Archive for the 'gear' Category

T Is for Travel: 16 Family Travel Tips

Pont du Gard

Jasper kicking back at the Pont du Gard in Southern France.

The Perrin Post, from Conde Nast Traveler’s Wendy Perrin, has been running a super-fab family travel contest that ended last week. Perrin herself posted an A-to-Z list of 26 family travel tips — A is for apartment rental, B is for Bananagrams, etc. — and she invited parents to send in their best tip or tips, too, for a chance to win a $16,000 family vacation at a 5-star resort in the Caribbean.

Hellooooooo…!

Needless to say, I and many thousands of other parents, sent in the best of what we’ve got to make family travel easier. Some parents did a full-on 26-tips-long list, others (like me) didn’t force the full alphabet theme, but did send in our faves — many using the A is for… format.

The winner will probably be one of the over-achievers who tackled the entire alphabet, a la Perrin — although what’s the point, really, in stretching to come up with an “x” tip? x is for x-ray machine at the airport, x is for Xanax — eh — but I’ve got my fingers crossed anyway.

We love to travel — just got back from a road trip to Charleston and we leave soon for a month-long stay in France and Italy — and we put these tips for traveling with little kids into action every time we take off.

16 Family Travel Tips from Shiny Brite

(When I submitted my list for entry into the contest, I didn’t use the A is for… format — I thought that only had to be employed if you were doing the full alphabet. Doh! Hope that doesn’t discount me, Wendy! But these are the tips I submitted — they’ve just been re-tooled to fit the alphabet format.)

A is for avoiding the pharmacy in foreign lands. Pack your thermometer + cold/fever meds from home — The second you’re out the door, the likelihood of kid illness or ailment seems to triple for some reason. One of our kids almost always winds up with a cold, cough, or fever at some point on vacation. If we’ve brought our digital-read temporal artery thermometer and some meds from home, we’re ready for it — without having to make a run to the pharmacy in a foreign country.

B is for a bag of tricks, which you should pack for the plane — Bring along a special bag, packed with fun, cool new things the kids have never seen or played with before. Sticker books, Melissa & Doug Jumbo coloring books, a fresh pack of Wikki Stix, etc. Don’t forget to stuff copious amounts of appealing — and not everyday — snacks in the bag, too.

C is for cameras — Buy the kids inexpensive digital cameras (most of which come loaded with games they can play, too) before the trip, and let them snap what’s interesting to them while you travel. Depending on the kid, he or she may be *really* into it (Magnolia is), and you may wind up with some fun, surprising shots.

E is for extra batteries — Bring them. For everything. Cameras, DVD players (a travel essential if ever there was one), etc.

F is for flexible. Be flexible — It’s hard to stick to an itinerary when traveling with little kids. Have a long list of things you’d like to see over the entire trip, if it works out, but remember to be OK with just hanging, too. You’ll still be hanging in a locale that isn’t home, which is often reward enough.

G is for go with another family — I’m no joiner, and value my time (and our family time) alone probably to a fault. But we’ve traveled with another family and it’s great on several important fronts: you’ll save money by sharing in the cost of a rental property, you’ll get free babysitting by taking turns staying in with the kids one evening while the other couple goes out, and your kids will have built-in play mates on vacation with kids they already know.

H is for hang out online before you go — Find bloggers who write about things to do with kids in a specific destination, who blog about travel in general, or who just know a place well. You’ll find some great insider info beyond what you’d discover in guidebooks. Not so into blogs? Get into them. (You’re reading this one, aren’t you?) You’ll find it’s worth your while. Start with: Travel Savvy Mom, Ciao Bambino, My Little Nomads, and Pret a Voyager — then see who they link to, and branch out from there.

J is for just say Europe. It’s your friend — Depending on your personality type and priorities, if you can, consider leaving exotic, truly far-flung locales for later, when the kids are older. Europe is…. easy! Different yet not entirely unfamiliar or unlike home. Adventure is fun, yes, but don’t you mostly want to RELAX on vacation? You’re a tired parent. Of course you do.

K is for kid-hand-off, to a paid professional — hire a sitter or be open to camps while away — You want to spend vacation with your kids, of course, but you deserve a little break from them, too. And an adults-only dinner out or an afternoon of uninterrupted shopping will get you re-charged. It’s worth the additional expense if you can swing it. If staying at a resort, inquire about camps or get the name of the nanny service they use. If you’re renting a place from an owner, ask for a list of two or three reputable local services they’d recommend.

L is for let the kids carry their own bags — Once old enough, they will love it. And obviously, it’s less for you to lug. Get personalized bags and backpacks from Pottery Barn Kids. The personalization adds to the fun.

M is for more clothing. Pack extra sets of clothes for the kids in your carry-on bag — Air sickness happens. And I speak from experience — both on, and sometimes just immediately off, the plane. Spills and other accidents — hello, poopy-up-the-back-and-out-the-sides nightmare — happen, too, so be prepared with extra clothing.

R is for rent an apartment, skip hotelsWendy Perrin included this in her list, too, but it is such a great tip for families! My spin on it: You’ll have more space and be more comfortable, you’ll get to settle in and prepare meals at home like a local, and you’ll save money (don’t be afraid to try to negotiate the price, especially for stays of three nights or longer. If you’re renting directly from an owner, you’ll be surprised by how often there’s wiggle room if you ask.) Spend time combing sites like VRBO and if you’re headed to Paris, you’re in luck! We’ve done hours worth of research for you on the best family-friendly apartments to rent in Paris.

S is for steal away for as long as you can — You’ve planned, you’ve spent money, you’re prepared to deal with jet lag — try to make the vacation as long as is humanly possible. Also, it takes a while for everyone to really get into a groove while away — you don’t want to have to head home just as you’re all getting settled in and feeling comfortable. Try for at least two weeks if it’s a possibility for your family.

T is for talk it up before the trip — Get the kids excited about jetting off by discussing how things will be different while you travel before you leave. Prepare a couple of special meals typical of the cuisine you’ll eat while on vacation, have them learn a few words in a foreign language, or sign up for Little Passports, a monthly subscription service that sends your kids cool info (maps, souvenirs, etc.) on Sam & Sofia, globetrotting kids who set off on adventures to foreign countries via a magic scooter. My kids love it.

W is for water fun. Focus on pools + beaches while you’re away — As mentioned above, elaborate itineraries are challenging with little kids — and they’ll be just as happy hanging at a pool or beach anyway. Plus, the sun and water will thoroughly wear them out (bonus for you at the end of the day.)

Y is for yummy food. Food, food, food! — Museums and other adult-oriented sights may be tricky, but food is a great way to explore a country’s culture, and eating is a democratic activity — everyone can enjoy it. Visit farmers’ markets, sample street food if you’re in a place where that seems safe, have picnics, seek out kid-pleasing ice cream, gelato, and other native treats.

More on travel:

Ciao Bambino on Paris with Kids

A Mom Amok on Rome with Kids

Travel Savvy Mom’s Tips & Tricks on Visiting Disneyland

More Tips from the A-to-Z Contest

Southern France

Learning to walk -- in France!


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Still Time to Register: Brooklyn Baby Expo, from A Child Grows

Brooklyn Baby ExpoBrooklyn Baby Expo

Hats off to Karen from A Child Grows for pulling together what looks like an AWESOME event — the first-ever Brooklyn Baby Expo. Makes me wish we were in the baby way again (well, almost.)

But if you are expecting or have a new baby, register now for the special event next weekend — look for helpful seminars and demos on: sleep, gear, greening your home, navigating the search for a school, CPR, installing a car seat, hiring a nanny, and more. Essential stuff.

There will also by toys, prizes, posh baby and maternity clothing, manicures, blow-outs, and other goodies. Fun stuff.

Fabulous sponsors like Cool Mom Picks, Mommy Poppins, TimeOut New York Kids (+ others) are on board for the festivities.

Date: Sunday, March 13, 11am – 4pm

Price: $35 per person or $60 for two. With free parking (yes, hmmn.)

Still in baby world or about to be? Be there or you-know-what. And spread the word.

For more deets + to register.

Cute Humidifiers for Kids

It’s cold and flu season, which means everyone has a cough. Actually — knock wood — no one has a cough right this very minute, but for a while there we were all passing around a very unpleasant hack. It was a persistent little bugger. Went on for weeks.

It’s obviously no fun having a cough keep you up at night, but it’s even worse when it’s your kid. Having a humidifier on really seems to help our children — a lot. It’s the difference between up every couple of hours and getting a full night’s sleep. Our now-six-year-old model is past its prime, and it’s a drag having to shuttle it back and forth from Jasper‘s room to Magnolia‘s, depending on who’s sick, so….

Leave it to my wife to find a cute solution!

The kids were irrationally delighted by the arrival of hello kitty and the red dragon, our two new cool mist humidifiers from Crane. (hello kitty glows, acting as a night light, too.) Although we went with the kitty and dragon, the pig is pretty cute, too. (There are also other adorable animals, and a few cool, colorful, mod shapes if you’re adorable-animal-phobic.) Get one now for your kid’s room so you’ll be prepared the next time he develops a cough that sounds like a two-pack-a-day habit.

hello kitty humidifier

dragon humidifier

pig humidifier

Meet Brigitte, Owner of Lulu’s Cuts & Toys

Brigitte Prat

Brigitte Prat, of Lulu's Cuts & Toys, Lulu's for Baby, and Lulu's Then & Now.

We’re big fans of Lulu’s Cuts & Toys; Jasper and Magnolia go there for haircuts (we book with Jennifer) and it’s our go-to spot for birthday presents, too. So I was psyched to see the news over on A Child Grows in Brooklyn that Lulu’s was expanding yet again – first there was Cuts & Toys, then recently Lulu’s for Baby, and coming soon: Lulu’s Then & Now, a chic but affordable re-sale shop for kids’ clothes.

I caught up with owner Brigitte Prat recently to ask how she juggles 3 businesses (!) and being mom to a 15-year-old. Here’s what she had to say.

So, you own Lulu’s Cuts & Toys and Lulu’s for Baby and you’re about to open Lulu’s Then & Now. How did you wind up mistress of a Park Slope mini-empire?

I moved to Brooklyn in 1998 when my daughter, Lulu, was 3. We used to travel to a place on the Upper West Side to get hair cuts – it was a real destination and activity for us. Lulu loved it so much she’d remind me, “Mom I need a haircut!” I loved living in Brooklyn, but was surprised that there was nothing like the place in Manhattan. I knew it was a great concept and that it would work in Park Slope.

But I was a single parent at the time and couldn’t just quit my job. I felt passionately about the idea, though, and talked it over with friends for three years. I finally decided to sever ties with my boss and go ahead with opening the store.

I’m a big fan of Willy Wonka, and wanted this place to feel like that. Magical. And customer service lacks everywhere, so that’s been my number one thing.

Lulu’s for Baby came about because I carried Maclaren’s toy strollers at Cuts & Toys and I was getting calls for their baby products. Park Slope is such an awesome neighborhood; I was surprised no one had opened a baby gear store. I didn’t have plans to do it but happened to see a young man showing the commercial space one day and I looked at it and it just snowballed from there.

We’re doing incredibly well. Having the strollers is great; it’s like selling cars. Parents have a million questions!

Running three shops and being a mom must be kind of insane – how do you balance the demands of work and home life?

I do work a lot; I have very little time at home. But I make time to have a day here and there with Lulu – as a teen she likes to go shopping, so we’ll do that. And we always have family dinners together.

I don’t have weekends free, but I live above Lulu’s Cuts and Toys, so I’m kind of home when she comes home. I may be downstairs, but I’m around and available for homework questions or whatever.

Having Lulu’s for Baby, though, has shown me I can NOT be at Toys all the time – it’s a spinning top now and will spin on its own.

Getting to that place is my next step for Baby.

When you buy for Lulu’s Toys and Lulu’s for Baby, what are you looking for? What’s top of mind when you are stocking the stores?

I’m a big visual person, so I look at things aesthetically. When I first opened, the merchandise was all European, but some of the pull toys are $40 or $50 and that’s just not reality.

I look hard at finding interesting toys that are affordable. I’ve stayed away from things that are too high end, even though some are beautiful.

OK, idea time: What are currently some best sellers at Lulu’s Toys? What are people loving?

Science kits do amazingly well, as do the mini-kick scooters in summer. We have jewelry boxes people love, and Playmobil and pretend play toys do well consistently.

What about at Lulu’s for Baby?

We’ve become the shower and baby gift place. Sophie the Giraffe is huge. So are OBall and Squish by Manhattan Toy. I’m still learning and getting help from parents coming into the store – I’ll order things they’re looking for.

Tell us about the new store, Lulu’s Then & Now. What made you decide to open it?

I have a partner, AnnMarie, and she helped me with Baby, too – she used to own City Cricket in the West Village. She called me about another idea and I ended up mentioning a re-sale shop. People are constantly asking me where to donate clothes. We met and decided to go for it.

A re-sale shop is a sign of the times; people are being smarter about their buys these days. And I totally believe in recycling. When she was younger, Lulu’s wardrobe was probably 80 percent recycled. You can make some great finds in a re-sale shop and nobody else will have it.

What can parents expect to find at Then & Now?

We’re getting some beautiful snow suits up to 18 months or 2 years that have never been used. Also Petit Bateau, Mini Boden, and some very cute Gap stuff. A few shoes, and some gorgeous wooden toys, too. The exciting thing is that it will constantly change and evolve.

The response has been huge; AnnMarie is a great visual merchandiser, so the shop will look boutique-y, but we’ll have cheap prices!

How can parents sell their used items to you?

Right now, since doors are not open yet, we’re asking people to call for an appointment: 718.398.Lulu

After we’re open, people can drop off, but preferably not on the weekends.

We’re offering 25 percent cash of retail value or 40 percent store credit.

When do you expect to be open?

By the end of August.

You work so hard, you must really be ready for vacation when it’s time – what’s your family vacation time like?

Lulu and I love L.A. and we have good friends there. But this year, we’re renting a house in the Catskills. I didn’t want to go somewhere where we’d be shopping or moving around a lot. I wanted to sit and relax, to be at the house playing board games or cooking together or in the pool. I just want to sit and have a nice glass of wine!

Any plans for Lulu’s to branch out into other Brooklyn neighborhoods?

Not really. What I offer is special, but to keep it that way you have to keep it small. Otherwise, it loses its charm.

I Love My…Mabel’s Labels for Back to School

I ordered these a few years ago when Jasper was going into pre-k and they have been terrific. Tag everything: from clothes, to sippy cups, to school supplies, to shoes.

Tag, you're it

Mabel’s Labels (www.mabels.ca) is an easy-to-use site, that offers each product separately, or in one of their combo packs. We picked a combo pack for Jasper last time around, and have been very happy. But I think we could use more bag tags (good for things like backpacks and lunch boxes), and possibly some skinny-minis (good for school supplies, water bottles).

There’s a fun design element to the site: you pick your colors/design, and your icon (or have your kids pick what they like). I think Jasper would like a shark this year:

Bag Tag by Mabel's Labels

Both kids have been in camp this summer, and I’ve been feeling very remiss not having tags for Magnolia yet. Since she’s heading to pre-k this fall, there’s no time to lose. The “Classic Ultimate Back-to-School Combo” seems like a good choice. Thirty-nine dollars buys you 16 shoe labels, 50 “tag mates” for clothing (washer and dryer safe), 40 skinny minis,  and 2 teeny tags (for backpacks and lunch boxes). I chose a ballet icon for our little ballerina, and the color combo, “cotton candy.” Perfect!

Courtesy of Mabel's Labels

And now I’m done! No more lost swimsuits at camp or missing Sigg containers at school. Orders take about 2 weeks to receive with standard shipping.

Happy shopping!

I Love My…Skip*Hop “Central Park” Picnic Blanket

Green Acres

Even though we have our own backyard, it’s great to get out to our other yard: Prospect Park. Frederick Law Olmsted considered it his masterpiece (and this from the man who also designed the glorious Central Park). Featuring 585 diverse acres of parkland, including a lake, streams, glades, an ice skating rink, a zoo; it’s pretty spectacular. And in the neighborhood!

Whether it’s there, or just the Fifth Avenue playground, we often tote along a blanket to sit on. We have a couple, and weren’t really looking for a new one. Then luck intervened: I happened to enter one of the great giveaways they do over at Big City Moms. And I won! A big box with this terrific Skip*Hop blanket showed up on our doorstep.

This thing rocks. It’s called the “Central Park” Picnic Blanket. It folds up into a neat square that, with the help of detachable straps, can be carried on your shoulder, or as a cross body bag, or even as a backpack. One less thing for your hands to carry (especially since they probably are already holding sunscreen, hats, balls, etc).

Is it a picnic blanket? Or a man bag? Courtesy of Skip*Hop

Double-coolness factor: there’s a detachable cooler pocket attached to the bag as well. Just the right size for a couple of drinks and a snack (sometimes I throw the sunscreen in just so I don’t have to carry it).

The blanket itself is soft on one side and canvas on the other (the side you’ll put on the ground). It’s waterproof and wipes clean. And given how small it folds, it’s a great size at 5 x 5.

Central Park Picnic Blanket courtesy of Skip*Hop

It’s already made treks to the park a whole lot easier.

** Note: This post is a simple, “boy, we love this!” endorsement and NOT a quid pro quo for winning some cool merch.

I Love My Modern June Oilcloth Tablecloth!

Modern June oilcloth tablecloth

Modern June oilcloth tablecloth, Etsy, $60

Modern June

I love Mexican oilcloth — I think the brightly-colored patterns are fun with our eclectic decor. We had two funky floral-print tablecloths that we alternated on our kitchen table for a long time and I found them addictively functional. Perfect for arts and crafts, food prep, Play-Doh, whatever, and a breeze to clean.

But I got tired of the flowers. Time for an update,  but I definitely wanted to keep the hardworking oilcloth.

We found Modern June — “cool stuff for the hip housewife!” — on Etsy, fabulous home of all things handmade. She makes oilcloth tablecloths, placemats, splat mats, totes, aprons, party banners, and more. After much debate, with Modern June sweetly sending us additional images and consulting on trim color, we finally settled on a crisp, clean white with bright lime polka dots and a dark chocolate trim.

Here it is in action.

Modern June oilcloth tablecloth

Roll it out, cut it out, repeat.

The perfect tablecloth if you have little kids, or, really, in general. Spilled red wine? Squashed blueberries? An errant purple crayon stroke? Wipe it up, no problem.

More things we love:

Franco Sarto Crossbody Bag

Expedit Bookcase from Ikea

“All Out Of” Shopping List and “What to Eat” Planner from Anthropologie


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