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Our family recently had an amazing weekend at the Disneyland/California Adventure resorts.  It was wonderful to be there as a parent and watch my 4.5-year old son, The Littlest E, be blown away by all the rides, characters come to life, and visuals.  It brought back memories of when I was a child visiting Disneyland for the first time.  I don’t remember how old I was, but if you want to know what Disneyland was like in the 60’s, all you have to do is watch the recently released “Saving Mr. Banks” with Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson to get an idea of Disneyland’s early days.

Disneyland 2007

It must have been in the late 60’s or early 70’s when my family went on the big adventure in our VW Bus and drove from the Bay Area to Southern California.  Disneyland truly is a magical place, especially for children and especially if you have any inkling of an imagination.  If you have a limited imagination , I can almost guarantee one trip to this magical place will send your imagination to a new level.

Disneyland was different in that era.  There were no Fast Passes and I don’t believe there was a Magic Hour, where hotel guests got to enter the park and ride rides an hour before the general park attendees.  Everyone had to wait in lines with their old-fashioned tickets marked A, B, C, D and E for the various rides, E tickets for the best rides.  There was no Space Mountain or Star Tours, but the Haunted Mansion was there, as was Pirates of the Caribbean sans Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow.  Autopia was around back then and still is, as well as the submarine ride, but we didn’t have Nemo and the other characters joining us on the underwater voyage back then.  There was one ride in particular I loved, Adventure Through Inner Space presented by Monsanto.

It was located where Star Tours now runs and riders sat in “Atomobile,” compartments like in the Haunted Mansion ride, and the ride took you through a microscope as if you were shrinking to the size of an atom.  Gigantic snowflakes appeared floating in space and everything seemed to be massive in scope, like we really did shrink.  We went through the ride witnessing molecules and atoms you could almost touch.  Then, magically, by the end of the ride, we all got bigger.  Even outside while waiting in line, you could see tiny people in a microscope on these Atomobiles and it looked like they were real.  As a child riding this ride, I believed absolutely that I shrank.  I remember even getting into a tiff with my older brother when he doubted me.  I knew.  I just knew it was real.  That magic, that willingness to believe is alive and well in 2014 at Disneyland and California Adventure, not just in the little ones, but I think in us grown ups, too.

Mousewait

Prior to making the 45-minute drive for our Disney weekend, my husband, Tom, and I strategized a bit so we had a game plan for each day.  Residents of Southern California get park discounts during certain times of year.  We chose the 2-day one park per day option for this first time.  I checked with a couple of friends who have kids The Littlest E’s age on what we should do and see and ride.  Those friends provided me with a wealth of information.  Tom also did some research and looked at various apps to help in our strategizing.  He looked at rides that had Fast Passes and we figured out the age appropriate ones we wanted to ride, and what to go for first.  He also found a restaurant app with info on the restaurants at the parks and Downtown Disney.  I found free app called Mousewait that had wait times for rides and restaurants.  Whether the times were exact or not didn’t matter as the app served as a reference when figuring out what to do once inside.  We were ready!!  Disneyland in the digital age is great with all the technology assisting in the planning.  I look back fondly at the days of old and those little paper E Tickets, but it’s wonderful to have all this digitized info at our fingertips.

Waiting for Autopia

Disneyland is still a classic.  We chose Autopia for our first ride since the wait wasn’t too long.  The Littlest E rode with Tom and I took several pictures to commemorate this first.  It was so awesome to watch my son’s face light up in the car.  We thought choosing Super Bowl Sunday would be a smart move since millions of people watch the game, but we weren’t the only ones with that idea.  The park was surprisingly crowded.  We steered clear of the Pirates ride as we previously showed our son a video of what the ride was, and he told us a definitive “No.”  When in doubt about a ride, it’s always good to find a YouTube video if you can.

Our next ride was Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters.  The Littlest E was effusive in not wanting to go.  We told him to trust us, and sure enough, when the ride was over he said, “I want to go again!”  Oh, the magic of Disney!  So much to do and so little time, because Tom is from Seattle and we definitely had to watch the game.  We visited a number of the characters’ houses, including Mickey’s and waited in line to meet the famous mouse.  It was well worth the wait, as we got our picture taken with him.  The Littlest E doesn’t usually like grown up characters, but loved meeting Mickey!  We went on Roger Rabbit’s ride as well as Peter Pan’s Flight.  He sat fully engrossed in this ride watching everything as we flew over Neverland.  He had a blast.  We did much more, but I don’t need to do a full recap.

Meeting Mickey

The next day, we went to California Adventure and I’ve got to say this park is AMAZING!!!  If you’re a fan of the movie “Cars” or “Monster’s Inc.,” or “The Little Mermaid,” there’s a lot here for you to see.  We knew we wanted a Fast Pass for Radiator Springs Racers, and it was Monday so we got to take part in the Magic Hour.  We made a beeline to the Toy Story Midway Mania ride, and even in the Magic Hour the line was 20 minutes long.  That was an awesome ride, shooting at all different targets in 3D with all the “Toy Story” characters.  Such fun!  From there I rushed to the Fast Pass line for the Cars ride while Tom and our lively, excited son went on the carousel.  By the time I got to the front of the line for the Fast Pass, our time slot was between 12:50 and 1:50.

Miki's New Friend

Some memorable highlights our day.  Hanging out in Cars Land was the best.  If you’ve seen the movie, Radiator Springs comes to life.  Everywhere you go, you feel like you’re there, and there are ample rides featuring many of the “Cars” characters.  Tom and I loved the Radiator Springs Racers ride and The Littlest E loved the first part, but when we went fast, not so much.  Our son loves “Toy Story” and when he saw Buzz Lightyear, he was so excited, except Buzz took a break.  Woody then appeared right after him.  Our usually outgoing son got bashful, but I waited in line to meet Woody anyway.  Once I met him he came over and sat with The Littlest E who was sitting on a bench eating some String Cheese.  Woody indicated he’d like some, too, to which our son responded.  It was quite the photo-op.  Tom and the Disney photographer were busily taking photos while our now engaged son interacted with his new friend.  The two of them walked back to the photo area and we all took a picture together, and Woody gave us his autograph.  Later that day, we went to Turtle Talk with Crush, an interactive live chat with the surfer turtle from “Finding Nemo.”  We all sat mesmerized when Crush appeared on the movie screen and started talking with us and had real (not pre-recorded) conversations with audience members.  I still don’t know how they did that, but it was incredible, and the look on The Littlest E’s face was priceless.

Tow Mater Ride

We had a fun-filled, exhausting, exhilarating, fantastic couple of days at the Disney parks. There’s nothing  like experiencing Disney through your child’s eyes, worth every dollar we spent.  I wonder though, did The Littlest E think we really flew while on the Peter Pan ride, or did he think we really went under water during The Little Mermaid ride?  I don’t want to ask him, don’t want break the spell.  If you’ve never been to either of these parks and want to go, I highly recommend it.  We definitely need to go back since there’s so much more to see.  This truly is a magical place.

©2014 Melanie Elliott

Images: Glenn Gutierrez, Melanie Elliott, Tom Elliott

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I’m back after taking a little blogging break while The Littlest E was on vacation from preschool.  He’s in school four days a week so, during the break, we spent lots of time together.  I’m sure every parent loves and adores their child.  Over the 2+ weeks The Littlest E was home, I couldn’t help but marvel at the young boy he’s becoming, so independent, full of ideas, making plans (which sometimes didn’t go off the way he wanted), and full of feistiness with a drop or two of stubbornness.  I, too, love and adore my son, and I also think because coming to him was the end of a very long journey, there’s an added layer of gratitude and deep appreciation for the mere fact that he is in our lives.  I know other adoptive parents who feel the same way, as well as parents who struggled with infertility and conception.  Even if my son and I were getting on each other’s nerves, and that happened during the break, I’m head over heels in love with him and think he’s the cutest kid on the planet.

My Beautiful Boy

We had a number of high points while on break.  For our first weekend, he and I road tripped up to the Bay Area, where my family lives, while The Littlest E’s daddy stayed home (and got a little break from us).  He got on well during the 6+ hour drive.  The portable DVD player helped things go smoothly.  It was fun listening to the movie “Brave,” knowing he was watching it intently.  We also passed the time listening to his station on Pandora, lots of songs from Disney and Pixar movies as well as songs from the 50s surprisingly like “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

I wish all of my son’s grandparents lived closer because he has so much fun with them, and, when we visit, they get to see him in all his glory, splendor and various moods.  There’s an unshakeable, special connection between grandparents and grandchildren, and it’s not just that they have a common enemy.  The Littlest E’s grandparents give out a love that only they can give and my son soaked it up.  My Dad and his girlfriend hadn’t seen him in a while and he and Bubba (my son’s fond name for my Dad) had a blast together; it was awesome watching them play.

Bubba & TLE

If you’re traveling to the Bay Area with young children, I highly recommend spending time at the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito.  Everything about it sparks a child’s imagination.  The museum is at the old Fort Baker and has a number of buildings dedicated to it.  There’s a building for boats and trains with a part of a life-sized fishing boat inside where kids and parents can climb, pretend to fish, reel in the catch, or crank up a net with lifelike crabs, all to reenact fishing life in San Francisco, and the boat can actually rock back and forth.  There’s even a place where you can act as a fish seller.

Care for a Crab?

There’s an art room and a room where the kids learn about waves and underwater life, complete with green screen background and camera where it appears like you’re underwater.  My adventurous son wasn’t into that as much as he was into the wave maker.  The Bay Area Discovery Museum was amazing.  Outside was a large play area complete with a miniature Golden Gate Bridge that the children could climb and walk on, and we didn’t even get to that because there was another life-sized fishing boat nearby.  The Littlest E explored that and ran around it for at least ½ hour going on make-believe adventures with other children who were just as excited to be on the boat as he.  We could have spent the entire day at the museum, but had to leave to get lunch.  That was a highlight of our long weekend.

Unfortunately, my energetic son came down with a fever that knocked him out of commission the first half of his first full week on break.  We drove home with him still sick, but he was a trooper.  Watching the DVD player on the way again really helped him, that and lots of sleep.  By mid-week he was his old, lively self and went to gymnastics camp one of the days.  That’s something I could write many blogs about, camp!  For the most part, camps are great, but one definitely needs to check them out before committing.  I’ve heard horror stories of camps where the counselors were just awful.  This gymnastics camp, at Fun & Fit Gymnastics in Burbank, was wonderful.  It went from 9-2, and some of my son’s friends went, too.  After being there less than five minutes he said to me, “Mom, you can go now.”  Isn’t that what every mom wants to hear?  I left smiling, knowing he was going to be just fine without me.

The following week, my husband, Tom, took the week off so we had a nice family staycation.  He had never been to the movies with The Littlest E and we had an opportunity to see a couple of movies together as a family.  The first movie was “Monsters University,” which we all loved.  A few times during the movie I looked over to see Tom watching our son watch the movie.  That put a big smile on my face.  We have “Monsters, Inc.” at home and The Littlest E loves Mike Wazowski and Sulley.  The Dean and Librarian were a little scary for him, but it wasn’t anything that caused Tom or I to worry.  All in all it was a terrific first family movie outing.

One Eyed Minion

The second movie we saw was “Despicable Me 2.”  I don’t know what it is about the Minions that crack me up so much, but I had the most fun watching them.  They’re hysterical, and I can’t wait for their own movie to come out (Minions) slated for December 2014.  [SPOILER ALERT] The Littlest E liked the movie, but found the purple minions scary, especially when one of them tried to break into Gru’s home and appeared suddenly in the window.  He also got scared when El Macho turned into a big, purple monster.  Toward the end of the movie, he was sitting in my lap, clutching me.

We talked a lot about the movie and characters afterward.  Tom showed our son pictures of the actors who played the roles and we’ve even watched some Youtube videos with Steve Carell and Kristin Wiig talking about the movie.  He’s not as scared anymore and likes to us to tell him the stories of El Macho, when Gru and Lucy are in the mall, and when Gru is on a date.  The movie also led to a conversation The Littlest E and I had about adoption (the three girls, Edith, Margo and Agnes are all adopted), which will be the topic of a future blog.

The last adventure we took on our staycation was a day trip to Escondido to visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  We drove down early in the morning and spent the day at the park, and it was one hot and muggy day.  I’m so glad we brought our stroller because The Littlest E was not into walking everywhere and there was a lot of ground to cover.  We saw gorillas, lorikeets that sat on your arms as you fed them nectar from little cups, and there was a lemur exhibit, among other animals and things to see.  We took the tram tour to view all the animals in the massive open areas that included a herd of elephants (adults and young ones), different kinds of antelope, giraffes, rhinos, vultures and many more animals.  The best part of the day was watching our son’s Amharic and dance teacher, Bruke.  He is one-sixth of a troupe of acrobats from Ethiopia, who are under contact with the park until mid-August.  Their specialty is tumbling and doing acrobatics on and between two tall poles.  They were very impressive.  The Littlest E sat on Tom’s shoulders mesmerized by their moves.  He didn’t take his eyes off them once and got a little shy when all six of the acrobats came up to us to meet him after their show.  I loved that he was able to see their show.  Now he wants to climb poles and be like them, which is just wonderful.

Acrobats

What I treasured most about our little staycation was how much time we spent together as a family, the movies, the day trip, Tom not having to go to work before The Littlest E gets up in the morning.  It was nice just being with each other.  Yes, there were highs and lows (Tom came down with a fever the last weekend), and I reached a saturation point where I needed to take a break, but overall, it was truly wonderful.  I love my husband, son, and the family we have created.  August 2nd marks our 3-year familyversary, the day The Littlest E became our son.  I cherish our family moments together, however short or long, and I hope that in the years to come, the gratitude and deep appreciation I feel never ceases.

Images: Jamie Johnson, Melanie Elliott, Richard McLean, Sonny Abesamis, Melanie Elliott

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For the past 10 days (except for 1 day when I went into work), I’ve had the joy of rediscovering my son, The Littlest E, while he was on spring break from preschool.  It was amazing in so many ways.  Since it’s my husband’s busy season at work, we didn’t travel anywhere.   My son and I had wonderful playdates with friends, family came into town and we also spent time with one another just hanging out.  We had the best quality time together.

I started a part-time job last summer where I worked from home.  It was the perfect set up.  I’d drive my son to school, work the hours I could and then pick him up after school.  I still had deadlines, but I had the luxury of not going into an office and working at any hour.  As of January, that changed.  My boss opened a firm and I started going into the office when The Littlest E was in school.  Basically, I went from not working, to working part-time at home (10-12 hours per week), to working part-time in an office (17 hours per week), which I found out was easier said than done.

I know I’m not the first working mom to balance home life, work life, personal life, etc., and I know I won’t be the last.  It was a pretty big transition, working in an office.  One I welcomed, though I found it hard to get everything done that needed to get done and still have dinner on the table at night and not have errands, chores and my blog weighing on my brain.  I love being a mom, love working and love writing, and, at times, during the past three months, found it challenging to do all three well.  Plus, the quality time I had with my son diminished.

Hourglass

In the mornings, we were always rushing to get to school so I wouldn’t be too late getting to work.  Not that my boss or anyone there was pressuring me to be on time, it was me that was pressuring me.  Breakfasts were faster paced, and there was no time to play before leaving for school.  Hustle, hustle, hustle.  Then, when I’d pick The Littlest E up from school, we had errands to run.  He still takes swimming lessons and has an occasional after school playdate, but there was a lot to do to run the house.  Again, some of the fun got lost and so did the quality time.  There was so much to do at home, once there that I didn’t give him the attention he deserved.  As days went on, things got easier and less stressful, but spring break came at the perfect time.  My boss didn’t need me to work, and I took that time to be home with my son.

These past 10 days, I fell more in love with him than before, if that’s even possible.  He’s such a great kid and so full of life.  He’s a joy to be around and I lost a bit of that while I was working.  I was so busy needing to get to the next thing, I forgot to be in the moment, and cherish those moments with my little guy.  Big lesson learned; it’s about quality time.  Over the last month or so there’ve been a number of deaths of people not directly close to me, but peripherally.  Some were expected, others happened much too quickly.  These deaths reminded me that we never know when our number is up.  How do I want to spend my days?  Rushing around or being in the present moment and savoring the life I have.

Things may be changing at my job.  I may not be needed anymore, which is okay.  My hours may be cut, or they may stay the same.  I don’t have the answers yet, and I’m truly okay with any outcome.  My boss is a friend and we are on good terms.  Regardless of what happens, I know it’s all good.  I also know if I go back to working the hours I worked, I need to shift my way of being.  The chores will still be there, I’ll still need to get to work, and I’ll still need to run errands, but the way I handle things will be different. Things may get stressful, yet if I step back, breathe in and out a few times, it makes a difference.  There might be a little more dust around the house, or that errand just doesn’t get done right away, and that’s fine.  My main priority is my son, taking care of him, and making sure the time I spend with him is quality time.

Hourglass cropped

I’ve got this day, this now, this present.  This morning, I let my son sleep in a bit.  Whether it was luck or not, things went smoothly.  No rushing, but an enjoyable pre school morning.  I wasn’t needed at the office today, which may have added to the relaxed environment, but I don’t think so.  I’ve learned my lesson.  Take time to smell the coffee (or roses).  I’m grateful for this spring break and grateful to have rediscovered what it is to spend quality time with The Littlest E.

©Melanie Elliott

Images: Jamiesrabbits, openDemocracy

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We are nearing the end of awards season here in Los Angeles.  Los Angeles makes a big deal about movies year round, but this time of year award contenders have been released in hopes of big box office returns, solid reviews, nominations and awards.  I love this time of year because I love movies, always have and always will.  I grew up with them.

I don’t remember seeing my first movie.  I think I was 5 years old and my family and I went to the drive in to see a double feature of “Paint Your Wagon” and “Marooned.”  I remember bits and pieces of each, but slept through most of them in the back of my parents’ Volkswagen Bus.  Perhaps my love of movies started back then.  When I was 9, my folks took me to see “Charlotte’s Web” with Debbie Reynolds as the voice of Charlotte and Paul Lynde as Templeton, the rat.  I couldn’t wait to see the movie and even brought my E.B. White book with me to follow along.

Spider Web

In my teens, we had family movie night for opening nights of “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and many others.  We arrived ridiculously early waiting in line to assure getting the best seats.  This was in the late 70’s well before the ability to order tickets and assigned seats on the Internet.  If memory serves correct, tickets were roughly $3.00 for children and $5.00 for adults for evening shows!

Star Wars - The Exhibition

We always had an amazing time on opening nights waiting in line for these blockbuster films.  We met interesting people like us who were crazy enough to wait.  It was fun eating pizza, playing backgammon and visiting to pass the time, awesome family time.  Even when my folks divorced we kids got the benefit because both parents loved movies so we got to see a lot more movies.

Now that The Littlest E is 3, he’s still pretty young to go to most movies, but I’ve taken him to a couple.  It’s not a secret that I hope he develops my love of film.  Our first movie-going adventure occurred last year.  We saw Disney’s “Chimpanzee.”   He didn’t understand the whole story, but had fun watching all the chimpanzees.  During the movie, The Littlest E sat on my lap the entire time, which I loved, and we only took 4 trips to the bathroom.  The film was roughly 90 minutes long, which was about all he could do.  It was the perfect first movie experience.  That night, he told his Daddy all about the chimpanzee.

Learning To Climb

This past summer, we attempted to see “Madagascar 3” in 3D, which I knew was an experiment.  Would The Littlest E like 3D animation?  Turns out, the answer was a definitive NO.  We lasted 10 minutes and he said he didn’t like the movie touching him.  I made a mental note of that.  No more 3D movies – revisit when older.

At home, he’s really gotten into watching “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2.”  When he started watching them, he talked incessantly, asking questions about what happened and making comments.  It was wonderful to watch him watch the movies and then watch his wheels spin as he figured things out.  It’s one of the many great things about being a parent.  He even noticed that someone said the bad word “stupid,” in one of the movies, which we don’t say in our house.  My husband replied, “Yes, he said that, but that’s not a nice word and we don’t say that to anyone.”

We don’t watch movies all the time, but we do have a movie day.  The Littlest E is so active at preschool and with outside activities that sometimes it’s nice to sit and watch a flick.  I try not to use the television as a babysitter, though confess now and then it helps, especially since I started a part-time job and need time to do the things I used to do around the house when I wasn’t working.

Since The Littlest E is still so young, we occasionally refer to the website Common Sense Media to find out if the movie we want to see with him is age-appropriate.  There are many other parent movie review websites in the blogosphere, but we like Common Sense.  Sometimes we check with friends who have kids our son’s age to find out what they’ve seen.  The goal is not to let him see a movie that will upset him.  I’ve heard too many stories of children haunted by what seemed to be okay films for kids.

Found Nemo

I didn’t check out “Finding Nemo.”  My son and I watched it together one afternoon.  I was next to him the whole time and he didn’t have any problem watching the movie.  After the movie, I asked if he liked it and he said Yes.  A couple of weeks later, he watched it again, this time he was on the couch by himself while my husband and I were doing something else.  Suddenly he burst into tears and was very upset.  This was right when the scuba diver took Nemo.  The Littlest E freaked out.  We stopped the movie right away and talked about it.  He doesn’t like grown ups in costume, and didn’t like the scuba diver at all.  The big scuba mask on the screen scared him and he got scared when Nemo was taken.  He was afraid he was going to be taken.  I had no idea that would happen.

The first time he watched it he seemed perfectly fine during the movie.  That incident prompted daily discussions about why the scuba diver took Nemo and how Nemo’s father got him back.  We watched the movie a number of weeks later without the scuba diver scene.  Later in the movie, we learned the scuba diver (a dentist) thought he was rescuing Nemo because he had a smaller fin and thought he was helping him.  I explained to my son that the scuba diver wasn’t a bad man; he was someone who didn’t know Nemo had a father and was trying to help him.  That seemed to sit well with The Littlest E and he didn’t get scared.  It’s been quite awhile and we still talk about the movie and, when we watch it, we still fast-forward the scuba diver scene.  Lesson learned, look into a movie before watching; however, our “Nemo” discussions have also been beneficial.

Da Turma dos Smurfs

I truly can’t wait for The Littlest E to get older for many reasons, one of which is there are so many movies to share with him: old classics, sci-fi, fantasy, mysteries, romantic comedies, sports films, great dramas and so on.  We have yet to go to the movies together as a family and are waiting for the right occasion – possibly the 2nd Smurf movie.  We shall see.

© Melanie Elliott

Images: cybershotking, Andres Rueda, Eric Kilby, bandita, Happy Batatinha

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One of my best friends in Los Angeles, Peggy Sweeney-McDonald, recently published this amazing coffee table book called “Meanwhile, Back At Café Du Monde. . .”  She held a book launch party in New Orleans in October.  When I found out about the launch party several months ago, I knew we had to go.  It’s not everyday you know someone who’s published a book, especially one of your best friends.  I really wanted to show up for her at this event, celebrating this once in a lifetime opportunity.

We turned the trip into a mini family vacation.  There’s a lot of logistics to consider when traveling with a small child.  There’s the excess baggage of car seat and stroller.  We needed to find a babysitter for the times my husband, Tom, and I would be out.  We needed to find activities for our son while we were in New Orleans.  Peggy grew up in Baton Rouge and lived in New Orleans so she gave us a list of places to go where The Littlest E would enjoy himself, the Audubon Aquarium, the Audubon Zoo, the Louisiana Children’s Museum.  She also told us restaurants to eat at when we were not with her and her husband, and she found us a sitter who was a family friend with lots of experience.  All of this made planning the trip a lot easier, with less to worry about once we arrived.  We even Skyped with the babysitter before we left on so our son would recognize her when the time came for her to sit.

Riding in the cab on our way to the hotel, we drove past the Superdome and I had visions of what it must have been like during Katrina.  I shuddered thinking about all the people stranded and the ones who died.  Those images are imbedded in my mind.  It was an eerie feeling driving by, but the city has come a long way since Katrina.

New Orleans is amazing with its blend of modern and colonial buildings in the French Quarter, American and European ambiance, wild Bourbon Street at night, the restaurants, the amount of green everywhere and the warm October weather.  We were only there for a few days and didn’t see nearly as much as we would have liked given that we traveled with our 3-year old son, but Tom and I both fell in love with the city.  We can’t wait to return.

For our first night, we went to the Red Fish Grill and ate a delicious dinner.  The dessert was to die for, a double chocolate bread pudding.  OMG!!  Now I’m a pretty good chocoholic and this dessert made my top 10 all time dessert list.  It was mouth-watering yumminess, warm, chocolaty and oh, so, good.  The next day, we found ourselves at the world-renowned Café Du Monde, which served as inspiration for Peggy’s book, and we indulged in the sumptuous, powdered sugary beignets while drinking café au laits.  The Littlest E was in sugar heaven and proceeded to cover himself in the white dust.  You don’t just eat in New Orleans you savor, enjoy and experience food.  It’s a whole different game on a whole other level.

On Monday, we ate at Commander’s Palace with Peggy and her friends and family for a pre book launch luncheon.  In order to attend this 3-hour extravaganza, we hired the babysitter to sit for us.  Before we left the room, we stayed with the two of them for a few minutes to make sure they got on well.  This was our first time leaving our son with a stranger, but we trusted our son with the sitter.  Since we had Skyped with her, The Littlest E was more familiar with her.  We knew if something went wrong, she would call, so I wasn’t checking in every five minutes while we were gone.

The luncheon at Commander’s Palace was wonderful.  Peggy knows the owners so we got VIP treatment.  The Snapping Turtle Soup was out of this world good, the Candied Apple Lacquered Quail melted in my mouth, and the wait staff was incredible.  I now understand Southern hospitality.  We felt special and the food was, again, amazing.  It was nice being out somewhere in a new city knowing our son was in good hands.  When we returned  to the hotel, the sitter told us they both had a good time and had fun.  Yay!

The trip wasn’t all about food, though a visit to New Orleans can be just that.  We went to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and spent time seeing the native marine life.  We also went to the Louisiana Children’s Museum.  The Littlest E enjoyed it, but we are spoiled in Los Angeles with so many indoor play spaces and the Kidspace Museum in Pasadena.  One of our regrets was we didn’t have time to go the Audubon Zoo.  Hopefully, we’ll do that on our next visit to Nola.

Traveling with our son involved a balancing act between time for him and time for us.  In the evenings after dinner, Tom and I took turns going out with our friends, while one of us stayed to watch our son.  I’m very grateful we used the sitter so we could attend Peggy’s book launch party.  Experiencing nightlife in a city while on vacation without your child is a pretty cool thing.

All in all, we had an amazing experience.  The party capped what was already a wonderful trip.  We had family time, visits with our friends, ate fantastic food, devoured our share of beignets, saw some sites, and took home with us a little flavor of New Orleans.  I see why people love it so much, how special the city is, and why everyone loves the New Orleans Saints.  I get it.

We will return, but next time, we’ll go without our son.  As much fun as it was to travel with him, vacations with little ones are not really vacations at least they aren’t restful vacations.  I think one of my family members asked me if I got any rest on our trip.  I replied, “Are you kidding?”  That doesn’t happen with a 3-year old.

Headed to New Orleans?  I recommend you go to a couple of the places I mentioned and you’ll probably fall in love with the city, too.  If you’re looking for a coffee table book featuring “life stories about food that will warm your heart and feed your soul” and Southern recipes, please check out “Meanwhile, Back At Café Du Monde…”  Yeah, you right!

Images: Troy Kleinpeter, Melanie Elliott

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A couple of Sundays ago, our family went to our first ever concert for kids.  It was awesome!  The Littlest E is 3 years old and we figured 3’s a good age to do this.  We had the best time, all except for the parking, but I’ll get to that in a minute.  The band we saw was Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players at the Getty Museum.  The Getty has a free summer concert series for kids.

We have a number of Justin’s CDs and listen to his music often.  Many of the songs are catchy, high energy and fun to sing along and dance to.  They tell a variety of stories – A yellow bus that’s taking too long; Willy the whale walking in Nevada; a child eating one too many cookies before dinner; and a brother obsessed with trucks, to name a few.  There are poignant songs, too – Mama is taking off her ring; a child with a broken bone; and getting lost in the mall.

The Littlest E, my husband, and I were excited to see the show and had never been to the Getty Center for a concert.  We left our house with plenty of time, allowing 1½-hours for traffic.  Making our way down the 405 Freeway went well until just before the Getty exit.  The traffic was horrible, and wouldn’t you know it, our son had to use the restroom.  What timing.  We couldn’t pull over because there was no place for him to do his “business.”  Once we got close enough to the underpass, I got out of the car with him and rushed to find a bathroom to avoid any accidents, while Tom parked the car.  We made it to the bathroom in time.  Tom joined us shortly at the tram stop to take it up to The Getty.

The concert took place in one of their gardens on a grassy slope sheltered by a couple of The Getty walls, providing ample shade.  It was the perfect place for a show.  When we arrived, there were lots of families already settling in on the lawn.  We found a great spot and joined in the crowd.  People enjoyed snacks and kids ran around.  It was a bustling, happy, spirited scene.  We were meeting some of The Littlest E’s friends and they arrived shortly after us.

The music began.  Many in the audience knew the words to a number of the songs and the band members asked us to sing along or participate in various ways.  You could tell the musicians were enjoying themselves right along with kids and adults alike.  There was even a mild mosh pit of toddlers close to the stage.  The Littlest E has two friends who are twin boys and they found themselves down at the pit having fun, with their mom watching them closely.  Initially, my son was laid back, soaking it all in, enjoying everything from the comfort of our blanket.  After awhile, though, he was up and dancing, too!  In fact, the three of us found a place where we let loose.  Traffic aside it was a terrific concert and family experience.

I know in the Los Angeles Area and San Fernando Valley alone, there are a number of places that offer free concerts for kids and concerts at night.  The Grove Los Angeles and The Getty offer them.  There are also a number of list serves you can join: www.Redtricycle.com, www.mommypoppins.com, www.jenslist.com, and www.maccaronikid.com are a few of them in my area which all have a wealth of information on things to do with children.  I’m sure in other cities, there are similar lists you can join and venues that offer these types of concerts.  It may take a bit of digging, but they’re out there.  I highly recommend seeing Justin Roberts (www.justinroberts.org), if he’s coming to a city near you, and recommend taking advantage of concerts for kids.  It’s a wonderful way to spend time with your family, get out of the house and enjoy the day/night.

Images: dichohecho, Melanie Elliott

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As New Year’s Eve rolls around, I’ve been thinking about New Year’s Eves of the past and how they’ve changed over the years, especially since I have become a parent.  Last year’s evening was extra special.  We didn’t do anything extraordinary.  In fact, we didn’t really do much at all and even went to sleep well before the stroke of midnight.  What made the night special, after 7 years of marriage to my wonderful Tom, was it was our first New Year’s Eve as a family.  Our son had been home with us from Ethiopia for almost 5 months and we got to ring in the New Year with him in our lives.  He won’t remember it since he was only 17 months old, but I will.  First holidays as a new parent have a greater importance.

When I was younger, our family enjoyed the holiday evening watching Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve specials, although I honestly can’t remember the first time I was allowed to stay up until midnight and watch the ball drop.  I’m sure there were times my parents gave me permission, but slumber would inevitably creep in and I’d miss the moment.  The ball dropping in Times Square was an exciting event, not as anticipated as say my birthday, Christmas or the first day of school.  Still, it was a big occasion.

Many of my New Year’s Eves were spent as an older teenager at the home of one of my best high school friends.  She and her older sister would have an all night party – yes, their parents were always home.  We had a blast listening to music, dancing, going for late night swims in their pool and hot tub.  They were wonderful times.  One regret from that era, I never did muster up the endurance to stay up all night and then hike up Mt. Tamalpais in the morning, as many of the gang did.  They got the benefit of a solid hike, good company, and often a breathtaking view of Marin County, San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean at dawn.  I had the pleasure of a couple hours of sleep and a warm, toasty sleeping bag.

Other ways I memorialized the holiday over the years, dressing to the nines and going dancing, dining out at spendy restaurants, game nights, going to the movies with family, and parties with theatre friends.  One year, those same high school friends and I ate a late dinner at a restaurant on the beach, went walking on the sand in the dark of night, lit candles, and said prayers letting go of the old unwanted things and welcoming in the freshness of a new year.  To this day, that one puts a smile on my face.

In time, the “up all night” aspect of the Eve has dwindled more so since I’ve become a mom.  The later I stay up, the harder it is to be of any use the next day (and this is even without imbibing).  My husband and I usually opt for a New Year’s Eve at home avoiding the traffic, expensive restaurants and potentially drunk drivers.  This year with our son, we get to explain what the holiday is and spend an early evening with friends who also have toddlers.  Our son will be asleep by 8:00 which is midnight somewhere out in the Atlantic, and my husband and I will probably celebrate in Mountain Time and be in bed by 11:00.

One facet of the holiday that hasn’t shifted is the meaning of New Year’s Eve, the end of a year and the beginning of a new year and a new adventure in life.  It’s a time of reflecting, what worked, what didn’t, what can be improved upon, and formulating ideas of things to accomplish in the coming year.  If you take a step back and look at the night, the passing of one year to the next in a split second is pretty amazing.  In the blink of an eye we go from 2011 to 2012, a whole new year.

There will eventually come a day when staying up until midnight has significance again, and that will be when we are waiting for our son to arrive back home from his own New Year’s Eve festivities.  When that happens, New Year’s Eve will have come full circle.  Have a very happy and safe New Year!

Image: -JvL-

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