Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pick Organic!

Its that time of year. The weather is warm and fresh fruit is abundant. Its a time full of berries, melons, and tomatoes. Sure you could go to your local supermarket and pick up some fruit that was picked before it was ripe, sprayed with pesticides, and then hauled across hundreds of miles (didn't I make that sound appetizing?) or you could go to your local fruit stand or certified organic farm and pick your own!

We are lucky enough to live in the heart of agricultural country. Twice a week as I drive Ben out to his therapy I take in miles of rice fields, safflowers, sunflowers, tomatoes, melons, onions, and on and on. It is so peaceful to drive for miles and miles and not see a big city full of congestion along the way. Even though we are still shrouded in smoke I decided we could brave being out in it for 30 minutes and go pick some fruit at Pacific Star Gardens, a local certified organic farm.

We were told that blackberries and boysenberries were ripe for the picking so we decided that was where we were heading. The proprietor reminding me that berries stain to which I stated "Its all part of the experience". The kids each had a bucket in tow and we walked through the farm to the berry patch.

I showed the kids how to pick the berries and placed a couple in each of their buckets. These went immediately in their mouths (which is why it is even more important to go to an organic farm. You want to feel good about what their little tummies are digesting). They were sold. They began picking their own berries and quickly figured out the darker berries tasted better since they were ripe.

It was so fun to see them delicately pick the berries and see absolutely no berries in their buckets buckets because they were too busy stuffing their faces. I ended up doing all of the picking for the actual berries we would bring home while the children grazed.

After I decided we had enough berries (I am certain they would have sat there all day and gorged) we headed back to pay for our bounty. I explained to the owner that the children ate their weight in berries and she refused to let me pay for what they had eaten. She told me it was all they could eat while they were out there. I thought that was very nice. We washed up best we could in the outdoor sink and then grabbed a cantaloupe (which Ben rolled in the dirt like a bowling ball) and a yellow watermelon (that Mari dropped and cracked open. No biggie. Nothing a bag couldn't contain until we got home to eat it). When we got home the kids went in the tub to get the berry remnants off their skin and the clothes soaked in some oxyclean for an hour before I threw them in the wash. Everything came out stain free! The kids have been dining on cantaloupe and yellow watermelon and today I made a boysenberry/ blackberry/apple pie for us to have for dessert. Thats right. I baked twice in one week! Crazy huh?

Its easy to find a pick your own produce farm. Just check out this link and find a farm near you.

The kids will have a blast, you will have a blast, and you will have food that you can feel good about feeding your children. We plan on going back for more. We were told carrots and onions were available to pick as well. Can you imagine how fun it will be for the kids to pull carrots out of the ground?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Happy Birthday Daddy

Thursday my partner in crime turned 34. The man who has been with me through my toughest and happiest moments in life. The man who is more than I could have ever wanted as a father to my children. The man who makes me crazy every now and then but I still look forward to seeing every day. My monkey. My Paul.

I wanted to have the children make him a birthday gift but what could a 21 month old make? Well Debbie at The Moore Family blog had the answer. Her kids made a great craft for their dad for Father's Day so I had to steal the idea. Basically it consists of contact paper, colored sand and salt shakers. I went to Wallyworld and bought a box of colored sand and some clear contact paper (incidentally I know have a ton of clear contact paper in which I plan on finding many uses for so stay tuned for those fun escapades). I filled my mini salt shakers with all the different colors and laid everything out on the coffee table. Normally I would say to do this outside but with it being it still be so smoky outside and my salt shakers being glass (concrete, glass, and a child who has a tendency to throw things- not a good combo)we kept things inside. Honestly the most difficult part of the project was separating the contact paper from its protective sheet! Why do they make these things so hard? Anyhoo- I quickly showed the kids that the object was not to much the paper to get it to stick to itself and instead sprinkling the sand was much more fun. Luckily they agreed and had a blast making their artistic creations.

Well I should say Ben did until it came time to refill the shakers. He wanted to refill the shakers himself which was NOT going to happen and all hell broke lose. He threw a massive tantrum (the boy is officially a toddler) and refused to have anything else to do with the project. Luckily he had enough sand on there for me to move it around and finish the last couple square inches of his project. Afterwards we had quite a bit of sand on the table and surrounding carpet but hey, isn't that why God gave us the shopvac? Ten minutes later we were sand free. I put their art in frames and I have to say they turned out beautifully.

While the kids napped I did some rare baking. Paul loves carrot cake and I make a mean carrot cake if I do say myself. I like to cook but I am not a fan of baking. Something about all that precise measuring and mixing that turns me off. Maybe if I had one of the fancy Kitchen aid mixers I would be more willing. If anyone wants to send me one I will be happy to accept. For dinner we had a pork tenderloin recipe I found on Scribbit. The sauce was wonderful and easy. I threw in some stuffing and green beans to round out the meal. Scrumptious. We opened presents (of course the shorts I bought him were too short. He is such a giant. Why do I try?) but he did like the cologne and still gets to pick out a racquetball racquet. Paul was very impressed with the kids artwork. Mari was very impressed with the carrot cake. The kids bounced off the walls for a good hour afterwards. All in all, a happy birthday indeed.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

How to hike with toddlers

Melissa in New Jersey writes: "You have inspired me! I'm going to hike on a trail! Now can you please explain to me in detail how to do it with twins! Please help me get over my fear of losing them in the woods or falling off of a cliff!"

I have a feeling these fears keep alot of people from taking their first hike with their little ones. Fear not, it can be done (and quite successfully I might add) All it takes is a little research, a little prep work and most importantly, the right attitude.

First you need to find yourself a hike to attempt. The web is an infinite resource for hikes all over the globe. Sadly, I did have a hard time finding alot of websites that catered to your area of New Jersey. Quite frankly, your state park website
sucks. They give no details about any of their hikes and I think the whole thing needs a major overhaul. That's right. I said it. Improve your stinking website New Jersey State Parks! It may greatly improve your attendance and thus provide you with more income. Just a thought. I did find a bunch of good hikes in your area on my old tried and true website All you have to do is type in your zip code and a bunch of hikes will come up with reviews and ratings. For Melissa these came up:

Just click on the trail and read the description. I tend to look for key words such as EASY, FLAT, and WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE (that guarantees a stroller friendly route). Look at the reviews. People will say if they are great hikes for kids. Fire roads and paved trails make pushing the stroller easy as well. Don't get discouraged if the distance on the trail is long. Just go as far as you want and come back. And just because a trail isn't paved doesn't mean you can't bring a stroller. Well maintained trails usually offer a pathway for your stroller. Look for something that has great scenery and wildlife. Little ones will get just as excited about a squirrel as they will a deer so don't feel like you have to be on a trail to find the endangered eight toed wombat to be a success. Another great resource is the local hiking book. I personally like Foghorn Outdoors publications but they don't make a hiking guide for New Jersey so thats a bummer. I did find 50 Hikes in New Jersey and New Jersey (Best Hikes with Children) on Amazon and they may worth checking out.

So you found a trail you want to attempt, now what? Now you need to pack that backpack and load the car. My necessities include: camera, water, snacks (lots of snacks that they can walk and chomp on work best), diapers, changing pad, bags to pack out diapers, changes of clothes for the kids (they will get dirty or pee through a la Ben or get wet), and directions (printed out from the internet or a copy of my hiking guide). If you are hiking without a partner, then consider bringing those monkey backpack leashes (I got mine at Target). I like them because you can leash them if they are being naughty but unclip the leash from the backpack if they are doing well. I think you will be alot more relaxed if you do bring either your husband or a friend along with you because then you can each concentrate on a kid. Bring the stroller for sure if your hike is longer than a mile round trip. You can use it to carry your stuff when the kids aren't in it and you can use it to contain the children when you are in a area which you feel unsure about having them running around, when they tired, or when they are just plain bad!

When you get to the trail keep an open mind. Your boys may want to hang out and poke things with sticks or throw rocks. If you don't get as far as you planned or in the time frame you had in mind, that's okay. Of course the goal is to get the kids to walk the trail so sometimes they do need a little coaxing along the way. Encourage them to explore their surroundings. Teach them how to smell flowers. Point out birds or animals. BE AS EXCITED ABOUT THE WORLD AROUND YOU AS THEY ARE. Its contagious. Don't worry if they get dirty. As a matter of fact consider it a failure if they come home spotless! Kids should get dirty out in nature. Its all part of the experience.

I hope these tips have helped. If you or anyone else has further questions I am happy to help. I can't wait to hear about your adventure!

POW in my own home!

"Ben, I get to go potty! Its part of the Geneva Convention!"

These are words I actually uttered to my son this morning as I was running to the bathroom with wails of displeasure filling my ears. Even prisoners of war get to pee without being yelled at. But not a mom. A mom has to put a baby gate up in the doorway to prevent her toilet from being clogged with shoes, plastic elephants, and rubber Scooby Doo balls. She has to endure whining and screaming for juice while urinating. She has to be hit in the knee by said juice cup as she wipes. She has to yell at her son about not throwing things at Mommy as she flushes. Then she has to avoid tripping back over the gate, put the cup on the floor, and attempt to convince her son to pick it up and hand it to her nicely if he wants her to get him a damn thing. He then whines and flails about. She in return whines and flails about. They are at a stalemate. Finally thirst overcomes the boy and he picks up the cup and he flashes a devilish smile as he hands it to her. A small victory for mommy dearest. Ben, your wish is now my command. Gotta love being a mom.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A day at the zoo

Can you believe it is still smoky in Norcal? Somebody contact the wind gods and get this stuff out of here! I am tired of it. I wanna go out and play. Whine whine whine. Since the smoke wasn't going anywhere we decided we better make the move. The Earnshaw Clan made their way to San Francisco for a day at the zoo. Now I have been to my fair share of zoos (I know it is shocking to those who know me) but I have to say that the SF Zoo is one of my all time favorites. Why? Well for one it is across the street from Ocean Beach. This means you can take in the gorgeous views, run across the street for some sand and surf therapy, or just enjoy the cool air when it is 95 degrees elsewhere. Secondly, they have gorgeous grounds. All the eucalyptus and cypress just makes the whole place smell like San Francisco should. Thirdly, they have a wonderful children's zoo. Perfect for toddlers and animal loving mommy's alike. So sit back, relax, and enjoy our day at the zoo by proxy.

First tip when you get to the SF Zoo- don't pay the $6.00 for parking. Just park on Sloat Street and walk a block or two enjoying the ocean view along the way. If you feel the need to give the zoological society that six dollars then give it to them in the form of a souvenir purchase so you have something to show for your journey. Or be super cheap like me and just grab a couple smashed pennies which are located near the entrance.

Next head over to the nature trail which will be to your left after you give the lovely attendant your ticket. It is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day and it is filled with little hands on learning stations. Teenage volunteers will tell you all about the salamander, hedgehog, king snake, or ferret that they are showcasing. I think this is such a wonderful program because it gives children a hands on experience with wildlife that they may not otherwise be familiar with. I personally enjoy quizzing the teenage volunteers and making sure they know their stuff. The kids love touching turtles, petting snake skins, or licking raptor (thats a bird of prey for those of you not in the know) bones like Ben did. I know. Gross. If only we got that move on camera.

There is also a really great prairie dog and meerkat exhibit inside the children's zoo area. You can get nose to nose with one of these adorable creatures with only a panel of glass separating you. There is something about those little guys that makes me want to pull up a chair and watch them for hours. The kids loved playing in the prairie dog tunnel and laughing at their antics. Ben got a kick out of being so close and watching the prairie dog try to get at his pretzel through the window. Mari was full "ooooh wows". A sure sign of entertainment.

The petting zoo is fantastic. Sure its full of sheep and goats but at least they are exotic sheep and goats. Since I love me some sheep I was happy getting a rare glimpse at a Navajo-Churro. Ben enjoyed chasing an African Nigerian Dwarf Goats with a brush in hand, trying to update its "do". Mari wanted to brush a goat but wasn't convinced that touching it wouldn't result in a rapid goat attack. She instead brushed a bench and made repeated attempts to offer the goat her brush as a sign of peace. In addition to goats and sheep there are ducks and alpacas and donkeys and horses. Something for everyone. Oh- and tractors for the kids to ride on. Lots of fun!

The rest of the zoo had your usual lions and tigers and bears (oh my!). We of course had to check out the tiger enclosure and see the improvements that had been made since the infamous Christmas Day attacks. There was a large glass wall and plenty of safety improvements. No tiger was getting out of there again I assure you. One of the highlights for the kids was hearing the lion roar. They got so excited and did their own roars right back to the lion. We had to pull them away from that exhibit!

There is a great lemur and primate area. The lemurs were lazy and laying on the grass below us but the gorillas were active and ready to put on a show. It was so fun to watch them eat and climb trees. They are so quiet and peaceful. It is a shame that that man has destroyed so much of their territory and their status is endangered.

One other great part of the San Francisco zoo is the African Savannah. It is so fun to get up close and personal with giraffes, zebras, and exotic birds.

I know not everyone can get to the San Francisco Zoo but there are so many great zoos all across the world. Each of them holds an opportunity for children to get face to face with animals they might never actually see anyplace else. When children develop a love and respect for animals at a young age they are much more likely to be aware of how their actions effect the planet as they grow older. We have wiped out so many species and many, many more are very close to extinction due to man's destruction. My hope is that if enough children learn to love and respect wildlife and appreciate their importance to the planet maybe we can turn some of these patterns around. So check out a zoo near you with your kids! Help them grow some brain cells and appreciation for the world around them.

If you would like to see the rest of the pictures from our trip (there are some good ones if I do say so myself) than click on the link below.

If you would like to find a great accredited zoo or aquarium near you by using this link:

If you would like to take your own visit to the San Francisco Zoo check out their website for hours and directions:

If you do visit a zoo tell me about it and send me some photos. I would love to share them with your fellow readers! Enjoy your own adventures!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Smoke and Pins

Northern California is burning. With over 800 fires reported across the state, the air is filled with an orange throat burning haze. Most of the fires were started by dry lightening. We haven't seen rain in months. One little spark is all it takes to send all that dry fuel ablaze. The hills where we took our beautifully green Easter pictures are nothing more than a sea of gold, sparsely dotted with an oak tree here or there. I saw it coming. As I lay in the gym's wading pool on Saturday night, trying to cool off in the ninety five degree heat and convince Ben that the water was his friend, I mentioned to Paul that I smelled smoke. When we drove home we saw the first plumes of smoke. By the time I got home from the grocery store 30 minutes later the plume was massive. I had overheard a firefighter mention a "huge fire in Napa". Well that huge fire is still burning and is maybe 15 miles from my house. Every time I step outside I am reminded with a smack of smoke and haze directly in the throat and eyes. Sunday was spent inside pouting about the condition but Monday we had enough. We had to get out and do something!

We thought maybe Six Flags would work since it was on the other side of the fire and by the bay. A call from a friend in that area quickly smashed those dreams. Smoky over there too. Where wasn't it smoky? Indoors. And that was were we were forced to play today. We wanted to do something new. Out of the ordinary. Close enough to make it back for a quick nap before Ben's physical therapy appointment. And then the idea struck Paul- Bowling! We live maybe two miles from THE entertainment destination in Vacaville. Stars! Stars is the kind of place that thrives in a town with no night life. It has a really nice bowling alley, laser tag, arcade, and a bar for all the townies to hang in on a Friday night. Monday afternoon it was filled with families enjoying their summer vacations. So after a delightful lunch at Fresh Choice (our dining destination as of late strictly because it is so dang easy with kids) we headed on over to let the games begin.

At first the not so bright lady behind the front counter put us between two families. This lasted for about 2 seconds before Paul protested this stupidity (can you imagine trying to keep two toddlers out of the way of bowlers on either side? Impossible!)and we got a lane with nobody on either side at the other end of the bowling alley. Perfect. And even more perfect was that we didn't have to rent the kids those oh so fashionable bowling shoes since they would just be pushing the ball down a bumper lane on one of those bowling ramps for little ones. Score. That saves $3 a person. Paul and I opted out of bowling our own games this time and decided to focus on helping the kids even though we have all our own equipment (we ARE that geeky). So I went to the front counter and asked where they kept their lightest balls. Ms. Personality turned around, searched her lazy susan of bowling wonders and produced a ball. I brought it down to our lane and turned right back around to get another. She had seen that we had twins. Why just one ball? Hmmm. Now I was starting to understand why she was not busy performing brain surgery that afternoon. As requested, she silently produced another ball, her face as cold as a statue. I profusely thanked her for her kindness finally producing a slight grin and a whimper of a "your welcome". Someone needs to give that girl some happy juice. But enough about Ms Vacaville 2008- lets bowl!

The kids were absolutely fascinated by the ball return. They could push the balls around in that thing and wait for another amazing appearance of another ball from the "mystery hole". And the topper- the sucker blew out of a little vent that was oh so fun to play with. In all honesty the ball return may have been entertainment enough but we were there for a bigger purpose.

Mari stepped up first. After fowling about three times we convinced her to stand behind the ball ramp and give the sucker a push. She let out a "whee" as the ball sped down the ramp toward the pins.

We cheered as she knocked down and few and a big smile filled her face. She was ready to go again. Paul helped Mari perfect her technique while I tried to convince Ben to step away from the ball return and try his own hand at bowling. After some coaxing (and dragging) I got him to the ball ramp and showed him how to give the ball a push. We had another convert!

They were ready to bowl. We spent the remainder of the first game trying to get our kids used to taking turns and perfecting the angle in which to direct the ramp. Game two consisted of Paul and I in competition against each other trying to figure out the best way to direct the ball with our respective children (Mari and Paul were one team and me and Ben another) pushing the ball down the ramp. Competition was fierce. No strikes were had because the ball just wasn't moving with enough force to knock them all down but we did have a few spares. Mari's ball tended to have alot of spin on it which helped her pick up a split in one instance.

Moments earlier my sarcastic trash talking butt spewed out a "If she picks up this spare I am quitting." Well I ate my words but I didn't quit for the good of my son. Another highlight was when I set up the ramp in hopes Ben would pick up a spare. He decided the ramp was in the incorrect spot, moved it considerably and then sent that ball rolling towards the pins. Mr. Ben got his own spare.

Shows what Mommy knows. Around frame 8 the kids decided it was more fun to run in circles around the ball return or down the alley towards the arcade. We decided to wrap things up. Two games are alot for the average 21 month old. We let the kids run around the arcade a little bit. Mari favored the Dance Dance Revolution machine (one of these days she is going to realise it is more fun if you stick a couple quarters in it)and pretending to steer one of the driving video games.

Ben, of course, went for the balls. He watched people play air hockey in awe and then went over to a machine that had a basketball inside it and started repeating "ball" over and over like those sea gulls in Finding Nemo.

That was our cue to head on home for a quick nap before therapy. I was very satisfied. Our first family bowling date was a success. Everyone had a great time and it seemed like something we could do again in the future and have a great time. I expect to see Mari and Ben kicking some fat guy butt in the PBA about 20 years from now.

If you would like to take your family bowling here are some of my tips:
1. If your kids are too little to roll the ball down the lane by themselves then get one of those bowling ramps. The kids love pushing the ball down the ramp and seeing the results.
2. Get bumper lanes for little ones. Nobody want to see a big fat zero up on the scoreboard.
3. Don't expect things to move at more than a snails pace and don't get upset if the kids are more entertained by their surroundings. Bowling alleys are filled with people and lights. So much for a little one to take in.
4. If you have older children get them their own lane. A 10 year old doesn't want to have to put up with a toddler messing up their game. They probably also don't want bumpers up when they are trying to perfect their bowling skills.
5. Go at a time when you know the alley won't be full. Nobody wants their child running in front of another person's frame. Request a lane with nobody on either side. Your fellow bowlers will appreciate it and it will save you the stress of keeping your kids out of the way.
6. Have fun!

PS- I was supposed to have this post up last night but as I was typing around 5:30 the power went out. And it stayed out until about 9:00! It came on about 15 minutes after Paul got back from getting ice at the store in attempts to keep our perishables cool. Figures. By then it was hot (we didn't want to open the windows and let the smoke in) and I was ready to lay in bed and watch some Ice Road Truckers. So there you go. My official excuse.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Will your photo win?

Attention all you amateur photographers out there! National Geographic and Nature Valley (those granola bar people that we help keep in business due to Paul's Costco-sized habit) are sponsoring a photo contest. They are looking for pictures of people experiencing the wonder of nature. Grand prize is an eight day privately guided rafting trip through the Grand Canyon! Can you imagine how cool that would be? Here is the link to the contest:

I decided to enter the picture that rests against my fireplace. It was a shot I took last summer of Mari and Ben's first day at the beach. We went to Laguna Beach and I took a shot of them looking out to the ocean at the tide pools. We like it so I figured why not share it with the world? Below is the photo I entered. I don't feel like the blog really does it justice (it looks like the coloring is a bit off) but you will get the picture. How awesome could would it would be if one of out in blog land won? I would love to see your entries and stories so send them my way!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Souvenir Anyone?

Everyone loves a souvenir. Especially kids. How many of you are immediately bombarded as soon as a gift shop is within view? "Mom can I get a shirt?" "Mom can I get stuffed animal?" "Mom can I get a commemorative plate?" As you get up to the checkout counter with your you t-shirt, stuffed iguana, and signed and numbered special edition plate from the Sticks and Twine Museum you gasp at your total. It adds up quick. Now how many stuffed iguana's do your kids really need? Not to say that I don't think souvenirs are great but sometimes they cost us a fortune and then are tossed into a closet for the remainder of the millenium. Souvenirs can be great reminders of the places we have visited but if you do alot of visiting you will go broke trying to keep up that t-shirt collection. I have a couple alternatives that are inexpensive, great collectibles, and don't take up alot of space.

The first is the pressed penny. We have all seen the machines before. For two quarters and a penny you can turn your plain old penny into a souvenir!

Sure its kind of campy but just think- you spend 51 cents and you get a souvenir for your children that they can collect and help them keep record of the places they have visited. I started getting souvenir pennies for my kids when they were infants. If I see a machine I get one for each child and put them in those handy dandy pressed penny books that you can get at many locations that sell pressed pennies. I think it will be fun for them to go through their pennies and see all the places they have been. Another bonus- if I have no desire to go back to the Sticks and Twine Museum I can show them their penny and prove to them they have already been! If children know they are going to get a pressed penny as a souvenir than it is something to look forward to, do themselves (as soon as they are big enough to turn the wheel, and hopefully keeps them from bugging you too much about getting something else.

Another great souvenir that I recently stumbled upon is the National Park Passport Book. You can buy this book at almost every visitor run by the National Park Service.

What's so great about it? Well you can get your book stamped for free with the official stamp for the National Park with the date you visited it. It can be your official record of every place you visit that is affiliated with the National Park Service. In addition to the official date stamp, most places have an official stamp or two that represents its park, monument, etc. I think these are fantastic memory books and it is so exciting to get a new stamp cancellation when you visit a new place. The books are inexpensive (around $7.00) if you consider you buy one once and then have a lifetime to fill it. I have become obsessed with getting my kids stamped for all the places they have been and have even contacted parks that we visited
before I knew abut the books so I could have them stamp a piece of paper which I glued into their book. I know, a tad obsessed and crazy but I really think they are the coolest things since The Fonz. If you can't wait until you get to a visitor center to get your passport book you can also buy them online at this website

Another thing I like to do is get a patch from all the National and State Parks we hike and sew it to my backpack. I have seen old people with pins or patches covering their backpacks and it is so neat to see all the places they have been. I want to be the old woman people stop to ask how Redwoods were or what it was like at the top of Haleakala.

Finally one of the cool things I have had friends do is collect dirt or sand from the places they have been and put it in clear little jars for display on a shelf in their house. It is very interesting and beautiful to see the different types of sand, gravel, or dirt from all around the world. You can also collect a little bit of water from streams at the base of waterfalls and have your own little piece of Niagara in your den. I have yet to start collecting sand (mostly because I can never to remember to bring a little baggy with me or get some little jars at the store) but I do want to start. I really think the displays I have seen are absolutely beautiful.

I hope these ideas were helpful and that maybe you will start your own collection representing your adventures!