Tag Archives: fun


We just joined some good friends for the first day of my kids’ spring break at the Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park. It was a typical Pacific Northwest grey, drizzly day outside, but we walked into a lush, tropical rainforest-like oasis inside!
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The Bloedel Conservatory is offering free entry for kids until March 24 for spring break. Adults pay $6.95 and up to 2 kids per adult are free, yahoo!

One of the best parts about going to the hilltop location of the Bloedel Conservatory is walking through the gardens of Queen Elizabeth Park following a meandering paved path through the expansive outdoor gardens to reach it. The kids ran ahead for a long while within our sight, and stopped to rest and see the fantastic outlook once we reached the top. Queen Elizabeth Park is home to one of the city’s biggest hills and best viewpoint to see Vancouver’s downtown skyline, the north shore mountains, the valley to the east and ocean to the west. Visibility wasn’t stellar since it was a cloudy day, but still a breathtaking view of Vancouver.
Viewpoint at Queen's Elizabeth Park  --www.growingsigns.com
Once inside, we relaxed in the warm, tropical air under the geodesic glass roof with palm fronds, treetops and vines frolicking above us. We heard the chirping of birds and insects and critters all around us.

Time to explore!

Inside Bloedel Conservatory  --www.growingsigns.com
Again, the conservatory is a really nice place to let the kids walk with us because it’s a paved, windy, big loop that we could let them get ahead and still easily find them in the confined grounds. Babies and tots in strollers or carriers would love seeing all the wildlife at eye level, too! My little guy loved that he could (gently) touch and feel the foliage all around the conservatory.
Giant Fronds  --www.growingsigns.com
We saw lots of tiny, multi-coloured birds flitting around us as we strolled around the conservatory, and came upon a koi pond, chatty parrots, a throne made of branches, a feeding area, and lots of habitats full of tropical and desert plant life.
Koi Pond  --www.growingsigns.com
Bird trio  --www.growingsigns.com

May I present, Princess Quinn!
Branch Throne  --www.growingsigns.com
Rainbow Bird  --www.growingsigns.com
This rainbow-coloured bird was so extraordinary!

After we got our bearings, we let the kids roam around together finding items on the scavenger hunt provided at the conservatory.
Scavenger Hunt --www.growingsigns.com
We moms found a lovely bench and proceeded to catch up a little bit, of course. All of a sudden, we realized there was someone eavesdropping on our conversation. Well, not just one eavesdropper, but two! Behind us in one of the parrot environments, a couple of beautiful parrots were saying, “HELLO!” and “HOW ARE YOU?”. For real! They were just as chatty as we were, and they kept talking and asking questions as we responded. “I’M FINE, I’M FINE, HOW ARE YOU? HELLO!”
Parrot chat --www.growingsigns.com

To sign BIRD in American Sign Language snap your index finger and thumb together like the beak of a BIRD

How to sign BIRD in American Sign Language --www.growingsigns.com
Snap your index finger and thumb together like the beak of a BIRD

Do you have plans for spring break?

Hot Chocolate Festival

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Now here’s a bright idea: a festival devoted entirely to HOT CHOCOLATE!

This makes my kids all kinds of excited, and me, too! The 6th annual HOT CHOCOLATE Festival is happening right now in my city of Vancouver. There’s over two dozen bakeries, restaurants and cafés offering incredibly delectable takes on HOT CHOCOLATE, with interesting flavours like Vanilla Earl Grey (The Last Crumb), Honey Bun with chili honey (Terra Breads), and lots of non-dairy options, too, like Coconut Hot Chocolate paired with a small scoop of chocolate vegan ice cream (Ernest Ice Cream). Sweet!

So, how does a HOT CHOCOLATE festival work, you ask? Here’s the scoop: each participating business offers 2 or 3 signature HOT CHOCOLATE recipes on their menu paired with an accompanying topping or tiny sweet treat for patrons to come try during the festival dates of January 16-February 14. There are also specific flavours only offered on certain days during the festival at certain locations, so there’s lots of variety. The idea is brilliant, and it gets people out and about to new locations around the city, and the HOT CHOCOLATE festival is a fundraiser organized by Cityfood Magazine for the Downtown Eastside women’s job training program, so it’s a feel-good do-good event on all sides.

And I love that this festival is highlighting the fantastic imaginations of our city’s best creators of chocolate, and getting Vancouverites tasting some drinkable confections. The Vancouver HOT CHOCOLATE Festival is also very social, so go check out #hotchocolatefest on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to enter their HOT CHOCOLATE photo contest, for more ideas and for deliciously drool-worthy pics.

Now, if you can’t make it to the festival, let me make a suggestion…

Try your hand at creating some fun HOT CHOCOLATE concoctions of your own. There’s no rules at home! I’ve tried all sorts of flavour combinations with my kids starting with milk, hot water, soy or almond milk with cocoa, chocolate chips, hot chocolate mix or sometimes (a lot of times) just with Nutella (you don’t even need actual chocolate to make HOT CHOCOLATE, by the way). And you can add cinnamon, vanilla, orange rind, anything you like for a little flavour flourish. Whipped cream and sprinkles are always fun for kids, and I love Oh She Glow’s recipe for Coconut Whipped Cream.

Or make a plan on a chilly day to go compare flavours at several different cafe’s in your neighbourhood. Order one to share and taste test with homemade score cards for each location. Bring some crayons for colouring and for filling in the scorecards for best chocolatey taste, creamiest whipped cream, favourite sprinkles, yummiest marshmallows, deepest chocolate colour, etc. Have a discussion on what makes the best HOT CHOCOLATE and recreate it at home. Note: we like to schedule a family dance party or perhaps a balloon party to work off all that sugar afterwards!

The Vancouver HOT CHOCOLATE Festival is happening until Valentine’s Day, just in time for some creamy, dreamy, chocolatey love! Take your lovey, your littles, or just yourself for a well-deserved chocolatey quiet time. Click for a complete listing of the HOT CHOCOLATE Festival vendors & flavours.

And now it’s time for me to stop writing and start sipping. Are you hitting any of the HOT CHOCOLATE festival spots in Vancouver? Do you make your own HOT CHOCOLATE at home?

Here’s how to sign HOT CHOCOLATE with your kids…please be careful if you’re sipping and signing!

How to sign HOT in American Sign Language --www.growingsigns.com

To sign HOT in American Sign Language, start with an open claw-hand in front of your open mouth then bring hand down and swing it away from your body (like something that’s too HOT to touch)

How to sign CHOCOLATE in American Sign Language --www.growingsigns.com

To sign CHOCOLATE, hold one hand in a ‘C’ shape circling on top of your other flat hand:

Candy Cane Mailbox

My kids will try to beg, borrow, and steal any CANDY CANE they come across at Christmas time. I am surely the grinch of all things sweet, as I try to monitor my little ones’ sugar intake at this time of the year. Admittedly, there are a few really stale mini candy canes decorating our tree; I pull them out of the decorations box each year and re-use them again and again. They don’t get eaten because my kids know they’re stale and soft. Otherwise I don’t buy them. Usually I say no to CANDY CANES entirely, and I guess that feeds into their fever to get their hands on one every single Christmas.

But perhaps I’m softening over the years, too.

North Pole Mail Box www.growingsigns.com
Today we came across a cute, decorated mailbox that was a direct line to the North Pole for kids’ letters to Santa while strolling down Robson Street downtown. As I had suspected, my son couldn’t resist pulling open the hatch and looking inside the mailbox. His face absolutely lit up when he found two CANDY CANES. I had secretly placed them in there before they noticed the mail box, and you should have seen their expressions when they found such a treasure!

(Okay I admit, it is a little grinch-y to make my son stand still for a photo and sign CANDY CANE before opening it up).

Do you let your little ones eat CANDY CANES?

To sign CANDY CANE in American Sign Language, sign CANDY by twisting your index finger beside the mouth, then trace out the hook shape of a CANDY CANE with your index finger and thumb.

How to Sign CANDY CANE in American Sign Language www.growingsigns.com

Winter Beach Day

winter beach thumbs up www.growingsigns.com
One of my family’s favorite places to go is the beach. We have picnics and birthday parties at the beach when it’s hot out, but we head to the beach during every season. Our city of Vancouver lies on the west coast of Canada and has more beaches than I can count on two hands. We are also watched over by huge mountains to the north that look spectacular year-round, so heading to the beach on a sunny day is just as lovely in winter as it is in summer.

We often head out to the beach late in the day to catch the last rays of light as the winter sun makes its way down to set over the water.
Winter beach day www.growingsigns.com

Oh yes, it’s COLD here in the winter! We bundle up with gloves and hats, but the fresh ocean air and vitamin D shining down feels so invigorating in December.
Winter seashell www.growingsigns.com

And even though my kids are big, they still love to climb and balance on the logs, find seashells, touch the water, and generally just muck about
(and so do the parents).
beach log balance www.growingsigns.com

balancing act www.growingsigns.com

log wiggle www.growingsigns.com

beach jump www.growingsigns.com

When dad and I finally get too COLD and decide it’s time to go, we can sign COLD in American Sign Language to the kids no matter if they’re out of earshot –they know that’s the signal in winter for let’s get moving! Even if they’ve wandered a little far down the beach…

winter beach www.growingsigns.com

Remember to tell your kids what’s happening with signs along with your words so they can follow your lead. Combining signs with your commands adds extra oomph to your directions, and shows that you mean business. I love using signs when we’re out so I don’t have to shout things like, “Let’s go, it’s COLD!” a million times.

To sign COLD or CHILLY in American Sign Language, hold your two closed fists up and shake them while hunching your shoulders, like you’re shivering in the COLD.

How to sign COLD in American Sign Language www.growingsigns.com

Where is your family’s favorite place to go play in winter?


How can ASL signs help teach your babies and kids to use their manners?


Start early, start strong.

Here’s how I’ve been doing it!

Firstly, I demonstrate that we always say “thank you” and “please” in our daily conversations -I make sure to say “thank you” when they hand me a toy or something to hold, and I say “please” when giving commands like, “Please find your shoes”. And I always enunciate those manner words verbally, repeat them often, and sign them every time I say them. Every time. And also, I give lots of praise and cheering when they use their manners and signs. The usual stuff.

This takes lots of time and patience, I won’t lie. But it is SO worth it.

And keep in mind that kids are enthusiastic and can get lost-in-the-moment quite often, and it’s easy for them to forget their manners at any age. Even adults forget to use their manners. So, by laying the groundwork of always saying and signing PLEASE and THANK YOU, my kids are prepared to follow my lead and I can just catch their eye and sign THANK YOU to remind them whenever they forget. A quick prompt, not a verbal reminder, not a reprimand. And no one else usually sees my signals…

… so my kids end up looking like rock stars remembering their manners.

Mostly, my kids appreciate that I don’t embarrass them saying things like, “What do you say?”, and “Don’t forget your manners”, and “What’s the magic word?”

(by the way, there is no magic word when you’re a parent, and really, magic doesn’t work anyway. Consistent patterns do!)

To sign PLEASE in American Sign Language, circle your flat, open hand on the upper chest.

To sign THANK YOU in American Sign Language, hold your fingertips to your chin and then extend them outwards to the other person.

How do you teach manners?

Leftover Candy Cookies

Leftover Candy Cookies by growingsigns.comI’m hearing a lot of moaning and groaning about leftover Halloween candy this week. In my signing classes, a lot of the moms & dads talked about how they bought Halloween candy for the little trick-or-treaters ringing their doorbell last weekend, but ended up having leftovers. Or for those with big kids who went out door-to-door on Halloween, there comes a time when you want those bags of candy to vanish, and not into their tummies.

Some of my clever friends have negotiated an exchange of the candy bag after Halloween with a toy or other non-candy goodies so their kids don’t eat too much junk. I love that idea but I never remember to put that together. I usually end up letting my kids eat their favourites, and then simply take the whole bag away without notice after a couple days. Enough is enough.

So what to do with all that leftover candy?


Cut it up & bake it!
(or freeze it for another baking-kinda day)

If you already bake throughout the year and eat cookies at home, why not use up some of the candy and not eat it all at once. Or bake and give away the cookies to someone you know that loves cookies. I hate throwing away things that can be used in baking (now or later).

This is my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe, made with leftover Halloween candy instead of chocolate chips, but you can use any cookie recipe you like.

1 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons hot water
1/2 teaspoon salt
Halloween chocolate bars and bits, chopped

Preheat oven to 350F

Cream together the butter & sugars until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in the hot water. Add to batter along with the salt. Stir in flour and mix until just combined. Add chocolate candy pieces. Drop by large spoonfuls onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes in preheated oven, or until edges are just browning. Let cool 1 minute on baking sheet, then remove onto a cooling rack.

Leftover Candy Cookies -www.growingsigns.com

What do you do with all your leftover candy?

Witches’ Brew Bathtime

This year I didn’t seem to decorate the house for Halloween quite as much as usual, and I had some little plastic spiders, bugs, bones and other doo-dads left in the Halloween bin. Every year I move things around and I just didn’t find a good place for these guys yet. I realized today on Halloween that they were still looking for a home to be spooky.
How to sign BATH www.growingsigns.com

So after my son’s muddy soccer game today, he needed a bath right away before we even thought about getting dressed for trick-or-treating tonight. I grabbed the bag of tiny creepy-crawlies and ran upstairs to the get the bath started while he took off his cleats and shinpads. I poured some bubbles into the running bath and dumped out the bag. Once the bath was almost full, I tossed in some spiders and bugs and a few snakes for the bottom of the bath. Then I placed some other bits and pieces around the tub, and gingerly added a few of the lighter plastic spiders and bugs on top of the bubbles. I called him in for his bath and he loved it.

His favourite part was finding the ones that had sunk to the bottom.

I think we have another new Halloween tradition!
How to sign BATH www.growingsigns.com

Make sure you find things for your witches’ brew bath that are washable, and big enough not to be swallowed by your wee ones or your drain.

How to Sign BATH in ASL www.growingsigns.com

To sign BATH in American Sign Language, rub both fists up and down on the chest, like you’re soaping yourself up in the bath.

Do you have spooky Halloween traditions?

Thanksgiving Jello Bites

Jello Bites Cut-outs

It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada and my mother-in-law asked me to bring some of my Jello Bites to eat alongside the pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving dinner.

No problem!

Jello bites are little cut-outs of jello that can be eaten with your hands. Also called Jello Jigglers, this jello treat is made with less water than the usual recipe to make it more dense and jiggly. This adapted recipe for jigglers has a creamy layer too. But don’t panic, you don’t actually make 2 layers, this recipe mixes once and sets with 2 layers on its own. Hooray for small victories!

I first tried these cut into squares at my lovely neighbour’s house almost a dozen years ago and she generously shared the recipe with me; I’ve been making them ever since! I use cookie cutters to make them cute for whatever theme is happening -birthday parties, school events, even Thanksgiving! My kids love these wiggly, jiggly, creamy bites of jello (and my mother-in-law, too)!

They’re great for little hands with chubby fingers to hold and gobble up on Thanksgiving, or any time at all, give them a try!

Creamy Jello Bites

4 small boxes of same flavour jello
4 cups boiling water
3 sachets of gelatin (I use Knox brand)
1 small carton of whipping cream (250ml)

Pour the jello and gelatine crystals into a large heat-proof bowl. Slowly add the boiling water and mix well. Slowly add whipping cream into bowl and stir until blended. It may look a little globby as it blends, but it always sets evenly. Pour mixture into a 9×12 lasagna dish or deep cookie sheet and cover with plastic wrap. The jello and cream layers will form naturally as it sets.

Let set 3-4 hours, then cut with cookie cutters or into squares with a knife.

Keep chilled until served.

I pack them up in containers with parchment paper in between each layer to store in my fridge, ready for bringing to parties, school celebrations, and Thanksgiving dinner!
Jello Bites packed up -www.growingsigns.com

Happy Thanksgiving, my Canadian friends!

Learn how to sign more Thanksgiving signs in American Sign Language, too!

Gobble, gobble!

How to sign HAPPY THANKSGIVING -www.growingsigns.com

Helping Hand

Reaching for HELP -www.growingsigns.com

Here’s my son, Ian, showing me the puzzle piece he’s putting together isn’t fitting and he wants some HELP (and yes, he’s sitting in a laundry basket doing a puzzle. Of course).

The sign for HELP is in my ‘Daily Signing’ category for babies who are just getting busy and often get frustrated with their new abilities -like when they can’t reach a toy that’s fallen or something they’re playing with keeps falling apart. Or really any baby or toddler who gets frustrated (i.e. all of them).

My son could also never get out of his high chair fast enough after a meal. Instead of letting him cry or whimper at me to let him out as I fumbled quickly with his straps, I would excitedly show him the sign for HELP as I was coming over. “Look! Mommy is coming to HELP you!” Smiles and cheering (positive reinforcement at its best) as I slowly HELPED him, then “Yay, you’re out of your chair!” and soon he understood an urgent cry wasn’t needed to ask for HELP.

You can also sign HELP and UP before you get your babies out of their car seats or anywhere they feel stuck.

These signs will signal what’s about to happen & your babies will realize they don’t need to fuss to get HELP.

Whenever you are about to HELP, sign it first & show them how to ask for HELP.

How to Sign HELP in American Sign Language www.signingbabies.ca
To sign HELP, one open flat hand comes up to lift the other hand in a closed fist with thumb on top, raising both hands up together to show giving a helping hand

(**my little guy always sticks his thumb way up signing HELP, so I find my thumb goes up too, but it’s correct to keep your thumb laying flat).

When can you add the sign for HELP in your day?

Home Run

I played a lot of sports as a kid, but baseball was the very first team sport I joined. There was a keen dad in our kindergarten class, and somehow he rounded up enough girls that summer to make a team. Looking back, I’m pretty sure it was pure comedy for the parents to watch a dozen 5-year-olds learn how to throw a ball, use a mitt, and (sort of) run around the bases at practices. I remember a lot of horsing around. We were very young and very silly, and it was probably sheer chaos to our adult spectators, but I remember so many fun summer nights spent at the baseball diamond. I played every summer with that same team until we moved away when I was twelve.

Flash forward a few (ahem) years, and now I’m the parent sitting in the bleachers watching my little guy go up to bat and take some swings. Well, a lot of swings, actually. All the kids are swinging and hitting and throwing their hearts out. And boy are they having fun! My guy is thrilled to learn a new sport and join a team with his school-mates and other kids from around town. Sitting there watching his first practice, I realized I had completely forgotten how much I loved playing baseball as a kid, too. Like, really loved it!
The next day I picked up an adult glove for me from the used sporting goods store, and started throwing the ball around with my new little leaguer that night. Talk about feeding the soul –tossing a baseball back and forth on a warm sunny evening together felt so good.

Last weekend his team played their final game at playoffs and then the league hosted a huge family fair to end the season. I made cookies for snack after our last game, but soon after munching those down the kids made a bee-line over to the other side of the field where hot dogs, cotton candy, popcorn, a dunk tank, and a bouncy castle awaited all the teams on this last day of the season. Super fun.
This former baseball player mommy got to experience the fun of the game through new eyes, and touch back to my own childhood.

Do you play any sports or activities now that you also played as a kid?

Think about it, you might be like me and remember a whole other side to your childhood that can feed the soul again.


How to Sign BASEBALL in ASL. www.growingsigns.com

To sign BASEBALL in American Sign Language, pretend you are holding a baseball bat with both hands up, then swing hands forward like swinging the bat to hit a ball.