Monday, 27 February 2012

Triops has Three Eyes

Until quite recently I only knew the word "Triops" from the They Might Be Giants song "Triops has Three Eyes". This song appears on the fantastic kids' album "Here come the 123s". If you're not familiar with They Might Be Giants kids' music I urge you to go out and buy a few albums - even if you don't have kids!

But back to the point I was making...

When I first heard this song I jumped straight onto Wikipedia to find out just what a Triops is. Turns out that a Triops is a prehistoric creature that has survived for millennia in almost exactly the same form. This weird creature looks kind of like a cross between a trilobite, a prawn and a swimming cockroach. With three eyes, of course!

Satisfied with this answer I never gave Triops a second thought. That was until the girls and I were in Mr Mopps, a fantastic toy store and Berkeley institution, and discovered that Triops is alive and well and available to purchase in egg form! Intrigued by this strange creature, and spurred on by They Might be Giants singing in my head, I found myself purchasing a Triops hatchery kit to try out.

Now the reason the Triops has lasted in pretty much the same form for such a long time is diapause. Triops naturally inhabit small ponds which are prone to drying out. During times of drought adult Triops die out, however their eggs go into a state of diapause until the rain returns fill their ponds. Once their ponds are filled again the Triops eggs hatch. Similarly Triops eggs are grown in a lab, sent into a state of diapause and shipped to toy stores around the world ready to be hatched by eager kids and a container of water.

So it sounds like hatching a Triops is as simple as "just add water". Not so. The Triops appears to be a fickle creature and is quite fussy about his living conditions. Pure spring water is an essential starting point. No tap water, no distilled water, no bottled water that has gone through reverse osmosis... And this water must maintain a temperature of at least 74F (22.5C). That's right, I'm dealing in farenheit now. Bright light for the majority of the day is also required. Triops also likes grated carrot. This last one seems a little odd considering carrots don't tend to grow in small ponds. I'm guessing there must be nutrients in the carrot that helps the Triops to hatch. It also gives them something tasty to eat when they do hatch!

Once the water conditions are perfect the Triops eggs can be added. Fifteen to twenty of these poppy seed sized eggs can be added with the aim of hatching about three at a time. The pack contains enough eggs for about three or four hatching cycles.

Ava eagerly await the hatching of the first Triops.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Last weekend we hired a Zipcar to run a few errands and decided to make use of having a car for the day and get out of the East Bay. Without much of an idea where we should go we hopped on the freeway and headed south towards the coast. Our destination after a quick consultation with Google maps: Santa Cruz.

Now, as we had been out running errands earlier in the day we didn't arrive in Santa Cruz until mid afternoon. This left us with little time to explore much of Santa Cruz so we opted instead to spend our time at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, California's largest beachside amusement park.  

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a pretty tacky place - as are most beachside amusement parks. It was full of tacky rides, tacky people, terrible food and all that other stuff that kids love. It was great!

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Habitot Children's Museum

Several times a week I walk past an inconspicuous place in Downtown Berkely called Habitot Children's Museum. I always think to myself "I should really go see what that is one day" but for months I've never gotten around to it. Well, last Friday Ava had the day off preschool for President's Day weekend so we thought we'd go check it out. The girls had such a great time that I was kicking myself that we hadn't been before.

The word "Museum" in the title threw me off a little but in actual fact Habitot is more of a play, craft and activity centre for young children. I had half expected to see displays of stuffy old toys from yesteryear!

Habitot is divided into rooms and areas dedicated to one theme each. The first such area we visited had a space theme. A space shuttle full of buttons, knobs, meters, gauges and steering wheels awaits eager young space cadets. Mission control is set up nearby with yet more buttons and knobs and even a means of communicating with the astronauts travelling through space in the rocket - good old hollow pipe! To top it off astronaut uniforms and helmets are provided to make it all a little more realistic.
Ava and Lola loved playing astronaut. Ava loved dressing up and pretending. Lola loved pressing buttons!

Two little astronauts

Commander Ava in space

Mission control

Commander Ava in the cockpit


Time for another space mission

Commander Lola.
She really was enjoying herself, she just really didn't want to pose for a photo!

Getting ready for take off

So many controls

What does this button do?

Mission Control and the Space Shuttle

The next play area we moved on to was the face painting station.
Anyone who knows Ava will be familiar with her obsession with face painting and dressing up. If she had things her way, Ava would be painted like a butterfly/fairy/unicorn/pegasus/rainbow every day of the week!
The face painting station is set up for children to paint their own faces - and their mummy's face too if she sits still long enough! Face painting crayons, activated by being dipped into a wet sponge, are set up in front of well lit mirrors with child size chairs. Ava painted her face with one of  her favourite things - love hearts. She also painted love hearts on my cheeks and Lola got one too.   

Ava at the face painting station

Sweet little hearts

Moving past the face painting and wooden train tables (no photos of that one) we found our selves in a little grocery store. Little shopping trolleys and baskets greet little shoppers ready to "purchase" their fruit, vegetables and baked goods. The shopping experience is complete with a little checkout and cafe area. The plastic fruit, vegetables and breads are quite realistic looking; enough so to convince little shoppers that it really is food. I'm sure that Lola wasn't the only one there trying to eat plastic bread! 
 
A little grocery shopping
Lola's favourite room in all of Habitot was the water room. Here she and Ava splashed about washing baby dolls, floating boats and rubber duckies, and played with water wheels as you can see below. 
They may be wearing plastic aprons in the photo below but trust me; Lola was absolutely saturated by the time we left this room! Tripping over and falling belly first into a tray of water didn't help! Next time I must remember to take a change of socks and shoes as well as a change of clothes. She was soaked all the way through and had to go barefoot for the rest of time at Habitot.   

Ava and Lola in the water room

The last room in Habitot (other than the toy lending library) is the wind tunnel. This room features two large fans at the end of a corridor and big power buttons for kids to press. Little red petal like hearts float around the room on the wind currents created by the fans. Children scoop up the hearts in baskets and toss them into the air to be blown around again. It's a noisy, fun room but quite tranquil and soothing at the same time. That sounds like a contradiction of terms but the floating red hearts and the cloud painted walls really are quite soothing - unless of course you're trying to take a good photo to capture the moment!

Lola in the wind room
For those feeling creative, an art room is set up with finger painting, craft and clay modelling stations. Children can paint on paper or add to a group painting on large white board wall. Usually Ava is not one to pass up a chance to paint or make artistic creations however on this occasion there were so many other exciting things to do that Ava wasn't all that interested in this particular room. I'm sure she will give it a go next time. Lola had a little go at painting however she is going through a stage in which she doesn't like having dirty hands (I'm sure it won't last long!) so finger painting was out of the question. She also likes to copy her big sister, so Ava not being interested in the art room meant that Lola wasn't particularly interested! We did manage to make a few glittery hand prints though before heading straight to the sink to clean Lola's hands - her favourite part of this room. She loves cleaning her hands at the moment.

The Habitot experience is rounded out with a climbing area, dining area (perfect for birthday parties), a gift shop full of fun, educational toys and a weekly class schedule (think music, art, cooking and science). On Fridays child sized slices of pizza is delivered from nearby Papa John's. This was a huge hit with the girls.

Ava at Habitot

The girls had such a great time at Habitot that we decided to purchase an annual membership. We can now visit Habitot any time we like. Hooray! Our membership also provides reciprocal benefits at other Association of Children's Museums members around the country. This will help cross a few more off the check list. Chabot Space and Science Center, Bay Area Discovery Museum, Children's Creativity Museum, Museum of Children's Art and Lawrence Hall of Science here we come...


Sunday, 19 February 2012

California Academy of Sciences

We visited California Academy of Sciences back in December just a few days before Christmas.
I had been eager to visit the Academy before the end of the year due to a few special Christmassy themed exhibits. A visit to the Academy was one of the featured activities on the girls' advent calendar.

Now, we had actually attempted to visit the Academy back in November when we spent an afternoon in Golden Gate Park. However it was Thanksgiving long weekend and it was extremely busy. Plus a surcharge during busy holiday periods pushed the ticket price up to $35.00 for adults and $25.00 for children making for one very expensive afternoon.

Surprisingly, when we visited the Academy two days before Christmas it wasn't as busy as I had expected. I guess everyone was busy with Christmas preparations. I booked our tickets online to avoid the queues and even managed to find a coupon for a discount. Got to love retailmenot.com :)

Kim and the girls with Claude the Alligator 

Friday, 17 February 2012

Fun in the Bay Area

The Bay Area has some pretty amazing places to take the kids.

There are so many opportunities for fun. Creative fun, outdoor fun, sporty fun, family fun, educational fun... There are so many places here that fall into that last category and they're so much fun that kids don't realise they're learning until it's too late. Insert evil laugh here.

I'm always discovering somewhere new to add to the list of places to take the kids. So I figured it was time to make a check list of these exciting places to take Ava and Lola.

Here goes (in alphabetical order)...

Aquarium of the Bay, San Francisco
Bay Area Discovery Museum, Sausalito
Cable Car Museum, San Francisco
California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco
Chabot Space and Science Center, Oakland
Children's Creativity Museum (formerly Zuem), San Francisco
Children's Fairyland, Oakland
Exploratorium, San Francisco
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
Habitot Children's Museum, Berkeley
Jelly Belly Factory, Fairfield
Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley
Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey
Museum of Children's Art (MOCHA), Oakland
Oakland Zoo, Oakland
Pier 39, San Francisco
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco
San Francisco Zoo, San Francisco
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz
Tilden Park, Berkeley

Of course, there are many more wonderful places to take the kids and I'm sure this list will grow.
My mission is to try and visit all of these places (and more) with the kids.
I'll share our visits here on Little Hiccups as we cross them off the list.

First up, California Academy of Sciences...

Monday, 13 February 2012

Valentine's Day

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and for the first time ever I'm actually excited about it. Not for lovey-dovey romantic reasons mind you, but because Ava's class at pre-school will be exchanging valentine's cards/chocolates/treats etc - just like on tv!

In Australia Valentine's Day is really just for couples. Here in America Valentine's Day is embraced by everyone in honour of all the people they love; partners, family, friends, classmates etc. I really like this way of celebrating Valentine's Day. Sure it's over the top and Hallmark and Hershey must make a fortune from it, but it's nice to think about all the people who are special rather than just one person.

Ava will be exchanging valentines with 27 of her classmates tomorrow (plus her 3 teachers) and as with every other opportunity to hand out cards we've decided to go with something home made. I was going to help Ava make personalised cards for each of her classmates but this was going to be very time consuming and a lot of work for Ava. Instead I decided that we'd bake sugar cookies for the class and print labels that Ava can personalise with each child's name. More work for me but much, much less work for Ava.

Now, in my opinion Valentine's Day cards and gifts must have the cheesiest wording on them possible; think "I choo choo choose you" from The Simpsons. I ran through a few different heart and cookie themed cheesy sayings before Ava decided that "Sweet hearts for my sweetheart" was perfect. Actually, she thinks it's absolutely hilarious and laughs like a maniac every time she says it!

To make our little heart cookies even sweeter we decorated them with coloured sugar. I think they came out quite pretty. They're also very delicious!

Sweet little heart cookie

Winter?

It's Winter here in California - although it seems that nature missed the memo...

While it was actually quite chilly here today, this cooler weather was uncharacteristic of the weather we've had recently and for much of Winter. A few days ago it was 21c and sunny. 21c and Sunny! That's like Winter in Brisbane. Winter in the Northern Hemisphere is supposed to be cold and grey; or at least that's the impression you get in Australia. For the most part, Winter here has been warmer than I anticipated. Most days have greeted us with blue, cloudless skies which, considering we don't have a car and the girls and I walk everywhere, is not a bad thing. A little variety would be nice though.

The trees seem to be really confused about which season it is at the moment. While walking Ava to and from preschool this week I couldn't help but notice the amazing variety in seasonal attributes amongst the trees.

Some trees have decided that Spring is already here and are covered in blossoms in varying pink hues.
The sweet scent of their nectar fills the air and the sound of bees gently buzzing by imparts a warm fuzzy feeling - although Ava is freaked out by the bees and she runs as fast as she can past the trees with blossoms!


Spring blossoms

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Lola's 1st Birthday Party

I feel like such a bad mummy...

I've only just realised now while posting about Ava's birthday that I never got around to posting about Lola's birthday back in October. Let's put that slip up down to the stress of an international move with small children.

So, here it is, more than a little belated, Lola's 1st birthday party...

Lola's 1st birthday fell just before our move to America. This made organising a party a little tricky as I was so busy with the move but with the help from friends we got there in the end and had a lovely day.

Lola's 1st birthday party was also our farewell party. As we had already moved out of our house the party was held in Botanic Park in Adelaide. We were very lucky to have a beautiful sunny day.

Now, as I was so busy with the move I didn't get a chance to make up paper invites to post out like I would normally do. Instead I decided to set up a Facebook event for the party. Not really the best option in hindsight as I didn't count on the number of people who don't check Facebook regularly. Oops!

Lola and I had a little photo shoot on the beach to use as the event image on Facebook. I didn't count on the image not being large enough for anyone to see the detail. This seems to be the one image on Facebook that you can't click on to enlarge!

The image from the Facebook invite

Ava's 3rd Birthday Party

Seeing as it was Ava's birthday last week I thought I'd share a few more of her past birthday parties.

You can find a post on Ava's 4th birthday party here and a post on her 2nd birthday party here.

This time let's go back to 2010 for Ava's 3rd birthday party...

For Ava's 3rd birthday party invitations I decided to use one of her drawings of herself.
It's amazing how much her drawings have changed over the last few years!

The invitation for Ava's 3rd birthday party

Happy Birthday Ava

Last Friday was Ava's 5th birthday.

Ava had been planning her 5th birthday party pretty much as soon as her 4th birthday party was over. She had such great plans: bouncy castle, pony rides, face painting... most of which were never going to come into fruition! But of course, our move to America made all of these party plans a little tricky.

I was a little worried that Ava might not have made many friends by the time her 5th birthday came around so I was looking into ideas for a small family weekend trip. It turns out though that Ava HAS made a few good friends at preschool and she was very eager to celebrate her birthday with them.

So Friday afternoon, after preschool, our roof top garden became party central for Ava and a handful of friends from preschool.

I felt a little disorganised for this little party. Normally I would have made invitations that would have been posted out weeks in advance. Normally I would have spent ages working on a cake design, party games and party bags. This year there were no paper invitations. There was no pinata. No face painting. There wasn't even any baking on my behalf, other than the birthday cake. Instead it was just a few kids running around on our roof top garden making their own fun.

There were party bags, of course. Ava decorated these herself with drawings of butterflies and girls with long hair (her favourite things to draw at the moment).

A few of the party bags

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