Monthly Archives: November 2009

Dreaming of Alii Kula Lavender Farm

You smell the lavender before you see it. So as we pulled up to the Alii Kula Lavender farm, we were already a little drunk with the fragrance filling the car. It’s such a soothing smell too. It took all my willpower to not lay down on the lawns surrounding the purple fields and let the lavender breezes soothe me to sleep.

But unfortunately for me, the lavender scent did not have the same calming effect on a seven year-old boy. While I saw a place for quiet reflection, he saw open land to explore.

So we hiked around the lavender fields and then down the garden trails looking for clues on the Lavender Scavenger Hunt. You can pick up your scavenger hunt clue card at the gift shop and then set out to find the stamps hidden throughout the farm. When my son filled his card with the stamps, he took it back to the gift shop and got a lavender cookie as a prize. This was an easy way to explore at our own pace, since we didn’t have time for a scheduled tour. I made sure we didn’t leave before we tried their tea, lavender scones, and lavender brownies out on the balcony overlooking Maui. I sat there pondering how I would retire, come to Maui, and become a lavender farmer. I’m still working out the logistics.

There is no way to really share the experience of sitting at the top of the Maui’s upcountry, overlooking fields of lavender, and the valleys and ocean below. I’m going to count on your powers of imagination. Here’s a short video of a 360-degree view of the lavender fields. It may make you a little dizzy, but just imagine that it’s because you’re drunk with joy and not because this is the first video I made with my Flip camera.

I do hope that it helps you experience this little piece of lavender heaven. Enjoy my Monday dreaming and go check out Mother of All Trips this week, she’s helping raise money to build a school in Cambodia.

Christmas in the Park

In our household, it isn’t Christmas without a trip to Christmas in the Park. This San Jose tradition celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and I hope it stays around for another thirty years. You hear that gingerbread people? Don’t go anywhere. Here are the reasons we love this holiday event.

1. The Christmas displays are the main event. The whole reason for going to Christmas in the Park is to check out all the retro displays. We love the Santa Claus train, Caribbean Christmas, and Gingerbread House displays. Keep your eye out for the winners of this year’s community-decorated Christmas trees that can be viewed throughout the plaza. The trees are sponsored by all sorts of groups, from Girl Scout troops to high school art classes.

2. The lights are pretty. While you can visit the holiday displays all day long, the best time to go is right at dusk. Have some hot cocoa with your afternoon snack and take a stroll trough the plaza when the lights start to twinkle on all of the trees.

3. And there are rides. Yes, be prepared for a little whining from your kids when they lay their eyes on all of the carnival rides. There are things that spin, things that go, and things that may clean out your wallet. The rides are located usually located on side streets by the Tech Museum and the Fairmont Hotel.

4. The festive decorations can also be found indoors. Stroll on over to the Fairmont Hotel right across the street from the plaza to check out the gingerbread house that’s big enough to walk through.

5. It’s all (relatively) free. There is no admission charge for Christmas in the Park. There are, of course, plenty of things around the plaza to spend your money on: the rides, the plastic reindeer toys, and the delicious churros.

Just the facts: Christmas in the park is in downtown San Jose at Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park. It runs November 27 through December 27. Check out the website for more information.

San Jose Family Travel Tips

Dreaming of the Money Tree

My vacation plans are always bigger then my pocketbook. Every week, I dream of places I’d like to visit. Soon. This year. How about for Spring Break? My list of dream destinations is long, but my savings account is very small.

And I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a job with a lot of vacation time and a salary that makes it possible to take myself and my son on at least two big trips a year. I think of all the people I know who have lost their job or are barely making enough money to make ends meet, and I feel blessed to travel as much as I do. So I’m not going to whine and pout too much this Monday. Just enough to get it out of my system. I promise.

It’s just that lately my wanderlust has been mighty strong. It has been a few months since our last big trip and I’m ready to hit the open road again. I get tempted to pull out that credit card. I search for online deals. I contemplate taking time off work, so I can score some of those better prices on hotels and flights. I see that darned Disney commercial, with all the happy kids and Christmas decorations, and I think: what if I just drive down to Anaheim for a couple of days? Then I take out my calculator, crunch those magical numbers and realize that a two-day trip will cost me at least $600 for two people. As a single mom, that’s six hundred dollars that I can’t afford to spend. Even when I take the amusement park out of the equation, the price of a long weekend getaway can easily drain my very tight travel budget. And believe me, I know how to be a frugal traveler.

So I have to save and be patient. Soon enough, I will be packing for a trip. In the meantime, my son and I sit around dreaming of places we’d like to visit. Some days we actually lay out a map at bedtime and plan out routes instead of reading a bedtime story. Truthfully, all the dreaming and planning is half the fun.

Who needs the money tree anyway? I have a couple of paper maps to keep me busy for now. I also have lots of great travel posts around the blogosphere to keep me dreaming, starting with Mother of all Trips’ Monday Dreaming.

Frogs: Real and Imagined

While we were in Kauai, we got to do a family tour of the Na Aina Kai Garden. It was a kid paradise and the tour was one of the highlights of our trip. The garden is known for its many beautiful sculptures. IMG_0269_1I noticed a frog pattern in my photos of the garden. There were frog sculptures here and there.
IMG_0266_1And then the guide pointed out this real teeny, tiny froggie, which my son immediately put in his hand. The frog immediately hopped out of his hand. I barely had time to snap this picture.IMG_0265If my son had his way, he would have spent more time by the pond looking for an even bigger frog. I think he would have liked to be that boy in the sculpture.

I’ll be writing a more informative post about our tour at the Na Aina Kai Gardens soon (when report card week is over at my day job). Stay tuned.

Lazy Fall Weekends…

IMG_0947_2…are my favorite. The weekdays are full with work, errands, and homework, so that by the time Friday comes around, I feel like a deflated balloon. That’s when I need to take a weekend trip, and head outdoors to get my vitamin D, sunshine fix. It turns out that these weekend mini-trips are also good for my kid. He needs to catch his breath and reflect on the difficulties on being a third grader (which is not an easy job these days).

I was reminded of this when, browsing through my photo library, I landed on this Lake Tahoe scene. In this photo, he is a wee kindergartner, lazying around on a Saturday by the lake. The photo reminds me of how I would like this weekend to be: gloriously unproductive.

So we’re being a bit lazy this weekend. Right after we clean the house, get groceries, reorganize some sock drawers and click over to Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday to check out all the other travel photos. I know we’ll get it all done somehow.

Ruben H. Fleet Science Center

What: Ruben H. Fleet Science Center

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Where: Balboa Park (a.k.a Family Heaven) in sunny San Diego

Why: We finally convinced my son he didn’t need to go to the San Diego Model Railroad Museum for a third visit.

My Kid’s Picks: He forgot all about the Railroad Museum and got his science geek on. My son tend to gravitate towards anything that has gears, balls, and maze-like construction. Luckily, there was plenty of that to be found in the exhibits. He spent the most time in the main gallery, trying out all the hands-on mechanical experiments. The hit of the technology-based exhibits was the one where he got to pose in front of the psychedelic screen. He tried out some of the games in the Origins in Space exhibit, but I don’t think he understood much of the science behind it yet.

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Mom’s Verdict: Worth the price of admission, even more so, if you have a Balboa Park Passport. We went soon after it opened on a Sunday, and found the place blissfully uncrowded. That’s a nice change of pace from most kids’ museums. We only spent about an hour at the museum, but that’s mostly because I was rushing things along before lunch.

Useful Tidbits: There is a (thankfully) small gift shop, an Imax theatre, and a cafe. The museum is right across from the San Diego Natural History Museum, so it’s easy to combine both museums in one morning’s visit.

Family Travel Tips
San Diego

Meet Hasani

I have this thing for gorillas. Maybe it’s my inner Dian Fossey itching to get out, but I could spend hours watching the gorillas at the zoo. So you can imagine my excitement, when I first saw Hasani, the baby gorilla at the San Francisco Zoo. He was born last December and has been at the zoo’s gorilla exhibit since July.

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He is your typical youngster: always moving, playing, and putting on a show. Don’t miss Hasani if you’re in San Francisco anytime soon. I’m sure he’d love a visit.

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Hasani and I are linking up to Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday. Go there for more travel photos from all over the world.

Family Travel Tips
San Francisco

Today’s Tip: California Academy of Sciences

IMG_2686Once upon a December, I tried to go to the California Academy of Sciences the week after Christmas. That story didn’t have a a fairytale ending: we didn’t get in, the scene outside the Academy was wicked, so we headed to some quieter places in Golden Gate Park. But I was determined to take my son for a visit, so we made a second attempt this last summer. This time, we came prepared with my plan of attack, and we had a great time. With only one trip under my sleeve, I am not an expert, but I did gain a few insights that I can pass on to you.

1. Buy your tickets online. On very crowded days, the Academy will stop selling tickets soon after it opens. Pre-purchase tickets to save yourself from the disappointment of being turned away or the possibility of standing in another line to purchase them there.

2. Queue up early. I don’t need to tell you that the early bird gets the worm. There will be a line at the entrance before the museum opens. You need to be in that line, so that you can be one of the first groups to get inside and enjoy some of the exhibits before it gets unbearably crowded.

3. Get your tickets for the shows as soon as you walk in. From the entrance, go left to the planetarium and snatch your tickets. You can choose which show time you prefer, so you don’t necessarily have to go to the first show. You will want to see the aquarium or the rainforest exhibit early, so opt for a later showtime. We were not able to see the 3-D Bug Show, but they do sell out of those tickets early as well.

4. The fishes don’t mind the crowds, but you might. After you get your tickets, head directly to the Steinhart aquarium. It is dark in that section and the design makes the crowds seem even more unbearable. This is the section where you want to especially hold on to your toddlers so that they don’t get lost. I know you want to enjoy some quality time with the jellyfish and not the museum security, so go to the aquarium early.

IMG_27395. Ready, set, go: Rainforest. The rainforest exhibit opens an hour after the museum, and although museum employees discourage people from queueing up too early, people do anyway. For us, this was the highlight of the museum, so I don’t recommend you skip this. The butterflies are the main attraction, and they are more plentiful in the higher levels of the dome. They will land on you, so don’t go if you get queasy about insects. My son stood there for about ten minutes, waiting for the butterflies to land on him. One finally did. IMG_2725

6. Bring your own lunch and seat. The meals are pricey and the dining areas are small. It’s common to see families eating their lunch on the floor of the Academy Cafe. We bought a snack, and had a bigger meal outside the museum afterwards.

7. The penguins are as crowded as the people gawking at them. After you hit the three main areas, head over to Africa Hall for a stroll through a very quiet African savannah. This is the retro part of the museum and the home of the penguins. They are cute, even I’ll admit it.

8. Take a breath on the Living Roof. If you need a break, go up to the trademark plant-covered roof. It is a lesson in green design and offers some good views of the plaza. IMG_2743

Family Travel Tips
San Francisco