Holidays are one of my biggest challenges overseas. I missed out on the creative gene somehow, and I'm terrible at planning ahead, so it just makes special occasions a problem for me. Add to that the difficulty of romance in a third-world country - lack of good restaurants or date options, lack of babysitters, busy schedules, no florists or chocolatiers - and Valentine's Day can just be a pretty lame holiday.

But we all know how important it is to have times of focusing on our marriage - especially when it's so hard to do. So I've assembled a list of Valentine's ideas - some quite simple, some that will take a little more preparation - that hopefully most of you can do regardless of your location or situation. (And I have to admit most of these ideas are not original with me, but are adapted from a dozen other websites.)

Word Ideas:

1) Love Notes. So much can be done with these. Write a bunch of little love notes and leave them all over the house where your hubby will find them. Or bind them all together into a small book. Or roll them up and tie individually, then put in a basket or jar to give to your Valentine.

2) Give IOU's - for anything from kisses and backrubs, to taking out the trash or cleaning the car, to making his favorite meal!

3) Go to puzzlemaker.discoveryeducation.com and create your own crossword puzzle using words and clues from your relationship. Be sure to include things from your first dates and your wedding and honeymoon as well as your relationship now.

4) If you're going to be separated for most of the day, do a text-a-thon. Send your Valentine a sweet or steamy text every hour, on the hour. Build anticipation for your evening together.  It will be fun for both of you!

Food Ideas:

1) Make a meal with symbols of love. Make soft pretzels and form them into heart-shapes. Shape our favorite biscuit recipe into hearts. Bake a heart-shaped cake, or cut-out heart cookies. You can use anything from string beans or carrot sticks to ranch dressing or ketchup to write "I love you"  and other Valentine's messages. If you do this as a family, it will be a hit with the children as well!

2) Make a desert bar, if you have enough supplies available. Set out all kinds of sundae fixings, or supplies to build-your-own sandwich cookies, or decorate-your-own cupcakes. Or if you like a slightly healthier twist and have the ingredients, set out supplies for layered fruit and yogurt parfaits, including granola, nuts, or chocolate chips.

3) Do you have leftover candy-canes from Christmas? Put two together to make a pretty red-and-white candy heart. You can even soften them in the oven for a few minutes to melt the heart into one piece.

"Date" Ideas:

1) Watch the sunrise together sipping hot chocolate. This way you can have your date before your children wake up in the morning. :-)

2) Build a fort in the living room using couch cushions, sheets, blankets, and pillows. Build it with the kids and have a bedtime snack inside, then turn it into a love cave after the kids are in bed!

3) Sit down with your laptop and go through old pictures of your engagement, your wedding and/or your honeymoon. This is sure to stir up good memories and lots of romantic feelings!

4) On slips of paper, write down every kind of kiss you can think of. (This could be done with more steamy actions than just kissing, too!) Fold them and put in a jar, basket or envelope. Then take turns drawing a paper and doing what it says.

5) Have a picnic in your bedroom - spread a blanket on the bed and start your evening off with some goodies.

So are you inspired to make the day special for your Valentine? Maybe you already have plans that you can share with us in the comments below. Or tell us what you've done for a simple but romantic date in the past.

Well, I'm a survivor. But a little traumatized, I must say.

That 11-hour plane ride with my 14-month old just about did me in - it was more stressful than the 5 months we spent in an African village with no washing machine or fridge. On the plane, she either nursed or screamed the entire time. After about 5 hours I was ready to fall apart and we had another 6 hours to go. At that point, the memory kind of turns into a blur. Time seemed to drag beyond anything I'd ever experienced. Then, when the plane finally lands, that's not the end either. There's customs, and immigration, and long lines, and it just was altogether miserable.

Now that we're getting ready to move back - and now that we have another little one - I've been giving this trip a lot of thought. I can tell it's on my husband's mind too. We'll look at each other and say, hopefully: "Don't you think this new baby is more laid-back? Don't you think she'll do better on the plane?" or: "Don't you think that our oldest has outgrown that stage?" and we assure each other that yes, oh yes! this time it will be SO different. Wishful thinking, anyone? Haha. We're optimists.

I do have a couple notes-to-self made though... and I really hope these things will actually help.

1. Rest. We are going to TRY to keep the last week or two before our departure pretty low-key. Last time, we packed in outings, visits, and a yellow fever shot for good measure, all within the last 5 days or so. No wonder she was a mess. If my babies can be well-rested as much as possible before we leave, things should go a little better.

2. Pack. I am going to be very intentional about what I have in my hand luggage. There are going to be some new small toys (Playmobil has the cutest little sets... my 3-year-old is going to LOVE the little mother-and-stroller set! I've had my eye on it for months already), some snacks, some clean outfits, some books. I am going to make a picture book of all the relatives. Crayons, paper, stickers. A little bit of everything. Except maybe paint. :-)

3. Prepare. We are already talking to our 3-year-old about this plane trip. She's pretty pumped about it. We're going to pretend, and play, and do whatever we can so she gets the idea before we ever board that flight. The idea being - we're going to SLEEP on this plane. :-)

4. Suck during take-off and landing. Pacifier, nurse, sippy, lollipop - whatever it takes to get that pressure off those little ears.

5. Relax. Ugh, this one is so much easier said than done. When you're up there at 10,000 feet, and your baby is yelling, there's only so much you can do. After that, it's either pull out your hair and join in the screaming, or just roll with it. I believe that your fellow passengers can be quite understanding, especially when they see that you're trying your best. And if they aren't understanding? Well, chances are you'll never see them again, right? Babies are amazingly good at mirroring the stress they feel in their parents. If we can stay relaxed... things would go better. Just remember - this too shall pass. It will.

6. Pray. This is a really practical prayer request you can give to people... I believe God cares about little things, too!

I am going to give it my best shot, and at the end of the day, we will get there and we will survive... and with a little bit of luck, in our right minds too. ;)

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What are your secrets for surviving a long plane ride with children? Any stories to share? Please comment below!

Ladies, I am overwhelmed! You have pitched in and made the first week of TCKmom a great sucess! Google tells me that the site has had visitors from 38 different countries this week. An international gathering place!

Thank you for commenting on posts with your ideas, tips and recipes.

Thank you for signing up for our e-mail list to be notified when a new post is live.

Thank you for sharing questions and topics that you would like to see discussed on TCKmom.

Let's keep it up! For this website to be effective in helping women in all parts of the world, we need input from everybody. Your perspective and experiences are valuable - let's all help each other!

And as part of my "thank you" to those who have participated in TCKmom this week, I want to announce that "Valerie" is the winner of our Amazon gift card! My 3-year-old enjoyed picking the name from the bowl. :-)

Have a great weekend!

I have to admit up front, I'm not qualified to address this subject, because I personally have not successfully learned a second language. My husband and I were in a language learning (LL) situation for a few months, and then were re-directed. So I'm going to share a few ideas, most of which were shared with me before we began, and then I really need you more experienced ladies to pitch in and give us your thoughts!

As we approached LL, it looked like an impossible mountain to me. How in the world was I supposed to learn to cook, shop, clean, and live in a new place, at the same time as settling into and setting up a new house, and also meet the needs of my children, all while learning a foreign language for the first time? Surely I couldn't possibly do it all?!!

And that, dear ladies, is the only real answer I have for you: YOU CAN'T DO IT ALL.

You have to choose what the priorities are and then let the rest go. Language learning is only for a season. It's okay, for a season, to let some things go. Otherwise LL is what will suffer, because you just can't do it all! Sit down with your husband and pray together and discuss what are the priorities to focus on during LL time.

Here are a few ideas along that line -

1) Keep housework as simple as possible. Lower your expectations. This is not the time for gourmet American meals made from scratch with all local ingredients. This is the time for hot dogs and tuna sandwiches - or whatever simple foods you can get where you live. Find nearby street vendors where you can buy lunch or supper several times a week. Let the house-cleaning go to the minimum. Don't worry about home decorating and really settling in. If you're not able to do it before LL starts, then wait. There will be time later.

2) Be willing to "switch roles" with your hubby. If you are both in full-time LL and not in ministry yet, then you need to be realistic about household and child-care responsibilities. It will not work for you to do it all and him to do nothing. He will learn the language and you will not. Discuss how you can take turns taking care of the children while the other one has study time. Divide up the housework so that you are both doing a share.

3) Get help. This will look different depending on where you live and what your situation is, but I highly recommend getting local help, and ideally someone that has worked for expats before. A cook, a nanny, a cleaning lady, a gardener: I'm not saying you have to hire three or four individuals, but do seriously consider what kind of help is available. Surely paying for help is worth the reduced stress and more effective language learning time.

4) Consider and prioritize your children's needs. They are adjusting to a lot of big changes, including all the stress in Dad and Mom's lives. Be sure to give them the love, security and attention that they need. But also consider what you can put on hold with your children. Are you homeschooling? Maybe this is a year to just do the basics and let some of the extras wait til next year. Consider doing video school or online school that will not require as much involvement from you.

5) Take breaks. We need to be focused on the essentials and let the other things go, but be sure to schedule in some necessary breaks. Make Sunday a "special food day" after eating simple meals all week. Do a holiday craft with your children on a Saturday morning. Find the things that refresh you, and do them on a regular basis.

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So now it's your turn! Can we hear from some of you that have been through the language learning season? What worked for you? How did you balance it all? Please share in the comments below!