BY Eileen Z. Fuentes

This season I’ve made a conscious decision to focus my efforts on experiences instead of expenses. Because, honestly I just rather spend quality time with my family and friends. Sure, I know what everyone is doing every waking minute of the day thanks to Facebook and Twitter but am I ever a part of it? Everywhere you look there’s a new pricey gadget available to take you away from your loved ones or your loved ones away from you. So this year, I decided to do things a little different. Rather than buy my daughters a toy that takes longer to get out of the package than to stay in one piece. I chose to get my girls unforgettable experiences, experiences that I could enjoy with them.

My oldest loves to watch food network, loves to help me prepare dinner, spends more time on the meal presentation than the food and simply loves to eat. So her gift was a no-brainer for me, I got her an age-appropriate cooking class at The Natural Gourmet Institute. As a bonus, she will also be getting subtle messages about the importance of establishing good eating habits. My six-year-old loves watching makeover shows, spends countless hours posing in front of the mirror after she created an outfit out of scarf and towel so she will be taking part in private sewing lessons at The Sewing Studio and my littlest one is…little, so she and I will be going to Build-A-Bear Workshop for some creative time.

For my friends, I am looking forward to setting aside some quality time. Sharing a talent that I have with them such as cooking, coupled with some much needed pampering, and maybe I’ll wrap up a framed picture of one of our favorite childhood memories. Everyone is so busy and the reality is that even holiday party hopping can become exhausting, so here are my top picks for local experiences that give you the best bang for your buck and can help you stick to your resolutions:

Bread and Yoga – The holiday offers at bread and yoga are substantial! If you were ever curious about incorporating mind/body exercises for the entire family, this is the time to indulge. New students have the advantage here and existing members can increase their chances at 2011 success, by purchasing a gift certificate for a buddy.

Columbia Acu-Herb – Massages by Cindy at Columbia Acu-Herb are simply incredible. Her ability to find and release any tension in your body really leaves you in a state of bliss. How can you not try it at least once for $1 a minute (or less if you purchase $500 10-visit card).

The Practice: Yoga and Spin Studio – Christine Grimaldi, Ph.D. who works privately with celebrity clients and has dedicated her life to working with children with cancer at Columbia University Medical Center’s Integrative Therapies program has opened a studio where she leads private and semi-private spin combination classes as well as yoga, Pilates and TRX. This is the perfection combination of high and low intensity workouts!!!

Briana E. Heard

Fort Tryon Trust Fitness Program – Studies show that nature walks have many benefits including stress reduction, blood pressure regulation and an improved immunity. So for you frugal folks, this is just the program for you! There is no better way to start the day than a (free) brisk early morning walk in the park.

Nail Lounge – Nail Lounge offers an eco-friendly, toxin-free manicure and pedicure, offers a 12-step acryliholics program to remove artificial nails and even offers valet parking on the weekends for a complete stress-free experience so gather up your friends and get ready for some much needed R&R!

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