2 Moms, 4 Boys and an RV: 7 Tips on Survival

An abridged version of this post first appeared in Outdoor Family Magazine.

What  could possibly go wrong? Four boys jostling in a small space, no husbands to pawn them off on for a few seconds of peace?

Well. This. This could go wrong.

having a hard time x10
having a hard time x10

And it did. Over and over again. But that’s not the whole story.

The idea was born after my husband told me he was going away on a surf trip with our oldest son, Kyle.

The big boys bonding while surfing in Ixtapa
The big boys bonding

He chose to go the one week of summer when there would be no camp. So,  while they got to go do this:

view of their world for one week
view of their world for one week

I would get to do this

crazy kids
just another day in paradise

 

No. I refused to let it happen. So, I asked the boys: what should we do?

adventurous boys
You talking to ME!?

We had to do something. I didn’t think I’d survive the week without having to becoming a zoo keeper and finding a way to re-invent the hokey pokey. Plus, I wanted to have some fun too.

I’d been thinking a lot lately about San Diego. It’s where I went to college and a place I’ve always loved for it’s beauty and people’s friendliness..

There’s a beach campground  in the northern part of the county called San Onofre State Beach. I used to tent camp there with my girlfriends, pre-marriage, and then our family started RV camping there postpartum. It’d been years and I wanted to go back.

San Onofre surfing zinc
This was the last time father and son, Kyle surfed here

I booked our campsite on a website called Reserve America. Most campsites nationwide can be booked there. Because there is such a high demand for space in some campgrounds,  you’d normally have to make a reservation 6 months in advance (the earliest you can reserve a campsite in California) and it still wasn’t easy. You’d have to get on your computer, your smartphone and your friend’s computer at 7 in the morning and keep hitting refresh until you found a site you could call your own. It’s like winning a crazy radio station contest. For some reason though, there were still plenty of spots available when I looked at dates two weeks out, so hurray!

Tip #1: Stay at San Mateo Campgrounds 

Since we wanted to be around the San Onofre State Beach area, there are a few campground options but if you want to be as close as possible to San Onofre State Beach, then you have to stay at the campground there. However,  there are two different areas to choose from, the ones at San Onofre State Beach and the ones at San Mateo Bluffs. Its tempting to choose the San Onofre State Beach ones because those sites are closer to the ocean. I made this mistake the first time I went. They’re also closer to the 5 freeway and the railroad tracks. When you finally lie down after a long day at the beach, it feels like the cars are inches, instead of feet, away from rolling over your head.  Instead of falling asleep to the serenade of ocean waves, you’re awake all night praying not to get hit and popping awake every 5 seconds after drifting off between passing trucks. When the train rolls by, you get the extra added pleasure of having the ground bounce beneath you. Earplugs might help but not by much. The San Mateo Bluffs, on the other hand, are a 5 minute drive away, still very convenient….and quiet. Just do a search for San Onofre SB and under “Narrow Results” click on the drop down menu called “Loop” – then select a San Mateo Bluffs site from there.

Tip #2: Have an RV delivered to your site

We are bargain travelers and always trying to get the best deal. Normally, when we camp, my husband goes onto Craig’s List and finds a private party from whom we rent an RV for a fraction of the cost of renting from a dealer.  We drive it ourselves. We stuff our SUV with everything we’ll need for the week or so that we’ll be using the RV and transfer everything when we arrive to the place it’s parked. It’s not hard when you have someone helping but I didn’t have the time or energy to do all that on my own with two crazy kids.

I had heard of companies that do drop off rentals of trailers. It turns out, every campsite has their own companies they’re contracted to allow RV drop offs. I called to see which companies were authorized to drop off at the campsite we chose and I was told Luv 2 Camp was my ticket. I was a little annoyed that there wasn’t a few to choose from (some campgrounds have this option) but renting from them ended up being about the same price as renting a nearby RV , driving it to the campground and then paying extra to have them stock it with all the essentials Luv 2 Camp would already have included. Remember, we’re going for easy here. Besides, they were cool when I spoke with them and told them what we were doing and gave me a free night for an honest review.

So with the foundation of our 3 night trip in place, all I needed was to recruit a trail blazing friend with kids to be my partner in crime.

I found my kindred spirit  in my friend,  Lori, whose husband is NOT into camping and wished her well as she packed weekend gear for two boys and a mommy.

lori packs surfboards and gear
Not afraid of heights
her car
her car
my car
my car

Tip #3: Use a list to remember what to bring

I’m pretty sure I have permanent mommy brain, which is a form of temporary amnesia that affects the hormonally-charged and sleep-deprived moms in early parenthood. Only mine never seemed to have gone away so lists are a must. There are several that are helpful for camping but I used the one at GoRVing.com to help me remember all those little items that non-regular campers might forget. Like firewood (they sell this at the campground for $6 a bundle if you do forget) or a first -aid kit. (We use colloidal silver first -aid gel and band-aids to heal mostly everything.)

You must bring a first-aid kit because someone always gets hurt.

Ouchy
Ouchy

Not sure why with my mellow kids.

Not afraid of heights either
Not afraid of heights either

Luckily, Lori’s boys were mellow so they sort of balanced my jumping jellybeans out.

Shaka bra
Shaka bra

Sort of.

Doing the dab
Doing the dab

Even with a list, we didn’t make it to the campsite until about 7pm -after all the last minute shopping…

he's only pretending to be helpful
he’s only pretending to be helpful

…and fighting that went on throughout the day (everything takes MUCH longer when you must stop every 2 minutes to break it up)…

…everyone was super excited to see the RV trailer all set up and waiting for us!

inside of the RV
the calm before the storm
the welcome dab
the welcome dab

We unloaded our stuff fast because the inmates were getting restless and hungry. I had brought salmon to grill on the campfire pit and Lori tossed together a salad and pasta inside the trailer. That’s the really nice thing about having an RV. You get a smidgen of comfort next to the rugged wild.

wild grill!
wild campfire!

How to build a campfire:

All you need to build a killer campfire is dry wood stacked in a tepee formation, newspapers beneath it and lighter fluid sprayed over the whole set up. Perfect every time.

the perfect fire for the perfect night
the perfect fire for the perfect night

One thing I didn’t love is the rental company provided dishes and cups that were all plastic. In real life, we try and stay away from plastic, especially with hot liquids, because of all the carcinogenic and hormonally disruptive chemicals that it leeches. So we just put paper plates and cups on our shopping list for the next day (there’s a Ralph’s about a mile away). We would temporarily forego our commitment to the environment so we wouldn’t have to do dishes or poison ourselves with plastic. I think Mother Nature would understand.

The next day found us up early and excited for the beach after a delicious breakfast of eggs, hash browns and turkey bacon. Score another point for the stovetop inside the warm RV.

Morning Sunshine!
Morning Sunshine!

We packed our beach gear and set out.

remember the days when you'd only bring a towel and baby oil to the beach?
remember the days when you’d only bring a towel and baby oil to the beach?

One great thing about camping at this campsite is that your parking pass for the campground is also good for the beach parking lot. Try to get to the beach on the early side, as the lot fills up fast and you have to wait in a line of cars  until the current occupants call it a day.

Tip #4: Bring a surfboard or boogie board

One reason we love San Onofre State Beach is because it has the best and longest wave in Southern California. It’s the perfect place to learn to surf or just ride the ocean for what seems like forever. We specifically like a section of the beach called Old Man’s.

Costco has reasonably priced foam boards which are perfect for beginners and you’ll find this beach sprinkled with them.

Getting ready to shoot out the tube
Getting ready to shoot out the tube

The waves were perfect the first day, small and long. All the boys went in and loved splashing around.

Grommit in training
Grommit in training
Getting creative with the boards
Innovative ways to use the boards
Nothing's perfect - there's always someone unhappy about something
Nothing’s perfect – someone’s always  unhappy

 

Tip #5 Bring a wetsuit and booties

If you’re going to surf or boogie board, then you should probably bring a wetsuit and a pair of booties to protect your feet from the small rocks in the shallow parts of the beach.

Ouch
Ouch

We forgot ours.

The boys brought their spring suits, which are wetsuits with short sleeves and pants legs, but we all forgot booties. It kinda sucked. The boys handled it ok but mommy has sensitive feet (or she’s become a wussy) and didn’t love having to navigate through those slippery, pointy little rocks. You can rent a wetsuit for $15 a day through a surf shop like Rip Curl and even a surfboard which is what Lori did.

Gidget getting ready to charge it!
Gidget getting ready to charge it!

 

We spent the day headquartered at the beach.

Home Away from Home
Home Away from Home

Went into the water when we felt like it.

Camping San Onofre
Charging it!

Even mommy got into it!

See ya!
See ya!
Riding the tide!
Riding the tide!

 

But it was Kaleb who really impressed.

Waiting for it...paddle hard!
Waiting for it…paddle hard!

This is the boy who 2 years ago wouldn’t even get in the water.

surfing Old Man's at San Onofre
My guy…..

And now he rushes it!

surfing old man's at san onofre state beach
Carving the waves

We had an epic day at the beach…..

Moms, boys and surfboards....living the dream!
Moms, boys and surfboards….living the dream!

…but all good things must end. We weren’t sad though because we still had our campsite to look forward to!

sticky wetsuits
Those wetsuits sure do stick!

I have said before that camping people are notoriously nice. The boys made friends with a man who was camping with his family at the site next-door. At first I wasn’t so sure this was a good idea so  I stayed around to watch. Then, I made sure they all knew they couldn’t go into anyone’s RV alone and after a while I realized that despite all the media portrayal to the otherwise, there are still nice people in this world with no hidden agenda (I still kept an eye out though;)

Playing frisbee with their new friend
Playing frisbee with their new friend
Almost!

Tip #6 Bring Bikes

It’s not just for boys. Kids love to explore and there isn’t a safer place to do it than around a campground. It really is like a little village where everyone looks out for each other.

cruising
cruising

Plus the mommies finally got a break when they could relax…

appropriately named :)
appropriately named 🙂

…and make some dinner. This night’s menu was organic hotdogs, veggie burgers, salad and s’mores!

a camping essential!
a camping essential!

After all that fun, I was super happy to climb into my warm bed.

perks of an RV #246
perks of an RV #246

The next morning, we were up bright and early, ready to head back to our favorite beach!

happy campers
happy campers

The boys put on their beach uniforms.

punk rock surfers
punk rock surfers

And we headed out for another day of adventure. Today the tide was super low and after battling the rocks enough times (and gathering some toe injuries along the way), the boys decided to explore the tide pools created by the receding water.

exploring the finer things
exploring the finer things
who's that handsome guy?
who’s that handsome guy?

After another long and fun day at the beach, we went back to our campsite and loaded up on more s’mores, wine and chocolate (oh yeah, there was a dinner in there too but this time we just got Mexican because there was a drive-through restaurant next door to the surf shop where we had to return our wetsuits and surfboard – the mommies had earned a break!)

The night flew by…..

moonlight camping
moonlight camping

Sadly, the next morning we had to load up our gear to head back home.

packing it all back in
packing it all back in

As we were getting ready to leave, the boys rode back to us, bike tires blazing, to tell us they had discovered a blind cat in a sewer and could they have some food to feed it?

camping really does bring out the best in a city boy
camping really does bring out the best in a city boy

Success! The “blind” cat succumbed to their entreaties to eat and he gobbled up the remainder of my lox and salmon jerky. I think this cat had a good day.

lucky cat
lucky cat

We were determined, despite how tired we were, to squeeze out every possible moment from the beach which had also become our friend’s favorite. Even though our camping passes expired on this third day, they were still good for beach parking thus saving us $15.

We discovered the waves were a bit bigger on our final day.

big = real waves
bigger = real waves

The boys went in but soon gave up.

what a drag....
what a drag….

So they did other things to get their energy out before riding in the car for two hours.

I think the surfers were taking bets....
I think the surfers were taking bets….

Tip #7: Bring a camera

It was time to go home and although the overall beauty we all experienced during the three days of camping lies more in our hearts than in these words or pictures – it will be through these pictures that we will be able to relive our experiences.

a moment of true brotherhood...
a moment of true brotherhood…
playing pokemon with cards instead of screens
playing pokemon with cards instead of screens
waking up with friends
waking up with friends
overcoming fears
overcoming fears
We not only survived, we thrived!
We not only survived, we thrived!

 

 

A Spooktacular Holiday at the Great Wolf Lodge

It started in the lobby. A big black spider clung to the ceiling, its sharp fangs hovering over the little guest’s heads, an eerie spiderweb covered the entire front window. This sight alone would have turned any sensible creature to a pile of mush – if this spooky spectacle wasn’t crafted entirely of balloons.

A giant balloon spider at the Great Wolf Lodge Holiday Spooktacular
Try stepping on that thing

“Is that more balloons than anywhere?” asked 6 year old Knox. “I don’t know honey,” I answered, wondering about the world record for balloon exhibits, “but it sure is a lot!”

The giant wolf den into which we had stepped this past February, when the Great Wolf Lodge first opened its doors in Garden Grove, CA , was now transformed into a mock house of horrors with decorations designed to bring smiles instead of fright to young and old alike.

Multi-hued spiders crawled along every wall.

Great Wolf Lodge Holiday Spooktacular spiders everywhere

A haunted house mysteriously appeared in the back of the lobby.

Haunted House at Great Wolf Lodge Holiday Spooktacular
no solicitors allowed at this creepy mansion

Pockets of decay lay in every nook and cranny.

chills at Great Wolf Lodge Holiday Spooktacular
it was contagious

Even the wolf ears had changed colors.

Yet, we discovered even though our favorite lodge had transformed to celebrate the fall season, all the fun we had first fallen in love with, was still there.

After sitting in Friday traffic, the boys decided to investigate the newest exhibits later and wasted no time in throwing their luggage into their den,

Wolf Den at the Great Wolf Lodge Spooktacular
pups peeking out their fav wolf den

donning their ears and racing off to seek soggy adventures!Great Wolf Lodge Spooktacular water park

After our last foray into the Great Wolf Lodge, many have asked what the appropriate ages are for the different activities there and what are some of the restrictions.

The restrictions have more to do with height than age. There is a handy guide, as you walk into the water park, that puts adventurers into color categories.

taking measurements at the Great Wolf Lodge Fall
….almost!

They are then given a wrist band that alerts lifeguards and attraction hosts whether they are tall enough to appreciate the various slides and adventures around the waterpark. Kaleb is over 48 inches tall so fell into the green category, which meant he could do anything there, while Knox was pushing yellow but still within that range. He sported a yellow wrist band, which showed he was taller than 42 inches. The wrist band saved on time since the hosts didn’t have to measure him before every ride. The yellow designation meant he could go on every attraction except the Howling Tornado and Wolf Tail. So that just meant, I had to go on the Howling Tornado with Kaleb.

Great Wolf Lodge Fall Spooktacular Howling Tornado
Before….

And how was it? Glad you asked…..

The only other thing Knox couldn’t do was the Wolf Tail and since I did it last time, I didn’t feel like I had anything left to prove and didn’t want to wait in that long line again. Or so I told my kids 😉

The waterpark stays open until 9 pm from Friday to Sunday but we hadn’t had any dinner, so we wrapped it up shortly before then, showered off,  put on our jammies and had a late buffet dinner at the Loose Moose which thankfully stays open until 10:00pm on weekends.

Loose Moose at Great Wolf Lodge Spooktacular
brothers in ears

I was impressed again by the creative and healthy options offered by the restaurant.

Loose Moose at Great Wolf Lodge Spooktacular

They were impressed again by the dessert.

dessert at Great Wolf Lodge Spooktacular
I give it a 9.5

We went to bed way past our bedtime so didn’t get a chance to start our next day with the free yoga class the resort offers in the lobby.

Free yoga at Great Wolf Lodge Spooktacular
wolf tree asana

Not to miss out on that great way to begin our day, we decided to do yoga in our room before breakfast.

yoga at Free yoga at Great Wolf Lodge Spooktacular
ears off for downward facing dog

Besides free yoga, there’s a whole array of free activities offered daily to guests of all ages. It really is an amusement park that you can sleep in, as the assistant General Manager, Diana Harrison described the resort.

I got a chance to meet Harrison and tour the various rooms on the property and also learned about the various holiday and winter themed activities that the Great Wolf Lodge will offer its guests for the next few months.

Turns out we arrived the exact weekend when the lodge first started celebrating Howl-O-Ween! From October 1-31, the whole lodge fills with spooky scenes and trick-or-treating begins every night at 5pm ….but more on that later!

There are various rooms available at the lodge. We stayed in the Wolf Den,

Great Wolf Lodge Howl-A-Ween Wolf Den
resting their howls

dsc_0009

which is perfect for a family with two kids as the boys have their own space where they can chill out with their own TV and animals that come to life when you wave the magi wand at them and the adults have their own little retreat and don’t have to hear those cute little sounds all night.

For families with three or more children, there is another themed suite called the KidsCabin .

Great Wolf Lodge Howl-O-Ween Kids Cabin dsc_0118

And if that wasn’t enough, during the winter holidays, there is even the option of having a Christmas-themed suite for families who still want to celebrate Christmas but are far from their tree.

Great Wolf Lodge Howl_O-Ween Winter Suites dsc_0115 dsc_0116

I didn’t see where the Chanukah themed suites were but I guess a menorah is more portable than a tree.

There’s even options if you’re traveling with grandma and grandpa…or with family that snores!

Santa will arrive at the lodge the weekend after Thanksgiving on November 26, offering him a chance to eat his turkey with Mrs. Claus. The wolves, Wiley and Violet will accompany him in their convertible car. That day is sure to be howls of frozen fun!

After yoga and breakfast, daddy took the boys for a while so mommy could enjoy some down time. There is an outdoor area that is perfect for those who need a little escape from the chlorinated air inside the water park and is also perfect for toddlers and babies.

Great Wolf Lodge Howl-O-Ween
lots of outdoor fun

Great Wolf Lodge Howl-O-Ween outdoor area

In this outdoor area, there is also a bar and a place to order lunch that doesn’t involve fried meats or breads topped with cheeses. In other words, this area is perfect for all ages.

Great Wolf Lodge Howl-O-Ween drinks
treats for everyone
Great Wolf Lodge Howl-O-Ween
everyone’s happy

When the boys came back, we all dove back into the water park and got a chance to have some thrilling family fun.

Great Wolf Lodge Howl-O-Ween River Canyon Run
a family that slides together…..
Great Wolf Lodge Howl-O-Ween
I brought my own jack-o-lantern

 

Daddy and Kaleb decided to try out their surf tricks on the Wolf Rider Wipeout. Knox wasn’t tall enough to ride it on the surfboard but he could have done the boogie board.

Daddy went first.

He didn’t do as well as the first time he tried it.

Kaleb braved the current too.

I think he did better than Daddy! Daddy might need a little more practice.

We splashed around in the lazy river Crooked Creek….

Great Wolf Lodge Howl-O-Ween Crooked Creek
feeling lazy….

Great Wolf Lodge Howl-O-Ween

The boys got a chance to practice their America Ninja Warrior skills at Big Foot Pass, which is open to all heights and ages.

Great Wolf Lodge Howl-O-Ween Big Foot Pass
Great Wolf Lodge Howl-O-Ween Big Foot Pass

Great Wolf Lodge Howl-O-Ween Big Foot Pass
I made it!

Great Wolf Lodge Howl-O-Ween Big Foot Pass

They chilled on a floating log in Chinook Cove.

Great Wolf Lodge Howl-o-Ween
taking a breather….

Then they wanted to get their sports on, so shot some baskets in a different area of the same “cove”.

Great Wolf Lodge Howl-o-Ween score!
three points!

Life vests are available for anyone that wants them.

Great Wolf Lodge Howl-o-Ween life jackets

One area they didn’t explore but looked fun for those who are still growing into their height was the Cub Paw Pool.

Great Wolf Lodge Howl-O-Ween Cub Paw Pool
mini paradise
Great Wolf Lodge Howl-O-Ween Cub Pool
adventurers in training (pants)

We could have spent the entire day and night in the fun water park but we had Halloween business to attend to in the dry parts of the indoor amusement park. The entire month of October, all the hotel areas transform into a mock haunted house with a trick-or-treating trail that begins at the haunted house in the lobby every night at 5pm. The path goes through seven haunted stations where the pack members (aka the employees) live out their own fun childhood fantasies by bringing them to life for your kids, says Harrison.

Great Wolf Lodge Howl-O-Ween
spooky?

Great Wolf Lodge Howl-O-Ween

The kids get candy and activity books. But who says kids get to have all the fun?

Great Wolf Lodge Howl-O-Ween Trick or Treating
may the force be with you!

And we weren’t the only ones who got in the spirit with the kiddos…..

Great Wolf Lodge Howl-O-Ween
tonight dark and light are united

The haunted house will be remodeled after Thanksgiving into a Gingerbread House, and the lobby will transform into Snowland. Families can sign up online to eat a private meal inside the Gingerbread House for only $10. The Great Wolf Lodge donates all proceeds from the special venue to Ronald McDonald House to support families with sick children.

After going through all the stations, the boys wanted to seek their fame and fortune by taking on one of the MagiQuests that was included in the Paw Pass we got.

Great Wolf Lodge Paw Passes
It really is a good deal

Battle stations are spread throughout the hotel….

Great Wolf Lodge Paw Passes MagiQuest
Knight Skywalker and Prince Kanobi

They loved their quests and it’s an activity that’s good for kids and teens. The younger ones can have their own, shorter, adventure with the Clubhouse Crew, stuffed friends they can build at the Creation Station.

Also include in our pass was a bunch of souvenirs the boys got to take home and show to their friends at school.

Great Wolf Lodge Paw Passes Glitter Tattoos
leaving an impression

dsc_0200

The leather bracelets, included with the Pass, were cool but the Great Wolf Lodge band is still on Knox’s wrist. He refuses to take it off. It’s going on three weeks now.

Great Wolf Lodge
Don’t talk to me about germs please

When their sentences, weeks later, begin with, “Do you wish you could live at the Great Wolf Lodge forever?” you know you’re going back.

Things I noted:

  • The floors in the waterpark are new and less slippery. Last time we saw a woman take a big slip and we wondered how long it would take for them to make a change….not long at all!

Great Wolf Lodge

  • The lifeguards are more observant than any I’ve ever seen.
Great Wolf Lodge Guard
on duty
  • We ran into two families we knew from home. Kids loved that.

Great Wolf Lodge

In fact, people can come from the surrounding community and dine or have drinks there even if they’re not guests of the hotel.

  • Although we were all fine and spent HOURS inside the waterpark each day, it’s important to take breaks if you have asthma or other respiratory issues. Luckily, there is a ton of fun options.
Great Wolf Lodge Howl-O-Ween
showing their true identities

From Rocker to Soccer, could this mom do minivan?

Well….to be honest, I’m not sure what a rocker I really was. I did date a couple boys who were in bands when I was in college.

rinarocker-2

Does that qualify me? But I was never a crazy Courtney Love type. Well. At least not THAT crazy. Though that’s a pretty high standard.

courtney love
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
However, I am reminded here that we shared that 80s peroxided hair and bangs look.

Regardless, I did spend a lot of time at the beach….

silly beaches
silly beaches
….and thought I was pretty cool.

One thing I did not think was cool was minivans. Even today I think, to drive a minivan, is to pack it all in. Good bye good times, good bye spontaneous adventures, good-bye (semi) cool girl.

Yet, my kids have been begging me for a mini-van for years.  Begging. WTH?

I don’t understand. My surfer-girl SUV isn’t good enough for them? Didn’t they realize their mom would have to give up that part of herself that still believed she was edgy and young to drive that mini-van? Didn’t they know I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to that girl who still looked forward to the unknown and dreamed about the future with her girlfriends, all driving around, looking for parties and cute boys? No. No, they didn’t. All they know is they want to be comfortable while their chauffeur drives them to their myriad of activities.

Driver! To the ice cream store!!
Driver! To the ice cream store!!
Last week, Toyota offered to loan me a car to see if my back-to-school routine would be simplified with a brand new vehicle. Not sure our commute to school could get any easier, as we walk, but perhaps it could be more enjoyable as we do all the other things that little boys with active parents like to do. They gave me a choice of cars and my conservationist inclination was to try out the Highlander Hybrid SUV as that was on my short list when I bought my last car in 2009, my roomy and economical Honda Pilot. However, I thought of those doleful brown eyes, besieging me for that big box on wheels and I opted for the 2016 Toyota Sienna.

Turns out the gas mileage, which I thought would be dramatically different between the two models was actually closer than I expected. The Sienna minivan gets 18 city and 25 highway, while the hybrid Highlander gets 27 city and 28 highway. A difference, yes, but worth the extra ten grand for the hybrid? Not sure.

Has it really come to this?
Has it really come to this?
First thing I noticed was that the gadgets placed around the car were actually helpful.

easy access
easy access
I always wonder, in my actual car, if the light switch I move from one side to the other is 1)turning all the lights on all the time, or 2) just when the car doors are open or 3) turning them completely off. This takes one thing off my mind. And I love that I can open the side doors so conveniently and not have to remind my kids to watch the cars parked next to us!

More Good Stuff

I don’t have time to read an owner’s manual to operate a car and this one, I found, is intuitive enough not to need to do that.

The dashboard reminders are really helpful for a busy, distracted mom.

At least someone is paying attention to the details
At least someone is paying attention to the details
And when it comes to this…

oh oh
oh oh
It’s still got my back…..

toyota-sienna-29

We don’t want to have to have the kids pushing the car into a gas station now, would we? Though that would be a Facebookable moment.

On Day 2, while the kids were in school, I had an assistant help me test out the car.

It's roomy back here!
It’s roomy back here!
The third row folds down easily with one/two combo straps to make a lot of space in the trunk area.

Here, Lily is making sure the windows work properly.

Yep, I think they work
Yep, I think they work
On Days 3 and 4, I put on my official soccer mom uniform and drove the whole family (no Lily) to Kaleb’s soccer tournament. By this time the boys are in full crush mode with the car.

If they could write love letters to it....they would.
If they could write love letters to it….they would.
Knox: Say it’s great. Say it’s the best car that you ever went in.

I don’t know what it is about this minivan. It doesn’t seem that different from my SUV on the inside except that there is, actually, a whole lot more legroom everywhere. The leather seats were plush and cozy, really more like a recliner than a car seat.

Taking a snooze
Taking a snooze
There are PLENTY of cupholders. There are cupholders in cupholders. Which is perfect for when you bring friends and everyone is thirsty because they’re playing soccer in 100 degree weather.

It actually can seat a combination of 10 big and little people.

toyota-sienna-26
(don’t try this at home)

Make My Life Easier, Please

Some great mom perks include easy smartphone integration so you could listen to the music stored on you phone or a streaming device like Pandora. You can call all your peeps through a seamless voice command system.

The guidance system is fantastic. We were able to easily navigate to a coffee place when we had to arrive at the soccer tournament at the god-awful time of 7:30 on a Saturday morning. No owner’s manual required for any of it.

lots of options
lots of options
There is a great middle console that is enormous and could hide things in dubious neighborhoods while you run in to get your coffee.

camera? what camera?
camera? what camera?
There’s even a large section to drop your purse right below that middle console, instead of throwing it into the abyss of the backseat or the passenger seat (but you do have to take the purse with you so your car doesn’t get its windows smashed  in said dubious neighborhood).

The video monitor for your backseat theater includes a wide screen monitor, Blu Ray format, and wireless headphones.

We’re not big wireless people because of the uncertainty of developing brains and radio frequency transmissions being blasted into them, so we wouldn’t use this feature much. There is an option to plug in wired headphones and have a very similar experience, minus the risks but this one time, I let the boys go at it.

The climate control is also very easy to operate . In my Honda Pilot, I feel like we’re always guessing (after 7 years you’d think we’d just know) how to operate the backseat heaters and cooler to adjust the temperature to a different setting than the one we have upfront. In the Sienna, everything is clearly marked.

a no brainer
a no brainer
On the way back from the soccer tournament, we had to stop by the grocery store because we were out of everything. All three rows were still up and we also still had our chairs and umbrella in the back. Yet…..

plenty of room!
plenty of room!
the wide and deep trunk contained plenty of space for all our stuff. That was a huge improvement over my Pilot and would have come in very handy when I had had to choose between stroller and groceries back in the baby toting days.

The middle console has a very large flat area which is the perfect place to put your french fries when you can’t wait to eat them until you get home.

room for all the essentials
room for all the essentials

During the week, the minivan took me from Zumba

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still not sure….
to date night with my husband at Dodgers Stadium and everywhere in between.

toyota sienna minivan
falling in love….
By the end of the week, I could really see the draw. Ego aside, this was a very practical and roomy car, which scores a fat 10 in the family department. My SUV may look cooler (to me) but you should have seen me this morning trying to cram my groceries into its back, with a bunch of my husband’s surf gear still there, even with only two of the three rows up. Irritation over my husband’s procrastination to move said gear for more egg space wouldn’t have happened with the minivan that left us last week.

bye bye minivan!
bye bye minivan!
Before it left, the kids had a few rituals they had to carry out to make the parting a bit easier……

 

Well. There you have it. In a nutshell, why we make those sacrifices for our kids.

 

Splashtopia! A Guide to Family Fun at the Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa and the Palm Springs area

I want to thank Elizabeth Hanson for this post about her family’s recent trip to Rancho Mirage, CA.

Photo provided by Elizabeth Hanson
Photo provided by Elizabeth Hanson

In August, my family and I had the awesome opportunity to go to the Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa in Rancho Mirage, CA. If you don’t know where that is, it’s right outside Palm Springs.

It is affectionately known as Splashtopia by many families in Southern, California and beyond.

In a nutshell, it’s both super fun and enormously relaxing.

The resort itself is set on 240 acres and includes a full service spa, 2 acre water park, a 27-hole golf course, and 444 guest rooms.

I went with my three boys and husband, so I have to admit that I did not set foot in the spa. I wish I did, however, as it includes 20,000 square feet of facial treatments, massage and body treatments, hair, nails, make-up service, and more fun stuff. It also has a separate pool. But I will have to come back someday on a girl’s weekend.

What drew us there was Splashtopia. It is a dream for both kids and parents. For the older ones there are two, 100-foot waterslides, a 425 foot lazy river and a pool to swim around in.

slide into paradise - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
slide into paradise – photo by Elizabeth Hanson

Here is a fun video featuring the waterslide.

where being lazy can be fun - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
where being lazy can be fun – photo by Elizabeth Hanson
peaceful night - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
peaceful night – photo by Elizabeth Hanson

 

For the little ones there is an actual sandy beach and a play zone with fountains and sprinklers for them to splash around in. The other great aspect of the beach is that it included a shaded seating area. I definitely appreciated it as when we went in August it was hotter than hot!

a desert beach getaway - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
a desert beach getaway – photo by Elizabeth Hanson
kids wonderland - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
kids wonderland – photo by Elizabeth Hanson

 

A few facts about the resort that you might find helpful.

I’m including a few little details here just in case you are considering Splashtopia for your family.

  • Kids must be 42” to ride the slides. And let me tell you, they are fast!
  • They don’t allow outside food and drink. However, I saw many families bring in snacks for the little ones. We did too and tried to make it not too obvious. As we spent the entire day there we also bought food from the Splash Grill.
  • They have food at the pool from their Splash Grill. It’s ok, not fantastic. It includes things like burgers, fries, sandwiches and fruit plates. The pricing is what can be expected at a resort. There are cocktails and other alcoholic beverages for the adults.
  • The main pool is open from 9 am to 10 pm with lifeguards in attendance. The lazy river and slide close a little bit earlier at 9 pm and also has lifeguards. In my opinion, it is so hot there in the summer that spending the entire day at the pool is the best way to go.
  • The Splash Grill is open from 10 am to 8 pm.
  • All of the hours I have given are for April through August and differ the remainder of the year.
  • There is a changing table for babies in the women’s restrooms and NOT the men’s restrooms. I find this a bit of out of date as today’s daddy changes diapers too.
  • Internet is free. Bring your own movies on your Ipad as they cost $17.99 plus tax if you order one in your room.
  • A pull out bed costs $35 extra nightly.
  • There is a separate adult only pool.
  • The resort offers daily activities for kids as well as nightly music.
  • Golf and tennis are free June to September.
cool evenings - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
cool evenings – photo by Elizabeth Hanson
What are the rooms like?

We stayed in a room that was not off the pool. It costs a bit less and only required us to walk about 2 minutes to get to the pool. The room was clean and big.

The only thing I wished it had was a place to hang up swim suits. There are not ample hooks in the bathroom. And I don’t know about you ladies, but I have more than one suit!

Eating at the Resort

There are several options for eating at the resort if you want to dive in and not explore the surrounding areas.

The Splash Grill is the restaurant that you order from while playing at Splashtopia. It has kids meals, sandwiches, burgers, tropical drinks and a variety of other things. I thought the food was ok. It certainly wasn’t bad, but it was far from gourmet. It’s more pricy then eating out, but the advantage you get is not leaving the pool. That was worth it to us. Sandwiches are $14 to $16, smoothies $8, salads $12 to $15, and alcoholic frozen drinks $12 to $13.

We did not eat in the main restaurant Blu Ember. I asked other families about it and everyone seemed to like what it had to offer. They have a kid’s breakfast that got rave reviews from the children I spoke to. They serve nutella and that made quite an impression. Kids under 12 eat for free at dinner time with the order of an adult meal. Main meals are $24 to $39 each. Even with our kids eating free, we could pay less off the resort.

There is also a Palms Cafe similar to a Starbucks or Coffee Bean and an R Bar that we did not go to.

photo by Elizabeth Hanson
photo by Elizabeth Hanson

In our opinion Palm Springs has so much to offer in the way of restaurants that we preferred to venture out. This, of course, was much less expensive than eating at the Resort and frankly, I preferred the food options much better. Within minutes of the resort is every food chain you can imagine as well as many other great restaurants.

Fun Things Nearby
outside wildlife - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
outside wildlife – photo by Elizabeth Hanson

 

If you can tolerate the heat, The Living Desert, is a must see. It is one of the most impressive zoos I have ever seen. The giraffes have over 5 acres to roam on as do the cheetahs.

cheetahs living large - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
cheetahs living large – photo by Elizabeth Hanson
living desert cheeta
prowling – photo by Elizabeth Hanson

 

There is a whole program of Zoo Talks that you can hear as you visit various sections. The speakers are well informed and clearly love their jobs.

tell me a story - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
tell me a story – photo by Elizabeth Hanson

 

What I love the most about this zoo is that all of the animals have ample space to roam around. I won’t give you the whole list of animals, but in addition to giraffes and cheetahs there are snakes, amphibians, coyotes, gazelles, big horn sheep, bobcats, and more.

For those of you that are in love with miniature trains, the zoo has a Wild West miniature train track which is very impressive.

putting around - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
putting around – photo by Elizabeth Hanson

They also honor memberships from several other California Zoos. As we are Santa Barbara Zoo members we got a nice discount.

 

The Palm Springs Air Museum is a mecca of World War II airplanes. It is also air conditioned so you don’t have to worry about beating the dry heat.

taking off - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
taking off – photo by Elizabeth Hanson

Even if you are not an airplane buff it is worth visiting. Their list of war birds is very impressive and includes a C-47 Skytrain, a P-51 Mustang, a corsair, a Thunderbolt, and a ton more impressive aircraft from both the Pacific and European Theater.

Upstairs in the library, you will also find flight simulators to try out.

 

We didn’t go to The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway on this trip, but we have gone in the past. It is a fantastic view. Once up top, you can hike around or stay inside and eat at the restaurant.

If you are afraid of heights, you should know that it is both steep and high. The tram is solid though and feels very secure.

 

Overall Impression

Palms Springs is a great place to visit. We miss it already!

Splashtopia was so much fun that we definitely want to go back. My entire family gave it a big thumbs up. My husband said he has never felt as relaxed after a vacation.

You can sign up to receive special deals at the Omni’s website.

You can also check Groupon. We got 50% off our room there. If you get a Groupon, keep in mind that it doesn’t include taxes and resort fees.

Elizabeth Hanson is the mom of three fantastic little boys that she has the pleasure of homeschooling. You can visit her blog www.modernhippiemommy.com to read her musings on natural living.

Tips on Healthy Eating: Replanting Your Tower Garden

Sometimes pictures speak louder than words so I’ve made this cute, little 6 minute video to walk you through replanting your Tower Garden.

Please subscribe to this blog on the homepage to receive a free ebook on wellness and share this post if you found it helpful (or you thought my kids were cute!).

Summer Book Giveaway!

You know how when your friend tells you they’re in a rock band and they’re performing in the bar across town and would you come and support them and you sigh internally because you’ve done this before but you go anyway and you smile and pretend to be wowed by the pedantic, slightly off-key music because you love your friend and want them to be happy? Well. This isn’t anything like that at all.

My uber talented friend Julie Gardner wrote a book called Letters For Scarlet.

julie
Book signing at Barnes and Noble! Photo by Charlene Ross

And it rocks. Literally. This is the payoff from sitting in all those dingy bars while your friend belts old Ozzy Osborne hits while swaying on stage. This is your moment in the summer sunshine, a slice of time to yourself, to get lost in a drama that encompasses friendship, marriage, betrayal and of course love because everything returns back to love.

Since I’m the type of person who closes her eyes during movie previews when they’re showing something I already want to watch, I won’t spoil it for you here. I will say this though – as it won’t give anything away – a horrible thing happens to Scarlet and her two friends at the time of their life that should be a beautiful beginning. Then she is betrayed by her two friends. Oh, did I mention everyone is beautiful in this book? I love reading about beautiful, flawed people because it makes me feel like we’re all connected after all – and not just in our yoga classes.

I have a free signed copy of Letters For Scarlet. You can win it by commenting below. It can be anything: why you love summer, what friendships mean to you, your irritation at having to think of something to say in order to win a book. Anything. At the end of the week (Friday night) I will randomly select a winner based on the comments submitted. Easy peasy. And then you will not be irritated that I twisted your arm to use the annoying comment submission form so you could enter the contest because you will have your glossy, autographed book to enjoy at the beach, or the pool, with your margarita or kambucha.

 

Out Of This World Convention

Many wonder if there’s life beyond our planet, alien beings who may visit our world or who have shaped our history in some way through past visitations. Others just scoff at the idea of aliens, saying if they haven’t seen it, it must not exist.

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A convention of UFO enthusiasts called Contact in the Desert will assemble in Joshua Tree, CA from June 3-6 to discuss and explore the latest finding on that very subject.

Paul Andrews is co-producing the event with Victoria Jennings. Andrews said when he was a child between the ages of three and five he had had several encounters with alien life forms. He remembers going into his sister’s room, who was two years his elder, and witnessing a light in seeming communion with her. He said the light enveloped her body and she seemed to be conversing with it and understood whatever was being communicated with her. She wasn’t scared, he remembers, and enjoyed the experience but never talked about it after her parents recorded her version of the encounters while she was still a young girl. “She grew into a conservative lady who didn’t travel in those fringe circles of alien believers,” Andrews said, “She didn’t want people to think she was kooky so she never really talked about it after that.”

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Though his sister decided to turn away from that part of her life, Andrews has harbored a lifelong interest in researching and investigating alien visitations and our government’s cover-up of those events. More and more mass encounters are being documented all over the world. Crop circles and the release of documents formerly classified by the US government from the 1940-1960s has kindled a mainstream excitement of UFO phenomenon and ignited people’s curiosity of the possible.

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The CITD event will showcase 40 presenters who are researchers, professors, scientists and journalists. “These are respected professionals with published papers and books,” said Andrews, “We weed out the crazies.”

Agoura Hills mom of three, Alicia Wilbur, is attending the event with five of her girlfriends. Wilbur is a scientist and said she’s never experienced any encounters herself but said, “It’s highly probable that aliens exist.” Wilbur is going to the event to learn more about the theories around ancient aliens who helped developing peoples construct enormous monuments that seem beyond the capacity of their time…or even today’s times.

History Channel’s Ancient Aliens star Giorgio A. Tsoukalos and expert David Childress, will talk about that very thing. “Humans in those times couldn’t have built those things,” Andrews said. Wilbur wants to know more about how the placement of these mysterious structures mirror our constellations as she’s seen on the show.

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Calabasas mother of two, Shoshana Kaplan has been interested in the possibility of extraterrestrial life since her 20s. Only recently, however, did she experience her own potential UFO sighting – this past November at an outdoor birthday party in Agoura Hills with several hundred other witnesses – after which the government claimed the event they witnessed was a missile launch. “It wasn’t like any missile I’ve ever seen,” said Kaplan, “It hovered in the air and it wasn’t that far above us. After a while, it emitted a green conical light trail and then suddenly took off in a completely different direction. We all saw it and many of us were taking pictures and video.” Kaplan is also going to CITD to hear about the declassified government files. “I don’t know why they don’t tell us,” Kaplan said, “There’s pilots and military that claim they’ve seen spaceships but the government always denies it.”

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One reason Andrews said they deny it is because the government has a program that takes parts of downed spacecraft, technology that is far beyond our own, and distributes it among the various military branches as well as private defense companies. The book The Day After Roswell written by Colonel Philip Corso, assigned to that detail, will also be discussed at CITD.

Attendees will be privileged to hear the latest information about the possibility of space travel from nuclear physicist, Stanton Friedman, learn about various conspiracies from award-winning journalist, Jim Mars and David Wilcox will talk about the secret space program that uses technology far more advanced than most know exists and the encounters those who’ve participated within them have had with alien life forms.

The weekend is packed with workshops, panel discussion and activities. One thing both Wilbur and Kaplan are looking forward to is the night hike to Giant Rock, a site that has a very high geomagnetic field and is a possible area previously visited by extraterrestrials. It was also the venue of the first UFO conventions hosted by George Van Tassell in the 1950s.

For more information please visit contactinthedesert.com

 

Giving Mothers the Gift of Peace

(This article originally appeared in YogiTimes Magazine – I just added all these groovy pictures)

One thing no one ever tells an expectant mother is the arrival of her beautiful, cooing little bundle of chub will be the departure of her private bathroom time, regular showers and any hope of an uninterrupted night of sleep. There might be a mother who escapes from this reality and we have a special name for her. Lucky.

Retro housewife with freshly made lemonade
Always making lemonade out of lemons

The rest of us, however, have to find ways to keep our sanity between the coos and giggles. Agoura Hills yoga teacher, Drorit Rudin, had three kids within three years and four months of each other. She tried to take care of herself in between diaper changes and regularly attended gym classes though never really connected with the vibe there. Rudin said her life changed when she found a yoga class that embodied everything she was. “There were no shoes, no one was checking each other out, no competitiveness. There was a space created for peace.” Rudin says the peace she found on her yoga mat extended into her family life. “I was able to be more calm and my kids responded so much better.”

Drorit2
Drorit Rudin found yoga and was able to find peace in chaos

Malibu resident, Torrie Simshauser, had a similar experience the first time she did yoga. “I could feel the difference at a cellular level,” she said. All the breathing and meditative nature of moving between the poses eased her anxiety, Simshauser said, and after nine months of daily practice, she decided to train to become a teacher. “I wanted to share all the benefits I was getting in classes that was extending outside my classes, like balance, stability and calmness with others.”

Torrie
Tore Simshauser strikes a pose in Malibu

Both yogini mommies can thank Sridhar Silberfein for their practice as he was one of the people responsible for bringing yoga to the United States. In the early 1970s, Silberfein opened the first yoga studio in Los Angeles in Topanga Canyon. He introduced Swami Satchidananda to the stage at Woodstock to deliver an invocation in front of 500,000 music fans. Overwhelmed by the largest gathering of people ever assembled in the United States, Silberfein promised the Swami that someday the same number would come together to chant the various names of God, practicing Kirtan, or sacred music.

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Woodstock was the largest gathering of people ever assembled in the United States

Forty years later, Silberfein created Bhakti Fest (which means love and compassion, a devotional opening up of the heart) in Joshua Tree where they do just that.

Sridhar and Ram Dass
Every year Sridhar Silberfein has video taped conversations with Ram Dass shown at the festivals he created

Bhakti Fest offers unlimited yoga taught by the top instructors in the world. Bhakti Fest also has sacred music and workshops where people learn the meaning behind the chants. From that, Shakti Fest was born which specifically celebrates the creative divine feminine. Shakti Fest features additional workshops like belly dancing and hula hoop, classes in tantric and Ayurvedic.

Silberfein, born to a Jewish family, wants to make clear that yoga isn’t a religion, it’s a way of life. “People start to practice and see the difference in their face and body and want more of that. They may decide to meditate five minutes a day. They may decide to eat cleaner.”

bi_graphics_meditation

Both festivals are Silberfein’s peaceful alternative to what he feels are the angst ridden rap and rock concerts that he says encourage personal destruction through the abuse of drugs, alcohol and relationships. Instead, he offers guests a healthy experience, free of any mind altering substances, based on the return to a youthful innocence which he says we lose at age 8 in response to the ego’s need to protect itself from the frantic nature of the world. “It’s very difficult to live in the world today,” Silberfein points out, “We need a daily practice that keeps us quiet in our minds, that keeps us centered from the hassle and frazzle of everyday life.”

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As a young mother, Rudin said, she was always worrying about specific things that might happen to her kids, things that were mostly beyond her control. “After yoga, I didn’t worry as much,” she said. Instead, she started every class by setting a positive intention of peace and happiness for each of her children. It spilled over into her life outside her yoga practice and she was able to feel that peace and happiness herself.

Drorit

Sometimes, Simhauser said, her kids will practice yoga with her. She wants for them to have the gift of calm that she found later in life. Silberfein says the Kid’s Village at Shakti Fest is designed to give children those very skills at an age where they could grow into them. There is music, dancing and puppets. They learn how to work with crystals and even get to take them home. They create gratitude flags to hang in their rooms. And maybe most importantly, they learn how to sit still for two to ten minutes, a skill most adults can probably use.They learn to center themselves in the face of life’s chaos.

kids-doing-yoga

Shakti Fest brings together the most talented female yoga teachers and musical artists. There is a Woman’s Tent, closed to men, run by female elders who discuss sensitive topics specific to women’s struggles. “The idea is to empower the women,” said Silberfein. “They need to have their own space, which is closed to their husband and children. She can tell them it’ll make her a better mommy and wife.”

yoga mom

Empowerment was something Rudin found eight years ago, when she woke up one morning and decided to open up her own yoga studio, now called Agoura Power of Yoga. “I wanted to practice the type of yoga that I loved,” Rudin said, “At the time the closest studio was in Calabasas, so I create my own.” Rudin said she gets texts, emails and cards from women thanking her for helping them to reconnect with their inner power.

o“In many relationships, women give up their power.” Silberfein said he disagrees with this. “We should be kissing their feet in gratitude for the things they do.”

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yes please

Shakti Fest donates a portion of their proceeds to an orphanage in India that is home to 18 girls. “We want to have a festival where we can give back to the people, so after we pay our expenses, that’s what we do.”

Shakti Fest begins its sixth year at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center in Joshua Tree, CA on May 13 and goes from 7am to 2am until May 16. For more information go to: http://shaktifest.bhaktifest.com/ Discounts are given to veterans, military, students and seniors.

 

 

Frosted Cowboy Giveaway: the book! (not the drink)

I’m so excited to be doing my first ever GIVEAWAY! Read to the bottom to learn how you can get your very own FREE copy of Frosted Cowboy! ALSO, if you are local, you are invited as my guest to a book signing party on Thursday, April 7th at Bellini in Westlake Village at 5:30pm!

frosted cowboy

Before I moved to Agoura Hills, I didn’t know anyone except my husband.

I met Charlene Ross because she is my neighbor and our boys went to school together. I just thought she was another mom until she passed by my house one day, walking toward the park with a notebook and a laptop pressed to her chest. “Oh,” I asked, part curious, part friendly, “where are you going?”

“I’m going to write in the park,” Charlene replied. “You write?!” Surprise and excitement burst through the surface of my suburban mom calm. And here I thought she was just another mom. “Yeah,” she gave me a humble little smile, cute dimples lighting up her blue eyes. “That’s so cool!,” I said, “Who do you write for?” She told me she had a blog and wrote for Skirt! and the Agoura Hills Patch. “Right on!” I replied and added her to the file in my head called “future writing group members”.

I was starting almost from scratch, but I was busy building a life in my head. In that life, I would be surrounded by amazing and talented women who liked to write. Eventually, that happened and the success we’ve all experienced as a result of encouraging and supporting each other is immeasurable. Charlene Ross and Julie Gardener published their first books. Lexi Rohner and Kim Tracy Prince are featured in anthologies. Laurel Janssen Byrne built her own social media company and I write regularly for LA Parent.

But we’re here to talk about Charlene.

Charlene’s book is called Frosted Cowboy and it’s a chick-lit book about Laney Delaney and her  journey of self discovery and all the mistakes she makes – that we all made -along the way, except hers are way more funny and her boyfriends are way more hot. Laney, like most of us growing into ourselves, has no idea how cool she really is – she’s a wedding dress designer for crying out loud! (Did I just use that terrible cliche? Now we all know why Charlene is a published author and I am not).

I mostly read articles, science fiction or literary fiction. So, I haven’t read any chick-lit since Bridget Jones’s Diary in college. Also since becoming a mom, my reading time is  limited. It’s usually right before bed, when it’s finally quiet, that I indulge in reading time. Often, it takes me a while to finish a book. However, I flew right through Frosted Cowboy, to the point of where I was carrying it around with me, making flimsy excuses to my family that I had to hurry up and read it so I could tell Charlene what I thought of it. Yeah, right. I just wanted to see what would happen to Laney after she walked in on her fiancé filing a “brief” in his secretary’s “desk” on top of the kitchen counter in the apartment Laney shared with him.

I highly recommend this book and I am so happy to say that I really enjoyed it because otherwise, it would be kinda awkward at next month’s writer’s group meeting.

There is also a prequel available for a free download to your ebook reader! Love on the Rocks was a great way to extend my relationship with Laney.

In honor of my friend’s amazing accomplishment, I am giving away a free, signed copy of her book to someone who comments below. Just tell me why you need a break from your life and I might make that happen for you. I’ll pick the winner on 4/18/16 so if you don’t hear from me, then at least you know where to find a great read for your summer vacation!

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All dimples and pen

 

The Zoo – A Walk Through the Wild Side

I’m not really a zoo person. I want to get excited about the animals and the obscure, rare anacondas crawling around the other creepy bugs ~ but I know if I actually encountered those things in the wild, I’d probably step on them. Or throw something at them since I’d probably be too busy screaming to get close enough to do that. Plus, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking about those undercover expose’s of how these poor captive animals get abused. Or maybe that’s the circus but regardless, now I have kids and for them, I’ll pretend to be excited. I want them to be excited about nature and wildlife. I want them to grow up and feel a sense of responsibility to protect and preserve as much of that natural life as possible so the corporations don’t take them all away.

So when I got an invitation from LA Parent to attend a private showcase of some exhibits accompanied with behind the scenes zookeeper tours, I really did get excited. Excited enough to drive from Agoura Hills to the LA Zoo on a Saturday morning to be there by 8:30. But they were kind enough to feed us breakfast first so that was one thing I could cross off the morning to do list.

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muffins for breakfast!? woohoo!
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why are you taking a picture of me eating?

We started with introductions from the zoo president, Karen B. Winnick, and zoo director, John R. Lewis that talked about the programs we could expect in the near future. Santa and his reindeer came in December, of course, for a Reindeer Romp. It’s actually a good opportunity to use your kid’s interest in Christmas to learn tidbits about the real animals who will be visiting the zoo starting December. We’ll have to keep it in mind for next year. There will also be a promising sounding nighttime event called LA Zoo lights in December. I’m sure we’ll be schlepping back there for that too because animals at night surrounded by lasers and light shows sounds too good to pass up.

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they fed us so we listened

But what is coming up soon is the Big Bunny Spring Fling from March 25th to March 27th 10am-4pm. All Bunny activities are free with paid zoo admission, except for Bunny photos, of course, but they promise those will be affordable.

But back to our zoo day.

The first exhibit we visited was the Harbor Seals. I guess these are the guys you see around the ports swimming around the big cargo ships. Apparently, many of them are blind because they get cataracts in the wild…maybe from all the ocean pollution?….and the ones that get injured or are obviously impaired, get brought to zoos and live in the lap of luxury surrounded by admiring children and fed a daily diet of sardines and fried calamari. No. Probably not fried but it sounds yummy to this Russian girl! Not so much to her American hubby. Jessica, the keeper who takes care of these guys said, Alfred the current occupant is blind but uses his whiskers like fingers to “see” what’s around him. Alfred’s offspring were also born with vision problems but because they were lucky enough to have access to the great vets at the zoo, their vision was restored after cataracts surgery. Jessica thinks of these guys as her babies since she doesn’t have any babies of her own. At least she’s not getting up in the middle of the night to change diapers or nurse them, but that’s sweet that she’s so fond of them.

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you can kinda see the sea lions behind these handsome guys if you squint

Then we visited the Meerkats who resembled flashers as they warmed their bodies in the morning sun.

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watch out! it’s the police!

Did you know flamingos are born grey and white? I didn’t either. They turn pink from eating shrimp and carrots.

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put another shrimp on the barbie dahling!

They also lay conical shaped eggs so they don’t roll out of the nest.

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yep, that’s an egg

That seems so practical. I wonder why the other birds don’t do that? Oh wait……

Tomistomas are in the crocodile family so no one is cuddling up with them. I thought the most interesting thing about them is they grow their entire lives. They may not be the perfect pet but I feel the sprinkles of a good children’s story here….maybe something to do with a bathtub…..

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I am very big and scary

There’s only so much my five and seven year old can take since they’re not picturing bathtubs and catastrophes with runaway animals….so we got to the gorillas just in time.

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Gorillas! Cool!

Turns out gorillas are vegetarians. We arrived at feeding time and got to see their healthy array of leafy greens, fennel, and onion being thrown over the wall to them. They walked around clutching their prizes and sat in the shade to devour their goodies. Their bulbous bellies leave plenty of room for all the gas that is produced by their diet. Momma would be proud of their healthy choices (though she might not be able to sit in the same room for too long!)

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Not much hunting going on here

 

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no, you cannot have any!

One cutie pie walked around with his blanky covering his back. He would stop every so often and cuddle with it like a typical toddler. Such a sweet, little 400 pound marshmallow!

 

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Finally, we visited what promised to be the Elephant Enrichment Center. Now, when I think of elephants, zoos and circuses, I think abuse. Maybe it’s the over sensationalized mainstream media looking for stories – but I don’t think so. I think throughout history, those floppy eared pachyderms have gotten pretty worked by those taking advantage of their sweet natures. Read Water for Elephants if you don’t believe me.
But this experience promised to be different.

We joined a crowd of people mutely watching what appeared to be an elephant in the midst of getting a pedicure.

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Well. I waited and watched and listened to the keeper telling us about how important it was to get the mud out from between the elephants hoofs and how the keepers meticulously washed the bottoms of their legs and scrubbed them clean and it reminded me that I hadn’t had a pedicure in quite some time and I put that on my list of things to do in the near future.

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These elephants didn’t look like they were being abused so I left feeling reassured and longing for a foot rub.

Next we visited the lions because you can’t go to the zoo and not see the lions.

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Since we were on our own at this point (the tour had ended with the gorillas) there wasn’t anyone telling us any nifty facts about the lions so I tried to read the signs attached to the enclosures to educate my children, who at this point were more concerned with the water guns being sold by the vendors lining the paths around the zoo. Come on! I was trying to make up in volume what they lacked in enthusiasm for lion trivia.  I finally had to use the water pistols as leverage to maintain calm until my wild animals reached the exit. Everyone made it out alive and they wanted to come back. I call that success.

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they only look tame