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What’s in Your Bag of tricks?

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When you’re reading an article in a celebrity magazine (no denials; we don’t judge) tell us honestly: Which do you read first–the history of zippers, or what’s in Chloe Kardashian’s/Katy Perry’s/celebrity of the moment’s purse?

The purse, of course, because we’re curious, and also, we want to know they’re just like us, even though, of course, they’re not. But if we can purchase that lipstick, or hair clip, or bottle of sunscreen and it gets us one step closer–at least in our minds–to celebritydom/joy, why not?


Just like certain staples are (apparently) beloved and toted around by celebs, certain staples are beloved by people who plan events and parties. Here’s some of what’s on our list.


One awesome decoration: The details are always important, but so, when available/appropriate, is one awesome statement. For Halloween, a giant spider made of balloons; for a graduation party, a photo booth with items representing the grad’s life.


Have one showstopping/fun/talkworthy item. It doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy, just unexpected. At a holiday party, peppermint sticks stuck into oranges are a huge hit with both adults and kids. They’re fun, tasty, they look festive, and they always provide conversation.


Stickers and stamps. Don’t care what event it is. If it’s for kids, have stickers.


One thing that you think is a good idea but you’re not 100 percent sure. Be brave.


An unexpected takeaway such as a recipe with one obscure ingredient. Provide the ingredient. Or something hard to find, or unusual, like antique buttons, or vintage calling cards. Or, when in doubt, something edible and fun—old-timey candy bars, tea bags shaped like airplanes.


Things that are oversized. Seriously. A giant blow-up candlestick. An enormous pizza. Always fun.


Something on which people can write that’s a keepsake for you. A guest book, a photo on which people can leave comments.


What are your must haves?





10 things to know about/do in New York

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Sitting is good. One of the best things to do in New York is to find a well-situated bench, grab yourself an iced tea, and just people watch.


Walking is good, too. Sometimes it’s great to stray off the beaten path. (Better if you know more or less where you are.) You know the airbnb slogan, “Live like a local?” In New York, that means walking.


Don’t try to see the entire Museum of Natural History in one day. (That goes for pretty much everything else, too.) Throw away the to-do list and just…do. If you find an area you like, stay there. It’s better to see four things and have a great experience than half the museum and not remember anything.


Do something that will give you a story.


Say yes whenever possible. (Thank you, my kids’ first grade teacher, for advice that I refer to whenever possible.)


Many things cost a ton of money. Many things don’t. Find them.


Ride the carousel in Central Park and sail a remote-controlled boat in Central Park. You will be smiling for days.


Always read the plaques. That’s how we learned that a tiny park in Tribeca was named for the first mayor of New York.


Overall, the coffee is pretty good.


You’ll be back.




You like Marvel movies? I like Marvel movies!

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I love Marvel movies, but maybe not for the same reason that you love them.

Oh, sure, I like the action, and the characters are fun, and I enjoy the sense of humor, plus there’s the occasional plot twist to make things interesting. I have my favorites, and I enjoy the occasional discussion about them.

But what I really like is waiting around until after the credits.

If you’re a diehard Marvel fan, you’ll understand. You know that if you wait patiently—or not so patiently–through the credits when the movie is over, there will be a short pause when the audience collectively holds its breath, and then you’ll be rewarded with a brief teaser of the next Marvel movie, or a special promo, or a cameo with someone famous, or something snarky that’s related to the Marvel universe but is mainly there to be snarky.

All in all, it probably amounts to about 20 seconds of screen time, but it’s all worth it, because while it’s great marketing–get them thinking about the next movie before they’ve even left the theater! what it’s also about is community.

When you’re sitting in that darkened theater waiting, anticipation building, you’re having a great shared experience: You all know why you’re there and what you’re waiting for. And you’re also being given something extra–the equivalent of a party bag, if you will. And after it’s over, and you’re digesting what you’ve seen, you can rush home–depending on your degree of dieharded-ness–and trade theories with other Marvel fans online or though social media or even around the dinner table, should you so choose. But the experience has this, “We’re all in this together” feeling, which is what the creator of a wildly successful franchise wants in its fan base. It engenders a sense of loyalty and privilege: “Hey—you’re part of this.”

It’s something you can mull over from time to time, and idly wonder about and remember, as you move towards the next movie.

It’s also just a good reminder of a seamless experience; even if it’s predicated on marketing, it’s done so skillfully that you almost forget that part. They’ve gotten across their message and also done an amazing job of team building.

And that’s the takeaway, right there.


The Icing Takeaway

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All of our programs have a takeaway.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a birthday party (expected) or a tour (unexpected.) When you leave, you take something–besides the experience–with you.


Yes, it can add an extra cost, or be time consuming to find/make/put together. But ultimately, it’s worth it, because it extends the experience. It’s like when kids win paper tickets at one of those arcades, and get to choose lots of candy-colored plastic gizmos that they shriek over and then stuff in a drawer and never think about again when they get home. (Wait—we’re not advocating that.) It’s more the sheer pleasure of receiving a token, a keepsake, an extra something that extends the experience.


Because when the takeaway is right, that’s what it does; it lets you hang on to what you’ve done in a more tangible way, to keep thinking about it, to maybe make some connections or see things in a way you didn’t when you were in the middle of it. Or maybe simply to get to relive part of the experience again.


I have a menu from a little cafe/gourmet shop in a beach town that I occasionally take out (the menu, not the beach town, sadly) and look at in the dark middle of winter. When I open it up, I’m instantly transported to the cafe on a hot, sunny August afternoon, where the biggest descision we need to make is whether to have ice cream before or after our sandwiches (or perhaps, before AND after.)


Sometimes our takeaways are book lists or bookmarks or tiny notebooks, like on our children’s-book themed tour. Sometimes it’s a small sketchpad, like on our museum tours. Sometimes it’s more whimsical, like a teapot eraser or even a tube of icing. They’re always related to the program and, yes, they can be a little self-serving–we’re saying, “Keep thinking about us.” But we’re also saying: “Keep thinking about the experience, and now go out into the world and see how it’s changed you.”


Yep, a lofty goal for a tube of icing–but you never know.



Unexpected Kids’ Parties

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Several years ago, one of my kids cane home from a birthday party raving about a fun activity—a game where you pinned a paper tail onto a paper donkey while blindfolded. The whole party had consisted of old-fashioned games, and he’d loved it, because it was novel (!) So many kids’ parties are over the top or excessive that we forget that kids just want to have fun. And in the spirit of sheer fun, here are some ideas for kids’ parties that are offbeat and unexpected–but not excessive.


A moveable party: Games in the park, pizza at the pizza place, dessert at the ice cream parlor. Have a goody bag waiting for the kids at each stop, or make it a game to see if they can figure out here they’re going. We love to do one of our comic book tours and then a trip to a store like Forbidden planet.


Teacup collecting/trading party. Tea parties can be great fun, but can also get dull quickly. Liven it up by having everyone bring two teacups (old or new): one for trading, one for making into a planter. Have the guests ice cookies, decorate paper teacups, do a mini scavenger hunt and search for (wrapped) packets of tea.


Old-fashioned games: Have different stations so kids can rotate. Pin the tail on…whatever. Duck, duck goose, freeze tag, the like. Make it a carnival and give out tickets.


Like a Kid in a … One year we took a bunch of my daughter’s friends to a giant candy store, handed them clear bags, told them they could each get eight pieces of candy, and set them loose. Did the parents love it? Probably not? Did the girls love it? More than words can say.


Get Thee Somewhere New: A new part of the city, a list of objects they have to find, a hashtag they can use to post photos, if you’re so inclined.


The point is, a party doesn’t have to take place in one space, involve a costumed character, or include a crafts activity (although we love all those things.) We recently did a maze birthday party, and the kids spent most of their time building mazes with endless dominoes. Easy and fun. And isn’t that the point?






Four Kids’ Book Series You Don’t Know About But Should

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Four kids’ book series you don’t know about but should

You know those lists–if you love Harry Potter, then you’ll love this series; if you’re a fan of fantasy, then try these books about enchanted tubers?

This isn’t like that. This is a just a list of great, often unknown series that your kids will love. Recommendation: You should read them too.


The Pure Dead Series by Debi Gliori. “Pure dead” here kind of means “golden” or “fab” or “spot on.” The series, which focuses on the rather unusual Strega-Borgia family and their rather unusual children, is wacky, bizarre, uproariously funny, occasionally squeamish-inducing (including, as it does, giant tarantulas, mythical creatures and forays into the underworld) and flat-out enjoyable.

Kid comment: “At first I liked this because it seemed like the kind of book my mom would hate, but it turned out that she really liked it too.”


Fablehaven OK, you might have heard of this one, seeing as it was a huge success. But you also might not have. The series is about a hidden preserve where mythical creatures are safe from the outside world. Siblings Kendra and Seth discover the preserve while at their grandparents, and proceed to have adventures (good vs. evil, breaking rules, etc.), for an entire series.

Kid comment: I LOVED this series. When I finished it I started it again. Why? Because it was really good.


Nicholas (René Goscinny) A five-book series from Rene Goscinny, the creator of Asterix, about a young school boy named Nicholas. Illustrated by the cartoonist Sempe, the series about Nicholas’s escapades is just ironic enough to be appreciated by both adult and kids.

Kid Comment: This was very silly and very fun to read.


ND Wilson is the author of Leepike Ridge, one of the all-time great children’s –-in fact–everyone–books, and he’s also well known for his 100 Cupboards series, but it’s the Ashtown Burials books that get the nod here. A powerful, beautifully written fantasy series about siblings and an ancient order, the books just get better and more moving as they go on.

Kid Comment: This is a very serious series but it’s also very good.


What are your possibly unknown but recommended kids’ book series?




Business Advice 101

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Here is what I’ve learned after being in business a little over a year.

In the words of my kids’ first-grade teacher: Say yes whenever possible. (It’s kind of a good rule in life, as well.)

Case in point: Through a bizarre series of connections I was put in touch last spring with a reporter who ended up coming to one of our programs and doing some nice write-ups for us, including one in the Huffngton Post and one on Yahoo Travel. We’d been in business for about four seconds so it was lovely and unexpected. Oh–also terrifying.

When she first approached me and asked if we could set up a program for her, inside I was saying, ”What? No! Of course not! I have no idea what I’m doing! Go away!” But of course I said, “Yes! Absolutely! Of course!”

After some back and forth, we managed to set up a program for her at the Argosy, a wonderful independent bookstore in New York, where we looked at first editions of Alice in Wonderland and explored the store with one of the owners. (if you are looking for a nice place to spend an afternoon, it’s one of those “hidden treasures” you are always hoping to find.) It went well, and suddenly I had a program behind me, pictures to post on Instagram to prove I actually existed, and some actual confidence.

Which leads us to the second point: The way to get started…is to get started. Set up a program and force all your cousins to attend and to write nice things on your website. Give away your product. Don’t sit around and wait. My website designer (and I hope you are reading this, Denise) gave me the best possible advice when she told me that just because you have a website doesn’t mean people will suddenly find you. They won’t. So go find them.

Hire your neighbors’ teenage daughter to show you how to use every possible form of social media, even if you can’t possibly take something called a tweet seriously. Write down what you don’t understand. Don’t worry if the teenagers snicker at you. That’s what they do.

Don’t listen to anyone. And listen to everyone. When I started out I had coffee with everyone I knew and everyone they knew. I had coffee with someone who told me not to do kids’ parties because too many people already did them. They very next day I had coffee with someone else who told me to ONLY do kids parties so I could specialize in one thing. When something like this happens, thank both of them and then follow your gut. Guts have occasionally been wrong, so be willing to make adjustments along the way. I knew I wanted to offer lots of different kinds of programming. Many people told me that wasn’t a thing. I said I was going to make it a thing. But I knew I needed a kind of theme that tied everything together; I just couldn’t quite see it. One day, someone I knew looked at my list of proposed offerings and said, “Oh—you’re going to be offering cool ways to experience New York.” And I said—calmly—“Yes. Yes I am,” but inside I was doing a fist pump, because that was the thread I’d been looking for. I hadn’t realized it, but that’s exactly what I was doing.

As the wonderful writer Jean Kerr said: “If you can keep your head when everyone about you is losing theirs, it’s just possible you haven’t grasped the situation.”

Just keep going. Sometimes it’s better not to grasp.


Which Disney Program Are You?

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Which Disney program is right for you?

Your idea of the perfect Saturday afternoon is:


A)   Wandering through New York in intrepid-traveler mode.  New neighborhoods? Awesome. Out of the way landmarks? The out-of-the-way-er, the better. Bring them on!

B)   Counting the days until your next trip to Disney World. To make the time pass, you page through your Disney cookbook and sigh over your Vinylmations.

C)   Curling up with a cup of tea and a scone. Or a bag of Yodels. What’s this quiz about, again?


Your favorite Disney items are:

A)   Your extensive collection of Goofy memorabilia.

B)   Your precious and cherished memories.

C)   Disney items? I thought I was taking a quiz about dental habits.


When you’re at Disney World, the first thing you do is:

A)   Don’t even bother to unpack—just head right for your favorite Park, maybe grabbing a turkey leg on the way. Woe to anyone who gets in your way.

B)   Jump up and down and shriek with joy, then revisit every favorite spot at the (on-property Disney) resort, including the gift shop where you snagged the great deal on that “Little Mermaid” vegetable peeler, and the cherished alcove where you spotted someone who might have been the sister of the Mary Poppins you saw at a character breakfast.

C)   I’m sorry, is this not about Knotts Berry Farm?


My favorite thing about Disney is:

A)   Everything. Duh.

B)   The pins, the characters, the t-shirts, the hair accessories, the plush, the tableware, the music, the movies, the princesses, the movie tie-ins, the shows, the theme parks, the plane ride to the theme parks, the footwear, the rides, the logo, the customer service.  And the website font. Oh, plus the twisty marshmallow treats you can buy in the Parks.

C)   Still confused. Is this an SAT prep test?



Mostly A’s:  Our live “Disney Dish” podcast next month is a must, for Disney/World’s Fair info.

Mostly B’s: Hey, Disney fiend, you may as well sign up for every Disney program we do. We especially recommend the “Time’d Square Trivia Hunt.” Wear comfy shoes.

Mostly C’s: We recommend that you make an appointment for a dental cleaning and/or the SAT, and take one of our Disney programs to discover what they’re all about.





Feeling “Frozen”

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There’s probably no end to the number of stories you could read, if you so chose, about the movie “Frozen.” Ones about the staggering array of merchandise for sale, Disney-sanctioned or not:


Ones about the lengths to which people are going to ensure that they can either purchase or somehow cash in on that selfsame merchandise, including, if you can believe it, a box that an Elsa doll came in for sale on eBay. No, not the doll–the box.


There’s no part of the movie or its merchandizing, message, and the mayhem it has caused that hasn’t been analyzed ad nauseum.

What’s kind of interesting, though, is that the phenomenon is making people who have somehow-related products to sell or services to offer a little more creative. We offer “Frozen” parties (shameless plug, or solid fact in service of this piece? You decide). And of course, we want our parties to be good, and to find ways to make them more enticing than everyone else’s “Frozen” parties. So we make sure that craft projects we offer are not just fun, but innovative, not just age-appropriate, but tested until we’re sure they’re just right.

We’ve had to become little more creative, a little more out of the box, a little quirkier—and that’s a good thing. It keeps us from getting complacent or lazy, and reminds us of why we started doing this in the first place—to bring that same level of creativity to everything we do. Because if our Olaf/Ana/Elsa/Kristoff/Sven tote bag/cupcake/collage/costume/hair bow/garbage can/desk blotter/cucumber peeler isn’t just little more enticing than someone else’s, we’re going to find ourselves selling empty Elsa boxes on eBay.

At that point, it’s time not just to let it go—but to move on.

Say Yes to Children’s Books

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Happy National Children’s Book Week!

Have you read “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman?” If you haven’t, you should, because it’s kind of extraordinary. Like all the best children’s books, it feels both absolutely real and completely made up, in the way that all the best children’s books are. It’s a book that’s best read around Halloween, when it’s windy and grey outside and the air smells sweet and sharp, and Christmas is still too far off to matter, but change is in the air. I reread the book every year. Some people prefer “Coraline,” which is also a wonderful Neil Gaiman book, but “The Graveyard book” is really special. And no, Neil Gaiman isn’t paying me, although I would recommend going on his website became it’s great. You may as well follow him on twitter as well.

I discovered “The Graveyard Book” at our local library, which I had passed by for many years without actually going in. It’s not the most confidence-inspiring place from the outside, but I can say in all honesty that the library has been hugely important to me. For various reasons I’d been in sort of a funk, and one day I just stopped and looked at the building and went in. “The Graveyard Book” had recently won the Newbery award and it had been written about a lot, and I am giving away absolutely nothing when I say that it opens with a murder, which doesn’t happen that often in children’s books. I was intrigued, so I took the book out. And although the book itself has a kind of dreamy pallor, as if seen though a smoky mirror, for me it was kind of the reverse–like the color had been leached out of things, but now it was slowly seeping back in.

I returned the book and took it out again. A week later a battered old copy appeared in a giveaway box at the library. I took that as a sign, though I’m not sure of what. But I started going to the library every week and was reminded anew of how remarkable libraries are. Yes, the beautiful ones in small New England towns are great, but the whole concept—you can take out books and read them and give them back and take out more–and it’s all free! —is pretty remarkable. And there’s just something incredibly welcoming and comforting about a library, unlike, say, Macy’s, which just wants to know how many tubes of foundation or throw pillows you’ll be purchasing.

We at e.t.c. are big fans of libraries and children’s books, which is why we offer so many programs that have to do with writing and books. You can try your hand at writing stories for children–whether you’re an adult or a kid. You can write poetry, or even try your hand at writing mock TV commercials. We offer “book birthday parties,” based on favorite children’s books, and “musical book birthdays”—an actual group will play the score to a musical children’s classic like “Tubby the Tuba” while someone else reads the story. You can even have a “Hobbit” or “Lord of the Rings” party.

We work with people who love books as much as we do—children’s librarians and ‘tween authors and poets, and people who head to a bookstore first thing on their annual trip to the shore.

Check out our programs: etccusomevents/workshops. Then celebrate children’s book week by taking a kid to the library, or rereading a book you loved as a child.

And let us know what you think of “The Graveyard Book.”

Have you loved or been affected by a children’s book? Tell us how!

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