Aside from the Reindeer Rant, this post from last year is probably my holiday favourite, and definitely worth sharing again!

ff you’ve been around for a while, you might remember I spent some time working with the Canadian Army. When I was there, I was lucky enough to work with Captain Jennifer Stadnyk, and long after I left we stayed in touch over mutual interests in photography and social media. Capt Stadnyk has since moved from Ottawa to Colorado for what I think is an incredibly cool job – she’s the public affairs officer for the North American Aerospace Defence Command, aka NORAD. Peeps, she works with NORAD’s Santa Tracker team! How awesome is that?

I’ve blogged before about how I’ve always loved the NORAD Santa Tracker program. I remember the sense of wonder and anticipation that was torqued by watching NORAD’s Santa Tracker updates on the evening news when I was growing up in the 1970s. Now the kids and I visit the Santa Tracker website frequently on December 24 to track the Big Guy’s progress around the world.

I gotta tell you, when Capt Stadnyk was kind enough to grant me an interview, I kind of froze. Oh the pressure! What should I ask? How to strike the balance between hard-nosed journalist and fawning fangirl? In the end, her answers totally redeemed my questions – and I’ve been giggling like a schoolgirl in my excitement to share them with you.

DaniGirl: I have been watching NORAD’s Santa tracker as long as I can remember. Tell me a little bit about the program?

Capt Stadnyk: NORAD Tracks Santa traces its roots all the way back to 1955, when the local Sears-Roebuck in Colorado Springs took out an advertisement in the local newspaper inviting children to call Santa’s private line on Christmas Eve. The ad that was printed however, had a misprint and the number given was for the Continental Air Defense Command. Colonel Harry Shoup, who was on duty that night, answered the phone to a child’s voice asking if he was Santa. Once he realized what was going on, he played along, giving the child information about where Santa was and instructed his officers to do the same. Thus an annual tradition was born! NORAD continued the tradition when we replaced CONAD in 1958, and still each year, we track Santa around the globe and tell children where he is and when he’ll be at their house!

DaniGirl: You are a soldier in the Canadian Army. How did you end up at NORAD?

Capt Stadnyk: It is funny, most people think that NORAD is solely Air Force, however there are members from all elements of both the Canadian and American militaries. I definitely feel blessed to be down here and be a part of this incredible program during the holiday season!

Army Maj. Gen. Charles Luckey, NORAD and USNORTHCOM Chief of Staff, prepares to do a media interview via satellite from the NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center Dec. 24, 2012. Dozens of interviews were conducted with NORAD leadership to get the word out on how NORAD tracks Santa every year. (U.S. Navy photo by LCDR. Bill Lewis)

DaniGirl: What kind of technology do you use to track Santa?

Capt Stadnyk: We are definitely well-equipped to track Santa, being the bi-national command responsible for tracking and keeping airspace over North America safe! We use the same satellites, radars and fighter jets that we use year round to track Santa. He knows we’re tracking him and often coordinates some of his plans with us! We also have “Santa Cams” strategically placed around the globe so that kids can catch a glimpse of the jolly old elf!

DaniGirl:: How many people are involved in the operation?

Capt Stadnyk: Well, along with our 55 corporate partners, we have over 1,250 volunteers (Canadian & American military, civilians, and members of the local Colorado Springs community) who donate their time on December 24th to answer calls and emails. Planning starts early in the spring of each year in order to ensure the event is a success.

DaniGirl: Have poor weather or other obstacles ever prevented Santa from getting to any locations?

Capt Stadnyk: There have been a few times over the years where Santa has had to adjust his flight path due to poor weather, but he has always been able to make it to every house! He has been flying for centuries, so little snowstorms have nothing on him!

Marine Staff Sgts. Hugh Wood and Randall Ayers, NORAD and USNORTHCOM, take calls at the NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center Dec. 24, 2012. Wood and Ayers came to the operations center to collect toys for the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program and took a break to participate in NORAD Tracks Santa. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher)

DaniGirl: Does Santa need permission to fly over Canadian or American air space?

Capt Stadnyk: Santa travels faster than starlight, so if he wanted to, he could fly over our airspace without letting us know, but we have a close relationship with him, having worked together to keep the Christmas spirit alive all these years. He always coordinates his travels with us, although he may not tell us his exact route. Each year, Canadian fighter pilots are chosen to meet Santa as he enters North American airspace to say “Hello” and escort him across the Great White North. This year, Lieutenant-Colonel Darcy Molstad and Captain Sébastien Gorelov from 3 Wing Bagottville will meet him over Newfoundland and pass off the duties near the Ontario-Manitoba border to Captain Rich Cohen and Captain Brian Kilroy from 4 Wing Cold Lake.

DaniGirl: Now that you’re seeing it in action from the inside, what’s your favourite part of the Santa tracker program?

Capt Stadnyk: It’s incredible to see what a large operation the NORAD Tracks Santa program is. There is so much magic involved in Santa’s journey that I kind of expected tracking him would be a piece of cake. Not so much! Tracking Santa becomes our main effort around this time each year, and we all work together at NORAD to make sure we continue to share the holiday spirit with the young, and young-at-heart around the world!

Awesome, right? I KNOW! Even better than a conversation with the Universe, eh?

Want to track Santa with NORAD this Christmas Eve? He’s multimedia – check it out!

On the web: http://www.noradsanta.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/noradsanta
Twitter: @NoradSanta
Phone (starting 4 a.m. MST on Christmas Eve): 877-HI-NORAD
Email: noradtrackssanta@outlook.com

Thank you, Capt Stadnyk, for the exclusive scoop and for making me a cool mom this Christmas in the eyes of three little boys! Warm wishes and thanks to you and and everyone at NORAD for the great work you do with Santa!


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When your best friend asks you to collaborate on a family portrait project to celebrate her extended, blended family, of course you say yes. And when she has an idea that is equal parts silly, fun and hilarious and perfectly exemplifies a family that prides itself on chaos, humour and love, you know you have to make it work. A little 1970s retro pop culture reference is just the icing on the cake!

The Silly Bunch

And then, you have a little fun.

brady bunch 2

Pro tip: When you’ve been friends for 30+ years, you cannot make faces like this in front of a camera and not expect them to end up on the Internet.

And if your photographer friend has a truly evil streak, she’ll go one step further and turn them into one of these:

Merry Christmas to my best friends in the whole world. I love you guys and I’m always happy to be a part of your crazy. :)


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My bloggy peeps, I have a reindeer-palooza of fun for you today! You might have read the reindeer rant a time or two (or coughninecough) before, but now we have reindeer trivia! And photoshop! And webcams! And even reindeer on a rampage! Oh my.

But first, the rant. Because especially at Christmas, traditions matter. Also? Because Donder.

Reindeer Games: Team Donder

“You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen;
Comet and Cupid and DONDER and Blitzen…”

You did know that Santa’s reindeer is actually Donder and not Donner, right?

Here’s a little history lesson for you. The poem “A Visit From St Nicholas”, commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas”, was written back in 1823 and is generally attributed to American poet Clement Clarke Moore (although there have been recent arguments that the poem was in fact written by his contemporary Henry Livingston Jr.) The original poem reads, in part:

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name.
“Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on Dunder and Blixem!

As explained on the Donder Home Page (no relation):

In the original publication of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” in 1823 in the Troy Sentinel, “Dunder and Blixem” are listed as the last two reindeer. These are very close to the Dutch words for thunder and lightning, “Donder and Bliksem”. Blixem is an alternative spelling for Bliksem, but Dunder is not an alternative spelling for Donder. It is likely that the word “Dunder” was a misprint. Blitzen’s true name, then, might actually have been “Bliksem”.

In 1994, the Washington Post delved into the matter by sending a reporter to the Library of Congress to reference the source material. (In past years, I’d been able to link to a Geocities site with the full text, but sadly, Geocities is no more.)

We were successful. In fact, Library of Congress reference librarian David Kresh described Donner/Donder as “a fairly open-and-shut case.” As we marshaled the evidence near Alcove 7 in the Library’s Main Reading Room a few days ago, it quickly became clear that Clement Clarke Moore, author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” wanted to call him (or her?) “Donder.” Never mind that editors didn’t always cooperate. […] Further confirmation came quickly. In “The Annotated Night Before Christmas,” which discusses the poem in an elegantly illustrated modern presentation, editor Martin Gardner notes that the “Troy Sentinel” used “Dunder”, but dismisses this as a typo. Gardner cites the 1844 spelling as definitive, but also found that Moore wrote “Donder” in a longhand rendering of the poem penned the year before he died: “That pretty well sews it up,” concluded Kresh.

So there you have it. This Christmas season, make sure you give proper credit to Santa’s seventh reindeer. On DONDER and Blitzen. It’s a matter of family pride.

Photo of three boys and a reindeer

(Oh yes I did take that photo with this blog post in mind. Of COURSE I did!)

And now, as promised: reindeer trivia! Courtesy of mental_floss, amaze your colleagues at the office Christmas party with these clever facts about reindeer! Did you know:

  • Reindeer and caribou are more or less the same – but not quite!
  • Baby reindeer can run within 90 minutes of being born.
  • Clement Clark Moore’s poem (see above) was the first ever reference to Santa having reindeer to pull his sleigh.
  • Santa’s reindeer are most likely the R.t. platyrhynchus subspecies from the Svalbard islands off of Norway, the only reindeer that could really be considered tiny, weighing about half as much as the average reindeer species and at least a foot shorter in length.

Click through to the mental_floss article for more fun reindeer facts!

But this — THIS is my favourite find of this holiday season: the ReindeerCam! I discovered this through Twitter late last week, and have been clicking through rather regularly. It’s a live feed of Santa’s reindeer-in-training enclosure at Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Wildlife Park (“Halfway to the North Pole”!)

I find watching the reindeer strangely compelling. Santa comes out to feed the reindeer daily through Christmas at 9 am and 3:30 pm AST (that’s 8 am and 2:30 pm EST) and waves to the camera. It’s adorable!

I noticed yesterday that Santa’s sleigh had disappeared (I’m not kidding, I’m clicking through at least a couple of times each day!) and I laughed out loud when I saw what had happened. Mad reindeer on a rampage had toppled Santa’s sleigh – and of course it was all caught on camera. Naughty Donder!!

So there you go – it’s a multimedia reindeer-palooza! But don’t forget the key message here, folks – it’s Donder, not Donner. Tell your friends!


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The other day when I was talking about Rubbermaid’s Easy Find Lids containers and the unexpected benefits of learning to cook from real ingredients, one of the things I mentioned was leftovers. When the food tastes better, the leftovers taste better too. Somehow I’m thinking this should be less of a surprise to me than it is.

You know what’s another really great use for leftovers? School lunches!

Sometime in the last year or two, I have managed to burden Beloved with the whole school lunch thing. I am not a creative lunch maker. Left to me, the kids would get this for lunch almost every day: an apple (whole), a sandwich of sorts, and a muffin or cookie or other bakery treat. Maybe a yogurt every now and then to mix things up. I’d give myself a B for nutrition, maybe a C+ for variety, but a big fat F for creativity.

Beloved is the good lunch parent. While he doesn’t craft hermit crabs out of croissants or Pokemon bento boxes (he doesn’t have a Pinterest account, after all) he will take the time to cut up an apple and sprinkle it with cinnamon, or make veggie matchsticks with dip. The bar is not high, I know, but he still puts my efforts to shame. Let’s just say he’s far more patient and creative than me, and the boys are only stuck with boring sandwiches on the days that I’m packing lunches.

The Rubbermaid folks have been thinking beyond the sandwich, too. Have you seen the LunchBlox? They’re perfect for both little kid and big person lunches. (Now that the leftovers are yummy, even the big people pack lunches for themselves!) The LunchBlox containers are perfect because they come in a variety of sizes that fit nicely together. The containers snap together for easy stacking, and the lids have a strong seal that prevents leaks but that opens easily for wee fingers. They’re also freezer, microwave and – happy sigh – dishwasher safe.

Sandwiches are boring, and these LunchBlox containers are a great way to pack kid-friendly food. You could pack a salad in one (post for another day – my kids actually love salad now! When did that happen?) and croutons in another and dressing in a third – and still have room to spare. The containers snap to each other or to the Blue Ice cooling pack to make for easy stacking and packing. I really do love these things! (Ahem, well, I love them on Beloved’s behalf. *blush*)

I actually find myself thinking of meal plans that will make for good lunch leftovers now. Some emerging favourites are pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon (because bacon!), taco fixings layered into a dip with leftover taco shells for scooping, and home made pizza.

The next frontier is getting the kids to pack their own lunches. We’re getting there – slowly. While I’m glad to see that they’re taking after Beloved and thinking beyond the sandwich, I’m not sure that an entree-sized container of goldfish with a side of grapes, some cheese cubes and four sweet and sour pickles is exactly an ideal lunch. Then again, it’s probably healthier than a baloney on white bread sandwich!

Who makes the school lunches in your family? Got an easy favourite that the kids love that I could steal and, um, suggest to Beloved? ;)

Disclosure: I am part of the Rubbermaid 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 always my own.


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Do you have all your holiday shopping done? Still looking for the perfect gift, or maybe filling in a few last-minute gaps? You’ll find a little something for everyone at the Ottawa Originals Christmas Craft Show, and I’ve got two pair of tickets to give away – but you’d better be quick! This giveaway is only 24 hours long.

There will be over 200 artisans exhibiting their wares at the show, which runs today through December 21 at the EY Centre. Here are some of the special promotions that will run through the show:

DATE NIGHT 2 FOR 1
Fridays, turn Holiday shopping into couple’s time. Leave the kids at home and enjoy a date night while crossing names off your list. All couples will be granted 2 for 1 admission from 5pm – 9pm on Friday, December 12 & 19th.

TWO FOR TUESDAY
Bring a friend and come on out to Originals to visit the new artisans who have just joined us on Tuesday, December 16

SENIORS DAY 2 FOR 1
Avoid the hustle bustle of the malls and enjoy a leisurely day of shopping. Seniors aged 65 + receive 2 for 1 entrance all day Wednesday, December 17.

STROLLER DAYS 2 for 1 Offer
Come on out and shop with the kids! Every parent with a baby in tow will be granted 2 for 1 admission on Tuesday December 17 to Thursday December 19 inclusive. Grab a friend and make it a date!

#121212 #12photos hourly photo project 1 pm  - at the craft show

Or, you could win one of two pairs of tickets from me! You’ve got to be quick, though – this giveaway is only running for 24 hours! To enter, just leave a comment on this blog post (not on Facebook) telling me who is the hardest person to buy for on your Christmas list.

Here’s the fine print:

  1. This is a giveaway for a pair of (that’s TWO) tickets to the Originals Ottawa Christmas Craft Show, which runs December 11 to 21, 2014.
  2. To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment on this post (not on Facebook, must appear on danigirl.ca/blog) telling me who is the hardest person to buy for on your Christmas list.
  3. TWO winners will be chosen at random from all comments posted. Each winner will receive TWO tickets.
  4. This giveaway is open only to residents of Canada, excluding residents of Quebec. (sorry!)
  5. This giveaway will run until 9 am EST on Friday December 12, 2014.
  6. If you win, you must be willing to share your name and contact information with the Originals Craft Show. Winners will pick up their tickets at the “will call” window.

Thank you to the Originals Craft Show for providing tickets to give away and a set for me too. Good luck!

Edited to add: Congratulations to smothermother and Rebekah for winning the tickets. Thanks to everyone!


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And *this* is what makes my endless curation of family moments worth while.

Christmas 2014:

Tree decorating 2014

Christmas 2013:

O Christmas Tree - 2013

Christmas 2012:

Christmas tree decorating 2012-10

Christmas 2011:

Three around the tree again!

Christmas 2010 (our first in Manotick and our first with a natural tree):

553:1000 The Great Christmas Tree Adventure 2010

Christmas 2009 (in the midst of my first Project 365):

319:365 Guess what we did today?

It looks like I didn’t take any photos while we decorated the tree in 2006, 2007 or 2008, but I did a genuine little “awwwwww!” of delight when I found this one hiding in the archives on Flickr.

Christmas 2005 – Tristan is three and Simon not quite two.

127_2797

Oh my goodness, that seems like yesterday — and a million years ago!

Also? Apparently I love to take photos of the back of Lucas’s head!


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Bloggy gratitude

8 December 2014 How I love the Interwebs

There are a lot of needy things in my life, and I’ll be the first to admit that blog has slowly slid down the hierarchy of things that get my attention. Facebook steals all my short-form content and impulsive commentary, and while I still love to write for blog, finding the time to get all [...]

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Photo(s) of the day: Christmas tree quest 2014

7 December 2014 Photo of the Day

I don’t know what it is about the light at the Thomas Tree Farm near North Gower, but I always love the portraits I take of the boys there. I can’t believe we resisted getting a natural tree for so many years – getting the tree has turned into one of our favourite family traditions. [...]

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Ingredient of the week: Home made vanilla extract

4 December 2014 Feed me, Seymour!

Here’s a fun and easy although not entirely inexpensive little project: make yer own vanilla extract! You can thank Chef Michael Smith for this one. Beloved and I have been taping old episodes of his series Chef at Home from the Food Network and watching them on the weekends. One episode he made a passing [...]

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Photo of the day: My Name is Donder

3 December 2014 Ah, me boys

This might be one of my favourite Christmas photos of the boys ever. My friend Henry on Flickr gave this one an alternate title that I also really like: we’re going to need a bigger wagon! Fun, right? The expression on the reindeer slays me. That’s a Donder face if there ever was one. This [...]

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