News + Views

Spruce Up the Garden

Bits & Pieces Column

Helpful Chitchat







By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel



I’m amused by the book series that incorporates the word dummy in its title to describe someone who is clueless about a topic.  There are those about computers, cooking, resume writing, etc.   I want a simple book that describes gardening for dummies, so our garden can achieve the look I want it to — one that Martha Stewart would approve of.  But until such a book comes out, I’ll have to be content with reading articles about the subject and going on garden tours for ideas to replicate.

One such tour, a fundraiser for an animal rescue fund, invites guests to over-the-top fabulous homes and gardens. We did come away with a few realistic ideas to incorporate into our modest garden.  Like reading a decorating or fashion magazine, the whole picture may not be achievable, but tiny parts can be copied to create your own original composition.  Taken apart in small segments, it was the themes as well as the formation and flower varieties that were adaptable to any garden space.  Many of the settings could also be duplicated, in smaller proportions, of course, and used to create a nature park environment of your own.


There were boundless uses for trellis, wood, wrought iron and vine archways.  Some were used as entrances to larger garden areas and others to separate smaller rose gardens.  Some trellis settings were in the middle of a sprawling lawn or near an in-ground pool and were used as a shady spot for guests to sit under.

The use of a fountain, even a small one, with delicate trickling water can create a quiet atmosphere that welcomes a feeling of peace and tranquility.

I noticed how borders were defined as well as the progression of the plantings.  Split rail fences were popular, as was the use of bushes and shrubs of varied heights and widths.

Color played an important part in most schemes and ranged from a single color theme to a kaleidoscope of bursting shades and hues, along with a variety of flowers.   Some of the gardens had a European flair and created the feeling of being somewhere else.  English-style gardens would have overflowing wild flowers; a romantic Italian or French garden would display delicate statues with flowers around them, creating a mini Versailles. You can create both interest and allure for your garden by selecting a few tasteful statues or outdoor pieces of art. Groupings of baskets or ceramic pottery can also enhance the setting.


May 4, 2016 |

LIGHTSCAPES Lights the Way!

Bits & Pieces Column

Helpful Chitchat







By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel



Historic Hudson Valley has come up with yet another winner with LIGHTSCAPES, a large scale, all age-group experience at Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson. Open this year for twenty evenings, it includes new fun elements such as a walk-through Bubble Tunnel, a “Shadow Dancing” wall and huge new sculptures like a giant centipede that visitors can walk beneath.

There’s also new music and sound effects courtesy of Phish collaborator Steve Pollak, also known as “The Dude of Life.” Enormous “live’’ Luna Moths, a 40-foot-long centipede, and a pulsating River of Light are some of the new artistic elements visitors will encounter when LIGHTSCAPES returns for its third year. Spread throughout a historic landscape, marvels waiting to be discovered include an interactive Shadow Wall, the mesmerizing Colorwheel Castle, and a gathering of garden fairies casting a spell in the form of a light show. Larger-than-life elements like a Frog Prince and a giant praying mantis join more than 7,500 smaller sculptures including lightning bugs, butterflies, and flowers of all colors, shapes and sizes. This is truly a walk through a land-art experience in a world of wonder! In the decorated hospitality tent, visitors can enjoy spring-themed sweets including organic sorbet from Blue Pig of Croton and homemade candy and baked goods (plus savories!) from Geordane’s of Irvington.

From the creators of The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze, this otherworldly experience of awe-inspiring illumination and all-original sculpture opens April 29 and runs for twenty evenings, Thursday through Sunday, including Memorial Day (April 29-30; May 1, 5-8, 12-15, 19-22, 26-30). Time for the first entry is 8:15pm (8:30pm on the final three weekends).

Bring the family and invite your friends for a fun evening out. LIGHTSCAPES takes place rain or shine, and admission is by timed ticket only. Time slots and dates will sell out, so Historic Hudson Valley strongly recommends buying your tickets in advance online, where ticket prices are:

$20 for adults ($25 Saturdays)

$16 for children 3-17 ($20 Saturdays)

FREE for children under 3 years old and for members of Historic Hudson Valley.

Tickets are $2 more when purchased on site or over the phone.

Van Cortlandt Manor is located at 525 South Riverside Ave. in Croton-on-Hudson, NY, just off Route 9.

Tickets and info: 914-366-6900

You can find Historic Hudson Valley and #LIGHTSCAPES on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest (username: HHValley), and Instagram and YouTube (username: InTheValley1)

April 27, 2016 |

Children’s Play Is Their “Work”

Bits & Pieces Column

Helpful Chitchat







By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel


When we used to pick them up from preschool, how often did we ask our children, “What did you do in school today?” Some days, of course, they may come home with papers they worked on. But, if there are no drawings, paintings, or filled-in dittos, does this mean your child did not have a productive day? There may not be any tangible proof of them having “worked” during the day (which some parents believe justifies the tuition they are paying). However, a child’s day in preschool is totally different from the school day experienced by an elementary school child.

Preschool children can spend a morning that is filled with activities that might not include a specific project to take home. A morning might begin with circle time, talking about the weather, learning about the calendar and then listening to a story. They may have baked muffins—which is actually a math and science lesson. In baking, children learn about measurements, chemistry, converting liquids to solids, sharing, and taking turns mixing and stirring. They also may have participated in gross motor activities, played a bingo game, built a castle with blocks, planted seeds in a window box and then had a snack.

A child’s day in school can be productive without a piece of paper or an art project being handed to parents each time. Parents may ask their child about their school day (say, on the car ride home from school), and it’s very likely that the child will talk about the favorite activities they participated in. Their teacher can explain to you in more detail how your child is doing academically. School newsletters also are helpful for keeping parents informed with details about upcoming lessons and activities.

Nursery schools typically have parent/teacher conference days scheduled during the school year. This is a good time to discuss your child’s progress and find out how they are performing in class. While academic progress is asked about most often, it is probably the least important topic for the preschool child. There is a quotation often posted in classrooms. It really says it all.  “Childhood should be a journey, not a race.”

Preschool days are happy times and a wonderful journey for your little one to experience. With the right mix of a parent’s positive attitude and a dedicated teacher, the preschool experience promises to be an exciting time for both parents and children.



April 20, 2016 |

Limo For Hire

Bits & Pieces Column

Helpful Chitchat







By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel


With prom season and summer weddings on the way, renting a limousine might be part of the preparation for some families. Perhaps friends who recently hired a limo can recommend a company to you. Important questions need to be asked of the limo company being considered, so understanding what you are getting for your money is covered. How many people will be using the limo and for how many hours is it needed?  Most limo companies will have a price sheet stating the cost for each vehicle they own. Do you need an 8-, 10-, 12-, or 14-passenger car? Ask what model year the vehicles are and, if possible, look at the one you will be renting—in person—to make sure it is the same as their brochure or website offerings.

Are you dreaming about a stretch, super stretch or some other fancy vehicle?  Some companies offer SUVs for up to 22 passengers, which is popular for prom students or transporting wedding guests (say, if the reception hall is far away from the church or hotel). Or, you can hire a fully equipped bus; comfortable for transporting large groups (30 to 50 passengers). Ask how long the company has been in business and if they are licensed and insured. Be sure there is a contract issued that states all the things you and they are expecting when you enter into an agreement.

The company you select should have comparable prices, be knowledgeable, and act professionally during the initial call for information. Make sure you understand their deposit requirements, cancellation policy, have checked their references, asked what the driver will wear that day, and if the driver has a clean license and good driving record.   You should receive a contract stating all the items you are expecting. Many contracts state their payment policies, notices about no smoking in the limo, a statement that they are not responsible for items left in the cars, etc. During prom season, many companies enact strict policies forbidding alcohol in their vehicles, which parents appreciate.  The company will need information about the pick-up points, destination locations, time the limo is needed, etc. What are their fees for overtime?

A week before your event, call to confirm all the details and go over any new information that you need to convey or change. Doing your research and follow-up practically guarantees a smooth limo rental process.

April 13, 2016 |

Sheep-to-Shawl Festival: An 18th Century Journey

Bits & Pieces Column

Helpful Chitchat







By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel



From fiber to fashion, Philipsburg Manor’s Sheep-to-Shawl festival celebrates all things wooly sheep on Saturday and Sunday, April 16 and 17, 10-5pm.  Watch agile Scottish border collies as they demonstrate not only their sheep herding savvy, but their ability to corral ducks. And of course, sheep ready to lose their winter coats will be shorn by hand just like they were in the 18th century while costumed interpreters demonstrate wool dyeing, spinning and weaving, and lead special hands-on activities for children. Visitors can see the entire process of making woolen cloth and participate in many stages of the process: picking and carding the wool; spinning and dyeing the yarn; and weaving it into cloth. Interpreters, wearing costumes of the 18th century, will also demonstrate the labor-intensive process of making linen from the flax plant. Storytellers will be on hand to share lively tales.

In the site’s Manor House, Wearable Wealth: The Value of Cloth and Clothing in the 18th Century, will help visitors understand just how precious fabric goods were for colonial Americans. In fact, colonists were the ultimate recyclers! Textiles of all kinds were expensive treasures that were used, reused and repurposed again. Other elements include a photo op for kids where they can try on reproduction 18th-century clothing. A fashion show will take place featuring 18th-century outfits — both high style and working-class designs — complete with critiques from a tough judge, Historic Hudson Valley’s own expert costume designer.

Geordane’s of Irvington will offer a full lunch menu including shepherd’s pie and veggie chili. The Blue Pig of Croton will dish up locally sourced homemade ice cream.

Philipsburg Manor was once a working water-powered gristmill and a New-World Dutch barn in 1750, and today it is a living museum. Sheep-to-Shawl is rain or shine and kicks off the spring season for Historic Hudson Valley’s network of National Historic Landmarks. Philipsburg Manor, Washington Irving’s Sunnyside, and Kykuit-the Rockefeller Estate, will open to the public for general tours beginning Sunday, May 1. Union Church of Pocantico Hills opens Friday, April 1 and Van Cortlandt Manor on Friday, July 1.   Philipsburg Manor, owned and operated by Historic Hudson Valley, is located at 381 North Broadway (Route 9) in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., two miles north of the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Tickets can be purchased online at

Information: Call 914-366-6900











April 6, 2016 |

Senior Driving Tips

Bits & Pieces Column

Helpful Chitchat







By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel



It takes a certain skill to know how to drive under winter weather conditions. Likewise, it takes a different outlook on driving altogether when we begin to approach a certain age.  There are health considerations, as well as driving techniques to be aware of that will help promote safety on the road. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety offers these tips.

While there may be some physical limitations to deal with as we grow older, some people achieved their greatest successes when they were over 60 years of age.  An example is businessman Henry M. Leland who founded the Cadillac Automobile Company at age 59. In a few years he left that company, and at age 74 he started the Lincoln Motor Company!  So it is clear that growing older does not mean you have to slow down in other ways!

Statistics show that older drivers, as a group, do have more crashes than people who are in their 40s.  Older drivers may need to address a number of health issues to ensure they are capable of being on the road.

Good eyesight is a vital part of maintaining safety behind the wheel. When you are over 60, you need three times as much light to see than a teenager does.  It also takes longer to adjust from light to darkness.  This is because the eye’s lens loses the ability to change focus quickly, peripheral vision narrows, and the retina becomes less sensitive to light.  Getting regular eye exams — at least every two years — is important. If you have trouble driving at night because of poor vision or glare, limit driving to daylight hours if possible.  When driving, turn your head frequently to make up for diminished peripheral vision.  Make sure your car’s headlights, mirrors, windshields and the inside glass of your car are kept clean at all times.

While an older driver may be mentally alert, sometimes the reaction time to a situation may be slower than that of a younger person.  Age tends to lengthen the time it takes for the brain to process information.  Leave more room between you and the car in front of you.  If you must travel on busy highways, try to arrange your day so that you can drive during off-peak hours.  Keep the inside of the car quiet without the distraction of a radio or cell phone.

For more information about senior driving, write to the American Automobile Foundation for Traffic Safety at:

1440 New York Avenue NW

Suite 201

Washington, DC


Call them at (800) 993-7222 or visit:


March 30, 2016 |

Easter Egg Dye — The Natural Way

Bits & Pieces Column

Helpful Chitchat







By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel



Our children grew up on the stories and customs shared by my husband’s parents.  Born in Europe, they brought with them a world of wonderful customs that our children looked forward to each holiday and on special occasions. Holiday times were more special in my in-law’s childhoods because it broke the rigorous farm work routine, giving children something special to look forward to.

“We were happy and excited over receiving even the smallest treat or presents at holiday times,” grandma related. There were no stores where one could buy packaged dyes, so her family colored eggs with the ingredients available on hand.  This was one of the traditions introduced to our children when our firstborn was about five years old.  By this age, a child can help prepare the ingredients and fully participate in the process.

There are no exact measurements for dying eggs the natural way.  We experimented to see which shades of color we liked best.  Each batch of eggs is boiled separately—typically six to a batch.  As they are boiling, in some cases, the ingredients are added to the water.

Onion skins are used for one color.  Remove the outside, brown skins from a three-pound bag of onions, using all the skins. Put enough water in the pot to cover the eggs, and then add the skins.  The egg color will be tan. Celery or carrot top greens produce pale yellow eggs when placed in the water while the eggs are cooking.  For lavender eggs, soak hard-boiled eggs in a cup of grape juice. Blue eggs are made by gently rolling the hard-cooked eggs in a bowl of mashed blueberries.  Grandma used “fresh blueberries from the farm,” but we used a small bag of frozen ones.  We created a light pink by soaking the cooked eggs for twenty minutes in a mixture of crushed cranberries.

When the dying is finished, place the colored eggs in a natural straw-woven basket filled with “bunny grass.”  If Easter falls later in the year, we often try to use real garden grass.

When I think about it, this family custom has really found its place in our time now. Instead of being “old fashioned,” grandma’s customs have actually become “trendy.” With everything “getting back to nature and away from chemicals,” we were perhaps even ahead of our time, proving everything does go full cycle.



March 23, 2016 |
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