It is, quite literally, a once on a lifetime moment (unless scientists finally resolve that whole mortality): Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, two very wonderful events, happening simultaneously. The next time that the first day of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving will be in 79,043 years. So, of course, this confluence has its own name: Thanksgivukkah.
At our house, we’re extra-super excited, because Thanksgiving/Hanukkah Eve, the night we light the first candle, is also my oldest daughter’s seventh birthday. Happiness abounds! Of course, she’s doubly thrilled because of the multiplicity of presents this brings. (Among the things I am thankful for this year: Thanksgiving is not a present-giving holiday.)
Personally, the double holiday doesn’t affect my family much–we’ll celebrate both as we always do. But I much prefer the mash-up of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah to the more routine lumping together of Christmas and Hanukkah. Giving thanks–for the miracles in our lives and the freedoms we enjoy–are central themes of Hanukkah, and of course, Thanksgiving. So perhaps the best celebration we can have on this day is to enjoy ourselves and take the message of these holidays seriously by giving thanks for all the blessings in our lives. I know that’s what I will be doing.
On this dreary, drizzly Friday, I’m thinking back to three weeks ago, when my daughters and I began a 7-day adventure that took us to Orlando, St. Thomas, and St. Martin, all part of a press trip sponsored by Universal Studios and Royal Caribbean. We kicked off the trip by staying at the incredible Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando, which is designed to make you feel like you’re in Hawaii, or Bali, or someplace similarly tropical and exotic. (If you’re feeling more of a European vibe, consider Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, modeled after the Italian village and including an authentic piazza and boat-filled harbor.)
The next morning we met up with our group to take the brief walk over to Universal Studios. The weather was uncharacteristically rainy, which made me so grateful for the fact that much of Universal’s best attractions are indoors. We started with the Despicable Me ride; my girls, ages 5 and 8, both loved it and were very happy to be able to take a picture with an actual Minion afterward. Shrek 4-D was another hit–especially the part when the Donkey sneezed and we all got sprayed (with water). It’s so much fun to do 3-D with kids, watching them swat at and duck from the stuff coming toward them, and Universal is long on 3-D offerings, including the new Transformers ride and Terminator 2. Then we went to what’s arguably the park’s most popular attraction, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I’d just started reading Harry Potter with my older daughter, Julia, the week before, so that she’d have a frame of reference. Her little sister, Lila, didn’t have the first idea who Harry was, but she still got into the spirit as soon as we got to the enormous Hogwarts Castle. While Lila was too small to ride the main event, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, she absolutely loved the smaller-kid-friendly Flight of the Hippogriff. (And I thought it was very cool that she, along with all the other shorties, were given an official certificate granting her and four guests front-of-the-line access to the Forbidden Journey once she’s tall enough. I’m holding on to that!) After all the adrenaline-pumping rides, we took it down about 20 notches and spent a while in the Dr. Seuss-themed part of the park, which suits the younger crowd very nicely.
If you’re considering a trip to Universal Orlando in the near future, you’ll be happy to hear that come March, they’ll have a brand-new budget-friendly hotel option in Cabana Bay Beach Resort. The resort offers 900 family suites that sleep six (as well as another 900 traditional hotel rooms) and there’s a special offer going on right now with rates as low as $104-$134 per night. Find out more here or by calling 888-273-1311.
Come Sunday, we boarded the Freedom of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean ship that serves more than 3,600 guests. The Universal/Royal Caribbean combo is a nod to the growing trend of “double-duty vacations.” We didn’t know it yet, but my children were about to have five of the most fun days of their lives. Seriously. Throughout our trip, the girls would spontaneously say things like, “Who’s having the best time EVER?” and shoot their hands in the air. They’d ask if we could live on the ship. They’d say they wished Daddy “had a house in St. Martin so we wouldn’t have to go home.” (Believe me, I wish Daddy had a house on St. Martin, too.) The moments that really stuck with us:
The Dreamworks Character Breakfast, with special guest stars Puss in Boots, Fiona, and Shrek
The Tiaras and Teacups Party, where about a dozen little girls served their moms tea and cupcakes (their favorite part) while being taught about table manners and proper etiquette (my favorite part). This was part of the Barbie Premium Experience, a special package you can buy separately that gets your child a slew of Barbie toys and goodies along with the chance to be in a fashion show and participate in other fun events all week. At $349, this add-on isn’t cheap, but Royal Caribbean does offer significant discounts from time to time, so definitely ask about that when you’re booking.
Strolling through the Promenade one night and finding ourselves in the middle of a flash mob dancing to “Thriller” (I’m a sucker for Michael Jackson)
Turning on the Dreamworks channel in our room at any hour and catching bits of movies like “Kung Fu Panda” and “Madagascar,” and watching “The Croods” in the ship’s movie theater
When Lila won (okay, co-won) a hula-hooping contest during Family Disco Night and left with her own medal
Coming back to our room at night to see which origami towel creation our stateroom attendant, Desiree, had created. The girls formed a bond with Desiree as soon as we arrived at our room, and they loved giving her high-fives and hugs all week. In fact, at the Tiaras and Teacups party, all the kids left with a piece of Barbie stationery, on which they were asked to write a note to someone they appreciated. Lila wrote hers to Desiree, thanking her for keeping our room so clean. Very sweet.
The ice skating show. (Fun fact: Royal Caribbean is one of the largest employers of ice skaters in the world.) We got there just as the performance started and I didn’t realize it would be so packed, so we had to split up. From my vantage point a few rows behind Julia and Lila, I got to watch a second show: My girls swiveling their heads from one end of the rink to the other and then zipping back to stare at each other in amazement and exclaim “WOW” and “Did you see that?!” after every skater’s jump. When the show ended, Julia ran up to me and said, “That. Was. AWESOME!” (Had I thought to pack the girls long pants and socks, they could’ve skated themselves during the many open-ice sessions during our cruise.)
Swimming in the pools, splashing in the “H2O Zone” water park, and chilling in the hot tubs. (It’s worth noting, though, that there are no lifeguards on the ship. Staffers definitely keep an eye out for kids–I watched one hustle over and scoop up a little girl who slipped and fell–but the onus is 100% on parents.)
Our excursion on St. Thomas: We sailed on the party boat Kon Tiki over to a private beach for a few hours. The water was the perfect temperature and the scenery was gorgeous, but the highlight for my kids was the on-board entertainment on the way back to the ship. Backed by a steel-drum band, two post-college guys danced the Macarena, started a conga line, and performed a very impressive limbo. (My girls later separately confessed to finding the guys “cute.” I can’t disagree.)
Our balcony. With all of the excitement on board the ship (and I’m only scratching the surface), some of my favorite moments were spent sitting outside, watching the waves as we sailed. It was such a peaceful setting and I felt so grateful to have the chance to experience it.
As I said, this vacation was nearly a month ago, but it’s stayed with my children. Just last night at bedtime Julia said, “I wish I was still on the ship.” Lila told me last weekend that she wants to go with her sister and her cousin on Freedom of the Seas for “16 weeks” when she’s in high school. Our on-board neighbors told us that this was their 15th cruise; it’s the only way they travel. I’m wondering if my girls, bolstered by the memories this cruise gave them, will follow in their footsteps one day?
As a big fan of Suzanne Collins’s book series, I love how Sesame Street transformed Cookie Monster into Cookieness Evereat, whose goal is to survive the jungle by eating his way through the “Hungry Games.” His companions include parodies of Peeta (now an animated piece of pita), Finnick (wielding a fork instead of a trident), and Wiress (who keeps staying tick tock while holding an alarm clock). For more on the names of popular characters, check out Lisa Milbrand’s “In Name Only” blog post on why names from the Hunger Games haven’t taken off.
Even though your kids might be too young to understand the inspiration behind the latest video, they can still help Cookieness as he faces challenges related to food. Kids will learn basic pattern and shape recognition by guessing which food type comes next in an apple-banana sequence and which food shape comes next after a circle-square sequence. Parents can just laugh along at the funny antics and jokes.
Plus: Sesame Street characters Elmo and Murray recently visited our offices! Below, watch a video where they give tips on tackling picky eating. And watch Elmo and Murray give more advice on bedtime routines and getting along with siblings!
If you’re a book lover, or on your second baby, chances are you already know the books above. You want to buy your baby (or your friend’s baby) something that’s beautiful and worth reading over and over and that might be a little under the radar. Below are my go-to board book gifts for literary folk who have all the others.
If your kids are constantly snacking, you can feel a little better about their eating habits if you know that what they’re munching on is wholesome and tasty. I recently met with Kate Geagan, RDN, and Earth’s Best spokesperson, to discuss some smart new snacking options for kids.
Snacking has its unhealthy connotations, but if you branch out beyond the processed stuff, you can introduce your child to more mom-approved snacks you’ll both enjoy. “Snacks are comprising a larger portion of our calories than ever before, which means that nutrient-rich snacks are more important than ever before,” Geagan says. The fix? A range of delicious and beneficial superfoods.
Superfoods have been big in the news lately, with their potential for immunity-boosting and age-defying properties. If you’re skeptical about the powers of superfoods, take solace in knowing that the core of the buzzword is based in real science. The nutritional values of foods like beets, quinoa and blueberries are common knowledge, and since you already know they’re good for you, their booming popularity is worth taking advantage of.
When stocking your kitchen with superfoods, the darker and more vibrant the better. Opt for deep green produce like kale, beets and sweet potatoes that are versatile enough to be blended in a smoothie or tossed in a salad. Pump up foods lacking in nutrients like white potatoes with darker, richer superfoods for a more balanced dish.
For on-the-go snacks, kids can pop dark chocolate-covered seeds or fruit for the antioxidants, or even make their own creations. Lay out a do-it-yourself granola assortment with coconut, cranberries and sunflower seeds, or arrange a fruit salad bar with superfood stone fruits like plums and cherries. Many superfoods are also available in portable snack packs for nutrition on the run, like Earth’s Best line of fruit and yogurt smoothies or infant puree pouches.
Most children have grown up with the a few tried-and-true favorite fruits and vegetables in their lunchboxes, but offering a treat from a completely different part of the world can open your little one up to more sophisticated snacking. “Expose your children to a greater variety,” Geagan encourages. With more choices, your child is sure to find something she likes and won’t grow tired of the same snacks day after day.
Geagan also suggests taking your child to the grocery store to choose unusual dried fruits, nuts and grains from the bulk section and explaining the foods’ countries of origin. Teach your child about acai berries from Central and South America or purple sweet potatoes popular in Japan.
The goal is to raise a healthy eater for life, Geagan says. Being more adventurous is just a bonus.
Put these super snacks on your shopping list the next time you go to the grocery store:
My kids are crazy about Build-a-Bear Workshops, where you choose the skin of a new plush friend and then get it filled, right there in the store, with fluff. And they’ve got a new addition to announce: Baby gifts from Build-a-Bear! The line is called Hug-a-Cub. Since the new goods are for babies, you don’t have to wait in a store to get them stuffed (definitely more fun for the older kids). They do encourage you to order online, because there’s lots to chose from there.
Build-A-Bear is giving away THREE cuddly Hug a Cub 5-piece Brown Bear Gift Sets, including a soft bear, rattle, snuggler, blanket and bag to tote your treasures.
To enter, leave a comment below, up to one a day between today and Wednesday, November 27, and don’t forget to read the official rules. Be sure to check back on December 2 and scroll to the bottom of the post to see who won. We reach out to winners via Facebook message (it goes into your “other” message folder on Facebook), so if you win, look for us there as well. Goody luck!
Our winners have been chosen. Congrats to Charley Elizabeth, Veronica Lynn Willyard and Mary Singer!
New mom Holly Madison is helping women reach their weight loss goals with the Holly Madison Diet. The former Girls Next Door star, 33, has teamed up with eDiets to create a custom diet plan and app for women who want to take control, eat well and stay healthy.
Holly opens up to Celebrity Baby Scoop about her former “unhealthy” eating habits, her 8-month-old “easy” daughter Rainbow, the benefits of breastfeeding and joys of motherhood, and how she’ll feel if Rainbow wants plastic surgery one day.
CBS: Tell us about teaming up with eDiets and creating the Holly Madison Diet. What inspired you to create the diet?
HM: “When I became pregnant, I really got into nutrition and healthy eating for the sake of the baby. I used to be so unhealthy — always running around eating fast food. When I was in the process of losing the baby weight, eDiets proposed working together to come up with a custom diet plan and app.
Revamping my diet was a huge lifestyle change for me, and I’m so interested in nutrition now. I thought it sounded like a really fun idea — and it is fun!”
CBS: Tell us all about the diet. Is it a food delivery program? Or online/mobile diet tips? What kind of support is provided for users?
HM: “When you login to hollymadisondiet.com, you enter your personal statistics, your goals and your preferences. A custom diet is then formulated for you to complete with shopping lists and diet logs so you can keep track of how you are doing. [There are also] recipes and support. It gives you new meal ideas all the time.”
CBS: How did you lose your weight after welcoming your daughter Rainbow? What kind of exercise did you do?
HM: “You know, I only recently started working out and Rainbow is now 8 months old. It was just the last thing I wanted to find time for while I was learning to be a mom and trying to keep up with everything else.
Diet became the biggest factor in my weight loss. Because I was breastfeeding, I had extra incentive to put healthy things in my body and I started to learn to cook because I was staying home with the baby. I used to eat all my meals out.”
CBS: Are you still breastfeeding Rainbow? Do you recommend breastfeeding to women? What are some of your favorite benefits of breastfeeding?
HM: “Breastfeeding was a great experience for me, but I’ve been told by moms I know that I am lucky my baby took to it so easily. Don’t beat yourself up if your baby just doesn’t want to do it and you go the bottle route.
But if you do choose to breastfeed, it’s nice because it burns quite a bit of calories and it kept me more mindful of what I ate because I knew what I took into my body was ending up in my baby’s food supply. ”
CBS: Now that you are a mom, do you have any regrets or different opinions about plastic surgery? How will you advise Rainbow if she wants to have plastic surgery? Would you be heartbroken if she got any plastic surgery?
HM: “I certainly wouldn’t let Rainbow get plastic surgery until she is an adult and it’s out of my hands. I hope she doesn’t feel the need to. I don’t regret the two procedures I had, but I am glad I knew when to stop. I hate the frozen face duck lip look you see on women these days.”
CBS: How do you plan to teach Rainbow about loving/accepting her body and promoting positive body-image? Are you concerned she will compare herself to you and try to live up to your beauty?
HM: “I bet Rainbow will be semi embarrassed of me and want to be totally different. Isn’t that how it works with teenagers [laughs]?”
CBS: How is Rainbow doing? What kind of baby is she? Tell us about the joys of motherhood.
HM: “Rainbow is an amazing, easy baby. I got really lucky! I love her so much and she has inspired me to slow down and enjoy life in the moment. It’s hard to keep up with everything when you are a mom, but you also realize it’s OK to let some of the stuff you used to think was so important go.”
CelebrityBabyScoop.com is one of the most popular blogs on the topic and the foremost provider of everything celebrity-baby, featuring baby fashion, baby names, baby trends and up-to-the-minute celebrity baby gossip and pics. Get all the latest news, updates, and photos about Hollywood’s most beloved celebrity moms, dads and their babies. Who’s the latest Tinseltown baby? Who’s due next and who just announced a pregnancy? It’s all on CelebrityBabyScoop.com.
Nervous about preparing Thanksgiving dinner? You’re not alone. No matter what your level of culinary experience, cooking the Thanksgiving feast can cause more anxiety than a turkey feels as November rolls around. I’ve been to culinary school and am now food editor here at Parents, and even I’m not immune. (Starting two years ago, I finally put my gravy anxiety to rest by making it ahead of time.)
Recently we asked our Facebook fans about their biggest Thanksgiving dinner challenges, and I chose a few of the questions to answer, here. My goal is to help make the cooking part of your day go more smoothly so you can get down to the important part of enjoying the feast with your friends and family.
Ashley Jude is hosting her first Thanksgiving and asked for our best piece of advice.
My best piece of advice is one I follow myself every year: do as much in advance as possible. Turkey stock for the gravy and my piecrust are already in the freezer. This weekend I will make my cranberry sauce. Tuesday I will cut up my vegetables for the stuffing and trim the Brussels sprouts. Wednesday I’ll whisk up the gravy and put together a mashed potato casserole that can go straight in the oven on Thursday. The more you do ahead the less stress you’ll feel on the big day, guaranteed.
Almost equally important is to have a cooking plan for the day and write it down. I start from when I want dinner on the table (4:30 PM), then work backwards to carving the turkey (4:15 PM), taking the turkey out of the oven (3:15 PM), and putting the turkey in the oven (12:15 PM). It’s amazing how having a schedule on paper can keep you cool and composed.
Heather Beckman wants an easy pie crust.
Ah, Heather, don’t we all. Okay, here is my official “food editor” answer: piecrust isn’t difficult once you practice a little. Just keep your ingredients cold and don’t work the dough too much. Watch our video here to see just how easy it is to roll one out.
And here is my “unofficial” answer: you know what kind of piecrust I love? Graham cracker. Yum. How delicious with pumpkin or pudding or cheesecake or virtually any other smooth, creamy filling. You can press a graham cracker crust into the pan in seconds or, gasp!, buy one that still tastes great.
How to Roll Out Pie Dough
Several people asked how to serve a gluten-free Thanksgiving.
Happily, aside from the stuffing, gravy, and pie most traditional Thanksgiving dishes are gluten-free (remember gluten is a protein found in wheat). So pile your plate high with mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, green beans, squash, cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts, salad, and, of course, turkey. To replace a traditional bread stuffing try a wild rice dressing. Instead of, or in addition to, pumpkin pie add baked apples to the menu, pumpkin pudding, or poached pears. No one will miss the gluten.
We had a lot of questions about dealing with picky eaters on Thanksgiving.
Here’s the good news. I think Thanksgiving is the last day you should wage a battle with picky eaters. (And, in fact, try to avoid making it a battle any day of the year with these strategies.) On Thanksgiving, just make sure there are one or two things on the table your kids will eat. That shouldn’t be too hard since, let’s face it, there’s an awful lot of food on the table. Maybe little ones will eat the rolls with butter, the mashed potatoes, a fruit salad, or plain turkey. Some kids might love the cranberry sauce or the sweet potatoes.
Another beauty of the Thanksgiving table is that you can always add a dish, so if you don’t think they’ll eat anything you serve, add macaroni and cheese (traditional in some parts of the country) or apple slices. Once the food is on the table, let your kids eat what they want and have dessert later, no strings attached. This is a meal for everyone to enjoy. You and your children. Save the one-bite rule and other maneuvers for outsmarting picky eating for another day. That’s something both you and your kids will be thankful for.
Any other Thanksgiving dinner questions, let us know!