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New Year's Eve tradition: Counting pennies from heaven

My piggie bank with the $10.69 in change that I found in 2014.Since I was a child, I have always been one to find a lot of money. I've found $100 twice. 

These days when I find even a penny, my family and friends get a good laugh because with each find, I  recite: "Every day, in every way, I grow richer and richer."

I always note that it is "grow richer" and not "get richer." The money finds are a reminder to me to keep positive thoughts and that the riches that are increasing for me are not just money, but also love and health and friendship and happiness and experiences  -- any good thing that makes life itself richer.

After turning in 2013's finds of a little more than $7, I decided to make it an annual tradition. So, for all of 2014, I deposited any found coins in my cute blue Pennies from Heaven piggie bank with the goal of seeing what the year would bring. (Any bills I find are marked with the date and kept elsewhere).

Today, I will be going to the coin counting machine at one of the local TD Bank branches with proof that, monetarily, I am at least $10.69 richer at the end of 2014. And, I'd like to thank everyone who was too busy or too classy to pick up coins. I'm happy to have collected what you left behind! 

Happy New Year to all! I would be so happy if you would share your New Year's Eve and New Year's Day traditions. 






Cranford coach makes the court his classroom

John McGuire talks over instructions with two youngsters in his Cranford GymAdemics class, one of his two sports-focused programs. (Photo by Jennifer Smolanoff/ most mornings, the gym at Trinity Episcopal Day School in Cranford is a noisy room full of action verbs.

Listening, stretching, running, dribbling, kicking, sliding, tumbling, laughing, dancing. Sometimes there’s even a little resting.

The 2- to 5-year-old subjects of these actions are pre-schoolers in GymAdemics, one of two sports-focused educational programs run by Cranford resident John McGuire.

McGuire has a master’s in educational leadership and 15 years as a teacher and coach, but that doesn’t mean much to this group. With energetic music in the background, they’re having fun, getting some exercise and learning to follow directions with activity that reinforces reading, math and social skills.

To a squirrely youngster eager to interrupt, McGuire offers an option: “How about you listen to me first, and then I will listen to you.” The boy agrees it’s a good idea, and the “locker room” chat continues. When that’s finished, they move away from the row of chairs near a sunny window to stretch before running — first outside and then inside a border of large, colorful dots. Next, they dribble a basketball with one hand or a soccer ball with both feet. Points are given for proper technique or even a courteous gesture. The points are displayed for all to see on a projector McGuire controls with his phone.

Here, distraction is a tool. Kids hold an instruction card in one hand and dribble with the other. This way they can’t put so much pressure on themselves to perform, McGuire says. They learn new words when cards instruct them to put the ball on, under or behind a chair.

McGuire hopes to expand the program to other schools. His goal for GymAdemics and his Hoops There It Is programs for older players is to develop kids both mentally and physically. We talked with him about the value of sports for kids.

What is the benefit of starting kids in a program like GymAdemics? There are natural athletes out there, and I can hone those skills and develop them even at a very young age. But my goal is to teach children that sports can be fun even if it is not your thing. We can train them to become good teammates, friends and citizens. I want kids to learn that we can enjoy winning and learn from losing. There is also a very important academic concept here that children can be mentally challenged while completing physical tasks.

Why is it a problem when kids focus only on winning? Because they will learn a lot more about themselves from their losses. Losing allows you to feel something unpleasant but also requires you to seek improvement, to practice, and to grow as a person and a player. You win when you realize that there is more to learn and do.

(Photo by Jennifer Smolanoff/

What is it about you that makes you want to do this work? I have always loved sports and I enjoy being a teacher. I created this GymAdemics concept because it allows me to blend the two. Sports teaches you about life: never quit in the face of adversity, adjustments always need to be made, dedicate yourself to your team — family, friends, work. I am a much better man thanks to what I have learned from coaches and sports.

Why do you work primarily through basketball? Weather! Although I love baseball and basketball, baseball camps get rained out. I used to be basketball director for College for Kids at Union County College. Eight years ago, I decided to make my own camp in Hoops There It Is, and it simply grew to where I am today.

The kids are obviously having a great time. How can parents encourage this running-and-jumping sort of play at home? Make free play a part of daily life. It does not need to be on an organized team. Encourage your children to be active and away from video games. These games give them a false sense of success. Hitting or catching a ball on a video game is a far cry from getting out there and actually doing it. They will also learn and reap the benefits of a healthier life through actual physical fitness.

With concerns about childhood obesity, how do you work in nutrition and fitness? I work with many different children in my various programs, and what I have learned, especially with the older players, is that they will strive to improve. Endurance and physical fitness become important to them if they want to compete and win. With younger children, we talk a lot about stretching and running to stay in shape. Diet is discussed in terms of what makes us stronger to play these sports.

To learn more, visit or


Halloween ideas: Minion painted pumpkins inspired by 'Despicable Me'  

Courtesy David Williams/

Painted pumpkins become Minions for Halloween with Mason jar lids for their large round eyes in a fun project from Williams Nursery in Westfiled. 


Cute pumpkin ideas are always in order for those whose trick-or-treat displays are geared toward younger Halloween visitors.  Best of all, these don't require carving or templates.


To make them, the pumpkins get a yellow coat of glossy spray paint. The details can be brushed on with high gloss paint in blue and black, or use tape and paper to cover the areas that will stay yellow and then use spray paint for the detailing, too.


The large, round eyes of Mason jar lids are really what make the minions, and the project guide uses roofing nails to attach them. Simply hammer a pilot hole into the center of the flat removable part of the lid. Push the assembly into the  pumpkin with the labeling of the Mason jar lids turned to the inside.


Jab a few black pipe cleaners into the pumpkin top near the stem and the minion pumpkin is ready for outdoor display on the porch or inside on a table or stand. 


See instruction shots by David Williams, along with his gorgeous flower photography on the regularly updated nursery blog. Minion pumpkins in various sizes are also on sale for $10 to $25 each at Williams Nursery, 524 Springfield Ave., Westfield. Starter kits with the Mason jar lid eyes and pipe cleaners also are available.

On Monday, the nursery is offering hayrides, pony rides and more fun. The rides and activities also are scheduled for weekends through Oct. 26. There's a costume contest on Oct. 25. For more information, call (908) 232-4076.


Hungry kids to clean up grounds at Reeves-Reed Arboretum 

Goats will be arriving at Reeves-Reed Arboretum in Summit later this month to eat away unwanted vegetation.It's time to get the landscape ready for winter, and if you're feeling exhausted at the mere thought of pulling weeds and removing spent plants from your garden beds, you might wish for a back-saving alternative.

Reeves-Reed Arboretum in Summit is bringing in hungry kids to do the dirty work.

Don't go calling the authorities about child labor violations, these youngsters are the four-legged type. 

For about two weeks starting on Oct. 20, a herd of goats will descend on the arboretum's historic Daffodil Bowl to eat through vegetation in steep terrain, munching away a year’s worth of wildflower growth, invasive vines and weeds.

The grazing goats are are expected to be an added draw along with the spooky trail walk, pumpkin carving, costume parade and crafts fair at the arboretum's upcoming Celebrate Fall Festival from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 26. While enjoying the non-stop buffet, the goats will be demonstrating an environmentally friendly approach to vegetation control. Goats have chewed down unwanted vegetation on hillsides and rocky slopes in California and Washington, and munched away invasive along highways in Maryland. In addition to cutting down on human toil, the use of grazing goats is an alternative to herbicides.  The arboretum has hired Green Goats, a Rhinebeck, NY company that oversees working goats in "clearing hard to manage areas that might otherwise be hazardous to human volunteers."

To clear the Daffodill Bowl, arboretum staff and volunteers have sometimes needed to work through the fall and "after the winter snows have melted," according to a written statement about the goat program. While the herd headed to Summit will take on the weeding and clearing, volunteers will still be needed to restore the area and plant bulbs for the anticipated Daffodil Day in spring.

Arboretum visitors can help support the new “green goat initiative” by sponsoring a goat. Click on the “green goats” link at, and send a “kid” to the arboretum with a tax-deductible $25 donation.

The arboretum's environmental education department can provide personalized group programs that will speak to issues of sustainable land management for home gardens, farms and public green spaces. School groups, scouts, gardeners and members of the general public are invited. For more information, visit or call (908) 273-8787, ext. 1010.

Reeves-Reed Arboretum is at 165 Hobart Ave. in Summit.  The grounds are open daily from dawn to dusk. Admission is free.


Fall decorations: Scarecrows always draw crowds to Cranford 

Selfiecrow was among the favorites at last year's Scarecrow Stroll in CranfordCranford is gearing up for its 7th annual Scarecrow Stroll.


From Oct. 23 through 31, residents and visitors will see fun and creative scarecrows decorating street lamps and many other areas downtown.  Families, school groups and business owners will all be competing this year to have their scarecrow voted a favorite.


There will be several special activities at this year’s event, according to organizers at the Cranford Downtown Business & Economic Development Office. Mommies 24/7, a women's group with members from Cranford, Westfield and other nearby towns, will run a Scarecrow Scavenger Hunt.  Trick or Treat Day downtown will be held Friday, Oct. 31.


Visitors can expect to find wild and crazy creations on every street and in store windows, according to  organizers. First, second and third place prizes will be awarded in the following categories: 12 and under, 13 and over, and business owner.


“We look forward to seeing what people come up with, and every year we are impressed,” Downtown Director Kathleen Miller Prunty said in a written statement about the event. “Of course, the best part is seeing people walking throughout the downtown enjoying the scarecrows and voting for their favorites. Every year, we count thousands of votes.”


Need ideas for your own fall decorating at home? See some of the Cranford scarecrows from previous years on the Scarecrow Stroll Facebook page.  


 Cranford residents and business owners can register by Oct. 4 and get entry guidelines at