Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Coral Castles and Strawberries Fields Forever, Redlands, FL

Miami.  You're thinking blue waters, South Beach clubbin' it with Jay Z, long stretches of beach with infinity pools.  That is so last year people.  Come on, hit the Redlands with the locals.  Now I know rural Florida isn't what makes us Beantowners fly south for spring break, but it sure is fun for the kids.  Back in the 80's when everyone else was runnin' drugs (or runnin' from drugs) on the beach, I was heading down to farm country with my grandparents.  What no beach first thing in Miami?  Please people, first sign of sun and we hit our fav seaside kiddie spot at Matheson Hammock.  But when the beach gets hot, nothing hits the spot like a strawberry shake at Knaus Berry Farm.

The Dunkers, a sect of German Baptist who dress suspiciously like Amish run a great You Pick'em down here.  Why wait till July for Land's Sake Strawberry Festival in Weston when you can hit the season in Miami in April.  Plus, the cinnamon buns are out of this world.  We asked for a rec for lunch, they suggested our old haunt the Fruit and Spice Park's cafe.  This place is a trip unto itself, with 37 acres of fruit bearing trees, many of which you have never heard of.  We came for the shrimp tacos of all things, but the fruit sampler with mulberries was certainly the highlight.

A trip south of miami is certainly a waste though without a stop off at the Coral Castle.  This place is a roadtrip institution to the tune of the World's Largest Twine Ball in Darwin, Minnesota.  Latvian immigrant (alright, my people were Lithuanian, but close) Ed Leedskainin spent the Depression and beyond hauling hundreds of tons of coral around south Florida to make one of the creepiest palaces we've ever seen.  This guy even inspired Billy Idol to write the track "Sweet Sixteen" about his long lost love.  So, if the beach has you bored or burning, head south on Tourista Route One for a little tour of rural south Florida, the Redlands await!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Madagascar in the City: The Central Park Zoo, NY, NY


Summers in the city in the 80's were always a little edgie. The squeedgee men greeted you from the bridge and tunnel the minute you slipped into town.  Nowhere was more indicative of the decline of the Apple than the zoo.  It was chock full of mangy animals, tiny cadges and rats seemed the least endangered of species.  Why would you ever leave Boston?

Guiliani likes to pretend that he brought back New York, we insiders credit Crime Fighter Bill Bratton, Police Commish extraordinaire.  His efforts allowed for spots like Central Park to become kid-friendly refuges from the urban jungle.  And now, the zoo is back!  In partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society, the city has reclaimed its treasures in Brooklyn, the Bronx and here in Manhattan.  The Bronx zoo is one of our favorites in the world, but these same folks have done wonders with Central Park.  The carousel is no longer the only game in town.

The new snow leopard exhibit is just one example of how far the zoo has come.  Not to be confused with our recent dadventure to the Capron Park Zoo, this is a world-class event.  Just the fauna of the place is enough to whisk you away to the Himalayas.  The interactive activities for kids are just as amazing.  This exhibit is built on the back of some other fine treats.  Bears are living it large in Central Park, which seems oddly ironic since they used to roam these haunts before the Dutch ever showed up.  We also just discovered the Children's Zoo, where kids can get their pets in with llamas, goats and a cool little cow.  There is plenty to do at the zoo, and clearly New York has cleaned up its act if Dream Works is willing to stage one of our fav kiddie flicks, Madagascar, right in the belly of the beast.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Big Apple Hits Beantown: Big Apple Circus, Boston, MA

I was totally a Ringling Brothers kid.  I loved the lion tamers, the elephants, and everything in between.  So, I was shocked to find out one rainy Saturday in New York that there was more to the circus than just clowns and wild beasts.  This was my third outing to see the Big Apple (second for Sydney, first for Lij) and I think it was the best.  "Bello is Back!" and this time with a vengeance.  

The MC announced that Bello had returned this year, and I was delighted.  Evidently Time magazine agrees, naming him the best clown in town.  It wasn't simply this guy's three foot hair, or his long line of circus ancestors (200 years!).  Bello has it all.  The man can fly with the Aniskin trapeze troupe, run down the competition on the Wheel of Wonder, and makes Grandma the clown look like an amateur at Friday Night Standup. 

Sure, we bought the mandated hotdog, icee, waters, juice, blinking glasses and Big Apple Circus Truck.  Throw in another $10 for discounted parking and if mom hadn't paid we wouldn't have gotten out of there for less than a hundred spot.  But, as impressed as I was, Lij and Sydney were in heaven.   The horse trainers had my kids on the edge of their seats.  The dog trainers were simply adorable.  As if the performance wasn't enough, mom told us about their Clown Care at Children's Hospital, where she brings them around to make really sick kids laugh.  How can a circus get any better than this?

The generous folks have also offered a little discount for my readers, so check them out at:

To purchase your discounted tickets to the Big Apple Circus:
Online: http://bigapplecircus.org/bostonpop.aspx  and submit the code POP10 in the Promotional Codes box
By Phone: CALL 888-541-3750 and mention code POP10
In Person:  Big Top Box Office  10AM–6PM daily. No service fee. Bring a copy of this blog post
*Offer good on select seat locations and performances. Must present this blog post to receive discount at the box office. Performance schedule subject to change. Offer is subject to availability; not valid on prior purchases; cannot be combined with other discounts or promotions. This offer can be revoked at any time. Discount amount varies. Limit 8 tickets per order. No refunds or exchanges. Telephone and Internet orders are subject to standard service fees.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Beach Season Opening Day: Duxbury Beach, Duxbury, MA

I was raised a north shore beach boy.  Gloucester, Ipswich, and Mansfield by the Sea were all part of our weekend ritual from May to September.  Mom loaded us up  the car with breakfast, lunch and a 1980's laissez-faire lack of sunscreen.  This blog will see the likes of Crane (all-timer), Wingaersheek, and Singing.  You might be deluded by our attention to Eastham (a week every summer) or Miami (our April spot to visit family) into thinking that there are beaches that rival the great white north, but you are mistaken.  You can even try them all at this great resource from the Globe: New England Beach Finder.  So why kick-off the second most important season of the year? (No people, there is no coincide the pinstripes are on Yawkey Way tonight).  Perhaps, like my wife, you are a southerner and the term "north shore" makes you think icy waters, or great whites.  Maybe Woodman's hasn't opened for the season.  Perhaps, like the sox bats, it can only get better as the weather heats up.  

Let me start by saying to all you Duxbury folks, you have a perfectly lovely spot.  The rocks are not nearly as bad as Cohasset, some of them were even pretty to look at (and throw into the water).  We did find the parking situation with permits after Memorial Day a bit, say, elitist.  But, who hasn't paid a pretty penny to get into Crane on a sunny Sunday at 8AM just to get a rare spot.  Your town is quite quaint as well, although besides that cute little french bakery Cafe Vanille (that's right people, a french bakery near the beach... do with this information what you must), we couldn't really tell on Easter Sunday.  There  certainly was a noticeable lack of clam shacks though.

What really caught us off-guard was our friend Rio.  There we were, minding our own business, building a rock castle and Sydney yells "horse!"  Now we love a good equine, but we had read Eric Hill's "Spot Goes to the Beach" and I am pretty sure there were no horses.  While it is dreadful enough to have the threat of beach police trucks running over your children, I can not begin to describe the horrible afterglow that a horse had left at 11AM, thus instantly evaporating all wonderful beach scents and sounds.   So while I appreciate the opportunity for some middle aged men to have their Bo Derek "Ten" moment in Duxbury, (and the views were fantastic),  I think next day trip we'll stick to the north, where we belong.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Guest Blog: Author Christopher Klein: Opening Day at Fenway, Boston, MA

 We are delighted to be joined by Christopher Klein, author of The Die-Hard Sports Fan's Guide to Boston for Opening Day.  So get your glove, take those Fenway Franks out of the freezer and head down to the park.

Ah, Opening Day. Even if Old Man Winter gave us a rare break this year compared to places due south, the return of the Red Sox to Fenway Park is a sure sign that spring has finally sprung in Boston. Not only are World Series dreams renewed on Opening Day, but after a long hibernation, so are the senses. At first sight, Fenway’s Technicolor explosion of green almost blinds eyes dulled by wintertime.

This year, the electricity of Opening Day promises to be amped up a little more than usual as the World Champion New York Yankees are the opponent. On the down side though, Opening “Day” is really Opening “Night” as the first pitch will be thrown after 8 PM on Easter Sunday. That means no sunshine, no playing hooky, and the possibility that your young Red Sox fans will pass out by the fourth inning.

There are few fatherly experiences that compare with taking your kids to Fenway Park for their first ballgame, whether its Opening Day or any other date on the schedule. You’ll never forget the first time you hold your slugger’s hand and walk up the ramp from the bowels of the stadium and catch a glimpse of the verdant field and its mighty wall.

Even though that experience may be “priceless,” MasterCard will still expect you to pay the hefty price for Red Sox tickets when the statement arrives in the mail. So, with that in mind, here are some tips from The Die-Hard Sports Fan’s Guide to Boston for getting your money’s worth and having a great day with the kids at Fenway Park:

Tickets: Children under the age of two do not require a ticket, but you must buy a full-price ticket for children two and older.

Best place to sit:
Bleacher tickets are the cheapest, but your kids may be exposed to hot summertime sun during day games or salty language during night games. The best spot for families is in left field. Sections 32 and 33 of the Grandstand have great views and covered seats and they are in a no-alcohol family area.

Snagging a foul ball:
Your best bet to come home with a baseball is to watch batting practice. (Gates open two hours before first pitch.) Zack Hample has hauled more than 3,800 major league baseballs, and he shared some advice in The Die-Hard Sports Fan’s Guide to Boston: “Bring a glove. Head to the left-field foul line during batting practice. Get as close to home plate as you can; you may be able to scoop up grounders if you lean over the wall. Another option is to stay close to the foul pole to get balls tossed to you by the players. The bleacher seats to the right of the batter’s eye are also good during BP.”

Packing your equipment bag: According to Fenway’s rules, strollers and diaper bags are allowed provided they can fold up easily and can fit beneath the seats. (Still not sure how a stroller can fold up easily and fit beneath a seat.) No coolers, large bags, cans, umbrellas, or food. Each person is allowed to bring in one unopened water bottle that is 16 ounces or less. Note that changing tables are located in the men’s and women’s restrooms near Gate E and at the lower concourse level behind home plate as well as in the first aid section behind Section 12. There are also family restrooms at Gate E and the Big Concourse.

Scoring autographs:
The best chance for your youngsters to get autographs from their favorite Sox players is to show up four to five hours before game time and stake out an area near Gate D. That’s where the players arrive for the game. While most players go directly from their cars straight into the ballpark, some may take the opportunity to sign some autographs. If nothing else, you can usually get a few good photographs and admire the players’ wheels. Once in the ballpark, it gets tougher, but some players will occasionally sign autographs on their ways in and out of the dugouts during batting practice. (You’ll have better luck with the visiting team.) Also be sure to check out Autograph Alley where a former Red Sox player, coach, or personality will sign autographs free of charge before the game.

Getting on TV: Michael Narracci, director of Boston Red Sox baseball telecasts at NESN, gave The Die-Hard Sports Fan’s Guide to Boston some advice for increasing your odds of getting on camera. He says to bring a sign, look at one of the cameras, and hold it up for 30 seconds or more between innings. You’ll better your odds by mentioning NESN or announcers Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy on the sign. Plus, it should look like you put some time into making it. “A pizza box with magic marker on it doesn’t have a chance,” he says.

Futures at Fenway. If the prices of Sox tickets are too steep, get a ticket to the annual Futures at Fenway, which features a double-header involving Boston’s minor league affiliates. Tickets start at $5, and Green Monster seats and other areas of high demand are only $30. This year’s Futures at Fenway is July 10.

The Die-Hard Sports Fan’s Guide to Boston contains many more practical tips for enjoying your trip to Fenway Park along with tips for attending events for 25 different sports around metropolitan Boston. The 270-page spectator handbook covers everything from pro and college sports to amateur and high school events. For more information on your all-access ticket to the greatest sports city in the world, click here.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Lovely Neighborhood Spot, If You Happen to be in Southeast Mass: Capron Park Zoo, Attleboro, MA

Mind you, I only knew that Attleboro existed because I road through on the way home from a PawSox  game.  Thanks to our guestblogger Kim Foley MacKinnon for her new book Boston Baby: A Field Guide for Urban Parents because I would have never known about this little gem of a zoo, tucked in between Rhodie and the South shore.

What was most amazing about this zoo was not the funtastic playground outside the fence (although the boys were none too pleased to leave that behind).  No, it was the incredible diversity of endangered and rare animals in a zoo no bigger than our street.  They had snow leopards!  That's right, the same animal that Raghunandan Singh Chundawat followed for over five years in the Himalayas for National Geographic (great article here).  We caught the opening of their exhibit at the National Zoo in DC and it was a huge deal.  Of course the boys also really liked the sloth bear  (although he was pretty unslothlike in his pacing).

The highlight though?  The llamas.  Mean, hornery, grumpy and prone to spitting and biting, you would think that they wouldn't even make the top ten.  But, we got to feed them.  There is really nothing better than a wet lick from an animal four times your size when you are two.  Lij burned through at least three dollars of quarters (at $.25 for five pieces of feed).  It wasn't simply because we love Anna Dewdney's book Llama, Llama, Mad at Mama, this was just plain, old-fashioned zoo keeper fun.  So next time you head down for the PawSox, stop on the way home at Capron Park for some rare treats.