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This week my husband decided that we should do an impromptu trip to New York City to see the Christmas lights and the tree at Rockefeller Center before they are taken down for the season. Since we didn’t get a chance to see any lights this year and because a trip to the big city is always an adventure, I said, “Let’s do it!”

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Hannah and Jayden playing at the playground in Central Park in                     New York City.

New Yorkers Get A Bad Rap

First, let me start by saying that New Yorkers in general get a bad rap. It’s not that we’re rude; we’re just busy and the city is the prime example. I think the term “hustle and bustle” must have been coined by someone living in NYC. I’ve never seen little old ladies with walkers move faster than me before.

We met some pretty nice people too. Not one, but two people offered up their seats on a crowded subway for me and my toddler who was cranky from being confined to her stroller most of the day. One lady overheard my remark about “looking like we just walked in a big circle” and immediately offered to give us directions.

It was super crowded the day before New Year’s Eve. At one point while walking past some of the amazing light displays my family was caught in a human traffic jam.

Personal Space Panic Attack

I had to do breathing exercises to keep from panicking at all the people who were in my personal space. Then someone in a Mickey Mouse costume appeared in the crowd and I had to laugh, because this type of thing never happens in the Hudson Valley.

Our trips to NYC are always full of surprises and it is fun because you never know what will happen next, but here are five times I was reminded just how glad I am to be living in the Hudson Valley.

1. The Food Prices – Okay so we were in Manhattan and I get that it’s going to be expensive, but I almost choked when the lunch we got at a hot dog cart by Bryant Park almost required that we take out a second mortgage. I’m exaggerating, but not by much. Four hotdogs and what passes for chicken on a stick for $27, without drinks, was so crazy I almost left running for Grand Central.

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The most expensive hot chocolate I’ve ever had at $4.50 a cup.

Other highlights include the $4.50 a piece cups of hot cocoa that left a lot of chocolate to be desired. We did luck out for dinner and found a $1 a slice pizza joint, which almost made up for our pricey lunch. But my aching feet would have killed for just a place to sit down and eat. Not only is NYC the city that never sleeps, it’s also the city that never sits.
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2. The Fresh Air – There were quite a few moments I had to literally hold my breath. I’m not sure if it was sewer, garbage or just the sheer volume of people, but I was gasping for fresh air. It was definitely a little shocking to this country girl. Unless you’re driving past a farm, you never have to think twice about breathing deep the fresh sweet air in the Hudson Valley.

3. Space – The buildings in Manhattan are positively breathtaking. They are works of art just sitting there disguised at normal buildings. Even without the beautiful light displays, I could spend an entire day just staring at these amazing feats of architecture.

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That being said, it was an adjustment for this country girl to get used to not having space. Space is something we have in spades in the Hudson Valley. We have our own yards and we always have plenty of space to pass someone on the street without feeling like a piece of cattle being herded through a stockyard.

4. The Heartbreaking Homeless Population – I’m sure it’s different in the boroughs, but in Manhattan we were surrounded by either the rich or the homeless. I saw people literally freezing in the name of fashion wearing little more than thin leggings and fur coats or vests or people freezing because they were living on the streets.

One lady had a baby with her and was asking for diapers so we took out all but one of Sydney’s diapers from our bag and gave them to her. I’ve encountered so many amazing non-profits while working in the Hudson Valley. It’s a tough pill to swallow that people are living on the streets. It’s not something we see every day up here.Most people I know in the Hudson Valley are super heroes who want to help everyone. We know our neighbors. We work for non-profits, volunteer in our communities and care for each other. It creates a feeling of hopelessness to be surrounded by so much wealth and poverty at the same time. It makes me want to go back with care packages for as many people as we can carry.

5. The Commute – We drove down to Tarrytown and took the train from there into Grand Central Station. It took just a little over two hours, which isn’t bad considering I live up here in Sullivan County and we drive 45 minutes just to go to the mall in Middletown. I can understand how people in Orange, Westchester and Rockland Counties commute regularly to the city. I don’t think I’d want to do it every day, but it definitely wasn’t bad.

New York City is truly spectacular. There are so many museums, restaurants, shops and sights to see. People travel from all over the world to visit. Everywhere we went there were tons of people snapping photos.

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This country girl did have a good chuckle when I saw people taking pictures of squirrels in Central Park. I wondered what they’d do at the sight of our wild life, say wild turkeys just randomly crossing the road or a bear that tips over your garbage at least twice a year or deer who nonchalantly walk through your yard like they own the place.

We are indeed lucky to live in the Hudson Valley because we have so many amazing things and people here, but we can also easily hop on a train and visit one of the most intriguing cities in the world. We can have the best of both worlds and not everyone can say that.

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.

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I know what you’re thinking. How did you survive for FIVE long years without a cell phone? Surprisingly well.

This year I asked my husband for a cell phone for Christmas. I felt like I was finally ready to take on an additional expense now that my blog is growing. After my site was temporarily shut down for being over my monthly usage allowance on Christmas Eve, I knew I had to have a way to stay up to date on any changes. It was a wake up call, but ultimately a very good problem to have.

Still, some part of me will be sad to say goodbye to the old me, the one that didn’t have a smart phone permanently in my hand.

I can already feel myself being sucked in by smart phone addiction. The last time I had a cell phone it was a simple tracfone that I used mostly to keep in touch with my husband while I was at work. That was before I started working from home.

I still want to hold onto the pre-smart phone me. She learned some very important lessons that I want desperately to remember.

1. Pay Attention To Who You’re With – I am a people watcher. Whether at restaurants, kids’ play places, the mall, the playground or the library I’m always watching how people interact with each other. Over the last five years I’ve had plenty of time to see how people interact with their  friends and family in public and I’ve been a little disturbed.

Smart phones are awesome, but I noticed that nobody seemed to be paying much attention to the people they were with. Couples sat silently across from each other at restaurants. Parents sat silently on a park bench while their kids played almost exclusively by themselves without more than a quick passing glance. People spent a lot of time looking at their phones.

I get it. I feel my potential to be sucked in, especially by social media. It’s exciting to be able to connect with people on so many platforms ALL THE TIME, but I’m so glad for these five years during which I focused exclusively on my friends and family.

I was able to give them my undivided attention. I got up and played with my kids at the park. I chatted with my husband at dinner. I was able to be fully present and I think that’s something I want to be aware of now that I’ve got a new toy. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I’m glad these five years were all about the people that love me and whom I love more than anyone in this world.

2. Privacy Is A Premium – Now that I’ve got a smart phone and I can be reached at any time, I’m a little sad. It was sort of liberating not worrying about my phone ringing or dinging to let me know someone needs me. I’m a mom, I already feel needed EVERY SINGLE SECOND of the day and it is exhausting.I can’t tell you how many times over the course of five years I’ve overheard someone on the phone in a public restroom and thought, “What on EARTH could be so important that it can’t wait till you’re out of the bathroom?” It’s bad enough I don’t get privacy in my bathroom at home.Plus the ick factor is really high for me. To me, nothing you press against your face should be out where it’s exposed to urine and fecal matter. But hey, that’s just me.

3. Remember To Have Actual Conversations – Being without a smart phone these past five years, has made me nostalgic for actual conversations. Now it’s all text messages, Facebook messenger and emoticons (most of which I’m still struggling to understand the circumstance that would actually warrant its use). Being able to connect all the time, has actually made the quality of conversation decline in my opinion.We’d rather send one liners to each other than really connect.

I get it, we’re a busy society. We’re always moving, always working, and always parenting on the fly.But I hope I don’t forget that what we say to each other will always be more important than how we choose to do it. During my phone free years, I may have chatted less with people, but I definitely feel like I gave them more of myself and the conversations actually strengthened relationships.

One day my kids will ask me for a cell phone. I know it’s going to be a LONG time before I say yes. I want them to make their words count. I want them to actually connect with people. I want my kids to see me when I’m talking to them, instead of a cell phone screen. I’m glad that I went such a long time without one, because I can always say that if I survived, they can too.

4. Learn Not To Panic Over Potential Emergencies – The question I was constantly asked when I didn’t have a cell phone was, “What happens if there is an emergency?” In five years, I can honestly say that I never had an emergency happen while I was out. I work from home so it definitely helps that I’m home a lot of the time.Maybe it’s just luck, or maybe we just tend to anticipate emergencies more than we used to.We envision our kids getting sick or hurt at school, the car breaking down or our spouse needing to reach us urgently.

I’m not saying emergencies don’t happen. I just happened to be able to live with the uncertainty better than most. The one time my tire got a flat was when we were driving to the local lake this summer and since my husband had his car packed with our inflatable boat and life jackets he was driving behind me at the time. I had the van packed with kids and snacks and it was absolutely the best case scenario. The kids and I found a grassy spot on the side of the road and ate some snacks while my husband changed my tire and then we were on our way.

There were plenty of times my husband wished I had a cell phone over the last five years. But honestly he did what we all did pre-cell phone era; he waited till I got home. Since I work at home, I’m here the majority of the time. I think some “emergencies” are really just small panic attacks that come from having to wait a little longer to talk to someone. By faith or by luck I survived without any permanent psychological scarring. Five years without a cell phone has taught me to be more aware of my surroundings, pay better attention to the condition of my car, and anticipate whether or not my child’s cold will land them in the nurse’s office.

It also taught me to be more patient and reminded me of the immense capacity people have to be kind to one another. There was the time my car’s battery died in the parking lot of the post office and a man cleaned my connectors and got it started back up. Nobody wants to rely on others anymore. I get it, I really do. We’re too busy. We’re too distrustful. We want assurances that we can’t always have in an unsure world.

I want my kids to be able to call for help should they need it when they get older. But I also want them to have the skills to assess situations, the mindfulness to anticipate potential problems, and the courage to wait if necessary without panicking because the worst thing you can do in an emergency is panic.

Your brain will always be your best asset. Perhaps the smart phone comes in second place.

I’m excited by the prospect of all the things my new smart phone can do for me, but I want to hold on for dear life to the lessons I’ve learned from my five years without one.

How long could you survive without your smart phone?

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.

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I heard it again the other day, “Oh, you have your hands full!” I was pushing two kids in my shopping cart, while my oldest daughter walked beside us as we navigated the aisles of Walmart. None of my kids were acting up. Nobody was yelling, pushing or annoying each other. There was nothing to warrant the comment from this stranger except the number of children with me.

I’m not sure when it was that three children was officially declared the tipping point that pushes you from mom to mental case. How could I possibly handle three with only two hands? I’ve seen better mothers than me handle far more than three kids. I have a good friend who has six. I bet she hears the phrase far more frequently than I do.

I suppressed an eye roll and kept on shopping, because with three kids the goal is always to get in, get what you need and get the heck outta there as quickly as possible. It bugs me sometimes. The implication that I must be burdened by having more than the “ideal” two kids.

Here is what I want to tell everyone who’s ever made the comment to a Mom that has three or more kids that she has her hands full.

Yes, my hands are full. About a hundred times a day my hands are picking up small toys off the floor. At least twice a day I’m picking up someone’s discarded clothing and throwing it in the hamper or folding little tee-shirts or balling up socks.

My hands are holding little hands tight as we cross roads. My hands are brushing hair and weaving braids. They’re probing for imaginary boo boos on arms and legs, scouring for ticks in the summer, and giving reassuring pats on backs as my arms encircle my little ones. They’re feeling foreheads for signs of fever, pulling up covers, administering medicine and providing comfort in a million little ways.

These hands are often wet with sudsy dish water or being washed because I’ve touched all manner of disgusting bodily fluids. They are changing diapers, zipping coats, pulling on snow pants, and searching coat sleeves for wayward shirt sleeves.

These hands of mine are cooking endless meals, baking cookies, making hot cocoa, and filling sippy cups and water glasses. They are searching for lost toys and games, replacing batteries in toys I wish made no noise and decorating Christmas trees.

They’re pulling sleds up the hill for children too tired to do it themselves. They’re shuffling decks of cards to games I don’t always feel like playing or building Lego towers, assembling puzzles and turning the pages of countless books. They are in the air as I dance crazily around the living room with three little squealing kids who are getting down right along with me.

My hands are also typing, always typing because I’m a writer and there’s nothing I love to write about more than my kids. It’s because I want them to know that even though mommy doesn’t always have it all together, they are the best of me.

Yes, my hands are busy. They are always full. There is almost no point during each day where they are empty.

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And you know what? I’m so incredibly grateful for full hands. Children aren’t a burden. They are a blessing; one not everyone gets.

I read an article the other day about a writer who regretted having children and urged other people to reconsider having kids. My first thought was, “I hope her kids don’t read her article one day.” Not everyone wants to have kids and that’s fine. But they deserve to be treasured once they’re here.

The argument was that you would have far more money, could advance your career, travel and have more “me-time” if you didn’t have kids. While all of that is true, children give so much joy to your life.

If it weren’t for my three, I would never have learned how to love someone more than myself. Sure, you can love a spouse, but there are still strings attached. If they hurt you badly enough, you walk away. Not with kids; that love surpasses all limitations.

Hannah is a result of my stubborn will to become a mother after my first pregnancy ended in miscarriage. I desperately wanted my son Jayden after falling in love with motherhood and my daughter Sydney was the happy ending to a year-long heartache for the child I knew would complete our family.

When you tell me, “Your hands are full!” I want to tell you, “If you think my hands are full, you should see my heart!”

And I would tell you except I don’t have time to stop. As you can see, I have three little ones to hold tight. My hands are never empty.

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.

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I was not a confident child . As a matter of fact, when I was my oldest daughter’s age I was evaluated for speech therapy because I was very quiet in class. Turns out my speech was fine. It was my confidence that needed work.

Looking back, I can see that my mom wasn’t a very confident woman. I wish she had known just how awesome she was. Confidence was something I had to slowly build over the course of my life, but I knew I had to help my oldest daughter so that she wouldn’t have to work quite as hard as I did.

Hannah is my mini-me; quiet and thoughtful, smart, shy, and very hard on herself. I’ve learned so much about who I am and who I want to be by raising her. Naturally, I don’t want her to have the same hang-ups that held me back. I’ve kept a watchful eye over the years and I’ve done my best to help her build confidence.

Here are four things that have really helped.

1. Enlist Her Teacher’s Help – Sometimes no matter how much we reassure our children, they need to hear it from someone else. I walked into my daughter’s Kindergarten orientation and as soon as the presentation was over I made a bee-line for her teacher.

I told him that Hannah is extremely bright, but very sensitive and hard on herself. She could already read before the start of school and I knew she could be pushed to excel in school, but it would have to come in the form of many gentle nudges. I asked for his help in making her feel okay about making mistakes, and encouraging her to answer questions.

I didn’t raise my hand in class much as a kid, not because I didn’t know the answer, but because I was afraid of being wrong. To his credit, he is an amazing teacher. He pointed out his own mistakes (like the time he accidentally wrote on the smart board with a permanent marker) so the kids would see that even teachers make mistakes. If she cried because she didn’t know the answer on a test, he reassured her it was fine.

At each parent/teacher conference, I made it my mission to find out more than the academic picture of my daughter’s development. I wanted to know how she interacted with the other kids, how her confidence was developing, if she cried at all, how she was overcoming the challenges of new material, and if she asked for help.

By the end of the year, her confidence was really starting to grow and it has continued to grow.  Every year, I always ask the same types of questions at every single parent/teacher conference.

2. Encourage Her in Math and Science – I can’t tell you how many times growing up I heard my mother say she was bad at math. Most of the time she deferred to my step-dad to help me with any and all math homework.

To this day I still think I’m bad at math, but honestly I was always a B student in math. That’s not really bad, but perhaps somewhere along the lines I made the association that too many girls do – that we’re just not good at math and science.

At my last parent-teacher conference with Hannah’s fourth grade teacher, she told me that Hannah is gifted. That’s not news to me. She was always reading a few grade levels ahead in school. What took me by surprise was the subject. She said Hannah’s state test scores in math were well above the district average and that she wanted to put Hannah in a special math group, which meets before school once a week and competes in math competitions. The group is primarily for 5th and 6th graders.

When I asked Hannah if she was interested I told her that she would probably see math problems she never had before and she had to be okay with that. She asked if they would teach her how to solve those problems and when I said yes she jumped at the opportunity.

I’m so glad she’s going to be challenged to excel in an area that many girls aren’t. I just know that when she has children of her own someday she’s not going to utter the phrase, “I’m no good at math.” That brings me to number 3.

3. Mind Your Words About Yourself – Like I said, the words my mother spoke over herself had an effect on me. I’m totally guilty of still saying things like, “I’m not very good at math,” but I still try to help her with her math homework whenever she asks. I know I’ve gotta watch what I say. My kids are always listening even if I think I’m just muttering something to myself.

My mom often said disparaging things about her looks too. I was very self-conscious of my own looks especially as a tween and teen. I’m not blaming it all on my mom, but I unconsciously learned to give a voice to my insecurities. I try really hard not to say bad things about myself or my looks in front of my daughter.

Girls look to their moms to understand their own self-worth. Be kind to yourself and they’ll learn to be kind to themselves too.

4. Encourage Leadership Skills – One of the best things I did was put Hannah in Girl Scouts. She’s gotten to meet with local business owners, our town judge and even our Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther. It’s great for the girls to meet influential women.

This year, they held mock elections to learn more about the election process. It was optional if the girls wanted to run for President and I was so proud that Hannah wanted to. Being in the spotlight was something I would have avoided as a kid.

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Hannah made campaign buttons for her Girl Scout Troop election.

She made campaign buttons and stood up in front of her peers and made a speech about why she would make a good President. My favorite part was when she said she wouldn’t be upset if they didn’t choose her.

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I’m so proud of Hannah and all the girls who went up to the podium to give speeches during her Girl Scout Troop election. The more girls practice leadership skills like public speaking when they’re younger, the less intimidating it will be when they get older.

I didn’t put any pressure on her, heck I didn’t even hear her speech until she delivered it to her troop on Election Day. To my surprise she won. She then had to run one of her troop meetings and pick a project they would work on.

I told her about Operation Christmas Cheer, a card writing project started by my fellow Hudson Valley Parent blogger Roxanne (aka The Whatever Mom) that sends holiday cards to kids who are very ill. She was all for it and that’s what her troop did during the meeting she had to run. I’m so proud of the girls.

It doesn’t have to be Girl Scouts. It could be sports or any activity that encourages your daughter to take a leadership role.

Hannah has already far surpassed me when I was her age. She’s taught me that confidence comes from practice. It’s slow and steady for some girls, but as long as we keep them moving in the right direction, we can help them reach their full potential. We are their moms, and we have more power than we know.

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.

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The Pressure of the Holidays

This time of year is filled with joy and excitement for the holidays. There is so much pressure on parents to give their kids a “good holiday” with lots of presents, big family meals and seven foot tall trees trimmed to perfection. The magic of the holidays seems to come at a high price between stress and money. I wonder how much of the pressure we put on ourselves is even worth it.

Remembering Sandy Hook

No matter what I do lately I feel haunted by the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We’re coming up on the fourth anniversary on December 14th. I think of those small children who were looking forward to the holidays too. I wonder how many of them sat on Santa’s lap, played in the snow in oversized coats and snow pants, decorated trees or were crossing the days off on their calendars.

Ties That Bind

It wasn’t the first shooting I had ever seen unfold on live television. That would be the shooting at Columbine High School. That happened my freshman year of college and it was horrific, but something about this one at Sandy Hook has scarred my heart. Those kids were just babies. The difference was that by the time this tragedy occurred I was a parent myself. I could feel the universal love we all have for our kids. It’s perhaps the strongest tie that binds us together.

Tragedy can be found anywhere, on any day. I have to turn off the news so my empathetic heart doesn’t break all the time. But I owe those parents who lost children in the shooting at Sandy Hook a huge debt of gratitude. I owe it to them to remember that their children changed the way I appreciate my own.

Honoring the Children Lost

Those twenty little faces remind me to forgive just a little bit quicker when my kids are misbehaving. They remind me to hold a little tighter and not to get annoyed at the “one more kiss” goodnight, which is always more like six or seven. I might be tired and just want to finish my nightly routine so I can go to bed, but I remember that there are parents who would kill for one more kiss goodnight. So I open the door one more time when I hear my toddler’s sweet voice calling for “kisses, more kisses.”

The Magic of One More Kiss Goodnight

We get so wrapped up in holiday magic and giving our kids more than we had. We sometimes forget that our kids supply the magic. Every time they look at you like you are their sun and moon, they remind us that we already are everything they need and we already give them everything they could want.

So this holiday season forgive yourself if you fall short of holiday perfection. If you don’t pose an elf on a shelf (I know I sure as heck don’t), if you burn the Christmas cookies, if you can’t afford a dozen presents per child; it’s all okay. One day, if we’re really lucky they will remember us, our faces, around a tree or a table. What presents they opened or meals they ate, will have long been forgotten. Those are the details that blur on the edge of memory.

The best gift we can give them is just the best of us. A little more patience than we typically have, a smile big as life just because it’s been a couple of hours since we saw them last, and of course one more kiss goodnight.

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.

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As you can probably guess, as I’m typing this post I have a cold. I’m also wishing it were a “man cold” and not a “mom cold.” What’s the difference? Let me break it down for you.

What Is A “Man Cold?”

If I had a “man cold” I would be able to take off of work and take a nap. I could drink orange juice and hot soup and take some medicine that would make me sleep the afternoon away. I could focus on taking care of myself.  Instead, I have a “mom cold.”

Sickness Is Not On Our To-Do List

That means I’m up plugging away at the many things on my to-do list, despite my deep desire just to lie down and rest. I have laundry that needs to be done, a dishwasher that needs to be unloaded before dishes start piling up in the sink since I seem to be the only one capable of looking to see that it needs to be emptied, oh and my toddler decided to boycott her nap again today so I don’t even get a few hours to drag my butt through these tasks without chasing her around pulling her off the couch, which she has learned to body surf down this morning.

Hit By A Bus

If you’ve been following my posts for a while you know that I love my husband, like L O V E love him and I’m always bragging about him, but today I’m going to throw him under the bus, along with half the men in the US. And you know who’s sitting in this bus with me, all the other moms I know. We are so tired of getting stuck with the “mom cold,” while you men are allowed to wallow in your misery.

We Helped Create The Monster

But it’s not all your fault. No, we played a part in this. We take care of you when you’re not feeling well. We make you soup and dry toast and bring it to you in bed. We make sure the kids keep their voices down and don’t barge in the room a million times, interrupting the nap which is going to propel you back into good health.

We carry on with every task we normally do and exempt you from it all. Why? Because we’re moms. Caring for our family is what we do. And because thankfully you aren’t sick that often.

As a work at home Mom I know I have it easier than a lot of work outside the home moms. If I were really feeling horrible, I’d just focus on getting my blogging work done and let the housework go and deal with the avalanche of mess when I’m feeling better. Though the day you crawl out of your covers to find that nobody cleaned up the half a box of cereal that spilled on the floor is so NOT fun.

The Part Inequality In The Workplace Plays

Most working moms I know don’t even take a day off of work unless they feel like death. Why? Because they are saving their sick days for when their children are sick and need to take off to care for them. Why aren’t men taking off more time to care for their sick kids?

It may be attributed to the breakdown of differences for men and women in the workforce. Men typically get paid more than women. They take off less time when their children are born and less time when their kids are sick or off of school.

It’s less detrimental to a man’s career that he has a family than a woman’s if she has children. Why? Because we are the caregivers (primarily). Not, that it makes it right.

The “Mom Cold” Mentality

It’s really pretty sucky and it all contributes to the “mom cold” mentality that we have to power through even when we feel really awful. Moms can’t afford to be sick.

Even if this were more than a cold, like say the stomach bug, I know my kids need to eat even if the thought of lunch makes me lose mine. My husband will pick up medicine and take out for dinner if I’m really sick and that helps. I appreciate it. But you know what all moms need?

The Thing Moms NEED Most

Men, we need you to take off work and take over sometimes. We need the same rest and care we afford you during your “man colds.” We need you to put out the figurative fires, take care of the chores and keep the kids alive till morning.

We need you to put your career on the back burner. Not forever, but just for one day. Heck, we’ll settle for a half-day.

We don’t expect you to single-handedly close the wage gap. We don’t expect that you can change the perception of care-giving roles for men and women all by yourselves, but you can do us a solid.

The next time we feel sick, give us the gift of having a “man cold” instead of a “mom cold.” Pick up the slack and do what needs to be done. Why? Because we do it for you ALL…THE….TIME and we deserve it.

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.

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I love the idea of doing holiday portraits, but the thought alone sends me into an anxiety-ridden tailspin. I have to get three kids dressed in holiday attire, do their hair, and get them to the portrait studio on time. Then I pray we get a photographer who takes their time and makes sure we have several shots to choose from. This means photos without blinking, super cheesy grins (my son Jayden’s favorite smile) or too much head tilt (Hannah and I are notorious head-tilters).

Then there is the really hard task of getting the toddler to both look at the camera and smile, which is no easy feat especially when dealing with a photographer she doesn’t know. So, when my neighbor and best friend Allison offered to do a holiday photo shoot at her house, I was like, “Yeah, sign me up.”

If you want to create some rocking holiday cards this year, you can save some money and stress by doing it yourself. Here are 5 easy steps.

1. Set The Stage – Create your own portrait studio by setting up a backdrop. My friend Allison draped a simple white sheet from her back sliding glass door and put three small stools underneath the bottom half. Presto, instant studio. You can even get out your holiday decorations and throw some props in the shot or have your kids hold a wrapped present.

My friend and neighbor Allison was the photographer for our holiday photo shoot. I returned the favor for her family.

My friend and neighbor Allison was the photographer for our holiday photo shoot. I returned the favor for her family.

2. Get A Photographer – If you just want your kids in the shot, you can take your own holiday portrait, but if you want the whole family have a friend or family member come over to help you. You just need a steady hand, a decent digital camera and the patience to take a lot of shots. You want plenty to choose from.Get creative and experiment with different camera angles and position family members in different ways to get a variety of shots. Be sure to take some funny shots in between to both lighten the mood and get it out of your kids systems so they can focus on nice smiles for the other pictures.My friend Allison photographed my family and I did hers. It worked out great.screenshot-2016-11-21-11-44-02
3. Do Some Basic Photo Editing
– Free photo editing websites like picmonkey make it super easy to do basic editing like resizing, cropping and even red eye reduction. If you’re feeling creative, you can play around with different features like adding text, overlays and fun holiday inspired themes.

I played around with some of the features on picmonkey and created a whimsical card for my family.

The whimsical holiday card I created using pickmonkey.
4. Pick A Card
– If you want to do less photo editing, you can just pick a ready-made design on sites like Shutterfly or Walmart.com and add your photo to it. Then pick your size, quantity and pay. No muss, no fuss.

5. Print It – If you design the holiday card yourself, you can simply print them at home on nice photo paper. The other option is to upload it to your favorite retailer that does photo printing like Walmart, Target or Walgreens.If your best friend is a photographer a DIY holiday card is a no-brainer, but honestly anyone can take a good photo.Remember the cardinal rule of portrait photography – aim for faces, not spaces. So zoom in when you can, but don’t worry if there’s still a lot of white space. You can always crop it. My favorite part of creating my own holiday card this year was that it’s practically free except for the cost of printing and mailing the cards. It also was so much less stressful than heading to a portrait studio. We literally waited for my toddler to get up from her afternoon nap, got everyone dressed and drove two seconds to my neighbor’s house. It was fun because everyone was relaxed and we got to create memories with our friends. We even did some fun group shots at the end.

So rock your holiday card this year. You got this!

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.

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When we become grownups, we sometimes forgot what really makes the holidays a magical time of year. We think we can purchase it at the store. We try so hard to either give our kids the kind of childhood we had or one that is better.

If we really think back, childhood itself is what’s magical. It’s the time in our lives where parents still live on pedestals, special meals have more to do with who we’re sitting next to than what’s being served, and we see the beauty in the small things like the twinkling of lights or the magnificent height of a pine tree.

Here are 17 ways to make your child’s holiday magical without spending a lot of money.

  1. Take them to a tree lighting ceremony in your community.
  2. Decorate your tree together if you have one.
  3. Take a trip to New York City at Christmas time if you can. Between the ginormous decorated tree at Rockefeller Center, ice skating and incredible light and window displays, this time of year NYC is a magical place to visit.
  4. Read books to them that teach them the stories of your religious connection to the holidays.
  5. Bake cookies and make baskets/plates to give to friends and neighbors.

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  6. Sing songs that get you in the mood for the holidays. It’s okay if it’s loud, silly and completely off key.
  7. Share a special meal with friends and family. The longer it’s been since you’ve seen them, the more magical it will be. My kids are excited to see their cousins since it’s been a few months since we’ve seen them last.
  8. Build snow castles. I still remember the igloo style castle my Dad and I made together twenty-odd years ago.
  9. Have a day where you gather all your craft supplies and go crazy making decorations for the house. It really doesn’t matter if they aren’t “Martha Stewart worthy.” It’s more about the process; the messier the better. Just throw down some newspaper and have fun.
  10. Take a tour of the best light displays in the Hudson Valley. You don’t need to go to elaborate displays that cost money if you don’t want to. Simply pile in the car in your pajamas with some hot cocoa in travel mugs and try to find the best lights in your area.
  11. Go sledding and/or snow tubing with your kids. Find a decent hill in your neighborhood or at a local park and spend the day riding down with your kids. We always have a blast with our kids.
  12. Have hot cocoa on a cold winter day. Add special toppings like marshmallows, whipped cream, mints or add a candy cane stirrer. It’s extra special after a day of playing in the snow.
  13. Make snow art. A few years ago I gave my kids squirt bottles filled with water and food coloring. Make a few different colors and put them in different types of containers like an empty spray bottle, a watering can, or a soda bottle with a hole drilled in the cap. Anything that could be used to make art on the beautiful white canvas will fuel their imaginations.
  14. Play Name That Tune – Holiday Edition by making loud kisses on your kid’s cheeks to the tune of your favorite holiday song and have them guess what song it is. Then they could take a turn by doing the same to your cheek.
  15. Bundle up and take a winter hike. View the majesty of local trails in a breathtaking winter landscape.
  16. Pick a charity project together. Head to the toy store and have your child help you pick out a toy for a child in need. Then donate it to your favorite charity/toy drive.

    My kids had fun filling boxes with small toys and toiletries for Operation Christmas Child a few years ago. It helps to have them pick out toys for children their ages. It could be any charity project that interests you. The point is to focus their heart on giving rather than just receiving this holiday season.

  17. Visit Santa – If you are at all inclined to make Santa a part of your holiday traditions, then this is a magical no-brainer. A jolly old man who delivers toys to all the girls and boys by flying his sleigh driven by flying reindeer around the world in a single night. Yes, Santa pretty much epitomizes magic. You can take photos with Santa for free at Adams Fairacre Farms.

    Kids don’t need you to spend a fortune on them to have a magical holiday. My dad used to say that he’d buy me a toy and I’d play with the box. Kids simply need you to get involved and use your imagination. They supply the magic.

    What are your favorite free holiday activities?

    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.

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Gratitude is the big buzz word this time of year. With all the focus on Thanksgiving and charity projects for the holidays, the blogosphere is flooded with articles about gratitude and giving back. But what happens once the holiday season is over?

I don’t know about you, but I hope to raise children that know that gratitude is something you have all the time, not just a few times a year. The holidays are a great time to jump start their gratitude journey. Here are 5 ways to cultivate their attitude for gratitude all year long.

1. Scouting & Service Clubs – I’m a big fan of scouting.  A huge focus of scouting is on teaching children community responsibility. They participate in many community service projects throughout the year. They also go on outings that show them how businesses run, learn about the electoral process (my daughter’s Girl Scout troop is holding Girl Scout elections next week), and help them take ownership over making their community a better place for everyone.

Scouting challenges them to figure out how they can make an impact on the world. As a kid, it might be easy to think that there is nothing they can do, but scouting really helps them see that anyone can make a difference. It encourages them to become leaders who care. A key to cultivating gratitude is making kids responsible for their world.

It doesn’t have to be scouting, any club whose focus is on community service will create the same feeling of ownership. Key club is one example. Key Club is an organization for high school students sponsored by Kiwanis International that aims to help the children of the world through community service projects.

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My kids like doing things for the community. One day last spring I mentioned to the kids that I noticed a lot of litter in our neighborhood and said we should pick it up. They kept reminding of my idea until one day we scoured the neighborhood for trash and picked it up. They actually enjoyed it.

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2. Daily Reminders – Every night I pray with my kids as a part of our nightly routine. I start by thanking God for the day (because I believe every day is a gift) and then I thank him for our many blessings. When my son can’t think of what to pray, I suggest he tell God one thing that he’s thankful for. That often spurs him to come up with several things he’s grateful for.

While it comes in the form of prayer in my house, you don’t have to be religious to start these daily talks with your kids about gratitude. You can make it a part of your daily dinner conversation or at bedtime. What’s important is that they get a fresh reminder every day about their many blessings including having a home, food, heat in the winter, and a family that loves them. It’s good for parents to participate too. We all need a reminder sometimes, especially when we’ve had a tough day.

3. Find Out What Drives Them – This time of year is filled with drives – coat drives, food drives and toys drives, so it’s a great time to get kids thinking about making donations and giving back. It takes some of the focus off of receiving gifts and puts it on giving. After all being able to give a gift actually is a gift in and of itself.

But don’t let the motivation to give die with the holidays. Keep it alive all year long. Find out what they really enjoy doing for the community and make a plan to do it regularly whether that’s once a week or once a month.

If they loved collecting non-perishable goods for a food drive, find a local food pantry to make regular donations too. If they loved donating toys to kids in need, find a local children’s charity that you can help throughout the year.

There are so many worthy causes, but we tend to give where our heart is and helping children find out what causes they are passionate about will set them up for a lifetime of giving and volunteering. The holidays are the perfect time of year to explore what fuels their compassion.

 4. Talk About Income Differences – Although my kids heard me talk about our family budget a lot, they didn’t often hear me talk about income disparities between families. That is, until the face of hunger came knocking at my door – literally. When a little girl in the neighborhood wasn’t getting enough food at home and was coming to our house for dinner, I knew I had to have a talk with my kids. It really helped them to understand that not everyone has their basic needs met all the time. It was a real eye-opener for them.

I think sometimes we want to protect our kids from feeling bad so we don’t talk about it. But I think it’s important to explain to them how different families have different income levels, especially before the kids discuss their presents with their friends at school after the holidays. You can’t cultivate lifelong gratitude if your kids think everyone has the same access to even basic needs.

We all forget how lucky we are sometimes. It’s normal to get caught up in the details of life and miss the bigger picture. The best way we can grow grateful kids is be grateful parents. The more we remind ourselves of our blessings, the more our kids will learn by watching us. One of the best lessons we can teach our kids is that no matter how much or little we have, there is always something to be grateful for.

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.

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This week we’re finishing up a fairly large home renovation and believe me when I say I’ll be so relieved when it’s over. Having major work done can be stressful enough, but throw three cooped up kids into the mix and I’m really testing the limits of my patience. Here are some tips to survive the renovation process with kids at home.

1. Stay Away From Home As Much As Possible – If I could have afforded to take the kids away on a mini-vacation and return when our home was all finished, I totally would have. It’s not just keeping the kids out of areas of the home that are being worked on that’s hard, it’s keeping them happy in the now limited space they’re allowed to be in. We put in hardwood flooring on our whole main level which includes the kitchen, dining and living space which is a large open concept floor plan.

When we remodeled our basement into our master bedroom a few years ago, it was MUCH easier on the family because we hardly ever used our basement anyway. With the majority of our living space restricted this time around, it’s been a lot harder. For the most part we’ve hunkered down in our master bedroom with all the kids until bedtime when we take them up to their rooms.

The thing that’s saved my sanity and theirs the most was getting out of the house. I was so grateful the older kids had school most of the week except for Friday. Thankfully, my neighbor was home on Friday and we spent the day hanging out there.

My advice for making the process as stress-free as possible is to get out of the house as much as you can. If you have the money, go on a little vacation, maybe stay with some friends or family or just take some short local trips to places you’ve been meaning to check out.

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Our carpeted stairs got a makeover.

2. Keep Favorite Toys Accessible – The world would end if I didn’t have access to my two-year-old’s favorite doll Lisa. She literally MUST go everywhere with my child. Whatever your children’s must-have toys are, keep them accessible for them and you’ll both be a lot happier. My bedroom which had been a toy-free haven, has been covered in kids’ toys this week, but it’s a sanity saving must during a home renovation.

3. Back To Baby Gates – If you can’t keep your kids out of the house for the entire renovation, safety is a big concern. Even though we had stopped using baby gates a while ago, we borrowed a gate from a neighbor to put at the top of the stairs. This way the kids wouldn’t just come down on their own into the heart of the construction zone.

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Living room before.

 

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Living room after.

We used the baby monitor to tell when they got up in the morning and went and brought them safely downstairs. We also went and bought the kids slippers so that they wouldn’t hurt their toes on the subfloor before the new flooring went down. Whatever you can do to ensure they don’t accidentally get hurt on construction debris will not only keep them safe, it will help your stress levels tremendously.

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Dinning room getting a new sliding glass door.

4. Prepare For More – Whenever you do a home renovation project you can count on two things. It’s going to cost more money and take more time than you originally planned. The best thing you can do for yourself and your kids is not give them a definitive date when the renovation will be over. Kids have a hard time waiting as it is and even harder time coping when things don’t go according to plan. Giving them a time frame of when your home and family routine will be back to normal is a better bet.

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Kitchen before new flooring and cabinets getting new paint. Cabinets will also be getting new pulls.

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Kitchen after.

Though it’s usually well worth it in the end, home renovation can be a stressful event for adults and kids alike. Making light of a stressful time can make it a lot easier. When we had to eat in our bedroom instead of the dining room, we had a picnic on a tarp. The kids thought it was fun and not worrying about the kids dropping food on the new carpet we put in a year ago made me a less stressed out mommy. Playing games or watching movies as a family can help ease tensions from being cramped up in smaller spaces. Happy renovating!

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.

 

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