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I never tire of the hunt for a better baby bag. Something more fashionable, more functional, more fun. Even after a decade of diaper bag toting I still thrill to the chase. Sometimes I find inspiration in unlikely places. Which is why I’m going to tell you to ditch the diaper bag, and pick up this purl of wisdom. Namaste Bags, designed for crafters to tote their projects in, also make fantastic diaper/mom bags. These are not your granny’s knitting bags!
I knew something was up when three friends recommended Namaste bags to me in the course of one week. Two were knitters, but the third was just a bag freak like me. And one who was more likely to be found shopping for a new Vuitton than a diaper bag of any sort. But Namaste bags, she insisted, were just gorgeous. Lightweight, terrific selection of colors and super well organized. I had to get the scoop. So I investigated two models from their Cali Collection: the Laguna and the Malibu. The Laguna is the teal bag in the slide show and the Malibu is the gray one!
First impression of these bags was a good one. They are made from animal friendly, PVC free faux leather. It’s extremely durable and soft to the touch, plus (yay!) wipes clean in a flash. I was immediately impressed by the details galore. The findings are all extremely high quality and make me think of high end handbags. People are constantly stopping me when I carry these bags, often doing a double take to admire them. They look expensive, and wear well. This is of course due to the high quality materials and attention to small details – for example, the bags have metal feet. Small touches that make a huge difference. Check out my photos of how all my stuff fits into these bags! I really put them both to the test recently while travelling. I had to have my baby stuff, my mom stuff and my crafting stuff on me at all times as we took a ferry and hotel hopped on our own Southern Cali adventure.
I also love the accessory organizers from Namaste. They make the bags even more functional.The “Oh Snap” Mesh pouches are perfect for storing both crafting needs and baby diapers and wipes. All the things you need to be able to see and find in a flash. The Catalina pouch actually came with me to Catalina Island recently and was the perfect size to store my makeup essentials.
Break out of your bag rut, get your crafty groove back on and check out Namaste Bags. It’s a perfect pick for trendsetting moms.
Forget about the poolboy and the cocktails. I’ve discovered the true secret of vacation relaxation and it has nothing to do with alcohol and tight buns. It’s all about the backrub.
I’ve never been a terribly touchy feelie type. I like massages but don’t regularly seek this service out. As a result, the lovely massage gift certificates I’ve received at baby showers and birthday celebrations have sat in drawers for a good year or two before being redeemed, at the last minute, in a fit of stress about them expiring.
Think I enjoyed those massages much? Yeah. Not really. I found myself worrying through the entire massage about the work I should have been doing, if only my gift certificate was not about to expire and I was not about to waste a perfectly good, well intentioned, and potentially expensive gift.
Recently however, I was talked into getting a massage while on vacation. I was away from home, miles from work, the kids were accounted for and my only responsibility at that very moment? Relax. Which is harder than it sounds. Just thinking about how to get my vacation on is enough to stress me out. Sort of like how thinking about sleep is enough to make me lay awake for hours.
But I was game. I was on Catalina Island where I was promised that in Deanna Stone’s expert hands, I would leave my cares behind. I went along with this plan, because honestly, what else did I have to do? I was on vacation! I’d already nixed the Buffalo Milk cocktail as providing anything more than a fleeting buzz and the only poolboy in sight was my husband. “Go get your massage already,” he urged.
An hour later I was completely chill. Not an ache in my body and not a care in the world. My kids pinched me. “Mommy? Are you ok?” they asked. “You’re so… relaxed or something”
It lasted almost all through the rest of my vacation. Only running for the boat, back to the mainland brought back some of the stress. Back home again I’ve made a resolution. First activity on all vacations from here on out? The vacation massage. And if I go back to Catalina, it will be straight back to Deanna Stone’s studio for me! Heading off for a relaxing trip yourself? Make a little time for a massage. Preferably at the beginning of the trip. You’ll be glad you did.
My first impression of the Maxi Cosi Loola Stroller is that it was a bit of an odd bird. It’s an umbrella style stroller with a compact fold. But the Loola is in a different class weight and strength-wise. This may be confusing to some consumers, because it is not what we are necessarily familiar with. Take a minute to get to know the Loola though. Different can be a very good thing.
Another way the Loola is different? It boasts a reversible seat. I don’t know of any other “umbrella style” stroller on the market that can make this claim. The Loola seat pops on and off easily to switch. The frame can be folded with the seat attached, facing either forward or backward. Carseat adapters for the Maxi Cosi Mico infant car seat come standard with this stroller which makes it very useful for those seeking a stroller “system” as well.
At this point you can already see the comparison to umbrella strollers is not a fair one. Aside from the frame’s fold, and the handle styles, it really departs from the umbrella model. So lets forget for a moment that I said the U-word and have a look at the strollers many other features.
Weighing in at 28 lbs, this stroller rivals some of the SUV strollers out there. To me this is not really a lightweight stroller. I need under 22 lbs for that. The Loola is pretty easy to heft when folded because of the very compact fold. But it’s not for those who think lifting a jug of milk is a workout – check out the Quinny Zapp if that is you! The Loola is a little weighty. There is a plus side to this weighty-ness however. This stroller is also sturdy. It’s not tipping over and it’s not doing that creaky, rickety squeaky thing that so many lightweight strollers do. The thing is solid. Solid as a rock. We took our Loola on a trip to Catalina island and walked to the hotel with luggage hanging off this stroller’s handles. And no, I don’t recommend this practice to anyone else! But since I’m confessing, I’ll also let you know we had no tippy turns on the way to check in. The Loola frame has a somewhat wide stance for a stroller with an umbrella style fold which lends additional stability. We found this comforting with our active son who loves to find ways to climb in and out of the stroller, and test it’s tip factor by leaning way far out this sides. Yes, my youngest was born to “test”!
The Basket under the Loola is generous but not crazy big. You can fit your smaller diaper bag in there or items for a day long outing. No worries since you can safely hang items from the handles as well!
The Loola is does not pass the single pinky steering test. However it is easy and smooth to push (even when my four year old was riding) with two hands and turns tightly. The ride is plush thanks to great shocks. Handlebars are adjusted by rotating the handle “horns”. You accomplish this with the push of a button. We would have liked to see a little extra height on the handles, although oddly it was me that wanted this, and not my six foot husband. The brake is easily activated and deactivated by stepping on a red/blue pedal at the rear of the stroller. One other nice feature – the front rotating wheels can be locked in the non rotating position (for added stability on ice or rough terrain) with the push of a button on the stroller’s frame. No stooping or getting your hands dirty.
The Loola came with a reversible (yay!), well padded seat in a cute blue/chocolate striped pattern that reversed to a solid. The fabric is soft and cushy and also really fashionable! I appreciate that it is easy to remove and wash. My son was quite comfortable riding in this stroller. There is a bumper bar that comes with the seat but we ultimately decided to leave it off as our son loves to climb in and out and was trying to kick it off the whole time it was on (see our pics – he’s a corker!). Fortunately the bumper bar is made to be removeable. It’s handy to have if you want to attach toys, or a snack tray or pouch as this stroller did not come with any food/drink holders. The seat reclines almost completely flat (adjusting to four positions) and the canopy is plenty big enough to shade a sleeping tot. I like the large view window in the back that allowed me to see my son clearly when he was napping. The stroller also comes with a removeable clear rain cover.
The fold on this stroller is relatively fast and easy. You push the side buttons and pull up in the center and viola! It is a telescoping fold and makes for a compact package. Once folded the stroller stands on it’s own which was really handy for us while on Catalina as well. We were hopping on and off boats, in and out of tour buses and this quick fold feature made that much easier for us.
Perhaps the reason I like the Loola so much is because although it has an umbrella-like fold, it has none of the issues that I commonly find bothersome with umbrella strollers. I tend to shy away from them because as much as I like to travel light, I still value the performance of a full size stroller. I have no patience with tippy, non reclining, flimsy feeling strollers. The Loola bridges the gap. It’s in a class of its own. It folds small enough to shove onto the tram at Disneyland, or into a hall closet at your inlaws, and yet it does not require that you sacrifice function and quality when you reach your destination. Bonus points for the (cutely upholstered) reversible seat and the fact that it functions as a system with the Mico carseat.
Compact telescoping fold
Handle-mounted lock to switch easily between fixed or swivel front wheels
Fully compatible with the Maxi-Cosi Mico™ Infant Car Seat
Looking for a quick getaway that’s close by the west coast but will leave you feeling as though you’ve left the mainland? Catalina Island may be the answer to your vacation search. Just a little over an hour from the mainland, and in the same timezone, you’ll feel you’ve traveled to a different time altogether.
I’ve lived in Southern California for over a decade. I’d heard all about Catalina Island. Or so I thought. I knew that there was a historic round building in the harbor at Avalon. I knew people got all misty and faraway looking when asked about the place. I knew that there was a herd of buffalo roaming about the island, few cars, and good snorkeling.
But this was all I knew. Many of my friends had not been there either. Even the ones that grew up in the area. So when I told them we were headed out to Catalina and planning on checking out the many tours available through the Catalina Island Company my friends’ ears all perked up. “Tell us what’s there!” they demanded. “Let us know if it’s family friendly!” And the #1 request, “Let me know if it’s worth the ferry ticket price?”
To be fair, this cost is probably what has deterred us the most over the years. At $50-70 per person, it’s not exactly cheap to get our family to Catalina. It’s actually strange that we (and so many others) see it as a stumbling block. Because we can see the island’s shadowy outline from shore, it looks close enough to touch. It’s so familiar that it seems silly to spend the money to stay so close to home. This thinking, however, is misguided. In fact it takes about an hour and a half to get there on a high speed boat – just a little longer than it takes to fly to Vegas or San Francisco. We’d fly to Vegas or San Francisco for a similar cost, or more, so why do we question ferry prices? After making the trip, I’m happy to pay the ferryman to take me back again. There is so much to do and see on Catalina that this fare is worth every penny.
What to See:
Avalon Harbor and City Center.
Arriving in Avalon Harbor, you get an immediate and gratifying seaside view of the island’s most famous sight. The town of Avalon. Rich in film history and that of the Wrigley Family (think gum, baseball etc), this town has an almost Caribbean hamlet feeling. Homes are nestled up into the hills around a gem-like harbor. Pedestrian only streets line the waterfront. Colorful storefronts invite browsing and many restaurants and coffee shops have walk up windows where you can place your order for ice cream or a slice of pizza and take your food to go with you on your stroll or to be enjoyed al fresco on one of the many benches lining the promenade along the waterfront. One thing you won’t see much of in Avalon is autos. Golf carts are the preferred mode of transport and can be rented by the hour. Want to take it a little slower? Rent a bike at one of the waterfront bike rental agencies. You can also rent a trailer for the kiddos if you are so inclined.
The Sea Life.
Much of the charm of Catalina Island lies below the ocean surface. Marine tours such as the Undersea TourDescanso Beach, which is a short walk away from the town center. The sea life continued to amaze after dark. Possibly our favorite activity while on Catalina was the Flying Fish Tour. This can only be described as magical and surreal to observe. Flying fish are present around Catalina island during the summer when they return to lay their eggs in the kelp forests around the island. They come out at night and look like massive glowing birds or fireflies as they leap out the water and soar for 40 feet or more, skimming along the surface before plunging once more. It’s something you won’t even forget, nor will your children. Flying fish are not to be missed!
The Avalon Casino.
When we heard that there was a casino on Avalon Island we expected blackjack tables and slot machines. We were very misinformed! The word Casino is Italian and is used for any social gathering place, or place of entertainment. In the case of the Casino at Avalon, it is a movie theater and dance hall with a rich history. This building saw it’s heyday in the era of the big bands, when it hosted gatherings of up to 6000 party people, dancing the night away. The bottom level of the casino is a massive and spectacular movie theater that was built in the era of the silent films. The original pipe organ is still there, as are the fantastical paintings and glittering gold leaf stars on the ceiling. Once upon a time this theater was the ultimate in movie premieres. In fact the first “talkie” movie aired there. Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin both attended screenings at this theater. The uppermost level of the Avalon Casino, accessed by a series of ramps, is a circular ballroom, surrounded by windows and french glass doors that lead out to the balcony promenade area. The ballroom and balcony boast breathtaking views of the entire harbor. Standing at the center of the ballroom, under the Tiffany chandelier, you can almost hear the echo of Glenn Miller, and the laughter of people dancing the night away in the cool ocean breeze, gazing out at the stars.
Forget about getting your kicks on Route 66. For a truly thrilling ride and views of the island, choose the Skyline Drive Tour. Riding in a vintage classic (1953) tour bus up the twisting roads we were treated to spectacular views and breathtaking vistas. We caught a glimpse of the island’s famous bison, made a stop at the island’s airport, and learned a lot of history about the island and the Wrigley Family. Our kids thought the bus tour was the bomb, and were almost as terrified as us on a few of the S-curves going up and down the cliffs. It was a good kind of scared though. We never felt truly unsafe. It helped to know these buses have been doing this tour longer than we’ve been around. If you are more pressed for time and want a condensed version of the tour, check out the Avalon scenic tour. It’s a little shorter and stays closer to town, but you still get the fabulous views.
Where to Stay:
We checked out two hotels while on Catalina, both in Avalon and both run by the Catalina Island Company.
The Atwater Hotel, is where we parked our whole caboodle for the duration of our trip. This historic building is casual and homey and has an old fashioned guest house feeling. The rooms are simply furnished: comfortable, and unpretentious. Our room was spacious enough to accommodate our family of six with two double beds, a roll-away and a crib. Handmade quilts at the foot of the beds were a sweet and charming touch. The staff at the hotel was friendly, helpful and quite knowledgeable about the island. They were also extremely patient and family friendly. We traveled with two other families with young children. Hotel staff never once frowned at our entourage of noisy toddlers and preschoolers in the lobby. One word of caution for families with young children and those with disabilities however: there are no elevators at the Atwater. You need to walk up a long flight of stairs to get to the rooms. Keep this in mind if you will have a stroller that you will need to carry to and from your room and pack a lightweight one! The Atwater Hotel conveniently provides luggage service to and from the ferry boat and also supplies beach towels for your use. It is located a couple of blocks from the main pedestrian promenade and within easy walking distance of Descanso beach, the Green Pier, the Avalon Casio and Avalon’s many restaurants.
We also stopped by to have a look at the Pavillion Lodge. This hotel is right on the waterfront near the Green Pier. They offer a continental breakfast each morning included with the cost of their rooms. The rooms are decorated in a modern style and offer luxurious amenities such as Frette sheets. The Pavillion Lodge has a large grassy central courtyard with lounge chairs and patio furniture, perfect for relaxing. The courtyard is surrounded by rooms on two levels and opens up onto the main pedestrain thoroughfare and the beach. It’s a great choice for families as well.
We ate really, really well on Catalina and were not particularly scandalized by the prices. Although we’d heard tales of food being more expensive on the island, it really was not much more than anything we have regularly encountered at restaurants in the OC. So much for the so called “barge charge”. Highlights of our eating included:
Big Olaf’s -You know how every tourist area has one place that has the best ice cream? Big Olaf’s is THE place to get your scoops on the island. Right along the waterfront and conveniently located on the way back to town from Descanso Beach. Look for the Buffalo out front.
Antonio’s Pizzeria - A Catalina classic family eatery. Order your slice from the takeaway window or have a seat inside. The restaurant provides baskets of peanuts to snack on, and advises you to throw the shells on the floor. Our kids were scandalized and thrilled by this prospect (and fortunately, not allergic to peanuts!)
Coney Island West – is a great little hamburger/hotdog stand on the corner opposite Big Olafs. It’s a perfect place to grab lunch en route to the beach. Order your food at the window and seat yourself at one of the many sheltered tables alongside the sidewalk
The Lobster Trap – Perfect for a romantic dinner or night out with friends. Suitable for dining with children, but note there are no childrens menus or crayons etc, so bring your own if you need this! This restaurant served up fresh, local caught fish that was simply scrumptious. Servers were friendly and accommodating when faced with (my) gluten free dietary restrictions and happily provided half sized portions for our children. We enjoyed lived entertainment at this nautically themed restaurant – the stage is actually the back end of a boat.
The Descanso Beach Club BBQ inner Under the Stars - Perhaps our favorite meal out on the island was one where we cooked and served ourselves. The Beach Club provided the barbecues, the appetizers, the sides and the desserts, and we supplied the meat to be grilled. We picked up super fresh Mahi Mahi and Ahi Tuna at Armstrongs on our way to the BBQ and grilled both with minimal seasonings for maximum flavor. Even our usually picky kids enjoyed eating the fresh fish. Dinner was eaten on table-clothed picnic tables beachside. After dinner the kids frolicked in the sand, while the grown ups chatted. Don’t miss your chance to try out the local signature cocktail at Descanso Beach club’s bar. The drink to order is a Buffalo Milk (no actual buffalo milk, in case you wondered).
What to Do:
My #1 recommendation of what to do on Catalina? Chill. Head over to Descanso and do as the sign says, drink in your hand and feet in the sand. Go for a swim with your snorkel, and take you time on a leisurely walk back to town, stopping for ice cream. The beauty of Catalina is that even though it is a short ferry ride from the LA area, the pace is completely different. Away from the cars, the smog, the strip malls and the billboards, it really is possible to relax. Other family friendly activities include:
Book a massage with Deanna Stone. Deanna is an expert in Lomi Lomi, a flowing Hawaiian style of massage, and practices traditional massage as well. An hour with Deanna is worth the ferry fare, and the ultimate in island relaxation. You will leave your appointment so de-stressed, you may never want to go back home!
What to Pack for a Family Vacation to Catalina Island:
We recommend packing in rolling luggage and/or packing light for your trip to Catalina. You’ll be loading your luggage onto the boat and hauling it off, so don’t pack more than you can comfortably carry. The island is very casual, you won’t need fancy clothes. If you wish to bring your own bicycles to the island, add $7 to your ferry fare.
At least 2 swimsuits per person
Water shoes for rocky beaches
Baby Powder (gets rid of the sand that clings post beach)
Your own snorkeling equipment if you own some
A lightweight, easy to fold stroller with a generous basket
A few sand toys to amuse the kiddos
Sweaters/jackets and close fitting knit caps for the boat ride
Queasy Pops, Dramamine, Psi Bands for motion sickness if you tend to have an issue (we experienced no problems)
Ziplock bags for wet gear to go home in and for seashell collecting
Lightweight totes for carrying gear and towels to and from the hotel (reusable grocery bags work well)
A deck of cards, magazines, book for the beach and ferry rides
Binoculars – there is so much to see and you won’t want to miss gazing at tall ships in the distance, pods of dolphins swimming beside your boat, and bison grazing in the distant fields.
DVDs for your kids to watch and possibly a DVD player. There were DVD players in the rooms at the Atwater.
Pontiac recently treated me and a few other writers to test five of their current models at the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Phoenix, AZ. I learned today’s Pontiac brand is both performance-driven, and rather practical. Over the next few days I will be sharing my experiences as a work-a-day father of four pushing Pontiac’s G5, G6, Vibe, Solstice and G8 models on the racetrack and in high-intensity safety drills.
Pontiac/GM paid for my 2-day excursion – and a very nice dinner to boot!
In nostaligic memory of my very first car, there is a ’64 Pontiac Catalina-shaped soft spot on my heart – it wasn’t hard to get me excited seeing what the modern Pontiac has to offer.
I’ll tell you about the Pontiac G5 first. This is Pontiac’s entry-level model, in a class with the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, and Scion tC. Pontiac states the standard 148 hp engine achieves 35 MPH (highway), while the G5 GT has 171 hp and gets about 32 MPH. I would call the dash and interior trim design “stylish” and “conservative” – nothing jarring, everything in the expected place, consistent and re-assuring. It had an unexpectedly roomy back seat, with plenty space in the rear bench for this leggy 6 footer. It probably could seat 3 adults across without awkward elbow-tucking or thigh rubbing.
I took the G5 and the G5 GT on a short autocross track set up for us. Autocross is a short, flat course with tight twists and turns marked by cones, keeping the whole thing inside a small parking lot-sized plot. Most impressive in the G5 was experiencing GM’s StabiliTrak in action – I never once felt even slightly out of control despite auto-racing-newbie choppy turns effected while my foot flew between full-tilt gas and brake. Before coming to the event I had joked with the wife about how sorry Pontiac would be when I rolled one of their cars, but after a lot of hard driving I never so much as fishtailed.
With the large back bench, great gas mileage, responsive and powerful engine, I can imagine a family’s G5 the the role of a dad’s commuter car. Zippy in traffic, only sipping gas on the home/office route, and Dad would know the kids are safe and comfortable in the roomy back seat when he’s got them.