Friday, December 31, 2010

'The Sound of Music' Rings Out 2010

For my final post of 2010 -- not to mention this year's 300th entry here at L.A. Story -- I thought I would write about "The Sound of Music," a classic film if there ever was one.

I remember when CC was a tiny baby, my repertoire of lullabies was pretty limited. (You forget all of those songs you haven't heard in so many years.) But one of the songs I did remember -- in addition to "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," "Rockabye Baby" (whose lyrics later freaked me out) and, for some reason, "Hello, Dolly!" -- was "Do-Re-Mi," from this Rodgers & Hammerstein movie/musical, directed by Robert Wise.

I would sing that to her, hoping it would help her fall asleep, but also hoping that it would ready her for the day when we got to see Julie Andrews marvel at those gorgeous Austrian Alps.

Christmas 2010 was that moment.

Luckily, I had received a review copy of the Blu-ray/DVD combo (SRP: $34.99) from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment in honor of the film's 45th anniversary. Wow, 45 years. And this G-rated movie, while long at a whopping 175 minutes, complete with intermission, was so worth it.

I forgot how magical the songs are, how touching the story is and how rousing Andrews is as spunky nun/governess Maria.

The story of her charming the seven von Trapp children and their father (played by the wonderful Christopher Plummer) is just so timeless.

And the songs!

CC loved "My Favorite Things," especially the whiskers on kittens, and I'd forgotten just how beautiful "Edelweiss" sounds with a simple guitar.

Throw in a harrowing Nazi escape, and what's not to love?

The quality of the film is magnificent -- and watching it on a 52-inch flat-screen didn't hurt. But it only made me want a Blu-ray player, as two of the three discs in the anniversary package are in that format. Those discs sport fun special features, including an interactive "Backlot Tour" with featurettes on the songs, the stage show and movie and the real-life von Trapp family. It also has a virtual map of filming locations in Salzburg, Austria.

As it was, the features on the regular DVD offered a sing-along and "The Sound of Music Tour -- A Living Story," a short insider's look at the tour offered in Salzburg. (Wish that had been a little longer, actually.)

Nevertheless, we had a great time watching the movie, and I'm sure we'll watch it again -- maybe on the 50th anniversary in five years.

But one song does offer a handy and inspiring goal for the upcoming 2011 -- "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," whatever your mountain happens to be.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

'Tron: Legacy' Lights Up the El Capitan

Last week, CC and I had the chance to check out Disney's new "Tron: Legacy" at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood.

Talk about a spectacle.

The amped-up (but still PG-rated) 3D sequel to the 1982 original "Tron," starring Jeff Bridges, was a visual stunner, and the laser light show that preceded the pic was pretty amazing itself.

The blue and green lights danced around the theater, bouncing to the techno beats of Daft Punk -- the French duo who also created the movie's soundtrack. CC was wowed, and it was fun to watch her little eyes dart around the futuristic-looking space in awe.

While I missed the original film, about hacker Kevin Flynn (Bridges) who's forced inside a computer world he created, the sequel (written by "Lost" writers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz) touched on familiar themes of a son (Garrett Hedlund) looking for his long-lost father (Bridges again), who has been pulled back into that same digital world.

CC asked plenty of questions (quietly) during the showing -- a 10 a.m. screening that had lots of kiddos and parents -- about who was whom and why they were doing what they were doing. Some elements were lost on her (the subtleties of mistaken allies, as well as the whole "creating programs" aspect), but she was particularly fond of the femme character Quorra (Olivia Wilde, pictured above), an endearing yet kick-ass confidante of Kevin Flynn.

"I liked all the woman's parts," she said after the movie was over. "Quorra!"

At 127 minutes, the film is admittedly long for a little one, and I wasn't completely wowed by the script (even though it was written by Losties). But the visuals of the 3D movie, plus the lively action and rockin' soundtrack, were lots of fun -- for both parents and kids.

"Tron: Legacy" is playing at the El Capitan through Jan. 20.

Note: VIP press tickets provided.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rose Parade Floats: It's All in the Details

When a float supervisor for the 2011 Rose Parade, set for Jan. 1, in Pasadena, asked me if I was interested in volunteering for detail work, little did I know she was about to hand me a tub of uncooked split peas and a bottle of glue.

"This is for the sea turtle," she told me.

This split-pea-enhanced sea turtle was just one element of the elaborate Dole float -- a first for the Hawaii-born fruit company -- which will be heading down Colorado Boulevard on New Year's Day.

A representative from Dole invited me to volunteer and check out the floral goings-on, and despite not being able to bring CC (kids under 12 are not permitted in the Fiesta Parade Floats warehouse), I didn't want to pass up this distinctly Southern California activity.

So I made my way over to Irwindale -- about an hour's drive northeast of L.A. proper -- and found myself face-to-face with enormous and elaborate floats being readied by a large team of staff and volunteers, which also included a bevy of young Girl Scouts.

Created and designed by Raul Rodriguez of float-building company Fiesta Parade Floats (which has, incidentally, built 17 consecutive Sweepstakes Trophy winners in the Rose Parade), Dole's parade entry, "Living Well in Paradise," will sport a replica statue of King Kamehameha, waterfalls, roses, orchids, hydrangeas, fruit and, of course, my sea turtle.

The work itself was very detail-oriented, as the supervisor suggested. People were even coming around to check that spaces between split peas weren't too wide or sloppy. Eek! Lucky for me, my peas were just fine.

While I was worried that boredom or frustration would set in quickly, I was surprised by how zen-like I felt by just arranging peas in their proper places. It was actually pretty relaxing and a task I could do while putting my brain in low-stress mode -- something I don't give myself the chance to do very often. Plus, it was kind of like the game "Tetris," in that I was always trying to find misshapen peas (splittier peas?) to fill oddly shaped spaces.

Anyway, three hours ended up flying by. As for my turtle, I only filled about four patches on his right flipper. Seriously.

That only added to my amazement about how all of the Parade elves get this enormous job done. It also made me better appreciate the finished products, as I saw people walking around cutting straw flowers into fine powder and gluing black beans onto over-sized fish.

Check out the above photo gallery. I was able to spy preparations for other floats, including the ones from Kaiser Permanente, the Ronald Reagan Centennial and the Beverly Hills Tournament of Roses Committee.

For information about kid-friendly float decorating closer to the Rose Parade site in Pasadena, visit

CBS Los Angeles: Family Picks for This Week

Please check out my latest post, "Top Picks for Families -- Week of December 26."

There is so much family fun in store this week -- the week before New Year's -- including float decorating in Pasadena for the Tournament of Roses, "Noon" Year's Eve at Kidspace Children's Museum and, of course, the 122nd Rose Parade itself (where CC and I had a great time last year.)


Monday, December 27, 2010

L.A. Holiday Celebration = New L.A. Story Tradition

The Salvation Army Tabernacle Children's Choir performs
at the L.A. County Holiday Celebration.

The L.A. County Holiday Celebration kicked off its 51st annual extravaganza at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Christmas Eve, and I'm a little embarrassed to say that it was CC's and my first time to attend.

Featuring more than 20 diverse performers, and hosted by actor Fred Willard and actress/singer Tia Carrere (whom CC met just a few months ago), the Celebration was a lively, moving and very L.A. event that shouldn't be missed by any local family.

An awesome bonus? It's free! (Thank you, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, who sponsored the event, which was produced by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.)

Getting the crowd into a hand-clapping, toe-tapping mood was first act Eileen Ivers, an Irish fiddle player who could beat the devil down in Georgia if she felt like it. Talk about pumped up, the crowd really went crazy when she whipped that fiddle into a frenzied, Christmas-themed duet with an accordion player.

The acts made up an eclectic mix of artists -- from children's choirs to Bollywood dancers to mariachi performers. It was a real testament to the diversity of people within the Los Angeles area.

CC and I sat in the parents' section, so there were plenty of proud moms and dads. In fact, one mother leaned over to me during the Young Angels Choir performance to point out her daughter.

I was a pretty proud mom myself, watching CC take in such a grand holiday celebration the day before Christmas. She clapped, she danced and she listened, which was adorable to see.

Can't wait to go back next year!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Hope you and your family have a wonderful and Merry Christmas today!

I can't believe how quickly December has flown by. Between CC's birthday and the holidays, it's been a mad dash to Christmas, not to mention next week's New Year's festivities! (And with all the activity, I'm going to have to play catch-up. I still have fun posts in the blog hopper.)

Thanks so much to my family, friends and everyone else in the world -- yes, world! -- who check out my blog. It's so meaningful to me, especially this time of year, when I think about all the people who are sharing CC's and my L.A. experiences.

Cheers, and have a great one!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Disney on Ice 'Let's Celebrate' Fires Up Anaheim Crowd

(Disney on Ice presents "Let's Celebrate!")

Despite driving through pounding rain, CC and I arrived in Anaheim last night to see Disney on Ice presents "Let's Celebrate!", and what a celebration it was.

The show, spotlighting festivities from unbirthdays (thank you, Alice in Wonderland) to Christmas (fun times from Mickey and the gang), offered a wide range of Disney characters while also showcasing the skating talents of its troupe.

Kicking off the party was a fantastic opening act, during which Disney staples such as Goofy, Snow White and the Candlestick from "Beauty and the Beast" glided over the rink of the Honda Center (home to ice hockey team the Anaheim Ducks) to get the audience fired up.

Much more focused on the ice skating itself than previous Disney on Ice incarnations, "Let's Celebrate!" offered up skilled skaters who interacted with the audience (the skater playing Jack Skellington from "The Nightmare Before Christmas" really seemed to delight in his role) and who had no qualms about adding flips, spins and maybe even a Salchow into the mix.

One highlight that really stuck with CC was the "Fantasia" segment, in which Mickey donned his wizardry apparel and summoned a bevy of broomsticks.

At least 20 skaters appeared on the ice dressed as the tall dusters, donning black-light lit striped handles (which covered their faces; I have no idea how they saw anything) and straw-colored pants.

The sheer number of broomstick-clad skaters was truly dazzling, and the clever costumes only added to the fun. But top that with engaging and energizing choreography, and it was a recipe for sweet -- and shivery -- success.

"Disney on Ice presents Let's Celebrate!" will be at the Honda Center in Orange County through Dec. 26, before traveling to the Inland Empire's Citizens Business Bank Arena Dec. 29-Jan. 2. The show will end its SoCal run at the Long Beach Arena Jan. 5-9, 2011.

Note: Press tickets provided.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

'Dinosaur Train All Aboard!' Game Review

Preschoolers can pretend they're traveling through the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods with the "Dinosaur Train All Aboard!" game, recently released by The Jim Henson Company and Pressman Toy Corporation.

CC enjoyed a brief ride, alongside her 3-year-old friend, who corrected CC when she announced she would be playing with the Conductor piece.

"It's Mr. Conductor," her little friend said.

Sent to me for review, the game is based on the PBS Kids animated series that has a family of winged Pteranodons -- plus one adopted T-Rex -- visiting all sorts of dinosaurs on the titular dinosaur train. This magic locomotive has the power to transport dinos in between time periods, offering a learning experience for everyone on board. Mr. Conductor is the friendly guy who explains who's on the train, where they're headed and what's so cool about each prehistoric playmate.

Similar to "Candy Land" in its simplicity, "Dinosaur Train All Aboard!" (2 to 6 players ages 4+; SRP: $12) has kids choosing their characters and moving around the board using a spinner. The object is to get to the nest in the middle, and players have to follow dino tracks to get there. Special stopwatch spaces allow them to take short cuts along the tracks.

While I appreciate the simplicity for little learners, I was really hoping the kids would have more opportunities to learn about different dinosaurs.

There is a "Field Guide" included with the game, and includes information on Triceratops, Stegosauruses, T-Rex's, among others, but it would have been better (imho) to have incorporated that info into the game itself -- on the "Dinosaur Crossing" spaces, for instance.

Also, there is very little distinction on the board between the trio of time periods.

"Dinosaur Train All Aboard!" could be a nice way to spend some time with your preschooler, but I hope newer incarnations of the game will offer material just as rich as the PBS Kids series. After all, our kids are up for it, as demonstrated by so many little fans of the show!

Monday, December 20, 2010

What to Do When Christmas Tree Lines Become Too Long ...

Whip out the iPod Touch. That's exactly what CC did while we were standing in what seemed like an endless line of Christmas tree customers.

The kid's a master on the touch-screen gadget, and it really helps out in situations like these. (Otherwise, she might have tried to climb a Douglas fir or played hopscotch on five or 10 wreaths.)

Of course, you might overhear, as I did, a pointed and loud conversation about how old children should be before playing with one of these tech toys.

I, however, bit my tongue (you're welcome, Christmas tree crowd) and reveled in the fact that my 4-year-old child was not only in complete control of the device but was also occupied, entertained and playing quietly.

And isn't that really a Christmas gift in and of itself?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Coming Attraction: L.A. County Holiday Celebration

On Christmas Eve, performers from all over Los Angeles County representing a multitude of cultures will hit the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage for the 51st annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration.

Twenty-three music and dance troupes celebrating Korean, Mexican, Hawaiian and other traditions will take center stage at the free (yes, free!) three-hour extravaganza.

CC and I had the chance to attend rehearsals for the mammoth project a couple of weeks ago, and it was amazing to see what's in store for the evening before Christmas.

We watched as the professional-sounding Palmdale High School Choral Union sang Yuletide tunes and Halau O Lilinoe, based in Carson, Calif., choreographed their island dances.

CC was enthralled and a couple of times wanted to get in on the acts herself.

Other highlights of the show will include:

  • “Snowflake Boogie,” hip-hop version of Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride by Antics Performance
  • classical chamber music blended with indie rock sounds from Loch & Key
  • toy soldiers in a Dixieland-style tap dance by the Gabriella Axelrad Education Foundation
  • songs in English and Hebrew from the Young Men’s Ensemble of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus
  • contemporary gospel sounds from Christian's Community Center Cathedral Choir
  • the traditional “One Drum Dance” from Jung Im Lee Korean Dance Academy
  • folk music from the Caribbean coast of Colombia by Mr. Vallenato
Sponsored by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and produced by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, the program is free to the public but requires a wristband for entry. (Wristbands are available on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 24 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.)

Can't make it to the performance? Lucky for you, the celebration will be broadcast live on KCET and KPFK-FM and streamed live at

What a great way to celebrate the holidays! CC and I can't wait!

51st Annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration
Friday, Dec. 24, 3 p.m.-6 p.m.

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center
135 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Tickets: Free (wristband required for entry; offered on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 24 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion). Parking, too, will be gratis.

More information: 213-972-3099 or

(Photo of Balle Fette of Senegal, above right, is courtesy of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

'Ramona and Beezus' DVD Review

When I was a curious munchkin myself, I used to disappear into the Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary. The overzealous and sometimes mischievous little girl was an inspiration to an 8-year-old with her own adventurous spirit.

And while I didn't get into as many sticky situations as Ramona, I could still console myself after parental admonitions that some other kid had managed to have it worse than I did.

After all, I'd never spilled paint all over my neighbor's car.

That's why when I had the opportunity to review this year's DVD incarnation of the books, "Ramona and Beezus" (SRP $29.98), from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and Walden Media, I was curious to see how the adventures would play out on screen.

And, for the most part, it works.

The story centers on Ramona Quimby (played by the adorable Joey King), a naturally curious elementary school girl who mingles that curiosity with a true lack of embarrassment -- a blessing or a curse, depending on how you look at it. She and her sister, Beezus (Disney favorite Selena Gomez) have to deal with the fact that their dad (John Corbett) has just been laid off, which is affecting their home life in a big way.

In the process, Ramona has to deal with just getting through the day at school -- a difficult task when you get stuck upside-down on playground equipment or cover yourself in mud.

The most important thing in this movie was to nail the Ramona character, which King did with total charm. There's a fine line between being sympathetically ornery and just plain obnoxious, and King really pulled it off.

It was the adults who were a little less compelling, taking a way back seat to the childhood antics. While this G-rated movie was perfectly appropriate for CC, she's still a little young to sit through the entire film. But for kids who are a few years older, this is a fun entertainment option. Parents, though, might not be as entertained.

A couple of DVD extras, which weren't on the screener I received, sound like great additions to the movie, particularly "My Ramona with Beverly Cleary" and "Show & Tell Film School -- Tips and tricks on how kids can make their own movie."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Rockettes Kickstart Christmas at Nokia

"The Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes"
(photo courtesy of Madison Square Garden, LP)

The Radio City Rockettes high-stepped it into the Nokia Theatre this weekend, and, wow, did it feel like Christmas!

From fur-lined holiday costumes to familiar yuletide songs to even a few appearances from Santa Claus himself, "The Radio City Christmas Spectacular," which is now touring the country in addition to entertaining New Yorkers at Radio City Music Hall, was truly rousing and, well, spectacular.

It was CC's and my first time seeing the famous dancers -- well, except for when they stopped briefly by the Santa Monica Pier this summer -- and it's been years since Ian had seen them in the Big Apple as a young Manhattanite.

And from the second row of the Nokia, we had an amazing view. CC watched with wide eyes as the dancers marched as toy soldiers and kicked up their heels in a Can-Can take on dancing rag dolls.

It also didn't hurt when a blizzard of white confetti and colorful streamers shot from cannons alongside the stage.

Perhaps the most nostalgia-inducing number, though, was when the Rockettes and other dancers boarded an open-top, double-decker bus that "toured" the streets of New York -- from Radio City Music Hall past Rockefeller Center, up 5th Avenue to Central Park -- which appeared on a huge digital screen on stage.

It made Ian and I want to go back to the city, where we used to live, if only to show CC the lights along 59th Street or 5th Avenue or anywhere else on the island.

After a poignant finale, which followed a gorgeous manger scene with Mary and Joseph (the real reason for the season), we headed out into the warm L.A. sun.

"I liked every part of the show," CC said as we left, anticipating my eternal question of what she liked best.

"Every part?" I asked.

"Every part."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sesame Street eBooks Offer Kids a New Way to Read

With the popularity of Kindles, Nooks and iPads on the rise, it only makes sense that e-reading is becoming a reality for the preschool set as well as the jet set. To that end, Sesame Street has launched an eBookstore in tech partnership with Impelsys, Inc.

I had the opportunity to check out the site gratis in an effort to see exactly how it works and to gauge CC's interest in reading images on a screen that do for books what websites did for magazines and newspapers -- that is, give full-color, interactive representations of words and images.

If that sounds a little wonky, the actual process is not. The paid website ($3.99 per month or $39.99 per year) -- -- is super-easy to navigate, and the graphics appeal to young readers and listeners, including CC.

Yes, I said listeners. In addition to eBooks that kids read themselves, there are also audio eBooks and animated eBooks, which allow kids to interact with the stories.

At the click of a button, tykes can turn pages, zoom in on the screen, enlarge the image to full screen and even print pages. It's pretty awesome.

That means children can read at their own pace and at their own level. It also increases independence, as they work through the buttons and prompts. CC, in fact, tried to make off with my laptop in order to keep reading about Elmo and Abby Cadabby -- a definite mixed blessing.

There are more than 125 eBooks on the site, so the selection is nice. (Although, don't be surprised if your child wants to read the same book over and over again. That's what happened with CC.) There is also a Free eBook of the Month, if you and your kids just want to browse.

It's amazing to me just how closely eBooks resemble real, tangible books that are on CC's bookshelf at home. Of course, you have to fire up the computer to read these e-versions, but with kids like mine, who already know how to work an iPhone ... well, parents, welcome to the Digital Age.

The tykes already own it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

'Narnia' Stars Visit Los Angeles + Giveaway

Will Poulter ("The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader"), me, CC and Santa
at the Beverly Center Ice Palace

Congrats to Pokie and Vita, who won the autographed "Narnia" posters. Please email me at with your address, and I'll mail them right away. Thanks again to all who participated!

"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,"
the third installment in the latest "Narnia" franchise, is hitting theaters on Friday, Dec. 10, and there's been lots of snowy hype in anticipation of its arrival.

Last month, we visited the festive (and super-crowded!) ice palace, on display at the Beverly Center until Dec. 24, where we bumped into Santa Claus and a couple of the movie's stars, Georgie Henley (who plays Lucy) and Will Poulter (Eustace).

I also had the opportunity to chat with Henley and Poulter (pictured right, and yes, I should have worn heels) at a small round-table discussion at the Sofitel Hotel, across from the Beverly Center, while the pair were making the rounds in L.A.

Both kids were charming and very excited about their upcoming film -- one that sports a $2.7 million ship, the titular Dawn Treader, that will never sail a single sea. Yes, the ironies of Hollywood.

This entry in the "Narnia" storyline has Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, alongside their cousin Eustace, falling through a painting and landing on board the Dawn Treader. According to press notes, "they overcome their greatest temptations and shortcomings, as they travel to mysterious islands and a pool that turns anything it touches into gold." They will also reunite with their friend, the "Great Lion" Aslan, as the fate of Narnia rests with them.

Asked if their teenage lives parallel the movie's emotional adventures in any way, the 15-year-old Henley said, "In 'The Dawn Treader,' Lucy goes through tons of insecurities when she has to deal with jealousy and her insecurities in the way she looks as well as dealing with the way people treated her."

"I believe this is something that all teenage girls encounter at some point," Henley continued. "I know it's something I've encountered already, and it's just a natural experience, a rite of passage."

The 17-year-old Poulter agreed, saying it's a "cool message" to send to other young girls.

"Teenage girls in the audience see a strong girl," he said, "and that's a nice thing for them to be able to relate to in Lucy's character."

In the film, the kids all face temptations, something both Henley (who began the franchise with the 2005 "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe") and Poulter say is great for kids to watch, so they can see that others can overcome those obstacles.

"I think that's what's really great about the film," Henley said, "and I believe that makes it a powerful tool for teenagers."

*** GIVEAWAY ***

I'm giving away 2 posters of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" autographed by Georgie Henley and Will Poulter.

Just leave a comment below, with your email address, telling me what you've enjoyed about the "Narnia" movies. If you see "Dawn Treader" on or after the 10th, feel free to comment on that movie.

For more chances to win, follow me on Twitter. I'm at @la_story. Or you can "Like" the L.A. Story Facebook page.

Just be sure to leave extra comments telling me you did so.

Good luck, and I'll announce the 2 winners on this post (not a separate one) Tuesday, Dec. 14!

CBS Los Angeles: Weekly Tips for Families

Please check out my latest post, "This Week's Top Family Picks."

From the Rockettes to the Los Angeles Children's Chorus performance, there are plenty of things to do this week in the Los Angeles area.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Happy Birthday, CC! You're 4!

Happy Birthday, my little bear! I can't believe you're already 4 years old!

We had a wonderful time at your party today at Menchie's in Santa Monica. And judging by lots of smiling, painted faces (thank you, Paint on Your Face), your little friends had a great time, too.

What I loved most was you thanking Mommy and Daddy for such a great day. How thoughtful!

You are my little darling, and even though you're growing into such a lovely, big girl, you will always be my baby. (In fact, you always look the part when you fall asleep.)

I love you!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Kids Help Children's Hospital of Orange County

Teens, tweens and CC were out in full force for the Kids Help Children event last month to benefit Children's Hospital of Orange County, aka CHOC.

Mostly girls crowded around the red carpet in one courtyard of the Anaheim Hilton Hotel to catch a glimpse of young stars in attendance. From Chelsea Staub ("Jonas") to Joey King ("Ramona & Beezus"), from Shane Harper ("High School Musical 2") to Ryan Ochoa ("iCarly"), the kings and queens (er, princes and princesses) of the Disney and Nickelodeon set had kids squealing and giggling.

While CC was somewhat immune to the celebrity hype (except for the SeaWorld penguin in attendance), what she did enjoy were all the kid-friendly activities, including a bouncy obstacle course, an amazing balloon artist (left) and a game that involved pirates, prizes and small whiffle balls.

All of the festivities served as a fundraiser and toy drive for CHOC, and specifically the hospital's Child Life program, which supports hospitalized children's need to play, create art and engage in pet therapy.

Kids in attendance, including my own, could also contribute while strengthening their sharing skills. The Kids Help Children "Toy Store" offered a fun opportunity for kids to choose a prize for themselves and a prize for a CHOC patient.

The ticketed event (we were provided press passes) raised an estimated $36,000 in cash and donations.

For more information, or to find out how you can help, visit

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

CBSLosAngeles: Awesome Libraries!

Please check out my latest post on, "Best Libraries for Kids in and around Los Angeles."

From the sustainably built Santa Monica Library to the gorgeous Children's Literature Department within the Central Library downtown, there's something for every curious mind.

Monday, November 29, 2010

C is for CC and 'Cookie's Counting Carnival'

When it comes to choosing games for our family-friendly Wii, it's difficult to find ones that fit the small-fry age group. And by small fry, I mean preschool age. Even the most kid-friendly games often require players to be able to read or to master the Wii remote, which sports beaucoup de buttons.

That's why I was so eager to try out the new games from Sesame Street and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment -- "Sesame Street: Cookie's Counting Carnival" and "Sesame Street: Elmo's A-to-Zoo Adventure" -- which are available for the Wii ($39.99) and the Nintendo DS and PC ($29.99).

Both games are specifically made for early childhood players (ages 3+) and even feature a clever and adorable Wii remote cover (Cookie Monster, right; or Elmo, depending on the game) that sports little grip nubs and covers unnecessary buttons. Perfect for little fingers!

When I received a review copy of "Sesame Street: Cookie's Counting Carnival" for the Wii after visiting the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank with other moms of small fries, I was eager to put it to the ultimate test -- my 3-year-old child.

What would CC think? Would the game appeal to her? Would the remote be more distracting than useful? Was this actually a big-kid's game in a fuzzy blue disguise?

"Cookie's Counting Carnival" is simply great for small children, especially ones who are independent and want to show Mom and Dad that they can accomplish electronic feats all by themselves. (*cough* CC *cough*)

The game, which focuses on early math skills such as counting, shape recognition and number identification, is fun and easy to grasp. Characters like Big Bird and Cookie Monster offer simple instructions that are equally simple to follow, such as asking the child to pick the appropriate color ring for the ring toss.

Added bonuses: The game difficulty adjusts to each child's level, and parents can assist with the second Wii remote, if needed.

The motions required for the remote, by the way, were easily mastered by CC, who didn't seem at all distracted by the Cookie cover.

Overall, CC really enjoyed the games, getting excited every time she earned a Golden Cookie. There were, however, a couple of suggestions I would make if I were chatting with the game's programmers:

* It would be great to include actual visual numerals when asking the children to count out items. Not all games on "Cookie's Counting Carnival" offered this, which I think would have been a great opportunity for kids to see the numbers they were saying out loud.

* As much as I love the adorable remote covers, an opening around the sensor would have been ideal. Once Cookie's on the remote, there's no chance of making adjustments on the menu.

Those are minor issues, actually, to what CC and I give two thumbs' up.

If you're interested in purchasing one of the games, L.A. Story readers can receive 10% off by entering the promo code MOMMY at the checkout.

In the meantime, happy gaming!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Metromint Mother-Daughter Taste Test: chocolatemint vs. goodberrymint

One of the awesome things about Blogger Prom this year and last was the opportunity to check out new, tasty treats. From yummy tacos to locally brewed micro beer to minty-fresh bottled water, there were so many delicious items on the bloggerific menu.

So when Metromint water, which offered complimentary H2O at the festivities, asked if I'd like to review their latest flavor, goodberrymint, I said I would -- that is, I would hold a taste test with CC to choose between my favorite Metromint flavor (chocolatemint) and goodberry.

If you haven't tried Metromint water, it's a combination of purified water with a twist of 100% real mint. The mint, grown pesticide-free in Washington State's Yakima Valley, actually creates the sensation of cooler water. It also freshens breath and can soothe your stomach, as added bonuses. Best of all, no sugar or sweeteners.

And while chocolatemint adds cocoa essence to the mix, goodberrymint adds the essence of raspberry, blueberry, pomegranate, acai and blackberry. But as much as I love berries, I'm still a sucker for chocolate. (Yes, even in water form.)

So, enter the taste test.

After a Thanksgiving bounty, I poured a sample of chocolatemint and goodberrymint into two plastic kiddie cups and asked CC to try them both. I did the same thing myself.

After sipping on each, I still chose chocolatemint, while CC picked goodberry. A 50-50 split. Not bad.

One advantage for goodberrymint? The San Francisco-based Metromint has instituted "Project Goodberry," in which it donates 10% of profits from the sale of goodberrymint to fund local organizations, including the San Francisco Food Bank.

Very good, indeed!

Thursday, November 25, 2010 Disney's 'Tangled' Rocks Girl Power

Please check out my latest Hollyblog on "Disney Gets 'Tangled' Up in Girl Power."

CC has been so excited to see Disney's latest (and 50th) animated movie, "Tangled," an updated version of the fairytale "Rapunzel," and I'm happy that this new version sports a femme lead that's self-sufficient and resourceful -- rather than the usual damsel in distress.

As you'll read in the post, CC's found it really difficult to find books on her bookshelf that have girls as the main characters -- which has forced some unexpected gender modifications for existing boys. (Sorry, Piglet.)

Check it out, and please let me know what you think. And, as always, feel free to leave a comment on the post. There are already a few interesting ones, which point out that, ironically, Disney has been working hard to market "Tangled" to little boys.

(Photo credit: "Tangled" image courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope you and your family have an amazing Thanksgiving today!

While we're staying local -- just being part of the traffic headed down to LAX yesterday gave me something to be thankful for -- I hope your travels are safe and stress-free.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Coming Attraction: Disney on Ice presents 'Let's Celebrate!'

Disney on Ice presents "Let's Celebrate!"

The Disney crew will be skating into Staples Center and other SoCal locations this winter for their latest production, from Feld Entertainment, Disney on Ice presents "Let's Celebrate!"

Mickey and Minnie, of course, will be lacing up their skates, alongside the Disney princesses, Woody and Buzz Lightyear from "Toy Story" and even Alice in Wonderland.

They'll be celebrating all sorts of occasions, including a Very Merry Unbirthday Party with Alice and the Mad Hatter, a Royal Valentine's Day Ball with Cinderella and a Hawaiian Luau with Lilo and Stitch.

Staples Center at L.A. Live will play host to the festivities Dec. 15-19. After that, the show will head down to the Honda Center in Orange County Dec. 21-26 and the Citizens Business Bank Arena in the Inland Empire Dec. 29-Jan. 2 before venturing down to the Long Beach Arena Jan. 5-9.

Tickets ($16-$65) are on sale now, with some Opening Night tickets available for $12 each (excluding premium seating).

As a special bonus, between Nov. 26-Dec. 15, L.A. Story readers can use the code MOM to buy a family four-pack of tickets for $48 at select performances, or receive $4 off single tickets.

Tickets can be purchased at or by calling 800-745-3000.

Staples Center performances:
* Wednesday, Dec. 15 -- 7:30 p.m.
* Thursday, Dec. 16 -- 7:30 p.m.
* Friday, Dec. 17 -- 11 a.m.; 7:30 p.m.
* Saturday, Dec. 18 -- 11:30 a.m.; 3:30 p.m.; 7:30 p.m.
* Sunday, Dec. 19 -- 11:30 a.m.; 3:30 p.m.; 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Coming Attraction: 'Tangled'

If you've missed the blonde-locked billboards around Los Angeles, you might not know that Disney's latest animated film, "Tangled," is hitting movie theaters tomorrow, Nov. 24.

An updated twist on the Brothers Grimm fairytale "Rapunzel," "Tangled" is the story of a sassy girl (voiced by Mandy Moore) who isn't about to be swept up so easily by the usual handsome (or is it charming?) prince.

In fact, when swashbuckling rogue Flynn (Zachary Levi) moves in on her lonely tower, Rapunzel ties him up with her famous hair and demands some serious deets. Then it's off they go on all sorts of action-packed adventures.

And, hey, if he's also charming and handsome, that doesn't hurt, either.

CC has been wanting to see this movie ever since she saw the trailer at "Secretariat." She also points out every billboard she sees around the city.

I'm just happy the story centers on an enterprising young girl -- something little girls like my own could use more of in a modern animated movie.

As a special bonus, the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood is offering a "Tiny Tot Tuesday" screening on Nov. 30 at 10 a.m.

Lights will be only slightly dimmed, and the sound level will be reduced to accommodate the youngest of viewers.

Also, by using the code MOMMY, L.A. Story readers can get tickets for the discounted rate of $13 each (regularly $15 for children/seniors and $18 for adults). *Offer is good only for the Tiny Tot Tuesday screening.*

To purchase, visit the El Capitan box office, call 800-DISNEY-6 or go online at

Monday, November 22, 2010

In the Driver's Seat at the LA Auto Show + Giveaway

UPDATE: Congrats to Ruth, who won the 4-pack of tickets to the LA Auto Show! Thanks to all who participated!

CC tried her best to hop into the driver's seat of big cars, small cars, super-small cars, electric cars and even a Bat car this weekend at the LA Auto Show, parked through Nov. 28 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Aside from the Bat car, pictured in the photo gallery above, she basically managed everything else.

It didn't matter that she has a few years yet before she scores her official California driver's license (unlike the Legoland version she mistakes for the real thing), she was happy to let grown-ups of all ages wait their turns while she nabbed her chance behind the wheel.

Aside from my wish-list cars (Hello, Volvo XC90, right, and Volvo XC60!), we also got up close and personal with the adorable two-seater Smart car, the super-wee Tango Commuter Car (also pictured in the above gallery) that is literally one-person wide, a truck with an electric grill in the back, an electric concept car from Saab and a $250,000 sports car from Audi that I told CC not to touch -- which she then, of course, touched.

The one car she actually got to drive was a mini Dodge police car (pictured in the above gallery), which sported flashing lights and doors that opened and closed. One of the many tyke-friendly attractions at the Nissan Quest Kids' Fun Zone, the tough-stuff car allowed CC to really put the pedal to the metal.

All of the fun without the speeding tickets!

Note: Press tickets provided.

*** GIVEAWAY ***

I'm giving away a 4 pack of tickets to the LA Auto Show, running Nov. 19-28.

Just leave a comment below, with your email address, telling me what you'd like to check out at the event.

For more chances to win, follow me on Twitter. I'm at @la_story. Or you can "Like" the L.A. Story Facebook page.

Just be sure to leave extra comments telling me you did so. Good luck!

This will be a quick giveaway, so I'll announce the winner tomorrow, Nov. 23 at 7 p.m.!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Clarisonic Partners With Look Good ... Feel Better to Help Women With Cancer

Clarisonic Hope Mia and Clarisonic Pink Classic

Just after I caught a screening of AFI FEST 2010 documentary entry "Circus Kids," I had the amazing opportunity to relax with a short, complimentary facial from one of the festival sponsors, Clarisonic, at the Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard.

The facial, of course, was lovely, and while I was fascinated by their stylish and compact facial cleaning system -- a one-touch, cordless rotating brush (pictured above) that comes in various sizes and ranges in price from $149-$225 -- what caught my attention even more was the company's partnership with Look Good ... Feel Better, an organization devoted to helping women with cancer boost their self-esteem by providing complimentary beauty sessions.

What an amazing connection!

In fact, during the festival, Geralyn Lucas (cancer survivor and author of "Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy") spoke about the role "looking good" plays when experiencing one of the most challenging moments in life.

I've written here a little bit and more on a Los Angeles Moms Blog post about my mother's experience with cancer. She has survived both breast and ovarian cancer, and I'm so proud of her.

But I remember her telling me that after one particularly grueling day at the hospital to combat The Big C, her doctor told her to go ahead and put on her makeup, that it would make her feel better. And, she said it did.

I can understand that. Who wants to look as terrible as they feel?

So I want to support Clarisonic's efforts and partnership with Look Good ... Feel Better by mentioning here that what they're doing is worth celebrating.

For every limited edition Clarisonic Hope Mia purchased, Clarisonic will donate $15 to Look Good ... Feel Better. They will also donate $5 for every Pink Skin Cleaning System purchased and $4 for every Pink Mia purchased.

And I have to admit, the Mia is pretty cool. After the facial, Clarisonic generously gave me one to try out. I've been using it twice a day -- a quick minute each session -- and I'm definitely a fan.

For more reasons than one.

CBS Los Angeles: Best Weekend Picks for Families

Please check out my latest post, "Best Picks for Families This Weekend: Nov. 19-21."

In addition to the annual tree lighting at The Grove, there's plenty of family-friendly fun around the city, including a cupcake extravaganza and kiddie concerts.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

LA Auto Show Drives Into Town + Giveaway

The Nissan Leaf will be one of several electric, hybrid or alternative-fuel vehicles on display at the LA Auto Show.

UPDATE: Congrats to GurlinLA, who won the 4-pack of tickets to the LA Auto Show! Thanks to all who participated, and stay tuned for another LA Auto Show giveaway.

The LA Auto Show will be motoring into the city tomorrow, parking tons of cars at the Los Angeles Convention Center downtown through Nov. 28, and this mom is super-excited about checking out the latest electric and hybrid automobiles that could make trips to the gas station a little less frequent.

Maybe I'm a sucker for that new car smell, but I have to admit, I really like the idea of getting into the driver's seat of sleek and technologically cool cars -- even if it's just for a few minutes. Or maybe it's just because my own vehicle is about to hit nine years old -- getting up there in car years.

In addition to checking out fun concept cars that look more suited to a Mars roving session than navigating the 405, moms and dads can make the day fun for the kiddos as well.

The Nissan Quest Kids' Fun Zone, open Nov. 20-21 & 26-28, will offer a selection of interactive attractions for the 12-and-under set, including:
  • Bounce Houses
  • Dodge Kids' Course (My child behind a mini wheel?! She'll love it!)
  • Face painting
  • Video games
This will be our first year attending the LA Auto Show, and I'll be sure to report back with what we find -- or buy. Kidding, only kidding. (My wallet just shuddered a little.)

LA Auto Show
Nov. 19-28
Los Angeles Convention Center
1201 S. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Tickets: $10-$12; Kids 12 and under are free with an accompanying adult

*** GIVEAWAY ***

I'm giving away a 4 pack of tickets to the LA Auto Show, running Nov. 19-28.

Just leave a comment below, with your email address, telling me what you'd like to check out at the event.

For more chances to win, follow me on Twitter. I'm at @la_story. Or you can "Like" the L.A. Story Facebook page.

Just be sure to leave extra comments telling me you did so. Good luck!

This will be a quick giveaway, so I'll announce the winner tomorrow, Nov. 19 at 3 p.m.!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Los Angeles Children's Film Festival Offers Kid-Sized Cinema

The Los Angeles International Children's Film Festival kicked off this past weekend in Santa Monica, and CC and I nabbed front-row seats. Well, actually, I opted for one of the back rows because, when you have a 3-year-old, you never know when you might need to make a quick exit.

Sampling a selection of sometimes funny, sometimes silly short films from around the world, CC served as an ever-curious participant in the film-watching process. She asked questions throughout the hour-long first program of three, wondering aloud why characters were doing what they were doing ("Are the cat and dog flying on an umbrella, Mommy?" Why, yes, they are, Sweetheart).

While I expected there to be more of a crowd -- the Martin Luther King Jr. Auditorium was far from packed -- it was nice to sit with CC in a relaxed atmosphere and listen to her muse about what she was watching onscreen. (And no shushing from other audience members was also a kid-friendly bonus.)

Among her favorites was an animated short from Brazil called "Chubbie & Cheesy -- A Very Special Umbrella," directed by Frederico Pinto. Although all the characters spoke in Portuguese, CC still loved watching the little dog and homeless cat fly to a far-away farm in search of, what else, better food.

But her favorite of the roughly 10 shorts was a claymation film from Canada called "The Little Things," (pictured right) directed by Kayla Cooper, who also was in the audience. Telling the story of a little girl who didn't want to share, "The Little Things" really appealed to CC and her sense of right and wrong. When the little girl refuses to offer her ice cream to other kids who are hungry, CC immediately said, "That's not nice."

I was actually a little surprised that the message of sharing would resonate so much with her. Maybe I have her preschool teachers to thank for that. Or maybe I should be taking her to more film festivals. After all, this is L.A.

The film festival will continue Dec. 18-19 and Jan. 29. Check the Los Angeles International Children's Film Festival website for more details.

Monday, November 15, 2010

CC Gets Her Santa Paws All Over Disney Online Treats

Yes, that dog in the above picture is real. Something I didn't realize when CC and I walked up to the photographer to have our picture taken at the Disney Interactive Studios holiday event at The Victorian last week.

The 10-week-old bundle of perfect white fur, aka "Santa Paws," was just one of the many family-friendly highlights at the winter wonderland-themed party that had CC (over)frosting cookies (much to the amusement of onlookers), painting pictures and checking out various kid-centric games like "Disney Tangled" ($39.99) and "Club Penguin Game Day!" ($49.99) for the Wii.

While there were lots of goodies for tots to taste and ogle, CC made a beeline for "Tangled." Catching glimpses of the blonde-locked billboards all over Los Angeles, CC reminds me every chance she gets that she wants to see that movie. Lucky for her she got a taste of the action via the Wii game, which features Rapunzel and fellow adventurer Flynn in a story-based journey filled with puzzles, challenges and hidden treasures.

Next came the penguins. Much like online game site, the Wii version allows players to create their own penguin and play mini games like "Fast Freeze," "Sumo Smash" and "Sled & Slide." Players can also synchronize their online penguins with their Wii incarnations. (I'll be sure to post about this Wii game. The Disney crew included a review copy in a fun goodie bag.)

After dragging my child away from fun games and tasty cookies (Seriously, where did she get such a sweet tooth? It couldn't possibly be from her donut-obsessed mother), I took a moment just to stop and look around the gorgeous Santa Monica event space that is The Victorian.

The last time I was there, just over five years ago, I was entertaining wedding guests and wondering what life would be like after getting married.

When I told CC that The Victorian was where Ian and I had our wedding reception, she asked what I imagine every child would want to know:

"Where was I?"

Sunday, November 14, 2010

'The Way Home' DVD Review + Giveaway

UPDATE: Congrats to kmamalorenz, who won the DVD of "The Way Home"! I was really touched by her story of giving gift certificates to others even though money was tight. That's so inspiring! Thanks again to everyone who participated!

"The Way Home" was, admittedly, a difficult DVD to approach. Not because it had sensational scenes that exploited viewers' fears. It didn't. The movie, starring Dean Cain ("Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman") and Lori Beth Edgeman ("Army Wives"), is a touching true story about a husband and wife in a strained marriage who experience every parent's nightmare -- a missing child.

Packing up the car for a family vacation, Christal Simpkins (played by Edgeman) is frustrated because she seems to be doing everything herself while her husband, Randy (Cain), is focused mostly on work. He comes home later than expected from the office, and when he does arrive, he's still distracted by emails.

It's when Christal asks Randy to watch their 2-year-old son Joe for a few minutes -- and he chooses to check email while Joe is playing outside -- that things go wrong. Suddenly, Joe is nowhere to be found.

The description of this faith-based movie from Red Five Entertainment and Lionsgate, and directed by Lance W. Dreesen, focuses mainly on Randy's workaholic mentality, which is partially to blame for his son going missing. But the film's strength is its choice to not dwell on this aspect and instead place most of the attention on how the family draws patience, hope and fortitude from a caring community of people who really step up in a neighbor's time of need.

*** GIVEAWAY ***

I'm giving away 1 copy of "The Way Home."

Just leave a comment below, telling me how you've helped a member of your community in a time of need.

For more chances to win, follow me on Twitter. I'm at @la_story. Or you can "Like" the L.A. Story Facebook page.

Just be sure to leave extra comments telling me you did so.

Good luck, and I'll announce the winner Monday, Nov. 29!

Friday, November 12, 2010

TOMICA Toys Giveaway

UPDATE: Congrats to winners David and meeyeehere, who won the TOMICA Fire Liner and the TOMICA Pizza Shop, respectively. I was really touched by David's story about his son talking trains even in his sleep. The pizza shop decision was a little more difficult -- kind of like choosing between cheese, pepperoni and supreme, so tough! -- so I resorted to Thanks again to everyone who participated! Winners, please email me at with your address, and I'll send them right away. Congrats again!

Last month, CC had the chance to rev up her little "train-iac" side when we visited Bender/Helper Impact Family Fun Day. She couldn't resist the TOMICA car and train set from TOMY Toys that offered a transportation-minded "Hypercity" at her little fingertips.

Forget princesses and fairies -- two of CC's favorite things in the world right now. She was all over the miniature die-cast locomotives and automobiles that zoomed around kid-sized gas stations and pizza shops.

And when we got home, she spent so much time playing with her TOMICA Patrol Liner train (a gift from B/HI) that I wondered if she'd given up on Cinderella altogether.

Not so much, but it was still fun to see her play with something that helped develop fine motor skills (no pun intended).

What I liked most, though, was the imaginative way she played with the train. She pushed and pulled it all over the floor, sometimes placing mini stuffed animals in the cargo space for a jaunty ride from her bedroom to the kitchen. Other times, she just liked opening and closing the doors -- sometimes pulling them off, actually, which wasn't that difficult.

She instantly made this new addition a part of her creative and fantastical world, and, of course, I'm definitely on board for that.

*** GIVEAWAY ****

I'm giving away 1 TOMICA Pizza Shop (pictured above), complete with 1 die-cast Toyota Pro-Box car and 1 Tomikids figure. The car actually launches off of its space at the touch of a button, and the shop has fun sliding doors (SRP $12.99; ages 4+).


1 TOMICA Fire Liner (pictured left), which comes with 1 Tomikids figure and can transform into a vehicle with a moving platform (SRP $12.99; ages 4+).

To enter, leave a comment telling me which TOMICA toy you would like and why.

For more chances to win, follow me on Twitter. I'm at @la_story. Or you can "Like" the L.A. Story Facebook page.

Just be sure to leave extra comments telling me you did so.

Good luck, and I'll announce the 2 winners Monday, Nov. 29!


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