Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tuesdays for Tuesday

Tuesday's Tribute
A Jay and Deb Production.

Today's tribute is for all the girls helping organize the Tuesday Blog Party. Its a great idea and Brandi, Debi, and Alisha are doing great jobs organizing it. Please check out Debi's page here for more details. It is a great cause and it will be lots of fun.


What is Tuesday's Blog Party about? Well I think Debi put it perfectly:

My friends and I are holding a blog party in honor of Tuesday Whitt, my friend Jess' beautiful twin daughter who bravely fought and sadly lost her 8 month battle with stage 4 neuroblastoma in January of this year.
We are doing this fundraiser to hopefully raise awareness about this awful disease and to raise money for the Tuesday Fiona Whitt Foundation, where all proceeds go towards pediatric cancer research.
So, what is this all about? How can you get involved?
All you have to do is have something you want to auction off... period!
It can be something you made, something you bought, or simply something you would like to give away. Or, even something a company donates. (wait until you see some of the things we have to auction!)
For now, place this button on your blog, alerting your readers to our upcoming event.

Get In On The Fun & Grab a Button!

<a href="http://www.fundraiserblog.blogspot.com"><img src="http://i89.photobucket.com/albums/k224/debi90/TuesdayBlogPartyButton2.jpg"/></a>


There you go. Something you can do to help both children fighting this disease and the families of those who have lost a love one. Grab the button and find something to auction. You know you have something in that pit you call a garage! So start searching!

Monday, March 30, 2009

And They Say You Can't Go Back Home



Last week I did something I haven't done in over ten years. I went back home. Home, for most of my childhood, was Simi Valley, CA. To many people Simi Valley is the place where Ronald Reagan chose to put his presidential library and where Air Force One now resides. It is where Rodney King's assailants were found not guilty which resulted in riots in Los Angeles and questions about racial equality being raised across the country . But to me, Simi Valley is the place where I used to spend my days playing with my best friends in my neighborhood, collecting walnuts in the field across the street, riding my bike up a canyon looking for the place where Little House on the Prairie was filmed and watching my brother play baseball at the park. Back then, you had to go to "the Valley" to go to the mall  and people on the other side of the hill in LA thought we all lived on farms and had horses. I wish. Instead Simi Valley was the picture of suburbia and even though the population was near 100,000 it had a small town feeling that is increasingly hard to find in Southern California. On my trip I realized  two important things, some things change but some things still say the same.

I knew I wanted to take the kids to a park that I used to love as a child. I could have taken them to Tapo Park which used to have a water play area and a zip line but I knew the things I remembered were long gone. The concrete bowl  with a sprinkler spraying from its base that we used to ride our bikes through had been replaced by a safer , softer, splash area and the zip line was taken down years ago after one too many kids broke a bone trying to do something crazy off of it.

I ended up taking the kids to Santa Susana Park.  It was located right across the street from where my brother had baseball games and I used to love it for three reasons: #1 The railroad tracks where we used to put pennies and the wait for the trains to smash them #2 The merry-go-round we used to love spinning ourselves sick on and #3 the giant boulders I used to love climbing on. Well the railroad tracks were still there but a large retaining wall kept children from climbing up and sticking pennies on the tracks and the metal  merry-go-round was replaced by a much safer plastic Little Tikes play structure. Luckily, nobody could remove those boulders in the name of safety!


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It isn't that I am against safety. I just think our culture has gone a little far in the world of plastic play structures and rubberized floors. Those merry-go-rounds were fun and we all managed to survive their existence! Anyhow, the park was even prettier than I remembered it and my kids loved climbing up those rocks just as much as I did.





I just had to take the kids across the street to the baseball field. It is such a cool little park and holds alot of memories of me playing amongst the boulders and oak trees behind the field.


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From the park I drove past my high school which looked exactly the same except for some new paint. Empty fields were almost completely filled in with subdivisions. The produce farm on Alamo Street was now a Kohl's. The canyon back where Little House in the Prairie was filmed now had a golf course running up the middle of it. Here is a picture of what used to be the walnut orchard across the street from my neighborhood.

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I bet the people living in those houses don't realize a little girl used to love picking walnuts and pretending she was Laura Ingalls where they now watch American Idol on their 42 inch flat panel LCD television while sitting comfortably on their Pottery Barn couch. Just. A little. Bitter.

Finally  we down the street I grew up on. It was alot smaller than I remembered. Actually everything about Simi Valley was alot smaller than I remembered. I guess the world is  bigger when you are growing up. Distances seem longer and neighborhoods feel larger. It really was a cute little street. Nothing fancy. Just a bunch of starter homes in a cookie cutter neighborhood painted a rainbow of colors in Edward Scissorhands fashion. They are still  kept up with pride and filled with mothers and fathers trying to make  good lives for their children.

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Our house looks pretty much the same as we left it minus a large tree in the front yard that my brother and I used to love swinging from. It looks as though the new owners have put in a new garage door and the driveway is now some sort of stamped concrete but the window box where my parents stored water balloons in anticipation of catching friends toilet papering our house in the middle of the night is still there. I wonder if the new owners have as much fun....

Now Simi Valley has its very own mall and there are fewer empty lots for children to live out their Old West dreams but the same small town feeling is still there. I guess sometimes you can go home. Even if its just for the afternoon.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Off the Beaten Path

I have been obsessed with wildflowers this year. I am constantly on the search for new and interesting blooms and fields carpeted with gold, orange and lilac. I spend way too much time online looking for sites that might lead me to another great display but I keep coming back to one site in particular, Desert USA. Their wildflower reports are up to date and cover the deserts of Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Texas. I may not make it out to Joshua Tree or Anza Borrego like I had hoped but I can still check out shots of what visitors are seeing and find places closer to home to scope out. My attention was most recently caught by a post from someone who spotted some terrific wildflower displays in the Lake Elsinore area. The flowers looked gorgeous and the spot was only an hour from my house. It looked like it would be a perfect little afternoon trip for our family so off we went.

The location on the website was clear. Or so I thought. A trail behind the Carls Jr  and tire store on Railroad Canyon Road. The Carls Jr and the tire store were easy enough to find but the trail.... not so much. We asked around but nobody knew of the trail we read about. We had come all that way and the kids were ready to run around so we forged our own trail.


Up into the hills we climbed and it didn't before we were surrounded by flowers.

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It was beautiful and the sights must have put the kids in a particularly charming mood because they were  too cute running around and holding hands.



The kids enjoyed the flowers. Maybe a little too much. It was hard to explain to them why picking all the flowers was a bad idea.



Check out my artistic photoshopping. I am just too fancy for words.





Since we weren't really on a trail and exploring what looked to be the sight of a future housing development, we saw alot of man made wonders including a tarp lined with sand bags to keep the hillside from eroding. I am pretty sure climbing on it was the highlight of the trip for Mari and Ben. Ahhhh, what are ya gonna do?

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Here are a couple more of my favorite wildflower shots.





Our path ended as we approached city, sidewalk, and  strip malls again. It was back to reality but we didn't let the hustle and bustle dampen our mood. The sunshine and the wildflowers stayed with us for the rest of the day.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hiking with nine, it can be done!

Today's post is a guest post by Debi at Who Says Eight is Enough?. She took her kids on a hike in the dead (and judging by lack of birds and anything green, I mean that in the literal sense) of winter in Eastern PA and managed to have a good time while being reminded that having a backpack with a change of clothes and more diapers than you ever thought you would need is always a must while hiking with toddlers. I think her idea of a scavenger hunt is a fantastic idea because it opens up children's eyes and helps the spot things they might never notice in the great outdoors. So with further adoo, I give you Debi and her nine kids hike:

I've always been a planner by nature. I kind-of had to be, what with 9 kids and all, but as of late, I have let that obsessive part of me go a bit, which has mostly ended in things being much more easy going in our household... until it isn't ;)
So, when my husband, Russ, and I decided to take a trip to Pennsylvania with our kids to possibly purchase our new home, we decided that if it was a nice day we would take a hike somewhere in the Appalachian mountains.
As it turns out, it wasn't a nice day, but we decided that we would take a hike anyway. We needed something affordable to do with the kids for the afternoon....
Lucky for us, in the very town where we may be moving, there happens to be a trail that runs along the Schuylkill river and cuts right through the mountain side.
So, we set off down the path with 9 kids, a double stroller, a camera and nothing else*.
*I say this now as you will understand the irony later

To keep the kids busy, Russ and I decided to have them go on a scavenger hunt of sorts, which basically entailed us shouting out things for them to look for. We started with them trying to find a nest. Seems easy enough, right? But in the dead of winter, when all of the branches are brown and twisted, it was actually quite difficult and took the kids at least 20 minutes to locate one.

While walking along searching, we did see some really lovely sites and made us realize just how nice this trail will be once spring hits the area.

The second thing we asked the kids to look for was scat. This gave all the kids a good laugh while they began searching for animal poo. Of course, this wasn't all that hard to find, considering the trails can be used by horses, so we actually nearly stepped in horse scat quite a few times ;)
So, to make things at bit more difficult, Russ decided to ask the kids to look for new growth...
Of course, the younger kids weren't even sure what he meant, so once Russ explained, they were off hunting...
and hunting...
and hunting....
Although Russ and I kept telling them to look down in the ground, beneath the leaves, they all insisted on looking up on the mountainside.
And, where did they find the new growth, you ask?
Down on the ground.
Under some leaves.
I told them so :)

Next we asked the kids to look for a bird, any type, not realizing just how impossible that task would be in the dead of winter in Pennsylvania. LOL So the kids gave up looking and begged and begged us to let them climb up the mountain.
Finally we saw an area that looked safe enough and I shouted out, "First one up to the top gets a dollar!"
And they were off!

(can I just say that I love that a dollar will still get my kids excited)
And, while the big kids were working their way up and down the mountainside, the twins were sitting comfortably in their stroller...

Or so we thought....
The bigger kids got down from the mountain and were all excited and arguing about who made it up first when all of the sudden, Emma cried out and threw up all over herself and the stroller!
And, this is where it gets "good"...
You might remember that I said I brought nothing but the kids, the stroller and the camera? Well, so much for all of those years as a Cub Scout Den Leader! Be Prepared.... I was not!
We had to strip poor Emma down to her cloth diaper, wrapped her in my daughter Stephanie's sweater and we called it a day.

Although our afternoon ended in a vomit covered stroller, for the most part, it was a fun and affordable afternoon with the kids and if nothing else, lesson learned... Be Prepared for ANYTHING when hiking with 9 kids :)

And so you see- if she and her husband can take a hike with nine kids you certainly can get out there with yours too! And when you do, take lots of pictures and write me a post because I would love to have you!

RIP My silver friend

Today I came downstairs and turned on my computer just as I do every day. I opened my email and got through the first few lines when suddenly POOF! The screen went black. At first I thought maybe the computer overheated. I gave it a few minutes and then tried to turn it on. Nothing. I waited a half hour Nothing. 4 hours. NOTHING!!!!! My computr died! I am so sad. We had five good years together. Perhaps I shortened her life span during the beer spilling incident. Perhaps it was just her time. Regardless- before she goes up to computer heaven she is gonna have to give me back some of my stuff. Like my pictures from the past couple months that I neglected to put on my external hard drive. Or my address book. Hello! I will be needing those things back missy! So now I have to look for a way to get these items off my hard drive and fast because its pretty hard to write a blog about travel and exploring the world with my kids when all my freaking pictures of my travels are on my computer!!! Oh well. I am feeling pretty sick anyhow so maybe this is God's way of giving me a break for a few days. I would love to think I will be getting a new computer but in reality I know Paul is going to be so excited to finally use this as an opportunity to get the Mac he has been lusting over for the past couple years and the computer I am typing on now will become my own. Maybe this will be the push to pull out old photos of adventures that we had prior to me starting this blog and finally start writing about them. Nevertheless a new chapter will begin in my sick little love affair with the laptop.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Las Vegas with Kids

Today I feel like crap. Some death virus has penetrated my body and decided to take hold in my throat and ears. I briefly considered cutting my throat out but then realized I would have no way to yell at the kids and without  my ability to use the word "no" my entire house would be burned to the ground in a matter of hours. I am sure in due time the illness will make its rounds among all the family members and I will get to reap its joys over and over.  I knew should have worn a gas mask on that plane last weekend (stupid recirculated air).   I decided that since it was warm out I would strip my kids down and let them play in some Tupperware filled with water (I catch them in the dog water all the time so why not give them something a bit more hygienic this time?) and  I drug myself  out of the horizontal position and on to the computer to see what was going on in cyber world.  And then I remembered! Today was the day my article was going to be published on Travel Savvy Mom! Hooray! My first feature article on a website that has actual legitimate writers who have been published in Smithsonian, O, and many different travel magazines. I am quite proud and I am hoping you will take the time to show me some love by clicking here and reading my article. Maybe leave a comment stating how I am so fantastic and should have a full time paid gig somewhere. Definitely check out my Platinum Hotel review while you are there. Its a fantastic choice when you are in Vegas with kids or a group of friends.  It sure would make this sickly, pathetic mom happy (insert violin music here)!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tucson Part 3- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

I am not sure who loves the zoo more, me or Mari. We both take turns shrieking with delight as we spot a tiger behind a bush or a monkey swinging from a rope. Seeing Mari put her hands together to sign "more" with a twinkle in her eyes always makes my heart do a little flip flop. She truly is a child after my own heart. Sure Ben is a fan of petting a goat or catching a glimpse of a cougar but he is much more interested in  seeing how many rocks he can carry from one exhibit to the next or examining the covers on the electrical outlets near the polar bear enclosure. Let's face it, if it ain't round, it ain't his thing. Alas- there is more to the world than round objects so the boy gets dragged with me on my many attempts to try to broaden his horizons. While in Tucson I successfully broadened them a bit at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

The ASDM is more of a zoo than a museum. Its expansive grounds are filled with animals and plants that inhabit the surrounding desert. The exhibits are beautiful and  blend with the landscape seamlessly. Its as if you are taking a walk through the desert and are having the best luck ever because suddenly a coyote appears from behind a saguaro cactus.  Then a few yards later javelina pops out from behind an agave plant. Just when you think your walk can't get any better you spot a Ferruginous Hawk in flight.


The place is amazing. There is an Earth Sciences Corridor with a cave that kids can climb in and a mineral gallery for all those future geologists.

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Children will have a blast looking for dinosaur fossils around "ancient Arizona". I got a thrill from getting a glimpse of a gorgeous Mexican Wolf  (I had never seen one of those before) and always love a a good cat canyon.


I am not sure which more gorgeous the view or the overlook itself.

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In a not so fantastic moment I had to scold Ben after he attempted to nail the river otter with a rock while horrified nature lovers looked on. I am sure whispers of "that mother needs to control her child" were mumbled. The last thing I want is for my son to nail an otter with a rock. What can I say? He has an arm and the boy is quick! I try. I swear.

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Another cool thing was the the rock climb to the viewing window in the coati exhibit. We may not have spotted any coatis that day but the kids had fun exploring the exhibit nevertheless.


Our last stop of the day was the walk in aviary. Okay, I take that back. We did attempt the hummingbird exhibit as well but I couldn't get the kids past the plastic curtain that keeps the hummingbirds from escaping. They thought it was too fun to run back and forth to bother go seeing what was in the actual exhibit. Anyhow in the aviary there were all different kinds of indigenous birds from quail to doves to the famous Arizona Cardinal. The kids loved watching the birds sail overhead and enjoyed spotting them in the trees.


The whole experience was wonderful and the park is  a must do if you are ever in the Tucson area. I certainly plan on going back again someday. The best time to visit is late fall, winter or early spring before the weather gets to warm and the animals are forced hide from the intense desert sun. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

He's Donating His Head!

Jay over at Halftime Lessons is committed to raising money for pediatric cancer. So committed that he is willing to donate his head to the cause.  How so? Well not only is he shaving his head on March 21st to raise money for St. Baldricks but now in an effort to get more donations he is going to advertise one lucky winner's blog on his head! How cool is that? But that's not all. You could also win a beautiful custom necklace, lottery scratchers, and St. Baldricks goodies just by donating $5.oo to the cause. Every $5 gets you an entry and more importantly every $5  helps scientists get that much closer to a cure. Please check out his fundraiser here and help us bring even more awareness to the cause by blogging about it! Together we can kick pediatric cancer's butt!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuesdays for Tuesday

It's a T-shirt Design Contest, in Tuesday's Honor!
sponsored by verimeri , fundraising to a tee :)
How it works:
1. Download the design template
2. Design a tee that would make any sick child SMILE!
3. Email your design HERE or you can send it via snail mail HERE.

Please click on the template to the right and save to your computer.
Then, use this template to have your kids design their t-shirts for our contest.
All designs must be submitted by March 23rd.
A design will be chosen to represent Tuesday's amazing ability to bring joy to life.
The chosen design will be made available for purchase on http://www.verymeri.com/.
20% of all sales will go directly towards neuroblastoma research.
Must be ages 4-12 to enter.
$1 Entry fee, which goes directly to the Tuesday Fiona Whitt Foundation

Please have your son, daughter, niece, nephew, or friend's kids enter. Its only a $1 and how cool would it be if they won?

Also- check out For the Love of Tuesday for more great information and ways to help.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park Hike

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I love wildflowers! I love how for a couple months out of the year, hillsides are shades of green sprinkled with yellow and violet instead of  the normal golden brown that we Southern Californians are so used to. New life is everywhere and I do my best to soak it all in. Whether its yellow mustard, California poppies, larkspur, or  heart-leaved keckiella, there is something special about each and every flower. I couldn't help but notice we were in peak season so we decided to take a hike and enjoy all the color nature had to offer.

Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, located in Foothill Ranch, CA, is still recovering from the Santiago Fire of October, 2007 but amidst the blackened bark of oaks and sycamores is a world of green. The land is recovering wonderfully and now is the time to visit. We began our hike on the Borrego Trail which begins in a shopping center but quickly  transports you into another world.  The trail is shared by hikers, horses, and mountain bikers and is quite popular on the weekend. It is wide enough for a jogging stroller which comes in handy when the little ones need  a break. It is not, however, even terrain and does require some careful maneuvering. Non-jogging strollers are not advised.  After recent rains, there are some small streams that hikers must cross but they are nothing big enough to warrant any concern.  The trail is 1.3 miles long and then splits off into a variety of other trails such as the Red Rock Trail (which we wanted to take but somehow missed. It is very clearly marked. I swear we are blind. We saw it on our way back. It will be another hike for another time), the Mustard Trail, and the Billy Goat Trail. The 2.6 mile round trip is perfect for families with little ones and full of wonderful scenery.

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I encourage you to go out and look for signs of spring in your area. Enjoy all that color and new life and appreciate the little gifts God gives us.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tucson Part 2: Saguaro National Park

The desert is full of life.  I noticed it more on this trip than ever before. Perhaps because spring was just around the corner and the desert was just beginning to bloom. Maybe it was the sound of all the birds singing as if they were enjoying the weather as much as we were. Or maybe it was the forest of cacti filling the desert with green.  Whatever it was, I was happy to be there. We had a new national park to explore!

Saguaro National Park is located on either side of Tucson. It is separated into the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon District. We didn't have time to do both so I did some research and decided the Tucson Mountain District would be best suited for us.  There seemed to be more trails that were short and accessible which is usually a good sign that they are toddler friendly.

We began our trip at the Red Hills Visitor Center where we could get our National Park Passports stamped, check out the exhibits, and get some good advice on which trails to take from the always helpful National Park Rangers.  The ranger was very helpful and suggested we start our journey at the Cactus Garden Trail and Javelina Wash behind the visitor center. It gave us an opportunity to get learn about the different types of cacti and plants in the Sonoran Desert while stretching our legs and spotting some wildlife.



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From the visitor center we took the scenic Bajada Loop Drive which was quite gorgeous.  I think the kids were more interested in Dumbo playing in the back seat than the view but I really enjoyed the drive. The road was dirt but it was easy enough for a 2 wheel drive vehicle to take.

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Our next destination was the Signal Hill Petroglyphs Trail. We decided to have lunch before heading out on our hike and found a great  area with a little stone house protecting a picnic bench. It was the perfect spot for lunch because it kept us out of the sun and the kids loved playing in and around their little house.

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The trail to the petroglyphs is short but it does involve quite a few stairs up the side of the hill. The kids did great and we made it up the hill relatively quick.  At the top we were able to get up close and personal with pictures carved into rock over 800 years ago. I tried to explain to Mari that their were pictures on the rocks and that one of the pictures looked like a horse. She thought I was pretending that the rock was a horse and proceeded to point out which rocks were kitties, which were elephants, and which were monkeys.  The concept may have been lost on her but at least she was having fun. Ben was more interested in the rocks that he could throw. That's my boy!

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On the way back down the hill we met a very nice family who got a kick out of the kids and let them try out their walking sticks.

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By the time we got down the hill the weather was getting a little too warm and the kids were getting tired so we continued our drive and I stopped for photo ops as the mood struck me. I found this area to be exceptionally beautiful.

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I was thrilled to find an area of the desert had started to bloom. There is something truly special about experiencing the short time in which the desert is filled with flowers. It is something I hope to see again soon.



That was the end of our day at Saguaro National Park but certainly not the end of our Tucson adventure. Tune in next time to hear all about the fantastic time we had at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Its a fantastic zoo that showcases life in the desert beautifully. I hope I have inspired some of you to start planning your own adventures in the desert.