Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How to be a Tourist in Your Own City

Don't forget your "I Heart NY" T-shirt to really convince folks you're from out of town

One of the best things about summer is not having to set the alarm clock. It was with this in mind that Charlie and I decided not to lock ourselves into a set time to see the Empire State Building by purchasing advance tickets online. Instead, we savored the extra minutes of sleep in the morning and just got there when we got there. Charlie prepared for the worst, stuffing his backpack with crucial items (M&Ms, The Adventures of Tintin, his binoculars) to survive in lines known to snake around the building.

Charlie’s advance preparations turned out to be for naught (although one can always put M&Ms, Tintin, and binoculars to good use) as the Empire State Building, although not completely deserted, was happily uncrowded. We whizzed through a short ticket line and allowed ourselves an upsell to a combination ticket to both the 86th Floor and the 102nd Floor Observatories. When you go, skip the latter. It’s not worth the $15 extra per ticket, it’s enclosed and crowded, and--take my word for it—the view isn’t any different or more spectacular sixteen additional floors up.

Wait until your kids are old enough to be stroller-free or leave the stroller at home, as negotiating either of the observatories with one would have been a huge headache.

Books And Movies For Your Visit


  • The Empire State Building by Lisa Bullard
  • Men at Work by Lewis W. Hine
  • Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building by Deborah Hopkinson and James E. Ransome
  • The Top Job by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
  • Empire State Building: When New York Reached for the Skies by Elizabeth Mann
  • Sector 7 by David Wiesner


  • An Affair to Remember (1957)
  • King Kong (1933, 1976/PG, and 2005/PG-13 versions)
  • Sleepless in Seattle (1993) (PG)

*I didn’t actually watch any of these movies with Charlie and haven’t seen any of them recently, so can’t speak to how age-appropriate they are for a six-year-old.

The Empire State Building, 350 Fifth Avenue (between 33rd and 34th Streets), New York, New York 10118, (212) 736-3100,; Hours: Open daily (8 AM to 2 AM); Admission: Adults: $22; Children 6-12: $16; Children 5 & younger: Free.

Where to Eat

Heartland Brewery, 350 Fifth Avenue (@ 34th Street), New York, New York 10118, (212) 563-3433,; American-style brewpub with beer-friendly fare and a children’s menu.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Less is Still More: Land of Make Believe, Hope, NJ

Steve channeling his inner princess

You may recall that at the end of last summer, I thought about making a pilgrimage to the almighty Sesame Place in Buck’s County, Pennsylvania for, oh, about seven minutes before abandoning the idea in favor of an easier, cheaper, and closer-to-home destination (See “Less is More: Bergen County Zoological Park” post of 8/29/10).

It was déjà vu all over again this summer when the idea of Sesame Place was kicked around, but passed over for the easier, cheaper, and less-is-more option of the Land of Make Believe, an old-fashioned family amusement park with a retro feel located 60 miles outside of New York City in Hope, New Jersey.

I'm never one to pass up a thrill ride

The park featured traditional kiddie rides like a Ferris wheel, “Thriller” roller coaster, Tilt-A-Whirl, and turn-of-the-century carousel. It also boasted a petting zoo, hayride, Civil War locomotive, and—our personal favorite, because we never pass up an opportunity to get as dirty as we can in as short a time as possible--Land of Make Believe mining company, where kids could dig for gems and fossils and then match up their loot to a card bearing all of the rocks’ correct names and characteristics.

Sifting for treasure at the Mining Co.

A major draw of the Land of Make Believe is a pirate-themed water park, replete with water slides, pirate forts and ships, and wading pools appropriate for even the youngest child, which we decided to save for a less chilly and overcast day.

There were some misses at the park, The standard greasy amusement park fare of pizza, chicken nuggets, and French fries was particularly ho-hum, although there were numerous designated picnic areas. Santa’s Enchanted Christmas Village reeked disconcertingly of mothballs and the abutting Candy Cane Forest which beckoned invitingly and was perfect for photo ops, was off-limits for climbing.

Don't forget to bring cash or your Discover card

The plusses of the park, however, greatly outweighed its minuses. With the exception of food and games, the price of admission was all-inclusive. Parking was free. The property itself was small and manageable with multiple children in tow, as well as shady and blissfully uncrowded. You also know that I am getting old and the mother of three young children when I feel that it’s worth mentioning that the men’s bathroom had a changing table and the woman’s bathroom, in addition to being clean with lots of hand sanitizer and soap available, had two—which is more than I can say for many places we’ve visited. Nothing kills a great day like a nasty bathroom.

Land of Make Believe, 354 Great Meadows Road – Rt. 611, Hope, New Jersey 07844, (908) 459-9000,; Hours: Open daily from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM beginning on the third Saturday in June through Labor Day; General admission (includes all rides, shows, attractions, family picnic grove, and Pirate’s Cove Water Park: Adults: 22.508; Children (2-8): 24.50; Children under 24 months are free, but are limited to certain rides only; Cash or Discover ONLY.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Summer of 2011 Bucket List

Between the planning and execution stages of Camp Mom, I am having a hard time translating our experiences into something remotely blog-worthy this summer and thought that a revisit to my original summer bucket list—with some minor updates for 2011--might provide the jump start I need and remind me why I once again opted not to send the rug rats to camp this year:


  • Prepare a draft schedule of age-appropriate activities and adventures in and around New York City for my kids (ages six, four, and two) 3-4 days a week, every week, for June and August, subject to weather, changes in attitude, or any number of other unforeseen circumstances. A working schedule is key to the success of my venture and without it, I am likely to crumble within the first week or two of summer vacation
  • Tie in relevant books and movies to our regular expeditions
  • Record our adventures electronically in a blog, my lack of technological savviness notwithstanding


  • Broadway and other live shows and performances
  • Gardens
  • Museums
  • Neighborhoods and walking tours
  • Playgrounds/parks
  • Zoos
  • Other (this includes things like bowling, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, and FAO Schwartz)
  • Out-of-town daytrips


  • City Walks With Kids: New York 50 Adventures on Foot by Elissa Stein
  • Fodor’s Around New York City With Kids, 4th Edition
  • Storied City: A Children’s Book Walking Tour Guide of New York City by Leonard S. Marcus
  • Time Out New York Kids: monthly magazine and website (
  • New York Family: monthly magazine and website (

Monday, June 6, 2011

Charlie and Vivi's Summertime Lemonade Stand

“We were girls in the days before the Web, cell phones, or even voicemail. Telephones had cords and were dialed by, well, actually dialing. We listened to records and cassette tapes—we were practically grown-ups before CDs came to pass—and more often than not, we did daring things like walk to school by ourselves. Ride our banana-seat bikes to the local store. Babysit when we were still young enough to be babysat ourselves. Spent hours on our own, playing hopscotch or tetherball, building a fort in our rooms, or turning our suburban neighborhood into the perfect setting for covert ops, impromptu ball games, and imaginary medieval kingdoms.”

-The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz

For me, there is nothing that smacks more of a good, old-fashioned 1970’s and 80’s childhood than setting up one’s very own lemonade stand. Here’s what you’ll need to set up shop:

  • Lemonade (preferably homemade, but if you’re like us and would rather be honing your entrepreneurial skills than making a sticky mess in the kitchen, store-bought works just fine. We gave our brew a homey touch by throwing in some cut-up lemons and ‘fessed up when asked if we had made it ourselves)
  • A pitcher(s)
  • Ice
  • Cups
  • Something in which to collect your money
  • A small table
  • Chairs or stools
  • A big sign

For more ideas that will make you nostalgic and get you through the long, hot summer, check out The Daring Book for Girls (quoted above) and its predecessor, The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden.