December 2011

I have been reading (and re-reading and re-reading) Anna Quindlen’s “A Short Guide to A Happy Life”, and trying to take her advice as best I can. It is an easy read – fifteen minutes cover to cover, but an important reminder to slow down and think about life and live it in the moment. Below are excerpts from some of my favorite bits…I hope I haven’t butchered it too much in taking just pieces, but I can’t copy the whole book for you, so go buy it. It’s wonderful…

“It’s ironic that we forget so often how wonderful life really is. We have more time than ever before to remember it. The men and women of generations past had to work long, long hours to support lots and lots of children in tiny, tiny houses…
There are new generations of immigrants now, who work just as hard, but those of us who are second and third and fourth generation are surrounded by nice cars, family rooms, patios, pools – the things our grandparents thought only rich people had. Yet somehow, instead of rejoicing, we’ve found the glass half empty – our jobs take too much out of us and don’t pay enough, we’re expected to pick the kids up at preschool and run the microwave at home.
C’mon let’s be honest, we have an embarrassment of riches. Life is good.
…Life is made up of moments, small pieces of glittering mica in a long stretch of gray cement. It would be wonderful if they came to us unsummoned, but particularly in lives as busy as the ones most of us lead now, that won’t happen. We have to teach ourselves how to make room for them, to love them, and to live, really live…”

Maybe this year as you make your New Year’s resolutions, consider how you can REALLY LIVE. I don’t mean the five pounds you’d like to lose or the pay raise at work – I mean the desire to make the very best of the choices you have made and the life you are leading. Perhaps it is one small thing a week that makes you happier or more fulfilled. Find a new passion. Take ten minutes a day to do something of interest, read a book, or take a walk. Be kind to your spouse, or make your child smile in a new way. Chose to live your day rather than just get through it. Be yourself, and like it. Take time to see a friend who makes you feel good about you, hold the door open for a stranger, pay a favor forward, surprise your loved ones with a hug or a thank you for no reason. Make the world a better place with your smile and learn to just BE in it.

Impossible? Too big to bother? I don’t think so. Sometimes all it takes is a promise to yourself to THINK about life and how you are living it to make the small changes that matter. Promise yourself one less complaint and one more happy moment a day, one less sarcastic snip and one more positive thought. Maybe not every day or every second of the day, but maybe, just maybe for five minutes a day you can look around and really enjoy it. It is your life and the shame of wasting it is so real. We all have troubles, and life can be hard in so many ways, but sometimes if you can put that aside while taking a peek at what really matters, you’ll find some amazing surprises waiting for you.

We wish you all the very best in the New Year – may happiness, ease, and contentment find you and bring you new adventures, wisdom, and smiles. Lots and lots of smiles.

All the best for a wonderful 2012.

So, the thing is, my family celebrates Christmas.  And we don’t do it small, we do it big, and tacky, and totally out of control.  My husband loves it, my kids go nuts, and I am somewhere in the middle watching them all love it.  They love the lights, the mystery, the magic, the family time, and of course the gifts, but I think the first three the most.  The anticipation is the biggest part of the fun — the set up and the crazy of the glittery wrappings that take over our life for one month of the year.  I love the innocence, the wonder and the resulting snuggles and hugs that come out of the magic that is the Holiday for us.

So, the quandry comes in that we have a lot of Jewish friends, and I know that this time of year can be hard for them.  Christmas is the most divisive, in your face Holiday and it is everywhere.  And even in a year when Hanukkah falls near Christmas, the difference is just what it is, a difference.  For their kids grappling with why these insane kids all believe in a red-suited man going down their chimney to why he doesn’t come down theirs — a religious differentiation surely, but really to a five year old…what in the world does the religion behind it mean?  It is just hard.  And for the parents who have to figure out how to explain it, how to make their decisions seem to make sense to these little people, SO hard.  I always want to make a nod to Hanukkah in my writings, but quite honestly, I don’t know what to say.  I didn’t grow up Jewish, have never been included in a Hanukkah celebration, so anything I say just sounds fake.  I want to write the gushy letter about lighting the candles, but I can’t write with feeling, so it sounds empty.  So, I don’t know what I am trying to say, except to my Jewish readers…I am not ignoring your beautiful traditions, I just don’t know them, and I feel your pain in dealing with ours for the past month, and although I can not express the beauty in words of what the Holidays must mean to your family, I am thinking of you with your families as you enjoy your traditions and watch the pleasure on your children’s faces — because that’s what all of this rigamarole is about after all isn’t it?  It is about making our kids happy, of creating traditions for our kids to remember as they age, of keeping our families happy and engaged and innocent.

My love and wishes are with all of our Jewish friends as they celebrate together this week…and as you tolerate the next few days of insane behavior from your gentile friends — we’re almost done with our tacky glamor I promise.  And we will then be on to the New Year together.

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Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2012, United Way of Westchester and Putnam works with agency partners, government, businesses and community leaders to solve problems too complex for any one entity alone. All contributions go toward improving the education, income, and health of children and families throughout the two counties. United Way`s Hudson Valley Region 2-1-1, covering Westchester and Putnam as well as Rockland and four counties to the north, answers up to 500 calls and 1,000 online inquiries per day ranging from tax, heating and mortgage questions to childcare, basic needs, natural disaster and crisis calls. UWWP is at 336 Central Park Ave., White Plains, N.Y. 10606. It can be reached at 914-997-6700 or www.uwwp.org.

 

If you suddenly woke up with a day off from school today (teacher conferences anyone?) and forgot to make plans for your kids — remember that we always have your back at Essentialmom.com — check out the Events Calendar for a ton of great things to do, places to go, and fun stuff to see.  The rain has stopped, the sun is out, and you might as well get out and enjoy the time with the kids!

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A spirited, dynamic overnight camp for girls and boys ages 7-16, ideally situated on Center Lake, high atop the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts (2 hrs. from Boston; 3 hrs. from NYC).  Full program of professional instruction in all land and water sports, creative and performing arts, and outdoor hiking and camping.  Golf, Horseback Riding, Hobby electives and trips to all of the cultural and recreational attractions of the Berkshires.  Shorter “starter option” for first-time campers.  Owned and directed since 1960 by the Hoch Family, 28 Sammis Lane, White Plains, NY  10605.  914-428-1894.  Visit www.campwatitoh.com.

Between Holiday shopping, concerts, festive activities and oh yea, work, there’s so little left in my head these days — how to get it all done, how to care for the kids AND get it all done while they are home from school for full and half days the next few weeks for teacher conferences, and blah blah….my resolution to keep it simple this year is waning and being over-taken by the stress.  I had big ideas on December 1st about how I was going to start the month fresh with choosing to do ONE nice thing a day — either one nice thing for myself to keep my sanity or one nice thing for someone else as a courtesy…I am failing.  And it’s only been 7 days.  Everything takes so much time and energy.  How crazy is that?  So I am going to count my note to you as a nice thing for the day — I get to check off work and something nice — if it doesn’t count as helpful, don’t tell me?  So, here in a bow in case you haven’t checked any of these out yet, are my top five favorite – outside of the norm – maybe I’ll get lucky and find something original – type shopping venues.

1.  Beehive Co-op, Mt Kisco.  www.beehivestyle.com.  The perfect spot to find a gift for your mother-in-law, sister, and even the teachers.  They have gorgeous gifts — with a special focus on fashion, jewelry, and home goods.  Great new baby items as well.

2.  Ethical Ocean. www.ethicalocean.com.  With the help of the Ethical Ocean Elf, you can find the perfect thing on your list, while sourcing the best possible item with the lowest impact on the world.  You can even shop by charitable category…do you favor the Environment?  Animals?  Human Rights?  Pick a category and the elf will help you choose wisely.

3.  Uncommon Goods.  www.uncommongoods.com.  Whether you are looking for funky goods for the man or woman in your life, or just stocking stuffers for the kids, this site has a little bit of everything, and nothing that those special people will have seen before — very fun and cool and different — perfect for the difficult to shop for person in your life.

4.  The Gift Garage, Katonah.  www.jensgiftgarage.com.  Again, some fun teachers gifts and home goods, even some fun craft kits for the little people on the list.  Pair the trip with a stop at NoKa Joe’s and Little Joe’s Books, www.littlejoesbooks.com,  and you have to be able to get someone off of your list!

5.  Kelloggs and Lawrence, Katonah.  www.kelloggsandlawrence.com.  While in Katonah, be sure to stop by Kelloggs and Lawrence Hardware Store.  So much more than a hardware store, you can find clothing, outdoor gear, fire place supplies, stocking stuffers, gardening supplies, tools, and much, much more.

Feel free to comment and make suggestions — I need some new haunts for shopping.  Particularly for the hubby!

 

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Turn your celebration into funds for causes you care about!
Giving is always better than receiving. That’s the inspiration behind Charity Panda, a website you can use to raise funds for your favorite charities. Make giving part of your next celebration: a child’s birthday party, a holiday gathering, a dinner party, or any other memorable milestone event.  With Charity Panda, it’s easy:  You invite guests to your event and ask them to donate to your chosen charity in lieu of gifts. Their donations will be tax deductible, and Charity Panda takes care of everything electronically– from personalized invitations and reminders to thank you notes.
To learn more, visit www.charitypanda.com — and plan some FUNraising  today!

Attention budding naturalists, it’s time for Teatown Summer Camp!  Fill your child’s day with up-close investigations, eco-art, hiking, nature play and habitat explorations. Openings remain for our 6-9-year-old full-day camp and 4-5 year-old half-day camp. Two-week sessions begin June 25, 2012.   Half day: 9am-12pm, Members $355, Non-members $400.  Full day: 9am-3pm, Members $685, Non-members $730.  Extended care available. Teatown Lake Reservation is a nonprofit, environmental organization with a nature education center and 834-acre preserve located in the Towns of Yorktown, Cortlandt and New Castle. Teatown’s mission is to conserve open space and to educate and involve the regional community in order to sustain the diversity of wildlife, plants and habitats for future generations. Teatown’s preserve includes the 33-acre Teatown Lake; 15 miles of trails; habitats including streams, a scenic gorge, hardwood swamps, mixed forests, meadows, hemlock and laurel groves; numerous live animals and exhibits in our living museum/nature center, including nine birds of prey; and a two-acre wildflower preserve (Wildflower Island) with some 230 species of native and endangered wildflowers.  Nature Camp: Teatown, 1600 Spring Valley Road, Ossining. For more information, call 914-762-2912 x111 or visit www.Teatown.org

Treat your child age 2-15 to a unique and action-packed summer experience at the New Canaan Nature Center!  Our staff of full-time naturalists and experienced summer counselors will create age-appropriate opportunities to explore, investigate & discover the natural world while building friendships through fun, creative activities.  Each session will revolve around a different theme that will be brought to life through age appropriate games, experiments, projects and activities!  Online registration at www.newcanaannature.org.  For more information, contact Geoff McCann, Summer Camp Director at gmccann@newcanaannature.org or (203) 966-9577 x38.  Visit www.newcanaannature.org.

Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture is 80 rolling acres of field, gardens, pastures and woods in Pocantico Hills, New York, where rich traditions of community-based farming are merging with the 21st century. Stone Barns Center’s Farm Camp is entering its eighth season. Camp sessions are designed for rising first graders through rising eighth graders. Our campers have the opportunity to see how the farm works and get their hands dirty by pitching in with farm chores and learning alongside our farm staff. In addition to activities focused on a specific theme, every camp session includes garden work, animal chores, cooking, crafts, games and hiking. At Farm Camp, we also explore the farm-to-table connection. A staff cooking specialist helps campers prepare healthy snacks several times each week, and older campers cook a full lunch together in a professional kitchen. Space is limited. Please register early! For more information, please contact Meghan Ryan, Camp Director: farmcamp@stonebarnscenter.org, or 914 366 6200 x111. Visit www.stonebarnscenter.org to download the brochure and to register.

Stepping Stones, Maritime Aquarium & Seaport Association: Water Wonders: Grades 1 – 4.  Water, water everywhere! Hosted by The Maritime Aquarium and Stepping Stones Museum for Children, campers experience exciting hands-on activities at two museums. Discover the amazing properties of water through experiments and demonstrations. Learn about creatures that live under and around wet, watery worlds including live rainforest insects and exotic frogs. River walks and beach exploration bring it all home to Long Island Sound, our own watery backyard. Daily 8:30 am – 2 pm. For more information about the collaboration camps or to register, call 203 852 0700, ext. 2353, between 2:00 to 4:00 pm or email mailto:mcampdirector@maritimeaquarium.org. Stepping Stones Museum. Mathews Park, 303 West Avenue, Norwalk, CT. For more information, call 203-899-0606 or visit www.steppingstonesmuseum.org.

At Earthplace we use our 62-acre wildlife sanctuary as an outdoor classroom. On trail walks through the woods, meadow, stream, and pond, we often spot wildlife in their natural surroundings, including deer, turtles, hawks, wild turkeys and groundhogs. Every week animals from our indoor Animal Hall come to visit. Campers learn about many creatures and their habitats, with the themes changing every week. There are many opportunities to explore new aspects of nature through hands-on activities, group games, field trips, hikes and crafts. Once a session, children in grades 1 through 4 go on area field trips. Some weeks our 3rd & 4th, and 5th-7th graders go canoeing. On other weeks the 5th-7th graders also camp overnight at Earthplace. We hope to give your child a summer experience that encourages him or her to appreciate all that nature at Earthplace has to offer. Call 203-227-7253 x 107 before registering. Earthplace, 10 Woodside Lane, PO Box 165, Westport, CT 06881. 203-227-7253. Visit www.earthplace.org.

Audubon’s 290-acre sanctuary is an ideal place for children entering grades K through 9 to develop an appreciation for and understanding of the environment. Join us for seven fun-filled weeks of hands-on, educational hikes, games, activities and crafts! Seven one-week sessions. Ages: Children and teens entering grades K – 9. * Camps for teens entering grades 6-9 are offered.  Camp Themes include: Creepy Crawlies, Twilight Investigations, Backwoods Explorers, Scale & Tails, Aquatic Adventures and Audubon Ecology Adventures (grades 6-9 only). Hours: 9:30 am – 3:30 pm. Twilight Investigations is an evening camp and runs from 4:00 pm – 9:00 pm. There is no day camp during this week. *On Thursday night, campers entering grades 4 – 9 will have an overnight at the Audubon Center and get picked up on Friday at 9:30 am. Campers in grades K-3 will attend camp from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm for the entire week (Monday-Friday). Cost: $315 for members; $350 for non-members (includes $35 annual family membership fee).  * We do not offer sibling or multiple week discounts. Visit Audubon Greenwich. 613 Riversville Road, Greenwich, CT 06831. Phone 203-869-5272.

The Summer Institute for the Gifted Day Program provides instruction in approximately 30 courses during its regular academic schedule and engages students in recreational activities every day. Courses are taught at levels appropriate for academically gifted students ages 6-14, covering humanities, mathematics and sciences, and multi-disciplinary courses. Every student selects three courses and has a recreational period. Each class meets five times a week for 90 minutes each.  Lunch is provided. We offer two locations in Westchester County: Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville and Manhattanville College in Purchase.  Contact: 866-303-4744, email Sig.info@giftedstudy.org, or visit www.giftedstudy.org.

Summerweek History Day Camp, for children ages 9-12, is an educational and entertaining weeklong day camp filled with hands-on activities and learning. Parents may enroll their children in one or more of the sessions in Westchester County offered at Philipsburg Manor, Van Cortlandt Manor, and Washington Irving’s Sunnyside. Call 914-631-8200, ext. 628 for information and reservations. www.hudsonvalley.org.