Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sealife Aquarium

They are the most feared creatures of the deep. While they are sleek predators with mouths full of forever regenerating teeth, they are also some of the most misunderstood creatures in the ocean. Most sharks pose no threat to humans, but “Jaws” has left so many of us with a tremendous fear of a giant carnivorous fish slinking beneath us as we swim. At Sealife Aquarium (on the LEGOLAND California Resort property), they are helping to dispel some of those myths and educate families on the many wonders of the deep.

Recently, Mari and I were invited to spend the morning at Sealife Aquarium and get a look at some of the new shows that have recently debuted. As we walked through the aquarium and over to the Lost City of Atlantis where the Daily Dive was held, Mari peered in at fish, seahorses, and rays through kid sized peep holes. Its details like height appropriate viewing areas which make educating children about our oceans that much more practical. When children can explore things at their level, they are much more likely to absorb what’s going on around them.

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The Daily Dive was a great way for kids to be able to ask questions about sharks, sea life, and marine biology to an actual diver inside the tank with the sharks. The newest star of the Lost City of Atlantis tank is a hammerhead shark. Little ones inquisitively asked why the hammerheads eyes were so far apart (so he can see all around him) and what types of food these unusual creatures ate. There were also silly question such as “Can you eat underwater?” (the surprising answer was yes!) and if sharks liked pizza (which I think would depend on the shark.), but the point was that children were actively engaged in being educated and they were having too much fun to notice it!

The next show we watched was the Shark Talk puppet show. It was a April 20106 comical talk show involving a octopus interviewing a hammerhead shark. It was geared towards younger children but I certainly saw older kids with smiles on their faces. Mari was enthralled throughout the show and I have to admit, I was pretty entertained as well. There was just enough adult friendly humor thrown in there to keep things interesting.

With all this shark talk I do want to let you know that there is more to Sea Life Aquarium than just sharks. The California Coast exhibit demonstrates the ebb and flow of tidal life.  Ray Lagoon is a wonderful place to check out those ever smiling flat fish. The Kingdom of the Seahorse with especially popular with Mari who holds a soft spot in her heart for those delicate little creatures. And of course no self respecting aquarium is complete without a touch pool. Luckily, Sea Life Aquarium has two.


In honor of last week’s Earth Day festivities, here are nine great tips on how you and your family can help save our seas. The people at Sealife Aquarium gave to me on a Grow a Note; a note card with wildflowers seeds in the paper that you can plant!

1. Ban the Bag- Bring your own bag to carry your things.

2. Scoop the Poop- Clean up after your pet.

3. Pick Up Three- Pick up three pieces of trash (that you didn’t create) per day.

4. Shorten the Shower- Make a game out of taking shorter showers.

5. Turn the Tap- Turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth.

6. Keep it Real- Limit your use of disposable cups, plates, and utensils.

7. Trash to Treasure- Find new uses for old things.

8. Limit the Landfills- Put recyclable items in the right bin.

9. Spread the Word- Tell a friend how they can help.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Check out my Guest post on Ciao Bambino!

This week is National Parks week and what better way to kick things off than to head over to Ciao Bambino and read my guest post on Yellowstone with Kids. As many of you know, we went on a road trip last summer and hit a number of National Parks, including the granddaddy of them all, Yellowstone. I hope that the article will inspire some of you to take your kids to Yellowstone. It truly is an experience that every American should have.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Environmental Nature Center

The Environmental Nature Center is located in an unexpected place. Just a normal city street near a high school. From the outside it looks like nothing more than a pretty eco-friendly building but once you step inside you are swept into a world that nature rules.

The inside features a Discovery Room with a giant tree surrounding by stuffed creatures to learn about and drawers filled with fun things to discover. There is a Native American shelter with a spot where you can learn to grind acorns and terrariums filled with snakes on the side wall. There are also plenty of fun books for kids to curl up with and learn from. I think my kids enjoyed making animal tracks with water and stamp pads the best.

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Out back, the ENC really shines. There are trails meandering through representatives of 15 of California’s ecological zones including a Redwood Forest and Channel Islands Flora. I think the ENC is a wonderful place to take a walk and educate your children on California’s diverse habitats. My kids especially loved the stream that ran through the Southern Oak Woodland and plunged over a small waterfall. There is just something about poking water with sticks that seems to entertain three year olds for hours on end. I found the Desert and Coastal Sage Scrub to be exceptionally beautiful with all the wildflowers in bloom this time of year.


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During our walk we focused on the tiny aspects of nature that make the outdoor world so incredible. Everything from tiny fish swimming in a wetland to mushrooms sprouting up in the damp, organically rich soil of a forest floor, to a butterfly with tattered wings seamlessly blending in with its surroundings.

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During the late Spring and Summer, the ENC’s Native Butterfly House is open. We missed the opening by a week but we will certainly be back soon to see things all aflutter!

The best part of the ENC is all the classes, workshops, and programs it has to offer. There are classes for children, families, and adults about everything from bushcraft to dino fossil mold making to green building. There is truly something for everyone who interested in the natural world. For a look at some of the upcoming classes and events click here. I can’t wait to return and have my children participate in some of the Little Naturalist programs.

The Environmental Nature Center is located at 1601 16th Street in Newport Beach, CA. Its open Monday through Friday from 8-5 and Saturday from 8-4. Admission to the facility and enjoy some time in the great outdoors is FREE! For more information check out their site here.

For more fantastic travel photos check out Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday.

PS- in the spirit of Photo Friday I had to include my new favorite shot of my kids. It wasn’t taken at the ENC (actually it was taken in a field near my house) but I just love it and have to share it with the blogging world!

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How to get tickets to American Idol

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Yesterday afternoon I was able to watch a bit of pop culture history in person. I went to a live taping of AMERICAN IDOL!!!!!!!!  I have to admit, this season has not been my favorite. There just isn’t anyone that I have been really excited about.  But when I received that email telling me my name had been selected, I jumped on the chance of being able to see how it all happens. I am so glad that I did because it was a BLAST!

I was lucky enough to score four tickets to the live taping of the Tuesday Night show. I took my husband, Uncle Bill, and his eleven year old granddaughter Cecilia. You do have to be 14 to attend a taping of American Idol so we lied through our teeth about her age. We quickly learned we are very bad liars. When they asked us what year she was born in, we stammered and stuttered and gave the wrong year. Figuring out math under pressure is hard! Luckily, after some begging and pleading, they told us to work on our story and let us through.

LESSON FOR THE DAY: If you are going to attempt to sneak someone under 14 into American Idol, have a good back story. Or at the very least, come up with a birth date. Note: Just as with most of life, these rules don’t seem to be enforced if you are famous or extremely wealthy.

While in line outside of the studio, we struck up a conversation with a contestant’s wife.  I was shocked to find out that they have to wait in line just like the rest of us. One would think that the contestant’s families were important enough not to have to wait outside with the common folk. Evidently not. I did not, however, see the cast of Glee lined up with us (who was there to promote there show. I was very excited about that) nor did I see the woman who I later found out was one of the Real Housewives of Orange County. Not sure if you can consider her famous. So I am gonna chalk that one up to wealth…

As with most things Hollywood, the studio was much smaller in person than it appeared on tv. Its amazing what lighting, cameras, and a little Hollywood magic can do. There was a great energy inside the building and they did a wonderful job of keeping the audience pumped up before the show and between commercial breaks.

Speaking of audience- there isn’t a bad seat in the house. The studio is very small so even if you are in the back, you are still going to see everything just fine.

All the performers had great voices, though some did perform MUCH better than others. Ryan Seacrest is truly great at what he does. He seems to truly love his job.  Simon looked even more bored in person than he does on screen. I think he has already checked out…

Now for the question I have been asked alot lately- How did you get tickets to American Idol? Well, it was really easy. Last year, I went on a website called On Camera Audiences and entered my info to get in the lottery for tickets. Then, a couple days ago I got an email saying my name had been selected followed by a link to more instructions.  I was given three choices: 1. The Tuesday dress rehearsal show, which is essentially the exact same show but without the judges. 2. The Live Tuesday Performance Show or 3. The Wednesday Results show. I chose option two. I was able to reserve up to four tickets, so I selected the maximum and hit send! It was easy as that. I think I got my first show choice because I happened to be on my computer when the email was sent. I am sure the longer it takes you to respond, the less likely you will receive your first choice.

There are other shows you can sign up for from that site as such as So You Think You Can Dance (which I have been selected for twice but have been out of town both times!!!!!) and Dancing With the Stars, so sign up for as many shows as you are interested in. Good Luck!

My Busy Kit WInner!

The winner of the My Busy Kit is Darlene at Vigoville! Congrats! I will put you in contact with Lorraine at My Busy Kit so you can claim your prize. Thank you to all that entered. If you didn't win, you can still use the discount code to get a great deal on my kid's favorite travel accessory.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Laurel Canyon Hike- Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

As we round the corner she spots what she’s been looking for, an open expanse of trail. She turns around, her eyes searching for my nod of approval. When she sees it, she takes off in a full sprint, her silent strides only interrupted by the occasional joy filled giggle.

She loves to run.

Suddenly her gate slows to a stop and she covers her mouth  with one telling finger. Shhhh….. She has spotted something. I creep closer to spot her discovery. Its a lizard. Probably the tenth we have seen one our hike but no less exciting than the first. He does his chest pumping dance and then scurries under a rock. She is overcome with joy and squeals with excitement. Nature through her eyes is pure magic.

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Our hike through Laguna Canyon was a special one. I love when I am able to spend time one on one with my children, especially when we are doing something they love. Mari is my little clone. She loves animals, the outdoors, and hiking. So when we get to hike together, we are two peas in a pod. She asks me about animals and what sorts of food they eat and I point out different flower species to someone who actually has genuine interest.

We headed up Willow Canyon at a fast pace. Most of the time I was trying to keep up with Mari. We stopped occasionally to check out the new crop of poppies and point out tracks that animals had left in the mud.

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We admired  boulder outcrops in the distance and talked about when we had explored rocky caves in hikes past. 


As we reached the top of the hill, we took in the view. I tried to help Mari grasp the concept of those little bumps in the distance actually being the mountains near our home. I wonder if three year olds are as taken aback by grand views as adults are…

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As we wound our way down into Laurel Canyon, we admired the lush vegetation and a steep drop off which was for most of the year, a dry waterfall. We had some rains recently but not enough to get the water flowing over the edge. I imagine it must be a beautiful sight when the water does flow.  We followed the barely trickling stream and stopped to peek at lizards who clung to sun filled portions of trail like they were tiny pieces of heaven.

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On our way back to the trailhead, we passed a boulder that looked just like Blinky from   Pac-Man (Or maybe it was Inky. Or Clyde).


Blinky, however, was not the most excited thing we came across on our hike. Just as the parking lot was in eye sight a snake slithered right across the trail in front of us. And not just any snake, a rattlesnake. A LARGE rattlesnake. I told Mari to stand back as I peered into the bushes to make sure he was gone. Suddenly a loud rattle came from the brush, causing me to gasp and poor Mari to cry with fear. I knew that rattlesnakes were not aggressive but I still wanted to get the heck out of there as fast as possible. I waited until he calmed down and then grabbed Mari and made a run for it. I have been hiking for years and I knew eventually I could come across a rattlesnake, but it was still a nerve jarring experience. I have since explained to Mari the differences between good snakes and bad snakes and have made sure she has had contact with the good snakes (at zoos and nature events) so she doesn’t develop an unhealthy fear of them. Spring is a common time of year to find reptiles on the trails so always be aware of where you are stepping and you should have no problems.

If you would like to hike the trails we did (don’t let our run in with the snake deter you, it certainly won’t deter us.), park at gate #6 on Laguna Canyon Road just west of El Toro Road. Take the Willow Canyon Trail up to the Laurel Spur and the Laurel Canyon Trail back down. The total loop is about 3.7 miles. For more information about Laguna Canyon Wilderness Park click here.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Wildflowers in Orange County: Quail Hill

One of the best things about spring is all the new life. There is just something so miraculous about bursts of color sprouting up amongst fields of vibrant green. Tiny mice and fluffy bunnies open their eyes for the first time and are exposed to Southern California at its best. Little do they know that in a couple short months, the green will be replaced by brown. Recently, I had the chance to participate in my very first photo workshop at Quail Hill in Irvine. The hills were lush and green but the flowers weren’t as plentiful as we had hoped. Luckily there were still enough around to help me work on the finer points of lighting and  manual shooting. Here are some of my best shots. Enjoy! (Special thanks to Nick Carver Photography. He is young  but he certainly knows his stuff. I highly recommend his workshops and hope to be taking another one soon!)

workshop 1




Thursday, April 1, 2010

Phoenix Zoo

Don’t you just love when you visit someplace and it exceeds every expectation you could have had about that place? That’s how I felt about the Phoenix Zoo. It truly is a world class zoo and a definite must see if you are in the Phoenix area.

The first area of the zoo we visited was the Arizona Trail. Its a wonderful tour of the wildlife indigenous to the area. Since this is the desert, there are plenty of lizards and snakes to the view  as well as desert mammals such as coyotes, mountain lions, big horn sheep, and adorable little prairie dogs. Just outside the trail, volunteers had stations set up with touch stations. Mari touched a Madagascar hissing cockroach. It took everything I had in me not to scream. I can handle most creepy crawlies, but cockroaches are not one of them!

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Another highlight of the property is the Monkey Village. It is basically like an aviary filled with squirrel monkeys. There are no cage walls between you and these adorable wild animals. It was very neat to see monkeys in trees and on ropes less than 10 feet from us. During our visit to the exhibit, a monkey actually caught a bird that was flying by and proceeded to eat it! It seemed to be a rare occurrence because the zoo keeper seemed pretty surprised by what she was seeing. Luckily, the monkey was high in the trees and my kids couldn’t see what was going on. I am not sure Mari would have appreciated the more graphic side of nature.

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Another thing I saw at this zoo that I haven’t seen at other zoos was bikes.  Some people brought their own bikes to use as transportation around the zoo while others rented those fun four seater bikes that you typically see at the beach. They even had bikes with two seats in the very front for little riders who weren’t up to pedaling.  For people who prefer to do their pedaling over water, there are paddle boats on the main lake.

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For those of us who won’t be making it to Arabia any time soon, the camel rides are a great experience. It was so watching my kids laugh and smile as the camel lumbered along with them on his back.

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Another thing this zoo does right is provide  incredibly fun and unique play areas. Where else can you slide through a saguaro cactus? My kids especially loved the two story wooden playhouse complete with tunnel slide. There is small creek running near the playhouse that provides a fun place for little ones to get their feet wet on a warm day.

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Of course, everyone can still get their fill of giraffes, rhinos, and lions as well. Not to mention lizards large enough to take down water buffalos….

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The Phoenix Zoo  is open 9-5 for most of the year, except for during those scorching Phoenix summers when the hours change to 7-2 on weekdays and 7-4 on weekends. My advice: try to visit the zoo in the cooler seasons. The animals will be much more active. Cost is $16 for adults and $7 for children ages 3-12.  Under three are free. For more information on the Phoenix Zoo click here.

For more fantastic travel photos, check out Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday here.