Friday, 20 December 2013

It's the most wonderful time of the year...

I just love this time of year.

I get to go overboard on the family traditions and memory making.  

This year, I'm cramming in as many as I can because I am all-too intimately aware of the fact that time goes really, really quickly.  

Before you know your sweet littles are all-grown up adults and ready to fly the nest!  Giving you one last Christmas to revel in your family before everything changes. *sobs*

So, we have been very, very busy savouring the season.

Decorating every inch of the house... 

Thoroughly enjoying the tradition of unwrapping a Christmas book a night then cuddling up together on a bed to share it as a family...
We start with the book that comes with Scout, our Elf on the Shelf (see below).  Some of our other favourite Christmas books are - An Aussie Night Before Christmas, That's not my Reindeer, How the Grinch stole Christmas!, Merry Christmas, Little Mouse, and Christmas at Grandad's Farm.

We've been learning to ride bikes...

Attending class Christmas parties and fare-welling our friends and amazing teachers with much joy and a little sadness. (Hamish made the Donna Hay Christmas wreath front left of the table.)

We thanked our incredible teachers for a wonderful year with homemade Rocky Road and jewellery the kids chose themselves...

Our traditional Pizza-Movie night has become Christmas themed and has included the occasional yummy Christmas themed dessert...
(Link to bauble ice cream sundae inspiration (and many others) found here.)

Operation Cubby for Christmas is in full swing.  It's WAY too hot to be painting up here!  Regular water breaks are necessary and end-of-the-day rewards are essential...

Our friendly elf visits us every day... 

Even breakfast has had a festive makeover...

Last night we completed another family tradition - driving around to view the Christmas lights... (I told you hubby blinks in every photo...)
...and then we go eat Cold Rock Icecream.  Even at 9 o'clock at night! Cue horrendous (me), cute (him) ice cream-covered selfie...
And, this morning, we finished decorating our Gingerbread houses.  We pimped the Donna Hay version with mini m&ms...
Christmas traditions kick into overdrive next week with ham, turkey and trifle preparations (plus we need to get the Cubby finished!), so I'll take this opportunity to wish you all a joyous holiday season, whatever your traditions.  

Thanks also for all your support this year on my journey into blogging.  Your comments here and on Facebook mean so very much to me.

Merry Christmas and all the best for a wonderful New Year.

Sarah xx

Monday, 9 December 2013

Elf on the Shelf - and why some of the ideas just don't sit well with me

We have an Elf on the Shelf.

His name is Scout.  Every morning we wake to find Scout in another cute position.  You've probably seen all these ideas online.

There are a lot of mixed feelings about these elves.  Some say cute and magical, others, well, kinda creepy.

I'm in the cute camp - but with some pretty firm limits.  Some of the ideas plastered all over the internet I think are just wrong and here's why...

The purpose of the Elf on the Shelf is to be a scout elf.  They spend the day observing the children and at night magically return to the North Pole and report to Santa.

So, if their sole purpose is to keep the big guy updated as to the naughty/nice status of the children in their family, why, of why, are there all of these naughty elves out there?

So many of the ideas I'm finding on Pinterest have the elf making a mess, wrapping the Christmas tree in toilet paper, drawing on walls or being attacked by other toys!

Is it not hypocritical that an elf who checks on childrens' behaviour is performing the very acts that would land any kid firmly on the naughty list?

In our house, things are a bit different.

In our house Scout is cute. 

He does cute things.

He makes us laugh.

And he helps us celebrate the joy of the holiday season.

Do you have an elf?  Where's the cutest place you've found yours?

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Advent Calendar Activities

Christmas in Australia always means one thing - stinking hot weather!

This makes most of the long term traditions a bit of a challenge.  A lot of people even forgo the cooking of a hot meal and stick with seafood and salads on Christmas Day. For me, though, it ain't Christmas without Turkey, Ham and all the roasted trimmings. And I'm a glutton for punishment with ridiculously high expectations!

The one thing I have always found challenging is the advent calendar.

Years and years ago I made and personalised this fabric pocket calendar from a store-bought kit.  It's become an important part of our family tradition. 
Each year since I've tried filling it with various items but sweets (even wrapped ones) attract ants and chocolates just become sticky melted lumps. The concept of sugar every day doesn't sit well with me, either - even at Christmas. 

Alternatives, such as festive story books and other items, are just too big for the pockets.

Add to that the fact that as the number of children in our family increases, the number of pockets to open eat becomes diminished.  I really wanted something that everyone could take part in, even if we do take turns checking the pockets.

So, a couple of years ago I tried activity cards instead.  You've probably seen these online.  The idea is instead of eating a chocolate or sweet first thing in the morning, the children pull out a card that shows which Christmas-themed activity they'll be completing that day.

I like to mix it up and include a variety of activities such as baking, craft, field-trips and movies.  (I've removed books from this list since we've started this new tradition.)

This year's activities look like this...

The cute printable tags are from Babystar Design and are found free for personal use here.  I pasted them into a Word document and used text boxes over the top.  (If you'd like a copy of mine to edit, drop me an email!)

Similar to our School Holiday Activity Jars, I've separated these into categories - Make, Bake, Go/Do and Watch.  I've tried to spread out the activities to give us a lot of variety, but have also factored in things like watching our favourite holiday movies on a Saturday night, preparing class gifts just before we need to take them to school and keeping those activities that require more time for after school holidays start.

In case you are interest in trying some of this year's activities, here are links to some of the ones we will be doing...

1. Make Bead Wreaths as table decorations or napkin rings
2. Bake Santa Hat Strawberries
3. Go to the shop and choose a gift for your teacher
4. Make Paper Strip Christmas Trees
5. Bake Hot Chocolate on a Stick
6. Bake CandyCane Cookies
7. Watch “Arthur Christmas"
8. Make Dough Ornaments
9. Make Wrap Teacher’s Christmas presents
10. Make Wrap Reindeer Noses for Grade 2
11. Bake Santa Cookies for preschool
12. Bake Decorate and Wrap Cookies
13. Bauble Ice creams
14. Watch “The Santa Clause”
15. Make Christmas Bath Crayons
16. Bake Rudolph Pancakes for Breakfast
17. Paper Snowflakes
18. Go for a drive to see the lights
19. A Gingerbread House
20. Decorate the Gingerbread House
21. Watch “A Muppet Christmas Carol"
22. Do - Sing some carols by candlelight
23. Do - Take a Christmas Bath
24. Bake Assemble the Trifle/s
What are some of your Christmas traditions?  Do you have an advent calendar?

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

30 Ways to Entertain Sick Kids

You'll have to excuse my absence from Blogland over the last coupe of weeks.  There has been a lot of sickness in our house lately.  The kids (and I) have had nasty colds which have kept them home from school on and off for the last couple of weeks.  And now we're all home with gastroenteritis- Yuck!

My experiences over this time, however, has led me to be able to present you with this...

(Now, obviously, the suitability of some of these activities depends very much on exactly how sick your child is.  Let common sense and your child be your guide.)

 30 Ways to Entertain Sick Children

1. Cuddle up and look at photo albums.  
Tell them stories of when they were babies, relive favourite family holidays and events - remember any special memories that weren't captured in a snap.  Older children might be able to make - or help make - a movie by compiling favourite photos together and adding music and titles.   Windows Movie Maker is my pick. Kelle Hampton has a terrific, simple How-To video here.

2. Play a board game.
Children who are really off colour will not be up for a challenge or anything new, so stick with easy to play, old favourites they've already mastered.  Uno, Kids Cluedo, Yatzee and Snakes & Ladders have worked well for us.  Older children might be able to focus enough for Pictionary or Scattegories.

3. Make a collage.
Grab a bunch of old magazines and/or catalogues and let them practice their cutting and pasting.

4. Do a jigsaw puzzle.
Stick with easy, old favourites or see if a bigger one with a lot of pieces will hold their interest.  We have a 100 piece Usborne world map with cute pictures that we love.

5. Make a fort and go indoor camping.

6. Read.
Cuddle up in bed - or your living room fort - and read together.  Home with a few sick kids?  Take turns each choosing a favourite one to share.

7. Use crazy straws.
Keeping up their fluid intake is really important.  Make water or re-hydrating solutions easier to swallow by using the craziest, swirliest straws you can find.  I found a pack of six for only a few dollars in the party section of Coles.

8. Take a bath.
While cold baths are no longer recommended for children with high temperatures (it actually does the opposite by making them shiver which is the body's way of heating up) sometimes a warm bath just makes you feel better, especially if suffering from vomiting or diarrhea.  Try distracting a sick kid with a bath full of bubbles, bath volcanoes, squirt guns and targets or put in some glow sticks and turn off the lights.

9. Put on a puppet show.
Even just choosing a puppet each and putting on a silly voice is fun.  We like to make our puppets go on a picnic or rescue their friends from danger.

10. Draw or colour-in.
There are so many free colouring-in printables on line, that you can pretty much find any topic your child is interested in.  Or you could spread out a big sheet of paper, trace their outline and let them decorate themselves.  If they're having trouble breathing, set up your art supplies on the floor of the bathroom and run the shower to make it steamy.  A few drops of Eucalyptus can help too.

11. Learn a magic trick.
You really can find anything on-line - see what card or magic tricks you can master.

12. Play with matchbox cars in bed.
Use the sheets, blankets and pillows to make mountains, hills and rivers and drive your cars over the undulating terrain.

13. Make origami.
A lovely, peaceful activity - if you choose nice, easy instructions!  Again, you can find anything on-line and regular paper works okay but most origami patterns start with a square piece so you'll need to trim them up first.

14. Construct with Lego.
No real need to follow instructions (and therefore spend many frustrating hours looking for specific pieces), see what you can create from your imagination or use a picture as inspiration.

15. Mold some Playdough.
The possibilities are endless.  We currently have vanilla and strawberry scented dough that we like to "cook" with.  Here the kids are making cupcakes...

16. Find a new app.
If you have an iPad or tablet, find a new app.  It doesn't have to be a game, make it educational in disguise.  We love the Monkey Preschool series, Amazing Match and the Whole Wide World Explorer.

17. Take some snaps.
Give your kids a camera and see what captures their eye.  You could make a scavenger hunt and photograph items of different colours or shapes that look like letters in the house or backyard.  You could even try your hand at stop motion animation.  We used my iPhone and the Flipagram app for this one...

18. Do some beading.
Thread them onto pipe-cleaners to make bracelets or string for necklaces.  Even my littlest got the hang of this one...

19. Play dominoes.
The traditional way or stand them up and knock them down.  Here's some mind-blowingly cool inspiration.

20. Tell jokes.
Take turns telling bad jokes from a joke book or Google jokes for kids and see which is the worst.

21. Coded messages.
Even preschoolers can match simple symbols and letters which you can read to them.  Older kids can use a variety of ciphers and may even enjoy writing you a message. 

22. Do some cooking.
If you're all sick anyway then there's not too much risk of sharing germs, but teach proper hand-washing before cooking and after they need to use a tissue.  Simple recipes and soft foods work well.  We made pikelets (mini pancakes) with 1 cup of (GF) flour, 1 egg and 1 cup of (your chosen) milk.  Older kids can help you flip them in the pan, but even little ones can whisk and try spreading on their own butter or jam (choose one made with all fruit for a refined-sugar free treat).

24. Make a village.
Pull out your blocks, train tracks, Little People, Duplo or all of the above and make a village.  Fill a room and let the kids go to town imagining new scenarios and taking trips around the village.  We had a lot of fires...

25. Take a walk.
Depending on how sick you are, and how long you've been trapped at home, a walk around the block might be a great way to get some fresh air and clear your heads.

26. Watch a movie.
The only good part about being home sick is getting to snuggle up for extra screen time.  Our family tradition is to watch The Princess Bride which is the ultimate staying-home-sick film.  It does have some scary bits, so I would recommend it for 5 years or over.  If little throats are too sore for popcorn, try grapes.  Frozen grapes are even better on inflamed throats, but take care with little ones who may find these difficult to chew whole.
27. Play Doctor.
A simple doctor kit or a bandage and dosage syringe can help little ones to "show you where they're sick" and making Teddy feel better cheers everyone up.

28. Tell stories.
Make a set of story cards or stones and take turns making up stories.  Older children might like to write out their adventures for you to read.

29. Make a mini world.
Be it dinosaurs or sea creatures, add them to a sandpit or bucket of water for a nice distraction.

30. Massage.
Sore, aching little muscles can benefit from a gentle massage.  Rub in some moisturiser or take turns doing a "Pizza massage" on each other's backs- make actions for kneading the dough, rolling it, spreading on the sauce and adding toppings.  Don't forget to melt the cheese in the oven, slice it and gobble it up!  My kids love this.

Well, that's how I've spent the last couple of weeks!  Got any more inspiration for me?


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

How to Organise and Protect LEGO Instruction Manuals

If you have kids in your house, chances are you have some Lego.  And if your house is anything like mine you have an enormous amount of Lego and lots of those accompanying instruction manuals.

Lego manuals need to be kept for future reconstructions and, unfortunately, they're not particularly long-lasting (or are my boys just way too rough?) 

So, I was looking for a way to store them so that each booklet is protected, easy to locate and able to be kept out of reach of little, not-so-gentle hands and I have found a solution...
First up, you'll need the following items: 
* A binder with space for a cover sheet
* Sturdy, clear plastic wallets (regular plastic pockets are too flimsy)
* Filing tab stickers
* A hole punch
* A label maker (optional)
The second step is to organise your manuals into categories.  You can separate into each type of Lego or, if you only have a few booklets from a couple of different types of Lego, combine them.
I chose to separate ours into: Duplo, Creator, Ninjago, City, Harry Potter, Star Wars Episodes 1 to 3, Star Wars Episodes 4 to 6 and "Other". (Yes, we have a LOT of Star Wars Lego!)

When you have decided on your categories, print or write a label for the filing tabs and stick them on the top of the folder. 
I chose to stagger mine across the top in alternating colours.
The third step is to align your plastic wallets with the folder rings and punch holes to fit them to the folder. Then fill each wallet with the correct manuals.

Finally, I printed a cover for the front of the folder...
 And a strip for the side, to make the folder easier to identify.
So far the system is working well.  Each booklet is super easy to locate and, when my preschool can't reach them, they stay safe and secure in the folder! 

Do your kids love Lego as much as mine?  

Have you seen the new range designed for girls?  They are Amazing!  I'm putting in an order for the dream house for Christmas.


Friday, 1 November 2013

A Kid-Friendly Halloween Afternoon Tea

Halloween is not really a big deal here in Australia, though interest is increasing every year.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of the scary-costumes and blood and gore decorations, especially not with kids.  I'm not fully aware of the history of the holiday but it did seem like an excuse for a fun themed afternoon tea play date with friends.
I compiled a list of all the things I'd found on Pinterest that I wanted to try and got cooking.  This, however, required me to purchase and cook with more sugar than we've had in the house all year! 
We did have a few of savoury options...Mummy pizzas ready for the oven...
And after I forgot they were in the oven!  Still tasty, though...

This pumpkin-shaped cheese ball was delicious...
And my famous chicken sandwiches made into ghosts... (these are the only things that weren't gluten free)

We also had some spider web cupcakes and meringue ghosts...

Some jelly and fruit cups transformed into Frankenstein's monster and Jack-o-lanterns, yogurts made to look like ghosts and Jack-o-lantern mandarins (none of which got eaten, surprisingly!).
Witches hats... (at least they're supposed to be.  They looked better on Pinterest, but these Baci kisses were the pointiest things I could find!)
 We had a "Decorate your own cookie" station...
 I made a bunch different shaped sugar cookies using this recipe with gluten free flour...
 And put out some different coloured icing and sprinkles...
They enjoyed eating their own creations...
 For drinks we had some juices dressed up to suit the theme too...
 We also had fun dressing up in costumes...
 Playing with our friends...
 I had the cutest lion costume for Rohan but he refused to put it on!
 And drawing some Jack-o-lanterns...
Did you notice our pumpkin?  The kids insisted that this year's look like Harry Potter...
Tell me, how did you celebrate Halloween?  What are your family traditions?