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Archive for December, 2007

DRAGONS & Other Holiday Tales

Christmas readingSarah Wilson, the Danville children’s author, has penned another holiday tale, perfect for bedtime storytelling on this, the most difficult bedtime-night of the year. (Has Santa come yet? How ’bout now? Do you hear reindeer? Is it morning yet? How ’bout now?) Catch “Dragon Tale: Edward’s Day of Giving” on the cover of today’s Times TimeOut section or click to it right here.

And if you’re looking for some charmingly twisted holiday carols, we’ll be running the results of the Times’ “faux carol” contest tomorrow – we asked readers to submit new lyrics to old faves – but you can catch a sneak peek now, as the Acalanes High School choir sings “We Three Kids,” a funny Three Kings riff on college kids coming home, by Lafayette songwriter Kat Mulkey.

Posted on Monday, December 24th, 2007
Under: Books | No Comments »

FAMILY TRAVEL: Global Travel by the Book

Jordan and Katrina Higham readingIt’s one thing to pack up yourself for a yearlong round-the-world trek, but when you take the kids along, you have to think about schoolwork too.  Today’s Times travel section features the Higham family’s grand, 52-week global adventure, but the nitty gritty of how to homeschool when your itinerary spans Iceland to Thailand? You’ll find that right here.

THE TRAVELERS: Aerospace engineer John and September Higham and their two children, Jordan, then 8, and Katrina, 11, of Mt. View, CA.

THE TREK IN A SEC: From Iceland to Thailand, Panama and Bolivia, the Highams hit 28 countries in 52 weeks, traveling by plane, train, cargo ship and two tandem bicycles … while carting boxes of books.
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Posted on Sunday, December 23rd, 2007
Under: Books, Family Travel | No Comments »

JUDGE SLAPS down screaming park neighbor

MBRSometimes, the legal system doesn’t err on the side of common sense. Fortunately, an Alameda County judge saw and ruled with the obvious Thursday. The judge slapped a three-year restraining order against Art Maxwell of Berkeley, who has screamed and cursed at parents and children because of noise levels at Becky Temko Tot Park, next to his home. (Maxwell also can’t enter the park and must pay $7,500 in attorney fees. To learn more, read Doug Oakley’s story in the Times.)

Alameda County Superior Court Commissioner Jon Rantzman shot down Maxwell’s free speech argument: “Mr. Maxwell, it is a park and when you moved in, it was already there. When you move in next to a park, there is going to be noise. If you think the park is a nuisance, you can petition the city to have it shut down, but you cannot enforce your own version of the law to try to keep the park quiet.” Excuse us for a moment while we clap out loud.

I feel for Maxwell’s medical condition (he suffered a spinal cord injury in February and now “rests” at home), but there is no rationale reason for cursing at small children and blaring music outside to intimidate them. Instead, Maxwell needs to adapt his condition to his longstanding surroundings. Try ear plugs. Invest in dual-pane windows. Move. It’s just too bad it took a court of law to point out the obvious.

Posted on Friday, December 21st, 2007
Under: Just Bizarre | No Comments »

FAB FIVE for the Weekend

Mark Morris'

Looking for some family fun this weekend? Here’s what’s happening around the Bay… 

1) Tired of all those Sugar Plum fairies? Check out the Mark Morris Dance Group’s “Hard Nut,” a wacky riff on the classic “Nutcracker,” at Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall this weekend.

2) MOCHA’s winter weekend workshops continue with “Hanging Around,” a family art afternoon dedicated to ornaments and wreaths on the 22nd from 1 to 4 p.m. and “Home Sweet Home,” complete with candy cottages and cookie castles on the 23rd. ($7)

3) The last of those $2 holiday kid matinees is this weekend – “Stuart Little” lights up the screen at the Rialto Cinemas Elmwood (2966 College, Berkeley).

4) Make “Wild Music” at Lawrence Hall of Science. ($5.50-$10)

5) Or take in “Miracle on 34th Street” at Lafayette’s charming Town Hall Theater, now through Dec. 29. ($12-$32)

Posted on Thursday, December 20th, 2007
Under: Family Outings | No Comments »

REAL SURVIVORS: Rescued family did some things right

rescueThe Paradise family lost in the wilderness for three days got lucky. By now, most of us have heard the story (if you haven’t, check out John Simerman’s article in the Times). A father and his three children went into Lassen National Forest to cut down a Christmas tree Sunday and got lost. Yesterday, making one final pass before a winter storm moved in, a California Highway Patrol helicopter spotted the father. The family was rescued and left the hospital the same night.

Subsequently, we’ve heard what the family did wrong: they weren’t wearing heavy clothes or boots, brought no provisions (not even a flashlight) and had no map of the area. They weren’t reported missing until Monday morning when 12-year-old Joshua Dominguez didn’t arrive at school. No one realized sooner that there was cause for concern.

But, the family did quite a bit right, too. For starters, the father, Frederick, knew enough to stay put and wait for help. They used tree branches to write out “Help” and discarded clothing to draw attention to their sign. Frederick sheltered his children with branches the first night and found a rocky culvert to protect them during the next two nights. He rubbed his daughter’s blackened toes to help prevent frostbite. (And the fact that they suffered only minor frostbite is truly amazing.) They ate ice to avoid dehydration. Their safe return is a miracle, but their instincts are what really helped them come through this ordeal remarkably well.

Posted on Thursday, December 20th, 2007
Under: Health & Safety | No Comments »

BABY OTTER is cutest in the world


Awwwwwwwww! She’s soooooo cuuuute!!! Just looking at the newest addition to the Monterey Bay Aquarium makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. The aquarium just put the freshwater African spotted-neck otter pup, born Sept. 27, and her mom on display in the Wild About Otters exhibit and is sponsoring a contest to help give her a name.

The pup is the third African spotted-necked otter born at the aquarium. Two other female pups – Kazana (KAH-ZAH-NAH) and Ajabu (AH-JAH-BOO), were born to parents Neema (NEE-MAH) and Denny (DEN-EE) on Nov. 3, 2006.

Visit the aquarium’s Web site to participate in the contest. Visitors are being asked to vote for one of three Swahili names: Shani, (SHAH-NEE) meaning “curiosity” or “adventure” since the young pup enjoys exploring her surroundings; Ziwa, (ZEE-WAH) meaning “lake” or “pond” for the African spotted-necked otters’ love of their watery habitats; and Nukta, (NEWK-TA) meaning “dot” because of a white spot of fur on the pup’s head. Voting ends on Dec. 31 at 5 p.m. The aquarium will announce the results of the contest and the new pup’s name in the first week of January.
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Posted on Wednesday, December 19th, 2007
Under: Family Outings | 2 Comments »

TOY RECALLS: The Neverending Story

Recalled toyOne would think that everything that could be recalled had been. But no. The Consumer Product Safety Commission folks recalled yet another batch of toys today — lead-laced wooden alphabet blocks, wooden toys and military vehicles made by Soldier Bear of Hong Kong. A few days ago, it was lion-shaped infant teething toys — the lion noses pose a choking hazard because they break off when bitten, which, um, is what you do with a teething toy. And did we mention the 300,000 baby bead and wire toys and speed racer cars? Yeah, recalled for lead. And cheapo fishing games, the kind you buy at the grocery store. Ditto. And horseshoe magnets. Also leaded.

It’s enough to make any holiday shopper tear his or her hair out. not only sympathizes, they’re trying to help. Whip out your cell phone and text them the name of a toy — type in “healthy toys” and the name of the toy and zap it to 41411 — and they’ll respond with a message about its relative toxicity. (The service is only as good as its database, of course, in this case a pool of 1,200 toys, so our first two attempts – we asked for chemical levels on Curious George and Soldier Bear toys – resulted in zilch, but we finally hit pay dirt on “Healthy toys Polly Pocket” … which has low chemical levels, in case you were wondering.)

Posted on Wednesday, December 19th, 2007
Under: Toy Recalls | No Comments »

KIDDIE CARPOOL, techie-style

Car kidsWe get the strangest press releases here, so our fingers are always hovering over the delete button. But this one? This is brilliant. If you’ve ever wrestled with coordinating kiddie carpool schedules, check out . It’s a shared calendar database you use with friends and neighbors. Near as we can tell, you log on, input your messy schedule (including driving availability) and invite fellow soccer, band and ballet families to join you. The site figures out the carpool schedule, e-mails everyone, then sends reminders to your cell phone. Where the heck was this when we were coordinating our foursome’s frantic extra-curriculars?? Sounds fantastic — and we’re eager to hear a review from anyone who’s actually tried it out, or has tips to share on surviving carpool/kid activity mania.

Posted on Wednesday, December 19th, 2007
Under: Parenting Issues | No Comments »

POLAR EXPRESS: All aboard!

Polar Express You don’t have to wait for the North Pole stop when you ride the California State Railroad Museum’s Polar Express. Santa comes to you!The East Bay Moms group took their little darlings up to Sacramento last week to ride the holiday train, greet St. Nick and listen to Chris Van Allsburg’s beloved story, with a side of cocoa and cookies. (And they sent in these pics to inspire us.)

Polar Express3 The railroad museum’s tickets sold out so blindingly fast, they’re already laying plans for an encore in 2008. But if you’re too bummed to wait, why not create your own Polar Express experience? Fill a thermos with hot cocoa, grab a copy of Van Allsburg’s book and head for Tilden Park’s Steam Trains. Sip and read at the station, then board the pint-sized trains and imagine.

Posted on Wednesday, December 19th, 2007
Under: Family Outings | No Comments »

SHOUT-OUT for Bob’s World

Bob’s World is an institution when it comes to cool light displays in Pleasanton, but we hadn’t ever actually seen it in person until recently. We stumbled upon its brilliance (Take Paseo Santa Cruz off Valley to 2612 Calle Reynoso–you can’t miss it), and it’s now our new favorite holiday lights display. It’s just so sweet and innocent, even if it is a little weird for a former Midwesterner like myself to see lit up polar bears on a green lawn with a snow machine spewing little white stuff everywhere, much to the delight of the kids.

Even weirder were the Livermore Harley bikers who rolled up to the suburban wonderland, one of them toting a fully lit Christmas tree on his ride and bags of treats for the little ones. Ah yes, nothing says holidays like leftover Halloween candy dolled out by a Harley guy in a Santa suit.

“Mommy, there are two Santas,” said one little girl, clearly confused by the clash of the Bob’s World santa and the Harley santa.

But the holiday spirit was there for sure. Even if the real snow isn’t. For tons of holiday light listings, visit Lights of the Valley or check out our interactive map on our special holiday Web page.

Posted on Tuesday, December 18th, 2007
Under: Family Entertainment, Family Outings | No Comments »