“There’s a lot to be said about how we can bring a level of intention and creation on how we’re being, how we’re showing up and how we’re consciously generating relationships in our life.”
Have you ever googled date night ideas to avoid the monotonous dinner and a movie? If you did that in Orlando you probably stumbled upon Orlando Date Night Guide, a tremendous resource of ideas and suggestions. Kristen Manieri, the site’s founder, sat down with me to chat about all things date night, mom life, and local Orlando. I walked away inspired by the amount of intention and thoughtfulness Kristen puts into every facet of her life. After you read this, I guarantee you will also be thinking of ways to add purpose to everything you do.
After her move to Orlando from Toronto in 2006, she was waiting on resident status and unable to work. Kristen had a PR/event planning background and thrived while busy so she began freelance writing (unpaid) to fill her days. Around the same time, she wrote Great Dates Orlando which became a newsletter and then blog. Admittedly a little backwards from the norm!
Along the way Kristen gained her residency status and began a paid freelance writing career. All the while she kept up with Orlando Date Night Guide and noticed her following was growing. In 2014 she took a leap to make it her full time job and has never looked back. In 2016 she launched the Date Night Discovery Club, a monthly subscription service that delivers date ideas to your door. And in 2017, she announced that Date Night Guide will expand on a national scale. She’s committed to creating a community of bloggers that lift each other up.
She and her husband Marc have been together for 15 years. They have two daughters, Elizabeth (turning 9) and Aly (7). She runs down the list of non-negotiables in their house: weekly date nights, quarterly getaways, and family time including date nights with their kids. They don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk.
On why she started Great Dates Orlando:
“We were new to the city, I love exploring and new adventures. We didn’t have kids yet and were looking for fun things to do. And especially fun things to do on a budget since that was 2007 and things were starting to go down the sewer. We needed to get creative on how we spent our money.”
On women supporting other women:
“Figuring out a way to do what I love and on a schedule I love is really the holy grail for any mom. I don’t think most moms want to give up working. I love working. But I don’t want to work 60 hours a week I want to pick them up at school every day. I’ve found an almost near balance of work, home, kids, and my husband. I’m very inspired to teach people that wherever they live, here’s how I did it and you can too.”
On the biggest lesson she’s learned running her business:
“I’m great at starting new things. When it gets hard I start thinking I shouldn’t have done it, it isn’t meant to be. Forcing myself to stick with it past that uncomfortable stage, that’s been incredibly eye opening to me.”
On what’s next:
“I have a lot to say about the value of tending to your relationship (friends, spouse, family). The intentionality that you can bring to upgrading any relationship through quality time, daily doses of affection. Those haven’t been talked about on Date Night Guide and is the next genesis of where to head.”
On favorite Orlando dates right now:
“I love all the main streets that have popped up Audobon Park, Thorton Park, College Park, and Downtown South. It used to just be Park Avenue but now there’s all these little pockets. You really can just park the car and explore.”
On their most recent date night:
“We spent the night downtown at Lake Eola this past weekend. Went for dinner at the Stubborn Mule and then walking around the lake. We love the Farmer’s Market on Sunday and like to do yoga. But not when it’s this hot.”
On being a proud Orlandoan:
“We are just getting Orlando people to fall in love with the city themselves. Never had to sell Orlando as a destination to people who don’t live here. But now there’s a sense of I want to live here, I’m choosing to live here. We have a lot and a lot of people who are creating really amazing things.”
The longer we talk the more I admire what she’s doing. She’s authentic to her mission. She just wants everyone (including herself) to have the best relationship possible with their spouse. In ten years of blogging that concept has only become clearer to her. She’s spreading a gospel of connecting with your loved one and committing to coming back to one another. And she does it without sounding remotely preachy.
Kristen believes in rituals and little moments to add depth and sweetness. She tells a beautiful story of a ritual she has with her girls, squeezing their hands three times for I love you. And she glows when she tells me about the other day when her daughter squeezed her hand ten times and said, “I just said I love you so much I can’t even stand it.”
On her favorite things to do as a family:
“The girls are great at restaurants. We love going out to eat with them. We also love hiking at Lake Lotus park. It’s all boardwalks through the park and great to go exploring.”
Kristen’s tips for a successful restaurant visit include bringing a workbook to keep the kids occupied and drawing a hard line against phones or tablets to distract them. As a mom with a toddler and infant I was both stunned and instantly hopeful hearing this that one day I’d be able to look forward to taking my kids out to eat!
On raising little foodies:
“We’ve slowly eliminated the kids menu from their lives. They want an elevated meal too. That’s what we’re eating. We tend to buy whole entrees and share. Eating out with them is a real joy since they like real food.”
On the most surprising thing about being a mom:
“How much self care is critical. Honestly when you’re doing the birthing classes that’s what they should be teaching. Someone should take you aside and tell you how important it is to nap or spend a day by yourself once a month. If you’re not taking care of yourself you’re not taking care of anybody. A resentful overwhelmed teetering on the brink of insanity mother isn’t great. We’re already going to beat ourselves up. Those moments are less and less when we practice self care.”
On how she makes time for self-care:
“I’m up at 5 am (yes she goes to bed early – by 9:30pm) and have two hours to meditate, journal, and exercise. Once I have those two hours to myself, I can give myself away the whole rest of the day. I’ve done my part. That’s mandatory.”
On simple steps to starting your self-care routine:
“Make a list of 10 things you can do to nourish yourself when you have a break or kids are sleeping. I could do five sun salutations, write ten things in my gratitude journal, meditate, drink a glass of water, or just take a few deep breaths. And then keep that list handy to avoid mindlessly checking Facebook and missing your window.”
On when you stray the course from your routine:
“I’m only ever 80% on course on how to nourish myself. Checking in, being able to do a body scan, see how you’re doing and take a break ensures you come back to your habits. You have to stay the course long enough to relish the benefits of it so when you go off course you don’t want to be there. On course shouldn’t feel like work. On course is so in alignment, your best version of yourself that it’s off course that is uncomfortable.”
On how she handles mom guilt:
“I’ve gotten really good at taking stock in the quality of our time as a family. We are not wired for happiness, our brains are built for survival. A happy memory doesn’t serve us. You have to wire your children for happiness. When you’re having a happy day saying ‘I’m having such a happy day. Aren’t you having a happy day?’ and even giving them the words, joy, euphoria, wistful. So many ways to describe a happy day. When [mom guilt] happens I take stock and know we’ve had these quality moments. I can quickly access that in my mind. If it’s not there then we need to add more quality time.”
What can you do to take care of yourself today? How can you add depth to your relationships? Tell us in the comments how you’re elevating the quality of your life.