Category Archives: FuN ThiNgS to do wiTh KiDs

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

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!).

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.

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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.

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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),

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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.

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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.

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

Camping essentials awaited.

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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!

Splashing Around at the Great Wolf Lodge

Recently, LA Parent offered my family a trip to the Grand Opening weekend at the Great Wolf Lodge in Garden Grove, CA. Even though I had never heard of this family resort, I was pretty confident we’d have a great time: a weekend away ~ not rushing from kid’s sport to sport, no cooking, no cleaning? Twist my arm.

All I knew was that it was an indoor water park. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about that. I’m a water person and I love thrills so naturally, I love water parks but I feared weird smells and gross germs could fester in an indoor environment. Still….we were excited to get away.

We arrived and received swag bags with Paw Passes to experience the entire resort, which apparently had a lot more to offer than just the water park. We also got these cute little pink wristbands that have RFID chips embedded so they acted like room keys, passes to the waterpark and allowed you to buy anything on the resort simply by waving your hand. Who wouldn’t like that?

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The boys loved their room, which included their own private little Wolf Den.

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Roar! We love our wolf ears!

And their very own bunk beds.

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They wore their bathing suits to school because they didn’t want to waste any time!

And after fighting Friday gridlock on the 405, Mommy and Daddy loved our champagne welcome!

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Daddy doesn’t really like champagne (he’s just pretending for the picture). More for Mommy!

The boys couldn’t wait to get into the water park! Who are we kidding? Mommy couldn’t wait either!

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This is the life…..

The indoor park was much bigger than I imagined it would be. There were 12 slides, some big enough to accommodate several raft sizes. The temperature was a cozy 84 degrees….and at my age, I also appreciated not having to hide from the sun as my baby oil slathering days are long gone. No hats to keep track of, no chasing the kids around with sunscreen……I started to see the benefits of this crazy indoor water park idea…especially as we were experiencing a rare SoCal rainy day outside (imagine if we had planned this extensive outdoor weekend only to be thwarted by the rain…).

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Best thing EVER!
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What would a water park be without a lazy river?

At Fort Mackenzie young explorers could find adventure crossing suspended cargo nets, aiming water cannons at passerbys

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I got ’em!

and barreling down tree top slides. There’s also a giant bucket that dumps 1000 gallons of water after a sequenced crescendo of beeps alerting those below to……

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Here it comes!
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Watch out below…..
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Every 4 minutes….

Much too quickly it was time for dinner but the kids were okay leaving since they knew there would be some forbidden fruit at the buffet to look forward to and by forbidden, I mean tons of sugary desserts which is a no go in our house. I was already cringing on the inside to what I anticipated would be a fried food fiesta and an oasis of sugary hell.

But the dinner buffet was actually very impressive. A few vegetarian options and many exotic vegetable preparations as well as some succulent cuts of meat, seafood and original chicken preparations.

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Surprisingly yummy

And of course, there was the promised dessert. I let them each choose one and they both went for a cupcake that looked very tempting actually.

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I approve, Knox says. (in his jammies prepared for story time!)

In addition to the Loose Moose Family Kitchen, which is buffet style dining, the resort has four other restaurants. Lodge Wood Fired Grill, is a little fancier and offers some gourmet style options but is still casual, after all it’s an indoor water park resort. Another is a grab and go, of the pizza and burgers variety, called Hungry As A Wolf and smartly situated by the arcade. Finally, two are located inside the waterpark, Grizzly Jack’s Bar and Grill, a full service restaurant, in the small section of outdoor space the resort holds and a more limited selection of fast food can be had at Bucket’s Incredible Craveables. There’s also a Dunkin Donuts some, like me, might find essential for staying caffeinated to keep up with the kids and a wicked little shop called Bear Paw Sweets and Eats for those who are planning on doing extra Boot Camp classes next week.

The GWL offers kids a daily roster of activities, depending on the season. Daily, there is yoga and arts and crafts. Seasonally, there is Howl-O-Ween in October and Snowland in December.

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Namaste

You can also find furry little pals, Wiley Wolf and Violet Wolf, roaming around the hotel.

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The kids gathered in the lobby after dinner to enjoy a tale where the fuzzy creatures were part of the action, which always makes a tale more enjoyable. (This is a nightly event)

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At the end of story time, we ran into some friends, the Prince family, who were also invited to family media weekend. This was great because any weekend with friends makes a weekend way more fun.

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Boys will be boys!

The Paw Pass around Howard’s neck allows access to areas around the resort. Guests could buy them to gain access to a set number of bundled activities which saves money instead of paying for them individually.

One of the activities both families enjoyed immensely was called MagiQuest. MagiQuest is a type of digital, fairytale scavenger hunt around the hotel. You start at the MagiQuest gift shop and select a magic wand that is programmed with your player name and vital stats (obviously a marketers dream machine 😉

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Kim Prince is clearly impressed
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This young pup will soon be transformed into a king or a knight to slay dragons and stuff.

Then you pick one of the many available quests and off you go to fight monsters, find magic crystals and save pixies.

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Just point your magic wand and the crystal is stored inside. I wish I could carry all my treasures that easily!

Deposit your goodies at one of the video portals scattered all around the hotel and fight virtual battles as you progress through your journey.

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I can slay dragons in my board shorts!

There’s also an option for the younger guests to try their hand at mini adventure by joining the Clubhouse Crew, a scavenger hunt created for the littles. They start by picking pieces to put together a stuffed animal character in the same way that Build-a-Bear is born at

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Then the nice Wolf people help them fill their new friends with stuffed animal fluff.

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The finished products – guess which is mine?

These are the cuties that lead younger guests on a much shorter quest through a smaller portion of the hotel.

That night we uncovered another little GWL secret. What we thought were just adorable little animal decorations in the kids Wolf Den, actually came to life and sang songs when you pointed that magic wand at them.

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Sneaky little…..
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Truly a delight!

Everyone really did actually enjoy the surprise. Although, I bet, if our kids were any smaller, we might not enjoy that surprise, say at 3am, if they decided to see if the animals would wake up then.

The next day, we had breakfast with the Prince family and learned about the afternoon tour Kim and I would have get to go on.

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Brady, Kim, Kyle and Stuart at their very best at 8 in the morning! (Well she looks great anyway!)

Our friends, Morgan and Justin, who live locally also joined us. Although the water park is open to hotel guests only,  people can join you by paying for a $40 day pass. You can request an equal number of day passes to the number of people staying in your room. We decided to test out the waterproof pouch the hotel provided on one of the raft rides.

I swear all that screaming equals fun!

Then my brave boy decided to try out the Wolf Rider Wipeout, which is an artificial endless wave where people can surf or boogie board until their little muscles give out….as long as they can stay balanced or hold on!

Well….there’s always next year but daddy did pretty good!

OK, I sped that up for brevity’s sake but he did pretty good! The lady who took us on the media tour said she had never seen a grown up actually surf, only teenagers and kids – lower center of gravity and all – so I think my honey has earned his pat on the back.

Speaking of media tour, Kim and I left our lovely families to continue exploring all the available activities at the Great Wolf Lodge resort – all so we could share with you. Aren’t we sweet?

First we were taken down “Main Street” where all the other attractions of the resort await. There is the Howl at the Moon glow in the dark mini golf.

Howl at the Moon Glow Golf
Photo courtesy of GWL – because we ran out of time and didn’t get a chance to try this!

There is also mini bowling at Ten Paw Alley, which we did find time to do and it was really cool. Perfect for pint sized bowlers.

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Bowling in flip flops!
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What form! Strike for the boy in the rash guard!
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This is what it looks like if you’re a professional photographer not taking pictures of your kids – photo courtesy of GWL

There is also a spa for kids,  perfect if you have girls – which I don’t.

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Cute girl who I never birthed – photo courtesy of GWL
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More happy strangers enjoying their treatment which includes a scoop of ice cream at the end!

There is also the Northern Lights Arcade which allows you to win tickets for toys you will soon throw away and candy that you will try to throw away when your children aren’t  looking.

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But they love it and there’s cute little games and virtual rides too

There’s also the Howly Wood XD theater that acts like a virtual ride/video game. It’s great because the whole family can play at the same time which really is a blast (literally as you’re shooting zombies etc.).

Kim and I were treated to lunch, along with the other media guests, and heard the Executive Chef, Chris hammond discuss the careful approach all the resorts bring to their food selection.

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Chris Hammond, right, corporate director of food & beverage, Great Wolf Resorts

We found out Hammond’s wife reads a blog called 100 days of Real Food and the mom blogger ripped the food apart at a Great Wolf Lodge she visited. Hammond read the blog post and realized she was right. They needed to cater to people with food allergies and had to offer more healthful and tasty options. As a result, I was thrilled to find out!, they removed corn syrup from all their food products and their ketchup, as well as many other foods, is organic. They use non-GMO foods (hooray!), offer many gluten free options (including the fried chicken!) and seek out locally sourced, sustainable ingredients.

They understood that 1 out of 4 guests have allergies to tree nuts (!) so they don’t serve any products that contain them on their premises. Also, a chef will walk any guest with concerns about allergies down the food menu and address specific ingredient concerns. Now that is thoughtful!

And what’s more thoughtful is they know not every guest cares about eating organic or non GMO so they kept the menu prices the same even though their source costs had increased!

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It’s mostly organic or at least non GMO! Yay!

I finally got back to the water park to observe the other attractions like the America Ninja Warrior style obstacle course at Chinook Cove perfect for adventurous souls to navigate.

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I was going to try this. And then I didn’t.

There were also cute little animals floating around to swim on.

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Who are we kidding? I’m just throwing in cute pictures of my kids!

And for the athletic-minded, there’s a basketball court.

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Something for everyone
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Practicing his layups for the next time he has a match in a pool.

Since I was Facebooking the entire experience (because really, unless you see it on Facebook, did it really happen?), I had friends posting questions about our trip. My friend Diana has a one year old girl and two older boys and wondered if there would be anything for her little one to do. There is a toddler area

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Photo courtesy of Kim Prince since for some reason I never took a pic of this area

and there is also this small outdoor area that is suitable for toddlers as I kept having to wait for them to walk by so I could get this picture and right behind me is an outdoor bar. Plus the resort offers the free use of floaties and lifejackets so really, they could go wherever there aren’t height restrictions.

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So it’s not all indoors

We had to rip ourselves away form the water park to enjoy a mock-tail happy hour for the media families invited. I told the kids we were going to a party and they were okay with that since, of course, we still had another fabulous day of water extravaganza to look forward to and who doesn’t love a party? Plus they planned to go back to the water park after dinner since the it stays open until 9pm. Plus you know they were all about the desserts which are always part of any good party and they were not to be disappointed.

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Ummmm……help!
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Grapefruit juice with pineapple garnish…..yum!
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There was a salty option too……

And the Lodge was so sweet to provide a visit from Wiley Wolf and a balloon artist who handed out his crafty creations.

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They all wanted swords…such boys!

For dinner we went back to the buffet and again were not disappointed!

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The boys got to go back to the water park after dinner so we did that for a while. Then mommy and daddy went back to the room for a nightcap and some room service snacks while the kids slept in their cozy Wolf Den.

The next morning, after breakfast, we decided to pack since we wanted to stay longer at the water park and didn’t want to come back to the room to do it later. The resort lets you stay at the water park until it closes, even though check-out is at 11am. We loaded all our stuff in the car and brought what we’d need to be comfortable at the waterpark and a change of clothes for the trip home. There are lockers but we just kept our stuff in our chairs since everyone was so friendly and we were feeling so good.

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How can you not trust a person in wolf ears? And most people wore theirs everywhere, all weekend.

There is a very thrilling ride there called the Wolf Tail. We passed it on our way to tamer experiences. The rider steps into what appears to be a vertical coffin and the door shuts automatically and suddenly, a trap door opens and the poor sap is released to a straight drop through an enclosed slide. No way, I thought. I’m a mom and although I like little spikes through my comfort zone, this would create a huge hole and after all, my kids need me in one piece and I have that tricky back and……my son Kaleb wanted to do it.

Well, there was no avoiding it then.

I grew up going to amusement parks with my family and riding all the rides by myself or with my little brother while my parents brought a newspaper and read at a nearby bench. It felt lonely and I always wished for that big person to hold my hand and revel with me as I walked through my fears. I want to give that to my boys so I do everything with them. (Although I hope they don’t become X-game competitors or big wave riders because at that point, we may have to part ways).

So we stood in line. I consoled myself that there were young girls doing it. If they could do it, I could too! The line was long enough for us to really think about what was about to happen.

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Kinda scared, kinda excited.

Finally we were almost at the front of the line! I wanted to go first but I wouldn’t be able to film Kaleb if I did, so my warrior stepped into the chamber of doom.

OK, it was my turn…..curious to know what goes on in that death trap? Watch on….

All I can say is I did it, my hands were shaking, my heart was thumping but if the line wasn’t so long, I would have done it again!

Finally, we showered in the locker rooms and changed into our clothes. The boys kept asking why we couldn’t just live there. Everyone had a great time and weeks later, they still ask if we could go back. I’d say that’s a big hit and since the hotel room price includes waterpark passes, it’s actually affordable and convenient. And those are the makings of a great family vacation.

And in case you are worried about the circulating water like I was, here is a pretty nifty graphic that explains the painstaking process of filtering and recycling it.

H2O Infographic

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

Na’am Yoga: for kids with special needs or people who need to heal

It sounds like science fiction. It has words attached to it that sound like another language. Words like mudra, mantra and pranayama. But it’s actually an approach to healing that is rooted in ancient history and modern science.

It’s called Na’am Yoga and its unlike any kind of yoga I’ve ever practiced and I’ve been practicing for over a decade. It combines movement (mudra), sound (mantra) and breath (pranayama) to move mountains within the body and mind, promoting healing far beyond the reaches of conventional Western medicine.

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The Na’am Yoga LA center offers classes for everyone, the physically healthy individual as well as the one with specific health challenges. They are a non-profit because they offer free sessions targeted to promote healing for people who’ve experienced set backs such as strokes, diabetes or cancer. They even offer a Friday class for those on the autism spectrum.

I sat in on the class tailored for those on the spectrum and felt the floor shake as the kids pounded on it, combining musical beats with movement and joy. Instructor Eugene Pisareuski helped release any tension the kids may have held in their bodies by guiding them through sharp exhalations and beautiful mantras. The room resonated from a chorus of their declarations that “I am love to all. I am peace to all.” They filed out after class with soft faces and laughter.

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One parent, Kate, thinks it works. She said her two adopted, autistic sons have participated in the Friday class for two years. “I wish they could do this everyday.” She said the class left them calmer and they sleep better. Her sons, Nathan age 22 and Michael age 8, she explained, come from traumatic backgrounds on top of the autism they must navigate. “This practice centers them and that’s a definite plus.”

Executive Director of Na’am Yoga Los Angeles, Jane Mirshak said there are many different paths to healing but this one “opens your heart and makes you happy. When you are happy, you can deal with stress.” And doctors believe stress is the cause of many diseases.

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Mirshak said there is much research on sound and breath and it all gets incorporated into Na’am Yoga. The sound redirects energy throughout the body, the movements and pressure points stimulate healing in both body and brain, then breath promotes relaxation.

“Whatever ailment someone is experiencing,” said Mirshak, “we could design a routine to specifically address it.”

Many of the teachers with whom I spoke found Na’am Yoga after seeing the positive results of someone they knew who was practicing it while also battling disease. Even Kate is now training to incorporate the technique of Harmonium, a healing tool created by Na’am Yoga founder, Dr. Michael Levry, for use in her home. According to the Na’am Yoga website, Dr. Levry discovered the secrets that inspired Na’am Yoga through the teachings of spiritual gurus in India.

Excited by this new discovery, I quickly shared the news with my parents. My father practiced yoga for years until two strokes left him unable to perform many of the moves in a typical yoga class. Since beginning his new practice of Na’am Yoga, his caretaker tells me he’s happier and wakes up excited to start the day. Na’am Yoga, it turns out, is good for everyone in the family, even if you’re not the one practicing it.

There are 11 Na’am Yoga centers around the world. For more information go to: www.naamyoga.com or www.naamscience.com

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A shorter version of this post originally appeared in LA Parent Magazine

Sid the Science Kid….teaching us how we process

             It may not have been Shakespeare or even Shultz but the colorful, giant characters from the Sid the Science Kid television show stirred some scientific knowledge into the burgeoning brains of children as they performed various skits centering around our 5 senses at the Valley Performing Arts Center on Saturday the 8th of March.
            In the skits, Sid and his friends, May, Gerald and Gabriela, performed experiments and answered questions posed by Teacher Susie that helped them discover the mysteries of their own bodies and how they process the information they gather from living in our world.
Sid and his buddies with Teacher Susie

            The stage was brightly colored, the costumes were captivating and larger than life and the auditorium, filled with hundreds of children, was unusually quiet for most of the performance while the kids sat mesmerized watching Sid and his friends make their scientific explorations. 
            I brought my 5 year old, who has seen the show but isn’t allowed to watch much television, so he enjoyed the performance but not on a visceral, ‘oh these are my friends’ kind of level. 

           However, we did run into some friends, the Attars, after the show and they do watch the show regularly and had a much more enthusiastic response. Three year old Gavin really like the music and dancing while 6 year-old Jordan thought the character, Gerald was really funny and wished the audience could have actually made some of the concoctions created by Sid and his friends during the 5 senses exhibit the adults held after the show. 
           The ‘after show’ exhibit was a lot of fun too. Kids didn’t get to make them but they got to try tasting various concoctions designed to let them experience sensations like sweet, sour and salty. They also got to smell a variety of scents and touch various textures.
            My only complaint was the sound quality seemed distorted during the song portion of the performances. While the talking was clear, the singing seemed blown out and was hard to decipher.
            Overall, it was an entertaining afternoon wrapped in a healthy dose of education. Mother Marni Attar said, “It was fun for the whole family and we hope they put on another show with a different concept soon.”