Friday, April 12, 2013

Dashing Hamra!

There's a new reviewer in town,
And her name is Mia.

She has been taking mommy to all sorts of places, trying new things and meeting beautiful new friends. And since "sharing is caring", and let us be honest, stingy is just plain ugly, we will share with you every new finding we love. 

Now we are well-known for being a little picky because mommy would rather avoid traffic and frustrating car rides with two (insane) babies strapped in car-seats so we are exploring Beirut on stroller. Or rather, discovering whatever gem we can find walking distance from home

It is not easy and Jad is getting the short end of the stick because our twin stroller cannot fit on most sidewalks in Lebanon (when there is a sidewalk) and since we end up most of the times slaloming between cars, on the road (!) because as we know, sidewalks are in fact either just plain stairs or an extension of a coffee shop or most frequently a parking space for some classy, decent driver. So the small umbrella stroller seems the safest as it can fit almost anywhere and when on the actual road, does not take too much space when we need to fit next to a car (!) which means poor little Jad ends up at home. But it appears this arrangement is not all that bad as he gets some alone quality time with his grand-mother and does not have to worry about Mia preying on his toys!
This time, we have Cupcake Box's gorgeous mommy-to-be Randa to thank for a wonderful new discovery only minutes away from home! 

She tipped us on Dash Club, a conveniently located play area and library that opened only four months ago at the heart of Hamra.

Yes, a play area and library with the nicest "reading corner" in town!

Dash Club is located on Basra street in Jeanne D'Arc near Mayflower (map) and Napoleon (map) hotels (very well-known in Hamra so if you need directions, just ask about these two landmarks). The minute you walk in that quiet neighborly street, you cannot miss the lovely purple shades that shelter a cute outdoors sitting space for mommies and daddies who need some air or (tsk tsk) a cigarette.

The two storey venue is designed with cozy and warm colors and furniture, generously might I add, and this quality is found all around the place, especially in the library corner where the owner, May Kabrit, placed her own personal childhood books. You will find in there original old Martine's and Bibliothèque Rose treasures from our old days which my nostalgic eyes immediately spotted and fell in love with!

Step in and you will understand "reading" is a favorite activity here as even the venue arrangement gives books a distinguished space on the ground floor. The library is located right up front and on the side, books in Arabic are displayed on prominent shelves on the largest wall in the room, available to purchase as well. I do love when small businesses get involved in raising awareness about educational issues such a literacy and promote and support local talents by offering them a space to showcase their work.

Also on the ground floor, is located an arts and crafts space for those children who would like to give their creativity a little freedom on paper, wood or ceramic. Absolutely lovely! And the "raw" pieces are so affordable you might be inclined to launch a business selling your kid's artwork!

The vast underground floor is wide open with some specifically designed sections: a play area for the younger ones with a small slide, a swing, a pool of plastic balls, a scooter and a bike. Several other toys such as dolls, strollers, stuffed animals are also available for those who enjoy them. The second area is reserved for arts and the drawing classes also offered at  Dash Club. On the side, a stage is ready for plays and puppet shows (wonderful idea!) and finally there also is a space with one white and one black boards. This floor is ideal for birthdays and all sorts of group celebrations and activities. Dash Club's brochure lists "Science Lab" among its offerings including a photo showing children undertaking some sort of experiment, how cool is that?

Last and certainly not least, I cannot but mention the amazing staff which includes the brilliant May Kabrit, mumtrepreneur-owner of  Dash Club as well as the amazing Lamis Nouaihed who holds a university degree in Childhood Education from the Lebanese American University. I should also mention drawing classes are delivered by an art instructor who specializes in teaching children.

Mia is not very sociable with strangers and although she does not cry when meeting new people, she does not take to them immediately either. She needs a few encounters before she agrees to even smile, let alone interact with someone (even children).

So you can imagine how impressed I was when I saw her leave me and take Lamis by the hand to go and play only minutes following our arrival! They say children have a sixth sense when it comes to people who love or hate them. I guess it is fair to say Lamis passed Mia's test with flying colors! So much in fact, I felt confident enough to leave them by themselves as I ran an errand for about half an hour, something I had never done at any play area before. The only place I ever left Mia alone with a stranger was at her nursery. And even this took about two weeks to work out! I later learned from May that Lamis also works with special needs children which added to my respect and admiration. It takes tremendous patience and most importantly a kind heart and a giving soul to work through the difficulties of special needs and only those who truly love children have the courage to venture on that road.

We came back home with some drawings, coloring, hand-paint, face-paint (which Mia insisted on doing herself) and collage. Not bad for a first day, right?

You can trust we will be back very soon so do not hesitate to buzz us if you want to join ;)

Dash Club's opening hours are from 2pm to 7pm every day but as summer is approaching, morning hours will also become available. For more information on opening hours, special activities and rates, call 03704104.

Mamma Mia

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Easter Party

I always say Facebook is the new Google. Well, almost. And when I first landed in Beirut, I immediately started to look for some kids friendly locations and activities near us (not a big fan of long car trips with the kids, especially in Lebanon). So when I found BusyBox, I was ecstatic! It was a few blocks away from home, on foot! And there was an Easter Party in the making, so how perfect was that?

We headed there on Monday for the first time and it was lovely.

Photo by R. Abouzeid

BusyBox is located at the heart of Hamra in the Crowne Plaza center which is one of the easiest locations to visit thanks to its underground parking which is a life saver on such a crowded street, so if you are coming by car, you will always find a place to park.

The Easter Party started at 4pm and the place was already packed when we got there. A sight that would frighten any mother of two who knows what double-trouble means and really does not want to be in the middle of a 30-trouble ever! But we were pleasantly surprised. There was enough staff to take care of everyone and give attention to every child. They were walking around the tables and giving a hand to anyone asking for assistance (or not).

Photo by R. Abouzeid

Every once in a while, the lovely manager, Dani would give directions on a microphone and inform everyone of what to do or what was coming next.

We started by choosing a table and a wooden piece to paint. Mia got her Mickey Mouse and we sat down at one of the smaller size table (age appropriate tables were set everywhere, allowing younger and older children to all be seated comfortably). Then a nice lady gave Mia an apron and helped put it on and placed paint, brushes and cups of water on our table. It was time to get messy!

Photo by R. Abouzeid

After a while, we were advised to hand in our wooden pieces so they could dry them for us before we were given embellishments to glue on our chef-d'oeuvre. This is when it started to get a little stressful for us. Mia wanted to glue at will (which meant emptying the tube on one spot) and she did not appreciate me (or anyone else) telling her otherwise. Also, she probably started to get hungrier as she had not snacked after lunch. And so there it was: Hormonal calamity fell upon us. What is also known as your common toddler tantrum.

In was warned the Terrible Twos were, well, terrible. But I never thought it would be that humiliating! Only a few months ago, parents would envy us as we could take Mia anywhere and she would be so easy-going and obedient. Not that she would not try crazy things sometimes but at least she could be controlled.

But since she turned two (how on earth do children know it is time?) it is an entirely different story! While I can still take her to the supermarket and she will not throw herself and the floor kicking and screaming for chocolate (am I jinxing myself by typing this?) it has become a challenge to go out in general. Now any "no" is not just a spoken word. It is a screamed insult. Screamed with heart might I add.

Photo by R. Abouzeid

Once she finished embellishing (I am using this word loosely, as photos will show) her Mickey, I took Mia to the bathroom to wash her hands. We found a boy standing by the sink with his nanny and his sister up on a chair, washing her hands. Naturally Mia decided she wanted to climb too. Now, in all objectivity, it took a really long time  for this family to finish and Mia's impatience, heightened by hunger, turned into a loud mess. It is hard enough to teach "sharing", let alone "taking turns" (sigh).

Finally, we got to the chair, the sink and most importantly, the water. To Mia, the goal was not to wash her hands (duh) so when I held them to wash them, she started screaming "wawa wawa" which is baby talk for "I am in pain, this insane person is torturing me, please come help". All the parents around us were staring at me and I swear, it took all the strength I could muster not to actually hurt her and give her reason to scream like that.

We went back to the table and Mia decided that she had had enough and she threw another tantrum there kicking and screaming and shredding into pieces the questionnaires we had been handed. So I took her out for a breath. We sat outside, looking at the street for a good ten minutes and when we were both calm again, I took her back. It was actually good timing because they were distributing snacks and obviously, we all need the yummy distraction.

Photo by R. Abouzeid

Then the real fun started: Game time!

The staff had prepared egg-shaped papers and hidden them everywhere in the room for the most exciting egg hunt I had seen in years! All the children were assigned a specific color on their table (we were yellow) and had to look for the eggs with the letters "E", "A", "S", "T", "E" and "R" to make up the word Easter.

Photo by R. Abouzeid
Photo by R. Abouzeid

We actually were the first to finish and won and huge purple and green elephant which Mia promptly named "Barney". Not the same purple or green or even animal but all the same, Barney was born.

Photo by R. Abouzeid

Then there was a raffle and Mia being the youngest one, got to help super-lovely Dani and pick a name.

Photo by R. Abouzeid

And another young girl also picked... Mia's cousin! So we ended up going home with two gifts!

Photo by R. Abouzeid

Overall, and in spite of Mia's new-found hobby (namely, humiliating-mommy-by-screaming-in-public-like-she-is-killing-me) we had a lovely time (yes, we had some hormoneless moments).

BusyBox is a great location, managed by highly professional owners and staff who are also very kind, patient and friendly. I will definitely be taking Mia again, at a good time for her, like right after lunch so we can grab a bite at Roadster's on our way out just when she starts to get hungry.

I highly recommend taking your children for some fun, artsy, quality time together, not to mention the art pieces you would be taking home are just beautiful. There are so many choices and endless ways to use your imagination while getting messy and not worrying about cleaning up afterwards! ;)

And I promise it does not have to look like Mia's Mickey:

Double-sided wooden (Horror) Mickey Mouse by Mia
Photo by R. Abouzeid

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to share with you a brilliant initiative open to all:

"Our annual Art Competition for Grades 10, 11 and 12. If you're in Lebanon and interested let us know! Our focus this year is to highlight the importance of charity among our children so all the participants' hard work this year will translate into a funding system for an NGO of their choice ... Stay Tuned to know more information about the selected NGOs and their domain of work and many more"

Two of our favorite NGO's are part of this beautiful project: SANAD and The Nawaya Network

Get your children involved! ;)

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Mamma Mia

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