Make Some Noise: Your Last-Minute Guide to Kids’ Music Classes on the Hill

11 Sep

I can’t even exaggerate the number of times I’m asked “What is there to do with my kiddo in Chestnut Hill?” Really – it’s like you have a baby and, unless you have a ton of friends with kids who’ve already figured it out, you’re kind of on your own.

Well, let me introduce you to one idea: music classes. [Of course, I use the term “class” loosely. Certainly kids learn a ton by being around other little dudes, listening and looking and playing – but it’s not like they’re actually learning to play an instrument or anything!]

If you’re just starting to think about signing up for a music class – you’d better get your tush in gear, lady! They’re all about to start!

So the first step is figuring out which class to attend – which is tough – because a general Google search for these kinds of things doesn’t really give you a good idea of what’s out there. It seems that, in these parts, most of the intel out there for the taking is exchanged in line at Starbucks, over a board book at the library, or between parked strollers at the ATM. Rather that accosting some stranger you assume to be a parent because they have a sticker stuck to their back, read on!

First – an admission: I am totally biased. I’ve tried the 3 available classes right on the Hill and I have a clear favorite. Second – I am not you! I’ll tell you what’s awesome and not so awesome about each class so you can decide for yourself.

Third – the lay of the land: There are really 3 places that offer music classes for our little ones – Makin’ Music, The Little Treehouse, and The Music Class. All of them have family options that let you bring your whole brood to a single class at a discounted rate. In general, you can expect sort of the same structure for all of the classes – there will be a little bit of guitar playing, some dancing with scarves, lots of singing and banging on things, free play with little instruments, a little lullaby, and general tom foolery. All of the music is awful, but you get used to it! But it’s the subtleties that make each class so dramatically different from one another. Your personality and what’s comfortable for your tiny one are the big factors in this decision.

Here’s a little chart of the basics, followed by my experiences with each:
[lick to enlarge]

Makin’ Music:
This is the very first class we tried, back when my little guy was just 4 or 5 months old.  It’s taught by Mickey Leone, who I think is the only male who runs kiddie music classes like these in the area. Classes meet in the front room of the Grace Lutheran Church on Willow Grove Avenue. It’s a totally fine space. It’s on the first floor, pretty vanilla. Mickey is a great guitar player and fun for the kids to watch. Plus, I think it’s cool for them to see a man leading the class – Babyland is such a female-dominated planet, right? Mickey’s classes are generally very small. I don’t think our class ever had more than 5 other kids in it. And Mickey’s style is interesting. He’s a great performer, but I wasn’t really excited about how he interacted with the kids. Don’t get me wrong – he does a great job – but, you know how there’s always one totally annoying bigger kid who interrupts and wants to give away the answers before the little ones have time to even absorb the question? Well, it’s obvious to me that Mickey is annoyed by these little buggers, too. There’s almost an element of discipline in the way he handles disruptions. It’s just a different way of running the show: he manages the kids’ behavior himself, rather than relying on the parents to take care of it. And, honestly, that is probably appropriate for the general feeling of the class. I didn’t feel free to talk to the other parents or really participate. It felt more like I was there to watch Mickey and the kids do their thing. If you’re looking for a break from participation and for the teacher to really take the lead there, this is the class for you. I will say, though, that some “semesters,” Mickey offer a class out of a church on Chestnut Hill Avenue, and that space is terrible – totally uncomfortable – so stick with Grace Lutheran on Willow Grove.

The Little Treehouse:
I should be up-front and tell you that my experience at the Treehouse was not. good. My problems were eventually rectified, but I’m not sure I’d go back. Here’s the deal: the Treehouse is such a bright, engaging, clean space! I was really excited to participate in the first flight if music classes they held there! It’s so conveniently located and they offer a crazy schedule of music classes – they have some kind of music class every week day – and you choose which class to attend based on the age of your little one. Before class, you’re encouraged to play in the space upstairs – hooray!!! The classes are held in their newly finished basement space, which is really pretty and clean. The woman who leads the class is really loud and bold and silly – she plays a lot of guitar and encourages a good raucous down there!

My issues are many – and some of them may have been rectified, but I don’t know. First, we were asked to wait upstairs in the play area until all of the kids for each class had arrived. Then, we were all marched downstairs, single-file, into the basement. I understand that works best for them, but asking preggers try to carry diaper bags, wrangle their babies, and walk down the stairs fast enough to stay with the group seemed a bit insensitive. Let people get there early and make it down to the basement in their own time. Second, the class size was ENORMOUS. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the room wasn’t so closed off. It’s a beautiful space, but it has no windows – it’s very closed in. So the loud and raucous music lady, her guitar, a ton of kids, and lots of clanging instruments was more than a little overwhelming for my little man and me. Third, I don’t think the room is climate controlled. We were SWEATING. Fourth – I take a lot of issue with the hospitality of the Treehouse to its customer base, in general. One mother was publicly scolded for bringing in goldfish or something else equally benign – the Treehouse, you see, has a cafe, and you’re expected to buy their snacks. Which is even more infuriating because – fifth – this class is $20-$30 more expensive than the other two, but follows the same exact format under less friendly conditions. AND you have to pay an extra $11 on top of that for a CD and songbook that comes free with other classes’ “tuition.” The conditions of this class just didn’t work for us – and, when I tried to get a refund, the Treehouse staff was rude, telling me that “Everyone’s trying to cancel. You took someone else’s spot and now you don’t want it. We’re not giving any refunds.” Finally, I was told that the owner would be calling me, but that never happened. After 3 emails and another phone call – with no response – I approached a manager who refunded me without any problem and was really nice about it. I’m not sure what their deal is there, but I continue to hear nightmare stories about how people are treated at a place that seems like it would have a knack for and special interest in interacting with parental-types. Oh – and their cafe food sucks.

The Music Class: This is the class we settled on and have attended for about a year now – whoa. I just realized it’s been about a year! Yikes! The class is taught by Katie Drake [who my guy and I call Katie-Katie-Music-Lady] and is run out of the United Methodist Church on Germantown Avenue, across from Chestnut Hill Hospital. The space is an above ground basement with plenty of windows and light, and I am pretty sure it’s only used for her music class. She has that brightly-colored foam puzzle piece floor covering down and the room is a nice size. The music is pretty much the same as in the other classes and the format is pretty similar, too. The big difference is Katie. She’s a professional singer who fronts a band here in Philly. She has two elementary school-aged girls who have grown up in this neighborhood – she’s a part of this community. And how do I know so much about her? Because she is welcoming and inclusive and a real part of the class. She engages every child and every parent. She is the only teacher of any kind class we’ve ever taken who I absolutely know remembers my little boy’s name, his favorite songs from class, and generally shows interest in his life. She very clearly loves what she does. She teaches the parents about music and about how music affects our kids’ development. She acknowledges how ridiculous some of the stuff we do in the class is and creates an environment where the kids and parents can interact with each other, play, and not feel stupid acting, well…stupid. She reigns over the class – but in a sweet and positive and effective way.

The Music Class, as a company, really helps here, too. They are so organized! Their website is fantastic – well, it’s ugly, but it’s a great tool! You can sign up for the class online, schedule make-up classes for ones you miss, and even download the CD straight to your iPod. What’s really nice is that you can attend a trial class for free – so, if you hate it, you’re not committed and don’t have to go through the hassle of trying to get a refund. You simply go to the website and get a numerical code to give Katie when you get there – and you’re in for your free class! Also nice, there is a class-size limit, so you’re never in a situation where it’s too loud or too crowded for your comfort.

Two other things I love about this class – scheduling our lives is sometimes rough – The Music Class let’s you sign up for a 4 week session OR a 10 week session. Great, right? And, even better for my little man, we walk to the Friday 9:30am class and head straight across the street to the library for story time at 10:30 right afterward – nice little morning!***

So, clearly, I love The Music Class, am not so into The Little Treehouse, and am fine with Makin’ Music. I’m so interested to know what others’ experiences have been with these same classes – so pipe up!

***UPDATE: As of October 4, 2010, the Chestnut Hill Library will be closed on Fridays, so story time will only be held on Thursdays at 10:30am. (according to the Chestnut Hill Library Children’s Department Facebook page)


Our kitchen. Apart.

16 Jul


the payacomo is the place to be.

11 Jul

Looking for something AWESOME to do with your kids? Then it’s your lucky day.

EVERY single day of the week, at 9:45am, the Fels Planetarium at The Franklin Institute runs a Sesame Street-themed show called One World, One Sky – featuring Big Bird, Elmo, and a character named Hu Hu Zhu from China’s version of Sesame Street.

The show’s makers got the timing just right, keeping the length to 20 minutes – and they added all kinds of really thoughtful touches that make this show perfect for even the littlest kids. For example, rather than starting off in the pitch-black, the show opens at dusk on Sesame Street, and all of the characters watch the sun set and the stars come out together. It’s a really nice and carefully thought out transition into darkness that makes night time  cool and un-scary. Honestly, watching my little dude watch this show might be my favorite thing ever.

The website says the show is appropriate for 4 – 6 year olds, but I really think much younger kids will completely enjoy it. I’ve gotta say – my 18 month old has never even seen Sesame Street and he is OB. SESSED. with it. He’s seen One World, One Sky three times and it’s ALL he talks about. In fact, we went on a vacation last week and he saw all kinds of new things and played with a zillion new kids – but the only thing he wanted to talk about FOR EIGHT DAYS was:

“Pay-a-como. Biggg-ah-bud. Hi, Elmo! Hi, Moon! Hu Hu Zhu! Hu Hu Zhu! Pay-a-como! Haaahht. Boom-boom, boom-boom!”

Translation: “I went to the planetarium [pay-a-como] and saw Big Bird. I waved to Elmo on the moon! And I saw Hu Hu Zhu at the planetarium, too! Aaaand I walked through the Franklin Institute’s giant heart. The heart makes this sound: [beats on chest] boom-boom, boom-boom!”

We have a FamilyMAX membership at The Franklin. We took my parents and the baby there last year and, for a little bit more than the cost of 4 general admission tickets, we were able to get a membership that entitles us to free admission for us and 2 guests for a year + some IMAX tickets and a bunch of other perks like reciprocity at science museums all over the country. So we see the planetarium shows for free. If you don’t have a membership, as far as I know, you have to buy a for $15.50, which gets you into the planetarium. Kids under 4 get in for free. You can buy tickets in advance online, which is probably a good idea, just because, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be running late and the show starts RIGHT at 9:45am – and they lock the doors once it’s started.

But Tea Baggers beware: that evil communist propaganda artist Hu Hu Zhu may teach your progeny a little Mandarin. And we all know that’s from the devil.

***UPDATE (6/7/11): One World, One Sky isn’t playing at The Franklin anymore. We found this out the hard way. Sigh***

come on UP this time!

10 Jul

So it’s been an insane week. We went to Florida for a little pre-house-craziness retreat – for eight days…which is a REALLY good idea when you’re on a tight deadline to turn a pretty junky house into a livable space in 3 weeks. Just an FYI.

Anyway, somewhere between closing on the house, 13 meetings with contractors, getting the wall guy and the floor guy all set to work while we were gone, showing our rental to prospective renters for our current landlord, living with an 18 month old + giant dog + tiny cat, aaaand trying to get laundry done and packed and to the airport – all in ONE WEEK! – I didn’t get around to posting pics of the second and third floors of the house! Or the basement, for that matter!

So – here’s a tour of the REST of the house. The captions should talk you through the geography. Of course, in my shell-shocked stupor, I also forgot to take the pics before the plaster work started. But all of the gook and patching on the walls actually gives you a pretty good indication of how badly they were cracked and peeling. In some places, it looked like someone had taken a machete to them. In others, like the bathrooms, I think the humidity just got the best of them. [Note to self: install bathroom exhaust fans.] And then there was a ton of pretty serious ceiling damage from roof and toilet leaks and stuff that realtors call “deferred maintenance.” That basically means that the previous owners knew things needed fixing, but either couldn’t afford to or chose not to deal with them.

More lovely deferred maintenance stories to come. I’m pretty backlogged. But I’ll catch you up to speed this week, in time for the kitchen install next week. July is gonna be a doozy.

For now – just come on up and have a look:
[By the way – WordPress slideshows are new and sort of suck. The slideshow has probably already started playing – the first image is supposed to be of the stairs leading to the second floor – the wall on the right is red. That’s where to start. You can hit the <– button in the bottom left corner of the slideshow to flip to the beginning. The pictures change really quickly – so mouse over the bottom of the slideshow and use he STOP button to pause on each pic if you need a longer look.]

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

buh-bye, nasty kitchen.

28 Jun

We tore that nasty kitchen out over the weekend – and our giant new friend, Joe, from Craig’s List picked up the cabinets and took them far far away. It’s amazing what people will take if the price tag is $0! It’s also amazing how anyone can live with and keep food around as much roach and mouse crap in plain view. You know what I’m NOT excited to do? Empty the shop vac. Bleeeech.

Here’s the progress:
[for more BEFORE kitchen pics, check out the slideshow in the previous post – or click on photo in the tag cloud, at right]

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It was pretty easy to take out most of the cabinets. We thought it was rocket science and were sort of surprised to learn that it’s really just unscrewing them out of the wall. That’s not a big deal, right? The harder part was removing some of the base cabinets and the pieces adjacent to the microwave and range hood because they had electricity in them. Ad took care of those, with only a roll of electrical tape, a drill, and some expert advice over the phone. The biggest complaint I heard all weekend was that it would’ve been nice to have an A/C unit in the kitchen!

Only two mishaps! The first – a giant hole in the wall that was hidden behind an equally giant pantry. But @DianeMenke said the hole shows good stuff in the form of good soil lines! She also suggests wearing long pants because of mishap #2 [evidence below]. Ad killed the front of his leg on a cabinet – it’s actually a LOT more gruesome than it looks! He’s missing a good chunk of leg AND its accompanying leg hair. Bleeeech again.

come on in!

26 Jun

Here’s a first look at the main floor of the new house! These pics were all taken AFTER the first round of cleaning. Trust me, it’s better that way!


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

their pain, our gain: even typing it feels icky.

24 Jun

So we bought a house. And it was a short sale, but, at some point during the process, it became a foreclosure – we think. We don’t really get all of the weird bank protocols. Anyway, it seems like the sellers of this house lives just sort of fell apart. And now, because of that, we got a great deal on a little place in Chestnut Hill that we otherwise probably couldn’t afford. So it’s like, “Yay!” but “Awww that sucks.”

Why do I care? Well, I probably wouldn’t – except for the fact the I’ve met the sellers. And have spent some awkward time with the one that’s been living in the house for free for all of this time. The one that I think was jilted. It’s clear that she’d love to stay in this house forever and that leaving it is heart-wrenching for her – aaaaand that she wants me to know that. Am I reading into things? You be the judge:  she’s shown up several times during visits and inspections when she wasn’t supposed to be there and told me alll kinds of stories about the house and made me take her cell phone number. She wasn’t even out of the house when it came time for our pre-closing walk-through. Because the earlier run-ins were so emotional, we decided just to post-pone the walk-through until the next day. At the closing, her parting words were “Good luck in my house,” and, when we walked into the house for the first time as the new owners, we were greeted by an 8×10 baby photo of their daughter stuck with a magnet on the fridge, right at eye level. I’m not sure if it was an accident or what, but, based on everything we know, it seemed like some sort of parting ritual. Eeeeerg. Either way, it was a total buzz-kill.

So wait – did I say awkward? Because what I really meant was AWKWARD.

There are so many more ridiculous and hilarious things I could tell you about my interactions with these people – it would make seriously good reading. You’d DIE. But the Hill is a small place. So, out of respect for the former owners of the house, I’ll try not to mention their names or the exact address on The Ch3stnut Hiller. Plus, I think seeing the work we’ll do might sting quite a bit. And I’m not mean enough to rub salt in the obviously gaping wound.

I only bring all of this up because it was supposed to be a HAPPY time for us! A young family – complete with toddler and giant dog – walking into their new [dirty] house as HOMEOWNERS!!!  Hooray! …and then waaaah waaaaaaaaah. Saaaad trombone. I understand their distress and pain, but they really took it out on us. There’s like this cloud of gloom hanging over it.

But we’re done with that now! There’s a kitchen to be demolished and bad karma to be primed and painted over!

So no more sad trombone!

“hiiiiiii, story lady!”

28 May

I spend a lot of time out and about, pushing a stroller. And so I talk to strangers a lot. “Why would you do that?” you ask. “Don’t be creepy.” Because I’m new in town and that’s how you make friends, people. Aaaand because I’ve felt new in town for so long that I’ve become “that girl” and will kind of talk to anyone who will talk to me back. Laaame.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure that eeevery day, no exaggeration, my complete love for an adoration of the Chestnut Hill Free Library comes up in random conversation with said strangers. The library itself is tiny – everything I want to read has to be sent over from Central – and there’s one mean library lady there who might just hate her life. But….

Then there’s Toddler Story Time with Miss Kate, the children’s librarian. Honestly, my little dude and I have tried all kinds of activities – and Miss Kate’s song and story sessions are arguably the best children’s programming in Chestnut Hill. In fact, largely due to it’s enormous following of baby groupies, [and undoubtedly its low low price tag of exactly $0] there are TWO story times each week, and parents are asked to attend just one of them to prevent overcrowding. But both sessions are always packed – it’s THAT cute!

Here’s the regular schedule:

Toddler* Story Time with Miss Kate
Chestnut Hill Free Library

Thursdays & Fridays
10:30am sharp

*kids 3 and under
[Sometimes a group of kids from a local pre-school who are too old for story time show up. Way cute kids, but it totally changes the mood and keeps the little ones from getting good seats. It’s awesome for little people, but probably not so much for kids older than toddler age. Of course, I’m sure that siblings are a whole different story!]

But there’s a catch! Miss Kate is currently out on maternity leave! Booo for us, yay for the world, i suppose! Her substitute is already assuming her regular library duties, but isn’t quite ready to start story time just yet. Expect them to resurface mid-June. Truthfully, I can’t vouch for the substitute story lady. She might suck. But give it a try in June! If it’s terrible, don’t give up – come back in the fall when Miss Kate is back in the library, priorities in order!

For direct connection to the CH Library Children’s Department and event updates and reminders, check out their Facebook page.

where’s homeless guy?

18 Feb

Where’s Homeless Guy? You know, the guy in the straw hat who smells so strongly of mildew, you know he’s around even before you actually see him? Well, I like him. And I haven’t seen him in months. And it’s really really cold out there.

As of a month or so ago, the rumor was that he was in the hospital with pneumonia. [He was walking with a limp for a long time, like his foot was hurting pretty badly, so I’m hoping that, if he is in the hospital, it’s getting treated.] Then again, there are a lot of rumors, and variations of those rumors, about HG. To start, he’s supposedly wealthy [at most] – or at least didn’t become homeless for lack of cash. Some people say that his family sends monthly checks to a local storefront, which he picks up and spends. I’ve also heard that he has a sister that drops off money, but that there’s no crazy wealth to speak of. It’s clear that there’s some truth to him having at least a little stash: he does always buy his own Starbucks. Either he doesn’t need our money or he doesn’t want it – he won’t take your crumpled wads of cash on the street. I heard one person say they’d seen him actually chase people down to return their contributions.

Word on the street is that he’s a product of a tragic auto accident that killed his wife, leaving him lonely enough to go at least marginally insane. I feel like he wears a wedding ring, but I haven’t seen him in so long that I can’t remember. Either way, he definitely talks to himself in a high-pitched voice that reminds me of baby babble.

But, intentionally or not, he’s not totally disconnected from the rest of the world.

There’s definitely something to him. He’s a nice guy. For months and months, we passed each other on the streets or stood in line together at the Buckery [read: Starbucks] – and he finally started making eye contact with me.  He leaves the baristas little presents in the form of tiny toy dinosaurs and snakes he hides in between the counter displays. My baby was always interested in the hat. He decorated it for the 4th of July.

Seems like everyone seems to look after Homeless Guy in their own way, passing on tidbits of information and worrying about his health when he’s looking rough. So where is he? And how’s he doing? If you know, share your intel!

hit the spot.

16 Feb

For months, I’ve had a dull, achy, nagging pain running from underneath my right shoulder blade, up my neck, to the base of my head. And then on Saturday, it started to get worse. By Sunday morning, it hurt so much I didn’t know what to do! I found myself standing up against walls, trying to put pressure on just the right point – ridiculous, right?

So, as futile as I assumed it would be, I called 3000 B.C. on Valentine’s Day to see if they had any massage appointments available for later that day – and surprise, surprise – they did! Aaaand the available massage therapist was a dude, which I totally prefer. [No, I’m not a girl-hater. I’m all about lady power, but I’ve never had a *great* massage from a female. Pardon the unavoidable double entendre, which I swear is not actually double entendre, but I just find boy massages a trillion times more satisfying.] Plus, I had a massage at 3000 B.C. many months ago from a female and the best word I can muster to describe it would be “fine.” Not worth the money – DEFINITELY not worth the 3000 B.C. price tag. So I asked for a man, if for no other reason, then to assure I wouldn’t get the same therapist.

Anyway, I showed up at 5pm, and was eventually greeted by a tall, shaggy red haired guy named Emerson. He was so laid back, I wasn’t sure what how it was going to go. I asked him to spend the whole 50 minutes on my back and head and oh. my. god.  This was the first relief I’ve had in MONTHS. Scalp massage? Yes, please. He is fantastic at his job. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that his mom is a massage therapist, too, and he spent a lot of his time growing up acting as her practice client. Whatever – I don’t care if it’s because of years of practice or genetic coding – bottom line: this dude’s got magic hands.

Of course the day after – and today – I’m suuuper sore. I’m still completely uncomfortable, but waaaay more limber than I was before the massage.  Then again, I’ve almost completely ignored his advice to drink a bunch of water. But that doesn’t mean I have my usual massage buyer’s remorse – now, two days later, all I can think about it getting back on Emerson’s table. So, would I recommend you make an appointment with my new boyfriend and take him out for a spin? Absolutely.