Monday, August 30, 2010

Legoland California Resort Rocks Blocks and Water Slides for Families

At Legoland California Resort, CC stands in front of the Lego replica of
New York New York Casino in Las Vegas.

Legoland California Resort
in Carlsbad is a one-stop shop for imaginative and energetic little ones. There's also some added splash now that the resort opened its Legoland Water Park this summer.

From Lego-constructed replicas of Manhattan, Hollywood, San Francisco and Las Vegas in Miniland USA to the expansive play area for tykes in Duplo Village to the driving track at Volvo Driving School and Volvo Junior Driving School (where CC got her first Driver's License!), Legoland is a sprawling adventure park that offers lots of entertainment while still being a manageable experience.

When CC and I arrived after a 2-hour drive from L.A., she was eager to ride the first attraction she spotted -- the Safari Trek (left) near The Beginning of the park. With mini Jeeps outfitted in zebra or leopard prints, this ride takes kids and parents on a small animal-friendly adventure that offers panda bears, lions and giraffes all made out of Legos.

The line was a little daunting at 30 minutes, but it turned out to be the longest wait of the day. Most of the lines for rides when we were there (on a Thursday) averaged about 10-15 minutes. What was helpful, though, was a little play area within the line, where kids could play with (you guessed it!) Legos.

After CC climbed, played and slid at Duplo Village and marveled at the mini cities made of the tiny blocks, we headed over to the adjacent water park.

While smaller than most full-sized water parks, this Legoland incarnation is just as fun for the kiddos. There are water slides for little kids (a definite plus for children who usually get the shaft due to height requirements), a lazy river with Lego-inspired inner tubes -- and the best lockers I've ever seen.

CC was an instant fan of the smaller water slides. (She wanted to go on the bigger ones, of course, but no dice for a 39-inch child. There was usually a minimum of 42" or 48" for the taller adventures.) Once she splashed down into the heated and shallow water, she was ready to slide down the red tube or wide yellow slide again and again.

Oh, and the lockers! No more jangly keys necessary. For $7 (the rental fee for a medium-sized locker), one person in your party gets a wristband programmed to open your locker when you wave it in front of a sensor. So cool!

After arriving in the morning, both CC and I were beat by mid-afternoon. And we still hadn't seen everything. Legoland encompasses not only the amusement park and water park but also the Sea Life Aquarium, which we didn't even get to explore.

And for moms of really little ones, there's the Baby Care Center, which offers a changing area with diapers, refrigerator, microwave and rocking chairs for those who are nursing. A nice touch.

It was an amazing time, and we'll have to go back -- if anything, to see the rest of the park.

Legoland California Resort
1 Legoland Drive
Carlsbad, CA 92008
760-918-LEGO

Tickets: Adults 13-59 ($87); Children 3-12 ($77); Seniors 60+ ($77); Toddlers ages 1-2 ($3) (These prices include admission to Legoland, Legoland Water Park and Sea Life Aquarium. Check online for additional admission offerings.)
Parking: $12 for cars

Note: Media tickets provided.

Friday, August 27, 2010

And the 'Dinosaur Train' DVD goes to ...


Congrats to Ruth! You won the "Dinosaur Train: Dinosaurs Under the Sea" DVD!

The episode itself is adorable, and I hope your son enjoys all of the Tiny adventures and extras!

Please email me at losangelesstory@gmail.com with your address!

Thanks again to everyone who participated -- and to Random.org for helping me choose.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ronald McDonald House Charities Launches RMHC Day of Change

CC drops in a dollar for Ronald McDonald House Charities.

When CC and I visited the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House last November, it really left an impression.

Not only did CC get to decorate cookies with kids and parents who were living at the well-appointed house because a sibling, daughter or son was being treated at a nearby hospital, but she also got to make her first donation to a worthwhile organization (above photo).

Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) does lots of amazing things. From providing families with comfortable places to stay to offering free health and dental care through their Ronald McDonald Care Mobiles, the organization is remarkable at giving back to so many communities.

On September 9, the organization is inviting McDonald's visitors to participate in its RMHC Day of Change.

You've seen those little donation boxes on the counters or underneath the drive-thru windows as you're getting your McCafe iced coffee or Happy Meal.

Last year alone, according to RMHC, the coins tossed into U.S. donation boxes totaled more than $19 million (!) -- a goal they want to exceed this year.

So please dig out those loose pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, and see what an amazing thing mere change can do!

For more information, visit www.rmhcdayofchange.org.

(Image of CC courtesy of Ronald McDonald House Charities)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cooking Channel's Roger Mooking Talks Food and Kids

Roger Mooking of "Everyday Exotic" on the Cooking Channel.

There's a new chef in Cooking Channel's kitchen, and he's ready to treat your kids' palates to new flavors and ingredients.

Roger Mooking, host of the channel's "Everyday Exotic" and father of two little girls (ages 2 and 3), mixes unconventional ingredients into traditional meals to show audiences that it can be done -- and without all that crazy fear.

Mooking, who is also a musician ("Soul Food") and Executive Chef/Co-Owner of Kultura Social Dining and Nyood Restaurant in Toronto, will be rolling into town Labor Day weekend, first to visit Taste of Beverly Hills on Sept. 4 and then the Los Angeles Times Celebration of Food & Wine on Sept. 5.

He will be joining fellow Cooking Channel chef Aida Mollenkamp ("FoodCrafters") on the channel's Ice Cream Truck and scooping out gratis samples of L.A.'s Carmela Ice Cream.

I had the chance to talk to Mooking about his show and how he gets his girls to try new things -- things like lychee and coriander.

His main advice was: Repetition. That, and making it fun for the kiddos.

L.A. Story: What inspired you to create "Everyday Exotic"?

Roger Mooking:
We had really always focused on, with our kids, teaching them one new ingredient a week. And it takes a little time for kids. Sometimes they’ll try it, they don’t like it. The next day they love it. The next day, they don’t like it. But they need to have the repetition of it to decide whether they like it or not. So we just tried to introduce new ingredients to them all the time. So one day it was lychee, the other day might have been coriander.

Funnily enough, one of my daughters, she is crazy, crazy, crazy into trying everything. She’ll try anything you put in front of her. Usually she loves it. And the other one, although we did the same thing with her, she’s really picky. She only likes soft, mushy things. She doesn’t like too many flavors.

(The show) was born of a situation like that. It’s important to expand people’s understanding of food and demystify some of those ingredients. I think a lot of times people pick up these ingredients and they look at it and they go, 'I don’t know what to do with it.' We’re trying to break down the barrier and introduce it in something that’s already very familiar. It’s a gateway show. Once you go through, you’re like, 'Oh wow, there’s so much opportunity.' And hopefully it inspires you to do new things.

L.A. Story: What are some of your tips for introducing kids to new foods?

Roger Mooking:
There’s repetition, but also, a lot of ingredients come in different forms. So one week we were on coconuts. We got some fresh coconut, we tried that with fruit salad. That worked well. We tried coconut milk, and we took coconut milk and made pudding, like a Jell-O with it just using gelatin. And that was simple, and they really liked that because they like mango tofu and stuff like that.

Another thing with coconut is that we cooked rice with it and made coconut milk rice. So they get the coconut in different ways. They might not like it fresh, or they might not like it shredded. They may like the flavor but just in a different form. We tried different forms of the ingredient.

L.A. Story: Have you had fun traveling the country in the ice cream truck?

Roger Mooking:
The ice-cream truck is crazy. It’s so much fun. Imagine you come into a town and somebody’s giving you free ice cream. Already you’re in a good mood. We get a lot of people who are watching the shows and the channel, it’s good to touch down with those people. We give away ice cream. Everybody has a good time.

L.A. Story: Do you have favorite city that you’ve visited or a fun experience?

Roger Mooking:
Each one is really interesting, but in Atlantic City, we were right on the boardwalk. We also videotaped a lot of stuff for the Cooking Channel blog that will be coming out soon. And we just had jokes on the boardwalk, and we captured a lot of funny video, so you’ll start seeing a lot of that stuff landing as well.

Catch Roger Mooking on Cooking Channel show "Everyday Exotic." And check out the channel's website at: www.cookingchanneltv.com.

(Images courtesy of the Cooking Channel.)

Coming Attraction: Los Angeles Times Celebration of Food & Wine


Raise your glasses and bring a hearty appetite, because the inaugural Los Angeles Times Celebration of Food & Wine is spicing up Labor Day weekend with a bounty of tasty treats -- and demonstrations from the talented chefs who created them.

Various al fresco stages and booths will fill the Paramount Pictures Studio Back Lot on September 5 from 12 p.m.-8 p.m. and feature culinary crafters, selective sommeliers and mobile representatives from that latest Angeleno craze -- the gourmet food truck.

And speaking of food trucks, the Cooking Channel -- a sponsor of the event -- is bringing its own wheels to the festivities, an ice cream truck that will be serving complimentary scoops of local favorite Carmela Ice Cream to those in attendance.

Cooking Channel chefs Roger Mooking ("Everyday Exotic") and Aida Mollenkamp ("FoodCrafters") will be rolling into Los Angeles on the truck (pictured right), which has made a cross-country journey over the summer, offering gratis ice cream to foodies all over the nation.

I had the opportunity to chat with Mooking, who is also a dad to two young girls. He's a big champion of trying new ingredients (that's the theme of his show), and he offered great tips on how to introduce new flavors to little ones. Stay tuned, because that post is coming later today!

In addition to the Cooking Channel Ice Cream Truck, here are a few more Celebration highlights:

* Food trucks on hand will include: Crepes Bonaparte, Nom Nom Truck, Don Chow Tacos, The Sweets Truck and The Buttermilk Truck.

* There will be cooking demonstrations from Suzanne Goin (A.O.C., Lucques, Tavern, The Hungry Cat) and Mark Peel (Campanile, The Tar Pit). Other participants include "Top Chef" Season 6 winner Michael Voltaggio, and Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Animal.

* Audience Q & A's with L.A. Times Food Editor Russ Parsons and L.A. Times Test Kitchen Manager Noelle Carter.

* SoCal pop duo She & Him (with the "she" being Zooey Deschanel) will be performing.

* And, perhaps best of all for parents like myself, children ages 9 and under are admitted free with a ticketed adult.

Cheers to that!

Los Angeles Times Celebration of Food & Wine
Paramount Pictures Studio Back Lot
Sunday, September 5 | 12 p.m.-8 p.m.
Tickets: $55 ($65 at the door); VIP Tasting: $125 ($135 at the door); Concert only ($40 for 5 p.m. show)
Purchase advance tickets here: http://latimesfoodandwine.eventbrite.com/

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

National Breastfeeding Month: Join the Boob-olution!



In honor of National Breastfeeding Month, the brilliant folks over at TheBump.com decided to invite moms to "whip 'em out" to send an amazing message -- basically, that nursing is awesome.

What's even more awesome (she says, selfishly) is that yours truly got to show her "tatas" -- OK, just say "tatas" -- for a fun video (above) that included such celeb moms as Ali Landry, Lisa Loeb, Ana Gasteyer, Kelly Rutherford, Constance Marie and more.

Filmed last month at The Pump Station in Santa Monica -- as well as another location in New York to accommodate the East Coasters -- we moms were encouraged to say titillating (sorry) words like "bazongas," "boobs" and "jugs" all in the name of healthy babies.

Now, behold the fruit of our labor. (You can see me about 9 seconds into the video.)

It was a really amazing day, and I loved sharing my stories about breastfeeding CC for 7 months -- how it hurt at first, how embarrassing it was to pump at the office after I went back to work, and how I once had to "whip 'em out" on an airplane. But it was so worth it. Not only did we save money on formula, but CC got lots of immunity protection, cutting down on visits to the pediatrician's office. Whew!

So high-five to The Bump.com creator and TheKnot.com Editor-in-Chief Carley Roney (who was lovely when I met her briefly at the taping), her right-hand woman, producer Susan Waits, and all of the organizers and moms who participated.

As I told Susan, I've never had so much fun whipping out the "tatas" in front of total strangers.

Oh, and feel free to share the "Boob-olution" love!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Lots of Big!World!Fun! at John Anson Ford Amphitheatre Performance

BOXTALES Theatre Company performs at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre Big!World!Fun! series.

Masks, music and monkey kings, oh my!

Those were some of the on-stage highlights at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre on Saturday, as BOXTALES Theatre Company presented Indian fable "Rama & the Monkey King" to a morning audience of parents and kids.

As part of the Big!World!Fun! family series at the Ford Amphitheatre, the three-man troupe from Santa Barbara told the story of a respected prince who loses his wife to a demon and must band with a monkey king to help get her back. The three actors donned various masks (some scarier than others), adopted all manner of voices and used their bodies to gymnastic effect to tell what is really a classic story.

This was our first trip to the Amphitheatre, and my initial thought was: I wish I had brought CC sooner. The series, which began July 3 and has featured a circus troupe, dancing, storytelling and drumming, will conclude on Saturday, August 28 with a presentation from LA Opera.

The setting is perfect for parents and kids alike. Morning is a must, as the sun over the outdoor theatre can be sweltering. Smartly, the Amphitheatre provides a large, flowing tent to shield the audience so we don't burn.

Before the show we attended, The Autry museum hosted crafts for kiddos on the terrace outside the theater. Not only that, but what I also appreciated was the performers' respect for the children's ages. One of the actors came on stage before the one-hour play started to show the kids the scariest mask but also to reassure them that the actors didn't really want to scare them.

That helped because CC had no fear whatsoever, and I was a little worried in the beginning.

While I wondered if the story might be a little mature for CC, she kept her eyes on stage the entire time and asked questions throughout the show. "Where's the woman? Where's Sita?" she asked of the stolen wife, embodied by a large puppet.

Big!World!Fun! is recommended for children ages 4-10 (whose admission is free, btw), but I saw a range of ages at the BOXTALES performance. The setting is happy and casual and understanding of all the needs that come with having little ones -- such as bathroom breaks and talking out loud.

Another plus is that we got to meet the performers after the show, who were generous and eager to show CC their beautiful masks.

Note: Press tickets were provided.

John Anson Ford Amphitheatre
2580 Cahuenga Blvd., East
Hollywood, CA 90068
323-461-3673

Big!World!Fun! (Saturdays at 10 a.m.; final performance -- Aug. 28)
Tickets:
Adults ($5) Children (Free)
Parking: $1

Friday, August 20, 2010

Mommy's Day Out: Blue Medi Spa

Blue Medi Spa in Sherman Oaks

Sometimes moms just need some time to ourselves. Whether or not it involves a needle (not for that!) is totally up to you.

But when Blue Medi Spa in Sherman Oaks last week hosted "Blue Sunday," a sampling of spa treatments and other vendors' goodies that benefited the charitable organization Dress for Success, you bet I was there and ready for a cocktail -- if not a dermal filler.

While Blue offers such treatments as Botox injections, facials and chemical peels, the super-mod outfit also offers cozy-sounding massages. (I might sound like a wimp, but I'd rather look like a parched raisin than face any kind of instrument designed to break through skin. But that's just me. I don't judge.)

After getting a small tour of the facilities, I enjoyed a Hpnotiq cocktail called "Botox and Blue" (the only Botox I'm not afraid of) and chatted with guests including Patti Holmes (nee May, of May's Company fame) and some up-and-coming tween actresses and their moms. One of the girls, Jennessa Rose, had a voice role in the English-language version of "Ponyo," one of CC's favorite movies.

I also talked to a representative from Dress for Success, an organization that provides professional clothing to disadvantaged women. They're always looking for new or gently used donations.

The West Coast outlet here in Los Angeles, in fact, is hosting a summer clearance sale that is open to the public on Saturday, August 21 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Suits are going for $10. Seriously. And you'd be benefiting a great organization -- a wonderful reason to shop! (1680 N. Vine St., Suite 900, Hollywood, CA 90028)

After enjoying a short massage and receiving a Blue gift bag, I was ready to head back over the hill (literally, not figuratively) -- but not before hearing about an upcoming mom-friendly event at the spa. So stay tuned for more info!

Blue Medi Spa
14622 Ventura Blvd., Suite 118 (in The La Reina Theatre)
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
818-783-3600

(Photo courtesy of Blue Medi Spa. The hubs mistakenly erased the ones I took. Boo.)

Coming Attractions: Curious George at Pottery Barn Kids; Olympic Gold Medalist Nastia Liukin at Glendale Galleria


Kid favorite Curious George will be bouncing into Pottery Barn Kids at The Grove this weekend. On August 21 from 10 a.m.-noon and August 22 from noon- 2 p.m., the little monkey will be entertaining the kiddos, so be sure to bring your cameras.

Pottery Barn Kids is offering other upcoming special appearances. Next month? Batman!

(Image courtesy of Pottery Barn Kids)

********


Olympic Gold Medalist Nastia Liukin, who won 5 medals at the 2008 Beijing Games in gymnastics, will be visiting the Glendale Galleria on Saturday to introduce her Supergirl by Nastia active-wear line (right).

From 2 p.m.-3:30 p.m. on August 21, Liukin will be at JCPenney in the girls department to meet girls and their moms and to show off her new duds.

As with Curious George, be sure to bring the cameras.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Giveaway: 'Dinosaur Train Under the Sea' DVD

The Pteranodon family visits Carla Cretoxyrhina in "Dinosaur Train Under the Sea."

Who knew "Dinosaur Train" could travel under water?

That's exactly where Mr. Conductor leads Buddy the Tyrannosaurus Rex and his adoptive Pteranodon family in the 1-hour special "Dinosaur Train Under the Sea," from The Jim Henson Company, airing Friday, August 20 on PBS stations (check local listings).

CC and I caught an early glimpse of the episode, which didn't shy away from answering the obvious question: Uh, how are they going to get there?

You'll have to watch to find out, but their journeys take them to various places and times -- the Cretaceous, Jurassic and Triassic periods to be exact -- where they meet a fun selection of prehistoric predators.

Their new friends include Elmer Elasmosaurus, a long-necked marine animal that sports a new way to catch fish, and Carla Cretoxyrhina (pictured above), a friendly shark with an intimidating dad.

Although the special is 1 hour, it's broken up into four manageable segments, each highlighting a different animal. Buddy and the Pteranodon tykes Tiny, Shiny and Don ask relevant questions about their new friends, providing fun learning opportunities for kids.

Dr. Scott the paleontologist also offers insight into what dinosaurs ate and looked like -- and how some of them resemble modern-day animals.

I had fun just practicing the names with CC, who asked questions and said she really liked the show.

While it's great having Buddy, the Pteranodons, Dr. Scott and real children repeating the names of the featured dinosaurs, it's sometimes a little confusing -- and I imagine for kids especially -- when Mr. Conductor shows off his smarts by naming several dinosaurs at a time on his trusty pull-down screen. When names are that difficult to say, I think sticking with just one is fine.

But CC and I had fun watching -- as well as saying Cretoxyrhina three times fast.

***GIVEAWAY***

The "Dinosaur Train Under the Sea" DVD ($14.99), from PBS Kids and Paramount Home Entertainment, arrives on shelves August 24, but I'm giving away 1 copy here.

The DVD boasts lots of extra episodes, as well as games, coloring pages and a Dinosaur Reference Guide.

To enter, just leave a comment here telling me your or your child's favorite dinosaur. (U.S. residents only)

Good luck, and I'll announce the winner Friday, August 27!

Wilson & Ditch Give Us a Glimpse of San Francisco

Wilson & Ditch sail to Angel Island on their trip to San Francisco.

Summer has come and -- almost -- gone, and there are a few vacation spots that I wish we could have hit.

Yes, we did visit family and friends in Oklahoma, but I'm talking road trip. In California. After all, the Golden State is our home, and CC is a native. We're fans of Santa Barbara, but I'd love to visit places like Solvang, San Simeon and, of course, San Francisco.

I've been before, but I'm sure a family trip would be a totally different animal.

And speaking of animals, lucky for us, we can get a small taste of the Northern California city courtesy of "Wilson & Ditch Digging America," a Jim Henson Company-produced webisode series for PBSKidsGo.org featuring those kooky gopher brothers.

In their latest outing, the "Go Bros." drive their clunky van to San Francisco and take in familiar hot spots including the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. They also take a boat ride over to Angel Island, a state park located in San Francisco Bay. (That was CC's favorite part.)

As I wrote in an earlier post about the series, Wilson and Ditch (voiced by Brian Henson and Paul Rugg) are an endearingly goofy set of animated brothers who drive to various cities around the country and offer little tidbits about their journeys -- info that's accessible primarily for kids ages 6-10.

And while we might not make it to SanFran this summer, at least CC can get a small glimpse of the city -- and a few giggles to boot.

Click here to watch the San Francisco webisode of "Wilson & Ditch Digging America."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Coming Attraction: 'Walking With Dinosaurs -- The Arena Spectacular'

Two Brachiosaurus with narrator "Huxley" in a scene from
"Walking With Dinosaurs -- The Arena Spectacular."


Now this is a hot ticket in Los Angeles.

"Walking With Dinosaurs -- The Arena Spectacular"
is making its final stop on its three-year North American tour at Staples Center Sept. 9-12. I say "hot ticket" because someone just yesterday offered me a discount coupon for the show while she was buying her own tickets. (I was at the box office for a totally different show.)

Based on the BBC television series, the production boasts 17 huge, roaring dinosaurs, built to life size by The Creature Production Company.

According to the press release, 10 species are represented in the show, including the Brachiosaurus (pictured above), the Tyrannosaurus Rex and Stegosaurus. The story follows these species through 200 million years of existence, and a guide "Huxley" is there to take audiences through that evolution. Also, to provide a height reference, I'm guessing.

I remember planning the review for "Walking With Dinosaurs" when I was at Variety. The writer, Michaela Boland, covered the show when it debuted in Sydney at the Acer Arena. She wrote that the dinosaurs are "stunning, life-size and faultlessly nimble." She also mentioned that small children sitting in close rows got a little scared. Something to think about. (Read her review here.)

Of course, the review ran while I was on maternity leave with my own little Babysaurus.

Tickets are on sale now ($39-$79) at the Staples Center Box Office and Ticketmaster.com (800-745-3000).

(Photo courtesy of "Walking With Dinosaurs -- The Arena Spectacular")

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

DanceDanceRevolution Brings Out Toe-Tapping Tykes


Kids, fanboys and fangirls alike got their groove on last week at Konami's DanceDanceRevolution launch party at the uber-hip Royal/T Cafe in Culver City.

The event, celebrating the Wii and PS3 incarnations of the foot-stomping video game, brought an eclectic crowd out to the cafe/art gallery/gift shop on Washington Boulevard. In addition to the pint-sized crowd of tykes, twentysomething gamers (and moms!) were out in force to show off their dancing skills.

That made it a little tough for the little ones to try out the games, but glimpsing gamer attire was not without its own entertainment. Yes, fellow mom Liz, who blogs at Los Angelista, and I spotted a guy wearing a faux leopard tail as part of his otherwise sloucher-chic ensemble. Too awesome!

CC did get her chance to test out DanceDanceRevolution, above, which would take a lot of practice and coordination for little ones. But I did see older kids -- meaning 5 and above -- taking to it like gamer dudes to Comic-Con.

We also sampled some tasty treats, courtesy of the Japanese-styled Royal/T. From tiny cupcakes to cones of French fries, these kids were all well fueled on snacks -- which made dancing a must-do.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Giveaway: 'Letters to God' DVDs

Bailee Madison, left, and Tanner Maguire star in "Letters to God."
(Photo courtesy of Vivendi Entertainment)

UPDATE: Congrats to all three readers, who left comments for the "Letters to God" DVD giveaway. You each will receive a copy. Enjoy and be sure to have tissues handy!

And speaking of uplifting ...

Faith-based movie "Letters to God" has arrived on DVD, and wow is it both charming and a real tearjerker. Like, reserve a whole box of tissues tearjerker.

The movie, which opened in April and arrived on disc August 10 from Vivendi Entertainment and Possibility Pictures ($24.95), tells the story of 8-year-old Tyler (Tanner Maguire), whose daily struggle with cancer intersects with a local mailman's (Jeffrey S.S. Johnson) attempts to regain his own stability after a self-imposed crisis.

Tyler lives with his mom (Robyn Lively) and older brother (Michael Christopher Bolten) -- their father has already passed away -- and he writes letters to God as a way of communicating how he feels about the world around him. The letters are written with a child's unflinching honesty and are something that make some of the adults around Tyler a little nervous.

Nervous, in Brady the mailman's case, because he doesn't know what to do with them. Nervous in his mother's case, because she is understandably angry with a God who would do this to her son.

Faith-based movies, for me, are always tricky. Sometimes the themes can be overly sentimental and saccharine, and the focus on belief can obscure the nuances of how people really struggle with faith.

This movie, like the letters it spotlights, does not flinch from those struggles -- a credit to director David Nixon. For example, a child at Tyler's school says he looks like an "alien." (Tyler's friend Samantha, pictured above, answers that by shoving the kid's face into a plate of mashed potatoes!) Brady washes down his own demons with bottles of Jack Daniels. And Tyler's older brother is both hurt that Tyler is sick but also angry at all the attention he's getting.

While the situations in the movie are by definition dramatic -- what with a child and The Big C, after all -- the actors are all charming and have watchable chemistry. And while there are tearful moments, they are balanced with good humor and lots of positive -- that's not to say treacly -- dialogue.

And who doesn't love to watch a bully get mashed potatoes up his nose? Just sayin'.

***GIVEAWAY***

I'm giving away 3 "Letters to God" DVDs. Just leave a comment below telling me you'd like to have one.

Good luck, and I'll announce winners Monday, August 30!

'Ewe and Me' Makes L.A. Premiere at Feel Good Film Festival

Animated short film "Ewe and Me," by Lauren Flores

Last year, my friend Terry Flores screened an animated film for me that her daughter, Lauren Flores, had created while still in high school -- "Ewe and Me," an adorable story of a lonely sheep that finds an unlikely friend.

It was such a touching film that I asked (*cough* begged *cough*) Terry if there was any way I could show a copy to CC. Terry made me a DVD of the 2-minute movie, and once I showed it to CC, she was hooked. We watched it over and over and over again, and each time CC asked about the sheep and its friend.

Fast-forward to this past weekend, when "Ewe and Me" made its Los Angeles premiere at the Feel Good Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. (The film also screened at the Santa Clarita Valley Film Festival in January.)

"Ewe and Me" appeared in the student film section of the Feel Good Film Festival, which spotlights movies that, according to its mission statement, "encourages the development, production, and distribution of short or feature length films with positive themes, happy endings, that make audiences laugh, and that capture the beauty of our world."

I talked with Lauren before the screening, and she was so gracious about CC's fandom, saying it touched her heart -- which made this mom feel really good. (High-five, festival.)

Seeing the film on the big screen at the Egyptian was a true pleasure -- it was also an appropriate venue for such a great accomplishment.

Nice job, Lauren! Look forward to seeing more from you!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

DVD Review: 'Date Night'


It was an all-too-familiar scene: Exhausted parents collapsing at the end of a long day; kids leaping on their parents at the crack of crack in the morning; and the infamous countdown.

You know the one. "I'm going to count to 3, and if you don't (insert dreaded kid task here), I'm going to (insert vastly unfair punishment here)."

I've used that many a time, but this time it was coming out of the mouth of arguably America's most famous modern female comic talent Tina Fey in "Date Night." Throw in the equally famous and inspired Steve Carell, and you have a match made in comedy heaven.

Ian and I watched the August 10th-released DVD ($29.98), courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, on Friday the 13th, and it seemed strangely appropriate. After all, we were parents home on a Friday night, watching a movie instead of hitting the L.A. nightlife scene while our daughter was asleep in her room -- something Phil and Claire Foster (aka Steve and Tina) could no doubt identify with.

"Date Night" is the story of the Fosters' attempt to add some much-needed romance into their marriage by leaving the 'burbs of New Jersey to have dinner at the newly opened Manhattan restaurant Claw -- but without a reservation. A definite no-no at this snooty eatery. When Phil decides to take someone else's reservation -- and they are then mistaken for the other couple -- their romantic evening turns into a comedic nightmare.

Directed by Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum," the sequel of which I wrote about here), the movie is fun and really spotlights the talents of its two stars. And while a lot of the action and situations tend to strain credulity, viewers can delight in how well Carell and Fey work together. (Please pair up again, guys. Seriously.)

The DVD offers a lot of fun extras (even more on the $39.99 Blu-ray edition), including a gag reel, "Date Night" PSAs from Carell and Fey, as well as Levy's signature "Directing" series, which gives viewers an entertaining and informative glimpse at how movies get made.

A definite date-night movie pick for tired parents who aren't otherwise engaged in rocking out at exclusive restaurants or hipster clubs.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Rockettes Kick Off 'Spectacular' Announcement on Santa Monica Pier

KOST 103.5 DJ Kristin Cruz, center, joins the Rockettes on the Santa Monica Pier.

CC and I kicked up our heels -- literally -- yesterday on the Santa Monica Pier, as a few of the famous Radio City Rockettes announced their upcoming "Christmas Spectacular" national tour, which they will be performing at the Nokia Theatre in December.

Along with Christmas song-loving KOST 103.5's Kristin Cruz, the leggy dancers led a kick line that also included about 100 Angelenos just below the stage.

CC and I lined up alongside young girls wearing fun dance outfits and older visitors who were enjoying the scenery. Rockettes reps also handed out Santa hats and red scarves -- particularly funny in August.

They also handed out complimentary vouchers (score!) to the show, which will play at L.A. Live December 9-12, after it travels from the Honda Center in Anaheim December 6-7.

While tickets won't be available until September, there is a special "Early Bird" promotion through Aug. 15, during which time tickets ranging from $35-$89 will be available for purchase at the Honda Center Box Office, the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live Box Office, Staples Center Box Office or Ticketmaster.com (800-745-3000).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Giveaway: Stonyfield YoKids Pack


UPDATE: Congrats, Pokie! You won the YoKids Prize Pack! Thanks for playing. :)

When CC was a mere crawler -- and sat snugly in a high chair -- I loved feeding her YoBaby from Stonyfield.

Not only did I like that she loved the banana flavor in the tiny tubs, but I also liked that YoBaby is organic -- meaning no pesticide exposure, growth hormones or pesky antibiotics. I mean, after all those months of nursing, I didn't want to just go and ruin it.

Now that she's a big-girl preschooler -- which is so hard to believe, btw. *Sob* -- I want to pack items in her lunchbox that I know are healthy and good for her.

YoKids, which is also organic, offers little tubs of yogurt that boast 25% less sugar than other leading brands and has no artificial ingredients. (That's especially great since CC's preschool teachers keep a close eye out for things that shouldn't be in lunchboxes, including sugary cookies and candy.)

So, as a new school year is about to start, I'd like to pass on a little lunchbox goodness in the form of Stonyfield items.


***GIVEAWAY***

I'm giving away a Stonyfield package that includes: YoKids coupons, a YoKids Superhero Cape, an Eric Carle Growth Chart and a Preserve Travel Bowl.

Just leave a comment below telling me what flavor yogurt you or your kids like best.

For an additional entry, become a fan ("Like") the L.A. Story Facebook page. Remember to leave another comment, telling me you did so.

Good luck, and I'll post the winner on Friday, Aug. 27!

World of Cars Online Party Zooms into Burbank

Ian and CC at World of Cars Online launch party at Bob's Big Boy in Burbank.

Disney/Pixar's World of Cars Online raced into Bob's Big Boy in Burbank yesterday for the launch of its kid-friendly gaming site, and CC, Ian and I arrived to find a well-tended red carpet, delicious milkshakes and sightings of the famous Lightning McQueen and Mater.

Based on the animated movie "Cars," the online game (www.worldofcars.go.com) features racing adventures, opportunities to create your own car as well as online social interaction (with appropriate supervision).

In addition to checking out the game, CC enjoyed photo ops with the cars themselves, as well as the kiddie corner, which offered games, toys and an awesome "Cars"-themed tent for the little ones.

I have to admit I was a little embarrassed when I didn't recognize some pint-sized starlets who were making their way through the family-friendly crowd. Am I really that out of touch? I mean, I do know who the Jonas Brothers are, after all.

It was only when Tori Spelling, Dean McDermott and family (pictured left) rolled into the re-created Flo's V8 Cafe that I began to feel comfortable ... which is saying a lot. We also caught glimpses of Cheech Marin (!) and Joey Lawrence.

After being mistaken for another child's mother (which was a little traumatic for the little guy) and mingling with a few other moms, we headed back to the Westside, but not before being given a generous gift bag, which included a set of jumper cables. How appropriate and awesome.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Alison Sweeney Talks Crest, Feeding America and Being an L.A. Mom

Actress and mom Alison Sweeney at Hollywood & Highland
(Photo by Michael Bezjian for Crest Pro-Health Sensitive Shield).


Alison Sweeney, actress ("Days of Our Lives") and host of NBC's "The Biggest Loser," is busy this summer.

In addition to working on the weight-loss reality show, this Los Angeles mom of two is also partnering with Crest Pro-Health Sensitive Shield toothpaste and domestic hunger-relief charity Feeding America to kick off the "Summer of Sensitivity."

Sweeney is supporting Crest parent company P&G, as it plans to donate 10 cents to the charity for every tube of Crest Pro-Health sold between July 1 and Sept. 1 (with a guaranteed minimum donation of $100,000, according to Crest) to help feed those in need around the country.

I wanted to catch Sweeney when she was at Hollywood & Highland a couple of weeks ago, but thanks to L.A. traffic, I missed her. Boo.

Fortunately, I caught up with her via email for a little Q&A:

L.A. Story: What inspired you to team up with Crest and Feeding America for the Summer of Sensitivity?

Alison Sweeney: I'm thrilled to be on the Entertainment Council of Feeding America. Hunger is a growing problem in this country, and when Crest suggested such a fabulous opportunity, to raise money & awareness for Feeding America, I was so proud to be a part of it. The idea is that, with the launch of Crest's new Pro Health Sensitive Shield toothpaste, we need to focus on our sensitivity this summer. Every time you buy Sensitive Shield toothpaste before Sept 1st, Crest will donate $.10 to Feeding America. They've promised at least a $100,000 donation!!!

L.A. Story: As a mom working on lots of projects, how do you balance work and motherhood?

Alison Sweeney: It is so difficult to balance everything and not feel like something is bound to get the short end of the stick. Believe me, I'm always weighing out my choices trying to make sure my career gets my attention, and that when I'm with my kids, they have my attention. And ultimately, that's the best we can do! I work hard all day, and focus on my shows when I'm there, or my development projects when I'm there, but when I'm with my family, I put the BlackBerry down, and give them my attention.

L.A. Story: Where do you like to take your kids to entertain them in the city? Do you have fun recommendations for places to go with the little ones?

Alison Sweeney: I love taking them to places that will challenge their imagination, like the La Brea Tar Pits, the Natural History Museum ... There are also great kids' indoor places that can make it easy for moms, like the TreeHouse on Robertson.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Science Museum Oklahoma: A Fun Ride for CC



There are only so many things you can do in 104 degree weather.

Yes, that's how steaming hot it's been here in Oklahoma City since we arrived last week. Luckily, there are some fun indoor activities for kiddos that can distract us from the oven that is Middle America.

One great place for kids is Science Museum Oklahoma (nee Omniplex, which is what it was called when I was a kiddo.)

Way better than it was in the '80s, when it was pretty sparse, the Science Museum now boasts not only a Segway track (see above video), but also the hands-on GadgetTrees play space with the nation's largest spiral slide, Archimedes' Slide, as well as the opportunity to test out simple machinery such as pulleys, levers and wedges.

For older tykes, there is the Whodunit? section, which explores the science of solving crimes. Think of it as CSI Jr.: OKC. Kids and adults can walk through a faux diner and listen as mannequin witnesses tell their sides of the story.

We also caught Science Live, a live show that's truly explosive. Although our host was super animated and entertained the kids with flammable experiments, ultimately it was a little much for CC, so we ducked out early.

What used to be a place that could provide a couple hours of fun, Science Museum Oklahoma is now a must-see spot where you could spend the whole day. You might even want to go back over the same weekend.

Science Museum Oklahoma
2100 N.E. 52nd St.
Oklahoma City, OK 73111
405-602-6664
Tickets: Adults ($10.95); Seniors 65+ ($8.95); Children ages 4-12 ($8.95); Children under 4 (Free) *Prices are for the museum exhibits only.

Friday, August 6, 2010

And 'The Jensen Project' DVDs Go To ...

"The Jensen Project"

Congratulations to winners Pokie and Carol, who will be enjoying a fun family night with the recently released DVD/CD combo of "The Jensen Project."

The movie offers a great story line and lots of awesome CG effects. And -- maybe it's just me *cough* -- but I think the ending leaves open the possibility of a sequel or even a TV series. That would be cool and great TGIF fare.

Congrats again!

Photo courtesy of "The Jensen Project"

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Review: 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid'

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid" stars Zachary Gordon (center right) and Robert Capron (center left).

Middle school can be tricky for kids -- and for others, it can be downright terrifying. Just ask tween Greg Heffley (played by Zachary Gordon), the titular wimp in "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," directed by Thor Freudenthal and based on the illustrated novel by Jeff Kinney.

In the film, which arrived on DVD Aug. 3 ($29.99) from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Greg has to navigate home life as the middle child, as well as the upcoming tween torture that is Middle School. He's stuck between an older brother who delights in terrorizing him (when he's not playing in his band, Loded Diper) and a younger brother who's in the process of potty training. (Maybe he should be in the band, too. Just sayin'.)

But it's when Greg starts middle school as a 7th grader that things really get treacherous. It's also where the movie picks up speed. Greg has immediately tasked himself with improving his popularity status, and Kinney's illustrations fit nicely into this recurring theme of moving up and down the kiddo social ladder.

Inevitably, there are taunts from the bigger kids -- some of whom look as if they'd be comfortable playing college football -- and cafeteria crises. There is also a huge moment, when Greg must choose between his friendship with Rowley (Robert Capron) and possible humiliation.

And don't forget about the decomposing slice of cheese that's sure to have "nuclear cooties."

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid" is a charming film that tackles middle school angst with all the appropriate awkwardness. A fun, family-friendly movie, it also shows what it means to be a friend to someone, especially when it's most important.

Fortunately, as the parent of a little one, preschool politics are practically nonexistent. But the movie gives me a terrifying glimpse into the not-so-distant future.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Guess Where We're Headed ...

Yes, we're headed to Oklahoma City today to visit the fam.

I'm hoping to take CC to see such sites as the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum as well as the new-ish gondolas down in Bricktown.

I'll still be posting, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Day at Manhattan Beach



It's hard to believe, but Saturday was our first beach excursion this summer, and it was the last day of July.

We drove about 20 minutes down to Manhattan Beach and had a really peaceful time watching CC play in the waves and build sandcastles near our towels.

I brought along my Flip video camera -- the one that shoots in HD -- but somehow the moment seemed nicer as a grainy-looking film from the distant past. Maybe that's my nostalgia talking.

Anyway, I marveled at modern technology. Even while using an HD camera, you can still make an image look as if it were filmed in 1975. Pretty cool.

After our day at the beach, we headed over to our new discovery, Menchie's Frozen Yogurt. It's an adorable kid-friendly shop, where you can make your own yogurt creation and not feel too guilty about the calories.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Savor Los Angeles Offers Sweet Treats



Sweets served as the delicious entree at Savor Los Angeles -- Sweets!, a dessert-friendly tasting event held at the mod Miauhaus Studios on Friday night.

Young L.A. hipsters in gladiator sandals, bubble shorts and button-downs put their diets on hold for the evening as they indulged in tasty treats from local outlets such as Pure Cheesecakes, Plaisir, Frosted Cupcakery and XT Patisserie. Intelligentsia coffee, Boxed Water, Pama and Izze sparkling juice offered libations to accompany the treats.

When I arrived, about 45 minutes after the event began, there was already a sizable line out front, and the crowd practically obscured all of the tables inside the space.

That, however, gave me the opportunity to chat up Mike Cruz from Parallel Lines, a creative collective that presented the inaugural event. Cruz told me that this was just the start of Savor Los Angeles, which will also encompass Angeleno-friendly events for food and even art.

Cruz also introduced me to Becca Herrman, Outreach Coordinator of CoachArt, a nonprofit organization that provides free lessons in the arts to children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. Cruz himself is a volunteer and hopes to incorporate his own saxophone-playing into lessons for a musically inclined child.

After making the rounds and indulging in a mini cheesecake (Pure Cheesecakes), cayenne pepper-infused brownie bites (Sweets for the Soul), S'More muffins (Gotta Have S'More), Dulce de leche ice cream with sea salt (N'Ice Cream) and accompanying the sugar shock with Kenyan coffee from Intelligentsia and environmentally friendly box-packaged water (Boxed Water), I sat down to talk to Herrman and CoachArt Executive Director Thyonne Gordon.

(And, yes, btw, I totally skipped dinner to make room for locally created sweets.)

CoachArt, which had an info table at the event, is an inspiring organization that pairs volunteers with about 1,000 in-patient and out-patient children.

"We look for artists, musicians, athletes, chefs, different types of people, not necessarily professionals," Herrman said. "We get a lot of people who love to do the things they do."

"They do it for themselves," she added, "and now they're ready to share it with someone."

CoachArt also offers art workshops at Children's Hospital. Volunteers teach kids for a couple of hours.

"It's really, really soothing for them, a great way to get out of their rooms," Herrman said.

And while they're always looking for volunteers around the city, there is a particular need in South Los Angeles. They would also like to get partnerships within the community, at places including dance studios and sports centers, where they can send kids to learn without cost.

But it's the one-on-one connection that really fuels the special bond at CoachArt.

"I got an email from a piano teacher who was telling me about his student," said Executive Director Thyonne Gordon, "and you could have sworn he was talking about Beethoven."

"I think about the Louis Armstrong song 'What a Wonderful World,' and when I think about CoachArt it really is a wonderful world," Gordon added. "Everybody wants to help. They want to help kids, they want to work with them, they want to teach them what they know. You know, accountant by day, rock star by night. They're coming up and teaching the kids this passion that's probably deep inside so many of us."

"It's really nice," she said, "it's just this beautiful thing."

I made one last sweet stroll around Miauhaus, sampling macarons from XT Patisserie and a mini cupcake from Frosted Cupcakery before I left. I also grabbed a red velvet cake on a stick from Popcakes for CC.

It was a great night -- one that was perfect for my sweet tooth and, thanks to CoachArt, also sweet for the soul.

Note: Press ticket was provided.
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