Wednesday, December 18, 2013

light in the house

One of our favourite activities to do during the Christmas season is to simply drive around our neighbourhood   to see all the light displays along the street.  Although there are many tree lighting ceremonies throughout the city, some of the most unique and inspiring ones are those around the block.

Every house meticulously prepared for the holiday season, showcasing a twinkle of lights like stars in the sky. The vibrant personalities of homeowners shine through as you drive by a lawn covered with displays of Santa, reindeer and a multicolour of lights.  Or a quiet house with pretty winter wreaths, simple white lanterns, and a soft and subtle flicker of Christmas tree lights peeking through the front window.    

As school pageants, concerts and parties bring in the joy, what strikes me the most is the diversity of this celebration, and how each of us celebrate holidays differently.  Different traditions, rituals and food...all seemingly on a bring loved ones together.

Sometimes it's difficult to appreciate this or any "holiday quest".  It's easy to get caught up with all the glitz of decorations and the glam of appealing storefronts enticing you to buy, buy, buy!

So this year, I decided to take a much more laid back least with my Christmas decorating.  I used simple white ornaments to decorate the tree. I cut up some burlap for the garland.  I just placed little white bows on our mantle garland.    

Just as the lights on the neighbourhood houses represent the personalities of their homeowner, for me, beyond the "reason for the season", our lights represent a peaceful time to reflect and to be grateful for what we have at home.  

Because no matter how many lights are displayed on the rooftops, driveways and sidewalks, it's what's inside our homes and the love within, that makes the light in the house, truly shine.  

Simple Paper Tea Light Candle Holders
(for battery-operated tea lights only)

Inspired by the little porcelain ornaments that house some of the Christmas lights on my tree, I wanted to create something simple and easy to house my battery operated tea light candles.  (please use battery operated for this craft...we don't want any fires started!).  This also makes a sweet little Christmas themed night light for a child's room, with little cost and effort.

  • Wedding favour gift boxes (found at Michaels or your local dollar store).
  • Ruler
  • Scissors/exacto knife
  • Hole Punch
  • Battery operated tea light candles
  • Open the boxes until it is flat.
  • Using a ruler, draw out the roof (at the top of the box). Draw out the door and windows, or just hole punch (using various shaped holes, if desired).
  • Cut along the lines.
  • Assemble the box.
  • Place the battery operated tea light candles inside.

Display...and enjoy the light in the house, and in your home.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

pockets of joy

This year, December started early.  At least it seemed to start early for me.  I don't know where the time flew, but I recall telling myself that I had lots of time before the holidays arrive.  Our daughter started requesting those Turtle chocolates for her "pockets" (I thought she was referring to her coat pocket...and since when did she like those kind of chocolates?). Then last Monday, my son asked me..."What ever happened to our annual advent calendar?"

You see, every year I place chocolates in the tiny square pockets of our little felt snowmen advent calendars.  It's a tradition that we've had since the kids were old enough to consume candy, and I loved the fact that I can control what goes into those pockets (sometimes I put stickers instead of sweet treats!).  I guess it was my little way to ensure that I don't stumble upon sugar-crashed-children sprawled on the sofa covered with thirty chocolate wrappers.

This year, I completely forgot those calendars.  The tree was set up, the lights on our mantle completed, and the outdoor lights done and displayed before the Santa Parade a few weeks ago, but... the calendars!

It's amazing how little traditions that I thought would go unnoticed, would resonate so much with the kids.  I would never have imagined that they would remember this little ritual that occurs every December.  And those Turtles chocolates that our daughter was asking about?  It turns out when she eats them, it reminds her of her grandparents (both Grandpas LOVE those chocolates).

It goes to show that those little gestures sometimes mean a lot more than you know.  I guess it's not just what's in those pockets that matter, but the thrill of peeking in them that makes those little pockets of joy...a sweet moment to remember.

Candy Cane Chocolate Toffee 

  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 4 tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 tbs water
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup of candy canes, crushed.
  • Combine sugar, butter, 2 tbs. water and salt in a small saucepan. 
  • Cook on medium-high heat stirring until the sugar dissolves and the butter melts.
  • Stop stirring and cook until the colour turns caramel-like brown. 
  • Pour onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat. 
  • Sprinkle the chocolate chips immediate so it will melt.  Smooth gently with the back of the spoon or icing spatula.
  • Once the chocolate covers the toffee smoothly, sprinkle the crushed candy canes.
  • Let it cool completely.  
  • Cut into little squares.
These can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week (if they last that long in the house!).


apples to apples

When I was asking our son what he wanted for Christmas, he rhymed off a few things on his list, but he appeared most interested in getting a new board game.  So when Mattel sent the "Game On" box for us to try a few of their games, my son was thrilled...the first game he wanted to play was "Apples to Apples".

It was new game (to me), but my son mentioned that a classmate brought it along on their school overnight camping trip earlier this year, and it was something that the kids really enjoyed playing.  It was one of the best "quiet time" activities they had during their trip.

So when I opened the box, my son explained the rules of the game, and we played a few rounds.  Our daughter was off at a playdate, so I didn't think this would last too long, but it easily became an addictive game, and I knew this would be a classic family game to play over the holidays.

Since that night, my son has asked (almost pleaded) to play the game with us again and again. Unfortunately our schedule was too busy for all of us to sit together for any extended period of time, so we had to wait until this past weekend, when all four of us were able to sit together.

What started out as a quick ½ hour session to teach our daughter how to play the game, turned into an afternoon of family bonding.  It was so nice to see the kids OFF of their electronic devices, even for just a few hours.  We had hot cocoa and great conversation, and now I know why our son had insisted that we play "Apples to Apples".

It reminded him of all the quiet times we spend together, like we do at the cottage, sipping hot cocoa and just relying on each other's personalities and wit to keep each other company and entertained.  Just like his school trip, it created a wonderful moment to remember, a peaceful time without drama or stress.

Now it's clear why my son wanted a board game.  Although the flashy electronic devices are a lot of fun (yes, those were on his list too!), the board game gave us quality time to spend together as a family.  

And no other electronic toy can really compare to that.

A great big thank you to Carli for providing the Mattel "Game On" Box for our family to enjoy.  Visit Mattel for more board games for great family Christmas gift ideas.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

dancing gingerly

I often think of that snow dance scene in Tim Burton's movie, "Edward Scissorhands", when Edward creates a flurry of snowflakes as he makes an ice sculpture for the girl he loves.  She freely dances in the gently falling snow, eyes closed and arms wide, without a care in the world.  During the Christmas holidays last year, it was the first time our kids saw this movie.  They were immediately entranced and loved how innocent an adult like "Edward" can be.


For me, the fresh snow is a whimsical reminder of all the winter and Christmas holidays of years past.  The fondest memories are when we were young children.  The glorious days when you tried to sleep (but couldn't) on Christmas Eve...wondering if you could wake up at midnight to catch the presents being placed under the tree. The innocence of waking up earlier than ever and sneaking downstairs to gingerly shake the mystery presents.  The crackling sound of wrapping paper being torn, then playing with your new treasures as the smell of turkey wafts through the house.

I love experiencing Christmas or any holiday through the eyes of a child.  But as each year passes, I grasp at finding ways to keep that magic in their eyes, creating as many magical holiday memories for them so they too, can look back fondly at Christmas as a time of happiness and security.  I don't think I'm ready for them to grow into that age where they only want cash for gifts.  I think deep down inside of me, I still want them to open toys...something.  Not because it's about the gift, but it's about how they feel at that very moment when the wrapping paper is finally torn off to reveal the treasure inside. Because I love to watch their faces light up with pure excitement and exhilaration.  And as we get older there are fewer and fewer opportunities to have that singular moment of pure and innocent joy.

I guess I want them to continue to see the magic of Christmas because I enjoy re-living it again and again through my kids.  And as much as I want them to be independent, amazing, world changing adults when they grow up, maybe I'm not ready for that "grown up" part yet, and I want to be able to enjoy this young moment just a little bit longer so I can remember how it feels to be a kid.

Soon they'll pass that stage when they will no longer want to decorate gingerbread houses or leave cookies and milk for Santa, and maybe I too, will no longer want to do those things.  But until then, I will savour watching them consume all things gingerbread and cookies.

Or maybe I will too, just freely dance in the snow with them...enjoying the moment.

Caramel Gingerbread Cookie Square
Adapted from "Caramel Shortbread" square from Allrecipes 

Bottom Layer
  • 1 (3.5 ounce) package cook and serve
  • butterscotch pudding mix
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line 9x9 square pan with parchment paper. 
  • In a medium bowl, cream together the dry butterscotch pudding mix, butter, and brown sugar until smooth. Stir in the egg. Combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, and cinnamon; stir into the pudding mixture. 
  • Press onto a baking pan, approximately 1/2 inch thick.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes in the preheated oven, until firm but still slightly soft.
  • Let cool.

Top Layer

  • 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup.
  • Combine all 4 ingredients in a large saucepan.  
  • Bring to boil on medium.  Boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Remove from heat and stir for 1 minute.
  • Pour over gingerbread layer.  Spread evenly.
  • Let stand in pan for about 4 hours until cooled completely.
Cuts into 24 squares.