Thursday, December 18, 2014

In My Bathroom...

Not my typical ranting or reviewing kind of post, but just a list of some of my favourite new cosmetic and bath products. I recently subscribed to ipsy, a monthly curated cosmetics goodie bag, so some of my discoveries have been from these samples. Others I've just come across by random fluke.

Everyone Soap for Kids - Little L and I both use this for our bubble baths and for my hair and body wash. It's everything-free when it comes to toxic ingredients, it's inexpensive, and my hair comes out clean and residue-free (per my stylist). Plus it smells lovely!

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Eyeliner - it's my first ever liquid eyeliner and it goes on dark. It does take a minute to dry but makes a great cat-eye and doesn't smudge that much once it is on. It's probably full of toxic ingredients but so far I haven't had any allergic reactions :)

Geisha Ink Liquid Brow Liner - for a more natural brow, I've been trying out this liquid liner. It's not very dark but it does fill in those gaps between my brow hairs. I'm told the Stila one is even better but for a natural look and easy application, this one has been really good. Oh, and its paraben-free.

** I've also read really fab reviews for the Stila liquid brow liner and Geisha Ink liquid eyeliner, so I may try both next time to compare.

Tarte 4-in-1 Lights, Camera, Lashes volume mascara - I've only tried this recently (since it just came in my Ipsy bag), but it has quickly surpassed Benefit and LancĂ´me as my favourite mascara. It didn't clump for me and it did lengthen and thicken my lashes while evenly darkening them as I applied two coats. I was impressed! The ingredients also seem pretty innocuous, although I am not sure if it's toxin-free. 

Optimera Day/Night Cream - I might do a separate post on this later, but for now let's just say that I have tried this duo of creams and over the past two weeks I have noticed my pores shrinking and my skin tightening up a bit. I've tried that Cloud cream and also a Riversol moisturizer recently, and I do think I've had better results with Optimera than I had with either of those. It is a pricey product but worth it if the results keep coming! :)

Anyway, what's in your bathroom right now? I'm always up to try a great product!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Loquacious Country Christmas: Our Adventure at the Timberline Ranch

On the weekend, we headed out of the city for some down-home country holiday festivities. I had read that Timberline Ranch was a Christian camp and retreat centre, so I felt great kinship with them from the Christ perspective. When I heard they had a family Christmas event, I was sold!

It took us 1.5 hours to get from the city to Maple Ridge, so we were ready to stretch our legs! Because Country Christmas reservations are made based on time-slots to prevent overcrowding, we knew we had to factor in traffic when we GPS'ed the location. The ranch was easy to find, given the well-labeled signs and the help of our GPS. However, the drive was brutally long.

When we arrived, it was nice to find ample parking space near the buildings. I was expecting chaos and crowds akin to our pumpkin patch outings earlier this season, but was pleasantly surprised to find that everything was structured and decidedly un-crowded. At check-in, I learned that we would be following a more or less unidirectional path through their various displays and workshops. While part of me was very pleased with this kind of structure and organization, part of me also wished that we would have had more opportunities to just explore and walk around on our own timeline. Obviously, you can't have your cake and eat it too; the time-blocking structure of Country Christmas simply wouldn't lend itself to people randomly milling about for long periods of time.

Our first stop was the potty (clean, spacious). Next, the "bakery," which was a workshop room with long tables set up for cookie decorating. I was glad to see pre-portioned icing and candies, particularly since 'tis the season of cold germs. Nothing like a bunch of random grubby little hands reaching into a Smarties bowl to spread the viral love ;) Anyway, Little L *loved* decorating her cookie (and ours), but she especially enjoyed consuming every last bit of frosting off her cookie afterwards. Hubbs said that the cookie was delicious, evidenced by the fact that he gobbled his right away. I found the "decorations" baggie to be the perfect size for storing my frosted treat, which I saved for Little L for later in the day.

After our "baking" adventures, we headed to the main building, where most of the other attractions were housed. We made our way downstairs, and first up was "Snowville," a small room with white ball-pit "snowballs" that we could launch over the fence at dangling ornaments and other targets. It was age-appropriate for Little L, who usually enjoys tossing stones into False Creek and leaves into puddles. However, as with most little people with short attention spans, her desire to stay in that room was short-lived.

Next on the list was the portrait area, featuring a decked out fireplace and some ranch duds you could borrow to look like you came from the Wild West. We opted out of this photo op, since neither Little L nor Hubbs are big on photos, particularly posed ones.

The ornament workshop was a diminutive open space beside the portrait area, with long tables set up and pre-cut craft pieces and supplies ready to be used for ornament assembly. The craft in question? A wooden snowman. Mine ended up looking like a snow bird because Little L chose a disproportionately large triangle to use as the snowman's "nose," resulting in a very distinctly beakish appearance. Hubbs has since affectionately dubbed our ornament "Bird Jafar." It fits. Anyway, while I love the idea of ornament-making, I do wish that the Country Christmas organizers would have chosen a craft that was more open-ended, and required less fine-motor skills. This particular ornament did not lend well to Little L's participation; she could only choose the various pieces, but required us to help her with assembly. She drew on the "eyes" and "buttons" (in our case, she opted to create feathers), but she wasn't able to do much else.

Beside the ornament area was a "History of Christmas" display, featuring large wooden panels painted colourfully and posing trivia-style questions about the holidays. Each panel had one or more doors that you could open to discover the answers. I think this would have been interesting for a 7-year-old, but for Little L it was a snooze and we didn't even stop there.

Storyland is their story time, and it runs every 20 minutes. We had just missed the start of the story time, which took place in a separate room. We didn't want to wait, and the closed doors suggested that we wouldn't be welcome part-way into the storytelling. We were also anxious to get on the much-anticipated wagon ride, so imagine our disappointment to learn that the wagon was full, and that we would have to wait for the next one in.

We passed the time with Little L by going upstairs to the cafe on the main floor of the building. They sold hot dogs, chips, beverages, popcorn and sweet treats. I was glad to see that they accepted debit and credit cards!

The highlight for us was going to be the wagon ride. Little L was quickly fading into her pre-nap grouchiness, so we wanted to enjoy a nice leisurely wagon ride that would take us back to the parking lot. We were first in line for the next wagon, and loaded up with excitement. The surface of the sitting area was covered with fake snow, and Little L was convinced her butt would get wet if she sat down on it. It took some coaxing for us to get her to sit on her own, so imagine our frustration when the wagon driver asked us to move Little L onto our lap!

As we settled in and began our wagon journey, we observed painted panels of the Nativity story and a 3D display with mannequin Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus. In just two short minutes, however, we had stopped. We had arrived at the pony rides and petting zoo area of the ranch, and everyone was exiting the wagon. We asked the ranch hand if we could stay on the wagon, but apparently we were not permitted to just keep riding. We would have to disembark, pet animals, and wait for the next wagon (that we were told would come in less than 20 minutes). Since we had already waited for this wagon for 20, and had anticipated a 10-15 minute ride in the wagon, we were very disappointed. Little L was in no mood to pet the cute animals, and because the stables were, well, stables, there wasn't a lot of sitting area unless you wanted to perch yourself on a hay bale. We decided at that point to call it a day; waiting another 20 minutes for a wagon ride simply wasn't going to be worth it.

In total, we spent approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes at Timberline Ranch. It took us twice that time to get there and back to Van. 

So here's my honest review of the Timberline Ranch Country Christmas: it reminds me of church events like Noah's Fest (the Hallowe'en alternative), where spaces with other designations are converted into kid-friendly activities for summer camps or themed celebrations. They are doing their best and it's a good time, but it's not a slick and polished operation. I was also looking forward to traversing longer distances between activities and displays (so that I could stretch my legs after the long car ride), but instead found myself not having to do a whole lot of walking on the ranch (except when we had to walk back from the stables to our vehicle, post-wagon fiasco). The wagon ride was sadly too short, although for the brief time that we spent on it, we did enjoy it a lot. It was truly, and accurately, a country Christmas-styled event; not a lot of glitz, not a lot of glamour, but simple and quiet and uncrowded, which I did very much appreciate in the midst of the bustle of the season. And the cookies were delicious! Would I go again? Likely, but not next year. I do think that kids aged 6-8 might get more out of Country Christmas than my near-3 year old. Also, families living nearer to Maple Ridge would probably find the excursion less arduous; a 3-hour return trip is simply too long, for too little pay-off, for my munchkin.

The cost is $7/adult and $9/child, and they are open Dec. 12-21st this year. However, it seems that they are already fully booked for the season, so I would advise that if you would like to go, please register with them in mid-November 2015 for next year's event.

Here is Bird Jafar. Merry Christmas.

FULL DISCLOSURE: After we had already purchased tickets to Timberline Ranch's Country Christmas, they contacted us to request that we review the event. In exchange for the blog post, they offered us free admission. Our purchase was therefore refunded. However, all opinions are my own.

Showdown with a Sociopath, or Just a Day at the Public Library

(Scene: City's largest public library, on a quiet rainy weekday afternoon. Little L and I are just about the enter the toddler play area, where another woman and her son are already playing. The woman is also on her smartphone while her boy is body-slamming himself into the mats)

Little L enters the play space.

Boy runs up until he is literally inches from her face, and yells his name very loudly and exuberantly. Surprisingly, this does not cause a major meltdown from her, but she ignores him.

Little L begins to move a chair so that she can play with it.

The moment she lets go and turns around to figure out where to move it, the boy runs up and snatches the chair away.

I coax Little L to find another chair, because my girl is just about to experience some big feelings.

Little L notices the foam cubes and decides she is going to build a tall tower instead. She crouches on the floor and begins to stack two cubes, one on top of the other.

The moment she turns to grab a third cube, the boy runs up and snatches the two stacked cubes.

Shocked, I try to distract Little L and get her to find two new cubes. She is on the brink of upset, but locates two other cubes that she begins to stack. The moment she lets go to find a third, the boy grabs her two new cubes, announcing all the while that he wants those cubes to play with.

Me: (to boy) Excuse me! That is not okay! She is still playing with those blocks. You can't play with them right now. You have to find other blocks to play with.

Woman: (to me) Are you serious? He's TWO. We teach him to share. We don't discipline him like that.  
(passive-aggressively, to boy) Come on, let's play with these over here. She wants to play with the blocks and she doesn't want to share so we will play over here ...blah blah blah

Me: Yes, but my daughter was playing with those toys. I teach her to share, too, but she doesn't have to share them if she was already playing with them and he takes them away. That's not okay. He already grabbed the chair that she was playing with, and took her blocks.

Woman: (to me) Was the chair IN your daughter's hands? Did he take them out of her hands?

Me: No, but it was clear that she was still playing with them. She let go for like one second. He keeps taking stuff that she's playing with!

Woman: He's only TWO. I teach him to share, blah blah blah... it's called "positive parenting." I discipline him but not THAT way.

Me: Yes, but at age TWO he is developmentally able to understand that it's not okay to take things that other people are playing with. It's called boundaries, and that's what we teach. Listen, when you have your BEd and can speak capably about child development then we will talk.

Woman: (passive-aggressively, to boy) Come on, let's get out of here. This girl wants to play with all of the toys all by herself, so we are going to play somewhere else. She wants to be entitled and play with all of the toys here.
(to me) You don't know anything about me.

Me: You're right, I don't. But I do know that it's not okay to take someone else's toys. And you obviously don't know much about child development. At age two he is capable of learning appropriate behaviour.

Woman: I'm a preschool teacher. I'm just on leave from my job because of my son. I know all about children.
(to boy) Come on, let's go.

As the woman turns on her heels to leave, she yells (with her back to me): You should look up the definition of a sociopath!

I'm told by my friend Mitzi, who was just emerging from the potty at the library at the time, that she saw the woman slam her kid into the stroller and storm off.

Now, I'm not sure if she knows what a sociopath actually is (ironic), but I witnessed this lady escalate the issue from 0 to 10 in a matter of 2 minutes, and at no point did she take any responsibility for her son's inappropriate behaviour. She name-called and she was passive-aggressive with me (and later aggressive with her own kid), and she purportedly works with preschoolers in an influential capacity. My guess is, if you live in the GVA and your child goes (or plans to go) to a preschool where a woman is currently on mat leave and has a son named Ronan Michael (or was it Rowan Michael) something or other, it's probably best if you find a different preschool.

But then, what do I know? I'm just a sociopath. :P

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Christmas Train Surprise

As we headed to our local SBux for a Sunday family date, we walked past the Roundhouse and saw a miniature train (the kind you can sit on) going around a track. It looked like it was open, so we popped in to check it out.

To our delight, they were indeed still operating. For just a mere $2 per person, our entire family got to ride this little train around a track 4 times. While this may not seem like a huge thrill to big people, Little L was absolutely delighted to be able to ride around the big train car and see the lights and decorations. She also got to give the conductor her tickets, and the little touches ("All aboard!") just made the experience that much more memorable and authentic. 

We weren't originally going to ride this train since we had no idea that someone even operates a Christmas mini train. The volunteer who was taking our payment today informed me that they usually set up at Canada Place, but some years they've used the Roundhouse as their venue. 

It was a lovely surprise for us, because we weren't expecting to find an inexpensive festive event to participate in today. The ride was not crowded, and totally age appropriate for my not-quite-3 year old. Even Hubbs found it a surprisingly fun experience, made all the more awesome by the fact that it was only a few blocks from home. 

They are open 10-8 all week long and 10-4:30 on weekends until the 23rd. Cost is $2 but free for under 2's accompanied by a parent. You can also buy 12-ride passes for $20.

Friday, December 5, 2014

On Torture and Toddlers

Okay, that title sounds bad, like in a psycho-violent sort of way. I am not referring here to acts of violence on children (which I absolutely do not support), nor am I referring to the suffering that they sometimes give us when they wake up at 4:30 to start the day (which I also do not support).

I am referencing an emotional and mental torture, the kind that one blogger puts as gaslighting. In her blog post, she makes a very strong argument for parents to stop and consider what some of our social obligations and expectations are doing to our kids. Please read her article and if you want, come back here to consider my musings.


Okay, finished reading?

I came across this article almost a week ago, and I've been chewing on it ever since. Although I don't necessarily agree with her analogy or use of the term gaslighting, her article did resonate with me, mostly because it fits with my approach to child-rearing, and because I've felt some of that weird tension that comes with trying to honour Little L as an individual with age-specific limitations and needs while balancing out social commitments.

To be clear, the world does not revolve around my kid. We have responsibilities to others too, and to put everything off for the sake of Little L is not only a poor example but also unrealistic in the long term. That said, I do think that there can be ways to manage and balance the two without throwing my kiddo under the bus.

It has long been held in the teaching world that you should set children up to succeed, not to fail. If expectations are unrealistic for a child's age or developmental level, then mastery will not be possible and frustration will occur, degrading one's self-esteem and leading to the child giving up. Sadly, the attitude of "I can't" may then be misapplied generally to other circumstances, fueling a hopelessness and defeat that pre-empts the child's willingness to even try on future occasions. Even the most resilient child will give up if he/she is continually being set up to fail.

If, however, you set children up to succeed and provide expectations that are achievable (even if they are high ones that require much effort), then mastery will feed into the child's sense of self-determination and motivation. The "I can" attitude will take them far in life, much as the "I can't" attitude can stunt ambition and achievements.

We only have one Little L, so maybe one's mileage may vary due to having multiple littles to deal with. However, in our albeit limited experience, we have found that it is absolutely vital to set down boundaries, limits and expectations with people in our families and social circles, after first considering things from our toddler's perspective. By doing so, we have managed to avoid many major public meltdowns and awkward social situations. 

1. Never commit to dining experiences that exceed one hour (unless you have kid-friendly running space, in which case that extends to 1.5 hours).

We have had to turn down attending birthday dinners, anniversary banquets, weddings and other such commitments that would require Little L to stay seated in the same spot all night long. When we have done fancy dine-outs, we have intentionally chosen hotel restaurants or those with lobbies or areas that Little L and I (or Hubbs) could escape to for some de-wiggling fun. This means no 10-course Chinese dinners for us! At both my dad's and our granny's post-funeral dinners, we also chose places where Little L could leave the table and be entertained watching fish or doing something other than sit and watch adults talk and eat for hours on end. At 2.5, most kids only want to have French fries, and don't have the self-control (or energy) to sit still for extended periods of time, be it at the dining table or a fancy restaurant. To expect them to behave as we do is unfair and torturous.

2. Don't commit to travel if  destinations require long distances.

Be it a road trip or a drive out to the suburbs to see friends, we have had to decline when it has required Little L to sit for prolonged periods of time without much of a break. We tried the road trip to Oregon and to be completely honest, it was a fail as far as Little L was concerned, because even with our planned "breaks," we were driving for far too many hours without stopping to give her room to stretch and run around. It's probably okay to do a longer drive when it coincides with nap time, but generally, most tots are only napping once a day, so you're going to end up with a portion of the drive when they will be awake and not wanting to be strapped into a car seat anymore. This is a recipe for tantrums, and understandably so!

3. Bring reinforcements (food, toys, electronic devices, books).
Flights are harder to manage, since some destinations are simply far away and require long hours in a plane. Heck, even a playdate or a visit to grandma's can sometimes be a challenging and long  experience for a kidlet. In these cases, it's important to channel our inner Boy Scout and be prepared for anything. For us, that means that we carry much onto our flights (like our recent one to Maui) and on full-day outings or visits. I usually pack both savoury and sweet snacks for Little L to munch on. Sometimes I pack stuffies or figurines and/or several of her favourite books, along with her iPad that is charged and pre-loaded with videos that don't require WiFi. I might even bring crayons and paper. This covers most of the HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired)-induced behaviours that lead to meltdowns.

4. Discuss plans and commitments ahead of time. Let your kids have a voice!

I usually front-load what we are doing if there is something that I want Little L to attend that may be out of her comfort zone. I sometimes let her choose to go or not, if it's of little consequence either way, and if it is something that she must attend (like family funerals), I try to find ways to redeem the experience. For us, that meant that Hubbs did not get to sit during my dad's memorial, and it also meant that I did not get to sit in his granny's service. The benefit, however, is that Little L was able to get quality time with a parent, move around and make kid noises, and eat snacks without disturbing others. We also set her up to succeed by providing her with a setting that was appropriate for her age, distractions to pass the time and address HALT behaviour, and a pre-determined set of expectations to let her know what to expect and how we wanted her to behave. 

5. Shop online

One advantage of the 21st century is that we no longer have to drive to a store to buy Christmas gifts or groceries or new shoes for our kiddos. I'm blessed that we can do a lot of these things online, and I do use the internet liberally (especially for buying Little L's clothes) to avoid long and crowded trips to the mall with an over-tired or over-stimulated youngster. As a result, Little L doesn't hate going to a shopping centre, and neither do we. When we do go, we aren't stressed about having to cross off a list of items we need to buy, but instead we can focus on exploring the sights and sounds and tastes and smells with her. It's a win-win, and now we count the mall as one of our indoor "play places" when it's ugly outside and someone has a case of the wiggles.

6. Let your littles own their bodies.

We ask, but we don't force, Little L to hug or kiss anyone. Usually, if she likes someone and feels comfortable, our request is heeded without incident. However, if she is feeling tired or cranky or simply doesn't care to show physical affection towards someone, we honour that choice and usually try to see if she might be willing to meet half-way with a "high-five" instead. When even that is declined, we let her be. It's hard to be friendly with strangers or people you don't know well, and even harder when you're a little person and they tower over you and scare you with their loud voices and overly-eager invitations for affection. I don't expect her to fake it if she doesn't care for someone; her emotions and her body belong to her and I want her to feel safe knowing that she gets to decide on matters relating to her being.

7. Welcome all emotions.

This one is hard. For a while, I would get kind of embarrassed when Little L would act shy or rejecting or temperamental in front of extended family or strangers. I would do much to avoid the meltdown or the emotional outbursts, not wanting to appear out of control or like a bad mommy. Now, I've found that it is better to just let her show how she feels, be a comfort to her, and then discuss and deal with her feelings later when she feels calm and safe. It's hard to console a hysterical person, and a billion times more difficult when that person is 2.5. I have had to let go of my concern about how others might perceive me as a mother, because there's simply no way that I can please them while at the same time model authenticity and respect for my daughter's feelings, and for me, the latter trumps the former.

In these small ways, we are attempting to help Little L learn how to behave while still recognizing and honoring the fact that at her age, she simply cannot be expected to do as we do. Our hope is that we can set her up to meet and exceed our expectations, rather than fail miserably because our demands are too lofty. May she continue to build on her self-esteem and sense of self-determination, rather than have it eroded by our unreasonable adult expectations!

How do you feel about this whole "gaslighting our children" business? Do you agree with the author, or do you think that she is making mountains out of mole hills? What are some ways that you set your kiddies up to succeed? I'd love to hear your musings too!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

How We Do CHRISTmas

After reading First Time Mom and Dad's post I wanted to write about how we're trying to teach Little L about the true meaning of Christmas. This is the dilemma that I suspect many parents face, and we're all just sort of figuring it out as we go along.

For us, I am thankful that up to this point we have been able to shield her from the commercials and ads that dictate what a kid "needs" at Christmas time, so Little L has no preferences or wish list for gifts. This makes buying her something a truly fun and easy process (unless you're an auntie or uncle or Nana, in which case maybe it makes things harder). It has helped to reduce the focus of the holidays on "things" because I genuinely don't believe that Little L expects *any* gifts on the 25th. Weird and wonderful, this ignorance is.

We have also chosen not to pretend that Santa is "real," opting instead to introduce her to the historical Saint Nicholas. I know that this is not a popular approach, but it is one that Hubbs and I had decided long ago that we would take with our littles. We don't sing a lot of Santa songs, we avoid books and shows that portray him as a real, North-Pole-dwelling, omniscient Christmas gift-giver, and we simply don't discuss him very much. When we hit the mall, Little L knows that the Santas there are just people playing pretend, and as a result, she has never shown any desire to sit on the strange bearded man's lap (thank God!) or meet him. We have really appreciated how, by taking "Santa Claus" out of the holiday equation, we can bring the focus back to God, who was the original St. Nick's inspiration for giving to the poor. It also reinforces our other message of staying away from strangers :P

By extension, things like flying reindeer and the ever-popular "Elf on the Shelf" are also excluded from our Christmas traditions. I believe the whole concept of the Elf is that he is supposed to be Santa's "spy," so it makes little sense to pretend that he is real and causing mischief when we have already told Little L that the mythological Santa doesn't exist. Even in the spirit of fun, I fear that misleading Little L for the sake of introducing "magic" into her life could be very dangerous because it would undermine our trustworthiness, and fabricate an experience and feeling that is wholly unnecessary in light of the true wonder of Christmas time. We very much want Little L to know that we will only tell her the truth, especially as it pertains to Jesus and God and matters of faith. To pretend that something is "real" when Little L doesn't understand that we are pretending would cause her unnecessary confusion or doubt about our sincerity when we speak of Jesus being real.

Nana's Charlie Brown Christmas book has been a favourite since her first Christmas
Reading about Christmas and the nativity seems to have really helped focus Little L's attention on the birth of our Savior. Our current favourite books are Christmas in the Manger and the Nativity, although she also likes reading about the wise men's gifts in the Candle Bible for Toddlers. We've talked about what Baby Jesus did with the wise men's gifts, and have been able to tie it in to the Easter story, which Little L is already familiar with. Another source of her learning has come from  the Bible App for Kids; it is a free, interactive program with several of the most popular Bible stories available for download.

At this age, I'm finding that Little L's understanding is still very concrete; she is quite literal and will take information at face value. We have tried not to overwhelm her with the bigger concepts of incarnation and redemption, focusing instead on the factual details of the nativity story and on the fact that God loves us enough to let His baby be born into this world. It's a tricky thing to teach a little person; I don't want to oversimplify or reduce the magnitude of Christ's birth, but I also don't want to overload her with details beyond her understanding.

I do, however, want her to know the true meaning of Christmas. I want her to be filled with wonder and excitement and joy, not because of some jolly fat guy in a suit or because of lots of wrapped gifts under an ornate tree, but because the King of Kings did the most unthinkable, extravagant and scandalous thing ever in His desire to redeem His lost creation: He sent His only Son, perfect and good, into this imperfect place.

In light of that Truth, the idea of a flying reindeer with a red nose or a benevolent fat elf-man jumping in and out of chimneys on Christmas Eve just seems really really ridiculous to me.

Joy to the world, indeed.


Friday, November 28, 2014

An Event Advent


Little L is obsessed with the "Snowflake Day" from Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood. In this PC, Christmas-free holiday special, the children of the neighborhood put on a school play for "Snowflake Day." The little girl in the play is granted three wishes by a fairy, and she asks for three presents. When she discovers that her newly-acquired gifts cannot play with her, tell her a joke or give her a hug, she cries into her pillow out of sadness. The fairy returns and magically transforms her presents into friends, and then they end the play singing, "Friends make the best presents..."

Anyway, the reminder I had from this oft-watched episode is that what is meaningful to children is our time spent with them, and not the things that we buy them. Sure, presents are fun, but Christmas can quickly become excessive and expensive, and sometimes I wonder if we don't put too much pressure on ourselves to "outdo" the previous year's material overload, spending more than we need to for no reason. After the wrapping paper has been removed, how much of the "stuff" really means something to our littles? I don't remember any of my gifts from my childhood. No, scratch that. I remember one particularly heinous pink sweatsuit that my grandparents gifted me when I was about 10; it was truly the ugliest set of clothes I had ever seen, and the biggest disappointment of a gift I had ever opened. But that's about it; I remember getting presents every year, but none of them were all that memorable.  Sorry, Mom.

I do, however, recall how special the three-day holiday feasts were every year; we would spend Christmas Eve with my grandparents, and I loved my Pau Pau's sweet and sour pork chops. On Christmas Day, mornings were spent opening gifts and watching my dad transform into a 4-year-old right before our eyes, and then the evenings would be a raucous and joyful gathering of extended family, all ready to feast on my dad's amazing Chinese and western meals. Then, on Boxing Day, we would have one last large family hurrah at my aunt and uncle's home, complete with my aunt's delicious sweet almond soup dessert. For just about the entirety of my schooling years, this was the yearly tradition that I looked forward to most.

A year ago already
And that's what I want for Little L - to create traditions and events that become meaningful memories to her. I intentionally want to shy away from overdoing the wrapped gifts, opting instead to gift her with holiday experiences that are special and that she will look forward to every year for many years to come.

Since she's only 2.5, we have only started a handful of traditions. However, each year we will add a few more, until hopefully December becomes an event-filled month that she will anticipate with great enthusiasm throughout her childhood years.

Two years ago! We didn't even put up our own tree that year. This was at my in-laws' place

So what's on our list? Here are a few things:

- Decorating the Christmas Tree

- NEW!! Santa Claus Parade : FREE but crowded, this is happening on Dec. 7 at 1:00 starting on West Georgia and Broughton St. Incidentally, that's exactly where we used to live, but we have never been to the parade because we were always at church when it happened

- Charlie Brown Christmas movie night (popcorn and hot chocolate and PJ's)

- NEW!! Timberline Ranch Country Christmas : Open Dec. 12-21 in Maple Ridge, this horse ranch becomes a winter wonderland with a bakery, petting zoo, ball pit, ornament workshop, covered wagon ride, interactive Christmas scenes, and storyland. Cost is $9/kid, $7/adult and you have to register ahead before you can go, but I am so very excited for Little L to be out in the "country" for some Christmas cheer.

- Stanley Park Bright Nights and Christmas Train : Open Nov. 27-Jan. 4 at Stanley Park, this free by donation event features a lot of lights and Christmas scenes, and a 14-minute train ride that features live performers and lots of festive music. Cost is $11/adult and $8/kid. This has already become one of our annual traditions, and we went twice last year. We may also go twice this year, but for sure once since our tickets have already been purchased.

- Vancouver German Christmas Market : Open Nov. 22-Dec. 24 in downtown Vancouver, this traditional-style Christmas market has a Christmas carousel and lots of yummy food vendors, plus live entertainment, gingerbread decorating, ornament making, and face painting. Cost is $7/adult, $3/youth, FREE for 0-6, and once you pay once, you can score a Season Pass for FREE. We went once last year, but Little L and I have a playdate there and we will be going as a family as well, so this year we are getting our $'s worth!

- NEW!! Making S'mores

- Santa Brunch at the Pan Pacific

- Van Dusen Festival of Lights : Open Dec. 10 - Jan. 4 in Vancouver, this park becomes a gorgeous and magical display of lights and music that puts even the Scroogiest of people into the festive mood. Lots of different lights displays, a Santa photo op, Make-a-Wish lego room and candle grotto, a shadow puppet show, and several tasty food vendors scattered throughout the park. Cost is $15/adults and $8/kids, so it's a bit pricier than other attractions, but worth it!

- Night drive to Trinity Street to see the holiday displays along the homes on that street

- NEW!! Decorating an edible Christmas "tree" (it's a waffle cone with green royal frosting and lots of candy)
Last year's Festival of Lights
I'm adding all of these events to her "Advent Calendar," which she starts consuming on Dec. 1st. I didn't get very crafty with DIY calendars this year, but my friend posted three great DIY calendars you could make over at Daily Mom. We are just using one of the magnetic Starbucks advent calendars, although next year I might get all crafty and make my own. 

So what are you planning to do this Christmas season? Which events have become part of your Advent?

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