Category Archives: holidays

Spring Festivities and a First Birthday.

A year ago at this time I was basking in the unique glow of motherhood, swathed in the womb-like confines of a shared room at NYU Tisch Medical Center, toasting my new son with the endless ice waters the rosy-cheeked nurses kept bringing me. And/or, I was sitting in a paper dress all stunned, like, WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED? After miserable weeks of sort-of-labor, after reaching that too-pregnant psychosis where you start believe the baby is just staying in forever, after passing the due date and sailing on to the next week and infinity beyond, actual labor was so fast the kid was almost born in a taxi cab. And not to wallow in cliche here, but I can’t believe Alton King turns one today.

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Ollie.

Likes: Harper, cheese, drinking from a glass, throwing a ball, walking around, slapping things.

Dislikes: clementines.

Skills: Walking, running, falling, getting up, climbing, falling, getting up. Can say Mama, Dada, Hapa, that, and cake.

Goals: Getting bigger than Harper by age 2.

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We celebrated by chasing Ollie, as he has somehow come to be known, around various locales and pulling him down off stools, chairs, and tables. First, an adorable Easter egg hunt in the backyard of our new building. This building has just been charming me to death. All the kids! The shoeless playdates! Look at this shit:

ImageImageImageImageOkay, so that was cute. At promptly 1 pm, both of my young combusted, so we went home (all the way upstairs) for naps, and then in the afternoon headed into Prospect Park. Harper had suggested some weeks ago that we go to the carousel by the zoo on Ollie’s first birthday and that she would make sure he didn’t get scared. So we did, and she did. She forgot, however, to make sure that she didn’t get scared. But she played through the panic and then afterward walked away uncertainly, saying, “Maybe that’s for when I’m older,” and “The brave ones get treats.” (?!) Ollie: completely unfazed.

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ImageImageAnd then some park frolicking, and a long stroll home, and then, of course: cake.

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The 2-for-1-Special Springtime Birthday

One thing you have to admit for our family planning, we are really going to save money on birthday parties. Man, have we beat the system!

Last year I was convinced Alton was going to be born on Harper’s birthday, and so we had her tiny tea party a little early, but he had the good manners/laziness to be born weeks later. That was fun! I’m kidding, it was miserable! Anyway. So their birthdays ended up being two weeks apart, in different months even so they each get their own little sector of spring, but close enough that for the next few years anyway we can force them let them share a birthday party.

I decided a spring theme made sense, which meant some fake cherry blossom sprigs, some springy bunting, and two cake-foods. For the Harper side of things, dainty pink cupcakes with gum paste cherry blossoms that I lovingly crafted by hand. Come on, my kids eat nuggets every night. I ordered those suckers online. And for the Alton side of things, a chocolate cake that looked like mud, which is to say, slathered in chocolate pudding and crumbled cookies and gummy worms and slugs. For some reason, some of the guests found this to be off-putting. There was pin-the-tail-on-the-robin, but more importantly, tons of balloons. And that was it. We played records. We gave the grownups mimosas and bagels. Alton wandered around like a puppy, climbing into people’s laps and stealing their food. Harper occasionally reminded her guests not to take home her presents. Murray got shy at the last minute and stayed home with all his cats in Paris. It was really so much fun, and we felt so thankful to all the friends and new neighbors who came by, and very house-warmed and heart-warmed.

Here are some photos Adam took. And you can also get a peek at our new place, which we are semi-settled into. So without further ado, here is why is my novel revisions are not into my editor yet:

The Dance of the Sugar-Crazed Fairy

gyo fujikawa

Image from Gyo Fujikawa's Night Before Christmas

I’m so behind on my to-do list these days that I’m starting to get out-of-season — I have potentially great blog posts that have remained entirely in my head and soon will be putridly out of date, like a Shamrock Shake you find in your fridge mid-June, unspeakably furzed. All these cute seasonal things have been happening — an attempt at candy cane playdough in little babyfood jars as presents to Harper’s classmates (it looked really cute but ours was a weird gelatinous mush the next day and I fear everyone else’s was too — I bet that never happens to The Artful Parent lady!), a day devoted to making salt dough ornaments, which were a big hit with Harper and infected our apartment with a plague of glitter.

And, also, I took Harper to see The Nutcracker, an outing I’ve been looking forward to since Harper was the gestational age of approximately 20 weeks. We went with a local, kid-friendly version — Lincoln Center is for the reliably potty-trained, I think — at Brooklyn College. The good people at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts have put together a sweet, family-friendly version, including a voice over explaining the trippy things occurring on the stage. That said, the thing is still 2 hours long and, as I’d forgotten in the 25-odd years since I last saw The Nutcracker, kind of creepy.

Also, taking a two-year-old to the ballet is akin to walking a bull with a time bomb strapped to it through a crystal palace. The best part was just before the curtain went up, when Harper was perched on the edge of her chair, her hands clasped, saying, “Oh, I’m just so essited for the ballerinas!” I almost floated our of my $7 seat, I was so charmed by her essitement. As soon as they dimmed the lights, however, she started saying she wanted to go home. I spent the next half-hour or so whispering answers to her many questions as quietly as possible and bribing her with M&Ms.

At one point she announced she was going home and took off, so I slunk after her, inwardly pouting about missing the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. In the lobby, Harper stopped to stare at a ballerina on a television screen before saying, “I want to see that!” “That’s what’s going on inside the theater,” I said in a very nice and not at all annoyed voice. “Let’s go!” she said brightly, bounding back towards our seats.

By the last third or so of the ballet,  though, I did one of those Parenty Things you think you’ll never do and truly don’t understand until it happens to you — that is, I realized it would be easier to get out of the parking lot if we left before the show ended. Away we went. In the car Harper sighed dreamily. “Did you like it?” I asked her. “I did,” she said, “I really liked those M&Ms.”

All in all, a cultural triumph.

Now there are presents to be wrapped, and tomorrow, cookies to be made. (Harper was very concerned that Santa would eat her Hanukkah cookies, so we decided to make some just for him.)  There will be a walk in the park, since global warming’s fucking with our sledding tradition, and then a delicious Christmas meal (delivered by Fresh Direct, of course), and then I am staying up to catch Santa.  Dear blog people, happy holiday of choice, and to all, a good night.

(PS Check out my post on creating holiday memories over at the Redbook Motherboard blog!)

gyo fujikawa night before christmas

Images from Gyo Fujikawa's The Night Before Christmas

“I’m going to dream of Halloween”

I guess I’ve got a chip on my shoulder when it comes to kid Halloween. Every year I get annoyed that there are scary, inexplicable decorations everywhere, spooking Harper. (The other day at the children’s museum — “Why there’s a hand there, Mama?” “Oh, you know. Just a really fun severed hand floating in some fake formaldehyde as a hilarious joke. Whee!”) She also hates masks and face paint, although she did manage gather up the bravery today at playschool to get her nose painted pink. Then there’s the candy situation. Why would I want strangers to give my kid a bunch of terrible junk food I don’t really want her to eat at all? Why? And let’s not forget the costume situation, which just reminds me of what a non-crafty mama I really am. Maybe it’s the deep-seated costume-wariness of a bespectacled person. Glasses really make costumes impossible. I’m probably the only person in the world or at least Park Slope who wants Sarah Palin to jump into the Republican primary race — just because she’s a good costume for me, people, that’s it.

Still, over the course of the day I admit that my Halloween grinchiness was melted away. Harper was delighted with the morning’s costumes, invented by her: Charlie and Lola.

charlie and lola


charlie and lolacharlie and lola

charlie and lola
I was proud of her for this costume idea. First of all, it’s literary and almost entirely unrecognizable by the general public, and thus, my kind of costume. Second of all, it included her brother, which melted my Halloweeny heart. Third of all, it was easily thrown together, consisting of normal and rewearable clothes. I mean, am I an unfun Mom or what.

This costume was perfect for the morning at school — after all, it’s just clothes. And Harper really really liked pretending to be Lola all day. She demanded a lot of pink milk, addressed me as Marv or sometimes Minnie, and got into zany mishaps with an invisible Lotta. Good times!

But a few weeks ago a desire to also be a fairy princess was expressed. What IS a fairy princess? How does she know about them? I don’t know. All I know is, I placed an order with the brilliant Halloween seamstress that is my mother and a few days later a sweet, diaphanous, sparkly fairy dress arrived in the mail. Tiara, wings, and wand were obtained. Alton was squeezed into Harper’s old monkey costume.Costumes #2 were in full effect for evening.

Harper of course refused to wear the fairy princess getup. At trick-or-treating time we made our way out onto the street, Harper dressed as a cranky 2 year old who needed a nap. (A very convincing ensemble, I have to say.) But the magic smoke bubbles at the bakery across the street and hordes of costumed kids changed her mind, as did our accidental trick-or-treating on the way to her friend’s house. “Why he is giving me candy?” Harper kept demanding.

Finally we met up with Malka, her parents, and Adam. As usual, Malka and Harper whipped each other into a frenzy of giddiness, and soon Harper was racing around in her fairy princess costume which was good so I didn’t have to freak out on her about demanding it. The girls loved trick-or-treating, monkey-Alton fell asleep in the carrier, and the grownups got to feel charmed by brownstone Brooklyn in all its neighborhoody glory.park slope halloween
In conclusion… tiara+lollipops=really impressively tangled hair.

Toddler Birthday Parties For All!

This week is always a tough one for me: Father’s Day, Adam’s birthday, and our wedding anniversary, all in one fell, evil swoop. I usually respond by retreating. Who needs a good gift when you can offer a fantastic apology? Aren’t all these holidays really about disappointment anyway? Isn’t that part of the FUN? But this year, the day before Adam’s birthday, I got inspired. “Harper, tomorrow is Daddy’s birthday. What makes a happy birthday?”

“Cupcake,” Harper answered without missing a beat. “Balloons.”

This kid knows what’s what. I had a revelation: whenever you get that post-birthday sense that your birthday wasn’t birthday-y enough, it’s probably because it lacked the kid-birthday-party trappings that you subconsciously expect. So the day before Adam’s birthday we set out with our shopping cart, I mean double stroller, and trolled the neighborhood for birthday trappings. Streamers, check. Balloons, check. Helium balloons, check. Just what every 31-year-old man wants: a big, shiny, Elmo balloon.

At home we baked Adam’s requisite birthday treat, his grandmother’s famous recipe, a rich chocolately situation known as wacky cake. (I’ve made this cake every year we’ve been together and let me just say that June birthdays are completely stupid. Nothing is less refreshing than baking a frigging cake on an 80-degree summer’s day. I recommend that people think about this when family-planning.) Am I allowed to reveal the wacky cake recipe? I don’t know. I will tell you this much: when baking with a toddler, do by all means search for an eggless recipe like this one, which calls for oil and white vinegar but no eggs. Harper was ecstatic to be allowed to lick the spoon. After ingesting about a cup of batter she sighed and said, “I don’t think I like chocolate.” Later on she decorated it with some Haribo gummy berries, a bit of wacky cake heresy (it is generally dressed only in a slinky layer of shiny dark icing) that I felt was necessary given her love for accessories.

Harper was in a kind of a happy haze all day, asking every hour or so, “Daddy’s home yet?” We spoke to him on the phone (to tell him that Alton had rolled over!) and she blurted out, “Ollie rolled and we made a cake!” When he finally got home instead of yelling “Surprise!” like I’d coached her, she leapt around showing him the balloons and pointing to the wrapped packages on the table — “And we got shirts! And…”

Realistically, it was the most fun for her. But I think Adam liked it too. If not, well, I also can offer him the best birthday present of all:  apologetic excuses.

Adam's toddler birthday party

The coffee-filter flowers and Harper-paintings on the wall were still loitering around from Father's Day. Too bad there's no birthday cake left to serve on our anniversary. Seriously, this week is a killer.

And I Used to Think Mother’s Day Was Corny.



I must be the luckiest person alive.

Harper’s Tiny Tea Party

Harper is about to turn two in a few weeks here, but since her brother might just be born on her actual birthday (which we think is totally cute and everyone seems to think is basically child abuse) we went ahead and had a birthday party for her this weekend. And since every birthday party she has from here on out will probably be shared with Boombox, I decided to go totally girly with this one.

Happy birthday, kiddo.

When I started to look around at venues to rent, I realized that we were looking at probably at the very very least $300-400 for a few hours of toddlers smashing frosting into things. Especially with a kid so little and so undemanding in the sphere of entertainments (uh, and another on the way!), I just couldn’t justify the expense. Plus, hasn’t everyone been to birthday parties where the little guest of honor seems really stressed out the whole time but all the noisy, elaborate festivities? What’s the point? But could we have a birthday party at home, in our teeny-tiny 1.5 bedroom apartment? Reader, we did, and we have lived to tell the tale.

Like partying in a subway car. Minus the screaming homeless.

I heeded the advice you always get about the age of the child plus one and just invited three little girls and their moms. No room for dads even! Sorry, men! (Adam’s theory was that no adult is ever actually disappointed to miss out on a kid’s birthday party. As evidence he cited the (awesome) dad we encountered at a 2nd birthday party, drinking a 40 from a paper bag.) The only drawback to this was fielding Harper’s excited questions in the days preceding about her wonderful (male) friends coming to her party and telling her “Ah, no, Booker/August/‘Japser’/etc isn’t coming because, ah, well, because.” (Actually we invited four kids, assuming at least one wouldn’t be able to come, which ended up being exactly what happened. There were enough kids to seem like a party, but not so many people that Harper got overwhelmed or things felt chaotic.)

Harper can't stop talking about how everyone got on her bed and was laughing. That's how you know it's a party!

I really meant to keep track of how much I was spending on party preparations and then to post some gleeful total here – “All this for $34.75!” – but of course I lost track and then got confused about whether to include cost of ingredients for things I was baking – like, so, I didn’t have to buy sugar because I had it but I sure used a lot so how does that tally – and all that math was just killing my party mood. So I’m going to say the whole thing cost under $100. Although that might be a lie since we did send our faithful hound to a place we’ll generously call doggie daycare for the day and that might have tipped us over the $100 mark. But it was worth it to not have to guard our small guests against countless, overly passionate, garbage-can-scented tongue kisses, which for some reason some people seem to find disconcerting.

Before the kiddie chaos. You can kind of see the bunting. I didn't take very good photos of it. Oh well. Imagine it's perfect.

Harper and I made decorations, which helped her to get really excited for this otherwise slightly abstract party concept. She especially loved drawing pictures together on circles of construction paper, including stick-figurey portraits of our guests, and in the days before the party she’d point to them and go through their names all excitedly. One night I put together a couple strands of really simple paper bunting – triangles of origami paper taped to string, all of which I had lying around. It seriously took about 20 minutes.

Even star-shaped jelly sandwiches can't hold a candle to chocolate chip cookies.

I admit I got a little needlessly complex with the food. Because this was a tea party, after all, I decided we needed dainty finger sandwiches (I used this cucumber-and-mint recipe and also made some plain cream cheese-and-jelly ones) that I don’t think any of the girls touched, and strawberry scones and lemon curd. Having never made scones I was really pleased with this easy and delicious strawberry scone recipe. But again, the kids didn’t really care. One little girl ate a scone, but I think she just hadn’t noticed the cookies yet. Obviously all the girls really wanted were the chocolate chip cookies and marshmallows, and I think two of them had chamomile tea and maybe only I had the hot chocolate. Still, it was fun to do all the baking, even if it meant no one in my family ate an actual meal for two days because I was too busy with other things.

All pregnant ladies should have a tupperware container of leftover homemade buttercream frosting. And now I do. Hee.

The pink cupcakes were of course a big hit. I used this vanilla cupcake recipe, and I would just like to say a word about it here since there are like 4,000 comments online regarding the inconsistencies of the recipe. The recipe says to cook for 20 minutes, and the first batch I did, and my toothpick came out clean and they looked good for a few instants before deflating into gooey, eggy-smelling little mucous-balls. I did not feel happy. The next batch I left in for 30 minutes and voila! Perfect golden-brown cakey vehicles for frosting (which is all I personally care about anyway). For coloring the buttercream frosting, I recommend 4 or 5 drops of red food dye and 1 blue. Can I just note that for Harper’s first birthday party I made this all-natural, low-sugar, organic apple-pumpkin cake? HA!

Knowing how 2 year-olds are, I put away some Harper’s least-shareable toys, stocked the living room with a big roll of white paper, new crayons, stickers, play-dough (aka delicious salty snack globs) and bubbles (which I forgot about and never used). We played Harper’s favorite record (The Crystals, obviously) and let the kids run wild.

Instead of goody bags, I had the brilliant inspiration to give each girl a little stuffed bear from Ikea ($1.99 each!) and a play tea cup. The bears were identical. The girls immediately started fighting over the different colored teacups. Ach, so close.

And there you have it. Super simple, terrifically tiny, and on the cheap. And I wasn’t worried about getting my deposit back in case I went into labor. Afterwards, Harper spun around the living room, all high on sugar, chanting, “Oh what a day! Oh what a day!” I expect the same response from every birthday party she ever has.

"Best party ever, Mama! I will always be this easy to please!" Okay, I'm paraphrasing.