Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Family Truth

My new piece at The Nervous Breakdown fails to explain Judaism, UFOs, or Santa Claus.


Los Angeles with babies and toddlers

Earlier this year I made a (woefully incomplete) list of some of my favorite places in Los Angeles for recent arrivals and out-of-town guests, but I wanted to post a second list for those who find themselves in Los Angeles with children.

This list is skewed towards infants and toddlers because those are the types of children with whom I associate, but most of these places would be fun for kids at least up until the age of eight if not beyond. Many of these activities are things I loved when I was a child growing up in Los Angeles.

Some of the museums, parks, etc. can be expensive, but in most cases memberships pay for themselves very quickly. We are members of the L.A. Zoo, the Aquarium of the Pacific, Descanso Gardens, LACMA, and Kidspace, and we've gotten a good value from all of these memberships.

Children's Museums (and Adult Museums, too)
1. Noah's Ark at the Skirball Cultural Center. 2701 N. Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles, 90049. $10 adults/$5 children over 2.
This one you have to see--it's gorgeous but hard to explain this interactive art exhibit for kids. Beatrice liked it even as an infant and enjoys it even more as a toddler. (Despite its name, the display is not strongly religious, though it is housed in a Jewish cultural center.)
2. Kidspace. 480 N Arroyo Boulevard, Pasadena, 91103. $10 adults and children over 1. Free the first Tuesday of every month.
Much of the indoor space in this museum is geared towards older kids (except the designated Early Childhood area) but there are a lot of things for babies and toddlers to do in the garden, including sand and water tables, sand boxes, climbing equipment, a garden, and a little stream. Frequent concerts and activities.
3. Zimmer Children's Museum. 6505 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, 90048. $8.00 adults/$5.00 children over 3.
Jewish cultural museum - Beatrice particularly enjoys the water tables. They also have a miniature town with play-scale restaurants, shops, and a synagogue (yes, a miniature play synagogue), and they host regular seasonal activities. Separate toddler play area.
4. LACMA. 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, 90036. $15 adults/children 17 and under free. Free the second Tuesday of every month.
Art museum situated in a large park for when kids need to burn off some energy. In the summer they offer free outdoor arts and crafts for kids starting at age 2 (the youngest kids paint on the "Toddler Tarp"). On the same campus as the small but charming George C. Page Museum of Ice Age natural history that I loved as a child. A children's art museum is supposed to open on the campus in 2011; in the meantime there's the Boone Children's Gallery. Starting at 3 1/2, kids can take free art classes with NexGenKids.
Note: The Getty Museum has children's activities as well but I haven't tried them yet. The Getty is also free.
5. Natural History Museum. 900 Exposition Boulevard, Los Angeles, 90007. $9 adults/$2 children over 4. Free the first Tuesday of every month.
Check out the impressive new Hall of Mammals and the Hall of Dinosaurs (to be completed Summer 2011). There's an interactive kids' section in the basement. In the summer, they set up a large pavillion filled with live butterflies on the front lawn. Kids over 7 can also sign up for special (expensive) A Night at the Museum sleepover parties.
6. California Science Center. 700 Exposition Park Drive, Los Angeles, 90037. FREE.
On the same campus as the Natural History Museum (above). Most of the interactive displays are geared towards older kids but there are two large Discovery Rooms dedicated to infants and toddlers; at one year old, my daughter loved watching the caged mice on display in one of the baby rooms. Young children will also be impressed by the IMAX-like giant video display in the World of Life gallery.

Parks, Gardens, and Outdoor Play
1. Rose Bowl Aquatic Center. $2 adults/$1 children. 360 N. Arroyo Boulevard, Pasadena, 91103.
We take Beatrice to swimming lessons here in the summer (lessons are held year-round starting at age 6 months for $8/week) but you can also use the pool during free family swimming times. Large, heated, and immaculately clean. There is also a large playground directly in front of the center. On the same campus as Kidspace (above).
2. Griffith Park. 4730 Crystal Springs Drive, Los Angeles, 90027. FREE - trains are $2.50 or $6 (longer track), carousel is $2, pony rides are $3.
Huge 4,200-acre park with just about everything: a carousel, two steam train lines, pony rides (and horseback riding for older kids and adults), playgrounds, an observatory, a golf course, a dog park, and more. The Ferndell area has some very gentle "hiking" paths well-suited to new walkers. The Shane's Inspiration playground is particularly well suited to very young children including crawlers. Also home to the L.A. Zoo (above).

Indoor Playgrounds (perfect for very hot summer days or our rare but fierce rains)
1. Peekaboo Playland. 2030 Colorado Blvd, Eagle Rock, 90041. $9 children over 1/adults free.
Free coffee and wireless for adults, outside food is welcome. Separate fenced area for children under 2. Socks required.
2. The Little Barn. 130 S. Beaudry Avenue, Los Angeles 90012. $8 children/adults free.
The best feature of this playground is its huge ball pit filled with translucent balls, large enough for several adults and their kids to sit comfortably. Socks required. Snacks available for purchase, outside food is welcome.
3. The Treehouse Social Club. 426 South Robertson Boulevard, Los Angeles 90048. $9 children over 9 months/adults free.
My favorite indoor playground, in part because they serve breakfast and lunch for adults and kids. The food is good and you can sit and eat while keeping an eye on your kids playing around you. Separate fenced area for children under 3.
4. Community Centers and Public Libraries. FREE.
Many community centers offer "Tot Time" once or twice a week: a large gymnasium is filled with toys for infants and toddlers and they can play freely for several hours. I go to Pacific Park Community Center in Glendale (Tuesdays and Thursdays 10-12pm) but every neighborhood has its own. Most public libraries offer free weekly children's story times, some with songs and crafts.

1. Los Angeles Zoo. Griffith Park. $14 adults/$9 children over 2.
A nice zoo for kids, though it's arranged along a very steep hill so be prepared for a lot of walking. There is a new elephant exhibit that allows for very close-up views, ideal for little children. Young kids particularly like the petting zoo (or "contact yard," as it is amusingly dubbed). There is also a playground on site.
2. Aquarium of the Pacific. 100 Aquarium Way, Long Beach, 90802. $24.95 adults/$12.95 kids over 3. Save $5.00 per ticket when you buy them online in advance.
This one is a long drive (unless you live in Long Beach) but worth it. It's also a great venue for even very young infants--Beatrice enjoyed the aquarium when she was only three or four months old, long before she could appreciate children's museums or zoos. She also loves the Lorikeet Forest, an open-air enclosure filled with free-flying lorikeets that will occasionally perch on your hands.
When she's older, I'm looking forward to taking her on the whale-watching boats that leave from outside the aquarium.
(Note: There is also a smaller aquarium at the Santa Monica Pier but I have never been there--they have very irregular opening hours and I never seem to catch them at the right time.)
3. Underwood Family Farms. 3370 Sunset Valley Road, Moorpark , 93021. $3 per person weekdays, $5 per person weekends.
Another long drive, about 35 miles north of our place in Glendale, but it's a lot of fun. They have live animals, hay and tractor rides, pick-your-own produce, and many other farm-related activities.
There are dozens in L.A., but some of the ones I've enjoyed are in Santa Monica and in Hollywood, and we go to the one in Montrose every Sunday morning. My daughter loves every aspect of the market, from the live music, pony rides, and petting zoo to the excellent dog-spotting and free fruit samples.

1. Hollywood Bowl Summer Sounds. 2301 North Highland Avenue, Hollywood 90068. $7 adults and children.
My favorite part of the summer are these Hollywood Bowl kids' world music concerts, held daily throughout July and August. Each show features skits, dancing, and music. Even at two months old, my daughter enjoyed these concerts and by the following summer at 14 months old, she loved them even more. Older kids will also enjoy the weekly craft that accompanies each music theme.
2. Descanso Garden jazz concerts. 1418 Descanso Drive, La Canada Flintridge, 91011. Concert is free; park admission is $8 adults/$3 children over 5.
Another one of my favorite summer activities, these weekly jazz concerts are filled with picnicking families and dancing kids. Every Thursday night May-September. Though technically concerts, these events are filled with infants and toddlers and talking, singing, and running around are perfectly fine. Outside food and alcoholic beverages are allowed; food and drinks are also sold on site. Another event Beatrice enjoyed even as a two- to four-month-old. There is also a stream train for kids 2 and up.

At eighteen months old, my daughter Beatrice is still too young for these places, but I've enjoyed them with older kids and I look forward to taking Beatrice soon:
1. Storybook Theater. 3333 Cahuenga Boulevard West, Los Angeles, 90068. $12 adults/$10 children.
Fairy tales are brought to life as live, interactive musical theater for children 3 and older.
2. Paintbox Kids. 1383 E. Washington Boulevard, Pasadena 91104. $8 children/adults free.
Open studio filled with arts and crafts supplies; your child can make whatever they wish and you don't have to clean it up! Art classes are also available at an additional cost.


If you want to write an article about a new technology,

first find someone who knows nothing about it.

This seems to be the operating principle behind handing out assignments at Salon, Slate, The New Yorker, and many other respectable, high-profile media outlets.

I was just enjoying "Master of Play," a profile of video game auteur Shigeru Miyamoto, in the most recent New Yorker when I came across this authorial aside on the third page:

"I am not a gamer. I took a few whacks at Super Mario, when it came out, in the mid-eighties, but mostly my video-game experience predated the Nintendo invasion and the unabating craze for home systems. I played arcade games, and I played them poorly; my quarters never went far. I usually wound up watching friends play, muttering over their shoulders in vain attempts to persuade them to play street hockey or Nerf football instead."

Now here's a question: couldn't The New Yorker have found someone who was a gamer to write this profile instead?

Not to pick on The New Yorker, or on the author of this piece, Nick Paumgarten, who goes on to present some genuinely insightful and even poetic observations on Miyamoto's work, from the satisfying pauses Miyamoto builds into each level to the intuitive rightness of Mario's jumps.

But this is something I have noticed again and again for years--when major media outlets cover Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Chatroulette, video games, e-readers, online dating, etc., etc. they send people who, by their own admission, know nothing about the technology they are covering and have never used it before.

And this phenomenon seems to be relegated to articles about technology and social media. I have never heard a sports commentator open up his discussion by saying, "Now, I don't know the first thing about baseball, but..." Or a book reviewer who chummily confides, "You know, I can barely read."

(I'm sure popular science and medical writers don't necessarily understand everything they are covering--heck, I used to write a wine column despite knowing almost nothing about wine--but I have never seen these other journalists explicitly call attention to their lack of expertise and make that lack the hook of their piece.)

Usually these pieces follow a similar trajectory: the writer signs up for a Match account, logs into Chatroulette, or tries his hand at Guitar Hero, fumbles around badly for awhile, and then throws up his hands at the wackiness of it all. He may go gratefully back to the old pen-and-paper ways he left behind, or in extreme cases suggest that this new technology will mean the ruin of civilization (on NPR yesterday a woman was making the very weak case that digital readers will lead to mass illiteracy). More rarely, he may have a conversion experience, as when Paumgarten mentions that he has become rather attached to the Wii that he borrowed for research on this article. Presumably the point is that we, the technologically clueless readers, will bond with the hapless reporter over his attempts to understand what exactly all the fuss is about.

Perhaps it is prejudiced to suggest it, but I suspect part of the problem may be the age of the writers--and the age of the magazine's presumed readers. But as a relatively young and technologically savvy person, I consume a lot of traditional media (often in non-traditional, ie., paperless, formats) and I find this trend both annoying and alienating. How about next time you want to talk about Twitter you hire someone who actually uses Twitter every day? I'm available...


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Hot Dish Holiday Edition

Come hear me read tomorrow at the Christmas edition of Hot Dish. I'll be there discussing compulsive lying, alien abductions, and Judaism, along with J. Ryan Stradal, Jennine CapĆ³ Crucet, George Ducker, Anthony Miller, and Will Wright.

It's all happening at the Echo Park Film Center at 8pm. RSVP here.

And yes, homemade pies will be served. Also ham.