When Hurricane Sandy blasted the Jersey Shore last fall, my thoughts immediately went to Cape May. I took a family vacation there the summer before and was completely charmed by the town. After seeing news footage and Facebook photos of the devastation of the New Jersey coast, I had assumed the worst had happened. Fast-forward three months: I’m researching a Parents magazine story on the 10 Best Beach Towns for Families. I’ve narrowed my picks to a “short list” of a hundred or so towns that have great water quality. Cape May is on the list. So I made a call to find out what shape the town is in now. And much to my delight, I learned that Sandy largely spared Cape May, taking a last-minute turn in the other direction.
Cape May stayed in the running to be included in the story, and when other factors—like inland family fun and nature activities—were considered, it ended up being number five on Parents best list. Here are a couple of highlights from my family’s long weekend in Cape May, and you’ll find many more family-friendly activities in my story on the town.
My daughter’s favorite memory from the trip was an inexpensive program we signed up for at the Nature Center of Cape May. Staff cast a net in the ocean to see what creatures they could find, and then told the kids about them. The kids got to touch the little critters before safely returning them to the water. By the looks of it, all the kids in the program that day had a blast and learned quite a bit from this hands-on experience.
We went to the beach that was across the street from Congress Hall, where we stayed. Even though we were there in mid-August (peak season!), it didn’t feel crowded. And it was very clean!
At night, we checked out the shops at Washington Street Mall, a three-block outdoor promenade filled with adorable, independent shops like Bath Time (where we bought custom-blend bubble bath). For a treat, we ended up enjoying egg creams (a combo of chocolate syrup and seltzer) from Dellas 5 & 10.
All I can say: Hospitals really know how to party. Once Parents announced the 10 Best Children’s Hospitals in the country on Monday, these facilities started celebrating and spreading the word about their honor. Players from the Philadelphia Flyers tweeted congrats to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) about its number-one ranking. CHOP also touted its first-place finish on billboards near Philly. (If you’ve ever survived Philly traffic, you know many people will see these!)
Over in Aurora, Colorado, our number-5 hospital hosted a “Watch Party” of our segment on The Today Show. Staff at Children’s Hospital Colorado cheered wildly when their hospital was mentioned on the show. And, in the ultimate good sportsmanship, Children’s tweeted congrats to its fellow hospitals on the list.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, tweet or post your congrats to one of overall winners or specialty picks! If you’re tweeting, use the hash tag #BestHospitals so we can all see the good wishes. Now let’s keep this party going!
I’ve been waiting for this day for a year. Well, to be precise, 13 months and 4 days. That’s how long it’s been since I started my Parents magazine story on the 10 Best Children’s Hospitals, which was published today. Last night, I was telling my father about it at his birthday dinner, and ever so practical and sincere, he asked me, “Why did it take so long?” I didn’t want to go into it just as the waiter was about to bring out the chocolate cake, but for my father and any of you who read the story or saw it featured on the Today Show this morning, I’ll give you five reasons.
1 There’s very little info available to the public.
When I’ve ranked best cities or even best beaches, I’ve been able to tap into all kinds of public information that helps us determine our winners. The same isn’t true for children’s hospitals. Only a couple pieces of data—like success in doing organ transplants and some results relating to asthma and cystic fibrosis—are available. Almost every bit of data we used to rank the hospitals had to come from a survey of the hospitals themselves.
2 I asked for loads of advice.
To come up with the questions for the survey, I tapped doctors, nurses, patient-safety experts, various types of therapists, and, of course, parents of sick children. Some of the suggestions I heard: A cancer expert urged me to ask about “MIBG therapy,” a promising treatment for neuroblastoma, a type of childhood cancer. A patient-safety expert told me it wasn’t enough to a hospital to have an electronic medical record—a way to cut back on medication mistakes–it had to be fully implemented in all units. A family advocate asked me to find out whether “Child Life services”—therapists who distract, educate, and entertain patients and their families—were available for kids who come to the hospital as outpatients to get chemo or dialysis. And then a mom, who actually lost her sweet child to cancer, told me that all she wanted during those grueling hospital stays besides a cure, of course, was a shower that was in or near her child’s room rather than down a long hall. In the end, we asked hospitals 179 questions, and most of them had several parts.
3 And then I asked again.
After gathering all the suggestions for questions and coming out with a survey, we had to figure out how we were going to grade it. In other words, is the shower more or less important than the Child Life specialist? Is having a low infection rate better than, say, having a state-of-the-art system to catch medication errors? Is having a short wait time in the emergency department worth more or less than having a short wait time for an autism appointment? Is having a great research program with lots of experimental studies just as vital as having a lot of experience doing tricky procedures? We had to sort out all that! And, as you can imagine, we got lots of different opinions. We also decided that in addition to ranking the survey overall, we’d do it in six specialty areas: cancer care, preemie care, emergency care, orthopedic care,heart care, and pulmonary care.
4 It hit home.
Before sending out the survey to the children’s hospitals, my daughter, Katie, told me that her friend from school was going to be admitted to a children’s hospitals. Katie asked me: ”She says she’s not scared because the hospital is fun. Mom, how can a hospital be fun?” Off to think again about how we’re going to grade this!
5 Parents inspired me.
Once all the numbers were crunched and we had our winners, I spent a month or so reporting the story. While I was relieved to no longer be looking at Excel spreadsheets, the phone conversations with parents from the top hospitals were gut-wrenching. They cried. I cried. Then I met the Whiteheads, a family whose daughter a year ago this month was dying of leukemia. When doctors at her local hospital said there was nothing else that they could do for her, the family had two choices: hospice care or The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). The Whiteheads chose CHOP, and have a spunky seven-year-old who outraced our entire photo crew during a photo shoot at the hospital. Emma’s dad, Tom, texted me this morning: “Great article and pictures!” Then Emma’s mom, Kari, posted it on Emma’s inspirational Facebook page. I hope that you’ll share the story too!
We were treated to a special delivery in the office today—cupcakes topped with the new Cool Whip Frosting. The frosting comes in three flavors, vanilla, chocolate, and cream cheese, so of course, we had to try all three. The staff fave: cream cheese, which tasted the most like homemade icing. You can buy it in the freezer section of the supermarket, and just like the regular Cool Whip, you leave it thaw before using. Then you simply spread it on your treat, or use a piping bag. While I wouldn’t say the product is healthy (it’s still frosting, after all!), it’s a more nutritious choice than the jarred options, which are among the few packaged foods that still contain artery-clogging trans fats. And at 60 calories per 2 tablespoons, it’s also a lighter than traditional frostings, which pack around 100 calories. Try it on one of our tasty cupcake recipes.
You may have read the news yesterday that blueberries and strawberries can lower your risk of heart disease by about a third. I thought the study—a joint effort between Harvard University and East Anglia University in England—was totally cool for two reasons: Researchers started tracking the women when they were young moms—25 to 42—while most other work of this kind has been done in older women, and blueberries and strawberries are my daughter’s two favorite foods. Seriously, Katie said to me a couple of weeks ago, “I like strawberries better than candy.” And knowing how much she loves candy, that’s a bold statement!
Last night, I sent a note to one of the study’s authors, Aedin Cassidy, Ph.D., from East Anglia University, asking whether she thought her results applied to kids as well as moms. She responded right away: “This is a very interesting question,” she wrote. “We don’t have data on kids but if you extrapolate from our study, it’s likely that a healthy diet in childhood will also play out to a reduced risk of heart disease later in life.” That’s good enough for me. High cholesterol and high blood pressure, two big-time risk factors for heart disease, are becoming increasingly common in kids. One study published last year found that 24,000 children received treatment for elevated BP in 2006—double that compared to a decade before.
Dr. Cassidy also added that besides the strawberries and blueberries that got all the attention on the news yesterday, eggplant, plums, red cabbage, and other berries (like cranberries and raspberries) are also rich in pigments called anthocyanins that help lower the risk of heart disease and keep blood pressure in check. I’ve found some great recipes for each of them. Dig in!
Since my daughter is obsessed with theatre, I’m always looking for good deals on tickets—and Kids’ Night on Broadway in New York City is a bargain. This annual event (which runs from February 25 to March 3) allows you to get a free kids’ ticket with the purchase of an adult seat. It essentially amounts to half-price tickets, which are hard to come by for popular, rarely discounted shows like Wicked and The Lion King. Other good choices for 6- to 10-year-olds include Newsies, Mary Poppins, and Annie. Tickets go on pre-sale today for members of the Broadway Fan Club (it’s free to join) and, on Monday, the tickets will be open to the public. (If you don’t snag seats today, additional tickets will be available next week.) Another plus: During Kids’ Night shows, mini theatre-goers get to meet some of the actors and take part in activities. If you don’t live in the New York area, still check out the website for Kids’ Night events nationwide throughout 2013.
I’ve always thought of Jamba Juice as a delicious place for smoothies. Still is. But today it started offering a couple of kids’ lunch and snack options, plus three smoothies in smaller portions. My favorite new menu item: the “pizza swirl,” an adorable pinwheel-shaped mini pie with turkey, cheese, and tomato sauce on whole-grain crust. (But your kid will never notice because it doesn’t look at all like it’s made with whole-wheat flour). The pizza contains 300 calories and only 300 milligrams of sodium—which is super-low for fast-food fare. My daughter most wants to try the new Poppin’ Peach Mango Smoothie. It doesn’t have added sugar; it’s made with bananas, peaches, mangos, and passion fruit juice. For more healthy picks when dining out, check out Parentsnew guide to chain restaurants.
I’ve been shopping American Girl for at least five years—and I don’t ever remember a sale on dolls. This morning, I found out that The Today Show’s Jill’s Steals & Deals announced a special code to get two of the dolls, Marie-Grace and Cecile, for more than 60% off. Just click here to access the deal. The dolls, including book and accessories, are $50 each.
There is also an adorable canopy doll bed for $50, which I just bought for my daughter Katie (shh, don’t tell her). I can attest for Marie-Grace’s cuteness; Katie spent her birthday money on the doll last year when we visited American Girl Place in NYC (see pic). Hope this helps with your holiday shopping!