At Christmas time I always like my teacher gift to be home-made to add a personal touch. This is a simple gift we made last year.
The reindeer were made from wine corks, with tooth picks for legs and pipe cleaner antlers.
Push the toothpicks into the corks at an angle to make legs and cut them to an equal length.
We joined the necks to the body using craft wire. It is Easier if you push holes into the cork using a skewer or knife before adding the wire. Add the Antlers and draw a face adding a pom pom nose if desired.
To make the sleigh, tape bars of chocolate together with two candy canes taped to the base. Wrap the sleigh in gift ribbon and attach to the reindeer.
A simple inexpensive gift for a teacher, neighbour of friend.
At this time of the year I love to add books to my children’s wish list, but it often takes a lot of research to find new books that I know we will all love. I have received a large number of books to consider for review during 2016, so to help those of you who are seeking inspiration, I compiled a list of some of my favourites.
The Barefoot Book of Children is an absolute joy of a book and a clear favourite. I would urge any parent or teacher to add it to their collection. This non-fiction title is a celebration of our common humanity and helps facilitate discussions about race, diversity and inclusion. It looks at how other children live, how we are different and most importantly how we are alike. The book is full of questions that provoke discussion , “How do you share your love? ” “What would you like to do if you had a chance?” “Do you have a special place?” As a teacher, I would share a few pages each day to lead a discussion or topic. Detailed descriptions of the illustrations can be found in the reference materials at back of the book. Children who love facts, can find out about the cultures depicted in the book including names of houses, meanings of names, special celebrations or cultural foods. This section has further talking points, to develop the thinking of slightly older children. My youngest daughters shared this book together and were completely absorbed by discovering new things and discussing the questions together.
The Barefoot Book of Children is not available until the Spring in the UK but is currently available in the US.
The Branch by Mireille Messier illustrated by Pierre Pratt
The Branch is a charming story book featuring a little girl, who has a favourite branch on her tree where she likes to play and watch the world go by. One stormy night, she is devastated to find her branch laying on the ground. Her mother agrees that she can keep the broken branch, for a while. Mr Frank, her neighbour understands the little girls sadness and seeing potential in every piece of wood, he crafts the perfect gift from her favourite branch.The relationships in this book are portrayed beautifully through the text and illustrations. I particularly love the sequence where the old man and the little girl, work together in the workshop to create something special. The Branch is a perfect book for children like mine, who love to climb trees.
The Littlest Family’s Big Day is about moving to a new home and is perfect for younger readers. The simple text will keep their interest and the beautiful, detailed illustrations have plenty for children to explore. This would make a wonderful bedtime book as you snuggle together and point out all the tiny details of this woodland world.
A Squiggly Story is the tale of a little boy who wants to write stories like his big sister, but hasn’t yet learned to write words. His sister encourages him to tell his story, using individual letters and shapes. He tells the story to his class at school, who contribute more ideas. This is a great read aloud book for pre-school or kindergarten teachers, perfect for showing children that you can tell a story even if you can’t write words. It would also make a lovely gift for an older sibling to give to a younger sibling practicing emergent writing.
These books come in gift sets, complete with a soft dog and adorable little mouse. The toys are of excellent quality and are totally irresistible. I didn’t get chance to review Lily the Fancipoo as it was held up in transit, but we received Piper was Afraid. Piper was Afraid, is about a big dog who misses out on all kinds of fun because he is afraid. The book had two features that made it an instant hit with my kids – the added bonus of the cuddly toys and an interactive element where you find the mouse hidden on every page. Either book would make a perfect gift for young children.
Leonard’s Beard, is a comical story about a writer who becomes so absorbed in his stories, he forgets about the outside world. His beard grows and grows until one day during a storm, Leonard realises how out of control it has become. He cuts his beard, revealing all manner of interesting objects. As he removes them, he discovers that being absorbed in writing has stopped him having his own adventures. This would be a good book to encourage children to get outside more or move away from a screen.
A perfect book for babies and toddlers. It follows the RIE parenting model , offering choices to the child as he moves through his day. This is a lovely, interactive book to share with a young child. At transitions during the day the toddler is presented with two options, “the bib keeps your clothes dry and clean, which will you wear, the red or the green?” Simple rhyming text will appeal to small children and it is perfect for promoting early social, emotional and communication skills.
Mr Matisse and his Cutouts is an ideal book for teachers or parents wishing to inspire art projects. The story focuses on the latter part of Matisse’s life, when due to cancer he was no longer able to create art as he had done before. Matisse found new ways to create, by cutting shapes from paper and displaying them around the room. I’m looking forward to using this one in my art lessons next year.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. I recieved review copies of the books featured in either digital or traditional format.
Last year was our first trip to Leavenworth during the Winter. We have visited a number of times in the summer and had heard great things about the Christmas lights, so decided to take a trip. The Christmas lighting festival takes place during the first three weeks of December. There are plenty of activities at the festival and the girls loved seeing Santa and Mrs Christmas.
It gets very busy, so parking can be difficult. If you prefer to go when it is quieter,the lights remain lit until February. We took another trip with guests after Christmas, which personally I preferred as it wasn’t so crowded.
Leavenworth is the perfect place to find snow. Take your sledges with you and go down the hill in the town centre. It is pretty bumpy so your sledge may not survive evidenced by the pile of broken plastic sledges at the bottom of the hill at the end of the evening. Surprisingly, the sledges we brought over from the UK survived, but the ones we bought here cracked.
On our first visit we weren’t quite prepared for how cold it would be. We took our dog , who shivered the whole time and since we arrived in the evening for the lights, we really needed an extra layer of clothing. On our next visit we came fully prepared with our ski gear and left the dog at home.
Ski hill was the perfect place for my eldest to try out her snow board for the first time. Our guest skied on the larger slope and the younger ones tried out tubing.
The view was spectacular too. When we had all had too much cold, we had hot drinks at the lodge on the hill and warmed ourselves by the fire.
I think if I were to go again, I would book early for an overnight stay. A day trip is fine in the Summer but I think a warm fire, hot drink and comfortable bed nearby would top off the day perfectly.
When I was a child, Christmas picture books had a very special place in our celebrations. Every Christmas Eve, my dad would settle down with us and read “The Night Before Christmas” from a tiny square book, that was his when he was a boy. Despite the size of the book, the illustrations were truly magical and it was a Christmas tradition that my brother and I would look forward to. Books also held a special place in our gift list. Every Christmas we would receive a new hardcover book, my mother would preserve the dust cover by wrapping it in plastic and sign the book with a loving message. To this day, I treasure hard backed children’s books. When I enter a children’s book shop, it still feels as though I am entering Aladdin’s cave and I’m compelled to cradle a new book like a baby.
The Book of Kringle could easily ignite a similar magic and love of books for young children. I could imagine its reading becoming a Christmas tradition in many families. I have only viewed a digital copy of the book, but other reviewers have praised the look and feel of the physical book, especially its resemblance to an old leather-bound document. This would make it a very special gift that could be enjoyed by all the family. Perhaps if you have a visiting elf, he could leave it as a gift to explain the history of the elves.
The story is simple and charming, written in the style of an old fairytale. The Book of Kringle tells of the days when the North Pole was ruled by a greedy king who didn’t allow elves to have fun. The king’s friendly brother spreads kindness amongst the elves and the story of Santa unfolds. I liked the traditional tone but sometimes I felt the language didn’t flow. That may have been because it was more difficult to follow in the digital format and it loses some of its magic without a physical book to hold.
The real magic though, lies in the illustrations. The soft watercolour illustrations are stunning, full of detail and fit beautifully with the traditional feel of the book. They transport me back to my childhood treasures, illustrated by the likes of Arthur Rackham, Mabel Lucy Atwell and Kate Greenaway. A pre-reader could happily spend hours pouring over the illustrations and the longer text would keep older children entertained.
If you visit the Book of Kringle website, you can watch Santa himself talk about the book and how the legend was discovered after all these years. It will hopefully give you a taste of this visual delight. The Book of Kringle retails on Amazon at $19.99
Looking across the street at our neighbours wonderful light displays makes our house look a little inferior. I really don’t mind because our decorations are a labour of love. Almost everything is homemade and those that are not have been bought very cheaply from charity shops or dollar stores. We may not set the street alight but the decorations are for the children and have had the children’s full involvement.
We have a cherry tree outside our front door and have been gradually adding decorations to it. They are not as beautiful as many of those you may see on Pinterest but they are all the children’s own work.
Here are some of the things we have been doing over the past month.
1.Lolly/Popsicle Stick Snowflakes.
Joining the pieces
colouring the nose in orange
Fixing on the nose
Look they are holding hands
Join polysterene balls together with cocktail sticks and decorate with push pins or sticky tape. This activity took on a life of its own as my daughter’s let their imaginations run wild.
3. Decorate old Cd’s
4. Ice ornaments
5. Pine cone reindeer
6. Gingerbread Cookies
We bought a cheap tinsel wreath in dollar store and re-threaded it with items we had collected from the garden.
8. Hula hoop weaving
Using old Christmas decorations and our spiderweb we had made for Hallowe’en.
I’d recommend using thin paper with young children as they found them hard to cut. In nursery we used to use kitchen paper, thin packing paper works well too.
10. Salt dough decorations
11. Recycling Christmas Cards
My favourite. I left out a basket of old Christmas cards, scissors, tape and glue sticks and this is what the girls came up with. We also used them to make gift tags for family presents.
12. Table Centre
Using items we collected in the autumn, scented with oil, dusted with fake snow and adding a few finishing touches.
I love the Winter holidays here. There are long bank holidays on festivals we either don’t celebrate or have a quiet time at home because there are no family visits to pack in. This gives us a lot of time to explore the area. The weather isn’t warm but there is so much to see and do here that looks beautiful in any weather.
For Thanksgiving weekend we took the family on a trip to Mount Ranier National Park and for a ride on Mount Ranier Scenic Railway ‘s Santa Express.
We entered the park at Longmire rather than the larger entrance at Paradise. At Longmire there is a restaurant, a small gift shop and a museum (this wasn’t open).
The girls were very excited to find snow, every few feet my youngest would stoop down to pick it up.
We then went for a short walk along the trail. My adventurous family hate to stick to the path, so soon we came across a river and we slid down the bank to see if we could get across.
My husband carried the little ones across but it wasn’t long before they were wading through the water themselves, just about managing to keep their clothes dry, even if their feet got a little wet. What a beautiful place it was, the wide expanse is so different from anything you get in the UK. My husband (followed by the dog) soon practised his balancing act on a tree stump closely followed by my eldest.
The twilight was drawing in so we made our way back across to the path. We walked back to the car holding hands as we felt it getting darker around us. The girls were a little scared and a little excited to walk while it was getting dark but were reassured by the road nearby with its comforting lights.
The boots and socks were dried out overnight and we headed to Elbe for our train ride. We gathered a few provisions in the local store. I loved the sign explaining the demographics of Elbe ‘population – not many’.
We soon saw the train arriving.
Once the train departed the guard informed us that we could see Santa, we made our way through the many carriages trying hard not to fall and passing the many Christmas trees. Santa was in his grotto and the girls each had a nice gift and a candy cane.
By the time we arrived back from Santa we had almost reached the mid-point of the journey. I have to admit I was a little disappointed by the views. I expected stunning mountain views but instead we saw forest, farms and rivers. The girls watched out for wildlife whilst playing with their new toys.
The train ride lasted around 2 hours which seemed to pass very quickly. A lovely start to our Christmas festivities. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Mount Ranier when the weather is warmer.
Having experienced our first American Christmas, many people have asked about the differences. Without our family and friends Christmas was always going to be different. In some ways Christmas was more relaxing without rushing off to visit relatives and in others a little of the Christmas spirit was lost. The good thing is that with Skype and Video Kinect we were able to talk to family and friends at various points through the day and the grandparents were able to watch the kids open their presents.
The Christmas tradition here is different in many ways, some take a little getting used to whilst others are a breath of fresh air.
It took me a while to get used to the American reference to Holidays rather than Christmas. At first it seemed too politically correct. Being invited to a Holiday party and school letters referencing Holiday gifts was very odd. The lack of emphasis on any one festival is nice but still feels a little strange; for me it will always be Christmas.
I took the children to see the switching on of the Christmas lights at the City Hall. This turned out to be simply turning on the Christmas tree lights, accompanied by a school choir singing songs about snow and jollity but not the traditional Christmas carols I expected. It appeared at first that the word Christmas was a taboo but over time I began to hear Christmas references more frequently. I read an article by a Jewish lady talking about how tiresome it was as a child to be asked what Santa was bringing and have to explain her faith time and again. I’m beginning to see the merits of the term ‘Holidays’ but I’m not a full convert yet.
Christmas decorations and lights started to go up in the neighbourhood as soon as Thanksgiving was over. Outside decoration seems to be as important as indoor, yet somehow it’s all a bit more tasteful than the UK . No house looks like it’s been adorned with the contents of Poundland. Lights are put around the roof or to light a pathway, beautifully lit ornaments are placed on lawns and every door displays a Christmas wreath. Perhaps it’s just that the houses and plot sizes are bigger that avoid them looking like they’ve been spewed on by the tinsel fairy. I’m slowly trying to blend in, I turned my old garland that I made when we were first married into a wreath and hung it on the front door and I’ve put a snowflake light in the window. Next year I think I need to research in advance how to power all the outdoor lights and decorations so we can sparkle with the best of them.
Once Thanksgiving was over I expected the supermarkets to be full of Christmas food. We found Christmas cookies, candy canes and egg nog but where were the beloved mince pies? It appears that Christmas cookies are an American tradition. Not gingerbread cookies or spicy lebkuchen that we would associate with Christmas but ordinary sugary cookies in Christmas shapes. Traditionally they were hung on the Christmas tree and left out for Santa.
My kids love mince pies, we would eat them every day from when they appeared on the shelves until we had exhausted our stack of reduced ones from the January sale. When the cashier at Waitrose told us that their bakery stock individual ones year round, the girls jumped for joy and we would sometimes pop in for a treat. So how would we cope this year?
After searching around and almost going as far as making mincemeat from scratch, I was relieved to find a jar of Robinsons mincemeat. The girls and I made a batch of mince pies. My pastry was a disaster, even the dog worried he may break his teeth. So I resigned myself to a Christmas without mince pies. That is until I discovered the delights of Cost Plus World Market, where we found mince pies (all be it at $7 a box) along with Christmas crackers, Christmas pudding, Cadburys biscuits, pickled onions and other treats like Marmite and Birds custard. We were all set for a traditional Christmas.
One of the best things about living here in the Winter is that a 40 minute drive takes you to snow. You have all the fun and beauty of snow without any of the inconvenience. We had a wonderful time at Hyak Snow Park tobogganing and building snowmen and the view was just like a scene from a Christmas Card. Perfect for my 4-year-old who believes that there is always snow at Christmas.
Gifts and Cards
Rather than sending Christmas cards, the neighbours left little treats like cookies and chocolate brownies on our doorstep. What a great idea, this is definitely something we should adopt in the UK. We baked a batch of mince pies (they were substantially better than the first batch) and the girls and I delivered them to the neighbours on Christmas Eve.
In all our first Christmas in America was pretty special and hopefully in future years we will have family or friends to share it with us.
My idea of the perfect family Christmas is a little clichéd but involves mince pies, mulled wine, a roaring fire and singing around the piano. This is becoming a reality in our house. With an array of instruments including piano, guitar, clarinet and saxophone and a whole family who enjoy singing and music, we are loving making and recording music together. When I was asked if I would like to review Jingle Bells, from music-for-kids, I thought it would be a good chance to add Christmas songs to our repertoire.
The Jingle Bells book and CD features 18 well-known Christmas carols and songs. The book is nicely presented with each song displaying the notes of the melody plus chords written along the top. There is also a handy chord chart at the back of the book for both guitar and ukulele. Being a beginner, I photocopied the chord sheet to make it easier to reference while I was playing guitar. With my basic guitar skill, I found that there were a few too many chord changes to play many of the tunes with confidence but with most songs you could leave some of the chords out.
The piano music is basic (right hand melody and chords) and was great for my 8-year-old to practice sight-reading and play a simple tune . The chords could be added by a more experienced pianist to play accompaniment, I even managed to sing along to my own rudimentary playing during silent night.
The CD contains all the songs in the song book and is a nicely sung collection of Christmas carols. Younger children may find the keys too high.
My little ones enjoyed filling out the sticker pages and singing along to Jingle Bells while their sister played the recorder. I was disappointed that there weren’t more songs for the little ones like ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’, ‘When Santa got Stuck up the Chimney’ or ‘Away in a Manger’. They joined in with Jingle bells and We Wish you a Merry Christmas and there are a few other simple melodies that they could learn but I would have liked to have seen more simple songs that weren’t carols.
If you are looking for a simple book and CD of traditional Christmas Carols, at £7.95 this is excellent value.
No payment was a received for this review, a copy of the material was received for review purposes.
This Christmas we decided to take a break from our traditional way of doing things. We visited Butlins Minehead Resort courtesy of the Butlins Mums Ambassador Programme. We usually spend Christmas at home, but I can thoroughly recommend a Christmas Butlins break for taking the hassle out of Christmas and spending quality time with your family. We did many things on the break that are not unique to Christmas, these will feature in a later post. This is our diary of the special things that are available on a Christmas Butlins break.
We checked in at our Gold apartment and were immediately greeted by some lovely added touches. The dining table was laid with a Christmas cloth, wine glasses, crackers and a bottle of bubbly and when the children checked out their bedrooms they found a lovely little gift each on their bed.
We then headed to the Yacht Club for dinner. The children were given Christmas cookies on arrival while we were allocated our table (guests keep the same table for the duration of their break). The dining experience was a real highlight of the break. Not only did I not have to cook but the quality, quantity and choice of food was excellent. Food and drink were on a self-serve basis and the children enjoyed coming to make their own choice of food and using the machines to get drinks. The meals ranged from 3 -5 courses and included a bottle wine . Our meet and greet host Mark also deserves a special mention for his exuberance and energy and for going out of his way to make sure we were happy. The children loved his illuminated tickling stick.
Butlins had a special visit from 2 of Santa’s reindeer and we visited them in the morning.
The girls and I spent the afternoon in the Skyline Pavilion. We watched the puppet show and danced with Angelina Ballerina but the highlight was Bjorn the Polar Bear. This amazing animatronic polar bear was so responsive and lifelike that the children were captivated.
One girl was chosen to be the first to interact with Bjorn and when she called his name he turned and walked towards her. All the children had a chance to hold their hand out for Bjorn to move towards them to be stroked and as a finale he rose onto his hind legs when the audience clapped and made a noise like a seal.
The snow globe looked like great fun with its simulated snowstorm, character photo shoots were scheduled here during the day. Unfortunately, by the time we considered going in (on Tuesday) it had lost some of its juice and the snow wasn’t falling and blowing properly so we decided to give it a miss. Next time I’ll make sure we get in early.
During the afternoon the housekeeping staff visited with a bag each containing a carrot for the reindeer and a mince pie for Father Christmas.
The girls filled out their letters to Santa included in the welcome pack. We intended to post them on our way to Father Christmas but by this point the post box had closed and we were too late. I believe had we been on time the girls would have received a personalised letter from Father Christmas.
We had a pre-booked time slot to visit Father Christmas in his Enchanted Forest. The children loved being met by the Gingerbread Man and a fairy as we entered the Forest and each had a good quality gift from Father Christmas (this incurred no extra charge).
On the way to dinner we caught the end of the firework display and my 3 year old who is afraid of fireworks was very brave.
After dinner we headed to Reds for a few drinks, and to catch the Take That tribute band. This was followed by an Adele tribute and Beatles tribute, but these were a little late for our kids.
When back in the apartment the girls hung their stockings on the tree ( we took a small table top Christmas tree with us) and put out the carrots and mince pies along with Santa’s magic key (Butlins apartments don’t have chimneys).
All of the Butlins staff went out of their way to help during our stay, this included the security man who helped carry presents to our chalet at 4am. As a minor suggestion if you are considering a Christmas break at Butlins, leave some of the presents at home. The time and space it took to load, unload and unwrap all the presents was a little overwhelming!
The girls woke up very excited that Father Christmas had visited Butlins. Remarkably, we managed to get the girls to breakfast before opening any presents. On opening the door they found this note from the man himself.
The morning was taken up opening presents and we headed for Christmas dinner during the mid afternoon. Today the little table in the entrance was laden with chocolates, fruit and nuts and a glass of Bucks Fizz for the grown ups. Our places were adorned with crackers, chocolates, a box of party poppers, rocket balloons and streamers, a bottle of fizz (yay!) and a little wrapped present for the baby. We unwrapped it to find a Billy Bear bowl – very useful as I had been feeding her snacks from a china bowl in the apartment up until this point.
The meet and greet staff soon arrived with children’s crackers and Billy Bear cups for each of the children. A traditional 5 course Christmas Dinner left us all suitably satisfied, before heading back to the apartment for my Christmas Dr Who fix.
In addition to regular Christmas television, the Butlins television channel showed the Redcoats favourite Christmas movies, this helped to keep the children amused.
Today was our pre-booked time slot for the pantomime Aladdin. This was great fun and the girls really enjoyed it. It wasn’t too long and included plenty of catchy songs.
We spent the afternoon at the funfair before coming into the warm for coffee and hot chocolate while the girls enjoyed softplay.
For the evening entertainment we made our way to Reds for a Robbie Williams and Girls Aloud tribute and a bit of a boogie. The girls had made friends with some of the children we met at the restaurant and stayed up late dancing and playing with them.
Time to check out and say goodbye. I can highly recommend a Christmas break at Butlins. It was great to focus on the children at Christmas rather than visiting and entertaining. I would love to do it again with a large family gathering …. I wonder if I can persuade my family to book for next year?
This Christmas break was in Gold Standard accommodation with the Premium Dining package (Dinner, Bed and Breakfast) at Minehead Resort.
At the time of visiting my children were aged 7,3 and 1.