Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Give the Gift of Togetherness with Ronald McDonald House Charities

This post is sponsored by RMHC, Inc ® but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.

The holiday season is almost here. Can you believe it?

The holiday season is a time for traditions and togetherness with our loved ones. For us, not having any extended family in the same country means that over the years we've come up with our very own holiday traditions. Traditions that bring us together as a family. Some of these traditions come from my own childhood, such as baking honey biscuits (a family take on gingerbread cookies), building a gingerbread house and checking out the Christmas lights in the neighborhood, while others are new-to-us traditions like the Elf on the Shelf, cutting down our tree at a Christmas tree farm and ice skating outdoors.

To be honest, our first few holiday seasons here in California felt a little odd. While there were so many reasons to celebrate, there were other factors that made the holidays hard. Little things like not being able to find the Christmas foods that we grew up with in stores, and missing my family's annual backyard cricket match, only made the big things like not having our loved ones here to celebrate with that little bit harder. Of course, there were some things that were easier, like not having to spread ourselves thin running across town from one family Christmas event to another! There's a bright side to everything, right?

One of our Christmas traditions that was born out of being so far away from family is travel. With no family obligations keeping us in one place over the holidays we decided to make use of the kids' Winter break and hit the road. Travel has always been very important to me and being able to share it with my family at such a special time has been wonderful. We've been able to see some amazing places and experience new things, like our first ever white Christmas last year in Utah, but the most important part of our holiday travel is that we're together. We're experiencing new places, new foods, and new activities together as a family.

While we're on the road over the Winter break many of our other holiday traditions come along with us. The Elf on the Shelf always manages to sneak into someone's suitcase and get up to shenanigans in our hotel room. The honey biscuits that we bake earlier in the season come along with us as festive snacks, and as a treat to leave out for Santa. The Christmas pajamas, books and movies are all packed ready for Christmas Eve. We may not be at home, but we're together and by continuing with the traditions that we've established over the years, no matter where we are, it feels like home.

For families with sick children in hospital, spending the holidays away on vacation may not be possible, but thanks to Ronald McDonald House Charities, spending the holidays together as a family is.

Ronald McDonald House Charities provides families with a place to call home during their toughest time. When a child is hospitalized, having their family close is so important. Being in hospital alone is scary, bu knowing that Mom and Dad are there can make the world of difference to a sick child. But what if the family lives far from the hospital? What if staying in a hotel nearby is out of their reach? What if they have other children that need their parents too. This is where Ronald McDonald House Charities steps in. By providing housing close to hospitals at little, or sometimes even no charge families can stay as close together as possible. Home cooked meals, private bedrooms and playrooms provide families a feeling of normalcy for families going through a tough time. Some Houses provide further services including educational programs, recreational activities and sibling support.

Keeping families together at any time is so important, but during the holidays it feels so much more special. By being together families at Ronald McDonald Houses can keep that holiday spirit alive with their own family traditions, just like we do when we travel over the holidays. Togetherness is the best tradition of all.

Ronald McDonald House Charities provides such an essential service for so many families, and it all comes thanks to generous volunteers and donors. The asked donation varies from House to House. No family is ever turned away.

Our family has created many of our very own holiday traditions, and this year I'm starting a new one. This holiday season I'm donating to Ronald McDonald House Charities to ensure that more families can stay together during this special time, and I'm hoping that you will consider giving this special gift too. You can learn more about the important work that Ronald McDonald House Charities does for families in need by clicking here. Donations can be made by clicking here.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Share Your Ears for Make-A-Wish

This post is sponsored by Make-A-Wish Foundation but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.

Calling all Mickey Mouse fans!

Ok, that's pretty much everyone, right?

We're big Mickey fans over here. You may even remember that Lola had a Mickey Mouse themed birthday party a few years back. Well, it was her 2nd birthday so it was more than a few years ago. It feels like yesterday though! Way back then I made felt Mickey Mouse ears for all of Lola's party guests and they really were such a fun addition to her special day. Plus they made a great thank you gift for her friends to take home.

We've gotten years of dress up fun out of the Mickey Mouse party ears that I kept from Lola's party, so when I heard of the "Share Your Ears" movement which raises money for Make-A-Wish Foundation I knew I needed to share the Mickey ear fun again - with a fun update!

Have you heard about the Make-A-Wish "Share Your Ears" movement? In honor of the 130,000th Disney wish granted globally (that's a lot of wishes!) and Mickey Mouse's 90th anniversary, Disney is inviting fans to help make even more wishes come true for children with critical illnesses. Just how can you help? It couldn't be easier! Simply snap a pic showing off your Mickey Mouse ears (or any other fun ears) and share it on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with the tag #ShareYourEars. For each public post shared from November 18th to November 27th 2018, Disney will donate US$5 to Make-A-Wish®, up to US$1 million.

Got a pair of Mickey Mouse ears? Great! Get snapping and sharing those pics! Haven't got a pair of Mickey Mouse ears? No problem! Just follow the simple DIY below and you'll have your very own fun Mickey Mouse ears in no time.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Halloween 2018

It may be November and everyone has already moved onto Christmas, but I'm here with a little more Halloween fun to share.

This year the girls' costumes were a pretty mixed bag. We had Ava as a Minecraft creeper, Lola as a mermaid, and Mathilde as one of her many alter-egos Pinchy the lobster. I did my usual trick of making a last minute costume out of existing accessories and dressed as a cat. Kim Wore his class nerd costume - the same one he has been wearing every Halloween since we moved to the US in 2011. If you've seen any of my previous Halloween posts, you'll know the costume!

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Chestnut Picking at Skyline Chestnuts

Autumn is the time of year for farm visits and harvests. 

Apple picking and pumpkin picking are definitely the two most common farm activities for visitors at this time of year, and something we thoroughly enjoy. Last weekend we decided to mix things up a little and spent an afternoon harvesting chestnuts. It was such a fun experience and so very different from picking apples. 

Years ago when Kim and I lived in Zurich, I tried roasted chestnuts for the first time and I was instantly hooked. I knew them as "maroni" and at the time had no idea what they were called in English. I'd buy them in little brown paper bags from street vendors in the cooler months and not only did they taste delicious, they instantly warmed me up whether I was eating them or just holding the bag in my cold hands. When we moved back to Australia chestnuts became a thing of the past, but every now and then I'd see them in a greengrocer and they'd bring back sweet memories of our time in Switzerland. 

It's been almost eighteen years since we lived in Zurich (eek!) and since then I've only eaten roasted chestnuts a handful of times at Christmas fairs in the Sierras and when visiting Canada in Autumn. I've missed their sweet, nutty flavor so when I discovered the U-Pick farm Skyline Chestnuts right here in the Bay Area I added it straight to my ever growing "must do" list.

The chestnut picking season is relatively short at just three to five weeks a year, and it falls right at that time of year when we're busy pretty much every weekend with birthday parties, harvest festivals and Halloween celebrations. Because of this, we've missed the season for the past few years, but this year I was determined that we'd make it. I'm so glad we did!

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Simple Last Minute Halloween Costumes

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links for Primary.com

Halloween is a week away, which means that if you're anything like me, there's a good chance you're frantically trying to get costumes made for the kids!

No matter how good my intentions are, I always find myself making the kids' costumes at the last minute every Halloween. I'm going to blame Lola's birthday falling two weeks beforehand for keeping me busy earlier on in the month! That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!

Anyway, I've become a bit of a pro at making those last minute costumes so today I'm sharing some of my favorites with you and they all have one thing in common. They all start off as a basic pair of pajamas, dress or t-shirt from Primary.com! This year's costumes will be no different with colorful pajamas as the base for a lobster, Pikachu and Minecraft Creeper costumes.

Here's a look at some of the simple costumes I've made for the kids in the past.

Powerpuff Girls
Can you believe I convinced all three girls to go with a group costume? Neither can I, but it happened! These costumes are still my favorite two years down the track. These costumes consist of sleeveless dress in green, pink and blue worn over white tights with black shoes. I made wide black belts out of stretchy fabric, but you could easily use wide elastic instead. The masks were made out of felt and were the most time consuming part of the costumes. You could skip the masks and still look like the Powerpuff Girls, but for me they really made the costumes. To give Ava that Blossom look I sprayed her hair orange with a washout hair color and tied it back in a high ponytail. I topped off the look with a giant red bow made out of felt and wire (to keep it upright) attached to a headband. For Lola's Bubbles look I tied her hair back into piggy tails. I stitched blue felt balls onto hairbands as I was unable to find blue hair baubles for her. I thought about spraying Mathilde's hair black to complete her Buttercup look but seeing as she was still young enough for naps at the time I figured there was a good chance we'd end up with black hair spray all over her bed! One of my favorite things about this costume is that the girls got a lot of wear out of these dresses. They're such great every day dresses. Surprisingly, two years down the track the girls still fit into the dresses. Extra value for money!

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Apple Picking at Apple-A-Day Ratzlaff Ranch

The weather here in the Bay Area is always a little odd. It's technically Fall, and there are leaves falling off trees all over the place, but the sunny days we have had lately have been some of the warmest of the year. Of course, that's nothing unusual here as our seasons are kind of weird!

Despite the warm weather, I've been keen to get into the Fall spirit, especially seeing as Halloween is just over a week away! One of my favorite Fall activities is heading to a farm to enjoy the harvest season. Whether it be pumpkins, apples, pears or even chestnuts, there's just something about the Fall harvest season that is special.

A few weekends ago we headed north toward Sebastapol to visit Apple-A-Day Ratzlaff Ranch for an afternoon of apple picking. It was a hot, sunny day - definitely nothing like a traditional Fall - but we had a great time all the same. So long as we stayed in the shade!

Here's a look at our "not-so-Fall-looking" day of apple picking fun...

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Lola's Emoji Themed Birthday Party

Last weekend we celebrated Lola's 8th birthday with an emoji themed birthday party. There were smiley face emojis, heart eye face emojis, winking face emojis, and, yes, plenty of her favorite: the poop emoji!

We had a beautiful sunny day here in Berkeley and celebrated Lola's birthday up on our roof deck as we usually do. It wasn't even windy, which is pretty rare! In fact, we were even able to light a candle on her cake without it blowing out straight away. I don't think that has ever happened at any of our parties!

The emoji theme was spread across all aspects of Lola's party and I'll have lots of fun (and simple) DIYs coming soon. I made emoji face decorations and photo props, I baked emoji cookies, cupcakes, poop emoji meringues and a rainbow poop emoji birthday cake, we had an emoji face piƱata, emoji themed gifts in the party bags and pass the parcel, and the girls wore emoji t-shirts. So many emojis!

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Jigsaw Puzzle Fun for Busy Families

Sponsored Post: This post is sponsored by Jigsaw Puzzle, but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.

So much of our lives is digital nowadays.

Being a pretty tech savvy family it's amazing just how much technology shapes our day to day lives. Keeping in touch with friends and family, staying on top of busy schedules, shopping for groceries, ordering dinner, organizing transportation, keeping the kids entertained on long car trips, learning new skills, documenting our travels... There's an app for pretty much every aspect of our lives.

I recently discovered the Jigsaw Puzzle app and it has become a favorite with the kids and I. The kids have long enjoyed playing jigsaw puzzles, but with limited storage space in our apartment there are only so many jigsaw puzzle boxes we can possibly fit into our lives. This is where the Jigsaw Puzzle app comes in super handy. With over 20,000 puzzles available there's always something new to play and I don't have to worry about making space on the book shelf for yet another box! Hooray!

The puzzles on offer in the app cover a wide range of categories when it comes to the designs. Animals, nature, art, landscapes, travel, food, maps... So many options, but the one thing they all have in common is stunning imagery and vibrant colors.

Jigsaw Puzzle app is incredibly customizable which makes it perfect for all three of the kids to play despite their age differences - and me too. The kids can choose how many pieces they'd like their chosen puzzle to be broken into; from 16 pieces for a Mathilde friendly game, up to 400 pieces for a challenge for Ava or myself. And that's just on the phone. On the tablet we can play up to 1024 pieces! Talk about a challenge!

The puzzles can be made more complex by selecting to have the pieces rotated at random, just like they would be with a physical jigsaw puzzle, or can be kept simple with them all facing the correct way up. Timers can be set, clues can be given, and the background display and music can even be selected. No matter how simple or complex the kids choose to make their puzzles, they're keeping their minds sharp and strengthening their analytical skills while being entertained.

One of my favorite things about the Jigsaw Puzzle app is that it can be played pretty much anywhere. We're out and about so much during the day and the app comes in super handy for keeping Mathilde, in particular, entertained while we're on the bus to speech therapy or watching Ava and Lola train at swim team. It's a fun app for when we're on the road, in the air or even just chilling on our roof deck, and I don't have to worry about losing pieces, which inevitably always happens when we take physical games or puzzles out and about.

Jigsaw Puzzle works with both Apple and Android products which means we can have it on all of our devices. Ava and I like to play on our phones while Lola and Mathilde prefer the large screen format on the iPad and Lola's tablet. 

Another one of my favorite things about the Jigsaw Puzzle app is that it gives me a great way to keep my mind sharp while I take a brief break with a coffee. I usually don't have the time to sit down with a book, but with this app I can keep my game as long or as short as I have time for by switching up the complexity. It's a great escape when I need it.

Are you a fan of playing jigsaw puzzles too? They're such a classic and I love that the Jigsaw Puzzle app makes it easy to have so many quality puzzles right there in my pocket.

Make sure to check out the Jigsaw Puzzle app on the Apple Store here or Google Play here.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

3 Ingredient Creamy Fruit Dip

This post is sponsored by Real California Milk but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.

Now that the kids are back at school, after school snacks have become a big thing in our home again. It can be so tempting to grab a pack of chips or a cookie, but I like to make sure that my kids eat something healthy after school. Of course, healthy doesn't have to mean boring!

My kids already eat a lot of fruit after school and they don't need much tempting to choose an apple or strawberries as their snack option, but sometimes it's nice to make it a little more fun for them, while still keeping it healthy. Fun, tasty and healthy!

Today on the blog I'm sharing a simple recipe for a sweet creamy dip to make snacking on fruit just a little more tasty. It's also a great source of protein which gives kids the energy they need. It's great for after school snacks at home but can easily be taken to after school activities or even in a lunch box for a lunch time treat. It would even make a great party dish!

Best of all? It's super easy to make and only require three ingredients! The kids can even help.

Sounds great, right? Let's take a look at how to make it...

What you'll need:
8oz light cream cheese
8oz light vanilla yogurt
1 Tablespoon agave syrup
Plus fruit for dipping eg. strawberries, blueberries, apple slices, mandarin, banana and grapes

Place the cream cheese in a large bowl and mix until smooth.

Add the yogurt and mix together until smooth.

Add the agave syrup and mix together. Give it a taste and if it's not quite sweet enough for your liking add a little more agave syrup.

Place the dip in the fridge to chill while you prepare the fruit.

Cut the fruit to your liking and place on a large platter with a small bowl in the center.

Add the creamy dip to the bowl and voila, it's ready to eat!

My kids like to use their fingers to hold apple slices, mandarin pieces and strawberries, but for smaller fruit like grapes and blueberries (or squishy fruit like banana) they like to use a toothpick.

For on the go snacks, I like to place the fruit into a bento box with a small dip container, but any container will do. This recipe makes such a great snack to take along to after school activities or picnics and is great for sharing with friends. Mathilde took this along to karate class in the park this week and the sweet creamy dip was a hit with all her friends - although she was pretty keen to eat it all herself!

I love that this simple recipe combines two of my kids' favorite (and my favorite!) food groups - dairy and fruit. We eat a lot of both in our home, not only because they taste good, but because they're great for fueling active bodies. My kids are so busy with school followed by swim team or karate class every day that they need the vitamins, minerals and protein that dairy provides. Of course, it doesn't hurt when it tastes this good!

When it comes to dairy products, I like to make sure I'm buying products that are produced with local Californian milk. I love knowing that not only am I helping to support local dairy farmers, but my purchase is helping local communities. To make sure I'm buying products made with local milk I keep an eye out for the Real California Milk seal.

To find out more about Real California Milk and to find your local stockist click here.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Fun Facts & Adventures with National Geographic Kids

Sponsored post: I received these National Geographic Kids products for free from Moms Meet (momsmeet.com) in exchange for my honest opinion. 

Hands up if you're a fan of National Geographic magazine? I've got my hand up!

It's such a classic, isn't it? 

As a kid I used to love looking through stacks of magazines at our neighbor's house, and every time I came across that instantly recognizable yellow border I knew I'd found something worth reading - even before I knew how to read! The photos always captivated me and I loved learning about people, places, animals and plants that I knew I'd probably never get to see with my own eyes. The magazine sparked a sense of adventure in me and a keenness to learn about the world around me. No matter how old the issue was (and they were often quite old!) the articles always filled me with wonder.  

Fast forward a few decades or so, and that yellow border still draws me in when I see it. When I saw the National Geographic Kids Almanac 2019 I just knew I had to get it for the kids. Just like National Geographic magazine, the Kids Almanac is full of stunning photography and amazing facts about our world, but, here's the best bit, it's broken down into kid sized chunks of information. There's a little bit of everything: animals, plants, geography, history, cultures, weather, science, food, technology... Everything! 

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Berkeley Chocolate & Chalk Art Festival 2018

This past weekend saw one of our favorite local festivals here in Berkeley, the annual Chocolate & Chalk Art Festival.

Now, you would think that the chocolate part of the festival would be what excites my kids every year, but the chalk art part of the day is actually the big draw card for them. It's not every day you get to get creative on the sidewalk, after all. Plus, it's a competition with prizes up for offer.

This year's festival happened to fall the day after we arrived home from our East Coast trip. I'll be sharing our East Coast trip here soon, but make sure to check out Instagram in the mean time as I've been sharing sneak peeks there. Anyway, we were all a little tired from our early flight home from Boston so we had a quiet morning and headed to the festival in the afternoon. This didn't give us an awful lot of time to try out the chocolate on offer but we still had plenty of time for the girls to get creative with chalk.

Berkeley Chocolate & Chalk Art Festival 2018

We found ourselves a few clean-ish squares of sidewalk along Shattuck Avenue in the Gourmet Ghetto and the girls got to work.

Berkeley Chocolate & Chalk Art Festival 2018
Berkeley Chocolate & Chalk Art Festival 2018

Friday, 31 August 2018

Our Summer tradition at Brushstrokes

Summer break is over and the kids are back at school, but today I wanted to share one of our Summer traditions. It's a fun indoor activity for any time of year and a great tradition to start.

With the long Summer break here in the US I'm always looking for fun things to do to keep the kids occupied. There are certain activities that are a Summer tradition - going to camp, heading to the beach, spending time at the pool, playing in the park... And then there are the activities that have become our very own Summer traditions. 

One such thing is our annual visit to Brushstrokes Studio here in Berkeley. Every Summer break the kids and I spend an afternoon at Brushstrokes painting a ceramic plate each. It started off as a one off, but when I realized how wonderful it would be for the kids to each have a collection of their own hand painted plates when they're older I decided that we'd make it an annual tradition. We've done it five Summers in a row so far, and even just in that short amount of time it's amazing looking back at how the kids' artistic skills have developed. It's also fun way to keep track of their interests at the time. 

Brushstrokes Studio, Berkeley CA

This Summer break the girls couldn't wait to head to Brushstrokes and paint their plates. They had been coming up with ideas for quite some time and were eager to set paintbrush to plate. Here's a look at what they created this year.

Brushstrokes Studio, Berkeley CA
Brushstrokes Studio, Berkeley CA
Brushstrokes Studio, Berkeley CA
Brushstrokes Studio, Berkeley CA
Brushstrokes Studio, Berkeley CA
Brushstrokes Studio, Berkeley CA
Brushstrokes Studio, Berkeley CA
Brushstrokes Studio, Berkeley CA

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