Category Archives: Family

Knott’s Berry Farm

IMG_2955With Maddy’s birthday this week and Victoria’s recent 15th birthday, Denise and I planned to surprise the girls with a trip to Knott’s Berry Farm to celebrate their respective birthdays.  So, yesterday morning, we woke the girls up relatively early and informed them we were going out for “a walk.”  A  short while later, and after a quick stop at Macca’s for some breakfast, we embarked on the one hour drive south to Orange County.  Our destination was still unbeknownst to the girls.

IMG_3041Once we pulled into the park, the game was up and huge smiles adorned the girls faces.  We actually couldn’t have picked a more perfect day, as being a school day, the lines were short, almost all the rides were open, and the weather was typically beautiful.

IMG_3025The park, based in Buena Park, California, started in humble circumstances in the 1930’s.  Walter and Cordelia Knott began selling fried chicken and such was the popularity, people used to line up outside their door.  Wanting to entertain the waiting customers, Walter built old-west themed attractions.  From there the park expanded to where it now has over 165 rides and attractions.

IMG_3023We really had a great time.  It seemed less hectic that other parks, there were more rest areas and there was a greater variety of attractions.  The park is essentially divided into six differently themed areas spread over approximately 150 acres, which is all very comfortably walkable.  The rides we enjoyed the most were the Ghost-Rider, the Xcelerator, the Silver Bullet and the Stagecoach ride.  But just walking around the Old-west themed attractions was equally fun.  The day ended in fantastic fashion, where in the open-air Wagon-camp theater, we watched the live Western stunt show.  This was my personal favorite part of the day, and one which we all enjoyed immensely.

IMG_3058We are thankful that we could celebrate the birthday’s of our girls at Knott’s Berry Farm.  They are precious to us and a much welcomed gift from God.  They are growing fast, and continue to be a blessing to us.
May God continue to bless our daughters richly.


Vasquez Rocks

IMG_2732When it comes to visiting movie locations in Southern California, there is perhaps no site that has appeared in more movies than the Vasquez Rocks.  Famous for featuring in such classic TV shows such as Bonanza and Star Trek, as well as many movies, we have keen to visit this site for quite some time.  In the weekend, we took an afternoon out to visit this well-known park.




The most recognizable rock today.

star trek tv




The same location as seen in a Star Trek episode from 1967.





Another shot of the same rock.





The same location as seen in the 1997 movie “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.”


IMG_2799Located just twenty minutes from our house, the Vasquez Rocks Park, which was amazingly accessible and easy to get around,  made for a great family outing.  Whether you wanted a gentle hike around the fascinating rock formations, or a more challenging workout by climbing the natural structures, there is something for everyone in this scenic area.

IMG_2787We were eager to climb the rocks, many of which jutted out of the earth at a forty-five degree angle.  Once we got to the top of the most famous rock, we were afforded beautiful views around the park and beyond.  Definitely one of our favorites places to visit.

Malibu Getaway

Malibu is one of our favorite spots in California.  It is a strip of 21 miles of prime Pacific coastline at the top end of the Santa Monica Bay, which is known for it’s ocean scenery, beautiful beaches, not to mention being home to many of the Hollywood movie stars and personalities.

Last weekend, Denise and I were blessed to spend a few days in Malibu, which was made possible by a family who generously let out their guest house to seminary couples.  This allowed us to escape to the beach for a few days, to relax and have some uninterrupted time together.  Naturally, I took my school work with the best intentions of getting a lot of work done, especially at this end of the semester, but once we arrived, my study was pushed aside for the sake of spending some quality time with Denise.

We grabbed some lunch at the Paradise Cove Beach Cafe, then spent the rest of the afternoon walking a few miles along the beautiful coastline.  Paradise Cove is a great spot to spend the day, which explains why the location has been featured in many movies, TV shows and commercials.  After a restful afternoon, we indulged in a little reminder of home by having fish and chips for dinner at Malibu Seafood.  Actually, the fish and chips weren’t bad and were definitely the best we have had in the U.S. thus far.

The next day, Denise and I went for a bike ride (guided by our kind host) along the very scenic Westward Beach Road which runs at the base of sea cliffs. At the end of the road, we parked our bikes, hiked up Point Dume and took in the wonderful views which were afforded to us.  On the way home, we stopped by Zuma Canyon Orchids, where we were kindly given a guided tour of the property and the operation by owner George Vasquez, who is essentially the ‘supplier to the stars’.  George mentioned that we had just missed Janes Leeves, to which I quipped that George should call her up and tell her she left some plants behind in an attempt to get her to come back. We also saw pots owned by Maria Shriver, the Beckhams, the Ramsays and many others who had ordered orchids from George.

The orchids were beautiful and even though the people who worked with the orchids were obviously very talented in orchid arrangement, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the creative genius of our awesome God, by which, much like the scenery along the coast, His glory really is being constantly displayed in His creation.

Denise and I are very grateful to have spent a few restful days in Malibu, courtesy of the generosity of the Ryan family.  We highly recommend this experince to every seminary couple and are already planning to go again some time in the new year.

Venice Beach

Denise and the girls are travelling to Lake Tahoe tomorrow, so we decided to take a family afternoon out at the beach.  We had not yet been to the famous Venice Beach, which is only a forty-five minute drive from our house, so after church, we headed there.

Venice Beach is famous for many reasons. One such reason is the bodybuilding era of the early 1970’s where people such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and many other famous bodybuilders used to regularly work out at the area known as ‘Muscle Beach Venice’.

We arrived at Venice beach but once we saw the twenty-five dollar charge to park near the beach, we decided a walk would be nice, so we drove a few miles away from the beach until we found a free park on the side of the road.  This took some time as Venice beach is obviously a popular place to spend Sunday afternoon as there were cars and people everywhere.  Almost every possible parking space was taken and many more were trying to find a space to park.

After grabbing some lunch at the beach and taking in some outdoor basketball, we walked a few miles up and down the Ocean Front Walk, which was interesting.  The atmosphere was definitely carnival-like and packed with a broad variety of stores, street performers, artists and musicians.  While the experience was interesting, there were some elements along the promenade that made my girls a little uncomfortable.  One such element was the existence of several ‘clinics’ where you could legally buy marijuana for medicinal purposes.  From what I could understand, you would visit one of the clinics, pay a fee to get a consultation with one of the Venice Beach marijuana doctors in order to get approval to buy some marijuana as treatment for whatever ailment or chronic condition you might have.  Like I said, some of what we saw was interesting.

After taking in the sights along the Ocean Front Walk, we spent some time on the beach before heading home.

Magic Mountain

Earlier, I wrote briefly about my recent ‘battle’ with New Testament Greek grammar.  Before I took this class, I promised my girls we would go to Magic Mountain after the class was done to celebrate. So, two days after Gladiator Greek was finished, I took my girls and two of their cousins to Magic Mountain.

Magic Mountain is a predominately roller coaster theme park located in Valencia, CA, a very handy five mile drive from our house.  By all accounts, it has the most roller coasters out of any park in the world.  Some of the rides are of the very extreme variety, so if you are into fast and down-right frightening thrill rides, then Magic Mountain is the place for you.  Certainly, the roller coasters at Magic Mountain elicit superlatives, such as: fastest, tallest, biggest and freakiest.

We chose a good late afternoon/evening because even though the day was still warm (approx 100 degrees Fahrenheit), the local schools had just returned back from their summer break which meant that the park was not crowded and the lines were minimal.  Having said that, I am a bit indifferent about very short lines as while I don’t like to wait an hour for a ride, the waiting allows an enforced break between rides.

The rides at Magic Mountain are classified by ‘thrill’, so we warmed up on a couple of the ‘moderate thrill’ rides before jumping on the ‘maximum thrill’ rides. We started on ‘Ninja’ before heading to ‘Colossus’ and ‘Goliath’, which features a 255 feet drop and several steep banking turns. Next was ‘Scream!’, a maximum-thrill ride which has seven inversions at a very fast pace.  We then headed to the DC Comics area (my favorite comics brand as a kid, as I found Marvel just too far-reaching) and onto ‘Batman’ which had several steep banking turns and five inversions.  Next was ‘Riddler’s Revenge’ which features six upside-down turns – but in the standing position.

All the time we were at the park, I checked on the health of the kids and encouraged them to let me know if they wanted to sit a ride out.  While my concern for them was genuine, at this point of the day, it was also under the guise of my own self-preservation and dignity.

We then moved on to two of the easier paced rides, ‘Gold Rusher’ and ‘Jet Stream’, before ending the day with ‘Superman’ and ‘Tatsu’.  ‘Superman’ was a very short ride but quite thrilling as we were suddenly thrust backwards over 100 miles per hour then up a height of 415 feet, and back down again.  To get an idea, check out this video.  All the kids were nervous about this ride, but enjoyed it immensely.

As we were driving to the park, my nephew Caleb was apprehensive and excited at the same time.  He commented that the day at Magic Mountain was either going to be the best day of his life or the worst day of his life.  In the end, it turned out to be close to one of his best days and I am glad that my girls could share the day with him and Erin.  It was a fun day out, but very exhausting.

A Week in San Francisco – Part Deux

Alcatraz Island was perhaps the highlight of our week in San Francisco.  I’m quite certain that prior to 1963, the year the penitentiary was closed, Alcatraz was not a popular destination, but today, it is one of the biggest attractions in the San Francisco area.  Over the years, much has been said about the lives of the inmates in Alcatraz.  The movies that have been made and the stories of the various escape attempts have all added to the legend and mystique that is Alcatraz.

One of the great things about the trip to Alcatraz, was that even though there is only one operator, there are multiple sailings each day, so once we got there, we were free to spend as much time as we wanted, then catch any one of the various sailings back to the mainland.  We opted for the earliest ferry in order for us to make the most of the day.  The weather was beautiful so we had a nice, slow cruise across the bay to the island.

It was a thrill to finally set foot on ‘The Rock’.  It served as a federal maximum security prison from 1934 until it’s closure in 1963 due the age of the buildings and also a change in philosophy in the way prisoners were handled, i.e from punishment to rehabilitation.  Alcatraz housed some of the most notorious criminals of the day, including a certain Al Capone but perhaps the most famous prisoners were the one’s who escaped in 1962: Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers. The story of the escape is captured well in this Clint Eastwood movie, but it was thrilling to see the actual cells in which they lived and the holes that the men dug to get out.  Very cool!

The walk around the cell house was greatly enhanced by the audio tour.  With our own listening device and headphones, we were guided through a fascinating tour of the cell house, narrated by actual former inmates and wardens.  The Alcatraz experience was really brought to life.  We highly recommend this.
However, one of the things that struck me, was the size of the cells – a very small 5 x 9 feet!

When he got back to the mainland, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf.  Pier 39 is a bustling area of shops and activity. It really does take a whole afternoon to make your way around and it is  fascinating to visit.

On our final day, we were hoping to visit some of the gardens around the city, such as the Golden Gate Gardens, the Botanical Gardens, the Japanese Tea Garden and Muir Woods, but they all cost $7 for each person to enter.  Instead of paying $30 for the privilege of looking at trees and flowers at each garden, we decided to head back across the Golden Gate Bridge and drive to Mill Valley, which is a thriving artistic community about 14 miles north of the city.

On the way there, we visited the very eclectic and psychedelic Haight-Ashbury district which was known for it’s hippie culture and rock’n’roll lifetsyle in the late 1960’s.  In fact, well-known artists such as Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead all resided, and I guess partied hard, in this area.

Relaxing in Mill Valley for the afternoon was a fantastic way to finish our short stay in San Francisco.  The next day, we spent 8 hours traveling back L.A. via the very scenic 101 freeway.

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.