Review: Play Arts, Philadelphia

Play Arts 1Have you ever been invited to a party that was too cool for you? Was it a kids’ party? That is how I felt at a recent open house at a new child-centered arts and play space in Fishtown called Play Arts. But I loved it. More importantly, my kids loved it. They saw the “play loud” tagline and took the challenge (sorry, Krista!). Play Arts is so cool that award-winning, local author and illustrator Zachariah OHora designed their logo.

IMG_2173Play Arts started as the dream of a husband and wife pair who have years experience in wood-working and music education, respectively, that they poured into “an antique swimming hole under the El.” The ecological design and restoration of this historic site is meant to be as much for the parents as it is the kids, with beautiful architectural design and a cafe overlooking the kids playing below. The toys are meant to stimulate the imagination and foster STEAM play: Magna-Tiles, Legos, trains, a kitchen set, costumes, and push-toys. There is a reading nook, climbing structures, and mini cut-out hiding spaces under a loft. The art teacher told me there are further plans to build a look-out tower, monkey bars, and a felt garden. Although already quite magical, the space is still in evolution.

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Play Arts seeks to become a community hub by providing art and music classes, a place for parents to meet up while their children play, and birthday parties. They have drop-in options for classes, in case your child “blows through a nap,” an after school program, and a drop-off brunch option. Membership rates are competitive with similar venues, but the classes are cheaper than most I have seen. I am excited to see how Play Arts continues to grow and the creative ways they determine to use their beautiful space.

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The Fall class schedule begins Tuesday, September 6th. Membership and class registration is now open.

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[I was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.]

Pop-Up Gymnastics Classes Near You, Philly

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Seems like everything in Philly these days is some sort of pop-up. There are beer gardens and parks, galleries and boutiques, yoga and Kombucha classes, and now, kids gymnastics! Our favorite place to burn off our kids’ energy, Philly InMovement, is now making it even easier to attend their classes by popping up in Northern Liberties, Fishtown, Fairmount, and West Philly. This means that you can have the benefits of InMovement teachers and expertise without having to venture across the city when the air gets nippy (please tell me that is happening soon… I’m melting).

They are offering two of their standard classes, which my children have both been through and loved. The first is Lil’ Tumblers, a parent-child class for 1.5-3 year olds. My daughter absolutely loves her mornings of rolling, jumping on the trampoline, and swinging from the rings and bars. She is often found bragging, “I do gymnastics,” to anyone who sees her in her leotard. The second class is Short Wheelers, a drop off class for 3-5 year olds. The first time I signed my son up for this class I did not realize it was drop off, as this was the first time I had encountered such a thing. Until that moment, all classes meant that I was also taking the class. While I loved all the bonding and light exercise that come with these classes, the first time I was able to leave him there and go grab a cup of tea with a friend was the day I decided drop off is the only way to go. Also, I know that my son performs differently when I’m not there, and that’s a good thing.

At the end of each session, I am always amazed by what skills my children have learned. My son just told me today that he knows how to do a pike, and it wasn’t from watching the Rio gymnasts. So if you are still looking for a Fall activity, consider Philly InMovement! In addition to these awesome pop-up classes, they have many other classes for adults and children at their home base in Queen Village. There are also after school and Summer camps, drop-in open gym classes, and birthday parties.

Mommy Call readers are going to get 15% off Pop-up classes with code: MOMMYCALL. Sign up here.

 

[I have no affiliation with Philly InMovement. I was offered a class discount for this post. My children have taken approximately four classes here, attended innumerable open gyms sessions, one Halloween party, and attended two birthday parties and one of our own, so my opinions are based on this collective experience.]

Bringing the Joy Back to Weeknight Dinners: A PlateJoy Review

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Ok, full disclosure, I just finished eating take-out Chinese food. Over the past two weeks though, we have cooked crispy cod oreganata with roasted potatoes and green beans, seared flank steak with sesame-almond green beans, and chicken with orange chimichurri and roasted cauliflower. These recipes came from a new on-demand meal plan and grocery list service called PlateJoy. I never expected PlateJoy to replace all of my take-out meals, but one of my priorities was to have new recipes that would minimize my resorting to the easy way out of junk food on a busy weeknight.

When the people at PlateJoy approached me, I initially wondered how they would be different from all of the other meal planning and meal delivery services out there. My issues with prior services that I tried were that either we couldn’t use the food delivered in a timely enough manner or that my children wouldn’t eat the food in the recipes. Our two young children are still quite picky, so things like purple potatoes only resulted in a mealtime battle. So I was intrigued by a service that purported to customize a menu that met our lifestyle demands.

After taking a short quiz on our meal preferences and health goals, PlateJoy created a queue of meals that I could review. If there was anything that I instantly knew my children would throw on the ground, I deleted it from my queue and they replaced it with another option.  Then, I told PlateJoy how many meals I wanted each week. I started with 1-2 meals per week so that we could add these realistically into our current routine without feeling like a major overhaul. PlateJoy sent me a shopping list and recipes. Included were suggested portion sizes for each member of our family and nutritional information. PlateJoy also checks with me about what ingredients are already in my pantry so that they are removed from my shopping list. I also noted that they coordinate ingredients within the same week, so that I can continue to use up ingredients that I already bought. Together their digital pantry and waste reduction algorithm help us save money.

After I created an account, the founder of PlateJoy and a staff nutritionist both emailed me to learn more about what I was looking for from this service, which to me was a great sign that I wasn’t just interacting with a computer algorithm but rather real people interested in our family meals. Two weeks later, here is what else I have loved about PlateJoy so far:

  1. There are a variety of meal plan options including Kosher, Clean Eating, Whole30, low sodium, gluten-free, and diabetic, among others. I chose low sodium to balance out the fistfuls of Cheez-Its that my children consume. You can change what type of meal plan you do week-by-week too, so it gives you the opportunity to explore different diets.
  2. Based on my initial quiz answers, the recipes they chose for me take no longer than 20-35 minutes to prepare. And these are real minutes, not home-chef-with-a-secret-culinary-degree minutes. This makes cooking a healthy meal on a work night an achievable goal.
  3. The recipes are simple enough that my children eat them and I can find all of the ingredients in my local grocery store. Many of the ingredients are already in my pantry, or should be.

So a few recipes and two weeks later, we are continuing our PlateJoy experience and looking forward to our new recipes this week. If you are looking for a way to refresh your cooking repertoire affordably and practically, I would definitely try PlateJoy for yourself.  Next, I am going to try connecting PlateJoy with my Fit Bit! I am excited to see the ways that I can get the most out of my PlateJoy subscription.

If you are interested in trying PlateJoy, use my coupon code through 9/30/16 for $10 off any plan:

Code: MOMMYCALL

 

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this post, but I was given a free trial subscription to PlateJoy. All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. I am not a nutritionist. Please talk to your medical care provider before trying specialized diets.

Kids and Kitties: The Kawaii Kitty Cafe Opened in Queen Village

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We are a cat-loving family with a 12-year-old marshmallow-bodied Russian Blue cat, who our children literally smother in love every day. However, when I heard there was a cat cafe opening in Philadelphia, I was hesitant about whether or not I would want to eat somewhere that had cats creeping around and wondered how the Health Department would handle that as well. This past week though the Kawaii Kitty Cafe opened in Queen Village and every time we walked passed their large windows with kitties sunning themselves and patrons relaxing with oversized coffee cups, my interest was piqued.

Inside I was relieved to see that the cafe and kitty room are physically separated and although it wasn’t the main attraction, my chai tea was actually really delicious. The space was clean, and despite the seven cats in the small space, it was odorless. The pastel decor was soothing and the Ikea decor was comfortable both the cats and humans. The kids were ecstatic every time a kitty popped out from one of their hiding places. The greatest challenge was reminding the kids to be gentle and limit their squeals of joy, which delighted me much more than the cats.

The Kawaii Kitty Cafe is modeled after others that began in Tokyo, then spread internationally and nationally, with Philadelphia being the fourth city to follow this trend. For cat lovers, the cafe offers the peacefulness of any other coffee shop, but with the added benefit of snuggling cats. For parents, it is a place to watch your kids play with cats without committing  to years of emptying a litter box. For those looking to rescue a cat, the Kawaii Kitty Cafe offers you the opportunity to try before you buy. All of the cats there are from the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and are adoptable. In fact, the staff informed me that they started with 12 cats and by the end of the first week, only 7 remained.

Since the cats are all shelter cats, there are some ground rules for the Kitty Cafe, including a warning that the cats may scratch or bite. Both my son and I left with relatively minor scratches, which we were able to wash with soap and water in their bathroom before leaving and again use the hand sanitizer conveniently located by the exit.

Not only am I happy that this cafe chose Queen Village as its home, but that they have good tea, taught my kids self-control and respect for animals, and support a great cause! I think it is safe to say we will be making another reservation at the Kawaii Kitty Cafe sometime soon. The kids loved that one of the cats, Lord Fluffy Bottom, looked just like our own Arthur and was equally grumpy when they disrupted his nap. Luckily they also enjoyed petting Mr. Ravioli, taunting Daniel Day-Mewis with the laser pen, and sneaking a few too many cat treats to Pawlie Walnuts. I was glad that Aunt Pearl was already adopted or Arthur may have had a new roommate.

 

Reservations are recommended at the Kawaii Kitty Cafe, so book it here.

For information about Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society: PAWS

For information on Cat-Scratch Disease: CDC Healthy Pets Healthy People

Pets and Children, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

 

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A Grateful Graduate

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Today is the day that my first baby graduates. He will walk across a stage and get a diploma. OK, so it’s only preschool graduation. And if watching his friends graduate last year is any predictor of how it goes this year, it may be more full of tantrums than tassels. Either way, I’ll be teary eyed.

Part of me is obviously emotional about my son growing up and moving on, but another part of me is sad over leaving his current school. After four years there, it has started to feel like a second family. One of his teachers has known him for three of the past five years of his life! While daycare sometimes gets a bad reputation, it has given us so much. We fled to daycare urgently when we found ourselves with a dangerous nanny and while I initially appreciated it for his safety, I resented the germs, the fact that it was less individualized, and my loss of control over his day-to-day routine. There were tears, bitings, and stitches, to add to my working mommy guilt. But then there were so many other times that I watched him flourish because of his school. He has made lifetime friends, been loved by his teachers, and learned innumerable things that I wouldn’t have taught him (and the nanny certainly didn’t). He not only learned to read, write, and do math, but he built, climbed, sang, and painted regularly. He’s learned some Spanish and American Sign Language. He’s on a first-name basis with local musicians, a librarian, and an opera-singing barista. He knows his way around the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the orchestra. He has grown from a mostly non-verbal, garbage-truck-obsessed, wild toddler to a passionate, artistic, Lego-loving preschooler. And now the community that helped raise him will watch him sing his graduation song and walk across a stage toward his future.

In the Fall, we will start over with the unknowns of Kindergarten. He will make new friends, meet new teachers, and build on what he has learned. I will have the new school worries that I had four years ago: will they understand him? will he be loved? safe? supported? will he make good friends? There are so many questions that loom, but I am excited that there are many graduations for me to cry at in the future. I am approaching this first graduation with gratitude for four great years to begin a lifetime academic journey. As for saying goodbye, I am glad that he has a little sister remaining at the school so I can procrastinate for a few more years.

 

For information on finding, selecting, and paying for childcare in Philadelphia: CCIS

To get involved in the Pre-K for PA campaign: PCCY

To find quality childcare providers in PA: Keystone Stars

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