Happy Valentine's Day

If you’re like me, you have a busy day — parties with playgroups or at school, dinner plans, trying to find a few minutes with your significant other to actually tell each other you’re still in love.  So, I am giving you a short entry today.  It’s a list of things you can do to make Valentine’s Day special for your young children.

1)  Have a special dessert.  Something you would normally never let your toddler eat.  Think Death by Chocolate.

2)  Dress up your kiddo for the occasion. Admittedly, this is easier with girls, with hearts and bows and pink.  But, with a boy, just put him in a nice red shirt, and everyone will know you remembered what day it is.

3)  Get out the construction paper and make good old fashioned valentines.  You don’t even have to give them away, but cut out paper hearts, cover them with stickers, paper doilies, and marker or crayon drawing, and you have a memorable holiday keepsake.

4)  Take your kid on a date.  Babysitters are super busy on Valentine’s Day.  Pick a different night to go out with your own valentine (think cheaper dinner specials and shorter restaurant waits) and take your kiddo out on a date.  Think about his/her favorite foods and what restaurants won’t be full of couples on romantic dates.

5)  Give your child a valentine.  Dads, give your daughters flowers.  It’s sweet.  And a wonderful tradition.  Buy your kids a small heart full of candy or maybe a Valentine’s-themed book.

6)  Go for the cheese.  Turn on some music and dance the night away with each other.

7)  Have hot cocoa and storytime.  Fireside. 

8)  Call loved ones and let your kids talk on the phone.  Nothing like a long distance “I wuv you” to melt Grandma’s heart.

9)  Make your children a special breakfast.  Maybe try your hand at heart-shaped pancakes.  Hopefully, they’ll turn out better than my attempt this weekend.  (Let’s just say that no amount of 3-year-old imagination could remotely see a heart in any of those pancakes!)

10)  Spend some extra quality time together.  Read one more book at bedtime, or let that bath go an extra couple of minutes.  Just because.

Happy Valentine’s Day, readers!

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Make Your Own Playdough

If you are looking for a fun activity to do with your kids that has some lasting power, try making playdough with them.  There are several recipes out there, but this is one I have used successfully.

Kool-Aid Playdough

2 cups flour

1 cup salt

2 packages of Kool-Aid (small, unsweetened)   (This is the source of your color, so choose wisely)

1 T. plus 1 1/2 teas. cream of tartar

Mix these 4 ingredients together.

Pour in:

2 cups boiling water

1 T. plus 1 1/2 teas. vegetable oil

Stir, then knead when thick.

Store in airtight container once it’s cool.  You can refrigerate it for up to 2 weeks.  (I use a Ziploc bag.)

Just like any other playdough that you have used before, it can be rolled out, cut in to shapes, and molded in to figures.

Just the Right Notes

A sampling of Rocky's love notes

My child often gifts “I love you” notes to friends and family. He sees what a positive response he gets from the recipients and it makes him feel good. Once he gave one to a little girl he plays with at the YMCA. Her mom jokingly told me about how the girl’s father had gotten emotional about the fact that their little daughter had received her first love note from a boy already. “Don’t worry,” I laughed. “He gives them to all the children he likes.” And ladies. Especially good looking ones.

I may not be a young beauty like the girls at the Y but in Rocky’s eyes I am the “prettiest woman in the galaxy” and the lucky recipient of the majority of the notes he writes. If I tried to keep them all, I would probably qualify as a hoarder by the end of the year. But I feel guilty throwing them away. As a compromise, I keep a few and I take pictures of others. They are a lovely pick me up during those times when I am forced to be a “mean mommy”, when doors get slammed on me and when the back talk starts.

It occurred to me one day that Rocky might like a few notes in return. DUH! Not sure why it took me so long to come to this conclusion. My sister-in-law works for a company called Chronicle Books; they produce some great coffee table books, kids’ materials and knick knacks. You have probably seen their stuff at any bookstore but just don’t realize it. She brings us all kinds of interesting books including stuff like the Sounds of Star Wars and photo books on everything from beer to toys to cupcakes. One of the products she gifted me was this awesome little note set called Mini Lunch Notes. Perfect!

I began to stick a few of these handy notes here and there. I hide them in his jacket, in his lunchbox, etc.  “I love you no matter what,” I write, “Keep up the good work” or “Please eat your banana.” Each time I do this he gets so excited; who knew a few little words would have such an impact? I wish he would stay this young just a few years longer, that just a simple note could give him such a high. I know it won’t always be this way and so I will just milk this as long as I can.

***The Gen X Moms are no longer writing as a group (too many scheduling conflicts) but you can continue reading about my adventures with Rocky on my new blog at:

http://www.jedismama.com

Traveling Internationally with Kids

by The German Teacher

I love both of the travel posts Gen X Moms Blog has posted before:  Flying With a Baby and Flying With a Toddler and always read them before we travel, to refresh my memory on the excellent advice given there.

 Since we travel internationally with Rosebud and Superdude, primarily to the United States from Germany, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on traveling internationally with children.  While it may seem daunting to fly and travel internationally with children, particularly for intercontinental trips, it can be done! 

 An international trip can be a great learning experience for a child, and offers them the opportunity think differently about what they know and the world around them.  I was 11 when I first traveled abroad with my parents, to the United Kingdom.  That experience was very enriching for my younger sister and me.  We still talk about our memories from that vacation.

 Apart from traveling to the United States from Germany with our daughter Rosebud, we have also taken her to London, Venice, and eastern France.  Already I have seen how much these experiences have interested her, and we are eager to share more travel experiences with her and her baby brother.

 The first step in planning an international trip is to reread both the travel posts I listed above.  As many times as we’ve traveled back and forth across the pond with Rosebud (six completed intercontinental trips now), I always find myself needing to refresh my memory on the excellent suggestions for flying with young children.  The second step is to research your destination and carefully plan, so that you have a good variety of activities tailored to your family’s age range and interests.

 Our international travel often involves a visit to family and friends, so it is a little different from traveling for pleasure with children, but the advice I wish to share applies to both situations.

 1.  If you are US citizens and are travelling internationally, all children will need a passport, no matter how young they are.  Keep in mind that when applying for a US passport for a minor (under 16), both parents need to be present when signing the passport application for the child.  A child’s passport needs to be renewed every five years.  If your child cannot sign for himself, the parent needs to first print the child’s full name, then sign next to the child’s name and write down relationship with that child (i.e., mother, father, guardian).

 Make a copy or two of your passport photo and signature page, and keep the copies in a separate location from the passports themselves.  That way, if a passport goes missing, you still have the passport number, which can help in acquiring a new one.  You might even consider leaving a copy of your passport with a relative.  In your passport, there is a page to record contact information, too.  Definitely write down this information, including your home address, but do it in pencil so that you can change the information later on.

 US citizens can also register their trip using STEP, or Smart Traveler Enrollment Program: http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/registration/registration_4789.html.  In case there is some sort of travel emergency that arises during your travel, registering with STEP alerts the nearest embassy or consulate.  Then, the consulate or embassy can offer you and your family assistance, should it be needed.  If a passport were to go missing while you are abroad, registering with STEP can make it easier to acquire a new passport.

 2.  Plan ahead and be sure to include plenty of down time for you and your children during your stay abroad.  This is especially important if you are dealing with jetlag.  To help your children and yourself adjust to a time zone change more quickly, stick to their regular schedule when possible.  In other words, have meals and naptimes occur at roughly the same time as at home if possible.

 When you arrive at your destination, try to spend some time outside to play or take a walk.  I find getting a little fresh air and exercise is one of the best ways to overcome tiredness after flying.  And, of course, little ones need an opportunity to stretch their legs after a long flight and day of travel. 

 Make sure you and your children keep hydrated and eat lighter foods while traveling, too.  To keep well hydrated, you might want to carry a refillable water bottle to fill in the airport, once you get past security. 

 If you can have a rest day with few activities planned on your first day, this is especially beneficial for kids.  This way, the kids can settle in, relax and feel comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. 

 3.  Especially in European cities, child-friendly accommodations may not be available or easy to locate.  One alternative to consider, if you’ll be staying in one location for a time, is a vacation apartment or home.  Vacation apartments often include a kitchenette, which can help you save money and time.  Vacation apartments can be less costly than a hotel, depending on the length of your stay and the city.  

 Another option is to stay in hostel.  Many youth hostels offer family rooms.  If you want to keep down your travel costs, a hostel is usually less expensive than a hotel.  Hostels may not offer the same level of amenities as a hotel and you may not have the same level of privacy that a hotel offers, but on the other hand, hostels are a great way to meet other travelers.  This can be especially nice for children, particularly older ones.

 I hope that these tips I’ve shared are helpful and, if you’ve ever considered traveling abroad with your kids, will help you realize it is doable and well worth it.  Safe and happy travels, everyone!

Some Ways to Combat Cabin Fever

Last night was the BCS National Championship game.  For Dear Hubby and I, that means dinner in front of the TV.  To pull that off with the wee ones, we had to get creative.  Our solution is one that I think a lot of families can use, especially this time of year: a living room picnic.  We laid our picnic blanket down on the floor, used paper plates, and ate finger foods to minimize mess.  The Big Cheese was so excited about our picnic, she was contemplating the menu most of the afternoon.  And, the girls and I baked a special batch of cookies to make our picnic extra special.   

When the weather makes you spend more time inside, don’t let that take all the fun out of your family time.  Just get creative.  In addition to our living room picnic, we’ve had hot cocoa in front of the fireplace (in sippy cups, of course!) for a special family story time, and we’ve also increased the frequency of our board game playing.  Have any boxes left over from all the Christmas loot?  Turn them in to art projects, dog houses, baby beds – the possibilities are endless.

New Year's Eve with Tots in Tow

Dear Hubby and I have never really fully embraced New Year’s Eve as a bona fide holiday.  To us, it’s always been a night to stay up late – and then cram in some sleep before the big day of football.  But, we do have our own New Year’s Eve custom we started a few years before we had kids. 

We get dressed up and go out to a fancy restaurant for dinner.  It’s not much, but since it’s not even a real holiday, we thought it was something.  When The Big Cheese arrived on the scene, we toyed with how to keep up our little custom without a babysitter.  Honestly, we found that it was really easy.  We still go to really nice restaurants (think linen tablecloths, romantic ambience, classical music piped in. oceanfront), we just go at the very beginning of the dinner hour when we won’t interfere with super romantic dates and annoy other diners. 

Her first New Year’s Eve, we went to a wonderful oceanfront seafood restaurant with a good friend from out of town.  Our waitress, a full-time teacher who waits tables on holidays for the tip money, absolutely fawned over The Big Cheese.  She brought the seven-month-old diner her own New Year’s tiara and introduced her to all of the neighboring tables.  Needless to say, she knew how to earn a good holiday tip from us! 

We certainly haven’t always had such success.  Last year was Bugster’s first New Year’s Eve, and we went to a different oceanfront restaurant.  We had family in from out of state, and we had our customary early reservation (5:30).  We were seated in a corner, surrounded by windows.  It was majestic.  Until the grouchy elderly couple was about to be seated next to us.  They took one look at our well-behaved and fashionably dressed darlings and demanded a new table.  Every time either girl eeked out a single noise that evening, they glared in our direction.  Oh, well.  All I can say is karma, baby.

This year, we waited too long to make our reservation.  In fact, we made it two days ago.  So, we are dining at the ripe late hour of 4:45.  We decided to mix things up a bit.  We’re going to take the girls to Rainforest Café, a super kid-friendly restaurant (floor-to-ceiling aquariums, gigantic gorillas, faux thunderstorms) with a tasty menu for grownups.   We almost never go, so it will keep the special occasion vibe going. 

It may not be much, but it’s our little way of maintain a piece of our pre-parenthood life.

Got Cork? Get Creative!

My first attempt at a wine cork wreath.

I did not get the artistic gene in my family. My mother reminds me of this fact. “Mom,” I asked her once. “Why do you keep that ugly clay duck I made in 6th grade? It has no neck, the beak is misshapen and the colors are all off.” She shook her head and said, “I keep it because I know it was the best you could do.” I think she takes pity on me because she didn’t get the gene either. Like recently when I painted a basic happy birthday sign for my son’s party. She took one look at it and said, “You needed your sisters to help you with that.” Ah geez.

Well, I may not be the artist/animator with a strong musical background like my older sister. Nor do I have a passion for sewing that my younger sister has, something that came in very handy after she had three children by the age of 30.

A different take.

But, c’mon Mom, I’m not totally lacking in creativity. Check out these cork wreaths I made this month. While there are other blogs that will give you step by step instructions on how to recycle your wine corks, I got what I thought I could use at the craft store (a glue gun, a couple different kinds of wreath bases and some ribbon) and went to work. To be honest, I came across the idea last year and casually mentioned that I could use a few corks to one of the relatives. She recruited a couple of others and, a year later, they delivered boxes full and told me they couldn’t wait to see what I was going to do with them. Darn it. I guess I’d better follow through, I thought. (I hope it’s true they were collecting from friends as well because otherwise those relatives drink quite a bit. I’m just sayin’.) So far I’ve made three wreaths and I still have many more corks leftover. Looks like someone’s getting wine cork trivets this year! Or maybe some cork ornaments from Rocky. Placeholders are another easy use. I recently visited a chic hotel that used wine corks in tall glass vases as decor. Must be the in thing now. Look, Scriv, conveniently green! Ho ho ho.

 

***The Gen X Moms are no longer writing as a group (too many scheduling conflicts) but you can continue reading about my adventures with Rocky on my new blog at:

http://www.jedismama.com