October 2011

So, we have boiled snow for water, chopped wood, lit fires, snuggled, played cards, read books, and more…and now I am done. I am dirty and cranky and pissed off. Sitting here at Table Local Market in Bedford Hills (shameless plug as it is my husband’s store). It’s vaguely warm, not crowded, has tons of delicious treats and foods and I am plugged in and charging the devices. Did I mention that there is no traffic to get here like through Mt Kisco? Come on over! It’s worth getting out if the pjs.

I literally put the kids on the bus this morning and crawled back into bed.  Just 15 minutes I promised myself.  But oh, I wanted to stay there forever.  I am already in full hibernating mode and what did I just read on the weather forecast?  Snow, rain and general heinosity for Saturday?  Back under the covers.  How is a girl to think about Halloween costumes and fall fun when the threat of snow in October looms overhead?  Ewww.  And the dark?  I woke up this morning and thought it was the middle of the night and realized it was time to get up!  So very painful.

So, this weekend, what to do?  If you are the very nicest of mommies, head to one the MANY Halloween events featured on our overflowing calendar  – or just meet me at the showing of ET at Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville.  I’ll be the one crying in the corner.  Love that movie.  And the theater too — it’s a great spot to see a movie and sometimes I can even count it as a cultural experience, www.burnsfilmcenter.org.


I have to pat myself on the back today, and thank the weather gods for a nice Saturday — without them looking out for me, this weekend could have been a total disaster.  I hosted a party for all of the boys in my son’s 4th grade class on Saturday (read that as 11 boys and 2 very special girls who made the list) and planned the whole thing for being outside.  And when I say planned, I mean on Friday I thought, hmmm….maybe I better make a plan so they don’t rip the house apart.  So, I quickly came up with some very easy and very cheap activities for the kids and they totally worked, so I am feeling in sharing mood as I crow my success and wish you the very best as you plan your fall parties as the cold and dark begin to envelope us.

1.  Pumpkin toss — I carved 3 pumpkins out with number 1, 2, & 3 on the sides.  We then took smaller gourd pumpkins and they tossed them into the larger pumpkins for points — we used the points as a way to give the winner an advantage on the next game or you could do it for prizes. Similar rules and concept to a bean bag toss, but makes more of a satisfying mess when the pumpkins splat juice, so super fun for the boys.

2.  Bobbing for apples.  An age-old favorite that I always think will get old, but never seems to — as there is always that one kid who is crazy enough to stick their whole head in.  I thought ahead this time though and cut holes in the bottom of a trash bag and had them wear that over their clothes so they weren’t soaked through.  Shockingly they all asked if they could eat the apples that they got, score one for a fruit delivery to balance the sugar intake.

3.  Leaf pile.  Never underestimate the power of a huge leaf pile.  Kids of all ages love to bury themselves in the leaves, jump in them, and generally get themselves so dirty I can’t even imagine what kind of goodies went home down their shirts and shoes.

4.  The coup de the party?  A string hunt for their goody bags.  I tied one end of a string to the goody bag, and kept one end in a ball.  You then take the ball and weave in and out of trees, or if you’re desperate, around furniture in your house.  The kids have to take what is left of the ball or the untied end of the string and weave their way back around to find the bags.  So fun to watch them, which is an added bonus.  I think this should also maybe be a psychological test to see how much frustration a child can take, but I don’t want it to sound like I was analyzing anyone’s kids…of course.

5.  And in those goody bags?  Yes, good old-fashioned cheap flashlights (party city. solar panel. right at the check out area) — which then brought on an hour-long game of flashlight freeze tag.  Boom.  Instant fun, no effort.  Except maybe a little refereeing.

6.  After they are fully exhausted, if you have perhaps made the party way too long (4 hours…what was I thinking?) — snuggle them down in blankets and sleeping bags with popcorn for a funny movie.  Our choice?  Furry Vengeance — sounds terrifying, but it’s a really cute movie about forest animals taking vengeance on a developer who is trying to ruin their habitat.  What, a lesson delivered too?  Yup.  Another pat on the back…this time for my kids who picked it.

Have fun — any or all of these activities would work alone — just depends how much time you’ve got to kill.

Our String Maze




So, I just had the funniest experience — I learned something cool on my own website!  I have been testing out an ad service that just streams a variety of ads on my home page — I know, I am totally selling out, but someone’s gotta pay the bills and working for free occasionally gets me down (after 7 years of it), so I am asking that we all grin and bear it.

ANYWAY, I was just about to do a little work and opened my site to find an ad about an LL Bean store opening in Yonkers — and to my friends, who know I never shop or find new stores exciting, I’ll tell you that LL Bean stores are FUN.  They’ve got everything a nature loving set of 9 and 11 year old boys could want — camping gear, kayaks, fishing stuff and of course clothes, but not many folks in my house care about that.  Anyway, this is not an ad, but a personal opinion that says — check it out — they are having Grand Opening stuff all weekend this weekend including free workshops like knot tying, and fly fishing, owls and hawks on show, gps use, etc.  View their site for more information about location and events happening throughout the weekend.  Who knows, you could fill the day for the kids AND get their winter clothes shopping done and they might not even notice.  Nice.

* And of course, the disclaimer…since it is obviously a Grand Opening weekend, I have not been to this particular store, so I am not officially saying it’s going to be awesome, but in the past when I have been to other LL Bean stores, I have liked them.  So there….


I wish I could take my kids, wrap them up and live in a bubble.  Just me, my husband, and my kids…safe, healthy and forever kept away from the scary, sad, and depressing world we live in.  I am so down today after hearing the news again of another tragic death in our world, this one so close to home in Cross River.  I don’t want to send the kids to school, I don’t want to turn on the news, and I don’t want to have yet another conversation with my children about death, the weird way people are in the world or about why bad things happen.  As I wrote recently these poor kids are barraged daily with terrible news and we wonder what effects this will have on their psyches — if I can’t stand to watch the world and local news, what do you think it is doing to our children?  Wars and poverty, death and destruction.  My kids actually had a conversation in the back of the car on the way home from school the other day about how they think the world is coming to an end.  When I tried to intervene, they said ‘then how do you explain all of the terrible things happening with storms and wars mom?’ As if I were an idiot to believe that everything is ok.  What a horrible way to live.

My heart goes out to the families of children who went to school with these kids, who knew this family personally.  I ache for the conversations they will have to have and for the tears they will cry.  My only advice?  Watch your children carefully over the next few months.  Don’t smother them and make a problem where there isn’t one, but if there are any changes in behavior, seek professional help…even if they weren’t close to the kids, you may be surprised what might resonate with your kids.

And for the rest of us?  When you get an assignment from school or a question from your kids about current events — direct them to these sites for news and information — kid friendly news — not ostrich with your head in the sand news, but better than the average crazy.



Some people gasp at the very words, turn a slight pink shade, or turn away when they hear someone talking about Planned Parenthood.  Me?  I think about responsibility, health, and empowerment.  Supporting Planned Parenthood is a family tradition in our house.  My grandmother was an amazing woman — she was one of five women in her medical school class and she fought tooth and nail to get women’s rights, equal treatment for all women, and yes, a Planned Parenthood in her very own little town in Pennsylvania.  She stood up for women, and their right to control their futures; whether through birth control, health care, or even abortions.  My parents taught us to stand up these rights too and when I went on to become a social worker in the Bronx, I encouraged my clients to stand up for themselves.  I remember one day when a girl (who I had sent off to get birth control) came into my office and dumped out her brown bag of “goodies” from the clinic on my desk and said, ok, tell me more about all of this.  I had to take a deep breath, control the pink shade in my cheeks, and get into a serious talk.  I wasn’t comfortable, I wasn’t suggesting she go out and be promiscuous, I was suggesting that IF she was going to be sexually active, she should protect herself from disease and pregnancy in the best way she possibly could.  This young girl is now a successful, working member of society, she is married to loving man, and is currently AGE APPROPRIATELY pregnant with her first baby and over the moon about it.  That is a success story.  That is what Planned Parenthood means to me, and that is the history that I pride myself on.

Planned Parenthood is about providing successful outcomes, happy futures, and happy families.  I was able to plan when I wanted to have my children, when I was ready to have them, and love them, and care for them, and it has meant everything in the world to me.  We take these freedoms for granted, but as the liberal right seeks to control your rights…fight for them and come educate yourself this Thursday, October 20th at Planned Parenthood’s Empower Luncheon, www.pphp.org.  If you can’t justify buying a ticket, be my guest — I’d love to have you, just ask, gretchen@essentialmom.com. Fight through the blush and join us.


So, I actually went to see for myself the other day and Little Joe’s is everything I hoped for. It’s small, but in a cozy way. The book titles are well researched and interesting. Not just what’s popular, but all looked good. We had a hard time deciding, but could also tell that the staff had a multitude of suggestions and ideas. They have clearly done their jobs and CARE about books.

Noka Joe’s downstairs is good for a little candy, coffee, and treat fix too by the way. Make it a weekend stop. You could have quiet for hours.

I guess my post yesterday was too much — Sometimes I get a bit macabre and wish people want to be so with me…but no such luck.  Back to happy news, it’s way better and there’s plenty of sad news without me mentioning it.

Today my facebook page is aflutter with news and quotes from Steve Jobs and on the other end of the spectrum with the opening of a new BOOK STORE for children in Katonah.  Now, I’ll admit I read from a kindle and an iPad more often than not…but a kids’ book store?  Heaven!  When Borders announced it was closing its doors, I nearly panicked.  I LOVE taking my kids to the book store, I delight in browsing kids’ titles, from the littlest people to the tween section, and find it is by far my favorite baby gift, birthday party present, or indulgence for a favorite niece or nephew, and I almost never say no to my kids when they want to buy a new book.  What fosters more creativity, what brings their imaginations alive, and most importantly…what gives me more quiet, peaceful time in my house?  BOOKS.

Support this venture as soon and as often as you can.  Here is the schedule of events for the weekend —

Little Joe’s Books — Grand Opening — Thursday, October 6th.  Please join us for a weekend of reading and fun!  Thursday is National Mad Hatter Day — wear a Mad Hat and win a prize.  4:15 Story Time with Miss Kathy (3 years old and up) — open until 8pm our first night.  Stop by and join us for a celebratory glass of cider or wine.

Saturday, October 7th.  3:00 pm. Meet Whoopsie Daisy, our Reading Dog.  Reading out loud can be hard for some kids, but it’s never intimidating to read to a loving, non-judgemental dog.  Learn how to sign your child up to read to Whoopsie when she visits us again.

Sunday, October 9th.  3:00pm.  Story Time: Little Chicken’s Big Day.  It’ll be a big day for us too, when local husband and wife team, Jerry and Katie Davis, stop by to read and draw from their charming new children’s book.

Monday, October 10th.  11:00 am.  Book Talk: A Wrinkle in Time.  Are you a fan of A Wrinkle in Time?  Local author Lena Roy stops by the talk about her grandmother Madeline L’Engle’s life and work, and perform some selected readings.

Free balloons all weekend long for everyone who loves children’s books!  Little Joe’s Books, 25 Katonah Ave, Katonah (upstairs from Noka Joe’s across from the train station).  914-232-7278.  Open 7 days – Monday through Friday 9-5:30pm. Saturdays 10-5:30pm, and Sundays 10-4pm.

How much is too much? How much information can our kids take? What information about the world should they have? Do they need to know about crimes, wars, child molesters? I was speaking to a friend this morning about an alert on a sex offender in the Bedford area…the offender living in the Farms Road area by the way, and talking about our Halloween plans. That street is full of trick or treaters, kids running about, and general chaos on Halloween. It quickly led our discussion to how to talk to the kids about the world in general and about the offender in particular.

As I have watched my own kids over the years, I have watched them become fearful of the world, worried about current events, and concerned over the general state of world affairs…and the list of worries is just so very, very long. Environmental disasters, wars, terrorist attacks, abductions, rape, murder. Just watch the Today Show for twenty minutes and you’ll hear it all. We think these morning shows are more innocuous, but they are chock full of terrifying information and my guys’ eyes grow wide until they are begging to turn something else on. They are hearing it all, and going to school and having fire drills, lock down drills, talking about bullying, hiding under their desks, being asked to write about current events (when was the last time you read a positive current event?) and more. Sometimes I wonder how that all processes and how they can function for fear of the world.

So, what do you tell them and how do you feed it to them in ways that don’t terrify them? Talking about stranger danger, educating them about dangers without freaking them out? I’m open for ideas, because frankly, my kids are freaked. But how can I send them off without that education?

Wanna talk about it? Leave me a note, give me a clue, I’ll take any thoughts you have. I am feeling dark and moody today.

With the holiday off from school this week, we decided on a trip into the city with the kids. I love this time of year in the city. Generally it’s crisp, and new, and bustling. Instead it was hot and rainy, but let’s pretend it was a crisp fall weekend…it will be in my memory anyway.

So the highlights?

Dylan’s Candy Bar. If you haven’t taken the kids yet, you’re just mean. It is a wonderland of sugar, color, and taste…And parents screaming at their kids, children whining, and negotiations like no where else on this earth. Law offices the world over should pick their future legal teams there and skip the job fairs. Anyway, that all said, definitely go. Just have a plan for what you will say yes to, and how you choose to have them eat the candy after purchase. Are you a pick two pieces a day parent, or eat until you are sick so the begging is over parent? Personally, I know it’s wrong, but I am generally the later. And I usually buy myself a bag of goodies too, and I don’t want to eat a piece a day either, it’s torture.

The MoMA. There is currently an exhibit called Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects. It’s an interactive display about the use of technology in our world. Plenty of touch and see exhibits. Many over the kids’ heads, but also some interesting items too. If you have been looking to introduce the kids to the MoMA, this is a good time to go there.

The Lion King. I can’t say enough how wonderful it was. We’ve put it off for years hearing that maybe it was too long, too complicated or too something. But, it’s beautiful. Best to know the story ahead of time, as it definitely follows the movie, so for kids it helps to know what is happening, and there were some slightly dark and sad bits, but the costumes, the music and the set design are astounding. We went to a late show (8pm) which is usually way too late for my younger son, but they didn’t even realize how long they were sitting or how late it was. They were spellbound by the beauty, there was always action on stage, and my little one kept whispering to me, isn’t this the best mom? And kissing me. And sighing. I loved it. Definitely a must see at some time in your kids’ lives. If your kids sit still moderately well, any age after 5 probably works, if they have a hard time sitting, I would wait for 7. But then go!!!

The city in the fall is just awesome. We live close to the city for a reason, sometimes we forget to use it.

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