Our annual family holiday newsletter

Dearest family and friends,

2017 has been a busy year, full of new and exciting developments. Here are a few highlights:

Giving (and receiving) with the Family Giving Tree

2017 marks our 6th year of volunteering as a family at the Family Giving Tree. Strictly speaking, it's the 7th year for me and The Pea. She and I volunteered for the first time when she was 4 years old; she was too young to do anything other than hold a tape dispenser for me, and the boys were too little to help. Even at that age, I could see her mind opening as she realized that there were little boys and girls like her whose parents couldn't get them all the Christmas presents they wanted.  Volunteer opportunities for kids under age 14 are pretty scarce. I realized we needed the Family Giving Tree just as much as the kids who would be receiving the presents.

Trading pins at Hong Kong Disneyland

There are six Disney parks around the world -- Anaheim, Orlando, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shangai -- and each one is unique in its own way. One of the things that makes each park unique is the merchandise. When we visited Hong Kong Disneyland, I had a great time browsing through the shops and checking out what each one had to offer. Naturally, as pin trading enthusiasts, we paid special attention to the trading pins. We just couldn't miss the opportunity to discover and collect some one-of-a-kind pins! Hong Kong Disneyland's pin selection did not disappoint. Here's the rundown on the beautiful and unique trading pins we found at Hong Kong Disneyland:

5 reasons to visit a California Welcome Center

Heading out to California for winter break? Great choice! There is so much to do and see in the Golden State, it will take you a lifetime to do and see it all. I've lived here for over 20 years, and I'm discovering new things all the time. 

If you're spending winter break in California, you probably already know where you're going... but you may not know exactly what you'll be doing. There's no shortage of "Things to Do in CA" articles and blogs and websites. It's difficult to know where to begin! One resource I've found invaluable is the VisitCalifornia.com website. Visit California is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting California as a tourism destination. You can find tons of suggestions for things to do in California on their website. If you prefer to do your travel research on the sofa instead of in front of a computer, you can order a free visitors guide, a glossy publication filled with stunning photographs that will make you want to book travel arrangements on the spot. 

However far in advance you like to plan your California trip, be sure to carve some time in your schedule once you're in California to drop by a California Welcome Center. There are 16 centers scattered throughout California, and they're well worth a visit. On our recent trip to Southern California, we stopped by the California Welcome Center in Buena Park. It's just 5 miles from Disneyland, 15 miles from Huntington Beach, 20 miles from John Wayne Airport and 20 miles from Los Angeles. We were so glad we did. Here are five reasons why it's worth your time:

2017 Disneyland holiday trading pins

You know you're a Disney geek when you can spend a full day inside a Disney park without getting on a single ride. There are so many other things to entertain you: the shows, the parades, the shopping, the dining experiences... and the pin trading.

If you like Disney characters and memorabilia, you'll love Disney pin trading and collecting. Half the fun is shopping for bright, shiny, new pins, and the other half is trading pins. You can trade with other pin collectors, or you can trade with cast members around the park. We started collecting and trading pins in 2012, and have been enjoying it ever since.

Disney releases new pins year round, but I have a soft spot for the holiday pin trading, because Disney's holiday pin designs are so stinking cute (click here to view some of Disney's holiday pins from past years).  Also, I love the fact that you can't get these pins at any other time of the year. Here are some of the cutest Disney holiday pins that I ran into this year: