Friday, December 28, 2012

Fly Away: NYC Part 5: Staten Island Ferry & Staten Island Children's Museum

Our Auntie V gets to ride the Staten Island ferry to work everyday, which we think is pretty awesome. What's even more awesome is that she scored us a ride with the captain and Kane got to blow the horn! I was offered the chance too, but I was deep into New Yorker undercover at that point and didn't want to seem too eager or impressed. As it turned out, we happened to miss the first ferry of the morning that Veronica's friend captains, so we had to hang for a while on Staten Island before catching a return deluxe ride.

A quick google showed a children's museum on Staten Island, which is on the grounds of the Snug Harbor cultural center, and just a short cab ride from the ferry terminal. As with most kid-centered museums in NYC, during public school hours, this one didn't open until 12 p.m., which allows schools to use the museums in the morning and make a nicer experience for everyone. We arrived to find a somewhat dilapidated complex of buildings and gardens spread out on a pretty large campus. We started off exploring some of the botanical gardens and spent some time in a manicured garden and then happened upon a castle and secret garden! (mom cannot wait until we are old enough to read that book - it was one of her favorites when she was little). It was warm out, but the ground was damp and we scuttled inside to the museum as soon as it opened.

The children's museum is small, but light-filled and had some unique things, including a field of giant games (we loved the life size chess set), a "great explorations" exhibit (wherein we explored rainforests, tundra, and forded a river), an outdoor "sea of boats" (which would be awesome in the summer), and a giant pirate ship shaped play structure. We only spent about 45 minutes at the museum because we wanted to be sure and catch the right ferry back, but we could see ourselves returning -- the entire complex offered a quiet area to run and play outside the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. And the museum was not crowded at all.

It turns out that Snug Harbor was actually the first home for retired sailors in the U.S. and Captain Thomas Melville (brother of Herman Melville) lived there and was governor for a set of years. Retired sailors still lived on the grounds until the 1960s when the few remaining were moved to North Carolina. So it was quite fitting then that we got to hitch a ride back with some real captains on the Staten Island ferry, who were quite nice and very accommodating. And what a view. Lady Liberty from the pilot house is really something, but the view from the public decks is pretty amazing, too. AND, wait for it, wait for it, FREE. Seriously. Can't beat it.

Click here for the Staten Island Ferry schedule. The terminal is right next to Battery Park, which normally is a pretty cool place to visit in and of itself. But Sandy has done a number on it (as well as Ellis Island, which is currently closed to visitors), so there wasn't much to see when we were visiting.

And that'll do it for our NYC posts for now. Hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year - we'll catch you on the flip side!

we got to meet the bomb doggies, too.

toot toot! 

little windy up top

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Fly Away: NYC Part 4: Ninja New York

We don't normally devote entire posts to a restaurant, particularly a restaurant out of town, but our dinner at Ninja New York was so rad, it deserves its own post. Seriously. Now, I happen to be super into ninjas, karate, and just general fighting, so this was right up my alley. But mom and dad seemed to think that adults sans kids (but likely with the addition of plentiful sake) would have the same bomb-A time that I did at this themed restaurant.

We'll put it out there -- it's expensive. But seeing as we spent the day at the Children's Museum of the Arts and skipped lunch entirely, mom thought they'd count it as two meals. The entire restaurant is set underground in a ninja lair and, from the beginning, ninjas are jumping out giving loud "HIYAs!" In fact, Cam and I were both a little scared at first, so this is probably not great for really littles. After I got my wits about me and was rapid-firing guardian stances, I was psyched.

You go here for the experience. The food was OK (in fact, the first courses were much better than the main course), but the presentation was what made it worth the trip. We each took turns samurai sword chopping our way through salt baked edamame crust and even helped set fire to our own dessert. The restaurant offers a large kids meal (chicken, shrimp, potato and salad) and Cam and I were able to split one with no problem.

A magician even came around at the end and, despite my attempts to jam him up, amazed all of us. If ninjas don't really appeal to you, check Time Out New York's kids restaurants page -- we found it really helpful.

our own private ninja room

bustin the edamame salt crust

really trying to take the magician down.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

In Home Entertainment: Baking Soda Clay Ornaments

We're going to take a little break in our NYC postings to share a holiday project that we've literally been waiting to make since No Monster In My Bed's post last spring. For holiday presents last year, we made friends and family salt dough ornaments and we decided to give the baking soda clay a try this year. I'm not sure why, but we had a lot of trouble. We followed the directions (well, not exactly the first time, but we did the second time!) and tried stamping the dough just with plain, uninked stamps. They looked so cute, but they cracked badly.

We tried again, skipping the oven step this time and trying to roll them out a little thicker (the thin ones seemed to crack worse the first go around, which doesn't entirely make sense). And we tried stamping them using silver ink this time. Cracks again. But not as badly as the first time. We still had plenty to use for presents and we used them first as gift tags, which our family and friends can then hang on their tree as ornaments.

The dough was super silky and smooth and I'm sure we'll be playing around with it some more to figure out the best route. Here's the scoop via No Monsters:

1. Mix 1 cup corn starch, 2 cups baking soda, and 1.25 cups cold water in a non-stick pot, stir until smooth.

2. Cook over medium-low heat until the mixture becomes thick.

3. Remove from the heat and let cool while covered.

4. Create your ornaments -- we rolled ours out, cut a circle with a cup, stamped them, and created a little hole at the top with a skewer for hanging. Let them air dry to hardness at room temperature over 2-3 days (you can try to speed up the process in a 350 degree oven with the heat turned off, but we had bad luck that route).

Given that this project uses basic kitchen ingredients, it might be a good thing to break out after the kiddos have tired of their Christmas gifts and are in need of a quiet activity. Here's wishing everyone Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Fly Away: NYC Part 3: Children's Museum of the Arts

So word is that Disneyworld is "the happiest place on earth," but we're guessing whoever came up with that slogan has never been to the Children's Museum of the Arts in SoHo. This magical place somehow escaped our attention until we were up in NYC facing another day of cold and rain. The other places on our list all required a little more complicated travel and, having faced difficult cross-city travel the day before with the help of two other adults, mom was definitely up keeping it simple because daddy was working and we were on our own. And we all managed to safely take the subway there with no problemo.

The CMA opens at 12 p.m. during the week (except it is closed on Tuesdays), so we first walked over to check out the nearby Hudson River Park, which actually has a ton of stuff for kids to do. But we were cold and cranky and didn't want to play along. So we walked out on the steel piers above the Holland Tunnel - I thought this was pretty cool and had a whole scenario going in which my pirate sidekick Yoko (who is also a cow, you might remember) ran a swimming school off of the pier. And at the same time used explosives to fight bad guys in the tunnel and keep them out of the city. Cami was exhausted and not happy to be in the ghetto umbrella stroller we had with us (we don't really have a comfy "travel" stroller and while mom was glad she didn't have to lug the bugaboo around, which would have been a subway nightmare, she was not happy trying to push that umbrella stroller through city streets). She eventually fell asleep -- about 2 minutes before we got to the museum. She quickly woke up once she saw where we were.

The CMA is a completely hands on art museum for kids that includes:
- a 2,000 sq. foot Gallery (that involves participatory exhibit-related programming);
- a state of the art media lab & sound booth;
- a clay bar;
- a fine art studio;
- a lofted ball pond and slide;
- the WEE arts studio (dedicated to young artists ages 1 to 5); and
- a quiet room for down time

When we arrived, a morning drop-in program in the WEE arts studio was just wrapping up and I wanted to start off in there. Cam and I made fast friends with the resident artist/teachers in the room and we tried to do almost everything offered in the studio: collages, painting, homemade playdough, homemade goop, magnatiles, books, chalk drawing, block building, and on and on. The teachers were fabulous -- encouraging, but not trying to dictate the outcome of any one project. And the entire room is full of kids artwork, much of it collaborative and made by visitors or students over an extended period of time. For example, on the wall above the goop tray was a goop painting that we helped make while we were there. When a layer of goop dried, other kids would get a chance to paint it. Then more goop. Then more paint. There was so much inspiration and good fuel for imagination, we didn't want to leave.

We eventually made it out to the clay bar next. I was more into this than Cam and the artist/teacher there taught me how to make a clay monster and then a clay christmas tree. I had a little bit of a hard time being patient and following the steps, but the teacher was still patient with me.

The current gallery exhibit was full of heroes and villains and both of us enjoyed the exhibit-related programming that involved making a magazine collage figure. Well, at least we really enjoyed the cutting out of magazine part. But mom couldn't keep me out of the adjacent fine art studio, which had a whole new set of projects set up: snowflakes out of popsicle sticks, make your own stamp, more painting, a still-life painting project; and a self-portrait project.

After almost four hours of straight art, mom was getting tired and hungry. We did sneak in a quick animation project, but we decided to skip the media lab and sound booth. Then we finally got our chance in the ball pit, which has assigned age slots, thankfully. After a quick snack in the lobby, mom (rightly) decided we needed to get some fresh air and could hoof it all the way downtown to our apartment. Before we left, mom told me that we were going to pretend to be real New Yorkers on the walk home, which meant holding on to the stroller, walking fast, not stopping at lights (if there were no cars), and pretending that we knew where we were going. I was game. Wouldn't you know that we made it home faster than taking the subway there?

If you do one thing with kids in NYC, let it be this. Here are some tips: (1) if you can, take a WEE arts studio drop in class - it's $25 for non-members, but you get 1/2 price of admission to the museum after the session and you're in before 12; (2) if you go on a weekend, make sure to sign up for certain activities (like the clay bar) when you arrive; (3) check the video screen up front when you arrive to scan all of the projects available that day; and (4) bring a snack for your kids (and yourself!) because your children will not want to leave (if you forget, the front desk sells cheddar bunnies and juice) - there are a few tables and chairs in the lobby for snacking.

New York has no shortage of the arts for kids to check out. The following spots also topped our arts list (but mom is SO SO glad we did the CMA):

- Museum of Modern Art - the iconic Edvard Munch: The Scream is there until the end of April 2013.  Visit MOMA's kids and family page here and check out MOMA's art lab app, one of our favorites, which is on sale for $1.99 through December 31st;

- Metropolitan Museum of Art - Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years runs until December 31st and explores Warhol's influence on contemporary art (we always love the Warhols). Visit the MET's kids and family page here.

- Park Avenue Armory - Ann Hamilton: the event of a thread is an interactive, large scale installation in which visitors swing on a field of swings collectively moving a large canvas. Awesome. And kids under 10 are free (even more awesome). On exhibit through January 6, 2013.

- Children's Museum of Manhattan - The Grinch's Holiday Workshop, running through January 6, allows kids to make their own day-glo masks, participate in Seussian word creation, and come up with a character for the Who-ville mural, and much more.

- Museum of Chinese in America - hosting Marvels and Monsters and Alt.Comics through February 24, which analyzes Asian American portrayals in graphic novels.

ALSO, we found this article in New York Family magazine about how to help children enjoy art  museums a good read and the magazine is chock full of good things to do in NYC with kiddos.

Phew. That's it. Well, except for the pictures.

waiting for opening time! a view of the gallery and clay bar peeking through.

super cool collaborative kids art.

kane gets right to work in the WEE room.

goop painting!

collage time!

add a little paint to that. 

3-D cardboard tube art.

Isaac said "don't these blocks look like they need to be knocked down!?"

magnetic mural.

current exhibit.

hanging out at the clay bar.

look at my monster!

media lab and sound booth.

three set-ups for self-portraits. cam couldn't tear herself away from the mirrors and sat there for a long time making different faces!

painting in the fine art studio.

mom's thinking this would be a good bathtub for home.

stamp making!

snowflake making!

quiet room!

ball pit!

I got Annie's autograph on the way out - I loved it here.

making our animation (you can check it out at - watch the video from December 17th and see if you can find our hands!)

some of our collages 

our clay Christmas trees -- only slightly smaller than our real tree this year