Category Archives: Top 7 Lists

Visiting the grandparents’ Florida gated community: Top 7 observations

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I took Aden and Eli to West Palm Beach last week to see their grandparents at the posh gated community where they live for six months of the year. It’s an annual tradition that’s always fun and relaxing.

It’s also pretty predictable. Visiting their community– which shall remain nameless so I don’t sully my mother’s good name and reputation, perhaps resulting in her losing the best tennis court on Round Robin days– is like Groundhog Day meets Edward Scissorhands.

After so many years of visiting I’ve gathered some notes on life in the land of roses and retirees…

The grounds are stunning, but all the same. There’s not a blade of grass out of turn. The roads are perfectly paved (potholes probably filled under the cover of night when all residents are tucked into their 1500 threadcount Egyptian cotton sheets)…the landscaping is rich with palm trees, exotic plants and animals, and lush ever-blooming flowers compliment meticulously manicured lawns.

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All exactly the same

But every street in the property of 1600 homes looks basically the same. They aren’t permitted to personalize their homes or landscaping. On the plus side, no one has to think about upkeep or aesthetics, and it looks beautiful and feels calmingly familiar. But after a week, I find myself longing for my overgrown bushes, chipping window panes, and cracked driveway.

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Bike riding in the hood

There’s always something to do. I can’t imagine anyone ever suffering a moment of boredom, especially if they’re seeking activities. In the week we were there, the boys played basketball, swam in the pool, soaked in the hot tub, hunted alligators on the golf course, rode bikes, and played pickle ball. They could have also played tennis, golf, bridge, canasta, or Mah jongg. There are book clubs, charity events and wine tastings. It’s like college with no homework. Not a bad way to live.

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No less than 5 different rules signs in the pool area.

So. Many.Rules. It’s probably most apparent to parents of young children– especially mine– who enjoy testing boundaries and resisting anything that restricts a good time.

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Within the week, there were kids kicked out of the hot tub for being too young, turned away from the clubhouse dining room for wearing jeans or short shorts, and scolded for climbing on a waterfall in the pool.

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I have adventurous boys. How can they see that waterfall and not want to climb in and jump off??

The pool takes strict to the extreme.

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You can’t throw a ball, float on a raft, or give your kid a snack on the lounges. I heard someone call it the “no fun” pool! Though my kids stayed in the water til the sun went down so there is fun to be had.

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Florida gated community grandparents visit on

More food than an Elizabethan banquet. It’s a constant feast– like cruise ship amounts.

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Only one third of the buffet line.

My kids love the overflowing bread baskets they bring at every meal and indulging in the buffet, where you can eat yourself silly. Hot gourmet, cold sandwiches, a salad bar with someone to chop it up if you like. Desserts are plentiful– the most popular being piles of large fresh-baked cookies and all you can eat soft serve yogurt with sundae toppings. Heaven!

No need unmet. On a bike ride with Eli, he got very overheated and tired and we were far from home. Within 2 minutes I found a water station near the golf course that not only had ice-cold water but a fridge packed with cold wet neck towels. Eli had an instant recovery. There are several water and “free” Gatorade stations near the tennis and golf club. Every locker room is stocked with every imaginable amenity and plastic bags for your wet clothes.  Many afternoons there’s an ice cream freezer by the pool loaded with tempting treats. (Of course you can’t eat them by the pool, but still!)

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Chipwich near the pool

We took a tour of the card rooms and there was a counter full of snacks, including M&M’s, and yogurt covered raisins and filling their fists with free goodies may have been the highlight of the boys’ trip.

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Learning to play baci

No shortage of competition. Besides the aforementioned sports and card games, my boys discovered Baci– allegedly the fastest growing sport in America– shuffleboard and Pickle Ball–

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— a combination of tennis and ping-pong played on a hard court with small wooden paddles and a wiffle ball. We got hooked.

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It has its own subculture. There are certain customs you learn when spending time at grandma’s gated community. Seats at the clubhouse pool are coveted, but can only be saved for an hour, so don’t linger at lunch!

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It’s ok to cram as many bodies as possible into a golf cart with no seat belts because you’re only going 20 mph with little traffic.

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Most golf carts here have the owner’s name painted on the sides.

You need to stop and say hello to every one of your mother’s acquaintances because she’s been telling them intimate details of your life over coffee all season. The friends need to check you out and mom needs to show you off. It’s a grandparent’s sacred rite!

I tease because it’s fun but in all honesty it’s a pretty fabulous place to vacation with kids and we are lucky to be invited every year.

Thanks Nan and Papa Pat! Can’t wait til next year…..

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California Thanksgiving: Top 7 favorite traditions

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Are you still digesting turkey and all that pie? For me it’s the carbs that load me down: sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and irresistible stuffing that makes me feel like I swallowed a beach ball, even days later.

But I wouldn’t have Thanksgiving any other way.

My family made our annual southern California sojourn last week and it was grand. After visiting LA and Orange County more than 15 times, we’ve seen most of the tourist sights so now we pretty much do the same exact things every year.

My boys like knowing what to expect and keeping up our traditions, and we have some great ones. You’d probably rather see pix than hear every detail so here you go…

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We stay at the boutique hotel where my brother works as a chef concierge. He’s worked at the Luxe and the W in Hollywood, but for the last several years he’s been at THE SIXTY (formerly The Thompson Beverly Hills,) which is centrally located for what we like to do and whom we visit, and has swanky flair.

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I love the great service and poofy beds, and my kids love the fancy rooftop pool overlooking LA, with a view of the Hollywood sign.

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We loved the comfort food and couture cocktails at Laurel Hardware in West Hollywood.

We see friends and family. Besides my brother and cousin in LA,  I have two close friends who live in West Hollywood and it’s fun to see their kids every year and hang out at dinner, shopping, and in their hood.

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Getting cozy with the future in-laws.

We had the bonus of meeting Adam’s fiancé (he recently got engaged which you can read about here) and her family, which was easy and more fun than probably any of us expected. It’s like we had known each other forever!

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Tree People view didn’t suck

We go for a mountain hike– It’s hard to find a healthy, social activity for all ages and genders, and I’m always looking to get my kids off their screens so hiking is ideal. For the last several years we’ve hiked Runyon Canyon with all the beautiful people and their adorable dogs…

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….but this week we tackled Tree People park which also had some nice trails and views.

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We have celebrity sightings. Last year, we saw Will Arnett while eating lunch and was able to slyly take this pic…

This year, I walked by Nasim Pedrad (formerly of SNL and now on Scream Queens) outside a restaurant on La Brea. No photo. Had to play it cool.

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We go to Disneyland. We go every year and the magic never gets old.

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We got there early this year and made it onto Thunder Mountain….

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Pirates of the Caribbean, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom all before 10:30am. We made the mistake of waiting to Fast Pass Space Mountain and the boys had to wait 90 minutes to get on the ride. (I skip Space as it makes me dizzy and nauseated.)

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Cousins waiting to rack up the points on Buzz

Our collective favorite ride is Buzz Lightyear, where you have laser guns and have to shoot at targets as you go through a pop art spectacle of fun.

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Buzz is my favorite ride of all

We are a competitive family so scorekeeping is serious. For the record, cousin Jeremy won this year. Better luck next time Space Rangers.

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We watch football and play Heads Up. When I say “we” watch football, I mean all the men– and there are nine–  watch football pretty much the entire time we are there. I’ve learned to let it go and enjoy the sunshine. But at night, after dinner and several glasses of wine we often play Heads Up on the patio and laugh until our cheeks hurt.

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Aunt Ruthie checks the turkey. We had 25 at the table but she makes enough to feed all of Orange County

We eat until we feel sick. Aunt Ruthie’s Thanksgiving meal is spectacular year after year. Her motto is more is not enough. She served three turkeys, butternut squash soup, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, stuffing, yams, asparagus, brussel sprouts, creamed corn, biscuits and dinner rolls.

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My favorites are the sweet potatoes with marshmallows and the creamed corn. Sweeter and richer than ice cream. Yum!

And you can’t load up too much on dinner because then there’s dessert….

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Only eight cakes, pies, and puddings to choose from– I needed to taste them all.     (Still working them off.)

Unfortunately, the trip has to end and we go home. But we are happy and full!

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How was your holiday? Tell me about your favorite traditions in the comments.


Top 7 things I learned losing my iPhone, chasing it down and reclaiming it

I was walking to a friend’s house with Brady this week when it started to rain. As I began to run, my phone must have slipped out of my jacket pocket. You’d think I would have heard it– it’s in a heavy Mophie battery case– but I didn’t even realize it was gone until an hour later when I left my friend’s house.

I retraced my steps on the two-block walk twice, scanning the piles of leaves for sign of my phone, as the panic began to set in. Losing your phone is such a pain in the ass.

I remembered that two leaf-blowers were at my neighbor’s house as I passed by and thought if I dropped it near her house, maybe that’s why I didn’t hear it fall. The blaring sound of leaf-blowing rivals a plane landing.

As a concoction of angst and anger began to boil in my stomach, I went to my computer and tried to get on the “Find my iPhone” app through the iCloud. It proved challenging.

Our muse

Our muses

The rest of the story was like an episode of  Thelma and Louise meets Hart to Hart: two broads taking justice into their own hands and attempting to solve a mystery with no detective experience.

I got my phone back and I learned a few things along the way.

Put your Apple ID info somewhere other than your phone. Duh! Seems obvious yet I couldn’t find it anywhere so I had to reset my password and wound up on the phone with Apple support for 40 minutes straightening out my ID and iCloud information.

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Make sure  your “find my iPhone” feature is on at all times. Luckily I had just checked to make sure it was on so I was able to use the locator and find out where my phone was in real time. When I first logged in, it was at least 12 blocks from where I lost it. Someone had taken it. I wanted to believe that someone intended to return it. The support guy helped me put an alarm sound on the phone and message on the screen that said “This iPhone is lost. Please call this number and I will come pick it up. Thank you!” Then I waited.

An hour went by. Nada.

Have a good friend who has your back and is willing to face possible danger. My pal, MaryEllen (you may remember her from adventures in London) sprang into service as soon as she found out my phone was missing. “I’m coming to pick you up and we’re going to find that phone!” she exclaimed fearlessly. Within minutes she raced into my driveway in her shiny silver minivan, with her adorable Cavachon puppy, Rocket,  in the back seat, ready for action. (Rocket is Freeway from Hart to Hart in this scenario.)

She might as well have been wearing a cape.

I’d been tracking the phone on the locator and it had moved three times in 90 minutes, all through our neighboring town. My guess was that the leaf blowers across the street either scooped it up in a bunch of leaves and didn’t know they had it…. or one of them picked it up. Why else would it keep moving locations every 30 minutes?

Police don’t go after lost cell phones. Apple told me to call the police and report the phone as stolen. When I did, the lady on the phone impatiently dismissed me, saying “they don’t go after stolen cell phones.” I explained I could see where it was but she didn’t seem to care. She said I could come into the station and file a report and a detective would get to it when he got to it. Didn’t sound like it would be anytime before Christmas.

Police don’t care if you do! When I kindly suggested that I couldn’t wait that long because my moving cell phone might be out of the county in an hour, the aloof police lady seemed too be rushing me off the phone. “So you’re telling me I have to go after my phone myself?” I said in disbelief. That seemed like asking for trouble.

But there was no way I was going to let that phone just wander away, never to be seen again.

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Don’t we look like badassses? Or at least phone detectives!                                        (This is a file photo as I had no phone to capture the moment and we were using hers to find the truck.)

So ME and I drove towards the address where the phone was last spotted (having someone at home watching the locator would have been ideal but no one was around to help,) not knowing what we would say or do when we got there.

We rode into Newstead in that Honda Odyssey with fire in our bellies and hair flapping in the wind, ready to take back what was mine.

Sure enough there was a leaf blower truck right in front of the house and a guy packing up. I asked him politely if he had found an iPhone and he instantly said yes, his co-worker had found one earlier. He claimed it was locked so he couldn’t call me (true if neither of them had their own phone) and we chose to believe he had good intentions. Although I’m not sure what his plan was with the phone after his shift was over.

He handed the phone over easily and we rejoiced.

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We spotted the truck!

Put a sticker on your phone case with name/address and or phone number so there’s no excuse not to return it.  For years, I’ve always taken those printed address stickers you get free in the mail from charities and put them on the back of my phone and camera, in case they get lost. But since I got my Mophie case, I haven’t put a sticker on. Maybe if the leaf blower had seen the sticker and realized the address was RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET, he might have returned my phone right away. One woman on Facebook said her screensaver has a photo of her kids holding a sign that says “If this phone is lost, please call this number” so even if it’s locked an honest soul could get it back to her.

Back up, back up, back up! In those two hours without my phone I saw my life flash before my eyes: blog post and story ideas, contacts. calendar, photos! If I hadn’t been regularly backing up, I would have been crushed.

Yes, yes, I see the irony — flashing in neon lights– that just a few days ago, I blogged about trying not to be so attached to my phone and just be in the moment.

But completely without it? Out of the question!!

Have a funny story about losing your phone? Tell me about it in the comments!

Top 7 signs I live with a teenager

There are certain known phenomenons in parenting that are unavoidable and  practically cliché. You know when you have an infant, you’ll be exhausted from the pure shock of having another helpless being depend on you, combined with intense lack of sleep. You know when they start walking you have to baby-proof the house and prevent them from swallowing dirt.

Everyone knows when you get to the teen years, your child will go through puberty, pull away, and generally think you’re an idiot. It’s a rite of passage.

But knowing it and living it are two different things.

I recently described my 15-year-old to a friend– with haughtiness, humor, and a twinge of guilt–  as “unbearable.” It’s somewhat true, but more of a plea for sympathy from a parent who has not yet experienced the unbridled joy that comes with raising a teenager.

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Jake is very happy to be taller than grandma (and me) now.

Jacob’s always been precocious and mature, but those traits have only intensified, creating a pompous, condescending pubescent who views me as nothing more than a sub par Uber driver, and our home as a bed and breakfast, with very annoying proprietors and guests.

Here’s how I know he’s hit the teen years with full gusto: 

— In his mind, every word that exits my mouth is the most annoying thought on the face of the planet. In fact, anything anyone in the family says gnaws at him like an itch on a broken arm under a cast. The other day he complained that Aden’s voice was too high. “How can you stand to listen to him!” he hissed at me in the car. It took all my strength and patience to muster up a courteous tone as I reminded him that his own voice had the same tenor just 4 months ago.

— He’s rarely around. He’s like a big star who makes cameo appearances now and then. Oh look, there he is curling his lip at me as he grabs a banana before he leaves for school. There he is again barreling through the back door, heading straight for his room to do homework with the door closed and expletive-laced music blaring. Was that him I saw running in to change clothes between a sleepover and a football game in the park? Can’t be sure, that guy has grown so tall in the last few months!

— He eats like an NFL linebacker. He takes 2 or 3 helpings of dinner, and snacks constantly. I spend hundreds of dollars at the grocery store each week and in 4 days, the cupboard is bare. I fill up literally every inch of the shopping cart at Trader Joe’s and the clerk often asks me if I’m having a party. (“Nope, just Tuesday!” I say sheepishly)

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He didn’t even want a cake for his birthday this year. Too cool for cake?! I was having none of it.

— All my skin products have been disappearing. He’s always been fixated on his hair but now that puberty has kicked in, he’s focused on zapping pimples as soon as they appear. He’s also brushing his teeth more than ever before. Must be for the ladies, because he’s never shown such an acute interest in personal hygiene.

— He’s sleeping late and occasionally putting himself to bed early. This is one habit I don’t mind. He’s actually more aware of his need for sleep and treasures it.

— He talks only in absolutes. As in: “Everyone has an iPhone and gets to stay out until midnight!” and “No one wears jeans mom!”

— He’s become secretive. He used to tell me friend gossip, girls he liked, and share his favorite music and TV shows, but now he’s a vault. I’m a journalist and naturally curious person… and his mother! It’s killing me.

I know this too shall pass. That’s why every time he does something age-appropriate I try to take a deep breath and smile. It aint easy.

I know someday– sooner than I’d like to admit– he’ll be away at school and I’ll miss being taken for granted. That will truly be unbearable.


My top 7 Jersey Shore restaurants for foodies

Happy summer kids! I just got back from vacation last week at the Jersey Shore and I’m pleased to report we had a lovely time and didn’t see Snookie once. The Shore gets a bad rap sometimes– mostly from those who’ve never been there– but there are gorgeous beaches, great towns, spectacular views, fun family activities…and most importantly yummy eats.

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Spring Lake, NJ

Our family vacations are often anchored by meals. While we usually rent a house for a week, this year we stayed at a hotel in Spring Lake so we ate out more than usual.

Jacob has become a real foodie. He’s incredibly focused on where and what he’s eating next, and now that he’s growing like crazy, he can really put it away. He studies his menu carefully, pondering all possible choices so he doesn’t experience the dreaded “order regret.” His enthusiasm for dining experiences has demanded we up our game.

The Jersey Shore met expectations and Jacob was pleased with almost every meal. So I thought I’d share some of our favorite spots so you know where to eat on your next visit.

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Committed Pig burger in Manasquan, NJ

The Committed Pig/Manasquan– Great place for epicureans like Jacob who fancy themselves burger experts. Ideal for brunch, the place has become famous for unique burgers and delicious pancakes and French toast. We, of course, tried all of it. The gourmet burgers boast a hangar steak, short rib, and brisket combination that sounds complicated but tastes amazing. My boys loved the crispy fries (sweet potato and regular) and the eggs. I was trying to behave and ordered one of their inventive salads and wasn’t jealous of their meals at all.  I advise you to go at off-peak times, or put your name in and walk around charming Manasquan while you wait.

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Eli loved his Committed Pig pancakes

Porta/Asbury Park– This wood-burning oven pizza place feels like hipster Brooklyn on the water. The menu is on the small side, but the pizza and pasta are delish. It’s a huge warehouse space with exposed brick walls and three glass garage doors that open onto a terrace with twinkly lights and umbrella tables. There’s also a large bar with a very cool scene of kids who surely had much more exciting after-dinner plans than ours. But after stuffing ourselves with meatball pizza and a pork ragu penne that Jacob is still talking about,  we walked a block to see the famous Stone Pony and stroll the boardwalk. Rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy, it has all new shops and restaurants and live entertainment that was a big hit with the kids.

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Margharita pizza at Porta in Asbury Park, NJ

Surf Taco/Point Pleasant and other locations — I’m slightly obsessed with seeking out the best fish tacos in the land so when this joint was recommended several times we had to check it out.  Note that it’s not a sit-down restaurant. You order at the counter and bring it to your table, but calling it fast food would be insulting. There’s a wide menu with plenty of kid-friendly options, the fish, shrimp, and beef tacos were scrumptious and the price is right. All the ingredients are very fresh and the taco sauce is yummy. Make sure to get an order of guacamole to share.  Other locations. include Long Branch, Belmar, and Shipbottom in LBI.

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My fish taco before I gobbled it up

Tom Bailey’s Market /Spring Lake — Sometimes you don’t feel like sitting down and waiting for your meal at a restaurant. Sometimes you’re too sandy and sunscreened to be seen anywhere but the beach. And sometimes, you think if you have to sit with your loud, unruly, picky, kids through one more meal you might stab someone with a butter knife.  On one such day we opted to get lunch at this market in town. Think Balducci’s on the beach: a giant selection of gourmet sandwiches they make on the spot, fancy chips and cookies. and fresh fruit and veggies. Great alternative to dining out.

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Lobster at Moby’s Deck, Atlantic Highlands, NJ

Moby’s/Atlantic Highlands — This has been a staple in our family for years. We love a place that welcomes you in your sandy bathing suit, flip-flops, and windblown hair. You order fresh seafood at a counter and sit at picnic tables overlooking the water. They have a great deal on twin lobsters and we’ve enjoyed all the seafood — calamari, clams, scallops, fish filets. Wilson loves the giant oysters and clams from the raw bar, and they have a real bar so you can get a coupla cold ones to get you through your lobster cracking.

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Enjoying the view at The Breakers Hotel, Spring Lake

Breakers Hotel cocktails at dusk /Spring Lake– We’re big fans of The Breakers and have stayed there several times. It has large rooms, a pool, great food, and is located right on a gorgeous beach that never gets too crowded. One of our favorite things to do is order cocktails and appetizers while sitting on the front porch, overlooking the water. The wicker chairs and cool ocean breeze put us into slow gear. The hotel is over 100 years old and staring at that view with a mixed drink in my hand makes me feel like Daisy Buchanan, planning the next party.

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Hoffmans Ice Cream, Spring Lake Heights, NJ

Hoffman’s Ice Cream/Long Branch, Spring Lake Heights and other locations– If you go during prime hours– anytime between 7-10pm– expect a wait but I assure you it’s well worth it. The homemade ice cream comes in nearly 50 creative flavors. We made it a point to taste a variety and not one was less than excellent. I highly recommend Sea Salt Caramel Latte, Espresso Mocha Chunk, and S’mores. Kids and Wilson also loved Key Lime Pie. Is it wrong that we went 3 times in 5 days?

We are headed to Long Beach Island for Labor Day weekend so tell me in the comments some of your favorite Jersey Shore eateries to add to our list!

Top 7 Reasons Wilson’s a Great Dad

Happy Father’s Day Dads! It will come as no great shock that my family spent some of the holiday playing baseball — a practice and a game today– and Wilson was happy to oblige.

Does anyone give ties anymore?

Does anyone give ties anymore?

Wilson is a good man. It’s important when you’re raising three boys (ages 8, 11, and 14) to have a strong role model and I feel extremely lucky that my sons have Wilson for a father. They probably won’t realize what a gift that is until they grow up and have their own children.

But I can see it clearly now so thought I’d share some of the reasons he’s a great dad…..

He has the patience of a saint. Unlike me, he so rarely yells at the boys, no matter what shenanigans they’re up to. It’s humbling (and frankly annoying sometimes) but admirable.

— He’s still reading parenting books. When our oldest, Jacob, was born, I used to tease Wilson because he literally carried his baby Bible: Caring for Your Baby and Young Child around from room to room, looking up every squeak, cry, and bodily function. (He was a bit of a nervous nelly back then.) But that guy is still reading parenting books, to better understand every stage our kids are going through as it’s happening. He takes his parenting job seriously.

— He gives great advice. When my boys have a problem they know their dad will listen and help them work through it. It’s not always “Leave it to Beaver”-style problem-solving– there are often loud protests and tears involved– but my kids know that dad will persevere through the theatrics and find a solution or way of handling a tough situation. And even in the quiet moments when there is no issue to tackle, he’ll make a point to tell them something he’s learned about his choices and experiences.

— He’s a wonderful coach. Wilson has been unofficially coaching our boys in all sports since they could walk. But despite a heavy professional workload, he manages to assistant coach their baseball teams every spring and summer, coming home early from the office, devoting scores of Saturdays, even donning tight polyester pants for tournaments. He emphasizes sportsmanship and fun over winning, and never misses an opportunity to teach a lesson from a loss.

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— He’s not nearly as embarrassing as I am. Adolescence has hit big time for our 8th grader and I have become a target of ridicule and irritation. Everything I do or say elicits eye rolls and gasps of disgust. Yet somehow, Wilson has escaped our teen’s ire and remains a neutral figure.

He’s affectionate and communicative. Sometimes it’s hard for men to show love, but Wilson hugs and kisses the boys easily and often. He tells them he loves them so regularly that they say it back without even thinking. These aren’t just Hallmark moments, this is an essential life skill he’s passing onto them that will make them better boyfriends, husbands, and fathers themselves.  I think he learned it from his dad, who still gives great big bear hugs and sloppy kisses to his 40-something year old kid.

He embraces all of his children’s flaws. I’m not sure if he’s so blinded by love and loyalty that he doesn’t see the boys’ warts, or if he consciously chooses to look past them. But when our most stubborn, defiant child is acting up, he refuses to let anger and frustration override compassion. When our most manipulative child finds back doors and sneaks through dirty alleys to get what he wants, Wilson commends his ingenuity and tenacity. When our most dramatic child overreacts to something small, or fans his ego with false praise, Wilson humors him.

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Wilson gets some Dad’s Day love

I’m grateful that Wilson is all these things because he’s helping make three little mensches to send into the world.

As I read through this, I realize I’m putting this guy on a pretty high parenting pedestal.  But fatherhood (like motherhood) can be a thankless job, and you rarely get a review or a raise. So consider this Wilson’s annual review. He deserves a promotion but I bet he’d think there’s no better title than dad.

Top 7 best yoga words

This is a post about yoga. Yogis will appreciate it, but I’m hoping those of you who just don’t get the yoga thing read it too. Maybe it will help you understand why we devotees keep rolling out our mats. Or maybe it will reinforce all the stuff you already think about us peace-loving body benders. Open your mind to a place of acceptance!

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One of the things I love most about yoga is that you can do it anywhere, and expect certain constants. I’ve down-dogged on a beach in Puerto Rico, a barn in Martha’s Vineyard, and a strip mall in California, and teachers often use the same words and phrases to lead the class.

Enjoyment of yoga is extremely dependent on the teacher and how he/she communicates. Some may lead a rigorous, challenging class but don’t give enough cues to help students grow in their poses. Others talk too much, which can be distracting. In my experience, the best teachers are those who talk just enough to keep my mind focused, and in the present, and my practice growing.

Here are some of my favorite yoga words that motivate me in even the toughest poses:

Practice-– I love the acceptance you feel inside a yoga studio. Of all the exercise regimens I’ve tried– and there are many– it’s the least competitive, and you are mostly competing with yourself more than the yogi next to you. Teachers will say “if handstand is in your practice, go for it”…which means you have a few minutes to “practice” standing on your head, but there’s no expectation of achievement or perfection. You do the best you can. Even the most experienced yogis are always “practicing.”

Intention-– Often at the beginning of class, a teacher will ask you to set an intention. It’s a moment to focus on something you want to achieve that hour, that day, this lifetime…something like patience, acceptance, or stillness. It’s also a way to dedicate the work you do in class to people who need positive energy, if they’re sick or having a tough time. If I don’t have an obvious person or concept to think about, I may dedicate my practice to one of my kids. Then a few times during class, the teacher will remind you to return to your intention, either to refocus your mind, or give you strength in a challenging pose. Thinking about one of my kids has gotten me to push harder in a core-killing boat pose more than a trainer yelling at me ever would. And I like having a reason to think about something outside of myself.

Breathe— I swear we could solve world peace if people would just remember to breathe. It’s so simple, and so misunderstood. Yoga has taught me to breathe deeply, and slowly, to let go of the the tension in my body and the noise in my head.

yoga graphic photo

Invite— This is one of those words that teachers use in many ways but it always makes me giggle inside. Sometimes it’s “Invite your breathe into the pose,” to ease up when you’re clenching. Or inviting a muscle to twist or extend itself beyond your comfort level. Should I knock on the door of my thigh muscle to ask if it wants to come over and play with my femur bone? Or maybe my breath needs an engraved invitation to reach deep into the places in my body that hurt most. I invite you to think about it.

Notice— Teachers will often ask you to notice how you’re breathing, or notice how your muscles feel in a challenging pose, or– my favorite– to notice the effects of your practice when you’re resting at the end. There aren’t enough opportunities in our busy lives to stop and notice things, especially how we’re feeling. It’s permission to check in with yourself.

Shine— As in “let your heart shine forward” when opening your chest for lifting poses like cobra, up-dog, or lunges.  It’s also used to encourage you to let your inner light shine through, despite all the twisting and stretching that might be making your limbs feel like they’re on fire. I like words that sound happy and positive when I’m up against pain and suffering. 

Svasana-– Is there another form of exercise that enourages you to rest at the end for at least 5 minutes? Svasana is the customary down time at the end of class where you lie on your back with arms and legs spread out, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Sometimes it’s the only quiet time I get all day.

So there you have it. Yoga words to live by. Did I lose you nonbelievers? I’m inviting all skeptics to take a deep breath, and set an intention to open your minds a crack to make room for the possibility that practicing yoga could be worth a try. Everyone needs a little svasana now and then.

You know you’re in Key West when….

Key West beauty shot on carpool

Hello from sunny Florida! Sorry I’ve been out of commission for a bit but I’m on vacation and couldn’t get my act together to blog. It took several days just to de-ice after all the crappy Northeast weather.

We’re in West Palm Beach now, staying with my mother and step-father, but just returned from Key West where Wilson’s dad and step-mother live. We’ve made the trek down to the Keys for many years and love it so much, it’s difficult to leave.

I’ll blog in more detail about it soon but for now wanted to give you an idea of  why Key West is one of the most unique towns in the U.S. It’s surrounded by water and the spectacular Gulf views and water sports are a draw for tourists from around the world. The food is amazing and the people watching can keep you entertained for hours, especially if aided by a local beer or Key Lime colada.

There’s no place like Key West and here are some reasons why.

You know you’re in Key West when…

Key West chickens on street on carpool

Traffic stops for chickens. Everywhere you turn, there are roosters and chickens trotting down the street. Often crowing loudly, they gather on front lawns, crowd sidewalks, and frequent local restaurants, completely unimpressed by the presence of humans. My kids loved watching them crossing the street. I was always relieved when they actually got to the other side.

You ask for seconds of raw oysters. The local seafood is terrific in the Keys, because it’s so fresh. It’s not uncommon to eat fish caught only hours before your dinner. I usually find oysters– even from some of the finest New York restaurants– slimy and fishy. But the icy cold ones Wilson ordered at the Half Shell Raw Bar were delectable.

Key West oysters on carpool

All gone!

Crowds of rubberneckers in Hawaiian shirts choke the sidewalks. Key West is a big cruise ship destination so you can always tell when a ship has recently docked and the main drag, Duval Street, is inundated with tourists clicking cameras, buying t-shirts and ordering umbrella cocktails.

It’s only 7pm but people are already plastered. My kids got an interesting life lesson from walking around at night. It took them a while to realize the extremely loud 20-somethings dancing on street corners and yelling out electric car taxi windows were wasted. There’s a bar every 20 feet in Key West and happy hour starts at brunch. Once my boys did get the picture, they thought it was hilarious and started to pick out their favorite drunks. What a delightful game.

Key West Key Lime pie on carpool

Key Lime Pie is on every dessert menu. You can’t believe how many ways you can infuse Key Lime into sweets. We had the afore-mentioned Key Lime colada, and also a tangy glazed Key Lime donut, candy, and cookies. There are also a range of beauty and house products featuring Key Limes.

Everything stops when the sun sets. Much like a big 10 college town during football season, instead of the big game, people plan their activities around the sunset. Key West is the southern most point of the U.S. so when the sun sinks slowly into the Gulf, spreading pink and orange streaks across the sky, you don’t want to miss it.  There’s something really nice about the moment when everyone (from tourists to locals, kids to the elderly) stops what they’re doing to take in nature’s wonder.

Key West sunset on carpool

You slow down. When we checked into our hotel, I bombarded the desk clerk with questions until he paused and said, “I’ll get to that. This isn’t New Jersey. You’re on Key West time now.” Your food takes longer to get to the table, but you linger over a meal. People shuffle down the street and pause on the corners to chat and look around. The town is up all night and sleeps in when the sun rises. The locals speak slowly. It takes a while for a wound up Yankee like me to decelerate but it feels right when I do.

Unfortunately I’ll be back up North next week, all tense and stressed again. See you then!

7 great things to do in Martha’s Vineyard

Martha's Vineyard  bananagrams graphic on

Last summer I shared some of our favorite things to do in Martha’s Vineyard.

When we went back this year with kids ranging in age from 7 to 14, we returned to some of our favorite spots (bridge jumping at State Beach, sunset at Menemsha, and inlet paddle boarding) but also tried some new adventures….

West Tisbury flea market in Martha's Vineyard on

West Tisbury flea market in Martha's Vineyard on

West Tisbury Flea Market—I love to shop on vacation and an outdoor market featuring local artists is right up my alley. I bought a fresh-baked popover and happily perused the stands of jewelry, clothing, home decor, art and photography. The locals were friendly and the wares creative. Although some prices seemed high, this market on State Road is a great way to spend an hour shopping outside, especially if you need to buy gifts.

Best yoga in Martha's Vineyard on

Yoga Barn— Whether you’re a devoted yogi or never down-dogged, a visit to the Yoga Barn in West Tisbury is a perfect vacation activity. As the name suggests, the studio is a refurbished old barn in the middle of a gorgeous meadow, bathed in natural light. Most classes are for all levels and the teachers are experienced and welcoming.  There’s something about the unique structure of the space and the setting that was instantly calming and peaceful.

Waves crash at Long Point Bech Martha's Vineyard on

Catching tasty waves at Long Point Beach, Martha’s Vineyard

Long Point Beach—South Beach, near Edgartown, is known for huge waves, which may be a deterrent for some. But we heard about Long Point, which is further down South Beach, off Edgartown-West Tisbury Road. Don’t be discouraged by the long drive through thick woods to reach the beach, it’s well worth the hike.  Now my favorite beach on the island, it’s long and wide, with white sand, preserved dunes, and few people. You can have fun surfing waves at low tide, or get your ass kicked at high tide. Or walk over to the fresh water pond that’s only two to three feet deep, which is perfect for both toddler splashing and teen paddle boarding.

Pretty view on Martha's Vineyard on

Pretty view on Franklin/Main Street walk/run in Vineyard Haven

Pretty view on Martha's Vineyard on

Something to aspire to on Main Street in Vineyard Haven

Vineyard Haven run/walk—While staying at a house in Vineyard Haven, we discovered a great route for either exercise or scenic jaunt. Start on Franklin Street near St Augustine’s Church off Colonial Lane and go north towards Vineyard Sound. You get a feel for the local neighborhood, then pass the lovely West Chop Club tennis courts before you make the turn to Main Street. The rest of the run has a view of the Sound on your left, spotted with gorgeous homes—from cottages to mansions—that will make you swoon. The road takes you right through Main Street in Vineyard Haven and back up to Franklin or anywhere you want to stop. It’s about four miles of pretty.

Chappaquiddick, Martha's Vineyard on

Chappaquiddick, Martha's Vineyard on

Chappaquiddick, Martha's Vineyard on

Chappaquiddick—It’s a schlep, but worth it. If you travel light, I recommend you find parking near Edgartown and walk on the 5-minute ferry to Chappaquiddick Island. If you haul loads of food, drinks, booze, towels, sports equipment, and chairs like we do, you’ll need to wait in line to get your car over, which can take anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes, depending on the weather and time of day. Once you’re on the island you drive a ways and then park, and drag your crap across sandy roads and dunes to the beach. But the beach is untouched, beautiful, and quiet. You can’t see any civilization for miles around and you can’t help but find Zen there. Everywhere you turn is a picturesque view, and all you hear is seagulls and the water lapping at the sand. It’s a great spot for a long walk collecting seashells and rocks… or a nice nap.

Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard on

Gingerbread cottages in Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard on

Oak Bluffs cottages—The Vineyard has strict development rules so there are no high buildings and all the houses have that weathered shingled look. That’s why a walking tour of Oak Bluffs is a breath of fresh sea air. The town, overlooking Nantucket Sound, is a great place to meander, with lots of stores and restaurants. You can plant your kids at the local arcades, or take a family tour of the historical Victorian “gingerbread” homes in the area.  Many of the “Carpenter’s Gothic” architectural style-cottages are painted and decorated in colorful designs and have names like “Angel Cottage,” Pink House,” and “Oz.” Tucked behind the main streets is the beautiful Trinity Park and Tabernacle—a circular, open-sided pavilion dating back to the 1880’s, which continues to be a venue for community events. Walking back there is like stepping into a 19th century novel set in New Orleans.

John belushi grave on Martha's Vineyard on

John Belushi’s grave—As a pop culture addict, I wanted to see the infamous grave of the former Blues Brother, who died of a drug overdose in 1982. Although Belushi died in L.A., he loved the Vineyard and had a house there. Legend has it, he’s actually buried in an unmarked grave at the Abel’s Hill Cemetery in Chilmark so he can rest in peace. But when you arrive at the cemetery, there is a plot separated from the rest, with a Belushi tombstone that reads, “I may be gone but Rock N’ Roll lives on.

Any beach you choose, any sight you see, it’s all good. Look at these happy faces!

Boys smiling on Chappaquiddick, Martha's Vineyard on

I’d love to hear any of your favorite spots in the comments.

Top 7 best eats in Martha’s Vineyard

Art Cliff Diner/ best food Martha's Vineyard on

It was only a few weeks ago when we were digging our toes in the sand in Martha’s Vineyard, but feels like a lifetime since school has started and I’m back to work. One of the things I love most about the Vineyard is how much there is to do, and more importantly, eat. With only a week on the island I tried to make every meal count. The food reminds be of being in Europe or other places where everything is homemade, with natural, and often locally grown ingredients.

Last year I made a list of my favorite foods on the Vineyard, but I was still able to come up with a whole new list for 2013 of my favorite eating experiences.:

Fresh baked bread — Oh my. I’m a carb whore. I know white flour is no good so at home I almost never eat bread that doesn’t have some wheat or grains in it. But the Portuguese and Sour dough bread on the Vineyard is worth breaking all the rules. You can probably try any local bakery but we ate several kinds from the West Tisbury farmer’s market and Cronig’s  Market on State Road in Vineyard Haven. Cronig’s carries a variety of Pain d’Avignon   breads (ferried over every morning from Hyannis) that are to die for. I highly recommend the rosemary sour dough dipped in olive oil. I’m swooning just thinking about it.

Best lobster seafood / best food Martha's Vineyard on

Seafood – We like to set aside a night to pick up fresh fish from a local market to cook at home. There are myriad choices but we went with lobsters, steamers and chowder from the Net Result in Vineyard Haven. The ruddy kids running the counter know their filets and can help you decide what to get, how much to order, and how to cook it. The seafood tasted like it was caught a few hours before, which is completely possible.

State Road Martha's Vineyard review on

State Road— Wilson’s birthday fell during our vacation week so we had an adults-only meal with friends at arguably the best restaurant on the island, State Road.  It’s a small place, with two rooms set in a restored barn, giving it a rustic feel. It’s fine dining, but very low key. There’s no dress code, very little décor and minimal candlelight but feels cozy.  The menu of farm-to-table offerings is simple but filled with unusual, tantalizing options. We ordered strategically so we could all taste as much as possible and none of the delicious plates disappointed. Among our favorites were the corn soup with lobster, quahog fritters, and pan roasted duck breast.  Amazing desserts included a berry cobbler and solid bar of dark chocolate with pistachios and sea salt. Explosions of yum in every bite. Make sure to call ahead for a reservation.

Sharky’s Cantina—If so much seafood is sending you overboard, sample a cerveza and chimichanga at Sharky’s. This Mexican tavern–with locations in Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs— is perfect for families. It has a huge menu to satisfy picky kids and health-conscious adults and won’t break the bank. Make sure you order the guacamole and a watermelon margarita.

Humphreys Bakery sandwiches— Want to picnic on the beach? Humphrey’s has been serving up sammys on the island for more than 50 years. The menu of this old school shop looks like it hasn’t changed since the 70’s and why should it? The sandwiches start with thick homemade breads and generous helpings of meat. My chicken salad was excellent and Wilson loved their signature Turkey Gobbler, teeming with stuffing and cranberry sauce.  Call ahead to avoid the lines.

Art Cliff Diner Martha's Vineyard review on

Art Cliff Diner— There was a lot of hype surrounding this tiny spot in Vineyard Haven—between the foody awards and constant crowd outside its door. I can tell you firsthand the Art Cliff deserves every accolade.  There’s an old-fashioned counter and maybe 15 tables, packed with plates of gourmet brunch food.  The thick French toast was cooked to perfection, the Nutella and banana crepe sublime, but it was the egg frittata with sausage, asparagus, and brie that knocked our socks off. It was, by far, my kids’ favorite meal. There was not a morsel left on any plate. The wait is crazy so I recommend you put your name in early and walk around Vineyard Haven to pass the time, but remember it closes at 2pm.

Art Cliff Diner Martha's Vineyard review on

Art Cliff Diner Martha's Vineyard review on

Back Door Donuts—I had heard the legend of this Oak Bluffs mainstay but didn’t understand why people would line up in a dingy parking lot to wait for baked goods at all hours of the day and night. Until I tried the apple fritter.  I don’t even like fruit in my pastry but I flipped for that fritter. Sweet, doughy, warm and gooey. The donuts weren’t bad either. Mmmmmm.

Back Door Donuts Martha's Vineyard on

Now I’m hungry! Would love to hear your Vineyard food favs in the comments.