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Denise Nicole, A Brooklyn Babe: On Staycations, Homeschooling, and Self-Care

denise nicole and family
Photo by Yumi Matsuo

A Brooklyn Babe, Denise Nicole, on Family Time, Staycations and Self-Care

It only seems fitting as we go into a New Year amid a pandemic that we share on inspiring moms this issue. This is why we chatted with Denise Nicole of A Brooklyn Babe. Denise likes to describe herself as “just a mom.” But I know her personally as an amazing woman who shows her children the good and hope the world has to offer.

A born and bred New Yorker from Rochester, Denise came to the city to attend FIT, met her now-husband Dexter, married, and started a family.

Mom to Dex, age 7, and Dakota, age 5, Denise shares via her site A Brooklyn Babe and social media her inspiring family trips in and near the city that are educational and won’t break the bank. She also shares her deep faith in God and tips on how moms can reconnect with their inner selves. She is that friend who will tell you the latest healthy snack you didn’t know you needed, tips on a great fitness routine, and encourages and cheers you along the way.

We chatted with Denise on her favorite spots for the family, homeschooling, and mom wellness.

On your blog, you often share adventures around the city? What are some of the local places that you like to do with your kids?

We love living in New York City. The culture and energy of the city are unmatched. We enjoy the parks, museums, and restaurants and feel very privileged to be surrounded by so many diverse options.

Two of our favorite outdoor spaces to explore are Prospect Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park. Prospect Park, also known as Brooklyn’s backyard is like a beautiful forest in the middle of the urban landscape. It’s 586 acres of lush greenery, trees, a lake, and home to over 200 species of birds! Not to mention the zoo, playgrounds, tennis and basketball courts, and much more. We often find ourselves immersed in the nature trails, collecting acorns, or climbing trees. A big part of our homeschooling is connecting with nature; we learn a lot during these quiet times in the park. We bundle up on some colder days too and explore all the beauty nature has to offer there. Packing blankets and hot cocoa for a winter picnic is great fun.

Brooklyn Bridge Park, while lush, has a much different feel. There are small nature trails, grassy fields, playgrounds galore, and a promenade and stunning views of the Manhattan skyline and the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges over the East River. That view never gets old. We often picnic and play there, and I look up and all around, thinking what a blessing it is that we get to call this place home. I can’t believe we live here.

I still remember the first time I read about the American Museum of Natural History in The Catcher in the Rye. I was so intrigued by Holden’s description of the museum; it was one of the first places I visited when I moved here. Now I take my children, and we sit under the big Whale and observe the animals frozen in time. We talk about their habitats and learn about space and walk the halls of this iconic and historic building regularly. I find myself, once again, lost in more moments of appreciation for all this city has to offer us. We loved visiting the Studio Museum in Harlem (currently closed for renovation), which had great kids’ art workshops. We walked the galleries with little pencils attempting to sketch the art we saw and how it made us feel. We saw work by artists like Amy Sherald and saw ourselves represented there. We also love visiting the Whitney Museum and The Met; when the kids are well-rested and full of snacks, we enjoy our experiences in the fantastic museums of NYC.

Denise Nicole and Dexter
Photo by Yumi Matsuo

Since the pandemic, you and your family have been taking some fun day trips around the city. Can you share a few places worth visiting?

In the Fall, we took safety precautions and traveled on a few trips close to NYC. Taking all the steps to stay healthy and be considerate of others, we really enjoyed ourselves. Getaway House in Catskills NY, was one of our favorite places. Their tiny cabins are fully equipped with all the basics. The lodgings are cozy with temperature control, a kitchen with a stovetop and mini-fridge, and a bathroom with a shower; you have all you need to unplug and relax. We especially loved hanging by the fire. They provide a fire pit and chairs as well as logs and fire starter packs. It’s also super stunning and connected to nature; each tiny cabin comes with an extra-large window with views of the forest surrounding you. There are other little cabins in the vicinity, too, so you have your privacy but don’t feel too alone out there. We enjoyed spending nights by the fire.

We also took a road trip up to Woodstock, NY. We stayed at the cutest boutique B&B The Twin Gables of Woodstock. The little art hotel is full of personality, with each nook and cranny full of fun and bright accents. The orange feather chandelier to the rainbow steps and the bright red “Be Groovy or Leave’’ quote on the cute retro kitchen wall. My favorite part was the meditation studio. The white room with meditation pillows, greenery, and all the chill vibes was the perfect spot to sneak away to in the morning before the family woke up. I meditated and did yoga there, and it was such a beautiful and relaxing treat to have this designated space to do so in. There’s also a complimentary continental breakfast with your stay and a lovely rainbow gazebo in the backyard, as well as a fire pit. Within walking distance, there are many shops, restaurants, and even a little waterfall park. The Comeau Property is also less than a mile away from Twin Gables. The Comeau property is a park full of meadows, woods, and streams. It’s a wonderful area for walking, hikes, and enjoying the healing power of nature itself. We had a great time on the trails there.

We also took a long weekend trip to Philadelphia and stayed at the Canopy Hotel in Center City. The design and service were impeccable. The astounding art and vibrant feel of the hotel made it so much fun to stay there. The on-site restaurant, The Wayward, has a great outdoor dining space with beautiful lights (and currently fire pits!) and delicious food. We had a great time exploring Philly, visiting the Reading Terminal food market, Sister Cities, and Love Parks. The kids were especially fascinated by the Magic Gardens art exhibition and had a ball running up the Rocky Steps.

You have been homeschooling your kids for (how long?); any tips for parents at home who are remote teaching? What helps you with the kids when their attention starts to drift off?

I’ve been homeschooling my children since January 2020. When I took them out of traditional schooling, a lot of people didn’t understand my decision. But we had discussed it and planned it together. I had a vision of homeschooling my children before they were even born. Most of our homeschooling is steeped in nature, literature, and art. We are finding our flow and learning so much along the way.

As far as virtual school goes, setting a climate of closeness is always good, but even more so as things are changing and human contact is reduced. When kids can’t see their friends or are still adjusting to virtual school, setting a good foundation of a little extra TLC can be so helpful. I would recommend connecting emotionally as much as possible with your kids during this time, lots of eye contact, giving them your full attention without distractions (I know, so doable right now while most are working from home), even if it’s for five-minute intervals throughout the day, and many, many hugs.

With so much being online right now, we all need that physical connection with our loved ones more than ever. I try to give my kids at least 20 hugs a day. I read somewhere that’s so powerful in helping them feel seen and loved. If I don’t get them all in throughout the day, we catch up before bed. No matter how our day has gone, whether my kids were on their tablets a little too long while I finished a project or if we spent the day doing science experiments and reading books together, we always catch up before bed. We talk about our days, get in those extra hugs, and I give them my full attention.

For simple and practical things to do, especially when attention drifts, we take small breaks. Going for a quick walk outdoors can lift spirits. Nature is so healing, but if you don’t have time to go out, open a window wide, take deep breaths of fresh air, and talk about what you see outside. Five minutes of dancing, yoga, or shaking your sillies out is a game-changer too. Schedule a meeting with your little learner and discuss whatever they want, from how virtual school is going to what’s for dinner. It will make them feel seen and important. The meeting doesn’t have to be more than 10-15 minutes to make a huge impact.

Denise Nicole and family on bed
Photo by Yumi Matsuo

You often share on your Instagram (@abrooklynbabe) the best book reads for the kids; what are your five favs?

There’s no way I could pick only five favorite books; we love reading way too much. There are five books we really love and always come back to because the messages are so valuable.

Incredible You by Dr.Wayne Dyer & Kristina Tracy

I am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes

Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

When God Made the World by Matthew Paul Turner

These books have powerful messages either about believing in yourself or understanding and being kind to others. I love the powerful messages and beautiful illustrations, diversity, and fun in these stories. My children love all of these books, and they spark some great conversations.

Denise Nicole stretching
Photo by Yumi Matsuo

On your lifestyle site, you address wellness for both Black mothers and mothers in general. While mothers are still dealing with a lot during this pandemic, what do you do to center yourself — any great takeaways for moms to implement in 2021?

Creating a vibe is what helps keep me stay grounded. Keeping the energy high and curating corners of my home with light, plants, and candles. I place scriptures and affirmations around in plain sight for reminders throughout the day. I take at least five minutes in the morning and at night for intention setting, prayer, and reflection. When my husband comes home from work at night, there are always candles lit and usually music playing, palo santo or frankincense scents wafting through the air. I set the stage for calm — even when there is none.

Turning everyday tasks and mealtimes into an event does wonders to lift the spirits and keep the vibe high in your home. This is something that I do for myself as much as for my family; we all love it. Take out the nice plates, let the kids drink juice out of fancy glasses, and light candles. I always, always play music. Rotate your musical selections, too, from your kid’s favorites (you’re not going to get out of playing the Frozen soundtrack) to the classics and current songs you love.

Movement always helps my body feel good and endorphins high. Ten minutes seems to be the sweet spot for me to get some yoga in. That’s the point where my daughter usually starts to jump on my back or crawl under my downward dog. While some days doing yoga together works, and I can still do my flow, many times it does not. So I take my ten minutes when I can and then move on to the next thing.

Staycations are also a great way to take care of yourself too. At home, there’s always something to do, whether it’s dishes, work, other tasks. Getting away from that environment can help refresh and reset. The William Vale is a beautiful hotel in Williamsburg with luxe accommodations and a rooftop restaurant with stunning views. Make it a date night and get away from it all.

Denise Nicole in the William Vale
Photo by Yumi Matsuo

What are your goals or intentions for this New Year?

For the new year, I’m working on building more community for moms and families. Connection and community building is so important to me. I’ve hosted family mindfulness, yoga, and self-love events in the past, and I’m looking for more creative ways to bring people together. Whatever that looks like in 2021, bringing people together along with their common experiences and opening their eyes to experiences different than their own.

For my family, we are continuing to live life as the gift it is, learning all along the way. This homeschooling journey had been so beautiful and more about a whole way of life than simply my children’s education. I’m getting a new education as well, and I’m so thankful for all of it. Gratitude, that’s it; I’m working towards living in more gratitude every day.