Travel Tuesday: Bass Pro Shop

Many of 3Po and Jammy's soccer tournaments are held in Manteca.  It's about 90 minutes from where we live, so if they have an 8:00AM game, we usually drive up the night before and stay at a motel.  Whenever we go there, we see the huge Bass Pro Shop, right off Highway 120.  The more experienced soccer parents have been telling us to check the place out, so we finally stopped by for a visit last November.  Boy was it worth the trip!

10 More Ways That America is Different From the Rest of the World

US Flag

This morning a great travel article from the Huffington Post came up on my Facebook feed:  10 Ways America is Different From the Rest of the World.  While I'm not the most traveled person I know, I've been to enough countries to know that this list is slightly inaccurate (people eat pizza with their hands all over the world, and the US is hardly the only country that uses a 12-hour clock) and far too short.  In just 5 minutes I was able to come up with 10 more ways that America (technically, the USA: one of the most common complaints in the comments section was how "Americans" forget the fact that citizens of countries in North, Central, and South American are also "Americans") is different from the rest of the world:

Disney themed Taboo cards

Taboo is one of my favorite board games. It's fast paced. You get to play as part of a team. The outcome is not dependent on a dice roll or wheel spin.  It develops quick thinking, creativity, and vocabulary.  Best of all, it's a game where kids can hold their own with their adult opponents or teammates -- even though adults (usually) have the advantage of a greater vocabulary, kids can exploit their own shared vocabulary (Jammy: "How do you describe the black Maserati that we see on the way to school?" 3Po: "Sick!") and shared experiences (3Po: "What is MooMoo the cow's favorite food in Webkinz World?" Jammy: "Banana pudding!").

How to get chosen for Disneyland's Jedi Training Academy

Star Wars Jedi Training Academy at Disneyland
(*Note:  One of the things I love blogging about the most is travel. Whenever I come home from a vacation, I'm always full of grand plans to blog about our awesome experiences... and then procrastination gets in the way.  This year I want to do a better job at writing about the places and things we've enjoyed during our travels. Whether they occurred halfway around the globe or right in our neighborhood, whether we experienced them a month ago or a decade ago, they are precious memories to me and deserve to be recorded. Hopefully, posting under a catchy-sounding meme like Travel Tuesday will motivate me to be more consistent about it).

The Jedi Training Academy is an interactive show that takes place at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom (at the ABC Sound Studio in Hollywood Studios) and at Disneyland Resort's Disneyland Park (at the Tomorrowland Terrace Stage in Tomorrowland). If your child is a Star Wars fan, this is a Must-Do, because if your child is selected to participate, he or she gets to learn some Jedi moves, and gets to battle a Star Wars villain!

How to craft a doll carnival from cereal boxes

Craft a doll carnival booth from cereal boxes

What do you do when faced with a three-day weekend with no trips planned and no money to spend?  Playdate for the kids, check.  Cookie baking, check.  Read books, check.  Play videogames, check.  Watch sports events, check (My condolences to all the 49ers fans; our weekend viewing was slightly more enjoyable as we saw Man United get thrashed by Chelsea in the Barclays Premiere League) .  But what to do with the other gajillion hours?  Get crafting, of course!  The Pea couldn't convince her brothers to play with her, so she roped them into making carnival booths for her Monster High dolls out of cereal boxes!  I thought they turned out adorably and couldn't resist sharing the fruits of their labor over the MLK weekend.   It's an easy, fun craft that will keep your kids busy for hours.

Afternoon sips and snacks at the American Girl Bistro SF

American Girl Cafe entrance
Now that the American Girl Store in San Francisco has been open for two months, most of the crowds have abated.  The novelty of a new store, the holiday shopping rush, and the 2014 Girl of the Year introductions have come and gone, and it's actually possible to stroll around the store without having to face long lines and hordes of people... with one exception.  The American Girl Bistro continues to be fully booked, at least on the weekends!  The Bistro was fully booked each day in December (yes, I checked!), and you still need to book 3-4 weeks in advance if you want to make a weekend reservation.

Fortunately, once I realized the bistro was open for reservations (this was in late October of 2013), I began planning our first visit to the American Girl Bistro in the new store.  Opening weekend was fully booked, but I was able to get a reservation for 4 on a weekday afternoon in December.  Unfortunately, they only take reservations for up to 4 people (it's a small place), so the only people who went on our first visit were The Pea, her grandmother (who was visiting from the UK) and I -- oh, and two of The Pea's American Girls, Mia and Caroline.  It turned out to be the perfect place for a girls' afternoon out, and we had a grand time!

How to take a decent passport photo

passport photos

Makeup: $0 (30 minutes)

Blowout at Drybar:  $35 (1 hour)

Instant passport photos at Walgreens or CVS:  $12 for 2 (5 minutes)

Throwback Thursday: Virginia City, Nevada

Virginia City, Nevada
How's this for a real Throwback Thursday? Virginia City was a mining boomtown that sprang up in the late 1800's with the discovery of the Comstock Silver Lode.  It's also one of the most interesting places we visited over the winter break.  Virginia City is just 30 minutes from Reno, yet in all the years we've been traveling to Reno and Tahoe area, we've never been there till now.  I vaguely knew Virginia City existed, but didn't realize what a quaint, entertaining day trip it can be. We thought we'd spend an hour or two in Virginia City; we ended up spending five -- and that's with most of the attractions closed for the winter!  Here's an overview of Virginia City and how we spent our day:

My 2014 Reading List

This morning I saw a great list of books to read before they show up on the big screen in 2014.  I compared the list with my 2014 must-see movie list, and noticed that eight of the movies I want to see (The Monuments Men, Vampire Academy, Divergent, The Giver, The Maze Runner, The Boxtrolls, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, The Hobbit: There and Back Again) are film adaptations of novels.  Four of the movies (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Guardians of the Galaxy) are based on popular comic book series, and three more (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Maleficent, How To Train Your Dragon 2), while not exactly based on a book series or story, feature characters from the series or stories.  To me, it's an indication that whatever the state of the original screenplay industry may be, books and works of fiction are alive and well!

I can't think of a single novel-based movie I've seen that was better than the book, so if I'm going to watch all these movies, I have quite a few books to read this year*.   I've put together a list of some books on my must-read list 2014; I say "some" books, not "all", because you never know what new books I'm going to discover this year!

What are your must-reads for 2014?

My 2014 Movie List

Disney movie releases 2014

2014 has just begun, and already I'm looking forward to spending time at the movie theater!  There are dozens of great movies coming out, from sequels to popular blockbusters to movie adaptations of great books to totally original concepts.  I've put together a list of the movies I most want to see.  They're mostly family-friendly flicks, with a few blood-and-gore fantasies, a spy flick, a drama, and a comedy or two.  I doubt I'll get to see all of them on the big screen, but there's always pay per view.  Here are the 20 films I'm looking forward to in 2014, along with their US release dates.  What movies do you most want to see?

My 2013 Movie List: the best, the worst, and the missed

A few days ago I was in my "Looking back at 2013" mode, so I searched for all the movies released in 2013 and checked off everything that I watched.  I was shocked to see the total come up to twenty! Here are all the 2013 movies I watched (note, they are listed in order of release dates, not my order of preference!):

Happy 10th Birthday 3Po and Jammy!

Ten years ago, two little boys entered my life.  I was nervous, scared, unprepared, unsure.  The year that followed was one of the most difficult of my life.  But I wouldn't trade that year, or my boys, for all the riches on earth.  They were exactly what we needed to make our family complete!

Holiday birthdays often get lost in all the celebrations, and that has certainly been the case for 3Po and Jammy on my blog -- but not this time.  I haven't posted anything since Christmas (I think that's my longest dry spell ever) but I was determined to give their double-digit birthday the acknowledgement it deserves.  So I'm delaying the 2013 Highlights posts, the Ski Trip posts, the Family Game Night posts, the New Year's Resolutions posts and all the other posts I have planned in my head.  Those can wait.  What can't wait is my message for 3Po and Jammy:  

Happy Birthday, Boys.  These last ten years have been a wild, wonderful ride.  I'm not going to dwell on all the twin cliches -- double trouble, twice blessed -- even though they're true.  The chances of having identical twins are about 0.4%, or 1 in 250, but the chances of having both of you were one in a million.  Your daddy and I definitely won the lottery when we had you!

To celebrate 3Po and Jammy's 10th birthday, here are 10 fun facts about their birth: