Saturday, December 9, 2017

Two Year Old's Guide to Disney's California Adventure

Over a year ago, we took our son Bailey on his very first trip to Disneyland and California Adventure after he just turned one. Since then, we took him a few more times until the black out period for passes began over the summer. It's been a while since we had gone and we decided this past week it was time to take him again!

Bailey's First Trip to Disneyland (1 year old)
Our first trip (and all of the ones earlier this year), he was only interested in the characters and had zero interest in the rides. I was curious visiting this time if he would feel differently. Our weariness was partially the reason I chose California Adventure (because it's always less crowded and easier to get around!) and we also chose it because it had two rides that I was hoping he'd love: Monsters Inc and The Little Mermaid.

Both rides, Gwith and I had checked out on our first visit last year and had deemed far to scary for him at the time. We felt because it was dark and they showed scary characters in each ride, that it would be too much for a one year old, and at the time, we thought they'd probably be too scary for the next few years.

Bailey at 1 1/2 Years Old Meeting Winnie the Pooh

Fast forward to a year later. Our son is not afraid of the dark (at this point anyways!)...playing in closets and turning off the lights is one of his favorite things to do! Add on top of that that he is OBSESSED with Monsters Inc and makes "rawring" sounds every chance he gets, we felt he may find the ride more appealing than we once assumed.

Before heading off to California Adventure for the day, Bailey went to his weekly gymnastics class. He burned off a lot of energy and when we got in the car, he napped for most of the drive. Considering he refuses all of his naps now, we were so grateful that he actually slept!

When we arrived, Bailey was joyously pointing at the Minnie Mouse signs in the parking lot. Upon arriving on the tram, Bailey sat in Gwith's lap looking around, looking around and spinning the wheel of the stroller. When the loud speaker came on above, Bailey pointed in awe, looking up, with his jaw dropped. Gwith whispered to him that a person lived in the ceiling of the tram. A look of shock appeared on Bailey's face and then a smile. Every time the speaker came on, Bailey looked in amazement, gasping as though he could hardly believe a voice was coming from the ceiling.

We loaded off the tram and asked Bailey if he wanted to sit in his stroller. He refused of course so we walked hand in hand with him to the park. When we arrived, we walked in circles trying to find a place to eat and after 30 minutes, and stopping at a restaurant to find they only accept reservations at that time (which is bizarre to me for a theme park...), we finally settled for hot dogs at Award Wieners, which pleasantly surprised me with gluten free buns for Bailey and I! Gwith jumped into the long line, while Bailey and I walked around waiting. We walked past some stores where Bailey stopped and pointed continuously at the pictures of the characters he recognized: Ariel, Sebastian, Lumiar, etc. After stopping, I looked back at Gwith to find he hadn't moved an inch in the line. Bailey and I continued our short walk until we suddenly came upon the Monsters Inc ride, which is almost around the corner from Award Wieners. Bailey saw the Monsters Inc logo, pointed with excitement and started dragging me towards the ride. I pulled to the side to drop off the stroller (which he thought meant we weren't going on) and started going "mamamamamama" and "go go go". At this point, I knew we were going to have to go on while Gwith got our food. Luckily, when we arrived at the entrance, the attendant gave us a "Buddy pass", which they apparently give out when there's only two people, and we could skip the line and go around through the back to jump straight on. This was most definitely a godsend between an impatient toddler and a husband who would have food for us any minute! As I walked Bailey to the back entrance, he kept trying to drag me back because he knew that wasn't the "correct" entrance. After convincing him that he was, we entered. We walked onto the ride, sat down, and Bailey looked at me with confusion, excitement, and awe all at the same time. The ride began and a video appeared on the screen about Boo. Bailey pointed with excitement. At that point, I knew, this ride was definitely the right choice. As we continued through the ride, Bailey looked at me periodically with a giant smile on his face. He gasped when he saw Randall and said "uh oh", and continued to watch the ride in amazement.

After the ride was over, we walked to join Gwith at the hot dog's dining area, before heading to the ride for a second time as a family. Of course,  this time, because there were three of us, we waited in line.

Waiting in line for Monsters Inc
The line was 35 minutes but Bailey was a real champ for about 20 of those minutes, playing with the chains, tapping on the poles...and the next 10 minutes he got extremely playful and wanted us to drag him around. We ended up going through the last part of the line with him leaning backwards and us dragging him along. That may have been even more fun than the ride to him!

After the ride, we walked to The Little Mermaid ride, stopping for a photo with Clarabelle Cow along the way (once he spotted her there was no turning back!). Ironically, when we came over to take the photo with her, he was a little more weary about her. This was very different from his previous trips when he rushed to cuddle the characters!

We asked him again if he'd like to go in the stroller, and he refused. We tried to put him in (as my own arm was getting tired from him dragging it), and this was probably a big mistake. A tantrum soon ensued. We quickly removed him from the stroller and he cried and screamed as Gwith held him. As we were about to get in line for the ride, he sat on the ground, and cried. We asked him what was wrong and he got up and pointed in the direction of where I dropped off the stroller. Confused, we walked to the stroller. When we got there, he eagerly pointed at the bag of potato chips we had offered him (and he had refused minutes earlier). We took the bag, Gwith put it in his pocket, and Bailey was completely fine again! Who knew all he wanted was for Gwith to carry the bag! Bizarre, I know! In line, Bailey munched on two or three chips and we made it through the line without any tantrums. We went on the ride and Bailey loved this one too! Ursula didn't scare him at all and he grinned from ear to ear every time he saw Ariel.

Afterwards, we headed to the line to meet Woody from Toy Story. We had tried to come earlier but missed him. This time, we arrived at the start of the line! Woody hadn't come out yet and Bailey just stood there playing with us. When Woody appeared, Bailey didn't notice...until suddenly he did, and he tried to dart underneath the rope in record time to run towards him! We stopped him of course, and explained to him he had to wait but it truly was adorable watching his face when he noticed Woody. When we met Woody, Bailey was SO excited, giving Woody fist bumps and kisses.

Gwith, Bailey, Woody, and I
As of this point though, Bailey was getting pretty tired (and still refusing his stroller) so afterwards, Gwith began carrying him. He danced a little with him and then Bailey decided we wanted to see the world from another perspective for most of the walk. At one point, a stranger even said, "Wow! That's so cool! Your kid can bend in half." 😳 He was not wrong. Bailey was somehow leaning himself completely backwards.

We headed to A Bugs Land for a couple more rides, knowing that there would be less lines in this toddler oriented area of the park. Our first stop was Francis' Ladybug Boogie, a version of the well known Mad Tea Party ride, but you don't have control to spin this one. Bailey was unsure as we got on the ride but the second we started spinning, he was grinning from ear to ear. When the ride ended, Bailey sat there saying "more more more!". We told him it was all done and he got off without a fight.

For our final ride, we went on Flik's Flyers. While waiting in line, Bailey saw three other toddlers and naturally thought it was appropriate to make monster "rawring" noises at them. The kids gleefully rawred back. The parent saw their own kid rawr and told them it wasn't nice to scare a little kid, until I told her that Bailey started it. After that, we continued to let our kids rawr at each other for the rest of the line. They were having fun and who were we to stop them? This ride is similar to Dumbo, but you're a little more closed in. Bailey was unsure for most of this ride, although he did smile occasionally.

After the ride, we decided to call it a day. We had been at the park for nearly five hours and Bailey had walked for four of them and had Gwith carry him for one! How his little legs managed to walk four hours, I'll never know!

So here's the breakdown of suggestions if you're taking your two year old to California Adventure for the day:
  • Be prepared that using the stroller may not be in the cards
  • If your child is familiar with the movies for dark rides, I suggest taking them on the ride! They're probably going to love it! If they're not familiar, they may find it scary. Of course, if your child is afraid of the dark, avoid avoid avoid.
  • Spinning rides are a big hit; what toddler doesn't like to spin in circles?
  • Flying rides may or may not be a good idea! Your little one may still be unsure about this sensation.
  • Gage your child's feelings about the character actors. Your child may be a little weary or they may absolutely love it.
  • Make reservations for restaurants if you know what time you're going to be there...or get a hot dog (my husband would probably suggest to steer clear of the many toppings, he wasn't a fan; but my plain hot dog was just fine and the gluten free bun was delicious!)
  • Bring snacks: Bailey was munching on raisins while Gwith carried him which kept him from trying to leap and bend backwards (at least during the moments he was eating...)
  • In the end, just try as much as possible to go with the flow: you're at California Adventure and you're there for your little one! It's your kid's special day. Let them have their day and you'll all be much happier for it!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Go. Go. Go. (Because No Matter What, You Have to Try)

It's been over a year since I wrote a blog on here. It's amazing how fast time moves by. I'm not even sure what I'm planning to write about right now. Part of that may be because I'm sick with a cold and have brain fog, but I think part of it is that there is just too much going on that it's overwhelming and hard to focus on one particular idea.

On the home front, our son is two years old now. He's becoming such a wonderful and intelligent little boy. I couldn't be prouder. His vocabulary is still minimal but he at least has some useful words going for him: "go" seems to be his favorite go-to whenever he wants something. He gets behind me like I'm a train and says "go go go" to lead me wherever he wants to go. He also learned to say "no" a week after turning two. It's amazing how quickly that word happens! I'm particularly grateful he learned the word "bye" on his birthday. Albeit, he said it to a fountain at the Westlake Promenade, but he said it. At least now when our friends leave, he says "bye" instead of "go! go! go!".

Our son on the "go" during his two year photo shoot

Watching him every day reminds me of how carefree life could be. Yet, at the same time, it reminds me that no matter what age you are, things are never easy, and you always think it was easier when you were younger. But that's not really true, is it? No matter how small the situations we used to face seem to us, in comparison to what we're going through now, it was probably just as stressful at the time. When our son throws himself down on the floor over not getting anymore raisins (or a third apple for the day!), I'm sure, in that moment, it's the end of the world for him. It's the most stressful thing he's ever experienced in his life. The difference is, as a two year old, he throws his fit, he cries, and screams, and ten minutes later, he's forgotten about it. He's moved on. It happens time and time again, whether he's refused something or he gets rambunctious and runs straight into a wall accidentally (which he didn't even cry about and I still don't know how!).

The most notable time was when we first moved into our new house. It's two stories and our son had never dealt with stairs before. Our first full day in the house, he decided to try walking down the stairs. And he fell. My heart leaped from my chest in that moment. I caught him halfway down the stairs. He had a bump on his head. He cried. And yet, fifteen minutes later he was running around the house playing as usual and a half hour later, he was crawling back up and down the stairs without fear. (He hasn't tried to walk down since and has become very proficient on them!). I, on the other hand, still hold my breath, two months later, every time I watch him go near the stairs.

So, here's the real question.

At what age did we stop learning to move on? At what age did we decide we needed to stress all day long, otherwise we'd never find a solution for our problems? It happens subconsciously...and I'm sure there are people out there who know how to deal with their stress that this doesn't apply to. However, for the rest of us, I feel like we spend our days floundering going over the many missteps we took and pondering over how to correct them.

As a restaurant owner, I know this is a problem both my husband and I deal with. We spend days, weeks, this point, years, trying to figure out reasons for anything that's gone wrong. Some days, like last night, we're busy. Not just busy. We were packed. But other days, it seems like the entire world is staying home. That may be the most confusing part of all. What makes people decide one night or one week to all come out but then spend days or weeks never coming by? Are we forgotten about? Is our menu not diverse enough? Does our aesthetics lack? Is our service not up to par? Do we need more advertising? How do locals still not know we exist after three years?

Going around from table to table, we constantly get praised on our restaurant. On how perfect everything is. But it often feels like we're still missing something, because if we truly were perfect, we should be busy all the time. Right?

My husband and I took a trip to New York City at the end of September for our anniversary vacation. Actually, we drove from Nashville to Niagra Falls to New York City, but that's a whole other story! The point is, our experience in NYC was eyeopening. At every restaurant we went to (even a 3.5 star Yelp rated restaurant...which is not the same as 3.5 star in Los Angeles) we had tasty food, gorgeous aesthetics, and impeccable service. Their service standards at a 3.5 star restaurant where better than most 4+ star restaurants in Los Angeles. From there, we experienced two Michelin star restaurants: The Musket Room (which is the only other New Zealand fine dining restaurant in the USA) and Le Bernardin, the top restaurant in NYC and voted #2 in the world. At The Musket Room, we dined in a rustic fine dining space, similar in size to our own but full of personality. It was inviting, intimate, and instantly set off romantic vibes in your head. Brick walls gave off the old New York vibe, completed with soffit lighting and rustic wood paneling on the ceiling. When we arrived, the host stood at a music stand by the entrance. Once seated, we were handed our custom menus for our set menu, complete with a wax seal. Our server was constantly waiting on us, bringing our wine pairings and explaining them to us. He was knowledgable and friendly. The food was delicious, and Gwith truly felt like he was back in New Zealand by some of the flavors that Matt Lambert showcased.

When we went to Le Bernardin, it was at a different level than we've ever experience in our entire life. Upon arrival, Gwith had to get a suit jacket because jackets are required inside the restaurant. We sat in the cocktail lounge, waiting for our table, and took a look at the cocktail list. Gwith quietly mentioned to me, "I don't have my glasses," as it's hard for him to read a menu without them. Low and behold, the host walks up next to him with a box of temporary reading glasses in three different prescriptions. Wow. Mind blown. After we ordered our cocktails, we were escorted to our table where I was provided a stool to set my purse on. The aesthetics were nice, with wood paneling and lighting accents throughout. I definitely preferred The Musket Room's rustic feel. Although the check was ironically higher at The Musket Room (albeit it's family owned so it makes complete sense!), it felt like anyone could dine there for a romantic evening out. Le Bernardin you could tell was meant for only the wealthiest of New York City. To clarify that statement though, the service was not snobbish in any way. It just felt like Chuck Bass's father could be at a nearby table having a billion dollar business meeting. (That's a Gossip Girl reference! My latest Netflix guilty pleasure after my son is asleep each night!) The service was exceptional. Our servers and bussers were friendly and the kitchen staff made certain to attend to all of my allergies. There was not a single misstep the entire meal and I am still dreaming about the tasting menu we experienced. I would dine here again in a heartbeat.

Dining at Le Bernardin in NYC

We left our trip with a new vision. What we want to achieve is not out of our reach. Our restaurant definitely needs some refurbishing...our outdoor patio has already been fixed up with an array of beautiful plants. We look at it now and think, "Wow. This was incredibly bare before. How did we not notice it?" We are in talks with a designer to redo our restaurant's interior. Change the lighting, bring a more rustic fine dining vibe, and all around give personality to our interior, so our aesthetics match our food. Our plates have all been upgraded to stoneware, leaving behind the outdated white plates. We have blankets arriving for cool winter nights on the patio and reading glasses for those who forgot their own, because it's the little things that wow us. And we want to wow you. We are also proud to announce we have an amazing new front of house manager, Jillian, coming on board to bring a level of service that we so far have only seen in NYC.

Aroha's new on site herb garden at our outdoor patio
The problem is, being cooped up at our own restaurant for three years, we've been unable to observe or keep up with what other fine dining establishments are doing. And to be completely honest, there is only one fine dining restaurant in Los Angeles that I can think of that provides even near the same level of service as NYC, and that's Ocean Prime in Beverly Hills. Their service is consistently wonderful no matter which city you're located in. All in all though, Los Angeles has yet to do what NYC is doing.

But we're going to change that. If we continue down the path that we're aiming towards, you should be getting a taste of the NYC treatment right here in Westlake Village, California.

Change is coming.

This whole experience has been a rollercoaster for us. It's exciting and it's terrifying all at once. I feel like we're constantly taking leaps of faith to achieve our dreams and constantly letting our fears hold us back. Some changes we made early on were for the wrong reasons. Out of fear. Changes like trying to offer prices that competed with a local chain restaurant. Prices that did not cover our food (imported, fresh, and organic!) and labor costs. Prices that made it impossible for us to ever reach a profit. Or trying to offer mainstream food items like a burger on our fine dining menu (what were we thinking?). It didn't bring any customers our way by riding on the coattails of our fears. However, the second we started trying to make the food we wanted to make, our restaurant already began to improve. And that food isn't even showcasing my husband's incredible talents. His stress and fear holds him back from trying creative and exciting new items, and yet, every time he does, we improve. The problem with being a restaurant owner is that you spend almost 90% of your time focused on fear. It keeps you from leaping for your goals and showing the world what you can do. Sometimes, it feels impossible. Most times, fear has the complete opposite effect and instead of propelling you to make improvements, it makes you lose focus and fall behind.

New dessert collaboration by Gwithyen Thomas and Custom Cupcakes By Sarah:
Sarah's Chocolate Implosion Cupcake

Maybe some people find it ludicrous to try over and over again. I'm sure some people would've thrown in the towel by now. I won't lie: there have been plenty of moments where it just feels easiest to give up. Most times though, instead of giving up, you just need to reach a little (or a lot) further. You need to put aside your fears and go all in. You need to get up from the floor, wipe your tears, and head back up the stairs because maybe next time, you won't fall down. Maybe next time, you'll get to exactly where you want to be, completely unscathed.

Don't stop dreaming. Don't stop believing. Don't stop reaching for your goals. Not until you know you've done everything in your power to try. Then, no matter what happens, you know you gave it your all and at the end of the day, isn't that what's most important? Leaving behind the what ifs and the I should'ves, and instead (using our son's favorite word to get what he wants),

GO for it.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Our One Year Old's First Trip to Disneyland

Before taking our one year old, Bailey, to Disneyland, I did A LOT of research. I read every blog post and every forum. Stories of other parents who took their one years old and stories of other parents who said that you should never take your child until they're at least three or even five!

The fact is, if you're considering taking your little one to Disneyland, only you will know if it's right for your child. Our son gets bored when at the zoo, loves stimulation, and is generally very happy. At one, he was already walking for three months, so the most complex part of the trip was his want to walk. While in the parks, he stayed in the stroller but he walked around whenever we were at the hotel.

First of all, even though we're from Southern California and could've just driven down for the day, we decided to stay at The Grand Californian Adventure Hotel for a few nights to make the days as smooth as possible. I couldn't have asked for a better hotel to stay at! It was incredibly convenient to the parks, allowing us to go in and out whenever our son needed to stretch his legs or whenever we wanted a little down time.

Napa Rose
On Sunday, my father and I drove down with my son, and my husband, who was busy at our restaurant for the day, drove down late to meet us. Our first night, we ate at Napa Rose, the hotel's fine dining restaurant. Upon arrival, we waited in the lounge for our table to be ready and we let Bailey walk around. Because we're restaurant owners, he's so comfortable walking around restaurants in general...maybe a little too comfortable! He walked off to each individual table waiting in the lounge, stopped, and waved. What can I say, he's a people person! Being gluten-free (and having a list of many other allergies), I always worry that I will have trouble finding food. My son is gluten-free as well. At Napa Rose, we had absolutely no problem and had a delicious meal. Bailey, who's tastes are ever changing, had gluten-free spaghetti with marinara sauce and cheese. He gobbled it down and enjoyed himself immensely. He also shared some of my dad's short rib and my lamb. When he started to get ancy, Bailey occupied himself by flirting with two women at the table across from us.

On Monday morning, we went to our first (out of three) Character Dining experience at Disney's PCH Grill at Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel. The hotel is located right across the street from The Grand Californian (about a five minute walk). Bailey has been watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for months now so he recognizes the characters. At the beginning of breakfast, before being seated, we got to take a picture with Mickey Mouse. He was a little unsure about the giant Mickey at first...definitely hesitant! However, once we were seated for breakfast, he started to really warm up to the experience. Pluto came by the table first and he played with Pluto's whiskers a little before going back to eating. His tune suddenly changed drastically once Minnie Mouse arrived at the table. I'm pretty sure it was love at first sight! His entire face lit up and he kept reaching out for her.

Bailey and Minnie Mouse
After that, he was chasing after all the characters, including Stitch (who I personally find a bit scary!), and photo bombing other peoples photos with Daisy Duck! What can I say? He was a bit too quick for us sometimes! On the way out, we stopped by to see Mickey Mouse again and this time, he was having a wonderful time interacting with him. As far as Character Dining experiences go, I'd rate Disney's PCH Grill a 9/10. The food was great and the characters were a lot of fun to interact with. They truly spent as much time as they could at each table, despite being a very busy restaurant. The only reason I can't give this experience a 10/10 is because the next one stole the show for us!

Bailey and Mickey Mouse
After breakfast, we walked to Disneyland and went to the Winnie the Poo ride. This is where it was definitely my mistake. I've never been on it before and went off of recommendations online saying little ones will like it. Bailey was scared of the dark on the ride, as well as the scary noises. I would not recommend this ride at all at this age unless your child isn't phased by these things. Gwith and I kept clapping and saying "Yay!" throughout the ride to try to keep him calm. He never full on cried because of this but he definitely wasn't happy.

After the ride, Bailey fell asleep in his stroller. This is, of course, where having a grandparent along for the trip really comes in handy! My dad watched Bailey while Gwith and I went on the Roger Rabbit ride. It was a 30 minute long wait but we got lucky...when Gwith went to get fast passes for us, he found two that someone else had left. So we ended up getting on the ride straight away. When we got off, Bailey had just woken from his nap and was ready for a snack.

Side Tip: While Disneyland may say that you can't bring food into the park, security has no problem with you bringing in a couple of small snacks. We brought in cheerios and a clementine for Bailey.

First time on Dumbo
After Bailey munched on some cheerios, we took him to Mickey's House to meet Mickey Mouse once again. While waiting in line, Bailey enjoyed the cartoon they played on the screen. He was even giggling at parts! He had a wonderful time playing with Mickey Mouse again for the photos. We were all hungry afterwards but lunch was the only meal I did not make reservations for. I wasn't sure what Bailey's schedule would look like during the day and wanted to play lunch by ear. We stopped at Redd Rockett's Pizza Port. I had read online they had gluten-free pizza and gluten-free pasta. Unfortunately, they did not have the pasta. Bailey ended up having his first taste of junk food by eating a slice of my pizza! It's not something I'd normally do but unfortunately, without a reservation in Disneyland, you're not left with much options. He did eat a banana as well. After lunch, we went to Dumbo. While waiting in line for 15 minutes, we occupied Bailey's time by playing with him a lot. I also put him down to stand a few times and walk when the line would move. When we were on Dumbo, he was unsure about the ride but warmed up to it and started clapping part way through. I would definitely recommend Dumbo! I'm guessing if he went on the ride a couple more times, knowing what to expect, he'd really love it. After Dumbo, we went to the Mad Tea Party. Bailey didn't hate it, but he also didn't love it.

We didn't get to go on It's a Small World because it was closed while being refurbished for the holidays. I'm pretty sure he would've loved it because he loves music...but we'll have to try it another time!

Afterwards, we walked around the park and Bailey dosed for another nap. He took a very long nap this time and slept through our dinner at Cafe Orleans! During dinner, I was able to eat their salmon salad and have their french onion soup. I really enjoyed the soup, but out of our meals this trip, Napa Rose was definitely still my favorite.

After dinner, Gwith took my dad on a ride that neither of them had ever been on before and they knew absolutely nothing about...Hyperspace Mountain. That's right. Gwith had no idea it was rollercoaster! While they were on the ride, Bailey woke up from his nap and snacked while we waited. When the two of them got off the ride, they looked like they were in shock...and not feeling very well since they had just eaten dinner! I'm pretty sure that's the last time my dad lets Gwith talk him into a ride! Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel and went to the Storyteller Cafe, where Bailey ate dinner and I enjoyed a gluten free brownie for dessert.

The next morning, we went back to the Storyteller Cafe (located at our hotel) for our second Character dining experience with Chip n' Dale! This experience also included Pluto and some giant bear (who again, I personally found scary looking!). Because the characters at this experience aren't as popular, it was by far the least crowded of all three experiences!

I'm honestly not even sure how I can describe this experience. It was nothing short of magical. Bailey fell so in love with the two chipmunks...I'm actually convinced he would've taken them home with us if he could've! When Chip arrived at the table, Bailey was instantly drawn to him, giving him endless cuddles and kisses.

He liked the bear and Pluto as well, but nothing could compare to his affection for Chip and Dale! About ten minutes after Chip left, he came back for more cuddles...and then Dale came over to join! Before we knew it, Bailey was being tickled and cuddled by both of them and was laughing hysterically! He was over the moon by this experience and part of me wants to drive down to Disneyland on a monthly basis just so he can do this breakfast again and again!

As we were leaving the restaurant, Dale came running up to us to wave goodbye to Bailey and give him an "Honorary Disneyland Citizen" button. All in all, this dining experience rates a 10/10 because the characters were incredibly friendly and were able to spend ample time with the tables.

After breakfast, we headed through the hotel's private entrance to the California Adventure park. I've never been to this park before and truthfully, it became a quick favorite! The crowds were minimal and there were plenty of rides to go on with minimal wait times (less than five minutes!). While Bailey took his late morning nap, Gwith and I went on the Grizzly River Run! As a rollercoaster hater and a water ride fanatic, I was in love with this ride. It was a hot day too, so getting splashed with water was definitely very much appreciated! We didn't get soaked the first time on the ride...but Gwith got drenched when we back on in the late afternoon! So it's definitely a gamble!

Bailey didn't end up going on any rides at California Adventure. He was just enjoying strolling around the park...We did take him to meet Toy Story's Woody, which he did enjoy, although it was hitting 90 degrees outside and Bailey was far more interested in holding a cold water bottle than interacting! Who could blame him?

California Adventure
My dad spent a lot of time playing with Bailey (or walking around while Bailey napped), while giving Gwith and I the chance to enjoy a few rides. I'm a huge Little Mermaid fan so I'm not going to lie, I absolutely loved the ride. If it wasn't for the darkness at the beginning and the scene with Ursula, I'm pretty sure Bailey would've liked this ride too because of the music. After Winnie the Poo though, we've decided to wait a couple years for Bailey to go on any rides that get dark...however, I definitely thing he'll be ready for this ride long before he's ready for the Winnie the Poo ride! While Bailey was awake, we walked along the Boardwalk where Gwith and my dad played quite a few games and won Bailey a few stuffed animals. Bailey had fun watching the games being played and just relaxing.

I truly think that's the best thing about California Adventure. It's much easier to relax and walk around without feeling claustrophobic or overwhelmed by crowds. Not too mention, the rides are great!

Gwith and I decided to go on the Radiator Springs Racers, which had an hour long wait, but also offers a Single Rider line with no wait. We went in the single rider line and managed to be put in the same car (just different rows). I had a lot of fun on this ride and told Gwith that as far as the drops were concerned, this was probably the max I could take! We also went on Soarin' (which we did at Disneyworld on on our honeymoon), and loved it.

For lunch, we headed back to the hotel and ate at Storyteller Cafe. Afterwards, Bailey walked around the hotel lobby and walkway outside the restaurant. He had a lot of fun waving at all of the people walking around and exploring the grounds! I already was pleased with the convenience of this hotel to the parks, but this solidified it. It was a great way to break up the day and let Bailey safely roam!

When we returned to the park, we went on a couple more rides and in the future, we definitely plan to take Bailey on Flik's Flyers and Heimlich's Chew Chew Train. We went on Heimlich's Chew Chew Train during the evening and while as adults, it's probably the most boring ride you could ever imagine, I believe it would be a great first ride for little ones. There is nothing scary (or one could argue, interesting) about this ride and it stays outdoors.

For dinner, we went to the Carthay Circle Restaurant, which was nice and fairly accommodating for my allergies, however, the meal I received was pretty simple once all of my dietary issues were taken into account. Napa Rose still wins by a landslide! That being said though, Disneyland and California Adventure are very accommodating for allergies and no matter what, you will find something you can eat.

Us at Goofy's Kitchen
On Wednesday morning, before heading back home, we went to our final character dining experience at Goofy's Kitchen, located at the Disneyland Hotel. To be honest, unless Bailey becomes a big Goofy fan when he's older, I would never go to this experience again. It was incredibly crowded and the characters weren't friendly. They breezed by each table for a quick photo and hardly any interaction at all. While the Chip n' Dale experience was uniquely personal because of the lack of crowds, I could easily compare this crowd to that at Mickey's PCH Grill breakfast. Both were crowded yet the Mickey breakfast was far more engaging. The food at this buffet was lacking as well. All in all, I was not impressed by this experience and we will not be going back.

For us, taking Bailey on this trip was a fantastic experience and definitely worth it! This time around, I'd say the rides were more for Gwith and I but the character dining experiences were a big win for all of us! That said, you are really the only one who can judge if this trip is right for your little one. If you can, I'd definitely recommend taking a grandparent along as a helping hand!

In summary, here's my ranking of character dining experiences and restaurants in general:

  1. Napa Rose at Grand Californian Adventure Hotel: great food & very accommodating; fine dining but still kid friendly.
  2. Storyteller Cafe at Grand California Adventure Hotel: If your little one doesn't care which character he/she is meeting, this is the friendliest and most personal experience you'll receive. The breakfast food was good as well. We also dined here for dinner and lunch and enjoyed all of our meals.
  3. PCH Grill at Paradise Pier Hotel: The breakfast buffet was wonderful and the characters were very friendly and personable.
  4. Cafe Orleans at Disneyland Theme Park: the food was decent (although I prefer Blue Bayou if you can get a reservation!)
  5. Carthay Circle Restaurant at California Adventure Theme Park: the design of the restaurant is an experience all in it's own and the food is enjoyable, as well as the drinks. This restaurant is definitely the least kid friendly of all the ones we visited. There was a definite vibe from some customers that they weren't happy a baby was in the restaurant, even though Bailey is very well behaved and this restaurant is located in a kid friendly theme park!
  6. Goofy's Kitchen at Disneyland Hotel: Honestly, I didn't even want to list this here because it's such a vast difference from the other five restaurants I listed. This was not an enjoyable character dining experience at all and the food was lackluster.

I hope this post helped in your decision about taking your little one to Disneyland for the first time! Remember to just relax and go with the flow! That will always make the experience a blast no matter what!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Our 5 Year Wedding Anniversary and Aroha's 2 Year Anniversary!

To say these last five years have been a journey would be a tremendous understatement.  Never in my life have I had a time that has been filled with so much love, change, determination, stress and joy. Today, it is five years since I married the love of my life, Gwithyen Thomas. In the years since, we moved states (well, he moved countries first!), started a business (Aroha's two year anniversary is next Saturday, September 10th!), started a family, and all around grew as people and as a couple. Throughout our most stressful times, I never once forget the vows I made that day. I vowed that through the good times and the bad, I would keep falling deeper and deeper in love with him. And even if somedays I feel like a basket case from our daily stresses or I'm going crazy from the same ridiculously silly jokes he loves to tell time and time again, I never stop falling more in love with him. The most beautiful thing about a marriage is that you never stop learning about each other because every day, something new happens that continues to affect how you think, how you act, how you feel, and who you are.

This week, I have had the pleasure of re-watching footage from our engagement interview. I edited it into short clips to release to family and friends and it has been a wonderful trip down memory lane, bringing me back to the very beginning of our beautiful romance. When we named our restaurant Aroha, we named it in honor of not only our love for two beloved family members who passed away, but also because no word could better describe us as a couple. Today, I'm excited to share with you the long distance love story that inspired our restaurant. Enjoy the clips below!

As for our restaurant's two year anniversary, please start making your reservations now for an evening of wining and dining, complete with wine and canapés on our front patio from 4pm-6pm and a Chef's Table during our dinner service. Gwith has been excitedly working on our fall menu and is planning to showcase a dish or two from it in his Anniversary Chef's Table, giving you the first chance to taste one of his new upcoming dishes!

We look forward to seeing you there and celebrating with you!

Reserve Now

30990 Russell Ranch Rd Unit C, Westlake Village, CA 91362
© 2015 Aroha Restaurant.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

I'm a Helmet Baby Mom!

It was ten weeks ago when we found out our little boy would have to be fitted for a helmet. In the months of physical therapy leading up to that decision, I kept thinking to myself, "His head will round out. He won't need a helmet. He'll be fine." Then the day came that his physical therapist said he should be evaluated. We waited a couple of weeks to first visit with his doctor. We were shocked when his doctor exclaimed something alongs the lines of, "Oh my god! Have you had him fitted for a helmet yet? His head shape is not right. This will not fix itself."

Monkey & Peas Photography
Bailey a week before his helmet fitting (Photo by Monkey & Peas Photography)
Devastated, I looked up photos of babies with helmets and sat in despair. I didn't want my baby wearing one of those. What would other people think? Would they think there was something wrong with him? Would they think that I did something wrong with him? That I somehow did something to him that caused him to wear a giant band around his head? My fears of being looked at like I was a bad mom were quickly flooding in.

Then came time for his appointment. We walked into the office, nervous about the events that were going to unfold. During his free evaluation, we kept being reminded about how imperfect his face was. How is eyes weren't symmetrical, how one ear was much farther back, how his head was protruding in various spots. On the drive home, my husband had to stop for a box of tissues because I couldn't stop crying. I don't think there's anything worse on this planet then hearing someone tell you how wrong your baby is.

His next appointment, I went with a brave face. I realized this had to happen and there was no choice. The appointment, however, nearly destroyed me. I had made my peace (as much as I could at the time!) with him wearing the helmet. However, when being measured for it, they had to take pictures of his head. To do this, they took a breathable netted fabric and pulled it over his head. The trauma of seeing his face like that still sends chills up and down my spine. He of course, wasn't bothered by it at all. He didn't care. He was his usual happy-go-lucky self, smiling away.

The day we arrived for him to be fitted, I sat in the car on the drive, mourning our cuddle times that would be undoubtably affected by his new helmet. I was sad over the pictures I'd have of him with a helmet on his head, not looking at all like himself. I was worried over if he would be bothered by wearing the helmet on his head. I sat there, fingers crossed that he wouldn't need to wear it too long. My husband, who was equally nervous but far more collected then me, tried to reassure me and calm my fears.

At the offices for his helmet fitting
When we arrived, we sat down in the room, waiting for them to bring the helmet in. My husband put Bailey into a toy car in the room and started riding him around. Bailey was so happy and having a wonderful time. After about five minutes, the woman came in with his helmet. She was a very nice lady, not at all like the other, more critical, people we had met on previous visits. As she fitted the helmet onto Bailey, I realized that nothing could ever take away my baby's adorableness and happiness. He was still the exact same baby I've always known and loved. Truthfully, I had built it up to be far worse than it is. He didn't even notice it was there as he climbed over my husband's lap and head dived onto the floor. He let out a cry, as his head hit the ground, almost as if he expected it to hurt. I say this because that was the last time he head dived with his helmet on and cried! The helmet has definitely had a wonderful bonus of protecting him while he learns new skills!

From the moment the helmet was put on his head, I felt relieved. Knowing that my fears were unfounded was a wonderful feeling. He was happy, he was still adorable, and even though I read stories that I wouldn't be able to cuddle him, I could still cuddle him as much as I always have.

A week after Bailey got his helmet!
It's been five and a half weeks since he first got his helmet and he is doing wonderfully. The weeks have zoomed by and he should only be wearing it for another month and a half at the most. Since he got the helmet, I've found that the majority of people actually know exactly what it is! On occasion, I have had to explain it to people, but it feels good to know I'm able to inform more people about what a baby helmet is for.

The first couple of days while Bailey adjusted to the helmet, he sweat like crazy and woke up back and forth throughout the night from some minor discomfort. For any other helmet baby mom's out there, just know that this did not last long! After the first week, he began sleeping through the night and has been sleeping from 8pm-8am most days. Of course, every baby's sleeping pattern is different, but rest assured, the helmet will not affect your baby's chances of sleeping through the night!

Bailey cuddling up to me during playtime

I'm not going to lie, I am looking forward to Bailey having his helmet removed. Not for any of the reasons I feared. However, the helmet sometimes tips into his eyes and I have to readjust constantly and feeding him his bottle can be quite a pain as the helmet is constantly the point I've started just removing the helmet for those 10 minutes to make it easier on myself! I look forward to pulling clothes over his head without the extra step of taking the helmet off and putting it back on.

I know first hand how terrifying the process of getting your baby a helmet can be. The fear of judgement... But lets face it, as a new parent, it's easy to worry that people will judge your every move. The fear of thinking someone will tell you that you did something wrong is very real. But rest assured, while plenty of people judge about feeding jarred food vs. homemade food, breast feeding vs. bottle feeding, watching TV with your baby vs. keeping the TV always off, etc, very few people (if any!) are judging over the helmet. It's purpose is to help your baby's head shape correct itself. It may be purely cosmetic, but a irregular head shape can affect various things in their future, all the way down to wearing a pair of sunglasses one day!

If you are reading this because your baby will soon be wearing a helmet, I hope this helped you! Please know that there are other people with the same fears and worries as you. That we all get stressed over the idea of our baby wearing a helmet. However, just as my baby is okay, so will yours. And the good news is, you'll be just fine too.

Bailey happily wearing his helmet while he plays.