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About the author  ⁄ Veena

Veena is a former Miss California as well as 4th runner-up to Miss America. Pre-baby, Veena worked in the non-profit field specializing in Special Events and Development/Fundraising as well as a Program Officer for a family foundation. Now as a mom of a 2 year old, she spends her time running after her little one as well as branding and marketing consultant. Veena and her husband and son enjoy hiking, camping and traveling. She resides in Walnut Creek, California with her husband Ryan, son Eddie and their 3 dogs.

By far and away one of our favorite, favorite, favorite spots to go for a little staycation is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It is about an hour and a half drive from the Bay Area but always gets the “2 thumbs up” from our little man. Our general itinerary looks like this (yes, we go that frequently):

Intercontinental Monterey

9:00 Depart San Francisco

10:30 Arrive at the Intercontinental, check in and buy tickets for the Aquarium (they are 2 days for the price of 1).

11:00 Walk over to the Aquarium which is a block away

12:30 Meander over to El Torito for some great sea otter and dolphin sightings while dining

2:45 Head Back to the Aquarium to see various animal feedings at 3

4:00 Let the smell of Nestle Toll House guide us across the street for some warm cookies and milk

Monterey AquariumAbout the Monterey Bay Aquarium

It was founded in 1984 by four marine biologists and gift funding from David & Lucile Packard, and based in the former Hovden Sardine Cannery, The Aquarium’s goals are to educate people on the marine-world that makes up Monterey Bay and beyond through the use of state-of-the-art aquariums, displays, interactive exhibits, and presentations. There is a huge emphasis on everything being done tastefully, humanely and educating in a manner that everyone can understand. Some of the exhibits thatwe love are the sea otters, penguins, sea horses, jellyfish and the feeding of the kelp forest.


Depending on the nature of our trip, we generally stop at the Aquarium for a couple more hours the next morning before heading back home. While, we generally center our trip around going to the Aquarium several times per trip; it is nice to make a pit stop with the whole family in Carmel or Pebble Beach.

Family Travel Tips:

1.  Buy Aquarium tickets at the Intercontinental: 2 days for the price of 1 or purchase them ahead of time at AAA or at the Intercontinental Hotel

2.  Check out the Gilroy Premium Outlets on your to or from the Bay Area…one of favorite outlet stops is Lululemon 🙂

3.  Snag a window seat at El Torito and one is sure to see sea otter cracking clams on their chests, whales and pelicans galore

4.  Check Travelzoo for great hotel deals on the Intercontinental or Portola Hotel and Spa

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As most moms know, there is a plan and then the plan changes especially after having kids. We had plans to make it to the holiday festivities at the Fairmont in San Francisco, the Oakland Zoo Lights and a couple other fun holiday themed events and then there was inclement weather and unexpected family we have not seen in several years that came into town for a week. So while that was a very, very pleasant surprise…our Winter Wonderland Plans were derailed; however, we made one family New Year’s goal:

More family, more friends, more memories!

So with that goal in mind, we woke up on New Year’s Day and decided that there was no better day to start our goal than January 1st. So we packed our bags, loaded our 3 dogs in the truck and took off for Oregon. Where in Oregon? We didn’t totally know. We knew we were starting off in Bend to play in the Mt. Bachelor snow and then see where the wind blew us.

Eddie Sledding

We arrived in Bend and it was 1 degree…WHAT?!?! Eeeks! Thankfully it warmed up during the day to the high twenties so we were able to do some snow hiking and sledding fun. Family Travel Tip:  Make sure you have wool base layers and socks for your kiddo and personal fave is Smart Wool.)

After a couple days we were ready for some warmer temperatures and so we headed off to Belknap Springs where it was in the mid 30’s. After some beautiful snow hikes and sledding, we relaxed in natural hot springs. Wow! There is something incredibly relaxing and amazing about swimming in a spring that is 95 degrees naturally with snow falling all around you. Our 2 year old was beside himself being able to swim and have snow falling all around. Too fun!

Not knowing where we wanted to plant ourselves next, we headed towards Eugene. After stopping for some lunch we decided we wanted to trek on. As soon as we got back on the freeway, we saw a sign for a Wildlife Safari. Hmmm…the last time we road tripped/camped through Oregon, we stopped at an amazing Wildlife Preserve where we held baby lions and baby Bengal tigers. Was this going to be the same? Better? Who knows except we knew we were going to pull off the freeway in 100 miles and find out!

And so we did…free dog kennels were available. Sweet! Wildlife Safari was a reciprocating member of our Oakland Zoo membership so tickets were half price…Yes! One ticket allowed you to go through twice…Awesome!

Wildlife Safari is 600 acres in Winston, Oregon where you drive through at 10 miles an hour and have ostriches peck at your window, have to stop for a herd of zebras, spy at Tibetan Yaks, have a camel spit on your car and watch 2 rhinos descend down a hill for dinner. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Each time you drive through you are sure to see new animals as they roam free over 600 acres. Additionally, there is a fabulous petting zoo as well as a barrage of other animals like a mountain lion (being from California, it was AMAZING to see one alive), wallaroos roaming free, black swans and much more…So much more that after one go around the safari and children’s area, we loaded back up in the car to do all it all over again. Simply unforgettable! We will certainly be back!

The rest of the trip home was seemingly uneventful in comparison to the Wildlife Safari. A couple snow hikes and sled rides here and there but nothing to exciting. While we do not know where exactly we are headed to next..we cant wait to get to be back on the road again!

Crownholm Family 2013

Have ou been to Oregon?  Do you have any great Oregon tips to share?

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I might be a little bias and think that every time of year is a good time  to visit the Bay Area…In particular, this time of year is so ideal. With a slight chill in the air and a puddle left over from yesterday’s rain, there is something so cozy and romantic about bundling up and heading out to a festive holiday activity in the Bay Area. So far some of our favorite holiday hot spots include:

Downtown WC Ice Skating

 Ice Skating Downtown Walnut Creek: Open daily through January 13th…perfect spot to take a break from all the holiday shopping hustle and bustle downtown. Literally walk out of Neiman Marcus or Pottery Barn and within minutes you could be lacing up your skates.

Train of Lights at the Niles Canyon Railway: All decked out in lights for the holidays, the Niles Canyon Railway provides a historic train ride experience all year-round from the 1880’s depot in Sunol and from the Niles Station in Fremont. With tickets sold out most nights, get your tickets ahead of time to ensure a seat.


Tilden Christmas Fantasy: Not only will you be able to ride the antique, hand carved merry-go-round, it feels like a true fantasy with decked out Christmas trees all around and themed holiday light displays lighting up the hills of Tilden Park. Although almost slight disastrous for my 2 year old, the hubby and I enjoyed seeing one of the largest Christmas ornament displays in the Bay Area. Yummy treats, hot drinks, carolers and nightly visits from Santa and his live reindeer will truly make you feel like you are walking in a winter wonderland.


Winter Workshops at Habitot: Like most 2 year olds, my little man is OBSESSED with trains. If your little one is a train-aholic, you must come check out Habitot’s annual train display. You can peek through the window of Suite M and see a small scale locomotive choo-chooing through a winter wonderland scene. With this train scene as inspiration, toddlers can create railroad track patterned pictures, paint with wheels, etc. Next year, we hope to plan ahead and reserve a spot with in the Gingerbread House Workshop. It looks like a super fun mommy/daddy and kiddo activity making a gingerbread house. With all the supplies  and space provided…it sounds like all the holiday fun sans the mess…icing on the gingerbread house if you ask us!


Magical Tea Time at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins
It is the perfect mix of kid entertainment and chic “mommyness.” Kiddos of all ages are entertained by a renowned magician and face painter as well as ginger cookie decorating station (no you don’t have to sneak one out with you…they encourage you to take one with you :)). Parents and kiddos are sure to enjoy mouth watering gourmet bites and upscale teas. I am pretty sure that this is going to be my new holiday tradition with my little man, we had far too much fun getting all dressed up and going on a mommy and son date! We are already awaiting the dates for the Magical Tea next year so we can deck the halls once again at the Mark Hopkins!

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week as Eddie and his stroller head out to San Francisco to check out the Holiday Scene at the Fairmont, Oakland Zoo Lights, and much more holiday fun…

This post was sponsored by Spotivate: Connect. Discover. Experience
Spotivate is a destination for discovering the best local experiences for your family.

In the Bay Area? Spotivate has launched in San Francisco! Don’t worry Spotivate is coming soon to a town near you! Spotivate on Facebook and Follow Spotivate on Twitter

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One of the hidden gems in the East Bay is Tilden Regional Park. Now you are probably thinking, why would I want to take my family to a Regional Park when visiting the San Francisco area. Here is why we think you should come:

Steam Trains: The antique steam train is a 12 minute ride through the scenic ridge of Tilden Park which includes a beautiful view of the Bay as well as some fun tunnels. There are covered and uncovered seats on the train, but my little guy always prefer the covered seats near the caboose. Tickets are $3/ride for everyone age 2 and up, but we always buy the 5 punchcard for $12. We usually ride the train twice and then head off to our next destination.

While there are many options in Tilden such as:

*A splendid antique carousel with hand-carved and beautifully painted wooden carousel animals to ride. The calliope plays music to make any child’s heart sing. Tickets are $2/ride and $10 for 7 ride ticket.

*Ardenwood Historic Farm‘s horse-drawn train ride takes kids more than 100 years back in time on a ride into the park with docents dressed in period costumes.

*Little Farm If you ask my little dude, after finishing up on the Steam Trains he highly recommends loading up in the car and heading out to the Little Farm. Along the way you can stop and check out some of the most beautiful views of the San Francisco Bay.

So what is the The Little Farm? It is a working farm that is open every day of the year and free of charge…SCORE! Kids can meet, greet and pet cows, shorthorn cattle. goats. bunnies. chickens, geese, pigs and the like.

Our suggestion is to bring lots of celery and lettuce so you can feed the animals. Another plus, the area surrounding the Little Farm is fabulous for picnics and walks; however, if you prefer to explore the area a little more, I highly suggest heading down to Lake Anza which has a fun beach, fishing and more! While we could go on and on about how much we love Tilden Park, we think you should come join us one of these weekends!

Other Family Travel Tips:

  1. Head to Rick and Ann’s, a local favorite, for a hearty breakfast
  2. Bring a picnic with you to Tilden, a waterproof blanket and some toys
  3. Check out the North Face Outlet in Berkeley, about 15 minutes away. We tend to wander in on days with an extra 30-50% off or on Sample Sale Days.


This post was sponsored by Spotivate: Connect. Discover. Experience
Spotivate is a destination for discovering the best local experiences for your family.

In the Bay Area?  Spotivate is launching in San Francisco tomorrow and coming soon to a town near you!Spotivate on Facebook  and Follow Spotivate on Twitter

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With the rainy season coming upon us any day, we try to get out as much as possible to enjoy the sunshine. Just the other day, we checked our library card’s Discover and Go section and found free passes to the Bay Area Discovery Museum…SCORE! We loaded up the car with our snacks, drinks and lunch and headed over to Sausalito.

Upon arrival, we saw the most beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge and sail boats galore. This probably would have been an entire afternoon of fun in itself but we headed inside the discovery museum. We started at the Lookout Cove. For the kiddos, there is about 2.5 acres of outdoor fun from pirate shipwrecks to a huge sandbox full of sea creature to a simulated landslide area. For the mommies, there is the most spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge from almost any angle. Phenomenal!

Next, we moved on to the outdoor building blocks area known as the Imagination Playground. My little guy was in heaven building, jumping and demolishing.

Next up, the Artist Studio. Organic water-resistant smocks are available upon entry and highly recommended as little ones are drawn to their special painting walls. From there you can move on to the homemade play-doh table and special crafts. Our special craft was painting with colored glue and glitter…FUN FUN, messy FUN! Best of all, clean-up is happily done by the staff.

Last stop for us was the Outside Tot Spot. Although smocks are available, every single kid seemed to be soaked in water. With an ever-flowing faux rock stream, toddlers have a ball playing with the water and plastic frogs and fish. Shrieks of happiness can be heard with every splash. We easily spent 45 minutes in this area…note to self: Make sure this is your last stop as your child will be happily drenched from head to toe. Sunscreen and an extra set of clothes are a must do!

While we did not make it to every area of the Discovery Museum, we will surely be back to check it all out. It is certainly a one-of-a-kind indoor/outdoor family museum that offers a full range of activities for children ages 8 and younger. Every facet of the Museum is hands-on, tactile, developmentally enriching and technology free. A definite must-do when visiting the Bay Area.

Moms, what are the best museums for kids in your city?

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Bullying is a topic that I think about often because my “little” little guy gets picked on a little bit
more than the average toddler. I not sure if it’s his size, demeanor or something in the universe, but it happens more often than not.  I feel conflicted about this topic for two reasons:

1) It breaks a momma’s heart to watch other kids strong arm toys from him, bop him on the head, push him out of the way and so on

2) On the other hand, this is a part of life and sooner or later my little guy is going to have to become emotionally tougher to survive as an adult

The question that I am stuck with is…how much is too much? I have some friends kids in elementary school that beg not to go to school the next day or the rest of the week because kids in their class are picking on them. Do you forcefully encourage them to forge through the bullies and become emotionally tougher or is this an emotional breaking point? How do you know? 

While I think about this side of bullying, I saw first hand at the park the other day the “other” side of bullying. The kid, we will call him “X” for reference, was a rather strong and taller 8 year old that came over to the sandbox to play with my little guy and 2 of his buddies who ranged in age of 2 to 6 years old. He started by grabbing the shovel out of my little guy’s hand, then took a toy car from another kid without asking and then began making a racetrack in the sand for the car. My 2 year old thought he would join in on the fun and went to help dig with X. Well, X was not looking for an assistant and went nose to nose with my little guy and telling him to go away and that he couldn’t play with him and that he was ruining everything. So what did I do? I pulled my little one away and then without thinking started telling X that this was not a nice way to play, sharing was a must and that we do not talk to people in this way and took the shovel and car away from him. I looked around and X’s parents were no where in sight. This situation happened several more times. After moving my two year old away each time, X situated himself back to my little one. As any 2 year old would, my little one tried to play with him again and then X would get back in his face. At some point my husband stepped in and told X that this was no way to play or make friends. After removing our little one for the last time, X sat there, turned bright red and started shaking and saying he is ruining my castle over and over again. As we all packed up our sand toys, my heart began to ache.

We always think about those that are bullied/picked on…but what about the kids that we never taught how to play with others, how to communicate or socialize in a positive manner. I felt terrible, X was desperately seeking interaction yet clearly wanted to dominate every situation while craving a friend to play with. Any parent could see that this child was in emotional distress; however, it is mine and my husband’s sole responsibility to take care of our child’s emotional well-being first. I have to remember that it is X’s parents responsibility to teach him how to interact with other children, how to share, how to keep his hands to himself. These are not innate qualities, they must be taught by an adult so that a child can be set up for success in life. I know this, but my heart still aches for this 8 year old kid…

Mommas weigh in…How do you deal with bullying? Parents of bullies? Overall thoughts?

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So the other morning I was watching Good Morning America and a segment came on about “free range parenting.”


I always thought that the term “free range” was in regards to meat in a grocery store not parenting. So, the term “free range” is defined by Wikipedia:  to allow animals to roam freely instead of being contained in any manner.

I am assuming that free range parenting refers to the same definition but swapping children in for animals, thus meaning to all children to exist freely without being contained in any manner.

Hmmm….this is an interesting topic for me. I really do believe in letting my almost two-year old explore nature, paint, food, etc; however, in order for me to stay sane and for my little dude to stay safe on a daily basis we do have some rules and discipline in our household.

For example: since my little guy was born I have been dreading these words “Time Out!”Even though my little dude is sleeping, just typing the words makes me cringe. What is it? Is it the thought of him really being mad at me while I force him to sit down? Is it that it breaks my heart when he puts on the “sad face?” While I sit here and ponder these ideas, I hear Dr. Phil in the background and it seems to snap me right back into reality. You are probably going huh? Let me explain. I have seen enough Dr. Phil episodes about children who have gone amuck in there adult years. Most parents are shaking their heads and saying they don’t know where they went wrong. Some of the parents can’t figure out why their kid yells at the them the way they do and why they are taken advantage of.

I am certainly not here to say that I “know” more than them but I can certainly see where disciplining now will *hopefully* pay off later. But, sometimes I wonder –  Am I doing too much? Too Soon? I worry that without any rules in our house, water would be spilled everywhere, we would paint all the walls in the house, be unable to share with other kids, hit and most importantly have a power struggle within our home. In short, this segment on “free range parenting” has me thinking about if I am prohibiting my little guy from gaining more “street smarts” or learn.  But, it seems that no matter which way you “choose” to parent – helicopter or free range, there is always a study or term to let you know that you, yes you, are doing it wrong. So Mamas…weigh in…

Thoughts on free range parenting? Is free range parenting a backlash to helicopter parenting? Best ways to disciplining toddlers? Exploratory learning? 

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So my husband and I used to pack in and camp in the mountains with our three dogs; however, post-baby we have taken to “glamping.”

What is glamping you might ask? Well, it is a more glamourous version of camping. We went from backpacking in and staying in a two person tent to a trailer on a lakefront. It took us a good while to get used to trailer-camping but we are loving it now. It is so easy to pull up to a great camp site, park the trailer and we can take off down a dirt road to go hiking. Right after my little was born, I was really nervous about camping. What if the little dude caught a cold while we were out? What if I run out of diapers? What if he is super fussy and keeps other campers up at night? Would it be fun? These thoughts and questions could have gone on forever and ever…and then we tried it.

Guess what?

It was really, really relaxing and we all enjoyed ourselves.

Was it different than camping pre-baby? You bet! But with a little one life, changes are made and we have loved every camping trip. We wanted our little one to have a love of the outdoors like ourselves so we changed up how we camp. We went with a more temperature controlled trailer, easy to bring food in a cooler and the ability to bring as many creature comforts as one may need. Do we look forward to when we can hike in to a camping spot with our little guy? Yes! Do we look forward to snow shoeing again for hours? Absolutely! But until then, we have opted for our trailer, shorter hikes and relaxing more by the water.

Fall is upon us, but it’s still warm and we’re entering some of the nicer weather days of the year – so pack up your kids with the below essentials and squeeze in some quality time before it gets chilly.

5 Camping Essentials for Kids 

1) A REI Piggyback Carrier like the one pictured below:

2. Bug Repellent Spray by California Baby


3. MD Moms Daily UV Shield

4. Keen Toddler Shoes: Great for water and they dry quickly.


5. Finally, don’t forget the sand bucket and shovels and lots of clothes and baby wipes!

You may be wondering why there are no toys on this list. Initially, I brought along basket of toys but they were never touched.

The little senor seems to be completely content with twigs, leaves and most importantly rock throwing. Hours can be spent with his daddy throwing rocks into streams, rivers and the lake itself. For all other mommas who are nervous about camping with a wee one…I highly suggest trying a few times. It gets better and easier each and every time.

What are some of your favorite camping spots? Activities? Fun camping experiences?

Cant wait to hear from all you camping families!



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The other day I ventured over to our local park to let the little guy enjoy some fun in the sun with  some of his buddies. It seemed like everything was going well and then it happened….a little kid came running from one side of the park over to my little dude and  smacked him right on his little noggin. My jaw dropped to the ground and I was temporarily speechless.


Thoughts were racing. Did what I think I just saw really happen? Would a kid really do that?

And then I snapped out of my haze and reverted my attention to my little guy whose bottom lip was quivering and a silent tear out of his eye. Where was this kid’s mother? And just as this thought was running through my head, I was in mid “swoop” to pick my kiddo up….SMACK! It happened again, except this time I grabbed the kid’s hand before he was able to run away and calmly yet firmly said “we don’t hit people.” It was right in this instant that the mother appeared and glared at me as she took her child away. No apology, no embarrassment, nothing. With my heart racing out of my chest, there were a million and one things I wanted to say to this woman but inhibitions set in. I know toddlers and young kids test boundaries and don’t always know right from wrong but we as adults should. If that was my kid, I would put my little one in a timeout after he apologized, ask if the other kid was ok, and say I was so sorry to the mother.

For the longest time, I thought that this was the “right” way to ensure a more positive social outing until I came across an article about “helicopter moms.” What the heck was a helicopter mom?!?! Wikipedia states it best by describing it as “ parents who try to resolve their child’s problems and try to stop them from coming to harm by keeping them out of dangerous situations.” Was this me?

In my defense, my little guy is just a little over a year and a half. He cant defend himself. He was just playing nicely on the jungle gym. I know a lot of parents will say “kids will be kids,” and I totally agree but I certainly do not want to be a parent of a kid that turns out to be a bully  later in life because I subscribed to that theory when my little dude was a wee toddler. Veteran mommas out there…

What are your thoughts on this situation? Was I being a helicopter mom or a diligent parent? How would you have handled this scenario?


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In the last few months, I have had several friends with their families that have come out to the San Francisco Bay Area for various reasons. With the Bay Area being as big as it is, it can be overwhelming to figure where the kiddo “hot spots” are. So, if anyone is heading up this way, here are some of our favorite hot spots:

California Academy of Sciences: It is huge place and one could spend days here. It houses a natural history museum, planetarium, aquarium, rainforest dome (a must see) and a living roof.


Bay Area Discovery Museum : It is an indoor and outdoor children’s museum at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. All of the activities, which include an art studio, discovery hall, lookout cove, tot spot and wave and wind area, are all  hands-on, child-led exploration and discovery. While this place is hours and hours of fun for the little ones, the view of the Golden Gate Bridge is spectacular for parents.

Oakland Zoo : A fantastic outdoor space to talk your kiddos on a long walk while enjoying hundreds of animals. We are very excited for the “Native Californian” animal exhibit to open!

 Monterey Bay Aquarium   The Aquarium is little bit of a drive from San Francisco but situated right on the coastline. It holds thousands of plants and animals, representing 623 separate named species on display as well as pumping in a high circulation of fresh ocean water right  from the Bay. Our favorite areas include the sea otters, jelly fish, sun fish and shark tank and as always the penguins. My little guy is usually starving by the time we leave so we immediately head out to El Torito where we catch a seat by the window and can catch sea otters and dolphins playing in the ocean. This aquarium cant be beat!

For anyone traveling this way and looking for more kid-friendly activities, restaurants, hotels, etc…comment and I will try to do my best to point you in the right direction! Happy Travels!

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