Sunday, December 29, 2013

The de Young Art Museum in San Francisco

The de Young Art Museum in San Francisco

The de Young Museum exhibits a combination of modern and ancient art from around the world. It is located in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco across from the California Academy of Science.

They are closed on Mondays, but admission is free on the first Tuesday of every month. Kids under 12 are always free. Active military and their families receive free admission from Memorial Day through Labor day. If there is a special exhibit with an additional fee, the free admissions do not include the special exhibit.
The day we visited the de Young Art Museum we spent a couple of hours there at best. While I might have enjoyed a more leisurely stroll through the exhibits, children have a different time table. Some areas sparked their interest and they looked at everything in the room, other areas seemed to overwhelm them and they moved more quickly through.

One tip we got before going did really seem to help engage the kids and keep them a little more focused than I’m sure they would have been otherwise. We went to the gift store first and each child picked out two postcards that featured art pieces in the museum. Then, one of their tasks as we walked around was to try to find the pieces on their postcards. It really did get them more invested in the tour. 

Also, I noticed again what I observed when we visited the Legion of Honor several years ago – the time periods or places that we had studied ahead of our visit were much more interesting to the kids than new things. The de Young website can help out with that. A tab at the top labeled ‘Education’ has resources to prepare for a visit.

One of the hits of the trip for my kids was the observation tower that offers a spectacular view. It’s worth the elevator ride up. A warning to those with fear of heights, the windows up there are floor to ceiling. It adds to the beauty of the view, but I couldn't make myself stand too near the edge, even knowing there was glass there to protect me.

Generally, the older the kids, the more they will likely appreciate the art, but there is such a variety, even younger children will find something interesting at the de Young Museum. With kids getting free admission, and free days offered monthly, it is worth the time to visit. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks - Book Review

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks - Book Review

Primated by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks tells the story of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas. Considering that each could only get a third of the book, I think their stories were well summarized.

I got this book mainly for myself, since I am a big fan of Fossey and Goodall. Birute Galdikas was new to me, and I was very interested to learn a little about her. My girls enjoyed to book as well, although I'm sure they are a little too young to appreciate how revolutionary these scientists were for their time.

My kids are big graphic novel fans, but I have never loved the format myself. That, in combination with the fact that I have already read a great deal about these women, at least two of them anyway, left me slightly disappointed at the lack of depth. But stepping back, I see that there is no way a book like this could include every wonderful and interesting thing about these researchers and their discoveries. This book does present an interesting introduction.

The artwork was poignant and silly in the right places for me, and open and fun enough to draw in my kids. 

I think this would be a great book for a child, or teen who is interested in this sort of research, or any of these scientists, but does not yet know much about them. I enjoyed the last section about Birute Galdikas the best; I suspect because I didn't already know anything about her, so could enjoy the story fresh. There is also a nice list of resources at the end if a child would like to learn more. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Audiobooks – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Audiobooks – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

We've been listening to audiobooks with our kids since the oldest was a toddler. Then we listened to things like "The Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank Baum and "Catwings" by Ursula K. LeGuin. We spend more time driving around in the car than I care to think about, and listening to audiobooks makes all that time feel somewhat more productive.

Not every audiobook we've tried has been a winner. Sometimes the stories just don't capture the kids, sometimes the narrator is difficult to understand, or the kids just have other things on their minds and are daydreaming out the window instead of listening. That's why we now take breaks between books, and don't listen every single time we get in the car. Sometimes we need music, or just some quiet time for our own thoughts, but before long, we are all ready again for a new story.

Since we are all at the same place in the story, it is easy for us to talk about it together too.

Long road trips can be a great time to try out a family audiobook. Because they can be pricey, we usually borrow cds from the library. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate – Book Review

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate – Book Review

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate with Illustrations by Patricia Castelao was a surprising hit recently with our book club. From our youngest member, at 6 years old, to the elementary kids, the young teen, and even the parents all were enthusiastic and excited for our discussion. It was one of the most positive responses we’ve had to any of our titles so far.

I believe it works so well for so many different ages and people because it has subtle layers. The story is told from the point of view of Ivan, a gorilla who lives in a roadside mall arcade attraction. He doesn’t like to remember things, and so he doesn’t dwell too deeply on any of the issues or events that come up, but for all the simplicity of how events are told, there is still an emotional power to them.

For our youngest member, it was a straightforward story of Ivan and his quest to keep a promise. For the older members of our group, we could see beyond the simpler story to the bigger internal struggles that many of the characters fought with as Ivan describes their actions.

Another aspect that gave the book an additional level of interest is that Ivan was a real gorilla. He did in fact live at a roadside animal attraction, was originally captured with his twin sister, and spark the community to work for his release to a better home. Although I believe, the rest of the actual events of the story are fictional. The real Ivan eventually was moved to the Atlanta Zoo where he lived out the rest of his life. The zoo website has a nice page about his life:

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Stay Cool Indoors with Building Blocks – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Stay Cool Indoors with Building Blocks – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

I was going to write another post today about building with Legos with your kids. We are big fans of Legos in our house. Yet as I thought about what I wanted to write, I realized that any sort of building block would work.

When the heat is keeping you stuck playing indoors, building blocks can be a ton of fun. Especially if the whole family gets into it together. Especially if you aim for a creation on as grand a scale as your building materials allow.

My girls once used every type of building block they had, along with most of their little plastic animal toys, to build a zoo that took up their whole room. I think the Ikea wooden train even got involved (mimicking the train ride at the Oakland Zoo, I’m sure.) On another occasion, they recreated Ponyville from their beloved TV show and Comic series ‘My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic’.

What your family chooses to create is entirely up to you and the things you love, but make it big! If the kids (and the parents) aren’t ready to let it go when it is time for clean up, try taking a few snapshots of it to remember it. Or, if you can still make it to the beds and the bathroom, consider leaving it up another day. It’s something your family created all together – just be proud of it and have fun!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy 4th of July everyone!
I hope you will have a great day having fun with your families.

If you are looking for some last minute ideas of things to do today, I can suggest my Sunday post about 4th of July events going on around the Bay Area today:

Or, if you want fun stuff to do at home, you can check out my most recent "Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere" posts for some ideas:

The regular Book Review will be here next week instead. Have fun!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Backyard Wading Pools – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Backyard Wading Pools – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

My kids are of an age that I would have thought that little backyard wading pools would no longer hold an interest for them. I was wrong. Both their grandparents have small inflatable pools, the kind that don’t really hold much more than a foot of water or so, and the girls can happily spend the whole day out there, sitting in the shallow water with some bath toys, or splashing around.

We still have to be careful on these 100+ degree days, to not let them spend too much time in the sun; an umbrella for shade can be great help. Also, it is easy to let the shallowness of the water lull the grownups into a sense of complacency – so we must remember that drowning can happen even in a very small amount of water and there is no substitute for adult supervision.

Still, these pools can be found very inexpensively. If the prices seem high to you right now, watch for clearance sales at the end of the season, and you’ll be able to pick one up for next summer for almost nothing. We have no real yard space to speak of, it’s twelve feet square at best and completely paved in concrete, so it is not a yard that screams ‘summer fun’, yet a little pool out there makes even my tween as happy as a clam for a few hours on the hot days.

Well worth the investment in my opinion. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fireworks Displays Around the Bay Area 2013

Fireworks Displays Around the Bay Area 2013

So many communities have discontinued their fireworks displays over the past several years, it can be hard to know where to go anymore to see a nice July 4th display. Below are the best links I could find that list various 4th of July events, including fireworks displays. The list also include carnivals, parades, and other events, so make sure, if you are just looking for a place to watch fireworks, that the location you pick actually includes a fireworks display as well on their list of activities.

In Alameda County:

In Contra Costa County:

Marin County:

San Francisco County:

Solano County:

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton

Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton

We are not able to attend the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton this year, so I can’t give a personal review, but my friends that have visited recently, all reported positive experiences. The Alameda Fair has a nice long run, compared to many other county fairs, and will go through July 7th, although they are closed on Mondays.

If you have been to the Alameda County Fair this year, leave a comment on your thoughts, and any must see attractions there!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Make a Scale Model Solar System - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Make a Scale Model Solar System - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Back when my oldest wanted to learn about the solar system for the first time, I obviously thought we should make a little model. Once I actually got a closer look at all those kits they sell in craft stores and elsewhere, I was disappointed. There was never any sort of consistent scale. For example, in most kits Jupiter is bigger than Earth, but sometimes, not by much. In some kits the sun was even smaller than Jupiter.

Now, I know making a scale model solar system is hard, but I felt so many of these kits would be misleading to young kids who don't realize how different these packaged solar system kits are from reality. They just don't do justice to the vastness and the amazing sizes they way they should. They certainly don't do much to inspire awe and wonder of the natural universe.

Thanks to Google, I was able to find this wonderful website for making your own scale model solar system:

You can plug in a size (the diameter) for the Sun you want to make, then it will tell you what the diameter each of the planets should be, and their orbital distance from the Sun. Your sun will need to be big if you don't want tiny dots for planets. We were going to use a hula hoop, but ended up just making a big circle with a piece of cord so we could have bigger planets. That way, our Jupiter came out to be about the size of a Frisbee, and we then measured and cut the other planets out of paper. Then we taped the planets to sticks so they would stick up out of the ground as we placed them in their orbits.

This is one caveat of the scale model solar system - Keeping the size of the planets in scale isn't too hard, nor is keeping the orbital distance, but doing both at the same time can be very tough. For example - in our model where the Sun had a diameter of 46 inches, and our Earth's diameter came out just under a half inch, if we kept the orbital distances consistent with that scale, Pluto would have to be over 16,000 feet away from our Sun. So we ended up with two scales, one for planet size, and another for orbits. The kids looked at the numbers with me, so they sort of knew that we were changing things from what they really should be.

Still, we found the biggest park we could, and laid out our circle for the Sun, then measured off the distances to stick our planets in the right places. Even though we had to plug in different numbers until we had Pluto no more than 50 or so feet away, the final model was very impressive, and illustrated much better the amount of 'space' in the Solar System.

It was a very fun and educational afternoon for us all. I am actually looking forward to doing it all over again in a year or so for the younger kiddo. She helped the first time, but she was so little, I don't think she could appreciate it yet. It really isn't as much work as it sounds like, with the help of the calculator at the Exploratorium website linked above. It is a very worthwhile activity.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sutter’s Fort – Outside the Bay

Sutter’s Fort – Outside the Bay

Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento was a hit with our girls. It isn’t large, and you could probably zip through it quickly, but we took our time, and tried to read as much of the signage as we could, and so spent maybe just over an hour there.

They have done a lot to try, through the restoration, to give a feel of what life was like living at the fort. We let the kids take charge of the map, and they enjoyed taking our family from one room to then next and announcing what each room was for.

There was a video presentation that appeared to run on a loop. We had previously visited other Gold Rush Era historical sites, and so it didn’t provide us with much new information, and they kids lost interest in it quickly. However, the parts I watched would have been very informative if we had come in without all our prior knowledge.

The gift shop was tiny, but surprisingly reasonably priced compared to gift shops in general. Parking was also not a problem for us the weekend day we visited. I’m not sure how much this varies from day to day.
Outside the Fort itself is a short path around a small pond. It felt like the kids wanted to spend almost as much time at the pond watching ducklings and turtles as they did in the fort itself.

Next door, there is a Native American museum. I regret that we did not have time to visit it as well while we were there. There is a reduced price for admission if you choose to visit both the museum and the fort on the same day. As great as our day was, I think combining these two attractions would have been even better.

You can get the most up to date hours and prices at the Sutter’s Fort website

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Color – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Color – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Coloring is often viewed as a preschooler activity. However, it can be a surprisingly fun activity for older kids too. There are even some coloring books that are designed for adults. Younger kids love for their parent to color with them. Sure, sitting a filling in a coloring page may not feel terribly productive, but it can be bonding time with your kids, and can be relaxing.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Summer Reading Programs 2013

Summer Reading Programs 2013

It is time once again for Summer Reading programs to begin. As always, I think you should sign up for summer reading at your local library. They usually have other fun events to go along with their summer reading programs, and my kids think they also offer the best prizes. For more information about library programs, I have links to some county library systems programs below:

These bookstores are running their usual summer reading programs as well:

At Barnes and Noble, kids can earn a free book (from a pre-selected list) for reading 8 books over the summer.

Half-Priced Books is offering kids a $5.oo gift certificate to kids who read for 300 minutes for the months of June and July. Kids who read their 300 minutes each month can also enter to win a bigger gift certificate. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Wash the Car – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Wash the Car – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Washing the car may sound more like a chore than a fun thing to do, but it’s one of the easiest chores to turn into a good time if you try. First, swimsuits are required. When you have fun washing the car – you get very wet. Some of the washing and rinsing time should be dedicated to squirting each other with the water hose. Water guns can get involved too if there are more kids than can comfortably take turns with the hose. A big bucket of soapy water and a couple of big sponges are tons of fun as long as you aren’t trying to stay dry or clean.

Expect that washing the car in the fun and wet way will take much longer than washing it in the efficient, tidy way. The key to the fun is taking the time to let some water play happen. When the car is fully washed and rinsed, then there can be a short period of more serious time to possibly dry or wipe windows. But my kids even like that part.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

One Dollar Crafts at Beverly’s Fabric and Craft Stores

One Dollar Crafts at Beverly’s Fabric and Craft Stores

June 3rd thru the 20th at Beverly’s Fabric Stores they are offering “Once Upon a Time” crafting session for kids ages 6 through 12 from 1pm – 2pm Mondays, Tues, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. The cost for supplies, etc. is $1.oo.

There are several Beverly’s stores around the Bay Area. If you go to the Beverly’s Website Store Locator Page, you will be able to see if there is a store near you, and if they are participating in the kids crafting times.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Make Ice Cream – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Make Ice Cream – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Even without an ice cream maker there are ways to make ice cream easily at home (Plus, you can control the ingredients!)

We have used the ice-cream-in-a-bag technique and it really is as easy as it sounds:

You can also add some flavoring like cocoa, strawberries, etc. The bag technique for ice cream making is only good for a small serving (each kid can make their own), but if you want to make a big batch – I was surprised to find out how affordable the bigger ice cream makers can be.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Geocaching Part 2 – What to Take With You

Geocaching Part 2 – What to Take With You

For beginning geocaching with kids, you really don't need to bring much. The most important items are:

a GPS device of some sort

a pen or pencil

'swag' or small items for trade

That is really all you need for basic geocaching with kids. We use a low end basic dedicated GPS device when we are heading out on a hike, and we use a geocaching ap on my smart phone for urban, or city geocaching. I'm not really qualified to review or recommend GPS devices, so I won't do that here. I'll just say that my kids don't have trouble using my little Garmin etrek 10. There are many other choices, some with much fancier features, like color maps and all kinds of cool things. However, price goes up quickly with the features, so you probably want to make sure you really love geocaching before you invest in a pricey GPS just for that purpose.

When we use my smart phone, we use a free ap called c:geo. has it's own ap that is supposed to be very good, but I have not tried it. I just tried out c:geo because it was free, and it usually works well for me. When it doesn't it is usually because we are out of phone reception range – that's why we generally use the phone only for city stuff.

I have read that the geocaching experts say that a GPS designed for car navigation usually do not work well for geocaching. I think they are good at getting you to a general address, but for geocaching you need to get to within at least a few feet of the hide for the best chance of finding it.

Regardless of what type of GPS you use, you should sign up for a account. Most aps will need to sync with your account to work and if you're using a dedicated GPS device, you'll need to account to download the cache data into your device. There is a free option, as well as a paid option that includes a few perks. The free account is plenty to get you started geocaching.

It's good to bring a pencil or pen with you in case the cache you find doesn't have one, or the one in it is bad. There will be a log in each geocache for you to sign in order to get credit for making the find.

'Swag' is the term used for the tradable stuff inside many geocaches. It's usually small, and cheap stuff. My husband calls it junk, but the kids love looking through it and picking out something to trade. The geocaching community policy is that you should trade 'even or up' when trading swag. This is to prevent the quality of the swag declining even further. So for example, it would be considered very bad geocaching etiquette to take a mini maglite and leave a nickel. As an example of the sorts of things we often find, and leave: stickers, buttons, plastic craft jewels, small toys (happy meal type stuff), coins, rubber bouncy balls, etc. You should never leave candy or food because that will only attract animals and bugs.

Next time: Part 3 - The search!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Run Through the Sprinkler – Fun Stuff to do Anywhere

Run Through the Sprinkler – Fun Stuff to do Anywhere

Running around in the sprinkler was a staple of my childhood summers. I really don't hear about kids still doing this. Maybe I travel in the wrong circles. Tell me do your kids still like to play in sprinklers?

A week or so ago though, our plans to visit the local pool fell through and my oldest suggest getting the sprinkler out, and they had a blast jumping around in the water. So if you haven't dragged the old lawn sprinkler out in awhile, give it a try on the next warm day.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Low Cost Summer Movies for Kids 2013

Low Cost Summer Movies for Kids 2013

This year, in my Summer Movie research, I only found two theater chains that are offering cheap summer movie programs. Both of these offer their movies on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10am. Tickets are $1.00 per person – adults and children are the same price.

Cinemark Summer Movie Clubhouse starts June 18th and 19th
They also offer a 10 movie pass for $5
Check the link for the schedule of the theater near you – each one appears to offer different titles.

Regal Summer Movie Express
Each participating theater has different start dates. Some start as soon as June 4th, others begin June 18th.
There are two movies to choose from each week, usually one G choice, and one PG choice.

If there is a chain or independent theater near you offering summer movie deals for kids, please let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Start a Summer Book Club for Kids - Fun Stuff to do Anywhere

Start a Summer Book Club for Kids - Fun Stuff to do Anywhere

There are a bunch of resources that encourage kids to read over the summer. Libraries and book stores offer summer reading programs with prizes. Having a group of friends to share your favorite books with, though, can make reading that much more fun.

If you want to start a children's book club for the summer, I suggest keeping it fun. Pick books that the kids would probably not read in school, and don't worry if they have a lot of 'literary value'. If your child is interested, you could pick a theme, like books about dragons, or superheros, or books with strong girl leads. Think about what the kids you want to invite like. Maybe you pick books that have a film adaptation you could watch after you finish the book. Let the kids talk about what they want, and just be ready to throw out a question or idea if they run out of things to discuss on their own.

Maybe have a snack or craft to go along with the book if it lends itself to such things.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Contra Costa County Fair 2013

We have missed the Contra Costa County Fair in Antioch the last couple of years because it has been moved so early in the year. It feels strange to have a county fair while school is still in session.

The fair runs from Thursday May 30th through Sunday June 2nd.

Opening day, Thursday the 30th, Seniors (62 and over) and folks in the military receive free admission. You can also get in free if you bring 3 canned goods.

Friday June 31st is Family day, and children 12 and  under get in free.

Also, if you buy your tickets or ride wristbands in advance, you can get a discount here.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Geocaching Part 1 - Planning

Geocaching Part 1 - Planning

I promised awhile back to write a more extensive post about geocaching with kids. However, I don’t want to overwhelm with a super long post, so I will be dividing the process up. So here is part 1: planning your geocaching outing. Spring and Summer can be a great time to try out geocaching if you’ve never tried it before. We went out today and found three caches. I’m going to give an account of what we did as an example of how geocaching works. I’m going to do my best to avoid including any details that might provide hints about the location of the caches we found so I don’t accidently share any caching spoilers.

First, I visited and pulled up the map of the Regional Park we planned to visit, to see what sorts of geocaches were there. What I consider when planning a geocaching outing with my kids:

-          The difficulty rating for the cache. While 3 and 4 star difficulty caches are very rewarding for me to find, my kids usually lose interest in searching well before I do. I stick to 1 and 2 star, maybe 2 ½ when they are caching with me to keep it fun.

-          The terrain rating. For this I stick to a 3 ½ star rating or under, even on my own because I’m not all that fit. I don’t want to have to do any climbing or other difficult maneuvers to reach a cache. There may be a 3 or a 3 ½ I won’t be able to get to, but so far those have been obtainable for us even if slightly tiring if they are up a steep hill or something similar.

-          The size of the cache. The kids love the cheep silly ‘swag’, or treasures that are available for trade inside some geocaches. Micro caches are often to small to hold any swag. I try to make sure most of the caches we will be searching for on an outing are ‘small’ or larger. Sometimes a hide is so clever and fun on its own they enjoy finding it just for the sake of finding it (as I do) but usually, they want the swag.

-          The hike involved. We are tackling longer hikes as time goes along and they grow, but I still have to consider a hike length that will keep things fun for them. Sometimes we will skip the hike all together and focus on finding ‘urban’ caches. These are ones that are hidden in parking lots, or neighborhood playgrounds, or sometimes inside local businesses. We found one on the bookshelf at our library! The downside to urban caches is that they tend to be small because it is harder to hide a geocache in a busy area. It can also be harder to search in a high traffic shopping center, for example, without strangers wondering what you’re up to.      
For your first geocaching outing consider looking for a ‘beginner’ cache. When you visit and  under the “Play” tab pick “Hide or Seek a cache” then enter the area you want to look in, you will be shown a list of caches in that area. Caches that the hider thinks would be good for a beginner will be highlighted in green.

Next time I’ll go over what to take with you on your geocaching outing.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Great Bug Hunt – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

The Great Bug Hunt – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

I don’t remember why my kids and I started hunting for bugs, but afterwards, I was amazed with how much fun it was. Even the littlest one, who normally doesn’t like bugs – is even afraid of some – put her fears and disgust aside to join in the hunt.

We had gone out for a short hike, but The Great Bug Hunt would work at your local park or playground, or even your back yard. All you do is look for bugs. As many different kinds as you can find, and announce to the rest of the group when you spot one. Ants, butterflies, ladybugs, bumblebees, flies, and any other bugs you come across all count.

That’s it. Thant’s the whole game. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but try it out anyway, and let me know how you like it.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

When It Gets To Be Too Much – Dealing with Burnout

When It Gets To Be Too Much – Dealing with Burnout

I was sick earlier in the week. Fever, upset stomach – that kind of sick. But even before that I was starting to feel like I was headed down the road to burnout. Sadly, I’ve been down that road before, so I know what it looks like. I’m sure you have to. If you’re a parent, the odds are you’ve at least gotten close at some point.

I’m not an expert in psychology, but I know enough from reading, and from personal experience to know that the only treatment for burnout is rest. The problem is, in my opinion, that rest looks different for each of us. I’m a huge introvert, so rest for me is quiet, a fluffy pillow, a cat in my lap, and a book. For someone else it might mean going out and doing something fun without feeling guilty about other things that need doing at home.

That’s the key – doing whatever recharges you emotionally. As parents though, it is so, so easy to feel guilty if we slack on our perceived duties. But burnout can turn into a serious problem if not addressed. I believe it is better to let the kids waste a day or two watching TV and playing video games while Mom hides in bed reading, than it is to have a Mom that plows ahead, frazzled and ready to snap, for weeks on end as she refuses to care for her own emotional needs.

This is more of a reminder to myself than to you. Every time I go through this – every single time – I think of all I need to do, and try to think of what I can cut out. I decide that there is nothing to cut; everything I do is vital. Then I get sick, and ya know what? Most, if not all that stuff doesn’t get done. And the world does not end. Funny how that works. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Family Dinner Together and Game Night - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Family Dinner Together and Game Night

Despite all we hear about how great it is to eat dinner together at the table as a family, we don't usually eat together. We've fallen into bad habits of all going our own ways, to our own screens at dinner time. By the end of the day, we are often so tired that preparing a meal is almost more than we can handle, let alone trying to get the table cleared, set, etc. I'm sure many of you understand.

However, I really want to at least try to have family dinners, but the kids love their dinner TV time, and I admit I like my quiet dinner blog reading. So to make the transition more fun, we are adding game night into the mix. While we are all at the able having dinner, we play a game together.

We started with Minotarus by Lego, and had so much fun, I don't think the kids noticed that they didn't watch any TV. In fact, they were up early today playing it again. We picked it up at a garage sale, and I recommend garage sales a great way to build your game collection.

If you have any fun family dinner traditions, I'd love to hear about them in the comments.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Legends Series by Anthony Horowitz – Book Review

Legends Series by Anthony Horowitz – Book Review

My daughter has always loved retellings of the Greek and Roman myths. I picked up ‘Legends: Tricks and Transformations’ by Anthony Horowitz for her at the library, and once she started reading it, she zipped through all the stories in just a few days. She has since read the ‘The Wrath of the Gods’ volume as well, and told me she would like to read the rest. From a kid, I think that’s a darn good recommendation.

The reading level for these books are listed as 9 and up, and my daughter was 8 when she started reading them, and did not have any difficulty with the reading level. However, the old mythology itself, as most of you probably know, can be brutal. While I believe this is a child-friendly version, if you have a sensitive kid, these myths may not be a good choice, no matter who is telling them.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Draw Your Own Comic - Fun Stuff To Do Anywhere

Draw Your Own Comic - Fun Stuff To Do Anywhere

I recently printed out some blank comic strip templates, and had the kids make up their own stories with them. I thought it might be a little more fun than a normal writing or drawing lesson, but I was happily surprised by their enthusiasiam. Every frame they drew, they would rush to me to show it off.
I used the printable comic templates at

I had some difficulty getting them to print well. My printer wanted to cut one edge off no matter how I adjusted my settings, but the kids didn’t seem to mind.

When my oldest was really struggling with her writing, we also used to make writing a little more fun. We printed out one of the comics that had characters, but no words. Then my daughter had to look at it, and imagine what might be going on, then add the dialog. She enjoyed it enough that it completely overcame her dislike of physical writing. It looks like the updated site will let you type instead now, but I bed you could still print out a strip without words if you wanted to try it the way we did.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Discounted Activities Around the Bay Area

Discounted Activities Around the Bay Area

I keep getting emails for some really fun sounding deals that we can't take advantage of due to our schedule. I haven't mentioned these places to find good discounts yet here on the blog, so I thought it was about time. I can't vouch for the places in  the individual deals, but I have purchased other discounted offers from each of these places and always gotten exactly what was advertised. It has let our family afford more outings together than we would have otherwise.

Amazon Local 

The deals change over time, so it can be good to check back every so often, or sign up for their emails for your own area to get the newest deals.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Benicia Community Park - aka Big Slide Park in Benicia

Back when we lived closer by, this was one of our very favorite parks. When we found ourselves in the Benicia area recently, we just had to go visit again. 

Things I like about this park as a mom
- there is plenty of easy parking, 
- there are public restrooms within sight of the playground, although not right next to it,
- shaded picnic tables
- toddler sized play structure as well as a bigger one for bigger kids
-the BIG slide!

What's funny to me is that if we go more than a month without playing here, the kids seem to forget how much they love the big slide. They act terrified of it all over again. After a lot of coaxing to get them to try it out (or going with them the first time usually does the trick) they will sometimes never play on any of the other playground equipment. Instead they just go down the slide over and over again. There are a lot of stairs to climb to tackle this slide, so they get some good exercise even if all they do is slide. Despite its size, it isn't a super fast slide, and even small kids can do well on it. Adults seem to love it too.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Make Flowers Change Colors - Fun Stuff To Do Anywhere

Make Flowers Change Colors - Fun Stuff To Do Anywhere

While studying plants recently, we decided to try the age-old flower dying experiment. Although we didn't have as much success as we have had in the past (when my oldest did this same experiment), we are still starting to see some color change, and the kiddo had fun with it.

All you do is add some food coloring to a vase of water, then add your flowers. White flowers tend to work the best - make sure to give then a fresh cut stem before putting them into the colored water. Although, kids will often use a celery stalk as well. I think it's better if there are some leaves still on the celery as opposed to the pre-cut ones.

This experiment shows how plants pull water up through their stems into their petals
 and leaves.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Free Comic Book Day - May 4th 2013

We attended Free Comic Book Day last year and the kids loved it, so we will probably try to go again this year. Last year, we chose to wait to go until later in the afternoon, after the huge name comic book celebrity signings were done (there were still other signings later in the day), and we still had probably a half hour or longer wait to get in. The line moved steady though, and there were quite a few costumed comics characters outside that the kids liked seeing. Plus, the shop we went to brought some comics out to the folks in line, so that gave us something to look at to pass the time too.

Free Comic Book Day is exactly what it sounds like. You show up, stand in line, and get free comic books. I'm sure each shop has their own systems in place, and their own rules for how it all works for them, but our local shop let us pick out - if my memory can be trusted - three comic books each. More than I had expected. They had lots of kid titles too.

We also made a purchase, because - we all want to support our great local comic books shops, right?

While you are there, check out any other upcoming events that your shop has posted. For example, we just learned that the artist who draws the My Little Pony comic books will be signing near us shortly after Free Comic Book Day, and our girls are super excited to go back again and meet her.

If you visit the Free Comic Book Day Website there is a spot to put in your zip code to find participating shops near you. I plugged in a few and found these shops on the list:

Flying Color Comics in Concord
Dark Carnival and The Escapist Comic Bookstore in Berkeley
Comic Ink in Dublin
Dr. Comics & Mr. Games in Oakland
Comic Cards, Etc. in Pinole
Collector's Haven in Oakland
Alameda Sportscards and Comics in Alameda
Stand up Comics in El Cerrito
Hijinx Comics and SpaceCat in San Jose
Heroes in Campbell
Illusive Comics and Games in Santa Clara

I am sure there are may more around the Bay Area that I'm missing - so visit the link above and put in your zip code.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Free Summer Bowling for Kids

Free Summer Bowling for Kids

Many bowling alleys around the Bay Area offer free bowling for kids over the summer. To find out if there is a bowling alley near you, visit .

We have personally not tried this program yet, but our closest bowling alley starts their free summer games for kids in May, so we will be signing up and trying it out. I’ll report how it goes for us.

In the past, we tried signing our kids up for a local bowling alley’s discounted summer kids program, but found it wasn’t a good fit for our kids. They had advertised bowling instruction would be included, but that wasn’t really the case. Most of the other kids there really knew their stuff, and our kids felt overwhelmed and confused.

However, I was in a summer bowling league as child in my pre-teen years and it was a lot of fun for me and I learned a bunch. So every alley and every program is going to be slightly different. If there are no free summer games offered for kids at a bowling alley near you, check with your local place and see what other summer or discounted programs they may offer. Most will have something going on for kids over the summer.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Love Each Other - Stuff to Do Anywhere

Even though we live on the other side of the country from the recent tragedies that have filled the news lately, many of us still find them deeply upsetting. While I try to focus on the fun things in this blog, the very best thing about family is the support through the bad times.

So instead of trying something new this week, I suggest you do something with your family that you all enjoy doing together. Pick an old favorite activity. Something that bring you together and brings you joy. Just be together, and appreciate one another.

My thoughts are with all those families affected by the Boston Marathon bombings, and those that rushed in so quickly to help where they could.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Write a Story Together - Fun Stuff To Do Anywhere

Write a Story Together - Fun Stuff To Do Anywhere

Now, I'm not talking about a serious literary attempt here. This is about writing a silly, possibly completely non-nonsensical story. You can do it with just you and your child, or a while group. It can be great for a long car trip. Still, it can be fun if one participant is willing to write the story down as it is created, so it can be enjoyed in it's goofy completeness later on.

Someone begins the story, but only says the first line. Another person makes up the next line - and so on. There should be no discussion ahead of time about plot or what sort of story you think you're going to tell. The first person will have one idea of what the story is that they are telling, but the others will have different ideas, and take the story in different fun and nutty directions. Every takes several turns until the group as a whole agrees the story is done. Usually someone will have to make an effort to bring it to a close.

To go just one more silly step further, limit each person to three words each.

We have also done a group story where each person wrote out their contribution, and we didn't limit the space they had, but everyone only got one turn. It didn't go as off course and silly as keeping each turn shorter, but it was still very fun, and we had a neat souvenir of our family get together at the end.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

My Favorite Parenting Books

I used to think I was a calm and patient person - that was until I had children.

Instead of a single book review today, I want to share a short list of books that have helped me regain the calm me that was there before I spent my days with little people who are perfect masters of pushing my buttons. I certainly still let my emotions get the best of me still - and more often than I'd like, but remembering things I learned in these books always helps bring my family back together much better than I would have done on my own without their lessons:

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk

This book is a short, easy read. There are even cartoons! They model example conversations between parent and child. Some have worked well for one of my children, and not much for the other, and vice versa, but there are many techniques included, so you can see what will work for your family. 
I remember being in the park one day, and irritated at my child for constantly asking for things - toys, ice cream, etc. I used a line from this book that I had thought sort of silly, and was shocked when she reacted almost exactly as the book said she would. I didn't think it so silly then. I went back and re-read it!

This is actually not dissimilar to the above book in some ways, but focuses more on my parental actions than my words (but words are still important to). It teaches the value of natural consequences, and the importance of letting children fail - in safe, and semi-controlled ways when they are small to help avoid bigger more dangerous mistakes when they are older. Before this book, I was a mom who was prone to step in and 'help' whenever a saw frustration on the little faces. Now I see more mistakes, more small failures, but also a lot more pride when they try again and succeed. 

Repeating myself drives me nuts, and I have also learned to say things once, but mean what I say. Now my kids  know I mean it too.

I actually still in the process of reading this one, and only halfway thought, but I love it so much so far, I already want to recommend it. 

We live in a tiny house, and 'stuff' becomes overwhelming very quickly. This book has helped empower me to declutter all the toys and other things that feel so wonderful, but are also suffocating us at the same time. I don't think we are all the way to 'simplicity' yet, but we are moving the right direction, and feeling the benefit of it already. I am looking forward to learning about simplifying our schedule and other areas of our life as I read onward.

Do you have a favorite parenting book? I'd love to hear about in in the comments. Thanks!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Cook Together - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Cook Together - Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

I've had other topics about cooking specific foods together with your kids, but this one is more general. This is to encourage you to have your kids help make dinner. Small kids especially want to 'help' with cooking. The problem is that there may not be a lot they can safely do in the kitchen if they aren't ready or old enough to handle knives or bee near the hot stove.

There is still a lot they can do to help, but you need to think ahead because the non-cutting, non-hot stuff parts of cooking may be things we do without thinking about it in preparation to do the real cooking. For example, my 5 year old loves to break apart the broccoli to get it ready for steaming. Washing vegetables is a great job for small kids. maybe measuring something, even if they need to hand it to you to actually put it into the pot (and you can take a quick peek to double check. Stirring batter is usually safe as well.

Older kids who can be trusted with more dangerous kitchen jobs could be put in charge of a side dish.

I tend to be tired and somewhat cranky at the end of the day when it is dinner cooking time, but when I ask my kids to help out, even though it makes the kitchen crowded, it is always surprisingly fun to cook together.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Post 100 - Feedback request

Hello all.
This is my 100th post on this blog.


I decided last August to give this blog the attention it deserves, and post on a more regular schedule. I have been rewarded by increasing pages views and readers. However, I don't get very many comments, or rather, the vast majority of the comments this blog receives are spam. So in this post I want to ask any real readers out there to share their thoughts with me about what they like, or what they might like to see more of here that I'm not doing yet.

Because I'm only one Mama, and can't visit new places all week long to write review, I introduced the Tuesday feature of Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere, that families should be able to do at home, or close to home almost anywhere. I also introduced a monthly children's book review. (And if you are an author who would like to have your book reviewed here, contact me at catherine dot leigh at rocketmail dot com - with @ and .s in the right places there). Then I add in as many location reviews as I can.

So what do you think?

I am considering adding more learning resources, specifically some fun math games and activities. I don't want to get too far from the theme of the blog - Families having fun together, but since I think reading and math can totally be fun, I feel this could work. Plus, everything is more fun if you do it together, right?

Please leave me your feedback in the comments. I would really appreciate hearing what your think.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Try Out a New Playground – Fun Stuff To Do Anywhere

Try Out a New Playground – Fun Stuff To Do Anywhere

With the weather turning toward a very beautiful springtime, we have been spending more and more time outdoors. While we have our favorite parks and playgrounds we visit over and over again, we have also enjoyed finding new ones where we were out running errands, and maybe a little further from home. It is always fun.

Try pulling up Google maps, or whatever mapping program you like and checking out some other parks nearby that you've never been to. Or better yet, if you need to be out for another reason, look up a park near where you're headed to include some playtime in your busy errand running day.

Some parks and playgrounds I've written about here on the blog:
Antioch City Park

Matteo's Dream in Concord

Hap McGee in Danville

Children's Wonderland in Vallejo

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Carmel Mission: San Carlos Borromeo De Carmelo – Outside the Bay

Carmel Mission: San Carlos Borromeo De Carmelo – Outside the Bay

In our continued exploration of California History for 4th grade, we recently visited Mission San Carlos Borromeo De Carmelo, also known as Mission Carmel near Monterrey.

The mission is currently undergoing restoration, so some parts were unavailable for us to view. Still, our 4th grader really liked looking at one of the places she has been reading so much about. I was disappointed by how many beautiful and interesting looking artifacts were completely unlabeled or marked in any way to explain what we were seeing. It's possible that this might also be partially due to the restoration going on, if things have been moved around, but I'm just speculating.

One area that had good signage and better descriptions was a series of reproductions of small rooms that various people would have lived in during the early days of the mission.

We happened to visit on a day when they were not charging admission. While we all enjoyed ourselves, and are happy we went, I think I would have not been happy spending the usual admission price for the short time we spent looking around. Still, we made a purchase from the gift shop to support the restoration efforts, and if you find yourself in the area, and are interested in California history, it is easy to get to, and pretty to view.

Our kiddo is working on building her own model mission. She chose to build Mission San Rafael Archangel and we hope to take her to visit that mission as well. If you would like to find a historical California Mission closer to you to visit, you can find a list of California Missions here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Start a Garden – Fun Stuff to do Anywhere

Start a Garden – Fun Stuff to do Anywhere

If you started some seeds indoor earlier in the year, they are probably ready to move outside either into the ground, or into larger pots.

We have never lived in a house with a yard big enough for a garden in the ground. So I have become a good container gardener over the years. So if all you have is a small apartment patio or balcony, you can still create a little garden to grow stuff with your kids.

We have grown tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, peas, herbs, flowers, zucchini, cantaloupe, strawberries, and blueberries in pots over the years. The bigger plants may need pretty large containers to grow well in, but it can be done. Pick a few of your favorite fruits or veggies, and start growing! For tomatoes, or vine-y or sprawling plants like cantaloupe or zucchini, I find that cages help the plant to grow without sprawling out of the pot and breaking the stems.

It isn't too late in the year if you want to start from seed. You can start indoors, or right outside if you want. If you'd rather get more of a running start at your garden, lots of plant centers have good sales this time of year on seedlings.

Each plant will have it's own slightly different requirements about how much sun and water and spacing they like, so just follow the instructions that come with your plant or seed packet, and watch your garden grow.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Play a Card Game – Fun Stuff To Do Anywhere

Play a Card Game – Fun Stuff To Do Anywhere

Playing a card game with your kids can have multiple benefits. You get some good fun together time, and hopefully some conversation too, but additionally, many card games are great for math practice.

Simple card games like 'Go Fish' or 'War' are good to play with younger children. Then games like 'Twenty-one' or 'Cribbage' can introduce some simple strategy and mental addition. There are literally hundreds of card games out there.

There are great books full of games, or has rules for a slew of games too.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bob Books – a Book Review

Bob Books – a Book Review

If you have young children, then you have likely already heard of Bob Books. They are very early readers for children who know their letter sounds, or most of them at least, and are ready to start reading very simple words.

With my first born, I actually refused to let her use Bob Books when I realized she wasn’t actually reading, but making educated guesses from the beginning letters and the pictures. That’s what eventually lead me to the Alpha Phonics reading program. I caught on when she read ‘blanket’ when the word was ‘rag’. After I was sure she had her basics down, we tried the Bob books again, but she didn’t find them all that interesting.

My new little reader at the moment, however, is in love with Bob Books. I still have to watch her, or she’ll start guessing at words instead of reading them, but she is easier to catch. She gets a huge grin when she finishes reading a book to us. I believe she is exactly the type of kid these books were designed for. They give her a sense of accomplishment, and pride as her reading skills progress. Even though she is working on set 4 now, which are slightly more difficult than the earlier sets, she still like to go back and read set 1 books from time to time.

From talking with other moms, Bob books seem like something they either love or hate. I think, like most things, they are something that will either work well for a child, or won’t, and maybe that’s where this divide comes from. Fortunately, almost every library has Bob book available. They may be popular, and not on the shelf much. I’ve had to place a hold on them when I wanted them at our library since they are never actually in the branch. But checking them out at your library is a great way to decide if they are a good fit for your new reading kid or not.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Put Together a Jigsaw Puzzle – Fun Stuff To Do Anywhere

Put Together a Jigsaw Puzzle – Fun Stuff To Do Anywhere

I remember putting puzzles together with my mother when I was small, but for some reason I never thought about doing it with my own kids until recently. They did simple 25 piece, then 50 piece puzzles as preschoolers on their own and loved them. Often they would put the same puzzle together over and over again. But when they moved on to 100 piece, they did one or two and stopped. I thought they had outgrown puzzles, but now I think it was something else.

I think they hit a point where the puzzles were more challenging and they became intimidated. We did a 500 piece puzzle together, and in the beginning they acted discouraged before we’d even really begun. Once the boarder was put together, and some other small parts had been assembled enough to be recognizable, their enthusiasm for the project grew. Every piece placed was a tiny celebration.

We didn’t try to put it together all in one sitting, or even all in one day. I think that would have been more than they could take. But we ended up having a lot of fun, and I look forward to another group jigsaw puzzle again soon, although some puzzles at the store have gotten pricey in my opinion, but sales and thrift stores, and garage sales are great places to pick a puzzle up if you want totry one out without spending much to start.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sutter's Fort – Outside the Bay

Sutter's Fort – Outside the Bay

Another great spot to visit for kids interested in California history is Sutter's Fort in Sacramento. Many of the rooms of the fort have been restored to demonstrate their original purpose. The fort isn't large, and we took our time exploring and reading signs, even revisiting spots that the kids wanted to go back and see again, and still finished in les than two hours.

Our kids liked being in charge of the map and looking up the purpose of various areas of the fort. There is also a lot of open space in the center of the fort for little legs that need to let out some energy in running around before they can pay attention to the history again.

Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children, and kids under 5 are free. The State Indian Museum is on the same grounds as Sutter's Fort, just outside the fort gates, and I believe a discount pass can be purchased if you plan to visit both places. We did not go into the State Indian Museum, but would like to go back to do so.

In addition to Sutter's Fort, our kids wanted to spend some time at the walkway and pod next to the fort. The pond is home to ducks (there were baby ducklings when we visited) and turtles and squirrels, and the kids did not seem to tire of watching the animals.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Letterboxing – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Letterboxing – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

After last week's introduction to geocaching, I thought this week, I should introduce geocaching's low-tech predecessor: letterboxing.

Geocaching and letterboxing share a lot in common. The idea for both is to go out into the world, often into nature, and find the hidden container. In geocaching, there will be a logbook, and possibly some swag for trade in the container. In letterboxing, there will be a logbook and a stamp. You can bring your own stamp to mark the logbook with, or just write your name, and you can use the stamp in the letterbox to mark your own book to show you made the find. You should not trade or take anything from a letterbox.

The benefits of letterboxing is that no special technology is required (other than looking the letterbox up online before leaving home.) Instead of GPS coordinates, letterboxing uses landmarks and more old-fashioned treasure hunting terms. For example you could be instructed to find a particularly noticeable tree, and go ten paces to the north, then turn right, and so on.

The downside of letterboxes is that there are far fewer of them around than geocaches. The website we've used is, but we've only found two letterboxes. If you are an experienced letterboxer, and have other online resources you can share, please do so in the comments.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Pleasant Hill Park – Pleasant Hill

Pleasant Hill Park – Pleasant Hill

Pleasant Hill Park is located just off highway 680 on Gregory Lane in Pleasant Hill. Pleasant Hill Park has some great features that make it one of our favorites to visit if we're in the area.

There are three structured play areas. One is for older kids and has a traditional jungle gym, and a few other spinning sorts of pieces of equipment. There is also a separate gated off toddler play area with smaller equipment for the littler ones. In between these two areas is a sandy play area with a strange sort of low climbing tunnel structure that my kids love. There is also a digging contraption in the sad area, but of course you can bring your own sand toys to enjoy there as well.

Even when I had a child that was young enough to use the toddler play area, we didn't use it much. It is great if you only have very young children, as the fence will keep them from running off when your back is turned, but if you also have older children, it is very difficult to see the other play area well from the toddler area.

In addition to the play structures, there is a good amount of open grass, and sidewalks. There is usually some biking as scootering going on along the sidewalks when we visit.  Also, some basketball courts, and swings are available some distance from the rest of the playground.

In the summer, I like that there are lots of mature trees all around the Pleasant Hill Park, so finding a shady spot to sit and rest is not a problem. There are three reservable picnic areas, and two open picnic areas. We did do a birthday party at Pleasant Hill Park once and were able to claim one of the open areas to set up for cake, etc. without too much trouble, but availability will vary every weekend I would expect.

There is street parking available right on Gregory Lane, but when that is full, there is a parking lot adjacent to the park where I have never failed to find a space.