Category Archives: Top 7 Lists

Top 7 baseball accessories

My older sons play summer baseball so when the season starts next week, I’ll be looking at at least 50 games in the next 2 months. My minivan will be overflowing with Gatorade bottles, cleat dirt, and batting gloves and my butt will have permanent bleacher marks.

Top 7 baseball accessories

After 5 years of being part of this traveling circus, I’ve learned a thing or two about what you need to get through games, in spite of remote locations and steamy temperatures. There are certain necessary accessories that keep everyone happy — from Assistant Coach Wilson, to players Aden (10) and Jacob (13), to their brother, Eli (7) who’s become quite the dugout rat.

Cooler for drinks/snacks— Usually peanuts and Cracker Jack don’t cut it. I would not be caught dead without cold drinks and snacks, especially for away games. You never know how long you could be stuck on a field somewhere. This Good Housekeeping list of the best coolers provides a variety of size, styles, colors, and carrying ease.

Tent – It took years of burning in the bleachers before I finally wised up and purchased a tent for shade. After polling mom experts, I chose this Quik Shade tent because it’s easy to put up and transport.  I also try to always have sunscreen in the car. If only there were somewhere to plug-in a fan….

Best  baseball accessories

Water bottles— I haven’t tried them yet, but I’m told these water bottles will keep a drink icy for up to 10 hours, even sitting in the hot sun.  I’m taking a leap and ordering these Contigo vacuum-insulated stainless steel water bottles.

Cooling towel-– This is a new one for me, but moms of athletes swear by the Frogg Togg Chilly Pad.  You wet the towel in cold water and it miraculously becomes considerably cooler than the outside air but somehow feels dry, and can provide cold relief to players and fans on a hot day. It apparently stays cool up to 4 hours and when it stops cooling, you can rewet it and use it again.  And it’s machine washable. Sounds like a home run.

 baseball accessories: frogg togg cooling towel

Stadium chair— I have lower back issues so sitting in the bleachers or even on a folding chair for hours is a killer. This stadium chair is pretty light and clamps onto most bleacher types.

Eye black-– Jacob found these personalized eye black stickers, made to block out the sun, but he only wears them to look cool. He has some with his jersey number, and some with his team name, but you can create any message you want on the Eyeblack.com website.  They only cost $1 per pair so they make a great gift for sluggers.

baseball accessories: eyeblack

Wine tote— When you’re sick of complaints about the umpire, or need inspiration for extra innings, a little sip can be helpful. This wine tote keeps your bottle from breaking when it knocks up against the batting helmets in the car.  There’s also a 6-pack tote if you prefer brewskies in the stands. (For non-drivers only.)

Do you have any favorite sports accessories? Please share in the comments.

Mom’s top 7 best baseball benefits

My back door hallway is littered with bat bags, cleats, and helmets and there are clumps of dirt on the floor.  My minivan is overflowing with half empty Gatorade bottles, undershirts, and hats. Saturdays are packed with games and my back is killing me.

It must be baseball season.

best things about baseball dugout

My boys (7, 9, and 13) love the game, but no one is as giddy to hear the national anthem and “Play ball!” as Wilson.  His favorite time of year has him rushing home a few nights a week to coach third base, even if he has to do it in dress shoes and a buttoned-down shirt.

I must admit– after having no baseball experience in my life before becoming Mrs. Wilson– I was wary of the huge time commitment and long days on the bleachers. But I’ve come around.

Each of my boys plays a minimum of 2– maximum of 4– games per week so that’s at least 50 innings in my canvas chair by the dugout (those bleachers are murder on the lower back!)  We eat like crap several nights a week and weekend plans are almost impossible with the ever-changing game schedule.

But there are benefits to being a baseball mom…..

Parade  One of my favorite baseball traditions is our town opening day parade. All the Little League kids gather in their primary colored uniforms (before half lose their hats)  and raise team banners as they march through town. There are a few speeches and someone sings the national anthem and — even though we live only 16 miles from New York City– I always feel like I’m in Mayberry.

best things about baseball parade

Bonding family time   Between school, sports, and work, we’re often running in different directions. Baseball grounds us as a family. We pile in the car and trek to a field to settle in for hours. Sure it’s a time suck, but there are few activities that bring us together the way baseball does. 7-year-old Eli makes himself right at home in every dugout– his or his brothers’– and 9-year-old Aden and 13-year-old Jacob usually find another player’s sibling to have a catch or play tag.

Social outlet   My boys play rec and travel baseball so we’re playing from April until August and the families we’ve met along the way have enhanced our experience. I met one of my closest friends on the sidelines of a baseball game. Other friends I see only during the season, but we pick right back up where we left off. People bring friends, relatives and dogs to games so it often feels like a big family. Because we’re all a slave to the game schedule we gather at diners, the town pool, and barbecues all summer. Sometimes we get organized and bring cocktails and snacks to games and we become like a traveling circus, with food, animals, and tents included.

Best things about baseball family

Forced outside time   There are worse things than spending a sunny day watching baseball. It beats cold and rainy soccer season and the smell of a basketball gym!

Excuse to eat ice cream   Forget the peanuts and Cracker Jack,  our go-to treat is always ice cream. Whether it’s celebrating a win or soothing a loss, a Strawberry Shortcake from the ubiquitous truck or a double scoop of chocolate from the parlor, we don’t go more than a  few days without ice cream.

Diversity of players    Unlike some other sports, you don’t have to be the fastest runner, or the strongest hitter to play. It’s a very forgiving sport at this level, so there’s a wider range of kids who participate.  There are plenty of boys who sit in the dugout discussing strategy and spewing stats as they wait for their turn at bat and find that as enjoyable as catching a fly ball.  Baseball is more inclusive and fun for kids, regardless of skill level, so it attracts a wider group.

Best things about baseball family

Life lessons   Three strikes and you’re out, waiting for your pitch, it aint over til it’s over. Baseball teaches all of us– players, coaches, and parents– lessons about courage, cooperation, and endurance. I still marvel that my boys– even the little one– is willing to stand in front of a kid throwing a ball as hard as he can, and has the guts, skills, and timing to hit it.  Players are judged on individual talent but also have to work as a team, just like the real world.

I confess that by mid-July I’ll never want to see a baseball again, and the sound of an ump calling strikes will make me cringe. But for now I’m excited about the season ahead: dirty uniforms, busy weekends and all.

Best 2012 year-end lists and photos, so far

Best Of 2012 graphic

I’m a huge fan of year-in-review pieces. Memorable TV moments, best books, funniest tweets…you name it– I love a good wrap-up list.

I scanned the interweb for some good ones you can peruse during this slow holiday week. Click on the links below to get to the lists.

If you like your refresher in one quick shot– USAToday.com has a 60-second year in review of news events with compelling photos. The site also has more photo reviews in sports, music and politics.

Yahoo has several roundups of events including a comprehensive  top 10 news stories of the year.

This was the year I became a Twitter addict. I’m not necessarily proud of it but I can’t seem to stop (#convert). Time magazine compiled a list of the best Twitter feeds of 2012 which is great for both newbies and those of us who are always looking for the best feeds to follow.

Another interesting  social media-related compilation is called Top 10 Lists-o-Rama, which details the most popular searches, people, and questions on Yahoo this year. You can see everything from top requested recipes to top song lyrics.

We lost some huge stars this year: Whitney Houston, Donna Summer, and Dick Clark to name just a few. To remember them all, check out this slide show of notable deaths of 2012.

Sports fans will like ESPN’s photo gallery of the best of the Summer Olympic Games, and animal lovers should view NBC’s Today show’s list of 12 most liked animal stories of 2012.

Of course best pop culture lists are completely subjective. I watch only 4 and a half of the shows list in this Huffington Post list of 2012’s top 10 best shows.  My DVR is at least half on track.

Entertainment Weekly’s best books of the year made me want to fill up my Kindle and if you’re into music, Spin.com has a robust array of best of lists. I browsed through the top 50 albums and had not even heard of most of the artists so I’m out of my element there.

Many of the major news outlets have not published their year-end lists yet so I’ll be looking for more this week. Please let me know in the comments if you see any other lists or pieces worth a look.

Top 7 Disneyland insider tips

Every year our family heads to California for Thanksgiving. We have many traditions and one is going to Disneyland the Tuesday before turkey day. We’ve been to the original House of Mouse at least 10 times so I’ve gathered some tips.

It may be the happiest place on earth, but days in the park are l o n g and kids can experience a range of emotions when expectations for fun and joy are higher than the flag on Cinderella’s castle. Here are 7 suggestions for a magical Disneyland trip.

Get there early. Seems obvious, but every year we plan to rise at dawn, and it never happens. This year, we actually got to the park before 10a and it made a huge difference. We headed straight for Splash Mountain where there was no line (45 minutes later, the wait was nearly an hour.) Then we banged out the nearby Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, which saved us oodles of time.  The rest of the day we waited at least 20-30 minutes for each ride but it was ok because we had a few under our belts already. The park opens at 8a so if you’re not slugs like us, take advantage of the empty early morning hours.

Getting psyched to soak on Splash Mountain

Wear layers and comfortable shoes. We go in November when it’s about 65 degrees,  but can get up to 80 or dip down to 50 anytime so clothing is key. My kids (ages 12, 9, and 7) dress in shorts, a t-shirt, and sneakers and I wear yoga pants with a tank top and long-sleeved t-shirt. We carry a backpack with sweatshirts for everyone. Unless it’s summertime, as soon as the sun goes down, it gets surprisingly cool in the park and on the rides. If you like Splash Mountain or other water rides, you’ll need the extra layers to change or get warm.  Also remember you will be walking and standing all day. Don’t be the martyr who prides herself on always being stylish in heels or boots. I wear sneakers or my most comfortable rubber-soled flats and my feet still feel like they were run over by Goofy’s car at the end of the day.

Mickey ice cream sandwich: $4.50

— Bring snacks. Load up your backpack with healthy snacks before you go and you’ll save money and patience. While there are snacks sold all over the park, they’re never really what you want to eat and each snack– from a fruit cup to a cookie– is outrageously expensive because it has Mickey’s face on it. Snacks stave off hunger until you can get to meals and make the long line for Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters ride (my favorite!) go much faster. Bring pretzels, yogurt, applesauce, fruit, cookies, cheese sticks from home and you’ll be golden. I would also recommend bringing water bottles– or hanging on to a bottle you buy in the park– for refills throughout the day.

Use Fast Pass and ride vouchers. By now you probably know about the Fast Pass but it’s knowing when to use it that’s key. By 12pm, the Fast Pass window for Star Tours (a cool 3D Star Wars ride) was already at 7pm. We don’t usually stay that late so we had to wait on the regular line for 40 minutes to get on the ride. If we had Fast Passed by 9 or 10am, we could have gone on the ride with no wait in the middle of the day.  Also, Fast Passes can be used more than once so after you Fast Pass one ride, you can Fast Pass another. But if you use it too late, that is not usually an option. (For more Fast Pass rules and ride lists click here.) Another secret I discovered this year is ride vouchers. If a ride is not working– this year one of our favs, Indiana Jones Adventure, was being serviced– you can go to Disney Town Hall and request a ride voucher. Next time you visit the park, if the ride is working, you basically get a Fast Pass for up to 6 people to ride it. Bonus!

Eat lunch on the Tomorrowland Terrace. You have to eat lunch and though none of the park’s food is stellar, this is our preferred option. The menu has some healthy choices for adults, and the kids meals include sliced apples or carrots and milk or water. Make sure to check your park map for the scheduled showtimes and plan your meal to coincide with the Jedi Training Academy show. It’s fun to watch the live action, featuring several kids selected from the audience to don the famous brown robes and train with a Star Wars Jedi Master. After training, they battle Darth Vader and Darth Maul with light sabers. 7-year-old Eli really wanted to be in the show so I asked one of the handlers how to get him selected.  She recommended making signs and standing by him, cheering loudly. We did and he got picked!

Master Eli battles Vader

Cheating the ride photos. Disneyland tickets are up to $81 for kids ages 3-9 and $87 for ages 10 and up so even one day at the park is an expensive endeavor. So I’m always looking for ways to save money without losing out on any part of the experience. Our cousin used a clever trick this year. On certain roller coasters, the park takes a photo of each car as it flies down the deepest drop. The pictures are then shown on a screen as you exit the ride. If you want to purchase the photos, they cost a minimum of $15. The problem is, it’s never a perfect photo– it inevitably has some random guy grinning as he blocks your kid in the back– so not worth the money. If you hustle to the screens quickly and find your photo, take a picture on your cell phone of the picture. It’s not the highest quality, but you can still capture the moment for free!

Buy glow-in-the dark souvenirs.  If you’re so over the monogrammed mouse ears, see the light instead! My kids have every version of souvenir, but the best are those that light up. It gets dark quickly at the end of the day and right around parade time, there are several carts and stores that sell all different toys — from princess wands to space radar guns to spinning character lights– that can help you walk safely and entertain the kids. And light up toys will still be fun at home. Want to avoid souvenirs altogether? Throw a bunch of dollar store glow sticks in your suitcase before you go.

Would love to hear your tips in the comments. Wishing all your dreams come true in the land of Disney!

I got Zen with Tony Bennett

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. One of the things for which I’m grateful is the opportunity to write about pop culture for sites that people actually read. Last week I reviewed crooner Tony Bennett’s new book, “Life is a Gift, The Zen of Bennett,” (Harper Collins) for the Associated Press.

It’s a quick read that offers some sage advice from a guy who’s been in show business for 60 years, so he knows a thing or two about how to stay relevant.  I was surprised to learn that Bennett fought the Germans in World War II  and risked his life to march with Martin Luther King Jr. for civil rights in the 60’s. He’s sung for every president since Eisenhower (guess which one is his fav?) and has worked with all the greats– including his best friend and mentor, Frank Sinatra.

The book is chock full of photos of Bennett with tons of celebs — from Babs to Lady Gaga. Bennett casually mentions Christmases with Ella Fitzgerald, discussing poetry with Allen Ginsberg, Bob Hope giving him his stage name, and taking Judy Garland to parties. He soaked up career advice from Cary Grant, Bing Crosby, and Duke Ellington…and comments on singing with Paul McCartney, John Mayer, and Elton John. He also adds his take on Amy Winehouse with whom he recorded right before she died.

Many of Bennett’s drawings are also included in the book. He’s an accomplished artist and even has one of his works hanging in the Smithsonian. Who knew?

At the end of each chapter, Bennett sums up his experiences and offers Zen advice. While none of it’s mind blowing, it’s a good reminder and often inspiring, especially for any kind of artist trying to maintain his/her integrity while achieving success.

Here are a few of Bennett’s Zen teachings that stuck out for me:

–“When you choose your friends, realize you are also choosing your teachers.”

–” If you don’t care what you’re doing, why should the audience?”

–“Fame comes and goes but longevity is the thing to aim for.”

–“Obstacles are necessary for success. Be persistent and you will reach your goals.”

–“Being angry is a waste of time. Instead, count your blessings every day.”

–“In the end, all we really can rely on is ourselves.”

–“Everything you do should be done with love.”

I’d love you to give the review a read here and let me know what you think in the comments.

Sandy’s top 7 silver linings

Oh Sandy.

I’m writing this post from a friend’s house because we haven’t had power since Monday evening. It’s barely been three days but feels like three weeks. Our town was hit hard enough to knock down scores of giant trees and cause some major damage, but there was little rain here so we are extremely fortunate to have no water or tree damage at our house.

I’ve only been able to see snippets of the news but from even the little I’ve seen, there are so many whose homes and businesses have been destroyed, I would feel like a heel to complain at all.

There are quite a few obvious drawbacks to not having power. The most challenging for me is our house getting increasingly colder as the week drags on. I wear a minimum of 4 layers and try to keep moving. Wilson is feeling antsy about missing so much work. The kids have been troopers but they get stir crazy in the evenings and have been stomping on each other’s last nerve about every 20 minutes when stuck inside.

But despite those petty grievances, I’ve been trying to stay positive because it could be SO much worse. So this post is about all the positive results of living through one of the worst storms in U.S. history.

Time with family and friends— It’s so rare these days that we get to spend this much time together. School and activities have been canceled and we weren’t able to get to work for days so there’s no rushing. We’ve had to conserve phone juice so that’s put a limit on talking and texting. That just leaves time to read, relax, clean, and play board games. We’ve spent every night with friends, eating what’s left in the fridge by candlelight and drinking wine by the fire. We’ve been able to reach out and see friends we normally wouldn’t because everyone’s plans are on hold and there’s time to check in.

Sleep — I can’t tell you the last time I’ve gotten more than 8 hours of sleep for several days in a row. Even on vacation I manage to stay up late. But with no power, TV and the computer can’t tempt me. There’s no incentive for the kids to be up late when it’s so dark and everyone’s going to bed, so we’re huddling under the covers early and staying in bed later in the morning. I can already see lines on my face disappearing! Now if I could only continue this sleep pattern in real life.

Cleaning out the refrigerator — It’s an odious job and you never know what you’re going to find. This week we’ve been forced to do some scary smell tests and stifle our aversion to waste by tossing more than I’d like. But we’ll have an immaculate fridge and a task I have pushed down on my to-do list for months is now complete.

Renewed sense of community— The morning after the power went out my friend Ilysse called to say she had power so we could come to her house and recharge, get warm, use wifi. We have spent time there twice and they could not have been more generous or welcoming. I also spent most of today with my friend, Meredith, whose son is one of Aden’s pals. We normally would never have had the time to spend an afternoon together chatting, but what a treat. In addition to the heat and technology hookup, she introduced me to a friend who is a fellow writer/blogger who I never would have met otherwise. Our town has power and the streets and restaurants have been packed with people– friends and strangers– asking about our status and willing to help if they can.

Back to basics playtime — The kids don’t have TV, the computer, or video games to distract them. They’ve been playing football outside every day, walking to town for lunch or a trip to the bookstore, and playing games at night. Because there’s no school I coerced them into mandatory reading hour every morning before they go outside. Interesting that they have not complained or cried boredom once. The only downside is too much time together so they have been fighting more than usual but overall, kicking it old school has been a success.

Survival skills — You never know how you’re going to react in bad circumstances. I’m proud that despite all the inconveniences, our family, friends and town persevered and made it work. Necessity is the mother of invention and we had to improvise a lot this week but we looked at it as an adventure instead of a burden and we are better for it.

Gratitude — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thrown a light switch this week out of habit, forgetting we had no power…. or how often I realized we couldn’t complete a simple task without the internet. And as I stomp my feet around the house trying to get feeling back into my toes, I yearn for a warm house again. But then I think of the people who have no house or possessions at all. When the power goes back on, we will have a new appreciation for the things we take for granted every day.

I mourn with the nation for those who lost their lives and/or livelihoods due to superstorm Sandy. Once I plug back in I’m sure I’ll be obsessed with watching the coverage to try to catch up with all the tragic stories. But in our little corner of the world, the week was actually a bit of respite that made us realize what’s really important.

How did Sandy affect you? Tell me in the comments.

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Top 7 Things to Do with Kids in Martha’s Vineyard

Beach in Aquinnah, Martha’s Vineyard

We did some great activities with the kids in Martha’s Vineyard last month so I wanted to share. As I said in previous posts, we traveled with two other families so we had boys and girls ranging in age from 6 to 14, and we managed to find destinations that worked for everyone. Here are some of the highlights:

Jump off the bridge at State beach. There are many beautiful beaches to visit and with its proximity to a main road and its rough, rocky sand, Joseph Sylvia State Beach would not be a first choice, unless you have adventurous kids who like a challenge.  There’s a bridge at one end of the beach (it’s famous for its role in “Jaws,”) where people can climb onto or over the railing and jump into Nantucket Sound below.  It’s high enough to intimidate adults and kids (I know because I stood at the top for a good 10 minutes before taking the plunge) but the water is deep and calm below so usually once the kids brave it the first time, there are multiple jumps to follow.

Post fishing dinner and sunset
Menemsha Beach, Martha’s Vineyard

Fish and watch sunset in Menemsha. We brought fishing gear but you can rent it on the island or just grab a bucket and look for crabs on the jetty in Menemsha. The kids loved fishing and seeing all the different sea creatures they found in their crab nets. Go in the late afternoon so you are there for sunset. You can pick up amazing seafood– raw or cooked– just a short walk from the beach at Larsen’s Fish Market or The Bite and bring it back to your blanket to watch Mother Nature paint gorgeous colors across the sky as you pop clams in your mouth.

Ride the carousel in Oak Bluffs. I would call this an activity for younger kids, except there’s a contest element that attracted my uber-competitive older boys. The Flying Horses Carousel is the oldest operating in the country, in business since 1876.  So small you could miss it, it’s housed inside an arcade by the water and features carefully preserved hand-painted horses, some original with horse-hair manes and tails. 6-year-old Eli loved the ride and 12-year-old Jacob got into the brass ring game, where you collect as many rings as you can as you ride by the metal ring dispenser. Eli was thrilled to win the brass ring and score a free second ride.

Rent a paddle board. This was the most fun and the greatest value. We rented the board and oar from Wind’s Up  in Vineyard Haven for three days and there was a kid or adult on that thing every moment we were on the beach. Our beach was on the Vineyard Sound side so the water was calm and the kids could explore on their own with little risk. You could float on it like a raft, and go out with multiple people or alone. It was peaceful and great exercise, as it requires balance and core strength.  Best part? Kids were never bored with the board.

See the lighthouse (and the unclothed) at Aquinnah Beach. Once we casually mentioned there was a clothes-optional beach on the island, the kids were obsessed with seeing it. It wasn’t the bare n–ked ladies but the beautiful setting and waves that lured us to G-y Head in Aquinnah on the western shore of the island. The picturesque beach is set against giant bluffs of endangered clay and spotted with giant rocks. The iconic 155-year-old red brick lighthouse stands on top of one of the bluffs looking very New Englandy.  The kids played in the waves and eventually took a walk down to that part of the beach where they discovered most of the sunbathers are people you’d prefer not to see exposed.  Despite that disappointment, it remains a highlight of the older kids’ trip.

Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard

Shop in Vineyard Haven and Edgartown. My favorite time to shop is on vacation when I’m not hurried and there are more unique boutiques. Don’t just go for the Black Dog t-shirt. The shops in Edgartown and Vineyard Haven are adorable and sell a variety of goods. Carly Simon’s store, Midnight Farm is a must, offering eclectic vintage and new clothing, furniture, and gifts. Other stores sell artsy and antique home goods and jewelry. I’m not gonna lie: this didn’t go over with my boys, but the 13-year-old girls were all over it.

Be Island Scavenger hunters. Many local stores sell the laminated Funhunters Martha’s Vineyard Scavenger Hunt booklet. It challenges kids to find many of the island’s iconic symbols (lighthouse, scallop shell,)  nautical  items, and several local plants and animals.  It’s great to bring out to dinner to distract the kids and a nice keepsake when you go home to remember all you saw on the Vineyard.

We’re planning to return to the Vineyard next year because we loved our time there so much. If you have any activities for kids– or adults– to recommend, please tell me in the comments. I’m already planning next year’s escape, if only in my mind.

Top 7 Best Eats in Martha’s Vineyard

One of my favorite ways to get info on a new place we’re visiting is to look it up in the New York Times Travel section’s  “36 Hours in ….” series. That article always has great, succinct advice on what to do and see, and more importantly, where to eat.

I always prefer the inside scoop from someone who’s been there, and not a lame paragraph in Fodor’s, so thought I’d share some tips with you. Today’s post is on food and later this week I’ll post about fun activities, especially with kids.

Here’s my report on our Top 7 eats from the trenches of Martha’s Vineyard :

–While not quite on the Vineyard yet, I highly recommend you stop at Pie in the Sky bakery in Woods Hole. No matter what ungodly hour you got stuck with to ferry your car over, you can get a great cup of Joe and delicious bread and cookies. Don’t miss their famous popovers.

Look at the size of that thing!

— Many restaurants will claim to serve the best lobster roll on the island and it would be fun to try them all but we only had time for two. I would recommend the lobster roll at MacPhail’s Corner Cafe.  I liked the toasted buttery bun and the right amount of mayo to bring out the flavor of the big chunks of lobster. The Net Result and Among the Flowers are also good places to try one.

–Surprise, surprise but my list is saturated with seafood! For the best takeout fried clams  I would head to The Bite in Menemsha. This tiny shack by the beach fries up clams, oysters, squid, shrimp and scallops, and has chicken and mozzarella sticks for fish-fearing tots. Tender fresh fish and not overly greasy.

–Wherever I go, especially in the summer, I must find ice cream. The Vineyard has many places to sample a scoop but I recommend  Mad Martha’s. This award-winning homemade ice cream comes in many flavors off the beaten path– black raspberry, mint Oreo, butter crunch, coconut– that evoke gelato with their rich taste. They also offer a wide selection of homemade frozen yogurt that tastes like food, instead of chemicals. Locations in Edgartown, Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs make it easy to covet a cone.

Friends Katie & Marisa loved Mad Martha’s

–If you’re still hankering for lobster but don’t want to bust the bank, head to Larsen’s Fish Market  in Menemsha for an excellent raw fish selection. Lobsters of every size, several fish filets, swordfish, clams, mussels and more are so fresh, sometimes you can see the fisherman who caught them zooming off in his boat when you arrive. The friendly staff offers great cooking advice for novices and the prepared foods– particularly the lobster bisque— make Larsen’s an essential stop on your eating tour.

Live lobster races: cruel torture or last hurrah?

–If you’re passionate for pastries like me there are many bakeries on the island to satisfy your sweet tooth. Our favorites included the banana bread from Morning Glory Farm, pies at Eileen Blake’s,  and apple fritters from the famous Black Dog.  The fresh and local ingredients make eating these treats seem less sinful, and somehow more healthy.

–My 12-year-old son is obsessed with sushi so he was determined to try it on the Vineyard. We took a deep breath of sea air, ordered salmon, eel, and tuna rolls from The Net Result in Vineyard Haven and hoped for the best. I was skeptical but it was fresh, delicious sushi.  You can eat at picnic tables outside the market or take it to go, as we did,  for our ferry ride home.

Almost forgot amazing clam chowdah from the Seafood Shanty!

We didn’t have a bad meal on the Vineyard. Maybe it’s because we knew where to go or maybe because so much of it is made with all natural ingredients, the food just tastes better.  Even if your kids don’t love seafood, there are plenty of choices and price points for traveling families.

I’d love to hear any places you’ve tried on the Vineyard for our next trip…tell me in the comments.

Top 7 Observations from BlogHer12

Last week I attended my first blogging conference: BlogHer12.  What happens when you bring nearly 5,000 mouthy broads together to talk about what they do? You get a very loud room, for starters.

Martha Stewart and BlogHer co-founder Elisa Camahort at BlogHer12

BlogHer.com is a media company created by three savvy women, to help bring together and showcase female bloggers. It’s the largest community of women who blog, boasting 40 million unique visitors per month. The BlogHer.com site is a guide to the latest news and trends for women in social media and a publishing network of more than 3,000 blogs.

Each year it’s in a different city, but this year the 9th annual BlogHer conference was in Manhattan so it was a perfect opportunity to check it out without a huge commitment.

I loved everything about it.

I met interesting, smart, like-minded people who were eager to talk about many of my interests. I attended lectures where I got practical, business, and technical tips on how to improve my blog and get more people to read it. And I got a free vibrator!

Trojan really grabbed our attention!

While many bloggers were old-timers and knew how to work the conference, I was a rookie and wanted to experience as much as I could so I was moving nonstop, taking it all in, and making mental notes to share. I roped my blogger friend, Sandy (read her peachy parenting blog here)  into going with me and she was an amusing ally in this most excellent adventure.  Read on for details……

— Bloggers don’t shut up!  From the Newbie breakfast to the keynote speaker at lunch, to the crowded exhibition halls, it was sometimes difficult to hear because there were so many ladies chat-chat-chatting. One the plus side, everyone I met was  friendly and outgoing and I had no problem striking up conversation with strangers all day long.

The Expo Hall (of wonders)

Bloggers are swag hags!  I was amazed at the elaborate setups companies had– carpeting, leather couches, music– and some set up entire stores inside the expo. Reusable bags were the most popular giveaway– I got at least 6– but they were doling out everything from water bottles to fake nails to stationary. You could eat and drink for free too– I had delicious cupcakes, cookies, and pretzels, and washed it down with a margarita.  Other businesses offered manicures, massages, and beauty consulting. When Martha Stewart spoke at lunch, she offered free digital subscriptions to all four of her magazines for a year! In exchange for the goods, the vendors want bloggers to write about their products and scanned our conference tags which gives them our email and blog information so they can follow us to see if our blogs can help their social media strategies.

Jamba Juice loves bloggers! 

Giant spoon @ Dannon yogurt booth

Complimentary massage for tired tootsies

Free manicures too!

Sandy & I go Greek trying Rickland Orchards Greek yogurt granola bar

Social media experts don’t necessarily know how to engage people!  I went to several lectures led by people on a panel speaking about branding, social engagement, and media pitching who were so boring, we walked out. Some of the content was ok but the delivery was blah and they didn’t get the attendees involved.

Bloggers like their salad!  The crowds were so large that at both breakfast  and lunch, there were no fruit, vegetables, or drinks left by the time I got to the buffet. The food– as you would expect at a conference of this size– was not great. You would think that with all the foody blogs out there someone would step up but alas, I had to settle for a tuna sandwich.

Bloggers made me laugh and cry (it was better than “Cats.”) The Voices of the Year presentation was amazing. More than 1800 bloggers submitted posts for review in various categories, then BlogHer chooses 110 winners and 15  get to read their posts out loud. There were stories about parenting, death, poverty, identity, and politics that moved me and  several hilarious humor bits that made me laugh until I cried.  The talented and absorbing writers made me want to run to my computer and get cracking. I was also inspired hearing the international activists speak. These were four women– who BlogHer sponsored to attend the conference– who risk their lives every day by blogging about their opposition to government and/or society standards in their developing countries. Hearing about how bloggers from Haiti, Sudan, Philippines, and Zimbabwe have evoked real change in women’s lives in their countries reminded me of the power of new media.

http://averagemomswearcapes.com/ blogger keeping it real

Bloggers are a random bunch!  I exchanged business cards with many strangers and I was shocked at the wide array of topics people blog about. I figured I’d meet mostly mom, food, and beauty bloggers but I also encountered these:

littlelunchnotes.com – creative, adorable lunch notes to put in your kids’ lunchbox every day, using beautiful paper, jokes, and pictures.

madeinusachallenge.com – great buying resource as it highlights products made in the USA and companies that make them.

 frugalflip.com – tips on how to live on a budget in a big city.

Bloggers are influential. Nearly 5,000 sharp, driven women (and a handful of men) got themselves to New York to be a part of this conference. Each blog can reach hundreds to millions of people. That translates to huge business opportunities for companies who want to get a product or message across to media-savvy people using a modern platform. President Obama opened the conference with a 15-minute address –via internet of course– talking about the importance of women’s issues in this election and creating positive role models for young women like his daughters. Martha Stewart was the keynote speaker Friday and Katie Couric spoke on Saturday. Those are some pretty heavy hitters. Bloggers get respect!

Overall the conference was well-organized, informative and fun. I made great contacts and learned a lot. One of the tips I took away was the importance of a blog Facebook page.  I’ll let you know as soon as it’s up so you can become a CarpoolCandy.com Facebook fan!

What to Do in Paris with Kids- Part Deux

Sick of hearing about my frolicking in France yet? But I haven’t even told you about all the shopping damage (oh the shoes… c’est bon! c’est bon!)

Here is part deux of things to do with kids in Paris…..and then I’ll  fermer ma bouche for a while!

–Bateaux Mouche 

Our  boat ride down the Siene was a fun and inexpensive way to see the sights and architecture of Paris in a short amount of time.  We boarded the boat in the  evening (at this time of year Paris doesn’t get dark until 10pm)  and got to see the gorgeous city views at dusk. The boys loved hanging over the side of the boat railing while shouting at the lovers along the banks of the Siene. The hour-long ride gave us views of both the Right and Left Banks and several sights, including a close up of the Eiffel Tower.  On the boat we heard about an enchanting tradition on the only foot bridge between the Left and Right Banks: sweethearts come to seal their love by leaving a lock on the bridge railings and toss the key into the Siene as a symbol of their amour. Oh la la!

Jacob & Avery waving to people from Baton Mouche

View of Notre Dame from Baton Mouche

If you don’t want to climb it, this view of the Eiffel Tower is next best thing

Hard to get a good pic of love locks from moving boat!

Sunset on the Siene

–Luxembourg Gardens

We spent the afternoon in this beautiful park one day so the kids could kick a soccer ball,  push sail boats in the pond,  and play on the playground. The boys were fascinated by watching French children at play. The Parisian kids behaved  similarly to Americans, but they were much better dressed.

You can rent sticks & boats to push around the pond

Sainte-Chapelle

We saw many sights in Paris but this was the one place where both boys walked in and said “Whoa!” The 15 stained glass windows in this chapel are awe-inspiring. The windows appear to be stories high and depict more than a thousand scenes from Christian stories through color and symbolism. The church is only a couple blocks from Notre Dame and a visit doesn’t take long so it’s definitely worth the detour.

Seeing these windows up close is a religious experience

— Arc de Triomphe

If you have the stamina, I recommend you walk down the Champs-Elysees to see all the cafes and shops on your way to the Arc (we had a successful pit stop at the Nike store where we bought one-of-a-kind sneakers and soccer jerseys.)  Jacob and I felt dizzy while climbing the narrow, winding staircase to the top of the Arc, but the view was well worth it. It’s in the middle of the Place Charles de Gaulle where 12 main streets meet, so the view is spectacular.  Make sure to take the hokey optical illusion photo of your kid leaning on the Eiffel Tower while you’re up there.

Jacob gets ready for the climb

View from Arc de Triomphe

Requisite Leaning Tower photo

Are these the only things to do with kids in Paris? Absolutely not. Of course there are many more museums, a zoo, EuroDisney, and several other amusement parks… but Jacob can ride a roller coaster or see a chimp at home. Our jocks would have loved to see a soccer game but no one was playing nearby that week.

 

This is what we could manage with two 12-year-old boys who we had to drag away from playing NHL Hockey on my iPad each morning.  Outside their door was a beautiful foreign city with tons to see and do but they would have been happy to stay inside and score another hat trick.

We pushed them every day to try new things– the Metro, tabouli, art history–   and open their minds.  To their credit, those boys accepted the challenge and had a great time. By the last day, they led the way to our favorite cafe and ordered lunch in French.

Paris had me at bonjour.

For the kids, the affection came more gradually. But even 12-year-old boys can fall in love with Paris. Just make the museum visits short and keep passing the crepes.