Monday, April 26, 2010

A New York State of Mind (this is a long one, friends)

It seems that if I wait for this cold to be gone, I'll be post-birth by then so I'm sucking it up, promise not to complain (much) and I'm going to give you the play-by-play of our time in New York City.

First off, New York is an amazing city to be in with kids.... if you've been there before on your own. Not to say you can't go for the first time with your kids, I just think there would be less stress and less figuring out where you are and where you're going if you've been before sans enfants. Don't let that scare you off though if you have never been and really want to see New York and have kids in tow. One thing we learned very quickly by taking the kids with us this time is that New Yorkers LOVE kids. I was really suprised by that. I assumed we would get some nasty looks as we hauled our kids onto the subway at rush hour or jostled our way up sidewalks but what we got instead was lots of smiles, offers of seats on the subway (every single time) and lots of great conversations with locals. This was one of my favourite parts of having the kids with us (aside from showing them one of the most amazing cities in the world); we had way more conversations with locals than we've had before because of the kids. It was great and we'll be going back as soon as we can.

Here are a few tips that I discovered about going to New York with kids (there aren't too many):
  • if you can avoid it, don't bring a stroller; use a chest carrier or just rely on the kids' feet. We walked everywhere and took the subway. Hope rode on John's shoulders a few times but less than I expected. We only heard complaints about walking twice: the first night when they had their first long walk up to Times Square and after we got home and Hope said she was glad she didn't have to walk so far for a while. That's pretty good, I'd say! (Just make sure the kids have really good walking shoes.)
  • Don't bother going out for breakfast. We made this mistake every day but the last. By the time we had food in front of us it was often 1.5 to 2 hours after we got up. The kids were starving and grumpy making the adults a bit grumpy (particularly the male one). Breakfast out in New York is an adult enjoyment. Save your money, go to one of the many, many breakfast carts and take it back to the hotel room before heading out on your daily adventures. Save restaurants for lunch and supper. Of course, if your hotel includes continental breakfast as many do (but not ours) all the better.
  • Spend the money to do some of the things you may not do on your own: go up the Empire State Building, buy the tickets for the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, ride the ferris wheel at Toys R Us. We only spent the money on the latter but I wish we'd bought tickets for the Statue instead of taking the free Statten Island Ferry past her. Emily riddled me with questions about the big lady and I couldn't answer them without an internet connection. I wished we'd just gone right to the island. Lesson learned for next time. This could be kid-specific. Emily loves to learn as much as she can when she is visiting landmarks and new places and I should have kept this in mind.
  • Spend a full day in Central Park if you can and include the zoo. It's a great but easy day for everyone and lots of fun.
We rode the train from Buffalo to New York. Amtrak is by far the most affordable way to get to New York from this part of Ontario. Our total fare return for all four of us was $340. It seems that this is no secret. The train was full most of the way there. The girls were amazing on the train given it is an 8.5 hour ride. I brought a TON of food and I'm glad I did. When they were getting bored, we snacked on fruit and sandwiches and veggies and pretzels. I also brought activity books, colouring, some travel games and videos on the iPhone. That was sufficient. Hope slept for the last two hours and Emily chatted with us. For me, it was the only way to get there this time. We couldn't afford to fly all four of us there and driving would mean I would be sitting for way too long (and making too many bathroom stops). The train was the perfect choice.

After checking into our hotel, we headed out for supper. We went to Little Korea (our hotel was in Murray Hill, an area in central Manhattan and very close to Little Korea) and ate at a dumpling place that was recommended in my guidebook (when in New York, I find a guidebook essential). The kids loved it as did we adults. The green dumplings were really crazy but Emily declared them the best.

(I love the look on Hope's face here.)

From the restaurant we walked up to Times Square, the first big walk of the weekend. On the way, we found these guys performing. That's something I love about New York, you never know what public performance you'll find just around the corner.

After watching them for a bit, we went arrived in Times Square and headed to the gigantic Toys R Us. Hope and I rode the big indoor ferris wheel while Emily and John got nauseated watching us. After that, it was time to head back to the hotel for bed.

The next morning we headed towards Central Park to find the diner that John and I ate at several years ago. It took us a while but we did finally find it (this was the time that we realized that breakfast out was more for us than them). After breakfast we went into Central Park. First, we spent time at the playgrounds. After that, we went to the zoo. The Central Park Zoo is really good for a small zoo. Our kids loved the penguins and puffins and the red panda (also John's favourite). After having lunch there we found a shady spot and just laid around for a rest. This was the point that I confirmed my opinion about the lack of nearby public toilets in New York. Hope didn't make it and was pretty upset (have to admit, I was a bit upset too although not at her). Just keep that in mind if you go. After cleaning up we went to the Children's Zoo - much smaller, mainly farm animals - and fed and petted the animals.

It's this kind of view that makes me return to New York again and again... and love Central Park as much as I do.

We left Central Park and hung out around a piece of public art, watching the world go by. I treated the girls to a soft serve from Mr. Softee and then John headed to Borders while I took the girls to FAO Schwarz. If you go to New York with kids, this is a must-stop, even if you don't buy anything. This is a high-end toy store with areas devoted to Barbie, Charlie and Lola, Harry Potter, Lego, I could go on and on. After that I promised the girls we'd go to the Disney Store on 5th Avenue. This is where the day started to fall apart. We arrived at 711 5th Avenue to find that the Disney Store was closed. This is where Hope started to fall apart. We had to meet John an hour later in front of the Disney Store address so there wasn't time to head to the Times Square location. Instead I found a Starbucks (can you say shooting fish in a barrel? that's how hard it is to find a Starbucks in New York) and we chilled.... until Hope spilled her drink on her sandal and the meltdown started again. Luckily it was time to meet John.

The day was great but we did push how much we could fit in with a three-year-old. I wouldn't do it differently, I would just be more prepared for some tears near the end of the day. We made a smart decision and ate take-out in our room for supper and had an early night.

The next morning we again tried breakfast, this time in NoLiTa at Bubby's. Great breakfast, made better by the fact that an actor from The West Wing was having breakfast there at the same time (I've IMDBd and Wikied West Wing and cannot find mention of her anywhere but I'm SURE she was played a character that had to do with defence. It's driving me crazy). Still, it wasn't worth the money for the amount the kids ate.

Our next goal was to ride the free Statten Island Ferry past the Statue of Liberty. The girls did love getting on a big boat and going past the statue but as I said before, Emily (and I probably) would have preferred to go to the actual island.) Although it was around this time that I started having A LOT of Braxton Hicks contractions and back ache that lasted until I went to bed that night so being on a ferry with lots of seats was better than walking around an island. I'm glad Day 2 wasn't as ambitious as Day 1 (which is probably what caused so many contractions on Day 2). After we'd done our ferry tour and bought a few souvenirs we walked through a lovely area of the financial district - cobblestone streets and small pubs and restaurants - and sat at Starbucks for a while. From there we headed to our favourite New York Book Store, The Strand on Broadway. I sat again while reading to the girls. We bought some great books. The two best are two pop-up books that put all other pop-up books to shame; these are works of art.

After The Strand we rode many subways to get to a New York landmark for supper, Katz's Deli. If you ever in New York, you must go. You'll remember it from the famous deli scene in When Harry Met Sally. The scene was filmed at Katz's. Their pastrami on rye is to die for. It was a real Old New York experience. It was probably my favourite meal we had there and the kids loved it too.

There was a lovely old couple sitting behind us who were totally enraptured with our kids and took a photo for us. I also tried the famous New York Egg Cream with my dinner. It's a drink, invented in Brooklyn, that is made of milk, chocolate syrup, vanilla and, wait for it, seltzer water. It is weird and I'll never likely order it again but it was worth a try. The other great thing about the meal is you start with a plate of pickles, all made at Katz's. They must have known a pregnant woman was coming. So good.

My favourite were the long, dark green ones.

Salami, anyone?

Look closely and you'll see the round sign pointing out the table where Harry and Sally sat.

Ready to eat! (And you can see the lovely lady just behind John who declared our kids the most beautiful in the world. She's got taste, that lady.)

Best sandwich ever.

The next morning, we packed up and rode the train home. The kids were great again, the train wasn't as full except for one special passenger on our car: Parker Posy! Oh, yes...she was on our Amtrak car. No, I didn't talk to her or ask her for an autograph. I just started at her as she was on her way to the bathroom.

And that was the trip. We had an amazing time. I can't wait to go back with the kids again. And now, time for some nasal spray.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Out with the old.....

I'm suffering from a brutal cold after our awesome weekend in New York so I'm going to delay the New York post until I'm feeling a bit better. But today something exciting happened around here:

Goodbye, old friend.

Heeelllloooo. How you doin' ?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pull-Ups Potty Dance blog tour

If you've been here a while, you'll know that I had a bear of a time toilet training Emily. During that harrowing experience, I came up with a little song that I sang while she was sitting on the toilet waiting for something to happen. I named it "The pee pee song" and yes it had a counterpart. I'm sure you can guess the name without me telling you.

It went a little like this (I spared you all an audio version):

(to the tune of Three Blind Mice)
Pee pee come out
Pee pee come out
Where are you?
Where are you?
We're sitting here waiting for you
We're sitting here waiting for you
Pee pee come out
Pee pee come out.

Grammy worthy, eh? But you know what? I still get requests for it. Unfortunately it's usually in a public bathroom. And yes, I always oblige.

It did however get us through some tough moments and make toilet training slightly more fun (let's face it, it will never really be fun).

Because of this experience and my foray into songwriting, I was interested when Mom Central Canada asked me to participate in a blog tour for the Pull-Ups Potty Dance. It's a way for moms and kids to put a bit of fun into what can be a trying experience for everyone, the same way my song did for my kids and me. Here is the Pull-Ups Potty Dance in action performed by Jessica Holmes and Traci Melchor.

Are you potty training one of your kids right now? Do you have a fun ritual of your own? I'd love to hear about it. And if you want to adopt the Pull-Ups Potty Dance (I mean, why reinvent the wheel?) you can find out more at

I don't know any mother or father who loved directing their kids through potty training. Maybe the ideas you find there, or the fun rituals you share with others, will make it slightly less stressful for everyone.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Suspenders needed

My pants will no longer stay up in a way that covers my midriff or will allow me to look like anything but an old man with no bum.

And I'm wearing the giant panel-style maternity pants. And yet they still sag after mere minutes and leave me exposed.

I need some kind of shoulder strap system, suspenders or, I suppose, a mumu.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Car shopping

We seem to have decided, for the most part, that we should replace our car. Our current car is a 2002 Hyundai Elantra GT (that's a hatchback) with 170,000 km on it. The car has started to make some sounds. We've already put some good money into it this year. We'd be cramming three kids into the back seat together if we keep it, which is what we were fully planning to do, until the recent sounds started and we faced spending another chunk of money on it.

And so I started a search for a new car. I went to Mazda first. I've liked the Mazda 5 for some time and it does have an extra row of seating at the back making it a 6-seater. It also IS NOT A MINIVAN and don't let anyone else tell you different! I am so completely and totally anti-minivan. Not only are they supremely U-G-L-Y, they are also not fuel-efficient and too big for my tastes.

We test drove the Mazda 5 today. I loved it. There is one big problem though: John's legs are just a bit too long to be truly comfortable in the driver's seat. In fact, he has a little less leg room than in our Elantra hatchback, which totally blew me away. On the very large plus side, there is room for the three kids in there without being crammed in like sardines. Also, it handles great, is good on gas and is kind of sporty - decidedly not mini-van.

Last night I went to the Hyundai dealership. I drove the Tuscon (thumbs down!) and the Elantra Touring, the replacement car for our GT which they no longer make. I liked the Touring, not surprisingly since it drove just like our current car. It has a bit more cargo space in the trunk since it is a mini-wagon but we're faced with the same issue of cramming three car seats across the back and the only way that will work is if we buy a Sunshine Radian car seat for either the baby or Hope. If the baby is in it that will mean that I will never be able to cart the baby around in a bucket seat; I will always have to unbuckle and lift the baby out of the seat; not the end of the world, but inconvenient nonetheless. On the major plus side is that our current winter tires and roof rack will fit on the Touring, saving a bunch of money later on.

So, there is still no sure answer, no sign pointing us at the PERFECT CAR.

Any advice? What would you buy if you had three kids? Or maybe you already do.... if so, what do you drive? (Please don't advise a minivan.... I'm a bit pig-headed about my opinion on that.)

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Not a great joke

I've been awake since 5:15 and I don't think it's a very good joke for April Fool's. In fact, I've been awake for portions of the last three nights, just unable to fall back to sleep. I can't even blame a wakeful in utero baby, or nasal congestion, or heartburn, or even a mind that won't settle down. I just can't get back to sleep. There's no reason for it and it is so. damn. annoying.

So, I'm going to grab my latest Ayelet Waldman mystery, settle back with something to drink (my thirst is off the charts right now due to the nasal spray I've been using to help with nightly congestion; the neti pot just ain't doing it for me) and hope I can grab a nap this afternoon.