Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Day at the Ballet

Oh you know, just your ordinary Thursday afternoon spent at The Metropolitan Opera House.

After six years of having children in school, I've finally figured out the art of selective volunteering.  When Ella started preschool I jumped at being the class parent.  By elementary school I was recruited to be on the PTA, helping with fundraisers, taking notes at meetings.  By third grade I've finally learned to just volunteer for the fun stuff. 

Today I got to chaperone Ella's class field trip to see The Young People's Ballet Workshop at the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Square.  This is the 20th year that the American Ballet Theater has brought students from around the New York metropolitan area to introduce them to ballet.  More than three thousand elementary students and I were entertained for an hour and a half with a variety of different forms of classical dance.

Holden was happy to miss it.  He was busy doing his own kind of dance.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Long Weekends are Too Few

Every weekend should be a three day weekend.

We've accidentally started a tradition of starting long weekends or vacations with dinner at our favorite local Japanese restaurant and this Friday was no different.

On Friday night our phones made a crazy alarm sound that we have never heard them make before and then texted us (from an unknown source) that we should beware of flash floods in the area.  We scratched our heads and looked around in confusion not only because our phones were behaving strangely, but because there was no rain outside.  Then it came.  It was like the skies opened up and a dam broke on top of us.

The rains lasted on and off throughout Saturday so we took advantage of a rainy day and got all of the boring things done.  We knew the forecast for Sunday and Monday was for clear skies and warm temps.  The kids finished homework, Ella finished a project on China that's due this week, they practiced piano and went to soccer (luckily, it's indoors).  By the afternoon I was going a little stir crazy in our small apartment and wanted to get out to see a movie.  We couldn't find any children's movies playing and so Ella and I decided to head down to Greenwich Village to a small independent theater and see a documentary.  Holden and Kevin had no interest (and I suspected that there might have been a Giants game playing) and so we had a girls afternoon of culture.  The movie was Finding Vivian Maier - a man buys a trunk filled with thousands of old film negatives at an auction and traced it back to Vivian Maier, a reclusive nanny whom no one knew was an incredible photographer.  Highly recommend it.  After the movie Ella and I headed deeper into the Village in search of a coffee house.  Greenwich Village is home to college students (NYU is there) and artists and bohemians.  It is safe to say that Ella was the only child under 15 in the entire neighborhood.  We settled on a dark cafe where Ella ordered tea and cake and felt completely grown up.  She said the cafe made her feel like she was in Italy.


The meteorologists were correct about Sunday - warm and sunny all day.  So we made our way to Central Park and didn't leave for 8 hours.  We rolled out a blanket and Holden packed one of every kind of ball he owns and the kids played.  And played.  And climbed a tree.  And played.

Sheep's Meadow, Central Park

In the afternoon our friends the Cooneys, who just moved to suburban Philadelphia from the Bay Area, met up with us.  They have 3 sons around the same ages as our kids and it was mayhem.

The idea of sitting in a restaurant with five children under the age of 8 seemed like a disaster waiting to happen, so we ordered pizzas and brought them to our backyard.

The kids didn't get to bed until 10pm after a non-stop day of action, so the next morning was challenging...

Again, another beautiful day, perhaps even a bit too hot at the mid-80s.  We fulfilled our promise to Holden to go to the Bronx Zoo.  Probably not our best idea on a holiday.  It felt a bit like Disneyworld with the crowds and heat.  And with two tired kids, there were a couple mini-meltdowns.

Being bribed with Icees for good behavior

We rode the monorail for the first time, which takes you around the perimeter of the zoo - gorgeous.  

 And at the suggestion of our piano teacher Kiara, we made our way from the zoo over to Little Italy in the Bronx.  Now this was what I had pictured when we tried Little Italy in Manhattan but was disappointed at how touristy it was.  Little Italy in the Bronx is the real deal, with guys sitting at outdoor tables who look like extras in The Sopranos.   Pizza places and Italian restaurants all up and down Arthur Street.  There's a real difference in feeling walking around the Bronx compared to walking around Manhattan.  I've never felt unsafe yet in Manhattan, even late at night.  But the streets in the Bronx were quieter, rougher feeling and not a tourist in sight.  We did have a delicious lunch though.

The waiter was a little taken aback when Ella ordered her own plate of mussels.  She'd never tried them before and really want to and Kevin and I weren't going to suppress her sense of adventure.

I'm happy to report that she loved them and ate every last one.  

Here's an example of Holden's sense of adventure:

We had a long subway ride home to end an active weekend.  Here's what we look like on the subway.

 A couple weeks ago a young African American man came up to me on the subway and said how refreshing it was to see my kids reading instead of with their noses stuck in an electronic device.  I was so flattered and thankful that he took the time to tell me that.  

I hope you all had a happy and fun holiday weekend.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Forest in the City

A very quick post - a mini-post, if you will.

The highlight of my week was chaperoning Holden's first grade class field trip to the New York Botanical Garden

It is a national landmark in the Bronx and covers more than 250 acres. 


Luckily, the mother of a boy in our class works as a school guide there and so she was able to lead our tour and take us to parts of the park that aren't normally available to other groups. 


The forest section of the park is more than 50 acres and has some trees believed to be over 400 years old.  It was a real forest before Europeans came through and set up a city around it. 

I bet you never knew that New York City could look like this.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Montauk Madness

Be careful about throwing out half-serious invitations to the Skaggs' because we will take you up on it.  We're up for anything adventurous and will drop work and school to explore.

The kids and Kevin played hookey on Friday.  We woke early and grabbed a trusty Zipcar around the corner to join our friends Alina and Tom and Luke (and a group of their friends) in Montauk, NY.  The group has been going annually for many years and I think Alina might not have expected me to jump at the chance when she mentioned in passing, "you should join us sometime."

Montauk is at the very end of the tip of Long Island.  Normally a two to three hour drive, we took our time on Friday making many stops along the way and didn't arrive until dinnertime.  First, we lunched in the famed Hamptons.  The Hamptons include many small towns in the area and is home to some of the most expensive real estate in the entire United States.  It's a very popular destination for monied New Yorkers to summer (yes, the verb, to summer).  

From there we headed just north to the home and studio of the famous painter Jackson Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner. 

I've been wanting to see their studio ever since we watched a documentary about him with the kids and then took them to see several of his paintings at the Museum of Modern Art.  Now the kids have seen enough of his paintings to be able to quickly identify them at The Met or the MoMA or in a book.  Drip and splatter painting hold a special appeal to 6 and 8-year-olds.

After her death, Lee Krasner left the house and studio to be kept as a museum.  If people lost interest, she said, they could be sold and put towards her foundation that gives grants to struggling artists.  I have a feeling interest won't be lost for a long time.

The most amazing part was seeing the floor of their studio.  Covered in paint splatters, it was a piece of artwork itself.  And given that his paintings sell for millions of dollars, I'm surprised that we were allowed to walk on it (even in the booties they gave us).

We were toured through their main house (a very small, modest home that was bought for them by Peggy Guggenheim, the famous heiress/art collector) and then drove down the road to see their graves, side by side (even though he died 30 years earlier than she did and with his mistress at his side).  

From there we took the one lane road the rest of the way to Montauk.  Montauk was first settled by the Dutch in the early 1600s who found the Montaukett tribe already living there.  It is an old fishing village which is now a very popular destination with young surfers and New Yorkers who can't quite afford The Hamptons (although the properties we saw would hardly be called affordable) and is filled with motels and bars and health food stores and surf shops.  It is absolutely beautiful with six state parks, gorgeous beaches and the fourth oldest lighthouse in the country.

We climbed the 137 steps to the top and got to see the amazing unobstructed views.

This is where I found out about Holden's fear of heights.  He gripped my hand the entire way up.

We spent some more time on the beach and then walking around town, checking out the fishing docks.

And then a couple hours before sunset we met up with the rest of the group at the Montauket Hotel.  It's at the top of a hillside and is the place to be at sunset with a drink in your hand and a lobster roll on your plate.  We lucked out and came to Montauk on the weekend of the annual Montauk Music Festival, so everywhere we went we were serenaded by live music (look for the band at the top).

Ella is happiest on the beach.  She could play in the surf and sand for hours and hours.  So it didn't take much convincing for us to agree to spend a few hours on Sunday doing nothing but hanging out on the beach.  This time we discovered a short hike down to Ditch Plains beach and the kids played and built a sand kingdom while we read and walked and relaxed.

See, it doesn't take much to win Parents of the Year with her.

We took our time getting home on Sunday too, with a stop over in Sag Harbour.  Sag Harbor is a village on the northernmost tip of Long Island and is a very old whaling town.  From its being settled in the early 1700s until the discovery of petroleum in the mid-1800s, it was a very important and busy place with whalers who would sail from there to capture and kill whales to use their oil (blubber) to light lamps.  We toured the local Whaling & Historical Museum to learn more than we ever wanted to know about whaling.

There were tears on Monday morning when the alarm went off.  The kids didn't want the weekend to end.  It's always hardest to return to a routine after such a fun weekend.