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Thursday 29 December 2011

Christmas Cards 2009

Our Christmas card photo from 2009 is one of my most favourite shots ever.

I think it speaks for itself so there's no need for me to say much about it except that I love it.

Angel Ava
This was taken in our backyard and as you can see from the beautiful sky it was a clear, sunny day, perfect for angelic photos. I love how Ava is looking down like she's flying overhead. The sun shining through the (slightly over exposed) feather wings provides a beautiful glow.

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Christmas Cards 2010

Our Christmas photo shoot from 2010 seems like a world away from this year's Christmas. In fact it was half a world away and in a completely different season.

Last year's photos were taken on the beach in Glenelg, Adelaide. It was a beautiful sunny November day and we were at the Bay for the Glenelg Christmas Pageant. After the pageant we headed down to the sand for a little photography. 

Lola was only about 6 or 8 weeks old at the time so trying to get her to pose was a *little* tricky. I think we ended up with a pretty good result though. 

I liked the colouring of the photo but it was just missing a little something. I gave it a vintage look with a vignette which darkened it up reminding me of photos from my early childhood.  

The final result

Christmas Cards Past & Present

I like sending Christmas cards.

I don't particularly care if I receive them in return - although it is nice - I just like creating them and sending them. Come to think of it, I like creating and sending cards in general!

Each year I try and come up with something interesting to feature on our Christmas cards. Of course since the kids have come along it's been a no brainer what to feature on the cards. The trick each year though is to come up with an interesting way to photograph the girls. Scratch that, the tricky part is trying to get the girls to sit still and smile while I take the photos. Extra tricky now there are two of them!

Some years I get one perfect photo that I use on all the cards. Other years I end up with a few that I can't decide between and I make an assortment of cards to go out. I usually print and assemble them all myself but this year without all of my craft materials (which unfortunately have not made it here with our shipment) I had to resort to using a photo card service.

I was reluctant at first as there are so many tacky options out there, but then I came across Paper Culture who make the most perfect flat cards on recycled, matte (no horrible shiny photos here), round cornered card stock. And unlike most card printing services, Paper Culture actually have real designers working for them. If your photo needs a bit of tweaking, they'll do it - included in the cost of the cards. If you don't like the colour of the text, they'll change it. If you've positioned a photo so that text (or a hole) goes over the face of your child, they'll let you know before printing - unlike some other services. I'm looking at you Snapfish!

So here is the final result of our Christmas card for 2011.

Christmas Catch Up

I had such great plans about what I would do with my blog in the lead up to Christmas.
My computer has a huge folder of Christmas related images from past projects that I wanted to share and I'd been looking forward to it since I started blogging.

Of course, my computer only arrived in America last week and what with all the unpacking and Christmas preparations I haven't had a chance to think let alone blog.

So, while Christmas is officially over I figure better late than never, so prepare to deck the halls with boughs of holly...

It's Christmas time again!

Wednesday 21 December 2011

A tree full of angels

Every year I make one special photo ornament for our tree.

These ornaments feature the photo of Ava and Lola that we used for our Christmas cards that year.

The plan is to make a photo ornament each year until the girls are grown up so that I have a tree full of little angels. Of course, at some point the girls are probably going to get embarrassed having their photo taken for cards and ornaments, but I don't care. I'm their mum, it's my job to embarrass them!

Here are our first five years of ornaments...

Christmas 2011

Monday 12 December 2011

That Fat, Jolly Old Fellow

Day 8 on our advent calendar was the day that Ava was hanging out for. The day to visit Santa!

Santa lives in Santa Land at Macy's here in San Francisco. After preschool on Friday the girls dressed in their Christmas skirts and we ventured into town. I had expected that it would be pretty busy even though it was a school day so I was very surprised when we arrived at Santa Land and there was no queue. Wait a minute... where's the 2 hour long queue that the Magic Cave perpetually has?

Arriving to find no queue for Santa was only the first pleasant surprise.

Before we went in I read through the photo packages available and got my purse out to pay for the cheapest one when the sales associate (I love that title) advised me that I didn't have to pay until after we saw Santa and were happy with the photos that they had taken for us. If we didn't like the photos we didn't have to buy any. Fantastic!

The best surprise, however, came when we went in to visit Santa and I was told that I was allowed to take my own photos. Woo hoo! Take that Magic Cave. Santa Land wins!

Now, when it came time to see Santa I had a feeling there might be mixed reactions from the girls. Ava was pretty excited to see Santa but was a little nervous to begin with. She was happy to talk to him though and asked for Squinkies for Christmas. No long list full of expensive gifts this year!

Ava tells Santa that she has been a good girl

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Our Christmas Tree

It's Day 5 on our advent calendar and today Ava and Lola's voucher entitled them to choose a Christmas tree!

This is the first year that we've ever had a live Christmas tree. I'm looking forward to the apartment smelling like a pine forest :)

I saw a flyer last week from the Cal Forestry Club at the university here in Berkeley. They have an annual Christmas tree sale on campus and I thought this would be a great place to buy our tree. Each year members of the Cal Forestry Club visit the Sierra Nevada and handpick firs and cedars to become Christmas trees. The trees are harvested sustainably so there's no need to feel guilty about a tree being cut down just to sit in the corner of the lounge room for a month. The trees chosen are ones that would most likely not live to grow much larger. That's not to say that the trees are unhealthy, they are just generally growing in quite crowded locations where they have to fight for sunlight and nutrients. By cutting down selected trees the remaining trees have a better chance of flourishing. There, now I feel better about it :)

While there were no signs posted at the university, the Christmas tree sale was pretty easy to find if you just followed your nose. The scent of fir and cedar trees led us to the right spot.

There were so many beautiful trees to choose from. We had to stick to buying a relatively small tree due to the space constraints of living in an apartment. Plus the tree needed to be small enough to put up on a table should Lola decide to play with it. An inevitability, I'm sure.

Ava and Lola checking out the trees

Hmm, that's a nice tree Ava but a little bigger than we planned to buy

Letters to Santa

Day 4 on our advent calendar and the voucher entitled Ava and Lola to send letters to Santa at Macy's.
We posted the letters to Santa at Macy's rather than a mailbox on the street as they are donating $1 to the Make a Wish for each letter received.

Ava thought long and hard about what she wanted to write on her letter to Santa. In the end she decided to go with just Squinkies and a Zhu Zhu Pet. Anyone out there without a young daughter will have no idea what I'm talking about. Keep it that way!

Ava's letter to Santa

I asked Ava what she thought Lola might like to ask Santa for and the response (which was dictated to me for Lola's letter) was : "Some little baby toys, but a little bit big. That's because I am a one year old". Well, that's nice and clear for Santa!

Once the letters were ready we headed into Macy's to post them. I love that they have have a dedicated mail box for letters to Santa and especially love that there are two chutes: one up high for big kids like Ava and one down low for the littlest kids like Lola.

Ava and Lola prepare to post their letters
 After the letters to Santa were posted the girls checked out the view over Union Square from Macy's.

Ava and Lola look out over Union Square

Lola watches people ice skating

Union Square from the 7th floor of Macy's

The giant Christmas tree, people ice skating, and even the breakdancing Santas give such a festive feel to Union Square. There's something about Christmas in winter that just feels more festive; more magical. Even if it's not white. All of our Christmas traditions make so much more sense in cooler weather.
Plus American cities go all out when it comes to the holidays. Christmas meets you at every turn in San Francisco, but as all of the decorations only went up after Thanksgiving, it still feels fresh and new.

Could also be because it IS all fresh and new for us. Everything is still an adventure...

Holiday Parade

Day 3 on our advent calendar featured a voucher for Ava and Lola to attend America's Children's Holiday Parade (or "The Christmas Pageant" as we called it) in Oakland.

I had seen pictures online of past Holiday Parades and was excited to see that they featured large inflatable balloon characters much like Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. The Christmas Pageant at home doesn't ever have these balloons so I was looking forward to seeing a few. I think they're a great idea for busy parades, as small children (and short adults!) quite often miss out on seeing the parade action if they don't manage to get a spot right along the roadside. Everyone gets to see the large balloons as they bob along down the street. Much fairer for the little ones :)

Frosty the Snowman

So, in anticipation of seeing the large balloons, we set off to Oakland to watch the parade with the kids.

Advent Activities

This year our advent calendar is a little different.

Rather than the kids finding a chocolate or other sweet each day in the lead up to Christmas, I have prepared activity vouchers for them. Each voucher is good for a particular Christmas activity such as choosing a Christmas tree, visiting Santa, ice skating in Union Square...

As all of our belongings are yet to arrive from Australia (they're at the dock waiting for delivery) I haven't been able to be quite as creative as I'd like with the presentation of the vouchers. No photoshop and no craft materials have made it a little tricky. A cutting mat, rotary knife, hole punch etc would have all come in very handy. As these sorts of items are all on their way here I was hesitant to spend money on new supplies. This has resulted in the vouchers looking a little shabbier than I would have liked but as the saying goes, it's the thought that counts! I've got all sorts of ideas for Advent Activity Vouchers for next year so stay tuned...

For the base of our advent calendar this year I have gone with this Kikki K advent calendar.

I saw one of these in a Kikki K window display last year and just had to have it. Unfortunately they had sold out Australia wide and were not able to sell their display stock. When I saw this year's version of the calendar in store in early October I just had to snap it up straight away. And it was lucky I did as they were sold out Australia wide by the time I came to America!

The first two pockets of our advent calendar were filled with little cards that Ava had made so I started the vouchers on Day 3 with a visit to America's Children's Holiday Parade - or "The Christmas Pageant" as we called it :)

Friday 2 December 2011

Pumpkin Pie & Tofurky

I'm getting a little slow with my posts. 
Here it is, a week since Thanksgiving and I'm only just getting around to posting about it...

Our first Thanksgiving was a nice day. We had one of Kim's workmates (who also happens to be an old friend from Adelaide) over for lunch and stuffed ourselves full of holiday food; turkey, sweet potato, potato bake, green beans, broccolini and crusty sourdough followed by home made pumpkin pie. Oh, and "Tofurky" for our vegetarian guest. I couldn't resist buying the "Tofurky" roast - even just for the name! Actually, the "Tofurky" tasted pretty good. Quite similar in flavor to real turkey however the texture just wasn't quite right, kind of like a turkey meatloaf!

I have to admit that I succumbed to laziness (or lack of time and baking equipment) for a lot of the meal. The potato bake and sweet potato (with maple glazed pecans and cranberries, mmm...) were both ready made side dishes from our local Trader Joe's supermarket. The ready made meals here are fantastic. Nothing like the flavorless mush passing as ready meals in Australia. There are so many good options when it comes to ready made meals here that you could get away with never cooking yet eat a healthy, home-made style meal every night. And now while we're living in our furniture-less new apartment at the moment that's just what we're doing!  

Anyway, back to Thanksgiving...

The one thing that I did make myself was the pumpkin pie. Ok, so there was a little bit of cheating involved (I used a store bought pie base and tinned pumpkin) but I'm still going with calling it home made. I got my recipe from joyofbaking.com. You can find it here. Or, you can follow my much shorter, edited version of the recipe below.

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