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Monday
May232011

Pierce’s Park Groundbreaking

What started as a dream in the tiny backyard of a Little Italy rowhouse in 2006 is one step closer to reality.  On Thursday May 5, 2011 there was an official groundbreaking for Pierce’s Park, a joint Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance and Waterfront Partnership initiative.  Governor Martin O’Malley, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, former US Senator Paul Sarbanes along with other city officials and downtown families were on hand for the ceremonial “first dig”. 

The park, on a one acre parcel along Eastern Ave. in front of the Colombus Center and across from Pier V Hotel, is being created in the memory of Waterfront Partnership board member Pierce Flanigan III.  Many of the park elements reflect his love of the outdoors and artistic creativity.  There will be two sculptural elements created by local artist David Hess.  The larger one will give children the opportunity to climb and slide over and through an abstract piece nestled in large granite boulders.  The smaller is two low domes- perfect for younger children to climb up and slide down.  In addition to the many trees and native plantings there will be a living willow tunnel built by local families that children can run through.  Etched in the pavers will be pairs of homophones (words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings)- a fun educational component that helps build reading and literacy skills in a whimsical manner.  There will also be a “musical” fence- the fence will create different tones when struck.

Pierce’s Park will be a unique space for Baltimore residents and visitors to explore, relax and interact with in the heart of the city. The park construction is under way, and park opening is expected in Fall 2011.

Wednesday
May182011

Baltimore Birthing Options: Alternative Birth Choices

Evelyn Muhlhan of Alternative Birth Choices with Molly's daughter Poppy

Alternative Birthing Choices
Catonsville, Maryland

In DBFA's series, Baltimore Birthing Options, downtown parents share their experiences with local birthing options ranging from giving birth in the hospital with an OB to at home with a midwife. You can count on these local moms to give you the real deal on everything from medical interventions to waiting room decor.

~~~

Today, we're speaking with Molly Saint-James, DBFA Editor, about her experience with Alternative Birthing Choices.

What made you choose Alternative Birth Choices? I wanted to deliver with a midwife and attempt a natural birth and Evelyn Muhlhan's practice came highly recommended on the SEBaltCityKids LISTSERV.

What three words describe the practice as a whole?
Kind, gentle, caring.

How did they handle prenatal care? Just as an OB would. I didn't get my ultrasounds through them b/c I didn't switch practices till 20 weeks (previously I'd been at the Hopkins Maternal-Fetal Group) but I believe that while they provide the same tests/ultrasounds, you have the option of doing as much or as little testing as you want (also true of an OB practice, of course).

How would you describe the care given by your doctor/midwife/etc?  Very thorough. You are a partner in the decision making process, so nothing is assumed and everything is thoroughly explained. It's clear that the ultimate decisions rest with you. It's very important to Evelyn that you have the birth experience that you want and while appointments often don't run on time, it's because she really takes a lot of time with each patient discussing the birth you hope for.

What was your delivery experience like?
An adventure! We did a home birth after doing a hospital birth the first time around and needless to say, it was very different. Up until the last minute, we'd planned to go to Mercy and attempt a water birth (assuming tubs were available) but we'd prepared for both scenarios and at the last minute, I told my husband I just wanted to stay home, and he agreed. Thankfully, Evelyn and her assistant were flexible and we'd talked about the various scenarios ahead of time.

How was the post-partum care? Also very thorough. The assistant (who is also a midwife) comes to your house the next day or day after to check on you and the baby. You and the baby then return to their offices in Catonsville at two weeks and again at six weeks.

If you could change anything about your care or the practice, what would you change?
They are a bit disorganized but when I was there they were dealing with a lot of "blizzard babies" so had an incredibly busy season. I would use them again, though!

Would you recommend Alternative Birth Choices to a friend? Yes! And I would like to make clear that for a so-called normal healthy pregnancy, the services a midwife offers are really no different than what an OB offers. In fact, they offer more, as they are with you for almost your entire birth and are almost guaranteed to personally deliver your baby. Finally, even with a home birth, the midwife comes fully stocked for any emergency. I had a postpartum hemorrhage with both births and even though one was at home, it was really no different than they way they treated it at the hospital. Evelyn had IVs, Pitocin (to control the bleeding), etc. I was also Group B Strep positive and it was possible to get antibiotics to treat it at home while in labor. She also carries Vitamin K and eye ointment for the baby after its born, just as you would get at any hospital (though she obviously does not perform c-sections or forceps deliveries or circumcise babies). (I mention this because when Poppy had to be hospitalized at 5 weeks at Hopkins for something unrelated, these questions came up quite a bit!)

If expectant moms have questions about Alternative Birth Choices, who should they contact?
Anyone interested in learning more can call them at 410-455-9659.

Molly Saint-James lives in Upper Fells Point with husband Ian and daughters Ellie, 3, and Poppy, 8 months. She is the editor for the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance.

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If you would like to contribute to the Baltimore Birthing Options series, we would love to have you! Please contact us at blog@dbfam.org.

Monday
May162011

Time For Dinner: Captain Larry's

It's here! We've heard your requests loud and clear. In our new series, Time For Dinner, we will feature favorite family-friendly restaurants throughout the city.

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Guest Post by Talley Kovacs

“Chalk for the kids and eyeglasses for the old people”

We are not “foodies,” and I actually loathe that word, but we do spend about 99% of our net income on food, wine, and rye, so I guess there is some implication there.  Our tastes run the gamut: we love cocktails at the bar at the Charleston Restaurant and sloppy pit beef sandwiches from Chaps.  Pre-kid, our weekends revolved around farmer’s market schedules, drives into the county for procurement of odds and ends (H-Mart in Catonsville, mostly), and long dinner parties reaching into the wee hours.  Now, with a wee-one, our restaurant visits clock in at under an hour (sometimes even 30 minutes), we can’t really stay up past 10 p.m. without being somewhat wrecked the next day, and we’ve scaled back our food budget to make way for daycare, diapers, and FSC-certified wooden toys that our toddler likes to ignore. 

Enter new restaurant requirements: quick, buzzing, and a good value- score one for Captain Larry’s!  We really like what one staffer recently told us, “We have chalk for the kids and eyeglasses for the old people … no really; we have eyeglasses behind the bar.”  It’s a scene in which neighborhoods collide and mesh in a way that highlights the magic that is Baltimore City.

Captain Larry’s is a great place for families because the menu is interesting and ever-changing and, more importantly, the noise-level can easily drown out a medium-level of whining (or crying).  They even host a “Family Night” with a long tradition in the neighborhood.  Prior to the recent city-wide smoking ban, there was no smoking or cussing from 4-9 p.m. on Tuesday nights and the penalties were collected in a coin jar at the Bar.  Eventually, the jar had collected enough loot that the owners invested in a new flat screen TV!  So, the smoking is out altogether, but the jar remains for lingering potty-mouths.

Our 15-month old chows down on the grilled cheese and the mac-n-cheese.  Each is served with raw veggies, another great family-oriented approach and a nice reprieve from the ubiquitous side of French fries.  The chicken tenders, however, are a little too much fry for him.  We often choose to portion out a kid meal from whatever we are eating, which is helpful when you are working to introduce new foods.  If we have ordered something particularly for our son, though, the server knowingly rushes the order.  It’s that kind of attention to service that makes dining out with a little one plausible and even enjoyable.

The weeknight food specials are outstanding, but Wednesday night’s crab cakes are the best value, under $10 for one and under $19 for two.  Two chalk boards that flank the bathroom entrances describe the additional daily specials that always include a housemade quiche, some derivation of wings, a chicken sandwich, a salmon sandwich or dish, special soups, and salads.  I’ve noticed recently, as well, that there are sometimes special cupcakes with a paired wine, which is an interesting offering for a restaurant with a somewhat swarmy, maritime theme. 

The only downsides are that parking can be a bit tricky in the after-work hours when the neighborhood is filling back up and the restaurant accepts only cash.  There is an ATM on-site, but you know there is that pesky transaction fee.

Captain Larry’s is a great, quick bite in the neighborhood.  It has character, a bit of grit, and a great atmosphere for unwinding, to the extent such a thing is possible, with a pint and a half-pint after a long day.

Guest post by Talley Kovacs, an attorney, mom, and wife living in Riverside Neighborhood in South Baltimore. Prior to embarking on the road towards the legal profession, Talley was a professional cook in France and in Portland, Oregon. She and her husband, a family doctor at University of Maryland, are currently participating in Charcutepalooza, a year long “competition” among food bloggers who are collectively curing, brining, and braising their way through Michael Ruhlman’s cookbook entitled Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. Their meaty posts can be read at Meat and Day. You can follow Talley on twitter @baltimama.

Friday
May132011

Meet the Big Kids' Parents

Guest Post by Miranda Wulff Altschuler, DBFA Graphic Designer and E-Marketing Manager.

It was a hot, sticky summer day and I had just walked from my Fells Point home to Canton Square with a screaming, colicky baby strapped to my chest. The misery of that trek I made each Wednesday was worth it, though. I was attending my first time moms' group sponsored by DBFA. This was the place where I was able to share experiences with other new moms and every week, I was reminded that I was not alone in this whole mothering a newborn thing.

This particular week, I walked in to find two women from DBFA joining us to get some feedback on the group. They introduced themselves as Rebecca Smith and Shanaysha Sauls. I recognized Rebecca's name as the founder of DBFA as well as one of the moderators of my neighborhood LISTSERV.

They asked us questions about our experience with the group as well as our experience as first-time moms in the city. At one point in the discussion, I shared one of my many new mom anxieties. It's one thing to have a baby in the city, but what about a big kid?! I had so many questions. I loved living in Fells Point, but I feared that my city life wouldn't work with a school aged child. I expressed my desire to pick the brains of the city parents of big kids. How did they decide on a school? What age did they let their children walk somewhere on their own? Rebecca and Shanaysha understood my concerns and the group discussed how we could share the knowledge of downtown parent veterans with newbies like us. Maybe a panel discussion? Maybe a meet and greet? I left that day feeling optimistic about raising my family in the city, because we had and organization like DBFA looking out for us.

Two years later, my relationship with DBFA has continued to grow, first as a volunteer and now as a staff member. As DBFA's graphic designer, about a month ago, I received an email with a job to design a postcard for a program called "Meet the Big Kids' Parents: A DBFA parenting panel discussion." An event with a panel of veteran parents to answer questions. This sounds familiar! The event that I had discussed with Rebecca, Shanaysha and the rest of the group two years ago had come to fruition! Not only was I excited for the opportunity to attend the event, I was also thrilled to have reaffirmed what I already knew; DBFA was and still is listening.

Last week, I got a chance to ask my first question of some of the panelists by email in preparation for this post. I started with an easy one. I hope you enjoy their answers as much as I did!

What are your big kids' favorite things about growing up in the city?

My daughter, Josie, 11, said it was that we can walk to whatever we need, and we run into someone we know every time. My younger daughter, Gretchen, 9, said she likes that we always know someone wherever we go. Don't know if it is good or bad that they like the same thing (this may be a first in our house!)." Andrea Sommer

Our kids' favorite thing about city-living is walkability and close proximity of a wide variety of activities. Within 20 minutes, we can walk to a restaurant, hop a bus to the inner harbor, drive up to the zoo, walk to Patterson Park or walk to the library! Their grandparents live in Howard County, so the question has come up. "When can we have a house with a big yard like Granny and Grampy?"  We've talked it over, and when we get to the part about how far away they live from the city attractions, the kids have decided that they are happiest having the opportunity to explore the local attractions at their leisure, without the hassle involved in driving in from out of town.  As for the yard, they agree that Patterson Park is a reasonable trade. After all, Granny and Grampy don't have a duck pond, ice rink and swimming pool in their yard!" Cathy Wolkow

Sebastian's favorite thing about being a city kid is growing up with Camden Yards, Westshore Park, the Science Center and Water Taxi all in his backyard." Claudia Towles

My kids love being able to walk to all their favorites: Camden Yards, Federal Hill Park, Otterbein Swim Club, Enoch Pratt Library, Maryland Science Center, and all of the kid friendly restaurants. Having so many of their friends within a quarter of a mile of their house - lots of opportunity for impromptu playdates! And, of course, the Circulator! Free, clean, friendly public transportation has opened up other zip codes for them to explore." Kelly McQuiston

I hope to see all you moms and dads of young kids at the event at Sky Lounge on Tuesday, May 17 at 6:30 p.m. Visit the event page on the DBFA Website for more information.

I know we have a ton to learn from the big kids' parents!

Wednesday
May112011

School Days: Thomas Johnson Elementary Middle School

Thomas Johnson Elementary Middle School
100 East Heath Street, Baltimore, MD 21230

In our series, School Days, downtown families share their experiences sending their children to Baltimore City Public Schools. Our hope is that this series can become a resource for downtown parents making important decisions about their children's education.

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What’s your name and what neighborhood does your family live in? We are the Leszczynski’s, Mary, John, and Ian (age 8), and we have lived in Federal Hill for six years.

What grade is your child in at TJEMS? Ian is in Ms. Oliver’s second grade class at TJ, and has been at the school for two years. He had previously attended the Catholic Community School until it closed its doors in 2007. At that point, like many other Federal Hill families, we were faced with having to reexamine the school selection process. While John and I had initially decided on providing Ian with a catholic education, the viable selections were not close to home. For us, part of city living is participating in your immediate neighborhood, and we wanted Ian to attend school within his community. When we toured Thomas Johnson, we immediately felt a sense of welcoming energy. Our tour guide was none other than “Mr. D,” the school’s principal, and was very willing to answer all of our (sometimes tough) questions. In my mind, test scores are not the end all- be all, but TJ’s are among the highest in the district. Those scores, combined with the programs, proximity, and caring staff, helped us to decide to give it a year.

We’re back for year two, and it keeps getting better. Even with the tough budget situation, TJ added a full time music teacher this year, test scores are even better, and has been recognized as a MSDE “Green School.” And Ian is learning and being challenged, but most of all, he is happy.

Is TJEMS a zoned or city-wide lottery? Thomas Johnson Elementary Middle School is a zoned school, but accepts students from out of zone. 

What is your child’s favorite and least favorite part of their school day? Ian loves technology and music. Honestly, he is very easy going, and I can’t really name his least favorite part of the day, but my guess is when he gets his behavior tracker color moved for what he describes as “chitter-chatting” with his friends during class.

In what areas do you believe your school is excelling? Thomas Johnson has five “specials” each week that Ian participates in, library, technology, gym, music, and art. Depending on the grade level, TJ also offers the following specials: Spanish, band, orchestra, drama, advanced computer technology, health, and physical education.  The 100-Book Challenge taps into Ian’s competitive side, while instilling a love of reading. There are also two options for after school care, one run by Balt. City Parks & Recs, and Fitness, Fun, & Games. TJ offers a number of extracurricular activities including student government, National Academic League (NAL), ceramics club, chess team, yoga, stock market club, aerobics, basketball, recycling club, Reading Academy, and the after school Arts Enrichment Academy! There is an extremely strong PTO who is active in both fundraising and providing activities for both the school and community-at-large to enjoy.

Are there any unique offerings at your school that set it apart? TJ has partnered with Towson University, and has benefited from not only extra staff in the classrooms, but the passion and energy of students just about to embark on their careers in education. Ian has had Towson students in both of his years at TJ, and their creativity and exposure to, as well as a willingness to try new learning methods, have greatly enhanced his classroom experience.

What are some of the challenges your school faces? Aside from needing a bigger budget? One of our biggest concerns with TJ was the location in relation to the drug activity in our neighborhood. The school is very proactive when it comes to the student’s safety, visitors must be buzzed in from the office and must register at the main office.  The staff is very firm about appropriate behavior from both students and caregivers at arrival and dismissal times.

What are your hopes for your school moving forward? My hope is that Thomas Johnson can secure funds to expand on “the extras,” more opportunities for Ian to expand his knowledge in non-traditional ways, more art, music, gym, and a language teacher, to take advantage of this time when young brains pick up foreign languages easier. Or if the budget doesn’t allow it, provide a venue and help to facilitate more after school “extras” at a reasonable cost, that work with the after care programs in place. As a parent who works outside the home, one of the hardest challenges I face is logistics, and having the ability to have Ian participate in the TJ Chess Team for part of an afternoon, and then trust that he is safely taken to after care, is a great benefit from the school.

How should parents contact Thomas Johnson if they have questions? Phone :(410) 396-1575; Principal: James Dendinger; Assistant Principal: Kelly Rietschel

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The more schools we are able to profile in our School Days series, the better this resource can become for local parents. If you would like to contribute to the School Days series, we would love to have you! Please contact us!

Monday
May092011

This City Spot: Canton Tot Lot

From the corner coffee shop to the waterfront promenade, we each have treasured downtown spaces that make the whole city feel like home. In DBFA’s series, This City Spot, each Monday we highlight one of your special places with words and pictures.

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Guest post by Nina McCarthy, DBFA's Event Planner and Programs Assistant.

Ella was born in the early March of  2007. I was thrilled that I could walk around the neighborhood with my newborn in her stroller or in the Bjorn. So I walked…and walked… and walked.  I walked to the Safeway a lot and swiftly was on a first name basis with the staff there. (Hi Rachel, Karen, Shyana!) I walked along the water. I walked to the park. I walked every single inch of the neighborhood I had already lived in for years. I wanted to sit. By July I had made a crew of “mom friends.” Most had children who were 6-9 months older than my daughter, but they were (and still are!) wonderful and helped me navigate those early months with Ella. One morning my friend Eileen, whose daughter was already 13 months old, said “you should come to the tot lot.” I had seen the ‘Tot Lot is open’ emails on my neighborhood listserv, but since my daughter was still pretty much limited to sleeping, rolling one way and spitting up a lot, I thought she was too young. Eileen said to bring a blanket and just sit. So I did…. I watched the older children run, play, splash in a water table and I had a conversation with moms I knew, and moms I didn’t know. Heaven. I had found my Tuesday, Thursday afternoon activity.

The next spring Ella was walking and running confidently and I watched the LISTSERV for the first real sign of Spring in Southeast Baltimore… "The tot lot is OPEN at 4 pm today." That horrendous time of day that was filled with what am I going to make for dinner and what do I do after nap, but before bed suddenly was filled again. This time it was a little less relaxing but still just as heavenly. Ella cruised around in plastic police cars, often crashing into the fence. She went down the slide over and over, played with children she knew and didn’t know and would crawl into her stroller at 5:30 exhausted, filthy and ready for bath and bed. 

Over the years as summer turns to fall to early winter it’s often hard to let go of the Tot Lot, the enclosed playground where you can actually take your eyes off your child for a second and know they can’t leave. I have spent time under the small gazebo huddled with friends as sleet softly fell and our children ran around oblivious to the cold and wet. I have congratulated friends on their pregnancies there, I have cried to strangers and friends that Ella hadn’t taken a nap for 22 days there, I have celebrated our children turning 1,2, 3 and even 4 there.  I have participated in BBQ’s there where snacks are a community contribution and the cooler is filled with ice.

The tot lot in Canton is far more than a playground, it’s a meeting space for the parents as much as it is for the children.  I have met some of my closest friends there and now that Ella is 4 years old, I get a little misty when I see a blanket with a new crop of babies under the same tree that she once laid under. How quickly it all goes…just like the tot lot season.

Tot Lot is located at the corner of Fait and Streeper. It is owned by Early Head Start who generously lets the parents of the neighborhood use it in their off hours. If you wish to hold a birthday party or an event gathering there, please contact Tracy Hall on the listserv to coordinate your donation to EHS.

Nina McCarthy has been a volunteer with the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance since February of 2008 and was the co-chair for DBFA's first egg hunt in Patterson Park in March 2008. Nina and her husband, Tom, moved downtown in 1997 and currently reside in Canton with daughter Ella, who attends St. Casimir Catholic School. Nina served as the chair of DBFA's marketing committee from 2008 to 2009 and is currently the staff event planner and programs assistant.

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If you have a City Spot you would like to share, please email us at blog@dbfam.org.

Wednesday
May042011

Baltimore Birthing Options: University of Maryland Midwives

University of Maryland Midwives
419 W. Redwood Street
(right across the street from the University of Maryland Hospital)

In DBFA's series, Baltimore Birthing Options, downtown parents share their experiences with local birthing options ranging from giving birth in the hospital with an OB to at home with a midwife. You can count on these local moms to give you the real deal on everything from medical interventions to waiting room decor.

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Today, we're speaking with Heidi Vorrasi, DBFA Executive Director, about her experience with University of Maryland Midwives.

What is your name and what neighborhood do you live in?

Heidi Vorrasi, Federal Hill

What made you choose University of Maryland Midwives?
The practice was open and friendly.  It is also within walking distance of my house and work.  (As an added bonus, my husband works at the hospital!)

What three words describe the practice as a whole?
Caring, knowledgeable, honest

 How did they handle prenatal care?
You make an appointment at a time that is convenient for you and then see which ever midwife is working that day.  This system allows you to meet most of the midwives.

How would you describe the care given by your doctor/midwife/etc?
Holistic.  My husband and I moved to Baltimore in the second trimester of my first pregnancy.  I was stressed about the move, about having my husband work crazy hours, and worried about switching doctors half-way through my pregnancy.  The midwife I saw was caring and sincere.  She made sure I was comfortable with my pre-natal care and even gave me resources to meet other parents in the city.  (She told me about the FedHillKids LISTSERV.)     

What was your delivery experience like?
The delivery of my son chaotic on our end (my husband wasn’t home…), but the midwives (I was there so long, the shift changed!) remained calm and supportive the whole time.  I had not previously met either of the midwives who cared for us, but both were great.  My son had to be in the NICU for a few hours and it was reassuring that the midwife herself would go check on him and report back to me.

The delivery of my daughter was almost the complete opposite.  My husband and I walked into the hospital (calmly) around 10:30 a.m. and she was born less than two hours later.  The midwife at this delivery was one I had seen many times during my prenatal care.  She was very supportive and ensured everything went exactly as we had planned.

How was the post-partum care?
Average.  My impression is that most hospitals are the same—people in and out of your room all the time.  I will say, the midwives did a great job of letting us leave a day early after the birth of my daughter.  They had all the forms filled out so that when the baby was cleared to leave there was no additional waiting.
The midwives also schedule a two week post-partum appointment.  It is a “talking” visit to see how everything is going and to answer any questions.  With my first baby, I was glad to have the reassurance all was well, and with my second it was nice to be able to bring in the baby to meet the staff who I’d seen so often over the previous months.

Would you recommend University of Maryland Midwives to a friend or deliver there again?
Yes!

If expectant moms have questions about University of Maryland Midwives, who should they contact?
Anyone interested in learning more can call them at 410-328-6640 or feel free to email me at heidi@dbfam.org.

Heidi Vorrasi lives in Federal Hill with her husband, John, and children Ethan and Claire. She currently serves as the chair of the Clean and Green Committee for the South Baltimore Neighborhood Association and she successfully started South Baltimore's first community garden. Heidi is the executive director of the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance.

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If you would like to contribute to the Baltimore Birthing Options series, we would love to have you! Please contact us at blog@dbfam.org.

Monday
May022011

This City Spot: Teavolve Cafe & Lounge

From the corner coffee shop to the waterfront promenade, we each have treasured downtown spaces that make the whole city feel like home. In DBFA’s series, This City Spot, each Monday we highlight one of your special places with words and pictures.

~~~

Guest post by Claudia Towles, vice president of DBFA's board of directors.

Teavolve is one of those unique spots in Baltimore that can be compared to none. Sunni and Del (owners) take their business to the level of an art form. It is a hip, urban tea house, restaurant, bar, music & events venue all-in-one. 

With over 40 tea flavors, there is something for everyone. From the subtleties of a silver needle white tea to the flavorful strength of a Kashmiri chai, you'll be able to explore this ancient drink with the pleasure and passion of a wine connoisseur. Best of all, tea is naturally calorie-free, sugar-free and rich with antioxidants, making for a guilt-free indulgence. It is a pleasure that even kids can enjoy with their fruity tisanes such as Rooibos Paradise, Berry Cocktail and Kiwi Strawberry. All tisanes are sugar and caffeine free but naturally sweet so they're great for little ones. Sebastian likes them iced, it’s a refreshing treat on our walks around town.  

They serve a delectable brunch on the weekends.  The shrimp and grits are amazing and my personal vice - their Belgian waffles.

Teavolve’s regular menu also has plenty of healthy options. From Asian tofu salads to kid-friendly pizza and grilled cheese options, adults can have a culinary experience while kids can enjoy familiar, yet healthy fare.

A great kid-friendly drink to try is the Teavole fruit tea fizz. A loved alternative to highly-sweetened and caffeinated sodas. It's a hand-mixed blend of carbonated water, a splash of tea and flavored syrup. Another kid-friendly option is the unique Japanese treat drink, bubble tea. Bubble teas come in a variety of fun flavors and have large tapioca pearls at the bottom. Sebastian loves these!

During the warmer months, they have outdoor seating, which is something I cherish in the city.  There's nothing better than taking a long walk around the water on a beautiful day and then enjoying lunch outside in the sunshine.

Claudia Towles and her husband Thomas are the owners of aMuse Toys, a well-known specialty toy store with locations in Fells Point and Quarry Lake. They live in Fell’s Point with their son Sebastian, who attends Hampstead Hill Academy.

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If you have a City Spot you would like to share, please email us at blog@dbfam.org.

Wednesday
Apr272011

School Days: The Green School of Baltimore

The Green School of Baltimore
2851 Kentucky Avenue

In our series, School Days, downtown families share their experiences sending their children to Baltimore City Public Schools. Our hope is that this series can become a resource for downtown parents making important decisions about their children's education.

~~~

What’s your name and what neighborhood does your family live in?
Charles Cohen, Fells Point
 
What are your children’s names and ages?

Ellie, 8, Lilah, 5
 
What grade are they in at The Green School?
Kindergarten and 2nd Grade

How long have they been attending?
A year and three years

Tell us a bit about your process in choosing a school for your children. Did you consider other schools? How did you settle on The Green School?
Ellie’s name came up on the lottery. We heard rave reviews of The Green School. The selling point at the time was the school’s heavy reliance on writing and reading and the fact that the curriculum utilizes nature every chance it gets. Ellie was a nature freak and we just wanted to see what would happen. We also liked that the school was relatively small. Then she went into Kindergarten and we have never looked back. I have to say Ms. Buckley and Ms. Buie have created one of the greatest kindergartens. I’d put it up to any school, anywhere. They’re on my second child and it’s amazing to watch Lilah just soak up all this info in such an unforced way. 
 
Is The Green School a zoned or city-wide lottery?
The Green School is entirely lottery.
 
What is your child’s favorite and least favorite part of their school day?
Do you really want me to honestly answer this question from their point of view. Next.
 
In what areas do you believe your school is excelling?
The school invests heavily in reading and writing. The classes revolve around keeping journals. The results are rather astounding. It seems like everyone in Ellie’s class is reading at some kind of advanced level. Even those that are struggling are struggling at a higher level. As the school’s name indicates, The Green School utilizes nature and the environment at almost every turn. They do science investigations a la field work style. They observe and record their findings, have discussions and at times make some kind of presentation like in a journal. As a result the boundaries between say math, reading, writing and science are not as formal as when I was a kid. Best of all the kids seem to flourish under these conditions.  
 
Are there any unique offerings at your school that set it apart?
Again, the environmental based curriculum is the obvious distinguishing factor. Each grade has a field of study. The Kindergarteners focus on pollinators. The fourth graders delve into oysters as a keystone species in the Bay. But to me, the school’s teachers are what distinguishes it. The teachers seem to be always assessing year to year and aren’t afraid to make changes. For example, my oldest daughter is in second grade which for the first time is rotating teachers through the day -- one teaches math, another handles reading etc. much like they would do in much older grades. My daughter loves this dynamic and I think it helps her become more adept at learning from different styles, dealing with personalities. 
 
What are some of the challenges your school faces?

The same strength is also limits the school somewhat. It’s teacher based and sometimes there lies a gap between us parents and educators. If you ever hung out with teachers and they start getting into that education speak,  you know what I mean. Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s going on and you have to step up and ask for some details. That being said, my kids come home happy and fulfilled everyday, well not every day, come on. But you sense their days are enriched, that learning is being presented in a exciting way.
 
Of course testing casts a long shadow over everything and as a parent you watch the school struggle with their goals along with meeting the pressure to produce high scores.  
 
What are your hopes for your school moving forward?
I hope the school can maintain the momentum. Our kids are still in the younger part. Kindergarten to second grade. From what we see so far, they’re excelling along with the school. We only hope this can continue as kids get older, grow and become more complicated, more headstrong (if that’s possible). Can the school fulfill it’s own promise. Chances look good from where we sit. We’ll see when we get there.

How should parents contact the Green school if they have questions?
410-488-5312

Charles Cohen is a Baltimore based freelance writer and documentary filmmaker and surprisingly it seems, a life-long city native.

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The more schools we are able to profile in our School Days series, the better this resource can become for local parents. If you would like to contribute to the School Days series, we would love to have you! Please contact us!

Monday
Apr252011

This City Spot: Little Italy

 

From the corner coffee shop to the waterfront promenade, we each have treasured downtown spaces that make the whole city feel like home. In DBFA’s series, This City Spot, each Monday we highlight one of your special places with words and pictures.

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Guest post by Emily Hiller, member of DBFA's board of directors.

Visitors to our house almost always comment on the smells first- walking up the street to our house you can sometimes catch the scent of Chiapparelli’s garlic and tomato sauce, or somebody’s bread baking.  There’s a soundtrack too- the shop across the street often plays Italian opera in the afternoon, and Ciao Bella has Sinatra piped out to the sidewalk in front of the restaurant.  In the summer with the windows open I can hear the click of the Bocce balls at the court on Stiles Street. 

The bells of St. Leo’s mark our time- 7:45 time to get ready for school.  Noon, lunchtime!  6 pm time to get dinner on the table.  There’s always a neighbor to chat with- Miss Elena next door shares gardening or cooking tips in broken English.  She has good stories about Italy and what is was like when she first came to this country.  She shares the figs, arugula, and grapes from her garden, and bakes cookies for my children.  In the evenings, we can sit on our stoop and pass out restaurant recommendations to people walking by, or wander up to Osteria Amadeo for some neighborhood gossip and a drink.  He makes a terrific Shirley Temple. 

My children are completely spoiled when it comes to pizza- they think all pizza comes from a brick oven.   Isabella’s is delicious and our favorite.  Charlie, 8, has recently been given Isabella’s privileges- he can run around the corner by himself and buy a soda or a bag of chips- what freedom!  It’s not only Italian food either, we have lovely Indian at India Rasoi and delicious Argentinian empanadas from Max’s.  We love that so many of the restaurant owners are also our neighbors.  Summer is the best time- ice cream from Vaccaro’s, Italian festivals (we have two!), Friday night movies and scootering with friends into the evening hours.  Little Italy has a village feel, even in the heart of the city.  I can walk just a few blocks and be at Harbor Place, or bustling Harbor East but by 10 pm Little Italy is practically silent, the diners have gone home and the valets rushing up and down the sidewalk are finishing up.  Our family with its mix of Irish, Norwegian, English, German and Dutch ancestry is proof that you don’t need to be Italian to be at home in Little Italy! 

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If you have a City Spot you would like to share, please email us at blog@dbfam.org.