Archive for the ‘family’ Category

Hawaii is for Families

Hawaii has always has always been one of those places you go on your honeymoon or something you save up for after your kids are out of the house. When planning a family vacation destinations like Mexico or the Caribbean or maybe Florida come to find before Hawaii does. Perhaps it’s because I’m on the east coast, or closer to the east coast, so getting to a sunny destination that is quick to get to makes sense.

But in January we decided to try something different. We had a little more time on our hands and thought of going somewhere that took a little more travel time, like Hawaii.

You may think that traveling with 3 young kids on a 12 to 15 hour plane ride is crazy, and I’ll admit I was a little worried, but it went rather smoothly. I was annoyed at first about being bumped and having to take 3 planes versus 2 planes but I actually think the breaks were good for the kids, especially since they weren’t that long. And coming back, with the longer flight, the kids slept most of the way since we were flying over night, so that worked our great too. With the entertainment on the plane plus our own entertainment (electronics, snacks and colouring supplies) the kids were more then content to sit quietly on the plane. I think flying from a border city helped also (I much prefer going through customs in a car versus at the airport and would recommend it to anyone who has it as an option.

Unlike visiting Mexico or the Caribbean, Hawaii is still a US state so you don’t have worries about currency or medical are or water safety or any of those issues that come up with visiting foreign resorts. Yet it still has a very tropical feel. Of course it helped that our hotel, Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, offered a spectacular location and service. I even wrote how this trip was one of our best vacations to date. But that was my feelings; what about the kds? When I asked my kids where they wanted to go for their next vacation, Disney World or Hawaii, it was Hawaii all around. That says a lot since our family is a Disney family.

You can read all the reviews I posted on our Hawaiian trip over within EverythingMom‘s Family Travel section: from our stay at the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach to visiting Pearl Harbor and a trip to the Polynesian Cultural Center and more.

Below are a few photo highlights. Makes me wish I was back there now.

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Family Day: World Records and Wet Heads

To mark the 200th anniversary of the McIntosh apple, the Ontario Apple Growers hosted a Winter Apple Ball in Toronto at the Westin Harbour Castle. The event was a free event for the first 1000 people who registered and we were lucky to be invited to attend.

About the McIntosh Apple

We’re big apple eaters in our home, Delicious, Empire, Granny Smith. But my personal favourite has always been the McIntosh; it’s soft and sweet on the inside with just enough crispness on the outside for a good crunch with each bite. The first McIntosh was discovered in Dundela, Ontario by John McIntosh in 1811; however it wasn’t sold until much later when John’s son, Allan McIntosh, took a more serious interest reproducing the tree and selling the apple across eastern Ontario.

The Winter Apple Ball

When we arrived we spotted apples throughout the hotel, providing directions on where to find the Winter Apple Ball and giving out apple tattoos. We were also greeted by royalty when we arrived and of course my girls had to have their picture with them (my son, not so much).

In Candy Apple Lane the Ontario Apple Growers had a display of all their apples. Each had a description and samples so you could see that not all apples are the same.

My kids were more interested in the guy making balloon animals.

There were tables all around the Winter Apple Ball offering guests apple cider. I loved the warm apple cider but my kids preferred it cold; both options were available. There were water jugs if cider didn’t appeal to you. You could also sample apples as well as tasty muffins. Trust me, they tasted as good as they looked.

After the kids had gained some nurishment from their apple snacks, they were off to the obsticle course. My 4-year old thought it was the best thing every, climbing and crawling and diving and sliding.

Eventually my girls decided to go to the craft area, making their own princess crowns. I couldn’t convince my son to leave the obstacle course. He’s not much of a crafter but they did have cardboard shields the boys could decorate if they wanted to.

Then the big moment arrived; time to go for the apple bobbing world record. Each registered person had their own bucket with 10 apples to bob for. They also provided ponchos and hair bands to try and keep yourself as dry as possible. Some tables were shorter, ideal for younger kids.

It turns out apple bobbing is harder than it looks, especially in the case of my 6-year old son who is missing 3 of his 4 front teeth, but he still tried. The video will give you a peak at how the apple bobbing event went down:

With 357 participants, it’s pretty exciting to say we were part of breaking the apple bobbing world record.

Even though my 8-year old daughter was the only one to bob all 10 apples, everyone had fun trying. The kids even walked away with a fun goodie bag, including an Apple Crumble mis from Et Tu.

Making crumble was the perfect way to use up the bitten apples from my daughter’s apple bobbing and celebrate our fun day filled with apples.

The Best Vacation and Why

The memories of our recent visit to Hawaii still linger in my mind (excluding the disappointing start with United Airlines). I’m sure most people would agree that any vacation is a good vacation but a good vacation isn’t necessarily the best. As a family we’ve taken quite a few vacations but my husband and I both agree that this last trip was by far our best.

But what makes this trip so much better than our last trips? What should we plan next time to ensure we have one of the best family vacations? Here’s what worked for us:

Time and Timing
We were away on vacation for about 10 days, much longer than our regular vacations. I know with school schedules and work demands, taking an extended vacation can be difficult but if you can swing it, do. Flying to Hawaii took us 15-hours, 3 planes and a 5-hour timezone change. It took the family almost 2 days to really get settled into vacation mode, including adjusting from jet lag and loosing all the stresses of work and home behind. And you know prior to a vacation ending your mind will already start thinking ahead to what has to be accomplished when you get home. An extended vacation ensures you still get quality vacation time after these adjustment days. There’s nothing worse than going away for a week and just getting settled in when you have to head home.

We also like to travel on non-peak times. This usually means during school time but it also means less crowds (and usually less heat). Visiting Hawaii at the end of January, also their winter, is a low season but the weather was perfect, sunny yet not too hot. It can also be their rainy season but we were fortunate and didn’t get hit with one bad weather day; that’s saying a lot for a 10 day trip.

Location, Location, Location
Well you can’t go wrong with visiting Hawaii in general I’m assuming. We had never been before so we just stumbled upon the Island of O’ahu, Waikiki specifically. Most people commented on how we should have planned our trip to the Island of Maui, that Waikiki was a little too touristy. But for a first time visitor I think Waikiki is perfect; it offered a nice transition from the big city to a taste of paradise. Perhaps another time will get a chance to visit Maui but I don’t regret our Waikiki visit at all.

Our hotel, the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, offered both great access to Waikiki Beach as well as the bustling atmosphere of Waikiki itself. The Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach is located right on Waikiki Beach. We could walk off the elevator right out to the sand. And out the front door of the hotel was Waikiki’s main street, with restaurants and shops and entertaining street life. It was wonderful.

The People
Of course the people in our hotel were amazing, from the front desk to the cleaning and maintenance staff. They always had a smile on their face and a pleasant greeting. Matt, the gentleman who taught the cultural activities at the hotel, remember my kids and was so helpful and friendly; Ryan, our server at Hula Grill, remembered what the kids ordered and always made sure we were happy. But it wasn’t just the hotel staff; cab drivers, police offers walking the streets, shop keepers, everyone seemed very pleasant and happy to be there.

This was our first trip to Hawaii but I think after our amazing experience it won’t be our last. Be sure to visit the Family Travel section on EverythingMom over the next few days as I will be sharing more detailed reviews on the hotel, some of the restaurants we enjoyed as well as activities while visiting O’ahu.

Christmas Day: 12 Hour Photo Essay

We had great fun participating in Andrea‘s 25 Days of Christmas blog post. We sailed with Santa and ate with him too, did crafts and puzzles, even went to the symphony and many other things, some of which I just never got around to writing about. Instead of focusing on work and general household tasks, we actually took time to enjoy the days leading up to Christmas. I would definatly do it again.

Another activity Andrea did this year was create a photo essay of Christmas Day, capturing 12-hours of Christmas, one photo each hour, giving you a peek into what Christmas was like in her house. Christmas always seems to be over in a flash so what a great way to capture it all: the frenzy, the calm, the chaos. So I did the same thing, capturing one photo every hour on my iPhone starting at 7:12 a.m. and ending at 8:12 p.m.

Here’s a peek into our Christmas Day.

7:12 a.m. Bedroom Surprise, Puffle Gifts from Santa

8:12 a.m. The Token LOUD Gift from Relatives

9:12 a.m. Countdown Clock Christmas Greeting

10:12 a.m. Disney Princess Overdose

11:12 a.m. Chocolate and TV for Breakfast

12:12 p.m. Army Men Protect the Santa Train

1:12 p.m. Merry Christmas Greetings with Grandma via Skype

2:12 p.m. Enroute to Visit Nana and Gramps

3:12 p.m. Quality Street Chocolate just for ME

4:12 p.m. Driving Back Home

5:12 p.m. Tiki Inspired Rum and Eggnog

6:12 p.m. Turkey Dinner

7:12 p.m. What’s Left after Christmas Fun

8:12 p.m. Relaxing with a Christmas Vacation Moose Glass

I sort of thought I’d end up with a lot of photos of us sitting around but our day was actually pretty busy. I’m looking forward to enjoying this week and not doing too much. How was your Christmas?

25 Days of Christmas: Day 2 – School Night Christmas Movie

In our house we have a rule of no TV during the week. It helps that we don’t have cable so there’s no temptation but we do have movies and shows that we really enjoy on DVD. So what a treat to be able to stay up and watch TV, on a school night. That’s what our activity 25 Days of Christmas Activity was for Day 2 yesterday. The kids were able to choose one Christmas movie (they choose Santa Clause 2 since we watched Santa Clause 1 on the weekend), have 2 Christmas cookies and a glass of eggnog, all while snuggling under a warm Christmas blanket in their PJs.

I was amazed at how quickly the kids finished dinner and went through their bedtime routine so they could start the movie. It was a relaxed way to spend an evening, much more so then our 25 Days of Christmas activity the night before.

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!

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?

You Know Christmas is Close When…

Like it or not Christmas will be upon us before you know it. I sort of have mixed feelings about it. I love Christmas; it’s one of my favourite seasons. The only issue I have with is time. Christmas seems to sneak up on me and then in a blink it’s over. I’m vowing to handle things a little differently this year. I know, I’ve said that before, but this year I hope it will be different. This year I’m going to make an effort.

The Santa Claus Parade is this Sunday. That’s the big indicator that the Christmas season is here. The parade gives me permission to start listening to Christmas music and reading Christmas stories and drinking eggnog and decorating the house. My Christmas countdown clock should help (that, or it will drive me to drink realizing how little time I have left).

Getting Ready for Christmas: Christmas Cards

Yikes, November is almost over. And with the end of November means the start of December. And the start of December means the start of the Christmas holiday season. This year I was invited by Cardstock to try out their custom photo Christmas cards. I’ll be writing an Everything Fabulous post in the next few weeks on tools for making custom Christmas cards so this was a perfect opportunity to try them out.

Of course that meant I needed pictures and not shots of the kids at the beach (not very Christmasy). We don’t even have snow here yet. Hopefully the wooly hats and mittens help set the scene. My kids had a great time, though I had a hard time getting them to stand still. I don’t know how professional photographers do it. Oh and these photos, I took with my iPhone 4. Is there nothing that phone can’t do.