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5 movies I’d like to show at our school’s movie night next month

Once a year, my daughter’s elementary school hosts a movie night. Kids come, all excited, some in PJ’s with sleeping bags, to eat pizza and popcorn and watch a movie. Their parents drink wine, eat cheese and hang out in the back. All in all a great night for the entire family. So far, we’ve seen Ponyo and The Lego Movie (not bad, right?) and now it’s time to choose the film for this year’s shindig.

Here’s what I might screen, were I the person in charge (which thankfully I am not):

The secret World of Arrietty is a modern Japanese anime take on the beloved novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton. The main character is an adventurous girl, which is always a good thing, and the action takes place in a tiny imaginary world inside of our normal one that, to this day, makes me wonder whenever a thimble goes missing.

The Iron Giant is one of my all time favorite movies. It is an old-school feeling cartoon that rails against the military industrial complex while celebrating the individualism and compassion that makes this world of ours truly great. Plus it stars a giant robot that you can ride on. What’s not to love?

And while we’re on the topic of cultural criticism, Wall-E, an action packed love story of two robots who manage to help bring humanity back to the human race after a seven century hiatus from Earth, might be one of the most profound films your kid will see… at least while they’re still little.

Song of the Sea tells the otherworldly story of a mother and daughter who live between our world and the mystical world of the Selkies– mythological creatures who live primarily in the sea. It is kind of like entering the most beautiful lava lamp/Escher drawing combination imaginable… you may never want to leave their world once you’ve experienced it…

In the spirit of The Lego Movie, Big Hero 6 is one of those films that looks like it’s going to be one of those lame one-dimensional kid action animated films but is actually thoughtful, intelligent and grapples with complex issues (grief, healing as more powerful than hurting, loyalty) with finesse. Actually, Common Sense Media says this is for ages 7+, and they may be right, but I couldn’t help putting this on the list. I mean, these kids are New Yorkers. They can handle it.

Yesterday, at some point…

the cliffs in LIC

Yesterday was our second school holiday in a row, as NYC schools have started to observe the Muslim holiday of Eid Al Adha, the feast of sacrifice. We spent a good part of the day in Long Island City at The Cliffs, an indoor climbing facility where kids (and adults) channel their inner Spider Man, scale the 45 ft walls and then “fly” down thanks to the magic of the auto belays.

I think my kid may have found her own superpower…

Yesterday, at some point is a series of photographs that describe a moment I experienced during the previous day. The posts are meant to be stand alone images, though at times I can’t control myself, and I end up expanding the caption into a more lengthy bit of text. Hopefully the extra information is useful, or at least interesting. If not, feel free to ignore it.

We will never tire of faries, elves and other magical creatures

The cover illustration from The Faraway Tree Collection: Three exciting stories in one, by UK author Enid Blyton

The cover illustration (uncredited, sadly) from The Faraway Tree Collection: Three exciting stories in one, by UK author Enid Blyton.

My friend Bibb is homeschooling her daughter and as such is even more vigilantly on the hunt for quality kids books than I am (who knew that was possible?) I try to get my hands on whatever she recommends… especially if it is out of print and/or by some exotic author that I haven’t heard of before.

Such is the case with British author Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree Collection, a series of three books about three siblings who move from London to the English countryside and spend their free time in the nearby forest which happens to be enchanted.

Which means that it is filled with magical creatures, that the animals can talk, and that the centerpiece is a massive tree called The Faraway Tree which leads up and up to a whole rotating series of different worlds, each with some kind of crazy theme (Birthday Land! The Land Of Take What You Want! Topsy Turvey Land!)

All kinds of interesting folk live in this tree, and our young heroes befriend just about all of them– especially a fairy named Silky (see above) and a round headed humanoid creature called Moon-Face. There is something of the Land of Oz in this universe with it’s psychedelic characters and situations, but it also feels very English, with tea happening like clockwork no matter where our friends find themselves. The first book was also written in 1939, which just seems like it was a time more conducive to kids being allowed to run off into the forest for days at a time and mothers taking new friends like Moon-Face and Saucepan Man in stride.

Which I’m sure is what I’d do if my three children, all under the age of 11, strolled into the house after an all-nighter with some weird old man covered in pots and pans. Oh no wait…

My kind of princess

Pocahontas by Daulaire

The story of Pocahontas, daughter of the great Powhattan, retold by the inimitable Ingri and Edgar d’Aulaire.

The d’Aulaire family has given us hands down the best kids’ versions of the Greek and Norse myths in print. So it stands to reason that their Pocahontas would be equally compelling.

And it is.

I have always been particularly drawn to the story of Pocahontas… Maybe my own Native American heritage has something to do with it. Or the fact that my grandparents lived on Powhattan Avenue, which made the kid version of me feel somehow directly related to her illustrious family.

I first discovered Ingri and Edgar d’Aulaire’s Pocahontas at a yard sale and have since spent many hours reading it with my daughter, talking about how it must have felt to have strangers move in on the land you considered your sacred home, what it’s like to fall in love with a person of a different race, how it must have felt to be a princess and a leader, what it was like to meet the Queen of England… and just enjoying the illustrations and the story. We must have gotten the book when my kid was 4 and we’re still captivated by it years later.

If being obsessed with princesses is an inevitable phase in a girl’s life, Pocahontas is a great way to go.

You never know where you might discover a new favorite clothing line for your kids…

over and over kids dress

Who can resist seeing their daughter in this over+over dress? Photo courtesy of overandoverkids.com

A couple of weeks ago, we went upstate to visit friends and enjoy a full on summertime multi-generational throw down, complete with tie-dyeing, slippy slides, a trampoline and an above ground pool. Not to mention delicious food, wine and (of course) badminton. Kids were running around everywhere, and all of us parents were enjoying the combination of being slightly less encumbered by our little ones and watching them revel in the freedom that a huge yard and multiple (apparently unsupervised) activities affords.

One of our fellow revelers was none other than Corey Pak, the design genius behind the children’s clothing line over + over. And when I found out that she actually made and sold the essentially perfect clothes that her kids were wearing, i headed straight for the website and put in an order for my daughter. Because she loves herself a dress. And a simple, classic, well constructed, beautifully designed dress is oddly hard to find. Especially once your offspring becomes a kid as opposed to a baby or toddler.

For some reason, the powers that be seem to feel that all little girls want sparkles, logos, and Brittany Spears type styling. And all boys want to wear football jerseys. Luckily for us, there are labels like over + over that are fighting the good fight. And at reasonable prices.

Maybe they’ll start making clothes for grown-ups too!

Strawberry Fields (and jam) Forever

strawberry jam

The fruits of our labor, carefully labeled and put into mini bell jars to be (mostly) given out as gifts.

Strawberry season is drawing to a close. TO A CLOSE!!! Not that you can’t eat these berries all year long, but the supermarket variety has nothing on the fresh-from-the-farm beauties that we have been enjoying for the past 2 months or so. Luckily, peaches and other stone fruits are taking center stage, so I don’t have to jump off of the cliff just yet.

But still– this is one instance when hoarding isn’t an altogether bad thing. And hoarding berries in the form of jam might actually be considered a virtue.

strawberry pickers

Whoever said that child labor is a bad thing clearly does not understand the advantage of the tiny hands when it comes to picking berries.

Step one is to gather as many strawberries as you can muster (here are my daughter and nephew gathering way more berries than a body could possibly eat in one… or three.. sittings.)

Then you basically wash them, cut off the stems (and cut them in half if they are particularity large), throw them in a pot with the warm sugar/lemon juice/lemon zest combo you’ve mixed up, and then simmer till the berries break up and the whole mixture thickens into a jam-like substance that gels when you pour a bit of it onto a very cold plate.

And voila, fresh strawberry jam… perfect for hostess gifts, or teacher gifts, or gifts to your grandparents, or just a gift to your own stomach. We couldn’t be bothered to actually can the stuff to make bonified preserves, but our version will last a few weeks in the fridge, which is far longer than you’ll need as it tends to be eaten in a flash. Perhaps next year we’ll go all Little House On The Prairie and try canning for real.

Click below for the full recipe, or get it straight from the source (we followed Ina Garten’s version…) — Read more

One Morning in Maine

One Morning in Maine, another Caldecott Honor book by Robert McClosky

One Morning in Maine, another Caldecott Honor book by Robert McClosky

Blueberries for Sal has been one of our family’s favorite books for years. It’s got berries, time spent outdoors in the sunshine with mom, a cute bear, all sorts of other random animals, and great black and white illustrations including a drawing of an old fashioned kitchen (so one can compare appliances and wistfully wish we lived in a time when life was all about making blueberry jam.)

And yet I knew nothing about One Morning in Maine, another Robert McClosky’s classic, until my friend Kim mentioned it to me when we spoke about my upcoming family vacation to a little island off the Maine coast (9 days and counting!) This story is about the same little girl named Sal, albeit a bit older now, hanging out with her father and little sister, digging for clams, losing a tooth and heading to town on a boat for supplies and ice cream. I bought it immediately and am excited to settle down with my daughter to read it and compare the Maine of Sal and little Jane to the Maine we know and love ourselves.

Because in less than 2 weeks, we’re going to have to get in a boat to head into town for a scoop of ice cream too…

Monday, Monday… or more links about movies to watch with your kids over the summer (part 1)

For the first 3 odd years of her life, my daughter spent exactly no time in front of a screen of any kind. Except for the weekend her older cousins came to visit, and she watched a bit of a Barbie movie which (thank goodness) she wasn’t interested in at all.

But then the flood gates opened, and a true love affair with the silver screen began. Much to her dismay, screen time is still limited to 30 minutes a day on school days, but on the weekends and during vacations, we will often settle down to (gasp!!) an entire movie. And this summer promises to be filled with all sorts of opportunities for more.

Which means I have my homework cut out for me as I attempt to steer the ship away from Cinderella 3 and towards movies with a bit more substance like… The Princess Bride. (As you can see, I am not against fairy tales, I just want the stories to be told with some skill.)

Here are seven I’m hoping to watch this summer– some are old favorites and some we’ve yet to see. I’m sure there will be more lists as the summer progresses…

The horrible Cruella De Ville wants to turn 99 insanely cute dalmatian puppies into fur coats, but (of course) they are rescued by their loving parents and a gang of helpful farm animals. A classic from way back in the day that even the youngest kids can get into. 101 Dalmatians, 1961.

A drunk Carol Burnett, a dancing Albert Finney, a beturbaned Geoffrey Holder and a houseful of singing orphans from the 80′s put the recent version of Annie to shame, IMHO. Annie, 1982.

A beautiful black and white film about a Brooklyn kid who finds himself left to his own devices in 1950′s Coney Island. Home Alone from back in the day. The Little Fugitive, 1953.

Just in case there was any doubt as to Bob Fosse’s choreographic genius, there’s this 60′s tale of a window washer’s rise to the top. Step aside, Mad Men, and let these folks show you how it’s done. How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, 1967.

A beautifully animated film about a kid in Maine who discovers a huge alien robot and tries to protect it from the evil US Government agents who want to destroy it (because they think it’s some kind of Russian spy… sound familiar?) Based on a book by Ted Hughes. The Iron Giant, 1999.

I think all I have to say is The Princess Bride (1987), and you’ll know to drop everything and watch this right away. Kids or no kids.

Costco (or a company just like it) has taken over the world and completely trashed it, so all earthlings have been sent into space to await the clean up that never happens. 700 years later, it’s time to return, but humanity has devolved into blobs that sit in front of screens all day and night. Can two rogue robots save the day? This was my daughter’s first movie and it stays in regular rotation even now… Wall-E, 2008.

Last night’s dinner: Turkey sliders

turkey sliders

I like to think of them as the chicken fingers of the burger world…

To begin, let me take a moment to thank Jenny Rosenstrach of Dinner: A Love Story for providing me with this and so many other great ideas for how to cook real food for my family meals. Of which there are thousands a day. Or at least, that’s how it feels to me.

And now for the food… These delicious turkey burgers flavored with hoisin and ginger are now on regular rotation in our house because they are really quick and can be easily adjusted to fit everybody’s particular eating issues. First off, who doesn’t love the cuteness of a slider? And perhaps even more importantly, I can hold the pepper (and Cayenne pepper and ginger) in a couple of patties for my daughter, and my husband can skip the buns and we’re all good to go. WIth these, we take the humble turkey burger to the next level and are all the better for it, let me tell you.

Recipe is below and comes from the book Dinner, The Playbook, in which Ms Rosenstrach (and her husband, it is important to note) cooks 30 different dinners for her family in 30 consecutive nights. That will never happen on my watch, but a girl can dream…

Hoisin Turkey Burgers

1 1/4 lb ground turkey
2 scallions (white and light green parts only) minced
1 Tbsp peeled minced fresh ginger
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbsp hoisin sauce
juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
salt and pepper to taste
hamburger buns

Pre heat grill or cast iron pan to medium high

In a large bowl, combine the turkey, scallions, ginger, cilantro, hoisin, lime juice, cayenne, five-spice powder and salt and pepper. Shape the turkey mixture into 12 patties and grill over hot coals or in a pan, flipping frequently for a total of 10 – 12 minutes, until the burgers are firm but not rock hard. (you can also broil the burgers for 10 – 12 minutes on high.) Serve on buns with extra hoisin sauce or your favorite condiment.

The Thing About Luck

The Thing About Luck, by Cynthia Kadohata.

The Thing About Luck, by Cynthia Kadohata.

In my role as mother and final-sayer-in-what-media-we-consume-as-a-family, I have tried as hard as I can to ensure that the stories we read or watch are as enjoyable for the parents as they are for the kids. Sometimes I am triumphant (Hello Dolly, The Fantastic Mr Fox, A Wrinkle in Time) and sometimes less so (Ice Age 2, Fancy Nancy) but as my daughter has gotten older, I have been very happy to discover lots of books for “older kids” that I would be happy to read on my own (and sometimes I do read ahead a little, but don’t tell anybody…)

The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata is one of those books. I discovered it while browsing in Books of Wonder, which might be my all time favorite bookstore, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that it only sells books for children. I made the purchase knowing nothing about it save the rave reviews of the store’s staff, the fact that it won a National Book Award, it’s main character is a twelve year old Japanese-American girl who’s family works in Kansas (may as well be Mars) as wheat harvesters, and, well, that this particular volume was signed by the author.

I won’t go into the story in detail, but it’s moving and instructive and funny (there were times when I laughed so hard I had to stop reading and collect myself) and complex and nervewracking and beautiful all rolled into one. And we came out the other end thinking about how a family tries to assimilate it’s original culture into our American style (or not), about first crushes, about struggling with being different, about the many and various ways people find to express their love for each other, and so much more.

In other words, it got us talking about life. Which is the best kind of conversation you can have as a family, if you ask me.