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At 102 degrees, Sunday's "Great Handcar Regatta" was a scorcher. Still, according to one Handcar Regatta attendee the event's "atmosphere of creativity, whimsy, and fun was so UNUSAL" she could forget the heat! Head turning distractions were a plenty with street musicians blaring out a joyful noise, Victorian or "Steam Punk" costumed families abounding, vintage circus side shows on every corner, AND a slew of home crafted carriages and hand cars.

We made it over to the tracks where Les Claypool of Primus would announce handcar names and statistics of intriguing metal contraptions. In a moment of excitement, the crowd and organziers seemed mystified as one handcar approached the finish line unannounced. Families, adults, and seniors jostled for a viewing position and called out for people to step back from the tracks. This rogue car and team just decided to join in the fun by making a 20 mile trek from Healdsburg!

Karen Wilkinson, mother of two who biked with her family and in-laws to the event, commented on this example of how "unregulated" the event felt. "It's very cool but there does seem to be some potential for getting hurt." She furthered that she loves the event spirit, and simply minds the "use at your own risk" signs. The Wilkinson family spent several hours seeking shady spots between exploring the bike powered swings, Children's Museum, people watching, and checking out the handcar races.

Suki Winship, also loaded daughter Lily on her bike and pedaled down. Suki arrived at 11:15 in time to see a marching band at the event's opening. She and Lily were so enthralled with the Regatta I found them still engaged by 2:30. At this hot point in the day, they'd slowed down to watch some spontaneous street action like shaking hands with the man on stilts. Suki and Lily are repeat attendees and plan to come back for next year's event. They are hooked on the "hint of Burning Man right here in Santa Rosa."

Tonya Singer, event returnee, loved the Handcar’s theme and sculptures. She found this year's event bigger and more interesting than the last. Tonya noted that more vendors filled the streets- and more people! As a founding member of the Children's Museum of Sonoma County whose booth was featured in the "Children's Section", she's thrilled by the opportunity to connect with so many local families.

Another family enjoying the exhibits at the Children's Museum offered they were glad to "stumble upon" the museum - with no apparent event program, map of vendors, or specific details in the event promotional materials, this family wasn't sure what they'd find at the event. It certainly appears that the Handcar's organizer's M.O. is to inspire discovery and surprise!

By 3:00, the sun began to bare down on some families and I heard murmurs of families packing up to leave. Then the Reighard family walked by happily savoring cold popsicles. Several families cried out for directions to the ice cream vendor, and a huge group of us mustered the strength to trot over to a bicycle vendor. There I heard one young, parasol toting tween tell her Abe Lincoln father she was not having fun and was ready to go home. However, a moment later with popsicle in hand, she admitted to me that she was at least really enjoying the array of costumes at the event.

Next year, bring your sunscreen, iced water, and parasol and join in the Great Hand Car Regatta's fun. Thanks to Ty Jones and Spring Maxfield for bringing vibrancy and unusual whimsy to Railroad Square!

Several new trends in packing lunch sacks appeared with the start of this year's back to school season.  In this economy, bringing a homemade sack lunch is no longer passé - in fact it is becoming an art!  From better bags to stainless steele containers to bento boxes to artful food presentation to higher quality foods - lunches are now quite a statement of families' creativity and lifestyle choices.  Read on for inspiration to jump in on this new, positive movement!


I made washable lunch sacks using old jammie pants and wool yarn (pictured above) for each of my family members.  This easy, cost effective project is fun and a great way to save on waste created by paper or plastic bags.  I got the inspiration from a field bag made by an 8-year old boy on this home schooling website. 


Next, our family decided to purchase a stackable metal container set to replace our worn-out Tupperware.  We like this model sold at Whole Foods and on Sono-Ma's A-store.  My husband says while the new set is heavier, he loves the idea of throwing his stainless steel pieces into the dishwasher rather than hand washing the potential toxic plastic. 

We've always carried SIGG water bottles - although we just learned we need to replace our current models. 

SIGG announced BPA may be contained in aluminum water bottles manufactured prior to August 2008.  If you are concerned about this new discovery and would like to exchange your bottle, SIGG will trade you for a new bottle through October 31, 2009.

Lisa, local North Bay mom and authoress of  Picnic writes a comical piece on some of the hysteria this is causing in parents committed to eco-living:

"a fellow parent at my daughter's school stopped me in the hall, demanded I open the bottle I was holding so she could look inside, and then warned me that the copper colored liner contained BPA and could be exchanged for a BPA-free version."  read more here
Marin Mommies also writes "SIGG - How Could You?" - including details for exchanging your bottle at local Whole Foods or REI stores.  Call Whole Foods Sonoma (938-8500), Santa Rosa (575-7915), and Sebastopol (829-9801) to confirm your potential exchange before 10/31/09.

For an in-depth explanation of BPA and health ramifications please read New York Times writer Tara Parker-Pope's "Hard Plastic is Raising Hard Questions."

Nutritional & Artful Foods

Concerned about the food in your swinging sack?  Spice up your kids' lunches with two of my son's favorites:  home made fruit leather or grape juice.  Apples and grapes are in season, fellow locavores! 

Get on board with Slow Food's Time For Lunch Campaign.  Healdsburg and Santa Rosa just sponsored two "Eat-in's" to help raise awareness about the quality of school lunches.  Want ideas for recipes?  Artful presentation?  Check out:  the Nourish Network published by a young Sonoma County mom.  Or Mothering Magazine's recent article "School lunches that nourish the body and soul." Or try to recreate these lovely bento box lunches!  Have fun!

fave bentos

The Press Democrat reported on Sunday that Michael Moore's new movie stole the show at Wine Country Film Festival, surprisingly omitting that local bread cooperative Alvarado Street Bakery is featured in the film.  Allow me, wife of one of said bakery's cooperative members, to shout from the mountaintops that a "Parent's Nite Out" is in order.  When the film opens October 2, call the sitter, organize a trade with another family, or call in the grandparents to get ready for buttery popcorn and holding (greasy) hands in the dark. 

Catch "Capitalism" Here:

Petaluma Boulevard Cinemas
200 C Street (at Petaluma Boulevard), Petaluma, (707) 762-7469

Rialto Cinemas Lakeside
551 Summerfield Rd, Santa Rosa, (707) 525-4840

While Mr. Moore can be controversial, his core messages resonate with most families: America needs to reset national priorities to include paying workers a living wage while providing good health care coverage. Alvarado Street Bakery exemplifies these family-benefiting values. This local, organic cooperative is best known for its sprouted wheat breads and its smiling, orange cat logo.

Why did Michael Moore Choose ASB
(excerpts reprinted from earlier article)

Alvarado Street Bakery (ASB), now based in Petaluma, is a "global supplier of certified organic, whole grain breads and bagels made with sprouted wheat." This local company started out in the late 70's as an offshoot of a nonprofit that also housed Santa Rosa's Community Market. The company continues to thrive today through employing more than 100 employees in Sonoma County. (To read more history click here.)

Our family can attest to this amazing company's commitment to its employees. ASB provides us with a terrific, low-cost health care plan (a PPO that includes acupuncture and covered our son's birth at the Women's Health and Birth Center), quarterly gain sharing bonuses, a living wage, input into company operations through its cooperative structure, and the opportunity to own a share of the company through its membership program.  Annual family picnics are also something to rave about - including a day at Safari West earlier this year.

My husband has worked for this company for more than 15 years - and he is considered a "short timer." Employees stick with this company as it truly IS a company that creates a quality product with consideration for our world and its employees.

Not only is this company unique in its outstanding consciousness, it also produces great bread! ASB families trade recipes about the best way to use ASB products. One family swears that sprouted breads make the best grilled cheese. Our family loves to make French toast casserole out of the Cinnamon Raisin breads (click here for recipe). Many of our kids gorge on the bagels and eat daily sandwiches on the "Ultimate Kids Bread."

ASB families bring home fresh bread at the end of their shifts, but other Sonoma County families can always find this bread at Andy's Market, Community Market, Fiesta Markets, Whole Foods, Oliver's, Trader Joe's (Essential Flax Seed), and other conventional markets. The product is shipped as far as Japan, so people can actually grab a slice of the smiling cat bread just about anywhere. 

Just don't try to sneak a loaf in your purse when you go see the film - ASB stands out!

When weekends hit, does your family struggle to answer "What could we possibly all do together that would be at least a little fun for each family member?"  Fabulously, we've discovered several Sonoma County hotspots that are fun and funky enough to satisfy our whole family.

Fun?  Funky?  Sebastopol!  Ride your bike down the lovely Joe Rodota Trail and find Sebastopol tucked between Highway 12 and the 116!  Look for the hand-painted signs on 116 and Bloomfield road pointing you to Hardcore Cafe.  Start your day with high octane in a cup.  As you order your coffee, your kids can explore the gated outdoor patio area with kid-sized kitchen, cars and eye catching art work.  Nestle down in one of the brightly painted booths.  Who knows? You might even get to finish your cup before the kids tire of bumper cars!

Now that you are fueled up, continue on your way (the bike trail has several legs from downtown Santa Rosa, through Sebastopol, and over to Occidental) to catch live music or have lunch at Ace in the Hole.    Ace features a fenced, outdoor courtyard complete with outdoor grill and putting green.  Your kids can roam a bit while you order up grilled oysters or a burger.  Food and fare at Ace is good and simple- think sausages and popcorn as staple menu items.

Come indoors to snuggle up in one of the comfy, cushion filled window seats.  Experience the "family friendly vibe", while you listen to some groovin local music.  I put the word out to my mommy friends to bring their kids to an Old Jawbone show at Ace, and was surprised to run into another group of mommies and kids rockin' on the dance floor!

Bryles and I stopped by Ace for Mark McDonald's recent show.  We arrived in time to see the end of Conception Vessel One's afternoon act.  Singer and cellist, Artemis, tossed me a free CD and suggested that we check out the family friendly music shows at Sebastopol's Infusions Teahouse.  We danced to Mark McDonald's band and chatted with drummer, Gary Benson, owner of Music for Kids in Cotati.  Gary sends his support to Sono-Mas by offering a chance to win a free drum through his store. 

Talk about family friendly!

If you've still got it in you, pedal over to Singing Frogs Farm and rest next to a shady pond.   Our family decided to support water conservation by not planting a veggie plot this year, instead opting for purchasing a share of Singing Frogs farm's bounty.  This "Community Supported Agriculture" farm gives us a bushel of fresh, delectable produce every week for just $20 - at least a 25% savings over local grocery store costs. 

We're encouraged to call Singing Frogs "our farm", and visit every week.  We even opted to spend a few weekend days clearing the pond, harvesting blueberries, and soon to harvest pumpkins!  We watch the seasons change through the discovery of baby birds, Charlie the llama's shearing, growing sunflowers, fading strawberries, the explosion of colors in the pepper beds.  Experiencing twilight over Singing Frogs in its pristine valley is just the way we love to end our day together.

Discover your own favorite coffee or tea shops, musicians, and farms in laid back, arty Sebastopol.  Sebastopol is so... perfect for families.

Late summer Sonoma County is a time I associate with the crisp, green and red Gravenstein apple. Driving through Sonoma's country roads we find gnarly, old apple trees laden with fruit, propped by splintering 2x4's, and covering the orchard floors with ripe red, yellow, and green fruit.  Such abundance inspires celebration and a rolling of the sleeves! Stretch out sweet summer through preserving its fruit.

Apple Celebrations:

From the recent annual, old-fashioned style Gravenstein Apple Fair to the Apple Blossom Parade next April, people around these parts know how to celebrate apples! Find pies, ciders, fritters, butters, caramel covered apples, and many other delectable treats at such events while dancing to music, watching a parade, or investigating old fashioned apple factory machines. My neighbor's 5-year old even took part in the apple sauce eating (or should I say gulping?) contest at the Gravenstein Apple Fair.

Where to find Apples:

Sonoma County Farm Trails guide helps you find apple ranches in your backyard.  Ask for a Gravenstein Apple to support the living memory of this "forgotten flavor" selected by the Slow Food Foundation for the Biodiversity Ark of Taste.  Click here to find local sources for the Gravenstein identified by Slow Food Russian River.

Sonoma County Farmer's Markets will also feature apples for the next several months.

Many locals are now growing trees in their backyard.  After just five years my neighbor's tree is already producing more apples than she can put to use.  Ask if you can help "glean" up your neighbor's orchard floor!  I also scored one box of apples on Freecycle

Try Canning, Freezing or Drying to Make Apples Last Through Winter:

Thursday, September 10 at 6:30: Sebastopol Hardware Center offers a Food Preservation Class with Wendy Krupnick.  Learn how to can, freeze, dry apples and more! All canning supplies will be 20% off after the class. Click here for a canning lid coupon from Sebastopol Hardware Center.  Call (707) 823-7688 for details.

If you miss this class or get crowded out - last year's class crammed 175 people in the hardware store - check out this excellent on-line tutorial.  "A Sonoma Garden" is one of my favorite local blogs, and this article is exemplary of fabulous photos, excellent "how-to's" and even little freebies like the canning lid label pdf.  Jump over to the Fallen Apple Applesauce article for true canning inspiration.

You can also learn to can while helping others through Slow Food Northern Sonoma's Farm to Pantry program.  The next community canning session, September 16 at 9 am, is hosted at the Relish Kitchen in Healdsburg.  Contact Aletha Soule for more information.

Inspiring Recipes:  (Warning: Don't Read When Hungry)

(Gail at Smiling Tree peels an apple with the kids for snack time)

How to Make Fruit Leather posted on Simply Recipes by author Elise Bauer - this healthy treat is the number one snack requested at my house!  Note, parchment paper is a good plastic wrap substitute, although wax paper will not work!

Try this excellent crumb top apple pie. Sono-Ma Melissa Wood is famous for her version of this pie, which is sans raisins.  Travel back in time with this 1963 newspaper edition of a Baked Betty recipe!  Or try the tasty Apple Crisp recipe with a rolled oat topping.

**Update:  Sharon Eisley just found an apple fritter recipe and made these lovely Beignets (or Ben Yays is honor of her son Benjamin.)**

Beware of Apple Worms and Electrical Outlets:

My counter tops have been covered with apples over the past month - apples in the basket waiting to be peeled and cored, apples bubbling away in the crockpot (easy apple sauce!), cooling fruit leather....  Apparently, with all of these apples, a worm or two may come along.  One of our little worms decided to make a break from the apple corer and "wormed" his way into our electrical outlet.  His little adventure led to a fried GFI outlet - luckily not a fire!  My free apples turned into a $100 electrician bill, but my family is still happily licking apple juice off our fingers.  Beware and enjoy!

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