Ginger Tea

IMG_4420Years ago when I was seeing an acupuncturist, she gave me a recipe for ginger tea. At the time I was experiencing some nausea and she said that ginger tea was a great remedy. Little did I know just how beneficial ginger tea was! Not only does it combat nausea and vomiting, it has a meerad of other health benefits that are fantastic!

Ginger itself is high in vitamin C, magnesium and many other minerals. Which makes it great for battling colds and flu. I was surprised that ginger would have such a high vitamin C content myself, maybe because it is brown, who knows, but it’s definitely beneficial!

Other benefits include reduced inflammation, menstrual discomfort, and stress. Increases blood circulation, fertility, improves digestion and strengthens immunity. It also is a really yummy tea that is great to enjoy on a cold winter day. The flavors and smells are delightful, and for me, I like a drink that has an extra little kick, as it can get quite spicy the longer it sits. During the fall and winter months, I often have a cup of ginger tea on the go.

The tea itself is easy to make. Simply boil 4 cups of water in a medium size pot. Peel and slice a 2-3 inch piece of ginger. Once the water is boiling put the ginger pieces in the pot, cover and let simmer for 20 minutes. That’s it! It’ll keep in the fridge for a good week and once you run out it is easy to make some more!

honeyMy kids find it a bit spicy, as it does have a bit of a kick, and the longer it sits the more spicy it gets. But I enjoy it with a teaspoon of honey (also with many health benefits) to sweeten it up. It also is a great tea to use when making a hot tottie, (honey, cinnamon, rum and tea), tastes really good.

Quick, simple, easy and probably something you have in your house on a fairly regular basis.

Ginger Tea

4 c. water

2-3 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced

In a medium pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Peel and slice ginger, when water comes to a boil place ginger pieces in pot and cover. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Makes 4 cups

For the Love of Board Games

images-34I absolutely love board games! Growing up we played them all the time and had all kinds of them. From the traditional Monopoly to the unique and complicated Shadowlord, we would play board games for hours. My parents played with us to, especially my Mom, who still loves playing to this day.

Each year for Christmas we would get a new game. It was the family gift from Mom and we would wait in anticipation for what would come from under the tree. The challenge was of course as we got older, finding a game that we didn’t already have! But somehow Mom would find one and most of them were pretty good (cause some of them were not, though honestly I could not tell you the names).

images-32I have endeavored to continue the tradition with my kids, each year seeking out what’s new and hot, or faulting to some of the classics (cause yes all the games are still at my Mom’s house, so we have to buy our own. Which is totally ok cause then we have lots to play when we visit her). I have noticed over the years some of our favorites when growing up, are no longer available or have changed; like Survive (no longer available and not to be confused with Survivor), Pay Day (we really like the old version best) and Careers (also no longer available, but we loved!)

As a result my kids also enjoy board games, for which I am grateful, cause they will play with me! I also know that board games offer lots of learning in a fun way, like introducing colors and counting in Candy Land Board or strategies in games Settlers of Catan
as well as the basic concept of winning and losing and good sportsmanship.

I was very excited this year to find out what was new and hot in board games this year and discovered some great games. Some we already have but some we do not. Now the question is which one to buy for under the tree?

Hottest Games this Christmas

Settlers of Catan - hot and the current favorite in our house, Settlers is a strategy game, where players are trading and building in the mythical world of Catan. Dice is rolled to earn resources in which to build settlements, cities and roads and earn victory points. With the game board changing each time you play (and expansion sets to grow your game) you will never tire of this game.

Ticket To Ride - October 2, 1900 – it’s 28 years to the day that noted London eccentric, Phileas Fogg accepted and then won a bet that he could travel “Around the World in 80 Days.” Now, at the dawn of the century, some old friends have gathered to celebrate Fogg’s impetuous and lucrative gamble – and to propose a new wager of their own. The stakes: $1 million in a winner-takes-all competition. The objective: to see the most cities in North America – in just 7 days. Ticket to Ride is a cross-country train adventure game. Players collect train cards that enable them to claim railway routes connecting cities throughout North America. The longer the routes, the more points they earn. Additional points come to those who can fulfill their Destination Tickets by connecting two distant cities, and to the player who builds the longest continuous railway.

7 Wonders - 7 Wonders is a game that lasts 3 ages. In each age players receive cards from a particular deck. Cards are played simultaneously in each age to pay or collect resources as needed. Each card has different strengths and advantages making it important to pay attention to your neighbor. This strategic card playing game will engage ages young and old alike.

Classics

images-33Jenga - I still remember the commercial for this game when growing up. “Take a block from the bottom and put it on top, take a block from the middle and put it on top. Jenga, Jenga, j-j-j jenga”. This classic block stacking game, challenges each player to build and then take turns removing blocks without the stack crashing.

Twister - A great fun family game, this is the game that ties you up in knots. Using the spinner each player has to place a hand or foot on the appropriate color. It gets challenging when the color start to run out or are a little too far away!

Clue - Figure out who killed Mr. Body by going from room to room in the mansion and making guesses. All the classic characters, all the classic weapons.

Pictionary - Get your partner to guess what you’re drawing before the timer runs out. Play against other teams and score points for correct guesses.

Chess – Trap your opponents King using your knights and pawns. An excellent game of strategy.

Checkers – Through moving and jumping the goal is to claim all of your opponents pieces.

Games for Toddlers

Hungry Hungry Hippos - I have always loved this game. It makes a lot of noise but is so much fun! Hippo mouths chomping to eat the most marbles, whoever eats the most wins.

Trouble - a younger version of Sorry, Trouble is a fun way to introduce children to moving their pieces around the board. As they race towards the finish, they also have to be careful to not get bumped back to the beginning. The best part of this game is the popper in the middle, so much fun to pop!

Let’s Go Fishin’ - The first time I played this game was actually with my niece a couple of years ago. It’s hilarious! (and also not that easy) watching these fish mouths open and close as you use your fishing rod to hook them and take them out. I laughed my head off it was so much fun. Is great for enhancing hand eye coordination and just a giggle to watch those gaping fish move all around.

 

Candyland

Candyland

Candy Land - Choose your sweet character and dance your way along the rainbow path to Peppermint Forest, the Lagoon of Lord Licorice and Princess Frostine’s Ice Palace! Let your imagination soar as you make your way to King Kandy’s Castle to win.

Connect 4 - Drop your round discs into the slots to create a line of 4, while trying to stop your opponent from doing the same. Sounds easy, but you can only drop one at a time!

All Round Favorites at our House

The Game of Life - Move around the board and try your hand at ‘life’. Choose college and student loans, marriage, kids, a new car. Goal is to build your wealth and see what kind of life you can create.

Sorry - A great game of slide and collide, as you move your men around the board trying to get home before the other players. Drawing cards to move your men, you try to bump others back to the beginning before they bump you!

Scattergories - A fun game using letters. Pick a theme card and roll the dice. From the list each player must come up with something that fits that item starting with the letter rolled. Sound easy? Well there is a time limit of course

Cranium - Cranium is a great game with 4 elements to it, allowing everyone to shine. Acting, drawing, data or words complete tasks in these categories to win points and advance around the board.

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Blokus

Blokus - This is a great strategy game we discovered a few years ago. The goal is to place as many of your pieces on the board while preventing the other colors from doing the same. The challenge is the pieces are in different number of tiles and shapes

Battleship - This classic game of who sunk my Battleship takes me back to days of asking for E4 with my sister. A two person game, each person places their battleships and then takes turns guessing on the grid to try and find and sink the opponents. They also have electronic Battleship, which is super fun, with all the explosion sounds and such.

Yahtzee - A great family dice game, rack up points by getting groups of numbers, straights and maybe even a Yahtzee. This game of luck and strategy makes it both challenging and exciting.

Taboo - Try and get your partner to guess the word on your card without using that word or any of the five other words on the card.

Survive, Careers, Trust Me (all no longer available :(, but have to mention – Ok Survive is the best! You build an island that is sinking and have to save all your men and get them to the safe islands on the outer rim, before the volcano explodes. Careers classic, create your formula of happiness, fame and fortune then go around the board on different career paths to achieve your dreams! (We love this game so much my Mother recreated the board so that we could play it at my house) Trust Me is a great game of buying, bluffing and making deals all for the most cash! (it is really too bad you can’t get these games anymore, I’ll never give mine up!)

Do you enjoy board games at your house? What are your favorites?

 

 

Gingerbread Delights

IMG_4387You know I love flavors and that I tend to go a little crazy when I find one I love! Making everything possible out of it. Like pumpkin, I love pumpkin (and actually this fall inherited a lot of pumpkin) so was making muffins, pies, ice cream, etc. Experimenting with all different kinds of recipes.

My recent obsession is gingerbread. Always fabulous this time of year and something I really enjoy. I love ginger in general and am often making fresh ginger tea and drinking it daily. (Ginger also has a lot of health benefits, like aiding with colds and flu, as well as prevent and eliminating nausea).

IMG_4334But I had never really thought you could do much more with gingerbread than cookies. I had tunnel vision and could not see out of the box. Cookies are the only thing right? Then last month I discovered a recipe for gingerbread waffles. Of course I knew right away that we had to try it. They were fabulous! and everyone gobbled them up. Which got me to thinking there must be other variations of gingerbread something out there. So I started looking – I had so far, cookies, waffles… what about muffins? Gingerbread muffins would surely be delicious.

IMG_0750I did a quick Google search and a number of recipes popped up. I looked at a few, picked the one I liked the best and whipped them up yesterday! Ok I tried to whip them up, I had a bit of a baking travesty. I checked on my ingredients and thought I had everything I needed but as I went along I first discovered I was almost out of barley malt, then ginger, both I had just enough. Phew! Nope, didn’t have enough Earth Balance – shoot! So I mixed it all together and set it aside until after I could run to the store.

Once I had my final ingredient, I finished mixing them up and put them in the oven to bake. I was curious and of course so were the kids (they always want muffins!) They poofed up beautifully and smelled delicious. That lovely gingerbread smell wafting through the house afterschool…Yum!

They were finally done, and after waiting a few minutes for them to cool, we dove in. They were delicious, super moist with just a subtle gingerbread taste, not too overpowering. Now I prefer a little more of a gingerbread flavoring kick, so I am going to play with the spices in this recipe a little to amp up the flavor. Once I do that, I’ll report back to you :) But since I have 36 muffins at the moment to enjoy I won’t be experimenting with that one for a little bit.

You can easily half the recipe if you want to, 36 muffins is a lot, or you can bake them all and freeze them for later (if you remember they are in the freezer, personally I often forget that they are there and end up baking new ones anyway).

I also think these muffins would be fabulous with some kind of icing, which I am also going to experiment with and get back to you. For some reason I am thinking a nice cream cheese option would work…

Now that you are drooling, anticipating that warm moist gingerbread muffin in your mouth, here is the recipe. Completely sugar free and dairy free, it will be a hit at your house too!

Gingerbread Muffins

3 eggsIMG_4385

1 c. barley malt

1 c. coconut sugar

3 1/2 c. flour

1 tbsp. baking soda

1 tbsp. ground cloves

1 tbsp. ginger

1 c. Earth Balance vegan spread

1 c. hot water

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Lightly grease muffin tins with Earth Balance. Spoon batter into muffin tin about 2/3 full.  Bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes.

Makes 36 muffinsIMG_4392

What is your favorite gingerbread recipe?

Christmas around Calgary

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CP Christmas Train

One of the many things that I love about Christmas are all the fun family activities that are on to attend during this season. From crafts to critters, there is something each weekend to choose from and you’ll never run out of fun things to do!

Many of them are free, while some charge a small admission fee to get in. I love that many of them are also outside, which I think is a great way to get the kids outside and help the entire family enjoy winter! (cause let’s be honest sometimes winter is not so enjoyable). These events provide different ways for you to enjoy the holiday season, celebrating and demonstrating that there is more to Christmas than just gift giving – which I feel is important to teach the kids too.

Every year we attend at least one but usually hit 2 or 3 for sure. Our top five Holiday events in Calgary, and one’s that we usually are:

Zoolights

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Zoolights

Held at the Calgary Zoo, view 1.5 million Christmas lights displayed in all shapes and forms, from animals to flowers. From late November to early January from 6 – 9 pm, children will be awed with the array of lights throughout the zoo. There are other activities for the kids as well such as snowman bowling, hay jumping (our favorite), as well as fire pits throughout to stop and warm up for a while. Hot chocolate is available for purchase, or bring a thermos of your own. There is an entrance fee for this event but it’s well worth it.

CP Christmas Train

This beautifully lighted Christmas Train rolls across Canada making stops along the way to the North Pole. It is a child’s dream come true as you watch the train pull into the station. There are crafts for the kids as well as an outdoor concert. We went for the first time last year (yes it was minus 30 and yes I think we are crazy) and my kids absolutely loved it! In fact it is the only thing that they are asking specifically to go to again this year (I guess the weather did not deter them). It is a free event on Friday, December 12 at 6 pm (attendees are encouraged to bring a non perishable food donation) and a very magical experience.

Once Upon a Christmas

IMG_0771 - Version 2Enjoy an old fashioned Christmas at Heritage Park where you can enjoy a wagon ride, snow painting and a visit with Santa Claus. Shop the Heirloom Christmas Shoppe with unique finds at old fashioned prices! Children’s mazes, crafts and even a kids only store (that’s right no adults allowed) so your little ones can shop for you for Christmas. Our favorite here is the Christmas Train display, where you walk into a magical wonderland of model trains, zooming through Christmas villages and displays. Oh it is a sight to behold! My kids can spend hours in there watching the trains go round and round. Runs the 4 weekends before Christmas; there is paid admission to the park but you can find 50% off coupons at Safeway or First Calgary, which make it quite reasonable.

Christmas at the Hive

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Making beeswax candles

This event takes you out of Calgary into the outlying areas of Okotoks. Hosted by the Chinook Honey Company this free family event includes making your own beeswax candles, honey toffee, visits with the donkey, a scavenger hunt and mead tasting. My kids love making candles in the snow and of course tasting all the honey! There is also a viewing area inside where kids can see the inner workings of an actual hive and try to find the queen bee. Just a short drive out of Calgary, this is a wonderful event runs 4 Saturdays in late November/ December starting at 10 am in a beautiful rural setting.

Lion’s Festival of Lights

Largest free drive by Christmas lights display, this 105,000 light display lights up Confederation Park. Set up completely by volunteers this light display will wow and awe everyone young and old. It can be seen along 14 St. NW, just south of 24 Ave.

These events are just a few of our favorites in and around Calgary. There are many others that we have not been to before that I would like to check out, like Lougheed House Christmas, Christmas in Kensington, Christmas at the Track (Calgary Olympic Park), Christmas in Canmore; all a variety of crafts, music and activities and each a little bit different (Canmore is showing outdoor movies – super fun!). As well as number of community skates and events. Sadly, we do not have a Santa Claus Parade, which I really think should be reinstituted. Yes we used to have one, and I’ve been, way back before I had kids, my husband and I went. But apparently there has not been one in Calgary since 2007. Cochrane, Banff, Airdrie, they all have one, I think it’s time for Calgary to have one.

Christmas at Lougheed House

Christmas at Lougheed House

Even without a Santa Claus parade, there are tons of activities to choose from. I love it! Cause each weekend in December it is not what should we do this weekend? It is which event should we go to this weekend (thankfully some of these events are on during the week as well). Don’t get me wrong, we don’t run ourselves ragged getting to all the Christmas events. I am not a big believer in getting it all in until we are exhausted and never want to see anything Christmas again, but it is nice to have the choice and variety to go out and enjoy our beautiful city, the season and our wonderful winter weather, creating more wonderful memories for years to come (even when it is -30C, cause yes that is the one that my children remember).

What are some favorite seasonal events that you attend?

Travelling to Middle Earth

IMG_0718The Shire, home of the enchanting hobbits that have warmed our hearts and made us smile. These delightful people with whom we have shared adventures in the place that started it all. The Hobbiton movie set, a definite must see when travelling to New Zealand and the site where The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies were filmed.

Constructed on a the spectacular private Alexander farm near Matamata, this spectacular 1250 acre sheep and beef farm was the perfect setting for the Shire. Now Hobbiton is a (tourist) site not to be missed! It is a beautiful and eloquent journey as you are drawn into the magic of Middle Earth.

IMG_3561This 2 hour guided walking tour, whisks you away as soon as you board the bus to go down to the set, becoming immersed in the lush green rolling hills, literally descending into a part of Middle Earth. Entering a magical world, where you expect hobbits to be present, running, playing and tending to their gardens.

Originally the Shire, when constructed for the first trilogy, was made of cardboard and styrofoam, (as it was not intended to remain there permanently) and was actually dismantled afterwards. But with the revival of the set for The Hobbit, it was decided that the set would be built into a more permanent structure that would last for years to come.

39 Hobbit holes were created with untreated timber, ply and polystyrene. Eloquent little houses distributed throughout the Shire. Complete with Bag End and the large oak tree that overlooks it.

IMG_0667I was super impressed with what they had created and the attention to detail in the set, from hobbit holes to chimneys and accessories, like wheel barrels and lightposts. Most of the Hobbit holes you could not actually enter and were used for outside shots only, but there were a few that you could step in through the door, turn around and get a sense of what it would be like looking outside at Hobbiton from inside your own little hobbit hole.

IMG_0632The houses were just the right size for Luke and Chloe, who were peeking in the windows and asking where all the hobbits were, as they certainly expected them to be there. We kept telling them they were out for lunch and would be back. Of course, they kept asking when.

Our tour guide was fabulous, a wealth of information, sharing how some houses were built to different percentage scales (sizes), making it feasible to get the shots they wanted in the film, with the humans being the ‘right size’. I did find though that even with two hours, our tour guide moved a little fast for me, telling us to take our time and take as many pictures as we wanted, yet moving on ahead and not waiting for the entire group to catch up before he started talking about the next part. I understand he likely had to do this because of time, but it would have been nice if he told us, so we could choose what was more important, pictures or information!

IMG_3555There is so much of the set to see and enjoy, or even just spend time soaking up the atmosphere, sitting on a bench and imagining. You really feel like you are there, and avid fans can picture scenes as you wander by and what was happening there. My favorite had to be the festival field, where Bilbo Baggins birthday celebration takes place as well as the Green Dragon Inn. The Green Dragon is very well done, and you can enjoy a bevvie or a bite to eat, while sitting by the cozy fireplace for a bit soaking up the atmosphere. Or even book it for your own private function! Part of your tour includes a complimentary ginger beer, Strongfarthing ale or cider, so there is an opportunity to sit and enjoy, for at least a little bit.

IMG_0662Near the end of our tour, we walked back from the Green Dragon to get a peek at three new Hobbit holes, not yet seen on film but may be appearing in the third Hobbit movie. (And we got to see them first! Love having the inside scoop!)

We boarded the bus back to The Shire’s Rest, where all tours begin, feeling satisfied and like we had definitely been part of something unique and magical.

IMG_4375The price of the tour itself I did find a little steep, $75 for adults (with reduced rates for youth, children and infants). But when we knew we were going to New Zealand and planned to go to Hobbiton we looked ahead online and absorbed our shock at home, having time to plan and digest the cost. We decided we were going (there was no question) so we accepted that’s what it would cost to go and went, we weren’t missing it!

It is not the most interesting tour for children, especially if they have not seen or have no concept of the The Lord Of The Rings books/ films. But it’s doable. I would also say it really depends on your children. I thought mine would be fabulous and attentive as we had gone on tours before, but on this particular day we were having a bit of a rough bout, and all of them were acting up. But once they became more engaged with looking for Hobbits and checking out the props (Chloe using the wheel barrel and sweeping, Luke and Matthew ‘chopping’ wood) they became more entertained and tolerant of moving and then stopping and listening to the information. They also loved peeking inside the houses looking for Hobbits and of course, really enjoyed their ginger beer towards the end of our tour.

IMG_0596It is a very busy place and a big tourist attraction. With tours running every half hour between 9 am and 3 pm daily. You can show up on site and book your tour, or book your tour in advance. There are also combo tours offered with evening dinner or tours including transport from Matamata or Rotorua. If you want to amp it up a little you can find some lovely farmstays nearby which include fabulous New Zealand fare as well as a tour of Hobbiton.

However you design your visit to Hobbiton, there is no doubt that you will be drawn into the magical world of Middle Earth and the eloquence of the Shire, looking around for Hobbits yourselves.

The Hunger Games Meets Harry Potter (and other great books for boys age 9-12)

I love books. As a kid I was an avid reader and still am as an adult (though I don’t have as much time to read as I would like!) My son, now 11, since a very young age, like 3 or 4,  is also an avid reader and gobbles up books quickly. Often taking 20 or 30 books out of the library and bringing them home, all to be read within a couple of days.

9780141322650I know it is not common for boys to be avid book readers, and for that I feel blessed, as I think reading is such an important part of life, whether we are reading for work or pleasure it is something to be enjoyed, not a chore to be endured. It’s a place to expand your imagination and learn about new places, people and things fictional or not.

As a result I also hope to instill a love reading with the twins. I read to them each night before bed, and sometimes stories during the day when we can steal an extra moment to sit down together and enjoy. Matthew, my oldest has read 100′s of books, many of his favorite books over and over. From Fantastic Mr. Fox (love Roald Dahl) to Percy Jackson and Goosebumps, when he has down time, there’s a book in his hand, regardless of how many times he may have read it before.

Knowing he needed a few new books to expand his reading (and the need to round out a very expensive and heavily electronic Christmas list) we treked off to Chapters one night to see what was new and up and coming for boys his age.

cvr9781471121883_9781471121883_lgI was surprised to find that many of the books for boys have similar themes, adventure stories, with a young hero who has to fight some battle and yes – kill someone to win. Gone are the days when Judy Blume was risque and The Hardy Boys were the norm. I was a little torn at suggesting titles for Matthew as I really didn’t feel like he needed any more battle and killing stories (I think balance and variety are important). But I’ve also noticed that many of these books are also falling along the lines of entering different realms or worlds, psychic or intuitive abilities, and a female hero right along side the young male one. I guess you take some good with the bad.

We did discover some great titles that night that Matthew expressed interest in. The Seven Wonders (by Peter Lerangis one of the authors of the popular series The 39 Clues) – a young boy with a genetic trait that makes him too strong too fast and must save the world, The Unwanteds - described as The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter, Five Kingdoms and the The Accidental Hero to name a few. All are series which Matthew could get into (heck I could get into, I’ve always enjoyed young adult books and have made it a habit to read what Matthew’s reading. I think it’s important to know what he is reading and also a great connection point to chat about the stories and share views) and have a lots of books to read for awhile.

1524711_10152662231199735_2708198168790000681_nI also recently discovered a blog post by Jackie at Happy Hooligans sharing her top 40 list for boys 8-16, which I felt was perfect timing. Though I do not agree with all her picks (some we have read already, some are not that great in my opinion) there are a lot of good ones and provided more options to perhaps expand Matthew’s reading reperatoire – you know show him that there is more than just battles, blood and killing in books.

I also know that books are personal and a book that I love may not be one that someone else does. I remember one time my best friend highly recommended this book to me, which I attempted to read 3 times, but just couldn’t get into it, so I gave up. We had similar interests but not in this case. And there are so many good books out there that I am totally ok with not finishing a book just because someone said it was good. (The same thing happened to me with The Poisonwood Bible and the Lord Of The Rings, just couldn’t get through them).

Rangers-Apprentice-1-198x300Not necessarily new this year, but other titles that I love (Matthew enjoys) and think are great for this age group are books by Eric Wilson, a Canadian author. He writes mystery books set in different parts of Canada, such as The Green Gables Detectives; featuring a brother and sister team who are always in the ‘right’ place and end up solving the crime. It’s a great and interesting way for youth to learn about Canada and some of its beautiful landmarks and places.

Always popular for 9-12 year olds is also Artemis Fowl, 12 year old billionaire genius who gets caught up in the Fairy World and The Ranger’s Apprentice - which we all enjoyed, Mum, Dad and Matthew, about a young boy who becomes an apprentice ranger, guardian and defender of the kingdom.

I always say you can never go wrong with a book and it’s just a matter of finding a theme that interests you to instill your love of reading. There are tons of books out there with a variety of themes to choose from. Check out some of these titles and some of the one’s on the Happy Hooligans list as well. I’m sure you’ll find something that’ll fit your young reader and perhaps make a great stocking stuffer.

What are some book titles that you’ve discovered that are great for boys of this age?

A Kraken Christmas

images-28Well it’s finally happened. My oldest son, now 11, has finally hit the stage where toys and ‘affordable’ gifts are no longer the gift of choice for Christmas. Gone are the days when he was happy with the Playmobil Castle (which we managed to sneak in last year), or the tool bench to ‘build’ on. He has now moved into that odd age bracket where gifts he would like fall under gift cards or minimum $100 items, usually for gaming or electronics of some kind (which honestly I just don’t get and can’t really understand. It’s not for lack of trying, it’s just seems like there’s a lot to understand).

Honestly, it’s challenging. I strongly believe in giving people what they ask for but gift cards though functional are not always that exciting. You can’t play with it or enjoy it on Christmas day, and that is not all that I want to get him either. I wanted something tangible. We needed to round out his list.

134So slowly, slowly I have gone out with him to the stores, shopping, looking, making suggestions and asking if he would like this or that -cause maybe he hadn’t thought about it before? As a result, I’ve managed to get a tangible list, that has a variety of things on it that he would like, in various price ranges (which is great cause my mother had no idea what to get him and like me doesn’t want to just do the gaming or gift card thing).

Yes I know, I know this is the age and this is what kids his age are into. But I believe there has to be balance. It’s not good to game all the time, nor do anything the same all the time. So yes there are some things on his list that pertain to electronics and video games, but now there are some that are not.

images-29It was interesting though, going out shopping with him as I learned a bit more about gaming and what he’s into and why. For instance, he wants a number of specialty add ons to support his gaming, like a new keyboard, special mouse, etc. These are not just any adds on of course and retail starting at $99; he is looking for Razer Kraken Headphones, which provide high quality audio and have a retractable mike, and come in black, green, pink or blue. The Razer Expert Gaming Keyboard and also the Razer Naga Gaming Mouse, oh and don’t forget your Gaming Mouse Pad. The neat thing about all of these is that you program them to set them up how you want and to fit your games. It’s pretty cool and I can see why he would want these.

He has also asked for a suit. Yes a regular jacket and pants black suit, complete with shirt and tie. Originally inspired by the character Artemis Fowl, young millionaire genius, he first asked for one last year. I wasn’t really that keen on it. They were expensive and he’d likely outgrow it in a year, or so that was my reasoning. Besides where would he wear it? But this year, he asked for it again.

images-30Now I know not every young boy his age would be interested in a suit, but I thought it was really cool that he was and since he asked for it 2 years in a row, I felt it was more than a passing fancy. I liked the idea. He still didn’t know for sure where he would wear it, but I thought we can create some situations where he would, which could actually be a lot of fun. And I would guess he would create some himself. Besides he just puffed up and looked so proud when he tried it on. Stood a little taller, looked a little more like the young man that he’s becoming.

Other things he’s asked for (after our shopping adventures) were an alpaca hat (sigh, yes still $100), pyjama pants (at our house it’s a tradition onChristmas Eve for everyone to get pyjama’s. It makes me smile to see the little boy still present and enjoying the tradition when he is asking for them without being prompted by anyone else). And he’s always been an avid reader, so found some new book series that he thought were interesting like Seven Wonders and The Unwanteds, and added those to his list as well.

Once we were done, I was happier. Happy to see that he had a nice variety of things to choose from and that it wasn’t all about gaming. Yes still many of the gifts started at $100, but in my mind they were things that I was more comfortable paying that kind of money for. (ha ha interesting how are perception is everything) It also provided some options for others who would like to get him something for Christmas too.

images-31I imagine as he gets older it will get more challenging and expensive. He’ll either move more into gaming or perhaps brand name clothes. I may have to remortgage the house or take a second job just to finance Christmas gifts for him – ha ha. But it’s ok. I’ll continue to take him out around this time and ‘see’ what’s out there. I’ll continue to encourage his love of reading and heck if he wants to dress up and asks for more outfits along that line, I’ll take a look at that too. I’ve also considered what I call experience gifts for him, such as laser tag, dog sledding, rock climbing, where we go and do something together, which I know Matthew would really enjoy (and I really enjoy to). But again there’s that high price tag thing (dog sledding starts at $159 per person).

I think that for those of us parents who have kids, ok specifically boys, who fall into this age bracket we just do the best we can. Don’t dash our kids dreams, but aid in expanding them and showing them options. And taking them out to look can be quite fun. (Also look for sales! and comparative shop! (especially with Black Friday around the corner. Electronics are usually a big sale item on Black Friday. Plus I came home and checked out Amazon for all those Razer products he’s asking for and they were at least $20 cheaper than what we saw them for at The Source).

There’s ways to do it and there’s ways to make it work for everyone (and at a price you’re comfortable with). So if you have a young boy who falls in this category of ‘games and gift cards’ this Christmas and you want more, I hope these ideas get you started, save you some dollars, and give you a variety of options. The important thing is is to figure out what your kid is into and go with that. If you check things out a little, you’ll discover that may not be just the one thing they’re telling you about. Best of luck!

A Warm Drink on a Cold Day

warm capuccino-saidaonlineThere’s nothing like coming in on a cold day and enjoying a nice warm drink. Cuddling up on the couch, your hands surrounding the mug for warmth as the steam floats up and you inhale the beautiful scent of coffee, hot chocolate, tea or hot apple cider, to name a few.

It doesn’t matter what you have been doing, if you’ve been enjoying some time outside doing outdoor activities, toboganning, skating, skiing or even just shoveling the walk, there is something about that warm beverage that offers you comfort like nothing else.

My kids love cuddling up on the couch with their drinks and maybe some cookies or other treat and watching a movie, tucked up under blankets. Nice and cozy and relaxing.

warm-drinksOf course when we decided to eliminate sugar at our house we could no longer default to the hot chocolate mix we bought at the store (and we used to buy the big can, you know that one that is super tall and would last for months). I know in the good old days hot chocolate was simply milk heated with cocoa mixed into it, but it had been a long time since I’d done that. In fact I remember one time when I was little and my aunt was looking after us, she did just that, and my sisters and I looked at her like she had 3 heads and asked her what the heck she was doing. In the end she ended up making the instant stuff but I know now what I missed out on.

I really like the milk heated version as I find it to be richer and creamier, even though it does take a little bit more time and work to do so. What I do now for the kids is actually a little fancier than that (something I discovered in my Raw Chocolate Making class), but it is soooo yummy and also very good for you.

Now I use a mix of almond milk, cacao powder (considered a superfood and high in minerals such protein, zinc, and iron), natural sweetener of choice and depending on the day some added spices. It’s actually quite easy to do and tastes delicious! I also like that I can make it different every time depending on what I am feeling like that day.

Dairy Free Hot Chocolate

4 c. almond milk (or your choice of dairy free milk)HBC-DJ12-hot-chocolate-shrstock-48722137

3-4 tbsp. cacao powder

3-4 tbsp. natural sweetener (I usually use pure maple syrup, but you can use honey, stevia, etc.) *amount of sweetener depends on sweetener used and personal preference

spices – sprinkle of to taste cinnamon and cayenne, or lucuma powder and mesquite powder

Place all ingredients into blender. Turn on low, then turn up to high, blend well. Pour mixture into pot. Heat on medium to desired temperature. Pour into mugs and serve.

Serves 4

What other delectable hot drink recipes do you enjoy?

Get Frozen this Christmas

220px-Frozen_(2013_film)_posterGrossing over 1.2 billion, Disney’s Frozen filled the hearts of young and old alike when it hit theatres last year. Taking the world by storm, it created many Elsa and Anna fans, along with their friends Kristoff, Sven and the beloved snowman Olaf.

A cute, fun and loving movie about a young Elsa, born with powers that she cannot understand or control, and her sister Anna who helps her not only to understand her power but to harness the love between them that saves them all.

The wave of Frozen themed products (from dolls to backpacks) quickly followed the movie’s success, littering the stores and soon residing in many children’s homes. On Halloween, Elsa costumes were one of the most popular, with Elsa’s everywhere (did everyone see the man with 5 daughters who all dressed up as Elsa’s including him?), with Anna close behind. Frozen is literally melting hearts everywhere. Of course I have some of my own little Frozen fans in my house.

My oldest son after frozen-movie-itunes-620x387seeing the movie, printed out pictures of Elsa and plastered them all over his room. He also decided he was wearing only blue, and had to have gloves. The younger two just wanted to watch the movie over and over again, learning and singing all the songs, which at this point they only sing the same few lines over and over. I thought ok, this is it, that’s not too bad. They didn’t even ask to be any of the Frozen characters for Halloween. Phew! Made it. Until…we were at Superstore the other day checking out the toys in the toy section (you know where I am going with this). 41dZ4p0p8zL._AA160_

Chloe had been talking about wanting an Elsa and Anna Barbie doll for Christmas. I thought sure they might exist. Seriously, might exist? I should have known better. Not only do they exist, they come in regularcolor changing, traditional outfit, dressy outfit (the ones they wore at the ball) and singing. They also have Kristoff, which so far I have only seen one style (I’ve always felt that Ken got gipped), but who knows perhaps there is another style out there. 41brLKFYoQL._AA160_

I have found Christmas is to be no exception in the Frozen merchandise, and feel they may have even amped it up, as there is a plethora of product out there for our buying pleasure. So far I have found, dolls in various styles from Barbie to toddler, books, puzzles, play-doh, styling heads, costumes, board games (from original game to themed Frozen Trouble), castles and even lip smacker. Lip smacker really? I guess if we buy it they’ll make it. And I bet there are lots of things like pyjamas and such that I have not even discovered yet.

I joked with my mother the other day that it would be a ‘very Frozen Christmas’ but I don’t think I was that far off the truth. Because of course I have already gone back to the store, sans kids and picked up not one, but all 3 Frozen dolls, and am on the lookout for a Frozen puzzle and perhaps a few other things. In fact, I discovered this morning that they are releasing on Tuesday (November 18), a Frozen Sing-Along DVD (and yes I am considering getting one, I know it’s terrible, I have been hooked by all the hype and excitement. Cause really how cool is that? And I think we must have one).

A word of advice – I highly recommend shopping around and comparing prices for these products. The dolls at Superstore were $24.99 each, but when I hopped online to check them out at other stores I found them for half price at another store. Not only did I fly down to Target to get them, but I got an extra good deal as they were on buy 2 get one free! I ended up saving $45 in the end, which is enough for another gift or a good few months of Starbucks lattes. Honestly I was shocked how much of a difference in price there was between the stores, but it just goes to show that it pays to shop around!

So if you have a little (or big) Frozen fan this Christmas, there are lots of options out there to satisfy every age. Also shop early, this stuff is popular! It will it give you time to find the deals, and find the Frozen products you want without being stressed about it (as well as possibly not over spending -you know when you see that one last perfect gift)!

The View from Above

IMG_0795Gazing up 328 metres, we watch as the newest Sky Jumper prepares to hurl themselves towards the ground below. Hearing their screams of terror and delight as they jump off the  edge of the sky tower, flying at a rate of 85 km per hour!

This is how we begin our excursion to Auckland’s Sky Tower, the tallest man made structure in New Zealand and sitting in the heart of Auckland‘s downtown. We watched in awe and wonder as each new jumper went, with a mixture of excitement and fear as we each contemplated whether we would do such a feat ourselves.

Of course this is one of the optional adventures at Auckland’s Sky Tower, as a visit to the tower itself and riding the elevator up to the top can be just as exciting and provide breath taking views up to 80 km in any direction.

IMG_0750I usually skip these tourist towers in most cities I visit, as it seems to me that one is just the same as the other. And being in a few before I would have considered giving it a miss. I have also found that a lot of the original views are blocked due to newer taller buildings that have been built so you can’t really see anything and what you can see is not always easy identify what you are looking at.

I found the one in Auckland to be quite different in many respects. We decided to go on the recommendation of my friend Regan, who we were visiting in Auckland. He talked it up quite a bit and said the views were fantastic, that we would see a lot of the city. He also thought it would be great for the kids.

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Going up the elevator

And he was right, as we entered the building (after experiencing the adrenaline rush by proxy with the jumpers outside), we were all excited. We purchased our tickets, which were quite reasonable, as they have a family rate for $61 and children under 6 are free!, and entered the elevator to take us up to the first level. Our excitement grew as we noticed a glass floor in the elevator and could watch the ground fall away as we went up. I thought this was really cool, and a great way to give you perspective on how far up you are going.

There are 3 levels at the top, the main observation deck (at 186 metres), the lounge and cafe (at 182 metres) and the sky deck (at 220 metres). Starting on the main observation deck, there are 2 levels there. As the observation deck goes in a complete circle, 360 degree views, you can choose to walk the inside perimeter on the carpet or you can step down to the path along the viewing windows, and walk along glass floors.

IMG_3576I always find the glass floors to be a neat experience and what it does to your head. It is weird for your body to be be looking down at the ground from that high up and thinking you should be falling, when your body isn’t. It was neat to watch how each of the kids approached it, Matthew walking across with no hesitation, Luke cautiously walking around the edge of the glass on the metal perimeter and Chloe jumping right on it.

And the views were fantastic! We were able to pick out landmarks such as Rangitoto Island, Auckland Domain, St. Mary’s Church and Auckland War Memorial Museum, to name a few. Auckland is a beautiful city and quite unique as it is basically built upon a number of volcanic cones. (I thought Regan said 13, but when I looked it up it is actually 48! Wow). Having Regan there was an added bonus, as a local, he could point out points of interest as well as answer any questions that we had, whether it be what is that to why is it there. Plus the kids loved him, as he pulled them along on the bean bag chairs around the observation deck.

IMG_0762Of course we did some classic photos of being pushed against the glass or pretending that we were being pushed or falling. With the big glass windows all around the deck these were fun and easy to do. You could also make yourself a souvenir penny in the machine on the deck, with an imprint of a New Zealand icon of your choice, whether it be the Sky Tower itself or the infamous Kiwi bird to name a few.

After thoroughly exploring the main level we hopped onto the elevator to take us up just a little higher to the Sky Deck. This is the highest public observation deck with views through virtually seamless glass. Not only did we have amazing views we could look down below and watch the Sky Jumpers from above taking their jump. We even had the opportunity to watch a couple braving the Sky Walk, where they walk around the 1.2 metre perimeter of the tower (full body harness and safety lines of course).

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Sky Walk

Feeling satisfied, we descended to the ground below, again watching our descent through the glass floor in the elevator. (Have I told you how cool I think that is?) And of course no tourist attraction is complete without at least a look through the gift shop, which they always have conveniently set up so that you have to go through it to get out. Isn’t that nice of them? :)

We also took a look at our souvenir photo which they shot before we went up the Sky Tower, though we decided not to take the photo, we did make a few other souvenir purchases. We were pleased with our choice to visit here and I would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Auckland. As we were really there only one day, it gave us a good idea of what was in Auckland and some of the sites that I had hoped to see but couldn’t because of time. I felt satisfied being at least able to see it from a distance.

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Rangitoto Island

We spent a better part of the morning there and had a really good time. It is one of the sites from our trip that Luke and Chloe ask again and again if we can go back to see. We even had the pleasure later that day seeing the tower lit up with its colorful lights, as we walked back to our hotel. The lights were beautiful and felt like a very nice way to end our day in Auckland.IMG_0791