Tag Archives: walk


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?

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

Le port de Cannes en fête

imageOn our second evening in Cannes, families and music lovers were warmly welcomed onto the boardwalk for the second annual Le Port de Cannes en Fêtes, a free festival celebrating summer fun. Why, yes, we’d absolutely love to celebrate in Cannes! We scrubbed up from our beach day and headed to the Esplanade Pantiéro just past the beach where there was a carousel, a picnic area, food trucks, a massive stage and carnival games set up in the seaside square.
Scheduled onstage that evening were performances by French music bands Miss America and the Sisters G, and headliners Kool and the Gang. Those of you old enough will remember Kool and the Gang’s huge dance hits from the 80’s like Celebration, Get Down On It, Ladies Night, and ballads like Cherish and Too Hot.

Scott and I were thrilled to see them appearing at this free outdoor concert. That song, Celebration, made it on our wedding CD and kicked off the very-important dancing portion at our reception 14 years ago. Who knew they were still touring?

(Click here if you still can’t quite hear the disco rifts and need a little Kool and the Gang while you stroll with us on this festival evening!)

“Celebrate good times, come on!”

But before the sun set and the concerts began, we had time to wander the area and see all the wonderful family entertainment that was set out on the esplanade. Scott and I quickly realized that the French manage to attain an air of sophistication even with something as simple as carnival games.
imageThis first game we saw was very simple but oh, so tricky! With 2 pulleys, you had to balance and manoever the wooden ball up to the top of the board around all the holes without letting it drop. There were so many games to try, and it was very civilized as kids and adults waited their turn to try them all. Line ups weren’t necessary, everyone just watched for who was next. See what I mean about the civilized stuff?

Mini Ropes Course, Ball Balancer, Tilted Maze & Mini Shuffleboard

Mirror Puzzle
This one really tested my own left-handed/right-brain synapses, but Ella found it quite easy to assemble the half-a-picture puzzle pieces into one full picture using the mirror.

Nope, none of those silly pay-up-and-give-it-your-best-shot-but-you’ll-never-win kinda games here, and no ratty stuffies as prizes like we’ve always found in our hometown. In Cannes, they set up handcrafted wooden games that actually challenge your body and brain, and they’re great for all ages! No prizes necessary, it was just plain fun. My kids and hubby and I had a blast trying out all the free games, and testing our varying levels of hand-eye coordination. We enjoyed watching how other people solved the puzzles, too. Hands down, it was the best carnival I’d ever seen, and I loved seeing it all through my kids eyes as much as I enjoyed participating in such simple pleasures.

Street performers, magicians, jugglers, and marching bands passed us by on our way down the esplanade towards the boats in Quai St. Pierre.
Then we doubled back towards the square as it started getting dark and we could hear Kool and the Gang taking over the stage. We found out that this concert was a surprise announcement, not on Kool and the Gang’s official touring calendar. Apparently they love Cannes, too, and added it to their European concert dates this summer. Our kids thought we were nuts, but Scott and I were so chuffed to see them perform and there might have been a little boogie-ing in the streets (cue the eye rolls). I caught a quick pic of the scene as we four regretfully headed back to our apartment from the fête with sleepy, smiley faces.

“Oh, what a night!”


And here’s a great video that shows all the entertainment, games, performers, and Kool and the Gang in action that night at Le port de Cannes en fête 2014.

Doing the Cannes-Cannes

By the end of our first day in the city of Cannes, we were already in love! What’s not to love? Cannes is located on the southwest coast of France along the Mediterranean Sea, in the French Riviera. Sunny, warm, tropical. All the good stuff, and it’s gorgeous: powder-sand-and-turquoise-sea kind of gorgeous. Staying right on the water overlooking the harbour was incredible, and we watched many cruise ships and yachts sail in and out from our balcony.
Across the street from our apartment is a string of beaches -one public beach which is free, another public beach that belongs to the city of Cannes which charges a nominal fee (about $6 daily for a beach chair and umbrella), and five or six more private beaches which are owned by hotels along La Croisette. From what we could read on the signs outside, they charge upwards of $25 per person to sit in cabanas and loungers with food and drink service. Seemed pretty ritzy! We wandered over to the public beach to touch the sand and dip our toes in the water…
Gorgeous! The water was cool but not cold. We weren’t dressed for the beach though, and our tummies were rumbling, so we wandered back up to the boardwalk that wraps the entire length of the harbour and began strolling.
The harbour was crowded with all sorts of beautiful boats -we loved the sailboats the best, although the rock-star yachts with room for a helicopter to land were pretty dazzling. We soon started looking for a restaurant as we were getting pretty hungry for dinner. There were many cafés to choose from along the water with lovely views of the harbour and boats. It was also very warm outside so we wanted to choose somewhere with a patio that could catch some breeze, but many of the restaurants looked fairly touristy and pricey. Slightly off the main road, tucked behind a fountain was a little place with bright red umbrellas and a small outside patio. There was a larger restaurant next door, but we liked the music we could hear lilting out of the tiny place.
We ambled over and saw the owner inside. When we asked to sit for dinner, he laughed. Laughed and laughed and laughed. Then, when he realized we didn’t get the joke, he said, “Come back at 10pm, no one eats dinner at 6:30 in France”. But he promptly laughed again, and said, “Of course, come and eat, you can sit anywhere you like because there’s no one else here”. So despite not planning on serving dinner so early, he welcomed us in properly and proceeded to serve us a meal we won’t forget. So fresh, and lovingly prepared by his chef that we could taste it in every bite.
Our starter plate was simply tomatoes and fresh cheese, and even though Scott usually avoids tomatoes, we ended up having fork battles over the last pieces. Then our entrées came, and we devoured them: roast chicken, moules frites (mussels and fries) with the most fluffy, crispy French fries that we’d ever eaten. My roast chicken was a house specialty done in their rôtisserie with herbes de Provence, a delicious little vegetable soufflé, and some greens. So very simple, with out-of-this-world flavours.
It was delicious, gorgeous, fresh food and we were wiping our plates with the bread. We shared dessert -a sumptuous chocolate molten lava cake -which barely sat long enough to take this photo (the kids, of course, loved the whipped cream with candy sprinkles).
We sat on that patio for hours and chatted with the owner. We found out the restaurant had only just opened and he now felt like he was in a second marriage -to his friend, the chef! There wasn’t a lot of time spent at home with his real wife and kids, but luckily he and his family lived upstairs above the restaurant. He was truly charming and quirky, and we all enjoyed his hospitality. He loved to make my kids giggle with silly jokes in English. By the time we finished a lovely bottle of rosé and paid our bill almost 3 hours later, the restaurant was filling up with locals ready for their late dinner -always a good sign. And a perfect start to our week in Cannes.

(Sadly, this little restaurant did not have a website up yet, but I will update with a link once it does!)

To Market We Go

Processed with RookiePart of the greatness of visiting friends who have already lived in Avignon for a year is learning all about the local French culture. Our friends, a family of four, jumped into life in France with all 8 feet!

In the short week we’ve joined them, they have demonstrated how decisions about where to go, what to do, and what to eat in France are based on what is nearby, what is available, and what is fresh. As a rule, the French eat fruits and vegetables that are grown locally and in season. Period. Imported produce is bought very reluctantly by locals. If it’s not apple season in France, you don’t buy apples. And if you aren’t sure what’s in season, you’ll realize soon enough when you see the price of imported apples next to the local apricots.

In the city Avignon, there is Les Halles market that is open most days selling fresh produce, meat, dairy, and fish, which we visited soon after arriving here. And once a week on Thursdays, just outside the city walls across the bridge there is a weekly outdoor market in Villeneuve-Lez-Avignon, a small town originally built as a fortress to protect access to the bridge to Avignon.
We strolled over to Villeneuve-Lez-Avignon’s market day, our cloth shopping bags in hand. It’s a large, lively outdoor market, with food as well as goods and clothing.
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The booths were dazzling and the smells were out of this world -how do I describe the olives stall?! It took my breath away and my feet instinctively stopped dead as I just breathed in the pungent scent of freshly picked olives of every size and colour. Handcrafted tapenades and olive-based spreads were also tickling my nose. It was heaven for an olive lover like me, and soon my two olive-loving kids doubled back to see what I was staring at.
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It was so great to be able to eat some of the local olives we had seen growing in the groves we had passed by in our daily excursions to Tavel and Orange this week. We enthusiastically bought a few assorted kinds of green and black olives and started to munch right away. We chomped as we strolled the market and bought incredibly fresh, local produce for our last homemade dinner with our friends in Avignon before leaving the next day for Cannes.
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In the Pink

During their daily explorations while their children were at school, our friends discovered the town of Tavel (ta-velle), about a 35 minute drive north-west of Avignon. Favoured by the Sun-King Louis XIV and praised by Balzac, Mistral, and even Hemingway, Tavel is well-known for making France’s most famous rosé.

“Tavel wines are made predominantly from the Grenache, Syrah and Clairette varieties and are intended to be drunk chilled, as a more complex alternative to white wines during the hot summer months. The hot, dry Mediterranean climate means that the grapes have no difficulty in reaching full phenolic ripeness here.”


So, on a very hot, dry Mediterranean-style day, we went to visit the Tavel winery Château La Genestière Saint-Anthelme, which had originally been a silk farm on a beautiful plot of grape-growing gorgeousness. We toured the wine-making facilities, seeing where the grapes came through the chute from above and walking through the pressing area, which is completely chilled to maintain the fresh aromas and flavours of the grapes.

Then the kids were shooed outside to play while the adults tested a few wines. We did a tasting of their reds, whites, and rosés, which were all so delightful, but we happily chose to buy a case of a Tavel rosé due to the scorching South of France weather. The rosés were incredibly refreshing here, and locally grown and made –Louis XIV knew his stuff!

Off to lunch in the little town of Tavel, where we walked by beautiful old homes surrounded by narrow streets. We passed by the town centre’s washing pool, dating back to the 1300’s, where people would come to wash clothes.
Indeed, someone’s freshly washed rugs, no doubt too large to hang at home, were hanging to dry on the adjacent stone walls behind the pool:
Through the gate beyond those walls was a huge community garden. A waterway to irrigate the gardens flows down along the stone path between the garden plots, and many plots of young tomatoes, lavender, onions and other vegetables were set up to grow:
Lunch was at a little restaurant our friends had discovered in the middle of Tavel called Le Philosyph, run solely by Stéphane and Edwige, the chef and the maître d, respectively. The food was unbelievable –oh, la, la! A simple plate of canard avec sauce au poivre, des carrots, et des pommes de terre rôti, roasted duck with pepper sauce, carrots and potatoes, but made with love by a chef following his passion. It was absolutely the most delicious duck I have ever tasted.
Let’s just say, every one of us wanted to lick the plate, except maybe Ian, who has a smaller appetite than the rest of us, but dad was happy to help him finish the few last bites on his plate.

What a day! We got to take an insider’s tour of the highlights of a quaint town bearing beautiful wines and foods, with a little history thrown in there, too. Both the winery and restaurant in Tavel are must-sees on our list of to do’s around Avignon.

And in case it wasn’t completely clear, Scott and I are now officially rosé-lovers.

To sign PINK in American Sign Language, with one hand in the letter “P” handshape –thumb tucked in between extended index and middle fingers– drag the tip of the middle finger down across the lips twice.

For more about Tavel, here’s a quick New York Times article of a wine retailer’s family visit during wine harvesting time.

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…?


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

Shoe Crazy

Today got silly. After walking my son into his classroom this morning and kissing him goodbye (that’s not the silly part, he still willingly kisses me in public), he called out, “Shoe, take Mommy back outside!”. I laughed and said, “Oh nooooooo…”. Then I started to shake my right shoe towards the door and hop, mimicking that my shoe was, in fact, taking me outside by force. Ian giggled like crazy, and his teacher looked at me like I was actually crazy. Sorry, Ms. S, no time to explain!

ImageBut here’s what happened. Fifteen minutes prior to that exchange at school, I had asked Ian if he could find my other running shoe within the mountain of shoes and boots by the front door, while I searched for it in our equally disastrously full hall closet. Once found at the back of the closet, I pretended the shoe had been willfully hiding on me. “Look, Ian! Now it’s trying to escape and not join the other one on my foot!” I said, as I pretend-wrestled the shoe on. That lead to big giggles on the floor in our hallway. Then Ian took my lead and commanded the shoe to sit still while I tied it up, which brought on some full-on belly laughs. He continued to command the shoe to make me hop, jump up and down, and finally head outside to go to school with him. 

A truly silly moment that came out of nowhere.

I love those silly moments. Mindful parenting is no mean feat, and I learn on the job everyday. Ups and downs, hills and valleys, keep walking. But those silly, giggling moments together are what keep me feeling light in my heart. Truthfully, I will admit that I have days where it seems like there’s a disproportionate amount of seriously grumpy parenting moments verses silly, fun, and creative ones. And I think that’s part of why I write this blog, to keep myself accountable and to remember to BE silly and enjoy the lighter moments of parenting. My kids know the ASL sign for SHOES, and I don’t have to say it out loud when I want them to get their shoes on. I just call their name to catch their eye and sign it. Except when we pretend my shoe is controlling me, of course. Then we just giggle.



Try using the ASL sign for SHOES when you are heading outside. The visual cue of signing SHOES while you say, “time to get our shoes on” can help kids of any age learn a very common routine, and stay on-task, without you even needing to use your voice.

Please tell me I’m not the only silly mom?

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