Hawaii – Part 1

Since my father retired, my family has been making an effort to make big trips together more. Back in 2018, we had decided to make a big trip in 2019 as it is the year my younger brother graduates with his Bachelor’s Degree.

The original trip we had planned over the CSU college system’s spring break was a cruise to Mexico, which we backed out of almost 2 months later for a variety of reasons including food options, freedom to create our own schedule, and the desire for more available activities than drinking.

We knew we still wanted to go somewhere tropical, and decided that a trip to Hawaii better fit the kind of vacation we were looking for.

Seeing as my brother and I are older now, we each got to bring a friend – a travel buddy if you will – so that everyone had someone to do things with. My younger brother Preston brought his best friend Nich, and I brought my boyfriend Ryan.

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Day 1

As soon as we got off the plane in Maui, we grabbed our baggage and wandered out to the shuttle area so we could work on getting our rental cars. We ended up renting our cars through Maui Lifted Jeeps and they were P E R F E C T for our group and the trip we had planned.

With the cars loaded, we made our way to the west part of the island to where we were staying near Ka’anapali. As soon as we were checked in, Ryan and I wasted no time changing into our bathing suits and heading down to the beach with my mom.

The view from our room – the wall of windows from the living room to the balcony folded away entirely to create a true indoor/outdoor space!

Day 2

The following day, myself, my mom, and Ryan got up early (still on California time) and went for a walk on the beach together. To stick with the relaxing theme for the day, Ryan and I had scheduled a 90 minute couples massage for 11am at the spa on the main floor of the resort building we were staying in.

Later that day, our group made our way to Lahaina for a late lunch and to walk around by the Banyan Tree.

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That night was the season premier for the final season of Game of Thrones, so naturally, the 5 of us on the trip who were invested in the show gathered in the living room as soon as we were able to stream it.

Day 3

The following morning around 4:00 am, dad, Preston, Nich, Ryan, and I made our way back to the Maui airport. The five of us had opted to spend one day of our vacation on Oahu to do the Pearl Harbor memorial. Preston and my dad had gone to the memorial the last time my family went to Hawaii in 2010, and I had regretted not going ever since.

When the five of us got off the plane at the Honolulu airport, we were taken from the airport to the memorial via transport my dad has arranged when he booked our Pearl Harbor tour.

Once at the main visitor’s center, we swapped our receipt for physical tickets and made way to the ferry that would take us out by the USS Arizona Memorial – the dock for the ferries was still undergoing construction when we went, so we were unable to get out and walk over the top of the sunken vessel.

Once back on land, we wandered the grounds a bit before making our way to the shuttle that would take us to the USS Missouri and continue the loop to the Aviation Museum on Fort Island. On USS Missouri, we jumped into a tour group to learn a bit about the history of the ship and it’s significance in not only WWII, but in relation to the USS Arizona. For those who are unaware, the ships sit in the harbor bow to bow where Arizona marks the true beginning of the war in the Pacific theater and the Missouri marks the true end as the Japanese surrendered on her deck.

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After the tour, we wandered the ship’s innards before heading back to the shuttle stop so we could get food and visit the Aviation Museum.

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With the Aviation Museum explored, our group got back on the shuttle to the main visitor center. On our return, we made our way directly to the USS Bowfin to explore the submarine.

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Preston wouldn’t stop making faces, so here’s his punishment

By the time 4:00 pm rolled around, we were all exhausted from our adventures (and because we were up so early that morning to fly to Honolulu). We flew back to Maui that evening and all promptly passed out in our beds.

Day 4

The next morning my mom and I got up and walked on the beach together. This day was set to be a “down” day because the previous day had been so packed and we had equally lengthy plans for Wednesday.

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On our return to the condo, Ryan and my dad cooked omelets and turkey bacon for everyone. With leisure in mind, my mom, Nich, Ryan, and I headed back down to the water.

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Ryan tried his darnedest to get Nich to follow him out on these rocks he had gotten me on our first night in Maui but he was unsuccessful. Ryan ended up cutting his foot pretty bad in 2 places on some coral and had to head back to the condo shortly after. Nich and my mom stayed down by the water for awhile longer, but I figured I should join my travel buddy upstairs.

For those of you who don’t know, my dad was a paramedic in his early 20’s, and was arguably one of the best fit people to assist Ryan in his injured state. I won’t get into too much more detail about what happened, but I do have a picture that properly summarizes what happened after my dad did the initial clean out and went to bandage the wound:

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That evening, Ryan and I got dressed up and went out to dinner with my parents at a nice restaurant in Lahaina. We sat down about 20 minutes before sunset, and we ended up having such a lovely time that we were at our table for several hours.

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to be continued…

 

Disneyland for Grandma’s 80th Birthday

When I moved back to California, I wanted to have more time for Disney trips, so I made it. The more I shared my adventures with my grandma, supplemented by my mom’s experiences in the park, the more vocal grandma got about wanting to go to Disneyland herself. In 2017 we decided that we would take her for her 80th birthday that was in August of that year.

Unfortunately, that fall stayed too hot, and by the time it cooled down enough for us to be comfortable taking her, the holiday madness in the parks started. With that, we decided to make the trip in the spring. We opted for the period of time after spring breaks ended and before Grad Nite season started. This meant our trip would have to take place in the last two weeks of April.

In planning this trip, we decided that we would dedicate Monday to driving down, Tuesday and Wednesday to being in the parks, and that Thursday would be for driving home. We also went into the trip with a list of pictures we knew we wanted, food we wanted to try, and rides that were important. We are proud to say we accomplished everything on our lists!

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Everybody loaded in the Subaru ready to go to Disneyland

My mom and I picked up grandma at her house just before 10 a.m. on Monday, April 23rd. From there, we made our trek down to Anaheim. Quite a few stops were made along the way, and we finally made it down to the hotel just before 3 p.m.

For this trip with grandma, we decided to really splurge and stay at the Grand Californian – proximity to the parks, bell/valet services, room service, and amenities played a big role in our decision here. Of the Disneyland Resort hotels, this one truly is my favorite.. since the room renovations, the showers are to die for!

Once we got settled in the room, the three of us went into Downtown Disney for dinner. We made our own “family style” experience at La Brea Bakery, and it was just the right amount for each of us.

From dinner, we made our way through Downtown, pausing to go into some of the shops. We made it to the other end and found our next destination: Trader Sam’s.

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Despite it being around 6:30 or so, we lucked into a table inside! This meant grandma got to experience the activities that accompany some of the drinks (for those who are unfamiliar, this includes brief changes in lighting, yelling by the bartenders, and other special effects).

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Teacup chair by registration for the Disneyland Hotel.

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When we left Trader Sam’s, my mom wanted to go into the lobby of the Disneyland Hotel to see their teacup chairs. This was a brief detour because by this point we were all very tired from the traveling of the day. We made it to the room and called it a night shortly after.

In the Parks – Day 1:

The next morning we all got up early and started getting ready while we waited for room service to arrive. During our trip the parks closed a little earlier and opened a little later – this kept us from having to rush ourselves and grandma first thing in the morning, and kept us from staying in the parks too late.

We were at the entrance to Disneyland about a half an hour before the park officially opened. After getting through the gates, we took advantage of the fact that the park wasn’t technically open yet and wandered through the Emporium that sits on the corner near the City Hall at the start of Main Street.

After stopping to look in the shop, we made our way down Main Street to get castle pictures before it got crowded.

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We crossed the bridge into Fantasyland and went to Snow White’s Scary Adventures. When we finished there, we decided to move on to the Mad Tea Party, which grandma got a kick out of!

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When we finished our spin on the teacups, grandma expressed interest in the Matterhorn, and after mom and I weighed the pros and cons (i.e. how jerky it is, the lack of real padding, etc.) we decided to get in line.

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She ended up liking that one too!

When we were done there, mom wanted one of the chocolate churros that are a limited feature for Pixar Fest inspired by Coco (which I still haven’t seen), so we stopped at the churro cart in Frontierland. Once the churros were consumed, we went to Adventureland to do the Jungle Cruise.

Following the cruise, we made our way through New Orleans Square. While walking through the square, we witnessed a proposal at one of the caricature stands, which was adorable! Once we had passed through, grandma and I made our way to Haunted Mansion while mom waited elsewhere. When the ride was done, we met with mom where I waited in line for one of those Toy Story Alien popcorn buckets.

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I kept referring to him as my child, since he is about the size of an infant

That day we had reservations at Carnation Cafe for lunch, which was phenomenal! From there, we headed across Main Street to the silhouette shop.

The silhouettes at Disneyland have to be one of my favorite souvenirs, and I’m so glad my mom brought up wanting to do one while we were in the parks with grandma.

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Left to right: me, mom, grandma

It had been a long day already, so we started our trek to the hotel so that at the very least, grandma could have some down time. On our way back to our hotel, we stopped in World of Disney, followed by the Starbucks Reserve in Downtown.

Once we got grandma back into the hotel room, I decided to look at ride wait times for some of the more intense rides that were not a particularly great idea to try and take grandma on. At that point in time, the wait time for Guardians of the Galaxy was allegedly only 45 minutes. I decided I was going to go, and I knew mom wanted to as well, so we left grandma to rest and wandered into the park (which was particularly convenient coming from the Grand Californian).

Turns out the wait time was closer to 90 minutes, which was okay overall because grandma got to really rest. When we finally got through the ride, we made our way back to the hotel room to pick up grandma so we could head back into California Adventure with her.

Our first ride stop when we were back into the park was the Little Mermaid ride. After that, we decided to take grandma on the Silly Symphony Swings. She LOVED those – they would end up being the only repeat ride with grandma the whole trip.

From the swings, we moved on to Cars Land as it was nearing dusk. The only ride we did in Cars Land that day was Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters. After our ride, mom wanted a Neapolitan shake from Flo’s V8 Cafe. We walked through Cars Land with the lights on, and I made sure we walked around the back side of Flo’s toward the wharf so that grandma could see they way that the Cadillac Range gets lit up at night (a personal favorite of mine).

We got back to the hotel relatively early that night, which was good because it was a long day. According to my phone, we had walked just over 5 miles that day.

In the Parks – Day 2

Day 2 of fun in the parks started similarly to day 1 in that we got room service and went to Disneyland first. We only had one objective for that park when they opened at 9 a.m. – get a picture with the Mickey flowers in front of the train station.

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After we got our picture, we hit California Adventure. Once through the park gates, I took our park tickets and got FastPasses for Radiator Springs Racers while mom and grandma took their time walking up Buena Vista Street. From there, they met me at the entrance to Cars Land so we could get a picture with the Buzz and Woody cars by the “Welcome” sign.

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With our picture taken care of we made our way to Toy Story Midway Mania, which only had a 5 minute wait time. Once that ride was marked off the list, we made our way back around the pier the long way (construction is still heavily underway) to the swings so grandma could ride them again.

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Mom and grandma went on their way to do Soarin’ and I made my way to the Starbucks location in the park. When we met back up, we headed towards Hollywood Land. On our way to our next destination, we took a little detour to take a picture by a mosaic wall near Schmoozies, ride Mike and Sulley to the Rescue (a ride mom and I had never been on) because grandma likes Monsters Inc, and to grab a hot dog.

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Around that time was our return time for our Radiator Springs Racers FastPasses, so we made our way there through Bug’s Land so that grandma could experience that. Mom and I also paused to get FastPasses for a second round of Guardians later that afternoon. Following our race, I wandered to the Cozy Cone for a bacon mac & cheese cone and my mom went back to Flo’s for another Neapolitan shake which grandma had a little bit of.

At that point, we had finished most of what we wanted to do in California Adventure, so we headed back across the plaza to Disneyland. Our first order of business in the park was to take the railroad on a round trip. Once we made it back, we walked up main street and got pictures in our Minnie ears with the “Partners” statue.

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That day was particularly warm, so we made our way towards Adventureland to get some Dole Whip and sit through a Tiki Room show. After the show we walked across the park to the Monorail. We rode the Monorail to Downtown Disney, and made a stop in the new Disney Home Store as we made our way from the station to the hotel.

With grandma at the hotel to rest once more, mom and I made our way back to California Adventure for our Guardians FastPass return. After the ride we got back to the hotel (much faster than the day before) and gathered grandma to get dinner.

We walked back to the park entrance of Disneyland and jumped on the train for a 3/4 trip to Tomorrowland. Dinner was at Pizza Planet (which is fantastic rebranding in my opinion) where mom got pasta and grandma and I got slices of pizza. Mom also got one of the Alien macaroons. After dinner, we got back on the train to go to Main Street and head back to the hotel.

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Based on my phone’s tracker, we walked just over 6 miles the second in-park day of our trip.

 

We had room service delivered Thursday morning before we left and were thankful for bell services to help us get our stuff back down to the car. As might be anticipated with typical LA traffic, it took us an hour and a half to get the 30 miles from Anaheim to Downtown LA. We ended up making it home in just about 5 hours.

We all had a great trip to Disneyland, and I’m so grateful that I have those memories with my mom and grandma!

 

My Revolt Story

Ink Master has been among my favorite competition shows since it’s inception, and in 2014 it introduced me to a few tattoo artists I have dreamed of being tattooed by. One of these artists is Season 4’s runner-up Walter “Sausage” Frank. Since Ink Master, he relocated to Las Vegas and opened a shop, Revolt Tattoos, with Season 3 winner Joey Hamilton (another truly gifted artist). I have driven through the area numerous times since the shop opened, but I had yet to find a design nor actually set foot in the shop. His tattoos are striking, bold, and legible photorealistic designs, and I knew someday I would find myself wanting something sizable, detailed, and meaningful enough to contact him. I also knew my Revolt story would happen organically, when it should, but I never could have guessed what the price of that inspiration would be.

After Colin died, I knew I was going to get something tattooed on my body in remembrance of him, and initially I was decided on red roman numerals on my side of his date of death. Later, after his mom found a zoo worth of owls in his room, my plan changed. I started my artist search around Fresno, but realized that anyone who could accomplish the photorealism that I wanted would be expensive and I would have to wait. It then dawned on me that if I was going to be paying as much as I was and waiting as long as I would be, I might as well go to one of my “dream” artists.

I first contacted the shop in December 2016. I filled out the basic contact form, explaining my flexibility in timeline and in design so long as there was a photorealistic owl. Additionally, I was open to color so long as it was mostly neutral toned. For how much I like to be in control, I was pretty open about what the tattoo would look like.

Through our communication, an appointment was booked for me to come in on October 3, 2017 at 10 a.m.

From the inception of the idea, I decided I was going to make a small trip out of this appointment. I chose to not fly for a number of reasons, but fortunately for me, I have made the drive between Fresno and Vegas half a dozen times and find it relatively easy.

As it turned out, Emily’s bridal shower was the Saturday before near Pasadena, so it made sense for me to go down then, stay in the LA area, and then head to Las Vegas from there (my last post, “SoCal Adventures,” details that part of the trip). As it turned out, I made my way to Las Vegas on October 2nd.

October 2nd in Las Vegas turned out to be a dramatically different day than I had planned. The original itinerary I had included going to the Luxor to see the Bodies Exhibit, and possibly walking The Strip. With the shooting the night before, everything was closed and eerie, so I loitered in LA a little while longer than intended. I took myself to breakfast at Twisted Sage, a place my darling Sarynna had showed me on my trip with her to Azusa nearly a month before. From there, I headed into Vegas, drove past the Strip on I-15 before getting off the freeway, after which I checked into and sat in my hotel room for awhile before heading to a Yard House that was south of The Strip right off the freeway.

The following day, I had my appointment which was far and away the most well documented tattooing experience I have ever had.

My mom and aunt drove into Vegas that morning from Fresno, arriving at the hotel around 9 a.m. They ate breakfast, took their stuff to the room, and then we made our way to Revolt.

I met Walter Frank for the first time just after 10 a.m. as we discussed in more detail what I was looking for. Through our talks and looking at pictures, we decided moving the image to my hip from my side would be a better decision as far as fit, size, and longevity were concerned. This move required me to change out of the yoga pants and athletic shirt I had originally worn to the shop and into a dress which would allow easier access to my hip.

Almost 2 hours later, we had a sketch, he prepped his station, and we were ready to apply the stencil.

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Walter’s Station

The shop offers live streams of their tattoos, so I took this opportunity to share the link to Walter’s station so that friends and family not present could watch the process unfold.

The course of the next 5 1/2 hours consisted of lots of tattooing, lots of jokes about ass, and walking breaks. I’ve included the “progression” pictures below:

**BLOOD WARNING**

I wanted the owl’s eyes to be Colin’s eyes. For those of you who are unfamiliar, his eyes were a dark brown that became a vibrant green in direct light. The group present acted as voting committee of how to best do them in the likeness of his eyes as to not get too muddy with the black of the outline and the pupils. We opted for a green color toward the center, becoming brown at the edges.

Applying the wrap that would cover it for the next 4 days

Walter was such a great artist to sit for. He humored our questions, sass, and the emotions associated with what we were there for for nearly 6 hours that day.

Whole gang post-tattoo

We ended up leaving the shop around 6 p.m., heading to Yard House for dinner. That evening was highly emotional, and we were all spent by the time we got to dinner. We all were asleep by 9 p.m.

The day following my appointment, we all made the drive back to Fresno.

I am so happy with my experience and the end result. This trip helped create a small light in an otherwise grim situation. As much as I don’t like the fact that my reason for going to Walter was to memorialize Colin, there is no one I would have rather had as my artist.

3 1/2 weeks later

Baylor Graduation and a Road Trip

Early flights are things I only willingly sign up for in special cases – this was one. Maddy, who has always been more like a sister to me than a friend, was graduating from Baylor after completing her Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science in just 3 years. I was not only flying out to go to her graduation, I was to help her move from Waco, TX to Phoenix, AZ where she is set to start her Master’s Degree in the fall.

My mom, her parents, and I flew out just after 6:00 a.m. on Thursday, May 11th to start our journey to her. After we arrived in Dallas, we waited for her grandpa to land, got the car, and started our ~90 minute drive down to Waco. I had been to Texas during summer prior to this, but I forgot that the weather there can be just as bipolar as the weather in Colorado can, and before the day was up we experienced 2 rain storms and otherwise lovely weather.

After the parents checked into the hotel they were staying at, Maddy joined us and we made our way to the Magnolia Market Silos. As “Fixer Upper” fans, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to stop into the shop and check out what the grounds had to offer.

Prior to this trip, I did not expect the Silos to be located within the city. The property was, however, every bit as precious as I was expecting. We chose to go on the Thursday before graduation ceremonies started, and because of that it wasn’t too busy to fully enjoy the experience.

During our visit we got food from the on-site food trucks, bought our fair share of merchandise from the market, and made sure to hit the bakery and seed shop.

From the Silos, we decided to keep the shopping theme rolling and headed toward Spice Village, which is a single shop that contains and sells products for a bunch of smaller shops. Their products range from jewelry to clothes to home goods and novelty items. On the way in, we stopped for a drink at the bar next door called Cricket’s where Maddy’s mom got wine and the rest of us ordered their frozen Jack & Coke (which was delicious!). We spent a good hour or so wandering around there before heading to the hotel to pick up the rest of our group before heading to dinner.

Dinner for that night was at a BBQ restaurant called Uncle Dan’s that Maddy had stumbled upon about a year before – she accidentally walked in the back door and ran into the Uncle Dan who welcomed her and let her continue on her way to get to the dining area. We were all left stuffed, but not too stuffed to go back to Maddy’s apartment to sample the eclairs she had made that morning. From there, the parents headed back to the hotel, while Maddy, her friend Kailee, and I ended up having a game night.

First thing the next morning, we got up and met the parents so we could get the “Maddy” tour of Baylor.

Our tour led us around the campus starting on one side of Pat Neff Hall, looping up the center mall, and around to the other side. On that far side is a statue of Judge Baylor, the namesake of the University. Apparently a tradition is to climb the statue to sit on his lap (it’s pretty worn down) and I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to do it myself.

The last stop of our tour was at the Armstrong Browning Library, which was also a small museum of sorts and a study area. This building is gorgeous, featuring tons of stained glass windows and marble. We didn’t spend too much time here, but it was definitely worth the stop. I linked the history of the building above in the library’s name.

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The large room to the back of the building. The archival rooms are at either side of the foyer.

After we toured the campus, we went to brunch at IHOP. Once we had finished, it was about time for us to go back to the apartment/hotel to get ready for the ceremony.

Baylor’s graduation ceremony was relatively quick and efficient. Once it was over, our travel group and a few of Maddy’s friends met for dinner. When dinner was through, Maddy, Kailee, Julia (another friend of theirs), and I went back to campus and to the Waco Suspension Bridge to take more pictures.

On campus, the girls climbed the Judge Baylor Statue. After we started taking pictures on the Waco Suspension Bridge, Maddy and I were inspired to take pictures that were reminiscent of a picture she and I took years ago. On the way back to the car, we stopped at the Chisholm Trail sculptures.

From there, we made our way back to Maddy’s apartment where a group was gathering to have another night of games.

Saturday morning Maddy, Kailee, and I met the parents at a local restaurant called Cafe Cappuccino for breakfast (it was adorable and delicious). Once breakfast was done, we made our way to McLane stadium to walk the grounds there a little bit.

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After the stadium, we headed to Maddy’s apartment to pack the clothing and furnishings she still had in the apartment into her car.

Once we were done with our business in Waco, Maddy and I headed towards San Antonio – the first stop in our drive to Phoenix. On our way, we stopped in Temple, TX at a rest stop on steroids (part of a chain) called Buc-ee’s just for the novelty of it.

Pressing on, we made it from Waco to San Antonio in about 3 hours. After checking into the hotel, we walked less than two blocks to get to the Alamo.

Of the more interesting site facts for me included that most of it was rebuilt (very little of the original building exists) and that the original property holdings were surrounding to the front, not the back as the current lot might suggest. Something I appreciated most is that the original property lines on the current lot were marked by small plaques between pavers.

Once we finished with the Alamo, we made our way to the Riverwalk. Starting somewhere in the middle, we picked a direction and just started walking, taking in everything around us. After awhile, we realized we probably needed to find a place to eat, and after picking a direction to search in, found a place within minutes.

Dinner that night was at Casa Rio, the first restaurant to take advantage of the riverwalk. It was easy to see why their business had lasted so long on the river, and after splitting a liter of peach sangria we walked back to the hotel where we called it an early night.

The next day was little more than driving from San Antonio to Las Cruces, New Mexico. We did stop in Fort Stockton at a seemingly random Mexican restaurant called Taqueria Guadalajara (the closest to an actual website I could find).

Our only regret is that we have no real reason to go back to Fort Stockton, TX, ever again.

The journey continued along I-10 West, and we hit a point in the road close enough to the border that our cell carriers believed we had left the country and sent us “Welcome to Mexico!” auto-texts advising us of our rates (this has since been cleared up).

Late in the afternoon we made it to Las Cruces, NM, and settled for the night into our hotel room. There, we had a somewhat healthy meal at Cracker Barrel (I paired vegetables with dumplings and Maddy got a salad with fried chicken on it), I helped Maddy with the basics of WordPress (her newly created page for her wood signs can be found at Maddy Ave Marvels), and we turned on Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix.

On Monday, we were up relatively early (we both originally woke up at 4 a.m., had independent thoughts that we could just get on the road now and decided against it) and on the road to Phoenix.

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For the most part, this drive was uneventful. We did see a few billboards we took interest in, one of which was for Steins Ghost Town. When we got to the exit we decided to get off and see what it might be. It was noteworthy in that (unless we missed something) we were pretty sure we had stumbled into something that was supposed to be a site to stop at, but had since become a residence for about 4 people and no one took down the billboards.

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After re-entering the freeway, we finished our trip to Phoenix. We made it to the house around noon, which gave us plenty of time to unload the car and start unpacking the boxes in the house.

Despite making it to the house early in the day, everything the day entailed did a number on the two of us, and we decided the best course of action for the rest of the night was to have pizza delivered, put on pjs, curl up on the denim couch (aka the best couch ever) and get through a couple episodes of Sherlock.

The next morning, May 16th, I packed for my flight, and we decided we would use the time leading up to my departure to visit the Phoenix Zoo.

We got general admission tickets and spent about 3 hours there. One of the distinguishing features of this zoo is it’s monkey walk area – after taking an anthropology class on primates my last semester of college, it was really awesome to be in a situation where I can get that close to some of the smaller creatures I learned about. I also appreciated that the lemurs had a home on islands in the middle of a gorgeous pond just off of the “Tropics Trail.”

Leaving was bittersweet. This was the first time I had gotten to spend any meaningful amount of time in Phoenix, and what I saw of it was lovely. Truth be told, I enjoyed getting to visit just about everywhere Maddy and I went. Road trips are truly a unique experience, and I’m thankful we had the flexibility in our schedule that a trip like this required. I’m grateful I got to help with this big move, and I’m so excited to see what Maddy does in her life from here!

How to Keep Families (or Groups) of All Ages Happy at Disneyland

One of my coworkers recently planned a family trip to Disneyland that would be the first where both of her kids are able to participate in and remember the experience. As an avid Disney-goer who has gone with groups as small as 2 people and as large as 8, I offered her advice to make the most of their time once they had made the base decisions, which include where they’re staying, how long they have in the park, budget, etc.

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This was a welcomed challenge for me because she has younger kids and I do not have kids, nor does my family have young members (of those we frequently see & travel with, the youngest human member is 19). Despite this, I do know the parks and how to coordinate group trips. No matter the age range, the first step in planning any Disney trip is figuring out how many days you will have in the park and if you will be getting park hopper or single park tickets. The group I was advising had 3 day park hopper tickets (which is plenty of park time to accomplish a lot with a group of any size and age) and were staying in one of the most conveniently located off-site hotels.

With this information, I compiled a list of things that I believe are essential to a successful Disneyland trip. In this version of the information, some of the points are linked to where they can be found on the Disney website. The key to having a successful group trip is figuring out what is important to your individual group members and “planning” time in the park accordingly. To accomplish this, there are a few rules of thumb I like to follow:

  1. Try to limit yourselves to one big show per day (unless they’re in the same park) for a couple of reasons; the first is that a lot of the night shows overlap, so it’s only physically possible to see one, the other is that you don’t want to overload on shows. The shows in the same park could be done on the same night if you wanted to because the only available ones are staggered in the same location. Example I gave for their trip for February of 2017: It would make sense if you wanted to do the Electric Light Parade and the Firework show the same night if you wanted because the Electric Light Parade is at 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on Main Street and fireworks run at 9:25 p.m. Friday night and Saturday night in front of the Castle. World of Color shows in California Adventure at similar times to the shows in Disneyland so it is not possible to see all of both shows.
  2. Make sure everyone is fed and hydrated. I know the coordinator of any group is going to be a “mom” type figure and that goes without saying, but it is honestly amazing how moods can change if one of those things doesn’t happen, even with adults.
  3. Don’t forget to alternate between people’s interests, but also make sure you’re not jumping back and forth across each park or between parks each turn to accomplish this. One way to get through this making sure that everyone is happy is to take turns picking rides. This can be a whole day or part day “rotation” and it is completely up to preference if the choices are just the kids, all members of the group deciding together, or between the kid’s individual choices and a “family” activity (or any other variation thereof).
  4. Although this is a trip intended for the group to be together, there will likely be times where splitting the group and meeting back up is the best choice. For my family, this means that while my dad and brother ride Star Tours, my mom and I will go shop, get snacks, meet princesses, meet with friends, or go on another ride the boys are less interested in like Alice in Wonderland. When we’re done, we would head to a pre-determined location to regroup and decide where to go from there. Also, there were times the line for Star Tours would be short when the boys were done and we had no plans at a set time after, so they would get back in line and text us that it would be another 20-30 minutes or so. For my coworker’s family, I gave the example of taking her daughter to meet Elsa and Anna at Disney Animation in Hollywood Land while her husband and son do California Screamin’ (a ride her daughter might still be too short to ride and I know she has no interest in doing). This way, everyone gets to accomplish something they want to without forcing other group members to do something they don’t want to, and it gives everyone a little break.

Although these seem inclusive of a lot of park decisions, these are not the only things to consider while planning.

During your trip, DO:

  • As a group coordinator, make sure everyone (including yourself) gets to do something they really want to before you stop to have lunch, and everyone gets to do something they really want to do before leaving the parks for the night. This doesn’t have to be a ride, it can be meeting a character, seeing a show, or eating a pretzel (or churro, or Dole whip).
  • Make sure everyone stays hydrated and fed (I know I said it before but it’s important). Bring snacks in a backpack that are easy to eat in line, and bring your own water bottles (you can refill them at drinking fountains throughout the parks) and cups of ice water are free at quick service restaurants.
  • Ask people to take pictures for you. The Disney PhotoPass employees are always happy to take pictures using your camera or phone in iconic locations throughout the parks (it’s literally what they get paid to do.. they will also take some with their cameras that you have no obligation to purchase later). In more obscure park locations, offer to take pictures for other families, and if they don’t offer to do the same, ask them.
  • Give each person an opportunity to get a souvenir that is meaningful to them to commemorate the trip. There are a lot of shops throughout both parks and downtown that offer products of all types and price ranges. One that has always been a fun one for me is using the penny presses, which are very inexpensive. img_0478
  • Spend some time in each park at night just taking in the sights; I think there is something truly magical about Main Street and Cars Land lit up at night.
  • The first two days of the trip should start in different parks. It is a personal preference where to start and can be influenced by the time each park opens and whether or not your tickets have a Magic Morning, but those first two days should not be the same starting park. Any days after that you can start wherever you want to, but each park deserves to be experienced right at open at least one day of the trip. With park openings, we have found that in California Adventure, literally at park opening is the best time to go on Radiator Springs Racers (if you don’t want to get a FastPass) or Toy Story Midway Mania, and in Disneyland this is typically the best time to do Indiana Jones, Space Mountain, and Star Tours if you’re not wanting to get a FastPass, and Peter Pan because it doesn’t have a FastPass option).

During your trip, I RECOMMEND:

  • Taking a break in the early afternoon to go back to your hotel room for a nap/breather (even just an hour will do), especially on day 2 or 3. This has a few perks; it keeps you out of the park during the heat of the day (not as big of an issue in winter) and will help everyone refresh mentally and physically so you can happily make it to park close on the nights the park is open later.
  • Limiting the amount of soda you drink (it loops back to the hydration idea).
  • If it might rain during your trip, go to the Dollar Store before you leave for your trip and get ponchos there. These easily fit in backpacks and are a much better strategy than waiting to buy them in Anaheim or in the parks.
  • Taking band-aids for blisters. Another good trick is putting athletic tape over band-aids to help them stay on in the park. This also significantly cuts down on further rubbing and pain experienced.
  • Bring entertainment activities that aren’t necessarily electronic. Some rides will have longer wait times that are unavoidable. You know your kids/family members and what will keep them occupied best to help ease the wait time. You may not need these type of things at all, but it’s definitely something to consider when packing.
  • Talking to and interacting with employees. Everyone – characters, attraction workers, guest relations, staff cleaning, and more. Main Street just beyond the tunnels is home to guest relations, a fire department that you can explore, and museum type attractions. Ask employees about everything you see; you don’t have to be on a tour to get “tour” type answers. My example here is the gallery right next to Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln which has very expensive artwork in it; there is a massive safe to the left of the register that had an actual function when the park opened, a fact I learned while talking to the cashiers.
  • We like using day 3 of a 3 day trip to do “finishing touches” type things. To do this, we treat the first part of the day as the time to make sure we visit the rides and attractions we haven’t gotten to yet and really want to experience while there, and the rest of the day is used for repeating any rides we want to hit for a second (or third, or fourth) time. This is also the time to make final decisions about souvenirs.  
  • Go to traditional photo places, but look for alternate angles. For example, castle pictures are just as good taken from one of the sides as they are from directly in front of the castle.
  • Go up seemingly obscure paths. There is no part of the park that goes without thought, and there are fun surprises and things to see everywhere.

During your trip, DO NOT:

  • Eat every meal in the park or on park property (hotels, Downtown Disney). Sure, the locations are convenient, but this is a major unnecessary expense. When you are eating in the park, consider splitting entrees between group members or having the meals slightly later than usual because of portion sizes.
  • Feel like you have to buy a ton of Disney Merchandise. It all adds up really quickly, and character preferences will shift as kids grow up. The Dollar Store also has little Disney things that you can get and take with you to give to the kids during the trip (we even do this for travel Kleenex, Q-tips, band-aids, etc. that we want on theme).

Along with this, I offered some other helpful tips:

  • Bring your own water bottles and food into the park. The only rule is that you can’t bring glass (with the exception being pre-packaged baby food jars and smaller things along those lines) or alcohol into the park.
  • As you enter the park, grab maps & show schedules when you get your ticket scanned.
  • Download the Disneyland app for current wait times in both parks. The app also has times for shows, street performances, and events, as well as park hours, character locations, restaurant hours and menus, and bathroom locations.
  • If you don’t want to use the app (or just don’t want to pull your phone out), there is a kiosk with up-to-date wait times outside the Jolly Holiday Café in Disneyland and one on the far side of Carthay Circle in Disney’s California Adventure.
  • The monorail runs between Downtown Disney and Tomorrowland and is particularly useful if you want to spend some time exploring Downtown closer to the Disneyland Hotel and want to go right back into the deeper parts of Disneyland.
  • There are lockers of different sizes available for rent in both parks; these are a good idea for storing bulky sweaters you might need later, coolers (you are allowed to bring small coolers into the park, I recommend using this for cold sandwiches or keeping additional bottles of water cold that you don’t want to carry around all day), stuff you don’t want to carry around, etc.
  • Make sure any and all backpacks/bags/coolers are easily accessible for the security staff checking bags as you enter park property (also keep in mind you now have to go through metal detectors when entering park property, so plan what you wear and how you pack accordingly).
  • Turn your phones on airplane mode if you’re in indoor lines (like Indiana Jones and Soarin’). The buildings aren’t made to receive cell phone reception and your phone will drain it’s battery looking for reception.

A dear friend of mine whose family also frequents Disneyland added that it’s wise to set a daily budget, it will help you watch your spending for the whole trip.

I do my best to make every Disney trip I take a little bit different. Sure, there are staples that must happen on every trip like taking pictures just inside park gates by the flowers and in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, riding Big Thunder Mountain and the new-ish Little Mermaid ride, and eating my weight in churros. Despite that, each trip ends up having it’s own theme which in the past have included my brother’s childhood best friend’s birthday, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, a girls trip with my mom, best friend, and her mom, variations of “Brittany & Hannah Adventures” (the next installation of which is coming April of this year), and my mom’s birthday; almost all of these trips end up having special guests (namely Paul, Emily, and Dani).

I know this seems like a lot of information, but once you’re in the parks it feels much more intuitive. No matter what details your trip includes, what is most important is that everyone enjoys their time.

Disneyland

The Last Nine Years

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8.5 Years

It wasn’t until 8.5 years following my maternal grandfather’s death that I was able to begin to process it.

My last memories of him take place in his home a few weeks before he passed. By that point, he was so far gone that going to the hospital (which was followed by in-home hospice care) did nothing but confirm what we already deduced. I don’t remember visiting him in the hospital. What I have is the memory of how frail he was coming out of the doorway separating the back of the house from the front, shuffling across the floor toward the kitchen.

I remember wondering how his wife let him get to that point before contacting us.*

I remember we had pleasant enough conversation as he leaned over the counter in his usual place, but he was obviously uncomfortable with us being there. And he should have been.

I remember being told I couldn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t tell anyone that he was sick or that he died.

When he died, we got a death certificate. No funeral. No memorial. No article. No grave. None of his ashes.

We couldn’t tell anyone until his wife deemed it permissible. By the time that happened, I had pushed the feelings so far down I didn’t think they existed anymore.

I suppose we could have done something, but that scene would have been the 7 of us who were allowed to know sitting around a table awkwardly staring at each other or his death certificate.

I was 13 when this happened.

Early August 2016

After I moved home from college at 22, we got a call informing us that my grandfather’s wife had died.

The weeks that followed were strange and to some extent felt like I had accidentally stumbled into a soap opera and was not allowed to leave.

I came home from Disneyland with my mom to almost literally meet the mailman delivering a rather large envelope that contained a sizable stack of copies of a trust, various amendments to that trust, and last wills. There is no way to describe how it felt to not only receive that packet, but to sit and read through papers containing my grandfather’s wishes and signature (as well as his wife’s).

For a number of weeks, I didn’t fully believe it was all real; they waited a week after she died to make the initial contact. In the following weeks, I finally began to come to terms with what all of this meant.

During that time, the death of James Preston Grant finally felt real.

On September 3rd, Deborah’s family held a memorial for her at the house she and my grandfather had shared. Myself and four other family members from his side were able to attend.

Walking back into that house was surreal. I started crying as soon as I crossed the threshold of the sliding door because the inside of the house reminded me of a mausoleum. The absence of my grandfather and his wife was beyond noticeable, though her niece had done a beautiful job setting up the house and yard for the memorial. It was interesting to see that as much as things had changed, they were still very much the same.

We arrived at the house about an hour before everyone else was supposed to be there because we wanted to walk through the garden and take a moment for ourselves. The five of us walked to a bridge at the edge of the property and toasted to Grandpa and Deborah individually with their respective drinks of choice.

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The top of the garden at their home
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Pre-memorial toasts to Grandpa & Deborah

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The memorial for Deborah started a little after 5 p.m. PST; the group at the house was joined by a collection of her family and friends via video chat from New Zealand and other locations throughout this country. Her son and niece had each prepared speeches, both of which made reference to my grandfather.

They gave us an opportunity to say something about Jim, but we all declined (this gathering was about Deborah, and we did not want to detract from that). For me, what they had done was more than enough – simply the acknowledgement of his passing by people outside our immediate bubble was enough. Truth be told, even if I would have known ahead of time that they would offer us the floor (my mom had received an offer in advance, but declined), I don’t think I would have had anything to say.

After the more traditional portion of the gathering, Deborah’s son planted a Japanese Maple in her favorite spot in the garden to commemorate both of their lives. The majority of us then stayed down in the garden and conversed.

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The items on this table have stayed the same not only throughout my childhood, but following each of their deaths.

We knew we could not leave the house without a current stair picture, especially because it is unclear how much longer the house will still be in the Grant family.

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This stair picture features Jim’s family members who were there as well as Deborah’s son and granddaughter

Following the memorial, there was a relatively quiet month or so of corralling ducks (they are very reluctant to do anything that resembles lining up). This process is far from over and there is still much to be done. Nowadays, this mostly consists of periods of waiting, followed by the need for “real” adult decisions to be made, which reinstates the waiting period. Despite being open about this, there is a lot that either cannot or will not be discussed (even among family members), and that is in part what is keeping this whole situation in a state of surrealism.

It has become increasingly clear that this whole ordeal is supposed to teach us patience and organization. Hollywood does a horrible job of depicting the aftermath of death – nothing happens in a timely manner, and it does not appear that there is much incentive otherwise. My advice is to take a moment and really consider how many trips to county clerks, the IRS, banks, and lawyer offices you want your family members to have to make.

This situation has also taught me that you truly never know what is just around the corner for your life.

What Comes Next

Looking back, I know that I could have defied Deborah’s requests for almost total privacy regarding my grandpa’s death. But, that’s not who I am. I dealt with it the only way I (at the time) knew how: bottle up my feelings and hope that bottle would never be reopened.

But it was.

I realize now that a lot of my behavior leading up to and following his death was a result of the complex emotions I was ignoring rooted in the resentment I felt from this situation. In no way does that excuse any of my behavior towards the people I cared about following that event, and I want to take a moment to apologize for the hurt I caused during that time. I also think it’s important that I acknowledge for those who were affected that I am more than aware of my actions, and fortunately I now understand the cause.

How do you even begin to process something that you had cast aside for the better part of a decade? How do you even begin to grieve? The truth is, you don’t have a nice “clean” beginning. You don’t get to decide when or if those feelings come back. They hit you like a freight train.

I have to say, I’m thankful that I went through the grieving process alone. I had enough trouble the first time, and I didn’t even want a chance to see if I could do it better the second time. Though I have grown a lot since then and have developed exceptionally better ways of processing emotions, I found myself keeping everyone at an arm’s distance. I did this in part because I couldn’t even begin to explain what was going on and how I was feeling. I genuinely felt like no one understood how to empathize with the situation aside from two people who are also involved with it (and to some degree I still feel this way).

All I am sure of is that after nearly a decade I can finally put that part of my life to rest. I am thankful for everything I learned about myself and the way the world is, though there are some things I wish I could have learned in a different way.

I do believe that everything (to some extent) happens for a reason, and that things happen in their time. With that, I am thankful that I made it through my last year of college before this happened because the combined stresses would have been a disaster.

I look back on all the memories from my childhood with my grandfather and his wife fondly, but it’s time to move forward.

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* In the event that I did not articulate this point well enough by the end of the piece: I have no ill feelings towards my grandfather’s wife and I was saddened (albeit confused) by her passing. Do I agree with all the choices she made towards the end of his life? No, I don’t. But I don’t have to, they were hers to make, and I accept that. It is important to the narrative, though, that I share my truth. In my 13-year-old mind, not being able to acknowledge his passing seemed unfair, especially because a year and a half earlier when my paternal grandmother passed it was something everyone knew about. My feelings about what happened in 2007 and 2008 are just as valid as the right she had to make her choices in all the situations she faced – they were complex, and more than one person should have had to handle. It is equally important to note that my grandpa was a very strong willed man, and it was not her fault that we were shielded from the severity of his declining health.

Written in August and September 2016