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Did you know about this adorable, family friendly Teddy Bear museum in Marbletown? During a fall open house, my family and I visited the Den which is set back from the road on 209. The Den of Marbletown is simply adorable and perfect for any teddy bear fanatic! There are a ton of different bears displayed and opportunities to learn the history of the teddy bear, the Steiff Company and the museum location.

The Basten family farm house was converted to a bed and breakfast and has expanded to include a teddy bear collection museum. The original collection belongs to the owner’s mother and many of the temporary exhibits include her personal favorites.

The Steiff Company has been around since 1880 and has been delighting children and adults of all ages and stages with stuffed animals. From plush baby safe cuddle blankets to luxurious fiber collectible bears for adults.

When we arrived my girls could hardly contain their excitement. They were surrounded by thousands of stuffed loves all in need of a good hug (according to the six year olds, not the store staff). After touring the gift shop we took the self-guided tour to learn more about the history of the museum and the teddy bear. We wound our way through each room filled with displays of adorably staged stuffed animals.  And just when we thought we were at the end we found the upstairs portion of this old Farm House was also converted to hold exhibits. Each room in The Den has a theme and is filled with adorable dioramas of teddy bear hijinks.


There is an overload of teddy bears and stuffed animals throughout the museum, but in a small converted closet in one upstairs room there are plenty of old school Barbie Dolls and Madame Alexander Dolls. Across the hall from that exhibit, there is a special room called the, “Mama Bear Lounge.” This room was designed with working moms in mind. Moms are encourage to grab a coffee and their lap top and let the little ones play. Or, meet up with other moms for play dates. There is a toy box filled with blocks and other toys and a soft carpeted area for kids to play. There is free Wi-Fi where moms can get a little work done, or take a break and scroll through Facebook. The small room behind the mama bear lounge is the “kids cub cave.” It’s a small room where the kids can climb in and out of a faux cave, or grab a game or coloring page from the shelves to play at the table.



One unique feature we did not experience is renting a guest room to spend a night at the museum. This would be an incredible birthday experience for any kid age 6 or older to sleep that close to so many squeezable bears. There is also a café and snack area inside, as well as picnic area just outside. The website boasts a picnics to go service, local fresh baked goods and a marvelous closet filled with extra amenities.

You can tell the folks in charge really put a lot of thought into the details. This museum is perfect for your teddy bear enthusiast age six and older. There are many exhibits behind glass, or under display boxes, but still many places they can hold a stuffed animal.  More active kids will love the mama bear lounge area.

Keep an eye on the Den News section on the website to check out some of the fun events planned at the house. Some previous events include a teddy bear tea, cookie decorating, jewelry making and art workshops.  The admission price to the museum is really affordable at $2.00 per adult, and $1.00 for kids to age 17 (under 1 are free) and a family rate of just $5.00. Pack a lunch and make this an affordable fun day out learning a little history and enjoying the bears!

Photo credit: The Den of Marbletown website.

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. 

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!”


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


When I was growing up we didn’t have a lot of traditions. We actually mixed things up year to year. There are a few traditions I keep up with my own children, and we introduce a new one here and there. But one tradition that remains the same year after year is our tradition of charitable giving.

I began our first charitable efforts at my twins’ second birthday party. I asked friends to donate one non-perishable food item.  As we were collecting items I told the girls where our donations will go. They probably did not fully understand. But they did help me make our final donations. Charity starts at home and making it an activity during the holiday season helps lay a strong foundation of generosity for my children to build upon.

This year we continue our efforts to send Christmas cards to local kids staying in the hospital and writing letters to soldiers stationed overseas. It isn’t always money that has the greatest impact; sometimes it’s just a thoughtful act that sparks a feeling of being remembered. Every human being wants to feel like they matter.

Here are some simple ways to give back this year:

Leave cookies for your neighbors.

Clean out your closet and donate gently used clothing, books and toys.

Donate gently used household goods like dishes, linens and appliances to families in need.

Bring homemade cards and baked goods to your local fire house, or police station.

Have an ornament making party with friends and deliver to a local nursing home.

Shake hands with your mail carrier.

Greet your garbage collector with a hot cup of cocoa.

Hold the door open for an elderly shopper.

Let someone take your parking spot on a busy day.

Help your child write a personal letter to their teacher thanking them for their hard work.

We often think we need to buy gifts to show our appreciation, or show someone we care; when really it is the little things that add up to bigger moments. Someone may be having a bad day when they cut the line in front of you, or they may feel like no one appreciates their job collecting refuse. Offering kindness at Christmas and all year is the perfect gift!

If your children are older and want to help in bigger ways perhaps helping them earn money, or make a donation will fill their desire to give back. I shared this list with you last year, but I have found five more local charities to share this year!



HUDSON VALLEY HERO PROJECT- A local non-profit providing aid and caring support to veteran’s right here in the Hudson Valley. 

CHRISTMAS WISHES ULSTER COUNTY– A local non-profit bringing gifts to families in need in Ulster County.  Accepting monetary donations through the year, and toy donations in November. 

GRANTING WISHES FOR CANCER KIDS ON CHRISTMAS – adopts families with children going through cancer treatment. Families paying health care coverage, premiums and co-pays for children with cancer often struggle at Christmas. 

ANGELS OF LIGHT HUDSON VALLEYA local non-profit whose mission is to provide Holiday Giving for Children and Families with life threatening illness in the Hudson Valley, NY.

HABITAT FOR HUMANITY RESTORE– located in Ulster and Dutchess counties. The mission is to provide stable home ownership for members of our own community. You can donate $20 to purchase a board that will be used in building a Habitat home; or you can shop at one of their Restore locations. These thrift shops include appliances, furniture, home goods and décor at the fraction of retail prices. Recycling these quality goods into your gift giving saves you money and the planet, and proceeds are cycled back to your neighbors in need.

You don’t have to give big to give back. You can do small, age appropriate acts of kindness, or charitable projects with your children. If we all do one small thing for our community this Christmas it will have a big impact on our neighbors through out the year.

Share some inspiration: what family traditions do you have that make it feel more like Christmas?

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. 


Related posts: Granting Christmas Wishes for Local Families Give a Kid The Gift of Swag Charity Starts at Home- 7 Ways to Give Back With Kids In Tow


Last week I shared with you 8 No Crap Christmas Gift Ideas that will leave you with very little to take care of after the wrapping hits the floor. Actually, I leaked that post one week earlier than planned. I was leaving for vacation and technology was not my friend when I tried to schedule my post to arrive while I was away. Whoops! Oh well, you know how I roll without perfection these days.

This week I want to introduce you to a really fantastic local charity that is helping families all over Ulster County receive their Christmas wishes. This non-profit organization was created in 2014 by Melissa Banks who was looking for a simple way to pay it forward. Melissa had just come through some difficulties as a single mom and had just finished up her degree. She really wanted to share her gratitude by helping someone else. Melissa posted a request for families looking for help in a local moms Facebook group. The response she received was phenomenal since she was only expecting one or two names. As the list grew she began asking for help making these Christmas wishes come true. Before she knew it Christmas Wishes Ulster County was created.


Melissa doesn’t receive any direct funding for gift purchases, or supplies. She relies solely on the generous support of volunteers; all funds raised goes directly to serving local families.  What began as a do-good deed for around 70 families has grown to serve over 600 families in 2016. It takes a lot of donations and volunteers to help sort and wrap the donated gifts. It also takes a lot of time to vet and cross check each application with other local agencies offering holiday help.  This year Melissa and her team are moving to a larger location to accommodate the amount of gifts, approximately 3-4 per child, needed to help so many families.


Christmas may be Melissa’s favorite time of year to help families, but she actually helps collect, pack and deliver back packs and school supplies for the new school year; and Thanksgiving dinners to families in need. She also hosts fund raising events at Easter, Valentine’s Day, Halloween and holds a birthday raffle for one family per month.  When I asked Melissa what has kept her reaching beyond the original families she began helping she shares, “I do it for the end result. One year we had a mom with cancer and we were able to help her get gifts for her children. She was so grateful. People’s reactions can be deeply touching.”


Melissa also shares how much her son is learning and growing by participating in her altruistic venture. If you would like to help contribute to Melissa’s vision of making Christmas wishes come true, or bring your young child to volunteer, please contact her at christmaswishesuc@gmail, 845-853-0496 or like the Christmas Wishes Ulster County page on Facebook for updates and details. All toy donations must be in by December 5th to allow for enough time to disperse the gifts to families on December 10th. Any financial contributions made will receive a letter for tax deduction.

If you are looking for additional local organizations to donate to this year please find my Hudson Valley Charitable Giving Guide. You can print it out to make your charitable planning even easier.

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. 

The month of September is designated as Pediatric Cancer Awareness month which is a cause very near and dear to my heart. My niece is a 14 year cancer survivor and I saw first hand just how deeply this disease effected her and my entire family. To honor her and the many thousands of children fighting today we #gogold every September.

We also pick a childhood cancer charity to support and raise funds for. This will be our third year supporting the Miles for Mac Charity 5K Run/Walk. The event takes place in Dutchess County, and is scheduled for Saturday, October 8th – 10AM Mill Road Elementary School Red Hook, NY.

Besides the 5K portion of the day, families can expect to find food trucks, raffles and fun photo ops. Since it takes place at an elementary school there are several playgrounds for kids to enjoy. Everyone is encouraged to participate in their favorite Halloween costume in honor of Mac. In fact, there are awards given for best costume! With a touch-a-truck, DJ, face painting and games there is a little something for everyone.


Even though we participate in the many fun things offered at this event, the reason behind it is heartbreaking. For the last two years teams have gathered to run or walk the event in honor of a little boy named MacAlister, also known as “Mac” to family and friends. Mac was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma (an aggressive cancer) at age 16 months after his parents noticed some unusual patterns in his sleep and moods. At a very tender age he endured several surgeries, 14 rounds of chemo, radiation, and clinical drug trials. This beautiful little boy named Mac battled for eight months before he passed away at age two.


His mothers Emily and Lyndsey, along with their community, honor Mac’s short life each year at this Run/Walk and family fun day. They also work hard to raise awareness about Neuroblastoma and much needed funds for Neuroblastoma research. In just two years, Mac’s family and friends have donated over $30,000 to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.


Pediatric cancer research receives less than 4% of the billions of dollars dedicated to cancer research each year. The chemo therapies used are not designed for small children and are at least thirty years old. There are long term effects such as learning disabilities, infertility, weakened immune systems, heart defects, and skeletal defects- these only top the list. So if a child survives cancer there is no guarantee they won’t relapse, or face permanent health issues for life. Research teams need funding to develop less invasive drug treatments and therapies, to discover ways to increase quality of life after treatment and obviously, a cure.

You can register your family to participate in the 5K event, or make a donation directly online. You don’t need to do the run/walk portion of the event. You can make a donation online before you arrive and enjoy the family friendly festivities. There will be a chance to purchase raffle tickets for items provided by local merchants. Every dollar taken in through this event is sent directly to research. There is no overhead or salaries taken from the money raised by this event. Donations are tax deductible and you can request a letter to document your donation.

Donating locally ensures you are helping local families. Donating to cancer research ensures you are helping find a cure for everyone. Get all the updates about the event and find a listing of raffle items by following along on the events Facebook page.

You can register for the event but clicking here.

To learn more about Neuroblastoma click here.

To learn how you can be a voice for pediatric cancer, watch this video and sign the petition at the end:


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. 

Tucked away on a tiny lot which you probably pass every time you make your way through the village of Catskill, is the Catamount. This kooky little people’s museum is fun for all ages. It is quite unique and if you pass by too quickly you will miss it. It sits just above street level and blends right into the greenery and the remains of an old brick foundation. The Catamount is completely hand built and the brain child of local artist Matt Bua. You can read Matt’s blog to see conceptual sketches, ideas and events held at the museum.


What makes this museum truly unique is that it is a “people’s museum.” All the exhibits inside the belly of the bobcat are donated by members of the community, strangers stopping by and local historical organizations. You will find maps, water color paintings, a carved wooden cat puppet, newspaper articles and much more. Even you are welcome to leave behind a little work of art, a map, or a note. Have fun signing the guest book and looking through to see how far people travel to visit.

Catamount 1

Catamount 2

Catamount 3

The bobcat was installed in 2010 and it was only supposed to stay for one year. But this heart warming feline has grown on the city of cats and folks here have let it stay. Would you believe I drove passed this spot for a year to schlep my kids to preschool and I never noticed the 15 foot cat?!

We found out about this amazing little place through the Follow That Book program at the Catskill Public Library. Librarians Miss Jennifer and Miss Crystal put together a wonderful tour and story time. My girls even enjoyed a game of ping pong using a wooden plank for a paddle. Why not? The entire Catamount is made out of recycled and found objects. Even the eyes are made from old plates and light bulbs. At night you can see them glowing. So it is only fitting we used planks of wood we foud lying around to create our paddles.

Between ping pong and story time we enjoyed a lovely picnic inside the bobcat. Then it was time to chat with the artist himself. He was really great with helping the kids build their own sculpture from found objects. He let the kids take total control of the project and simply guided them with, “where do you feel that piece belongs?” It was educational, interesting and different than your usual story time.

Tips if you plan to visit: Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at the table inside the museum, or spread out a blanket on the grass nearby.

Bring plenty of bug spray. Even though it is a small lot it is quite lush with greenery.

Be sure to stop by Coney Island just up the street (walking distance) for ice cream and fun kiddie rides. Take your picture with the tiny Statue of Liberty.

Bring a camera!

Bring a small piece of history or your own hand crafted artwork to leave behind.

If you just can’t get enough cats in your visit, be sure to find parking on Main Street and take the walking tour of painted cats. You can find a map at the Greene County Arts Council, or just walk on your own. If you stop by the arts council check out the latest exhibits!

Check out the secret gardens planted between buildings on Main St.

Cool off at the library in the kids books section and pick up your calendar for Follow That Book.

Stop for lunch at Village Pizza or the Garden Gate Deli. Both places are kid friendly, affordable and really yummy!

For a really small village there sure is a lot of free art to see and fun things to find! The girls and I truly enjoyed the day. We can’t wait to make a trip back to leave behind our own piece of history.

 painted catsPainted cat 2painted cat 3

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. 



It’s really sickening to turn on the TV or go online and see murder splashed across the headlines. It’s happening all the time. One day it’s a black man shot and killed by cops and another it’s a black man killing cops. You know what the common denominator is? People are being senselessly killed; taken from their families. I struggle with how to protect my kids in a violent world, but what I struggle with more is what to tell my biracial son about how black lives matter both applies to him and yet doesn’t all at the same time.

My husband is biracial himself. He’s half white and half black. He’s very familiar with the feeling of not quite fitting in. He’s not considered white, but also not considered black enough, but only by people who don’t know him. People that know him, just call him Will.

It’s even harder to categorize my children by their race as they are very light skinned, but aren’t quite white either. I thought my children would be identified as white by those that don’t know them until I ran a daycare and one of the children told me, “There’s a Jayden in my class. But he’s white.” After that, I no longer have any clue how people will view my children. I actually welcome it when people ask me about my children’s race.

They are both black and white regardless of their skin color, or is that all the world cares about? My oldest daughter is the only one of my kids who has even mentioned the race question, but she just assumed our whole family is white. She only sees our sameness, where other people might see our differences.

I read a blog post from another mother of a biracial child. She goes into sorrowful detail about how she’s afraid her son will grow up to be shot for being a black man (no other reason than that). I get the very real concern. I do, but we must be careful not to teach our children that all cops are to be feared.

Fear is the slippery slope that people fall off and they often land in hatred. How is identifying a person’s goodness by the color of their uniform any different than identifying someone’s goodness by the color of their skin?

Daddy and Jay FishingThen there is the added rub for my son in the Black Lives Matter movement. His daddy is a law enforcement officer. Jayden understands him to be a cop because probation officer is a little harder of a concept for him to understand at six years old.

What Jayden knows is that daddy has a badge, carries a gun, and puts bad guys in jail. Daddy is a cop and daddy is also black (both black and white technically). So is daddy good or bad because he’s black or good or bad because he’s a cop?

Whenever we take the actions of some and have them stand for an entire population, stereotypes are born. When we use those stereotypes to propagate the murder of any human being it’s wrong whether it’s a cop or a person of color or any category of people at all. Murder is the epidemic we should be focused on.

My son wants to be a cop someday (at least right now, he is only six). If he does I will tell him to be careful. I want him to protect himself, as well as others. I hope he never has to fire a gun. Taking a life isn’t something you can easily live with. I don’t want people to see his uniform and think he’s one of the bad guys. I don’t want people to look at his skin and assume he’s white and that must mean he’s racist. I will raise him to know that he is both black and white, always one foot in each world.

We should all be in the same world; a world that should be disgusted by the taking of ANY human life. I understand the call to raise awareness that black lives matter, but some people have misinterpreted the mantra to be synonymous with cop lives don’t matter or ONLY black lives matter.

It scares me to send my boy into the world that will struggle to judge him instantly by the clothing he wears or the color of his skin. But I will teach him that no category of people is inherently good or bad. Each person is to be judged by their own character and actions.

I want him to be a person who follows the law. I want him to be a man of strong moral character. I want him to understand that all human life is precious regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, occupation, or any other category that can be used to box in people that will never be neatly categorized.

Years of fear and hatred don’t just disappear. I know I can’t change the world my children are living in, but I sure can shape the people they grow up to be. I want my kids to know that we are profoundly more similar than different and that you can never fight hate with hate. It’s like throwing gasoline on a fire, expecting it to act like water.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

He also said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

I will teach my beautiful biracial boy that every lost life is an affront to all of us. I’ll teach my son that Black Lives Matter is a call to action; a call to recognize an epidemic of black men being killed by police officers. I will tell him that there are people in the world who still see skin color as the easiest way to identify and place a value on people’s lives.

I’m sure he’ll figure out on his own one day that it’s going to be problematic for people to classify him in this simplistic way. His race will probably be questioned. If he grows up to be a police officer, his intentions and integrity will probably be questioned as well. But honestly, the only thing I can teach him that will make any real difference is that the categories we fall or don’t fall into will never supersede the most important one of all – human being.

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 been a crazy, busy, week-and-a-half since my kids started summer break. I just love the summer and all the things we get to do as a family from swimming, boating, BBQs with family, trips to county fairs, and of course vacation. But there’s one thing that is most definitely NOT on my summer agenda – homework.

My neighbor showed me a great big folder of worksheets her son’s teacher gave her students to do as homework this summer. I looked at her and said, “I won’t make my kids do homework this summer.” Before you go crazy on me. I’m not anti-learning over the summer. What I am is anti-homework.

Even though my kids are still in elementary school (my son just finished 1st grade and my daughter finished 3rd) they honestly work their butts off all year long. My third grader completed her state tests without a single anxiety attack, which is quite honestly a miracle. I guess my years of experience being a sensitive person are actually helping me teach my sensitive daughter that tests don’t define her. She also participated in the science fair.

I spent every week night sitting at the table with my son while he either sailed through his math worksheet or struggled and occasionally shed a few tears over his reading packet. Not only did they work so hard all day long, but they came home to more work. Frankly, so did I.

Now that it’s summer, I have no intention of sitting down with worksheets for homework time. That doesn’t mean I don’t want them to learn over the summer. Here are four activities we’ll do that are both educational and fun.

library kits

The library is always one of our summer destinations to encourage their love of reading.

1. Go To The Library – We’ve already been to the library twice in the short time school has been out. My kids love picking out books. They’ve each read between ten and twelve books, not because I said, “Okay let’s sit down and do homework,” not because I put the timer on like I had to for Jay each week night during the school year, and not because I want them to learn anything in particular. I let them be their own guide.

My daughter devours chapter books and my son alternates between fiction and non-fiction. I want them to have the joy of reading just for pleasure and no “homework” is going to give them that same joy. Books are also portable. We can take them along on our summer adventures. Our library also offers a summer reading program with lots of fun activities and outings.

2. Play Board Games – My son LOVES board games and I think many people overlook the valuable learning tools that many of them are. Scrabble is great for practicing spelling, Life and Monopoly are awesome for learning about money management and counting, and Battleship teaches logic and deduction. So many board games involve counting, problem-solving, and strategy. Games are a great way to keep their brains sharp, while having fun.

3. Go On Field Trips – I love raising kids in the Hudson Valley with so many great places to visit from nature museums, playgrounds, to historical sites like the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park. The summer is also filled with festivals where you can teach your children about different cultures while trying new food. Summer is the perfect time for all those field trips you couldn’t take during the school year. Get out and explore your community by planning a trip with or check for great events on Hudson Valley Parent’s Community Calendar.


Hannah Experiment

Hannah experimenting with food dye to see how flowers draw water up from their stems.

4. Let Them Play I think we underestimate just how important play is to children’s learning. My daughter loves to write and draw. She and her brother love to go through and pick out experiments to do from a book I bought for $5 at Aldi that contains 101 simple science experiments for kids. I love that they are exploring the wonders of the world through play. It also gives them a chance to explore their own interests, free from curriculum.

I’m a big proponent of education, but there are so many different ways that children learn. I will probably have my son practice his addition and subtraction facts this summer using educational websites because that’s his favorite way to practice. Beyond that, I plan to be out of the house every nice day, enjoying the many wonderful things the Hudson Valley has to offer.

They only have so many summers before they graduate high school and are off to college or thrust into the real world and I want to make as many memories as I can. I want every day to be filled with dirty feet, sun blown hair, wet bathing suits on my clothes line, and little people passed out in the backseat after a long day of amazing memories they’ll cherish forever (I know I will).

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.





We’ve seen a lot of sadness in our corner of the world this week.  Lots of loss, massive losses to our community, and none warranted or expected.  It’s been hard to get off my mind, as I’ve watched both adults and children question, mourn, and try to make sense of events that truly cannot be understood.  While life goes on, and we have no choice but to move forward, I find we also need to take time out to process, discuss, hug, cry, and be with one another.

As a mother, as a homeschooler, as a psychologist, I’ve tried to help my own children process loss the best way I know how.  As a point of self-disclosure, I’ll also share that we very unexpectedly lost one of our sweet cats this week, only three months after having to say goodbye to our other cat.  Experiencing this personal loss, while watching the world reel from the shock of horrific shootings and an alligator attack, was just too much.  To honor our feelings and those we were mourning, I felt it necessary to take time out to just be.  No one can change such earth-shattering tragedies, but we can ease ourselves through the process of coping with loss.

Allow Your Kids to Feel

So often, our society teaches us that the best way to comfort a child is to ease their sadness.  We can be quick to say, “Wipe away those tears,” “Don’t be sad, it’ll be okay,” or “Everything happens for a reason.”  Yet, that does nothing to validate or honor the emotional process that you and your child are experiencing at the moment.  Even though I, too, would like to do nothing more than halt my kids’ sadness, I know the best way to do so is to let them experience it.  When I feel sad, when my kids feel sad, we sit and talk about what the sadness feels like.  We reassure ourselves that it is okay to feel sad, to cry, to express the pain and confusion of loss, and the fear of living in a world that seems upside down at times.  I’m not advocating for endless wallowing for the sake of doing so, but rather letting yourself, and your child, fully flesh out the sadness until it passes on its own.  Sometimes, it really helps to hear that it’s okay to be sad, to share it, and that the feelings will continue to come and go as we heal.  Permission to feel what you’re feeling is a powerful and respectful part of the grieving process.

Surround Yourself with Loved Ones

Many times, we want to hibernate when we experience profound sadness or loss.  Those feelings are normal, but I find it invaluable to also spend some time with loved ones, and allow for distractions.  Intense feelings are hard to process without breaks, whether it be cuddling up on the couch with a favorite movie, spending an afternoon with good friends, a family get together, or going to a place of worship.  In the Jewish faith, loss of a first-degree loved one is followed by a week-long Shiva, in which friends and family visit the individual who experienced the loss, and just *be* with them.  Spending time with friends and family as you feel sad can ease and help refill your heart.  Even if it is done virtually, allow yourself and your child to reach out to social supports and share feelings, benefit from the comfort of others, and experience a break from overwhelming emotions.


Kindness matters. Being good to others matters.  When making sense of the senseless, sometimes the best thing we can do is to do good for someone else.  Bake brownies for your single neighbor, gather some pet food and blankets and drop them off at a shelter, make some PB&J sandwiches and bring them to a soup kitchen, donate your spare change to the Salvation Army, pay the toll of the person behind you when crossing the bridge, pick up trash on a hike.  It won’t change what happened, but it can change the future.  Random acts of kindness, paying it forward, and putting positivity out into the Universe can’t hurt.  If we model love and kindness for our children, chances are, they’ll embody it as well.

Talk, and talk, and talk

In generations past, kids were kind of kept on a need-to-know-basis.  Parents didn’t tell them what didn’t concern them, since hey, they were just kids.  These days, there’s no keeping kids in the dark.  With tv/the internet/social media, our kids know what’s going on, sometimes even before we do.  While we have to consider how many details they can handle developmentally, it’s not helpful to downplay what’s going on in the world with promises we cannot keep.  Instead of promising, “It won’t happen here,” it can be better to discuss what you and your family can do to keep safe.  It’s important to answer their questions the best way you can, offering to do research on a topic or find a trusted person who can shed more light, if you cannot.  When our children walk into the room when we’re discussing the most recent national or international tragedy, and we quickly change the subject or go silent, they know. They know, and it scares them, because they wonder what the adults in their world are hiding.  Instead, empower kids by helping them understand the basics of the situation, answering their questions, offering them your love, and a hug.  We can’t change what’s happened and we can’t prevent it, but we can make our kids feel as safe and protected as possible.

In the end, sometimes all we can offer one another is our love.  It may not feel like enough, but it can also be the most powerful tool for healing a broken heart and overcoming the unthinkable tragedies we see every day.  Yes, we need international change, reform, and so many political overhauls.  Yes, we cannot just sit back and love one another and expect change.  Yet, when it comes to the need to hold your family tightly and be there with one another, love is all you need.

Inner Peace

This week we have witnessed a cluster of very tragic events in our country. Some far away from the safety of our home and some locally in places we may shop regularly. I knew I couldn’t write this post as “business as usual.” It is hard for me to write about the fun crafty things we are doing when really what I want to do is just hold my kids tight and keep them close in my arms for as long as I can.  My mind is swirling with so many questions, concerns and worries trying to make sense of so much loss and pain.

It is incredibly difficult to make sense of “senseless acts” or random accidents. As parents we struggle with how to process all of this information as it unfolds. We try to keep the gory details to ourselves to protect our children and we worry that sharing too much will destroy their innocent little world. I am deeply saddened by the events that have taken place around the country this week- from the court rooms to the night clubs to Disney and local grocery stores it may feel like there are very few places left that are immune to violence.

I know this is a much deeper blog post than my usual upbeat “just recycle it and make a mess” artsy posts. But this week I am really struggling to find a way to help myself and my kids cope with all of the negative recent events, and I am sure you are too.

Art, music and literature are always a place of solace for me. Delving into the arts may not help my kids and I make sense of this crazy world we live in, but it can definitely help us cope with our feelings about it. And it can help me teach my children about compassion, tolerance and diversity.

Here are a few simple ways art can help you and your child cope with senseless violence:


Escaping into the imagery of a good book allows your child to unplug from their worry and anxiety over safety. Spending time in an imaginary world may sound like avoidance, but it really does help promote positive feelings and the reader can forget about real world stress for a short time.

Build your child’s understanding of inclusion, tolerance and just plain being nice to people by adding a handful of books about these topics to your home.  I know it can be confusing about where to start the tougher conversations with our kids about things like differences of religion, gender identity and ethnicity. An age appropriate book can be a great tool in starting a conversation. Select books that illustrate ways they can love and help. Choose books with a hero who picks compassion and justice over doing what feels good.  Sometimes what we fill our minds with becomes the script for how we see ourselves and interact with the world.

If your child is old enough to write, encourage them to keep a journal where they can write about or draw their worries and fears. They can take refuge in the pages to express what they need. Make it an interactive journal that allows them to ask questions and you can reply with answers.


Art is a very safe place for children to express their feelings and emotions. Try not to dismiss if they draw a picture that makes you question, “Where did you hear that?” or “Where did you learn that?” They may be sharing something important about their thoughts and feelings. I often wonder if I need to have my kids’ hearing checked, but turns out they can perfectly hear (and absorb) everything I am saying. If I discuss in front of them the details I’ve learned about a shooting or tragedy they are going to hear it. Kids process things very differently than adults and they don’t always know how to say, “Hey mom, guns scare me.” If your child is anxious it may show up in their art work. If you want to give your child a safe place to process all these big fears and feelings pull out the paper and crayons. Let them create on the page what’s happening inside. Then use their creations as teachable moments.  You can reassure them they are safe and they are loved and even empower them by sharing ways to stand up to others when necessary.

Visiting a museum or art gallery will show your kids there is still plenty of beauty in this world. Hand your kids a camera and let them find something beautiful on their own.


Music can be a very soothing way to for kids to find calm, or to simply focus their energy in a new direction. You don’t have to listen to the wheels on the bus another 14,000 times you can play music that you like too. Music is a powerful healing tool for anyone. Turn off the news and fill your home, or your car with music that is uplifting to your child and keeps you all in a good mood. Allow them opportunities to create music and sounds as a way to channel energy and emotions. Starting your own rock band in the living room, or a spontaneous dance party on the deck can be a great distraction from the media and shift kids out of an anxious state.

I wish we could all wake up tomorrow in a world where love and tolerance dominates instead of watching decades pass us by waiting for change.  Providing safety and peace in our own homes will help our children cope with the unimaginable events happening around us. We don’t want to isolate our children, or teach them to give up on living out of fear, but we do want to teach them ways to balance their emotions when they are bombarded by so much sadness. Filling our homes with positive sights and sounds can help reduce their anxiety. And I know it will work for you too moms and dads.

Much love to the families who are mourning the loss of their beautiful children this week.


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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