I’m a fan of Clare Crespo’s cupcake creations and her kids’ cooking series YummyFun. So when Breyers hired her to come up with fun treats for events it’s hosting tomorrow, July 12, in Richmond, Virginia and on July 26 in Raleigh, North Carolina, I couldn’t wait to see the results. This Mint Chocolate Chimp doesn’t disappoint. It’s easy to make (even if you’re not Clare): Cut an Oreo Fudge Cremes cookie in half. Arrange on plate to resemble ears. In the middle, add two overlapping scoops of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Press two blue candies into ice cream for the eyes. Press on another cookie and draw a mouth and nostrils on it with decorating icing. Dot the eyes with icing as well. If you’re making more than one chimp, pop the plate back in the fridge to prevent melting. Think you have a great sundae creation of your own? Post it on Facebook.com/Breyers for a chance to win a prize—the page also has details on the events.
If you still haven’t booked your summer getaway, here’s a great last-minute deal: Wyndham Vacation Rentals is offering up to 35 percent off on U.S. vacation rentals when staying of four or more nights between July 1 and September 3, 2013. You must book the rental by July 31, 2013 using the promo code CELEBRATE. Wyndham has condos, villas, and large homes in seven states, including South Carolina (home to Parents best beach towns pick, Hilton Head Island) and Florida (in beach towns and Orlando).
Thinking about taking a trip with the kids this summer, but don’t have anything booked yet? Then read my new story on the 10 best cities for families to visit. Not only will you get a list of must-see attractions, you’ll also find exclusive deals and perks for hotels in many of the top cities. $1,500 worth of savings! To make it more convenient for you, we’ve put the details on all the offers below. Which place are you dying to visit? Chicago is on my bucket list for this summer!
SAN DIEGO Omni San Diego Hotel
Get 10 percent off and free parking with promo code PARENTS; Book from June 30, 2013 to January 20, 2014. Subject to availability.
Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel (shown at right)
Enter promo code PMAG for free kids’ meals with the purchase of an adult meal at Vela Restaurant. The offer is valid July 1, 2013 to September 30, 2013. Based on availability. Certain restrictions apply.
Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa
Use promo code P15 for a 15 percent discount; book by August 1, 2013 for stays that occur between July 8, 2013 and September 30, 2013. Offer is not available August 30, 2013 through September 1, 2013. Subject to availability.
WASHINGTON, D.C. Hotel Rouge
Use the promo code PARENT for a 10 percent discount; book by December 31, 2013. Subject to availability.
CHICAGO Hotel Lincoln
Call the hotel at 855-514-8112 and mention Parents for a 10 percent discount. Book by December 31, 2013 for rooms from September 1, 2013 to April 30, 2014. Subject to availability.
Hyatt Chicago Magnificent Mile
Use promo code PARENTS to receive a 10 percent discount for stays between July 1, 2013 and September 6, 2013. Subject to availability.
SAN FRANCISCO Radisson Fisherman’s Wharf
Stay 3 nights or more and receive 2 percent off your room rate using promo code PARMAG. Promotion is available for select dates between July 1, 2013 and December 30, 2013. Subject to availability, black-out dates apply. Advance reservations are required. Maximum occupancy is 4 guests per room with 2 double beds and 2 guests in a room with 1 king bed. Not valid with any other discounts or promotions. Cancellations must be made 24 hours or more before arrival. Cancellations made less than 24 hours prior to arrival will be charged one nights room and tax charges.
Mention Parents magazine when you check in at Hotel Diva from July 1, 2013 to September 30, 2013. Your kids will receive a goody bag while you’ll snag a special welcome amenity. Subject to availability.
NEW YORK CITY Hotel Beacon
When making a reservation, use the code PARENTS to get Jacques Torres chocolates at check-in. Valid for stays between July 1, 2013 and September 30, 2013. Subject to availability.
SAN ANTONIO Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa
Rooms with two queen beds start at $169 per night with promo code PARENT. You also receive a free breakfast daily for 4. Book by August 31, 2013 for stays between August 1, 2013 and October 31, 2013. Subject to availability.
Last year, Parents ranked Embassy Suites as one of the best hotel chains for families. It was the only chain in our survey where all the accommodations are two-room suites with a door that separates the master bedroom (your digs) from the living area with a pull-out couch (the kids’ space). Free made-to-order breakfast and a fridge and microwave in the room sealed the deal.
Now the chain has a cool partnership with the Association of Children’s Museums. On July 8 and August 1, Embassy Suites’ guests will receive perks—like VIP line access and gift shop discounts—at 18 children’s museums around the country. The company is also giving out a limited number of free children’s museum passes to guests on these days. If you happen to be staying in Houston, be sure to visit The Children’s Museum of Houston, which was Parents‘ top pick in our children’s museum survey. For a full list of all the participating locations, click here.
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.