Christmas today

A gingerbread sleigh and reindeer

Happy Gingerbread House Day!

To celebrate Gingerbread House day (yes, there really is a day celebrating gingerbread!), ChristmasJen and I made some gingerbread to give Santa a sleigh.

A gingerbread sleigh shown from different angles

We used a gingerbread recipe known to work well and a cutter set that I had grabbed from an op shop.

Cutter set

Using the cutters, we cut out two sleigh sides, two sleigh ends and four reindeer. My tip if you create a gingerbread sleigh – cut half the reindeer with the cutter upside down so some will face the other way for decorating.

gingerbread pieces and an empty piping bag

Baked gingerbread pieces

The set made this all very easy, but you could cut out cardboard templates instead – the ends are just squares and the sides were about 3 times longer with curved sections to look like a sleigh. Any other animal cutters may work if you don’t feel able to draw some reindeer templates!

Creating the sleigh

So you will need gingerbread and icing, plus a board to sit your sleigh on.

  • two sleigh sides
  • two sleigh ends
  • reindeer (as many as you want – I got four out of the recipe above)
  • egg whites
  • icing sugar

To make the icing, start by beating two egg whites until they are white and form stiff peaks.

Stiff peaks in the egg whites are important

Then add icing sugar, about half a cup at a time, to make a really thick icing. I used 3.5 cups in total, and probably could have used more. Remember that thinner (ie runnier) icing takes longer to set so you will end up holding pieces together for a while.

Spoon standing in icing to show how stiff the mixture is

Stiff enough to hold up a spoon!

Lay out your gingerbread pieces and pipe some icing to stick them together as a sleigh.

Sticking pieces of gingerbread together to form Santa's sleigh

Let the construction begin!

Decorating the sleigh

The reindeer were easier to decorate lying down, but the sleigh can be decorated once it is put together – especially if you want to decorate the back of the sleigh.

Some lollies ready to use in decorating the gingerbread

Some of the lollies used on our gingerbread sleigh

My son had a wonderful time using the remaining icing to stick on Smarties, candy canes and lolly cupcakes.

CHild's hand attaching lollies to a gingerbread sleigh

He was generous with the icing as he attached lollies!

To finish off our sleigh, we added a marshmallow Santa on top.

 

Decorating the reindeer was quick and simple – and we added a glacé cherry to one to be Rudolph!

Decorating gingerbread reindeer

They gained personality as added decorations!

Then we ran long streams of snow (also known as icing!) out in front of the sleigh and stood the decorated reindeer in the snow. This is where stiffer icing would have helped as I need supports for the reindeer for a little while as the icing fully set.

We used some sour pencils to form the reins between the sleigh and reindeer, and we were done!

Santa's gingerbread sleigh

Santa’s gingerbread sleigh

It was a lot of fun to make Santa’s sleigh. And the reaction at a local Christmas party when I presented the sleigh was priceless! There were compliments from adults, but more striking was the amazement and wonder on lots of little faces – I do love delighting young children! It didn’t take long for there to just be an empty board with bits of discarded icing…

Days nine and ten of advent calendars

It feels like December has just started, and yet we have opened ten advent calendar flaps already! But the excitement is building and there is so much Christmas everywhere.

Lego Friends calendar

So after a few rocky days, the Friends calendar has redeemed itself in our house with the dog sled and shelter, thank goodness. So let’s find out what was hiding behind flaps nine and ten…

My daughter was quite happy to find a little bird and to make a pretty stand for it to perch on. She is getting quite a collection of animals from this year’s advent calendar!

Lego bird on a fancy stand

Grandma came to visit from the City calendar with a sled…

On day ten, she got two microphones and a microphone stand – and immediately wanted to put on a concert for us all.

Lego Stephanie at a microphone stand

Lego City calendar

On day nine, the Lego City calendar produced a snow machine! As Australians, we aren’t so used to snow machinery so my children first thought this was a snow clearing machine.

Lego snow machine from the City advent calendar

My son was surprised and happy to find that day ten’s flap hid a second plane – a jet plane according to him, and I let him hold onto that idea…

yellow Lego plane

Santa is Coming to Victoria puzzle

Puzzle box of Santa comes to Victoria
It is very exciting to find personalised things, so books about Australia (and more specific areas I know) always catch my eye and make me smile. And I know my kids love seeing Aussie Christmas stories and images.

I have previously reviewed the books Santa is coming to Australia and Santa is coming to Melbourne, but now here is a jigsaw puzzle based on the Santa is Coming to Victoria book of the same series.

 

 

 

 

Santa is Coming to Victoria puzzle

The puzzle comes in a sturdy box with a handle so you can store it fairly easily, which is always handy.

It has big pieces which are also sturdy and made of thick card, so it will survive many uses and the curiosity of little hands.

I had a lovely surprise upon opening the box and finding a miniature version of the book in the box as well (ok, it is written on the box but I hadn’t remembered that!). So we read the story before attempting the puzzle which helped bring the picture alive even more.

Puzzle pieces and the mini book

Putting the puzzle together

Although I expected it was too young for him, I did with the puzzle with my nine year old to see how it went, and whether it was suitable to give to a two year old. We did it fairly quickly but he made some mistakes in the side pieces so it’s not overly simple.

Edges of puzzle all in place

I’ve taught my children to do the edges first in big puzzles

It is harder because the image is a collage of Victorian landmarks so the top of a building, for example, may not be at the top of the completed puzzle.

My son absolutely loved spotting places he knows. And I enjoyed being able to name the places as we put the puzzle together, too.

completed Santa is coming to Victoria puzzle

Overall, this puzzle is probably best for 3.5 and up, but still fun for 8-9 year olds. It will excite Victorian children, and I daresay the equivalent puzzles for the other states and cities are similar in style so they can have their local excitement, too! It is also a nice gift for someone travelling to Victoria now or next year (a good preparation to do the puzzle ahead of arriving!)

Lego advent calendar review continues…

Part three of our Lego advent calendar reviews… We finished off after day five hoping for the Lego Friends calendar to produce some exciting items, so let’s see what we found behind the next three flaps.

Day six

The Lego City calendar for day six was a plane for my son to build. He initially followed the instructions and built the plane as shown, but then realised he had enough spare bits that he could change the design a little, which made him happy.

Lego plane for day 6 of advent calndar

My daughter found a ski ramp and snow board, which she was happy enough to put together.

Lego ski ramp from Friends 2017 calendar

Day seven

I was very surprised that another pet shelter/stand was behind the flap for day seven in the Friends calendar. But both my children and their friend thought it was perfectly reasonable to have one for the rabbit and this new one for the dog so fair enough!

Lego stand for the dog

This shelter has a bone attached under the wreath

My son was very excited to build a sleigh (more of a sled I’d call it, but he’s happy with a sleigh) from his City calendar for day seven. He was a little unsure about who was meant to ride on the sleigh so I offered but found it did move too well when I put my foot on it…

Lego sled from the City advent calendar

Day eight

And tonight the Friends calendar produced the dog’s sled to attach behind Stephanie’s snow mobile. While the dog alone disappointed her, my daughter is now quite happy to have the stand and sled for the dog.

Lego girl on snowmobile pulling a dog sled

Meanwhile, the City calendar gave my son a grandmother figure with a tray of biscuits (presumably ready to give Santa!) She now sits proudly on the chair!

Lego Grandma holding a tray of biscuits

Fresh biscuits anyone?

Themed Christmas designed with style

Red, orange and beige Christmas wreath on a door

Sophie’s Christmas wreath from 2016

Christmas tree day!

Years ago, my flatmate and I gave the first of December the unofficial title of “Christmas Tree Day” and the name has stuck.  It’s the day I give myself permission to decorate my home for the Christmas season, although I have been planning my tree and decorations for a while beforehand.

I like to purchase additional ornaments every year to build on my collection of decorations that are laden with memories (is there anything more precious than your baby’s first Christmas bauble?), but as an interior designer, I like to have a general idea of what my tree will look with the expectation that my children will add their home made flourishes for which I’m lucky I don’t suffer from *P.O.P.D.!  This year my tree is planned to be in peacock tones.

Apart from the decorated tree, I also like to bring in some Christmas cheer by decorating my entry table and dining table with an arrangement that ties in to the theme of the tree.

While the Christmas tree is beautiful, nothing is more welcoming than decorating the front door with a homemade garland.

close up of red and orange Christmas tree decorations

A close up of Sophie’s 2016 Christmas tree decorations

Decorating tips…

My best tip for decorating your home for Christmas is to choose a colour combination for your decorations and carry the colours from front door, entry, dining table and tree. The steady colour palette makes for a comfortable transition from room to room.

Personally, I like the rule of 3. This means you use three colours – a main colour that is about 60% of the decoration, a secondary colour for 30% and a final colour to make up the balance as a sharp contrast.

Australian flowers as a Christmas table centrepiece

A beautiful Aussie-themed Christmas table decoration from Sophie’s home in 2016

 

This article and associated photos were kindly provided by Sophie Kost, lead designer at My Beautiful Abode.

*Perfect Ornament Placement Disorder

Lego calendars quite different

Our Lego advent calendar countdown continues with days three to five, and I must say there is a clear difference between the City and Friends versions this year.

In past years, my daughter has felt let down on a couple of days but overall loved the calendars. This year, she is really disappointed with the Friends calendar so far – and jealous of her brother’s City calendar. And rightly so. I’m afraid.

Day 3

Lego City produced a cute little fireplace that fits nicely into the corner of the play board.

Lego fireplace for day 3 of advent calendar

Lego Friends has a cute little rabbit on a slide (at least we think it is for the rabbit to slide down).

Lego Friends rabbit from 2017 advent calendar

Day 4

Pleasingly, Lego Friends had more pieces to put together today as my daughter created a structure – I thought it was a fireplace/mantlepiece, but my daughter sat the rabbit inside it so she thinks it is a pet house/stand apparently! What do you think it looks like? It also came with a carrot, which supports the pet stand idea I guess!

Lego rabbit sitting in a mantelpiece structure

Lego City had a chair, lamp and side table combination to put together, and it fits nicely beside the fireplace 🙂

Lego chair, amp and side table

Day 5

My son was very happy to open up and build a gingerbread house on day five of the City advent calendar.

gingerbread house from Lego City advent calendar

However, the sarcasm just dripped off my seven year old’s tongue as she said “Oh, this is exciting to build”. Inside the fifth flap she found a small Lego dog – no accessories, nothing to build, just a plastic bag with a tiny dog in it which she was bitterly disappointed with – especially in comparison to a gingerbread house.

Lego pug dog in front of Stephanie on a ski mobile

Puppy is cute but still disappointing

I sincerely hope the next few days are better in the Friends calendar.

Have you had any advent calendar disappointments?

Why dogs don’t bark at Santa – Christmas book review

Why dogs don’t bark at Santa Book cover of Why Dogs don't bark at Santa

by Greg Ray
illustrated by Jenny Miller
designed by Holly Webber
Why Dogs, Tasmania, 2017

Age group: preschool to 10 years, adult dog lovers

Format: hard cover, 26 pages

 

A friend travelling in Tassie discovered this book for her grandson, and lent it to me.

The story

Santa and Rudolph are heroes to dogs everywhere, and this story explains why…

My review

I was surprised at enjoying this book more than I expected to. Jenny Miller has created some beautiful watercolour images for the story that merge into the white space used for the text. It starts with a dog not reacting to reindeer outside the window and Santa’s feet arriving in the fireplace.

The text itself consists of rhymes throughout which is fun for younger listeners, and for the reader!

Why Doges don't bark at Santa inner pages

Santa and Rudolph in the snow

Through a snowy storm, Santa doesn’t give up on searching for a group of lost puppies so the book showcases Santa as generous and caring, as we expect him to be.

This is the latest in series of Why Dogs books which are all self-published in Tasmania. I haven’t read any others, nor seen them, but they are described as a tongue in check collection of stories about the characteristics and eccentricities of our canine companions.

My seven and nine year olds enjoyed this story, as did a friend’s two year old dog-loving son.

2017 Lego Advent Calendar review…

So we’re into December and advent calendars have begun…

Ours was a little delayed as we were out late on the first at a (surprise, surprise!) Christmas party with Santa and some gorgeous lights (I digress – photos from that party can be a different post!)

So, we again have both a Lego City and Lego Friends advent calendar and will share what the kids find each day (although we will group them into a few days at a time this year).

Lego Friends days one and two

The 2017 Lego Friends Advent Calendar play board

The 2017 Lego Friends Advent Calendar play board

 

My daughter wasn’t too excited on day one as she ‘only got’ a character, Stephanie, but she enjoyed the fact that Stephanie came with two party hats and a Christmas list!

Lego Friend Stephanie with a Christmas list

Day two was much more exciting as she had to build a snow-mobile for Stephanie.

Pile of Lego pieces to create a ski mobile

The pieces of the snow mobile

Lego girl on a ski-mobile

Stephanie riding the completed snow-mobile

Lego City days one and two

The 2017 Lego City Advent Calendar play board

The 2017 Lego City Advent Calendar play board

On the other hand, both my children loved the Lego City day one when my son got to build a toy train which fits nicely onto the tracks on the play board.

Lego train on teh tracks of the 2017 advent calendar

My son was also very excited on day two to discover he had a snow boarder.

Lego person on a snow board

 

Another scouting Christmas tree idea!

Following on from the Christmas tree festival ideas and the tent-based Christmas tree, I found another effective tree decorating idea.

CHristmas tree with decorations and scout signs

Clare (Scout Leader), Adam (Explorer Leader) and Laura (Beavers Leader) set this up at 5th Littlehampton Sea Scout Group’s hall this year.

Apparently some leaders were very keen to get a tree up, even though it was still November – they suffer the terrible affliction of pre-festivitis!

They normally have a “look what we do” board at the entrance to their Scout Hall, but there was no space for it and a tree, so they combined the two.

I like how simple it is – a few signs that share who the group is, a few decorations and some tinsel and the tree is done!

I think this concept is simple enough to be used by other scout and youth groups, plus many other places. Would you use it to add Christmas cheer to a public place or group?

 

* Photo used with permission of Laura, with thanks!

A scouting Christmas tree

I came across this unusual Christmas tree and fell I love with the idea of it 🙂

Christmas tree formed from a green canvas tent

There’s so much to enjoy about a tent-based Christmas tree!

Basically, for Christmas 2016, a scout group hung up a green Auto tent to form a flowing tree shape and then decorated it! And used decorations hand made by the children in the scout group 🙂

Rebecca Goodson, Group Leader for that scout troop, explained their tree:

paper decorations on a scout tent Christmas tree

Personalised decorations with meaning to the scouts are part of this tree’s charm.

 

Very proud of our ‘tree’ for our local Church Christmas tree festival. Our tree was titled “Oh what a year” and depicted the main events and activities the Beavers, Cubs, Scouts and Explorers took part in during 2016. We used a traditional (and very old) Canvas patrol tent – visitors to the week’s events were impressed with the authentic Scout Hut fragrance!!! We have a wooden Scout Hut that is in its 92nd year so it’s a little cold and damp. The idea for this year’s Tree was my husband’s idea and we are already planning next year’s.

I love this tree because

  • it totally suits the group assembling the tree (ie a tent is ideal for scouts!)
  • it makes use of something they already had (ie no need to buy a tree)
  • it can be used for other purposes (in this case, camping!) throughout the year so it is not just taking up storage space for 11 months of  the year
  • it is unique and completely personalised
  • it is very environmentally friendly
  • it is unexpected and lots of fun!
 
* Images and idea used with permission of Rebecca Goodson (UK Scout Group Leader)

Christmas treasure hunt – Christmas book review

Christmas treasure hunt Christmas treasure hunt book review

by Sarah Powell
designed by Emma Jennings
St Martin’s Press, London, 2014

Age group: preschoolers

Size/format: board book

A cheerful looking baby book full of Christmas images that we gave to a young friend last Christmas.

The story

A search and find book for babies and toddlers. There’s no story as such!

My review

This is a very cute book, enjoyed by adults and loved by the one year old we gave it to. Not surprisingly, it is very simple given the age group.

Santa page within the Christmas Treasure Hunt

There are seven sets of images (such as Santa and some Christmas stockings) where one image is a little different to the others. There is also a teddy bear ‘hidden’ on each page.

It is a lovely first book, and could be read throughout the year, not just at Christmas time.

 

The Magic of Christmas in Central Australia

While Christmas tree festivals may not be well known in much of Australia, guides in Alice Springs ran a community Christmas event between 1996 and 2001.

One of the founders of this event, Karen Byrne, was kind enough to share the following article and photos…

The Magic of Christmas building in Alice Springs

How it began

Written by Margaret Rudwick for Guiding in Australia, March 1997.

Karen Byrne and Sue Ride sat relaxing outside a local church one afternoon, guarding the white balloons they had just blown up, each with a paper dove attached, ready for the annual Peace Day service.

It occurred to them that there were a number of community–wide activities run each year by local organisations, but Guides in Alice Springs did not have one. And so a crazy idea occurred to them – why not do something special for the people of Alice Springs, and in doing so, put Guiding on the annual calendar?

“Crazy,“ says Sue “because we should have known what we were letting ourselves in for!”

“I’d always had an idea we could do something at the Guide Hall for families, something affordable,” says Karen, “and as no–one else in town had a major Christmas activity it seemed just the thing to do.”

And so the Magic of Christmas was born.

Planning the Magic of Christmas

Plans were made, and not on a small scale!

The whole of the Guide Hall was to be decorated, a dozen or so distinct displays set up, and local families encouraged to come and share together the Magic of Christmas.

Local suppliers were generous with their donations and not one knock–back was received in a whole day of canvassing the town, although there was some confusion over the collectors’ enthusiasm for “rubbish” in the form of polystyrene sheets & boxes!

The Trefoil Guild donated $500 which was the only cash received and enabled the purchase of the crepe paper (yes, we used a lot of crepe paper!) The Support Group provided the bags of sweets for Father Christmas to give out. Members of both these groups gave of their time and skills throughout the opening hours, adding to the Magic for all the visitors.

About two weeks before opening day, the real work started.
The Magic of Christmas door, complete with gingerbread man

The making of the Magic of Christmas

All four interior walls of the hall were to be lined with red, white and green crepe paper – this had to be double thickness to hide the murals on the walls. Now the hall is quiet a reasonable size so this is no mean feat! Although a large quantity had been special ordered there never seemed to be enough so Sue’s mother, Joan Higgins, was kept busy scouring the town for more. One of the complicating things was that different brands came in different shades so acquiring just what  was wanted was really difficult.

“Kilometres of crepe paper,” groans Joan.

“Have you ever covered a hall in crepe paper?” asks Karen. “You get it up nice and firmly, and then you go home for the night.”

“But, horror of horrors,” Sue adds, “when you walk in next morning all the even, straight paper you left the night before has sagged and gone all crinkly overnight. It took us a while to realise it was just the unseasonable humidity. By mid morning, it would be dried out and look fine again.”

“Even though it happened each night we still worried about it each morning,” says Karen.

Once the crepe paper was up – and there are stories of ladders, and chairs on tables and other indescribable ways of doing the job – the setting up of displays could start.

A false front made the hall look like a little red Christmas house complete with a letter box for posting letters to Father Christmas – all of which were answered. Inside, the focal point was to be Father Christmas at the far end.

Christmas displays

From the entrance and down each side were almost a dozen separate themes including:

  • A two meter high advent calendar. One visitor each day was lucky enough to open a window on it which revealed a different Christmas scene;
  • A trading table which sold small Christmas items suitable as children’s gifts to family and friends.
  • Stained glass window – all the windows were transformed into the Three Wise Men, Candles or Bells created with cellophane and black cardboard.
  • An Australian Christmas theme, complete with native tree, a swag, native birds, all under the Southern Cross.
  • A Guide corner where there was a large red Christmas tree on which there was a photo of every single guide and leader in Alice Springs. Every girl bringing her family could point out her photo and those of her friends. Christmas tree made of a collage of photos
  • A section showing Christmas traditions from overseas countries including England, Scotland, Mexico, Italy and France.
  • A snow scene with a snowman and a beautiful free standing reindeer.
  • A traditional tree with 24 gifts in a sleigh beside it. One lucky child each day was able to open one of these.
  • A teddy bear’s corner with a small competition.

Devonshire tea and coffee was supplied by the trefoil Guild, and they also ran a small raffle. There were treats for the children there, too.

There was a children’s play area with games, a video and a train set for the young ones who did not need (want!) to spend so much time looking at the details.  In fact, not a part of the Guide Hall was left undecorated – streamers, snowflakes and stars covered the ceiling and angles, and novelty trees, lanterns and candles added to the magic in corners and on the floor. Glitter covered the carpet.

Sue and Karen are adamant it was well worth it. “Our families didn’t see us at home very much for a couple of weeks,” says Karen, “but they came along and helped us!”

“And help us they did – we would never have done it without their fantastic support,” adds Sue. “And not just by helping us to put up the displays either. Karen’s husband ,Greg, had to manage without his hat and my husband, Graham, lost his boots to the swagman! Whilst Karen’s children Raymond and Rene talk of leaving town at Christmas time, we suspect they will be there again offering their tired mum a coffee in bed, or waiting tea until everyone is home at 10pm.”

“Home“ says Karen wryly “was where they went to escape the crepe paper, and the monotonous diet of cold coffee and guide biscuits!”

collage of cardboard Christmas trees made by guides

Magic of Christmas outcomes

Over 1,000 families visited the hall in the time it was open and entry was free.

And was it worth it?

“Just to see the children’s faces made it  worthwhile” said Karen.

Father Christmas was always there no matter what time a family dropped in. If he wasn’t sitting in his chair he would always appear within a few minutes of someone’s arrival and he had a bag of lollies for all his young visitors.

Each child had their photo taken with Santa, with the photo being available for sale next day, and although there was no obligation to buy, most people did come back a purchase a copy.

Planning is already well in hand for next Christmas. Bigger and better things are planned and there will be many changes, including more activities and visitor involvement, and some moving displays.

Families will be charged a gold coin donation to enter, not to make a profit, but to improve the displays for the following year. School groups will be admitted free during the day.

But crepe paper will be out – paint is in next time!

“What we set out to do was make a Christmas spectacle on a shoestring – to do something anyone, anywhere could do. All you need is unlimited imagination,”  says Sue.

“If two housewives in Alice can make the Magic of Christmas, then so can anyone else in any other small town in Australia,” says Karen.

Nativity scene in Alice Springs


Karen further told me “We had so much fun doing it and seeing the faces of the kids was great!

“For me personally, I loved the fact there was somewhere Mums could take their kids on a hot day and not have to say no all the time. The relaxation on their faces was obvious – it was too demoralising visiting the air conditioned shops every day when on a tight budget so they appreciated the Magic of Christmas. Many returned several times!”

SO maybe there is a challenge to us all – set up our own tree festivals or complete Christmas displays like the Magic of Christmas!

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