Adventuring: Fruitvale Dia De Los Muertos Festival

Sugar Skulls

Sugar Skulls


Today’s adventure was a local one as we headed over the bridge to the Dia De Los Muertos Festival in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland.

At the risk of making myself look shallow, I will admit that I am one of those fans of Dia De Los Muertos that loves it mostly for aesthetic reasons. I love the colors, the elaborate skeleton face paint, the look of the alters, the sugar skulls, the witty paper mache dolls, and the bright paper banners. It’s pure beauty.

But maybe because I am getting older, or maybe it’s the mother in me, I find myself increasingly enamored with the sentiment of it all. The idea that for a few nights a year, our deceased loved ones visit us and that we welcome them with alters in their honor, dripping in celebration rather than sadness, to enjoy a visit together. It’s a lovely idea.

It gets better… on Nov 2, the celebration is taken to the cemetery where families hang out with their returning loved ones cleaning their tombs, eating, drinking, playing cards and watching TV all night before sending them off with a song and returning home themselves saturated with love, community, memories and, well… some booze.

Dia De Los Muertos Festival at Fruitvale

Fruitvale Love

Fruitvale Love

Our adventure today was spent wandering the Dia De Los Muertos Festival soaking in great weather and a super fun family-friendly festival right in our backyard. We all gave it thumbs up… Jack and Elise loved the giant slide and their mango shaved ice, Mike enjoyed a taco or three, and I pretty much loved all of it. My favorite favorites being the alters, the Aztec dancers, the live music, my mangonada, and (of course) the beauty of it all…

The kids running this booth were amazing. They were so proud of their art work, and for good reason. I love the idea of using pans as the canvas for these calaveras paintings.

The kids running this booth were amazing. They were so proud of their art work, and for good reason. I love the idea of using pans as the canvas for these calaveras paintings.

The St Jarlath School kids made these amazing sugar skulls and pasta pictures as well.

The St Jarlath School kids made these amazing sugar skulls and pasta pictures as well.

Hamming it up.

Never misses a photo op.

Giant Slide.

Giant Slide. nuff said.

Love and Mango... and a rad tiger shirt.

Love and Mango… and a rad tiger shirt.

Mangonada! SO good.

Mangonada! Mango, Ice, Chamoy… spicy and yum.

Sad truth is that Oakland isn't always this festive.

Sad truth about Oakland.

On the way home we talked about the holiday in more detail. And it got Jack thinking about Kitty, our cat who passed away a little less than a year ago. Jack still misses Kitty a lot. So we decided to celebrate Kitty on this Dia De Los Muertos with an alter built on the backyard grass where kitty loved to stretch out on a sunny day. We pulled together some of his favorite things: some tomatoes & strawberries, comfy blanket, the memorial stone we made when he died, some candles, and our new sugar skulls. Jack carefully placed each of these items on the grass and then we sat and talked about kitty for a few. There were some tears, but we also laughed at how kitty loved to steal and eat our fruit, and what a fun and sweet cat he was and how when he ran his saggy tummy swayed back and forth. Short but sweet, our Dia De Los Muertos memorial ended in laughs and good thoughts.

Kitty Alter - yes, he really did love fruit.

Kitty Alter – yes, he really did love fruit.

Adventuring: Mystery Spot

Mystery Spot, SC

Mystery Spot, Santa Cruz


One of the downsides of having so much info at our fingertips is that there’s little mystery left in the world. Everything has been proved, disproved, researched, explained. I’m semi-revolting against this as I fight the urge to google the truth about the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz, instead choosing to live in the weirdness of the experience itself.

I say “semi” because I did actually start to research the truth. Then I couldn’t handle it and closed the browser a paragraph in. I want to believe that this place is really, truly, weird.

Backing up here, we went to the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz this weekend. If you live in Northern California, you’ve seen the bumper stickers. I’ve been seeing them for years, half ignoring/half thinking it a thing of the past (supported by the fact that the stickers are typically spotted on 80’s volvo wagons). Well, turns out it’s still pumping through the tourists! So of course with the kids, the adventuring, etc… it was really only a matter of time that we end up here.

We Love Mystery and Slugs

We Love Mystery and Slugs


And so we did, on Saturday, along with about 300 other tourists. A mystery in and of itself, where did all the people come from? We drove up the quiet mountain road, few cars in site, so how is it once we got out of the car in the parking lot, the place was CRAWLING with people?! Mysterious.

Leaning

Leaning…

More leaning and also looking a bit like a wax statue.

More leaning and looking a bit like a wax statue.

                                                      
But that’s obviously not the true point here, it’s the strange events that occur as you tour the small 150ft area in the redwoods outside of Santa Cruz. Water appears to flow uphill, people appear to shrink, grow, and lean in abnormal ways. Not to mention the dizzy, nauseous, uneasy feeling you get standing in this spot. Even my scientist husband found it all to be inexplicable and thought at the very least it would spur an interesting conversation amongst his scientist work buddies on Monday.

Participating

Participating

More Participation

More Participation


                                    
We had fun stumbling against gravity through the rooms of the tiny cabin, participating in a few puzzling demonstrations, and generally suspending our disbelief (and chuckling at some pretty cheesy jokes) for an hour in the redwoods.

Real or not, it’s mind-bending (and cheap) enough to get our thumbs up.

MYSTERY SPOT
465 Mystery Spot Road
Santa Cruz, CA 95065
http://www.mysteryspot.com/

Adventuring: Aquarium & Dim Sum

The heavy reality of heading back to work hit like a ton of bricks this morning as I spent two hours driving a mere 15 miles to work. Nothing like starting a new job the same day the regional transit goes on strike. And as I crawled down the freeway en route to the new gig, it wasn’t the traffic dragging me down. It was the reality that my freedom has officially been boxed in around work, commutes, and deadlines. Sigh. But I lamented this already in last night’s post so time to get over it and move on.

Elise and I spent my last day of summer freedom on friday adventuring together. Jack was at camp so she got to pick all parts of the plan. She chose: Aquarium of the Bay followed by Dim Sum.

I went online to the local library Discover & Go program and downloaded a free pass to the Aquarium, clipped a Ferry coupon out of the Alameda phone book, and planned our route…

Ferry Ride

Ferry Ride


Alameda/SF Ferry
We dropped Jack at camp and headed for the ferry terminal to catch a boat over to Pier 41 near our destination, The Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39. We took a couple of pit stops first 1) The Kite Store bubble machine for some dancing, 2) the Sea Lions but only one lone sleeper lay on the platform, the rest we determined were out to sea and 3) The candy store on Pier 39 with barrels of taffy in every flavor. Try passing by that with a four year old without entering.

Bubble Dancing

Bubble Dancing

CANDY!

CANDY!

Aquarium of the Bay/Pier 39
This isn’t the most phenomenal aquarium, and not somewhere you can spend the entire day. It’s a fairly quick walk through with our longest time spent at the touch tanks. They do have a very cool walk through glass tunnel full of large sharks, rays, and fish cruising by above your head. And recently they added an otter exhibit though they were snoozing away while we were there. They have a friendly staff and even if it’s not as grand as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, we enjoyed our time there.

Touch Tanks, Elise's favorite!

Touch Tanks, Elise’s favorite!


I love these cute little Strawberry Anenome

I love these cute little Strawberry Anenome

City View Dim Sum
We walked from Pier 39 to City View Dim Sum via North Beach. A good way to go because there’s lots to see to keep the walk interesting. Elise was in a stroller so she sat back and enjoyed the ride. I got a little exercise to preempt the calorie explosion about to take place.

When I worked in downtown SF, City View was always my favorite Dim Sum spot to hit up for a Friday lunch with coworkers. I love me some Dim Sum and have been known to overstuff myself on numerous occasions. This time around we kept it under control with 4 items, though admittedly I ate most of it. Elise had her favorite: Baked Pork Buns and declared them the best she’s tried to date. Bonus: We ran into some friends at the next table.

Right after this shot, she shoved the entire thing in her mouth.

Right after this shot, she shoved the entire thing in her mouth.

We then walked down through the Financial District to the Ferry Terminal and hopped on a ferry back to Alameda. Another lovely day with my girl, this time luckily without a single temper tantrum.

Financial District Fountain

Financial District Fountain


Lovely Day in the City.

Lovely Day in the City.

Adventuring: The (New) Exploratorium

Color Shadows

Color Shadows: Exploratorium


Today I picked back up the world’s slowest basement remodel by putting another coat of primer on the walls. This “make” is just too boring to put words to. Instead I am digging out an Exploratorium adventure from a couple of weeks ago that I never got around to writing about.

Well, ok. (deep breath) That’s not entirely true. I started to write about it that very night but was clearly not fully recovered enough to string coherent words together. The Exploratorium itself was awesome, and I will get to that more in a second, but the behavior by my four year old daughter (yes the cute one sipping tea and stuffing bears)… not so awesome. It was a fit of epic proportion that caused the two of us to sit outside the museum for AN HOUR in a standoff while Jack went in with his friends and their families. The type of fit that tests every ounce of one’s parental mettle. The fun part? We had ferried over so there was no way out. I’ll spare you the detail, but I will say at one point my daughter called me a “beast” which, in hindsight, is a kinda funny thing for a four year old to say.

Eventually we worked through the ordeal, though I would not say with any grace or parental prowess. Maybe something in our post-storm talk did settle in because she hasn’t done this since and has even stopped herself from going there a few times.

Ok then, with that behind us, we did make it into the Exploratorium an hour before it closed…

The Exploratorium
Sometimes change is scary. You really love something as it is, grew up with it as it is, can’t really imagine it another way. This is what made me nervously anticipate the complete overhaul of the Exploratorium. Would the new location be too new, too sleek? Would there remain a gritty curiosity to the place? Was I over thinking it all? (clearly)

No camera filter used here: the monochromatic room.

No camera filter used here: the monochromatic room.


But really, they did a phenomenal job rebuilding this place. It did feel new and modern but without losing it’s edge. The new location is so much easier to get to by BART or ferry (ahem… BART if you might need a quick getaway). There are way more exhibits, much more to see. It feels more spacious whereas the old one often got cramped. The only downside was that Jack loved running around the Palace of Fine Arts next to the old location. I think he envisioned it as his own Star Wars battle arena so he misses it. Also, the price has gone up (to be expected) making it now a pricey adventure for a family of four. We’ll get a family membership since it’s definitely a place to keep returning to.

The other thing that remains true in the new version is that it’s full of hands-on science that is equally enjoyed by kids and adults. This is an every age museum. You see tons of adults enjoying it without kids in tow. Like Herbie, the overall and page boy wearing pied piper of the Exploratorium who had tricks up his sleeve to get the most out of each exhibit. We kept running into him and he kept being super gracious and sharing his exploration with the kids… bubble wands for the colored shadow wall, multicolored jelly beans for the monochromatic room, flashlights to write with in the Shadow Box room. The kids loved running into him. Who was this mysterious hipster? Did he work there??

In Summary: If you live in the area, go here. If you visit San Francisco, go here. Even if you don’t have kids, go here. There still is no place quite like the Exploratorium.

Plankton Map

Plankton Map


glub, glub

glub, glub


Leave it to Jack to find the "game"

Leave it to Jack to find the “game”


Color Shadows

Color Shadows


Wall sized bubble wand.

Wall sized bubble wand.

Herbie, the Pied Piper of the Exploratorium

Herbie, the Pied Piper of the Exploratorium

Exploratorium
Pier 15, San Francisco
http://www.exploratorium.edu/

Adventuring: Girls Day Out

Mama - Ellie Day!

Mama – Ellie Day!


My girl and I decided we were long overdue for a Mama/Ellie day. Just the two of us, adventuring in the far-off, exotic lands of Pleasanton where we hit up a tea house and the Build-A-Bear Workshop.

It was a very fluffy-pink-sparkly-floral kinda day, the type of day that doesn’t often happen in our typical adventuring. Truth be told, I know Elise longs for more of these types of days. She’s a girly girl through and through who doesn’t mind scurrying over rocks but would prefer to be doing it in a pink dress and glittery sandals. So we traded in our bathings suits and hiking clothes for skirts and dress shoes and headed East.

Don't mind if I do!

Don’t mind if I do!


The English Rose Tea Room
http://www.theenglishrose-pleasanton.com
This place is the definition of frilly, not an inch left undone. Elise loved it. We settled into our embroidered settee and ordered. The Princess Penelope tea with Chamomile for the lady, the Duchess Anne’s Delightful Tea with whatever black tea has the most caffeine for me.

The highlight of Elise’s food was the marshmallow and jam sandwich(!) and scone with lemon curd. She also asked if she could eat some sugar cubes. Yes, tempting sitting there in that bowl but no, no you can’t. I think you’re good with that marshmallow sandwich.

mmm, cookies.

mmm, cookies.


Chamomile tea with sugar and milk.

Chamomile tea with sugar and milk.

Build-A-Bear Workshop
After tea we headed to the Stoneridge Mall to hit up Build-A-Bear. While I grew up in suburbia and spent countless hours of my youth hanging at the mall, I realize it’s a pretty foreign concept to my kids. We don’t really have one near us so it really was a somewhat exotic location. At one point Elise said “I don’t ever want to leave this place” in a voice like travelers say when on a beach in Thailand for the first time.

We found the bear workshop and were ushered through the building of a bear by some very friendly staff. Elise knew exactly what she wanted from the selection of the bear itself, through to the wardrobe styling. Obviously a bathing suit and flip flops, it is summer afterall.

Stuffing the bear.

Stuffing the bear.

A Girl and Her Bear.

A Girl and Her Bear.

                                                 
She also chose the characteristics her bear would have in it’s little red satin heart that they literally stuff inside the bear before sewing the bear up. These were: Sparkly, Nice, Happy, Honest.

Once the bear was stuffed, she gave the bear a “bath” in the touchscreen interactive tub. Clearly her favorite feature at the workshop, she gave her bear about seven baths total before I could get her out of there.

Our 5th trip to the tub.

Our 5th trip to the tub.

She named this clean, bathing beauty “Fluffy” and declared she would go nowhere without her new bear.

We headed home, Elise falling asleep hugging Fluffy. I realized I also like a little girly girl time, especially when it’s watching my best girl have a day I could tell she deeply enjoyed. In her words “I didn’t just like today, I looooovvvved today.”

Passed out from cuteness overload.

Passed out from cuteness overload.

Adventuring: Lawrence Hall of Science

Not much making has been going on in this house over the last week. With school out, two more weeks work-free for me, and camps yet to start, we’ve been in full-blown adventure mode. Over the last week we’ve been to The Exploratorium, Lawrence Hall of Science, Coyote Point & CuriOdyssey, Japantown SF, The Bone Room and countless trips to the local pool.

Lawrence Hall of Science
Jack and I snuck up to the Lawrence Hall of Science in the Berkeley hills for what was planned to be a quick visit. Some friends had added us on to their membership so we thought we’d cram in a quick session and check it out. I guess I had always assumed it was for older kids though I am not sure why. Many people have told me it’s awesome. People with kids the same age as mine. Yet it somehow didn’t sink in until we were actually there enjoying the exhibits, unable to peel ourselves away. And, when we finally did peel away, it was only because we knew we’d be back with the rest of the family in tow. After all, we had only scratched the surface. There were still lego stop-animation movies to make, animals to hold, Planetarium shows to attend, things to build. Thumbs up for this place, we’ll be hanging out here often.

Oh, and since it’s affiliated with UC Berkeley there are tons of eager Engineering students around to help the kids. Another tip: The cafeteria has $5 kids meals and amazing views of SF and Oakland.

Helix Climb

Helix Climb

We spent lots of time building, testing, rebuilding our ball runs. I want this in my house!

We spent lots of time building, testing, rebuilding our ball runs. I want this in my house!

Balls + Ramps = Fun

Balls + Ramps = Fun

Views of SF, Oakland, and  basically the entire Bay.

Views of SF, Oakland, and basically the entire Bay.

Lawrence Hall of Science: http://www.lawrencehallofscience.org

Adventuring: Coyote Point & CuriOdyssey

Shhhhh… I’m going to let you in on a little secret. It’s a GOOD one that my friend turned me onto recently. The local libraries in the bay area (and maybe beyond?) offer free tickets to local museums and attractions. Places like the Academy of Sciences and the Discovery Museum. For free.

Right? I know!

The program is called Discover & Go and all you need is a library card. The selfish me didn’t want to tell you because the number of passes to some venues is limited. However the loudmouth me, as usual, won out. This is the same “me” that feels compelled to tell a stranger who compliments my shoes that I got them for a buck at Target when a simple “thanks” would do.

Moving on along, we tried the Discover & Go program today by downloading and cashing in a free admission to CuriOdyssey at Coyote Point. We’ve been to Coyote Point before and it’s a pretty awesome place even without entering CuriOdyssey. It’s a regional recreation area located on the water in San Mateo, not far from the airport. This is key because not only do you have panoramic views of the bay, but the kids get to see large airplanes down low as they go in for a landing. And then there’s the playground, which I’ll get to in a second, but first some tips:

On a walk at Coyote Point a few months back. We love this spot.

On a walk at Coyote Point a few months back. We love this spot.


Coyote Point Adventure Tips:
– Pack a lunch and make a day of it.
– Start with Magic Mountain playground and hit CuriOdyssey a little later to catch the animal show.
– Have lunch at a table away from the playground so kids actually eat rather than beg to play. Better yet, face the airport direction and you can watch the planes come in.
– Get an ice cream at the snack bar and stroll the path along the water.
– Head over to CuriOddyssey after lunch for a couple of hours.
– At CuriOddyssey don’t miss the animal show. Make sure to line up early to get passes. They are free with admission but they go quickly.

Ok, more detail on each spot within Coyote Point…

Magic Mountain Playground
This is a pretty awesome playground with something for all ages. There’s a huge castle structure with a giant slide as well as a bunch of smaller kid play things. Jack’s slide tip: Go down on your sweatshirt for a turbo boost.

The dragons nose... serious photo op if your kids aren't burnt out like mine.

Castles and Dragons.

Tip: sit on sweatshirt for speed.

Jack’s Tip: sit on sweatshirt for speed.

zip line back & forth

zip line back & forth

CuriOddyssey
We spent a few hours here and that seemed like plenty of time to meander through things. There are some hands on science exhibits as well as native California animals. The focus on native animals was great to give the kids an idea of what’s around them in our state and what to look for on our next hike.

Science is awesome.

Science is awesome…

and so is sand.

…and so is sand.


and bees are also pretty kick-ass. Especially female bees who we learned basically do everything.

and bees are also pretty kick-ass. Especially female bees who we learned basically do everything.


Peregrine Falcon at the animal show.

Peregrine Falcon at the animal show.

We learned a number of things today but my favorite? That, when diving for prey, the Peregrine Falcon is the fastest animal on the planet, reaching speeds of over 200mph. The cheetah? 75mph. AND they are local so maybe our next adventure will be Peregrine Falcon spotting.

The Info:
Coyote Point Recreation Area
1701 Coyote Point Dr, San Mateo, 94401
FEE: $6/car park entrance fee

Magic Mountain Playground at Coyote Point
FREE with park entrance

CuriOdyssey at Coyote Point
http://www.curiodyssey.org/
Admission: $4 for 2-12, $6 for 13-17 & seniors, $8 adults