very family friendly and most of the rides have height requirements that even Clara doesn't meet yet.  And they were just too intense anyway.

We picked Jessica up on Thursday night from the airport and had fun chatting and hanging out at the house Thursday night and Friday morning.  Then in the afternoon, Paul and I headed out.  It was a fast drive and nice to have some one on one time in the car to talk to each other without the Moana soundtrack playing or being peppered with questions the entire time, lol. 

We did dinner at Bubba Gump's at the Universal city walk area and then went to our hotel.  The next morning we were up bright and early to be in line at the park entrance by 7:30.  If you buy your tickets online, you get a discount AND an extra hour before the park officially opens at 9:00.  We were probably 20th in line for the 8:00 opening, which was awesome.  Of course everyone went straight to the Harry Potter attractions.

As far as the rides go, I don't think Harry Potter World is all that fantastic.  The hippogriff ride is seriously less than 20 seconds long and the lines later in the day had a 2 hour wait.  We were super glad that we just walked right on.  The bigger attraction is the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  We actually LOVED walking through the ride staging/line areas.  The decor was amazing and really well done.  Except since there was no wait, we hustled right through and didn't get to really look at everything.  That's the only plus for the 2 hour waits later in the day.  

The ride itself made me super queasy.  It's sort of a cross between the Haunted Mansion dune buggy and the Star Tours rides at Disneyland in that you are in small cart-type contraptions that moving along a track slowly, passing between screens and being jostled and jolted to simulate flying on a broomstick through spider dens and past dragons and around Hogwarts castle.  It was definitely interesting, but honestly, not super Fun (with a capital "F") if that makes any sense.

But, disappointing rides aside, we still LOVED Harry Potter World and it was more for the immersive experience of it.  They have done just a stunning job of making you feel a part of the wizarding world, from the costuming of the employees to the food to the shops and unique merchandise.  We wandered for a long time, looking at things for sale, trying on a sorting hat (I'm Ravenclaw and Paul was told Hufflepuff although I would definitely say he is a Gryfindor), and going through Ollivander's Wand Shop.  

We only had to wait 10 minutes for the wand selection demonstration, which apparently also has lengthy wait times later in the day.  They take a group of maybe 40 people in a small, dim room with a master wandmaker who selects on person (a kid, always, I'm sure) to be fitted for a wand.  Then there is a whole routine of trying out different wands and having them try out spells that cause the lights in the room to flicker, shelves to break, etc. until the "right" wand is found.  When the kid is given the perfect wand a spotlight shines down on them, music starts playing, and a fan starts blowing on them creating this hilarious but cool "chosen" effect.  The little girl in our group was obviously starstruck by the whole thing.  

Afterwards, you go into the main wand shop where there are just hundreds and hundreds of wands stacked in boxes all the way from floor to ceiling.  Each wand is a "replica" of a character from the books, but they don't just have the main characters - they have loads of very minor characters, which is really fascinating.  If you loved the books, then you would love Ollivander's, I'm sure.

Other than the wand shop, we enjoyed the Owl Post and Wizarding Robes stores.  Oh, and Honeydukes was incredible and I wish I could have tried some of everything.  Instead we just opted for a couple of chocolate frogs to take home for Jessica and the girls.  

One of my favorite parts of the day was lunch at the Three Broomsticks.  It is absolutely fascinating inside with a sort of dark, moody, pub-ish feel.   There are rickety looking staircases overhead leading nowhere, which feels just right.  And the food served there is all very British.  I ordered the bangers and mash with peas, and Paul got roasted chicken with roasted potatoes and corn on the cob.  Both were delicious - like, really, honestly delicious - and the prices were very reasonable for theme-park fare.  We could easily have shared one dish.  The only thing that I found disappointing was their sticky toffee pudding, which was decidedly NOT authentic.  It had butterscotch chips and basically just tasted sweet without any richness or depth or date-flavor at all and the texture was more dry and spongy than rich and sticky.  If you want a seriously incredible sticky toffee pudding, definitely try this version that I posted on my food blog.  It's the real deal, or as close as you are probably going to get without going to the UK.

I actually don't have photos from the rest of the day but we really enjoyed the tram ride, which is more like 6 rides all in one and takes probably 45 minutes or so.  The Jurassic Park ride was also awesome, and probably our favorite ride overall.  The Mummy ride was another one that made me sick and we skipped Transformers because I could not get over the queasiness.

But since we got so much done early in the morning we had literally done everything we wanted to in the park by 1:00, so we headed home and got back to Dublin before the girls were in bed, which was great since Jessica and I were heading out early the next morning to drive to Utah for our ski trip.  It was a fantastic and fun date though, and we were so grateful to Jessica for coming out to watch the girls for us and they sure loved having the one-on-one time with her!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Day in the Life: Tuesday, February 28, 2017

My second attempt at a Day in the Life kept getting postponed until it was the last day of February.  And it's not my best effort, which is too bad.  March is shaping up to be the same way.  But even though I didn't remember to take as many photographs as I intended and none of them are as artistic and creative as I would like, I still love many of the images I got for the day, so here they are.

7:00 a.m.:  Eating breakfast.  Rose loves milk (really any beverage) and will drink and drink and drink and not eat.  The little rascal.  So she always gets a small cup to start and then has to wait until she has had at least half of her meal before she gets more, otherwise she just fills up on liquid.

7:45 a.m.:  While I got ready for the day, Rose played with her bunny and blanket on the floor in our room.  

8:30 a.m.:  Dropping Clara off at Kindergarten.  I just cannot believe how big she is getting.

9:00 a.m.:  Back at home and taking care of business.  Rose is getting so big too.

10:30 a.m.:  We were planning to replace the back patio concrete and ended up deciding to redo the side walkway, driveway, and front walkway as well.  So this was the state of our driveway all broken up into pieces and ready to be transferred to trucks and hauled away.  It was a big project but we are pretty happy with the results.  We won't be able to drive on it for a few more weeks still (we are waiting for the cement to cure completely before we stain it a darker color) but we went with a stamped design that looks nice, I think.

12:30 p.m.:  Picking Clara up from school.  I lost track of time at the house doing blog related stuff while Rose played next to me and didn't think to pick up my camera.

I love that she still holds my hand.  Every single day.  Both girls do this and it melts my heart.  Also, the blossoms around here have been just gorgeous this year and I am glad I finally had my camera out to take photographs of one particular tree at the school with thousands of pink blossoms that we have been admiring for weeks.

1:00 p.m.:  Lunch at Mr. Pickles with the girls.  It's right next to Nothing Bundt Cakes and the animal feed store where we get chicken food.  It's an eclectic little strip mall but we always stop in each of the three stores whenever we are here.

2:30 p.m.:  At home working on homework.  She gets a small packet of it each week and has to turn it in on Thursdays.  She grumbles about it every now and then but for the most part gets to work and enjoys doing it.

4:30 p.m.:  Waiting for gymnastics to start and watching a movie on the iPad with her friend Logan.

6:15 p.m:  Paul got home earlier than usual and we ate dinner later than usual (Tuesdays are always harder since gymnastics goes until 5:30 and then we have to get home and make dinner).  We are working with Rose on her manners but when she DOES decide to eat, she has a tendency to shovel things into her mouth.

And that was it.  Unlike my first DITL, I didn't break out the tripod once.  And once the girls were in bed for the night I felt totally spent and didn't pick the camera up again.  Hopefully March will be better!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Utah Ski Trip 2017

Early in the month we pulled Clara out of school for a week to go to Utah for a ski trip.  I have amazing and treasured memories of skiing with my family while I was growing up and I'm loving every bit of creating new skiing memories with our girls. 

We skiied two days - Tuesday and Thursday - so that everybody could have a break in between, but I think next year I want to shoot for three full days of skiing.  I seriously don't know how my parents did five days in a row when we were kids when they were dealing with all five of us because that is a TON of gear and planning and preparation for lunches and making sure everybody has their goggles and gloves and socks and coats and pants and everything else that they need, including renting all of the equipment!  

The conditions were as perfect as skiing gets.  Gorgeous skies, nice temperatures that weren't too cold as long as the wind wasn't blowing straight down your neck, and the snow was fresh and wonderful.  Plus, we practically had the mountain to ourselves since we went in the middle of the week and it wasn't spring break for anyone yet.  It's not exactly easy to pull the girls out of school but I really feel like these kinds of experiences are 100% worth the missed days of class.  

And anyway, our school district lets us take an entire week off without penalty or counting the days as absences as long as you do the full week (not a partial one) and give them two weeks notice to prepare a packet of Independent Study materials.  So my mom helped Clara with a lot of the school work during down hours back at home and it's like she wasn't even gone.  It helps that right now she is just in Kindergarten and doing really well with her reading so I wasn't really worried about her getting behind.  

Lily, Emma and Clara all had a full day of ski school on Tuesday at Brighton.  They were so cute together all suited up for a day on the slopes.  We didn't realize that Clara and Emma had matching snow clothes from the Columbia outlets until we got there, lol.  There was a little bit of clinginess from Clara at first - she was hesitant to go into the kids room where they prepped for classes, but she was brave about it and didn't cry.  I think it really helped having her cousins there with her.

While the girls were in their morning class, the grown-ups got to ski together.  On Tuesday it was just me and Jennie and my dad since Jessica had to work and Paul was still in California.  Jennie's husband Ryan was there but he was taking a ski class as well since he had only been skiing once before.  But we had a great time getting reaquainted with the slopes since it was Jennie's first time skiing in 12 years.  

My mom was amazing and watched all four of the little girls at home while we skiied with the big girls.  She said that Adelaide and Rose had a ball playing with each other.  Then she packed up the 3 year olds and the almost 2 year old twins and brought them up to Brighton to meet us for lunch.  

We had egg salad sandwiches and cheetos and fruit and cookies and it all tasted so good.  For some reason, egg salad is the lunch of choice when we go skiing and has been since I was a kid.  I love it!  It's always nice to take a break and give your legs a rest from skiing and hard to get going again.  The girls all had a bit of a hard time going back in for the afternoon class.  Although all of them had leveled up in the morning, Clara and Emma were put in a class together for the afternoon and Lily was on her own in a little bit more advanced class.

While the big girls were back with their ski instructors, Jennie and I got Adelaide and Rose suited up and took them on the bunny slope for a few runs.

First the climbed on a big pile of snow while we were getting skis together.

Then we hit the slopes.  It was actually Rose's second year skiing and she did great!  I was so proud of her!  She was absolutely thrilled and giggled and laughed the entire time, just loving being on skis and on the mountain.  I held her under her armpits for much of the first run, trying to coax her into supporting her own weight and standing up rather than making me carry her down the mountain (which was exhausting!).  On the second run, I skiied backwards in front of her and she did much, much better even though I had to keep her upright and kept having to push her skis apart into a wedge for her while trying to explain what she needed to do to make that shape and slow herself down.

By the third run I was able to put a little distance between the two of us and have her ski to me while while I skied backwards.  I would let her ski into my arms every few yards or so, catching her whenever her speed got too much for her, and she thought it was the best game ever and laughed and laughed.  There was zero fear or nerves from Rose.

By the fourth run I was able to actually ski beside her much of the way down the slope and she had figured out how to stop herself with a "pizza" or wedge of her skis and I even started working with her on turns by explaining how she needed to point her feet in the direction she wanted to go.  Then I would ski backwards across the mountain and she would point her toes toward me, then we would turn and go the other way, etc.  It was pretty amazing progress for a 3-year old, in my opinion, and if I had had the stamina and had taken her multiple days she would have really been skiing by the end of the week.  But as it was, I was selfish and wanted more time doing harder runs instead of teaching so this was Rose's only afternoon skiing this year.  It was a good one though and next year she will be old enough for ski school.

Once the big girls were done with classes, we did a few runs with them to see what they had learned.  I was amazed at Clara's progress and you could tell that she was super excited about skiing.  The only thing we wished could have been different about Tuesday was more time skiing with the girls!  A full day of classes was the right move for their first day back skiing for the seasons, but we all loved skiing together in the afternoon once classes were over and wished we had longer to do it.

On Thursday, Jessica and Paul joined us for skiing!  We put the girls in ski school for morning lessons only and the grown ups skiied together.

We had another wonderful lunch (same lunch as Tuesday - we talked about doing something different but it just tasted so good that we did the same thing again!), although this time my mom stayed home with the twins and Adelaide and Rose.  Then after lunch we all skiied together as a group.  

You could tell that Clara was basking in the one on one time with me and Paul.  She had been moved to a more advanced class in the morning and was definitely done with the bunny slope.  She only wanted to ski Majestic which is much longer and with more advanced runs.  By the end of the day she was even doing some easy blue runs and skiing trails through the trees.  When everybody else started dropping off for breaks (including Paul), Clara begged to keep going so she and I skiied nonstop the whole time without a single pause for rest.  I lost count of how many runs we got in.

There was a tiny bump at the bottom of one hill and she kept going over it and declaring that it was her "jump" and she had gotten air, which cracked me up.  She wanted everyone to see it so Grandpa and Jessica and Paul all had to go on runs with us so she could show them.   I was just grateful that this year she was able to get herself back up when she fell so I didn't have to keep bending over and hauling her back on her feet!  And she had a fantastic attitude on Thursday - there wasn't a single bit of whining or complaining about being tired or anything - she had finally found the passion for skiing that I was hoping for for her.  I can't wait for next year already!  I wish we could find a free weekend to take her skiing in CA this season but our schedule is looking super booked and I don't know how we are going to be able to do it.

After skiing we stopped at Aunt Jessica's house to meet up with my mom and the girls so Jennie could transfer cars and head back to Spanish Fork.  I was so glad that she had come to stay at my parents house for the whole time we were there so that we could talk and the girls could play.

My girls are obsessed with Jessica's dog, Juniper, and loved playing with her in the yard.  They did NOT want to leave Jessica's house and are begging to go back.  We had dinner at a taqueria called Lone Star or something like that and it was so yummy!

The rest of our time in Utah was pretty low key.  We hung out at the house and the girls read books and played with Grandma.

We went to Farmington Station to watch the dancing water show and get donuts at Mad Brooks.  The girls always love doing this.

Then on Friday Paul and I drove down to BYU campus with the girls and spent the morning wandering around, stopping at the candy counter in the bookstore and looking at the science exhibits in the science building.  It was such a gorgeous, Spring-feeling day and I loved seeing all of the students out on campus and just feeling the energy there.

Afterwards we went to Jennie & Ryan's house in Spanish Fork and the girls played with cousins, enjoyed cupcakes from the Sweet Tooth Fairy, and rode bikes.  Clara even rode a two-wheel bike with no training wheels for the first time, which was awesome!  I have some videos that I really need to get uploaded so that I can post them but I know that I will put that off and then this post won't get published and I don't want to procrastinate that any further so for now, no videos.  After riding bikes, Uncle Ry got his tools out and the girls did a bike repair shop, which they really enjoyed.

Then while the girls watched Moana and had dinner with Jennie's family, Paul and I went on a date to Bombay House for Chicken Tikka Masala and Garlic Naan, followed by a super nerdy but awesome date wandering around BYU campus some more and enjoying the new Life Sciences building.  We also went to the library and looked at an exhibit on medicine during Medieval times.

We finished our date at Waffle Love getting delicious Liege Waffles, which are just incredible.  If you have never had one, they are yeasted waffles with Belgian sugar pearls kneaded into the dough.  I always get the Red Wonder which is topped with cookie butter, whipped cream, and strawberries and raspberries.  It's SO good.  Paul got the churro waffle.  

On Saturday we went to Paul's grandpa's 90th birthday open house, which was fun, but I don't have any pictures from this day!  Then we stopped by to visit Scott & Maren (Paul's cousin and his wife) and their family.  It was fun catching up with them and we wish they still lived around the corner like they did when we moved to Dublin.

That night John made a fancy dinner for everybody to celebrate his birthday and the Nash cousins all watched Moana (yup, our girls got to see it two nights in a row and they are OBSESSED).  And we drove home the next morning!  It was such a wonderful trip!