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Now that Christmas has come and gone we are working on taking down Christmas decorations and getting the house back to some kind of order. The toy bins, shelves and bedrooms are starting to look like a toy store robbery gone bad around here! I decided to put ‘Getting Organized’ at the top of my New Years Resolutions list and set off to the internet to find some toy organizing inspiration!

9 tips to conquer kids clutter

BathtubToyStorage1

1) Bath toy storage. I am constantly throwing away and buying new bath toys for the kids and with 1 tub for 4 people it makes storing bath toys around the tub pretty difficult. I love the serene, clutter- free look of a bathroom but with two small children that seems impossible. I am excited to try this tension rod and basket storage solution from blue i style. The neat part is you can easily switch out the toy baskets for rags and sponges making it a storage solution for the whole family.

toy box

2) Toy bin DIY. I see post after post this time of year looking for toy box ideas and when I came across this post I was amazed at how easy, creative and CHEAP this was to make. This creative blogger, The Creative Dominican, took an ordinary Tupperware tote and turned it into a beautiful toy box with just some wrapping paper, fence posts and roping.

game-board-storage-art-5_thumb

3) Board game storage. My son is 4 and this year he has developed a true love of board games so Santa left him quite a few under the tree. I just don’t have enough shelf space (and away from little fingers that like to dump things) to store everything. I am LOVING this idea from infarrantlycreative.net!

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4) Stuffed animal zoo. Pinterest is filled with fun ideas for storing stuffed animals from hammocks hung from the ceiling to stuffing bean bag chairs. How cute is this stuffed animal zoo from The Keeper of the Cheerios!

Our Library! 005 edit

5) Create a library wall. I cannot pass up a book sale or better yet a donation from a friend. We have more books taking up precious shelf space than I know what to do with. I love the idea of going vertical with the display and creating an awesome library wall! You can use plastic rain cutters found at any home improvement store like seen here! LOVE!

20 Minutes to a tidier home

lego

6) Lego storage. We acquired a few small sets for Christmas this year but I can already see all of these little pieces becoming a problem. Spotted this super cute DIY storage container from obseussed.com and fell in love! Not only great for legos, I wonder what else can be made out of these plastic containers for storing little pieces!

dress up

7) Dress up clothes. I do have boys, but we still have quite a collection of dress up costumes, fire hats, tool belts, etc. I love the idea of re-purposing a small dresser into a dress- up clothes closet like this one from brooklynlimestone.com

toy car storage

8) A car garage. I am thinking it might be a good idea to get the kids involved in this organizational resolution of mine too. Maybe, just maybe they will be more inclined to put their own toys away if they help create the spaces for them. I love this toy car garage found on Pinterest (source unknown) made out of either toilet paper rolls or PVC pipes!

over door storage

9) Kids art supplies. I find crayons in sock drawers and markers behind doors. The kids arts and crafts supplies is something that needs a home (for sake of my furniture and sanity) but I have never found a good solution in our small space. I am loving this idea from abowlfulloflemons.net. Markers, pencils, crayons and scissors are conveniently stored out of reach of little fingers and out of the way of the rest of the house.

photo book

10) kids paper clutter. Not toys but I have to include this one because we are halfway through the school year and we have accumulated an artwork/ preschool papers pile that tops Mt. Rushmore. I need to find better ways to store and organize the chaos. Two of my favorite ideas I found are a scanned and printed photo book like the one found here on The Shutterfly Blog and the file folder organization like this one found on allthingsformom.com

10 Places to Donate Toys

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A Black And White World

We’re living in a powder keg of racial tension right now and it often makes me wonder how my children fit into a world that is determined to see black and white without acknowledging shades of gray (or brown). When I first started dating my husband at the age of 18 I did feel the need to let my parents know before their first meeting that he was black. I think based on their reactions, they didn’t really understand why I was telling them at all. They could have cared less about his race and loved him immediately.

Bi-racial Babies Are Beautiful

As time marched on, we finished college, got married, and then got pregnant with our first daughter Hannah. I’m not going to lie, I did wonder what she would look like. When my daughter came out looking white, my husband feared that despite her looking exactly like him people might assume he was her step-father instead of her biological father. Being bi-racial himself he had grown up experiencing the polarization of race. In some circles he was considered black or at least “not white” and in others he was told he was “not really black” or “not black enough.”

What Is She?

It wasn’t until a mom in the daycare I ran asked my business partner while I was out of the room, “What is Hannah (racially speaking)” that I truly came to understand what being bi-racial would mean for my kids. It means that they will get quizzical looks as people try to figure out what they are. They were born into a world that sees color as static instead of fluid. Bi-racial children like mine don’t fit the check boxes. For my part I always check both the black and white boxes on medical or school forms. To say they are white because they look white is simply untrue. They are no more mine than my husband’s (though I do like to remind him that I did all the hard work bringing them into the world).

Seeking Out Diversity

I try to immerse my children in culturally diverse environments. Their school is very ethnically diverse. When choosing a church I wanted my children to see people of all colors represented there. When we became friends with our neighbors who shared the same family makeup of a black father, white mother and bi-racial children I said a silent prayer of gratitude. As a white woman, there will always be things about race I don’t know or feel, but I do know that when I look at my husband and children I don’t see what makes us different; I simply see the people I love.

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Seeing Relationships Instead Of Race

One day about two years ago Hannah referred to our family as white. I asked her if she thought we were all the same color to which she replied “yes.” I let her know that Daddy is black and white and she is both as well. But I realized later that she had it right. She doesn’t see in shades of color, but rather shades of love and in that way we are truly all the same.

In my effort to make sure she doesn’t neglect her bi-racial heritage, I made a huge error. Children are born ready and willing to be color blind because they see through the lens of love. The best thing we can do for our children is to stop pointing out the ways we are different. If we all saw the world as children, especially bi-racial children, we would see relationships instead of race because in our house there is no “black daddy” or “white mommy,” but simply mommy and daddy who love them more than anything in the world.

2014
1. New Years eve is a great time to reflect on the past year and look forward to the new year with family and friends. Choose an activity to do together. Bowling, ice skating or roller skating are good options! Many places are offering holiday packages like Colonial Lanes in Chester. For a one price fee for the whole family you can enjoy 2 hours of cosmic bowling, dinner, dessert, cosmic bowlingmusic and more! For tickets and more info: http://bowlcolonial.com. Roller Magic in Hyde Park is also offering a special New Years Eve party. Noisemakers, games, prizes and a special balloon drop finale! http://www.hydeparkrollermagic.com

Also: Hudson Valley’s Best Ice Skating Rinks

2. Ring in the new year at NOON in Beacon, NY. The Howland Cultural Center is hosting a very special children’s Happy Noon Year event! Spend the morning with the kids crafting masks, noisemakers and party props. Kids will practice yoga stretches and sing songs. Then just before noon join in the countdown parade with popcorn and punch. http://www.compassarts.org

3. Celebrate the new year with family fun for everyone at The Castle Fun Center. Tickets include dinner buffet, snacks and sundae bar. Kids will love all the activities at the Castle and a special “midnight” celebration complete with balloon and confetti drop! http://thecastle.pfestore.comnew years at noon

4. At the Mid- Hudson Children’s Museum, celebrate the new year withthe kids at noon! Sing, dance a party your way into 2015 with a DJ dance party, live performances, crafts, snacks, and a unique countdown every hour from around the world! http://www.mhcm.org

5. Head on over to New Paltz for a special day of holiday activities for the whole community to enjoy! Start with children’s crafts and stories at the library, followed by youth scavenger hunt at the Youth program. Later join the community for a dinner at the United Methodist Church, an open mic for teens at the cafeteria coffee house, a community dance at the St. Joseph’s church hall and everything wraps up just before midnight at a community bonfire at Hasbrouck Park! For times and details: http://www.newpaltzchamber.org

6. Go out to eat! Treat yourselves this holiday and save the clean- up for someone else. What are your NYE dinner traditions? Many families get Chinese take out, others stick with apps and finger foods. Here is a list of kid- friendly new years resolutionsrestaurants in the Hudson Valley, check websites and call ahead to see if they are offering anything special for New Years Eve. http://www.hvparent.com/quick-guide-for-childrens-meals

7. Make resolutions together. I am loving this kid- friendly resolutions printable from Uncommondesignsonline.com! Let the kids fill all of the things they want to do and work on in the upcoming year. It will get the kids thinking about bettering themselves and maybe spark a yearly bucket list you can have fun crossing things off all year long! Don’t forget about your own resolutions too! If healthy eating is at the top of your resolution list check out these easy ideas for making healthy eating work for you! Healthy eating: make it a New Year’s resolution

12 grapes8. Celebrate around the world! While the strike of midnight in the Hudson Valley might be a bit too late for the little ones it’s always midnight in another country. Set the clocks around the house to the different time zones, research some New Years traditions from around the world and celebrate as if you were there. In Spain they ring in the New Year eating 12 grapes. (The 12 grapes on a stick photo along with many other great ideas to celebrate with kids found on Celebrations.com) You can dine on Spanish cuisine, get dressed up and dance around the living room to beautiful Spanish music. In Swiss homes, the people drop spoonfuls of whipped cream onto the floor to symbolize the richness of the new year to come. I’m sure the kids would love this tradition! To find out when 2015 starts around the world click here: http://www.timeanddate.com/counters/firstnewyear.html

noisemakers

9. Make your own Noisemakers. Pinterest is filled with awesome crafts you can do with the kids on New Years eve. I am loving the idea of making our own noisemakers like these from jmanandmillerbug.com or these wishing wands from oneartsymama.com.

10. “On New Year’s Eve, kiss the person you hope to keep kissing”. For me this New Year’s Eve no matter where or what time we are celebrating I am lucky to be with the ones I love. Whether your year was filled with great joys or loss and struggles, I hope you take a few minutes to reflect back on some of the happy moments from 2014, find something worth learning from the struggles and start a fresh new year full of love, compassion, wealth and gratitude.

May your New Year be filled with joy, adventure, love and many wishes come true.

I would love to hear some of your New Year’s Eve traditions! How do you celebrate the coming of the New Year?

Veggie Platter

Hosting a guest with food allergies (or bringing food to the home of someone with food allergies) can be nerve-wracking. Many aren’t sure what is safe, and are afraid to make their guests sick.  As we visit and host friends, I frequently get asked what my family and I can eat. Read on to safely feed your gluten free friends and family this holiday season. If you’re new to the world of food allergies, it’s much easier to go with naturally gluten-free foods to accommodate the diet than try to alter your recipes with special ingredients.

Drinks

  • Many wines and liquors are safe, but be aware that beer is not gluten-free.
  • Fresh fruit smoothies are fun for adults and kids, and can easily be made dairy-free by using almond or soy milk instead of cow’s milk or yogurt.

Appetizers

  • Gluten-free crackers, pretzels, or tortilla chips (easily found in grocery and health food stores) pair well with cheese, hummus, or salsa.
  • A fresh fruit or vegetable platter is a welcome sight, just check dips for hidden wheat ingredients.
  • Nuts, seeds, and dried fruit make nice before-dinner treats; check labels as coatings or crunchies may be added in.
  • If you’re feeling adventures, kale chips are easy to make and fun to serve (find my how-to here).
  • Cheese fondue makes a nice appetizer, just use cornstarch for thickening instead of flour, and serve gluten-free crackers or breadsticks along with veggies. Be careful to designate the fondue gluten-free so that others don’t dip in regular bread.

Potato and Bean Salad

Main and side dishes

  • Green salad is great with naturally gluten-free dressings like olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
  • Rice and quinoa can stand in nicely for pasta in a pasta salad recipe.
  • Fried rice with veggies or chicken is a fun side dish.
  • Mashed potatoes are a great alternative to pasta to accommodate a main dish.  A potato and green bean or snap pea combo is also a delicious option.
  • Soups are often gluten-free, again cornstarch can be used in place of flour here.
  • Beef, fish, and chicken are naturally gluten-free, as long as you marinade or dress them without flour, soy sauce, or any wheat/barley ingredients.  If something requires breading, almond meal (found in most baking aisles) is a possible alternative.

Chicken fried rice

Dessert

  • Fresh fruit can once again easily be served as dessert.  It’s healthy, and I am always glad to see it at the end of a meal.
  • Many ice creams, sorbets, and sherbets are gluten-free, but check ingredients and avoid any cookie-based flavors.
  • Chocolate fondue is a fun dessert- dippers like fruit, marshmallows, and gluten-free pretzels are welcomed here.
  • If you’re so inclined, gluten-free mixes are sold in most grocery stores, and you could add brownies, cookies, or cupcakes fairly easily to your selection.  If you’re feeling really brave, there are many great websites for from-scratch gluten-free baking.

If you are cooking, check labels. You would be surprised that everything from salad dressings to ice cream to cream-of-something-soups can have gluten in them. Also, be aware of cross-contamination. It’s very considerate to make your gluten-free friend a special dish, but if pasta is drained in a colander that just held regular pasta, or rice crackers are put on a plate next to wheat crackers, or a cutting board and knife are reused after they cut regular bread, you’ve just compromised your friend’s safety.  Same goes for baking– clean your bakeware extra well before using it, and use stainless steel utensils, as wooden utensils can adsorb gluten in their fibers.

Gluten-free folks are used to checking menus before they attend an event and bringing along their own treats when necessary, but it is always touching to attend a gathering and find that your host has gone through special effort to feed you.  Thanks in advance to all who go out of their way to do so… each time a friend has made a special dish, it has given us a smile to be included in the festivities. To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.  Happy holidays to all!

A Brief Reintroduction

You may have noticed that I’m no longer writing under the name Discount Diva because I decided to branch out and talk about parenting issues. I went with The No Drama Mama because that’s how I like my life; simple with the only beautiful chaos being caused by my three adorable kids.

I made a conscious effort to give the camera to my husband so I could get in on this photo with Hannah and Sydney meeting Santa at the Santa Express that visited South Fallsburg last night.

I’m not a “Santa Hater.” I took my kids to him. I just de-emphasize his role in the holidays. I want them to see Santa as someone who embodies the spirit of giving, not just someone who brings them presents.

Santa’s NOT The Reason For The Season

Before you get out your candy cane themed pitch forks and lynch me for this post, please hear me out and keep the message of Dr. Sueuss’ “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” in mind. Parenting is all about deciding what you want to teach and emphasize in your kids’ lives. Here are four reasons I don’t overplay Santa’s role in the holidays:

 

1. It Detracts From Our Religious Celebration – If you’re like me and you’ve chosen to raise your kids with an understanding of God (whoever that may be to you) then sometimes Santa with his big ‘ol belly and bag full of toys can overshadow your religious celebrations. Sure it’s possible for the two to co-exist, but the allure of “Santa” has the advantage of his magical sleigh full of toys so I try to de-emphasize Santa’s role so my kids will remember that while they have Santa in their lives one day a year, they have God in their lives EVERY day.

2. Santa Promotes The Joy of Receiving Instead of Giving – Sure I want my kids to be excited on Christmas day, but I want them to be grateful and giving human beings EVERY day. I want them to think of helping and giving to others, which is why we participated in Operation Christmas Child and Angel Tree, which gives toys to children on behalf of their incarcerated parents. I hope to emphasize the “spirit of Santa” because we all have the power to be “Santa” for someone who needs a little joy.

 

3. Santa Can Create Comparisons – We live in a financially depressed area and even though my family does ok I know there are many families who are struggling. I would hate to have to explain why Santa gives some kids a new Xbox and others a book. I don’t mind teaching my kids how money works, but trying to rationalize why a magical Santa would show favoritism is not something I want to do.

4. I Want My Kids To Appreciate Us – I usually designate one small gift from Santa and the rest are from Mom and Dad. Why? I want them to appreciate the giver and not just the gift. We gave them the greatest gift of all – life. Top that Santa. I want my kids to look back at their childhood Christmases and remember how much we love them, not how many cool gifts they received. The bonus to our method is that it makes it easier to transition once our kids are too old to believe.

I think the holidays are a magical time of year because of the extraordinary caring and compassion people show each other, not because of Santa. I want my kids to know that Christmas can still carry on without him. In the immortal words of Dr. Seuss, “Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.”

keep calm

Only eight crazy nights left until Christmas! Whatever. I’m not worried. That’s a lie… Anyone else feel a slight panic attack coming on? I have been so behind this year thanks to the 5 weeks of sickness holding us hostage. I was down for three weeks in November, and my girls have been sick the last two weeks. I swear if hubby gets sick for Christmas I’m hitching a ride back to the North Pole with Santa. Living with elves in a constant frozen land of winter is far less painful than dealing with a sick hubby. But, I digress.

Since I am pressed for time I found a few cheats to help me with my baking and gift giving. This week I am sharing a couple of quick ideas. Buy quick I mean just throw it together and it looks like you spent a lot of time making these! Aunt Betty stopping by suddenly? Whip up a super simple batch of sugar hand scrub. Forgot about the PTA Holiday shindig and no time to bake? Grab a little help from Little Debbie, or try my cheater sugar cookies! I know this says 3 hacks- but there’s a bonus hack at the end so simple a 4 year old can do it!

Here are three last minute quick gift ideas:

 

Wild Orange Sugar Hand Scrub:

Homemade hand scrubs pamper the hands that take such good care of your little ones.

It’s called Wild Orange because that’s the scented oil I used. Thanks to my friend Holly over atUnion Health and Wellness, I was able to whip up a quick batch of hand scrub for teacher gifts. If you don’t have essential oils on hand you can use pure vanilla extract. Holly also has a recipe for a brown sugar hand scrub that is easy and so good!

2 cups granulated sugar (any kind)

3/4 cup melted coconut oil

15-20 drops of essential oil (or 1 tsp. vanilla extract)

Pretty jar with air tight lid

Home made sugar hand scrub is useful and so easy to make!

Simply melt coconut oil in microwave. (Allow to cool 1-2 min. before adding to sugar). Slowly poor oil into sugar and stir to combine. Add your essential oil, or vanilla. Spoon mixture into mason jars, or pretty jar you recycled. Thank you Liz at Wildtree for sharing these beautiful jars with me!

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Christmas Tree Cake Pops

You don’t have to be crafty to make these and you won’t spend a lot of time on them either!

Take a little help from Little Debbie

 

Unwrap tree cakes, place on plate or cutting board.

Unwrapped trees

 

Insert a lollipop stick into bottom of tree. If you do not have sticks you can use a cute paper straw.

Use lollipop sticks, or paper straws.

 

Use a clear, medium sized treat sack to package the cakes. Tie with a bow, or use a twist tie to finish. If you can not tie a bow you are not alone! Michael’s sells these awesome pre-made bows on a … twist tie!! Super easy!!

Cute favors for a party or quick add ins at a bake sale.

 

 

Fake and Bake!

Break apart cookies no fuss, no muss!

Who hasn’t tried to pass off store bought cookie dough as their own recipe? Am I right? There’s no shame in faking your Christmas cookies. You can jazz them up a bit with add-ins like mini M&M’s or Macadamia nuts. You can also dip one half of the cookie into melted chocolate. Here’s how:

Allow dough to set at room temp for about 10 minutes. Empty tube of dough into bowl and add in M&M’s and mix by hand. Now drop spoon fulls onto cookie sheet and bake according to package directions.

For break apart sugar cookies: bake cookies according to directions. Next, melt white chocolate chips in microwave (or double boiler), dip one half of cookie into chocolate and THEN dip just the edge into colored sugar, or crushed up candy canes. Done. Yep, done. Oh wait, I should mention place cookies on a wax paper lined plate or cookie sheet to cool. If you need them to cool quicker place in the fridge, or freezer until chocolate is set.

 

**Bonus Hack**

O.k. this one isn’t really a hack, but it is a quick and easy idea for a last minute thoughtful gift. Add a lotto ticket and hand out to mail carrier, attach to your neighbors Christmas cards, or keep on hand for that unexpected guest.

Remember I said so simple a 4 year old could do it? That’s because my 4 year old came up with this on her own! Whatever Mom is so proud of her little Whatever kid. She found these little stockings (or jingle shoes as she calls them) hiding in a box of left over decorations. “Whatever Kid” made these for her “teacher friends.” She stuffed each one with Hershey Kisses and a candy cane. The best part is she found something we already have and just added a little something to it. No, I’m not crying. I think I have a little tinsel in my eye.

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Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and all the time you need to get it done!!!

 

Photo Credit: Wings of Love Photography

Photo Credit: Wings of Love Photography

By Dr. Padma Garvey

The Season of Giving is here, during which time it is easy to get caught up in the commercialism and overindulgence. However, we can use the food we eat during the holidays to make our expressions of giving more meaningful to more people than ever before.

We have a passive relationship with food nowadays. We don’t see it grow before our eyes. We are blind to the hardships faced by those who harvest our food for us. We are unaware of how it is slaughtered. Instead it comes packaged, processed, and adulterated, laden with additives, hormones, antibiotics, and empty calories. The food we eat harms us more than we realize in subtle but real ways. By making some changes in our diets, though, individuals can ‘give’ a meaningful gift to themselves, their families, their fellow man, and to our shared earth.

Focus on prevention

As parents, we want to be healthy for our families. A plant-based diet actually helps PREVENT breast, prostate, colon, and uterine cancer, and as an added bonus, prevents heart disease and diabetes. That’s right. I am not satisfied with early detection. We need to focus on early PREVENTION. A plant-based diet provides our bodies with cancer-preventing nutrients, ones that actually turn off our bad cancer genes.

The effects our food has on our future starts in the mother’s womb. What a mother eats while pregnant can turn on and off our good and bad genes. Every meal after birth can promote health or can lay the foundation for future health problems. By providing our children with a whole foods, unprocessed, plant-based diet we can give them the meaningful gift of health and a life free of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

Steps toward a plant-based diet

Land and water are precious resources. A plant-based diet allows for more equitable usage of these resources and will actually provide more nourishing food for all our fellow men. With the population of the world around 7 billion people, we all need to share these resources so that no one on earth goes hungry.

Global warming seems too big of a problem for any one of us to tackle. A plant-based diet is the most ecofriendly diet. If we all took some steps towards a plant-based diet we could impact greenhouse gas emissions more than if we all bought a Prius. We would literally be giving to our shared earth.

Try something new

It seems too good to be true that decreasing our consumption of animals and dairy could have such profound and far-reaching effects. And yet this is exactly what could happen if each and every one of us took some steps towards a plant-based diet in our lives. I encourage you to try something new this holiday season by revamping some of your holiday meals and baked goods. There are so many wonderful plant-based recipes available on the internet. I suggest starting with my stuffed mushrooms. I take it as the ultimate compliment that my Sicilian mother in-law thought they were stuffed with sausage the first time she had them. Enjoy the holidays. Make this season more meaningful than any before it by giving to yourself, your family, your fellow man, and our shared earth.

Dr. Padma Garvey is committed to providing people with honest, straight-forward, and accurate information. Visit her website for more plant-based diet tips and recipes!

menorahDecember is my favorite time of year and the month of sparkling lights. From Christmas decorations to the Hanukkah menorah candles the spirit of the season is evident no matter what you celebrate. The lights of the season become a symbol of hope and many families are gathering the next 8 days with songs, prayer, good food, games and candle lighting. Here is a round up of some of the best ways to celebrate Hanukkah with family and friends throughout the Hudson Valley.

Tell us in the comments: How are you celebrating?

1. Many communities are gathering this week with songs, latkes, games, lighting the menorah and more. Join neighbors and friends for the fun festivities, most events are open to everyone.There are many Hanukkah celebrations on the calendar. If you don’t see one near you, you can also check your town or library websites: Click the town name for more information.

12/16- Goshen, Greenwood Lake & Millbrook

12/17- Wappingers Falls

12/18- New Windsor, Wappingers, Hyde Park

12/19- Poughkeepsie

12/20- Kingston

12/21- Poughkeepsie & Walkway over the Hudsonice menorah

2. Visit the 6′ ice menorah sculpture at the Galleria at Crystal Run on Sunday when the County Legislator and Mayor join the community to light the ice sculpture in a unique fire and ice celebration. The Fire & Ice Chanukkah Orange Celebration is open to everyone and fun for the entire family! Play games, make crafts, partake in activities for the kids. Satisfy your hunger at a potato latke bar with all the fixings, an ice slush stand and more!

GLOW CHANUKKAH GLOW3. Experience the tallest menorah in the Hudson Valley! Each night the candles are lit at the civic center plaza in Poughkeepsie. All are welcome to enjoy the celebration and enjoy songs, hot latkes, doughnuts, hot cider and chocolate gelt!

4. A unique Hanukkah festival for the entire family! Visit the Poughkeepsie Galleria on Sunday 12/21 for Glow Chanukkah Glow. Experience the menorah lights glowing in the dark with crafts, activities for the kids and performances. Enjoy an electric light up comedy and juggling show, live music and dancing, hot latkes, dreidel games andpaper plate menorah more!

5. Create with the kids! From homemade menorahs to dreidel spin art, the internet is filled with ideas the kids can make to celebrate. I love this easy paper plate menorah idea from pleasantestthing.com

6. Hanukkah is a wonderful time to celebrate the symbolic meaning of the victory of light over darkness. You might not find a house adorned with menorah lights but spending time together with family and twinkling colorful lights lighting up the dark, cold night is sure to bring a little light into your life too. If you want to read a little about some of the history of Christmas lights, this article has some very interesting information: Source. It doesn’t have to be all about Christmas with the lights, they light up the dark cold winter nights and remind us of the beauty, peace and hope of the season.

Top 5 Light Displays in the Hudson Valley

7. Give and support. Hanukkah is a celebration of religious freedom. The 8 days of Hanukkah remember a time when people stood up to “bullies” and fought for that they wanted and believed in, they fought for themselves. A great way to celebrate is to give back. You can support Israel and Israelis through The Good People Fund, an organization that provides resources on charities in Israel. But you don’t have to give money to support Israel, have your kids send cards and pictures to soldiers, start a pen pal with another child living in Israel or honor the history with 8 days of random acts of kindness!

8. Celebrate your own history and culture. Hanukkah is a holiday that Accordion-Bookshows the importance of history. You don’t need to celebrate Hanukkah or be Jewish to think about your own heritage this time of year. Talk to relatives, do a little digging and create a family tree, family history album or just talk to your kids about your heritage and culture. I love these interview questions for Grandparents found on The House of Hendrix Blog (perfect for family gatherings during the holidays) or these Family Timeline Accordion Books from Imagination Soup the kids can make. The holiday time no matter what you celebrate is a wonderful time for taking a little look back into history with our kids.

9. One of my favorite things about the Hanukkah celebrations is the food! For me a wonderful potato latke this time of the year truly hits the spot. Whip up a batch for dinner tonight! If cooking isn’t quite your thing you might have to do a little searching for a true Kosher Deli or good potato Latke in the area but it isn’t impossible. New City Kosher Deli & Restaurant  looks to be one of the few remaining in our area but with high ratings and great reviews it just might be worth the drive to Rockland County this week. If you are up for a cooking treat, here is a delicious Potato Latke recipe from FoodandWine.com.latkes

  1. 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  2. Sea salt
  3. 2 pounds baking potatoes
  4. 1 large onion, finely diced
  5. 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  6. 1 cup matzo meal
  7. 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  8. Vegetable oil, for frying
  9. Applesauce, crème fraîche, smoked salmon, salmon roe and dill sprigs, for serving
  1. In a medium saucepan, cover the Yukon Gold potatoes with cool water, season generously with salt and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain well and immediately pass the potatoes through a ricer into a large bowl.
  2. Working quickly, peel and grate the baking potatoes on the large holes of a box grater into a medium bowl. Press with a clean kitchen towel to remove excess moisture. Add half of the grated potatoes to the riced potatoes.
  3. Transfer the remaining grated potatoes to the bowl of a food processor. Add the onion and pulse until the potatoes and onions are very finely chopped. Transfer to a fine-mesh sieve and press with the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Add the potato-onion mixture to the large bowl. Stir in the eggs, matzo meal, white pepper and 2 teaspoons of salt.
  4. In a large, heavy skillet, heat 1/4 inch of oil until shimmering. Working in 3 batches, spoon 1/4 cup of the potato mixture into the oil for each latke; press slightly to flatten. Fry over moderate heat, turning once, until the latkes are golden and crisp on both sides, about 7 minutes. Drain the latkes on a paper towel-lined baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with salt. Serve with applesauce, crème fraîche, smoked salmon, salmon roe and dill.

10. Spend time together. Whether you go out and celebrate, give gifts or cook, the true spirit of the season is about celebrating with your loved ones and making memories together. Don’t let the commercialization of the season let you lose sight of the the most important thing we can give our children this month, our time and love.

A very Happy Hanukkah to those celebrating tonight. May the festival of lights bring you much joy, compassion, hope and love.

December is my favorite time of year and the month of sparkling lights. From Christmas decorations to the Hanukkah menorah candles the spirit of the season is evident no matter what you celebrate. The lights of the season become a symbol of hope and many families are gathering the next 8 days with songs, prayer, good food, games and candle lighting. Here is a round up of some of the best ways to celebrate Hanukkah with family and friends throughout the Hudson Valley.

Tell us in the comments: How are you celebrating?

1. Many communities are gathering this week with songs, latkes, games, lighting the menorah and more. Join neighbors and friends for the fun festivities, most events are open to everyone.There are many Hanukkah celebrations on thecalendar. If you don’t see one near you, you can also check your town or library websites: Click the town name for more information.

12/16- Goshen, Greenwood Lake & Millbrook

12/17- Wappingers Falls

12/18- New Windsor, Wappingers, Hyde Park

12/19- Poughkeepsie

12/20- Kingston

12/21- Poughkeepsie & Walkway over the Hudsonice menorah

2. Visit the 6′ ice menorah sculpture at the Galleria at Crystal Run on Sunday when the County Legislator and Mayor join the community to light the ice sculpture in a unique fire and ice celebration. The Fire & Ice Chanukkah Orange Celebration is open to everyone and fun for the entire family! Play games, make crafts, partake in activities for the kids. Satisfy your hunger at a potato latke bar with all the fixings, an ice slush stand and more!

GLOW CHANUKKAH GLOW3. Experience the tallest menorah in the Hudson Valley! Each night the candles are lit at the civic center plaza in Poughkeepsie. All are welcome to enjoy the celebration and enjoy songs, hot latkes, doughnuts, hot cider and chocolate gelt!

4. A unique Hanukkah festival for the entire family! Visit the Poughkeepsie Galleria on Sunday 12/21 for Glow Chanukkah Glow. Experience the menorah lights glowing in the dark with crafts, activities for the kids and performances. Enjoy an electric light up comedy and juggling show, live music and dancing, hot latkes, dreidel games andpaper plate menorah more!

5. Create with the kids! From homemade menorahs to dreidel spin art, the internet is filled with ideas the kids can make to celebrate. I love this easy paper plate menorah idea from pleasantestthing.com

6. Hanukkah is a wonderful time to celebrate the symbolic meaning of the victory of light over darkness. You might not find a house adorned with menorah lights but spending time together with family and twinkling colorful lights lighting up the dark, cold night is sure to bring a little light into your life too. If you want to read a little about some of the history of Christmas lights, this article has some very interesting information: Source. It doesn’t have to be all about Christmas with the lights, they light up the dark cold winter nights and remind us of the beauty, peace and hope of the season.

Top 5 Light Displays in the Hudson Valley

7. Give and support. Hanukkah is a celebration of religious freedom. The 8 days of Hanukkah remember a time when people stood up to “bullies” and fought for that they wanted and believed in, they fought for themselves. A great way to celebrate is to give back. You can support Israel and Israelis through The Good People Fund, an organization that provides resources on charities in Israel. But you don’t have to give money to support Israel, have your kids send cards and pictures to soldiers, start a pen pal with another child living in Israel or honor the history with 8 days of random acts of kindness!

8. Celebrate your own history and culture. Hanukkah is a holiday that Accordion-Bookshows the importance of history. You don’t need to celebrate Hanukkah or be Jewish to think about your own heritage this time of year. Talk to relatives, do a little digging and create a family tree, family history album or just talk to your kids about your heritage and culture. I love these interview questions for Grandparents found on The House of Hendrix Blog (perfect for family gatherings during the holidays) or these Family Timeline Accordion Books from Imagination Soup the kids can make. The holiday time no matter what you celebrate is a wonderful time for taking a little look back into history with our kids.

9. One of my favorite things about the Hanukkah celebrations is the food! For me a wonderful potato latke this time of the year truly hits the spot. Whip up a batch for dinner tonight! If cooking isn’t quite your thing you might have to do a little searching for a true Kosher Deli or good potato Latke in the area but it isn’t impossible. New City Kosher Deli & Restaurant  looks to be one of the few remaining in our area but with high ratings and great reviews it just might be worth the drive to Rockland County this week. If you are up for a cooking treat, here is a delicious Potato Latke recipe from FoodandWine.com.latkes

  1. 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  2. Sea salt
  3. 2 pounds baking potatoes
  4. 1 large onion, finely diced
  5. 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  6. 1 cup matzo meal
  7. 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  8. Vegetable oil, for frying
  9. Applesauce, crème fraîche, smoked salmon, salmon roe and dill sprigs, for serving
  1. In a medium saucepan, cover the Yukon Gold potatoes with cool water, season generously with salt and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain well and immediately pass the potatoes through a ricer into a large bowl.
  2. Working quickly, peel and grate the baking potatoes on the large holes of a box grater into a medium bowl. Press with a clean kitchen towel to remove excess moisture. Add half of the grated potatoes to the riced potatoes.
  3. Transfer the remaining grated potatoes to the bowl of a food processor. Add the onion and pulse until the potatoes and onions are very finely chopped. Transfer to a fine-mesh sieve and press with the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Add the potato-onion mixture to the large bowl. Stir in the eggs, matzo meal, white pepper and 2 teaspoons of salt.
  4. In a large, heavy skillet, heat 1/4 inch of oil until shimmering. Working in 3 batches, spoon 1/4 cup of the potato mixture into the oil for each latke; press slightly to flatten. Fry over moderate heat, turning once, until the latkes are golden and crisp on both sides, about 7 minutes. Drain the latkes on a paper towel-lined baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with salt. Serve with applesauce, crème fraîche, smoked salmon, salmon roe and dill.

10. Spend time together. Whether you go out and celebrate, give gifts or cook, the true spirit of the season is about celebrating with your loved ones and making memories together. Don’t let the commercialization of the season let you lose sight of the the most important thing we can give our children this month, our time and love.

A very Happy Hanukkah to those celebrating tonight. May the festival of lights bring you much joy, compassion, hope and love.

Cookies

I have fond memories of Christmas cookies… I remember rolling dough in powdered sugar with my mom, and my Grandma’s crisp sugar butter cookies are legendary.  Her cookies were even kept in a motion-activated singing tin, because my sister and I were so likely to sneak a sample while we waited for dinner to be ready.

I’ve been thinking about cookies.  There are a few family favorites we bake each year, but I also like to try out some new recipes and flavors.   My little one loves to cook and bake like I do, and she’s been asking when the baking will begin.  Here’s our line-up.

Peanut butter blossoms

We always begin with peanut butter blossoms.  My friend Linda introduced them to us years before kids or gluten were ever a concern.  I was thrilled to find a gluten-free version which comes out just like the original.  Not too much needs to be said about this cookie; Hershey’s kisses and peanut butter speak for themselves.

PB Blossom

The M&M Chocolate Chip Cookie

Even though the chocolate chip cookie is an everyday-cookie that could be passed over, this recipe is so spectacular that they beg to be included.  They get dressed up with red and green M&Ms substituted for half of the chocolate chips, and offer a nice festive color to your cookie tray.

Chocolate Chip

Lemon Shortbread

Lemon cookies are another cookie that we enjoy, and I am looking forward to trying a new cookie this year.  Gluten-Free on a Shoestring shared a shortbread cookie recipe with five different versions including mocha, toffee caramel, and lemon.  Interestingly, the recipe relies on lemonade mix as well as lemon peel; a new method that I look forward to trying.

Lemon Slice

Mexican Wedding Cookies

Snowballs, also known as Mexican Wedding cookies, are up next.  Somehow powdered sugar makes everything prettier. We are trying a new recipe this year.  I’ll put in the disclaimer that I have not tried this recipe yet, but it comes from Gluten Free Girl, who is well-versed in baking with her own books and blog.

The Black and White

Another infamous cookie from my childhood is the black and white.  My dad commuted to the city, and often came off the train with a white, crinkly bag from Zarro’s. You know the one I’m talking about.  I was excited to find this recipe a few years back and delighted when I made my first batch and found they were pretty easy to make and tasted as good as I remembered.  I’m thinking minis, with white and red on some, white and green on others, will make a delicious cameo.

Molasses Crinkle

And finally… to round out all of the chocolate… molasses crinkle cookies.  They’re similar in taste to the gingerbread cookie, but they’re a drop cookie.  This is another one that I used to make before we were gluten-free, and am pleased to see Grandma’s Molasses created a gluten-free version that lives up to the original.  If you’re going to try these, note that although the ingredient list mentions sugar for rolling, the author forgot to mention this as the last step.  Add this back in, as the crunchy sugar on the outside gives the cookie its “crinkle.”

I’m still trying to recreate my Grandma’s butter cookies.  They are sweet, crisp, buttery, and have a texture I’ve not yet been able to replicate in a gluten-free cookie.  I have her recipe, we’ve tweaked it, but it hasn’t come out just right.  We’ll spend some time with the recipe this holiday season; I hope by next year it’ll be ready to share.

Happy Holidays… may your season be filled with fun times, peaceful memories, the best of company, and of course, good food.  To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.  Feel free to share your favorite gluten-free cookie recipes with us!

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