Aliante Nature Discovery Park

I had been meaning to check the Aliante Nature Discovery Park out (here’s the North Las Vegas Parks and Recreation brochure link), so the invitation from Sarah to meet up there was the perfect excuse.  A warning, the Google Maps entry for the park displays the right location but the official address it uses for navigation just takes you to the center of North Las Vegas and leaves you there (it has no street address connected to it, I think it is a glitch).  I learned this the hard way.  I used to live up in Aliante so it is silly that I found myself being told by the GPS that I was at my destination when I was a number of miles south of it instead.  Be sure it input 2627 Nature Park Drive, North Las Vegas, Nevada.

The big draw to the park for us was that it is billed as a Dinosaur park and my kids are still loving dinosaurs.  Case in point:

When we arrived I was struck by the beautiful grounds and R has adored birds since he was a baby so the sight of ducks and geese by a large pond made him happy right away.  A family was feeding bread to the ducks and suddenly a little boy was standing next to us offering my kids a piece of bread so they, too, could feed the birds.  I had to explain that we couldn’t touch the bread because of allergies but it was very sweet of him to offer to share.  Momentary PSA: it isn’t ideal to feed bread to birds, a great tip is to feed them frozen peas that have been defrosted (thank you Elizabeth for letting me know about this!).

I saw a photographer taking engagement photos of a couple by this waterfall and I can’t blame them, it is a great backdrop that you’d usually find by a casino, not at a park!

As for the park itself, it is fenced in with one entrance/exit, an important thing considering all the water features surrounding the playground.

There’s a big play tower meant for older children – a number of stairs leading up to slides of different heights.  Of course my kids wanted to go there so I took them up just to check it out.  They had a smaller play area for little kids but it is hard to argue when this one looks so cool.

The splash pad is small and on a limited rotation (one feature is going at a time pretty much) but it is just enough to cool off on a hot day.  My experience has been not much beats the splash pad at Reunion Trails Park, I’ve been spoiled!

There’s a sand pit (well, more like a gravel pit) for uncovering fossils, you can see it to the left in this picture…

…and behind the triceratops in this one.

My favorite moment was when I had E sit inside one of the dinosaur eggs for a picture.  She’d just been telling me that she wanted to be a dinosaur the other day so I told her, “Smile!  You wanted to not be a mammal, now it is your chance to be in an egg!”

Without missing a beat she replied in a serious voice, “I’m a little dinosaur and dinosaurs don’t smile, Mama.”

Love my little dinosaur.  The park is a neat thing to see but my friend Erin (of Dancing Frog Photography) made the great point that for those of us that don’t live near the park it is a trek you’ll only want to make if you’re planning on spending the day there.  We were sure to bring our picnic lunch with us but headed home for nap time.

The Smith Center – Mary Poppins (Broadway Series)

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I was able to take E to her first full stage performance on Saturday for The Smith Center’s showing of Mary Poppins.  It is adapted from the Disney movie (amazon affiliate link) but I was not prepared for how different it was.  I asked in advance whether she could come with me despite the general “no kids under 5” rule and was happy when I received this confirmation, love the responsiveness of The Smith Center’s social media approach:

We went a little early because I knew from our last visit that parking was going to be far from the building itself and then at the last minute decided to use their valet service.  It was $8 up front so a bit of a splurge and it left me confused about whether I needed to also tip at the end.  We ended up having plenty of time because 8 minutes into the performance the set on stage had a malfunction and the curtain (pictured above) went down for over an hour while they fixed the problem.  After the first 20 minutes they announced it would be another 20 minutes and then we heard no updates until about an hour and four minutes later when they gave a one minute warning.  The intermission was cut from 15 minutes to 5 minutes as a result and the overlap between the matinee crowd leaving and the evening crowd arriving made for a pretty crowded time after the show.  I also didn’t know that the valet pickup was not the same area as the drop off so we were late to getting in line for our car.  E was incredibly patient and well behaved, I am retroactively nervous about skipping her nap to go on what turned out to be a 5 hour adventure.  We’d brought food allergy friendly snacks and took advantage of free cups of ice at the concession areas as well as walking around and exploring a little bit to stay busy during the unforseen break.  E kept asking “where is Mary Poppins?” — I wanted to know as well!

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Here you can see the merchandise area, I snapped this when we were killing some time.  A few rows in front of us a friend of mine has season tickets as well so I got to catch up with her and I ran into other people I knew and had nice chats with them as well.  I wanted to see if there was anything appealing for sale but per usual things were expensive and heavily branded.  E never asked for anything, she just liked looking at all the little trinkets and munching our ice cubes.  We also got to see a lady with a very cool Mary Poppins tattoo on her arm as well as little girls in their finest dresses.  I knew the theater would be cold so I had E dress in pants and bring her sweater.  She kept saying how nice and cozy she felt so I am glad I made that decision.  A friend advised me to ask for a booster cushion and we did it as soon as the doors opened for seating.  There were maybe 10 on the side we entered so I know they ran out of cushions considering how many children were in attendance.  I took E’s shoes off and let her sit cross legged on her seat but a few times I took her onto my lap for a snuggle.  We also got to peek into the orchestra pit during the extended wait, it fascinated her to see the instruments.  Did I mention how well she did?  I was so proud.  We’ve seen two one hour shows at UNLV, Charlotte’s Web and The Elves and the Shoemaker, in the last year and I knew she understood how to be in an audience.

About the performance – I was watching it as a mom watching her child being immersed in the spectacle so that influenced my perception.  For those that haven’t seen the film, a fantastical series of events occurs when a magical nanny comes to stay with two adventurous children.  The musical draws from the film and the books which I have not read.  Wikipedia has an entry about the differences between the musical and the movie that is pretty good, you can read it here.  The singing, acting, and dancing were all wonderful but on a personal level I was surprised that they nixed songs entirely, moved some, changed others, and introduced new songs.  We’d talked about the story of the movie before we got to the show to try and head off questions E might have and then the story bore very little resemblance to the classic film.  At one point Mary Poppins leaves the children and takes their toys with her and a new nanny, that E called “the mean nanny,” comes to force the children to take a tonic of cod liver oil, treacle, carbolic soap, and brimstone.  The new nanny, though bearing a powerful voice, has a discordant refrain that just does not let up.  After the show all E wanted to talk about was why the mean nanny made the kids drink what she did and why she was put into a giant cage (yes, this happened).  The nanny also had a lark in a cage that Mary Poppins sets free, I can see as an adult the parallel being drawn between this treatment of a bird and the bird woman feeding birds in the square but had to explain it to E.  I was hoping something else would grab her attention but they did really push the dark storyline of a dysfunctional family so that has mostly been the topic of our discussions since the performance.

Before going to the play we’d talked about our favorite parts of the movie and one of them was when Mary Poppins has the children clean their room.  Imagine my surprise when they reach the nursery only to announce it is neat and tidy.  No singing “A Spoonful of Sugar” while tidying, though later on they do bring the song in while cleaning the kitchen (pretty cool effects for this part, actually).  I know I am being a little bit picky because I know the movie so well but I should have done more homework in advance of the play to help prepare E.  It is hard to follow a show when you are little and don’t know why people are doing what they are doing!  There is no run on the bank, instead Mr. Banks makes a lending decision that initially seems to have lost the bank money and is suspended (this is the point at which Mary Poppins leaves the children without notice).  The hour delay also confused E as well but as I mentioned before, she bore it like a champ.

I think the actress for Mary Poppins, Rachel Wallace, made the part her own and had a lovely voice.  Stephen Roberts played Bert and I loved seeing someone in the role with a perfect voice and accent (no offense to Dick Van Dyke in the movie, I still enjoy his portrayal as well).  I was amazed at the talent of the young performers that played the children, Jane and Michael Banks, as well.  This was the first Disney musical I have seen and I wonder if the others similarly are more “inspired by” their source film as opposed to just showcasing them.  It is a tall order – how much do you change and how much do you keep the same?  I overheard some upset patrons during intermission and I don’t want to be the sort that isn’t open to new experiences and interpretations especially since I should have done my homework and not made assumptions.   I am sharing my thoughts because of the unique circumstance of a parent that grew up with the movie and a daughter a little younger than most theater goers (she’ll be four in August).

I missed “Sister Suffragette,” “Stay Awake,” and “I Love to Laugh” – none were featured songs.  “Feed the Birds” was not a lullaby but a duet between Mary Poppins and the bird woman that gave me chills, it is my daily lullaby to R so I missed him a little bit in that moment even though he was having fun at home with Daddy.  I have the movie to watch for the songs I missed but I loved the actress for Winifred Banks and it would have been a treat to hear her sing “Sister Sufragette.”  The Review-Journal article about the show is an interesting read that helped clarify some of the choices made with the songs and story.

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I want to also add that through the delays and hiccups the Smith Center employees were wonderful and ever smiling.  They gave information, handed out programs during the wait, and did not let what was happening faze them.  I can’t say enough about how great they were.  I am also a fan of how I had no issues carrying in food allergy friendly snacks for E even though I did spy a lot of peanut M&Ms and the like at the concession stand.  No one ate any around us so that was a relief.  We’re looking forward to our next show, The Million Dollar Quartet!  In the fall they’re including Beauty and the Beast in their lineup so I will be sure to prepare for any differences between the show and the movie before E and I go.  I am glad we went and loved having an outing with my girl.  Even when she was pushed to her limits (no nap and snacks are not  the same as dinner considering didn’t get out until 6pm from a 2pm matinee) I heard nothing but compliments about how she behaved.  I really believe it is crucial to share art and theater with children from the get-go as it was something my mother did with me.

Paseo Vista Park

Paseo Vista Park is a great park with a large splash pad that we checked out a few weeks ago.  To give you an idea of the location, it is near the 215 and Pecos Road, so not too far away if you are heading there from unincorporated Clark County like we are.   I love that to get to most of the play features you can run up a railed ramp, this makes it very toddler (and toddler caregiver) friendly.

E and R love the slides that are side by side, they try to go down at the same time.

The splash pad is very basic but it covers a large area and is well contained so you can let your little ones run around a bit.

The scale of the two play structures is pretty neat, they really cover a large area!

I didn’t get any pictures of the second play area without E and R in them but there were two neat ride-ons, a plane and a car, that they enjoyed along with some more ramps and a climbing wall.

I had to take a picture of the horseshoe pits because a dear friend of mine plays in tournaments, there’s even going to be a world cup in St. George for the senior horseshoe games that I’m hoping to go up and see.

I got a kick out of the tables with chess boards, it seems like something out of a movie to think of people playing chess at a park. Overall a great mix of shaded picnic and play areas! Though the parking lot is a little small considering the size of the park, it is one of my new favorites.

Life List Update: Sewing a Quilt, One Baby Towel at a Time

Very early on I posted my “life list” here and included that I’d like to make a quilt.  My wonderful mother in law gifted me a sewing machine a while back and I am also part of a fun local sewing club made up of ladies whose skills are only exceeded by their kindness in showing me how to do things.  One of them even let me use her serger the other day so I could make this baby gift for a friend in Arizona!  I bought the terry cloth material (3 yards) and was able to make two hooded towels.  The serger (called an “overlock” elsewhere in the world) is a wonder, it cuts and edges fabric as it goes so I didn’t have to fold over and make a hem for the towel.  Aren’t the little ears so cute?  I can’t wait to see pictures of the new baby boy wrapped up in this towel, I wanted to share because despite all the help I think I can say I made it myself and I’m proud of how it turned out.

How does this relate to the quilt?  Well, I am working my way up skill-wise to actually starting my first quilt block.  I just have to make the time to really sit down with the sewing machine and work on it.  So many quilts in our house were made by my mother in law and sister in law – my sister in law even hand sews quilts like this one that she made for E’s 3rd birthday, it even uses fabric showing Horton the elephant from Horton Hears a Who? (amazon affiliate link) which I love. If anyone is curious I can ask her where she found the fabric, it is so adorable.

Each square has a sentimental thought behind it, like one has a city scene that could be Las Vegas, another has a french theme because my sister in law wants to travel to Paris with the kids someday.  It just highlights why I want to make a quilt, they are so cool and personal!

Centennial Hills Park

We have attended a lovely egg hunt gathering on Easter two years in a row at Centennial Hills Park.  The set up of the pavilions you can reserve at the park is great because they perch at the top of a hill that ends with a playground and splash pad.  Easter this year was a little earlier than usual so the splash pad wasn’t on when we went but since the pavilions provide a barrier to the parking lot you can let your little ones explore and play on the playground and in the grass while still chatting with friends.

We managed to navigate another candy/food based holiday without any bad allergic reactions – we contributed plastic eggs for the planned egg hunt and even let the kids hunt for eggs others had brought but I pre-screened what they found and had them share the unsafe eggs with their friends.  A few plastic eggs just had money in them so I let them pick a treat at the store later on with their hard earned quarters!  I have never thought of money in plastic eggs, kind of fun!  I put GoNaturally Organic Hard Candies (amazon affiliate link) and Stickopotamus stickers (amazon affiliate link) in our eggs and the stickers were a big hit!  I will just do stickers next year, I think.  When we got home we staged a second egg hunt, the kids loved hiding them for each other as well.  Easter was never a big deal aside from getting chocolate when I was a kid so the whole egg hunt concept is still fairly new to me but I can’t say no to getting together with friends and enjoying the spring weather!  A friend mentioned a local food allergy group did a “safe” egg hunt and I would love to check something like that out but I can’t get the group to get back to me despite submitting their contact form on several occasions and talking to them at the last FAAN walk.  By the way, I signed up for the October walk this year at the District, if you’d like to join us, let me know!

You can also see the Centennial Hills Library adjacent to the park in this photo.  I’ve never been to this particular library but it looks lovely from the outside!  Fun fact: way back in 2001 there was a vote to name the area and Centennial Hills (a nod to Las Vegas’ centennial celebration) won out over suggestions like Arrow Canyon and Tule Springs.  I recall discussion about a mall being built in the area but the economic downturn has likely nixed that.  At any rate, it is a lovely park and I keep meaning to go more often than once a year!

Annular Solar Eclipse

When my friend Elizabeth let me know she and her family were taking a trip to Utah to get a better look at the upcoming solar eclipse I mentally made a note to keep May 20th in mind.  We stayed home but still managed to use a basic pinhole camera to witness the eclipse.  The picture above is the shape of the sun peeking around the moon as the eclipse occurred.  The neat thing is that the light around the leaves of our tree out front created a shadow that looked like repeating crescents.

If this sort of thing interests you as much as it interests us, Elizabeth also let me know that on June 5th you’ll be able to see the transit of Venus across the sun if you are viewing it from Las Vegas.  The next one won’t be until 2117 so it is pretty exciting!

Chickpea Crackers and Sunny Pops from Allergy-Friendly Food For Families from Kiwi Magazine

Kiwi Magazine (amazon affiliate link) has gathered together recipes from its editors in a book I received a review copy of, “Allergy-Friendly Food for Families” (amazon affiliate link).  Now, the cover touts that the book has “120 gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, egg-free, and soy-free recipes everyone will love” but that is not entirely the case because the recipes are not all free of these allergens.  Instead, they have varying combinations of non-allergic and allergic ingredients if you are avoiding the stated allergens.  At first this bothered me but I recently connected with a fellow food allergy mom whose daughter could safely have wheat so it makes sense to offer a variety of recipes to reach the most families.  Some can be taken as recipe ideas since most of us are used to making substitutions and adjustments as needed.

The book is bright and colorful, it even has calorie information for each recipe which I used to scoff at until I started counting calories.  Each page has color coded markings to indicate what it is “free” from to make flipping through a little easier and I really enjoyed some of the tips for cooking with kids peppered throughout.  I marked the recipes that were interesting to me and will mention them to give you an idea of the range the book covers: banana bread waffles, breakfast on-the-go tacos, chickpea soldier dippers, fresh rice milk, no-cream of broccoli soup, veggie sushi bites (cauliflower instead of rice!), cool zucchini noodles, lentil burgers (bought the ingredients for this one), cherry chocolate sorbet, gluten-free pie crust, chewy strawberry fruit leather, savory roasted chickpeas (though I have my own recipe variant here), spiced carrot fries, chocolate cinnamon crisps (though it is looking like R is allergic to cinnamon), giant cookie cake, wholesome vanilla ice cream, and green monster dip with carrot coins.

As you can see from my list of things either safe for us or that I think I can adapt with ease, the book had a lot of options for our family even though I skimmed past the recipes featuring meat, nuts, and the like.  I still think the inclusion of nuts in the book at all is rather strange, why not suggest sunflower or pumpkin seeds instead from the get go?  My only other minor gripe is that the two recipes we tried, though delicious, needed tweaking so I will follow my instincts a little more when I bring out this book as opposed to others that I trust completely.  My kids adored the plentiful pictures so though I have favorite cookbooks that are all text, the Kiwi editors know kids and what they like!

Case in point: the second E saw the chocolate pops on the front of the book she wanted, nay,  needed, to make them.  She would not be dissuaded.  Luckily she thought ours were awesome and we had fun even though ours looked nothing like the picture.  Speaking of pictures, I recently started using Instagr.am (a photo editing and sharing application for iPhone and Android) on my friend Josh’s suggestion – it came in handy for the “Sunny Candy Pop” (page 203 of the book) photos as it was dark and the filters made for some fun pictures.  Above you see R stirring powdered sugar and sunflower seed butter together while grandma holds the chair and bowl.  E and R took turns stirring but I think a hand mixer would have been useful at this stage.

I had told E that we had to read the entire recipe before we started, it was so cute because she said “Ok.  First thing’s first, we have to read the recipe.”  We settled onto the floor and started reading:

“Canola oil,” I began.

“Am I allergic to canola oil?” she asked.

“Nope…why are you getting up?”

“You stay right there, I’m going to get started and find the ingredients.”

“We need to read the whole recipe first!”

She sighed with exasperation (side note: isn’t 3 going on 4 too young to be exasperated with your mom?!) and settled back in next to me.

“Ok, here it says sunflower seed butter,” I began again only to have her pop back up.

“You read the recipe and I’ll go get started.”

“Sit down!  Here’s where it says we need to microwave the chocolate chips…”

“We don’t have a microwave!”

“Well, what do you think we should do?”

“We should put it in a bowl on the stove!”

It made me laugh, but I do love teaching her how to be proficient in the kitchen.  We use the double boiler method to melt chocolate so I’m surprised more books don’t set that as the norm and then suggest the microwave method as an afterthought.  At any rate, I took care of the chocolate melting while the kids stirred with grandma.

The lollipop sticks wouldn’t stay in the sunflower seed butter and the sunflower seed butter and powdered sugar mixture wouldn’t hold together but R and E loved their creation* and that is what is important.  I mention my qualms with the recipe and instructions just because it may have a bearing on the other recipes in the book so I will see how they play out.  I really want to try the lentil burger recipe and compare it to the other veggie burgers but I’m not sure when I’ll get around to it.  Things are crazy (when are they not?) right now so I’ve been opting for simple meals of quinoa and roasted veggies most nights.  *Here’s a link to the safe sprinkles we used.

In fact, the day I received the book I launched into making the “Chickpea Herb Crackers” from page 151.  I mixed my dry ingredients and then had to make dinner so I covered the mixture with plastic wrap and set it aside.  It took over a month to get back to it and add the lemon zest!

I really love zesting citrus, there’s even a little section in the book with suggestions on teaching your kids how to do it but I was in a hurry and did it myself.

Instead of rosemary (I do have a fresh rosemary plant outside my house, but no dried rosemary as suggested by the recipe) I used chives and the combination of garbanzo bean flour, lemon zest, and chives resulted in a really yummy (though lacking a little saltiness) cracker.  My score lines did not break very well (much like my graham cracker foray) and the suggested baking time of 14-16 minutes at 425 degrees was much too long and resulted in some over-browned edges but the recipe is still a keeper.  E and R liked them a lot, I thought they were yummy and elegant at the same time.  We just ate them plain but I think some cucumber slices would be delicious to include.

Food Allergy Awareness Week 2012 is coming to a close and it has been a week for sadness with food allergy related deaths such as a 15 year old boy in Georgia and a (likely criminal) hazing incident in Utah where a young peanut allergic girl required an epi-pen injection after being covered in peanut butter.  I try to stay positive, as I wrote in my post on Circle of Moms called “On the Bright Side,” and especially since Tuesday’s Twitter Party in honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week was so fun, friendly, and informative, but we have to remember to stay safe, keep our medicine close, and, to quote one of our favorite books, The Bugabees: “avoid foods we’re allergic to.”