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Monday, September 29, 2008

Coming Up: Free Talk - Dave Eggers on book What is the What

October 1, 2008 at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center

One of the great things about the San Mateo County Library System, is the program One Book One Community. Community members are encouraged to read one book, this year What is the What by Dave Eggers, a fictionalized story of a Sudanese “lost boy” who escaped his home during the brutal civil war, to walk to Ethiopia and Kenya.

Eggers will be interviewed by KQED’s Michael Krasny at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center at 7:30 on October 1. And it’s free. If your child is old enough to read the book, this is a great teaching and learning opportunity for you both. Lots of high school kids attend. And if your kids are too young, get a babysitter and go yourself.

I went two years ago to hear Khaled Hosseini speak about the Kite Runner through the same program. Get there early! Mark and I made it a date night, but came in separate cars (he came straight from work). I had date night alone, since they ran out of seats and Mark couldn’t get into the building.

Even if you miss the Eggers/Krasny discussion, One Book One Community sponsors a ton of events (some are kid-friendly) including a film screening, African folktales, singing from the Dinka Tribe, Sudanese mask making, contemporary art relating to Darfur and more. There are too many events to list here, but the website has a full schedule, and everything is free, held at various county libraries.

Look for a post in early October specifically listing the kid-friendly events.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Review: Calibowl

I’m always on the lookout for great products. Partly because I scout items for lifestyle magazine Spaces Bay Area. And partly because it’s just fun.

So here’s a fun one I came across recently – the Calibowl. Designed in the Bay Area, these bowls have a special “lip” at the top, that prevents food from spilling over. Imagine your kid is scooping salsa from a bowl. Okay, I take that back. My kids wouldn’t touch salsa. Imagine they’re scooping yogurt or oatmeal from a bowl, and they get to the top of the bowl with their spoon. In many cases, that food goes over the edge and onto the table (or floor, or lap…).

With the Calibowl, the lip helps the food make it onto the spoon, without spilling over. The bowls are plastic, but attractive and in fun colors. In the future, the bowls will come with rubberized bottoms (I like the sound of that), to avoid table slippage. And they’re dishwasher and microwave safe.

They’re not yet in stores, but you can order online (a set of three sizes costs $30).

Friday, September 26, 2008

Review: 2008 Tour of Gymnastics Superstars

I’m sure you’re all curious about how the 2008 Tour of Gymnastics Superstars was, since you probably missed it. Well, your intrepid guides were there, taking notes and cell phone pictures which I can’t figure out how to download.

Bring earplugs, because any time Shawn or Nastia are on stage, you’ll go deaf from the cheers. The poor men’s team (of which they were ALL there, unlike the women who only produced three team members) did not get the same star reception (except when they took their shirts off).

We had nosebleed seats on the side, and I admit it was difficult to see who was on stage performing. And they didn’t announce who was who until the end. Of course they did announce the two women who needed no introduction, Shawn and Nastia.

We brought binoculars, but Dori and I fought over them the whole time. I wanted to see the naked men, er, the awesome gymnastics performances. She just wanted to look through them.

The highlights: The men were fabulous. Not just because of their naked chests (though that was nice too). They did some fun and fancy high bar work, swinging loops over it with only one hand. And lots of pummel horse moves, even done on the floor with no apparatus. And the men can dance – I was surprised how well.

The disappointments: Since Shannon Miller won her 7 Olympic medals (1992 and 1996 games), she graduated from college and law school. This probably explains why her one floor routine and only time on stage, was dancing with a random back walk-over thrown in. Yes, it was artistic and her hair looked lovely. The flowing red dress was beautiful. But it’s not such a highlight to see a formerly elite gymnast perform essentially a dance routine.

Other dance routines: like the exhibition after the Olympic medals were awarded, Nastia Liukin did an artistic rendering of a girl so moved by the music she had to make love to the balance beam. Not interesting! I want to see those competitive moves she did to earn her all-around gold medal!

During intermission, local gymnasts from Stanford and gymnastics studios practiced and did a few performances. They were terrific, and I would have loved to see that caliber throughout the show.

The show had several bits with a male gymnast dressed as a female, with a frilly pink outfit and bows in her wig. This dude was enormous, with muscular thighs the size of tree trunks, and a back as wide as…well, it was really wide. He was great, much to my surprise. Sadly, my kids had no clue this was a guy, let alone one trying to be funny. And when Shawn came out next, also dressed in a pink frilly thing, my daughter said “is that a boy too?” It was then I realized that even our nosebleed cheapie seats were wasted on my children.

I’m not sure how much you have to pay to sit on the floor, but some lucky fans had seats in between parts of the stage, and could definitely get a better cell phone picture than I could. And they could probably tell who was performing.

Okay, now for the music. Jordan Pruitt and the girl-band KSM were heavily featured. As a mom of elementary, nontweens/teens, I had no clue who they were (I guess that kind of dates me, doesn’t it?). Jordan looked like a thinner version of Brittney Spears. The singing was fine. I was amazed watching how easily she walked around in heels – and they were so sparkly too! At one point she wore one white glove with sparkles, and I thought for a moment Michael Jackson had a sex change and became even MORE white. One costume included a skin-tight pair of white pants. I think that a shout-out to Tampax is in order – maybe they need a new spokeswoman.

As for KSM, I’m not their target audience. But I had an 80’s punk flashback. The lead’s hair was AWFUL (read: skunk-like). I assume it’s a wig, because I’d have to sue any hairdresser who would do that to my daughter’s hair. They sang some songs from their new album that I won’t be buying. And girls – get a website! You have no official online presence! If you do have a website, hire an SEO person.

To sum it up: yay men! The whole men's team was there, plus Paul and Morgan Hamm. As for the women, the only 2008 Olympians were Shawn, Nastia and Chelsie Memmel. What’s up with the team spirit, ladies? (If you see the show in Indianapolis, you get two more Olympic women added to the mix). If I had to redo the show, I’d make the routines a little harder for the women, and feature KSM less.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Coming Up: Free Bay Area museum admissions Saturday

It’s not just the California Academy of Sciences that has free admission this Saturday, September 27. Completely unrelated, Smithsonian Magazine is sponsoring a national “free museum day” with almost a dozen Bay Area museums participating.

You need to download an admission card, which you can find here. It's good for two people, one card per household.

Get in free Saturday at these Bay Area museums
Coyote Point – San Mateo
COPIA – American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts - Napa
Blackhawk Museum – Danville
Chabot Space & Science Center – Oakland
Exploratorium – San Francisco
Hiller Aviation Museum – San Carlos
Lindsay Wildlife Museum – Walnut Creek
Museum of Craft and Folk Art – San Francisco
Museum of the African Diaspora – San Francisco
Peninsula Museum of Art – Belmont
SF Camerawork – San Francisco

Here’s a full list of participating museums in California.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Coming Up: National Public Lands Day - Volunteer

This Saturday, September 27, is National Public Lands Day – the country’s largest hands-on volunteer day to improve our public parks. Last year, 110,000 volunteers made the parks better, planting trees, removing trash and invasive plants, and building trails.

California has 88 parks participating this Saturday. To see a list, click here. A few local ones to point out: Golden Gate National Parks has sites in Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo looking for volunteers. Also consider Huddart County Park in Woodside.

If you can’t volunteer this Saturday, you can still help out in the future. These parks use volunteers on a regular basis, so check their websites to find something that works for you.

Plus, you can find out about family hikes and activities on their websites (all listed here).

Coming Up: California Academy of Sciences – free opening day

This Saturday is the long-awaited reopening of the California Academy of Sciences. And what a place to behold!

The Exterior: a “green” building in more ways than one. It’s going for a platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, their highest designation. It will use 35% less energy than required by code. But by “green” you also have to consider the living roof, with 2.5 acres of native California plants requiring no irrigation. It will be native habit for butterflies, birds and bees, and the ground cover helps insulate the building.

The Aquarium: Look for the Philippine coral reef – 25 feet deep, with 212,000 gallons. It’s been in the works for three years, with scientists growing the coral. It’s populated with 2,000 reef fish. Look for another 100 tanks of fish, reptiles and other water creatures.

The Rain Forest Dome: this glass dome is 4 stories high – a constant 85 degrees, with birds and butterflies by the hundreds. Under the dome is the Amazon flooded forest, with an underwater tunnel with views of what you’d see in the Amazon.

Skeletons: a blue whale skeleton, all 87 feet of it, along with a 40 foot tall T-Rex.

The Planetarium: get set for a virtual tour of the solar system, set from real-time NASA data.

The Diaorama: Did you see Ben Stiller in Night at the Museum? It’s going to be hard not to laugh walking through this, thinking of all those stuffed creatures coming to life after dark. Five of these 21 dioramas will have live animals – including one with 20 penguins!

I’ll post my review of the renovated Academy of Sciences in the near future, but if you go, post your comments here!

Opening day is free, and I’m sure will be mobbed. I can’t decide whether to risk the crowds or wait a few weeks.

One thing to consider: there will be a party this weekend. Both days (though Sunday you pay), they’ll have live music all day, in addition to food, activities and crafts, starting at 9:30 a.m.

What: California Academy of Sciences
Where: 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
Cost: Free on Saturday 9/27. After that it’s $24.95 for adults, $19.95 for kids 12-17, $14.95 for kids ages 7-11, and free ages 6 and under

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Coming Up: Free Ice Cream Sept 25

On September 25, from 5:00-8:00 p.m., Cold Stone is having the “world’s largest ice cream social.”

Stores are giving away 3 oz “Make-A-Wish” creations in the hopes that you’ll donate to the charity. The creations they’re giving away were conceived by two kids who are Make-A-Wish recipients. And I can see why they’re giving them away:

Jack's Creation - Marshmallow ice cream with OREO Cookies, Chocolate Chips and Fudge

Emily's Creation - Nutter Butter ice cream with White Chocolate Chips, Kit Kat and Yellow Cake

Gotta say, these creations sound downright nasty. If we go, I’ll make a donation NOT to try them. But they sound perfect for my kids, and what better way to make ill kids' wishes come true, than with ice cream.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Get 'Yer Tickets - San Francisco Symphony's Music for Families

Remember how your parents would drag you to the symphony to give you some “culture” and you’d fall asleep (and your dad would snore too)? Well, now it’s your turn. Especially since junior won’t get much of that at school.

The San Francisco Symphony has a Music for Families series, with concerts for kids (recommended age: 7+) in Cupertino and San Francisco. Our friends say it's fun for the kids, and not too long.

My husband is taking our daughter, who claims she’d rather go to the Jungle than the symphony, but she doesn’t get a choice. This concert features selections from Leonard Bernstein, including parts of West Side story, Candide and all 8 movements of Divertimento for Orchestra (which roughly translates to “something hopefully not too long”).

And they have a great website for kids. My son loves it.

When: October 4-5 (Sat/Sun) at 2:00 or 3:00 (depending on location)
Where: San Francisco or Cupertino
Cost: tickets starting at $15 in SF, starting at $35 in Cupertino (kids are half price)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Coming Up: Rosicrucian Museum’s Fall Festival

Along with your budding Egyptologist, take a trip down to the Nile (or at least down 101), to the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose. This Egyptian Museum, with the largest collection of Egyptian items in the western U.S., is hosting a fall festival Saturday and Sunday.

Lots of kid-related activities, including a kids’ archeology dig, cooking workshop, free planetarium show (with admission), henna and perfume making booths, jewelry making, kids’ detective class, tomb tours and more.

What: Rosicrucian’s Fall Festival in San Jose
Where: 1342 Naglee Avenue, San Jose, at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
When: Saturday and Sunday, 9/20-21 from 11:30am-5:30pm
Cost: $9 for adults, $5 for kids 5-10 years, free for kids under 5

Coming Up: Cheeky Monkey toy store: Andy Z concert, preschool program and review

Where to start with Cheeky Monkey toy store…I was originally planning to just review this downtown Menlo Park store, which I stumbled upon this summer. I wasn’t the first – it’s been around for at least 6 years.

I’ll be the first to say how much I despise Toys R Us. And as much as I love Target, I hate their toy selection. Cheeky Monkey has a fabulous variety of toys – castles, Alex art products, science labs, dinosaurs, bug stuff, games and Grandma toys (the ones only grandmas buy because they’re expensive).

I bought Mad Libs, which got us in trouble at Legoland (read why).

I’m also posting about two upcoming free events there

First: Andy Z is performing this Saturday (9/20) at 11 a.m.

Second: The store has a new Page to Play program every Wednesday until Thanksgiving. They’ll have book readings and play-based activities, for kids 18 months to four years. See their calendar for more about it. It’s free.

Where: Cheeky Monkey Toys, 640 Santa Cruz Avenue in downtown Menlo Park
What: Andy Z concert Saturday, September 20 at 11 a.m.
What: Page to Play, every Wednesday until Thanksgiving (ages 18 month-4 yr)
Cost: free

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Coming Up: Jewish Cultural Street Festival 9/21/08

If you’re a member of the tribe (MOT), you probably already know about the annual Jewish Street Festival in Palo Alto on September 21. It’s a chance to run into every Jewish person you know in Silicon Valley (and even some from SF).

If you’re not a MOT, it’s a chance to meet an Actual Jewish Person.

Every year, this street festival falls on the hottest day of the year, so wear your sunblock. Expect 90+ booths selling art and food, plus entertainment (for kids and adults), bouncy houses, face painting and crafts. And lots of community booths in case you want to join a synagogue or learn about our many fine organizations.

What: To Life! A Jewish Cultural Street Festival
When: September 21, 2008, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: Palo Alto, California Ave (between the California Ave. Caltrain station and El Camino)
Cost: Free (except the bounce houses, face painting and food)

We’ll see you there!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Coming Up: Free Day at Children’s Discovery Museum in SJ

Sunday, September 21

You don’t know the Children’s Discovery Museum until you’ve been in charge of four first graders there on a field trip. You learn the layout and hiding spots in this museum pretty quickly.

So, I advise going with a spouse or friend, and you’ll be in for a treat. This SJ institution has a fire truck and ambulance kids can climb on and “drive.” You can make cornhusk dolls (we have a dozen at home - do you want one? My daughter will happily make one for you). You can make art projects, and watch tennis balls go through an elaborate maze, powered by kids. And the waterways exhibit, with sprays of water holding balls aloft, fascinates even the parents.

On Sunday, September 21, admission to the CDM is free, for “Mariachi Family Day.” In addition to the regular offerings, and the temporary Alice’s Wonderland exhibit (closing January, 2009), you’ll find additional activities, performances and workshops.

180 Woz Way, San Jose. (408) 298-5437
Noon to 5:00

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Coming Up: Free American Girl crafts at Michaels

We haven’t yet ventured into the world of American Girl, though I know the day is coming. Until then, you all will have to check this out and tell me how it is.

Michael’s craft stores offers many free and low cost craft events on weekends. This Saturday, Sept 20, they’re teaming up with American Girl so all you fans can make a free “pretty posy doll tee” and designer doll bag for that precious doll of yours.

When: September 20 from 10 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Where: Michael’s craft stores (there’s a bunch in the Bay Area). Check this store locator
Cost: free

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Coming Up: Olympic Gymnastics in San Jose

Now that you’re all riled up after this year’s Olympics, it’s time to shell out some dough to see the U.S. gymnasts live at the Gymnastics Superstars 2008 World Tour. That’s right, it’s time for them to start paying back their parents, so help them do it by buying a ticket.

Your favorites, Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, Chellsie Memmel, Shannon Miller and all those buff male Olympians like Paul Hamm (presuming he’s no longer injured) Kevin Tan, Raj Bhavsar, Jonathan Horton, Alexander Artemev and more, will perform to “some of the hottest music from Disney Records.” Okay, so I could do without the Disney music. But to see those men live? Priceless.

Okay, not exactly priceless. It’s $30-$90 a ticket, plus fees and parking, souvenier cups and programs. But the memories? Priceless.

My husband is waiting for the U.S. tour of women’s beach volleyball. He’ll be getting the expensive tickets for THAT show.

When: Sunday, Sept 21 at 5 p.m.

Where: HP Pavilion in San Jose

Cost: $30-90/ticket - buy them here

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Coming Up: Open House at the PJCC & free Daffy Dave concert

This Sunday, the PJCC in Foster City has an open house, so you can check out the gym, family activities and suffer through, I mean enjoy a free Daffy Dave concert (plus ice cream!). Okay, my friend Alyson loves Daffy Dave, as does every child who has ever met him, including my own kids.

10 a.m. to 1 p.m. – open house - check out the family gym (plus free activities)
11 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. – meet members of the SF Dragons professional lacrosse tream for kids ages 6-14
1 p.m. to 2 p.m. – guided to for art exhibit, “Works of Iron”
3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. – Daffy Dave concert and ice cream social

When: Sunday 9/14
Cost: Free
Preregistration requested

On a Serious Note: Help a Mom in Need

It’s ironic I post this, on September 11 – a day of national tragedy. I’m writing about a Michigan mom named Lori Hall Steele who is dying of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). And she has a 7 year old son. She’s a self-employed journalist and a single mom. This is my worst nightmare – dying while my kids are young, leaving them without a mom.
It’s also ironic that a beautiful and touching essay Lori wrote about her son’s concern with her dying (after watching Bambi), was published this summer – a long time after it was initially accepted, and before she became ill in Sept 2007. Read it in the Washington Post, here.
We hear about the foreclosure crisis daily in the media and to be honest, I don’t know anyone who has lost their house or has been threatened with that. Until now.
Lori’s medical bills are currently at $50,000, and could be running up to $120,000. She’s written more than 3,000 articles during her career, but her medical condition paralyzed her, and she’s now in a hospital bed breathing through a Bi-Pap machine. Her house is in foreclosure.

As a fellow journalist in Lori’s freelance writers’ circle for some time now, I’m joining a national blogathon to publicize Lori’s condition and ask for help saving Lori’s house. Several in the freelancing community set up easy ways to learn about her condition and to make a donation, if you’re able. I made one yesterday through Paypal.
If you’re able to help in anyway, even a few dollars, please do. There are several ways to donate. If you want to use Paypal, her email address for payment is If you’d like to send a check, please email me at and I’ll send you her address.
Here are some websites where you can learn more about Lori and her condition: - a fellow freelancer made this blogathon central, where you can learn more about her and see the efforts other freelancers are making to help. - a big-hearted colleague set up this website to give more information on her and on ways to help.
Here’s a local newspaper story (local in MI) about a fundraiser Lori’s friends held for her in the spring.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Coming Up: San Francisco Preschool Preview Night 9/17/08

San Francisco Preschool Preview Night

As if getting your kid into preschool isn’t stressful enough, join 3,000 jostling, elbowing parents vying for information on 80 San Francisco preschools. Okay, I’m sure the parents will all be civilized, especially since food is being served.

Cost is $5/adult (free for kids – but it won’t be hugely fun for them). Your ticket buys you a booklet with all the preschool listings and vendors present, plus food/drinks.

Register here:
Location: San Francisco County Fair Building (Hall of Flowers) at the 9th and Lincoln entrance to Golden Gate Park
Date: Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Tim: 5:30 – 8:00 pm
More information: (415) 359-2454 (Parents Place) or

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Get ‘Yer Tickets: Justin Roberts & the Not Ready for Naptime Players

November 16, 2008 - Foothill College

Get ‘yer tickets for Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players.

This man has performed on the Today Show. He’s been lauded by the New York Times, Newsweek, People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Cookie Magazine and the Chicago Tribune. Have you gotten that kind of press? I didn’t think so.

So get your tickets now, before they sell out, for his West Coast performance at Foothill College on Nov. 16. You can sing along together to tunes like Meltdown, My Brother Did It, Taking off my Training Wheels and Stay at Home Dad.

Tickets are only $13, and come on, it benefits the Mountain View Parent Nursery School, where indeed the parents DO go to nursery school. Or at least they spend a lot of time there helping out.
When: Sunday, November 16 at 11 a.m. or 2:00 p.m. (each show is one hour)
Where: Foothill College’s Smithwick Theater (12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos)
Cost: $13 each ($15 at the door). 

Monday, September 8, 2008

Review: Doubletree Anaheim

When we went to Disneyland last month, I spent a lot of time trying to find a decent place to stay. The Disneyland property hotels were really expensive (and we didn’t plan to spend much time in them anyway) so I instead wanted a place with a free shuttle. We ended at the Doubletree Anaheim, about two miles south.

Doubletree is known for giving out hot chocolate chip cookies on check-in, but I was disappointed only to be offered one cookie. There are four people in my family (granted they were still getting the stuff out of the car while I checked in, but it should have been on the reservation). One cookie. Four people.

We were thrilled to see a large banner welcoming us to the hotel. Okay, so it said Kaplan Medical, not Kaplan Family, but we decided they just made a printing error.
The hotel itself was fine. Nice lobby. The room was clean and spacious enough. Coffee machine in the bathroom (who knew that Wolfgang Puck now branded his own coffee?) Stick with the Starbucks in the lobby – the Puck stuff was weak.

Some rooms and hallway windows have a view of the fireworks. We watched them one night from the hall, which was fun. But then when we saw them in person from Disneyland, we realized how much better they were on site because they’re coordinated to music, making it an entirely different experience.

According to the Tripadvisor reviews I read, if you upgrade your room package, you can get two breakfast coupons (again, two coupons, four people), but we stuck with the basic room and opted for the Starbucks kiosk in the lobby.

A few other things to know: self-parking at the Doubletree costs $12 daily (in/out privileges), though all the other hotels charge as well. And you’ll get a USA Today paper daily, though if you don’t want it, tell them at the reception desk and you’ll get a 75 cent credit. I didn’t read that notice until we checked out. Bummer, since we didn’t have time to read the paper and ended up paying for it. The Doubletree has a pool, which we didn’t have time to use. The AAA rate and the internet rate was the same - $134/night.

The shuttle to Disneyland worked well. We took the first shuttle in the morning, which leaves a half hour before the park opens (shuttle at 7:30 a.m. in the summer and on weekends). Otherwise, it runs hourly, on the hour, to Disneyland and California Adventure (it's the same shuttle stop). The shuttle back also runs hourly, on the 15, starting at 2:15, ending at 12:15 a.m. We took the 10:15 p.m. shuttle back, after the fireworks finished. I was concerned there would be a huge line for the shuttle and we’d have to beat someone up to get on, but fortunately there was enough room.

One day we also drove to the park (actually to California Adventure, but it’s the same lot). That was a mistake. We thought it would be easier to drive, since we were meeting someone for dinner that night. Parking at Disneyland was a hassle, and walking through the lot took forever (then we had to wait for the tram). The shuttle would have been easier (and cheaper, since parking at Disneyland was $12).

My one regret was not getting a suite, which I now realize we could have gotten for $40 more (Doh!), or we could have stayed at the Embassy Suites (I think they have free breakfast for the WHOLE family plus a shuttle). As anyone who has traveled with kids knows, sleeping in the same room has many disadvantages.

One was that our kids wouldn’t go to sleep while the TV is on. I’m not usually a big television watcher, but it was the Olympics and we had been camping the previous few days (i.e. no Olympics for this obsessed fan for three days). Gymnastics was on. The kids were NOT going to sleep until that TV was off. So they went to bed after 11 p.m. (I’m a bad mom, I know, but it was vacation AND the Olympics).

The other disadvantage to no suite: if you wake up early, you’re stuck hanging out in the bathroom so you don’t wake anyone else up. The bathroom floor was not comfortable. And after an hour, my daughter joined me and decided to do a number two in the toilet while I sat there. Whew, that smelled. I considered moving to the closet to read, but that was even smaller than the bathroom (though it was carpeted...).

Take home lessons: Get a suite. Ask for more cookies. Use the shuttle. Avoid the Wolfgang Puck coffee. Avoid the bathroom when your daughter uses it.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Focus Group for Kids - $75

I love doing market research studies (mostly focus groups) and my daughter did her first one last spring. I was a proud mom – she made $75 ($20 of which I actually let her keep – the rest went to the college fund. Parent lesson: don't tell your kid ALL the money will go to the college fund, or she won't agree to be in the study).

This was a video game study where girls her age sat at a big table answering a researcher’s questions games. She later told me that she was incredibly bored within five minutes (it was a 90 minute study), but she loved making the money and getting an unlimited supply of Cheese-It’s and popcorn. Fortunately she didn’t see the soda.

The company that did this study, Plaza Research, is now looking for 8-11 year old kids who play video games, for another study. You need to fill out an online survey, and if you qualify, both you AND your kid will need to answer some questions on the phone. It’s a lot of “do” for $75, but a great way for your kid to earn some spending money. And to facilitate a discussion with your kid on how products are tested (My children dutifully recite after commercials “Mommy, were they trying to get us to buy that pizza in the commercial?”)

The study is in downtown SF (Union Square) and once your child is safely ensconced in the focus group room, you’re FREE TO GO SHOPPING! Yes, I feel like a negligent mom saying that I indeed used up every last spare minute to do just that. But I’ve done focus groups with this company before, and they’re legit. Hey - my kid gets $75, and I get free babysitting!

So if you’re interested, the group is Monday, September 15th or Tuesday, September 16th - after school hours.

Requirements: Children ages 8 to 11 who play video games.
Location: Downtown San Francisco
Incentive: $75.00
Qualifying Survey: click here
In case the survey link isn’t working, call Plaza Research at (415) 984-0400 and ask for the KIDS study (or call if you just want to get on their notification list).

Friday, September 5, 2008

Coming Up: Jet Pack demonstrations at Hiller Aviation Museum

What’s cooler than flying around via jetpack? Not much! Come to the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos this Saturday and Sunday, for a jetpack show. Check the website for the schedule, but each day features several live flights and demonstrations.

For moms and dads between 150-190 pounds (and really moms, which of you will admit to that?), you can use a jet pack simulator, while pre-qualifying for the "The Pilot Search" tryouts. This reality TV show by Jet Pack International, will look for the next generation of jet pack pilots.

When: Sat/Sun Sept 6-7, 2008
Where: Hiller Aviation Museum, 651 Skyway Road in San Carlos
Cost: Adults $10, kids 5-17 are $6, and kids 4 and under are free.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Review: Imagination Movers on Playhouse Disney

I admit I hadn’t heard of the Imagination Movers before Disney sent me a DVD of their new show (it’s first airing is Saturday, Sept 6 at 10 a.m. on the Disney Channel’s Playhouse Disney). Granted, I also don’t have cable, so I wouldn’t have seen the show otherwise. And it’s aimed at preschoolers, which isn’t my demographic (my kids are 5 & 7).

But I subjected them to the 30 minute show anyway, to gauge: Did they like it? And is it tolerable for adults? The answer was yes, to both questions.

First impression: the Imagination Movers are like an American version of the Wiggles. In fact, my daughter asked “is this the Wiggles?” when she first saw the four white men wearing matching blue mechanics’ outfits (granted, Jeff in the Wiggles is Asian, or Eurasian or something, but you get the gist). You can tell these guys apart because they all have different hairstyles or hats.

Like the Wiggles, one of the “Movers” was a school teacher (Scott Durbin). The others are trained as a firefighter (Scott "Smitty" Smith), architect (Dave Poche) and journalist (Rich Collins) – a modern day Village People. The hang out in an “idea warehouse” with their friend Nina, Shannen Doherty’s perky, smiley identical twin sister (okay, before I get sued, they’re not related).

In this episode they have to solve a problem (a tuba-noise is coming through the walls and disrupting their recording of “Nina’s Song.”). They help solve it, partly with the use of special glasses, which give an LSD-like vision of sound waves coming through the walls (yes, this was a Learning Moment). At the end, of course the problem is solved and we get to hear Nina’s Song in its entirety (it’s actually kind of catchy).

Even though the show is aimed at preschoolers, my kids loved it, especially the physical gags (of which there were plenty). And while I’m in no hurry to watch it again, it wasn’t as bad getting waterboarded.

As I write this, my kids are watching it a second time, but apparently they haven’t learned any problem solving skills from the show, because one just slapped the other in the face. And now they’re both crying.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Legoland Sea Life Aquarium - Carlsbad, CA

If you don’t read anything more than this paragraph, let me tell you: DO NOT spend your hard-earned money on the Sea Life Aquarium next to Legoland. Don’t upgrade your Legoland ticket for an extra $10. Don’t make a separate trip for $18.95 per adult ($11.95 for ages 3-12) plus $10 parking.

The Sea Life Aquarium just opened August 11, 2008 and my family visited that week. We brought the grandparents and niece for what we thought would be at least an hour of fishy enjoyment. At these prices, expectations were high.

After buying tickets, we were ushered into the first waiting area, with roped-off doors. The kids each got a scratch-off quiz ticket for their journey. After waiting 5 minutes, the young chap working there moved us into a dim, claustrophobic, closed room with no scenery save two cylindrical tanks holding kelp. My 4 year old niece freaked out.

We waited there in silence. Having just been at Disneyland, a room like this made us think something exciting was ahead – a movie? A conveyor belt through an aquarium tunnel? Finally we heard the speakers overhead giving a speech about how to behave in the aquarium. It was hard to hear, since everyone in the room was talking and there was nothing to look at.

Are you bored yet? I was.

The doors finally opened to the aquarium. I realized the waiting area was for crowd control, since this aquarium is quite small. Which is odd considering the giant size of the Legoland parking lot.

We entered the Lake Tahoe room with a few small tanks and a pee-wee slide fashioned out of a plastic redwood tree. This is it????

Okay, for the positive. The Sea Life Aquarium has a few novel offerings, like bubbles inside the tank that kids can put their heads into. This means they can look ‘inside’ the tank and see their parents on the outside.

The other good part is the scratch-off cards. Throughout the aquarium are a dozen or so stations where kids answer multiple choice questions about fish or sea life. Then they scratch off the answer on the card (which they turn in at the gift shop for a sticker - brilliant marketing). The kids loved the card and quiz, and raced from question to question. This was also a negative, since it meant they were less interested in looking at the tanks.

To be honest, though, the tanks weren’t that special. The aquarium is based on California sea life, from Tahoe to Southern CA. They had one small tank of jellyfish, maybe three of sea horses. There were a few small touch pools and a manta ray feeding. But they were underwhelming.

While the theme was California sea life, the highlight apparently is an aquarium representing the lost city of Atlantis. Gosh, I didn’t know that Atlantis was in California. They gave no explanation. And one of the Lego people held an umbrella. Who holds an umbrella under the sea?
While the Atlantis tank had a walk-through tunnel, this tunnel was maybe 10 feet long and the water was murky. This Atlantis tank had vantage points in other rooms, but there wasn’t much to see. A small shark. A small school of fish. A few Lego people.

Without rushing, we made it through the aquarium (including the entrance wait) in 30 minutes. I kid you not. And I stopped to read most of the signs (which were interesting). To be fair, we did not watch the movie in the aquarium theater, which would have added another 15 minutes to our time there.

Living in the Bay Area, we’re spoiled by the Monterey Bay Aquarium which is only slightly more expensive than the Sea Life Aquarium. Even San Francisco’s Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39 is much better, and it’s about the same size as the Carlsbad one (and cheaper too).

When you're done with the aquarium, you’re left at the disproportionately large Ocean Journey CafĂ©, which was lovely. And their offerings included paninis, smoothies, salad and pastas.

I thought maybe we were alone in our disappointing experience. But our neighbors just returned. I warned them not to go, but they thought I meant another aquarium. They regretted it as well.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Craft Day: Stepping Stones

Making crafts always sounds like more fun than it actually is. At least for the parent.

When Dori was born, my neighbor bought us a hand-print kit. You know the kind where you mix up the clay and press your baby’s tiny hand in it to forever preserve the precious memory of how small and delicate your baby’s tiny kissable fingers are? And then you frame it on the wall with the first lock of hair? Well, being the sentimental type, I traded it in for a portable potty.

The kids got a stepping stone kit from my sister a few years later. They were small enough I could actually fit all four of their footprints on it. So I mixed up the goop and spent the next hour trying to convince my screaming children to let me dip their feet into wet cement before it hardened. Boy, that was fun.

So imagine how pleased I was that my daughter purchased, with her own money, a new stepping stone kit. I thought I hid it pretty well in the house, but she found it. So let me spare you the learning curve and tell you the best way to make a stepping stone.

Step 1: Read directions. I know this sounds simple, but it’s smart to do it before you open the bag of cement and realize you don’t actually have a container to mix it in, let alone a mold. Of course the kit my sister gave us actually came with a mold. This one did not. It was an eight pound bag of cement with directions. This left me searching the garage.

I found the old bucket we used before. So you don’t make the mistake I did, after you mix the cement and rinse out the bucket, DO NOT use the bucket to wash the car.

I also scrounged up a mold, also known as a Smart and Final plastic fruit salad bowl that I’ll never use again. Especially to wash the car. And I found a paint stick to mix the cement.

Step 2: Toss back a Tequila shot. You’ll need it.

Step 3: Pour cement into bucket and add correct amount of water. Let your child stir. This will last about 10 seconds, because it’s really hard to stir. So you’ll have to do it. And the paint stick isn’t nearly strong enough – it will break.

Step 4: The cement should now be the consistency of brownie batter. Mine wasn’t, but then again, I sometimes forget to add the oil or eggs to the brownie batter, so it’s hard for me to know what properly-made brownie batter looks like.

Step 5: Pour wet cement into the mold. Smooth it out with a putty knife. I actually had one of these! Again, my daughter could not do it herself. This was turning into my craft project. And I desperately wanted more tequila.

Step 6: Finally it looked like a smooth cement cake. This is the time for your child to decorate it. Yet again, this box came with no decorations. Apparently those cost extra unless you get the kit and not just the cement mix. Note to self: next time read the box in the STORE.

Fortunately we had some leftover decorations at home, because I’m a pack rat and save everything. After all, you never know when you’ll need decorations for a stepping stone.

Step 7: Press items into mold so cement will dry around them. Write in the cement if you’d like, but it will be really messy and again, Mom might have to do this.

Step 8: Stand back and admire, but only until little brother shows up and realizes his sister used HIS plastic lizard and bugs as decorations. Calm son down and promise him one of his sister’s toys. After all, Mom didn’t know whose spider that was, but his sister certainly did.

That was fun. I can’t wait to do it again!