No babysitter for Valentines Day? No problem.

No babysitter for Valentine’s Day this year? No problem! You can still have a fun and romantic evening, even with the kids. Last year, we couldn’t get a babysitter for Valentine’s Day. But we recovered, by putting the kids to work. That’s right. Putting the kids to work.

My husband and I love to cook, mostly because we love to eat great food. We rarely get the time to cook together so being forced to stay in and cook on Valentine’s Day was actually a treat. While we were cooking mushroom soup, beef tenderloin topped with blue cheese and panko bread crumbs, cauliflower au gratin, and roasted potatoes, the kids were busy. I asked my kids if they could help put together a romantic evening for Daddy and I. They took it on as a challenge and were quite creative.

First, after they ate one of their favorite dinners (Mac ‘n Cheese), they put on some nice romantic jazz music while we cooked. My daughter, the artist, spent some creating a menu for us complete with drawings of animals frolicking in the woods. You don’t get that at a fancy restaurant! She then proceeded to set the table beautifully with a tablecloth, candles, cloth napkins (ooh, Mommy, what are these?) and decorations like small glass marbles, sparkles, and flower petals. Did I mention that my daughter is an artist? And she’s 6? Her tablescape would have made Sandra Lee jealous. She learned the art of setting the table from my mother so I can take no credit. But I digress.

My son meanwhile designated himself as the waiter. He got his suit jacket out of the closet so he could look fancy. He then placed a towel over his arm and drew a snazzy, French mustache on his face to complete the transformation. When my husband and I finished cooking, he then served us using his best French accent. (Although my son is great at mimicking accents, unfortunately his only French role model is Steve Martin in the Pink Panther movie. He was disappointed that we weren‘t having Hamburgers.) He even handed me a rose from my Valentine’s Day bouquet as I sat down. Ooh la la!

While we ate, the kids quietly went and watched a movie in the family room so that we could have alone time. When we were done eating, it was time to put the kids to bed, and then we were free to do what we wanted alone.

So, how can you do something similar?

1. Decide whether you are going to cook or order in from one of your favorite restaurants. We enjoy cooking but if you don’t, treat yourself and get carry out.

2. Ask the kids to help by setting the table, dressing up as a waiter or waitress, creating a menu, and any other creative thing you can think of to create a romantic restaurant atmosphere. If your kids can play an instrument, have them serenade you. Your kids will feel special that you asked them to help create a romantic evening for Mommy and Daddy. You’ll be surprised with how much they get into it.

3. Put in a movie or turn on the Wii and let the kids amuse themselves in the other room while you enjoy a romantic dinner together.

4. Once they are in bed – watch a movie, slow dance in the family room, or um, whatever.

Optional: Share this fun with another couple by inviting them and their kids over. You’ll have a lot of little helpers and the kids will have even more fun together while you are eating.

Have any other ideas on how you can have a romantic dinner at home … with the kids? We’d love to hear them. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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© 2011 Sue Kirchner

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Tags: Family Celebrations · Valentine's Day Family Fun Ideas

The Power of a Flower

Two years ago, my husband had to travel on Valentine’s Day. Since we usually don’t celebrate on the actual day, I wasn’t too upset that my Valentine was in another city. We usually wait until the weekend rolls around and then go out or do something special. For some reason though, my daughter was very upset that Daddy wasn’t home on Valentine’s Day. To cheer her up (and get her to stop moping), I bought her one red rose and gave it to her when I picked her up from daycare. I told her it was from Daddy and that he was sorry he couldn’t be with his little valentine that day. Shazam! She was lit from within! She was beyond elated. She was happy to infinity and beyond. Before we went home, she showed every teacher, every student and every toy that looked like it had ears that her Daddy had given her a rose.

Of course Daddy gets all the credit for this little act of love, but I got to see the reaction.

Don’t underestimate the power of surprising your children with a little token of love. It doesn’t take much to help them walk on air. Best of all, you get to walk up there with them.

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Tags: Family Celebrations · Ideas on Gifts for Big Occasions · Valentine's Day Family Fun Ideas

Start a Family Holiday Tradition – Adopt an Elf

Family traditions are so important, especially around the Holidays. Traditions help to bring the Holiday season alive for our family. They help us laugh and smile when things get a little hectic. So, let me share a cool product with you that will help you create a Family Holiday Tradition. We discovered the Elf on the Shelf Book a few years ago and it is a huge hit at our house.

If you’ve never heard of Elf on the Shelf, let me share. With the kit, you get a retro-designed Elf doll and a book. The Elf has a job to do, as the book explains. He sits in your house during the day and then at night, he flies back to Santa to report on who has been naughty and who has been nice. (Parents, that includes you too.) A spy in the house! Why would kids like that? But, here’s the fun part. When the Elf comes back in the morning, he sits in a different part of the house. It is the ultimate hide and seek game. Our kids wake up every morning and run around the house trying to be the first to find the Elf.
Christy and Elf on the Shelf

To help you make this into a tradition, your family will adopt and name this special Elf. Ours is named Jack. (I wanted Cornelius but the kids overruled me.) The book includes a page where you can write in the Elf’s name and date he was adopted into your family so it becomes a family keepsake. We love this particular Elf because it reminds my husband and I of the ones our Grandmothers used to have in their houses. The Elf has a bendable body so that he can sit around the house in all kinds of cool places. Even if your kids no longer believe in Santa, they will still love the hide and seek game. Your kids can even take turns hiding the Elf to see who is the master hider in the house.

A word of warning to parents. If you forget to move the Elf one night, you had better come up with a pretty good reason why he is still in the same spot. The first time you forget to move him you can always claim that he was trying to be tricky and fool the kids by not moving. After that, you had better be creative. I have to write myself a sticky note to remember to move the Elf at night because last year I forgot two nights in a row. My daughter was distraut! She thought that the Elf had lost his magic and how was Santa going to know she was good. Oh, the drama! My bad, bad, bad! So, I had my daughter write a letter to Santa asking him to give Jack his magic back. We went to the post office and “mailed” it. It worked, and Christmas was saved. Whew! (That should be a Christmas TV special.)

You can really have fun with your Elf. We put ours out the morning after Thanksgiving, even though the kids start asking for him in August. You can have him create some mischief around the house – move presents, decorations, etc. Or we put crumbs around him one night so that it looks like he ate some Christmas cookies. Put some fake snow on him in the morning to show how he rushed home from the North Pole.

If you have an Elf on the Shelf, I’d love to hear what your family named him. Tell us also what excuses you’ve used it he forgot to move and what else you do to have fun with the Elf.

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Tags: Family Celebrations · Holiday Traditions · Reading with the Kids

How to Teach Your Kids About Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead is one of my favorite Holidays. Huh? How did a suburban Chicagoland girl like me hear about Day of the Dead? Well, I lived in Mexico City for a number of years. For me, Day of the Dead is a fun day where you remember your loved ones who have died, and you share stories about the Chocolate Cake Moments you had together. I wanted to share this love with my kids so I went on a search to find ways to teach my kids about the Holiday. I always think it’s fun to learn about another culture’s traditions. Here are some resources that I have used to teach my kids and I hope they help you too.

If you live in the Chicagoland area or are going to visit anytime from Sept. 26 – Dec. 14th, plan a trip to the National Museum of Mexican Art. They have a really nice Day of the Dead exhibit. Artists from all over the US and Mexico come to the museum to build elaborate ofrendas or altars in the museum and display Day of the Dead themed artwork. They have artists on hand making sugar skulls that can be personalized with your kid’s name. Best yet, the museum store has all of the decorations you need to build an altar at home, books for kids on Day of the Dead, and the traditional papel picado, or tissue paper flag, decorations. Visit their website to plan your trip. My kids really enjoy this exhibit.

There are some really good books written for kids that explain Day of the Dead. Day of the Dead by Tony Johnston and Jeanette Winter is a good one. Felipa and the Day of the Dead by Birte Muller is another one of our favorites. Finally, a book that doesn’t talk directly about Day of the Dead but is a great kids counting story that features Day of the Dead inspired art, is Just A Minute by Yuyi Morales. Read my review.

There are some nice websites that offer coloring pages of the Calaveras (skeletons), sugar skull kits, and instructions on how to make an altar in your home.

How to make an altar

Day of the Dead Crafts

Education Packet for Teachers & Students

I recently found a new craft online to make a Day of the Dead necklace at the Alpha Mom site.

I’m sure there are plenty more websites, locations, and books that are just as good. Leave a post and let me know what I’m missing.

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Tags: Family Celebrations · Holiday Traditions

Why I love Day of the Dead

I think the Day of the Dead Holiday is a great Holiday to share with kids. What? Why would I want to teach my kids about death and skeletons? November 1st, Day of the Dead, is a great opportunity to talk about death in a positive way about how our loved ones who may be gone but are still with us in spirit. As a family, we use the day to share the Chocolate Cake Moments that we had with someone special who we miss. And, of course, decorate with fabulous bright colors, candy skulls, and have a party where you eat, eat, eat. Let’s not forget that. But let me explain why I love the Day of the Dead Holiday.

I spent part of my childhood in Mexico City. My father worked for Motorola and we lived in Mexico for four years while he was building a factory for the company. (I wish I could offer my kids the opportunity to live overseas for awhile, but that’s another subject.) So, I went to middle and high school in Mexico City at the American School. Not only did I get to learn Spanish fluently but I really enjoyed some of the cultural traditions. During my first October in Mexico City, I got to see a transformation in the city. All of sudden every little store and street vendor had candy skulls out, which I thought were cool. The paper stores started displaying the colorful papel picado – or cut out tissue paper “flags” that show elaborately dressed skeletons enjoying various daily scenes of life. The fresh flower stalls suddenly had more yellow marigolds in stock and elaborate floral arrangements on display. Stores had little Day of the Dead shrines or altars set up to show you how to build your own. The shrines are just a physical way to put out things that remind you of your loved one. For us, it gets the family talking about how Grandpa loved this or that.

So, I loved all of the color and pageantry and funny skeleton art, but when I saw what people did on Day of the Dead, I came to appreciate what the day is about. On November 1st, Day of the Dead, people would either head to the cemeteries or have a party in their homes that was all about celebrating their dead loved ones. Sounds odd, right? But here’s the thing. The Mexican culture embraces death as just another aspect of life. It is not to be feared. And when you are gone, you are not truly gone. Here in the US, we tend to silently mourn for our dead loved ones. Once the funeral is over, the grieving and remembrance becomes a private affair. On Day of the Dead in Mexico, you throw one heck of a party for your loved ones. You serve their favorite food, maybe play their favorite music. Your Day of the Dead shrine has pictures of your loved ones, you leave out some of their favorite food, or other objects that represent what they loved or meant to you in life. It is a way to remember and celebrate their life. It is thought that the spirits of your dead loved ones come and share in this party. Whether you believe that or not, Day of the Dead is a great way to remember the Chocolate Cake Moments you had with someone special who is gone. I want someone to throw me a party when I am gone.

Does your family celebrate Day of the Dead? Tell me how.

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Tags: Family Celebrations · Holiday Traditions

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