Monday, September 30, 2013

Spontaneity in the City

We had what is my favorite kind of weekend: the kind where you have no plans and so you can be spontaneous and let good things happen.

On Saturday morning when I woke up Ella was already in the kitchen making us all breakfast, so I snuck downstairs to crawl into bed with Holden.  He was already awake and reading the mini magazine that came with this month's Kiwi Crate.

Those are the monthly boxes we get filled with craft projects for the kids.  This month's focus was on modern art and the kids made a Calderesque mobile and this Mondrian painting:


Holden was excitedly reading to me from the magazine about how Jackson Pollock painted on the floor by throwing paint at the canvas and about the difference between pointillism, abstract, cubism and pop art.  We decided to see if we could find a video on YouTube of Pollock actually painting and over breakfast the four of us ended up watching this documentary on Jackson Pollock (it's only an hour and really good - I recommend watching it).  When I told Holden that there are Jackson Pollock paintings, as well as the very paintings his magazine gave as examples of the other types of modern art, just 20 minutes away from us at the Museum of Modern Art, he decided we needed to go see them right away.

Ella and Kevin went to her soccer game while Holden and I went to a parent-child yoga class, then the four of us met up and headed to midtown to see the paintings in person.

Ella's favorite, The Dream by Rousseau.

The MoMA gives out headsets for free and they have a wonderful kids tour on there which chooses several paintings and has a child-friendly narration and even will play the music that the artist liked to listen to when they painted.  It really made the visit come alive for them.

 Pointillism, check.

 Cubism, check.

 We even found the exact example the magazine gave for cubism, this Picasso.

Pop Art, check.

Impressionism.  Not in our magazine but the audio for this Monet was very relaxing so we stayed here a while.

And we finally ended up at the Jackson Pollock gallery.  The kids spontaneously sat on the ground and took our their sketchbooks and pencils and started creating.  I kid you not, several museum goers were taking pictures of our kids drawing on the floor in front of the Pollock painting.

The next morning we again split up while Kevin took Holden to T-ball and Ella and I had some much needed one-on-one time (at Starbucks, of course).  Originally I had planned for both kids to take their sports at the same time on Saturday mornings so that sports didn't take over our weekends and we could still have one entire day each weekend free.  And I was disappointed when they changed Holden's Little League to Sunday mornings, meaning that now both weekend days were half taken over by sports.  Ugh.  But, it's turned out to work out perfectly.  On Saturday morning Kevin and Ella had some good Daddy/Ella time.  Before soccer they went to the book store to get a book on Greek Myths and ended up reading it aloud together at a secret garden that we discovered a couple weeks ago on the way to soccer (we're discovering a lot of these hidden gems in Manhattan).  As I mentioned, Holden and I had a nice morning at yoga together.  Then on Sunday, Kevin and Holden got to bond over baseball while Ella and I had a really great conversation over coffee and hot chocolate.  The result was that the kids were SO much better behaved all weekend long.  Getting a chunk of individual attention led to almost no fighting with each other or fighting for our attention.  Our scattered schedule has worked out much better than I could have planned.

After T-ball, the four of us met up at a newly renovated playground on the Harlem side (north side) of Central Park.  It's an absolutely gorgeous playground that rivals even the best playground I've seen in San Francisco and it's just one subway stop away.  

It turns out the playground is right next to the Harlem Meer (Dutch word for lake) which offers the use of free fishing poles and bait for catch and release fishing.

I'll bet you never knew Harlem was this beautiful.

From there we walked along the north side of the park and then down the east side.  We stumbled upon the Central Park Conservatory Garden, a beautiful, huge secret garden (at least to us) that is divided into three parts: Italian, French and English.  It is set away from the street and is designated a quiet zone, so from the street you'd never know it was there.  The kids thought it was like discovering a magic land.


We continued wandering down the Upper East Side and ended up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Since we have a membership, we decided to pop in to see another Jackson Pollock painting as well as to see if we could find anything about Cleopatra, whom Ella has decided to be for Halloween.

This was the only reference to Cleopatra we could find: an American sculpture of her.  I told Ella she better make sure to keep her dress up on Halloween.

 The view from the roof of the Met.

An entire living room designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, brought from Minnesota to New York City.  Crazy.

The weekend ended with Family Movie Night watching the final Star Wars.  With nothing planned ahead of time but soccer and T-ball, it could not have turned out to be a more perfect weekend.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

I am Not a Tiger Mom...Or am I?

While it's been a very busy week for us, I don't seem to have much to write.  None of our daily craziness seems interesting enough to share with you people.

Do you really want to see photos of insanely hectic first hours of the day, getting tired kids to get dressed, eat breakfast and occasionally brush their teeth, all in time to get to school before the bell rings?  I'm not taking any photos of that madness.  I did however reinstate a device that you might remember from our old apartment, The List.

It really works, people.  Our mornings have been stressful since moving to the new apartment, mostly because we now have 20 fewer minutes to get ready in the morning.  And no, we're not waking up 20 minutes earlier.  That would be too easy.  So this morning when Holden asked if he could play the typing game on the computer I said, "If your list is finished."  And when Ella started playing with her dolls while still in her pajamas, I gently reminded her "Don't forget about your list."  And you know what?  They both were ready to go when it was time to leave.  Amazing.

I read an article last night that was apparently written just for me.  It's called Why Back-to-School Night Made Me Feel Like a Bad Mom.  Unless you're a mother of small children, you don't really need to read it, but the gist is that some of us (who shall remain nameless) feel like we're failing our children if we don't have them signed up for soccer/ballet/piano/Spanish/basket weaving after school and if our kids aren't Olympic worthy athletes and stage worthy musicians by the time they're in middle school.  For me personally, it's not a competitive thing.  I'm not trying to make my kids better than anyone else's kids.  I just want my kids to have as many opportunities as possible, expose them to as much of the world as possible, open them up to all the possibilities out there so that they can find their niche and excel.  So that they can have choices.  So that they can have confidence.

But that can come at a price.  Over scheduling.  Stress on the children.  Not enough time to work on their school work.  Not enough time to play.

So I will admit that right now, my children are signed up for (and enjoying): soccer (Ella), T-ball (Holden), piano (Ella - taught in Spanish), cooking (both - taught in Spanish) and yoga (both).  All after school and on weekends.  All while enrolled in a school that is taught in English on Mondays and Wednesdays and half of Fridays and in Spanish on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and half of Fridays.  It may sound like too much but they don't know any different and they seem to love it all.

I wouldn't call myself a Tiger Mom.  Ella only practices piano 7 minutes a day for the time being.  And they don't even realize that they're learning anything in the cooking class (even though it's an hour and a half more a week of Spanish immersion).  And yoga, well.  Who doesn't love yoga?


I've done some cooking of my own this week, with no help from the kids.

Broccoli and Cauliflower Gratin (veggies from the box).
I tossed the leftovers with pasta the next night.

Peach Cake (peaches from the box)

And I made a sweet potato and cauliflower soup last night (cauliflower from the box) but I didn't take a photo of it because frankly, although it tasted delicious, it looked like baby food. 

I made some pear muffins yesterday just using a boxed mix of carrot cake and instead of adding the carrots I added diced pears.  You could also do the same with a spice cake mix.  Thumbs up all around.  And since we got a ton of pears in this week's box, tonight I'm making a quick pear tart using a store bought pie crust again.

And I'll leave you with this:

Spot on, Holden.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Fun with the Falbos

The Falbo Family came to visit!


And they're growing!  Since they last came to NYC they've added Baby DJ to their lot.  It was nice for us to spend some time getting to know her.

She is a complete doll.  She smiles constantly and is happy to let anyone and everyone take their turn holding her. 

On Saturday we did the usual, American Museum of Natural History, BBQ in our backyard, wandering the streets of Manhattan.

And although Holden's second Little League game was rained out, Ella still had her first soccer game (luckily, it's indoors).


Frankly, I was surprised by how much she loved it.

And then on Sunday...ooh, did we have fun.

The San Francisco Giants were playing against the New York Yankees for the only time this year.  Shauna and I planned this months ago.  Bought tickets way back in February.  Even before they had Baby DJ.

Photo bomb by Holden

We represented the Giants well and the Yankees fans were very gracious to us - no sneers or jeers.  It helped that we won :)

It was another major check off on our bucket list and so fun that we got to experience it with our great friends and fellow Giants fans!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bringing California Hippie to New York City

Well, homework season has begun:

But it's not all books, books, books.  The kids and I have found a new hobby - yoga.

I found a great little studio a block and half away and signed up for an introductory pass: all the yoga classes you want in two weeks for $30.  And I am making the most of my money.  I took about four classes last week and am going to my third one today for this week.  I've always enjoyed yoga but never found anything very convenient.  This place is so close and they offer so many different kinds of classes that it makes it easy to stick with it.  So far I've started with the easier classes - "Urban Zen", which is a restorative yoga (like a really nice nap) and chair yoga which makes me feel like I've had a chiropractic adjustment every time I take it.  I am walking  much taller and sleeping much better since starting.

They also offer children's classes in the afternoons.  And not the mommy-and-me kind of classes, but ones where I get to drop them off, go have a quiet cup of coffee (or more likely make dinner), and pick them up.  Again, since it's right down the street, it makes it so easy for me.  I thought I'd let the kids try one just to see if they liked it.  At first Ella wasn't very excited but Holden was thrilled.  I was a little surprised at how much he was looking forward to it.

Well, they both LOVED it.  I don't know what went on in there, but they both begged to come back to the next class.  Ella mentioned something about the instructor rubbing scented oil on her feet.

So they've been back to another class and Holden asked (in front of the studio owner), "Mommy, can we come back to every kids class they have until the studio closes down forever?"  But...since kids yoga classes are apparently more expensive than adult yoga classes and since everything is multiplied by two in this family, I'm working with the owners to figure out a deal of some sort - perhaps a family membership.  He was so happy to hear how excited Holden was about yoga that he said he'll definitely work out something more affordable for us.


Starting in 3rd grade, the kids get to choose a "club" class, which is supposed to be something fun that incorporates what they're learning in the classroom into real life, applicable experiences.  Ella chose Garden Club and since I've been helping out in the school garden, the science teacher who is leading Garden Club asked if I'd come help out.  I'm thrilled to be able to actually help in one of the kids' classrooms.  So far the school has been less receptive about having parents inside the classrooms than our last school. 


Since today was the first Garden Club meeting since the summer, the kids got to go out in the garden and do some harvesting.  They picked cherry tomatoes and basil and their teacher brought in some mozzarella.  Back in the classroom the kids made Caprese salad, a big hit. 

Meanwhile, we continue to get our farm box.   If you have a garden then you know it is zucchini and tomato and corn season.  And we've been inundated.  Some hits:

Zucchini and Corn Fritters - sorry, can't remember which recipe I used but you can Google it and get dozens of recipes.  With a dollop of applesauce on top, the kids ate a plateful.

Penne with Zucchini, Lemon, Ricotta and Pine Nuts - I strayed a lot from the original recipe so I won't include it, but basically all the ingredients are in the name (add Parmesan and cooking water).
And I'll leave you with this last photo:
If you know Ella, you might be giggling about now.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Birthday, Ballgames, BBQ and Broadway

Another fantastic birthday is in the can.

We started my birthday weekend off right on Friday night by meeting our friends Sharon and Stefan (better known to you as 'Maeve's parents') at a hot New York restaurant, Red Rooster.  It's a terrible name because I keep accidentally calling it Red Lobster, which it could not be more different from.  It's Chef Marcus Samuelsson's place in Harlem, frequented by the Obamas and Clintons, among others.  Apparently it usually has a 2-3 month wait for reservations but Stefan knows someone and was able to get us in with 2 weeks notice.  Food was great (had chicken and waffles for the first time), company was fun and no kids was awesome!

Saturday morning we loaded up our backpacks for an urban hike.  We took the subway all the way up to the last stop, Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.

(My artsy subway photo)

There we checked out the Van Cortlandt House, a 300 year old plantation home of a Dutch family who settled there and grew wheat fields where now there are Burger Kings and gas stations.  It's the oldest building in the Bronx and George Washington once used the house as a headquarters for a while during the Revolutionary War.  The kids got a mini-history lesson out of it.

From there we hiked around a lake and through a golf course.  After only about 2 minutes of walking we already felt like we were in the middle of the woods.  Holden even declared that he loves hiking because sometimes he just needs to get away from all the cars.  I hear you, Holden.

I bet you never thought the Bronx looked like this.

Saturday night we christened our new BBQ in our new backyard with our friends Joel and Mimi and their boys Arlo and Ansel (the family we went camping with this summer).  It was so fantastic to be able to eat our dinner outside and feel like we finally have the space to entertain friends.

Sunday morning, my actual birthday, I woke up to a pile of homemade birthday cards from my two biggest fans and my gifts that had arrived throughout the week in the mail, which I had the willpower to keep wrapped until my birthday.  We hopped an early train uptown to Holden's first Little League game.  He has been excited for weeks.  I thought for sure as soon as we arrived at the field that he would pull a Holden and clam up, cling to my leg and go all shy on us.  Not at all.  He ran out and started practicing with Kevin right away.  He loved every second of it and even scored the final run of the game.


Kevin had an ill timed business trip so he left NYC after Holden's game for Detroit.  I had planned to have a quiet afternoon with the kids but right after he left I got a call from my friend Andi from grad school (who lives in New Jersey) saying that she and her daughter were in the city at the half-priced ticket booth in Times Square and invited us to join them at a Broadway show (she had no idea it was my birthday).  These are the kinds of awesome, spontaneous things that happen when you live in the coolest city in the world.

So we threw on our shoes and headed back out to the subway to head downtown to meet up with them.  We ended up seeing Peter the Starcatcher, winner of 5 Tony awards.

Despite being a prequel to Peter Pan, it wasn't exactly a show for kids, but they all sat through it and seemed to enjoy it even if they didn't know what was going on most of the time.  It's always fun to see live theater even if the accents and language are too difficult to understand. 

Then we finished our day with dinner at a touristy diner in Times Square where all of the waiters are actually trying to get into a Broadway show (aren't all waiters in New York?).  They sing throughout the meal (see him over Ella's shoulder?).  The kids ate it up.


So far 42 is feeling pretty good.