Elf on the Shelf North Pole Treats with free printable

Check out the adorable treats our Elf on the Shelf brought my boys this morning?  Aren't these "North Pole donuts" cute?  

Interested in making your own?  The poles are paper straws with a marshmallow stuck on the top.  Then, you just have to attach a "North Pole" sign that you can download for free here.

Fun, right?  I think they would be perfect for an Elf on the Shelf welcome breakfast.

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

PS (I think Elfie was inspired by the party he found here.)

5 Ways to Count Down to Christmas

In our house, we are always counting down to something -- a special event, a birthday, a vacation, or a holiday.  I think "counting down" is an important part of the fun, as it builds a lot of anticipation and excitement.  Here are 5 ways we "count down" to special events in our house.

1)  Paper chains - I love an old fashioned paper craft, and paper chains are simple, fun, and can be color coded to any special event or holiday.  You can find our more info on our Christmas paper chain advent countdown here.

2)  Chalkboard or calendar -  We have a chalkboard in our kitchen, and it always documents the next special day in our house.  It just doesn't get any easier than this!

3)  Wrapped books or movies - Nothing builds excitement like unwrapping a gift.  At Christmas, our Elf on the Shelf wraps all our Christmas movies and books.  You can read about it here.

4)  Treats/Gifts - A sweet treat each day of a countdown can be a lot of fun.  Check out our "Kiss" Countdown here, and our "Smartie" Countdown here.  You can also purchase a chocolate advent calendar or a calendar filled with little gifts.  My son received this Playmobil advent for his birthday, and is super-excited to give it a try.

5)  Balloon Pop -  Filling balloons with notes containing special activities is a fantastic way to count down to Christmas.  Why not have items like "drink hot chocolate" or "make Christmas cookies"?  Simple and fun!  (You can go here to find out how a balloon pop works.)

How do you count down to Christmas in your house?

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

DIY Honeydukes Sweet Shop

Check out the "Honeydukes Sweet Shop" I put together for my oldest son's Harry Potter party.  Isn't it the cutest?

I made the sign using a piece of (dollar store) foam core trimmed with pink duct tape.  Then, I printed some letters onto cardstock and used double sided tape to secure them in place.

For the treats, I bought some jars at the dollar store, and added some labels I made using Picmonkey.com. 

Here are the treats we had:

Bott's Every Flavor Beans - no-name gourmet jelly beans
Ollivander's Edible Wands - black liquorice
Fizzing Whizbees - popping candy
Mad Eye Moody's Eyeball Gum - eyeball gumballs
Chocolate Frogs - chocolate frogs made from frog-shaped chocolate molds
Remus' Werewolf Fangs - candy corn

I also made some "Golden Snitches" by hot gluing feathers onto gold foil wrapped chocolates.

What Harry Potter fan wouldn't love shopping at Honeydukes Sweet Shop?  It's a fantastic loot bag idea.

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Quick Tip Tuesday #27 - Pool Noodle Wreath Form

This isn't an idea that I came up with (as it is all over Pinterest); however, it is so clever that I knew I needed it to be part of Quick Tip Tuesday.

I LOVE this idea because it is super-easy and inexpensive. Basically, you use duct tape to secure the ends of a pool noodle together.

I stick a craft stick into the openings on the ends to make it stronger, and I use lots of duct tape.  Once I didn't use enough duct tape, and it came apart.... not good!

Also, if you want a different size/ diameter, you can also use pipe covers (which you can find at your local building supply store).

To make a wreath, just wrap the form with yarn, burlap or fabric.  Then, add whatever embellishments you like.  The dollar store has tons of inexpensive options.

Have you ever made a wreath from a pool noodle?  I'd love to see it!

Gina Bell (aka East Coast Mommy)

A Pirate Adventure... and our new favorite toy

I have three little boys, so there is always some sort of play adventure going on in our house.  Pirate play is one of my boys' favorite ways to spend an afternoon, so today I thought a would share a simple DIY pirate adventure with you.

Every pirate loves a treasure hunt, so why not write up some simple clues and hide them around the house?  A simple pirate snack is also a must because pirates work up a big appetite searching for treasure!

And, of course, a pirate craft is always fun.  Here is a simple pirate ship craft you can make with your little ones.

First, download the free pirate ship template that you can find here.

Then, have your child color the pieces, cut them out, and glue them in place.  (In addition to the template, you'll also need three popsicle sticks, a few Cheerios, and some glue.)  Isn't it a cute little craft?

And... if your little one loves using his/her imaginations to go on "play adventures", you should totally check out our new favorite toy -- the Imaginext Rescue City Centre.

Rescue City Centre features a city scape with lots of action!  The left side features a gas station, a currency exchange, and a jewelry store.  The right side of the set is equipped with a fire station, police station and hospital.  It also comes with two figures, a fire truck and lots of interactive sounds and actions.  Seriously... it is a lot of fun!  My boys haven't stopped playing with it since we got it.

Also, be sure to check out the Fisher-Price website for lots of new "Ed Venture" content and a great contest.  Contestants are able to play an online game and unlock the next phase of the game by solving clues.  You'll have a chance to win 1 of 5 $300 Imaginext prize packs including the Imaginext Rescue City Centre, Imaginext Mega Apatasaurus, Imaginext Eagle Talon Castle, and Imaginext Batcave.

What types of adventures do your little ones like to go on?

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Disclosure: I am part of the Fisher-Price Imaginext Blogger Campaign with Mom Central Canada and I receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinions on this blog are my own.

5 Holiday Shopping Tips

Holiday shopping can be enjoyable, but it can also be extremely stressful.  I remember one year my middle son had his heart set on a tabletop hockey set.  Unfortunately, I waited too long to order it, and I ended up getting it at a store two hours away.  After that, I knew I had to make an effort to make holiday shopping easier, more successful, and more fun.  Here are the rules I try to live by...

1)  Start early - If you start early, the stores will be less crowded, and you will have more time to locate the items you need.

2)  Don't go overboard - Try not to let your gift buying get out of control.  Draw names where appropriate, and set limits.

3)  Shop online -  Shopping from the comfort of your home after the kids have gone to bed can be relaxing and efficient.  It is the best way to easily locate items and find the best prices.

4)  Remember what's important - Instead of going in debt to amass a mountain of toys for your little ones, focus on getting one or two special presents instead.  Put more energy into creating memories than into shopping.

5)  Get organized - Get the kids to write letters to Santa, and make a copy and stick it to the fridge.  A "locked down" list will prevent a last minute scramble.  Also, make a list of all the people you need to buy for and any ideas you have.  Then, check off the names each time you make a purchase.  (Note:  Mattel.ca has some great holiday toys and wish list capability to help plan your holiday shopping.  You can check it out here.)

What are your best tips for making holiday less stressful?

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Disclosure: I am part of the Mattel Holiday Blogger Campaign with Mom Central Canada and I receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinions on this blog are my own.

Easy Harry Potter Cakes

I am not a professional cake decorator. In fact, I have never even taken a cake decorating course. But, I always try to make special cakes for my boys' birthdays.  This year I made two Harry Potter cakes for my oldest son (and I'm also sharing a simple cake I made for a movie night). All THREE Harry Potter cakes were simple to make and turned out totally cute!

The first cake I made for the Harry Potter party was a simple "Quidditch Cake".  

To make each goal post, I wrapped electrical tape around pipe cleaners and twisted them into a circle.  Then, I stuck the end into a paper straw.

And to make the golden snitch, I added wax paper wings.

I finished it off by adding some "every flavour beans" along the bottom of the cake.  I think it adds a nice touch of color, don't you?

The second cake I made for the Harry Potter party was a simple "Crest Cake".

I started with a basic rectangular sheet cake, and I carved it into the shape of a crest.  I did a crumb coat, and then covered the cake with yellow icing.  I piped on some red trim, and then I added some fun "Harry Potter" items -- a fruit roll-up scar, a foil wrapped golden snitch, some every flavour beans, and a chocolate frog.  Simple and fun! 

And... for a special movie night with my boys, I made this simple cake with pink icing and green icing... a replica of the cake Hagrid made for Harry Potter in the first movie. It doesn't get easier than this one!

Which Harry Potter cake is your favorite? I think a Harry Potter fan would love any one of these magical desserts!

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

You may also be interested in our easy and inexpensive DIY Harry Potter party. The simple details are super-fun!

5 ways to teach children about helping others this holiday season

I think that my most important job as a mother is to teach my boys to be good and caring people.  I want my children to be kind to family, friends, and other people in our community.  It's a big concept for little people, but here are 5 ways to teach children about helping others this holiday season:

1)  Talk to them - Children need to be told how fortunate they are, and they need to understand that not everyone has the things that they do.  It's simple... but it's important.

2)  Put them to work - One important tradition we have incorporated into our family is an annual "Letter Writing to Santa" party/fundraiser.  My boys host a party, we charge people to come, and we donate the money to a charity that they choose.  They are able to bake the cookies, assemble the craft kits, help set up, and take money at the door.  "Doing" the work really helps them to feel like they are making a contribution.

3)  Volunteer - There are always organizations that could benefit from a visit from little helpers.  Pick something that interests your children.  My boys have sung to seniors at a local nursing home, and it was a great experience for everyone.

4)  Do something small - Little gestures of kindness can make a big impact.  I like to have my kids bring treats or little gifts to their classmates during the holidays, and we always bake and deliver treats to our neighbours.

5)  Send a card - This is a simple thing that you can do with your little ones right now.  They can make their own cards to send to family and friends.

How are you going to teach your children about helping others this holiday season?

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Elf on the Shelf Welcome Breakfast

Our Elf on the Shelf used to come on December 1st, but last year he came for my son's birthday on November 20th.  This year, he arrived early again, and this time he brought a special birthday breakfast.

I have seen a lot of Elf on the Shelf Welcome Breakfasts on Pinterest, but I like this one because it is simple.  Here is what our elf brought:

1)  North Pole hot chocolate and colored marshmallows. 
2)  Candy canes (which make great stir sticks for hot chocolate).
3)  North Pole pancake mix (which looks a lot like regular pancake mix with colored sprinkles added).  

To download and print the recipe for North Pole pancakes (below): click on the picture below, right-click, save it to your computer, and print it like a regular 4x6 photo.

Fun, right?  How do you welcome your Elf on the Shelf?  Do you think your little ones would like our simple North Pole Breakfast?

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

You might also be interested in the 40+ fantastic Elf on the Shelf ideas here.

Birthday Letter to my Eight Year Old (First Born) Son

Today my oldest son turns eight, and I am continuing my tradition of writing my boys letters on their birthdays.  I wish all of you could meet my sweet birthday boy.  He really is one of a kind.  :-)  

To my sweet boy,

I can't think about you without the word "angel" popping into my head.  You really are a special boy with a kind heart, and you make me proud every day.  Here are a few of the things that make you the darling eight year old that you have become:
  • You love to watch, play, and talk about hockey.  I see a lot of cold rinks in my future.
  • You are very talented musically.  You love choir and playing the guitar, and you even write your own songs -- and they are really good!
  • You love to draw and write stories.
  • You try hard at everything you do.  You have incredible focus and love to practice when you are learning something new.
  • You still call me "Mommy", and I love it.
  • You still aren't embarrassed to kiss me good-bye when I drop you off at school.
  • You have a lot of friends, but your brothers are definitely your best buddies. 
  • You are reading Harry Potter, and you are excited about the fun stuff we are doing for your Harry Potter birthday party. 
  • You would eat peanut butter sandwiches for every meal if I would let you.
  • Your favorite color is red, your hockey number is 11, and you want to be a hockey player when you grow up.
Happy birthday my sweet angel.  You may be eight, but you will always be my first baby.

Lots of Love,

If there ever comes a day when we can't be together, keep me in your heart, I'll stay there forever. -- Winnie the Pooh

Quick Tip Tuesday #26 - Simple Reindeer Ornament

During the hectic holiday season, sometimes it's helpful to have a "quick craft" on hand to keep the kids busy.  Here's a simple reindeer ornament the kids will love to make.

Little ones can make it in four easy steps.

1)  Glue three popsicle sticks into a triangle.
2)  Glue on googly eyes and a pom pom nose.
3)  Twist two pipe cleaners into antlers.
4)  Add a ribbon hanger.

So cute and simple, right?

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Writing a Letter to Santa Party/Fundraiser Tutorial

This year my boys held their 3rd Annual "Writing a Letter to Santa" party/fundraiser.  They raised $238 for Cystic Fibrosis (in honor of their baby cousin who has the disease).  It's one of my favorite Christmas traditions, and I am hoping that some of my readers may be inspired to throw a similar party with their children.  So, today I am sharing all the info you need to host your own "Writing a Letter to Santa" party/fundraiser.

First, you'll need to decide on all the details of your party.  (We made this little poster.)

Then, on the day of the party, put your little ones to work.  My boys worked really hard before, during and after the party, and they were extremely proud of their efforts. 

And, of course, you'll need to make some cookies.  We had three types of cookies and juice boxes for our guests.  You can download a cute sign for the cookie table here.

And every guest was able to make some reindeer food to take home.  We used oats, Cheerios, and red sugar sprinkles.  You can download the tags for the reindeer food here, and you can download a cute sign for the reindeer food table here.

The kids were also given paper and envelopes to write their letters, and the supplies they needed to make a simple craft.

Finally, as a parting gift, every child was given this cute Santa beard.  You can download the template here.

I would be delighted to have you use my downloads to put together your own party.  If you do, I'd love to hear all about it!

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Easy & Cozy Entertaining

I recently had the opportunity to chat with some fantastic lifestyle bloggers about ideas for easy and cozy entertaining at home.  I just love to hear great tips from others, don't you?  You can read our conversation on the McCain All Good Blog here.  And if you are still looking for inspiration... here are a few more of my "dos" and "don'ts" for easy and cozy holiday entertaining.

1) Don't stress about the mess.  Most people understand that a busy mom is not going to have a spotless house.  If someone drops in unexpectedly, shove the toys in the playroom, dim the lights (to hide the dust), and relax.

2) Don't be afraid to take shortcuts.  If you don't have time to make something fancy, grab something pre-prepared out of the freezer or the pantry.

3) Do keep it simple.  You don't need to limit entertaining to elaborate meals.  Simple brunches or coffee dates are fun too.

4) Do include the kids.  Save on babysitters and spend time with parents and their kids.  Why not set up a "movie night" for the kids while the adults have some grown up conversations?

5) Do pay attention to the details.  Sometimes something simple (like milk in wine glasses or a hot chocolate bar) can add a really fun festive touch.

What are some of your ideas for easy and cozy entertaining?

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Disclosure:  I’m a contributor to the McCain All Good Blog, and I receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group, but (of course!) the opinions on this blog are my own.

DIY Harry Potter Invitation

Next week, my son is turning 8, and we are having a Harry Potter themed party for him.  Today, I thought I would share the adorable invitation I created for him.  Isn't it the cutest?  

I wrote a Hogwarts acceptance letter, and then I printed it on some "scroll" paper I found at the Dollar Store.  Then, I rolled it up, tied it with a ribbon, and attached a tag containing a picture of my son dressed as Harry Potter.

I am seriously delighted with how it turned out... and so is my son.  I can't wait to share the rest of the fun party details with you.

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Santa Claus Parade Checklist

Don't you just love a good Santa Claus parade?  Me too!  But like all outings with children, when it comes to a "Santa Claus Parade", a little preparation goes a long way. 

Here's a checklist that is sure to help:

1)  Make the kids go to the bathroom before you leave the house. -   It won't guarantee that there won't be a "pee" emergency, but it will improve your chances.

2)  Arrive early. - A front row seat to a parade is the best.  The kids can see better, and they are more likely to get waves and high fives.

3)  Bring something to sit on. - Folding chairs are comfy, but a blanket works too... and it is easier to carry.

4)  Bring your letter to Santa. - Santa's elves usually collect letters at Santa Claus parades.  You can address them to Santa Claus, North Pole, H0H 0H0 (and don't forget to include your return address so that he can write back).

5)  Pack a bag with cookies and hot chocolate. - The hot chocolate will keep the kids warm, and the cookies will give them the energy they need to make it to the end of the parade.  (If the parade is at night, pack a few glow sticks too!)

6)  Dress appropriately. - Around here this means "dress really warm, and don't forget to bring your hats and mitts".  We also like to wear Christmas hats or reindeer noses for a little extra fun.

7)  Have a great time! - ... and don't forget to wave to Santa and his reindeer.

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Elf on the Shelf Tip {for busy moms and dads}

The moment every parent dreads... the moment you realize that your Elf on the Shelf is in the same spot in the morning that he/she was in the night before.

GOOD NEWS... you can let your kids know (and I have it on good authority from Santa) that sometimes the Elf on the Shelf returns to the same spot after his/her long trip to the North Pole.  There are times when a spot in the house is just so much fun that an Elf on the Shelf likes to spend two days in it.

So there ya go... one less thing to worry about this holiday season.  :-)

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Remembrance Day Craft for Kids

Remembrance Day is a special day to honour the veterans that have served our country. It is important to me that my kids understand the sacrifices that have been made by veterans on their behalf. Making a remembrance day craft is a great way to honour November 11th, and spending time crafting together provides a special opportunity to talk to kids about gratitude and remembrance. 

Cute, right?  You can find the full tutorial here.

Happy Remembrance Day!

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Harry Potter Glasses and Ties with free printable templates

I am in the middle of planning a Harry Potter party for my seven year old, and I thought it would be fun if all the guests had their own Harry Potter tie and glasses. Of course, I had to come up with something inexpensive, so I made mine from card stock. Cute, right?

To make the Harry Potter ties, download the template here, print it onto card stock, and have the children color the ties with crayons. Then, punch two holes in the tie, add some reinforcements, and tie on some elastic (so that the kids can easily put the ties around their necks).

To make Harry Potter glasses, download the template here, print the glasses onto card stock, and cut them out. Then, add a piece of pipe cleaner to each side.

Feel free to pin this post and share it with friends, but please don't link directly to the downloads. Thanks so much, and enjoy your Harry Potter glasses and ties!

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Elf on the Shelf North Pole Hot Chocolate

I know there are a lot of people who are collecting Elf on the Shelf ideas, so I thought I would share a fun Elf on the Shelf idea that didn't make it to the blog last year.  Our Elf on the Shelf brought my boys some special hot chocolate from the North Pole.

This hot chocolate is like a regular can of hot chocolate you can buy in the grocery store, but this one has an adorable label that shows that it is a special blend from the North Pole... and trust me... Santa knows how to make some delicious hot chocolate.  You can download a copy of the label here.  (Feel free to "Pin" and share this idea, but please don't link directly to the download... thank you.)

Do you think your little one would enjoy warming up with this yummy treat from your Elf on the Shelf?

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Easiest Way to Cook Squash

With my family's busy schedules, I am always looking for shortcuts when it comes to making meals.  So today, I am sharing my secret for the easiest squash ever.

Here's what I do:

1)  I use a sharp knife to cut a buttercup squash into quarters, and then I carefully cut off the peeling.  

2)  I cut the quarters into smaller pieces and place them in a microwave safe dish.

3)  I cover the dish and use the sensor setting on my microwave to cook it.  (In my microwave, it cooks at 75% for about 12 minutes.)

4)  When it is finished, I drain out all the excess water, add a little butter, and mash it.

I often cut it up ahead of time, and keep it in the fridge.  Then, at dinner time, I just need to pop it into the microwave.  I just love squash, don't you?

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

Magical Stories and A Free Bookmark

Recently, I watched the classic Disney film Peter Pan with my boys.  It got me thinking about children's books, storybook heroes, and magical adventures.  

I love the story of Peter Pan.  I think it is a great celebration of childhood and the idea that anything is possible.  There is nothing I love better than cuddling on the couch with my boys and reading them a fantastic story, and with this in mind, I have created a story discussion bookmark that you can print and share with your little ones.

This bookmark is adorable, and it is a great way to prompt some discussion with your children after you have finished reading them a story. You can download this bookmark {for free} here.

J.M. Barrie said, "The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it."  I hope my boys believe in magical adventures forever!

Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)

“Disclosure:  I’m part of the Disney Junior Mom program andI receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinionson this blog are my own.”

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