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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


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.


  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.


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.

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.


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.

1. New Years eve is a great time to reflect on the past year and look forward to the new year with family and friends. Choose an activity to do together. Bowling, ice skating or roller skating are good options! Many places are offering holiday packages like Colonial Lanes in Chester. For a one price fee for the whole family you can enjoy 2 hours of cosmic bowling, dinner, dessert, cosmic bowlingmusic and more! For tickets and more info: Roller Magic in Hyde Park is also offering a special New Years Eve party. Noisemakers, games, prizes and a special balloon drop finale!

Also: Hudson Valley’s Best Ice Skating Rinks

2. Ring in the new year at NOON in Beacon, NY. The Howland Cultural Center is hosting a very special children’s Happy Noon Year event! Spend the morning with the kids crafting masks, noisemakers and party props. Kids will practice yoga stretches and sing songs. Then just before noon join in the countdown parade with popcorn and punch.

3. Celebrate the new year with family fun for everyone at The Castle Fun Center. Tickets include dinner buffet, snacks and sundae bar. Kids will love all the activities at the Castle and a special “midnight” celebration complete with balloon and confetti drop! http://thecastle.pfestore.comnew years at noon

4. At the Mid- Hudson Children’s Museum, celebrate the new year withthe kids at noon! Sing, dance a party your way into 2015 with a DJ dance party, live performances, crafts, snacks, and a unique countdown every hour from around the world!

5. Head on over to New Paltz for a special day of holiday activities for the whole community to enjoy! Start with children’s crafts and stories at the library, followed by youth scavenger hunt at the Youth program. Later join the community for a dinner at the United Methodist Church, an open mic for teens at the cafeteria coffee house, a community dance at the St. Joseph’s church hall and everything wraps up just before midnight at a community bonfire at Hasbrouck Park! For times and details:

6. Go out to eat! Treat yourselves this holiday and save the clean- up for someone else. What are your NYE dinner traditions? Many families get Chinese take out, others stick with apps and finger foods. Here is a list of kid- friendly new years resolutionsrestaurants in the Hudson Valley, check websites and call ahead to see if they are offering anything special for New Years Eve.

7. Make resolutions together. I am loving this kid- friendly resolutions printable from! Let the kids fill all of the things they want to do and work on in the upcoming year. It will get the kids thinking about bettering themselves and maybe spark a yearly bucket list you can have fun crossing things off all year long! Don’t forget about your own resolutions too! If healthy eating is at the top of your resolution list check out these easy ideas for making healthy eating work for you! Healthy eating: make it a New Year’s resolution

12 grapes8. Celebrate around the world! While the strike of midnight in the Hudson Valley might be a bit too late for the little ones it’s always midnight in another country. Set the clocks around the house to the different time zones, research some New Years traditions from around the world and celebrate as if you were there. In Spain they ring in the New Year eating 12 grapes. (The 12 grapes on a stick photo along with many other great ideas to celebrate with kids found on You can dine on Spanish cuisine, get dressed up and dance around the living room to beautiful Spanish music. In Swiss homes, the people drop spoonfuls of whipped cream onto the floor to symbolize the richness of the new year to come. I’m sure the kids would love this tradition! To find out when 2015 starts around the world click here:


9. Make your own Noisemakers. Pinterest is filled with awesome crafts you can do with the kids on New Years eve. I am loving the idea of making our own noisemakers like these from or these wishing wands from

10. “On New Year’s Eve, kiss the person you hope to keep kissing”. For me this New Year’s Eve no matter where or what time we are celebrating I am lucky to be with the ones I love. Whether your year was filled with great joys or loss and struggles, I hope you take a few minutes to reflect back on some of the happy moments from 2014, find something worth learning from the struggles and start a fresh new year full of love, compassion, wealth and gratitude.

May your New Year be filled with joy, adventure, love and many wishes come true.

I would love to hear some of your New Year’s Eve traditions! How do you celebrate the coming of the New Year?

So if you read my last post, you know that I took a debt free Christmas pledge this year. I truly hope I’m not the only one because I know firsthand how sucky it is to be stuck paying for presents when the holidays catch up to me the following year. It isn’t an easy journey, but here are 5 more tips to get you through the holidays debt-free.

4. Stack Rewards – If you have store loyalty cards, earned rewards, or coupons now is the time to use them. When you combine sales with coupons, cash in rewards from credit cards or have discounts you earned through your loyalty cards this is a great time to pull them all out of your hat to save a bunch of cash. Also don’t forget to turn in any mail in rebates for your holiday purchases.

5. Shop Online – So I’m expecting to get some flack from the avid Black Friday shoppers out there who live for the thrill of the bargain hunt, but I believe something about the adrenaline filled spree to elbow others out of the way for that great deal brings out the animalistic nature in us to outdo the rest of the pack. I think it creates a mob mentality that pushes us to buy things we might not normally buy simply because we don’t want someone else to get “our great deal.” Shopping online reduces competition spending, saves on gas, and many times you can score free shipping with a minimum order amount.

mob mentaility pic

6. Use the Internet to score cash back or discounts. Signing up for Ebates lets you earn a percentage of cash back just for going through their site to find the retailer site you want to shop at. During the holidays a lot of the cash back rates have been doubled. A quick internet search could yield you promo codes you can use online or coupons you can download to your smart phone or print.

7. Pull out your gift cards. Ok I don’t care if this earns me a bad mommy rap, but I’ll share a secret with you. When my kids get gift cards for their birthdays I silently tuck them away. They usually have so many other presents they don’t even notice and it helps us pay for presents for Christmas. If you have gift cards you or your kids accumulated during the year, now’s the time to use them to reduce your holiday spending. Speaking of gift cards, this time of year many restaurants have special deals on gift cards. You can also check out sites like Cardpool that sell gift cards at discounts of up to 35%.

8. Share the cost. If a family member has their eye on an expensive gift see if another family member will split the cost with you. Also share your kids wish lists with family and friends. There’s no rule that says you have to get all the items yourselves and many times grandparents and aunts and uncles appreciate not having to guess what your child wants. Just be sure to give a few options in different price ranges to be respectful of whatever amount they have decided to spend.

I think we forget how truly blessed we are in this country. If you have a roof over your head, food in your belly, your health and the love of family and friends, then we are truly blessed. Getting and giving gifts is great as long as it doesn’t mean acquiring a load of debt we can’t repay.


I LOVE this time of year.  For me it’s filled with birthdays, holidays, family, friends and food.  As a family our celebrating doesn’t slow down until after Valentine’s Day.   We don’t have many “traditions”; we just enjoy spending time with each other.  Since this is LP’s first Christmas, I did want to start something small with her on Christmas Eve that can grow to include all of our kids in the future.  I want to sit in front of our lit Christmas tree and drink hot chocolate and read the Polar Express to her.  I adore that book and the part where the conductor hands-out hot chocolate to all the kids on the train is my favorite part.  I also love to track Santa on Norad ….. I’m the biggest kid in the family. 

What traditions do you have with your family?? 

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!!!

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