DreamWorks Adventure to Santa

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The magic of Christmas has always been a very powerful force in my life. I think it’s partly thanks to my vivid imagination as a child, which kept me happily leaving out milk and cookies for Santa long after I learned that he didn’t exist; and partly due to our family being on hard times over many a holiday season, which resulted in me clinging with a death grip to the wonder of the season as a way to keep spirits up. Because while presents may cost money, magic is priceless.

And sharing that magic with my own children is something I’ve always looked forward to with great anticipation and emotion. So last weekend, when Maevie met Santa for the first time ever, thanks to DreamWorks Adventure to Santa and Club MomMe, my heart exploded with such violence that the vibrations were felt all the way up in the North Pole. Honestly, the whole experience was so saturated with magic that my mom and I were choking back happy tears throughout the entire thing!

The adventure begins when you approach the DreamWorks animated LED Christmas house, where beloved characters from Shrek appear and disappear behind windows and doors, getting the house decorated and ready for the holidays.

Families are admitted 3 at-a-time to the house, by appointment, so there’s no waiting in endless lines like many mall Santa experiences. And better yet, there were many interactive features of the adventure as we got closer and closer to our encounter with Santa.

First, we played a video game in order to win our Pilot’s License, to help us pilot the sleigh to visit Santa at the North Pole. Later, we got to virtually decorate Gingy the Gingerbread Man from Shrek. 3-D printed ornaments of everyone’s finished product are available for purchase online at gingyscookiemaker.com.

These interactive elements are a great way to keep families entertained and engaged as they wait their turn to meet Santa, and bring great added value to the experience. It was great fun for my mom and me to do, since Maeve was too young to participate.
Adventure to Santa collageThe ride to the North Pole was definitely a huge highlight. We all piled into a sleigh in front of a huge screen, which transformed into an amazing, exciting, and charming virtual ride to the North Pole with Shrek and Donkey. My mom and I had such a blast on the ride, and even Maeve seemed into it! Check out this brief clip from the beginning to get a glimpse into the magical illusion and excitement of the ride.

Soon after, came the moment we had all been waiting for. Santa’s elves told us to get ready, and opened the door with a cheerful exclamation: “It’s SANTA!” and we were ushered into a gorgeously decorated study featuring the man himself.
Adventure to Santa final

I’ve seen many a mall santa in my day, and let me tell you, this guy was the REAL DEAL. He was incredibly warm and tender and gentle with our wee Maeve, and had all the trappings of your dream Santa Claus conceivable. And when I saw my little girl look up into his eyes with such wonder, my heart burst.

DreamWorks Adventure to Santa is available in 14 locations across the US and even in London – and reservations are required.

Dreamworks adventure to santa

If you’re lucky enough to live near one of the locations for Adventure to Santa, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I’m already looking forward to taking Maeve back next year, when she’s able to understand and enjoy the experience a little more. It was a completely magical day for 3 generations of LaRue women: Maeve, me and my mom!

Thanks to South Bay Galleria, DreamWorks and Club MomMe for the invite! It was a truly unforgettable experience!


Giveaway: Win Tickets to Club MomMe’s Fall Family Fest!

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Club MomMe is a company that’s very dear to my heart. They sponsored the first “mom” event that I went to while pregnant, a prenatal yoga DVD launch party, where I met my first local mom friend, Natasha, who has become a dear companion to me on this new frontier of motherhood. That’s also where I met Rachel, one of the founders of Club MomMe, and fell in love with the brand. So much so, that I became a guest blogger for them, too!

Club MomMeFrom their site:

Club MomMe is a community of moms, expectant parents and families of littles.  We host social + educational events each month in several cities, along with a few big events each year that you do not want to miss!

Our Promise: Join us for an event, and you will have FUN, CONNECT with other parents or expectant parents, LEARN about products, services, pregnancy, babies, toddlers and more, WIN some new products or gear, and LOVE being a mom, dad, grandparent or caregiver.

Our Commitment: We select the best products, gears and companies to share with you. If we don’t like it, we don’t share it!

I’ve since been to a handful of CM events, and they’re always spectacularly organized and executed. They think of everything: entertaining and educational programming for parents, on-site sitters and activities for little ones, great refreshments, hands-on opportunities to get to know cool brands, and (best of all) tons of amazing giveaways, prizes and gift bags. I always come away having learned something new, with a few new friends, and a bunch of great swag.

One of Club MomMe’s most popular events each year is the Fall Family Fest, a day-long experience full of speakers, panels, games, and memorable experiences for the whole family. It takes place this year on Saturday November 8th at the South Coast Botanic Gardens in Palos Verdes, from 10:30am – 3pm. 

moms-fall-family-fest-2015-flyer2 copy

 

Some of the activities for the day include:

  • Pamper Lounge, for parents to get some quality “me time” with mini spa treatments.
  • Lactation Lounge, filled with Lansinoh products as a comfortable retreat for nursing and pumping mamas to tend to their boobs.
  • A conversation with January Harshe from Birth Without Fear for expectant parents.
  • Car Seat Safety education, and car seat checks for Platinum ticket holders.
  • A product testing zone full of Club MomMe “must-haves” from brands like Britax, BOB, Chicco, Boppy, Summer Infant, Fresh Wave, and more.
  • Tons of food and drink. And amazing swag bags full of amazing goodies, and opportunities to win prizes!

…And tons more! You can check out a full listing of activities and events for the day here.

To register for tickets, go here. And with your registration, you get a $50 UrbanSitter credit to take advantage of on-site sitters, who can watch your little ones for a bit while you adult around. BUT! Lucky for you, I’m giving away two sets of tickets right here!

One Gold Family Ticket: good for 2 adults and 1 child. Featuring a special Gold Overflowing Gift Bag filled with fun items like a Green Toys Helicopter (a $17 value), a $50 Gift Card to Tieks.com. Also includes a Complimentary Stroller or Car Seat Cleaning at the eventby the Tot Squad, and admission into the VIP Lounge! ($85 value)

One Family Funday Ticket: good for 2 adults and 1 child. Includes an overflowing gift bag filled with fun items you and your little ones will love like a Green Toys Turtle, a $50 Gift Card toTieks.com and tons more. ($60 value)

There’s a fat handful of ways to win!

Win one of 2 ticket packages to Club MomMe’s Fall Family Fest!


Our Farmer’s Market Lifestyle: FarMarCore

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local, organic, seasonal eatingFrom left to right:
Back row: asparagus, mixed green lettuce, artichokes, bacon, pork chops
2nd row: mixed green lettuce, cheddar cauliflower, satsuma tangerines, persian cucumbers, baby broccoli
Front row: ground breakfast sausage, hot and sweet italian pork sausages, black cod, eggs, pork chops, sirloin steaks, ground beef, strawberries

One of my favorite things about life in Los Angeles is the year-round availability of seasonal, fresh food through our local farmer’s markets. And on Wednesdays, we can walk out of our gym after our morning workout, and literally be steps from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market – one of the biggest and best markets in the city, shopped by local yokels and some of the hottest chefs in town, alike. And on Saturdays, a smaller version pops up, but with more meat purveyors.

What started for us as a weekly trip for our fresh vegetables, has evolved into our main grocery outings for the week – including meat, fish, and eggs… all from small local farms that we feel wonderful supporting. *Pats self on back*

Santa Monica Farmer's Market

I was a vegetarian from 1997-2012, and a vegan from 2009-2011. Now, I’m a pretty voracious carnivore… but with a crushing conscience. I’m all: “give me the beef! But did this cow have a nice life?!?” Like some kind of existential carniv-angst. Since going back to meat, I’ve struggled to reconcile all the horrors of factory farming industry against my appetite and what makes my body function best. I’ll admit it: I’m a huge meat snob.

We had already eradicated farmed fish from our diets, relying solely on whatever was wild, sustainable, and on-sale that week at the market. And for a while, I was content buying meat from Whole Foods, thanks to their meat rating system… but I always harbored deep abiding fantasies of buying an auxiliary freezer, and signing up for whole shares of animals from local farms. I pictured us, sitting down to dinner, able to think of Old Bessie, grazing on the fields of some idyllic local farmland, all happy and anti-biotic free, and say a little thanks to her for the delicious steak. Or saying a grateful prayer to the spirit our sow Porky, for the yummy bacon. I dreamed of raising backyard chickens, clucking busily away, as they laid our breakfast’s healthy, humane, happy eggs.

Alas, we own a condo, with a freezer is barely big enough to manage all the many quarts of homemade stock we keep on hand, a terrace that would not give any chicken a very happy life, and persnickety neighbors who would not much care for any carefree clucking so close to their homes.

… for now.

But! We quickly realized our farmer’s market is so much more than just organic, local, seasonal and delicious fruits and vegetables! There are purveyors of beef, heritage pork, fresh fish caught by independent fisheries, and super fresh eggs laid by sprout-fed, happy chickens, too! And the more we dabbled into these delights, the better we felt about our diets, our ethics, and our connection with the community. So we grab our reusable produce bags (like the good hippies we are) and head there twice a week.

Santa Monica Farmers Market 3(source)

I’m sure you’re thinking, “but Dana! Doesn’t that cost like a hundred million dollars every week!?!?” But the answer, my friends, is NOPE. It actually kind of balances out!

The salmon, for instance, is $3 less than the usual sale price at Bristol Farms, a whopping $10-$30 less than the regular price. And it’s absolutely the best salmon we’ve ever had. Fresh from the Alaskan waters of the Atlantic, scaled, filleted, and de-boned to perfection – and we buy it from the fisherman himself! The beef is around the same price as we were buying it at Whole Foods, and way more tasty and tender than anything we’d ever had from grocery. The pork, eggs and chicken are all decidedly more expensive – but the difference in taste is enormous, and the confidence and comfort we get from knowing the source, and it’s superior nutritional content makes it absolutely worthwhile to us. Plus, the affordability of the produce we buy helps make up for those more luxurious expenses, because it’s almost always less expensive than store-bought prices.

And that’s how we came to adopt a FarMarCore lifestyle. Yeah, it’s a word I made up. But in my defense: A) I love a good portmanteau. Can’t resist the chance to make one if the opportunity presents itself. (see “carniv-angst, above); and, B) Everyone and their mother are adopting the suffix -core… appending words to connote a rebellious, anti-mainstream lifestyle, social movement, type of music, style of fashion, or genre of film (see: nerdcore, normcore, mumblecore, beardcore.) And that’s kinda what we’re doing, shirking the mainstream grocery chains in favor of local, seasonal, independently-run farmers for the majority of our food. FAR-MAR-CORE. It’s totally a thing now. Hashtag it, bitches.

Anywheeze: if you’re in the area, or are headed to another LA market soon, here’s our favorite vendors + products to keep an eye out for. Most of them roam to various markets throughout the week:

peads and barnetts pork
Pork – Peads & Barnett’s: Locally-Raised Heritage Breed Pork– Specifically Mangalitsa, Middle White and Pure Berkshire. Oliver, the owner, is adorable… and it’s simply the best pork I’ve ever had. We especially recommend the sausages and the baby back ribs. SO INCREDIBLY GOOD. I never was much for pork, until we discovered Peads & Barnett’s. Now it’s easily our most often consumed meat each week. Oliver also sells beautiful pincushion and protea flowers, if you want some beautiful florals to accompany your pork!*

Beef – Rancho San Julian: 100% grass-fed beef, from cattle all born and raised on Rancho San Julian, never fed corn or soy. Each cow is of traceable heritage, raised humanely and grazed on a rotational system out on the hillsides of Santa Barbara. The beef is dry aged and delicious. We especially love their NY strips, rib eyes, and sirloins. (Wednesdays)
– Novy Ranches: 100% grass-fed, free range, born-and-bred Angus cattle raised by a veterinarian and his family with great love and care in Northern California. Their care and feed produces a highly nutritious, healthier meat than those fed corn and soy. Dry aged aged 21 days to perfection. Absolutely delicious. (Saturdays)

Eggs and Chicken – Lily’s Eggs: Lily’s 400 hens are the sole proprietors of several acres of open pasture, roaming freely. What we love about Lily’s Eggs is their dedication to the humane treatment of animals and their fierce commitment to quality production. We buy the sprout-fed variety, which come from four different breeds of chickens, and makes for a lovely assortment of eggs that not only taste great, and are packed with nutrition… but also look great on a counter-top, where they can be stored and double as decoration! And their fresh chicken is to die for. Succulent, juicy, and antibiotic/hormone-free, humanely raised, openly roaming.

Salmon – FishWife Salmon: We were falling over ourselves with excitement when we found Ryan selling his sockeye salmon at the Saturday market. He, himself, captains the vessel that catches thousands of pounds of wild sockeye in Bristol Bay of Alaska. How much closer to the source can you get? The fish is gorgeous, pre-cleaned, filetted, and flash frozen. And less expensive than anything we could buy at Bristol Farms or Whole Foods. Even on sale.* (you can also order online through his site, even if you’re not local!)

Misc. Fish – Community Seafood: This is a membership service that brings in the freshest catches from independent fishermen, varying by week according to what was most recently caught. They have a small amount of fish available to non-members for a couple dollars more, and we’ve tried their ridgeback shrimp (meh) and their halibut (absolutely incredible). I’m a bit too picky about seafood to subscribe to a CSA like this… but it’s a great option for people who have less persnickety palates.

Butter – Organic Pastures Dairy: If you’ve not yet cooked with raw butter, you’re in for a treat. The smell of it melting in a pan is almost too much to bear. It’s nutty, rich, creamy, and tastes so wholesome it’s like the cow is just chillin’ in your backyard. Made from 100% USDA certified organic, Grade A, raw milk of super premium quality from cows that are pasture grazed 365 days a year.

Bread – Bezian’s Bakery: Don’t be put off by the pro-sourdough propaganda posters all over his stand. This bread is made with virgin organic wild yeast, resulting in a probiotic fermented sourdough that’s the best we’ve ever had. I’m not gluten intolerant or anything, but am often left feeling slightly “nervous” inside after eating breads. Not Bezian’s! And he swears that it’s tolerable to people even with gluten sensitivities/allergies. Just not to those with Celiac. And they offer many unique flavors, all delicious (except the tea – skip that). It’s worth trying, even though his stall look cray.

Lettuce – Fairview Gardens: Absolutely the most tender, crispy, juicy, refreshing and delicious organic lettuce blends we’ve found. I swear, we eat like ten times more salad than ever before since happening upon their pre-washed, bagged mixes. It just makes life so easy, and so tasty.

Apples – Cuyama Orchards: They’ll only be around another week or so until the fall, but their Pink Lady apples have been a staple in our house for months. Crisp, juicy, always organic and delicious, every week.

Berries – Harry’s Berries: Definitely a splurge, but oh, so slurgeworthy. Their strawberries are like ruby jewels of sweetness. We consume them like rabid animals.

Tangerines – Regier Family Farms: Clementine season is almost over, but their little tangerines are absolutely phenomenal. (Hint: pick the golf-ball sized fruits for the best flavor.) After a brief break until mid-May or so, they’ll be back with peaches, which I’m sure will be just as good in their own peachy way.

Meyer Lemons – Garcia Organic Farm: I can eat these babies by the slice! They taste like tangerines and lemons had a delicious baby. We start every day by drinking a glass of water, with a half lemon squeezed into it. Good for our livers, our acupuncturist says. And this makes it good to the very last drop.

Broccoli and Cauliflower – Gloria’s Fruits and Vegetables: Sweet, tender, and clean-tasting, their broccoli (and baby broccoli) are hard to beat. And their cauliflower is always firm, fresh, and often available in heirloom varieties like cheddar (yum), or the gorgeously fractal romanesco.

*These vendors can be found at Santa Monica Farmer’s Market exclusively.

Note: I am not being paid to promote any of these farmers, nor am I getting kickbacks or anything from them other than possible hugs. I just really want to share their great work with the people of LA, and encourage others to explore their local farmer’s market as an alternative to store-bought groceries.