Valentine’s Day in the City of (Brotherly) Love

Fun FridaysThanks to Dan Patterson for this Valentine’s Day guest post — and to CityPASS for providing two free CityPASSes for our blog giveaway! We seem to have had some technical difficulties … the entries are not posting to Rafflecopter properly. If you entered the raffle, please message me privately at Heidi(dot)hess(dot)saxton(at)gmail(dot)com. Final winner will be announced next week. Sorry for the delay — and thanks!)

It’s that time of year when couples set out to make others uncomfortable with their excessive PDA and when singles set out to break records for chocolate eaten, wine consumed and slasher movies watched. That’s right! Valentine’s Day is almost here. Can you smell love in the air? If you can’t, you should make your way to the City of Brotherly Love this Valentine’s Day — where romance lies around every Philadelphia street corner.

Whether you’re looking for a romantic dinner for your first date or you’re planning to pop the question to your longtime sweetheart, check out our suggestions for top Philly restaurants that will guarantee a perfect night for you and your special someone.

Dinner Destinations for Two

waterworksThe Water Works Restaurant and Lounge is located behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art, overlooking the river. It has been called the “Best Romantic Restaurant” and is considered one of the “Top 100 Experiences in the World” according to Saveur Magazine. Enough said, right?

Picture this! As you dine with the person you love this Valentine’s Day at the Four Seasons’ Fountain Restaurant, you can gaze out the window at Logan Circle’s Swann Memorial Fountain for a perfect view. Not only do you get the ambiance of fine dining and a glimpse at one of Philly’s most breathtaking attractions, but the food has earned the restaurant Zagat’s number one spot in Center City Philadelphia. Your stomach and your Valentine will thank you for this experience.

Or, head down to Penn’s Landing for one of Philadelphia’s most intimate and delicious restaurants, Fork. The restaurant is located near Market & 3rd and is only distinguishable by the Fork design on the front door. It’s not easy to find, but it’s also not easy to forget; the food and drinks are to die for.

Another great place for Valentine’s dinner is none other than Chef Jose Garces’ restaurant, Garces Trading Company. This award-winning restaurant focuses on creating some of the best dishes in Philly inspired by cuisines from Italy, Spain and France. Take a look at their menu! It’s sure to make your mouth water and satisfy your date this February 14th.

R2LThe best view of the city can be found on the 37th floor of Two Liberty Place at R2L. Make sure to call in advance for reservations – well in advance if you want a window table. Check out their Valentine’s Day 3-course dinner.

Are you and your Valentine’s Day date seafood people? If so, the Oyster House is the place for you! This restaurant offers the most extensive selection of half-shell oysters in all of Philadelphia. The atmosphere is also something to be admired, with its white brick walls and central marble raw bar. The Oyster House is definitely a one-of-a-kind place to spend this Valentine’s Day.

You can never go wrong with Rittenhouse Square! Rouge is perfectly situated for you and your date to have a picturesque view of the romantic park. The restaurant’s atmosphere is sophisticated and elegant, and the food will delight even the pickiest of palates. You can’t go wrong with this restaurant choice, either.

You can catch another breathtaking view of Philadelphia from 19th floor of the Hyatt at the Bellevue, at Nineteen (XIX). This restaurant has been described as “opulent” and “palace-like” by many. The dining room is decorated with strings of white pearls strung from the dome ceiling, making for a very romantic dinner. Dine with your Valentine in this scenic restaurant for a night to remember.

Perfect Places for Popping the Question

If you decided to take my earlier advice and chose dinner at R2L, you need not go any further. The glorious view of the city is amazingly romantic. Just make sure to get a table near the window for a perfect Valentine’s proposal!

If you’re hoping memorably to pop the question over dinner, another previous suggestion, the Water Works Restaurant and Lounge, has excellent views of the sunset as well as a Gazebo that overlooks the mini waterfall.  Request Table 42 and I assure you, your Valentine will be pleased.

If you would like to venture elsewhere after dinner at the Water Works, the Philadelphia Art Museum Steps are situated directly behind the restaurant. Dare your loved one to beat you to the top and drop to one knee once you arrive. This offers you the element of surprise as well as a gorgeous city backdrop to your proposal.

Magic GardensDo you believe in magic? You will after proposing at the Magic Gardens in Chestnut Hill. This is a maze made out of recycled glass and ceramic that is one of the most striking art exhibits in all of Philadelphia. They’re also offering Valentine’s tours that you’re bound to enjoy this February.

The Whispering Wall are stone benches located at the base of Smith Memorial Arch to honor Pennsylvania’s Civil War military and Navy. Have your soon-to-be fiancé at one end of the wall while you sit on the other side. The benches are designed so that even the lightest of whispers can be heard when speaking into the wall. Just ask the question softly into the wall and wait for the excited reaction.

There are many statues and landmarks that come to mind when thinking about Philly. LOVE Park and the LOVE statue is definitely on the top of that list. Taking your date here after a romantic dinner not only makes for a romantic proposal, but a great photo opp as well!

Another iconic Philadelphia landmark is none other than Boathouse Row on MLK Drive. Take your Valentine on a nighttime stroll of MLK Drive across from Boathouse Row and the Fairmount Dam on the Schuylkill River for a great photo op and a question that will be answered with a “yes!”

The Blue Cross Riverrink at Penn’s Landing offers you a fun wintery activity and a beautiful view of the Delaware River and Benjamin Franklin Bridge all lit up. You can also grab some hot chocolate and warm up by one of their fire pits. Then, when you’re all comfortable and toasty, ask the question of all questions!

Swann FountainThere is nothing wrong with keeping it simple! In fact, there are two areas of Philadelphia that will make for an unforgettable Valentine’s proposal. After having a delicious meal at Rouge or the Fountain Restaurant, take your date on a stroll through either Rittenhouse Square or Logan Circle. Rittenhouse is captivating at any time of day and perfect for a proposal. Likewise, Logan Circle is an ideal place for popping the question with Swann Memorial Fountain in the background.

Single and Ready to Mingle?

For all you single ladies (and gents) out there, I understand the Valentine’s Day pressure that can occur at this time of year. However, being single on Valentine’s no longer means that you have to sit at home with your chocolates, wine and cynicism.

Grab your friends for dinner and dancing at the Bleu Martini or attend Howl at the Moon’s Anti-Valentine’s Day Party, Love Sux. All hope is not lost. Just remember, Valentine’s candy goes on sale February 15th and that’s a day worth celebrating!

So, there you have it! With one of these dinner, dancing or proposal ideas you are bound to have a great Valentine’s night!

Love is in the air, Philadelphia! The question is, where will the wind take you this Valentine’s Day?

xoxo CityPASS

Fun in Baltimore!

Fun FridaysIf you haven’t already signed up to win the 2 free CityPASSes that will be raffled off next Friday, it’s not too late! For details, go here.

This weekend I’m alone with the kids, and I’ve been thinking about taking a little daytrip to Baltimore — we’ve been at home all week (schools closed to weather) and frankly cabin fever is setting in. Sarah’s favorite movie is Hairspray, which is set in Baltimore, so she’s excited about seeing the city!

I have two destinations in mind —

poe graveEdgar Allan Poe House and Museum. Chris is a huge EAP fan, and wants to see both the house and the gravesite, which I understand is across the street from the house.

The National Aquarium. According to one website, a “five-story wonderland with around 16,000 water-loving mammals from around the world.” (Not sure if this refers to the people or to seals. I thought aquariums were for fish… I’ll keep you posted.)

Can you recommend others? Where should we eat?

Fun Fridays: Going to Detroit? How about Ann Arbor?

handsonHaving lived in Michigan so long (near Ann Arbor), Detroit was bound to come up as a “Fun Friday.”

Fortunately, someone already did the legwork for me! Thanks, Delicious Day!

To be perfectly honest, we didn’t make it to Detroit very often apart from multiple trips to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. greenfield village We owned a membership, and always did our best to make the most of it!

Instead, we usually spent the day close to home. Here are our “Five Favorite Ways to Spend the Day (Cheap) in Ann Arbor.”

1. In summertime, we like to hit the Sprayscape sprinkler park (46640 Ann Arbor Trail, east of Beck Rd). It’s free — bring a picnic!

2. The Hands-On Museum is a fascinating day trip for kids under 10. On Thursday evenings after 5 you can get in for just $5. They have other deal days (like MLK $4 day) as well.

3. Blueberry, strawberry, or raspberry picking. (We had our “secret stash” for blubs, but always went to Makielski’s for the other berries!)

4. Rolling Hills Water Park was fun for a treat (they have late-day rates), but we the hiking trails were great fun anytime!

5. Buhr Park is an all-season fun zone, with swimming in summer and skating in winter.

BONUS: Craig and I had our first date at Gallup Park, picnicking with Missy by the riverside. Miles of nature trails, canoe and paddle boat livery, and play areas.

That doesn’t even begin to touch the many other events and activities you can find through the Ann Arbor Observer. What are your favorite ways to visit Ann Arbor?

Fun for Families In Chicago

This week’s “Fun kendra thorntonFriday” is from Kendra Thornton, a mother of three who lives in the Windy City. Thanks for sharing, Kendra!

As a traveling enthusiast, I am frequently asked about what places to visit around the United States and the world. Some of my friends want to know of a great place to go for themselves and their children. To me, there is no better place to take children than my own town of Chicago. Here are some places in the city that are friendly to people of all ages.

1. A favorite place that my husband and I take our children is the Field Museum. This excellent place of learning and discovery is not only for our children, but also for my husband and I. Every time we visit the Field Museum, we make it a point to stop by the dinosaur exhibit. The dinosaur fossils are truly extraordinary, and there are many impressive exhibits. I personally like the traveling exhibits that showcase various themes and wonders that are in the world.

2. An adventure that my children love to take in the summer is on the Tall Ship Windy. This amazing experience brings our family together on a boat that looks like it is from the 1700’s. Members of the crew are dressed for a pirate adventure. Both of my children love being out on the water while on the ship, and there are various activities that they can do and learn about.

3. Finding a restaurant that everyone in the family will enjoy can be tough. At times, my children can be quite difficult when looking for something to eat. A great restaurant that everyone enjoys is South Water Kitchen. It is a perfect place for children, and the menu is quite a delight with a wide variety of food. I know that when visiting a different town, people like to have local dishes and meals. Fortunately, South Water Kitchen, which was founded by a Chicagoan, has many local dishes that many people will enjoy. The hospitality is good as well.

Chicago is friendly to families who visit the city. These tips are just the beginning of great places that people, young and old, will enjoy. The food, activities, and adventures make it the prime place to visit and have a vacation.

Kendra Thornton is 37 and a mother of 3. Before being promoted to the full time position of mom, I was the former Orbitz Director of Communications where I was able to travel a great deal. I now live in Chicago with my family, where they are my number one priority in everyday life.

10 Ways to Spend a Snowday

Fun Fridays“SNOWDAY!!!”

Time for “Fun Friday” at home — with a little luck, maybe I can still get some work done this afternoon!

Idea #1: Snowman pancakes. Stack up three little dots, decorate with Oreo hat, blueberry eyes and buttons, and a cherry sliver mouth. Dust with powdered sugar. Bacon for scarf. Serve with cocoa.

Idea #2: Snow Dog. Dress kids warmly and send them outside to make piles of snowballs. Then toss them to the dog, to see how many she can catch.

When they need to thaw off, have them come inside for next activity: Study Island or …

Idea #3: Math Fact Bingo. Create bingo cards with numbers 1-100. Give older kids more than one card. Use mini marshmallows to keep score. When they start getting squirrely, send them back outside for a rousing game of …

Idea #4: Abominable Snowdog. Send them outside with a handful of hot dog bits (Maddy’s favorite treat) with instructions to give her one every time she correctly performs “Roll Over” in the snow. (If she won’t cooperate, urge them to demonstrate the trick for the dog.) Give them a towel to brush her off on the back porch before coming inside.

Had enough of the snow, little darlings? It’s almost lunchtime! Why not come back inside and…

Idea #5: Make Grandpa Sandwiches! Line the counter with a variety of breads, coldcuts and cheeses, sandwich spreads, veggies, and condiments. See who can make the greatest gastronomical monstrosity (I used to do this for my grandfather, who always ate every bite). Take pictures and award prizes (highest sandwich, most creative sandwich, prettiest sandwich, etc.).

Still feeling creative? Want to commemorate your day off? Why not…

Idea #6: Make snowflakes to decorate your bedroom ceiling, or turn into a card for grandparents or extended family. What’s that? You want to watch a movie? Surely. But how shall we decide which one? I know!

Idea #7: Sock Match Mania. Empty the overflowing sock bin in no time by announcing that the child who matches correctly the most socks in 20 minutes gets to pick the afternoon movie.

After the movie, it’s time for a little indoor fun …

Idea #8: Digital Treasure Hunt. Give each child (or pair of children, if you have a larger group) a digital camera or iPhone. They have 30 minutes to find and take pictures of . . .

  • Themselves as babies (from family scrapbook or wall hanging)
  • Strangest face (collaborative effort or selfie)
  • Favorite Christmas decoration
  • Favorite cookie recipe (from cookbook or recipe file)
  • Favorite vacation spot (screen shot or magazine)
  • Best headstand
  • Someone wearing Dad’s outdoor gear.
  • Best snow angel
  • Prettiest snow-covered tree
  • Best “Grandpa Sandwich” (a combination of every kind of cold cut, veggie, and condiment available in your kitchen, piled high between two slices of bread)

Idea #9: Make “Mommy Hugs.” Sandwich Ritz crackers with peanut butter. Melt shaved blocks of almond bark (or chocolate chips with a small square of shaved paraffin wax) in microwave; stir smooth. Dunk crackers in chocolate, and decorate with your choice of chopped walnuts  or pecans, coconut, or sprinkles. Lay on wax paper to set.

Idea #10: Story Time! Call or Skype Grandma or Grandpa, and have them tell their favorite snow-related memories of their own family. (This works best with a bit of behind-the-scenes coordination, so they have a story ready to tell.) Can’t think of one? Have them read one of the snowy adventures from Laura Ingalls’ Little House in the Big Woods.

Hope your snowday was as much fun as ours!

During the month of January, I’ve decided to take up the BlogHer NaBloPoMo “Stress” Challenge. Care to join me?

What’s your favorite way to spend a snow day?

Fun Things to Do in Philadelphia: Fun Fridays

SEPTA_oneday_family_passWhen we moved to southeastern Pennsylvania in 2011, we had great fun discovering all the fun things to see and do in the Philadelphia area.

How to get around. After 9:00 a.m., a family of 5 (2 adults) can travel from Thorndale to Center City, travel on the trains, buses, and the (seasonal) Phlash trolley, and go home again for the low, low price of $29 with a Family Independence Pass. (Individuals can ride for a day for $12.) It also allows you to avoid exorbitant parking fees — it can be tough to find a place to park for a day for less than $20.

Discounts and deals. Families on extended stay might also appreciate a Philadelphia CityPASS, which gives you discounted rates on popular attractions for nine consecutive days.

For history buffs, you really can’t beat downtown Philadelphia … Independence Hall and Liberty Bell are completely free to visit (you’ll want to reserve a spot ahead of time between March and December). My favorite feature is the “Once Upon a Nation” storytelling benches located around the historic district, and as far afield as the Valley Forge National Historic Park.

Lovers of the arts can visit the Philadelphia Museum of Contemporary Art (open Wednesday through Sunday) free of charge. The Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site commemorates the six years this literary giant lived in Philadelphia (open Friday – Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free of charge). Be sure to check out the basement, which was his inspiration for “The Black Cat.” In August, Rittenhouse Square has Concerts in the Park.

Natural history lovers, we always bypass the lovely-but-costly Franklin Institute and head for the exhibit around the corner at the Drexel Academy of Natural Sciences. They currently have the “Dinosaurs Unearthed” Exhibit, as well as a reciprocal arrangement with other area museums. (This is one of the area attractions we buy a family membership.)

Foodies will love the city, too. First stop should be Reading Terminal Market, where you can get everything from handmade soft pretzels and other Amish specialties to fresh kielbasa, absolutely fresh seafood, and of course the iconic cheesesteak. Plus the best black-and-white cookies this side of NYC. Live jazz on Fridays from 12-2 p.m.

Outside the city…

If you’re willing to drive a bit further, check out the Adventure Aquarium (not free, unless you have the CityPass, but where else can you pet baby sharks and sting(less)rays on the same morning?

Another family favorite is the Valley Forge National Park, where you can roller blade, walk the dog, and picnic on a bench while listening to first-rate storytellers recount the trials and tribulations of George Washington and Company (seasonal). All for free!

If you’re willing to drive even further, it is possible to visit Hershey Park without paying a dime, by riding the factory simulator (assuming you can get out of the gift shop without splurging on the chocolate). Or you can just go to Lilitz, PA and visit the Wilbur Buds Chocolates, and watch the candy being made right before your eyes!

Have fun!

Next week I’ll be hosting a guest post from a mom from Chicago! If you’d like to share your favorite family activities in your area, please send me your article at Heidi(dot)hess(dot)saxton(at)gmail(dot)com.

A Beachy Christmas: Fun Friday

Fun FridaysAs you are reading this, Craig and I are skipping through the Magic Kingdom with the kids and our uberhappy nanny, whose life dream has been a trip to Disney World. Today, it’s much more low-key . . . still, it’s a beachy Christmas. No snow in sight — and that’s just fine.

beach walkersIt’s the happiest day of the year . . . for everyone but the lizards. We count 24 skinks between Mom’s trailer and the beach (a five minute walk). The kids respond very differently, Sarah shrieking and Christopher excitedly trying to scoop them into a coffee can, to take them home. (No luck. Rats!)

Tomorrow we’re going to watch the sun rise on the beach — I have visions of cupping a mug of hot tea and murmuring Christmas carols. Most likely the kids’ version will win out, pitching seashells at each other and shrieking until we relent and head back to the house to open gifts.

Christmas traditions, like all family traditions, look a bit different from the outside than the inside. The “keeper of the memories” (usually the mom) envisions beauty, sweetness, and solemn joy — which is a lot easier to pull off if no actual children are involved. But then, the whole point of making these memories is not the Kodak moments they create in the family album, but the sense of love and security they create in young hearts.

So . . . this year I’ll be setting aside my wonderful images of Norman Rockwell tableaus full of Christmas carolers in perfectly matched scarves. We’re going to go chase lizards. We’re pretty sure Baby Jesus likes those better, anyway.

FUN FRIDAY: Briny Breezes, Florida. We’re not going to be going many places this week — just hanging out at the beach. My mother-in-law says if you want a good place for fish, check out the “Prime Catch” — they make great sea bass!

Fun Fridays: Road Trip, Anyone?

Fun Fridays

As we load up the van to spend Christmas with Craig’s mom, it reminded me of a long-distance road trip I took with Sarah Reinhard and our kids a few years ago, to attend the Catholic New Media Conference in Atlanta. Do you need a “Road Trip Survival Kit” to get you through the next few weeks?

If you’ve ever taken a road trip with a van full of kids,  you know that there are certain items that you never, ever leave behind. Not if you expect to make it to your destination without one or more children strapped to the roof. Our “Road Trip Survival Kit” has a cooler containing . . .

  • Frozen juice pouches (to keep the kids from slurping them all in the first five miles),
  • Diet Coke (to keep YOU alert and headache-free),
  • PB&J (to toss in the back seat every time a kid spots a McDonalds and whines for sustenance),
  • Frozen container full of chili or other dinner you can zap in the hotel microwave (don’t forget the corn chips for scooping), and
  • Two bottles of Mike’s Hard Lemonade (for after the kids go to bed).

In addition to the cooler, bag of swim gear (one adult takes the kids to the pool while the other unpacks the room and gets dinner started), and Mystery Bag (full of treats from the Dollar Store, to toss in the back seat at regular intervals to keep the chaos down to a dull roar), there are two more items in my “Travelin’ Mom Roadtrip Kit”: a rosary . . . and a GPS. They stay on my dashboard, always in arm’s reach. After all, a girl never knows when she might need a little prompting to head in the right direction.

It’s been ten years since my husband and I foster-adopted our kids, both of whom have special needs. And in the past eight months, we’ve had to face some extraordinary challenges that have resulted in a kind of mental U-Turn. More and more, I find myself thinking about all those things that I wish someone had thought to tell me ten years ago. Perhaps you have been in the trenches a while, and feel the same way.

If that’s the case, I invite you to join me on this road trip.  Rosary and GPS in hand, let’s explore that “road less traveled” . . . together.

What’s the most indispensable component of YOUR “Road Trip Kit”?

Fun Fridays: Fun places near South Bend

Fun FridaysWelcome to Fun Fridays!

This week I’ve been talking to potential summer nannies for when we move to South Bend. As part of the process, I ask candidates to give me a sample schedule of a week’s activities. One young woman gave me several ideas that sounded like fun. Have you tried any of these? Or do you know of others we should try?

zooThe Potawatomi Zoo (opens March 28) has 400 animals on 23 acres, and is Indiana’s oldest zoo. Has zoo train, petting zoo, butterfly garden, and birthday parties. Adults $8.50, kids $6.50. 500 S Greenlawn Avenue, South Bend.

Healthworks Kids Museum. Check out their First Fridays — pay $6 for the first kid, second admission is FREE. Monday-Saturday, 9 to 4. 111 W. Jefferson, Ste. 200, South Bend, IN 46601. Phone: 574-647-KIDS.

South Bend Chocolate Factory Tour. “Inside Scoop” tour is $4 for adults; $1 for kids. 3300 West Sample Street, South Bend. Mondays-Fridays, 9 to 4; Saturdays 9-2.

The Road Trip Begins

fireplaceYesterday I arrived at Ave Maria to find my coworkers had transformed the office into a real “winter wonderland.” Up to and including the fireplace, fashioned from glittery paper and Christmas lights hidden behind a Yule log. Clever, huh? Made the sixteen-hour journey in the snow the previous day via train, two airplanes, and car . . . worth it.

“Journeying” is a popular metaphor in the publishing world. A good book is supposed to be transformative, leaving you better off simply for having invested yourself in it.

Parenting is also a journey. You start out with a little bundle (or, in my case, three larger ones), and discover a whole new side of yourself emerging. More love than you ever thought you had. Also more less flattering emotions (sleep deprivation does that to you.) But over time, you realize that even these begin to mellow into something more . . . human. Authentic. More fully “you.”

In the coming year, I’d like to invite you to journey with me on that parenting road trip. Sometimes that road trip will be literal (on Fridays I’ll be blogging about memorable places I’ve been to over the years, and invite you to join in the fun). Other times it will be more literary. (Wednesdays here will be my “Book Whisperer” column, where I point you to books and other resources that I’ve found helpful both in writing and in raising two special-needs kids, and invite you to share yours as well.) On Mondays, though, I hope to post about the journey of parenting. Feel free to play along!

Finally, I recently redid my “About” page (thanks to Michael Hyatt’s timely advice in Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World). If you’d like to guest post, to share your favorite book or not-to-be-missed road trip experience, please let me know!