Category Archives: Christmas

Home-Made Teacher Gift: Reindeer and Chocolate Sleigh

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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.

base-reindeer

 

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.

body-reindeer

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.

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A simple inexpensive gift for a teacher, neighbour of friend.

8 New Picture Books to Add to Your Christmas List

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

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 by Emily Winfield Martin

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 by Andrew Larsen and Mike Lowery

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.

Lily the Fancipoo and Piper was Afraid

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 by Nancy Cote

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.

This or That: A Busy Morning by Wendy Kronick

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 by Annemarie Van Haeringen

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.

Leavenworth in Winter

 

 

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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.

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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.sledging in leavenworth

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.

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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.

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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.

The Book of Kringle: Legend of the North Pole. (Review)

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

 

Christmas Decorations and Crafts to Make with Young Children

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.

lolly stick christmas decoration

2. Snowmen

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

home made christmas decorations

4. Ice ornaments

ice decorations

5. Pine cone reindeer

pine cone reindeer

6. Gingerbread Cookies

gingerbread cookies

7. Wreath

homemade wreath

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

Christmas decoration using hula hoop

Using old Christmas decorations and our spiderweb we had made for Hallowe’en.

9. Snowflakes

paper snowflakes

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

salt dough

 

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

table arrangement christmas

Using items we collected in the autumn, scented with oil, dusted with fake snow and adding a few finishing touches.

Mount Ranier National Park and The Santa Express

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.

Snow at mount ranier National Park

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.

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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.

IMG_1354Mount Ranier Scenic Railway

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.

santa collage

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.
mount ranier scenic railway

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.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Our First American Christmas

xmasHaving 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.

Holidays

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.

Decorations

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.

Food

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.

Snow

hyak sno parkOne 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.