Archive for February, 2008

The Best Hot Chocolate in Westchester

Posted on February 25, 2008. Filed under: Things to Do, Westchester | Tags: , , , |

Today is about Things to Do

Photos by Anneblog-010.jpg
I recently wrote about the Best Hot Chocolate in New York. After reading my post, a friend reminded me that we have great hot chocolate right here in Westchester. It can be found in the village of Larchmont at Cocoa.

This is a cute little shop located on Boston Post road that sells nothing but chocolate–truffles, brownies, non pareils, and of course hot chocolate. The shop is tiny, so it’s the kind of place where you order a shot of hot chocolate, can sit on one of the four stools at the counter and drink, but cannot linger.

The chocolate itself, is very thick, smooth and creamy and is definitely made by melting pure chocolate and adding just enough milk to keep it liquid. It is not served very hot, but you do sip it slowly since it is so rich. The hot chocolate comes in three sizes–small (a satisfying taste), medium (a chocolate addict’s portion), and large (able to induce a chocolate coma), and they offer fresh whipped cream with it.

The prices are very reasonable, a small cup costs $1.95, a medium is $3.50, while a large is $4.90. blog-003.jpgA small is about 3 oz, but since it is so rich it is very satisfying. In fact, my four year old wasn’t able to finish hers. If you are a true chocolate glutton, or just having a party, they also offer cocoa-to-go, an 80 oz container of hot chocolate for $37.

While the hot chocolate here is great, and certainly worth a trip, they only serve chocolate and nothing else to eat. So if you want a place where you can eat pastries, drink great hot chocolate, and hang out, this place is too small and does not fit that bill. However, if you do want a cup of rich, creamy and very satisfying hot chocolate, then Cocoa is certainly worth a visit.

Anne

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Starting Over

Posted on February 19, 2008. Filed under: Stop the Drama | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Today is about Stopping the Drama

Photo by tanakawho lotus.jpg
Every new day is a chance to start over. No matter what went wrong, what wasn’t accomplished, or wasn’t said or done, you can approach each day as a chance to start over. I have had to face starting over for small things like recommitting myself to a diet or other healthy lifestyle change, to big things like starting over after my divorce. Friends of mine have had to start over after declaring bankruptcy, losing their job, or moving to a new city. We all have to start over at some point. Having had my own experiences with starting over, and sharing the experience with my friends who have done the same, I’ve learned that there are several ways to make starting over a better experience.

Reflect to understand how you got to this point. Whether it is losing a job, going through a divorce, or filing for bankruptcy, when you have to start over after a bad experience it’s worth taking the time to reflect and think through how you got to this point. Basically, to figure out what are the lessons you can glean from the experience. What would you do differently if you could? What would you do the same? What was not in your control, and what was? Rather than taking a stance of bad things are happening to you, take responsibility for your role. What could you do to make the situation different, or to know earlier that it was not going well for you? All of those lessons are important, and will give you guidance as you go forward and start over.

Make a plan. Sometimes starting over can feel overwhelming. However, if you make a plan that consists of manageable steps, that gives you direction for what needs to be done. Filing for bankruptcy can be overwhelming. After filing, my friends had to rebuild their credit, start saving, learn how to live within their budgets, and set long term financial goals. Once they had a specific plan for how to regroup after bankruptcy, it then became their road map for what to do next.

Give yourself time. Starting over takes time, and will be done in small steps. Rebuilding credit, starting a new life, or learning a new job all require small steps towards rebuilding. It does not happen quickly. However, take the steps you need, and then give yourself time to periodically reassess. For example, if you are rebuilding your life after a divorce, check your progress every six months–have you started a new job, reduced your debt, rediscovered old interests, or done other things you couldn’t do while married? Stopping to periodically evaluate your progress will give you time to check your progress towards rebuilding.

Look for the positive. Starting over often results from a negative event, but there may be a positive side to the experience. Did you lose a job? Perhaps you didn’t really like it. File for bankruptcy? Now you have lost a major source of stress in your life and don’t have creditors calling you. After I divorced, I took great pleasure in being able to watch what I wanted on TV, without having to negotiate, and without having to give up the remote control. I know it seems like a small thing, but it really made me happy to be able to simply watch TV without conflict.

Embrace the opportunity to do something new. Starting over opens you up to lots of great new experiences. If you lost your job, this may be the time to start a new career. After I divorced, I was free to look for a new job, move to a new city, and travel to different places than I did while married. Friends who went through bankruptcy told me that it forced them to learn to live within their budgets, embrace simplicity and focus on non-material things that were important to them.

I am thinking about this topic now because I have to start over with my training program. I mentioned before that I am training for a half marathon as a way to stay motivated to run through the winter. Most of my running has been indoors on a treadmill, and my longest run was 12 miles a couple of weeks ago. Then last weekend it was warm enough for me to run outdoors, but I could only complete 8 miles because my legs hurt from the pounding of running on the road. I was really discouraged after this morning’s run because it was only 4 miles, but hard since I haven’t been running outside. So now I have to start over with my training schedule to get ready for this race–in 7 weeks. Although this type of starting over is fairly easy–I am not dealing with rebuilding my life after a major event–the principles I outlined above also apply in this situation.

The bottom line is each day presents itself as an opportunity to start over. It’s never too late.

Anne

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Another Way to Recycle

Posted on February 18, 2008. Filed under: Frugal Living, Westchester | Tags: , , , , |

Today is about Frugal Living

Freecycle NetworkMy family is like so many others and produces a lot of waste. This morning, I was looking at all of the bottles and cans my family used in the past week and am grateful our town has a recycle program so that waste will not end up in a landfill. I recently discovered another great way to recycle more useful items called Freecycle.

According to their webpage (www.freecycle.org), Freecycle was started in May 2003 to promote waste reduction by creating local groups of people who give — and get — free items, thus keeping those items useful and avoiding sending them into landfills. People can post items they want to give away, while others can post requests for things they need. There are over 4,000 groups with over 4 million members, and you can find your local group on the FreeCycle webpage. I signed up for my local group, called WestchesterNYFreecycle, and have seen offers for everything from children’s clothing, to sports equipment and televisions. I have also seen requests for outdoor toys, jewelry boxes, and space heaters.

This is a great way to find free items that you can use. But it is also a great way to make sure the items you no longer need can be used by others. Like lots of families with children, we have clothes, toys, furniture and lots of other stuff that is in good shape but has been outgrown or is no longer used. So if we won’t use it, it’s better to recycle it to someone else who can use it, and avoid sending it to a landfill.

I think this is a great idea and wrote an earlier post about consumerism and how our “stuff” impacts impact the environment. Well,  I am using this network to get rid of my usable “stuff” as I try to simplify my life. It’s an easy way to reduce, while having less of an impact on the environment.

Anne

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Achieving a Work Family Balance

Posted on February 17, 2008. Filed under: Family Life, Stop the Drama | Tags: , , , , |

Today is about Family Life

Photo by ghewgillbalance21.jpg
Achieving a balance between work and family seems to be the “holy grail” for so many of my friends.

First let me state “I want to work”. I work because I want to accomplish things outside of my home. I work because my family needs the money. I work because I want to be a role model for my daughters. I work because I want to maintain my financial independence. I have worked ever since my daughters (who are now teenagers) were born. While working is important to me, my family is even more important. So I need to balance the two.

Over the years, I’ve had lots of conversations with other women about the work/family balance. We all have different ways of dealing with the challenges, but most of us are able to manage it. Thinking about my own experience as a working mother, and watching the efforts of my friends and colleagues, here are some tips I’ve picked up that are helpful for achieving the work/family balance. At the core of most of these is coming to terms with the fact that you can’t do it all. And that’s OK.

Get as much support from your partner as you can, and then get more help. It seems obvious, but get all the help you can. In the ideal world , our partners or husbands would be the person we most rely on for help. In the real world, the work of running a home, caring for our kids, and managing everyone’s lives is rarely evenly split between both partners–even if they are both working. It’s been 20 years since Arlie Hochschild wrote The Second Shift, but her observations are still valid; most working women take on a larger part of household responsibilities, particularly if they have children. This may seem unfair. You can get mad. Get upset. Get on your partner’s case. But none of that is as effective as getting more help. Some of this help can come from family and friends and some you will need to pay for. Don’t limit your help to the obvious need of child care. You can also get help with other parts of your life. This includes (but is not limited to) help with cleaning your home, grocery shopping, meal preparation, caring for parents, shopping for clothes, vacation planning, getting your kids’ hair done, planning birthday parties, and buying Christmas gifts. Obviously, each of these services is going to cost you money, and I would not recommend doing all of them. But knowing that you can’t do it all, you need help to manage all of your responsibilities and there are plenty of people (and service providers) who can help.

Forget about being perfect, and embrace being good enough. Decide what is important to you and what isn’t, and this gives you guidance about what things to let fall through the cracks. There are some things that should never slip (like celebrating your child’s birthday), while you can let other things go if you don’t have time (like sending out Christmas cards). Your kids want your time and attention more than anything and understanding their priorities will help you keep yours. Sitting down together for dinner every night should be a priority. If it’s pizza or some other take out food, rather than a home cooked meal, your kids won’t mind so you shouldn’t either. Personally, I’ve given up on having a neat house. My house gets really cleaned every two weeks, but then chaos (meaning my husband and kids) comes in and leaves clothes, toys, books, and shoes everywhere. I can get a single room neat, but I never have the whole house looking put together and that is good enough.

Sometimes you need to scale back at work. I have friends who decided to work four days per week to give themselves a bit more flexibility with their time. Others chose to take on less demanding jobs when their children were young, and then lobbied for more responsibilities or a promotion as their kids got older. Your kids’ needs change over time, and the amount of time and attention you can give to your work will change too.

Sometimes you need to scale back at home. I can’t be the class mom, attend every PTA meeting (especially the ones scheduled for 10:30AM!), be an escort on every class trip, and often buy brownies instead of making them for bake sales. If your kids participate in sports, then it means a lot of dropping off and picking up for practice, plus lots of travel to go to games. I can’t do all of that. So I ask my kids to think about what is really important to them, and then I get involved (or get help) with the things they care about. This is why one of my kids did not join the travel soccer team, but did join the track team.

Look for jobs that give you flexibility. The hardest part of the balance is the day to day juggling. Who does drop off and pick up from daycare or school? How do you get home on time for parent teacher meetings, or recitals, or plays, or sporting events? Where is the time to make dinner? If time at your job is not flexible, then there is no easy answer to dealing with these challenges (except to think about another job). If you are fortunate to have a flexible job, you can arrive late or leave early when needed, work at other times like on weekends, or work at night so you can attend to your family. I know a nurse who works 12 hour shifts from 7PM to 7AM. Then she goes home, gets her kids ready for school, goes to sleep and wakes up in time to pick them up from school. Since her shifts are 12 hours, she works three shifts per week for a full-time job. It isn’t easy, but her job flexibility lets her be there for her kids.

Do work when at work, be home when at home. Wherever you are, give it your full attention. I once complained to someone about my challenges of focusing on work and family. I found myself in meetings thinking about Halloween costumes, and when I was at home thinking about projects at work. None of this was making me more effective, and I was constantly feeling pulled in different directions. He recommended I read Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat Zinn. This is basically a book about meditation, but I found it helpful because it talked about “being in the moment” and giving my full attention to the present task. So rather than feeling scattered all the time, I focus on my current situation.

Set work/home boundaries. Part of being able to focus is because I designate the time and place for everything I need to do. When I am at work, I try not to work on home issues. When I am at home, I try not to think about work. I go so far as to leave myself voice mail messages. If I am home and I have a thought about something work related, I call my office, and plant the work related item there on my voice mail. Then I know it will get addressed when I am back in the office, and I can spend my time at home focusing on my home life. Obviously, things happen and I can’t always stick to this plan to compartmentalize my life, but making the effort helps me to feel less scattered.

Be prepared for the teen years. When my kids were young, I had lots of options for daycare. As they got older, they went into school and our need for child care became less intense. When they became teenagers, I realized that they still needed support and supervision after school, but unlike when they were young, I had very few options for getting help with my teenagers. Working mothers often make lots of plans to scale back at work or bring in extra help when their children are young. Now that I have been through both phases, I often advise other working mothers who want to scale back to think about waiting until their kids are teenagers. Parents can make use of several daycare options that are available when their kids are younger. But I think the toughest time is when your children are teenagers. There are not a lot of options for teenage care, and having your teens home and unsupervised for several hours each day can be a set up for trouble. So while it seems counterintuitive, realize that teenagers have a lot of need for parents to be around, and you will need to plan for their care and supervision just as much as when they were younger–but you will have fewer options for outside help.

Everyone I know who is juggling work and family family feels stretched thin from time to time. However, by having a good support network, setting your own priorities, and being satisfied with being less than perfect, I find most women are making it work for themselves and their families.

Anne

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    Why is Fish Oil Good for You?

    Posted on February 5, 2008. Filed under: Take Care of Yourself | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

    Tuesday is about Taking Care of Yourself

    Photo by adactio61382913_6aa559409e.jpg
    I’ve heard of the benefits of fish oil for years. One friend swears it cleared up her son’s eczema, another says she uses it to prevent colds, I read that runners should take it to protect their knees, and doctors prescribe it in Europe to their patients with heart disease. So I decided to do a little research and learn more.

    Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids. Since our bodies cannot produce these fatty acids, and can only get it from our food, these are called essential fatty acids. The three types of omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The major actions of omega-3 oils are to reduce inflammation, which helps combat a number of medical problems. Another important fatty acid is omega-6, but it is common in most of our diets since it is found in meat. People with a good ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids are less likely to have a variety of medical problems including heart disease, cancer and arthritis. However, the best ratio varies according to the condition you are worried about. Since most of our diets have low levels of omega-3 fatty acids, taking fish oil is a great way to supplement your diet and achieve better 6 to 3 ratios.

    So my bottom line assessment of the benefits of taking omega-3 oils is WOW!

    As I looked through the medical literature, I saw LOADS of studies that have shown the benefits of increasing omega-3 oils in your diet. Some of the conditions that have been studied are listed below with the links to the research that shows the benefits. This is not a comprehensive list, but is a great start.

    In terms of the evidence for preventing colds and treating runner’s knee, I couldn’t find anything. But after seeing all of these other benefits, I put some fish oil (that has had the scent removed) into my 4 year old daughter’s juice. She has eczema and I hope to see an improvement. I will write about it after she has taken it for 2 weeks.

    Anne

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      Why Does a Middle Aged Mother of Three Support Barack Obama?

      Posted on February 4, 2008. Filed under: Things to Do | Tags: , , , , , , |

      Monday is about Things to Do

      This has been the most exciting election in years!

      I think our country has had a hard eight years under the current administration. The war, the environment, the 47 million uninsured people living in the US, the lack of a cogent plan for protecting ourselves from terrorism, the economy, our poor international standing as a leading nation. We are in bad shape and in need of change.

      For me, this change is likely to come from our Democratic candidates. They all have spoken about a vision for a new America, about a need to do things differently, and to address our problems proactively. For most of this election, I went back and forth between Clinton and Obama, and was hard pressed to see huge differences in their policies that would lead me to support one over the other. Being a New Yorker, I was leaning towards Clinton.

      Since there was little in their platforms to differentiate them, one of my major concerns was who was more electable? Would middle America vote for a Black man? How many people still hate Clinton? This was not about a Black man versus a White woman, but was about a Black man (with no baggage) versus Hillary Clinton (with lots of baggage). Then came the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire, and there were several things that convinced me that Obama was more electable:

      1. Obama won Iowa, and he won by a wide margin (nine percentage points ahead of Clinton).
      2. When Obama won Iowa, it was in a state that is 95% white, showing that white Americans would vote for a Black man (Have you ever been to Iowa? It really is very white).
      3. Hillary didn’t just lose in Iowa, she came in third. This showed me that lots of people really don’t like Clinton. I knew that was the case, but it is hard to know exactly how many people or what effect they would have on an election. Iowa showed us how bad it could be.
      4. Obama lost New Hampshire, but he lost by a narrow margin (two percentage points behind Clinton). This was in a state that was supposed to treat her like a homecoming queen, it was supposed to be a given for her (he did end up with the same number of delegates, which doesn’t seem to get mentioned).
      5. Obama’s performance in New Hampshire showed that a lot of people would vote for him, and again this time it was in a state that was 96% white.
      6. After Iowa and New Hampshire, the Clintons went on the offensive and targeted Obama with their attacks. This was when things started to get ugly, and the debates moved away from debating the policies to discussions of race, innuendo, and attacks using sound bites. People were reminded that the Clintons can be tough with their opponents – something that turns a lot of people off. It also showed that Obama was able to take the pressure, and demonstrate poise and leadership while being attacked.
      7. Obama is an inspiring speaker whose message of change and a better America exudes visionary leadership that is supported by a wide range of groups including young people who are coming out to support him in droves, and the Kennedys who are on the road stumping for him.
      8. McCain emerged as the front runner for the Republican party, and I think he will give his Democratic opponent a real run for their money if he gets the nomination. However, when thinking about moderate and/or independent voters who will play a pivotal role in this election, I think many of them include the “Hillary Haters”. If given a choice of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee, I think many middle of the road voters would chose McCain over her.

      For all of these reasons, I think Obama is the more electable candidate of the two, and would be a good choice for our country. I read in another blog that he purchased some ad time for the Super Bowl, and the ad can be seen here.

      obama.jpg

      “But wait!” You may be saying. This is a blog about family life, not politics. Monday is supposed to be about things to do with your kids. Well this week my activities with my kids included going to a rally for Obama. There they had a chance to see who were our neighbors who were helping to support him (here’s a picture of another mother and her child who were at our local rally). They could hear all of the honking cars that responded to our “honk for Obama” posters. My youngest daughter was particularly impressed with the huge truck that blared its horn as it drove past. As a mother of three, I am thrilled that my children get to see our political process in action, and I am trying to demonstrate the importance of getting invloved. As a mother, I think this election is very important for my childrens’ future, so I feel compelled to be a part of it.
      Whoever you support, the activities this week should include something related to the election (especially if you are in one of the Super Tuesday states). Any and all activities, ranging from discussing the primaries over dinner, to voting, to doing telephone or door to door canvassing are all important activities for our children to see. Whatever the outcome of the primaries, this is an exciting race!

      Yes, we can!

      Barack the Vote!

      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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