Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cool New Year's Eve Fashion for Kids from Red Wagon Baby

Noa Gold Dot Dress from Red Wagon Baby
When it comes to New Year's Eve fashion, Los Angeles-based clothing company Red Wagon Baby is a great place to start looking. And that goes for just about any party attire—not just New Year's.

CC had the chance to check out the Noa Gold Dot Dress ($52) from the company, as well as the Foil Leggings ($30) in red, and let's just say she was ready to get her 1st grade groove on!
Red Foil Leggings
The clothes are so festive and colorful. She even wore the red leggings to the MomsLA holiday party at Moonlight Rollerway roller rink in Glendale. Everyone was asking where she got the cool duds.

CC rocks red foil leggings at Moonlight Rollerway.
What's also great about the clothing company? The clothes are eco-friendly and machine washable. Not only that, but Red Wagon Baby was founded by a mom. So she knows all about wanting kids' clothes to last—even after the party's over.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Hope You Had a Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! (The awesome twinkles are courtesy of Google+)
Hope you and your family had a wonderful Christmas! I actually meant to post this last week, on Christmas Day, but we were so caught up in gift-giving and other kid-friendly merriment, I just let the holiday take over, and, here we are now!

It was great spending a week at home with the family -- not having to drive to work or deal with the morning rush. And while CC had a tummy bug, which wasn't fun, we did end up having a nice week.

We even went to the beach! That's SoCal for you! :)

I have a few pictures here, but check out more on my Instagram feed.

Santa came through with a Pomeranian. :)

Baby Will opted for "Turbo" head gear.
At the Venice Pier on December 26.

Here's to having a Happy New Year!

Monday, December 23, 2013

'Disney on Ice' Rocks Out at Staples Center

'Disney on Ice: Rockin' Ever After' at Staples Center

Finding Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Merida (from Brave) and Rapunzel (from Tangled) in the same place is quite a feat -- even if you're headed to Disneyland.

CC and I got the chance to check out those characters and more at Disney on Ice: Rockin' Ever After, at the Staples Center earlier this month.

And thanks to Verizon Wireless, I was able to take along a Samsung Galaxy Camera -- with an amazing 21x optical-zoom lens and social-media sharing capabilities.

Both CC and I love ice skating, and it was fun seeing the characters dance and skate to familiar tunes. In fact, I realized that CC has yet to see Beauty and the Beast, a Disney classic that we might have to rent while she's on Christmas vacation.

We also enjoyed seeing new favorites, like Merida (and her silly brothers) and Rapunzel (with Flynn, of course).

It was a perfect winter outing in L.A., as the trees down at L.A. Live, where the Staples Center is, are covered in white Christmas lights. Some even look as if glowing ice is dripping from their leaves.

Getting to use the Samsung Galaxy was an unexpected treat. Right now, I have an iPhone 4 and the camera doesn't have that powerful of a zoom lens. This guy was amazing. We were sitting in one of the suites, and I was able to zoom all the way down to the ice! And the picture was still clear!

CC at "Disney on Ice"
What was even better was that I could share the images via Instagram, Twitter, email and any other apps that I downloaded to the camera.

Right now, we're checking out the different settings -- there's action freeze (great for fast-moving toddlers), party/indoor (great for dim lighting) and food (great for food bloggers :). That's in addition to dawn, snow, macro, sunset and more.

And what's (arguably) even better than taking the pictures -- especially when you're a non-pro like me? Being able to edit in Photo Wizard, right on the camera itself!

(Note: Media tickets provided; the Samsung Galaxy Camera is a loaner)

Friday, December 20, 2013

'Walking with Dinosaurs' Roars into Theaters

For most kids, dinosaurs are where it's at. They're larger than life, ferocious, fascinating -- and, sadly for some kids, including my own -- no longer with us. (I'm actually OK with that last part, to tell you the truth.)

Lucky for dino-loving kids, there's Walking with Dinosaurs, a new 3D-animated movie from 20th Century Fox that does an amazing job of re-creating what life must have been like during the prehistoric era.

Filmed with live-action settings in Alaska and New Zealand, Walking with Dinosaurs combines animation with real-life wilderness to make you feel as if these animals could actually exist now -- but in some uncharted part of the world.

CC loved it and immediately wanted to see the movie again after it finished.

Featuring the voice of Justin Long as Patchi, the runt in a litter of Pachyrhinos, Walking with Dinosaurs follows the Pachyrhino herd as they make their way south for the winter.

The herd faces all sorts of treacherous obstacles, from predatory dinos to natural disasters to dangerous terrain. And while the likable and adventurous Patchi seems content to play second fiddle to older brother Scowler, eventually he has learn to assert himself and find out what being a hero is all about.

It's a great underdog story—and one that highlights the fact that you can still be who you are and be a leader, too.

The 3D imagery is also tops. The animation really immerses you in the experience, as the herd travels over rivers and through forests to get to their summer home. The texture of the dinosaurs' plates and skin and horns and claws is realistic enough to make you forget that they actually don't exist anymore.

While the PG-rated movie doesn't shy away from dino violence (Parents: keep in mind that there is some peril as well as heartbreak involving a parent), Walking with Dinosaurs isn't grim. And most kids who love dinosaurs know how treacherous they can be. I was worried that it might freak CC out, but she was engaged and ready for more.

John Leguizamo as the voice of Alex the Alexornis bird adds a nice comic touch to the movie, infusing this prehistoric flyer with heart as he guides audiences through the late Cretacious period.

What's also helpful is that, as new dinos are introduced, the movie pauses to explain their names and what they eat.

So kids and dino-friendly parents, get ready for a seriously fun—and educational—creature feature.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Julianne Moore Talks Apps and Hiking in Los Angeles

Freckleface Strawberry 'Dreamtime Playtime' app
When actress Julianne Moore isn't starring in movies like the upcoming Mockingjay in The Hunger Games franchise, she's creating an entertaining and ultra kid-friendly world with her Freckleface Strawberry book and app series.

CC has read each of the three Freckleface Strawberry books countless times with us and with my mother-in-law, and she went crazy making monsters with Moore's first monster-making app. (Let's just say the voices are amazing!)

Well, Ms. Moore—who's also mom to 11-year-old Liv and 16-year-old Caleb—has a new app that's available for kiddos—Dreamtime Playtime, which really focuses on basic math skills for kids. Yes, the monster is still there, but this time he's helping little ones sort, count, all while having fun at the same time.

Moore chatted with me about her new app, which hit iTunes this month. She also gave me the lowdown on her favorite places to visit in Los Angeles, when she's here. And her favorite memory from when her own kiddos were 7 (like Freckleface Strawberry—and CC, too)? Read on to find out!

Congrats on the new app! This one is a lot more learning-focused. What inspired that decision after your first Freckleface Strawberry monster-making app?

I wanted [Freckleface Strawberry] to be a regular girl and very relatable and educational too—not sort of “hit you over the head” educational, because that can be grim for kids, but something that’s just fun.

The voices are so fun, especially the noises the monster makes when he eats the coins.

Those noises are me! I recorded those. My daughter is the voice of Freckleface Strawberry, and I do the monster.

There's a big push these days to encourage girls to stick with math. Your app really touches on that. Is that something that’s important to you, especially since you have a daughter?

I just think education is important in general, and I think for girls. Anything you can do to encourage them—all kids, honestly. That’s why I wanted to fold in an educational component into these apps. And they’re in the stories, as well.

You've just secured a five-book deal with Random House. Where will Freckleface Strawberry go from here?

We’re bringing her into early readers, which is really exciting for me, because those are the books where you’re reaching kids directly because often they’re in the classroom. There will be a lot more stories about her and her experience at school and her friends. There will be more picture books, too.

Where do you like to take your kids in L.A.? Is there a meaningful spot here for you and your family?

I love to hike—that’s one of my favorite things to do in L.A. The fact that you can have these amazing hiking experiences in an urban environment is amazing. So I would go to Temescal, if we’re staying on the Westside. And if we’re in Hollywood, I go to (Fryman Canyon). My kids love Santa Monica, too, and they love to go to the Pier, even though it’s not my favorite place. They love it. We like to go to Venice and get fake tattoos. My kids think L.A. is paradise.

Freckleface Strawberry is 7 and reflects you as a kid. Do you have a favorite memory from when your kids were 7?

It might be all the tooth-losing. My kids, they both lost their front teeth when they were 7. It’s when they start to leave babyhood in an interesting way. They start leaning out and stuff. I have an 11-year-old and a 16-year-old, so I’m like, 'What happened at 7?' It’s all good. All of it is just great.

(Photo credit: The Hunger Games wiki)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Coming Attraction: The 54th Annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration

CC watches rehearsals for the L.A. Holiday Celebration at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Break out the Champers! It's that time of year again.

The 54th annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration will be making its (free) yearly appearance again at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Christmas Eve from 3 p.m.-6 p.m.

CC and I were lucky enough to catch rehearsals last week, and wow, did we see quite a show -- and that was only a few of the acts that will be performing in the three-hour extravaganza.

The live celebration will feature more than 20 music ensembles, dance companies and choirs from around Los Angeles County. What's great is that the performances spotlight the different cultures that call L.A. home. (The show will also be broadcast live on KCET, if you can't make it to the actual event.)

Sarah Reich and the Tap Music Project
The acts that we caught during rehearsals included: The South Bay Children's Choir; Sarah Reich and Tap Music Project (CC loved this group!); gospel group Praizum; and ARC Hand Bell Choir.

I was literally brought to tears watching the hand bell choir, which is made up of people with developmental disabilities.

ARC Hand Bell Choir
From the organization's site:

"Each adult and child bell ringer plays at least two English hand bells. The hand bell instrument enables this developmentally disabled group to learn how to play musical notes via a color-coded system. The performers are accompanied by a keyboardist while they follow the musical director's lead. They view their notes from a scroll on the director's podium in front of the bell choir."

As a parent, I was so moved. It was amazing to see just how well the group worked together -- and how happy they were once they had finished the piece. And most of all -- how appreciated they were.

At one point, one of the women walked away and didn't want to perform. But everyone cheered her on -- even the show's producers, director and sound crew -- by chanting her name.

It was inspiring to watch -- especially when she came back to perform beautifully.

And I love that CC saw the whole thing.

The 54th Annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration
Tuesday, Dec. 24 (3 p.m.-6 p.m.)
Tickets: Free
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center
135 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles 90012

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Finds: Minted

"Baby Allegoria" from Minted (in CC's bathroom)
When it comes to decorating CC and Will's room and bathroom, I love finding unique and colorful little prints.

Animals are basically what I gravitate toward, so I was happy to discover Minted, an online shop that spotlights indie designers. In addition to children's art prints, they also have party decor, birth announcements and other stationery. Score!

The company sent over a few prints that were absolutely beautiful. One of them, Baby Allegoria, from designer Bonjour Paper, is hanging in CC's lovely pink bathroom.

Here are two more that are clean, modern and whimsical additions to our place.

Foxy (starts at $29 with frame)

Love (starts at $20 without a frame)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas DVD Giveaway from NCircle Entertainment

UPDATE: Congrats to karenmed409, who won the 3 DVDs from NCircle Entertainment! Please email me at losangelesstory@gmail.com with your contact info. Thanks to everyone who participated, and Merry (early) Christmas!

It's almost Christmas, and what's better than cuddling up on the couch with the fam with a good movie and some hot chocolate? In fact, I want to do that right now!

Well, here's your chance. I'm teaming up with NCircle Entertainment to give away a trio of Christmas-themed DVDs for the kiddos.

The first is The Snowman and the Snowdog (SRP: $9.99), the sequel to The Snowman, based on the children's book by Raymond Briggs.

When a boy and his mom move into a new house, the little boy discovers a box hidden in his bedroom. He finds out that it's a snowman-making kit. So when it starts to snow later that day, the little boy builds and snowman and a snowdog, who come to life and take him on a great adventure!

The next adorable holiday DVD is Mike the Knight: Mike's Christmas Surprise! (SRP: $12.99). In this jam-packed DVD, Mike goes on five different adventures, with a bonus episode(!). When the royal family decides to play a game, Evie's magic causes Christmas chaos. Check out that story and more -- interactive games and a music video for starters! CC is a big fan of Mike the Knight, so his adventures plus Christmas is pretty awesome for her.

Lastly, speaking of awesome, adorable kids' show Yo Gabba Gabba has its own holiday DVD: A Very Awesome Yo Gabba Gabba Christmas ($12.99). There are a pair of fun stories in this DVD. In the first, DJ Lance places a gingerbread house in Gabba Land. Our Gabba friends are excited to meet their new neighbors and exchange gifts, but what can they get for Santa? In the second, the gang learns that giving can be a lot more fun than receiving.

*** GIVEAWAY ***

I'm giving away one copy of each DVD (3 total), courtesy of NCircle Entertainment!

To enter leave a comment below, telling me about your child's favorite part of Christmas.

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

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

Good luck, and I will announce the winner on Friday, Dec. 13!

Friday, December 6, 2013

CC Creates 'Frozen' Play Space *Giveaway*

CC rebuilds the "Frozen" landscape.
UPDATE: Congrats to Mami2jcn, who won the Frozen doll! She was in it to win it! Please email me at losangelesstory@gmail.com with your contact info. And thanks to everyone who participated. I really loved reading these stories. Kids are so brave and really have to deal with so much! Hope everyone has a happy holiday!

Ever since we saw Disney's latest animated film Frozen, CC has been talking about sisters Elsa and Anna, Sven the reindeer and Olaf the snowman.

Let's just say, it made an impact. She already wants to see the film again. (You can check out our video review of the movie here.)

So when we had the chance to participate in Mattel's Disney Insider program, which gave CC a sneak peek at an assortment of Disney dolls -- Elsa, Anna and Kristoff (SRP: $19.99) -- she was thrilled! (She even took Anna to the Frozen screening.)

What was even better was when she used her amazingly vibrant imagination (yes, I'm her mom; I brag sometimes) to re-create the icy snowscape from the movie during play time.

She gathered up her wooden blocks and built the town of Arendelle, where the sisters are from, and placed one of Will's white blankets on top of a step stool to make Elsa's ice castle.

It was pretty creative, I have to say. She even built a makeshift sleigh with a little Sven made of wooden blocks!
Princess Anna sits in CC's makeshift sleigh.
She's been playing with the dolls so much since we received them, taking their clothes on and off, of course. I've talked her into keeping their tiaras on -- but that will only last so long. Every girl I've ever known loves to take those off and play with their hair.

When I talked to CC about the movie -- and how brave and persistent the characters were -- I asked her if she's ever been scared of something that she later overcame (not in those exact words, but you know).

"When I had my first spelling test," she said. (That was this year in 1st grade.)

"And what did you do to keep going, even though you were nervous?" I asked.

"I just did it. Now it's really easy."

Just like Anna, trekking up that mountain with Kristoff and Sven. She just did it.

*** GIVEAWAY ***

I'm giving away a Disney Frozen doll, courtesy of Mattel.

To enter, leave a comment below, telling me how your child has overcome something, or how you helped him/her overcome something scary.

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

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

Good luck, and I will announce the winner on Friday, Dec. 13!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dress Up a Twinkie Like a Minion! *Sponsored*

Let's just say it. Twinkies are already cute in their own right.

But throw some goggles and overalls on those golden guys, and you've got a pretty awesome treat.

Hostess Twinkies and summer hit Despicable Me 2 have paired up to celebrate the release of the movie's release on Blu-ray DVD, hitting shelves Dec. 10, and they're inviting fans to get creative and dress up these yummy creme-filled treats. Fans can even win daily prizes, including a copy of the movie itself.

Good luck, and feel free to share any Twinkie/minion pics here, too.

And, while I'm at it, feel free to share any Twinkies with me. :)

Contest Details:
Now through January 5, 2014, Hostess lovers can make the season a little brighter by visiting  https://www.facebook.com/Hostess and https://www.Facebook.com/Hostess/app_170621563134175 to download a collection of Minion accessories, and make their own Twinkie Minion.  Fans can then upload pictures of their creations to enter to win a daily instant prize, which includes a Despicable Me 2 Blu-ray™ and special offers from Hostess, or the grand prize, which includes a Home Theater System, a collection of 30 Blu-rays and a year’s supply of Hostess treats.

(While this is a sponsored post, for which I will be compensated, opinions about Twinkies and their tasty cuteness are my own.)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Happy Birthday, CC! You're 7!

CC at the California Science Center -- not a disco
Happy Birthday, my favorite little girl!

I can't believe you're 7! I know I say that every year, but each year it gets harder and harder for me to believe that you aren't that newborn I met in the hospital, or that curly-haired toddler who was constantly curious, or even that adventurous preschooler who accompanied me across the globe.

You are a brilliant and sweet 1st grader, who is fearless and whip smart. You're also a pretty cool big sister now—you make Will laugh constantly.

I can't wait to see how this year goes, how you'll grow and what you'll—what we'll—see together.

I love you!

Monday, December 2, 2013

'The Rose Tree' Welcomes All Kids

While CC and I have been focused on movies lately (see what she said about Disney's Frozen!), we also had the chance to catch a workshop production of a play from a local writer.

The Rose Tree, written by Angela Berliner, is a kid-friendly play about "a sheltered but brave 12-year-old heiress named Sarah who wants to find her missing father by means of the Rose Tree, a magical place in the forest that sends lost girls to their true homes."

The play, whose workshop production was on stage at Artworks Theatre in Hollywood, was a whimsical fairy tale that really appealed to kids' (and adults') sense of belonging.

I loved that the lead character was a girl (who happened to be way more practical and thoughtful than her scrappy traveling companion, Hanzi) and that the story offered a kind of refuge for kids with all sorts of personalities.

And speaking of personalities, CC's favorite character was by far a girl named Astrid, an orphan who seemed reminiscent of Pippi Longstocking. She was funny and load and carried around a plunger -- always good for laughs.

You might remember Berliner from our outings to other plays from L'Enfant Terrible. Remember the kid-friendly Shakespeare adaptations King O'Leary (a CC fave) and Hamlet, Prince of Puddles?

While I did enjoy the play, what I especially loved was the fact that there is kid-friendly theater here in Los Angeles. And, although the production is still in the works, I hope to see the fully produced version of The Rose Tree in our city soon.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving turkeys CC made from Kiwi Crate
Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope you and your family enjoy the holiday! Be safe and eat lots. :)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Keurig Brews Up Family Fun

Keurig K65 Brewing System
You don't usually think of "fun" when you think of coffee makers, but now that we have a Keurig brewing system in our kitchen I'm beginning to change my mind on that.

Granted, I love coffee (as you can see from my Krups coffee/espresso machine in the background), but this new machine ($99.99-$179.99) is great for a number of reasons -- mainly because it can make more than coffee.

Full disclosure: Keurig sent me the machine completely unprompted, and I was eager to try it out.

What I didn't expect, however, was how much Ian and CC would love it, too.

Besides coffee, the Keurig's K-Cups come in tea, hot chocolate, apple cider and more. And to brew one cup takes only about a minute.

Not only can my strictly tea-drinking husband brew a cup with the machine, CC can make hot chocolate on her own -- something she couldn't do before, what with steaming hot tea kettles and all.

And she loves placing the K-Cup in the machine, pulling down the handle and pushing the buttons. I'm sure they weren't thinking of kid-friendly fun with the whole process, but it's a handy bonus!

While I still have my coffee maker -- the K-Cups can be a little pricey, depending on where you shop (something to consider) -- we're still getting daily use out of the Keurig.

And it looks like we'll be brewing coffee, tea, hot chocolate and maybe even hot apple cider for months to come -- and it will be way easier than before.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Gearapalooza Gives Moms Close-Up Look at Baby Products

Gearapalooza at Bel Bambini
Moms and moms-to-be got their gear on earlier this month, as event company Bump Club and Beyond hosted Gearapalooza at Bel Bamini in West Hollywood.

Brands including Ergobaby, Bugaboo and Orbit Baby were on hand to answer questions about all sorts of baby gear, from car seats to strollers to carriers.

Not only that, but Jamie Grayson (aka, The Baby Guy, pictured right) sat down and talked with parents about the most important gear info parents need to know before baby arrives. What are the most important items for new parents: diapers, breast pumps, mattresses, baby carriers, car seats and cribs.

Even though Will is already 13 months (eek, how did that happen so fast?!), I'm still keeping my eye on fun and helpful products.

A couple of items that caught my eye were:

The Ergobaby Designer Baby Carrier -- Winter Edition ($195) -- Not only was this cozy-looking baby carrier easy on the eyes, the Ergobaby winter white carrier with sheepskin trim looked especially comfortable for toting little guys and girls. There's even a removable quilted muff to keep hands warm in the cold.

When Will was smaller, we used a Baby Bjorn, but all of my new-mom friends swore by the Ergobaby, saying all the time how comfortable it was on their backs. This super-stylish edition definitely adds a nice, fashionable touch.

Ergobaby Winter Edition
Orbit Baby Infant Car Seat and Base ($440) -- This car seat had me at "dock and rotate." Parents out there know just how back-wrenching it can be to put a car seat into the back seat of your car -- the middle part of the back seat, no less. The Orbit Baby infant car seat allows you to place the car seat on the base (while baby's facing you), and then rotate it so baby is facing backward. Genius! No more twisting and turning your body. Just rotate the car seat, and put baby in and out. And the accompanying stroller folds up with one hand!

Orbit Baby car seat

While the items might make your wallet shake just a little, it's so great to know how quickly technology is changing on the baby-safety front. It's so different from when CC was a baby, just about seven years ago.

Oh, and while I was there, I picked up this adorable whale faucet cover from Skip Hop ($13). That makes me feel so much better now that Will is starting to move to the big bath!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Dunkin' Donuts + Hungry Girl = Amazing Coffee Recipes

Lisa Lillien (aka Hungry Girl) and I enjoy Dunkin' Donuts coffee.
Happy Monday! If you haven't had your morning coffee yet, do I have some good news for you!

First off, I love donuts (as you may know) and I love coffee, so when Dunkin' Donuts invited me to taste their new Bakery Series flavored coffee line, let's just say they didn't have to twist my arm.

When I found out that Hungry Girl creator Lisa Lillien was also on board, I was even more in—if that's possible.

A few other bloggers and I met up at Hungry Girl HQ in LA and tasted coffee flavors, including Apple Pie, Blueberry Muffin and Glazed Chocolate Donut. Yes, you heard that right.

To be honest, I wasn't sure how I'd like mixing fruit flavors with coffee, but I was especially surprised by the Blueberry Muffin flavor, which was doubly good with milk and sugar. Yum. It really tasted as if I'd taken a bite of muffin and a sip of coffee at the same time.

While we were there, Hungry Girl shared some fun (and low-calorie!) recipes for yummy coffee drinks.

Here's my favorite. Enjoy!

Hungry Girl's Turtle Donut Blended Coffee

  • 1 tbsp. sugar-free French vanilla powdered creamer
  • 1 no-calorie sweetener packet
  • 6 oz. prepared and chilled Dunkin Donuts® Chocolate Glazed Donut
  • 1 tbsp. sugar-free calorie-free caramel syrup (like the kind by Torani)
  • 1 1/2 cup crushed ice or 8 - 12 ice cubes
  • 1/4 cup fat-free whipped topping (from a can, not a tub)
  • 1 tsp. Smucker's ® Caramel Sugar Free Sundae Syrup
  • 1 tsp. crushed pecans 
  • In a tall glass, combine creamer with sweetener. Add 2 tbsp. hot water, and stir to dissolve.
  • Transfer mixture to a blender. Add chilled coffee, calorie-free caramel syrup, and ice. Blend at high speed until smooth.
  • Pour and top with whipped topping. Drizzle with caramel sundae syrup, and sprinkle with pecans!  
Entire recipe: 75 calories, 4g fat, 35mg sodium, 9.5g carbs, 1g sugars

Recipe courtesy of Hungry Girl.  Sign up for the free daily emails at hungry-girl.com 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Coming Attraction: HGTV Takes Over Santa Monica Place

Love HGTV, and I'm so excited to hear that the network will be taking over Santa Monica Place starting Saturday, Nov. 23.

Kicking off the festivities on Saturday (6 p.m.) is HGTV host Carter Oosterhouse, with a special performance by the Grammy-nominated Il Volo (8 p.m.).

Throughout the holidays, HGTV will host nightly light shows, free demos and other activities, as well as appearances by HGTV stars.

HGTV is building a modern, life-size gingerbread Holiday House at the shopping center—a great place for Santa to hang out—and it will be there until Jan. 1.

There will also be a pop-up showroom featuring the HGTV Home furniture line.

I can't wait to check it out. I'm such an HGTV and David Bromstad fan! I know where I'll be this holiday season!

·    Nov. 28 - Nov. 30John GiddingCurb Appeal
·    Dec. 7 & 8David BromstadHGTV Star & Color Splash
·    Dec. 14Sara Peterson, Editor, HGTV Magazine
·    Dec. 15Casey NobleDesign on a Dime
·    Dec. 21 & 22Josh TempleHouse Crashers
·    Dec. 28 & 29- Genevieve GorderHGTV Star

Santa Monica Place
Center Plaza
395 Santa Monica Pl.
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Monday, November 18, 2013

Kiwi Crate Unlocks CC's Imagination

CC gets her Kiwi Crate in the mail. Excitement ensues.
Let's face it. Getting something in the mail is always exciting (OK, bills, not so much). But for CC—and I'm sure every other kid out there—envelopes, cards, magazines and (best of all) packages can bring on everything from wide eyes to ear-blasting screams of happiness.

That's why I was instantly onboard to try out Kiwi Crate, a subscription service for kids ages 3-8 that sends a neatly packaged box full of themed activities each month. (Subscriptions start at $19.95.) Not only are there a few hands-on activities for kids to try (that focus on everything from storytelling to modern art), Kiwi Crate also packs in tools such as markers, scissors and crayons to make sure kids have everything they need.

CC checks out the storytelling activities.
CC loved just unpacking her storytelling-themed Kiwi Crate box, which was stuffed to the brim with goodies. From a small stage that she folded and built with a little help from mom and dad to an animal puppet complete with a fuzzy pipe cleaner body and a beaded neck, the crate gave CC hours of fun time.

For the stage, CC drew on long sheets of paper that she would then pull through openings on the side. She even let me in on the drawing action. She would tell me what her story would be about (animals were key, just fyi), and we'd color and add stickers to make it come alive.

CC loved sharing her story about animals that go to school.
She even performed the story for Ian and me once she was finished. And she was so proud.

Immediately after she was done, CC asked to dive into another Kiwi Crate. She just loved creating, and I was happy that the service gave her all the tools. But it also let her use her imagination and gave her options for decorating.

And because even almost-7-year-olds still need a little help, CC and I got some nice mother-daughter time in the process—something that's hard with iPhones and iPads. But that's another story.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

'The Book Thief' Author Markus Zusak Says His Parents' Stories Taught Him 'How to Write'

"The Book Thief" stars Sophie Nelisse, Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush
The Book Thief, a film about a young girl (Sophie Nelisse) living in Nazi Germany, began as a book written by Australian author and father Markus Zusak.

The young adult novel, which follows young Liesel as she moves in with a foster family and develops meaningful friendships as the country is falling apart around her, was inspired by stories Zusak heard from his own parents, who are from Germany and Austria.

I had the chance to talk with Zusak and the film's director, Brian Percival, at a press round table recently, and they touched on what it was like to film in Berlin and the importance of the stories our parents tell us. (For my interview with Geoffrey Rush, click here.)

"To me, it all started with my childhood, growing up in Sydney, beautiful sunshine," Zusak said. "And then you come in, and it's as if a piece of Europe came into our house, and my parents told their stories and they're amazing stories about cities that were burning, kids who were giving bread to prisoners on their way to camps and getting whipped for it and so on. I grew up hearing these stories over and over again."

And as much as we sometimes chuckle at our own parents, whose stories seem to be on repeat, Zusak said that it was these stories from his mom, a house cleaner, and his dad, a house painter, that informed his future.

"There they were telling me their stories of growing up, and I realized they weren't only telling me about their lives. They were teaching me how to write. Talk about, you would never imagine that people in those professions would give you a career in literature, but that's exactly how I grew up," he said.

Filming in Germany, and Berlin in particular, was also a testament to how generations have changed since World War II.

"One of the most powerful moments during the film, I think, is when we did the [Deutschland ueber Alles scene] -- we had about 450 extras," Percival said of the Nazi-era song. "We had to teach them two versions to the song because it's banned. It's been banned since 1946, and none of that crowd knew what those words were...."

And as we move further away from that time, how do writers and directors create these stories that can also appeal to today's kids? After all, The Book Thief is a young adult novel.

"I thought, you know, there's a whole generation now that knows so little about what went on in those times," Percival said. "What I thought was that if a younger audience gets to watch this film, and maybe they think Liesel's cool or maybe they think [Liesel's friend] Rudy's cute or whatever or Max [a young Jewish man in hiding], and in the meantime they'll go, 'Well, what was that all about?'"

Zusak ultimately had to trust his readers—and himself.

"You're imagining these people [aka, readers], and you're trying to hold their hands through it," Zusak said. "That's when the book comes to life -- it is when you go, 'All right, now if you want to be in this, you've got to come with me.'"


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