Still Shopping? Check out some of our favorite things...

Okay! It's crunch time for all you Christmas shoppers, and if you're anything like me, stress shopping is your jam (I'm not proud of it, but at age 40... it is what it is). Now that we've got that out of the way, I wanted to pass along some really cool gifted items that I've received throughout the year. Gifted, yes, but I'm only recommending the items I've received that we genuinely love and use. Life is too short to BS, my friends.

Smart Sketcher
Little artists will love the Smart Sketcher - my girls have had a lot of fun learning how to draw all sorts of designs that are projected from the Smart Sketcher on to the page below. Not only that, use the Smart Sketcher app and you can trace photos from your personal collection! Littles learning their alphabet and numbers can practice those, too, and additional designs are available. Such a neat device for learning the fundamentals of drawing and expressing your creativity.

Lil Gadgets Headphones
Millie has developed a budding interest in music this year, and we've loaded up the girls' iPad (a hand-me-down from us) with tons of music as a result. We're fully taking credit for the fact that she's into the Beatles now. :) She's been listening to a lot of tunes on her new headphones from Lil Gadgets. They're soft, comfortable and adjustable as she grows - and a great price point, too!

The premise of Kidbox is simple. Either you or your child (depending on their age and interest in fashion) take a style quiz that determines what kid of clothes you like most. Kidbox will then send you 6-7 items handpicked by their stylists based on your quiz answers (an average of $15 per item). Only keep and pay for what you want, send back the rest free of charge! And the best part? For every box purchased, Kidbox will make a donation to the charity of your choice. Fashion AND philanthropy: I like it!

The Keepsake app allows you to frame your photos straight from your phone or via their website. We had one made recently and it turned out SO well! Frames are constructed in the USA, and the quality was beautifully done. So many frame designs to choose from, too. We all have so many photos sitting on our phones... it was so simple and fun to put one up on the wall!

Harry Potter Tri-Wizard Maze and Harry Potter Magical Beasts Game
If you follow my blog or social feeds, you know my kids are obsessed with Harry Potter. These games, created by Pressman Toys, are RIGHT up their alley! While the Maze game is for ages 5 and up and the Magical Beasts game is for ages 8 and up, it's safe to say the world of J.K. Rowling will continue to be alive and well at our house. Can't wait to play with them!


Christmas Shopping Made Easy with Babbleboxx Top Picks

Babbleboxx is at it again with an amazing and unique list of gifts for the creative, silly kid who may or may not have a thing for Harry Potter. Sound like anyone you know?! Check out their lineup of gifts; I'm excited to share more details about them with you!

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise

David Ezra Klein and Candlewick Press are back with a sequel to Klein's New York Times' best seller, Interrupting Chicken. This read-aloud book follows little red chicken during homework time, who's just learned about something that every good story should have: an ELEPHANT of surprise. Hee hee. Love the surprises around every corner in this book! Enter promotion code CANDLEWICK at checkout on their website for 25% discount on all books (only valid on U.S. purchases).

Circuit Scribe Drone Builder Kit

Create and fly your own drone with this circuit drawing kit from Circuit Scribe! A great gift for kids and teens who are into STEM, the kit comes with pre-made arms and allows you to draw "wires" to the motors with a conductive non-toxic silver. Connect to an app on your smart phone or Android and you will be flying your own drone in no time!

PEZ The Grinch PEZ Gift Tin

We just saw The Grinch at the movies last weekend and loved it; have you seen it yet? These PEZ characters are going to be perfect for the girls' stockings! The Grinch PEZ Gift Tin includes 4 iconic characters from Dr. Seuss' classic tale and the movie, which is out currently: The Grinch, Cindy Lou, Fred and Max.
Klutz Book & Craft Kits

Klutz Jr. My Clothespin Zoo
My arts-n-craft gals are going to love this first introduction to sewing from Klutz Jr. Everything they need to create up to 10 adorable animals with clothespins is included in this kit. Not only will the projects help them continue to build fine-motor skills, but they'll have a lot of fun learning about animals in the process!
Klutz Jr. My Simple Sewing
Next up, yummy play food crafts (a cookie key chain, a pizza pouch and a cupcake plushie) using pre-cut and pre-punched felt with a plastic needle. Perfect for those little preschool hands who are being introduced to sewing for the first time while building fine motor skills and dexterity. So sweet!

Funko 5 Star Albus Dumbledore Pop Figurine

How great is this deal on a Funko collectible for Harry Potter fans! Albus Dumbledore is one of Millie's very favorites, and she's going to love this accessory from Deep Discount (not to mention the 10% off discount sitewide, which ends at midnight CT on 12/18). They also offer a beautiful hardcover edition of Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban: The Illustrated Edition, with illustrations by Jim Kay, which includes a ribbon bookmark. Incredible pricing on Harry Potter merchandise compared to other retailers -- worth checking out!

Good luck finishing up your shopping -- I hope these ideas from Babbleboxx have inspired you for this Christmas or gift giving in the new year!

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Babbleboxx. All opinions herein are my own.


How to Raise a Kid: the 1st Conference from HuffPost Parents

I recently attended HuffPost Parents' first parenting conference, How to Raise a Kid, at the William Vale Hotel in Brooklyn. The one-day event was geared towards parents who are past the baby and toddler stage and have children beginning to navigate the world on their own. GULP. That is definitely the current state of affairs around here.

I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and tried to soak in every morsel of parenting advice that came my way during the panel sessions (unfortunately I missed Abby Wambach's introduction due to my aforementioned children and school drop off. Parenting never ends). Scribbling notes for most of the day, I've finally had a chance to go through everything and see what wise words I can share from a wide range of parenting experts. Here we go!

How to Raise a Kid Who's Stronger than a Bully

Moderator: Eric Snow, Watch DOGS
Dr. Deborah Pope, Ezra Jack Keats Foundation
Dr. Elizabeth Englander, Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center
Kirk Smalley, Stand For The Silent (check out their GoFundMe here)
Ryan Beale, Prepare U Mental Health Curriculum

Bullying is more psychological than physical; it's an imbalance of power. And it's not just about being mean- the bully's focus is on a target, & the repetition of that imbalance of power. Girls are more likely to be bullied within friend groups. As parents, how can we help our children cope? By helping them learn connectiveness and supporting the development of healthy relationships. EMPATHY is so important, as well as meaningful conversations, asking questions and demonstrating positivity through our actions.

SUICIDE is the 3rd largest cause of death in children (I was shocked by this one). Reinforce with your children that they are SOMEBODY.

More diverse books are needed for children, so kids can see themselves represented. There's a connection that develops when a parent reads to a child- it's so important. Ask questions about the book- make it interactive. See books as allies and a trip that can help you solve a problem.

Bringing school into the equation: parents should be involved, and schools should try and create a community. Take ownership and lead by example. Social media heightens anxiety (also a problem in children) - talk to kids about what social media actually is and how it effects connectiveness.

FAMILY DINNERS are crucial- kids whose families eat together do better because everyone is talking and connecting (also, parents- don't beat yourself up if it doesn't happen every night, but keep it on the top of your priority list).

LISTEN with your heart. Sometimes you can't fix it as a parent. And we don't have to have all the answers- really hearing your child is what's most important.

How to Raise a Screen-Savvy Kid

Moderator: Nicole Dreiske, International Children’s Media Center
Angela Santomero, Angela’s Clues
Jill Murphy, Common Sense Media
Sada Malladi, Vimana
Titania Jordan, Bark

Start with education- accept the fact that screens are a part of today's world, and find tools to deal with them. Embrace what your children are into and talk to them about it. Get rid of the guilt, not all media is bad. Narrate what YOU are doing on your screen, because it's not just a phone, it's also your computer. Know your kid- some kids are ready for screens earlier than others.

What should we tell them about the Internet? Kids want to explore, but GROUND RULES are important. Be there for communication. Research free parental controls. Talk every day. Identify those stories that ask questions and don't hand everything to you. Find the teachable moment even in bad videos. When do you give a child a smartphone? You have to evaluate what is best for your family and your needs.

How to Raise a Kid Who Understands Sex, Consent and Gender

Moderator: Doyin Richards
Carvell Wallace
Jeanette Jennings
Kim Cavill
Sarah Rich

Sort through your own issues with sex first, if you can. Recognize the CONSENT conversation is just the beginning, and consent is a low bar when talking about sex education. As a parent, you're not just teaching for the moment, but for a LIFETIME. Don't be afraid to share your history with your children, as it will help teach them empathy. The opposite of entitlement is context awareness. The opposite of aggression is asking questions.

... and unfortunately I had to leave midway through, so these were all the notes I got! I hope you'll find some of these thoughts helpful, and if it peeks your interest, you can still watch the panels. So much helpful information and resources! A link to video from the conference can be found HERE. I really enjoyed myself and learned a lot -- here's hoping the conference will become an annual event!

Disclosure: I was invited to the event by HuffPost Parents. All opinions are my own.


J.K. Rowling and the Simple Act of a Kind Response

Let's face it, the world is chaos lately. I find myself turning further away from the news with every horrible event that takes place - from mass shootings to wildfires to an incompetent president getting more insane by the day. Social media, which I have my own love/hate relationship with, doesn't seem to help. Except when it does (cute animal videos may in fact be the antidote to all the world's ills).

And here's another example. Each week, Millie is given a letter to write as part of her homework. The letter can be directed to anyone or anything: past addressees have included spaghetti and meatballs, Summer (the season) and her sister. In early November, Millie chose to write J.K. Rowling, as she is a massive fan of the Harry Potter series (if you know Millie at all, you know how much she loves Harry Potter). Having read the series now multiple times, seen all the movies, and most recently visiting The History of Magic exhibit at the NY Historical Society, it's safe to say she's Ms. Rowling's biggest fan. See note below:

I loved the note so much (girl power!) that on a whim I decided to post it on Twitter, as I know Rowling is active on the site. I certainly didn't think I'd get any response from her, but I thought if a fellow Harry Potter fan saw the note, they'd get a kick out of it. Well, almost right away, I noticed that she liked the post. And then moments later, we got this response:

SO AMAZING! Honestly, we're all still in a bit of shock that she responded with such a sweet note, and so quickly. Her kind gesture meant so much to Millie, and all of us, and serves to illustrate the beautiful part of Twitter, and social media in general -- that power to connect us, in an instant. The post has garnered almost 5000 likes on Twitter, and I wanted to share just a few of the lovely responses that it received -- 

One letter to her hero, one simple response, and a whole lot of people escaped to something happy that warmed their hearts. In looking at the bigger picture, it just goes to show you how one small action can do amazing things... if only for a moment. And in today's world, I'll take it. 🗲🗲

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Big Apple Books: This is My Eye: A New York Story

I'm so happy to introduce my latest Big Apple Book selection, This is My Eye: A New York Story, written by my Inwood neighbor Neela Vaswani (a hilarious discovery we made thanks to Instagram)! This children's read-along book is a gift to young readers as well as New York City, which is brought to life from a child's view of the world and her surroundings.

Not only is it entertaining to see New York City through the lens of a child, This is My Eye also serves as a reminder that as adults, we miss so much as we rush around from one activity to another. Seeing the world from a child's point of view reminds us to stop and appreciate the little things in life and beauty in the ordinary, whether it's rain drops that look like polka dots or walls that tell stories. Neela's vibrant photography and text captures this beautifully.

Two of my favorite pages

Neela & I at my favorite local bakery, ChocNYC
So happy to include This is My Eye: A New York Story in my Big Apple Books collection. I highly recommend! Lastly, please find some of Neela's tips for capturing the essence of NYC with little ones in tow:
  • Try to catch the "golden hour" together, when light is warm and magical.  An hour-ish after dawn or before dusk, go outside and really notice the light.  Look towards the tops of the buildings which often glow during these times of day--and glow differently depending on their height and angle and material.  Great way to start thinking about light and how it affects photos.  Take some photos of each other, too, in this light; it's wonderful on faces.    
  • Walk across a bridge.  I'm partial to the Brooklyn Bridge, personally.  Wonderful way to get distance shots and to think about perspective.  Great potential shots of the bridge itself--steel and wires and brick and how they all meet in the air.  Water views, boats, cars, pedestrians, clouds.  Crossing a bridge always feels like an adventure!  
  • Staten Island Ferry.  It's free!  To get a shot of the seagull that's in the book, I took the ferry back and forth eight times (four round trips).  So much to see and photograph--lower Manhattan from a distance or close up.  The hills of Staten Island.  The ferry itself (that bright orange!), all those nautical nooks and crannies.  The Statue of Liberty.  The people.  And, of course, the seagulls that always fly alongside the railings.  
  • New York Botanical Garden.  Free on Wednesdays.  Take a nature walk.  Practice close-ups and juxtapositions of color with flowers and leaves and butterflies and beetles.  Lie on your backs in the grass take photos from that position.    
  • Something you can combine with the bridge, ferry, or Botanical Garden, is taking an elevated subway--maybe a line you don't normally use.  That moment of popping above ground is helpful in "training your eyes" to see potential photographs everywhere.  You can discover or rediscover new parts of the city, too.  Pick a stop together, somewhere you've never been.  Get off the subway and wander around taking photos.      
  • Best tip for taking photos with your kids in NYC: your own block in your own neighborhood.  See it with fresh eyes.  Walk it slowly, east, west, north, south, taking in everything.  Look at things you don't normally find interesting or beautiful (like garbage bags or stoops or buzzers or potholes) and try to appreciate and understand them better.  See what's familiar from different angles.  See deeply. 


Plan Ahead: Free Arts NYC Benefit on September 30!

We all know there are a million ways to give back and support organizations that are dedicated to investing in the needs of under-served children. But if I may, I'd like to introduce one more. Free Arts NYC empowers NYC youth, many of whom are living in shelters, through art and mentoring programs that develop their creativity, confidence and skills to succeed. The organization has positively impacted over 32,000 children and families and will only continue, thanks in part to community support like Kidsfest 2018, which takes place on Sunday, September 30th from 10-2pm at Sotheby's.

Hosted by the hilarious and lovely Jill Kargman (who else is bummed that Odd Mom Out won't be coming back for a 4th season?!), event proceeds will benefit the amazing work of Free Arts NYC. It promises to be a super fun event for the whole family, and an awesome way to give back at the same time.

If setting your kids loose in an incredible venue, surrounded by Pony Cycle pony rides, Big Apple Circus entertainment, face painting, hair braiding, screen printing, art activities run by local artists and museums (the list goes ON and ON) sounds the least bit appealing - well, you've come to the right place.

Ticket info can be found HERE and we'll see you on Sunday, September 30th. Here's to making sure the arts are available to EVERY child in NYC.

Looking forward! 🎨🎨


A Fairy Mystery with Fable & Lark at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

As the girls get bigger (and bigger.... sniffle), I'm enjoying mixing my interests with theirs and seeing what develops. As an example, we planned an afternoon at The Met early in the summer. Yes, they love to CREATE art, but would they want to STARE at art for a couple hours... if I was lucky?

Much to my surprise, our artistic venture was a success! Not only did they love it, they asked when we could go back. And if I could wager a guess why, I think it's because we brought paper and pencils with us, and I told them they could stop and sketch anything they liked. Yes, the drawing was fun, but I think what they really enjoyed was taking ownership over which pieces to sketch. The surprise benefit was their interest in each piece they chose, so we made sure to read the description and talk about the artist as we made our way through the museum. Truth be told, I was ready to leave before they were!

In one afternoon I discovered what an accessible museum The Met really is for children, and that was just us meandering around on our own. I confirmed it a few weeks later when we went back for a special "fairy mystery" tour with Fable & Lark.

Have you heard of this tour company? Conceived and operated by Evan Levy, a former Met employee herself, the guided tours open the museum up to a world of possibilities for children. The girls and I joined Evan for a tour of "After Ever After: A Children's Adventure," discovering parts of the museum I didn't know existed, while unlocking clues to a fairy tale-themed mystery (and learning cool facts along the way).

Zig zagging our way through The Met, we listened to riddles, searched for characters in paintings, sketched a magic carpet and made a wish in a wishing well. So much fun! If you're interested in an interactive way to experience art with your children, this is a really special way to do it.

Fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson will love some of Fable & Lark's other tour themes, which are inspired by these ultra famous tales. Between our early summer visit and our tour with Fable & Lark, my girls now have an appreciation for The Met and its treasures that they didn't have before -- one I hope will only grow with time (even if they insist on getting bigger).

Check out the Fable & Lark website for more info - they also do birthday parties and are a great idea for out of town guests. And for ways to visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art (and other museums and cultural institutions) around the city for FREE, check out Culture Pass.

All photography (except first photo) is by Janette Pellegrini

Disclosure: Our Fable & Lark admission fee was complimentary in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.
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