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Summer Activities for Kids: Cheap, Easy and OC Local

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Summer is finally here. Tomorrow is the last day of school! We are so excited!

Although we all can’t wait for summer now, I know that inevitably, about four days in I’ll hear those famous words, “Mom, I’m bored.”

When my kids were younger, and boredom led to creative play, artwork and playing outside, I didn’t mind so much. A little boredom was good for them. Now that they are older, and boredom leads to video games and YouTube, I like to keep them busy.

Here are some of my favorite summer activities for kids. Criteria for this list – they must be free or inexpensive (no Disneyland trips or tips on this post), they must be eco-friendly (i.e. no burning of fossil fuels or excessive use of plastic), they should be suitable to a wide variety of ages (I don’t specialize in babies or toddler activities anymore), and they must be local to Orange County.

This is also not an exhaustive 101-things-to-do-and-that-is-every-single-thing-I-can-think-of-and-you-are-exhausted-just-reading-it list. These are things we have actually done ourselves and found enjoyable for adults and kids alike:

Exploring OC Parks:

Hiking – The OC Parks have great hiking trails. Some of my favorite are back in the Whiting Ranch area. Of the 27 trails in Whiting, one in particular that is a great hike for kids is the Red Rock Trail. It’s not a really long or steep hike, you can do the round trip (from the park entrance in Foothill Ranch to the end and back) in under two hours – or less depending upon the age of your kids. The best part is at the end, you are rewarded with the Red Rock view. It feels like you have entered the desert of Arizona. So cool!

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OC Parks Summer Programs – OC Parks also have lots of great summer programs, including educational programs for kids, summer trail hikes, and free concerts during their summer concert series. For a complete list of events, check out the calendar of OC Parks Events.

Discovery Science Center – It’s Orange County’s leading destination for hands-on, interactive science fun. I especially like the Eco-Challenge interactive exhibit, where kids can learn how to become an eco-friendly shopper in the Discovery Market, discover the importance of identifying and properly disposing of household hazardous waste in the Eco Garage, and learn how to be wise about sorting trash and recyclables in the Race to Recycle. It’s specifically designed to meet the science content standards for 3rd to 6th grades, so perfect for that age group.

Discovery Science Center

Volunteering and Donating – Volunteering is a great way to get your kids to think outside of their own little bubble (always a challenge), and to give back to your local community. In addition to volunteering, we will be cleaning out closets to donate to Goodwill, gathering old blankets and towels to donate to our local animal shelter, and gathering food and clothing donations for the Orange County Rescue Mission. To match your interests and location to the right volunteer opportunities, visit volunteermatch.org.

Classes at Local Community Colleges – Your local community colleges offer lots of great classes over the summer – classes specific to hobbies, interests, and sports. From swimming, to cooking, to chess, to art and theater, there are classes for virtually every interest.

There are also some academic class offerings, including the College for Kids series at Saddleback College, where students between 7 to 17 years old have an opportunity to experience college life and develop their own individualized class schedules from a wide range of offerings, including: acting, archeology, art, chess, computers, film and animation, history, languages, manners, math, modeling, music, reading, science, sports, study skills, theater, writing, and more. New to the program this summer is an offering of a College For Kids Junior program for 3 to 5-year-olds.

All classes are offered in two-week blocks, Monday through Thursday, June 22nd through August 6th. Click here for more information and to register.

The Sawdust Festival –  The Sawdust Art Festival is a tradition for us each summer. This year, the festival runs from Friday, June 26th to Sunday, August 30th. It’s not only a great activity to do with the kids, it supports local artists in Orange County. The Sawdust Art Festival is a non-profit group educating the public and promoting the art created in Laguna Beach.

It’s open from 10-10 daily. Admission is $8.50 for adults, $4.00 for kids 6-12 and free for kids under 5. There are also discount tickets available – for more information, click here.

There is plenty to entertain the kids, including a kids art center, reserved just for young artists to make their own creations – at no charge. There are also free live art demonstrations and art workshops (additional fee for workshops). My kids enjoy the “throw-down experience” where they get to create their own pottery on the potter’s wheel – with some guidance from experts to help them. You can get their creation fired and painted for an additional $8.00.

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OC Beaches – A good day at the beach is hard to beat – it’s one of the reasons many of us live here. There are no shortage of great beaches in Orange County. Some of our favorites are Crescent, Thousand Steps, and Victoria in Laguna and Huntington Main Beach for riding our cruiser bikes. Even the dogs enjoy a good ride along the beach, with a quick stop at Dog Beach, of course.

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For a good list of beaches in Orange County, check out visittheoc.com.

When you go, don’t forget your safer, all-natural sunscreen. You can find a complete list of better sunscreens over at the Environmental Working Group. Which works out well when you have young kids and you are supervising the sunscreen application. When you have teenagers however, they will pretty much refuse to wear anything other than spray-on, brand-name, chemically-laden sunscreens. If you don’t have those at home, they will just borrow their friends at the beach. Eventually, after a few summers of this, you decide you’re not going to die on that hill – that summer is short and they will probably survive the application and inhalation of chemical sunscreen fumes – just as you will survive parenting during the teen years. Just keeping it real here folks. But if you have young kids, by all means take a look at that list and find some safer sunscreens for you and your family.

Taking Public Transportation – Public transportation is alive and well in Orange County. You don’t have to drive everywhere this summer! Taking public transportation is easier than you think. Two of our favorite summer destinations in Orange County are Angels Stadium and the OC Fair. The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) makes it easy (and saves you money) when traveling to both.

Here is a previous post I wrote here at OC Family about traveling to the Orange County Fair on OCTA. You can also travel to Angels Stadium on the Angels Express – and even get 50% of game tickets when you do. For more details about the Angels Express, click here.

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Here’s hoping you get out and enjoy some of the many fun, cheap, and sustainable summer activities in Orange County. Happy almost summer!

 

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When School Shopping Goes Bad

(This post originally appeared on OC Family on August 29, 2013)

I recently went back-to-school shopping with my kids, who will both be in Jr. High this year. Hold me.

How can my kids be that old? How am I going to handle two with the raging tween/teen hormones? When did this happen? How did this happen? (wait, don’t answer that)

Don’t get me wrong, I actually love the ages they are right now. They are funny, and interesting, and opinionated and smart, and finally laugh at my jokes – well, not all of them but at least a few. Also, I can leave them home for short periods of time. I don’t have to drag two kids around with me everywhere I go this summer. Freedom!

Except when I take them back-to-school shopping. For that, they need to come along to offer their opinions – and boy, they have no shortage of those.

I remember fondly the days of grade school.

Those days they would sit together in that over-sized shopping cart – the one that sort of feels like you are pushing a Zamboni around the store – while I loaded the cart with all the items I picked out for them (organic cotton shirts – fine, recycled paper – great, organic shampoo and hand sanitizer – no problem) and our shopping trip went more like this,

“Put that down.”

“Stop touching your sister.”

“No you can’t unbuckle and run around the store…Wait, come back here!”

And while those days were challenging for many reasons, I appreciate that when shopping, I was free to choose and purchase any items that I wanted. They pretty much went with the flow.

Now, it’s all changed. Back-to-school shopping has become an endless series of negotiations.

My daughter Emma asks, “Mom, can I have this notebook?” I answer, “How about this one, it’s made from recycled paper?” She responds, “Yes, but this one is turquoise.”

Over in the makeup aisle, Emma says “Mom can I have this Revlon lipstick?” I respond (not even looking at it) “No.”

She finds another brand I’ve never heard of, “How about this one?” She hands it over and I read the label, “The first ingredient is petroleum. Put it back.”

Not one to give up easily, Emma finds a third and says “What about this EOS lip gloss? You said it was okay last time.” Giving in, I say “Okay, that one.”

This endless series of negotiations lasted through pencils (they want the mechanical ones with the plastic outsides instead of regular biodegradable wood ones), pens (the giant pack of colored ones we don’t really need), binders (do those have PVC in them or not? I can’t tell).

I was at the point of exhaustion when this exchange happened:

Emma: “You know, Ellis (my son) is going to need deodorant for his PE locker. We need to get an extra one for him.”

Ellis: “Mom, can I please, please have some regular deodorant? I promise I’ll still wear the natural one at home, but I don’t want the other boys to make fun of me at school.”

So right there, in the middle of Target, I had an I-really-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing mom moment.

Balancing on the one hand, wanting to protect my kids from chemicals and do the best I can to raise them in a healthy environment. On the other hand, concern about my son, off to a new school where very few of his friends are going – off to the world of Jr. High, and changing for P.E. and tall boys who look closer to men than to anything resembling my son.

Ultimately I said “Yes, let’s pick out some regular deodorant to put in your locker.” I cringed and he smiled.

At the end of our shopping trip, Emma said “Mom, we’ll load everything on the check-out counter. Don’t worry. We got this.” And Ellis smiled. And I got suspicious.

As I glanced over, I saw that they had conspired to hide a big bottle of Dr. Pepper under our items when I wasn’t looking. I picked it up and handed it right back to them. They knew it wasn’t going to happen. But they got a good laugh out of it and so did I.

So I admit, sometimes I’m not a very good “green mom”. I let them get the turquoise binder, and the regular deodorant, and the giant container of colored pens that they really don’t need. But I do know that I am a good mom – and Jr. High will require some balance and compromise on both sides. Peer pressure will be powerful, but I hope that I’ve said things enough times in enough different ways, that they will remember my words later, in the key moments when they need to make good decisions.

Well, that and I made them put back the Dr. Pepper.

Summer Snacking Made Easy

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One of my kids is a grazer. He’s on a growth spurt right now and wants to snack all day long. After finding empty popcorn and Pirate’s Booty bags around the house yesterday, I decided to take some action to ensure better, healthier snacking this summer.

I noticed that if I buy the organic pre-cut apples, my kids will grab those when they are hungry first. I usually avoid the pre-packaged foods because of the waste, but at Costco yesterday these were the only organic apples they had, so I broke down and bought them. Immediately after getting home, both kids grabbed one and started snacking. That’s when I had an idea.

This morning, I spent 15 minutes washing fruit and vegetables – in a one part vinegar to ten parts water solution to prohibit mold growth and prolong shelf life of fruit and veggies. The vinegar evaporates and leaves no taste on your produce so don’t worry.  Then, I divided everything into individual servings and loaded up the fruit and veggie drawer. Making fruit and veggies as easy as grabbing a bag of chips.

Here’s hoping for healthier snacking this summer.

SummerSnacks

 

The Problem with Your Kids Following You on Instagram

Our after-school conversation today:

My daughter: “Mom, did you know that you posted a picture of eggs on Instagram?”

Me: “Yes! It’s the new packaging of the organic Costco eggs! It’s recycled plastic now instead of styrofoam. Isn’t that cool? I’m so excited. I have written to Costco, and tweeted them, and I kept asking them to change it and the finally did!”

Radio silence and blank stares

My son: “But why did you have to take a picture of it?”

Me: “Oh, I’m sorry, was that wrong? Okay, then tomorrow I’ll just post a bunch of selfies instead of posting about green things. How about that? Does that work for you?”

Cue synchronized eye roll.

Me: “Okay then, glad we had this conversation. Next time I need your advice on what to post on Instagram, I’ll ask.”

The controversial photo that caused childhood embarrassment –

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And that, among many, is my problem with my kids being on Instagram. I’ve previously been told that I post too many photos of food, my writing is too “formal”, and generally, I’m just kind of a dork.

It really is amazing that I have made it this far in life without them. I mean, how did I do it?

All of which reminds me of one of my favorite sayings: “Unsolicited advice….always welcome.”