Friday, December 17, 2010

Making a Kind Choice

One of the things I do is blog for a group created by Yahoo! called the Motherboard. It's a terrific collection of women writers who inspire me on a daily basis.

When I attended a Yahoo! Motherboard Summit this past spring in California we spent a lot of time learning about Yahoo! and getting a chance to meet each other in person (instead of just online, which is how so many of us moms communicate these days - even if we live around the block from each other, right?)

Anyway - while I was there I heard a lot about Yahoo's program called a "Ripple of Kindness."
The idea is random acts of kindness; one woman said last year she paid for people's postage as everyone was waiting in line to mail off their holiday packages. This sweet, simple, sudden acts of kindness can inspire people to, in turn, create their own act of kindness.

I remember thinking, well that is kind of cool - but what about changing the world? (I have a problem sometimes with these big global, over-arching ambitions....)

Then something interesting happened. Yahoo! sent the Motherboard members EACH a check and with that money we were supposed to go out and make our own ripples of kindness splash across the universe.

I cashed the check and kept the money, with little cards explaining the program, in my purse. And there it sat. I kept waiting for inspiration, or the best opportunity/cause to give the money away. Should I give all of it in one big chunk to a worthy cause? Should I dole it out and spread more ripples?

In the end I went with the multiple acts of kindness and it was thrilling and fun. I felt a little bit like a mischievous holiday elf, out to do good. I still want to change the world, end war and poverty, eliminate discrimination, racism, sexism, homophobia, cure my mother's cancer and make sure children everywhere learn to read and have enough to eat. But for the past few weeks I have simply made a few choices about creating a ripple of kindness.

This week was my daughter's birthday, and I brought donuts to her classroom. As my husband and I sat crossed-legged on the floor with her and her classmates, we watched the children take turns doing show and tell (which they call "share.")

When one little boy got up to show off a toy that makes sounds, a little girl in the class was ignoring him. She was sitting on the floor turning pages of her sticker book (which of course was of interest to the kids sitting next to her.)

The teacher saw this and stopped everything. "Your friend is sharing," she said. "Didn't he pay attention when it was your turn to share? Can you make a kind choice right now and listen to him while he shares?"

I hear them talking about kindness at school all the time (in fact this week the class had a "kindness party" - which including balloons and chocolate chips - because they had performed so many acts of kindness they had earned the party.)

Sitting in the class it just brought it all full circle to me. One of those - "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" moments.

Being kind makes the world work better. If we were always acting from a place of love and respect and kindness, how different would our planet be? Idealistic day-dreaming, I know. But it seems in keeping with the spirit of the season.

Here are the random acts of kindness I have been able to accompolish because of the Yahoo! program. (And I still have some money left - so watch out! Another ripple could happen at any time!)

I donated books, through Barnes & Noble, for disadvantaged children.

I gave money to Gilda's Club - specifically for Noogieland - the play space that offers programming for children who have been affected by a loved one's cancer diagnosis.

I bought a round of drinks for an older couple that came into a hotel bar where my husband and I were enjoying a few moments rest in between holiday shopping.

I gave money to a woman shopping in a toy store for a gift for her 1-year-old granddaughter.

It felt wonderful and I can't wait to create a few more ripples.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My House is Not Made of Gingerbread

Does anyone besides me remember the show Once and Again? It starred Sela Ward as a mom of two who is about to be divorced. Then she meets a divorced father (who also has kids) ... and sparks fly. I wasn't a faithful viewer of this show, but the writing was good and the acting was great.

One of the scenes I remember is lovable Lily (played by the gorgeous Ward) driving herself nuts during the holidays trying to make a gingerbread house from scratch. It was a tradition in her family, but no one wanted to help her with it this time. She spends hours in the kitchen trying to work on it, she's covered with flour, exhausted and really pissed off.

I always thought when I had children I would make a gingerbread house with them. I don't know why. It's not like something we did when I was little. Homemade sweet potato pie, yes. Fancy cookies and gingerbread, no. Maybe one year there was a pre-made one on my grandfather's holiday table, but no one every built one from scratch.

Last year I bought a little gingerbread kit at Ikea (really, in the gourmet, direct-from-Sweden food area they cleverly route you through right after checkout) and couldn't even manage to get that thing unwrapped! (So sad, really. I should bring it to a duck pond for the birds to nibble on. Did I mention we live in the city? Not a lot of duck ponds around here...)

So, gingerbread houses are not in our family's tradition I guess. I did make gingerbread cookies once, when I first moved in with my now husband. My family was coming for Christmas to our home in Philadelphia and I baked -- my gingerbread men came out way too thick, like gingerbread men who had taken steroids and spent all their time at the gym, but they didn't taste bad. I put little red candies in for their eyes. After all the relatives left we found a stack of the eyes my little brother had picked out and piled on the floor of the TV room. Some of which had stuck to a heating grate and melted on to it. Nice.

A few years ago I even made a snowman out of cheese, with a little Pumpernickel hat. Big hit with the kids. It looked a little like this.

But while we don't have a gingerbread tradition, one thing we do always mark is my mother's birthday. She was born on Christmas Eve. When we were growing up, my brothers and sister and I would make, or order, elaborate cakes for her. We would make sure we had candles, and try our hardest to wrap her gifts in paper that didn't have Old St. Nick or holly on them. (I remember that holiday in Philadelphia, I baked her an elaborate cake that called for currants and rum. At the end of the baking you drizzled the cake with some fantastic glaze. My siblings were dubious - but mom loved the cake that year.)

So - every year we do our best to mark her day... We'd sing, eat cake, (maybe) help clean up and then usually mom would immediately go back to work, probably staying up until 2 am wrapping our presents long after we'd gone to bed!

This year we will all be together for her birthday, and the holidays, but I expect it to be quite different -- since our mom has been fighting an aggressive and rare form of cancer for the past eight months.

It's hard enough to think about what we can get her to eat these days (not that much) to contemplate making a proper Christmas supper, with all the trimmings. Last night my husband and brother and I all joined forces: we made a salad, baked acorn squash, meatloaf and mac n' cheese. We had fresh cider at the table. And mom didn't eat anything but a bite of squash.

Traditions and Transitions
This is my favorite time of year. I start holiday shopping in the summer (and when I say shopping, I mean mostly picking up small things for people that I see, which I think they'll like. On sale.) I love listening to holiday music, lighting the Menorah with my daughter (yeah, we are one of those hybrid families) and getting a tree -- the works.

Despite how ill my mother is, the holidays are coming along anyway. And my almost 6 year old is very excited. She wants to decorate, like, yesterday. She wants to sing carols and make cookies.

I don't think this year is the one to start attempting a gingerbread house like Lily. In fact, we are ordering a pre-cooked Thanksgiving meal this year for the first time in the history of this family. And I suspect at Christmas we may do the same (although I am holding out high hopes for some homemade latkes.)

But, one has to adapt, even in the face of tragedy. Case in point: In an unexpected turn of events, my father is going to visit us from California before the holidays (he and my mom split up eons ago) and we are going to try and set up the old train set he and his brother played with in Indiana when they were children. (My uncle is shipping 3 of the 15 boxes the train is in, to us from northern California!)

Maybe I will find a moment to sit on the floor and watch the train circle the tree. While sipping a spiked Eggnog. Maybe my husband will realize that this train set is ancient and a behemoth and he and my dad won't be able to get it working (a likely scenario if you ask me, but then I am the family pessimist) and we'll all just end up on the floor, spiked Eggnogs in hand. Either way, I am looking forward to baking something this season (something that doesn't call for an engineering degree) and watching my dad and daughter unpack those train boxes together.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Reading Between the Lines of Breast Cancer Awareness

Have you ever heard of Project Censored? The group does a terrific job of writing about under reported stories. They are a favorite among investigative journalists and other media savvy people. Well, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (or Breast Health Month, depending on who you ask) and two things crossed my desk this week that could fall under the category of "Under reported Breast Cancer Stories."

One is that Black women are more likely to die of breast cancer than white women; they also get diagnosed in later stages of the disease. Now, I knew that already, but what is new here is a study which concludes this is happening clearly because of race, not because of other factors - like, say, not having enough medical insurance.

Women's e-News just reported that: "Researchers at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. say they were surprised to find that among women with health insurance, African American and Hispanic women experienced greater delays in diagnosing breast cancer than Caucasian women. The number of days from abnormal screening to definitive diagnosis for those with private insurance was 15.9 days for white women, 27.1 days for black women and 54.1 days for Hispanic women."

The same week I was reading about this, I had the opportunity to speak with Gayle A. Sulik, author of the new book Pink Ribbon Blues, How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women's Health. Sulik, a medical sociologist, argues that while "pink ribbon culture" has brought a lot of attention to and advocacy around breast cancer -- guess what? It hasn't actually improved women's health.

The book has been getting rave reviews and Sulik has been everywhere this month, including the New York Times and Oprah Radio. Sandra Steingraber, the author of Living Downstream: An Ecologist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, said in her review that the book "takes us behind the pink curtain to a peculiar culture where sentimentality takes the place of scientific evidence, personal transcendence fills in for political action, and lofty platitudes replace actionable goals. Pink Ribbon Blues is the Frommer's travel guide to the country of breast cancer."

Columnist Janet Marshall from the Fredericksburg News in Virginia summed it up well I thought, when she said: "If you want my attention, talk to me about scientific breakthroughs and research roadblocks. Talk to me about treatments and trends. Talk to me about people and pain and progress. But don’t give me a ribbon, tell me it represents a disease and expect me to immediately print a story/make a donation/see the light. It feels blasphemous admitting that, but I know I’m not alone."

I am so glad these women are speaking out. I feel the same way. I don't want to suck on a pink Tic Tac in October. I want my friends to remember to get their PAP tests done, schedule their mammograms and take care of themselves. I don't want to buy pink socks or eat yogurt in a pink cup. I want to live in a country where everyone has equal access to medical care and the color of your skin doesn't have a lot to do with what your medical outcome, when you will be diagnosed, or how you will be treated. I'd like us to have an honest discussion about why cancer rates everywhere (and for lots of different kinds of cancer) are on the increase.

I am as opposed to pink washing as I am to green washing. With all this washing the United States should be clean as a whistle. It's not.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Forget the Lunch Box, What are Mom and Dad Eating?

Like parents everywhere I dreaded a few things that the beginning of the school year brings - like rushing out the door in the mornings. Like sending your almost 6-year-old to her room to put her clothes on (nicely laid out!) and checking back a few minutes later to find her playing soccer. In her underpants. I also dreaded the daily lunch box blues.

What to pack, what to pack. I am, amazingly, blessed with a child who will eat peanut butter sandwiches every DAY. She doesn't even want the jelly spread on, and you don't have to cut off the crusts - just spread that peanut butter. So you can understand why I felt like crying when I got to the door of her new Kindergarten classroom and saw this notice: "This is a NUT FREE classroom." I had the new lunch box, the reusable sandwich wrapper/bag, a brand new, chic, recycled plastic ice pack. I was ready - but the thought of having to come up with something every day besides our old standby, peanut butter, made me weak in the knees.

A few days later, however, there was an email from our class parent bringing wondrous news: the nut free rule was a mistake. I actually got up from my desk and did a dance, singing, to the delight of my kid, a song about how much I love peanut butter. I see the sandwich as the main course of lunch - if I have that figured out, it's not a problem to add to that - an organic milk, some sliced carrots, a piece of fruit, done.

But this is not actually a post about what our kids are eating. This is a post about what we, their hard-working parents, are eating. My own routine is to walk out the door with a travel mug of coffee for the trek to school. Afterwards I usually clutch it for an hour or more, slowly sipping while I get started with work. Eventually I will stop and grab something to eat - a piece of toast maybe. Sometimes a banana. Lunch is a similar game of grab and go - usually yogurt with granola. I just don't make time for a proper lunch or breakfast. If the kid hits a "witching hour" of being tired and cranky, I don't think my not eating a real lunch before I pick her up from school is helping my own state of mind.

I'm afraid it may be worse for my husband, because I at least have access to a full kitchen and can heat up some leftover soup or make something healthy if the mood strikes me. My husband often - too often - takes a frozen meal with him to work. It's not something I feel good about.

I often think about packing him a nice lunch too, but usually all I can manage is to wash him any extra fruit that we have on hand and encourage him to take it with him.

Maybe we should think about packing lunch together, just like we make eating dinner together a priority in our house. Either way, three squares a day is important for mom and dad too, and I'm gonna try to do a better job of that - even if it means I have to steal my daughter's cheese sticks.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Back to School, or Through the Cracks?

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the BlogHer conference, the largest gathering of women bloggers in the world. The event kicked off for me the night before the meeting with an invite to a private party at a champagne bar called Flute. I got to hang out with friends from the Yahoo! Motherboard group I am a part of, sip bubbly, and meet a bunch of other fantastic, inspiring women.

I was feeling pretty good about things, and looking forward to the conference as I walked down Broadway towards the Port Authority and a bus home. That's when I saw them - a young mother, sitting on the cement sidewalk outside McDonald's. She was cradling an infant in her arms, maybe 5 months old, while her three year old son stood at her side. I passed them, stopped, and swung around, frozen in place.

Could this possibly be an exhausted tourist, or was this what I thought it was? A woman begging on the street. Her son held a folded piece of cardboard in his hand, most likely the sign they had been holding up only moments before I'd happened along.

It turns out I wasn't the only one watching them. Outside McDonald's the Street Talk folks were, ironically, collecting money for the homeless. I spoke to two of the men who were there. (Street Talk provides income to impoverished and transient people who sell Street Talk newspapers.) They had taken money out of the collection so the woman could bring her kids inside McDonald's and get something to eat. I chipped in.

One of the workers told me the mom was not exactly homeless; she had a cousin's place to crash at, but nothing more. Obviously the cousin was not able to provide more than a place to sleep at night, and who knows for how long. The Street Talk vendors were hoping they might be able to get this woman a gig with their group, but even if she took her baby along with her, what would her 3 year old do all day? There are programs aimed at getting (and keeping) homeless kids in school, but preschool? What options would this woman have? What had happened to her?

As summer's long days begin to wind down, I've found myself anticipating a regular schedule descending on our home, the beginning of Kindergarten, a new school, the hopes I have that my daughter will have a great year in an institution that will nurture her. I've also been looking forward to buying her a new backpack and taking a short family vacation before September.

It's been a rough summer here, but seeing this woman with her kids put things in perspective for me. And I can't stop wondering about what happens to homeless kids like the ones I saw on the street that night. The Coalition for the Homeless says that there are 15,000 homeless children in New York City. From August 23 to September 17 the Coalition runs a project to raise money for these children. The donations go towards buying new backpacks and supplies for homeless children. You can donate here.

The number 15,000 keeps reverberating in my head. Homeless children have a harder time making it in school, but some of them persevere. While writing and researching this post, I came across this story in the Daily News about a young man who, despite amazing odds stacked against him, will be going to a community college in upstate New York this fall. I was shocked to find out he'll be attending classes in the rural community where I used to be a reporter and where a fellow journalist and dear friend now teaches. It is a large and vast world and it is one in which each connection can make a difference.

I emailed my girlfriend so she can be on the lookout for this incoming freshman this fall. It's a small institution, so the chances are she will probably meet him. The chances that I will see that young mother again are infinitesimal, but I can't stop thinking about her.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Week in the Woods

I had dreamed that this summer our daughter would spend more time in nature, and less time in the steamy city. It hasn't quite worked out that way, but the Tenafly Nature Center offered a nice respite in the middle of this hot July.

I'd been dreaming of sending my kid here, and staying with my sister in the hip little town of Rosendale, where she lives. But work and family commitments meant we couldn't swing it, even after they called to say there was a spot for us (we'd been lingering on the wait list for weeks.)

So, off to Tenafly it was. We're big fans of the Nature Center for their family-friendly programming and trails. This was the first time we'd tried the camp however. The program is divided into week-long sessions and split up by age groups.

The kids started the week with a bang, tromping around in the woods, tie-dying fantastic T-shirts (complete with a quote by Edna St. Vincent Milay on the back) and making their own clay. During the week they also studied animals, including snakes, turtles, frogs and various insects. They collected leaves and nuts and twigs. Another day was devoted to fungi, and found them looking for mushrooms, examining lichen and doing some sort of experiment with yeast.

Trekking up there everyday from Jersey City however was a bit much on mom. A friend who also has a five year old attended the program too, so we split the driving, drop-offs and pickups. which helped a lot. But the last day the kids went to Van Saun County Park in Paramus to the zoo there, and there's nothing like Route 17 on a Friday afternoon to make me wish I were in Maine and not New Jersey.

Also, we were warned about ticks and took it seriously. Then on the very first day my friend found a tick crawling on her son after pick up! That really kicked it into high gear for us, which meant every night found us examining of every inch of our kid's body (my husband used a flashlight to search through her hair).

I guess I had hoped the kids would come home filled with a greater sense of wonder and talk our ears off about trees and frogs (or tree frogs). But it was hot and they were exhausted by the end of the day. Still it was a good tired, and we knew that the children had been outside all day, in relative shade, doing things with their minds and bodies. Not inside. Not watching movies.

Near the end of the week there was a campfire cookout which parents were invited too. The children got to watch the fire started by their counselors and then hold long skewers over the fire cooking hot dogs. We made s'mores and also had chips and fruit. As I sat in the shade smelling the fire, I looked up at the trees and could hear the leaves rustling in the breeze. It was very relaxing, even if the Turnpike was waiting for me beyond the idyllic woods.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Mommy, what's a password?

It started simply enough. One day the munchkin is watching PBS Kids and the next thing you know, she wants to visit her favorite shows online. Which is fun, of course. (Although it means I get booted off my computer.) But then Channel 13 promoted their Kids Club, and my daughter wanted to join up.

And so I found myself helping her register online for the first time ever, for anything, and getting her a login and password. I scribbled it down on a piece of paper for her but I can't find it now. Probably because I'm not ready to. I can barely keep track of my own passwords and email accounts and logins and blah, blah, blah. I can't imagine having to help her track this, but more importantly I wonder about the future and trying to protect her online.

Now of all the places she could go, PBS Kids is probably the best. I don't feel I need to worry too much about her on their site, or what public television would do with her information. But it sets a precedent. One password begets another. And while I know that privacy is dead, especially in this country, I would like to make at least some attempt to have my kid's privacy live just a bit longer. Like at least through grade school.
Is this too much to ask?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (a wonderful civil rights group focused on the digital world) offers this advice to parents: check out the privacy policy of anything your kids want to sign up for so you can see what kind of information is being collected. We should also educate our children "about the dangers involved in giving personal information to strangers they meet on the Net. Make sure your children don't give out personal information to people they don't know."

There is also the old advice about putting the family computer in a place where you can see what the kids are doing online. Of course, this is already outdated advice for anyone whose children have a texting obsession and a smart phone.

In the meantime, the request to go online and login seem to have fallen by the wayside here. But the issue won't go away anytime soon, I know. My brother brought home a box of Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats this weekend and the box is covered with a Toy Story 3 promotional tie in. But gone are the days where you can just get a toy in the box. No, for this promotion, you needed to get a code off the box and then go on to the Kellogg's site and set up a Rewards account.

What the heck? Why can't they just put a plastic toy in the box? Or ask the kids to mail in the code? But no, better to lure them in. All the better to track you my dear.
I have already fallen for this game with Tropicana. I don't need my kid to succumb to it as well.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I Took My Child to my Anniversary Dinner

We don't eat out that much around here. (Well, we are on a first name basis at the local Chinese takeout and pizza joints, but that's not what I am talking about here!)

I'm talking about white-tablecloths-and-a-great-wine-list dining out. Last night was my ninth wedding anniversary. We decided this year to include our five year old in the festivities. Why? Well, I thought it would be nice for her and honestly, if I didn't spend a heap of money on a babysitter I could eat more lobster, right?

We went to Court Street in Hoboken, a family run affair with a bar in the front and a pleasant, unpretentious dining room in the back. Did I mention that Wednesday's are Lobsterfest?

What I didn't know is that Court Street has some of the best french fries I have had in ages. My husband and I had to restrain ourselves from gobbling them off my kid's plate. They rocked. It shouldn't be hard to find good fries, but you'd be surprised. (I love the milkshakes at Johnny Rockets and it's my daughter's favorite place, but their fries leave a lot to be desired.)

To keep the munchkin entertained I had brought along a little coloring book, and that worked for awhile. I sipped champagne, my husband had an excellent white wine from Napa and we exchanged cards. But this was a meal with several courses, so I needed something extra up my sleeve to keep the kid placid and entertained.

Enter MudPuppy. This company makes some great items, including these self contained, totally cool magnetic sticker sets. You open the metal case and inside are two background cards (reversible) on which you can design and re-design scenes with your magnet stickers. We were first introduced to these a few years ago when my daughter had surgery. Her godmother bought her a set of these magnets (the dress up dolls version) so she'd have something to keep her busy while she recovered. Since then we've toted that set all over the place - to graduations and weddings, airplane rides and long car trips. I usually keep the set hidden away, so it is somewhat of a novelty when she sees it. We've used it so much that the metal case is bent.

Now she has a new set - the Robots one. She practically screamed when she the box. And we ate in peace.

So, to sum up: Court Street has a lobster night, terrific french fries, and your anniversary CAN be shared with a five year old. Just bring along some robot friends to help.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Let the Festivals Begin

Spring seems like it might finally be underway (or maybe summer since the rain is gone and it's going up to 80 degrees today!). With the season comes lots of outdoor festival fun.
This weekend Van Vorst Park will host the Spring Festival of Children. The Saturday festival will feature music, dance, sports and art workshops, as well as a gardening tour sponsored by the very active group, Friends of Van Vorst Park.
We've spent lots of afternoons in this lovely park, which features a small sandbox (pretty rare in these parts), a few swings, a playground, lawns to run on, and gorgeous landscaping and flowers.
The park is walking distance to several nice places to grab a snack - our favorites include Made With Love and Wonder Bagels. It's also next door to the main branch of the Jersey City Public Library, which has a large, cheerful, recently revamped children's room on the first floor.
It's a great place for family fun and even features a dog run for folks with furry friends who need a place to romp. We hope to see you there. Having played in this park as a child when it was pretty run down, I think the volunteers behind Friends of Van Vorst Park are to be commended for their tireless work.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Volunteer to Stop the War

I've been thinking about volunteer work and war lately. Probably because I was near the United Nations recently for an inspiring talk on how Eleanor Roosevelt was opposed to the development of the bomb. What brought me to New York was this group, which I have worked with, off and on, for more than a decade.

How do nonprofits like this -- international, accredited U.N.-NGOs -- function? They function because members give funds to run them (from large bequests to small donations) but even more importantly, they function because of volunteers. Over the years, I have worked with scores of dedicated women who give thousands of hours to organizations like the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom, one of the oldest peace groups in the world.

You may not know it, but this month thousands of delegates from NGOs and official UN member countries have been spending time at the United Nations to review the progress of a 40-year-old treaty on Nuclear Nonproliferation (basically, an effort to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.) With Obama in the White House, the effort to slow down the development of nuclear weapons has increased, even while his administration has said they support the development of nuclear power. One of our new WILPF members was at the talk I attended; she came to New York from Georgia where she lives and is involved in a fight to stop the building of new nuclear power plants in a poverty-stricken, largely black, rural community.

Behind the scenes at the UN are groups like WILPF and Psychologists for Social Responsibility, and Women Strike for Peace, and hundreds of others. It was inspiring to be there and hear about all the work going on.

These days there are plenty of places to volunteer, and given that my sister is disabled and my mother is sick with cancer, my family itself has become a volunteer cause; we have friends watching my daughter, bringing food to the house, helping my mother cook -- you name it.

But as the world moves forward, as our government plans for an eventual withdrawal from Iraq, I keep thinking about the young men and women the US continues to send off to battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. With Memorial Day around the corner, it's a good time to think about supporting some of the volunteer organizations in this world that are working to raise the profile of peace.
Photo credit: A "Raging Granny" and WILPF member sings for peace in California. Special thanks to WILPF.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

There's Always Time for Good Music

Dan Zanes is a favorite of our family, ever since we saw him perform at the New Victory Theater in Manhattan, and our then 2-year-old went crazy for the music. He's appearing again in our area, including at a concert this weekend in Englewood at the Bergen PAC. Visit his website and you can get a discount

You can also catch him Saturday, May 8th, at a special concert at the Met.

He's very hip, he understands kids, he learned Spanish so he could understand and perform songs in Spanish and he celebrates multiculturalism. Oh yeah, and the music rocks. Literally. The holiday concert last year at the New Victory was a celebration of the holidays from many different cultures and backgrounds and was so beautiful it made me want to dance and cry at the same time.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Reading for the Gender Conscious

Like most parents of young children, I sometimes find myself obsessing about how well or how fast my kid is learning to read. I recently learned that March is National Reading Month, which makes sense, since in the past few weeks parents everywhere were invited to schools to read stories (and in some cases, celebrate Dr. Seuss' birthday - also in March!).
But in my mind, March has always been Women's History Month and on the 8th - International Women's Day. So when I think about reading, I think - especially this month - about the gender messages my daughter gets in the books she reads. I just find all too often - still - there are just so many stories (and movies and shows and their spin-off related books) where the leader or the main character or the one-who-solves everything is always a boy or a man.
That's why I love shows like Word Girl on PBS - and yes - she has some spin off books. Well, at least one, where she takes on a crazy robot. We love reading that because it combines two of my daughter's favorite things - words/ word play and robots! How could you go wrong?

Of course, we read stories every day at home, hang out in bookstores and the library. But we also have a secret treasure trove downstairs at grandma's house. Because my mother saves everything, had four kids, and used to teach disabled children in NYC's public schools -- she has an amazing collection of books. Looking for something on dinosaurs? space? the Vikings? weird science experiments? She's got 'em. Some of the tomes in her collection are these really old books you can't find these days - especially ones about gender - like a classic called "What is a Boy? What is a Girl?' which features really nice black and white photographs and explains that boys can cry, cuddle baby dolls, etc., and girls can be strong and have really short hair. We love reading that one too.

My mother also has a great eye - recently she brought home a second-hand book for us that she found at a shop in Manhattan. It's called The Cats in Krasinski Square (By Karen Hesse) and takes place in Warsaw in 1942. It features a brave young girl who becomes part of the Jewish resistance. What a marvelous, inspiring story.

So in this month of reading and women, I'd like to say - thanks Mom. For taking me to the International Women's Day March in Manhattan many years ago, and for always reading to us, filling the house with art books and poetry, and reading with your granddaugher.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

So "Sue" Me

There were about 800 things on the family "to-do" list this morning, but with the sun shining so nicely we had to get outdoors. A quick drive got us to Liberty State Park - and the enormous Liberty Science Center. That's the place to go if you want to come face-to-face with Sue - the best T-Rex skeleton ever found.

Sue is only in town until March 14 and she is definitely worth the trip. What we liked best about it is that you can really see it - just get right up close and marvel at that massive jaw! those huge teeth! the giant joints of the legs! The other activities and explanations they have in the exhibit are all good too.
After a checking out a few other exhibits, we bought tickets for the "simulator ride." For $5 each, guests choose one of several programs and climb in a vehicle that looks like a cross between a small space ship and a car that sits on hydraulic lifts. My daughter chose "Solar Coaster" and rode into space, zooming through the planets. From outside, I could hear squeals of joy.
We didn't stay for too long though, because we had to leave time to play outside at Liberty State Park where lots of tots where exploring the playground.
One final weekend note - Jersey City's First Fridays are finally beginning to offer more events for kids. Last night we checked out a few galleries, and heard live kid-friendly music at Made With Love (where there was also face painting). Ahymn Espresso Bar & Cafe up the street also had another musical duo - although they were playing adult music. For sitting patiently through two songs, the kid was rewarded with a nice purple balloon. Very uplifting.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Snowflakes, Apple Crisps and Maple Syrup

All this snow means time for some new crafts - so the other day I showed my daughter how to make snowflakes inside to match all the ones outside that were falling thick and fast.

We folded blank white paper into squares and then cut designs into them - pull them open and - poof - snowflakes to delight any small child (although I was rather taken with them myself!).

For extra fun, we lay them out on cookie sheets, put them on the dining room table and let her put glue down and cover them in silver glitter and silver glitter glue. They looked charming and we strung them up with some thread. While she was doing that, I flipped through an old copy of Edible Jersey magazine where I found a receipe for an apple crisp, which we quickly made for a nice winter dessert.

Still, we didn't want to stay inside forever, so last weekend we made a trip to the Tenafly Nature Center. This is a great resource for local families looking to get outdoors and hike on 380 acres of unspoiled land. They have a number of trails, a large pond and a cozy center where kids can check out snakes and turtles and lots of nature books. We have been there many times but we hadn't ever been to one of their programs. Some friends met us there and we were happy to introduce them to the Nature Center.

The program we attended was on Maple Sugaring. (You can see all their programs here - they are doing the Maple program for the next two weekends.) Kids get an explanation of how maple sugar is made and how trees produce sap. Then you tromp outside and see one of the maple sugar trees they've tapped and all the sap collected in the big metal bucket. It was a beautiful day, standing under a blue, crisp sky almost knee deep in snow. Some parts of the program are a bit slow for the smaller children, but for the most part held their attention and was interactive.

If you are hungry afterwards there are plenty of places for lunch. We often head back towards Englewood and stop at the Jackson Hole diner (I used to be addicted to their turkey dinner specials and milkshakes) or Baumgarts (where they have homemade ice cream and a huge menu).

(Photo from Tenafly Nature Center.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book Shop Lust

I've been traveling lately, which means of course I leave room in my suitcase for books. When work took me to Santa Barbara, CA for a conference recently, I took an extra day at the end to visit my father up the coast.

The town of Santa Cruz is famous for its boardwalk (great for kids), beautiful beaches, natural wonders and of course, surfing. But whenever I visit we have to make a stop at Book Shop Santa Cruz. It's a huge, progressive bookshop with the personality that's missing in our Barnes & Noble emporiums.

Bookshop Santa Cruz also has a BIG children's section and over the years we my daughter has played there on an old wooden rocking horse and sat on her grandfather's lap while looking at books. This time I found an illustrated edition of The Secret Garden. But what I also adore about this bookstore is that they have a small section of USED children's books which is just great. I loaded up on a bunch of paperbacks last time. This time I found a hardcover of Olivia which made a nice gift for my daughter when mommy finally came home and unpacked her suitcase.

This past weekend we were on the road again, traveling to Woodstock, NY for yet another conference. While my husband romped around in the snow with the kid, I went to Woodstock. In between sessions I dashed in and out of the towns wonderful shops. Again - here is a place with personality. There is no Starbucks here - but a warm, friendly and busy Bread Alone shop where we filled up on chai and coffee and admired the baked goods. They also have a terrific bookstore called The Golden Notebook (named after one of my all time ever favorite books). Next door to that - there is an entire second Golden Notebook devoted to children. Two minutes on the threshold and there were about 65 things I wanted to pick up for my daughter including - flip books (I got one called How the Whale Developed Through the Ages), books on Passover (including hard to find sticker books for the Jewish holiday), Fancy Nancy books, and more. They also had a great selection of toys and games and fun stuff. I also got a little drinking glass with fairies all over it.

Of course, here at home we have plenty of bookstores still worth exploring, including the lovely Books of Wonder in Manhattan. If you've never been, I recommend going when they have a story time session - their readers really get into it. In Jersey City, the newish shop Jack's on Jersey Ave. has a selection of books and has recently started some storytelling sessions and will be offering author events in the future. You can follow Jacks Toy Shop on Facebook.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

When Mom is Too Sick to Cook

At the end of last year, I was at a friend's party in downtown Jersey City when a huge platter of warm empanadas were served. When I asked where they came friend my friend smiled. It turned out she had driven all the way to the Heights to pick these babies up. At $1 a piece I'm told they are the best, well-priced empanadas around.

Of course, we're no strangers to Rumba's since we live in the neighborhood but usually we are just dashing in for a cup of their fantastic coffee to go. (The wait staff somehow almost seem disappointed when I tell them I only want one sugar.) This warm, Cuban restaurant is extremely popular and never empty. Sometimes we'll get a roasted chicken dinner to go when we are having a busy night. Occasionally I've taken my daughter in on an early Saturday morning when dad is sleeping in. She gets a buttered roll and mom gets coffee. Here is a link to the menu.

Last week I was laid up with some strange flu-like bug and all I wanted was chicken soup and orange juice. Too weak to even contemplate dragging myself to the store and then into the kitchen, I walked into Rumba's and came out with an enormous container of chicken soup and another huge to go cup of FRESH squeezed OJ from Rumba's awesome retro-looking machine.
I paid $10.

There was plenty to satisfy the munchkin for dinner and it was just the right elixir for mom. Of course, I wouldn't mind if a Jewish deli opened nearby where I could get a nice matzo ball soup (because driving to Englewood or Tenafly is just too ridiculous when you are sick), but Rumba's can do right by you - whether you are sick or not, any day of the week.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Trip to Brooklyn and... Kidville Comes to Hoboken

We were supposed to head out of town this weekend,
but our friend dislocated her knee. So instead of a long drive to Hunter Mountain, we headed over to
Brooklyn with flowers and a get well card. Before stopping over in Park Slope, however, we made a
visit to the fabulous Brooklyn Children's Museum

After visits over the holidays to several crowded museums (not to mention any-day-of-the-week in Manhattan's packed kid spaces) this museum was a delight. It has undergone a major renovation and felt spacious. The Totally Tots exhibit (pictured above) was big hit, with lots of things to bang and build, climb and discover -- not to mention a wonderful, big water table that tiny kids could play in but which also delighted the 5 year olds there. Even the cafe wasn't too crowded. The museum has a lot to see and do, with thoughtful spaces for really, really little babies and a terrific library where we looked at books and played (half a game) of checkers with over-sized pieces.

An upcoming exhibit on the Gullah people (slaves brought from West Africa who lived on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia and are known for preserving a lot of their African culture and distinct linguistics) looks like it will be great. The museum also had some great literature available about teaching children to read.

After that it was a quick drive to see our friend in Park Slope. There are plenty of great places to shop and dine here, although we stayed in and had a leisurely dinner together.

The day before our trip over the East River to Brooklyn, we took advantange of the nice weather and headed down to Hoboken for a walk on our side of the Hudson. We got there early enough to swing by the Grand Opening of the new Kidville Annex in Hoboken. (

It's a great space, inside the old video store at 1202 Shipyard Lane, just a few doors down from the entrance to the King's on the river side entrance. (There is no cafe here, but there is a Starbuck's around the corner). The place was mobbed with parents and kids. There were crafts, a live music performance and lots of lots of sweaty kids bouncing on the fun, padded gym equipment. You can check out their class listings online. They will also offer a camp program and, of course, another space for birthday party gatherings.

Photo credit: Brooklyn Children's Museum

Sunday, January 3, 2010

O'Keeffe and the Toolkit - An outing to the Whitney

Was I crazy to drag the family out on a recent freezing afternoon to trek over to the Whitney? Maybe, but I couldn't miss the Georgia O'Keeffe Abstraction show (there until January 17.) It was so cold we decided to drive, and found a two-hour parking space just a block away. It paid to get there on the early side, as the galleries were packed and the line to get in was out the door when we left around 2:30 pm; arriving around 12:30 worked just fine.

Kids get in free, but what we didn't know is that each pint-sized art appreciator would be given a small spiral bound notebook and a shiny metal "toolkit.' Of course, all the children were thrilled with the toolbox, proudly carrying them around by the handles. Inside were colored pencils, magnifying glasses and leaves, flowers and other objects for the children to examine and draw, just like O'Keeffe did. Our 5 year old joined other children quietly crouched in corners drawing away. We were able to see the whole show, but kept having to return to one gallery when our kid became obsessed with a painting called "Corn Dark." We also got to show her a lot of paintings and talk about color and the freedom of artistic expression, not to mention the idea of abstraction.

We found a nice children's book in the gift shop called "The Artist in the Desert" which actually had a picture of Corn Dark in the book. All in all a great outing.
Credit: Georgia O'Keeffe
Blue Flower, 1918
Pastel on paper mounted on cardboard, 20 x 16 in.
Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico, gift
of The Burnett Foundation
Private Collection