Category Archives: Travel

My brother got hitched! A California wedding album

Well kids, they did it! My brother tied the knot last weekend.

It was the most unconventional wedding I’ve ever attended, in all the best ways. I’ll break it down for you in photos….

To review, my 46-year-old brother, Adam, had dated a lot over the last 20 years, but had never been married. You can read more about him, how he met his lovely wife, Heather, and their adorable proposal in a previous post here.

They decided on a destination wedding so all their family and friends could gather for the weekend to party like rock stars. They live in LA but the wedding was in La Jolla, outside San Diego.

The night before we gathered at an outdoor venue for the rehearsal dinner– sitting at long tables under twinkling lights to toast the happy couple.

It was great to see so many old friends of our family– many who hold a special place because they knew my father, who died when I was 25.

It was also a mini reunion of high school and Chicago friends whom I hadn’t seen in forever. It’s always great to bring people together to celebrate love, and these two are truly gaga for each other.

Several people made toasts. I decided to write a poem that was part biography, part roast, part advice offering. Eli helped me feel less nervous when I read it.

The next afternoon, the wedding party met on a cliff overlooking the ocean on a clear, hot sunny southern California day to take photos before the ceremony.

The location and views were spectacular, and although it was no small feat to walk in high heels and a long dress along the sandy rocks, the photos were well worth it.
Heather looked stunning in a gorgeous lace gown and a sparkly tiara.

Despite the blazing sun, she never looked hot or sweaty and her hair never frizzed– it was like the wedding gods were shining on her all day and night.

She seemed unflappable, calm and happy the whole weekend with a perma-grin from ear to ear.

Adam had a few Groomzilla moments of stress but kept it mostly together and really enjoyed being the center of attention. He paired his sleek suit with leather Pumas, and complained his cheeks hurt from too much smiling during the pictures.


The ceremony was terrific. They had an ordained friend marry them and his words were uniquely personal, funny, and meaningful. He kept it short and sweet but hit all the important points.

There was no religious aspect of the ceremony but Adam decided he wanted to break a glass at the end — a Jewish wedding tradition. The only snag was that someone tried to use an industrial new energy-efficient light bulb, instead of a camera bulb or old school bulb and since Adam was wearing sneakers he couldn’t break the glass!

It turned into a funny moment and then he finally gave up and we all shouted “Mazel tov!” and the bride and groom kissed and shimmied down the aisle to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long.”

The cocktail hour was fun and the venue was a cool space with wood floors and strings of lights and lanterns.

Heather is quite the planner/organizer and her personal touches were evident everywhere. There was a tree of cupcakes baked by a friend, a tub of handmade lip balms with the wedding logo, and a special groom’s cake at their sweetheart table that had Han Solo and Princess Leia on top– since Adam is a huge “Star Wars” fan, and they once dressed up as the rebel couple for Halloween.

There was a slide show projecting pix of friends and family on one wall and after the wedding party was announced, they broke into a flash mob and then grabbed all the wedding guests to get them out on the floor to start off the party.

No one had more fun in the photo booth than Eli, who clearly likes to see himself on film….

The best man and matron of honor made wonderful, heartfelt speeches that explained the essence of Adam and Heather and why their coupling is so special.

Adam’s friend Chris wrote a song and sang it with his guitar, which was sweet and absolutely hilarious.

Adam got emotional during his speech, especially when he got to declaring his love for Heather and how she has changed him and made him a better man. He said she sees him and he is his best self with her. You can’t ask for more than that from a groom.

My brother has been a Dead-head and Phish-head for years and he and Heather originally bonded over their love of live music. They often plan their vacations around when Phish is touring. When making wedding plans, Heather created an Excel spread sheet to establish when the best date for the wedding would be that would not interfere with the Phish tour. And yet, Phish happened to open the tour on the night of the wedding in our hometown of Chicago.

The irony was rich.

You may know that if you follow Phish, the set list for shows is an obsession for fans. So at one point in the evening, one of Adam’s fellow Phish heads wrote down the set list on a chalk board and delivered it to Adam after his speech. He then proceeded to go through every song, analyzing the show in front of all the guests. It was hilarious and also the oddest moment I’ve ever witnessed at a wedding. But so, so my brother.
Guests boogied on the dance floor until the last song and then many of us went to the after party and the after-after party. The die-hard crew lasted til 4am in the bridal suite (Wilson and I did not stay up that late.)

The rest of the weekend was filled with more drinking, eating and laughter. Adam was hoarse by Saturday from talking so much and shouting over loud music.

Mr. and Mrs. Schon will be jetting off to Hawaii in a few weeks for their honeymoon and then it’s back to reality.

I was worried that my boys would be bored over the weekend but they learned lot about Uncle Adam and were total troopers, enjoying every event and socializing with everyone. Eli was extremely excited to officially be able to call her Aunt Heather.

I’ll leave you with the last stanza of a poem I read at the rehearsal dinner:

So here we are in southern Californ–I-A
About to hear words some thought he’d never say
We are so happy to be here for you both
To witness your special day of betroth
Good luck in the future, hold each other tight
Never argue in bed, sleep well through the night
Keep romance alive, don’t forget to call
Honesty and laughter are the keys to it all.
We’re thrilled that true love is finally found
Congratulations to the grooviest couple around

We love you guys!

Visiting the grandparents’ Florida gated community: Top 7 observations

Florida gated community grandparents visit on

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.

Florida gated community grandparents visit on

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.

Florida gated community grandparents visit on

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.

Pickle ball at Florida gated community grandparents visit on

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.

Golf cart at Florida gated community grandparents visit on

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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Holiday wrap-up: guilt and gluttony

I’m baaaaaack! Did you miss me? That was the l o n g e s t stretch I’ve ever gone without blogging people, and it didn’t feel good. But I had a lot going on with work and a new business, and there are only so many hours in the day!

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The holidays only complicate things with all the customs and expectations to keep up. The gift-buying and wrapping, house decorating, party attending, family hosting, calendar/photo book making, card sending, cookie baking, good deed doing, and tradition keeping all make me want to OD on sugar cookies and eggnog and sleep for two weeks.

Something had to give.

I felt terribly guilty neglecting the blog and spent much of these holidays worrying that no matter how dog tired I was at the end of each day, I had not done enough. The to-do list loomed.

I hate that.

And I missed getting my ya-yas out in this space and hearing feedback from you guys. It feeds my soul! So please keep reading.

I have much to catch you up on so I’ll break it up into bullet points and photos.

–I started a college essay writing/editing business.  I’ve been doing alumni interviews for Tufts for 12 years and I’ve offered to help several friends’ kids with their college essays over the years so this year I decided to hang up a virtual shingle and make a go of it. I did a lot of research last summer on what colleges are looking for and interviewed several people involved in the admissions process. Then I sent an email with info on my background and experience to friends. Within two days of sending the email I had a few clients, and between October and January first, I worked with 12 students on more than 35 essays.


I loved it. Working with someone else’s kids was a fun and enriching experience, I relish the editing process and helping kids express their bests selves, and I’m getting an invaluable education in the college application game before I have to worry about my own kid. Some of the students I worked with applied early and already have been accepted to Columbia University, Rhode Island School of Design, Villanova, University of Vermont, UC-Boulder, and University of Michigan!

Only down side was that every spare minute in the last six weeks– right up until December 30th– was spent reading and editing essays (hence the lack of blogging.) And now I probably won’t work with another kid until the summer!

— Hannukah came and went. It was all too early and too fast. I didn’t get a chance to properly shop and wrap. My boys don’t need anything so it was a challenge finding gifts that were fun, surprising, and useful.


Some highlights were Eli’s Kindle Fire for Kids, Aden’s video drone and a guitar, and Jacob’s Giants jersey and gift cards to Bagel Chateau and the sushi place in town.


We also got to celebrate with family and friends, which is always the best part.


Family Hannukah party

— We saw the Giants’ season ripped away. Always fun and mercifully not subzero temps. It was an exciting and important game against the Panthers.

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It looked like a blowout before the Giants came back and went into OT…only to lose moments later.

Giants game on

Lots of long faces in the car ride home.

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–We honored our annual tradition: training into NYC to see the windows on Christmas Eve. While the warm December temperatures are a treat, they made getting around Manhattan even worse over the holidays.

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The area around my midtown office near Times Square was a nightmare and Fifth Avenue on Christmas Eve was a mob scene. You’d think the NYPD were giving away iPhones on every corner from the endless lines of people streaming through the streets.

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We hit Barneys first… where they had an ice sculptor creating holiday works of art in the window. Eli could have sat there all night.

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His brothers, not so much.

So we moved onto my favorite, Bergdorf Goodman.

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Most of the fantastical scenes were made of Swavorski crystals. Divine.

Bergdorf Goodman holiday windows on

Bergdorf Goodman holiday windows on

Bergdorf Goodman holiday windows on

Bergdorf Goodman holiday windows on

Saks had an around the world theme, featuring the Seven Wonders… which was lackluster.

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But we do love Saks’ light show to Silver Bells music which lights up the entire facade of the 5th Avenue storefront.

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Macy’s had Snoopy and a message:

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We let the kids in on one of New York’s best kept secrets at dinnertime. Arguably one of the best burgers in the city, we snuck behind the velvet curtains at the Parker Meridien in midtown to try The Burger Joint.

Burger Joint NYC on carpool

It’s a hole in the wall smack in the middle of a posh hotel, that serves great burgers, fries, beer and wine. The boys loved the food and the down and dirty scene.

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— I ate and drank a lot.  From candy canes to Cabernet…. latkes to honey-baked ham, I laughed in the face of moderation.  Hey, it’s the holidays! But my jeans say I’ve paid for it.

We watched Star Wars episodes 4, 5, and 6 before seeing The Force Awakens. When you’re the mom of boys– who happened to grow up with a brother who talked Wookie and had every single spaceship and action figure in the galaxy– you become versed in the ways of the Force. I’ve seen the movies multiple times and I know my bounty hunters and droids.

star wars force awakens movie poster


We got tickets to see the new one on Christmas Day so we stayed up late Christmas Eve watching Star Wars and Empire, and then watched Jedi the morning before our afternoon showing.

Aden, Eli and I loved The Force Awakens, but Wilson and Jacob felt only lukewarm and left wanting more. One of my complaints about 1, 2, and 3 were they were too long and the stories were convoluted. I thought 7 captured the tone of 4, 5, and 6 and was well written and edited, funny, and fast moving. It was full of cool special effects and charming characters, and I loved that the protagonist is a badass woman. Harrison Ford was great and I can’t wait for the next one!

I’d like to say my holiday week was relaxing but I was working a lot and hosting family and friends so there wasn’t enough down time. I did manage to squeeze in two other movies.

The Big Short movie poster

(Paramount Pictures)

The Big Short is a compelling, well-acted story about the collapse of the housing market in 2008, but I don’t think it’s a terrific movie. There isn’t anyone to root for and it underscores everything tainted, greedy and shortsighted about this country. Sure, there’s Brad Pitt, Christian Bale and Ryan Gosling (va-va-voom) but they all wear such terrible wigs it’s hard to remember how hot they are. The breakout star for me is Jeremy Strong, the tough, gum-snapping trader who doesn’t suffer fools and is probably worth $50 million. One to watch.

(Open Road Films)

(Open Road Films)

Also made Wilson take me to Spotlight— about the Boston Globe reporters who uncovered the epidemic of pedophile priests and the major coverup by the Catholic Church, exposed in a 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning  investigative report. I’m always amazed when a filmmaker can take a familiar story with an ending we all know and still build tension and drive. The performances  (by Michael Keaton, Liev Schrieber, Rachel McAdams, and Mark Ruffalo) are understated and the story is very powerful. Disturbing topic, but great movie.


We’ve become obsessed with the Hamilton musical soundtrack. U.S. history set to cool rap music from a Broadway musical?! I’m in heaven and Aden and Eli are hooked. Nothing makes me happier than when my little sports junkies appreciate art and culture!

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–We spent New Year’s Eve with family and friends sharing cocktails, good food, and lots of laughs. Hope for more of the same in 2016!

Good to back sharing. Happy New Year all!















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…

California Thanksgiving The Sixty on carpool

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.

California Thanksgiving The Sixty on carpool

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.

California Thanksgiving at Laurel Hardware on carpool

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….

California Thanksgiving Disneyland on

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.


London with kids (part 2) more fun pix!

Sorry my London posts have been so s p r e a d   o u t!  I always want to be thorough in my travel posts and had to write about some other pressing news before I returned to our lovely trip across the pond.

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Piccadilly Circus

My friend, MaryEllen and I took our 12-year-old sons, Pat and Aden to London for a week. Although we hit many tourist spots, their favorite moments were not museums or city walks. They loved getting left on a subway platform, spray painting graffiti on Abbey Road, and flying business class on the way home– all of which you can read about here.

But we did have some more traditional adventures in London that were fun and engaging, even for boys who like sports and video games a lot. My last post included our trips to see Big Ben, Parliament, and the Churchill War rooms. We also checked off the London Eye, the Aquarium, and the Tower of London (click the link for more deets.)

London is known for its wonderful theater so we got tickets to see “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” at the Royal Drury Lane theater.


The show was terrific. Top notch production with beautiful sets and costumes and an inventive, modern approach to an old story. My favorite scene was the cool way they showed Mike TV getting shrunk and zapped into the atmosphere, and I loved the creative way they made the ensemble dancers into oompa loompas.

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My cousin’s friend who lives outside London hooked us up with tickets to a football (soccer) match between his hometown of Watford and the Albion team. We took a train and an Uber car to the game– which was a pain, but completely worth it because the boys had a blast.

Seeing an authentic European  soccer match was a cultural education.

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People dress rather nicely for games. Everyone gets there early and instead of tailgating, they belly up to the bar for wine or beer and a selection of greasy, traditional food like sausage rolls (a giant, fatty pig in a blanket) and “beef” potato pastries called “pasties.” MaryEllen was in heaven but the kids and I were longing for a hotdog or burger and fries.

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There’s no alcohol served after the game starts, and yet they were the loudest, most consistent and enthusiastic fans I’ve seen since college.  We were glad the boys couldn’t hear all the words to their naughty cheers!

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Although there were some exciting moments, the game ended in a 0-0 tie

Another day we visited the Tate Modern Museum of Art. There are so many wonderful museums it’s difficult to choose but we thought the boys may relate to the contemporary art better than portraits of 16th century royals.

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Aden found this famous Picasso

We got the boys on board by visiting the gift shop as soon s we arrived to purchase 15 postcards of works by famous artists (Monet, Manet, Kandinsky, Warhol, Mondrian, etc) and creating a game around who could find the art on the cards fastest.

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Aden liked this wacky Dali

Boys love competition of any kind, so they raced through the galleries looking for specific works and learning the names of artists in spite of themselves.

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Art can be fun!

We moms got to wander through more leisurely and take in the awesome loft space and impressive collections.

Some suggested we take a double-decker bus tour but we found it much more fun (and a fraction of the cost) to take public double-decker buses around town.

On the top of the double decker

On the top of the double-decker

Using our Oyster Cards to get on, we always sat on the top by the front window for an excellent view of neighborhoods all over the city.

Have I mentioned I love to shop? One day we took the bus to Oxford Street— which is kind of like 5th Avenue in New York– to check out the scene.

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Aden got a pair of British Nikes and I got some snazzy snake-skin boots at Liberty.

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Liberty’s famous fabrics are set up like streamers in the grand entrance on the main floor of the store.

Known for its signature country French/Bohemian fabrics, Liberty is a gorgeous high-end department store that feels like tiny boutiques housed together in a large mansion, decorated by the best eclectic Etsy designers.

Interior of Liberty London store on

I couldn’t go all the way to London and not stop at Harrod’s. I’ve heard the folklore about the shopping mecca my whole life and had to see it for myself.

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It’s certainly the fanciest store I’ve ever seen– with every major designer represented and modern, glitzy displays. The building has been redesigned since Princess Diana’s former boyfriend Dodi Al Fayed bought it and turned some of the floors into what looks like an Egyptian tomb with relics and giant sculptures lining the escalators, almost like a Disney ride.

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The food section is amazing and I brought home tea and chocolate– which was pretty much all I could afford.  The best part, of course, was the shoe department, which is called “Shoe Heaven.”

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Posing at the pearly gates

That’s my kinda afterlife!

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I’ve documented my love for the royals on the blog before, so a stop at Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard was obviously on our must-see list.

Buckingham Palace on

We joined the throngs of thousands gathered for blocks around the palace. It was fun the see the Queen’s home up close and all the pomp and circumstance of her royal guard. 

There’s not much action, but Aden liked seeing the horses and the stiff way the beefeaters march in unison in their funny hats.

Buckingham Palace on

As for food, we were traveling with two picky eaters who ordered plain pasta and butter wherever we went, so gourmet meals seemed like a waste of effort and money. A pity as London has so many great restaurants.

If traveling with stubborn eaters,  I’d suggest the Wagamama chain of Asian restaurants which has a variety of noodles and soups and serves beer and wine. We had a good meal outside at chef Jamie Oliver’s Union Jack after theater near Covenant Garden.

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We also walked through the food stands at Borough Market, a short walk from the Tate Museum and had a yummy lunch at a cafe called Bill’s also near the Tate and the Shakespeare World Globe Theater. And you must stop in any neighborhood pub and order the fish and chips. It’s worth the extra miles on the treadmill!

We could have stayed another week and still not seen everything we wanted to see. I can’t wait to go back! Tell me your favorite London spots in the comments.

London with kids: balancing culture and fun (part 1)

Last month, I took Aden to London for a week with my friend, MaryEllen, and her son, Pat.  It was a terrific trip, but as I posted a few weeks ago, the boys will remember the funny moments probably more than the tourist spots.

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Checking out Big Ben and Parliament buildings in Westminster.

There is so much to do and see in London, we had to try to force some culture down the throats of those little sports nuts! Without kids in tow, we probably could have jammed 3-4 sights into each day, but with kids you must pace yourself and keep expectations low or you’re doomed. We kept it to about 2 major activities per day, which worked well.

London is one of the easiest cities to navigate. There is no language barrier, the subway and bus systems are amazing, and they basically spoon feed you information. To ride the Underground, you will need to purchase an Oyster card and add money to it in machines at the station.

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Waiting for the tube in the ultra clean underground

The streets are well-marked, and every tourist attraction and tube stop has a plethora of helpful signs (like MIND THE GAP.)

London with kids on

Those thoughtful English don’t want you to step off the curb and get squashed since they drive on the other side of the road.

On our first day, we took the Underground to Westminster and walked around. As soon as you exit the tube station, you’re standing in front of Big Ben, and the Parliament buildings are in the next few blocks. Westminster Abbey is also very close. We wanted to look inside and maybe even get a tour but there was a long line to get in and we feared the boys would wilt if we started the day waiting on line to see a church.

Instead, we walked a few blocks to the Churchill War Rooms. This was an easier sell because — although the rooms open up to an extensive museum on former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s life — the word “museum” is absent and therefore made the activity much more palatable.

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When you enter the museum, you go underground to walk through the actual bunker of rooms Churchill and his men used during World War II, sometimes not emerging for weeks at a time.

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There’s a situation room decorated with maps, sleeping quarters and a kitchen, all preserved to look exactly as it had in the 1940’s.

Churchill War rooms London with kids on

Each number you dialed on this period phone started a recording of a person who knew Churhcill commenting on his personality and leadership skills. I had to help Aden dial!

The interactive museum is very kid-friendly and full of memorabilia and historical exhibits. You don’t have to be a war buff to be fascinated by Churchill’s life, and we wandered around the place for at least two hours without much complaint from the peanut gallery.

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The Eye is in the background

Now we were feeling ambitious so we crossed the Westminster Bridge to the London Eye. The giant, slow-moving ferris wheel is a total tourist trap but one of the highlights of the vacation for all of us.

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It’s fun to be up so high for such a long time, and you can see the layout of the city from every angle, which made explaining our locations easier for the rest of the trip.

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People on the next car brought snacks and champagne and looked like they were on a party ride (note to self for next time!)

We didn't go selfie crazy but some shots were a must!

We didn’t go selfie crazy but some shots were a must!

When you buy your ticket for the Eye there are several other attractions you can combine with it to get more for your money. There’s Madame Toussoud’s Wax Museum (we skipped because we have in NYC)  and a London Dungeon tour that is supposed to scare the crap out of you– no thanks– so we chose to add the London Aquarium. 

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Aden loved the sharks swimming below our feet….

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…and the touch tank.

Aden is an animal-lover and expert so we’ve visited zoos and aquariums in many cities. I’d say the aquarium in London has a lot to offer in variety, but it’s not a standout. It’s located near the Eye and several other tourist spots and probably great for little kids, but you could definitely skip it if you’re not into fish.

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Was this sea turtle waving hello?!

On Day 2 we headed for the Tower of London— a must see.  It’s an original  stone castle/village that dates back to the 11th century and has been used as a royal palace, a fortress, a vault for the crown jewels, a zoo, and a prison. Now it’s a historical landmark where you can learn about England’s often dark and bloody history.    
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I highly recommend you take a tour given by the Yoeman Warders — an extremely elite crew of guards that are presently serving at her Majesty’s service.

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They provide all the history, gossip and literally gory details of English royalty and culture as they take you through some of the main buildings.

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The Yeoman telling us about the Bloody Tower (left) where many executions took place and two young princes were believed to have been murdered.

MaryEllen and I found our guide informative and funny, and the history lesson fascinating. The boys thought there was too much standing and found the tour a snore. But it’s worth persevering!

After the hour-long tour, we visited the Crown Jewels exhibit. Seeing millions of dollars of blinged out crowns, scepters and jewelry was cool, even for boys. Unfortunately, you can’t take photos inside, but I bought post cards to show Wilson in hopes he’d be inspired.

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You could easily spend a whole day at the Tower of London — there are many buildings and exhibits to wander through….

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A real torture rack where they separated the bodies of traitors by stretching their limbs!

…but the boys were getting antsy so we let them stand in the main square and watch the British soldiers guarding the jewels.  The boys stood for nearly 30 minutes waiting for the guards– as stiff as toy soldiers– to show any humanity.

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A facial expression or sneeze made the boys giddy, but they were really hoping for one of the guards to switch his rifle from one shoulder to the other.


You just never know what will engage a kid.

Stay tuned for my next post to see how we engaged the boys the rest of the week!

Shout out again to our friends, Raquel and Chris, who opened their flat to us and helped us plan our daily itineraries.

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Cheers to Raquel, our Julie McCoy of London!

All they asked for in exchange was some boxes of Aunt Jemima’s Complete Pancake Mix, which is unavailable in the U.K. Who knew?!


You know you’re on vacation with 7 boys when….

Last week, our family was invited to spend nine glorious days at our friends’ house on Long Beach Island. LBI is the ultimate Jersey shore experience: beautiful beaches, the old-fashioned Fantasy Island amusement park, plenty of lobster shacks, and enough salt water taffy and fudge to put you into a diabetic stupor.

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The main crew

Our friends, Tony and Carmela*, have three boys, plus our three boys, and half the week we added a friend, to make 7.  That’s SEVEN BOYS, between the ages of 8 and 15.

Throw in two husbands and that’s a lotta testosterone.

When you have that many boys gaggled together, it attracts other boys, like a flashmob. We spent time with a couple of other families whose boys were eager to join our pack, ballooning our numbers up to 9 or 10 boys at a time.

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Not great odds for the ladies to have influence. So what happens when you’re traveling with that many boys? Let’s just say it’s difficult to motivate them to do anything quickly. Getting them up and out for any activity other than Xbox or mini golf is like herding cats, or trying to move sandbags off a couch.

There were too many of them. Their group power and loud voices were often too strong to fight. So Carmela and I did what mothers of boys do: kept them fed and aimed for only one activity per day. We survived, but it was certainly a unique experience as you can see below.

You know you’re on vacation with 7 boys when….

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….the surface of every bedroom floor is covered in Under Armour and Nike Elite socks.

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… need a group rate at Mr. Tee’s and the only morning they rise before 10am is mini-golf tournament day.

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…..they insist on swimming in the ocean after the lifeguards have blown their last whistle, despite the crazy current and worried look on Carmela’s face.

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swimming on LBI on

…..ESPN is on 24/7 and double speak on fantasy football trades is flying.

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……more than half your party leaves a gorgeous beach day to watch the Mets defend a 7-game winning streak.

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… one wants to stop at any of the scores of t-shirt shops and craft stores you pass as you run to the water park for the second time in 5 days.

……the boys drink nearly two cases of Gatorade in a week

… drink 10 bottles of wine, and almost finish bottles of vodka and gin in a week. (Remember: SEVEN BOYS!)

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…… you rent 3 paddle boards for two hours and the boys immediately take off into the bay without life jackets, a map or a plan for return.

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Serious game of beach Boggle

…..the interest in any activity is heightened by competition, be it football, cards, Boggle, or who gets the outdoor shower first.

… one goes to bed before 1130pm, purely out of pride, even if they’re falling asleep in their clothes while thumbing a game controller.

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……one of the highlights of the trip is playing football on the beach at midnight and then ordering more chicken wings than will ever be eaten at Chicken and the Egg diner at 1245am.

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… take about 200 photos and not one has all boys smiling or looking at the camera at the same time.

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Never figured out what this gross spongy thing was….

….they squeal in horror if you dare put red sauce on their pasta or spill ice cream on their favorite shirt…. but they have no problem wiping greasy, sticky hands on their shorts in lieu of a napkin… or carrying some disgusting piece of black, slimy moss crawling with bugs and crabs across a beach.

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……you can be jammed into a narrow house, switch sleeping arrangements every night, and basically spend every minute together for nine days without any hair pulling, crying, or drama.

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Truth is, I’d do it again, quicker than they can deny dripping pee on the toilet seat. I love me some boys.

Special shoutout and thanks to Tony and Carmela for their hospitality. Hope your summer vaca was equally fun!


*names changed in hopes we’ll get invited back!

Our brilliant trip to London (in photos)

I’m back from a week across the pond and already missing London. When Jacob was 12 I took him to Paris with a friend and her son, so I promised Aden and Eli I would take them somewhere special when they turned 12 and this year was Aden’s turn.

I had not been to London since a family trip when I was 8 and was eager to see it as an adult. My friend, Raquel, has been living in London as an ex-pat for four years with her husband and 9-year-old son. She was gracious enough to invite us to stay with her in her North London apartment for a week. My friend, MaryEllen, and her son, Pat– Aden’s pal-  joined Aden and me on our English adventure.

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At the Tate Museum looking at St Paul’s Cathedral

I’m a researcher so I bought a guidebook and map and was online for hours in the weeks leading up to the trip, trying to plan the best itinerary and find great places to eat near all the sights we wanted to see. But like the saying “man plans and God laughs,” I planned and the kids laughed. I quickly learned it was better to keep expectations low and go with the flow or I would end up very frustrated.

We chose a daytime flight because we figured the boys would be too excited to sleep on the plane and then the first day in London would be spent sleeping (that’s what happened when we flew overnight to Paris) so we arrived in the evening.

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The boys were great travelers and with the help of iPads, a well-stocked snack bag,  and a deck of cards, they managed the 12 hour journey with little complaint.

The first day we were all a bit groggy and got a late start. I tried not to be impatient despite my eagerness to seize the day in a new city. Rushing 12-year-old boys to go see historical sights in a foreign land is not advisable. Better they move at their own pace and eat a hearty breakfast.

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Our first day was rainy so we decided to go to the Churchill War Rooms and Museum. We took the Underground to Westminster and as soon as we stepped out, we were in awe of Big Ben.

It was starting to feel real for the boys, who even agreed to dodge raindrops to pose for several pictures.

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(We had to)

Big Ben London on

We hit several tourist sights the first day and were impressed with the boys’ stamina.

Having an apartment to return to every evening was a huge bonus.

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Raquel and Jonas (and MaryEllen) on the balcony of their London flat

We had space to move, there were several bathrooms, and we had friendly faces eager to hear about our adventures and help plan our next destinations.

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Hanging with Jonas

One of the best parts of the trip was watching Aden soak in a new culture. We took several rides on the top of the famous red double-decker buses, where he always wanted to sit in the front seat to check out the city. His eyes were wide open and his curiosity buzzing as he commented on the architecture, cars, and people.

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Riding a red double decker bus

Wilson has indulged me twice, supporting these one-on-one trips and I am grateful. As I explained to him, most of our family life is spent playing, watching, and talking about sports. I live in a virtual ESPN Zone.

I didn’t grow up in a house with sports fans and rarely watched a game on TV. I have a mild interest in sports from a pop culture perspective and I love watching my boys play. But it’s not my thing, and they know it. So they don’t strike up conversations about college football stats in the car or call me in the middle of the day to discuss a Mets trade. Only Wilson makes those daily connections.

So I wanted to do something with each of my boys that took them completely out of their scene, and exposed them to a new environment that would open their minds about their place in the world. These trips allow us to share new experiences– learning about history, seeing amazing sights and eating different  food– while building memories that hopefully they’ll look back on warmly.

One day on the trip we were on the Overground and missed our stop. The boys correctly said we needed to get off at the next stop, but MaryEllen and I doubted them and looked up at the map to see which stop we missed, and in the confusion the doors closed and the boys were standing on the platform outside, and we were locked inside the Tube!

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The boys on the Overground right after surviving 10 minutes alone on a London platform

Luckily we had already discussed what to do if this ever happened and they knew to stay put until we returned. But that didn’t stop MaryEllen and I from screaming “STAY THERE!” ten times as the train pulled away. There were 3 or 4 people in the car staring at us– the irresponsible, loud, stupid Americans–  aghast… as we burst into giggles. Parenting skills at their finest, we left our children at a tube stop in a foreign country.

We got back to the boys within 10 minutes and they were also laughing hysterically and didn’t stop talking about it for the rest of the trip. It was absolutely one of the best things that ever happened to them.

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Abbey Road Studios in North London

Raquel happens to live across the street from the famous Abbey Road Studios where the Beatles made magic. All day and night tourists come to graffiti the walls outside the building and take photos on the iconic cross walk, like the cover of the Abbey Road album.


One night, in the cover of darkness, we went down to the studio in our pajamas  and spray painted our names on the wall.

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It felt naughty and thrilling all at once.

Graffiti on Abbey Road studios wall on

We also got incredibly fortunate when we got bumped up to business class on the flight home. It was the most luxurious 7.5 hours of Aden’s life, as he stretched out on a cozy bed, watching movies and ordering snacks from an eager flight attendant.

FLying business class with kids on

We did a lot of amazing things in London– as you will read in my next post– but it’s the funny and unexpected adventures that they’ll remember, more than the Crown Jewels or Picassos at the Tate Modern.

I’m cool with that.

Huge thanks to Raquel, Chris, and Jonas for being terrific hosts and enhancing our trip! Stay tuned for the next post about all the fun things we did and many more pix.

NJ Grounds for Sculpture is worth the trip

We recently had a rare day with no sports obligations so we took advantage by exploring the Grounds for Sculpture park in Hamilton, New Jersey. I had never visited before but heard great things, and it definitely lived up to the hype and turned out to be a really fun day for everyone from picky, eye-rolling kids, to high-brow grandparents.

Grounds for Sculpture NJ on

As you may know, I usually persuade my culture-averse boys to do something new by offering a tasty meal as part of the deal. The park has two restaurants– one is an upscale cafeteria that has some healthy options, the other looked like a fancy restaurant– despite its name: Rat’s, (really?)–  set on a small lake. We didn’t eat there because it’s crowded on the weekends and pricey with kids, but it looked very pretty and I liked many options on the gourmet French menu.

There’s not much around Hamilton, but I found a famous breakfast place in Princeton that fit the bill. PJ’s Pancake House is in the heart of Princeton on Nassau Street, about 15 minutes from the Grounds for Sculpture.

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Chocolate chip banana pancakes met Jake’s high standards of food excellence

We ordered eggs, pancakes, waffles, and French toast and every plate was delicious. The mound of bacon and sausage links were also popular with the kids.

PJ's Pancake House Princeton NJ on

It has old-school diner atmosphere, the service is quick, and the prices are very reasonable for such yummy food.

PJ's Pancake House Princeton NJ on

It’s the kind of place where the berries are fresh and the syrup was probably tapped in Vermont the day before.

So with bellies stuffed, we had the energy to walk the  42-acre park. It’s the former site of the New Jersey State Fairgrounds so there’s lots of room to run and most of the sculptures are touchable, if not climbable. Many were larger recreations of art by the masters, like this version of Manet’s “Olympia.”

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The outdoor museum features contemporary sculptures of many sizes, but the ones that get the most attention are enormous….

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and iconic……

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Mom and I trying not to look up!

making art accessible and engaging…. even to those who assume it will be boring.

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We spent about an hour and a half wandering through the park, which is full of surprises.


In addition to the sculptures, there are beautiful gardens and a lake, and plenty of shady places to stop and rest.

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Wisteria walkway

It was a successful outing all around. It’s a perfect destination for family days when you have many age groups to please.

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I like it because my kids are getting some culture without even realizing it…

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…and they like it because they have the freedom to run free and use their loudest outside voices.

Grounds for Sculpture park Hamilton, NJ on

What are some of your favorite family day activities? Tell me in the comments. Summer vacation is just days away and I need ideas!

Staycation 2015: the week in photos

My kids were on spring break last week and we stayed home because Jacob had 5 baseball games. Was I bitter? Maybe a little. But it was actually nice to be home with few plans and time for the kids to relax.

My boys overindulged on-screen time for sure, but I planned at least one outing a day to make sure they got some stimulation that didn’t include a remote or joystick (I know, no one calls them joytsicks anymore but ‘Xbox controller’ is so undescriptive.)

We’re so lucky to have New York City in our back yard, and I took them in a few times to get a change of scenery and sneak in some culture without the boys realizing it.

Here are the highlights of the week in photos…..

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I met two gal pals at Penn Station Friday night. We were having dinner with our husbands in Chelsea at 7pm so we bought ourselves chilled mini wine bottles (at the little store by the stairs to the Garden) which we dumped in paper cups. Then we picked up the High Line at 31st St. and 11th Avenue to walk to the restaurant.

There’s nothing like an outdoor cocktail hour, walking above Manhattan, and people watching on the High Line on a lovely spring evening!

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On Monday I took Eli to see the animated movie Home. We both liked it a lot– it’s a very sweet and engaging story, with characters voiced by Rihanna, Jim Parsons, JLo, and Steve Martin. I also like any excuse to eat movie popcorn.

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Tuesday I took Aden and Eli to the batting cages at Frozen Ropes to hit balls off a pitching machine.

Batting cages at Frozen Ropes on

It aint cheap: $30 for 30 minutes, and the time went quickly, but it was a productive, fun activity.

We took the train into the city Wednesday and the kids picked Shake Shack for lunch. The line wasn’t too long….

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and we chowed on our burgers and fries.

Shake Shack NYC on

Then we walked a few blocks to see Matilda on Broadway. Eli and I read the Roald Dahl book and we had been listening to the music in the car and explaining the plot to Aden.

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I was worried because Aden wasn’t so psyched when I told him I bought the tickets. But we all loved it! Amazing performances, inventive staging and dancing, and terrific music that we are still humming days later. I highly recommend!

My boys had never been to Dylan’s Candy Bar so after the show we headed east and wandered the sugar sanctuary for almost 45 minutes.

Dylan's Candy Bar NYC on

Giant gummy bear and candy necklace!

I gave them each a $15 limit but still managed to spend an obscene amount of money I can’t think about ever again. Oh well. You only live once right?

Dylan's Candy Bar NYC on

Like mice in a cheese factory….

Two friends and I took our boys to the city Thursday to walk around Chinatown. We had never been to Chinatown in NY and I thought we’d walk the streets, taking in the new culture, marveling at the colorful fruit and vegetable stands, and wandering into little shops.

Chinatown NYC on

But I forgot I was with 7 boys whose only interest was consuming as much sesame chicken as their bellies could hold. The authentic eats at 456 Shanghai Cuisine didn’t disappoint. As you can see here, we tried a little bit of everything. The pork dumplings– both standard and soup– were gobbled up instantly, and the moo shu pork, shrimp and vegetables, chicken lo mien, and sautéed green beans were delicious. Nothing was greasy and no one felt sick 30 minutes after consuming an impressive amount of food. And the price is nice too. The lunch specials were just $5.75 each and came with soup and rice.

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Although I couldn’t eat anymore, the children managed to cram in shakes and cones from the famous Chinatown Ice Cream Factory down the street. In addition to the standards, they have some very inventive flavors, including Black Sesame, Ginger, and Lychee. Thumbs up from the fellas.

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Chinatown is very close to the Criminal Court building, where our friend Chris works, so the boys got a bonus tour of a courtroom and a holding cell.

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We also stopped at the mecca of sneakers, a place called Flight Club, near Union Square. Literally hundreds of technicolored sneakers line the walls of this store and I couldn’t find a pair for less than $150.

Flight Club NYC shopping on

Much like me at Bergdorf Goodman, the boys browsed the shelves, knowing they could never afford the laces of most of their coveted shoes.

Flight Club NYC shopping on

A boy can dream…..

I must admit I enjoyed Flight Club from an anthropological perspective. It’s a whole culture of people who purchase, trade, and collect high-end sneakers and seeing so many creative designs made it feel like an exhibit in a modern art museum.

Flight Club NYC shopping on

Check out the price tags on these babies! This is what thousand-dollar shoes look like

The prices of some of the shoes were as expensive as art– going up to the eye-popping $7,000 to 11,000 range! Who knew?

On Friday it was back to work for me so the boys had a free day to play with friends.

I asked them tonight what the highlights were of their break. Jacob groaned, which he does at any question I ask him of late.

Aden said “Everything!” I’ll take it!

Eli? After a detailed recap of all our adventures, he chose the playdate with his friend Kieran yesterday.

Can’t win ’em all.