Posted in Books, Family Adventures

Christmas Carols

Day 4 was all about Christmas carols.  Last year we started a tradition where the kids gather around the piano and sing a Christmas carol while Daddy plays the piano, and Mommy tapes it as our Christmas message.  This year we have decided to extend it a bit – both of the girls will play their Christmas pieces on the piano and then we will sing a carol.  I picked up Curious George Christmas Carols to offer them some inspiration.  9780547408613Tonight we read through the book and sang a bit of each of the carols.  The book also came with a CD so I have added it to my iPhone and showed them how to play the songs whenever they want.

And the winner is … Deck the Halls.  Fortunately it was unanimous.  Later this month, after lots of practice, we will record our message.


Posted in Family Adventures

My 5 Tips to Walt Disney World

We recently returned from an amazing family vacation at Walt Disney World and I wanted to share some of our experiences with readers so I put together my top 5 tips.

1. PHOTO PASS PLUS – Before we went friends had told us about the photo pass system and we had it the back of our minds that we would check it out and consider purchasing the CD after our trip.  If you have never been to Disney World, there are Disney photographers everywhere – major attractions, dinners, character greetings and just about everywhere else.  They will take your picture, scan your photo pass card and then you can view and order pictures online.  Our very first morning we did a character breakfast, where our family picture was taken with Donald Duck.  While we were eating they came around to see if we wanted the picture.  It was a great family picture of all of us, a rare event, so we purchased it.  The photographer then asked us if we were planning on purchasing the photo CD at the end of our trip and told us about Pboto Pass Plus.  If we signed up for and purchased it we would get the CD with all our photos including all our dinner photos.  You can see all the details here.  We signed up at the photo centre at Animal Kingdom that day and I then wore the card (on a lanyard) around my neck all week.  We had soooo many pictures taken without any worry.  Often we would be watching a parade or show and a photographer would get those great candid shots of the kids.  If they saw the lanyard around my neck they would just start snapping and then come up and scan it.  When we went to our many character greetings they not only took the posed photos but many cool candids of the kids reactions, hugs and hi-fives.  It cost us a bit but it is one of those extras totally worth it – you are at Disney anyway and it is only a small amount of what you will spend for the week.  A definite must – especially if you do a lot of the character dinners.

2. CHARACTER DINNERS – In case you are unaware you want to book all your character dinners and any busy restaurants long in advance.  We did 4 character dinners. On the first day we had breakfast with Donald and friends at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom.  This was a great way to start our week.  It is a buffet and very relaxed.  Other than Donald, we saw Mickey, Daisy, and Goofy.  The kids even did a parade, complete with musical instruments, with Daisy Duck.  On our second day we had our first princess lunch at Akershus Castle (in the Norwegian Pavillion) at Epcot.  We met Belle on the way in and then were visited by Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella, and Ariel.  Lunch started with a traditional Norwegian appetizer buffet where we got to try some cool things, and then everyone got a main course off the menu.  On Eileen’s birthday we dinned at Cinderella’s Castle, the hottest ticket at Disney world.  Being inside the castle was very cool, the kids all recieved a wand or sword and the princesses visited but I think they preferred our lunch at Akershus.  The castle lunch is more formal and for our young children it seemed a bit much at times.  On our last night we went to Mickey’s Backyard BBQ for Michael’s birthday.  This is definitely a must do event and made for young kids!!!  There was a BBQ buffet with great food for parents and kids.  The chef even brought me our some gluten free alternatives. The best part though is that the Disney characters acutally come out and dance with the kids!!! Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Chip and Dale were all there. My kids love to dance but often shy away in public.  This was not the case at the BBQ – the girls were dancing up a storm with Minnie Mouse.  There was a live country band and a show with cowboy tricks.  My only tip would be there right at 6:00 so everyone can eat and have desert before the action begins – your kids won’t want to miss any of it!!

3. PLAN BUT DON’T OVER PLAN – For each day we had a list of things we wanted to do and they were prioritized.  Often this was lead but the characters we wanted to see.  For example I knew that Tinkerbell’s Magical Nook was always busy so we went there first thing in the morning, 15 minutes before it opened, and we were second in line.  We were in and out before 9:30, and missed the 45 minute (minimum) line up.  We made sure we were at Hollywood Studios when it opened so we could get Fast Passes for the Toy Story ride – they go REALLY fast.  Planning is important but you also need to go with the flow.  We planned our table service meals that needed reservations but our counter service meals we simply ate where and when we were hungry.  Eileen is a ride junkie so often we would skip a show or a long line so she could go on Aladdin’s Magic Carpet one more time.

4. PACK FOR ALL WEATHER AND TEMPERAMENT – It rains at Disney …. everyday!  Take ponchos and throw them in your  bag or stroller.  Some days it will be a nice 20 minute shower to cool you off and other days it will be a torental downpour for 3 hours.  We were waiting in line to see Tiana one afternoon the heavens opened up.  We thought we would wait it out but quickly realized it wasn’t stopping.  We decided to abandon ship and head back to our cabin and have have a quiet movie night.  Also make sure you take lots of water, juice and snacks for your kids.  Waiting in a line is much easier with a juice box and cookie.  Friends also lent us one of the fan spray bottles and we used it all the time.  It seems like a strange thing but it really does help you cool off in the insane heat.

5. DISNEY IS THE MASTER OF CUSTOMER SERVICE – There is so much more I could say but the last thing has to be our dealings with the cast members of Disney.  You hear about the amazing over the top work of Disney to make everything memorable but I didn’t think we would actually experience it ourselves.  10 minutes after arriving at Mickey’s Backyard BBQ Michael dislocated his elbow.  This is not an unusual occurance in our family as both Eileen an Michael suffer from nursemaid’s elbow, but that does not make it any less worse when it happens at Disney World, and on his birthday.  Almost instantly a cast member, who I later found out was a manager came up to see if he was O.K.  We offered to call EMT and a few minutes later I agreed.  Instantly everyone was awesome helping us out.  Security and other staff helped us get organized, kept and eye on the girls (who were watching the show and had no idea anything was happening), called the ambulance, took Gord back to the cabin to get his wallet and insurance card, had them sent to the best children’s hospital in Orlando, gave Gord a card to call to get home, paid for his cab ride home, reimbursed us for the dinner even though the girls and I stayed, made sure the girls and I were OK and would have taken us to the hospital if we wanted, and 10 minutes after Gord and Michael got back they showed up with a bouquet of birthday balloons, a personalized birhthday card from Mickey Mouse and two Disney stuffies for Michael.  WOW!!  We made sure they knew how grateful we were when they called the next morning to check on Michael.  They managed to turn what could have been a horrible and chaotic experience to a memorable one for all of us!!

BONUS TIP – Disney does an amazing job of making every kid (big or little) feel special but parents can help a bit too.  Take something special for your kids to wear one day.  It doesn’t need to be expensive – we took Princess Dresses from home for the girls to wear to Akershus and the princesses they were dressed up as made a huge deal when they visited them.  We also did the Bibbidi Bobbi Boutique on Eileen’s birthday, which was an amazing experience for the girls, but you don’t need to go to those extermes.  Wearing their dresses at Epcot almost made them feel more special because you don’t see as many girls dressed up as you do at Magic Kingdom and every cast member we saw made a big deal of it.  The other thing we did that was a HUGE hit with every cast member – characters and all other staff – is that we made Michael a Flynn Rider costume to wear when we went  for our big Princess day on Eileen’s birthday.  It was simply a vest and satchel but we made sure he had a small crown and a copy of the wanted poster in his satchel.  He was determined to show it to everyone – especially all the princesses.  We got some amazing reactions and he loved every second of it!!  Rapunzel thought it was awesome but for some reason Michael was smitten with Cinderella most of all.  It was one of the things that made the day even more memorable.

There are so many other things I could share as this was an amazing trip for us but it is best you experience it yourself.  We are very fortunate to be able to take our children many places but I am convinced that for a child there is no where on earth quite like Disney World, especially the Magic Kingdom.  There is simply a sense in the air there of joy.  I know it is commercial and build on a brand but it is something to be experienced.  It fills you with a feeling like no other, and leaves you with memories forever!

Posted in Cooking with the Kiddies, Craft Thursdays, Family Adventures

Happy New Year!

We thought we should do a few things at our place to celebrate the New Year.  Eileen woke up the other day to see the ground covered in snow and then declared that Christmas was finally here.  Then she looked around and noticed the tree and all the decorations were already gone.  To make her feel better we made banner to celebrate New Years.

I found a cute idea for a banner at Kaboose.  I didn’t have any nice felt around the house so we went by Walmart and I found some cool sparkly felt (the sparkles don’t show up very well in the picture).

I cut the strips out as the instructions listed and glued them on the string.  I found that they kept sliding with white glue so I used hot glue to make sure it would stay together.  The next day I sat down with the girls to make our banner.  I used the glitter glue to print each letter in uppercase and they put the sequins on.  At first I tried to get them to use small sequins but after a few minutes I abandoned that battle and let them do it however they wanted.

While it was drying before going on the mantle I decided that it would be a good time to watch Rudolph’s Shiny New Year.

I had PVRd this movie when it was on a couple of days earlier thinking the girls might like it.  It seems like all the good kids holiday specials are always on after the kids go to bed!  For a couple of years now I had been looking for a New Years show I remembered watching as a kid about a New Years baby and as soon as it started I knew this was the one.  This special starts right after Christmas when Santa gets a letter from Father Time telling him that Happy the New Years Baby has gone missing – and of course the only one who can find him in a snow storm is Rudolph.  Rudolph sets off and meets a number of new characters along the way in his search for Happy.  As an adult watching it there are so many inconsistencies that in history that it made my head want to spin.  For some reason I don’t have a problem with the more traditional tales and a flying red-nosed reindeer but a number of islands where the Father Time of each year goes to retire is a bit far fetched for me.  Kaitlyn actually asked me while we were watching it if the cavemen really lived at the same time as the dinosaurs (because of course they do on island 1 000 000 BC).  I did really like the use of time in the film in many of the characters.  This is a concept we have been working on and led us to decide we needed to make a special treat for New Years Eve.  The girls are going to a party with the cousins at Grandmas so we decided to make a cookie clock for them to take.

We started by making a batch of soft sugar cookies.  We had a recipe from that we had used to make our reindeer cookies a few weeks ago, and they worked really well, so we used it again.  You could easily use refrigerated cookies dough from the grocery store.  Since this was an experiment and we weren’t sure how it would turn out we decided to simply make them circle shaped.  We have an awesome box of 101 cookie cutters that has a number of circle cut outs so we picked the size we thought would work best.  After chilling the dough for a couple of hours the girls helped me cut them out and bake them.  I let them cool overnight and then I made a glaze using another recipe I found at  This recipe made enough for the cookies we needed for our clock but not for all the cookies we had made.  I made two batches of glaze – one in blue and one in green.  All I did was dip each cookie in the glaze and then let them dry.  After they were dry I used some buttercream icing and piped on the numbers.  The girls picked gummy worms for the arms of the clock and I used a chocolate wafer for the middle.  You could also use liquorice.  It helped to secure the arms with some more icing.

Next week while Kaitlyn and I are still off school I think it will be a good time to do some more activities on time, but this was a great start!  And yummy too!

We decided we needed to do one more thing for New Years, especially since they would be at Gramma & Grampa’s house.  Make noise makers!

We found a cute idea at Kibmoou.  We first called Gramma to bring over any empty water bottles, we didn’t have any.  She brought over a few different types and we picked the Gatorade and Powerade bottles because they had the biggest openings.  I went through my pantry and picked out a number of things that would make noise in a bottle: navy beans, rice, white beans and split peas.  I put a small amount in 4 bowls and told the kids they could experiment to see what filler would make the sound they liked best.

Eileen picked the navy beans because their sound was the loudest.  Kaitlyn mixed them with a heavy concentration of rice because she it made the sound she liked.  Michael just put in anything he could get his hands on.

Our bottles had large openings but if you had smaller openings you might want to use a funnel.  After they were full I glued the lids on so they would have not escapees.  As an aside make sure your bottles are clean and dry before starting, otherwise it won’t work as nicely.

We took off the labels and got started with the decorating.  This style of decoration is very easy at this time of year because we had so much tissue paper from Christmas presents.  First I gave them scraps of white tissue paper.  They each covered their bottle by gluing on the tissue paper using glue I had diluted in water.  They would lay the paper down and brush the glue on with a paint brush.  We let them dry a little, not completely and then I gave them a bowl of mixed colour tissue paper and let them make their designs all over their shakers.

Kaitlyn pretty much did Michael’s for him but Eileen’s persistency was impressive.  I have been very excited with how much patience she has been showing with her crafts lately.  Other than Mommy smoothing a few edges she did the entire thing herself!

We let them completely dry overnight and then I added some ribbon for them today.

Now that I am done my last blog of 2011 I am going to take the kids cookie clock and their shakers over to Gramma & Grampa’s for the girls (who are already there) and then I am going to come home, put on my comfy P.J.s and enjoy some fajitas and a movie with my Gord and Michael.

Wishing everyone a Healthy and Happy New Year!!!

Posted in Books, Family Adventures

Christmas Traditions

I mentioned in a previous post that the Show and Tell in my Kindergarten class for the month of December was to bring in a family holiday tradition.  My teaching partner did the same thing and for her show and tell Kaitlyn took in Perogies.  You may not think that Perogies are a Christmas tradition but in Gord’s family they definitely are.  Every year on Christmas Eve morning all the grand-daughters (and great-granddaughters) go over to Baba’s house (Gord’s grandmother) to make perogies.  My kids don’t get to see everyone that often as they are all living around North America finishing up university and staring jobs so it is great when everyone gets together!  We make perogies all morning – potato, sauerkraut, and prune, and then at the big Christmas Eve dinner we eat them.  The are suppose to be just a side dish but they are definitely what everyone looks forward to the most.  It was quite the adventure for Kaitlyn and I to make them for her class but we managed.  They tasted good but still not as good at Baba’s.

The other tradition that we have had in our house since Kaitlyn was book is book #24 – The Night Before Christmas.

This was the first Christmas Eve that we didn’t go to church.  It is just too crazy to take three little kids to church at 7:00 at night when they are already exhausted -last year it ended up being a complete circus.  Instead we stayed longer at the Malo Family Christmas and then we came home to do our Christmas Eve Traditions.

First the kids opened their Christmas Eve presents – matching Christmas pajamas.  Every year I make them matching pyjamas and while I am frantically trying to get them done in time I wonder if it worth it – by when I see them all together in them it is totally worth the effort!  After they get changed they hang their stockings, get Santa’s cookies ready and I read them The Night Before Christmas.  Some years when they are little it seems like it is more for me than them but we have done it every year since Kaitlyn was born!

We read the traditional version but there was a great post at Reading Confetti on a number of other versions of The Night Before Christmas.  I am considering using this as our theme next year at school but first have to build my library of different version.  What is your favourite version?

Posted in Books, Family Adventures, In the Community

The Grinch

It is officially boxing day and we are done our 24 books of Christmas (with the exception of 1 book we ran out of time for that we are doing today), but I did not have time to blog about all our books and activities.  Over the next couple of days I will be blogging about the rest of our books and a few other things from the last couple of months.

Friday nights are movie nights at our house so on December 16th we decided to make it Grinch Night.


I first read Kaitlyn our copy of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!  This is the first year she hasn’t been scared of the Grinch (Eileen still is).  My kindergartens for the month of December each brought in thier own holdiay traditions to share with class.  We had an awesome variety from: advent calendars, Christmas crackers, heirloom stockings, decorating Christmas cookies, and upside down Christmas trees.  One boy brought in a picture of his and his Grandparents houses decorated for Christmas – which would put the Grizwald’s to shame!  On the same day that I read “The Grinch” to my own children, a boy in my class brought in his copy of the Grinch DVD to share with the class, along with colouring pages for everyone.  His tradition is to watch the movie with his Dad at Christmas.  My class decided to invite the other Kindergarten class over to join them in watching the film, so Kaitlyn got to watch the movie at school.  This ended up being a very good thing because after we read the book at home I could not find the movie!  I have since found it and she has watched it a few times this season.

Posted in Books, Family Adventures

Here Comes Santa Claus

Every year we host an All Ages Family Christmas Party.  We have been doing it since 2007 making this our 5th Annual and it has been the ‘it’ party for our kids and our friends kids.  It started out as a way for everyone to get together without having to get a babysitter and for the kids to get to see Santa in a non-threatening environment. I knew that it has become a hit when all of the older kids were plastered to the front window when I asked everyone to come up from the playroom, next year Santa is going to come to the back door – LOL!

For December 10th, the day of our party I picked the book: Here Comes Santa Claus, illustrate by Bruce Whatley.

The words to this book are the lyrics of the song, 4 verses.  The illustrations tell a story all their own and are included with a bit of their own text in terms of a letter to and from Santa.  Kaitlyn was excited to read these letters all by herself.

At the beginning and end of this book there is also the sheet music for playing the song.  It is not an easy song to play but Daddy can play the easy one hand version and we have been practicing the first verse so before Christmas I will record us all singing it and post it in a podcast.  Kaitlyn took it to her piano teacher last week and she played it with both hands for her so she could hear the full version.


Posted in Books, Family Adventures, Milestones

The Christmas Tree

One of my main themes I have been using with my Kindergarten class this month has been Christmas Trees and so I am very tired of tree books but I found a different one that was perfect  for December 9th, the day we were suppose to get our Christmas Tree.  Grandmother’s Tree by Avril Tyrrell and illustrated by Frances Tyrrell  is told through the eyes of a Christmas Elf ornament, one of the oldest ornaments on the family tree.  The ornaments are very excited as it is the time of year that they get taken out and placed on the Christmas tree.  Some of them are older and others are new but they all have a place on the Christmas tree.

This is the perfect story to read before decorating the Christmas tree.  It provides children perspective and leads to great questions while putting up their favourite ornaments.  This didn’t quite work for us as we changed when we got our tree and it was already up when I read this story.  This didn’t stop Kaitlyn – she loves pointing out all the ornaments they each got on their first Christmas.

Instead I found a simple Christmas Tree craft the girls could both easily do in our Usborne Preschool Activity book Christmas Fun. 

The very first craft in this book is Stencil Trees.  Kaitlyn and I made these a couple of years ago so I knew Eileen would be able to do it easily.  I wanted to let them make them their own way so I did not show them the pictures in the craft book.

To prepare I made the tree stencil by folding a piece of paper in half and cutting out half a tree for each of the girls.  Then I taped it to a piece of cover stock and set the girls up with green paint.  I showed them how to make fingerprints all over their trees.

This started off pretty well but then Kaitlyn decided she liked it better if she smeared all the prints together and pretty soon they had covered the entire tree.  It wasn’t what I had planned but it was what they wanted to do so it was perfect.

We let them dry overnight and the next day it was time to decorate them.  I picked up a variety of jewels and decorations up at the dollar store and they glued them on the tree.  Kaitlyn did hers independently and Eileen just needed a bit of help putting the glue where she wanted it.  I didn’t get any stars and they both asked for stars for the tops of their trees.  This is a bit ironic as our family tree has an angel at the top.  Kaitlyn put snowflakes around the top of her tree and declared it was outside.  A very easy craft to make with young children, especially those who love paint!

Posted in Books, Cooking with the Kiddies, Craft Thursdays, Family Adventures

Our Ginger Home

When I was shopping at the end of November I picked up Home For Christmas not realizing it is the newest book by Jan Brett.  I knew it was a Jan Brett but didn’t notice the 2011 publication date.  I hadn’t even read the book but decided it would be good for the 8th day of December when we were to decorate our Gingerbread House.

This is the tale of a young and carefree troll named Rollo who still has his tale, because trolls only loose their tail if they are kind.  Always doing whatever he wants Rollo leaves home and on his journey spends time with different animal families throughout the year.  No matter what he does he just doesn’t seem to fit in with any of the animals for very long, and ends up back at home, a changed troll, just in time for Christmas.  We read through it for simple enjoyment, and loved taking in Brett’s pictures but their are so many literacy and character connection that can be made.  As with all of Brett’s book the illustrations are perfect for helping children predict what is coming up next in the story, and inferring what the characters are feeling and thinking.

This was to be a fun activity so I didn’t want to get too serious – on to the Gingerbread house.  Now we do a Gingerbread house from scratch every year and it is a 3 day adventure.  A number of years ago I found a great site that gave a perfect outline and template for making a gingerbread house.  I printed it off and we use the same recipe every year.  The first year I made templates for the shapes and a board for the house, which are put back into one of our many Christmas boxes after the holidays to be brought out the next year.  On day 1 I bake the house and sometimes get a bit of help from the girls.  I always have lots of dough left over and make Gingerbread Men out of the leftovers.  Sometimes I make the stained glass windows using lifesavers (if I remember before baking) and this year the girls loved crushing the lifesavers.

On day 2 I assemble the house.  I use books and pop cans to help prop up the pieces.  This is an activity for after the kids have gone to bed!

Day 3, which fell on December 8th this year, is the fun day – it is decorating day.  I took Kaitlyn to the grocery store bulk section and let her pick out a variety of candies.   We we everything up on the table and decorated!

Mommy’s job is to put the icing on and the girls are responsible for decorating.  This is the first year I pretty much did none of the decorating.  Kaitlyn is very much into hearts so she put a large heart on each side of the roof.  Eileen pretty much ate more candy than she put on the house, but she made a good effort with creating a pattern with the M&Ms.  This year we pretty much had to decorate the house twice.  We did it Thursday afternoon before the daycare Christmas concert, but while I was getting Eileen dressed for the concert Michael crawled up on the table and ate off half of the candy (most of it he simply spit out).  I quickly cleaned up the mess the best I could and then when we got home from the concert we decorated it again.  Now it is kept well out of reach from Michael.  It has dried but I still don’t want to take any chances!

Posted in Books, Family Adventures, In the Community

God Gave Us …

Sunday’s book (December 4th) was God Gave Us Christmas written by Lisa Tawn Bergern and illustrations by David Hohn.

I decided to put this book on a Sunday for two reasons: first its has a religious theme so it is a good book to read before going to church and Sunday school, and second we have more time on the weekend and the activity I had in mind  would take a bit longer.

First thing in the morning I read the book to the girls.  It is a story of a little bear who asks his Mamma:

“Who ‘vented Christmas? Was it Santa?”

Mamma answers that God was the one who invented Christmas, that “God gave us Christmas”.  The next day Little Cub asks to go find Santa but Mama suggests that instead they go to find God. I really like how Mama Bear doesn’t exclude Santa but instead says:

“Santa Claus reminds us about many good things like generosity and care.  But is is God and Jesus that we celebrate most come Christmas.  We always want to thank God for giving us Christmas.”

This makes it easier for children to follow without abandoning their young visions of what they know of Christmas.

Little Cub and Mama set out to look for signs of God – and that is just the task I gave Kaitlyn.  I gave her my little camera for the day and told her to take pictures of things that God gave us.  She took it to church, and Sunday School, and with us as we went to get our Christmas tree.  The pictures may have been different if we did it for a week instead of just a day but I still think she did an amazing job!

She put all of her pictures together to make a collage.  I helped her a bit with shaping her photos and with spelling but she did the rest herself.  In case you have trouble reading she came up with: stories, friends, nature, family, trees, home and us.

Posted in Books, Family Adventures

Letters for Santa

Today’s book (December 3rd) was It’s Christmas David! by David Shannon.

Eileen got this for Christmas last year when it was very appropriate  for her. This year it is VERY appropriate for Michael.  This was a great read for both of the girls.  Kaitlyn was able to read most of the words so it was fun for her to read it to us, and because of the limited text Eileen was great at helping us read the pictures.  A very cute Christmas picture book.

One of the scenes in the book is David sitting with Santa showing him his very long Christmas list.  I thought this would be a great lead in to the girls writing their Christmas letters to Santa.  We were going to decorate paper for our letters but Kailtyn really wanted to do hers all by herself and I thought lined paper would be a big help.  I found some free printable snowman lined paper that was perfect.  I sat with Kaitlyn and wrote her letter as she dictated it to me, and I helped Kaitlyn with a few words (spellings).   I gave them some Christmas stickers we have to decorate their pages and envelopes.

Fortunately there were no surprises for Mommy and all of the items they asked for were the same they told Santa 2 weeks ago when we did our pictures.  It was tough getting Eileen to add anything other than what she wanted for Christmas but eventually I convinced her to add that we would leave Santa cookies, even though I think she only added it thinking she might get to eat some.  Kaitlyn was much easier and was very thoughtful and methodical with her letter.

We will drop them in the mailbox on our way to church tomorrow and hopefully will get a letter back from Santa before Christmas!