Honey Bear Files: Everyone Has a Seat at the Table

I’ve been asking moms and dads for stories, and while I wait and edit, I have started a project of my own. I’ve started a podcast for my boys. Jack calls me Honey Bear, so alas, here is the Honey Bear Files. This first one is on a topic close to my heart: Everyone Has  A Seat at the Table.

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If you would like to submit a story for us to post, email me! mariah.cook@gmail.com

DIY Infused Local Honey

Ever thought of making your own line of honey without becoming a beekeeper? Need a project to do with school-aged kids while making gifts for friends this season? Today is your day!

This year, I decided to infuse Sacramento honey with garden herbs! To gift 12 special people in my life, I spent about $2.50 a person.

Here is what you will need:

  • 5 days lead time
  • Honey (I got 5 lbs because I wanted extra, talk to the honey people)
  • 12- 4oz mason jars
  • Dried Herb – choose one herb type per jar. If possible, dry the herb on the stem
  • Large soup pot
  • Tea kettle

First, stop by Sacramento’s famous Sacramento Beekeeping Store, located near X & 21st Street. Did you know they have a tasting area? For real though! You can taste all sorts of local honey and decide which one would go best with the herb of your choice. Also, they can help you calculate how much honey you will need. Why is that important? Because honey is very dense and is measured by weight verses ounces. For a 4oz jar you need 5oz honey. Honestly, my brain cannot even handle the calculations and lucky for me the beekeepers are there to help.

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When you see this, you’ve come to the right place! My kid is cute, right?!

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Tasting area! All were delish!

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Sacramento Wildflower honey has a strong and wonderful taste.

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I chose Delta Wildflowers! It’s more mellow. Who knew?!

Okay, a note about your dried herbs. The jar will look cuter when the herb is dried on the stem. A trimming of rosemary or mint can be dried upside down in a paper bag. You can also use a dehydrator but be careful with your delicate babies.  The key is to have completely dried herbs that are fresh (if not dried all the way, they will mold).

I wanted to use lavender but quickly learned a couple facts from reading up on it. First, only English Lavender is edible. That’s important, right? Second, only the flowers have enough flavor to infuse. My plants at home are not in season so I made due with purchasing local buds from my honey friends.

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Local herbs and instructions. Better safe that sorry.

So you’re ready? Let’s do this!

Sanitize your mason jars and lids. I boil the pieces for about 5 minutes and then let air dry.

Put a sprig of herb in the bottom of your container or along the side. I used flower buds so I put 1/2tsp in the bottom of my jar. Meantime, warm water in your kettle until  it’s screaming. Then pour water into a soup pot. Place the honey (in the container you purchased it in) into the hot water to warm it until it’s nice and syrupy. The runnier the honey the better. Add more water as needed.

Once the honey is warmed, pour it into your jars. You will notice that the herbs want to rise to the top. That’s okay!

Close them up and store them upside down for 5 days.

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For flower buds, flipping them doesn’t matter; however, for sprigs it does.

All that’s left is to make them cute and give them away!

Side note, if you want to infuse more flavor than what this recipe suggests, a drop or two of edible essential oil of your herb will do the trick. Just warm the honey jar in a water bath, add and stir.

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My cute honey pots ready to go to their new holiday homes. I added a note stating it was Sacramento Delta Wildflowers for an “oooh-aaah”factor.

Did you know that honey never goes rancid? If it crystalizes, you can just warm it up in a water bath and it will be as good as new.

That’s about it. Have fun giving your one of a kind honey to your friends!

Written by Mariah Cook, Sacramento mom and lover of bees everywhere. After making and giving this honey, she was was asked if she has her own bee hive. She thinks the beekeepers in Sacramento are doing a mighty fine job and she will gladly support their work. 

Homemade Wooden Ornaments

If you have a miter saw and a tree branch, then I have a craft for you that goes beyond coasters (And a great project for older kids).

I started a tradition last Thanksgiving of giving my nephews and my son Christmas ornaments. This year, I wanted to also incorporate some branches I saved for crafting. I experimented with both birch and redwood for this craft. Overall, the birch was easier to work with verses the redwood, however, in the end I chose redwood primarily because I thought it was prettier.

Here’s what you need:
Miter saw (also known as a chop saw)
Drill and wood drill bit (to make hole)
Tree ranch that is consistent in size and is straight
Chalk board paint
Pencil and eraser
Ruler
Wood burning tool with ball point and calligraphy tips
Chalk pencil or permanent chalk marker ( I ended up using a metallic marker)

I chose to cut my rounds 1/2 inch thick from a branch that was about 3 inches in diameter. Just a suggestions, cut as many rounds from your branch as possible regardless of how many you will actually need. For example, I needed four rounds, but the branch I chose was long enough to make ten, so I cut all ten. This is because wood isn’t perfect and you never know what kinds of imperfections or colors you will discover once you slice into it. Afterwards, pick your favorite pieces for your project and use the rest for practicing ideas or coasters for your table (A pack of 6 makes for a great hostess gift).

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This piece of birch has water stains, soft spots and pink marks. Each round is one of a kind!

Drill a hole at the top of your round. Paint one side with the chalk board paint. For me, it was easier using my finger to paint because I didn’t want to get any on the bark.

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Example of a redwood round drilled and painted.

You remember those extra rounds? Ok! Bust them out to practice using that wood burner! Every piece of wood is different and you want to get the feel for what you are working with before you do your final piece. Why? Because you cannot erase burnt wood, LOL, so you have only one shot! No pressure…

I cannot free-hand anything. For real though. So I used printed images to to inspire me. Remember, these aren’t perfect circles, so centering images can be tricky. I sketched my image with a pencil so I could erase if needed and clean up when done.

After, and only after, feeling confident in practicing with the burner, I went to work. I found that the calligraphy tip worked great for straight edges and the ball point was perfect for rounded ones.

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Imperfect and adorable!

Then came the hand lettering on the chalk side. Again, I need ideas in front of me and to pencil out what I want to do ahead of time. I used this book:

I went over the penciled areas with a chalk pencil, but ended up using a metallic paint pen instead based on my own personal preference.

My nephews loved their gifts and I know I was happy with the one I made for my son. Mine aren’t fancy enough for etsy, but I know some of you could probably make money off your mad skills! Enjoy!

Written by Mariah Cook, AKA Auntie MoMo.

Ways to Be Generous: Tubman House

Have you ever taken your kids Art Beast on K Street? Did you know that all their proceeds go towards children living at Tubman House? What is The Tubman House? I am so glad you asked.

The holiday season is one of the best times of year to practice the art of generosity. Sure, you can give money to all sorts of non-profits. As parents, it can be more fun to do something a little more tangible as a family. Drum roll please…I present to you a fantastic Sacramento non-profit: Tubman House. Here is how they describe themselves:

“[Tubman House offers] 18 months of housing and support so that Sacramento County’s homeless, parenting or pregnant youth and their children can get busy living rather than surviving. Through Tubman House, young parents (18 to 21 years old) experience healthy living, intensive case management, parent coaching and educational support so that they leave prepared to be leaders in their own lives, and leaders in the lives of their children and communities.”

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Some of the families at Tubman House, located in Sacramento

My family decided to make a “Welcome Tub” filled with items a young parent needs with when he/she enters Tubman House. Here is the list of supplies needed for a tub:

Towel & Washcloth: For Parent
Towel & Washcloth: For Child
Alarm Clock
Bed Sheets (twin)
Body wash, Shampoo/Conditioner: For parent
Shampoo/Conditioner (tear free): For child
Toothbrushes and paste for parent and child
Small First Aid Kit and Thermometer
Photo Frame
Day Planner and Pens
Stuffed animal (gender neutral)

We hit up Target and were able to get everything for about $150. How rad is that!?

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My finished tub.

Generosity is definitely a virtue and character trait that needs to be modeled and encouraged for children (and even for adults like myself). I want my son to be a generous guy who thinks about the welfare of others.

We are helping our church partner for this cause as well, but if you want to put one of these tubs together ourself, you should! Then email: admin@wakingthevillage.org and they will give you directions for delivering it to them.

Written by Mariah Cook, a mom and recovering selfish brat who lives in Sacramento.

Too Many Tomatoes? Dry them! Sun-Dried Tomatoes!

The end of summer is near. For me, this means two things. Kids are heading back to school and I have way too many tomatoes in the garden for my family to eat. Let’s focus on those tomatoes for a second. As much as I love having my family and friends over to have their own harvests, I want to preserve as many as possible for the winter. At the same time, I don’t have time.  I also want my kid to be able to help me, or at least pretend to help, long enough for me to accomplish my task.

That’s why we are making sun-dried tomatoes.

For this task, you will need a food dehydrator or access to a friend’s. Yes, you could use your oven; however, with the summer heat outside, the less I need to use my oven the better. If you have a garden or you can’t beat the deals you are seeing at your local farmer’s market, buying a dehydrator might be a great investment.

NESCO is what I have - it's on the low end but works great

NESCO is what I have – it’s on the low end but works great

Things You Need:
Tomatoes (I use Roma, Ace, and San Marzanos. Smaller sizes shrink too much. The bigger the better.)
A paring knife (To be used by a grown-up.)
Little thumbs (Kid fingers happen to be the perfect size.)
Kosher salt
Basil (Just another fun way to use your dehydrator if you are feeling inspired.)

Preparing Your Tomatoes:
I like to rinse my tomatoes in a colander and leave it in the sink to air dry while I work. I slice my tomatoes in half and get the seeds out using my thumbs. I do this over the sink as well.  If the tomato is too large for the dehydrator at this point, I slice the tomato lengthwise, about ½ inch thick. You want a big slab, but you also need to be able to stack your racks. This will help you keep your slices or halves pretty consistent in size as well.

I simply place the slices on the rack, sprinkle with salt and basil, then stack the rack!

work station

work station

single layer, sprinkled with salt and basil, ready to go

single layer, sprinkled with salt and basil, ready to go

Culinary Note: Many recipes recommend boiling your tomatoes first before slicing and seeding. This isn’t mandatory, but a matter of taste. I don’t have time to boil, cool, and peel a hot tomato. Just placing them on the rack with the skin on is enough for my family and they taste great.

Drying:
ust like you and I, dehydrators are all different, so read your manufacturer’s manual for their recommended dry time. I dry mine for about 10-14 hours. It’s like a crockpot, right?! You just get it ready and leave it be.

The key is to check after the minimum time. You want a tomato that is like dried leather versus a crunchy dead leaf.

finished and ready to freeze

finished and ready to freeze

Culinary Tip: If you have a lot of hot Serrano or Poblano peppers, you can cut them in half and dry them on a separate rack. They use the same amount of time to dry! You store them the same way as the tomatoes.

serrano peppers and pablanos

serrano peppers and pablanos

Storage:
Dried tomatoes need to be in an airtight environment like a ziploc bag and placed in the freezer.

get all the air out and they are ready to freeze

get all the air out and they are ready to freeze

Questions About Storing Dried Tomatoes in Oil:
Can you do it? Sorta. You can soak them in oil with a sprig of any herb for up to 24hrs in a closed container like a mason jar. I have not found a safe way to can dried tomatoes in oil in a home kitchen for long-term storage. If you have, leave me a comment! I’d love to know!

Ideas for Use:
Aside from the common stuff like pizza, sauces, and salads, you can use them as part of a gift basket for holidays and/or birthdays! People love things made from the heart-I know I do.

Written by Mariah Cook. She lives in Sacramento with her small son and big husband.

Raising Backyard Chickens in Sacramento

Have you ever wondered how to get started raising chickens in your backyard? Rebekah Scoville and her family have their own brood in Oak Park. Below is her story. For those who are looking to do the same; you’re welcome!

In July 2013, I purchased a house that had room enough to fulfill the goal of raising backyard chickens. Two years later, I’m no expert at raising chickens but it has been quite a learning experience! Here’s my journey from idea to reality with our chicken coop in Sacramento.

Choosing Chickens
Armed with the book, A Chicken in Every Yard, I read about the different kinds of breeds and picked five different breeds with egg production and appearance as the primary criteria.  I wanted five full grown hens, but because the book suggested some chicks may not survive, we brought seven baby chicks home that day from Bradshaw Feed & Pet Supply.

Look how small they were compared to the hose nozzle.

Look how small they were compared to the hose nozzle.

We chose a Australorp, two Rhode Island Reds, two Ameraucanas, a Plymouth Rock and a Wyandotte. I like the look of a diverse flock with different varieties of hens and this mix was just right for us.  The one regret I have is only getting two Ameraucanas.  This breed is also known as an Easter Egg chicken because they are known for laying multi-colored eggs, which I was so excited about!

This is Ethel, our one Ameraucana.

This is Ethel, our one Ameraucana.

Sadly, one of the baby Ameraucana, or Easter Egg chicks was accidentally stepped on (by a toddler) about a week after we brought it home and had to be put down. While we did have one other Ameraucana chick left, it only laid eggs the same color as my other hens.  So the next time I choose baby chicks, I will get a few more Ameraucanas, to ensure more variation in egg color.

Here is a list of the supplies we had when we brought our baby chicks home:

  • Two large cardboard boxes taped together with cedar shavings and newspaper on the bottom. Newspaper is great for quick cleaning, just pick up and replace daily.
  • Small chick feeder. 
  • Water feeder. I had a plastic one at first, but it got moldy and gross after just a short period of time.  I would encourage you to pay a little more and get a metal one.  After a year the metal one still looks great, even after being outside in the elements!
  • Heat lamp. Chicks need a lot of warmth during their early weeks of life.  About 90 degrees for the first week and then taper down five degrees each week for five to eight weeks.
  • Chicken feed for baby chicks. I buy mine at Western Feed & Pet Supply.
  • Small cardboard box for the car ride home.

Our baby chicks were kept in our over-sized laundry room for the first six weeks to keep them warm and protected during their early weeks of life.  It was the only place to have them in our house while keeping them away from our curious toddlers. They were much more dusty and stinky than I had anticipated.  Chickens love to scratch and dig, which creates a good amount of dust. I don’t mind that at all when they are outside, but I did mind the sudden layers of chicken dust inside my house. The next time I have chicks, I am going to find a different place to house them for those initial six weeks while they are too delicate and small to fend for themselves outside.  The fun part of this period is that they are so tiny and cute!

The Coop and Run
We have a very basic, functional chicken run and coop set-up.  As you can see from the picture, it is nothing fancy. We were given the coop by my aunt who also raises chickens. My husband built the chicken run around the coop.

Our home for our little lady friends

Our home for our little lady friends

Chicken Run vs. Free Range Chickens
We chose to give our hens some extra room to roam with a slightly larger run, so we made our chicken run 10’ by 10’.  A run that is 8’ by 4’ is adequate for up to eight birds if you let them roam during the day, so our run has plenty of extra run for our little ladies.  We were so excited to start raising our chickens, we brought our chicks home before the chicken run was complete.  I figured we had to keep the baby chicks inside for six weeks anyway, so that would be plenty of time to finish our run, right?  Well, finishing the run took longer than planned (like everything, right?). My advice is to have your chicken run and coop space completely finished before buying your chicks.  Our run was still incomplete when the chicks became too large to keep in the house.  So for the first few months, they truly had free range of our entire backyard.  I liked this idea in theory; chickens roaming around happily eating the worms and bugs and producing eggs to their hearts content.  Though in reality, our backyard was completely covered in chicken poop within a few days.  Not just on the ground, but on the patio table, chairs, walkway, hose, outdoor mat, kids toys…anything and everything we had in our backyard, a chicken would poop on it.  It got to the point that I didn’t like to go into our backyard, let alone let the kids play back there because the poop was everywhere.  When we finally completed the chicken run, we put the chickens in their new home and thought we had solved the poop problem.  However, a new problem arose when in less than an hour of being in the completed chicken run, the chickens flew over our six-foot-high fence and were back to being queens of the yard. My father-in-law helped by clipping their wings so they couldn’t fly over (no chickens were harmed here and clipping wings is painless). Yet even with clipped wings, they still managed to escape. We ended up having to put chicken wire on top of the whole run. Doing that solved the problem. There was no more escaping and no more poop in the backyard. Finally! I do let the ladies out when we are in the backyard gardening, watering or playing.  I love letting them roam a bit, eat the bugs, scratch at the ground and have a bit of freedom. However, to help prevent the previous poop problem, my husband made me promise to put them right back in the coop when we go inside.

TIP: The best way I have found to wrangle chickens back into their coop is by squirting them with the hose. They hate getting wet so they run from it and I can get them to go in whichever direction I want.

Daily Maintenance
People ask me all the time if chickens are a lot of work, but in my opinion chickens are the easiest animals to own, even at this time in my life with two small children. Daily chicken maintenance takes about five minutes.  I go out with my bowl of food scraps, throw the ladies the scraps and some chicken feed on the ground of their run, change out their water, grab the eggs and I’m done.

The ladies loving the cantaloupe and other produce scraps.

The ladies loving the cantaloupe and other produce scraps.

Each month, I put new cedar shavings in the coop where they lay their eggs.  My hens insist on roosting at night on top of their coop, so I never have to clean out the inside of their coop because they don’t poop in there.  Whenever I have the time, I spray down the roof of the coop with the hose to clean off the poop that accumulates on top.  That’s all I do for them.  Like I said earlier, we let them out to roam sometimes and interact with them when we have the desire. I love that I can give them extra attention when I have time, but when days are busy, it’s a five-minute chore that rewards us with yummy, fresh eggs.  It’s a win in my book!

Pros of Backyard Chickens
I love having my hens in our backyard.  During the summer we get about five eggs a day from our six ladies. During the winter months when there is less daylight, their egg laying is reduced by about half.

These are the eggs I collected yesterday. Two days worth of egg production in the summer.

These are the eggs I collected yesterday. Two days worth of egg production in the summer.

I love being able to feed my family fresh eggs that were laid that day or just a day or two before. We are spoiled and rarely eat store bought eggs anymore. The other thing I love is that feeding the chickens eliminates our need to compost fruit and vegetable waste.  We give all of our fruit and vegetable scraps to our chickens and they love it! They eat a variety of produce with the exception of citrus. We even put our grass clippings in the coop as well. We don’t put any chemicals on our lawn, so it is safe to feed our chickens. I never have to feel guilty about not eating mushy grapes or when my kids only eat half of their bananas. We give it straight to the hens and they are much healthier and happier for it. Another small pro is the joy I get from looking out the back window and seeing my hens walking around. Observing them has a calming and relaxing effect on me.

Cons of Backyard Chickens
The cons are so small in comparison to the benefits, but I do think our coop is a bit of an eye-sore at times. We are in the middle of re-doing our backyard and one of my next projects is planting vegetation around the run to make it not stick out as much.  In the summer there are a lot of flies around the coop too.  Of course the chickens are a bit smelly too, but I don’t notice it until I am close to the chicken run. Our coop is on the back side of our property away from the house and I am thankful we chose to put it there.

Areas of Improvement
One of my goals is to plant more food in my garden next year so that I can decrease my feed costs. I like the idea of them eating more fresh produce and less processed feed.  Healthier hens produce healthier eggs and in turn, a healthier family.

Thanks so much for letting me share our backyard chicken story with you!  If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at rebekah@beersinsac.com.

Written by Rebekah Scoville who lives in Sacramento with her husband Scott (Sacramento beer enthusiast – check out their family business beersinsac.com) and two young sons.

FAQ: What to Wear at a Photo Shoot

You want answers; we get it! One of your FAQs has been: Any ideas on how I should dress my family for a photo shoot? What if I’m a pregnant? Sacramento mom and professional photographer, Jillian Gorman, has heard you and has some tips.

There are a ton of things that go into the process of planning a photo shoot: Finding the right photographer, scouting locations, checking the weather, etc. But the question I get asked the most is, “So what do we wear?”

FAMILY PORTRAITS
Unless clients have some crazy, fun, and colorful inspiration already lined up, I usually start by telling my clients to choose one or two colors to incorporate into everyone’s outfit. From there, go neutral. Grays, blacks, navy, denim, creams, and whites perfectly pair with any color. For example, Mom wears the chosen color on top, Dad wears neutral. Kids can go neutral with pops of color in accessories, like hairbands, scarves, ties, shoes, or whatever! Or wear a patterned top. Have fun with it!
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Going all-neutral ain’t a bad idea either. I love the boys in black leather and Mama all glammed-up in her creamy sweater and light-peach tulle skirt.
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Most importantly, dress comfortably and have options. Put a couple different looks together and decide as a family! If you have little ones, just keep in mind that the more comfortable they feel in their clothing and accessories, the better your chances of them cooperating. There also may be a long walk or uneven ground involved, so putting them in those ridiculously fancy shoes could make for a bad time.

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MATERNITY PORTRAITS
Styling pregnant women has to be the highlight of shooting maternity photos. Stick mama in an amazing unique location and bam! Perfection! Most mamas go straight for the maxi-dress, and I’m not complaining. It’s a genius way to show off the bump and it’s easy for wardrobe decisions. Also, a lot of maternity clothing can be pricey and you probably won’t wear most of it after baby comes. Thus, maxi-dresses are a definite go-to in my book! Both mamas pictured below got their dresses at Forever 21 and can wear them again post-baby.

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Don’t be afraid of getting a little creative accessory-wise! Throwing in a cute hat or a bouquet makes your photos stand out from the rest.

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If you’re not feeling the dress, that’s alright. Although finding an outfit may be a bit more of a task, it’s definitely doable. This mama did a great job of choosing a cute floral and flowy top for her spring pregnancy.

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Above all, dress as your best “you” and you won’t go wrong. I hope this helps you busy parents achieve stress-free decision-making when it comes to styling your wardrobe at your next photo shoot!

Jillian and her husband live in Sacramento with their three daughters. For more information about her work visit:  jilliangormanphotography.com or on instagram: jilliangormanphotography.

Creative Inspiration: Please Do Not Knock

I hope this gives you a creative muse for your home! Hey, isn’t that why we flock to Pintrest? I have had a lot of requests from you, and I hear you loud and clear! You want one of these. Here is the back story on this gem of a sign. Ordering information is at the bottom of this article if you want to skip to the nitty gritty.

I am a podcast-aholic. I love hearing people’s stories and my sister turned me on to The Longest Shortest Time; all about being a parent. Moms and dads are heroes! They have a FB forum for the mamas and I am one of 10K. These people have been my companions on some crazy long nights with my little sleep-fighting monster.

Yesterday this picture was posted:
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Moms got excited. Then came a knock-off:
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Then came another inspired piece:
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Then I had to post the original pic on my personal page because it was genius. I wish I could have a sign like this. My chihuahua and child are in cahoots to make sure all sleep around here stops, but we all know Mama always wins. Well, mostly wins.

Then came a gift from one of my dear friends:
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I hope you are inspired to have fun telling people to shut-it in adorable ways.I mean, how many creative ideas do you have brewing for your own sign right now? A few, right?! You could paint wood with chalkboard paint and do it up.

BUT, if you are like me and you don’t make cute things very well and would rather just buy it, the link is below.

Mrs. Darby Gates was once a Sacramento mom, but now lives in the great Salt Lake City, UT. She will always be Sacramento at heart. Her and her hubs make all sorts of stuff from reclaimed wood. This particular sign is only $25 (plus shipping). You want to customize it? She will do that for you! You need a cupcake recipe? She has tons. She is mom you want to be connected with. Enjoy!

Written by Mariah Cook. Her and her husband live in Sacramento with their son who happens to have a wicked cold and needs some serious sleep. So don’t knock, just come in.

Hidden Falls Family Hike

Just in time for Father’s Day comes a Mother’s Day story to inspire your weekend as you plan for the dads in your life. A day trip to Hidden Falls Regional Park in Auburn.

I have an 8 year old. Wait, he’s 8 and a half. That half is very important. He’s in training to become a Beastie Boy. All ragers, pranks, loud music and fighting for one’s right to party. I have no idea where he gets this from.

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So for my 9th year as a mother, I requested a pretty simple itinerary to celebrate. I wanted to start the day with a little breakfast, a bloody mary (or two), a nature walk with my little family and dogs, then finish the day with an afternoon nap. No biggie right? Well everything was going to go as planned, but the week leading up to Mother’s Day, sickness struck our household like lightening! My son came down with a very vague illness whose primary symptoms were a low-grade fever, cough and the intense need to play hours of Minecraft. Then my husband got a stomach bug where all he could do was lay in bed and read the entire internet on his phone. It was a dire time in our house and our Mother’s Day plans were touch and go there for a bit. Fortunately by Sunday, the fog of sickness lifted just enough for my guys to pull themselves together and treat me to a lovely day.

On Mother’s Day morning, my son gifted me with flowers and a decoupaged plate with an adorable poem on it. It was enough to swell the heart with love. If this is what he thinks of when he thinks of mom, I’m very happy.

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Then we had the aforementioned breakfast at home and then hit the road for our nature walk. One of our favorite spots to wander around on nicely groomed trails is Hidden Falls Regional Park in Auburn. I think it’s maybe everyone’s favorite spot now because weekends draw out Disneyland sized crowds on the trails there.

It’s California-beautiful with rolling yellow hills and green, green oaks and fluffy Ponderosa pines.

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Golden poppies for days.

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And they allow leashed dogs. Even cute little hellions like this one. I’m joking, this dog is very well behaved. She is the only living thing in our home that actually does what I tell her to. [There may or may not have been random animal droppings under that pink paw icon.]

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There’s a newly refurbished overlook deck for the Hidden Falls waterfall. It’s very pretty.There are a ton of different trail loops of varying length and difficulty. Our 8 year old with his boundless energy and enthusiasm for nature can do about 4 or 5 miles so long as we keep him topped off with the right balance of snacks, water and distraction. Otherwise I’m carrying a kid 10 inches shorter than me on my back which looks about as ridiculous (and kind of precious) as you can imagine. Lol. I’m kidding! Dad carries him. It’s still precious. Thanks babe.

After the hike I was feeling positively parched! So my loves took me to Knee Deep Brewing Company just down the highway.  Knee Deep allows dogs in their tasting room, so we brought in our two, snorty old Boston Terriers who lazed about the cool concrete floors. I just looked at that snoozy heap of Bostons and suddenly a nap seemed like the greatest idea ever, so we headed home. Falling asleep is the best feeling in the world and my Mother’s Day nap was just glorious.

I’m a lucky lady to have this husband and son! They did a great job in making it a fun and mellow Mother’s Day for me. Good job guys. This effort will be duly noted with Father’s Day and somebody’s 9th birthday approaching in the coming months.

Written by Niki Ortiz Levy. She has some pretty funny stories and thoughts on her life as a parent, which you can find on her blog (CLICK HERE).

Day Tripping to Napa With a Kid. It Can Be Done!

I had one last three-day weekend before summer started and I wanted (needed) to get out of dodge for one day. My mission? To plan and execute a day trip to Napa, CA with a 1 yr old and a husband who likes wine, food, and fun.

People in Sacramento don’t really think about it, but Napa is only about an hour away. If there is traffic, it’s still only a couple of hours away at the most. We should really go there more often.

We planned our driving around naps, because we don’t hate ourselves that much.

8AM – Hit the road

9AM – Breakfast in Napa

We chose to go to the Boon Fly Cafe. Besides being popular with both locals and visitors, this place is very kid-friendly. Yes, there will be a wait. Yes, they offer free coffee while you wait or you can order a Mimosa or Bloody Mary. In addition, they have porch swings to sit in while you wait on the porch too. My kid loved this. I loved the kids’ menu, their attitude towards my kid, and the free crayons. You probably won’t even be the only one with kids; which is saying a lot for Napa.

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10:30AM – Walk and Shop

Go to the Oxbow Public Market, you will thank me later. There are lots of families there and it gets crowded. I personally love that about this place. It is a treasure trove of goodies, specialty items, and more food. Nothing says “Napa,” quite like this place. Locals love it.

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After about 30 minutes you will be asking, “What now?” Well, since you are already parked at the market, take a walk up 1st Street to downtown Napa. Across the river bridge you will see a little park, but it’s not much. From here, you have the opportunity to take yourselves on a walking tour of the city and scout out where you might want to have dinner.

12:00PM – My kid needs to play and eat before his nap

Grab your car and head to Fuller Park. It’s just your standard park and jungle gym, but it gets the job done.

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1:00PM – Nap Time/ Scenic Drive

Go to Google Maps. If you find the Best Western at The Vines, you will also find the start of Silverado Trail Road (on the corner of Soscol Avenue and Silverado Trail Road). Take Silverado Trail Road all the way to St. Helena! It’s a beautiful drive and is the path less taken, so you won’t deal with bumper to bumper traffic.

P.S. I love stopping at Mumm

1:45PM – Pit Stop for Napa Valley Olive Oil Mfg Company in St. Helena

From Silverado Trail Road, turn left on Pope Street. Then left on Allison Avenue. Park in the shade. Leave one adult in the car if the kids are still sleeping. No need to wake them up for this. The owners will let you sample the oil, vinegar and cheese. Over 100 years in this location and they still only accept cash and personal checks. If you bring your kids into the shop, just know the owners love kids and will talk very sweetly to them in Italian accents. Adorable!

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2:30PM – Picnic at a Park

After a nap, your kid(s) will need some snacks and some play time. Very close to the Olive Oil place is Jacob Meily Park. Here is the cool description from their website:
Located on Pope Street, the four-acre park is named after General Jacob Meily who, in 1880, established his vineyards on the park site and winery in the adjacent barn across Sulphur Creek from the park. The park amenities include parking, restrooms, turf area, picnic tables, playground, and a paved walking trail along Sulphur Creek.

3:30PM – Drive down Main Street back to Napa

Endless wineries, eateries and shops to stop along the way. If you are having a hard time finding Main Street, put Dean & DeLuca into your GPS and you will be on your way. I love stopping there on my way out of town. Their food is scrumptious and there is an outside fountain and grassy area for additional romping.

6:00PM – Drive on home!

Written by Mariah Cook. She and little family live in Sacramento, obviously.