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Archive for December, 2008

HOLIDAY Countdown: Star of David Decor

Star of David Napkin Rings (Courtesy Family Fun)Family Fun, both the magazine and the web site, is one of our favorite spots for kid-friendly craft ideas and we couldn’t resist their Star of David napkin rings, particularly after a reader suggested that you don’t even have to make your own playdough to make them. Use Fimo dough or purchased Play-Doh, she says, if the cooking-playdough-over-the-stove thing is too much bother. Whatever you end up with, roll the dough out, and cut out two equilateral triangles per napkin ring. Poke two holes for the cord – it’s best to overlap the two triangles to poke them, then take them apart to bake. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees and bake the pieces for 15 minutes. Flip them and bake them another quarter hour. When cool, paint the stars a beautiful, royal blue.

Want more? Click here for more kid-friendly Hanukkah games, decorations and craft ideas. Got a great idea? Click “comments” and share!

Posted on Thursday, December 18th, 2008
Under: Crafts | No Comments »

TRAVEL Q&A: 2009

touristDonna Airoldi from Travel Muse weighs in on the 2009 family travel outlook. Here’s her answer to a Walnut Creek mom’s question about traveling to Hawaii, without going broke.

Q: When is the best time to plan holiday travel for 2009? We always try to fly home to Hawaii to see the in-laws, but with the recent folding of Aloha and ATA, the cost has become outrageous. Any advice for getting there without exhausting all our money? — Walnut Creek mom

A: There have been major fare sales to Hawaii the past month, with round-trips from San Francisco to Honolulu starting at $391 before Dec. 18 and $504 after at You can sign up on the site for alerts on price drops to your preferred destinations/routes too. As for 2009 fares, current estimated fares are $696 for the week before Christmas and $724 the week of. Best advice is to monitor your preferred airline and discount sites for sales, and sign up for sale alerts where possible. Book for the next holiday season when you see a price you know is a bargain.

Posted on Wednesday, December 17th, 2008
Under: Family Travel | 3 Comments »

HOLIDAY COUNTDOWN: Let there be lights

If my stepdaughter, Dana, had her way, we would singlehandedly keep every PG&E worker employed for at least a year. That’s because she would love to turn our house into the equivalent of a Las Vegas casino during the holiday season. The icicle lights trimming our house, two lit spiral trees and lit garland around the door hardly rank us among the best and brightest for holiday lights. We’re rather boring in her estimation, and I haven’t improved our lot by taking her every year to see how everyone else lights up their neighborhood.

Fortunately, gas prices have gone down so we won’t have to forfeit our annual car trip around the Bay Area in search of the best lit displays. Bonus points to our online team for putting together the 2008 holiday lights map, so we have a head start in our quest. (And by the way, if you go all out with the lights, feel free to add your house to the map.) The map is how we found out about Casa del Pomba House of the Dove (top picture). The house on Hillcrest Avenue in Livermore is so popular, it has its own Web site.

lightsBut even your everyday homes really know how to get into the holiday spirit. Just check out this Walnut Creek house on Flowerwood Place (Dana and I have a fondness for snowmen). If you go touring for lights, bring along a thermos of hot chocolate, your favorite CD of Christmas music and your camera.

Posted on Wednesday, December 17th, 2008
Under: Christmas | No Comments »

FAB FIVE for the Weekend

SF Ballet Nutcracker (© Erik Tomasson)1. What’s a holiday without a Nutcracker or two (or three or four)? The San Francisco Ballet‘s glorious production fills the Opera House now through Dec. 28, and the Oakland Ballet‘s Paramount Theater extravaganza runs now through Christmas Eve.

2. Bad news from the North Pole – Santa’s mailbag is empty! And an elf mystery is afoot in the Fantasy Forum’s production of “The Biggest Gift” at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center this Friday through Sunday. This isn’t just a family friendly event – kids are invited to join the actors on stage and be part of the show. ($12)

3. Families with older kids may want to check out Golden Bough‘s Celtic holiday concert at Pleasanton’s Amador Theater this Saturday at 8 p.m. ($15-$25)
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Posted on Wednesday, December 17th, 2008
Under: Family Entertainment, Family Outings | No Comments »

TEEN Smoking Rates Drop

Teen Smoker (MCT Direct)Teen smoking rates dropped significantly this year, and if the teen commentary gathered in the most recent Monitoring the Future study is any indication, the number of teen smokers may be dropping even further. The study, conducted by University of Michigan researchers who survey 45,000 adolescents each year, found that:

    Just 12.6 percent of high schoolers said they’d smoked in the last month – down a full point since 2007 and the lowest rate since the early ’90s.

    Just 12 percent of high school sophomores are smokers now, compared with 30.4 percent in 1996, when teen smoking rates peaked.

    And only 7 percent of today’s eighth graders are smokers. It was triple that in 1996.

It gets better: Despite the best efforts of Madison Avenue’s ad men, who have tried to equate smoking with being cool, the vast majority of teens said they wouldn’t date a smoker and two thirds said choosing to smoke reflected “poor judgment.” More than 70 percent called smoking a “dirty habit.”

“For years and years, the industry pitch was that smoking makes you sexy and attractive to the opposite sex,” lead researcher Lloyd Johnston told the New York Times. “It turns out the absolute opposite is true.”

Posted on Tuesday, December 16th, 2008
Under: Health & Safety | No Comments »

HOLIDAY Countdown: Eleventh Hour Classroom Party Ideas

DIY Chef's Hat (Courtesy Family Fun Magazine)Being a classroom mom (or dad) is tough when the winter holiday party rolls around. Christmas parties are taboo in public schools, and there’s only so much you can do with Frosty the Snowman. So may we recommend a classroom cookie workshop instead? You’ll have a toque making station, where kids can make their own chef’s hats (check out that photo!) and decorate aprons. Then, a couple of cookie decorating stations, laden with gooey frosting and decorating supplies – ask parents to bake (or buy) plain, undecorated sugar cookies and contribute decorating supplies. And finally, a spot where kids can wrap up their creations to take home. Let’s start with those awesome hats, shall we?
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Posted on Tuesday, December 16th, 2008
Under: Crafts, Cuisine | No Comments »

HOLIDAY Shoppers are Way, Way Behind

Black Friday shoppers (Ian McVea/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT)Whew! So it’s not just me. Christmas is a scant week away and Hanukkah’s even sooner, but according to a National Retail Foundation survey released this morning, the nation’s shoppers have finished less than half their holiday shopping. Blame it on this year’s shortened holiday shopping season, the tanking economy and a slew of stores facing bankruptcy – people are disinclined to buy gift cards at KB Toys, for example, when the cards will soon be worthless. Only 8 percent of the shoppers surveyed said they’d finished their holiday gift buying. And, says the NRF, millions of people haven’t even begun. How about you?

Posted on Tuesday, December 16th, 2008
Under: Other | No Comments »


Care Bears "Flurries of Fun" The weather’s turned icy and indoors, where the smell of holiday baking fills the air, it’s wayyy too cozy. And we’re giving away another DVD set to make your holidays even merrier. This time, it’s a Care Bears extravaganza, “Flurries of Fun.” Yep, Cheer Bear, Share Bear and Oopsy Bear bring their usual sweetness to the small screen. All you have to do to win this 3-DVD set is click “comments” and tell us, what’s your favorite outdoorsy way to play with your family during the winter? Snowball fights? Sledding? Or — oh man, are you one of those people who live somewhere tropical? We’ll pick a winner next Sunday night. (Congrats, by the way, to Sharla who won last week’s holiday books giveaway!)

Posted on Monday, December 15th, 2008
Under: Contest | No Comments »

HOLIDAY Countdown #4: Candy Cane Cookies

Candy Cane Cookies (Courtesy cute are these?? Chocolate sugar cookies drizzled with white chocolate and crushed peppermint candies — another winner from those baking whizzes over at, who’ve been knocking our socks off this year with their cute baking and craft ideas (and their generosity in sharing the how-tos with us.)

We just keep thinking how cute these would look tucked into a cookie platter. Perfect for a cookie exchange. If you’ve been thinking about hosting a cookie swap, this is definitely the time to do it. Although frankly, anytime is a good time for cookies… OK, read on for the Candy Cane Cookie recipe.
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Posted on Monday, December 15th, 2008
Under: Christmas, Cuisine | No Comments »

PARENT TALKS: Childhood Matters

Radio (Photo by Ann- Kathrin Rehse, StockXchng)There’s a lull in the parent education schedule around the Bay Area, as schools close for the holidays and most parent lecture series go on hiatus – all, that is, except Rona Renner and her radio show, “Childhood Matters,” and the Center for Environmental Health‘s toy lead testing events.

“Safe Santa Lead Testing”
Bring your toys to be tested for lead content by the Center for Environmental Health at:
Dec. 15, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the deFemery Rec Center, 1651 Adeline St., Oakland
Dec. 16, 5 to 7 p.m. at the Golden Gate Rec Center, 1075 – 62nd St., Oakland
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Posted on Monday, December 15th, 2008
Under: Parenting Issues | No Comments »