Monday, October 24, 2011

Coming Soon: Totem by the Cirque du Soleil and Special Offer

That's it, I got my tickets for opening night: one for my mom, two for my girls, two for hubby and I. The Cirque du Soleil show Totem runs from October 28 through December 18, 2011 in San Francisco, a grand appetizer before the holiday craze. It'll be staged in a big tent by the AT&T Park. As I'm going to review the show on Frog Mom, I'm lucky to score 2 tickets and I get to share a 20% discount with my readers. Savvy?

When ordering your tickets, click on this link and enjoy a 20% discount off the general admission price. That's substantial savings given the price of the seats. Hey, you get to enjoy more popcorn! Or get the music CD to take home. Or both.

The Show
Obviously I haven't seen the show yet but my first thought when I saw the poster was "OMG, they're doing Avatar on stage?" That's what it looked like with the trees and the blue and the water and the guy dressed in green. It was a bit I-see-you-ish.

Then I read the synopsis: "TOTEM traces the fascinating journey of the human species from its original amphibian state to its ultimate desire to fly. The characters evolve on a stage evoking a giant turtle, the symbol of origin for many ancient civilizations. Inspired by many founding myths, TOTEM illustrates, through a visual and acrobatic language, the evolutionary progress of species. Somewhere between science and legend TOTEM explores the ties that bind Man to other species, his dreams and his infinite potential."

Ah, so there is Avatar potential! But mostly there's a big WOW potential. The only show of the Cirque du Soleil I ever saw was Corteo in San Jose in 2006 and I was amazed by the grandiose decadence and extravagance of it all. My daughter was 3 years old then and absolutely not old enough to appreciate the many facets of the show but she still enjoyed the lights, the sound and the music.

This Friday, I expect nothing less than to be impressed.

What I Want To Know About This Show
What will I look for in Friday's show? Obviously, I want to know what's an appropriate age for kids to attend so you can take your whole tribe. I also want to know if it's scary, if it's funny, if my girls will want to run out the door or if they will be transfixed on their seats. I want to know that adults enjoy the show to the fullest, that it's complex yet accessible, that the music is as good as I remember it, that the overall quality of the show explains why people keep flying to Vegas to see O.

Most of all, I don't want to get bored and I don't think I will. I hate it when there are dull moments in a show and I'd like this one to make my heart beat fast like a James Bond movie.

Answers? Next week. Totem, I'm ready!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

My Tarantula Treks Piece on KQED

At KQED studio! 
Today's my birthday and for this special occasion, I'm inviting you to tune in to KQED (88.5FM) tomorrow Friday October 21 and listen to the Perspectives piece I recorded last week on tarantulas! It will air at 6.06am, 7.35am and 11.30pm.It's only a 2-minute piece so timeliness will be of the essence. If you miss the piece, you can listen to it at will on the radio archives here.

Since all Mount Diablo tarantula treks are full for 2011, here are other tarantula trek options that you can join with your kids and have a good old hair-rising time:

  • Tantalizing Taratantulas! Sunday October 23, 2011. 2-3pm. Tilden Park, Tilden Nature Area. Why did the tarantula cross the trail? Let's learn interesting facts about these arachnids. Meet the Tilden Nature Area's  resident tarantula and learn the best spots to find these critters come mating season! This is a drop-in program; no registration is required. For information, call (510) 544-2233.
  • Tarantula Travels. Saturday October 29, 2011. 1.30-3pm. Del Valle Regional Park. It's tarantula mating season! Run for the hills for this educational experience and shake hands with an amorous arachnid. Meet at Campground Amphitheater - park in overflow lot behind the campstore. Ages 7+yrs This is a drop in program; no registration is required. For information, call (510) 544-3249.
If you want to learn more about tarantulas, check out the Bay Area Tarantula Society, a fan club for the hairy fuzzy stuff.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Outdoorsy Kids Crafts at the East Bay Mini Maker Faire

Do your own thing! Photos by Frog Mom and Inga Lim
When I asked a 4th grader what he wanted to make at my crafts table, he just replied "My own thing." Plain and simple. Wouldn't tell me more. Though the answer took me aback, I decided to watch him do his own thing while I was helping other kids. An hour later, a friend had joined him and they finished plotting fake dynamite bars to creep out kids at school. That was on Sunday at my East Bay Mini Maker Faire booth where a big sign behind my head clearly announced "Make Kid Binoculars and Outdoors Pioneer Dolls"! Life lesson: creativity takes kids to oddball places where it's OK for them to do their own thing. Go DIY spirit!

On Sunday October 16, 2011, the East Bay Mini Maker Faire was both a madhouse and a unique experience where from 10am to 4pm, I helped kids make two crafts to enjoy the outdoors: paper roll binoculars or telescopes and camping dolls. Here's the story.

Camping Dolls
Camping doll. Photo by Inga Lim
For this craft, I hijacked the concept of the corn husk doll or pioneer rag doll and came up with my own weatherproof version - the camping doll. Rather than the usual fabrics or rags, I looked for outdoorsy materials that would be sturdy enough to resist a winter hike or a rugged camping trip. Waterproof was definitely a plus. This is how I set out to find sailing cloth and tent material in the Bay Area.

Now, I was not going to buy a boat or a new tent to shred them to pieces - that wouldn't be very clever. Fortunately two sponsors came to the
My wonderful friends at work. Photo by Frog Mom
rescue. The SF REI store donated two "bad" tents they were going to throw away and Pineapple Sails in Alameda donated yardage of big sail cloth rolls (great colors too) and sail cloth scraps. Thank you REI and Pineapple Sails, you made many kids happy!

Drawing a face. Photo by Frog Mom
The night before the faire, several friends came to my house to cut the tents and bravely snipped through zippers and mesh material or figured out ways to cut rectangular shapes in dome-shaped tents. The oily and thin nature of the sail cloth made for interesting layers while the wrinkled vinyl of the tents added texture. The decking cloth proved to be too thick to use.

My first camping doll proof with an orange shiny tent material was unanimously rejected by an audience of 6 kids from age 3 to 8 - not cool, not fuzzy. I tried a variation with a thicker red tent material, added legs and that one won the heart of all kids. With a good design in mind, we cut hundreds of strips roughly 4" wide by 12" long. Thanks to Jason, Jacqueline, Laurance and Sofia for being such enthusiastic cutters!

Camping doll family. Photo by Inga Lim
Back at the faire, the camping doll activity was a big hit. It appealed to both preschoolers and grade-school kids which was good because I didn't know what type of kids would go for this craft. The younger kids tended to gravitate more naturally towards the binoculars activity.

Always one to challenge stereotypes, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a few boys actually asked to make dolls. Less encouraging was the reaction of several moms (note: moms, not dads) saying to their boys: "No you don't want to make a doll" or "Your doll needs to wear pants". People, leave the kids alone! If they want to make funky dolls, where's the harm?

Don Teakell cutting sail cloth at Pineapple Sails.
Photo by Frog Mom
One little girl spent about an hour at the booth making an entire family of camping dolls. First she made a mom. And a hat. Then she wanted a camping baby. Then she wanted a camping dad. Thank God my friend Inga has a crafty streak and could assist her wonderfully. We stopped short of the twice-removed cousins but I could see the endless possibilities in her buzzing bubbling young head.

Ironically while kids liked the camping doll right away, parents didn't pay attention until I told them the materials were sail cloth and tent material. Then they took a closer look, touched the pieces and commented on how cool this was. What's the saying - don't judge a book by its cover?

Instructions for Camping Dolls
If you too want to make these dolls at home, here is the process that I used. Kids: don't cut your folks' tent to make this at home. Ask your local sports store for free supplies. They can probably help you out.

Binoculars and Telescopes
Pint-size makers. Photo by Frog Mom
The idea for paper roll binoculars came when I was researching my book. I had just finished exploring the Lobos Creek Dunes in the Presidio when five kids from a local daycare zoomed by with home-made binoculars hanging around their neck. Each had decorated their own and they were going to look for bugs. Immediately I knew it would be part of the crafts section in my book and it was the initial activity I offered for the E.B. maker faire.

The materials list was simple: empty toilet paper rolls and paper. I debated long about whether I should use fabric or paper to cover the rolls and paper won, largely because I found big topo maps at SCRAP.

TP roll drive at BCMS. Photo by Frog Mom
Finding toilet paper rolls was a challenge because I signed up for the faire late in the game and couldn't search for supplies up to a week before. Again, a village came to my rescue. Several moms from the Golden Gate Mothers Group organized neighborhood collections and Big City Montessori School, my girls' former preschool, coordinated a full-on paper roll drive over 7 days.

Back at the faire, I stashed  200 TP rolls and regular paper rolls in a flowery chest, let kids pick two rolls the same size, let them choose safari pattern paper or topo maps and whipped out the tape and staples. Binocular time!

A boy gets help stapling the rolls while another tries his
new binoculars. Photo by Frog Mom
When a boy asked to make a telescope, I was tempted to refuse because the paper strips we had cut were TP roll size. Too small I thought. However  this was the master DIY faire so I reconsidered and said yes.

"Pick 3 pieces of paper!" I offered. And there, overlapping several bits of topo maps, we created the first telescope of the day, attaching it with a thick white rope for a more nautical look.

The binoculars were fun because some kids agonized on the choice of paper or map. Most parents preferred maps but the safari and jungle prints were cool too and all three had an outdoors connotation.

Binoculars Instructions
Basically I followed this process but I punched three holes in the rolls instead of two so the yarn would go twice through each tube. For the telescopes, I just punched two holes and used a thicker rope. Those were awesome because I found a box of ropes at SCRAP and kids picked their own.

Now the anecdotal side.

Signing my book. Photo by Inga Lim
Funny Things People Said To Me

"My boy is too old for binoculars": a mom after she asked me what activities I offered. Her boy was 10 years old. Sorry lady, the kids making dynamite bars don't seem to mind my activities and they're your boy's age.

"Did you do all the hikes?": a dad who bought my hiking guidebook. I know, surprising.

"I want to make a belt": a second grader after he had already made binoculars, a telescope and a camping doll.

"Do you have a studio?": the charming woman behind TinkerLab. Gosh, should I?

"I'm going to look for dragons": a 7-year old girl who just made binoculars. That's the spirit, girl!

The World Outside
I didn't see any of it since I spent the whole day behind my table but I have eyes and ears. First of all, my girls enjoyed crafts in my room.

Befuse activity. Photo by Befuse
With  Befuse they made plastic bags fused by heat and reshaped them as purses. WithTinkerlab Studio (in partnership with Heather and Whitney from 510families), they made magnet pins. People made giant pinwheels out of recycled calendars with the East Bay Depot Creative Reuse,  and crazy stuff with Duct Tape Projects. Just next to me was a great book-making artist.
Frog Mom and Frog Kids.
Photo by Inga Lim

Almost every kid came into the room with a blinking robot pin from Maker Shed. My friend Olivier raved about the ComBot Combat Robots. I saw great-looking hats and more robotic stuff come and go. It seemed fantastic and my only regret was that I didn't have time to go see the Smallest POstal Service in the World.

At The End of The Day
At 3.30pm Inga helped me pack up, my friend Olivier returned my girls - whom he had been taking all day around the faire - and I drove back home from Oakland in a zombie state. I was even happy I had leftover mac'n cheese from the previous night to eat for dinner.

It's hard work but the E.B. Mini Maker Faire was a fantastic first public event as Frog Mom and I loved the interaction with kids and parents. Looking forward to more - of the "do your own thing."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fantastic Halloween Events for Families: 2011 Edition

The Spirit of Halloween. Photo by Frog Mom
Halloween is just round the corner. I know it just by the sluggish line of cars down Highway 1 to Half Moon Bay. The Spirit Halloween stores are a tip-off too. Tonight visit at Delancey's Pumpkin Patch got me thinking about all the great Halloween events I'd like to attend this year. The more I thought, the more my shoulders slouched and hunched and the more my spirits dropped. What, every event on the last weekend of the month? Goodie, that's a lot happening at the same time. I hope you get to one of these events and write to me that I missed something grand because I sure want to attend them all simultaneously - in spirit at least.

Graveyard Stroll. Photo by Marin County Parks 
Graveyard Stroll
Marin County Parks, San Rafael
Sat. October 29, 6-7.30pm
When Marin county rangers decide to celebrate Halloween, they go the whole nine yards! Meet at the Marin County Parks Field Office - 18 Jeanette Prandi Way - at 6pm and follow the ranger to meet costumed characters who tell funny stories.Is that a ghost or a ranger? Come find out as we get a jump on Halloween during this one-of-a kind event to uncover the interesting, spooky, and little-known cemetery next door. Wear warm, layered clothes, bring a flashlight, and a treat bag. FREE.

Monster Bash on the USS Hornet
Sat. October 29, 2011 - 7.30pm - midnight
In February I wrote about the USS Hornet, otherwise known as the Grey Ghost. This month's the month for flashlight tours and fright nights on board the humongous plane carrier. Is the USS Hornet Haunted? Bring the whole family and find out. At this annual fundraiser onboard the “Grey Ghost,” visitors will get a good fright throughout the evening with haunted tours, costume contests, and other treats. Dance favorites by The Cocktail Monkeys. Adults $20 each in advance, Youth 5–17 $10 each, Children under 5 free. Order tickets online through the Ship’s Store.

Children's Ghost Train
Fri. October 28 and Sat. October 29, 6.30 pm, 6.45pm, 8pm, 8.15pm
My favorite spooky story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow will come to life with costumed actors, portable stages and steam trains chugging up a redwood mountain on the Ghost Train at Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton. The spooky nighttime ride with a headless horseman on a white horse will last 1 hour 15 minutes and will delight kids of all ages as the story gets a corny and humorous relift. The ride costs $24 general and $17 for children. Details at; 831-335-4484.

Harvest Festival and Halloween Mask Workshop
Marin Headlands
Apples. Photo by Parks Conservancy
Sat. October 29 - 1-3pm
For a coastal Halloween celebration, meet artist Katrina Wagner at the Marin Headlands Visitor Center and let the kids make masks for the season using non-native materials before tasting heirloom apples. (My current favorite is Winesap. I wonder if they'll have it!) Then take a hike to Rodeo Beach and watch the waves crash on the shore. Dramatic. Reservations required for the mask workshop, call (415) 331-1540. FREE

Halloween Haunt at Ed Levin County Park
Pumpkin decorating.
Photo by Santa Clara
County Parks
Friday, October 28  5-8pm
Ed Levin County Park is a beautiful park that should be on your to-do list - with or without pumpkins. On October 28, join park staff for a night of spooky family fun. Play ghostly games, carve a free pumpkin, eat s’mores around a glowing campfire and take a creepy hike around Spring Valley Pond. Meet at the Park Office. Costumes and all ages welcome. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Food available for purchase. (408) 262-6980. FREE

1923 Ballroom Dancing. Photo by Palace Hotel
Ghost Walk at The Palace Hotel
San Francisco
Sat. October 29, 6.30-7.30pm
San Francisco City Guides hosts 2 yearly ghost walks and this is the one I haven't done. When I did it, the City Hall ghost tour was a complete blast and the period costumes of the docents totally enhanced the eerie feeling of the evening. This one is the Palace Hotel ghost walk. Kings and presidents died here; gunshots echoed through stately corridors, romances ended tragically. Perhaps that explains enduring stories of spectral visions, glowing orbs and mysterious occurrences. The usual architectural and historical tour defers to brief vignettes culled from reports filed by guests and staff alike. Not recommended for impressionable very young souls. FREE

Illumination of the Jack'o Lanterns
Columbia State Historic Park
Sat. October 29 - 5.30pm until dark
Nightmare before Christmas. Photo by Wwarby, Flickr
Any excuse to visit Columbia State Historic Park and this one's near the north pole of the bucket: pumpkin carving, trick or treating, and ghost town roaming! On October 29, come little goblins and ghouls and carve your pumpkins into peg-toothed grinners, chiseled ghouls or Bat'o Lanterns. Before dark falls between 4 and 5pm, go trick or treating on the main street of Columbia the Gold Rush ghost town! The candy shoppe is completely deliciously old-fashioned. Then at 5pm, bring your carved gourds to the Columbia Museum on Main Street and wait for the judging while live musical relaxes your tender ears. Prizes will be awarded for the most original, most gruesome, most entertaining, etc! At dusk the jack-o’-lanterns will be illuminated and then, it will almost feel like it's Halloween already. FREE.

Fall Festival at the Bridgeport Covered Bridge
Penn Valley
Sat. October 29 - 11am - 4pm
Wagon rides. Photo by South Yuba
River Park Association
Jewel of the South Yuba River State Park, the covered bridge of Bridgeport is a California dream come true for fans of The Bridges of Madison County. Besides the Clint Eastwood factor, it is also a beautiful covered bridge where ghost stories will come to life during the last Saturday of October. All day families will be able to hop on wagon rides, pan for gold in the trough, watch a blacksmith at work, paint pumpkins or enjoy live music. The highlight will be two re-enactments of ghost stories in the barn with ghosts dressed up as in the late 1800s. Bring your swimsuits, the river runs clear beneath the bridge! FREE.

Sonoma Events
For a great list of late fall and harvest festivals in Sonoma County, check out Fall’s Final Festivals Call Sonoma County Families Outdoors by my friend Sono-Ma. Tolay Lake, here I come!


Monday, October 10, 2011

Join Frog Mom at the East Bay Mini Maker Faire: Sunday October 16, 2011

Aw, the East Bay Mini Maker Faire is on this week! This coming Sunday, forego any other plans you had in mind and join 128 crazy crafters, DIYers and scientists at the East Bay Mini Maker Faire in Oakland between 10am and 5pm. I'll be frogmom-ing (the frog mom version of "manning") a kids crafts booth and I'll sell my family hiking guidebook too. Around me will be tons of fun people. In other words, bring your tadpoles and unleash the power of their creative juices!

Photo: East Bay Mini Maker Faire 2010
If you've never been to a Maker Faire, it's literally a place where people make stuff. At the San Mateo Maker Faire last spring, we saw operational R2D2s (big giant kick when they start beeping), giant cupcake-mobiles, water tunnel machines, talking skeleton animatronics, toothpick miniatures and monster-size legos set-ups. We also built a duct tape bird swing, made soap, cut out a steampunk Victorian card and built wooden towers. There you have it: it can be anything.

My own craft this faire is designed as a companion to a creative day in the woods or at the playground. Since I'm both sort of a crafts- and outdoors-nut, it seemed only fitting. I'll be helping kids to make outdoorsy pioneer dolls and kid binoculars!

My own girls are super excited - as am I - and they can't wait to tour the other booths while I sit behind my table. If I can escape, I'll be checking out the smallest postal service in the world at Leafcutter Designs and the crazy pedal-it-yourself wheels and rides of Paul's Rides. Freestyle baby!

The East Bay Mini Maker Faire has made me a custom discount code my fans, friends and family can use to get 15% off tickets for the event on Sunday, October 16th. You can enter this discount code when purchasing tickets at

The discount code is FROGMOM.


  • When: Sunday, October 16th, 10 a.m.—5 p.m. 
  • Where: Park Day School campus & Studio One Art Center, 360 42nd Street, Oakland, CA.
  • Google Map:

See you at the Maker Faire!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Winners of the book giveaway: Best Hikes with Kids: San Francisco Bay Area

Frog Mom never, ever, hikes without chocolate. Photo by C.G.
Last month I wrote a post on my hiking guidebook for families Best Hikes with Kids: San Francisco Bay Area. In that post, I encouraged people to comment and talk about their favorite Bay Area trails with kids. In the meantime my book got a review in Bay Nature magazine, a blurb on Daily Candy, was part of a contest on SFKids and soon you should hear me on KQED give my Perspective on creepy crawlers. Seriously!

Now I've selected the 2 winners via and I would love to announce them today. Drum roll. The winners of my contest are ... Ammo and Nicole!!! These two lucky winners will receive by mail an autographed copy of my book - sorry I can't draw even when I try hard - and a bar of high quality completely delicious dark chocolate to motivate them to go hiking! That's because I've now included "dark chocolate, bittersweet please" in my list of must-haves for hikes. No less.

Now you may be curious, what Bay Area trails did people share that they like so much? Here is what parents had to say on Frog Mom:
  • So far, my favorite place to hike with little ones has been the Zinfandel Trail at Picchetti Ranch in Cupertino. The trail is very short and leads to a pond with tiny frogs. 
  • Our favorite hike is what we call "the ridge" and it is our favorite place to hike and walk the dog, in fact we go several times a week. You can hike for hours or just a quick 1/2 hr if that is all time allows. The kid highlights are: great views of the bay, grazing cattle, ponds in the spring (with frogs in various life cycle stages), lots of different routes and lots of exploring. The hike is actually part of Wildcat Canyon and the trail we call "the ridge" is actually off the belgum and san pablo ridge trail. Here is the link
  • Bernal Hill was our first "hiking excursion" and we're branching out.
  • My favorite bay area hike is in the Presidio.
  • My husband and I have different favorite hikes with our 3 year old. I love hiking up over the beach/cliffs at Marin Headlands. My hubby takes our son to the Mary Bowerman Trail at the summit of Mt Diablo almost every weekend (I'm expecting so not hiking so much right now!)
  • My girlfriends and I hike weekly with our kiddos - usually at our favorite Wunderlich - shade from Redwoods and Eucalyptus keep the moms happy and the awesome burned out old growth Redwood tree is always a win with the kids.
Obviously if you don't have my book yet, you should get yourself a copy right now. According to my husband, it almost reads like a mystery novel. Yes, it's that thrilling, take it from a reliable source. Aw, ok, it's not quite The Game of Thrones but it'll help you get fitter and the kids will become total creatures of the trails. How's that for thrilling?

Thanks so much for participating and stay tuned for more Frog Mom fun!