Wednesday, May 2, 2012
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 www.frogmom.com. 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!
Posted by Laure Latham at 2:00 PM
Monday, February 20, 2012
|Inside the Garden House. Photo by Frog Mom|
|The mansion, garden side. Photo by Frog Mom|
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|
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.|
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|
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.
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.
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.
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
|Snow dusting on Yosemite Falls. Photo by C.G.|
|Sledding fun. Photo by C.G.|
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://yosemitepark.com. For current Northern California snow tubing conditions and information, check the Daily Snow Report for Badger Pass.
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|
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|
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.
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.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
|Design by Custom Design Icon|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
|Float at the Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco.|
Photo from Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year and Parade
Festival Facebook Page
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
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.
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 sanfrancisco.bestparking.com 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|
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|
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|
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|
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|
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 www.chineseparade.com.
Friday, February 3, 2012
|Abbott's Lagoon. Photo by Frog Mom|
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|
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|
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|
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|
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|
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.
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|
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.
- 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
|All about crepes. Punxsutawney Phil photo courtesy of groundhog.org.|
Other photos by Frog Mom
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|
(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
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|
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|
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?