Sunday, December 29, 2013

Rainy Sunday

Axel, 2013

We just had a visit from some friends from London who have a little girl who is a few weeks younger than Axel. It was raining out, so we skipped the playground and let the kids run amok inside (amazing how quickly two kids can unravel a New York apartment -- a vision of what's to come for us in 2014.)

Other than that, we've been showing family around Williamsburg, checking out the indoor Brooklyn Flea location and feasting on delicious things at St. Anselm.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas 2013

Williamsburg, 2013

Axel was so much fun on Christmas morning (though he somehow found Santa's surprise taxi hiding in the bathroom before the festivities really began.) We took a very chilly walk down to the waterfront, had a delicious Beef Wellington, and were treated to a gorgeous sunset over the city.

Here's a peek at how little he was last Christmas!

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Williamsburg, 2013
Our bookcases are finished! The cabinet maker did a really beautiful job, though I have yet to fully organize them. Check out the rest of the project which included a small bar and hallway bookcases too (and some before and after photos) if you like! I especially love Axel's toy shelves.


by Nany Nany Photography

The Santa photos haven't been going so well, but this Santa-free shot from my mothers' group holiday party turned out pretty well. Up to no good, clearly.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Williamsburg, 2013

The chaos continues chez Williamsburg Baby! We are inching towards the finish line with our home renovation projects, which should be done this afternoon (fingers crossed.) Then we get to begin reassembling the puzzle that is our apartment at the moment.

Yesterday was a gorgeous snowy day and Will worked from home, which meant we got to sneak off to breakfast at the local diner. I also trekked around the neighborhood doing a few last minute Christmas errands. Alas, we did not win the lottery last night...

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Party Animal

Axel, 2013

Doing the Christmas party rounds this weekend, enjoying the snow, and attempting to have conversations with other adults that last more than two minutes while balancing plates of spiral ham, holiday cookies, and a very rambunctious Axel.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Winter Mayhem

Axel, 2013

Posting has been scant because our bookcase, bar, sound system, and TV installation project seems to have ballooned into something far more elaborate than I had imagined! Lots of tarps, tape, dust, and noise on the home front, which means I am skulking in coffee shops trying to work...

It should all be complete by the end of next week, just in time for our holiday guests (fingers crossed!) In the mean time, how is it Christmas in just 12 days?!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas with Woody

Cafe Carlyle, 2013

Last night we joined some friends at the Carlyle, the dreamiest of Old New York hotels, to see Woody Allen and the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz band.

We don't often make it to the Upper East Side (so much fur, so many face lifts!), but I have fond feelings for the Carlyle ever since Will and I went to buy our wedding rings on Madison Avenue and then celebrated with Champagne at Bemelman's Bar. The Christmas decorations were gorgeous and I love the idea of making it a holiday tradition to go there for a fancy cocktail, once I'm not 7 months pregnant, that is.

Also, am not so sure that my little boys will be so into this, but Bemelman's actually hosts Madeline-themed teas on the weekends in honor of the Bemelman murals on its walls. A girl can dream!

P.S. Here's a clip of Woody Allen on the clarinet...who knew?! Next up on the list, see Blue Valentine.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Weekend Antics

Axel, 2013

Our annual tree-trimming was a success (hard to capture a photo that wasn't a blur, but a friend sent us this one.) Axel was sporting one of his Christmas ensembles from Hanna Anderson and was looking pretty dashing.

We also went to the kids' holiday show at Brooklyn Bowl and got the requisite sobbing photo with Santa (to come once we get the link!) It was pretty chaotic but fun running into a lot of our local friends. And it's snowing! Walked home through the big wet snowflakes...

Saturday, December 7, 2013

28 Weeks

28 Weeks

Nevermind that it's mind-boggling that I am in my third trimester with a sixteen month old! Here we are...That poor maternity shirt has been stretched beyond all recognition.

Here's a look back at 29 weeks with Axel (I skipped 28.)

Sixteen Months

Axel, 2013

So much going on with this little guy. In the last month, he's become a very talkative fellow. Now he says (in no particular order): Uh Oh, Hi, Boo, Shoes, Mah (More), Bah (Ball), Bye Bye, Night Night, Baby, Up, Thank you (ish), Mummy, Papa, Peppa, Na (No), Ar (Orange) & Out. Also Appoo (for both Apple and Open.)

Lots more sixteen month photos to come as we are having out annual tree-trimming party today.

And here's a look back at Fifteen Months Old, (we skipped fourteen), Thirteen Months OldTwelve Months OldEleven Months Old, and more:

Nine Months Old
Eight Months Old
Seven Months Old

The first six months:

Six Months Old
Five Months Old
Four Months Old
Three Months Old
Two Months Old
One Month Old

Friday, December 6, 2013

Q&A with School Select NYC's Leah Wiseman Fink

by Weston Wells via Leah Wiseman Fink

On the topic of schools, about a month ago I met Leah Wiseman Fink, a local mom with her own education consultancy. Her company, School Select NYC, can help you navigate the maze that is public v. private, magnet v. charter and so on. I asked her a little bit about our neighborhood school choices.

Tell me a little bit about your background in education. 

I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit and went to school at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. When I graduated, I got a job through a family friend at an alternative school near Detroit for high school students who got kicked out of school.  It was their last chance to make up credits to graduate. I was paired up with a fantastic English teacher who let me take over her class for a unit and fell in love with teaching, especially to kids who were looked at as "tough" to work with. I applied and got accepted to the New York Teaching Fellows program. I worked as an English teacher in the Bronx while earning my master's degree in Education at the same time. At the time, the school was one of the more violent in the city, and I had to be a tough teacher seeing as I was 23 and looked like a baby. But I absolutely loved the work and the kids, and from there went on to another more progressive Bronx high school where students went out and learned from doing internships for part of the week.

The more progressive curriculum was more up my alley, and I thoroughly enjoyed working with those students as well.  It was at that point that I decided to get another degree from Teacher's College at Columbia in Education Leadership.  During that same time, I helped a school in Williamsburg start a similar internship program to the one in the Bronx. After the internship program was up and running, I decided to make a move to the Office of New Schools at the Department of Education. It was an exciting time in the height of the New School movement. During my time there, we looked for new talent, helped them develop their new school plans, and watched them successfully open their doors to serve students all over the city.  People were always asking me about particular schools so after I had my son in June, I decided that I would dedicate more of my time to helping families figure out the best placements for their kids.

There's a huge baby boom going on in Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Is the DOE responding by expanding its capacity in District 14? 

Yes, capacity will expand with the need for more seats. Even more so, though, I think that you'll see the quality of the schools improving with more parent involvement and more parent voice. I think that the opening of The Arbor School was a reaction to the growing young population here and the kind of school people wanted in the neighborhood. Also the expansion of PS 84 from an elementary school into a K-8 is definitely a reaction to the need for more seats. A lot of what happens in the next couple of years depends on which direction the new mayor wants to move the system ... so we shall see!

I've heard good things about PS84, The Brooklyn Arbor School, and PS31. How would you say those schools differ?

Brooklyn Arbor is the newest of the three schools, currently in its second year of existence. In South Williamsburg, the school has a very tight community with energetic, enthusiastic teachers and very involved parents. The teaching philosophy here blends progressive and traditional models, and students have time to play inside and outside. It's a very warm and welcoming environment.

PS 84 has been around a long time and is gaining momentum as the neighborhood gentrifies. There is a Spanish-English Dual Language program, which is becoming more and more popular with parents.  The school only got mediocre scores on the DOE metrics, citing pedagogy and curriculum as places that they need to improve. But, this is a quickly growing school that is on the upswing. Another benefit to this school is that it's expanding into a middle school in the 2014-2015 school year. This could a huge plus in not having to start from square one in the school search process for middle schools.

PS 31 is probably the most traditional of the three schools, boasting very high test scores. Offering a great after school program, this school is also very well known for their chess team. It earned very high scores on the DOE metrics. This school has a reputation for rigorous academics and a strong sense of order. If you have a child that thrives in structured environments, this might be a great choice for you.

A lot of parents seem to love Williamsburg Northside School, a private option. What will students get there they wouldn't get in the public system? 

It might seem obvious to say but one of the benefits of a private school is that because they aren't publicly funded, they aren't bound by the rules and regulations of the DOE. They don't have to abide by standard school hours, number of teachers in a classroom, or give the same standardized tests. One huge benefit is that more money often means a) more space and b) smaller classes, both of which are hard to come by in public schools. In addition, parents may have more access to teachers and administration because paying customers get more attention! At the same time, parents give up some rights by sending their kids to private schools. For example, if a private school says that they don't have resources to serve a special needs student, it will then be responsibility of the parents to come up with a different solution or placement.

Explain, if you can, a bit about The Common Core? 

This is a complicated issue with many layers, but the short version is that the switch to Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) has been slowly happening for a number of years, and has really taken hold this year. Starting to look at it with the end in mind, starting this year, the standardized tests are going to be aligned with the CCLS instead of the state standards. The purpose of new standards is to ensure that students are ready for college level academic courses and/or the workforce, and the aim of the standards is for students to use higher order thinking skills as well as gain narrower but deeper understanding of content level. In addition, there will be more of a focus around formative assessment, meaning that teachers will be encouraged to understand what students are learning along the way instead of just at the end. There is some pushback around this change -- a lot of it is around the higher level of the new system as well as the fast pace that some schools felt it was implemented.

There seems to be so much jargon in the public school system. Even the grading system is confusing. 

It's awesome that the Department of Education makes school ratings public so that anyone can access them. On the other hand, it's only helpful if you know how to read what's available.

The Progress Report measures Student Progress, Student Performance, School Environment and Closing the Achievement Gap. This could be confusing because while a low grade in Student Progress could not be a bad thing if test scores are relatively high, but consistent (because Progress is measuring how far they go up), but a low grade for Student Performance means that scores are low altogether. And even then, schools are able to manipulate numbers.

Two metrics that I like to concentrate on when looking at a school are the School Environment Survey and the Quality Review. The SES measures staff and parent satisfaction, and can't be tampered with -- you can also look at what percentage of parents and staff answered it. Usually a happy staff = good environment, and often = high quality teaching.

The Quality Review is a newer metric, and not all schools have gotten reviewed. If you open the QR, the first page will tell you if the school earned a Under Developed, Developing, Proficient, or Well Developed. The next couple of pages give you an overview of what the school does well and what needs work, and the last few pages break down how the school actually scored in different categories.

Another great resource is -- they give informative overviews of schools as well as links to all the data.  In addition, parents and students can comment on their actual experience at the school.  Scroll down there -- what people have to say can sometimes be helpful.

What do local parents need to know about applying to pre-k and Kindergarden in the neighborhood? 

First, don't freak out!!  There are a lot of good options and you will get a placement. Second, search early! Third, do your research, learning about the admissions processes and deadlines. Go on  as many school visits as possible, read up on potential schools, and talk to people about their experiences.

How can you help individual families navigate the school system, and how can they best reach you? 

I can walk you through the whole process from applications and deadlines to the lowdown on individual schools as well as how to read all the data that's already out there. Given the overwhelming number of factors that go into choosing the best school for your child, it's sometimes hard to be able to see what's most important. I can guide you through figuring out what the best fit for you and your family is and assist you in working to get a placement there. The window for applying to public kindergarden for the 2014-2015 school year is January 13, 2014 - February 14, 2014 so get in touch with me before then.  You can check out my website or contact me at or 212-495-9364.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

School Daze

via Amazon

So I just finished reading The Smartest Kids in the World. The title is a bit of an oversell, but the concept is this: There's an international exam called the PISA, and American kids do terribly on it compared with children from the top three countries: Finland, Korea, and Poland.

I can't remember our exact ranking, but it's somewhere in the twenties. Even affluent American kids fare worse than their counterparts in these countries and whatever you think about testing, the results are still pretty striking. Another interesting point is that upper middle class kids fare about the same on the test whether they go to private or public school, and the countries that have the top rankings spend far less than America does per student.

I know Axel is only 15 months old (until tomorrow!), but I've been thinking about schools a lot lately and even touring a few public and private options. I went to private school from nursery through high school, and I loved my very Harry Potter-esque school experiences. I think my schools served me well and fostered my love of learning. But since I attended school, the cost of private school tuition has seriously outpaced inflation, and in New York can be as much as $40,000 a year. For pre-school.

Of course, there are some slightly more affordable local options in Brooklyn, but I'm a long term planner, and I wanted to know what the real differences were between the private and public schools we'd likely choose, so I've been dutifully checking them out in person.

So far, what I've seen hasn't given me total clarity on the subject. The private schools seemed more play-based, with little wooden kitchens, and teachers who had MAs in English or the fine arts. There was a lot of discussion of projects and multi-disciplinary learning as well as an emphasis on things like music, recess, the arts and field trips. The public schools nearby have been a little more grim, aesthetically speaking, as well as more die hard about following a set curriculum, with 5-year-olds hunched over work sheets and teachers using lots of jargon. From what I can gather, though, they are improving, have involved PTAs, and might be okay for elementary school.

It's hard for me to really parse what I'm seeing or to understand the public schools' grading systems, since I'm not sure how much significance I want to place on testing for kids under the age of, say, ten. And I can't help but wonder if supplementing school with extracurricular activities like music or art would help. Couldn't you sort of cobble together the ideal education with lots of extra help at home?

Of course, these are economic decisions, especially with a second child on the way. I'd love to have faith in our local schools, and in public education as a whole, but this book just prompts more questions!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

11211 Love

Williamsburg, 2013

Maine was festive and gorgeous, but it's been lovely getting back into the groove at home. After fighting naps and meals for a week, Axel is back to sleeping and eating well, go figure. When we got home late Sunday night, he seemed to really know he was home, and gave me a contented smile when I put him to bed in his familiar crib. It was like, "Ahhhh, my home turf."

One of the struggles of being out of the city was our daily nap conundrum. Lately, Axel seems to do one nap only, and if it's 30 minutes in the car, that's all you get. So I found myself petrified of going on any short trips with him for fear that that he'd pass out in the car seat and that would be the only rest he'd get (and by extension, we'd get) all day. It's all but impossible to transfer him from the car seat to crib without waking him up (we haven't mastered the skill, at any rate.)

Staying home from 1-4, just in case he'd sleep, was equally befuddling. At home, if we have stuff to do that happens to coincide with naptime, we put him in the stroller and he sleeps really well there. But in Maine it was too cold to be out for terribly long. I'm sure if you live somewhere where you have to drive, you figure all this out. But it reminded me that we are city folk and totally confounded by the idea that naptime ties you to your house or that you have to pack your errands into a certain window of time.

Anyway, while we were gone, there have been a few new developments in the neighborhood.

We may miss it because of a birthday party this Sunday, but this kids' concert at Brooklyn Bowl on Sunday sounds very cute (apparently Santa will be dropping by.)

My favorite bookstore is moving into the Bedford Mini Mall!  Idlewild Books' main shop is in the Flatiron, and they have the best selection of travel books and memoirs I've ever seen. Before we were married, Will and I took a few evening French classes there, and I'm thrilled to be able to do the same closer to home.

In the last month or so, it feels like a ton of new coffee shops, bakeries, and breweries opened their doors. There's Bread for the Eater, Crema, and Dirk the Norseman. So many spots to try over the weeks leading up to Christmas.

On another 'Yay Williamsburg!' note, I recently happened upon this post by Michele Demont, who writes about why she's moving her family of five out of the suburbs and back into the city at Exit Strip Mall Left.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Drummer Boy

Axel by Jami Saunders for Belle and Beanzer

Gah! This little nutter is so cute. About a month ago, I mentioned that Axel did a little photo shoot with our friend Jami for Belle and Beanzer. This is my favorite of the bunch...

Gift Guide

Williamsburg, 2013

Axel will be nearly 17 months old this Christmas, and while I don't want to go overboard with gifts for a number of reasons, it's fun to see how his preferences have emerged over the last few months and to really have a sense of the sorts of things that he's into.

In case you are shopping for a toddler this year, here are some of the things I think a fellow Axel's age would love (we certainly aren't going to get all of these things because that would be overkill in our apartment and we want to keep things simple, but it's still fun to peruse.) At any rate we have lots of ideas we can save for his next birthday or his brother's arrival.

Let the Elf-ing begin!

1. Painter's Palette Uppercase Wooden Magnetic Letters from Mudpuppy
This kid is obsessed with magnets, and these are wooden and come in pretty colors.

2. Lego Duplo Building Blocks
Along with zippers, snaps, and magnets, Axel is really enjoys putting stuff together.

3. Mini Micro 3-in-1 Scooter
This might have to wait until he's 2, but whenever we go to the playground, Axel makes a beeline for other children's scooters, and I was happy to see that this version can be used from the age of 1.

4. Mini Book of Names and Faces from Pinhole Press
I don't know if I'll be organized enough to get this ordered and finished in time for Christmas, but it's a lovely idea for a winter project.

5. 12 Days of Christmas Ornaments from Land of Nod
I'm already a bit daunted at the thought of a toddler careening around our tree and am planning on keeping all the breakable ornaments in their box this year (and probably for the next couple of years, given the impending arrival of #2.) I do like the idea of commemorating one of Axel's first Christmases with something that will stay intact over the years. These felt customized family ornaments from Etsy are pretty cute too.

6. Melissa and Doug Deluxe Latches Board
I haven't quite found the perfect combo of latches, buckles, buttons, and zippers, but I think this latches puzzle would entertain Axel for quite some time.

7. Step Two Push Taxi
Okay, the Restoration Hardware versions are prettier, but I like the New York theme of this ride on taxi, and Axel is obsessed with sitting in gaudy plastic cars. He freaks out over them!

8. Ikea Duktig Mini Kitchen
Since it takes up some real estate, I don't think we're going to go for this, but I do think it's good looking and age appropriate!

9. Corolle Baby Boy Doll
Axel hasn't shown more than a passing interest in stuffed animals and dolls, but since he's too young to get much out of those 'I'm a Big Brother' books and the like I was thinking this might get the message across.

*Santa's disclaimer: I hear some of these gifts (you'll have to wait to see which ones) may already be en route from the North Pole.

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