Archive for the ‘ Holidays ’ Category

How To Do Valentine’s Day Sans Sitter

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Whether you planned it this way or not, Valentine’s Day is here and you don’t have a babysitter. Although you and your partner may not be in for a night of wining and dining, it doesn’t mean you have to scratch the special day altogether. After all, Valentine’s Day is a holiday you can celebrate with whomever you love, right? Here is our fool-proof plan to please the kids and the grownups at home tonight.

Show the munchkins some love with a kid-friendly dinner.

Who says mac ‘n’ cheese is just for kids? This yummy comfort food will make you feel warm and fuzzy on the inside and satisfy the whole family. And since it’s a special occasion, try spicing up your homemade mac or the go-to boxed version with one of our 21 spins on the classic dish. We especially love the “Little Italy” recipe with spinach, oregano, and chili flakes. It tastes fancier than it is to make (which is always a good thing).

While chowing down on your pasta, feel free to bust out your favorite wine glasses and pour yourself a glass of 100 percent grape juice (we like Welch’s, which has the same heart healthy antioxidants as red wine). While it’s no Cabernet, you’ll have more energy to keep the kiddos entertained than if you were sipping the good stuff.

One of the best parts of St. Valentine’s special day? The sweets! Finish off your faux-Italian dining experience with some tiramisu gelato. Recently, a batch of Breyer’s new gelato made its way into the Parents offices and was gone in a matter of minutes. ‘Nuff said.

Indulge in fun Valentine’s Day kid crafts and activities.

Start a Valentine’s Day tradition by creating cards, treats, and other crafts with the kiddos. Your little ones will love making you a Valentine keepsake and your heart will melt from their sweet little notes and scribbles. After you’ve completed your crafts, start winding down with one of our 50 Best Movies for Kids. We think 101 Dalmatians and Shrek are the perfect “love stories” for families.

Have adults-only after hours.

If you can manage to make it through dinner, crafts, and movies without falling asleep (it’s been a long week, hasn’t it?), reward yourself with some one-on-one time with your partner-in-crime. Feel free to exchange the grape juice for your favorite bottle of wine and pop in a romantic movie. According to a study by the University of Rochester, couples who watched love stories like “The Notebook” or “Terms of Endearment” and discussed them afterwords strengthened their relationship as much as couples who had been attending therapy together.

Then, be sure to check out our tips for finding the perfect babysitter, so you can have a date-night next week.

Child Care: Tips for Choosing a Good Nanny
Child Care: Tips for Choosing a Good Nanny
Child Care: Tips for Choosing a Good Nanny

Find more Valentine’s Day activities for your kiddos here.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock: beautiful girl with heart. valentine’s day concept

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Valentine’s Day Treats for the Whole Family, Including Yourself!

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Is there any better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than with food? Some have even said the stomach is the way to the heart, a mantra we embrace. Just in time for the holiday, here is a list of treats that you can give to others… or yourself. We won’t judge.

For a special candy treat, try Lake Champlain’s Friendly Frog Valentine Chocolates set. Kids will enjoy the fun heart-shaped gift box printed with their very own frog prince. Six assorted chocolates await inside, two of each flavor including chocolate, peanut butter and caramel. ($11, LakeChamplainChocolates.com)

For a unique twist on traditional holiday candies, Harry & David is offering a set of I LUV U Valentine Praline Pops. The pralines are made with caramel using whipped cream and pecan pieces. Each pop is individually wrapped, so you can divide between three loved ones. (Or between two loved ones and, um, yourself.) ($19.95, HarryAndDavid.com)

For a more traditional approach to a Valentine’s Day treat, Ghirardelli Impressions is the way to go. Each milk chocolate square is printed with a white or dark chocolate heart in the middle. In addition to the regular-size bags, Ghirardelli is also offering new mini bag for only $1 — perfect for giving to school friends. (Ghirardelli.com)

For a vegan option, Farm Sanctuary offers up this “Milk” Chocolate Heart. But wait, there’s more! The heart opens up to reveal even more organic vegan treats inside. Not only will the gift spread your love to your kids, or even yourself, you’ll also be helping abused and neglected farm animals through the purchase. Eating chocolate while helping cute animals? That’s a win-win. ($18, FarmSanctuary.org)

The Chew co-host and Top Chef alum Carla Hall is ready to share her little bites of love with everybody. The Carla Hall Petite Cookies are bite-sized treats in sweet and savory varieties including Mexican chocolate chip, almond ginger cherry shortbread and Harissa spiced nuts. The cookies also make great little snacks for dolls and tea parties. ($8 and up, CarlaHall.com)

For the height of decadence, Ike’s Cookies offers a box of Lover’s Gold. Because, seriously, what says “I love you” more than gold? Each order comes in an elegantly packaged box of 15 dark chocolate cookies wrapped in 23-carat gold leaf. As you bake them (instructions included) the cookie expands to create a crinkle effect, but instead of being covered in powdered sugar, the cookies are covered in gold. Yes, edible gold. The cookies, made from organic and locally sourced ingredients, are easy to make and come out chewy and delicious. It may be a little extravagant, but Valentine’s Day only happens once a year, right? ($48, IkesCookies.com)

Not in the mood for store-bought products this year? No problem! You can also try some of our homemade Valentine’s Day sweets and candy recipes, perfect for telling someone special how much they mean to you.

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Valentine's Day Treats: Waffle Heart Sandwiches
Valentine's Day Treats: Waffle Heart Sandwiches
Valentine's Day Treats: Waffle Heart Sandwiches

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A Chance to Win $1,000 From Sweethearts Conversation Hearts

Friday, January 17th, 2014

One candy that’s stood the test of time is Sweethearts Conversation Hearts. First made in 1902, the candies known for cute messages have become the bestselling non-chocolate treat of Valentine’s Day. I’d like to think that’s because Sweethearts really let you say how you feel. Sure, chocolate and presents are nice, but nothing is more direct than seeing the words “Be Mine” or “Kiss Me” tacked on to your heart-shaped candy.

Now, Sweethearts’ maker The New England Confectionary Company (NECCO) is taking personal endearment an extra step. The company recently launched Sweethearts Color Your Own packaging geared toward encouraging kids’ creativity. Black and white matte boxes make for the perfect canvas to draw a special design with crayons or markers. Kids will love customizing a box for family, classmates, or even a special valentine.

After your little artist has had fun coloring, help him enter NECCO’s Color Your Own contest celebrating the candy’s new look. From now until March 1, kids ages 5-12 can submit their one-of-a-kind Sweethearts box online by uploading a picture. There are three separate age categories, and in each a grand prize of a $1,000 savings bond. Plus, your munchkin may just get the chance to see her personal saying appear on Sweethearts’ candy next Valentine’s Day season in 2015.

For more info on prizes and rules, be sure to visit NECCO’s contest page. In the meantime, watch one of our Valentine’s Day craft videos with your child for a little inspiration!

Valentine's Day Heart Fan Craft
Valentine's Day Heart Fan Craft
Valentine's Day Heart Fan Craft

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Your Worst Christmas Gifts Ever

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

Didn’t get what you wanted this year for Christmas? You’re probably not alone. We recently asked our Facebook followers to share the worst present they’ve ever received, and nearly 600 people commented! Here are some of our favorite responses.

Downright Hilarious Gifts:

“One year I told my parents all I ever get is crap for Christmas so the next year they bought me a rubber turd and wrapped it in a really nice jewelry box.” -Sydnie

“White fake fur coat with a western/horse theme shaved into it.” -Lacey

“My husband once got a dickie, which is a mock turtleneck with no shirt, from his aunt.” -Anna

“Seven of the same turtleneck sweater in different colors – one for every day of the week.” -Rayshelle

“A toilet from Home Depot … seriously!” -Lisa

“Vibrating slippers …” -Lezia

“A velour jogging suit from my MIL … I neither jog nor wear velour!” -Susan

“A ceramic cow dressed in a bathrobe and slippers with hair curlers. There was no way to mask the horror when I unrapped that as a 13 year old.” -Laurie

“My husband gave me an adorable leather skirt and vest but I was 50 years old. Not something I would wear.” -Debbie

“Long patent leather trench coat … Matrix style.” -Lisa

Saddest Presents of the Bunch:

“One slipper sock from my mother-in-law. No, not a pair of slipper socks, a single sock!” -Soni

“A regifted jacket with rusty screws in the pocket.” -Jamie

“An old purse that I thought was new until I opened the inside pocket and saw that they forgot to pull their tampons and chapstick out.” -Jessica

“A 100 dollar gift card that was never activated.” -Jill

“Airplane nuts.” -Nicole

“A pair of boots. They were both for left feet.” -Carrie

“An umbrella that was a free gift when a larger gift was purchased.” -Brittany

“Toilet paper from a friend.” -Andrea

“Benefiber. Yes, that’s what my husband got me!” -Danielle

“A last-minute gift of a bag of Doritos from my husband.” -Aleasha

For more laughs, check out our Baby Bloopers blog, and be sure to sign up for our 100 Days newsletter for everything you’ll need during the winter holiday season.

TELL US: What is the worst Christmas gift you’ve ever received?

Stamped Snowman Card
Stamped Snowman Card
Stamped Snowman Card

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Traditional Christmas Cake, French-Style

Friday, December 20th, 2013

To me, French is the most beautiful language. It floats like a cloud and feels romantic. It’s the language of love. In high school, I worked my butt off to become proficient, taking honors-level classes, joining French club, and even becoming a teacher’s aid. I had dreams of keeping it in my daily life and raising bilingual children. Unfortunately, like a flower, language is delicate and must be tended everyday in order to flourish. When I got to college, my schedule doubled and I didn’t hold a single conversation en français.

Enter the French Institute Alliance Français (FIAF), a non-profit organization in New York City that promotes cross-cultural dialogue for children and adults alike. One of the largest and most respected centers of French-American activities in the U.S., FIAF offers art and education workshops for families.

Last Saturday, I tagged along to FIAF’s holiday bûche de Noël cooking class, where kiddos spoke elementary-level French to their moms and dads—c’est manifique!—while slathering layers of sponge cake with rich chocolate icing (and tons of red and green candies). Taught by Sylvie Berger, a chef raised in Paris, the class fully immersed children in the French language and was sprinkled with bits of English.

The bûche de Noël (“Christmas log,” or “Yule Log”) is a rolled sponge cake filled with buttercream and traditionally decorated with meringue mushrooms, marzipan holly, and wood-grain scored frosting. Its origins can be traced back to ancient Celtic celebrations of the winter solstice, but French pastry chefs popularized the confection in the 19th century and each bakery became known for its unique and elaborate embellishments. Today, few French people celebrate Christmas without one of these cakes.

Though messy, making the baby bûche was a blast! Take a look at my mini how-to video (click the play button), then make your own Christmas cake using one of the recipes below.

 

BAKE A BÛCHE!

 

Want more? Check out these recipes for easy holiday treats!

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Save Time and Money on Holiday Travel

Friday, December 20th, 2013

With Christmas on its way and New Year’s soon after, we bet there’s one thing you’re in for this season: travel. We had the chance to learn some expert tips from Bob Diener, president of GetARoom.com. Whether you’re flying or driving in the weeks to come, these strategies will help make your journey hassle-free now and for the future.

1. When in doubt, over-plan.

Making stops along the way might be necessary, but it doesn’t hurt to stock up on supplies beforehand. “Shop for food in advance at your local store. You can get much better prices than trying to pick things up at a convenient store,” Diener says. His trick to avoid paying $3 for water? Pack empty sports bottles to fill up at airports or rest stops.

 2. Search for unconventional options.

Don’t be afraid to look outside the traditional hotel. “People gravitate toward big name chains, but those have more demand and higher prices,” Diener says. You can book vacation rentals for almost the same as a hotel with the bonus of having a kitchen and extra space. Though independent hotels may not seem as glamorous, reading customer reviews can help you find one just as nice as the usual.

3. Take advantage of surprise offers.

Flash sales also exist on travel sites and can offer rates 10 to 60 percent lower. The trick is booking within the sale window, anywhere from 2 to 24 hours. “Most people take a week to make plans, but flash sales require you to make a decision right away because the rate is so good,” Diener says. GetARoom.com also has unpublished rates from 30,000 participating hotels; just give them a call to find deals 20 to 60 percent less than what’s listed.

4. Be on the lookout for free stuff.

It’s important to consider amenities in your overall cost. Hotels or resort packages that include breakfast or internet can go a long way in saving . One low-cost way to keep kids entertained: Find a place to stay with a pool. “After a rough day of activities, you can take them there for hours,” Diener says.

5. Keep things sane with technology.

Yes, adding movies to your tablets prior to leaving guarantees entertainment. But it’s also good to download apps that will make your journey smoother. Diener uses the app of his preferred airport to keep track of delays and store boarding passes. His other favorite, Kayak, allows users to search multiple vendors at once to find deals on-the-go. Plus, you’ll need a weather app to know when rain or snow might dampen your day, or give you a white Christmas.

Top Tips for Better Family Roadtrips
Top Tips for Better Family Roadtrips
Top Tips for Better Family Roadtrips

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Mario Lopez: “As long as the family is together, that’s the only tradition I really care about.”

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

With the holiday season in full swing, Parents caught up with Mario Lopez to ask about his family’s traditions. The X Factor host and proud papa of Gia, 3, and baby Dominic, 3 months, emphasized that while he loves the food and fun, nothing is more important to him than family.

How do you go about blending Mexican and American traditions?

ML: Being Mexican, I just don’t know any other way. It’s what I grew up with. My wife is 100 percent Italian; Mexican and Italian happen to be my two favorite cultures, two favorite types of food. With holiday traditions, food is very important. We prepare and serve our food together. Lately, we’ve been loving fresh avocados from Mexico, which is just a staple in a lot of the holiday dishes because they’re so versatile. I give them to my kids. I think it’s an underrated fruit, a healthy fat.

Aside from tasty treats, are there any holiday activities that have become a seasonal staple?

ML: Well, lately our tradition has been to have a very beach-y Christmas. We’ve done that the past couple years with my sister and her kids. My family and I will go down to Mexico right around Puerto Vallarta for Christmas on the beach.

Your son Dominic is only 3 months old. How will it be to travel with him?

ML: We’ve already traveled, believe it or not. He’s already gone to Chicago and he’s got a passport. He’s ready to g0 and the passport photo is the funniest thing. My daughter traveled at around 2-and-a-half months. We took her to Mexico last year, too. She’s 3 years old and her passport is all stamped up.

What present are you most excited to give Gia this holiday, just to see her reaction?

ML: The last thing she needs is another present. When we go to the beach I want her to boogie board with me. I think she’s big enough that we can take on the waves, so that will be fun.

What is the most special thing about a first Christmas as a bigger family? 

ML: I’m all about just having the family around. As long as the family is all together, that’s the only tradition I really care about. We make it all about the kids. We go to mass at midnight and sometimes the kids are a little too tired and my wife will stay with them and I’ll still go with my mom and grandmother.

Is Gia excited about Santa? 

ML: She is excited about Santa Claus. We also do the Elf on the Shelf. Right now, she’s just all about The Sound of Music. She’s been singing the songs. I can’t believe she knows all the songs and she’s only 3. She’s been singing left and right. It’s like Sound of Music overload. She’s got my energy, that’s for sure.

Working with young singers on the X Factor, does that affect how you think about your kids and their talents in the future?

ML: I’m just going to be supportive and try to guide them whatever way that they’re passionate. Just try to raise good, respectful, polite children and let their mother worry about what they want to get into.

Raising a baby boy can be different from a little girl. What is the biggest or most surprising difference so far?

ML: He’s only 3 months, so he’s just been sleeping or eating. He’s maybe been awake 10 percent of his life. He’s a good little baby. Fortunately he sleeps a lot. He even eats while he’s sleeping. My little girl, it’s hard for me to maybe be as firm as I should be disciplining her because she just melts my heart, but I don’t think I’ll have that problem with a boy.

For ideas and recipes to make your own holiday fun, visit our 100 Days of Holidays page.

How to Make Chocolate Mint Candy Cane Bars
How to Make Chocolate Mint Candy Cane Bars
How to Make Chocolate Mint Candy Cane Bars

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My Best Holiday Tradition

Monday, December 16th, 2013

When I said, in a Parents.com post on holiday traditions, that my favorite is taking a one-on-one holiday date with each of my kids, some people complained that my kids need more than one day a year of my attention. But of course, those two get my attention all day, every day. Here’s what makes a holiday time-out so special:
* They get me all to themselves with no sibling, no daddy, and no friends around. You’d think this would happen more often than it does, but I, like most mommies, have to work to be completely alone with any member of my family (the exception being my firstborn’s babyhood…we had plenty of alone time together!) Being with one kid usually means doing homework, walking to a playdate, shopping, or any number of mundane things, as opposed to just enjoying each other.
* I don’t cheat and do anything I “have” to do. That includes running by a bank or post office, etc., because then it wouldn’t feel like a date, right? 
* They get to skip school! At least as long as they are in preschool or elementary school. I try to keep our holiday date off of Saturday or Sunday, when we’re already off-duty. I take a vacation day from work, I excuse them from school, and we both take a break from responsibilities. On a weekday! It feels a little scandalous.
* I follow each kid’s lead. Joe is a nut about penguins, so this year’s date was to the Central Park Zoo where we spent maybe 45 minutes in the penguin room. After, I started to make an argument for seeing other animals (to make that entrance fee worth it!), but Joe wanted to eat a hot dog and then go look at Christmas decorations. So that’s what we did.
* Each kid gets something special, and I don’t fret about making  things even. Grace is now in middle school so, for the first time, I chickened out about taking her out all day. Her special mama date was a sleepover at the Conrad Hotel in lower Manhattan. (It’s not as pricey as it looks, at least by Manhattan-hotel standards, and it’s kid-friendly.) In the morning Grace ordered room-service breakfast, which to her represents the pinnacle of luxury. The fact that I didn’t have to fix breakfast, make the bed, or launder the towels was my own pinnacle of luxury. Joe didn’t get a hotel stay, and Grace didn’t get to miss an entire day of school, but they accept that they can have things that are different and equally special.
* Obviously, we do holiday things. When the kids were preschoolers I took them to St Patrick’s Cathedral a few years in a row, where they have a beautiful nativity scene with a crib that stays empty until Christmas. It felt more meaningful to discuss what Christmas is, mama-to-child, outside of church service (and outside of some lecture about asking for too many gifts, lol). Now that they get it, we more often view the Rockefeller Center Tree, or join activities like the cookie-decorating that the Conrad Hotel puts on. (Happening this Saturday, December 21st, from 3pm to 5pm, if you happen to be in NYC!)
Maybe I am just getting old, but it feels like the world is spinning so fast these days that taking a time-out with these little people is the best tradition I’ve ever come up with. I hope you all get a real rest and respite with loved ones in the next few weeks, before we’re on to new-year resolutions and a busy 2014. Happy Holidays!
We’ve put together a helpful email full of our best holiday projects, recipes, and more! To get your copy click here.

Tabletop Tree
Tabletop Tree
Tabletop Tree

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