Archive for the ‘Santa’ Category

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Best Christmas Books

I love the holidays, especially Christmas. Last week I talked about our Top 10 Christmas Albums we love to listen too. This week I’m thinking about books. We have a pretty big library of children’s books at home. There are so many great books out there but I have a real soft spot for seasonal books. We have 2 shelves on our children’s bookcase devoted to these types of books. This last month we’ve been enjoying a few classics and some new favourites. I thought with Christmas approaching I would share as part of Oh Amanada‘s Top Ten Tuesday blog, 10 of our Favourite Christmas stories, some which we’ve reviewed and others that are just part of our personal collection.

  1. Ten on the SledThis is a fun counting book, counting from 10 back to one, based on the rhyme Ten in the Bed. You can’t help but sing this story instead of reading it.
  2. The Great Reindeer Rebellion –  A fun tale about striking reindeer set to the rhyme of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.
  3. The Nativity Story – This large sturdy board book is great for even little hands, with simply, rhyming text and shiny, uncluttered images.
  4. Peter Claus and the Naughty List – This is a great story illustrating that behaviour isn’t black and white and that doing something that might be deemed bad doesn’t make you an awful person (or child in this case).
  5. Olive the Other Reindeer – I love the work of J.otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh and this tale about a dog named Olive who offers to help Santa pull his sleigh is a delight to read and look at.
  6. Dream Snow – Eric Carle is another staple in a child’s book library and Dream Snow is a fantastic Christmas treat. The story is sweet, the illustrations in Carle’s trademark mosaic style and the surprise at the end is delightful
  7. Little Tree – Based on e. e. cummings’ poem, this is a beautiful story about love and belonging with wonderful whimsical illustrations.
  8. Santa Claus and the Reindeer Chase – This is a great interactive book as kids move a small cut-out Santa through various slots and openings on each page, trying to catch-up with his reindeer in time for Christmas Eve.
  9. The Present – Technically it’s about a birthday present but the concept of anticipation and charity hold true for Christmas also. Plus I just love this story.
  10. Christmas with Rita and Whatsit – Follow the adventures of Rita and her dog Whatsit as they prepare for Christmas as only a child (and child-like dog) would. I love the simple line drawing illustrations with just a splash of orange and green throughout. https://cabadov.wordpress.com/2009/12/02/warw-christmas-with-rita-and-whatsit/

Of course this is just ten of our favourites. There are so many other great Christmas books for kids out there. What are some of your favourites?

25 Days of Christmas: Day 13 – Christmas Puzzles

While the kids are still in school there isn’t a lot of time to do much in the evenings after homework and dinner. But not all Christmas activities have to be elaborate ordeals. For Day 13 of our 25 Days of Christmas we planned to work on Christmas puzzles.

I love puzzles, always have, but never really seem to have the time to do them. Designating a night of just working on puzzles, Christmas themed puzzles, was a lot of fun. And yes I do have Christmas themed puzzles. My 4-year old worked on a small 9-piece frame puzzle of a reindeer. She did it three times and got faster and faster at doing it after each time.

After dinner my 6 and 4-year old worked together on a Santa floor puzzle that I had bought from Scholastic years ago. It’s about 50 large, sturdy pieces and they worked on it, well, on the floor of course. My 8-year old was the one who insisted everyone where a festive hat while working on the puzzles. My two youngest picked parts of the puzzle they wanted to work on and then the combined the pieces to finish it.

My 8-year old worked with me on a larger 500-piece Charlie Brown Christmas puzzle scene. After we sorted out all the edge pieces we worked on the frame (that’s the way I like to start puzzles. It gives you an idea of the size you’re working with). We didn’t get very far before it was time for bed but I could have kept going. I find puzzles addictive once you start. It’s a good thing we built the larger puzzle on a puzzle roll so we could just roll it up and store it out-of-the-way until we were ready to work on it again.

How are you celebrating the Christmas season with your family? See what we’ve been up to for our 25 Days of Christmas.

25 Days of Christmas: Day 11 – The Not-So-Merry Rainforest Cafe Santa Breakfast

Breakfast with Santa is one of those traditions we started when my youngest was born. We use to go to IKEA for their breakfast but then we heard that Santa was visiting the Rainforest Cafe for breakfast. My kids love visiting the Rainforest Cafe, we even visited at the beginning of the month for my 4-year old’s birthday, so we had to book as part of our 25 Days of Christmas.

Breakfast started at 8:00 a.m. which meant getting everyone up early on Saturday, but some how going to see Santa was all the motivation they needed. At least having breakfast so early meant we could actually get a parking spot at Yorkdale in December.

When we arrived there was already a fairly long line outside the restaurant but the kids were easily entertained by a poor shopkeeper who was cleaning the shelves in the store’s window display.

We were taken to our seat but given no instruction about what to do or expect that morning. After looking around we found there were two buffet tables so we decided to grab our breakfast before things got too busy. When we normally eat at Rainforest Cafe the food offered on the main menu isn’t bad, I’m partial to their coconut shrimp, but their kids meals have always been poor. Even how they present them on the plate is disappointing, like someone just dumped the items from a microwave bag. The buffet was along the same lines: scrambled eggs, bacon, french toast strips (which were really more like deep-fried doughnut sticks), hash browns (those preformed shapes found in fast food restaurants) and pancakes so tough you could probably bounce them on the floor. The saving grace is they did offer little cereal boxes and apples.

Eventually our waiter came around to ask for our drink orders. It seems since we were already eating poorly the Rainforest Cafe wanted us to drink poorly too. You could have a Coca-Cola product or a small glass (as in shooter size) of apple juice. Milk you ask? Sure if you wanted to pay for it.

As we sat and ate the restaurant got busier, more tables filled. An hour into the breakfast (which was scheduled to run from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m.) there was still no sign of Santa or Cha Cha (the Rainforst Cafe frog). I did start to notice a long line of people winding their way around the tables where people were eating. This couldn’t be people lining up for the buffet. Curious I walked to the front of the line to find a roped off area with two chairs. Turns out this is where Santa and his elf helper were going to sit. Of course no one told us we would have to line-up. Past Santa breakfasts we’ve been given a number and went up when we were called. Even the Santa Cruise we did last weekend we were given a group. When the group was called we could go and stand in a small line. That gave us the rest of the cruise to enjoy activities. At the Rainforest Santa Breakfast I was expected to rush through my food so I could stand in line and wait to see Santa like in the mall. And since I wasn’t told this is what we were suppose to do, the line was far too long for us to wait in.

We paid our bill (almost $60 Cdn) and left.

Sadly what should have been a fun way to celebrate the Christmas season turned into giant frustrating and disappointing morning. Even the cache of meeting Santa at the Rainforest Cafe couldn’t save this event. I think this is a great idea but the Rainforest Cafe could learn a thing or two from other successfully run Santa Breakfasts:

  • Better Communication from the Staff. Let guests know what to expect and when. People may be aware that it’s a buffet but the hostess should reiterate this, point out where the buffet tables are and invite guests to start when they’re ready or wait for their waiter, whatever the process is. Also, the kids are here not for the food but for Santa so maybe letting them know when to expect him.
  • Better Food or Price Structure. Just because a Santa Breakfast is aimed at kids doesn’t mean you should not think much about the food you’re serving. Try making fresh home fries instead of freezer hash browns. How about some whole wheat toast. If you must use a pancake mix, use one that requires you to add milk and eggs; the difference will be incredible. And if you do want to serve cheap, freezer food, then don’t charge me $11.99 Cdn ($6.99 Cdn). The food at IKEA’s Santa Breakfast is pretty low-end but at least I’m only paying $5 Cdn for each person, adults and child alike.
  • Better Organization for Santa and Cha Cha visit. Assign guests a number or group for their Santa visit. This ensures other patron’s aren’t bugged by families lining up all around their table (who can enjoy breakfast with their family when your table is surrounded by strangers). This also means guests can enjoy their breakfast and not be in a panic to shovel their food down so they don’t have to wait in a long line-up for Santa. And to be honest, if I’m paying $60 for the privilege to eat and meet with Santa, I don’t expect an hour-long line-up. There also didn’t seem to be any structure to the lines. Cha Cha the frog just seemed to be bombarded by guests with no staff to assist and the group of people made it difficult to get around the restaurant.
  • Better Inclusion of Santa at Breakfast. As I mentioned earlier, the kids are here to see Santa (or Cha Cha), the breakfast is secondary. The hostess or waiter made no indication as to where Santa was or when he would appear. When Santa finally emerged, halfway through the breakfast, he made a bee-line for his seat. There was no big announcement or grand entrance to let kids know. Wouldn’t you want to get kids excited that Santa has arrived. Santa didn’t seem to greet anyone or be happy to be there. Perhaps Santa could walk around and just say hi to people, toss out a ‘HO HO HO’, seem enthusiastic to be there, then go to his seat.

Will the Rainforest Cafe take into consideration any of these points to improve their Santa Breakfast next year? Probably not. But it also means we won’t be back next year either. And sadly the whole Santa Breakfast has sort of turned me off the Rainforest Cafe for a bit too.

How are you celebrating the Christmas season with your family? See what we’ve been up to for our 25 Days of Christmas.

25 Days of Christmas: Day 8 – Festive Pancakes

On the eighth day of Christmas my mommy made for me…festive shaped raspberry pancakes.

I bought these Santa pancake molds years ago from William Sonoma but have never used them. They’ve been sitting in my cupboard with all the cookie cutters. So for day 8 of our 25 Days of Christmas I pulled them out. I only used the stocking and the sleigh mold (I didn’t think the Santa shape would look right in pancake form; that it would be hard to make out). The stocking wasn’t bad to work with but the sleigh gave me some trouble on the narrow runners. We used fresh raspberries to decorate the Christmas pancakes. I thought about colouring them but I find the liquid food colouring isn’t strong enough, you need to use paste for brighter colours. It seems you can’t buy the Santa mold set that I have but William Sonoma has a new North Pole pancake set.

The kids ate them up, literally.

How are you celebrating the Christmas season with your family? See what we’ve been up to for our 25 Days of Christmas.

25 Days of Christmas: Day 6 – Mini Me Christmas Trees

If you celebrate Christmas you probably have a Christmas tree in your house. We do. We have a few actually: a fake one upstairs in our family room, there’s the Elf tree on the second floor and our real tree, the main Christmas tree, in our living room.

We love Christmas trees so much that each of my three kids have their own mini tree; a mini me tree since they decorate their trees themselves with whatever they want. So for our 25 Days of Christmas activity for day 6 we dug out the trees and let the kids decorate them.

My 89-year old has a pink tree. It was originally a Dora tree with Dora branded ornaments. The ornaments have since disappeared but the very pink tree lives on. This year my daughter has gone very minimalist, just having lights on her tree and letting the pinkness shine out.

My 6-year old son has my old Christmas tree. I remember buying this tree when I celebrated my first Christmas at my first ad agency job. I still have all the original pieces, including the light string which is might actually be dangerous, and the original box with its Zellers $9 price tag. When I decided to leave the agency world and work from home, the tree came with me and my son inherited it.

Of course he’s added his own touches, decorating his tree with some of his favourite Hot Wheels cars.

My 4-year old has a sort of Charlie Brown Christmas tree, really skinny, but she liked the shiny pink and silver metallic branches. She thought about covering her tree with Polly Pocket dolls (we have a few of them) but when I told her that items on the tree stay on the tree, she changed her mind. Instead she opted for some mini Santas. Sometimes the Polly Pockets visit.

Every night while the kids are getting ready they plug their trees in and enjoy their creations. And on Christmas Eve they can actually sleep with their tree lights on all night so Santa can find his way to their room and leave a small gift under the tree; ideally something that will keep them busy for a few hours Christmas morning so I don’t have to actually get out of bed at 4:30 a.m.

How are you celebrating the Christmas season with your family? See what we’ve been up to for our 25 Days of Christmas.

25 Days of Christmas: Day 4 – Santa Cruise

We’ve seen Santa in the parade. We’ve seen Santa in the mall. We’ve even seen Santa on a train. But on a boat? Well for the fourth day of our 25 Days of Christmas fun we booked tickets on the Santa Cruise part of the Toronto Waterfront’s Winterfest celebrations. I actually heard about this on twitter through some tweets from WonderMoms, Ashworth Publish Relations and Brandie Weikle (Toronto Star‘s ParentCentral.ca editor). Minutes after hearing about it I booked tickets for the whole family ($10 Cdn per person 6 and over. Kids under 6 are free).

I can’t believe I kept it a secret from my kids. They didn’t know what we were doing until they read the advent card for Day 4: Ahoy there! Is that Santa in a life jacket? Today we set sail around the Harbour with Santa and his elves for some festive fun.

We arrived down at Queen’s Quay early so we could do a little window shopping. It’s been awhile since I’ve been down to the water front. The Santa Cruise was taking place on one of the Mariposa boats, the Northern Spirit. It was all decked out with Christmas garlands as were a few of their other boats (they do Holiday dinner cruises and have a New Year’s Eve dinner cruise that sound wonderful too). I’m glad we bundled up. Although the boat was toasty warm, waiting on the dock to get on board was a bit breezy. You forget how chilly it can get down by the water. The kids didn’t seem to mind at all.

As we boarded the kids were given a reindeer name (we were Dasher). This would be the group they would go up with when it was time to see Santa. This was a great way to organize all the kids and ensure everyone had a chance to see Santa and also avoided standing in line during the whole boat ride. Once on board everyone was given a drink ticket (they had hot chocolate, coffee or apple juice) and a 2-piece cookie from Redpath Sugar. Plus the parents were given a waiver to sign if their kids were getting photos with Santa.

The two level boat had tables and chairs set up on both levels. Santa visits would be on the lower level where a photo area was set-up. At our table the kids started colouring the holiday colouring and activity sheets laid out. The elves were very friendly and helpful, offering new colouring sheets if the kids finished all of theirs and clearing garbage away from the table, like cookie wrappers and drink cups. All the tables lined the inside of the ship, by the windows, so everyone had a chance to see the island and city as we sailed around.

We were one of the first groups on board the ship which meant we were one of the first to see Santa. The kids were so excited to see him and get a photo that they didn’t tell him what they wanted for Christmas (except my oldest daughter, she doesn’t need an invitation to tell you what’s on her mind). My 6-year old son didn’t tell Santa because he said Santa didn’t ask. I think the kids felt they were only there to get a photo and couldn’t afford the time to talk to Santa. It probably would have helped if Santa initiated some conversation about their gift list. Wish lists aside, they kids still had a great time seeing Santa and getting a photo. This image will be a great addition to our Santa Claus photo wall. Even my 4-year old, who at first didn’t want to really see Santa because he looked scary, said he wasn’t that bad, for a man with a weird, curly beard.

Santa visit over, the kids enjoyed their hot chocolate, colouring and Christmas music. My girls couldn’t help but hum or sing along; Christmas music can be infectious like that. I loved just listening to the music and looking at the landscape move by. My son and I even braved the cold weather and went outside for some pictures.

The cruise itself is about an hour-long. It seemed to be just the right enough time to enjoy the sailing and get in some Christmas fun. You can still Cruise with Santa on December 11 and 18th. For more information visit www.mariposacruises.com.

After our Santa Cruise we dropped into Chinatown for a quick lunch at House of Gourmet (one of our favourite spots. We go here for Christmas Eve dinner too). It was pretty busy on a Saturday lunch hour but they have group tables and turnover is pretty quick. We all enjoyed spring roll, shrimp and BBQ pork wanton soup and sliced BBQ pork on rice. Funny thing, one of the gentlemen sitting at our group table was working on a similar job as my husband. Small world.

As if the day wasn’t full enough, my 6-year old son lost his tooth, his first tooth, while out to lunch. He was so excited, he was showing everyone (and sticking straws and chopsticks in the gap where his tooth use to be).

How are you celebrating the Christmas season with your family? See what we’ve been up to for our 25 Days of Christmas.

Celebrating Christmas in 25 Days

December 1st is tomorrow! That means it’s time to start our advent calendars. In the past we’ve had all sorts of different advent calendars to mark the days leading up to Christmas: chocolate, toys, magnetic, colouring, even a storybook that builds a nativity scene. This year, thanks to Andrea at Quiet Fish, we’re looking at our advent calendar a little differently. Instead of just counting the days down to Christmas we’re going to celebrate them as a family.

This year we’re participating in the blog meme 25 Days of Christmas. We’ve been working on this at home for a while now. Remember my Top Ten Tuesday post a few weeks ago? Well we’ve added to that list of things we want to do during the Christmas season and I’ve added them to our calendar.

Wait, the calendar. First we needed a calendar. At first I almost made the calendar images myself but they I thought since the idea behind 25 Days of Christmas was doing things as a family I changed my mind. Instead I gave up the design to my 3 kids. I found index cards that we could use and hang on the kitchen wall. I would write the activities on the back, in secret, so the kids would still be surprised as to what Christmas activity we were to do that day, but I had them write the numbers and design the front of the cards.

Turns out this was harder than I thought. Not on the kids; they loved colouring and drawing and using stickers. I had a hard time not letting my controlling personality take over. Like when my 6-year old son wrote the number on his card small and in the corner versus big and in the center, as I had envisioned. Of when my 3-year old daughter used big stickers from the library’s Summer Reading Club to decorate one of her cards, not very festive. I wanted to offer suggestions, make corrections, but I didn’t. I realized this advent calendar was for them too. And they had fun working on, no fighting no yelling, just 2 hours of co-operative creativity.

Now it sits on our wall, ready for the first day to be revealed tomorrow. As part of the 25 Days of Christmas I’ll try to post each day’s Christmas activity, though it may not be daily.

How are you enjoying the Christmas season with your family?

The Santa Claus Parade Favourites

Last Sunday we went to our local Santa Claus Parade, which just happens to be the biggest in the country. My husband and I have gone to the parade together almost 20-years (only the last 8-years have been with kids). It’s a different feeling seeing the parade with kids in tow. We sang Christmas songs, handed in letters to Santa, caught candy being tossed out by crazy clowns and enjoyed the somewhat commercialized floats.

When I go to the parade, the bands are my favourite, especially a band with bagpipes. Have I told you my deep down desire to learn to play the pipes? That’s a whole other post. For the kids, seeing the floats is their favourite. My kids enjoyed all the floats but it was obvious what their favourites were.

No surprise that my 3-year old went crazy for both the Tangled and Barbie A Fashion Fairytale floats. You may remember we had a chance to see the first Canadian screening of the Tangled move before it was released in theatres and the Barbie a Fashion Fairytale before it came out on DVD. You can imagine her excitement seeing her two favourite characters appearing before her, super-sized. She was thrilled beyond belief.

My son almost fell on the people in front of us he was so excited seeing the Lego float. My son loves Lego. Actually love isn’t nearly strong enough, more like obsessed. And it was a great float. Seeing the larger-than-life characters gave them a sense that they were indeed real, not just a toy. Of course after this float my son wanted to get home and watch the Lego movie The Adventures of Clutch Powers. I actually hope they bring out more Lego movies; even I enjoyed that film.

My oldest daughter was excited to see the Little Big Planet 2 float, though I didn’t get any photos of it. We’re a bit of a gaming family and that’s her game of choice. I liked seeing the Potato Heads. I missed them when I was at BlogHer in New York City but they found me here in Toronto not too long after my return.

But no parade would be complete without the jolly man himself, Santa. I love that both kids and adults alike, waved and wished Santa a Merry Christmas. And now that Santa has arrived, it’s now time for me to get ready for the holidays. Deck the halls and drink some eggnog, fa-la-la-la-la la-la-la-la!

Santa Claus Parade: Wish Lists, Nail Polish and CTV

Tomorrow is the Santa Claus Parade, the start of the Christmas season in our house. We’ve got our parade gear ready to go: air cushions, a blanket, Christmas cookies, a toy for the toy drive, and we’ll be getting our hot chocolate in the morning. All these things are important but of course if you were to ask the kids I’m sure they would say their letters to Santa are the most important.

Each night this past week my husband has taken one child at a time to wander the isles of the toy store, making a list and taking pictures of the items they wanted to add to their wish list to Santa. On Friday we all sat down and worked on the letters together. We had crayons and stickers and flyers and tape and glue and paper to put the letters together. My 8-year old decided to write her list out in full, alternating the colours red and green. Of course a list of 17 items takes a while to rewrite (she stopped at 5). My 6-year old did a combination of writing and pictures and my 3-year old filled her paper with a drawing on one side and pictures of pink dolls on the other. They had a great time putting their letters and notes together. They even worked on them without fighting.

The folks from CTV Toronto even popped by to talk to us about our preparations for the parade.

For some added Christmas fun, my two girls had me paint their nails too. It could have been red. It could have been green. Why decide when you can have both.

How did you get ready for your Santa Claus Parade experience?

Top Ten Tuesday: Making it a Family Christmas

I realize it’s been awhile since I’ve participated in Oh Amanda‘s Top Ten Tuesday blog meme but the holiday season is fast approaching and if anything called for a list it’s the holidays. Yesterday I talked about my mixed feelings about Christmas. I love this holiday, it’s actually my favourite, but I find I get so wrapped up in other things that I really miss the holiday lead-up. The next thing I know Christmas Day is here and over before I’ve really had a chance to enjoy it.

This year I want it to be different. This year I want to ensure I enjoy every moment of this wonderful season, spend time doing festive things with my family. I think Quiet Fish‘s Andrea Tompkins might have just the solution to keep me focused. She’s starting up another year of 25 Days of Christmas. The idea is to create an advent type calendar for the 25 days leading up to and including Christmas. Each day will consist of an activity to do as a family and they need to be fun activities (getting the house ready and doing Christmas shopping don’t count). I thought this was a wonderful idea and I’m so stoked about participating.

I’ve already talked to my kids about what they would like to do together to celebrate Christmas. So for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday post I’m listing 10 Christmas Activities to Enjoy as a Family:

  1. Pop some corn and have a Christmas movie marathon. From Elf to Nester the Long Eared Donkey and everything in between, we will set aside a day to just sit and watch Christmas movie after Christmas movie.
  2. Popcorn strings and paper chains. I’ve never made popcorn strings so this year we’re going to set some time aside to do just that. Hopefully we’ll get more popcorn on the string than in our mouths but I guess that’s half the fun. And my 3-year old will love making her little finger friendly paper chains.
  3. Fireplace and hot chocolate. We have a wood burning fireplace in the living room and I love it. Love the sound and smell of crackling wood. With a warm cup of hot chocolate in hand there’s nothing better than sitting around and just enjoying that feeling.
  4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas game. We have a huge game cupboard and one game only gets played during the holiday season, the How the Grinch Stole Christmas board games. Kids get to collect presents from Grinchy Santa and give them back to the Whos.
  5. Cookies to bake (and eat). I love baking for the holidays but usually I don’t have time or I end up doing at night after the kids have gone to bed just to get it done. But this year we’ll set aside some time after school to make and decorate cookies. And then of course there will have to be samples to try.
  6. Christmas Train. Not far from our house is a CP train line and the Christmas Train, traveling cross-country, passes through one night. The cars are all decked out in lights and when it stops ‘Santa’ appears singing some rockin’ tunes. We stumbled upon this last year and hope to continue the tradition this year.
  7. Snowflakes, candy canes and other crafts. The kids LOVE making crafts and the holiday season is perfect for this. Snowflakes are easy to make and gives them something to decorate their windows. Candy Cane crafts are easy to make too with coloured pipe cleaners. Basically sitting down and doing pictures and crafts and nothing else for an afternoon.
  8. Singing Christmas carols. We have a piano in our living room. Every time Christmas arrives I wish I could play it but that won’t stop us from singing Christmas carols. All of my kids love to sing and each morning at school they sing hymns and love it. Even without a piano we can still have fun singing some of our favourites (plus it will give us all good practice for carols at Christmas Eve mass).
  9. Neighbourhood lights. I love seeing the houses in our neighbourhood and other neighbourhoods putting up displays of lights and scenes for Christmas. We love to go for a walk around and sometimes even pile in the car and checkout other neighbourhoods.
  10. Pictures with Santa. We have a spot on our living room wall that consists of the kids and Santa over the years. I love seeing the kids at the different stages in their lives. And we usually go to different Santa’s every year, sometimes even out of the city or out of the country.

These are just a few of the things my kids want to do with the family to enjoy this Christmas season together. I’m sure we’ll be able to think of 15 other great ideas. And thanks to Andrea for the idea. This year is shaping up to be a Christmas season I will actually enjoy as it’s meant to be, spending time with my family, and for that I am grateful.

What’s your favourite Christmas activity to do as a family?