Monday, June 28, 2010

It's Like Grand Central In Here!

“Singing trees. Green birds. The snappy new day is here. You might wake up and play with your dog, Pete. You might build a chair of sticks, or chew some gum. You might do nothing at all. But while you are sitting there, there is a place in New York City that is the busiest, fastest, biggest place there is. It is a train station. This place is called Grand Central. One day you might (you must) go there."
-Next Stop, Grand Central by Maira Kalman

Grand Central is the largest train station in the world by number of platforms (44) with 67 tracks among them. 125,000 commuters pass through it each day.

The Clock in the Main Concourse, probably the most recognizable icon of Grand Central. Each of the four clock faces is made of opal and both Sotheby's and Christie's have estimated the clock's value to be between $10 and $20 million.

Lying on the polished marble floor and gazing up at the sparkly, robin-egg's blue, astronomical ceiling in the Main Concourse. The sky is actually painted backwards.

En route to the Whispering Gallery: Charlie and Vivi stood in one corner and I stood in the opposite corner. We faced the wall and whispered and each time, supposedly because our voices followed the dome of the curved ceiling, it sounded like we were standing right next to each other instead of in opposite corners.

Lunchtime at the most famous restaurant in Grand Central, The Oyster Bar, which opened the same year that Grand Central did--1913.

Picking out dessert at Grand Central Market


  • Down in the Subway by Miriam Cohen
  • My Subway Ride by Paul DuBois Jacobs
  • Next Stop Grand Central by Maira Kalman
  • Subway Ride by Heather Lynn Miller
  • Subway by Christoph Niemann
  • Subway by Anastasia Suen

Grand Central Terminal, 15 Vanderbilt Avenue, East 42nd Street between Vanderbilt and Park Avenues, Midtown Manhattan, New York City; (212) 514-370;; Open daily from 5:30 AM to 2:00 AM.

Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant, Grand Central Station—Lower Concourse, New York, New York 10001; (212) 490-6650;

Other Fun Places to Visit at Grand Central:

New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex & Store at Grand Central Terminal, Located just off the Main Concourse in the Shuttle Passage; (212) 878-0106.

Pylones, Grand Central Terminal, Shuttle Passage; (212) 867-0969; (has all sorts of things that you certainly don’t need, but will have to have once you see them: brightly painted maracas and jump ropes chicken tape dispensers, mermaid bottle openers, Lego calculators, and ladybug staplers).

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Going From Two to Three

Although I have heard lately that three is the new two when it comes to how many children people are having these days, the majority of my friends are still calling it a family at two and often ask what three is really like. I recently saw a headline in The New York Times about summer movie sequels which I thought described going from two to three much more brilliantly—in a mere four words--than I ever could:

The Same, but Worse

In other words, more of the same in terms of the trials and tribulations of child rearing. One child is hard. Two children are hard. Three children are hard. And so on and so forth (I won’t even touch the greatest officially recorded number of children born to one mother—sixty-nine—with a ten-foot pole. "Hard" seems woefully inadequate).

Worse in that someone is up at 5:00 AM and someone else is still up at 10:30 PM. Worse in that the baby might not get out of his pajamas all day and the oldest might wear his too-small Baltimore Ravens' jersey for three days straight and counting. Worse in that everyone's bangs are always too long and everyone's shoes are always too tight--except the baby's, because you haven't actually gotten around to buying him shoes yet, because you are waiting for him to grow into the ones that used to belong to his older brother's, which you are still looking for...

But sometimes, just sometimes, it is the Same, but Better, because by the time you get to the third child, you just don't care about any of that stuff anymore (except for the sleep, you never stop caring about that) and realize that you don't have to be the perfect parent. You just have to be good enough.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Lower Manhattan: What's This Smithsonian Museum Doing in New York City?

The first stop on our tour of Lower Manhattan was the National Museum of the American Indian at Bowling Green—apparently the red-headed stepchild in the family of Smithsonian museums. You may want to consider a visit here because: A) it is free; B) it is not crowded; C) it is housed in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, a masterpiece of Beaux-Arts style (although unfortunately, much of the three-block facade was obscured by scaffolding when we were there), and; D) did I mention that it’s free? Just know that you’ll get what you pay for and don’t expect there to be any signage, employees able to dispense useful information, or actual exhibits.

One reason to go: the WPA-commissioned murals chronicling the history of New York City's shipping industry in the Custom House's giant oval rotunda

We hit the museum shop on the way out and managed to get out with only a board book for Jack (my third child, for those of you who may not be aware that there is, indeed, a third child in the mix) and a set of worry dolls each for Charlie and Vivi. According to Mayan legend, children who are having trouble sleeping because they’re worrying about something can express their worries to a worry doll and then put it under their pillow at bedtime. It’s believed that the worry doll worries in the child’s place so that that the child can get a good night’s sleep. I worry that none of my three children will ever sleep through the night at the same time again, so I’m putting these bad boys under my pillow in the hopes that they will bring us some good sleeping juju. Or I may just use them as earplugs so that I won’t actually know if my children are screaming their heads off in the middle of the night.

Mother's little helpers

As you know, all of our family outings center largely around eating, so after briefly checking out some Dutch Revival Buildings at 13-15 South William Street, we made our way to Stone Street, a quaint, cobblestone alley wedged between the skyscrapers of The Financial District and packed with hungry Wall Streeters at the outdoor cafes. We settled on Mad Dog & Beans Mexican Cantina and then stopped off at the tiny Greenmarket at Bowling Green. Here, we picked up a basketful of fat, little strawberries and ate them in Battery Park against the blessedly breezy backdrop of the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor.

Stone Street

Grilled corn at Mad Dog & Beans

Strawberries by the water


  • Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse
  • On the Day Peter Stuyvesant Sailed Into Town by Arnold Lobel

National Museum of the American Indian, The George Gustav Heye Center, Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, One Bowling Green, New York, New York 10004; (212) 514-3700;; We took the 1 train to South Ferry from the West Side, but it is also accessible from the 4/5 to Bowling Green or the R to Whitehall Street; Open daily 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Thursdays until 8:00 PM; **Free.

Mad Dog & Beans Mexican Cantina, 83 Pearl Street, New York, New York 10004; (212) 269-1177;

The Greenmarket at Bowling Green, 1 Bowling Green, near Broadway, Tuesday and Thursday, 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, **Cash only.

Battery Park, Battery Place to South Street, New York, New York 10004,

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Perfect Summer Afternoon: Downing Street Playground

Downing Street Playground

Most playgrounds usually annoy the shit out of me. They are too loud or too frenetic or too hot or too dangerous or too dull or too big or too small or too…something. Not so Downing Street Playground in the West Village. It provided the perfect therapy for all of my playground hang-ups.

From the moment we stepped into the half-acre, hydrangea-heavy garden and then through a small, iron gate into the playground, it was as if we had discovered our own secret garden. It’s not that the playground (standard issue playground equipment and some swings) in and of itself was all that special or that we had the space to ourselves even. Sheltered from the hustle and bustle of the city by a nine foot brick wall and covered by a leafy green canopy, the playground simply had good feng shui. It was cool and quiet and cloistered.

We didn’t really want to leave, but because this was our first time there, we decided to venture out into the surrounding West Village neighborhood. We browsed the shelves at Unoppressive Imperialist Bargain Books, a tiny, independent bookstore recommended by The Village Voice for “anyone with writer’s block or boredom and suffering from a complete lack of cash,” where we picked up two children’s books (Edna by Robert Burleigh and Joanne Yardly and A Walk in New York by Salvatore Rubbino) for a song. We ate piping hot and greasy pepperoni pizza and washed it down with cream sodas at John’s Pizzeria, which deserves all the hype it gets for the coal-fired, brick-oven pizza it has been serving since 1929. We capped off our perfect summer afternoon with handmade ice cream next door from Cones Ice Cream Artisans which, if it's good enough for Heidi Klum (she's pictured in the front window balancing a cone and a stroller), is good enough for me.

  • Downing Street Playground, Downing Street and Avenue of the Americas; Subway: 1 to Houston Street or A/B/C/D/E/F/V to West 4th Street,; Open daily, dawn to dusk; **Please note that the 32 Carmine Street entrance is currently closed due to construction and there are no restrooms, so plan accordingly.
  • Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books, 34 Carmine Street, near Bleecker, New York, New York 10014, (212) 229-0079.
  • John’s Pizzeria, 278 Bleecker Street (between Sixth and Seventh Avenues), New York, New York 10014, (212) 243-1680,; **Cash only and no slices.
  • Cones, 272 Bleecker Street, New York, New York 10014, (212) 414-1795, **Cash only.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Flushing, Queens: Yum Yum Dim Sum

After my last post, you will know why, when my friend Peggy, who grew up in Flushing, Queens, suggested a day out there centered entirely around eating, I jumped at the opportunity.

Our first stop was her parents’ bakery, where we sampled green tea roll cakes, Chinese sponge cake, and mooncakes with red bean filling and even got to go into the back to watch the bakers at work.

For our next course, we pointed and chose steamed pork buns (cha siu bauu), dumplings (suimai), sesame seed balls (jian dui), and even chicken feet from the rolling dim sum carts at East Manor.

Charlie tries a "grass jelly" or lychee drink

Trying chicken feet for the first time. Please cue up the "Chicken Lips and Lizard Hips" song in the background...

Stuffed with dim sum, we then hit Gold City, a Chinese supermarket nearby, and stocked up on all sorts of Asian snacks like pocky (a sort of pretzel stick coated in chocolate), lychee and sugar cane juiceboxes, Hello Kitty animal crackers, and muscat gummy candy.

Winter melons

Exotic fruit drinks

We spread out our grocery store haul in the grass at Kissena Park, wiling away the rest of our day there, and even had enough snacks to bring some home to Manhattan.

Eating Your Way Through Flushing, Queens

Yeh’s Bakery, 5725 Main Street, Flushing, New York 11355, (718) 939-1688

East Manor, 46-45 Kissena Boulevard, Flushing, New York 11355, (718) 888-8998

Gold City Supermarket, 4631 Kissena Boulevard, Flushing, New York 11355, (718) 762-7688

Kissena Park, bordered on the west by Kissena Boulevard; on the north by Rose, Oak, Underhill, and Lithonia Avenues; on the east by Fresh Meadow Lane, and on the south by Booth Memorial Avenue, Flushing, New York,

Monday, June 21, 2010

Prospect Park: Does My Blog Need a New Name?

Charlie, Vivi, and me--and my 50-pound bag of snacks en route to Prospect Park

I am thinking of changing the name of my blog to “Eating Snacks in Different Places with My Kids”:

Here was what was on my list of things to do with Charlie and Vivi in Prospect Park:
  • Chill out in the 90-acre Long Meadow
  • Pedal boat on Brooklyn’s only freshwater lake
  • Hike one of the park’s four nature trails
  • Check out the sculpture of Peter from Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day at the Imagination Playground
  • Visit the Audubon Center for their hands-on exhibits and family programs
  • Ride the old-fashioned carousel
  • Go back in time at Lefferts Historic House
  • See some of the Zoo’s 400 animals
Here is what we actually did:

Discovered a pencil at the bottom of the Bailey Fountain in Grand Army Plaza and ate snacks

Paused to examine a sewer grate and ate snacks

Overturned rocks to look for centipedes and other assorted creepy-crawlies and ate snacks

Visited the Zoo for approximately eight minutes before starting to whine about lunch

Were riveted by the automatic beverage vending machine while eating lunch at the Zoo

Watered the garden at Lefferts Historic House in the hope of growing our own snack plants

Enjoyed ice cream after riding on what our three-year-old friend Alie called “the carous-wheel!”

Gathered extremely valuable treasures like broken glass (called, inexplicably, by Charlie, “super-glass”), a broken pair of eyeglasses, an empty beer can, assorted sticks of varying sizes, and the plastic top from a Wendy’s Frosty and polished off the last of the snacks on the way to the subway home

Prospect Park; Brooklyn; We took the 2/3 train to Grand Army Plaza station, but the park is also accessible via the F/Q/S/B trains;; Open daily, sunrise to 1:00 AM; *Free* (Prospect Park Zoo is open daily from 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM during the summer and is $7 for adults, $3 for children ages 3-12 and free for members of the Wildlife Conservation Society; The Carousel is open from 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM Thursday-Sunday during June and is $2 per ride)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Barefoot in Washington Square Park

Uh-oh. Apparently, I had not done sufficient due diligence before embarking on our visit to Washington Square Park, because when we approached the southwest corner, instead of seeing this:

…we discovered that the entire southern perimeter and northeastern side were fenced off due to capital improvements not scheduled to be completed until the Fall of 2010.

Where was the famed arch modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris? The Central Fountain where Robert Redford cavorted drunkenly in the 1967 movie, Barefoot in the Park? The kooky street performers and focused chess players?

Fortunately, when we finally made our way into the park, we were relieved to find that most of the above were still intact. We camped out temporarily at a small, shady playground on the northern side of the park better-suited to the three and under set than to older children before taking advantage of the famed fountain.

The playground that Charlie aptly described as "a little too little kiddish"

Although we were probably a little too early for the park’s prime people watching, I am happy to report that the magnificent Washington Arch was not swathed under layers of construction.

  • Bein’ With You This Way by Michael Bryant
  • The Park Book by Charlotte Zolotow, H.A. Rey(Illustrator) (I had a hard time finding this, but it was worth the hunt. This delightful book from the 1940’s chronicles a day in the life of Washington Square Park)

Washington Square Park, Washington Square, bounded by Waverly Place, West 4th Street, University Place and MacDougal Street; Open daily, sunrise to 1:00 AM; *Free*

Bronx Zoo

First the good news: Wednesday is Free Day at the Bronx Zoo.

Now, the bad news: Wednesday is Free Day at the Bronx Zoo.

If you aren’t a member of the Bronx Zoo, you will benefit by going on pay-what-you-wish Wednesday and not having to fork over the full general admission fee ($15 for adults and $11 for children 3-12). If you do have a zoo membership, I would highly recommend going on any day except Wednesday. Although the people-watching may provide some entertainment value and lead one to wonder who really is looking at whom at the zoo, it is not enough to overcome the annoyingly long lines for everything from the restrooms to just hoping to catch a glimpse of the new lion cubs.

To avoid the crowds, we stuck mostly to the special rides and attractions, which still cost extra unless you are a member: The Bug Carousel, The Butterfly Garden, a new Dora & Diego 4D movie, the zoo shuttle, and the Children’s Zoo.

Each weekend through the end of June, the zoo is hosting Animal Tales Extravaganza, a series of readings, talks, and events designed to introduce young children to wildlife and children’s literature. The entire list of featured books can be found on the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers (NAIBA) website at, but here are a few of our favorites:

  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • Dear Zoo: A Lift-the-Flap Book by Rod Campbell
  • Bugs! By David T. Greenberg
  • Birds by Kevin Henkes
  • Gone Wild: An Endangered Animal Alphabet by David McLimans
  • Wild About Books by Judith Sierra, Marc Brown (Illustrator)
  • Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

Instead of riding a traditional carousel horse, kids can take their pick from ladybugs, praying mantises, grasshoppers, and fireflies on The Bug Carousel

The Butterfly Garden

The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Wild About Books by Judith Sierra, Marc Brown (Illustrator)

Rocking the 3D glasses for Dora & Diego’s 4D Adventure, a high-definition 3D movie combined with special wind, water, and lighting effects

Relaxing in the life-sized bird’s nest at the Children’s Zoo

Exploring a hollow log at the Children’s Zoo

Bronx Zoo, The Wildlife Conservation Society, 2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY 10460,; Open Monday to Friday 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM; Weekends and Holidays 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM; General admission (does not include special rides and attractions): $15 for adults; $11 for children 3-12; Best value is a family membership for $124 a year, which includes free admission to not only the Bronx Zoo--including free passes to special rides and attractions and parking passes--but also to the New York Aquarium, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, and Queens Zoo

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Book Club Blah

So the consensus of my book club was a resounding Bronx cheer for Lorrie Moore’s critically acclaimed novel, A Gate at the Stairs (except from me, who had picked the book and had to do some face-saving). I liked it less than I had expected, but did enjoy Moore’s writing in all of its quirkiness. Some quotes which must have resonated with me because I underlined them and made notations in the margins, but which, three children and very little grey matter later, I cannot for the life of me remember why, were:

-“A baby destroyed a life and thereby became the very best thing in it. Though to sit gloriously and triumphantly in ruins may not be such a big trick.”

-On heated baby wipes (Is my blog hard-hitting or what? I mean, baby wipes are very, very much a part of global affairs): “I know my own mother would be appalled by such things. As a baby, I would have gotten the chilly wipes of winter or frozen dabs with unheated cotton balls, or a quick tepid washcloth, if I was lucky. My mother probably soothed my diaper rash with ice cubes from her soda glass.” (I think I was tucking away the used ice cube baby butt analgesic trick for future use)

-On caring for a young child: "I seemed to have little authority whatsoever but to be instead her happy maidservant. The tinier the child, the more you were the servant, I knew. Older children were more subservient, less queenly and demanding.”

Fortunately, my tough crowd seemed to like my libations better than the book selection. Here is the recipe for my cucumber lemonade (Better Homes and Gardens, June 2009):

-1 English cucumber, coarsely chopped

-2 12-oz cans frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed

-10 cups water

-Cucumber slices (optional)

  1. In blender, combine cucumber and 1 can lemonade concentrate; blend until almost smooth. Transfer to serving container. Stir in remaining lemonade concentrate and water. Cover; chill up to 24 hours.
  2. Stir before serving. Serve over ice with cucumber slices. Makes 12 generous servings