Carpool Candy Holiday Gift Guide for kids 2015

I don’t know about you, but my kids don’t need squat! I’ve been feeling kind of sick about all the “stuff” they have– most of which they don’t use or appreciate. Every parenting book I’ve ever read says providing children with traditions and enriching experiences creates memories that lead to happy and secure kids.

So this year I’m putting an emphasis on gifts that will provide creative, fun activities– many that don’t even require batteries!

But hey, I’m not Amish. I know people still like to give stuff so there’s plenty of that on the list too. On that note, I give you the Carpool Candy Holiday Gift Guide 2015….

As always, click on the name of the gift for website links to buy or get more info. All different price points included. And please note that I get nada from any of these vendors. You can thank/gift me by sharing this post on the Facebook or the Twitter, and/or by signing up to get my blog weekly in your email inbox,  just click on the right corner of your screen.

Happy Holidays!

knockerball on holiday gift guide

Knocker Ball session–  Have you seen this? Kids and adults get in these ridiculous inflatable plastic ball suits and roll around. You can roll, flip, and knock down your friends or try playing KnockerBall soccer. KnockerBallers describe the sensation as almost defying gravity, without putting any stress on the body.  I think I’d be laughing like a hyena the entire time. There are places to play all over the country for about $35 an hour for six people. If you’re really nuts, you can even buy your own for the back yard. ($250 each)

dinosaur head light on

Light and sound headlamps— This hands-free LED flashlight makes realistic animal sounds that will liven up your bedtime reading routine. Great for independent readers who– lil me– still like the feel of a book in both hands.  Adjustable elasticized band with Velcro® closure. Dinosaur or frog ($25)  If this guy is too intimidating, try these options…

panda light on

Amazon has an adorable panda or lion  ($10)

lego mini headlamps on

Or f your kid is more into superheroes or Star Wars, these lights are cool too. ($28)

Grommet ponytail hat on carpool holiday gift guide

Cableknit ponytail hat-– Peekaboo hats are designed to let your hair hang out. These adorable knit hats feature two hidden holes (for high and low ponies) in the back for your ponytail to peek right through.  You can keep your head warm and your hair pretty. Machine washable, comes in black and white.  ($40)yogibo beanbags on holiday gift guide

Yogibo giant beanbags–   My kids borrowed a few of these monster beanbags for a recent sleepover and they were a huge hit.  With zillions of beads, they conform to your body’s shape and are super comfy, especially for video game playing. The full-size Yogibo Max functions as a chair — and also as a recliner, sofa, or bed when you want to stretch out from head to toe. ($100 and up)

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iPad Karaoke stand— This is an adjustable microphone stand with an integrated dock and speakers that transform an iPad into a personal soundstage. Crooners simply connect an iPad or any device with a headphone jack to the dock at the top and use the attached microphone to sing along with music saved in their iTunes library. Your melodic voice is transmitted through 2 powerful speakers in the base, and you can adjust the volume, balance, and echo to achieve chart-topping sound. A recipe fro teen fun. ($110)skyviper_video drone on holiday gift guideHD video drone— For future CIA agents….the Sky Viper Video Surveillance Drone takes astounding high-def videos from up to 200 feet away with an onboard SkyProTM 720p HD camera, giving kids and adults a bird’s eye view of the neighborhood or backyard. The camera can even pivot to capture astounding 360-degree panoramic views. Comes complete with a remote control, 4GB memory card that can capture up to 20 minutes of video and replacement propellers and screws. ($80)

Grommet zipbuds on holiday gift guide

Tangle-free Zip Buds–  Zipbuds put an end to tangled headphone cords with a zippy design. The unique zipper-integrated cabling uses military-grade technology to provide strength and performance. Cool choice for music lovers. ($25)

grommet embellished hair ties on carpool holiday gift guide

Embellished hair ties—  For the gal who wears her ponytail holders around her wrist, some bling to brighten your arm and your hair. I love a gift that’s functional and pretty. (3 for $15)

toothfairy pillow and journal on carpool holiday gift guide

Toothfairy pillow and journal– For the kid who loves tradition. A little handmade pillow to hold a lost tooth until the tooth fairy arrives, and a matching journal to keep track of lost teeth and loot attained. Journal also includes interesting facts about dental hygiene. (Didn’t know there were any but ok!)  ($30)

uncommon goods claymation kit on holiday gift guide

Stop-motion claymation kit — For the creative kid on your list….Explore the amazing art of DIY animation with this creative claymation kit. Claymation combines the principles of stop-motion animation with the fun flexibility of clay modeling for an easy introduction to movie making. The kit includes creature-creating clay, a miniature stage, interchangeable backdrops, props, detailed guidebook, and a phone stand. Just add your own smartphone with a stop-motion app of your choice, and practice saying “action!” ($20)

KIndle Fire HD kids on holiday gift guideKindle Fire HD — This tablet is made especially for kids with a thick protective case and parental controls to limit screen time and content access. Includes a 7-inch IPS display and front and rear cameras. Unlimited, free access to 10,000 kid-friendly books, movies, TV shows, educational apps, and games with 1 year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited included.  Plus, a 2-year worry-free guarantee: if they break it, return it and Amazon will replace it for free– no questions asked. The gift that keeps on giving!  ($100-150)

Jenga Giant game on holiday gift guide

Giant Jenga XL game— Get bigger crashes with this extra-large version of the classic Jenga game. As you stack the cardboard blocks and pull them out, you get a tower three times higher than the original game. Great for all ages. ($20)

dareway scooter on holiday gift guide

Dareway scooter— I’d be remiss if I didn’t put this guy on the list. It seems every kid wants a hoverboard, but if you don’t want to fork over the $400, try this Feber Dareway 12V standing ride-on scooter. Kids will love driving it, with a foot pedal accelerator to control forward motion and handle-grip buttons to allow turns and 360° spins.  Travels up to 3.7 mph which is about as fast as I want my kids to go. ($200)

pb kids faux fur sleeping bag on


Faux fur sleeping bag— Kids ( especially girls) like luxury so spoil them with this supersnuggly sleeping bag, or unzip it for a cozy throw. Teen version in chic animal prints, little kid version in adorable animal shapes. ($169)elephant rattle on holiday gift guideWood baby rattle: I’m a sucker for a baby gift and these handmade hardwood wood rattles are cute and easy on teething tykes.  ($18)

sneakercon on carpool holiday gift guide

Sneaker Con tickets  — If your kids are obsessed with shoes like mine, Sneaker Con is the mecca of lace ups.  The show travels to several cities every year– including NYC, Washington DC, Chicago, LA, and Miami — offering common ground for sneaker connoisseurs to buy, sell and trade some of the most sought after footwear on the market. If you’re really nice, you’ll get the tickets and a budget to buy. (Tickets are $25 and up)

spinning spgahetti fork on holiday gift guide

Spinning spaghetti fork–  Great stocking stuffer….Eating pasta is now easier and more fun. Twirling is a better way to eat spaghetti but my kids have never been quite able to manage it. This motorized fork makes linguini a luxury again. Dishwasher safe. ($9)

messless chocolate milk mixing mug on


Messless chocolate milk mug— Moooooove over fork! While we’re on fun kitchen gadgets, how about this mug that mixes your chocolate milk for you with the touch of a button? Works for hot and cold milk. ($15)

StickerYou Laptop stickers on carpool holiday gift guide

Laptop stickers–  Custom die-cut vinyl stickers in any size and shape personalize laptops, tablets or liven up our locker. You can use photos for custom stickers or choose from hundreds of designs in various categories including animals, sports, art, music and more.  They’re weather resistant, water-proof, and will stick on most surfaces and materials but can be removed easily, leaving no messy residue behind. ($10 and up)

photo playing cards on carpool holiday gift guide

Photo playing cards–  Kids never tire of seeing pictures of themselves so why not create a custom deck of playing cards with their shining faces on the back? Choose 1 to 4 photos, and/or add words or initials. They’ll think you’re aces.  ($20)

M and M peace blanket on carpool holiday gift guide

M&M’s plush blanket —  I’m not sure why my kids love plush, but they do and this cozy blanket combines softness and their affection for candy. Sweet! ($30)

Sticker gum on holiday gift guide

StickerGum—  Speaking of sweet….StickerGum was started by two intrepid Jersey sisters (even before they were tweens!) looking for a kid-friendly way to raise money for charity. Their edible artwork turned fundraising enterprise has now evolved into a grassroots passion project. StickerGum is a collectible novelty bubblegum customized with full-color images, individually packaged with matching glossy stickers. Their signature flavor Be Original™ is made with 100% natural chicle harvested sustainably in the rain forests of Central America and proudly handcrafted in the U.S. It boasts great flavor, “rocks killer bubbles,” and has no artificial flavors or preservatives. Don’t blow it– create your own design or use a photo of your kids. ($2.50 per piece)

laser peg animal set on holiday gift guideLaser Pegs contruction set— Construction toys never get old in my house. My kids still fiddle around with our Magnatiles when they pry themselves away from screentime–  and these light up Laser Peg sets are the next big thing in building. The options are endless– from this 12-in-1 animal set to an Indy race car to helicopters, spaceships, and architectural landmarks. Go back to a time when dinosaurs ruled the world and build your favorites like the Brachiosaur, Stegosaur, T-Rex, Velociraptor, and many more. And after you build them, THEY LIGHT UP!  (from $12-60)

little passports package on holiday gift guide

LittlePassports subscription—  Here’s a gift that lasts throughout the year and is truly educational and enriching. Travel to international countries or explore the 50 states and learn about their culture, food and geography through activities, games, treasure hunts, puzzles and interactive maps. The first month kids receive a discovery kit and passport and then each month explorers get a themed package including information on landmarks, music, animals, food, art, oceans, natural wonders, world coins, space, science, celebrations, habitats, transportation, insects, and sports. It’s travel without the expense and long TSA lines! ($12 per month with subscription)


Didn’t find the right fit on this list? Try my list from 2013 and 2014 for more ideas!

Have a great gift to add to this list? Tell me in the comments. And stay tuned for the CCHGG for women and men coming soon!


Top 7 things I learned losing my iPhone, chasing it down and reclaiming it

I was walking to a friend’s house with Brady this week when it started to rain. As I began to run, my phone must have slipped out of my jacket pocket. You’d think I would have heard it– it’s in a heavy Mophie battery case– but I didn’t even realize it was gone until an hour later when I left my friend’s house.

I retraced my steps on the two-block walk twice, scanning the piles of leaves for sign of my phone, as the panic began to set in. Losing your phone is such a pain in the ass.

I remembered that two leaf-blowers were at my neighbor’s house as I passed by and thought if I dropped it near her house, maybe that’s why I didn’t hear it fall. The blaring sound of leaf-blowing rivals a plane landing.

As a concoction of angst and anger began to boil in my stomach, I went to my computer and tried to get on the “Find my iPhone” app through the iCloud. It proved challenging.

Our muse

Our muses

The rest of the story was like an episode of  Thelma and Louise meets Hart to Hart: two broads taking justice into their own hands and attempting to solve a mystery with no detective experience.

I got my phone back and I learned a few things along the way.

Put your Apple ID info somewhere other than your phone. Duh! Seems obvious yet I couldn’t find it anywhere so I had to reset my password and wound up on the phone with Apple support for 40 minutes straightening out my ID and iCloud information.

find my iPhone screen on

Make sure  your “find my iPhone” feature is on at all times. Luckily I had just checked to make sure it was on so I was able to use the locator and find out where my phone was in real time. When I first logged in, it was at least 12 blocks from where I lost it. Someone had taken it. I wanted to believe that someone intended to return it. The support guy helped me put an alarm sound on the phone and message on the screen that said “This iPhone is lost. Please call this number and I will come pick it up. Thank you!” Then I waited.

An hour went by. Nada.

Have a good friend who has your back and is willing to face possible danger. My pal, MaryEllen (you may remember her from adventures in London) sprang into service as soon as she found out my phone was missing. “I’m coming to pick you up and we’re going to find that phone!” she exclaimed fearlessly. Within minutes she raced into my driveway in her shiny silver minivan, with her adorable Cavachon puppy, Rocket,  in the back seat, ready for action. (Rocket is Freeway from Hart to Hart in this scenario.)

She might as well have been wearing a cape.

I’d been tracking the phone on the locator and it had moved three times in 90 minutes, all through our neighboring town. My guess was that the leaf blowers across the street either scooped it up in a bunch of leaves and didn’t know they had it…. or one of them picked it up. Why else would it keep moving locations every 30 minutes?

Police don’t go after lost cell phones. Apple told me to call the police and report the phone as stolen. When I did, the lady on the phone impatiently dismissed me, saying “they don’t go after stolen cell phones.” I explained I could see where it was but she didn’t seem to care. She said I could come into the station and file a report and a detective would get to it when he got to it. Didn’t sound like it would be anytime before Christmas.

Police don’t care if you do! When I kindly suggested that I couldn’t wait that long because my moving cell phone might be out of the county in an hour, the aloof police lady seemed too be rushing me off the phone. “So you’re telling me I have to go after my phone myself?” I said in disbelief. That seemed like asking for trouble.

But there was no way I was going to let that phone just wander away, never to be seen again.

Friends on carpool

Don’t we look like badassses? Or at least phone detectives!                                        (This is a file photo as I had no phone to capture the moment and we were using hers to find the truck.)

So ME and I drove towards the address where the phone was last spotted (having someone at home watching the locator would have been ideal but no one was around to help,) not knowing what we would say or do when we got there.

We rode into Newstead in that Honda Odyssey with fire in our bellies and hair flapping in the wind, ready to take back what was mine.

Sure enough there was a leaf blower truck right in front of the house and a guy packing up. I asked him politely if he had found an iPhone and he instantly said yes, his co-worker had found one earlier. He claimed it was locked so he couldn’t call me (true if neither of them had their own phone) and we chose to believe he had good intentions. Although I’m not sure what his plan was with the phone after his shift was over.

He handed the phone over easily and we rejoiced.

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We spotted the truck!

Put a sticker on your phone case with name/address and or phone number so there’s no excuse not to return it.  For years, I’ve always taken those printed address stickers you get free in the mail from charities and put them on the back of my phone and camera, in case they get lost. But since I got my Mophie case, I haven’t put a sticker on. Maybe if the leaf blower had seen the sticker and realized the address was RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET, he might have returned my phone right away. One woman on Facebook said her screensaver has a photo of her kids holding a sign that says “If this phone is lost, please call this number” so even if it’s locked an honest soul could get it back to her.

Back up, back up, back up! In those two hours without my phone I saw my life flash before my eyes: blog post and story ideas, contacts. calendar, photos! If I hadn’t been regularly backing up, I would have been crushed.

Yes, yes, I see the irony — flashing in neon lights– that just a few days ago, I blogged about trying not to be so attached to my phone and just be in the moment.

But completely without it? Out of the question!!

Have a funny story about losing your phone? Tell me about it in the comments!

Can you survive an hour without wifi? A test.

I had time to kill in Manhattan last week between work and dinner with friends. That hour or so turned into an interesting experiment that shed light on where I am on the scale of phone addiction.

iPhoneIt was one of those amazing unseasonably warm evenings we’ve been having here in the Tri-State area (thanks global warming) and I was on the Upper West Side and had to get to east Midtown so I decided to take a subway and walk.

There was no cell service in the subway and it’s awkward to read your phone while walking, especially in New York, where you can run into a street sign, construction zone, or really pissed off person in a hurry if you aren’t looking where you’re going. I forgot my headphones so listening to music or a podcast was not an option.

So for about an hour I didn’t look at my phone. No big deal, right?

Have you done it recently? Have you been out and about — not at work or in a movie or exercising or distracted by life at home– but out in the world during prime texting/emailing time and not felt compelled to look at your smart device?

It’s probably more difficult than you think.

I consider myself a thoughtful, balanced person who knows that I should not be sucked into screen time and should live in the moment and enjoy what’s going on around me. I’m constantly scolding my boys for excessive screen time. “Your mind will turn to mush if you watch one more episode of Hawaii 5-0!!” I yell emphatically. “No phones at the dinner table!”

cell phone ban graphic/

But there I was walking up Broadway holding my handbag on one arm and clutching my iPhone for dear life in the other, willing myself not to look at it. Once I sensed my anxiety, I started to become acutely aware of the temptation to check for a new text or email, or to scroll through Facebook or Twitter.

Then it became a game. I wanted to prove to myself that I didn’t need to check my phone as I walked through the crowded streets during rush hour. I could use the time to think.

Remember free thinking?

I often find I come up with some of my best ideas while in the shower. That 10-12 minutes of warm water and meditative sounds provide clarity. I remember things for my to-do list, generate story ideas for articles or blogs, and even work through tough writing tasks for ongoing projects.

But in the shower I have no choice. Looking at my phone is not an option.

On the street, I started to feel restless. I was surprised and a little embarrassed as I realized my co-dependence on that small screen in my palm. I forced myself to use the time to look around, take in the people-watching– no place better than New York for that– and see where my thoughts would lead me.

It was a humbling exercise.

When did I turn into such an information addict? I know intellectually that so much of my attention spent online is wasted.

Social Media Relationship Rules

Social media sucks me in the way TV consumed me when I had more time to watch it. I’m a pop culture and news junkie, and I’m interested in people so I find it all impossible to resist.

But there’s something to be said for being with your thoughts. I know I’m not allowing myself that luxury enough. Are you?


My brother is engaged, and other completely unbelievable changes

Sometimes people surprise you.

That’s the collective response to the news that my younger brother– who is 44 and has never been married– got engaged last weekend.

Adam is a late bloomer. It took him at least three tries to find a career he liked. He was in advertising in Chicago for a few years after graduating from Wisconsin. Then moved to LA with dreams of taking Hollywood by storm. He got a job working in the mailroom at a major talent agency and worked his way up to assistant, before realizing he really didn’t have the temperament to be Ari Gold.

Then he got a series of assistant jobs with some heavy hitter producers, but rolling calls and reading scripts until 2am was not his cup of green tea. Then he took a job at a hotel and discovered hospitality was his calling.. After working at several hotels, he’s now the concierge at a boutique hotel in Beverly Hills and loves accommodating guests and helping them find restaurants and entertainment in the city.

Uncle Adam gets engaged on carpoolcandycom

My boys have only known Uncle Adam as a single dude.

All that time he was dating lots of women. To his credit, he was open to meeting people. He was set up, met girls in bars and at concerts, and filled out many online dating profiles.

He said he was ready for love all those years, but I’m not so sure.  He only dated a few ladies more than 2 or 3 times.

He really liked his alone time.

His other passion is music. He was a serious Deadhead and saw more than 100 shows while Jerry was alive. To be clear, he was no tie dye-wearing poser– he loved the music. He still records a radio show every Sunday night of live shows and keeps the tapes in a shrine in his closet. He moved on from the Dead to Phish and has been flying to cities all over the country to see live shows for the last 20 years.

He has a crew he goes to concerts with but he’s so into the music, he’ll even go by himself. In the past when he was dating a girl, he would never bring her to a show because she might be a buzz kill.

So I knew something was up when the girl he was dating this year went with him to a concert. And then another.

Adam, Heather and pals at a concert this summer.

Adam, Heather and pals at a concert this summer.

This is a guy who calls me once every three months when he needs something (he  prefers to bond over text.) But now he was calling me weekly to discuss the evolution of his new relationship.

I knew something about this Heather was different.

I met her last year over lunch when we were visiting LA and she seemed lovely. Attentive, easygoing, and really good with Eli who was the only kid at the table. I liked her right away, but remained skeptical.

Then he started saying stuff like “I’m my best self with her” and “She’s such a good person, she makes me a better person.”

My mother and I were rather speechless. When you’ve been living alone into your 40’s, you tend to be rather me-centric. All this talk about caring for another person, sharing interests, and spending lots of time together was new and refreshing!

By the summer, they were spending all their time together and he was already sure he wanted to marry her. We were excited, but cautiously optimistic.

Not only did that guy propose last weekend, he did it in style. He made up a story about going to a friend’s house in Malibu but secretly had a friend set up a picnic on the beach. He lied his way to the sand and just as she was feeling confused about what was happening, he pulled out a ring and popped the question.

Uncle Adam gets engaged on beach in Malibu on

The ring is the one my father gave my mother in 1966 when they got engaged in Boston. Heather loved the design and the sentiment.

engagement on the beach on

She said YES!!

After their private moment, Adam had arranged for all their friends and her family to be at a party to celebrate.

You may remember that Wilson’s brother– after perfecting his role as Manhattan committed bachelor for years–  also delighted us by falling in love and marrying last year.

We were all beginning to think Uncle Jonny and Uncle Adam were going to be single forever. But within 18 months, they both found their lobster and are looking forward to sharing their lives with someone.

Stupefied friends and family weighed in after Adam’s  big news spread. One text read “Check the temperature. Hell has frozen over!” 

Kids, the moral of the story is, keep believing in love! It’s powerful stuff, and you never know when it’s gonna come along and knock you out.

Congrats to the happy couple! We can’t wait to celebrate with you.


Author of People I Want to Punch in the Throat makes naughty list for the holidays

If the thought of the fast-arriving, anxiety-inducing holidays is making you want to throw a Xanax into your pumpkin-spice latte, author and blogger Jen Mann has your back.

spending the holidays with people i want to punch in the throat cover on

Ballantine Books/ Random House

In her new book,  “Spending the Holidays With People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Yuletide Yahoos, Ho-Ho-Humblebraggers, and Other Seasonal Scourges,” Mann tells a stocking full of funny stories about how easily the holidays can be spoiled, regardless of good intentions and how many trees you decorate or cookies you bake.

decorating Christmas sugar cookies on

Our holiday traditions include baking and decorating dozens of cookies, but they’re hardly perfect.

While many of the essays focus on Christmas– from Mann’s childhood through the present– she pokes fun at other holidays and our need to keep up with traditions and with the Joneses.

Her mother starts decorating for Christmas as soon as the lights go out on Halloween and has no less than 12 themed trees, 102 nativity scenes, and 150 Santa figures taking over her house.

That’s quite a precedent.

It seems everyone in Mann’s world is just one bad gift, one lost tradition, or one burned cookie away from ruining Christmas. She builds suspense in each harrowing tale of missteps, while commenting on the anxiety the holidays create, especially for moms trying to hold everything together and create the magic of the season.

Two essays — one on an overheard conversation between Overachieving Moms preparing for the holidays and another on humblebrag Christmas letters — give Mann a chance to air her grievances about all the irritating people who tout perfection.

Mann keeps it real in her own witty, self-deprecating letter, which heralds broken bones, her young son’s propensity for nudity and outrageous prices at Disney World.

By poking fun at the insanity of Martha Stewart-worshipping moms, and the cultural pressure to acquire expensive stuff, Mann provides relief — and a voice — for those who feel they can never compete.

You can read my full review in all its glory here.

Author Jen Mann of spending the holidays with people i want to punch in the throat on

Author Jen Mann cracks me up

Mann is a great writer who perpetually portrays herself as the underdog, but is really a heroine and her blog a refuge for moms just trying to keep it together. The best part is that the book is less than 200 pages and a quick read that will make you giggle. You may even recognize some people you know.

Are you stressed yet about the holidays? Tell me in the comments.

Why Wilson hates sleepovers

Last Saturday night, Wilson and I were at Eli’s baseball game, freezing our asses off in the dark and willing it to be over when we received a text. It was Aden who was with a bunch of friends at our block party, and he was asking for a sleepover.

Every time one of our kids asks for a sleepover Wilson’s visceral and immediate reaction is “NO!!!”

Wilson doesn’t get riled up over much but if there are two parenting scourges he despises most it’s Playdoh (hardened in the bottom of the toy box and carpet is his fav)….and  sleepovers.

No good ever comes of sleepovers!” he wails each time, as if I’m not aware of his feeling on the subject. “They stay up too late and come home tired and cranky!!”  

sleepovers on

Jacob’s giant sleepover party in 2011. (There was no sleeping)

And he’s right. No matter how many times they swear they’ll go to bed early, they always stay up late and teeter on a tantrum the following day. Or they get sick. Or break a bone. Or bring back lice.

When you host, there’s always the risk of the anxious kid tapping you at 2am pleading to go home…or the broken chips in the bottom of the sleeping bags and sticky juice spills on whatever surface was closest to the video controller.

What’s nuts is that they have zero memory of any of the negative effects the dreaded sleepover has on them. It’s as if their recall of raging, crying, and passing out in a bowl of rice at dinner the following day have been zapped from their brains.

I don’t care for sleepovers either– in the same way I don’t like the shiny synthetic sports shorts my kids wear daily– but I’ve accepted them as part of boyhood. Sometimes you have to let kids be kids, even when you know there’s a better way.

So I’m usually the one talking Wilson off the “NO!” ledge by offering reasons why spending the night at a friend’s house (or worse, at our house) might be ok. Wilson loves a good excuse, so our rule is generally no sleepovers if you have a game the next day before 2pm. One of the virtues of Hebrew school at 9am every Sunday is that it eliminates many Saturday night sleepover opportunities. Homework can also serve as a deterrent.

But none of those applied Saturday night. I texted the host mom to make sure she hadn’t lost her senses by opening her home to 3 pre-teen boys determined to play Xbox and text girls all night. She (foolishly) insisted it was no problem so Wilson relented and Aden was off.

Sleepover graphic on


Not 15 minutes later we got a text from Jacob asking to sleep at his friend’s house. While we wanted to say no– because the more he’s out of our sight, the more likely he is to get into trouble– we couldn’t come up with a legitimate reason.

Sleepovers at 15 are a whole other concern. We’ve developed communication avenues and trust with Jacob, and the “make good decisions!” mantra is so overused (I literally say it every time he leaves, even for school in the morning) it’s become almost comical.

But still. If he wants to be out of the house on a weekend night, there is a high possibility of shenanigans.

Part of the reason I give in when the boys beg for an overnight with friends is because I remember how much I loved sleeping over when I was growing up. Some of my favorite memories are of crashing in my friend Deb’s basement after crank calling boys, pounding Diet Cokes and having deep talks about life as  James Taylor, Queen, and Steely Dan played in the background.

Giggling with my girls circa 1985

Giggling with my girls circa 1985

When we finally turned off the lights, there was a glow from the neon beer sign over her parents’ wood-paneled bar. We’d laugh until our sides ached or until one of us fell asleep. In the morning we’d eat Lucky Charms and gossip with her mom.

Good times!  How can I deny my kids that bonding experience?

There are also life lessons to be learned in the 24 hours spent in another house. Navigating peer pressure, sleeping in a different bed, and respecting another family’s rules (and craziness) can be an education in itself. Sometimes it even makes kids appreciate coming home.

Grownup sleepovers on

Chatting til the wee hours at Tufts reunion 2015. I still love a sleepover!

So when Eli asked to have a few friends sleep over for his birthday in a few weeks I said I would consider it. I’m certain I’ll regret it by 12:30am… and I’ll have to slip a Valium into Wilson’s beer to cut down on the griping.

But I’ll say yes, and hope the exhausted, crabby, ungrateful child we’re left with the next day will be overshadowed by a great memory.

What’s your take on sleepovers? Tell me in the comments.


London with kids (part 2) more fun pix!

Sorry my London posts have been so s p r e a d   o u t!  I always want to be thorough in my travel posts and had to write about some other pressing news before I returned to our lovely trip across the pond.

London with kids on

Piccadilly Circus

My friend, MaryEllen and I took our 12-year-old sons, Pat and Aden to London for a week. Although we hit many tourist spots, their favorite moments were not museums or city walks. They loved getting left on a subway platform, spray painting graffiti on Abbey Road, and flying business class on the way home– all of which you can read about here.

But we did have some more traditional adventures in London that were fun and engaging, even for boys who like sports and video games a lot. My last post included our trips to see Big Ben, Parliament, and the Churchill War rooms. We also checked off the London Eye, the Aquarium, and the Tower of London (click the link for more deets.)

London is known for its wonderful theater so we got tickets to see “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” at the Royal Drury Lane theater.


The show was terrific. Top notch production with beautiful sets and costumes and an inventive, modern approach to an old story. My favorite scene was the cool way they showed Mike TV getting shrunk and zapped into the atmosphere, and I loved the creative way they made the ensemble dancers into oompa loompas.

OOMPA LOOMPAS in Charlie Chocolate Factory London on

My cousin’s friend who lives outside London hooked us up with tickets to a football (soccer) match between his hometown of Watford and the Albion team. We took a train and an Uber car to the game– which was a pain, but completely worth it because the boys had a blast.

Seeing an authentic European  soccer match was a cultural education.

boys at English soccer game on

People dress rather nicely for games. Everyone gets there early and instead of tailgating, they belly up to the bar for wine or beer and a selection of greasy, traditional food like sausage rolls (a giant, fatty pig in a blanket) and “beef” potato pastries called “pasties.” MaryEllen was in heaven but the kids and I were longing for a hotdog or burger and fries.

boys at English soccer game on

There’s no alcohol served after the game starts, and yet they were the loudest, most consistent and enthusiastic fans I’ve seen since college.  We were glad the boys couldn’t hear all the words to their naughty cheers!

boys at English soccer game on

Although there were some exciting moments, the game ended in a 0-0 tie

Another day we visited the Tate Modern Museum of Art. There are so many wonderful museums it’s difficult to choose but we thought the boys may relate to the contemporary art better than portraits of 16th century royals.

Tate Modern museum with kids on

Aden found this famous Picasso

We got the boys on board by visiting the gift shop as soon s we arrived to purchase 15 postcards of works by famous artists (Monet, Manet, Kandinsky, Warhol, Mondrian, etc) and creating a game around who could find the art on the cards fastest.

Tate Modern museum with kids on

Aden liked this wacky Dali

Boys love competition of any kind, so they raced through the galleries looking for specific works and learning the names of artists in spite of themselves.

Tate Modern London with kids on

Art can be fun!

We moms got to wander through more leisurely and take in the awesome loft space and impressive collections.

Some suggested we take a double-decker bus tour but we found it much more fun (and a fraction of the cost) to take public double-decker buses around town.

On the top of the double decker

On the top of the double-decker

Using our Oyster Cards to get on, we always sat on the top by the front window for an excellent view of neighborhoods all over the city.

Have I mentioned I love to shop? One day we took the bus to Oxford Street— which is kind of like 5th Avenue in New York– to check out the scene.

London's Liberty store on

Aden got a pair of British Nikes and I got some snazzy snake-skin boots at Liberty.

Interior of Liberty London store on

Liberty’s famous fabrics are set up like streamers in the grand entrance on the main floor of the store.

Known for its signature country French/Bohemian fabrics, Liberty is a gorgeous high-end department store that feels like tiny boutiques housed together in a large mansion, decorated by the best eclectic Etsy designers.

Interior of Liberty London store on

I couldn’t go all the way to London and not stop at Harrod’s. I’ve heard the folklore about the shopping mecca my whole life and had to see it for myself.

Harrods London store on

It’s certainly the fanciest store I’ve ever seen– with every major designer represented and modern, glitzy displays. The building has been redesigned since Princess Diana’s former boyfriend Dodi Al Fayed bought it and turned some of the floors into what looks like an Egyptian tomb with relics and giant sculptures lining the escalators, almost like a Disney ride.

Harrods on

The food section is amazing and I brought home tea and chocolate– which was pretty much all I could afford.  The best part, of course, was the shoe department, which is called “Shoe Heaven.”

shoe heaven at harrods london on

Posing at the pearly gates

That’s my kinda afterlife!

shoe heaven at harrods london on

I’ve documented my love for the royals on the blog before, so a stop at Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard was obviously on our must-see list.

Buckingham Palace on

We joined the throngs of thousands gathered for blocks around the palace. It was fun the see the Queen’s home up close and all the pomp and circumstance of her royal guard. 

There’s not much action, but Aden liked seeing the horses and the stiff way the beefeaters march in unison in their funny hats.

Buckingham Palace on

As for food, we were traveling with two picky eaters who ordered plain pasta and butter wherever we went, so gourmet meals seemed like a waste of effort and money. A pity as London has so many great restaurants.

If traveling with stubborn eaters,  I’d suggest the Wagamama chain of Asian restaurants which has a variety of noodles and soups and serves beer and wine. We had a good meal outside at chef Jamie Oliver’s Union Jack after theater near Covenant Garden.

fish and chips london on

We also walked through the food stands at Borough Market, a short walk from the Tate Museum and had a yummy lunch at a cafe called Bill’s also near the Tate and the Shakespeare World Globe Theater. And you must stop in any neighborhood pub and order the fish and chips. It’s worth the extra miles on the treadmill!

We could have stayed another week and still not seen everything we wanted to see. I can’t wait to go back! Tell me your favorite London spots in the comments.