Kids Healthy Cooking – Healthy Chocolate with Natural Sweeteners

healthy chocolate

Kids and chocolate. They go together well. All the memories of chocolate covered faces, whether from ice cream or pudding or just a good old fashioned chocolate bar. Yes they say too much chocolate is not good for you, but honestly there is such a thing as healthy chocolate.

A lot of the trouble with chocolate is the amount of sugar in it, but chocolate without sugar and natural sweeteners instead, is a different story. Chocolate itself is rich in antioxidants and is actually very good for us. It is the sugar that is the problem.

healthy chocolateWhen I learned to make my own healthy chocolate, I was surprised at how quick and easy it was. It was so easy that I came home and made it with my oldest son, who at the time was only 6. Four simple ingredients gave us our base chocolate, and then we could create whatever we wanted. He loved it! and wanted to make more. Now my twins who are also 6, love making it as well. It is so easy to make with kids.

So when it came to our last class of Mini Chefs, making healthy chocolate was really a no brainer. I wanted a nice sweet, fun, but healthy treat, so this was perfect. In class, we made the plain chocolate and kept it in liquid form for fondue, dipping a variety of fruit into it; such as apples, oranges and bananas. All of the kids loved it! And yes ended up with chocolate faces ūüôā

Raw Organic Chocolate

Ingredients:

Cacao butterhealthy chocolate

Cacao powder

1 vanilla bean

pure maple syrup or honey

*amounts depend on how much chocolate you want to make

Boil water in kettle. Pour boiled water into a large metal bowl, place second smaller metal bowl on top of large bowl so that it sits on top. Place cacao butter into top bowl. Cacao butter will start to melt. While cacao butter is melting slice vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the inside seeds with a spoon. Put seeds into melted cacao, it is ok if cacao butter is not completely melted yet. Stir.

*Be very careful not to get any water into your chocolate as it will not work if you do. If your second bowl sits nicely on top, this should not be an issue as you do not need to lift the second bowl off the one with the water in it until you are done making your chocolate. 

Sift cacao powder into a separate bowl. Once cacao butter is completely melted add 2-4 tablespoons of cacao powder. Taste for desired level of chocolatey-ness. If you’d like it richer add more cacao powder. Once satisfied with amount of cacao powder add natural sweetener of choice. Start with 3 teaspoons and mix. Taste, if desired level of sweetness has not been reached, add 1-2 more tablespoons and taste again. Once level of desired sweetness has been reached you have your base chocolate. This can now be kept liquid and used as a fondue, or can be poured into chocolate molds to form chocolates.

Another option at this point is to add additional ingredients such as nuts, dried fruit, coconut, essential oils (ensure that the essential oils you are using are safe to ingest), etc and pour onto a cookie sheet to let set. Chocolate is best set in freezer but may also be set in fridge.healthy chocolate

I had also been promising the kids we would make ice cream for a number of classes and many of them kept asking when we were going to make it. Since it was the last class we did make peanut butter ice cream as well. Sugar free, dairy free and super easy to make with kids. Look for the peanut butter ice cream recipe in the next kids healthy cooking post.


The Lions Festival of Lights – A Free Calgary Light Display

This weekend I attended the kickoff of the Lions Festival of Lights, a free drive by light display housed at Confederation Golf Course, and has been on in Calgary for 29 years.

IMG_6657Located along 14 St. NW, just south of 24 Ave., this light display has over 115,000 lights and is Calgary’s largest drive by display. Set up by over 3000 volunteer hours, this year the display is completely green with all LED lights.

Each year they kick off the event with family activities, concert and treats and this year was no exception. They were ice sculptures, Singing Santa and Mrs. Clause (who really got the crowd rocking) as well as free hot chocolate and cookies. I was having a great time enjoying the tunes and bee bopping with the crowd (Santa really was good and quite creative in his singing).

IMG_1355At 6 pm, the mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, threw the switch to officially open and light up the park for the 2015 season. And to top it off a beautiful display of fireworks lit up the sky for everyone to enjoy. People were then invited to stay and enjoy the lights and the park.

In my 17 years in Calgary, this was the first time I had ever gone to see this lights display. I had heard of it but never attended. And this was the first time that I was aware that they did any kind of official kickoff – and honestly I was impressed. Not only with the event itself but the reasons why the display existed.

IMG_6650The Lions Club does this display every year as a way of thanking Calgarians for all their support and generosity throughout the year. The Confederation Golf Course supports the display as part of their mandate is to provide other activities than golf for Calgarians, which is why they not only open up their grounds for the Christmas display but also for cross country skiing and sledding in the winter months. I think this is a fantastic way for everyone to give back to the community and benefit!

IMG_1348 - Version 2Even though this is largely a drive by display, it is just as enjoyable to park and take a walk through the park enjoying the lights in a more intimate way. The display really is quite phenomenal and the best part about it is it’s free! I find there are so many additional costs at this time of year that is it pleasant to be able to enjoy something at no cost.

So pack up the family, friends, significant others, even grab some hot chocolate and take a tour down to Confederation Golf Course and check out the Lions Festival of Lights! They are open nightly from 6 pm to midnight until January 8.

To Drink Gingerbread

IMG_4491I know Christmas is over. And New Year’s is done too. And this is really something more suited to the Christmas season. But I couldn’t resist posting this martini I created over the holidays. Yes I created it!

I was on a gingerbread kick over Christmas, looking for different ways to enjoy this delectable Christmas flavor. I had already discovered and tested gingerbread waffles, gingerbread muffins and of course gingerbread cookies (classic). Earlier this Fall I was delving into the martini world, trying some Halloween ones, pumpkin one, and a few others. I thought there must be a gingerbread one I can make.

So I hopped on Pinterest, my new favorite go to for recipes and looked it up. I found a number of recipes but most of them had Baileys in it and I wanted to avoid the dairy. There were some that were almost but not quite. So I decided to experiment, I took parts that I liked from different recipes and combined and adjusted them, creating my own version of the gingerbread martini. Dairy free, not quite sugar free, there’s just a teensy bit in it, I tried to get it completely sugar free but couldn’t quite do it (maybe down the road I’ll figure it out get it completely sugar free). Though honestly you would never know, this is a very sweet martini and extremely delicious.

Once I got all the components right and tried it, I phoned my Mum to share. She immediately wanted the recipe and went to try it herself. 20 minutes later she phoned back with one word, “Yum”.

Now I realize it is not the Christmas season when gingerbread is most popular but I could not sit on this delectable recipe for an entire year! Besides isn’t gingerbread good any time of year? Valentine’s? or Christmas in July.

Give it a try. If you like gingerbread you’ll love this. Enjoy!IMG_4493

Gingerbread Martini

1 1/2 ounces (3 tbsp.) vodka

1 ounce (2 tbsp.) gingerbread syrup*

1/2 ounce (1 tbsp.) Creme de cacao

1/2 ounce (1 tbsp.) unsweetened coconut milk (I used Silk unsweetened coconut milk)

Put all ingredients in a martini shaker filled with ice. Shake to mix. Pour into martini glass. May adorn glass with mini gingerbread cookie if desired.

*Gingerbread Syrup

IMG_4497

Gingerbread Syrup

1/2 c. water

1/2 c. coconut sugar

4 tbsp. barley malt

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

In a small saucepan, mix together water, coconut sugar, barley malt, ginger and cinnamon. Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, until sugar dissolves. Let syrup cool before using in drink. May be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

 

What Turkey, Christmas and Pizza have in common

turkey leftoversOne of the things I absolutely love about the big holidays, like Christmas and Thanksgiving, is the big delicious feasts we have. All the decadent recipes we enjoy, from classic to traditional, to the new one you always wanted to try. So yummy! My mouth is watering just sitting here thinking about it (or maybe that’s the quiche I currently have in the oven?)

And of course there’s all the leftovers, usually enough at our house that we are eating turkey for a week before we tire of it and freeze the rest. Sometimes we’ll just enjoy the turkey on its own with the gravy, potatoes and leftover veg, or we’ll make something new out of the turkey, creating a whole new fantastic dish to enjoy!

From hot turkey sandwiches to omelettes and casseroles, there are endless delicious turkey leftover recipes to create. My absolute favorite though is hands down, turkey crepes. My mother found this recipe years ago, when I was probably 11 or 12. She made them one Boxing Day. I remember asking Mum what was for supper and looking at her like she was crazy when she responded. I thought ‘oh yeah those will be delicious…gross.’

Boy was I surprised. The rule in our house was that you always tried something once and if you didn’t like it fair enough, but you couldn’t say you didn’t like it if you had never tried it before. Plus that was what was for supper, if I didn’t eat it, there was nothing else. So I tentatively took a bite. OMG! These things were fantastic, they tasted just like pizza, but were lighter and fluffier. My sisters and I gobbled them up and eagerly asked for more. They quickly became the family favorite and the traditional dish on Boxing Day.

Now I make them for Christmas Day, as we have simplified the meal (and by simplify I mean reduce the amount of prep) on Christmas Day to allow more family time, and less time in the kitchen cooking. I have also adjusted the recipe to meet our dairy free requirements and they are just as delicious! In fact we have had a few guests over on Christmas Day and they are none the wiser (and also gobbling them up, in fact D’Wayne’s nephew requested the leftovers this year). D’Wayne too is also salivating as I am wrapping them up and putting them into the oven.

It is a fairly simple recipe, with some of the cooking being done easily in advance. I usually make the crepes a few days ahead (or if I am really organized earlier and freeze them), and the filling and final touches the day of the meal. Everybody loves them.

So if you are in need of a new yummy recipe for all the leftover turkey you have (or just want to try something new) definitely give this recipe a try!

Turkey Crepes

16-20 8″ crepes (recipe below)turkey

3c. cubed turkey

1/4 c. Earth Balance vegan spread

2 onions finely chopped

1 c. sliced mushrooms

1 clove garlic, minced

2 – 5 oz jars artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

3 c. shredded Daiya mozzarella

1 – 28 oz. can tomato sauce

1 tsp. basil

1 tsp. oregano

salt and pepper

Crepes:

4 eggsturkey

3/4 c. water

1/2 c. almond milk

1 c. flour

1 tsp. salt

1/4 c. Earth Balance vegan spread

Crepes:

Beat eggs and stir in flour. Add water, almond milk and salt, mixing until smooth. Refrigerate for 1 hour to let flour absorb liquid (can be left in fridge overnight if desired). Just before making crepes, melt Earth Balance in pan; stir excess butter into crepe batter. Batter should be consistency of light cream. If batter seems a bit thick blend in more water to get it to the right consistency.

Pour 1/4 c. of batter into pan and swirl to form a circle. Cook crepe until lightly browned, turn and cook other side for 1 minute. Repeat with remaining crepes. Stack cooked crepes between layers of wax paper until ready to use. Crepes can be prepared up to 2 days ahead of time and kept wrapped in the fridge. Crepes may also be frozen for longer storage.

Makes 16- 20 crepes

Filling:

In a large skillet, melt Earth Balance over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until tender.  Add mushrooms and continue cooking until softened, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in turkey and half the artichokes. Heat through, then remove from heat and stir in 1 cup of cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place crepes on work surface with light colored sides up. Divide turkey mixture equally among crepes and roll up. Place crepes seam side down in a single layer in a greased 9×13 ovenproof dish.

In a medium size bowl, combine tomato sauce and remaining artichokes. Stir in basil and oregano and spoon over prepared crepes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

turkey

Bake at 350 F for 30-35 minutes until hot and bubbly.

Serves 8

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 Рhot 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 Р7 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 РA 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 РI 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 Рa 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 РA 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 РA 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.

images-35

Blokus

Blokus РThis 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 РA 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 РTry 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 ūüôā 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

christmas events in calgary

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.

5 Fun Christmas Events in Calgary

Every year we attend at least one but usually hit 2 or 3. Our top five holiday events in Calgary are:

Zoolights

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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 a few years ago (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 and a very magical experience – check the website for your local schedule (attendees are encouraged to bring a non perishable food donation).

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 coupons at Safeway or First Calgary for discount on admission, which make it quite reasonable.

Christmas at the Hive

IMG_0846

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 that runs on Saturdays in early December starting at 10 am in a beautiful rural setting.

Lion’s Festival of Lights

Largest free drive by Christmas lights display, this 115,000 LED 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 are just a few of our favorite Christmas event in Calgary (and around). There are many others that we have not been to before that I would like to check out, like Christmas in Kensington, Christmas Skate at the Olympic Oval (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 Рsuper fun!). And new this year The Polar Express Train Ride! Can we say I am super excited about this one?

There are also a 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, and High River all have one, I think it’s time for Calgary to have one.

christmas events in calgaryBut even without a Santa Claus parade, there are tons of activities to choose from. From outdoor events to theater – I love it! Because each weekend in December it is not what will 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 we did that one year and that is the one that my children remember).

What are some favorite holiday/ Christmas events that you attend?

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!

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 regular,¬†color 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)!