Hiking, Organization, Pets, Shopping, Travel, Uncategorized

Great Hikes: Be Prepared

Welcome back to my two-part series on hiking with dogs. Today the focus will be on how to prepare for a hike with your best pal.

As with just about everything in life, there are some inherent risks in exploring the great outdoors.  Weather, unexpected terrain, wildlife (by which I typically mean insects, though we have seen a couple bears in Monrovia Canyon) can easily turn a pleasant day out into a practical nightmare. Fortunately, however, most potential issues are easily prevented with some preparation beforehand and consideration once on the trail. I cannot claim credit for most of these tips. Most of these guidelines are borrowed from Scouting.

Things to consider:

As mentioned in the previous post, keep in mind your ability as well as your dog’s. Research the trail ahead of time, taking into account distance, terrain, slope grade, and whether the area offers shade. Be sure to check the weather and other conditions, such as pollen, as this can impact your experience and safety. And always be sure to have a trail map.

Water and treats for my buddy

What to bring:

Much of this is based on the Boy Scout “Ten Essentials.” This provides a good guide for what to bring on a hike or day trek.

Food: Bring ample high-calorie trail snacks. Foods such as nuts, granola, or dried fruit are good picks. The kids and canine also like meat jerky.

Water: Hydration is key. Many issues that develop on a hike happen as a result of improper hydration. A rule of thumb is 16 ounces for every hour of hiking, however this can vary depending on the individual and weather. I’d say bring at least that, and hydrate ahead of time. If you feel thirsty, it’s already late. For your pal, REI sells a few products that can be used as a dog bowl. I personally like the Ruffwear quencher collapsible bowl. It’s easy to stuff in a daypack, and easy to clean after a hike.

First aid kit: A good hiking kit will have a wrap bandage, small ice pack, band-aids, gauze pads, antiseptic wipes, antihistamine cream, and small packs of NSAID painkillers (ibuprofen or acetaminophen) and Benadryl. REI sells day packing kits in soft pouches that are easy to clip to your daypack. REI also has a few ready-made kits for canines If applicable, be sure to bring your rescue inhaler or EpiPen as well.

What’s in your daypack?

Map and compass: Know and stay on your trail. This common sense advice given me long ago will keep you from getting lost most of the time. For those rare occasions when one might get lost, a map and compass can quite literally be a lifesaver. Any reliable compass will do, but I personally like a clear compass, as this is easier to line up with a map.

Attention-getters: We always carry both a whistle and a mirror.  The mirror doubles as a hygiene (or get Instagram-worthy) tool and a signaling tool, just in case.

Weather ready: We always carry sun protection and a hat, regardless of how much shade will be on the trail.  We also will carry ponchos and a lightweight jacket just in case. Weather changes quickly in many areas, so it’s good to be prepared.

This is not a comprehensive list of what one can bring on a hike. You know yourself and your pup best. I would not recommend bringing too much extra for a day hike. Too much extra weight can lead to added fatigue and a sore back. Also, remember to pack in and pack out.  Some areas will not have trash service along the trail, so bring bags (including poop bags) to carry waste out.

As we say in Scouts, leave no trace.  Take only photos, leave only footprints, and kill only time.  Happy trails!


me and my dogggggg
In the Angeles National Forest. Happy trails!
breakfast, Brunch, coffee, Food, Kids, Style, Travel, Uncategorized, wine and drink

Girls’ Weekend with my favorite ladies

Another weekend is come and gone, and this was one for the books. The boys in our family each left for the weekend one at a time, starting with the husband on Friday, the younger boy Saturday before dawn, and finally my high schooler in the early afternoon. I call it ‘bachelorette weekend’ whenever the boys leave: the girls and I visit museums or other locales the guys think are either lame or too far to drive then come home for some hardcore scrapbooking and wine while binge watching movies the guys think are too girly or lame.

This weekend was not much different, except that I had to remember what time each of them were set to leave and make sure they and all their related gear got to the correct dropoff points. But after the morning’s drives we were able to enjoy a sweet Saturday- just  the ladies.

We started our girls weekend with brunch at one of my favorite spots, Magnolia House on Lake Avenue in Pasadena. It was the first time I  brought the girls, and they loved it. Sami especially liked the avocado toast, a slice of sourdough with a generous heap of avocado and topped with almonds, pickled onions, and burrata cheese. I was a bit skeptical of her choice (I usually get the huevos rancheros), but it was really good. Our server was very sweet and patient with Sami who sometimes has anxiety over those seemingly minor decisions such as what to eat.  I would not call Magnolia House ‘kid-friendly,’ especially for younger kids. It has a really trendy vibe and full bar with some interesting cocktails (of which I did not partake on this trip), so it’s definitely better as a grown-up girls’ brunch or date night. But Sami, who is 10, did just fine. Brunch was followed by some shopping on Lake Avenue. Emily scored a pair of Steve Maddens at TJMaxx for under $30, and Sami picked up an adorable Halloween costume at  Pottery Barn Kids.

The afternoon and evening hours took us further from home. We spent the rest of our glorious Saturday in Malibu. After driving the windy, but beautiful Malibu Canyon Road, we found ourselves at the famed Surfrider Beach, part of Malibu Lagoon State Beach. We were excited to explore the tide pools and observe the sea life that lived among the rocky pools. The girls went between playing in the waves and exploring the area. It was a beautiful, blue-sky day, significantly cooler than the 90-degree San Gabriel Valley- perfect for a day at the beach.

After playing in the ocean for a couple hours, we walked the sagescrub lined paths to get back to PCH and headed to the Malibu Pier. The Malibu Farm has both a cafe that serves coffee and snacks and a full service restaurant. Both are located on the pier. Reservations are recommended for the restaurant, though we were able to move ours forward. The Malibu Farm, as might be assumed, specializes in fresh dishes made from organic ingredients. I wasn’t really hungry after a really late lunch/snack, and so wanted dessert. Sami ate in the car on the way over and Emily lost her Subway sandwich to a seagull, so the girls were ready for dinner. And dessert. After some indecision and much debate, we finally ordered two kids meals with orzo pasta and two desserts, an organic soft serve and the grilled chocolate cake. The kids pasta was very good, and not too salty as many kids meals can be. To me the soft serve tasted like Costco. Though the girls really enjoyed it, I was less impressed, especially when the cheapskate in me remembered that I could get twice as much ice cream for $1.35 compared with $6, organic or not. But the grilled chocolate cake… What can I say other than it was heaven on a plate. The texture was perfection- thicker than your usual cake, but light enough to just melt in your mouth. It was served over a sea salt caramel drizzle and a generous dollop of fresh whipped cream. For $10 it was a splurge, but it was large enough to share among the three of us, and it was a chocolate masterpiece.

The Malibu Farm’s price point is for me on the higher end of my scale, but I would definitely return. The food was delicious and the portions generous.  We took home half of Emily’s kids meal, and I was able to share some of Sami’s. There are a few things I’d like to try the next time we go, such as the lemon basil ice cream and the berry merengue. Our server was really great. He made good recommendations, and was super friendly toward a trio of indecisive and somewhat giggly (but otherwise well-behaved) girls. And the view of the Pacific Ocean is just spectacular.

This is just a snapshot of what one can do on a visit to Malibu, a city that boasts 21 miles of scenic coastline. There are many dining and shopping options, along with museums such as the Getty, and hiking in the Santa Monica mountains. And while I didn’t do any hardcore scrapbooking, Emily did stay up to binge watch “Gilmore Girls.”

Hobbies, Kids, Organization, School, Scrapbooking, Uncategorized

Our last picture day of elementary school, scrapbooks, and what to do with class photo pages

Today was Picture Day at the elementary school Sami attends. It was the last Picture Day that I will pay Lifetouch good money for, in anticipation of that envelope of three-by-fives and wallets to pass out to relatives out of state and overseas. Samantha is in fifth grade this year; next year she will be joining her brother at the middle school. After 12 years fixed at the school by our home, we will be finally moving on at the end of the school year. I think I need a tissue… there’s something in my eye.

I tend not to be a hugely sentimental person, but I do hold tight to certain memories, especially as I am forced to acknowledge the fact that the kids are growing up very quickly.   I have already two in high school. In another two years, we’ll be sending the oldest off to college. It seems like not too long ago that they were babies. It wasn’t that long ago that they were babies.

I suppose I enjoy scrapbooking for that nostalgic sentimentality . Even with the ease of Shutterfly and other digital photo book options, I still like the tactile nature of laying out pages, cutting paper, picking out cute little embellishments to accent the photos. The kids each have several albums: a birth-preK, kinder-high school, a baby book album with their firsts, and one for Fifth Grade Outdoor Science School. Each album is the product of stress, lots of love, and money- scrapbooking isn’t exactly cheap. However I have given in a bit: for the kids’ weeklong Scout camps and hikes, I order photobooks from Shutterfly.  Let’s face it, it’s much easier to digitally ‘scrapbook’ 139 camp photos. And it takes up much less space.

Shutterfly photo books document the kids’ Scout camps
For traditional scrapbook albums, Michaels and JoAnn have a decent selection of scrapbook paper and embellishments.  I found that the brick-and-mortar store with the best selection, at least in my area, is Hobby Lobby.  They have several aisles of paper, embellishments, albums, etc. with almost anything a scrapbooker can dream of. Amazon tends to be good for basics such as glue, photo squares, and glue dots (

Science camp albums
The older kids’ Science Camp albums from their weeks at Camp in Malibu, Ca.

What to do with those large class photo sheets:

I found that the class photo sheets look awkward just glued into a traditional album. So I cut out the individual photos and label them with the student’s first name and last initial, and create a page for that grade. For the boys I would pick a theme, such as robots. The girls were stuck with some really girly pages.

Sami's grade page
Cutting and arranging the individual photos on the class photo page allowed for more room to create a custom grade-level page.

However you choose to preserve your child’s sweet memories, have fun as you look back on those moments.  The days are incredibly long but the years are short. And almost as quickly as you can turn a page in their baby albums, they will be grown up. Here’s to that journey.


Decorating, Family, holidays, Shopping, Style, Uncategorized, writing

Christmas traditions in decor

christmas 4
Christmas 2008. We once had a tradition of matching pajamas when they were littles.

It’s been a chilly 81 degrees here in So Cal, and though the mornings have been on the crisp side, the afternoon temperatures have made it easy to forget that we are indeed in the month of December. At least I seem to have forgotten, as it is now 10 days until Christmas, and while I have completed my Christmas shopping for our extended family, gift exchanges, and office, I have yet to purchase anything for the kids or the husband outside of one stocking stuffer.  Let’s just hope they’re not reading this post…

The good thing is that there is still 10 days until Christmas, and sites such as Amazon make it easy to score a great gift at the last minute. However it is true what they say about Christmas (not that retailers would want to admit): there is more to the season than just the presents.

It is hard to pin down any truly unique traditions for our family.  I grew up fairly isolated from aunts, uncles, and grandparents.  Both my parents’ families lived out of state, either in the Midwest or the Philippines, and besides my mother was not one for hosting. Christmas was looked forward to as my dad would hang lights and put up our cute, but artificial tree, and the holiday flew by in a day that was usually as disenchanting as it was boring. Not that the day was usually bad per se; we opened gifts that we had picked out and didn’t do much the rest of the day. But as a kid, I set my expectations on something that was unattainable for us at the time. I dreamed of the kind of Christmas the husband’s family celebrated.

His family celebrated the holiday very differently. His mom would make a Christmas waffle breakfast while the kids would open up their stockings and search for the pickle in the tree.  After breakfast, gift-giving would commence, led by ‘Santa Haas’ and not before the traditional reading of the Christmas story as presented in Luke’s gospel. Then there was Christmas dinner, either at their home or at the home of one of his aunts or uncles. They would enjoy a delicious meal, fellowship with one another, and participate in a gift exchange.  Not that every Christmas was perfect and drama-free I’m sure, but in the tales of his Christmases past I imagine warmth and light and love.

So with two very different experiences, we began to create some of own traditions. For our family, it starts with holiday decorating.  The Haas winter holiday season begins November 30, following the last of our autumn birthdays. I usually put up the mantel decorations, though now the girls help with that as they’ve gotten older and develop opinions, or a sense of style, depending on how one sees it. This year, after a trip to Crate and Barrel for some new reindeer-themed decor, Emily had pretty free rein.  That is until she wanted to switch out the photos in the stocking holders.  The stocking holders contain photos from each of our first Christmases, depicting the husband mouthing a toy, me eating wrapping paper (probably explains a lot), and Jacob’s stay in the NICU. The kids will probably die of embarrassment as they get older and bring significant others to our home, nevertheless the First Christmas stocking holders are the first of our traditions.

Then there’s our tree. I’ve long wanted to put up one of those fancy Pinterest-inspired, Instagram-worthy, color-coordinated themed trees. But that’s not what we do. My mother-in-law saved and labeled ornaments from her boys’ growing up, and now she does the same for her grandkids. This is a tradition that I too have now adopted. I love our family tree, with its blend of old and new- the new being the cute woodland themed ornaments from Crate and Barrel and Target, along with my collection of Starbucks tumblers. Coffee obsession aside, our tree is full of love.

Once the tree is up, and the halls are decked, we sit down with steaming mugs of cocoa (Bailey’s in mine!) and watch a Christmas movie. My favorite is “Mickey’s Christmas Carol,” which the kids find cute but lame, though I’m convinced that they’ll appreciate as much as I do the Disney-spin on a Charles Dickens classic. Eventually.

These are just a few of the things I look forward to each holiday season.  How does your family enjoy ‘decking the halls?’ Share in the comments below.

Family, Kids, Opinion, parenting, School, Uncategorized, writing

Counting the blessings… in the midst of mess

Getting ready for school can be a bear…

I woke up this morning, stuffy-nosed and bleary-eyed from the winter cold I probably caught as a result of working at the elementary school for the past week, and meandered into the bathroom. I was only the third person this morning to go to use it, and I swear I had it clean last night before retiring to bed. But lo, there were washcloths all over the counters, towels on the floor, various toiletry items strewn about the tiled vanity. Oh and I failed to mention the large gob of toothpaste on the edge of the sink.  Seriously, how many washcloths does it take to wash a sixteen-year-old’s face? Please don’t answer that. And who, who, was attempting to brush the teeth of a whale shark, because seriously that’s the only animal who could possibly need that much toothpaste.

I was getting ready to yell at Jacob, as would be my usual custom, and remembered that he had about a minute-and-a-half to finish getting ready before his carpool would arrive to take him to zero period marching band. And in that brief moment, I remembered something far more profound.  That mess, and many of the others in our house, in our car, and elsewhere, is made by those for whomI am most thankful for.  This family, this home, are my greatest blessings in this life.  And I have to remember that everything I chose up to this point- my education, my decision to work outside the home, my decision to not work outside the home, and more- was in the hope that we could give them the best chance possible.

I decided in that moment not to yell at Jacob, not that it meant I wasn’t yelling for the rest of them to get in the car now about 35 minutes later. The morning carpool runs had to be completed.  But as I drove home from the soul-sucking morning rounds in Los Angeles County traffic, I did reflect on how thankful I really am to have these four children with all their strengths and struggles. And how very lucky I am to get to be called their Mom.



Hiking, Pets, Travel, Uncategorized

Great Hikes… with dogs

Welcome to my two-part series on hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains.  Owen, my golden retriever, and I have recently started hiking together.  I’m not entirely sure why we haven’t done more of this before; being out in nature is a fun way to bond with each other.  And it is great exercise for both dog and human. Owen and I seem to be happiest in the outdoors. We are fortunate to have a few trails close by that work well for us.  I take into account several factors when deciding where to go:

Trail width: As my pup is a 67-lb retriever, I prefer areas where the main trail is wide enough to allow two hiking pairs to pass comfortably.  We simply take up space, and he is heavy enough to be difficult to lift.  I also found that he likes to stay at my side as we’re going up a slope, rather than going ahead, so having the extra space makes things easier.

Water/stream crossings: My dog is supposed to be fond of water, but he seems to be ambivalent about it.  That said, he will go where I go, and will willingly cross small streams. Boulder hopping is fun, but it is a bit trickier for me when I’m with Owen.  I prefer more “boring” trails, with only a couple shallow stream crossings and not too many boulders.

Trail conditions: Owen does just fine on rockier trails, but seems to prefer smoother surfaces. He also is not too fond of steep hills, though he was able to complete a couple of those.  Let’s just say that both he and I were pretty wiped afterward.

Crowds: My dog and I can both be easily distracted.  He is great with people, good with most dogs, but reactive toward certain small dogs. For this reason, and our mutual enjoyment, I pick less the trekked areas.  We also go on weekday mornings when the crowds would be lower.

All that considered, here are just a few picks for my favorite hikes with my dog:

Gabrielino Trail, Sunset Overlook to Gould Mesa- Owen and I had fun on this nice flat hike, part of the Lower Arroyo Seco trail.  The picnic area at Sunset Overlook overlooks Jet Propulsion Laboratory. We took the small side trail from the Overlook down to the main, paved trail.  The trail is wide as you cross the bridges, allowing for good space between groups. We explored some of the smaller side trails, which followed a small stream. There was a lot for him to explore and sniff out, and the trail was quiet and pleasant in the morning.

Sam Merrill Trail, Echo Mountain- The trailhead is at the top of Lake Avenue in Altadena. We’ve only gone part of the way up the mountain together. The trail begins fairly wide, but gets more narrow as you get higher.  Owen wasn’t quite sure what to do as the trail got narrow. He tended to want to heel, but I needed him to go forward, as there wasn’t enough room for him to stay at my flank.  I’m sure this is something that would improve with practice. What I really like about the trailhead area itself is that there are some fun areas to explore before hitting the actual trail up the mountain.  We went around the ‘meadow’ area and hiked up some of the small side trails. We didn’t meet with many people on the smaller trails, so space wasn’t a problem, even as it got narrow.  However, this would not be true on the main trail.  Sam Merrill is not as popular, as say, Eaton Canyon, but it does get quite a few visitors.

Mt. Wilson Toll Road, Henninger Flats-  The hike to Henninger Flats Campground from the bridge is a strenuous 2.8 mile all uphill torture trek that I hike once a week during our Scout hiking season, and about every other week or so after. Every time I head up, I wonder why I put myself through that kind of pain, but the hike really is a fantastic workout. If you and your pup are up for a challenge, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the San Gabriel Valley and LA Basin in a quiet forest setting. The hike itself is not shaded, but the trail is mostly smooth and pretty wide. I’ll confess that Owen and I together haven’t made it to the top; I’ll say that I’m still ‘conditioning him.’  The tricky part for me is the downhill.  I would not recommend this hike for dogs who have a very strong pull because it is easy to lose footing on the down slope.

There are a few fun hikes that can be done with a canine companion, however are not on my recommended list.  Eaton Canyon is nice and very popular, but is heavily trafficked.  On a busy day it’s tricky enough with kids, more so a dog (though some might have the opposite experience). Chantry Flats to Sturtevant Falls or Hoegee’s Campground is also a popular choice. These can be great hikes, however I would not recommend them on a hot day.  There have been instances of dogs being injured because the paved portion can get very hot. And depending on prior rain fall, there can be a lot of poison oak growth.

Dogs are required to be leashed on all of these trails at all times, regardless of obedience level or temperament. Also, you know your dog best, so do your research and choose trails that are suited to your dog’s (and your) activity level. It also is important to bring enough water for the both of you. On that head, the next post will be on what to take along on a hike with your buddy. Here’s to exploring the great outdoors. Happy trails!


Kids, Money savers, Shopping, Style, Travel, Uncategorized

Saving money Saturdays: the Citadel Outlets

Happy Tuesday! I know it’s not Saturday, but we took a trip to the Outlets on Saturday, so that counts. Sort of.

Take a trip south on the Interstate 5 from Los Angeles, and you’ll see a set of peach-colored buildings with Babylonian-style architecture.  This is where you want to stop.

The Citadel buildings have an interesting history.  The site was built back in 1929 as the Samson Tire Company, and at the time, was the largest tire manufacturer west of the Mississippi. It became Uniroyal Tire in 1962.  Manufacturing ceased in 1978, but the site was purchased by the City of Commerce in 1983 to prevent its demolition. Today the site is a mixed-use facility with offices, the Doubletree Hotel, and L.A.’s first and only outlet mall.

I love the Citadel Outlets for two reasons: One, it’s only about a 20 minute drive from my home, even with the characteristic horrible L.A. traffic.  Two, the Citadel features many of the stores where I would typically shop. All three Gap brands are carried here, as are luxury brands Coach and Kate Spade, and business attire essentials Ann Taylor, Van Heusen, and Tommy Hilfiger. These are just a few of the 130 brands one can find at the Citadel.

As with any shopping trip- outlet or otherwise- be sure to do your due diligence and compare quality and price. Certain stores such as Kate Spade carry both items that are designed specifically for outlet stores and past season merchandise. Others, such as the Disney Store, have sales that are not much different from the typical retail store. You’re not always guaranteed a bargain just because you’re shopping at an ‘outlet.’ That said, with a little research and some willpower, you can score some really great deals. Okay, a lot of willpower.

Happy Thanksgiving? The Citadel is all decked out with plenty of time for the Christmas holidays.