Category Archives: charity

How We’re Spending Winter Break

I love the school my kids go to, and the teachers are really wonderful and engaged and caring, and they are kind.

One child’s teacher sent him a letter, which arrived today, thanking us for a gift and asking what he’d done over break: Had he traveled? Been to a museum or the movies? She reminded him to be ready to share his vacation fun with his class when he got back to school.

I immediately, defensively, bristled (NOTE: She’d meant the note to get him thinking about what to share about his winter break, certainly not to make us feel like we hadn’t done enough over break!). We’d done none of those things. Max had mostly wanted to stay home, playing with his little brother, especially after Christmas, when they both had exciting new Legos and other things to explore.

Many families at the school are quite wealthy (not us!). Thus we hear about sailboats and ski houses and spring break in Paris and such. When I drop off my kids in my 14-year-old Honda Civic, I am especially careful not the bump the Range Rovers and BMWs parked on either side. The letter made me think maybe every other family was having a winter break filled with travel and culture.

Then I calmed down and decided to talk this over with the boys. How had we spent our winter break?

What we’ve done so far:

1. We hosted Christmas dinner, for one thing, which involved a fair amount of planning, cleaning, shopping, and prep. My mother had come here for a few days, and my boys got to finally see my childhood Christmas ornaments, some of my mother’s childhood Christmas ornaments, plus use my parents’ wedding china and the family silver for the first time. Plus have everyone come to our house for a holiday meal, for the very first time ever. Big doin’s, indeed.

2. We made and delivered little packages of warm new socks, homemade cookies, and a tiny bit of cash (thanks, Mom!) for the people who live under the bridge. No, really. We live at the edge of town, near the subway, and several people live in the underpass. Of our various holiday charity, this was the one thing the kids got into and could relate to, because they actually see these people every time we go to the subway. Kids without toys? My kids don’t really comprehend that, so our Toys for Tots donations were just confusing to them. Warm things and treats for the people under the bridge? Max was on it.

3. We spent a few days in the woods (not continuously!). We spent a few hours with school friends in a local conservation area, and returned a few days later with friends from our old neighborhood to spend even more time exploring the woods and meadows and enjoying a picnic lunch.

4. We went ice-skating. Both boys now want lessons.

5. We went to the New England Aquarium today, an adventure involving one bus ride; six trains; lunch out; and a return to the aquarium after lunch to see the octopus, the penguin feeding, and the seal training session. Several M&Ms were given as bribes and rewards, and I didn’t totally lose my shit when the little one ran his bare hand the entire length of the handrail on both the Blue Line and the Orange Line….and then touched his hand to his face (why oh why had I left all the hand sanitizer at home??). I told him if he touched one more thing, he’d need to get an extra flu shot (yes, I did say that—and yes, it worked).

6. We saw a movie (Planes 2), but we saw it at home (thanks, Redbox!) because we are movie cheapskates and would rather spend $1 and make our own popcorn (and uncork my own wine, thanks!) (though theater movies are certainly fun, and our local ancient theater is really cool).

What’s left to do before school starts again: 

1. New Year’s Eve family party at the neighbors’, which will be an early, fun, low-key, kid-filled affair.

2. New Year’s Day dodgeball party at my friend’s house, which will be full of young childless single hungover mountaineering people and could be a total blast.

3. ?? Who knows? Will the kids go spend the night at their grandmother’s house? Will we all head north for a day of skiing?

We will know by the time the kids return to school, that’s for sure. But even if we stay here, which Max would probably be very happy to do, we’re enjoying our winter break.

 

 

Whole Kids Foundation and City Sprouts: Growing Healthy Kids

My kids are well fed. They mostly eat whole foods, with few additives or preservatives or artificial anything. They like vegetables. They eat organic dairy products and high-quality meat and fish.

We’re lucky, and I know it.

Not every kid is so lucky. Not every kid understands what a CSA is or goes to the farmer’s market or loves sautéed zucchini (my 4-yr-old) or asks for (and eats) platefuls of romaine with just rice vinegar on it (my 6-yr-old).

Not every kid gets three meals a day, and snacks, or enough protein, or enough fruit and vegetables.

The Whole Kids Foundation is trying to change that.

AUSTIN, Texas (Sept. 2, 2014) –Whole Kids Foundation is kicking off back-to-school season with a goal of raising $3 million to fund salad bars and gardens for schools and nutrition education classes for teachers.

The effort is part of the foundation’s annual campaign aimed at raising awareness around the importance of childhood nutrition and helping schools provide healthier food choices for students. Throughout September, Whole Foods Market stores will host a variety of educational and interactive fundraising events and shoppers can also get involved by making a donation at store check-outs or online at wholekidsfoundation.org.

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So if you’re shopping at Whole Foods Market this month and the cashier asks if you’d like to donate to the Whole Kids Foundation, now you know why and where the money is going.

“Well-nourished kids miss fewer days of school and are better able to pay attention in class, improving academic performance, and as Whole Kids Foundation celebrates its third anniversary, we’re excited to see visible results from our work,” said Nona Evans, executive director of Whole Kids Foundation. “School salad bars are getting kids excited about school lunches and eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and school gardens are not only connecting kids to the roots of their food and how nutrition helps their bodies, they are increasing their curiosity around trying new foods.”

Each of the following Growing Healthy Kids supplier partners has pledged to donate $40,000 to support the foundation’s work: Annie’s, Applegate, Cascadian Farm, Lady Moon Farms, Lug Life, Organic Valley, Roots, Rudi’s Organic Bakery and Suja. During this year’s campaign, many of these brands in addition to others, including Health Warrior, Honest Kids, Horizon Organic, Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day and Vega will donate a portion of proceeds from product sales at Whole Foods Market stores to benefit Whole Kids Foundation programs…

…Rooted in three simple principles – eat a rainbow of colors,  eat leafy greens first and eat as close to nature as possible – Whole Kids Foundation offers a variety of resources for parents and children to make healthier choices at home ranging from book club suggestions and “Better Bites” lessons to hands-on art projects and a free app, Awesome Eats™.

Since its inception in 2011, the foundation has invested $10,000,000 into its programs funding more than 3,400 salad bars and 2,110 school gardens, giving more than 3 million children access to healthier food.

I was recently invited to a local Whole Foods market to learn about Whole Kids Foundation and to hear from City Sprouts, a local organization (and recent WFK grant recipient) that puts gardens at every school in Cambridge (MA), some schools in Boston and Lynn, and (not this year) in Gloucester. City Sprouts works with the school’s curriculum to tie in the garden to what students are learning in the classroom (graphing and other math concepts, soil science and habitats, and so on).

The organization also offers summer internships to middle-school students to maintain the gardens; learn about about gardens as ecosystems, consider (and take on) a direct action project to influence policy makers and get people in the community involved: for example, by writing a letter to the state regarding brownfield sites; harvest and donate food to local food banks; take field trips to a food bank, a farm, a restaurant kitchen, and to Whole Foods to build a meal with links to different cultures; and cook their own lunches every day, using produce from the school gardens. 

We heard from a few students in the program, who’d enjoyed learning about gardening and about increasing their own cooking skills.  

City Sprouts needs funding to expand in Boston schools (they are already a line item in the Cambridge Public Schools budget, hurrah!).

City Sprouts isn’t the only grant recipient from the Whole Kids Foundation. To learn more about Whole Kids Foundation and its programs, visit wholekidsfoundation.org.

[Disclosure: I was a guest of Whole Foods Market for this presentation and given a gift bag
of products from the Growing Healthy Kids supplier partners. All opinions are my own.]

Spring Cocktails and Home Decor

It’s springtime, always a nice time to reconsider your home decor and try some new recipes. If you want something to spruce up your table, check out the Heart of Haiti collection at Macy’s.

I received these beautiful papier-mache nesting trays to review.

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On sale right now for $29.99, and I think you can get an extra 15% off if you buy soon! Image courtesy of Macy’s.

These particular nesting trays are not meant to be used as tableware, as they are papier-mache. But they’re perfect on a table as decoration, or to hold jewelry or other small items.

What I like about the Heart of Haiti collection is that artisans in Haiti are making beautiful objects–trays, bowls, jewelry, picture frames, and so on–out of recycled materials. Macy’s pays the artisans half of the wholesale price of each item sold. The artists are able to make a sustainable income for their families.

Besides showcasing the trays, I was also asked to try a spring cocktail recipe from one of Macy’s Culinary Council chefs. Me, cocktail? Sure! I was going to try an intriguing Sazerac Cocktail by Emeril Lagasse (does he need his last name mentioned, or does he just go by “Emeril” at this point?). That cocktail involved two kinds of bitters, a dash of Pernod, and rye whiskey…yum! However, the ingredients were suprisingly hard to come by around here. Then I tried a sazerac at a fancy bar and realized I didn’t really care for it, anyway. Close one!

So I made Ming Tsai’s Gosling’s Ginger Ale Cocktail.

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Being a woman who normally isn’t willing to make much more effort than to uncork a bottle of wine and find a glass, this cocktail took a little more prep and planning than I’m used to.

First, I had to make a ginger syrup. I cut that part of the recipe in half, since I didn’t need a ton of it. I accidentally overcooked this, causing it all to crystallize to a solid. No panic! I simply put it back into the saucepan, added more water, and made sure to dissolve every single syrup crystal.

Then I let the syrup cool. I was supposed to candy the ginger slices in the oven, to use as garnish, but I haven’t really garnished since I cooked professionally in the mid-1990s. Also, the ginger slices, after I strained them from the syrup, were pretty yummy just as they were.

I filled a glass with ice (I say “a glass” instead of “glasses” because my husband doesn’t really drink, though after I raved to him about how tasty this drink is, he wanted me to make him one, and he really liked it, too). This drink is spectacularly delicious. So good it’s hard to sip rather than drink, in fact; it tastes like a really yummy ginger soda.

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Nice layers, right?

Here’s the recipe:

Goslings Ginger Ale Cocktail
4 cups sugar, plus 1 1/2 to 2 cups for candying ginger
2 cups 1/8-inch-thick sliced fresh ginger (about 2 large hands)
2 cups water
Ice cubes or crushed ice
2 quarts club soda, well chilled
1/2 cup (4 ounces) fresh orange juice
Juice of 3 limes, plus 1 lime, cut into 6 wedges, for garnish
3/4 cup (6 ounces) Gosling’s Black Seal rum

To make the ginger syrup, in a saucepan, combine the 4 cups sugar, the ginger, and the water and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 to 15 minutes, or until reduced by half and syrupy. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve held over a heatproof bowl. You should have about 4 cups syrup and 2 cups ginger slices. Let cool completely. You will need only 1 cup syrup for this recipe. The remainder will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

To candy ginger slices, preheat oven to 200 degrees F. In a bowl, combine ginger slices and remaining 1 1/2 to 2 cups sugar and toss to coat slices evenly with sugar. Arrange slices in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake about 4 hours, or until thoroughly dried. Remove from oven and let cool. Use immediately, or store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 2 weeks.

To make each drink, fill a tall glass almost full with ice and then with club soda. Pour 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) ginger syrup down side of glass to create a layer of syrup on bottom. Add about 4 teaspoons (about 2/3 ounce) orange juice and juice of 1/2 lime. Carefully add 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) rum, floating it in a layer on top. Three distinct layers — syrup, club soda and citrus juice, and rum — should be visible.

Garnish each glass with a lime wedge and a slice of candied ginger hanging over rim, or a few ginger slices skewered on a cocktail pick. Serve each layered drink with a straw and tell your guests to mix layers with straw before drinking.

Happy spring!
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A pretty drink on a pretty tray!

 

 This post is sponsored by the Everywhere Society. All opinions are my own. I was compensated with these beautiful trays. Also, I now have some really tasty ginger syrup in my fridge to mix with seltzer or club soda to make homemade ginger ale…or to top with some juice and rum for a tasty cocktail.

Santa’s Coming! Macy’s & Make-A-Wish

It’s that time of year again! Many children are waiting for Santa to come. And many children are writing letters to Santa, hoping their letters will get to the North Pole in time for Christmas.

While our family celebrates a secular version of Christmas, we don’t tend to make a huge deal about Santa. (Without Jesus and Santa, then what is Christmas, you ask? It’s about bringing greenery indoors, spending family time decorating and making things and baking, taking neighborhood walks to see lights and decorations…things like that.) But this year, Max wants everything in the Lego catalog, everything in the catalogs from local toy stores, and everything in the toy aisle at CVS. Plus some other stuff; I forget exactly what.

So I suggested he write a letter to Santa, listing what he wants. He could dictate to me, and I’d write it. This would be the first time he’s written a letter to Santa.

Do your children write letters to Santa? If so, you can drop them off at Macy’s! Macy’s stores have special Santa Letterboxes. Make sure your letter is addressed to Santa At The North Pole and has a postage stamp on it. Not only will Macy’s deliver your letter to the post office, to mail it to Santa, but for each letter, Macy’s will donate $1 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation (up to $1,000,000)!

Make-A-Wish, if you’re not familiar with it, helps grant the wishes of children who have been diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions–wish such as meeting real ballerinas or New York City firefighters, going on a Caribbean cruise, wishes to get a puppy or meet Selena Gomez or attend an NBA game. 

Bring your letter to Santa over to Macy’s to help make a wish come true!

Even more exciting? If you’re lucky, you can meet Santa himself! Macy’s Santa, his little friend Virginia, and Santa’s elves will visit different towns on their magical holiday tour bus!

Hear Virginia’s story as she crosses the country with Santa, then tell Santa what’s on your wish list. Be sure to bring your camera to capture the moment, as the Big Man is only at Macy’s for a limited time, so catch him while you can! 

Tonight, December 4, Santa’s tour bus will arrive at the Macy’s in Hyannis, MA. They’ll be in Providence, RI, this Thursday night. They’ll also visit Macy’s in California, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, and many, many more places around the country.

For more info on all of Macy’s Holiday Events, visit macys.com/holidayevents.

And don’t forget to drop off those letters to Santa!

 I was compensated for this post, but all opinions are my own.