Backyard Travel in the Hudson Valley...With Kids.

Friday, March 20, 2015

tubing at Windham Mountain in the Catskills

I was talking with my new famous friend Dani the other day about how difficult life with a toddler can be during the weekends when it's really really cold outside.  

me: 'We've only been living in Upstate New York for 2.5 months, and we haven't quite figured out what to do with Poppy (our toddler) on the weekends.  What do you do with your kid when it's wicked cold like this?  A lot of businesses in Hudson are closed for 'winter break'.  So weird.'      
Dani: 'When my son was Poppy’s age I don’t recall a winter like this.  This has been brutal! There are some indoor play spaces (which I always hated, but are kind of lifesavers when you can’t go outside).  Honestly, weekends aren’t easy.  When Poppy gets just a little older, you can start with sports.  But we’ll talk when we have that vino together!  Don’t lose heart.'  

me: 'It's nice to hear someone say – simply and frankly – that weekends with toddlers aren't easy.'

Dani: 'It’s just simply true — but parents aren’t always honest about their own experience — they’re afraid it makes them bad parents, or selfish, or whatever.'

This dilemma crept into my Backyard Travel in the Hudson Valley column for Main Street Mag's upcoming issue.  The article rounds up the top 9 things to do with your child during the winter and features an interview with Joanne Michaels.  Joanne wrote this book: 

and this book...

...for those of you who don't use the first one properly.  

Triage of Cute Acts

Monday, November 10, 2014

Mothers of babies and toddlers are often yelling, 'Hey ___(name of significant other)_____, come 'ere!'            

But we're not always forthcoming about why we're asking our husband to 'come here,' are we now?  We're summoning him because, well...because the child we created together is doing something cute – cute to very cute in fact.  Here's the thing: if we were to add 'this is really cute!' or 'you gotta see this!,' the summons would loose its sense of urgency.

We're compelled to import an audience for cute acts like...
  • the child has put an object on his head – like a bucket or a colander – as if the object were a hat!  So cute. 
  • the child is doing an interpretive dance to Mary Poppins' 'Chim Chiminey' song
  • the child put on daddy's Bose headphones and is pretending to be a businessman sitting in first class
  • the child is bathing himself in the sink

And moving the kid to wherever your husband is clearly isn't an option because any state changes – geographic or otherwise – could and probably would cause your child to stop doing the cute thing (and something this cute only happens 2 to 4 times a day!).

So, in an effort to avoid becoming too annoying, I've compiled a simple protocol for us moms to follow.  After all, your husband could be busy watching an important sporting event on TV or right in the middle of playing NBA 2K15 on XBox.  Here we go:

1) Let's disclose the fact that he's being summoned to see the kid doing something cute.  

2) If there's enough time, try to yell a quick summary of the cute act little Johnny is doing – it's possible your husband saw him do it yesterday.

3) Let's be genuinely at ease with our husbands' right to remain on the couch (and let's try not to resent him when he exercises this right).  And finally

4) Let's stop airbrushing that sense of urgency into our voice.  You ladies know the one I mean – the tone that implies your husband is about to witness the second coming.  It's a disingenuous tone...Jesus is not in the nursery (unless He is, in which case forget the protocol).

Time Travel To Adolescence

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Highlights by Paige Darrah

Time Travel To Adolescence

Welcome to Froggie's 5 & 10! This indie toy store/classic American nostalgia shop (Woody Allen would love this place) sells everything: tin My Little Pony lunch boxes, Wizard of Oz themed tea sets, quirky makeup pouches, even quirkier sales people*, Hello Kitty stuff, books for every age group, retro candy, and an expertly curated selection of rubber duckies.
* the type who stay up late playing video games and eating Cheetos

They've got veggie hot dogs, real hot dogs, and all kindsa custard for the entire family!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Highlights by Paige Darrah

They've got veggie hot dogs, real hot dogs, and all kindsa custard for the entire family!

One time, on a cold day in late February when it was raining and his shop was uncharacteristically barren, Harry moseyed* over to the blue faux-leather booth I was reading in and handed me a wooden coin emblazoned with his welcoming visage.
'You can get yourself some custard with this sometime when you're broke,' Harry said to me.
During the afternoon Wild About Harry's proprietor (Harry) can be found sitting on a red vinyl stool leaning against the wall in his casual diner's entryway. He's there to greet his loyal customers (of whom there are many).
The walls of one of the 3 quaintly sized dining rooms are covered with long-yellowed newspaper clippings (e.g. The Dallas Morning News' obituary for Stanley Marcus from 2002) and photographs of Wild About Harry's customers ranging from the mildly famous Dallas native to the homely Highland Park local. Most of these photos have notes written on them in sharpie thanking Harry for his excellent custard.
I've been eating here since circa '04 – sometimes to-go, sometimes dine-in, always a pleasure.

* yes, it was definitely a mosey.

Betty Cornell's Teenage Popularity Guide

The highly anticipated Popular: Vintage Wisdom For A Modern Geek and it’s friend Teenage Popularity Guide* hit the shelves in April.  I first heard about these books from an article in Publishers Weekly whose headline read:  Teenage Memoir Gives New Life to Its 1950s Inspiration 

It was an article about how 15 year-old Maya Van Wagenen did the following:
  1. employed 1950s fashion, grooming, and etiquette techniques…
  2. for the duration of her 8th grade year...
  3. while writing it all down in her diary... 
  4. which led to a book deal...
  5. that also resulted in its film rights being sold to a little moviemaking company by the name of “DreamWorks”.

I love the way Maya plugs some of the tips from Betty’s vintage guide into Popular (they’re in a ladylike light-blue italic font).  You’ll also find some well-placed text boxes labeled ‘Maya’s Popularity Tips’.  Here’s one example from the Clothes & What To Wear chapter: 

       Don’t question your wardrobe choices based on someone else’s religious intolerance.**

To which I would venture to add:

       … but do question your wardrobe choices if they do not look good on you and aren’t required by your religion’s dogma. 

My favorite chapter is the one where Maya puts into practice Betty’s teachings on cultivating a friendly personality/combatting shyness.  This is the part where Maya tries to reap what she’s been sowing throughout 8th grade (ie. acquire more friends).  And where is the best, most logical place to make new friends in middle school?  It’s that one place where every group on the popularity scale is represented: the cafeteria.

Maya begins with the lunch tables of the groups where she has an acquaintance or two – the other Social Outcast table, the Choir Geek table.  As the month rolls on, Maya sits down – uninvited and often unwelcome – to eat her lunch with every group.  She’s nervous, of course; we’re nervous for her.  It’s a ballsy task.

I expected Popular to be a sort of passionate monologue, but it ended up being a dialogue between Maya and Betty, between Maya and herself, and, finally, between Maya and her fellow middle schoolers.  It’s a book about not hiding anymore, or, as Betty says, how “to have yourself well in hand”.  I can’t wait to see the movie!

Maya was kind enough to answer, over email, my questions about some of her social experiment’s logistical details, the new book she’s working on, and her social life:

Paige: So Maya, tell me about how you came across the Teenage Popularity Guide?  Was it originally your mother's, or perhaps your grandmother's?  Was it hanging out on your mom's bookshelf?  In a box in the attic?

Maya Van Wagenen: My dad, a historian, bought Betty Cornell’s Teenage Popularity Guide at a thrift store years before I was born. He thought it did a good job of representing the ideals of vintage pop culture in an amusing way. Fortunately, my dad never got rid of the book, although he contemplated it many times through the years. The summer before I went into eighth grade, my parents found the book while cleaning out the office. They gave it to me to look at, and when I started reading some of the advice out to my mother she came up with the idea to follow those suggestions during the upcoming school year and write about what happened.

What did Teenage Popularity Guide smell like?  Was it marked up with highlights and/or notes in the margins?

The book itself is faded and torn. It smells like an antique shop or like folded lace handkerchiefs left in a grandmother’s cupboard. When I got the book, the only marking was an inscription written in spiraling cursive in the front cover from the year 1953, which shows it was a gift from “Mama and Daddy” to their daughter.  Since then I have marked up the book with frantic notes in pencil, underlined passages, and added doodles and sticky notes to the faded pages. There is also a signature from the author herself that I got when I met her last April.

When you finally met Betty Cornell, were you nervous?  The two of you obviously had a lot to talk about; did you bond instantly or is your relationship more reserved and professional?  What’s she like?  Did you find yourself wanting to kiss, hug, or otherwise embrace her?  

I was nervous to meet the person who, through her book, had become a close friend and teacher. Betty was a very real part of my day-to-day life, and having an actual conversation with her was both exciting and terrifying. I realized, though, that there was little to be worried about. Betty Cornell had lived the advice she wrote in her book, and because of that she was exactly as I’d imagined her to be: friendly and inclusive. We hit it off and keep in touch.  

Where are you on your second book?  How's that going?

My second book is a novel with a different tone than that of Popular, but hopefully a similar message of kindness and acceptance. I have loved the experiences I’ve had because of this first publication, but it’s been incredibly time consuming. Even though it will be sad to start a new chapter of my career, I can’t wait to put my full attention to this next work.

And, finally, has your social life changed?  If you didn't become more popular as a result of spending your 8th grade year employing Betty's advice, are you more popular now as a result of your recent success and media attention?

While I can’t directly tell you the full outcome of the experiment, (you’ve got to read about that for yourself :) ), it was an incredible and life changing experience. But, I can say that the news about the publication of the book has had a considerable effect on my life in high school. While this is a different kind of popularity than I sought out for at the beginning of eighth grade, it is very interesting none the less. I’ve met a great deal of people because of it, and thanks to that I am continuing to learn about popularity even now. 

* Here’s TPG’s superlong 1950s subtitle:
‘Here you are – everything I learned as a teen-age model about good looks, grooming and personality… all my secrets of poise and glamour in one big book…to help YOU become the most popular girl in your set!’

** A teacher – who had been eyeing Maya’s long skirt and pilgrim-esque shoes – has just asked Maya if her outfit was a byproduct of her religious affiliation (“one of those churches”).

Do You Have To Return The Grocery Cart If You Have A Young Child With You?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

It embarrassing, it feels like littering.  Yes, that's what it feels like.  It feels like we're throwing a styrofoam hotdog carton full of residual mustard & ketchup on the ground when there's a trashcan just 25 feet away.  It doesn't feel like we're doing what we're actually doing: hastily and awkwardly hoisting a grocery cart onto the curb and grass periphery at Whole Foods, hoping that one of the following two things happen:

a) an employee sees you, smiles and runs over to take the cart and return it to its friends at the entrance  


b) you stash your cart at the curb and no one sees you

Whenever I commit this social faux pas – which is about twice month – I'm always afraid I'll be confronted by some OCD Whole Foods patron.  Here's how I imagine such a confrontation would go:

anal Whole Foods patron:  'Um, you can't just park grocery carts on the curb like that.  Why can't you put it in a cart return stall like everyone else?  There's one just over there!'

The anal Whole Foods patron points to a barren cart return stall that's 30 feet away.  

parent of a toddler: 'First of all, not everyone returns their carts the stall.  Second of all, I have a baby in the car and you're not supposed to leave your baby in the car*.  Everyone knows that.'

anal Whole Foods patron: 'You could've put your groceries in your car and then wheeled the cart to the stall with your baby in it, then carried your child back to your car.'

parent of a toddler: 'I see your point, and I certainly thought of that.  It's just, she's nearing that 40 pound mark, and I just paid $5 for a cantaloupe.  Doesn't Whole Foods' healthy profit margin entitle me to the occasional curbside grocery cart pickup, especially when it's for the noble cause of child safety?'

anal Whole Foods patron: 'No.'

If this long-anticipated/imaginary confrontation in the parking lot gives you anxiety, you might want to make a pit stop at Whole Foods' Bar Alto for a drop of something cheerful before you head out.  Grab the toddler a cookie or one of those squeezy apple sauce pouches from aisle 2 to munch on while you have a glass of sauvignon blanc.  
There are several bar-height tables and chairs, so you can leave the kid in the cart and pull it up next to you.  They switch up their wine by the glass offerings often; lately they've been serving a French white bordeaux that I fancy, it's made by 'Les Hauts de Bel Air'.  A glass of wine at Whole Foods' Bar Alto is $5 unless you come between 5-7pm, in which case a glass will only set you back $4.  That's $4 well spent if it helps us to calm down and realize that most people – especially those with toddlers in tow – prop their grocery carts up on the curb from time to time. 

Bar Alto at Highland Park
Open Daily, Noon until 10 pm

Whole Foods Market
4100 Lomo Alto Dr

Highland Park, TX 75219
P: 214.520.7993

Everyone knows this and yet there's always some woman who leaves her kid in the car in the middle of summer; my theory is she's just not that into her kid.  To find out more about not leaving your kid in the car, check out this post: 

The Institution of the Baby Shower

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Frankly (and I don't think I'm alone here), I hate baby showers.  The most tedious part of the baby shower​ is the part where you have to open your presents in front of everyone.  Yep; it's those obligatory orgasms that – when combined with the glacial pace of it all – really get ya down.  The thing is, while I'm generally keen to celebrate, champion, and otherwise engage in consumerism, baby shower gifts are better opened in private.​  

So what can we do to make baby showers more palatable (read: suck less)?

everyone is watching and it's a lot of pressure-

Let's journey back to Miranda's baby shower in that show that keeps on giving.

Charlotte: 'I know you said you didn't want a baby shower, but it's not too late to change your mind...'

Miranda: 'I hate baby showers.'

Samantha: 'Ugh, who doesn't?'

Miranda: 'The games, the finger sandwiches, all that enforced 'oooo-ing' and 'aaaaah-ing'.'

Charlotte: 'But think of the gifts.  It'd be a great way to get all the stuff you need...'

Miranda: 'Okay.  But no cutesy storky shit.'

Charlotte's face wilts.

Miranda: 'Just an adult, dignified lunch with presents – which I will open after everyone leaves.'  

Charlotte: 'You have to open the presents.'

Unfortunately – despite her trial lawyer prowess – Miranda does indeed end up opening pastel presents to that chorus of 'oooo-ing' and 'aaaaah-ing'.

Wouldn't it be great to not have to pretend to be interested in what Hallmark and Papyrus have to say about motherhood & newborn babies?  


Even when you've already been gifted 12 sets of receiving blankets (a baby registry item whose purpose is still unclear) you're still obligated to orgasm when you open your 13th set of receiving blankets.  Everyone is watching and ​it's​ a lot of pressure!​  

there's limited functionality here.

What's worse is, even if you do happen to love the agenda pushing onesie your law school friend gives you, it's going to be difficult to dig up the glowing commentary when you're on the 16th present.  

So why can't we just open the presents later and save the clever commentary for the thank you card like we do for weddings?  

Or, if that's too radical for now, can we pull an Irish goodbye when it gets to be present opening time at other people's baby showers?  We could just text the mother-to-be a little later with something like: 
'Sorry I had to duck out a bit early; had a hair appt.. Congrats on the baby! Those cupcakes were AMAZING!'   

Clare Naylor over at the Financial Times  might be willing to hop on board.

Poppy Has Moved To A Gated Gated Community

Monday, May 12, 2014

Poppy can escape now.  She has slept through the night since she was 5 weeks old (my pediatrician told me not to bring that up too often); now she gets up at 2:00am and meanders into our room demanding provisions.  Then, THEN, she wakes up for real at around 6:00am, comes into our room, and gets in our bed.  When I hear that door handle jiggling I always hope that I'm about get a nice snuggle from my 2 year-old, but all she ever does is wiggle and sit on my head.  It is not a tranquil experience.  

So, in an effort to recreate the physical barrier that her crib* used to provide, I spent a nice little Saturday at our neighborhood home improvement store.  

A Lowe's employee sees me sifting through their selection of baby gates and offers her assistance.

Lowe's lady: 'May I help you?'

me: 'Oh, no.  I'm fine thanks.  I'm just looking for something that will keep my 2 year-old in her room at night.'

Lowe's lady: 'Well, you don't want her wandering into the kitchen and hurting herself.'  

me: 'Yea, it's really more about her not coming into my room and waking me up.'

Lowe's lady giggles.

me: 'But if anyone asks, that's what I'll  We're really into safety.'    

Lowe's lady: 'Well safety is important.  Safety first.'  

me: 'I agree with you completely.'

this is 32 inches tall.  yay!

I slept until 7:30 this morning.

*Once your child has the height and coordination required to climb out of his or her crib, you've gotta move on to something called a 'toddler bed'. 

No Snooze

Friday, April 11, 2014

Have you guys seen Jerry Seinfeld's stand-up bit that's before The Wink episode?  The one where he talks about what a bad idea snooze buttons are; that they should be sold with an unemployment application & a bottle of tequila...  

Well apparently I've traded in the tequila and the snooze button for a toddler and some monogrammed towels.  

Up until 2 weeks ago Poppy slept until 9:30am, sometimes 10:00.  Now not only does she not sleep until 9:30, she wakes up at 7:00 comes into our room and won't go away.  She doesn't curl up with me in my bed and sleep for a few more minutes either.  She crawls into my bed and gets under the covers pretending like she might sleep for a little while longer.  Then she starts to squirm.  She's squirmy.  It was cute for about a week.  It is no longer cute.  

My toddler would make an effective snooze button debilitation app.  I introduced Poppy to some IT execs in Palo Alto and they seemed pretty excited.  They're working out the beta logistics now, but she'll soon be translated into an alarm app that you can't disable – the noise doesn't stop until 35 minutes later (and you can't turn your phone off either).  If you set The Toddler Alarm for 6:00am, you'll be hearin' Gloria Estefan's 1989 hit  single 'Get On Your Feet' until the clock strikes 6:35.  You betcha.  

'Just The One For Now Thanks.'

Saturday, March 22, 2014

everyone: ‘You gotta have another one!’

me: 'Well, wouldn't that more than double my caregiving responsibilities?  I've heard that it's not linear...'

everyone: 'That's true, but it's still better to just get it over with/out of the way. #outoftheway'

(just kidding, there is no hash tag)

me: 'Yea, I'm not sure about that.

everyone: '...if you go ahead and get it out of the way now now, your kids will be close in age, which means they'll go to the same schools, which means you'll only have to make one stop!  They'll be school-age at the same time, so they'll both be out of the house during the day...'


me: 'Okay, maybe.  But wouldn't it be better to wait until Child A is old enough to be a supplemental caregiver for Child B*?'  

An essay entitled It Only Takes a Partial Village if You Just Have One Kid  is
 a particularly fine study of this conundrum.

The Sh•tty moms say that 'One kid is a carry-on bag — portable and manageable. Two or more is like checked luggage — costly and likely to get lost.' 

Yes, Sh•tty Moms, I'm glad you brought up the subject of travel/vacation time.  Wouldn't it be rude to ask the poor grandparents to take care two children while Matt and I go on vacation?  I feel like that would be kind of rude.  So then do you have to ask one set of grandparents to take care of child A, and ask another set of grandparents to take care of child B?  Doesn't that present logistical challenges?  

*Obviously if you're old or almost old, you've gotta suck it up and get back in there.