Part of homeschooling for our family is continual exposure to the arts.  In addition to music and art lessons, camps, classes, and performances, I like them to research the arts and do hands-on projects on their own.  We enjoy the book series Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists and Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Composers.  These short picture biographies highlight artists and musicians in a kid-friendly fashion.  Reading these has led to further exploration of individuals who have piqued our interest, looking at their collections, listening to music, and even going on to create art and music inspired by their work.



In addition to learning about an artist, it’s fun to do actual hands-on projects.  I choose an artist or time period, peruse Google and Pinterest for ideas, find some video clips on Youtube or other sources, gather images of the artist’s work and life history, and hit the library for additional resources.  We get together with a few homeschool families so the kids can learn as a group.  I always find discussions and creation of art to be more enjoyable and thought-provoking when done with peers.  Everyone brings whatever art supplies are needed.  We start with an introduction of the artist, then view some biographical videos and examples of his/her work.  Finally, the kids get to work.




Recently, we studied Giuseppe Arcimboldo.  An Italian artist from the 16th century known for his portrait paintings using fruit, vegetables, and flowers to make up the shapes, he was a fun artist for kids to study.  They got a kick out of looking at many pictures of his work, noticing what types of objects he chose to incorporate into portraits, and how as we looked closer at the painting, the objects became the focus more than the portrait itself.  After enough study, they were ready to create.  What followed was a discussion and analyzation of Arcimboldo’s work, while the kids tried their hand at creating their own portraits.  The results were both impressive and comical, and the kids gave me permission to share them here.  I can’t wait to see what they create next.  Share any cool ideas and art projects that your kids have enjoyed with our readers, below.  Happy creating!




I really love making candied apples in the fall. But that hard shell coating can be difficult for little ones to bite through. Chocolate, or caramel dipped apples can be so much easier for little ones to eat. Except that my kids never finish an entire apple by themselves. I usually cut it into slices so they can enjoy a portioned sized amount of sweets. It never occurred to me to slice the apples before dipping!

Saturday’s weather was all day dreary. All our fun activities for the day were cancelled so that left us home. We baked and cleaned because what else do you do for long stretches of time with no plans? Just as we were finishing up chores and the kids were begging for something fun to do I remembered I have everything we need to make chocolate dipped apple pops. My kids were in heaven!

Here is what you need:

3 Large apples- any variety

Wooden craft sticks, or skewers- without stain or finish

Chocolate chips

Decorative candies or sprinkles

Begin by washing and drying your apples. Next, slice apples on each side of the core so you have circles. Then you can cut the remaining sides into wedges and secure with a skewer before you dip. (You can remove the skewer before serving the dipped wedges to kids). You can use a small, sharp knife to make a slit in the edge of the apple just deep enough to add your wooden Popsicle stick.


Next, melt your favorite chocolate chips in the microwave, or by using the double boiler method. Bring a small amount of water to a boil in a pot, and place chips in the bowl. Set the the bowl on top of the boiling water and continue stirring until melted. An important thing to remember is you do not need a lot of water, it shouldn’t even touch the bowl. And use a bowl that fits just a bit bigger than the opening of the pot.


Then line a baking tray, or cutting board with wax paper. Insert the Popsicle stick or wooden dowel into each apple.

Once the chocolate is fully melted you can dip your apples into the chocolate. You can use a spoon or spatula to help coat the apples evenly. Place the dipped apples onto the wax paper and let your kids have fun decorating! You can go as simple, or as fancy as you’d like. We used what we have on hand- some M&Ms and Halloween themed sprinkles. You could also use crumbled cookies, crushed pretzels, a drizzle of caramel. Or you can get really fancy and use edible candy eyes found in the candy section of most craft stores.


Pop these into the freezer for about 10 minutes or a little longer. Once the chocolate is solid you are ready to eat! We had so much fun making them on our rainy day, but this could really make a fun Halloween activity, or after school treat.


What toppings would add to these apple pops?

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. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 



I see you sneaking toward the door, tippy toeing so I don’t hear you. I see you getting farther and farther away, and I don’t like it. I forbid you to go. Sure, it starts with just one day off, but I know how quickly it escalates and you’re going to want more and more time off, until this vacation is permanent and I’ve completely lost my mind.

So, what do you need? Tell me, and I’ll make sure I do it. I’ll appreciate you more. I won’t take you for granted. I’ll remember to say thank you every time you give me long enough to get a post or two written, along with some laundry and maybe just maybe long enough to empty the dishwasher. You and I were the best of friends, that’s why this hurts so badly – you wanting to leave.

Sydney is only two. She still needs you. Remember that tantrum she kicked off in the middle of the grocery store the other day. That was fun. Remember how fast we hustled to get the hell out of there before one more person gave us the look? You know the “Someone needs a nap, don’t they!” look.

Little did I know that you weren’t at home waiting for our return. I couldn’t have been more disappointed. I thought we had a deal. I get the tantrums until we make it home and then you take Sydney for a few hours so I can get some work done. But you thought, let’s just play hide and seek for a while. Let’s tell Sydney about all the way cool toys she could be playing with right now instead of you. That’s a mean little game you’re playing.

You’re getting closer and closer to Dinnertime and now Bedtime thinks it can get away with stuff too. Like playing the “more kisses” game. I’ll admit that I do kind of like it when I’m the recipient of more kisses. But after Sydney needs “just one more kiss” every two seconds and it goes on and on without an end in sight, at some point I have to put my foot down and tell Bedtime who the boss is.

So, you see it’s not just you. I need both of you to work together. You make sure Sydney makes it to bedtime with crashing in a cranky heap on the floor (preferably not the grocery store floor again), and Bedtime will take over for the long shift until morning. Don’t think I didn’t notice Bedtime shirking its job. We’re going to have words if she keeps taking off an hour from the beginning of her shift and an hour from the end. She knows how much I need her too. Otherwise, I’m the cranky heap on the floor and trust me when I say, ain’t nobody got time for that. It’s more than Sydney who needs me.

I have two other kids and a husband who need me awake to handle homework, baths and showers and the nightly routine of ushering kids up the stairs on the endless march toward pajamas and teeth brushing and picking out clothes for the morning. Sometimes, I think Bedtime likes to mess with me big time. She’s a real prankster. She likes to whisper in my kids ears, “Hey, remember that spot on your leg you bumped two weeks ago, tell your mom it hurts” or “Let’s play a game of ‘guess what body part suddenly itches’” or my least favorite game of all “sleep or no sleep” in which she picks one or both of my older children and convinces them she’s not coming tonight. That is the FREAKING WORST!

No matter how many times I tell Hannah or Jay that Bedtime is coming, they just don’t seem to get it. Then sometimes they worry that they won’t be able to sleep like it’ll just stop coming around and they’ll be up all night. Even though I tell them that Sleep comes for us all, the tricky part about sleep is to trust she’s coming without ever actually expecting her visit. The longer we watch and wait for her arrival, the longer it takes for her to get here. She’s a drop by type of friend. She doesn’t ever want you to go to the trouble of waiting on her. I think it makes her feel guilty or something.

But I’ve gotten off track, this is about you Naptime. I know I can’t make you stay forever. I’m so grateful you stayed with Hannah as long as you did. Quitting a mere two weeks before the start of Kindergarten. I must say I was impressed with your work ethic with that one. With Jayden I had to ask you to leave when he was three because Bedtime was so fickle on the days you were working and since she’s under permanent contract I couldn’t fire her, so you know it wasn’t personal me letting you go.

But Sydney is just two and she still needs you so much. Truthfully, I might need you a little more than she does. I can’t get all the work done that I need to if you leave. I need you to stick around one more year at least, more would be great, but I know not to book you that far in advance. I know so many other families need you too.

But Naptime, not so fast. No, sneaking out the back door. Promise me that when you’re ready to go, you’ll meet with me face to face. You’ll give me a chance to plead my case. Because you see Naptime, it’s just so hard to make it through the day without you! You need to give me time to adjust. I know nobody ever told me just how hard this parenting thing would be, but I also know nobody ever said it would be easy either. In case you do decide to silently slip away without a goodbye, “thank you!” You have made my job infinitely easier and I won’t ever forget you.

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

Stretching is a big deal at our house. One of us is often rolling around on the floor or propping a leg on the deck railing. Jenny will yell to me from across the house: “Mom, look, I’m doing a yoga pose!” But if we get settled on the couch before any of this happens, we’re pretty much there for the duration of the evening. That’s when these poses come in handy. You don’t have to be a devoted yogi or super bendy to do these couch yoga poses. Just stretch a little bit every day, and you will be amazed at the results:

  • Rock the Baby: open hips and stretches inner thighs
  • Heron  Pose: stretches hamstring and low back
  • Cobblers Pose: stretches inner thigh and back

So, next time you reach for your remote, throw in a stretch! Just remember–don’t push, don’t strain, listen to your body and breathe.

I think I fell in love with nature when I went to summer camp.  Hiking and horseback riding were regulars on the schedule, and I couldn’t get enough.  It wasn’t just the activities themselves, but equally important, the feelings of peace and solitude that accompanied being outside.

Nature Journal

As a parent, it’s always been important to me to cultivate that love of the outdoors for my family.  We’ve hiked together since my kids were infants, became acquainted with local bike trails, and spent time exploring the Hudson Riverfront, orchards and farms, and even our own backyard.  As a homeschooling mom, it’s been my goal to incorporate as much of the outdoors into our schooling life as possible.  It begins with the obvious—working outside on nice days and lots of field trips to interesting spots.  Last year, we began nature journaling, and have enjoyed the benefits.  Even if you don’t homeschool, nature journaling is an activity that can accompany weekend and summer outings, with everyone from preschoolers to adults taking part.

Nature Journaling

There are lots of great sites that give suggestions for how to begin nature journaling, and a Google search will give you more than enough ideas.  I’ll skip the basics and direct you to a few of my favorites: Charlotte Mason’s ideas, tips for keeping a journal, and some cool prompts.

Nature Group

Instead, I’ll share an experience I had today.  Working with a group of homeschooled kids, we went outside with journals and some basic supplies—pencils and colored pencils, glue stick, and scissors.  I gave them ten minutes to explore, observe, and document.  They gathered leaves, grass clippings, flowers, and berries, and fastened them to their journal pages.  They wrote short poems about the beauty of nature.  They drew sketches of trees, clouds, and leaves.  They listened to lawn mowers, and dogs barking, and birds chirping.  They scattered, they clustered, they really got into it.  I watched in awe as they focused, wandered about, and looked like little scientists, exploring the world.  I sat there, thinking about the mental health benefits of being in nature, and how proud I was of their curiosity. Kids will never forget learning that involves the senses, that lets them move around and engage in the material.  Technology provides an alluring, near-constant distraction.  The youngest generations can’t imagine life without laptops and smart phones, but nature journaling allows for a little shift in focus.  The next time you bring your kids outside, bring along some paper and pencils, and wait for inspiration to strike.  Encourage little ones to trace leaves, bigger kids to draw whatever excites them, even jot down their thoughts if they’d like.  Nature journaling is a fun bonding activity, and strengthens an appreciation for the world around us.  It’s a peaceful, stress-free way to tap into your kid’s abilities in writing, art, science, all the while enjoying the great outdoors.

This weeks craft is short and sweet and it is inspired by my friend Anne. We were outside at a Halloween party this weekend when I mentioned I was in need of something fun for us to do this week after school. I wanted something different and artsy all at once. Her suggestion for paper lanterns had me intrigued!

Anne’s suggestion was to use crayon shavings because it has a spectacular effect when melted between sheets of wax paper. However, we opted for cutting tissue paper instead. My girls need practice with their scissor skills so cutting squares and different shapes was perfect!

Here is what you will need:

Wax paper


Craft Sticks (we used a medium size)

Glue and tape

Colorful tissue paper

I am just awful at measuring when crafting. I often simply eyeball everything, or I find a way to measure without having to get all “mathy.” I rolled out enough wax paper to equal the length of four craft sticks. Then, I folded the paper in half lengthwise to make it just as tall as one craft stick.


Next we cut out our shapes.


Layer the pieces of tissue paper between the folded wax paper. Place between a folded towel, or on an ironing board with a pillow case over top. You don’t want the wax paper to melt to the iron, so it’s important to use a thin cover.


Use Elmer’s glue, or craft glue to make individual frames on the wax paper. This will create a unique block of print for each window of the lantern.


Allow the glue to dry thoroughly before you fold in to form a square. Use clear tape to tape the edges together. Since this is made from paper and wood, which can be flammable, use an electric candle to light up from the inside of the lantern.


This project was slow paced and really easy to do. It is more steps than I usually put into a project, but my almost six year olds tolerated it well and they loved the final results! Pretty spectacular for using just wax paper!

I could just imagine this with leaves pressed between the paper. What other things do you think would work?

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. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 




When I began this parenting journey I was a completely different mother than I am today. Nine years and two more kids later I’ve learned what things to just let go and what things to cling too like your life depends on it. Yesterday we changed my youngest daughter’s convertible crib to a toddler bed and it didn’t hit me at first, but then I realized it’s the end of the baby years for good. It also made me reflect on the mother I was when I lay my first child in it, to now my third and last child and how different I am now.

Here are five ways your parenting is different with your last child.

1. No More Nervous Nelly – I was terrified to bring my first daughter home from the hospital. I had only changed a handful of diapers prior to becoming a mom and I was completely clueless about swaddling. My first daughter got the majority of my parental trial and errors. She did and always will set the bar for my other kids. All my expectations of milestones, capabilities and behavior are established with her as the baseline. It’s not fair, but she has all the burdens and privileges that come with being born first.

By the time you have your last baby you already know “what to expect when you’re expecting.” You’ve logged countless sleepless nights and can change dirty diapers with one eye open. You’ve survived potty training nightmares too gross to retell and struggled through teaching a child to read. Your last baby usually goes with the flow and learns so much from his or her siblings. My youngest reaps the benefits of all my experience.

2. Birthdays and Milestones Are Sad – You’re happy to celebrate the birth of your last baby, but every time you sing the birthday song you know it’s the last time you’ll have a one-year-old, two-year-old, etc. I’m definitely a more nostalgic mom with my last child than I was with my first.

Moving my first child into a big girl bed wasn’t as big of a deal because I was pregnant with my second child and the crib wasn’t going away, just being handed down. Now when the crib is turned into the toddler bed, I know we’re one step closer to saying goodbye forever.

3. Five Second Rule Rules– When Hannah was a baby I was cleaning the carpet, left the bottle of cleaner for one second and the next thing I knew she had the nozzle in her mouth. She didn’t actually spray it thank God! But within seconds I was on the phone with poison control who assured me she’d be fine.

When my son was two he bit into a slug, yup you read that right. My first thought no joke was, “at least it’s organic. I don’t need to call poison control.”

A few weeks ago I gave Sydney a package of fruit snacks in the store to keep her happy and before I knew it she dropped one, picked it up and ate it. I didn’t even have time to worry about it. The mentality with your last is like, “Well, all the other kids survived the five second rule.”

You know it’s gross, but you don’t freak out. At least for me, I knew there were far worse things they could put in their mouths than a fruit snack dropped on the floor for five seconds.


4. Beginning To Completion – When I had my first daughter everything felt like a new beginning. I had the whole of my parenting years stretched out in front of me. Hannah made me fall in love with motherhood. I had no idea just how large my capacity for love was until she showed me.

I credit Jayden with showing me that a mother’s love is multiplied, not divided with each child you have. Sydney brings an entirely different feeling to my parenting – one of completion.

For years I said that Jayden was my last child, but yet I didn’t have the feeling of completion like I have now. When Jayden was three I caught baby fever. After a year-and-a-half it became clear that another baby was the only cure and I’m still astounded by the complete 180 my husband did after over a year of shutting down the idea. One day, he said, “Okay let’s go for a third” and a month later Sydney was on the way.

She brings a balance to our family which is weird because she actually made us an odd number. But she’s the great equalizer between my two older kids. They are only two years apart, but Sydney is seven years younger than my oldest child Hannah and five years younger than Jayden. She gets all of the attention of being the baby and even though my oldest fight with each other…a…LOT, she’s the one thing they agree on. They both love to love that little girl. She creates a much needed buffer between Hannah and Jayden.

She came bounding into my bed this morning, escaping easily from her new toddler bed, and wedged her little body along with her three favorite baby dolls between me and my husband. I was tired and I thought, “Why was I so eager to transition her to the toddler bed? She slept a lot longer in the crib.” Then I thought:

“For you Sydney, I’ll let go of my warm and comfy bed and get up because yours are the last little fingers that will interlock in mine in the morning and pull me excitedly to start the day. Yours is the last little baby voice that will both sweetly and urgently bid me to come with you. And this moment is worth holding onto more than five more minutes of sleep, because your my last child and I’ve learned just what to hold onto and what to let go of by now.”

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.


If you get up a half hour early and do yoga with your kids in the morning, hats off to you! If you’re like me and like to sleep till the last possible moment, you can still start off the day well with a short yoga flow:

  • Five-pointed Star: stretches entire body
  • Side Bend: opens the rib area for deeper breathing
  • Goddess: strengthens and grounds
  • Balancing Star: cultivates focus and balance
  • Mindful Breathing: calms body and mind

Give this a try tomorrow morning, and you may have the whole neighborhood joining in!

Let’s get right down to it… Mac and Cheese.  There, I said it.  I’ve always been a mac and cheese girl.  It’s a direct route to my heart, the first thing I try at a buffet, my favorite comfort food.  Even when I find a recipe I love, I keep trying new ones, because who knows?  There might be one I love even more.

Becoming gluten-free was a bit of a bump in the mac and cheese world.  For one, opportunities to eat it now rest solely on me.  No more buffets, no more potlucks, no more emergency blue box.  Another facet of being gluten free is that convenience foods are gone.  There’s no fast food, or grabbing a bagel, or a sandwich.  Portable food became important, and with the cost of a loaf of gluten free bread (sheesh) we aren’t going to rely on a sandwich every time.

Enter: Miniature Mac and Cheese Cups!  This is not the first time you’ve heard me sing the praises of Nicole Hunn, gluten free cookbook author and blogger extraordinaire.  Thanks to her cooking pursuits, I found the recipes (and the confidence!) to master pie crust, bagels, and rock-star worthy cinnamon buns. Macaroni and cheese, especially portable, mini mac and cheese, is just perfect. They were incredible, and we froze the extras, which I hear works well.  We couldn’t wait to try these, and so many of the other recipes in her new book, Gluten-Free Small Bites.  It’s filled with a bevy of delicious “small bites,” such as handheld wraps, roll-ups, and pies.

With Nicole’s permission, I’ve shared the recipe (and her photo).  Enjoy, and do check out her new book—you won’t know what to make first!  We can’t wait to try the spinach balls and apple hand pies.  If you pre-order before October 25th, you’ll have access to six extra freebies, including a flour calculator, and step-by-step videos of some recipes. If you get your hands on the book, share your thoughts with our readers, below.


miniature mac and cheese cups

Makes about 24 cups


8 ounces small dried gluten-free pasta (like elbows)

1 to 2 tablespoons (14 to 28 g) extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons (28 g) unsalted butter, chopped

3 tablespoons (27 g) Basic Gum-Free Gluten-Free Flour (page 4)

6 fluid ounces (1/2 can) evaporated milk

1 to 11/4 cups (8 to 10 fluid ounces) milk, at room temperature

4 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded

4 ounces sharp yellow Cheddar cheese, shredded

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 egg (50 g, weighed out of shell), at room

temperature, beaten


Boil the pasta in a large pasta pot to an al dente texture, according to the package directions. Drain the pasta, return it to the pot, and toss it with olive oil to prevent it from sticking together.  Cover the pot and set it aside.

Preheat your oven to 735°F. Generously grease the wells of two 12-cup standard muffin tins, and set them aside. To make the cheese sauce melt the chopped butter in a medium-size, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk to combine well. The mixture will clump at first, and then smooth after it cooks for a minute or so. This is the roux that will thicken the cheese sauce. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture has just begun to turn a very light-brown color, about 2 minutes. Add the evaporated milk to the roux very slowly, stirring constantly to break up any lumps that might form. Add 1 cup of milk, and whisk to combine well. Bring the mixture to a simmer, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced by about one-quarter, about 7 minutes. The sauce should coat the back of a spoon. Remove the saucepan from the heat, add the shredded cheeses, salt, and pepper, and mix to combine. The cheese sauce should be very thickly pourable. Add the beaten egg to the remaining milk, and pour the mixture into the cheese sauce, mixing constantly. Pour the hot cheese sauce over the cooked pasta, and stir carefully to coat all of the pasta in the cheese sauce without breaking up the pasta at all.

Fill the prepared wells of the mini muffin tins just past the top with the macaroni and cheese mixture, and press down carefully but firmly to pack the mixture into the well. Place the muffin tins, one at a time, in the center of the preheated oven. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the muffin tins for 5 minutes before running a toothpick around the edge of each muffin well to loosen the cups and popping them out. Serve warm.

From the book Gluten-Free Small Bites: Sweet and Savory Handheld Treats for On-the-Go Lifestyles and Entertaining, by Nicole Hunn. Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Press, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc. Copyright © 2016.

Living in the Hudson Valley means we have an abundance of festivals, street fairs, art shows, car shows and places to go every weekend. There are so many things to do all year long, but when fall hits it can seem like there’s just so much more to try to fit into the weekend! I always want to make the most of what the season has to offer as well as all the local events.

To help us enjoy the season we love to be outdoors. My kids love raking leaves into piles to jump into, collecting different colored leaves and sticks for a scavenger hunt, or decorating for each holiday. There is just so much to do in our very own back yard! In fact, we were just taking a stroll down memory lane and reading some of my older blogs where I share some of our favorite fun things. Here is a quick recap of some kid friendly activities to do with your little ones at home:

Acorn Jewels

This one is my absolute favorite! It is such a simple project, yet yields amazing results. You can read the step by step directions here. You can break this into two parts: gathering the acorns during a scavenger hunt, and then creating the jewels. Do it in the same day, or make it a two day event!


Make a Spooky Door

Recreate this monsterpiece to give your front door a touch of whimsy. You can find step by step details here. Using all simple supplies from the dollar store you can have the cutest door on the block for around $5.00.


Pumpkin Painting

If you have little ones not yet steady with the knife skills, let them wield a paint brush instead. Use washable paints and put down a plastic cloth. Or let them paint outside and not worry about your clean kitchen table. Click here to find out how to connect art with nature.


DIY Fossil Cookies

You don’t have to wait for any special season to make these. They are just fun to make! You can get your step by step guide here.


Apple Painting

If you missed my post last week, here it is again for you to enjoy! This one is a classic fall art project. Be sure to check out the links to some cute stories to go along with this simple art project.


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. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 

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