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Welcome to the Love Santa Blog

Tinkles playing pandemic

It was easy to find Tinkles and Ginger this morning as they were on the floor in the family and pretty hard to miss! Tinkles was playing Pandemic with some friends, with quite a few infections around the world.

Christmas elf and angel playing the pandemic board game with some dolls on a wooden floor

Meanwhile, Ginger was having a nap in the game box, wrapped in a face mask instead of a blanket!

We were impressed to see that Sydney had the only research centre and no outbreaks!Christmas elf and angel playing the pandemic board game

Pandemic

box for the Pandemic board gameMy son loves board games, especially those that require some strategy and thought. For his birthday this year, he received the game Pandemic which obviously fits 2020 although it was first released in 2008 so is not COVID-19 related – apparently it was based on the SARS outbreak in 2002.

The game is based on four viruses spreading through the world, with two to four players trying to find a cure before the outbreaks take over. Each player has a specific role (Tinkles was the medic whilst the dolls were a scientist and a contingency planner) and they have to work together to fight the outbreaks and look for a cure. I love that this game means everyone wins – or everyone loses.

There have been some expansions to the game (shhh, my son may just get one of these for Christmas!) – On the Brink (the first and most popular) and State of Emergency add more players and options – and there are some alternative scenarios available, too.  Z-Man Games have also created some spin off games such as Pandemic Legacy, Pandemic Hot Zone (released July 2020 and based in North America), the Fall of Rome and Contagion (a card based version).

 

 

Elves in Spoonville

Do your elves sometimes hide outside of your house?

Generally, Tinkles and Ginger can be found in our home – there was the one exception when Tinkles was on the cubby roof! – so it did take a while for the elves to be found this morning… They were sitting in a plant pot just outside our back door with their own Christmassy version of Spoonville!

Two CHristmas elves sitting in a pot plant with various spoons stuck upright

Just as well there is no rain expected today, my son said!

Love Santa and COVID-19

Christmas is Christmas, but COVID-19 is obviously a significant part of 2020 and will be impacting on Christmas celebrations around the world.

what does COVID-19 mean for Love Santa?

Santa is continuing as usual this year, and Love Santa letters will go ahead as usual, too. Spread of letters from Love Santa

However, we are doing things a little differently to do our part in keeping everyone as safe as possible in these challenging times.

Letter content

2020 has been a different year, with many of our routines and plans changed. Some children have been more affected by this than others, too.

Some children will be helped by having Santa acknowledge the year has been tough and/or they have coped well with the disruptions. For them, we have added the option for adding a COVID-19 reference to our letters this year. However, for those children who are too young or want to forget about it all for a while, there will be no mention of COVID-19 and restrictions. Of course, if you choose to add this element, it will be a positive message for the child.

Letter delivery

red letterbox labelled Santa letters

First, we need to accept that mail delivery is slower at the moment and we all need to give Australia Post more time for delivery of letters.  Accordingly, we promise to mail letters in a certain period but cannot be sure how long they will take to arrive so please take that into account when choosing a timeframe for your letters (especially if you are not in a metropolitan area). We are closing orders a little earlier this year to account for needing more time to deliver – but you can still order for cities up to 15 December! Additionally, we are offering an express post option where we can group letters in an express post envelope.

Our letters are written, printed and mailed in Melbourne. Victoria has worked hard and controlled the second wave of COVID-19. Even so, we will be using hand sanitiser before we touch letters/envelopes.

The general restrictions mean we may not have as many event blog posts this year but will do our best to find Christmas things to share!

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 Bluey – verandah Santa? 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!

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