Shelter In Place Ideas

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This is the second blog since the Coronavirus put us in our homes with limited ability to do creative dates outside of the house.  This may not be as much of a creative idea as it is just telling you some of the things that we’ve been doing to spend time together and to be intentional.

For the next three weeks our church will be in a family initiative called “Ready, Set, Go.”  We are focusing on being a ready bride, setting the table of discipleship in the home, and going into the places we work with the Gospel.  This is all coming out of the second half of the book of Colossians.  This emphasis has a family guide to help parents disciple their kids.  Even if you are reading this later, with no guide, and no context from the sermons, you can still do some of these things together.

We each decided we would secretly do something for every member of our family this week to show them love.  Here is what I did.  You can do the same thing over the next few weeks or tweak it to fit your family.

  1. Ice cream for the wife – We went by Shakes one night while we were out, but the line was about seven cars deep and she didn’t want to wait. Dairy Queen had the same type line. Later in the week I went and got Shakes for her and Dairy Queen for the girls.  Frozen custard isn’t really ice cream, so I had to take care of the rest of the family, but since it is my wife’s favorite, I made a special trip just for her.  Take 30 minutes out of your night and spend $20 on ice cream for the family!
  2. Cleaning with no complaining – We have two daughters. One of them is a fairly clean and organized young lady. Her room is rarely messy and you don’t find much of her stuff around the house.  The other child is half-human and half-tornado.  Her room is always a wreck of epic proportions.  She can’t get her clothes from the bathroom to the hamper and can rarely get her towel from her room back to the bathroom.  She also doesn’t have the motor skills necessary to put a toilet seat down.  I haven’t gotten on to her all week (but you can tell I’m venting now).  Every night before she went to bed, I picked all her clothes up off the bathroom floor and put them in her hamper.  If the toilet seat was up, I put it down for her.  Find a chore or a way to serve one of your family members for a week.  Do it without telling them and see if they notice.
  3. Watch a movie together – One of my girls loves movies. I’ve been talking to her about watching the Marvel movies with me. She initially agreed and was excited about it, but that feeling waned.  I told her that we’d watch a movie together this week and it would be her choice.  Tonight was the night, but she said, “Dad, I’m sorry, but I don’t want to watch Captain America.”  I told her she got to pick the movie.  She picked The Incredibles.  The irony that she didn’t want to watch a superhero movie . . . and then picked a superhero movie, was not lost on me.  Let someone in your family pick a movie this week and watch it together.

Nothing that creative here, but a couple of ideas you can do with a little intentionality.

Easter Egg Hunt

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I asked my wife to write the blog about what she did today for our family.  Obviously you’ll be reading this AFTER Easter and hopefully, we’ll never have another Easter like this one, but I’m posting it for you to adjust.  You can do something very similar while you are locked up for CoronaPalooza.  Here are her thoughts . . .

“This is a unique Easter for everyone due to COVID-19.  As bummed as we were not to see the whole family, do a big egg hunt, and eat tons of candy, I felt we needed to do something that would be fun with just the four of us.  High hopes that we could do something that would appeal to our teenager.  We have a 10-year-old and 13-year-old and without younger ones here, I wasn’t sure how excited they would be about Easter celebrations and egg hunts.

So, our oldest opted out of dyeing eggs, but our younger one was excited to do it.  Side note…I have been dyeing eggs since I was little and in all those many years, this is the best option I have found for getting a bright, shiny egg.  A little messy, but we discovered this a couple of years ago and will never go back to the dyeing kits you get at the store.  We put on an Easter playlist and dyed some eggs on Saturday.

Sunday, we did an egg hunt with those boiled eggs and some plastic eggs.  In each plastic egg I put a piece of paper in it with a word or two from Matthew 28:2-6.  They went hunting for all the eggs, then brought them inside and worked together to put them in order.  I had a couple of the words printed in bold so when they finished putting it together, the words STONE and HIS CLOTHING were in bold print.  Those bolded words were clues to where their gifts were hidden.  One was near some rocks outside and the other was in Brett’s closet.  Inside the prize eggs they found their favorite thing in all the world…cash.  Lots of times I get cutesier and get stuffed animals, candy, bath bombs, etc.  But this year, with all this craziness, I wanted something that, without question, they would love.  $40 each did the trick.  Am I buying my children’s love?  Maybe.  Do I care right now?  No.  I wanted it to end happy and I knew cash would make that happen.

I was talking to my oldest a few minutes ago and I mentioned that this Easter wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and was kind of nice.  She commented that she had a surprisingly good day too and it was kind of a nice change from running from family to family during a holiday.  Again, a good reminder to me that change is not a bad thing and sometimes we can make good out of a bad situation.”

Stuck at home?

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Are you tired of Coronavirus posts?  I am, but it didn’t seem to make much sense to post a blog about taking your spouse on a date or taking your kids somewhere when we’ve been asked to “social distance.”  Speaking of social distancing, I’m predicting right now that at the end of 2020, it will be the “phrase of the year.”

Since you are stuck inside, how about a Family Obstacle Course?  We made one this week and it ended up being a lot of fun.  Each person took a room to set up totally on their own.  Then once all four rooms were ready, we strung them together into one big obstacle course.  If you wanted to get competitive, you could time each other, or you could do it more than once and try to beat your own time.  We just did it for fun.  The win was that when everyone had completed the course, both girls wanted to do it again!

Get creative.  Use things all around your house to make it fun.  You don’t want to recreate ours, but I’ll show it to you for inspiration.  Also, whenever a person was blindfolded, there was a person coaching them through the obstacles.

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Room 1 – Emerson

You started blindfolded on her bed and you had to crawl under one string and pick up the giant teddy bear.  While holding the bear you had to step over the other string and then toss the bear to the side.  The you had to find five bells and put them in a cup.  Then you had to transfer the cup full of bells into another cup.  From there you left her room and headed down the hallway to Raley’s room

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Room 2 – Raley

In this room you had to go under a string, over a string, under a string, and then over three strings.  After touching the wall, you had to work your way back through the room the same way you came in.  Then you went down the hallway to the living room.

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Room 3 – Living Room (Amanda)

You had to put on a Christmas elf hat and crawl under a string to a stack of letters (Xs and Os).  Still blindfolded you had to pull three X’s to the side and then move to the couch.  Once you got to the couch you had to find a balloon, blow it up, tie it, and then get to the end table.  There were pins on the end table and you had to pop your balloon.  After that you made your way to the back door where there was a pillow you had to jump over.

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Room 4 – Backyard (Brett)

So, it isn’t a room, but you get the point.  Now you could take the blindfold off.  You had to go past the hammock, but you got to choose if you went over it or under it.  That was followed by a front somersault.  After getting up you hopped over all four pillows and run to the fence.  As you are getting to the fence a football is being thrown and you must turn and catch it quickly!

There it is . . . the first annual Home Obstacle Course (and if my front somersault shoulder injury has anything to say about it, it will be the last Home Obstacle Course)

Photo Scavenger Hunt

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One of the things I love about a Photo Scavenger Hunt as an idea for you family to spend time together, is that it is customizable to the ages of your kids.  We did ours when the kids were both young, but if I was doing one now, I’d have some sort of TikTok dance involved!

Coming up with a list of things to look for can seem daunting, but it is an easy search on the internet these days.  You can find hundreds of them online that you can simply print off.  I wanted to customize one, so I download a couple from the web, took the best pieces of them, and then added some of my own ideas.

We are a family of four, so we split up into two teams.  We set a time of when we had to be back and then headed in different directions.  Although, I’m competitive, my goal wasn’t to win this time.  My goal was to put the camera into my daughter’s hands.  It was not going to be fun for her to ride in the back seat while I drove as fast as the law would allow to site after site, slowing down to snap a picture and then take off again.  It was about having her look out the window for things on the list or telling me where she thought we should go to find the pictures.  I’d have to pull over on the side of the road, she’d have to get adjusted, roll the window down, take the picture, get situated again, and then drive off.  It was not a fast process.  Now that I have a teenager and an older elementary school child, I can imagine it would probably be MUCH more competitive if we did it again.

If you want to add some flair to your scavenger hunt, you could use the GooseChase app.  You’d want to ask someone to help you out and run the game.  If they really like you, they can add all the scavenger hunt items into the app so that you don’t have a competitive advantage by knowing everything you need to find before everyone else.  On the GooseChase app, you can also set a time where the game ends, so you don’t have to try to manage being back at a certain time.  When the timer runs out, the app won’t let you add anymore photos.  The game manager could also approve or disallow photos, award bonus points, and allow you to have a live scoring system.

Cost: Free (GooseChase will let you have three teams in a game for free)

Time: 90 minutes of prep and 60 minutes of fun

City Scavenger Hunt

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There are hundreds of ways to do a scavenger hunt.  Our family has done a photo scavenger hunt (a blog for another time), scavenger hunts around the house, and in our neighborhood.  Recently, we did one in downtown Austin.  This was another of my finds on Groupon that we purchased.

We used Operation City Quest because they had one for Austin.  There were some pros and cons that we’ll get to in a moment, but one of the things that made this day fun was the people with us.  Obviously, the whole family was there since it was a Family Day for us, but we also let both kids invite a friend.  We loaded up the car with four kids and headed to lunch at Home Slice Pizza.  I’m not a big fan, but everyone else loves it AND it occasionally shows up in the “best pizza” lists so you should probably not take my word for it and check it out yourself.

After lunch, we drove downtown to the “starting point” which was about a block in front of the Capitol.  We sent a text to a number to let the unknown person running the hunt that we were ready.  We were then given a link to a scavenger hunt through the GooseChase app.  This wasn’t a Scavenger Hunt where we were competing against each other.  We were all on the same team trying to get as many points as possible by finding as many things on the list, and taking a picture of it, and uploading it to the app.  You could compete against other people playing around the United States.

That is where the major downside was for me.  You would think that if we were in Austin and another team was in Philadelphia that it would be impossible to compete against them.  After all, it is two totally different cities with different places to visit/find.  That would have been true except all the scavenger hunt items were so general that we could have stayed at home and not driven to Austin to play.  In fact, they were so general you could play in any city.  The other problem with the scavenger hunt is how it is scored.  When you take a picture and upload it you get the points assigned to the item.  The GooseChase app is awesome!  I’ve used it before when I was running a hunt.  If you are asked to take a picture of a frog and you upload a picture of a car you get the points, but the person running the game sees what you uploaded and then will kick your picture out and you don’t get the points.  The person running the Operation City Quest hunt doesn’t do that.  So, if you want to compete, you are competing against people across the United States who can beat you by taking pictures of literally anything they want.

On the bright side, if you are out with a bunch of kids just enjoying trying to find things on the list and those same kids get tired after about an hour . . . you can still have a good time with it 😊

Groupon still had it offered at the time of this blog.  The cost for two adults and four kids was $21 which wasn’t bad at all.  I’d just suggest you save the trip of driving to the big city they tell you to go to.  You can also make your own scavenger hunt for your family for free, but I wanted to give you an easy, no work included option to try out.

Valentine Dinners

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Sometimes I debate what I’m going to write about because I don’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence.  This is one of these moments.  Tonight, Amanda and I are headed to a restaurant in Austin called Juniper.  I’ve never been there, never heard about it, and am writing ahead of time so I can’t give you a review.

We try to go out to eat every Valentine’s Day, but this year I wanted to raise the stakes a little bit and find a nice restaurant to go to.  I googled “fancy restaurants in Austin” to get a list of places to go.  I started the process at the beginning of February, but I was already too late.  Everything I clicked on was booked for that special Hallmark Day where we celebrate a martyred Catholic in the name of romance.  Luckily, my wife doesn’t care about the specific day as much as spending time together, so we are going to dinner on the day before.

Enough about our plans for tonight, because I filed this one under “Dad Daughter Dates” and that is what I wanted to offer up.  It sounds simple to plan a date with your kids where you take them to dinner, but it is a traditional date for us.  Each February, I take my girls out individually to a Valentine’s dinner.  When we started, I had big ideas.  I’d wear a suit and my daughters would dress up.  We’d go to a fancy restaurant. I’d pull out the chair for her, we’d order expensive food, and have our own Hollywood movie experience.

It didn’t work that way.  One year, we literally ended up at the Whataburger drive thru because it was the only place my youngest wanted to eat and she wanted to eat it at home.  There were a lot of tears and it is possible, though unconfirmed, that I may have lost my temper that night.

Earlier this week, I took my teenage daughter to Valentine’s dinner.  I’ve learned some lessons along the way.  I texted her on the morning of our date and asked her what she wanted to wear.  I told her that we traditionally dressed up, but I realize that may not be cool for a 13-year-old.  She said she was in a sweater and jeans and so that is how we dressed.  I asked her if she had a place in mind or if she wanted to eat somewhere we’d never eaten before.  She said that she didn’t care, BUT she had been thinking about Kerbey Lane Café (she’s a sucker for Kerbey Queso).  Kerby Lane it is!

I said that I didn’t want to insult your intelligence at the beginning of this post.  Taking your daughter to dinner isn’t that creative of an idea.  You might have even done it for Valentine’s Day before, but it is a tradition we started a long time ago and it’s been a good one.  By the time you read this blog, it will probably be past that big day, but mark your calendar for next year and start a new tradition of “Valentine’s Dinner with your Daughter.”

Great Wolf Lodge

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We finally did it . . . we went to Great Wolf Lodge!  I had heard about it for years and my kids had begged to go.  We didn’t do the “full experience” in that we were there for less than 24 hours, but I think I got enough of an idea about it to give you some insight in case you are thinking about a trip  with the family.  We were headed to my in-laws outside of the Metroplex, so we booked a night at the Lodge.  We pulled the kids out of school early and arrived around 5:30pm.  We left in the early afternoon of the next day.

First, when you drive up during the Christmas season it is impressive.  The giant statues outside and the Christmas lights created a great first experience.  Registration was quick and simple for us.  After checking in, we headed to our room.  We got one of the rooms that had a bed for parents and bunk beds for kids.  After settling in we went for dinner.  I thought we were going to the car to grab a cheap dinner, but I was alone in that sentiment.  Everyone wanted to eat on-site.  We found a dinner buffet that had something for everyone.  The food was alright.  It was the quality of an above average buffet, but it cost $70 for two adults and two kids.  It was good, but it wasn’t $70 good.

After dinner we walked around the Lodge.  We were definitely “first-timers.”  Everyone, kids and parents, were in pajamas.  We did not get the “pajamas memo.”  Some people were gathering for story time in the lobby, others were enjoying dessert, and there were quite a few preparing for a quest.  All around the facility there are places where you can wave a magic wand and complete actions from your quest.  A wand will cost about $20 and each thirty-minute quest will cost about $15.

The next morning, we hit the water park, which was the main reason we came.  It is 80,000 square feet of wave pool, lazy rivers, and slides.  It was very crowded, but we found some chairs in the back.  To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed at first.  We tried out the wave pool and it was not very deep at all.  The lazy river was small, and it is not a calm and relaxing float.  You are going to go under waterfalls or be hit by children shooting water cannons at you.  Once we got to the slides the experience got better.  The slides are all tube slides and there are two that are for a large group of people with big tubes.  The slides were the highlight of the morning.

One of the interesting things was I found myself having a difficult time breathing inside the water park.  At one point, the kids wanted to do some things on their own, so Amanda and I went to the hot tubs.  When I got in the hot tubs, I had a coughing fit and had to get out.  I could barely breathe.  Once I calmed down, I went back in only to have the coughing fit start again.  Several weeks after we went, a friend told me that he got chlorine poisoning there and he had a hard time breathing.  I’m still alive so it apparently wasn’t life-threatening 😊

Overall, we had an enjoyable time, but we probably did this a little too late.  Our nine-year-old was on the upper end of who Great Wolf Lodge is designed for.  Our thirteen-year-old was too old, although she did enjoy the slides.  If you’ve got younger kids, this could be a fun excursion for the family, but it is not cheap.  Start saving for the experience now if you want to do it.

If you’ve been to Great Wolf Lodge, leave your comments below so that people can get perspectives that are different from mine.

Here is a blog from someone else that might help you save some money, too.

Photography

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One way to find a day with your kids that they are guaranteed to love is to build a date around one of the things they are passionate about or something that they are exploring.  Our oldest has been interested in photography for a long time.  She has asked for cameras for Christmas, explored some of the high-end cameras at secondhand camera stores, and I’ve asked some friends who love photography to take her out and give her some tips.  To this day, she’ll be the first person to ask to take the family pictures during the holidays.

One afternoon we decided to go out and take photos together.  Well, I mean we didn’t take them together in that we were posing for pictures . . . we both took pictures of things to make our own portfolio.  We didn’t have any special equipment, just our phones.

We drove over to an area in our town called Blue Hole.  It is an area of the San Gabriel River where it is deep enough to swim.  When the water is high it is very beautiful.  The picture at the top of the blog is an actual picture of Blue Hole.  We stopped and took pictures of flowers, the river, the waterfall, and anything we could find that looked beautiful through the lens of the camera.

When we finished, we looked at each other’s photos, and I’ll admit, she did a pretty good job!  There was a lot of excitement upon returning home, too.  The first thing she wanted to do was show her mom all her photos.

We got to spend time together, enjoy God’s creation, and be outside.  It was a date that didn’t have to cost anything, although I’m pretty sure we grabbed sno cones before and she thinks we went to “our spot” for dinner.

Let me tell you how much of a memory this day was for my daughter.  I asked her about it as I was typing up this blog to make sure I didn’t leave anything out.  We did this date a couple of years ago so I thought I might be a bit foggy on the details.  I asked her, “What do you remember about our photography date?”  Without missing a beat, she said, “I’ve still got the pictures.  Do you want to see them?”

Wildflowers

wildflowersThis is a throwback blog.  I had forgotten about this date idea that I did with one of my girls several years ago.  I thought it would be good to give an idea for some younger kids because my current dates I blog about are for upper elementary to junior high.  When Emerson was probably four or five years old, we went wildflower picking.  You could do this with an older child, but it was perfect for that age.

I got the idea one day when driving down the Interstate and seeing all the spectacular colors that were in bloom.  Once I had the idea, I started looking around town for places that I could take a kindergarten kid.  The Interstate wasn’t one of the safer options, so I had to do some advance scouting.  Once I identified three places we could go where we could walk safely and not be on private property, I picked a Saturday.

We drove to each of the sites with the goal of making bouquets for mom.  We kept a little cooler of ice in the back of the car.  It would be wise to put something to drink in the cooler and then you can replace the drinks with the flowers that you pick.  This was a simple date to pull off that didn’t cost any money because we had everything we needed at home.  It was an easy way to spend time together and mom loved having three or four vases of colorful flowers to put around the house.

Christmas Lights

christmas_lights_0_croppedOne of our family traditions has been finding a night to go look at Christmas lights.  When our kids were little, we started the process early in the day.  We would design our own “Christmas Decoration Awards” out of paper plates and craft supplies.  There were no rules for the awards.  Each kid made three or four awards for any category they could dream up.  Most of the awards were things that wouldn’t surprise you.  We’d have “Raley’s Favorite Lights,” “Best Nativity,” and “Best Inflatable,” and a few more.

First, we’d stop for hot chocolate and then we’d pick one “official” neighborhood to visit for the awards.  Sometimes we went to multiple neighborhoods to look at lights, but since there is a bit of driving around and judging, we didn’t want to go back and forth between neighborhoods all night.  Once one of our kids picked a winner, we would get out and ring the doorbell of the winning house.  This was probably the best part of the entire experience!  We would explain what we were doing and that their family’s decorations had one a coveted award.  Seeing the expressions on people’s faces and watching their genuine reactions to the appreciation of their decorations was a lot of fun.

If people weren’t home, we would tape their award to their front door.  In order to do that without the possibility of getting tape stuck, we’d bring some painters tape with us.  Outside of that tape, you’ll need to get craft supplies in advance.  If you add the hot chocolate, you can do this family experience for about $30.  Take your family out this week to see some lights and spend some time together.  You’ll be happy you made the memories!