When Mishy was younger, we visited all of the gardens in the Los Angeles area, including Descanso Gardens – which is a beautiful place for young and old. On the weekend of March 19th and 20th, Descanso Gardens will be holding their annual Cherry Blossom Festival. It tends to be  a big deal with traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, Japanese cooking demonstration, cherry trees for sale, cherry blossom walks, bento box lunches and cherry-themed cocktails at our Camellia Lounge. Fun for young and old.

If you would like to enter the chance to win 2 passes to visit Descanso Gardens any time – not just for the festival, please make a comment. If you visit their website –  http://www.descansogardens.org/ – and make another comment, you will gain an additional entry. (We will be visiting the festival because we are members of the Los Angeles Arboretum, which has a reciprocal agreement – that is another reason why I love being a member of museums and other cultural institutions.)

Good luck. The contest ends midnight, March 1st, 2011.

I am of two minds about zoos – one – how great it is for people to see animals they could not normally see/have access to  and – two – it’s unfortunate  the animals are locked in. That thought ran through my mind several times while we walked through the San Diego Zoo last Saturday with extended family. (We were in San Diego to celebrate my sister-in-law’s 50th birthday.)

San Diego Zoo is the largest zoological membership zoo in the world, spans 100 acres and is home to 4000 rare and endangered animals. They are committed to conservation – yet, it was difficult for all of us who visited that day to see the lone jaguar behind the clear glass cage pacing back and forth, back and forth, agitated. Mishy kept on asking me, “Why is the jaguar alone?” When I told her some animals like to be alone because they have a need for space, it didn’t satisfy her until I asked her to tell me about the jaguar and she said, “He looks unhappy.”

The giraffe’s, on the other hand looked very happy. Everyday, they are fed biscuits by visitors who each pay $3 for the privilege and get a souvenir photograph.

Mishy also loved the sky tram.

I don’t know if we would re-visit the San Diego Zoo. I am told the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is where you can see animals roaming freely. I do think it was important for us to go since San Diego Zoo is one of the leading zoos in the world. It just makes me sad that animals are saved by being put on public display. Yet, at the same time – it is so important for Mishy to see animals alive instead of just in books – to see how animals move. When we were in Thailand, we visited an elephant conservation where we were able to feed and bath the elephants. That is an experience worth flying to Thailand for and being at the zoo makes me appreciate the experience more and more, especially when we saw the elephants at the San Diego Zoo being locked in a large metal cage, continuously fed, while they had their feet cleaned. (We will be visiting other zoos because visiting zoos/being around animals is important for my daughter.)

Elephant keeper cleaning an elephant while another elephant keeper feeds it.


San Diego Zoo


I am told if you buy a year membership, it is the same price as two adult single day admission.

Watching the bottle nose dolphins swimming by the boat

Every year from December to April, it’s grey whale season in Southern California. This past Friday, on the way to San Diego, Mishy, Babba, Babba’s cousin, Rebecca, who stayed for a night with us, and me set sail on the Nautilus, Newport Landing Sportfishing’s second whale watching boat. What I like about Newport Landing Sportfishing’s whale watching adventures is that it’s pretty hands off. There isn’t constant narration – which I appreciate because I like to hear the waves and take in as much as I can of the natural world – even on a boat run by a motor. We are notified when we are approaching sea life. The engines were turned off so we could simply watch and enjoy and delight in being so close to some of the worlds most intelligent animals and  the most intelligent mammal – dolphins.

Once the dolphins passed us, we are left alone to enjoy the sea air, watch the gentle, ocean waves – it was a beautiful and calm  – and if we got peckish, grab a snack at their snack bar or nosh on the bagful of snacks I brought along. We all shared in two potato and egg burritos at the snack bar which were quite tasty, if not overly healthy – the potatoes were frozen hash browns cut up – to make it somewhat healthier, we asked for no extra salt or pepper since the hash browns are well seasoned.

Bottle nose dolphins swimming beside us.

While we didn’t encounter any whales, we did see about 50 bottle nose dolphins, who swam beside us, and  jumped up in the air. We also saw sea lions lying on the back of a docked boat and on a buoy. Was it disappointing to go whale watching and not see any whales? Not at all. It was enjoyable to be out on a boat and enjoy the sea air. It was so relaxing that both Babba and Rebecca took a short snooze while Mishy and I watched the houses which dotted the shore.  I asked if this was normal not to see any whales and was told it all depends on the day.

Right now, Newport Landing Sportfishing is offering a special deal on their whale watching adventures – $15 instead of their normally priced $30 for a 2.5 hour trip. Here is the link for more details – you may have to cut and paste:

Newport Landing Sportfishing


For more information on Newport Landing Sportfishing, here is their website:


We parked on the street for free – be sure to read the signs. There is lot parking available for $10 a day. Once you park, there is about a 7 minute walk – please take that into consideration. If you experience motion sickness, eating ginger and standing outside is helpful. They do sell motion sickness pills. When we went on the boat, the ocean was very calm.

(Our time on the boat was complimentary.)

There are places we go to because I love watching Mishy play. There are places I love because I get to explore with Mishy and learn things I have forgotten long ago and there are some places I never want to leave and wish I was a child again so I can spend days playing by running in the grass, petting and feeding the animals, listening to music, being in nature, playing ping pong, throwing the basketball into the basket, eating popcorn, making pita bread, trying new and adventurous things, and just being joyful. Shalom Institute is one of those rare places in which spending seven fun filled hours seem much too little. We would have stayed longer except the event we were there for was only five hours long. (They were very gracious in letting us leave slowly.) We have found Mishy’s summer camp – in a few years when she’s six years or older. In the meantime, we will be visiting Shalom Institute at all of their festivals throughout the year and may stay with them for a weekend during one of the family camps. (Their next family camp is in May.) We were at Shalom Institute this Sunday for their annual Tu B’Shvat Festival – a festival to celebrate the birth of trees. Here is a photo essay of our time there.

Feeding one of their two ponies.

Petting a goat while he scratches a tree.

Relaxing together

The animals at Shalom Institute are friendly, yet respectful and you can trust them completely. I felt very safe letting Mishy roam around in the animal stall.

Watching others jump in one of two bouncy houses which were set up for the event.

Touching a Tegu lizard, native to Argentina, brought by Reptile Family

Reptile Family is a family owned business set up to educate children of all ages about reptiles, amphibians, and arthropods. They visit schools, preschools, and do birthday parties and corporate events.

Making a wax mold of Mishy's hand - trial run

Holding the wax mold of her hand

Wax Creation’s hand molds were very popular throughout the day. Mishy still cannot stop looking, touching and comparing her mold.

Watching the lemonade smoothie being made by man power

Drinking lemonade

Mishy and Babba connecting while eating popcorn

Watching Robbo perform

Robbo, a Parent’s Choice winner and father was one of the highlights of the stage shows.

Posing with a Burmanese Python

Shaping the dough to make pita bread

Cooking the pita bread on a hot stone



For their camp programs, including an upcoming Women’s Retreat in March:


Reptile Family:


Wax Creations – which makes rainbow wax molds:


Robbo – Parent’s Choice Winner:


Tall Ships – Ventura

January 11, 2011

Practicing our sumo stance - similar to surfing

On Sunday, we had an adventure on the high seas where some of the fellow travellers dressed up – yes, a loving father dressed up as a pirate ala Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribean. We were lucky to board the Tall Ship, Lady Washington, to join the crew on a 3 hour historic re-enactment of what it would have been like to sail the seas in 1790. It was filled with merriment, laughter, dancing, music, relaxation, and learning. Mishy says she would love to work on a boat one day.

The Tall Ships will be in Ventura until January 17th, 2011 and then they move onwards to San Francisco. They offer a variety of programs for schools and homeschoolers on the weekdays and on the weekends, they have two adventures planned – Adventure Family Sails and Battleship Sails. The prices run from $35-$60/person and everyone needs a ticket.

passing by some sea otters

Helping put down the sails

The cannon - to be fired later - 3 times, bring earplus!

Mishy and Babba connecting out on the sea


Showing us the depth finder

Showing us the device that finds out the terrane of the water

Preparing to raise the sails

Raising the sails

The Boat



Bonus photos:

After we reached land, we decided to have some lunch. Sunday was a special Greek holiday and we were lucky enough to participate and view some traditional Greek dancing by children at The Greek At The Harbor. When I was growing up in Toronto, my best friend, Cali, is of Greek heritage. I was welcomed into her home by her parents and I spent a lot of my pre-teen and teenaged years surrounded by her warm family. This reminded me of their spirit.

L.A. County Fair

January 2, 2011

We visited the L.A. County Fair in the fall through an amazing program for homeschoolers which is affiliated with their education program. We were able to get free tickets, which includes free parking and early morning entry – 9AM. I didn’t know if I was going to convince Mishy to wake up early or how traffic was going to be – it’s about an hour drive away in Pomona, CA, but somehow we woke up early, drove all the way to Pomona with traffic going the other way and stopped in to have delicious Vietnamese food about 10 minutes away from the fair. (By the time we left the fair, the food booths were not opened yet.)

We only visited one section of the fair – Mishy was 2.5 years old and I felt we could pace ourselves. We stayed to visit all of the animals and missed the rides.

Here are our highlights.

Mishy milked a goat!

We learned about how cows are milked in commercial farms in California.

Getting up close to the cow milking demonstration and show

Watched a sheep getting sheered.



And saw a variety of farm animals.


L.A. County Fair:


Mishy walking to the Arctic Lights at America's Teaching Zoo in the storm

It was one of the worst rain storms in the history of Los Angeles on  the weekend of this year’s Arctic Lights at America’s Teaching Zoo and we still made it out because we were pretty certain there wasn’t going to be any crowds. Most importantly, snow was advertised. They were going to bring tons of snow rain or shine and the event was not going to be cancelled. One of the many childhood pastimes we want to share with our daughter is the pleasure of snow – snowmen, snowballs, riding down a hill of ice and snow. We were lucky we found all three at this year’s Arctic Lights.

America’s Teaching Zoo is part of the four year course – Exotic Animal Training and Management Program at Moorpark College. If you would like to learn how to work with animals in zoo, on set for film, television, and commercials, or in theme parks where they have animal shows, this program is one of the most recognized and highly sought after in America. Every weekend, they open their doors to the public for a small fee – $5/person. Children under the age of 2 are free. For the public, they have animal shows where they introduce to you various animals they have trained. You are also able to visit the animals on site. Animals include a female lion, two mountain lions, a bald eagle, maccaws, several types of monkeys, among others. All of the animals are rescued animals – either given by U.S. Fish and Wildlife when people have illegally had these animals as pets or by the zoo – when they no longer have room for them. Some of the animals on site are loaned from studios.

The Arctic Lights is an annual event which features a raffle, silent auction, several types of craft projects – card making, ornament decorating, and most importantly, snow!

Preparing to slide down