valentines-day-dinners-specials-boston-2016

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

great wolf lodge

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

224598_original

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!

Criminal Minds

dinner detectiveSometimes you learn something about your spouse on a date that really surprises you.  One of our “outside of the box” dates was to go to a Murder Mystery Dinner.  Ours was at a hotel in downtown Austin, but I’ve seen them advertised in multiple cities.  If you are looking for a double date idea (or a larger group) this would be a great idea.

We parked in the hotel parking garage and then went up to the ballroom where the dinner was being held.  Upon checking in, everyone had to get a name tag.  On the name tag you wrote a fake name and that was your persona for the rest of the night.  Before dinner, there was a “meet and greet” where you wandered around the room and introduced yourself to other people there.  The idea is that you get to know some people before the mystery unfolds and you have to solve the crime.  Some of the people you meet are actors who are going to be playing roles in the dinner and they have elaborate backstories.  Was the person I just talked to really an accountant in Austin or was he an actor who is playing a role in the story?

This is where I was surprised.  I’m the introvert and Amanda is the extrovert, but walking around the room and talking to strangers was a lot of fun for me.  Amanda was very uncomfortable and just wanted it to end.  Who would have thought?  We could have had an extra date just exploring that curveball!

After the “meet and greet” you went back to your table where you have dinner with eight to ten people.  Several things are happening at this time.  You are meeting new people (and will soon be trying to figure out if they are actors or regular people like yourself),  eating dinner that is served by a waitstaff, and having a murder unfold before your eyes.  There are detectives and witnesses that tell the story and there are plenty of clues given to you throughout the night.

At the end of the night, each person turns in their report of who they think the murderer was and the reason why the murder took place.

I thought this date was a lot of fun.  Amanda thought it was horrible.  I guess you win some and you lose some.  You can find a lot of deals on Groupon.  I looked when writing this blog and you can get a Groupon for $69, but when I went to the Dinner Detective website we used, it was only $60!

If you want a quiet night out, this is not the date for you.  On the other hand, if you want to do something very unique and meet some new people then you’ve found a winner!

It Doesn’t Have to be Complicated

downloadI love creativity.  I love planning a one-of-a-kind experience or even doing things that create an experience that you’ll remember for a long time.  That is not always a sustainable model for planning dates with your wife and kids.  Sometimes you must do something easy, but still full of quality time.

Emerson (our youngest) and I had a date like that not too long ago.  All it required was a little bit of advance shopping on Amazon as my pre-planning.  I got on about a week before our date and searched for puzzle books for kids her age.  I was looking for the kind of activity book that has games, mazes, word puzzles, and such.  I found one in less than a minute and ordered it.  After it arrived, we went to a sit-down restaurant, because we needed some time and a fast food experience would be too quick.  We chose Razoo’s because I was craving Cajun food and Emerson only eats chicken nuggets and candy, and you can find chicken nuggets anywhere.

After ordering our food, we opened the book and started doing some puzzles together.  I ordered alligator tail and had her try some of it.  She’s more open to a new food experience when she’s on a date and things are out of the norm.  Since dad/daughter dates aren’t routine, they do provide you with some special moments.  It may be trying a new food, but it can often be an open window into a conversation that you wouldn’t have on a normal day.

We finished our meal, worked on some more puzzles, and ordered dessert.  Dad/daughter dates almost always require dessert!

This blog isn’t one of those creative blogs.  It’s just a short one to give you an idea of something that is out of your regular routine and easy to do.  The total cost was about $10 plus a meal.  She also kept the book which will come in handy on road trips!  That’s a two-for-one win!

Happily Ever After

Datebox-Happily-rebrand-1

Date boxes were a pretty genius invention!  The concept is like other subscription boxes.  Your monthly subscription gets you a date idea mailed to you and it comes with everything you need to spend some creative time together.  I love the idea, but Amanda’s favorite date is always going to a movie.  My favorite thing to do is be creative.  When I’ve subscribed to a box, I’ve always taken the smallest subscription, usually three months, because it takes us about six months to carve out time between movies and creative dates.

Recently, I subscribed to Happily Datebox and we tried the very first box that was sent.  You can consider this blog a two-for-one deal.  You can find out what a Happily Datebox is like OR you can take some ideas and do it on your own!

I was very pleased with the quality of my first box from Happily (and I have a few more that we’ll walk through in future blogs).  It is a very professional presentation all the way down to the box that it arrives in.  Our date was a two-part date.  The two parts didn’t necessarily go together, but they were both fun.

The first part was a card game that was all about who knows the other person better.  We took it with us to lunch and found a table in the back corner of Rudy’s where we could eat and spread the cards out.  Each person is given six cards that have a question on them.  You answer each question on a sheet of paper that you keep hidden from your spouse.  After your answers have been recorded, you lay out the cards for your spouse to read.  She has ten tokens that she spreads out over the cards based on how confident she is of your answer.  She tells you her answers and if she is correct, then she gets points that are equal to the tokens she wagered on the card.  It was a fun game!

The second part of the date was making homemade ice cream.  Before you even open your box there is a list of a few supplies that you are given for the date.  Several ingredients for the ice cream are in the box (sugar, rock salt, several types of ice cream toppings, etc.), but there are some supplies that are harder to package or can’t ship in the mail (vanilla, heavy cream, etc.).  We had all the ingredients on hand, so we didn’t have to make a stop at the store, but if you didn’t you could find yourself in a predicament.  The box comes with instructions and plastic bags that you mix the ice cream ingredients in and then shake in the bags. It did require freezing for 25-30 minutes, but you could do that while you play the game.

My first experience with Happily was great!  The only downside was that they supplied a card for a Spotify playlist web address and a “lean to dance” web address and both of those links were no longer active.

If you want an easy date, you could subscribe to Happily.  The cost is between $33 -$40 a month depending on the length of your subscription.  The six-month subscription is cheaper per month than the month-to-month option.  There is also a digital datebox that is $8 a month, but obviously comes with no supplies.  You can usually find a discount for your first box.  At the time of this blog, one of the codes was “SAVE 20”.

If you want to be creative, you could come up with your own set of questions to make a similar game and you can find a recipe for homemade ice cream in a bag here.

If you are the first person to respond and post a comment on the blog, I’ll send you the game and the ice cream recipe that we have.

 

Overheard Conversations

EATS2

A few weeks ago, I had planned a breakfast date with Raley, our 13-year-old.  She was not at all thrilled about getting up earlier than she had to on a school day so she asked if we could go to dinner instead.  Making that decision was easy.  I just had to ask myself if I wanted to have breakfast with a kid in a bad mood or dinner with a kid in a good mood?  So, we went to dinner this week . . .

This isn’t really a date idea like most of the blogs, but an observation of an impactful moment that happened to us.  I’m writing it because something similar could happen for your family if you took a few steps outside of your comfort zone.

We went to our regular dining spot that we go to whenever it is just Raley and I.  We found “our table” (the same one we always sit at) and we had a great dinner and conversation.  While we were eating, there was a table of about eight elderly gentleman that had gathered to talk and eat as well.  The restaurant was fairly empty and I overheard one of the men mention the “prayer list.”

After we finished eating and paying at the counter, Raley stepped away to use the restroom.  While I was waiting for her, I walked over to the table and asked the men if they were from a church group.  They replied, “We’re from a bunch of different churches.”  I discovered that one of the men in the group led a prison ministry and the rest of the group were volunteers in his organization.  My daughter walked back up right about the time that one of the men began to tell a story about some gang members who had given their life to Jesus and had been radically changed.  It was one of the “goose bump” type stories.  We only chatted for about five minutes and then I asked if I could pray for them.  Shortly after that we were on our way home.

Reflecting on the event the next day, I realized several things had occurred because I stepped out of a comfort zone to talk to people I didn’t know.

  1. My daughter was exposed to an incredible ministry to “the least of these” that she doesn’t get to hear about that often.
  2. She saw how my willingness to start a conversation gave encouragement to the men who were gathered.
  3. She heard her father pray for people out loud in a public restaurant.
  4. It spurred some interesting conversation on the way home.

Those were four wins that would have never happened had we simply paid the bill and left.  What might happen if you engaged your neighbors or other people with spiritual conversation as your kids looked on?

Deep Sea Date

Viewing-Aquarium-Channel-Art-YouTube

If you’ve read the blog often, you know that the quickest way to get my money is to give a deal on Groupon that I can use for a date!  Emerson and I went to the Austin Aquarium for an afternoon together.

I’ve driven past the Austin Aquarium a few times and I’ll be honest; I wasn’t impressed by it.  It is in the middle of a strip mall between the Salvation Army and a Half Price Books store.  If it wasn’t for the Groupon, I would have probably not considered it, but a deal is a deal . . . and I’m glad we went.

It isn’t a huge aquarium, but it is great!  They have several tanks where you can touch the animals like turtles, lizards, and sharks.  They also have a bird room that you can walk into.  That gets you a very up-close view!  We also talked to some of the people who worked at the aquarium and they were great!

This sounds like an advertisement for the Austin Aquarium, but it’s not.  If you are local and have kids, you should definitely check it out.  If you aren’t local, it’s simply an idea for a Dad/Daughter date.  Find a local aquarium and go check out some of God’s creation together with your kid.  Ask questions like:

  • What is the craziest looking animal in here?
  • If you could take one of these home, which once would you take?
  • Why do you think God made so many different animals in the ocean?
  • What does this creation tell you about God?

Tickets are $14 for adults and $9 for kids, so it’s less than $25.  You probably won’t spend more than hour there, but still worth it!