Thanksgiving Road Trip 2015

For Thanksgiving this year we drove down to Texas to visit with Jess' family.  Christopher & Jenny and their kids were going to be down from Colorado and Cameron was home from school.  Chance & Rachel and their kids live in the general area as well as Colton; so it was a pseudo-family-reunion kind of thing.

2015 - Texas - Travel Map

We had originally intended to leave Livermore the morning of November 19, but Heather's preschool had their Thanksgiving Feast that day around noon.  So we stayed for that and left immediately after.

Heather made the front-page of our local paper when the kids were singing the songs they've been learning:



Once the feast was over we loaded up in the van and drove to Needles, CA for the night.  On Friday we loaded up and drove into Oatman, AZ to see the burros.  Heather was a little apprehensive, but it was still a good way to get out of the car and stretch for a bit.

Petting the Burros in Oatman, AZ
Petting the Burros in Oatman, AZ
Grabbing some ice-cream at the Oatman Hotel
Grabbing some ice-cream at the Oatman Hotel

Lowell Observatory

From Oatman it was on to Flagstaff, AZ.  We grabbed dinner (at Chick-Fil-A) and then headed up to the Lowell Observatory.  They have public viewing and talks each evening.  We got to see the moon up close through their largest telescope and we saw Uranus as well (even with a building-mounted telescope it still only looks like a fuzzy blue dot).

Moonlight hitting Heather's eye through the Clark Telescope at Lowell Observatory
Moonlight hitting Heather's eye through the Clark Telescope at Lowell Observatory
Heather with the Clark Telescope behind her.
Heather with the Clark Telescope behind her.

We also listened to a talk about Pluto.  The Lowell Observatory is where Pluto was discovered.  In July of this year the New Horizons Probe completed it's 9.5 year journey to flyby Pluto and take the best pictures of it the world has ever seen.  Heather was actually somewhat interested in the talk, but she really wanted to interrupt every few minutes to ask unrelated questions or make statements.  They were always still space related though.  I had to threaten to leave if she didn't wait to ask her questions at the end.  She reluctantly agreed to do so.  Then she asked the presenter what hit Uranus to tip it sideways.

Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki

The next day we drove North to see Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments.  Sunset Crater is one out of a string of dormant cinder cone volcanoes in Northern Arizona.  North of the volcano a ways is an old pueblo from the 1100's.

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Heather playing in the dirt in the sports arena at Wupatki
Heather playing in the dirt in the sports arena at Wupatki

By the time we finished at the National Monuments and headed back out the East side of Flagstaff the sun was already setting.  We drove to Albuquerque, NM and stayed the night there and then drove straight on to Frisco, TX.  I had more stops planned, but by Albuquerque we were already almost a full day behind schedule, so we skipped the remaining stops.

Thanksgiving in Frisco

We spent November 22 through November 29 in Frisco.  We went to the Zoo with Christopher & Jenny and kids on Wednesday, but mostly just hung out.

Dr. Christopher reads "Human Body Theater" to kiddos
Dr. Christopher reads "Human Body Theater" to kiddos
At the Dallas Zoo
At the Dallas Zoo
Cameron and Christina made adobo for dinner one night.  Here it looks like there's a problem.
Cameron and Christina made adobo for dinner one night. Here it looks like there's a problem.
The kids' table for Thanksgiving Dinner
The kids' table for Thanksgiving Dinner
Christopher apparently said something humorous
Christopher apparently said something humorous
Jess is happy
Jess is happy

We did get Johnson Family pictures taken while we were there and one of just our little family as well:

Johnson Family - Nov 2015-0116bs

Capulin Volcano

When our week in Frisco was up we began our long trip back home.  Weather looked clear so we opted for the Northern route up through Colorado and across Utah and Nevada.  We stayed the first night in Amarillo, TX and then angled up across the corner of New Mexico.  We passed by Capulin Volcano National Monument on the way.  We had to drive down a snow-covered road to get to it, but the park entrance had been plowed by the personnel running the monument.

Unfortunately, they hadn't plowed the road that runs up to and around the rim of the (dormant) volcano so we couldn't go up and have a look around.


Colorado Springs

Our destination that evening was Christopher & Jenny's house in Colorado Springs, CO.  We stayed a couple of nights there and gave Heather the chance to play in snow.

Our mini snowman
Our mini snowman
Sliding chunks of ice down the slide
Sliding chunks of ice down the slide

Arches National Park

We drove out the West side of Colorado and spent the night in Moab, UT.  The next morning we drove through the first third or so of Arches National Park before continuing on our way to Lehi, UT.

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We bought a kangaroo rat stuffed animal for Corinne at the gift shop
We bought a kangaroo rat stuffed animal for Corinne at the gift shop
Getting in and out constantly was annoying, so I started making use of the moon roof
Getting in and out constantly was annoying, so I started making use of the moon roof
La Sal Mountains looking South from Arches
La Sal Mountains looking South from Arches


Heading up to Double Arch
Heading up to Double Arch


From Arches we drove up to Lehi, UT to spend a night at the house of some friends from college.  Then it was on to Winnemucca, NV and home the day after that.

It was a lot of driving which was made bearable by having the Raspberry Pi running Kodi and hooked in to the van's entertainment system.  We had movies and TV shows to watch to keep Heather occupied as we drove across hundreds of miles of nothingness.  I caught up on all my podcasts which could be played through the front speakers using Bluetooth while Heather watched stuff in the back with headphones.  I'm not sure how my family growing up survived driving across the country from Connecticut to Utah and back without such conveniences.

Monterey Bay 2015

We went down to Monterey for the weekend of August 21, 22, and 23.

I took that Friday off from work and we drove down mid-day to avoid morning rush hour traffic.  When we got there we grabbed lunch at Point Pinos Grill, which was considerably nicer than I was expecting considering the prices.  After lunch we walked across the street to the Point Pinos Lighthouse.


This picture would have turned out better if the sky weren't so heavily overcast, but not much I could do about that.

After touring the lighthouse we headed to our hotel room at Asilomar Conference Grounds.  Once we were checked in we walked down to the beach (Asilomar State Beach) to do some playing.

I dug a hole, because why not?

And Heather stood in it, because why not?

We hung out in our little beach shelter (which worked fairly well overall):


We walked along the beach and dabbled in the water:




This was Heather's usual reaction to the waves coming in:

beach (small)

I tried to take some artsy pictures of the waves stacked up as they came in:


Then we headed up to the room for a dinner of hastily retrieved McDonald's; eaten on the floor (there never seems to be a good place to eat food in a hotel room).

Saturday we eventually made it out the door and down to Monterey's main drag.  We ate breakfast at Coco's which was....not a highlight of the trip.  It could have been a smoother experience, but the food was fine.

With food taken care of we walked down to Monterey Bay Aquarium to spend most of the day.  Public Service Announcement: Buy your tickets online and print them out.  We walked straight in the door while a line down the block was waiting to buy tickets.

Heather got to see some baby moon jellies up close as we walked in.


Heather, Jess, and Corinne sat in a giant clam:


And some more jellies, because they seem to make the most successful pictures at aquariums for some reason:



After completely wearing everyone out at the aquarium we headed to a local pizza joint, Gianni's, for dinner.  It sounded like a sit-down and order kind of place, but it turned out to be a place-an-order and seat yourself kind of place.  Which would have been fine, except they were packed and there was nowhere to sit.  And Heather was DONE with the day and couldn't take being in the restaurant.  So we converted our order to takeout and I took Heather back to the van to decompress while Jess waited for it to be ready.

Once it was ready she called me and we drove around to pick it up (couldn't drive up earlier because there would have been nowhere to park).  That worked well for Heather and we had another dinner on the floor of our hotel room.  The food was good though.  Probably would have been better not stuffed into takeout containers and driven across town though.

On Sunday we got up and eventually got packed up and out of the hotel.  We headed down to Carmel-by-the-sea for breakfast at Em Le's.  They have famous deep-fried french toast:


Em Le's is just a tiny little restaurant tucked into the corner of a building.  There's only seating for maybe 25 people at a time.  The food was really good; give it a try if you're in the area.

See with the Point Pinos Grill, Gianni's, and Em Le's? I tried to find unique, local places to eat; but it's tough not knowing what to expect when you have little kids.  Don't want to unintentionally go somewhere too upscale or non-kid-friendly (Em Le's was close on these criteria, but we didn't have any problems).

After eating we went down to Carmel Beach for a few hours, but didn't take any pictures this time around.  Then we loaded up into the van and headed home.  Which took much longer than it should have.  I was expecting weekend traffic heading back into the Bay Area so we left at like 2, but it was terrible.  So try to avoid that.  We ended up needing to stop for food so we found a Habit Grill (which is a chain, but I hadn't seen one before) which was decent.

Family Pictures

I decided to make use of my new photography lighting equipment and took some family pictures today.  Originally it was going to be a little photo shoot for Corinne, but that rapidly expanded.  Unfortunately, I wasn't planning on taking a full family picture so I didn't have the tripod and remote out and configured.  So don't have one of the whole family, but we're all in there in some way or another.

It was tough trying to get Heather and Corinne looking in the same direction at the same time with something amounting to a smile on their faces.  I resorted to tickling Heather as she's reached the age where asking her to smile results in bizarre grimaces.

Here are some of the best shots:

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And the other shots that came out well:

June Junk

Okay, not junk. Not at all. But alliteration, you guys! And I get sick of titling these posts "miscellany" or "camera dump." But anyway, here are all the fun pictures from June that didn't already get their own blog post. Enjoy!

Heather with some art. She loves to art.1-IMG_20150602_164523as

If you're going to be realistic about feeding your doll, you need the Boppy. Obviously.2-IMG_20150603_105238as

On any given day, looking into the family room, you may see something like this: 3-IMG_20150604_133348asTotally normal, right? Isn't this how everybody uses their tablet?

Sometimes feeding the baby gets boring. That's when you move to the family room and watch TV.4-IMG_20150605_092807as

Kyle turned 30 this year! Wahoo! The girls helped him open his presents.5-P1010506as 6-P1010508as 7-P1010510as 8-P1010519as

And blow out the candles.9-P1010527as 10-P1010530as 11-P1010532asSo we decided to experiment with the cake this year, and it came out YUMMY! I just used the recipe for chocolate cake and frosting off the back of the Hershey cocoa tin (also found here), but the secret was the filling. Kyle has invented this mousse stuff (it's essentially instant pudding made with whipping cream instead of milk) that is divine, and that's what I used (vanilla flavored). Kyle needs to blog the recipe, and when he does, I'll link it (Edit: Link!). He also declared it's even better the next day. It did not last long.12-P1010533as

Heather really likes to snuggle up in blankets. Even when it's 100F outside. She's also started piling up the cushions and pillows and making all sorts of comfy arrangements.13-P1010536as

I'm the Primary secretary in our ward, and our chorister asked me to help out a few weeks ago. To help the kids review the song for Father's Day, they got to put something in my hair for each line they remembered. Everybody had a lot of fun with it!14-singing time

One afternoon, Heather came up to Kyle and said she wanted to marry him. (When I asked her what that meant, she said they dance!) So she put on her flower tiara thing and they danced. When I showed her this picture and asked her what it was, she said, "Me and daddy...being married..." in a sweet, sing-song voice, and she twirled away. She obviously has fond memories of this event.15-H and K marrying


Kyle walked by Heather's doorway one morning to discover her in bed with what she declared to be her "perfect family." I don't think that requires any further explanation.17-perfect family

This is Heather's dance class at their in-studio dress rehearsal. Too cute.18-dress rehearsal

And this was a Mommy fail. I packed the sunscreen! I just forgot to put it on her. Poor thing. Ibuprofen and aloe vera helped, but she was pretty uncomfortable for a couple of days.19-sunburn

On Father's Day, Heather helped me make some peanut butter brownies for Kyle.20-Fathers Day brownies

In Primary, the kids got cards with Pop Rocks candy to give their dads, and Heather thought the candy was amazing. She liked watching it pop in Kyle's mouth:21-Fathers Day pop rocks

And lastly, Heather had swim class the last two weeks in June. It was her first time not being in a parent/child class, and she loved it! They were in a 2-foot pool and the class was very small, so she had a lot of one-on-one time with the teacher. I love watching her learn new things!IMGP3277as IMGP3279as IMGP3281as