Monthly Archives: August 2013

One Fun Thing

One of our bucket list items this summer was to visit local tourist attractions that we normally don’t have time for during the school year. Have you been a tourist in your own town?

We had started the tradition a few years back to choose one fun thing to do as a family before the summer ended. Over the years we had done bike rides, pool visits to soak up the last of the sun, evening ice cream shop visits, little stuff like that. Several years ago, our daughter started begging us to go on one of those red trolley tour buses… oh, brother. My husband and I are not keen on tour buses and we found ourselves saying, “Oh, yes, sure, one day we’ll do that!”. And yes, we managed to distract her and not do that for quite a while, but finally the jig was up, and it was her “one fun thing” end of summer wish.
So off we went, and we had a blast! We learned tons about our city, so many exciting things we had no idea about at all, and we caught the bug for being a tourist in our own town.

Flash forward to this year, and we decided to embrace the not-so-sunny weather this week for our “one fun thing” before summer ends. We hit the UBC Botanical Garden and Greenheart Canopy Trail, a new local destination for our family.
It was a great place to go to on a cloudy day because the trees protected us from moisture (okay, yes, I mean rain!) and the cultured trails took us through all sorts of wild forest growth. We could let the kids run and play without getting lost easily. There is a paved path suitable for strollers:
This path leads to the more formal cultivated gardens -an Alpine, Carolinian, Food, B.C Native Garden, and a very cool labrynth -that you access through this cool tunnel:
We didn’t spend much time in the formal gardens, but my kids ran back and forth through this tunnel a few times listening to the echo as they ran yelling at the top of their lungs,
“ECHO! ECHO!.. Echo!… echo!… echo…”

There’s also a woodchip path which leads you through all sorts of glades and more wild forest areas.
Following the woodchip path leads you to the Greenhart Canopy Walkway which is a suspended trail system which allows you to literally go up into the trees and walk 75 feet above the forest floor.
So, because we were now those people who liked guided tours, we waited at the trail entrance to meet the free forest guide:
(It’s entirely possible we might have played leap-frog here).

The guided tour was fantastic! We got to listen to an enthusiastic university grad student who also had helped build the walkway tell us about the treetop trailway, forest history, the first nations’ uses of local forest materials, and lots of cool facts about the trees of this coastal temperate rainforest including western red cedar, western hemlock, Douglas fir, grand fir, and red alder. We learned that some of the trees we saw were over 400 years old, and some were thought to be close to 1000 years old at least!

I was fascinated hearing about the Taiwanese “Coffin” tree (a relative of the redwood tree which also grows in BC) whose wood is so hardy and resistant to rot, it was used for making coffins. It also has remarkable needles whose extra-thick coating of protective sap allows the massive trees to withstand the hot & sunny climate of Taiwan -the needles look green on sunny days but show blue on cloudy days due to its protective sap. We got extremely close to these enormous trees in the first part of the walkway, and because it was a dull day, we could touch and feel the sticky, visibly blue needles.
You can see the Taiwanese coffin trees’ needles close up in the top photo above, and then how the trees look blue-er than the surrounding greenery shown in the bottom pic.

My kids were thrilled to traverse the swingy walkways (slightly more than my husband and I were, mind you) and we all loved the incredible balance of adventure and learning. We didn’t make it through all of the gardens, but we plan to return soon. The forest is an incredible place to visit all year around. (Please note: the canopy trailway is best suited for bigger kids aged 5 and up, in my opinion. It is quite swingy and a wee bit tippy.)

So there’s this year’s “one fun thing” before school starts and we ticked off visiting a local tourist attraction (without getting too touristy) from my family’s summer bucket list, too! It was very fun and a great way to tackle a less-than-stunning summer day. I was proud to learn that the Greenheart Conservation Company which built the walkway is a local Vancouver company. They design, build and operate conservation-based canopy walkways and other nature-based attractions around the world. Canopy Walkways are the among the finest examples of the global trend in sustainable and responsible tourism:

“Construction is as non-invasive as possible using the patent pending ‘tree hugger’ suspension system. The tree hugger uses no nails or bolts or intrusive fasteners of any kind, using instead, a variable tension system to provide the least amount of infringement or impact on the trees.”


What one fun thing are you planning this weekend?

Click here to see the ASL sign for TREE

Cloudy Day Playdate

I’m not the only one thinking about good old fashioned free play and unscheduled activities for our kids, this summer, and I loved reading about Peekaboo Beans’s Pop Up Playdates currently happening in my Vancouver. They are organizing outdoor playdates at local parks and playgrounds and inviting families to come out and PLAY! Fantastic idea.

Speaking of playdates, this week my family invited my Very Inspiring Friend and her kids over for a playdate on very a cloudy summer morning. Our 5 kids together all range in age from 6-11 years, have known each other since birth and all get along really well, but we live about 30kms away from each other, so our visits are never frequent enough. The kids immediately scurried off to begin playing and the moms hunkered down in the kitchen to drink some much-needed caffeine. We shared stories of the summer as small boys dressed as superheroes/ninja’s crept by us under the table, styrofoam nerf pellets soared past the kitchen door, and teeny, tiny pocket doll outfits pleaded for our mom-hands to help them get even tinier dresses on over the disproportionately large doll heads interrupted us sporadically, but for the most part, the playdate was fairly quiet and relaxing for all of us. We ate some lunch, and the kids went outside to paint some rocks. The moms wandered into the living room (which, incidentally, is a designated no-toy room in my house -every other room in the house ends up hosting toys at some point, but I try to keep one oasis in the house), and we were enjoying the quiet beauty of a tidy room when the 2 big girls walked in looking for us. They had finished their rock painting and didn’t know what to do next, and being 11 meant that they were kind of interested in what we grownups were talking about, so they quietly slid into the living room and sat down with us. Then the boys came in too, because they heard that the girls were in there, and before we knew it, all 5 kids were in the living room looking at us moms.

So, usually I implore my kids to go play and leave the adults alone during playdates, but suddenly a spontaneous game of Froggy Murder started (Froggy Murder is a circle game where one person is a silent “murderer” who looks at the other people in the circle and surreptitiously sticks his tongue out at them to “kill” them. Another person standing in the middle of the circle is the “detective” who tries to watch and guess who is murdering the other frogs. You might remember another version of this game called “Wink Murder”). My son loves these circle games he learned to play at school, but which never work at home because there’s usually only 4 of us. But 5 kids & 2 adults can totally play circle Froggy Murder, and we ended up remembering a few more games of the same ilk. We were playing together for over an hour before it became time for them to go home. The guessing games were definitely an unexpected highlight on a dull, cloudy day. Both myself and my Very Inspiring Friend enjoyed the game-playing, and we realized that our kids are reaching a lovely stage in their lives -able to play with their friends without much interference or refereeing, and also super fun to play with all together as a family of all ages.

Given that I’ve dedicated this summer to thinking up good old fashioned activities to occupy our days and nights for a less-structured summer, I honestly don’t think it would have occurred to me to try that kind of game-playing otherwise, so I’m glad a spontaneous froggy murder suggestion came out and got us started. I guess just being open to unscheduled fun allowed for it to unfold that way. My Very Inspiring Friend continues to inspire me, and I’ll be adding that to my summer bucket list under “Cloudy Day Activities”.

What games do you play as a family? Did you play together while you were growing up?

Pick a Sign (but not just any sign)

I often get asked, “What signs should I teach my baby?”

Easy beginner words like MILK, MORE, ALL DONE, MOMMY, and DADDY are an easy start, but some parents aren’t sure what signs to pick next. Don’t worry, there are endless ways to incorporate American Sign Language into your daily lives, and choosing your first round of signs is easy!

I find a two-fold approach in choosing signs is always successful: some for you and some for baby. In other words, pick some signs that are routine-based, and also pick some signs that reflect what your baby is interested in. Remember, sign language is the bridge between communicating with your pre-verbal baby until they can speak, so pick signs that help name what’s happening in your day (routines) as well as what your baby wants to talk about (the fun stuff).

So signs like DIAPER, EAT, BATH, BED, UP, etc, are great choices for describing what’s happening or about to happen –everyone loves to know what’s happening next, even babies. Spend time talking about and naming what you’re doing, and your babies will soon learn your natural routines and feel calmer and more included in the daily schedule. I’ve always said, “Happy baby, happy family” (sigh), and I still believe that’s true.

And also pay attention to what your baby is telling you! Do they love a particular TOY or object in a BOOK you always have around? Do they giggle when they see DOGS outside on your strolls? Do they tap at the FISH tank in your house? Do they stare at certain colours, toys, anything? Then name it! Sign it! Discuss it! This is your chance to connect deeply with your babies because they will know you are noticing something they want to tell you, and you are responding. Bam! That’s communicating! You are an awesome parent and an outstanding communicator.

My daughter, Ella, noticed BIRDS while we were on neighbourhood strolls. I, of course, did not notice BIRDS; I was staring straight ahead, viciously sleep-deprived most days and barely picking up my own feet, but my baby was mesmerized by birds in the trees. She was always watching them flit around above us and listening to them chirp away. I hadn’t really noticed how much Ella loved watching birds until I saw her craning her neck to still face the trees after I had turned the stroller around to head home from the park.

I finally realized she was pointing at the birds and I had a mini-AHA! moment. I promptly taught her the sign for BIRD and started talking about those birds: “Hey, I see all the BIRDS! Look at the BIRDS! How many BIRDS do you see?” Her response was almost feverish, and a truly triumphant look came upon her face. She knew I knew what she wanted to talk about! And so began a massive daily dialogue about birds: birds in the trees, birds up high, birds down low, birds by the pond, birds in books, birds chirping outside every morning. I could visibly see how much she wanted to tell me about the birds, and it was fantastic. I’m guessing your baby will be feverish about something around you, too. Keep an eye out, and you’ll find your next sign.

Successful early communication with babies involves some mindful decisions about what to say, but it’s not tricky. Think about the words that will help you name your daily routines, and also be very aware of what your baby is interested in. These words will quickly become your arsenal of vocabulary to work on. It will build naturally as your baby grows, and as you make more routines and do more activities together. Always say the words aloud to your baby as you sign them, and repeat often to maintain context.

Oh, and please allow me to introduce you to our family’s new pet bird, Lucky!

Lucky was rescued from a nearby alleyway by friends who couldn’t keep her. Both my kids are thrilled that we adopted a bird, but it’s especially cool to pull a favourite word from my daughter’s first roster of signs into her life as a big kid.

What does your baby want to talk to you about?

Processed with Rookie

To sign BIRD in American Sign Language, tap your index finger to your thumb a few times, like the beak of a bird.

Mid-Summer Bucket List (Weighing In)

Okay, I have to admit it. It’s no longer the beginning of summer, but, indeed, the middle. Smack dab in the middle. So it’s time to look at the summer bucket list my family made at the beginning of summer and take stock. Creating and using a family bucket list has been truly changing. It’s added some good, helpful structure to our days while avoiding over-planning, of which I had been guilty. Last summer, I could add up the days on one hand that we stayed local and did unstructured, unplanned things. And I could also tell you, it kind of sucked always driving to booked locations, back & forth-ing to summer camps, hauling equipment and packing backpacks. I don’t remember having a ton of spontaneous fun, and more importantly, neither do my kids. So I got inspired, changed things up, and refocused this summer’s activities.

Here’s an updated list of what we’ve already done & crossed off:

• Watch a movie in the backyard (on blankets!)

• Paint rocks

• Jump in a lake

• Make s’mores over a campfire

• Go on a day hike

• Roll down a grassy hill

• “Fish” off the back deck

• Make a lemonade stand

• Learn how to skip rocks

• Wade barefoot in a cold creek & build some dams & bridges

• Bury ourselves in sand

• Plan a beach party with friends

• Join the public library’s summer reading club
• Have friends over for a summer sleepover
• Have a water fight in the back yard -sponges, shooters, & a bin of water
• Make homemade backyard relay games (the kids are in the backyard doing wheel-barrow races through a homemade obstacle course with the neighbours’ kids as I type this!)

Here’s what we haven’t done yet:

• Wake up and watch a sunrise
• 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
• Fly a kite
• Bake some treats & have an (iced) tea party
• Go to an outdoor movie
• Visit some local tourist attractions we never usually have time for
• Try a new sport
• Ride different local transit -the Seabus, skytrain, Aquabus etc
• 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
• Paint each other’s toenails
• Play the cloud game on the grass
• Blow bubbles in the bathtub
• Explore 3 new playgrounds or parks, make obstacle courses
• Watch a sunset together

Granted, I think the “Still To-Do” list may be longer than the “Done” list, but my initial goal of identifying simple but often-forgotten fun things to do together has already been met only half-way through the summer.

So, to me, from here on out, the rest is gravy!

Stay tuned…

What simple, local, or spontaneous things are you doing this summer?
(There’s still lots of time!)