2013 Grandmas & Kids to the Big Apple Trip

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

We made our third annual trip to the Big Apple with the grandmas and kids in mid-November.  (to read about our previous trips - check them out here for 2011 and 2012).  After the last few years of taking the 7hour (one-way) train ride from Johnstown, PA to NYC,NY - we decided that maybe this year we'd spare some of our sanity and drive most of the way.  Let me assure you:  it was the right choice.

We all piled into our car early Friday morning and made the drive to Newark, NJ, stopping along the way for breakfast.  We left early enough that the kids slept most of the way and we didn't hit much morning commute traffic in Jersey since we arrived after the morning rush.  It was sort of great timing.

We stayed (and enjoyed!) the Holiday Inn Newark Airport and received shuttle service to and from the airport to catch NJ Transit into the city.  I am NOT a city driver, so it was important to be able to catch public transportation in and out of the city.  (Plus, we saved a pretty penny staying outside of the city versus inside).

airtrain to NJ transit
This year on our trip, as in past years, the kids got to enjoy all kinds of transportation.  We rode a car, bus/shuttle, elevated train (at the airport), actual train (NJ transit), subway, and on foot/stroller!

subway passengers
After taking NJ Transit into the city, we hopped onto the subway to Soho for a quick lunch before making our first stop of the weekend at the Children's Museum of Art.  It wasn't exactly a cheap place to visit ($11 a person), but the kids had a blast making crafts, checking out the bird exhibit, and most of all -going crazy in the ball pond.

floam station

CMANY also had this really cool installation in the hall near the ball pond that my kids loved running through.  It was a great spot to spend some time burning up energy that was pent up from spending the morning on the road. 

Afterwards, we headed outside to walk the streets and made a stop at Vesuvio Playground on Thompson street between Spring and Prince.  My kids are definitely playground kids and they loved running and climbing and swinging well into the dusk. 


We spent the rest of the evening visiting shops along Broadway.  The kids and I spent quite a while browsing the Scholastic Store!  We caught dinner at Kelley & Ping (delicious, even after I knocked over an entire bowl of noodle soup- oops) and then we headed back into Jersey to rest our weary bones.

We started Saturday bright and early and made our way into Brooklyn to meet up with my dear friend, Elena and stroll the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.   We grabbed bagels at Le Bagel Delight then ate and caught up with Elena at Van Voorhees Park while the kids made new friends with little playmates.

Elena and tab :)

photo credit:  Greyson
Afterwards, we walked along the Promenade until Brooklyn Bridge Park where we made our way into Brooklyn towards our next stop.  It was quite a walk that we took from Brooklyn Bridge Park all the way to Prospect Park Zoo, but we made it with a stop for coffee and the kids snoozed in the stroller for a bit.  Sidenote:  The grandmas have vowed to not return to NYC until we get a new stroller (hah!) - any suggestions on a sturdy, easy to push double stroller?  eek!

Prospect Park zoo was absolutely wonderful.  It was so kid-age-appropriate for my kids and very entertaining for all of us, actually (ask the grandmas about how they cracked up at the baboon exhibit!)  It is a fairly small zoo, but wasn't crowded in the least, so the kids got to explore and observe without any issues.  We had a fantastic afternoon checking out the animals and exhibits - we even caught the last sea lion feeding show of the evening!

The indoor exhibits were awesome - honestly, can not say enough about how much we enjoyed the Prospect Park zoo! It was a great stop for my very young kids.  There was even a petting zoo section and the kids had a staring contest with the geese.  


After a great time at the zoo, we met up with one of my favorite people on the planet; Sabrina, at Gino's Trattoria for dinner.  Sabrina and I taught together at PS27 when I lived in Brooklyn back in 2005-2007 and we haven't seen each other in about three years.  Oh, it was a joyous reunion and full of laughing and catching up.  Miss her everyday.

Brina, Tab, and grumps ma-gee (aka Gemmer)
After a long dinner, we all loaded up in the subway to go from Brooklyn to Penn Station in Manhattan and then waited around for our NJ transit train to arrive.  Then we took NJ transit back to Jersey to pile into the car and drive two hours to King of Prussia, PA where our hotel was reserved for Saturday night.  

The trip seemed daunting after spending the entire day Saturday, walking all over Brooklyn - but it was actually a big relief to be heading back into the direction of home on Saturday night instead of having the whole distance to travel on Sunday.  We made it to King of Prussia without any issues and fell happily into our beds at the Hyatt House that night.

this is what we look like waiting at Penn Station at 9:00p for NJ Transit after a day of walking - Hahahhhah!
We had a great night of sleep (we loved the Hyatt House!) and took our time in the morning packing up and even hitting the indoor pool that morning!

Then we headed out to the King of Prussia mall to walk and check out the shopping.  We stopped at the play areas so the kids could burn off any last energy, and luckily for us one of the play areas was situated right outside of H&M which meant we could take turns watching the kids and shopping.  I was even able to do a little damage to my Christmas list! 

The drive home was mostly painless as the kids slept the majority of the way and we had decent driving weather.  We made it all the way back home in time for Sunday supper.  It was a great year for our NYC trip!

I am so lucky and grateful to be able to make our annual visit to the city with my kids and their grandmas since it's such an important piece of my history.  I love introducing my kids to a place that helped make their mum who she is - showing them such a different world than the one they see everyday growing up.  Thank you Abba & Gigi for going every year despite miles of walking and not ideal strollers and very long drives.  I am the luckiest.

Tacky Box Review: Cleaning up the way we speak

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Unless this is your first time here (hi & welcome if it is!), you know we are all about kindness over here at Team Studer.   One of the ways we try to practice kindness everyday is in the way that we speak.  Ask any close friend or relative - my kids are notorious for announcing, "We don't say ###."  Some of the things that "We don't say" are words like 'stupid,' 'shut up,' or any curse words.  While watching The Grinch with Grey this past holiday season (the one with Jim Carrey), Grey would announce aloud every time, "We don't say idiot!"  He is like our little language police over here!

We have been doing very well with continuing our practice of kind speech but there was never any reason announced to the kids as to why we don't say those things besides telling the kids that 'it's not nice.'  And then I was contacted by the folks over at Tacky Box and I was thrilled to get a chance to review their new Tacky Box set as a tool to help children (and adults!) practice kindness in the way that they speak.

Chris Kent Phelps and Cindy Kent; a Mum and Grandma duo,  created the Tacky Box set to use as a fun and easy way to talk to kids about unkind language and how it might hurt others.  The book; Max's Magnificent Choice (there is also a Margo's Magnificent Choice version) along with the actual Tacky Box come together as a set.  The Tacky Box and accompanying book have been proven as great visuals for young children to make connections between the words that we say and how they may affect those we say them to.

We were eager to read our 'monkey book' (described by our 22month old Gemma).  The kids sat nicely for the reading of the book.  Each page is illustrated with bold colors of jungle scenes.  For a 22month old and a 3 and a half year old, the words on each page were just the right length to allow them to pay attention for each page.

I made a point to stop during the reading when Max chose to say anything that we 'don't say' at our house.  I'd turn to the kids and say, "Uh Oh, that wasn't a very nice thing to say!" or asked Greyson, "Why do you think the other animals didn't want to play with him?"  It was a nice interactive read that kept Greyson's attention for the entire book.

After reading about Max's Magnificent choice (to stop saying unkind, 'tacky' things), I showed the kids our very own tacky box.  Which, they were overjoyed to see we could have one of our own!  We got right to sharing and painting the box together while I wrote our family's name on it since we can always use the practice of using kind words!

After our Tacky Box was dry, we took a few minutes to talk about the book again and how Max made a magnificent choice to speak nicely to others.  Grey was very excited about coming up with Tacky Words to add to our box as well.  The thing I loved about the book and set combo is that at three and half, our son has trouble thinking up words and ideas out of thin air.  But because of Max's story, he was able to use the Tacky Words that Max said in the book to start.  Our first three tacky words were the same that Max said in the book, but thinking about Max helped Greyson begin to think about tacky words (and things 'we don't say') from our own life.  So we added some of those in as well. 

Our Tacky Box is sitting prominently in our living room as a reminder about speaking kindly to each other.  The week following our first reading, Grey said, "I don't like you!" and we reminded him that it was a Tacky thing to say.  The glimmer of realization was visible in his eyes that he understood both that it was not a nice thing to say and that it was hurtful to the person he said it to (me; his mum).  

I am anxious to see how over the next few weeks the Tacky Box continues to help keep us focused on speaking kindly to each other.  I will be back to update on any changes or improvements soon!

In the meantime - head over to these places to check out The Tacky Box 

And make sure to see how the  folks over at Tacky Box have started a Campaign for Kindness.  It is a mission meant to provide Tacky Boxes to Kindergartners all over the nation; in hopes that we can help kids make the 'Magnificent Choice' to choose kind words. 

disclaimer:  I was provided a Tacky Box set in exchange for publication of my review and experience with the product.  Opinions in this post are my own.

10 simple things you should do before your first baby...because you still can and should

Monday, January 20, 2014

One of my very best friends on the whole wide Earth is getting ready to have her first baby (due in February!) Our other BFF and I drove down to see her a few weeks ago for a weekend full of girl time and baby shower and lounging.  It was bliss.  Well, at least for the two of us that were already Mums.  Because we didn't have our kids with us for two whole days (!)  Because even though we missed our kids' cherubic faces and sticky hands; we were also massively grateful for a little time to be a grown up woman without any boogies to wipe.

We offered up all sorts of stories for our best friend to try to help ease her fears and charge up her excitement about that new little bundle that none of us can wait to meet.  We told stories that were funny, gross, sad, scary, and emotional.  We laughed about how poop will soon become a regular dinner topic in their house and marveled at how clean everything was (and smelled!).  But it's hard to talk about babies and being a Mum to someone who is not quite a Mum to be a born child without barely walking the line between sounding really awful but also attempting honesty.

So, instead of trying to explain how it will be once that sweet child arrives, here is a list of 10 simple things you should do before your first baby.  Because you still can and you should.  These are things, that in the thick of motherhood, they are the simple everyday luxuries I occasionally miss from my pre-Mum days.  Let me clarify:  Miss them? -yes. Would I ever trade my life now for that former life? -not in a million freaking years.  'Tis the oxymoronic way of motherhood.

1. Go on a spontaneous trip.
It does not have to be extravagant; go to the mall or for a walk or out to see a movie.  The point being; just announce the trip and then walk.out.the.door.  It will not be that easy soon - getting out the door to go somewhere will very soon be matched in your mind with something as daunting as climbing Everest. A large 'to-grab' checklist, the equipment, the schedule, the food rations, the coaxing and justifying.  I wish I was kidding.

2.  Enjoy a very long dinner.
Sit at the table, speak to another grown up, eat your own food off of your own plate, and don't get up until the dinner is completely over.  One of my good momma friends said once that she can't remember the last time she ate a whole meal before it got cold.  It will soon be up-and-down for your meal as you refill drinks, mop up spills, and change diapers.  At our house, we call our children 'the seagulls' since we can't eat without sharing unless we hide out in the pantry...which we aren't ashamed to admit - we've done.

3. Watch an R-rated movie whenever you want.
Whatever kind of R floats your boat - the violence, cursing, or 'relations' kind.  Or a mix of all three?  Watch it now, because soon you will become rose-cheeked at the sight of a commercial that walks the line on the wrong side of PG-13 in front of your child.  TV shows that you used to enjoy will feel exponentially more violent - news broadcasts included.  And to stay up late to catch the flicks after baby falls asleep? - HAH!  sleep will very quickly replace any interest in staying current in pop culture over catching some shut eye.

4. Spend an extraordinary amount of time on personal hygiene.
Take a long hot shower or bath; go get a mani and pedi; blow dry your hair; wear dangling earrings; get a massage.  Focus on feeling and looking beautiful.  It's not that you won't after the baby comes, it's just that we, Mums, suffer from horrible cases of what is referred to as 'Mom-guilt.'  It's like, you know you'd feel better if you had a shower more than once every three days - but when the decision comes down to either showering, washing those dishes that have been in the sink for two days, or sleeping while the baby's napping...it's rarely showering that wins (and almost never the dishes).

5. Brush up on your nursery rhymes.
It will startle and delight you at how much just the sound of your voice soothes your new baby.  Little made-up songs have always been my favorite and a joy to sing to my babies as we giggle and play together.  But of course, there are times when you are too tired or too frustrated to pull together anything that sounds like a tune.  Recall some of the nursery rhymes from childhood (do kids learn these anymore?) Have them ready for long car rides or late nights or while roaming the grocery store aisles.  I have found that my favorites are those that are long and repetitious like:  This Old Man, The Ants Go Marching, Five in the Bed, and Old McDonald (although this one is exhausting to sing).

6. Do one non-baby related task that you've been meaning to get done
In the weeks prior to the arrival of the babe, it's been all baby-baby-baby, yea?  Now's a good time to get some non-baby things done, because once the baby arrives, it really will be all baby-baby-baby.  So file and shred that paperwork that's been piling up, make some freezer meals, or vacuum behind the couches.  Your future tired self will thank you.

7. Make some calls.
 Catch up with friends and family over the phone and talk as long or as little as you like.  There may be a brief period of time after the baby is born that you'll go into survival mode and ration your waking time to tasks that absolutely need accomplished (things like eating and using the bathroom).  It's horribly sad that things like talking on the phone just to chat somehow tend to fall into the category of 'not generally an efficient use of limited time.'  No harm, no foul though - we've all been there.

8. Spend an entire weekend just relaxing.
With the Prepare-For-Baby To Do List probably still quite long, it may feel like taking a weekend to do nothing does not seem like a great idea.  But know this, Relaxing SHOULD BE on your to do list.  This is soul-battery charging, so write it down on the list if you must!  Sleep in, lounge about, watch movies, and don't clean, assemble, or worry about anything besides what snacks you'll be eating every few hours.  Just take it easy and run on your own schedule.

9. Write a letter to yourself.
Write about how excited you are to meet your little one.  Write about how you feel (nervous? excited? anxious? elated?) to be standing at the precipice of a new adventure.  Write about the things you hope you'll do together and learn from each other.  Write about all the things you think you'll love about your new life and all the things you love about your current one.  Write with your voice and tone; the voice of a Mum-to-be full of excitement and nerves about the unknown.  In a few months, this voice will be refreshing and nostalgic to you; to see yourself through the eyes of a former childless version of you.  You will never be this exact same person again, it will be nice to have her thoughts and words.

10.  Look in the mirror and say aloud, "There is no one better for this job."
Because it's true.  No one will love your baby like you will.  Motherhood will be both infinitely better and worse than you ever imagined.  Let those words sink in; deep into your bones, that You are this best person for this; amazingly and incredibly so.  Only you.

Maybe this list is frightening and comes off sounding like your life as a new mom will be downright awful.  Let me assure you, it will not be.  It will however be very, very different than your life right now.  And mostly, the different bits will be so beautiful and full of love that you'll find yourself truly wondering how you never realized before that something had been missing all along; or someone, rather.

After your sweet baby arrives, you'll still be able to do all of these things listed here, but usually not without a great deal of planning and a minimal amount of guilt.  Because, the truth is, you will be hard-pressed to think of anything more valuable than seeing a toothless grin on that little slobbery ball of love or snuggling up to listen closely to those soft, sweet-smelling breaths.

I'm not the first to tell you, and certainly not the last to proclaim it - but there is nothing that can be said about being a Mum that can give you the real picture of what it will be like except to say:

It will be hard, but you'll never ever regret it.

my life currently - by the 5 senses

Saturday, January 18, 2014



hot dogs and mac&cheese

vanilla yogurt


stagnant but yet somehow wonderfully beautiful child morning breath

dog farts

the best smell on Earth; Brandon's neck


"hold you"


the kids giggling


the feel of worn carpet on my cheek from laying on the floor (to wait for a child to fall asleep in her bed, while pretending to be a sleeping monster before jumping up to chase the kids, after dramatically falling to the floor during wrestling-basketball)

her fine hair while brushing it across her forehead or back from her face

his heavy body barreling into me for a hug, a tackle, or to be carried


the two kids on the breakfast table bench framed with our backyard and our mountain view out the window

his shadow in our bedroom doorway in the middle of the night

her face; nose to nose with mine