USA: San Diego – Family Time – Toddlers in Toyland

Posted by on Sep 30, 2018 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Usually, I find San Diego to be pretty dull fare. However, after being on the road for nine to ten months each year for four years now, I’m feeling quite amenable to settling back into some uneventful living here from time to time. After a very rich, multi-course meal of international travel the lemon sherbet with a champagne course is a welcome respite, and so too BlanDiego serves to cleanse the palate in the midst of my yearly world tours.

What came to pass this year back here in San Diego was a bit of a surprise. My longstanding allergic reaction to children seems to have abated, and I became an enthusiastic and seasoned grandfather due in part to some helpful guidance from my daughter, Dina. You can see the toddlers also to blame for this transformation in the following adorable pictures. Yes, people, I’m a real goner. My life will never be the same. After Mia & Aria were born, my travels took on a whole new meaning. At that point, I became an interesting grandfather who would have an abundance of stories and experiences to share with his grandkids, not to mention all of the toys and souvenirs I pick up along the way.

You’re probably wondering what a bunch of kids are doing on a damn travel blog? It’s simple really. The fact is that these two munchkins are just as much of an adventure as can be found in the four corners of the Earth. Also, I am no longer just the Travel Zealot. I was dubbed “Pacca” by Mia and was most grateful for the nickname since Grandpa just seems uninspired, tired, and old. I was also pleased to have someone else give me a nickname for a change, especially a good one. As a rule, I dole them out like nobody’s business, but the last person I expected to come up with a viable moniker would only be two years old at the time. 

Here we have Mia checking out “Hedgie the Hedgehog” from my trip to Kyoto on my laptop. Having seen many pictures on my blog, and videos of whale sharks on YouTube, she’s already asking me to take her diving at the ripe old age of three. She never misses an opportunity to look at creatures on my laptop.

Aria enjoys one of her favorite chews seated in her world traveler bouncy entertainment center. She is surrounded by animals, a jeep, a helicopter, a hot air balloon, a globe, a travel tablet, and a camera to capture her memories. Clearly she is in training to supplant her grandfather, as the family’s world traveler in the distant future.

As a world class crawler, she could probably beat a Marine through the part of the obstacle course where you crawl under the barbed wire. She’s got a lot of speed. Turn your head for a second and she’s down the hall and heading for the exit. Already a little explorer. Believe me, these kids are going places.

Parading around her preschool in a makeshift costume.

Paper Plate Whale Headgear – Halloween Warm Up




Mommy adds some finishing touches on Mia’s costume on her first serious Halloween candy grab.

Snow White – aka Aria and “Gurgle & Chew” takes a bite of a poison apple. Of course, her sweetness neutralizes the poison as she turns it into yet another teething toy. During my time staying with my daughter, I became somewhat of an expert on teething chews. God help you if she gets ahold of your finger. You might lose it.

Mia in full fairy regalia casts a spell on the attendees.


Mia, Hannah, and Haley dig into their dinosaur chicken nuggets, which is favorite toddler fare.

Mia can’t wait to crank up the lights on her fairy wings and start Trick or Treating.

But first a hug for Daddy.

Meechka with her bestie, Tanya, who is dressed as an owl.

I’m Waitin’ Here!

Let’s get a move on, parents!

And they’re off. One treat and they’re hooked. Look out people, something adorable this way comes.

The neighborhood had some fantastic decorations. There was a particularly frightening, seven foot tall, animatronic werewolf with glowing red eyes and a nasty growl. Mia was mesmerized with the thing. 

We’re not in Kansas anymore, now hand over that candy! The little ones made off with quite a haul on their first Halloween, and the treats carried them all the way through Christmas. Then Mia’s birthday buried them in candy, cake, and other goodies.

One last stop, and the first Halloween can be declared a complete success.




40+ Year Reunion of Tuxedo Park Residents 




Mia decorates a Xmas tree for the first time.

Gingerbread House Time – You have to hand it to Dina for making sure the kids always have special things to do.


This is one happy kid whose laughter is truly infectious.



                              AELA’S ONE YEAR BIRTHDAY

AELA’S BIRTHDAY – A nice spread and a beautiful homemade cake. 


Aela considers trading in her pinecone for a cupcake.

Aria inspects Aela’s cushy, rocking elephant but moved on since she couldn’t put it in her mouth. She went in search of Sophie the Giraffe.

Danny gives a heartfelt speech that required the installation of an additional candle. It proved quite moving and was a catalyst for change. 

Grandfather Aron hoists his granddaughter aloft.

Danny, Vilena, and Aela with the baby’s great grandmother, Baba.

OUR SPECIAL BUNDLES – I have to say this. Danny and Dina found wonderful spouses. Frankly, it was dumb luck, but isn’t it always? Dina met Steve in a special Scotch Bar. Danny met Vilena when he begrudgingly let her stay on his sofa in downtown San Diego as a favor to a friend.

Turns out his friend was doing him a favor. They eloped to Las Vegas six months later, and six months after that Steve and Dina were married. Now we have these three life changing munchkins. I know the parents have had to cope with challenges, but the rest of us have derived a lot of joy from this trio without all of the sleep deprivation and parenting issues.





MIA’S THIRD BIRTHDAY PARTY – What a production it was. Dina, Steve, Yelena, and I really had our hands full. That Unicorn Cake is homemade!

The horn and ears are hand made out of fondant and not some plastic pieces from a party store. 

Bear in mind that this is only Dina’s third cake! The woman’s got skills.

What a Spread – Unicorn Poo Dip, Unicorn Cake, Unicorn Cookies, Unicorn Chocolate Pops

The Stars of the Show – Mia and Princess Twilight Sparkle

Yes, I admit to purchasing that animatronic abomination, but hear me out. The horn lights up, the wings flap, the head moves, eyelids blink, and she raises her hoof. Princess TS also speaks 90+ phrases, tells stories, and casts spells. I’m sure some fundamentalist Christian would consider this toy demonic. However, I was convinced it would make the kid happy, and my suspicion was correct. She does go through batteries like nobody’s business so I gave big Daddy Steve a stipend to cover the energy costs.

A hoisted unicorn piñata awaits a vicious toddler beating.

Aria sporting her unicorn horn awaits a reunion with a long lost chew.

Bouncy House Fun – Courtesy of a friend.

Arts & Crafts – Ten parents got a break from having to come up with ways to keep their kids entertained.


Haley makes the acquaintance of Princess Twilight Sparkle.  

KARAOKE KIDS – Another hit was the karaoke machine. Mia loves to sing and is a natural performer. 

I often refer to Mia as a 21st. Century “Shirley Temple.”

Is this thing on?


Charlie, the other grampa gives Aria a lift.

Mia places Sparkle’s crown back where it belongs.



Charlie and a proud papa.


Mia kicks things off by giving the unicorn a competent bludgeoning.

Tania hammers away at our mythological equestrian friend.

Sammy lets one rip.

A young lad gives his best.

Hannah’s one handed technique proved to be the most devastating to the poor candy-filled creature.

The unicorn piñata finally surrendered its candy to the kiddies.

Hey pal, I’m unwrapping here.

Meechka digs into the abundance of gifts.

Four Generations – Ages spanning 90 years. Mia 3, Dina 30 something, Baba 93, Yelena (somewhere between Dina and Baba). 

OMG, it’s scientist and astronaut Barbies. 

CRUZEE – A great first set of wheels.



                                  XMAS #1

Christmas Eve at Pacca Charlie’s and Grandma Tina’s.

What a nice time we had at Charlie and Tina’s, which is where my son-in-law, Steve, grew up. Christmas Ham and a tasty spread with a nice yard for Mia made for a delightful time. Of course, the presents didn’t hurt either. Charlie and Tina have a knack for choosing the right gifts. They take great care in their choices. 

And they’re off.

Aria get’s an assist from Tina.


Mia gets a bunch of new product to stock her deluxe kitchen back at home.

The Nuglets

Mia checks her groceries off the list as she fills her new basket.

Aria goes to catch some of Daddy’s bubbles.

Mia really enjoys stealing my hat and wearing it. This time she let Aria give it a try before heading off for bed.

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring not even the Meech.

The presents were piled so high with great care to make sure the Grinch couldn’t filch the holiday fare.

A three-story dollhouse appeared by virtue of Pacca and Friends. Surely Mia will hope that Christmas never ends.

Astronaut Barbie contemplates her next mission as scientist Barbie dreams of breakthroughs in fission. 

Seriously people, how many dollhouses have their own space program?! See rocket ship on left. The house came fully furnished. There are lights on the patio, a flushing toilet, a sizzling stove, and I installed modern lighting on all three floors so she can play after dark. I’ll tell you this. Mia’s parents and grandparents don’t mess around.

At 6:30 am Mia emerged from her room all by herself to see if Santa had made his delivery. She also wanted to make sure that the Grinch hadn’t made off with her gifts since she had seen the movie, and it freaked her out a little. I assured her that I would be on the case Christmas Eve to protect her swag from any incursions by Dr. Seuss’s green abomination. However, after being reassured Dina took her back to her room to get dressed for her special day.

With the eyes alert and decked out in a new outfit, Mia takes in the Christmas spectacle.

Mia catches her first glompse of her new dream house.

A new homeowner inspects her property, and get’s to know her new tenants.


Aria crawls over to Mia’s house to see if there is any good furniture to chew upon.

Mia taunts Aria with her own rattle.

Mia enjoys her Pacca’s scrambled eggs but knows she needs to finish her plate to get to her presents.

The kids wait for people to arrive so they can open their presents.

Finally, they cut the kids loose on the tree so they could open their presents before they lose it.

Aria looks on and is fascinated with all things Mia.

Mia unwraps a most awesome fairy dwelling.

The Guests Finally Arrive

Three Generations – Nana Yelena, Dina, and Mia & Aria

Christmas Joy



                        BABA’S BIRTHDAY


Yelena & Baba

Yelena & Joe – My former wife found herself an excellent spouse replacement, and as a result I can travel the world unconcerned with her well being. I’m happy she was able to do so, since as a family we are much stronger, and the children and grandkids have a lot of support and another ally in these challenging times.

We are all in this thing together and that’s a good feeling. Joe has been fantastic in allowing my continued friendship with Yelena to continue without any sense of awkwardness. He’s a stand up guy, and I am very happy for them both. 

Aria ponders the significance of little person behavior in peddle-depressed, panchromatic resonance and other highly, ambient domains. “Gurgle,” she said. Translation – “Now give me my Sophie the Giraffe, I have luxury chewing to do!”


Well Nana kind of turned her nose up on this Costco special when she saw it in Mia’s closet, but she completely did an about face when Mia showed up wearing this adorable black velvet and taffeta party dress. Of course the sparkles got everywhere, but what do you expect for twenty dollars. The great thing is that all the good stuff will be waiting for Aria when she is old enough to wear it.

Meechka sit’s on Pepe’s lap as Nana looks on. See I told you Mia gives great nicknames. I think Yelena encouraged her to use Nana because she didn’t want to come off as an old bag. I was so fortunate that Mia saved me the trouble on mine. Mine is a Mia original.

BABA & SONIA – She didn’t see her grandma in a long time.

Vilena & Aela

Uncle Boris & Joe



Now even new mothers can find something compelling on the Blog. Maybe my daughter will actually check out the blog now. Art lovers, photography lovers, and travel lovers have always found something compelling here, but now the Travel Zealot Universe has expanded. Don’t worry dudes, I haven’t gone completely soft, and will continue to include occasional photos of beautiful women. I find women on many occasions to be works of art, and I try to keep the compositions artistic and respectful. 

People often wonder how I can travel so voraciously and maintain such a youthful lifestyle and attitude. It’s quite simple really. I’m doing what I love. I am always in the company of younger world travelers, and I spend three months out of each year seeing life through the eyes of my grandchildren. I have discovered the fountain of youth and a formula for living that has brought me the most happiness that I have experienced in life. Granted, the world’s a total mess, but my life makes complete sense to me for the first time in my life.

I found a quote that sums up part of it for me.

“The shortest path to oneself leads around the world.”

The problem is that real happiness inevitably comes from forgetting that self once you have found it. That’s where Dina and the kids come in to save the day. It’s so funny that I have been slagging off kids most of my life only to find salvation in being a Pacca.





  1. Karen Devers
    October 6, 2018

    Hi, John

    Did you recover your lost luggage? Welcome to Amerika!

    I wanted to say that the portraits that Dina created are really lovely. I hope she has them nicely framed so they are protected. She obviously has innate ability and I agree with you that building on her talent with formal training would be a great idea. I’m sure time for this is nonexistent right now, but something to keep in mind. I wasn’t able to go to college until I was 32 and my daughters were in elementary school.

    I’m not sure many people would describe visiting San Diego as a “cleansing experience” but I can see why it would be so for you after your globe trotting. I was introduced to nude sunbathing at Black’s beach. Ever been there?

    Elli is coming for a visit the weekend before you arrive. It’s Ben a full house for weeks! Be sure to send me your flight I fo so I can put it into my calendar.


  2. The Travel Zealot
    December 9, 2018

    Hi Karen,
    Not only do you have the most comments, but now you have the most neglected comment(2 months). In Oct/Nov I all but abandoned the blog, but it’s time to get back in the groove and ready to roll for World Tour 2019. I have never been to Blacks Beach since I have little interest in seeing old guys with their junk on display.

    Currently I am grappling with the future of the blog. Is it going to be a hobby blog or a full blown, monetized travel blog? Frankly, It’s all up in the air right now. I think I’ll put on the back burner until the end of next year. Until then I’ll carry on as usual.

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