The annual NJ Teacher's Convention school holidays this week pose an interesting opportunity to try some of New York's sights while their own school children will be safely behind their desks!

Two places that we love to visit are The NY Aquarium in Coney Island and The Staten Island Children's Museum. Both are easy drives of around 45 minutes, so they are great places to explore this week during the NJ school closings. The NY Aquarium is open from 10:00-4:30 (www.nyaquarium.com) and can be easily accessed via Staten Island, so you can avoid driving through the city. It has the standard exhibits you would expect for an aquarium, but it is much closer than the NJ Aquarium in Camden! The Staten Island Children's Museum (www.statenislandkids.org) in the historic Snug Harbor Cultural Center is open from noon to 5 pm and is a bargain at only $5 per person. The museum has great exhibits on an underwater submarine, the rainforest, a polar expedition, insects, a veterinarian, firehouse, ship, theatre, big games and a construction site. Weather permitting there is a cute outdoor boat play area as well as the free Botanical Gardens next door.

For those of you who are Bank of America customers (either credit or debit card), you can take advantage of their free museum program on Nov. 7-8. During the first full weekend of each month, each card holder is admitted into over 100 museums nationwide for free. Local museums participating in the program include the Newark Museum, the Monclair Art Museum (which is presently hosting a popular Cezanne exhibit), the Morris Museum, and Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton; in NYC the Met, Bronx Zoo, NY Aquarium, Intrepid and the Whitney are participating. All you have to do is show your card. www.bofa.com/museums.

I recently took my kids to lunch at Chuck E. Cheese on Route 10 in East Hanover (next to the Lowe's Theater) on another random day off from school and were we surprised to see the completion of its makeover! The restaurant now covers two floors and is stocked with brand new games and rides and a new animatronic show. It was really clean, not crowded and I was happy to see that all the games are still only one token. You can go to www.chuckecheese.com and join their e-mail club to receive a coupon for 100 tokens for $10. Between this coupon and tokens you receive when you order food and free token coupons for both of my kids birthdays that we also got for signing up, we have been three times now on the same $10!

Speaking of birthday clubs, we just took advantage of another great offer for the second year in a row. If you have never visited Medieval Times in East Rutherford you are missing a great show! This is a live show in an arena that features knights and horses competing and performing in a show and also includes a "medieval" dinner that you eat with your hands! My boys absolutely love going here, but it is quite expensive, so we take advantage of their birthday fellowship program. Go to www.medievaltimes.com and register your children and they will be invited to the castle for a free feast and tournament during the month of their birthdays.

Finally, although our family will be taking advantage of all the free museums that Washington, DC has to offer during the Thanksgiving holiday, we will miss out on a couple of traditions that we normally partake in. The first is the wonderful Christmas walk that New Providence puts on every year on the Friday night after Thanksgiving. Beginning at 5:00, New Providence Presbyterian provides a living nativity on its lawn along with refreshments and crafts for families as well as a re-enactment of the First Christmas at 6:30. All of the downtown merchants particpate and there are tons of give aways. Santa arrives on the roof of Provident bank and is escorted down by the fire department, who then drive him around led by the NP High School band. It is a very festive night! We also enjoy Dickens Days in Clinton which is Nov. 27-28. This is a charming little town a short drive away (off of 78) that has a very picturesque Main Street with an old truss bridge decorated with toy soldiers spanning the Raritan River and overlooking a waterfall separating two old grist mills. It is a great place for lunch, strolling the shops and enjoying the decorations and roving performers, carolers and an old-fashioned Father Christmas who strolls through town.

Many blessings to your family from ours during this holiday season!