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New York Life

Wanda’s Monster: From Fiend To Friend

Today was a landmark day for us – we took Cheese to her first musical, at age 22 months. The show was Wanda’s Monster, a really cute off-Broadway show, perfect for kids aged two to 10. We weren’t sure if it was a good idea to take Cheese seeing as she’s such a wiggle monster that we can’t even take her to a 30 minute music class anymore, but I really wanted to see how she enjoyed watching a real show.

Wanda’s Monster, in its essence, is about a girl called Wanda who discovers a monster living in her closet. At first she is scared of the monster, then, after receiving some advice from her super-hip grandmother, pushes through her fear to get to know him, gaining a new friend in the process. While the story is very simple (hey, it’s a kids’ musical after all!), the underlying messages of tolerance and acceptance are important lessons for us to learn (and be reminded of) at any age.

We sat in the back row in anticipation of needing to bolt after 10 minutes or less, and were stunned that we made it through the entire show, without a single wiggle. Cheese loved Wanda and the monster – asking for Wanda every time she left the stage, and pointing to the monster and saying with conviction “Mon! Mon!” (she hasn’t quite mastered multi-syllable words yet).

Wanda's Monster

Wanda's Monster

Wanda's Monster

Wanda's Monster

After the show we met the cast. Cheese was too shy to pat the monster or high-five Wanda. As we left she stopped to wave to the cast, yelling “Bye bye Mon!”. A new musical (and monster) fan is born.

wandas monster

Wanda’s Monster is playing July 13 – September 8, 2013, at Vineyard’s Dimson Theatre, Union Square. At 50 minutes (no interval) it’s the perfect length to try for your kid’s first show, or to take older kids who enjoy monsters. A few of the older toddlers were scared of the monster (Cheese knowingly said “Baby” when one such toddler wailed and needed to be removed from the theater), but by the end all the kids were dancing in their seats and shouting out “Rooaaarrrrrrr!”.

Buy tickets here. Use the code MBSAVE to score a 25% discount on full-pried tickets.

I was not compensated for this blog post. While I was invited to attend a special bloggers’ preview of the show, all opinions are my own. The show rocked. Take your kids, you’ll all have a blast.

How to survive your toddler’s first book signing

This article was originally posted on the MommyNearest blog

As mother to a rambunctious toddler, there are certain things I steer clear of: stores with fragile items on display, activities requiring the toddler to sit still, and open access to chocolate.

So it was definitely an out of the ordinary day that saw us attending a book reading and signing of brunchwithmybaby.com co-founder Alexis Barad-Cutler, for her new book, Who Are We? An Animal Guessing Game. The reading and signing was hosted by Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store in Brooklyn, one of our fave stores in the ‘hood for gifts for family and friends of all ages.

Book party

All three danger zones were in full force – china cows, glass vases and oversized coffee mugs at toddler level, a reading (requiring, you guessed it, sitting and listening, two skills that my toddler pretends not to have), and a huge open carton of Trader Joe Chocolate Cats, helpfully handed out by another toddler hopped up on sugar.

You’ve probably attended a book reading or signing, at least once. For adults, they’re usually a pretty calm affair. The attendees sit in chairs, quietly, while the author reads a chapter, and then sits behind a desk and signs copies for attendees in a neat line.

A book reading and signing for kids is more like a baby mosh pit than the serene scene described above. Picture 10 toddlers between the ages of 18 months and two years old, in a store filled with pretty, shiny things, and easy access to food. Yes, chaos, and yes, they egg each other on.


When it was time for Alexis to perform the reading, kids and adults all sat on the floor. Well, the adults sat, while the toddlers stood, performed yoga, stuffed their faces with the chocolate cat cookies, and, in my toddler’s case, assisted the author with her reading by helping her turn the pages and open the flaps.

Each spread inside the book features gatefold flaps that unfold to reveal the animal that’s being asked about. (The kids seemed to enjoy the element of surprise of seeing what’s underneath each flap.) My daughter’s favorite spread was the one with the snakes because she likes to make the snake sound (ssssss!). The adults liked the simple, rhyming text and the illustrations.

The book was well received by all adults and most of the toddlers (hey, they’re pretty discerning mini-people). It was a crazy experience, and thankfully nothing was broken, no kids were lost, and everyone slept well after coming down from their massive sugar crash.


Thinking of taking your toddler to a book reading and signing and scared of how they’ll behave? Just do it – it will be a fun and totally hilarious experience that you’ll be laughing over for weeks to come. Just remember to bring your camera, and cash incase they trash more than just your reputation.

Am I a New Yorker Yet?

After passing my two year-versary of living in New York, I’ve noticed some changes in myself. Could it possibly be New York-ness seeping in?

1. All I think about is food. Where the hot new brunch spot is. How to get my hands on the new cronut.
2. If the person in front of me at the subway station takes more than one attempt to swipe their card at the turnstyle, I have to fight the urge to punch them in the back of the head.
3. It seems normal to me to apply for a preschool program for my toddler a year and a half before the start date. And to write an essay as part of the application.
4. I avoid Times Square like the plague. Passing through it requires a stiff drink before hand, or at least a stop off at Magnolia Bakery for a pint of banana pudding.
6. Debating with fellow commuters on the fastest path for lost tourists to get to a given point is a just regular trip on the subway. It’s all good at least it’s not a poop carriage (and that’s a whole different post I won’t be writing about).
7. I can correctly direct people to most major locations, and, in Brooklyn, to the majority of streets/train stations and places of interest around DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights and BoCoCa. To the people who I recently told yes, you can walk over the Manhattan Bridge, and confidently pointed them to a vague point in the distance – I’m supremely sorry. Also to the people looking for the A/C line who I directed instead to the F. Again, my bad!
9. If I haven’t had a mani and pedi, I feel underdressed.
10. Brunch now starts at 1:30pm at the earliest. Yes, I’ve finally caved to local convention, aided by a toddler who still takes an epic morning nap.

Signs that I’ll never be a true New Yorker
1. Celebrity sightings still get me in a tizz. I have been known to stalk celebrities (Sorry Mila Kunis!)
2. I can’t tolerate queuing for anything, so there goes any hope of getting a table at any new, hot brunch spots.
3. The peanut butter makes me want to gag. I have my parents send me care packages of Aussie peanut butter, Vegemite and Nurofen.
4. I still eat Vegemite on toast almost every day.
5. I buy British Cadbury chocolate in bulk and eat Nutella by the tablespoon.
6. I’m up at 7am every day (thanks Eloise!) and frustrated that nothing opens till at least 10am.
7. I’ll never sound like one – and I’m ok with that! I love my Australian accent, with the rare exceptions of time when people can’t understand what I’m saying.
8. I still use degrees centigrade, kilograms, meters and grams. I have no plans of converting from the true measurement systems.
9. The colours I love the most are found in Australia – the sky, the ocean, the sand at the beach – I dream about being there again soon!
10. I still call Australia home.

Brunch Special: Lauren Pohl, Founder, Kidz Central Station

Today’s Brunch Special is courtesy of Lauren Pohl, founder of Kidz Central Station, a website where parents can search for and book fun classes and activities for their kids. Lauren lives with her husband and two kids, her four-year-old daughter and 18-month-old son, in Manhattan.

Lauren Pohl, Kidz Central Station
Lauren Pohl with her daughter.

How would you describe your business and website, Kidz Central Station?
Kidz Central Station helps parents search for, learn about, compare and enroll in classes/activities for children (like Open Table but for kids activities rather than restaurants).

How did Kidz Central Station begin?
I was motivated to start Kidz Central Station after I tried to find a cooking class for my daughter and Googled “kids cooking classes”—and only found tons of adult classes. I asked friends for suggestions and walked around my neighborhood to see if there were any cooking schools for kids. I became frustrated as I use technology for so many aspects of my life as a mother (e.g. buying diapers at diapers.com or sharing photos on Facebook) yet there was no comparable service for discovering, comparing and enrolling in kids’ classes and other activities. I knew that there were so many amazing options for classes and activities in NYC for kids, and that there needed to be an easy, centralized way, for busy parents to learn about them.

We built Kidz Central Station so that parents could go to one site and learn about the different kid activity options available by searching with filters that are important to them such as age, price, location, type of class and schedule, and to directly enroll if they so desire. We also have reviews of classes/activities so parents can learn from the experiences of other parents.

What kinds of activities has your business introduced your kids to?
Every week we learn about so many amazing and interesting classes and activities available in NYC. My daughter is four and loves princesses and fairy tales. As a result of Kidz Central Station we were introduced to the Galli Fairy Tale Theater. She now takes an acting class there and will also do a week of camp there this summer. She loves performing the stories we read at home and pretending to be the different characters. I also learned about some really cool art classes for kids, called Claire’s Creative Adventures, that include visiting local museums as part of the classes. This kind of option make so much sense to have in NYC and I’m so glad that we can help other parents learn that it’s available.

On to food! When did you start taking your kids out to eat in restaurants?
We started taking our children to restaurants when they were able to sit in a highchairs. We took a vacation when our daughter was four months old. We ate in a bunch of restaurants on that trip and found it wasn’t as hard as we expected it to be.

What have you found are the easiest/hardest ages to eat out with your kids?
Four is a good age to eat out as she likes to try to read the menu (or at least the letters on the menu) and this occupies her. Ages 12-18 months were hard as both of my children threw their food on the floor and they constantly wanted to hold the utensils and throw those on the floor as well.

Fave local restaurants to eat out with the kids?
We love a local Italian restaurant near our apartment called Notaro as it’s really family-friendly, the waiter knows our kids’ names and always makes us feel really welcomed. We love that there are often other families there, so we aren’t the only ones with loud kids who can’t sit in their chairs.

Fave spot to stop for treats?
We like PinkBerry and we love the vegan chocolate chip scones from WholeFoods. Our (almost) daily routine now includes going to WholeFoods to get these scones—after picking up my daughter from school on Fridays, plus other random days when the mood strikes. We take the scones to nearby Madison Square Park to enjoy them.

Do you have any eating out traditions with your family?
We enjoy going to Central Park and then out to our favorite pizza restaurant, Al Forno. Whether we go to the zoo, play in a playground or go scooting in the park, we typically end up at Al Forno and then Emack and Bolios for ice cream.

Number one tip for other parents when eating out with kids?
Remember your kids always seem louder to you than they do to other people.

Best Restaurants near the American Museum of Natural History

American Museum of Natural History
Dinosaurs!

One of the best places to take kids of all ages is the American Museum of Natural History. We’ve been taking Cheese there since she was in utero – true story. Whether you’re taking your baby, toddler or bigger kid, there’s literally something for everyone to enjoy. Babies are happy to look at ceiling fans, so the constant changing scenery of exhibits makes them happy to just watch everything pass by. Toddlers love the dinosaurs and giant whales, and bigger kids can get involved in the exhibits.

Before a trip to the museum, you really need to food up to get through the day. Instead of eating at the museum cafe, check out these nearby restaurants that you and the kids will all enjoy.

Sarabeth's UWS
Cheese enjoying her grilled cheese and fries at Sarabeth’s West.

Best elegant dining: Sarabeth’s West
Book a table for a finer dining experience at Sarabeth’s West, where kids are welcome (and usually present, in abundance!). Try their four flower juice and the ricotta pancakes or omelette. No need to order for toddlers – they’ll steal your delicious brunch right off your plate. Ask for a kid’s sippy cup to entertain young ones and buy you a bit more time.

Sarabeth’s West
423 Amsterdam Avenue (80th Street)
New York
Phone: (212) 496 6280
Hours: Mon-Sat 8am-10:30pm, Sun 8am–10pm

Isabella's, Upper West Side. Kid-friendly restaurants, New York.
Me and my Cheese at Isabella’s.

Best Friendly Staff: Isabella’s
Not only is the food amazing at Isabella’s, but the staff really go above and beyond to make families feel at home. Waitstaff happily entertained Cheese when we last visited, as well as delivering fast service and perfectly cooked food. FYI I had an omelette and it was devine. Last tip: be sure to book a table as they’re super popular and get busy on weekends.

Isabella’s
359 Columbus Ave
New York
Phone: (212) 724 2100
Hours: Mon-Fri 11:30am-10pm Sat-Sun 10am-11pm

Sugar and Plumm, kid-friendly New York
Bright, roomy interior.

Most appealing to little (and big!) kids: Sugar and Plumm
“Purveyors of yumm”, Sugar and Plumm are bright, cheerful and full of treats. They deliver a great brunch menu, sure to delight everyone in the party, regardless of their age. Kids are catered for with an innovative menu, sippy cups, crayons and a menu to colour in. The drawback: no reservations, so expect a long wait on weekends.

Sugar and Plumm
377 Amsterdam Ave
New York
Phone: (212) 787 8778
Hours: Mon-Fri 9am-10pm, Sat-Sun 8:15am-11pm

Shake Shack UWS, New York
Don’t take the shake from the baby. It’s bad.

Best fast food option: Shake Shack UWS
Fast food doesn’t necessarily mean bad food, as proven by the ever-popular Shake Shack. Right outside the museum, and only a block from Central Park, this is the best bet if you’re in a hurry. Solid burgers, fries and shakes will please most fussy eaters. The shakes are an especially big hit with the toddler crowd. They have high chairs and change tables, plus a downstairs rec room with extra seating, so be sure to check it out if the street level area is packed.

Shake Shack, UWS
366 Columbus Avenue
(at West 77th St)
New York
Phone: (646) 747 8770
Hours: Daily, 10:45am-11pm

Mother’s Day 2013

I don’t feel like I’m honest enough about how hard being a parent to a toddler is on a day-to-day basis. I post pretty pictures on Facebook and Instagram, and tweet cute or funny things that Eloise says or does. The reality is I love my baby girl with every ounce of my being – but some days are just. so. incredibly. hard. Physically exhausting. Mentally draining. Emotionally destroying. The good days and bad days mix with no rhyme or reason, and just when you think you’ve got everything under control and you’re in the clear, whammo, another bad day floors you to your knees.

I’m prefacing my post with this because Mother’s Day was one of those days. Alec went above and beyond to organise the perfect weekend for me. A cupcake from my favourite bakery. A surprise massage. Home-cooked lunch, and a surprise dinner at a vegan restaurant I’ve been dying to try. And then Eloise’s two-year molars started to come in – at least, that’s what we’re guessing is going on. Now we’re back to a whingy, not-sleeping, screaming bundle of toddler.

My Mother’s Day was filled with the humbling reminder that my enjoyment of life is – for the moment at least – highly dependant on the happiness of my child. Sad baby = no-one enjoys the day.

We still tried to make the most out of it. Got out in the sun, went to a few parks, had a wonderful dinner together after Eloise went to bed. It was not the Mother’s Day I would have wanted, but, then again, that’s not the toddler I was given.

So here are my carefully edited photos that tell a different story about my Mother’s Day.

20 takes later, this was the best shot. Notice she’s trying to escape?
Bounce up and down like an idiot, and eventually you’ll get a cranky toddler to smile
The other way to get an angry toddler to smile – let them do what they want. “Walk, walk walk!” You got it, baby!

Eat & Play In Madison Square Park: Kid-friendly Restaurants And Playgrounds, New York

Tourists love the Flatiron building. Actually, I do too. We end up in this area of town a lot, sometimes passing through with visiting friends, sometimes on our way to or from something fun like a gallery or shopping.

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Popular bird sculpture – a new addition to the Flatiron area.

I’m always happy to stop at Madison Square Park, right next to the Flatiron building, because it has the key ingredients (ha!) for a successful outing with little kids. Good food, plenty of options, and a fantastic playground, all in the one block.

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Bread – who doesn’t love carbs?

Best Place For Overwhelming Food Options: Eataly
Eataly is where to go when you don’t know what you want to eat. It has so many options, from eat-in restaurants to takeaway counters, that there is literally something that everyone will like, even the fussiest of kids. My personal favourite is Le Vedure, the restaurant that focuses on vegetables – it was a huge hit with miss Cheese too, who really enjoyed the cannelloni.

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Baby wants cannelloni.

Eataly
200 5th Ave
New York, 10010
Phone: (212) 229 2560
Hours: Mon-Sat 11am-10pm, Sun 11am-9:30pm

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Shake Shack – for burgers on the go.

Best Food To Grab And Go: Shake Shack
From its humble origin as a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park, Shake Shack sure has grown. It’s now the go-to fast-burger of choice for a lot of New Yorkers. Personally, I love their crinkle cut fries and thick, custard shakes. The Shake Shack we know, love and line up for today, officially opened in MSP in 2004. It’s in the perfect location to grab fast, decent food when you’re in the area, and sit in the park to eat it. Be warned though, keep your babies and toddlers away from the shakes – they’re totally addictive, even for the under 2s set.

Shake Shack
Southeast corner of Madison Square Park
Near Madison Ave. and E.23rd St.
Phone: (212) 889 6600
Hours: Open daily, 11am-11pm

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Madison Square Park playground.

Best Place To Let Kids Burn Off Steam: Madison Square Park Playground
Madison Square Park is a huge, beautiful area with a kids’ playground, dog run, and big grassy area. The MSP playground is large and super clean, with a dedicated toddler area as well as the bigger kids’ gym. Good luck keeping your little toddler in their designated area though! The big kid area is just too enticing for little toddlers like our Cheese.

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Madison Square Park – peek-a-Cheese!
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Madison Square Park playground.

Prospect Park Zoo, Brooklyn, New York

Nestled in beautiful Prospect Park is the sweet little Prospect Park Zoo. It’s a tiny zoo – perfect for people like us with a toddler. We saw everything in an hour and 20 minutes with our 19-month-old walking everywhere herself. I don’t like zoos much – I usually find them a bit depressing. The Prospect Park Zoo, however, is filled with well cared for animals and exhibits.

Sea lion, Prospect Park Zoo.

Miss Cheese’s favourite animals of the day were the sea lions, whose exhibit is smack in the middle of the zoo. Make sure you catch the daily sea lion feedings at 11:30am, 2pm and 4pm, to get a really good look at the sea lions performing their natural behaviours with some help from the keepers.

Kids of all ages (including us!) will love feeding the animals in the barn area of the zoo. Cows, goats, sheep, alpacas and chickens are housed in barn-like pens, with slats and holes in some of the fences so you can feed them the designated food. Watch out for the goats and sheep – they are so used to being fed that they climb up onto the fences and reach their long necks over for better access to food – funny for us, but a bit scary for little toddlers. They’re super gentle and tame though, and Cheese had no problem feeding them with animal kibble straight from her little hand. The best bit: baby lambs, just two weeks old. Squeee!!

Lambs! Prospect Park Zoo.
Baboons! Prospect Park Zoo.

The other highlights for us were the baboons, housed in a large enclosure adjoining one of the visitors centers, with floor to ceiling glass, and the Discovery Trail, a winding path through gardens and scrub lands, with animal exhibits like prairie dogs and red pandas. Cheese particularly loved the ducks, including eating the duck kibble instead of feeding it to the actual ducks.

Cheese watching the ducks, Prospect Park Zoo.

What to eat: This is the sad part of our post. While the animals are well fed, the humans aren’t. There are a lot of outdoor picnic tables to sit at, but inside the cafeteria lies only vending machines. We highly recommend you bring your own lunch, or leave the park and eat at a nearby cafe or restaurant. Check out our personal fave in Prospect Heights, Gueros, or download this guide to eating in Prospect Heights for a larger directory of places to eat.

Prospect Park Zoo
450 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, NY
Phone: (718) 399-7339
Hours: Spring/summer (Mar 23–Nov 3, 2013) Mon-Fri 10am-5:30pm, Sat-Sun 10am-5:30pm.
Fall/winter (Nov 4, 2013–Mar 28, 2014) Daily 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m

The New Pier 5, Brooklyn Bridge Park; Brooklyn, New York, Playgrounds

Something miraculous happened over winter. Pier 5, Brooklyn Bridge Park, opened to the public on a suitably arctic day, too cold for most New Yorkers to check it out.

We had a chance to take a look soon after it opened, and fell in love with the sweet little toddler play area, perfect for kids Cheese’s age (she’s currently 19 months old).

New playground at Pier 5, Brooklyn Bridge Park.

As well as the little toddler area, there is a playground for slightly older kids, with a spiders web to climb.

Not a bad view. Pier 5, Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The new pier also features a 200,000 square feet sporting field and a picnic peninsula with tables, grills and umbrellas for some much needed shade come summer.

What to eat: After Memorial Day weekend, Prospect Heights’ Ample Hills Creamery will be serving crazy flavours like Maple Baon and Ooey Goey Butter Cake at the pier. You’ll also be able to walk to Pier 6 next door and grab a slice of pizza from Fornino, who are opening up for the season. Enough of this cold already, bring on the summer!

Pier 5, Brooklyn Bridge Park
Joralemon St,
New York, NY

Afternoon at Brooklyn Bridge Park; Kid-friendly Things To Do in DUMBO, Brooklyn, New York

With an unseasonably warm forecast, we head down to DUMBO for lunch at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Since we’ve been craving sunshine for months, we decided to pick up a sandwich at Foragers City Grocer and head on down to the park to eat and let the Cheese run free.

Foragers have a great range of locally-sourced breads, groceries and snacks, as well sandwich and smoothie bars. While you can perch on stools and eat in, we prefer to take everything to go.

The area of Brooklyn Bridge Park directly under the Manhattan Bridge has possibly the best views of both bridges and Manhattan that you’ll see anywhere. It also has a huge grassy area, so bring a ball for the kids to kick around, or a blanket to sit on. The pirate playground that sits in this area of the park was severely damaged during Hurricane Sandy – we were thrilled to see that it has been repaired and is due to re-open next month.

Brie and Granny Smith apple with watercress on a baguette.
Cheese runs amok.

Foragers City Grocer
56 Adams St,
Brooklyn, NY
Phone: (718) 801 8400
Prices: $$
Hours: Mon-Fri 8am-9pm Sun 9am-8pm
Get directions.

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