Friday, February 26, 2010

Help Us Get to Italy

I will beg and plead. I am really not above it. Not when it comes to Italy. I have dreamt of Tuscany for years and now it is so close I can taste the vino. I am a finalist in a Ciao Bambino photo contest and the person with the most votes wins a week in a VILLA IN TUSCANY for their family. I drool at the thought of it. I need your help dear reader. I need your vote! Its really quite easy and will only take three minutes of your time. Please, please, pretty please with sugar on top can you:

1. Go here and become a fan of Ciao Bambino on Facebook (if you aren’t a fan, you can’t vote). It takes only takes one click!

2. Go into photos and click on the contest (or just click here). Then click on our photo which in the middle of the third row and looks just like this:

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Leave a comment under our photo telling them you are voting for us and you are all done! Easy peasy. 

If you are feeling extra generous you can even spread the word on your Facebook page or blog. I would be eternally grateful. I really hope we win and I can share all the detail of our incredibly trip with you. Thank you, thank you, a million times thank you! Now I just have to keep those fingers, toes, and eyeball crossed!!!!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Soaring Above Torrey Pines


February 201011

I think we have all wondered what it must be like to fly like an eagle. There is just something so peaceful about a bird gliding silently above the world. Most of us dream about being a bird. A few of us actually soar.

There is no better place to watch wanna be birds than at the Torrey Pines Gliderport. Its perched on a cliffside overlooking the ocean in La Jolla and watching dare devils take their shot at the sky is absolutely free! If I ever had the guts to fly, this is where I would want to do it. I mean with a view like this, how could you go wrong?


We arrived late in the day so we were only able to see people practice getting their parachute up in the sky while keeping their feet firmly planted on the ground. I have seen paragliders flying in the area before and its such a beautiful sight.

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We walked the trails along the cliffs and saw surfers carry their boards down steep stairways to catch the sunset swell. Even without paragliders in the sky, it was impossible to walk away disappointed from a place like this.


Just as we got to our car, we saw a man with a motor and a parachute running along the bluff. It was long before he was up, up, and away. I bet he had an amazing sunset.


If you would like to visit the Torrey Pines Gliderport, check out their website here for directions and more information.

For more great travel photos check out Delicious Baby's Photo Friday here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fresh Air Fund

Do you remember your summer vacations? I do. I remember going up to my Aunt Dianne’s house in Washington and spending two weeks running around in the country. She lives on ten acres complete with a pond, a massive field, and a forest. For a suburban kid with a concrete backyard it was pure paradise. Those summers shaped so much of what I am today. They heavily influenced my love of nature and being outside. Those vacations gave me the opportunity to chase snakes, put on knee high mud boots and go searching for frogs, and spend hours in the forest pretending I was a pioneer.

I know I was lucky to have those summers. Alot of kids never get them. What’s even more concerning is that alot of kids have never even seen a forest! Can you imagine?  Luckily there is something we can do. We can help the Fresh Air Fund. 

In 2009, The Fresh Air Fund's Volunteer Host Family program, called Friendly Town, gave close to 5,000 New York City boys and girls, ages six to 18, free summer experiences in the country and the suburbs. Volunteer host families shared their friendship and homes up to two weeks or more in 13 Northeastern states from Virginia to Maine and Canada.

Fresh Air children are boys and girls, six to 18 years old, who live in New York City. Children on first-time visits are six to 12 years old and stay for either one or two weeks. Youngsters who are re-invited by the same family may continue with The Fund through age 18, and many enjoy longer summertime visits, year after year. A visit to the home of a warm and loving volunteer host family can make all the difference in the world to an inner-city child. All it takes to create lifelong memories is laughing in the sunshine and making new friends.

The majority of Fresh Air children are from low-income communities. These are often families without the resources to send their children on summer vacations. Most inner-city youngsters grow up in towering apartment buildings without large, open outdoor play spaces. Concrete playgrounds cannot replace the freedom of running barefoot through the grass or riding bikes down country lanes.

If you live in this part of the country you can host a Fresh Air Child. These are kids just looking for the opportunity to play in the backyard, ride a bike, camp under the stars, roast marshmallows, learning to swim, and just having fun outside. Its nothing fancy or expensive. Its just a chance to be a kid out of the city.

If you don’t have the ability to host a child  then you can still donate to the cause. $5 or $500, every bit helps. For more information on the Fresh Air Fund, click here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Waimea Valley Audubon Center

I love the North Shore of Oahu. Life there seems to be lived more my speed.  High rise hotels are replaced by shrimp trucks and shave ice shacks. It’s home to my favorite snorkel spot on the island (Shark’s Cove) and gorgeous beaches known for their winter swells. It is also home to the Waimea Valley Audubon Center, a beautiful nature park with plenty of opportunities to learn about ancient Hawaiian culture and enjoy lush, bird filled gardens.

This was our second visit to Waimea Valley. I had such fond memories from our last visit that I insisted we return. There is just something so peaceful about this park. Waimea Valley has an interesting history too. It was an important spiritual center to ancient Hawaiians, a theme park for a number of years, and is now a botanical gardens with a focus on preserving plant life and birds.

We were greeted by a very social peacock in the parking lot. Maybe he knew he lived someplace special and wanted to share his gorgeous home with us. Or maybe he was just hoping he would get the last of my corn chips. Either way, we were happy to see him.

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Once inside the park you will find a couple small bird seed stations. If there seem to be alot of birds loitering in the area, dig into your pockets,  drop a couple quarters into the machine, and buy a handful. When we bought seed all we had to do was extend an arm and it was covered in birds!


One bird we saw plenty of this past visit was fowl. They just seem so happy being free range and fancy free. I especially loved the chicks. Its seems no matter what the species, babies are just plain cute!

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Of course the scenery in Waimea Valley isn’t half bad either. From tropical gardens to sacred Hawaiian grounds, you are guaranteed to be wowed.


There is even a Hawaiian games demonstration area where you can take a stab at some of the traditional games native Hawaiians play.

For me, the highlight is always the waterfall at the end of the trail. It is so fun to swim in the pool (bring you suits!) and sit under the falls. They provide boogie boards to help those “not so strong” swimmers and lifejackets are required (and free) for children under 12.  There is also a life guard on duty. The water is cooler than the ocean but still very swimmable.  Perfect for some safe family fun!

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Waimea Valley Audobon Center is located at  59-864 Kamehameha Highway
Haleiwa, HI 96712. It is just off the main highway behind Waimea Beach. Adults are $10 and children 12 and under are $5. Military discounts are available. The hike (more of a walk than a hike) to the waterfall is 3/4 mile and paved. Very doable for children of all ages and very stroller friendly. There is food and a very nice gift shop on site.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

My Picks of the Week

Okay, I admit it. I am an internet junkie. There is just so much great stuff out there! Why should I keep all those great reads that I stumble across to myself when I could share them with you? Here are my picks of the week!


- Free is always good, especially in a pricey city like New York: Free Things to do in New York City at Traveling Mamas.

- Need a break from the stale casino air? Check out Trapped in Vegas? Day Trip Escapes from Sin City at Gadling.

- A fantastic post about turning down your heat a couple degrees and why some groups feel threatened by this “environmentalist” idea. If you don’t believe in the “green hype” check this one out and help provide insight to those who are trying to make a difference. If you do, read it and offer suggestion on how to find common ground: What We are up Against at The Crunchy Chicken.

- Looking for some fun in LA this winter? Hurry,  check out The Best Spots in Los Angeles for Winter Fun at Go Explore Nature before winter disappears.

- A beautiful post about a beautiful child with special needs who I love and adore. A Peek Inside Will’s World at Who Says Eight is Enough?.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sycamore Canyon Hike- Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

We have been having some awesome weather in Southern California. And when its beautiful out, we HAVE to get outside. This time, Laguna Canyon Wilderness Park was our destination.

I have been eyeing this park for so long  and had yet to make it over there. I am now kicking myself for not visiting sooner! What a great park! It is filled with miles of hiking trails, Orange County’s only natural lakes, and plenty of amazing scenery.

We took the Sycamore Canyon Trail up to the top of Serrano Ridge, which is 500 feet in February 20105  elevation. Along the way we saw more than a few sandstone caves along the rocky hillside. Turkey vultures sailed on the wind currents  above us, scanning the landscape for their next meal. Cacti intermingled with freshly bloomed poppies. Snowcapped mountains graced the easterly view while Catalina and the coast dominated the west.

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We walked along the ridge for a while, taking in the view and enjoying the cool ocean breezes. Then we headed down into Camarillo February 20109 Canyon. Oak trees grew to form wonderful shady retreats for animals (and people) trying to escape the mid day sun. We enjoyed the downhill hike into the canyon it was a bit steep and washed out in some spots. Holding little ones hands is a good idea. The flat bottoms of the canyon soon gave out to some more hills to climb as we executed the final stretch on the Stagecoach Trail. One final turn around the hillside and the parking lot came into view. Success! Another hike conquered!

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If you would like to take the same hike we did (it is about 3.5 miles round trip) park at Nix Nature Center. Take the Little Sycamore Canyon Trail up to the top of Serrano Ridge. When it dead ends, head left on Serrano Ridge until you hit the Camarillo Canyon Rd Trail. Make a left. Follow it to the Stagecoach Trail (make your final left) and this trail will lead you back to the parking lot. There is some elevation gain and loss throughout the hike but if our three year olds did it, so can you!

For more great travel photos, check out Delicious Baby's Photo Friday here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Birch Aquarium

February 2010

You know what one of my favorite things about Southern California is? That it can be 75  at the beach in February. This past weekend was filled with absolutely perfect weather. We knew that we had to get in the car and head west (well technically south west…)! We decided to spend the day in La Jolla, a gorgeous seaside community just north of San Diego. In addition to being home to world class beaches and upscale living, it is also home to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and Birch Aquarium.

Birch Aquarium is a small but wonderful aquarium run by Scripps. What this aquarium lacks in size, it makes up for with quality exhibits and plenty of hands on educational opportunities. The tanks in the Hall of Fishes are filled with plenty of beautiful examples of the wonders of the ocean. Here, your kids can get eye to eye with clownfish (if Nemo is as popular in your house as it is in mine, this is a BIG deal), various small sharks, eels, creatures of the kelp forest, along with many more inhabitants of the sea.  If you plan your visit right, you can  watch a good old fashion feeding  at the huge kelp forest tank.  There is also a cute little fish nursery where you can see some aquatic life in their most infantile state.

February 20101

Outside, there is a nice tide pool exhibit where kids can get hands on with some creatures that call the intertidal zone their home. As beautiful as the tide pools are, it is hard not to be distracted by the incredible views from the deck. Birch Aquarium is perched on the cliffs above the beach and the view is just amazing. I could spend all day just gazing out at the never ending expanse of ocean. Unfortunately, my three year olds don’t exactly have the same attention span so we had to head back inside to check out the rest of the exhibits.

February 20102

Once inside, we discovered an interesting exhibit about CO2 levels and the effects of climate change on our oceans. I believe it is an important exhibit because it provides some nice evidence for climate change skeptics and helps educate children about the importance of conservation and environmentalism. My kids had a blast turning the crank and finding out how much more energy it takes to power a traditional light bulb as opposed to a compact fluorescent.  Another fun exhibit was the Wonders of Water which allowed kids to send plastic boats down a track of their creation and learn about the force of ocean currents.  I think my kids could have played there for hours.

February 20103

We ended our visit in the sea horse exhibit. I don’t know what it is about those delicate little animals but they do seem to peak the interest of everyone who walks by their tanks. I especially enjoyed the video of the male sea horse expelling hatched sea horses from his abdomen. It was satisfying to finally see a man experience some labor pains.

February 20104

The Birch Aquarium is located at 2300 Expedition Way in La Jolla, CA. Adult admission is $12.00 and child admission is $8.50. Children under 3 are free. This month is Museum Month in San Diego. If you visit any Macy’s in San Diego County, you can pick up (at the cash register) a free museum pass good for half off ALL participating museums (listed here) in San Diego County for the entire month of February. Each pass is valid for up to four people so if you have more than four people in your party, just ask for more passes. Its that easy. We are planning on using our pass as much as possible to explore some of the fantastic museums San Diego has to offer. I hope you pick yours up too!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

My Picks of the Week

Okay, I admit it. I am an internet junkie. There is just so much great stuff out there! Why should I keep all those great reads that I stumble across to myself when I could share them with you? I am starting a new feature on my blog called “My Picks of the Week”. I hope you enjoy it and discover some new great reads for yourself! If you are looking to be featured, send me a link to your post and I will be happy to check it out. Now for some good old fashioned linky love…

- I could have added quite a few more but these are a good start: The Six Most Beautiful Spots in the Western US on Hubpages.

- If she can travel by bike from Alaska to Argentina (they are in Ecuador now) then what can you and your kids do together? Grabbing Life by the Horns on A Wayword Journey.

- The best Legoland post I have read yet (and I have read alot of them) What Legoland Got Right on Tripping With Kids.

- An amazing article about why travel with little kids to far off places is a good thing: Chet of Arabia on  The Atlantic Monthly by fellow blogger Kayt Sukel.

- One of the funniest things I have ever read. A must read for anyone with a toddler who watches Nick Jr. An Open letter to Ruby from the Show Max and Ruby on Mommy Drinks Because You Cry.

- An important pediatric cancer fundraiser where you can pick up some adorable and inexpensive pendants which are perfect for gifts! Pendants for Tuesday on Who Says Eight in Enough. 

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Best Tide Pools in Orange County

Its official. I’m calling it. After a year of extensive  beach research (it was such hard work. I can’t even begin to tell you…), I am crowning the tide pools at Little Corona Beach the best in Orange County. We scampered across rocks in Laguna, frolicked amongst the anemones in San Clemente, and cozied up with the hermit crabs at Crystal Cove. As wonderful as those other tide pools might be, when minus tides appear, Little Corona is where you will find me.

January 201011

Why? I think the number one reason is diversity. We always find a wide variety of little critters whenever we visit Little Corona. On our last visit we saw starfish (plural), loads of purple sea urchins, more anemones than we could count, tons of tiny fish,masses of mussels, and the biggest limpet I have ever seen!


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In addition to the tide pool animals, sea birds such as pelicans and gulls frequent the area. The distant barks of sea lions can be sometimes be heard in from the cliffs above the beach.

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My kids love to scramble over the rocks and play pirate in a sea cave. Ben could can (and will) sit there for hours, throwing rocks into the crashing waves.

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Of course the sunsets aren’t so bad either…



Little Corona Del Mar Beach is located in Corona Del Mar  at the corner of Ocean Blvd and Poppy Avenue.  You park in the residential neighborhood above the beach (and oh what a neighborhood it is!) and then walk down the path to the beach. There are restrooms located halfway down the path. A lifeguard station in on the beach but I have never actually seen anyone on duty. Check tide tables (such as these here) before heading out to be sure you hit the beach at peak tide pooling time.

If you would like to see more fabulous travel photos check out Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Venice Beach

Some people may have thought I was a bit odd when I decided I HAD to take my three year olds to Venice Beach. After all, it doesn’t exactly have the same classic family feel as the Santa Monica Pier just a couple miles down the road. But I live in South Orange County, the Land of Homogeneity. There isn’t a lot of variety in our neck of the woods. Everyone sort of looks the same, dresses the same and acts the same. I love where I live and have met a lot of great people but I want my kids to understand that this great world of ours is filled with all different walks of life. And you can find some of the most unique at Venice Beach.

Lucky for me, my brother lives within walking distance of this bizarre little strand of sand. So we piled into the car and headed on down to see Uncle Chris. We walked down past the marina filled with opulent yachts and strolled past yuppies that appeared to be texting each other while sitting at the same table at an outdoor cafe. We drooled at beach front homes with views that most of us can only dream about. The kids played under the pier  and chased seagulls.

January 20101

Then the scenery slowly began to change. Same spectacular beach front, just a different group of people. Multi-million dollar homes were replaced by knock off sunglass shops, tshirt stores, and “storefronts” promoting that green plant that is legal to smoke in CA with a valid medical prescription.It was a place where performers walked on glass for money and men sold bunnies out of their jackets. A beach where skate boarding and  graffiti were actually encouraged.   It was odd. It was eclectic. And my kids loved it.


A man dressed in a turban, hemp clothing, and the oddest roller skates I have ever seen was serenading passer-byers on his electric guitar. Guys were shooting hoops on the very court Woody Harrelson taught America that white men could in fact jump. Old tan men in speedos were working out alongside buffed out pretty boys on a little portion of  the strand dubbed “Muscle Beach”. It was the carnival of eclecticism that tourists have come to expect from Venice Beach.

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I really do believe it is important to see America for what it really is- a wide variety of individuals enjoying the freedom to be whoever they want to be. Most people seem to fit into one mold or another but there will always be individuals who strive to break it, and I want my kids to know those people too.

Just a block from the beach begin the canals. Their quiet beauty is a nice contrast to the flamboyance of the beach. Pathways skirt the canals and provide a wonderful place to take a stroll. Kayaks cruise silently past well manicured homes and under quaint little bridges. During the holidays the neighborhoods surrounding the canals come alive with brilliant lights and festive paddle boat parades. Eventually you drift back out of the canal district and into reality. Venice was an interesting urban hike, and it was definitely one I am glad I let my children experience.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Aint’ No Business Like Snow Business

We don’t get snow in Orange County. Okay, maybe at the very top of Saddleback Mountain or when a community has it trucked in for a play day, but that’s about it. This suits me just fine. I could really do without winter. Give me sunny and 75 every day and you won’t hear me complaining. I would much rather visit winter than live in it. Luckily, we can drive a couple hours and be surrounded in the powdery white stuff. Its one of the great things about living in Southern California- beach one day, snow the next. Recently we received a nice dumping of snow in our mountains so we decided to head on up towards Wrightwood and have a snow day!

The first time we took our kids to the snow was in the Sierras. It was just after they started walking and they were not too pleased to be confronted with a new obstacle. Now, they are three years old so walking in the snow took only a few minutes of getting used to before they were old pros. But we didn’t come for a walk! We came to sled. I am not sure who had more fun, my husband or my children.



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No trip to the snow is complete without a snowman. Paul made an Orange County snowwoman, complete with tiny waist. I made a more traditional snowman. A dog liked my creation so much he peed on it!

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We had snowball fights,ate the snow and played until the ice soaked through our gloves and froze our fingers. My kids are already asking for more. So is Paul I think we may have another snow day in our future…

 January 20109

If you are looking for a place to have a snow day in Socal check out Wrightwood. It is closer to LA and Orange County than Big Bear and doesn’t involve winding mountain roads. We took Interstate 15 to Hwy 138 to Hwy 2. Mountain High Ski Resort is just down the road and has a tubing park (it was sold out the day we went but we still had a great time at a much cheaper price). Pull off on the side of the road when you see a good spot and be prepared to pay a small fee to play since it is private land (we paid $5.00 per person). The landowners charge fees not because they are mean and greedy but because people leave trash behind and someone has to clean it up. So pay the high school kid five bucks and pick up your trash! Nature is not a garbage dump.