Monthly Archives: July 2013

Beach Blanket Birthday Party

My family and I are ticking off quite a few items on our summer bucket list, and it’s incredible how the list has really made this summer unfold differently than our normally busy, scheduled summers. I’m loving the “unplanned-ness” of our days and spending time doing activities that focus on good old fashioned, local, natural, spontaneous fun.

And in that spirit, late last week I put the call out to nearby friends to meet at the beach for a dinner picnic. It’s a week of birthday celebrations: I’m celebrating not only 10 years of teaching my baby sign language classes, but also my actual birthday -2 great excuses to get together, play in the sand, relax, and have cake!


The turnout was great -luckily quite a few people were still lurking around the city on a sunny July weekend and could immobilize their troops at the last minute. The kids ranged from almost 2 years old to late-teens. We all met at a local beach and set up blankets and beach chairs, soaking up the late afternoon sun. Yes, my poor beach umbrella is on its last legs, but it still managed to provide some welcome shade from the intense heat (recognize that blanket?).


Everyone packed their own dinner picnic, so no one had to prepare any big dishes to share, just their own meal. I brought our family’s dinner, a bucket of cut up watermelon, a sheet cake from the grocery store, and that was it!


The kids played soccer, batted at tennis balls and built sand castles; the older kids kept watch on the younger ones while the adults chatted and shared stories of their summers so far. This was exactly how I remembered growing up -gathering people, eating food, and playing together with no schedule at all.

At one point, as I sat on my blanket and looked all around me, I took note of everyone relaxing and enjoying each other, and felt so incredibly happy to be surrounded by loving friends and family this summer. I’m not an experienced party-thrower, but I’m realizing this summer that a little bit of effort and mindful UN-planning can yield a lot of joy. (And nope, I did not wear a skirt to this party!)

Want to try it? You don’t need a lot of notice or fancy plans, just send a quick email out and see what happens…


No Skirt, No Service


I woke up this morning realizing that exactly 10 years ago today, I had taught my first baby sign language class at Cambie Community Centre. My daughter was just a year old and I had been creating a curriculum to teach my own baby sign language classes, which would allow me to make my own schedule instead of returning to my previous full-time job designing & teaching kids’ recreation programs.

You should know that I am one of those people who likes to plan, prepare, and practice when I teach. I have shelves full of binders and folders of my teaching notes. For this new venture I had written up everything I was going to say, every sign I was going to teach, every song I was going to sing during the hour-long class, and even some anecdotes to share. I had 11 pages of notes and 10 flashcards. I was ready.

Because it was the middle of July, the temperature outside was soaring, and despite wearing a lightweight summer dress and the room’s air conditioning roaring, I was in a full sweat by the time I’d set up the floor mats for us to sit on. Well, perhaps I was a bit nervous, too! I ducked into the bathroom quickly before class started and spritzed some water on my face, patted at myself with some paper towel. I attempted to remain calm but my heart was racing as I walked back to the class.

Soon, mommies pushing strollers and carrying babies started to amble into the room and I directed them to sit down with me on the mats. There were 14 of us sitting in a circle, nervously chatting about the age of our babies and how hot it was outside, waiting for the instructor to begin. Oh, wait, that’s me!

Two things suddenly occurred to me at that moment: one, that the light-weight summer dress I had carefully chosen to appear polished but casual and approachable, while also to stay cool, was indeed the exact wrong thing to wear. It is not easy to sit cross-legged on the floor in a dress so I sat up and folded my knees under me; two, where exactly were my flashcards and notes? Uh, flashcards? Notes? Do you mean the ones I had left in the bathroom? Okay. I’m hooped and my knees hurt.

Never mind, carry on, Lee Ann! I managed to launch into some warm up songs and taught some signs and answered questions about how sign language works and will sign language deter baby’s verbal speech, all while my legs fell asleep. I told the story of how my daughter first signed EAT. We were having so much fun playing, singing and signing! The babies were bouncing and the mommies were giggling. I didn’t notice that the tingling in my legs had stopped altogether, but I knew I couldn’t actually move them so I stayed in that folded up position.

At the end of the hour, we reviewed the new signs and I threw in a few extra action songs to fill the last couple of minutes. I couldn’t stand up to say goodbye as my legs were completely cramped and stuck under my body, and I probably looked a little silly sitting there waving as everyone packed up and left the room. But the smile on my face was ear to ear. I did it! And it was super fun! I love my new job.

10 years later, I still apply a few things I had learned in that first class:

  • Don’t use flashcards and notes -just follow the class handouts & improvise.
  • Don’t ever wear a skirt or dress teaching on the floor, no matter how hot it is.
  • One hour is too long for parents & babies to sit, too (45 minutes is way better).
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff!


Photos by Signing Babies mom, Susanne, of Bubblegum Photography

Why I Do What I Do


To me, so much of the beauty of early communication with your baby is about ending the constant guessing games and being able to act on what you know -because they can tell you! As humans we all just want to be understood. And how beautiful is an exchange between you and your (non-verbal) baby where you know exactly what they want and can act on that expressed need? That’s what made me passionate about sign language. That’s why I started teaching classes to new families.

Many people ask me why I started teaching baby sign language. I always answer that it came from a personal passion for sign language, which is absolutely true. But, honestly? It was also kind of a fluke. I had worked with kids of all abilities when I taught preschool before having my own kids, but I’d never heard of sign language for babies until I became a parent myself. One of my best friends who was bravely blazing the trail of parenthood a few years ahead of me suggested looking into baby sign language as a fun activity to do while on maternity leave. So I looked it up and found a class and I tried it. The class got me out of the house, I met some other new parents, and it was fun. I learned quite a few signs, and for many months it remained a fun, light-hearted activity within my long days and nights as a new parent. Until the morning my daughter signed EAT.

At the age of 10 months, my daughter noticed a piece of pasta underneath our kitchen table. She pointed at the pasta, looked at me and signed EAT, and then dove under the table to go eat it! I was ecstatic to see her very first sign, clear as day. We celebrated and I started clapping and cheering, “Yes, EAT! EAT!”, even though I was a teensy bit appalled because I realized that noodle was from last night’s dinner. Oh well. I still considered it an outstanding victory in parenthood after months of not really knowing what the heck I was doing most of the time.

Her first sign was a day I’ll never, ever forget.

We signed and said EAT at every meal– “Okay, let’s go in the kitchen and get your breakfast, time to EAT!” or “Mmm, mommy has some apples, let’s EAT!”. Mealtime happened many times a day, every day, so there was lots of repetition, and I would also sign it when I was eating, even if she wasn’t joining me.  EAT was a natural first sign because I had practiced it with her a lot, and boy, was it nice to know what she wanted! Once she was able to sign EAT, it meant she could tell me when she was hungry or just wanted to talk about food. Prior to that, she and I could only play guessing games, which often ended in tears for one of us (and sometimes both of us). But all of a sudden, well before she could say the words for EAT, or MILK, or HUNGRY, she could sign them. WOW.

Sign language is the bridge between what our babies can tell us with their bodies before what they can tell us with their mouths.

I started teaching sign language classes because I became so passionate about what sign language can do for both babies and parents –the possibilities are endless. I still use sign language with my big kids everyday. My background in creating and teaching preschool programs allowed me to build a curriculum based on what I had learned in my first sign language class and also incorporate my own personal experience as a parent forging a path of greater communication with my family.

And so, my love for sign language really started as a very personal story of the pull I felt as a new mom who couldn’t stand not knowing what my baby wanted and why she cried. And my classes became what they are today –my passion. I’m so thankful I get to share this passion with you.

HATS (not) Optional


I love hats!

In summer, I know wearing a hat is the best way to protect myself from overheating, sun exposure, and glare. Same goes for winter, but for warmth and keeping dry (hats also really help on days when my hair could use some extra TLC but there’s no time to give it any).  But my family hasn’t always shared my same enthusiasm for wearing hats.

My first baby was born in early springtime, and by June, the rays of summer came hot & heavy upon us as we strolled and took in summer fun around town. Besides always using the stroller’s built-in sun shade, I remember popping lots of cute bonnets and brimmed hats into my diaper bag for her. By August, as she got older & more dextrous, I remember lots of cute bonnets and brimmed hats being tossed out of the stroller -she did NOT like wearing a hat.

Every time she’d pop her hat off, I’d pop it back on and sign HAT. Every day, over and over. Sometimes I’d try really roomy hats that I’d hope she wouldn’t feel being stealthily put on her from behind…no good. But I kept trying. HAT. We wear our HAT. Mommy’s putting on her HAT. Here’s your HAT.

The following summer when she was one, I found myself repeating HAT a lot: Let’s put on our HAT! Even though she was talking, I’d realized that it really helped to use signs along with my verbal words for commands or, shall we say, emphatic statements. One day, after weeks and weeks of relentless hat tossing (why do babies never tire of some things?) and HAT signing (well, I’m pretty stubborn too), I was almost blown off my own feet. As we were leaving the house for our daily jaunt, the sunlight almost blinded us through the open door: “Mommy, I need HAT!” Wait, what? She was reminding me!

Now, I keep hats for all of us by the front door and back-ups in the car. My kids know wearing their hat is part of being outside, and thankfully, you can find cool-looking kids’ hats everywhere now. Luckily my son has been more amenable from a young age to wearing a hat and doesn’t fight me on it (there’s other battles, don’t worry).


Yesterday, our family strolled down Fourth Avenue in the blazing sun and took in the annual Khatsahlano Street Party music festival, all in our straw hats.


Don’t give up if your baby resists your efforts to wear a HAT. Try signing HAT every time you see hats, wear hats, pick up hats, put on hats. As I’ve realized is true with all parenting efforts, including teaching signs: consistency and repetition are key. And it helps if you wear a hat, too!

How to Sign HAT in American Sign Language

The American Sign Language sign for HAT is tapping at the top of your head with a flat hand to indicate where a hat is worn.

Sugar Rush


I have active kids –as newborns neither of them ever sat placidly in their bucket seats while my husband and I enjoyed a quiet dinner in a restaurant. Or while we sat anywhere in public, actually.  I’ve gotten used to their activeness and my kids have grown into lovely, lively small folk, but I have realized that sugar in any format is a surefire way to turn them into dizzying, whirling dervishes. Processed sugar in pre-made snacks and treats is the absolute worst for them, so we tend to avoid candy altogether.

But now that they are both of school age, I realized that it’s fairly unavoidable to control all of their sugar intake myself, and depriving them of sugar and candy could potentially lead them to have issues with sweets. Instead I’ve worked on teaching them how to spot brightly-coloured toxic culprits disguised as goodness, and how to make decisions on their own intake of sugar. But, I’ve also made more allowances…

Like today –Slurpee Day! Once a year, the convenience store 7-11 has a “celebration” which corresponds with the date of July 11th – and slurpees are free for all day. I remember walking to 7-11 as a child and putting a mish-mash of flavours like root beer and cream soda into those paper cups, and I decided that this is a good enough reason to let my kids have some slushy memories too! Every July 11th, in the height of summer, we harken the doorway of 7-11 to have our one free slurpee. Then we go to the biggest, most cumbersome playground I can find so my whirling dervishes can go nuts.


Blankets on the Grass

photo(1)[9]My husband and kids & I sat around the table for lunch about a month ago on a rainy June day and talked about what we wanted to do this summer when the skies finally turned blue and the days were long. Before that, during a quick mommy getaway, I had had an aha! moment realizing it was time for our little family to start having more simple, local adventures and natural world discoveries this summer, not scheduled skills camps.

When I was growing up, we didn’t go to daycamp or bike camp or even swimming lessons. Summer was free-play with a capital “F” –hot days spent running through sprinklers, or building forts in the backyard, and playing massive games of hide-and-seek with the neighbourhood kids for hours after dinner.

My kids needed some of THAT!  So it was time to make a summer bucket list to identify and write down some things we had often forgotten to UN-schedule in the summer, like laying on the grass to watch clouds or stopping to pick berries at the side of the road. But also some local fun around town while we had time to explore our city’s forests and beaches with the rest of the world.

Here’s our family’s list we starting compiling that rainy day, and we are still adding items now that summer has started –that’s the spontaneous part! Today we made this big blanket & pillow nest in the backyard as the sun was high in the sky and enjoyed it until the bugs came out this evening. Every list has to start somewhere…

  • Wake up and watch a sunrise
  • Watch a movie in the backyard (on blankets!)
  • Make a meal only from ingredients gathered at the farmer’s market
  • Look up at the stars laying on blankets
  • Write our names with sparklers
  • Paint rocks & leave them in an unexpected place for someone to find
  • Fly a kite
  • Bake some treats & have an (iced) tea party
  • Go to an outdoor movie
  • Have a sleepover with friends
  • Pick berries, eat berries, pick more berries!
  • Wade barefoot in a cold creek
  • Visit some local tourist attractions we never usually have time for
  • Try a new sport
  • Jump in a lake
  • Ride different local transit -the Seabus, skytrain, Aquabus etc
  • Hike in Lynn Canyon
  • Join the public library’s summer reading club
  • Bike around the seawall
  • Make homemade popsicles
  • Make a summer photo slide show
  • Paint our faces, and arms, and legs
  • Play showercap shaving cream cheesies tossing game and other silly games
  • Make creative s’mores over a campfire
  • Make homemade backyard relay games
  • Paint each other’s toenails
  • Have friends over for a summer sleepover
  • Play the cloud game on the grass
  • Blow bubbles in the bathtub
  • Explore 3 new playgrounds or parks, make obstacle courses
  • Have a waterfight in the back yard -sponges, shooters, & a bin of water
  • Roll down a grassy hill
  • Plan a beach party with our friends
  • Watch a sunset together

I’ll keep posting more items as we add and tick them off the list. What’s on your summer bucket list?

Summer Bucket List

It’s July! Summer is here, and I am throwing down a challenge to myself –come join me!

I have a very good mommy friend who inspires me every time I see her and hear accounts of her family life and spend time in her lovely home. Recently, she and I embarked on a wee journey together that inspired both of us to look at our current lives and think about reinventing our futures with an immediate timeline: SUMMER!

We had very loosely planned an overnight trip away from home, and this quick but meaningful departure from our everyday “mom” lives ended up truly invigorating us. We had left our respective homes with only our bikes and a backpack and big, gummy grins on our faces! Neither of us had ever ridden away from home before –no suitcase, no car, not much of anything really; and for me, doing something completely new and out of my comfort zone made me realize I COULD and SHOULD do more stuff that I’ve never done before.


So upon reaching our charming bed & breakfast at the end of a winding, hilly road, we rested our weary legs and opened a bottle of wine and made some declarations. My insightful friend mentioned that more than anything, she wanted to instill in her young children a sense of wonder and adventure in doing incredible things and experiencing the natural world now, while they’re young, so they’ll never grow up without it.  Uh, yeah, ME TOO!  (Now, I’ve always known one of my roles as a mother is to “make it happen” –“it” being whatever was in the best interest of my kids- and not just let life fly by while we hang on for the ride. But lately I’d forgotten about injecting simple, nature-inspired, wonder-filled experiences into our busy school days). So together she and I made a pact to come up with as many experiences we could for our kids to ignite their passion for the natural world this summer.

I haven’t completely finished making my summer bucket list, but I will post it once I have. And until then, I’m hoping you will think of some bucket list items for your summer.

Ready? Let’s jump in!


We ticked this one off today:

  • Go Jump in a Lake

Here’s a free download of a cute Summer Bucket List template to help you get started.

Go on, jump in already!