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And an elf in a Christmas tree…

Last night, my daughter had us all guess where the elves may be this morning.

She guessed in the Christmas tree as we had just put up our brand new tree. It is a large tree (140cm tall and about 2m wide!) and is based on an Australian Monterey Pine, and I am very excited to have a new tree! It is not yet decorated as we need to get some more lights as it is so much bigger than our old tree 🙂

Anyway, the tree was the first place the kids looked for the elves today and Tinkles was hiding in amongst the pine needles, to my daughter’s delight.

The Christmas angel from the Pandemic game and some nutcrackers had also joined her on the tree.

two blue nutcrackers and a white and silver angel hanging on a Christmas tree

It took a lot longer to find Ginger though! She was hiding inside a champagne flute on the shelf! My son found her first and was giving the rest of us clues for finding her – she’s celebrating; what does sand do when it gets hot?; she’s near something the colour of her jumpsuit {answers being champagne for celebrating, sand turns into glass and she was close to some artwork which is predominantly purple.} It was actually a lot of fun to add the extra brain teasers into the elf hunt.

What hard-to-notice places have you found an elf in?

Christmas elves climbing a wall

It is now December, and Tinkles and Ginger are out of quarantine!

So there was excitement this morning as we all wondered where we would find our Christmas elves! It wasn’t hard to find them this morning as they were very close to their Christmas door and quarantine area.

After 14 days of quarantine (other than eating some doughnuts!), I think they were a little restless as we found them trying to ‘rock climb’ up the side of our dresser! Tinkles does have a harness f sorts on, but it doesn’t extend very far.

Elves celebrating 28 doughnut days!

Today, Victoria is celebrating a quadruple doughnut day – and the 28th double doughnut day in a row!

In other words, over the last 24 hours Victoria has had zero active COVID-19 cases, zero new cases, zero COVID-19 deaths and zero cases with an unknown source. That is pretty amazing and is leading Victoria and Australia into a Christmas much closer to normal than we would have expected a couple of months ago!

It took a while for the kids to notice that Tinkles and Ginger had moved overnight, but they were very pleased to see them sitting on top of their isolation box with some doughnuts when they go home from school!

This is how we found the elves this morning:

two Christmas elves sitting with doughnuts on top of their isolation box

And then after school, they had magically provided us all with a doughnut for afternoon tea:

Christmas elves sitting with little and normal doughnuts

Tinkles kept her mask on whilst sitting with doughnuts – I wonder if she will go back into isolation tonight?

Have you been celebrating the reduction of COVID-19 cases in Australia?

Bluey verandah Santa ~ Christmas book review

Bluey verandah Santa ~ Christmas book review

Bluey: verandah SantaBluey and Dad in a Christmas bauble on front cover of Bluey book

by Ludo Studios for ABC Kids
Penguin Random House, Australia, November 2020

Age group

2 to 5 year olds

Format

32 page hardcover book

Bluey is a 6 year old blue heeler who has become much loved amongst toddlers and preschoolers through an ABC program. Bluey celebrating Christmas is likely to be a sure favourite amongst that age group!

The story

Whilst waiting for Santa to arrive, Bluey, Muffin, Bingo and Dad invent a game called Vernadah Santa. They play a few rounds of this game, with a few issues along the way, and enjoy their Christmas Eve.

My review

This was not exactly what I expected but it was fun to read.

The heelers have all come together on Christmas Eve and are waiting with as much patience as possible for Santa to arrive. It is in discussing how Santa will come in when there is no chimney on the house that leads to the invention of the game Verandah Santa. The game is fun and something young children will probably want to play as soon as they hear this story!

Through the game, there are some disputes amongst the young dogs which leads to ‘Santa only brings presents to good kids’ and some improved behaviour. This sends some nice messages to kids, like the value of apologising and accepting apologies, in a way that kids will understand. What I like more though is Bluey’s parents teaching Bluey why they should be nice to others – that it’s not just because Santa is watching. Kids hearing that lesson are more likely to learn consideration and self control than those trying to be nice in order to get a gift.

The book is long enough I could imagine it being a full episode of Bluey, making it long enough to have an actual plot and being interesting to four and five years olds plus adults. Yet it is still simple and short enough to suit all under fives – anyone who loves Bluey that is!

I like the attention to detail in the book, too. For instance, much of the family is lying around after a Christmas meal – many children will have seen that response in their own families! And I like the Koala up a pole, the parents holding hands and the kids unable to resist peeking during the game. The gifts given in the game were realistic, too – kids can all relate to remote controls, undies and toiler paper!

Would I recommend it? I think it is a lovely book with a nice message. It will definitely be loved by Bluey fans, and enjoyed by many other young children. So, yes, I recommend it.

Tinkles is back – 2020 style!

It’s not quite December yet so you’re probably very surprised to see Tinkles and Ginger are already with you, but it’s 2020 and things are different!

We were very surprised this morning to find Tinkles and Ginger in the loungeroom. two Christmas elves in self-isolation beside their North Pole door

Wearing a face mask and sitting beside a box of tissues and some hand sanitiser, Tinkles is in a plastic container beside her door. A letter from Santa was sitting there with a quarantine declaration form!

two Christmas elves in self-isolation with sanitiser and tissues

Letter on cute elf letterhead and signed Love Santa

Santa wrote to my children explaining that the elves arrived 14 days early so they could leave self-isolation on 1 December to spend the month with us as usual. He told us there have been no cases of COVID-19 in the North Pole, but our elves wanted to respect our rules and keep everyone safe by putting themselves into quarantine!

My children were happy to see Tinkles and Ginger and then they noticed the face mask on Tinkles which resulted in big smiles as it is such a familiar sight for them now.

two Christmas elves in self-isolation with tissues and sanitiser

Tinkles and Ginger even brought their own toilet paper this year!

 

 

A boy called Christmas – Christmas book review

book cover for the boy called ChristmasA boy called Christmas

by Matt Halg
illustrated by Chris Mould
Canongate Books, Edinburgh, 2015

Age group:  primary school (about 5-9 years)
Format: 272 pages

A fun chapter book that explains how a boy grew to live with the elves and become the Santa we now love and admire.

The story

A young boy leaves his unpleasant aunt in an attempt to find his father. After numerous adventures, he finds the elf village with his reindeer friend, Blitzen, and mouse Miika.

My review

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this book, but I ended up truly enjoying it!

It is simple and endearing, aimed at younger readers, a refreshingly different story. As a chapter book, many children will need help reading it, or it is a good introduction to reading chapter books alone.Inner pages of the book A Boy called Christmas

There is some sadness in the book as Nikolas does not have a happy childhood and then, at eleven, has to face his father is not the man he had believed him to be.

I enjoyed the little hints through the story of where Nikolas would end up – a red hat, Blitzen Lake, and having a deep belly laugh (Ho Ho Ho). And there is some humour throughout (such as Blitzen liking to wee on humans as he flies overhead!)

The book is simple as it is mostly from the perspective of a simple boy, and the line drawings by Chris Mould and the textured paper add to that atmosphere.

Finding Elfhelm, the elven village only visible to believers, Nikolas meets Trixie the Truth Pixie, Little Noosh, a troll and a surly village Chief, Father Vodol.

For young readers, it may be worth reminding them that the story is before Father Christmas/Santa Claus so they don’t get confused.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! It is a lovely read and a nice back story for our modern Santa traditions.

Santa vs Yule Queen

What a fun Christmas battle!

In two books by Aussie Jessica Townsend, the city of Nevermoor celebrates Christmas Eve with the annual Christmas Battle!

Santa and the Yule Queen take turns to do magical things to see who can outdo the other – if Santa wins, all the children get a full stocking in the morning but if the Queen wins, there is snow on Christmas morning.

In the first book,  Nevermoor, the lead character learns that everyone dresses in red (for Santa) or green (for the queen) to show their allegiance, and carries a candle which Santa sets alight. Recently released Hollowpox again shows Morrigan at the Battle when she has more knowledge of Nevermoor and the battle.

the first three books of the Nevermoor series beside a Santa candle

I was not expecting a Christmas element when I read these books (nor the other book in the series, Wundersmith), and it is not a key part of the story, but it is a lovely side story that I was delighted to read. I won’t give away who wins each battle, but will say that Santa and the Yule Queen are friendly and respectful to each other.

The Nevermoor series

Nevermoor book cover showing people holding umbrellas in front of a large catAuthor – Jessica Townsend
Published by Hatchett Australia in 2017, 2018 and 2020
Age range – 8 to 12

While I normally only review Christmas books, but as I’m mentioning this series, I may as well add a review while I’m at it!

The series revolves around Morrigan Crow, a girl unwanted by her family who gets the opportunity to live in Nevermoor with her new patron, Jupiter North. Jupiter knows Morrigan is special and aids her through a process to join the Wondrous Society. Jupiter runs a nine star hotel and has some interesting friends, like a vampire dwarf. a magnificat and an opera singer.

Each book follows from the previous, but could be read alone. Apparently, there will be 6-9 books in the series by the end, and I am looking forward to them – even though my son may grow out of them by the time they are all released!

While I assume the story was planned ahead of COVID-19, I have found Hollowpox  very interesting – released just a few weeks ago, it centres around a virus that has ‘everyday’ symptoms, hasn’t been seen before and results in various events being postponed and cancelled. I think that makes it relatable for kids right now, and that 2020 will make the kids better understand, and have compassion for, the characters’ frustrations with a virus changing their lives.

We were introduced to the books by my son’s friend and his mum as they loved them, and my now 12 year old son and I also love them.

So, there is a Christmas element to these books that is lovely and they are a great series of books to give as a Christmas gift this year for higher primary school kids. They have a decent story line without being overly predictable, and include adventure, suspense and fantasy. There are some very nice characters that are engaging and varied. In other words, I thoroughly recommend these books!

Pepparkakor ~ recipe

A friend gave me this recipe a few years ago and I have finally tried making some of these biscuits a few times this year. Pepparkakor are a Swedish Christmas biscuit that somewhat resembles gingerbread – Kakor is equivalent to biscuit or cookie in Swedish.

Icing sugar dusted pepparkakor on a plate with some blueberries

While the recipe I was given said it made 20 biscuits, I have found it makes heaps more – and it would want to with the amount of flour and sugar involved! As it is hard to halve this recipe (given it uses one egg), I make the full recipe and then freeze half of it to cook another day – I still get 30-40 biscuits per batch depending on the size of cutter I use.

Pepparkakor (Swedish ginger biscuits)

Makes 60-80 biscuits

IngredientsPepparkakor ingredients

  • 250g butter
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 4 tablespoons orange juice (about 2 oranges)
  • 3 teaspoons orange zest (about 2 oranges)
  • 550g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • icing sugar for decoration (optional)

Method

Prepare baking trays and turn your oven onto 200oC.

Cream the butter sugar (that means mix it thoroughly until it is a light yellow colour).

Creamed butter and sugar to make Pepparkakor

Stir in the orange juice and zest. Then add the egg and golden syrup.

Add in the spices (cinnamon, ginger and cloves).

Stir in the flour and bicarb soda until everything is combined.

You can work with the dough straight away, but it is easier to work with if you chill it for an hour or more before working with sections – particularly on warm or hot December days!

Put about a quarter of the dough onto a floured board/bench and roll it out to about 0.25cm thick. Cut out biscuits with Christmas shaped cutters and place onto your trays.

Pepparkakor dough being cut into Christmas shapes

Combine the dough scraps and roll it out again to cut more biscuits. Then use the remaining dough (or put some  aside to use later – make sure to wrap the dough well before freezing it).

Bake the biscuits in the over for 8-10 minutes.

Pepparkakor biscuits on a baking tray

I made some biscuits with red and green sanding sugar – due to the darker colour of the spices, the colour doesn’t show a lot on the final biscuits but it was fun to try!

Stages of adding sanding sugar to pepparkakor

Green sanding sugar is more effective than red on the darker Pepparkakor biscuits

Place biscuits onto a cooling rack to cool.

Pepparkakor biscuits on a cooling rack

These biscuits have a lovely spiciness to them that has pleased everyone I’ve shared these with. As soon as they tasted one, my children were begging me to make more!

Traditionally dusted with icing sugar to serve, these biscuits are nice plain, with coloured sugar or with decorative icing, too.

Person shaped pepparkakor biscuits with decorative icing and sugar

Iced and sugared Pepparkakor

A simple icing made of icing sugar and orange juice is my favourite way to eat these – I find the orange complements the biscuits beautifully.

Pepparkakor

Pepparkakor with fresh strawberries are lovely!

You can make these biscuits thicker, put a hole in them with a skewer before cooking, and use them as decorations on Christmas trees.

Now, rocks of happiness!

We’ve had colourful rainbows and spoons with personalities, and now we have painted rocks to cheer us up!

A white rock with eyes and a blue mask painted on

My favourite painted rock – complete with COVID-19 mask!

2020 has been a challenging year in so many ways – and sadly, things are deteriorating in many places. although improving in Victoria and Australia – so it is heart warming to see people making efforts to cheer others. Like with Christmas lights and external decorations, it’s all about sharing kindness and cheer in simple ways so we want to share that.

Lately, we have spotted some rocks of different sizes popping up along walking tracks near our home and between some Spoonville villages. Some are just colourful, some have lovely messages, but all have made people smile as they walk past.

collage of rocks painted with happy messages

If spoons and rainbows aren’t your thing, maybe painting and distributing some rocks is a way for you to share happiness this year. What message or image would you paint? Maybe we’ll be spotting some Christmas themed rocks in a month or so!

More spoons of happiness!

I love Spoonville and have been happy to see more of them popping up as I go on walks around my area and from others sharing their local Spoonville images with us.

Hmmm, maybe I should create a Christmas Spoonville!

Anyway, I couldn’t resist sharing some updates of the Spoonvilles I previously posted about as they have grown somewhat in the last few weeks…

Park Spoonville

We had some major works done to the sewers in our area lately, which included trucks needing to access our local park. I thought it was very sweet that the workers moved Spoonville to another part of the park, did their work and then returned Spoonville to its original location. It was a bit more compact afterwards – just as well spoons don’t need to socially isolate!

Photos of Spoonville in a Melbourne park in 2020

Kinder Spoonville

Collection of spoons decorated as people, standing up in a kinder garden bed

Pot Spoonville

This is a new one to share, rather than an update!

Spoons decorated as people standing in a bucket on the nature strip

 

I was also going to add in an update on the laminated people Spoonville, but when I walked past this morning it was gone. Maybe the bad weather we had over the weekend destroyed it or the family took them in to protect from the weather.

How is your local Spoonville going? Can you see it growing over time?

Christmas 2020 – what will it be like?

As Victoria remains in lock down and everyone is finding their own way to manage with everything that is 2020, many thoughts are heading towards December and Christmas.

Perhaps even more than usual, Christmas 2020 is both a sign of the end of the year (something more are looking forward than usual this year!) and the start of summer, and a sign of happiness, celebration and Christmas spirit.

Large koala in Santa outfit cuddling young girl

Christmas 2020 may be somewhat isolated…

But what will Christmas 2020 be like?

Here are some changes we will probably have to accept…

  • wearing masks is likely to be recommended or required while shopping and at Christmas functions. And I dare say many a public Santa will be wearing a mask – maybe it will be a beautiful red mask with white fur straps!
  • The Santas we see in shopping centres and the like are likely to be a bit younger than we are used to – this is already being seen in the recruitment process as we protect our older citizens from the Corona virus. This may mean smaller tummies and fewer real, long beards
  • Santa photos will be different. Children may need to be near Santa rather than on his lap – maybe kids sit in a sleigh and Santa stands behind them or Santa can peek around a Christmas tree or Santa sack to where the kids are sitting.
    Some places may just not have Santa at all this year. Maybe they’ll just have props or a large Santa cut out, and more people will need to be creative with a relative dressed in a red suit or utilising virtual tools. Or maybe perspex screens, like in many shops now, could be utilised

    Santa and a girl on surf boards in a wave tunnel

    Maybe standing on surf boards is a way to have Santa physically distanced from children this year!

  • Santa photos and visits may be bookings only to enable more control of numbers and contact tracing
  • Smaller gatherings are likely – it just remains to be seen how small will be mandated. Events like the Melbourne Zoo Christmas party, Mornington Train Santa trips, Christmas pageants and parades, popular Christmas light spots, the Gingerbread Village and even Christmas markets may be banned, while work and family celebrations may be restricted. Myer has already cancelled their Melbourne windows for this year.
  • Less travelling so interstate family is less likely to visit
  • Carols by Candlelight may also be limited this year which would be very sad. The big events, like the Melbourne Carols on Christmas Eve, could still be run and televised without an audience or a small audience socially distanced.
  • Santa won’t hand out gifts to keep distance and avoid contact – maybe children can take a gift from a sleigh or a table
    Santa and elf talking to a child in a shopping centre

    Seeing Santa walk around shopping centres, talking to children and families, is something we may not see in 2020

  • Christmas shopping may be spread out more – it is likely retailers will start promotions and sales earlier this year to reduce crowds in physical stores and manage the logistics of online orders. And for us as consumers, shopping away from crowds is a wise move, too, so get those Christmas lists started!
  • We may have more access to Christmas celebrations away from home as more events are likely to be broadcast instead of pulling crowds  – for example, the Adelaide Pageant will be in the Adelaide arena at twilight and broadcast this year so the rest of Australia may be able to enjoy it this year (let’s find the positives where we can!)
  • Christmas mass and church services may have to be virtual or severely limited in terms of how many people can attend and what they can do (eg no shaking hands or communal hymn books)

 

Santa handing a gift to a boy through a window

Santa will still give gifts for Christmas 2020!

However, for anyone concerned about Santa being able to visit on Christmas Eve, rest assured that he is still expected to visit children globally. Santa has delivered gifts during previous pandemics (and more localised health problems) and there have been no cases in the North Pole. Remember, he comes in quietly and wearing gloves so maintains social distancing in every house so I have no doubt Santa will bring joy to children’s  faces this Christmas.

Having said that, maybe he will deliver fewer gifts as sourcing materials and gifts in 2020 will be harder. And perhaps Santa will want to continue the more basic

the little reindeer who lost  his  presents~ Christmas book review

the little reindeer who lost  his  presents Front cover of a board book called The little reindeer who lost his presents

by Jedda Robbard
Little Hare Books, Richmond (Melbourne), Sept 2017

Age group: 2 to 5 year olds
Format: 12 page board book with lift the flaps

I don’t recall how I came across this book, but it is sitting amongst my other Christmas books, and is very cute!

The story

Little reindeer is helping Santa – until he lost some of the presents that is!

My review

This book starts with the little reindeer receiving a note from Santa, asking him to deliver the presents on Christmas Eve:

Inside page of a board book called The little reindeer who lost his presents

I like how the book shows how proud little reindeer is at being asked to help – this is certainly something that helps young children identify their feelings of pride when they get to help someone they admire. Then, little reindeer shows off a little in his excitement with sad consequences – also something young children can relate to, I’d say!

Little reindeer’s friends help him out, happily including Koala and Kangaroo joeys, which is a nice positive feel and moral for the story.

Inside page of a board book called The little reindeer who lost his presents

It is a lift the flap book, making it less suitable for very young readers to handle themselves but lots of fun for many ages to enjoy. And Robbard‘s illustrations of the animals and piles of presents are gorgeous.

Would I recommend it? Yes, this is a lovely Christmas book for younger readers – and one that can be read all year really. It has a happy story with nice messages, fun flaps to look behind, and beautiful drawings, so what’s not to love?

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