Friday, August 29, 2014

The Perfect Storm: Storm Cafe, Middlebury, VT

Middlebury, Vermont, is the epitome of a small New England town, with a village green, a gorgeous, most selective liberal arts college and a smattering of charming shops, vegetarian-friendly cafes and galleries.

One of our favorite spots is The Storm Cafe, overlooking Otter Creek. On a recent trip to Middlebury, we ate there with our dog tied up to post near the outdoor patio, Two others labs were there and the dogs all played while we ate.

The heirloom tomato salad was nearly a meal in itself, with local mozzarella and baby spinach; with this an d another appetizer of grilled flatbread and hummus, served with olives, roasted peppers, more tomatoes and pickled beans, we were pretty full.

But we also got a winter salad - in summer - with gorgonzola, caramelized onions, pears and walnuts - we didn't miss the bacon that it comes with, though we did consider getting it on the side for the dogs.

And because my husband insisted we still needed more food, we had the crab cakes, served with yet more greens and a spicy remoulade.

We had to leave too early the next day to get the fabulous rustic hearts panini- artichoke hearts, asiago, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions and sun-dried tomatoes.  I thought about getting one for the road, but this sandwich is best eaten warm.

Another reason to return!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Back to School, Back to School Parent Obligations

Imagine organizing the families of all these kids for a travel choir  performance 
Nothing says end of summer faster than the onslaught of emails from class parents, PTA presidents and teachers

Coaches get into the act, too, whether your child plays a varsity or club sport.  I think I have already gotten 3 dozen emails and texts in the last day about an upcoming Ultimate tournament - and school doesn’t even start for 8 days!

I am suggesting that the entire team get on board with VolunteerSpot, a wonderful fee online tool that helps you organize car pools, snack duty and bake sales, without the endless clogged inbox. [Disclosure: I was compensated for this post].

VolunteerSpot is useful for all kinds of after school activities -anything where you need to coordinate a large group of people.  My sister just organized a dinner for 270 (!) parents and family members of her son’s marching band, and this would have been invaluable help.

I’m not sure what it says about me that when she said they ran out of Rita’s at the dinner, I was picturing a bunch of parents with empty margarita glasses (‘rita’s) - she meant they had so many people not bring promised desserts that they ran out of Rita’s water ice.

But parents not getting Italian ices (all the kids got) could be a blessing in disguise; VolunteerSpot can avert potential disasters, like the one we had at a travel tournament, when a parent had to leave with his car and five girls were stranded without rides.

We also had a situation where there were so many emails in a chain that when our hotel was switched, some parents didn’t get notified, and were shut out of rooms. The sign up sheets are accessible to everyone and the info is clear and easy to read - no danger in vital info getting lost.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I see an empty margarita glass that needs attention.

Note: check out VolunteerSpot’s Back to School promotion, where you can win money or swag, for you or your kid’s after school activities, and money for the school.

Free Movies in NYC

See Frozen tonight at South Street Seaport - free!
One of the pleasures of summer in NYC is seeing free movies around the city. And as days get shorter in August (I know - end of summer already?) movies can start a little earlier, making them perfect for taking little kids.

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden has an exclusive event, for members only, where you can picnic and watch a movie  - tonight. This is a rare occurrence - usually, you can't picnic on the lush lawns here, but a couple of times a year, they allow it.

Tonight's movie is the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and there is even a pop-up chocolate shop.

Another venue, open to all, has Frozen tonight. The South Street Seaport sets up chairs for its al fresco movies, saving the backs of aging parents.

The screening, part of the See/Change 2014 series, includes dressing up as your favorite Frozen character.

Seeing all that snow and ice will really make you cherish the last of summer!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Vegetarian Beer: Yes, Please

Tröegs Dreamweaver Wheat Ale
Most vegetarians don’t usually worry about meat in their beer, but it is very refreshing to find this on the Smuttynose website:

"Vegetarians, please take note: Smuttynose beers are made without the use of any animal products, such as isinglass or gelatin. Why? Because we prefer it that way, and we're sure you do, too, so enjoy!"
I never even thought about meat products in the suds with my veggie burger, and it's nice to know that this craft brewery has my back.
Smuttynose Big A IPA is one of my favorite beers and though it is not in season right now, we were able to have a Finestkind IPA on tap on our recent college tour.
My 16 year old looked at Dartmouth College, (New Hampshire, home to Smuttynose) Middlebury College (Vermont, home to Otter Creek Brewing Co and Skidmore College (near Albany, NY and the excellent brews at the Albany Pump Station).
We also went to Hamilton College, near Utica.  The F.X. Matt Brewing Company is there, making Saranac Beer.  We were a day early for the hop picking festival, but we still had very hoppy, ice cold beer.
And just for kicks, we swung by my sister’s in Pennsylvania, drinking the lovely Tröegs beer from Hershey, PA. We are huge fans of the Dreamweaver Wheat Ale. My sister happens to live just feet from the Delaware border, so of course we had to have Dogfish Head Brewery 90 Minute IPA.
Best of all, both Delaware and New Hampshire have no sales tax, so we were able to load up the car with bargain craft beer.

Yes, it’s good to be the parent of a teen looking at colleges in New England and the mid-Atlantic states.

Friday, August 15, 2014

College Prep and The College Trip

So she didn't like Georgetown. We got to walk around this pretty campus.
Next week, my husband,, youngest daughter and I are embarking on what I hope is our last college touring trip.
Don’t get me wrong, going to visit colleges can be a lot of fun. We have done it multiple times with both of our older girls, and you would think the youngest had seen enough schools that she wouldn’t need to go to anymore.
But she is looking at some different colleges, and we don’t want to deny her the opportunity to explore some of the same places with a fresh eye. She is going into her senior year of high school, and did well enough on her standardized tests that those at least are off her plate.
My very organized oddest daughter created a spread sheet, with dates of upcoming standardized tests, and deadlines, but you can also download the very useful KapMap, which gives yo a month by month planing guide, form freshman through senior year of high school.
We looked at Hamilton College in winter since you need to love snow to go here.
Don’t stress if your kid is already past the first or second year of high school; though you may have missed some critical planning, you can double up and get back on track pretty quickly.
Some of the KapMap suggested guidelines include building a strong resume, with quality extra curricular activities and good grades, things that most parents of college bound students are already thinking about once their kid starts college.
What We Learned
One of the most important things we learned about the college process, having been through it with two kids (and ourselves, a hundred years ago) is that it really has to be all about the kid. Maybe you think the dorms look grotty - keep that to yourself. Unless your daughter solicits your opinion, don't say a word.
We have also learned to listen, but not speak during info sessions and college tours, unless the school encourages parents and kids to take separate tours. I actually love this - then we can ask the adult about safety, drinking parties and the food pyramid and not have our children give us the hairy eyeball.
Make it a Vacation
Don’t despair if you kid hates the college you are visiting. Maybe you found a cool art museum nearby, or a craft brewer. You might discover a great little vegetarian restaurant.
Think of the college touring trip as an opportunity to explore different areas, like Middlebury, VT or Washington, DC. Have fun with it.
Just be careful about how successful you want the college process to be. After all the testing, the applications, the tours, you face a new challenge - cramming in trips for all the admitted students days. 
And then you start paying tuition…

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for SheSpeaks/Kaplan Test Prep. I received compensation to write this post, and any opinions expressed are my own, and reflect my actual experience.” 

Friday, August 8, 2014

VTech - Not Just for Kids’ Electronics

Wearing the lightweight safety pendant from the VTech CareLine phone system
When my mother moved into senior housing recently, we had to buy her a new corded phone, a new cordless phone and a safety pendant in case she had an accident.

What I didn’t know was that we could have saved money and a lot of headache if we’d just gotten the new VTech CareLine SN6197. The 3 in 1 phone system has everything we needed, along with easy to follow instructions and even better features than the phones we got. I tested the phone out - after we’d already bought the separate components - and was impressed with the quality and ease of use.

The oversize buttons on the corded phone are perfect for someone whose vision isn’t what it used to be; my mother often calls one of her four kids and insists she dialed another.

See Who You Are Calling
Even more useful are the photo speed dial buttons. There are four, perfect for my three siblings and me to be our mother’s photo contacts. Though here, the instructions are way too complex for an older adult to follow.

And who wrote these instructions: “we recommend you store two contacts that you may need to call them more often or immediately to photo speed keys 1 and 2.” If my mother had read this she should have burst into tears.

But my 15 year old didn’t even need the instructions - she just intuitively knew how to add photos.

While it seems like cell phones and caller ID would eliminate any question about who’s calling, my mom still gets confused. I get it - I have 3 daughters who sound alike, but still - their names pop up if they call her. With the VTech system, a voice actually announces who is calling.

And the audio asset turns up the volume during a phone call so your parents can actually hear what you are saying.

Safety Pendant
The lightweight safety pendant can be clipped on to a pocket or belt, or worn around the next. If your mom has an accident, she can call just by pressing button 1 or 2 (which correspond to the 1 and 2 on speed dial). There is also voice activated calling from the pendant. And there is no extra monthly fee.

Disclosure: I was compensated by VTech for this post; opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Luxury Spa, Luxury Gym: Lodge at Woodloch

The Lodge at Woodloch's gym; a playground for adults
Whether you are an avid exerciser, or just looking to dip your toe into starting a fitness program, the Lodge at Woodloch offers an array of exercise classes, plus a state of the art gym, so you can work out on your spa getaway.
The gym had all the toys I love; bosu balls, stability balls, box steps, free weights and weigh benches, plus a few goodies - hula hoops, a barre for stretching, and a priceless view when you use the cardio machines.

Look at those trees outside the gym
Woodloch is set in the Poconos, and the wooded backdrop is quite an inspiration. Plus, if you grow bored with the exercise equipment, you can bike, paddle a kayak, run outside, hike. There are yoga classes and guided meditations.

My husband and I took a spin class, which was pretty much like any other spin class in a gym; not SoulCycle, but also not music at a bone-crunching volume. We also took a weight class with an energetic young instructor, who challenged us to push our limits. I wanted to take a bosu class, but three exercise classes in one day exceeds almost every limit, and I really wanted to take a cooking demo.

Two days was hardly enough to scratch the surface of Woodloch, but if you are there for a few more days, you can take advantage of more exercise classes and that great gym. The gym also had soft towels, headphones, and a bowl of fruit and nuts outside if your workout left you a little worn out.