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Cosmos' Doggie Blog

Cosmos Blog, Balboa Park, George Herman the catGeorge-Herman the cat writes: Dear Cosmos, I just can’t seem to get my fat lazy tush off the sofa to do any serious holiday shopping this year. Ideally, I would like to buy one gift online for my entire family. Any suggestions?

Cosmos: Assuming a 65” flat panel TV isn’t in your budget, there’s really only one option that’s not only something everyone in your family will love, but it will keep your pesky housemates out of the house so you can get some quality cat napping time in.

That option is of course this year’s hottest holiday gift item, the Balboa Park Explorer. This recently launched park pass program grants its bearer free general admission to all museums and certain cultural attractions for a whole year. It’s like having free Tuesday every day of the week, but without all the parking hassles!

If you’re worried about dipping too deeply into your catnip allowance to be able to pay for such a gift, you’ll be happy to know an annual pass that allows a family of two adults and up to four children to visit any Balboa Park museum on any day it’s open to the public costs only $199. To put things in perspective, for a family of two adults and four children to visit Disneyland (just Disneyland) for one day (just one day), it would cost over $600.

And if you have any lone wolves on your holiday shopping list, the Balboa Park Explorer is only $129 ($99 for students and seniors).

Best of all, you can easily fetch as many Balboa Park Explorers as you need by visiting

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Now that the cat is out of the bag on Black Friday shopping, with many major retailers having posted preview ads already, I’m sure many readers are like me and scratching their heads, among other body parts, over what to buy their family, friends, and loved ones this year. I’m personally not seeing those unique, must-have items in the stores.

MarahLago Seduction bracelet, San Diego Natural History MuseumNot to mention, to take advantage of the best Black Friday deals, families will now be required to stand in line during the traditional Thanksgiving meal times, as many retailers are opening their doors at 6pm on Thanksgiving Day.

For those who prefer to actually enjoy a good Thanksgiving meal with family, friends, and pets, you might consider, instead, browsing at your leisure over the next month a dozen unique gift stores, all clustered within Balboa Park’s historic campus.

Balboa Park gift store buyers have a nose for distinctive gifts, from fine jewelry, bags, and accessories, to home décor, educational toys, and specialty books.

Angry Birds Space by National Geographic, San Diego Air and Space MuseumAt the Air & Space Museum Store, for instance, budding astronauts will gravitate towards Angry Birds Space by National Geographic (pictured), which offers the perfect mix of Angry Birds amusement and insights on space exploration for children.

Young animal lovers will also appreciate a number of plush toys and unique books at the San Diego History Center, including the heartwarming story of “The Dog that Belonged to No One” and “Cat’s Christmas.”

Animal lovers of any age will enjoy transforming any garden into a Zen garden with a unique line of Zen Creatures figurines at the Balboa Park Visitors Center (pictured).

Zen Creatures, Balboa Park Visitors CenterFor those, like me, who prefer digging in a garden to meditating in one, the Natural History Museum gift store is selling a variety of Dino Excavation Kits, alongside its usual wide selection of nature-themed books, home décor, and fine jewelry by MarahLago (picutred).

Photo frame, Museum of Photographic ArtsFashion hounds will be glad to know that several other museum stores in Balboa Park are also known for offering the latest styles, including the San Diego Museum of Art, which is currently featuring local designer Leslie Fastlicht Russo. Her LFR Design collection has been described as combining “a hint of elegant bohemian chic with a trace of rock star glam.” Ooh la la!

Across the Plaza de Panama, the Collector’s Gallery at the Mingei International Museum is responding to enthusiasm for the Struck by Modernism exhibition with elegant gold and silver jewelry from Steel Toe Studios and accessories by Erica Gordon, made of recycled and repurposed steel.

Lastly, I’m sure I’m not the only photo hound who would appreciate a photography-themed gift from the Museum of Photographic Arts, which specializes in a wide array vintage camera kits, books on photography, and one-of-a-kind frames, suitable for your favorite images of FiFi and Fido (pictured).

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The most frustrating thing about having such fine canine senses is that I can’t share the world I experience with my bipedal friends and family members. For example, when we pass by a bush outside one of Balboa Park’s historic buildings, all they smell are the scents coming off the brightly colored parts—the flowers, unaware that there’s a whole smorgasbord of equally interesting smells being emitted closer to the ground.

Eyelash Mite from "Mysteries of the Unseen World," Reuben H. Fleet Science CenterImagine my surprise, then, when I heard about the new large-format film presentation, Mysteries of the Unseen World, at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, opening November 8. Apparently, there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye or even the snout—things that move too fast or too slow, are too small, or are just simply invisible to the human or canine eye.

However, thanks to new “super powers” provided by high-speed and time-lapse photography, electron microscopes, and other advanced technologies used in this movie, the unsmelt world can now be seen by everyone.

Interestingly, Mysteries of the Unseen World is produced by the same company, National Geographic, that brought us the Dog Whisperer, and is narrated by Forest Whitaker, who acted in such canine classics as Four Dogs Playing Poker and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.

Yet, one of the best things about this movie is finally coming face to face with those teeny tiny creatures we’ve been scratching at all these years, including eyelash mites, dust mites, cat fleas, ticks, head lice, and other microscopic organisms hitching a ride on us. On the flip side of the coin, this unique film also lets us see with infrared vision like a mosquito, or how a bee’s eyes see through ultraviolet light.

As entertaining and educational as this film promises to be, I still long for the day when technology advances to the point of allowing my human companions to smell the same world I do, because I know how much they’ll love it!

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I can only imagine how difficult it must be for our Top Dog finalists, waiting for their fates to be determined by a fickle voting public. Our canine contestants put their best paw forward in their photos only to have someone else say whether they have the chops to be Balboa Park’s Top Dog for 2013.

Well, the wait is finally over. The votes have been counted, and I am pleased to present a very handsome hound, Dietrich Buxtehude Bell, as 2013’s Top Dog.

Dietrich, Balboa Park Top Dog Photo Content 2013 winner

Not only does Dietrich have the longest name of any Top Dog contest winner, but he clearly has a taste for fine music, as evidenced in his close-up photo taken in front of the Spreckels Organ Pavilion pipes.

He will of course enjoy, along with his family, an exclusive overnightSu’ruff Camp package from Loews Coronado Bay Resort, complete with surfing lessons and a variety of other doggie amenities and treats.

It’s only fitting that second place winner, Sydney, is pictured in front of the San Diego Museum of Art’s main entrance, as she wins both a free professional photo session with David Veit Photography and a Family 4-Pack of Passports to Balboa Park museums.

Sydney, Balboa Park Top Dog Photo Content 2013 second place

Last but not least, Jake, the third place winner in the 2013 Top Dog Photo Contest, is quite the proud-looking pooch, posing amid the beautiful flower beds in front of the Botanical Building. With this winning shot, he fetches for his pack a Family 4-Pack of tickets to the San Diego Junior Theatre and another Family 4-Pack to the San Diego Air & Space Museum, along with a gift bag from the museum’s store.

Jake, Balboa Park Top Dog Photo Content 2013 third place

My barkfelt thanks goes out to all Top Dog Photo Contest participants, voters, and of course our generous prize sponsors.

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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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