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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Coming Up: Noon Year’s Eve Party at Hiller Aviation

Let the kiddies celebrate the new year a little early this year. Hiller Aviation Museum, along with Bay Area Parent, sponsor this annual noon year’s eve party, with a climbing wall, bounce house, face painter, DJ, puppet show, musician, a balloon drop and more.

What: Noon Year’s Eve Party
Where: Hiller Aviation Museum - 601 Skyway Road, San Carlos
When: Wednesday, December 31, 2008 from 10 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Cost: free with admission ($10/adults, $6/kids ages 5-17, free 4 and under) – $1 off coupon on the website (general information page)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Walking with Dinosaurs Review

I promised a reveiw for Walking with Dinosaurs, and here it is!Walking with Dinosors was really well done. The script was good, and even funny in parts. The music added to the show without feeling contrived. The scenery was appropriate And the dinosaurs? Pretty damn cool.

I guess my kids are jaded, because after the show started, my 7 year old daughter said “this is better than I expected,” and my 5 year old son said “I actually like the show. Can we go again?” And this is after I talked it up.
We were sitting in the second row of the balcony, and could see just fine. It helps that the dinosaurs were huge. When I sat in similar seats for Tour of Gymnastics Superstars, I could barely see. Here, the ONLY human in the show is about six feet tall. But he looks like an ant compared the real attraction – the dinosaurs. And he’s projected onto two screens, so you can see him up close anyway.

The show takes you through three periods in history, the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous, learning about the continents, weather, flora and fauna, and the dinosaurs that went with it. I learned a lot without feeling like it was a paleontology class, and most importantly, my kids weren’t bored. I’ll have to quiz them later about what they actually learned (I’m sure it was something). But if nothing else, it was very cool to see the dinosaurs walking around, roaring and interacting.

About the dinosaurs. The smaller ones were so agile it was amazing. Spoiler alert: I finally realized that there’s a person inside there, using his/her legs to power the puppy. Aha – that’s how they move so well. Still, the smaller dinosaurs had so much personality and were very cute.

The larger dinosaurs were still incredible to watch, even though they dragged along a t-shaped bar below them as they walked, which helped prop them up and probably power them. They moved more slowly, but still had great use of their tails, necks and heads. The dinosaur skin, even from the balcony, looked leathery like elephant skin – with folds and texture. They looked quite believable, especially when they roared.

The show starts out in the Triassic period, where there is one continent, Pangea. There are no flowers and it’s a desert environment, 200 million years “BCG” – before computer games (see, I said it was sort of funny). Everything hatches from eggs. Two baby dinosaurs hatch on stage, and they were adorable. “It looks real!” my daughter exclaimed. First dino to enter – a plateosaurus – the first of the giant dinosaurs. It conserves water (there isn’t much) by not sweating or peeing. It weighs four tons. And it’s the beginning of the separation between herbivores and carnivores.

50 million years later, and Pangea has broken apart, splitting with narrow seaways between the land masses. Rain increased and vegetation “exploded.” And on the sidelines of the stage, giant green sprouts appear. “That’s awesome!” my daughter exclaims.

We’re now in the Jurassic period. We follow some giant footprints around the stage, as the paleontologist explains how he learns about the animals by trace fossils – living things (not dead things like bones). He would look for teeth marks which show how they ate or fought, dung (“oooooo” says the younger audience members) which of course shows what they ate. He’d look at the length of their strides and see if they lived in herds.

Out comes a stegosaurus, which draws blood into its plates when provoked, and the allosaurus, which has a giraffe-like neck. Later, in the late Jurassic period, the allosaurus is still here, but now there’s the brachiasaurus, which eats enough fern and pine to grow a ton a year, to its full size. The eggs they hatch from are the size of a football. Dinosaurs peaked at this time, at which point we went to intermission.

After the 20 minute break, dry ice smoke filled the stage, and we jumped aged 30 million years to the Cretaceous period. We watched an ornithocheirus fly over the Atlantic ocean for awhile, a precursor to our birds today (only much larger). The dinosaur landed on dry land, since the continents now have separated to the point where there is Europe and the Americas, only to get eaten by three Utah raptors. Bummer.

The mid-Cretaceous period came on with flowers for the first time, co-evolving with insects which had been around already. Pollination, nectar and colorful flowers became part of the cycle. And at this time, the torosaurus, which means “bull lizard,” was alive. This one was awesome looking dinosaur, with a giant crest on its head, to display its, you know, testosterone.

At the end of the Cretaceous period, came the ankylosaurus, with even heavier armor and a club tail. And then the dino everyone knows best – the T-Rex, which impressively roars around on stage for awhile before the crater hits, destroying 65% of life on the planet, including the dinosaur show.

No matter how much clapping there was at the end, there was no encore, though the baby T-Rex came out for a bow with the paleontologist. I kind of wished the engineers would come out too - it felt a little weird to only clap for the paleontologist and baby dino.

How long is Walking with Dinosaurs?

The show advertises itself as 90 minutes. And certainly you are in the arena for 90 minutes. However 20 of those minutes are for an intermission, which happens a half hour into the first show. It was a bit jarring to have an intermission so early, but I guess they had to sell some refreshments, stuffed dinosaurs, light sticks and also set the stage with “clouds” for the flying dinosaur to come. But to be honest, an hour show was about right for my kids. Not once did my son tell me he wanted to go home, or to ask for food. He was enthralled.
Walking with Dinosaurs tickets
What: Walking with Dinosaurs
When: December 27-30, 2008 (8 shows) at the HP Pavilion, San Jose
Time: Times range from 11 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Tickets to Walking with Dinosaurs tickets are $35, $49 and $70.
Here's a $10 discount coupon for Walking with Dinosaurs (off the $49 and $70 tickets).

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Coming Up: Animation Film Festival at Exploratorium

I have memories of the Animation Film Festival, and most of them didn’t seem appropriate for kids (Sick and Twisted, anyone?). This one, however, I think is.

From Friday, December 26 to Sunday, December 28, the Exploratorium is hosting shows at noon and 2:00 p.m. Sounds family-friendly to me. They describe the short documentaries and animated films as capturing different “playful situations.” Here are a few:

Birdbeat: fugue (2002, 5 min.), by Geoff Adams, transforms the cacophony of birds at a backyard feeder into a jazzy, animated composition.

Fetch (2001, 5 min.), by Nina Paley, is a funny exploration of space involving an animated dog chasing a ball to a lively soundtrack by Nik Phelps and The Sprocket Ensemble.

Sour Death Balls (1993, 4 min.), by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Jessica Yu, offers a humorous and quirky look at how people from all ages and backgrounds react to extremely sour candy.

Western Spaghetti (2008, 2 min.), by PES, is a brilliant stop-motion animation of a surprising cooking demonstration.

White Out (2007, 3 min.), by Jeff Scher, captures the magic of snow with a painterly cascade of skiers and skaters crossing a winter landscape to music by Shay Lynch.

I believe that tickets are $9-11 and free for kids under 3. More info: 415-EXPLORE.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Looking for something to do on Christmas?

The Contemporary Jewish Museum is open, for a free Target Family Day on December 25.

Celebrate Hanukkah and festivals of light from around the world at the only museum in San Francisco open on Christmas day.

Create holiday artwork, explore the Museum's exhibitions, including In the Beginning: Artists Respond to Genesis and Warhol's Jews: Ten Portraits Reconsidered, and enjoy special family-friendly performances by singer Jonathan Bayer and storyteller Michael Katz. Make a day of it and dine on delicious latkes, matzah ball soup, and more at the Museum's Cafe!

And do a mitzvah by taking public transportation.

Where: Contemporary Jewish Museum, 121 Steuart Street, San Francisco
What: Target Family Day
When: Thursday, December 25, 11:00 am - 3:00 p.m.
Cost: Free

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Free train exhibit at the SF Public Library - Thomas the Train, Polar Express and more

Now through January 9th, the San Francisco Public Library is presenting a magical winter wonderland, All Aboard: San Francisco Public Library Holiday Train, an interactive display of beloved trains from children’s literature. Now in its third year, the electric toy train layout features the Polar Express, from the book by Chris Van Allsburg, and Thomas the Tank Engine, from the book series by W. Awdry. The trains will be on display in front of the Fisher Children’s Center, Main Library, second floor, through January 9, 2009.

Visitors can power the interactive exhibit by pushing the buttons that activate each train along the 35-foot-track. Buttons also activate ski gondolas, a Ferris wheel, animated sledders and village lights inside the glass-enclosed exhibit. Large buttons, with easy-to-read signage, make the display readily accessible to young children.

The holiday train display is the work of Roberto Lombardi, the Library’s Facilities Director, and his staff from the Facilities Engineering Unit.

The six-car Polar Express and Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends Clarabel and Annie are all Lionel O scale replicas. An additional display case identifies the different scale model trains. After pushing the buttons, young train enthusiasts can also visit the Children’s Center and check out books about trains.
Where: 100 Larkin Street (at Grove)
Hours: vary - click here for San Francisco Public Library hours

Monday, December 22, 2008

60 Things to do with Kids

Now that it’s winter, I’m catching up on my huge pile of magazines. You think your pile is high? Try being a freelance writer and trying to keep up with researching different magazine markets.
So I came across this article in Grand Magazine (a magazine for grandparents) on 60 Summer Memory Makers to do with kids ages 2-15. Though some of the items are geared toward summer (hey – the article was published in the May/June issue), there are some evergreen ideas to beat the boredom when your kids are off school or when you're visiting relatives during the break.

A few samples: (the ideas are from Grand, the additional text is mine, so no copyright infringment here)

1. Paint pottery at a studio (try Laurel Street Arts in San Carlos, Aran’s Art Studio in Castro Valley, Color Me Mine in Daly City, All Fired Up in Burlingame, and Fire Works in Mountain View.

2. Pick up Litter: okay I realize this doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but if it’s a decent day, this is a great way to teach some civic responsibility and get outside in a pretty area. Go to a park or just walk down the street and make the area cleaner. And then get the kids a treat.

3. Skip rocks: find that open body of water and let loose.

4. The thrift store scavenger hunt: come up with a list of odd items to find (you don’t have to buy them). And then let the kids search for them. Grand’s idea for items: a 2-slice toaster, four pink sweaters...).

5. Make thank-you notes. Be creative, whether hand making them with paint, crafted with add-on items or made on the computer.

6. Picnic. This may not be an outdoor activity in December, but have a picnic in the kitchen or living room, or in front of the fireplace.

7. Make a video: and then post if for the family on You Tube.

8. Perform scientific experiments. We’ve been meaning to do this one – making sugar crystal sticks (which I did in 7 & 8th grade for my science project)

Read the full list of idea memory makers here.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Menorah Lighting in Burlingame

Come celebrate the third night of Chanukah in a public celebration in Burlingame. Enjoy live music, hot latkes, a fire show by the Amazing Jeremy Shafer, animal balloons, jugglng and this year’s featured menorah, made out of canned food that will donated to the poor.

What: Chabad Burlingame Chanukah festival and menorah lighting
When: Tuesday, December 23 at 6:00 p.m.
Where: Washington Park, Burlingame (behind Burlingame train station at east end of Burlingame Ave)
Cost: Free

Menorah Lighting at Vallco Ice Center and downtown Palo Alto

For those looking for something to do on December 24 eve, check out Chaunukah on Ice at the Vallco Ice Center.

Celebrate with a menorah lighting, skating to Jewish music, latkes and cider, make yoru own menorah, donut decorating and more. Food and rafle tickets for sale.

Or in downtown Palo Alto, see a CHOCOLATE menorah get lit on Sunday, December 21 at 4:00 p.m. Lighting is at City Hall Plaza, 250 Hamilton Ave, Palo Alto. Enjoy latkes and cider, live music, crafts and Hanukkah gelt. Free.

Chanukkah on Ice:
What: Chanukah on Ice sponsored by Chabad of Greater South Bay
Where: Valco Ice Center, 10123 N. Wolfe Road, Cupertino
When: Wednesday, December 24 from 5-8:00
Cost: adults $10 (advance), $12 at door. Kids: $8 (advance), $10 at door.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Coming Up: Gilroy Gardens Holiday Lights

Something different at Gilroy Garden: Holiday lights featuring a Charlie Brown Christmas from Knott’s Merry Farm (how’s that for a mouthful?)

Your ticket includes an all-you can eat “feast”, ice skating under the stars, visit with Santa and holiday themed rides. Plus the Peanuts character will be there.

What: Gilroy Gardens Holiday Lights
When: December 19th-23rd, 26th-28th from 4pm-9pm
Cost: $24.99 unless you’re a season pass holder (I think it’s $10 for those)
Tickets: Gilroy Gardens Holiday lights tickets here

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Easy Hanukkah crafts for toddlers and kids

As the token Jewish family in both my kids’ classes, I get to be the Hanukkah lady, coming up with craft ideas for the kids to learn about the festival of lights. So I don’t want my research to go to waste. Here are some Hanukah projects you can do at home...or at school!

Make your own menorahAh, many ways to do this. Here are some things my kids did in preschool. This one first used beads glued atop a wooden base. You can also use bolts (yes, the kind you get at the hardware store). The candles are pipe cleaners topped with glitter and glue.

Make a menorah out of thumbprints. This is best done with the babysitter, so you don’t have to watch your child running around with ink on her hands, wondering what else she’s going to touch and whether she’s going to ruin your bathroom towels when she watches her hand.

Edible dreidel – the kids did this in my son’s class. My sample looked terrible (don’t use old marshmallows, and don’t use Trader Joe’s honey-wheat pretzels – they’re too thick).
Take a marshmallow, and write the Hebrew letters “nun” “gimmel” “hey” and “shin” with edible markers on the marshmallow, one on each of four “sides” of the round part of the marshmallow. Then “glue” an unwrapped Hershey’s kiss to the bottom with peanut butter or frosting. Cram a thin pretzel rod into the top of the marshmallow and voila – you’re done!

This is a similar pop up dreidel card, which we plan to do with the second grade at their multi-cultural festival. This idea came from Family Fun Magazine (the Dec 08 issue).

Dori made a Hanukkah stamp out of craft foam or Styrofoam that she carved into. Then dip it on the ink pad and stamp away!

To make an edible menorah, you can put a strip of icing down, and put 9 marshmallows in a line. Then dip a pretzel stick into the top of each other, Not beautiful, but the kids will love it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Easy Birthday Cakes for Boys: Trains

Okay, this is the last in my series of easy cakes for boys and girls. From past posts you know:

---I’m not a good baker
---I made two passable car-related cakes
---I made my daughter happy with a princess cake and flower cupcakes.
So I saved the EASIEST for last. This one is a train cake, and it was a hit. The best part: you

BUY pound cake and don’t have to bake at all! You can make this cake as big as you want by adding on pound cake cars.

So, here are the details. Buy several pound cakes and canned frosting and food dye. Dye the frosting whatever color you want. The engine is made with a block of pound cake, and an additional chunk on top for the engineer to sit in. But really, there’s no engineer in this cake, which eliminates much of the carving.

Decorate it with red licorice (or black if you like that – yuck is my personal thought on black licorice). Wheels are made with Oreos. Windows are made with my favorite Wilton frosting in a can ($5 at the grocery store – it comes with 4 tips).
For the engine, you can make a steam vent with construction paper and cotton balls. For the other cars, you can load them up with logs (i.e. pirouette cookies or the like) and connect them with licorice. You could put toys on top as well.

Coming Up: Fratello Marionettes at San Francisco Library, Chinatown Branch

Watch the fun show The North Pole Review, by the Fratello Marionettes at the Chinatown Branch of the San Francisco Public Library!

What: the Fratello Marionettes
Where: the Chinatown Branch of the San Francisco Public Library (1135 Powell Street)
When: Thursday, December 18, 10 a.m.
Cost: free

Monday, December 15, 2008

We have a Winner: Walking with Dinosaurs

Thanks to everyone who entered the Walking with Dinosaurs contest. I regret I only have one set of tickets to give away, and the lucky winner's name is at the bottom of the entry.

If you want to buy tickets, use the discounted coupon here for $10 off all tickets but the $35 ones. Or check out the youtube video.

I loved loved loved reading all the dinosaur facts and hearing from blog readers via email as well. Please check out the comments, since there's some great information there!

Here's some dinosaur additional trivia, not nearly as good as what the blog readers provided:
--A dinosaur is a reptile

--Dinosaurs ruled the Earth 100 million years ago

--700 different types of dinosaurs existed

--Dinosaur means "terrible lizard"

--No one knows what color dinosaurs were

--Most dinosaurs were herbivores

Teachers, or parents click here for a dinosaur study guide - fun stuff to learn before the show.

And now for the winner:

Congratulations to Stephanie C who will be taking her family to Walking With Dinosaurs on Friday, December 26.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bay Area Holiday Light Displays

You’ve probably already noticed holiday light displays in your neighborhood. Perhaps you want to see more!

Here are two places to start, but feel free to post on other great places to see holiday lights.

Eucalyptus Street – San Carlos - this is a great residential area with holiday displays.

Vasona Park in Los Gatos has its 10th annual light display - the Volcano Dinosaur Den 3! It’s open from 6-10 p.m. and admission is $15/car.

Here's a list of other Bay Area holiday light displays, though I'd love to hear more from your experience!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Contest: Win 4 tickets to Walking with Dinosaurs

Contest reminder: Win 4 tickets to Walking with Dinosaurs by posting a comment on this page:

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, the live show of Walking with Dinosaurs is coming to the HP Pavilion on December 26-30, with 9 shows. I'm giving away four tickets to the opening night show (Friday, December 26 at 7 p.m.) from a random drawing of people who post a dinosaur fact (and give me their email address so I can contact them about the tickets if they win).

More information on this 90 minute live Walking with Dinosaurs show here. And look for a review on Frisco Kids after it the show opens!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Coming Up: Hanukkah Crafts and Stories at Linden Tree

Come to Linden Tree Books for Hanukkah crafts and story time, sponsored by
Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School. The school’s kindergarten teachers will lead the activities and read the stories.

What: Hanukkah Crafts and Stories
For whom: kids ages 3-5
When: Sunday, December 14 from 11 a.m .to noon
Cost: free
Where: Linden Tree, 170 State Street, Los Altos

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Coming Up: Life-Size Candyland

Win prizes and candy during carnival style games at a life-size Candyland. And do arts and crafts plus play in the snow! Recommended for kids ages 3-9.

Where: King Community Center, 725 Monte Diablo Ave, San Mateo
When: Saturday, December 13 from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Cost: $5/person (covers one adult, one kid). Kids 2 and under are free

Snacks available for purchase

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Easy Birthday Cakes for Girls: Flower cupcakes and Princess Castle Cake

Now if you’ve read my post on boys’ cars cakes, you’ll know I’m not much of a baker.

But I do have that naive sense that I can do anything. So here are two cake ideas for your girl’s birthday.

Princess castle cake:
I used a square Pyrex pan to make this two layered cake. In fact I’m such an idiot that I decided to do a double cake (don't get my husband started on this one), and had only one pan. So I needed to bake in the damn pan four times so it would be even. I used cake mix, of course. And can frosting tinged with red food dye. Voila – a lovely pink color.

Bake the cake (and stick with 2 square cakes if you can), and try to make them even on top so it doesn’t bulge like mine did. After frosting it with pink, add doors and windows using Hershey’s chocolate rectangles.

To outline the windows and doors I used pink Wilton frosting in a can – you squirt it on and it’s very easy. The can costs about $5 at the grocery store and comes with 4 tips.

Outline the roof and base with mini marshmallows. For the turrets, you probably already guessed what I used – ice cream cones. Cover these puppies with frosting and roll them in sprinkles (or just shake the sprinkles on). The kids will fight over these. At the top was another mini marshmallow put in place with a squirt of frosting. We made flags for the tops using construction paper and toothpicks – you can see they didn’t all hold very well. We had to clip a bit off the cone off to stick them in (the marshmallow holds them in place theoretically).

Not the most professional looking cake, but the girls LOVED it and the moms were impressed. Granted, I set low standards.

Now for the cupcakes – these were for school. I got the recipe from Family Fun’s website, but there was a similar design on the marshmallow bag.

Again, cake mix and canned frosting, tinted with food coloring. I made two colors, for boys and girls. Looked pretty, but probably a waste of time.

For the flowers, I smooshed a big marshmallow and cut it into 5 pieces, laying down each piece in a flower petal shape, sprinkled with sprinkles. The middle was a gum drop. I was quite impressed with myself, though the Family Fun version looked much nicer. Shocking.

The kids, as kids do, threw most of the cupcake in the trash, after picking off a gumdrop here, or licking the frosting there. It was quite painful to watch, and I recommend you spare yourself the pain and just leave the cupcakes at school and run.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Get ‘Yer Tickets and WIN TICKETS to Walking with Dinosaurs

You may think Dinosaurs are extinct, but they’re coming to the HP Pavilion in San Jose on December 26-30. WIN FOUR TICKETS TO THE OPENING NIGHT SHOW of Walking with Dinosaurs by posting a comment on Frisco Kids - info at the bottom

This live theatrical arena show is based on the award-winning BBC Television Series. The 90 minute show features ten species from the 200 million year dino reign. A "paleontologist" actor narrates the show, describing the, their actions, and their environment in a historically accurate and entertaining manner. And dino aficionados can try figuring out which is the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Plateosaurus, the Stegosaurus and the Allosaurus to name a few.

The largest is the Brachiosaurus, at 36 feet tall, and 56 feet from nose to tail. The dinosaurs took 50 engineers, fabricators, skin makers, artists, painters and animatronic experts a year to build the original production.

During Walking with Dinosaurs, you’ll see the dinosaurs interacting, and learn how they evolved to walk on two legs, and how they fended off their more agile predators. You’ll see the earth’s continents split and the arid desert transition to lush green prairies, and see the oceans form, volcanoes erupt, a forest catches fire -- all leading to the massive comet, which struck the earth, and forced the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Or so the press release says. Far Side cartoonist Gary Larson’s cartoon showed that maybe the dinosaurs died from smoking cigarettes (scroll down halfway).

I’ll be at the opening night show, so look for my review of Walking with Dinosaurs that weekend.

How to win tickets?
Post a comment on this blog with a dinosaur fact. And either leave your email address in the comment, or email the comment and your fact to me at (but you have to also post the comment). I’ll email the winner about how to get your four free tickets.

Contest ends December 15 at noon Pacific Time.

The tickets are for Friday, December 26 at 7 p.m., at the HP Arean in San Jose.

For those who don’t win, get a $10 off coupon for Walking with Dinosaurs here for the $49 and $70 tickets

What: Walking with Dinosaurs
When: December 26-30, 2008 (9 shows)
Time: Times range from 11 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Where: HP Pavilion, San Jose
Tickets: Walking with Dinosaurs tickets are $35, $49 and $70. For a $10 coupon off the $49 and $70 tickets, click here.

Coming Up: Free Family Program at SFMOMA

Maybe you heard me ramble on in a previous post about SFMOMA’s (free) family days. If not, read it here.

If you did and you can’t bear to read it again (that’s probably most of you), there are two family programs coming up on June 7 and 21.

What: SFMOMA’s free family programs
When: June 7 (enjoy a family tour of landscape artists Georgia O’Keeffe, Andre Derain, and Max Beckmann, and create your own landscape picture).

On Father's Day, June 21, the Target Family Day program is "inspired by nature" looking at works by Georgia O'Keefe and Ansel Adams (you've heard of them, right?). Hands-on projects, presentations and performances...
Time: 11-3 (Tour starts at 1:00, special presentation at 2:00 (first come, first served basis)
Who: kids ages 4-11 and up to 4 accompanying adults.
Where: Koret Visitor Education Center, SFMOMA, 3rd between Mission & Howard
Cost: Free for famlies

Friday, December 5, 2008

Coming Up: Hometown Holidays in Redwood City

Snow, Santa Claus, a parade, entertainment, snow, ice carving, tamale tasting, ballet, holiday tree contests, the Caltrain “holiday train,” fireworks (at night) plus a movie. Here’s the complete schedule for Hometown Holidays.

At 1:00 and 7:30 is a Nutcracker show at the Fox Theater. Get tickets for the Nutcracker here.

What: Hometown Holidays in Redwood City
When: Saturday, December 6 starting at 10 a.m.
Where: downtown Redwood City
Cost: free

Review: La Costa Resort in Carlsbad California

If you look fabulous in a bikini, even after birthing three children, you’ll fit right in at La Costa. Granted, we went in summer, when every woman but me was in that bikini. Lots of families at this resort, in short driving distance of the Pacific Ocean, but definitely not on it.

Whether you want to pawn your kids off at La Costa’s Kidtopia camp, or keep them around while splashing at the pool, kids are definitely welcome here.

In the resort’s pool complex, you have three options. One pool is shallow with a sandy beach entrance. One is a regular roundish pool for hanging out (swimming laps would be difficult if others were in there). And one is the landing spot for adventurous souls going down their two fabulous slides.

My daughter surprised us by going down (again and again) the two-story winding slides without a second thought. For those who aren’t tall enough or comfortable enough with these, there’s a kiddie slide which is hugely fun for the tots. In between the kiddie slide (photo at right) and the big slide is a water play area, with various structures to run around while they spurt and bubble water out in all directions (photo below on right).

The hotel has special events for the families, like crafts some afternoons, and occasional evening events like S’more making, that are free. We saw a great morning show with a lizard guy, who brought out his blue-tongued skink and boa constrictor as two of the many crawling creatures. And it was free.

The Kidtopia room looked fun, with morning and afternoon sessions for kids ages six months to 12 years, as well as some evening sessions where they feed the kids dinner. We didn’t use them, but we did poke around. There’s a craft area, indoor climbing structure for toddlers, computers and aquarium, plus large motor skill things for the younger set. (More details below)

Though we didn’t take advantage, they also offer kids’ tennis and golf camps in the summer. And they have a teen program for kids ages 10 and up (since when was “10” considered a teen?)

We shared a suite with my brother-in-law’s family. Each family had a self-contained room with 1-2 beds and a fully bathroom. Our rooms opened to a shared lounging area with couches and TV. That way, the kids could sleep and we could play Settlers of Catan (theoretically). Or we could just leave my sister-in-law behind with all the kids, while the rest of the adults played hearts in my in-laws room (wisely for them in a different building).

According to their website, they also offer an arrival goody bag for all kids (we didn’t get this), free crib usage with a stuffed animal and kiddie bathing products, free use of diaper genies and high chairs, rental strollers, baby-proofing supplies, and Nintendo Game Boys on request. My sister-in-law asked for a mini-fridge in the room, but they wanted something like $40 a day for that. And they didn’t take too kindly to a request to heat up a Jenny Craig meal in their microwave either.

One downside in the room: the door separating the bathroom from the sleeping area was a sliding door with no lock, though the toilet did have an additional door. However the kids could easily slide open the main bathroom door while we were showering in the glass-walled enclosure, exposing us to anyone who happened to be in the bedroom.

“Indulge, invigorate and inspire” is the theme of the spa, and thanks to my mother-in-law, I was able to do just that. The 50 minute massage clocked in at just over $3 a minute – $155 - not cheap! The women’s spa area features free loofa rubs, where you lie naked on a massage table, while the technician rubs you down and then hoses you off. Quick and dirty. The toiletries were fabulous and the Spanish style co-ed waiting area is relaxing. You can hang out inside the single sex spa lounge, or go outside for a co-ed rainforest shower or Jacuzzi soak. And they have sunblock out there for you as well.

The downsides: the parking lots are a hike from the rooms. The hotel does provide free valet service during the day, though, you might spend 10 minutes walking to get your car at night and in the morning.

We only ate breakfasts at the hotel – they have a buffet, at least on weekends. The restaurant service slow, and the buffet was average. It cost about $25 for adults, and the resort offers package rates.

La Costa is about 30-45 minutes north of San Diego, with Sea World, the San Diego Zoo and more.

It’s about a 10-15 minute drive to Legoland, and you can read about our experience at Legoland here.

Rates start at $350 a room, and go up up up from there. Plus there’s a $22 resort fee daily.

Kidtopia: for kids ages 6 months to 12 years. Kids 2 and under have a two hour maximum time at the club, and parents must remain on resort grounds. They take the kids swimming, play outdoor games, do crafts and watch movies.
Half day (four hours): $50 which includes lunch.
Full day (9:00-4:00) is $80 and includes lunch.
Evening program is 6:00-10:00 and includes dinner, for $55.
There’s a 10% discount for siblings.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tackling Tahoe with Toddlers

My friends thought I was crazy to take an infant and toddler to Lake Tahoe. Not only was it winter, but my husband Mark would be occupied at a conference there. But I’m an optimist. I had visions of us happily sledding down the hill in the sun, making snow angels and snowmen while Mark spent his days indoors.

I didn’t count on the storm dumping four feet of snow in two days. I didn’t count on our kids not sleeping well. I didn’t count on the seven hour power failure. And I sure didn’t count on difficulty in booking $20 an hour babysitter for my only ski day in six years.

So here’s a list of places to go with young kids. And click here to read the complete article on Tackling Tahoe with Young Kids. It’s too long to publish on the blog.

Kidzone Museum
The biggest gem for kids in the Tahoe area is the Kidzone Museum, good for infants on up. Explore the cushioned crawling area with teething toys, indoor jungle gym, train table, mini-grocery store, hands-on doctor’s office, water play lagoon, dress up area, stage coach and craft room. This indoor museum is open most snow days (providing you can get there).

Historic Downtown Truckee
When the sun is out, this is the place to be with young kids. Spend a morning walking around the historic and picturesque streets of downtown Truckee. Stroll by the stores, which are surprisingly nice. Most of the local eateries are kid-friendly. The shops and restaurants are on two long blocks which are somewhat stroller friendly if the snow is cleared.

Sleigh Ride
Get the kids singing Jingle Bells as you ride on open sleighs pulled by horses. The 30 minute rides are suitable for babies to grannies – with blankets provided to keep you warm while you take in the scenery.
While hearing “mush” may remind you of grandmother’s breakfast, the cold air blowing through your hair as 10 gorgeous huskies pull you through the snow will leave you refreshed. Kids love the Alaskan and Siberian Huskies pulling the toboggan sleds, and you’ll love the photos. Cozy up with your family (kids need to be at least 10 months old) under blankets at Wilderness Adventures Dog Sled Tours at Sugar Bowl or at the Resort at Squaw Creek. Children should be at least two for the Husky Express Dog Sled Tours, 30 minutes south of South Lake Tahoe. The ride is not recommended for pregnant women.

Sledding or Tubing
If your child has a sense of adventure, consider sledding or tubing. Many ski resorts have their own sledding and tubing hills with rentals.

Ice Skating: Squaw Creek, Heavenly, South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena
Those living in warmer climates don’t know what they’re missing if they haven’t ice skated outdoors. For scenic skating, take the tram at Squaw Valley and skate while overlooking the lake. Fearful of heights? Go to the outdoor Resort at Squaw Creek rink, or the newly opened rink at Heavenly Village. For indoor skating, the South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena is open year round.

Lake Cruise
On a clear day, the lake is a great place for unobstructed snow capped mountain views, especially since it doesn’t freeze in winter. Take the kids on a 2 ¼ hour narrated cruise in Emerald Bay with Lake Tahoe Cruises. It runs daily at 1:00 p.m. with lunch and drinks sold on board. Crawling babies may find the floor a bit dirty, so bring a stroller or carrier.
Combine California cannibal history with snow play at Donner Memorial State Park and Museum in Truckee. Spend an hour at the Emigrant Trail Museum, which shows the area’s history including inhabitants like the Native Americans, the Donner Party and transcontinental railroad builders. The museum has a slide show, movies and exhibits. And in winter, there’s plenty of snow in the park for snow angels and snowball fights.

Ski Slope Day Care or Kids’ Ski School Progams
The key element to a successful day on the slopes with young children is babysitting. Many of the ski resorts provide day care and ski school, though the minimum age is usually two or three. Heavenly is the only resort taking infants, from six weeks up. The programs aren’t cheap, but they are fun for the kids, often including snow play, songs, crafts, playtime, lunch and snacks. Call ahead for reservations.

If you and your partner want to take turns watching the kids during the day, spring for an interchangeable ski ticket at Alpine Meadows, Northstar, Homewood or Tahoe at Donner. For the same price as a single adult ski ticket, the interchangeable ticket is good all day, no matter who uses it. At most Tahoe ski resorts, kids five and under ski free.

Details: Most programs have indoor and outdoor play, crafts, songs, and include snack and lunch. All but Heavenly and Sierra at Tahoe required kids to be toilet trained. Reservations book up quickly.
Squaw Valley (530) 581-7166.
Northstar at Tahoe (530) 562-2278.
Heavenly (775) 586-7000 x 6912.
Sugar Bowl (530) 426-6776.
Diamond Peak (775) 832-1177;
Kirkwood (209) 258-7274;
Sierra at Tahoe (530) 659-7453 ext 270.
Resort at Squaw Creek (800) 327-3353.

Once you get over the sticker shock of up to $20 an hour babysitting for two kids (holidays may cost more) you’ll find several services. Most nannies will come to your lodging to babysit, and will bring toys, games and sleds if appropriate. The hourly cost of babysitting does not include the services’ $10-30 referral fee, and possible $10-30 travel fee if the sitter lives outside your area.

Call ahead for babysitting – up to three weeks for Fridays and Saturdays.

The agencies are required by law to perform a TrustLine background check, though not all do them. TrustLine requires fingerprinting and California Department of Justice checks for criminal convictions and substantiated child abuse reports. To confirm a caregiver’s status, ask the agency for the sitter’s full name and driver’s license number, and call TrustLine at (800) 822-8490. These status checks by consumers are free.
Check with Neta’s Nannies or a complete list of Lake Tahoe babysitters. Tahoe Kids Guide also provides referrals.

Other Family Friendly Tahoe Resources
Tahoe Kids Guide

--Book a hotel suite or a condo, with a separate bedroom for the kids.
--Bring flashlights or candles (with matches) in case of a power outage.
--Bring a shovel in case you need to dig your car out (many hotels can lend them to guests)
--Book a room with a kitchen, so you don’t have to eat out. If you don’t have a kitchen, be sure there is a restaurant in walking distance of your hotel, in case you get snowed in.
--Bring a bottle of snow cone syrup for a special kid treat – pour it directly in the snow and eat up!
--Call several weeks ahead for a babysitter, especially for weekends. Ask about all fees (i.e. referral, travel and cancellation) to avoid surprises.
--Bring a copy of your child’s birth certificate in case the ski resort child care asks for proof of age.
--Check if child needs to be toilet trained if you want ski slope day care.
--The childcare programs at the ski resorts offer different levels of activity. Check the websites or call the programs to be sure your child will be comfortable.
--If you bring your child to ski resort child care, be sure to get a list of what you need to bring (i.e. mittens, lunch, sunscreen, change of clothes etc.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Review: The Green Year

We moms don’t have huge amounts of time to read. And while we’re trying to save the world, we have to do in between drop off and pick up, or maybe while we’re in between emails. So this is where The Green Year by Jodi Helmer, comes in handy. The book, which goes on sale December 2nd, promotes “365 small things you can do to make a big difference.” Each day, there’s an idea you can use, which doesn't suck up all your time.

Better yet, involve your kids and have them pick out ideas to implement. Here are a few of the kid-friendly ones.

January 15: turn off the tap when you’re brushing your teeth. Admittedly this is my pet peeve, and I still don’t understand how in California, with a water shortage, people let the water run while they’re brushing their teeth and cleaning dishes. Sure you need the water to rinse off the dish, but you don’t need to leave it on while you’re putting the dishes in the dishwater too.

January 22: store reusable shopping bags in the car. I know, I know. You forget they’re in there until you’re actually checking out. But if you put them with your grocery list, you won’t forget them.

March 29: research ecofriendly paint to use for your next home improvement project. I don’t think this one needs much explanation. Fumes anyone?

October 20 – donate used winter coats to charity. And you’re in luck, because I just blogged about a coat drive going on RIGHT NOW – and you can read the post here – One Warm Coat.

November 6 - ask about teleconferencing at the office. This holds for volunteer meetings too - no need to waste gas if you only need to be heard, not seen.

The book isn't rocket science, which means that the ideas are easy to implement. That's not a criticism of the book - it's a good thing. I don't have the concentration for rocket science these days.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Volunteer: Assemble Holiday Bags in San Mateo or Deliver Bags to Seniors

I have a soft spot in my heart for filling holiday bags at Jewish Family and Children's Services, since I met my husband doing this in San Francisco. So now we can bring our school-aged kids and get them in on the fun.

If this doesn’t work out timewise, or your kids are too young, you can deliver the bags from December 15-18 in the North Peninsula. The seniors love seeing the kids, so this is a great way to get them involved in doing good deeds.

What: Fill holiday bags for isolated seniors and participate in a festive Shabbat program
When: Friday, December 12, 4:00- 6:00 pm to fill bags.
Sunday, December 14, 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. pick up bags to deliver
Where: Jewish Family and Children's Services 2001 Winward Way, San Mateo.
RSVP & info: Pauline Shulman at (650) 931-1858 or

Coming Up: December holiday programs at Bay Area Discovery Museum

The Bay Area Discovery Museum at Fort Baker (Sausalito) has a several fun programs set for December. Here’s what to expect:

Dmitri Matheny's The SnowCat (concert)**

Saturdays December 13, 20 & 27

11 a.m. (ages 2 and up)

Cost: Members $8; General $10 (Ticket price includes a free SnowCat coloring book for each child.)

**Jazz flugelhornist and composer Dmitri Matheny and his talented band weave a magical, musical tale of adventure and friendship set in the heart of San Francisco. The story of a little girl searching for her missing cat is woven together through vocals, jazz and projected images. The SnowCat reveals the spirit of thankfulness that make the holiday season such a wonderful time of the year.

FREE FESTIVAL: Kwanzaa Celebration

Friday, December 26

Free Museum admission and performances!

Enjoy the African Roots of Jazz concerts at 11 a.m. & 1 p.m.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Coming Up: Randall Museum Drop-in Saturday Crafts in December

Each week, the Randall Museum in San Francisco has drop-in craft activities. Here’s the schedule for December:

December 6: Holiday Crafts Day

December 13: Using found wood, construct and paint your own ad hoc sculpture in our wood shop!

December 20: Make your own mosaic picture frame.

December 27 Dip into the art of printmaking with bold and instantly gratifying monoprints
What: Drop-in crafts at the Randall Museum
When: each Saturday from 1:00-4:00
Where: Randall Museum, 199 Museum Way, San Francisco
Cost: $3/child, $5/child-adult combo. Kids under 8 must be with a paying adult. Sign up at the front desk to participate (last sign-up time is 3:30).

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Review: Time of My Life by Allison Winn Scotch

If you’re looking for a good chick-lit book to read, or a present for another mom, think about Time of My Life by Allison Winn Scotch. The book features Jillian, a 30-something mom of a toddler , who spends a lot of time thinking about “what if…” What if she didn’t marry her hubby Henry, who she's began to loathe. What if she instead married her previous boyfriend Jackson? What if she continued in her high power advertising job instead of quitting to be a stay-at-home mom? What if she still lived in Manhattan, instead of moving out to the suburbs?

Rather than just wondering, though the mystery of a certain massage therapist’s hands, Jillian ends up in her old life. She has the chance to change her future, and to learn about herself in the process. What does her new future hold? That's up to you to find out.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What happens to the presidential turkey? I'm going to Disneyland!

Okay, here’s a little known Thanksgiving fact you can use to impress your friends and family. Or maybe none of them will care.

What happens to the turkey that the president pardons this year? It’s going to Disneyland! After President Bush pardons the turkey (for its sin of being born, apparently), it will fly on United Airlines to California (window seat?) and serve as grand marshal in its Thanksgiving Day parade down Main Street.

Maybe the turkey will pull a Nancy Kerrigan, saying during the parade “This is dumb. I hate it. This the most corniest thing I have ever done.” Or maybe it will be happy it didn't get clubbed in the knee...or worse.

It’s too bad the Alaskan turkey Sarah Palin pardoned won’t go here. While being pardoned, that turkey got to watch its friends get decapitated.

After the Disneyland parade, the presidentially pardoned turkey (named Pumpkin) and its friend Pecan will live its remaining days at Santa's Reindeer Round-Up at Big Thunder Ranch in Frontierland.

So if you go to Disneyland and get a big ole turkey leg for lunch…

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Coming Up: Santa Claus comes to Talbot’s Toy Store

Santa and his elves will Talbot’s Toy Land on a San Mateo fire truck on Friday, November 28 at 11:00 a.m.

From 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 Santa will pose for free photos.

Talbot's Toy Land is at 445 South B Street, San Mateo – (866) 924-5708

Monday, November 24, 2008

Airline Traveling with Kids: Flying without Fear

Before we had kids, we saw those pathetic families in airports with mountains of luggage, screaming kids and bags not only streaming behind them, but dragging down their eyelids. Yes, we felt a little sorry for them. But mostly we hoped they weren’t sitting near us.

And now we’re them. Follow these steps, and any passenger will be happy as your seat mate.

The best flights. This is a no-brainer. Fly direct if at all possible. Do it even if it costs you more. A lot more. Child time on airplanes is like dog time. Each hour feels like seven.

Checking the carseat. Let’s say you’ll need a carseat at your destination. Do you check it as luggage or bring it on board? It depends.

If you paid for a seat, bring it on board and strap it in. Aside from safety, the advantage is that your child might actually fall asleep on the plane. And that makes it easier for you to use the restroom and eat the delicious airline peanuts.

For older kids, it’s a toss up. My 3 year old is just as happy sitting in the seat with the safety belt, and it’s one less thing to lug through the airport. The airlines usually put the seats in clear plastic bags, so they arrive clean.

To get through screening easily, wear shoes with no laces. Don’t wear a belt – too much time. Count your carry-ons (or at least the number of bins you use) before sending them through the x-ray machine so you know how many you need at the end. I almost left a leather coat at the exit after failing to do this.

Contrary to popular belief, not all airlines let you board early. Southwest Airlines lets you on between the A and B groups (unless you already have A boarding passes) if your child is 5 or younger. But American? You, your carseats, backpacks, and 50 pounds of “must have” carry-on luggage boards with everyone else.

But boarding early is overrated. Do you really want to feel trapped for another 30 minutes? Sure you can be the first to stuff that overhead bin with your winter coat and the carry-on luggage you're too cheap to pay to check. But if your child is mobile, that extra time on the plane is no fun for you or junior. My advice? Board LAST. Let junior get out some energy on that clean, hygienic airport carpet. Limit your carry-ons and use the space underneath the seat in front of you.

Lap child or extra seat?Purchasing seats for kids under two is not required by the airlines. For these kids, you’ll pay half the cost of your ticket on most airlines (but your baby can earn full frequent flyer miles). Over age two, you’ll pay full fare.

In the olden days (pre-9/11 and before airlines were all going bankrupt and cutting flights), families could easily snag an empty seat for their child. It might not be next to you, but surely some kind passenger with grandkids would sacrifice by moving so your screaming bundle could have a seat to call her own. These days, the plane will be full. If there’s a spare seat, buy a lottery ticket when exiting the plane. It’s your lucky day.

Purchasing a seat does not guarantee your child will sit in it. But you’ll have a place for toys, food and sweaters, and your child has one less person to poke and prod during the flight (of course the people in front of and behind you are still fair game).

Internationally, you’ll pay fees for your child if you don’t buy a seat. A friend took her baby to England and it cost her $100 for her lap child. And she suffered the entire trip, swearing she’d buy a seat for her baby on her next overseas flight.

Some airlines require you to show a birth certificate for your lap child, to ensure he is under age two. Make a copy and put it with your flight information, so you won’t be forced to buy a last-minute ticket for him if the check-in agent can’t tell a three month old from a three year old.

Entertaining Junior
While the standard goody bag of toys is helpful, parents ignore the hidden treasures already on the plane: barf bags, laminated airline safety cards, in-flight shopping magazines (with pictures of kids and toys), in-flight snack packets (at least the free ones on Southwest). They have texture, noise and don’t hurt if thrown. And play with plastic cups from the beverage cart and headphones too.

Bring along crayons and stickers to transform the barf bag into a puppet. Blow bubbles in the aisle – other kids will appreciate it too (mini bottles are under 3 ounces). Use the airline magazine photos to make up stories. The headphones are fun as-is, and many airlines have kids’ music as a selection. Bring or rent a portable DVD player or save movies on your iPad. Yes and Know invisible ink books are awesome. Wikki Stix are great, as long as you don't need to cut them. Older kids can make friendship bracelets (nail clippers work for cutting), and of course there's the Rainbow Loom.

Get creative. On one miserable flight with a screaming two year old (ours) we were so desperate we actually gave her a beer can to play with. We got some strange looks, but it kept her entertained long enough for us to drink the other beer.

Happy Child/Happy Parent
A little bribe goes a long way to make flying easier. Figure out what it would take for your child to behave on a flight – whether it’s stickers, M&Ms or a Hot Wheels car at the end of the flight. And remind Junior when he starts whining that he only gets his special treat if he behaves.

Bring food, even if its being served on the flight (yeah, right!). Your plane could be late. Domestic flights these days (flying coach) usually only sell meals on board – you’re stuck with their overpriced selection. Sandwiches, cheese sticks, goldfish, carrots - we bring it all.

I know some of you are going to shake your heads at this, but some parents give their kids Benedryl to help them sleep during the flight. I’m not taking a stand (though it hasn’t worked for me). If you consider doing this, ask your doctor the correct dose for your child. Try it out ahead of time. Some children have the opposite reaction, becoming hyperactive, not sedated, with Benedryl’s use.

I highly recommend a carrying device like a Bjorn Bjorn or sling for the flight, if your child is under one year, or is lightweight. The Bjorn (and other front-carriers) cannot be worn during take off and landing (we’ve been caught numerous times, but it is an FAA regulation). All other times are fine. Having your child quiet is invaluable. Having your hands free during that time is golden.

What to bring
Bring a lightweight stroller, preferably one with a basket. Even if your child won’t ride in it, it doubles as a luggage cart in the airport. Check the stroller at the gate, and you’ll have it waiting for you at your destination gate.

Bring extra diapers, extra clothes (for parents and kids) and extra plastic bags. My daughter was talented enough to poop in her pants while sitting, avoiding the diaper altogether. She can leak through her shorts onto Dad’s khakis. And she can spill six ounces of apple juice in my lap 20 minutes into the flight. Did I mention you should bring extra clothes?

If all else fails, bring correct change for drinks in the cabin (most airlines now only accept credit cards) – and order them for yourselves and everyone around you. Happy trails!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Volunteer: Donate Books for Children

The Mercury News and RAFT (the Resource Area for Teaching) is teaming up on a 2008 book drive. The program distributes new and “like new” children’s books directly to kid and to teachers in the community. Spanish and Vietnamese books are always in short supply, but any kids’ books are welcome.

You can also donate by mail by sending checks to RAFT-GOR at 1355 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, CA 95131. Donations are tax deductible, Tax ID # 77-0365627.

When: November 12 to December 10, 2008
Where: Click here for drop off locations for the book drive
- donation sites are mostly in Santa Clara county
More info: Mercury News, RAFT Book donation site or call (408) 213-7217 or email

Help for the Grandparents this Holiday Season

If the grandparents will be spending any time with your kids this holiday season, send them a link to the Ultimate Holiday Guide. It’s a free website download, and has recipes for cookies and latkes plus articles like “How to buy gifts without causing rifts,” “4 gifts you can help kids make their parents,” “how to stop competing with other grandparents,” “ways to get your grandchildren involved in charity,” “safe ways to choose toys for your grandkids,” as well as “8 places to hide from your grandkids.”

It’s beautifully designed and may get you out of a sticky situation, if grandma can read it and take some hints!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Coming Up: Family Gallery Adventures at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

Join educator-led tours and craft projects for the family at this free event at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (free with admission).

When: Sunday, November 23rd, from 1:00-3:00 p.m.
Where: Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission Street, SF
Info: 415-655-7800 (
Cost: free with admission; admission is $10/adult, free for kids ages 18 and under

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Coming Up: Model Trains in Golden Gate Park's Conservatory of Flowers

I can’t wait to see this. The Conservatory of Flowers is hosting a model G-gauge train exhibit, complete with 12 landmark buildings (including Coit Tower, Ghirardelli Square, the Ferry Building, Chinatown’s dragon gate and the Transamerica Building). The train even wends its way through gardens of dwarf plants, a miniature Japanese Tea Garden and Conservatory of Flowers.

But don’t just look at the trains. Look for every-day items that are “reused” in this sustainable exhibit.

What: Conservatory of Flowers Model Train Exhibit
When: 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. November 20, 2008 to April 19, 2009
Where: Conservatory of Flowers, 501 Stanyan Street in Golden Gate Park, SF
Cost: $1.50-$5.00 (free for kids 4 and under)

Get ‘Yer Tickets: Stars on Ice

I’m no stranger to Stars on Ice. I went years ago (probably 16 years ago) at the Cow Palace, and again in Wisconsin. The latter I managed to snag free tickets, thanks to my friend who worked for the corporate sponsor at the time. She even gave me a black commemorative fleece covered with the logo in the back. I can’t take the logo off, because that IS the back. So I only wear it camping. So no one throws tomatoes at me. It's warm, but a little embarassing, if you know what I mean. Not that I'm known for my fashion sense, but...

That said, if you love ice skating and you love campy shows, this one is for you. It’s a production, and you can’t expect Olympic level skating, even though there are Olympicans in the show. Hey – they don’t want to injure themselves.

So who is in it? Sasha Cohen, Michael Weiss, Todd Eldredge, Evan Lysacek, John Zimmerman and a bunch of skaters I haven’t heard of. I’m sure they’re terrific skaters, but I haven’t been following skating since the Olympics. And even then, I was in Mexico for most of it, and missed out on the fabulous competitions. Huge bummer for me, since I love watching skating.

So get your tickets! If Stars on Ice gives me free tickets, I'll happily review the show for the blog.

What: Smuckers Stars on Ice
When: January 30, 2009 at 7:30 pm.
Where: HP Pavillion

Cost: $25-$120