Hurricane Season Starts June 1st: NYC Know Your Zone!

Hurricane Season Starts June 1st: NYC Know Your Zone!

photo: Sandrarose.com

photo: Sandrarose.com

We New Yorkers have been through our share of emergency situations over the last 12 years.  I watched the Twin Towers collapse from my apartment window.  I made it through the blackout with twin baby girls who basically slept through the whole thing.  And in 2012, when Superstorm Sandy struck, we were fortunate enough to live uptown, and came to love the huge inclines of the Upper West Side streets that I cursed when I had to push a double stroller up them day after day.  It turns out being perched high up on a concrete paved hill is probably the best place to be in all of Manhattan.  But, it’s also just luck since the power outages could have happened anywhere – and who wants to rely on luck when your family’s safety is on the line?

Know your zone, and know how to be prepared!

  • Use NYC’s Hurricane Evacuation Zone Finder or call 311 to find out whether your home or business is located in a hurricane evacuation zone.
  • Understand hurricane hazards and the steps you can take to prepare.
  • Sign up for Notify NYC.
  • Get the latest emergency information via text, phone, email, fax, Twitter (@NotifyNYC), BlackBerry Messenger, and instant messenger.
  • Get the Ready New York Hurricane Guide: The guide contains instructions on how to develop a hurricane disaster plan and secure your home before a storm as well as a map of New York City hurricane evacuation zones.
  • You can check out the SnapGuide too.

And make some thunder of your own!  Participate in the Know Your Zone Thunderclap campaign!  It’s super simple and a great way to let everyone know it’s important to know your zone!

 

NYC Department of Education Releases a Social Media Guide for Students That Says…Nothing?

A lot of local media press is swirling around the new social media guide put out by the NYC Department of Education this week.  At first glance that sounds great.  Administration is stepping in to help kids navigate social media, provide tips and guidance and empower kids to make smarter choices online – or so you’d think.

But in fact if you read it, it is not a guide – it is a set of cliché ridden guidelines.  Complete with links to multiple Chancellor’s Regulations – because there’s nothing kids won’t enjoy more than reading the A-831 regulation to understand peer sexual harassment.

This guide contains such gems as this advice if you are cyber-bullied and would like to report it to the adult in charge at your school,”If you are not sure who your school’s Respect for All Liaison is, please look for their name on the RFA posters.”

And this warning about crossing the personal-school life boundary, “Sometimes, personal social media use, including off-hours use, may result in disruption at school and the school may need to get involved. This could include disciplinary action such as a parent conference or suspension.”

In other words, this is NOT a social media guide, it is a set of regulatory guidelines, and we shouldn’t be giving the NYC Department of Ed a big hurrah for publishing them.  They are not curriculum or actual teaching tools.

The good news is that there is a media literacy bill right now in the New York Legislature that would mandates the Department of Ed will develop standards and provide resources for incorporating media and social media literacy in K-12 curriculum.  And, it will make teacher training available for media literacy as well.
https://www.facebook.com/rebeccalevey/posts/10202911221120416?stream_ref=10

THIS is worth your time in sharing and talking about so we can actually create media savvy kids.

Add Some Hamptonality to Your Holiday – Plus Win a Free Night at Hampton Hotels

exterior When you live in New York City everyone wants to visit you.  With the theater, museums, great restaurants, and all of the fantastic landmarks and sites – and amazing shopping of course – NYC is a fabulous place like no other.  Add in the holiday lights, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, the Rockettes and all of the magic that makes NYC especially glittery at holiday time, and it’s easy to see why friends and family want to come and stay.  However, there is one other reality about living in NYC, the lack of space.  Stepping over aerobeds and no privacy aren’t exactly the makings of a great visit. I love the idea of putting up family at a reasonably priced hotel instead.  Hampton Hotels has launched a wonderful new Hampton Holiday Program where the central theme is making guests feel taken care of and providing a clean, warm place to call their own.  All of the 1,900 Hampton locations feature:

  • Free, hot breakfast with fresh-baked waffles. (This is ESSENTIAL when traveling with kids!)
  • Free wired or wireless high-speed internet access in all guest rooms, so you can post about your holiday travels while visiting family in other towns.
  • The clean and fresh Hampton bed® – so you can rest up for your big holiday weekends.

GuestRoom_HR[1] I always enjoy staying at the Hampton Inn in Maine when we visit our girls for camp visiting day.  We’ve always been impressed with the service, the breakfast and the clean rooms.  Plus, the free wifi is a must for me!  Now I know all of those little things add up to “Hamptonality.”  Also, I love earning Hilton Honors points! Here in NYC it’s nice to know that even if we can’t squeeze people into our apartment there are ways we can personalize their stay in a hotel.  Hampton has partnered with entertaining expert, Jenny Steffens Hobick, to provide simple tips for making out-of-towners feel at home – especially when they’re staying in a nearby hotel. I love these tips especially:

  • Plan a welcome bag with treats, water, (and my tip in NYC – a metrocard and a list of great NYC apps to download!)
  • Hire a babysitter one night and host the kids at your place so the grown-ups can have a kid-free night out together.
  • Make time for resting.  This is so important especially in NYC!  Set a time where everyone just meets to relax, have a hot drink and snacks and regroup.

Here in NYC the Hampton Inn Times Square North is ideally situated for walking to the theater, Central Park and midtown shopping.  Plus it’s close to every subway imaginable. Everyone could use some time away, whether it’s a quick trip or a longer vacation.  And it’s so nice when everyone has their own space too. So, I’m giving away a one night stay to use at any of the 1,900 US Hampton locations!

How to Enter the Hampton Be My Guest Giveaway:

Follow @beccasara on Twitter and tweet your “Hamptonality” tip.  What’s the thing you do to make your guests feel special?   Be sure to include @beccasara and #HamptonHoliday.  Then leave a comment below with a link to your tweet! You can also follow Hampton throughout the year for great travel ideas and promotions:

One winner will be chosen at random using random.org on December 31st  at 12:00pm Eastern.  Hampton Hotels will mail the winner a “Be My Guest” card, which entitles the bearer to (1) free night stay at a Hampton location.  Winner will be notified via twitter and must respond within 48 hours to claim the prize.  Open to U.S. Residents 18+ only. This is a sponsored post.  Compensation was provided by Hampton Hotel via MomTrends.  The opinions expressed herein are mine and are not indicative of the opinions of Hampton or Momtrends

 

Marcus Samuelsson and Uncle Ben’s (Beginners) Get Kids Cooking!

at red roosterLast month I had the pleasure of dining at one of the best restaurants in NYC: Red Rooster Harlem.  Yes, the food is wonderful, but really it’s not just about the food – it’s about the incredible sense of community and care that fills the space that makes it so special.  After meeting Marcus Samuelsson, and having him give us a tour where he pointed out all of the thoughtful features that went into building Red Rooster it was easy to see why the restaurant exudes warmth and an authentic identity.  From the art that features local customers, to the books that reflect the history of Harlem, food, music and culture, to the artists they feature in the space – you know that there are conscious, purposeful choices put into the restaurant.

That thoughtfulness extends to the food and work of Marcus Samuelsson, who has teamed up with Uncle Ben’s Rice to get kids and families cooking together.

The campaign, Ben’s Beginners Cooking Contest asks families to create a cooking video together and show how cooking can bring you together – and teach kids better food habits.  You could win $15,000 for your family – and $30,000 for a cafeteria makeover for your school!

When you talk to chefs they usually point to a family member as the reason they got into cooking – a grandmother, an uncle or aunt, their mom.  Cooking in the home is one of the most fundamental experiences we can share with our kids – it doesn’t have to be a big deal – it’s actually better if it isn’t.  Unfortunately, I think we spend more time watching impossibly hard cooking shows that have nothing to do with real life cooking – and less time actually chopping, peeling, and turning on a stove to make a simple dinner with our kids.

Marcus spent a lot of time with my daughters and niece at the lunch – asking them all about their school lunch program, what they’d like to see in school lunch, what the kids actually eat – and about the conditions of the lunch room and the experience of lunch time at school (hot, rushed, and overcrowded – all while being yelled at by cafeteria aides).

Marcus Samuelson

It was really interesting to me that he partnered with Uncle Ben’s, but I totally understood it when you looked at this program that was trying to get families to not just cook together, but celebrate it too.  And if using quick rice can make it easier to create that dinner, and get it on the table faster, then I’m all for it.

At Red Rooster they started with the brown Uncle Ben’s Rice, added lobster stock, herbs and spices and created their dirty rice:

It was delish.  Along with the rest of the meal of shrimp, jerk chicken, kale salad and cornbread.  Plus they made Shirley Temples for my girls.  They felt very swanky.

If you’re in NYC be sure to go to Red Rooster for a really special meal.  (We also picked up cupcakes for our Rosh Hashanah dinner that night.  And they were amazing)

So, grab your kids, and get cooking together today.  You can shoot the video on your smartphone – nothing fancy.  Just like you can make some simple pasta, nothing fancy, but at least you’re doing it together, and showing your kids that cooking is not a big deal – it’s something you do to take care of yourself and the people you love, in the most basic way.  And then enter the Uncle Ben’s Beginners Contest – you could even end up on Rachel Ray!  But hurry!  The contest ends October 6th!

 

NYC Primary Day!! Get Out and Vote!

Bill de Blasio and Cynthia Nixon and women for de Blasio

Photo by Jennifer Lee Photography

Way back in January the Women’s Committee for Bill de Blasio kicked off officially with an event on the Upper West Side.  Bill de Blasio seemed like a long shot – but that was okay because the more people learned about him the more they like him.  

As a public school parent and advocate the possibility of having a fellow public school parent as mayor opens up a totally different discussion around testing, evaluations, and schools as communities.  As a girl who grew up in Park Slope, I’m also happy to have someone who raised their kids and chose to make Park Slope home 20 years ago.  There’s a sensibility there that speaks to a different kind of vision for NYC. 

So, I was seriously thrilled to step in the voting booth today and vote for Bill de Blasio.

And I was also happy to vote for Gale Brewer as Manhattan Borough President.  I’ve seen her first hand over the years tirelessly working for our schools and the whole community as our City Council Member.

And Scott Stringer got my vote for Comptroller.  Scott has also been an incredibly strong advocate for our schools, a stand up guy who literally always stood up for the schools when we needed him to, and always came through when we needed as well.

I’m not writing this post to persuade anyone to vote one way or another, but really because I am so looking forward to the changes that are ahead in NYC.  I happen to think these are the best people to create positive change. And, more importantly, in my first hand experience these candidates are DOERS.

It’s easy to talk.  It’s easy to have ideas.

But really putting in the effort and hard work to get things done – and do it without being dismissive and arrogant – is not easy.  There’s a reason the Mayor of NYC is considered the second hardest elected position in the country.   And I believe Bill de Blasio is up to the challenge.

Raising Broadway Babies – and A Totally TONYs Partnership (pinch me!)

b_totallytonysI grew up going to the theater, performing in musicals, doing ballet.  Living in Brooklyn meant going to a Broadway theater was an event.  We planned ahead, tickets were bought in advance, reservations made, more often than not a special occasion was involved.  I didn’t really care what I saw – I just loved going.  And the truth is, when you’re a kid, if there’s singing and dancing and a big velvet curtain it’s all magic.  If you also got Tommy Tune, Bernadette Peters, Mandy Patinkin or Patti LuPone – well then that magic elevated to a level of serious wizardry.

When I’m being totally honest with myself I will admit that I miss being a part of the theater.  For most of my childhood and early 20’s it is where I assumed I would be.  And it does not surprise me that when I look at most of my closest friends many, many of them are theater geeks too – with their own drama stories and a bit of wistful regret.  I never doubted that I would raise my daughters as theater goers.  They do not have quite the performing bug I had – they participate, but that love of the stage is not deep in their bones like mine. They are more attracted to singer/songwriters, not all out musical theater.  However, they love to go.  Even when they were little – when they hated movies, were terrified to watch previews or sit in a movie theater, they loved watching live theater.

Nothing can replace that feeling of being in the audience and watch real people, feeling real emotions, working through relationships, love, loss, and joy right in front of you.  Theater is almost a basic human need – going back centuries – the desire to connect, relate, tell a story, entertain, educate.  And you don’t need much to put on a show right in your own basement, backyard, school auditorium, or neighborhood park.  It’s enough to inspire Broadway dreams in kids across the country.

That’s why I’m so excited to announce that KidzVuz is partnering with The Tony Awards this year to promote the June 9th telecast of the Tony Awards hosted by Neil Patrick Harris (woot!).  We are holding a contest for kids all over the country to tell us about their favorite show, or sing a bit of their favorite Broadway show tune.  And the response has already been amazing.  Here’s one of my favorite video entries so far:

If you’ve got a Broadway Baby in your life make sure to let them know about this contest – they can win a giant bag of Broadway Show swag with hats, T-shirts, soundtracks, autographed Playbills and more.  AND they could be featured on the Tony Awards website!

The kids have taken over Broadway this year in Matilda, Newsies, Kinky Boots, Annie, Motown, Annie and more.  There’s never been more family friendly fare on the Great White Way – so if you’re in NYC be sure to see a show.  And make sure to check out the regional theaters near where you live.  Support your local theater since that’s where so many kids’ dreams begin.

And in the meantime, they can enter the Totally Tonys video contest by clicking HERE!

Supporting Art in Schools with Blick Art Room Aid

Blick Logo

As someone who has invested way too many hours in my daughters’ NYC public school and education issues beyond those four walls, I have come to realize that the worst thing educators and administrators can do is look at various subjects – math, literacy, science, art, music, gym, social studies – as isolated fields of study.  But, unfortunately that does happen, and more often than not the arts are deemed “extras” instead of integral to bringing alive math, science, literacy and the other “core” subjects.

In my daughters’ school the parents pay tens of thousands of dollars to supplement the meager art budget in the school.  We cover supplies for the art teacher, a separate art program through Studio in a School for the 4th and 5th Grades since they don’t get a dedicated art class, art supplies for the classroom teachers so they can do curriculum based art projects, and fund the school art show, chimes music program, dance programs, and more.  We are lucky.  Our parents have the means, time and know-how to fundraise this kind of money.  Most schools are not this lucky.  So, I was thrilled to participate in the Blick Art Materials Art Room Aid program.

Art Room Aid was created in 2009 by Blick Art Materials. As a company focused on educational and professional art supplies, Blick has also consistently supported arts education in diverse ways. Whether sponsoring art scholarships or creating lesson plans that address national standards of learning while easing the burden on busy educators, we at Blick understand just how important collaboration is. And we know that big dreams start small- after all, Blick is a family-owned company that began at Mr. and Mrs. Blick’s kitchen table in Galesburg, Illinois, 100 years ago.

Today, we’re continuing to nurture that deeply rooted investment in the arts and in educational communities with Art Room Aid. As the world becomes increasingly linked, skills like visual communication and creative problem-solving are more important than ever.

I knew I wanted to find a teacher who worked at a school that didn’t have the kind of support that my daughters’ school has and fortunately, my sister connected me with Laura Pawson, a Visual Arts and Special Education teacher at Juan Morel Campos Secondary School in Brooklyn.  The school’s population made up of  low-income students, including many homeless children, and almost 25% English Language Learners.

Ms. Pawson immediately jumped at the opportunity to stock up on supplies for a mosaic project she has been developing for her students.  She created a wish list through Blick Art Materials Art Room Aid that you can now help fund and fulfill!  In addition, she will be given $100 by Blick Art Materials to help kickstart this campaign and get these kids creating amazing art!

So, please click on over and help fund this fabulous project.  You can click here: Juan Morel Campos Mosaic Project and give as little as $10 to bring art into a child’s life.

My Daughters are Film Makers – Take Two Film Academy and What Makes a Great After School Class

As New York City 10 year-olds my girls have taken a huge range of after school classes.  From sports to cooking, arts to performing, we’ve covered pretty much every venue on the Upper West Side.  I’ve found that some classes are harder to do well than others, cooking for example is often nothing more than baking, often involving Pillsbury Crescent Rolls or assembling of ingredients rather than real cooking.  And I won’t even discuss the disastrous swim class we took where they put kids back in the pool after another kid had thrown up in it. So, I was definitely skeptical of Take Two Film Academy, kid focused film program, since most of our experience has been a “film” class that consists of a non-film teacher making videos on iMovie and the kids merely actors in the teacher’s script or ideas.  But, Take Two Academy seemed a lot more professional and worth a shot.

The first thing that impressed me about Take Two and their fabulous teachers was that they use real professional equipment. The cameras, boom mikes, and Final Cut Pro editing software challenged the students to make higher quality and richer movies.  But what I really loved was how they focused on the process and on collaboration – two things that are essential to good filmmaking.  The kids range in age from 8-15, not an easy group to get to work together, but they did.  They broke down into smaller groups, but each took bigger or smaller roles within each group – from writing, to acting, from directing to editing.  In just 5 days they produced 3 short films – each of them unique, interesting, and completely from their own voices.  And, they were all really proud of each other, the teachers took a total backseat to the students at the final viewing.

Here’s what one of their students (and star KidzVuz Reviewer) has to say about Take Two Film Academy:

And here is sample of one of the films my girls made:

It’s not cheap – but classes of this quality rarely are in Manhattan. I highly recommend checking it out for your budding film maker, actor, writer or performer.

Disclosure: I received a discount on the one-week film class in exchange for a review.  All opinions (and those of the kids) are unbiased and our own!

On A Mission: Playing the Ingress App Game (and getting powered up at Duane Reade)

Ingress Android App

I was recruited into a top-secret mission, and it involved a new Android App called Ingress and Duane Reade.  Sounds bizarre right?  But this is NYC and anything and everything can happen.  Here are the details behind my mission, and the highly addictive Ingress Game:

A team of scientists in Europe has unearthed a mysterious energy called Exotic Matter (XM). The origin and purpose of this force is unknown, but some researchers believe it is influencing the way we think. Our future is at stake. And we must choose a side.

“The Enlightened” seek to embrace the power that this energy may bestow upon us.

“The Resistance” struggle to defend, and protect what’s left of our humanity.
Once they have picked a side, players will have to move through the real world using their Android
device and the Ingress app to discover and tap sources of this mysterious energy. They will be able
to acquire objects to aid in their quest, deploy tech to capture territory, and ally with other players to advance the cause of the Enlightened or the Resistance.
The struggle is being played out globally. Players will be able to track the progress of other players around the world, plan their next steps, and communicate with others using an Intelligence map.
An Investigation Board (http://www.nianticproject.com) filled with cryptic clues and secret codes
awaits. The story evolves everyday. Powerful secrets and game tech are there to be unlocked.
The struggle to save the planet spans the entire world. Cooperation across neighborhoods, cities, and countries will be needed to achieve the ultimate victory.
For the first time in history,the World becomes the Game!

Like any good secret agent the first thing I had to do was set up my code name.  Sorry, I am not going to reveal it here. The Ingress App looks cool, futuristic, and immediately makes you feel like you are truly on an undercover mission, but it is also tracking your location continuously in order for you to be able to find clues and compete.

That has an upside – great immersive game play, and a downside – you are literally being tracked. As a woman, I’m not entirely comfortable with that.

Still, I was up for trying the game, incognito.  I had no idea what to expect, but set out on my first mission to Duane Reade.  On the lookout for a special window cling that let me know there was something special relating to Ingress in the store, I set out to my nearest Duane Reade…

And there it was.  The sign I was looking for.

Ingress window cling

Of course the next trick was figuring out where the actual game tag was inside Duane Reade.  Turns out it’s right in the section I would normally avoid – the ICE CREAM and frozen meal freezer!!  Seriously.

IMG_0848

I have a suspicion that my children were in on the placement of this tag.

The game is very addictive.  I can see how using this all over the city would be really interesting and could allow for amazing scavenger hunts and other branded tie ins.  I somehow resisted buying ice cream during this trip to Duane Reade, but I see the potential for both companies that participate and the players to connect in this virtual game space that allows for real life interaction.  This is not a game for kids.  Location tracking is on all the time, and the tie-in to consumerism wouldn’t be great either.  But for an adult who wants the experience of gaming that meshes the real and virtual – and has the potential to add a dimensional twist into their every day walks, drives and shopping – it can be very, very fun.

Check out my full Google + album of my Ingress adventure (and shopping spree for Valentine’s Day goodies)

There are a lot of bloggers out trying the game.  You can follow Duane Reade on YouTubeFacebook, and Twitter using the hashtag #IngressDR to see all the fun tweets, posts and insights into the game.

I am a member of the Collective Bias™ Social Fabric® Community. This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias™, but all opinions are my own. #CBias #SocialFabric

True Story: Mayor Koch Made My Sister a 5-Year-Old Deputy Mayor

Ed Koch sits in the office of his campaign manager, David Garth, in New York, U.S., in this Sept. 1977 handout photo. Photo: The New York Post via Bloomberg

Ed Koch sits in the office of his campaign manager, David Garth, in New York, U.S., in this Sept. 1977 handout photo. Photo: The New York Post via Bloomberg

Mayor Koch was mayor of New York City for my entire conscious childhood.  He was such a part of my young New York life that I thought his first name WAS Mayor.  I can’t tell you who was mayor before him, and Dinkins is just a dull blur too.  Mayor Koch embodied my New York of the 1970’s and 80’s.  Loud, heavily accented, aggressive, funny and a showman – he just completely made sense for the chaotic, kind of broken, dirty, noisy and brash New York City of the time.  He also became a pivotal character in one of my family’s legendary stories – the kind you tell over and over again because it just so totally and completely captures everything going on in a family at a point in time.

In the early 80’s there was a drought in NYC, and the mayor launched a campaign to convince New Yorkers to save water.  One part of his campaign was a TV PSA that aired during after school and Saturday cartoons.  This is the “kids” part of the PSA that I found on YouTube, but it’s missing the beginning where Mayor Koch said something like this, “Hey New York Kids, This is Mayor Ed Koch and I am making you my Deputy Mayor in charge of helping New York save water.”

My sister was around 5 at the time, and she watched A LOT of TV.  I was 9 years old at the time and spent most of my after school time in ballet class.  I also decided that I really didn’t feel like taking showers very often.  You can imagine what a great combination dancing every day and not showering was.  This not showering stance basically drove my dad insane and became a huge source of fighting in our home.  And then, because I was 9 – almost 10 – and a total smart ass, I took it one step too far.  I decided I would out smart my dad.  So, one night, I stuck my head under the sink faucet and wet my hair thinking that it would look like I had taken a shower.  Did I mention that my hair looked like I had melted a stick of butter in it prior this stunt?  Yeah, that’s a key point.

So, I trotted downstairs in my pajamas with my hair wrapped in a towel, thinking for sure that I had pulled one over on my dad.  Of course he took the towel off my head and lo and behold there was my hair – wet on top, dry underneath – an obvious attempt to bluff my way through a shower.  So upstairs he marched me.  He turned on the shower and started yelling at me to get in.  I of course held my ground and kept insisting that I had showered.  And we continued this insanity for a good 5 minutes until we realized that my sister was standing there hysterical crying.

A little 5-year-old, with chubby cheeks and big tear filled brown eyes, bawling at the top of her lungs and wailing, “I am Deputy Mayor and you are wasting water!!!  I have to tell and you are going to go to jail!!”  We just stared at her, not quite sure what she was saying.  “Mayor Koch said I am Deputy Mayor and sisters have to take short showers and we have to save water.”  She was inconsolable.  And needless to say, her crying, and the ridiculous things she was saying with such pure and heartfelt belief brought the full ludicrous nature of this battle to full relief.

I can’t even remember if ultimately I showered that night, though I think I did.  But I will never, ever forget my little sister with tears flowing and snot running out her nose, taking the words of Mayor Koch so seriously that she was convinced she was a Deputy Mayor with a real job to do to help save our city.  I don’t think Mayor Koch intended kids to listen to him so wholeheartedly, but he was our mayor – the only one we knew – and he governed the only city we knew – NYC.  For young New Yorkers who became defined as Generation X New Yorkers, he was the leader that dominated our evening news, newspaper front pages and even our cartoon time.  With his passing it seems official that that NYC is gone – for better or worse.  There is a tiny of bit of true New Yorker bravado, chutzpah, moxie, that something that puts the snap in street hot dogs and bite in New York bagels (it’s the water right?), that will die out with Mayor Koch and his generation of New Yorkers that my generation will miss, and my children’s generation will miss out on.  For Mayor Koch I hope there’s really good Chinese and a really cheap movie theater in that NYC in the sky.