Friday, October 31, 2014

New York Trip - August 2014

In August we flew to New York for Mark’s cousin Justin’s wedding. It was the kids’ second plane flight and they did great. For most of our trip we stayed in an Air BnB apartment in Kip’s Bay/Gramercy Park/Rose Hill (can I name any more neighborhoods?). Staying in an apartment was very exciting for the kids, and they wanted to know how many stories were in everyone else’s apartments and hotels. Our trip involved lots of visits to Shake Shack and lots of episodes of Super Why? (and we sang the theme song throughout our visit). We kept the kids on West Coast time so that we could keep them up late to go to the wedding. They were often the only kids out and about at 11 p.m.

Yukking it up in the backseat of a town car (because that's how we roll) on the way to the airport.

Day 1 in New York: My 40th birthday coincided with the twins' first day in New York. They rode the subway for the first time. Julia decided to celebrate my birthday with an hour of tantrums for various reasons ("I lost count of how many steps I was taking!"), but playing on a broken ATM machine like it was a video game cheered her up.

We also walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, and blew their little minds with Times Square at night. As a present for me the kids decided - completely on their own - to clean up their Legos. The kids were really sweet and put them back in the box, and to make it a present, wrapped the box with a comforter.

After losing count of how many steps she'd taken, Julia has a tantrum and won't budge from her spot on a Brooklyn sidewalk. Happy 40th birthday, Mommy!
Afterwards, whenever she spots an ATM she says, "it's the fun toy from the restaurant."
Considering our ahem, "difficulties" with Julia before, Mark suggests we have the kids pick out some snacks to dole out at intervals along the bridge walk.
Julia and James emerge from the subway to the lights of Times Square.
During this trip I enjoy how after doing what we think will be really fun and memorable activities with the kids, their favorite moments are super random and usually something they could experience at home.

Day 2 in New York: We walked the length of High Line Park and had lunch at Chelsea Market. At night we met Mark Pilloff's brother Daniel Pilloff at FAO Schwartz, took the Roosevelt Island aerial tram at night (with a spectacular view of the city), and had frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity 3.

Favorite parts for the kids:
James - "Playing at the hotel." (He means the Plaza Hotel where he rode an escalator. And no, we're not staying there.)
Julia - "Seeing a dog with a newspaper in its mouth."

Julia enjoys her first ever popsicle at High Line Park.
James plays in the water feature at High Line Park.

Playing on the piano from the movie Big at FAO Schwartz
Serendipity 3's famous frozen hot chocolate. You realize how big it is when you put James next to it.

Day 3 in New York: We traveled through the secret subway station (more on that later), and ate at Lombardi's Pizza in Little Italy (first pizza in the country) and at Doughnut Plant in the Lower East Side.

Julia enumerated what she hoped Bubby would buy her at Toys R Us (even though there had been no mention of a Toys R Us visit). We met up with Bubby and Grandpa, and then Bubby did take them to the Times Square Toys R Us where she let them each pick something out, and they rode on the store's ferris wheel.

Favorite parts for the kids:
Julia - "Riding the ferris wheel."
James - "Getting costumes." (At Toys R Us they both really wanted Elsa and Anna Frozen costumes. James actually wanted the Anna costume more than Julia wanted her Elsa one.)

We’ve now eaten at Lombardi’s on five trips to New York.
Bubby, James, and Julia ride the Toys R Us ferris wheel in Times Square.

More on the secret subway station:
I've always wanted to see the City Hall subway station, the first NYC station open to the public. It's been closed since 1945 but after reaching the end of the line, the downtown 6 train passes through City Hall as it turns around to become an uptown train. For about 20 seconds we had a darkened view of the old station, including its chandeliers and arched ceilings. More info here.

The closed City Hall subway station (picture not by me)

Days 4 & 5 in New York: We went to the top of the Empire State Building and had a family dinner at 2nd Avenue Deli (and met Mark’s cousin Michelle). The next day the kids met their Aunt Rachel for the first time. I channeled my inner Project Runway fangirl and made a pilgrimage to Mood and Bryant Park where the kids rode the carousel. After we visited the NY Public Library, Bubby took the kids to their favorite place, the Times Square Toys R Us, while Mark and I got a little alone time for a 3-course dessert at Chikalicious.

The kids watch excitedly as the elevator shows the number of our floor at the Empire State Building get higher and higher.
Sharing an umbrella in Bryant Park

Day 6 in New York, er… New Jersey: After one final ice cream run to Shake Shack, we take a car to New Jersey. (By the way, Julia has the most perfect New York accent. She naturally says “Joisey,” “Noo Yawk,” and “brudda.”) The kids are thrilled to have their first hotel room, and to play in the pool. They dress up for a rehearsal dinner and later evacuate our hotel after midnight because of a fire alarm.

Favorite parts for the kids:
Julia - Not getting splashed in the pool.
James - TV in the taxi.

Bubby and James play Slapsies at the rehearsal dinner.

Day 7 in New Jersey: Since we’re in a hotel, James wears underwear to bed for the first time (hey, it’s not my sheets) and wakes up dry. He asks, “Am I ready to be a grown-up?” We grab lunch with Jason Levesque and Jennifer Lang Levesque. The kids attend their first wedding. As soon as the bride walks down the aisle, Julia gets grumpy that the wedding isn’t as fun as she expected, and I have to take her outside where she keeps declaring, “Not even fun! Hmph!”

Favorite parts for the kids: Dancing at the reception

While they talk about one day marrying each other and having a dog (and Julia specifies that it has to be a helper dog and not a "licker dog"), this day they attended someone else's wedding.
Mark and James at the reception
Julia tries on my shoes after the wedding. She then walked up and down the hotel hallway, hoping to show strangers her new footwear.

Day 8 in New Jersey: We attend a post-wedding brunch. Julia is particularly excited about drinking extra milk and eating a blueberry muffin. Then we head to the airport where Julia may have sipped a smoothie left under a chair. She’s not sure.

Favorite parts for the kids of the ENTIRE trip:
James says his least and most favorite were the fire alarm (because he met a woman that he liked).
Julia says, “Bonus milk, muffin, and Times Square because I got toys.”

The kids fall asleep on Mark on the way to the airport.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Best Gear, Part III: Ages 2-5

Previous Best Gear posts: Part I (the first 8 months) and Part II (the first 2 years - including a few newborn ones I’d forgotten)

Time Timer
Classrooms often use time timers so kids have a visual reminder of how much time is left before transitioning to another activity. I began using it like that so James and Julia would know how much time they had left to play, but they transitioned so well I stopped using it. However, it still has been super useful. When my kids are eating particularly slowly and we have to be somewhere, I’ve put it on the dining table to let them know that when time’s up they have to stop eating. (“Hey kids, you’ve been sitting here not eating lunch for long enough. You have five minutes and when the red is gone we’re leaving for school.”) It also has worked well for time outs.

What it’s been invaluable for, however, is quiet time. No longer do I have kids yelling, “Is quiet time over yet?” Instead, much like a Ronco Rotisserie Grill, I can set it and forget it, and they don’t bother me from my busy schedule of watching What Not to Wear, photo-editing, and checking Facebook. I even bought one for each kid. So worth it!

Similarly each kid has a cheap digital clock in their room so they can look at it instead of calling out, “Is it time to wake up yet?”

Time Timer. $23.99 on Amazon.

Responsibility Chart
The Melissa & Doug chart includes responsibilities that are applicable for 3-year-olds on up to high schoolers. Right now my kids can achieve circles for “No whining,” “Set table,” and “Get dressed,” among others. Effective parenting is supposed to be more positive and reward-based. With the chart I can dangle a reward for them - a circle (yippee!) - so they’ll do what I tell them to. And once they’ve collected enough, they can redeem circles for prizes. Their preschool basically does the same thing - when the kids got enough pretend M&Ms in their jar they chose to have a pajama party.

Melissa & Doug Deluxe Magnetic Responsibility Chart (shown above). $17.99 on Amazon.
(My friend Sara created a version, too: Stinkerpants Reward Chart and Magnets. $12 on

My kids (or at least Julia) can’t reach the faucet without dragging over a stool. I got sick of the stool dragging so I had Mark install Aqueduck. Basically it’s a faucet and handle extender. It confuses anyone else who doesn’t live here, but it makes our lives easier and stool-dragging free.

Potty Seat Overlays
If I had to do it over again, I would skip the little potties and go straight to having the kids use the big potties with stools. The little potties always just cluttered up the bathrooms and were kind of gross since we had to empty them out each time. There are little boy overlays (with splash guard) and little girl ones. And if you’re really enterprising like Mark, you can install a new toilet seat that includes a seat for a little girl.


The First Years Soft Grip Trainer Seat (shown above is the one for boys that we have). $8.80 on Amazon.

Sunglasses and Hats
Start putting sunglasses and hats on your kids as early as possible. The earlier you start the more likely they are to wear them. (I wish I’d taken this advice with Julia with regards to pigtails since she refused them until she was four.) Everyone knows why hats are important (UV rays on the skin, duh), but cataracts come from cumulative lifetime exposure. Why not eliminate all those years of exposure from their childhood when they’re outside all the time? (Okay, public service announcement over.)

Make sure you find good quality sunglasses that protect against UVA and UVB rays. I discovered My First Shades and bought those as the kids’ first sunglasses, and there are lots of colors, patterns, and styles to choose from. One option is to have a soft, elastic, adjustable velcro band so the glasses actually stay on the kids’ heads. The band is a little big for two year olds but I just wound it around itself several times. James still wore his until age 4 and he has a gigantic head, so I think you can pretty much wear them from ages 2-7. Recently he graduated to a pair without the band. The velcro strap didn’t work so well with Julia once she started wearing pigtails so I bought her a pair of different sunglasses at REI.

As hats go my favorite sources are the San Diego Hat Company (often via my mom who goes to their clearance sale near San Diego and scores hats for $5 each), REI, Gymboree, Wiggy Studio, and Hanna Andersson.

My First Shades
Plaid banded bucket hat from Gymboree

Wallaroo Petite Nantucket Rainbow Tones hat

Wearing hats early on and matching Papa: Julia at 1 ½ and James in his first hat at 6 months.

James at 2 ¼ at Gymboree in one of his San Diego Hat Co. hats.
Julia at age 4 in a Wiggy Studio hat (purchased on Zulily)
People can always tell my kids are twins - not because they look alike (they don’t), but because they’re the kids wearing the sunglasses and hats. Julia is wearing her rainbow hat and James is in his plaid bucket hat (details for both below).

My First Shades Ages 0+.  $12.95 at Real Kid (also carried at Ambassador Toys in Palo Alto)
Plaid Banded Bucket Hat. $5.99 at
Wallaroo Petite Nantucket 2.5” Rainbow Tones girl’s hat. $20.95 at (We purchased ours at REI.)

Car Bed
What kid doesn’t want a novelty bed? Unfortunately there aren’t nearly as many novelty beds specifically for girls. We got James’s car bed on Craigslist for under $100.

The official Little Tykes car bed photo. (Not James.)
James playing in his big boy bed for the first time!
Jumping together on the bed
Little Tykes Sports Car Twin Bed. $448.95 plus shipping at Amazon. (Get it on Craigslist!)

IKEA Bandaids
Kid’s bandaids usually run $3 for 20 of them. At IKEA you can get a box of 50 cool rocket ship ones for under $1!

Patrull bandaids. 50 for $1 at IKEA.

Gerber Training Pants
When you’re starting potty training and about to make the transition to underwear, invest in Gerber training pants. They are much thicker than typical underwear, and if your kids pee in them the pee doesn’t always saturate their clothing. Hanna Andersson sells something similar but you can’t beat the price of Gerber’s.

We got these blue and pink ones but the prints now are different.
Modeling training pants while playing Elefun.
Julia models her training pants around her ankles.
Other Gerber training pants options available on Amazon. Prints have changed since ours were purchased.

Kids’ Yoga Videos
It may seem super granola-y but kids’ yoga videos are great, and so much better than cartoons. It’s adorable to see my twins run excitedly to get their yoga mats. The videos help give them body awareness since they have to follow directions on moving their bodies. That’s something that’s not totally second nature at this age, and it’ll be helpful when they play sports. It also encourages mindfulness - good for helping them calm down on their own - and targets their balance and strength. Some nights I have my kids get all ready for bed, and then they do yoga so it’ll relax them before tuck in.

Plus, seeing your kids sit cross-legged saying, “namaste” is pretty ridiculous and cute.

I’ve heard Yoga Kids is a good video. We just use the free Cosmic Kids Yoga Adventures on You Tube. Each video lasts around 15 minutes.

A typical Cosmic Kids Yoga Adventure complete with Aussie instructor.
Doing yoga in pjs

Badger Baskets
Everyone loves those Land of Nod Storagepalooza wooden toy storage containers with good reason: they’re attractive and hold a lot. I wasn’t so sure about the $199 price tag, and when I asked around online someone directed me to these cheap knock-offs. Badger Baskets aren’t quite as nice but are a good deal. The only small problems have been the brown screw covers coming off and a little paint melting onto a few toys. (This sounds worse than it is.) Anyway, really I’m writing this in favor of Badger Baskets. Really!

Badger Baskets. $62.00-$71.27 (depending on a 2-bin or 3-bin configuration) on Amazon.

Portable Potty
During that first year of potty training it’s good to have a travel potty for when you’re out and your kid suddenly needs to go. It takes a lot less time than finding a bathroom (which they might not get to in time anyway.) Basically you set up the potty so that they essentially pee in a trash bag (which isn’t nearly as hobo-like as it sounds). I was so happy we had this on our drives to San Diego since the bathrooms near I-5 in the Central Valley all had industrial strength hand dryers (which frighten the kids) and long lines.

Julia happily uses her portable potty outside Children’s Fairyland.
Kalencom 2-in-1 Potette Plus. $11.89 on Amazon. (We have the Fisher Price 2-in-1 Portable Potty but it’s no longer available on Amazon.