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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Kids Take Action Against the Budget Cuts

This announcement was sent to

Kid Letter-Writing Campaign to Protest NYC School Budget Cuts
To protest the $450 million Department of Education budget cuts for 2008-2009,
two members of the PA at PS 87 in Manhattan are trying to implement a citywide protest project.

Modeled upon the 3rd grade letter project at PS 87 (which resulted in a very positive news piece on WABC on May 14th), the plan is to have students (accompanied by their parents) from different public schools around the city arrive at Tweed Courthouse (DOE headquarters) each afternoon in June to deliver giant envelopes filled with letters written by their classmates protesting the budget cuts.

If you are willing to sign-up on behalf of some class(es) from your school for a day in June, or able to help in some other capacity, please contact:
Paula Seefeldt:
Cynthia Wachtell:

For a link to the WABC story, go to and scroll down to the photo of the third graders.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Find Your Favorite HS On This List

If you think that you are mad about the Pre-K situation, wait until you see a 5 or 6% cut in your Middle or High School budget. Check out this list of exceptional schools that will be taking exceptional hits, loosing teachers and classes. Sure, it is just the AP classes and electives that may be cut. Tell that to your child who is studying all weekend to take the SAT II to try and have some hope of competing with students from the suburbs for a spot in college. Come to the Rally to Speak Out Against the $450 Million in NYC Education Cuts
Stuyvesant HS
345 Chambers St.
Monday, June 2, 4pm

This list comes from the most excellent Betty Zohar, UFT Parent and Community Liaison.

Largest Cuts in School Budgets

Manhattan Professional Performing Arts High School -6.09%
Queens Queens High School For the Sciences -5.96%
Manhattan 47 The American Sign Language School -5.92%
Brooklyn Urban Assembly Academy of Arts -5.89%
Queens York Early College Academy -5.88%
Brooklyn Lyons Community School -5.75%
Bronx Bronx Community High School -5.65%
Bronx English Language Learners and International Support Preparatory Academy -5.60%
Brooklyn The Brooklyn Latin School -5.58%
Queens Academy for Excellence Through the Arts -5.57%
Manhattan Academy for Social Action -5.56%
Bronx High School of American Studies -5.56%
Bronx Pan American International High School at Monroe -5.52%
Bronx Academy for Language And Technology -5.51%
Brooklyn Arts and Media Preparatory Academy -5.50%
Manhattan Eleanor Roosevelt High School -5.49%
Queens Pan American International High School I -5.48%
Manhattan N.Y.C. Lab School for Collaborative Studies -5.47%
Queens Baccalaureate School for Global Education -5.46%
Queens Queens Collegiate: A College Board School -5.44%
Manhattan NYCiSchool -5.42%
Staten Island P.S. 005 Huguenot -5.39%
Queens Academy for Careers in Television and Film -5.39%
Brooklyn Frederick Douglass Academy VII -5.38%
Brooklyn Life Academy High School for Film and Music -5.37%
Brooklyn Multicultural High School -5.35%
Manhattan Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts -5.35%
Bronx Bronx High School of Science -5.34%
Manhattan Stuyvesant High School -5.32%
Staten Island Staten Island Technical High School -5.31%
Brooklyn Brighter Choice Community School -5.30%
Staten Island Gaynor McCown Expeditionary Learning School -5.30%
Staten Island Academy of Innovative Learning -5.29%
Queens The Active Learning Elementary School -5.27%
Queens Learners and Leaders -5.27%
Queens Knowledge and Power Preparatory -5.26%
Manhattan M.S. 255 Salk School of Science -5.25%
Brooklyn Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women -5.24%
Queens The Queens School of Inquiry -5.24%
Queens Civic Leadership Academy -5.23%
Queens Queens High School for Information, Research and Technology -5.23%
Queens Robert H. Goddard High School of Communication Arts and Technology -5.23%
Brooklyn Academy of Innovative Technology -5.23%
Brooklyn Frances Perkins Academy -5.23%
Manhattan Mott Hall II -5.23%
Manhattan N.Y.C. Museum School -5.22%
Brooklyn Brooklyn High School for Leadership and Community Service -5.22%
Brooklyn Olympus Academy -5.22%
Brooklyn Victory Collegiate High School -5.20%
Manhattan Gramercy Arts High School -5.20%
Bronx Knowledge and Power Preparatory -5.20%
Staten Island College of Staten Island High School for International Studies -5.14%
Queens J.H.S. 067 Louis Pasteur -5.14%
Queens North Queens Community High School -5.14%
Brooklyn Brooklyn Theatre Arts High School -5.13%
Brooklyn Brooklyn Bridge Academy -5.12%
Brooklyn High School for Innovation in Advertising And Media -5.12%
Bronx Bronx Haven High School -5.10%
Queens New York City Academy for Discovery -5.10%
Manhattan M.S. 260 Clinton School Writers and Artists -5.09%
Brooklyn It Takes a Village Academy -5.09%
Brooklyn Expeditionary Learning School -5.08%
Brooklyn Brooklyn Brownstone School -5.08%
Brooklyn Cultural Academy for the Arts and Sciences -5.07%
Brooklyn High School for Medical Professions -5.07%
Brooklyn Academy for Conservation and the Environment -5.07%
Brooklyn Brooklyn Lab School -5.07%
Brooklyn Urban Action Academy -5.07%
Queens Queens Preparatory Academy -5.06%
Brooklyn Brooklyn Generation School -5.05%
Bronx School for Environmental Citizenship -5.05%
Queens Bard High School Early College II -5.05%
Brooklyn Gotham Professional Arts Academy -5.02%
Brooklyn Brooklyn Community High School -5.00%

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Latest on Pre-K Registration

Jenny Medina’s article in the NY Times today spelled out the basics of the Pre-K registration situation. had details about the registration discrepancies from Andy Jacob at the DOE. “What happened, Jacob told me, was that the DOE's computers compared data for the older sibling claimed on the application with the data parents entered on the application. If the address in the attendance system for the older child didn't match the address as it was entered from the application, the system treated the applicant as a non-sibling. But in some cases, Jacob said, the address-matching excluded children erroneously, sometimes because of a minor difference in the way the addresses were formulated (with a typo in the DOE's attendance system, for example) and sometimes because families have moved since entering the school system.”
Another thing that was mentioned was that the sibling preference only applied to a first choice school.

Since acceptance letters are starting to come out, it appears that occasional discrepancies are still showing up on the neighborhood groups. Zoned children without a sib in the school that receives a rejection letter from a school that you believe has an acceptance for an unzoned child without a sib should contact the people below.

The June 23 application is for families that have not received any placement, but don't be surprised if this process goes through changes as the DOE deals with the problem at hand.

The OSEPO, Office of Student Enrollment and Placement, is taking information about disputed applications.
212 347-4948

Debbie McCabe, Family Advocate for District 15, is also collecting info about all disputed posts, especially rejected sibling applicants
Send her an e-mail with this info:
Your name and contact information
Names of your children
School id for the older sib
What school is involved and your zoned school.
(sorry, I had a typo in her address in an earlier post)

Contact the Public Advocate’s Office so that they can collect their own independent information on this issue.
212 669-7250

Some schools are collecting the information for their own communities. Contact your zoned school’s Parent Coordinator to find out if they are collecting information and who you should contact.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Yikes, the Pre-K letters are coming in and from the anecdotal evidence on the yahoo neighborhood groups there are some in-zone families with siblings that are not getting their placements. This may be an indication of errors in the system. Just in case this isn't a limited problem, I have listed a couple of contacts here to try and get answers. It would also be helpful to know when families start receiving acceptance letters.

If you need questions answered about an acceptance or rejection letter, call the DOE Central Enrollment Office (I visited the District Office this morning, Tues. 27 and they gave me this number to call)
212 374-2363
or contact,
Debbie McCabe, Family Advocate for District 15
email her at
she is compiling a list of families with Pre-K rejection issues
Martine Guerrier, Chief Family Engagement Officer
212 374-6857

If you think that there is something wrong with your rejection letter, i.e. you are an in-zone family with siblings in a school that has several Pre-K classes, or you are not getting your questions answered by the DOE's Central or District Enrollment Office call the Office of the Public Advocate. She has the clout and the will to get to the bottom of the situation.
212 669-7250

There are new unconfirmed reports from the yahoo groups. Parents that contacted the Enrollment Office this afternoon said that if you come to the Office on or after June 23 you can receive an informational booklet that will contain a list of schools with remaining available seats and a new application. The new application will have a due date to go through the process all over for the remaining open seats.

keep checking my blog and for updates

Monday, May 26, 2008

How I Learned to Love Camping; Stop Packing.

I used to dread camping because it took forever to pack. The trick is to have a prepacked kitchen box and some equipment ready to just get in the car and go. Years ago I got an LLBean credit card with benefits. After you have collected enough points you get a $10 credit on LLBean stuff as well as free shipping (and monogramming if you are into that) That is how I got all our camping stuff (that I didn’t get at stoop sales). I just read a post that someone sent back their 8 year old tent for repair, for free. We had the experience that if they couldn’t repair something they gave us a new one. I like them.

This is what we always take:
Tent, a plastic sheet for under (tuck the edges under the tent so the water doesn’t wick under) a couple of big tarps with grommets for a rain cover over the tents (the tent waterproofing and rain flaps will probably work well, but the thought of keeping all rain off the top of the tent makes the rain sound cozy instead of ominous)
Sleeping Bags and roll up foam pads
A shelter for the picnic table with zippered net sides
The big ball of twine
A Swiss army knife
A little shovel
A whisk broom
A large flat round grill for the fire ring
A hammock
A couple of battery operated lanterns and flashlights for everyone
A net bag or toy bucket to carry your shampoo etc. to the showers

The kitchen box:
I got the shmancy one from Bean with my coupons, but really you could just have a big plastic box from Target with a lid that you keep packed with:
A set of plastic dishes (one set for each of you)
A big plastic bowl
A couple of mugs and utensils
A couple of stoop sale pots and a pan
Paper towels with the tube taken out (better for squashing)
Some folded tin foil, and a bunch of different sized zip lock bags (they come in handy for everything including storing food that is floating around in the melted ice of the cooler)
Salt, pepper, sugar, tea, ground coffee
Plastic french press coffee maker
Some stoop sale column candles and something pretty to put wildflowers in
A pretty vinyl table cloth (these things sound excessive, but when I am smelly and dirty and sleeping on the ground, nothing makes me feel better than having a good cup of coffee at my pretty table in the woods)
A bag of fire starters (those lighter soaked sawdust sticks that can start fires with the wettest wood)
Bic Barbecue lighter (some matches too)
Some long handled barbecue tools and skewers for shish ka bab (the most delicious and easiest meal)
A large cooler with a tap to drain melted ice
A couple of collapsible camping buckets for water and dish washing
A small container of dishsoap
Batteries of all types
My most treasured item: The pie iron…
Butter two pieces of bread, put them in the cast iron sides, pour in some raw scrambled eggs and cheese, or some banana slices and peanut butter, or apple slices and cinnamon sugar, you are only limited by your own imagination. Close it, clamp it and put it in the fire for a couple of minutes. Repeat while a huge line of children forms behind you. On second thought take two pie irons. Being cast iron, they stay very hot for a long time, only experienced older children should be allowed to use them.

A word on food. I marinate meat for a couple of meals (cubes for shish ka bab, etc.) and freeze them rock hard in a couple of quart Chinese soup containers. They thaw slowly in an icy cooler and keep everything else cold as well. I don't take those frozen plastic blue cold packs they are just dead weight after they thaw.

I am sure that I have forgotten something, but when you have a prepacked kitchen box it is less likely that you need to buy it at the horribly over priced camp store.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Where We Camp

We do at least one camping trip a year. We have had a lot of different experiences with campgrounds. Private campgrounds can be in beautiful locations, but some are pretty loose about alcohol and noise restrictions and that can make a beautiful spot horrible. We have gone the 5 star private campground route with relatives who like electric and water hook ups and all of the amenities. These are very well run and manicured with pools and lots of activities for kids, but you pay through the nose for a controlled experience. So far, for us the National and State campgrounds are the best combination of amenities, scenery and relative quiet.
We have been to Dingman’s and we have heard great things about North South Lake. Both of them are within an easy weekend drive of the city. We gravitate to the Delaware Water Gap for an easy weekend camp. If you are north of the Gap by Port Jervis eat at the Eagle’s Nest Restaurant (reasonable, American, family dining) for the most spectacular views of the river. 58 Eagle’s Nest Road Bloomington, NY 845 733-4561 April-Dec. W, TH, SUN 5:30-9
Lake George
This campsite had a pool, river campsites, a DJ and bonfires in the evening, tubing on the river, arts and crafts, go carts, and you pay for it, but the experienced RV campers that work at the store knew all of the most beautiful hidden hikes around Lake George. Even with all of the “designed for family fun” activities, the day that we spent at the secluded waterfall and picnicking on the rocks by the lake was the day the kids remember. We spent a day in town at the scary wax museum, water park and para sailing, and one day in Saratoga Springs walking around all of the different springs and checking out the race track. It was a fantastic trip, but there may be a more economical option close by. You just need to find a local that will fill you in on the secluded hikes around the east side of the lake.
Bar Harbor
This was another fancy campground for the in-laws but it was in a good location, had a heated pool. It was located on a bay where we were able to collect pounds of mussels for our dinner at night. These private campgrounds have lots and lots of RVs so you are not exactly out in the wilderness. I am sure that you could find a more secluded spot, but it is nice to be on Mount Desert Island if you are making the park your destination. If you can plan ahead and make a reservation at the National Park, that is always the way to go.
Lancaster County
I won’t list the expensive campground we found here. It was a lovely week, but we found that with all of the activities and beautiful Amish farmland we couldn't get the nature fix we needed. It is all private farmland and though beautiful, we didn’t feel welcome to wander at will.

My next post will be about planning and packing.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Planning Great Trips

We start with the budget. The year we went to Costa Rica, we were really planning on going to California. I was just playing around on Orbitz. The plane fare to Costa Rica was cheaper. This year we were supposed to visit friends in Germany. The Euro was going to kill us. I got a tip on the soccer field. We decided on Ireland instead. We still had the Euro, but it was a much cheaper trip because it was all nature which is free. I forgot to mention our trip to Colonial Williamsburg in Feb. a couple of years ago. We go everywhere off season. We were at Mesa Verde the day after it opened for the season. Sometimes we don't see everything that you would see during the summer, but we are always the only people there and that makes it GREAT!

I have the money saved before we go. I found that a dedicated ingdirect account that I add to every month keeps the money safe from being used for other things. I love to see my spring break travel money in that account in Feb. when I am buying the tickets. This way we come home with the photos and no debt to play catch up with. It enables us to say "let's charter the boat out to seal island" without worrying about the extra hundred dollars.

I trade notes with my like-minded friends. All of my best ideas are versions of trips I borrowed from them. We visit friends when we can and some day soon we will probably start trading apt. overseas.

I also look for locations where the dollar is going to go the farthest. That isn't many places these days, but it sometimes leads us places we wouldn't normally go, including the Erie Canal.

My kids don't like museums. Even though they say they want to go to Paris, I know that they would be awful there; tired and grumpy. They will really want to go someday, but not just because it is where their friends went. When I plan, I have to be very realistic about my family's needs. My husband is unhappy if he doesn't feel he's getting a deal and he really doesn't care about the food (give him a jar of peanut butter and he is good to go in any country). He also doesn't like the same experience twice. My kids like nature and adventure travel and they have a pathological fear of being seen as tourists. We try and focus on being travelers rather than tourists for their delicate sensibilities. I am all about the food and the weirder and more original the experience the better. We ate crickets in Oaxaca. I can't remember where the car is parked, but I remember what was on the sandwich I ate when I was 10 years old driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains. To compromise we shop at local markets. I love them and I love to haggle, and my husband thinks we are getting a bargain. We like quirky experiences. The Neon Museum in Vegas and the Erie Canal going over a road were two highlights. We limit the electronics. I prefer to get lodging without TV. We have been reading aloud to each other from "All Creatures Great and Small" since Costa Rica. We laugh and do voices and read the same passages over and over because we always lose our place and fall asleep too soon. When I am older and grayer they will be the fondest memories of my life. I am not an ogre and my kids are not perfect. I will occasionally splurge on a fancy hotel (usually some great promotional deal online) and we will have the beautiful lobby, pool and huge TV. Not having it all the time really makes it a bigger deal.

I hope that I am teaching my children about the value of a dollar as I teach them about the value of the experience. They know we make a conscious effort to save to get something that we really love. They also know that we are saving for many other things as well; college, retirement, causes we believe need our support and a rainy day. It is no fun missing pizza night, but would you rather have Chinese food in Brooklyn or China?
Let me know where we should go next.

Friday, May 9, 2008

We take great trips

6 years ago when my children were 8, I made a decision for my family. Our family vacation time was exclusively about visiting relatives. As a child, my parents had taken us to amazing places; camping in the sand on St. John, houseboating the Border Lakes in Minnesota, biking and exploring and generally getting off the beaten track. I wanted similar memories with my children.

We looked at our stretched finances. We had a lot of vacation time, but not an unlimited budget. We decided as a family to take action. We do not order out, and we very rarely eat out. Now we have a vacation budget that allows us to take several great trips a year.

Here are some of the things that we have done:
Car trip to Nova Scotia - this was our first trip and the car broke down so many times that when we finally made it to Maine, the girls kissed the ground. We had the most wonderful time. It is when I knew that we would always be able to travel together. Every one of us was determined to make it a hilarious comedy of errors.
Family Reunion in the villa in Oaxaca - don't eat the famous cheese (it is unpasturized) but like my mother said, "the gauzy curtains are blowing, the volcano in the background, the fusia and birds of paradise are blooming, you wander out to the terra cotta patio, throw up and go back to your shaded hammock. In spite of the intestinal distress we loved all of the crafts, the beautiful colonial town, and had a blast in Mexico City in the very fancy business hotel that cost us barely anything.
Costa Rica, Nagoya Peninsula, Cloud Forest, Arenal - this is the trip by which all others are measured. Full moon horseback riding on the beach, going from the tidal pool for the morning swim to the waterfall pool for the afternoon swim, zip line in the cloud forest and the Smithsonian lodge with a cloudless Arenal volcano steadily spitting boulders.
Camping in Bar Harbor, Maine - one word, "lobster!" (Trenton Lobster Pot) we also gathered huge buckets of mussels at low tide and did the great day hikes all over the park. We love the Beehive!
Car trip in Arizona, Utah and Colorado (don't forget Vegas) - we came for the national parks, but despite ourselves, we loved Vegas. We were the casino's worst nightmare, (half price girls at the all you can eat buffet who can eat twice their weight in sushi and prime rib) and we hit every free show from the dancing waters outside the Belaggio to Pirates and back. Don't miss the Neon Sign Graveyard. And then there was Route 66 and hiking every canyon. We gave ourselves a challenge to have a person from every continent take our picture. Mission accomplished.
Eco camping on St. John, VI - Maho Bay, it was like a dream
Camping at Lake George and Saratoga Springs - our best camping trip ever, a little history, a lot of gorgeous hiking to waterfalls, putt putt golf, grossing ourselves out drinking at the healing springs, a day at the races
Visiting friends in Rio, and Buenos Aires - we were a little afraid of this one because of the violence in Rio, but living in a residential neighborhood (Ipenema, at that) and trips to Busios and Paratyi made it a dream come true. Watching our new favorite soccer team, Botafogo win in overtime was unbelievable. A little grownup side trip to Buenos Aires for my husband's 50 birthday was perfect. "Surprise honey, I'm buying you a steak for your birthday, get back on the plane!"
Barge down the Erie Canal - slow down to 6 miles an hour and you won't believe how beautiful western NY state is from the canal. Lift bridges and locks, beautiful birds and gin and tonics under the canopy of the European canal boat that sleeps 6. My parents joined us to help with the driving. The kids road their bikes along the tow path, gave directions to the lock masters on the radio and read while lounging on the top of the barge.
Staying in a Lighthouse in Co. Clare, Ireland - We just got back from Ireland two weeks ago. We did a "self catering holiday" in an Irish Landmark Trust property. We stayed in the Loop Head Lighthouse keepers cottage (it has a real working light) on the edge of a cliff at the end of the road, literally. Beautiful drives every day, guiness and music in the pubs and back home to a peat fire.

I want more ideas. Let me know what you have done. We are going to Northern California for my 50th next spring.
Watch this blog for tips on planning.

Lice Wars

I just read the great Lice post in the always great achildgrowsinbrooklyn. I felt I had to tell my story.
My girls started getting lice in kindergarten. Dress up, coats in a pile, sleepovers sharing beds and baths, and the ultimate culprit - Picture Day, all contributed to the problem. Like clockwork, every year in Oct. about a week after Picture Day we would get a visit from our newest pets. I truly believe that they weren't sharing combs, and I do not blame the school at all. The lice were just loosened up and getting around. For the most part it ended in third grade. Girls had shorter hair, and they weren't rolling around and rubbing heads together as much, maybe also they were just growing up and not playing so much dress-up anymore.

I am relatively bug squeamish and I am not at all afraid of head lice. I see them as cunning adversaries. In all of the years that we were plagued, my husband and I never got them and I was so used to them in the end that I would do the lice check on my own bed. The girls were also never reinfested from our house, it always came in direct relation to a playdate with a friend who had them or picture day. They really seem to go from head to head.

The nits are light colored on my ash blond children's hair, near the scalp. The lice stay at the scalp and don't venture far down the strands. I have heard they like secluded places like behind the ears and low at the neck, but ours always brazenly stayed within easy sight right on the top of the head, laughing at me. Full grown, the lice are light brown and flat almond shape, like a flax seed, and they are fast. You will just see them out of the corner of your eye in a lice check and they will be gone, in an instant. I have spent hours chasing one around my darling's scalp, until she developed a relationship, "don't get 'Biggie', he's my friend"?! Lice checks are when I first discovered that I needed bifocals. The "lice call" from school was always the worst. I only had to say "Lice" to my boss and she handed me my car keys and said that she would see me in the morning. Sometimes it was a false alarm, some dandruff or stray glitter glue, which is infuriating. I have to say that if you suspect that your child has lice you need to have full disclosure to family and friends. Do not send them to the party, or the sleepover - you will lose friends and nothing spoils a reputation faster than being lazy with your disclosure. I won't tell you about the time I had the girls' sweet friend sitting on the hard wood floor at 10pm with our carpets rolled up and her head swathed in olive oil and saran wrap because she had such a bad infestation that I could see them from across the room. I was alone and couldn't get to the drug store and her parents weren't answering their phone.

Let me start off by saying that after reading everything written on them and trying every remedy from the hippie dippy to DDT, I now have THE tried and true, easy, surefire solution. This method removes all lice and nits and it is kind of fun to do. You need a really good lice comb. Check out a metal lice comb at (search for "metal lice comb" I'm not too good with my links yet) I haven't seen this one in person, but I think it is the right model. It needs to have round tongs that have no air between them. Do not use the lice combs you get free in the Rid box, they are useless. You need a roll of paper towels and a bottle of Pantene conditioner.

First squeeze a ton of conditioner all over your child's barely damp head. Rub it around so no lice can escape the goo. Then start combing. Make sure that you are combing from the scalp and do it over and over. You will be combing out great gobs of conditioner and wiping on the paper towels. The Pantene is good because it is white and you see everything that is coming off the hair. It also has enough body that no lice can get away. You will see the nits and the occasional louse, you will also see sand, glitter, pieces of old sandwich and stickers (a child's life spread out before you on that paper towel). Keep doing it until you have a full, thorough pass of the head that comes up with nothing. Do it again the next day and if you come up liceless you are home free. It is as easy as that. Last summer on vacation I had 4 children with lice and in a little over an hour they were free and their hair smelled great! Then take all bedding and towels, wash and dry them hot. If you can wash and dry the stuffies that is great, if things can't be washed put them in a sealed garbage bag for two weeks to do the trick.

These are things that I tried; olive oil and baking soda, tea tree oil and tea tree oil shampoo, all of the over the counter treatments, a heavy duty perscription treatment, vigilant lice checks that took HOURS. The Pantene and thorough combing really, really works.

Courage, lice are nothing like bed bugs, they can be dealt with easily enough, or you can call the wonderful Lice Lady.