All posts by Rina Baraz Nehdar

Shakti Fest: An Untypical Girl’s Weekend

A shorter version of this article appears in Yogi Times.

I thought I was tough. I was sporty and strong in the unremarkable gym sort of way. When I took my first yoga class, it was a level 2/3 on a VHS tape. A measly level 1 beginner class didn’t sit well with my self-image but I wanted to learn the poses before I did them in front of people. I grunted and groaned and fell all over my living room then put the tape away for about a year. I needed yoga on so many levels back then and had no idea why.

Since then, I’ve embraced the journey through many phases of my practice and even started attending retreats and yoga festivals. Last year, I discovered the Shakti and Bhakti Festivals at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center and they lifted my practice and awareness to a whole new level. Bhakti Fest was started as a promise fulfilled by founder Sridhar Silberfein to his guru, Swami Satchidananda when he introduced the holy man to the largest crowd ever assembled on American soil at Woodstock in 1968. Silberfein said someday he would gather just as many people to practice yoga and sing Kirtan music but in a spiritual, drug and alcohol free environment and forty years later, he did just that. Shakti Fest is Bhakti’s sister festival and translates to mean a celebration of the feminine divine. Since Shakti Fest is always held around Mother’s Day, it’s the perfect excuse for a girl’s weekend or a chance to introduce yoga to the family since kids under 12 are free. So far, though, I’ve always taken the girl’s weekend option.

Both times after my festival experiences, my body felt clean and strong and my mind felt connected to those around me, despite the fact that we were all so different. I was sure that everyone needed yoga and I began to wonder if the reason the yoga masters continued their practice after so many years was a key to the secret of its power. So, I decided to ask.

There are three yoga halls at the Joshua Tree festivals, only one of which is indoors. When the sun is still nestled between the desert hills, Yoga Hall 2 isn’t as hot as it later becomes. The sky is dazzlingly blue and the cotton clouds encourage hope that the temperature will stay on the mild side. The morning brought us beautiful Hemalayaa.

Hemalayaa owning the joint

She was all sparkle and shimmer radiating from a grounded spirit. Her energy commanded we discard our perception that we are all somehow divided and unite in our beauty no matter what we looked like. At the end of her class, we were all dancing, as a Kirtan band played behind her on stage, with her recipe to discovering our creativity and discarding our baggage through Kundlini-dance yoga. There was screaming involved and it could have felt weird outside of this spiritual haven but on that day, for a few minutes, we sparkled right along-side Hemalayaa. I asked her later why she does yoga and she said, “So I can show up every single day. So I can get rid of the B.S. and get to the Bhakti.” Bhakti, according to some websites, is the essence of love and devotion. The theme of her class was transformation; getting rid of what’s blocking you through breathing, dance and movement to get to your full potential “like we were six years old again.” Her tip to beginning a practice: “The journey of yoga is a vast one with many layers and places to find depth and connection with oneself as well as the divine…Find many teachers, not just one. Find your mentors, teachers and guides, to be in your fullest, richest experience of life.” You can experience the magic of Hemalayaa at Shakti Fest in her classes (with Live music by DTO of Buddha Music Group) Saturday May 13th and Sunday May 14th at 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm

One thing about both Shakti and Bhakti Festivals is they are very popular. If you want to take a class with a well known yoga teacher, you have to have a strategy. Sometimes your strategy doesn’t work out and you’re forced to find another class and fortunately the festival is full of them. That’s how I discovered Yogrishi Vishvketu.
Blue skies threw the sun’s heat soaked rays around the dessert’s open air studio. We gathered on our mats trying to find spots hidden from the blaze above. Sand dunes, with pockets of sprouting cacti and joshua trees, greeted us as we relaxed into our spaces. We were back at Yoga Hall 2, though the “hall” was comprised of a music stage and an overhang covering the practice area with a translucent fabric. My girlfriends and I had no idea what to expect, so when a little man in monk’s garb appeared before our group and started to talk about making little bee noises, we just went with it.

Yogrishi making little honey bee sounds

Yogrishi’s soothing voice, coated in a sweet Indian accent, chuckled between irreverent words. He told us that the moan we make when we are in pain and the moan we make when we are in pleasure are almost identical. In yogaspeak, making this sound is called a mantra. Yogrishi says this sound sends a signal to the mind for healing. I actually found myself trying to adopt this into my practice for weeks after his class. He spoke about the true path to happiness and told stories like the the one about the bunny and the cockroach who are both looking for it. I decided true enlightenment has to include humour. He told us true love has to be based on truth. “What is real can never be taken away and what is unreal can never be kept.” I asked him at the end of class, why he does yoga. He responded, “To be normal,” and he laughed. Realizing I wanted more, he elaborated: “To continue to be normal and continue to be connected to my higher self, to be compassionate.” Well, I loved that and after I got home I looked up his ashram in the Himalayan Mountains and dreamed of going. He holds a PhD and is the founder of Akhanda Yoga, which is a holistic approach to yoga that includes teachings and meditation in every class. His tip for beginning a yoga practice: “Pay attention to your breath.” Personally, I think that’s for an advanced practice. He is coming back to Bhakti Fest on September 7, 2017.

Besides yoga, the Bhakti and Shakti Festivals are full of things on which we wanted to spend money. Vendors from around the world brought outfits we wouldn’t find on racks in Big 5, foods that nourished our body while making our senses jump for joy and jewelry that is priced far below the uniqueness of it’s quality. We took time to explore their offerings between classes and lectures. Fueling our bodies with clean nutrients for an entire weekend, elevated our moods which contributed, I’m sure, to our shift in consciousness. When you feel good physically, your mind is more open to process new experiences.

Suburban moms, Rachel Russell, Rina Nehdar and Lori Calabreses enjoying the scene at the food court

There is a staggering amount of workshops and lectures held throughout both festival weekends. Presentations range from creating sacred relationships to removing the blockages that past experiences have caused us. There are workshops on chanting, healing and dance. Gender divided sessions in the Women’s Lounge and Men’s Tent address topics of a more private nature that become a forum for discussing our collective, more personal experience. We wandered into a workshop on Tantric Sexuality that involved staring into the eyes of a stranger for the longest minute of our lives and the feathery touch of rose petals. We sat in on a talk by Radhanath Swami who told ancient stories about devotion and overcoming obstacles.

Radhanath Swami Inspiring us

Each left our brains buzzing pleasantly with the gift of exploring ideas that we didn’t have time to think about in our real world.
We ate our meals in the courtyard in front of the Main Stage where musicians performed from morning until late into the night. We brought beach chairs and left them with the understanding that others are free to use them until we need them again. I had never appreciated Kirtan music because it always felt foreign and disconnected from my experience but with the great variety suddenly available, I was able to appreciate some of the artists. I bought a CD by Sean Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band to listen to while I worked.

We finished our yoga day with a journey into the world of Mas Vidal, master yoga teacher and ayurvedic practitioner who has just written a book on both called Sun, Moon and Earth: The Sacred Relationship of Yoga and Ayurvedic.

Mas Vidal at Bhakti Fest photo by Mas Vidal

With the fading sun and the darkening sand dunes as his backdrop, he walked around us while we froze in poses of his choosing, head clean-shaven, imposing, toned figure wrapped in genie-styled, peach colored pants and a black tank top. He shared about life from his empowered perspective. He told us “Bliss is your birthright” and it sounded fair so we believed him. He told us, as we held chair pose far longer than normal, that initially our environment is more powerful than our will but then our will becomes more powerful than our environment. He shared a tip about our most natural action, our breath. In Ayurvedic medicine when you breath in, your stomach should go out and when you breathe out, it should go in but, he explained, when people have experienced trauma, they do the opposite. I tried to see what my natural inclination was but it was to hard to tell since I was judging myself.
I asked him, after he sang to us at the end of our strong class, why he practices yoga. “I do yoga to realize my spirit is one with all of existence,” he answered. His tip for someone about to start a yoga practice: “Make it simple, make it convenient. It should work easily into your lifestyle.” He also recommends spending time with someone who already has a yoga practice so you could learn from them and have a partner to share your discoveries.

Both Mas Vidal and Hemalayaa will be back in Joshua Tree for Shakti Fest, Mother’s Day weekend, May 12-14. They will be joined by many yoga teachers including Mark Whitwell, Shiva Rea, Kia Miller and Saul David Raye. Musicians from all over the world like Trevor Hall, Jai Uttal and Krishna Das will add a soundtrack to the festivities. Gurus and Swamis will join the gathering as workshop speakers to share the wisdom of their experiences and save us the heartache of having to learn their lessons the hard way. Reverse osmosis water will be available to all with a refillable bottles.

There is on-site housing and camping but we’ve always rented either hotel rooms or houses through Homeaway or Airbnb. It’s nice to be immersed but it’s also nice to get away.

The beauty of the yoga and music festivals is that they allowed us to explore many more teachers and styles than I was willing to commit to financially at home. It exposed us to music, food and a culture outside of our suburban bubble. It opened my mind to possibilities I didn’t have time to think about as a busy mom, classroom volunteer and in between chores writer.

Shakti and Bhakti Fest is the opportunity to wake up and come back to ourselves. It’s also an opportunity to give back since part of the ticket prices are distributed between five charities. For more information or to join us there visit http://shaktifest.bhaktifest.com

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

toyota-sienna-minivan
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.

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!

 

 

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.

hqdefault

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.”

mulher_luz

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.

ancient-aliens-series-5

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.

images

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

 

Glamping in Ventura

Before children, camping was an adventure. We got dirty. We drank during the day. We slept on the dirt with only a thin layer of stuffed polyester protecting our bodies from the rocks. We cooked on grills powered by fires we painstakingly built from twigs and newspapers. We powered through the day and talked around the campfire late into the night. S’mores.

Us before kids (just in different bodies)

After my first son, Kaleb was born, I couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to do it while practicing Attachment Parenting which involves: nursing on demand (=no sleep) and still enjoy the sun and the waves that had become the staple of our annual surf camping trips. It just wasn’t going to happen. And then it did. We rented a luxury RV, something I said I’d never do, ridiculing it as glamping (glamour camping) instead of actual ‘set-up your own tent, shower under cold water in under 3 minutes and bring a huge cooler full of food that you hoped wouldn’t spoil in the 3-5 days it would be under the blaring sun’ kind of camping.

camper
Ahh this is the life….

It was actually pretty great. I got to sleep with my baby in an air-conditioned, quiet bed while the rest of the crew did whatever they wanted in the outside world. Kitchen, refrigerator, private bathroom with a hot shower. Plus all the regular camping stuff we loved. So it was settled, that’s how it would be and that’s how it’s been the times we’ve gone camping since.

baby love
Thank you mommy for not making me sleep in the dirt

Last week, though, we got invited to go camping at the Kampgournds of America KOA Ventura Ranch campsite. The promised accommodations listed a Deluxe Cabin. This would be a curious departure from our newly redefined rough and tumble camping days aboard a mobile palace. Plus, we usually glamped camped at the beach and this site was about half an hour inland.

OK, so let’s talk about the location. First of all, who knew there was a secluded paradise nestled between a couple ghost towns only an hour’s drive from Los Angeles? Well, maybe not ghost towns but we definitely felt like we were crossing into another world (picture the movie Deliverance),

andrewluck_deliverance
OK, maybe not that bad but kinda scary! (Photo courtesy Warner Bros.)

as we all craned our necks to look out the side window when we drove by a deep ravine that housed what appeared to be the remnants of a mobile home and bulldozer. My kids asked if anyone lived there. I said I didn’t know. I couldn’t see how they’d come and go if they did.

When we arrived at the site, we picked up our keys and got a glimpse of what awaited us for the weekend.

IMG_9615
A whole roster of family fun!

They directed us to a cabin that looked like it had very little to do with camping except for the magnificent surroundings in which it was set.

DSC_0074
Our weekend view
DSC_0053
….and the place from which we’d be viewing it….

Camping essentials awaited.

IMG_9533
Campers need s’mores kits with white wine to wash them down…..

The boys couldn’t wait to explore and luckily we brought their bikes.

PRO TIP: bring the bikes!
PRO TIP: bring the bikes!

The thing about camping is camping people are really friendly. It’s not like the real world. In this world, it’s easy to meet new people and connect in warm and fuzzy ways.

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Kaleb making new friends

Something unique to this camping site, though, was the preponderance of peacocks strutting around.

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Hot to trot

They really were everywhere.

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Kaleb decided he would try to make friends with them too.

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Here kitty kitty kitty

They may have been turned off by his assertive nature.

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Our first camping injury

We later learned that the peacocks have been there for generations. The land used to be owned by the Chumash Indians and the Chief visited the Australian Head of State back when they still lived on the campground land and it was a custom back then – by the Australians – to gift peacocks to all new relations established between countries. So that’s how they got there and I thought it was pretty cool that they’re still there!

Our weekend schedule was packed but the first item on the agenda was creating s’mores by the campfire and we didn’t want to miss that so we had to tear ourselves from our explorations and get some grub on.

Daddy took the lead.

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The outdoors brings out the grill in a man!
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Is it ready yet?
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Now we’re talking!
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Gourmet kid dinner

Then it was time to meet the other members of our group over an old fashioned s’mores cookout.

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Showing ’em how it’s done
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Fire’s smokey!

 

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Oh oh!
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still yummy!

After all that sugar, it was time to go to bed because we had a full day planned for tomorrow.

Once we were able to wrangle the jumping jellybeans into bed, they settled nicely into their loft beds.

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So cozy…..
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Ahhhh….

While Mommy and Daddy sat on the porch with a glass of wine….

The next day everyone was excited to hit the rock walls after breakfast. For $10, visitors are able to scale the walls and gently return to Earth only to go again.IMG_9566

The boys must have gone up and down 20 times each.

Mommy made it to the top – once. Almost.

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It’s harder than it looks!

There’s also a track around which you can ride peddle carts.

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Kaleb making more new friends.

Next it was time to take our (my) tired arms and create a memorable souvenir: a tie-dyed KOA t-shirt.

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Creating art in nature is the best….
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Nope, it doesn’t wash off….
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Kaleb making more new friends….he really is a friendly guy!

This was a fantastic project we got to take home and proudly wear our creation around town. After lunch, it was time for a little excitement: zip lining.

There are two platforms from which riders can plummet zip down. The first is 800 feet long and the second is 650. Riders speed along at 25 mph. It costs $15 for the first line and $25 for both.

After strapping on their gear, the boys were ready to go. Riders must be 70lbs. to ride alone but they can go tandem if they don’t meet that requirement.

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Waving goodbye to their fans

There are 485 KOA campsites around the country. Some of them are franchises that are privately owned. Ventura Ranch KOA owner, Scott Cory, loves his work and spent the weekend helping guests in a variety of activities. This Saturday afternoon, he spent hours on the hot platform strapping people safely onto the zipline.

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Cory has a wonderful imagination and wants to turn the whole campsite into a nature wonderland for kids and families. He took this once dilapidated, mostly abandoned, county campsite five years ago and has already made it an escape for city families. He’s got even greater plans to expand his vision. He wants to extend the length of the zip line ride. He’s building more teepees and deluxe cabins and tents by next season since they’re always so busy. He’s also in the works of adding two new water slides to the pool area by 2018.

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Wait. Are you sure we want to do this?
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OK, we’re ready!
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I’m gonna pee my pants!
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Don’t pee your pants!!!!
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Yippeeee! (no peeeeeee!)

Mommy got to go too!

Next in our turnstile of activity, we got to go mining for gems in the KOA kampsite quarry…..or rather mining station.

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Ye ol’ watering hole

Mining is free but you have to buy a bag of goodies buried in sacred sand to participate. Those vary between$7-$25.

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Ready to get rich!

First you dump the contents of the bag into the sifter.

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Then you submerge the pans into the water to let the water uncover your treasures.

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Sifting, sifting…
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OMG! Look Knox!
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EUREKA! Just like the olden days.

After cashing in on our treasures, we decided to commence our new life of leisure by exploring the various nature paths surrounding our campsite (er, cabin). We heard about the lovely Big Foot Trail and found a clue on how to get there.

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Truly terrified.

We knew we’d be going on the Big Foot hike later with the group but we decided to see if we could find him on our own first. The trail led down to the river bank, which of course, led to the discovery of rocks, which of course led to the activity of throwing them.

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Practicing in case we actually find Big Foot

Along the way we passed by some of the other cool accommodations available to guests.

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What an adventure

There is a row of super deluxe cabins which were first featured on the TV show, American Dream Builders.

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I used to be on TV, now I just hang out with peacocks

It was a contest to see who could design the cutest little space.

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It’s what’s on the inside that counts anyway

Corry bought the cabins after the shows aired and now rents the spaces out for weddings and to high-end glampers.

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Would you want to get married here? I do! I do!

But back to our hike. We had had a really rough week as a family before we arrived on our retreat. Getting away from it all couldn’t have come at a better time. There really is something about Mother Nature that soothes and brings out the best in everyone.

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See? We’re not even trying to kill each other!

We saw a cute little playground after our hike and the boys found what appeared to be a stranded spaceship. So we had to check it out.

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Clearly a transport forgotten by NASA

They went on a short space mission.

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Captain! I think I see life!

That night, after dinner, we went with a bigger group on an actual search for the legendary beast, Big Foot.

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Spookyyyyyy

We did actually find him but for some reason, as luck would have it, my camera wouldn’t take snap his picture, so you’ll just have to take our word for it.

Finally, the kids couldn’t stay awake another minute and mommy was yawning after our full day but we couldn’t leave without using the firewood they had provided.

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There is a store onsite in case you forget some glamping essentials but no butter for your corn. So if you forget that, you’re out of luck.

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Gratuitous campfire selfie.

This was a great trip and such a short drive from our house, it was nice that the kids weren’t trying to kill each other or whine through the last hours of the usual drive because it only took us about 45 minutes to get there on a Friday night! Bonus points!

We had to say goodbye to all our new friends after breakfast and before Knox was even done swallowing his food, he was already asking when we could come back.

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So do you camp? A survey released this year called the 2016 North American Camper Report  says more of us are. More than half of us are millennials, 18% are African-American and 11% are Hispanic. What’s your favorite part or memory you treasure? Let’s go camping!