Tag Archives: summer

Haribo Candy Museum

Did someone say candy?

To throw in a little excitement for the kids (both big and small) during our week in Avignon, we spent an afternoon at the Musée d’Haribo, a candy museum in the nearby town of Uzès. A whole afternoon? At a candy museum? Mais, oui!
Our friends had visited the museum several times, and recommended it highly for a little sweet tooth fix, and some history, too, of course. Haribo has European roots with factories worldwide. It specializes in making gummy candies of all kinds and shapes, like bears and coke bottles, and began gaining fame after World War I making licorice candies. Licorice is not my thing, but I loooove gummies, and I used to buy the wrapped Maoam chewy candies (pictured below) all the time when I was a kid. I had no idea they had such a long, rich, European background.
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The man behind Haribo, Hans Riedel, originally came from the town of Bonne, and so created the name of his candy company from the first two letters of his name HA (Hans) RI (Riedel) BO (Bonne) –Haribo!
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My kids loved the interactive games area where they had to add up the weight totals of different kinds of candy to determine a delivery, and spin the marshmallows tub with one arm in time with the syrup pouring with the other. The museum was unlike any I’d ever seen, and I had moments of feeling like I was in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory at times, with oversized installations of gummies and technicolor displays of Haribo’s incredible repertoire of candy.
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Although there are Haribo factories all over the world, including North America, apparently the best Haribo candies are made in the European factories. We got to walk through both buildings at the Provence musée -one for display of how the candy was created, and one factory building where certain types of Haribo candies were made. The last place we visited at the Musée d’Haribo was, of course, the gift shop!
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More candy then I’ve ever seen before, and people were piling it into boxes the size of grocery store baskets. The fever to buy candy was contagious, and although our kids don’t buy or eat candy regularly at home, we decided to join the locals and throw some coke bottles, gummy bears, and sour cherries into a box and call it a day (in France).

To sign CANDY in American Sign Language, twist the tip of your index finger on your cheek:
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Les Halles en Avignon

Our week in Avignon was not long enough! Our friends had several trips planned for us, and we were awed by each of them. But our first morning in Avignon had us walking the narrow cobbled streets within the walled city to go to Les Halles -the covered market.

imageIt was necessary to get there before it closed at 1pm because it was not open the next day, and the ability to locate any fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses would be scarce otherwise. Our bodies were still acclimatizing to the time change and the late night at the music festival the night before, so our friends had to push us along a little to get to Les Halles before closing.

We entered the market building and witnessed the flurry of activity of merchants selling their wares and shoppers scooting around to fulfill their grocery lists before closing. During their year living in Avignon, our friends had met many of the merchants and became friendly with those that they frequented the most. Such is life -you get good service or realize where the best product is, and you return. Friendships begin.

Many of the merchants spoke a little English, and also appreciated their attempts to speak French, so our friends had made friends with the cheese mongers, the produce family, and the meat sellers through weekly banter and commerce. In French markets, you grab a basket and then fill it with your produce. It is then weighed and totaled for you.

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Still in a haze, Scott and I were led around the market to the various stalls, and then just as quickly, the shopping was done and our dinner was bought. Ok, we were done; time for a drink!?
Throughout Avignon are les places, or town squares. Almost year round there are tables and chairs set up outside of bistros and restaurants within these town squares where there is no vehicle traffic. People can sit, have a drink and watch the world go by. Which is exactly what we did on our first afternoon in Avignon.

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Afterwards, our family decided to take a little survey of the town via the touristy tram tour and see some of the highlights of Avignon while our friends returned home. The Palais de Papes (the palace of the Pope) is a gorgeous building in the centre of town, built first as a respite from the Vatican, and then became home to 6 popes during the 1300’s and was built upon and expanded.
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After the tour, we were treated to our first home-cooked meal in France (although it was 35 degrees outside, so cold salads from our market trip were lovingly prepared and it was an ideal dinner). And some rosé pour les adultes, s’il vous plâit!

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Sur Le Pont D’Avignon

There’s a popular children’s song which mentions the town of Avignon, France, which was my family’s destination today. Do you remember the song?

Sur le pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse, l’on y danse
Sur le pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse tous en rond.

Rough translation:
On the bridge of d’Avignon
We all dance there, we all dance there
On the bridge of d’Avignon
We all dance there, all around.

It’s sung in a round, naming all the people dancing -ladies, gentlemen, etc, and is similar to “Ring Around the Rosy” with everyone circling and falling. The bridge from the song was built in the middle of the 12th century –cue the incredible departure into history for my family!
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Leaving North America and traveling to France becomes an instant history lesson, since pretty much everywhere you look there’s bound to be something older than Canada. And as you can see from the photo, everything resembles famous paintings, or just plain looks like it should be in a painting. Avignon is in the gorgeous South of France, with an ancient walled city that famously housed 7 popes before becoming part of France during the French Revolution in 1731.

Fast forward a little bit, and you’ll find my family arriving at the Avignon train station during an incredible one-day music festival –Fête de la Musique. Our friends from Vancouver, who are now proud residents of Avignon, picked us up amid the flurry of thousands of other people visiting the city for the one-day free fête which celebrates any and all performers wanting to perform any type of music or song. Pure chaos, but in a good way. We enjoyed a glass of chilled rosé at their apartment before launching our still-jetlagged (and train-weary) bodies into the dizzying kaleidescope of thumping music and people in the cobblestone streets.
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We saw all sorts of musical performers, but most of all, we reunited our daughter with our friends’ daughters, two of her first best friends. It was an explosion of hugs, kisses, and jumpy jumps as they danced and circled around each other, just like the dancers of that famous song.
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Illustration from The Baby’s Bouquet, A Fresh Bunch of Rhymes and Tunes by Walter Crane (1878).

Flip Flop Faux Pas

By the end of our first day visiting Paris and after wandering around our hotel’s neighbourhood, I noticed 2 things: French people often make eye contact, look at one another and will hold their gaze on each other in passing, much longer than in North America. They are not shy about looking, and so, the people-watching is fantastic! I enjoyed taking in all the chic little outfits with the beautiful accessories passing me.

Secondly, and more importantly,

Parisian women do not wear flip flops.

Upon checking into the hotel, I had swiftly changed into my flip flops to go explore the area and find some lunch. I kept noticing people making eye contact with me while passing on the street, and then doing a double-take of my feet. Over and over again. I was perplexed as I watched them glance at my shoes with puzzled looks on their faces. Then it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen one single person wearing flip flops all day around our hotel’s non-touristy neighbourhood. Not once. Looks like I had already made my first fashion faux-pas in Paris!

But then again, it could’ve been the maple leaf painted on my toe…?

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Thank you to Ricky at Bloom Essentials for the patriotic paint job.

Up, Up and Away!

Off to the airport this morning, we are on our way! After planning this European holiday almost a year ago, and counting down the days for months on the calendar, it was finally time. My heart has been fluttering almost constantly for a week, and I’ve been jittery and light-headed for the past 3 days. Yesterday I walked into a pole, botched the laundry, and lost my house keys. But today?

Today’s the day to fly to Paris!

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Wish us luck, we have a long flight with a stopover in Montreal, then another 6 hour flight to Paris. We arrive at 9:30am Paris time, so we are planning to take the train into Paris, settle into our hotel, and try to stay awake as long as possible –here’s hoping! Tomorrow we hop on a fast train to Avignon for a week of adventures with our Vancouver friends in Provence…

To sign AIRPLANE in American Sign Language, one hand takes off like an airplane up and across body with the pinky, index finger, and thumb extended while other 2 fingers are tucked in.
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Family Trip (of a lifetime)

I’m looking forward to seeing what spending so much family time together really looks like.

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Next week we are heading to Europe with the kids for 6 weeks. Our very good friends moved to the south of France last summer for one year, and we promised to go visit them before they move back home. And we always hold good on our promises (especially when it involves France)! Well, now I’m fibbing. We’ve never taken the kids to Europe, but it’s time to take advantage of our friends’ invitation to come visit. So, in a week we will hop on a plane -me, my husband, Scott, our 12 year old daughter, Ella, and 8 year old son, Ian and begin what I know will be the trip of a lifetime. We’ll be gone for 6 weeks and will visit 5 cities in France and England: Paris, Avignon, Cannes, Oxford, and London.

Luckily for me, my husband is a stellar trip planner -like out of this world. He gets all the credit for logistically putting this trip together (thanks, babe). He’s lined up some incredible accommodations for us to stay in: 2 big-city apartments, a beachside hotel, a quaint farmhouse, as well as our friends’ generous invitation to stay with them in their digs within the city walls of Avignon. And don’t forget about food! We’ve got reservations for world class food experiences in both countries- celebrity chef restaurants and Michelin stars are in our near future. And daily doses of pain au chocolat and gelato may be necessary.

TRAVEL: with first two fingers bent, hand is circled up and around sideways
(like traveling around on a map)

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As daunting as a 6 week trip away from home with children is, (yes, I’m freaking out a little bit inside) I’m looking forward to seeing what spending so much family time together really looks like. Away from work, away from school, away from home. It occurred to me lately that this is a great opportunity to chronicle our trip as a family and increase the chances of being mindful in our travels together, so I’m writing about it. And taking pictures. And, of course, I’m going to add a dash of American Sign Language to our adventures along the way…

Come with us!

You can join the trip by signing up for my Growing Signs posts here (click the red box above right), and on Instagram & Facebook.

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.
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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.
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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:
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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:
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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.
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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.
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So, because we were now those people who liked guided tours, we waited at the trail entrance to meet the free forest guide:
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(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.
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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.”

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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?

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!)
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• Paint rocks
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• Jump in a lake
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• Make s’mores over a campfire
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• Go on a day hike
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• Roll down a grassy hill
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• “Fish” off the back deck
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• Make a lemonade stand
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• Learn how to skip rocks
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• Wade barefoot in a cold creek & build some dams & bridges
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• Bury ourselves in sand
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• Plan a beach party with friends
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• 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!)

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!

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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?).

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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!

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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…

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