Archive for December, 2007

New Year’s Eve

Posted on December 31, 2007. Filed under: Things to Do, Westchester | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Photo by ms. teaprosecco.jpg
Today is the last day of the year, and I remain committed to making things easy and simple in the upcoming year.

Since it is New Year’s Eve, the Westchester town of New Rochelle is hosting a First Night celebration with lots of activities and things to do with kids. I was thinking about going to the children’s library for their “crazy hat making” event with my four year old, but stayed close to home and had one of her friends come over for a play date instead. After dress up and pretend cooking, they ended up having tea in the kitchen while the other mother and I killed the “supernatural brownies” I made yesterday from a recipe I read in the NY Times. After they left, I cooked up a pot of black eyed peas for hoppin’ john, which we ate for dinner. My husband wants to make sure we have enough left over to eat tomorrow on New Year’s Day for good luck this year.

Now that the night has settled in, I am relaxing on the couch watching the Twilight Zone marathon (another New Year’s tradition in my home). My teenagers are gone—both were invited to parties with their friends. As a result, the house is really quiet. My husband and I are sharing a bottle of Prosecco, while my four year old is thrilled to be allowed to stay up late and play with her crayons.

So no night out, no running around, and no drama. It would be nice to have more nights like this in the upcoming year. Now I am going to watch one of my favorite TZ episodes, Time Enough at Last.

Happy New Year.

Anne

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Introduction Basics

Posted on December 28, 2007. Filed under: Family Life | Tags: , , , |

Photo by PoagaoPhone
A boy called our home the other day to speak to one of my teenage daughters. When my husband picked up the phone, the boy introduced himself and asked for my daughter. When he was told she wasn’t home, he asked if he could leave a message and thanked my husband afterwards.

None of this may seem eventful, but it was the topic of MAJOR discussion in our home because this is the first boy who has called the house who seems to know how to actually use the phone. Others have called and asked for my daughter without greeting the person picking up the phone. Some have called after 11PM, and there was one who simply hung up the phone whenever and adult answered. Is it really too much to ask kids to engage in standard greetings with adults? It’s ridiculous that kids seem so uncomfortable simply saying hello and greeting adults.

I recently walked my daughter through the specific steps she should take when introducing her friends to me, because I wanted her to set the tone for how her friends should greet me and to give them some guidance. It also just makes things easier because I do not have the same last name as my children so it helps the kids to know what name to use. Part of this was prompted because her introductions had become “this is my mom”—as if I have no name or identity. When I told my daughter I wanted her friends to call me by my last name, she seemed surprised. This is partly because I allowed her friends to call me by my first name when she was younger. However, as she (and her friends) became teenagers, I found that they started to treat adults with less respect and more disdain. As a result, the respect that younger kids give to adults doesn’t make the use of last names as necessary. But as they get older—and less respectful—and we have to set more limits as parents–I like to have them reminded that they should treat adults with some respect, and should definitely address adults by their sir names. Lastly, it’s a sign of respect and it’s better for my kids to err on the side of formality and having adults tell them to call them by their first name, than to be informal and offend someone. If they can do it with their teachers, they can do it with their friends’ parents.

I never thought the day would come when I would be so “ol’ school” and insist on the use of formal names and appropriate introductions when kids talk to adults. But then again, I did not expect to have boys call my house and think it’s OK to simply hang up the phone if I was the one who answered the phone.

Anne

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The Story of Stuff

Posted on December 27, 2007. Filed under: Frugal Living |

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Photo by Brave New Films

Today is Thursday and this is the day I usually talk about frugal living. I have been trying to put together all of the reasons why I think frugal living is a good thing. There are the obvious benefits of saving money, but for me it’s also about consuming less, focusing on non-material pleasures and having less of an impact on the environment. All of these issues do relate to frugal living, but I have had a hard time putting them together in a coherent fashion. Then a friend sent me a link to this brief video (www.storyofstuff.com), which puts it all together in a clear and easy to digest video.

Enjoy.

Anne

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Christmas Day Workout

Posted on December 25, 2007. Filed under: Running, Take Care of Yourself |

Christmas Shoes

Photo by orangeacid

Now that Christmas day is over, I am facing an entire week without having to go to work. As a result, I have the time to focus on myself and am planning to get back into the groove of working out and running.

Last week, I talked about not running during this time of year because I was too busy, and decided to take some time off. After ten days of not running, I had a chance to run this past weekend and it was GREAT. I felt rested and better able to face my run—both mentally and physically. It was a treadmill run, which I usually find boring and hard to finish. However, since I was coming back from a break, I was able to do a 45 minute run without a problem. I’ve read from sources like runnersworld.com that it’s good to take a break from running if things are getting stale. I think they are right and I’m glad I gave myself some time away. A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked me if I was interested in running the More Half Marathon in April. Now that I’ve taken a break, I may be up to it and will blog about my progress if I decide to enter and train.

Anne

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Let’s Get Together

Posted on December 24, 2007. Filed under: Things to Do |

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Photo by babasteve

It’s Christmas Eve. I just put my four year old to bed, and am really looking forward to tomorrow morning, when she wakes up. Of all the things I like about this time of year, the best thing is spending time with friends and family. Since a lot of people take off a few days from work during the holidays, there is more time for people to get together. The past few days have been busy; I did a play date with my daughter, and spent the afternoon chatting with her playmate’s mother. Another friend of mine was born on December 24th and had a party this evening. My sister is coming to spend a few days. Friends I grew up with are coming in from California and will visit next weekend. There are also plans for another party, a brunch and an outing to the New York Botanical Gardens.

Then after New Year…..nothing.

Actually, I do more socializing during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, than during most six month periods at other times of the year. However, since I enjoy getting together with family and friends so much, it would make sense to (1) do it more often, and (2) spread it out over the year so it is not all concentrated into this one week period.

So adding to my list of activities or “things to do” will be “get together with friends” and in the next year, I hope to make it a regular event. While we all have complicated lives, I like the simple pleasure of spending time with people I like. I t does not have to be a big production, huge dinner event, or elaborate plans. Just the simple act of getting together to chat over coffee or wine is enough, and I plan to do it more often in the next year.

Anne

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Hand Bell Hero

Posted on December 21, 2007. Filed under: Chuckles | Tags: , , , , |

Hopefully you are better at this than I am.

Hand Bell Hero

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Lead Free Toys

Posted on December 21, 2007. Filed under: Family Life | Tags: , , , , |

tigger.jpg

Photo by rednuht

I recently said to my husband “it seems like all the toy recalls we’ve been hearing about have stopped”. Then out comes a report from the Ecology Center which shows that only 20% of the toys they tested were lead free– only 20 percent! It’s Christmas time and my parents and sisters are asking what gifts to get for our kids. While my kids can say what they want to get, I have something to say about what they cannot get:

  • no guns or weapons
  • no Bratz dolls
  • no Barbie dolls
  • no TV products (meaning toys that promote TV shows or charaters-although I make exceptions for Dora The Explorer)
  • no video games or game consoles.

Now I have to add “no toys with lead” to the list.

Thanks to the Ecology Center, I can tell my family thay can go to healthytoys.org to get a list of the lead levels in common toys. As an extra bonus, the report also includes levels of cadmium and arsenic found in toys……how great!

Happy Holiday shopping!

Anne

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Frugal Christmas

Posted on December 20, 2007. Filed under: Frugal Living |

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Photo by jurvetson

THERE ARE ONLY FIVE SHOPPING DAYS LEFT UNTIL CHRISTMAS!

The commercials and hype would have you believe that you have to go run out to some packed mall and spend, spend, spend! I am trying to do otherwise. This time of year is always stressful — buying gifts, winding down at work to take a few days off, sending out cards, school events, parties, family plans, shipping packages, visiting with friends, decorating–all of this adds up to a stressful season. Now add the possibility of racking up serious credit card debt, and it just doesn’t make sense. So when I think about a “Frugal Christmas” it begins with saving money and not going overboard. But it’s also about saving sanity, working towards simplicity and trying to actually enjoy the season.

So here are the things I do to have a frugal, and fulfilling, Christmas:

  • Set a budget. And stick to the budget. I set money aside for use during Christmas and like being able to get gifts for the people I love knowing that it will not put me further in debt. This helps to avoid the anxiety I feel when money is being spent, but it isn’t clear to me where that money is going to come from (DAMN those credit cards!) I have an idea of how much I want to spend on each gift based on my budget and can focus on the giving without worrying about the spending.
  • Make something. I have knitted scarves, made gourmet food baskets, burned CDs and created family calendars with all of our photos to give away. I made butter for the first time a few weeks ago, and learned that it was really easy to do. So this year I decided to make a bunch of flavored butters to give as gifts. My package will have three butters one flavored with sea salt, another with fresh herbs, and the third with chopped radishes (sounds weird, but I am told it tastes great). My daughters spent this evening making cookies for all of their friends to give as gifts, so I am pleased to see that they have learned you can make things that are worth giving as gifts.
  • Limit the number and size of gifts. For years I have been advocating that we limit gift giving to the children in the family, but could never get anyone to agree. Then I advocated for doing a Secret Santa where each adult puts their name in a hat and we all buy one gift for the adult whose name you pulled from the hat. Again, no one agreed. So I decided to institute my own Secret Santa. Each year I get a small gift for all of the adults in my family (eg a picture frame with a family photo inside). However, I pick one person to be my “Secret Santee” and get them one big gift. I simply go in alphabetical order to determine whose turn it is to receive the big gift. This year it’s my Dad’s turn to be my (not so) Secret Santee, which is nice because it has been a tough year for him because of his health.
  • Round Robin. This is actually not one of my ideas, but a coworker told me he does it in his family with the adults and I thought it was a great idea. He has a large family and when they get together for Christmas each person brings one gift. Then they all pull numbers out of a hat. The person with the number one randomly selects one of the gifts and opens it. Then the person with the number two opens a gift. He can then decide to keep the gift or can take the gift that belongs to the person who already opened a present. So it goes on with each person opening a gift, and then deciding if they want to keep it, or want to trade it for one of the gifts that have already been opened. Then when everyone has selected a gift, it goes back to the person who was number one and they get to make the final trade for the gift they want among all of the gifts that have been opened. With a large noisy family, the fun is in the trading and laughing.
  • Buy nothing. My husband and I have agreed to not buy each other gifts for the past couple of years, and it has been great. No trying to figure out what he wants, one less gift to get, no need to make room for more sweaters. The other approach is to use Christmas as a time to buy something new for our home that we both want. Whatever the approach, the goal is to keep it simple a low stress.
  • Don’t buy seasonal items. This really applies to my wrapping paper and Christmas cards. Instead of getting something that screams CHRISTMAS, it’s better to get someting that can be used all year. So wrapping paper can be a basic red color, without Christmas prints and used all year long. Cards can have a neutral theme and be used as thank you cards during the year. No Christmas towels, dishes, aprons, pot holders or other items that would look ridiculous if used in August.
  • Take the kids out to look at Christmas lights and decorations. An advantage to living in New York is access to places like Lincoln Center and Rockefeller Center. At this time of year, there are lots of options in terms of places to see great Christmas decorations and holiday lights around the city for free or for minimal cost. Here are some listed in New York Magazine. Closer to home in Westchester, there are some families that go over the top with decorating their homes every year, and visitng them to see how they have decorated is an annual event for some. Here’s that list.

I am always looking for ways to make this season easier and simpler. This list is the beginning and I hope to get more ideas.Anne

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Eating Food Made Close to Home

Posted on December 19, 2007. Filed under: Food, Stop the Drama |

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Photo by Kanko

Thanks to the influence of my granola-eating grandmother, I have always been conscious of the need to promote health and wellness for myself and my kids. I try to buy organic foods, when possible (and not too expensive), but try to do things within reason.

One of my friends used to insist that every beauty product she used be “natural”. To be honest, it isn’t clear to me exactly what that means. For example, dog poop is certainly “natural” but that doesn’t mean you want to wash your hair in it, does it? Since I know that there are specific criteria for being certified as “organic” that is pretty much the only label that gets my attention.

In addition to organic, I’ve seen farmers markets and people advocate for the need to buy things that are locally grown. I always thought that was a statement about the importance of supporting the locally economy. However, some recent events made me realize that buying locally produced food has health, as well as economic benefits.

Last year there was an E. Coli outbreak in the northeastern US that was ultimately traced to scallions from a California farm. Growing food and using manure–even natural fertilizers used in organic farming–can lead to exposure to E. coli. For me, the big concern raised by this incident was not just the presence of E. coli in food, but it was the impact of one farm and how it was able to affect so many people so far away. Given the mass production of food, and its far reaching distribution, a single outbreak from a single source can quickly spread across the country. While buying locally produced food may not give you better individual protection from E. Coli exposure, it does mean that when E. Coli does get into food, many fewer people will get sick. It also means that finding the source of the contamination will be a lot easier.

The other incident was the recent outbreak of Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus, or MRSA, in several schools around the country and the report that MRSA kills more people in the US than AIDS. Staph (short for staphylococcus) is a germ that is found on everyone’s skin, and usually causes no problems. However, when you get exposed to antibiotics most of the staph germs are destroyed, but the ones that survive have slight mutations that make them immune to antibiotics–this is what has given rise to MRSA, a germ that is resistant to most antibiotics. As a result, MRSA has been a problem in several hospitals, where antibiotics are always used. When the MRSA outbreaks occurred in the schools last year, I realized that it was unusual for infections to happen with people who had not been in hospitals or exposed to lots of antibiotics, and wondered why this was happening. Then I read an excellent article in the NY Times by Michael Pollan about the use of antibiotics in the mass production of food.

I always knew that antibiotics are widely used in the production of animals used for our food (ie, chickens, beef and pigs). What I didn’t know was that 70% of all antibiotics used in this country are used in food production and consumed by these animals–70 PERCENT! He also went on to report that “a European study found that 60 percent of pig farms that routinely used antibiotics had MRSA-positive pigs (compared with 5 percent of farms that did not feed pigs antibiotics)”. Studies in Cananda also found high rates of MRSA among farm animals and 20% of pig farmers in Cananda tested positive for MRSA. There have not been any studies on the presence of MRSA among farm animals in the US, so we don’t know whether it is common. What I do know is that the conditions for emergence of MRSA–specifically, widespread use of antibiotics–exist in animal farm production, so it is likely that many US farm animals, and the workers who care for them, would test positive for MRSA.

Reading this article was a huge “lightbulb moment” for me because it provided and plausible explanation for what caused the recent increases in the number of non-hospital MRSA infections. While there is no way to protect my family from MRSA (other than to encourage lots of handwashing), I can limit our exposure by avoiding mass produced foods that use antibiotics.

All of this is to say that eating food made close to home–especially if they are made without antibiotics or pesticides– has lots of benefits:

  • I know where my food is coming from and who is making it;
  • It provides economic support to local businesses;
  • My family has less exposure to foods that can be contaminated with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics;
  • The food we eat will be in sync with the local seasons.

The big disadvantage is this food is probably going to cost me more. One of my favorite places to get produce is Viva Ranch in downtown New Rochelle. It offers lots of variety and the prices are amazing. Next time I go, I will ask exactly where their food comes from. Hopefully, it is locally grown (not to mention organic) AND is affordable. I’d like to be able to do the right thing for my family.

Anne

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Giving Me a Break

Posted on December 18, 2007. Filed under: Running, Take Care of Yourself |

Photo by Bob Jagendorf

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I haven’t gone running in nearly a week. There has been nothing worse for my diet and exercise routine than the holiday season. Parties and treats entice me to over eat, while errands, extra activities and late nights make me tired and not willing to get out of bed in the morning to exercise.

I approach every Monday as the beginning of a new week and recommit myself to my fitness routine. I weigh myself and make plans for exercise and diet for the upcoming week. Lately, I’ve been happy when I weighed in and simply did not gain weight. I have no expectation that I would lose weight, given all the Christmas cookies I’ve been eating.

I was beginning to beat myself up for not sticking to my weight loss plans. However, I needed to walk 1 1/2 miles on the way home from work today (Christmas shopping) and really enjoyed it! This reminded me that when it is hard to wake up early to go run, I can always walk from the train to my office, which is 1 1/2 miles. If I walk in both directions, then I’ll get in three miles in total. While it is not as challenging as running three miles in the morning, it does give me some exercise so I don’t stray too much from my routine. I also get to stroll through the streets of New York City during the holiday season along with the tourists.

So I decided to get in lots of walking in the next few days, and to give myself a break from running, as well as a break from chastising myself. I have a lot to finish both at home and at work before Christmas and need to take some things off my “to do” list. It will be running for the next few days. Then during the Christmas break, I can get rested and can get back to my running routine (diet may have to wait until after the New Year).

Anne

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    Musings on how a disorganized woman with a full time job, three kids and a real need to relax is trying to make life simple.

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