We arrived in Orange County on Friday, December 18th. The drive from Vegas took about four hours and was pretty mundane, except for a thick and beautiful barrel cactus landscape in a mountain pass about halfway to the coast. Mike and Liz Plumb (Pam's brother and sister-in-law) live in Orange County's gorgeous Newport Coast and we were shocked at the warmth when we stepped out of the car - it was easily in the 70s. The plan was to spend the afternoon at Disneyland and we wasted no time dropping off our bags, getting reacquainted and hitting the road for the park. It was the last Friday of school before Christmas and the park was seriously busy, but Mike and Liz did an amazing job of negotiating the crowded Disney landscape. They took turns waiting in line so we could go from ride to ride with minimal downtime, and they used their mobile phones to do on-the-fly logistical planning - it was impressive. I have no doubt that if we'd been there on our own, we wouldn't have tried half as many rides.
I think the highlights for Elise were the Christmas parade and a submarine adventure. The parade had life-size characters from some of her favourite books (Winnie the Pooh, Cinderella, etc) and she waved vigorously as they glided by, looking a bit stunned to see them in real life. The submarine dove into a large pool and there were replicas of ships, divers and fish with very lifelike sounds and motions. We know Elise is obsessed with underwater life and she kept asking me if things were "real" (the answer, unfortunately, was no). The highlight for me was the pitch-black roller coaster ride, Space Mountain. I'd not been on a roller coaster since I was 12 and it was quite a rush. It felt way scarier than rock climbing and I couldn't believe 8-year-old Elena braved the entire ride with both arms thrust into the air. I was hanging on for dear life with white knuckles and sweaty palms, and was relieved when it was all over! It got quite cold in the park after dark but we persevered and hung out for the fireworks at 9:30pm. As the last explosions lit up the night sky, we made our way home, thoroughly fatigued.
The next day we explored our beautiful condo near the ocean. Here's a photo of Elise touching the carp at the pond out front.
Since the day was sunny and warm, so we spent the morning at Laguna Beach with Mike and his kids. We had a great breakfast on an outdoor terrace above the beach and watched dolphins cruise up and down the shoreline. After breakfast, the kids played at a beach-side park before going swimming and shell collecting on a small peninsula. The coastline was beautiful and it was a spectacular, warm, sun-filled day. Elise thoroughly enjoyed playing with her three cousins at the beach and in their very well-stocked playroom at home later that evening! We had a nice dinner and enjoyed their company.
The cousins (below) from right to left: A.J, Jason, Elise and Elena.
Pam's brother, Mike, with the kids.
Sunset over Catalina island.
On Monday, we decided to take a day and tour Joshua Tree National Park. It's a world famous climbing area with over 3000 routes, and is also a spectacular (and very large) desert preserve. Our day dawned cloudy, but we pushed on anyway, leaving the apartment at 7:00am. The park was a 2-hour drive from Newport Coast and we stopped on the way for pancakes (Elise's favourite breakfast, of course). Luckily, the winds were relatively calm because J-Tree has a reputation for ferocious gusts, especially in winter. We checked in at the visitors centre, got some park information and purchased our souvenir - a bag of Joshua tree seeds that Elise can plant when we get home to Squamish. We toured the park and I did a climb that I'd been keen on for awhile, a famous finger crack called Equinox. It was cold, but I persevered and managed to climb it successfully, although I tore a few holes in my fingers in the process. The rock in Joshua Tree is granite, but laced with jagged, pea-sized crystals that can slice your skin to shreds in seconds - climbers beware. Regardless, the desert landscape was starkly beautiful, and we hiked through bizarre corridors of rock surrounded by forests of Joshua Trees. We saw one specimen that was 40 feet high, which translates to approximately 500 years old! We toured a Cholla cactus "garden" and finished the day by watching a blood-red sunset over the desert. A long drive got us home just in time to have dinner with Pam's parents, Ron and Sharon - a nice way to end an eventful day.
Christmas is coming and the kids are bursting with excitement. We plan to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at Mike and Liz's place and it should be a crazy time! There will be lots of presents, lots of good food and lots of excitement.
Merry Christmas everyone. We hope you are all happy and enjoying the holidays, wherever you are!