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Thursday 27 August 2015

52 Weeks: Week 34

Week 34: Aquatic Park

The long Summer break is drawing to a close. Just one more week left before the girls are back at school. We've been trying to get out and about and enjoy the rest of Summer as much as possible. This means lots of trips to the playground. We usually head to either Live Oak Park or Ohlone Park but this week we decided to venture to a playground we hadn't visited for a while: Aquatic Park down by Berkeley's waterfront.

The girls enjoy going to the playground at Aquatic Park because it's so different to the other playgrounds we go to. Everything in the playground is made of wood, giving it a fort like feel. It's a little out of the way so we don't get there all that often which makes it feel a little more special when we do go there.

The girls had fun climbing, swinging, sliding and running around the playground together and with friends who met us there. 

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Seattle 2014: Harbor Cruise

During our vacation in Seattle last Summer we took a sightseeing cruise on the harbor.

After spending quite a bit of time walking around among the city's buildings and along the waterfront it was nice to see it all from a different perspective. It was also a very hot, sunny day so being out on the water with a breeze was lovely. Look at that perfect blue sky. Seriously, the weather was absolutely perfect the whole time we were in Seattle. Maybe even a little too hot and sunny. I'm starting to think this whole "It rains non-stop in Seattle" business is a myth created to stop the rest of the country moving there!

Our one hour sightseeing cruise with Argosy Cruises departed from Pier 55 and took in wonderful views over the waterfront, the Seattle Skyline and the surrounding mountains including Mount Rainier.

Tuesday 25 August 2015

Back to School: Shoes

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.

For our family, the start of a new school year usually means new shoes for the kids. I swear their feet grow faster over Summer than at any other time of year.

For school my girls tend to wear the same shoes they wear for play. We also tend to stick to the same styles and brands of shoes all year round as the weather doesn't change much in the Bay Area. As the weather is pretty mild here we don't really need "Summer" shoes and "Winter" shoes. The shoes that the girls wear for Summer usually work for Winter too, sometimes even sandals.

My girls like shoes that they can slip on and off easily. Lola isn't a fan of wearing socks so we stick with shoes that can be worn without. In general, I try to avoid shoes with laces for my kids. They haven't yet mastered the art of tying their laces effectively (something I really need to work on, especially with Ava) and I find that when their laces inevitably come undone during the day, the girls' attempt at retying them always result in loose shoes. And loose shoes (especially during PE) often result in twisted ankles. Ouch. So for now, until the girls can tie laces properly we're sticking with slip-ons and velcro.

Here's a look at some of my favorite shoes for my kids. Some of these are shoes that they have now, or have had in the past, while others are new shoes that I'm eager to try out. Click the links below the image for more details including sizing, colors and pricing.

1. Native Kids Shoes - Jefferson
2. Freshly Picked The Next Step Shoe
3. Puma Kids Whirlwind Mesh V
4. Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Slip On
5. Toms Canvas Youth Paseos
6. Salt Water Sandals
7. Toms Canvas Youth Classics
8. Vans Classic Slip-On

The Native Jefferson shoes are a staple in my girls' closet. The style goes well with both dresses and pants, and they can be comfortably worn with or without socks. My girls have had these in a few different colors but we usually stick to navy blue as it goes with everything. The rubbery material makes them perfect for wearing in/near water. They're kind of like Crocs, but without the ugly Crocs styling!

Saltwater Sandals are our other main shoe staple. They're dressy enough for special events but still casual and comfortable. I even have several pairs myself. They're waterproof which makes them perfect for walks on the beach or in creeks. The soles are really long wearing too which is great as Ava is really hard on her shoes.

The Puma sneakers are Ava's current favorite for when she needs to wear something a little sportier, like for PE at school. They're comfortable, breathable and the velcro is so much easier than laces. A lot of sneakers with velcro tend to look a little toddler-ish, but these just look like regular sneakers which is great for older kids.

My girls have had quite a few different styles of Converse All Stars over the years and while I love the high tops the most, the slip on style is definitely the easiest for them. Like all styles of All Stars, the soles are so hard wearing that even Ava and her shoe destroying feet can't trash them!

The Toms Classics are a simple comfy option and are almost like part of a uniform here in Berkeley. Everyone wears them! The simple styling goes well with many outfits and they come in a huge range of colors in sizes ranging from toddler and youth, to men and women. Perfect for a little "Mummy and Me" styling! We haven't tried the Toms Paseos yet, but I really like the simple styling, and I'm sure they're just as comfortable as the Classics.

I really like the simple styling of the Vans slip-ons. Lola really likes that they're covered in tiny hearts! Like the Converse, these shoes have really hard wearing, sturdy soles perfect for kids like mine who ride their scooters everywhere.

I'm really excited to try out the new Freshly Picked Next Step Shoes. Mathilde has been wearing Freshly Picked moccasins since she was about five months old and they are just the best baby shoes. They're so well made and they never fall off. I love that there are now matching hard sole shoes for Lola too. Ava's feet are a little big for these as they only go up to a size 13, but they're a great choice for younger school kids.

We've got one more week before school goes back. Just enough time to squeeze in a little shoe shopping!

Monday 24 August 2015

Back to School: Backpacks

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. 

Summer is almost over.

We have just over a week of Summer vacation left before the kids go back to school. This year I'll have two big school kids. Ava will be going into third grade and Lola will be starting Transitional Kindergarten (she just misses the cut off for Kindergarten). Having them both at the same school, with the same drop off time is going to make mornings much easier.

To celebrate going back to school I've purchased new backpacks for the girls. There are so many fun backpacks out there, and lots of great back to school deals at the moment, so I thought I'd share some of my favorites for elementary school kids with you (many of which are on sale right now). All of these backpacks come in different colors and designs. Just follow the links below.

1. Hanna Andersson There & Backpack Junior 
2. Land of Nod Teacher's Pet Backpack
3. Fjallraven - Kanken Backpack
4. Hanna Andersson There & Backpack
5. Herschel Kids Backpack
6. American Apparel Cordura School Bag
7. The North Face - Mini Berkeley
8. So Young Grade School Backpack
9. Toms Stand Up Backpack

Sunday 23 August 2015

Seattle 2014: Pike Place Markets

This time last year we were on vacation in Seattle and Portland. A whole year has passed and I still haven't really written about our trip. I think that's got to be some sort of record on my behalf there!

Ok, so I did actually share a highlight post after our trip and one about the Gum Wall while we were in Seattle, but I have so many more photos I want to share with you guys so I think it's time to get back to it.   A year is long enough, I think!

One place that we visited regularly in Seattle was Pike Place Markets. Our hotel was located close by so the markets were a convenient place to stop by for breakfast, lunch and coffee. Ok, maybe the coffee part wasn't always so convenient given the long queues at the original Starbucks! We couldn't visit Seattle and not go to the original Starbucks even if it did mean standing in a queue for half an hour for our morning latte. Of course, the original Starbucks isn't the only place to get coffee at the markets if you need that caffeine hit without a wait.

Friday 21 August 2015

52 Weeks: Week 33

Week 33: Bike Riding

Going for bike rides is one of Ava and Lola's favorite things to do. We used to enjoy going for family bike rides on weekends until thieves stole our cargo bike late last year, and more recently Kim's bike this past week. We've gone from having more bikes than family members to now just owning children's bikes. It's a sad state of affairs but we're not going to let the Bay Area's major bike theft problem stop us from riding, even if it is just the kids for now.

So this week the kids and I got out and about for a bike ride to nearby Albany. Ava and Lola rode their bikes while I pushed Mathilde in the stroller. There is a fantastic bike and pedestrian trail that leads from close by our home in Berkeley all the way to our destination - the kids' dentist! The trail actually continues much further but we've never ventured any further along it. The last few times we've planned to do so something has popped up to stop us. In this case it was discovering that Kim's bike had been stolen and therefore having to head home after the dentist to deal with police reports, insurance claims and blasting our building management.

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Albany Bulb

The Bay Area is home to plenty of waterfront parks with stunning views. It's also home to a lot of quirky street art. Every now and then these two things combine and we end up with truly original places like Albany Bulb, here in the East Bay.

Albany Bulb is a peculiar place. A former landfill site created in the first half of the 20th Century, this small peninsula was, until recently, most notably known as a homeless encampment. From the early nineties through until 2014, Albany Bulb was home to a small community of residents who were otherwise homeless. More than just a tent city, Albany Bulb was filled with semi-permanent structures created out of scrap wood, discarded building materials and hard waste. We never went to Albany Bulb during this time but from what I've seen online some of the structures were pretty amazing, although not the most sturdy looking. You can see one of the biggest structures here.

Monday 17 August 2015

Hidden Garden Steps

San Francisco is a city of hills. Being a city of hills means it's also a city of staircases. Most staircases around the city are just a means to reach a destination (usually with an amazing view at the top), but every now and then the staircase itself is the destination. 

Back in May the girls and I headed into the city to track down once such staircase.

The Hidden Garden Steps in the Sunset neighborhood is a gorgeous little staircase. Covered in mosaics depicting garden life, the staircase is located on 16th Avenue and Kirkham Street, just a few blocks away from the more well known 16th Avenue Tiled Steps. As the Hidden Garden Steps are relatively new (the mosaic project was finished in December 2013) and located in a residential area they are still somewhat "secret" and therefore, not as busy as their nearby counterpart. I think we saw two other people in the time that we spent at the staircase. In fact, we actually waited a while for a second person to appear so I could ask them to take our photo! 

Friday 14 August 2015

52 Weeks: Week 32

Week 32: City Playgrounds

Last weekend we headed into the city to catch up with friends and hit up a couple of playgrounds.

Our first destination was Koret Children's Quarter in Golden Gate Park. A firm favorite with the kids, we try to make it to this playground as often as possible. There are so many fun things to play on for all age groups, plus the concrete slides and nearby carousel make it a pretty special place.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Sierra Nevada Snow Fun

Following on from my last post about our visit to Mono Lake back in May comes our unexpected snow stop on our way home a day later.

As we drove through the Sierra Nevadas on our way home from our visit to Bodie and Mono Lake we noticed that there was still a lot of fresh powdery snow on the ground. Kim and I decided that we'd try to find a spot to safely pull over so the kids could have a little play in the snow. We weren't sure if we would actually find anywhere so we didn't mention it to the kids. I didn't want to get their hopes up. Imagine their surprise when all of a sudden they realized that we were pulling over into a small parking lot in a snowy forest area! They were absolutely ecstatic!

The spot where we stopped for a little snow fun was Sonora Pass, 9624 feet high above sea level. Judging by the number of hikers in the parking lot this seems to be a popular starting point for hikes in Toiyabe National Forest. While it would've been lovely to go for a hike in his wintry wonderland, we weren't prepared for it so we kept our stop brief. On a side note, don't you just love the retro National Park signs throughout America?

Monday 10 August 2015

Mono Lake

Remember back in May when we went on a trip to a ghost town and went panning for gold? It was a long time ago, right? Well, we also spent some time checking out the amazing Mono Lake, but I got a little distracted with planning our Australia trip, then taking the Australia trip, and then having three kids at home all day, every day, so I never got around to sharing it with you.

It's time to play catch up and finally share our visit to Mono Lake with you...

Back in May we visited Mono Lake after spending half the day at the nearby gold mining era ghost town of Bodie.

Mono Lake is famous for its amazing limestone tufa towers. The tufa towers are calcium carbonate structures formed by underground fresh water springs welling up in Mono Lake's alkaline water. These tufas should be under water, however in 1941 the City of Los Angeles started diverting water from streams that feed Mono Lake. Over the years this caused Mono Lake to drop by 40 feet, exposing 17,000 acres of exposed lake bed. Since 1994 Mono Lake and its tributaries have been protected and the water level is slowly rising again.

Sunday 9 August 2015

52 Weeks: Week 31

Week 31: Mathilde's antics

This week's post is all about Mathilde and the crazy sort of stuff that she gets up to regularly.

First of all, this little one is a total daredevil. She's constantly climbing on things: the couch, the beds, chairs, tables, ladders, even the window sills if she can reach. Several times a day I catch her standing on an arm of the couch. She giggles and then dives face first onto the cushions.

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Pedalfest 2015

A few weekends back we attended Pedalfest, one of our favorite local festivals.

Pedalfest, held at Oakland's waterfront Jack London Square, is a day full of bike related fun. We watched BMX riders do tricks, made pedal powered smoothies and art, decorated our bikes, took part in a parade, learned bike safety skills, powered a stage with our pedaling, rode crazy bikes, and took in the atmosphere of the festival.

First up Ava and Lola took part in the kids' parade. We've always missed out on this in the past so the girls were pretty excited to join in. They decorated their bikes with ribbons, stickers and pipe cleaners courtesy of Oaklandish and then followed El Arbol the Bike Tree, through the festival.

Sunday 2 August 2015

52 Weeks: Week 30

Week 30: Frozen Yogurt, Squirrels and Pink Hair

It's been pretty hot here over the last week. Well, hot by Bay Area standards. The weather here is generally so mild that when it reaches 24C/75F it feels positively sweltering!

When the weather is hot like it has been we like to cool off with a frozen treat. Frozen yogurt, gelato, ice cream... We like to mix it up and visit different places. Right now the girls' favorite place for a frozen treat is Menchie's Frozen Yogurt. Menchie's was on our way home from the Botanical Gardens earlier in the week so we dropped by for a treat. Poor Mathilde was exhausted from running around under sprinklers in the Botanical Gardens and slept through our time at Menchie's, but the big girls and I enjoyed our delicious yogurt.

Saturday 1 August 2015

The Day the Crayons Quit: The Musical

Recently we got to experience one of our favorite books and one of our favorite places together in the most wonderful way.

"The Day the Crayons Quit" by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, has been brought to life by Bay Area Children's Theatre as a musical. As fantastic as that sounds, it gets even better. The performance was held at Children's Fairyland.

"The Day the Crayons Quit" is a huge favorite in our home. More often than not it's Lola's first choice of books for a bedtime story. So when the girls heard that they were going to see a live performance of the book, they were super excited. The chance to spend the day at Fairyland after the performance was just the icing on the cake.

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