Monday, 28 December 2015

Proud Mom

I know I write a lot about my boys' sports. Sports are a big part of our family life at this point in our lives, and I'm just so proud of my little athletes.

My oldest, who loves playing sports for the sheer love of playing sports.
Football, rugby, track and cross country at school. Baseball in a spring and summer rec league. Soccer year-round on a rep team. This kid is never happier than when he's playing a sport that he loves - any sport - winning or losing, in a competitive arena or just pick up ball with a couple of buddies in the park. He gets so much joy out of just playing. And it's so joyful to watch.

My middle child, so cripplingly shy that it took five years of playing soccer before he was finally brave enough to tell his rep coach that he wanted to try for goalkeeper. Less than a year of hard training later, he led his team to second place in their division and by the end of the season was being recruited by opposing teams' coaches, then beat out all the existing keepers for the number one goalkeeper spot on one of the top teams in the top division and is now being trained by the provincial development head coach. He lives for those training sessions. It's amazing to watch how much he thrives under tough training and pressure.

I'm just so proud of my little athletes. There's nothing I love more than watching my boys play the game they love.


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Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas Traditions

Christmas is almost here, and we are ready. For a family so focussed on traditions and making memories and family time, this time of year is extra special.

Our Christmas begins one November weekend when we pull out and hang the outdoor lights, bake our first few batches of shortbread and gingerbread, and curl up with mugs of hot chocolate and platters of Christmas cookies to watch the Toronto Santa Claus parade on tv.

The next weekend we bundle up and head out to watch the local Santa Claus parade under the stars and twinkling lights of our town's Main Street Christmas decorations.

Then it's the Town tree lighting ceremony and celebration with carolling, Christmas crafts, a visit from Santa and storytime with Mrs. Claus.

We pick out and decorate our own Christmas tree (a real one - nothing looks or smells better than the real thing!) and make a whole afternoon of it with Christmas music and Santa hats and more Christmas baking. We decorate the house from top to bottom in glitter and gold - sparkly gold ornaments dripping from every mirror and spilling from bowls on every table - and the kids each decorate their own small tree for their bedrooms.

We set up Santa's village and Christmas train and leave them on all season, twinkling lights and tinkling tunes as the colourful, toy-laden train trundles round and round the glittery snow-covered workshop full of elves.

We count down to Christmas every morning with a chocolate from our advent calendars and watch Christmas movies every night before bed. We write letters to Santa and check the mailbox every day for his response. We visit him at the mall to pass on wish lists and take photos. We make Christmas crafts and cards for the kids to give as gifts and one special ornament each.

We bake and bake and bake and bake - shortbread, gingerbread, candy cane cookies and chocolate mint bars and fruitcake. We build and decorate an epic gingerbread house, more icing and candy than actual cookie.

We hang the stockings on the fireplace mantel - the most beautiful, hand-made stockings embroidered for the boys by my grandma - and wait with delicious anticipation as the colourful packages pile up under the tree.

We enjoy every minute of this magical season. It really is the most wonderful time of the year!

All the best to you and yours for a very Merry Christmas and happy holiday season!

Monday, 21 December 2015

Budget-Friendly Gift Ideas

Christmas can be a very expensive time of year. Some of us save all year to go overboard with gift-giving at the holidays; others set limits and guidelines on gift exchanges to keep costs within reason.
We are very much a going overboard kind of family, but with so many extra people to buy for now that all three boys are in school and sports – seven teachers, two  principals and six coaches, school Secret Santas and team toy drives and office donation pools, plus all the usual family and friends – I’ve been putting some thought into budget-friendly gifting options.
A cute cookie jar filled with homemade shortbread.
An oversized mug stuffed with an assortment of flavoured hot chocolates.
A mixing bowl filled with all the ingredients for gingerbread cookies, a cookie cutter and a handwritten copy of your favourite gingerbread recipe.
A framed print of a favourite local landmark or nature photo, if you have any skill with a camera.
A handmade scarf or hat, if you can knit or crochet.
A handmade cutting board or picture frame if you’re any good at woodworking.
A personalized beaded necklace or bracelet if you’re at all crafty.
Dig through the bargain movie bin – there are always a few awesome finds in there – and pair with a tin of homemade popcorn, or a good book and a package of flavoured coffee tucked into an oversized mug.
How about the gift of time? I don’t know any parent who wouldn’t be grateful for a few hours of free child care and a little time to themselves.
Do you have any great budget-friendly gift ideas to add to the list?

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Friday, 18 December 2015

Fingerprint Christmas Tree Ornament

Fingerprint Christmas tree ornament, crafts, kids crafts, Christmas craftsEvery year the boys and I make a special Christmas tree ornament that we wrap up and give to my husband to open Christmas morning.

This year's special Christmas craft: Fingerprint Christmas tree ornaments!

This craft was easy and fun and the kids were so happy with how they turned out.

Start with any plain Christmas ornament - we used both shiny and matte finishes and didn't find that it made any difference.

Dip fingertip in green acrylic craft paint and carefully press onto the ornament in a pyramid pattern - one print on top, two below, three below that, four across the bottom.

Clean finger, then dip in brown acrylic craft paint and press on the ornament below the bottom of last row of green fingerprints for the trunk of the tree.

Once the paint dries, decorate the fingerprint tree with glitter, sequins, gems and tinsel.

Fingerprint Christmas tree ornament, crafts, Christmas crafts, kids crafts
String with Christmas ribbon and hang from the tree!










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http://littletownhomelove.blogspot.ca/2013/12/festive-food-candy-crafts.html

Monday, 14 December 2015

Button Christmas Tree Craft

Button Christmas Tree Craft, crafts, kids crafts, Christmas crafts, Christmas ornamentThis adorable Christmas tree made from buttons is an easy craft for kids and makes a cute ornament to hang on the tree.

Gather buttons in various sizes and shapes (we had to hit the dollar store, since we don't have any spare buttons floating around).

Stack the buttons in the order that you want to make your Christmas tree shape - a few small ones at the bottom, then the largest through the smallest to create the conical tree shape. Don't forget to add a special sparkly or star-shaped bead for the star on top.

When you are happy with the order of the buttons (sizes, shapes and colours) use floral wire, fishing line or thick embroidery thread to string through from the top bead through each bead to the bottom, then back through a second hole in each button and back out the top. Be sure to leave several inches' extra length on each end.

Twist or tie off the ends to form a loop and hang on the Christmas tree!


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http://littletownhomelove.blogspot.ca/2012/12/thumbprint-christmas-ornaments.html

Friday, 11 December 2015

What Christmas Means to Me

I've spent so much time talking about the financial aspects of Christmas - Christmas shopping, Christmas spending, Christmas giving; planning and budgeting, couponing and flyer shopping and saving, gift-giving and giving back - that I thought I'd take a moment to talk about what Christmas really means to me.

Christmas is about family.
Christmas is about children.
Christmas is about sharing moments and making memories and creating traditions.
Christmas is about magic.

Twinkling lights, glittery gold balls, drooping green garland and big red bows, Christmas carols and crackling fires, the smells of pine needles and gingerbread and hot cocoa, letters to Santa and hanging stockings and trimming the tree, baking batches of rich, buttery shortbread and decorating gingerbread houses and curling up to watch Christmas movies with steaming mugs of hot chocolate, the Santa Claus parade and the town tree lighting and skating under the twinkling light displays, the anticipation of Christmas Eve and the excitement of Christmas morning and the overwhelming warmth magic love joy of the holidays.

I asked my kids what their favourite things are about Christmas:

The Santa Claus parade.
Decorating the tree.
Baking Christmas cookies.
Watching Christmas movies.
Picking out gifts to give their brothers.
Dinner at Grandma and Grandpa's.

(Melt.)

Nowhere on the list was getting toys or gifts. Christmas is just as much about magic and tradition and making memories for my boys as it is for me - which tells me that no matter how much I may spoil my kids at this time of year, I must be doing something right.

What is your favourite Christmas memory or tradition?

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Monday, 7 December 2015

It's ok to spoil sometimes

We're forever talking about saving rather than spending, spending smart rather than indulgently, indulging sparingly rather than frivolously. But it's Christmas, and as unpopular as this opinion may be among this audience, I like to spoil my kids at Christmas. Like, over-the-top spoil them. And I don't feel even a little bit bad about that.

Although some people buy presents for their children any old time all year round, I don't. My kids don't get toys and treats every time we leave the house. They don't get gifts as bribes for good behaviour or rewards for having to come to work with Mommy or sit through a dentist appointment. I don't buy them something every time we walk through a toy store - or even any time. My kids know that they get gifts for birthdays and Christmas, and if there's something they'd like they have to put it on their wish lists for one of those occasions. (Or save up to buy it themselves.)

That's because I am trying to teach my kids lessons about the value of money and the difference between wants and needs as well as the reality that in the grown-up world, instant gratification is not always possible or practical. I am teaching them about saving, spending, prioritizing and making choices. I am doing this because I think these are important lessons for children to learn in order to grow up with an understanding of how to live with and manage money.

But I also believe that Christmas is a time to spoil my kids rotten. Of course Christmas isn't all about gifts - it's about warmth and love, celebrating faith if you're Christian and family if you're not, giving back to those in need and sharing with the ones we love. It's a magical time of year for children and adults alike, but the reality is that part of that magic is writing letters to Santa and sharing wish lists on his lap, hanging stockings and setting out cookies and milk, decorating the house and tree and waiting with eager anticipation for that magical morning and presents under the tree. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

I buy my kids as much for Christmas as I can afford. I get the boys, if not every single item on their wish lists, certainly most of them. Not because I think I have to and not because the kids expect it but because I want to. Because it makes my babies happy. Because I love watching their faces and hearing their squeals when they open their gifts Christmas morning. Because I work very hard for my money and this is what I want to do with what's left over after I take care of all our needs.

And because, though we are practical and frugal throughout the rest of the year, Christmas is a time when it's ok to spoil our kids.

Friday, 4 December 2015

How Much Space Do You Need?

I am very much about living with less - small space living, clutter-free surfaces, minimalist decorating, storage and organization solutions and purging purging purging. I've lived in larger homes and smaller spaces in almost every configuration imaginable. And though we are a family of five with three active growing boys (and all of their stuff) we have all the space we want and need in our tiny little fifteen hundred square foot townhome.

People are often surprised when they hear how small our home is for the size of our family. Part of the reason we are able to live so comfortably in a space this size, of course, is because I am so obsessive about organization and so diligent about purging and keeping our space clutter-free. But we are completely comfortable here. We have never felt like we need more room, like we are on top of one another or like we don't have enough storage space.

Which leads to my question: how much space do you need?

It's not a rhetorical question. It's not a commentary on conspicuous consumption. It's not a discussion on understanding wants versus needs. I'm genuinely curious.

Thanks to my increased income now that all three kids are in school we will be able to fit quite a few more extras into our budget over the next few years, including a kitchen renovation that's been on our wish list since moving in. I was standing in the kitchen the other day planning and plotting, visualizing our new counters and cupboards and shelving, mentally moving this here and that there. I opened up all the cupboards and drawers, fantasizing about Ikea-esque storage solutions. I can't wait to kit my kitchen out with the latest space-saving solutions.

But although our kitchen is tiny by most standards, we don't actually need any more space. We have enough counter space, we have enough cupboard space. We don't have dishes or glassware or small appliances crammed into backs of cupboards or piled up on top of one another. We don't have to pull anything out to get at anything else. While much of that might be due to my obsession with organization we actually don't need any more space. 

I've been watching those home improvement and real estate shows lately. Without exception, everyone is looking for more - more space, more rooms, more cupboards, more storage. Why? I have a big, active family and my kids have a lot of stuff - but we have more than enough space in our tiny little townhome.

What do people need all that extra space for?

Originally published as "How Much Space Do You Need?" on my weekly column at gailvazoxlade.com

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