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Trying to Make It Work

9 Nov

A hectic weekday schedule usually prevents parents from spending the amount of quality time they would like with their children. I’m no exception to this rule. With the holidays near, this past weekend I decided to spend some quality time with my girls exploring the festivities and activities Downtown offers to families and kids.

Friday evening, my girls performed at their school – the Lumbini Development Center located at the Higashi Honganji Temple in Little Tokyo – which produced a mix of excitement, confusion, and expectation. We arrived and saw harried parents rushing their children to classrooms to prepare for the stage, with others scrambling to find prime seats for the show. Settling in as the entertainment began, we watched from the crowd as amusing toddlers shimmied and jammed to the Holiday music.
As I surveyed the room, I was astonished by the impressively high attendance of parents. Almost all of the 60 children enrolled at Lumbini attended the holiday performance, even though the event took place an hour after the school’s closing time.
Soon after the performances, we sat down for drinks and snacks, greeted and smiled at other parents, and let the girls run wild. However, we didn’t meet any new parents, too shy to approach and strike up a conversation. We had fun nonetheless and enjoyed the sense of community that is developing in Downtown.

Saturday afternoon, we walked over to Pershing Square to explore the Holiday festivities offered by the City’s Department of Recreation and Parks.
Children played on a large imported patch of snow, which created a bit of winter ambiance in the park. Shouts of glee filled the air with a refreshing energy as friendly snowball fights began and others sledded down a man-made track dug into the snow mound. A snowman bouncer was another diversion with a shorter wait for kids wanting to jump up and down. Tables set up on the perimeter of the park offered arts and crafts.
While cruising around with girls in tow, we craned our heads towards a loud shrieking sound and saw 30 kids, all kneeling on the floor around a puppet stage, laughing like hyenas. The free puppet show had the full attention of young children and parents alike. In the background, kids ran cheerfully around the park while skaters glided around on the ice rink. After running back and forth awhile, smelling the aromas from food vendors and people watching, we decided to continue our quest for novel, kid friendly entertainment.

Walking onward to our next destination though, I wondered out loud why Pershing Square doesn’t appear to have someone who plans events like this year round. A full schedule of similarly well-designed soirees would go a long way in bringing locals, families, and tourists together. It would help reinvigorate the somewhat jaundiced and unattractive hodgepodge that is the Pershing Square I’ve grown accustomed to seeing on most days of the year.

After a twenty minute walk north past the 101 freeway, our journey for fun brought us to the Art Form Studio in Chinatown. On the second Saturday of each month, the salon offers arts and crafts (and food!) to children from 3 – 7pm, freeing up their parents to glam up a bit and get a haircut. I recently cut my locks at Salon Eleven, but I filed it for future reference. Where else can you go and get your hair done while kids make new friends and entertain themselves free of charge?

A gray and chilly Sunday dampened our enthusiasm to go outside until the sun crept up and broke through the clouds around noon. We packed a snack and made our way across the street to Grand Hope Park. As I wrote this article, children ages three to seven kept pouring into the playground with their parents.
I tried to make eye contact as I sat typing away but it was as if everyone was in an island, blocking social interaction by keeping their face down or up in the sky. Whatever they found fascinating on the ground or the now graying sky I found frustrating; how can I meet other parents that live in my neighborhood when they seem oblivious to my existence?
As we finished our evening by walking to L.A. Live for the light show and then back to Ralphs for ice cream, I realized just how much I don’t want to leave Downtown for some place more “conventionally kid-friendly.” I want to make this work. I already have a play date on my calendar and I’ll soon meet up with complete strangers: parents from DTLA Kids, and hopefully some future playmates for my girls (a brave measure, since I shy away from meeting new people).
I want to make long-term Downtown living work, and to do that I need to make Downtown parenting work.

This Week’s Kid-Friendly Downtown Picks

7th+Fig

Take Free Pictures with Santa every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. 
Noon – 2pm (and Saturday, Dec. 20). Pets are welcome, too!


Enjoy live holiday entertainment every Friday and Saturday, noon – 1:30pm.

Kids Club Make Holiday Cards with the Children’s Museum of Los Angeles, Saturday, December 20, Noon – 2pm.

Las Posadas at Olvera Street


December 16th – 24th, 5:30 PM – 8:30 PM. 
Entertainment and Pinata Breaking at 6:30pm. 
Procession from 7:30 – 8:15pm. Free! Champurado, Pan Dulce, Hot Punch and Plenty of Candy!!!

Published December 17, 2008

http://blogdowntown.com/2008/12/3901-trying-to-make-it-work

Weathering the Holidays

9 Nov

Christmas week was hectic. The flu flew into our home and took a stronghold in each of us, one at a time. Los Angeles is notorious for having non-Holiday weather during December, sometimes causing confusion in out of state guests as to how anyone can celebrate Christmas on a 70-degree day.
This year however, it was cold, windy and even rained in the days preceding. My younger daughter and I were the first victims to fever, cough and an awful cold. Just as we were getting better, my younger daughter and my 30 year-old baby (or so he seemed while he was sick) got the flu. Throw in some infected wisdom teeth on my part and stressful planning of two family celebrations and you get our happy but tired family.

The nausea and dizziness that I feel just typing away is not from the overeating I did on Christmas Eve and the days following. I had to have my wisdom teeth removed, making me look like a tottering chipmunk. Although we weren’t in the best health I didn’t allow that to damper our Holiday cheer.

Christmas Eve we went to my family’s home to have dinner, exchange gifts and enjoy each others company. My family is Hispanic, but ironically we did not have traditional cuisine. We opted instead to make a mixed greens salad (thank you Tom for the recipe!), pizza, and pasta. The only thing we had that was Latino-ish was flan, but I confess that came from Flan-king.

Luckily our families celebrate on different days so we don’t have to rush from one place to another to split Christmas dinner. Christmas morning with the other side of the family was an endless parade of gifts that came passing through everyone’s hands, a train of clothing, toys, and books that took several bags to take home. I’m not sure that this is what Christmas is supposed to be about but it seems that we all did our part to better the slow sales at department stores.
That night for dinner we had (which is what I consider ironic) enchiladas, beans, rice, and flan. It’s a reminder of what a melting pot Los Angeles is: you go to a Hispanic’s home and eat pizza and pasta and then to an American home to get Mexican food.
Saturday was the big day, my planned play date! As we headed over I felt a pang of excitement and nervousness. What was I doing? I didn’t know anyone there and had only communicated by email, but I restrained my nervous habit and marched on.
The day was great. I met a kind, hospitable neighbor and her lovely daughter. Ten kids showed up and made perfect company for the girls. They looked like board members of a Fortune 500 company, discussing the newest invention of glitter markers and play-do.
As I spoke to the other moms, the same concern resonated in the room: Where are you taking your kid to elementary school? No one had a concrete answer; it’s such a difficult task to undertake. Should you shell out the extra cash and send them to private school, find a magnet school, or take your chances with the neighborhood school?

Unfortunately for anyone in Downtown, the neighborhood school is run down, has a low API score, low test scores, and is in an unsafe area.
I would like to see the parent community of Downtown come together and go before LAUSD and the city to see how they plan to educate our children. New high schools have been built around Downtown, but where is the new elementary school right in Downtown, not in Westlake or the Industrial area? Everyone paying property taxes should strongly consider writing a letter to the school district and the city demanding the amenities that any decent neighborhood enjoys.
I hope all of you were able to use the holidays to relax and spend time with your loved ones. Maybe while your tots are playing you can jot down notes on what you would like to see in our neighborhood as far as quality education.

Have any plans? Feel free to share! Moving out is not constructive; please share ideas or rumors concerning the education of Downtown Kids! We were able to weather the flu, wisdom teeth removal and lots of extended family visits, hopefully that prepares me for navigating LAUSD.

This Week’s Kid-Friendly Downtown Picks

Pershing Square

Downtown On Ice ends January 11th. Hurry out for some skating in the center of our metropolis.

Lunch time Concerts (12pm-2pm): Jan 2 – Taste Thieves / Jan 6 – Airplay Top 40 / Jan 8 Soul Dogs

Prepare a late snack and head out for Friday night Concerts (8-10pm): Jan 2 – Bella Donna and Petty Theft / Jan 9 – The Undercover Girls

Park Starved?

Alpine Recreation Center is 2 miles away and offers plenty of activities ranging from table tennis to Chinese Martial Arts. Hour of operation are Monday – Friday 8am-10pm, Saturday 9am-10pm and Sunday 9am-8pm.

Vista Hermosa Park: Let’s not forget the beautiful park opened and operated by the Santa Monica Conservancy group just west of the 110 freeway. It offers trails for children to hike, park rangers on site as guides, a huge soccer field and a kid-friendly play area at the top of the hill. This is where you can let the views of Downtown inspire you for you school building planning!

Franklin Canyon Park: A little further out, Beverly Hills that is, you can find movie events, hiking, and park rangers giving tours and talks on wildlife in a park! 2600 Franklin Canyon Drive / Beverly Hills CA 90210 / 310-858-7272 / January Activity List

Published January 2, 2009

http://blogdowntown.com/2009/01/3933-weathering-the-holidays

Taking a Break from the School Search to Party!

9 Nov

After the chaos of the Holidays — the flu, an infected tooth, way too many gifts and an empty wallet — we decided to raise the stress-o-meter by throwing a kid’s birthday party in Downtown!

My daughter turned four and since she has been asking for a party since the day after she turned three, I caved in. In my defense, before you start labeling me a pushover I should note that she is well behaved, likes school and does her chores.

The first obstacle was trying not go overboard: on the guest list, the food, the presents, and goodie bags.

Mission failed.

It doesn’t help that I have seven aunts and uncles, each of which averages 3-5 kids. That made my guest list about 60.
Then I decided to cook the food myself, all vegetarian. At this point I felt I had already broken the barrier of comfortable hostess to overdrive maniac so I figured, how much harder is cooking?
It turned out well. We ate Mexican tostadas with fried pinto beans, soy meat, cheese, garnished with cabbage, bell peppers, sour cream, salsa, tomatoes and onions. Hmmm… I’m craving it now. I made pizza, guacamole, and salsa and chips for appetizers, and bought (thank you Flan-King) flan from the Farmer’s Market for dessert. I am happy to report that my family (Mexican) did not realize it wasn’t “real” meat. They were also very flexible when it came to driving and parking instructions (the lot at 8th/Grand).

Even though it was stressful to organize the party so close after the New Year, it was great to buy everything local. I went to the Piñata District where I found all the Princess paraphernalia any four year old would dream of. At Escamex, a party supply store, I bought everything I needed for the tableware and goodie bags.
My next stop was the Toy District. I found Princess notebooks, stamps, tiaras, wands, glasses — everything that meant I was going overboard. My daughter scored a nice present from me thanks to the vendors at this hidden gem in Downtown. Where else can you get books, a playhouse, a toy stroller, puzzles, a book bag, goodie bag fillers, and a school activity set for under $100?
Dear Ralphs, where would I be without you? You might make me pinch my wallet but when you have a sale, the clasp comes undone and out pours the green. The tomatoes, avocados, and ice cream were on sale the days before the party, score! That subdued the pain I felt when I saw the prices for soy meat.
Thanks to the farmers market, I found good deals on fresh produce and Flan-King had a discount on their flans that week. I was feeling lucky.

The party turned out great: it was 75 degrees in the middle of winter, the kids loved their treats, swimming, the improvised puppet show, the tiaras and wands and the food was devoured! It was convenient to have the party at the Club Room in our building, which eliminated any concern for space. It was easy to set-up, have fun and clean up. A success I would say, but not a feat I look forward to repeating anytime soon.

Next year, she’s getting a library card, the gift that keeps on giving.

Published January 23, 2009

http://blogdowntown.com/2009/01/4000-taking-a-break-from-the-school-search-to

Rumblings of Getting Older with Kids

9 Nov

Last week was my birthday! I know – how could you not know? The world must have felt a shiver of delight at knowing that such a wonderful being as myself turned another year older. The positive outcome of my increasing age is that I don’t feel uncomfortable when people ask how old I am, how old I was when I had my kids or why I look too young to have kids. The last statement is slowly slipping away from the grasp of my ego but it was annoying to have to fess up that I had kids at a young age.

I usually hate birthdays; I dread them with the passion of a fanatic cult follower. After the New Year, I try to prepare and brace myself for what’s coming; another reminder that I haven’t done what I was supposed to do before the coming of that changing number.

If you asked me ten years ago where I saw myself it would certainly not be raising two kids before I finished raising myself. I didn’t post anything last week, for which I apologize, but I don’t just feel happy towards the end of January. I think that birthdays are not necessarily a time to celebrate your fleeting youth but a reminder to reflect on what you’ve done in the past year.
Isabella and Eliza have yet to learn how to put the right shoe in the right foot and tie a bow. I have yet to teach them how to read, but I am working on it. Eliza keeps ignoring me when I speak to her in Spanish; in turn, I ignore her when she answers in English. We have made a lot of new friends that live in Downtown. My hearing has gotten worse (which I attribute to the constant Mamiiiiiii! in my ear). I keep asking people to repeat themselves and hope it is their mumbling and not my poor hearing that prevents me from understanding.

So again, why did I mention my birthday? Ah yes, the gawking. I want to talk about the gawking, staring, stalking of the eyes; call it what you’d like, but it’s rude. I’ve noticed that on the weekends when I walk around Downtown with my girls and my partner no one finds it an oddity. They smile and comment on the girls’ cuteness or say hello. Then Monday comes and the smiles disappear; it could be that people are generally in better dispositions on the weekend, but I have a different theory. I will admit that I am a defensive person; I tend to think people are thinking the worst when they look at me.
When I take the DASH in the morning to drop off the girls at school we get stared at a lot. When Iza is cranky and doesn’t want to sit down quietly, people smirk and roll their eyes. If Iza and Bella are playing with a book or listening to me as I read the Economist to them, they smirk. If you want to make my blood boil, go ahead: stare and smirk. As we go home, people ask, “How many more kids do you have”? Or they state that I don’t have to worry about not having a boy because I will surely have three more. What? Did I miss something? Unless I have a stamp on my forehead that reads baby-press-and-bake, they are referring to my wonderful heritage and the stereotype of Latinos.
I might be overly-sensitive or under-exposed to the curiosity of people. I grew up in Boyle Heights where all of my neighbors were Latino and the only non-Latinos were the Chicanos, which only meant they didn’t speak Spanish. I’m still trying to adjust to raising my girls in a mixed-race environment. It’s difficult to relax and not dissect every move or comment as tinged by race.
That’s why I enjoy Downtown. I feel it soothes my sensibilities. It’s so mixed in race, income, style, thinking and creativity that I blend right in.
I’ve been lucky to make friends through DTLA Kids and have had play dates, dinner at Colori and recently, a birthday party across the street. Without the downtown group I think I would be stuck in my hermit ways. Thus as a toast to getting older and dissipating racial sensitivities, I propose a get together for Downtown parents and parents-to-be. Easter is right around the corner and it would be great to organize an Easter egg hunt as a community. A potluck would be the ideal arrangement. Please email me at Susana@blogdowntown.com if you are interested. According to the number of people interested, I will organize the location and date.

Published February 6, 2009

http://blogdowntown.com/2009/02/4041-rumblings-of-getting-older-with-kids

A Rainy Sunday in LA

9 Nov

It rained in L.A. this weekend, which is news for most Angelinos. There was also the Firecracker Run in Chinatown, which I ran in. In the rain.

I didn’t brave the 10K but I did complete the 5K—gasping to the end. A few friends signed up (at my pushy suggestion that they join an event that benefits local schools, libraries, and recreation centers in Chinatown), so I couldn’t exactly bail on the last minute.

I woke up at the unsightly hour of 5am on an otherwise sweet Sunday. It was hard to resist the seduction of my soft bed. My mother had offered to baby-sit the girls that day, so the first thought that came to my head was: What the heck am I doing wasting my precious free time by running out in the cold?
Two cups of strong coffee and a quick shower later I was up and stretching and nervously awaiting my first “marathon”. I felt like I was going on a date. I considered wearing make-up, but the image of my face streaked with sweat and foundation…eek. I opted for Chapstick and a little mascara.
M and I were going to walk to Chinatown, but I must have taken too long applying the mascara because we had to take the car. At least parking is easy at 7am. I, being the procrastinator that I am, had still to register, but it was pleasantly easy and quick. Among the goodies for the participants was a pair of powder blue flip-flops that might have to wait for my four-year old to fit into. Anyone wear a size 5 ½?
The firecrackers and lion dancers were great, filling the air with an electrifying energy… and then choking you with the smoke. The race started, and to my dismay the route was hill after hill after hill after…well, you get the point. Next time I get marathon-running in my head, I’m going to consult the race route first.

After burning those extra calories, we were ready to reward ourselves with a breakfast at the Nickel Diner.
When we got there, with a friend, I ordered the tofu huevos rancheros – deliciosos!
Former Mayor Hahn also happened to be there and ended up seated next to us. The food was wonderful; the service great as always. (We took our neighbors there once, along with my girls. The pancakes were late, but the staff was so apologetic they gave us the pancakes and fruit compliments of the house!)
We’ve gone to the Nickel several times. It is one of my favorite restaurants downtown and the designated place we take our out-of-town guests, which is why I cannot understand why the co-owner, Kristen Trattner, decided to walk over to my guest and inform him that there was a line of people waiting and that we needed to leave since we were finished eating.
Ouch.
I have never in my life been asked to leave a restaurant, and it hurts and humiliates me that it had to be at a) a favorite spot b) in front of my guest c) when we were speaking to former Mayor Hahn (M’s former employer). I felt so embarrassed and uncomfortable because Judge Hahn was just telling us of his new career, and we were discussing the Firecracker run with his companion who happens to work with Kids Run L.A. We had to cut them short and say goodbye.
I have to admit that at first I had mixed emotions; I still do. I tried to rationalize her actions with the current economic crisis, stress, lousy weather, etc. But I looked around the restaurant as we were leaving, and they were setting a table for four – and there were only three people waiting, in a group. I have been to the Nickel countless times and have never minded waiting to get seated; I know the food is worth it.
M was furious and I tried to calm him down while apologizing to our. When we got home M called the Nickel and explained what happened and that he wanted an apology. The person on the phone said they would have the owner return the call. No one did.

Then, M sent an email, but instead of apologizing or diffusing the situation, the waiter claimed it was he who had told us to leave and that it is standard protocol to ask your patrons to leave when they are done.

This waiter has a vivid imagination, because unless it was he was wearing black and white striped trousers and sporting a black wig, I think I can tell the difference between who I saw and didn’t. Unfortunately, he never apologized but did state that if we didn’t like the service then we could just not come back.
Well guess what? I won’t be going back because in these tough economic times I am very picky about where I spend my money, and I sure won’t pay to be disrespected and humiliated.
FYI, Nickel Diner, we were not finished. We were drinking our coffee that had just been poured and enjoying your ambiance – too bad you had to cut it short.

Next time I have a rainy Sunday off from the kids – I’m staying home.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We spoke to Kristin Trattner at the Nickel Diner, but as of posting she had not gotten back to us with a comment.

Published February 13, 2009

http://blogdowntown.com/2009/02/4063-a-rainy-sunday-in-la

I love my neighborhood

10 Jan

How awesome is it when you live in a neighborhood that people are learning to love and yet it is still underappreciated.  It means that you enjoy the growing number of restaurants that have sprouted throughout downtown’s micro-neighborhoods without reservations (except for that darn delicious Church and State – you always have to call a few days in advance unless you want dinner at 10:30 at night), there is always something to do whether it is visiting one of our many museums, a movie at the new Regal Live, or Pee Wee Herman at the Nokia, AND you get to enjoy nice runs on Bunker Hill without any car congestion on the weekends.

I could go on and on about why I love downtown.  The truth is that I have loved it for years- it was love at first sight when my mother brought me as a little kid to shop at the callejones (Santee Alley) for affordable wares.  For years I looked up at the then empty buildings (or full of sweat shops) and yearned to live there.  In high school I used to skip school (which is not a good idea kids!) and take the Metro 68 to downtown to stroll along Broadway, Spring St., and study at Central Library (I could spend hours reading books I would never find at the local library).  It feels like it has been a long distance crush relationship; as I got older and started working at City Hall I used to drive home to Boyle Heights over the 7th St Bridge and sigh as I left downtown behind me.

Now I live here with M, a four-year old and a five-year old and my life is in a completely different place that I envisioned.  A lot has happened in my relatively short life making me feel far older and hopefully wiser in the process.  The only thing that hasn’t changed is that I love downtown and now I am incredibly lucky enough to live here with the three best companions I could ever dream up of having (at least after two of them were potty-trained). 

Downtown is changing just like its inhabitants (myself included) and as I explore it further my love grows. 

It makes life so much easier when you can walk to a dinner date or to meet friends for drinks after work.  When your kids can go to a preschool that is a few blocks away from work, and when you can get home in less than an hour (by walking!). 

So whether you are a downtown cheerleader or a naysayer you have to admit that downtown Los Angeles sucks you in once you live here.  Whether you are having dinner in Little Tokyo at Spitz with a sangria – or two, or indulging in Rivera’s late night happy hour you have to admit that we are all incredibly lucky to live here. :)

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