The Art (and exercise) of Bicycles

Think of bicycles as rideable art that can just about save the world. ~ Grant Petersen


I like bicycles (part 2). The theme of my household this weekend is bicycles. I have written about my love for bike riding in a previous post complete with an itinerary specifically for San Diego. I also shared a fun experience in Austin at a bicycle festival called Tour de Fat. After riding our bike along the river to this quirky, colorful extravaganza, we were amused with fun bands, extreme costumes, silly shows, old school lawn games and humorous attempts at riding odd bikes (as seen in the picture). I even remarked to my boyfriend, “This would be perfect for San Diego.” Then, as if on cue, we walked past a booth selling t-shirts with the tour schedule on the back. The festival had been in San Diego earlier that month. I have excitedly waited 11 months for the Tour to come back around to San Diego, and that time is now!

The San Diego Tour de Fat festival kicks off with a bike parade this morning at 11:00. Anyone can register and join the procession, and costumes are encouraged. After the parade, which rides along 30th Street in South Park, the majority of the action will take place in Golden Hill Park. Check out the map on their website for more detailed information. The festival is free, but there are booths set up by local biking organizations that sell (or allow you to make) creative goods for a small fee. And, of course, because it is sponsored by New Belgium Brewing Company (Fat Tire), there will be beer for sale. These profits are also donated to local biking organizations. Despite the festival being created by a brewery, the Austin event last year was quite kid-friendly.

The bicycle is a curious vehicle. Its passenger is its engine. ~ John Howard

I am embarrassed to admit that my boyfriend and I will be driving a car to the festival. However, on the way we are heading to the Mission Bay Triathlon expo so my boyfriend can check in for his first triathlon sprint, which is tomorrow and will include close to 10 miles of biking. Even our dog will be getting in on the biking action this weekend, and no he is not a small dog that fits in one of those doggy strollers. Tucker is a strong, fast German Short-Hair Pointer that requires extensive exercise. He doesn’t actually ride a bike, but rather alongside it. We get a lot of curious looks when we go out for a bike run, but it is great exercise for him. For those of you who aren’t in San Diego, here is the remaining Tour schedule for 2011.

  • 10/8 – Los Angeles, California
  • 10/15 – Tempe, Arizona
  • 10/22 – Austin, Texas

Other cities on the tour include Durham, Nashville, Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Boise, Ft. Collins, Denver and San Francisco. Mark your calendars for next year!

For those of you in Dallas, they had their own bike parade today as a kick off to their Art in October celebration. The event called Art in Motion included bicycle decorating (and a contest) with a parade to the free museums, food trucks and other festivities.

If you need a little adult time, check out the Museum of Photographic Art’s POP Thursday event on Thursday, October 20, which is themed Greatest Hits of the Bicycle Film Festival.

Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike. ~ John F. Kennedy

UPDATE: Sunday, October 2
I attended the Tour de Fat festival in Golden Hill Park and found it to be less family-friendly than Austin’s event last year. Due to strict alcohol laws, the festival had to be divided to accommodate a beer garden, rather than simply giving bracelets to those 21 and over. This meant that the stages and some festivities were contained inside the beer garden but alongside the fence to allow families outside the beer garden to enjoy the shows. The games, food, crafty booths and bike-riding corral were accessible to those outside of the beer garden. Next year, I would recommend families join the bike parade or dine on 30th along the route to enjoy the show.

Just one of the many wacky bikes you can ride at a Tour de Fat festival, and yes, all those tires rotate.

22 Family-Friendly Things To Do During a Blackout (or Block Party)

On Thursday, September 8 around 4:00 p.m., I was one of the 3.5 to 5 million people (depending on your source) impacted by the blackout in southern California. Despite the minor inconvenience of no fans in 95-degree weather, my dog and I fared pretty well by spending the evening at our neighbor’s house, who happened to have a generator hooked up to the television for the opening night of NFL football.

The next day I read accounts of how others spent their forced ‘unplugged’ time. Most folks spent their evening with neighbors, both those they knew previously and some they met for the first time that night. Overall, the blackout actually brought people closer together and forged a strong sense of community. I have composed the following list of things to do during a blackout based on both my own ideas and the accounts I have heard or read.

Daylight Activities:
*especially great in extreme heat

  • squirt gun fight*
  • sidewalk chalk
  • football or Wiffle ball
  • tag tournament
  • grill out
  • eat ice cream* –  You don’t want that to go to waste!
  • pool party*
  • visit a neighborhood park
  • take a walk - an exploration walk
  • fly a kite
  • bubbles
  • jump rope competition

 Moonlight Activities:

  • glow sticks
  • sparklers
  • board games by candlelight
  • card tournament by candlelight (Go Fish, Uno)
  • fire pit – roasting marshmallows optional
  • storytelling around the fire
  • star-gazing
  • take a walk with flashlights
  • catch (and release) fireflies
  • camp out in the backyard

4 Scavenger Hunts for Rose Gardens

Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden

'About Face' in Balboa Park

I like rose gardens. Last Friday I spent my lunch sitting in the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden in Balboa Park embracing the sun and testing my will power at sitting still as bees enjoyed those roses closest to me. I don’t particularly like roses, especially in full bloom, but I love rose gardens. I love the repetition, funny names, bright colors, maze-like arrangements, perfumed breezes, and the opportunities for creative learning experiences.

A couple of years ago, I developed a series of activities for family engagement in rose gardens. These activities, along with activities for many of the other gardens and museums of Balboa Park, are part of the Balboa Park Family Activity Guide* – see additional details below. I have updated these original activities and included them here. Enjoy!

1. There are 35 types of roses. For simplicity and brevity, I have chosen five that I feel are the easiest to recognize and most common. Review the types listed below and try to find one of each at your local rose garden. Record the names and draw an example in a field notebook or get a photograph of each to add to your field notebook. This can be done with teams looking for one of each or individually with each person looking for a different variety (to be collected and combined into one notebook).

  • hybrid teas consist of one large bloom on a long stem used for cut flowers
  • floribundas or “many flowering” are low-growing and produce clusters of blooms
  • grandifloras or “large flowering” are tall-growing with a single bloom or cluster
  • ramblers or climbing roses have arching branches for covering walls or fences
  • miniatures have much smaller blooms and stems which are perfect for hanging baskets

2. Flowers are great for macro photography practice. Grab your camera for a photo scavenger hunt. Look for as many colors of roses as you can find or focus on the shapes you can find of a single color.

3. The names of the roses can be entertaining for both kids and adults. Have fun reading their unique names and brainstorming how they came to be. This makes for great story starters. Can you find a rose name for each letter of the alphabet?

4. Look for roses with characteristics listed below. Can you think of any other clues?

Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden

'Gourmet Popcorn' in Balboa Park

  • a type of food in its name
  • the longest name
  • a human name
  • an insect on it
  • the silliest name
  • two or more roses with a common word in the name
  • an adjective in the name

*The Balboa Park Family Activity Guide was created by the Informal Curriculum Experiences (ICE) committee made up of Balboa Park educators. This free guide is a collection of hands-on activities for families to complete throughout the Park and can be picked up at the Visitors Center.

Strengthening Sensory Skills

I like listening. Last Friday I watched a TED talk titled 5 Ways to Listen Better and decided to act on some of these suggestions while I enjoyed a stroll around the Lily Pond in Balboa Park. I had intended to take a quick walk around the pond and head back to the office. Then I overheard a family discussing the koi in the pond, which tuned me in to all the families enjoying the park on this beautiful day. Remembering the TED talk on listening, I decided to have a seat and take in the sounds and sights of the afternoon.

I closed my eyes and let my other senses take over for just a moment and felt the warmth of the sun as I listened to the wind seconds before I felt the breeze. I overheard conversations around me and opened my eyes just in time to see a dog jump away from the pond, possibly afraid of the koi or his own shadow. I saw a turtle sunning himself on a lily pad and beautiful water lilies in colorful bloom. There was a young girl in a family of four that wanted to use the camera to photograph the koi and was careful to put the strap around her neck before she held it over the water for her photograph. A family approached and began talking about the koi, which somehow led to a conversation about shark week. It was fascinating to be a visual and auditory observer of these musings.

With one last look around, it struck me that everyone was relaxed. There were at least half a dozen picnics on the lawn, families lazing on the bridge railing and only one cell phone user, which I saw but never heard despite being one bench apart. I was truly impressed by the overall relaxed atmosphere and lack of urgency to see the next thing in the park. I decided that I must take a sensory break at least once a week and test my listening (and other sensory) skills in all the gardens of Balboa Park.

Balboa Park Botanical Building & Lily Pond

Try This
I Spy: I know I use this game in a lot of my posts, but it is truly one of my favorites. It can be done anywhere and is easily adaptable to any age, including adults. You can deviate from colors to sounds, numbers, shapes, objects or actions. For example, close your eyes and try to identify the sounds you hear. Another example is “I Spy 8,” which could have been the number of picnics, dogs, kids, or koi during my visit to the Lily Pond. Another of my favorite variations of this game is spying shapes in the clouds. For more I Spy, visit my botanic gardens and repetition posts. What other adaptations can you think of for I Spy?

Sensory Pages:
As a child I would create everything pages, which was simply a white piece of scratch paper filled with drawings of anything and everything scattered across the page. Try this with the senses by dividing the paper into fifths and labeling each section with a different sense. Draw (or list) everything you observe with your senses. You can do this anywhere, but be sure to give it a title that identifies your location. Use this page to write a sensory poem.

What other activities do you do to enhance listening skills?

Exploration Walks

I like exploration walks. One night a few months ago while walking my dog, I overheard a young family just a couple yards in front of me having a much different experience on their walk. Where I saw a pothole filled with water, the little girl magically leapt across a lake. Where I saw a lizard escaping into the brush, the little boy discovered a rare miniature dinosaur species. The family even had a magnifying glass to examine leaves, I mean fossils, they found on their journey. It was dusk so flashlights were at the ready to add to the excitement. I catalogued this exploration walk because I loved the use of their imaginations.

A similar occurrence took place just a couple of days ago while at work. My office is located above a restaurant in a public building where visitors often roam the corridors. On my way to the restroom I passed a boy wandering the hallways with his mother in tow. It was clear he was leading this expedition when he said, “What’s down those stairs?” as he pointed toward a dark hallway with stairs at the opposite end. What I liked about this particular experience was the questioning by the young child, and I was immediately reminded of the exploration walk that I overheard months prior.

So what is an exploration walk? I define it as a sensory experience that engages the child’s imagination and inspires questions. This blog post describes it in the following terms, “This walk should be a meandering one, one that follows the child’s mission, not the adult’s.” It is important to encourage questioning and hypothesizing based on observations during the walk. This might be questioning what could have created the curious round shapes in the dirt or how the bee on the sidewalk died.

Did the ants create the path that extends from the ant hole?

So what tools do you need for your exploration walk? Keep in mind that the following list is only a suggestion and your tools will be contingent upon the time of day, season, and duration of your walk, not to mention a consideration for who will be carrying the supplies.

  • a magnifying glass for a closer look
  • a flashlight for those after-dinner adventures
  • a small notepad & pencil for recording questions and clues

What did you discover on your walk?