Friday, April 30, 2010

Train-spotting at the Live Steamers Railroad Museum

CC enjoys a cool drink of water at Walt's Barn in Griffith Park.

On a recent scorcher of a Sunday, CC and I were in search of fun activities and stumbled upon the Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum and Walt's Barn in Griffith Park.

If your child loves trains -- heck, if you love trains -- this is a great activity, especially because both attractions are free.

Situated on an expansive lot, complete with scaled-down working trains, the Live Steamers Museum was founded in 1956 by railroad enthusiasts eager to have a place to play with their toys.

CC and I boarded one of the mini trains for a couple of loops around the track. (Unfortunately, photos were not allowed while we were riding, which was OK because I was concentrating on CC not leaping off the train, anyway.)

As you can see from the above photo, the landscapes are charming and fun -- lots of ghost towns, graveyards and even a working watermill. Also, the ride itself is pretty lengthy. No quick de-boarding for passengers, which should keep the kiddos happy. And a suggested donation of $3 per person isn't bad.

Walt's Barn (right), located within the museum grounds, is a creation of Walt Disney, himself a huge train aficionado. In 1950, he built the Carolwood Pacific Railroad in his backyard in Holmby Hills and used the barn as a place to monitor his trains.

Years after he sold the house, the barn was loaned to the City of Los Angeles and opened in the park in 1999.

Inside there are plenty of model train sets for railroad fans. On one train set, kids can even pretend to be little engineers, switching lights on and off, moving trains, and pushing a button that sends Dumbo the elephant flying around a tower.

Just make sure that you go on a Sunday (for Live Steamers) and the third Sunday of the month (for Walt's Barn), as that's the only time they're open.

Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum

5202 Zoo Dr.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 662-8030

Hours:
Every Sunday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; train riders must be at least 34" tall; children under age 15 must be accompanied by an adult.

*
Walt's Barn is open the third Sunday of every month from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Admission and parking are free, but donations to the Live Steamers Railroad Museum are accepted.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Make-A-Wish Grants Wishes to Disney-loving kiddos

I have always loved the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Granting extraordinary wishes to children with life-threatening medical problems is pretty inspiring.

This year, the organization made it even more special by inaugurating April 29 as World Wish Day, which commemorates the 30th anniversary of the first granted wish that launched the foundation.

To celebrate, Make-A-Wish collaborated with Disney Stores Worldwide in the largest ever wish-granting day.

And yesterday, the Disney Store in Glendale hosted more than 30 Make-A-Wish kids (above photo) and their families for a morning of shopping and visits from fave Disney characters Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

That was their wish, and it was granted.

I wish that we could have gone, just to see the smiles on their faces.

This summer, selected Disney Stores will designate a day for 10 percent of the sales to be donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

The 30th anniversary celebrates the first wish, which was granted in 1980 to a boy named Chris, whose wish was to be a police officer. According to the Make-A-Wish website, the foundation grants a wish every 40 minutes.

***

In other Make-A-Wish news, Disney star Miley Cyrus made an appearance yesterday at The Grove's celebration of World Wish Day. She was joined by young singers Jordan Pruitt and Mark Ballas.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Controller-free kids? Welcome to Xbox 360's 'Project Natal'

CC and a little boy rock out on the Xbox 360's "Project Natal" at a sneak peek in Venice.

There was lots of arm-waving and hip-shaking last week at a sneak peek event for Xbox 360's "Project Natal" at The G2 Gallery in Venice.

And Elvis was nowhere in the building.

With Xbox's newest gaming creation -- coming Holiday 2010 -- "You are the controller," as they say. That's right. No plastic gaming controllers that can be lost or flung across the room in a heated moment of video-gaming madness.

Nope. Just a sensor that zeroes in on your body and replicates your movements on screen. It can even recognize your face. (HAL, is that you?)

I have to say, it was pretty awesome watching kids at the event get into the game, leaping from one spot to the next, kicking and throwing virtual balls.

The project is still in its development phase, however, so there were definitely some kinks.

First off, representatives told me CC probably wouldn't get the chance to play because she was too small. Talk about disappointed. I didn't give up, though, asking if we could just give it a shot and see.

Turns out the sensor did recognize her, despite her being just over 3 feet tall. They assured me kids of any size would be able to play once Natal is in stores. Let's hope, or there might be a lot of disappointed munchkins out there, watching in envy as Mommy and Daddy rock out on screen.

There were also some on-screen avatars that looked as if they were suffering from restless leg syndrome. They were bending in ways that almost made me flinch. Another minor point that Microsoft is on top of, according to reps.

The technology behind this device is really remarkable, especially because it gets kids up and moving. That's one of the biggest complaints about video games -- that kids spend hours on the couch without any physical activity.

From what I saw last week, this could definitely be a calorie burner.

Now, if it could just do my laundry, too.

(I have to mention the amazing balloon artist who was at the event entertaining the little ones. His creations were incredible (photo above right), so if you're looking for birthday party entertainment, visit Pretend, Inc.)

*Disclosure: This invitation-only event provided attendees with a complimentary FlipCam.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Three 'Avatar' morphing screens and a baby

CC waits to get morphed into a Na'vi from "Avatar" at The Grove.

You might have heard that this whole "Avatar" thing is, like, huge.

You also might have heard that moviegoers were finding it a bit of a downer to leave the amazing, 3D world of Pandora for ... well, the real one.

So, if you're looking to get back to Na'vi Central, The Grove is hosting an "Avatar" morphing station for the next couple of weeks that takes your facial features and transforms them on screen in real time into your personal Na'vi avatar.

When I heard about that, I scooped up CC and made a beeline for The Grove. Who doesn't want to see their preschooler turned into a Mini Na'vi right before their very eyes?

A partnership between Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and outdoor advertising company Inwindow Outdoor, the structure has three screens that allow visitors to walk right up and get morphed. The process takes about 25 seconds, and then you can email the video and photo results to yourself (or an unsuspecting relative) via touchscreen.

I talked with Jeffrey Cohen, managing partner & director of business development for Inwindow Outdoor, who said that the display "definitely captures the spirit and the interest" of avid "Avatar" fans who are eager to return to Pandora.

The trick with the screens, though, is that you had to stand still for a second or two, and you have to be tall enough to fit into the set outline. I tried holding CC up, but it was a no go. There was no way her head was fitting in the outline, and there was really no way that she'd hold still for that long.

So, bummer that I didn't get the Baby Na'vi pic that I wanted to hang over the fireplace. I did, however, morph myself, which turned out to be pretty funny. I'll post it here (above) at the risk of never showing my real face in this town again.

Neytiri may have been able to work it, but Ian said he definitely prefers the real me.

(The Wired story has more photos from the event.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Fresh Beat Band, 'Dora' actress chat at L.A. Times Festival of Books



It was more than just the wonderful world of reading that highlighted this weekend's Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA.

CC and I had the opportunity to go backstage at the Target Children's Stage and talk to Nickelodeon's The Fresh Beat Band and Caitlin Sanchez, voice of Dora the Explorer.

CC didn't quite put together that Caitlin's voice is one that she hears fairly often, but she was still up for showing Caitlin her favorite preschooler moves. Yes, my child was running around and dancing instead of checking in on Boots or Swiper the Fox. That's OK, though. Always good to keep the animated world a little mysterious for the little ones.

Caitlin (left), who's 14, is really adorable and sweet. She talked about how excited she is about being on the show and how great it is to be teaching the kiddos.

What she likes most about voicing "Dora"?

"Asking kids what their favorite part of the show was and having them answer back," she said, referring to when Dora checks in with her viewers toward the end of every episode.

She's even been nominated for a couple of NAACP Image Awards and said it was exciting to meet the celebrities.

Which ones impressed her the most?

"Will Smith," she said with a big smile. "Oh! And Tom Cruise."

Not too shabby!

Next we got to hang out a little bit with The Fresh Beat Band, which was also fun for CC. She was definitely rocking out while they were performing "Loco Legs" on stage earlier in the day.

Hugging it out with Skippyjon Jones (right), that fun-loving Siamese kitten who's often mistaken for a chihuahua, was another highlight.

All in all, it was an exciting day for the kiddo. And as The Fresh Beat Band would say, it was a "Great Day."

Photo of Caitlin Sanchez courtesy of Nickelodeon.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

1 Minute Weekend Featuring the LA Times Festival of Books



This weekend, I had the opportunity to join lots of fun moms at the Vlogamama workshop at the Montage Beverly Hills.

Besides girl talk with yummy food and wine, we also created short videos for our sites called vlogs.

So here's my first vlog, which is a preview for a fun post coming tomorrow about Nickelodeon's The Fresh Beat Band and Caitlin Sanchez, voice of Dora the Explorer, all of whom I had the chance to interview at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

And that line about "performers, books and booths" ... well, I didn't mean for "booths" to come out sounding like "booze." Yikes!

So check back in tomorrow for a couple of fun interviews!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ronald McDonald Care Mobiles Reach California Kids

You might remember a certain preschooler who had the opportunity to visit the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House and make a kid-sized donation on McHappy Day last November.

Well, on that day -- when we got to chat with Billy Bush and Dayanara Torres -- I also learned a lot about other ways Ronald McDonald House Charities helps kids in need.

Last month, RMHC launched their "Open the Doors" campaign that recognizes and benefits their Care Mobiles, which provide health-care services to areas around the world where children need it most.

From cancer detection treatment in Poland to dental care in Contra Costa County, Calif., the Ronald McDonald Care Mobiles give children and their parents a cost-free option to just ignoring a problem that might only get worse.

Part of the campaign involves online visitors, who can vote for which Care Mobile should receive a $5,000 grant from RMHC.

A fortuitous turn came just last week, when NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne offered $50,000 to build another Care Mobile, each of which costs $500,000 to get up and running. He teamed with Fox Sports to kick start Drive to Care, which hopes to raise the remaining funds through donations.

I had the opportunity to chat with Chris Grazzini, who runs the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile in Northern California's Contra Costa County.

The program got its start in 2004, after the local hospital John Muir Health and others were concerned about the oral health of the kids in the county, particularly those who were under-served or uninsured.

"In this county, there are hardly any dentists who would take DentiCal or MediCal kids," Grazzini said. "Because the reimbursement is so low, they don't want to see them."

So the Care Mobile travels to both the east and west side of the county and visits kids four days per week.

They provide sealants and fluoride for preventative measures, and they also try to set the kids up with a dental home and insurance.

"Our goal is to see as many new kids as possible," Grazzini said. In 2009, they saw 676 individual kids and had 1,281 visits.

One of the organizations they also visit is a runaway youth shelter within the county.

"Last year, there was a youth, a 16-year-old runaway, who had not had any dental care for years," Grazzini explained. "But when he was being examined, he had a piece of metal -- how he got it, I don't know -- stuck behind his front teeth, up in his palate.

"It had been there for a year and a half, and he had been in pain for all that time, but he had no access to resources, so we were able to remove that," she said.

"That's just an example of the need," she continued. "And that we were just able to be there that day, and he showed up, and we were able to take care of him.

"And he was crying and grateful that someone cared about him," she said.

It's stories like that, which make me feel so blessed that CC is well cared for. But it's also great knowing that charitable organizations like RMHC are looking out for those in need.

For more information, visit Ronald McDonald House Charities at www.rmhc.org.

Photo courtesy of Contra Costa Health Services

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day Extra at the Disney Store

Third graders celebrate Earth Day at the Disney Store in the Westfield Santa Anita Mall.

Sometimes there are events that I would love to take CC to, but for scheduling reasons we just can't make. That happened today, when we were invited to join third-grade students from Holly Avenue Elementary School in Arcadia at the Westfield Santa Anita Disney Store to celebrate Earth Day.

These forward-thinking students donated more than 1,000 cans and bottles to recycle as well as presented a donation to the Nature Conservancy. For their efforts, they each received a Friends for Change and Disneynature "Oceans" branded hat, which itself is made from six recycled plastic bottles. The Disney Store also offers more eco-friendly merchandise such as totes made from recycled bottles and a Toy Story Space Alien Tree Planting Kit.

I'm always happy to applaud the little ones who are thinking big -- and setting a great example for my own half-pint.

On Earth Day, 'Avatar' Sees Blue ... and Green

"Avatar" DVD and Blu-ray discs hit shelves today, Earth Day. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

With today's Earth Day release of James Cameron's "Avatar" on DVD and Blu-ray, fans of the film are getting a chance to revisit the magical world of Pandora, as well as the opportunity to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the year's most eco-friendly day.

In fact, anyone who purchases the disc will have the opportunity to join The Avatar Program, which, in addition to gaining access to exclusive content, also offers the chance for viewers to adopt a tree to be planted this year in one of 15 countries.

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and the Earth Day Network are partnering for the Home Tree Initiative to plant 1 million native trees in countries including the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Sweden, Brazil and Haiti.

Now, that's definitely taking the movie-going experience to the next level.

I'll admit, it took me a while to catch "Avatar" in theaters. Between finding someone to watch CC -- we weren't sure if it was preschooler-friendly -- and simply wondering if the film would live up to the hype, it was a few weeks before I could catch it in 3D.

And, boy, was it worth it.

Like many people I've talked to about the film -- about a young man who embarks on a transformative journey to a new world, where he must choose between his old life and the native creatures he has come to love -- I, too, was fascinated by this idyllic, mythical world where everything from the trees to its inhabitants was truly connected.

I received a review DVD copy of the film just this morning, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, and I was eager to pop it in to see if the effect would be the same at home and in 2D.

Although Ian and I were able to catch only a few scenes before having to pause, the movie itself is still lovely, despite having one fewer dimension. (However, I recommend seeing the movie in 3D at some point. That's the best way to just immerse yourself in it.)

The world Cameron created is truly breathtaking, and the drama itself is tense and emotional. Who isn't moved just watching a native people literally fighting for their very existence?

I'm still not sure if CC is ready for the movie. The battle scenes and fighting might not scare her, necessarily, but I'm not sure she should have that on her radar just yet.

What we can do, however, is use this as an inspiration for making our own lives a little more eco-friendly.

CC's preschool has talked to the kids about recycling, and there are separate wastebaskets for trash and plastics.

It was funny just hearing my 3-year-old say "recycling." It sounded so adult.

We also have a couple of plants outside on our balcony that are her responsibility to water. We make a point to go out every day, so she can see them grow and change.

And now, when CC gets home, we can plant a tree. It might not be right in our back yard, but in our globally connected world, it's the action itself that can make a difference.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Coming Attraction: Los Angeles Times Festival of Books


CC and I once again will be heading to UCLA for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which runs April 24-25.

Although, this time, without the stroller. Sigh ... what a difference a year makes.

There will be lots on offer, but we'll be sticking closely to the Target Children's Stage, which will feature performances from Nickelodeon's The Fresh Beat Band as well as readings from Carl Reiner, Bernadette Peters and Henry Winkler.

General admission to the festival is free, but parking is $10.

For more info, visit http://events.latimes.com/festivalofbooks/

Yamashiro Garden Market in Full Bloom

Ian and CC at the Yamashiro Garden Market.

If you haven't visited the Yamashiro Restaurant Garden Market, think about visiting on Thursday, its regular night.

For a relaxing and inexpensive evening out with the fam -- kids included, thanks to Twinkles the Clown (below) -- nothing beats sampling fresh strawberries and yummy crepes while looking out over Hollywood and beyond.

The Cal-Asian restaurant sits in the Hollywood Hills just above the Magic Castle and hosts the outdoor market every Thursday from 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Before last week, when we visited the market, we had only caught occasional glances of the hilltop eatery while driving along Franklin Avenue.

It was truly amazing watching the sun set while CC and other children played with the affable Twinkles. She made balloon animals for the kids and even offered face painting. CC was happy to get a flower on her cheek.

Baskets of delicious strawberries sold for $2.50, while raw oysters went for $2 each. There was an espresso tent as well as cobbler offerings and other baked goods. That's in addition to the wine tasting that was also available.

While Ian opted for the baked cod taco ($6), I gravitated toward the currywurst ($5) from Best of the Wurst. (Not only do I love currywurst, which I introduced to Ian, but I'm always up for practicing my German with native speakers.)

It was a lovely night, complete with live music, and I'd happily visit again. And when the kiddo can be entertained as well? Well, cheers to that!

Yamashiro Restaurant
1999 N. Sycamore Ave.
Hollywood, CA 90068
Valet parking: $2 with garden market validation

LA Moms Blog: The Catholic Church and Children



Please check out my latest post on LA Moms Blog, "Catholic Church in Los Angeles Vows to Keep Kids Safe, Mine Included."

As a Catholic myself, it saddens me to hear of more reports of sexual abuse between adults in the church and children -- especially now that I have a child myself.

What heartens me, however, is the action the Los Angeles Archdiocese is taking to prevent such horrors -- a campaign called "Keep Kids Safe."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

YMCA hosts Healthy Kids Day

CC joins Yoga for Kids at the Culver-Palms YMCA's Healthy Kids Day.

On Saturday, CC stretched her little muscles, made a puppy mask and even milked a cow at the Culver-Palms YMCA's Healthy Kids Day.

OK, so maybe the cow wasn't exactly as real as the goat she milked at the fair, but CC got the idea with a little help from her imagination -- and a rubber glove.

The Westside YMCA hosted a parking lot full of exhibitors, including photographers, dietitians and Trader Joe's. There was also a petting zoo and performances from kids band The Hollow Trees (below left).

CC was eager to try everything, and she rushed from one exhibit to the other in a heated preschooler frenzy.

Of course, she couldn't miss the bouncy slide or an opportunity to make a mask or a picture frame.

But it was watching her boogie down to homespun kiddo tunes from The Hollow Trees that really made me smile.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Earth Day celebrations arrive in Los Angeles area

"Oceans," from Disneynature, opens at the El Capitan Theater on April 22.

Earth Day festivities kick off on Thursday, April 22. Here are a few things you can do in and around Los Angeles and at home.

* "Oceans" -- The El Capitan Theater in Hollywood is celebrating Earth Day with the opening of Disneynature film "Oceans." The Pierce Brosnan-narrated movie, which tells the story of a day in the life of our oceans, follows last year's nature documentary "Earth." In addition to the screening, El Cap audiences will be treated to a visit from exotic animals, courtesy of the Wildlife Learning Center. Buy a ticket during opening week, and Disneynature will make a contribution to save coral reefs.

* Aquarium of the Pacific -- This family-friendly Long Beach spot will celebrate its 10th annual Earth Day festivities this weekend, April 24-25. Earth-friendly organizations will have booths on hand at the Aquarium. There will also be hands-on demonstrations for visitors. Bring in any e-waste item for recycling and receive a coupon for $10 off adult admission.

* PBS Kids -- PBS Kids will honor Earth Day by airing 15 eco-friendly themed episodes of shows including "Curious George" (right), "Sesame Street" and "Super Why!" on April 22. The website will also feature an Earth Day channel on its online video player.

* Pottery Barn Kids -- PBK stores across the nation, including the one at The Grove, will celebrate April 22 by hosting Earth Day activities and stories. Kids will also, according to the website, receive a surprise they can plant at home.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Coming Attractions: 'The Ant and the Grasshopper,' Earth Day at the LA Zoo, YMCA Healthy Kids Day

"The Ant and the Grasshopper" at The Black Box Theater; photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Children's Theater.

There's a lot going on this weekend, so I'm packing three kid-friendly (and wallet-friendly) "Coming Attractions" into one post.

First off, The Los Angeles Children's Theater is presenting its final weekend performances at The Black Box Theater of "The Ant and the Grasshopper," based on the classic Aesop fable about an industrious ant who prepares for winter and a less-than-workaholic grasshopper who finds the cupboard bare come the first chill.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for kids, but half-price tickets are available via the Web site (www.blackboxtheater.org). Performances are April 17, 18 at 1:00 p.m.

The Black Box Theater
12420 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
310-622-4482

***


The Los Angeles Zoo is hosting Earth Day celebrations this weekend, April 17 and 18, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Activities will include recycled crafts, info booths and a visit from DJs from K-EARTH 101 FM. This year's celebration will also spotlight California wildlife, such as the California Condor, Island Foxes and Bighorn Sheep.

The event is free to Zoo members and with paid admission.

The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens
Griffith Park
Admission: Adults 13+ ($13); Children 2-12 ($8); Children under 2 years (Free)

***

The Culver-Palms YMCA is hosting a free Healthy Kids Day celebration on Saturday, April 17 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

In addition to mingling with Culver City Fire Department and Police Department officers, who will be on hand to show off their cool rides and terrier mascot, kids will have the opportunity to play games, take part in arts and crafts and see a musical performance on stage.

Healthy snacks and drinks will be available courtesy of vendors, and parents can also learn tips about improving their child's health from local health representatives.

Culver-Palms YMCA
4500 Sepulveda Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90230
310-390-3604

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Kids Kut offers fun styling time for tykes

CC gets a trim at Kids Kut.

I'm always up for checking out great places that cut kids' hair. So I was happy to find Kids Kut, a fun, kid-friendly shop on the Westside that caters to tykes and their love of all things entertainment.

We've tried the inexpensive, home-based route that was anything but a home run. I think the Flowbee would have been better than Ian's and my first attempt at styling. We've also taken CC to SuperCuts. Nothing wrong with that, but sometimes the wait time is just too long when you can't make an appointment. Can't really justify that for a 3-year-old's hair needs. Or my patience.

Kids Kut is a cute little salon in a Brentwood mini mall that also houses kids' restaurant Giggles 'n Hugs. Each styling chair offers a fun, sporty car that children can sit in while their hair is being spritzed, trimmed and combed. Nice distractions.

There's also a large TV screen that plays kids' videos -- which can sometimes be tricky when you need your child to look down, so the stylist can cut in the back. If there is a wait time before your appointment -- we didn't have one -- a tyke's corner offers video games, toys and a reading space.

Of course, I thought this visit would cost a minor fortune, but the prices are reasonable and just a hair higher than SuperCuts. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) However, they do have a coupon page that offers 10% off services and $4 off your first visit.

Oh, and moms and dads can get cuts there, too. Just not sure how we'd fit into one of those toy Jeeps.

Kids Kut
11701 Wilshire Blvd.
Suite #14B1
Los Angeles, CA 90025
310-914-9095

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bob Baker Marionette Theatre Celebrates 50 Years in Los Angeles

"It's a Musical World"; photo courtesy of Bob Baker Marionette Theatre

When Bob Baker founded his marionette theatre in downtown Los Angeles in 1960, he had little idea that his puppetry post would become a must-see destination for generations of Angeleno tykes.

Now, 50 years later (and after facing a real financial struggle a couple of years ago) Baker is celebrating his company's longevity -- and its relatively new status as an L.A. historical cultural landmark -- with an anniversary lineup that boasts five shows in one year, more than any other year before.

His latest production, "It's a Musical World," which opens April 20 and runs through July 11, is the second on his 50th anniversary schedule. Debuted at the theatre in 1978, this marionette revue includes a stop at an Enchanted Toy Shop as well as at a Teddy Bear Picnic.

I had the chance to talk with Baker about his company as well as how entertainment has changed over the last 50 years. Not only that, but Baker isn't going anywhere. In fact, he's even making plans for the theater to see another golden anniversary.

"Audiences are pretty much the same, believe it or not," Baker said. Of course, he noted, attention spans have shortened, but kids, who are also more diverse, are still entranced by the puppets, the music and the performance.

Baker even mentioned one enthusiastic response, which could be filed under "The TiVo Generation Meets Live Theater."

"One little boy after the end of the show got up," Baker recalls, "turned to his mother, and said, 'Oh, I like that, Mom. Rewind it. I want to see it again.' "

It's that kind of affirmation that's been bringing kids -- and CC soon! -- back to the theatre for five decades.

As to being considered a staple of an Angeleno childhood, he said, "I'm certainly proud of it. And that came to pass being down here (in the downtown area of L.A.).

"We'd had -- (business partner) Alton Wood and I -- had been entertainers in the Los Angeles area from 1950. I did it before, but we had built up quite a reputation, and we thought that opening the theater it would be just wonderful.

"But we came down, and they took the Urban Renewal off. There was no activity, there were no restaurants, no parks, none of the things that they had promised that were going to be down here to attract people.

"And, as the years went on, we realized that the people that were coming to see our shows were coming here just to see us. And that's quite an honor," he said.

Baker's theater is the only permanent marionette theater in Southern California and despite the new puppetry technology out there -- and there's plenty -- he insists that marionette shows are very much appealing and here to stay.

"Marionettes have been around a long time," he said.

Baker has a stable of 6-7 regular puppeteers, but he's always looking to recruit more. That can be tricky, when it comes to selling the longevity of the craft.

"A lot of people feel that they're stepping back in time by being a puppeteer," he said. "But actually, that's not the case. We may not use a lot of the new technology, but those things will be a passing thing also. There will always be something new, but the thing is, we try to look and see how those type of things can be used in our work."

Perhaps it's also the rise of 3D animated movies and TV that has provided some competition for the company. That, and the economy.

"We would like to do more productions, more things, but unfortunately we've had a lot of reversals in cash flow because the schools have had their budgets cut and families haven't had the money to have birthday parties here. We've even had to raise our prices during this crazy time just to stay open," he said.

Baker plans to continue, however, long into the future.

"We're setting up a trust, so the theater and the puppets and the whole thing hopefully will continue for years to come. If we get enough people interested in supporting it financially and enough people interested in supporting it by working in the theater and doing things of that sort, we'll be here."

And 50 years is nothing to overlook. There must be something that keeps audiences coming back despite new developments in kids' entertainment.

What, according to Baker, makes his marionette theater special?

"Being able to do a show each day," he said.

"The fellows and gals that are here," he added, "they have kind of a devotion to the job that they're doing, which I appreciate very, very much."

"They want to do what they're doing -- entertaining and doing things for children."

Bob Baker Marionette Theatre
1345 W. First St.
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Remaining 2010 Shows:

* "It's a Musical World" -- April 20-July 11, 2010
* "Bob Baker's Circus" -- July 19-Sept. 26, 2010
* "Bob Baker's Halloween Hoop-De-Do" -- Oct. 1-31, 2010
* "Bob Baker's Nutcracker" -- Nov. 6, 2010-Jan. 16, 2011

Box Office: 213-250-9995
Performances: Tuesdays-Fridays (10:30 a.m.); Saturdays & Sundays (2:30 p.m.)
Tickets: Children & Adults ($20); Seniors ($15); Children Under 2 Years (Free)
Call Box Office for reservations

Monday, April 12, 2010

CC roots for the Dodgers ... and Alvin

CC 'munks out to "Alvin and the Chipmunks" tunes.

It was stage time again at the last pre-season game of our home team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who played the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Saturday, April 3.

Alvin and the Chipmunks also arrived at Dodger Stadium to celebrate their recent "Squeakquel" DVD release, and CC was ready for all the fun that came with it. Again.

Her first stop before taking our seats was the karaoke station, where she performed her signature CC dance, which involves a position that resembles the "Downward Dog." That kid is flexible.

She also got excited by the karaoke machine itself, which turned her preschooler voice into Chipmunk-speak. Now that was hilarious -- almost as hilarious as when she started singing Beyonce's "Single Ladies," the 'munked-out version of which is on "The Squeakquel" soundtrack.

Once we got up to our seats, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment -- and got to hang with fellow bloggers Mar Vista Mom /The Open Daily's Sarah, House of Prince's Kim, SpanglishBaby's Ana and LosAngelista's Liz -- it was all Dodgers all the time.

We bought our requisite Dodger Dog, lemonade and sat in the hot sun that comes with baseball in Southern California.

It was actually CC's second Dodgers game, and she was more than ready to support her team. She noticed some young boys nearby who were showing their own kid spirit, so she decided to join in.

"Go Dodgers!" she yelled, clapping her hands. "Go Dodgers!"

(Upon telling this to my New York Yankees-loving dad, he said, "That's horrible.")

We didn't get to watch the whole game -- the sun and nap time proved to be too much for our endurance -- so I'm still not sure which team won. But my friend Jon over at Dodger Thoughts on ESPN.com always has the inside scoop.

In the meantime, my littlest baseball fan might demand a regular season game in the not-too-distant future, complete with Chipmunk voice or otherwise.

Friday, April 9, 2010

We Love Santa Barbara

CC walks along Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara.

Wow, what a difference two hours makes. As I can't stop talking about, Ian, CC and I drove up to Santa Barbara for a couple of days this week, and it still amazes me how relaxed you can feel a mere two hours up the 101 from Los Angeles.

Santa Barbara is an easy trip, something we should really do more often. The town itself is adorable, pedestrian-friendly, and there's so much to offer. Shopping? Check. Beach-front fun? Check. Mountains? Check. Wineries? Check.

After we settled into our hotel on State Street, a little north of the happening part of the thoroughfare, we made our way down to the little shops that line both sides of the main street.

Both Ian and I got seriously great deals on items we had been looking for -- me a handbag, and Ian some kitchenware. I always love those kind of surprises.

Next, we headed down to the beach, where we first stopped at Rusty's Pizza Parlor (left) for a little grub. CC loved that it looked like a lighthouse and enjoyed the little arcade games inside.

After that, we crossed the street to Stearns Wharf, where we walked along the rustic wooden pier to people-watch and to see the shore from another perspective.

CC quickly found a large compass painted on one empty square and turned it into a running alphabet game. Run, run, run, "N!" Run, run, run, "W!" North, West, South and East have never been so fun. Then, of course, Mommy and Daddy had to play, too.

The next day was zoo time! Santa Barbara has a great zoo that's manageable and offers a lot more than just animals -- not that those aren't the main attractions.

While we caught glimpses of an Asian elephant, a Chinese alligator and a White-handed Gibbon, among other animals (The Bleeding Heart Pigeon was incredible!), CC was able to go kid crazy on the zoo's awesome playground.

There were purposefully cracked big plastic eggs, in which kids can crawl or just hang out. A big rope spider web was also fun. But the piece de resistance was the large anthill (below), which kids could climb onto and slide down on a slab of cardboard. CC did not want to leave.

We took it pretty easy in Santa Barbara. A colleague friend of mine had suggested we go up to Solvang to check out the dutch village town or to Los Olivos to explore more wineries, but we decided to just be lazy and stay in S.B.

We definitely want to hit Solvang this summer, though. It's only 45 minutes northeast of Santa Barbara and offers Danish pastries. What more could you possibly want?!

To make up for not going, though, we had brunch at a lovely Danish bakery/restaurant on State Street called The Andersens. So amazing! The place itself was quaint and European, offering almond marzipan butter rings, apple strudels and Danish butter cookies. (You can order those online here.) They also offered a full menu of sandwiches, steak and Scottish smoked salmon.

It was amazing, and yes, we'll be going back.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What Daddies Will Do for Their Daughters


CC, Ian and I took a little break and drove up the coast to Santa Barbara, but before I share those stories and pics I wanted to post this picture of Daddy and Daughter and Nail Polish.

It makes me smile for a few reasons, but mostly, I wanted to share this because it reminded me of something Ian was convinced of while I was pregnant -- namely that we would most likely have a boy.

It's not that he didn't want a girl -- he would have been happy either way -- but he comes from a male-heavy family and just thought it would be genetically improbable for us to have a little Clark-ette.

He was also nervous that he wouldn't know how to play with her. He knew how to interact with boys, having been one himself, but girls? What would they have in common?

Of course, all of that changed once we found out we were having a girl. And it really changed the moment CC was born. Ian didn't want to leave her side.

I'm sure a lot of dads worry about relating to their little girls, but it's funny how all of that fear (or most, anyway) disappears once you see your baby and hold your baby for the first time. They're yours. Or rather ... she's yours. Forever.

So when CC plucked my red nail polish off the bathroom counter, made a beeline for Ian -- not me, you'll notice -- and asked him to paint her nails, he didn't hesitate.

In fact, I think he had fun.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Santa Barbara, here we come!

The fam and I have decided to take a small break from the L.A. madness and drive up the coast to Santa Barbara for a couple days.

It's always nice to recharge the batteries, and we're a bit overdue.

So, I won't be posting tomorrow but will be back with more fun adventures on Wednesday.

In the meantime, check out my latest LA Moms Blog post, "Daylight Saving Time Is Cleaning My Clock." You might be able to commiserate with me on this one, or you might just say that I sound like I need a vacation. In which case, you'd be right. :)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Updated: Easter Basket Grand Giveaway!

As the Easter Bunny makes his way to your house and mine, I would like to offer something extra special -- courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and MGM Home Entertainment -- to bulk up the Bunny booty.

I am giving away -- in an ultra-short amount of time, no less -- a huge gift basket that includes DVDs and Blu-ray discs from the above-mentioned studios, as well as other goodies listed below:

  • Alvin and the Chipmunks (Blu-ray Disc)
  • The Black Stallion DVD
  • Horton Hears a Who (Blu-ray)
  • Ice Age (Blu-ray)
  • Ice Age: The Meltdown (Blu-ray)
  • Night at The Museum (Blu-ray)
  • The Pink Panther 2 (Blu-ray)
  • The Secret of Nimh DVD
  • Horton plush elephant doll
  • Alvin plush doll
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel soundtrack
  • Ice Age Scrat plush doll
  • Chocolate bunny
  • Easter grass
  • Plastic Easter eggs

This has been a tough year for a lot of people, as the economy just keeps pounding away at the job market. Our house hasn't been excluded in that.

So something like this would be great for a family that might otherwise have thought that Easter would be a little lean this year.

To enter, please leave a comment below telling me why your family would love to have this basket, and I'll announce the winner tomorrow, Saturday, April 3, at 9 p.m.

Good luck!

For more info about the films, visit www.MoreEasterFun.com.

UPDATE: Thank you to everyone who participated in this giveaway. I really loved reading all of the great family stories. It was tough to pick just one, but I ended up choosing Grandma Judy. I think sharing this amazing basket with her grandchildren so they can have an exciting holiday and forget the day-to-day problems is really touching.

Congrats, Grandma Judy! And for everyone who entered, there will be more giveaways in the future, so stay tuned!

Focus Features delivers 'Babies' for Mother's Day



Talk about bringing back memories. A couple of weeks ago, Ian and I caught a screening of the upcoming Focus Features documentary "Babies," and I must have teared up at least four times remembering so many of the moments that filled up CC's first year of life.

In fact, here was my tweet shortly after:



The movie, from French director Thomas Balmes and producer Alain Chabat, follows the first year -- from birth to walking -- of four different babies in four different parts of the world. It arrives in theaters Mother's Day weekend.

Baby Ponijao, who's part of the Himba tribe, trails her mother over their dusty Namibian village. Mari lives with her mom and dad in Shibuya, part of metropolitan Tokyo. Little Bayarjargal ("Bayar") lives on a small farm on the open plains of Mongolia, with his father, mother and mischievous older brother Delgerjargal ("Degi"), not to mention the roaming roosters and cows. And California girl Hattie hangs with her eco-friendly parents in San Francisco.

"Babies" is quite a touching film, as viewers can see the similarities of nascent human life on four different sides of the planet. Of course, traditions and routines -- not to mention languages -- are completely different from family to family, but each child's curiosity, determination and life stages are startlingly similar.

All kinds of firsts are showcased in this film. We see first breaths, first bites and first steps -- a triumphant moment for them all.

Baby Bayar from Mongolia taking his first steps in Focus Features' "Babies." Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

The differences were obvious -- a nearly nude lifestyle for the Namibian family to urban hipster chic for the Japanese trio -- but it was also funny to see an older sibling give his baby brother grief. Guess that happens wherever you go.

I probably fretted most for Bayar, as he not only had to contend with his tormenting sibling, but he also had to fend off various and sundry animals around the house. At one point, as a rooster darted around his little immobile baby body, I cringed, fearing the worst. The same went for the moment when his head got dangerously close to a cow's hoof.

They make 'em strong in Mongolia. After he was born, his mother held him while riding on the back of his dad's motorcycle on their way home from the hospital. That kid is a trooper.

But, more than anything, it made me think about my own child -- how she's been raised up until now and how she will continue to grow despite my futile attempts to keep her as my little bear.

It's funny. She's already 3 years old, and it feels as if I had her only five minutes ago.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Coming Attraction: Easter!


When it comes to Easter in L.A., there are plenty of things for little Angeleno bunnies to do. From dyeing eggs at home to taking one of those fantabulous pics with Mr. Easter Bunny himself, there will be plenty of options to fill your basket.

Here are a few suggestions:

* Big Bunny's Spring Fling at the L.A. Zoo -- Kicking off tomorrow, April 2, and running through Easter Sunday, the Los Angeles Zoo will offer lots of fun activities for the kiddos. There will be children's musical entertainment along with bunny petting, face painting, carrot planting and bunny crafts. Kids can also get a pic with the big fuzzy guy himself (nominal fee). Free with admission. (Friday-Sunday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m.)

* Brims, Bonnets, and Chapeaux at the California African American Museum -- CAAM is celebrating Easter Sunday with some "Hatitude." Their holiday focus this year is on crowns, so their hat showcase is definitely in keeping with the theme. Men, women and children are invited to participate in the showcase. In addition, there will be dancers, singers, spoken word and surprise guest judges. And since it's a Target Sunday, everyone can visit the museum for free. (Hat tip to L.A. Parent) (Program begins at 1 p.m.)

* Bunny Bungalow at The Grove -- Have your picture taken with the Easter Bunny at the Grove through April 4. He's in the bungalow daily from 11 a.m.-7 p.m., with carrot breaks in between.

* Free Bunny pics at Citadel Outlets -- On Easter Sunday, from 1 p.m.-4 p.m., kids can get a pic with Mr. E. Bunny (bring your own camera) at the outlet center just off the 5 freeway. There will also be treats for the kiddos, coloring stations and all-day discounts at the restaurants and shops.

* Special Promotion from 20th Century Fox and MGM Home Entertainment -- After you've hunted eggs, gorged on tasty treats, had your picture taken and want to settle in with a movie, Fox and MGM have teamed to re-release DVDs such as "Alvin and the Chipmunks," "Ice Age" and "Horton Hears a Who" along with classics such as "The Black Stallion" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." On the Web site (www.MoreEasterFun.com), you can download coloring pages, purchase DVDs and enter to win a $50,000 Nest Egg. Not bad!

Whatever you do, enjoy, and Happy Easter!
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