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The Dirt - December
"I heard a bird sing,
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

'We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,'
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December." 

- Oliver Herford, I Heard a Bird Sing

Ed's Corner

This is the time of year where we have the shortest daylight. It's gray. It's rainy. There's not enough snow yet to make it feel brighter, prettier, seasonal. Some people experience a condition called SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder - in the winter months, due to a lack of light. Special lamps are sold for people to sit under each day, which mimic the sun's light. Reports lead me to believe they work!

This year, there are other reasons to be sad besides SAD. The news provides us with plenty of fodder to feel down, full of angst, stressed out, wondering what might be the truth...

But have hope! There is truth and tranquility to be be found when you are out in nature. And wherever you are, nature is not very far from you. Natural winter delights and verities are all around us:

* A beautiful snowstorm that transforms the sharp corners of the world
* If you tap trees, it's time to get ready for maple sugaring
* By mid-January, you will feel - some days - a warmth in the air. The quality of the daylight will begin to feel different
* The sun rises in the morning and sets at night. This seems trivial but did you ever think about how it happens each and every day, without fail, and we can depend on it?
* How wonderful a fire feels and smells on a cold day

You can find your own truths out of doors. Forget the news for a while. It's time for a nature break.

NEW Summer 2018 Camp Programs!

We are SO excited to announce the debut of TWO and A HALF new programs at The Nature Place for summer 2018. In addition to our Farm and Garden Days program, we will be offering these new programs following the Nature Place’s six week season - during the week of August 13th to August 17th, 2018. Here’s a sneak preview of what we’ll be offering. Be on the lookout for an email when these programs are officially launched on our website.

Young Farmers (ages 5-6)

This summer, due to popular demand, we’ll be offering a Farm and Garden Days program for the youngest among us. Its our "half" new program - for a new audience, but based on the same great programing of our established Farm and Garden Days. Participants are immersed in hands-on activities at both the farm and in the garden, supplemented with related art projects, games, swimming at the pond, and more. The pace of this new program is specifically geared towards helping 5 and 6 year-olds get the most out of all that the Pfeiffer Center has to offer.


Earth Art (ages 9-15)

For artists and nature lovers alike, this small program offers a focused ‘earth to fine art’ experience for children interested in learning earth art techniques and exercising their creativity in a relaxed, outdoor setting. Each day, campers connect with the earth through various projects, and have a balance of swimming, snacks, and lunch time as well.

Passages (ages 13-16)

Passages is a five-day-long wilderness experience that provides a nurturing and meaningful rite of passage for youth transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. This unique program gently guides campers to explore their relationship to self, to community, to earth and beyond, through wilderness survival training, community building, self-reflection, and ceremony.

The Sustainability Scoop

A hub for 'green' information and inspiration

Ayla Dunn Bieber shares successes and inspiration from her ongoing Garbage Can Challenge, including some great motivation and suggestions. In case you missed it, click here to read the Garbage Can Challenge kick-off post and to navigate to last month's post.

Garbage Can Challenge - December Update

My heart is full and my garbage can empty...well, not quite, but I have fun news to report! This past month, we met our challenge goal of filling only half of our garbage can for the entire month! Woohoo, celebrate! 

I hope you too are finding ways to feel empowered and satisfied by your own trash reduction efforts. Feel free to fill me in on any progress, large or small, in the comment section of our blog

This month, I have begun to implement some new sustainable methods in our home. For one, I've committed to making hummus from scratch, starting with dry beans, and it's been coming out totally amazing. I'm about to make my own toothpaste for the first time, we've been buying bread from the farmer's market each week, and I have been consistently bringing my big glass storage jars with me when I shop so I can fill them with bulk items. 

This morning I was at our local food co-op, The Hungry Hollow Co-op, which some of you may know, and the friendly cashier let me snap his picture with my jars at checkout.

All you need to do when bringing your own containers is take them to the register before you fill them up, and the cashier will weigh your jars (Tip: you don't have to wait until your jars are completely empty to fill them up. They can just as easily be weighed with some food still in them). Then proceed to fill them up as usual - very satisfying indeed. I had another experience this month where I brought a glass container to Fairway to try to buy fish without the plastic bag the butcher usually puts it in. It took a little longer, as it was a new experience for the butcher and there was some trial and error in figuring out how to tare out the container, but all in all it worked!

The experience of going into larger stores vs local co-ops is obviously different. I love to support my co-op and I do also purchase some items elsewhere. In those bigger stores, I'm learning it's okay to ask for these more sustainable modifications, even though it might feel a little uncomfortable to do so. I've noticed that if I go in with a super positive, friendly attitude, the accommodations I request might get a funny look or two, but they are happily met.

A note on stickers....they are everywhere. In both of my pictures this month there are little stickers on each piece of produce. So annoying, right? Well, it drives me crazy! My only suggestion here is to buy more produce at farmers markets. I also try to pick through the produce and find some pieces without stickers :)

Temptations: This time of year, the stores are full of trash-producing temptations. Just today, I was so close to buying lovely organic mint chocolate truffle candies. They were on sale, right by the door when I walked in to the store. They were in my cart in two seconds flat. Then, I thought, "Wait...look at the packaging, Ayla!"... Each piece was individually wrapped and then all of them were in a non-recyclable package. Sadly, and a little proudly, I put them back on the shelf. I told myself there are lots of options for goodies that I can make. Speaking of which, Daniel's birthday is this week and I have been trying to figure out what to make him for a dessert treat. In addition to a cake, I am planning on busting out my ice cream maker that has been sitting in a box since we got it as a wedding present! Did you know you can't recycle ice cream containers?! :(  I'll let you know how my homemade experiment turns out!

While we did reach our garbage goal this month, we have not relaxed into a groove yet. It's important to me that we maintain this goal and I would like to see if we can reduce even further. I know the longer we focus energy and efforts on this, the easier it will get and the more sustainable it will become. Thanks again for going on this journey with me!

Until next time,

Primitive Living Skills

Next session: Saturday, January 13th

Are you yearning to be more connected to nature during these winter months? Do your kids have energy that doesn't seem to be satisfied indoors? Come get outside with us at a Primitive Living Skills workshop and learn super sweet wilderness skills, make new friends, and get in tune with your natural intuition.

On Saturday, January 13th, our series continues with two sessions. The 10 am session is for children ages 10-14, and the 2 pm session is for families (ages 6 and up)! Come check out a single session, or sign up for the full series. Spaces are still available, but are limited. For registration details, more dates, times, and rates, click here.


The Gingerbread House

Our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, suggests the healthy-risk-taking holiday activity of gingerbread house making from scratch, giving us building advice and a recipe.

The popularity of gingerbread has a long history. Research suggests that gingerbread houses originated in 16th century Germany, but they gained popularity later thanks to the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Hansel and Gretel, in which an evil witch lures two hungry children with a house made out of gingerbread.
The story of Hansel a Gretel has many interpretations and symbolic meanings; one of them being fear of hunger and the fear of being abandoned by loved ones, more specifically by parents. In the fairy tale version most likely found on the bookshelves of our children, Hansel and Gretel simply get lost in the dark forest. This is the edited, child-friendly version of the story adapted to our cultural sensibilities. In the original version from the collection of Brothers Grimm, the children are left in the forest by their parents intentionally. During a time of famine, the evil mother/stepmother chose self-preservation over the children.
Even young children know that at the end of the fairy tale, good will triumph over evil. In the cycle of the year and the seasons, light will triumph over darkness again. To fill the (literally) darkest days of the year with light, it seems appropriate to find ways to express gratitude for love, food, and everything that sustains us and gives meaning to our lives. One of my favorite ways to do this is by spending time in the kitchen with my children.
As we planned our pre-holiday baking projects, my daughter suggested that we make a gingerbread house. Although gingerbread cookies have always been on our holiday menu, we have never tried to make a gingerbread house.
First, I thought it was a good idea. But after considering all the work involved, the mess, and the relatively high probability of a baking disaster, I wasn’t so sure anymore.
Of course, my child insisted, and it seemed wrong to cause a disappointment just because I was not in the mood for a big project. Soon, both children were excited about the prospect of having a homemade gingerbread house, and they were ready to do their part. We decided not to take any short cuts and not to buy a gingerbread kit.
We looked up several instructions online. It seemed the most challenging issue was the structural one: how to make the bond between the walls strong that the house would not cave in. Some websites suggested that the only way to achieve a sturdy structure was to use crazy clue instead of icing. This, of course, would make the house inedible. I did not want to take that road. I like food to stay food, even when it takes on another form and function. Pairing gingerbread with glue seemed unfair to the yummy gingerbread. We had to figure out a way to make it work with icing. My son, who is interested in architecture and engineering, was responsible for the structural design.
My first suggestion was to make a simple chalet-style house. This would mean having only two triangle-shaped walls for the front and the back of the house, and two rectangle pieces for the roof, coming all the way down. No structural problems here. My son objected: “No one gets anywhere without taking a risk.” I had to reconsider. After all, trying to make a more elaborate house was a reasonable risk to take.
Using pieces of a construction set, my son built the skeleton of the house. This would later be placed inside of the gingerbread house to support the walls, and to prevent it from caving in. Then, based on the size of the prototype, we drew the pattern. Making the dough, cutting out the pieces, and baking, followed the next day. 
This is a project requiring patience. There is no instant gratification here.  For us, it was reasonable to complete the house in the course of three days. A lot of planning and prep work was needed. At the same time, we had to be ready to give up the original plan in certain situations, to solve problems quickly, to be ready to troubleshoot and improvise, because things didn’t always go smoothly. On many levels, it was a great lesson for the children.
On the third day, it was time to put it all together and decorate. As for decoration, we opted for a simple solution free of artificial colors: white icing. While it was not easy to apply icing in a preplanned manner, icing did save the look of our house. Snow and icicles not only added a seasonal appearance to the house, they helped us to cover up the imperfections and mistakes. Thanks to icing, our first ever gingerbread house turned out just fine.

Click here for Eva's Gingerbread House recipe!


Chuck Stead, our beloved camp storyteller, tells a story of mistletoe missed connections and suprises...

We three kids (Cindy Maloney, Ricky Cramshaw, and myself) sat at the Soda Fountain counter, watching folks come in off the street. Just to the right of the door, a small branch of mistletoe, with its dark green leaves and translucent white berries, hung from the ceiling. We watched to see if anyone kissed under it. My uncle Mal told us that when you stood beneath the mistletoe, the next person to come along was obliged to kiss you. So far, no one stood beneath it. The girl behind the counter was new; we’d never seen her before. She brought us three mugs of hot cocoa and a little plate with three marshmallows on it. We stared at the plate and figured she’d never served cocoa before. She saw us staring at the plate of marshmallows and she said, “They’re marshmallows.”

            Ricky said, “Yup, we know that.”
            “They’re for your cocoa.”
            “Yup, we know that too.”
            She said, “Don’t you like marshmallows?”
            I said, “Yeah, we like them in our cocoa.”
            Ricky said, “But they look silly on a plate.”
            Cindy took one of them and dropped it into her mug of cocoa. She said, “We never got them on a plate before.”
            The girl said, “Oh. Well, I am new here. My name is Trudy.”
            We told her our names and Ricky said, “Trudy, did you hang the mistletoe?”
            She said she had hung it.
            He said, “Well, it ain’t working. No one goes under it and no kissing happens.”

When he said the word ‘kissing’, he spread it out and made it sound like “Keeeeeey-sing”. Trudy smiled, and I saw that she had dimples in both of her cheeks.
            She said, “Well, should we hang it someplace else?”

We all looked around at different places. I thought it could go over the entrance, but that could be a problem for people getting in and out, while kissing-people stood in their way. Ricky suggested over the bathroom door, but then we agreed that it might be smelly there. Cindy suggested a place in front of the juke-box. Trudy went over and got a short step-ladder, took down the mistletoe from where it was, and hung it over the top of the juke box. She put it just a bit in front of the jukebox so folks could get caught standing beneath it. She put the little step ladder away and went down the counter to take a man’s order. We kids took our mugs of cocoa and sat in a booth near the juke box. Still no one walked beneath it.

            After a while, Cindy said, “My mom says mistletoe is poisonous.”
            I said, “Yup, my mom said you need to be careful about getting kissed by the wrong person under it.”
            Cindy said, “How can you tell who the wrong person is?”
            “I don’t know. I guess you find out later.”
            Ricky said, “Then how can you be careful?”
            “I guess you just don’t go under it.”

We finished our cocoa and still no ‘persons', wrong or right, went under the mistletoe. Finally, Trudy came back to us and said, “Any luck?” We shook our heads.

She stared up at the mistletoe and said that maybe we needed to move it again. She looked at Ricky and said, “Come on little man, help me take it down.”
Ricky slid out of the booth and Trudy brought the step ladder over to the juke-box. She then hefted Ricky up in her arms and she stepped onto the ladder. Ricky stretched his arms upward to the mistletoe overhead. Trudy looked at him and said, “Oh my, we’re under the mistletoe!” He looked at her, mortified, but it was too late, and she kissed his cheek. Cindy and I howled and laughed and shoved each other around. Trudy put Ricky down and he charged directly to the bathroom, where he scrubbed her red lipstick from his cheek. When he came out of the bathroom his face was beet red and he was sporting an over-exaggerated frown.
Trudy came to our table with three more mugs of cocoa—on the house! That made Ricky a little happier. Again, she brought us the marshmallows on a separate plate. Before she left our booth, she winked at Ricky and said, “I’ve never kissed anyone beneath the mistletoe before.”
Ricky looked up as he dropped his marshmallow into his mug and he said, “And you ain’t kissing me again!”
She smiled her double dimples and went back to the counter and there, just over his cocoa mug, I could see he had a little bit of smile going, too.

Dandelion Root Recipes

Wild food forager Paul Tappenden shares a few creative ways he loves to use dandelion root in regular cooking. You may be surprised at just how versatile this pervasive plant is.

I’ve found many different uses for Dandelions during my time as a forager. Each part of the plant, from the flower to the root, has several purposes—from wines, to dyes, to foods and medicines.
The root is unquestionably the most versatile part. I’ve often written about how I grind and roast the roots to make a tasty coffee substitute, but the same ground roots can also be used in other ways. A few years ago, I reconstituted some in a gravy, adding chopped onion, garlic and herbs, to create a substitute for minced beef. It worked so well, that I have made it several times since, refining my recipe each time. 

I’ve used my fake chop meat in pasta sauces, chilis, stuffed peppers and pastry fillings. I’ve even combined it with egg and acorn flour to create faux meatballs. By adding other textures. like acorn grits, ground Maitaki mushrooms, or mashed lentils, the texture and flavor can be adjusted.
I find clean straight roots, I put them aside. Once I have a few, I take a potato peeler and cut the roots into long strips, which I dehydrate and reconstitute in a sauce. I then semi-dehydrate the flavored roots until they have a texture like jerky. Again, it took several tries to get it just right, but now it is an oft-requested munchy.

Another popular dish, is my wild, vegan version of Jamaican patties, using curried dandelion-root-filling in an acorn crust. Whenever I take some to an event, they disappear rapidly.  Not only are they tasty, but they are organic, non-GMO and full of nutrition.

Betty Bloch, in our hearts.

Betty taught us what it meant to work well with children - to listen, to laugh, to be sincere and silly, to connect with compassion, humor, and with insight into the developing child.

Betty left our earth on Thursday, December 14th, at home, with family.

She has been a weaver of the web that gives strength and light and love to The Nature Place Day Camp, and we will miss her.

2018 Event Calendar

If you're looking for us, we'll be at the following events in the new year. Coming to any of these is a great way for interested new families to get a better feel for us and what we do, and for seasoned Nature Place families to taste a little bit of the summer spirit throughout the 'off-season'. For more details about any of the following, please visit our Events page here.

Open Houses

The best way to learn more about The Nature Place is by coming to an open house. You’ll be welcomed by many members of the family in our family-run camp! We’ll take you on a tour of the campus (generally two or three families at a time), give you a full picture of what we do and why we do it (through a narrated slideshow), and answer your questions about the ins and outs of camp! 

Our Open Houses are between 1 and 4 pm (except our February 24th Open House, which is from 1 to 3 PM). Please call our office at 845.356.1234, or email us at to make an appointment. We meet at the Lower School Building of the Green Meadow Waldorf School - 307 Hungry Hollow Road, Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977. 

Saturday, January 13th (plus Winter Tales with Chuck Stead - see below)
Sunday, February 4th
Saturday, February 24th (plus Maple Sugaring - see below)
Sunday, March 11th
Saturday, March 17th (Plus Outragehiss Pets - see below)
Saturday, April 14th
Sunday, April 29th (plus Wild Edibles Walk - see below)
Saturday, May 19th

Public Programs

Attending one of our winter/spring programs is a great way for new or inquiring camp families to experience some of what we do at camp and how we do it. Its also an opportunity for returning campers to come say 'Hi!' to friends and satisfy longings for some favorite summer programming. All take place at Green Meadow Waldorf School. Click on any event title to learn more.

Winter Tales with Chuck Stead
Saturday, January 13th. Noon to 1 PM. Followed by optional Open House.

Maple Sugaring
Saturday, February 24th. This program happens twice, once from 12 to 1 PM, and then again, from 3 to 4 pm. Our Open House on this day is between programs, from 1 to 3 pm.

Outragehiss Pets
Saturday, March 17th. Noon to 1 PM. Followed by optional Open House.

Wild Edibles Walk
Sunday, April 29th. Noon to 1 PM. Followed by optional Open House.


Camp Fairs

We attend a total of 10 camp fairs in New York City (Manhattan and Brooklyn) between December and April. A camp fair is basically us bringing a slice of our open house to you, in your neighborhood. We will be at our Nature Place table, speaking to inquiring families about camp, and answering questions. You'll know it's us by the large earth art city-stump, wooden photo trifold, and general vibe de nature.

All camp fairs run between Noon and 3 pm.

Saturday, January 20th - Upper East Side
St. Jean Baptiste High School, 173 East 75th Street, New York NY 10021

Saturday, January 20th - Park Slope, BK
P.S. 321, 180 7th Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn NY 11215

Sunday, January 21st - Upper West Side
Congregation Rodeph Sholom, 7 West 83rd Street, New York NY 10024

Saturday, January 27th - Cobble Hill, BK
Brooklyn Heights Montessori School, 185 Court Street, Brooklyn NY 11201

Sunday, January 28th - Park Slope, BK
Berkeley Carroll School, 181 Lincoln Place. Brooklyn NY 11217

Saturday, February 10th - Tribeca
Borough of Manhattan Community College, 199 Chambers Street, New York NY 10007

Sunday, February 11th - Greenwich Village
NYU, Greenwich Village, New York NY 10003

Sunday, March 4th - Upper West Side
Congregation Rodeph Sholom, 7 West 83rd Street, New York NY 10024 

Saturday, March 10th - Upper East Side
St. Jean Baptiste High School, 173 East 75th Street, New York NY 10021

Sunday, March 11th - Park Slope, BK
Berkeley Carroll School, 181 Lincoln Place, Brooklyn NY 11217 

Warmest Wishes

There is so much to celebrate this time of year. Tomorrow, December 21st, marks the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the day of the year with the shortest amount of daylight and the longest night, where winter truly begins. Cultures around the world have long observed this day with festivities to celebrate the change of the season and the new beginnings it signals on the horizon. With the winter holidays upon us, and the New Year just around the corner, the light that comes from spending time with loved ones and the anticipation of what the season and the year have in store are enough to keep us warm and grateful for a long, long time.

Wishing you and yours the very happiest of Solstices, Holidays, and New Year.

Upcoming Open Houses

Saturday, January 13th
Sunday, February 4th
Saturday, February 24th
Sunday, March 11th
Saturday, March 17th

Please email us in advance at to set up your appointment. We'll meet at Green Meadow Waldorf School: 307 Hungry Hollow Road, Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977.

Non-competitive and nature-oriented, The Nature Place supports children to be themselves, with their friends, in the great outdoors. Learn more at
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