Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays

I just wanted to say thank you and Happy Holidays to my readers.  I have really enjoyed writing this blog the past few months.  I love being part of this area and enjoy the commuity that residents and local businesses have built together.

Happy Holidays

Tavolino Video

A short update today.  I was involved this past week creating a video to promote the Taste of the Boroughs event and one of the first confirmed participants: Tavolino.  I wanted to share the end results.

I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday season. Thank you for the comments and encouragement with this blog.  I love being a part of the Boroughs and sharing my experiences.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter Sledding in the Boroughs

As an adult, a snow storm usually just means shoveling and snow blowing.  Long gone are the days when I would tunnel into the snowbank and build elaborate forts with my friends.  But now that my boys are old enough to go out and have fun in the snow I have been looking for the best locations for them (and me) to go sledding.

Of course I could always just go to a ski mountain...there are many around.  If you are willing to spend a money you could stay local and go to Ski Ward in Shrewsbury.  I have not personally tried this mountain yet, but I know one friend who took his 5 year old for ski lessons last winter and he was really pleased.

Still, for sledding or tubing you shouldn't have to pay for a lift ticket.  Old school fun in the snow was my objective.  After Sunday's storm, I found what I was looking for at the Westborough Country Club on Rt 30.  I tried the same hill last year but my oldest was only 3 1/2.   At the time he was not really ready for the hill, but this year it was a different story.  I have to say thank you to Westborough.  This is a great hill.  Growing up in rural NY, there were lots of hills but most of the good one had signs saying keep out or they were directly in someone's backyard.  Here, pretty much in the center of town, is a public hill, parking, and a local community having fun.

I expected most of Westborough knew about this spot, but as I recounted the weekend activity to some friends I realized not everyone is aware.  For those who have not tried sledding at the Westborough Country Club, here are my thoughts on this location.
  1. Most of the kids there are around 8 - 12.  There are a couple that are older, and several parents with younger ones like mine...3 and 5, but the majority are in that bracket.
  2. The collective group of parents is great, they are looking out for each others kids, they remind kids to get out of the way when sledders are coming down.  It was nice to feel that community involvement.
  3. There are limited "punks".  I feel old saying it, but the punk kids are a pain.  The three times I spent sledding in Westborough I didn't find any punk kids.
  4. The hill is fun.  I hated when I was younger, after finding a hill that looked fun, discovering that after two runs it held no excitement.
  5. Maybe most importantly, parents can have fun too.  Some places seem to frown on parents enjoying the same things are our kids.  I for one am trying hard to never give up the simple enjoyments in life...sledding is one of the basics.
Click on the photos for larger images.

View of the whole hill

From the bottom of the run

Midway launch in the foreground, top of hill in the background

A fun run

I loved sledding with my boys at the Westborough Country Club.  I would have loved sledding alone, it is a fun hill.  I also realize not everyone is in Westborough so I took some time to talk to some other parents over the last two days and find other places I should check out.  Here is a collection of what I have found so far.  Please feel free to comment with additional hills that I missed.
  1. Northborough - The hill behind Proctor elementary school has been a long time favorite of many people. I haven't checked this one out yet.
  2. Northborough - There is a big hill in the back of the Rt. 135 Soccer fields.  There is a great playground there I tried in the summer, I think the Westborough hill is better then this one.
  3. Northborough - Bearfoot Rd at the National Grid building.  I tried to find this one today and failed.  Just a reference from a Northborough resident, but he claims that this one is the "best".
  4. Marlborough - Jericho Hill on Brigham St.  Every person I have talked to has described this hill as intense.  I know my boys are too young for an ex-ski slope.  I am saving this for a couple of years.
  5. Marlborough - Ward Park is said to have sledding but I don't see that hill being that exciting.  I am sure for little kids it works though.
  6. Westborough - Obviously I like the Westborough Country Club, but I am told there is also sledding at Chauncey Lake.  I am not sure where to be honest.
  7. Southborough - I asked a couple of my friends who are Southborough residents to help me with hills in Southborough.  The only two they knew of are the Fay School and St. Mark's Golf Club.  I tried to do a little research on both but didn't come up with much.
One last thing I want to point out...I in no way endorse trespassing onto private property to go sledding.  Maybe when I was a kid, but not now.  And I don't manage any of these locations so if they don't want sledding please follow their rules.  I know the Westborough Country Club and Jericho Hill are public sled areas, but I recommend you check first with the town or whoever owns the property in case I am mistaken.  Also, please be safe.

I am going to be checking out a few of these locations this winter...mostly because I love to go sledding too.  I'll add some comments to this post on any hills I really enjoy.  And I promise to not just take my boys word on it, I will try it out myself.  :-)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Back to (Grad) School

This week marks an exciting milestone for me.  I am down to one single class next spring standing between me and a masters degree.  For over two years I have been spending at least 2 nights a week attending classes at Clark University's COPACE.  My degree with be a masters of science in information technology (MSIT).  I noticed several billboards announcing the creation of the Clark University Southborough campus, and their MBA program.  I felt it was timely to share my experiences with Clark and their satellite campus as others may be interested in going back to school.

I spent a lot of time in 2007 looking for the best options for a degree program.  I was concerned about cost, reputation of the school, and actually learning something from the program.  Since I work in Cambridge I had two options; grad school in the city or a satellite school in or around the Boroughs.  After lots of evaluations, which would take at least three blogs worth of babble, I decided Clark was the best option for me.

When I began classes the Clark extension campus was located next to the Sheraton Framingham at the junction of I90 and RT9.  I spent a lot of time talking with people trying to determine the right degree for me.  Most managers automatically get an MBA.  I didn't think it fit what I did.  I manage some of the sharpest technical people around, I just didn't think refining my skills in finance and marketing would directly translate to work imporvments.  I wanted to stay focused on technology and I was lucky that Clark has a great program for this.  I restarted my education in the Clark Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) program.  The focus of this degree is to further develop leadership skills while maintaining some depth of understanding in technology.

I can't lie and say every class taught me something earth-shatteringly new.  After 13 plus years managing technical engineers I have come across a lot of things and learned a ton, but the program at Clark did enhance what I knew.  It built on my experiences and at times reminded me of some things I had long since forgotten.  For example one class was Systems Analysis and Design.  At this point in my career I often assign that task out, but the class forced me to go back and remember all the best practices I used to use.  Now certain things are fresher in my head and I know this has helped professionally.  This class was taught by the Director of the MSIT program Dennis Wadsworth.  Getting to know him and see his passion for technology and the multiple generations of leaders in technology has been a great experience.

Another more transparent example is my recent New Media Technologies class.  Under the direction of Charles Kronauer, Senior Offerings Manager at EMC, I decided to start a blog...any here you are reading it.  I know a blog is not difficult technology, but combining it with twitter, Facebook, and other media sites, as helped me build an audience and allowed me to promote and review something I am passionate about, local businesses.  As I am emceeing the Taste of the Boroughs event in March, I have been using a lot of this newly acquired knowledge to create videos and other media for the event.  I am even working on a video right now for Tavolino based on my experiences and their involvement in the 2010 event.  I will link to it from the blog once I am done.  Overall I am impressed with the Clark program and I am proud to have been able to continue my education this many years after the partying and fun I remember from CMU.

Unfortunately the satellite campus in Framingham is now closed but the new campus in Southborough is about to open.  The building has a lot to offer that originally wasn't available in Framingham and better yet it is right here in the Boroughs.  Now this campus is going to offer the MBA program.  I don't have as much personal experience with the MBA program or their professors, but I know the university is committed to maintaining the same standard of education Clark is known for.

For those worried that they have the time...the Clark programs are easier to fit into a schedule then you would think.  I would leave work from Cambridge right at 5 on class days, and arrive in the Boroughs by 6:10  Classes started at 6:15.  Not much extra time, but like most professional programs Clark understands that many of us have full time jobs, and an occasional late is tolerated.  It meant that I didn't tuck my kids into bed one or two nights a week for a semester.  My kids are still young, I doubt they will even remember, but more then that I want them to always want to learn and have the desire to continue their education even after they are working professionally and become somewhat stable.  If I want them to have that drive, I better have it myself.

And just because the MBA wasn't right for me doesn't mean it isn't a great program.   Based on all I have learned I know it is a great program.  In fact I have actually be considering getting my MBA as well, those three letters mean a lot to many companies.  We'll see how that works out.  I wish MSIT or some sort of MTA (MTA is kinda my term, Masters of Technology Administration, at least I think it is my term, I haven't found it elsewhere yet) becomes a standard going forward.  Technical managers are more and more prevalent in the interconnected world we all live in.

MSIT program is not being offer in Southborough at this time, you have to drive to Worcester.  I do have some inside information that Clark is working on some new options for the MSIT program and ways that it would be offered but if that all comes to fruition it won't be until mid 2010.  I'll keep everyone posted.  Till then I am excited to have Clark in the Boroughs and I encourage anyone considering going back to school to look into Clark for this option.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lobster Anyone?

I know summertime is usually the most common time for lobster specials but over the past couple of weeks I have been seeing lobster specials at several local restaurants and I found two dishes that I really enjoyed.

Sans kids
Grandma was in town a couple of weeks ago and my wife and I took advantage of the free babysitting to use an old gift card to one of the restaurants run by the Worcester restaurant group.  We have visited the Sole Proprietor and 111 Chop House many times in the past so we decided to try Via.Italian Table.  Overall the meal was good and as expected a bit pricey, but the one thing that really stood out was the appetizer.

Via was offering lobster garlic bread as a special appetizer offered that evening.  This appetizer is amazing.  A large slice of Italian bread brushed with garlic and butter, topped with large chunks of lobster and several kinds of cheese.  It was then baked and served with marinara sauce.  My original though for tonight's blog was another lobster dish, but since I am still thinking of the lobster garlic bread at Via and it may have influenced my decision elsewhere I decided I had to give it the credit it deserved.

With the kids
Now onto my original thoughts for tonight.  Last week I went to dinner at the Chateau in Westborough.  as I think about it now I don't think I ever appreciated the Chateau in Waltham when I lived there...or the one in Westborough is just better.  Maybe "family dining" doesn't really make sense until you have a family.  Whatever the reason I do enjoy the Chateau in Westborough.  I have a few standards that I order, but nothing really exciting just a standard good meal..  My kids stick to the pizza and the chicken fingers, as many kids do, and recently mine have added mozzarella sticks.  The meal at the Chateau is always good, the service is fast, and the prices are reasonable.  I also like the that atmosphere is slightly noisy.  I know my kids have not mastered the volume control on their voices yet and I hate to bother others with a 4 year old's over exuberance for chocolate milk.

Last week on my visit to the Chateau I was in the mood for something different.  As I was looking at the specials menu I noticed a special that included mini lobster casserole, with the choice of either broiled scallops, baked stuffed shrimp, marinated sirloin tips, or grilled turkey tips.  This is served with rice Florentine and a vegetable for $19.99.  I must have still had lobster on the brain from the garlic bread so lobster sounded really good.  I ordered the lobster casserole with the steak tips.

I was actually amazed at how good this entree was.  Please don't misunderstand I know the Chateau has good food and the general manager, Michelle Sweet, runs a great restaurant, but this was far better then I expected.  I think the biggest win was the size of the lobster in the mini casserole.  There were huge chucks of lobster.  I tried to take a photo with my poor excuse for a phone camera to give readers an idea of the size of this dish.  This was the best I could do as I started getting weird stares from the table next to me.  Unfortunately the image doesn't really do it justice.  

The meal was so good last week, I took the kids out to dinner again tonight...mostly so I could have the same dish again.  I am happy to report the second consumption of this special mostly held up to my inflated memory of the first time.  I say mostly only because the tips were a done a little too much for me this time.  I like to hear the faint moo coming from my steak and these were a little over medium.  The first time they were perfect still tonight they were tasty, and the lobster was, once again, the star of the show.

If you think a good lobster dish is only avaible in the summer, I say think again.  The Chateau has twice proven to me that they know how to please a lobster lovers palete with potions that will definately fill you up.  I may have to take the kids again with grandma when she visits later this month.  Lobster love runs in our family, she would be upset if I don't include her in this find.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Beer Cookies at Vin Bin

I mentioned on Sunday that I wanted to try the beer cookie...but ended up at a wine tasting, not a bad night but I still wanted to try the beer cookie.  This all began when I was logged into my twitter account Friday night and I noticed a retweet from Taste of the Boroughs about Beer Cookies being sold at the Vin Bin in Marlborough starting today.  Now I enjoy a quality brew as much as anyone, but in my years of running up bar tabs I have yet to encounter a "beer cookie".  I was intrigued and attempted an early evaluation on Sunday but it took till today to actually get my hands on the snack.

Rick Lombardi, Vin Bin owner, was kind enough to share some of his beer cookie samples so I could write today's blog.  I decided the best way to experience the beer cookie was to of course enjoy a beer as well.  One of my favorite brews Dogfish is carried at Vin Bin so I grabbed a couple of bottles and headed home to evaluate my new find.

At first I tried the beer cookie alone and the flavor was a bit overwhelmed with fennel.  But when I opened a Dogfish I really enjoyed the beer cookie.  The powerful fennel works better as a compliment to the hops in the beer.  The cookie is somewhat like a crisp bagel but not as crunchy as a pretzel with fennel flavor.  I only tried the original, but I believe there is a pepper flavor. 

After a little research I found out that Matt Virzi is the owner of Bokos bakery in Shrewsbury and the creator of the beer cookie.  Matt created the beer cookie by modifying his grandmothers recipe for taralli to, among other things, include beer in the ingredients.  For the Italian cooks out there taralli is pretty well known but this was my first experience.

As I said, I enjoyed the beer cookie, especially with the beer. :-)  And it does seem to enhance the flavor of the brew.  If you don't like beer or if you hate fennel I am not sure the beer cookie will please your palette but as I tell my 5 year old, you can't be sure until you try it.  Currently the Vin Bin is one of a select few Boroughs location where you can find the beer cookie.  Congrats to the Vin Bin for supporting local business by carrying this item.  We'll see who else in the Boroughs picks up this unique item.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Packed into the Vin Bin

I may be in the minority here, but I am happy to greet winter and our first lasting snow.  After lots of running around today I stopped in Marlborough to visit Rick at the Vin Bin.  I wanted to try one of the Beer Cookies that he will begin carrying this week.  Unfortunately Rick was out of samples and I'll have to wait till Tuesday for my first taste of the beer cookie.  I may have failed in my quest for a beer cookie but I succeeded in walking into a wine tasting.
The Vin Bin, a long time supporter of many community events and activities was running a wine tasting to help raise funding for the Marlborough High School 2010 Seniors All-nighter.  The All-nighter is an alcohol- and drug-free event following the Senior Prom. Funding for this event comes entirely from the community, the school district does not provide monetary support for this event.  I love the irony ...holding a wine tasting to support an alcohol free event.  But it is a great event and the tasting was a lot of fun as well.

I really enjoyed talking to a fellow residents sampling the wine that Rick had on special.  The Vin Bin was packed with people as you can see by the photos I snapped with the blackberry.  Rick, as usual, did a great job of pulling out all the stops for the event.  There were several great wines to taste, with special prices for tonight ranging from under $15 to around $50.  

The Vin Bin also had a great cheese and cracker assortment for everyone to enjoy.  And, one of my personal favorites, dark chocolate covered pretzels.  Rick mentioned that he had several events planned for the upcoming weeks, too many to mention here, but I am happy to pass on the link to the Vin Bin event calendar. I have been to several Vin Bin tastings over the past 5 years.  Rick really does a nice job with the tastings and consistently supports the organizations in this area.  .

I enjoyed the MHS event and I am proud to have stumbled upon a way to support them.  Thank you Vin Bin.  And Congrats to the organizers of the All-nighter for getting the word out.  I'll even help, the next opportunity that I know of to help support the All-nighter is:

Tuesday December 15th
Bertucci's of Marlborough

The Vin Bin had a flyer on the counter advertising the next MHS All-nighter events at Bertucci's of Marlborough..  If you present this half sheet of paper on any purchases at Bertucci's in Marlborough on 12/15 10% of your bill will be given to the MHS Senior All-nighter.  This is valid for carry-in or take out.  Reading this online makes it hard to have the flyer, so I scanned mine to make it as easy as possible to support these efforts.  If anyone from MHS reads this, please feel free to comment with a link to other events.  Hopefully Bertucci's will be happy with the printed I did a little searching on-line but failed to find a listing of the fundraising activities for this event.

I just opened the bottle of Riesling I picked up at the Vin Bin tonight, time to sit back and relax.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Is there a key lime yogurt shortage?

I know this is a slight diversion to my usual blog but after talking about Roche Bros catering, the events this evening fit the theme of local supermarkets.  My wife stopped on the way home from work at Stop and Shop to pick up a couple of items.  One item we hoped to pick up was key lime pie yogurt, but there was no key lime pie yogurt for us this evening.

Let me explain some background first...I have mentioned in past blogs that my kids are extremely picky about what they will eat.  Breakfast is no exception.  A typical breakfast includes a bagel or toast, yogurt, and/or Cheerios...simple/basic/reasonably nutritious.  We used to have different kinds of yogurt when the kids were infants, all flavors of yo-baby were acceptable.  As we shifted to regular Yoplait yogurt, we tried to include several flavors to maintain the variety the kids were used to.

At some point my oldest tried key lime pie Yoplait yogurt and decided all other flavors were inferior.  Although it is quite sweet, there are far worse things to be a breakfast standard so we didn't fight when he stopped wanting any other flavor.

Now to my question and the topic of this blog...are all the kids in Westborough focused on key lime pie yogurt.  I consistently can't find key lime pie flavor original Yoplait.  Consistently to the point where I have been keeping track.  In the past 4 months 18 of our 24 visits to the three Westborough grocery stores resulted in failure to find the key lime pie flavor.  There are great sales rotating through Roche Bros and Stop and Shop every couple of weeks, 20 yogurts for $10.  Every time I catch this sale and a store stocked with key lime flavor, I buy the entire shelf because all too often I can't find this flavor.  I am sure that contributes to the shortage, but is everyone out there on the same quest?  Most other flavors always seem to be available.

Tonight was another instance when we came up empty handed in our search for key lime pie.  A note to the stores in the area, it may be time to order more.  :-)

Roche Bros Catering

I love to cook, and I love to entertain.  A great combination but over the past couple of years I have started using Roche Bros for almost all of the events where I am providing the food.  I like to show off and I pride myself on being a good cook, but Roche Bros provides better food at a reasonable price through their catering department.  It makes more sense for me to focus on other aspects of my parties and with Roche Bros catering I am confident that the food I ordered will impress my guests and enhance the event.

I will admit that so far my experiences have been focused on cheese platters or hot and cold appetizers.  I haven't tried the entrees, salads, or desserts but based on my experience I would be willing to try any of them.  I am 100% satisfied with what Roche Bros catering in Westborough has provided so far.  Here are some specifics as to why:

  • Quality - The food is great.  At one annual party I order honey stung drummies, bacon wrapped scallops, sesame chicken, fried mozzarella and ravioli, coconut shrimp, and beef teriyaki skewers.  Every item was delivered hot, fresh and was very tasty.  At several other events I have ordered the European cheese classic which includes Camembert, plain, pepper and herb Brie, Danish Havarti and Fontina.  This platter is amazing.  Everyone loved it so much at one party, attendees asked if I had found a gourmet cheese shop.  I was happy to direct them to Roche Bros. 
  • Selection - There is an almost overwhelming number of options from Roche Bros catering. They also just redesigned their catering menu, Roche Bros Catering, to highlight all of the options.  I had trouble choosing what was right for my first event but I talked to Denise, the catering manager, and she took the time to cover options the would fit my event.
  • Service - I have mentioned many times, that service is often the most important aspect to anything I do.  Denise is obviously committed to serving her customers.  Denise and I have talked several times while I plan my parties.  Each time she find new ways to be helpful.  One party I even asked her deliver the food in two batches to help manage the event.  She was more the willing to accommodate the request.  The delivery drivers are also courteous and efficient.  When they arrived they even took a moment to help get things set up.  They even took away the boxes for me as I set up the displays.  Obviously this is more then the standard drop off services.  It shows that customer service and repeat business is critical to their management and employees. 
For my grocery needs I am not exclusively a Roche Bros shopper, but I frequent the store.  For my catering needs, Roche Bros has become my go to location.  The Roche Bros in Westborough, and the corporate Roche Bros organization, strive to be more customer service focused then others.  And I am proud to say I feel they are committed to the community.  There have been several articles and blogs about the community support Roche Bros offers and my experiences are no different. 

Through some of the community organizations I participate in, I have gotten to know Kevin Fry, the manager at the Westborough Roche Bros.  Kevin consistantly deminstrates support for the area.  He seems proud to contribute to community events and support the Boroughs.  This is exactly the type of business and manager the Boroughs deserves.  And these interactions that make me proud to patronize the store in Westborough.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gobble Wobble Follow-up

Congratulations to the Friends of the Southborough Recreation Department on their 3rd Annual Gobble Wobble.  My family and I had a great time at the event.  And the turnout was impressive.  We arrived after the 5k was about 9:10, but based on the number of people running it appeared to be a huge success.  Everywhere I looked, I saw families out together enjoying what turned out to be a bit of a foggy morning.  The family walk, the 5k race, and the fun run were packed with community members enjoying the event.

The fun run was very exciting for my kids.  Both of my boys wanted to run a little longer, but for the 3 to 5 year old bracket I think the event organizers did a great job choosing the 1/4 track run.  And it was easy for me to send them around the track for extra laps after the other groups finished.  The distance for 6 to 8 year olds was about 1/2 the track, and 9 to 11 year olds ran a full lap.  Except for a small collision with some kids in the 6 to 8 year old group the fun run was full of smiles and laughter. 

Inside the middle school gym, there was a large donation bin for the troops.  I am proud to see so many people contributed to the care packages for our troops and I am equally proud of the local businesses that donated prizes for the raffle.  This is the type of community support from families, businesses, and volunteers that makes me proud to live in the Boroughs.

Then as fast as one of the races, it was all over.  By 10:07 the, donuts were gone, the coffee was dry and the parking lot was clear.  Everyone was either home cooking turkey or heading to the Westborough/Algonquin football game.  Next year maybe I will try to attend the game too, originally I wasn't sure if there would be time, but the Gobble Wobble, for all its fun, was over fast.

Happy Thanksgiving to of all my readers.  I hope you have a somewhat stress free holiday and get some time to relax.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gobble Wobble Southborough

Thanksgiving has taken an interesting turn for me this year.  I usually host a large Thanksgiving dinner, but both sides of the extended family are out of town this year.  Mostly taking care of elderly grandparents who can't really make the trip to Westborough.

This put me on a quest for something fun to do with the family.  Reading some of the local blogs and news sites I considered the annual Algonquin/Westborough football game.  Info from - The Thanksgiving Day rivalry between Algonquin and Westborough stretches back more than five decades. The game starts at 10:15 at Algonquin. My kids are still in preschool and I doubt they will be happy sitting and watching a full game...maybe in a couple of years, so I am going to pass this time on the football game. 

I was looking for other options when I received a flyer at my boys preschool advertising the 3rd Annual Gobble Wobble.  This is a fundraiser to benefit "Friends of the Southborough Recreation Department".  It looks like a lot of fun, there is a 5k Race and a 2 Mile family Walk, raffles and other activities.  Thanksgiving should be clear of the rain and as we head into the winter months of New England, I am taking ever opportunity to spend time outside.

Registration links and information are on the Southborough recreation website.  I am in no way a runner so you won't see me at the 5k, but I registering my kids up for the Gobble Wobble Fun Run.  All pre-registered children will get a free round of golf at Trombetta’s Farm.  I also read that race day refreshments are being provided by Dunkin Donuts and the British Beer Company.  I am also a little excited to see what the British Beer Company has for morning refreshments.  :-)

The event is also incorporating a collection for our troops.  Each donation earns an entry into the raffles.  Prizes from the raffles include gift cards and goods from local merchants such as British Beer Company, Tomasso’s, Panzano’s, Trombetta’s Farm, Southboro House of Pizza, Eros, Sperry’s, Mauro’s Market & CafĂ©, English Garden Florist, Domino’s, and Yummy Mummy Brownies.  Yummy Mummy Brownies was at the Taste of the Boroughs last year, they are delicious.  I am excited to see what they donated.

If you are out in Southborough tomorrow, I'll see you at the Gobble Wobble.  If you miss it, check here for a post event update on how it ran.  Time for me to collect a couple of donations for the troops.

3rd Annual Gobble Wobble
Date: Thursday, November 26, 2009
Time: 8:30 AM 5K Race; 2 Mile Family Walk
         9:30 Kids Fun Run
Place: Trottier School
          49 Parkerville Road, Southborough, MA

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Kingdom Cuts Westborough

The boys were looking a little shaggy last week, but there too much going on to think about it. This week something had to be done with their hair. I decided to try to new Kingdom Cuts in Westborough. Kingdom Cuts is located at 30 Lyman, in the same strip plaza as Il Forno Italian Restaurant‎ and Profilo Day Spas. This is the second Kingdom Cuts location, the first is in Frankin. Typically we would be driving to Snip Its in Framingham, so saving the 20 min each way drive sounded good to me.

We heard from a friend last week that the Children's Orchard was giving 50% off coupons to Kingdom Cuts, but when I stopped by in Thursday they were out of coupons. Then, I was leafing through the Community Advocate newspaper I noticed a 50% off coupon for Kingdom Cuts. I dug through the newspaper recycle pile and found last weeks Community Advocate and successfully located a second 50% off coupon. I was ready to make the trip and see how they handled children's haircuts.

Details of our visit:
  • Setup - The room is fairly large and somewhat sparse at the moment.  There is a reception desk and a waiting area with several chairs.  A flat panel TV is mounted on the wall of the waiting area.  While I was waiting a Scooby Doo DVD was playing on this TV.  There is a bookshelf with children's books and a train table.  Basically enough to keep kids occupied but not so much that the owners would be spending every evening trying to put things back in order. I do however foresee a 3 year old standoff in the future when there are several people waiting and they all want the train.  Behind the waiting area there are four hair stations set up and a nails station.  There is a lot of room for other stations as well, but I expect that will come with customers and demand.  Each station has a small flat panel tv and a Playstation2.  There is a shelf of games and movies that kids can choose from when they are ready for their turn.  Both of my kids wanted to watch the same DVD and ended up in different chairs.  I can see this being touchy in the future with other kids, I was lucky and the oldest decided to choose again.
  • The Wait - I am told I was the first customer in Westborough to have to wait since they opened.  When I arrived there were two children getting haircuts and another (the brother of one in a chair) waiting for his turn.  Even so I waited less then 15 minutes for my first son to be called, and the second was called before we even started.
  • The Cut - Watching a video the kids choose worked well.  Better I feel then the annoying same song over and over at Snip Its.  I would not be surprised if they weren't open to you bringing your own DVD if there is a special one at home. The haircuts for both of my kids came out good. 
    • The oldest has lots of cowlicks, and it is difficult to cut his hair straight.  Michele did a good job between wetting and drying his hair to make sure things ended up even.  Looking at it the next day it still looks straight and sharp.
    • My youngest HATES the buzzers, but Deanna, the stylist, did a good job keeping him involved and at points just asked me to help hold him.  She was patient and calming, but she knew when to just get it done.  He actually did better at Kingdom Cuts that he has anywhere else, and his hair looks good because of it.
  • Snacks - Those who have been to Snip Its know all about the animal crackers and lollipops available for children to enjoy while getting their hair cut.  Kingdom Cuts does not have the never ending supply of animal crackers but they do have lollipops available at the end.  I always thought it was weird trying to munch on a lollipop or cookie as hair is falling about. It seemed easier to just zone into the DVD rather then eat through the haircut.
  • Prizes - There isn't a weird card machine spitting out a junk and sometimes not age appropriate prizes at Kingdom Cuts...but there are stickers.
  • Discounts and frequent visits - Kingdom Cuts provides a frequent visit card that you get stamped each time you visit.  9 stamps entitles the owner to a free cut.  Other then the coupons I found in the Community Advocate I don't know of any other discounts.  I provided my email address so we'll see if anything comes through email.
  • Hours - Kingdom Cuts is only open Tuesday - Saturday.  Westborough hours are:
    • Tuesday 10 - 5:30pm 
    • Wednesday 10 - 5:30pm 
    • Thursday 10 - 5:30pm 
    • Friday 10 - 5:30pm 
    • Saturday 9 - 3:00pm 
  • Prices - While there I heard the customer before me talking about the price difference between the Westborough store and the Franklin store, but the stylist mentioned that both would be the same soon.  I am not sure which is more or less expensive, but I grabbed a photo of the price sheet to share while I was there.  I apologize for the poor quality of my blackberry camera and of course I have no claim to these remaining the prices offered.  At the top of the list is just the haircut - $16.00 but with the coupons, it was only $8.
Overall, I am happy with the service...I am not singing from the rooftops the praises of Kingdom Cuts, but I definitely feel I received a quality service as a good price.  I look forward to saving the drive to Framingham again in he future and watching Kingdom Cuts grow in our community.  I am proud to be able to support another quality Boroughs service.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Follow-up on the One Stop Shop

As promised I wanted to fill people in on the One Stop Shop event this evening.  If there are any early morning blog readers the event continues tomorrow from 8:30 am to 2:00 pm.

Lots of interesting vendors at the event tonight with items that are not available at Walmart or Target.  Here is a quick review of the highlights of the evening.
  1. Paper Confections Creations has some BEAUTIFUL note cards and stationary.  I was impressed with their display and the items they were selling.  I am not a paper note writer, so I didn't buy anything but I was tempted, they really have quality things. 

  2. I mentioned in yesterday's blog Just So Designs.  I got a few moments to talk with Sue and take a look through some of her latest work.  She continues to show her amazing skills through her photography.  She also had a series of note cards that were really nice.  My wife and I will probably be setting up a shoot for our kids at some point in the future and I'll write them again.

  3. My wife and I also noticed the dresses that was worn by the vendors for Lyn Evans.  They were pretty and very unique.  I am sure my wife will stop by their location and if I end up going with her I will of course report on our findings and experience.  I asked for the mangers card to make sure I remember to visit, BUT tonight I found a flaw in their store.  Although they claim their website is, I haven't had any success getting the site to load tonight.  Definitely not a positive attribute when people leaving the event can't log on to check out more merchandise.

  4. Now this part may only apply to me or maybe only the males out there, but the Brajamawear items...I just didn't get it.  I think the tag line is "pajamas are not just for sleeping".  Brajamawear are pajama sets with bras built in.  Now I understand that this would probably be more supportive for women, especially while wearing these pajamas around the house, but I just don't get it.  Again this could be attributed to me being male, but I know I saw the same puzzled expression from some women when they first saw them.  Just because I don't get it, don't mean anyone should discount them. I just may have lots to learn.

Overall I had a fun time, saw some interesting items, got a couple of holiday gifts out of the way...AND enjoyed a night out with free wine and cheese.  Thanks goes out to the WAJCC for putting on this event.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

One Stop Shop

I was going to take some time today to blog about the new Clark campus opening in Southborough, but that will need to wait...grandma is in town which means my wife and I can get out of the house on a week night without budgeting for a sitter.

In our quest to find fun local activities we discovered the One Stop Shop happening Thursday, November 19th from 6:30 - 9:00 pm at the Westboro Area JCC. This event looks like it will be a lot of fun and my wife and I will both be there. Last year I emceed the Taste of the Boroughs event and really enjoyed highlighting the local restaurants and businesses that were involved. The WAJCC is always committed to community involvement and knows how to throw a great event so I am excited to get out and socialize. Here is what I know about The One Stop Shop:

Thursday, November 19th from 6:30 am - 9:00 pm
also Friday, November 20th from 8:30 am - 2:00 pm
54 Oak Street
Westborough, MA

Cost: FREE!!!
Overview: This is a social event and wine and cheese will be served. Several vendors will be presenting unique gift ideas for the upcoming season or any occasion.
Raffle Prize: Overnight hotel accommodations at the Trump Marina, Atlantic City with buffet breakfast for two.

Known participants in the event
3 Sisters of N.Y.
Brajamawear LLC
Creme de la Curry
D&B Creations
Elsie Kaye Glassworks
Hearts & Hugs
Just So Designs
Bags by Kim
Lyn Evan for Potpourri Designs
Mary Kay
Out of Hand
Pottery by Jacqui
Simply Dahlicious Custom Catering
Paper Confections Design
Westboro Tennis & Swim
Bloomy's Buff & Stuff
Pampered Chef
Beads n' Jewels by Design
Indago Design
JMF Pets, Tupperware

This group of vendors has some really great stuff.  I added links for the ones I knew.  I also want to highlight two that I have had personal experience with in the past.

If you haven't tried Simply Dahlicious, you should go to this event for them alone. They were a participant at the 2009 Taste of the Boroughs and were loved by all attendees. I believe during the event last year I had at least 4 cupcakes from Simply Dahlicious. They were just so...delicious! From the experiences of my friends Simply Dahlicious works closely with event planners to understand each event. They design a menu custom-tailored to the event and its guests. They really put in the effort to make an event extra special.

I also noticed on this list is Just So Designs. Just So Designs is photography by Susan Oger. She is an amazing photographer and extremely creative person. I have a set of prints from a photo shoot Sue did with my kids a couple of months ago. She has a great eye for contrast and brings out so much life in her photos.

I am excited for tomorrow's event, not just because my wife and I can get out for the evening, but the WAJCC always creates a fun atmosphere and the vendors have such great items. I hope to see others there.

Tavolino Ribbon Cutting

I received a Twitter update this morning from Corridor Nine Area Chamber of Commerce, announcing a Ribbon Cutting tonight at Tavolino Ristorante. As I mentioned in my last blog I am impressed with this restaurant, and I have been talking all week with several people about my experience. I don't know what this event has to offer, it my just be the ribbon being cut, but I wanted to pass on the info for those interested.

Tonight 11/18
Tavolino Restaurante
4:30 PM
Bay State Commons, Westborough

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tavolino Westborough

I love to eat out, so a new restaurant in the Boroughs is just the type of thing to cap off a good weekend.  Last week, I was eating lunch at Panera at the Bay State commons and walked over to Tavolino to get an idea of what type of place it is.  A quick look at the menu and the decor puts Tavolino into one of my favorite categories of restaurants; kid friendly, but not kid focused.  Tavolino is considered a casual-upscale restaurant and serves classic and contemporary Italian dishes. They have an extensive selection of gourmet pizzas, an very respectable selection of wines with over a dozen available by the glass, and a reasonable kids menu.  They serve lunch and dinner.

Although the Westborough location has been open for a month or so I just hadn't had the time to get over there to try it out, and from the outside I was originally thinking that dinner at Tavolino would be just the wife and I, so a sitter was to be in order, but after our lunch stop by to check it out I decided to bring the whole family.  The kids as well as my wife and I were excited to try out this new addition to downtown Westborough.

I am happy to report that the whole family gives two thumbs enthusiastically up for Tavolino.  The only hesitation with Tavolino is it seems to be a little more expensive then some other options.

Specifics on the meal: 
  • Similar to Not Your Average Joe's, Tavolino offers a foccacia bread basket and a oil/parmesan/red pepper dipping sauce.  Very tasty I must say.
  • For the kids, my oldest ordered cheese pizza.  Tavolino serves two standard size slices as the kids portion rather then a mini pizza.  The crust is very thin and my oldest enjoyed devouring both pieces.  My youngest ordered the grilled cheese.  My wife always "shares" a little of the grilled cheeses that we get for the youngest and she raved about this particular grilled cheese several times throughout the meal.  Thumbs up there.  
  • I usually order chicken parmigiana as my first meal at any Italian restaurant.  It makes it really easy to gauge the quality against all others.  We decided as we were ordering that we would share a Caesar  salad and chicken parmigiana rather then each order our own.  The salad was great, not overdosed with dressing and fresh.  The chicken parmigiana was HUGE.  Way more food then I can eat for dinner, splitting it was the perfect amount.  Tavolino uses a chunky sauce on their chicken parmigiana, which is not usually my favorite, but it was very good...tender, delicious chicken.
  • The food came out fast.  I have blogged before about some horrors waiting for food when kids are involved, Tavolino has their act together in the kitchen, food came out quick and hot.  
  • I'll throw out a nod to our waitress tonight as well.  Stacy, does the little things that show understanding by a waiter/waitress.  She noticed I finished my soda quickly and was already bringing a refill before I asked.  She also noticed the kids dropping a fork, and brought a replacement without prompting.  Attentive without hovering, she deserved the 20% tip I gave her.
  • I hinted earlier that cost is a little high.  Our meal broke down like this:
    • Soda $2.50
    • Chocolate milk $1.95
    • Caesar Salad $9.00
    • Kids Pizza $7.50
    • Kids Grilled Cheese and fries $7.00
    • Chicken Parmigiana $19.00
    It's not that it was crazy, but it is a little more expensive then other places with similar kid friendly, but not kid focused atmospheres.  If my wife and I hadn't split the salad and chicken parmigiana , I probably would have noticed the total price a little more too.  There is a lot of quality food for the price so I don't feel I missed out on value, but in this economy we all take a little time to notice what we are spending.
  • I didn't get a chance to sample any wines tonight.  I did glance over the list and I do plan on returning to try some.  I also can see how Tavolino will bring some competition for Bertucci's as i saw several gourmet pizzas at other tables that looked great.
I welcome Tavolino to Westborough and I look forward to visiting them sans kids to see what else they have to offer.  I am also excited to have a new location to go out to dinner even with the kids that has a higher standard of food.  Check out there website at:  The website is focused on the Foxborough location but there are copies of the menus and they are the same in Westborough.

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    What happened to the Northborough Friendly's?

    Since the kids didn't have school on Veteran's Day, we decided to head over to Friendly's in Northborough to take advantage of the $1.99 kids meals on Wednesdays.  Friendly's isn't remotely close to fine dining, but it HAD three appealing factors. 
    1. Speed, the food comes out fast and when kids are hungry calm to emotional can happen in seconds.
    2. Space, even during lunch and dinner rushes, the Northborough Friendly's seem to have enough space for everyone.
    3. Noise, even the most behaved children occasionally get loud.  It all blends into the noise level at Friendly's.
    Basic stuff, and the food was ok.  For the past few years my visits were all decent, but something has been happening lately, and not for the good.  Unfortunately my experiences the past few months have been pretty poor.

    On separate occasions over the spring and summer we took the family to eat lunch and had bad experiences attempting Sunday lunch.

    The first time, we arrived at Friendly's at 11:50.  We were seated immediately and the server said they are now doing lunch.  That was our plan anyway so no issue there, we ordered immediately.  Basic order, grilled cheese, chicken fingers, mandarin salad, and a chicken sandwich.  It took till 12:10 to get drinks.  The kids were being good, but I started to worry a bit, we started the standard stare down wait staff till someone realizes you are looking for them. When the server stopped again it was 12: 25, we asked if our food was coming.  They said the grills had to be switched over and it should be up soon.  Ok, I understand, I once worked as a cook in college and it takes a little time to get things moving from a fresh start on the grill, but this seemed long.  At 12:45 we got our food.  Best case it was a 50 minute wait.  The manger on shift came by knowing we were a little annoyed and she tried to make amends and gave us one of the kids meals free.

    Ok at this point, I say whatever, sometimes things go wrong.  But then a couple of weeks later it was the same thing.  This time it was 12:10 when we sat down and we didn't get our food till 1:20.  That time the waitress was new, and part of the delay was almost 30 minutes before she entered the order.  And that time the manager didn't offer anything, instead tried to tell me that when the waitress entered the order is when they start counting time.

    The next time we ate there, it was the same weird extra long slowness, and the manager came out to tell us he had sent the other cook home cause it was slow.  Then it got busy and he was cooking.  The restaurant had no more then 8 tables full at the time, and I expect they are used to far more people.

    After that experience, we stopped going for lunch on Sundays.  Took us long enough...

    Then on Veteran's Day, the kids asked for Friendly's and we figured it wasn't a Sunday so we would give it a try.  We arrived at 12:30.  There were about 15 people waiting at that point, 7 were in one party, 2 parties of 2 people, and one party of 4.  Looking at the restaurant it was no more then 30% full, and many tables appeared to be having desert, so although we were a little concerned we waited to put our name in.  After 10 minutes a line had formed behind us and still no one working there had even acknowledged our presence.  Then we overheard the woman sitting and waiting next to us that she was already waiting for 40 minutes just to get a seat.  I had to give up.  That was it, after some convincing the kids choose Not Your Average Joe's in Westborough.

    I don't expect a lot from Friendly's, reasonable food, cheap, quick.  Better then fast food, but still nothing spectacular.  Whoever is in charge at the Friendly's in Northborough is not paying attention to how the restaurant is run.  It seems they are always short a cook and wait staff is not on the ball.  I am not saying running a restaurant is easy, and the employees desiring to work at Friendly's may not be Harvard educated, driven professionals but in this economy there has to be reasonable employees out there, and some leadership that can organize and guide them.

    Something needs to be done, with options like Joe's, Chateau, Uno's, the other Friendly's all right down the road, I can't see Friendly's Northborough lasting much longer with this type of service.  I know I have removed it from my list as a standard.  I actively try to steer the kids to other locations if they ask now.  I am sure I can't be the only patron to have these experiences.

    Saturday, November 7, 2009

    Swimming in the Winter?

    So it's a little cold outside, but don't put the swimsuits in the attic just yet, there are still lots of ways to enjoy the water in the Boroughs and swim lessons shouldn't be just a summertime activity.

    I started writing today's blog while my kids were taking their weekly swim lessons. I started them in lessons right about age two. At that age parents must accompany their children at lessons.  Now I know there are a people reading this thinking: Hey, I don't really have the body I had when I was 24, I'm not sure I want to grab a swimsuit and jump in the public pool.  Maybe I can wait till the program takes the kids without me.  Most places you can wait, but the places I have attended in the Boroughs are not Ocean City on spring break or the French Riviera, no one cares how much damage a desk job or the general stresses of having kids do to ones body.  I say relax, when it comes to comfort in the water I  believe it is better to start early. 

    When I was younger I spent my summers at a YMCA day camp.  I learned to swim through their program and loved every minute of it.  After I was  through all of swim levels at the camp I began teaching.  I taught swim lessons for over 6 years...a long long time ago :-)  Having taught lessons made it easy for me to get my kids started but based on my experiences the program at the Boroughs YMCA still follows the same format, is fun, and reinforces the right skills for kids to be confident in the water.

    While living in the Boroughs I have been a member of the Wayside Racquet and Swim Club as the Boroughs YMCA.  I know a lot of friends who are members at the Westboro Tennis and Swim Club, but I really don't know a lot about their programs to date.  As for Wayside, I enjoyed it as an adult playing raquetball and swimming, but I always planned on participating in the YMCA programs with the kids...mostly based on my own childhood.   When it comes to swim I still feel the YMCA comes out on top.

    1. The program - The YMCA does a good job of breaking up the various levels of swim instruction into discernible chunks that kids can complete in a season, and that parents can see the difference with each stage.  Kids focus on one or two things each level.  Especially in the preschool classes the goals are simple and focus on comfort in the water and basic movements.  Most kids start with a bubble and a parent in the Parent and Pike class.  The YMCA program will not allow kids to swim without parents till 3 years old, but I found great value in starting just after 2 with my kids.  When it came time for my youngest to go into a class by himself, he skipped the first level, all of that is because of the earlier practice.  I was also a lifeguard and Red Cross swim instructor years ago as well.  I never really liked the red cross swim program for younger kids.  Without really creative teachers it took a long time to move to each level.  I know lots of kids that got discouraged and bored as they tried to work on the sames things all the time.  Clear obtainable goals lets kids feel progress and want to keep going.

    2. The price - Swim lessons anywhere are not cheap, but these days nothing is.  Comparing to Wayside, I feel the YMCA is cheaper especially when you add in the cost of a family membership and the discounts those memberships get for swim lessons.  As a family member at the Boroughs YMCA an 8 session swim class is $56.  A family member at the Wayside will pay $88 for the same number of classes there.

    3. The people - one of these people.  Now I have to be fair, I felt the teacher I had for the Parent and Pike class for the three sessions I attended was not that good, but still she was trying to get people through the basics.  I bet that with a few pointers she would have been better.  She just needed to talk to the parents and teach them how to teach the children.  But Donald who teaches Pike and Eel classes is so amazing he more then makes up for any others I have met to date.  At this point I feel helps carry the program.  I  hope I was that good of an instructor all those years ago.  Donald is very relaxed, he listens to the kids and he lets them play.  Preschool kids need time to laugh, to explore the drain at the side of the pool to hear the instructor laughing and excited with them.  It makes their overall experience great.  Donald is that type of teacher.  To be honest I don't even know Donald's last name, but if you are at the YMCA you can recognize him as the man with the picture of a lion head and the word HONOR tattooed on his back.  My kids adore Donald, they can't want to see him and are eager to impress him because they have FUN every time they swim.  Associating lessons with fun is a win in my book.
    If you haven't checked out the YMCA swim programs, I do recommend them.  I know the fall/winter/spring sessions are pretty busy and full, but the summer sessions do seem to have space for even non-members.  You can also check out more details on their website:  The "programs" link has a PDF with swim information.

    Friday, November 6, 2009

    Battle of the Birthday Parties

    I have two preschool children and as my kids get older we are invited to more and more birthday parties.  Classmates, our friend's children, and our own children are having larger and larger parties with lots of little friends running around having fun.  As a parent there are a lot of options in the Boroughs area, and we want to host enjoyable parties for our kids, their friends, and their friend's parents.  Having participated in several and paid for some myself, I wanted to share some of what I have found.  I have included some cost estimates based on what I and my friends have spent, if I know.  Obviously these estimates as they are round numbers and I in no way represent the facilities so prices may have changed.  These are just past experiences. 

    I know this doesn't cover every facility in the Boroughs.  These seem to be the ones frequented the most in my, and my children's circle of friends.  I included a few options at the end that are not real reviews but interesting all the same.  If anyone has vastly different experiences or would like to back up my analysis, please comment.

    The Little Gym

    Party Length - 1 hour 30 minutes
    Facility cost for18 kids - $240

    Additional costs, not required:
    Cake - $10 Two, baked out of a box at home
    Gift bags - $40 - Target $1 bin plus a lollipop and stickers about $1.50 per kid plus bags (25 just in case)

    Party Organization - I have attended several parties here.  My experiences have all been about the same.  Once you book the party, they provide invitations for parents to send out.  An hour of playtime that consists several structured games with free play in-between on the equipment.  The kids have a great time, and the birthday child get to go first for every game.  After an hour of activities, the kids are brought into the party room for cake.  The Little Gym provides juice boxes, plates and utensils, and does all the set up for parents. 
    Review - The Little Gym Westborough puts on a great party.  My experiences have been parties for 3, 4, 5, and 6 year olds, but each one ran smoothly, the kids had a great time and overall I think there is great value in a party at the Little Gym.  I also think the Little Gym caters to older children as well.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, I am a fan of the Little Gym in Westborough and if you manage to have Mr. Tim at the party it is even better.  There is a point at the party where the facilitators pull out a set of play stairs and try to facilitate a photo opportunity for all parents.  It has actually worked each time that I witnessed it.


    Party Length - 2 hour 15 minutes
    Member Rate: $265 (covers up to 16 children), $7 per additional child
    Non-Member Rate: $280 (covers up to 16 children), $10 per additional child

    Additional costs, not required:
    I only attended this one, but there would be an additional cake cost.

    Party Organization - The kids get 30 minutes to play on oversized inflatables.  When I was there, it was a combination bouncy house with a single slide and one of the inflatable obstacle courses.  After that instructors do 1 hour field time, Catch games, soccer, and other running games.  Every 15 min they take a water break.  Finally the kids get 45 minutes in the party room.  In the party room the kids eat the pizza, sing and have cake.
    Review - The inflatables used are pretty beat up, but work fine and the instructors did a good job playing with the kids.  The TEAMWORKS party was good, but for preschool (3, 4, 5 year olds) I have preferred other places more.  Other TEAMWORKS experiences have had other then parties were good and definitely enjoyed by my kids, but they don't have a superstar instructor that I have experienced, and the facility is a little more warehouseish.  I will say one of the biggest positives is that for parties, they do include everything.  Invitations, party supplies, thank you cards, goodie bags, food and fun are all covered.  All a parent needs to bring is the cake.

    PlayTown Express

    Party Length - 2 hours
    Facility cost for 16 kids - $250

    Additional costs, not required:
    Pizza - $85 delivered to Playtown from a local pizza place
    Cake - $10 Two, baked out of a box at home
    Bottled water - $5 - For the adults, we don't' always want a juice box
    Gift bags - $55 - Target $1 sandbox toys plus a kids toothbrush, stickers, and a bag of goldfish crackers about $2.75 per kid plus bags (20 just in case)

    Party Organization - PlayTown is simple, the kids play in the giant play room, for a little over an hour, then they eat in the party room in the front of the facility.  They offer these parties at various times, check their website for details.  We chose a Saturday evening party.  PlayTown Express does focus a little younger then TEAMWORKS and some others.  Definitely a preschool age is best.  Not that other slightly older wouldn't have fun, it just isn't focused on them.  The parties I have hosted and attended at PlayTown both happen to have been for a 3rd birthday.
    Review - PlayTown ends up being one of the more expensive options that I have experienced, but it is really great for several reasons.  1. The facility has a lot of activities for the kids.  This helps keep kids enjoying the whole time.  2. The setup allows parents to congregate in the middle and enjoy adult conversation without losing sight of the kids.  3.  There are activities for all ages under 6 so it is easy for siblings to be part of the party without being left out.  4.  The facility is very clean, it is obvious that the staff at PlayTown Express spends time each day wiping down equipment and replacing broken items.

    Noodle Noggin' 'N Bean

    Party Length - 2 hours
    Facility cost for 18 kids - $250

    Additional costs, not required:
    I only attended this one, but there would be an additional cake cost. The parents ordered pizza from a local delivery place.  And there was an art project.  I believe that was extra cost and brought in by the parents.

    Party Organization - The kids had pizza, did the art project, and then had free time to play at the facility.  At the one I attended the parents also paid for a "princess" to read a story to the kids.
    Review - I don't know that the princess was worth it.  Sure the kids were excited for a minute but I don't think any of them would have noticed had the teenager not been there dressed up as Cinderella.  The party was good, but nothing special.  Since NNNB is a series of rooms, that are not overly huge it is not as easy to have conversations with adults and keep an eye on the kids as they move from room to room.  Lots of walls.  Also there is a room that has a fishing game, with water in a trough.  Both of my kids during separate visits have managed to lean over and partially fall in getting their shirt and some of their pants wet.  Something to keep in mind.  Kids always seem to find water.  This could pose a problem is you are planning on going somewhere after.  Much like Playtown Express this is geared for preschool children.

    Pump It Up


    Length - 2 hours
    Facility cost for up to 25 kids - $270 for weekend party

    Additional costs, not required:To date I have only attended parties at Pump It Up, but I am considering it for my one son's 5th birthday in the spring.  Sometimes parents have added pizza with Pump It Up can provide, and cake and goodie bags are up to the parents.

    Party Organization -    First the safety video, then 40 minutes in one arena, then 40 minutes in a second arena, and finally 40 minutes in the party room with help from the party coordinator.

    Review - Pump It Up seems to provide the lowest rate per child that I have found.  It also offers cheaper rates if you book for a weekday, and even cheaper for a weekday morning.  The facility is nice, and the kids do have fun.  The first room has a bouncy house, an obstacle course, and a giant double slide.  All inflatable.  The second room has a giant single slide, a larger bouncy house with two levels, and a third bouncy house with a climbing wall and slide in it.  Again all inflatable. Pump it up also provides invitations and supplies (cups, plates, forks & napkins).  The equipment at Pump It Up is well kept and handles adults when they need to bounce or slide as well.  One thing I dislike, and I know this is minor is that there are the 2 air hockey tables (50 cents to play).  I realize kids like them but then you get a crowd around the air hockey table for younger parties and they should be enjoying the inflatables.  Silly I realize but, it does bug me a little.  The party room is fine, and they do a good job of handing out cake and food so parents aren't worrying about those logistics.

    As I said above there are a couple of other parties I have attended.  Uno Chicago Grill, puts on a fun, make your own pizza party, that my older son loved.  The Boroughs YMCA also does parties but I have yet to attend them.  I am sure the rock wall there would be fun for a smaller group of kids...but they need to be at least 6 years old.  And of course you could refer to my earlier Blog on Mr. Kim Webster and just hire him to play at you home.  That is a great party in every regard, but you end up having to do the clean up.

    All of the options above are good, and my kids have enjoyed each party.  It is hard to pick a favorite, but for the younger side of preschool (2 1/2 - 4) I would say Playtown Express is the best.  For the older side of preschool (4- 5 1/2) I am torn between Pump It Up and The Little Gym.  I have yet to host at Pump It Up so I will reserve that decision for a later time.  It is a long blog this time, but I hope someone finds some value.

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009

    Time for Sports Class

    It’s Tuesday afternoon and my kids will soon be off enjoying one of the classes offered at the Little Gym Westborough.  Over the years we have tried several of classes offered for younger children around the Boroughs…Gymboree, The Little Gym, TEAMWORKS, and a couple of others.  Most have been enjoyable, but some were definitely better then others.  For young kids I always felt it was hard to find the balance between keeping their attention, the kids enjoying themselves, and having a structured activity.  So the places that do it well, impress me.

    To date I have been very impressed with The Little Gym in Westborough.  There are two main factors for this; Mr. Tim, and the general attitude from Anthony and Kellie Karpouzis (my interactions have been mostly with Anthony but I will give them both credit as the owner/operators of this location).
    1. First - Mr. Tim - If Anthony or Kellie happens to read this, give Mr. Tim a raise.  He is amazing.   I have fairly social kids who are willing to be involved and excited to please teachers, but not all kids are always interesting in participating.  Even my kids need a push now and then.  I have never seen a class with Mr. Tim where the kids weren’t hanging on his every word.  He is energetic, fun, and exciting, but still has authority and control over what the kids are doing.  As a parent these are the type of people we enjoy watching interact with our children.

      My kids love Mr. Tim.  They look forward to seeing him and talk about him and the activities they did for days after.  As a parent I enjoy the recaps that Mr. Tim or any of the other instructors relay to parents after classes.

    2. Second - General Management – I was sitting in the viewing area a couple of weeks ago while the kids were participating in a sports class.  I overheard two conversations with Anthony Karpouzis.  The first was with a parent that had apparently paid for a class and then moved out of state.  Anthony was immediately willing to transfer the unused balance for the unattended classes to another Little Gym wherever this individual had moved.  As a privately owned franchise I am not sure that that would actually be something they need to do.  It may just be part of the general operating policies for the franchise, but regardless, there was no hesitation in providing the customer with a fair service.

      The second conversation I overheard Anthony discussing his new location with, I assume, the general contractors.  He was pushing on the contractors to complete renovations in the new location for the Little Gym in Westborough.  Repeatedly he referenced the desire to provide a better facility for customers.  As I listened I thought about dealing with contractors and how often time estimates are not 100% accurate.  Anyone who has undertaken renovations, private or professional, have stories about the planning, the construction, the move.  Often tellers of these stories express frustration and concerns.  Anthony’s priorities were obviously the customers, it almost seemed he could handle time delays or other issues as long as the customers were provided with a facility that will proudly showcase the business.
    Since I mentioned the new location above, I’ll share the details from an email about the new location from Anthony and Kellie.

    The new location will be in The Village Plaza at 122 Turnpike Road (Rt. 9 East) in Westborogh. It has many new features that we do not currently have at this location. It has a much larger multi-purpose room/dance room with more viewing for the parents. We will have three bathrooms, with the handicapped accessible bathroom (and changing table) that will be located conveniently for parents to use in our lobby. Our new home will also be more comfortable whether you are in the gym or out in the lobby because we will have separate heating and air conditioning zones for each area. Our new plaza is also the home to family friendly amenities such a The New York Deli, Boxwell's and Right at Home. This plaza is also a stones throw away from Dunkin' Donuts and D'Angelo's which are literally right next door. We hope that you are as excited as we are!

    We are aiming for the week of Thanksgiving to make the move, but we will have to wait for the project to be officially completed and inspected before we can say for sure. Our plan is to close down for a couple of days during the week in order to do the move, and will update you when the move will take place. We will automatically owe you a make-up for the days that we will have to close in order to complete the move. We will also re-do and re-issue any and all Birthday Invitations for Birthday Parties that will take place after the move. We apologize in advance for any inconvenience that we may cause, but we are sure that it will all be worth it. Our goal is to make this transition as seamless as possible for your children and for you. If you have any questions about our new facility please don't hesitate to ask!

    This mail reiterates the customer focused way Anthony and Kellie run their business.  Professional customer focused services with awesome employees really make The Little Gym Westborough a great place.   I look forward to the new location and encourage anyone who has younger kids and hasn’t tried the Little Gym to give them a chance.  My kids are still young so I have not experienced all of the Little Gym programs, but I am excited to see what is next