February 29, 2012

Peters Canyon: Lake View Trail

This weekend we found a new, nearby hike at Peters Canyon, in Tustin. The signature hike is a 4.5 mile loop that connects the  Lake View Trail, Cactus Point Trail, East Ridge Trail, and Scout Hill Trail, Creek Trail and Peters Canyon Trail. We did the two-mile Lake View Trail only :). We found the details on this hike from Brian and Ashley's Hiking Blog, who's pictures look more lush than mine, so it might be nice to head back there another time. Even still it, with all the concrete and commercial stuff in Orange its hard to believe that so quickly you are in such a vast swath of nature.
As with most things, you might consider hitting this park up early. We didn't, and arrived around 9:30 or so to a packed parking lot. We had to make two laps, but finally found a spot. It seemed like there was good turnover. I'll note also, that it costs $3 to park here (credit card option available), but we could park for free with our OC Parks annual pass. This appears like a popular place for groups to meet up and walk together with their dogs, kids, or fitness pals, as we saw them accumulating in the parking lot, but also lots of company on the trail. We heard some woodpeckers in the distance, and saw a few other birds and lizards, but I would say wildlife was scarce. Dogs are welcome on this trail, and ours was grateful to get out!

We walked with M in the carrier for about a mile (a couple of pretty steep hills included) and then let him down to walk about 20 feet, and then picked him back up and finished the loop. Nevertheless, the little guy was worn out and fell asleep on the way to the grocery store, and stayed asleep while I carried him around (I should have brought the carrier in with me, since my back hurt for days afterward!), and then we picked up some Bruxie on the way home!

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February 28, 2012

Aquarium of the Pacific

We were fortunate enough to meet up with another friend of a friend at the Long Beach Aquarium (aka. Aquarium of the Pacific). We got a little turned around looking for gas and ended up at the Queen Mary and on the Grand Prix course! Two things we might have to look into more!
Overall, the aquarium was kind of pricey ($25 per adult, but the toddler was free) and smallish, but just about right for the attention span we had on our hands. Theoretically, if we could have managed a nap on the run, and could entertain ourselves for a couple of hours, we could have returned with our stamped hands. However, we chose to get some lunch at Sharky's (as surprisingly healthy and tastey Mexican place - but be warned: if you order a beer you can't take it outside) and then let M nap in the back seat and take the long way home.
I was very pleasantly surprised by the number of things you could pet! There was a jellyfish tank, a shark/ray tank, and the lorikeet bird area! M wasn't very interested in the petting, which is probably good, because I don't think I could have conveyed the 'two-finger touch' rule. He was interested, however in the buttons he could push and things he could climb on, as well as the big globe in the arctic area. And the outdoor water play area. Of course we all enjoyed looking at the various specimens in the big tanks. We watched the otters  swim and flip and scratch their ears. We saw huge spider crabs (that made me hungry). We saw colorful fish and starfish and sharks!
It was challenging trying to see the exhibits, chase two toddlers and meet new people, so I do apologize for not including more photos. Don't save this for a rainy day, as the outdoor area is half the fun! And consider starting your tour there so you can catch the sun and avoid the crowds doing the opposite route.

February 24, 2012

Cleaning cloth diapers: New rules!

So I may have to go back on what I said in my previous post about cleaning cloth diapers.

I just had this nagging feeling that something was happening that wasn't getting them fully clean and ready to full absorb the next round of fire.

So my favorite online retailer (I get no compensation from them, by the way) is Sweetbottoms Baby Boutique. They always have a good selection, free shipping and give free samples. So when I qualify, I usually get the trial size of one of the cloth diaper detergents they carry. Mostly because they are great for traveling, since even if your host is gracious enough to let you wash baby diapers in their washing machine, you can't be sure that they'll have the kind of detergent you'd like to use... or if you have to hit up a laundry mat, you'll need soap. But also partly because I always secretly wonder if I should be using real cloth diaper soap.

Recently I requested a sample of Rockin' Green's Hard Rock, thinking this would be a great opportunity to 'strip' our diapers. Another sample we tried was a new cloth diaper-friendly diaper cream, CJ's BUTTer and after two uses we haven't needed again since it came in. Both of these products come in some pretty awesome scents, which is probably reason enough to use them, but if you read the reviews on the site, I bet you'll be sampling them, too.

And, full disclosure, we also moved recently and are using a different washing machine in our apartment. The new machine doesn't have an 'extra rinse' cycle, but it does have a 'prewash' cycle. So the new strategy is that I put detergent in with the prewash (warm) and then run a regular cycle with no added anything. 

I think somewhere among these three changes our diapers are getting really really clean now. And they feel more absorbent.

I honestly feel justified the switch for detergent when I did the math on Rockin' Green and how it translated to just about a penny per diaper per wash, and technically I was already paying for a detergent to wash them, albeit a slightly less expensive option. The diaper cream is pricier than the $2.50 tube of A&D we were using, but since we started using it, we have hardly needed it.

I felt like I had to share these changes with you, since I feel like I was a bit high and mighty in my previous post, thinking I didn't have to play by the cloth diaper rules. Now, I think these two products are worth the investment. And though I've said it before, we are now really feeling the effects after a conversation with a colleague having her third child and fearing the upcoming cost of disposable diapers. We have long since rounded the mark where our diapers have paid for themselves (about a year), so now we wash them and diaper our kid for basically free. And now that we are in an apartment, I am grateful for every trip to the trash room I can avoid.

All that said, our guy has been hydrating like nobody's business and has been going through some diapers. So many, in fact, that in one day he used all the ones at school and had to go to our disposable backups, and the one he came home in one was packed to the brink. Is this some sort of growth spurt-related event? Has anyone else's kid suddenly become a super-soaker?

February 23, 2012

Food For Big and Small

This week is brought to you by the rotisserie chicken and quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah).

We started the week with some leftover quinoa, and a freshly roasted rotisserie chicken (which is really a great deal since you can buy it piping hot and ready to eat, and it can make eight or more meals at our house!). We first paired the chicken with baked small red potatoes and slightly sauteed (fresh) asparagus. I set some aside for Toddler Lunches this week, and made the rest into Curry Chicken Salad to be served on bread or rolled in tortillas. Admittedly, the asparagus didn't go over well with M, but I will keep trying. I also tried out hummus on him and got a grimmace. But I think there is potential there. Especially because he likes the dipping aspect.

For the quinoa, we are all still getting used to this food and its texture. Its rice- or couscous-like, but can be the featured protien, which I think makes it tricky to pair things with. I admit, I love the idea that its a complete protien, and still isn't meat (not that we are vegetarians - see rotisserie chicken above- i just think its good to skip meat every now and then). I was inspired by several recipes at Weelicious, so this week we tried banana 'rice' pudding and Mexican Quinoa salad. The former didn't quite do it for us, but the Mexican salad was a hit with everyone, much to my surprise. Quinoa is sold as a dry grain, that you cook with 3x's the cooking liquid until it is absorbed and you can see the little swirl of the germ in the grain. For the pudding,  it was cooked in coconut milk, but just water for the Mexican salad.

Lunch ideas this week:

Monday was a holiday, so M and I had lunch out with Daddy. We packed yogurt, hard boiled egg, and steamed veggies and shared our soups and sandwiches, and let him color the kids menus.

Tuesday, I forgot to take a photo. But I packed a hummus, cream cheese, and minced steamed veggies in half a rolled tortilla as the 'main course' with the usual veggies and fruit, yogurt, and cereal bar.

Wednesday, we packed leftover acorn squash risotto, steamed broccoli, and apple slices; snack1: yogurt + pinto beans; snack2: cereal bar and steamed carrots.

Thursday, leftover sausage and rice (with broccoli and red pepper), perfectly ripe strawberries, steamed carrots; snack1: halved grapes + cereal bar; snack 2: yogurt + pretzels.

February 22, 2012

Pioneer Park

Covered wagons!

We drove by Pioneer Park in Tustin before we officially moved and were just waiting for an opportunity to take M for a closer look. So to get some zoomies out before our weekly trek to the grocery store, we picked up some coffee and visited. The park has a western theme, with 3 covered wagon structures to climb on, wilderness animals decorating the slides, and a log cabin picnic shelter. The park also has a half-court basketball hoop next to a green space on a hill and swings (both infant and big kids). And it is tied into bike and horse paths. And for the warmer months, there's a spray ground!!

The wagons were a little advanced for M to climb on himself, though he giggled and giggled while running around in them. The slide structure was more his speed and he had a great time climbing to the top (with some spotting) and sliding down the giant tube slide. He also had fun shooting hoops with Dad and climbing up the grassy hill. He didn't want to leave.


We were at the park during typical church hours on Sunday morning, and even though the park backs up to the Salvation Army church, the place was empty, except for a few folks passing through walking their dogs (M was excited about this, too.)

This would be a great park to bring/ride your bikes to, go for a family ride, and then let the little hitchhikers stretch their legs.
slides and tunnels and climbing things
the sprayground in inaction... since its  not the season

February 21, 2012

Hollywood Sign Hike

So I am pretty excited about this happy accident of  hike. We had tentatively planned a 3-day weekend to Big Bear to take the toddler to see snow, but we didn't do very much research (or couldn't find much definitive in our research) about what to do to keep a little guy busy when the temp outside is 38 or less. There is only so much snow time he can handle at once. Also, we couldn't secure a place to stay for less than $800 a night on such late notice. Even though we think we could have made a day trip of it, we still didn't have a tentative activity plan, so we had to postpone. (Please feel to share ideas about when to go, what to do, and where to stay!!!)

Griffith Observatory
So. We decided to do a day trip to Hollywood instead. We packed water, snacks and extra clothes, strapped on our sneakers and headed out first thing to go hike to the Hollywood sign. We drove to Griffith Park, right off I5. Gotta say, this is a hidden gem. This must be the only non-concrete space in LA. Even though its not exactly lush, it still is a really nice space. There are a zillion trails with stunning views from every point along the way. Its also a very popular spot. We had no trouble parking (though I hear the 'warmer months' are busier), but we also were never really alone on our hike, which was fine for us.
We started at the base, in Fern Dell near Los Feliz Blvd. We put M in the ErgoBaby and headed out. I gotta say that this definitely was a workout (according to MyFitnessPal app, hauling a 10-20 lb load while hiking for two hours burns nearly 1000 calories for my size person. Wonder if I get extra credit for being out of shape and hauling 30 lbs?). That said, there were lots of civilian folks hiking just fine. Old people. Fat people. People in flip flops. Ladies pushing strollers (OK, this was really just on the lower trail parts, but still). After about 45 minutes of hiking we got to the Observatory. We let M out of the pack, had a snack and water, took a potty break. It was a really good time to let him run around and for me to rest and for all of us to enjoy the views of LA, Culver City, the Hollywood sign - oh, and the mountains. After a breather we loaded back up, and followed the promise of a sign that I swear said "Hike to the Hollywood Sign."
yep, we walked that winding trail
The second leg really lead to the top of Mt. Hollywood, but still provided some pretty killer views. M and I took turns stretching out our arms and pretending to fly like birds. He fell asleep about 10 minutes in to this leg and hubby and I enjoyed the sights and sounds of nature (and other hikers). I have to say that after only a few minutes into this second leg, we saw some hikers debating about taking a more direct, steep, and I am pretty sure unofficial, route up the mountain. One hiker trying to persuade his fellow group members, "the other way takes so long, I promise it will be worth it." Then we saw sand and pebbles trickle out from under his feet. We chose the safer route, but it still felt steep and certainly long. All in all it took us about an hour and a half to get to the top (about 2.5 miles, and a little more than 1000 ft). M woke up in the last few steps of getting there. He stayed in the pack this time, even though there is a weakly fenced in picnic area at the top. We took some photos, had some fruit and headed back down. It seemed from the top that there were several options in paths so we wanted to take a different one down. Turns out we ended up taking the steep trail on the way down, and it wasn't so bad. The downhill only took about 30 minutes, and was a little taxing on the knees, even on the not-as-steep parts. When we reached the last 100 feet, we let M out of the pack and let him walk the rest of the way. He stopped to pick up leaves and sticks and was quite entertaining.

Fun climbing on the astronomer monument

i think this is Burbank..?
As an epilogue, after our 1000-calorie-torching hike, we thought we should get our first In-N-Out burger. The closest one was located on Sunset Blvd. So we got to hunt for movie stars, too!! The burger was pretty good (and the place was crazy busy!) and we did see a famous person ... I think. Paparazzi jumped out and started taking photos of a very well-put-together couple walking down the street. We didn't recognize them, but that isn't saying much. We probably should subscribe to People. It would be the equivalent of our Durham Magazine, when we lived in Durham. After lunch was nap time, so we thought we would keep driving around downtown LA and Beverly hills, while M dozed. No more sightings, but I was dying to just roll down the windows and tailgate one of the hundreds of tour buses. We will definitely have to come back and take a real tour to find out where the stars live.

A few more photos:

The top of the mountain was a little anti-climactic.

View from the observatory!

February 20, 2012

Pretend City

Fun as soon as you walk in the door!! This kept M (and others) busy while I checked us in.
I always have too much fun at Children's Museums. I think I am still in shock and awe that these kinds of places exist, and wish I could be a kid and have so much fun playing in all the pretend setups. So today I had Presidents' Day off of work and daycare was closed, so we had a Mommy&Me day. Our first stop was Pretend City in Irvine. A little preface:

I decided to buy an annual membership this morning. This allowed us to arrive an hour earlier than the normal opening time, for members only. We got to park right in front of the door, and had the place practically to ourselves. Fortunately for us, they were running a 10% off special for the holiday so we saved a few dollars. Let me tell you, the hour was worth it. At 10:00, when they officially opened, the places started to get packed. And by the time we left, there was a line around the building and parking was street side only. Moral of the story, if you can afford it and think you'll use it (ie if you go more than 6-7 times per year) get a membership. I think it affords you discounts in the gift shop, a special story time and craft 'before hours' and some other things.

Also, since we are new to the OC, I had no idea what to expect of I-5 this time of day, so we allowed 45 minutes of drive time from Orange. It took us 15. So I mapquested a Starbucks :) Turns out there are like 3 at the Spectrum, which is less than a mile away, but, again as I am new around here, I didn't realize that you can't really get in there without parking in a deck or Valeting your vehicle. So we found another one (it took us longer to get to Starbucks than the museum), I got my 'nonfat mocha,' and we returned to the museum.

The place does look like a city when you walk in. Each building is a different station of play. There is a bank, a sushi restaurant, dentist, library, home under construction, beach, farm, etc. You just put your toddler down and follow behind him with your mocha, and occasionally remind him how to share or hold his hand for balance while climbing onto something. Voila. We can call this activity the nap-maker. For older kids, you can pick up a 'time card' that can be stamped at each location to sort of prove they worked there or act as a passport or something. They can then stick this same time card into an ATM and get cash. I am not sure what the cash is used for. I was a little disturbed that my 1.5 year old was handed a $5 bill after helping pick some tomatoes on the farm. He looked at me like, 'What do I do with this, Mommy?' He then proceeded to give it to another toddler who looked equally puzzled.

The water play area. You can catch fish with a magnetic pole, divert water flow with plastic slats ( both a little advanced for my guy) or just splash around with cups and sea creatures. The blue smocks are provided.
the stroller parking lot. you really don't need to bring one in unless one of your children is sleeping in it. baby bjorns also seemed to be in fashion for that purpose.
this is the farm. you can dig in the mulch for veggies (foreground) or pluck them from trees and bushes (background) and put them into cardboard boxes

picking fruit in the garden
making sushi, sponsored by Umami, of course.
the library. Real books you can read (there are even some giant ones). you can also color to write your own story, or use puppets to act one out. there are chairs for sitting just around the corner.
building at the construction site. I thought it was especially cool that you could hang siding on the pegs, see wiring and plumbing, and use real tools to screw nuts and bolts on the wall.
a room to really work on gross motor skills! lots of soft foam to climb on and crawl through.
the dentist's office. this was a little scary at first, but then humorous.
real live chicks at the farm. M noticed this right away and ran over to get a good look. Very cute.
a sand pit. beach chairs provided for parents!
Ralph's grocery store
mowing down the street :)
eek. the crowd waiting in line on the way out (11AM)!
... and wrapped around the building!!!

I give this two thumbs up! We will be back. Great idea for a gray day, or if you just need a little change of scenery! (don't forget the Starbucks)
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February 16, 2012

Toddler lunch ideas, part II


For Deborah:

This series is dedicated to pasta salad. Not the kind with mayo or oily dressing, but a kid friendly one, that is flexible to include whatever veggies you have leftover in your fridge. I got the idea from an article in Parenting magazine published about a year ago. They were actually discussing (er, advertising) products for a greener lunch, ie. reusable containers and cutlery, but they were displaying said hardware with food, and shared the recipes. I didn't like all the aspects of the pasta, so I made some modifications, and this week I had some extra veggies on hand that I steamed up and snuck in.
 My version is as follows:
2 c cooked whole wheat rotini
1/4 to 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 c cherry tomatoes (this week I swapped the tomatoes for red pepper and zucchini that I had leftover and steamed with the carrots below, then diced)
1/2 c frozen peas
1/2 c steamed baby carrots, sliced
salt and pepper as needed


I let the pasta cool in the broth for flavor (instead of the butter the original recipe called for), and then mix everything together. Voila. That's it. Then pair it with a protein and a fruit side, and you have lunch!
Monday -
Lunch: veggie pasta salad, hard boiled egg, strawberries and kiwi;
Snack: blueberries and apple cinnamon cereal bar (Sprouts market brand);
Snack: grape tomatoes + feta cheese


Tuesday -
Lunch: veggie pasta salad, leftover spanikopita burger (see below for recipe - we LOVE these... and its got sneaky spinach in it!), mango;
Snack: YoToddler yogurt;
Snack: Strawberries + blueberry yogurt

Lunch: veggie pasta salad (with some leftover quinoa mixed in), turkey lunch meat, half a slice of cheddar cheese, grape tomatoes;
Snack: YoToddler yogurt, blueberries;
Snack: fig cereal bar, strawberries


Thursday -
Lunch: veggie pasta salad, hard boiled egg, mango
Snack: apple cinnamon cereal bar, YoToddler yogurt
Snack: whole grain raspberry muffin (see our Valentine's day post for the recipe)

Rachel Ray's Spanikopita Burger (just zero in on the burger, we pair with our own sides... but don't forget the buns!!)

February 15, 2012

The Great Cloth Diaper Change 2012

I just started to hear some buzz about The Great Cloth Diaper Change 2012.

I missed this event last year (we were out of town, with the nearest hosting location an hour away), and was really bummed. But this year it's already on the calendar! And there are at least two locations to choose from near us!!

If you are a cloth diaper user, or are interested in using them, I encourage you to go!! If you dont' have a cloth diaper, they'll loan or give you one to use.

The website shows the locations currently registered, but if you don't see one keep checking back, or check with your local cloth diaper boutique.

I'll come back and post any new details I find out!!!

So... you gonna go? :)

Laguna Beach

We met up with a friend of a friend (who we actually knew from North Carolina! Small world) in Laguna Beach for breakfast. A colleague had suggested a park that was right on the beach there, only a minute before our friend suggested the breakfast spot about 100 yards away. So we had to go.

The drive down was very scenic, as we had to drive through some mini-mountains to get there. We started getting the hint that this was an artsy town from the numerous art schools, and galleries and shops we passed. We also passed two different County parks (where we can use our annual pass!) that looked like they hiked through the pretty hills, so consider this Part I of at least two posts about Laguna Beach!

The playground equipment itself wasn't anything crazy unique. There was one infant swing and one regular kid swing. The structure did have a neat couple of tunnels and bridges, a couple of lookout spots, and our little guy's favorite: a steering wheel. Oh, and the soft landing below was sand. Next time we'll bring buckets, but we did find a shovel someone had left behind and M had fun making little anthills everywhere.

When we first arrived the day was overcast and even a little sprinkly, so the equipment had some small puddles on it, but nothing that was a game stopper. When we returned after breakfast, the sun was out and all traces of water were gone, and the place was hopping. Lots of kids playing and parents chatting, in addition to the people walking dogs, playing volleyball and strolling in the surf. Nearly everyone had a cup of coffee from one of the local cafes (there is a Starbucks across the street, too).

For breakfast we headed to the Cliff. The view of the beach and cliffs were great, and there was a glass screen to keep out the breeze. The omelets were really tasty (don't forget the back of the menu - we almost did). This is a relaxed atmosphere and at 9AM on a Saturday in February we among only a couple of occupied tables, so no worries with the toddler.

Quite a pleasant day! And we'll be back to check out the artsy shopping and food downtown, and the trails I mentioned above. AND hubby got us tickets to the Pageant of the Masters for Valentine's Day, so we'll be back this summer!

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