Sam Linsenbardt: ca. 2005 – 2023

Brooke and I were married in June 2005 and shortly moved to St. Louis. As many young married couples do, within a few months, we thought it was time to consider a pet, but given our work schedules and general lack of desire to walk a dog a few times a day (at the time…), we considered getting a cat. Neither of us had ever had an indoor pet cat before, though Brooke had plenty of outdoor cats at her house growing up, and I was exposed to farm cats at my Grandma’s house. Honestly, we weren’t entirely sure what we were getting in to, but we figured that a cat would probably be easier to manage because we could leave it at home when we went back to Columbia, Hannibal, or on trips. It seemed like a relatively convenient and pragmatic option.

So, we checked out the St. Louis Humane Society to see what they had available. They usually name cats that come in based on a theme, and the current one caused them to name cats after recent movie characters. Thus, looking over our options, we settled upon “Constantine,” who was named after the Keanu Reeves movie out that year. He seemed like a relatively friendly cat, though to Brooke and I, who didn’t grow up with indoor cats, we weren’t really sure what “friendly” meant in this case, as cats tend to have their own personalities (as we’d come to find out).

I don’t remember exactly how we settled on the name “Sam,” but I know we liked the idea of a name usually given to humans, and we also liked that it had fewer syllables than “Constantine.” Somehow, it seemed to fit, so we went with it. In that first few months, I didn’t even really post much about him, except that December when I posted about how he liked to climb up Brooke. One of the good things about a cat is that they’re present, but not necessarily the center of your life, unless you want them to be!

Sam was a good cat, though. He had his claws, which meant that we went through some furniture, as he never really liked scratching posts or catnip. He never really played with many toys, though he did love laser pointers. He somewhat famously hid under our bed for a week and peed on the bed after we brought Edie home a few years later. He was always pretty curious when we’d bring someone new home to stay, such as Edie, or especially Meg, after she was born in 2010. By the time Calvin arrived in 2013, Sam was used to having a young one toddling around.

Sam only made it outside a few times. In Soulard, he slipped through a rip in the screen window and went down the stairs to the courtyard below. We didn’t even know about it until we heard “meow” from outside and had to investigate! Another time, in our house off of Kingshighway, he got out Memorial Day weekend and we were gone for three days, only to return and see that the litter box hadn’t been used and no food was eaten. After a frantic search, we eventually found him in the garage out back, which had a door that could be locked, but couldn’t be closed all the way. Here in Marshall, he got out a few times after we first moved here, but it usually didn’t take too long to get him back from under the front porch.

As I said, cats tend to have distinct personalities, and Sam was no different. He was pretty friendly and would at least say “hi” to strangers when they were come by the house. A lot of our friends knew Sam to be a good cat to just sit and pet, and Sam would happily oblige. Early on, Brooke had to carry him around like a baby over her shoulder as she brushed her teeth in the morning. For most of his life, he’d curl up on top of us as we’d lay on the couch watching TV.

We also learned early on that Sam couldn’t be trusted sleeping with us, as any time we would move a leg under the covers, he would pounce on it (with claws drawn). This would remain an issue for years, especially as he grew older and couldn’t retract his claws as easily as he used to, making it less and less comfortable for him to curl up with us on the couch. He’d also get his claws stuck in blankets, rugs, and more.

Speaking of “couldn’t be trusted,” he also (in)famously helped Edie get some deer jerky from my uncle by climbing up on the fridge to knock the bag down for Edie to open and eat. Sam liked eating jerky, too.

Over the last few years, starting in 2020, he really started to slow down. Frankly, we weren’t sure how much longer he was going to make it back then. He stopped cleaning himself as much, and his fur became progressively more matted and difficult to manage. He still got around well and was eating and drinking, though it was getting more difficult to maintain his body weight, and he’d start throwing up if he ate too fast (common among cats, but not an issue until relatively recently).

In late-2020, seeing Sam already sleeping more and more and being less active, we opted to introduce him to Charlotte. He took to her far better than he took to Edie, and they would play together about as much as he could. She could run past him and get up on her hind legs to hop on his back, and he would “yowl” at her, presumably in annoyance. For a long time, Charlotte would lick his head, which would keep him looking a little better, but it only went so far. Still, those two cats got along well and we think Sam liked having another furry friend around to keep him company in his later years.

It is difficult to fully express what losing Sam means, but I can at least say that I’m a routine oriented person, and I’ve had a housecat for nearly 18 years, practically as long as we’ve been married. We have had this cat longer than we had Edie, and longer than we have had children. Not having him is going to leave a hole in our family that is difficult to fill, but in the end, we know that 18 years is a long, full life for a cat to live, and we are glad he was with us for as long as he was.

We love you, Sam, and will miss you. Rest well, Friend.

State Park #17: Lewis and Clark State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

Hello! I am Meg Linsenbardt, and today I will be reviewing Lewis and Clark State Park! Enjoy!

We started off with a hike. It was brief, and was only 1.6 miles. If was sort of like a loop, so lots of variety in scenery. There were not very many trees, so you could see the entire path all the way throughout it. It was also nice and flat.

Then, we got to the main attraction…… The interpretive area! It is a nice big platform overlooking an oxbow lake, with a compass rose on the ground and lots of names of people who were on the Lewis and Clark expedition, and are now dead (I hope). There is a big compass rose in the middle, so people always will know what direction they are facing. When we stopped here, we did lots of interpretive dancing (true story) and moved on.

Although it is a lake, it was almost all the way dried up! There was not much to look at, except for the sign pictured, explaining oxbow lakes. So, we quickly looked at the lake and went back to the interpretive area.

We saw trees that were destroyed by beavers, but the beavers were not there because the lake was all dried up.

Overall, there is a lot of work to do at this park. There is definitely need for some rocks, or at least grass in certain areas. It looks like nobody has done any landscaping work here for a long while.

All in all, it was a pretty good trip. It was fun to do lots of interpretive dance, and the whole family got their steps in. We also knocked another state park off the list. We only have one more to go in the northwest section of Missouri! That is really exciting.

See you next time,

Meg Linsenbardt

State Park #16: Weston Bend State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

I gotta be honest, I thought I posted about this two years ago, but apparently I didn’t. On July 17, 2021, we took a float trip around a “duck’s head” bend in the Platte River using our inflatable kayaks. It turned out to not be a great call, because Brooke and I punctured the bottom of ours a mile in (the sides kept us afloat!), whereas the kids’ kayak kept going pretty well. We weren’t on the river all that long, so it was a pretty lazy float.

Buuuut, while we were north of Kansas City, we opted to check out a local state park while we were there. Weston Bend State Park is maybe 15 minutes from where we were floating, and there was a bike trail following along the Missouri River, so Calvin and I took our bikes along and Brooke and Meg walked along the paved trail.

The park itself didn’t appear to have much going on, but had a solid campground and some trails. We didn’t look at the tobacco barns, though we drove past them. Frankly, it seemed like a pretty chill state park without a lot going on.

Still, the trails connect up to Weston, MO, which has antique stores, restaurants, and more, so it’s nice to have a campground connected to nearby entertainment, even though much of that “entertainment” is probably aimed at older folks and not at children. We had a good time biking, though the most exciting part of the trip was when Meg almost stepped on a snake. It sure looked like a copperhead, and thankfully before Meg could step on it, the snake kept on moving and nothing more “exciting” happened…

Considering it took 2 hours to get there, I don’t expect we’ll be visiting Weston Bend anytime soon again. Not a bad place, but didn’t really have much to do that we were interested in.

Whirlwind Spring

The last few months have been rather crazy, which is reflected in the last of posting here (not that I am all that prolific a blogger these days…), so I figured I should fill in the gaps a bit for posterity. Last November/December, I had a few people here in town that I know suggest (push?) that I run for the Board of Education here in Marshall. There are 3 slots up, with two of those elected members running again, leaving an open seat (in the end, 5 people, including two incumbents, filed for those 3 slots). The people who suggested I run probably have more confidence in my abilities than I do, which is very kind of them, so I was a bit hesitant to make this jump. First, getting involved in public service like this opens me, and my family, up to folks on social media (specifically Facebook) to criticize and complain about everything you do, which I’m not sure I’m a huge fan of. At the same time, running for the Board would give me an opportunity to influence the educational opportunities my kids, and others, will have here in town. I do have some level of expertise in this area, so if I can be of help, I’m happy to do so!

The other big deal was that I already knew I had 2 faculty positions to fill this Spring, and within a week of filing to run for the Board, there was a third I had to fill, so I knew my schedule this Spring would be pretty challenging (narrator: “it was”). It certainly wasn’t a “good time” to make this kind of move.

To add to things, I was approached to also help out with the formation of a political committee that would seek to raise funds and support a tax levy in our school district, one that is essential to the educational prospects of Marshall. To keep it brief, it’s a $0.99 tax levy that would still keep Marshall below 64% of other districts in the State of Missouri, which is the bare minimum to keep the district competitive, in my personal view. Still, without it, the currently enforced levy will expire in 2025, creating a $2 million per year shortfall that will mean substantial cuts to programs and personnel. As I was running for School Board, certain parties in town offered that I could tie my name to the levy, hopefully promoting both issues at the same time.

Ultimately, I volunteered to act as Secretary of the group, mostly because a). I still type upwards of 90 wpm, and b). I’m organized and can keep an email list to make sure people show up to events. Because I’m on the executive team of the group, that meant meetings. Many meetings. All the meetings, sometimes on Sunday mornings, sometimes Monday nights, sometimes random other days during the week. But yeah, it’s been quite a ride so far, and after April 4th, hopefully my schedule opens up a bit. No matter what, the levy committee won’t need to meet anymore (because the levy will hopefully pass and I won’t have to worry about it any longer), and also, I’ll either be on or off the School Board, so I won’t have that uncertainty to continue thinking about and dealing with.

This past Saturday, as pictured above, we canvassed a few streets here in town, along with other members of the committee, to deliver brochures and get the word out on the levy. We’re sure there’s opposition, but we’ve got about 900 signs up around town, so hopefully that bodes well for the prospect of this levy passing. Unfortunately, Marshall hasn’t passed a levy or bond in nearly 50 years, so while I’m hopeful, I also have history in the back of my mind…

Mostly, I only type this to set a record in case I’m scrolling through this portion of 2023 sometime in the future, wondering what happened to my mental health back then. Fingers crossed I can maintain my sanity for a few more days!

San Juan Vacation – Part II

The next day, we stopped at the hotel for breakfast and a coffee place around the corner before heading to Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. Again, this was something we could do because the kids weren’t with us, not because they wouldn’t have gone, but because we could take our time and not rush through the experience.

First, we had to have the experience, though, and apparently we got there too early! Google was “off’ by about 30 minutes for whatever reason, so we ended up finding a shady spot to kill time while watching folks walk around to the surrounding government buildings in what felt like the modern downtown San Juan.

Just before it opened, we checked out the gardens behind the museum, which were mostly empty, but is usually open for exercises, browsing, and yoga sessions. We strolled through it (it’s set up as a loop) near statues, trees, and plants, and eventually came to a bridge that was out, so we couldn’t complete the loop. Of course, this isn’t that big a deal, but it was still indicative of repairs still being made all over the island. In point of fact, right next to the museum, construction was still ongoing, likely putting up some relatively large government building. Near our hotel, multiple other hotels were being refit and renovated, so it was great to see progress on the island beyond simply picking up the pieces of Hurricane Maria like last time. We only hope they’re spared long enough to avoid more damage.

The museum was nice! We were there for maybe an hour an a half. Personally, art museums aren’t really my thing, but it was still nice to take in a different aspect of Puerto Rico. Some of the exhibits were specific to artists from the island, while others were from abroad, including from western Europe. We had a good time, and it was also good to see some school groups touring and learning about the artists and different artistic styles. Of course, they were learning in Spanish, so we couldn’t get much from it. Apparently I need to brush up a bit…

It rained a bit on us as we left the museum on our way to a grocery store, which we needed prior to visiting Playa Vacia Talega. We had to drive a bit to get there, mostly along the coast (obviously) until we found a relatively populated beach with cars just pulled off onto the sand. There were more people than we probably anticipated, but it still wasn’t that crowded. The picture above doesn’t really show anyone, but there were people pretty spread out throughout the area, mostly up and to the left in the picture, closer to the trees where there was some shade.

That night, we went to Rakuten Bar and Grill for sushi, as we figured some seafood would be a good idea while we were in an area with actual seafood. It was great, though there weren’t really any other people at the restaurant. We were, however, seated on the patio outside overlooking the four-way “not-stop” that really should have had stop signs. Seriously, there were no stop signs at any corner. So we’d see car(s) after car(s) come to that intersection and nearly hit each other. It provided plenty of entertainment, and to our knowledge, no one got hurt. 🙂

The next day was to be a beach day, as it was our last day on the island before heading out. Brooke found La Monseratte Beach, which wasn’t a free beach like the one the day before, but was still pretty cheap. It must have been attached to a resort or something years before, because it still had the infrastructure for bathrooms, food, a playground, and also had security dudes driving around patrolling. It was pretty nice! Very family friendly, and plenty of space to spread out.

It was a great last day. The weather was beautiful, the skies were blue, the water was warm, and we got to have fun in some pretty big waves! Brooke lost her sunglasses in the ocean when she got knocked over, which was rather hilarious. Her hip is still a little sore from it…but I think she’ll remember it fondly!

For the record, by some minor miracle, somehow we largely avoided sunburns.

For our last night there, we made reservations for a fancy restaurant, Ropa Vieja Grill, which isn’t really “fancy” as most people would say, but reservations were absolutely necessary and people were dressed pretty well, so it was “fancy” by Marshall standards. We hit up Tryst one last time for some drinks prior to the 8:00 pm reservation, but there must have been a conference in town because it was reserved for a group of mechanical engineers, so we got a small table off to the side and then went to the restaurant to wait for our table. Dinner was great, of course, and it was a lovely night to walk the streets of Condado before we left the next morning.

That Saturday when we returned was veeeeeeery looooooong. We figure it was about 18 hours of travel time. The flight to Dallas was around 6:45 am, plus we lost a few hours on the return trip due to the time zone change, then we had a 7 hour layover until flying back to Kansas City, so it took a bit of time in the airport. Thankfully, I had the foresight to figure out how to drop the rental car off the day before in Condado (we happened to notice they had a location a few blocks from our hotel, so I checked and, surprisingly, we could just take it there and Uber to the airport the next morning, saving us something like $150 in car rental fees…who knew??), so it made the exit from PR a bit more smooth. We also left Brooke’s car at the hotel we stayed at in Kansas City a few nights before, so after our plane landed at 9:00 pm, we called the shuttle, they came and picked us up, and we drove home to Marshall.

Thanks again to Mom for watching the kids while we were gone! It was a very nice getaway and we hope to go back again someday! I really enjoyed that part of the island, and spending more time getting to know San Juan (we were only there for one day last time), so next time, we probably need to hit up Ponce, or Vieques. Maybe for our 20th anniversary in 2025……. 🙂

San Juan Vacation – Part I

So our 15th wedding anniversary trip was thwarted because, well, 2020, so we’ve still been talking about doing something for the past few years. We’ve also wanted to get back to Puerto Rico because the last time we went, we had two relatively small children, neither of which wanted to do the touristy things we wanted to do, so we didn’t fight them at the time and figured we’d go back later.

We almost went last year, even! We looked into flights and had my Mom on stand-by to come watch the kids, but ultimately we decided against it. It wasn’t the cost, but more the still-present COVID restrictions in San Juan, and the logistics of getting to a plane flight while not having the kids miss school or anything.

Enter 2023, where now I’m running for School Board (more on that later), I may be needed to go to Utah for our Field Biology class again, and our own family vacation plans were up in the air because Meg’s Summer program at Truman State was either going to be in June or July, and we wouldn’t know until mid-March. After poking around a bit, Brooke bit the proverbial bullet and booked us a trip to San Juan! This trip would be something of a combination between our 15th anniversary celebration, my 40th birthday (last year) and Brooke’s 40th birthday (this May).

My Mom came in (thanks, Mom!) on a Monday night in time for me to go to a meeting on campus, then after the meeting was over, Brooke and I went to Kansas City to stay in a hotel, as our flight was at 6:00 am the next morning. This wasn’t my first choice, but it would allow us to land in San Juan around 4:00 pm that day, giving us some time that evening to still explore a bit.

The flights themselves were fine! We stopped in Miami on the way down and had a bit over an hour of layover time, and we made it to San Juan a few minutes ahead of schedule. Brooke scheduled a rental car, so after we grabbed our bags (only had to take two, so a bit easier than the last time when we had two little people with us) and called the shuttle. They picked us up and we piled into a full van with a bunch of other folks.

This was the first red flag. The line waiting outside of the rental company was the second. The hour and a half(ish) we waited to actually get Brooke to the check-out counter was the rest. There were two or three folks behind the counter trying to get people into cars, but each time a customer got to the front, they ended up arguing with the employees about fees, insurance, and other policies that were all advertised all over the place. Like, we understood the frustration, but everyone in there was hearing the same thing, and yet each time someone finally reached the front of the line, they re-litigated it as if they would get a different answer. When Brooke got to the front, we paid whatever we had to and high-tailed it out of there.

The hotel Brooke found was in a neighborhood called Condado, which had a lot of resort hotels and restaurants present. It took us a bit to figure out how, exactly, to get to the hotel, but once we did, we got the hang of navigating the area. The hotel was really nice, overall, though our room didn’t actually have a window overlooking anything. There was a window, but it faced a hallway, so it was something of an internal room. Still, the room itself was nice, the breakfast each morning was good, albeit crowded, and the location was within walking distance of a ton of restaurants, coffee shops, a convenience store, and was surrounded by water. Not bad!

That night, we stopped at a restaurant a block from the hotel called Semilla Kitchen & Bar. It was a Tuesday night, so it wasn’t crowded in the least, but we got a few drinks and some appetizers. The fish we had was spectacular, of course, so it was a good introduction to the trip!

The plan for the next morning was to check out Bacardi’s distillery on the other side of San Juan. The last time we went, in 2019, the kids were quite young to be visiting a distillery, and indeed, you still need to be at least 18 to even go on the tour. This time, we could go and check it out!

The tour Brooke signed up for involved a cocktail when we arrived, a tour of the Bacardi family museum (that was really a single room with some art on the walls depicting the history of the family), and a tasting of some rums.

The dude who ran the tour was spectacular. I’ve been on my share of brewery and distillery tours before, but this guy believed what he was saying, and really sold it. He had bought in to the Bacardi family rhetoric, how the distillery takes care of the workers, and how much the company means to the people of Puerto Rico. He also did a marvelous job with the rum tasting, which included their cheaper varieties that we can get here on the mainland, but also 4 year, 8 year, and 10 year varieties that are a bit harder to find. All of them were quite good, of course.

After Bacardi, we went back to Old San Juan to walk around, which took a bit to find a parking spot in. We visited the same places we went to in 2019 and it all felt very familiar, though this time it actually felt more busy, strangely? June 2019 was obviously pre-pandemic, yet we think there were a lot more tourists this time around, post-pandemic. Perhaps it was the shadow of Hurricane Maria in late 2017 that still kept people away at the time, but now, there were people everywhere, and parking was pretty limited. Brooke found a (literal) hole-in-the-wall parking place for less than $20, so that worked out for our purposes.

For lunch, we went to Cafe Manolin, where there was (you guessed it) a relatively long wait. A ton of people in there, so we sat at the diner counter, while others waited for tables for 20-30 minutes. It was pretty densely packed in there, but Brooke wanted her mofongo, so we did must what be done!

After that, we checked out Scryer Rum Barrelhouse & Rooftop, mostly because the last time we were there, the rum distillery market was very, very limited. Don Q was a big brand, as well as Bacardi, but other brands were hard to find or non-existent. Scryer was relatively new (started in 2018 in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria), to the point that in 2019, we hadn’t seen it in stores or anything. At Semilla the night before, I’d asked for local rums and that was the one they pulled out for me, so we figured we’d seek it out. The location was an open-air place where you could see the barrels behind glass, and just across from them was a bar with their wares.

We didn’t stay long. We’d already had some rum at Bacardi, so after we each had one at Scryer, we moved on to try and find mallorcas again like in 2019, but sadly, Cafe Mallorca (which was around the corner from where we were!) was closed. As in, they weren’t supposed to be closed (according to Google), but when we got there, the dude on the other side of the class flipped the “open” sign to “closed,” so that was disappointing.

After that, we walked a bit further toward the old fort that we spent a lot of time at in 2019. This time, we didn’t think we needed to see the same thing again, though it was nice to say “hi.”

We drove back to our hotel in Condado and decided what dinner plans were going to be, and honestly, we weren’t all that hungry, so we stopped by a beachfront hotel bar called Tryst that had some appetizers and waves hitting the beach. We walked around for a little bit afterward and stopped by a convenience store for some rum and snacks (and a sandwich). Was it spectacular Puerto Rican food? I suppose not, but it “hit the spot,” so hey, not complaining.

The next day, we had an art museum and a beach in the cards! But that’s another post. 🙂

US-101 Vacation – Part V

The drive to San Diego took about 2 hours, putting us at our hotel right around 5:00. The kids and Brooke went and checked out the pool while I went and picked up dinner (we went with “TV Dinner” night again, which is a popular choice for the kids. I had chips and salsa. It was good.

The next day was going to be our last beach day, and being “Sunny Southern California,” we assumed it’ll be nice and warm! Joke’s on us, though, because the high was still 75 F (while it was still in the mid-90s in Missouri! HAH!), so while the Sun was indeed out, making us feel warmer, we still didn’t really want to get in the water!

We observed some surfers, though, which was cool! It definitely explained why they’re always wearing wet suits when surfing, though, as the water, while warmer than northern California, still wasn’t anywhere near “warm.”

The kids took turn burying themselves in the sand, I took a 2 mile jog along the beach, and Brooke read her book. This was just a public beach we found outside of San Diego (the relatively non-descript “Pacific Beach”), parked in a garage, and then headed back to the hotel to wash up before dinner.

For our last “real meal” of the vacation, before returning to fast food and gas station options, we went to Baja Beach Cafe, which turned out to be quite good. Meg had a cheese quesadilla and Calvin had a grilled cheese sandwich. Everyone was happy.

The next day, though, was a daunting one. The whole reason we went down to San Diego was so that we would “book end” the trip, where the kids saw Canada from across a bay, San Diego would hopefully allow them to see Mexico on the southern border (that’s them waving to Mexico from the car). As mentioned previously, US-101 actually ended in Los Angeles, so we really only went down to San Diego for some beach time, and to complete the journey of the west coast of the US.

The goal was to get to Albuquerque that day, but we ended up making it as far as Santa Rosa, NM. That was 933 miles and 13.5 hrs of driving. It rained, surprisingly, outside of Albuquerque for part of the trip, and it obviously got dark. The kids fell asleep, and hotel options were somewhat limited, so we pushed it, rolling into Santa Rosa at 11:30 pm that night. I’m not going to say it was a “seedy motel,” but as you can see in the picture below, seeds were definitely planted in the swimming pool.

The hotel was fine, ultimately. It’s not like we spent a ton of time there. The next morning, we got up bright and early, leaving before 7:00 am. Calvin got his Taco John’s lunch finally (we got way too much food there), then Sonic for dinner outside of Kansas City, before heading into Marshall around 8:00 pm that night, a total of 760 miles and 11.5 hrs of driving.

When it was all said and done, we’d traveled 5571 miles, hit 14 states, and did it all in 17 days. Would we do it again? Maybe?? It really wasn’t all that bad, and we spaced it all out over the right length of time, with a good break in the middle where we didn’t have to drive as much. I did need an oil change in the Outback pretty much immediately upon returning, and ended up buying four new tires, so I guess we should add that into the total costs on this vacation.

It was definitely the trip of a lifetime, though! We saw just about everything we’d want to see on a trip like that, had a lot of different kinds of experiences, and the kids can say they’ve been to a Disney theme park now, so that’s a win for them.

Time to start planning for 2023!

US-101 Vacation – Part IV

Alright, the moment you all have been waiting for: Disney.

Brooke picked up a book and used it to come up with a bunch of good ideas, the first of which was that we should stay at a hotel directly across the street from Disneyland. Unlike Disney World, where the only hotels nearby are part of the resort (and are, therefore, crazy expensive), Disneyland is in the middle of Anaheim, so while you could stay at one of their hotels on the Disney campus, you certainly don’t have to. And indeed, the hotel we stayed at was such that we could literally walk across the street and we’d be there, allowing us to come and go as we wanted, and leave our car parked at the hotel, only moving it to go wash the laundry before we left. We also ate dinner at a Denny’s the night we got there, for a reasonable price. We grabbed coffee from Panera or McDonald’s, both of which were only a few doors down. There were a lot of good options if you didn’t want to eat at the park.

The other thing we did was pay extra for “Lightning Lane” access, which was something like $20 extra per ticket, but it provided multiple benefits. Brooke and I both downloaded an app that stored our tickets on it (that way, we didn’t both have to be there at any given point). That app also came with a map of the park that could be zoomed into where you could see what the approximate wait time was at a given ride. Sometimes, the wait was only 10 minutes, but for some rides, it was as long as 70 to 90 minutes.

Some rides, though, have Lightning Lane as an option, which allows you to bypass that main line and get in a shorter one. Newer rides were designed with this in mind, whereas older ones like Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room weren’t. Also, importantly, you could only do this once per day per ride, so if you wanted to right Hyperspace Mountain (which, duh), then you can only “Lightning Lane it” once, and you have to wait through the regular line for the next time. So yeah, we did our best to “game the system a bit,” getting there right when the park opened, and trying to target the big rides early.

I’m getting ahead of myself a bit, though. We got there on Monday, June 13th and had tickets to the park for 3 days. The plan was to arrive at the hotel late that morning, grab a quick bite to eat, then go to the park and see what we could see, that way we’d have a full day there on the 14th (Flag Day!) where we could target the rides we really wanted to hit. Then, June 15th would be spent at California Adventure, before leaving that afternoon and heading toward San Diego to finish out the trip.

The first thing we did was hit up Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island (because, duh), and then we “Lightning Laned” Haunted Mansion (which freaked Calvin out tremendously). During the time we had the “LL” on, we couldn’t “LL” anything else: once we redeemed it, then we could apply it to another ride. (Also, side-note, you can split the tickets up, so if Brooke and Meg wanted to ride one thing, and Calvin and I wanted to ride another, we could do that).

Generally, we stuck together to hit most of the rides, sometimes twice. The morning of the 14th, for example, we saw Hyperspace Mountain had practically zero line, so we tried heading there first, but then we noticed that Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters had literally “zero line,” and it was right next door, so we hit up Buzz Lightyear first. By the time we were done, Hyperspace Mountain only had a 20 minute wait, so we canceled the LL we’d applied to it and instead applied it to Matterhorn Bobsleds, that way we could still LL Hyperspace Mountain again later in the day if we wanted to (read: we totally did).

A brief side-bar on Hyperspace Mountain. The day before, when we did Haunted Mansion, Calvin got scared. Dark spaces like that caused him to, oh, freak out a bit. So when we were waiting for Hyperspace Mountain, he worked himself up into a frenzy because a). it’s dark in there, and b). it’s a rollercoaster, and every Disney ride would say “dark spaces with sudden drops,” or something to that effect. We did everything we could to calm him down, but ultimately he started to refuse to get onto the coaster, so the attendant (who’d surely seen this 1000 times…) offered he could cross over to the other side and not actually ride it, waiting for us. He jumped at that chance immediately, so the three of us went on it (and it was awesome), and Calvin waited for us. Later in the day, though, after having ridden other, similar rides, he’d gotten more comfortable with the idea, so he did ultimately ride Hyperspace Mountain, and I think he wished he’d ridden it earlier so he got to ride it twice.

So yeah, the Lightning Lane thing was totally worth it. We got to ride everything we wanted to, and it was relatively seamless. They even canceled our LL for Splash Mountain because they had to shut the ride down, so it gave us a free LL that we could reapply, giving us an extra that we could apply without having it affect the total tally. Score!

By the time we were done with June 14th, we’d done just about everything at Disneyland that we’d wanted to. Honestly, for June 15th, we weren’t expecting much out of California Adventure, but there were a few things we were curious about. All of the Star Wars stuff is over in Disneyland, as well as the more traditional “Disney things” like Peter Pan, Pinocchio, etc. Pixar stuff (aside from Buzz Lightyear) and Marvel stuff are over in California Adventure.

Similarly to over in Disneyland, we tried to “game” the Lightning Lane system, zipping directly to the Incredicoaster as the first ride, while applying the LL to something else we’d want to see afterward, allowing us to LL Incredicoaster again later (narrator: they did). I think most of us decided that Incredicoaster was the best ride we went on between the two parks. There were other good ones, for sure (for example, Hyperspace Mountain was great…the first time….but the second time, some of the “magic” was lost. Incredicoaster was awesome both times). Incredicoaster is a relatively long roller coaster, so it lasts for a bit, but importantly, there’s a loop-de-loop.

Meg noticed this when we were in line for it. We had to “shush” her so she wasn’t too loud, as we didn’t want Calvin to notice…. 😉

Still, both the kids loved it. Calvin was definitely apprehensive, but this roller coaster wasn’t in a dark building, so he could see it from the outside, which helped quite a bit.

Other rides there were cool, like the Guardians of the Galaxy (which is a re-skinned Tower of Terror), and the Pixar Pal-A-Round (which is “just a ferris wheel,” but the gondolas you sit in slide around more, so there’s a lot more movement), but by the time we were through California Adventure, I think we’d seen and done just about everything we’d wanted to. It had gotten hotter as the three day stint went on, so we were pretty tired and drained.

We headed back to the hotel (late….Brooke mis-read the check out time….), packed up the car, and headed back to California Adventure for lunch and a few more rides before leaving for San Diego! Below, I’ve typed in the names of all the rides we went on, mostly for posterity’s sake in case I need to look it up some day to tell somewhat what we did. It’s a pretty solid list – we hit just about everything at least once!!



Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (2x)

Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

Disneyland Monorail

Haunted Mansion

Hyperspace Mountain (2x)

Indiana Jones Adventure

“it’s a small world”

Jungle Cruise

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Matterhorn Bobsleds

Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run (2x)

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

Peter Pan’s Flight

Pinocchio’s Daring Journey

Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island

Splash Mountain

Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room

California Adventure:

Golden Zephyr

Goofy’s Sky School

Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!

Incredicoaster (2x)

Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind

Jessie’s Critter Carousel

The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure

Pixar Pal-A-Round – Swinging

Soarin’ Around the World

Toy Story Midway Mania!

US-101 Vacation – Part III

We used Smith River as our “base of operations,” where we could head out and see other things in northern California. We had a few options for how to schedule things, but we wanted to give the kids a “beach day,” more or less, however we figured that Friday would be the better option, so we should see some stuff on Thursday, June 9th. Our first destination was Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, which is not a part of the national park, but still has a ton of redwood trees. These are things Brooke and I got to see on our Oregon Trail trip back in 2015, and we thought it was cool enough that the kids should probably seem them at some point.

We didn’t want to do anything too strenuous, lest we end up with a minor revolt, but we stopped in at a visitor center (there are multiple) and asked what would be a good option. We found a 2-ish mile section that would take us out near the trees, close enough to hug them.

The only “wildlife” we saw were tons of banana slugs. We had to be careful we didn’t step on any. The biggest ones we saw got maybe 6 inches long, so Brooke was absolutely thrilled about that!

Similar to Devil’s Tower, I’m not sure the kids were totally impressed by the size of the trees, but they humored us and posed for some pictures. I think we only passed maybe one other family while we were out there, so it was a pretty secluded hike, which is always nice.

If anything, some of the dead trees we saw were more impressive to the kids, such as this root system from a tree that had fallen over years ago. We’ve got another picture of the kids standing on a stump that’s absolutely gigantic, but I’ve got enough pictures here already, so this is the one you’re getting.

We only spent an hour or so out hiking, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous, so it was a good activity to kill some time while we were in the Pacific northwest!

After the State Park, we found a picnic table overlooking the ocean to have lunch at while we made our way to our next destination, Battery Point Lighthouse.

We’ve wanted to go up in a lighthouse for years. We’ve been near them and seen them, and visited one when we were in Puerto Rico, but we’ve never been able to actually go up in one and get that perspective. Brooke found this one and saw they had tours, and it was less than an hour from Smith River, so score! The other interesting thing about it was that you could only get to the lighthouse at low tide, as there’s a rocky path you have to cross to even get there, so it definitely depends on the time of day for when to go.

We ended up having to wait for a school group to go through their tours first, as they can only allow a limited number of people up at a given time. It’s a relatively efficient operation, though the four people conducting the tours were clearly overwhelmed by the high school students they weren’t expecting. After waiting about 30 minutes, we got to go in, paid for the tours, and then were shuffled through different rooms to learn about the history of the lighthouse. The cool thing is that this lighthouse still has people living in it, and it’s one of the oldest that has been in continuous operation and had a continuous tenant. The tour guides told us that it’s usually staffed by retirees who live there for a month at a time. The lighthouse was originally set to be fully decommissioned, but the Crescent City historical society took it over and is maintaining it now.

The tour itself didn’t take all that long, but it was cool to go up and see things from their perspective! The kids ended up liking this one a bit more, as I think the tour guides gave them a bit more attention than we were giving them…..

We got back home around 4:00 pm, so we went down to the beach for a bit, and then the kids came up and hopped in the hot tub. Again, the water is relatively cold and it was cloudier that day, so not particularly pleasant for swimming…

The next day wasn’t much better, but the kids were promised a “beach day,” so a “beach day” they would have! Really, the kids just worked on digging a hole, and spent nearly all day doing it. Brooke went up to find a laundromat in Brookings, OR, which was just across the state border, so I was down with the kids for part of the morning, and then Brooke took over for some of the afternoon when I took the car for a vacuum and car wash, and also check out a nearby liquor store to stock up on Northeastern US beers (nearly all IPAs, of course).

That evening, we mostly hung out in the hot tub, but we kept an eye on the hole Meg and Calvin had worked on all day, so when high tide came in around 9:00 pm, Brooke took the kids down to see if it would fill. That hole was still there the next morning! They did a good job!

By the time June 11th rolled around, it was time to leave Smith River and start making the trip down to San Francisco. This was a longer driving day, as we needed to go over 350 miles, but we had a few stops in mind. One of them was Meg’s substitute for not getting to do the sea lion cave, but before that, we had to drive through a redwood tree. So we did. 🙂

Meg decided she wanted to stop by Confusion Hill, which was…an odd place… It reminds me of a tourist trap like you’d find outside of Branson, where they’ve got some stuff there to do, but they’re really just trying to sell you kitschy souvenirs (incidentally, the one place we saw a US-101 sticker for our cartop carrier was there, so it’s a good thing we stopped!).

The thing Meg was most excited about was the “gravity house,” which no, isn’t a house where there’s no gravity, but it’s built (?) in such a way that it’s all sideways, so when you walk through it, you kind of lose your sense of orientation. We paid actual, United States legal tender, money to do this. In this author’s view, it wasn’t worth it…..but I digress…

Another 4 hours in the car later, we made it to San Francisco! Brooke found a hotel that was down near Alcatraz, which was to be the next day’s main activity. This was good because the hotel was centrally located and it had on-site parking.

However, when we actually arrived, that on-site parking was full. This was not good. Brooke kinda had a meltdown trying to navigate San Francisco traffic while we figured out what to do. Ultimately, I hopped out and asked the hotel desk clerk where we should go, they directed me around the block, we went and parked the car and it wasn’t a big deal.

That night, we went to an Italian restaurant that wasn’t absolutely full (it was, after all, Saturday night in San Francisco). The food was solid, we only had to walk to get there, and it still allowed us to hit up Ghirardelli that night (which was something of a bribe to keep the kids in line…). We got some overly expensive ice cream (that took too long to get), as it was quite crowded, but still had time to grab some chocolates for the trip home. Score again!

The next day was Alcatraz, something we weren’t able to do the last time we were there for our Oregon Trail trip. This time, we got reservations ahead of time, went and waited for the ferry to take us over, and and got to get to the island.

On the way, we finally saw some seals. See, Meg? We didn’t need to stop at the sea lion cave! These were close enough. 😉

The way Alcatraz is set up was interesting. You can walk around most of the property, though some of is has fallen to disrepair, so you can’t go everywhere. Most of it is set up as a self-guided tour, where they give you a glorified phone that you can listen to through a speaker.

This part of the tour, though, got a bit annoying. One of our four tour devices wasn’t working, so Brooke and the kids started and I went back and grabbed one. Then, of course, I started listening, but now I was at a different part of the recording than they were, so they had to pause eventually for me to catch up. We’d also have to pause sometimes as large groups would have to listen to their recordings, as they were standing in a space that we were ready for, but couldn’t actually progress to until they moved on. It all worked, I suppose, and I’m not sure what else I would have done? It’s probably better than trying to pay tour guides to be out there and physically walk groups through every 20 minutes, as this method just lets the tours start in a rolling fashion.

The recording itself was pretty interesting, though. It was told from the perspective of some of the guards and some of the inmates, so you kind of got both sides of the story (certainly in a more “sanitized” fashion…). We were also impressed that the National Park Service had an exhibit up highlighting the issue of mass incarceration in the United States, so that allowed for a “teachable moment” we could have with the kids later on.

There were other written parts of the tour, and as Meg is our designated Tour Guide Reader, she had to read some of those bits for us.

I’m glad we did the tour, for sure, but I think Brooke was maybe a little disappointed. The tickets were relatively expensive for what we got (a self-guided tour and a whole bunch of people slowing us down), but we got a to-and-from ferry ride, so that was nice. It was a fine way to spend a morning, and we could check one more box off the West Coast Tourist Bucket List!

The last thing we did before leaving was hit up Pier 39, which was some kind of cross between shopping mall and amusement park? We grabbed lunch and then started the drive to our next destination, which ended up being an AirBNB in Oxnard, CA. Our options were kind of limited, and this stretch was really the only one we hit that had a decent amount of traffic. We wanted to stay in Santa Barbara, mostly because that’s where “Psych” is set (even though no aspect of the show was ever filmed there…), but hotel prices and AirBNB options were ridiculous, even for southern California. We found a place in Oxnard, though, that allowed us to spread out into a few bedrooms before we’d all be locked in a traditional hotel for the following three nights.

And where was that, you may ask? A hotel directly across from Disneyland! More on that, next time.

US-101 Vacation – Part II

So where are we now…June 7th? Oh yes.

By this point, Brooke was using her specialized Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip travel guide to find things to do along the way. She picked it up in late May and skimmed parts of it, but hadn’t really looked at it too much because we wanted to remain flexible: find things we may want to do, but nothing that we’d plan an entire trip around. It was helpful in finding some things near places we thought we’d stay, but wasn’t organized as well as we’d have liked. For example, it had “northern Oregon” and “southern Oregon” sections of the book, but they weren’t all logically laid out in order as you’d pass them on US-101, so you had to bounce around a bit to find where things were organized. Not the end of the world, but could have been better.

One of the things she found was the Tillamook Creamery in Tillamook, OR, which is west of Portland. It seemed to hit a lot of the things we were looking for: a “halfway through the day” kind of stop; a self-guided tour; they made cheese, which all people like; and ice cream, which again, all people like.

There were a lot of people there! We didn’t see any literal tour buses, but it sure seemed like the place a bunch of elderly people would do as they traveled in buses to tourist destinations. The operations of the cheese factory were interesting, we got some free samples, and they had a few children-centric exhibits to check out (the kids milked a “cow,” for instance).

After that, we continued on to Florence, OR to stay the night. We stopped off at a beach to see Thor’s Well, which was kind of cool, but really only gave us 15 minutes to kill before we went into town for the night. We dropped off stuff at the hotel and went to Rosa’s Mexican Restaurant, and that was very nice. For once, we were at a hotel before 9:00 pm, so that was a plus!

The next day, again, we had to make it just under 200 miles until we reached Smith River, CA, which is where we were going to stay for another 3 days. That meant we had some time to kill, but more importantly, some opportunities to see and do some fun stuff. One option was a sea lion cave that Meg really wanted to do, but the timing of making that work would have meant some substantial backtracking, and we figured we’d see some other places along the trip (also, the time of year we were there wasn’t really the best time to see sea lions, apparently). Another option was renting a dune buggy to drive over some sand dunes.

First, some background. I watch quite a few car videos on YouTube, and one I ran across last year (after we knew we were doing this trip) was one from Driving Sports TV where the host drove a Subaru Outback like ours on some sand dunes in Oregon. Apparently, as I learned then, Oregon Dunes National Recreation area is “a thing,” where you can take your vehicle, ATV, buggy, or whatever and just drive on some sand dunes, including along the beach! Which sounded really cool!

Brooke saw some rental locations in the book she was reading, I called one up, and they had a few slots available relatively early the next morning as we were heading down to Smith River! As you can see in the satellite image above, the dunes we went to are relatively large and give you access to the ocean (we went to Spinreel Dune Buggy and ATV Rentals), but we only wanted to commit an hour to this part of the trip. If we did a two hour rental (or longer), then we could have taken a buggy to the ocean and driven along it, but alas, not this trip. We went through a safety training video and had someone draw on a map where we should go with an hour to spend: if we went past the hour mark, we’d have to pay for another hour, so we didn’t want to go too far.

It was fun! As I’m not a huge fan of heights, I was a bit wary of trying to drive up the big, steep dunes, but Brooke was more willing to give it a go (note: we didn’t die). I was more willing to drive faster in open spaces, so we both piloted the buggy in different ways, which was nice. We wore jackets because it was relatively chilly. It cost a decent chunk of change to do it, but it was totally worth it!

This was at Spinreel before we went out on the buggies. I don’t know what Calvin was doing, but I made a GIF of it. Enjoy.

We left Spinreel and went to Coos Bay, OR, where we had lunch at 7 Devils Waterfront Alehouse. The food was good (I had fish tacos) and the beer was nice, too! We started stocking up on beer at this point to bring back to share with folks, as most of the beers up there, you can’t get in Missouri.

We drove for another 2 hours and stopped at a beach about an hour outside of our final destination. The house at Smith River wasn’t ready yet, so we stopped a beach near Myrtle Creek, OR to kill some time. We also started using our new Cliq folding chairs that Brooke found. I can’t get over how awesome these things are. We wanted something compact that we could take without sacrificing room in the car. Four of them fit in an approximately 6″x10″x20″ bag, which is nuts. Were they ridiculously expensive? Yes. Was it worth it? Also yes.

We made it to the house at Smith River by 6:30 that night. It’s something of a “resort cabin,” meaning the houses were all relatively close together and, because of that, they were all smaller than maybe we’d have preferred, but we got a room and the kids got a loft with two twin beds, so it was better than nothing.

Importantly, this place was right on the beach, so we could walk down the stairs and we were there. Again, it was kind of “shared space” in that anyone from our “resort” could walk down there, but it was a pretty secluded beach and we rarely saw other folks. Mostly, just people out for a walk. We didn’t even really see many families out there.

The sunset was pretty nice, too. Especially from a hot tub.

We spent the next few days using the house as a launching point for other adventures. More on that next time!