Monday, November 30, 2015

A Cure for Your (Children’s) Itching Hands

I am thrilled to share this guest post by fellow family traveler and reader Yuan LIU. He's discovered an exciting DIY space for children - check it out.

 As Karen’s loyal zombie who picks her brain out of this blog, I feel indebted every time I get satisfaction on her footsteps.  Here is a little something that I can contribute: A lesser known but beloved place to spend a good afternoon. (Or morning.)

A year ago, my daughter went to Berkeley’s Adventure Playground with her Girl Scouts troop and couldn’t stop bragging about the tepee they built.  So this year, when her troop needed a volunteer, I didn’t need her puppy face to take it up.

 The Adventure Playground is right by the Bay.  From the Peninsula, it took less than an hour’s drive.  From the outside, you can see this is not your usual playground.  Sure enough, there are slides, swings, and climb structures.  Oh, did I mention their zipline, too?  The difference is, all the equipment are full of colors - I mean, not colorful, but full of all kind of colors.  Bold colors, next-to-indistinguishable colors, incoherent colors, colors of no theme.  No, of course I don’t mean that colorful and professionally painted Peter Pan mural you see outside.

Another difference is, all these equipment look like they were hand-made from scrap wood by amateurs.  I don’t know about the amateur part, but they are hand-made, from scrapped materials.

  So, the place’s got a few play structures that look different.  OK.  Really different.  Different different - oh, it is also fenced up, unlike most public playgrounds.  A six-years-old may happily trot along for a couple hours.  How does this hold the interest of four vanfuls of six-graders for the afternoon?
 We arrived about an hour earlier than our appointed time, so we went on a short stroll by the marina after picnic lunch. (Do not worry, you do not need an appointment if you are just a family.)  The playground’s immediate neighbor is Shorebird Park.  Within walking distance are McLaughlin East Shore State Park and Cézar Chàvez Park.
Of course, we did not have time to explore.  We came here for tangible fun.  Tangible, as in “perceptible by touch”.  After Jeremy our tour guide explained safety rules with hand tools and how to earn those tools (and/or paint), the girls were all set up to work.  As the sign says, you go find 10 nails, or 5 wood splinters, 5 pieces of trash, or 1 “Mr. Dangerous”, in exchange for a hand tool or a pail of paint.
How could you find these safety hazards in a playground?  Easy.  Because more than just play structures, Adventure Playground has a woodwork workshop where children can build whatever they want to, using scrap wood pieces and, yes, nails.  It is inevitable that some wood will become splinters and some nails will find their way to where they should not.

Before you lose your mind and call CPS, know that this place is operated by Berkeley Park and Recreation.  You do not sign a formal waiver like in Maker Faire, but you are encouraged to supervise your children by charging each unaccompanied child $7 admission.  That’s right, you bring your children for free if you stay with them.

Whereas using hand tools can be exciting for children, younger ones may not be able to handle all the labor.  In addition to saw and hammer, children can also trade safety hazards they remove from the ground for paint, then unleash their inner Van Gogh on whatever they like, wherever they like.  That’s right, within the boundary of the fence, they can paint or color anywhere that does not have a sign explicitly forbidding painting.  This means that children can paint on any piece of furniture and equipment, finished and unfinished.  Now, can you see why this place is so full of colors?
 For those children whose higher call is Gershwin, they can try music.  Do not expect Eine Kleiner Nachtmusik to come from this open-shell, half broken piano.  But more than half of its keys are still functional. (No painting on the piano.)  And I have heard a few trained hands banging some recognizable tunes out of it.

 And the zipline?  You’ll have to come and see.  It is nothing like what you get on Fremont Street in Las Vegas.  But this is a unique experience, especially the part about pulling up your own harness.  For young ones who are not allowed on professional equipment, this might be their first ride.  It was my daughter’s last year.

Adventure Playground is free, conveniently located, and close to several parks.  If your children are itching for action, you can’t go wrong with this place.

Opening Hours: Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am-4pm. only; Closed on City Holidays and Rainy Days

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Downtown Santa Cruz And The First Friday Art Tour

Normally I wouldn't choose to drive over Highway 17 on a Friday night; braving traffic and returning in the dark, but my good friend had invited me to the opening night of her first art show and I wanted to support her. So the kids and I (my husband was on a business trip) drove to downtown Santa Cruz and explored a bit of the First Friday Art Tour. It was totally worth it.

Pacific Avenue - Lit Up And Happening!
 The first Friday of each month, artists get a chance to exhibit their works in venues around town. It feels like a big party as people spend their evening viewing art, shopping late, frequenting restaurants, and being part of the street scene.

Artist And Friend Tish Bertino With Some Of Her Oil Paintings - At The True Olive Connection
Not only did we discover new artists, we also discovered some fun stores. I had no idea there were so many delicious varieties of olive oil and balsamic vinegars; the True Olive Connection at 106 Lincoln St. must sell them all. The proprietors were very nice and they did an excellent job showcasing Tish Bertino's paintings. I ended up buying two bottles of olive oil, one lime flavored and the other a wild mushroom flavor.

I must mention, the True Olive Connection has another location in Aptos where they offer olive oil tasting parties for adults - now that's unique!

We Enjoyed The Yummy Samples Of Bread, Cheese And Flavored Olive Oils
For dinner, we ate at an only-in-Santa-Cruz restaurant called Café Gratitude (actually they have other California locations as well). They specialize in "organic, seasonal, vegan, homemade" dishes. Even though we are meat eaters, we thought the food  was quite good. The menu choices have names that reflect the self affirming theme of the restaurant: I Am Thriving; I Am Accepting; I Am Warmhearted; being some of the names. My son chose an I Am Extraordinary dish that featured a “BLT” with maple coconut, "bacon,” lettuce, tomato and avocado and served with a cashew chipotle cheese bread on sliced sourdough wheat bread. He said it was delicious. The prices were very good too.

Seated nearby was a man dressed in a funky hat, scarf and vest(?). He definitely looked unique. My son overheard a bit of his conversation - “Mom, I think he was talking quantum physics!”
Only in Santa Cruz . . :-)

After dinner we went to what turned out to be my daughter's favorite store - the OM Gallery at 1201 Pacific Ave. This was definitely a fun store, full of colorful lights, mobiles, fountains and more. 

My Daughter Said She Could Have Stayed Here All Night

They were hosting the artist Yeshe Jackson. We loved his acrylic seascapes, landscapes and ocean waves. They were fun, colorful, and imaginative. I couldn't resist ordering two prints for my kids. Yeshe didn't have the prints on hand, but told me he could make and send them to me. He was true to his word - I received them a few days later.

I Can Imagine A Whole Wall Of These In My Dream House By The Beach

Then we had an ice cream and walked down Pacific Avenue looking in some of the shop windows and watching the scene on the street. My kids got an education seeing a drugged out panhandler, a couple of delusional extroverts, and two absolutely filthy, barefooted young children playing on the sidewalk with their parent God knows where. Unfortunately, I believe you can see this kind of thing in any big city in America.

The Pacific Cookie Company Has Delicious Ice Cream And "Home-made" Cookies!

But we ended our night on a positive note - we met a street performing poet! For two or three dollars, Kevin Devaney will write a short poem on his 1920s typewriter, based on any subject you give him. We read one of his poems, something about a cantaloupe - then it went off in several creative directions - ending in a bowl of cream. We liked it!

Kevin Devaney Leads Monday Evening Poetry Workshops At The Tannery Arts Center

If you go: First Friday is every month, rain or shine. It's free to enjoy. For more information, please visit their website.

If you are driving from the Peninsula, try to leave early. Friday night traffic is pretty bad, although it did clear out for us once we passed the Summit.

Parking: there are parking garages and street parking around downtown but you may have to drive a while before you find a free space. We lucked out and got a space right across from the True Olive Connection.

Hope you can check out the action sometime! Have fun and remember to keep an open mind. ;-)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Port Gamble, Washington - A Sleeper Hit!

Note: this is the last in a series on our family vacation in Washington State

Port Gamble on the Kitsap Peninsula is a charming little town full of hidden surprises. For instance, upstairs in their general store there is a fantastic Sea And Shore Life Museum that is free (although they welcome small donations). The General store sells unique gifts and delicious ice cream desserts and also has a café in the back.

They have a playhouse as well - the Port Gamble Theater. According to my mom, they put on a very good show.

The Port Gamble Theater

For this last visit, we enjoyed viewing the old homes -

exploring a couple of shops -

looking at this old anchor near the history museum (we didn't go in) -

 checking out this cool Elm Tree -

 munching on fresh blackberries -

 and checking out the Dahlia Garden.

When we visited once before, we ate at Mike's Four Star BBQ. The food was great and everyone was very friendly. At that time, we were visiting a summer faire. There is always something fun going on in Port Gamble; check out their listing of events.

For more information, check out wikipedia. Have fun!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Exploring Beach 4 (yes, that's its real name) On The Washington Coast

Note: this is the fourth in a series of blogs I have been doing about our vacation in Washington state.

Beach 4 - Lots Of Sand And Tide Pools

Just a couple miles north of the Kalaloch Lodge is Beach 4. Despite its unoriginal name, It is a beautiful beach that is great for walking, running and tide pooling. Even the steps that lead down to the beach are lovely.

The Steps Lead Down Through Ferns And Trees
Wildflowers Growing Among The Rocks
Perched On The Railing Above The Beach

While my husband ran, we explored the tide pools.

Of Course You Need To Go During Low Tide To Explore The Tide Pools
I Recommend Some Sort Of Water Shoes For Exploring The Tide Pools

Giant Green Sea Anemones And An Ochre Sea Star
I Was Lucky Enough To Spot A Nudibranch!
Photo Op On The Driftwood!
What’s He Thinking About? The Mysteries Of The Universe? Food? Sleep?

If you'd like to know more about the Kalaloch Lodge and its surrounding beaches, please visit my other blog posts.  Hope you enjoyed your virtual visit! Thanks for reading.