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Cosmos' Doggie Blog

Halloween Family Day 2013, Balboa ParkDo you know what the sweetest thing about Halloween falling on a Thursday is? An entire week of Halloween activities leading up to it. That means more scary fun, more costumes, and of course more candy!

To get Halloween week started on the right paw, Balboa Park is presenting its fifth annual Halloween Family Day this Saturday, October 26. Over two dozen organizations throughout the Park are offering a trick-or-treat bag full of free activities for the whole pack. And I do mean the whole pack (keep reading).

In addition to extending free admission to kids 12 and under, participating museums will feature special hands-on activities, crafts, tours, storytelling, and other spooky fun. For instance, at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, pups 5 and younger get to play with their food in the Pasta Skeletons and Pumpkin Guts craft (I’m so jealous), and passengers aboard the Model Railroad Museum’s Haunted Express can explore the Haunted Train Town and collect prizes in a Halloween scavenger hunt.

I personally would not miss an opportunity to stop by the Bone Yard at the Museum of Man to meet Mr. Bones and discover how skeletons are put together (and I assume taken apart). And at the Natural History Museum’s Critter Cave, young adventurers will learn about bats and other creatures that go bump in the night.

Families wishing to share the Halloween experience with their four-legged buddies will also find plenty to do at the Family Day (this is the “whole pack” thing I mentioned). On the Prado walkway, numerous outdoor booths will present a carnival-like array of family fun, including crafts and hands-on activities for kids, live animals from the San Diego Zoo, and prize drawings.

Another even dog-friendlier carnival-like atmosphere awaits visitors in the Spanish Village Art Center, which will present its annual Doggie Costume Parade/Contest at 1:30pm (sign up at 1pm). There will also be free art activities for everyone, including trick-or-treat bag decorating, trick-or-treating at 37 studios, entertainment, art, and food booths (this is the "dog-friendlier" part I mentioned).

But with all that said, I’m still only scratching the surface (in spite of my vet’s warnings). For updated info on all the day’s activities, be sure to check the Halloween Family Day schedule.

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Cosmos Blog, Balboa Park, Delilah, Top Dog Photo Contest 2012, second placeDelilah writes: Not to take anything away from Jedi, last year’s Top Dog Photo Contest winner, but I’d hate to think I may have missed out on the grand prize by only a hair last year because I needed just a few more votes. Would you please help me get the vote out for this year’s finalists?

Cosmos Blog, Top Dog Photo Contest 2013 Finalist, Jai JaiCosmos: I share your concerns, especially with the upcoming mayoral election so much in the news of late. I’m afraid voters might confuse the two, not realizing that the Top Dog Photo Contest voting comes a month earlier, beginning Wednesday, October 16, and running through Wednesday, October 23.

As the official Top Dog spokeshound, I cannot personally have a dog in this contest.  But I am quite impressed with the fetching finalists our judges selected out of the many submissions, each one a deserving winner. (Please note: my inclusion of one of the finalist's images in this post is merely illustrative and should by no means be considered an endorsement.)

Speaking of winning, many people who are still on the fence about voting may not realize what’s at stake. Not only does the top vote getter wear the crown of Balboa Park’s Top Dog for an entire year, but he or she also gets treated to a deluxe overnightSu’ruff Camp package from Loews Coronado Bay Resort, which includes surfing lessons for one dog, and a variety of other doggie amenities and treats.

It’s a rough decision, I know, and sometimes I’m glad that I’m not eligible to vote. However, the higher the vote count from the general public (as opposed to just friends, family, and coworkers), the more secure our winner will be in knowing he or she received a popular mandate to represent Balboa Park as its new pack leader.

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If you’re like me, one of your favorite things to do in Balboa Park is discover new botanical treats. Yet, I know from first-paw experience how easy it is to get so overwhelmed by the splendors of “bigger name” gardens like the Alcazar Garden, the Rose Garden, the Zoro Garden, and the Botanical Building, that you can miss other gardens right under your snout.

A perfect example of this is the Australian Garden, a garden so far off the beaten path, it flies (down) under the radar for most folks. The best way to get there is to pass through the Zoro Garden and continue through Gold Gulch until you reach a small parking area.

You’ll know you’ve reached the garden when you see a number of trees native to Australia that happen to grow quite well in San Diego’s climate. Though I normally don’t take too much notice of tree species as I make my rounds through Balboa Park, I understand that this area features Grevellia, Acacia, Callistemon, and Eucalyptus trees, among others.

Just to the east, on the other side of the parking area, is another easy-to-miss garden, next to the vibrantly colorful World Beat Center. The Center’s Children’s Ethnobotany Garden was designed as an educational resource to teach school-aged pups the techniques and value of organic gardening and includes a variety of sniffable herbs, fruits, and vegetables. This is exactly the kind of garden I get in trouble for digging in at home.

Last but not least is my most-easily overlooked garden: the California Native Plant Garden. The fact that it’s perched near the entrance of the Morley Field Dog Park should tell you why I often don’t take proper notice of it. But that’s not for the lack of variety of drought-tolerant plant species (over a 100) featured in the garden and its one-quarter mile pathway that offers a pleasant stroll. Not to mention, its ample parking lot makes it one of the easiest gardens in Balboa Park to access.

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Kids Free in October, Ms Fizzle activity at Natural History MuseumEven though back-to-school time can help parents wean their entire litter off of summer’s steady diet of video games, web surfing, and DVD watching, there’s still ample opportunity for pups to resume their sedentary suckling habits on the weekends.

Fortunately October is Kids Free month for dozens of San Diego-area museums, including over a dozen in Balboa Park. All parents need to do is present a printable coupon to participating museums, which will grant free general admission for up to two pups 12 and under (in human years) for each paying adult (certain special exhibitions not included).

But Cosmos, my kids won’t last five minutes walking around a stuffy old museum.

I take it you haven’t been to a Balboa Park museum lately. Most museum exhibits now offer interactive, if not hands-on, ways of engaging younger visitors. And if this family-friendly approach isn’t enough to keep them from cat-napping on the nearest bench during your visit, then a number of special family activities planned each weekend will. Here are just few scheduled in October:

And that’s just a warm up for October’s REALLY BIG family event on October 26, when dozens of Balboa Park attractions take part in a park-wide Halloween Family Day, when pack leaders won’t even need to bring a coupon to receive free admission for kids 12 and under with a paid adult.

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Top Dog Contest 2012 winner -- JediJedi writes: As Balboa Park’s outgoing Top Dog, I hope this year’s Top Dog Photo Contest comes up with a worthy successor. Would you be so kind as to offer some advice to prospective claimants to my crown?

Cosmos: I am honored the reigning Top Dog would take a moment out of his busy schedule to write me. But in my three years of being the official spokeshound for the Top Dog Photo Contest, I can assure you that we will receive no shortage of high-pedigree submissions. In fact, it was the large number of fetching photos entered in prior contests that forced organizers to expand the number of finalists to 25.

With that said, since I’d hate to see a great-looking shot of a handsome canine such as yourself ruined by poor photography skills or disqualified for not following the rules, I will offer the following tips.

  • Top Dog Photo Contest 2012 entry -- RoloPhoto Must Be Taken in Balboa Park — This sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many photos we receive of dogs in their backyard or on the livingroom sofa.
  • One Photo per Pooch — Though it may be difficult to select just one winning shot for submission, just remember, there’s always next year.
  • No “Photoshopped” Pups — Cropping and light touch up are perfectly acceptable, but please no artistic filters, frames, or adding or replacing elements in the image. Judges can spot a faked photo a mile away.
  • Focus — Again, sounds like a no-brainer, but while fuzzy is nice for petting and canoodling, it will all but guarantee a photo’s one-way trip to the electronic recycle bin.
  • Pay Attention to Lighting Conditions — The one thing last year’s three prize winners had in common was that their images were all well lit. Even though every hot dog loves nothing more than to cool off in the shade, if your pooch is shown lurking in the shadows, judges can’t see how cute it really is.
  • Read All the Rules— Though I’ve just offered a bare-bones synopsis of the do’s and don’ts, it’s highly recommended that anyone who plans to participate read all the small print in the Contest Rules.
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