Thanking Santa – a sweet reminder

When Santa holidays in Australia, we sometimes get his mail so he can stay in touch with children around the world.

Recently, we received, on Santa’s behalf, a lovely card from a little girl. Preslee wanted to thank Santa for his letter last Christmas, as well for giving her Sparkie and hoping she makes it onto the nice list again in 2018.

Cards like this remind us why it is so special and how very privileged we are to be assisting Santa with his letters each year.

a child's thank you card to Santa for her letter

The beautiful card from Preslee, with the attached note from her Mum.

And maybe they also remind others to thank Santa and show him how much he is appreciated 🙂

Kissing Christmas Goodbye – Christmas book review

Kissing Christmas Goodbye

Cover of Kissing Christmas Goodbye book by M C Beaton

by MC Beaton
Constable, New York 2007 (this edition UK 2016)

Age group: mid-teen to adult
Format: 240 page paperback

I’ve seen some Agatha Raisin mysteries on TV so when I saw a christmas themed book, I grabbed it to see what the books are like – and how closely they fit the TV version!

The story

Agatha Raisin aims for a perfect Christmas whilst trying to determine who gave hemlock to Mrs Tamworthy (after the lady in question told Agatha she was scared for her life).

My review

So this is book 18 in the Agatha Raisin series, but the first one I have read. It was perfectly fine to read this one before the other 17, although I assume character development and history would be better read in order. Interestingly, M C Beaton wrote the Hamish MacBeth books as well yet I find the two TV series based on the books to be quite different to each other. Have you read both series – did you find them particularly different?

The mystery itself unrelated to Christmas, but it includes a sub-story about Agatha preparing for a Christmas party to end all parties – she hopes! And the party includes a twist that readers of the series will find interesting, I believe.

Kissing Christmas Goodbye introduces a new character, Toni, for the series. This late teen girl gives opportunities to show Agatha as generous and caring, as well as grumpy and jealous of Toni’s youth and enthusiasm.

There is a complex plot to the crime in this story, with a quite unexpected result. The book also shows Agatha’s struggles with aging and men.

It was rather interesting to have many characters call each other “Mrs…” in a relatively modern setting. It gave the story a somewhat parochial feel at times and made it feel like a 1950s story, which somehow suits the tone of it overall.

So do I recommend it? That depends – as a truly Christmas book, no, not really. A sa light read over a Christmas holiday, absolutely! It is a bit of fun and fairly easy to read (the complex plot takes a little effort to keep up with!) so worth a try although it is never going to be one of my favourite books.

 

 

 

The Christmas Elf – Christmas book review

The Christmas Elf

Book cover of The Christmas Elf

by Hsiu Peng Wong
illustrated by Sami Lewis
IG Design Group, Clayton South, Victoria*

Age group: primary school (5 – 10 years)
Format: soft cover picture book, 14 pages

This book came as part of a box set with a plush elf who can stay in the house each December to help Santa.

The story

A short story to build the message of an elf who watches children’s behaviour to help Santa keep his naughty and nice lists current.

My review

I love the illustrations in this book – it is colourful and cheery, and fun to read. There is not a lot of text so the book will suit very young children as well as those able to read it themselves as part of their Christmas excitement.

Map of Australia and New Zealand Aussie kids dreaming inside The Christmas Elf book

I also like that there is a variety of children in the story – different genders and skin colours – and that dreams of gifts are not genderised (for instance, one child wants a boat and a doll while another wants a tennis racket, a nutcracker and a doll).

It is an Australian book and shows the elf crossing Australia and New Zealand in Santa’s sleigh. So I would have preferred the use of ‘jobs’ instead of ‘chores’ and perhaps some reference to the boomers instead of just reindeer.

It is a positive that the book gives some constructive ideas for getting onto Santa’s nice list – keeping a bedroom tidy, doing your jobs, finishing your homework and being good to one another.

Unfortunately, by the end of the second read, pages were starting to come loose so the construction quality is not great and I’d be wary of letting toddlers read it alone…

Map of Australia and New Zealand inside The Christmas Elf book

* Unfortunately, the publication date is not printed on the book nor can I find it elsewhere…

 

 

Introducing a Christmas elf

In the last couple of years, the idea of Santa sending an elf to visit in December has become widely known across Australia.

And leading up to Christmas 2017, a number of friends were visited by an elf and thus my children were keen to have an elf in our home, too.

When to welcome an elf to your house?

Apart from anything else, I didn’t think it would work very well to have an elf arrive part way through December. I guess it could have been too busy helping Santa at the North Pole to get here for the first of December, but it felt strange to me.

If you have a visiting elf in your house, when did it arrive? Do you think it matters when he or she arrives?

However, it also seems a long time until next Christmas, especially for young children, so when I came across an elf the other day I thought of having him pop in now to say hello in preparation for next December.

box set of The Christmas Elf

Tinkles was acrobatic before she even left the box!

Introducing an elf to the family

How do most people have the elf appear?

At our house, we take down the Christmas tree and decorations on the 6th of January – based on the tradition of 12 days of Christmas.

As we worked on removing the tree decorations, we discovered an elf hiding amongst the branches!

Soft elf, Tinkles, hiding in the Christ,as tree

Tinkles hiding in our tree!

My children were very excited to discover we had a visiting Christmas elf! And even more so when they discovered the elf had a letter from Santa with her to introduce her as Tinkles the Elf. After a brief visit today, the letter explained, Tinkles will return on the first of December to watch over our family and report to Santa.

Elf lying on a letter from Santa

Tinkles lying with the letter she delivered from Santa

We finished packing up the tree and have left the elf sitting on our mantelpiece to be close to the chimney for his return to Santa at the North Pole. It also gave them a timeframe to write their thank you letters to Santa so the elf could deliver them directly for us.

Elf in front of a colourful letter to Santa

Tinkles on the mantelpiece with a thank you letter for Santa

 

The toys’ night before Christmas – Christmas book review

The toys night before Christmas Front cover of The toys'night before Christmas picture book

by Dugald Steer
illustrated by Susanna Ronchi
Ken Fin Books, Collingwood, October 2004

Age group: 2-8 years
Format: hardcover picture book

I saw this book at a friend’s house when she encouraged me to read it, knowing that I love Christmas and books! I’m glad she did.

The story

It’s Christmas and Jack-in-the-box is disappointed that the toys don’t get any Christmas gifts.

My review

This is a beautiful book. Not only are Ronchi’s illustrations bright and colourful, the pages are textured with the main images embossed on the page. I found it impossible not to run my fingers over every page as I read this book.

The story is nice and simple – Santa forgets to bring gifts to the toys. Most of the toys accept they are toys, lol, but Jack is upset and sets about getting the toys acknowledged.

Jack sets out to make a Santa experience for the toy box residents, including a bird-pulled-sleigh! It involves the toys all working together, especially once someone gets stuck in the chimney!

Every page has a sign of Santa to find, too. The story ends, unsurprisingly, with Santa making Christmas extra special for Jack and his toy friends.

inside pages of the book

Absolutely gorgeous book to have on display for Christmas!

Xmas clean up

Whether you entertain at home or not, there is usually a need to clean up the house after Christmas.

So why not use that clean up as a chance to declutter and set up a new home atmosphere to start the new year?

67417341 - end written on the floor by using needles from christmas tree

With the end of Christmas, a clean up is in order…

Christmas tidy up tips

  • as you undecorate the tree and house, repair or throw out broken decorations – you don’t want to open the box next December to discover broken ornaments (and you know December is not the time to plan on repairs!) Remember to check all lights, too, and throw out any with damaged cords and replace globes now.
  • as you put away decorations, look at each one and only store ones you want or treasure
  • if you’ve been thinking or reorganising your Christmas storage (or the cupboard, attic or garage you keep them in) do it as part of putting the decorations away – leaving it until later in the year usually means it won’t happen!
  • if you made room for the tree, consider how to reuse that space instead of repeating how it was. Maybe it would be a good spot to put a standing lamp or hang a family photo?
  • new items received over Christmas can be impetus for reducing stuff. For example, if you got 3 books, try to donate at least 3 of your existing books to a friend or charity; new hats and clothes for the kids often means you can get rid of the smaller ones; donate or sell old electronics if you get an upgrade.
  • Christmas is followed by a new year, and a new year = a new start. An annual sort of  books, toys and clothes is easier over the holidays and a good time to remove things the kids have grown out of during the last year.
  • look at the photos and pictures you have on display. Could some be updated or moved to  anew position to generate more interest? Maybe you have some recent Christmas photos that could form a new display on the walls. Make sure to review the children’s bedrooms and spaces, too, and their artwork.

What other things do you do after Christmas to help make your home nicer?

Merry Christmas Australia!

The clocks have ticked over across Australia and it is now officially Christmas!

Have a wonderful day and we wish you much happiness, love and laughter for this festive season and throughout 2018.

2017 Lego City advent calendar completed

The complete set of the 2017 Lego City Advent Calendar

We’re at the end of advent calendars…

So the big day is almost here, and Santa will be visiting lots of good girls and boys over the next few hours.

To help us finish off our countdown and build the anticipation of Christmas Day, our Lego calendars provided another two days of fun for us…

23 December

My son was delighted for find Santa’s sleigh behind flap 23 of the Lego Friends calendar (meaning the earlier one is now just a sled!)

Lego City Snata sleigh

Likewise, my daughter was excited to find a ‘one horse open sleigh‘ to attach to the horse from day 22.

Lego horse pulling a one horse open sleigh

Christmas Eve, day 24

And so we have reached the final flaps in our advent calendars – is the excitement at fever pitch in your family yet? There was speculation from my children – would it be Santa, or maybe a reindeer, some presents or Santa’s chair? But there was no doubt it would be something Christmas…

My daughter was very happy to find a Santa snowman – that is, a snowman with a red top and a Santa hat. So the Friends advent calendar had some disappointments early on but the rest was up to expectations and my daughter seems to have forgotten her sadness, which is good. It does have me wondering whether or not to bother next year, so I guess I will be looking at other options for 2018.

Lego snowman dressed as Santa

While I think it is just a sad anomaly, we found nothing behind the final flap of the 2017 City advent calendar 🙁 We can see it was meant to be Santa – and we searched the box and everywhere around where we have kept the calendar, but Santa was not to be found unfortunately.

Lego advent calendar Santa flap

Continuing review of 2017 Lego advent calendars

While Christmas and animals are the concepts for these three days in the Friends calendar, the City calendar has moved away from vehicles …

Day 20…

Behind the 20th flap in the Lego Friends advent calendar was a Christmas tree – and as per previous years, the tree itself is different to the Lego City version.

Lego Friends Christmas tree beside Stephanie

Day 20 of the Lego City calendar, however, produced a man with chain saw – I’m not quite sure why, unless you think he was cutting down trees to be used as living Christmas trees?

Lego man with a chainsaaw

Day 21…

My daughter was happy to find two presents (including a jewel inside the larger box) to put under her Friends Christmas tree.

Christmas presents underneath a Lego Christmas tree

The City calendar addition for day 21 was, ah, interesting and took a little thought to identify what is was meant to be. We have decided it is an ice sculpture of a snow angel! What do you think it is?

Lego angel with wings

Day 22…

Well, there wasn’t much surprise to know that the Friends calendar had a black horse for day 22 , given we found it on day 16!

Black Lego horse with Stephanie and a dog

In the City calendar, however, my son found what he insists is a sleigh as “I haven’t got a sleigh for Santa yet”, rather than just a form of snow mobile/sled.

Lego sleigh from advent calendar

A perfect Christmas at Myer Melbourne

For 62 years, the Burke St Melbourne’s Myer store has put on a magical Christmas display in their windows.

Myer window history

Each year, a different theme or story connects the 6 or so windows and people queue up to see what has been done. It is estimated that about 1.2 million people see it each Christmas!

Starting with a sporting theme in 1956 (the year of the Melbourne Olympics) and Santa joining the Olympic torch relay, the windows have covered a number of themes such as Uno’s Garden, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, Rudolph, the 12 Days of Christmas and the Little Dog and the Christmas wish. The full list of themes up to 2007 is on the eMelbourne site and there are some wonderful old photos at the Herald Sun.

Over time, other Myer stores have also showcased animations in their windows – generally, Brisbane matches Melbourne while Wagga Wagga, Ballarat and Geelong reuse the displays from Melbourne a year or so later (which gives me a chance to visit some I may have missed!).

Now, there are security guards to create an orderly queue. Years ago, it was just a scramble of people trying to see over each other’s shoulders and wait for a turn towards the front of the crowd to see.

Myer window sign of the completely and utterly absolutely perfect Christmas

An absolutely perfect Christmas story

For the last couple of years, Myer’s ad campaigns for Christmas have centred around some living Christmas decorations. This year, that theme continues alongside a book about those same decoration characters – in particular, about Elf and his desire for an absolutely perfect Christmas.

The book is called The completely and utterly, absolutely perfect Christmas and written H C Floren for Myer and can come to life with an augmented reality app. At this stage, the book is only available through Myer stores (including online).

Elf and his friends Reindeer, Mouse and Angel feature in the window animations. As you move along the windows, the story follows Elf’s journey to find some suitably dedicated decorations as he doesn’t think his friends are taking decorating seriously enough.

Through a progression of stops where other decorations also are not quite right for him, Elf makes his way back home for a wonderful, slightly imperfect Christmas instead.

The absolutely perfect window scenes

We really enjoyed the windows this year, and were lucky enough to only have a short queue to wait in.

For those unable to see these beautiful windows, here are some photos from our trip to the Burke St mall. Obviously, these are taken through glass so are not the best photos, although I must say I actually like the gum tree reflection across the top of pictures!

Myer's elf with the Christmas tree ornaments

The story starts with Elf and friends trying to decorate their Christmas tree

Myer elf beside some letter boxes

I loved seeing Elf sit by some letter boxes with letters, presumably from Santa and friends, and presents popping out!

elf looking at Santa, a snowman and reindeer decroations

Elf’s first stop is a set of outdoor decorations that have been used for many years

elf peering in a window

Elf then looks at a minimalist window decoration

elf holding the ends of a power cord in front of a house

Elf visits a suburban home and sees some Christmas light decorations

Elf sitting on a colourful seesaw

Outside a childcare centre, Elf meets a number of decorations made by children

Elf dn reindeer beside their Christmas tree

Back home, Elf is happy to be with Reindeer beside their Christmas tree

Reindeer, Angel, Elf and Mouse enjoy their Christmas tree

The story ends with Reindeer, Angel, Elf and Mouse enjoying their almost-perfect Christmas tree

 

Lego advent calendars for days 17 to 19

Our advent calendar themes continue as we move ever closer to Christmas Day.

Lego Friends

day 17

My daughter was very happy to find a stand for the proud cat, including a ramp and scratching post ‘just like a real scratching post thinggy’.

Lego cat on a scratching post stand

day 18

On day eighteen, we found what I call a lamp post, although lamp posts don’t usually have bows on them so I’m not entirely sure what it actually is meant to be! Any suggestions for me?

Lego Friends lamp post

day 19

There were sounds of excitement as my daughter discovered another trailer for the snow mobile to pull along so Stephanie can take her menagerie with her! In lining them up, I also realised that the ‘smaller cat’ was actually a cute little mouse which makes more sense than one small and one tall, proud cat!

Lego snowmobile and trailer

Lego City

day 17

Over in Lego City, we discovered a helicopter on Saturday furthering the collection of vehicles for my son.

Lego helicopter from two angles

day 18

When asked what he found yesterday, my son told me it was ‘the lady who controls the helicopter’. She is in a work suit and holds a walkie talkie – maybe she controls all the vehicles.

Lego helicopter and Lady controller

day 19

We must be getting closer to the 25th, as we have started getting the Christmas items with a Christmas tree! Compared to previous years, I was a little surprised it is just a plain tree without decorations.

Lego City Christmas tree

Definite themes in Lego advent calendars for 2017

Some definite themes are showing through the calendars now, which is not something we have noted in previous years. That is, there has been an overall theme of snow and ice plus Christmas, but not a theme within the larger scene.

Day 14 – half way!

Yes, day fourteen means we’ve done half of our advent calendars and Christmas is getting very close!

To mark this halfway point, the Lego City calendar‘s fourteenth flap revealed a boat… I’m not quite sure how a boat fits into the snow theme unless it is a toy for the snowboarder!

Lego boat from City advent calendar

The Lego Friends calendar produced a trailer (for want of a better term!) for the snow mobile to pull behind the pet section!

Lego snowmobile trailer

 

Day fifteen

So can you guess what was in the Friends calendar for day fifteen? Yes it was a stand and animal – a cat (or maybe a kitten?) this time – so we really are building up a collection!

Lego small cat in a stand

The city calendar included a cute little fire truck for my son, which he was quite happy with.

Lego City fire truck toy

Day sixteen

Today, my daughter told me she found a cat, a fish and a horse in her calendar. However, it turned out that the horse was actually from day 22 and had somehow fallen into the day 16 section. So in reality, day sixteen produced a cat and a fish – nothing to create, and a strange arrangement of the fish being larger than the proud cat, kitten, dog and bird already obtained from the calendar. The fish, in fact, is about 2/3 the height of the Lego people!

Lego cat and fish

In the City calendar, my son created a race car – so obviously his theme is vehicles with a train, two planes, a boat, a fire truck and a race car to date.

Lego racing car for day 16

Have you developed a collection within a set of an advent calendar?

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