Archive for April, 2010

Legoland

By
April 21st, 2010



"I defer to your Euro superiority," I told Claus by phone, after my first trip to LEGOland. LEGOs are a Danish invention, and the first LEGOland was built in the toy factory's hometown of Billund, Denmark. I wanted to visit it when we went to Denmark last fall, but it was winter and therefore closed. The 128-acre Carlsbad, California theme park is my first exposure to LEGOland.

LEGOs, by the way, got their name from the Danish sentence "leg godt," which means "play well."

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He laughed. "Why do you like it?"

I like that the games and rides seem more interactive. I like that it is geared towards little kids ages two to 12, so my child really enjoyed her brief time there.

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We only did six rides plus a walk through Miniland USA, which is a massive replica of various American regions or cultural landmarks, of course all done in LEGOs. The line for most of the rides was comparable to the Disney parks - about half an hour for one ride.

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Miniland USA

Still, LEGOland seemed to have a more relaxed atmosphere, which reminded me of the European vibe I've experienced. I like to have a relaxed time.

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Outside Coastersaurus

Olivia had her first roller coaster ride with Coastersaurus. She did not like it, but she didn't cry. She did what she does with scary rides and buried her head in my side. After we got off she told me she didn't like it. Luckily, it was brief.

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Skipper School

She also skippered her first boat in Skipper School. You sit in an electric powered boat and you are really steering it through a small course! I didn't realize it wasn't on a track, until Olivia pointed us backwards. I think that's so cute. I also think the park was smartly designed, because a lot of the lines are under the shade of canopies, and this particular ride had a little waiting area for the children to play - with LEGOs, of course - while the adults stood in line. Brilliant.

Waiting area

Waiting area

Her cousin Carson was old enough to qualify for the Volvo Junior Driving School (3-5 years). Unlike Disneyland's Autopia, where you sit with an adult and get funneled down a track, the children actually sit alone in an electric powered car and can steer themselves around a track. That was fun to watch.

Volvo Junior Driving School

Volvo Junior Driving School

Speaking of Volvo, I've heard that Volvos get VIP parking at Legoland, because Volvo is a big sponsor. We were not driving a Volvo, but maybe you should if you can get your hands on one. The parking is crazy. In fact, the line into LEGOland starts not too far after you get off the freeway exit!

Safari Trek

Safari Trek

LEGO animals on Safari Trek

LEGO animals on Safari Trek

There was a little car ride in which the car was on a track, but Olivia got to pretend she was driving. That's the Safari Trek, and she loved it. It was a pretty popular one, judging by the line.

Water Works

Water Works

If you go in the warm weather, take a bathing suit. The kids will go crazy for Water Works, which is a big area with fountains to run through and water guns to squirt. Actually, LEGOland Water Park is slated to open in June 2010. I bet that'll be a hit in hot Carlsbad.

SEA LIFE AQUARIUM at the LEGOland California Resort

Sea Life Aquarium sits right next to LEGOland, making it easy to just walk over and enjoy a cool underwater experience. You can go nose to nose with a variety of sea critters at this interactive guide to life in the ocean.

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I like that it also focuses on conservation, "helping safeguard our seas and their inhabitants for the future," according to its website.

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It has several touch pools, LEGO stations, and LEGO sculptures decorating most of the tanks. Everything feels accessible and engaging- you aren't just looking, you're doing.

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This was a great place to sit out the heat of high noon, and I think two to four hours would be a good amount of time to spend. Honestly, the LEGO table and the touch pools could have easily held Olivia's attention for at least an hour, but we kept rushing the kids from room to room to make sure we saw everything and still squeeze in half a day at LEGOland.

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At the end, there's a FANTASTIC cafe to sit and have lunch. The prices are reasonable, and more importantly for me, the food choices were healthy, while there weren't any lines to select or buy the food, or find a table. It was awesome. I had just come off three days at the Disney parks and I was very happy to eat at the Ocean Journey Cafe.

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When I do this again, I am seriously considering staying at the adjacent hotel so that I don't have to deal with traffic in the morning. And I am definitely allocating one day a piece to each park; the half day we gave to LEGOland and Sea Life Aquarium was way too little.

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People have asked me which park I favor. I honestly don't know, since I didn't spend enough time in the last three parks to really get a true flavor. If pressed, I want to say I like Disneyland as the sentimental favorite, but I think Olivia likes LEGOland.

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But you know what? This needs more research. I'm already planning my return.

***

Also reach me via DianeAko.com

Disney's California Adventure Park

By
April 19th, 2010



I have never been to Disney's California Adventure Park. It was built in 2001, long after I'd left the mainland. Val planned one day at this 55 acre, California-themed park, and I was excited to finally go there myself.

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Friends had said it was aimed more at adults, and I found that to be true. Like Disneyland, it's sectioned into themed areas; in this case, nearly everything ties into a region of California. There was a bona fide roller coaster and other fast, blood-pumping rides that Disneyland doesn't offer. Put differently, Olivia didn't meet the height requirement of more rides at California Adventure.

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There's also a restaurant called Wine Country Trattoria. Yesss! Now when would you find that at Disneyland?

Our day began with a 9:40 a.m. reservation to have breakfast at Ariel's Grotto, where your daughters can meet four Disney princesses. We drag our feet in the morning (hey, you try getting four kids and yourselves ready!) so we ran late and ended up literally running through the park to get to the restaurant.

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California Adventures opens a little later than Disneyland (and closes earlier, too). You can buy your ticket and walk around a small area in the front until park attendants open the ropes and let you in. If you have reservations to Ariel's Grotto, as we did, you have to fight your way to the front of the crowd and tell the attendant where you're going. The crowd was five people deep. We had strollers. Ugh.

Don't take the most direct path. We then were turned away and told to to an alternate route, which required more running, and then another thicket of people to "excuse me" through.

Basically, just don't be late like us. Funniest thing is that Val later admitted she did this exact same thing last year, where she had to run, and made the same mistake of going the most direct path and getting turned away. But she forgot, so we did it all over again this year.

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Another reason you don't want to run: when you show up, the first thing your party does is take a photo with Ariel. So, we moms are sweaty and disheveled in the picture.

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Then you're led to your table and fed a very hearty American breakfast. Actually, they have lunch and dinner, but multiple friends said breakfast is the best. You don't order. They just bring out food. You can box up what you don't finish. (Don't let my mother-in-law read that; the Europeans are totally appalled at the vulgar American practice of doggie bags.)

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The breakfast was $35 per adult, $18 per child. I thought it was worth it. The girls got to meet four princesses, which was a massive thrill. Val and I got to avoid standing in a long line to do so (at Disneyland's Pixie Hollow or Disney Princess Fantasy Faire), and we got fed, which was our massive thrill. Everyone happy.

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Following that, we went on to enjoy seven more rides. Again, as with Disneyland, we found the average wait to be 30 minutes (for a one minute ride), but mind you that we spent most of our time in the kiddie section, "a bug's land," so I don't know if the faster rides required a longer wait.

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If you go in warm weather, bring a change of clothes for your kids. Princess Dot Puddle Park is a water park where the kids can run through water fountains.

My favorite ride was Soarin' Over California, a 360 degree movie that makes you feel like you're hang gliding over California. Olivia probably liked Playhouse Disney - Live on Stage! or Heimlich's Chew Chew Train.

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One thing I'd advise against: don't take Mickey's Fun Wheel unless you have a lot of time to kill and you have done all the other rides. It took FOREVER to get on that ride because riders are loaded in one car at a time. I think we stood in line for 45 minutes or more. You never get a full, uninterrupted revolution, either. Or at least it doesn't feel like it. Also, my toddler didn't like the swinging car. It swings quite a lot - felt like it was going to topple over. Barf bags are included in this ride.

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I really would like to return and check it out more, since we didn't get to see a lot of the attractions. Isn't that a good enough excuse to get me back to the theme parks?

***

Also reach me via DianeAko.com

Emmy nominations!

By
April 17th, 2010



I'm thrilled to share with you that I've been nominated for two Emmy awards for my work at KHNL in 2009- a piece on butterflies and a piece on kendo. It's the same Emmy award that you see on TV for your favorite actors, but this particular branch is for news people.

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"The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) is the premier and most recognized non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of excellence in television. The Academy awards the EMMY®, the most prestigious, peer-judged honor in television for outstanding creative achievement," says the website.

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Both my pieces are competing against each other in the same category, best writing. I know that seems to make no sense, particularly since it costs $100 to enter each piece, but this year I figured, What the heck? When will I ever do this again? And turns out, both got in.

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This, by the way, is why the photographer of the butterfly story is not nominated. My nomination is just for writing. So here's my own nod to best photographer, Tai Hiranaka! I love you, Tai! Tai is a great photog, but a better calabash lil' brother ­čÖé

Tai

Tai

The photographer who shot the kendo piece also edited it, and he decided to enter himself for that category. He got his own Emmy nomination for best editor. Congratulations, Tracy Arakaki!

Me and Tracy

Me and Tracy

BITTERSWEET

Tracy and I are the only KHNL nominations this year, which means we are the last of an extinct breed. It's a little bittersweet for us to be nominated for this major honor, because the day after our kendo story aired, our layoffs took effect.

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In all my years of news, those are the stories I am proudest of, because I got to know the subjects, and I told the story from the heart. I'm still in touch with the wonderful people who shared a piece of their lives with me and trusted me to get it right.

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We compete against the big guns in the San Francisco market. If nothing else, they have more money and resources to make a product look better. Instead of feeling quite nervous that I'm up against The Wayne Freedman (whom I've never met but I know has 45 Emmys), I am trying to feel honored that I'm even in the running against him.

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The winners will be announced at a dinner in SF on May 15. Wish us luck!

Here are the stories I am nominated for:

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[youtube Y7ddedh-vqo]

***

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Disneyland!

By
April 16th, 2010



The happiest place on earth is best when the weather's bad. The first day we went to Disneyland, it was in the low 60's, raining, and cold. I was pretty happy because I had a feeling it kept the crowds away.

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I used to go to Disneyland a fair amount while I was in college. My friend Carolyn went to Loma Linda University, so I drove down here from the Bay Area about once a quarter to visit her. We would sometimes take in Disneyland on, say, a Tuesday in January, and find absolutely no lines. I remember doing the entire park in a day.

Me and Carolyn, during college

Me and Carolyn, during college

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It's been over a decade since I have been here, but like so many American children, I grew up with Disneyland. My mother took me a lot as a child since she also went to university at Mount Saint Mary's, and her college buddies are still living here. We would visit with them, and always put in a trip to one of the theme parks.

Me and Carolyn, during college

Me and Carolyn, during college

I like that whenever I return to Disneyland, everything's basically the same. In a small way, it kind of feels like I'm coming home to the vacation destination of my youth. Sure, there are updates to popular rides, but the basic park layout and rides remain unchanged. I was interested to see my then-favorites, Pirates of the Carribean and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - now renamed Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage- now had updates to include snippets of the hit movies.

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PARK INTERPRETER

Val has done this trip a half dozen times. Another reason I so appreciate going with her: she totally showed me the ropes, for when we do this ourselves and there's no Val to guide us. Val's strategy:

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1) Disneyland is best done in a minimum of two days. Do one half the first day, the second half the next day. To give you an idea, we took in about 13 rides or attractions per day, with an average wait in line of 30 minutes. I spent an average of ten hours a day in the park, but the Lees stayed out a little longer because their children are older and can handle it. Our toddlers had no nap. We forced them to power through it.

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If you are going to see California Adventure Park as well, which is right next door, that only requires one day, so to get the most for your money, a three day pass would be best.

2) Use a stroller. If your child doesn't ride it (and mine did a lot, what a lifesaver on my back) you can always pile your jackets on it when it gets hot in the midday. Nobody touches the strollers at any of the theme parks. It's amazingly safe.

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3) Bring snacks. It keeps the kids busy while waiting in line. To be politically correct, I probably should suggest you BUY snacks, but see #4 for my reason why.

4) Be prepared for lines, lines, lines. There's a security bag check before you even get in the park. There's a line for tickets. There's a line for bathrooms. There's a line for food, drinks, snacks. The crowds get bigger as the weather gets sunnier. On the sunniest day, it took us 30 minutes to just get the tickets. It took 45 minutes to get a chicken bowl for lunch. It took 20 minutes to buy a shake from the shake kiosk. It took 15 minutes to get coffee from the coffee/hot chocolate cart.

5) Pack a jacket. It will get chilly towards nightfall. Plus, there are wet rides.

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6) Learn to use Fast Pass and Rider Switch. The Fast Pass lets you put in for a shortcut for the popular rides. The Rider Switch let me sit out the ride with Olivia (when she was too short to get on), and then when the rest of the family got off the ride, I could cut to the front (or nearly the front) of the line and ride it.

Those are the things Val does. Here are my amendments.

1) My feet hurt more and more each day. When I go there with my husband and parents, I probably will not push such a long day. Plus, Olivia's still so young and needs more sleep. In other vacations, we have tried to wind up the day by dusk and keep her close to her 7 p.m. bedtime. Going to sleep at 8 isn't going to throw the curve off terribly, but going to sleep at 11 will, such that she got more cranky as the days passed.

Holding feathers for Dumbo ride

Holding feathers for Dumbo ride

2) Go on unpopular days, like the middle of the work week in winter, or on Thanksgiving Day, or when it's raining.

3) If you can afford it, stay at the Grand Californian Hotel. It's on property and I suspect it would make it simple and fast to go to the room for midday breaks and naps. We stayed right outside the main gate, but even that was a bit far to walk to in the middle of the day, since the driveway from the public road to the park entrance was about a five or ten minute walk. Once we left the hotel we didn't return until night.

Standing outside the hotel, you can see front entrance of Disney

Standing outside our hotel, you can see front entrance of Disney

PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN

We got stuck for 20 minutes in Pirates, due to technical difficulties. We were the last batch of people they let on, before closing the line down. We got on the boat and stopped an unusually long time at the ride entrance - you know, where the talking skull warns you not to enter?

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After five minutes, a park staffer interrupted the audio track to announce that they were fixing a problem and to sit tight. It was a little funny to see the skull's mouth moving and a female voice coming out of it.

The ride started up again, and we made it halfway through before we got stuck again. For a longer time, and in the noisiest park of the ride - the war scene where they're shooting cannons back and forth. We were between ships and kept getting droplets of water splashed on us from the "cannon balls" hitting the water. We were there for 20 minutes.

Boat backup

Boat backup

Olivia was a little scared, but she was so tired (see my park strategy above, #1) she actually fell asleep. There were three high school girls behind us. They were excited and talking a lot, laughing, making jokes. A little loud, but fine. And then they started having a water fight.

Oh, snap. In my worse prediction, I could see some kind of chick fight with me and a teenaged girl landing in the water like a scene from a bad ABC sitcom. I was very tired and didn't want to make a big deal, so luckily they self-corrected after a few minutes of giddy fun because they realized they were splashing us, too.

Was I this obnoxious when I was a teenager? I'm retroactively apologizing to everyone I knew then.

This ride lasted us 30 minutes, while the average ride at Disneyland lasted about three minutes. We were still not unhappy. It was cool and dark, and at least we got to see it!

MY FAVORITE RIDES

As a young adult, I used to love the really fast ones. The closer to a roller coaster, the better. Now as a mother, I'm returning full circle to the favorites of my youth. Not only because I can see that Olivia likes them, but also because it reminds me of coming here as a young child with my own mother. Or, because I like looking at all the detail that went into the props.

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In order, my favorites are:

1) Small World

2) Autopia

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3) Pirates of the Carribean

4) Haunted Mansion

5) Splash Mountain

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Olivia's seemed to be (based on her talking about them):

1) Autopia

2) Mad Tea Party

3) King Arthur Carrousel

4) The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

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What are yours?

***

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Snow sledding in Big Bear

By
April 14th, 2010



The drive from Culver City to Big Bear is two hours on the main road, but that road is closed due to a rockslide. The alternate route took three hours. With a stop for lunch  - my first time at an In N Out Burger! - and a little break for shopping because Val and I saw a sign that said "Sale", and wouldn't it be rude to ignore the invite?, we made in there in four hours.

Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake

It's early April and much of the snow is melting in Big Bear, but the resorts make snow, and with the high elevation, I'm sure glad I have my ski jacket, hat, gloves, and waterproof boots. I've never been to Big Bear, so in addition to traveling as a large family unit, add this as another first to my list.

Cammy, Liv, Donivan, Carson

Cammy, Liv, Donovan, Carson

It's like Tahoe, but feels smaller. It's a community based around a lake, so we made it a point to drive around the lake plus take in a hike. While hiking, we came aross a little patch of snow, in which the kids all stopped to play and have a snowball fight.

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ALPINE SLIDE AT MAGIC MOUNTAIN

On Easter Sunday, our first full day at Big Bear, we went sledding and tubing at Alpine Slide. That's a recreation area with year-round family activities, offering snow play in the winter and water fun in the summer. There's also mini-golf and go carts. The activities we chose were perfect for our kids' ages.

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Mini golf

Mini golf

Go carts

Go carts

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The Alpine Slide replicates a bobsled. You ride a chair lift to the top and jump into a plastic sled with teflon runners and ball bearing wheels. You slide down a quarter mile long cement track filled with twists and turns and speed-gaining straightaways.

The slide

The slide

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It's super fun, and it ended up being what Olivia liked more. She's only two so all rides require a parent; I think she preferred this because she could sit up straight and see where she's going. On this ride, you can either buy a ticket for just one ride, or a book of five rides. I recommend the book.

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"Snowplay" is what the company calls its tubing activity. It's just the tubing. It's not all-inclusive of every activity. For $25, you can play all you want during the day. (It's cheaper for a night pass.) It's easy and fun.

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All you have to do is grab yourself a tube, stand on the moving conveyor belt that they call the Magic Carpet, and get deposited at the top of the hill in a minute. Once out, you pick a lane and go. There are five lanes.

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First, we all just went down the straight lane. It takes a little while to push off, but you really pick up speed fast. I wouldn't think tubing requires strategy, but it did. Find the biggest tube possible or your butt will start scraping the ground, and that's not fun. While I'm talking tips, you should wear waterproof pants and shoes. Whatever you'd use for skiing, use for this.

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For the next few runs, we tried variations on human chains. We linked together in a line or a circle and went down. That was actually more fun than we expected! Lastly, the lane at the far end is called the Snake for the fairly obvious reason that it's a twisty run. Try that with a human chain!

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After the first run, Olivia said she liked it. After the second, she asked to quit. I speculate it's because she had to lie down on me while we went downhill, and it was also bumpier than the sled. I was indeed a little afraid I might hit a bump and eject her off me, but it ended up being fine. I forced her to stay with me for a while since I was having fun, but then I quit after half an hour to walk around the rest of the park.

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At some point, we rejoined the group and the kids commenced in a snowball fight. That was as fun for the children as the ride itself, though it yielded wet gloves and socks (the snow fell into the shoes.)

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CELEBRITY SIGHTING

Guess who I saw at the Snowplay area? Jon Cryer. I saw him behind me one of the times I was riding uphill. I thought, "This guy looks familiar. That Two and a Half Men actor? Nah, can't be. He looks different." Then I thought, "Well, I am near LA, and I know from my old job that people look different off camera." By that time, we were off the Magic Carpet, and he had left.

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A little later, he was behind me again, and I heard him talking to a boy. When I heard his voice, I decided it must be him, so I asked. He was so super nice and seemed even a little embarassed. When we got off the carpet, I asked for his photo, which he so kindly obliged. I really appreciate that he let me intrude on his life for a moment.

LUNCH

We probably stayed at Alpine Slide for a couple hours before everyone got tired, cold, and hungry. The kids didn't want to leave but we recognized they needed some nutrition, so we paused for lunch at this really nice restaurant, Sweet Basil, before heading back to the coast. Good move; we had six sleeping passengers in the van on the way back. All in all, a successful day!

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***

Also reach me via DianeAko.com

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