Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sunset on the Beach

CC at Venice Beach
I have to say, I love living about 15 minutes from the ocean. It's gorgeous, especially on cool nights like this one. During the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, we drove over to Venice Beach to walk along the pier and stroll along the canals.

It was amazing watching CC just playing in the sand, as if the entire coast were her playground.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Rolling Robots: Hands-on Fun in Glendale

CC plays at Rolling Robots.
Eager to introduce CC to an unconventional playtime experience, I jumped at the chance to take her to Rolling Robots at the Americana in Glendale. For little gear heads looking to jump start their creative motors, this is a fun place to build, experiment and just play.

And while it's definitely popular with boys, girls can -- and should -- get in on the fun, too.

Owner George Kirkman, who founded the shop with his wife (and fellow aerospace engineer!) Bing Jiang, invited CC and me, plus her tyke friend G and his fam, to see what the shop was all about. Gathering at a long table in the store, which sits on the Brand Boulevard side of the mall, we unpacked complimentary boxes, gears, screwdrivers and other assorted nuts and bolts, and built a couple of robots.

CC, G and his family work on robots.
Kids of (mostly) all ages can find something fun to do at Rolling Robots. While little ones who still need practice with fine motor skills might get a bit frustrated, children who are about 4 or 5 and older will find something to get their little fingers moving.

G chose to build a small robot that could be used for coloring, while CC opted for Robox, a cardboard robot kit that also contains a storybook and stickers. (I think it had her at "stickers.")

CC and Robox
Rolling Robots also offers parties and workshops. In fact, while we were there, we watched as a group of about 15 kids built their own mechanical robots with the help of a few staff members.

Talking to a couple of workshop leaders, I also learned that they offer classes in basic electronics. Kids can build circuit boards, make motors as well as delve into the world of electromagnets(!). Kirkman said that they want to make learning fun -- to show that it's not intimidating or scary.

Older kids can even build complicated machines like the one below.

If parents are looking to just peruse or maybe get a small sample of robot fun, the shop also sports a robot arena (see top photo), where kids can play with remote-control robots in a large, enclosed space. (Prices are based on time spent playing.)

Of course, CC is still smitten with princess toys, but giving her the opportunity to build her own toy, I think, helped her to find fun in the grittier part of playtime.

The Americana at Brand (and on Palos Verdes Peninsula)
757 Americana Way
Glendale, CA 91210

[Note: While we received a complimentary robot-making session, the views in this post are solely my own.]

Friday, November 25, 2011

Zooming into the LA Auto Show

CC admires BMW concept cars at the LA Auto Show.
CC spent the day before Thanksgiving pretending she was driving me to Disneyland in various cars that we definitely can't afford. That's right. We were visiting the annual LA Auto Show at the Los Angeles Convention Center downtown, and we checked out everything from new Range Rovers to Smart cars to, of course, the Volkswagen CC.

CC with the, natch, CC.
We had fun wandering around the expansive Convention Center, moving through a maze of shiny, accessible automobiles. Unfortunately, though, we missed out on the Kids' Fun Zone, a tyke-friendly oasis that offers face-painting and bounce houses. (It's only available on the weekends.)

CC chooses tunes for our pretend Disneyland trip.
The closest car we could find that was CC-sized was the orange Smart Car. If I didn't have a child, I would have one of these for myself. They're very affordable and cute. (Although, not sure I'd take it on the freeway.)

CC gets in the driver's seat of a Smart car.
Of course, there's always something unexpected at the LA Auto Show for non-car experts like us. We stumbled on this "executive" car, below, and were mystified. How great would this be on road trips with kids?

A little something extra.

LA Auto Show
Nov. 18-27
Los Angeles Convention Center
1201 S. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Tickets: $10-$12; Kids 12 and under are free with an accompanying adult
[Note: Media tickets provided.]

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving! Enjoy spending time with family and friends.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bunnies in Santa Monica

Ian took CC to the Santa Monica Pier yesterday. On the way there, they stopped to hold a few baby bunnies, which their owner had on display.

How cute is that?!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Disney Princess Castle Extravaganza + Giveaway

Guess who's excited about her Disney Princess Ultimate Dream Castle
UPDATE: Congrats to April G, who won Mattel's Cinderella 2-in-1 Ballgown Surprise doll! I'll send you an email to get your address. Thanks to everyone who participated (and to Random.org), and stay tuned for more giveaways!

There was more than a little excitement at home when we received the Disney Princess Ultimate Dream Castle. As a member of Mattel's Disney Insider Program, I've had the chance to check out a few toys. And gauging from CC's above reaction, I'd say this one is a hit -- and it wasn't even out of the box.

The castle ($149.99), which has three levels and is just a bit taller than CC herself, includes different rooms that are decorated to match the various princess's personalities. The kitchen is styled for Princess Tiana, and Ariel's bathroom sports a bubbling seashell tub. There's even a staircase, complete with secret glass slipper compartment, just for Cinderella.

CC and Ian build the castle together.
What took me by surprise was how much Ian enjoyed building the castle with CC. As a guy who grew up loving G.I. Joe, Ian still looked right at home as a castle creator for his little girl.

Once it was finished, CC opened the Cinderella 2-in-1 Ballgown Surprise doll ($19.99), which arrived separately, and played in her room for what seemed like hours. (To a tired parent, even a few free minutes must be cherished.) She loved changing Cinderella's ballgown (which turns from blue to pink with simple flipping and folding) and having the princess doll move through her glorious estate.

What I loved the most was seeing CC use her imagination to create stories, set up tea time with her other dolls and handle small pieces with care.

In that way, Christmas came a little early for me, too.

*** GIVEAWAY ***

I'm giving away 1 Cinderella 2-in-1 Ballgown Surprise doll.

To enter, please leave a comment telling me your child's favorite Disney princess or which princess room your child would like to play in the most.

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.

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

Good luck, and I will announce the winner on Monday, Dec. 5!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

'Arthur Christmas' Review

Arthur and Bryony the elf in "Arthur Christmas"
"Arthur Christmas" will be coming to town Nov. 23, but CC and I caught an advance screening of this touching, family-friendly movie last week -- and loved it.

You might have read my positive preview here, but now that we've seen the entire Aardman/Sony Pictures Animation movie, I can definitely say that CC and I are big fans. In fact, my little Christmas elf has asked me to retell part of the story every time we're in the car. (But more on that later.)

As I wrote in my previous post: "'Arthur Christmas' is the story of the younger, bumbling and Christmas-sweater-loving son of Santa Claus. Voiced by James McAvoy, Arthur wants every child to believe in Santa and the Christmas spirit. While he's the heart of the operation, his older brother Steve (Hugh Laurie) is the brains. Steve's got Christmas Eve present-giving down to military precise operation. And there are some serious G.I. Elves here.

Field elves on Christmas Eve.
"But there's one problem. One child -- a girl who's on the fence about the existence of Santa -- gets left out by elf error. And it's Arthur and his GrandSanta (Bill Nighy) who want to make things right. The old-fashioned way."

Arthur is also joined by a gift-wrapped-obsessed elf named Bryony (Ashley Jensen). She is CC's favorite character, and who could blame her? Not only is Bryony a faithful friend, she's also sassy, fun and seriously determined to give children the best-wrapped presents ever.

As a parent, I especially loved Arthur's wide-eyed wonder at Christmas and his admiration of dad, Santa Claus -- "the best man ever" in his eyes. When that's contrasted with Steve's lack of the proverbial Christmas spirit ("Christmas isn't a time for emotion," he says at one point), you see how nice it is to revel in being a kid again.

There are also a lot of clever moments in this 3D movie (and I'm not just talking about that Justin Bieber music video at the beginning, which CC enjoyed despite my lack of Bieber hysteria). The Kidscan, which I mentioned before, measures kids' naughty or nice score, and there's the HOHO 3000, aka Handheld Operational and Homing Organizer. There's even a squeaky cameo of Aardman's Shaun the Sheep.

What CC seemed to love the most -- and what she's made me retell a dozen times already -- is a moment in the movie (I'm not giving anything away) when Arthur is visiting a child's house and meets a chihuahua that loves his fuzzy reindeer slippers.

What Arthur does for the chihuahua is sweet, tender and full of holiday spirit -- something I love to see in my own little elf.

Why, hello, Chicago!

[Photo courtesy of bryce_edwards/Flickr]
Today I'm flying to Chicago to present at a conference for English teachers. I don't happen to be an English teacher myself (I teach a journalism class here in L.A.), but I'll be discussing the process of creating a Writing Center at secondary schools, something I'm working on with the school where I teach.

I'll still be posting, though, and announcing winners for the "Brilliance!" giveaway and the LA Auto Show giveaway.

Talk soon!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

'Cars' Exhibit Revs Up at Petersen Automotive Museum

CC and Lightning McQueen at the Petersen Automotive Museum.
CC got up close and personal with Lightning McQueen and a few of his pint-sized "Cars" friends at the opening of the exhibit "From Silver Screen to Die-cast: Disney*Pixar Cars Imagined by Mattel" at the Petersen Automotive Museum.

On Friday, we joined local children, parents and designers of the die-cast toy line while surrounded by the extensive collection of little Lightnings and tiny Tow Maters, which will be at the museum for the next six months. CC even found a pink "big rig" in one display case and announced it as her favorite.

Located in the Hollywood Gallery alongside a selection of auction items from Bonhams -- including the 1949 Triumph Trophy TR5 Scrambler Custom motorcycle ridden by The Fonz in the TV series "Happy Days!" -- the "Cars" exhibit sported several fun dioramas and hundreds of mini coupes, pickups and buses.

We even got to meet Scott Derman, the designer of Mattel's new "Cars 2 Lightning McQueen Alive," a motorized car that zooms, spins and talks (and sometimes taunts!), complete with moving eyes and mouth. Derman said the car took about a year and half to make, particularly because it needs three motors to move its various parts.

CC was lucky enough to be able to take home one of the toys. She's been zooming around with it ever since.

6060 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Weekend Giveaway: Tickets to 'Brilliance!' at Geffen Playhouse

Zoe Jarman stars as Marie Curie in "Brilliance!" at the Geffen Playhouse
2nd UPDATE: Congrats to Adri, who won the Family 4 Pack to the Dec. 3 performance of "Brilliance!" I'll send an email with details. Thanks again to everyone who participated!

UPDATE: Congrats to Chanscom, who won the Family 4 Pack to the Nov. 19 performance of "Brilliance!" I'll send you an email with details. I'll announce the winner for the Dec. 3 performance on Monday, Nov. 21. Thanks to everyone who has participated!

What do you get when you mix science with family-friendly theater? "Brilliance!" according to the Geffen Playhouse. The theater's in-house education partner, Story Pirates, today kicked off performances of this kid-focused comedy about Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie.

Created as a companion show to Alan Alda's "Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie," which opened at the Geffen Playhouse Nov. 1, this light-hearted look at the first woman to win a Nobel Prize is geared toward kids ages 5 and up.

According to the theater, "[T]he Geffen Playhouse Story Pirates will inspire audiences of all ages to laugh and cheer their way through a fast-paced and interactive exploration of Madame Curie's radioactive discoveries."

An added bonus for the audience: You can also stay for snacks and meet the cast after the show. This sounds like a great way to introduce kids to theater -- and to reinforce the idea that girls can rock at science, too!

Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90024

Remaining performances: Nov. 19, Dec. 3, Dec. 10 (11 a.m.)
Tickets: $15 (adults) $10 (children) 

*** GIVEAWAY ***

I'm giving away 2 Family 4-Packs of tickets to "Brilliance!" -- one set for the Nov. 19 performance; one set for the Dec. 3 performance.

Just leave a comment below, with your email address, telling me which performance you'd like to see.

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

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

Good luck, and I'll announce the winner Thursday, Nov. 17! 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Finds

3-D Drawing Set from The Container Store

I'd be on Santa's naughty list if I told you I hadn't started thinking about Christmas gifts. Maybe it's the chill in the air. On the other hand, maybe it's all the catalogs we're getting in the mail. In any case, here are a few cute items I've found for little ones.

* Check out this 3-D drawing set from The Container Store. And it's only $6.99 for 50 sheets + glasses.

* I love these personalized throw pillow covers.

* Would your kiddos go for this super-retro game?

* Wall decals for the fashion-savvy girl.

* OK, so this one is for me.

Veteran's Day

If you're looking for a way to support our troops, check out the Gary Sinise Foundation. The actor ("CSI: NY" and Lt. Dan from "Forrest Gump") honors veterans, first responders and their families through his nonprofit organization.

Have a wonderful day!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

LA Auto Show Gets Motors Running + Giveaway

BMW i3 concept car, which will be on display at the LA Auto Show.
UPDATE: Congrats to Little Gray Pixel, who won the family 4 pack to the LA Auto Show! Please email me at losangelesstory@gmail.com with your address, and I'll send over your tickets right away. Thanks to everyone who participated (and to Random.org for helping me decide).

CC and I had a fuel-injected blast at last year's LA Auto Show, and we're looking forward to cruising down to the Los Angeles Convention Center to check out electric, concept and just plain wacky cars at this year's Nov. 18-27 event.

What's great about the LA Auto Show is that it appeals to grown-ups and tykes alike. While I enjoyed getting to climb inside some of my favorite cars (hello, Volvo XC60!) and pretend that I could just walk off with a new one, CC liked visiting the Kids' Fun Zone, where she was able to play with an iPad, ride in mini Police cars and play games with other kiddos.

And, if you're a "Mission Impossible" fan, you'll also be able to check out the BMW i8 concept car, which will be featured in the upcoming Tom Cruise movie.

LA Auto Show
Nov. 18-27
Los Angeles Convention Center
1201 S. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Tickets: $10-$12; Kids 12 and under are free with an accompanying adult

*** GIVEAWAY ***

I'm giving away a 4 pack of tickets to the LA Auto Show, running Nov. 18-27. (It's open on Thanksgiving Day, too.)

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

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

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

Good luck, and I'll announce the winner Thursday, Nov. 17! 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Weekly Deal: $18 Manicure at Plush Beauty Bar for Moms

I've written about Plush Beauty Bar for Moms before. It's a great spot in West Hollywood where moms can pamper themselves with a manicure, pedicure or waxing treatment while letting their kiddos entertain themselves happily in the attached play area.

Yes, you can bring your kids, too!

When I brought CC, she played with toys, watched videos and was also able to see me while I was enjoying some "me" time.

Right now, Plum District -- a deal site geared specifically for moms by moms -- is offering a deal from Plush Beauty Bar for an $18 shellac manicure (regularly priced at $35).

And you don't even have to worry about getting a babysitter.

7879 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90046

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

'The Possibility Shop' Helps Parents Scare Away Monsters

Courtney Watkins talks monsters on "The Possibility Shop." [Photo courtesy of DisneyFamily.com]
I'm not sure if Halloween is to blame, but CC has been running into our bedroom at night seeking comfort from monsters.

She told me the other morning that a pile of things on her dresser looked like a zombie, and she hid under her covers.

Well, now I have a solution -- thanks to Courtney Watkins and her online show "The Possibility Shop."

Watkins' 3-minute webisodes, produced by The Jim Henson Company, can be found on DisneyFamily.com. I've written about her before here. She offers great tips for parents who want fun, manageable playtime ideas for their kids.

So, back to monsters. Watkins has a crafty recipe for scaring them away. It involves a spray bottle, sweet-smelling liquid, labels and water. And voila, you have your very own Monster-Be-Gone Kit.

I'm definitely going to try this with CC.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Timothy Shriver Joins Conversation about Obesity and Special Needs Children

Childhood obesity is a topic that's on many parents' minds. We want our kids to be healthy and active, and we want them to avoid any of the health problems associated with being overweight.

As the mother of a blessedly healthy child, I have a lot of control when it comes to prevention. I pack CC's lunchbox every day. Ian and I decide what she has for breakfast and dinner. And she loves to play and exercise. We feel so lucky.

But what about children who have special needs? The ones who have health problems that make it difficult to combat the problem of childhood obesity?

I had the opportunity last week to talk to Sheryl Young, CEO of AbilityPath.org, an organization that supports parents with special-needs children. The organization just released a report ("Finding Balance") stating that kids with developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome have a tougher time combating the obesity epidemic. Also on the conference call were Timothy Shriver, chairman & CEO of the Special Olympics, and Robin Sinkhorn, an RN and mother of "Glee" actress Lauren Potter.

According to the report, children with special needs are 38% more likely to be obese. Why is that?

For healthy kids, the relationship with food can be straightforward. Not so for kids with special needs. For example, according to AbilityPath, "children with disabilities may have physical or behavioral barriers to a healthy diet. Children with Down syndrome and cerebral palsy may have trouble chewing or swallowing, which can lead them to eat softer and more processed foods."

And, instead of diet, nutrition and fitness, said Shriver, "doctors are treating the diagnosed condition."

Sinkhorn, whose actress daughter has Down syndrome, praised the report, saying, "It really is an issue that Lauren and I have struggled with on an almost daily basis. There is good news, because the report is filled with practical solutions ... that parents and educators can really use for our kids. As a mother, nurse and a health advocate, I'm so happy to be part of the discussion."

While Shriver saw the report as "bad news" because it reflected a lack of attention we as a nation are paying to children with special needs, he did say that Special Olympics (which was founded by his mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, in 1968) "is committed to redoubling our efforts to engage a new generation of young people."

Not only that, but kids who don't have special needs can participate as well -- by being inclusive and encouraging kids of all abilities to join in during playtime.

"I don't want to miss the answer under our nose," Shriver said. "Expand play and sports opportunities for kids with and without special needs. That can be a big carrot when the dieting and nutrition road feels like a stick."

For more information, visit AbilityPath.org.

(Correction: An earlier version included a misspelling of Robin Sinkhorn's name.)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Finds

Chalk writing by Mia Nolting (Image courtesy of Design Mom)
Because I was out of town last weekend, I didn't have the chance to post my new Friday Finds. Well, today you're in luck.

I've stumbled on a few cute things this week, the first being the opportunity to help out a talented artist who also has her fair share of student loan debt.

Mia Nolting Draws Letters is the brain child of an artist who is still literally indebted to art school. For $1 (via PayPal), she will draw in chalk the name(s) and/or phrase(s) of whatever you submit. The letters are in a lovely script, and the hi-resolution file is then emailed to you for you to frame. Not bad for a buck!

I ordered one for CC and can't wait to find the perfect place to hang it.

Just looking on Mia's website, it seems she's catching up, but check back with her soon, or visit her site for other available art pieces.

While I was at the Fort Worth Stockyards, of all places, last week, I found this book for CC that's pretty amazing.

"Gallop!," by Rufus Butler Seder, is a "scanimation" picture book -- meaning the pictures of the animals inside move, as if the animal is running, strutting or, you guessed it, galloping. It works sort of like a zoetrope and it's super cool. CC loves it.

Little Passports
How cute is this? I love to travel. (I don't get to do as much of it anymore, but I still love it when the opportunity arises.) And I love the idea of giving children the opportunity to explore the world -- even if it happens to be from their own living room.

Little Passports is a company that introduces kiddos to a new country every month via characters Sofia and Sam. They travel the world and send adventure kits, including stickers and activity sheets, to kid subscribers, who can then learn about the geography, history and culture of another country.

The first month's kit is great, complete with a little suitcase and passport.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

'Cooper and Me' Book Review + Giveaway

"Cooper and Me" by Monique and Alexa Peters
UPDATE: Congrats to It's Just Me, who won the book "Cooper and Me!" Please email me at losangelesstory@gmail.com with your address.

The first day of school -- heck, any day of school -- can be filled with anxiety and pressures for kiddos. Sure, it's exciting. Friends! New clothes! New trapper keepers! (Oh wait, that last one was me twentysomething years ago.) But sometimes, what makes that first day back easier is having a little something from home.

In "Cooper and Me," ($12.99) a book illustrated by 11-year-old Alexa Peters and written by Alexa and her mom, Monique, a little girl finds comfort in her friendly black Labrador Retriever, Cooper. While she can't take him to school, she does receive something from her mom that helps her face the day with confidence.

I've been reading this book to CC over the last few days, and she loves it. In fact, she asked me to read it to her last night while she was brushing her teeth and at bedtime. She even took it to preschool with her this morning for her teachers to read in class.

She really appreciates that it's from a little girl's point of view -- and that there's a cute dog to boot. (I agree. A cute dog never hurts.)

But what's particularly charming about this book is that it is interactive with its audience. There is a cute questionnaire at the end, written in a child's voice, asking the reader about her favorite activities at home and at school. There are also discussion questions for parents to ask kiddos. It was great. It helped me learn a little bit more about CC's day at preschool.

Who knew she played "sisters" with one of her classmates so often?

*** GIVEAWAY ***

I'm giving away 1 copy of "Cooper and Me" to a lucky reader.

To enter, please leave a comment telling me what your child loves to do at school or how you've helped him/her feel confident despite first-day jitters.

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.

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

Good luck, and I will announce the winner on Wednesday, Nov. 16!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween Treats Keep Coming

CC and Strawberry Shortcake at The Hub's Halloween party.
Yes, there was trick-or-treating last night, but the week leading up to Halloween was just as fun.

We read spooky books (see below), downloaded spooky apps and got to meet Strawberry Shortcake at The Hub network's Halloween party at The (amazing) Carondelet House, near MacArthur Park.

CC played the bean toss and won cool prizes -- a My Little Pony doll and a Plum Pudding figure. And speaking of My Little Pony, the Hub screened a Halloween-themed episode from the animated series, "My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic." We also had the chance to meet Tara Strong, the voice of Twilight Sparkle (below left) of "MLP" fame.
"My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic"
We had a wonderful time and can't wait to visit The Carondelet House again. Brides-to-be might want to consider it for a reception. Just sayin.'

CC and I also read a few stand-out Halloween-themed books for the holiday. I wanted to share a few because they're great reading year round.

CC loves "Dinosaur Train" and to go on "The Spooky Scavenger Hunt" ($3.99) is a fun treat. She gets to learn about nocturnal creatures, why some animals' eyes shine at night, as well as what some dinosaurs once did in the dark -- all while being entertained by Buddy the little T-Rex and his Pteranadon sister Tiny.
"Big Pumpkin" ($6.99), written by Erica Silverman and illustrated by S.D. Schindler, is another great Halloween find. The story of a witch whose pumpkin is too big for her to pick and carry home teaches kids about cooperation and that help can come in even the smallest of packages.
"The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything" ($6.99), written by Linda Williams and illustrated by Megan Lloyd, makes me think of what CC will be like in about 60 years. Fearless and Clever with a Capital C. This little old lady takes what could be a scary situation and turns it on its (pumpkin) head.

"Room on the Broom," ($6.99) written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler, has an amazing rhyme scheme and reinforces the idea of how important friendship is -- even with new, unexpected friends.

Hope you had a super, treat-filled Halloween!


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