Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Watching TV at the Museum of the Moving Image

My kids don’t watch a whole lot of TV, mostly because I can’t figure out how to finesse our multiple remote controls to turn it on without enlisting the help of my eight-year-old, but also because I’m a little afraid that if I start turning it on, it will prove such a fantastic and cheap babysitter that I will never turn it off again. Then I’ll have to change my URL from to watchingtvwithmykids. and I don’t really know how to do that, either, so the TV (mostly) stays off in our apartment--except for when we watch movies, which I arbitrarily put into an entirely different category of TV-watching.

When I heard about “Spectacle: The Music Video” exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, which explored the history of the music video and its massive impact on popular culture through over 300 videos and interactive installations, I immediately added it to our summer schedule. I wouldn’t have to handle any remote controls AND my kids could watch TV at a museum, which meant not the inevitable slippery slope into couch potato-ness, childhood obesity, and the mass obliteration of developing brain cells, but culture.
We watched some videos by Run DMC and other early hip hop pioneers, danced along to some YouTube fan remixes of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” and Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” and watched one of my personal favorite 1980’s videos, “Take On Me” by a-Ha. Unfortunately, “Spectacle: The Music Video” is now closed, but if you want to park your kids in front of the boob tube and feel positively virtuous doing so, go to the Museum of the Moving Image for its long-running permanent exhibit, Behind the Screen, which traces how moving images are made, marketed, and shown and features artifacts, computer-based interactive experiences, audiovisual material, and commissioned artworks all relating to film, television, and digital entertainment.

Museum of the Moving Image, 36-01 35th Avenue, Astoria (Queens), New York 11106; (718) 777-6888;; Hours: Wednesdays and Thursdays: 10:30 AM to 5:00 PM, Fridays: 10:30 AM to 8:00 PM (free from 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM), Saturdays and Sundays: 11:30 AM to 7:00 PM, Closed Mondays and Tuesdays; Admission: Adults are $12, Students and seniors are $9.00, Children ages 3-12 are $6.00; Children under 3 and military personnel are free; Strollers are not permitted in the galleries, but can be checked for free at the admission desk.
  • Mack Made Movies by Don Brown
  • Marcello the Movie Mouse by Liz Hockinson, Illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi
  • Scanimation Picture Book Series by Rufus Butler Seder

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Making (New) Memories At Coney Island

Have you ever tried to replicate a near-perfect experience? It’s as near to impossible as the original experience was near to perfect.

Last year, on the very first day of summer vacation, I took the kids to Coney Island and they have been gushing about it ever since. I had no intention of tainting our idyllic memories with a return visit except that I eventually caved to the kids’ incessant begging. At the very least, I reasoned, we would be supporting all of the Coney Island businesses that had been decimated by Hurricane Sandy and that had struggled to reopen by Memorial Day. I tried to manage my expectations and work through my trepidation and you know what? Somehow, some way, we achieved what I’d thought was the unachievable: Coney Island 2013 bested its predecessor.

Here’s our Coney Island itinerary and some insider tips so that you, too, can get your own slice of a little kitschy boardwalk and beach heaven this summer:
  • Avoid the crowds by going early in the day, during the week. Unless, of course, you are willfully joining the throngs of other bemused spectators (or participants) in Coney Island’s annual Mermaid Parade, typically held on a weekend in mid- to late June, or the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, held every Fourth of July since Nathan’s first opened in 1916.
  • Wear your bathing suit and bring a change of dry clothes so that you can go for a dip in the ocean.
  • Buy some retro-looking T-shirts (our favorite find? A “Save the Hot Dogs, Coney Island” T-shirt for four-year-old Jack, to replace the identical one he had outgrown from last summer) and other questionably appropriate mementos from Lola Star Souvenir Boutique on the boardwalk.
  • Grab an outdoor table and eat hot dogs and crinkle cut French fries for lunch at the original Nathan’s Famous.

  • Hit the rides at Luna Park amusement park.

  • Stave off late afternoon crankiness with some sugar shock in the form of ice cream, cotton candy, and anything else concocted of nothing but sugar and/or deep-fried.

  • Play some tacky carnival games and if you’re really, really lucky, land your ball in the blue cup to win a monstrous stuffed ear of corn that will barely fit into your building’s elevator (hope you drove so you won’t have to lug that baby home on the subway) Christen your ear of corn with a ridiculous name like Mick Missile Butt and laugh hysterically every time you say “butt.”

  • Play some more tacky carnival games so that your sister can win a blessedly-not-as-large stuffed duck, which she will give an equally ridiculous moniker like Tweety Nacho (which will make your mom laugh hysterically every time she says it).
  • Don’t plan to be home for dinner and instead, cap off the day with a coal-fired brick oven pizza pie from Totonno’s instead. Apparently, the coal-oven pizza is as difficult to replicate as the near-perfect day as new coal ovens do not pass muster with current New York environmental laws and only the old ovens have been grandfathered in.

  • Go home tired, salty, sandy, sticky, full, and happy.
  • Wash, rinse, and repeat every June from now until you leave home for college.

The Itinerary
Getting There: D, F, N. or Q train to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue; If you drive, there is street parking, as well as off-street parking available in the parking lot at MCU Park (enter at Surf Avenue and 19th Street); prices for parking range from $5.00 to $15.00 all day depending on the day you go.

Nathan’s Famous, 1310 Surf Avenue (between Stillwell Avenue and West 15th Street), Brooklyn, NY 11224, (718) 946-2202,

Coney Island Beach & Boardwalk, Corbin Place to W. 37th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11224,

Lola Star Souvenir Boutique, 1205 Boardwalk West (12th Street and Stillwell Avenue), Brooklyn, NY 11224, (718) 975-0583,

Luna Park, 1000 Surf Avenue (@ West 10th Street), Brooklyn, NY 11224, (718) 373-5862,; Hours very depending on the day and month, but on the day we were there, it was open from 12:00 PM to 8:00 PM; Prices also vary depending on whether you buy single rides, but there are also Luna Card and Wristband Deals available.

Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitano, 1524 Neptune Avenue (between West 15th & West 16th Streets), Brooklyn, NY 11224, (718) 372-8606, Pies only, no slices, Cash only.

The Books

-Mermaids on Parade by Melanie Hope Greenberg

-Johnny Headstrong’s Trip to Coney Island (American Antiquarian Society) by The McLoughlin Brothers; Illustrated by W. Bruton

-Toxic Taffy Takeover (Otto Undercover Series #4) by Rhea Perlman; Dan Santat (Illustrator)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Crayola Experience: On The Meh List

We’d been itching for a day trip outside of the city and the Crayola Experience in Easton, Pennsylvania seemed to fit the bill. It looked to be an easy hour and a half drive from Manhattan and it had recently reopened just after Memorial Day following a three-month renovation by the same design teams that worked their magic at Coca-Cola World and LEGOLAND. Game on.

Charlie, Vivi, and Jack all seemed to really enjoy themselves—no easy feat when trying to equitably entertain an eight-, six-, and four-year-old. One of them, when asked a couple of days ago about their favorite outing of the summer to date, offered up the Crayola Experience without missing a beat. For me, though, the Crayola Experience, with all due respect to The New York Times Magazine, fell squarely on my Meh List—not hot, not not, just meh.

We started our day at the Crayola Experience at the top on the fourth floor with the intention of winding our way eventually back down to the first floor. We began with Meltdown, where the kids could use all different colors of melted crayon wax to paint. I hoped that the exhibit name was not a harbinger of doom for the rest of the day (Meltdown!) and found myself wondering how I could repurpose that long-forgotten fondue set wedding gift stashed God-knows-where in our apartment to try this at home. Because that is the kind of exceedingly crafty, creative, melted-crayon-wax-painting mama I am. Riiiiiiiiiiight.

Next on the fourth floor was the Drip Art area, which made me sort of all misty for the spin art of my early 1980’s childhood, except this used—you guessed it--melted crayon wax instead of paint. Using the Drip Art machine wasn’t rocket science, but it had been awhile since I’d done any art-spinning (spin-arting?). Lots of equally out-of-1980’s-Spin-Art-practice parents and their little children on the verge of meltdowns (meltdown meltdowns, as in tantrum meltdowns, not whimsical Crayola melted-crayon-wax meltdowns) were milling about, all of us looking a bit sheepish at our lack of proper Drip Art machine know-how with nary a Crayola employee in sight to keep things moving along. The third exhibit on the fourth floor, the Crayon Clinic, was not operating, but that was just fine by me. Our brochure gushed that at the Crayon Clinic, you could “watch your favorite crayon color melt into a Crayola Experience keepsake!,” but I was thinking, “Enough with the melted crayon wax already and let’s move on. Did you know that you can melt your own old crayons? At home? For free? In your never-used fondue set that you got for your wedding?”

The two-story Color Playground dominated the third floor. Surrounded by a chalk floor and white draw-onable (I took great creative license there and made that word up) animals, the playground boasted an obstacle course, bridge, and slides and like all indoor play spaces, was crowded and frenetic and very, very screamy (I might have made that word up, too, because I’m a writer and I can do that). Time seemed to slow down and stop in the Color Playground and I kicked myself for leaving my book in the car and wondered if I would be arrested if I left my screamy children with their screamy peers to slip out of the Color Playground area to retrieve it. Instead, I pulled my reluctant children out of the playground and dragged them to the Crayon Factory, a live theater show with an expert Crayonologist (I didn’t make that one up—the Crayola Experience copywriters did) and two animated Crayola crayons teaching and showing how crayons are made. It was packed too full of people for us to get in and we had to postpone until later.

In the meantime, we stopped by an area called Water Works, an 85-foot water attraction where kids could maneuver and splash crayon-shaped plastic boats around and whose relevance to crayons was completely lost on me. We hit Doodle in the Dark, an interactive dark room where the kids could doodle with glow-in-the-dark markers on light-up boards. Cool in concept, but not in practice as once one person drew on a board, an employee had to come around and wipe it off with a rag and Windex and wait for it to dry before anyone else could use it, which created a backlog and was frankly kind of buzzkill.

We did finally make it to the Crayola Factory show, which was the highlight of the day for me with all of its random factoids about crayon production and retro 1970’s Crayola television commercials (“Crayola Crayons: They work on brains, not batteries”). Next up was Wrap It Up!, where kids could create and personalize their own Crayola color labels. Except that I couldn’t quite wrap the label perfectly around Vivi’s crayon and she pitched a fit. At this point in the day, I was really starting to limp along to the finish line and can’t even begin to tell you about the remaining exhibits, including Art Alive, Marker Mania, and Modeling Madness, which have all  kind of blurred together in my mind.

There are a lot of summer days to fill with an eight-, six-, and four-year-old and although I am fine with the fact that we filled one of them with the Crayola Experience, I don’t think it warrants a return trip. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to head out to the store and pick up some Sterno to fire up the fondue pot, which I’m still looking for, to get this melted crayon wax show on the road.

Crayola Experience, 30 Centre Square, Easton, PA 18042, (610) 515-8000,, Hours: vary depending on the time of year, but on the weekday we were there in June, the hours were 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM (check calendar on website for details and changes); Admission: $15.99 for adults and children over the age of 2 ($14.99 if you book in advance online); discounts for seniors and military personnel.
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
  • The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers

Monday, July 15, 2013

FDNY Fire Zone: Bloody Marys and Fire Safety

Bloody Mary/Red Snapper, anyone?
I really should start every single day of the summer (or any season, for that matter) with a Bloody Mary. Of course, that might not always be feasible, but luckily, on a recent foray to the FDNY Fire Zone near Rockefeller Center, I did feel that it was my civic duty to start off our daily adventure with one since our day began with an early lunch at the King Cole Lounge at the St. Regis Hotel. We sat admiring Maxfield Parrish’s 1906 mural of Old King Cole of Mother Goose fame and imbibing Bloody Marys (aka Red Snappers), which apparently first made their stateside appearance at this very place.

A not-very-good picture of the Maxfield Parrish mural behind the bar at the King Cole Bar

After draining our Bloody Marys/Red Snappers, we made our way to the FDNY Fire Zone, a hands-on fire safety exhibit wedged into a block of West 51st Street down the street from Radio City Music Hall. Here we learned the difference between good fires and bad fires, that there are 11,227 firefighters in New York City (only 44 of which are women), and that last year, there were 57,000 fires in New York City. The kids also got to don bunker gear and hop aboard a real fire truck before we turned our attention to the fire safety presentation introduced and facilitated by a retired firefighter.

I include this picture because the name of the fireman giving the talk
is Ned and doesn't Fireman Ned sound straight out of a storybook about firemen?
Plus, Fireman Ned in his hood looks like an extra from Monty Python and the
Holy Grail

He started off his talk by sketching a scenario where the smoke detector in our home goes off in the middle of the night. He quizzed the kids on what they should do and showed them how to call 911 and what to tell the 911 dispatcher. The 911 call triggered an alarm in the firehouse and then he showed a video of a fireman responding to our call. The next part of the presentation took place in another room with a simulated fire scene including real life testimonies (and fake smoke, which I’m assuming was dry ice and which really wowed the eight and under set. For the next children’s birthday party, I might just get a cake and some dry ice and nothing else) where the kids learned how easily and quickly fires can start and how important it is to formulate a fire escape plan that can lead them to safety.

Hanging out in the back of the fire engine

Charlie and Vivi were all over this as only earnest eight- and six-year-olds can be and have brought up our family fire escape plan (or lack of one) roughly 1,398 times since our visit to the FDNY Fire Zone (their mantra: if it’s good to bring something up once, isn’t it even better to bring it up 1,397 more times?). Jack, however, was too young to take part, as the program was for ages five and older—no exceptions. If your kids are old enough, this is definitely worth a trip, especially combined with a Bloody Mary at the King Cole Bar beforehand and other Rockefeller Center sites, like the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, the Lego Store, and the Atlas sculpture by Lee Lawrie. If they aren’t yet five or if you have younger siblings in tow, the Fire Zone is doable if you tag-team with another parent, as I did, or you could opt instead for the Fire Zone’s sister museum downtown, The New York City Fire Museum, which is suitable for all ages (

King Cole Bar, St. Regis Hotel, 2 East 55th Street (@ Fifth Avenue), (212) 339-6721,, Open Monday to Saturday, 11:30 AM to 2:30 AM, Sunday 12:00 PM to 12:00 AM.

FDNY Fire Zone, 34 W. 51st Street (at Rockefeller Center, adjacent to Radio City Music Hall), (212) 698-4520,, Hours: Monday to Saturday, 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM, Sunday 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM; Fire Simulation Presentations: Monday to Saturday 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM, every hour on the half hour and about 30-40 minutes long, Sunday 11:30 AM to 3:30 PM; General Admission to the Fire Zone is free, but the fee for the fire simulation presentations is $6.00 per person.

  • Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman
  • New York’s Bravest by Mary Pope Osbourne, paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher