Archive for Pondering

Little Children Big Challenges – Sesame Street Takes on Divorce


Did you know that Abby Cadabby’s parents are divorced?  They are.  You won’t hear about it on “Sesame Street”, but Sesame Workshop has created a thoughtful and comprehensive guide for parents to help you help your child through divorce.  Little Children Big Challenges: Divorce is just one of many tool kits that Sesame Street has put together online to offer help to families during particularly challenging situations.  And like all of the materials created by Sesame Street, it is a rich resource for families and caregivers dealing with the difficult transitions that divorce presents.

The Little Children Big Challenges: Divorce tool kit offers videos featuring some of your favorite Sesame Street characters, songs, printable activities, printable tip sheets for parents and caregivers, and a downloadable storybook called “Two Hug Day.”  “Two Hug Day” deals sensitively with the feelings that may arise in kids on days when they switch from Mommy to Daddy’s house, or vice versa. Two-Hug days.

Divorce will ultimately impact 40% of children.  We all will, at some point, encounter children who are moving through this difficult transition–be they our own kids, our relatives, or our children’s friends.  And at any moment we may be called upon to help a kid negotiate a challenging emotion or situation.  It’s just good to know that we aren’t alone in these tough times.  That there are resources available to help us help our children.  And that those resources come from someone as trustworthy, smart and thoughtful as Sesame Street.  Sesame Workshop even has created a Divorce App (available for both iPhone and Android devices), because goodness knows those difficult questions can arise anywhere from in the car to at the ball field and beyond.  These resources are designed for families with children ages 2 – 8, are completely free, and can be accessed on the Sesame Street website here.

Thank you Sesame Street.  Your partnership in life’s difficult transition is something that families definitely gotta have.

I attended a panel discussion at Sesame Workshop this week and received two Little Children Big Challenges: Divorce kits containing a Sesame Street DVD, A Guide for Parents and Caregivers, and a copy of the  “Two-Hug Day” story book.  I will happily mail these to the first two readers who request them.  Please leave a comment on this post if you would like one and I’ll email you for your address. 


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Hickory Farms and Soap on a Rope – Baskets of Holiday Traditions

“I just saw soap on a rope and thought of your Pop-Pop.”

My friend Gretchen texted this to me a few days ago while she was out Christmas shopping.  It’s funny how our Christmas shopping and gift giving traditions can become so much a part of our holiday experience that even our friends know about them.  I bought my grandfather, Pop-Pop, soap on a rope and Old Spice aftershave every year for about fifteen years I’d say.  Gretchen has been on the quest for soap on a rope with me on more than one Black Friday morning.  He’s been gone for three years, and boy do I wish I were still heading out to find it for him.

For my brother and me, when the Hickory Farms kiosk arrives at the Susquehanna Valley Mall not far from our hometown, memories of Pop-Pop always come along with it.  For several years before he passed away, and when he wasn’t going through the Old Spice quite as quickly any more, Wes and I teamed up to get him a Hickory Farms Gift Basket for Christmas.  At a certain point, as happens so often, my grandparents’ cozily cluttered house had no more room for “World’s Best Pop-Pop” mugs and “Gone Fishin'” wall hangings.  Pop-Pop and Nana began telling us more stories behind their beloved antiques and heirlooms and sending us home with our trunks full every time we visited.  And as they looked to pass along their treasures to us, our gifts to them became smaller and designed to bring joy we could share in the here and now.  For a meat and potatoes, fishing and hunting, raconteur and all-around sport like Pop-Pop, a Hickory Farms Gift Basket was the perfect gift.  Terrific for munching on while watching Lawrence Welk.  Great to crack out and share when a neighbor stopped by.  A satisfying evening supper on those days when the big meal was eaten after church on Sunday.

We were recently sent The Party Planner Gift Box, a gourmet sampler that includes a selection of sausages, cheeses, mustard and nuts.  But much as I love Pennsylvania Dutch style Gouda, I didn’t open it immediately.  To me, these gift boxes are meant to be shared.  We’ll take it up to my in-laws on Sunday, and on Monday when we come back from the Christmas Eve service at a church that’s not my childhood church, accompanied my grown-up extended family and my daughter in her Christmas dress and shiny shoes, we’ll open each little snack package and spread it all out.  When I think of noshing after the Christmas Eve service.  I think of crackers and cheese.  And Pop-Pop.  He won’t be there.  But after sixty years, Hickory Farms still will.

Some holiday traditions pass.  Others stay on with us.  But the people we shared them with never really leave us do they?  As long as there’s soap on a rope on the shelves and beef sticks at the mall, our simple, sometimes silly, always heartfelt traditions and memories will stay with us. And that’s something Mama’s definitely gotta have.

Find Hickory Farms gift baskets online at or at mall kiosks all over the U.S.

Disclaimer: Compensation and products for review were provided by Hickory Farms via MomTrends. I received a free sample of the product for the purpose of this review and to facilitate a giveaway.  The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions of Hickory Farms.

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#26Acts of Random Kindness

How to respond to the unthinkable tragedy in Newtown?  We can give.  We can pray. We can advocate.

We can also pay kindness forward.

Ann Curry proposed that we all commit acts of kindness in honor of each of those who lost their lives on Friday.  This is one of my favorite ideas.  The notion that as a collective soul, we can banish hate with love.  Not necessarily even by sending that love directly back to those who were injured.  But by passing it on to others in what is both a beautiful and a deeply injured country.

26 random acts of kindess.

Here are some that have already been committed.  I think I’m going to follow suit.

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Let me start by saying my family is fine.  We are so very lucky.  We live uptown in what feels like a fortress on a hill and despite some frighteningly loud wind, jitters, and a few unexpected days off of school, we emerged pretty much completely unscathed.  We have cable and power and warm showers.  My friends five miles away did not for a week.  Several still don’t.  Not to mention those in New Jersey and Connecticut and elsewhere out of town who won’t have power for ages.  Or homes in some cases.

Our city is coming together in a way I haven’t seen, well, since 2001.  And in reality, people can be more actively involved in this effort, because unlike that horrible September eleven years ago, we are needed.  Desperately needed.  This crisis calls even more for people to help.  My husband is at the hospital tonight because Downtown Hospitals are evacuating and this time there are patients to be seen.  Last time they mobilized, but the hospitals were empty.  Not many patients emerged from the ash.  My friends are donating and volunteering and reaching out in an ever-growing and inter-connected web of action in a way that we couldn’t in 2001.  Because that horrible scene could only be handled by the amazing first responders.  New Yorkers can donate socks and rake leaves in Riverside Park.  We can give our time and we can give our resources.  And that does feel in some ways more productive.  As we move toward yet another new normal.

Other bloggers have already done an amazing job amassing lists of volunteer and donation opportunities.  I can do no better than to link to several.

Kim at Mom in the City has posted 30 Ways NYC Families Can Help After Hurricane Sandy, many of which can be utilized by out-of-towners as well.

Jennie at In Jennie’s Kitchen has posted her list in a post called Alternate Worlds

Cool Mom Picks posted Hurricane Sandy: More Than a Dozen Ways You Can Help

And I just want to link to an organization I have only become familiar with since Sandy, Hope for New York.  Their Hurricane Relief page has great links and opportunities.

With hope for Spring.  And love for New York.

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Happy Birthday Baby Girl

For sweet Cate’s fifth birthday we took her to Paris.

Well…Mama wanted an eclair.  And a chocolate croissant.  And some ice cream.  And a baguette with butter.  And….well, you get the picture.

It was an adventure. We stayed in an apartment.  We speak no French. We haven’t traveled abroad as a couple, let alone as a family.

But we did it.  Bean rode five merry go rounds.  They are as ubiquitous there as spray parks are here.

We rode a boat on the Seine and climbed the Arch of Triumph. We shopped and ate and searched for lions among the sculptures at the Louvre.  And she jumped on a trampoline.

My parents moved our family to England for a year when I was three and my brother was six months old. They borrowed a car and took us to France on the hovercraft. Drove around the Arch of Triumph in circles looking for our hotel according to my Mother. They were ten years younger than I am now.


Adventure as a verb.

Happy birthday Bean.  We love you.

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Happy Merry-ness to You All.

Fishie Face Photo

Wishing you all peace, joy and love this week and for the rest of the year.

Fishie Face Photo


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Miss California and Music With a Mind of It’s Own

Frances England Mind of My Own

I’m hooked on that new NBC show, “Parenthood.”  It’s brilliant.  Great characters.  Great dialogue.  The show is as much about the experience of being adult children as it is about being parents of young children.  Anyway, this year’s Halloween episode really resonated with me.  In the episode, Julia, a ultra-high powered corporate lawyer, was thrown into a tailspin when her only daughter, Sidney, announced she wanted to be Miss California for Halloween.  Julia spent the episode explaining how far women have come…detailing the history of the women’s rights movement to her ultra-precocious six year old daughter and reminding her how cute last year’s ladybug costume still is.  In the end?  Julia dressed as Amelia Earhart for Halloween.  And Sidney beamed in her Miss California dress and sash.  When my daughter announced she wanted to dress up as a princess this year, I cringed.  We compromised on “Fairy” princess.  Every time someone asked the Bean, “What are you going to be for Halloween?” she answered, “A princess.”  And without a beat I chimed in “What kind of princess?”  And Bean dutifully answered, “A Fairy princess.”  And I felt better.

The first song on Frances England’s fantastic new CD for kids is called “Mind of My Own.”  This song has become my anthem.  I sure as heck have a mind of my own.  And I want the Bean to have one too.  I’m not going to let you lump my child into the pack of kids dressed as identical princesses on Halloween.  She’s no cookie cutter.  She’s got a mind of her own!  But of course, as that episode of “Parenthood” makes painfully clear, that mind of her own may not always be in accord with mine!  Sidney triumphed.  She dressed as Miss California.  Yes indeed, Mama, she’s got a mind of her own.  So Miss California, or simply “A Princess” it is. Frances England’s song manages simultaneously to validate my desires for my child to be her own person, and to validate her point of view, even when it differs from mine.

“Some day I’ll be the one, who makes all my  decisions. And someday I’ll be the one who decides what time I  go to bed.  Who knows just where I’ll lay my head.  Or maybe I’ll just stay up instead.”

Check out “Mind of My Own” by Frances England and slip it into your daughter’s Christmas stocking…if you dare.  It will remind you that you have a mind of your own.  But guess what?  So does she.

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Meltdown-Free Birthday Parties – Tips from Monkey Monkey Music with Meredith LeVande

Bean's Birthday

So trying to raise a family New York City is kinda cuckoo. Surely I have mentioned that in the past. Our kids have to interview for Preschool.  A first haircut will run you $35.  And birthday parties…well they are nearly as legendary as NYC Bar Mitzvahs.  Tales of extravagant birthday bashes complete with moon bounces, ponies and slushy machines are legendary among moms who frequent NYC playgrounds.  I put off hosting a NYC birthday party for my Little Bean until this year when she turned three.  And even then, I must say, I felt some pressure.  Our party was small, simple (we had a “Whale of a Birthday” and met at a playground complete with a sprinkler “spout”)  and largely successful, but it did leave me with some questions.  We have all attended birthday parties in which the over-stimulated birthday boy or girl absolutely fell apart.  My Little Bean jammed her head into my legs when everyone sang Happy Birthday to her.  So what are the secrets to planning a successful birthday bash for your favorite little toddler or preschooler?

The BIrthday Girl

Meredith LeVande, educational children’s musician, singer and birthday party entertainer, has been chosen as one of New York’s best affordable children’s performers by Time Out New York Kids.  This is a gal who knows birthday parties.  I had a chance to ask her a few questions recently and got some great advice for foolproofing your kiddo’s big day.

Monkey Monkey Music with Meredith LeVande

I have attended several toddler and preschooler parties that were just enormous–so many children and grown-ups that even I felt overwhelmed.  So what is the ideal number of kids for a young child’s birthday party?  According to Meredith, when it comes to guests, less really is more.  “If I had to come up with a magic number,” Meredith says, “between eight and ten is the perfect amount of children.  I’ve done great parties with as few as five children.”  Meredith specializes in musical birthday parties for children.  I asked her why she thinks this theme is particularly effective for preschoolers and toddlers.  Traditional children’s party entertainers are clowns, magicians and face painters, but Meredith explains that toddlers are really too young to follow narrative or sit still for such events.  However, “music is universal, and even babies and toddlers can feel rhythm, dance and just experience a sense of joy singing and dancing.”

Musical birthday parties are especially good for bringing children together in a shared experience, but there are other birthday activities that Meredith also believes work well.  “I’ve seen young children really enjoy arts and crafts parties and gym parties.  I think things that are more tactile rather than narrative work well for this age.”  Activities to avoid?  “I recommend steering away from inflatable toys.  Kids usually will start hitting each other with them.  When a parent gets involved in something as simple as musical chairs or duck duck goose, kids love it.  I recently saw a mom playing pin the tail on the donkey, and the kids had so much fun.  I say the simpler the better.”

Meredith suggests that parties run no longer than 2 hours, with at least a half an hour budgeted for people to arrive, mingle and get settled. She suggests starting out with your music (or whatever activity you have planned) and then moving on to food and cake.  So how to avoid that birthday kid meltdown?

According to Meredith, “First and foremost, less is definitely more.  The more variables you introduce into a preschooler party, the more likely it is your child will become overwhelmed and over-stimulated.  Also the time of day can help you out.  If you know that your child is better at 11 am than, say, 5 pm, do the party earlier in the day.”

As for the overall feel of the event?  Meredith says, “I strive for what I call ‘organized chaos.’  You want kids having fun and getting kooky, but they can only do that in a structured environment that enables them to.”

If you think you might want to have a musical birthday party but you live outside of the NYC area, consider picking up one of Meredith’s CDs “Monkey Monkey Music” or “What Are the Odds,” throw in funny hats, balloons and a whole lot of musical instruments, and let your birthday kid lead the dancing.  Her songs are upbeat, cheerful, and many of them weave dance moves clearly and simply right in to the lyrics–your kids will be “Jumping High” and “Making Circles” to the beat (I have Meredith’s site open right now and “Hello” is playing…my daughter is currently leaping around the room following the dance moves in the song–totally unprompted–no joke).  And just in time for the holidays, check out Meredith’s new DVD, “Monkey Monkey Music: The Videos with Meredith LeVande” available December 1st.

Happy Birthday Baby!

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Places to Trick or Treat in NYC Besides the Duane Reade

Halloween 2009

Do you know that city kids trick or treat at the drug store?  They do.  I have tried to battle the feeling that this is one of the most depressing things I have ever seen.  As I often have to tell myself when I think about my daughter’s big city upbringing versus my rural one…just because it is not my experience doesn’t mean it’s not a valid experience.  Lots of apartment buildings offer Halloween parties and trick or treating right just steps from home.  Including ours.  I remember so nostalgically walking the neighborhood until my feet were frozen, trying to be game when my dad said, “Just one more, kids!” Seeing real live jack-o-lanterns with real live candles flickering in the chilly wind.  But I also remember having to wear my winter coat over my costume which flat out stunk.  The temperature is regulated in an apartment building.  And lots of apartments per floor means a higher ratio of candy to distance covered.

But there are unique and wonderful opportunities for Halloween in the city.  Of course.  Here are a few picks for terrific NYC Halloween destinations and activities:

The American Museum of Natural History – I kinda can’t think of anywhere creepier than the Museum of Natural History…in a good way!  Head there on Sunday for trick or treating, arts and crafts, pumpkin carving, music and more!  $9 for non-members and $8 for members!

The Empire Hotel – While you’re on the West Side, stop by the newly renovated Empire Hotel on 63rd and Central Park West for a fun trick or treat experience in a decorated NYC hotel!

Kids Night on Broadway Kids ages 6 to 18 can see a Broadway show for free when accompanied by an adult at full price.  Also, any kid holding an eligible ticket is invited to a pre-show costume party at Madame Tussaud’s, plus Broadway trick or treating.  Getting candy from a Broadway theater is pretty cool.  I gotta say.

Wonderween at the Sony Wonder Technology Lab – Celebrate Halloween at the Lab and experiment with some spooky fun! Between 12 and 4 on Sunday you can catch a monstrous movie, have some hauntingly hands-on fun, and go home with gobs of ghoulish goodies! Screenings include the children’s features Elmo Says Boo, Dora The Explorer, and Go, Diego, Go. No reservations required. All activities and screenings require general admission to the Lab and are available on a first come first served basis.

Hudson River Park Halloween Kidz Karnival – Head down to Pier 46 on the West Side (at Charles St.) from 12 – 6 tomorrow for a fun day of free Halloween activities for the kids (a few select activities cost $2 but that’s it).  Prepare for fun-filled attractions including face painting, mask decorating, wax hands, cotton candy, rides and more that will keep you in the Halloween spirit all day long.  In addition to these spooktacular activities, The Striking Viking Story Pirates will perform Halloween-themed improv shows for children and adults of all ages throughout the day.  All ages are invited. Most attractions will appeal to kids aged 3–12 years.

Participate in a Halloween Parade – Once you’ve donned your costume, you want to show it off!  Check out Mommy Poppins’ list of 13 Halloween Parades for New York City Kids for the parade closest to you!

City Treehouse Halloween Festival and Parade – ($25 reservation, $30 at the door) I’ve been wanting to check out this neat Chelsea destination for kids and Halloween looks like a great opportunity.  If it’s freezing outside you’ll be toasty and warm in the treehouse enjoying all kinds of Halloween activities!

Boo at the Zoo –  Celebrate Halloween at the Bronx Zoo or the Central Park Zoo.  Both of these events are packed with fun activities all Halloween, but consider the trip to the Bronx where Boo at the Zoo will take place every weekend in October and one child ages 3 – 12 in costume admitted free with the purchase of one full-price adult ticket.

Happy Halloween everyone!

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We Don’t Have Backyards in the City

Imagination Playground

We don’t have backyards in the city.

I mean, duh.  But think about it.  No. Back. Yards. No decks. No fluffy cushioned chaise loungers with pretty outdoor pillows.  No potty twenty steps away.  No sprinklers. No kiddie pools.  No nuthin’.

When I was very small, I had not only my backyard (that third of an acre that seemed to stretch on for miles) but all the backyards adjoining and those two or three houses beyond.  Nobody fenced off their yards in the 70s.  Or at least, not in my neighborhood and not with fences that you couldn’t crawl through.  We went outside to play. Not to “play date.”  I think my parents would have been worried if I were play dating.  Sounds suspicious.  I said goodbye to my mother and stayed outside for what felt like hours with no cell phone and nobody hovering over me.  I climbed trees and flew down hills that were thick with sled-splitting pine trees. I negotiated rules of games and imaginary landscapes on my own.  No one intervened to make sure I shared or that everyone else played fair or that we didn’t fall out of an elm on occasion.

So here’s my city kid.  And here I am.  The germaphobic mother of one that I completely admit myself to be. How does my little Bean learn to walk in a creek or scale a fence?

I worry about that.


I recently was invited to an event celebrating the opening of the flagship Imagination Playground on Burling Slip at South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan.  South Street Seaport is awesome.  I have literally been there three times in the twenty years I have lived here (don’t judge people, New York City is friggin huge).  The Seaport feels more like Baltimore or Boston to me than New York, which is no doubt a reflection of my complete unfamiliarity with it. But some clever people including architects and the Department of Parks and Recreation got together to create a new kind of play space down there.  A play space that fosters creative play. Imaginative exploration.  And, they hope, unlimited possibilities.  A space that doesn’t so much tell kids how to play, as provides materials with which to play: water, giant foam blocks, sand, burlap, rope.  This flagship Imagination Playground reflects the historical site in which it’s located and there’s definitely a nautical theme.  The playground was packed beyond belief.  A bit too crowded on that hot summer day for me to believe my sweet girl was having the same experience I had in the creek behind Liz’s grandmother’s farm. But I get the idea.  I see the potential.  And if there were twenty of these play spaces in NYC, or forty, or one hundred, maybe each kid could have his corner of water. A bit of beach. A hammock of her own.

Nonetheless, I like this idea. And I like the lesson it reminds me. That my daughter’s play is her work. And honestly, it’s none of my darn business.

Imagination Playground

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