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As the mountains of snow start to melt, it is finally starting to feel more like spring. This is the time of year we get outside more and watch everything spring to life again. Including winged creatures. Some are beautiful and some are down right annoying when they go buzzing by. But I bet everyone can agree that spotting a butterfly is a magical experience.

Magic wings bfly collage

That’s why we love our trips to the Magic Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in South Deerfield, MA. No matter what the weather, there is a tropical greenhouse waiting just two and half hours away from Northern Ulster County. It is easily a fun day trip your family will enjoy. Magic Wings is a tranquil 8,000 square foot greenhouse filled with tropical plants, a Japanese Koi pond and water features and of course butterflies. In fact, hundreds of them. Once we paid our admission we were ready for our self guided tour of the green house.

magic wings collage

The exhibit and display area before entering the greenhouse offers educational videos, the history of the butterfly and a whole bunch of tropical creatures. Spoiler alert there are some of the biggest cockroaches you will ever see on display. But no worries, they are all behind glass. My kids loved the tree frogs, snakes and other reptilian beasts.

Upon entering the green house there are large fans blowing and little kids might find them noisy. This is simply to keep the butterflies from hitching a ride out on someone’s back. The rest of the tour is calm and pretty serene with classical music playing and the sounds of the waterfalls.

magic wings lizard

My kids were mesmerized by the packs of fluttering wings and spent hours trailing them and watching them. All the employees are well trained in the different types of animals living in the green house. They can easily rattle of details about the lizards, birds, fish and insects from what they eat, to what their usual habitat looks like.


There is a community coat closet big enough to park a stroller (not permitted in the green house), or to leave bulky diaper bags and your family’s coats. The gift shop has a wide range of gift items and kids toys. Some are more expensive, but definitely some affordable fun things for family budgets. You enter through the gift shop before the tour begins, so we let the kids shop a little without purchasing so they would know what they wanted when we came back through.

Bring your camera because there are a few little fun photo op spots to take family photos. Not to mention you will really want to capture some beautiful shots of the lush greenery and colorful butterflies.

The cost for a family of four (two parents, two kids) is $52 and kids under 3 are free. You can save on meals by packing your own lunch instead of buying in the cafe, or restaurant. There is a covered out door picnic area available in the summer, and there are tables in the lobby near the fire place in the winter. Overall, you are going to pay less for this day trip filled with educational opportunities and hours of exploring than probably getting your family into a movie theater for two hours of entertainment. We love it so much we always leave planning our next trip back!

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.

Spring break is a great time to get out of the house and explore the beauty of the Hudson Valley. Hannah’s Girl Scout Troop recently visited a farm on the Center for Discovery’s Hurleyville campus. Though it was a bit chilly, the kids had a blast.

Maple Syrup 1Maple Syrup 2

How Maple Syrup is Made

The kids learned how maple syrup is made by tapping sugar maple trees and how the timing has to be right. They have to wait for freezing temperatures when the sap moves up from the roots of the tree and into the trunk and branches. They enjoyed learning about the entire process from collecting the sap to cooking it and turning into the finished product you see in the store. Of course the best part was tasting a sample.

Maple Syrup 3Syrup 4

This was the official Maple Weekend where New York State producers open their doors to the public. You can still get in on the fun by finding an event in your area this weekend, April 2nd and 3rd.

Eggcellent Pre-Easter Hunt

As many of us are preparing to head out to local Easter Egg hunts, it was awesome for the kids to collect eggs directly from the chickens (sorry Easter bunny). My kids thought it was neat that they were still warm. They also got to feed the chickens, which was fun for them.


It’s also not too late to find great Easter Egg hunts in the Hudson Valley.

If you’re hoping for a special photo op with the Easter Bunny himself, check out his Hudson Valley tour schedule.

Now that this weekend is over, I’m feeling at a loss for how to keep my kids entertained for the next week and a half that they’re off from school. I know we can always check out our local library for kids’ events and to check out some new books to keep the kids reading over the break. We’ll probably also visit our local parks to get all their pent up energy out.

Hannah’s Girl Scout troop was invited up to Albany by Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther after her recent visit. She’ll be heading up for a tour of the capital today and the girls will even be introduced on the floor of the legislature. This is a fantastic opportunity for the girls to learn how laws are made and they’ll be earning participation in government badges.

As for the remaining days of spring break, I’m going to have to get creative. I know that I can always visit My Family Trip Planner to find local attractions, restaurants, and play places to keep them busy. My kids also really love all kinds of experiments so we’ll try a few of these simple science experiments using what we already have in the kitchen. I know the key to my sanity is keeping them busy.

What are your spring break plans?

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 Money Saving Mom and Mamapedia.


I’m not even going to mention how over the frigid temperatures I am; I won’t even mention the words Polar Vortex.  Without that being said, I will say that going outside to play is not  an option right now.  My oldest daughter, Madison, is a real trooper, but Sophie and I are babies.  Sophie actually is a baby so she has an excuse, but I just can’t enjoy this weather.  And, if you are anything like our family this winter, the cold and flu season has hit you hard.  Cabin fever was quickly setting in, so I had to take the rare opportunity of us all being healthy at the same time to make a long overdue trip to the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ.


LSC is most definitely a day trip as it takes over an hour to get there from Orange County but totally worth it.  I remember my mom taking us as a kid and unlike other museums, I couldn’t believe you were actually allowed and encouraged to touch everything.  A lot has changed since I was there as a kid, and it has only gotten better.


The science center has four floors of interactive exhibits.  (There are too many  to name so be sure to check out their website.)  The great thing about the exhibits is that they are diverse and and layered, meaning you can just scratch the surface of any topic if you are with little ones or dig deeper if your kids are older or their interest calls for it.  My girls love construction, so we started at the main floor Skyscraper! exhibit.  Anything you ever wanted to know about how a skyscraper is made from conception to construction can be explored and experienced: walk a steel girder high above the center’s floor, operate a crane, or test a buildings strength in a high velocity wind tunnel.  My kids are little, so we just touched the surface of this exhibit.  Next, we headed all the way up to the fourth floor for the Bob the Builder exhibit where my girls immersed themselves for quite some time.  After that, we headed down to Infection Connection which seemed appropriate after all the colds and viruses we have recently had.  Madison and Sophie  stepped into the lab where their hands were coated in “germs.”  They then had to wash their hands before sticking them back under the black light to see how they did.  Let’s just say, it’s no longer a mystery as to how we keep getting sick.  Hopefully, it’s a lesson learned.  We explored several other exhibits but by no means hit them all.


The Liberty Science Center is one of the most family friendly places I have come across.  It has ample parking located in front ($7 a day).  There are restrooms including family restrooms on every floor, conveniently marked and located.  There is a  cafe with healthy choices and reasonable prices in addition to allowing  you to bring your own food.  The staff was pleasant and very helpful.  For 2 adults, 1 child, and under 2 are free, it came to $54.25.  It is on the expensive side, but the experience was worth it.


The center has so much to do, more than can be done in one trip.   However, it is small enough to be able to maneuver easily without getting lost or overwhelmed.  It’s a great place to go if you have children of varying ages.  There are several exhibits geared toward the 2-5 crowd, many for the older ones, and it’s fun for the adults too.  My advice is to check the website and make a list of exhibits that are age and interest appropriate for your group, so you have a general idea of what you want to accomplish.    The Liberty Science Center is the type of place that truly is fun for the entire family.  We are already making plans to return.

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