Cooking and baking are fun -- and educational, as children learn to measure and mix and see firsthand how water and oil separate in a bowl.
Remember that there are many things to bake besides cookies and spicy breads. Basic dough is used for pretzels, which can be coated with cinnamon sugar for a sweet goodie or seasoned with spices for a savory treat. The dough also can be twisted into shapes, such as initials or numbers. Homemade pizzas are fun. Make mini-crusts then put out the toppings for children to assemble their own favorites.
You can also fry dough then add sweetness with chocolate, caramel or cinnamon and sugar. Apple dumplings are a crisp, sweet seasonal treat.
Involve your children in finding the perfect gift for grandma and grandpa. Are they tech-savvy enough to appreciate the latest gadgets? For those who haven't even acquired a cell phone, check out those that have large buttons, bright screens and emergency call functions -- they aren't necessarily expensive.
How about giving a family outing? Or a specially made scrapbook that can double as a brag book? A gift certificate to their favorite restaurant might be a treat. If you all share what you know about these special people and what they mean to you, you'll come up with something perfect and individualized.
Turning gifts into colorful packages is a great creative outlet. If you cut the wrapping paper, almost any age child can wrap the gift.
Be creative in what you use as wrapping paper. Is there any old wallpaper in the garage? Do you have old road maps, calendars, sheet music? How about fabrics, old tablecloths, napkins or scarves? Fabric makes it easier to wrap those difficult shapes.
Children can also decorate their own wrapping paper. Old magazines are perfect for cutting out colorful patterns to decorate plain white paper butcher paper, or kids can draw and color with markers. Don't forget about stickers, and old photographs will personalize the wrappings.
Reading and writing
This vacation might allow time to read with your child, and what could be better than snuggling up together to enjoy a good book?
It also might be a good time to encourage children in their writing. Start with writing holiday shopping lists together or writing down menus. Then keep a journal, writing brief descriptions of holiday activities and pictures.
If your child is too young to write, let him dictate his story into a tape recorder, then write it down and read it back. Perhaps him can illustrate the story himself and then you'll have a book to cherish: "Celebrating Christmas 2011." Or children can draw holiday photos first and then dictate the words.
Start new traditions
It's always nice to start new traditions because in analyzing your holiday activities you may decide you want to drop an old tradition.
* Organize a visit from Santa. Encourage your family or friends to come over for a potluck breakfast or lunch. As the festivities get into full swing, have Santa join in the fun and provide him with goodie bags for the children. Have a camera on hand for that perfect Santa moment.
* Build a gingerbread house with your family. Kits are available if you don't want to bake it from scratch. Or graham crackers can be used for cute mini-houses, held together with frosting and decorated with small candies.
* Cookies are a favorite tradition -- both baking and eating. Kids can be involved in this at any age. Even if they've only helped add some of the ingredients, they'll be proud as they share "their" cookies with others.
* Give back to your community. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen. Sing holiday carols in nursing homes and senior centers. Organize a food drive for the food bank. Have young children go through their toys and pick one or two to donate to a local shelter. This will help children participate in the joy of giving.
* Create a video or online photo album. This tradition can be especially meaningful for families with loved ones who don't live nearby if you can mail it to them in time to enjoy with their holiday celebrations.
Enjoy the days leading up to Christmas and this school vacation -- time is the most important gift that any of us can give.
Posada with pinatas
What: Community holiday celebration in the Mexican tradition, with music, singing, drama, food and a special guest
Who: Pleasanton-Tulancingo Sister City Association
Where: Pleasanton Public Library, 400 Old Bernal Ave.
When: 6-9 p.m., Friday, Dec. 16
What: Nick Barone Puppets present "Holiday Treats," an original comedy variety show. The wacky cast of loveable, friendly monsters will give a zany and festive show where almost everything that can go wrong does go wrong. The show features a roster of holiday-themed songs and a comical story that will delight the entire family
When: 2 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 17
Where: Pleasanton library
Cost: Free. No registration is required for the 30-minute program, and free tickets will be distributed at the Children's Desk 30 minutes prior to the show. Doors will be closed to late arrivals once the program begins.
Call: at 931-3400, ext. 8
What: Winter Ramblers Nature Day Camp for ages 6-12. Nature crafts, skills and games will keep campers warm and toasty while they learn some cool new stuff.
Where: Alviso Adobe Community Park
Instructor: Eric Nicholas, City Naturalist
When: 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 28
Cost: $116 for residents; $128 non-residents
Contact: email@example.com or call 931-5357
What: Winter camp show: "A Pirate Christmas," for grades 2-8
Who: Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre
Dates: 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Dec. 26-Dec. 30
Performances: 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 31
Fee: $200 per camper, sibling discount available; high school internships available (no charge for interns)
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