Nearly everyone I know (including us) got a fondue pot as a wedding gift. If you don't have one, then your parents most certainly do, since fondue was a huge deal in the 1960s and '70s. Fondue is easy to make, if you follow the directions closely, and makes for a fun social meal—the perfect thing for a family New Year's Eve party.
On New Year's Eves past we've made the traditional Swiss style fondue using Gruyère and Emmenthaler cheeses and white wine. With its blend of wine and strong-tasting Swiss cheeses, It's never been a big hit with the kids, so last year we crafted a new, more kid-friendly version using cheddar cheese. Needless to say, it was a big hit, and ended up being a lot less expensive to make than the authentic version, too.
Fondue is definitely a kid-friendly kind of dish, and they love being able to choose their foods and dip them into the molten cheese. Just make sure to keep little hands clear of the fondue pot, since flames are involved and metal parts can get hot.
If you're getting together with friends for New Year's Eve, have them bring their fondue pots, too, and you can serve several different kinds. You can even make chocolate fondue for dessert.
Clement Moore's poem The Night Before Christmas has been a holiday staple since its debut in 1823, and there are countless picture books depicting this timeless classic. So what makes this latest version (26 pages, Peter Yarrow Books, 2010) so special and different from all the other versions out there? It's a combination of things really. First, the enchanting paintings of illustrator Eric Puybaret capture the magic of the tale and offer a colorful, fresh take on the poem. More importantly, though, this version of The Night Before Christmas includes a CD that features performances by the iconic folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary.
Featured on the disc are three tracks: a version of the poem set to music by Noel Paul Stookey (the "Paul" of Peter, Paul and Mary), a charming reading of The Night Before Christmas by Mary Travers with musical accompaniment by Peter and Paul, and bonus rendition of A 'Soalin, a classic Peter, Paul and Mary holiday favorite.
What makes the performances especially poignant is that they are the last from Mary Travers, who passed away from leukemia in 2009.
Maria wants to act grown up and help her mother knead the masa for the traditional tamales for her Mexican-American family's Christmas feast. Poet and author Gary Soto's Too Many Tamales! (32 pages, Putnam Juvenile, 1996) tells the story of a Christmas Maria won't soon forget with charm and warmth, helped by the vivid illustrations of Ed Martinez.
Maria will feel really grown up if she wears her mother's sparkling diamond ring. Needless to say, mom's ring is at the center of why the book is titled Too Many Tamales!. We won't give anything away, but everything ends just fine as Aunt Rosa declares to a relieved Maria that the second batch of tamales always tastes better than the first!
Too Many Tamales is a fitting addition to your holiday read-aloud repertoire. It's got suspense, a happy ending, and joyful celebration of family and a delicious Mexican holiday tradition. Our kids love the story, and they're bugging us to make tamales this Christmas. I just hope my daughter doesn't try to wear my ring while she's mixing the masa…
Sound familiar? It's common dialogue in our house around this time of year, and it's a big part of the hilarious It's Christmas, David!(32 pages, The Blue Sky Press, 2010).
It's Christmas, David! is part of author and illustrator David Shannon's series of David books, which feature poor little David and the litany of mischievous things he's told not to do (based on the author's real-life childhood experience, no less). With all the admonitions directed toward David in It's Christmas, David!, it might seem like he's an awful kid; but he's not—he's just doing what most children do and feeling the way most children feel around the holidays. OK… maybe David's behavior is a little worse than most kids'—but then that's what makes the book so funny!
Every parent knows that while the holidays are a magical time for children, they can be a difficult time to be patient, too (heck, many adults we know feel that way). Anna Dewdney's Llama Llama Holiday Drama(40 pages, Viking Juvenile, 2010) addresses the joys and frustrations felt by children during the holiday season in a heartfelt and humorous way.
Llama Llama, the eponymous protagonist of Anna Dewdney's popular series of books, finds it hard to wait until Christmas is finally here, especially with all the shopping, activities, cookie baking, decorating, and more. Finally, it's up to Mama Llama to set things right and help her child understand not only the need for patience but what's really important during the holiday season.
One of my children's favorite decorated and lighted Christmas house is the Mize family's Mickey Mouse House (AKA "Mickey's Christmas House") in Marinwood. Visit it, and you'll see why it's so popular! The Mickey Mouse House, located at 417 Blackstone Drive (at Las Gallinas Avenue), looks to be just a regular lighted Christmas house at first glance.
Get out of your car and walk up the short driveway, though and you'll see why it's worth a visit for kids of all ages. Every evening from 6 pm to 10 pm, the two-car garage is opened to reveal two galleries of what has to be every Walt Disney toy, decoration, and gimgrack ever produced, all artfully arranged in two spectacular holiday displays.
We haven't counted, but we think that every Disney animated character from the past 50 years has to be represented here, somewhere. Every year, the newest Disney movie characters are welcomed to the party. Last year it was Mater and Lightning McQueen from Cars 2, as well as Phineas and Ferb; this year it's Princess Merida from Brave and Vanellope von Schweetz and Wreck-It Ralph from the movie of the same name (hint: Mickey's reading them a story).
Your kids can exercise their holiday creativity by making these easy and festive bead ornaments for the Christmas tree. They also look great attached to wrapped gifts as a little holiday extra.
These ornaments are simple to make, although the candy cane ornament is easier to put together than the star and probably a better project for younger children. All you'll need to make these are pipe cleaners, plastic beads in various colors and shapes, some ribbon, and scissors.
To create the candy canes, take a pipe cleaner and cut it in half. (We used holiday-colored red, white, and green pipe cleaners.) Slip one white bead onto the pipe cleaner and run it to the end. Bend over the last 1/4-inch or so of the pipe cleaner to hold the bead in place.
With the holidays upon us, now is a good time to think about ordering those custom photo holiday cards. Our favorite source for personalized Christmas cards is Tiny Prints. Tiny Prints' holiday cards feature stylish professional design and high quality, as well as really fast production and shipping time. We've been really happy with the cards we've ordered from them, and they're definitely on our list for this year.
You can still get your holiday cards to send by Christmas! Right now take 20% off your any order or 25% of orders of $149 or more with code 25DEC.
Tiny Prints offers a wide variety of holiday cards, from general winter and holiday themes to Christmas and Hanukkah designs, as well as personalized gift tags, holiday party invitations, and address labels. Cards are available in a variety of price ranges, too from 69¢ and up, and prices vary—as with any custom made product—depending on how many cards you order.
The day after Thanksgiving is when many families start to think about getting their Christmas tree. To many, there's no better way to get one than to take the trip to one of the many North Bay Christmas tree farms and cut one down themselves! If playing lumberjack isn't your thing, there are plenty of local lots in Marin that offer quality trees for your holiday.
We've linked to our Christmas tree farm reviews where appropriate. Keep in mind that, unless otherwise indicated, Christmas tree farm reviews were written last year or earlier and some information may be out of date. We'll be hitting the road to check out this year's Christmas tree farms in person, so make sure you check back for updates.
Although we make every effort to make sure our information is up to date, please keep in mind that Christmas tree farms and lots do go out of business (there used to be many more in Petaluma and Sebastopol, and even one in Olema), and may be closed due to weather or other conditions. Make sure you call, email, or check their website before you go.
Marin County Christmas Tree Lots
There aren't any actual cut-it-down-yourself Christmas tree farms in Marin, although there are a number of well known Christmas tree lots where you can pick out that perfect tree and immerse yourself in that holiday spirit. Here are some of our favorite Christmas tree lots (if you have your own favorite you'd like to share with us, let us know).
Cousins' Christmas Trees 7416B Redwood Boulevard Novato Daily, 9 am-8 pm
This family-run Christmas tree lot in Novato offers quality Noble, Douglas, and Grand firs, as well as wreaths, garlands, and other holiday products. Cousins' also offers a goat petting zoo; a Santa and Grinch photo booth; arts and crafts; bake sales; free hot cider, cookies, candy canes; visits with Santa on select weekends; and more. Cousins' Christmas Trees is partnering with Novato School Fuel, the foundation that supports Novato public schools. Open daily starting November 23 from 9 am to 8 pm. They're at 7416B Redwood Boulevard in Novato (next to Chianti restaurant). More info at www.cousinschristmastrees.com or (415) 250-6117.