How to enjoy a hike with two kids under five: Tennessee Valley Trail

The Google calendar alarm went off, reminding us of the hike we had planned all week long. And we felt like canceling. It looked foggy and cold outside our Sunset apartment window. And we didn’t feel as refreshed as we had hoped. Our 18 month-old baby boy had kept us up all night due to yet another cold. It also didn’t help that our 4 year-old daughter woke up repeatedly screaming, “I hate hiking!” at the top of her lungs. But despite all the odds we kept our plan for that Saturday morning.

I really love hiking, I do. But with little kids it’s just…different. With time I have learned that one of the tricks to successfully accomplish almost anything with children is to plan ahead.

Here are some tips that will help make your hike a pleasant and memorable experience that you and your kids will want to repeat.

1. Select a trail that suits your family’s needs.

We choose the Tennessee Valley Trail in Marin. The trail head is an easy 25-minute drive from San Francisco. Just take Route 101 N, exit at Stinson Beach and follow the Tennessee Valley road. There is a parking lot at the trail head that gets full fast but you can park at the sides of the road. We got there pretty late on a Saturday morning, and found parking at the side of the road near the entrance.

SF to Tenneesse Valley Trail Head

SF to Tennessee Valley Trail Head

2. Pack right, not too much or too little:

Layers: T-shirt, long sleeve, vest or wind-breaker and change of clothes for the babes.

Comfortable shoes: My 4 year old daughter insisted on wearing fancy patent leather shoes for the car ride. I packed her running shoes and two pairs of socks in the backpack she also insisted on bringing. I reminded her she would be the one carrying the bag pack during the hike and she replied, “Yes mommy, I will carry it the whole time”. As you can imagine that was not the case.

Baby Supplies: Diapers, wipes, etc.

Snacks and Picnic Lunch: We brought a picnic lunch with us since the trail ends in a beautiful beach and eating in a restaurant with our 18 month old is not fun these days. A few perfectly ripe California avocados, wheat tortillas to make our own burritos, boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, lentil hummus, pealed carrots for dipping, and cheese. We also brought bananas and coconut water for snacks.


-Hats & Sunglasses


-Baby Carrier or stroller.

3. Bring a positive attitude:

Traffic, screaming babies and complaining toddlers can really put over tired parents over the edge. It’s important to expect delays, breathe and concentrate on the big picture. Enjoy your precious time off and turn negativity around.

By the time we got into our car the fog had dissipated and it was a warm and gorgeous day (But even the fog is beautiful it never gets too cold to hike).

Our 4-year old complained pretty much the whole first part of the hike. She repeated that “it was boring” or “she was tired” or “she had a stone in her shoe…” The first half mile we probably stopped around tent times. Eventually we  ignored her nagging and redirected the conversation to the landscape around us. The beautiful wild flowers, butterflies, or hawks flying above us were pretty spectacular. I felt like she had been testing us and we didn’t break. After a while she completely turned her attitude around. She started to sing and hop along the trail, and got very excited about the rolly pollies and beautiful rocks she kept encountering. She wondered where the fairies might be hiding and started to ask questions about insects and plants. When we arrived to the beach it was glorious. The baby got off our back and run around the sand. We explored the caves and found a perfect spot to lay down our blanket and catch a rest. On the way back our girl didn’t complain or need to stop once. She really enjoyed herself! She agreed that hiking was awesome and she wanted to do it again. Score!

Tips for the Tennessee Valley Trail

Tennessee Valley Trail is breathtakingly beautiful and perfect for a family hike. It’s 1.8 miles from the trail head to Tennessee Cove, a gorgeous secluded beach perfect for a picnic (or a nap). The trail begins on a paved road and it takes you through lovely hills and flowered meadows that resemble Hobbiton from Lord of the Rings. After a while the road becomes unpaved but it continues pretty flat, easy for toddler’s little feet. A stroller can easily be pushed all the way to the end of the trail.

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There are toilets and the beginning of the trail and also near the beach.

Important note: There is a fork in the road where the trail splits. Both trails take you to the beach but the lower path on the left is flat and the trail on the right is steeper as it goes through the hills.

Take the left path if you want flat

Take the left path if you want flat

There is a lovely farm stand near the trail head that sells beautiful organic produce. We got some berries and chocolate covered raisins for dessert!

Happy exploring!

Green Kids Mean a Green Future: 5 Ways to Cultivate a Green Family

By EcoToad Contributor Gemma Cainer

As parents we do our best to protect our children and do what we can to ensure that they are happy and healthy. A big component of this is ensuring they have balanced diets by buying organic food and cutting out harmful chemicals, keeping them active, and exercising their minds and interests as well. Some of the most valuable life lessons we can teach involves essential skills about sustainability and self-reliance as well as nurturing a strong relationship with our environment, and to do this we lead by example. Green kids make a green future, and an important part of leaving a legacy behind where our children can live sustainable, self-reliant and healthy lives.

Engage in exciting outdoor (or indoor) projects

One of the best ways we can generate interest for our kids is to take on green projects. These can range from making a home-made volcano (always a big hit) and other activities which have an educational value, as well as planting gardens, building bird houses or other critter homes, and cultivating food gardens. Learning how to work with the land and how different factors like weather, climate, and terrain play will make for a rewarding experience when the first buds, pods, and petals take shape and burst through the soil. Not only will this encourage kids to become more “in tune” with their environment, but it will develop their skills for self-reliance, as well as supply a few extra pairs of hands for that garden drainage project or graywater system.

Eat healthy, eat well

Developing a healthy diet is imperative. Not only will it lay the foundation for a healthy lifestyle which kids will hopefully continue even after leaving home, but the right nutrients will help the growth of physical and cognitive properties from an early age throughout some of the most important developmental stages of a child’s – and adolescent’s – life. Focusing on a healthy, organic diet and allowing for only occasional junk food means that a child’s palate will develop to enjoy the natural sugars and flavors in fruit, veg, and fresh baked goods and treats, rather than become addicted to the preservatives that are prevalent in many supermarket items. Fortunately, our diverse relationship with thousands of years of producing organic food means that there are a whole range of delicious recipes to choose from, so it doesn’t mean missing out on the beautiful goodness of food. Investing in organic food also has a huge social appeal. Farmers’ markets are truly taking off across the country, and not only are these ideal places for purchasing affordable, delicious, and healthy food, but they are often a social venue for artists, musicians, and craftspeople – a fun setting which makes for an ideal day out with the family.

Share the lore

Our natural world has set the stage for some truly beautiful creations inspired by its many wonders. From the old mythology and folklore which continues to form a central aspect of Native American life to the great works of iconic American literature like Emerson and Whitman, one of the best ways we can nurture an appreciation for nature in our kids is to share with them the surprise and delight it has ignited in others. There are many ways to do this, from sitting around the campfire and sharing stories to playing the classic Oregon Trail game and watching Ferngully.

Talk about important issues

It’s important for our kids to understand what is going in the world and the changes that are taking place. Education is key, and there are many resources available which not only discuss environmental processes such as the water cycle, but which stress the importance of biodiversity and protecting endangered species as well as investing in renewable sources of energy in the wake of climate change. It is important to take an unbiased view and let the kids form their own opinions, as well as discuss alternatives and let them share their ideas. As well as changing individual lifestyles, it is always important to be able to see the bigger picture and the long-term impact of social interaction with the environment.

Getting out into nature

The best way, of course, is to get out into nature itself. Visit a wildlife sanctuary. Go white-water rafting. Go camping. It can be a big expedition to Lake Tahoe or the Grand Canyon, or simply a walk a few times a week in a park or forest. Nothing compares to being close to nature itself, and as well as the long-term mental and physical benefits of this, nothing will cultivate an understanding, appreciation and love for the natural world than a close relationship which is made more special with quality family time.

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink

I moved to San Francisco six months ago and my umbrella hasn’t left its dusty sleeve yet. Scientists and politicians, everyone agrees. California is in deep trouble. We enter the fourth year of drought and the soil has never been drier. Some look at the sky with hope that El Niño will bring much needed rain. But most are starting to wonder if  this is just the beginning. Are we entering a mega-drought that could last for more than a decade?

Map of California Drought

California Drought Monitor

Agriculture, one of California’s strongest pillars has taken the biggest hit. The Drought will cost at least $2.2 billion in agricultural losses this year. Fields of dead almond trees and dried-out crops are a common sight in central California these days. Central Valley towns are also growing desperate. Many have been forced to install porta-potties in their backyards or even steal water from fire hydrants.

Dead Almond Trees

Dead Almond Trees near Ripon, CA

But even if everyone knows about how dangerous a drought can be, and despite the tremendous efforts for saving water, most Californians are still not aware of the magnitude of the problem.

Many believe that the drought can’t be that bad if water still comes out of everyone’s tap, right?

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park enjoys a vast sprinkler system necessary to keep it alive. But the park’s green grass is nothing more than a mirage.

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Sprinkler system in Golden Gate Park

We are borrowing most of this water; either from neighboring states or depleting ground water reservoirs. This will come back to get us. Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources, told the Time that our current ground water withdrawal levels are so dangerous that “We are essentially borrowing on tomorrow’s future. We’ll pay that price over time”.

A recent study headed by climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University linked the drought with human-made global warming and climate change. The paper concludes that “extreme atmospheric high pressure in this region-which is strongly linked to unusually low precipitation in California-is much more likely to occur today than prior to the emission of greenhouse gases that began during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s”.

Diffenbaugh and his colleagues used computer simulations and statistical analysis to show that “a persistent region of high atmospheric pressure over the Pacific Ocean–one that diverted storms away from California–was much more likely to form in the presence of modern greenhouse gas concentrations”.

Mega-droughts are what Cornell University scientist Toby Ault calls the “great white sharks of climate: powerful, dangerous and hard to detect before it’s too late. Ault call mega-droughts “a threat to civilization”.

University of Arizona climate scientist Gregg Garfin said that “If California suffered something like a multi-decade drought, the best-case scenario would be some combination of conservation, technological improvements (such as desalinization plants), multi-state cooperation on the drought, economic-based water transfers from agriculture to urban areas and other things like that to get humans through the drought”.

Ault said that “For the Southwestern U.S., I’m not optimistic about avoiding real mega-droughts. As we add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere -and we haven’t put the brakes on stopping this – we are weighting the dice for mega-drought conditions”.

Ault said that mega-droughts could possibly be the worst threat to a civilization, even worse than anything experienced by any humans who have lived in that part of the world for the last few thousand years.

If we continue on this path, California might be headed for a drought-induced collapse.

California Central Valley

California Central Valley

What can the state of California do to prepare?

First, we must reduce our carbon emissions and try to reverse climate change. And while water conservation is important, it won’t be enough. We must invest in new technologies like water desalinization plants. It’s the only way to prepare for what’s likely to come.

The county’s largest water desalination plant is being built in San Diego. It’s expected to provide clean water to its residents by 2016. Some argue that the plant’s $1 billion price tag is to high, and that its technology is not advanced enough to be cost efficient.

But there are many companies out there perfecting water desalination technologies, and one that stands out is WaterFX.

WaterFX states in their website that “Unlike conventional desalination, which uses a high-pressure reverse osmosis  that forces salt and other solids through a membrane, WaterFX cleans water with a special Concentrated Solar Still. Solar thermal energy is used to evaporate and distill water at 30 times the efficiency of natural evaporation”.

 WaterFX’s test facility is successfully producing up to 14,000 gallons of fresh water a day. Plans are now under way to expand the demonstration project, which will push up its capacity to 65,000 gallons a day over the same 6,500 sq ft area.

Mandell insists that the technology promises to become more price-competitive as production increases. “If 70% of your cost is fuel production for traditional desalination and you want to scale up, the cost goes up significantly, unlike solar desalination,” he says.

With no rain, depleted reservoirs and dried up ground water wells, the only place left for California to look for water is the ocean.



The Nastiest 10 Food Additives: How to find and avoid them.

Dangerous food additives are increasingly sneaking into our favorite foods.

We must automatically look at the ingredient lists of our everyday products and understand what they all mean. In most countries food preservatives are still coded (E-number) and people have no clue of what they are eating.

If any of the following 10 nasty preservatives shows up in the ingredient list of a product you regularly consume, leave it on the supermarket shelf and look for a safer alternative.

These nasty 10 have been linked to cancer and other severe health problems:

1-Sodium Nitrate/Nitrite

E-250 to E-252

Used to stabilize food color and add  artificial flavor.

It is found in many products such as meats, ham, bacon, sausages, hamburgers, smoked fish, etc.

When grilled it’s even more dangerous -it transforms into a reactive compound that has been directly linked to cancer.


2-Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)


A very common flavor enhancer used in a wide range of foods. It adds a meaty salty flavor to many processed foods and is commonly used in meats, soups, Asian food, sauces, dressings, potato chips, frozen foods, etc.

It has been linked to brain damage, asthma, headaches, stomach disorders, fatigue, depression, and obesity among others health problems.



Artificial sweetener found in “diet” products, low-calorie desserts, gelatin, drinks, etc.

Also known as Nutrasweet or Equal in the U.S.

Studies have shown that lifelong consumption may increase risk of cancer or other neurological problems.

4-Food Colorings: Blue 1, 2; Red 2, 3; Green 3; Yellow 6

These colorings are found in thousands of products, and they have all been linked to cancer.

Some examples of Blue 1 and 2 are found in beverages, baked goods, candy etc and it has been found to cause cancer in mice.

Red 2 and 3 are widely used, some examples are to dye cherries, fruit juice, candy, baked goods and have been linked to thyroid tumors.

And the widely used yellow 6 (eg.beverages, gelatin, breads, baked goods,sausage, candy, etc) has been linked to tumors of the adrenal grand and the kidney.


5.Potassium Bromate


It’s very common in industrial breads, white flour, and rolls to add volume to baked goods. Most bromate breaks down into a harmless form, however, small amounts can create a risk for people. California now requires a cancer warning on products with this ingredient.


6.Propyl Gallate


It prevents fats and oils from going bad and it’s found in many products, such as meats, soups, gums, etc.

It has been linked to cancer and you should avoid it.

7.BHA and BHT

E-320 and E-321

Butylated Hydoxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydozyttoluene (BHT) are used to prevent foods from oxidizing and keeping fats and oils from going rancid. They are found in countless products such as dry cereals, potato chips, vegetable oils, etc.

They have been linked to cancer in numerous studies.


Olestra is Procter & Gamble’s synthetic fat that is not absorbed as it passes through the digestive system, so it has no calories. It’s found in chips and diet foods/beverages.
Olestra can cause diarrhea, loose stools, abdominal cramps, flatulence, and other adverse effects. Those symptoms are sometimes severe. Even more importantly, olestra reduces the body’s ability to absorb fat-soluble carotenoids from fruits and vegetables.

9. Acesulfame-K


Found in baked goods, chewing gum, and gelatin desserts.
It’s a new additive and there aren’t  many studies to confirm its safety, if possible try to avoid it.

10. Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils

Found in margarine, crackers, fried restaurant foods, baked goods, icing, microwave popcorn, etc.

Vegetable oil (liquid), can be made into a semi-solid form by reacting it with hydrogen. Partial hydrogenation reduces the levels of polyunsaturated oils – and also creates trans fats, which promote heart disease.

Harvard School of Public Health has issued a warning regarding the consumption of margarine, snack foods and other foods containing hydrogenated oils.

If you don’t eat butter, there are some alternatives to hydrogenated margarine, my favorite is Earth Balance.

GMO Labeling is gaining momentum

Connecticut recently made history by being the first state to pass a bill that will require the labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms. Just today Maine followed, and Massachusetts might be next.

The Massachusetts Joint Committee on Public Health listened with great interest what over sixty scientists and consumer advocates had to say yesterday, June 12th, in the Boston State House.

The H2037 “right to know” bill would require foods that contain genetically modified organisms to be labeled as such. No warnings or negative connotations, just a simple label that would inform the consumer of the presence of GMOs.

All EU countries, China, Japan, Brazil and Russia already require GMO foods to be labeled. But opponents of the bill state that there is no need for labeling because “genetically engineered foods are virtually the same as non GMOs, and it would only cause unfair rejection and confusion”.

But if something is so different from nature that it needs a patent, why not also label it?

Even though the FDA states that GMOs are safe for human consumption, there are still a lot of unknowns. We are still figuring out the effects of genetically engineered organisms on human health.

The two major concerns about genetically modified foods are the strong correlation between GMOs and food allergies, and the high levels of glyphosate found in them.

Helen Wright explained how she and her children had a severe allergic reaction to a soy based food containing no nuts, even though they are only allergic to peanuts. With GMOs consumers can never be certain if the tomato they purchased has a fish gene in it, or the soy based veggie burger a peanut gene lurking inside.

Also, over 90% of GMO crops have been engineered to be Roundup ready (glyphosate resistant) so heavy amounts of this well-known toxic herbicide is sprayed constantly over them.

Scientists showed the committee results linking glyphosate with autism, obesity, depression, endocrine disruption, and Alzheimer if consumed over a long period of time.

I’m confident that our representatives will agree that we have the right to know.

If you want to learn more about this bill and the efforts behind the GMO labeling campaign go to

Al Gore: “Our Democracy has been hacked”.

algoreAl Gore gave an inspiring talk last night at Harvard University titled “Healthy Planet, Healthy People” in honor of the late Dr. Paul R. Epstein, the brilliant scientist who shared the Nobel Peace prize with him in 2007.

Gore started the night by acknowledging Dr. Epstein’s work in connecting the dots between climate change and its impact on global human health.

Warming temperatures will allow disease carrying mosquitoes to spread out of the tropics, bringing malaria, dengue fever, and other currently tropical diseases to higher latitudes. “Global warming will also prolong mosquitoes reproductive and life cycles, and enable deadly viruses to survive in places that were too hostile for them before” Gore explained.

Gore also mentioned the connection between the uprising of diseases like cholera and global warming. “Communities have learned to deal with cholera by investing in infrastructure and building better sewer systems. The last thing they would have done is turn their streets into an open sewer. But that is exactly what we are doing to our atmosphere. We are using it as an open dumping ground, dumping over 35 billion metric tones of carbon per year”.

Gore quoted James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute to illustrate the severity of the situation “the amount of extra heat being trapped in our atmosphere is like exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day 365 days per year, that is insane”.

He continued by explaining how the weather patterns are also being severely disrupted by global warming. “We will have more floods, stronger hurricanes, and more intense droughts in the upcoming years. Communities all around the world are experiencing one in a hundred, one in a thousand events every two or three years. Extreme weather will become the new normal.”

The audience broke into laughter when Gore mentioned that “When Inconvenient truth came out I repeatedly heard from my detractors that I was exaggerating when I talked about water flooding the World Trade Center memorial site. After Sandy, I don’t get that anymore”.

Gore explained how democracy and capitalism, the two pillars supporting the weight of our society have been degraded over time and turned into a corrupted and intertwined mess.

“Our democracy has been hacked, our operating system has been turned into something very different our founders intended. What our founders gave us was amazing, and I’ve watched it degrade over time.” Gore said.

Gore also said that “our elected representatives today are not worried about their constituents, they spend their time begging for money, it’s a race of who can put more ads on TV. This deeply affects the way they think and make decisions.”

Even if corruption is evident, Gore remains optimistic in our democratic system. “I am hopeful because of the internet. Not today, not tomorrow but soon the internet will replace TV and people will have an open space for debate and conversation, internet is the public square for democracy”.

Gore also explained that our economic system needs to be redefined. One of the main problems our current system faces is our definition of growth. “The definition we are using for growth is literally insane” Gore said.

Gore argued that GDP, the main tool for measuring a country’s economy is terribly flawed.

Simon Kuznets, the economist who first developed GDP in 1934 warned that it should not be used to measure a country’s wealth. But of course, nobody listened.

Since GDP was implemented in 1937, almost 95% of the US income goes to the top 1% of the country.

Gore, like Kuznets and many others believe that GDP fails to take into account major aspects of a country’s economy, such as externalities, depreciation of resources, positive externalities or distribution of income.

Costs related to pollution or environmental degradation are not accounted for (externalities), and contributions to science, mental health or arts (positive externalities) are also ignored in this economic model.

“Our GDP tells us, hey we are doing great, the US is just fine, but in reality we are not. Only the top 1% is doing well. We must be more accurate, or this economic model will drive us over the edge of the cliff.” Gore said.

But despite all this, Al Gore remains hopeful. “I am optimistic because President Obama in his acceptance speech addressed Global warming in an urgent manner, more than any other president before him. Obama now has no choice but to address global warming and act. And I know he welcomes this challenge”.

Al Gore is hopeful that renewable energies will pick up soon as the cost reduction and increased implementation will make them more accessible. He also recommends putting a price on carbon and regulating CO2 emissions from power plants.

Gore ended his talk praising young people’s passion and desire for change. “Young people that don’t succumb to the temptation of being cynical, and are passionate about what they do is what gives me hope for the future”.

The Genetically Modified “Frankenfish” Salmon soon in a plate near you

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has partially approved the AquAdvantage Salmon, a genetically engineered salmon that grows twice as fast as normal. The FDA states that the GM salmon is “safe and unlikely to harm the health of the consumers or the environment.”

The AquaAdvantage salmon has been developed by AquaBounty a biotech company based in Waltham, Massachusetts. Their GM salmons have an added growth hormone from the Pacific Chinook salmon and a promoter gene from an ocean pout that allows the fish to produce growth hormone all year long instead of only during the Spring and Summer months. The fish grows to market size in 16 to 18 months rather than three years.

Genetically modified Salmon next to normal Atlantic salmon

Genetically modified Salmon next to normal Atlantic salmon

Aquabounty has reassured this salmon is safe for consumption and poses no threat to the environment as they intend to only develop sterile females.

Environmental and advocacy organizations such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth or Food and Water Watch oppose what they call the “Frankenfish”. They are concerned that it could cause human allergies and the eventual contamination or decimation of the natural salmon population if it escapes and breeds in the wild.

The Monterey Aquarium revealed that current methods used to produce sterile fish are less than 99% accurate. That would mean that one fish in every hundred would not be sterile and could be reproductively viable. Another concern is that production of GE salmon, even in its early stages, is likely to involve the production, shipping and growing of hundreds of thousands of eggs and fish which could also be accidentally released into the wild.

 According to its opponents, the escape of reproductively viable GE salmon into the wild is very likely to occur. If this were to happen, the consequences are very hard to predict.

 Another unsettling aspect of the commercialization of the modified salmon is that consumers would not necessarily know how to distinguish it from regular farm raised salmon. Labeling of GM foods is not required by federal law, so consumers would not know how to spot the modified salmon in their grocery stores or restaurant menu.

 If the AquaAdvantage salmon is finally approved, it would be the first genetically modified animal approved for food consumption anywhere in the world.

The FDA has opened its report for public comment and will review the situation before making a final decision. The consultation will finalize at the end of February 2013, so now its the time for the public to state any concerns here.