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.

It’s Takes a Village (or a List Serve) to Raise a Kid in this City

free-stuff-4

This is a Maternity Monday post by guest blogger and teaching artist Jess Levey.  This series publishes almost every Monday on Beccarama.

Well, we are getting VERY close now, just a month or so to go. And, although I have had to endure waves of anxiety due to financial stress and fears (and sleepless nights and sciatica!), I remind myself often about how freaking exciting this all is! The baby is moving like mad, especially at night, and I am connecting with him/her more and more. Later this week we will be getting another sonogram just to ensure that baby is head down, and I am so psyched to have the opportunity to see what he/she looks like these days! Surprisingly, another factor contributing to my excitement is my new membership in the neighborhood parent Yahoo! Groups. I have joined 4 of them, my favorite being the one from our own neighborhood, and then three from the surrounding Brooklyn neighborhoods. Every list serve is full of parents happy to offer support and hand me downs. It is truly incredible.

So far, we have received 140 Seventh Generation diapers ($20), beautiful crib bumpers, a mattress pad, and a brand new mini crib mattress (all free), A slightly used breast pump with brand new tubing and accessories ($60), and an amazing Maxi Cosi infant car seat ($40), which I had been wishing I could afford to buy after seeing it at the Biggest Baby Shower.  Of course, every day there is more and more offered for free or very cheap, but I need to hold back, at least until after my own shower this weekend, after we have our baby and find out if I need bags of boys clothes or bags of girls clothes (usually around $10).  Aside from all the stuff, the support is incredible. There are mom groups forming each month (hoping dads groups too!) and people constantly offering their advice about anything from how to navigate the daunting NYC school system to how to get your baby to sleep through the night. And, since people also use these list serves to offer their services, I have booked two private photography teaching gigs (moms needs to learn how to use those cameras!), and my husband has booked two family portraits gigs.

It’s amazing to me that after two weeks of heart heavy anxiety over the coming baby and our finances, I just needed to reach out to our immediate community to help ease my mind. Knowing that there are hundreds of people surrounding us with such a generous and open spirit is both comforting and encouraging and I can’t wait to give back to them (but I guess it will have to wait until after baby #2!). I am curious if other cities and/or suburban areas around the country utilize these helpful list serves?? Please let me know. If not, I sure do hope that this post motivates you to start your own!

I just received an email from a mom who said it all so perfectly, this is what she wrote:

I just wanted to make a public statement of thanks to everyone that I’ve interacted with since joining the listserv this summer. Our family was able to acquire/purchase most everything we needed from other caring parents. Nearly everything we purchased or obtained was in excellent condition. Pricing was always fair or even free! Our interactions ranged from polite to instant friendship. I am grateful to the group at large for making so many of the needed items available. If you recognize my name, consider this a special thanks to you. May you be blessed with long life, good health, and easy-to-raise children.

I know we are all in the spirit of giving, but I have a feeling this is how it works all year. With that I wish you all an amazing holiday season full of support and love!