Get in line for Salt and Straw’s best ice cream in Los Angeles

img_3534Two years after it has been established on Larchmont Boulevard, Salt and Straw is still blowing up the sidewalk every night of the week. Even on a Tuesday night at 10 PM, there is a line out the door and 20 people long outside the ice cream shop. In a town where indie shops come and go in a blink of an eye, it is a testament to Salt and Straw’s superior product and a bit of marketing prowess that it is still immensely popular.

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Now with several locations throughout Los Angeles, including Studio City, Venice Beach, the Arts District downtown, and a new location opening in West Hollywood, the ice cream shop draws a steady stream of crowds who crave its signature savory flavor of sea salt with caramel ribbons, almond brittle with salted ganache, double folded vanilla, and chocolate gooey brownie and the adventure of enjoying samples of its out-of-the-carton flavors such as black olive and goat cheese brittle, freckled woodblock chocolate, avocado and strawberry sherbet, honey lavender, Silencio black tea and coconut strawberry Stracciatella. 

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Tiffany, the manager at the Larchmont store, graciously explains the many flavors to guests, unfrazzled by the lines pouring in the door, she maintains a smile and pleasant demeanor as she efficiently multitasks, ringing up customers and scooping out samples, setting up a tasting flight of four flavors, and giving newbies a 101 lesson in Salt and Straw’s secret sauce, so to speak, which is sourcing its fine ingredients from local purveyors with the best local, organic and sustainable ingredients, and hand making their ice cream in small batches, adding imported flavors from small hand-picked farms from around the world, and changing up its seasonal menu to delight the tastes of its customers.

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Most customers prefer their scoops in cups, though those who splurge for a dollar more can have their scoop served up in a house-made waffle cone that is to-die for.  For those who want to be truly indulgent, their cones can be slathered with whip cream. For those who can’t get enough, hand packed pints are available for takeout.

If you don’t want to wait in line, head for the shop earlier in the evening, before 8 PM, which in Larchmont Village is about the time diners finish eating at the local restaurants and go for a delectable dessert. The shop is small but easy to find. Just follow the trail of people walking down the street with the red and white cups in their hands, cooing about the incredibly good taste of the ice cream they are eating.

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Happy trails – my return to mountain biking

I was an avid mountain biker in my early 30s, and once again I have taken up the sport, more than a decade later, to find that lots has changed. The trails and techniques have not changed much, but I have. Luckily, mountain bikes have changed too, and newer models are much more suited for people at various stages of life and skill levels.

The Mongoose Switchback Sport ($399) women’s mountain bike is a great bike for a new or returning mountain biker. The Switchback is tall, with its 27.5-inch wheelbase and a raised handlebar stem, and it allows me to sit high and upright. As I have gotten a little older, my neck and back sometimes feel stiff and painful, so this more erect posture is exceedingly more comfortable than the hunched-over downward-facing position of older mountain bikes.

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The front suspension fork absorbs shock and offers a lower-impact ride than a fixed fork, so again, for an older body, this is more comfortable. The fork features a lockout knob, so that if you are on a paved surface and you don’t require the benefits of suspension, you can change over the fork so that it performs like a fixed fork, which offers a less laborious ride.

The pedals on this bike feature standard platform pedals. When I was a more aggressive mountain biker, I used clipless pedals, which required me to have special shoes with clips, and when clicked into the pedals, my pedal stroke was more efficient. For serious riders, clipless pedals are a must, but for a weekend rider like myself, the platform pedals are more suitable. As I am out of practice with the clipless pedals, the platforms gave me less anxiety. There is nothing worse than not being able to clip out of your pedals in time when you stop, and tipping over like a bad scene from Laugh In.

As this bike is tall, I appreciated the girls’ style lower top tube. While in my younger days I would easily swing my leg over the seat, now I am glad to be able to have the option of stepping through the bike to mount it.

One thing that will take some adjustment for me is the width of the handlebars. Because of the gears and their positioning on the handlebars, I am not able to place my hands close together. At first I felt like my grip was too wide, but I am getting use to this stance.
The aluminum frame keeps the bike lightweight, which is not only good for quick riding on the trails, it makes it easier for me to lift to put on a bike rack on the back of my car or to hang on a rack in my garage. It’s the small things that are important! One non-standard component that I will add to this bike is a kickstand. I’m aware that true mountain bikers do not have kickstands on their bikes, as it could be dangerous if it snags on roots, rocks or other obstacles on the trail, and it also adds a minuscule amount of weight to the bike, but I prefer the convenience of a kickstand to leaning my bike against a pole or a tree, or having to lay it on the ground.

The components on this bike are high-end for the price point. The Shimano Tourney 3_7 drivetrain with Shimano EZ-Fire shifters make shifting smooth and easy, and the mechanic disc brakes with 160 mm rotors are responsive without seizing up. At around $399, this is a great entry-point hardtail bike for a rider who wants the bells and whistles of a specialized bike but who is not yet willing to invest in a bike costing upwards of $1,500 for features like rear suspension. If I continue riding and want to become more competitive, I can always upgrade this bike, or trade up to a more advanced model.

For my weekend jaunts on and off single-track and paved trails, the Switchback is ideal. It is a serious enough bike, loaded with high quality Shimao and Xposure components, that I am not embarrassed riding among avid cyclists on the popular local trails, whereas on my comfort bike I felt a little like an oddball. It has performance features that make it enjoyable to ride but not too high maintenance for someone like myself who just wants to have a great time and not make a career of tinkering with my bike. This particular Mongoose model is among the higher end of the brand’s offerings. Mongoose also makes less expensive models, though for anyone who wants to get carefree, long use out of their equipment, I recommend going with one of their upper-end models. It might be another $100 to $300 to buy the better bike, but in the end you will get your money’s worth.

While certainly the hardware of mountain biking is the most significant investment, the apparel you wear while will riding can make your experience much better. Biking apparel today is nearly as technical as bikes themselves. The high tech fabrics have evolved and to provide more efficient wicking of perspiration to keep you comfortable when you work up a sweat, and they have features that allow you to adapt them as you progress in your ride or the weather or riding condition changes.

Sugoi, a brand that was forged in British Columbia, Canada, is designed to give you all optimal comfort and performance no matter what the weather. They make a great all-around Coast Hoode ($120), featuring a Aero fleece fabric that is a bonded knit with DWR, so that it protects against wind and water. It’s lined with a dry active jersey fabric to keep you warm, and it has two hand pockets for when you’re off the bike, and an inside pocket perfect for a cell phone or wallet. The collar features a media management system so you can secure headphone cords. When wearing this jacket, it is clear it was designed by true bikers, who thought of everything.

For early fall riding were days when it is less cool, the Coast Long Sleeve shirt ($65) is a great option. It also has great styling, so if you slip into a café on a rest break, you’ll fit right in and not look like your necessarily wearing a bike jersey.

For safety, Sugoi also makes an excellent reflective Zap Training jacket that makes you stand out like a radioactive rider when headlights hit you, if you ride after dark.

As I is a have always been a believer in dressing for success, it is my philosophy that if you have the right gear and clothing, you will perform better, and you will get the most out of your ride, whether that it is pleasure or trying to meet a training goal. When you feel comfortable on your bike and in your riding clothes, and you feel confident about your equipment, you can focus on your ride and getting the most benefit from it. As I gear up to get back into mountain biking, and now I have a nine-year-old son to keep up with, I am thrilled to be back in the saddle, and I am ready to roll.

A Westside Family Room Takes a Walk on the Tech Side

The Brown family was immersed in technology in their daily lives at work and school, but at home, their living room was still in the dark ages. Here is how Los Angeles interior designer Andee Ferrer took on the task of transforming the “great room” of their 1930s Spanish-style duplex into a contemporary, smart and connected hi-tech haven.

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Out with the old

As a designer of the digital age, Ferrer didn’t need to leave her laptop to reset this room with all the latest devices, décor and computer comforts of modern life. First thing Ferrer did was send the Colonial-style entertainment center off to the woodpile, via TruckBuddy. Next the sagging drab olive sofa and loveseat, bulky coffee table, 26” TV, DVD player, stereo receiver, five-CD changer, external speakers and other vintage electronics and furnishings, found new homes via craigslist. Then, it was time to refresh the scene.

Technology and function

While a TV is the centerpiece of a traditional family room, Ferrer eschewed the eyesore of a wall-mounted TV and tucked it away in a custom-built Cabinet Tronix television cabinet.  With a touch of a button, the TV emerges, neatly and discretely, connected to half a dozen media peripherals, including a Blu-Ray player and X-Box, which are also hidden away, enclosed in a compartment at the bottom of the unit.

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Inside the cabinet, the family’s former tiny TV was upsized and upgraded with a 43″ TCL Roku TV.  Since streaming is the new cable, the family cut the cord, and cost, and now uses a TERK Trinity Indoor Amplified HDTV antenna to get basic channels sans subscription.

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Atop the cabinet, a stylish Sonos Playbar connects to the TV via optical cable and lends rich AV sound. The app-controlled system connects with other Sonos speakers in the house to stream free and paid playlists from sites like Pandora, Amazon Music, and Spotify. To amplify Wi-Fi throughout the house, a TP-Link VR900 modem/router is paired with the eero extender system to boost bufferless audio and video streaming.

Above the lift cabinet, Ferrer used the wall space as a projection screen for a  ZTE Spro2 projector. The palm-sized tablet-like projector transforms the living room into a cinema, streaming directly from the device or connecting to other devices via USB or HDMI cable.

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After some research, Ferrer learned that the best color wall for projection was not white, as one might expect, but grey.  She chose Sherwin-Williams Passive Gray to make the colors pop and show vividly on the wall.

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Get smart

To outsmart kids prone to leaving lights on, the Lutron Maestro motion sensor automatically turns lights on and off, and to set the mood lighting, the handy Lutron Caseta Wireless controller dims lights and raises and lowers blinds while iDevices switches wirelessly control the Robert Abbey Delta Emerald Glazed Table Lamp and floor fan, while the heat and AC are controlled by a Honeywell Lyric thermostat.  Both wireless controllers and the thermostat respond to app or voice commands by Amazon Echo, which can also play music, update a Google calendar, report the news, and even read the kids a story. The family can play it safe anywhere in the home with Samsung smartthings hub home monitoring kit which sends alerts via app if anyone passes a sensor or opens or closes a connected door or window.

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Creature Comforts

A couch is fundamental in a family room, so Ferrer started by replacing the old sofa and loveseat with a bright, comfortable contemporary sectional with a lounger sidecar from Article.  Ferrer also found beautifully floral-patterned side chairs and marble top sofa tables by La-Z-y Boy, gray lacquered BluDot Strut Square coffee table, a ghost chair from InStyleModern,  two Safavieh benches from Wayfair for extra seating, a gold geometric gardening stool by IMAX to serve as an end table, and a modern IKEA large-shade floor lamp.  Other textile pieces included Sanela room darkening draperies in light turquoise and faux skin rugs for the stools from IKEA, a Safavieh Hand Woven Natural Kilim Ivory Wool Rug and comfort padding from Overstock, Roman Shades by Pottery Barn, and fabric panels for the Cabinet Tronix lift cabinet, featuring Robert Allen fabric in Tiny Pebbles Parchment design.

To help brighten the room when it was not in use for projection viewing, Ferrer mounted two bright satin brass Robert Sonneman Palo Wall Sconces, which freed up space where floor lamps once stood.

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To help brighten the room when it was not in use for projection viewing, Ferrer mounted two bright satin brass Robert Sonneman Palo Wall Sconces, which freed up space where floor lamps once stood.

It’s all about the vase

No makeover is complete without the accessories. In keeping with an underlying gold and silver theme, Ferrer found an elegant silver bowl with bronze beading from Beatriz Ball collection, which complemented other metallic décor in the room including gold-accented vases and geometric shapes from Gold Leaf Design Group and unique Wall Play wire designs she used to sculpt and frame the projection “screen” to create anticipation on the wall.  Adorning another wall were two bird prints by Wooden Pencil Company, featuring a California quail and Virginia red cardinal, representing family member’s two home states. Across one wall Ferrer displayed a collection of black and white family photos created on aluminum by WhiteWall, a German company specializing in gallery-quality prints.

Centered above the sofa hung a Nurai Mora 2015 Artist Event Print from IKEA, which carried through the geometric design theme from the wire sculpture, the table sculpture and the leaded glass windows.

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Ferrer softened the room with geometric-patterned pillows from Fab and luxurious linen and wool throw blankets from COAST New Zealand.  She picked up all the remaining tchotchkes she needed, including silk flower arrangements, at HomeGoods.

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Good study

Because the room served as a home office for parents and a study room for kids, Ferrer placed a Liberty Furniture Brookview Writer’s Desk in one corner, which held the sleek workhorse Intel-powered HP Envy 34” Curved All-in-One PC, loaded with Windows 10 and featuring a Bang & Olufsen audio system, which serves as both entertainment center and homework base.  Homework or play can become a family affair by using the Nyrius Aries Pro wireless HDMI transmitter to stream content from the desktop to the TV or projector or other HD device.

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Good clean fun

Just as the Tronix cabinet was a sophisticated hideaway solution for the TV, Ferrer wanted to make the room multifunctional as a family play space and a place where adults could entertain, without being surrounded by kids’ playthings.  Three Casement black sideboards from Crate & Barrel, with the glass covered with frosted glass film, served to neatly and discreetly store all of the family’s board games, toys, and electronic peripherals.

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IT room

In case you worry that you have to be an IT genius to set up and enjoy this room, fret not.  Even if you have trouble programming your universal remote, anyone can be king of their smart domain with the help of HelloTech, the “Uber of tech.” All in all, it took one of their hero tech a few hours to unbox and get all of the electronics in the room and throughout the house up and working together.

(Photography by Katya Grozovskaya)

Editor’s note:  Companies featured in this article provided product samples or services for reviews, but the all opinions expressed belong to the author.

The habitable and hospitable basement

Homeilicious

Most basements are underutilized real estate, often used for storage, home gyms or kids’ recreation rooms. By warming up these subterranean spaces with a few creature comforts, you can create an inviting apartment, perfect for grown children living at home, house guests or home-sharing.

Get FLOR’d

Polished concrete floors of unfinished basements is a vogue look, but it can be cold and hard on feet. Warm up the space and add a splash of style with FLOR carpet tiles. The brands innovated design concept allows you to mix and match tiles to create a unique look, an1020-05-4d the tiles are easily replaceable and washable.

The materials are also low VOCs, so there are no toxic fumes as with many other carpeting textiles. The floor DIY tiles are designed to hug the floor, and they come with adhesive dots that hold the tiles together, so there is no need for nails, tax or…

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Hostess and foodie gifts to bring cheer

If you want to bring your holiday party hostess something more exciting than the usual potted poinsettia, or if you have a foodie on your gift list, here are some exquisite, tasteful hostess gifts that your host will appreciate and savor.

Hit oil

A gourmet household cannot live without olive oil, and the most discerning of restaurants and kitchens and world-class chefs like Chef Ori Menashe of LA’s Bestia prefer the exquisite taste of Ranch Olive Oil. With so many flavor varieties there’s a blend for every dish, but for the true connoisseur, there is Reserve Collection, which includes 500 ml bottles of fruity Arbequina, the nutty and complex Arbosana, and the robust Miller’s Blend, in a three-bottle gift box ($59.99) perfect for a hostess of good taste.

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Daily grind

Every gourmet cook uses plenty of salt-and-pepper, but that doesn’t mean the most common of spices must be contained in ordinary shakers. Trudeau’s elegant Professional Stainless Steel Salt and Pepper Mills not only could look fabulous in the kitchen or on the table, but they precisely grind and distribute just the desired amount of spice. These sleek mills are constructed of resistant 18/8 stainless steel and feature a unique carbon steel grinding mechanism for peppercorns and spring-load technology to ensure a consistent grind selection.  A stylish piece to add to any kitchen, each set comes in an attractive gift box. $119. At gourmet cooking stores or www.trudeau.com.

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Warmth by chocolate

With temperatures dropping below freezing, warm up inside with legendary GODIVA premium Dark Chocolate Hot Cocoa.  Made with highest quality all-natural ingredients, this hot chocolate mix is the ultimate hot chocolate indulgence that delivers a rich, smooth, and velvety drinking experience. If coffee is more your taste, GODIVA’s Chocolate Truffle Coffee, made with specially selected coffee beans from around the world, features melt-in-your mouth GODIVA chocolate flavor with a medium-bodied roast. $15 for 10-servings canister of cocoa or $14 for a 10-ounce bag of ground coffee. Available at GODIVA stores nationwide or www.godiva.com.

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Raw and unfiltered

Honey is always a sweet gift, and Rice’s Lucky Clover Honey Raw and Unfiltered Honey is even more special because it is not processed, therefore it retains all its flavor, vitamins, minerals and delicious taste. Locally sourced from family beekeepers and available nationwide online, this completely raw, unfiltered delicacy is naturally high in antimicrobial and antibacterial properties and delivered pure honey taste in both hot and cold drinks and in recipes from desserts to entrees. $6.50 for 16-ounce squeezable bottle.  Available at locations from Whole Foods to Walmart and online at www.riceshoney.com.

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A real charmer

Make your party guests feel special with their own glass charm that expresses their unique personality with distinct Simply Charmed magnetic wine charms.  Using strong magnets to keep them in place on just about all drinking glasses or mugs, these tiny ornaments help guests know which glass is there’s when they set it down. The charms come in cute and quirky designs, such as emojis and seasonal or hobby related ornaments and even charms made from Swarovski crystals. Though the magnets are strong and generally do not move, these are not recommended for children because of the danger of accidentally ingesting magnets. Available for $5.99 to $26.99 at http://www.wineswithcharm.com

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Greet and Meat

Bring the treat of meat to your next party with Hickory Farms Signature Party Planner Gift Box filled with hearty treats that satisfy their carnivore and gourmet cheese tastes.  Each box includes three sausage flavors, four cheeses, two nut mixes, and condiments.  Available at $42 at hickoryfarms.com.

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A cut above

Foodies can be snobs about their cookware and cutlery, but Crisp Cooking Tools make precision cooking tools accessible and affordable to all.  Fashioned from durable plastic materials in bright stylish colors, Crisp tools are specifically designed and engineered to save time during the food prep process, making them the perfect addition to any kitchen. In the, “Why didn’t I think of that?” category, Crisp makes unique tools for food prep tasks, such as the Zester ($12.99), a spring-loaded Cherry Pitter ($9.99), and an innovative Citrus Squeezer ($19.99) featuring a twist on collection cup, as well as standard tools like an all-purpose Straight Paring Knife ($9.99).  Available at www.Crispcooking.com

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Pasta for all

Pasta began as a staple of Italian cuisine, and now it is an American favorite and beloved around the world. Explore Cuisine has created the next generation of pasta with nutritious and innovative products noodles such as Edamame Spaghetti, Brown Rice Fusili, Green Lentil Lasagne, made of beans and other clean, organic ingredients that are certified gluten-free and non-GMO, and are high in protein, fiber and iron. Some of their products include Pulse PastasBean PastasThai Rice Protein Pastas, Thai Rice Noodles, and Instant Soybean Noodle Soups. Not only are these pastas great if you are watching your weight or looking to cook nutritious foods for your family, they are tasty and satisfying like a true pasta should be.  Available at natural food and general grocery stores nationwide, $2.49 – $4.99 each, or $21.99-$25 for a six pack.

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Dreaming of a white wine

As the weather gets colder outside, many of us reach for those spicy, robust red wines that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, but many white wines have those same characteristics.  OneHope 2014 Rutherford Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($34.99) and 2014 Rutherford Fumé Blanc ($44.99) are two varietals that give you that good feeling inside, not just because of the superior grapes picked at optimum ripeness during an ideal warm summer, creating intense aromatics on the nose and great fruit character on the pallet, and the 11 months the grapes spent in French and American oak before bottling in late August, but also because for every case sold of OneHope the wine makers provide one local Napa farmworker with on-site medical care and health education.  Available at wine stores nationwide and www.onehopewine.com.

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Light it up

In addition to great food, the ambiance is an essential to a dining experience. Enhance your dining room with a decorative candle in a hand-blown art glass vessel from Luxury Articles and Fragrance Company (LAFCO) that not only beautifies your room but complements the meal with its aroma  The light, fresh and green fragrance of the Celery/Thyme candle ($60) from LAFCO Home and House Collection features a  mix of crisp celery, clean white florals and a touch of thyme.  Each candle is hand poured in the USA and features a hand-centered pure-cotton, chemical-free wick and is formulated with a high soy content wax which burns cleaner than paraffin yields a 90-hour burn. The candles are scented with natural essential oil-based fragrances that burn richly and evenly, filling the entire space with fragrance.  Available at www.lafco.com.

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Bubbly conversation

For those who want to enhance the lively tête-à-tête at a dinner party, Freixenet Cordon Negro Extra Dry Cava from Spain offers long lasting bubbles, by itself or as a complement to cocktails.  This sparkling wine, made in the traditional méthode champenoise, is for those that like it “not too dry,” with a palate that’s earthy with light fruits and a whiff of chocolate and flavors of plum and raspberry accented by spice with an essence of peach, melon and candied citrus flavors, culminating in a long, flavorful and smooth finish, making it excellent to pair with spicy cuisine.

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Snack on

For festive get togethers or special movie nights, bring on the popcorn, but not just any garden variety.  Popcorn, Indiana, maker of America’s #1 Kettlecorn, pops up limited edition winter flavors, such as Black & White, Dark Fudge Sea Salt Caramel, Dark Fudge Pretzel Drizzlecorn and Dark Fudge Peppermint Drizzlecorn. These decadent flavors feature Popcorn, Indiana’s tender popcorn, made from non-GMO corn and free of artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, drizzled in lusciously sweet dark fudge, then generously sprinkled with delicious accents. Available at national, regional and local retailers across the U.S. and Canada in 5-ounce and 6-ounce bags, $3.49, or 20-ounce bag $10.49. Locate stores at www.popcornindiana.com.

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Things for families to do in Carlsbad

Most people think of Carlsbad, California, as the town where LEGOLAND is located. The theme park is certainly a main attraction, but Carlsbad has much more to offer, including many unexpected charms, as our family discovered on a recent trip.

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About 90 miles from Los Angeles, or two to three hours by car depending on traffic, Carlsbad can be a day trip or a great weekend getaway. We visited during the summer, which is a popular time for families, because the kids are out of school, but it’s also a great time for other reasons, including great beach weather, and not to mention it is peak strawberry season.

We started our weekend vacation early at the LEGOLAND Park, and the kids loved the newest attraction at the park, Heartlake City, especially appealing to girl guests. It featured live musical performances with ‘tween-themed dance numbers, with lots of girls in frilly pink costumes.

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img_6124We first started coming to LEGOLAND when the kids were five, and while we expected our kids, age 7, to outgrow LEGOLAND at their age, we were thrilled to see they were still excited to ride the Dragon roller coaster, which we were able to experience at least five times, thanks to the short lines early in the morning, and they had not yet tired of the LEGO Technic Coaster, which they were now tall enough to ride on their own.

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img_6128As we do every visit, we loved racing other families in the Police and Fire Academy relay, though as usual, our rig came in last. As a special treat, we got tickets to visit the water park adjacent to LEGOLAND, which was a great way to cool off after a day of traipsing around the park in the sun. Our favorite waterslide is always the orange rush, because all four of us can ride together as we spin down a giant slide and ride the walls of a huge half pipe.

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After a full day at the theme park and water park, we discovered a strawberry field right near the freeway exit. We decided to do a little impromptu strawberry picking. For $20, we got a bucket that the whole family could fill up, and we were told we could eat as many strawberries as we wanted while we were picking them. Since it was late in the afternoon, the heat had dissipated, and it was perfect timing for us to be out in the exposed fields.

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The kids loved competing to find the most outrageously large strawberries in the most bizarre shapes. We ate so many strawberries we almost didn’t have an appetite for dinner, but when we told the kids we were going to Bistro West, suddenly they were hungry again.

Bistro West is one of our favorite restaurants in Carlsbad. It’s just a few miles from LEGOLAND, and they have a terrific farm-to-table fresh summer harvest menu. Chef Jason also prepares a great kids menu with many healthy choices, and they even have a Bow Wow Hour on the patio for guests with pets. They also have an expansive vegetarian menu and a gluten-free menu of over 20 items. As always, the kids ordered their favorite calamari appetizer with dipping sauces, and the grown ups shared one of their unique signature pizzas, topped with pear Gorgonzola and prosciutto. Besides the excellent food, the kids also love watching the “bubble wall” fixture in the restaurant that mesmerizes them with is changing colors.

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We told the kids we wanted to make this Carlsbad trip an educational experience, and at first they grumbled, but once we arrived at the Museum of Music Making, they changed their tune. While the antique instruments were more captivating to the adults, the kids gravitated immediately to the experiential area of the museum, where they got to put on headsets and play the drums so that only they could hear the sound effects.

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The kids were enjoying themselves so much they hardly realized they were learning as they explored all of the hands-on exhibits. We lucked out, and the day we visited the museum was hosting a drum circle. This was a new experience for all of us. Each of us chose a drum from an assortment offered to us, and a leader set the pace and chanted and sang while we beat our drums in rhythm.

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As the kids were getting antsy about being indoors in such a beautiful day, our next stop was to a local skate park. My son had been in skateboard camp for the last two summers, and he thought he had seen the best skate parks Southern California had to offer, until we drove up to Alga Norte park.

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The skate park, the largest in San Diego, features more than 10,000 feet of curved and flat ramps, two pyramids, two stairways, several bowls and pipe grinding ledges. It was skateboarder’s heaven. While there were a number of teens at the park, there were also a good number of younger skaters, and there was a beginner’s area, which parents like myself favor, since at some parks the littler kids often get run over by the older, more experienced skaters. Best of all for parents, there was a shaded picnic area where we could sit and spectate.

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img_6172Onto the second to last stop of our whirlwind tour, we headed to Carlsbad State Beach, which was directly across from our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn. Even though we live in LA, less than 15 minutes to Venice and Santa Monica beaches, Carlsbad beach remains one of our favorites in Southern California.  We were able to find easy metered street parking, though there were a number of parking lots near the beach. We accessed the beach from a paved path down from the sidewalk along the shore, and we set up our base camp near the water.  Even though it was a mid-summer weekend, we were delighted to be one of just a few dozen families in sight, and we felt like we had our own little slice of beach to ourselves.

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img_6052The kids played in the sand with some buckets and shovels we brought along, courtesy of the hotel, and we watched some surfers who seemed to be catching some decent waves. The kids loved that near the restrooms there was a tower of showers, were all the surfers and beachcombers rinsed off the sand, and the kids got to help some surfers wash off their boards.  We were very impressed at how friendly the local surfers were and considerate of their little admirers.

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After the beach, we headed for the Harbor Fish Cafe. Despite its humble appearance, this little restaurant is one of the hottest spots in town. It’s popular with both locals and tourists, though it is known less for its great seafood than its awesome views, especially at sundown.  As we experienced the vivid pink orange hues of the sky as the sun set over the water, we were happy that the kids were already starting to nod off at the restaurant.

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Back at the hotel, we all crashed, like the waves on the beach. We had considered a day trip to Carlsbad, but we were glad we had opted to make it a weekender.  The Hilton Garden Inn is an affordable option for families, with suites that have separate living areas with pull-out sofas and private patios. They also have fabulous views of the ocean across the street, and a large outdoor pool and whirlpool, plus free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel, so while the kids slept I was able to get some work done.

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The hotel is also two miles from LEGOLAND, which was the primary reason we felt the location was ideal for us, but little did we know the park was just one of many terrific family attractions close by, including an adorable beach community and shopping Village that we had overlooked on previous trips, because we were focused on the theme park.

As we took a final stroll along the beach and got some smoothies for the road before we headed back to LA, a group of motorcycle riders on Harleys rode by us down the main drag. As a fan of Sons of Anarchy, the TV series about a bad boy motorcycle club of a town called Charming, I was intrigued to get a closer look at the riders. But instead of tough guys, these riders looked like retired corporate executives, sporting shiny luxury bikes, as they rode in orderly formation and pulled up to the juice bar where we were sitting. As the cyclists joined us at the yellow painted picnic tables, and we enjoyed our smoothies in the sunshine, I snickered to myself, that really, this was the town that truly should be called Charming.

Talking to children about sexual abuse

LA Parenting

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Sexual violence is a very serious public health problem that affects millions of women and men. However, research done by the Crimes Against Children Research Center showed that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. These children who are the victims of prolonged sexual abuse usually develop low self-esteem, a feeling of worthlessness and an abnormal or distorted view of sex. The child may also become withdrawn and mistrustful of adults.

Every year there is an opportunity for parents to learn how to talk to their children about this sensitive topic, during Sexuality Education Awareness Month in October, but year-round this is an issue that may come up for families.  One organization that has helped parents by giving them tools to assist them in talking to children is Krav Maga Worldwide, a leading self-defense organization, which offers parents these tips on…

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