Thursday, December 26, 2013

Nutcracker from Santa

Lina asks Santa for one gift each year. Last year it was a lap harp. She makes her own music on that harp every week. This year...she wanted a nutcracker toy. She doesn't believe in a long list of toy requests for Christmas (nor her birthday). So, this is what she found under the faux fireplace mantel on Christmas Day when she woke up and ran to the living room and opened her presents...


Four little wooden nutcracker ornaments...with mouths she can open and close (lever is on the back)...a king, a drummer and two soldiers. She absolutely adores them and they have already been on many pretend adventures. Also, she received a tall nutcracker music box (this was a bonus and she didn't understand why Santa gave her two presents instead of one...but I suppose Santa couldn't decide which type of nutcracker she would enjoy more). It plays the Nutcracker Suite while moving his arms and mouth...after she winds him up, of course; it's a big hit.

Santa cut out the letters of Lina's name from pretty patterns found in print catalogs, to avoid handwriting recognition I suppose, and taped them to the red wrapping paper :-)

Lina took a gingerbread cookie tin box (that she valued very much) and put a Christmas tree drawing inside and gave it to me for a Christmas gift.

We're not very materialistic...not into the whole consumerism thing of going crazy shopping on Black Friday (I never do) or rushing to holiday sales at stores ever during the year. It's not the quantity of gifts that matter to us or how much someone spends. It's thoughtfulness that counts most, giving a gift that will mean a lot to that person - whether it was free or $10 or $100 or $1000 (living within their means, of course, rather than going into debt)...or perhaps an experience, rather than a tangible gift. Lina considered the doll I made for her to be her Christmas gift from me and she was very happy with it.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Blanket of Snow

We do love snow and we welcomed this snowstorm like we did the blizzard back in February. The holiday lights make it even more special to take a snow walk in NYC.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Doll #2 Made By Mommy

Last year I posted photos of the first doll I made for Lina, she is still playing with it. She told me earlier this week that she very much wanted me to make another doll. There was a snowstorm today in NYC and I decided to fulfill Lina's wish...since we were staying home. She proclaimed that this doll is now her favorite toy and she fell asleep with it :-)

She had outgrown a pair of beautiful tights from Naartjie Kids before getting much use out of them and this was a nice way to repurpose the tights. The word "happy," with a heart below it, was printed on the legs and I used that particular section for the body of the doll. I cut the shape of the head and neck before filling the body with cotton and sewing it up. Then, I cut out the bottom of the tights, which had a nice striped pattern, filled those with cotton balls, stitched them up and attached the legs for the doll. Then I cut out another part of the tights, which had a pretty flower design, and made that part into arms for the doll. When I opened my old sewing box to get a needle and some thread...I noticed two old buttons inside...and Lina chose those buttons for the eyes of the doll. Then, she chose purple yarn for the hair.

Lina played pretend with her stuffed creatures, danced with them (the radio had some Christmas music on), sang one of her own songs, looked through several of her old books and stayed close by to watch me sew (I even let her carefully push a needle through the fabric to experience what it feels like to make a stitch, she enjoyed it). Then, I was done with this toy-making project same day and she was so excited to get this unique new doll. (I think she was inspired to ask me to make another doll this week because she watched the 1961 live-action Disney film "Babes in Toyland.")

Thursday, December 12, 2013

ANNIE The Musical on Broadway

Lina is a fan of the 1982 and 1999 Annie films and she wanted to see "Annie" live on stage before the Broadway run of the revival ends. On the way to the show, Lina sang "Tomorrow" and it sounded so lovely...but thankfully she understood that during the live show we are to remain quiet.  Here's a photo (shown below) of Lina in her seat, waiting for the show to begin. You can see the laundry hanging on the lines on stage. The set designer did a great job making the sets visually appealing and nicely balanced and also the sets changed smoothly from orphanage, to NYC streets to Warbucks' home over and over again. I know so many kids these days want fancy special effects, unlike Lina who wants everything "real," and that's perhaps why this revival isn't lasting long on Broadway (it opened last November). The holiday touches were nice toward the end of the show, too - a sparkling tree, giant stuffed giraffe and doll houses etc.

She enjoyed the performance by the adorable Taylor Richardson in the lead role as Annie (that link goes to the TheaterMania YouTube clip showing Taylor backstage...and here's a YouTube clip someone put up of her singing "Tomorrow" at Bryant Park a few months ago). The rest of the young "orphans" were also talented, in terms of following choreography and singing well, and all the kids in the audience adored the orphans. Lina also loved Miss Hannigan, performed by Faith Prince, since she was so entertaining, acting and singing in more of a funny than cruel way. Here's a photo of Lina in front of the Palace Theatre, right after the show:

She wanted to wear her red holiday dress since Annie wears a red dress at the end of the show when they are celebrating Christmas.

Lina was most amazed "by the actress dog." Sandy was played by a dog named Sunny and Lina was impressed that the dog "didn't go off the stage." Yes, she did not jump into the audience during the acting scenes...that's easy enough when a human being is holding the collar and leading a dog...but there were a couple of times when Sunny had to go on stage by herself, stop and look out at the audience, and then walk off stage before any actors returned to guide her, so that's good training; this is a young dog under 3 years old who could have gotten easily distracted. Of course, Lina spotted the stuffed toy version of Sandy in the lobby and I bought it for her as a souvenir (and it's already a star "actress dog" in her pretend adventures with her other stuffed animals).

I didn't plan to have a meal at a chain restaurant in Times Square, since they are all insanely crowded with tourists...especially at this time of year. We had 45 minutes to spare before the doors opened at the theater and we were a few short blocks away (below freezing temperature outside) and we were getting hungry (the show is 2 1/2 hours long, including intermission). We popped into Ruby Tuesday, for the first time, and I was surprised how accommodating they were. "It was a delicious meal," said Lina. I was pleased with the very friendly service and the fact that we could be in and out within 40 minutes and eat a perfectly cooked meal in a comfortable setting for $40 total (including 30% tip).

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Lina's Top 9 Books (2013)

Our annual tradition on this blog...a list of Lina's favorite books from our collection at home! She certainly enjoyed many more books at storytelling events all over NYC and we have read many other fun books at public libraries.

She still enjoys picture books, of course, but she is gravitating more to longer stories in chapter books, with few illustrations. I listed only 9 new books below...because #10 would just be a tie between ALL the books listed 2012, which she still loves, and half the books from the 2011 list that she still enjoys and doesn't want me to donate or recycle.

Lina's Favorite Books (2013):

#1. It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish Folk Tale (by Margot Zemach)
#2. The Wind in the Willows (by Kenneth Grahame)
#3. Fairy Tales (by E. E. Cummings)
#4. The Sneetches and Other Stories (by Dr. Seuss)
#5. Aesop's Fables for Children (by Milo Winter)
#6. The Twelve Dancing Princesses (by Ruth Sanderson)
#7. Sharks (by Valerie Bodden)
#8. A Fairy Tale (by RH Disney)
#9. A Book of Fairies (by Patricia Saxton)

If you are interested in my notes about these books...

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Hanukkah Party at Different Directions Collective

In the spring, I posted about a fun class Lina took at The ROC, a wonderful center for homeschoolers, in the East Village. That class was led by Tinamarie Panyard, who is now Co-Director of Different Directions, a welcoming homeschooling collective in Midtown Manhattan. Tinamarie organized a Hanukkah party on Monday and I'm glad we attended.

This fall, Lina won a full scholarship (worth 25k) to an alternative kindergarten program, but we learned quickly it was too restrictive and inflexible to allow for joyful learning in a self-directed fashion. She was not comfortable being forced to sit in a half lotus position for hours on the rug and not be allowed to stretch out her legs in front of her. For 5 hours to pass on a school day and a 5 year old not be allowed to sing, dance, draw, build much, make music, play pretend or even talk to friends, that's pretty sad. Lina learns a lot through play, creative activities and exploring the outdoors. She is very intelligent, curious, social and happy and I would like her to stay that way.

Since September 2012, as members of the New York City Home Educators Alliance, we have had the pleasure of many fantastic experiences within the homeschooling community - with very bright, caring and creative parents and children. So, we decided to continue with fun classes, field trips and learning at home until Lina is 6 years old and then we will make a decision regarding the best option for first grade.

We visited Different Directions Studios for the first time (which is located in a lovely red brick Victorian church) for a Hanukkah party this week, enjoyed greatly by children and parents. Lina is one quarter Jewish and thanks to this party she had three hours of hands-on learning about Hanukkah, including many first time experiences: spinning a dreidel and learning to play the game, eating a latke with sour cream, hunting for hidden gelt (chocolate coins) and watching the lighting of a menorah.

Of course, Midtown Manhattan is already decorated for Christmas:

It was nice to start off with a festive Hanukkah celebration, before the flurry of Christmas activities is upon us.

Friday, November 29, 2013

I Am Thankful For...

  • God
  • All the food God gave us
  • All the fun God gives us
  • The energy I have
  • My memory...because then I can remember fun times & happy times & kisses
  • Being healthy
  • Having a mom
* "I am thankful for..." list dictated by Lina, age 5 1/2 (on Thanksgiving, 11/28/13)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hootenanny Thanksgiving Food Drive & Disco Party

Lina made fast friends (as she always does) with three girls she met at the Hootenanny Thanksgiving Food Drive and Disco Party this weekend. She danced for over an hour (non-stop) and then we made our way home in the evening with the empty suitcase (which had been filled with canned goods we donated).

She was so happy to dance at this disco party and enjoy new friendships...but it was most important that we bring the food. Three awesome young boys there helped take the cans out of the suitcase and stack them with the other donated canned goods.

It's getting dark early now (and it's quite chilly), so I could have made excuses to not drag a heavy suitcase onto a bus...but Lina persuaded me to bring her to this event in Park Slope; she said "this is food for the hungry, starving people...we need to help."

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Nature paintings...a break from planning the move

I wanted us to use up the leftover paint (Crayola and Alex Toys) that we had stored in the hallway closet. So, we took a break from sorting through our belongings (to decide what to throw out, give away or pack) to have a fun painting session. We reused the Melissa & Doug wood puzzle boards as a nice surface to now paint upon.

Lina called this "A Nature Picture"...and she was especially proud of creating "seashells in the sky" by dabbing the jumbo brush to create that particular shape and texture. She also made trees with various fruits on them.

This is a cropped detail of my underwater painting. Lina liked that I made strokes that looked like pink jellyfish. It was quite relaxing to spend some time painting, even if it was with washable children's paint and too wide little kid brushes.

We have lots of amazing children's activities planned through the holidays, as well as a move that we are in the process of organizing, but I will try to post on the blog when I get a chance. Cheers!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween 2013!

Lina was a tree fairy for Halloween 2013. We marched in the Park Slope Halloween Parade after we went trick-or-treating in that neighborhood.

We had an absolutely wonderful Halloween and we hope that you all did as well. Cheers!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Ascarium and Haunted Walk...the Good and the Bad

Yes, it's that spooky time of year again.

Lina once again enjoyed the Ascarium at the New York Aquarium. We went last year and the year prior, but they have different performances and decorations each year that strike a balance between celebrating sea life and Halloween. Grandma and uncle joined us and experienced the magical silliness of the Wizard of the Waters Academy, lessons served up with "evil stew" at The Sea Witch Spooky Show and rockin' catchy tunes of the Dream Jam Band (Lina had a blast dancing to their sweet song "Look Around").

At the end of our visit, we went to the gift shop...where Lina quickly chose a stuffed great white shark and a couple of other soft creatures to add to her collection.

Our weekend was quite busy, since we also went to Prospect Park for the Halloween Haunted Walk, like we did last year. Sadly, we will not return next year. We waited one hour on line and then the volunteers rushed everyone through it all so quickly, you could barely interact with the costumed characters or take snapshots. The young female guide at the back of the group was extremely rude...yelling at people to put down their cameras...telling us we should just take a picture at the end of the tour (though no spooky characters for photo ops at the end, just a nature girl and some pumpkins). The woman leading our group was extremely sweet, but still must have been directed by whoever trained the volunteers that they had to rush through it all...speaking as fast as possible and encouraging people to move on after a few seconds at each station. Last year they allowed the group to watch a brief "show" at each station, so everyone had plenty of time to snap a reaction or two from the kids. We also waited half the time on line last year, thirty minutes, but it would have been worth it to spend an hour or more on line for that wonderful experience.

Perhaps they were overwhelmed with a huge line this year. So many web sites promote the same free activities in NYC. I guess people spend so much money on insane rents here that they can't afford to do anything. (Another reason to move!) But they can make some simple rules I think to try to cut down on the ridiculous line. For example, I really don't think this experience was appropriate for toddlers or infants, yet there were so many people with strollers on the line. On the trail, the tots being held (or barely walking along while holding hands) looked unhappy, confused, scared (some were crying) or sleepy.

Just adding a small required fee, like $5 per person, would also cut down on the line. I used to hunt for free activities in NYC, but last year I finally realized it's just not worth the long lines, with people coming from all over the city, cutting in line in front of us, cramming into very crowded spaces and not supervising wildly misbehaving kids. I'd rather pay for monthly or annual memberships, not wait on long lines (or have to show up super early) and be surrounded by folks who are part of a committed community, in terms of dedication to various interests.

The photos below show the awesome volunteers we encountered at the Halloween Haunted Walk. Though my daughter's momentary ear pain was all she remembered about the event; she told everyone the rest of the weekend that she couldn't understand why "dead people" want to make ears hurt. Whoever was in charge of training volunteers this year obviously equates "scary" with loud yelling...directly into people's ears, like one or two inches away...because so many of the volunteers were doing that this year. Last year we were (pretend) running away from zombies who looked scary, it was fantastic fun...this year, they were terrifying to us because we didn't want ear damage. Thank you to the volunteers below, you were the silver lining to an otherwise disappointing activity:

Lina had a wolf around her neck because she was a "wilderness girl."

After the free Halloween Walk, we did not attempt to wait on another ridiculously long line nearby to attend the free carnival...instead, we took a walk up Prospect Park Southwest, while Lina played her harmonica (thankfully she could still hear the music).

We saw beautiful decorations in the Park Slope neighborhood as we made our way down to 7th Avenue.

Then we indulged in some rare junk food (but we walked three solid miles that afternoon). Lina never wants burgers (of any sort) and I enjoy a burger like once a month max. I took Lina to Cheeburger Cheeburger for the first time. She was willing to eat mini hot dogs sliced up with a few fries dipped in ketchup and she drank her first ever small vanilla milkshake (very nicely made, I hear). The onion rings were outstanding and the brewed iced tea was thankfully not sweet. I couldn't understand why I read reviews by a couple of customers that the meals for adults and kids were not big enough! We ordered the smallest sizes possible (they have some gigantic sizes, I have no idea who is able to eat those and why they would want to) and still we left half-eaten meals at the table. The staff were supremely nice to us...allowing me to choose a quiet area for our table. They certainly please the kids by serving their meals in a cute paper car.