Fall road

Photo by Brittany Morgan

Most of our region’s beautiful fall foliage is peaking this week and we in the Hudson Valley are lucky enough to live right in the middle of it all. A quick trip up Route 55, down the Taconic or even out our backyards in places like Montgomery, New Paltz and so many others have great opportunities to see the beautiful trees turn into brightly colored pieces of art. We asked around to local Hudson Valley Moms and compiled a list of favorite family friendly places for fall foliage sightings in our area!

Shirley Carrasco Town of Montgomery

Image of the town of Montgomery by Shirley Carrasco

1. The walkway over the Hudson River is a great place to spend an afternoon taking in the beauty of the Hudson from above. Take a walk across the bridge and the new elevator down to the park or Mid- Hudson Children’s Museum to make a day out of it with the family.

Photo by Katie Angel of her daughter at Minnewaska

Lake Minnewaska by Katie Angel

2. Another Hudson Valley Parent favorite spot is Minnewaska State Park in Ulster County. Vistors can enjoy hiking, biking or simply just walking and taking in the views. The park features numerous beautiful waterfalls, 3 lakes, forest and many trails to explore.

Lake Minnewaska photo by Katy Weber

Lake Minnewaska photo credit: Katy Weber

3. If you are up for the trip, maybe with older kids in tow, take the hike which is a little over a mile up to the top of Mount Beacon, the views of the Valley below are breathtaking. Bring a picnic on a warmer fall day and enjoy the afternoon.

4. A popular spot for families year round in Dutchess County, Bowdoin Park is a 301 acre park on the banks of the Hudson River. With spectacular views of the river, the brightly colored trees in the fall set a beauitful scene for a fall picnic, day at the award winning playground or just a family stroll along the river. The park also has spaces for recreational sports and pavilions to rent for events.

The Lankard Family enjoying a fall day at Vanderbilt photo by Alonna Lankard

The Lankard family at Vanderbilt shared by Alonna Lankard

5. Vanderbilt Mansion is another family favorite spot in Dutchess County for picnics and views and in the fall the mansion grounds come to life with beautiful colors. The mansion itself is open for tours only but the grounds are free and always open for some natural family fun. Plenty of space to let little ones run and gorgeous views of the rivers and trees!

Photo from Clermont State Historic Site

Photo from Clermont State Historic Site

6. As the season changes and the leaves turn, many families in the Hudson Valley region head to Clermont Estate in Columbia County to take in the true beauty of the season. Here you can enjoy the views from a short hike, leisurely walk, tour or a spot under a colorful tree on a picnic blanket. There is something for everyone at Clermont and a great place to check out the fall foliage this year.

Bear Mountain photo from Pamela Perry

Bear Mountain. Photo credit: Pamela Perry

6. From the zoo to the lake to the carousel, families love to take the trip to Bear Mountain in the fall. The beauty of the season can be enjoyed even before you arrive, the roads that lead to the state park are over flowing with fall colors and the bridge leads you to what seems like another time as you arrive at the beautiful Bear Mountain State Park. Here your family can enjoy the trailside museum and zoo, the old merry-go-round, a picnic by the lake, play fields, biking or a hike up the mountain. In late October, visitors can ice skate at the outdoor rink. There is so much for families to enjoy at Bear Mountain.

7. Discover all that Olana State Historic Site has to offer in the fall. The beautiful landscape offers rich colors and beauty of the Hudson Valley. Walk the carriage drives, the family farm and orchard, the lake, the meadow and forest. Learn about wildlife and nature as you experience a true Hudson Valley gem. Visitors can also enjoy guided house tours, picnics, history, culture and gorgeous views.

Stacy McGarry enjoys a trip to Fahnestock State Park with her daughter

Fahnestock State Park shared by Stacy McGarry

8. If you love the outdoors, you might want to take a short hike and enjoy the scene at Fahnestock State Park. The Beautiful mountains and colorful fall foliage that reflects off the lake is simply amazing. If you are a camping family, the park has more than 70 campsites for the overnight fall stay.

9. Another beautiful place for families to explore this season is Mills Mansion at Mills-Norrie State Park. The house is open for guided tours and the gift shop is rated top 10 of the Dutchess County. The grounds are history rich, beautiful for hiking, an afternoon stroll or picnic with family or friends.

Rail Trail photo from Nicole Dropkin

Dutchess Rail Trail. Photo credit: Nicole Haight

10. We are lucky here in the Hudson Valley to have an expansive rail trail that runs throughout most of our communities connecting the greater Hudson Valley area with paths, walkways, bridges and bike paths. Families can take in the beauty of our area along paved paths strictly for pedestrians away from the hustle and bustle of every day life. All of the trails including information and maps can be found on the New York Rail Trail Website. Some of our favorite trails are the Dutchess Rail Trail, Mohonk Preserve, Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, The Heritage Trail and Catskill Scenic Trail.

The view of Joppenbergh Mountain from the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail trestle in Rosendale Shared by Katy Weber

View of Joppenbergh Mountian from the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. Photo credit: Katy Weber

Other favorite Hudson Valley leaf peeping spots are:

Millbrook Tribute Gardens, Millbrook

Locust Grove, Poughkeepsie,

Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz

Storm King Art Center, New Windsor

top fall fests

I’m totally trying to tame my inner control freak. All too often I find my mind-set is always out to prove that I can do everything by myself, especially when it comes to parenting. I laugh at the grocery cashier who asks if I’m going to be able to carry all those bags by myself with the baby. “You just don’t know what I’m capable of,” I think and sometimes I say it out loud, well because I have a tendency to just blurt out what comes into my head. Despite my stubbornness, the truth is that we all need support. Parenthood is a hard and sometimes lonely road. I should know.  My husband and I were the first of our friends to get married and have kids which sort of left me waiting for everyone else to catch up.

Thank You For Being A Friend

I didn’t have friends I could call when I had a parenting question or who could encourage me when I was certain I was screwing everything up. So I’m about to channel my college years, which as weird as it sounds were spent watching many many reruns of the Golden Girls. Weird for a teenager to be watching, I hear ya, but my roommate was a huge fan and we ended up bonding over the show.

So if you’ve ever watched the show you know how very different each of the four women were who shared their house and lives with each other. It got me thinking about  how important it is to have other mom friends to turn to when things get rough. So I’ve compiled a list of the seven mom friends everyone should have. I’m not saying women are only one thing or only play one role, but typically the things they bring to our lives stand out in such a positive way that their absence would become apparent immediately.

The Golden Girls

The Neighbor Mom #NeighborMom

She’s there when you need to borrow a cup of sugar, need someone to watch your kids while you run to the store and just can’t deal with dragging the kids along, and who steps in when you have an emergency and really need her. My Neighbor Mom friend was there for me in the middle of the night when I went into labor with Sydney. She picked up my kids that morning and drove them to camp, picked them up and cared for them like her own for more than a day while I was in the hospital. Every mom should have a Neighbor Mom friend who is a beacon in an otherwise unreliable, unpredictable world.

The Frugal Mom #FrugalMom

She’s the one reminding you to check the price tag on that outfit before you fall in love with it. She teaches you little tricks to save money and doesn’t insist that every get together involve  going out on the town. Hanging out in a casual way is the name of the game. Think play dates in sweat pants with coffee. The Frugal Mom keeps you grounded and encourages you to think long-term so that little problems like your water heater going or your car needing repairs don’t break your bank or your sanity. She also reminds you to count your blessings instead of someone else’s.

The Spiritual Mom #SpiritualMom

I can’t tell you how valuable it is to have a Spiritual Mom friend who shares your beliefs. It can be a lonely road when you have to hide your faith for fear of other people judging you. She will pray for and with you when you just feel so incredibly empty and you desperately need to be spiritually fed. My new Spiritual Mom friend shared a prayer with me recently about how to overcome yelling at your kids. She reminds you to lean on your faith in times you feel all alone. If you aren’t particularly religious, it still might be nice to have a Spiritual Mom friend.

Yelling Rescue Prayer

The Back In The Day Mom #BITDMom

Most of the mom friends you have were probably forged after you became a mom. While that’s cool, it’s also great to have a mom friend who knew you back in the day. You know back before your name became “Mom.” We all need reminding from time to time of the carefree person we once were. We need reminding that before we had children we were special in our own right. We had interests, talents, and yes even made hilarious mistakes for which the Back In The Day Mom will NEVER let us forget.

The Pinterest Queen Mom #PinterestMom

She bakes from scratch, throws the most amazing kids’ birthday parties, and can craft with the best of them. Not all of us have the skills to mend a tear in our child’s costume two hours before the start of the play. We need the Pinterest Mom’s creativity. They make you want to “pin” those special moments when you try just a little harder than the last time. Sure your cupcakes may not look exactly like Elmo, but the Pinterest Mom makes us want to try new things and reminds us that it doesn’t matter how you ice the cake, it’s who you bake it for that matters.

The In The Know Mom #ITKMom

She’s got the 411 on the best orchards for apple picking, knows where every free kids’ event is in a 50 mile radius, and reminds you of every school picture day, soccer practice and field trip. We all have so much on our plate it can be crazy trying to keep it all straight. I think we all owe a large debt of gratitude to the In The Know Mom who helps keep us focused on the task at hand and makes sure we don’t miss out on all our community has to offer.

The Been There Done That Mom #BTDTMom

Whether her kids are just a few years older than yours or grown and out of the house, there is so much wisdom to be gleaned from the Been There Done That Mom. She’s been through what you’re going through and lived to tell the tale. She’s got advice that doesn’t come with a side of judgment; hers comes with a special blend of understanding and empathy. She listens to your problems and gives you possible solutions to try. She knows that parenting is a LOT of trial and error. You look up to her because you know if she survived it, you can too.

So share this post and tag all the moms who make your journey through parenthood a lot more beautiful and a lot less lonely. And if you’re as nerdy as me you can even serenade her with the Golden Girls theme song: “Thank you for being a friend. Travel down the road and back again. Your heart is true. You’re a pal and a confidant.”

Last week, fellow blogger Discount Diva gave out medals to moms with children who throw tantrums. As a mom of two children with epic tantrums I am not looking for a medal, just simple understanding and space to be a parent. Let me take you through a recent experience and break down for you what I, the parent, was thinking and feeling.

The library is one of our favorite places to go. It is rare  my girls have an epic melt down there; maybe a little whining if they are not ready to leave. I usually remind them we can always come back and they’ll move on. So, I was at a complete loss as to why my one daughter went nuclear while we were at the library a few weeks ago. She knew it was time to leave and she was ready to go. We stepped into the bathroom to change her since she had an accident that soaked through her pants. As I tried to take her shoes off so I could change her she started getting whiny. This is where I start taking deep breaths because things could go either way here. She can continue to simply whine or start to completely wail. I changed her and asked her to wash her hands. Something happened from the time the paper towel hit the garbage can to the second she stepped outside the bathroom (I still have no clue what it was). She was on the floor flopping, kicking and SCREAMING. A high pitched, ear shaking scream. The kind that causes mass panic that a child is being abducted. Now here is where experts diverge. One group advises you not to react. Just keep the “demand” on her and expect that she will change her behavior. The other group advises to stop what you are doing and get down on the floor and hold your child. I have both experts arguing inside my head. I have another child in tow and I am carrying several bags packed full of kid gear who do I focus on first? I go from taking deep breaths to survival mode in only a second. It’s fight or flight and I’m looking to flee to the next open door!

There is no end to the screaming. No amount of gentle tones or soothing hugs is getting this kid to move. As we inch slowly to the door she’s screaming, “No! No! No! I don’t want to go out the door! I don’t want to go home! I don’t want to leave this place.” I start preparing my response to the CPS worker who will be greeting me when I get home. I try to muscle her through and tell her this is NOT OK. You NEED to get up and walk to the car NOW! I can feel my temperature rise and my heart beat escalate. Nothing is working and as we make our way out the door she’s screaming, “pick me up! carry me!!”

My mind is now a blurry fuzz of options: 1. I can walk away and leave her there- except we are on a busy corner with heavy traffic. 2. I could attempt to (painfully) carry everyone up the hill. 3. Just flop on the ground myself and start screaming. 4. Remain calm and drag her.  I went with #4 and I keep my focus on just making it to the car. My mind is split between just taking baby steps toward the car and praying the other kid continues to be cooperative. If they both melt down at the same time I have no choice but to just plop down with them for one hell of a cry. Not even a good cry.

That’s when “Super Grandma” jumps in with her two cents. “My grand kids act like that I just step over them.” Oh, ha ha … yes I already thought of leaving my volcanic child here on the corner of a busy street while I walk to my car 10 cars away. I smile, nod, ignore her remark and keep walking. Then I heard the words, “just a bad kid.” I swear I could feel my hair catch fire. If I wasn’t so focused on keeping it all together I would have turned around and verbally blasted this woman.

A child having a tantrum (even in public) is only a small snapshot of their day. We don’t see the bigger picture of their day. What grandma failed to recognize is how hard I was working to keep it together and not flipping out on my kid in public. She also doesn’t know about the many sleepless nights I spend wracking my brain trying to figure out what I am doing wrong as a parent, or how I beat myself up because I’m failing at this parenting gig. Lady, I can assure you this is no cake walk for me. I do not enjoy, or ignore the fact my child can’t control her own emotions yet. It is actually painful for me to watch and feel powerless.

This day it was only one kid melting down. I have experienced tandem tantrums. (That’s where both kids melt down at the SAME TIME in PUBLIC. Usually when we need to get some place on time). I have heard a lot of hurtful remarks, “there’s something wrong with your kid!” “My kids would NEVER act that way.” “You’re kids are hyper.” “Good luck with that one.” “Her behavior is over the top.” “How do you put up with that?” “She’ll NEVER learn to cope with the real world.” These comments have come from teachers, strangers and even friends and family. They are all hurtful and none of them help me resolve the issue. They all feel like an F on my parenting report card. It’s hard to not look at my kids and think, “why can’t you just be like all the other kids?”

I have learned to deflect those comments by reminding myself how beautiful my girls are. The way their smile lights up a room, how they can be absolutely charming and how incredibly smart they are. I try to remind myself that they are still learning to navigate how the world works and their place in it. It is my job to teach them how to cope and how to identify boundaries. In those moments when I am under fire by other parents (and grand parents), it is MY responsibility to role model for my girls how to handle adversity. How I respond to those comments is going to teach my children how to respond to those same personalities when they are adults. Kids aren’t going to have it right the first time around. It takes practice and it takes repetition. My kids may not fit into any one size fits all check box and that’s a good thing. I have been called “persistent” “bossy” and “defiant” too. It is those traits that have made me the most successful in life.

So Super Grandma, go ahead and make your judgments when you see my kid melt down in public. You can assume the worst of me as a parent. But, keep it to yourself. If you really want to help give me a thumbs up, tell me it only lasts a short time and maybe offer to hold my bags while I walk my kids to the car. If you can’t do any of those things then please follow this protocol:  take your right hand out of your pocket, place it over your mouth and keep walking.

To my friends and family, before you quickly judge that mom at the store who is just loosing it on her tantruming child, or you see her trying to wrestle her kid into a car seat while the kid is kicking her in the face, just think she isn’t enjoying this moment. Remember you don’t have the whole picture. This is one small peek into their day and is not an accurate reflection of this persons parenting style. It’s easy to forget that, so I offer up the same protocol listed above.

I rarely share how hard it is to have twins because I don’t want anyone to think I am looking for sympathy. Motherhood is just hard no matter the cards you are dealt. With twins, most people assume one twin is “easy going” and the other is “difficult.” I am blessed with two formidable little ones even Hercules would bow to.

Dear Moms Of A Screaming, Kicking, Crying, Throwing Something Child,

This medal for mental endurance during EPIC tantrums is for you. You rock! You may think to yourself “Oh MY GOD, how am I ever going to survive this nightmare?” I understand how hard it is not to lose it. I don’t even pretend that I don’t lose it from time to time. It’s so hard to deal with a child who is not in the right frame of mind to even hear your voice, let alone respond to threats of punishment, or attempts to figure out what will make the chaos stop.

After WAY too many of my son’s tantrums lately I finally figured out one universal truth – there is NOTHING to do, but wait it out. It’s like the girl at the party crying in her beer. All attempts to make her feel better are lost. You just say to her “alright time to go to bed and sleep it off.”

Sugar High Crash

My five-year-old son’s tantrums are caused by one thing – he’s overly tired. Sure last night’s Desert Fest 2014 at our neighbor’s house at our weekly “booty call” complete with ice cream, donuts and cookies played a hand in the nightmare of a tantrum produced when we got home, but he was TIRED. First he kicked off his fit when he wanted a glass of water and daddy told him he could have water when we got home (I think it’s less than 60 seconds by car door to door).

Exhausted Jayden
Being overly tired means Jayden either passes
out,
or kicks off an EPIC tantrum.

Then he wound himself up into a good cry, followed by pounding his fists on the floor, and after refusing to get ready for bed he just lay on the floor. When I told him he could just sleep in the hallway and let him lie there he started banging on my bedroom door as I was attempting to get the baby to sleep. Then I could feel the anger in me rising like bile in my throat. I always know that feeling when my face gets hot and I start to bite my lip hard. These are the moments I pray, “Lord, please don’t let me beat my child.” Of course I mean a spanking so feel free to put the phone down. No need to call CPS.

My Right Eye For Some Holy Water

During a particularly bad tantrum that lasted well over an hour last week I looked at my son and thought, “Who the hell are you?” “I so don’t like you right now.” It’s ok to admit it mamas. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your kid. It means your patience is well beyond spent. It means you are at an utter and total loss as to how to stop it and get your sweet, lovable kid back. If I had some holy water I may have been tempted to throw it on him to see if I could exercise whatever demon was possessing his little body.

Tantrum

A Padded Room For One Please

After my anger passed, I went into “survival denial.” This is when in order not to become “The Hulk” I have to remove myself from the presence of my tantruming boy. If that’s not physically possible, I have to go into a separate room in my mind. Call it meditation, call it what you want.  My goal is to survive it. I’ve tried calming, I’ve trying ignoring and eventually I know that I can do just one thing – survive it. If that means locking myself away in a little happy quiet room in my mind well then that’s exactly what I have to do.

Waiting Out The Tornado

The really crazy thing about a tantrum is that it is gone almost as inexplicably as it began. One minute there are tears and stomping and screaming and the next the tears are dry and that sweet voice comes back to ask you a random question or say, “I love you Mama.” It’s taken living through many of these tantrums to find the inner strength to endure the storm to get to that moment in the tornado where it suddenly dissipates and the sun comes out and life is once again beautiful.

So this is my prayer for you mamas out there – I pray for the strength to endure. Endure till the storm lifts, for surely it cannot last forever, no matter how long and agonizing it feels. Your rainbow is coming. Your “I love you” is right around the next tear drop so just hold on.

Push Through

I’ve said before that parenting is a marathon and not a sprint. A tantrum is therefore that moment where your calf seizes up and you feel like you can’t go on. You know there is a finish line somewhere, but it seems too impossible to continue through the pain. I hope these words help ease the knot of guilt a little bit.

Let The Guilt Go

I often tell my children post-tantrum or episode of misbehaving, “mommy may not like your actions, but I love you no matter what.” This is unconditional love -the “I love you through good times and bad.” It’s hard in that moment when The Hulk turns back into Bruce Banner and the storm has cleared and the wave of guilt rushes in. The guilt of “did I really just scream or act crazy or hate my kid in that moment.” It’s ok mama, let it go. Let it go as quickly as your child’s tantrum ends. No need to hang onto it. Massage out your calf and keep running the good race. And just in case you don’t feel like the world’s best mama the next time your child is writhing on the ground, completely immersed in a tantrum this medal is for you. The medal of Supreme Endurance. You have certainly earned it.

mom medal

lead pic

October is here! We can officially get excited about pumpkins and Halloween! I LOVE decorating for Fall!!! (Can never have too many exclamation points when sharing my excitement for Fall!!!). Gone are the days I can display my intricately designed, hand crafted grown up tablescapes. The delicate ensembles of thin glass hurricane lamps and the hand carved gourd tea light holders could never hold their own against the power of two Tasmanian toddlers. So, I put away anything glass, all my large ceramic pumpkins and delicate wreaths (you know all the stuff you don’t want kids touching!) for now and found some more kid friendly materials to decorate with.

Make a Monster Impression:

front door edit

This is simple, inexpensive and the kids can help! You can find everything in your dollar store.

supplies

Materials:

  • Large poster board
  • Large round paper plates (any solid color)
  • Small round, black paper plates
  • Small square paper plates (white)
  • Painters tape

Cut poster board in half. Then cut small triangles out of one side of paper to form a hair line. Depending on your door width you may need one, or both pieces of poster board.

Cut poster board in half and cut triangles for hairline.

Cut poster board in half and cut triangles for hairline.

Next, make eyes by taping the small black plate to the large paper plate and attach to the door.

Last, make a toothy grin using the square white paper plates.

Feel free to embellish with glittery bats, or other Halloween shapes. We decided to go with a girl monster this year and gave “Henrietta” some sparkly bat barrettes. My girls enjoyed posing with their monster afterward for our annual Fall pic!

 

Acorn Jewels:

Finished jewels. Display among other gems, or alone in a basket, on a tray.

Finished jewels. Display among other gems, or alone in a basket, on a tray.

One of our favorite things to do in the Fall is to collect acorns that fall off the Oak trees in our back yard. This year I found a fun project that is easy and super cheap.  We saved all our acorn caps in a cup and I pulled them out on a rainy day we needed something to do.

Materials:

  • Acorn tops (must be dry, clean and free from cracks)
  • Markers
  • Elmer’s Glue
  • Gems, or stones
  • Tray

Start with a layer of rocks, or gems on your tray. These will secure acorn tops in place.

Next, color the inside of the tops with a marker. It will look rough, but that’s ok!

Color in the acorn caps with favorite color markers.

Color in the acorn caps with favorite color markers.

Then pour Elmer’s school glue into each top and fill to the rim. Leave over night to dry and you won’t believe the effect!

Simply fill with Elmer's school glue and allow to dry over night.

Simply fill with Elmer’s school glue and allow to dry over night.

Have the kids check back to watch the colorful transformation.

The glue starts to soak up the colors and eventually turn clear; leaving behind a shiny coating of color.

The glue starts to soak up the colors and eventually turn clear; leaving behind a shiny coating of color.

What you have left are smooth, colorful jewels! I leave these in a basket of decorative pumpkins for easy access for the kids to play with.

 

Pumpkins, Pumpkins and more Pumpkins!

You simply cannot have enough pumpkins this time of year! We eat them, drink them and decorate with them! We have baskets filled with little decorative pumpkins, we color pumpkins, paint pumpkins and even carve our pumpkins.

pumpkins

Materials:

  • Pumpkins
  • Acrylic paints
  • Paint brushes -OR-
  • Carving tools

Our carving tradition is spearheaded by my hubby. He helps the girls select just the right family of pumpkins. Then they pour over different pumpkin design ideas before making the first cut. My girls are not squeamish at all about digging right in and squishing the pumpkin guts through their fingers.

Hubby manning the gore!

Hubby manning the gore!

Here are last year’s creations:

jack o lanterns

Confession: we made a trip to a pumpkin farm for the whole experience of seeing a real pumpkin patch, but I purchased our carving pumpkins for $2.88 each at Aldi’s. Whatever my kids have no idea…and by not spending $20 for one pumpkin (our above grand total for our cute monster, colorful acorn jewels and 3 carving pumpkins is $14.68) I purchased a few extra pumpkin lattes, pumpkin fritters, pumpkin muffins and pumpkin flavored pumpkins. Did I mention we like pumpkin?

For little ones not yet trustworthy with knives, give them a paint brush and some paints and let them paint their pumpkins!

All these crafts are fun for kids, easy to make and indestructible! Happy Fall Ya’ll!

What would your toddler think of a front door monster?

 

 

Being the Discount Diva is like being a frugal superhero (in my own mind anyway), but as they say- “with great power comes great responsibility.” Who knows better then moms, the immense amount of responsibility heaped upon us, even from the moment the pregnancy test comes back positive? Like most women I do two things really well – responsibility and guilt. I take the former and use it to justify the latter.

Mom Guilt 2

Money Is A Factor – But Not The Only One

I find myself holding tight to our finances as if money will solve every potential problem that could arise. While it’s a good idea to make smart decisions like I think I have been, I sometimes wonder if I’m stepping over the border into obsession. The other day after grumbling that I don’t want to buy a costume for myself for Halloween just to participate in Trunk or Treat my husband said to me, “You know Erin, not everything comes down to money.”

I know in my heart he’s right, but this is exactly what it came down to when I wanted to stay at home and raise my kids. We literally went through our household expenses with a fine tooth comb in order to justify why financially it just made more sense for me to stay at home. Now I’m not oblivious to how the world works. It takes money to live and not everyone can survive on one income. It’s sad to have to correct your children’s innocent ideas that almost everything is free. My poor kids are all too familiar with this life lesson every time I have to deny them some toy or trip, but I’ve had to temper it with the lesson that some things in life are priceless.

The Cost of Work

For my family we gradually weaned ourselves from two incomes to one. I went back to work part-time after our first daughter was born so by the time we decided I would stay home full-time it wasn’t such a financial shock. Something really weird happened when I started staying home – I realized just how much work had cost me.

I was about $4,000 in debt from using my credit card to pay for gas to and from work, convenience foods cause I was too damn tired to cook, work clothes, etc. I’ve been home for almost three years now and we’ve paid off about $13,000 in debt on one income. Has it been a cake walk? Hell No. There have been sacrifices – mostly made by me. Hence my yearly hair cut or our now traditional stay-cations, cutting our budget till it screams, and calling our service providers to lower our bills.

It’s a constant challenge and if I thought I was a helicopter parent to my children, then our finances are probably my most needy child. I check my bank account once a day to see what bills have drafted out, what things we’re spending money on and I’m constantly asking myself questions like, “Ok, we got some extra money from my husband working overtime so what do we do – A. pay down more debt, B. sock it away into savings for the inevitable heating bills, or C. use it for birthdays or Christmas which will sadly be here before I’m ready for it. I’m always wondering if I’m doing the right things.

Mom Guilt 1

D
ecisions Decisions

I’m a big student of Dave Ramsey who would say that to reach your financial goals you have to have gazelle like focus. But if you watch animal planet you know that the lion always looks for the weak gazelle. The one who is hurt or trying to go it alone. I don’t want to reach my financial goals one day just to look around and realize that I’m alone; that I’ve missed my life. There has to be more than reaching financial harmony – if that’s even possible. There has to be money for fun, right? There has to be money for charity, right? No matter what our situation is, I know there are always those who are worse off.

If you had asked me three years ago why I started staying home I would have told you this – it just doesn’t make sense for me to work to put two kids in daycare. Financially it didn’t add up. I was recently asked this same question in a SAHM group and I recited my work background, as well as my guilt and overwhelming love for my kids which seem irrevocably tangled together. The truth is, there is plenty of guilt on both sides of the fence here. You work, you feel guilty for letting someone else care for your kids. You stay home, you feel guilty for putting the financial pressure on your spouse. I have felt intense guilt either way, but I think maybe it has to do with being a mom and trying to do everything and be everything for everyone all the time. It’s supremely exhausting and guilt is like the temper tantrum that creeps up when your child is overtired. You can be fine one minute and on full tilt the next.

Consider The Possibilities

So why do women stay at home vs work outside the home? Is it really only about the money? For me it was a factor, but it was definitely my grandmother who changed it all, every single thing I thought was inevitable and normal. My mother always worked so that’s what I thought I’d do as well. My grandmother was a lovely hardworking immigrant from Germany who worked everywhere from farms to factories to housecleaning while raising three kids on her own. When she looked at my life she saw possibilities that I didn’t. She asked me if I was going back to work after my daughter was born and and I realized that I had assumed the answer without really ever asking myself that question.

So I decided that if she could see options, well then I would look for them too. I put together a job-share plan and was able to work part-time for four years till my company went through a merger which ended my time there. There are always two things fighting to tip this mommy scale – time and money. Which one do I feed? Which one am I slave to? It seems impossible that they could ever balance.

Owning Your Choices

I read an article yesterday that talked about how staying at home is a “luxury” for your spouse. It talked about the peace of mind a spouse gets from knowing the other is always working to keep the home ship running its course. While it certainly eases the guilt a little, I can’t help but notice that it is still one of many articles that feels the need to justify a woman’s right to stay at home. I know it’s just the cycle coming back around. I know that there was a whole lot of justification going on when women first starting working outside the home. But why are women always caught up in the guilt cycle no matter what we choose?

Here’s what I know. Everyone must make their own choices. Yet every choice comes with the guilt of the thing we did not choose. I don’t think anyone asks more questions looking for validation of their choices than moms. Again I think it comes down to the responsibility. It’s always there, whispering in our ears. I can’t say my husband carries any guilt what-so-ever when he leaves for work in the morning, or if he has to work late or on the weekends, or even if he has to travel for work. He leaves fancy free, without guilt. I’m not sure if it’s because he knows I’m here to take care of the kids. I suspect he’d also be fine if they were in daycare.

Dad’s Got The Right Idea

I think it’s because men recognize that there are different ways of caring for our kids – financial and emotional. I doubt he thinks of himself as less of a father for working. I’m sure it makes him feel like a better father for being able to provide financially. Just as spending time with his kids also makes him a good dad. Maybe men have it right. It’s not an either or situation – time or money. If you get up every day and put on your heels and do your hair and makeup and earn that paycheck for your family – you’re loving them. If you get up every day, throw your hair in a ponytail and throw on some yoga pants and spend the day changing diapers or cooking meals – you’re loving your family.

Make Your Own Happiness

Whatever you choose – the key is just to own it, love it and live it. I think I’m just done having conversations in which I try to justify why it’s better for me or my family that I’m staying home. I’m going to take a cue from my hubby on this and just be at peace with my choice. The best life advice I ever heard was this – if you want to be happy all you have to do is decide to be happy. If you’re unhappy figure out what it’s going to take to make you happy and do it. If you could do whatever you wanted in the world and money wasn’t a factor what would it be? What’s that thing you would gladly do for free? Find that answer and you’ve found your happiness.

Despite my debt repayment plan, my budgeting OCD, and my need to make it all add up, I know that being here with my family – that’s what makes me happy, as is sharing my words and heart with other moms. So since time and money will always be on the scale and I’ll always be weighing and measuring and fighting my guilt I have no other choice. I’ve decided to throw out the scale. It’s my hope that you do too.

featured pic

HAPPY CROCKTOBER

Have I shared with all of you how much I love my crock pot? My love affair with slow cooking began a few months after my twins were born. It takes a lot of work to put a hot dinner on the table while adjusting to life with kids! Once I got over the fear of burning down the house  and gave my crock pot a try there was just no turning back! In less than one hour a week I prep 5 week night meals and put in the freezer, then I let the crock pot do all the heavy lifting. Now, I’m not juggling the evening dinner rush with prime time tantrums, phone calls and my own end of day melt down.

I am often asked to share some of my favorite recipes. I have collected a bunch over time and have no idea where I picked them up from (somewhere on the great world wide web), and I have my go-to sites to check out new ones. Here are seven “pop and drop” freezer meals I make most often. Pop and drop means there’s no chopping or dicing. You simply add your chicken and pop open a few cans/jars and dump all into one freezer bag. Your prep is complete. I’m guessing you may not want to eat a full week of chicken dinners, but maybe you’ll find one or more to liven up your freezer meal rotation.

Click links below for free recipe printable:

Lazy Tex Chili

Pesto Chicken with Green Beans

Thai Chicken

Hawaiian Chicken

Chicken Alfred with Broccoli

Maple Dijon Chicken

Creamy Salsa Chicken

NOTE: My kids are picky eaters so I usually make them mac and cheese on the side, but even when they do share our meals there are still plenty of left overs for hubby and I to enjoy for lunch. Even if you do not have kids this is still a pretty awesome system! Imagine not worrying about spending 30 minutes to prepare one meal, or wondering what’s for dinner? I wish I knew about freezer cooking before I even had kids.

quick tips

 

A few of my favorite sites to find dinner inspiration:

http://wp.sixsistersstuff.com/?s=freezer+meals

 

MexPumpSoup2ZZ77

http://glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com/2006/01/mexican-pumpkin-soup.html

 

http://paleopot.com/2012/11/paleo-roasted-red-pepper-sweet-potato-soup/

 

Leave a comment below with your favorite crock pot freezer meal site!

I was having a conversation with a lady I met at church and I was saying how awesome it was to meet another Stay At Home Mom. It seems there are a ton of us online, but it can be pretty hard to connect with other SAHMs in real life. We were having the conversation about how we are viewed as an oddity at best and even looked down upon by some. She actually told me her own mother told her that she wasted a “good education” on her since she decided to stay at home instead of putting that education to use in the workplace. I was shocked a mother would say this to her daughter, but I’m not surprised some people think that way.

Cap And Gown

Motherhood Degree

When I was in college I had a poetry professor who was especially hard and since I was getting a minor in creative writing and there weren’t a lot of writing classes I had to take not one but two of his classes to earn my minor. I remember during one office visit my senior year after reviewing some of my work he asked me where I was going to graduate school. Though I had looked at one in Boston I told him I didn’t think I was going to go. His response was, “What are you going to do then, stay home and have babies.” This of course to him was the biggest tragedy of earning a degree. Never mind that half the people I know aren’t working in the field their degree is in anyhow. But a degree left to rot in favor of motherhood; that was unthinkable. Keep in mind that this very professor had married one of his own students years ago so I wonder if he views his own wife’s choice to bear his children with such disdain. You can bet he’d look at my life and shake his head with a mixture of “I told you so” and “What a waste!” After all, I’m a lowly blogger with no published work and I don’t earn a salary at a fancy job. So I’m a failure right?

Making The Choice To Stay Home

I’ve already written a post about myths about being a SAHM including that you must not have an education or viable work prospects or that making the choice to stay at home is built upon a presumption of luxury the rest of the working gals can’t afford. Sorry but there is nothing luxurious about trying to use a bunch of coupons at the supermarket with your screaming baby and the people behind you in line giving you dirty looks. There is nothing fabulous about shopping at consignment shops – though if you’re frugal like me you probably don’t mind at all. I walked away from a 10 year career in marketing about 3 years ago. I wasn’t making the “big bucks” since I worked for non-profits. I worked around plenty of well to do career women that were all too happy to treat me like the “hired help.” I juggled work and family as best I could, but even working part-time I felt like I couldn’t hack it.

I give women who work full-time a lot of credit. It’s hard. It means having two jobs and one of them is 24/7. By the time I was ready to quit that job my nerves were shot. But even if you decided between you and your spouse that you would make it your job to stay at home and take care of your family and never worked a day in your life would an education be wasted on you? I personally think that investing in yourself is never a waste.

Role Models of ALL Kinds

If my children ask me one day if I went to college I will tell them that I graduated from the same college as their daddy. If they ask me why I don’t have a job, I’ll tell them that I chose to stay at home with them instead. I chose to sacrifice A LOT of things so that I could be there for every milestone. I will tell my daughter Hannah, that having her changed absolutely EVERYTHING about my life. Motherhood changed me. My life was not about ME anymore, but the lives I created.

I’ll tell them that by the time I was 15 I had lost my daddy and by the time I was 32 I had lost my mommy and I learned how precious and sometimes short life is. I will tell them that I don’t regret my decision not to work outside the home because I had been on the other side. I did both and struggled. I’m woman enough to admit it. It doesn’t make me any less because of it. I stopped working when my family really needed me. At my job I was easily replaced, but in my family I’m absolutely irreplaceable. My husband is a good dad, but I’m the primary caregiver and the loss of me would be staggering.

The truth is, I don’t know what the future holds for me. I don’t know how long I’ll stay at home. Maybe I’ll want to go back to work one day. The point of it all though is that it’s my choice. Isn’t that what women’s lib was supposed to give us – the choice to do what we want with our lives? BUT if you give someone a choice you have to allow for the choice to stay at home too without that degrading sideways glance or backhanded comment or even the platitudes of “you’re so lucky.”

The point is that I’m working on my choice every day. I’m raising my family the way I think is best for me. Would you look into the eyes of your daughter and tell her that she shouldn’t go to college or that raising a family is a failure on her part? Probably not. Why does it have to be an either or? Why does career “success” trump family “success?” While others are feeling sorry for my lack of a paycheck, I’m feeling intense sadness for broken marriages and families in turmoil. I have chosen the latter as the form of success to gage my life by. I’m one of the richest people I know. I am the CEO of my household. If the world doesn’t agree, well the world can shove it.

DSC00802
This is my company – Jayden, Hannah
and newest addition Sydney.

The 24/7 Motherhood Shift

I’m not saying that it’s all rainbows and sunshine over here. I feel like there are days I would love to take some time off and not have three little people relying on me for everything. There are days I want to scream when I hear “Mom, what’s for dinner?” Why? Because I know that whatever I slaved away making will just be met with, “How much do I have to eat? Can I be done?, What’s for dessert?” and it’s frustrating to no end. There are days when I just want a nap and a shower and an hour to converse with an adult during the day. There are great days too. It’s not black and white. Staying at home probably has the same highs and lows as a traditional 9 to 5 job.

The key thing is to understand that it is a job. When you send your kids to daycare, you’re outsourcing it. No judgment here. I ran a daycare for a little while. Motherhood is an unglamorous job with crap pay and no vacation or time off, not even for sick days. But if you choose this life, this job then you learn to own your choices. You roll with it and shake off people’s eyerolls or sarcastic remarks. So I dedicate this post to my poetry professor. His prediction was right. I did just “stay home and have babies.” I don’t regret it for a single second. I’m glad I had the opportunity to get a college education. I don’t think it was a waste. It’s made me who I am. Do I recommend going into debt to earn a degree without an income? NO. But there’s never anything wrong with bettering yourself. I still pursue my passion of writing. After all, here I am writing for all you lovely people.

I’m also learning every single day how to become a better mother. Not a perfect one, but a better one. The whole reason we have all these parenting books and magazines is because we want to give our kids the very best of us. It’s a constant learning process. So when you really think about it, we’re all attending Motherhood University every single day.

time saver collage edit

Every week for nearly the last four years I have proclaimed, “THIS is the week I get organized!” I really mean it when I say this. But, the reality of taking care of the other humans in my home leaves me little time to organize like Martha (as in Stewart). I admit it is disappointing to open the closet to find things spilling out, or open the dresser drawers and see all the mangled clothes. I always feel pressed for time as we race through our mornings before to leaving for school, or getting to a play date. But, Martha doesn’t live here so it’s up to me to make things orderly and accessible.

So, how does a busy twin mom without a moment to spare get organized? Well, first I had to throw away my vision of what  organized looks like and really think about what it feels like. Being organized feels less rushed and less like I am behind on tasks. It feels less stressed. So, what stresses me out the most? Snacks, mealtimes and getting my kids dressed. I often forget to give myself a snack, or suddenly a child is melting down because I forgot to feed them. It is stressful pulling out one shirt after another until my kid finds THE ONE she likes. Suddenly it’s 4:30 in the afternoon and I forgot I have to make dinner! Ack!

Here is my “Master plan” to feeling organized:

SNACK TIME PREP

Use snack sized Ziploc bags to divide up kid sized portions of their favorite snacks.

Use snack sized Ziploc bags to divide up kid sized portions of their favorite snacks.

I divided our snacks into kid friendly portions by using Ziploc snack bags. I measured according to serving size, filled bags then I piled them into a clear plastic box and left on a shelf in a cupboard the girls can reach.

Create an easy-to-reach snack shelf in the fridge for fresh snacks.

Create an easy-to-reach snack shelf in the fridge for fresh snacks.

Next, I set up a shelf in the fridge with squeezable yogurts, carrot sticks, apple slices and drinks they can just grab and go. This alleviates my stress of preparing snacks on demand and gives my girls a bit more independence.

Keep snacks in car to ward off meltdowns on the road.

Keep snacks in car to ward off meltdowns on the road.

Don’t forget snacks for the car! This is my back up in case I forget to grab the snack bag!

Total prep time = 20 minutes (maybe 30 if you let the kids help). Time saved = 1.5 hours of prepping or chopping snacks on demand while the kids complain they didn’t want “thaaaat snack.”

 

DINNER TIME PREP

Prep ahead crock pot freezer meals are a HUGE time saver!

Prep ahead crock pot freezer meals are a HUGE time saver!

I have collected over a months worth of freezer crock pot meals my family will actually eat. I make my menu for the week, buy all my groceries and return home to assemble into Ziploc bags and freeze.

Total prep time = 1 hour. Total time saved = 6 hours.

 

CLOTHING PREP

Kids can see all their options at once.

Kids can see all their options at once.

My kids will not pick out their clothes the night before and stick to wearing that outfit by morning. By simply adding one more fold line to our shirts and pants I save a whole lot of space AND my kids can see all their options at once. For shirts I use a modified ‘Gap fold’ (it’s a real thing Google it!) and then I fold in half one more time. THAT’S IT!

gap fold

Not a true Gap Fold, but your shirts should look like this.

Fold one more time and stack several shirts together before lying down in the drawer.

Fold one more time and stack several shirts together before lying down in the drawer.

 

Fold pants one extra fold, stack and lie down in drawer.

Fold pants one extra fold, stack and lie down in drawer.

This saves me the time (and torture) of watching my kids pull out one shirt at a time to get to the one they want.

Total prep time = mere seconds added to folding time. Total time saved = 40 minutes a week!

 

So, if you like math here are the numbers: Total Prep Time = 1 hour 20 minutes Total Time Saved = 8 hours 30 minutes

Feeling organized and saving hours of stress = PRICELESS!

What are your time saving secrets to keeping your family organized?

So thanks to an insanely packed and hot Open House night on Thursday, Sydney now has a stuffy nose and my husband has a full blown cold. Welcome back to school indeed. I was just commenting the other day how pleasant it’s been to have a sickness free household all summer and how it was all about to end. Guess it was a self-fulfilling prophesy or else just pretty good odds that an elementary school would be a perfect breeding ground for germs. Since the baby is co-sleeping in our room I know that being sandwhiched between the two of them, this cold is coming for me soon. I feel like sick mom walking.

sick mom

Moms Should Be Immune To Germs

You’d think that the sheer volume of bodily fluids moms come into contact with on a daily basis would make moms immune to all manner of illnesses, but alas that’s not the case. I swear I couldn’t tell if it was me or Sydney that reeked of baby vomit yesterday. It was probably both of us. Since I’m breastfeeding that means that when this cold does hit, my options for medicine  are pretty limited. Guess I’ll be drinking lots of OJ and tea and suffering through. It’s what moms do; we put our misery aside, get up (even when our body screams at us to lie down) and take care of the family. Life doesn’t stop just cause mom gets sick.

Mom Juggler

Moms – The Circus Act

Moms are born multi-taskers, juggling the needs of all our family members at once. I’m not saying we get everything done with equal proficiency, but if we didn’t at least try it seems the world would fall apart (at least mine would). Right now I just got off the phone with my husband who’s volunteering today despite feeling yucky, I’m talking to my neighbor on Facebook, watching my kids out in the backyard, writing this post and rocking a fussy baby in her chair with my foot. Sometimes I truly don’t know what I’d do if I had the ability to focus on one task at a time.

sick mom 2

Who Is Mom’s Understudy?

So I have an important question – who takes care of mom when she’s sick? So far I’ve found that in my household the answer is no one. My husband (if I ask/complain enough) will help lighten the load by taking care of the older kids and maybe the cooking. Right now I’m still in survival mode with a newborn. I don’t know if that’s good or not. It just means that I’m used to feeling tired and a bit underwater. It’s amazing how you ALMOST get used to it. The other day my husband had off from work so he got the kids ready for school so I could catch a little more sleep. I actually noticed one layer of fog seemed to have lifted from my brain, BUT with a sick baby who needs her nose sucked out every few hours the feeling didn’t last very long.

The Comfort of MOM

There are days I knew it was going to be harder with three kids, but I think that it’s harder not having my mother around to help me anymore. I have pulled myself from the couch during a nasty stomach bug to take care of two kids, so I know I can deal with three kids and a head cold. I’m just missing the comfort of mom. A shoulder to lean on, someone to baby me and make a fuss as if I’m still the child. There is a physical comfort of a mother that I know all too well when it comes to my own sick kiddos. My husband tries to do the same things, but sometimes they just want mom. I too miss that physical comfort. If your mom is still alive you are indeed blessed.

If you can ask for help from anyone while your sick, do it. Send up an SOS, a bat signal or whatever it takes because even as I say to myself there is no time for me to be sick, the  reality is that it’s going to happen whether I’m ready or not. So I’ll say cheers with my OJ, and send up another prayer that I don’t get this cold, not because I’m so worried about me, but because I worry about who will take care of Will, Sydney, Hannah and Jayden if I’m down for the count. Nobody knows better than a mom how horrible it feels to watch your kids when they feel sick. It’s even worse to watch them feeling miserable from your own tissue filled corner of the couch.

I wish you all a germ free week. Feel free to share you secrets to staying sickness free during the school year.

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