Category Archives: Discovery and Exploration

September 9, 2013

Destination: Beijing

Destination: Beijing

As a 7-year Beijing resident, I’m so excited to share more about discovering the best of the city that was the inspiration for Tea’s Fall/Winter 2013 Collection.

As Emily mentions in her introduction to the Fall/Winter Collection destination inspiration, “China is so big it’s hard to take it all in. The cities are huge, the palaces are massive…” which both the Busy Beijing Tee and the Traffic Jam Pajamas illustrate pretty well.

To take away any intimidation of visiting this great city, I’m thrilled to point you to the best kept secrets and hidden gems of what makes Beijing such an exciting and special place to visit.

Obviously, you want to make sure you visit Beijing’s greatest hits: the Great Wall, the Forbidden City Palace Museum, Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, and the Summer Palace.  If you have private transportation sorted out and a great guide to help you make the most of your time in each place, you could easily discover all of those sites in two days.*

For culturally curious families who want to experience the best that Beijing has to offer, however, you’ll want to leave enough time to explore the off-the-beaten path sites and experience the city like a local.

 

Exploring Beijing’s Ancient Hutong Neighborhoods

The most important and locally unique activity you must save time to do is wandering through Beijing’s ancient hutong neighborhoods. Many of these historical neighborhoods have been torn down to make way for new modern developments, but a good number still remain in the city center.

A hutong literally meansalley,” and the hutong neighborhoods are labyrinths of alleys connecting Beijing’s traditional courtyard homes. In addition to homes, the hutongs house many different local businesses. Recently there has even been an upsurge in hip cafes, restaurants, and boutiques located in hutongs.

Wandering hutong neighborhoods, you can see residents living an integrated community street lifestyle that has been part of Beijing’s unique rhythm and spirit for centuries. You will see elderly residents playing mah jong, chatting outside while neighborhood kids play in the alleys, and various local vendors biking by, shouting the wares they sell.

Some of the most fun hutong neighborhoods to wander through are the ones surrounding the Drum and Bell Tower or the Lama Temple.

 

Vibrant Early Morning Park Culture

Early Beijing park culture is one of the most fun and unique experiences for visitors. Each morning, Beijing’s parks are vibrantly buzzing with activity like group tai qi, elderly men congregating with their caged bird pets, water calligraphy on the pavement, and women’s exercise groups.

One of the best parks to visit is Ritan Park in the Embassy District. Ritan Park is one of Beijing’s four ancient altar parks where the Emperor would go annually to make the appropriate sacrifices and rituals that would ensure peace and prosperity. Positioned symmetrically throughout Beijing–north, south, east, and west of the Forbidden City–Ritan Park is the sun altar park on the east.

The sun altar is still there, but nowadays you are more likely to find locals flying kites in the altar than stumble upon an imperial ceremony. Handpainted kite-making is a local craft, and taking the family to fly kites with locals in the ancient sun altar would be a great family memory and iconic Beijing experience.

Chinese kite traditions inspired both the China Post Graphic Tee and the Butterfly Kite Twirl Top in Tea’s Fall/Winter 2013 collection.

 

China’s Hot Contemporary Art Scene

China is not only a wonderful place to discover ancient history and culture but also a place alive with modern energy, creativity, and exuberance.

In the last few decades, China’s contemporary art scene has exploded on the international art stage. A great place to take the family to explore Chinese contemporary art is the 798 Art District, the inspiration for Tea’s Modern Dot Bubble Dress.

798 Art District used to be an old industrial factory complex located between the city center and the airport. Local Chinese artists started moving into the abandoned factories to create studios and galleries slowly followed. Now what you have is a full blown art district with many of the world’s top art galleries present.

798 is huge, with lots of open spaces to run through and outdoor art and sculptures for kids to play on. Among all the galleries, cafes, and shops in 798, you don’t want to miss Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA). UCCA is a great museum built by dedicated contemporary Chinese art collectors that also has many kid-friendly and kid centered activities.

Nearby, Caochangdi (not walkable, you need a car or taxi) has more galleries and studios with a lot less visitors than 798. If you go to Caochangdi, don’t miss the beautiful Three Shadows Photography Center, which is the premier spot to discover contemporary Chinese photography exhibitions.

As Tea notes in their Destination Inspiration introduction, China is an enchanting land of contrasts and we are sure you will have a memorable time discovering the fascinating city of Beijing where the energetic optimism Tea noted is palpable and a fascinating combination of ancient and modern awaits your adventures.

*For help designing customized private itineraries with local experts who have experience guiding young families visiting Beijing for the first time, I recommend contacting Stretch-a-leg Travel.

Another great resource for visiting families is http://www.beijing-kids.com/ and the related free publication, Beijing Kids, you can find in restaurants and cafes around town.

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Charlene Wang is a 7-year Beijing resident who runs Tranquil Tuesdays, a Beijing-based Chinese social enterprise dedicated to showcasing China’s finest teas and rich tea culture. To learn more about discovering Chinese tea, teaware, and design please visit www.tranquiltuesdays.com

 

August 19, 2013

China’s Most Recognized Design Tradition

One of the most iconic Chinese designs is China’s world famous Blue and White Porcelain (known in Chinese as 清花 qinghua), which is why it seems so natural that it was one of the design inspirations for Tea Collection’s Fall/Winter 2013 Destination China collection.

Traded all over the world at the height of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Blue and White Porcelain came to be known outside of China as “Ming Ware” or quite simply “china” as an ode to the land of its origin.

The most prized Blue and White Porcelain didn’t come from just anywhere in China, though. It all came from one place known as the mecca of all porcelain craftsman and artisans for over 1000 years: Jingdezhen, Jiangxi.

Porcelain from Jingdezhen has come to represent the pinnacle of Chinese craftsmanship, as China’s most skilled porcelain and pottery masters have perfected their craft in the city for centuries. Aspiring porcelain artists continue to flock to Jingdezhen to join the artisan community and study at the Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute, China’s premier center of ceramic higher learning.

Photo credit: Frank B. Lenz

History of Jingdezhen

Since 557 CE, Jingdezhen has been the center of fine porcelain art, crafting, innovation, and production in China. The city is home to the Imperial Kilns that fired the porcelain used and treasured in Beijing’s Forbidden Palace.

In fact, Jingdezhen’s name is connected to its imperial ties. The Song Dynasty Emperor Jing De (who reigned from 1004-1007) so admired the porcelain created in Jingdezhen that he issued an imperial edict to honor the manufacture of porcelain. The town became known as “Jing De Town” (zhen 镇 in Chinese means town) in his honor.

In 1267, the legendary Kublai Khan established a Ceramic Bureau with 80 imperial craftsman.  During the Ming Dynasty, official kilns designated for imperial porcelain production were established along with the Imperial Porcelain Bureau in Jingdezhen.

In addition to regular sacrificial offerings to the Chinese diety protecting ceramic production, in the Ming Dynasty the emperor started dispatching a royal eunuch to oversee ceramic production in Jingdezhen on behalf of him.

Chinese Emperors took their Jingdezhen porcelain seriously!

When your young ones wear the Lucky Fish Tee, Porcelain Floral Smocked Top, Painted Pottery Graphic Dress, or Porcelain Floral Henley Dress, you can transport your whole family to the historical ancient porcelain crafting capital of Jingdezhen.

Photo credit: Frank B. Lenz

Visiting Jingdezhen Today

Jingdezhen still continues to carry on the legacy of fine Chinese porcelain craftsmanship today.  The pride this small town in southern China takes in porcelain crafting can be seen in the visitor friendly restorations of the Ancient Kilns and in the small details, like the porcelain stop lights downtown or the porcelain trash cans at historical sites (really!).

Photo credit: Tranquil Tuesdays

Visitors to Jingdezhen can see how craftsman continue to use the same techniques Chinese porcelain traditions have relied on for centuries at demonstrations in the Ancient Kilns. In the pictures above, you can see a photo taken in the 1920’s and one I took two years ago. As you can see, not much has changed!

To discover what is new and fresh in the ancient town of Jingdezhen, visitors can also visit many different studios and galleries of younger talents based in Jingdezhen who seek to bring a modern twist to China’s ancient porcelain art.

Photo credit: Tranquil Tuesdays

For anyone fascinated with Chinese porcelain crafting traditions, a pilgrimage to Jingdezhen is the place for you! If you want to learn more about Jingdezhen and China’s unique design and art traditions, read more here.

 

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Charlene Wang regularly travels to Jingdezhen, China to work with the emerging Chinese artisans who handcraft Tranquil Tuesdaysauthentically beautiful and exclusive teaware collection.

 

August 13, 2013

“We Go There, Too!” with Natalia of CultureBaby

This past Christmas, I received a gift I’d been waiting almost a decade for… my husband took me back to Spain!

I am absolutely bananas about Spain.  Call it nostalgia: I lived there for three years as a child, and vacationed there frequently throughout high school and college.  But as is typical of your twenties, I never had the time or the money to make it back. But this past December, I got to return with my husband and toddler son, Xavier, to introduce them to Spain and fall in love with it all over again..

When people think of Spain, they think of beaches or exciting nightlife.  Neither being possible in December or with a two year old, we tasted many of the country’s lesser known charms.  On our circuit up from our current home base in Morocco, we started in Andalucia, visiting Ronda and Granada before driving through Alicante to ferry to Mallorca. Then back west again, we hit Valencia, Cordoba and Seville. Of all the wonderful memories we made, I’ll remember three things in particular.

1. Horsies

I’ve found that one of the best ways to involve a child in international travel is to tie it into their passion of the moment.  Though Xavier has since moved on to elephants, December was the month of the horse.

In many of the cities we visited, horse and carriage rides were among the most convenient ways to see the city, particularly given how rough cobblestones can be on stroller wheels!  Although they can be expensive, choosing at least one city to partake in a ride can be well worth the cost.  Everywhere else, we took time out to spot other carriages around town, ride carousel horses or book a pony ride.

In Cordoba, we visited the Royal stables for an equestrian show.  The beautiful animals and talented riders dance around the paddock to music and lights.  It was magical to see the wonder in Xavier’s eyes and yell  “HORSIES” every minute or so.  The horses can be seen training by day as well and an even larger show can be seen in Jerez.

In Seville, horsies were out in force for the Three Kings or “Reyes” celebration.  No one does festivals quite like the Spanish and kids are never left out, no matter how late they go.  On January 6, Balthazar, Caspar and Melchior arrive and are welcomed with a parade of mounted attendants and elaborate floats. It is an exceptionally raucous but wonderfully festive event.  If you are visiting Spain with kids, look to see if you can time your visit with a local festival; there will always be plenty to entertain the kids.

2. Pastries

One of my favorite things about Spain is the food.  Tapas, fresh seaside fish and a wonderful array of sweets.  But until visiting with a toddler, I never appreciated that Spanish food is as good in casual, fast food environments as it is in the finest haute cuisine establishments.  I am all for 5 star restaurants, but nothing puts a kink in the evening like playing airplane with your gourmet entree.

Spanish mainstay Paella was fortunately still on the menu for us.  Since it is served family style, it is easy to offer kids a smaller portion.  Moreover, the seafood version of the dish, although the best known, is by no means the only kind.  Chicken and even rabbit versions are also available.  We had our finest sampling in Valencia, Paella’s birthplace.

Elsewhere in Spain, Xavier enjoyed the Spanish pasties.  In almost any Spanish city, it is easy to find “chocolate con churros”.  The chocolate is not what you are used to, it is darker, thick as pudding and ideal for dipping fresh, hot, deep fried churros. It will never be part of a complete nutritious breakfast but it was a hit!

The island of Mallorca, off Spain’s eastern coast, has it’s own special and delicious tradition of pastries.  Our little man made a morning “ensaimada,” a curly, soft confection topped with powdered sugar, a morning tradition (hold the traditional accompaniment of café con leche).

Finally: Chorizo – it probably will land me in Bad Parenting’s hall of fame as the chewiest, saltiest most toddler inappropriate snack on the market today.  But I’ve got to confess to a very naughty pride in seeing how my little man took to this classic Iberian dried sausage.

3.  Time to Run

We have found that it’s best not to travel in spite of a toddler but to open yourself up to new experiences you might never have had traveling as a couple. Slow your pace, choose more open spaces, and try to act less like a tourist and more like a local.  Don’t make yourself a list of “must sees.” Linger in a park, seek out historical or cultural attractions with gardens.  Before we travel, we find it prudent to check in with a local parenting websites. You’ll find more off the beaten track walks and authentic experiences than ever before.

Our favorite moments were less about dragging our poor kiddo through world famous exhibits and more about watching him chase bubbles through a public park or collect oranges in the gardens of the famous Seville Alcazar. Don’t forget to celebrate the kid in you.  Indulge in purely childish pleasures like aquariums and zoos….you might find yourself wondering why you skipped them all these years.

Finally, the wonderful thing about Spain is how they welcome children at almost any event or occasion.  I was shocked to see that I was about the only parent at New Year’s Eve celebrations who had left their baby at home.  Even if there is a typically adult pleasure you are eager to experience, like a wine tasting, call ahead.  Odds are, children are accommodated.  For me, it was just one more reason to love Spain that I never expected.

 

Natalia is the founder and managing partner of CultureBaby. She started the company in 2011 when her son was five months old. On bad days, she puts the whole thing down to a fit of postpartum lunacy. But on most days, she loves seeking out new global products for CultureBaby and hearing from mothers worldwide about how they celebrate their culture and heritage with their kids. You can follow along on her adventures on The Culture Mom Chronicles. Follow her on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter!

August 8, 2013

Exploring Spain And The French Riviera

To help everyone at Tea “go there,” we make a yearly contribution to each employee for international travel and exploration. Upon their return, our Tea travelers write blog posts to share their adventures with all of us (and the world).

Meet Tara, she’s part of our merchandising team. Today she’s sharing a piece of her trip to Spain and the French Riviera with us.

The last couple of years I have made international travel a must – This past summer I visited Spain and the French Riviera!! I started my trip in San Sebastian. It was a cute, beach town in northern part of Spain. The beaches were beautiful, the food amazing and the people know how to party and have a good time. On a Saturday night streets were filled with music, drinking and laugher until 6 in the morning. After getting a taste of the Basque Country, I took a 6-hour train ride, enjoying the breath taking Spanish countryside, down to Barcelona. There was so much to explore in the city. From all the amazing works of Gaudi, great neighborhoods to the beautiful coastline, I definitely will need to go back to see it all. Park Guell and La Sagrada Familia were by far my favorites. At Park Guell I felt transported into a different land with beautiful structures and was able to see the entire city from above. At La Sagrada Familia I stood in awe of the beauty of the light shining through the stain glass and the massive structure. I learned every part had been carefully thought out and designed down to every last detail. So incredible!!

I also enjoyed watching a futbol match, Barcelona vs. Brazil, in a local sports bar. It was interesting to find more Brazil fans than Barcelona in Spain! The energy while watching was unbelievable.  The food continued to be amazing, I was stuffed at every meal! After exploring for a few days, I continued my trip to Cannes, France to experience the French Riviera. It was a great place to end my trip; the last of my days were spent laying on the beach looking out into the Mediterranean, taking a break only to walk the adorable streets filled with shops. I made sure to enjoy a bite to eat at a quant beach café.

My last night there they had the festival of fire works and the sky was filled with light and music filled the air. It was the best firework show I have ever seen! I had so much fun and saw so many wonderful places. I absolutely love to travel and explore new things and I cannot wait until my next adventure!!

 

July 30, 2013

Diving Into Life’s Unexpected Opportunities; Peru.

To help everyone at Tea “go there,” we make a yearly contribution to each employee for international travel and exploration. Upon their return, our Tea travelers write blog posts to share their adventures with all of us (and the world).

Meet Diane (she’s pictured below – the one in the middle!), our amazing marketing manager. Today she’s sharing her most memorable day from her Peruvian vacation with us on Studio T.

I love traveling abroad because it opens my eyes to new cultures, new people, and new adventures.  I am normally an organizer; my itinerary is methodically planned and set up prior to my departure.   This time, my travel adventure started out a bit reckless for me with a spontaneous invitation from my two friends to join them in Peru.  I thought, “why not?” Sometimes, you just have to dive into life’s unexpected opportunities! How could I know that I would get so much more out of it than I could have ever planned for? Here is the story of my most memorable and authentic day in Peru. It began with a bit of intuitive trust and a desire for adventure.

When we arrived at the Puerta (port) at Lake Titicaca at 7am, we had no tour planned, no ferry scheduled, and no time to do the standard overnight tourist stay on one of the lake’s popular islands. But, we were hoping to piece together a plan and a boat tour for the day.

We approached the first man we saw on the dock… keep in mind that between the three of us girls, we speak only broken Spanish and certainly no local dialect.  The man was small in stature and seemed to be in his 50’s or 60’s.  He spoke no English and very little Spanish, so even limited communication in a common language was out of the question. His native language was Quechua – a South American ancestral language of the indigenous people.  With hand gestures and the help of some of his friends, we were able to arrange a day trip to explore Lake Titicaca by boat with this local man whose name is “Victorino.”  We were able to discern that he would take us to visit the Floating Uros Islands and Amantani Island. But, that was all we could figure out from the conversation. The rest was going to be an adventure!  So, we put our trust in this weathered but gentle man and we journeyed on.

We climbed aboard an old, rickety, double-decker ferry and set off on our adventure. The 3 hour boat ride to the Uros islands was breathtaking.  The water was crystal clear and glass-like, and the snowcapped peaks on the horizon reflected in the water like a mirror.  The sky was the bluest I have ever seen with the contrast of the spotted bright white clouds to intensify the sky blue.

Sweeping views of the 3,200 square mile lake set at 12,000 feet above see level

Victorinio steered us toward the less-explored Uros Islands – the ones that few tourists ever visit.  Here we were able to walk around the floating islands made entirely of reeds.  When I stepped on the surface of the island, the water of the lake squished under my feet like a sponge.  It was like walking on a water bed. It was amazing to think of them floating out in the middle of the lake.  We even took a little ride on a canoe that was made of the reeds.

The Uros islands are floating islands made of reeds. The inhabitants of these islands speak Quechua and they make their living selling souvenirs to the few tourists who travel off the beaten path to visit these incredible islands.

The next stop on our tour was to the island of Amantani. The vastness of this island could not be deciphered upon first glance because of the mountainous landscape. When we got off of the boat we hiked up a steep hill – behind us, a panoramic breathtaking view of the lake. We trustingly followed Victorino up cobblestone paths through a tiny village. The people who live here fully sustain themselves with resources found on the islands. It was a walk back into a simpler time. Victorino welcomed us into his own family’s home where the walls were made of adobe, and the doorways and ceilings low. One tiny room housed Victorino, his 3 children, his brother in law and his grandson. Such a simple structure with minimal comforts, but with million dollar views of the massive lake.

The view from our lunch table.

As house guests, we were seated at the brightly colored table while the rest of the family sat down on a mud bench beside us in the kitchen area. Victorinio’s daughter had prepared us a homemade feast – she presented us with a traditional quinoa soup, fried trout, root vegetables, potatoes, cucumbers and coca tea.  The soup was a meal in itself and full of flavor!

After lunch, Victorino’s son showed us around their little village – pointing out the Plaza de Armas, the school, and the quaint homes. We spent the entire afternoon sightseeing and communicating effectively without a common verbal language.

When it was time to leave and head back to the mainland, Victorino sent us off with his son-in-law who escorted us to the ferry. The ferry carried the local people of the Amantani Island to the mainland. We climbed on board, unsure of where we would end up.  We had put our trust in Victorino’s family and so we continued on with his son-in-law. When we docked, we looked around and it seemed like we were in the middle of nowhere. By now the sun was on it’s way down, and we were a little uneasy about how we were going to get back to our hostel. Within a few minutes, out of what seemingly nowhere, appeared a van that would take us an hour down to the road to Puno, our final destination.  As the bus stopped to pick up locals making their way home from a long day, we imagined we looked a bit out of place with our fair skin and North American features.  We hummed along to the radio with a feeling of pure contentment from the unexpected adventure of the day.

What began as an uncertain, haphazard attempt to tour the islands turned into an unexpected, incredible, authentic, one-of-a-kind, adventure!  It was the most memorable and heartwarming day of our entire trip.  Not only did I have the opportunity to see new cultures and new people, but I experienced the local lifestyle on a personal and intimate level.  Victorino and his family will forever be etched in my heart and mind for taking us under his wing, showing us his corner of the world, and welcoming us into his home.

 

July 24, 2013

A Parisian Affair

To help everyone at Tea “go there,” we make a yearly contribution to each employee for international travel and exploration. Upon their return, our Tea travelers write blog posts to share their adventures with all of us (and the world).

Ana, who handles all things photo, took a getaway trip to Paris!


It has become a little tradition for me to visit Paris in May! It’s my birthday month, Roland Garros happens and I get the chance to spend time with my sister and my two year old niece. Win-win all around! This year I got the chance to land in Paris on my birthday and as a special treat I got to pick up my niece at the Crèche, her day care. It was so special to see her happy face in person instead of our weekly Skype sessions. She might have had a little shock to see Tata in person and not on the computer screen.

For the first time in years, I was able to experience life more as a Parisian than a tourist. Spending Saturday morning at the park with my niece watching all of the things she can do – never taking her eye off of the Ménage, knowing it would open soon. Her and every other child in the park waited for the lady who operated it, knowing soon they’d have to run to grab their favorite seat on the merry-go-round. That afternoon we stopped by my sister’s usual spot for cheese, fruits and vegetables.

Another day we decided to venture to the Jardins des Plantes to visit the zoo. It took a little while for my niece to warm-up to the park, but the minute we bumped into the local manège she was ready to go explore! We walked around the botanical gardens and then explored the zoo. The day flew by and I missed the chance to see the exhibit of the evolution of men… But there’s always next year!

Of course, I couldn’t miss the chance to watch some tennis. So rain and all, I spent 2 days at Roland Garros watching some great tennis. This is the only grand slam I’ve ever been to so I can’t compare to the other ones, but I will say it’s a very special place to watch tennis. I always get tickets for P.Chatrier, the main court, and then spend the day watching a few matches there, then jump around the annex courts. This year I got to watch Ferrer front row on court #2 and he made it all the way to the finals. I also was able to watch Federer, my dream is to watch Nadal so I’ll just keep going back until it happens!

On my last day, I had to get a bit of fashion in so I went to explore the Paris Haute Couture exhibit at the Hôtel de Ville. From the minute I walked in until the moment I stepped out, I was completely captivated by the pieces and how the space was designed. It was amazing to see how dresses were grouped by style, not years or designers, and for the most part they looked current, not dated at all. My one regret was not bringing my sketch book, but I ended up scribbling some sketches on my exhibit guide!

 

Special discoveries on this trip:

  • Librairie Gourmande: I’m no cook but spent over an hour going through all the cookbooks!
  • Palais de Tokyo: We checked out a special Chanel No.5 exhibit one night at 10pm. It was pretty cool to be in a museum that closes at midnight and then be able to have a drink!
  • Mariage Frères: I’m don’t drink Tea, but I wanted to bring back a special tea as a gift since my sister recommended this place. The packaging is beautiful and the recipient of my gift gave it five stars!

June 18, 2013

‘Across the Street, Across the Globe’ with Andrea Howe of ForTheLoveOf.net

Today Andrea Howe from For The Love Of, is sharing one of her favorite spots in Los Angeles – Olvera Street. Be sure to follow along Andrea’s SoCal adventures on Facebook and Twitter! Thank you Andrea for spending the day with Studio T!

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I was lucky enough to be born and raised in Southern California, and feel fortunate to be able to raise my own kids in such a beautiful, interesting and culturally diverse part of the country. While Southern California may be known for its palm trees, lovely weather and laid back lifestyle, I’m happy to say that we also are rich with history and amazing cultural experiences. Growing up, one of my favorite places to go was Olvera Street, a Mexican marketplace located in the birthplace of Los Angeles.

Set on a small street in the oldest part of Downtown Los Angeles, Olvera Street is surrounded by historical buildings, beautiful adobes and Grand Central Station. The last time we visited, we took the Metro from our home about 15 miles outside of the city, into Grand Central Station. While we weren’t as adventurous this time around, being that we had an extra travel companion by way of a young baby, we can’t wait to take the train in again. Public transportation is a way of life for many different cities around the country, but for us Southern Californians, we rarely travel outside of our car. It’s a worthwhile experience to offer the kids though, even if it’s only intermittently.

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Olvera Street offers visitors shopping, dining and entertainment experiences rich with Latino and Mexican culture and traditions, and I grew up going there on school field trips and occasional shopping excursions with my mom. We took our kids there a couple of weeks ago and I had the best time showing them around, talking to them about my experiences going there as a child, and giving them a bit of a history lesson.We shopped a little, listened to mariachis, and practiced a bit of our Spanish with the vendors. As native Southern Californians, it’s essential to at least know some basics in Spanish, including gracias, de nada, and come estas. The kids can also count to twenty, and eventually we’ll get them to 100.

While we live just outside of LA, our central location to both Los Angeles and Orange County, make short trips into the city easy and always a good experience. Our trip was only about 3 hours long from door to door, but we were able to introduce the kids to a plethora of sensory experiences they wouldn’t normally get if we just stayed in our neighborhood. On the way to Olvera Street we pass the tall skyscrapers of Downtown LA and the architectural marvel that is the Walt Disney Concert Hall. We can point out the transportation hub of the city; Grand Central Station, and the original Postal Headquarters, just across the street.

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Once we’re at our destination, they smelled the warm scents of fresh homemade tortillas cooking, heard a different language, listened to music they don’t normally hear, and saw the representation of a culture in its purest form. I am truly grateful that we can offer these experiences to our children such a short stop from home.

We finished off our trip by introducing them to horchata, a sweet beverage made of water, sugar and ground almonds, and taquitos from Olvera Street’s oldest taquito street vendor. The thing I love most about coming to Olvera Street, and now taking my kids there, is that things don’t really ever change and the same restaurants, vendors and trinkets and toys they sold when I was a kid, are still around and for sale now. There’s something so comforting and nostalgic about that. On one particular trip to Olvera Street when I was about 13, my mom and I visited a candle shop, the only one at the time, to carry sheets of beeswax. We were making our own homemade candles to give as Christmas gifts. That shop is still there, over 20 years later.

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If you’re visiting Los Angeles, or are a local but have never been, I can’t recommend taking a trip to Olvera Street enough. It’s fun for the kids and the grown ups, and gives you a rich experience in history, tradition, and culture.

Our top 3 places to visit in Los Angeles for a rich cultural and historical experience include:

Los Angeles County Museum Of Art (LACMA) – LACMA is devoted to collecting art from around the globe and focuses on pieces that will represent LA’s unique cultural diversity. There are so many great kid friendly exhibits that you can stay and visit all day without the kids ever feeling like they’re in a stuffy museum. It’s a favorite of ours.

La Brea Tarpits – located right next to LACMA, the La Brea tarpits is a museum that displays ancient treasures right where they were discovered and is a fascinating place for kids to explore the results of years of excavations.

Natural History Museum Of LA – From the brand new dinosaur exhibit to the dark halls displaying animals from around the world, the Natural History Museum is a vast museum offering many exhibits to explore but in a very achievable and manageable way to do as a family.

 

[Shop the look: Lychee Twirl Dress - Tutu Print Polo - Ubuntu Stripe Hooded Romper]

 

June 10, 2013

“We Go There, Too!” featuring Jill Amery of UrbanMommies.com

We go there – we explore and dig deep into other cultures. We know you go there too. This new series will feature stories from world travelers; they’ve taken their first flight over seas with little ones, they’ve traveled back to their native country to introduce their children to grandparents, they’ve packed up only their necessities and traveled to developing countries. Here, you will find their stories and learn about how they’re going there too.

Kicking off this series, we have Jill Amery of UrbanMommies.com sharing her trip to Liberia. It wasn’t necessarily an easy one, but you’ll see that it was a trip that’s changed her life forever. Thank you Jill for sharing your story with us on Studio T!

I had the privilege of traveling to Liberia in February as a parent ambassador for Right To Play, an organization that helps children learn crucial life lessons through sport and games.  The experience affected me deeply and I can still smell the heavy West African air.  The kids who touched my ‘soft hair’ and reached for my hand are now part of my history.  They grace screensavers and watch me from silver frames.  The polish of the silver juxtaposed with what I witnessed is disconcerting and constantly reminds me to not take my blessings for granted.

The adults and teenagers I met in Liberia had experienced terrible things in their lifetimes with a war that ended very recently.  Some had lost parents and raised themselves.  Most had a loved one who experienced sexual assault.  And every adult associated with Right To Play worked tirelessly to restore hope for the next generation.  Every day the same volunteers (many had no employment themselves but chose to devote their days to teaching children through Right To Play activities) emerged into an empty space and performed magic.  It was like a slow motion film.  The waiting children would all turn, smile and organize themselves into a ‘great big circle’ so they could begin.  The rhythms of their responses to the leader of the game formed a percussive music.  The empty, litter-filled space had become vibrant and full of life.

When I think about the diversity in cultures brought to mainstream culture by Tea Collection, I smile.  Each outfit I see my kids wear reminds me that we are all connected in this small world.  The women of Liberia donned incredible colors and patterns.  Their bright eyes and huge smiles pierced through the grey sand and cracked concrete.  Standing in front of corrugated metal shacks with red, yellow and purple wraps, these women provided what mothers always do – hope and comfort.  Dressing my boys in similar colors and styles gives a nod to these women;  A sign of respect and awe.  And these women deserved nothing less.

One sign on the side of the road has haunted me since my return.  This one advertisement was a definition of ‘Mother’: a person who ‘makes something out of nothing’.  That is exactly what I witnessed.  These women generated a meager income buying bleach in bulk and selling it in small bags, buying a case of water packets and a block of ice and hoping for extreme heat so they may sell a few individual bags of water to quench thirst in their community.

Hope resonated everywhere – through the games, the smiles, the handmade toys and the tiny children playing hide and seek with this North American girl who seemed so different.  I was brought back to the basics of life:  drink fresh water, keep your clothes and environment clean to prevent disease, help your neighbor.  A young boy bathed meticulously in a large bucket by the side of the road.  A woman carrying a huge bundle on her head picked over potato leaves in a market to find the best choices for her family.  It was all about hope.

As a mother, I can make a promise.  I will never stop visiting other cultures and allowing them to penetrate my own motherhood.  I will share the songs and bright fabrics with my children.  I will try to not take my life for granted.  And more than anything, I will remember that hope is all one needs.

 

June 6, 2013

Our Top 10 Children’s Apps

 

We’d be lying if we told you we never pass our little ones a smart phone or an ipad to keep them entertained. The truth is, sometimes it’s just easier – especially when traveling! With so many game apps available today, we thought it would be fun to share our top 10 favorite apps with you. They teach new languages, allow world exploration, help quiet loud nights, and make fractions fun! And remember, while a lot of these apps are over $0.99, in the end you’ll appreciate the ad-free, no fuss design the cost gets you.

Do you have a favorite that you don’t see here? We want to know! Leave a comment below.

1. Sleep Pillow Sounds $1.99 – Although this isn’t a game your children can play, we thought it was important to include. It can be hard to sleep in a new bed with unfamiliar sounds when traveling, but with the help of this app the foreign sounds will be quieted. We consider this to be a must when traveling with children.

2. Endless Alphabet free – We must warn you that skipping the ad before you hand your device over to the kids is key to this ‘free’ app, and once you get to the drag and drop screen you might not want to let go! The idea is for your little one to match the letters on the screen to create a complete word. The longer you keep a finger on the letter, the longer the letter is sounded out (maybe headphones would be best in public?) and once you’ve completed it, the definition is acted out by your new colorful monster friends and you’re on to the next!

3. Toca Kitchen $2.99 – Your children will be preparing 12 different ingredients 180 ways in no time! Since this app isn’t a timed game, there’s no pressure to get to the next level – they’ll able to explore at their own pace. Prefer a vegetarian mode? No problem, they’ve got you covered!

4. Barefoot World Atlas $4.99 – Travel the world through your 4 inch screen with this beautiful app. Geographer and BBC TV presenter Nick Crane will be your guide as you fly around the (3D) world exploring oceans and continents, meeting different people and learning about their way of life. Explore and discover the big world we live in.

5. Petting Zoo by Christoph Niemann $0.99 – You may know him as an illustrator from The New Yorker, but here you will see his illustrations come to life through alligator’s teeth as guitar strings and octopus arms as a mandolin. It’s silly, charming, and perfectly entertaining.

6. Stack the Countries $1.99 – A wonderful way to help your little ones learn country capitals, landmarks, and geographic locations. Want to start smaller? Try the Stack the States app.  They’re simple and effective!

7. PBS Parents Play & Learn free – This interactive app is specifically designed for parents. Providing you with dozens of games, you’ll be able to connect every day “teachable moments” to math and literally skills, making trips to the grocery store more exciting for everyone! This free app can be toggled from English to Spanish – perfect bilingual families!

8. Learn Spanish free – Or Japanese, French, Italian, German, Mandarin, or Portuguese with each MindSnack apps. With 9 different games, your children will build essential vocabulary and conversational skills. Unlock levels as you progress and watch your avatar grow smarter and brighter!

9. Peekaboo Barn $1.99 – Although language packages (other than spanish) are an additional $0.99 per bundle, we think this app is a wonderful way to learn animals and the sounds they make. You can also record voices so friends or visiting family can capture their own voice for your children to hear.

10. Oh No Fractions! $0.99 – Math isn’t always a favorite, but with this app it’s easy to see how fractions compare, add, subtract, multiply, and divide through visuals. Keep track of your child’s progress with the statistics feature. The design is sleek and simple, and will have fractions learned in no time!

 

June 5, 2013

‘Across the Street, Across the Globe’ with Bonnie Rush of A Golden Afternoon

In our new series, “Across the Street, Across the Globe” we hope to prove that you don’t always need to travel internationally to expose your children to other cultures. We’ve reached out to some of our favorite bloggers to find out how they’re raising little citizens of the world in each of their hometowns.

Today we have San Diego native, Bonnie Rush from A Golden Afternoon, sharing her family’s favorite spots. Be sure to follow Bonnie’s adventures on Facebook and Instagram. We’re also big fans of her Pinterest board! Thank you Bonnie for sharing your world with us – we can’t wait to take a trip down to San Diego and explore!

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San Diego is full of amazing sights and sounds for kiddos and adults alike! Although we are a young city, we still hold pieces of history which connect us to the rest of the world and cultures of long ago. Philadelphia may be laden with cobblestone put down by men during the time of our founding fathers, but Cabrillo discovered San Diego long before William Penn was even alive. It just took a few years for anyone to actually live here, but who’s really counting. I love that my kids can be in this one city and yet still learn so much about the world around us.

As a homeschooling family, we have the opportunity to use San Diego as our living history book and are able to explore pieces of land that crazy important people have stepped foot on. I’d love to share some of our favorite spots that help my little ones understand more about that big world out there with different countries, languages, and even food (my favorite topic!).

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Presidio Park. I’d have to start here because this is where our city began. I love that the Junipero Serra Museum is so humble and yet can offer so much in the way of beauty and also history. It’s a GORGEOUS place for a family picnic, as you can see the ocean and the area where Spanish monks came through on their first journey through the valley. Trust me, it’s an amazing place to sit with your kids and take in our city. I love opening a map and talking with them about which countries the explorers came from and which ones finally staked their claim on our city. After, you can drop down below to Old Town, check out what life was like when our city was born, and grab a pair of trendy Minnetonkas for everyone, to finish off your visit.

Scottish Highland Games. Part of exploring culture is exploring where your own family came from. For us, that means heading up to the way North of San Diego to Vista and the Scottish Highland games. It’s a lot of fun even if you don’t have Scottish blood. You can listen to plenty of bagpipe music, eat a meat pie, watch the sheepdogs work their magic on the sheep, and enjoy the games. Who doesn’t love a good ol’ log throwing competition?

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San Diego Museum of Art: Art museums are definitely a go-to for soaking up culture and history in any city. The San Diego Museum of Art is a modest size, but that makes it perfect for kids. It still has many famous works of art like my daughter’s favorite, Degas and his perfectly poised ballerinas, my son’s favorite, Duque de la Roca (whom he believes is George Washington), or mine, Matisse’s beautiful bouquet. They don’t walk in feeling over-whelmed because of a huge building with endless flights of stairs and thousands of people waiting to run them over. Don’t get me wrong, seeing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre was amazing for me, but kids can get taken aback by the hustle and bustle of a HUGE museum. This museum also has a fun kids game where they use cards with a small picture of a piece of art used to search for the real piece somewhere in the museum. My kids love it!

Balboa Park offers a FREE day (that’s right!) every Tuesday for residents and military which is a great help. Go to this link for a PDF with things to do in Balboa Park with kids. We love this place because you can walk to so many fun spots in a small surface area. You can find a huge fountain to amaze the kids, good coffee, gardens for wandering (where we took our wedding photos!), and plenty of art and culture to soak in. Balboa Park also houses International Cottages for many different countries, with festivals and events being hosted for each country all year long! The San Diego Art Museum and the Japanese Tea Garden mentioned in this post are both in Balboa Park.

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San Diego Public Market and the Little Italy Mercado are two of my favorite stops. Food is an important part of our life as a family, as we cook and eat at home most of the time. One single bite of food can bridge the gap between countries. Between these two markets, you can taste authentic African, Italian, French, Thai, and fair trade coffees and teas from the other side of the world. It is very important to me that my little ones try new foods. I just ask them to try one bite. Sometimes we are all surprised when a new food for them becomes a favorite., like sushi.

The Japanese Tea Garden is a beautiful and peaceful part of Balboa Park. My kids love the koi pond as well as the rock garden. Having visited Japan, I think this lovely place reflects the gardens of Japan well. I’m thrilled for the places, even small ones, where my kids can see what parts of a foreign country would be like. You can grab some tea to drink for an even more authentic touch. An expansion is in progress so there will soon be more to love!

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Sushi Mura. We love this traditional Japanese style sushi restaurant because the food is fresh, the rice is very well prepared, and they make their own soy sauce. Plus, it’s casual enough that the kids can come, but my husband and I can still enjoy a great meal (and an extensive sake menu). My kids didn’t always love sushi, but after years of ordering teriyaki chicken, they took more and more of those one bite testers and finally fell in love with it. If your kids (or you) don’t like seaweed, you can always order it with a soy paper wrapping which tastes like nothing, but holds the other delicious parts of the sushi together just like the seaweed would. My kids love the salmon roll or the rainbow roll, if we let them have it on a special day.

For food reflecting the Portuguese and Italian fishing communities of old San Diego, a fast-favorite of ours is Roseville Cozinha. Also located at Liberty Station, this restaurant is comfortable and delicious. Our favorites are the wood oven-roasted whole shrimp with chili, parsley, and garlic as well as the salt cod fritters with lemon aioli and arugula. The kids get to color on the paper table covering which my boys love!

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The New Children’s museum. For something more modern and unique, the Children’s museum is a great place to stop by. We love their hands-on approach towards creativity, community, and culture. My kid’s eyes are always opened wide to the world around them after paying a visit there. They did things right by allowing the kids to explore with their hands instead of limiting them to their eyes, as in a typical museum. While each museum type has its benefits, the New Children’s Museum will mix things up for your kiddos with something for everyone to explore. Plus, there is a VW bug you can paint outside. What kid wouldn’t get a thrill about that?!

Whether out and about or at home, there are so many ways to bring the world into your home and to your kids. The most important to me is living as an example to them. If they don’t see me trying new things and exploring, they will eventually lose interest, as they start to form their own values and traditions based on what they observe. All of our children are little sponges, just waiting for the next exciting thing to soak up. I love seeing them try new languages, foods, and learn how people around the world live. As adults, we have such an exciting job! We get to show the kids in our life how to be explorers, by going out there and navigating our own city!