Friday, February 28, 2014

Now Entering December

December was quite the exciting and busy month for us. Not only were we busy with Christmas decorating, activities, movies, and baking, Jason gave me one of my Christmas presents early. That gift came as a total surprise! He gave me the game Age of Empires 2. As you know, Age of Empires is a traditional family game of the Arbons. But up to this point, I have been resistant to trying number two, since I barely have number one down. Tyson tried to encourage me to play number two, but I declined. But with this new gift, I had no choice but to dive right in. And boy I am glad I did. It is definitely way better than number one, in the sense that a lot of the tedious things are made easier and there are more fun options. So thanks to Jason, we became very busy at night alternating between playing the game and doing our other Christmas things (I definitely didn’t watch as many Christmas movies as I would have liked). We wanted to practice (hence giving it to me early) because we knew there would be a big Age of Empires game over Christmas break with my family and cousins. I knew that they would be thrilled that we transitioned to number two. We had a great time playing together and got a lot better than we were last time we played as a family.

Since I am now a working woman, I was thrilled to find out there was going to be a work Christmas Party. We could take our families, and it was a pizza dinner and a movie at Jordan Commons. Given the movie aspect, we decided to leave Charlie at home with the grandparents. The movie we saw was Frozen. Leading up to the party, I hadn’t seen a single preview for it, only little images of cheesy animated figures. So we assumed it was one of those typical, corny Christmas movies. Boy were we wrong! We were thrilled to find out it was another Disney classic! We loved it!! I’m sure it helped that we had zero expectations for it, but we were blown away! We loved the story and the music...and it was hilarious! They did an amazing job. Oh, and the icing on the party was that I won a company prize! I am usually very unlucky when it comes to drawings, so I was very excited!

Before seeing Frozen, it seemed like it had been forever since we had seen a movie! Having a kid really puts a damper on that activity. However, in December, we were basically seeing a movie each week! The next week, we got a surprise text from Jason’s friend, Nate. He is also our life insurance guy and the company he works for sometimes reserves out a movie theater for a big movie premiere. This time he invited us (as one of his clients) and the premiere was for the new Hobbit movie (number two). We are fans of LOTR, so we were really excited...not only just to see the movie generally, but to be able to see it the day before everyone else could. Stoked! It was another good movie of the season.

The next week, I got a surprise text from my friend Kaitlyn offering to watch Charlie so we could go see Catching Fire! What? Who does that? I was so impressed and so grateful! We had been hanging out with them a week or so before and mentioned how we hadn’t seen Catching Fire yet. We both love the Hunger Games series (having both read the books), and the movie had been out for awhile. Kaitlyn had said how much she loved it and how she had seen it a couple times in theater already. But that was the end of the conversation at the time. So anyways, I guess Michael was out of town and Kaitlyn wasn’t up to anything anyways, so she made the thoughtful offer to us. Of course we took it! The movie definitely did not disappoint! It was awesome! Even better than the first one! Thanks Kaitlyn for being such an amazing friend and thinking of us for one of your Christmas service opportunities!

So speaking of Christmas parties, we had a couple more. We had our Ward Christmas Party, which was great. We had Wallaby’s cater (tasty), and had a short program. It was all over in about an hour. The best part was we didn’t have to do anything for it! I think we brought a dessert, but that was it! The worst part was Charlie went out of our sight for one second and, we think, slammed his finger in the door. He was bawling when we found him and his little pinky finger was red and getting puffy. By the time we got home, it was purple, huge, and hard. We felt so bad for the little guy! But after the initial impact, it didn’t seem to bother him one bit. Babies are great that way! After the Ward Christmas Party, Mike and Kaitlyn came over and we made caramel apples. They turned out delicious! The white chocolate, cinnamon sugar ones were the big favorite! On a more personal note: Over the last couple of months it has been really nice to be able to hang out and talk with the Pacadas. We have really been able to come together and offer each other support in the hard time with Sean and Alli’s divorce. Kaitlyn is Sean’s sister, and Jason is Alli’s brother, so the divorce is very personal to all of us, but in different ways. It has been therapeutic to be able to talk it out with them, as it came as a complete shock to all of us!

Charlie's smashed finger

Our tasty caramel apples

The other Christmas Party we went to was Jason’s company party. Since Jason and John pretty much own their own business, and it is just the two of them, the wives convinced them that this year they should do a dinner Christmas Party...on Everlast Surrounds & Glass! That seems like a legitimate business expense to me. We kept the kids home and we had a delicious dinner at Tucanos. We ate ourselves sick...literally. By that I mean Jason woke up countless times in the middle of the night giving back everything he had eaten! Poor guy. I hope that doesn’t spoil him for Tucanos for the rest of his life….although it will probably affect him for awhile. Not fun!

And, of course, a yearly December celebration is Bryan’s birthday. He turned 15 this year! Happy Birthday, Bryan!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Thanksgiving - Banks Family Reunion Part III

It was Saturday morning, and we were back at the breakfast buffet. After breakfast, we wanted to put in some good park and beach time. At the beginning of our stay, the weather was on and off cloudy and breezy. It was kind of chilly. Saturday proved to be a beautiful day and we weren’t going to waste it!

Jason and Robby put in some more surfing time, while the rest of us played at the park and then moved on to the sand on the beach. Charlie was loving it, of course. He didn’t mind getting sandy, he would just lay right down on the sand, bare back and all. What was especially exciting is when Robby and Jason let the little kids bodyboard on the small waves near the shore. Harlan, Alex, and Clara braved the freezing cold water and laid stomach down on the surfboard while Robby helped steady them and helped them catch a wave in. Jason was right there with his Go Pro and got some really fun footage!

Another surprise from the gift box


Here is a link to Jason's GoPro is pretty good!

After our fun at the beach, we headed to the warm pool area. We took advantage of the hotel service and had them bring us lunch at the poolside. Man, that really defines luxury! Eating delicious, salty fries while sipping on a soda and water while relaxing in the hot tub. That is one of my heaven moments! Love it!

After naps and showers, it was dinner time again. We headed to a delicious Italian restaurant. It is crazy going to restaurants with so many people! I feel bad for the waiters for how many things they have to keep track of. It also takes a considerable amount of time. Each dinner experience usually took about two hours. The kids were such troopers, hanging in there while we waited, ate, and visited. It was always past bedtime by the time we left, but they seemed to enjoy it just as much as the adults did.

Beautiful sunset from our balcony

James and Spencer had to leave dinner a little early to catch their plane back. Work is always calling! So we had to do our nightly games without them. However, it was fun to welcome Steven, Annette, Nancy, and George to the mix. We had fun introducing the celebrity game to them and had a blast laughing at and with each other! We also had tons of yummy treats, thanks to Robby’s many grocery runs.

Sunday morning came all too soon! Before we knew it, we were eating breakfast at the resort buffet, but this time in our Sunday attire. That’s right, it was time to quickly eat, pack up, and head to Sacrament Meeting. After Sacrament, everyone drove to Alli’s house. Many of us had never seen the house they had recently rented and moved into. It is such a darling house with the perfect touch of Spencer decor. Alli and Sean always do an awesome job with decorating. Their style is warm, welcoming, creative, and inspiring. We loved it...and not to mention the pool and hot tub in the back yard. Perfect!

The Gruber kids at Alli's house

Next up was taking a tour of Grandpa Bank’s new place, and dropping him off. He was recently moved to an independent assisted living facility not too far from Alli’s house due to his rapid decline in short term memory. It has been a sad and hard thing seeing the man who has been so physically healthy and who has such an amazing attitude start to suffer from short term memory loss. It got to the point that he lost his drivers license, and so began the move from his condo in San Clemente to his new place in Burbank. However, the facility is one of the nicest I have ever seen. He has several windows that look out onto a beautiful California landscape. His room is even complete with a kitchen area and small living room area. The family did a good job bringing some of his art and other decorations to his new place so he can feel as much at home as possible.

Eventually it was time to leave and bid farewell. We thanked him again and again for such an amazing Thanksgiving reunion. It was all made possible by Grandpa Banks. We were so grateful to him and his kindness!

We quickly returned to Alli’s because it was time to say goodbye to the others before we started the long drive home. The Tuttles, Max’s family, and Nancy were staying behind with Alli. Amy and Max’s families were going to Disneyland the next day while Alli and Nancy were going to watch the kids that were too young to go. What a fun thing for them to be able to do together! Jason and I were sad to miss out, but not too sad since we knew we were going to be taking our own Disneyland vacation sometime soon (In fact, we just returned last Saturday from Disneyland, just the two of us! Wahoo!).

So George, Karl, Jason, Charlie and I started the drive to Las Vegas. We were splitting the drive into two days again. We had a good time listening to The Tomb and having a good conversation with Karl and everything that was going on in his life. This time we drove into Vegas a little bit later, since we had a later start, and stayed at The Orleans. The Orleans was a lot older and was way more sketchy! Can’t say I would love to stay there again. Even though it was late, we headed down to the lobby/casino area and found a TGI Fridays. We had an enjoyable dinner before heading back to our rooms and hitting the sack.

Monday morning, we were back on the road for our final leg. We were sad to say goodbye to our fun vacation, but so ready to be done with traveling. Thanks to all of the Banks family who made this reunion so enjoyable!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Thanksgiving - Banks Family Reunion Part II

Thursday morning (Thanksgiving) we got to take advantage of the resort’s awesome breakfast buffet. It was huge and fabulous! I especially loved their hash browns because they were basically mini steak french fries! Yum! Their omelets were also fantastic! Grandma surprised all of the grandkids with her special gift box. Each day there was something new and exciting inside of the box. The kids ate it up! After the gift box, we headed to the beach.

Best friends!

Grandma's surprise gift box!

What could it be?!?

The boys got books...and they speedily read like a race

The girls got make-up...Oliver was quite interested, so cute!

The young ones got a book, too..."A Pirate's Day At Sea"

Greta was gifted a new homemade blanket by Annette. It is the same one that Charlie loves! It is crazy to feel how soft it once was!

Jason and Robby spent a good part of the morning surfing. They put on their wetsuits, as the water was freezing, and made off a ways down the beach. The kids had a blast playing in the sand, and Amy, April, Max, Greta, Alex, Harlan, Clara, and I headed down the beach with our cameras to get some shots of the surfers. It was really hard to see them and tell them apart from the other surfers, so we didn’t come back with as many shots and videos as we would have liked. But the guys had fun, and had quite a work out.

On our way to find the surfers:

Next on the itinerary was the pirate "cruise". This was very exciting, especially for the kids. We got on a boat dressed up in pirate items and rode around the shore. The ride was complete with pirate jokes and a treasure at the end. The kids even got to take turns driving the boat for a short while.

We were all quite hungry after the pirate cruise. We knew we didn’t want to eat too much because we had a Thanksgiving dinner ahead, so we made a quick stop at Carl’s Jr that was minutes away from the resort. Of course, Charlie has to fall asleep on that car ride...but none of the long ones! He pretty much stayed sound asleep on our shoulder while we ate lunch in Carl’s Jr.

After naps, for Charlie and myself, it was time to head to Marie Calendars. Yes, it is appalling that we went to a restaurant on practically goes against everything I believe in not to have a homemade meal. I was especially apprehensive since my last Marie Calendars experience was less than impressive. However, I do have to put all of that aside and eat my words! The Thanksgiving meal at Marie Calendars was amazing! I would go there again for Thanksgiving in a heartbeat! There was so much good food, we filled ourselves to capacity. And, of course, the dessert pies don’t get any better than Marie’s. One thing of note, James and Spencer finally arrived just in time for dinner. They weren’t able to get there until that evening due to work obligations. We were excited to finally see them and to have them there.

What the family did while Charlie napped:

At Marie Calendar's:

After the kids had gone to bed, and we set up our typical monitor/phone system, all of the adults joined up at Steven and Annette’s room to share ancestor stories. Nancy had asked us in advance to prepare some kind of family story to share on Thanksgiving. While several were less than eager to participate, once it got started, everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The stories were fun and interesting. We even got a quick glimpse of Steven’s miming abilities, as he did a little short about Adam and Eve, complete with accompanying music. It was great!

All in all, a very happy and ful"filling" Thanksgiving!

Friday morning, we were right back at the resort’s breakfast buffet. Yummy! After another large breakfast, we were treated with some fun and unique bike rentals. These things could hold two to four adults, maybe more if you really squished. But there were four pedals, so anymore adults than that and you would have a really heavy bike. I wish I could remember what they were called. We rode the bikes to a nearby park. This park was awesome! I was so impressed! It was built with a pirate ship theme complete with canon holes. It was so fun watching the kids run around, the adults even had fun, too.



A fabulous compilation video of us playing at the park by Jason on his GoPro

After a race back to the bike rental area, we got to try out some of the other unique bikes they had. Again, so fun!

Jason also made an awesome bike video...but for some reason I can't add it here. Perhaps this will work, though. Try clicking on this link.

Next up, pool time! It was around lunch time, so we ordered some pizza from Dominos and snuck it into one of the resort’s activity areas. No one was using that room and it had lots of table area. It was perfect! We also enjoyed some left over pie from Marie Calendars.

For dinner, we went to a delicious Mexican restaurant. The food was great, and we were surrounded by many steaming platters of fajitas. While at dinner, we celebrated Steven’s birthday with a fun birthday cake and song.

I bet you can guess what we did once we got back and put the kids to bed. You got it, we set up the monitors and headed to Max’s room this time. We played the celebrity guessing game again, this time Uncle Alan, James, and Spencer joined in on the fun. Man, we had a blast! So many fun and funny memories. I wish we could go back in time! be continued...