Monthly Archives: August 2011

San Diego Zoo

The weekend before Orientation week at the Seminary started, I was keen to take my family to one of the many amazing sites/amusement parks that are available to us in Southern California.
You can imagine that from the moment we touched down at LAX,the girls had but a few words on their lips (Disneyland, Universal Studios, Magic Mountain). They were itching to go to at least one of them.
We had worked hard over the previous 4 weeks to set up our house and the girls were amazingly patient while we did this, so I wanted to at least reward their patience.

We were keen for a drive, so we decided to head south and go to the San Diego zoo. I heard it was a 2 hour drive (approximately 150 miles), and from looking at the map, it looked as though it would be a nice scenic coastal drive once we got past L.A.
Boy, was I wrong!

The drive was largely uninspiring and quite frankly, pretty boring. We left at 7AM and took the number 5 freeway to San Diego – a concrete, 5-6 lane freeway all the way. Barely any coast spotted at all. It took us a little under two and a half hours to get there.

It was a Saturday and the zoo was very busy. I am glad that we had thought to buy our tickets online and print them out the night before. This saved us from having to stand in line to buy tickets. With the pre-bought tickets, we could bypass this considerable queue and walk right in.

As tiresome as the drive was, this was contrasted sharply by the buzz and the excitement of the San Diego Zoo.
We started by taking a guided bus tour on one of the open double-decker buses. The bus tour took about 30 minutes, travelled around most of the zoo exhibits and enabled us to get a fair idea of what there is to see. And there was a LOT to see. There was so many amazing animals and their enclosures were world-class and well laid out.

The girls favourite exhibit was the Giant Pandas. It was incredibly thrilling to see
Pandas in the flesh. They were quite close to the viewing gallery and looked very content munching on bamboo in front of hordes of people. It is difficult to not marvel at the imagination and the creativeness of the most wonderful God we serve when you witness animals like this.

I normally love to watch the big cats (Tigers are my particular favourite), but Denise and I loved the polar bears. There are two levels in which to view them: from on top or from under the ground where you can view them under the water. Apparantly, the polar bears are not always so active, but when we got there, they were marvelously active. They frolicked about playfully in the water, amusing themselves with balls and other ‘toys’ they had. We were treated to a wonderful display and felt privileged to be there.

The other highlight of the zoo trip was the ‘Skyfari’ which is an aerial gondola. The Skyfari stretched from one end of the zoo to the other. It travelled high above the tree-tops of the zoo and gave us tremendous views. It was a thrilling ride which the girls enjoyed immensely. The Skyfari and the tour bus were covered by our entry ticket which was helpful.

It took us over 10 hours to get around the zoo, which is testament to the quality of the zoo as it could keep us captivated for so long.

We just had a mere three hour drive home to look forward to.


Finally! We have a car we can call our own

Since arriving in the U.S a little over three weeks ago, the Lord has blessed us immensely and it has been a lot of fun (and hard work) setting up our house and the doing things we need to have organised before we settle down to homeschooling for the kids and Seminary study for me.
One of the ways in which we have been blessed was in the form of a car that had been loaned to us to enable us to get around. One thing is for sure, if you don’t have a car in California, it is makes it virtually impossible to get out and about.
Californians drive everywhere and they do lots of miles to get there.
So began our quest to find the perfect car.

In looking for a car, we had two schools of thought: We are in the U.S – let’s get an American car or let’s get a reliable, safe Japanese car.
We have always owned a Toyota car in NZ and have never experienced a breakdown, so we naturally (and wisely) leaned toward the latter. We asked a lot of people to seek their advice. I even asked a tow-truck driver (my thinking was that surely he would have the best idea since he is picking up broken-down cars?). His response was a firm, “Don’t buy American cars, buy a Toyota”.
Perfect. I am student with no income. I needed a reliable car with good MPG (miles per gallon). Toyota it was.

The next question was do I buy privately or from a dealership?
Cars are a funny thing and there are never any guarantee’s with them, but we decided to buy a certified car from the Toyota dealership in Valencia.
Buying a certified car also meant that I have a 125,000 mile warranty and road-side assistance – good for about three years. This gives me peace of mind. Sure,  I could possibly have paid a little less if I bought privately but I wouldn’t have had the warranty and road-side assistance option.

The buying experience at Frontier Toyota in Valencia was generally a pleasant one. They were very accommodating regarding price and I am very satisfied with the car (I’m sure the Lord was at work here as I managed to pay much less than the Kelley Blue Book value).
Just for the record, we ended up buying a 2007 Toyota Camry LE. One of the most popular sedans in the U.S.

While looking for a car, we needed to get auto insurance. You can’t buy a car (or even take your practical driving test to gain your license) without it.
In the U.S, the auto insurance works a bit differently than in NZ. Here, you are not just insuring your car against loss or damage caused in a collision, but you are also insuring yourself against someone suing the pants of you.
According to Californian law, every driver must have some basic level of auto insurance and there are various options to your insurance that is designed to protect you but which also means that getting insurance can be a very costly business.
For instance, there is a ‘Comprehensive’ which insures your car against damage or loss other than a collision (e.g. fire, theft etc). There is ‘Collision’ which insures your car against damage in the event of a collision. There is also the ‘Bodily Injury Liability’ and ‘Property Damage Liability’ options which insures you in the event of causing injury to someone else or their property respectively and will provide a legal defence if lawsuits are brought against you. Scary stuff!
There are further options such as ‘Medical’, ‘Uninsured’ and ‘Rental’ which can provide you with various protections against every possible scenario.

The general rule of thumb here is that you should pay less than $100 per month on auto insurance.
We got our insurance through (and  joined) the ‘AAA’ (The Automobile Club Southern California). The insurance was reasonably priced and members also enjoy many benefits and various discounts.

We are pleased to finally have a car we can call our own and are praying for several years of trouble-free motoring.

Super-Size Me

One thing that immediately stikes you about living in the U.S is that everything is big. And I don’t mean big, but BIG. Apparantly smaller cars are becoming increasingly popular here but we are yet to see much evidence of that. People drive around in big ‘trucks’ (we call them utes). The amazing thing is that most households don’t have just one truck but two or three.
Pictures don’t do some of these monsters justice, but there are some massive trucks and I feel dwarfed when standing next to them.

The stores are huge. We buy most of our household goods from either Costco or Walmart. The Walmart we use is a supercentre and it is huge (apparantly the supercentre’s average 185,000 square feet in size and employ approximately 350 staff).
The supercentre has most stores you will find in an entire shopping mall – Pharmacy, Vision Centre, Hair Salon, Garden Centre, McDonalds and much, much more – all under one roof. It even has a Tyre and Lube Centre.

The Costco store is also big and you can get many bulk food in big sizes.
One of my favourites has to be …wait for it… a gallon of Best Foods mayonnaise. Classic.