Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Frog Mom has a New Website - Go to

Dear readers,

I haven't stopped writing. In fact I write more than I ever did. The reason this blog seems to be so dormant is ... because it moved in February 2012. You can now follow Frog Mom at a new and simpler url at No more Blogger, no more dash between frog and mom. I've attached a screenshot of the new Frog Mom so you see what it looks like. Pretty, hey?

You will find a brand new design, a weekly newsletter, new categories, a calendar of events (my dream) and a lot more than this blog format allowed.

Please visit my new website, say hi and let's keep in touch!

Ribbit ribbit,

Frog Mom

Monday, February 20, 2012

Family Trip: Explore the Filoli Gardens

Inside the Garden House. Photo by Frog Mom
Spring knocks early on Filoli's doors but then, what wouldn't spring do for one of the Bay Area's finest gardens? Spreading over hills and meadows in Woodside, Filoli is one of the last early 20th century estates still intact its full glory with a mansion, historic orchards and manicured gardens. Just minutes off Highway 280, it's another world where the word "gardens" doesn't quite capture the largest collection of heirloom fruit trees in America, the Greek mythology feel of the High Place or the Woodland Garden that seems right out of Alice in Wonderland with its shaded alleys. From the Daffodil Days in February to the fragrant roses in the summer, the garden is a wonder to explore with children.

The mansion, garden side. Photo by Frog Mom
I discovered Filoli thanks to a Sunset magazine article right after I arrived in the Bay Area 11 years ago. The holiday season at Filoli was unlike anything I'd ever seen. Since then I've taken my girls to most of the seasonal events, taken many visitors off season and make it a family tradition to go at least once a year, sometimes twice, and see what's blooming.

What's Blooming?
Last week when I dropped by for an afternoon, I was delighted to see that the narcissus were opening up, that the meadows were turning yellow with daffodils and that potted miniature violet irises were gracing the Garden House. Spring is here! Any other time of the year, there's an easy way to know what's blooming before you go.
Daffodil Dreams. Photo by Barbara Braun

There's a See what's blooming page on the website or if you want to see a particular flower - say, you've named your daughter Rose or you have a fondness for sweet peas - you can browse the Blooming Calendar and plan ahead.

I have a weakness for the summer when the scent of roses and lavender lingers on in the air but it's hard to pick a favorite time. Even the list of blooms feels like a familiar nursery rhyme: lilac, clematis, foxglove, columbine, sunflower. Would you favor one over the other? I guess the solution is to visit regularly and enjoy the passing of the seasons.

Sunken Garden. Photo by Frog Mom
What Kids Like
After you walk through the gate next to the garden shop, the first garden your eyes see is the Sunken Garden and this is one for kids to love. Follow the red brick road around the pond and get to the edge. Now kneel down and look for tiny fishes swimming in the water. You'll see them!

The next thing that catches your eyes is the Garden House, a sort of fairytale brick building with checkered floors, potted plants, tall French windows and two doves in a cage. When I was, girls and boys were taking turns pointing to the doves and trying to find the opening of the cage.

Now walk into the Walled Garden and make your way to the Knot Garden. This is totally one of my girls' favorite. Best seen in bloom around late spring and the summer, it's a garden of tricky geometrical patterns with a great history. Let me explain, quoting the Filoli Gardener's Reference.

Knot Garden. Photo by C.G.
The Knot Garden is a unique geometrical arrangement of plants commonly associated with European gardens of the Middle Ages and Elizabethan England, where lords enjoyed their colors and patterns from castle windows.

Knot gardens were commonly designed to display royal coats of arms, figures of plants or animals, or stitches of embroidery, and the interstices would be filled with colored sand and earth (open knot, as at Filoli) or with flowers (closed knot). At Filoli,  hedges are shorn and sculpted into three-dimensional under- and overlapping woven strands creating a beautiful, intricate, undulating effect. If your kids are too short to grasp the intricacy of the garden, no worries. You can find miniature reproductions of the gardens in a square wooden pot. Clever, hey?

Swimming Pool. Photo by Frog Mom
Another kid favorite is the High Place, a grassy yew theater looking down the succession of gardens and an alley of Iris yew trees - great spot for hide and seek or tumble time. Going down the garden, my girls like to sneak inside the Woodland Garden where bell-shaped flowers bend over gracefully next to the narrow path.

Just over the wall is the place that'll make you wish you owned the place: the swimming pool! It's no Hearst Castle pool but framed by these gorgeous gardens, I'll take it any day. Too bad you can only look at it.

Of course I couldn't put in words the rest of the gardens but last week I stayed 20 minutes looking at a blooming magnolia tree shedding its pretty pink leaves on the terrace facing the mountains. I say, it was very relaxing.

If you wonder why the gardens are so pristine and well maintained, imagine an army of 1,300 volunteers busy as bees and passionate about Filoli. These guys do most of the work!

Now, to spice up your next visit, here is a short list of upcoming events.

Upcoming Events
Seasonal events are very popular at Filoli and it's bet to get your tickets early.
  • Friday February 22 - Sunday February 24, 2012: Opening celebration with Daffodil Dreams. See nearly a million bulbs burst into bloom in the meadows and around the mansion. Hours: Friday and Saturday, 10am to 3.30pm, Sunday 11am to 3.30pm. Free for kids age 4 and younger, fees apply for others. Read my Frog Mom post on Daffodil Dreams.
  • Saturday March 31, 2012: Spring Fling. Family fun, floral displays, hands-on activities, live music and you can sample the Filoli garden products (honey, herb mixes, vinegars). 10am - 3.30pm. Free for kids age 4 and younger, fees apply for others. You can pre-order lunch boxes.
  • Friday May 11 - Sunday May 13, 2012: Celebrate Mother's Day with the Filoli Flower Show. Details coming up.
  • June 2012: Father's Day event, details coming up soon. 
Where to Eat?
Filoli offfers one of the rare dining options off of highway 280 and a cute little cafe where you can enjoy paninis, soups, salads and for kids a short selection of kid-friendly meals. Unfortunately picnicking is not allowed on Filoli grounds but if your child needs a snack right now, I've seen moms sit at the tables on the tennis court and whip out an emergency snack. Local picnic options in the area include Edgewood Park and Preserve, Wunderlich Park and Huddart Park.

Filoli is roughly 30 miles south of San Francisco. To get there, get on Highway 280 and exit at Edgewood Road. Turn towards the mountains on Edgewood Road until it ends at Cañada Road and turn right on Cañada Road. After 1.25 miles, turn left into Filoli entrance. There's free parking by the visitor center.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Winter Activities in the Yosemite Valley

Snow dusting on Yosemite Falls. Photo by C.G.
The Yosemite National Park may not be high on the family fun radar for winter but it has way more to offer than a trip to the visitor center and drinks at the Ahwanee - however much we love them. It's an ironic contradiction that when the park dons its snow white cloak, snow enthusiasts flock to Tahoe and leave the Yosemite valley alone. The lowest visitor numbers are recorded in January and February each year. I say - their loss, your gain! After snow storms dust the Yosemite Valley with a fresh layer of white powder, the valley truly resembles the winter wonderland photographed by Ansel Adams. It's classic, it's picturesque, and it features the most jaw-dropping background for an ice skating afternoon al fresco. Here are activities to enjoy the Yosemite Valley with your family.

Sledding fun. Photo by C.G.
Sledding in the Meadows
Even a few inches of snow are enough to get the loudest giggles out of any child. Low tech and carbon-friendly, sledding is one of the first snow activities our girls enjoyed in the meadows. Now, the valley doesn't feature any major slopes to go downhill but you'll find a few bumps to justify a short thrill - and miles of flat terrain to pull your little ones as a good cardio exercise.

On that trip, we were staying staying at the Yosemite Lodge and just needed to step outside and walk less than a half mile to find fun sledding spots by the river. However there is a free sledding site at Big Oak Flat Road on Hwy. 120 all winter.
Tubing is great for all ages. Photo by Frog Mom

Tubing at Badger Pass
If you're looking for an exciting sliding adventure, try the Badger Pass Ski Area where a tubing area is entirely dedicated to younger kids. Rent a tube for a couple hours, hop on board and slide away!

Since there is no minimum age for tubing, you can pretty much schlep your little ones as soon as they are snow-ready - meaning that they will keep all their winter gear on with a smile.

Cost: $15/person, 2 hour sessions at 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m, through April. (209) 372-8444. htpp:// For current Northern California snow tubing conditions and information, check the Daily Snow Report for Badger Pass.

Snowmen and Snow Angels
Talk about "leave no trace behind" - have I got the ideal activity! Building snowmen takes a little time but kids can't get enough provided you give them a hand. If you want them to be perfect, don't forget to pick up sticks for the arms and rocks for the eyes. As much as carrots are fun for noses, I'm afraid they would not be allowed in a national park. It might be considered feeding the wildlife! Nobody wants a ranger warning for a snowman.

As for snow angels, children are really the best at that sport. Who else would take such pleasure out of lying in the snow and waving arms and legs around? Any area works for both activities but the best time is the warmest afternoon after a fresh snowfall.

Yosemite ice skating rink. Photo by Yosemite National Park
Ice-Skating at Curry Village
I have this love/hate relationship with Curry Village because it is the biggest resort of the valley but I'll grant them that: they know how to entertain their guests.

Since the 1930s, Curry Village has managed an ice skating rink right under Half Dome and Glacier Point and what a lovely tradition that is. The only time we tried to go there it was closed because of warm temps so I suggest you call ahead and check.

Badger Pass ski area. Photo by Yosemite National Park
From mid-November until early March, the Curry Village Ice Rink is open daily for several 2.5-hour skating sessions, conditions permitting. Call (209) 372-8319 for more information.

Skiing at Badger Pass
Friendly, small, no lines - Badger Pass is Yosemite National Park's ski resort and at 7,200 feet of elevation, it gets the same snow conditions as Bear Valley. Don't expect double black diamond runs but it's a great family experience. Sign up the kids at the ski school and hit the slopes! The added plus? Since you'll most likely be staying in the valley - unless you snow camp - you can simply take the shuttle bus from the valley to Badger Pass and leave your car behind. No parking hassle = happy skiers.

You can find all about the downhill ski conditions here and all about the cross country ski here. The ski school program for 4 to 6 year olds is called the Badger Pup Program.

Hike to the Yosemite Falls
If this sounds like "been there, done that in the spring", reconsider with a fresh coating of snow. When I took my parents to the Yosemite Park in December, we were conveniently staying at the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls and were right on the short trail to the falls.

Walking under the majestic trees and watching snow dust the trees and reveal their bare skeleton in fluffy white was magical.

Snowshoe on the trails
Whether you join a full moon snowshoe walk or a nature snowshoewalk at Crane Flat, guided snowshoe walks are a fun way to discover the park and learn about the winter world.

You can rent snowshoes at the Cross-Country Center as long as the Badger Pass resort is open and until march 9, 2012 at the Curry Village ice rink.

Crazy Winter Deals
Staying in the Yosemite Valley in the winter allows you to take advantage of some great winter deals but two particularly crazy deals stand out. As I said, it's the quietest months of the year and room prices drop significantly. For the adventurous, here goes:

  • Temp-RATE-ture offer at Curry Village: it's crazy cheap but there's a reason. You stay in an unheated tent cabin! Let me repeat the interesting part: unheated. Bring your best long johns and sleeping bags folks, you're going to need them. The rate for an unheated tent cabin is based on the previous night’s low, in degrees Fahrenheit each night, with a maximum cost of $39 plus taxes and stuff. Check the monthly average temps and do your math - you could paid to stay in the Yosemite Valley! But then again, you could catch the century's biggest cold. Offer good until march 17, 2012. Blackout dates apply, including President's Day week.
  • All You Can Heat Offer: for the squeamish amongst us. Same offer as above except you stay in a heated tent cabin. That's $20 extra for a chance not to get a nasty winter disease. Don't smile too fast though. I hear you'll still need your sleeping bag.
What else do you like to do in the winter in the Yosemite Valley?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Books for Kids: Valentine's Day

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Love is in the air! Since love is a commodity that parents store and share in unlimited amounts with their little one, Valentine’s is the perfect opportunity to remind them what love is all about. Have fun reading these books about what was at the origin of your little bundle of joy.

Do You Love Me? 
Written and illustrated by Joost Elffers + Curious Pictures
The eternal “do you love me?” question is one that’s easy to answer for parents but this book will help you give your answers a poetic and modern twist. Illustrated with computerized images, the short and easy text makes the book accessible to very small children while brushing reassuring topics of a child’s life. “Do you love me? Always, dear. Do you need me? Ever near. Would you leave me? Never ever.” If that were not enough, the cute characters will give you an irresistible urge to rub noses with someone very special.

Plant A Kiss
Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
This beautiful little book will have your heart grow double the size by the last page. The simple story of how Little Miss plants a kiss and watches it grow will delight young readers who will anxiously wait for the kiss to sprout from the ground. With funny rhymes and short sentences, the book is perfect for short attention spans but will be intriguing enough for older ones too. Tactile kids will love the textured and sparkly renditions of the kiss invading the pages. A must-have for your home library.

Snowy Valentine
Written and illustrated by David Petersen
When Jasper the bunny sets out to find a special Valentine’s gift for his sweetheart, he doesn’t realize his journey in their snowy valley will be full of surprises. Indeed, what makes a perfect Valentine’s gift? Could it be the box full of chocolate-covered flies coveted by the frogs? This charming book is an ideal bedtime story where your child will follow the adventures of this fluffy hero – to a wonderful Valentine finish.
Hugs from Pearl
Written and illustrated by Paul Schmid
Pearl loves to hug but hugging is a thorny issue for Pearl – she is a porcupine and when she hugs her friends, it’s always an ouchy hug. As a result, Pearl needs to refrain on her hugging impulses. What child wouldn’t feel sorry for the adorable Pearl? Fortunately she is as resourceful as she is lovable and the book will teach young children that any problem can be solved with creative solutions - even if it takes a little trial and error. Pastel-colored pages enhance the warm and fuzzy feeling of this story.

Amelia Bedelia’s First Valentine
Written by Herman Parish, illustrated by Lynne Avril
This new adventure of the spirited Amelia Bedelia as a little girl will have your children in stitches. Not literally of course, that would be Amelia Bedelia’s reaction. She heats up a Valentine’s card that says “you’re too cool” and she hits a friend who would like a little punch – in his cup. Ah Amelia Bedelia, you make us laugh with your ingenuity! If your child has ever taken an idiom literally or is about to face his first Valentine at (pre)school, this book is a perfect introduction and should answer all questions with a fresh perspective.

This review first appeared in the Golden Gate Mothers Group Magazine, February 2012, as the Books for Kids column. I've been writing gthis column since 2005 and now I'll post my reviews on Frog Mom as well.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Guest post: How to Prepare for The San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade

Float at the Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco.
Photo from Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year and Parade
Festival Facebook Page
It's one of the top 10 Chinese New Year parades in the world, the kids will love it! For my friend Ronnie Sharpe from Marinhood, the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade is a yearly tradition she never misses with her daughter. She likes the floats, she plans a dim sum meal, she watches the dragon - I mean, she's pretty much an expert. When I asked her to write a guest post on the topic, she whipped it up so fast and so comprehensively that I was blown away. If you're joining the parade this year, make sure to read this - it's based on years of standing in Chinatown watching the floats go by with her daughter. Here's for your eyes, her words of advice.

Guest Post by Ronnie Sharpe: How To Prepare For The San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade

Experience the sights and sounds of Chinatown during the community's most exciting time of the year, the Chinese New Year Parade! Steeped in legends and stories, the parade has been an annual tradition for San Francisco since the days of the Gold Rush. The parade is a particularly fun event for children but to avoid being overwhelmed, here's what recommend.

Dragon Dance: A Chinese New Year
Lift the Flap Book. Cover art
Learn About The Traditions
The traditions, myths and superstitions that surround the celebration are fascinating and will enhance your experience of the events and parade. Susan Kunhardt, Children's Book Buyer at the Book Passage recommends "Dragon Dance: A Chinese New Year Lift-the-Flap" by Joan Holub, "Bringing in the New Year" by Grace Lin and "Celebrate Chinese New Year" by Carolyn Otto.

Getting There
I recommend arriving at lunchtime to eat, have time to enjoy the festivities and watch the parade. Chinatown has steep hills and alleys to navigate and temperatures fluctuate. Now you need to park. Chinatown can become extremely crowded and driving can be very frustrating on a good day - the parade makes this even more of a challenge.
Map location of the Chinese Culture Center

We park at the public lot for the Hilton on Washington St. which is under the Chinese Culture Center. We always sit near the Chinese Culture Center to watch the parade and when we are ready to leave, we can easily get to the car and not get tied up in crowds or traffic. A helpful parking website is but bear in mind the parade path and one-way streets - you do not want to get stuck and some garages may charge a different rate that day that may be not listed on this website.

Mastering the chopsticks! Photo by Ronnie Sharpe
Or if you prefer public transportation contact Golden Gate Transit or dial 511 or (415) 923-2000 or MUNI. Note that certain stops above ground on Market Street will not be operational during the parade so check the routes first. Underground is safer.

Plan A Chinese Lunch
Time to eat! One of my favorite dim sum places is  New Asia Restaurant on 772 Pacific near Stockton. Inexpensive, clean, delicious and easy seating. My daughter is always excited to see the bustling traffic of the dim sum carts race by.

The other place is House of Nanking on Kearny (close to Columbus) but it is so popular, there is almost always a line out the door and you will probably not find a place to sit.

Fortune Cookie Factory. Photo by Ronnie
Explore Chinatown
After lunch it's time to explore! Chinatown shuts the streets off early for the whole weekend to cars for the Community Street Fair. The block party area includes Grant Avenue from California to Pacific, Pacific Avenue from Kearny to Stockton, Washington and Jackson Streets from Kearny to Stockton and is a lot of fun.

We always visit Golden Gate Fortune Cookies (also known as the Fortune Cookie Factory) on Ross Alley just off Grant. On the opposite side of the alley, I discovered one year is the dressing rooms for the dragon and lion dancers in the parade (although that may have changed.) It was a chance to get up close to the main characters of the parade. My daughter was thrilled when one of the lion dancers put his mask on her.

Lion marionette. Photo by Ronnie Sharpe
There are a lot of tchotkes shops to explore and we love the moon cakes at the Eastern Bakery on Grant Ave. Check out some of the intriguing herb shops with exotic medicinal remedies, antique scales, calculations preformed by abacus and eastern doctors prescribing elaborate and unusual prescriptions. My favorite is The Great China Herb Company at 857 Washington Street which operates the same way it has since 1922.

I never miss getting a Chinese stamp hand carved in alabaster when I go. It is amazing to watch the artists at their trade. My favorite artist is an older gentleman, usually at a little outdoor make-shift stand, no name, and located on Grant Avenue, very unassuming, he only speaks Chinese and his wife is there to take your money. But he will hand you a book and you point to what you want and he will carve it for you with his tiny tools. The merchants in the area know him and I seek him out every year. It makes a great gift!

Curbside seats! Photo by Ronnie Sharpe
Enjoy the Parade!
The parade starts at 5:15 pm at Second and Market so we usually stand on the corner near the Chinese Culture Center about 5:30 p.m. I never get tickets for the bleachers and prefer sitting with the locals and tourists.

It is a great way to see the parade and we have met lots of people from all over the world. Once we met someone from China who was translating the stories, dances, and symbols which was a real treat. We experienced no problems sitting at the curb.

The Golden Dragon. Photo by Ronnie Sharpe
Watch for the crowd favorite - the spectacular 250' Golden Dragon ("Gum Lung"). Dragon and lion dances are common during Chinese New Year. It is believed that the loud beats of the drum and the deafening sounds of the cymbals together with the face of the dragon or lion dancing aggressively can evict bad or evil spirits.

Don't Forget The Annual Spring Festival Celebration!
On the weekend of the parade, the Chinese Culture Center throws a free event called Annual Spring Festival Celebration on the 3rd floor of its building on Kearny Street (11am – 3pm on February 11 and 12, 2012). There you can enjoy exhibitions, crafts, demonstrations, New Year food tastings, performances of lion dancers, martial arts, folk and classic dances and much more. Last but not least, register for the Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt from 4:30 p.m., a treasure that families with older children love.
Southwest Airlines Float 2011. Photo from Southwest Airlines
Chinese New Year and Parade Festival Facebook Page  

 These are just my recommendations; you may have your own favorites. Have fun exploring the streets and alleys of Chinatown. It’s a fascinating, authentic and historic neighborhood. Especially during this time of the year, don't miss one of San Francisco's most treasured celebration, the Chinese New Year Parade.

Enjoy the cultural events and vibrant history that Chinatown offers and welcome in the year of the dragon. Gung Hay Fat Choy! May prosperity be with you.......always. For more information visit the official parade website at

Friday, February 3, 2012

Discover Abbott's Lagoon, the Bird Sanctuary of Point Reyes

Abbott's Lagoon. Photo by Frog Mom
A stone's throw away from the quaint town of Point Reyes Station, Abbott's Lagoon is Point Reyes' bucolic answer to the Pescadero Marsh or the Richardson Bay Audubon: a bird sanctuary. This flat 1.5 mile walk combines a lagoon where fresh waters meet the sea, green pasture hills and more birds than you've seen in a while - especially if you drop in during the winter migrations. We spent a day around the Point Reyes peninsula and Abbott's Lagoon was a spur of the moment pick for a sunny afternoon. I'm glad we went as it was way more than I expected.

Getting there
In itself, the drive from Point Reyes Station along Tomales Bay was a scenic delight. We drove past the small town of Inverness, the renowned rustic and romantic Manka's Inverness Lodge, and past the junction to the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm. On our way, I pointed out to the kids the Russian "Lipnosky's" dacha, an elaborate Russian-style wooden house perched above Tomales Bay on stilts - they loved it. At the split on Sir Francis Drake Hwy where signs point to the lighthouse or Pierce Point and Tomales Bay, I had a moment's hesitation and made a right towards Pierce Point. Fortunately, it was a good choice. Since I only navigate with paper maps and by memory, I could have made a wrong turn. I continued on Pierce Point Road and it took a while but finally I saw the sign for Abbott's Lagoon and pulled over in the parking lot.

Trailhead. Photo by Frog Mom
The hike
At the parking lot, our girls were excited. I went with my friend Becky and she had borrowed another little girl along her daughter so we had four girls with us ages 6 and 8 years.

Coming out of a post-lunch ice cream, the young ones clearly needed to shake their sillies out. Looking out west, we could see all the way to the lagoon and if we squinted, the golden hues of the sandy beach. I decided to quit the squinting and start walking.
Bird guide 101. Photo by Frog Mom
Within a quarter mile, the wide path led us to an oval pond where we saw our first birds. We had brought with us our Local Birds of Marin County laminated guide and the girls unfolded it hastily to identify the birds. They weren't ring-necked ducks, the beak color didn't match. They weren't mallards, the head and neck were off. They weren't red-throated loons either and as tempting as the pointy beak shape suggested, they weren't western grebes either. What then?

Gracefully gliding along the reeds was a pair of American Coots, one of the most common waterbirds and yet we felt it was an accomplishment.

Roughing around on the trail. Photo by Frog Mom
When you go on a wildlife hike and the wildlife is actually there for you to see (as in "howdy!" - right on cue), I can't tell you how great it feels.

Eventually the coots shied away from us and moved to thicker shores where we couldn't see them. Semi sad face. We moved away too and walked towards the beach.

What wasn't our surprise when we heard the deep mooing of a cow coming from across the pasture. A cow? Why of course, we were on the Point Reyes peninsula after all and there's all these A, B, C and so forth ranches.

Mule deer at Abbotts Lagoon. Photo by Frog Mom
Abbotts Lagoon elbows  Ranch H so I'm guessing the mooing cow was a Ranch H mooing cow. However it's not the Ranch H mooing cow that got our girls' attention, it's a handful of mule deer.

Deer was not on our birding program and came as a complete surprise. What were they doing there during the day anyway? They must feel pretty safe from predators to hang out in the open like that and they felt so sage that we were able to get just a few feet away. Unevenly scattered on a hill, five or six deer grazed and chewed and grazed some more. What a life.

Boardwalk. Photo by Frog Mom
Past the herd, the packed dirt trail gave way to a curving boardwalk a few feet off a marshy area. When in season, I bet you the marsh is all flooded but with our dry winter, the ground and the cattails crackling dry. The girls couldn't have cared less, boardwalks seem to trigger an irresistible urge to fool around. Which they did.

After the boardwalk the ground was visibly more sandy until we gradually reached enough sand that we knew we were at the beach. A small bridge crossed over the lagoon, a snowy white egret waddled in the distance, and after that the trail disappeared underground.

Buried in sand. Swept by the sand. Quietly swallowed by the sand dunes. What a startling change of scenery.

Before we could object, the three oldest girls ran up the sand dunes and took off their shoes and socks. If they could, they would have stayed a whole day playing in the sand.

I tend to forget how much children like to play in sand, what pleasure they get  just out of digging their toes deep in the fine grains and wiggling them free. It didn't take long for the youngest one to join the unruly ranks of girls gone wild in the dunes.
Yellow sand verbena. Photo by Frog Mom

Becky and I explored the area where the bright flowers of sand verbena brought color to the dunes otherwise crisscrossed by the long stringy runners of beach strawberries with their bright waxy leaves.

Above us a flock of brown pelicans flew low to the ground, barely a few feet above the lagoon and probably scanning for fish.

All good things have an end and we had to drag the girls out of the dunes, shake their sandy socks and put the shoes back on. Though they were disappointed they showed signs of weariness.

Turkey vulture in flight. Photo by Frog Mom
On the way back we observed a couple of turkey vultures circling above the northern end of the lagoon and I took several photographs of the birds in flight so I could blow them up on my camera and show them to the girls.

After checking the bird's red head and looking at the silhouette with the slightly raised wings and long "fingers", we all agreed it was indeed a turkey vulture flying way up there. Turkey vultures may be ugly as hell up close but in the sky they are the most graceful gliders.

As the after shadows grew longer and longer, we watched the hills around the lagoon don the warm colours of a late winter afternoon. It would be dark before we got back to the city but we were glad we had stopped by Abbotts Lagoon, a unique blend of coastal prairie and lagoon.

Practical Details

  • Hike: 2 miles round trip
  • Elevation: negligible
  • Trail map: you can download one here.
  • Trailhead: 49 miles north of San Francisco. Driving directions here.

Where to Eat

  • At Point Reyes Station, we enjoyed a scrumptious lunch of fried calamari, clam chowder and hamburger with farmstead blue cheese at the Station House Cafe. We all sat around a large communal table in the back room where the kids could move around without bothering other diners.
  • For a more casual setting, the wood-fired pizza at Cafe Reyes looked and smelled fantastic - the chocolate chip cookies on the counter too.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Celebrate Groundhog Day by Eating French Crepes!

All about crepes. Punxsutawney Phil photo courtesy of
Other photos by Frog Mom
To celebrate Groundhog Day, you can feast on wild grasses, grasshoppers, flowers and snails like all groundhogs do. Or you can have crêpes for dinner - tough choice but justified historically. Here's a bit of history before a recipe and flipping tips to satisfy and impress the young crowds.

For not-so-obscure reasons, Groundhog Day and the French Crepes Day known as Chandeleur take place on the same day. In fact they dig their roots in the same event, a Christian festival called Candlemas that commemorates the presentation of Jesus to the temple 40 days after his birth. Now, why the crepes? Why Punxsutawney Phil? At first glance, rodents and French desserts are not exactly the best match but start scratching and you'll find some interesting tidbits.

Marking the potential end of winter, February 2nd was already celebrated by the Romans as a rite of purification with a Lupercalia festival - deliciously pagan - where young patricians ran around in bloody goat skins around Rome, lashing away at women to max up their fertility. Imagine the frowns when the Christian church started replacing pagan festivals. In the 5th century, Pope Gelasius 1st would have none of Lupercalia anymore and replaced it with a Christian candle festival  called Candlemas. In honor of the Lord's presentation to the temple, big processions with candles were organized, purification rites were performed and pilgrims came all the way to Rome. To reward them for their long trip, Gelasius fed them flat crepes made with wheat from the previous year's harvest. The round golden shape of the crêpe symbolized the sun and eating the past harvest carried hope for an abundant new harvest.

Many countries have their own version of Candlemas. In France, the food idea stuck around and is now a solid winter ritual to be enjoyed with hard cider. In the US, the celebration of Groundhog Day began with Pennsylvania's earliest settlers who brought with them the legend of Candlemas Day. According to the Germans, on Candlemas Day the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate. "For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl in May..." There, groundhogs and crepes reconciled. While Northern America awaits for Punxsutawney Phil's shadow (or not), the Gallic nation gathers around the kitchen at dinnertime and people take turns flipping savory buckwheat and sweet wheat crêpes for dinner.

Enough of the boring stuff. Let's eat!

Crepe. Photo by Frog Mom
Crêpes Recipe
(adapted from Martha Stewart Living)

  • 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 eggs
  • grated rind of a lemon
  • 2 oz melted butter
Basically, you simply mix all the ingredients in a big bowl and refrigerate the batter until it's cold. I usually prepare mine before dinner so I can flip the pancakes for dessert. 30 minutes to a couple hours is good.

Note 1: no sugar in this recipe. You can eat the crepes sweet or savory.
Note 2 - Buckwheat version: substitute 3/4 cup buckwheat flour to the 3/4 cup all purpose flour and add an additional cup of water.

Flipping it! Photo by Frog Kid #1
Flip it!
Show time folks! When you've got a pint-size audience ready for some tricks, watching someone else flip the crêpe is half the fun of eating it.

First, you got to get a non-stick crêpe pan. Cuisinart makes a 10-inch crepe pan that's very nice and Le Creuset makes a cast iron pan that's dang heavy and requires wrestling-quality biceps if you're gonna flip anything. I got my pan in France (Tefal brand, available at any Monoprix store) and it's delightfully light.

Before I get in flipping mode, I start with an announcement such as "People of this kitchen, hear hear! The time for flipping has arrived and the grand master of ceremonies is ready." If anything, it distracts the youngsters and my girls usually react by stopping any bickering over who gets the first. If you've got a minimum of stage craft, there's definitely potential for a good show.

The Cuisinart crepe pan
Now step back, stand on your two feet, hold the pan in two hands low and give a quick and energetic flick of the wrist. Up the crêpe goes high in the air! Catch it before the cat does. To begin, a simple flip is enough. All you need to achieve is getting the crepe on the other side.

With a little experience you can do double, triple and quadruple flips. Your ceiling's the limit! And the floor too if you miss. I gather anyone reasonably good at catching a ball is good at flipping crepes.

How do you eat your crêpes?
My girls like theirs sprinkled with sugar, rolled tightly and cut in two. Sometimes they like to take them to school as recess snacks. I like mine spread with a berry preserve or honey and rolled. Some people like theirs with Nutella and folded in four. The savories are delish with ham and cheese. There's no wrong way to eat a crêpe and the good news is - you can keep them in the fridge for a couple days.

What's your favorite way to eat a crêpe?