VANDUSEN GARDENS

If you’re looking to add a little wonder and magic to your holiday season VanDusen Gardens should be at the top of your Christmas list! With over 1 million lights decorating the botanical gardens, this is the perfect winter walk that would even make the Grinch’s heart grow two sizes. Beautiful, festive with activities for the whole family, this is a light display you won’t want to miss.

After hearing rave after rave of this spectacular light display last year, I decided to add it to our Christmas Advent and check it out for myself. Tickets are priced well for an evening with the family and we chose a weekday because I’ve pretty much decided to never do anything on the weekends if avoidable as they tend to be a tad more crowded–think Simba in a stampede of wildebeest. So a Thursday it was.

Pro to weekday excursions : less crowded. Cons : Traffic.

I’m going to be honest with you, arriving at VanDusen after driving for an hour and a half in weeknight traffic was not exactly the start to the evening I had envisioned. We arrived crabby, irritable, and with the sense of wanting to just turn back and leave. Needless to say we went from little expectations about our evening to extremely high expectations that that drive with a toddler had better of been worth it.

Though the festival opens at 4:30, parking was surprisingly easy. We arrived around 6:30 just as the early birds were beginning to leave. Walking up there were a few lights that were nice, but nothing special, and then we walked through the pavilion and entered the world of lights.

It. Was. Stunning.

Our bad moods melted away as our senses took in the sights. Lights for our eyes, music for our ears and fragrances for our nose. The air had a nice crisp chill to it which added to the winter evening and for the first time in a long time there was NO rain!

There are lots of displays to be seen from the Grinch to the dancing Christmas trees (the music is so fun) to the hidden tunnels and gazebos. One of my favorites were what looked like thousands of flowers, but upon closer inspection you can see that they are recycled water bottles.

We of course grabbed some delicious mini doughnuts at one of the trucks because for real what’s a festival without mini doughnuts? We rode the old carousel, played in the little houses scattered around the grounds, and were lucky enough to sit on Santa’s lap after only a five minute wait!

    

VanDusen does have a restaurant on site, though without a reservation you could be waiting a while. There are also a few food trucks, and for the adults mulled wine!

All in all this event was definitely worth the drive. It was dazzling and filled our hearts with a ton of Christmas joy. To me, an event is a success if I see the twinkle of wonder in my daughter’s eyes, the excitement of her pointing and running towards displays, and the hearty chuckle of pure delight. Needless to say, the VanDusen Festival of Lights will be sure to become a must do holiday tradition!

 

Open December 1st to January 7th starting at 4:30 nightly. Closed December 25th.

CHRISTMAS ADVENT

December has always been an exciting  time. The magic of the season, the community spirit and the extra special time shared together as a family are all reasons why I love this time of year. Now that I have a child, and one who is beginning to see the magic for herself, I am so excited to share traditions and experiences that I have known and loved.

To make the most of the season, I have made a list of all the things I cannot wait to do with my little family!

Photo by Ashley Bryce Photography

1- Write a Letter to Santa : I know some people do this in November, but I like to save this for December 1st. Our Elf, Sparkle, arrives with a special envelope for a letter and of course the story of why she’s here. While yes, Christmas should be about presence over presents, like it or not, presents are a part of it. We limit gifts throughout the year and much prefer to receive experiences (stay tuned for some of our favorite gifts of experiences), but the excitement of Santa is something I am excited to share with her, and I love that she can choose something she really wants. 🙂

2- Sponsor a Senior : I love this program sponsored by London Drugs, and is one of the many ways to teach community spirit as well as show the importance of giving not just receiving. Each London Drugs location partners with a local senior center. At the front of the store is a tree with many tags. Grab a tag that lists the senior you are sponsoring, go around and select the items on the list and fill a stocking!

3- Holiday Photos : In case you hadn’t noticed, I love themed photo shoots and every Christmas I set up a holiday shoot for my little love. It’s fun, it’s an adorable keepsake and I use the photos for holiday cards, gifts and calendars.

4- Decorate the Tree : Decorating the Christmas tree is always a blast in our house. Reminiscing about favorite ornaments, rocking around the Christmas tree to our favorite tunes and drinking our favorite holiday drinks, this tradition is full of fun and family tradition.

5- Make Holiday Cards : I know the internet is taking over the world, but I am one of those people that still loves to send out holiday cards. I make my own, write a special note and send them in (gasp) regular post! I still think there is something special about a hand written note and although the price of postage sucks, it’s the thought that counts, right?

6- Watch the Polar Express, drink hot chocolate and make sugar snowflakes (Recipe coming soon on the blog)

7- Ride the Polar Express : I love love love the Polar Express and am so excited about this experience. My daughter LOVES trains and each ride includes a cookie, music and hot chocolate!

8- Visit Santa : While not all kids are thrilled about sitting on Santa’s lap…and to be fair when you think about it we tell kids to be afraid of strangers, but then tell them to sit on a stranger’s lap…but it is a must in our family. Bonus when Santa plays along and mimics the child’s behavior in the photo! Last year my daughter cried so Santa cried whereas my friend’s daughter slept so Santa slept–too cute!

9- Read the Grinch Who Stole Christmas : We actually try and read a holiday themed book each night. Our elf brings us a basket of wrapped books as an advent calendar. Every day we unwrap a book, cuddle up on the couch and read a holiday classic!

10- Bake Cookies: Passing on family recipes is one of my favorite things to do with my kiddo. While some of our recipes are family secrets that I promised never to share, sugar cookies are another holiday hit! I love these because my daughter can cut the shapes out herself and really feels like she’s contributing.

11- Christmas Craft : We love getting crafty together and there is no better way than with a themed craft! Stay tuned to the blog to find out what this year’s craft is!

12- Cookie Decorating : Now that the cookies are baked, cooled and ready it is time to decorate! While I do a lot of the decorating myself as my kiddo cannot hold her attention long enough to work through the batch, this is a fun activity that she is proud to share.

13- Donate Used Toys & Clothes : Many places accept gently used clothes, books, and toys around the holidays that are passed on to families in need.

14- Walking in a Christmas Wonderland : A lot of communities have begun decorating parks, lakes and peers with beautiful light displays. This is an easy last minute or a plan ahead activity that gets you out in the crisp air, and enjoying the community spirit.

15- VanDusen Gardens : This outdoor light display is truly magical. I love Christmas lights, I think there is something so beautiful about them, and as lame as it sounds, I think they are pure magic. VanDusen Gardens is truly breathtaking, and perfectly captures the magic of the season!

16- Watch a Favorite Christmas Movie : Maybe The Grinch, Charlie Brown Christmas, Jingle all the Way, etc. Cozy up on the couch in your pajamas, pop some popcorn and enjoy a cup of apple cider together.

17- Make a Snow Angel : Okay, so living in Vancouver this one gets a little trickier, but if this year is anything like last year (which they are predicting it will be) there should be at least one or two occasions for it. If not, there are always snow covered locations like Grouse Mountain–or if you’re feeling courageous Whistler–that will give you the snow fix you’ve been waiting for all year!

18- Visit a Senior Center : With all the baking we’ve done this season we love to share the goodies. We take some goodies to a local senior center along with some cards to spread some holiday cheer.

19- Bright Lights at Stanley Park : So many beautiful lights and displays in the heart of Stanley Park. Admission is by donation and the train is an added fee but totally worth it!

20- Make an Ornament : A tradition is to get a new ornament each year, but I love the idea of having my Little Love make her own addition to the tree and give as presents to the Grandparents. It’s been a bit tricky to create ornaments that aren’t in your face kid made, but they are always cherished.

21- Holiday Drive : This is probably one of my favorite traditions. Piling in the car, picking up a holiday drink, blasting some Christmas tunes, drive around and see all the beautiful Christmas light displays that your wonderful neighbors have created.

22- Build a Gingerbread House : Let’s face it, these things rarely get eaten, but they are always the perfect addition to any holiday decor!

23- Have Yourself a Merry Friendly Christmas : Not just a time to connect with family, Christmas is also a time to share with friends. We love to invite friends over for games and tapas and celebrate the season.

24-Christmas Eve traditions! An easy night of games, tapas, family, setting out cookies for Santa, and ending the night with a reading of The Night Before Christmas.

25- Christmas Day! Oh I cannot wait for Christmas day!! Seeing her little face shine as she walks in the room to see that Santa has visited. The amazing food, the carols, the family togetherness, all of it!

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions? I would love to hear them – andrea.aresse@gmail.com

Tis the season to share holiday magic with the ones you love the most!

REVIEW: BEING A MOM IS…ALWAYS BEING IN LOVE!

BEING A MOM IS…Always Being In Love is a picture book written by Anna Belle and illustrated by Dusan Mirkovic. It is a short story that shares insights on what it means to be a mom by showcasing the joys and briefly touching on a few hardships.

As the title suggests, each page demonstrates a different aspect of mom life. From the start of your journey, to crying on the first day of school, to standing aside to let them fly. Though the words and pictures are simple, the meaning is clear, and is a thoughtful reminder of a heartfelt journey like no other.

While it’s appearance is similar to that of a children’s book, it would be more accurately categorized as a coffee table book since the intended readers are moms, moms to be, and grandmothers. Of course that is not to say it cannot be shared with a child; however, it may be better suited for school aged children as my active toddler had trouble reading through to the end.

A fun thing about reading this book is that you actually kind of get a sense of the kind of mom Anna Belle is, or grew up with. While it is filled with universal sentiments, it was endearing to read what I imagine to be personal anecdotes. Singing and dancing to supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, finding strength in struggles, and all the tender hugs and snuggles tell a story of a mom who is living (and LOVING) her mom life.

BEING A MOM IS… a book perfect for a gift or keepsake. Personally, I think it would make a great baby shower activity or guest book as guests could share their own views of being a mom. Furthermore, moms could also use it as a diary for their own feelings of motherhood to be later gifted to their own child once they set out on their own parenthood journey.

Although not every mother’s journey is the same, one thing that’s universal is an undeniable love for your child.

Being a mom is…being more tired than ever thought possible.

Being a mom is…being the calm in the eye of a storm.

Being a mom is…discovering strength you never knew within.

Being a mom is…learning the meaning of unconditional love!

 

*I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

THE STARLIGHT PRINCESS

It had been a long battle from the time it had begun. Every day brought another challenge, another fight, another war. Every day demanded courage and strength for the promise of a tomorrow.

Today, however, the mission had changed. The promise of tomorrow was replaced by a light everlasting.

Dressed in white with a kerchief tied to her head, the little Warrior dotted each I and crossed each T before folding the parchment and leaving it on the dresser. With one final look to her mother who sat folded over the patch worked bed, the little Warrior blew a kiss through the open air, turned, and began her journey to the Ever Fairies.

The grass tickled at her feet as she made her way across the field towards the willow trees. The stars danced above her, and for the first time in a long time, she felt life through every breath. The air soothed her aching limbs, and lifted the kerchief’s long tail as though she was a star shooting through the skies.

For a moment, the canopy from the willow’s weep left her nerves in fear. The world she once knew was gone, the sky had disappeared, and for the first time in a long time there was silence.

Flint by flint the way was lit by tiny fireflies dancing through the mid summer night’s breeze. Though dirt and shrub, the path was soft beneath the Warrior’s toughened feet. Pushing past the sway of the eldest willow, she was met with a soothing mist from the water’s fall.

With eyes tired from a life fought yet hardly lived, the Warrior strained in vain to find the water’s beginning. A song chimed from beneath the cascading stream when all of a sudden an opening appeared as though someone had swept open a curtain. A lily pad crept to the water’s edge and waited patiently for the Warrior’s to embark.

Nervously, the Warrior looked back to the canopy of the swaying trees. A heart conflicted she knew walking through the falls would both free her from the dark and cast a cruel shadow over the world she once belonged.

With a tear, she continued her journey. The portal welcomed her to a world beyond dreams. She sat as the lily pad gently moved across the silky pond. Dragonflies danced under the light of the moon. Music swung softly through the air. The Warrior closed her eyes in delight as the cool breeze washed over her.

Gently, the lily pad began to slow. The Warrior opened her eyes and let out a soft sigh. Before her, perched so elegantly a top golden toadstools, sat the Ever Fairies. Three goddesses dressed in white with their hair softly draped behind them, their wings as delicate as a spider’s web, their skin emitting a silver glow.

One by one they spoke:

The world is full of little fighters

Who make our earth so much brighter

However, sometimes their light is just too strong

And on this earth they don’t belong

So after showing such strength in plight

We Fairies summon you to illuminate our night

It seems a trick of fate

One that has caused a great debate

For one so young and pure of heart

To be called to fill this sacred part

And so to most it seems quite cruel

To crown you with our sacred jewel

But we have seen in you, so pure and true

More than strength and outstanding virtue

A beacon of wonder, hope and love

We need your shine way up above

And so we humbly call to you, an immortal girl

To breathe eternal life back to a broken world

You are the sun, the earth, one of the best by far

Will you be our shinning star?

The Warrior sat in silence, contemplating the words that had just been spoken. She looked to her frail arms and thought of hardships lived beyond the willows. She remembered the fear, the heartache, the pain. She thought about the people in the trenches with her, their lives forever altered; and she spoke.

I want my light to be bright as can be

So the world I left will remember me

Though maybe sad enough to weep

They’ll know I’m with them in their sleep

Watching over them with grace and pride

As they learn to trust what’s deep inside

Hope, love and above all faith

To live a life that’s truly great

Though not beside them, watching close

No need for anything more verbose

While they may walk another plain

I want them to know my love remains

Always, forever, end to start

Entwined forever are our hearts

The Fairies looked to each other with a nod before softly beginning their chant. Between their hands light began to swirl as they drew energy from beyond. With a gust of wind and a flash of light, a tiara appeared between the middle Fairy’s hands.

The remaining Fairies flanked to the Warrior’s side and escorted her step by step into the soothing tide. Gently one stood to her front with their hands entwined while the other unraveled the kerchief allowing the moonlight to dance off the Warrior’s head.

The Eldest Fairy descended as the others cradled the Warrior in the eternity pool. Their song washed over her in time with the rolling waves.

Young Warrior, your battle’s nearly done

As you’ve been chosen as our one

You’ve shown more strength and bravery than anyone ever should

You are too pure for this plain, more than could ever be understood

And so you’ve agreed to be a guide to those who’ve lost their way

A beacon of hope, of light, of good for those who’ve gone astray

Your love forever present, your life has left a scar

A beacon of faith and love, living as an Ever Star

You’re an inspiration, that everyone can agree

But before you shine your light for all the world to see

We want to say we’re sorry, for the cards you had been dealt

Your life, your laugh, your dignity is a mark that countless felt

So thank-you for what you give the world

You precious little girl

Ever humbled by your strength and smile when faced with such distress

Crowned for today and all tomorrows as our Starlight Princess

The crown felt cool against the Warrior’s pale head. Her legs began to tingle as she was lifted through the air. Her soul began to spiral as the light from within which had been felt by so many began to radiate brighter and stronger than before. For the first time in a long time, she felt the strength that others saw. Her body no longer aching, no longer shrouded in fatigue, the Princess leapt into the air as elegant as a gazelle.

Up, up past the second star to the left, she sprang through the night as a shooting star. Her tail was her paintbrush leaving a streak of embers to further glisten the sky.

After a journey nowhere near as long as her fight, she found comfort in the stars, and settled in at peace. Though a part of her was sad for missing what might have been, she found solace in the fact that she was not up there alone. She was surrounded by other Warriors who were quick to make her feel at home. After living restlessly, she let out a great big yawn with the first sight of the rising dawn.

Before she could lay her head and finally get some rest, she looked down to her little house. Her heart tightened thinking of her mother waking soon. She blew a kiss that housed with it the tiniest of lights for every night she’d sing to it to make that light ignite.

With her silver voice she sang:

It’s okay to miss me, but don’t let that stop you from your life

I fought too hard for mine to watch you give up in this strife

No one chose this deck of cards, no one would have been so foolish

But here we are, the cards were dealt, so please listen to my wish

Your hopes, your dreams are ours to share so please don’t lose your way

You taught me how to be this strong, and that strength will build each day

It’s okay to miss me, but know I’m not really gone

I’m high above, forever eagerly cheering you on

Thank-you for your courage, your care and love for me

You are my light, my best friend, my wonderful mommy

Until the day we meet again though I hope that day is far

From high above I’ll watch you as your brightest shining star

 

REVIEW: #BabyLove- MY TODDLER LIFE

#BabyLove- MY TODDLER LIFE is a picture book for the modern day Mom. Written & illustrated by Corine Dehghanpisheh, MY TODDLER LIFE is the second book in the #BabyLove series. Written from the child’s point of view, we are taken through the daily life of a toddler. Whether it’s arts and crafts, reading, playing with toys, etc, these everyday intimate moments are being documented and shared via social media. This rhyming story is cute, fun, and relatable to all parents who are so excited to share their Baby Love with the world as well as those who are forever trying to freeze a moment and make time stand still.

At one point, the young boy finds his Momma’s phone. This made me laugh because who hasn’t left the room at one time or another only to return to a reel of nostril selfies, and ceiling shots?

This book is an easy read, and is filled with bright, beautiful photos. There is the obvious lesson for your toddler which is that Mommy’s phone is not a toy, but I actually feel the lesson was geared towards adults. The story is written from the child’s perspective, and while the words may say “Mommy and I” the reality of the photos show a different story. As a blogger, but really as a mom, it was a good reminder that while some things do need to be captured, childhoods are meant to be witnessed in real time, and not watched through a lens or a screen.

#MommyandMe #BabyLove

*I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

MOVIES UNDER THE STARS

Let’s face it, summer can be an expensive time for families as we all try to keep our kids occupied and entertained throughout the long summer days. That’s why an event that’s FREE and fun for the whole family is always a great find to add to your summer bucket list.

This Saturday kicks off Surrey’s annual outdoor event Movies Under the Stars hosted by the Downtown Surrey BIA. This year’s movie picks are the perfect way to relax and enjoy some outdoor memories with your kids. While you wait for the sun to go down, there will be entertainment, activities and live performances. Don’t miss out on this free opportunity to connect with family and friends before the grind of school and schedules picks up again!

When and Where

Holland Park – 13428 Old Yale Road, Surrey

5:00-11:00

Come early to claim the perfect spot for the show and enjoy all the night has to offer.

Movies begin at dusk.

Movie Schedule

August 5th, 2017 – LEGO BATMAN

Rated PG. LEGO BATMAN is the second movie in the Lego series. Set in Gotham as Batman (Will Arnett) fights to save the city from the evil Joker (Zach Galifanakis). Along the way, Batman needs to learn to work with others. If this is anything like the first LEGO Movie, it is sure to be a fun, humorous, and action filled movie both kids and adults will enjoy.

August 12th, 2017 – SING

Rated PG. This movie follows a cast of characters (humanoid animals) as they compete in a singing competition. With an all-star cast including Reese Witherspoon and Mathew McConaughey, this movie is full of musical covers from a variety of genres and decades. Tap your toes to and enjoy as your littles jump to their feet to dance under the stars!

August 19th, 2017 – MOANA

Rated PG. In an attempt to save her island, Moana (Auli’I Cravalho) sets out on a daring adventure. Her travels lead her to meet Maui (Dwayne Johnson), a demigod of the wind and sea (hero to men and women). This has quickly become one of my favourite Disney movies, and the music has filled our household and daily lives.

August 26th, 2017 – BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Rated PG. A tale as old as time! This live action remake of the original delves deeper into the lives of Belle (Emma Watson), and her captor the Beast (Dan Stevens). With magic, action, and a soundtrack near and dear to so many adults’ hearts, you will love sharing this classic love story with your child.

What to Bring

As this event is in a park, it is recommended to bring either lawn chairs or a blanket to sit on while you enjoy the films. While the days are warm, the night can bring cooler temps so consider layers, a light jacket, and other weather dependent gear.

What’s a movie without snacks? While I’m sure you will be bringing your favourites, Prospera Credit Union will be providing all attendees with free popcorn. Mmm mmm mmm I can already smell the butter in the air!

The North Surrey Lions Club will also be hosting a BBQ before the movie with all proceeds being distributed among local charities.

 

 

 

 

 

FUNDRAISER: OLIVIA THE LITTLE FIGHTER

For those of you that do not know, I am part of a pretty great online community called TCMG (Tri-Cities Mom’s Group). It is a wonderful online forum where moms band together to support one another and raise them up, so today I wanted to use my platform to help a family in need.

FUNDRAISER: SILENT AUCTION

Saturday July 22nd, 2017

12:00 PM- 4:00 PM, Community Square

Come help the Tri-Cities Mom’s Group raise funds for “our little fighter”, Olivia. Olivia, who is 2 and a half years old, was diagnosed with Stage 4 High-Risk Neuroblastoma (childhood cancer).

With 100’s items up for bid you are sure to find something you like! Come check out the tables and make a bid. At the end of the day, you will be contacted if you are winning bidder to make payment and pick-up arrangements.

The hope is to raise enough money to cover the high costs of treatment in the US which are not available at BC Children’s Hospital. This treatment is a trial which has shown positive results in reducing relapses in children with Neuroblastoma. The estimated costs for participating in this trial would be about $70,000 US.

The Tri-Cities Mom’s Group is a place for local moms’ to give and receive support. The TCMG operates online as a positive meeting place for neighbourly or anonymous discussion. This is a highly engaged group that runs over six thousand moms’ strong! The outreach of the TCMG stretches far beyond the boundaries of the on-screen community. Through events and sponsorships, the TCMG touches the lives of many local families in need.

The family is graciously accepting etransfer donations: oliviaourlittlefighter@gmail.com.  Password: Olivia

Follow her journey on Facebook: Olivia Our Little Fighter