07/24/15 9:00am
Spending the day trying out instruments with The Cleveland Orchestra at Lincoln Center is pretty much a perfect NYC experience.

Spending the day trying out instruments with The Cleveland Orchestra at Lincoln Center is pretty much a perfect NYC experience. Photo: Meredith Craig de Pietro

Last weekend, I took my son for his first performance at Lincoln Center. We had been there last year for an informative Sesame Street exhibit. But, I saw that Lincoln Center has other family-friendly programming, including shortened concerts and kid-oriented music events. So for $15/ ticket, I bought entree for our family into a morning event called Fantastic French Horns with The Cleveland Orchestra, a special edition of the Orchestra’s adult performance at LC.

We arrived early to the Stanley K. Kaplan Penthouse, a gorgeous room with wrap-around glass windows, to get good seats. A crew of cheerful volunteers met us at the door and provided my son with his own Lincoln Center passport that he can get stamped at all future events. Inside the room, tables were cluttered with beautiful musical instruments, and although the event was well attended (with about 50 people) we were able to find great seats.

Over the next hour, kids enjoyed an interactive lesson about the french horn by the Cleveland Orchestra’s own Hans Clebsch. We learned about the horn’s prehistoric origins and heard examples of horns ranging from a conch shell to an antelope horn. The director was engaging and kept the event moving with lots of call and response from the audience. We heard beautiful snippets of Strauss, Mozart, and “Pop Goes the Weasel.” My son’s favorite part was when they provided musical accompaniment for the myths “The Wind and the Sun” and “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Second favorite? The beautiful performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” which my son quietly sang along with.

The penthouse is an intimate performance space, that feels welcoming and exclusive at the same time.

The penthouse is an intimate performance space that feels welcoming and exclusive at the same time. Photo: Meredith Craig de Pietro

Lincoln Center recommended this event for kids ages 6 and up, and I realized quickly that I should take their suggested age at face value for future events. Although most children were very engaged, we did notice a few younger folk who were having trouble concentrating on the performance. One girl was lying in the aisle, a boy was whining to his mother, and another kid was steadily focused on picking his nose and eating it.

At the end of the hour, the kids were invited to the front to touch and try a wide variety of musical instruments. If you imagine this as bedlam, you would be right. But there were so many volunteers helping and wiping down mouthpieces, and so many musical instruments on display, that the kids were able to move thoroughly around getting chances to try everything from the french horn (ofcourse), to the triangle, to the violin. After the 10th time of my son banging a gong, he took a bow and we walked across Lincoln Center, our ears still ringing, to the David Rubenstein Atrium where they have a beautiful vertical garden, and a ‘wichcraft to boot.

Upcoming Lincoln Center Family Events:

Saturday July 25th: Family Day at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, 10am- 5pm, FREE, All Ages. This yearly all day concert event starts with a Baby Loves Disco dance party and continues with performances by Lil Buck, Joyous Quartet, Heidi Latsky Dance’s wheelchair whizzes, as well as multimedia dance extravaganzas. Takes place at Josie Robertson Plaza and Jaffe Drive

August 1st: Puppet Building Workshop, 11am-12:30pm, $25/ ticket, Ages 8+. A hands-on puppet workshop led by puppeteer Leo Gabriadze showing some of the creations from Ramona (which is currently in production at Lincoln Center.) Families will design and build their own puppets. Takes place at The Samuels Studio 165 West 65th Street, 7th Floor.

‘Wichcraft– David Rubentein Atrium- 61 West 62nd Street @ Broadway. Hours: Mon- Wed: 8am-9pm, Thurs: 8am-9:30pm, Fri: 8am- 9pm, Sat: 9am- 9pm, Sun: 10am-6pm

07/17/15 9:40am
Don't worry! The new Whitney Museum is spacious enough to handle the High Line crowds. Photo: Photograph © Nic Lehoux

Don’t worry! The new Whitney Museum is spacious enough to handle the High Line crowds. Photo: Photograph © Nic Lehoux

My fear of viewing art in between heads and limbs, and being shoulder to shoulder with scores of tourists has made me put off visiting the Whitney Museum of American Art’s new location. But last Saturday morning, my family and I decided to suck it up. When we arrived at the mammoth new building, a long line had already formed in front. Rumors swirled that Secret Service had closed the building to prepare for Malia Obama’s visit. Before I had a chance to start complaining and seething, the line moved and we were already inside Renzo Piano’s stunning, airy, air-conditioned building that is built for crowds. (more…)

07/10/15 9:00am
Can't afford to rent a villa in Italy for a family vacation this summer? Wave Hill in the Bronx is the next best thing. Photo: Wave Hill

Can’t afford to rent a villa in Italy for a family vacation this summer? Wave Hill in the Bronx is the next best thing. Photo: Wave Hill

New York City has so many unique experiences, but I never thought I’d find myself taking a Sunday stroll through a country estate. Wave Hill is a 28-acre public garden and cultural center in the Bronx that overlooks the Hudson River and the Palisades. Originally built in 1843 as a country home, it was later rented by notable NYC tenants like Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain. In 1960, it was given to the city to be used as an institution for the advancement of art and nature. And what a gift! With the rolling hills, gorgeous landscaping and breathtaking views, this is a beautiful way to spend the afternoon with the family. (more…)

06/12/15 4:02pm
Photo: Antonio DePietro

The Louis Armstrong House Museum is a time capsule in Queens where you can see how the singer, nicknamed Satchmo, lived his life. Photo: Antonio De Pietro

My 5-year-old son’s class is performing the song “It’s A Wonderful World” at his school’s end of the year graduation party. So when I found out about the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens, I knew it would be a timely way to get in some music history. Little did I know that we would both be completely enthralled with the experience.

Your kids will be begging to bake cookies in this inspirational kitchen. Photo: Courtesy of Louis Armstrong House Museum

Your kids will be begging to bake cookies in this inspirational kitchen. Photo: Courtesy of Louis Armstrong House Museum

Unlike other museums that we’ve explored, this is more like a preserved time capsule. The museum is housed in an unassuming brick townhouse on a side street in Corona, Queens that was bought by the singer with his wife Lucille in 1943. The house, their furniture, and artifacts from their life remain in place, as if waiting for the Armstrongs to stroll back in one day and play a tune. Admittance to the museum is through a guided tour, which runs every hour on the hour. When we arrived there was another group of two families already in line, with kids ranging from about 2-12 (whose older son attends the I.S. 227 Louis Armstrong school in Queens). This is not a particularly kid-friendly museum, as you’re not allowed to touch all of the strange and beautiful things in the house. But the kids all seemed to really enjoy it, and the passionate tour guide made a point of including facts geared towards the young.

The wood paneled den is where Louis Armstrong made all of his collection of home recordings. Photo: Courtesy of Louis Armstrong House Museum

The wood paneled den is where Louis Armstrong made all of his collection of home recordings. Photo: Courtesy of Louis Armstrong House Museum

We started in the circa 1955 living room right next to a Leroy Neiman painting of a saxophonist. We learned that Louis met his wife, Lucille, at the Cotton Club, where she was a dancer. At the time they lived here, Louis traveled over 300 days out of the year, so Lucille had a lot of time alone in the house (and a lot of money) to decorate. What a brilliant job she did; the house is the height of 50’s/60s interior design. The blue kitchen is filled with custom built-in’s, like the double oven, and hideaway paper towel and tinfoil holders. The bathroom is lavishly decorated with mirrors and gold swan handles, and the walk-in closet is blinding with shiny mylar wallpaper (even on the ceiling). Yet, among all the finery, the rooms feel intimate and livable. The most unique part of the tour is the doorbell-like buttons on the walls, that when pushed, fill the rooms with the home recordings of Louis and Lucille’s banter and music. We heard Louis having dinner with friends in the dining room, telling jokes in the hallway, and practicing his trumpet in an alcove. My son was surprised to hear the legendary singer describe how he found the inspiration for “It’s A Wonderful World” through the diversity of the Corona neighborhood.

The Louis Armstrong House Museum's garden will be the perfect place to dance the summer away. Photo: Courtesy of Louis Armstrong House Museum

The Louis Armstrong House Museum’s garden is the perfect place to dance the summer away at their Summer Concert Series. Photo: Courtesy of Louis Armstrong House Museum

Throughout the tour, we saw many photos of Louis Armstrong hanging out with the neighborhood kids. Our tour guide regaled us with amazing stories of how Louis let kids watch Westerns on his TV, while Lucille brought them sweet tea to drink. One Christmas, he loaded all the children from the block into his tour bus and brought them all to visit Santa at Macy’s.

The last leg of the tour brought us out to the Japanese-inspired garden on the side of the house. The Armstrongs had built a small stage and a Koi pond, and performed concerts here during their lives. The museum staff carries on this tradition with a free summer concert series throughout July and August.

Finally, we strolled through the gift store that sells everything from jazz-inspired mugs to Armstrong’s favorite laxative, Swiss Kriss. It’s hard to imagine who might buy this here, but it was yet another instance of the way this museum allowed us to peek behind the curtain of a legend and find the intimacies of a great man who was inspired by his neighborhood.

We got a taste of Corona with lunch at Tortilleria Nixtamal, a colorful restaurant famous for their tortillas which are made fresh every day. My son enjoyed pork and pineapple tacos, while I indulged in some spicy shrimp. On a lazy afternoon, their porch is the perfect place to enjoy a mango margarita, and think to yourself, what a wonderful world.

Louis Armstrong House Museum– 34-56 107th Street, Corona Queens 718-478-8274 Hours: Tuesday- Friday: 10:00-5:00pm, Saturday: 12:00pm- 5:00pm. The last tour of the day is at 4:00pm. No appointment necessary. Admission: Adults $10; Seniors, students and children $7; Children under 4: free. Subway: Take the 7 train to 103 St- Corona Plaza

Upcoming events:

Sunday June 21st: Father’s Day With Pops 12pm-4pm free

Saturday July 4th: Hot Jazz/ Cool Garden Summer Concert Series with The Ladybugs (red beans ‘n rice & sweet tea included) 2pm $18

Saturday July 18th: Hot Jazz/ Cool Garden Summer Concert Series with Jon-Erik Kellso & Friends (red beans ‘n rice & sweet tea included) 2pm $18

Saturday August 15th: Hot Jazz/ Cool Garden Summer Concert Series with Cynthia Sayer & Her Sparks Fly Quartet (red beans ‘n rice & sweet tea included) 2pm $18

Thursday August 20: Jazzmobile Block Party featuring Grammy Nominated Bobby Sanabria in Concert 4:00pm- 8:30pm free

Tortilleria Nixtamel, 104-05 47th Avenue Corona, Queens Hours: Monday- Wednesday: 11am- 7pm; Thursday: 11am-9pm; Friday- Saturday: 11am- 11pm; Sunday 11am-9pm

05/20/15 9:44am
Use this exhibit to start a conversation with your kids before it ends on May 24th. Photo: Jonathan Dorado Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.

Use this colorful exhibit to start a conversation with your kids about race and representation before it ends on May 24th. Photo: Jonathan Dorado, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

If you are planning a “staycation” in Brooklyn over Memorial Day weekend, it’s a perfect time to catch up on all the overcrowded art shows. Most of the city will be out of town, and those left behind will have the opportunity to poke around the Bjork show at the MOMA without a timed ticket, waltz into the new meatpacking Whitney Museum, or–my pick!–take a last look at the Kehinde Wiley show at the Brooklyn Museum, which closes May 24th.

An artist that is known for raising questions about race and representation is not an obvious “kids pick,” but in this case, the colorful canvases and sculptures are eye-catching enough to hold a child’s attention. The Brooklyn Museum has staged a retrospective of Kehinde Wiley’s fourteen-year career and many of the recognizable pieces focus on his “World Stage” series, where he replaced the subjects in European Old Masters portraiture with non-white men. Most of the subjects are dressed casually in sneakers or hoodies, which give what are normally stuffy oil paintings more of a hip hop feeling. Older kids might be enthused by Wiley’s connection to the the FOX TV drama “Empire”, which cements his importance in popular culture. Younger kids might not pick up on either the references to art history or the Lucious Lyons’ dynasty, but there’s still something here for them. (more…)

04/24/15 9:00am
MoMath is up for the challenge of making math cool. Photo: Museum of Mathematics

MoMath is up for the challenge of making math cool. Photo: Museum of Mathematics

I never did well in advanced mathematics at school. I was more of an English/Art student, and for some reason that was accepted. Glen Whitney, the hedge fund analyst turned founder and executive director of the first math museum in America, does not agree that math should be isolated as a subject. The Museum of Mathematics, or “MoMath” as it is lovingly nicknamed, shows that math is all around us. “Kids are born explorers,” Whitney says in a press release for the museum. “They ask questions about everything. Math is a ripe area for exploring patterns and asking questions, but kids can pick up a social message that math is weird. We want to send a message that it is cool to love math.”

With two floors and over 19,000 square feet, the museum certainly makes the case that math can be fun. Over spring break, my 5-year-old son and I spent a day at the museum with a visiting friend and her 10-year-old daughter (who, for the record, is actually into math at school). Visitors to this museum come at all ages, but the sweet spot is 4th through 8th graders. I expected challenging snoozy math puzzles, and maybe some historical references to mathematicians, but instead, we found an interactive playground that explored applied mathematics in a hands-on way. (more…)

04/03/15 11:08am

we0dc1-KqLZliwmf9jmem91CxZltsj2Javmo1Tq7ZVMIf you yearn to be an Angelina Jolie globetrotting mom like I do, but can’t deal with immunization shots or expired passports, it’s time to book your family’s round trip ticket to Queens using Andrea Lynn’s incredible guidebook/cookbook, Queens: A Culinary Passport: Exploring Ethnic Cuisine in New York City’s Most Diverse Borough. In it, she profiles all of the different foodie neighborhoods in this multiethnic borough through well-researched chapters that explore its diverse restaurants, food trucks and other undiscovered hidden gems.

My husband, our two friends and our 5-year-old son had the best Sunday ever following her walking tour of the Himalayan neighborhood haunts of Jackson Heights. Along the way we learned how to make roti (which figures as prominently in Nepalese and Tibetan cuisine as it does in Caribbean food), tasted exotic foods, and explored very hard-to-find restaurants.

We started our tour at Dhaulagiri Kitchen, which we would have missed otherwise since the sign outside actually says Tawa Food, but the staff quickly made us feel at home in their kitchen and introduced us to their homemade roti. Next, we found our way up a flight of stairs and pulled aside a curtain, to arrive at Phayul, where we ate shredded raw potatoes and sausage. Continuing onward (albeit after a couple of wrong turns), we walked through a cell phone store to a dumpling speakeasy called Tibet Mobile, where we tried pillowy “momos.” Speeding through Casa Rivera, a Mexican deli, I picked up a huge bag of animal crackers for my son and stocked up on frozen arepas. Finally, we walked a few more blocks to La Neuva Bakery, an enormous Uruguayan bakery where our bloated stomachs made room for bites of dulce de leche arrollado, and cafe con leche and juice for my son. While many patrons were content watching soccer on the televisions, we were mesmerized by the guitar player sweetly serenading the restaurant from a corner. Like any overseas trip, we were inspired, invigorated and satiated by our travels, but unlike any other vacation, we were only a twenty minute ride back to Brooklyn.

Recently I spoke to author Andrea Lynn about our excursion, and she gave me further tips on the neighborhood (including where to see live frogs), advice about ordering at restaurants, and even a Jackson Heights-inspired recipe to make with kids at home. (more…)

03/27/15 9:12am
The new film "Cinderella" doesn't break new ground, but princess loving preschoolers will definitely love it.

The new film “Cinderella” doesn’t break new ground, but princess loving preschoolers will definitely love it. Afterwards, treat them to the play at Kings Theater. Photo: Meredith Craig de Pietro

If your child has caught fairy tale fever like mine, here are a few more suggestions to expand your Disney fan’s repertoire.

March 28th & March 29th: The Sleeping Beauty at Puppetworks, 338 Sixth Avenue at 4th Avenue, Park Slope. Showtimes at12:30pm and 2:30pm. Children $9, Adults $10. Reservations can be made at 718-965-3391 or by emailing puppetworks@twcmetrobiz.com.

April 2nd: 7pm; April 3rd: 1:00pm, 7:00pm; April 4th: 11:00am, 3:00pm, 7:00pm; April 5th: 1:00pm, 5:00pm, Disney Live! presents Three Classic Fairy Tales at King’s Theater, 1027 Flatbush Avenue, Flatbush. Tickets range from $23.70- $91.70. Kids under one are free.

Do a home study on The Cinderella Story. Playful Learning has a great post on ways to use different cultural interpretations of the classic fairy tale for an at-home exploration that will result in your child writing their own tale. The princess doesn’t need blonde hair or to wait for her prince to come.

For those of you living under a rock, the live version of “Cinderella” premiered last weekend at movie theaters across the land. Unlike Disney’s classic animated “Cinderella” (1950), this one skipped the makeover portion of the movie and instead peddled the importance of being “kind and brave.” This updated version is just as sexist as the original fairytale, but with gorgeous visuals and sweeping music, it’s a magical retelling without too much fairydust (i.e. CGI).  Also, don’t look for any spicy fight scenes in this flick, as the whole thing is simple syrup.

Parents will love seeing their favorite Downton Abbey characters in costume–Lily James (“Rose”) plays Cinderella, while Sophie McShera (“Daisy”) plays one of the stepsisters. But the real showstopper was Cate Blanchett, who easily stole the show as the evil stepmother. She arrives right after the death of Cinderella’s mother, but none of the very young children around me even blinked at the tragic scene. To find out just how much of the film my 5-year-old son, Lincoln, grasped, I asked him to explain his thoughts on the fairy tale. (more…)

03/26/15 1:20pm
Storytime is just one of the activities kids can look forward to at a Project Playdate. A dance party, open play, arts and crafts, dinner and a movie round out the night. Photo: Chika Ibe

Storytime is just one of the activities kids can look forward to at a Project Playdate Pajama Party. A dance party, open play, arts and crafts, dinner and a movie round out the night. Photo: Chika Ibe

Every weekend I lament the fact that we don’t have a consistent weekend date night sitter. When we do hire a sitter, it’s always for major events like weddings or birthday dinners. My husband and I never just get a casual dinner out on the town without children. So, that’s why I was thrilled to try out Project Playdate’s Pajama Party. This three-hour drop-off party happens every weekend at a different location around the city, and gives enough time for parents to truly have a leisurely night out. The best part? It costs the same as a babysitter: $20/ hour. Plus, the proceeds from the events go to donating supplies to family shelters in New York, so this is another way you can make a difference with your kids.

I signed my 5-year-old son up for the Friday night event at Park Slope Kidville (808 Union St.). The events are geared to kids between 2 and 7 years old, and at drop off my son seemed one of the oldest, with the sweet spot being between three and five. It was 6:30pm on the dot, and my son already seemed a little tired, so I was worried that a three hour party might send him into hysteria (especially since his usual bedtime is 8pm.) But I was willing to take that chance for the opportunity to eat an adult-only meal at Pork Slope, “a roadhouse-inspired” restaurant around the corner on 5th Avenue. We hung up his jacket, took off his shoes, and signed in with Amanda Raposo, the founder of Project Playdate, who immediately made me and my son feel at ease. In the blink of an eye, he ran into a padded gym room where about ten kids were already leaping and rolling on every surface. I peeked in to say goodbye and the babysitters–there was a 1:4 sitter/child ratio–were already swarming around the kids, making sure everyone was safe and having a good time. (more…)

03/20/15 2:00pm
If you like to get your caffeine fix with your feline fix, then Meow Parlour is the place to be. Photo: Meredith Craig de Pietro

If you like to get your caffeine fix with your feline fix, then Meow Parlour is the place to be. Photo: Meredith Craig de Pietro

Meow Parlour, located on the Lower East Side, is a place where you can drink coffee while you play with cats. It is the first cat cafe to open in New York, although they are already popular in Tokyo, where many apartment buildings don’t allow pets. It’s the perfect compromise–you get cuddles without the long-term commitment of caring for cats.

Although our apartment building does allow pets, my husband is very allergic, so a few months ago, I made a reservation to bring my son to Meow Parlour. (Children 10 and under are welcome only during designated times: Monday, Tuesday and Thursday between 3pm and 5pm, and 11am-12pm every third Sunday.) In my mind, I was picturing a cozy coffee shop with battered, upholstered couches, kittens snuggling in the sunlight, and flocks of friendly cats greeting new patrons. But, I obviously have little experience with cats.

We arrived at Meow Parlour a half hour early, so that we could first check out the separate cafe around the corner on Ludlow Street. With cold brewed Blue Bottle coffee and kitten-shaped macarons, we felt this was a promising start. My son drank a hot cocoa while I signed waivers for entry: don’t give food to cats, don’t pull on cats’ tails, don’t bring in a beverage without a lid, don’t try to wake up a sleeping cat. Also, I signed a contract saying that I realize there are inherent dangers involved with live animals. (more…)