Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Little Red Lighthouse: A Testament to the Power of Small Things

“Once upon a time a little lighthouse was built on a sharp point of the shore by the Hudson River. It was round and fat and red. It was fat and red and jolly. And it was VERY, VERY PROUD.”

-The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde H. Swift and Lynd Ward

Young children, often frustrated by how small and powerless they feel, will love the 1942 children’s classic, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde H. Swift and Lynd Ward.

The book tells the tale of the Little Red Lighthouse, originally built in 1880 on New Jersey’s Sandy Hook to guide ships into New York Harbor. In 1917, the lighthouse was taken apart and put into storage, but in 1921, the United States Coast Guard moved it to its present spot, a rocky outcropping along the Hudson River in Manhattan called Jeffrey’s Hook.

Ten years after the Little Red Lighthouse was relocated, the George Washington Bridge (aka, the Great Gray Bridge) was constructed overhead and the lighthouse once again became obsolete. In 1951, as the Coast Guard made plans to dismantle the lighthouse, they started receiving protest letters from children who had read The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. The children’s campaign to save the lighthouse was successful and on July 23, 1951 (coincidentally, the same day we visited, 59 years later) it came under the jurisdiction of the New York City Department of Parks. Today, it is the southernmost lighthouse on the Hudson River and the only one located in Manhattan.

The Little Red Lighthouse, Riverside Drive at 181st Street, Fort Washington Park, Manhattan;, (212) 304-2365; Open the second Saturday of each month from May to October from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM; Free; For more information about the lighthouse:


  • Take the A train to 181st Street.

  • From the corner of Fort Washington Avenue and West 181st Street, walk three blocks west to where 181st Street ends, at Riverside Drive.

  • Turn right at Riverside Drive and look for the footbridge across the West Side Highway.

  • Once you have entered the park at West 181st Street, follow the bike path into the wooded area of Fort Washington Park towards the George Washington Bridge.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

American Folk Art Museum: Outsider Art or Just Weird?

For some reason, I have been dragging my feet on writing this post, which makes me think that either A) Conducting Camp Mom in this heat has completely fried my brain. Or at least what’s left of my brain after birthing three children (Remember the egg? This is your brain. This is three kids. This is your brain after having three kids. Any questions?) or B) American folk art just kind of eludes me. There’s also a third, likely possibility and that is that I picked up The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot yesterday and don’t want to put it down for anything. Who knew that cell culture research could be so riveting? So let’s just get it done already, so that I can get back to my very important reading while a feverish Jack takes a long summer’s nap and the laundry magically folds itself.

The American Folk Art Museum is a hodgepodge of some weird and wonderful things created by outsider artists with no formal training. A sliver of a building tucked next to its splashier and more glamorous neighbor, the Museum of Modern Art, the Folk Art Museum is all vertical space and gray concrete. Here are some things that Vivi and I were taken with when we were there:

  • A 1964 painting of Columbus Circle by Vestie Davis
  • A round rag rug made not out of scraps of cloth as one would expect, but out of bits and pieces of Wonder Bread bags (yes, Wonder Bread bags)
  • A menagerie of tiny sculptures cut, twisted, and reconstructed from tin cans and encrusted with beads, baubles, and curios that had been unearthed at a Chelsea thrift shop
  • All sorts of nifty weather vanes: a unicorn, a grasshopper, a donkey, a pig, a train, and an assortment of angels
  • A model of the Empire State Building made out of interlocking wooden pieces without the benefit of glue or nails
  • The Button Tree, an old tree limb covered entirely by colorful buttons
Columbus Circle by Vestie Davis (1964)

Fame Weathervane, attributed to E.G. Washbourne & Company (c. 1890)

Button Tree by Gregory "Mr. Imagination" Warmack (1990-1992)

We were less impressed with Henry Darger, whom the museum boasts is one of the most prominent artists of the 20th century. The American Folk Art Museum houses the largest public collection of works by Darger and touts itself as the most important institution for scholars interested in the work of this self-taught artist. While I don’t doubt the veracity of that claim, I do question its merits. It’s kind of like someone bragging that they have the world’s largest collection of twist-ties or airplane sick bags (Nick Vermeulen of the Netherlands has already laid claim to this latter title, but the former is still wide open for all of you still looking to make your mark in the world).

Darger—janitor by day, outsider artist by night-- and his watercolors meant to illustrate his bizarro 15,000+-page manuscript about little girls being enslaved by evil forces and a series of his cardboard collages framed by Christmas Seal Stamps just gave me the creeps. Not to get all Jesse Helms or anything, but I think I’d like to stick to Grandma Moses and her folksy, quilt-making sisters.[*]

Vivi and one of the wholesome quilts: Sarah Ann Garges Applique Bedcover (1853)

Taking the wholesomeness up another notch: Pieties Quilt by Maria Cadman Hubbard (1948)


  • Grandma Moses by Alexandra Wallner
  • The Year With Grandma Moses by W. Nikola-Lisa with writings and paintings by Grandma Moses

American Folk Art Museum, 45 West 53rd Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues, New York, New York 10019, (212) 265-1040,; Tuesday to Sunday 10:30 AM to 5:30 PM, Friday 11:00 AM to 7:30 PM; Closed Mondays; Admission: Adults: $12; Children under 12 are free.

[*] It should be noted for the record that even though I would put Henry Darger squarely in the "weird" category, his artwork was actually completely innocuous and I didn’t feel in any way that it was inappropriate for children.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Let Her Princess Flag Fly

What is it with little girls and princesses? Some way, somehow, despite the fact that Vivi spent her infancy and early toddler years literally cutting her teeth on her older brother’s construction trucks and dinosaurs and lizards and bugs, she had it bad for Disney princesses and all things pink and girly before she had even turned two. I know that some mothers loathe the princess stage, but I imagine that when Vivi is fourteen, I’ll be downright nostalgic for those simpering Disney honeys with their doe eyes, breathy voices, and 1950’s aspirations.

If your little princess has a thing for the bling like mine, take her to Let’s Dress Up, a charming dollhouse of a place where little girls can indulge all of their princess fantasies for the afternoon. They get to choose from oodles of flouncy, pastel-hued gowns and then accessorize with high-heeled shoes, tiaras, bridal veils (but, of course!), wands, and an assortment of sparkly jewelry. Before enjoying a tea party of thimble-sized cups of pink lemonade, a glass slipperful of M&Ms, and a tiny cupcake, they’ll get their eyelids dusted with shadow, their cheeks sprinkled with glitter, their lips iced with shiny gloss, and their nails painted their favorite color. They’ll pose for a picture and dance to the strains of “Someday My Prince Will Come.”

"I believe in manicures. I believe in overdressing. I believe in primping at leisure and wearing lipstick. I believe in PINK." -attributed to Audrey Hepburn

"Great balls of fire. Don't bother me anymore, and don't call me sugar." -Scarlett O'Hara

"A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous." -Coco Chanel

Yes, it was all a bit twee for me. But it has bought me a couple more years to keep holding off on Disneyworld.

Let’s Dress Up, 345 East 85th Street (between 1st and 2nd Avenues), Upper East Side/Yorkville, New York, New York 10028-5447 (212) 879-0956,; Open dress-up: $20 singles welcome/no reservations required; Hours for open dress-up this summer are usually Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday from 1:30 PM to 2:30 PM and 3:30 PM to 4:30 PM, but call every Monday to check times for the week.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Time to Update My Netflix: Atlantic Beach, Long Island

Remember the movie The Flamingo Kid? Matt Dillon plays a working class cabana boy at the fictional upscale family resort, the Flamingo Club, in this 1984 dramedy set in the early 1960s? Man, I loved that movie.

This week, I got to relive some of my junior high movie nostalgia when Vivi, Jack and I got invited by some friends to a private beach club in Atlantic Beach, the 10-mile strip of sand about 22 miles from Manhattan which served as inspiration for The Flamingo Kid.

I hummed “(Love is Like a) Heatwave” (did I mention how much I loved the movie soundtrack, too?) as I wheeled the stroller past blue and white wooden cabanas and smiling cabana boys in all-white togs setting up lounge chairs. I navigated past a table of leathery matrons girdled in industrial-strength bathing suits gossiping and playing cards and let Vivi and Jack loose in the giant sandbox to slide into bright blue plastic kiddie pools and eat sand and spray each other with water guns.

It was a respite from the cloying heat of the city, a day of sandy hot dogs and pruney fingers and sunburnt shoulders and lime Popsicles and spent children falling fast asleep in the car on the way home.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Vivi's Rainy Day Primer

Grab your Sleeping Beauty umbrella and your Hello Kitty rain boots and follow some of three-and-a-half-year-old Vivi’s advice for getting out and about when the summer rain has got you down:

1. Go bowling. Get to wear fabulous retro red and blue bowling shoes. Bat your eyelashes and ask dark-haired, handsome guy to fetch your ball for you and give you a quick bowling tutorial. Request gutter guards to minimize tantrums. I prefer duckpins due to my diminutive size, but I don't actually know of any duckpin bowling alleys in New York City (although rumor has it that Chelsea Piers may have some in their arcade).

2. Wander around the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Take in a Jackson Pollock painting. Assure yourself that you could do that in about five minutes if only Mommy would let you actually paint in the apartment. Demand to be carried around for the rest of your visit because everyone knows just how exhausting museums can be. Sing nonsensical songs loudly.

3. Get thee to a hairdresser. There's nothing worse than trying to swim with your bangs always in your eyes. Don't be afraid to try a new look because, really, everyone else is away for the summer and won't see you before you've had a chance to grow out any unfortunate haircuts. This is me as Anna Wintour.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Honoring New York's Bravest at the New York City Fire Museum

New York City Fire Museum, 278 Spring Street, SoHo

How do you teach your five-year-old about September 11th? You take them to the New York City Fire Museum in SoHo.

This sleeper of a museum, housed in a renovated 1904 firehouse, contains all sorts of fire-related art, artifacts, and memorabilia from the end of the 18th century to the present. There are painted leather buckets, rattles used to alert the citizen bucket brigades, horse-drawn steam engines, parade hats and belts, and one of the country’s oldest fire engines, an end-stroke hand pumper built in 1790. Kids can try on pint-sized fireman’s uniforms and take a free FDNY coloring book when they leave.

Fireman for a day

The museum has an intimate feel and Wally, the docent working the day we were there, was one of the friendliest and most engaged museum guides we’ve come across so far this summer, regaling both adults and children alike with New York City firefighting lore.

A permanent exhibit and memorial on the first floor pays tribute to the 343 members of the New York City Fire Department who died on 9/11. It is tasteful, it is touching, and it is an ideal and age-appropriate place to talk to your child about the events of that day.

The memorial contains the names, pictures, and ranks of all of the firefighters who lost their lives on September 11th and the two rectangular openings represent the twin towers. Family, friends, and visitors have left flowers, candles, and prayer cards at the base


  • The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein

  • New York’s Bravest by Mary Pope Osborne

New York City Fire Museum, 278 Spring Street (between Hudson and Varick Streets), New York (SoHo), New York 10013; C, E to Spring Street or 1 to Houston; Hours: Tuesday to Saturday 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM; Sunday 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM; Closed Mondays; Admission: the suggested donation is $7 for adults and $5 for children.

Where to Eat

Chipotle Mexican Grill, 200 Varick Street (between Houston and King Streets), New York, New York 10014; (646) 336-6264;; Hours: Open every day 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM.

Grom Gelato, 233 Bleecker Street (@ Carmine Street), New York, New York 10022; (212) 206-1738;; Hours: Monday to Thursday, Sunday: 11:00 AM to 11:00 PM; Friday/Saturday 11:00 AM to 12:00 AM.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Beating the Heat at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

On the roof at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

On Tuesday, New York City temperatures hit an all-time record of 103 degrees. Yowzers.

Lucky for us that Charlie started a class at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that morning, because our window air conditioner units in our prewar apartment don’t have a hot-enough-to-fry-a-friggin’-egg-on-the-New-York-City-sidewalk setting. Charlie and I spent most of our day in the cool recesses of the over two million square foot Granddaddy of All Art Museums, which is the kind of place you could visit every day every week for the rest of your life and not get bored.

If you can believe it, we actually got so thoroughly and blissfully chilled by the high-power A/C inside that we decided to brave the museum’s roof to thaw out and see Big Bambu—a site-specific installation of 5,000 bamboo poles lashed together with 50 miles of nylon climbing rope fashioned by American artists and twin brothers, Doug & Mike Starn.

Welcome to the jungle

We lasted all of ten minutes in the rooftop sauna before retreating to the museum to see what Charlie dreamily dubbed “probably the beautifulest guns I’ve seen in my whole life” in the Arms & Armor Court. Charlie, much to his dismay, is not allowed to have any toy guns at home, but he has my blessing in satisfying his weaponry fetish here amongst all of the pistols inlaid with engraved staghorn and silver and the elaborately carved hunting swords.

The Emma and Georgina Arms and Armor Court

Sir Charles in his knightly garb, although records are unclear as to whether knights actually sported water shoes

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue (@ 82nd Street), New York, New York 10028; (212) 535-7710,; Hours: Closed Mondays; Tue/Thu/Sun: 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM; Friday and Saturday: 9:30 AM to 9:00 AM; Admission: the suggested donation for adults is $20; Children under 12 are free (**Best value is a $70 Met Net Membership).

Please, Bring Your Kids to the Brooklyn Museum!

The Brooklyn Museum

Last winter, on a trip to the Getty in Los Angeles with Charlie and Vivi, then aged four and two, I asked the docent at the information desk what exhibits she could recommend for young children.

“We don’t really have any art for children,” she replied stiffly.

At the time, I was seven and a half months pregnant and admittedly, perhaps, a little touchy, but… really? No art for children? Really? It’s not like this was a porn museum (which, yes, if you are wondering, does exist as “The Erotic Heritage Museum” in—where else?—Las Vegas).

Call me naïve, but I thought that most art can be for anyone, including children.

Some museums have no interest in actively courting families or cultivating the next generation of art lovers and patrons. Happily, the Brooklyn Museum is not one of them.

The Brooklyn Museum was actually the institution where museum education for children began at the end of the nineteenth century. Their programs for children have always been, and continue to be, one of their highest priorities, as evidenced by their family-friendly website chockfull of all sorts of fun on-line activities and their free, printed family guides at the front desk.

Brooklyn Museum: 1; Getty: 0.

"The Secret Happy End" by Jean-Michel Othomel (2008): A 19th century wooden covered wagon with panels of colored glass and oversize glass beads

"The Burghers of Calais" by Auguste Rodin (1889)--and Charlie

No lines to see this 30-foot replica of the Statute of Liberty

In the outdoor sculpture garden, which houses the museum's collection of architectural salvage pieces rescued from demolished New York City buildings

An Ionic capital and column base saved from Penn Station (R.I.P. 1910-1963)

An Art Nouveau plaque from the Mulcaster Building, formerly at 1297 Third Avenue (at 68th Street)

Stopping for a scoop before heading back to Manhattan

Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11238-6052; 2/3 Train to Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum (the station is right in front of the museum); (718) 638-5000,; Open Wednesday to Friday 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Saturdays and Sundays 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM; Closed Mondays and Tuesdays; Admission: the suggested donation for adults is $10; Children under 12 are free.

Blue Marble Ice Cream, 186 Underhill Avenue, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn; (718) 399-6926;

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Lower East Side: Seward Park, Lower East Side Tenement Museum...and Beyond

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, 108 Orchard Street

Seward Park

Some of the things I like best so far about this summer’s Camp Mom are:

The opportunities for teachable moments:

On the morning that we trekked down to the Lower East Side on the F train, we got off at the East Broadway stop and made our circuitous way to Seward Park—a huge, shady lot which just happens to be in a largely Chinese neighborhood. We passed by three padlocked gates and initially couldn’t figure out where the entrance was. As we--the only non-Chinese people in the park's vicinity--circled back and walked in the other direction, still on the lookout for the right way in, Charlie sighed and said, “Maybe the park is only for Chinese people.”

"There are not parks only for Chinese people. Or only for white people. Or only for black people," I snapped. "That is just not allowed in America." We still hadn't found the playground entrance, but we'd already had our morning civics lesson, just in time for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday.

The Dumpling House on Eldridge Street

"I wish I lived here," breathed Charlie reverently as he gazed at the shelves upon shelves of candy at Economy Candy

All of the good food

Before our 12:00 PM tour (we chose the Confino Family Living History Program, which was recommended for children five and over) at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Charlie, Vivi, and I squeezed in an early, delicious, and exceedingly cheap lunch of pork and chive dumplings (four for a dollar), huge, fluffy sesame pancakes, red bean buns, and sweetened soy milk. Afterwards, we satisfied our afternoon sugar craving at Economy Candy, an old-fashioned penny candy store in business since 1937.

Museum gift shops

I have a definite thing for museum gift shops. They usually have an excellent and quirky selection of children’s books and low-tech toys and the one at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum did not disappoint. Charlie scored a pair of toy handcuffs, Vivi picked out a retro change purse, and I lugged home a wonderful tome called 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up by Julia Eccleshare.

The discovery of the city’s best-kept secrets

On our way back uptown, we searched for somewhere to sit and enjoy our candy necklaces and strawberry licorice and comic books from Economy Candy. We started to go to a tired-looking playground in Sara D. Roosevelt Park before stumbling upon a lush, shady oasis of a community garden heavy with hydrangea: M’Finda Kalunga Garden. We couldn’t get in, so we sat on a bench just outside and plan to return one day soon to enjoy this urban sanctuary when it is open to the public.


-Castle on Hester Street by Linda Heller

-What Zeesie Saw on Delancey Street by Elsa Okon Rael

-When Zaydeh Danced on Eldridge Street by Elsa Okon Rael

A Day on the Lower East Side:

William H. Seward Park, Canal, Hester, Essex, and Jefferson Streets, Lower East Side, New York City, 10002;

Dumpling House, 118 Eldridge Street (between Grand and Broome) Lower East Side, New York City 10002; (212) 625-8008.

Lower East Side Tenement Museum, 108 Orchard Street (the museum itself is at 97 Orchard Street, but this is where the museum shop is, where tours start and end, and where tickets are sold), Lower East Side, New York City 10002; (212) 982-8420;; Offers seven different tours, the first at 10:30 AM and the last at 5:00 PM, seven days a week; Adults: $20; Students (K-12): $15; Children under 5: Free.

Economy Candy, 108 Rivington Street, Lower East Side, New York City 10002; (800) 352-4544;

M’Finda Kalunga Community Garden, Rivington Street (between Chrystie and Forsyth in Sara D. Roosevelt Park), Lower East Side, New York City;; Open hours (summer, fall, and spring): Thursday from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM; Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM; **Free.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

New York Hall of Science

The New York Hall of Science is New York City’s only hands-on science and technology museum. It is also New York City’s only museum apparently run by giggly and earnest-but-clueless packs of teenaged volunteers, which gave it a sort of groovy, laidback, woo-hoo-we’re-on-summer-vacation vibe.

Established in 1964 as part of the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, the Hall of Science has undergone several major renovations over the years and now boasts more than 400 interactive exhibits in its 35,000 square feet of indoor space, as well as a 60,000 Outdoor Science Playground.

Our first stop of the day was the Rocket Park Mini-Golf Course. That each hole of the nine-hole miniature golf course focused on a different key concept of science such as timing, gravity, and velocity was completely lost on Charlie and Vivi. Considering, though, that they were under the suggested minimum age guidelines (six and over) and hadn’t ever set foot on a miniature golf course before, they seemed perfectly content simply whacking their golf balls around to an appreciative audience of teenaged interns.

Next, we headed to the Science Playground where Charlie and Vivi could, theoretically, explore the scientific principles of motion, balance, sound, and sight, as well as sun, wind, and water, through over a dozen fun, interactive exhibits like slides, seesaws, speaking tubes, a giant spider web, and sand pits. I also like to just, um, call that “playing at the playground.”

**Please note that it does cost extra to enjoy the Science Playground and that you can only use it in 45-minute increments before a teenager with a megaphone gives you the five-minute warning (but it's still well worth it--and enough incentive to sign up for a membership).

At the height of the afternoon heat, we escaped to the cool Sports Challenge area, where Charlie and Vivi put science in motion by riding a surfboard, pitching a fastball, climbing a rock wall, and driving a race car.

New York Hall of Science, 47-01 111th Street (@ 46th Avenue), Flushing, Queens, New York 11368; (718) 699-0005;; Summer Hours (June 28th to August 31st): Monday to Friday: 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM, Saturday and Sunday: 10:00 AM to 6:00; General admission (does not include Rocket Park Mini-Golf or Science Playground): $11 for adults; $8 for children 2-17.