What better inspiration for music than the mighty planet Saturn? Most songwriters choose something sappy and boring like love as their subject matter. But they could do much better: Right now, the real Lord of the Rings is closer to Earth than it has been in 30 years -- close enough for telescope viewers to get a clear look at the stately orb, with its graceful arcs of satellite material.
Composer Joyce Whitelaw took up the idea with "A Saturn Symphony," a piece just for kids that celebrates the big planet's visit. You don't even have to worry about the 12-and-under audience making noise and ruining the celestial music: It's meant to be a foot-stomper and a hand-clapper. The performance is also a refreshing interlude in the "Ring World" planetarium show, which highlights, among other Saturn facts, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, set to arrive on that world sometime next summer. And after Whitelaw's work and the big planetarium get the tots really riled up, they can take a peek skyward using Chabot's telescopes, which are free and open to the public every Friday and Saturday from dusk until 10 p.m. The tunes begin at 2 p.m. at the Chabot Space & Science Center, 10000 Skyline (at Joaquin Miller), Oakland. Admission is $8-11; call (510) 336-7300 or visit www.chabotspace.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Take a walk in the park
Most Golden Gate Park visitors are so busy piloting their carriages, admiring flowers, and rollerblading that they don't even notice the 428-foot hill that rises majestically from Stow Lake. In fact, if they make it to the lake at all they're usually distracted by the boats and the ravenous ducks. But the underutilized minimountain known as Strawberry Hill deserves a second look. For one thing, its gentle grade makes for a wonderful day hike; those who hoist their carcasses upward for a half-hour or so are rewarded with magnificent views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Mount Tamalpais. For another, the mound, one of the park's few natural features, contains historical and environmental significance. Learn about it all on the Stroller Walk to the Top of Strawberry Hill, a free recreational outing for new parents and their offspring. Participants should meet at 10 a.m. in front of the Stow Lake Boathouse, John F. Kennedy & Transverse, S.F. Admission is free; call 750-5226.
-- Joyce Slaton
Crissy's after-school specials
Of all life's mysteries, perhaps the greatest remains: How the heck does a 6-foot-tall sunflower as thick as your wrist come out of that teeny tiny seed? Some questions never get old. In fact, they're brand new, if you're between 6 and 8 years old. "How Green Things Grow" is an instructional series for kids focusing not just on the whole seed/plant thing, but also on bugs, the magic of compost, and even cool arts and crafts. The series begins today at 4 p.m. at the Crissy Field Center, 603 Mason (at Halleck), S.F. Admission is $12 for individual workshops or $80 for the six-week session; call ahead to register at 561-7752 or visit www.crissyfield.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Popcorn for Two
Few couples planning to have kids realize beforehand that their new existence is likely to be solitary, since crying babies are unwelcome in most venues. But not at "Reel Moms," a weekly movie-viewing event at which babes-in-arms (quiet or squalling) and their male or female caretakers are encouraged. This week's flick, Cold Mountain, starts at 11 a.m. at the Metreon, 101 Fourth St. (at Mission), S.F. Admission is free-$7; call 369-6201 or visit http://reelmoms.urbanbaby.com.
-- Joyce Slaton