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Better Gifts for Less Crap

Lately, I am feeling really bogged down by how much stuff we have. More specifically, how much stuff my kids have.  It seems I have become the keeper of the stuff as I am the only qualified person to manage the 10,000 pieces of art my kids create and find a home for the millions of stuffed lovies they bring home. I spend a lot of time purging and finding storage solutions for all their stuff.

I recycled literally 17 different character cups the girls received from different birthday parties last year. We don’t need that many cups for only two kids. Having more than one kid means coming home with double, or triple the stuff from birthday parties, street fairs, library events or anywhere the freebies are being handed out. Don’t people ever think of the poor parents who have to now schlep this stuff home and find a place to keep it? Blerg!

Having twins means I am doubly blessed, and doubly blessed by all the extra stuff they own. Birthday’s mean double the toys and gifts. This also means I will have to find homes for all of them. As soon as the novelty of new toys wears off they leave them sitting in a corner somewhere.

As I was purging all the little plastic toys and notebooks and left over favors from our toy bins and toys my kids have outgrown, it got me thinking about our own gift giving. If I am annoyed at getting all these “things” I have to take care of, surely other parents are annoyed when I give these things too right?

So, here is my Gift Giving Guide for Less Crap for Parents to Take Care Of! Consult this list before the next birthday party you attend and I promise everyone will think you are a gift giving pro!

  1. Buy a kid an experience. Pick up a gift certificate to a local craft store or a bouncy place, adventure park or ceramics studio. Kids can cash in their gift certificates for a day of fun with no tiny made in china plastic toys left over! Think about the places you visit often with your kids and buy them some time there.
  2. Make A CD. Seriously, go old school and make a hit-list of fun songs that you and your child will enjoy dancing and singing along to. It is travel friendly and requires very little space. Pop it into your car CD player, computer or play at home. Make a unique cover with their picture on it, or include a treasured photo.
  3. Get a gift certificate to the popular local ice cream shop. Most kids love getting ice cream any time of year and it saves the parents a couple of bucks when buying their kid a fun treat.
  4. Send them to the movies. Going to the movies requires a second mortgage for most families. Buying tickets for the birthday child means one less ticket a parent has to pay for. Add in some bonus bucks to cover a snack at the concession stand (totally optional). Treat your child to a date day at the movies.
  5. Get them museum tickets. Not a super fancy grown-up museum, but a children’s museum. Again, the birthday child will get hours of entertainment and fun memories without cluttering up an area of your house.
  6. Contribute to their favorite activity. Many families cannot afford to send their kids to places like the Little Gym, or a music for tot’s program. Purchasing a gift certificate, or contributing cash they can apply toward the tuition cost will be a great help to parents and kids will get months of enjoyment! (That’s longer than they’ll play with that brand new toy).
  7. If gift certificates feel too impersonal and you feel like you really need to buy something for the birthday child a gift basket with a theme is a great idea. If the child is really into art maybe some simple art supplies or a nice set of pencils. A movie night with a DVD and snacks. Make it something they can actually use.
  8. A personalized t-shirt they can wear. Kids grow out of clothes so quickly parents can hardly keep up. So extra outfits for birthdays and holidays goes a long way. Make a fun t-shirt with a picture of you with the birthday child, or maybe a silly saying on it. Personalizing it means it is truly one of a kind and no one else will give the same gift!
  9. Give them a coupon book for adventure. This is really great for your own kids, nieces and nephews or grandchildren. Life can get so busy and hectic that we forget to just stop and enjoy simply spending time with our loved ones. Create an adventure coupon book and set a date the child can cash in!
  10. Make a Memory. Have a favorite baby outfit or favorite sports jersey turned into a keepsake. Memory bears, or even a pillow or quilt they can grow up loving and take with them when they set out into the world is an amazing gift that will be treasured forever.
  11. Buy them a piece of the moon. You can purchase a small plot of “land” on the moon. Your child can hang the framed certificate of ownership on their bedroom wall.Or, you can have star named after them.
  12. Make a donation to an endangered species. Most kids have a favorite animal. If it falls into the endangered species category you can pay to adopt one of the animals. Or, you can make a donation in their name to a zoo that does have their favorite animal.
  13. Skip the gifts entirely. When my girls were babies we didn’t need much for them. They were more entertained by cardboard boxes than light up toys. So, we asked friends to please bring a gently used coat or snow suit their child has outgrown to donate to our local foster care department.

You may be worried there is nothing left “to show” for a birthday gift. I assure you a plastic toy has a limited lifetime of enjoyment, but the memories kids make out of an experience will last a lifetime. And parents will thank you for not giving them something extra to take care of.


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 Articles: Give The Gift of Swag

Creating Unique Keepsakes at Boudoir Baby

Oh you haven’t heard of Micheal’s farm yet? Maybe that’s because it is nestled in a quiet little nook just between Saugerties and Woodstock. It is a private farm owned and operated by Tammy Drost, a woman with a big heart and a true love of animals and kids.

Michael’s Farm isn’t open to the public and visits are only available per request. Tammy typically responds to requests through the farm’s Facebook page. For a very small fee Tammy gives kids a tour of the farm pulling them along on a hay wagon ride and making stops to feed each group of animals.

Feeding animals at Michael's Farm

My girls and I have made several visits to the farm touring the menagerie of animals there. From Llamas to turkeys, donkeys and foxes, ponies and emu there is plenty to see (and feed). Almost every kid falls in love with the tiny poodle named Daisy. Daisy serves as the unofficial Mayor for the animals on the farm. She either rides along on the hay wagon or runs alongside amusing the kids watching her trying to keep up.

Every visit we make the girls ask, “are there any baby chicks?” And so far  there has been new baby animals to snuggle. This last visit we cuddled baby Arctic foxes AND chicks.

chicks on michaels farm

I have lost count of the number of visits we’ve made to the farm for birthday parties, meet ups with local moms and tours with our preschool. I have friends running local home school groups who meet at the farm a few times a year. It is truly a local gem and a family friendly place to spend time watching your kids bond with animals. All the animals are very social and ready to enjoy your company too.

If you come for a birthday party you are in for a real treat! Birthdays not only include a day of fun on the farm, they also include ice cream cupcakes made fresh on site. (These are more like little mini ice cream cakes). Tammy makes them herself along with individual pints of different flavors of ice cream.

cupcakes michaels farm

ice cream pints michael's farm

As if private tours, group gatherings, birthday parties and making ice cream isn’t enough to keep Tammy and her animals busy; she also runs Farm Camp in the summer and during school breaks. Kids spend five hours per day at the farm learning to care for the animals, make crafts and swim in the pool, or play in the creek. A great way for kids to spend their time outdoors in a safe, caring environment that will completely wear them out by bedtime.

Occasionally you can also find Tammy out with her mini pony and small petting zoo at local farmer’s markets and outdoor events. That’s where we first met Tammy and her pack. Now we look forward to visiting all of them on the farm as often as we can!!

If you want to know where to find this hyperlocal ice cream you can find pints for $4 each at Mountain View Market 322 Blue Mountain Rd. Saugerties and Vinnie’s Farm Market on Rt. 32 in Saugerties. Get flavors like chocolate caramel, vanilla fudge, raspberry, coconut, cherry, strawberry, chocolate chip and too many more to list!


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.


I find myself longing for the birthday parties of my youth. They were simple and fun. There only needed to be cake, ice cream and friends to have a great time. One of the birthday parties I loved was at a friend’s house in a tent outside their house. It was a banana split party so every child brought a banana and prizes were given to the “oldest” banana, the “youngest,” biggest,” “smallest,” you get the idea. As a parent I now find myself losing an entire weekend day to one of my children’s friend’s birthday parties and sometimes I am completely drained afterwards.

birthday cupcakes

Over the last two years we just started moving our kids’ parties to outside venues. We’ve entered the three ring circus that are kids’ birthday parties and I sort of wish we could put the lid back on Pandora’s box because now we’re stuck in the cycle. The whole process of spending weeks researching venues, paying deposits, ordering cakes and sending out invites is exhausting. I miss when they were little and we called friends or did a Facebook event and said “Hey, join us at our house for some food to celebrate our child’s birthday.”

Party Disaster

My oldest daughter Hannah’s party last year was a disaster, but taught me a great lesson. We decided to have it at our town pool since her birthday is at the end of August. I paid the deposit, she invited all her friends from summer camp, ordered $75 worth of pizza not to mention the cake, drinks, party supplies etc. As soon as we got there we were informed that the pool was closed as they had no lifeguards. They had trouble retaining lifeguards with kids going back to college or working at different local pools. But nothing prepared me for finding out fifteen minutes before the party that our whole theme/entertainment just went down the tubes with no time to change it.

Box Car Race Saves The Day!

Thankfully my husband built these awesome cardboard box race cars for a fun race inspired by the one we participated in on our camping trip just a few weeks earlier. We set up little flags for the track, a pit area and fun pit stop activities. In the first lap our cars had to stop to get their windshield cleaned (kids got squirted in the face with water and then dried with a towel). Then they had to stop to get a fill up (the kids had to drink some water). Then on the last lap they had to stop to change their tires (the kids had to put on a pair of my old sneakers and try to make it around the track without stumbling). It was a simple idea that saved us from having absolutely nothing to do for her party as we were counting on the kids swimming all day. I’m not going to lie, it was hotter than hot, but we even convinced the parents to run the race and we managed to pull off a decent party.

Kids Bring the Fun

It taught me that we really don’t need to go so crazy with kids’ birthday parties. Kids bring the fun with them. We’re the ones who try to control everything. We stress about how beautiful the cake looks, if all the food will stay hot, if too many people will show up or none at all. We put our very high expectations on our kids. But the truth is, they already have everything they need in us. We love them and we are giving them the gift of celebrating how much they mean to us and how they changed our lives when they were born.

The Express Party Plan

This year we’ll be on vacation at the Jersey shore during her birthday so we hatched a plan to make her party less of a hassle. We discussed our ideas and gave her choices. I think it’s important that she be a part of the process. We’re going to take her to a water park on her actual birthday while at the shore. That’s her big gift and I’m actually glad it’s not anything that’s going to be forgotten about within the month. She still wanted to celebrate with her friends, which is tricky with camp being over and school not having begun yet. So we decided to do an express party in September so that she could celebrate with friends.

Could Less Mean More?

We’re going to make it clear on the invite that this is going to be a cake and ice cream party. We aren’t going to spend a boat load of money on food. We’re also not going to go crazy trying to come up with party games and activities. They’ll be no bouncy houses or fancy entertainment. We’re going old school this time. It’s just going to be some sugared up kids, playing whatever they want.

The best part is that it’s not going to take all afternoon so parents can actually keep a good chunk of their Saturday to spend with their families. After all, working parents don’t get a ton of time with their kids to begin with and we don’t want to take a whole day from them to celebrate our child’s birthday.

Hannah just attended a birthday party at Hoopla in Middletown. It was an hour-and-a-half of choosing their favorite flavors of frozen yogurt and toppings and she absolutely loved it. All the kids got a bracelet and they could eat all they wanted for $4 per child. So guess where Hannah’s having her party this year. That’s right, no muss, no fuss, but just enough Hoopla!

Could you get on board with the idea of an “express” party?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found writing on her blog The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent Magazine when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her three adorable kiddos. This frugal, “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 Money Saving Mom and Mamapedia.

Keeping the Kids

Whether you are traveling or staying home, keep this list handy! Thanksgiving day can be a long day for little ones. Adults have so much to do to prepare for that kids can feel left out. Watching TV is a great way to keep the kids corralled in another room and away from the kitchen, but really little ones can often get bored by TV, or other electronics. If you are looking for ways to keep your cuties entertained through out the day and at dinner time I’ve assembled a list of our favorite funtastic activities and free printables:

Preschool kids will love this fun little Thanksgiving activities pack from  We love it so much we bring it out every year! Print out before traveling and bring it along, or if you are hosting be sure to have several printed copies on hand. Leave them out at the kids table with some crayons and extra paper and let the kids play!

Print out a game of Turkey Bingo for the kids table! This is great for all ages! Maybe it will even buy you enough time to drink a full glass of wine! Here is a cute Bingo game download from Crazy Little Projects blog.

Print out a free Thanksgiving place mat the kids can color! This is a cute one from Sister’s Suitcase.

Kids will LOVE making these adorable turkey thumb print place cards and setting them at everyone’s seat! Get the step by step instructions from The Charmed Mom.

Let the kids help make a dessert. Set up your own cookie or cupcake bar where kids can frost and sprinkle their own treats. They can make their own festive creations and feel like part of the big celebration. These acorn cookies are simple and sweet!

For the toddlers bring out the bubbles, the play dough, the blocks and the cardboard boxes! They really want nothing more than to spend time playing! Whatever age group you have to entertain- I hope these suggestions help!

I hope you enjoy all of the festivities today! I am so thankful to all of you for following along each week! Happy Thanksgiving and wishing you always have enough!


The Whatever Mom

Birthday Swag Party

This week the girls and I set aside the crafts to work on a unique service project! We are collecting birthday swag to deliver to the People’s Place Thrift Store & Food Pantry in Kingston. The Birthday Booth started in May 2015 when participants began asking for help providing birthday cakes for their children. Since then Christine Hein and her amazing staff have collected unwrapped toys, party supplies and cake donations for local families. I met with Christine hoping to get more details about how I can donate some birthday swag, but I walked away with a greater understanding of the People’s Place mission. (More about that below!).

What is birthday swag? Well to many of us it might look like goody bags, big bright decorations, balloons and favors, etc. We don’t think too much about giving our kids a big party with their friends. But, to families who are struggling to put food on the table it may be difficult to even provide the simple birthday essentials like a coordinated set of napkins, plates and birthday candles. It may even be a challenge to pay for a birthday cake to celebrate the day.

How to Host a Birthday Swag Party:

Birthday swag bags

  1. Announce your party! Send an Evite, or create an event page on Facebook asking friends and family to donate at least one party supply item. Example: mom can donate one package of blue napkins, cousin Sarah can donate one package of blue plates and uncle John can donate a package of blue cups. Everyone can donate one item until you have a full set, or ask for complete coordinated character sets from each participant.
  2. Schedule pick up! Round up all the items by having everyone drop off to you, or you can travel to them. Collecting during your Thanksgiving, or holiday get together is a great way to gather everything in one place, and do something good as a family.
  3. Drop off! No need to sort the items, but do put them neatly in a box or bag to drop off to People’s Place in Kingston Monday – Friday 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. or Wednesday 5:30-7:30 p.m.
  4. YOU’RE DONE!! How easy is that?

Birthday Swag items can include, cake plates, napkins, cups, table cloth, crepe paper, birthday sign, birthday candles, balloons. All the simple elements a family can use to celebrate together at home. You can also donate cash, or gift cards to cover the cost of a birthday cake ($12-$15).

Birthday Swag Items

Collecting birthday party supplies may not seem like an essential need, but to a kid living with food insecurity facing a birthday without a celebration can be devastating- and to a parent heart breaking. If you would like to contribute to the Birthday Booth, volunteer or donate your good quality clothing and home goods; or if you live in Ulster County and need help providing essentials please call (845) 338-4030, or email

People's Place Kingston

Since 1972 the mission of People’s Place has been to feed and clothe the unemployed, the physically and mentally challenged, working poor, youth, and elderly in Ulster County. Please visit their website or follow them on Facebook to learn more.  The 4,500 square foot thrift store financially supports the food pantry and other programs provided by this valuable organization. In 2014 they provided over 190,000 meals, over 8,000 articles of clothing and over 50,000 household items- all FREE to Ulster County residents in need. It is non-denominational and non-government funded. They are completely not-for-profit and serve the most essential needs of the community.  They are always looking for volunteers!

Other programs offered through People’s Place: Summer Bookworm Program, Back to School Smart Starts, It’s a Thanksgiving Feast, Warm Coats from Warm Hearts, Jolly Holiday Toy Give-A-Way, Your Choice Food Pantry, The Personal Care Closet, Dress for Dignity, Farm Stand, Bag Summer Hunger. 



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.

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