A staffer at Hudson Valley Parent recently asked me to blog about a “recipe for someone who doesn’t cook.”  I’ve spent some time thinking about it (A smoothie prepared in a blender?  A sandwich?) and decided to share a meal that I often enjoy in summer, on hot days when no one is in the mood to cook.  I began making this for lunch during the first summer when we grew our own grape tomatoes and basil.  It’s such a favorite that we start making it as soon as the basil leaves come in, and enjoy it all summer long.  Even though my kids aren’t the biggest tomato fans, something about the presentation and colors in this dish gets them to always eat a few bites.


This is probably the easiest summer lunch you’ll ever make.  Begin with a ball of fresh mozzarella cheese. Slice into bite-sized pieces, and put in a bowl.  Wash about a dozen grape tomatoes, slice in halves, add to bowl.  Using a kitchen scissor, snip a handful of basil leaves over the bowl.  Drizzle lightly with extra virgin olive oil, and toss. Grab your fork, and enjoy.  It’s that quick and simple, but so delicious!

Sometimes, meals just need to come together quickly and not stress you out.  This is one of those dishes.  Share your favorite easy, summery, make-in-a-snap meals that delight your family.  To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.



Over the weekend I got the chance to take a trip to Lake George without kids. Can you believe it? I cashed in my Mother’s Day gift from my husband for a one night getaway for a moms only weekend. I met up with my friend (and fellow mom) who is a local to Lake George so she gave me the family friendly run down. As we walked around I couldn’t help think of all the fun things happening that my kids would love to see!

Lake George is mostly known for the water parks, lake side beaches and popular mini-golf courses and shopping outlets. Admission prices to some of these places can get expensive even for a small family. Here are few smaller low key ways to spend the day, or a night in Lake George.

Fort William Henry Hotel and Conference Center

lake george hotel

Photo Credit: fortwilliamhenry.com

Our hotel was located on Canada St. which is close to the heart of the downtown Lake George area. I would not recommend staying in the Standard West building as it is motel style accommodations. Nothing against motels but this one is well past its prime. The main hotel however is beautiful and well cared for. There is a tiny little pool inside the main building, but there is a tremendous outdoor pool in the back. There are three restaurants on property and a game room to entertain the kids.

Despite the low quality accommodations we experienced, I could see the beauty of staying on this property. Once you park in the hotel lot you can access everything by walking. Which is perfect if you still have little ones in strollers. The sidewalk creates a giant loop around the property the hotel sits on. You can reach down town easily and quickly. If I stay here again I will definitely book a room in the main building.

Family Entertainment

The Fort William Henry Hotel shares the property with the Fort William Henry Museum. This interactive, family friendly museum can be a fun part of your stay. You can get discount tickets in the hotel lobby, or ask while booking. The evening we stayed the museum was hosting a family friendly ghost tour.

lake george museum

Photo credit: fortwilliamhenry.com

In less than one minute away from the hotel, at the corner of Canada St. and Beach Rd. is the Fun-A-Rama Fun Park complete with arcade, bumper boats, spinning tea cups and a gorgeous Italian carousel. This carousel is simply magical at night when it is all it up.


Photo credit: Roxanne Ferber


Photo credit: Roxanne Ferber

There is a family pizza and 1950’s style cafe right there to grab lunch. If you continue down Beach Rd. you will find all kinds of souvenir shops and candy stores. There are horse drawn carriage rides $10 per adult and $4 per child. The parking in this area is pricey at $2.00 per hour.


Photo credit: Roxanne Ferber

You can take the kids for a sight seeing tour on the Lake on one of the steam boats. This is a fun way to experience the lake at a leisurely pace. It can be very crowded during the peak summer season, so arrive early and stick closely to time schedules.

If the steam boats and busy arcades are not your thing continue passed the steam boat launch area to find Charles Wood Park. This fresh little park is free and perfect for strollers and little ones too small to enjoy any of the rides. There are plenty of natural elements for the kids to interact with, like a willow hut and a climbing tree, a slide that seems to come out of the side of a hill. There is a small skate park for older kids to enjoy. Follow the walk way all the way through and it takes you right back up to Canada St. on the same side as Fort William Henry. You don’t even need to cross the street with the kids! Literally everything can be accessed on this little loop!


Photo credit: Roxanne Ferber


Photo credit: Roxanne Ferber


The most popular free park is Shepard’s Park (sometimes referred to by locals as Shepard’s Cove). It is a small patch of sandy beach with life guards where the kids can play around. There are bathrooms close by and restaurants to grab lunch. There is also a fun walkway to enjoy looking out over the lake and watching the boats. Million Dollar Beach located on Beach Rd. is a bigger beach with much more sand to play in but it does get packed. They boast having a very clean locker room/changing area, a volley ball court and trained lifeguards on duty. Parking is $10 so if you are able to find your way by walking it will save you some money.

TIPS To Save Money

I found a coupon through Groupon.com for the hotel stay. It was nearly half the price of the usual cost. We also stayed off season which will save you money and you can escape the crowds.

Search through local restaurant Facebook and web pages for coupons and specials.

Skip the hotel stay and make it a day trip. Find a place to park with a flat rate vs. a per hour cost.

If you have really little ones skip the souvenir shop. Bring along a new toy they’ve never seen before (sand toys, bubbles, new sand shoes they already need) and bring it out during your stay.

There is always a festival or music event happening most weekends. Do a little research ahead of time to find one that suits your family.

Leave the kids at home and just go with a friend! We spent time at the Adirondack Winery for a fun wine tasting and locavore food sampling. The staff was great and very friendly and the wine slushy was so good! Find them on Facebook or visit their website for local happenings.

Some great web resources: www.lakegeorge.com or on Facebook. www.lakegeorgeguide.com 

The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter.




Here’s a move you can do on your deck while waiting to flip those burgers on the grill, and it has lots of benefits:

  • tones legs & butt
  • stretches hamstrings
  • strengthens all back muscles
  • improves balance
  • works core

Give it a try with me!

Some days you just walk into a place and know with all certainty that you are a hot mess. That was me yesterday, as I rolled up into Aldi with my trio of sugared up wild things. I was rocking my crocs with socks. My baby girl was sporting nothing but a onesie and a chocolate Hitler stash and I just wanted to do a “hot mess mom” mic drop, like whatever.

Messy Child

I’m all for having well behaved children, hence the chocolate used for bribery. But there are some days, where you just have to think, “Hey, this is my circus and we just rolled into town so you’re just going to have to just sit back and enjoy the show.” My kids weren’t being misbehaved, but I was stressed having all three of them with me.

I like to go with just the baby, but unfortunately we had to have a new hot water heater installed and I missed my magic shopping window between her getting up from her nap and before the older kids get off the bus. You know you’re a mom of three or more when having just one child at the store with you feels like a vacation.

Of course my toddler didn’t want to ride in the cart so we all took turns chasing her around the store. My older kids were pretty good about rounding her up, but I did feel some eyes on me. I did feel the need to speed up my shopping, but at the same time I kept hearing the song “Wild Things” by Alessia Cara   in my head playing the soundtrack to my beautiful messy mob.

Sydney Shopping

I tried to remember what it was like to be a kid shopping with my mom. It was so boring so I found little games to play like using the few colored tiles on the floor in ShopRite as safe stepping stones to keep from burning up in the lava of white tiles. This is the beauty of childhood; turning the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Sometimes you just have to stop worrying about what other people think. We can’t control everything our kids do, and sometimes we should just kick back and enjoy the show ourselves. I’m not talking about letting them pull things off of shelves or scream bloody murder in a store, but we need to cut them some slack too. They aren’t tiny adults; they’re kids.

If we wanted nice tidy lives filled with spotless furniture and careless trips to anywhere by ourselves, we wouldn’t have had kids at all. They are the beautiful mess we signed up for, even if we didn’t fully realize it at the time.

I think I forgot the messy chaos of the toddler years. I spend so much time cleaning up food and toys off of EVERY surface of my house or trying to keep her from climbing up on the table to take food off of our plates or leave us the present of her food taken directly out of her mouth and dropped onto our plates. The other day she climbed up on the table and started dancing and my frustration dissolved into laughter.

This is life with little wild things; watching them squeal with delight as they race around a store, watching them dance on the table top to music only they can hear, and watching them find joy in things we can’t see anymore. In this process of growing up, we’ve packed away our own wild side. We’ve turned down the anthem in our heads that plays when we roll up in a place.

I don’t know about you, but I want to hold onto these wild things of mine. There are times when I just can’t expect them to be perfectly behaved. There are times when I have to appreciate their laughter and have that matter more than a few heads turned in our direction.

So many times, I just stop whatever I’m doing and dance around the room with my wild things. These moments are the gifts they give me with their sticky little fingers. They lend me their beautiful, crazy, “don’t give a damn about anything, but finding the joy in life” spirits.

So yes, this is my circus and these are my little monkeys and I love them. Sometimes you have to take off the grown up expectations and just meet them where they are. Who cares if you look like a hot mess?

I don’t know about you, but I want to be where the wild things are because it sure is free and fun and full of joy!

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found writing on her blog The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her three adorable kiddos. This “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow her on Facebook or Twitter for her delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.






It’s a really simple step, but making your own spice mixtures instead of using packets is something you can do to improve the taste and health benefits of your foods.  When we became gluten and dairy free, I began seeking out recipes so that we could avoid the allergens, preservatives, food dyes, and other additives that didn’t need to be in our food.

Taco seasoning and ranch mix are two of our favorites to make.   It’s easy to make them ahead of time and keep in a glass container, labeling contents and how much to use to replicate those convenient packets sold in the store.  Also nice is the ability to control the heat, which is especially important for taco seasoning!  We like ours mild, so I always cut back on the chili powder when mixing it.  The last time we were making Mexican food, my younger daughter was nearby and tickled at the idea of making a new batch “all by herself.”  I can safely say that this is easy for a child to make, all the while teaching about healthy alternatives to processed foods, and hey, being frugal in the kitchen.  It must cost less to make your own, right?

Making your own seasoning mixes


This taco seasoning recipe is the one we’ve landed on after trying a few.  You can lessen or omit the sugar, and as I mentioned, I use much less of the chili powder (practically just a sprinkle).  An even greater time saver is not only making the mix in advance, but browning a few pounds of taco meat at a time and freezing extra in one-pound freezer-safe baggies.  It’s barely an exaggeration to say it’s a life-saver on a busy night when you haven’t had time to make a decent meal, and remember there’s cooked, seasoned meat in the freezer for tacos, taco salad, or burritos.  Score!

I also really, really like making our own ranch mix.  Have you ever read the label on a bottle or packet of salad dressing?  I can’t pronounce most of what’s in it.  That can’t be good for you.  Making your own allows you to use fresh herbs and spices, skip the preservatives, and even omit dairy if you’d like.  When we needed to be fully dairy free, I used this recipe, but now that we can have it in moderation, I love this recipe.  To keep the buttermilk powder fresh, I store it in the refrigerator, and I swear, it makes me smile every time I see it (and crave ranch).

Making your own doesn’t have to add stress onto your onto your evening meal.  Assembling it in bulk when you have a little time allows you to scoop and go on a busy night, just like you would with those packets.  Yet, it’s more affordable, healthier, and you can pronounce everything in it. Win win.

Share your healthy, time-saving recipe tricks with our readers.   To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.









the story from the lens

At the beginning of every summer I try to round up a few new places to visit with the kids. Now that my kids are getting older they are outgrowing some of the play spaces  we used to visit. One thing that hasn’t changed is their desire to explore.

Last month our family signed up for a free Healthy Ulster Membership at the Mohonk Preserve. The Visitor Center Trailhead is located at 3197 State Route 55, Gardiner, NY. While we were there we were encouraged to explore the visitor center which includes an interactive children’s corner. And by corner I mean an area too small for a crowd, or big group. But it is perfect for a handful of friends to gather for play.

Here is what we found during our exploration:

Interactive Exhibits

When you enter the center you are on the upper level. There are interactive exhibits where kids can learn about the land within the Mohonk preserve, the animals they can find and the Geoexchange system running the center. Your toddler won’t understand a whole lot of this information, but they will love getting to push the buttons and using the swipe screen to get to the next slide of information while your older child interacts on their own.

There are amazing views all around so be sure to simply take a moment to enjoy looking out the large windows at the surrounding landscape.

Children’s Corner

After you make your way through the upper level take the stairs down to the children’s corner. There is something there for kids of any young age. There are books, games and puzzles about nature. There are a few live animals to see and kids can unearth animal bones. You can even borrow a nature exploration kit and wander through the Children’s Forest right outside the center.


HVP kids corner

Sensory Trail

This is a paved trail that is perfect for strollers and for toddlers learning to walk. Simply follow the path and allow your little ones to explore the artwork, butterfly gardens and views along the way. The paved path leads into the Children’s Forest where there are fun things to play with. We found a tee pee style hut made with sticks and a whole lot of natural things to keep our exploration thinking caps busy. Allow your kid to be your guide and follow along at their pace. You will be amazed by the amount of questions they begin asking.

HVP childrens forest

What got my kids the MOST excited? The little animal nook tucked away under the stairs in the children’s corner. Beyond these doors is a hidden little room where kids can sit with the many stuffed creatures and use their playtime imaginations. Moms can sit quietly on a bench and feed babies, or chat with another mom.

HVP animal nook

HVP kid corner 2

The visitor center is open 9 am – 5 pm daily (except holidays) all year. It is free to explore the children’s corner and the sensory trail just outside which leads to the children’s forest. Pack a snack and invite a friend for an easy morning of play, or bring your lunch for an afternoon of pint sized fun! For more information click here.

Even though my kids are no longer toddlers we enjoyed this day out together. I wish I knew about it when my kids were little and we needed a safe place to explore. It’s a great place to wear out little ones with play time adventures before nap. Older kids (I’d say up to age 8) can enjoy the activities here as well. A great little stop for moms of kids with toddlers or mixed ages.


The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter.

Here’s a great move to strengthen your core. You can do it practically anywhere. Give it a go–it only takes a minute!

This pose is good for both of you and will inevitably lead to giggles.

Jenny & I invite you to join us on our journey of family, fitness & food.

Paci Addiction

I’ll admit it. I was THAT mom who would give a sideways glance at kids still using a paci past the age of two, but that was before I really understood paci addiction. My first two babies wanted nothing to do with the paci, spitting it out the second I put it in their mouths. After assessing the nipple I thought, “Seriously, who designed this thing? It doesn’t look the real deal at all.” Then came my third baby and from the second they gave her that little plastic portal to peace in the hospital it’s been an ever-present source of both sanity and stress.

So I want to call us all out of the paci closet. I even called on the help of fellow moms with paci addicted kids to share their stories (anonymously of course). Here are the 5 stages of paci addiction as I see it.

Stage 1 – The Soothing Savior – In the beginning we love the fact that our baby will take a paci. It helps them self-sooth and sleep better at night. We practically bow down to the paci gods on those days when our child is crying nonstop and the answer is a simple bink away. You learn never to go anywhere without it. If you’re me, you buy one of those paci clips to keep it firmly attached to your child’s clothes because you’re tired of picking it up off the dirty floor and rinsing it and God forbid you lose it. Which brings us to…

Stage 2 – The Frantic Finder – This is the stage where you start looking at those little plastic nubs in a new light. When you find yourself racing off to Walmart in the middle of the night with three kids because the paci is lost and your child won’t take the backup paci because the nipple is too small and your child won’t sleep without it, you start to suspect there’s a problem.

You know the instant she gets her soothing suck on, she’ll hit the hay in peace and so you drive through detours and go to multiple stores because the dollar store down the street doesn’t stock the “right” paci. Oh you know what I’m talking about because with paci addiction comes a very real preference for a certain brand or nipple type. Oh, and you are pretty much guaranteed to find their paci after you get back from the store with the new one. Which brings us to…

Stage 3: The Paci Hoarder – You reach into your coat pocket and find them, you have them stashed in different drawers in your house, they’re stashed in purses, diaper bags and cars because you don’t want to be the frantic finder anymore. You want to make it rain pacifiers if your little darling should start bawling in the middle of a well-visit at the doctor’s office, at the grocery store, or in a restaurant.

One mom confessed that she recently found a paci stashed in her purse from this phase and her son is 21 years old now!

Stage 4 -The Enabler – So you enter this phase sometime around your child’s second birthday. My daughter is almost two so I get it. You start to wonder when this paci obsession is going to end and yet, you’re terrified to take it away.

So you start to rationalize it. It’s ok because they aren’t 4 years-old yet, or if they are 4 or older you’re probably hiding their paci habit from others because you don’t want to be judged. I get it. Sadly, I was probably one of those moms who saw kids out in public and thought, “Your child is way too old to still have a paci.” Yet as I’m staring down the barrel of that gun, I totally get it now.

My daughter will legit have a mini-panic attack if she doesn’t feel the cord of that paci clip on her shirt. She starts rubbing her hands against her shirt frantically looking and making helpless whimpers until I help her find it or get it for her. Though she’s trying to wean herself now by wanting the clip off during the day, she still has a few of these moments of panic each day.

Since my first two kids didn’t go through it I had no idea the struggle paci moms go through so please forgive me. I vow NEVER to do it again, if only you’ll help me get off this crazy ride.

Stage 5 – The Skilled Negotiator – Whenever we try to wean our kids or get them to drop a habit, we break out our hostage negotiating skills. I’ve been blessed to hear some really funny and inspiring stories about how some moms have weaned their kids off their paci habit.

A new blogging friend of mine shared how she broke her son’s paci addiction after he developed sores in his mouth, which she thought were from the pacifier: “I hid them all and kept saying, “Binky hurts you now.” Three days later, my friend called and told me her daughter had hand, foot, and mouth disease and that my son might get it since they played together a few days earlier. I laughed and told her he already did, but I didn’t realize it because it was all inside his mouth. So I never thought I’d have anything good to say about hand, foot, and mouth disease, but it did get rid of his binkies for us!”

A mom in my Facebook mom’s group talked about her son’s successful binky trade-in: “One night while I was getting his PJ’s on, he handed me his bink and wanted a new stuffed animal to sleep with so I took it as an opportunity to barter for the bink FOREVER. I told him he could sleep with the new toy or the bink, but NOT both. He said “Ok, Mommy,” slept through the night without it, and never asked for it again.

Another mom reported what she did after the dentist told her it was causing damage to her daughter’s teeth: “We took her to the dentist. He said she had damage to her front teeth. We threw it out the car window that day, told her the car ate it, and never turned back!”

Another mom used New Year’s Day to declare, “All the pacis go to the New Year’s babies now.”

So there you have it, 5 stages ranging from complete gratitude for the paci to nerve-wracking stress, but one thing we should never feel is shame over our child’s paci addiction. So I urge you to come out of the paci closet and share your stories with other moms.

For what it’s worth, my oldest two kids that rejected the paci used me as their paci instead and that was no picnic either. We all have this great opportunity to grow in motherhood together if we just break down the walls of our own fear. Share your paci stories here.

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found writing on her blog The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her three adorable kiddos. This “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow her on Facebook or Twitter for her delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.











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