Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Decluttering: a pack-rat’s tips

An earthquake recently jolted New York City. While damage was minimal, my oldest daughter posted a photo on Facebook of her youngest sister’s playroom, “apparently the only part of our house affected by the earthquake.”

I have raised a slob.

Now, I don’t profess to be all spic & span, but I do prefer a clutter-free zone. Yet I am at heart a pack rat. This is why I believe strongly in closets.

Our family has a lot of them.

When we built an addition to our house, we added a wall of extra deep closets, where the television, DVDs and board games live. We also have a ton of videotapes, which no one watches. I’m not even sure our VCR works. The kids watch movies on their computers.

In our battle to reclaim floor space, I have these 10 tips:

Bins. I love color-coded bins, so kids can remember that crayons go in the yellow, markers in the blue.

Baskets. I use baskets throughout the house, for hats, gloves, makeup.

Shelves. All those bins and baskets can’t be in the floor, because then there would be no place to walk, or play.

Clear boxes. These are best for high closet shelves, so you can see which has the sweaters, which the ski socks.

Rotation. Most kids simply have too many toys. If you put some out of reach – in the basement, under the bed, on the highest shelf, it limits kids’ options, plus it seems like they have new toys when you bring them back out.

Donation. When they clearly have outgrown something, I donate it. But don’t donate too soon. My youngest decided she was done with Barbie, but I knew she was too young to completely give them up. I put them in the basement playroom and, although she denies it, we know that she still plays with them.

Stoop/yard sale. In our Brooklyn neighborhood, families have frequent stoop sales, where they unload extra or unwanted toys. Be beware. Some kids use the opportunity to buy new toys with the money they make (we usually donate the money to whatever cause the kids choose).

Digital camera. Get rid of school projects, but preserve them by photographing them before you trash them (and don’t let kids see them in the garbage).

Less is more. I really like when beds are made, but blankets and covers make it more difficult for kids. We have sheets topped by comforters with print covers. All you have to do is pull the comforter up and the bed is made. And laundry is simpler. You don’t have to wash the comforter often; just wash the cover.

Build. If you run out of floor space, build a new closet.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Family at Play: Kids on Bikes

Biking has been one of my favorite activities since I was a child. When I was a teen, I went on bike trips with American Youth Hostels, and even when I had a car at college, I used a bicycle to explore St. Louis. It seemed natural that when my husband and I bought our second brownstone, we built a closet specifically for our bikes.

Like many kids, our girls played soccer, and the fields were a couple of miles from our house. We used to drive over, but the extremely limited parking meant we could circle the fields for half an hour, with one kid missing practice and the others growing bored. We told the kids, “if you want to play soccer, you have to ride to the field.”

This turned a couple of hours at soccer into a day-long adventure. In our first house, we stored 2 bikes in the cellar, 2 on the ground floor, and the third up the stoop. Just getting all the bikes out took 45 minutes. And when the kids were younger, they rode very slowly.

But as their skill level and confidence grew, so did their speed. Our youngest daughter, now 13, rides a 35 mile round trip to the beach with no complaint, and she went on a bike trip with camp, New Hampshire to Maine, biking 45 miles a day.

Our middle daughter, now in college, often rode her bicycle from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side for high school. She was a competitive soccer player, so she didn’t ride when she had soccer practice, but we rode our bikes to her games.

Family vacations have included Backroads bike trips in Denmark and Italy, and shorter bike trips as part of a family trip. We have ridden bike trails in Northampton, MA, Jim Thorpe, PA, and Cincinnati, OH. We rode bikes over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and through Mayan ruins in Mexico.

We were trying to decide what to do to celebrate Nickelodeon's 8th Annual Worldwide Day of Play this weekend, but the 13 year old has practice for the Ultimate team. So we will go on a own bike ride without her.

Our kids all played varsity sports, from track to soccer to Ultimate, they ski, they swim, they hike and rock climb. But they go their start on tiny bicycles with training wheels. Get your family started on exercise today.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ordering in for the Emmy's

A pile of outdated menus stuck in a kitchen drawer is so 1990. Use your drawers for their intended purpose, to store corkscrews and bottle openers, and order your food on the web.

New Yorkers have several online delivery services, which offer a network of restaurants and no additional cost to the coach potato. With the Emmy’s approaching and football season under way, this is a good time to consider options.

Grub Hub
has over 15,000 restaurants in 13 cities, including Boston, Boulder, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Oakland, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, DC.

You can sort by cuisine, restaurant name or menu item and read Yelp reviews to help try an unfamiliar restaurant.
also includes Yelp reviews. They live up to their name by trying to include all the menus of local restaurants in every market – but this means that some restaurants don’t participate in their online ordering program. So you might see a menu for a place you want to order from – and not be able to order.

Of course, you could actually leave your house, but you can also spend hours searching the 250,000 menus from cities across the United States. It’s also in over 400 college campuses.

Seamless offers apps for apps for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry users, or you can old-school it with a computer. The site covers 7,000 restaurants in 27 cities across the US and UK, and you can bookmark restaurants you like for easy re-ordering., the newest service in New York, has restaurants, but also grocery stores, liquor stores and florists who deliver – about 3,000 places in all. It has about 10,000 places in 10 cities outside New York. offers reward points; follow the other sites on Twitter for promotions and special deals.

To go with your food, try The Sparkling White. Created by the folks at Sauza in honor of seven-time Emmy winner Betty White, a nominee for Hot In Cleveland.

7.5 oz. Tequila
2.5 oz. Triple Sec
3 oz. fresh lime juice
3 oz. Agave Nectar
12 oz. Prosecco or sparkling white wine
Lime Wedge for garnish
Combine first 4 ingredients in a shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously. Strain the mixture into a chilled champagne glasses and top it off with the sparkling wine. Serves 9.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Vegetarian Banh Mi: Cheap Brooklyn Lunch

Israeli relatives who came to our house passed one of the ubiquitous Vietnamese sandwich places in Park Slope. “What means this vegetarian pork?” they asked.

I have never been sure at Hanco’s Bubble Tea & Vietnamese Sandwich because they always seem to be out of it, but the vegetarian pork at Henry’s Vietnamese Sandwiches is seitan in a spicy barbeque sauce, with the usual coriander, cucumber, shredded carrots and diakon radish.

Henry’s sandwiches are cheaper, too; the vegetarian ones are only $5.50 here, instead of $6.50.

If you like very spicy food, you can handle the hot version; the medium needs an extra squirt of Sriracha.

The only disappointment is that there is no whole wheat option.

Henry’s has a delicious vegetarian chicken sandwich, that taste just like – chicken. There is also vegetarian ham or fish, neither of which I’ve tried yet.

Hanco’s is a much nicer place to sit; Henry’s has just a couple of tables and is really better for take-out.

Henry’s also has a variety of brown rice dishes, each $5.95, with meat or the veggie meat.

Both Henry’s & Hanco’s are on Seventh Avenue; Fifth Avenue in Park Slope also has Lotus (all sandwiches are $5.95) and Home (all sandwiches are $6).

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The (almost) Empty Nest

My middle daughter left for college last week. Let me rephrase that. We took her to college. Back in the dark ages, parents (like my mother) happily dropped college-bound kids off at bus stations or airports, but in this day of helicopter parenting, the whole family comes to take a kid to college, often turning it into a mini family vacation.

When my first daughter went to college two years ago, everyone and his brother (including my older brother) told me about the cool Bed, Bath & Beyond college shopping experience. You choose everything at your local BB &B, then it’s waiting for you at the one near college.

But Hallie refused to participate. She wanted her stuff and she wanted it then. While we trolled the aisles, numerous sales associates approached us, to tell us about the college deal. Her age, the rabid look in her eyes and the false cheer I was holding on to (look, sweetie, only $39.99 for the body pillow) must have tipped them off. Hallie brushed off each salesman, assuring them that she wanted to take her stuff.

Then one guy tried a new approach. He could have our stuff delivered, free, in the five boroughs. Hallie, normally placid, snapped. “Stop trying to tell me how to shop,” she said.

We took our 5 overstuffed bags with us and couldn’t fit through the revolving-door turnstiles at the 16th St entrance to the F.

Sela loved the idea of shopping with the clicker at BB&B. her entire shop took 20 minutes – no debating over shades of towels or the look of her mattress pad. But it turns out that the pick up doesn’t go as smoothly. Your order is not put together until you arrive at the college-area BB &B, so we essentially shopped twice – we had to wait 45 minutes while the stuff was pulled.

And when you buy the stuff near college, you can’t wash it at home first.

So we’re learning. We’re also readjusting our buying habits with only one kid at home.

We also just discovered the Empty Nester, a cocktail that is perfect for using up leftover red wine.
1 ½ Parts Sauza Silver Tequila
½ Part Cabernet Sauvignon
½ Part Triple Sec
½ Part Agave Nectar
½ Part Fresh Lime juice

Pour all ingredients over ice in mixing glass. Shake and strain into a martini glass and garnish