Party On

August 26, 2011

As I get ready for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, guest blogger Denielle shares all of her party expertise:

With three girls, ranging in age from 2 to almost-7, I have attended – and thrown — a lot of birthday parties. The excessiveness of kids’ parties aside (that’s a post for another day), I have learned a few things about party-going etiquette, gift giving and gift receiving that I would like to share. In some cases, I have violated these rules and vow to adhere moving forward. In others, I feel I have a firm grip on best practices.

PARTY ATTENDING:

  1. Unless it has been cleared with the host in advance, don’t bring other children to a party if they were not included on the invitation. Oftentimes venues charge by the head and it is not fair to saddle the host with additional charges. Babies are an exception. I also feel it is important for siblings to have their own social events. My youngest doesn’t get to do everything her sister does, and my oldest does not get to rule the social calendar.
  2. In a world where we sometimes have multiple parties on the same day, our rule is 1 party per kid, per day. And we accept the first invitation we receive.
  3. If you receive an e-vite, be sure to put it on all calendars (digital and other) and set a reminder for a few days before so you remember to buy a present! I also print it out and keep it in our Invite Pile. The printing may defeat the eco-friendliness of the e-vite, but take it from someone who has forgotten a party until 15 minutes before. Not cool.
  4. If your child cries at a party and there’s no overt injury, it’s time to go home. Even if it is before cake. Maybe it was just my drama-queen when she was younger, but I’ve been to parties where something has gone wrong and she has started to cry. Rather than make a bigger scene, we leave. And take a nap.
  5. Confirm if it is a drop-off party or not in advance. I believe age 6 is right for drop-offs, and generally only if the venue is closed to the public. And don’t ask the host/hostess to keep an eye on your kid if you drop them off. Assume the host is too busy. Ask another parent who is staying and give them your cell phone, just in case!

GIFT-GIVING:

There are some amazing toys on the market! I know people who stock up on their favorite gifts for each age and don’t have to run to the store for every party, but I’m not one of those people.  I try to avoid really messy art kits or things that require a lot of parental support. Same with games. I love them, but I really love them when kids can play on their own! Some of my favorite gifts for the 2 to 6 year old set include:

  1. ALEX-brand Art Kits
  2. Melissa & Doug Instruments, Wooden Food or magnetic dolls
  3. Crayola Kits (be sure to read online reviews as some of their products are messier than you’d expect!)
  4. Dress Up Supplies (the iPlay Doctor kit is great, as are other fairy-esque accessories that are found in specialty stores)
  5. Lego anything
  6. Books
  7. Gift certificates – especially for older kids. Amazon.com is popular, and we have also received gift certificates for ice-cream, pottery painting and manicures (for my oldest) that are very well-received!
  8. Always label your gift! Cards fall off and gift recepients are left wondering, ‘who gave me this awesome ___?’ I particularly love those little gift stickers that say ‘Happy Birthday! Love, [Child’s Name].’ If you prefer a more personal touch, have your child make a card too, but those gift stickers rock!

PARTY THROWING:

  1. I don’t think children should have official birthday parties with friends until they are 4.  I have violated that rule with 2/3 of my brood and inevitably, I have regretted it.
  2. It used to be said that kids should only invite the number of friends that corresponds to the age that they are turning (Age 5 = 5 friends). Again, I have violated this rule. It seems many people I know invite entire classes. I’m all for inclusion, but not for the massive influx of gifts! I don’t have a good solution here. Open to suggestions!
  3. The favor is a highly anticipated part of the party. There was the time when I brought two Alex Art Kits to a party as a gift to a 3-year old (SRP: $10/each, plus tax) and the party favor was one of the same art kits! Mortifying? Yes. Excessive party favor?  Oh yeah. My kids love anything in a party bag. Some things I have appreciated include books, art supplies (e.g. outdoor chalk, markers, etc), a tutu, CD, nalgene bottles, reusable bags, sand toys.

GIFT RECEIVING:

  1. Do not open gifts at a party. I don’t think anyone does this anymore, thank goodness!
  2. Hand-written, personal thank you’s only. I’m not a fan of the fill-in-the-blank thank you cards, but it beats an email.

Party on!

Etc.

I am on vacation next week, which means Favs is too. We’ll be back in a week or so…assuming Irene goes quietly! Be safe!

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Frazzled

August 23, 2011

I have a lot going on in my life at the moment and for the first time in 20 years of working, I went to work today and realized during my first meeting of the day that I TOTALLY FORGOT TO PUT ON MAKEUP! Insane! The good news is that I don’t wear too much to begin with, but I mean, come on! Concealer hides a multitude of sins, mainly having to do with little sleep. AND I was going out tonight.

I was a bit bothered by feeling so naked, so since I work in Times Square I found a few minutes at lunchtime, headed over to Sephora and used their samples to put on some makeup. I used my Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage and got myself back to my presentable self in no time. I tried not to think about any unsanitary conditions and pushed forward. Luckily I did have a lipstick in my bag.

I felt homeless but it was a great solution — I didn’t need to buy more makeup that I didn’t need, and I could go about my day feeling a little brighter. Thanks Sephora!

Just about a week left

Some of you may remember the Birdbath Bakery that was on 7th Avenue between 10th and Charles. I was bummed when it closed, and then early this summer a snow cone place opened up and I was like, “Whatever.” It didn’t seem like an essential need for the neighborhood. But I got a Blackboard Eats 30% off code for it, and everytime I went by it was packed with people enjoying the shaved ice.

So we took the kids this past weekend to Imperial Woodpecker Sno-balls and it was fun! They serve the shaved ice in Chinese takeout containers, and you can pick just about any flavor. My son got root beer, my daughter enjoyed lemonade and my husband and I split mango. You can make any of them “creme” by adding condensed milk for an extra $1. The smallest size is plenty big ($4) and the owner is super friendly. There are a few tables and chairs inside to sit down and enjoy the treats. It’s only open til August 30th, and then they pack up for the season.

But rather than heading back to New Orleans, she said she’s going to open a gumbo place somewhere in the city. She’s going to email me when she finds a space, so I’ll keep you posted.

Etc.

My son is away at my parents’ this week, and I find just having one kid around is so jarring. It’s definitely like a piece of the puzzle is missing, no matter how enjoyable the quiet is!

I have been doing my 5k training program all summer, and had a setback with my bronchitis and sinus infection, but I think I am going to try to run the race this week, even though my knee started bothering me. Fingers crossed!

Hope you had a nice weekend. Weather is so great here — hope it is where you are too!

Squash Up The Wazoo

August 16, 2011

One of the hazards associated with joining a CSA is that because you’re getting everything straight from the farm, in season, you tend to get a lot of the same things in a row. Leafy green upon leafy green, lots ‘o peppers, and pounds and pounds of squash. All fresh and delicious, but after your fifth serving in as many days, you start to crave a little variety. Lately we’ve been in a squash phase. And I kept making it the same way: sauteed with a little parmesan. And it’s delicious…the first few times. My husband was begging me to give some away, and swore he wouldn’t eat anymore. But then I devised the following salad, and even he had to admit: tasty! It’s really all about how you slice it.

So I pass it on to you — use it whether or not you’re in a squash rut…it’s that good!

Squash and Arugula Salad

Ingredients:

4 medium-sized squash, yellow or zucchini

5 large handfuls arugula (or more if you’d like more greens)

1 lemon

Olive Oil (break out the good stuff)

Parmigiano Romano cheese (shaved) — 1/2 cup

pepper to taste

To Prepare:

Take a vegetable peeler and remove the outer skin from the squash. Discard. Cut squash in half length-wise and use the peeler to cut “ribbons” — thin, long pieces. Place in large bowl. Squeeze the juice out of the lemon and put in a separate small bowl. Pour the olive oil over the squash and add half the lemon juice. Toss to coat. Add the arugula to the bowl, along with the shaved parmigianno. Add the pepper on top along with the rest of the lemon juice. Toss all together — if you think it needs it, add a little more olive oil.

Serve right away…and enjoy!

Single of the Week

Yes, it’s only Monday…but let’s live a little. Take it away Ken:

They probably were never great dinner guests, nor would The Clash have been fun to hang out with on Yom Kippur. But they knew how to write a song with a sneer and a reoccurring relevance. Just take a look at this week’s twofer:

Etc.
You know, I am not loving Entourage this last season. I feel like if it wasn’t the last season, I may give it up, but I’ll persevere for a few more episodes. Curb in NYC is reliably hilarious, no matter how annoying Larry gets.
No Favs this Thursday — I’ll be away. So see you next week!

Nashville Scorcher

August 9, 2011

I had to go to Nashville last week for work, and let me tell you I was not thrilled about heading to Nashville in August. Dreams do come true — it was the hottest day on record there since 1952. Walking outside was like wading through an oven.

Anyway, while I wouldn’t go in August, it’s not a bad place to visit. In fact if you like country music, it’s a must stop. I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan, but I do see the appeal. I didn’t get to go on this trip, but on my first trip to Music City I hit the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Museum, which were both worth a trip. (Elvis’ car with a record player in it — this was pre-8-track, people — is a highlight.) Hatch Print Shop does all of the cool block print posters for everyone from Johnny Cash to the newscasters on CNN. I overheard a tour guide saying that it’s superstition in the music world that it’s good luck to have them do your concert poster, so no musician wants to tempt fate.

You’ve gotta have barbecue down there — I hit Puckett’s Grocery, and it was tasty. They’ve got live music and chocolate checkerboard pie…and they take reservations. (On another trip to Nashville I went to a barbecue at Billy Ray Cyrus’ house, which had the best banana pudding I have ever had!) I had the blue plate special for lunch at 417 Union, and it was delish — salmon cakes with mac and cheese and glazed carrots, a biscuit and a big ‘ol iced tea.

I stayed at the Hermitage, which is one of the nicer hotels, and the people there are quite accommodating and the rooms are renovated and nice. Even if you’re not staying at Opryland, you must check that place out…it is HUGE. Lots of restaurants, shops, common areas…there’s even a river that runs through it.

The airport is a short drive from downtown and the people are friendly, which can only mean one thing: long weekend!

Free…Really!

The Clearview Cinema on 23rd Street has free kids’ movies on Wednesday mornings til the end of the summer. Crowd pleasers like Cats and Dogs 2, Alvin and the Chipmunks and Shrek 4 bring in the kiddy mobs at 10:30. And when I say “free,” of course I mean $5, the cost of a kid-sized popcorn and lemonade, which they will inevitably beg for.

Etc.

We had a great time in Pennsylvania with some friends at their house. The husband was a great cook and made this grilled peach and pesto recipe that I must get and share — it was amazing!

Hope your week is off to a great start!

Virgin Camper

August 5, 2011

Our guest blogger Tori packed up her hubby and went camping in the great outdoors for her very first time. Here she shares her tips, even if you want to do a test run in your backyard…happy trails!

I wonder if you ever hit a point in your life where you run out of “firsts.” I mean, obviously, you could be 80 and decide to go sky diving, for example. First time for everything, I suppose. But I wonder if, by the time I reach that ripe old age, firsts will have lost their luster. I wonder if I just won’t bother, and instead, contently sit at home for the 40,000th time, watching “Law and Order: Mars” reruns. Honestly, I might be halfway there already. But not entirely! Because last weekend, I went camping for the first time.

When I tell people that I never camped before, they don’t believe me, since I grew up in a very rural area. But here’s the thing: Because I grew up where I did, camping was kind of pointless. We already lived in the woods! I mean, sure, I “camped” in fields with friends when I was in high school and college. Who needs a sleeping bag when you’ve downed 2 bottles of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill? Not me! Those were classy times.

But I digress. Flash forward to present day. My husband and I decided (well, I decided and he begrudgingly agreed) that we wanted to go to the Newport Folk Festival this year. It promised a great line up and a great location on the water in Newport’s beautiful Fort Adams State Park. I lured my husband in with promises of a relaxing weekend in a lovely town. “Sure,” I said. “We’ll stay in a hotel! This won’t be like a normal music festival experience! You’ll see!”

Except…turns out that Newport and the surrounding area hotels jack up their prices to a million dollars a night during the festival. So when we found out that some friends of ours were also attending and camping in a nearby state park, we decided to take a gamble and take a snooze in the great outdoors.

It was kind of great! We stayed at a campground that had bathrooms and a camp store and security, so we were hardly roughing it. But it was real camping – we stayed in a tent, built a fire and ate some kind of beef and vegetables cooked in tin foil packets (it was good!). And we survived!

So now that I am a successful outdoorswoman – I am still hoping for that merit badge – here are my tips for first time campers:

  • Go with someone who knows what they’re doing. Thank god for our friend Chuck. Without him, we would’ve slept in the car and eaten Goldfish crackers for dinner. He helped us put up our tent and made the aforementioned campfire vittles. Applause!
  • Bug spray. It’s your friend.
  • Bring a flashlight. Looking for the bathroom in the pitch black is the worst.
  • Don’t buy what you can borrow – a friend lent us her tent, sleeping bags and air mattresses, saving me from spending money on stuff I might not ever use again.
  • Don’t forget your pillow. Rolled up towels and jeans just ain’t the same.
  • If your husband is afraid of bugs, don’t point out the wasp digging a hole in the dirt under his chair. He will be very alarmed by insects that are strong enough to move earth.
  • If you’re a city dweller, look up at the stars. Remember stars? Holy crap. They are amazing.
  • Just go with it. One morning at the campsite, a little boy rode by on his bike, yelling at his parents, “I’m never coming back, so you better say bye!” There, underneath the trees and sunshine, I realized that I was surrounded by quiet calm, and even though my back was a little sore from sleeping on the ground, I thought that just maybe that little guy had the right idea.

Palmolive Take Me Away

August 2, 2011

Today I had a whole bunch of sightings of “Please don’t do that on the subway!” First there was a guy in a gold hat filing his nails aggressively. No! Then there was the inevitable person who leans on the pole on a crowded subway, thereby making it impossible for people to grab hold anywhere. No! And then there was the young woman who got on eating her salad from McDonald’s and chatting away as her mouth was full, all while standing in the middle of the car. While I was impressed with her balance and coordination, that was a big NO! too…Triple sighs for all of that.

In today’s post I want to recommend every kitchen has a bottle of Palmolive dishwashing liquid soap. Do I think it’s good for washing dishes? Yes. But what I think is even better is that whenever anyone recommends anything gentle to clean with, it’s always Palmolive! We are redoing our bathrooms, and my cleaning woman asked what she should use to clean it. The man at the tile company said to use something gentle and non-abrasive to clean limestone…like Palmolive! For counters, Palmolive is a safe bet.

My son even came home with a tie-dyed shirt he made in camp (he’ll be off following the remaining Dead any day now), and the counselor sent a note telling parents to wash it with…Palmolive!

So I would say it is worth investing the couple of bucks to have it around the house. Original or Green Apple are my favorite scents.

And one more dishwashing tip: if you have stainless steel appliances or sinks, do not use anything with lemon in it, tempting as it may seem. (Who doesn’t like a lemon-fresh scent?) It will take the finish off and is way too abrasive for it.

Mystic Pizza

I say that because Mystic Pizza is not the best place to eat if you head to Mystic. And there are some good restaurants! It’s a great place to meet up with friends for the day, especially if some of you are in the NYC area and some are around Boston (although it is shorter for the Massachusetts peops). We really like S&P Oyster. They have good seafood options and are in a central location that overlooks the water. The bar upstairs is a nice spot to wait, which you will if you don’t have a reservation. The garden is super lovely too, but it was h-o-t the day we were there.

Just next door in the town of Stonington is the Dogwatch Cafe, also on the water overlooking a boatyard. It’s a great lunch spot. I had a red snapper wrap that was delicious, and they were super accommodating with any requests our larger party had.

Next time we go I definitely want to take the kids out on a boat.

Etc.

Can you believe it is August already? I can’t. I thought it was supposed to thunderstorm. Even without it, the city is looking mighty clear and beautiful tonight.

Be cool people!