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MORGANS

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.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

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. 

springfield-museums-easy-day-trip

If you are looking for something fun to do during the kids spring break then check out Springfield Museums in Springfield, MA. Located approximately two hours from Northern Ulster County it is an easy day trip for families with little ones.

One admission price grants access to all four museums on campus. Each museum and discovery center celebrates art, history, science and discovery. Located in the center of it all is the Dr. Seuss National Memorial sculpture garden.  During our visit we were delighted by hands on learning experiences and opportunities to soak in some extraordinary art work. The grounds offer a large area for picnics and room for kids to run. Although you cannot climb, or play on the sculptures in the garden there are benches painted in fun themes and some interactive pieces in front of the museums.

There is so much to do and see here that we spent an entire day exploring and playing.  I’ll just share with you the highlights.

SPRINGFIELD SCIENCE MUSEUM

The science building has hands on exploration of rocks and minerals, space, live animals, the African Hall and Dinosaur Hall. There are three floors in this building alone and we spent over an hour investigating everything. We even doubled back around to the African Hall so we could push all the animal sound buttons again. There is a planetarium, but we arrived in between show times.

springfield-museum-space

GEORGE WALTER VINCENT SMITH ART MUSEUM

springfield-museum-asian

We found the most wonderful exhibits for everyone in my family. My kids favorite by far is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle exhibit (until September 3, 2017). It includes original comic book art and incorporates replicas of the shields and weapons the TMNT used in their stories. My kids’ were super excited to play the original TMNT on Nintendo. Yep, I am so old I remember the original Nintendo which is now old enough to be an exhibit in a museum.  My husband enjoyed reliving his glory days by schooling the kids with his video game codes. The building houses a collection of Japanese arms & armor, Asian art, Islamic art, Tiffany windows and more.

springfield-art-discovery

The children’s art discovery center is the most amazing kid’s area we’ve ever played in! The discovery center is decorated in colorful Buddhist, Asian and Chinese Zodiac art. There is a simple craft left out for kids to partake, a puppet theater, dress up area, a wishing tree, reading area and so much gorgeous art work to drink in. My kids stayed in this sunny bright spot for an hour exploring every nook and cranny.

MICHELE AND DONALD D’AMOUR MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS

springfield-art

There are several different galleries on both floors of this museum. Each gallery contains a comprehensive collection of art work from Impressionist art, French & Dutch art, and American art to the Currier and Ives collection. In the upstairs gallery there is a kid’s art area that is perfectly placed in location to the other gallery rooms. The Cat in the Hat exhibit (through April 30, 2017) includes fun dress up hats and cute little stuffed kittens kids can arrange to make their own exhibit. We found it easy for one parent to stay with the kids in the kids area while the other parent took their own guided tour of the galleries. I studied many of the works and painters in these collections, so it was a thrill to walk through alone and see some of my favorites up close.

LYMAN AND MERRIE WOOD MUSEUM OF SPRINGFIELD

springfield-gameland

This building houses a great collection of Indian motorcycles and classic cars, local Springfield history and the Hasbro Game Land (our favorite). We spent the least amount of time in this museum since the staff was setting up for an event and some parts were closed off. But the larger than life sized game pieces were our favorites.

DR. SEUSS NATIONAL MEMORIAL SCULPTURE GARDEN

springfield-horton

During our picnic lunch on the quad we enjoyed the Dr. Seuss sculpture garden. The grassy quad is big enough to let kids roam and there are plenty of benches to sit down to eat. Thankfully, the parking lot isn’t far so you can leave your cooler in the car while you check out the exhibits, and retrieve it for your lunch break. There is a cafe right  next to the museum main entrance if you’d prefer. It was hard to keep the kids from climbing on the sculpture, but it was really fun to see their faces light up at the life sized characters they love!

By purchasing a membership you get free admission to a host of other museums across the country (including the Mid Hudson Children’s Museum, the MiSi Museum in Schenectady and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space museum to name a few).  Imagine the trips you could plan! They also deduct the price you pay for your family admission from the membership price which makes it really affordable, and pays for future adventures.

Spending the day at the museums is a great getaway from the usual routine of things. It’s an easy day trip and if you plan it just right you can be there in time to see the newest addition of the Dr. Seuss museum coming in June! I know we can’t wait to go back!

Would you travel two hours to see works of art?

You might also enjoy some of our other adventures: Howe’s Caverns, Lake George, Mystic Aquarium and The Eric Carle Museum of Story Book Art.

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. 

visit-eric-carle

A few months ago we decided not to throw our kids a birthday party. I know, how horrible. Instead we took a week-long vacation in the Berkshires. I get that sounds all pretentious but I swear we are average folks. I smuggle my peanut butter jelly sandwiches into places just like every other mom. But we decided for the cost of a two hour party we could give our kids some really fun experiences they will always remember.

We visited a lot of great places and enjoyed trips to several museums where we found science, art and history exhibits. We even saw a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle exhibit which made me and hubby feel a little old. Not only do we remember the first time we watched the original movie (which was playing on a continuous loop), but we remember playing a Nintendo game unit like the one now old enough to be on display as a “classic.”

I digress.

One of our favorite stops was the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. My kids loved making art in the art studio, reading and relaxing in the library and seeing art work from their favorite authors on display.

Here is what we enjoyed!

ecarle-collage

The art studio is a large sunlit room bursting with creativity. The resident artists select a craft project each day to share with visitors to the studio. All the materials and instruction are free. There are convenient drying wracks just outside the studio entrance where you can leave your creations while you tour the rest of the building. If you have kids of different ages and stages there are fun hands on play stations for your little ones to enjoy.

The galleries offer a look at original art work created by Eric Carle and other renowned picture book artists. Our favorite by far was the Brown Bear 50th Anniversary exhibit. We could see different versions of the way the animals were drawn. We immediately found the reading area which provided books and comfy brown bear cushions to cozy up to while reading. There are a variety of ways kids can interact with the art and games to help them talk about what they see. Each of the gallery rooms is minimal with plenty of room to navigate a stroller or wheel chair through. But no pictures are allowed for this exhibit.

ecarle-library-collage

The library was the big hit for my kids. Not only did they have access to kids’ books, but they were obsessed with the giant stuffed versions of the book characters they love. Brown Bear was carried around by just about every kid that came in. There are also lots of learning toys like latch puzzles, magnet puzzles and coloring pages. Hubby and I enjoyed getting to sit down and relax a bit while our kids had a safe place to roam. There are kids story times and other events taking place so be sure to check the schedule before you travel!

The Auditorium offers concerts and educational films. We arrived between movie viewings so we did not get to check out the auditorium. But you can check online to see what film or concert is being offered on the day you visit.

The Bookshop is filled with a lot of fun games, stuffed animals and unique gift ideas. We found some great post cards featuring art from our favorite Eric Carle books. I bought extras to frame when we return home.

ecarle-collage-2

Everything about this museum is designed with families in mind. You can request extra diapering supplies from the front desk, borrow a stroller or wheel chair and the coat room has individual lockers with a key to stash your diaper bag and extra stuff you don’t want to carry. There are activity kits to borrow to help your kids have a more interactive experience (I didn’t see those until we were on our way out). The museum admission price is also family friendly $22.50 covers a family of two adults and two kids.

Since our visit was in November it was a little too chilly to check out the art sprinkled along the walking trails and museum grounds. You can also find picnic tables outside to enjoy that homemade peanut butter sandwich right out in the open.  Or you can stay inside and enjoy a non-smuggled lunch right in The Carle Café where they offer free coffee and organic/natural vending machine fare.

The museum is located in Amherst, MA which is approximately 2 hours from where we are in Ulster County. This is a great place to take your young art lover and little reader. It is a perfect day trip for families and especially accommodating for every age group. Older kids can read and learn details about the art exhibits, create art and there is plenty to keep their younger siblings busy and engaged.

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. 

beach

It’s been four years since we’ve gone away for vacation. That’s how many years I’ve been a SAHM. Coincidence? Nope. Dropping down to one-income meant making sacrifices and our annual trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina was one of the first things to go. We’ve had fun camping every year, but I’m looking forward to this week when my family and I go to Wildwood Crest, New Jersey. Stay-cations and camping are great alternatives to an expensive vacation, but there are many ways you can cut the cost of going away.

1. Go Off Season – Since we’re headed down to the Jersey Shore at the very end of the season we were able to get a great discount on our hotel. Most hotels have more affordable rates during off peak times.

2. Prepay – We also got a 20% discount on our hotel stay for prepaying before June 1st. Thanks to our tax refund, we were able to send one payment, but we also could have sent installments if we wanted to just as long as our payment was received in full by June 1st.

3. Groupon Shop Your Outings Before You Go – Always check groupon for deals on excursions and resorts. We found a great deal on a water park we want to visit while on vacation just by doing a simple search.

4. Sign Up For Newsletters – Have a hotel or resort you love to stay at? Sign up for their newsletters and get notified of special deals.

5. Bring Your Own Car – If your car or van is in good shape, skip the car rental and bring your own. The car rental is usually the second largest expense after the hotel if you’re driving to your destination. If you have to bring your own vehicle I recommend getting any work done before you hit the road. A few years ago, my family was stuck on the side of the road on our way to Lake George when my husband’s car overheated.

We just finished a TON of work on my mini-van that needed to be done, as well as some routine maintenance like changing the oil, tires, and brake pads. We needed to do the work anyway, but doing it before vacation gives me more confidence in taking my vehicle. We would have spent $500 minimum to rent a mini-van.

6. BYOF (Bring Your Own Food) – Eating out is always expensive on vacation, especially in tourist areas. One thing I’ve learned the hard way is that grocery store prices also vary widely from one area to another so I’ll be hitting up my local Aldi for cheap and easy breakfast items, snacks (which my kids will go through a ton of), and ingredients for easy dinners we can make in our hotel room which has a microwave and stove top. I’m also packing my crock-pot for ready to eat dinners like lasagna after a long tiring day at the beach. Loading the car up with drinks, sandwiches and snacks is also a must for a road trip with small kids. Stopping at rest stops for food is a budget killer.

7. Skip The Souvenirs –  I have a pretty firm rule on not buying souvenirs. I’d rather take lots of photos or have the kids collect shells to remember our family vacation by.

8. Find Low Cost Entertainment – My family and I plan to spend most of our time on the beach, in the hotel pool, or walking along the boardwalk. Beyond our one planned trip to a water park, which is mostly a birthday present for my daughter who turns nine while we’re away, we plan to just play and relax. Limiting paid entertainment is a great way to save money on vacation. Also check your hotel lobby for coupon booklets for local restaurants and attractions.

family, beach

9. Go Away, But Not Far Away – With three small kids and a limited budget we wanted to pick a place that was “away,” but not “far away.” My kids get really antsy on long drives so we decided to head to the Jersey Shore five hours away instead of trying to drive to Myrtle Beach and renting an extra hotel room on the way down and on the way back.

This year there was a gap of three weeks between the end of camp and the start of the new school year. Usually we go on vacation before camp starts and then by the end of the summer we’re all anxious for school to start. I’m so glad that we still have a great week of vacation to look forward to so we can savor these last days of summer with our kids.

What are your favorite ways to save on vacation?

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.

After 9/11/2001 things changed in America.   During this period of fear and uncertainty, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was born.  Since then we’ve dealt with the nuisance of taking off our shoes, and surrendering our water bottles in stride.  However, the TSA’s new screening methods go too far, may be unconstitutional, and don’t guarantee safety.

The fourth amendment guards against unreasonable searches and seizures.  If I’m not a suspect of a crime, and I am forced to choose between a potentially unsafe radiation scan, and allowing someone to grope me in a way that only my wife should, then I say we have a constitutional crisis on our hands.

I won’t be flying anytime in the near future.  Unfortunately, there are indications these measures will be adopted in train and bus stations very soon.  How long before these procedures appear in all venues where people congregate en masse?

The town of East Fishkill encompasses 12 surrounding towns in Dutchess County right along the Hudson River.  This town is far from boring, with so many activities going on, it’s difficult not to find something to participate in.  Red Wing Park is a 17-acre park with a lake and beach which is open daily from June 23rd to Sept 6th; it also has a bath house to clean off on those long exciting days at the park.  If you’re not into the beach scene then you can visit the basketball, volleyball, badminton and playground areas.  If you are looking for a more relaxing day; the fishing and picnic area, as well as the pavilion are perfect for some R & R.  

East Fishkill also offers sports programs for men, women and children.  Basketball, baseball, softball, roller hockey, soccer, field hockey, tennis and football are available and held at participating fields and schools.  Don’t overlook the East Fishkill Community Library .  The library provides almost 70,000 books, magazines, newspapers, audio books, music CDs and DVDs, there are also nine computers for use.

I recently asked our Facebook friends what they do to entertain their children during long road trips. My brothers and I didn’t grow up in the age of built-in DVD players on the back of the car seats, we had to make our own fun. That “fun” consisted of playing the license plate game (finding plates from all 50 states), and you know that got old pretty fast. About.com shared some of their travel tips, what are some of your favorites? Don’t forget, for August we are running a contest where you can win travel gear from our friends at Evenflo. Doesn’t that make you excited for your next road trip?

With the change in the weather, this is the time of year for great travel adventures, but I went I think of travel it reminds me to take stock of my bathroom soap.

I always make a joke about travel because if I am running out of bathroom soap, I know it’s time to take a trip.

Most hotels I stay at have some of the most wonderful bath and face soaps. (I must admit that those soaps are a great promotion since some of the brands I sought out when my samples were long gone.)  And I especially like the small sizes for packing in my bag for the gym.

Once I mentioned how much I enjoyed those small sized hotel soaps to my daughter-in-law. She quickly left the room and ran back holding a bag filled with soaps. (What a treat!)

When my son went to Las Vegas last fall for a sales presentation, he said the hotel staff changed his soaps two to three times a day. Too bad he was there only overnight.

But now our economy is in this peculiar pattern where even the stock market can’t decide if we are now on the upswing or still in a downward slide pattern.

And now the hotels are using this change in our economy as their chance to give us only ONE soap for our stay. No more adding fresh soap if you have already used yesterday’s. They say it helps the environment by preventing us from wasting soap, but we know the real reason – they are not willing to share their soap stockpile.

My only concern is that hotels will not reverse this “one soap policy,” even when they see our economy is on a definite upswing.

Sarah Ludwig Rausch is a mom of four and a freelance writer. Sarah specializes in parenting, children’s health, agriculture and family issues and writes a blog, “Parenting By Trial and Error.” She’s written for The Christian Science Monitor, The Progressive Farmer, Farm Industry News, Singapore ’s parenting magazine Motherhood, and a variety of other publications.I’m so proud of myself.

I drove over 2400 miles alone with my four kids last month to visit my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins, all without anyone losing any limbs or vital organs. I only lost my patience a few times — the incessant squabbling, whining and air-hitting took its toll, as did the inevitable question, “Are we almost there?” — and amazingly, the drive went much faster than I had anticipated.

We had some quite pleasant and interesting conversations. I learned that Cody is a truly deep thinker. The concepts he thinks about are way more complex than the typical 5-year-old. I learned that Rachel is crazy-in-love with Nick Jonas and that Andie worries more about life than I thought possible. I also learned, again, that Logan can fall asleep in a vehicle mid-bite.

It was a great experience. Not just visiting the relatives and getting away from the stress of everyday life, but the long periods of time spent with my kids, showing them the gradual rising and swelling of the land as we drove further west, and reveling in their awe at the mountains I had taken for granted growing up. It was like seeing the landscape for the first time again to see it through their fascinated eyes.

Showing them my grandparents’ old house, the house that my great-grandfather built, visiting my grandparents’ graves and the elementary school I attended was probably more interesting for me than for them, but the girls seemed excited to see parts of my past. It was fun to show them the things I remembered, even though old haunts, stores and streets were undoubtedly fairly insignificant to them.

Watching them getting to know my aunts and uncles and cousins, and particularly my 96-year-old grandmother, made me swell with happiness. At home, the only family nearby is my sister, so being around all of this extended family, as well as my parents, was bliss. I love my family to pieces and it has always bugged me that I live so far away from them.

So, it was with sadness and a few tears that we made our way back home. As the landscape became flatter and flatter, we knew we were close to home (though the hordes of bugs committing suicide on our windshield gave us a clue as well). And when we pulled into my in-laws’ yard at the last half hour of our trip and the kids all jumped out of the van with cries of uninhibited joy, I knew we’re in a good place here too.

Now that I know I can make that trip by myself, my family doesn’t seem so far away anymore.

However, the beautiful weather and virtually bug-less environment my family is blessed enough to live in now seems impossibly far.

You gotta love the good ol’ Midwest. Or at least use lots of mosquito repellent.

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