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Christmas party

Is there anything more exciting than seeing the look in your kids’ eyes when they see something new and magical?  Do you remember that feeling from when you were a kid (or even from yesterday)? That’s the reason behind the elaborate events and special crafts in our house.  The look in their eyes – when you get it right.  Cam is the most amazing sport, builder, cleaner, picker-upper, level-setting expectation mitigating, partner  – in order to make some of these crazy ideas work (or set me straight on what is not possible – we all know i get a little nutty with these things). He definitely gears up for this month with the double header of Matty’s birthday and our Christmas party.

Nothing compares to the magic of Christmas.  So, it’s been with excited anticipation that we’ve hosted a Christmas party for the last nine years – each year with a rhyming email to invite our pals.  We’ve walked into ‘grown-up’ world with most of these friends.  The parties have moved from martini mixers and late night dance-offs to secret Santas to kid-friendly open-house style events.  The start time moving earlier and earlier with each passing year.  One constant has been an appearance by the big guy himself (did you know he once asked me to marry him? a story for a later date…).  This year the Christmas magic was amazing.  Family and friends came from near and far, their kids were all adorable and excited, and we shared an evening of festive fun that our whole family won’t soon forget.  There were twenty adults and 23 children this year.

It started with an invitation from Santa’s elves to visit the workshop for a pre-Christmas party.  That was the theme for this year – the workshop.  From there I took our old standby sign (remember this?) and turned it into a signpost from the North Pole.  At the back of our house we placed some Reindeer who were munching on grass and a directional sign to the workshop.

north pole front of house

I got a few plain shirts and used fabric paint to create “sparkle”, “twinkle” and “jingle” elf attire for our kids to wear with Santa hats.

matt's shirt sparkle shirt

Inside there were 3 separate craft stations for the kids: one with bead making candy-canes, one with reindeer and tree candy canes, and a Christmas colouring station for independent fun.  There was also an elf-snack station with cups dressed as snowmen filled with popcorn, and mini-bags of fishy crackers and juice boxes.

elf snakc shop

The families were invited to make gingerbread houses and decorate cookies throughout the night. My nephews are pictured below, along with Mario and our kids.

ty and the boys  Dylan mario & 3 kate and daddy

We loved the marshmallows from Butter recipe book so much on Cam’s birthday that I made them again for this (and for a hot chocolate party we’re having next weekend) – we made them into snowmen and reindeer – decorative credit goes to my sis Kelly who applied the faces! A labour intensive dessert – but worth it in the end for sure.

snowmen and reindeer reindeer

Between the kids, Cam and I we baked up a storm leading up to this weekend (this made for many of our holiday family craft activities each night last week) including Gloria’s famous ginger cookies (secret recipe), my mom’s shortbread (3/4 c icing sugar, 2c flour, 1C butter – 350 for 13 min), my sister’s famous mini-chocolate chip shortbread (also made by someone named Tina on all recipes), an awesome new chocolate chip oatmeal cookie I found in the new Lesley Stowe baking cookbook,  sugar cookies, a lemon square from the same cookbook, dream bars that are amazing if you love marzipan but don’t like the intensity of it, also from Butter, and super easy fudge from all-recipes.

choc chipshortbread cookies shortbread robyn and kel

All of that except the marshmallows could be frozen so we made them 3-7 days in advance of the party.  That left the last couple of days in the evenings after work to make baked brie, and awesome little brie-cranberry phyllo bites, spicy shrimp, bruschetta, my take on Rob Feenie’s flat bread (personal weakness), and a fun cranberry cocktail that I found on the Real Housemoms blog.  Also grabbed lots of easy ready-made appies from M&M meats and some cheese, fruit and veggies.  Oh. And I made poutine at the end of the evening so soak up any lingering munchies. SO easy (frozen fries, St Hubert’s gravy and real cheese curds in mini-cups with works on the side) and it flew off the plate – I’ll do that one again.  It all sounds like a lot – but with two very distinct audiences each composed of over 20 people, at a party that spans the dinner hour – dessert is not enough.


The evening was made, for me anyway, but two very special appearances.  The first was an absolutely awesome sing-along by our wonderful friends Bobs & Lolo  – who have just put out the most incredible Christmas album.  Mario brought his guitar and Robyn and Lorraine started an awesome dance party in our living room with holiday classics old and new.  Then they sang in Santa Claus.  The man behind the suit does not dance, or prance, or act crazy silly most days – but in that suit he was dancing at the door waiting to be let in, and he dazzled the kids with his high fives and hugs and candy cane Christmas wishes.  Christmas magic. And a very special appearance.  Even our daughters were fooled and stood with their mouths open staring (not Matty though – he spotted Daddy’s eyes).

who's knocking at the door? singing and dancing

festive crowd santa and charlie hug santa and charlie

Our friends and their kids left with an ornament we’d made (using my cricut to cut out the letters with the girls, and then some spray glue, a hole punch and glitter) – the first initial of each child’s name.  And some of the reindeer food from the recipe our elf, snowball, brought back from Mrs Claus (this was thanks to an idea last year from Kate – an awesome mom-blogger across the ocean).

letters rough glitter fun orniments ornament K

reindeer food

It was an absolutely amazing evening.

Followed by a horrific clean-up job (holy Dina!) – but we powered through, and by 1am Cam and I ended the night in the hot tub with a glass of wine and beer toasting a wonderful evening, and wonderful friends.



magic and letters to Santa

In this house, we believe in the magic of Christmas. From our little elf, “Snowball” who magically shows up in a different place each morning after reporting in to Santa each evening about the kids, to the tiny mail we receive from Santa’s elves about magical events in our back yard, to the big guy himself – and all that his spirit brings to Christmas.

It’s incredibly important to me that my kids feel and believe in magic.  I think it opens doors in their imaginations, and keeps their minds alive to possibilities outside of our little ‘box’.  I love that they think about the world and life as bigger than just us.  I love that there are unanswered questions, left to their own minds and hearts to sort out.  We also teach our kids about our beliefs around Christmas, and that it’s Jesus’ birthday.  Matt is still trying to figure out if God created dinosaurs and if he decided we needed Jesus after he saw cave men and why he chose the winter when it was so cold to have Jesus’ birthday.  It makes us laugh, but seeing him working it all out in his own way is incredible.  And I think that’s a good thing.  Believing in something you can’t touch or hold or play with – that’s incredibly powerful.  The day that one of them comes home crushed by someone’s assertion that Santa or the magic of Christmas isn’t real, is a day that I am loath to think about (though I know, sadly, that it will come).  There is so much that’s commercialized and plastic in the world – I just believe that our kids imaginations need to be protected to flourish as long as possible.

Enter my obsession with Christmas.

I LOVE Christmas.  I love the lights, the trees, the baking, the family and friends, the excitement around Santa and parades and events, the feeling of community, the nativity and stories of the first Christmas, the lessons of giving… all of it.  But I especially love our little family in quiet moments – together with no work or school or soccer or classes – just being.

So this Christmas, because we’re so busy all the time, we decided to do two special things as a family each day.  The first is read a new story each day as a sort of a different version of an advent calendar (I’ll post about that later).  The second is a Christmas craft each day.  On the first day the kids made little elves out of TP rolls.

elves girls and elves


On the second day we took out all my Christmas stamps and created our own letters to Santa.  They all took the stamping very seriously.  Matt was determined to write his letter himself. He wanted to make sure he told Santa to have a good Christmas and he thought it would be important to write in silver so that Santa would enjoy reading his letter.  Cam helped him spell some of the words and Matt was thrilled to be such a big boy making his own letter.  The girls followed suit – writing “abcds” – as they called them – to Santa.  Unfortunately I wasn’t sure if the Santa would be able to read the girls letters (even though they talked out loud as they “wrote” each word “dear santa… I like you Santa…i want a”  So I asked them if I could write a translation for them on the other side just in case, they held the markers with me as we re-wrote all of their words into something Santa might better understand.  They folded up their letters – licked their envelopes and put them on our desk and tonight we’ll go and mail them together.  They literally danced upstairs to bath time afterwards.

kates letter charlie's letter letters writing letters matt's letter

Yesterday was the third day – I was working late but Cam baked Christmas cookies with the kids and kept the one creation a day theme going (so awesome). Tonight we’ll make felt trees as ornaments … and tomorrow we’ll put up the Christmas tree on Matty’s birthday – as he likes to do after dinner on his birthday each year.

Ahoy! The Pirates invaded our house!

Matt turns 5 in less than a week.  To celebrate we let him invite all the boys in his class and a few extra pals for a pirate party.  We tried to have the party at a location outside of our home this year.  The superhero party last year for his whole class was awesome but a lot of work.  He would have none of it.  This year he was determined to have his party at home again…  And he discovered pinterest – so he took a significant interest in the activities and design of the day…

Here’s what we did:

1. The kids came in and they got an eye patch, a pirate hat or bandana, and an adventure guide. We tried to entice parents to stay with coffee (and baileys) and some adult treats.  Some amazing moms and dads stayed – and were a huge help corralling kids, setting up lunch and cleaning up after.

entrance entrance2Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 11.45.25 PM

2. the first activity for the pirate guests was making their own spy glasses.  We asked our two wonderful nannies help us for the party and they helped the kids take treasures I found from urban source  (old yarn spools and plastic caps from something?) and some black and gold paper, stickers, gems, cool tape – and make their own pirate spy glass.  It was an awesome first activity because it meant that all the kids were in one place, engaged in a calm and creative fun while we waited for everyone to get here.

spy glasses spy glasses1spy glass making

3. Next we played ‘stick the eye patch on the pirate’.  I drew out a rough pirate and grabbed some cheap eye patches from amazon – Cam used a pirate bandana and did the traditional spin and blind fold with each willing participant- it was a pretty fun and fast first activity – the kids thought it was hilarious when the eye patches were stuck to the windows and walls instead of the pirate

pirate eye patch

4. We divided the kids (about 15 at this point) in two groups.  Group one headed upstairs to “Cannon Ball Cove” and group two stayed downstairs in “Shark Bait Lagoon”.

Group one discovered the pirate ships we’d made (big enough to each hold 3-4 kids) and they played a game “lobbing” soft ‘cannon’ balls into each other’s ships.  It was chaos but sheer joy for the pirates involved. After that they played Captain Hook’s ring toss (thanks to pinterest for this one!).  The object being to toss rings onto one of the three hooks.

cannon ball cove ship ring tossshe got a hook!

Group two had to balance carefully as they walked the plank through a sea of blue balloons (pictured below before we had all the balloons blown up) with a hungry blow up alligator waiting below in case they slipped.  Then they each had a chance to toss fishes into the shark’s mouth.

walk the plank shark bait

All of that went waaaaaaay too fast – and what I had assumed would take 45 minutes (you’d think? right?) was done in 35 minutes.  So there was about 10 minutes of chaotic crazy kid playtime.  I got a little nervous a couple of times – but brilliant and resourceful Cam just took our huge bin of lego and tossed it over in the middle of the play room then challenged the kids to make lego pirate boats!  Then hurrah! Pizza arrived.


After pizza and some delicious cupcakes and cookies came the final activity of the day… an outdoor treasure hunt.  It was pretty cool because it was the first snow of the season – so there was a very excited extra chill to the air.  The kids each got a pirate bag, and a treasure map (if you like you can download all the signs here MATTY’S 5TH) and they put on their boots and coats and ventured out.  Along their hunt they found tattoos, a pirate ship pinata filled with booty, and finally a treasure chest filled with pirate swords.  I didn’t let them back in the house after that … they already had coats and boots on so they ventured home from there… this was my way of avoiding sword fighting and tears at our house, if I’m honest.  Kinda felt like a meanie, but it all went so smoothly that we didn’t want to push it too far.

pirate hunt bagtreasure hunt treasure hunt1goody

All of that and the party was done! 15 minutes early.  I have decided that 2 hours is caraaaazy long for a five-year old party with that many kids.  1.5 hours would have been perfect.

I’ll post later about how we made the pirate ships – that was our big project for this party. It was awesome.  And thanks once again to Cam, his mom, and some late nights in the garage painting and cutting.  We made a lot of things with the kids for this party as well.  Matty made his own crayons in the shapes of skulls and cross bones (I’ll post about that later too).  We baked cookies, muffins, squares and other treats, we made fishes, anchors, and some welcome drawings.  We also had lots of fruit and fishy crackers, shark teeth (cheese) and pirate booty (popcorn twists) for snacks throughout.

pirate booty shark teethwater fruit

Super fun. Totally tiring to plan and execute. But completely worth it to see this little face so thrilled.

Love you, Matty.