Thursday, February 27, 2014

Winter Surprise

A relatively quiet week.

Ella's had chorus practice after school each day this week in preparation for their big concert tonight.  See her front and center?

I went to a lecture last night at our local Jewish Community Center and saw Diane Ravitch speak.  She's an education historian who has worked for several White House Administrations and written several books about public education in our country.  So as not to stand on my soap box, if you're interested in the state of public education in this country as much as I am (and even if you're not), read this article by her to get an idea of what I heard last night.  Let's just say, I'm a fan.

A new coffee shop opened up on our corner serving our very favorite coffee, Blue Bottle.  Our pocketbooks are in trouble.

This can be seen on a door in the coffee shop.  Love.

And I had four black bananas sitting around just asking to be made into banana bread, but lo and behold, this is the first time I realized that I didn't bring my loaf pan to New York.  Muffins, it is. 

But since these were actually pretty healthy muffins (I added flax seed and walnuts, used whole wheat flour), I had to pretend to the kids like they were full of sugar, so I added the sprinkles on top.  Worked like a charm.  Holden asked if he could have one for dessert.

But the real news is...well, I'm not going to tell you yet because we haven't told the kids.  Tomorrow morning we're going to blow their minds.  Here's a hint.


Let's just say if winter has you down, head to the Happiest Place on Earth.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Superheroes and Artists

We celebrated Kevin making it through the week after his big launch with a family dinner on Friday night at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants, Cocina Economica (which by the way, isn't so economica). 

Saturday morning we woke up and decided that after soccer we would go discover Brooklyn some more.  Spending more time in Brooklyn was one of my New Years resolutions.  We've only been over a few times and I don't feel like I have a good sense of it yet.

I remembered quickly the reason we haven't spent much time there.  It's a 45 minute + subway ride from where we are in the Upper West Side, at least to Park Slope, where we wanted to go.  Luckily we all brought reading materials with us and eventually ended up right next to Prospect Park - Brooklyn's Central Park.  As a matter of fact, it was designed by the same landscape architects who created Central Park.

It looked like it could be really beautiful in any of the other three seasons, however at this time of year all we could see was snow.  Hard to get a sense of how it really looks.

After the walk through the park we wandered down the main drag and completely by surprise came across 826NYC.  If you're not familiar with 826 Valencia, it's a space started by author Dave Eggers in San Francisco which gives free writing tutoring and workshops for children.  But in the front of the space, because of the way the building is zoned, they had to have retail shop, so in San Francisco the front of the shop is a pirate store.  They sell all things pirate: swords, costumes, treasure chests.  Well, in New York the front of the shop is the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store.  How lucky were we to stumble upon a superhero supply shop??

Through a secret door is the backspace where the tutoring happens.

In addition to selling items such as capes, x-ray glasses, new secret identities, you can enter the Devillanizer and purify yourself of any villainous tendencies. 

Kevin and Holden are now clean.

We had dinner at Pork Slope in Park Slope, Brooklyn and watched what turned out to be about the only Olympics we've watched for the last two weeks since the Opening Ceremonies.


As you know, our church on Sunday mornings is a museum.  We hadn't checked out the Sunday morning children's tours at the Museum of Modern Art in a while so we decided to jump in on one and weren't disappointed.

We got a really great docent this time and she made it really fun for the kids, discovering motion in paintings and sculptures.  She was very interactive with the kids and really brought them to life.

It even inspired Holden to do some still life.
Building their own Calder mobiles.

On our way home we took a detour to one of our favorite bookshops, Bookculture, near Columbia University.  I noticed this desk for the first time.  It asks you to sit and write a letter by hand.  Put it in the box and they'll mail it for you and pay for the postage.  I thought it was sweet.
After an exhausting weekend we ended it quietly on Sunday night with Kevin and Holden playing chess while Ella cooked us all dinner - alphabet soup with veggies.  
 It was delicious.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Personal Maintenance

Well the grandmas might be happy to hear that this week of no school has turned into a personal maintenance week for the three of us.

We had haircuts, teeth cleanings, piano lessons, eye doctors' appointments.

We spent 6 1/2 hours de-lousing our family (not including the dozens of loads of laundry, vacuuming furniture, bagging up stuffed animals, boiling hairbrushes, etc).

I was on the mend mid-week but by Friday the steroids had petered out and my Strep throat was back in full force.  So I gave in and started the antibiotics on the 7th day of illness.

We did manage to have some fun when the Strep was at bay.  On Wednesday we checked out The Art of the Brick - an exhibit of sculptures created entirely of Legos by an artist named Nathan Sawaya.  It was a hit with the kids and brought a renewed interest in their Lego collection for the remainder of the week.

Ella was particularly excited to see a copy of the Degas sculpture that she loves so much at The Met.

And on the way home from that we got off the subway one stop early and headed directly into the Natural History Museum (the subway has an exit directly into their basement - you never have to go above ground).  The planetarium has a new show by Neil DeGrasse Tyson that we wanted to check out called Dark Universe.  Honestly, I slept through the entire thing which should have been a clue that I wasn't over the Strep because I love astronomy and especially Neil DeGrasse Tyson.  But the kids loved it and Ella even said as we left the museum that she wants to be a scientist when she grows up.  You go girl.

Being sick this week was unexpectedly good for allowing the kids a lot of unstructured play time.  As you know, our afternoons, vacations, and weekends are often incredibly over scheduled.  It's all always really fun, educational stuff, but the kids never get enough time just to build with their Legos.  Or create something out of an old cardboard box.  Or turn their bedroom into a restaurant.  Or just be bored.  

Check, check, check and check.

Monday, February 17, 2014

'Roids to the Rescue

Imagine this.

The one weekend Kevin has been working toward all year: the relaunch of the site he was hired to revamp last January.  But he has to work from home because his office is moving to a new location this very weekend and no staff can be in the office until Tuesday.

Meanwhile, I'm down with Strep throat.  Again.  The plan was for me to keep the kids away, far away from the apartment while he did what he needed to do.  Keep the place quiet.  But I cannot swallow.  Or speak.  And sometimes even breathing is hard.

And guess what?  The kids have just started their 9 day "mid-winter" vacation from school!  Lord help me if this is only midway through winter.

So there are no pictures this weekend.  No photo of the kids watching endless movies on the iPad.  No photos of me dragging myself out of bed (without a shower) yesterday and over to the East Side so that we could engage in the least exerting activity possible: watching the new Lego Movie.  Luckily, the Dolby Surround Sound is so loud no one heard me snoring.  No joke.  And there is no photo of us emerging from the theater to the windiest snowstorm any of us have ever been in.  Literally, the snow was completely horizontal.  Elderly people were being blown over.  I got home and crawled into bed and stayed for a full 24 hours, minus the 45 minutes on Sunday morning where I went to the Urgent Care 3 blocks down and got some steroids so that I could at least swallow.

The steroids haven't kicked in yet but every once in a while I hear Kevin using words he probably shouldn't be using in front of our kids, obviously having troubles with his website, and so I invite the kids into my bed to watch a movie on the laptop, all the while hoping I'm not breathing tiny virus molecules into their little faces.

Luckily in New York City you can have anything delivered to your door.  Anything.  Pizzas, something from the Halal truck on the corner, smoothies, booze.  Hey, are you craving a kosher steak?  It'll be there in 30 minutes.  So we don't need to leave our enclave.  Burgers from Fred's are on their way.

And fortunately I must have had some subconscious premonition and fortuitously signed the kids up for a field trip tomorrow with Science Teacher Sarah.  As long as the steroids have done their magic and I can get them to the West Village by 9am, they'll be gone all day to the Tenafly Nature Center in New Jersey where they'll discover the magic of Maple sugar.  Here's Sarah's spiel, "Where do Maple trees grow?  Who discovered this delicious sap and how?  How has technology changed the course of gathering sap?  We'll attempt to answer these questions as we explore the science from the beginning to the end of this exciting process.  It's time to check tapped Maple trees, learn how to boil down sap, and enjoy the warm, sweet flavor of Maple syrup.  Pancakes beware!  I can't wait to taste this most delicious field trip!"  So you can see why the kids love Science Teacher Sarah.

Kevin and I will have a day of quiet in the apartment.  Let's just hope the kids don't get stuck in New Jersey in a big snowstorm.

[Note: This blog post was originally written and posted yesterday but I took it down after an hour.  I realized that I probably shouldn't post the exact whereabouts of the kids ahead of time.  You know, cyber stalkers and all.  Not that I spend any time at all thinking about internet security.  I know that on any given day my kids are thousands of times more likely to get hit by a car than abducted by a stranger.  But even the tiniest possibility with a consequence too horrible to imagine gives me pause for thought.  On a brighter note, the steroids did wonders and although I still have a plain old sore throat, it's nowhere near as bad as yesterday.  So I got the kids to science class in plenty of time and they had a fabulous day learning more than any of us ever wanted to know about Maple sap.  They just love classes with her.  And they got fresh pancakes for snack with really fresh Maple syrup on top.  Sarah will send photos in a few days which I'll post here.  The bad news is that Kevin's throat is now hurting... Worst. Possible. Timing.]

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Keeping Warm with Friends

A quick (and late) update on our weekend.

We've had our very good friends Cristy and Mike here visiting for a brief stop on their way to Sri Lanka!  So jealous...

They didn't arrive until Sunday so we had a somewhat lazy Saturday (for us).  In addition to soccer,

Holden worked on a project due this week on the 100th day of school.

Ella sold Rainbow Loom bracelets in our lobby to raise money for local hospitals (completely her idea).

And we made a speedy trip across the park to The Met to check out the Asian Art section.

The security guard did not like Holden sitting on the ancient statue.  Go figure.

The plan was to hit a Spanish language tour for kids but Holden's been fighting a cold and he just couldn't last that long.  

So we headed home and the kids made use of our back yard while we waited for the babysitter to arrive.

Some old friends of Kevin's whom he hadn't seen in about ten years were in the city for the night from suburban Philadelphia.  We met Ken and Marie for drinks at our favorite speakeasy and then tapas for dinner. 
Once Cristy and Mike arrived on Sunday we headed over to Central Park for some icy sledding.  Let me just tell you, I was scared to death watching the kids FLY down those slopes.  The ice obviously makes for some fast sledding.


And a video - 

Once all fingers and toes were numb and the kids were all bruised up, we bee lined for a local favorite Irish pub to get some warmth from the inside out.

(Note the man in the top hat outside, smoking a cigar.  He's a neighborhood fixture and I have no idea why he dresses as though he's from 18th century England everyday.)

Cristy and Mike's visit was too short but it was so nice to catch up with them.  They are currently on a 14 1/2 hour flight!  I can't wait to hear all about their amazing adventures in Sri Lanka and am so jealous that it will be in the 80s and humid there.


Now off to celebrate Kevin's birthday today!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Pity Party Police

After a couple concerned phone calls and emails, I should let you all know that my brief Pity Party is over.


Today is a new day, as they say.  And the kids and I switched things up a bit to get a new perspective.  We walked a new route to school (surprising what a difference that makes).  I upped our Vitamin D doses.  I kept my eyes up, admiring the sky and trees instead of head down to the ground, watching for piles of poop and black ice.  I put on an extra layer of clothing and stayed out of the apartment this morning, getting errands done that required being out and about.  And I planned out a warm, mid-spring long weekend for us (details to come!) and finished planning out our summer, including an annual girls weekend away with some of my besties. 

Believe me, I know how good I've got it.  And I know the kids will be just fine, regardless of where they go to school.  After all, they aren't the first kids to hate school. 

But considering that the only two other states I've ever lived in were California and Hawaii...well, you'll understand if the dreary winter blues hit me harder than most. 

Ella's drink of choice: steamed milk with honey and a dash of cinnamon.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The New Normal

Well, it's official.  I have hit the mid-winter blues.  I think we all have.

(Not my picture, but a good representation of what it looks like today.)

The beautiful snow of two days ago has now turned into a rainy, slushy, grey mess.  The kids were soaked by the time I finally got them to school.  We had to walk sometimes ankle deep in dirty gutter water just to get across the street all the while dodging taxis and trucks that were having trouble stopping.

I saw that a pedestrian was killed in San Francisco yesterday by a motorist.  It made the local news.  We had three pedestrian fatalities within two blocks of our school in January alone.

Welcome to our new normal.

For the last couple months the kids have had no recess, no outdoor play time.  Instead, their one and only break during their 6.5 hour school day is spent in the auditorium watching a movie (although Ella says you can't actually watch it because the kids are all so loud you can't hear anything).  When parents, including myself, ask the administration why the kids can't run free in the gym instead to get out some energy, we're told that the other gym classes need it.  What we're told by the teachers is that the lunch monitors just don't want to deal with rowdy children running around.  Instead, Ella says the monitors are playing on their cell phones while the kids are sitting in the auditorium.

And as soon as they enter the school the kids are yelled at by the security guards, barked at by the hall monitors, shouted at by their teachers.  I've seen Ella's spirit drop considerably over the last few months.  During the week she's become a sad, angry little girl.  Every morning Holden says he doesn't want to go to school.  When I ask him why not, he says I already know everything they're teaching me.  He's right, he does.

Dragging the kids to a school they hate is my new normal.

I have spent almost every day from dropping the kids off in the morning to picking them up in the afternoon inside our dark apartment this winter.  Sometimes I hang out at a local cafe when I don't have other chores I should be doing at home.  Sometimes I hang out there even when I do have other chores that need to be done, just so I'm not in a dark apartment all by myself.

My posts are always about our fun weekends.  But you should know that our Mondays through Fridays often suck.  I'm working on that.  I'm working on the school situation, looking at other schools, other options.  I'm working on getting my butt out of this apartment more, even when it's freezing cold outside.  I'm working on a new normal for our family so that we no longer have the highs of an amazing weekend followed by the lows of a crappy week.

Meanwhile, I think I'll plan a warm mid-winter vacation.  This family needs some sunshine.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Gong Xi Fa Cai, People!

The weekend started off sweet with our promise to take Ella to Sugar and Plumm when she finished her 100th chapter book.

The kids were of course thrilled to start their day with so much sugar.  Luckily, they had already worked up an appetite at soccer.

We then kept with our book-theme for the day by visiting not one, not two, but THREE bookstores!  We even tried for a fourth but it was closed by the time we arrived.  

New York may be the last place on Earth with no shortage of independent bookstores.  We started at the historic Rizzoli Bookstore, a 50 year-old institution housed in a 4-story townhouse just below the park.

(This photo was taken from their website.)

We then headed down to SoHo for what turned out to be the kids' highlight, The Scholastic Bookstore, which is the first floor of the Scholastic Press Building.  Scholastic Books, as you may know, is a huge publisher of educational materials and children's books, specifically Holden's current favorite Captain Underpants (two boys turn their evil school principal into a super hero who fights crime in his underwear - comedy ensues).  Ella picked a book recommended by Cousin Bonnie, The Doll People, and now can't put it down.  Thanks, Cousin Bonnie!

Holden doing his Captain Underpants impression.

Stop number three was Kevin's favorite.  Just a couple blocks from Scholastic is the McNally-Jackson Bookstore, a very hip, multi-story bookstore with a decent Spanish section, a cool cafe, and a nice children's area downstairs.


Sunday was our now annual trip to Chinatown to take part in the Chinese New Year celebrations.  The weather was beautiful this weekend (and by beautiful I mean that it was in the 40s and we didn't require hats or gloves). 

This was an Only in New York scene of latin guys in crazy Elvis-like costumes watching students from a circus school in Brooklyn play with fire.  All at a Chinese New Year parade, naturally.

He's always had a fear of old ladies with pink hair...

Shortly after this photo was taken (click on it to get the full effect) I remembered how much I hate crowds. And parades. And drums being banged in my ears.


So we started to elbow our way out of the throngs of people but got sidetracked at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory where Kevin ordered the most hideous smelling durian fruit ice cream.  Apparently, the smell of durian has been likened to the smell of a rotting corpse.  Kevin made me taste it and amazingly, if you hold your nose it actually tastes sweet.

It was while we were standing there finishing our ice creams that we heard that just a few blocks from where we were standing one of our favorite actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman, had just been found dead of an overdose.  Honestly, it flattened our mood.  He was easily one of the best actors not only of our generation, but of all time.  And to think he had three kids about the same ages as our kids...well, I wasn't in the party mood anymore.  So we bee-lined it for neighboring Little Italy where we found a quiet cafe, pulled out our books, and retreated into ourselves.


Of course we made it home in time to watch the Superbowl, even though our team wasn't playing.  It's all about the ads for us anyway.  I really didn't want to keep watching Denver take such a beating - I really felt bad for them - so I just read while the game was playing and then looked up during the commercials.

We woke up this morning to another Winter Wonderland.  The temperature is still in the 30s, so it really was just beautiful and not too, too cold.  

Our walk to school

I'm so happy to hear that California got some much needed rain and snow this last week.  I hope it continues.

Happy Monday, people.