Tag Archive | Christmas

New Years 2015 – Resolving to have less resolve.

Team Pickles celebrated a very happy New Year’s with friends, family, food, skiing, and Harry Potter-watching up at the chalet!

Father-Daughter Chairlift Selfie - New Year's with #TeamPickles www.picklesINK.com

Father-Daughter Chairlift Selfie


Molly Monkey's ski lesson New Year's with #TeamPickles www.picklesINK.com

Molly’s most successful ski lesson to date


Baby William, asleep with excitement - New Year's with #TeamPickles www.picklesINK.com

Baby William, asleep with excitement.

Ben and Baby William grinning - New Year's with #TeamPickles www.picklesINK.com

Another gratuitous Baby William picture because baby.

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Not your mama’s toy shopping tips

‘Tis the season!! As the ground turns snowy and swathes of red and green appear in the dollar store, our thoughts turn to the joyous season of giving.

Christmas store

Dollar Store in October. No joke.

To help you with that giving, I have been carefully poring over toy catalogues to compile a list of my top 10 essential Christmas shopping tips. I really hope that you find them helpful!

Ben santa

10 Essential Toy Shopping Tips, straight from Santa!

Top 10 Christmas Shopping Tips

(according to a national retail toy catalogue)

Tip #1:

For the little boy in your life, pirate, castle, race car, tool kit and train play sets are always appropriate choices. Don’t accidentally buy one for your little girl, though. She would much rather have a pretty pink purse, baking set, realistic shopping cart, or vanity unit with light – the 5-minute auto shut-off means she won’t get into the habit of primping for too long, and her future husband will appreciate that, amiright? Pair that with her very own vacuum cleaner and cleaning trolley and look at her go!

Graphic for Number 1

Collage of catalogue pages. Thought bubble reads, “This thing’s gonna crap out any second and I’m not even half done.”

Tip #2:

Boys love science, so look for a telescope, chemistry set, microscope, or any of many other assorted science kits with only boys on the boxes. As I’m sure you realize, girls aren’t really good at that sort of thing but they do like to make pretty stuff, so you could try the rock-tumbling kit; maybe she’ll even learn something while creating earrings, necklaces, or keychains! For even more creativity without the distracting science focus, consider any of a wide variety of craft kits.

Graphic for Number 2

Collage of catalogue pages


Looking for something a bit bigger? Little girls really like to sit and draw, or even just sit passively and look pretty, so consider a art desk or a pink princess castle playhouse for her. For her brother, how about an activity gym or superhero-themed real go-kart? Those boys really like to get active while their sisters watch! Remember, they’re never too young to start internalizing appropriate gender roles, so consider an infant-sized kitchen play-set for Baby Susie or sports centre for Little Johnny.

Graphic for Number 3

Collage of catalogue pages. Text reads, “Binary Internalized Gender Roles: The Gift That Keeps On Giving!”

Tip #4:

For toddlers and preschoolers, you can’t go wrong with a classic child-sized kitchen play set. It used to be that these were only for the little girl in your life, but we’ve come a long way, baby! Now you can get realistic-looking toy kitchens so that boys and girls can play together – think how much fun your kids will have reinforcing gender stereotypes when she washes dishes while he barbecues, or even better, as she fixes him another sammich while he scarfs down the first!

Graphic for Number 4

Catalogue page. Speech and thought bubbles read: “How are the dishes coming babe?” “Just fine, sweetie!” “Asshole.”

Tip #5:

Little girls love to play dress-up and then look at themselves in the mirror, so the only question is: Table-top or full length? (Or how about both?)


Graphic for Number 5

Catalogue page. Thought bubble reads, “I thought I wanted that chemistry set, but boy was I wrong. Thank goodness Auntie Sue went with her gut!”

Tip #6:

Outdoor toys like sleds, battery-operated cars and other ride-ons are always a hit! If you want your daughter to participate make sure she has a brother or little boy friend who can take the controls because you know what they say about women drivers…

Graphic for Number 6

Collage of catalogue pages. Text reads: “I mean, women drivers – It’s just not worth the risk, right?”

Tip #7:

Building sets are also an excellent choice for both boys and girls. The manufacturer makes it easy for the consumer to ascertain which sets are appropriate for boys or girls by selectively gendering the character figures that are included. Your daughters will love building the sets and then grooming horses, pampering pets, hosting sleepovers, or running a bakery with Andrea, Emma, Stephanie, Mia, and Olivia, while your sons will enjoy flying planes, fighting bad guys, and performing open water rescues while identifying with male pilots, lumberjacks, forklift operators, police officers, superheroes, and coast guard members!

Graphic for Number 7

Collage of catalogue pages

Tip #8:

What little girl wouldn’t love a baby doll to cuddle and care for or a little girl doll to be her best friend? With a wide variety of doll furniture and other accessories available in a vast array of shades of pink, your little mommy can dress, change, bath, and feed her little baby to her heart’s content. Since statistics show that the vast majority of little girls are white or just slightly tanned, you will easily be able to find a doll that your daughter can relate to. As the catalogue suggests, “Celebrate her uniqueness” with the gift of unintentional irony! Playing with dolls develops nurturing, caring, and empathy, which is wonderful for girls, but of course we don’t wish to encourage those traits in boys, which brings us to our next tip –

Graphic for Number 8

Collage of catalogue pages – in fact, EVERY SINGLE page in the doll section. Text reads: “CELEBRATE HER UNIQUENESS WITH ACCIDENTAL IRONY” and (pointing to tiny inset photo) “Look! A Black person! Thumbs up to this retailer for representing diversity!”

Tip #9:

Boys love violence! Luckily there is a wide variety of toys available to feed those urges, including boxing sets, guns, and ammo. For your little Katniss, consider a pink/purple gun, bow, or crossbow – and so you don’t have to say it, the little “Rebelle” logo will remind her every time she sees it that it’s not quite socially appropriate, now, is it?

Graphic for Number 9

Collage of catalogue pages

Tip #10:

Finally, if toys aren’t really your game, consider furniture. Is your little one outgrowing his crib? Why not get him an awesome toddler bed that looks like a sports car, train, or pirate ship? If you have a daughter, you’ll have to think of something else since a hollowed out fairy princess would be kind of creepy. (Aside – How is it that no-one has made a disemboweled tauntaun toddler bed yet?? Mattel? Little Tikes? This is cross-branding GOLD. You guys will definitely want to get on that. I expect a 10% royalty on every unit sold.)

Graphic for Number 10

Catalogue pages. Thought bubble reads, “This race car is cool and all but a hollowed out tauntaun would be SO much better.”

Special bonus tip #11:

Be aware of the way that toy marketing influences as well as reinforces gender roles. Don’t buy into the marketing gimmick that tells you that you have to go to the separate “girls” section to get a pinkified version of the same familiar toys. Companies aren’t doing it because research has shown that there is a qualitative difference between “boy” stuff and “girl” stuff. They’re doing it because they know they can get you to spend your money twice on the same damn thing.

Listen to your children. Let them develop their own likes and dislikes – don’t let the toy companies do it for them. If your daughter asks Santa for a 44-piece tool kit while your son wants an Easy-Bake oven, congratulate yourself on doing parenting right. (I still use that tool kit – thanks again, Santa!).

The social construction of gender is a cyclical process – advertising doesn’t create those constructs, but it doesn’t try to undermine them either, because retailers make money by giving us what we want to see: Little white girls playing with dolls and boys driving racecars. They think that we won’t be as likely to buy it if they catch us off-guard with something that doesn’t seem quite right, so they (and we) continue to force our hockey-playing girls and our Strawberry Shortcake-loving boys back into those boxes that society has built for them over and over until eventually they decide that they might as well just stay there.

Let kids be kids, not gender constructs. The next time you see a toy catalogue with 9 pages of little (white) girls playing with doll stuff and not a boy in sight, take a cue from Santa Ben and shout it out, loud and proud:

“That’s a STEREOTYPE!!”

Collage of photos of boys and girls being themselves

Collage of photos of boys and girls being themselves


Please Note: This is not a sponsored post. All artwork, unless otherwise noted, remains the property of the original photographer. My observations are based on my analysis of trends seen in toy catalogues and do not refer to any specific retailer or manufacturer pictured.

Dear Neighbour (Ben’s Thank-You letter)

There is a house in our neighbourhood that is just…no other word to describe it…spectacular. It is on a massive corner lot and is known as “The Mayor’s House” due to its history, and every year the owner puts up the most amazing Christmas light display.

The first December that I noticed it, I raced home to get Ian and by the time we got back to the house they had been turned off…and off they stayed for weeks. “Karyn’s imaginary Christmas lights” became a running joke and I endured weeks of teasing before I finally dragged him over to the house in the daylight to triumphantly point out the thousands of tiny LED bulbs scattered over the many trees and shrubs on the property.

They finally turned on again for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and for the next 11 months we mused over whether this was going to be a yearly tradition – Was this incredible display meant to be a secret known only to those select few who happened to drive by on one of the three days it was randomly turned on?

Lights 2

One view of the property showing lights on trees, a wreath on the gate, and the lighted eaves. ©PicklesINK 2012

Happily, the following year and those subsequent have seen the lights on far more frequently! I’m afraid the pictures really don’t do it justice because it’s impossible the capture the extent of the display in one shot, but all of the trees and shrubs on the property are strung with tiny LED lights in all different colours, the eaves of the multi-peaked roof are hung with white lights, the two large driveway gates are adorned with huge pine wreaths, and one tall pine tree by the house is decorated with baubles and ribbons. Above it all shines a large star, seemingly suspended in mid-air but in reality mounted on a pole atop the tallest tree. When driving up the hill from downtown, all you can see is that single star suspended in the sky and the effect is truly breathtaking.

Lights 1

Second view, showing the tallest multicoloured tree, lighted eaves, and the star on the right.
©PicklesINK 2012

Needless to say, Ben and Molly are pretty enamoured of the whole display, and throughout the Christmas season any time we came home in the dark the anticipatory conversation took place: “Do you think the lights are going to be on?” “I hope so!” “I love those lights!” “I see the star!” “Yay, the boo-ti-ful lights are on!” We have been talking a lot this season as a family about the idea of gratitude and Ben is a big fan of thank-you notes, so when he suggested that he could write a thank-you card to the owner of the house with the lights, I agreed that it was an excellent idea (Woo-hoo! Voluntary practice for my reluctant printer!), and away he went.

Ben writing letter

Ben, hard at work writing his letter, with the list of words he had requested spelled beside him.
©PicklesINK 2012

The finished letter, Ben’s original composition, read:

to Neighbour

Thank you for the beautiful lights.

Me and my sis love to look at them when we drive by.

Do you use a remote to turn them on?

From Ben and Molly

Finished letter

Completed letter and card.
©PicklesINK 2012

When he was finished, we folded the letter into a Christmas card, walked down to the house, and dropped it in the mail box. Who knows if we will get a reply, but Ben was very proud of himself and hopefully he brightened someone’s day!

~ karyn

PS – Readers who are Angie Nussey fans should have this song in their heads by now and readers who are not yet Angie Nussey fans should definitely check her out!

How do you feel about thank-you cards? Do you write them? Do you expect them?

Epic Christmas prank – epilogue

Received this email from my mom yesterday:

Maybe not such a great idea. Coloured liquid and glass ran all over laundry room and playroom to drain. Poor Bill was carrying to empty bottles in laundry sink. Not a happy camper!

Love Mom

Wine bottles whoops


Whoops. I blame the media. And Chris.

~ karyn

(Picture description: Cardboard box, broken wine bottles, and coloured water all over limestone tiled floor)



I think I need a holiday from my holiday!

I think our Christmas season this year was the busiest EVER. There was lots of fun, family and friends, but I think I’m definitely ready for the holidays to be over so I can relax!

Ben and Molly’s school Christmas pageant was a hoot – Ben was dapper as always in his tuxedo and delivered his “Narrator 2” lines in his inimitable fashion. Molly, who had been re-cast as “a star” after (repeatedly) deliberately breaking her fairy wand, demonstrated her displeasure by flinging her bells on the stage and turning her back on the audience for the singing of Jingle Bells.

Ben narrator

Ben delivering his lines wearing his favourite “wedding suit”
©PicklesINK 2012

Molly back turned

Molly with her back to the audience
©PicklesINK 2012

On the Saturday before Christmas we went to our extended family Christmas party with yummy food by The Gravy Train Gourmet Dippery (shameless plug, but seriously, check them out!) and a puppet show by the beautiful and talented Claudia Hurtubise (with special guest puppeteers Ben and Molly).

Check them out and get on board!

On the way to the party, Ian suddenly said, “You know, we have all of their bedtime stuff with us…what do you think the chances are that Nana and Grandad would be convinced to keep them for the night?” I said, “Hmm…if we play our cards right, I’d say at least 50-50.” In the end it did indeed come down to 50-50: My dad hid both car keys and told me to pick a hand – with a hint from my Aunt Bonny, I chose right and Ian and I went to see The Hobbit. Of course, since it was only part 1 of 3 it looks like we’re going to have to make a hobbit of it…

The next morning we were back to the city again for Nana’s office Christmas brunch where we partook of delicious food and an impressive sequence of dirty jokes by and at the expense of friends and family members at our end of the table.

Espresso with  honey lavender Biscotti 
Photo credit: http://www.bakingdom.com

The Christmas Eve family service at St. Paul’s United Church included my cherub choir “singing” The Little Drummer Boy. There was some premature congratulation when the congregation mistook the piano interlude while the kids were given their drums for the end of the song, but we persevered (Translation: I kept desperately waving my arms and and Ben kept singing away loudly a bar ahead of the accompaniment) and brought down the house in the end.

On Christmas Day we spent the morning at home opening presents and Skyping with the overseas Pickleseses and the afternoon at Nana and Grandad’s. Santa, family, and friends were as always very generous to all of us and we enjoyed a delicious turkey dinner as well as the grand opening of Chris’ Epic Present. One of my favourite presents was my mug from my brother- and sister-in-law in Wales!

Blog mug

Keep Calm and Blog mug
©PicklesINK 2012

Finally, on Boxing Day we hosted my family at our house for the afternoon and dinner. I decided on a departure from turkey (for the most part) and served lasagna – one gluten-full and one gluten-free. I made Chef Michael Smith’s lasagna with speedy tomato sauce, which is my go-to lasagna recipe and used Italian turkey sausage instead of pork. For the gluten-free version I shaved thin strips of zucchini with a cheese slicer to use in place of noodles. Both versions were delicious!

I was also very happy with the centrepiece I made using one of the leftover giant vases from Chris and Caitie’s wedding.

Centrepiece 2

Pillar vase filled with Christmas tree ornaments and sparkly pinecones, fruits and leaves.
©PicklesINK 2012

And of course, with so many engineers in the house, I had to make π for dessert.

Pi crust

Cutting out numbers to make my “pi” crust
©PicklesINK 2012

Finished pi

Finished product: Apple cranberry “pi
©PicklesINK 2012

After dinner on Boxing Day, Ben’s big Christmas holiday adventure began as he left with my parents to go up to the chalet for a few days – more on that later!

~ karyn

How were your holidays? Did you follow family traditions, or do something new?

Epic Christmas present wrapping prank

In my family there is a bit of a tradition of creative present wrapping…pretty well everyone has demonstrated their ingenuity as some point or another over the years. This year I was responsible for getting a present for my newlywed brother Chris, and with Ian’s help, I’m pretty sure I won Christmas.

I’m bound by a confidentiality agreement not to reveal my secrets in their entirety, but let’s just say it involved an actual present, a decoy present, a case of wine, some water, and some food colouring. The finished, wrapped, and quite heavy product looked like this:


Wrapped present ©PicklesINK 2012


“Gift Tag” – to chris merry christmas love karyn
(Ben could actually read it. I was impressed!)
©PicklesINK 2012


Important note – This Side Up
©PicklesINK 2012

The present is delivered to its recipient and unwrapping begins. Ben is happy to help.


Chris and his trusty assistant Ben begin unwrapping
©PicklesINK 2012

“Ahh!” says oenophile Chris. “A case of wine! How nice!”


Chris and Ben admire the dozen bottles of red wine
©PicklesINK 2012

“They’re nice wines, too. Are you sure you stayed within budget?”


Chris examines the labels
©PicklesINK 2012

Suspicious as always (Really, I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve that! Baseless accusations, I say) Chris begins to examine the bottles more closely. Mel leans over and mouths, “Are they ALL screw tops?” and promptly collapses in hysterics.


Chris inspects the bottles more closely.
©PicklesINK 2012

On closer inspection, Chris discovers that all is not what it seems. The liquid in the bottles is actually purple and the odour is distinctly…well…odourless.


Something’s fishy.
©PicklesINK 2012

“Ah-hah!” say Chris and Ben, discovering the carefully-hidden silicone X-Wing ice cube tray from ThinkGeek. “Oh, darn! You found it!” say I in disappointed tones.


Chris holds up the decoy present, an X-Wing ice cube tray
©PicklesINK 2012

Still unwilling to take me at my word (how rude), Chris continues to search…


Chris begins to lift all of the bottles out of the box
©PicklesINK 2012

…and search…


Chris holds the box upside down
©PicklesINK 2012

…and search…


Chris discovers the false bottom
©PicklesINK 2012

…finally discovering the false bottom and revealing the real present…


Chris finds his real present in the false bottom
©PicklesINK 2012

…a Star Trek cycling jersey (also from ThinkGeek).


The real present, a Star Trek cycling jersey
©PicklesINK 2012

I swear, I picked red because he’s an engineer. I’m confident he’ll be the exception to the rule who survives the whole episode!

Remind me to watch out though because there may be some payback coming my way…

~ karyn

Letters to Santa = In the mail!

Ben and Molly’s school held a Breakfast With Santa this weekend, which was awesome, except that even with their self-professed adulation of the jolly old elf (see exhibits A and B)

Ben in his Santa costume - Halloween 2011©PicklesINK 2012

Exhibit A: Ben in Santa costume
Halloween 2011
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben and Molly - Halloween 2012

Exhibit B: Molly in Santa costume
Halloween 2012
©PicklesINK 2012

…they both went super shy when the moment came to actually meet him! Ben sat on his lap and grinned but couldn’t talk and Molly wanted nothing to do with him at all.

They recovered themselves by the afternoon though and sat down to the important business of writing their Christmas lists and letters to Santa. Ben’s 3 Rs are coming along AMAZINGLY (thanks, Miss Heather!!). His reading skills boggle my mind. There is nothing he can’t read, and if he stumbles over a “tricky letter” (today’s example: the “c” in “scene”) he asks for help, nods, and then files the irregular rule away in his “remembering cap” and that’s that – he’s got it down.

Printing has been a bit more of a struggle. His fine motor skills have never come as quickly as the intellectual piece, and he gets frustrated when he can’t reproduce what he sees in his head (in this case, the letters) on the paper to his satisfaction (he also gets frustrated when I praise him for letters that he has formed that he doesn’t feel are up to par, but his perfectionism and the question of to praise or not to praise can be the topic of another post!).

I’m told that there is a sex difference at play – that little girls tend to master the fine motor skills more quickly. The chicken-or-egg part of that equation is still up for debate in my mind – Do girls progress more quickly because we give them more opportunities or do we give them more opportunities because they show more interest/get less frustrated? I will say that Molly is currently showing more interest in and patience for fine-motor-oriented crafting at a younger age than Ben did. Again, definitely fodder for a whole other post!

Anyhoo, his printing is coming along beautifully, when he can be convinced to do it, and he worked extremely hard on his letter to Santa:

Ben's letter to Santa 2012

Ben’s Letter to Santa
©PicklesINK 2012

It reads:

Dear Santa,

Does Rudolph really have a lightbulb for a nose? (Then, dictated by Ben and printed by Ian) –  For Christmas I would a toy Whiff engine, a toy Diesel engine from Thomas, toy Kevin from Thomas, and a Mighty n Mac from Thomas.

(Closing printed by Ben)From Ben

Molly dictated her letter to Ian:

Molly's letter to Santa

Molly’s Letter to Santa
©PicklesINK 2012

It reads:

Dear Santa,

How are your reindeer? I am excited for Christmas this year. I would like things for my dollhouse and dollhouse toys. (Santa brought her the dollhouse last year. There was some prompting by Ian for her list since she just kept repeating “I want Santa to bring me dollhouse.”) Or maybe you could bring me a surprise. I love surprises that are pink!

Love Molly

She adorned it with her decoration of choice, googly eyes, and a wooden heart. Her trademark is googly eye faces – 2 eyes and a mouth made of twisted tissue paper (again with the fine motor skills being in a different ballpark than Ben’s at that age) – but for some reason she couldn’t be convinced to give her Santa letter googly guy a mouth.

Then it was off to the mailbox for the big moment:

Ben Mailing

Ben mailing his letter to Santa
©PicklesINK 2012

Molly mailing

Molly mailing her letter to Santa
©PicklesINK 2012

Mission accomplished

Mission accomplished!
©PicklesINK 2012

Now I can finally sit down and see about getting Santa to make videos for Ben and Molly. (If you haven’t yet heard of the Portable North Pole Console, check it out!) Last year I got the order of events wrong and Ben was very concerned with how exactly Santa knew what he wanted for Christmas when he hadn’t told him yet.

~ karyn

Have you/your kids written your letters to Santa? What’s on your list?