Category Archives: Family

A Week in San Francisco – Part One

After two hectic weeks in summer school, we headed to the Bay Area in Northern
California to spend a few days in San Francisco. It was an 800 mile round trip, but one which we enjoyed immensely.  Personally, I have long held a slight fascination for San Francisco: the 60’s music scene, the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz prison.  But perhaps my interest was initially tweaked as a child growing up on a diet of Steve McQueen movies and those memorable car-chase scenes featuring ‘The king of Cool’ tearing around the streets of San Francisco in a 1968 Mustang in the movie ‘Bullitt‘.

One of the things we were advised to pre-book well in advance was the day-trip to Alcatraz Island.  There is only one company that is allowed to land on Alcatraz Island and it is impossible to turn up on the day and expect to get on the boat unless you have pre-booked at least one week ahead.  So, with accommodation organized (we decided to stay in San Bruno which is only a twelve mile drive to the city center) and the alcatraz trip already booked, we headed up the 5 freeway for the six-hour drive to San Francisco.

Our immediate impression of San Francisco was it was a lot like our home city Wellington.  A city built around a harbor, the all-too familiar cool sea-breeze (at times the wind was really cold) and the Victorian-style housing built very close to each other.  Certainly the climate was noticeably cooler than what we have been experiencing over the last couple of months: late 80’s degrees fahrenheit in L.A compared to the early to mid-60’s in San Francisco.
The first thing we did was drive across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge then walked around Sausalito, browsing through the dozens of unique boutique stores in the main area and taking in the fantastic views of San Francisco city from across the harbor.  Apparently, Otis Redding was staying in Sausalito at the time he composed “Dock of the Bay” and we can understand why.  It is a very picturesque part of the San Francisco Bay area and a nice relaxing way to end the day.

The next day was spent in the city itself as there were many things we wanted to see there. We managed to find some really cheap parking in the city near Pier 39 where if you got there before 9AM, you could park all day until 11:59PM for only $10.  After checking out the sea lions camped out at the West Marina at Pier 39, we headed towards the cable cars. Our plan was to catch the cable car to Chinatown, then hike back to the top of Lombard Street, walk down Lombard toward the Marina area, then make our way around the piers.  This involved a lot of walking so I was very grateful that the Lord kept any gout attacks at bay.

Being from Wellington, we are not completely unfamiliar with cable cars, but it was fun to ride on the famous cable cars of San Francisco through the city center.  We took the Powell-Mason car to Chinatown and for a while I could ride the cable car standing on the side running boards. What fun.  Even though Chinatown in San Francisco is a relatively short eight blocks long and a couple of blocks wide, it is the largest Chinatown outside of China itself.  I think we got there a little too early in the day, as most of the stores were still closed (or were in the process of opening up as we wandered through), so we mainly looked through the stores that were open and snapped a few pictures of the area.

After Chinatown, we headed uphill toward the top of Lombard Street, known as one of the crookedest streets in the world. The crooked section of Lombard is about a block long but very well decorated with colorful plants and flowers.  Once we got to the top, there were bus loads of people stopping and taking pictures of the street, but at times, the sight-seers hindered residents and other car traffic by refusing to step off the road to left them through. Pretty rude if you ask me.

After we walked down Lombard Street, we wandered down to the waterfront and then to Ghirardelli Square, which is a pleasant shopping area (but full of mainly souvenir-type stores) based in what used to be an old woolen mill from the mid-1860’s.  Ghiradelli is the name of a chocolate brand and in the square, among others, there is a Ghiradelli chocolate store and an ice cream shop.

At the end of the day, we were exhausted having completed so much walking but we did get to see a lot of the city. We were very much looking forward to the next day which was our trip to Alcatraz Island and a tour around the famous prison.

Santa Barbara

This week is Spring break and is normally a week set aside by students to catch-up on assignments before heading into the mad rush of the final four weeks of the semester.  I am in that same position, but we were determined to spend a day or two out as a family.  Yesterday, we went out to Santa Barbara for the day.

Santa Barbara is situated on the coast and approximately an hour and a half drive from our house.  Known as the ‘Riviera of the West’, Santa Barbara is famous for it’s wide beaches, great shopping and good year-round weather (although, it turned a bit drizzly in the afternoon).  Another notable feature of Santa Barbara  is it’s stunning Californian ‘mission-style’ architecture where the early Spanish
founders attempted to emulate the architecture of their Spanish homeland.

Upon arrival, we parked at the West Beach (good luck finding a free parking space in the middle of summer!) where we sat on the wide beach, ate our bagged lunch and enjoyed the sun while watching some of the locals playing beach volleyball.

We then headed to Sterns Wharf.  Built in 1872, Sterns Wharf has survived the odd fire and remains one of the central landmarks of the harbor and beach area.  There are a dozen or so stores and restaurants on the wharf (although I couldn’t be persuaded to buy four of the $8 single-scoop ice creams despite it being nice and sunny) and also had nice views up and down the beach.

From the wharf, we drove down State Street, which is the main street where most of the shopping and cafes are situated.  We found a cheap parking building (first 75 minutes free and $1.50 per hour thereafter) near the Santa Barbara courthouse, which was where we were headed.  At 2PM each day (Monday through Saturday), you can take a free guided tour of the courthouse, which is a magnificent Spanish building built in 1929, surrounded by lawns and a sunken garden and the building itself features hand-painted ceilings, giant murals and decorated with imported tiles.  Once the tour had concluded, we went up the tower of the courthouse where we could enjoy 360-degree views of Santa Barbara, the beach and surrounding mountains.

After the courthouse, we wandered around the old part of Santa Barbara, looked through the different stores (Mark even spotted a record store that was loaded with heaps of second-hand vinyl, but way to expensive to be tempted to buy anything) and ended the day by having ‘authentic’ British fish ‘n chips for dinner.

Happy Birthday, Maddy

Maddy celebrated her twelve birthday a few days ago, but because it fell on the first day of the Shepherds’ Conference, we couldn’t do much on the day.  Tonight, we celebrated her birthday by going out for dinner at a place of her choice – now that we are students, long gone are the days of extravagant birthday celebrations.

So we headed to Wahoo’s for dinner.  Maddy loves this place and when you can buy a kid’s meal for $2.99, I tend to like it as well.  Besides, the  blackened fish burrito is pretty good and the salsa has a real bite to it.

After eating at Wahoo’s, we headed across the road to Menchie’s for dessert.  Menchie’s has been a very regular thing for us since we discovered it in our third week in the United States.  Back in New Zealand, we maintained a Family night every Friday evening and we have continued that tradition here where Menchie’s frozen yogurt has become a regular feature every week since.  It is quite an inexpensive night out, and the girls still look forward to it week after week before we head back home for episodes of ‘Little House on the Prairie’.  The thing that I like about Menchie’s is that they usually have at least one new flavor each week despite the fact that the girls tend to go for the most sickly-sweet toppings in contrast to my very tried and true (and classic) vanilla, nuts and chocolate fudge.

We enjoyed our night out which served as another reminder of how grateful to the Lord we are for the way He has  richly blessed us with Maddy.  She brings us much joy  (as well as a few challenges) and we love what she adds to our family. Happy birthday, Maddy.

Sons of Korah

This weekend, the Sons of Korah are playing two free concerts at Santa Clarita Baptist Church up in Canyon Country and tonight we were blessed to get front row seats to the first of the two concerts.

Sons of Korah are a four-piece Australian band who put the Psalms to largely acoustic music. They have a great deal of variety and creativity in their music which has an alternative folk sound influenced by different ethnic and world beats. As Sons of Korah put it, they present ‘a musical journey into the spiritual drama of the Psalms’. And their concert was exactly that: it was a thrilling ride from the anguish of the lament Psalms to the praise laden Psalm 146 and Psalm 148.

We are thankful to Pastor Scott Basolo for helping to make this concert possible and for the wonderful hospitality of the members at SCBC.

Sons of Korah have one more free concert at SCBC this weekend (Sunday night at 6PM) and if you love the Psalms and love music, I would strongly recommend you get along and catch this wonderful band play live.

Disneyland – Day Two

We were exhausted after day one at Disneyland, but after some good rest overnight, we were eager for our second day at the ‘most magical place on earth’. As our day started, we were greeted with some good news and some bad news. The bad news (I always want to hear that first) was that it was raining. Still after having been in California for seven months and in that time experienced only 5 days of rain, it was hard to grumble about having rain that day. The good news was that it kept a lot of people away, so the queues for rides were short.

One of the tricks that we learned from our first day at the park was the use of the FastPass. What we found out was that we could ‘book’ a time to jump on a ride by getting a FastPass in advance and by doing so, we limited our wait time for a particularly popular ride. All we had to do was insert our park passes into a FastPass machine,  and get a FastPass ticket which gave us a window of time where we could come back and move ahead of the queue for the ride. In the meantime, we do other things.

Our main objective for day two was to get on the rides that we didn’t have time to do on the previous day, then we would hit the rides that we enjoyed the most and do those again.  At the top of our list was the ‘California Screamin‘ at the Disneyland California Adventure Park but on our way there, we stopped off at ‘a bug’s land‘. ‘California Screamin’ is a 4-minute long, high-paced roller coaster ride and we did three rides in a row on that one (one of the advantages of enduring the wet weather). From there we did the the ‘Toy Story Mania‘ on our way to the ‘Hollywood Pictures Backlot’ which is Disneyland’s tribute to the classic age of film and where whole streets are built in replica early century architecture. This was very cool. While in the ‘Hollywood Pictures Backlot’, we did the ‘Hollywood Tower of Terror‘ ride which is set in an elevator of an old abandoned hotel and where the elevator (supposedly) plunges several storeys and then shoots back up again. This ride was a real buzz and we were especially proud of Maddy who is normally terrified of normal elevators, let alone one that plunges 13 floors in a ‘haunted’ hotel.

After the girls had their pictures taken with Mickey Mouse, Minnie and some of the other Disney characters, we did another ride on ‘Soarin Over California’ before heading back over to Disneyland Park where we repeated rides on ‘Star Tours’ and jumped on ‘It’s a Small World‘, ‘Autopia‘ and ‘Captain EO‘ before finishing the day by taking a ride on the famous Disney Monarail, touring the entire park on the Disney Railroad and wandering around Fantasyland and the Main Street USA.

In the end, we had a great two days at Disneyland, but it was just impossible to see everything in just two days (we did other rides that are not mentioned here). We hope to get back another time after they have finished construction of some new attractions and remodeling of others that were closed when we were there.

Disneyland – Day One

Ever since we landed in California, our girls have been absolutely busting to get to Disneyland. However, we have been so busy since we arrived, we haven’t had a chance to get there (not to mention the thought of forking out the money for the tickets), so on the weekend that the spring semester started at The Master’s Seminary, we decided to take two days out in the weekend and head down to Disneyland. We were blessed that Denise’s sister had given us some money at Christmas, so we put the that money toward two-day hopper passes for each of us.

Disneyland is approximately 60 miles from our house, so in order for us to make the most of each day at the park and to avoid traveling up and down the freeways, we decided to spend the night at a hotel in Anaheim. Disneyland essentially consists of two main theme parks: Disneyland Park and Disneyland California Adventure Park. Disneyland has the older parts of Disneyland, such as Fantasyland and the California Adventure Park is the newest theme park having been completed in the early 2000’s. The two-day park hopper tickets we bought allowed us to jump between the two parks as we pleased.

We started off at the Disneyland Park and as soon as you get through the gates, you are instantly transported to the early 1900’s as you walk down ‘Main Street USA‘ which is the main thoroughfare to the themed parts of the park. While on the Main Street, we picked up ‘First Time’ badges which is worth getting as the staff in the park acknowledge that you are first time visitors and often let you stay on rides instead of getting off and queuing up again for another ride. Our first ride was the ‘Indiana Jones Adventure‘ in Adventureland, which was a fun jungle ride where we crossed a rickety bridge, dodged rolling boulders and were thrilled with many fast turns, spins and dips. The thing I thought was
quite clever about the rides at Disneyland was that you were entertained as you queued, so queuing didn’t seem so bad or seem as long. This meant that as you queued, you looked at a set that brought you into the world of the theme of the ride.

From Adventureland, we took a few rides on ‘Splash Mountain‘, then we went to Frontierland where we took a ride on the ‘Big Thunder Mountain Railroad‘, jumped on the ‘Mark Twain Riverboat‘ and took a raft to ‘Tom Sawyer Island‘. An action packed morning. After wandering through ‘New Orleans Square‘ we headed to Tomorrowland for some of the coolest rides where for us, ‘Space Mountain‘ and ‘Star Tours‘ were the coolest. ‘Space Mountain’ is a high speed, indoor roller coaster where you actually feel like you are hurtling through the space. ‘Star Tours’, which is an exciting 3-D motion simulation ride based on the Star Wars movies was another standout. As you walk in the queue, you are entertained with friendly banter between C-3PO and R2D2 and other well-known Star Wars droid characters.

After Tomorrowland, we went across to the Disneyland California Adventure Park where took a couple of rides on ‘Soarin’ Over California‘. This is one of the most popular rides which simulates a hang-glider flight over California landmarks such as the Golden Gate bridge, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. In certain parts, you can actually smell oranges as you soar over orange orchards and also feel a breeze in your face in other parts. After we got absolutely soaked on the ‘Grizzly River Run‘ we slowed down a bit and queued, for what seemed for hours, for the nightly grand finale, the magnificent ‘World of Color‘. The ‘Word of Color’ is a 20 minute show which uses water fountains shooting water over 200 feet in the air and movie projections to produce a wonderful show featuring some of the more well known Disney characters.

After a long day, we trudged the half a mile walk back to the hotel for a well-earned rest for day two.


It has been a while since we last wrote a blog post, but this silence does not reflect
our lack of busyness. Rather, it is has been a very hectic and sad start to the new year for us. We will be adding some new blog posts soon to tell you what we have been up to and what has been happening in the last month.

Because the start to the year has been so busy, last weekend we took time out and took advantage of another sunny Southern
Californian winters afternoon  and drove down to Hollywood.

First stop was the Griffith Park Observatory at Griffith Park. The Observatory is an amazing art deco building which was built in the 1930’s and is one of the most
popular and recognized landmarks in Southern California. It is well elevated so you can get excellent views of the famous Hollywood sign and the city. Movie buffs will know that the observatory was famously featured in the James Dean movie ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ (among others) and as a memorial, a bronze bust of James Dean has been erected on the front lawn.  We didn’t get a chance to take a look inside the observatory or visit the planetarium, but we will save that for another day. We spent the time there walking around the observatory and taking in the wonderful views of the city of Los Angeles.

After we left the observatory, we headed down to Hollywood Boulevard to grab
some lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. The prices were quite reasonable and highly recommend the burgers. All around the walls hung the most amazing rock memorabilia from some of the greatest musicians, such Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, Bo Diddley, Carl Wilson (The Beach Boys) and Jim Morrison. Being at the Hard Rock Cafe was like eating lunch in a cool museum (not that normal museums are not cool).

After lunch, we took a stroll down the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ which is
essentially fifteen blocks of Hollywood Boulevard. Embedded in the sidewalk are
approximately 2500 terrazzo and brass stars bearing the names some of the most well-known people in the entertainment industry. It was a great atmosphere with loads of people walking around, checking out the stores, enjoying the sun and getting photographs with some movie characters. Just be aware though, that a tip is required whenever you pose for photographs with them – needless to say, the girls only posed for one photo. This part of Hollywood was a little more run-down than we initially expected, but I guess with visitor
numbers reaching the tens of millions annually, it is not surprising. There is
currently some restoration work underway, so I’m sure it will be amazing once the work is done.

It was amazing to wander down the street as there is so much to take in all at once.

Back home via the Number Five freeway ended another family day out with some of the local landmarks ticked off our list.



Pine Mountains

Earlier this week, our family and the Burlings managed to sneak away from the city for a few days to the Pine Mountains. Denise and Shelley often catch up together during each week, but this was the first time that both our families could spend some time together since I started Seminary.

The Pine Mountains is approximately 1.7 million acres of pine forest, an hours drive north from our house in Newhall. It is home to all sorts of animals and wildlife – with the emphasis on WILDlife. It was strange to see signs around the small township reminding residents to not leave their small pets and children unattended due to the bears, mountain lions and coyotes. Needless to say, this wasn’t the place for explorative bush walks. Fortunately for us, it is not bear season as they usually sleep during the winter months.

The Pine Mountains is an area that normally gets some snow and being winter, we thought that we would see some, but the weather in Southern California is really quite special and something we are growing to like very much – all year sun. The evenings and early mornings got very cold (20 degrees Fahrenheit), but by mid-morning the day soon warmed up to very comfortable levels. So much for snow! There was some remnants of an earlier snow dump, so on the way home, we stopped off for a bit so that the girls could play in what snow there was.

One thing we did notice about the pine forests, was that they were essentially just that, pine forests. The mountains were quite sparse in some areas and not in anyway as dense as the New Zealand bush. It was still very beautiful though and you can’t help but marvel at the creative genius of our wonderful God who graciously allows us to enjoy His creation.

The house we stayed at was a very comfortable and warm three level house which we were able to rent at a discounted price – which suited poor students like us!  The house was on a hill which gave us quite magnificent views of the valley, the township and the local golf course. It was a relief to be able to take a break from apartment living, albeit for three days, to spread out, relax, play games, listen to music, go for walks (on the road) and sit around the fire at night roasting marshmallows.

Back to Bethlehem

It’s only a few days from Christmas and it is always good to be reminded of the whole point to Christmas – the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Last night, Grant and I took our families to The Church at Rocky Peak to go back over two thousand years in time by going back to Bethlehem. ‘Back to Bethlehem’ is a fantastic re-enactment of the town of Bethlehem the night Jesus was born. The reproduction was all done by the church and it had an incredible sense and feel of authenticity to it.

Imagine strolling through Bethlehem during the time of Christ where you can watch people go about their business; bakers baking and selling bread, potters working, people weaving baskets, tax collectors collecting more money from the townsfolk and Roman soldiers patrolling the town. But it wasn’t just a show that you viewed, there was lots of interaction between the actors and the crowd. The actors spoke to you as if you were from that time. Very cool!

Before you entered, you were each given some ‘shekels’ with which you could buy food or hand-crafted artefacts. Using your shekels, you could purchase bread, a miniature scroll (from the scribes), spices from the spice vendor, a clay medallion from the potter, some authentic food (such as goat cheese, pomegranates and dates) or of you were really keen, a smelly fish from the fish monger.

There were many things happening that mimicked life back then.
Denise got accosted by a Roman soldier, Maddy was not only hassled by the tax collector to pay her taxes (which she was told would cost her one of her arms), but she also got ‘adopted’ by the sheepskin trader. Once adopted, she was sent on an errand to go and buy some goat cheese for them. Maddy earned a golden shekel by spotting a ‘scroll smuggler’ and informing one of the Roman soldiers who promptly arrested the smuggler. The inn keeper was a horrid person who kept informing people that there was no room available for the night. The kids could pet the sheep, goats, donkey and camel (where did they get that from?).

Some of the really funny interactive moments was the participation in the folk dancing and the Roman soldiers recruiting people from the crowd to try out for the Roman legion.

We ended the night in Bethlehem by queuing outside the stable to see Joseph, Mary and their newly born son Jesus, followed by a cup of hot chocolate (OK, so that part was not so authentic).

Overall, it was a great night out which all enjoyed immensely.

Dances with Wolves, well actually Chillaxing with Wolves!

Being in the USA has meant that we have had to give up a lot of the things we love –  the hardest has been to give up our animals (including my Greenpeace membership). So when Denise found an amazing opportunity to have Victorias birthday party with a pack of wolves she jumped at the chance!

“Shadowlands” at Freedom Ranch is a small charity based foundation that aims to educate us misguided humans about the real details and behaviours of the misunderstood Wolf. Check out their website at:

After driving through the Angeles National Forest Park for 1/2 an hour we arrived at the small 10 acre Freedom Ranch and were greeted by the spine tingling howls of  the Wolf pack. We were so surprised to see how excited they were,  there was no growling or barking, they were actually thrilled to meet us. Paul and Collette welcomed us also as we began an amazing day of discovery and learning.

We first had to be introduced to the pack and this involved being sniffed at both ‘ends’. Paul explained that the wolves could tell what we had had for breakfast yesterday, their sense of smell was so highly defined. Next we got to spend a few hours with them – feeding them , talking to them, patting them and being loved by them – what about all those myths that Wolves are vicious and dangerous! The kids were even allowed to hand feed them sausage, none of the wolves fought amongst each other for the food. We actually felt safer around them than we do a domesticated dog.

Paul and Collette explained to us that these poor creatures have had such a bad ‘rap’ and are hunted and killed throughout the US. There are only a few left in the wild (having been reintroduced) around Yellowstone National Park etc. Man has foolishly removed the wolf from the ecosystem and with that destroyed a lot of it. The wolf has a major part in our world, they keep the population of Deer, Elk, Buffalo etc down. With the demise of the wolf  these animals in turn have over populated their natural ecosystem and destroyed it. They eat vast quantities of vegetation which then in turn destroys the trees, some National parks have had no new trees grow there since the 1920s. No new trees means no shade for waterways which then dry up and make the place desolate… and the damage goes on! Please ignore all the bad press you have heard about the Wolf most of it is due to ignorance and other peoples agendas!

Bring back the Wolf and you bring back the natural balance of nature!

Our day ended with a picnic lunch outside in the lovely quiet countryside. The kids had plenty of room to run around and enjoy the space. Paul and Collette let the kids toast marshmallows over the fire, which they love doing – especially the boys who looked around for things to burn once the marshmallows ran out.

A huge thank you goes out to Paul and Collette for their hospitality, their time and sharing their precious Wolves with us. I’m sure we would all love to go back again!