Friday, July 22, 2016

L.A. Zoo: Lions, Tigers and Dinosaurs Oh My!

The L.A. Zoo is always a great place to take the kids. I love it because it's a learning environment and the kids love it because they get to see all the animals. This year the L.A. Zoo has kicked it up a notch with a temporary "Dinosaurs: Unextinct at the L.A. Zoo" exhibit. What a summer of fun this is making.



As we made our way to the zoo early this summer, my daughters noticed the posters for the "Dinosaurs: Unextinct at the L.A. Zoo" exhibit. It was our first stop as we entered the zoo. With excitement we entered. Quickly my daughters smiles turned into jaw opening stares. The Dinosaurs are so life like that they took my breath away. There are 17 animatronic creatures on display. Each is life size and you can see how attentive to detail the creative team was. As I walked though the exhibit I had that moment of,  'what if they were real how do I get away from them.'  I would like to tell you that, like we do at all other animal areas, I stood there reading the facts to my girls, but I didn't. The girls made sure we stayed right in the center and kept walking. 


one of two water spiting Dilophosaurus
You may remember the Dilophosaurus from Jurassic Park as being able to spit venom. Well at the L.A. Zoo it spits water and to my girls it may well have been venom. It caught them by surprise and this mommy had a laugh at their expense. As I mentioned each dinosaur has great detail from the scaly skin to  sharp teeth. Each dinosaur has a special feature such as moving eyes (that feel like they follow you), mouth opening, heads turning, roaring noise and more. Each one gave us a little feel at what it would be like to live during their time.
   


Above is the Stegosaurus robot that the children can each take a turn at moving different parts.  It also, shows the children all that is behind each dinosaur for those future engineers.
  


Don't miss this great photo op with the life size Pachyrhinosaurus


This sight of the Tyrannosaurus Rex lunching on a Triceratops really gave us a taste of the Jurassic time.



In addition to the Stegosaurus robot the children can each practices dig up fossils. This was a great resting stop for us moms, because the kids really enjoyed this activity.




Specially trained guides are around (not always) to educate you on some current facts that even us adults may not know. Such as did you know that, "longstanding assumptions that dinosaurs were predominantly green or gray (shades that would have allowed them to blend into their environments) are being challenged by theories that color may have played an important role in dino society" according to our guide. He went onto tell us that, "the dinosaurs that they are certain of (color wise) are the ones with feathers, as the feathers have maintained some of the color." This would be the case of the Utahraptor, my daughters biggest fear.   


scarier in person


We make a detour though the "Dinosaurs: Unextinct at the L.A. Zoo" exhibit just about every time we are there and the girls love it. They have sure been frighten, but now my daughters are more into dinosaurs then ever. You never know when a little detour can make for great memories.


At the end of the day the L.A. Zoo has something for everyone. And for us moms trying to get a workout in, this is your our door gym. Remember the sun screen and to stay hydrate. This is one roaring adventure.




Something that I just came across and is worth a visit is the California Condor area. This indoor learning/ activity area is location in the building to the left as you exit the Dinosaurs: Unextinct at the L.A. Zoo gift shop. I hate to call this a play area, but it really is just that. This area is dedicated to learning all about the Condors. There is scavenger hunts, dress up as a condor, a clinic and the whole place is free for climbing. This is an interactive and learning area. The last time we were there the staff members were amazing. One helped my daughter find "food" for the condors and then took her to the vet area.  




++ Note the "Dinosaurs: Unextinct at the L.A. Zoo" exhibit is an addition $5 cost per person (in addition to regular zoo admission and membership). Children under 2 are free.

Friday, June 24, 2016

AmiGami: Craft Review

Summer is here and that means it's time for some summer crafts. Our latest find is the AmiGami pets by Mattel. It's all about encouraging the little ones to be creative and use their imagination. 


I purchased two AmiGami (Giraffe, Horse, Bird with bird house and Cat) for each of my girls to get them started. I thought it would be a prefect project for my five-year-old, Abbey. She loves having little pet toys and crafts. This is the prefect combo.  I wasn't so sure about my three-and-a half year old, Madeleine, since the packaging says 6+.  I found out the hard way that she was more then ready.  Many of you moms may have experienced this moment, when you get into your child's project a little too much and sorta do it yourself. Well, that was me and I paid the price, Madeleine screamed and screamed that I did it all for her. Abbey gave me that look of 'boy you messed up mom.' I found a way to regroup and get Madeleine crafting again. Honestly, I need to get one of these for myself. Now they keep asking for more. And yes, more are on the way coming.

Madeleine enjoying her AmiGami butterfly ring
Because my girls are a different age the AmiGami, I think, works for them differently. For my five-year-old it helps her be creative. There are many cut out parts. Several have a matching pair, many don't. There is no cookie cutter guidelines to follow you just curl, clip and create away. This allows the older ones to use their imagination It's all about being creative. For my youngest, I think that it helps her strengthen her hand and finger skills. The pieces are smalll, but not too small for them. And of course they will get creative.


 

The first step is to punch out the paper parts and strips. For those kids under five-years-old, I suggest helping them with this process.

You can use the curling tool on the strips before or after you have put them on the pet. You use the little pins to attach the paper parts on to the plastic figure. You can layer as many as you like and simply clip on the pin then pop into the figure. What my five-year-old taught me is that with some after the first layer you can do a second layer. Most pets come it extra pins & clips. It’s really easy to use and reuse. Best of all the pins clip on and off with ease.

With the second pets I let them do it by themselves and they had a blast. With Madeleine I have to be close by to give helpful "suggestions." Sometimes she just likes to take it all off and play with her pet without all the bedazzle. Either way she is happy.

There is a variety of AmiGami pets kits that come complete with strips of paper, stickers, pins, curling tools and other little embellishments. They vary in prices starting at about $3.30 and up. Best of all they are reusable. Each pet has a variety of paper bedazzle so that your child can create something new each time.  

We are loving our new find and enjoying gettiing creative. Hope you do too!

Monday, June 6, 2016

I DON'T WANT KIDS! AND THAT IS OK


Let's talk about choice. A woman has the right to choose not to have a child without being judged. I am not talking about abortion. I am talking about deciding to just not have children. The fact that this needs to even be discussed sounds crazy right? Recently I read an open letter by Joy Bryant on LennyLetter.com on her decision to not have children- or should I say a letter telling people to stop pushing their choices on her. I, like many of you, have children, but I respect her choice and know others that also share her point of view.

Image by VALERIE SUTER
                                
You may recognize Joy from a variety of movies and TV shows. To many she is best know as Jasmin on NBC's Parenthood. She has played a mom five times and therefore, many people think she would make a great mom. Crazy right? Yet, she is still not interested in the role of full time mom past "cut." I am not sure when I made the choice that I wanted children. I wasn't the type of girl that talked about getting married and having babies. At some point I just knew that it was the right choice for me. I am sure that at some point Joy Bryant made that same discovery about herself of not wanting children. Neither of us is wrong, we just know what we want. I am married and have two kids. In a way it's what society expects from me. I am ok with that, because I made that choice. What Joy is finding that she is constantly being questioning on her choice to not have a child. There are the usual comments, "But you'll have beautiful children!" Which this may be true, but as Joy likes to point out, "This one is the most ridiculous of all the reasons given to me, and it is also my personal favorite. So I should have kids just because they would possibly be beautiful (and, let's not forget, smart and athletic)? I should commit to one of the toughest jobs in the world, all for the sake of populating the planet with a super-human specimen of good breeding? No, thanks. I'm good." This I think this a comment we moms love. This is a hard job! And sometimes what gets you through it all is knowing that you love this child and that this is the choice you made. This was our choice, dirty diaper and tantrums, this was our choice. It's your life, if you don't want the job don't submit your resume and no one should judge. 

There are many woman who have had unwanted babies. Are they a better women because they fulfilled what society said their role is... to be a mother?  I asked a dear friend, Julie Grace, who has also chosen not to have kids about how her role as a woman in this society has changed by not wanting to have children. "Living life the best way you can should be every humans goal. However, there are certain societal expectations for women, or "roles" we are expected to fill. Whether you are a mother, a sister, a friend or a wife, you can be a "mother" to people without birthing them. I care for and try to nurture all of the people in my life, blood or not." Taking that one essence away from the picture doesn't make a woman less loving or nurturing, just not a mother. 
 
Julie at the top of a mountain in Kauai

Some may succumb to the pressure of having kids. Will that make then a good mother? I read a comment on Facebook from a woman that thank goodness these woman don't have kids. If they did they would abuse their children. I will argue that many woman choose to have kids and yet are abuse parents. "It's frustrating when people try to put me in another category because I don't have kids (I'm somehow not normal). Or people assume since I don't have kids, that I don't like kids," Julie says "It has nothing to do with not being a loving person. It may actually be the smartest choice a woman can make if she is unsure if she wants a baby. Are they wrong or selfish? I actually believe they are being selfless. They are choosing to follow their own path and not a life they didn't want for themselves. Just because one could breed a child, doesn't mean they should. We have all seen those parents or know those present that are just not present in their child's lives. Why put that on someone? Parenthood is a life long commitment with many up and downs physically and emotionally.
It took a lot of therapy and a deathbed reconciliation with my own mother to realize that she wasn't the monster I made her out to be. She was just a human being who made shitty choices that deeply affected me. I wouldn't be that kind of mother. My grandmother, on the other hand, was all sacrifice, putting the needs of her kids and then me ahead of her own, going without to make sure everyone had what they needed. She died of a broken heart. I wouldn't be that kind of mother either. So on the scale of martyr to monster, I'd probably fall somewhere in the human range. I'd be a "good enough" mother. Still not a good enough reason for me to actually be someone's mother. I'd be a good competitive eater, too, doesn't mean I should.
                                                    ~ Joy Bryant
I know several wonderful woman who are happily married who do not have kids by choice. They are caring, loving and smart. Do I think they have everything they need to be a great mom? Yes, I do. Do I think more of them because they choose not to have kids? Yes. One was a former boss of mine. Whenever someone was having a baby she would make the cutest baby blankets. She is happily married and they are enjoying their life together. Julie our dear friend has also made the choice to not have children. She too is happily married. Unlike Joy Bryant who doesn't, as she says, "breed," Julie is curious about being pregnant, "People usually tell me how life-changing (pregnancy) it is, and express how it is magical and amazing and I'm missing out. I have always thought being pregnant would be an amazing experience. I would love to be pregnant, and know the feeling of having life inside me, I just have no desire to raise a child in this world."
Joy with her TV family on Parenthood
"But you'll have beautiful children!" 
This one is the most ridiculous of all the reasons given to me, and it is also my personal favorite. So I should have kids just because they would possibly be beautiful (and, let's not forget, smart and athletic)?
I should commit to one of the toughest jobs in the world, all for the sake of populating the planet with a super-human specimen of good breeding? No, thanks. I'm good.
But I guess I can't blame them, right? I mean, they look at me and my tall, handsome stuntman husband and can't wrap their brains around why we would purposely waste such prime eggs and sperm, the selfish people we are. I guess I'm the selfish one, because I refuse to be the vessel through which mankind is delivered from its mediocrity.
                                                    ~Joy Bryant

When I read the above in Joy's letter, I thought that above was a low blow. First I think this is between the couple and not anyone else. Don't think this at some point wasn't a conversation. Joy mentioned that they did talk about it he is ok with her choice. My mother once told me that before marriage a couple should talk about kids. If it's very important to one person and not to the other then they should let the person go. They will always be yearning for that child. If one is fine with the choice then enjoy each other and don't have kids. It's no one's business but their own.  There is no victim- only a choice for them both.
I know people don't mean any harm, but this really shouldn't be an issue at all, because what I choose to do or not do with my womb should be of no concern to anyone but my husband. While he would like to have kids, he loves and respects me enough to understand and accept my decision: that I don't want to be a mother, that I don't want to have children, that I don't have the need to breed.
I'm going to say that one more time:
I don't have the need to breed. 
                                                     ~ Joy Bryant
"I can honestly say I am curious how things would be if we had a child or two. I would love to see his eyes in the eyes of a child, and I have no doubt we would be great parents" says Julie, "Not curious enough to do it though. I was lucky he didn't want children either, so it didn't affect our relationship at all. I love my husband and our life together. For some reason, I simply don't feel a desire or biological pull to procreate." 



Are they being selfish? I hear that often when describing woman who don't want to have kids. It's partly true. "In my late 20s, as my high school and college friends were beginning or expanding their families. I realized I wanted the freedom to go where I wanted, when I wanted and explore this planet as much as possible," Julie says "I saw the day-to-day grind my friends with kids went through and was thankful I didn't have those responsibilities." But don't they owe it to themselves to be happy even if that doesn't mean having a baby?



Maybe Joy and Julie ask themselves the question of  "what if?" Julie said, "When I first graduated college, I was in a long term relationship with a man 4 yrs older than me. He was ready to 'settle down' and get married, buy a house and have children; basically he wanted the 'American Dream.' I loved him and thought I wanted that too, just not then. I was 21," Julie says, " I decided to do some traveling first, and once I saw the world and the wonderful and scary things outside my own little 'American Dream' bubble, I started to question whether I wanted to bring more children into this world" 

What is sad is that the negative comments or pressure is coming from other woman. Many woman have chosen to not have kids and have a career. Many men have too and they are not judged. In fact the baby question rarely gets asked to men. Being in a very distinguished job position Julie says, "I think we are slowly gaining equality in the workplace, and some of the women who have chosen to pursue career over motherhood have lead the way. This is not an exclusive club though. May women can do both, and do it well. Many women do not have a choice. I thing society is slowly learning that raising children isn't a mother's "role" any more. There are many stay at home fathers, Aunts, Uncles, same-sex parents and grandparents helping to raise the children. Motherhood isn't just for women any more." So woman, before judging, think of those women who have paved the way for us to have those jobs, to make those choices. If not for the women of today then for the women of tomorrow.
"Also, choosing not to have children doesn't exclude me from being a mother either. I am a mother to my pets, my friends, my home and even to my inner child" ~ Julie Grace
Woman who don't want children realize that it just isn't the right choice for them. That doesn't mean that they are less of a woman. Maybe we should be sending them a thank you basket that reads: thank you for not adding to our over-population; thank you for not being a so-so parent; thank you for not adding your child on the preschool waiting list ahead of mine; thank you for helping us conserve water and above all, thank you for knowing yourself xoxo


Monday, April 25, 2016

Maggie and Maddy Adventures in Napa Valley Review

Our family's latest find in Napa Valley wasn't wine, but rather the darling children's book Maggie and Maddy Adventures in Napa Valley by locals Kyle and Amy Goleno. My husband pick this book up for the girls while on business in Napa. It was an instant hit with the girls. It was perfect timing as we ourselves prepared for a little getaway without the kids. How best to explain Napa Valley to the girls then by having them go on an adventure themselves with Maggie and Maddy.



The adventure begins with Maggie, the older sister, taking her little sister Maddy on a tour across Napa Valley. What better way to show her sister the town then by floating though "fluffy marshmallows" in a hot air balloon ride, kayaking through the canals, a bicycle built for two and of course the wine train. Even I found out a little more about Napa Valley from this book, such as the Castillo de Amorosa (castle of love). A must see on our next trip.



The book is so carefree and full of fun. The art work has such great detail and so precious. When it's story time comes in our home this book is a quick pick.  I don't complain because it feels like I am sharing my own Napa adventures with them. What is fun for me is that every spot Maggie and Maddy visit is a local favorite in Napa such as Butter Cream Bakery & Diner and Gott's Roadside. Though the book is not suggested for preschool children, my kids 3 years-old & 5 year-old loved it. As a matter of fact it is my 3 year-old that has been picking Maggie and Maddy as her night time book.







On our last day of our trip we decided to check out some of the places mentioned in the book. They sounded so great in the book why not? First stop was Butter Cream Bakery & Diner. It is an old school donut shop with a cute dinner inside. We picked up some yummy cookies and were on our way. We took a tour through the Oxbow Public Market. It had a little bit of everything there from a sushi bar, fruit stand and vinegar of every kind. Then walked next door to Gott’s. This was my favorite stop. I had the best burger ever topped off with a side order of fried brussel sprouts. WOW!


one of two locations
When we got back home we shared our adventure with the girls. It was fun to show them pictures of each spot from there book.  A place I though was a vacation spot strictly for adults, also makes for an great adventure for the little ones. I can't wait to take my girls to Napa Valley and have our own adventure. I think we will use Maggie & Maddy Adventures in Napa Valley as our guide.


Maggie and Maddy Adventures in Napa Valley are sold in local Napa Valley stores and online. Chick here to get your copy: Maggie and Maddy

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is Now Opened


It's official!  Universal Studios' Wizarding World of Harry Potter has opened it's door to the public! The girls and I have been getting tempting peeks of the top of Hogwarts Castle while driving on the 101 just before the Lankershim Exit.  For a muggle like me, Hogwarts is the magical school we all wish we went to- for my girls (who are a bit young for the books and films) IT'S A CASTLE!!!  And a castle is really the most exciting place Princess-obsessed preschoolers can imagine.  It's hard to believe that the first Harry Potter book was released 20 years ago and it's been almost 15 years since the first movie premiered. Now the franchise is getting it's third wind here in Hollywood. Our family was lucky enough to preview the Wizarding World before it's opening on April 7th, and let me say that it is as magical and mystical as any muggle (or Princess-in-training 3 yr old) could hope for.


How big is it? The Wizarding World was SOLD OUT grand opening day and sold out through the weekend. Over 200 people were waiting at Universal Studios since 2 am for the theme park opening of 6:30 am, regular hours are 9 am-6pm (please check Universal Studios website for additional  times, and special offers).


 

It's just like that little wizard in you always thought it would be... Magical. When we walked in, we left sunny California and were transported into fantastical Hogsmeade.  My 5-yr-old walked in and excitedly said, "It's Arendelle!"  Ok, not exactly what I thought she would say. With snow-capped rooftops, cobblestone streets, and a massive castle how can she be wrong?  And here is the thing, you walk in and are amazed by it all. Then you walk deep into the Wizarding World and are blown away by Hogwarts castle and I mean blown away.  For true Harry Potter fans the details are phenomenal.  There are storefront facades (only for show) such as a book store with Gilderoy Lockart book signing on display, the tea shop with hundreds of balancing tea cups and even props from the movies such as Hermione's dress from Yule Ball in "Golbet of Fire” to name a few. As a fan, it is almost too much to take in. You just want to jump up and down like a child and scream "Yay!!"
 


Long before opening day we heard about THE must-have item of the Wizarding World: the interactive magic wands sold at Ollivanders Wand Shop. And, oh yes, you will want a wand- your kids will beg for it and the little Wizard inside you will too.  With your new Wizard Wand the interactive displays come to life: you can make pens write magic letters, toss papers with a magic spell and so much more!   

Photo credit Erik

You will find that there is a line for just about everything at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, even gift shops- and a wait for Olivanders can be nearly an hour or more.  Completely worth it- but be prepared.  The shop only allows a certain amount of customers in at a time to allow for a truly personal during experience. First it begins with an interactive presentation in which one or two people are hand picked to participate. We felt that we ourselves were shopping for new wands, real wands. This was my 5 year-old daughters favorite part. If you want a wand my suggestion is that it be one of your first stops.

Cobblestone for conjuring spell. Photo credit Erik

After you wonder into the store and choose from stacks and stacks of wands for every character, many in regular and interactive varieties. There are the interactive wands, which go for $47.95, they come with a map to certain windows at which actual spells make the displays come to life (non interactive $39.95). As you venture through The Wizarding World keep a look out for brass plates in the cobblestones (11 in total). At these stops you can begin to conjure up some spells. Sometimes you will find you are more of a Ron-wizard then a Hermione one. It can be at times frustrating, but there is a professional "wizard" there most of the time to help. When the kids (and I!) got a spell working they were astonished with themselves. And when the spell didn't work don't well, they realized they had to work on that spell a bit more. We can't all be wizards overnight.



Now for the rides, my husband rode the Forbidden Journey ride, located in Hogwarts Castle. For the first time he really enjoyed standing in line. Since Universal anticipated long lines, the details included along the line path are incredible, some would say as entertaining as the roller coaster. There is the Mirror of Erised, Dungeon Corridor, Professor Sprout's greenhouse, Dumbledore's office, Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, moving portraits and so much more including being greeted by the chatty Fat Lady and read the iconic animated newspapers. Then you enter the Gryffindor common room and make your way onto the ride. He would gladly stand in that line again and think each time he would see a new detailed that he didn't see before.

Dumbledore Office

Dark Arts

Mirror of Erished

This 3D high speed experience includes a fire-breathing Hungarian Horntail dragons, a 360-degree spiral and special special effects and noise straight. 


The second roller coaster in The Wizarding World is Universal Studios Hollywood first out door roller coaster Flight of the Hippogriff. Though it's a family friendly ride, it is not meant for small kids due to several sharp turns and ups and downs. When my husband was done with the ride he did feel a quite queasy.

Photo credit: Kevin Kolczyns
Photo credit Erik

Every where you turn there is something to see and taste. There is the Honeydukes candy store where you can have yourself a leaping Chocolate Frog ($10.95) or a Peppermint Toads ($7.95). Walk just outside the shop and you can buy yourself a Butterbeer. They have it all here. Even with all that I have seen, I know there is much more that I've missed. That is why I am so looking forward to my next visit to the majestic Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  


I am share with you some of the things I missed, so that you can experince it for me until I make my next trip to Universal Studios Hollywood.
  • The Hogwarts Express carriage: It is not just for show. You can climb aboard as Harry did for the first time. It includes seats upholstered with the same fabric as those in the film. It makes for a great photo op.
  • Dinning: I hear the food is pretty good at such places like Hog Head Pub & The Three Broomsticks. 
  • Owl Post: You can get a letter stamped with a Hogsmeade postmark at a station in the center of the store
  • Bathrooms: Yes, even those have a special touch. I hear if you listen closely you can hear Moaning Myrtle

Photo credit: Mike Dan

I remember when my little sister asked if we could wait in line at Barnes n' Nobel for the midnight release of the latest Harry Potter book release. I am so happy to share this experience with my daughters. Now a new journey begins. Every detail at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is sealed and approved by J.K. Rowling herself. It's a magical world, a gift that J.K. Rowling has given us that just keeps on giving. 

 

Friday, March 4, 2016

"Go the F**k to Sleep" a Parents Bedtime Story

We all look forward to the kids bedtime, the time when you finally have a moment to yourself. Sounds peaceful, but the process can be quite brutal. "Go the F**k to  Sleep" a bedtime book written by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo. This is not a  bedtime story for the kiddies, but a reality for us. Here is Jennifer Garner reading it with the mother game face/voice on.


This book so calls to me and to our mommy life. I myself just woke up (11pm) on the floor of my daughters room. Why? because I fell sleep waiting for her to go to the f**k asleep. It's hard to hold onto that sweet loving mom when your child won't go to sleep. There is the excuses of: I need water, I have to go to the bathroom or I dropped my stuffy and needs you to get it. Oh, I don't know about you, but I just want to scream. Sometimes I do. Why can't they go to the F**K asleep? Now, Go the F**k to Sleep says it how it really is. It blends in our reality within a cute bedtime story. It just brings me to a real belly laugh.

Jennifer Garner is one of the most recent celebrity to put her voice to this book. It is great hearing her read it in her sweet loving mother voice. There are others that have also read this book brilliantly such as Morgan Freedman, Salmuel L. Jackson  and our President. They almost put me to F**k asleep.



The book has great illustration and absolutely funny and adorable. You can read it to the kids, but make sure to omit some of the wording. Go the F**K to Sleep was published in 2011 and is still one of Amazons top children book seller. And why wouldn't it? There are new parents every day that face this dreadful process. Yes, you can say it's not a children book, but isn't it really? If this can't put your little one down, not sure what can ;)