NYC with Kids

Last week, we visited New York City for the first time in ten years and for the first time with children. We arrived at Penn Station at 6pm on a Friday afternoon and trekked with two small suitcases and two children (so, one child and one case apiece to keep track of) to Times Square and our hotel at 8th Avenue and W 48th Street. Monday morning we made the reverse walk, this time with C on her dad’s shoulders and G trotting along beside me, un-phased by the throng of tourists and New Yorkers.

That morning at the hotel, watching their dad pack while I wrestled clothes onto us all, the girls cried “Nooooo! But we love New York!” when we explained it was time to go home. Turns out, my girls are city mice.

What does one do with just 48+ hours in New York, and with young kids?

  • Catch a show. Even if you’re not me (I admit that I have twice made trips to London specifically to see a play) this should be obvious, right? A trip to New York without taking advantage of their theatres is legit inconceivable. You don’t have to have tickets to the hottest production to see something amazing, new, hilarious, traditional, or strange—or all of the above. One of the best plays I’ve ever seen (The Goat, or Who is Sylvia, starring Sally Field) was purchased 10 minutes before curtain as a reduced price, last-minute ticket release. Children love the theatre. Take them to a show!Stage
  • Take a boat ride. We opted to take our kids to the Statue of Liberty. It was the girls’ first trip to New York, so the statue was a must-visit, kid-friendly landmark for us. Also, in light of the upcoming election, G has been hearing a lot about immigration on the playground at school (Think 7 year olds don’t argue about Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton? Think again…), so you better believe we pointed out Ellis Island, read Emma Lazarus’s quatrain, and talked about the importance of immigration in our family and our country. A trip to the Statue of Liberty really only needs to be undertaken once, but I would definitely recommend seeing New York from the water one way or another. Similar to San Francisco, it’s a towering city limited by very specific space constraints. The city skyline viewed from the water makes it real. Statue of Liberty
  • Play in Central Park! This falls under the category of travel priorities I never had before having children. I’ve been to New York three or four times before and never took more than a quick stroll through the park because I was always off to the next big thing. Successful (by which I mean, enjoyable and somewhat disaster-free) travel with kids necessitates time set aside for play. This means they get to pick some of the itinerary. It also means seeking out and stopping at local parks. We parked ourselves for two hours at this playground near Columbus Circle at the southern tip of Central Park and watched as the girls explored. It was relaxing. It was fun. And the upshot is, both girls got all their energy out and built up a huge appetite, enabling us to have a drama-free meal at a no-kids-menu class of restaurant that night.Central Park
  • EAT.  I know some parents feel the need to find “family-friendly” restaurants to take their children to. I just…don’t. I don’t make mac n’ cheese or corn dogs every night for dinner at home, so my kids don’t need those things when we eat out. A few places we ate that I would recommend to anyone: Grom Gelateria (There is a Grom in Trento, so we made a point of going twice); Café Luxembourg (Authentic French food on the Upper West Side. I’m pretty sure we were surrounded by locals.). La Bonne Soupe (Discovered on my first trip to NYC, and we return every time. A fixed price meal of soup, bread, salad, dessert and wine or beer for $22. It cannot be beat. The girls shared a croque monsieur.).GROM

And those are my tips for a weekend in New York with kids. Ready, set, go!!!

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Missed Traditions

One of my favorite things about living in Italy, in retrospect, is the numerous festivals, commemorations, and other traditions that surround the holiday season. It seems like each village had their own unique way of commemorating specific saint days. Witnessing and participating in these celebrations added benchmarks to the season. Christmas in the Alps was, for lack of a better word, traditional: a recitation and reenactment of shared memories.

December 5 – Krampuslauf. The Krampus is an Austrian tradition that is also celebrated in SudTirol, the German speaking villages just north of Trentino. We didn’t catch the Krampuslauf near us when we lived in Trento, but I remember the Krampus from my college semester in Salzburg. Completely terrifying. Who needs an “Elf on the Shelf” when you can get college students dressed as alpine demons to frighten goodness into your children?

December 6 – Saint Nicholas Day. If you survive the Krampuslauf, St. Nicholas brings you a gift! In Trentino, Father Christmas came to the window of each classroom at the asilo nido (nursery school) to greet the children. He stayed outside, so as not to frighten the toddlers, and passed small gifts through the window. Note: I would enjoy the American Santa Claus so much better if he had his own day.

December 13 – Santa Lucia. A parade in the dark through the village, ringing cowbells and homemade noise makers (tin cans on string!!). Tea lights in the snow lighted the path. At the end of the procession, Santa Lucia (a girl draped in white tulle and twinkle lights) arrived in a donkey-pulled cart and passed out parcels of candy to every child in the crowd. The adults had hot mulled wine, naturally.

January 5 – La Befana. You may vaguely recall Epiphany as the magi’s visit to baby Jesus, but it’s so much more than that. It’s also the night a hag delivers candy (always with the candy!) to windowsills across la Italia (or gifts in stockings, but in Povo we were told candy/windowsill). Also in Povo, it’s the night a local parishioner dressed as a witch zip-lines from the church tower to the town square. Our apartment looked straight onto the church tower, and we were so, so, so confused the first time this happened.


Bolzano Christmas Market, 2010

What I miss about these moments is that the traditions were built into people’s lives. Everyone knew the stories behind these festivals and everyone, it seemed, participated. Back in the States, J and I struggle to create traditions for our family, especially around Christmas. Every year we are with a different family, in a different home, eating different meals. And I know that continuity isn’t the point of the holiday—if anything Christ’s birth brought great change into the world—but I have to acknowledge the loss I feel, every December since our return, at not being in Europe, which will always feel like “Christmas” to me.


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Let’s be neighbors

When we moved to Alabama for graduate school in 2003, I had some unspoken expectations—firmly rooted in stereotype—of a certain Southern Hospitality we would experience upon our arrival. Our first year was spent in a second floor apartment on the outskirts of town, so there was little surprise when we knew our neighbors neither by name nor, really, by sight. But when we bought a garden home (ie, small house) in a new subdivision with its very own lake and a walking path, I envisioned neighborly hellos, the borrowing and gifting of eggs and sugar, the occasional block party, and “Welcome to the Neighborhood” apple pies.

I’m allergic to apples, but damn it I wanted an apple pie.

In reverse order, I will now note that:  a) No apple pies, cookie plates or other comestible welcomes arrived. Verbal welcomes were absent as well.  b) No block parties. This just wasn’t a thing in our neighborhood, though I witnessed and attended block parties when visiting friends in Louisiana—and a crawfish boil at that!—so I know they do exist south of the good ol’ M-D. c) I once did in fact run out of eggs mid-brownie baking, so I knocked on a neighbor’s door. And another neighbor. And another. People were home, but no one answered. Finally, one person came to the door, opened it barely a crack, demanded to know who I was, then firmly told me they had no eggs. d) My neighbors never said hello, and I eventually stopped saying hello to them.

A lesson in hospitality:  Once, the homeowner across the street knocked on our door and requested, firmly, that our dinner guests move their car, which was parked in front of the neighbor’s house. Are they blocking your driveway? “No.” Do you have guests who need to park there? “No. But people should only park in front of the house they are visiting, not across the street. It’s rude.” Ah, thank you for letting us know. We didn’t mean to be inhospitable.

The neighborliness outlined above may have been an aberration. I rather think it was. I enjoyed living in the South overall, and Southerners are not puppets of their media caricatures, positive and negative alike. But I’ve lived in high-rise lofts, midtown condos, suburban tract homes, and an Italian village, and the least hospitable neighborhood of them all was that subdivision in Northport, Alabama in 2004.

Since then, I have experienced genuine neighborliness and been inspired by the hospitality of strangers, which makes our experiences in our first house all the sadder for me to recall. I could talk about impromptu block parties in San Jose, CA, where by the end of our first summer we knew every neighbor by name. I could tell stories about our apartment-mates in Povo, Italia—the cyclist whose cat preferred our balcony, the German teacher who taught me to roast chestnuts:  their presence eased a difficult expatriation. But this is a blog about our move to Colorado*, and here I’ve been overwhelmed, again, by the loveliness of neighbors.

We’ve met so many neighbors and are meeting more. Late last summer, before the start of school, the retired couple behind us brought a loaf of banana bread and made it clear we’re welcome to the plums from their tree. The neighbor across the street placed a basket of gourds and pumpkins on our porch and a note with their contact info in case we might need anything. While my daughter was playing with a friend she’d just met, the mother ran to the store and returned with sunflowers. A World War II vet from down the street came by Sunday while we were playing in front and was overjoyed by C’s red hair (as if he couldn’t help himself, he reached down and lifted her into the air). After Christmas, a neighbor and his children shoveled the snow from our driveway because we were gone and wouldn’t return until late.

And because that’s what neighbors do.

Much has been written about how busy and insular Americans have become. We work long hours, and when we return home the garage doors quickly close. On weekends we retreat to fenced back yards. Through Facebook and Instagram, we maintain relationships with distant relatives and childhood friends. But family and friends spread across the country and around the world are not enough; community needs to be built closer to home.

I think our neighbors can be our family, too. Their presence in our lives is just as circumstantial and unavoidable as the relations we were born with, and we can avoid and ignore them—as one might an overbearing aunt or a disapproving brother—or we can make those relationships intentional, meaningful. I do not yet know all our neighbors by name, but I keep a dry-erase board on the refrigerator where I add names and contact info for people we’ve met in the neighborhood. I want to learn about my neighbors. I want to be a neighbor back to them.

*At least, it is meant to be. When I actually post.

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A Lot of Lawn

As we pulled into the driveway of our very own, new-to-us Colorado home, my crazy excitement did not block out the observation that the grass surrounding our freshly purchased house was a bit overgrown. Or a lot overgrown. Clearly, the owner had chosen to forego yard maintenance once the house was under contract. The kids discovered (before we even made it inside, I think) that the yard lends itself to hide-and-seek, but they didn’t need to hide behind trees or shrubs or the mailbox so much as duck down a bit in the grasses.

So mowing the lawn = necessary. But a priority? Not so much. Instead of a lawn mower, we drove to REI that first night and bought sleeping bags because our moving truck was running late and we’d be camping on the floor for a few days. When our belongings did arrive, there were boxes to direct and furniture to inspect and the pesky sewer line back-up that happened the exact moment the truck pulled up the drive. Obviously, the following days consisted of non-stop child wrangling/box unpacking. The girls’ bedrooms came together, and we found the grocery store.

It rained all week, and the grass grew and grew. Soon C, at 20 months, was the best hide-and-seeker of them all. She waded through the grass, crouched, and was all but invisible.

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A new home: Fort Collins, CO

I married J in 2003. Since then, we have lived in:  Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Sacramento, California; Trentino-Alto Adige, Italia; and San Jose, California. Taking into account changes in living situation (from rentals to owned homes or better rentals, etc.), Jeremy and I have moved, in total, seven times.

Our eighth (Fort-Collins-New-Belgium-On-Street-Bike-Racksand potentially final) move occurred two weeks ago when we landed, at last, in Fort Collins, Colorado. Since our arrival, I have frequently been told by the locals that Fort Collins has:

  • more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the U.S./world.
  • more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the U.S. (after Manhattan).

Perhaps for these very reasons, Fort Collins is also considered (by its residents):

  • the best place in the U.S. to raise a family, and/or
  • the best place in the U.S. to be a bicycle.

Welcome to Fort Collins! We’re thrilled to be here.

PS: As you may suspect, my intention is to revamp and restart this blog. Like you and me, it’s a work in progress. Hang in there.

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