San Diego Baby + Toddler Bucket List

I've been asked a lot about what I do with my time as a "stay-at-home" mom and how my son and I fill our days. I feel so blessed to get to spend this season of life showing my son the world, but I'll admit, at first it was tough to figure out what the heck to do with this little human after I had recovered from a c-section. I decided to create a baby and toddler bucket list to get all our options down in one place! I used these lists the first two years of Zanden's life to get us out of the house, make new friends and explore what San Diego / Southern California has to offer. As a new mom, getting out with a baby and forming a routine you enjoy can be a challenge. In the beginning, I literally would just check things off day by day. The items were as simple as going to the park or as exciting as our first trip to Disneyland. Over time, we've learned what activities are our favorites and what we may skip with baby #2, who will be joining our family this summer!

********** OUTDOOR FUN **********

Stroller/Carrier Walks. I joined a local Meetup group where I ended up meeting a bunch of great friends to walk with, since we are relatively new to the San Diego area and few of my current friends had kids. I also did Stroller Strides for a period of time before my son became more mobile. Here is a list of some great stroller walks to check out:
     -Batiquitos Lagoon (Carlsbad).
     -Discovery Lake (San Marcos).
     -Carlsbad Village boardwalk from Starbucks to Tamarack (Carlsbad).

Park Play Dates. Here are some of the parks we have checked out and enjoyed:
     -Hidden Canyon Community Park (Carlsbad).
     -Shadowridge Park (Vista).
     -Calavera Hills Community Park (Carlsbad). Sand and some nice shady spots.
     -Aviara Community Park (Carlsbad).
     -Poinsettia Community Park (Carlsbad).
     -Alga Norte Community Park (Carlsbad). Sand and modern playground. Fun to watch the skateboarders too!
     -Cottonwood Creek Park (Encinitas).
     -Glen Park (Cardiff). Sand and trains that go by!
     -Sunset Park (San Marcos). Awesome splash pad during the warmer months!

Beach Days. I like having my husband or a childless friend with me for these because the sand/lounge gear factor can be a little tough to manage by yourself while carrying a baby or wrangling a toddler! We love Moonlight and Beacon's Beach (Encinitas), Carlsbad State Beach and Ponto Beach (Carlsbad).

Leo Carrillo Ranch (Carlsbad). Free, cool/historic place to walk around, see peacocks and have a picnic.

Strawberry Picking (Carlsbad). Such a fun springtime activity! Prepare for a filthy-dirty toddler covered in strawberry juice and red dirt!

Apple Picking (Julian). A must-do for fall! We went in September with a big group of 18-month-olds to Peacefield Boutique Orchard and had the best time! Here's some photos from our trip.



Pumpkin Patch (various locations). Such a great fall tradition to get a photo of your babe with the pumpkins every year!

Bernardo Winery (Rancho Bernardo). 

Bike Rides. My husband loves taking Zanden on the back of his bike, in our neighborhood or at the Carlsbad beach boardwalk.

Babywearing Hike. My husband and I love hiking around Torrey Pines!




********** CLASSES / SPORTS / EDUCATIONAL **********

GroovaRoo Babywearing Dance (various locations). I did these classes every week with my son from four to 18 months old, until he no longer liked being in the Tula/Ergo carrier. It was such a special bonding time for us and a great community of first-time moms! You can drop in or buy a class punch card.

Musical Sing and Sign (Encinitas). A woman named Laura Greer teaches musical sign language classes at the Encinitas Library and a drop-in class at her home for crawlers - early walkers. Great for teaching your baby some signs to jump start communication!

Library Story Times (Dove Library, Cole Library, Encinitas Library). Check out your local library's kids calendar for a list of FREE drop-in story times for kids of all ages! My toddler likes the Movers and Shakers class at Cole Library the best.

Gymnastics Classes. We did First Step Gymnastics at Calavera Hills Community Park when Zanden was about 18 months. He conquered some fears through the course of the class (climbing up the bouncy slide, balance beam, trusting his teacher) and worked on some self-control skills during circle time. It is a six-week structured program through the city of Carlsbad. We are now trying out JW Tumbles in Encinitas. 

Mommy and Me Preschool. Encinitas Country Day School has a FREE Mommy and Me Preschool program. They have indoor and outdoor free play time, music time and snack time twice a week from 9:30 - 11:00 a.m. Best of all, it's commitment! 


Join a Moms Group. We do MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), which is a Christian organization that has local chapters all over the country. Their meetings are a great way to meet other moms in the same stage of life and learn from experienced mentor moms as well. We also have a moms group through my church that is wonderful!

Off to the Farmhouse Mommy and Me (San Marcos). This small family farm has baby goats, mama goats, chickens, bunnies and a pig! My guy loved holding and feeding the animals all morning! Must reserve a spot in advance via their Facebook page. Best for toddlers close to age two and up.


Swim Lessons. A must for any baby/toddler in Southern California to learn pool safety and get comfortable in the water! My husband takes our son to Waterworks on weekday nights as a fun father-son activity.

Babywearing Barre. Not my cup of tea, but some people love it. We tried a class at The Daily Method in Carlsbad. 

Little Rascalz Soccer. The parent participation league for 18 months - three years old is the cutest thing ever!

Play Gyms. We've tried out Gymboree and Lil Busy Bodies. My two-year-old loved the Level 5 class at Gymboree! 

*************** INDOOR PLAY ***************

Get Air Trampoline Gym (Vista). $8 per hour or two hours for the price of one on Tuesdays. My little guy loved bouncing around and running into the foam pits. Make sure to go during the week when it's not busy - you don't want your toddler getting trampled by older kids / adults. They do have a "little air" area which is supposed to be for smaller tots. Best for toddlers close to age two and up.

Kidsville (Carlsbad). Not our favorite spot (germs and crazy older kids not being well-supervised), but worth checking out for the sake of variety. Best for toddlers close to age two and up.

YMCA Open Gym (Carlsbad). The Magdalena Ecke YMCA has open gym Monday-Saturday for ages six months - five years. Check their website for cost and times. My son loves the foam pit, balance beams, slides and trampoline! You can pay at the door; no need to reserve a spot.


********** THEME PARKS / ATTRACTIONS **********

San Diego Zoo Safari Park / San Diego Zoo (Escondido, San Diego). An annual pass to the Safari Park / SD Zoo is a perfect first birthday gift! We have gone about twice a month since getting our pass and my son loves it more and more each time we go! Great for babies between one and two years old especially.


San Diego Botanic Garden (Encinitas). They have free admission ($2 parking) for San Diego residents the first Tuesday of every month. Babies will be happy cruising around in a stroller and older toddlers will enjoy the sand pit, water fountain, train area and a treehouse play structure.

Legoland and Sea Life Aquarium (Carlsbad). We decided to get annual passes when my son was a little over a year old since it's a short drive away. We go to the aquarium 2-3 times a month for just an hour or two and will be heading to the water park splash pad in the warmer months. My two-year-old can only go on a handful of the theme park rides, but they do have some fun playground areas, a carousel and a boat ride that he loves.

Birch Aquarium (La Jolla). Small aquarium, but worth checking out. Pretty outdoor area overlooking the ocean.

Free Flight Bird Sanctuary (Del Mar). Cute little place with lots of exotic birds to meet and greet. Some are friendly enough to hold on your arm! Small entry fee.

The Flower Fields (Carlsbad). Not good for active crawlers (muddy red dirt), but fun for babies in the stroller/carrier or steady walkers. Great for pictures in the spring!



San Diego Children's Discovery Museum (Escondido). My 18-month-old had a blast here! They have lots to do indoors and outdoors - a pirate ship, interactive science exhibits, a bubble station, a water station, a sand pit, a chicken coop, etc.

Train Ride / Zoomars Petting Zoo (San Juan Capistrano). One of my favorite things I've done with my almost two-year-old was when we took the Pacific Surfliner train up North to San Juan Capistrano! It was a short 40-minute ride from Oceanside Transit Center. The SJC train stop is a block away from Zoomars - a fun petting zoo with guinea pigs, goats, horses, llamas, pigs, pony rides, a train and a playground.


Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation (Carlsbad). Donation-based place to see/hold some small pets and reptiles. You can also grab a bite to eat in their parking lot cafe. 

********** EVENTS **********

Petco Park (San Diego). Petco Park is a great venue to check off your bucket list. We've taken Zanden to a Padre Game here when he was a baby and Monster Jam as a toddler. He is obsessed with monster trucks, so the show was a hit!

********** GRAB A BITE **********

Choice Juicery (Carlsbad). Great spot to meet up for a healthy lunch or smoothie while toddlers run around the artificial grass area or babies play on a blanket.

Crack Shack (Encinitas). Long lines as you approach lunch time, but if you get there before 11:00 a.m., they have quick service and a great sand pit for toddlers to play in while you eat your gourmet chicken sandwich.

********** Out of Town **********

Catalina Island. We had an awesome weekend on Catalina with our 18-month-old and in-laws. We stayed in a beautiful condo at Hamilton Cove, cruised around Avalon in the golf cart and had a fun beach day at Descanso Beach Club. Note: bring your carseat - you still have to use one on a golf cart! Here's some photos from our trip.

Disneyland. We took Zanden for the first time when he was 22 months and I couldn't have asked for a more fun time! I grew up going to Disneyland with my family, and it was so special to see it through a child's eyes again. He loves all the characters and rides so much!


Palm Springs. An easy weekend getaway with plenty of kid-friendly hotels and rental homes to choose from.

********** STILL TO-DO **********

New Children's Museum
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
Del Mar Fair
Cabrillo Tide Pools
Music Class
Seaport Village
La Jolla Cove
San Elijo Lagoon
Balboa Island
Kid Ventures
Keys Creek Lavender Farm


Zanden Turns Two

My Zanden Guy,

Today you are 2! You are my bubbly ball of spunky sweetness…headstrong and vocal and expressive with every part of your being. You are just so very alive and I love your zesty little soul. You like 'getting cozy' and now prefer us to 'do rainbows' on your back instead of rocking before bed...which broke my heart a little as I laid you down to rub your back from the other side of the crib rail last night. Your favorite things are trucks and books about them, cowboy boots, 'tun-guls' [tunnels], horses, Lion King, strawberries, soccer, play dough, farm animals, and of course, your new bestie Daniel Tiger.

Thank you to all our friends who came to play with Daniel and Zanden today! These are the days I never want to forget.

My Story of Adoption

I grew up always knowing I came from another mommy's tummy. I was told that I was my parents' special gift, and there was a lady named Catherine out there somewhere, who kissed me goodbye the day I was born. 

She was 19, fragile in the wake of her parents’ divorce and the unreciprocated love of the man she felt deeply for, who left town to study abroad. When another came along and pressured her to sleep with him, she thought he could give the affection she craved. She traded her virginity for the hope of genuine love, but what she got in return was the news she was pregnant.

Like most teenagers, Catherine was unready and unable to raise a child. She was still in school and had no committed partner to share the responsibility of providing for a baby. The only financial support she received was my biological father’s offer to pay for the abortion.

With no one to turn to, Catherine sought guidance from a crisis pregnancy center, where her counselors educated her about fetal development. She began to see a new story that God was writing for her if she chose to read it. As she turned each page one day at a time, she felt convicted that there was a new soul growing inside her and decided to carry the pregnancy to term.

Week after week, people poured into Catherine’s life who showed her the everlasting love and care she lacked belief in. Friends became like family. The man she loved and thought was uninterested returned from Europe and pursued a relationship with her despite the pregnancy. She found a couple struggling to add a second child to their family, and she committed to bless them with her baby.

While I grew up in a home of privilege and stability, Catherine was left to piece together the remains from leaving the delivery room with an empty womb and empty arms. She slept with my unwashed hospital blankets and tiny hat for a year after I was born and would leak milk for weeks at the sound of an infant's cry. There was no regret in her heart, but there was certainly pain all over for a long time.

When I turned eight years old, I asked my parents if my birth mom had left anything for me. That day I received a small Bible covered in white lace, with my name, "Lisa Marie," embroidered on the front. They also gave me a poem that had been written on a red paper heart wreath, like a Valentine. These gifts were from the woman who allowed me a life, and they became my precious treasures.

From then on, Catherine and I began to write letters. She would send me a birthday card each year, and I would write a thank you note in reply, updating her on my hobbies and interests. I learned that she was happily married to the man she loved, and they had four beautiful children of their own. I loved it when she would send me their family photos; I would study each of their faces to find any resemblance between us. We stayed in communication like this until the summer I turned eighteen, when I met her in person for the first time.

I would say our first time meeting was surreal, but really, it was just like catching up with a close friend I hadn't seen in a while. Catherine was always so intentional and transparent with me; I never doubted her love. Simply knowing that she sacrificed her body and emotions for my sake is one of the greatest ways I have ever been loved. 

If there is any area of my past that revealed my life has value and purpose, it is the way the Lord placed me into the family He knew was best for me all along. Jesus’ evident hand in bringing me home has led me to want His fingerprints to continue to saturate my life forever. He knew I needed the late-night "meaning of life" discussions I would have with my dad, the professor of theology. He knew that with my predisposition to fall into anxiety, I needed the grounded wisdom of my mom, a woman who never lets fear overtake her. He knew I needed the relationship and example of an older sister who has taught me what it looks like to be loyal, sincere and perseverant. He knew I needed to witness the radical generosity displayed by my grandparents, who invested in people and gave so freely. And He knew they all needed me too.

If I wasn't adopted, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to go to college in San Diego, where I met my husband, whose devotion and friendship are the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. We wouldn’t have our son, who is the most tangible joy in our lives. There is nothing about being adopted that is sad or less than perfect in my eyes. This wasn’t the backup plan or a lucky turn of events; this was the way my story was written from the beginning. The redeeming path the Lord paved for Catherine was not easy, it was not painless, it was not understood or condoned by most of the people around her at the time. But she followed it, and for this I am eternally grateful.

There is the bond of flesh and blood, and then there is something deeper that makes a mother. What being an adopted daughter has shown me is that a mother’s face is not a reflection of hereditary likeness to her children, but of God’s love, sacrifice, mercy, and faithfulness. Romans 8:12 says, “You have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” Knowing our identities as heirs with Christ has freed my husband and I from the idea that our family should be filled with exclusively biological children. It gives us the peace that God will paint a beautiful picture over our mistakes if we allow Him to use our lives as a canvas. We are free because we can be still and trust. We are free because we've been adopted.

This article was featured on The Village Magazine blog on 12/06/16.


The Breath of Life; the Posture of a Child

Sometimes being a mom feels like pushing an enormous, dirty tire up an insufferably steep hill. The weeks churn along as you fight to keep the tire above you, repeatedly losing ground and then gaining it back with each mighty heave forward, which lets you catch your breath until you are on the brink of being trampled again. Then one day you realize that the wheel has really been tumbling downward all along, and you suddenly turn around to chase after it - frantically. Time is a sentimental mama’s worst enemy, and motherhood is a series of emotions that are perpetually contradicting one another. The stresses pile high over a present struggle that always passes so soon and then too soon. The hours, even the minutes, of filling a child's afternoon can tick slower than the clock in an eighth grader's schoolroom, and yet each stage of my tiny son's life has vanished as a vapor. In the green days of our existence together, my world was consumed with milk - pumping it, leaking it, squeezing it, even silently cursing it…until one day our nursing communion ended, and all that remained were phantom pins and needles in my chest. And the recent notion of possibly trying to add a second baby to our family has made it seem as though I’ll never catch up to my toddler happily rolling down that hill.

As mothers, we are constantly moving - bending our bodies and spirits into new spaces that once never existed in our realm of reality. We learn to breathe again in these new positions as if practicing yoga, asking ourselves, are we open to the challenge and the change? Are our feet firmly planted? What is our intention for this hour, this day, this lifetime? And maybe the most daunting thought of all, are we balanced? Do we give enough to every other aspect of our lives that pulls at each different part of us simultaneously? Maybe not always, maybe never without struggle, but we continue our practice with a righteous vigilance, striving to shift from one new stage to the next as a seasoned yogi flows through a vinyasa sequence. She is mindful of every moment, aware of the discomfort, breathing deep from  asana to asana, ever reveling in the present with awe and thankfulness for the goodness right in front of her. When gravity pulls on her and tries to cripple her strength, she must focus in, locking her eyes on a singular steady object fixed before her.

For me, it is my faith that keeps my feet from losing their grip and keeps my eyes from wandering. Jesus is my solid rock, my firm foundation, the anchor of my soul. When my body is weak and my heart is heavy, the love of Christ is unwavering. He whispers, “Be still, and know that I am God” into the depths of my being. For when I listen to His words, I can no longer stay seated in my anger, selfishness or discontent. There is something about the presence of Christ that draws out even the most justifiable grievances and replaces them with a call to reconciliation and a new heart that beats thankfulness. Perhaps this is why He is called the Prince of Peace.

Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” I pray that every day I have the humility to fall to my face in a child’s pose, sinking my knees deeper into this truth. I pray I allow my son to see the strength that is within me only through bowing before and crying out to one who holds together all life and time.

For it is not our performance, but the posture of our hearts that will sit within the memories of our children. Therefore we can rise up, we can bend down, we can be stretched, we can fall over, we can improve, we can stand firm and unshakeable, we can teach others, we can be taught. We can approach our role as parents, teachers and counselors with intention, purpose and self-control. We can inhale truth and exhale self-doubt. We inhale gratitude and exhale self-pity. And we can inhale Christ, exhaling ‘self’ altogether, and drink the most freeing breath of all.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart by acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

This article was featured on The Village Magazine blog on 11/07/2016.

Halloween 2016

Benny and I had such a fun time taking Zanden to the pumpkin patch this year! He had a blast running around and picking out pumpkins to carve - can't wait to make this a yearly family tradition! Plus it was a perfect place to get some 18-month photos. :)

We took Zanden trick-or-treating for the first time this year as well! We dressed up as the big bad wolf, granny and Red Riding Hood. Z hated his bulky wolf costume, but we bribed him with chocolate to get him to wear it for a solid 30 minutes while we went door-to-door! His favorite part of the night was handing out candy to other kids at our house. SO sweet.