Saturday, February 28, 2009

Berkeley Lawrence Hall of Science

I've been putting off blogging until my camera USB cord arrives, because it's more interesting with pictures. It is, however, taking its sweet time, so I better write before I forget, and illustrate afterwards. (Updated: obviously, it's arrived, hence, pictures).

So, Lawrence Hall of Science.

On the minus side:
  • It's a bit expensive and has no discounts like AAA
  • It's a bit far for a regular trip, and unlike CA Academy of Sciences, there's nothing else around there.
  • The cafe food is bleh.

    On the plus side:
  • Very well designed for young children
  • Dynamic: exhibitions change often
  • Inside and outside play/exploration areas
  • Great view of the bay and the bridge

    We started off exploring the "free" areas next to admissions booth. The kids are too young to really understand the math games, but they liked manipulating the objects. I tried to get my oldest L. (3.6 years) interested in the Towers of Hanoi; he could understand the rules, but apparently not the solution. Still, it was fun for a bit to see him grapple with it. Then we played a bit in the toddler area with its soft construction blocks, pyramid mirror, and the wall track for little balls.

    We spent quite a bit of time outside, with L. exploring the stream and throwing things in the water to see them flow, and with A. (2.1 years) excavating with two shovels. L. found a stick, first pretending it's his tail, and then, his weapon.

    Then we went back inside to explore the water play area which shows various uses and effects of water, huge rotating Earth, and new exhibition of Grossology (excellently produced).

    At 12:30, we left for Mezze in Oakland. Pretty good food, although smaller portions than we were expecting and brunch menu as opposed to lunch I was expecting. We ordered a burger, a smoked salmon and bagel plate, two scrambled eggs on the side, and a chocolate croissant pudding. We shared everything as always. The pudding turned out to have a bit of alcohol in it, marking this the second time we gave them alcohol (inadvertently, obviously).

    Then we walked back to the car and played in the playground right next to it (a block away from the restaurant).

    Drove home. Good day.
  • Friday, February 27, 2009


    Regardless of my schedule for Sunday, we ended up going to IKEA today. I was tired and really didn't feel like making dinner, and IKEA has the cheapest healthy-ish food, and very kid-friendly. We are lucky to live fairly close (15-20 min. drive). So we drove up, and first we had dinner (lox & greens salad, boiled veggies, mac & cheese, meatballs, small bottle of chocolate milk, and water: $18 total for four). Then we did the mandatory slide exploration, played with various toys on display, checked out the mattresses, investigated multiple reflections on the wall mirrors, talked about how the lights work, and took a ride on a huge flat shopping cart (next to 2 shelves for our garage). A good cheap evening, all-in-all.

    Wednesday, February 25, 2009

    Weekend plans, Feb.28 and Mar.1

    As always, these plans represent our desired activities with children on the weekends. We plan so we can do more exciting things together, sight-seeing as well as errands. We plan ergo we experience more. Why post? Hopefully, to provide inspiration to others.

    Saturday, February 28
    - Lawrence Hall of Science
    08:00-09:00 Eat breakfast, get dressed, pack to go
    09:00-10:00 Drive to 1 Centennial Drive, Berkeley, CA 94720
    10:00-12:40 Explore
    12:40-13:00 Drive to Mezze, 3407 Lakeshore Avenue (reserved)
    13:00-13:40 Lunch
    13:40-14:40 Drive home
    14:40-16:00 Nap time, reading, prepare for after-nap activities
    16:00-16:30 After nap, together with kids clean up the car: have kids pick up garbage under & next to their seat & wipe down their step stools
    16:30-18:00 Shop for fruits, go to Borders at Mathilda
    18:15-18:30 Set the table
    18:30-19:00 Dinner
    19:00-19:15 Tonight's activity: math
    19:15-19:35 Tonight's featured toy: wooden blocks with letters (build a tower with A., read with L.)
    19:35-19:40 Clean up toys
    19:40-20:00 Cartoon, dress in pjs, clean teeth; put A. in bed
    20:00-20:30 Read to L., put L. in bed
    20:30-23:00 Parents' "free" time

    Sunday, Mar.1 - Easy day
    Note: the beginning of spring is celebrated in Russia with making tons of pancakes.
    07:30-08:00 Get dressed, make pancakes
    08:00-08:30 Eat breakfast, celebrate spring
    08:30-10:30 Clean the house, play with kids in the garden
    10:30-12:30 Play date at our house
    12:30-13:00 Lunch
    13:00-14:00 Play soccer, read
    14:00-16:00 Nap
    16:00-19:00 Go to IKEA, play & expore, eat dinner there
    19:00-19:15 Tonight's activity: sports
    19:15-19:35 tonight's featured toy: tambourines, push toys race
    19:35-19:40 Clean up toys
    19:40-20:00 Cartoon, dress in pjs, clean teeth; put A. in bed
    20:00-20:30 Read to L., put L. in bed
    20:30-23:00 Parents' "free" time

    Tuesday, February 24, 2009

    Astronauts & Shelves

    Featured toy of the day: little plastic astronauts & planets from a tube. We built a little perimeter fence around the space ships & astronauts from the IKEA wooden blocks in a cart, placed planets outside the perimeter, and did the countdown for each space ship (5-4-3-2-1-0-go!). 2-yr-old A. didn't care, so he built a little tower; 3.5-yr-old L. did the countdown with gusto and flew space ships (shuttle, satellite, rocket, etc) one each to different planets.

    Of course, given that they're kids and enjoy the cheapest entertainment best, they spent the rest of the evening playing with parts of the bookshelf I was fixing. A while back I half-built them a children's bookshelf. I wanted to cut off the sharp edges off the sides in view of our playdate on Sunday replete with 2-year-olds. So I disassembled the shelf and placed the horizontal parts on our couch so they would be out of the way. The kids spent fifteen minutes or so pretending they're rails and shoving all sorts of things on and under them.

    Monday, February 23, 2009

    Pirozhki as solution to picky eaters

    As any toddlers, my kids are fairly picky. My youngest A. (2) is just entering that stage, while my oldest L. (3.5) is slowly exiting it (I hope). One thing I've been trying is making pirozhki. With bread machine, making the dough is quite easy. The trick is finding interesting and healthy stuffing. So far, I've tried apple & banana (bleh: mostly banana's fault, I think) and eggs&rice (yum-my!). The kids are instantly attracted to them, they're easy to pack, and most freeze well. Next up: try a more whole wheat dough (as it is, we hardly ever eat white bread) and try more kinds (chicken & celery; frozen cherry; etc).

    Saturday, February 21, 2009

    Early reading, Russian festival verdict

    So, things didn't go quite as envisioned (when do they, with kids).

    A. Festival:
    We've gone to the Russian festival in SF twice before, and enjoyed it. First time, well, it was the first, novelty of it certainly was interesting. Second time, there was a pretty good song & dance concert which both of our boys enjoyed. Third time is the charm? Not so much. The food is a highway robbery and it's ridiculously bad (come on, it's hard to botch up buckwheat & mushroom julienne). The concert which we could attend was performed by kids, which is great if you're that child's parent and mildly interesting if you're simply any parent (for a different, somewhat schadenfreudenish/apprehensive reason), but not so much in terms of artistic quality, obviously. All in all, the experience was a bit bleh. Plus, a huge blow for us: the library sale had meager selection (we bought one book, whereas the first time, we bought 30).

    Verdict: kind of interesting, if you've never been; second time: skip it.

    B. Early reading:
    We've been skating the edges of pre-reading (in Russian) with my oldest, 3.5-yr-old L. for a while now. He's known all the capital letters for at least 6 months, he can tell the first and last letter of the word by ear, and often middle letters as well, he's able to put together two and three letter combinations when asked (we have a game), he can read with my assistance a significant number of words in headings of books and poems (we always do that, when we read a book, if we see anything written in capital letters). So, I decided to start him teaching him how to read proper, following a textbook. What a spectacular flop! Not quite sure what doesn't click. First of all, he didn't seem interested. Maybe it was just this day? Secondly, he didn't seem to get it at all. Even such obvious things as MY (moo) next to a picture of a cow. Maybe it was the context of learning a lesson? He certainly has done such easy two-letter reading before, when we're reading a book or playing a game. Or, of course, maybe he's simply not ready at all and I'm just have a strong case of "people remember successes better than failures" bias with regards to his reading successes. Or maybe it was just this day.

    Verdict: try next week again.

    Friday, February 20, 2009

    Weekend plans, Feb.21 and 22

    This is what our complete day would look like

    Saturday, Feb 21

    07:30-08:00 Get up, get kids dressed
    08:00-08:30 Breakfast: fried eggs with scallion, with bread & milk
    08:30-09:30 Go to Walgreens to make children passport photos
    09:30-10:00 Drive to SMART to recycle old lightbulbs & paint (301 Carl Rd, Sunnyvale, CA 94089)
    10:00-11:00 Drive to SF (2450 Sutter Street)
    11:00-14:00 Enjoy the Russian festival; eat Russian food for lunch; then concert @12:15;
    14:00-15:00 Drive home
    15:00-16:30 Nap time
    16:30-18:00 Have kids clean the car, quick run to Trader joe's, have L. write letter to family
    18:00-18:30 Prepare dinner: potatoes, meat, salad, grapes, set the table
    18:30-19:00 Dinner
    19:00-19:35 Sports activity; Build spaceport for astronauts
    19:35-19:45 Clean up
    19:40-20:00 Pjs, cartoon, teeth; put A. in bed
    20:00-20:30 Read book to L., put him in bed

    I won't go in as much detail (here) for Sunday. The point is really to show what kind of activities we do that you can adapt, not our specific little errands and plans.

    Sunday, Feb.22
    10:30-12:30 Play date
    12:15-13:15 Drive home, set table, eat lunch, change into good clothing
    13:15-14:00 Clean house for babysitter
    14:00-15:00 Drive to Mission City Opera & Vocal
    15:00-18:00 Enjoy the opera Marriage of Figaro with L. & DH.
    18:00-19:00 Drive to Art-cafe Samovar, get some quick food at the store for on-the-go dinner
    19:00-21:00 Concert
    (the musical performances are for 3.5-yr-old L.; 2-yr-old A. gets to stay home: not ready yet).

    Thursday, February 19, 2009

    African animals from a tube

    Both our kids like animals, especially 3.5-yr-old L. We have quite of a few animals "from the tube", one of those globe-capped little plastic tubes (about $10) with small plastic animals. The kids play with them regularly, mostly by moving them around in cars, putting them in jars, and so forth. As part of my plan to find interesting new ways of playing with the same toys, this was tonight' activity (for my older, L.): we took out the set with African animals (giraffe, gorilla, lion, etc), IKEA's huge Picture Atlas for Children, and asked him to match animals with pictures. Another 10 minutes occupied. Hooray.

    Tuesday, February 17, 2009

    Picking mushrooms

    We have a fantastic set of wooden mushrooms. As part of my plan to feature one toy a day in some specific way, so they don't end up playing with the same one or two toys in the same one or two ways, we did the following tonight. Right after I finished my work, set the table, and right before the kids came home for dinner, I ran into our garage to get:
    - two baskets
    - a whole bunch of non-transparent containers, from sour cream, ice cream, cottage cheese
    (yes, I'm a pack rat)
    I threw the mushrooms on the floor and placed the containers over the mushrooms and next to them. This took about 5 minutes.

    After we finished dinner (of course, my oldest peeked a bit, even though we asked him not to; he came running and very surprised: "Look, I found a mushroom!"), we went "picking mushrooms". I gave each boy a basket, the 3.5-year-old L. got it right away, but I had to help my 2-year-old A. to understand about picking up a container, looking to see if something was there, trying another one, etc. All in all, a good bit of fun, although very short (5 minutes probably). L. continued to play with mushrooms for the rest of the evening, dumping them out and collecting them again from the floor, cooking them, trying to feed my husband the Amanita muscaria (he knows it's poisonous), and so on.

    Monday, February 16, 2009

    At the CA Academy of Sciences

    Crazily enough, we decided to go to the CA Academy of Sciences. The craziness was on several levels: a) it was President's day, an assured crowd day (beyond the normal overcrowdedness of that museum); b) it would be just me, my mostly obedient 3.5-year old and my unreasonably adventurous 2-year-old (my husband had to work); c) I forgot I wanted to come a bit earlier, to make sure we didn't stand in a huge line; d) it was raining like crazy, and the umbrella doesn't really cover the little kids.

    Nonetheless, it all worked out. The (membership) line was short and mostly under the roof. I took two harnesses with me (Target bear & monkey); yes, I got some evil eyes from some parents, but you know what, they were 2 adults per one child in the stroller, and I wasn't. I had my oldest choose the one he wanted (at some point, I'll have to figure out how to take turns choosing, when my youngest will get choosier), and they didn't mind it. We didn't make it (yet again) to the Planetarium, but we walked around the Aquarium, pointing out fish, their colors, the type, and so forth, and then off to Africa (which I must admit is a bit boring, it's all antelopes & gazelles, which to my youngest is pretty much all "deer"). The restaurant was unexpectedly fantastic, ravioli were amazing (although I wish I knew that they took reservations for lunch inside the museum). We sat outside a bit once the sun peeked out and read a book. At 1pm, it was time to drive home and take a nap.

    The verdict: buy the membership and check out the restaurant.

    Saturday, February 14, 2009

    Toilet training

    We're really glad that we bought Potty pal toilet seat. You install it instead of your normal toilet seat, and the kid's one hides inside the lid. It looks great, you don't have to worry about guests, washing is easy, it doesn't wobble, what's not to like? It made an impression on my oldest, because he felt it was his own, special.

    Friday, February 13, 2009

    Weekend plans, Feb.14

    08:30-09:00 Drive to Fremont station (2000 Bart Way, Fremont, CA 94536)
    09:00-09:15 Buy tickets to Lake Merritt (Richmond line, or Daly City line at 9:28)
    09:10-09:44 Take BART to the Lake Merritt station
    09:44-10:00 Exit at 9th Street and turn right
    10:00-12:00 Explore Oakland Museum of California
    12:00-12:40 Eat lunch at the museum
    12:40-13:00 Go to the station
    13:00-13:04 Wait for train (Fremont line)
    13:04-13:37 Take BART to Fremont
    13:37-14:10 Drive home
    14:10-16:00 Nap

    Thursday, February 12, 2009

    Space Balloon

    With my 3.5-year-old L. we read a book about space flight. I was trying to explain to him how a rocket flies (using a picture shown in the book, with one arrow pointing from the tail of the rocket and another one pointing out toward space), but I wasn't getting anywhere. Then I remembered that we had a balloon from a friend's birthday party. So I blew it up, explained about the air coming out, what the word "experiment" means, and off it went in crazy trajectory. He was ecstatic! My 2-year-old A. noticed our activity and wanted to join in. Interestingly, L. enjoyed mostly the crazy balloon flight, whereas A. was giddy about how something big appears all of a sudden from a tiny piece of material. We ended up doing that for almost half an hour: blowing the balloon up and letting it go.

    Wednesday, February 11, 2009


    This is my I-am-ashamed-to-say-which-number-th attempt to start a blog. My inspiration now is that I often meet other parents who wonder what we do on the weekend and how we manage. With two kids under 4, I've accumulated a number of tricks that I'd like to share with others, in hopes they will be helpful.