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Live A Little – The New Jersey suburbs offer a world of vacation possibilities…

Live A Little

The New Jersey suburbs offer a world of
vacation possibilities… a few hours at a time

By Sophie Lee Ellis

Debra Cooper is redefining the concept of Me Time. After living and working in major urban centers—Los Angeles, Manhattan and Miami—since she was a kid, the former travel-industry executive relocated her family and marketing firm to suburban New Jersey…and soon felt isolated, disconnected and, at times, overwhelmed by the seismic scheduling shifts that accompanied her move. Necessity being the mother of invention, this working mom founded DaycationToday,

A Daycation is like a vacation, only it lasts a few hours instead of a few days. It’s basically guilt-free, prepackaged Me Time for busy women to de-stress, have fun, learn a new skill or experience some out-of-the-box adventure. The company emails a schedule of available Daycations each month and customers snap them up in blocks of five (for $150) or 10 (for $195) which can be used over the course of days, weeks or months. There are no additional or hidden costs. The local companies creating the Daycation programs participate at a deeply discounted rate hoping they will connect with future customers, but no one is ever obligated to do anything other than show up.

I know a bargain when I see one. I signed up for five and cashed in four almost immediately.

Daycation #1

Making Like Meryl

Definitely not a good hair day. It was pouring rain as I drove into Basking Ridge toward Mahvash Saba’s photography studio. A petite woman with olive skin and dark hair, carrying an umbrella, approached my car.

“Hi, I’m Mahva,” she said. “I’ll get your clothes.”

Inside, Mahva introduced me to Carol Simons, her make-up artist. Strawberry blonde curls framed Carol’s face, which was reassuringly free of the pancake makeup that had marked some of my previous “makeover” attempts.

“Yes, these will work,” nodded Mahva, plucking two blouses and a dark periwinkle jacket from the pieces I brought. “Now, did you do your homework?”


“The mirror work?”

“Oh, yes, yes, the affirmations.”

I covered a thin smile so as not to appear disrespectful. In the comedy theater of my mind, I kept seeing Stuart Smalley, Al Franken’s character on Saturday Night Live, speaking affirmations into a mirror: I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.

Carol and I made small talk while she began transforming me into a worthy subject for Mahva’s lens. She chose a foundation by La Mer and light purple eyeshadow from Nars to “bring out the green in my hazel eyes.”

Mahva began sharing her work as a photographer and artist.

“I am a Photologist…I use photography, psychology and energy to capture a person’s spirit on film.”

I wondered what the art of photology would capture about me. Mahva reassured me that she could see I had a good soul. I felt myself blushing.


After Carol finished applying lipstick, I followed Mahva into the studio. One side of the studio’s gray walls were covered with examples of Mahva’s Photology. On the other side, a large picture window provided natural light. Mahva began by positioning me in a standing pose, with my hands on my hips, in front of a white backdrop. And off we went.

“Stick your neck out and then bring your chin down…move your hips to the side. That’s it. Excellent!”

Click-click-click. I sensed my smile was a little tight. A few shots in, Mahva paused. “Ok. Relax, breathe.”

I apologized, thinking about all of the beautiful women on the walls.

“Now, put your hands on your hips and arch your back with a ?ha-ha-ha’ laugh.”

I did my best evil villain laugh, tossing back my head while making sure I didn’t lose my balance and into the backdrop or destroy the lighting. It didn’t quite do. Mahva still wasn’t feeling me.

“Okay, let’s try a little music,” she suggested.

Beyoncé’s Crazy in Love and Pink’s Trouble—a couple of go-to hits on my iPhone—finally loosened me up. A few minutes later, Mahva lowered her camera and said, “I know who you look like now… Meryl Streep!”

That was it. She had rung the You go girl! bell. My neuroses went out the window and I began to ham it.

“That’s it. Beautiful, beautiful!”

I was actually wondering if there might be room for a version of America’s Top Model for petite-sized, middle-aged women when the fatigue set in and my back began to feel the pain of standing and twisting. Oh yeah, models have stamina, too. Mahva agreed to let me be seated for the rest of the shoot. We continued until my facial muscles could no longer hold a smile.

Three wardrobe changes and 200-plus shots after we began, I sat down to review the fruits of Mahva’s and Carol’s labor.

“Wow. Is that really me?”

Mahva smiled with a quiet pride.

“You made me pretty! Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

I grabbed Mahva and gave her a huge hug (now it was her turn to blush) and rushed off to pick up my 7-year-old at the bus stop. When he got off the bus, he ran into my arms. I looked down at his face, pleasantly surprised by this rare display of public affection.

Looking up at me with his bright blue eyes, he sensed my puzzlement.

“You just look so pretty, Mom.”

Daycation #2


The angel in white appeared above me and spoke.

Wow. You are tight. What do you do for a living?”

Would she believe it if I said linebacker? Doubtful.

Jamie, my angel massage therapist, continued to knead the muscles bunched in my back.

“Press your tongue to the roof of your mouth,” she commanded. “That’s a Fire Point. Do that whenever you can. It will help ease tension.”

When Jamie finished, I had total bedhead. I slid off the table and teetered as if in a drunken stupor. Vanity had given way to the euphoria; I had been rendered speechless by Jamie’s healing hands.

“I’ll have what she’s having,” a fellow Daycationer cracked.

Just an hour earlier, around six o’clock in the evening, I had arrived at Seraphim Wellness Spa in downtown Cranford. The Daycation began with a psychic card reading with Cuty. While I tend to be skeptical of these things, Cuty was on-point with the current state of affairs in my life.

And then a surprise I couldn’t have predicted: “There’s a man. A man that’s close to you.”

“My husband?”

“No, it’s someone else… someone around you? Maybe a neighbor?”

Cuty searched my face to make sure I wasn’t holding back. Please, my life is not that interesting.

After the card reading, I met my fellow Daycationers in Seraphim’s lounge to enjoy some wine and an assortment of healthy foods that, I was relieved to see, included gluten-free options. Our group was diverse, ranging in age from college girls to young grandmothers and coming from different cultures and professional backgrounds. And yet we connected immediately, talking about our careers, children and health.

As we continued our healthy feasting, Betsy Ames, personal stylist and a closet curator (yes, she comes in and edits your closet), explained what she calls mindful fashion, and the benefits of a simplified, environmentally friendly wardrobe. Betsy demonstrated how a few basic pieces can be mixed and accessorized to create a unique and abundant wardrobe. She also gave us a crash course on how clothing is sourced, who’s making it, and what labels say (or don’t say) about a company’s commitment to fair trade and social responsibility.

When the evening ended, I marveled at how much our group had experienced in a mere three hours. Driving home, I found myself thinking about the amazing women I had met—all the while placing my tongue on my fire point…and driving mindfully.

Daycation #3


“Ha-ha-ha-ho-ho-ho. Ha-ha-ha-ho-ho-ho.”

No, this wasn’t Santa school. And no one was in labor. These sounds were being made by a group of Daycationing women who came together for an afternoon of deep breathing, clapping hands, chanting, blowing bubbles, and all-out belly laughing.

Why so much child-like play? Because it’s good for you.

“It is extremely healthy for us to laugh,” Certified Yoga Leader (and “Jolliologist”) Diana Perez explained, as she guided us through an afternoon of Laughter Yoga. Laughter Yoga is exercise “from the inside out.” It combines laughter exercises, yogic breathing and child-like playfulness. Laughing burns about 1.3 calories a minute, and 15 minutes of laughter delivers similar benefits to two hours of sleep. According to Diana, the regular practicing of Laughter Yoga provides increased energy, decreased stress, and a strengthened immune system.

“It also improves mood,” she added. “Your brain recognizes joy and happiness. So if you act happy, you become happy.”

It turns out that he brain can’t really distinguish between a real laugh and a fake one. Both provide the same physiological and psychological benefits. Ten to fifteen minutes of laughter causes the brain to release endorphins, serotonin, and oxytocin (aka the “happy hormones”).

After learning about Laughter Yoga’s health benefits, the fun began. Eight middle-aged women played tag, chasing each other in circles around the living room until a triumphant yell of “you’re it” was heard. We blew bubbles, ostensibly to promote deep breathing to reduce stress, but we quickly regressed. We oohed and aahed at the big bubbles and giggled when we popped them. Picture Moms Gone Wild (the PG version).

We fake-laughed our “ha-ha-has” and “ho-ho-hos” until one Daycationer’s laughter became real. Her infectious laugh spread among the group and soon we were all gasping for air and clutching our abdomens. When the session was over, Diana gave each of us a container of bubbles and a Be Happy Kit as parting gifts.

“Hey, how’s your back feeling now?” Diana asked a Daycationer on the way out.

“A lot better.” she replied.

Diana smiled. Another happy customer who understands how Laughter Yoga works.

Daycation #4


In the light industrial section of Morristown, near the railroad tracks, is an impeccably maintained Cape Cod that stands in stark juxtaposition to its surroundings. The locals know it well. It’s the Cozy Cupboard, the town’s only tea room. It is alive with chatter and nearly every table is full.

Past the main dining room is a smaller room with mint green walls, chintz curtains and a floral rug. I was escorted to my place and sat at a table adorned with Royal Albert china, the 1962 Old Country Roses pattern. Other Daycationers soon arrived. They included stay-at-home moms, single working mothers, artists, new business owners, and a PTA president. We had gathered to explore a question: How can I make my dreams come true?

Enter Amy Minkoff (right), the “Happy Success Catalyst” of Amy Minkoff Coaching. She helps people discover and build their dreams, and live lives that they truly love, both personally and professionally. On this sunny Saturday morning, she is conducting a Daycation Dare to Dream Visioning Workshop. We will leave one stop closer to making our dreams come true.

First, each of us shared the reason why we chose this Daycation. Many came to learn how to reinvent themselves in pursuing new careers. Several sought to learn balance, to exert more control over their freedom and time.

“A job is where you make money; a career is where you make your mark; a calling is how you make a difference,” Amy said, quoting Deepak Chopra to explain how harmonizing personal and professional goals helps the dream-building process.

“We think about whatever we surround ourselves with,” Amy said, as she explained our tendency to dwell on problems and the power of thoughts. “The problem is never in the problem. The problem is in the thinking of the problem.”

Amy encouraged Daycationers to take immediate action to move toward their dreams, and not let them “sit.” I partnered with Maggie, a mother and entrepreneur in the health and beauty industry. Together, we navigated the questions Amy posed to help us define and articulate our respective visions.

Maggie succeeded. Me, not so much. I was stuck on one of Amy’s question: What would you do if you didn’t believe it was impossible? I couldn’t picture what my impossible dream was. My whole life has been a series of goal-setting and achieving. Often, I don’t celebrate or even acknowledge reaching a goal. Instead, I immediately begin working toward the next goal.

So, clearly, there’s work to be done. As each day passes that I don’t utilize my dream journal, I hear Amy’s voice ask: “This is the time. If not now, then when?”

Editor’s Note: For more information on Daycations in the New York/New Jersey area, log onto For a Q&A with Debra Cooper, visit