Ta-daaa – 180 Days of Magic

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Down the road and up the gap

Posted by PlayGroundology on November 17, 2008

dsc00050The hot, hot never wavered during our whole stay. Deplaning the first afternoon, walking down the stairs to the tarmac the heat just bowled us over and scattered our senses. Sun is absolute, a monarch, a force unto itself. Three weeks is insufficient time to acclimatize to its intensity.

There are opportunities for relief though. Just after a rain there is a little bit of fresh in the air. As night rises and the bats begin their aerial pirouettes a modest discernible cooling begins that lasts until shortly after sunrise. Of course, there’s always the tried and true sea bath the only place you can exercise in this climate and not work up a sweat.

Then there’s AC – the sub-tropics dream machine. It’s a luxury in houses, one that we didn’t have. Nor did it purr chillingly in our rental car. We went cheap so had to make do with rolling down the windows. But the big stores and restaurants have it. I remember the first time we went into the Warrens Super Centre. It was like walking from an equatorial humidity factory onto an iceberg flotilla in the Strait of Belle Isle in just one, two steps. The super chill down didn’t last for much more than 30 seconds. After that it was a comfortably cooler treat.

In between beaching, kids napping and all the regular running a household, domestic bliss activities, I had some of that fine reconciliation, reflection time – giving thanks for then and now. Driving up the gap where I used to hang with guys from my adopted neighbourhood I see the younger incarnations of Iffrey, Hendy, Inee, Ibee, Sylvester aka Abdul.

Iffrey was the entrepreneur of the bunch hawking goods from a stand that is now long gone. He ran a lean machine with very little in stock, a just in time operation. He sold bananas, mangoes, limes, oranges, single Embassy and 3-5s cigarettes. Like me he didn’t live in the immediate neighbourhood. Years ago I heard that he had been apprehended for herb and incarcerated in Glendairy. I hope he is well.

With the exception of Iffrey and Abdul, the rest of us didn’t have regular type gainful employment. We were a bunch of young men bon vivants as bon as one can be without any dependable income. Most of us still lived in the family home. Iffreys’s stand at the top of the gap with access to a private little yard tucked behind 7 foot high palings was a great place to congregate, itate and discuss local, national and global goings on.

dsc001901I remember the group of us would occasionally downhill it to Batt’s Rock for a swim and smoke. It was a 90 minutes return walk. Batt’s Rock was more of a locals beach accessed by a dirt road track or paths that led through the burnt out shell of a long forgotten night club. We’d return via Black Rock and the University of the West Indies. This route was a less severe uphill gradient but a slog all the same. By the time we got back we needed another dip.

Road tennis tourneys contested outside Iffrey’s stall frittered away many an afternoon. The game was played with a lot of seriousness amidst huge helpings of laughter from watchers and players. A small 8 inches high wooden net bisected the court which was chalked onto the road surface. Each player had a large plywood paddle used to volley, slam, spin, cajole a naked tennis ball into the opponent’s side of the court. It’s a cross between tennis and table tennis. I wasn’t overly adept at it – well no I was outright bad, but enjoyed playing just for the fun.

I stopped the car one afternoon outside of the mechanics shop that used to be Abdul’s workplace and asked a man if he knew the whereabouts of any of the guys. He’d only lived in the neighbourhood about 10 years but had heard of the people. None were there any more. One went to England, another to America, others had moved to different parts of the island. All gone. Thanks men for the time and friendships we shared.

dsc00060I wanted to see Miss D too and thank her for the many kindnesses she showered on Makyla and I while we were under her caring eyes. I went down to her home on Deacon’s Rd. one afternoon with little miss social girl Nellie-Rose. Miss D had just turned 76 the previous day. It was so good to give her a hug and feel her arms full of love around me after all those years.

For more than 2 decades she had been the full time domestic for my former in-laws. When we arrived on the scene in 1982 she just adored Makyla and gave me a lot of help as a clueless first time househusband father. My unspoken part of the bargain was to bring a smile to her face through my actions and antics that frequently didn’t align with the niceties of the Bajan middle class ethos. Simply put, I was a bit of an embarrassment in some quarters – a long hair, rastafari lovin’, barefoot walkin’, herb smokin’, smartass little Canadian shit. My minor key exploits afforded her some good time laughter and amusement.

Miss D now owns the house that she shares with her daughter and granddaughter. The latest addition to the family is great grandson Jovani who’s about 2 months old now. We could hear him cooing away in the back room during our visit. Nellie started out on the floor that day but I soon had to pick her up as she was into everything within reach including a fan. It wasn’t long before Nellie was out of my arms and straight into Miss D’s gurgling, laughing, pulling at her glasses. Miss D’s refrain throughout the visit was, “look at her, she laughing” and “she just like her sister Makyla”.

dsc00011Miss D has not had an easy life. She shared some of her heartaches and injustices that have befallen her over the years. Strong and steadfast she has an unwavering faith in the Lord. She is resolute that anyone who has wronged her will one day have to answer for their own actions not in any sense of retributive payback but more from the perspective of personal responsibility. Miss D still has a lot of friends from her youth that she sees regularly in town and at church. Her congregation worships immediately across from her house in a blue and white tent that is a permanent fixture on Deacon’s Road and the beacon that helped us to find her. We laughed a lot, hugged, told our stories and the years melted away. Miss D I hope we meet up again. Your authentic joy in life is a bright, bright light.

Farrell and I got together several times during our last week. We laughed, reminisced, swapped a few tales and commiserated with each other about the vagaries of work life as public servants. The public service is providing us both with a venue to ply our skills and the wherewithal to butter our bread. In countries with strong democratic traditions it’s all pretty much of a muchness when it comes to the public service – great opportunities surpassed only by the myriad, often internally created obstacles littering the path leading from objective to result.

Farrell is a performer, a writer of plays and poems and a great proponent of the strength of popular culture in effecting change. He spent last year in the UK studying for a Master’s degree in popular theatre. He’s recently written a play on mental health, When Hope Smiles, for the Pan-American Health Organization. Over the years he’s had an opportunity to travel extensively to writers’ festivals to give readings of poems the likes of Caribbean Man. One of his favourite venues was Medellin, Colombia. The physical beauty was stunning and there were massive crowds gathered to meet and hear the writers. People were interested and the writers were truly celebrated and valued as important cultural creators.

Farrell encouraged me to come out and see one of the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) competitions. This is an annual contest that he’s been involved with for years as a voluntary judge. I thought about going to the Speightstown sessions on Saturday but the drive was a bit too far. So on our last Sunday, Noah and I made our way to Combermere School. The auditorium was crowded with about 200 in attendance. We were a little late so had to wait in the foyer until there was a break in the performances and we could slip in.

I am so happy we went. The evening was phenomenal. We saw 2 dramatic pieces, as well as 2 musical and 2 dance performances. Rickardo Reid an 8-year-old with the poise and delivery of a theatre pro delivered a 10 minute monologue that had everyone in the house rolling, reeling and laughing. His timing, comedic sensibilities and the text brought everything together in one package that shouted out absolutely fabulous. Noah was on my knees for the show. When this young boy came on and started his piece, “I gettin’ ready for the next World Cup” Noah’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. He was flabbergast incredulous that there was a boy up there owning the stage, storytelling to a large rapt crowd. As our Noah is no stranger to performing and loves a ladies and gentlemen crowd to talk to, I’m sure he wondered how he might attract this kind of attention and audience himself.

During the entr’acte we had a little snack and got some air outside. A man standing next to me struck up a conversation with Noah and I in French. Turns out he had spent his career in Canada working for the then Federal Business Development Bank. His French was excellent and it was fun to spend some time chatting. He returned home to Barbados on retirement. Many who leave the avocado isle look for a way to reach back home. Looked like things had turned out well for this gentleman.

Before leaving we got to check in with Farrell and meet a couple of his older children who had been in the under 5 set when I left Barbados. His youngest daughter was also there as she had performed that evening. Unfortunately we had missed her. It was good to see Farrell in dad mode. As the auditorium emptied Farrell and I said our goodbyes wondering if we’d get a chance to connect again. Driving home under the star punched sky Noah-David in an unsolicited moment of sweetness said to me, “thanks a lot for taking me papa, it was a lot fun”. We’ve only just begun and I’m looking forward to many more performances with Noah at my side.

As it turns out, young Rickardo did very well. Here’s what The Nation’s reporter wrote following the November 16 Gala at the Gary Sobers Complex: “But the gala spotlight was undoubtedly stolen by the youngest performer in this year’s NIFCA, Rickardo Reid. In the penultimate performance of the night, the pint-sized, giant-voiced, eight-year-old brought the house down. As they walked out of the Gymnasium, patrons were overheard repeating the refrain from Reid’s hilarious recitation; I Getting Ready Fuh De World Cup….Den.”

brothermanNo time for beaching on our last day. I did get down to the University of the West Indies’ Cave Hill campus bookshop. For a lover of Caribbean and African literature that was a real treat. When I left in ’84 I gave away the 30 or so Caribbean novels and collections of short stories to the Learning Centre where I had been teaching. Nova Scotia isn’t the best place to find a selection of Caribbean titles. That day, I snatched up The Prime Minister by Austin Clarke, a wry, raw and wistful book about homecomings and political power. I’m still looking for a copy of Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack a laughter infused memoir of the author’s Bajan school years. Other treasures that day included Earl Lovelace’s Salt, Roger Mais’ Brother Man and Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like. This is a book that moved and outraged me when I read it in 1980. My copy disappeared and I always felt it as a loss. The words, words that he lived, were so powerful and triumphant over the apartheid forces that could never silence him. I wanted to read his words again and pass them on to my children.

Then it was time to go, on the plane and back to autumn in Nova Scotia. The young women customs officers who had greeted us 3 weeks earlier had been very pleasant and thought that my continued connection with the former in-laws and their helping with getting us settled in was quite humorous though not something that they would ever dream of doing. Leaving was another matter with forms to be completed in triplicate and a churlish, unhappy young woman officer manning the processing booth that we lucked into. We got through and relaxed in the waiting area before boarding. We picked up some Mount Gay rum for ourselves, friends and family but it never got further than the Toronto airport – sad but true.

dsc00118We no longer hear Noah chirping out, “hello Mr. Lizard” as he walks about the house, or singing a quick snatch of happy birthday to les maringouins – mosquitoes in French – a word which he injects with 2 or 3 extra syllables. I can’t slake my thirst with the velvety cool coconut water whose roadside drive-through vendors rival Nova Scotia’s Tim Hortons in numbers. I can no longer see the bob and weave of Last Dip as she rides the rolling wave crests at Worthing Beach. And the magnificent billowing crescendo clouds migrating in scattered towering flocks are no longer in view. I miss seeing the rain as it sweeps across the sky whispering wet. No more Bond Girl shots of Mélanie in sun dipping silhouette coming out of the turquoise ocean, sensual rivulets of water streaming down her natural curves. When I close my eyes I do see smiles of sand and sun, small feet splashing, hands digging and arms hugging shoulders tight in upsy down waves. I see the pounding bass minibus do a donut at the Shell station, the currant slices in their thick, sticky sweetness lined up on display ready for purchase, salt bread sliced in half waiting for flying fish, or slices of New Zealand cheese, the flashflooding water running through the canefields and into the road after heavy, heavy rain. I see Joseph the itinerant potter from the East Coast and then the one sign seen almost everywhere you turn in Barbados – ‘This way to Earthworks Pottery‘.

My heart was broken 25 years ago and I left part of it behind. My Makyla was at Sir Grantley Adams Airport to see me off her 2 little hands pushed against a clear glass window in the visitors’ section. I sobbed and cried on the way to the plane.

My heart is whole now filled to overflowing these last few months. Kyla just turned 26 and we’ll hopefully see each other over the Christmas holidays. Alexa is now out on her own – a brand new thing, 18 just back from the UK and living with friends in the city. I miss her but at least we’re only separated by a harbour. And everyday I am with my love Mélanie and our 2 small ones, Noah-David and Nellie-Rose – our compact little band of adventurers. Barbados was the last sustained time of extraordinary during our 180 days of magic. Noah wants to return and still talks about it frequently – the verandah, the beaches and the sea. Thanks Barbados it was a fine place for us all to rest and be.

The magic is not over, just not able to be indulged in as frequently. Presto voilà there it was tonight. Just before going to bed, Noah-David gave a multiple reprise demonstration of walking quietly. Perspectives on quiet vary according to the listener. Though his new kind of tiptoe locomotion skill with arms akimbo is quieter than his standard gallumping it doesn’t really qualify as quiet to me. In fact because the steps he takes are smaller, the frequency of sound waves emanating out in noisiness is much greater particularly when he breaks into the quiet run. Oh and did I mention the giggling that accompanied the pitter-pattering feet?


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It’s the Big ONE for Nellie

Posted by PlayGroundology on November 10, 2008

dsc00143_2Saturday was number one day for Nellie-Rose. She’s marking 365 days of survival with her family – extended and immediate. For this alone she deserves a medal. Then there’s the cross continent, time and climate zone gallivanting with 12 and 14 hour travel days and 20° temperature variations. Finally there is all the nonsense, discord and chaos sweeping past and through us every day. Thankfully there’s dreaming too inspired by hope that little fingers will be able to touch magic and sculpt tomorrows cradled in sound and sense.

It’s been a big week for our girl. There’s a surprise every which way we look because la petite cocotte is an inquisitive, hands on, everything in the mouth, how can I take it apart kind of gal. Add 3 portions of imp, 2 dashes of darling and a touch of tomboy and it’s not hard to imagine the merry chase that she leads us on some days.

A few days ago our lady of laughter scampered up two flights of stairs. The length of a hallway separated us from the action as the sounds of the one man cheering section made it to our ears. Noah’s chant, “go Nellie go” was a surprisingly effective motivator. La cocotte made it all the way to the top – 14 steps in all. The first volley was carpeted providing a little traction, the second leg she had to contend with some pseudo-wood that could have a small one unsure on her climbing knees just slip sliding away. So far there has been no reattempt at this Everest type escapade.

dsc00225Now there is some debate about the Nellie’s first word. I’m talking here about something that goes beyond the classic ‘mama’, ‘papa’ and ‘hiya, hiya’. On the same day as the staircase adventure, Mélanie reported the utterance of ‘caca’. It seems to be in the one time occurrence category at this point. I know that I repeat it every time we do the diaper thing. It’s a bit of a game with us. I repeat “caca, pipi” numerous times with the poor child stretched out on her back captive on her changing table looking up at me. She smiles throughout so apparently it’s some kind of funny. In a moving moment of bravado I rip back the diaper tabs and pull down the diaper to reveal the gift and talk it out loud. It’s the game that’s important because regardless of the answer I give her smile pushes wide and large.

It’s been a tough week too with maman sick – let’s just call it indisposed – and not up to her usual shenanigans with the children. Nellie had some recurring problems of her own that finally required medical attention. Talk about butt rash, the poor little girl was in pain from a red, sore and blistered bum that was being kept as bad as it was or perhaps even made worse by frequent excremental activity.

The night before the doctor’s I went down to our pharmacy in search of a special compound created by the local children’s hospital. The existence of such formula had been passed on to Mélanie by a close friend. I was a little dubious but promised to ask the pharmacist. She recognized it at once and agreed to provide a small phial of buttocks paste as it’s called as long as I was seeking medical attention the next day. It was at this point that my alter ego eedjit boy – “the not too bright” – was let loose on an unsuspecting public blurting out, “so what, they have a factory in the basement of the hospital pumping out this stuff?” As it turns out, eedjit boy learned that the hospital provided all the pharmacies with the magic recipe. I’m thinking of introducing eedjjit boy’s further adventures in an upcoming blog, stay tuned…

dsc00281So here is our Nell alive and well and joying up our lives for a whole year. She’s the wee babe of love at home and out in the wide world. Wherever she looks a smile grows. She is developing her own tastes and takes on the world. Shoes are a favourite. Anyone’s will do. She is not really discerning re style, size or material. As soon as she grabs one it’s right into the mouth much as it is with any miniscule mote that is within reach of her quick little fingers.

In these last 6 months we’ve truly got to know each other. The first 4 months of her life she was a card carrying member of colics anonymous and it was so hard to get through the veil of pain. Now she’s been in my arms soft and silent, eyes heavy with dream. I’ve held her tight as she wriggled and rolled seeking freedom from my grasp. The sweet sounds of her nascent singing voice playing with pitch, tone and cadence has tickled my ears as she’s shared a dance with me. Her raucous shouts have filled the house making me jump, wince, or snap out of a reverie. She is constantly on the move – a crawl, a roll, a push, a rock, a jump and now steps like those 5 unaided ones she took last week. Asleep she drifts about her bed cycling the 2 soothers that are always with her in her crib from hand to mouth, mouth to hand in an unbroken circle of comfort and security.

On the changing table she arches her back, twists and turns, pretzels herself confounding our best efforts to get some clothes back on her. When we finally are able to contain her energy and have her flat on her back, the rapid drumroll of her feet on my abdomen is the new best game that provides her with miles of smiles. In the bath she slips, slides, giggles and splashes able to withstand the cooling temperature until her fingers and toes are pruned and wrinkled. On all fours races we’ve sprinted down hallways with peals of laughter all the way to the finish line. It’s the perfect vantage point to understand why all the CDs and DVDs are strewn about the floor. They’re there, they’re accessible, let’s do it.

dsc00378Now there is her new found love affair with books. She’s got lots of titles to choose from – upside down, or downside up doesn’t seem to make much difference. It’s the turning of pages, the narrating out loud and the dramatic exclamations that seem to be the thing. Her talking is constantly developing though I am hard pressed to replicate any of her multi-syllabic, tongue twisters. It is a language unto herself and her fluency is uncontested.

More and more with each day Noah is our Nell’s hero. She watches his every move – good and bad – and develops her own little riffs on his imaginative play. She is now bringing us bowls of food, racing cars and trucks across the floor with her hands and occasionally plays with dolls or buddies. Just as she looks up to Noah, she now recognizes the smaller set. She saw a little baby on the weekend and went bonkers talking and laughing up a storm trying to communicate with this new one. I’m sure she had a few tips to pass along.

It’s been a big year – a lot of oops food on the floor jettisoned over the side of the high chair in a ‘done with that’ kind of sentiment, an extended raspberry blowing fixation and an incalculable number of smiles each one a sun ray on its way to a rainbow.

Thanks Nellie-Rose.

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Where kindness abounds

Posted by PlayGroundology on November 8, 2008

As our Barbados days were about to set for good we came to appreciate the warmth of spontaneous kindness. It seemed to be all around us like the sun sparkle on sea – bright and shiny, quick to move about. Countless times our lives were made easier on the spot by a stranger giving of themselves.

At the Saint Patrick’s Cathedral corner in Bridgetown a driver in the next lane who saw my hesitation when the green said go asked our destination. He motioned for us to follow him and in short order he delivered us to our destination signalling good-bye with a big wave as he drove off on his own business. Bridgetown is full of one way streets and narrow alleys. There’s no predicting how long it might have take us to hit or miss our spot without this gentleman”s assistance. It was as if his offer, his gesture of kindness was second nature, a natural response to lend a hand.

dsc000193Then there was Coral who left her house at 6h30 on a Sunday morning to cross the street and see who was noseying around the Grace Hill Moravian Church on Spooners Hill. Who was the man with his car parked in the church yard peering in the windows and walking about looking into the viewfinder of a digital camera before pop, pop, popping images from all angles?

She opened up the church for the congregation’s arrival later that morning and let me in to look around. Coral told me how over the last few years a very popular pre-school had been started and how money was being raised to repair a leaky roof. She remembered when the Learning Centre was a tenant years ago. This was a privately run school for children with learning disabilities. Prior to returning to Canada 25 years earlier, I taught there for 2 months.

The kids in my class of about 14 ranged in age from 9 to 12. They will all be in their 30s now. They were great kids back then eager to learn and full of fun. I was way out of my depth as a teacher. I wasn’t equipped, didn’t have the requisite education and skills and was suffering a personal crisis of confidence. I gave what I had at the time and was buoyed by the purpose and personalities of the students. For years I remembered their names but now only one or two come to my lips and a few of their faces that I see distinctly. They were sweethearts who treated their Canadian teacher much better than he deserved.

Each morning all the school’s kids gathered for commencement. They stretched in a single line from the alley that separated the principal’s office from my classroom right across the courtyard to the end limits of the property. There were the usual announcements followed by the song – Zion Train – a classic tune of hope and redemption. All down the line the children would begin to move, sway, heads help up, foot stepping, a little shiver of dance here, a smile to the sky there. That beat was imprinted on each of us as was the pride of recognizing a Caribbean hero of international stature. As day started, we were all irie.

Nellie was memory laning with me that morning but had fallen asleep in her car seat. As she started stirring, I took her out of the car to meet Coral and look with daddy inside the church. Nellie-Rose was a charmer as usual – looking, smiling with a little giggle talking thrown in for good measure. Coral thought she was “too sweet” and who was I to argue. Coral was preparing to visit another congregation that morning- a kind of inter-faith, or ecumenical exchange. Before heading back across the street to her house, she told me that for holidays later in the year she was considering a cruise in the islands. She’d been to Canada recently but wasn’t yet ready to go back and visit friends and family. Lots of Canada connections – personal and business – in many families.

dsc00623That last Sunday in Barbados Nellie and I flipped over to the National Stadium before heading back for some breakfast. It was a premier site for major sporting events but is now poor cousin to Kensington Oval, with its new ultra modern, sleek spectator stands. But the old boy has kept the jewel, the August crowning of the Crop Over Monarch on Kadooment Day (check this song by Alison Hinds the first woman to win the title). Across the street there is a large pasture that was home to a few ruminating bovines that morning. I wanted to get a cow photo that could be a companion to the shot Mélanie took in the Outer Hebrides a couple of years back. Try as I might, I wasn’t able to get anything that even approached the arresting simplicity and compositional beauty of that photo.

Back at the car, a little tummy was growling and I started to feed the girl some banana standing up next to her at the open back door. More traffic was starting to move though still very light as it was a Sunday morning. Then a driver did a u-turn and drove up next to us to ask if everything was ok. I guess it was a strange place to be parked so early in the day with nothing obvious around to be attracting our attention. I thanked him and assured him we were fine, that my little baby just needed a feeding before we got back on the road.

I want to keep these gratuitous acts of kindness mindfully fresh by attempting a little spontaneous generosity myself. It means incorporating more of the sentiment and sensitivity of giving into my own life. Not sure how I’ll make out but I’ll give it a whirl….

There were a lot of uplifted people across the islands and around the globe on Tuesday night. Obama had legions of Bajan and Caribbean admirers beating the drum for his race to the presidency. There was the father I met in the water out at Worthing Beach who right off the top asked me how the economy was in Canada. He gave a good overview of the challenges for Barbados where such a significant proportion of foreign exchange comes from tourism. Economy wasn’t his only concern though, it centered on decency in the world. Americans voted for a new day dawning, a reconciliation and a moving forward. The most poignant commentary I heard on the day after went something like this – Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther King could walk. Martin walked so Obama could run and Obama ran so our children can fly…. Obama can move the hope and help it take flight. We have the chance now for the world to become in the words of American immortal Louis Armstrong, a better, better place.

Let the flight and the better take off together.

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Out and About

Posted by PlayGroundology on November 4, 2008

dsc00064Considering we were on vacation, our dosage of politics was quite high. There were the US Presidential debates, the leadership debates for Canada’s federal election and the daily media reports on matters political in Barbados and the region.

I watched the second Obama – McCain face-off out of the corner of my eyes from my former mother-in-law’s dining room table. Twenty-five years after her daughter and I parted ways I still call her Mommy though on this visit I sprinkled in a few Sheilas too. It was our third and, as it turned out, final match up at Scrabble. It was a celebratory night as Mommy had just received a clean bill of health earlier that day following treatment for a serious illness. Her family and friends were happy and relieved. Sheila was already planning her next trip to Canada to see her daughter on stage and catch up with some of her grandchildren studying at the University of Toronto.

I didn’t even put up as good a showing against Mommy as McCain did against Obama. Even saddled with more than her fair share of vowels there was little doubt of the outcome. I went down to my third consecutive defeat by an ass-whupping 392 to 292. Mommy’s an avid player well schooled in the exotica of tiny words and gifted at getting all 7 letters out on the board and collecting the 50 bonus points associated with this feat. I took some solace in the fact that I wasn’t alone in the losing end. Mommy was on a winning streak taking all comers. If we have the opportunity to play again, I’ll need to be on a strict training regimen to limber up my scrabble decoder.

Sheila’s sister Nella, on a prolonged visit from England, was hugged in close to the TV gesticulating, commenting, present in the moment encouraging her choice to lead the American people. Tonight millions are ready to revel in America and around the world but the festivities may be sweetest of all in the communities and countries of the black diaspora. The reverberations of an Obama victory will reach into the most unlikely places, tickle imaginations, fuel dreams and sadly bring out the nutbars who will rail against black man in white house. It’s a great day for democracy as witnessed by massive voter turnouts in some parts of the US.

We made a trip down to Mommy’s at least once a week during our stay – lunch, scrabble, dropping off Noah and Nellie for our 1 day of kidless wanderlust. Noah-David was fascinated by the Rhodesian Ridgebacks being raised as guard dogs. Nella got a scare trying to pull 2 of the fighting dogs apart one night and received some pretty serious abrasions to her back for her troubles.

One Friday at ten in the morning we dropped the sproglets at Mommy’s to be cared for by Colleen her part-time domestic. She’d already been up at our place the previous week helping us with some cooking – spicing up a dozen flying fish and doing a nice chicken curry. Noah liked her right off – not surprising as she had a son who is just a little older. Colleen immigrated from Guyana with her mother. Now all her siblings have made their way to Barbados and the family is reunited.

dsc00001No matter how much I hummed Bob’s Sun is Shining into myself we had to settle for rain a falling and weather is shite. Our big day was literally a bit of a pisser. We spent the time in Bridgetown poking our heads about here and there all along Broad Street and Swan Street, across the bridge to Bay Street past Independence Square and cross back by another bridge to Queen Elizabeth Park. We got a break from the heat in the Cave Shepherd department store and spent a few pennies on gifts.

Before we started to head for the children, we walked over to the west side of the city by Temple Yard – a kind of open air Rastafari mini-mall with food, crafts and art. Herb was hanging in the air but there wasn’t much movement, or activity. The weather was keeping most of the vendors away. We did get a stick of sugar cane though and some delicious guavas. We pushed on past the Cheapside bus depot and took the roundabout way to Pelican Village home of artists and artisans. Here we found out about a culinary event taking place there the next evening – The Best Big Bajan Barbecue.

Noah-David had been having a good boo-hoo during our absence and had been inconsolable for part of his stay with Colleen, Sheila and Nella. We bundled the 2 little ones up and trundled off to Bagatelle for supper.

dsc00101We made it to the BBQ the next evening and did some controlled gorging on fish cakes, somozas (small bite size versions) currant slices, pone and BICO ice cream. The food was great and there was a cook off with students from around the Eastern Caribbean. We were standing beside them before their competition got underway and the young women fell in love with Nellie-Rose. She was passed back and forth and all around smiling and cooing all the while. As they prepared for their competition we followed the sound of tunes to a Bumbatuk band that was warming up. Noah needed no encouragement – this was his signal to dance, dance, dance – a little bit of wind the waist. He had the beat nailed and a couple of the girls in the band were having a fine time watching him groove. Stilt men finished off the excitement for our little lad craning his neck back, back to see how far up these tall, tall men stretch.

Always a lot to do, see and experience but never enough time. That evening we left as the crowds started to pack the Princess Alice Highway. There was a stage for live music, plenty more food available for tasting and the makings of a fine night but our little ones were at the limit, or maybe just beyond. They needed their bed after an eventful social outing.

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The white sands of Dover

Posted by PlayGroundology on October 16, 2008

In our last week, Dover Beach took the prize as the runaway favourite swimming and sunning spot. Beachside parking available for early arrivals, good mix of locals and tourists, shade, shade, shade, sandy bottom, easy rolling waves with occasional crashers, water depth increasing gradually over 200 – 300 metres and a small convenience store just a short barefoot walk away.

Last Sunday was my fourth visit in as many days. Flip off the highway at the Errol Barrow roundabout, down to the next circle of madness, take the second exit and follow the road until you see the beach public access point on the right. The umbrella and beach chair concession is right there at the entry though a towel and shade from the mature trees just in front of the condo construction site suited us well.

Noah has had a blast at Dover each visit. He’s got the merriment and amusement trinity at his fingertips. There’s the contractor, big, big job work that’s a sure thing. Dump truck, digger, big stainless steel spoon, an empty plastic ice cream container filled with the magic ingredient water are all that’s required for unlimited barrels of fun and major public works projects.

Bobbing in the wet salt salt in maman’s, or papa’s arms almost oblivious now to accidental splashes by rogue waves, Noah is sprouting mile wide seaside smiles framed by soaked curling ringlets. BB (Before Barbados) this cavorting, this comfort in the deep blue sea approaching insouciance would have been incredulous. Now our young dude is getting prepped for swimming classes – learning respect for and survival in the water. It’s a whole new game in waterworld.

Rounding out the trio is ‘kicky ball’ more and more often being called by it’s North American name – soccer, sounding like saw-ker as per Noah’s personal inflection. Dover is wide and long enough that we can kick the ball about running back and forth without bothering other subtropic worshippers or worrying that the ball will end up in the big coral drink. We race, pass, deke, feint, sweat and laugh. Every match we’re in the league of champions.

Those last few days, we were arriving beachside in the 8h00 to 9h30 window. Nellie girl usually fell asleep on the way and continued to nap on a towel after we’d planted ourselves. Not surprising as she was getting up while the nocturnal animals still had a couple of hours left to put in on their shifts. Her every morning early o’clock between 04h00 and 05h00 was the big hand that swept us to bed usually not much later than 21h00 though we stretched it out on a couple of rare nights to 23h00. I guess we were just drop dead wild and crazy in the Caribbean….

Nellie-Rose was a natural in the water floating with the best of them. She likes the wave action, enjoys getting pulled around or supported under her tummy, or being held tightly next to our chests. The water does not dampen her conversational ability and she’s always game to play games with others. Nellie and Silma developed a friendship over talk and a waterlogged leaf that Silma gave the young Nell to play with. There was a lot of smiling, cooing and giggling over 15 to 20 minutes and all the while Nellie held onto that leaf. Silma has a daughter and 3 grans in Vancouver and loves to see them when they visit but has no real interest in travelling to Canada as her comfort, friends and home are firmly in Barbados.

Nellie plopped sitting in the sand unencumbered by adult fussing, or with a popsicle in her mouth, is Nellie in heaven. Following each beach outing she was in need of a serious rinse when we arrived home to wash away all the fine grains from every skin fold and crevice where they could possibly hide. After three weeks, she had not learned the etiquette around peeing at the beach. Then again, maybe we had not been successful in relaying it to her. I just remember that 2 days running, shortly after having brought her out of the water I felt the telltale trickle that grew into a warm and steady flow running down my torso as I held our saucy little pup in my arms. A quick dip and rinse in the sea and we were both pretty much pee free.

We met another couple from England with a toddler on one of our Dover excursions. They were also staying in a family home far from the coastlines (in Barbados that means measuring the kilometres in single digits). Danny is a trumpeter who plays in the West End production of Wicked. His wife Louise had a few suggestions of kid friendly places to eat out. Our culinary adventures were taken care of by Chefette, Curry King across from Palm Plaza in Wildey, St. Michael, cheese cutters from rum shops and a ginormous feed of battered and spiced Bajan flying fish – a delectable treat tucked into a salt bread bun. Louise has recorded a number of songs and is working on a release strategy. Her sister is also a singer and is down in Barbados this week performing. Her brother is a guest conductor with orchestras around the world.

Both Mélanie and I enjoyed their company as brief as it was. I was hoping we would meet them and their daughter Alicia before we left but it wasn’t to be. Danny and I compared notes a little and we were all suffering from the sandflies and the it’s so hot it’s silly heat. We agreed though that there was no substitute to living in an actual home with everything that implies – room for the kids to play, privacy, access to food and cooking at all hours, a place to invite people to, a space that is more of a home than a hotel type venue.

My last visit on Sunday was solo. I quaffed a Banks beer after plunge 1 and walked from the piazza skirting the washed red umbrella hamlet interspersed with the deep red of new to the sun parasols all with fringes dancing in the wind. The young boy, 7 or 8, was there with his boogie board looking for a wave to hop and ride. I didn’t see his father so I kept him in view out of the corner of my eye. On my back and weightless I saw a whorl of clouds parading across the late morning sky, highstacked, soft sculpted towers and formless swirls of misty white. The peaceful float was sweet but I missed the sproglets and Mélanie. I didn’t know it at the time but it was the last trip to the beach. The talked about Monday sortie didn’t happen and really it would have been miraculous to take a last plunge and make AC flight 967.

It would have been nice to loll and laze on Dover’s white sands a couple of weeks earlier. The beach had been on our radar screen from day one. We bumped into a few English blokes over at Folkestone on our first day who told us there were a few turtle nests cordoned off at Dover. We headed that way later in the week but got lost at the roundabout after the ABC Highway Errol Barrow roundabout and ended up at Worthing Beach. Worthing was worthwhile but we should have persevered in our quest for Dover.

In winter’s cold dark I’ll think back to days of lazing laughter with Noah and Nellie locked in my and Mé’s arms as we rolled and swayed warm and carefree in Dover’s caressing waters. Then I’ll hit play to see if I can swing back to beauty, heat and Bajan beat.

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Turtles, mangroves, and TV

Posted by PlayGroundology on October 5, 2008

With the exception of the underwater world, and it’s facing its own challenges, wild Barbados is just about gone. A centuries long monoculture, small land mass, growing population and a very high intake of tourists all place a signficant strain on the island’s ecosystems.

Barbados’ fringing reefs are bubbling with life. Glass bottom boats are a sure way to get a close up look at some of the common fishes and the various types of coral. We boarded at Folkestone Park just north of Holetown on the west coast. We skirted the shore motoring south and passed over an intentionally sunken wreck en route. Our guide cut the engine at Payne’s Bay no more than 200 metres from the beach. Three catamarans had already dropped anchor.

The ‘cruise directors’ from all 4 vessels were throwing small fish into the greening blue to attract sea turtles. Within a couple of minutes they were rising in the water column to take the free food. According to our guide they got fed 20 to 30 times a day. It was a thrill to see them swim below and beside me – almost close enough to touch on a couple of occasions. It would have been even more breath taking if I had a prescription mask or goggles. I was in the water for about 15 minutes and could easily have enjoyed another 20 but without a prescription mask, my underwater vision was somewhat impaired. Even more important, Mélanie was in the boat with the 2 sproglets and although they were very well behaved, Mé rightly requested me to haul my butt out of the water and over the side to get on with some of my parenting duties. Further adventures with Jacques Cousteau would have to wait.

A conservation program is in full swing for the Hawksbill Turtle in Barbados. Both Hawksbill and Green turtles continue to nest on the south and west coasts of the island. I do wonder though what impact an almost continuous presence of human interlopers has on their behaviour as we insert ourselves into their environment. To the untrained eye those turtles we saw flying through the water with the greatest of ease off of Payne’s Bay looked like they were holding their own. I hope the conservation work is successful.

We stopped at the wreck on our way back and got out for another swim. Down below were beautiful brain, mushroom and fingers corals and lots of fish. Throwing food over the side made a rolling shimmer of shiny bubble to the surface wherever the pieces of bread hit the water. The sergeant majors and jakes racing to reach the food were a spectacular sight.

But all is not rosy in the world of Bajan reefs as reported last week in The Nation, one of the island’s two dailies. On a positive note, the intrinsic value of the reefs are generally well recognized, a critical advantage in the conservation efforts that are underway to ensure their health as a natural and economic legacy for future generations.

On the land side there’s a relatively new project that is preserving the last mangrove habitat in Barbados, the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary (video). This 35 acre reserve located opposite Worthing Beach on the island’s south coast is a great family trip. In a postage stamp pocket of nature there are a variety of bird species, both wild and in aviaries, green monkeys, mongoose, tarpons and let’s not forget the insects.

When we told Noah-David there would be flamingos he started to do his one-legged balancing act – an impersonation in honour of his pinkified buddies whom he had last seen at the San Diego Zoo. The sanctuary is well laid out for the little ones. The red brick path is very wide and easy for children to follow. Noah did much racing back and forth on the path interspersed with looking in the waterways, appreciating the ibises, the parrots and spoonbills and straining his eyes in search of green monkeys (we weren’t fortunate enough to see any). This is an excellent natural attraction that provides residents and visitors with an opportunity to learn about a fragile and threatened ecosystem. If we lived here this place would be on our recurring visit schedule. Just prior to leaving, we fed the tarpons – giant silver fish in rest mode under a bridge until the food pellets hit the water. Then they sauntered out their 3 to 5 foot long bodies moving effortlessly with the swish of a tail. We watched as they skimmed just below the surface until every last pellet of food was gone.

Tip – if you visit, the Sanctuary is a great place to park your car under the shade and proceed to Worthing Beach which is just across the street.

Outside there is nature, people, commerce, rocketing roads, the sea, sand and hot, hot sun. Inside there is heat, lizards, itinerant birds, sticky sleep with trickling sweat, skeeters, sandflies and TV. TV is our distraction when the sun dips down and when dawn cracks its redding light. Where we’re staying there is a satellite system installed that pulls in the Caribbean and South American affiliates of American networks and specialty channels such as Discovery Kids.

There are some familiar Canadian programs such as The BackYardigans, Daniel Cook, Emily Yeung and Lunar Jim. There are others that I’ve never seen before that I wish we could get at home – Lazy Town, Jakers – The Adventures of Piggy Winkles, Mister Maker and Pinky Dinky Doo.

The station has a cute little mascot Doki, a mostly white animated puppy with a black ring around one eye. He serves as the bridge between programming and advertising. His 2 favourite utterances are ya regressa and continuamos. The first, “right back” is one of Noah’s favourite English expressions although with him it’s linked to his movements and whereabouts and not television programming. Commercials for programming on the station are in Spanish as are the station IDs and all advertising. The programs themselves run in English. We haven’t been able to sort out the rhyme and reason for this language approach but it’s been an amusing opportunity to test my retention of university Spanish nearly 30 years later. On the note of advertising, I’m very pleased that Treehouse TV back home is a commercial-free zone.

A sad last note on TV tribulations. We’ve been Barney bopped. In Nova Scotia, Barney and Friends is interdit. In Barbados it has slipped by because it first appears on air at 6h00. It’s really the only quiet thing we can engage them in at this time of day to manage their exuberance so that it falls within the no peels or squeals of laughter zone, or wailing of tears, or gnashing of teeth. We don’t want to wake the neighbours

Barbados treating us sweet. More later when I find time to write.

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Round and roundabout we go

Posted by PlayGroundology on September 29, 2008

The morning chorale of cock crows caroms from yard to yard – an avian call and answer as neighbourhood roosters puff up and let loose. They’re at it from 3h00 with brief sign offs filled by crickets, operatic frogs and yabbering, yapping guard dogs owned by just about every household. The cocks of the walk pick up momentum until just before dawn. As the red sun readies to creep over the horizon, it’s easy to distinguish 5 or 6 different voices cranked up in a flurry of self expression. It’s a sound we don’t hear in urban Canada.

There is much different to sound and sense here – the deep reds of bouganvillea, the star white blossoms of the breadfruit tree, the myriad shades of green to luxuriate in, the buoyant salt sea with steady dreaming breakers, the heavy elixir smell of humidity. Every day there is the bite of a nearly equatorial sun, the cooing of mourning doves, the bass beat boom throbbing from mini-buses and lizards skittering across walls in all directions.

Lots of marvel eyed wonder from Noah-David. He is particularly enamoured of the lizards. “Mr. Lizard what are you doing?”, he calls out to the green mini-dragons. He enjoys seeing the yellow throat sacks inflate as they pause to take in their surroundings. The water has been a real hit with him too. He shows no reservation, no reluctance to get in and get wet and will bob and float with us for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. The water skittishness seems to have been skittled by the greening blue shallows of the Caribbean Sea, the warm air and the hot, hot sun.

Nellie is the Queen of the Warrens SuperCentre. We’ve been shopping here 4 or 5 times and without exception Nellie-Rose makes friends with fellow shoppers and staff alike. It’s her whole face is a smile, hiya look that gets strangers pulled right in and engaged with our little imp. She talks up a storm in her own dialect amidst giggles and oh so cute facial expressions. She likes the water, isn’t ga-ga about it but usually will give an abbreviated squeal of delight before she heads back to the sand where there is potential for unsupervised mischief to get into.

This first week we’ve been on the beach-a-day plan and have floated, soaked and submerged on the west, south and east coasts. Getting there is a fair sized production. With prepping the sproglets (a basic marinade in the highest SPF sunscreen available and a serious dousing with insect repellent), travel back and forth to the deep blue sea (which invariably includes a “we’re lost” component) and the actual baptism, immersion into the mystically cleansing and refreshing waters, we’ve been out and about for 2 to 3 hours.

Each beach has its own distinguishing characteristics. I’d return to all of the ones we’ve visited to date: Folkestone, Batt’s Rock, St. Lawrence Bay, Bathsheba and Mullins. Some are sandier than others, or have a gentler gradient leading to deeper water. Some have crashing breakers while others have a barely noticeable swell. Some have plenty of shade, at others a big beach umbrella is de rigueur. All have a breath of breeze en route from South America, Central America or Africa. Some have winds that blow and froth and chop and undercurrents that can quickly drag a person to an unhappy end. Those waters are for extreme enthusiasts or fools. I crave the security of safety for our 2 little ones – simple pleasures in soft, calm waters sporting the occasional splashy breaker.

Attache-toi papa“, buckle up is Noah’s mantra as soon as we get into H1096. It’s an unloaded compact – automatic transmission, manual everything else. Haven’t checked the make as yet but it’s running fine having proven itself climbing the summits of the east coast hills and providing us a safe return to St. Thomas. All tourist rental cars bear the mark of the “H”. This is a designation that’s as readily recognized by good samaritans as those whose interest in the tourist driver might run more toward prey. Our experience to date with strangers has wavered between positive and neutral. No nasties and that’s how we hope it will remain.

Back to driving and the buckle up admonition. It took me 4 days before I would drive at night and then only along a familiar route. The non-highway roads are narrow, twisty-turny, watch out what’s coming at you type thoroughfares. In addition to the buses, motorcycles, minivans and regular old cars bearing down there are also the pedestrians and ditches at the side of the road to preoccupy a driver’s mind. Driving on the left fully consumed my grey cells for the first few days. It was characterized not by near misses but by constantly ripping the wiper rubber across the dry window because it was on the left hand side of the steering column where I usually find my direction indicators. Driving is an adventure that requires constant vigilance and if you’re not careful can send you around the bend especially if you’re not paying strict attention to the approaches to and traffic flow on the roundabouts.

Over 70% of the roads are not named on maps. They look to be accurately represented in relation to their position and scale but sadly the all important identifier is in most cases not there. This does not augur well when lost because it is very difficult to precisely pinpoint where you’re located with the general result that the lost lasts a little longer. Although not as abysmal as the map situation, road signage is not always brillant. For example on the way back to Bridgetown from Bathsheba, the main road comes to a “T” junction with no indication of what lies in either direction. On that particular one we made the wrong choice and had to backtrack. With all its vagaries driving can be a quixotic pursuit where the road not taken could in fact be the one you are desperately looking for to arrive at your destination.

By end of day, or earlier, we like to be back at Bagatelle. As the sky falls, the sinking sun pinks and roses migrating clouds, light scrapers reflecting the day for just a few moments longer. As the dark fills the dying day a helter-skelter squadron of bats displays its aerial magic. Each individual flight path undulates to a constantly shifting take out counter with only one item on the menu – insects. Three cheers for the bats and any other natural enemies that take a bite out of the 6-legged population.

The bugs have proven to be quite formidable – skeeters, sand flies and gnats would fare better in hell than they would leaving their fate in our hands. Mélanie gets an allergic reaction to the bites – a more significant swelling than what most individuals would experience. With all our chemical repellents, there is still a need for stalking and I’m proud to say that Mé has become The Terminator – tracking down biting bugs for the final kill. The kids are not bothered by the bugs at all, a fortunate turn of events for them and us.

Plenty of discoveries and rememberings still to come from the outlier island, a coral beacon at 13° 10′ North and 59° 32′ West.

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Which way did summer go?

Posted by PlayGroundology on September 24, 2008

The Smith Cordeau family has packed up and headed south. We were feeling just a touch jilted by the summer that never was. We’re not really complaining though because we played in some Pacific coast sun in May and are now feeling the heat under Caribbean skies.

This illustration pretty accurately captures our mood, excitement and joie de vivre. The family portrait in water-based marker was rendered by 6-year-old artist Passy Vinet earlier this summer while visiting her family in Ville Mercier. Passy’s dad Jean and I met 30 years ago as participants on a Canada World Youth exchange with Sénégal. On the afternoon of the portrait, Passy canvassed each of us about our favourite colours. She didn’t tell us what she was cooking up. An hour or so later with a flourish and a smile, she presented us with this beautiful piece of art. It’s a gift that we’ll treasure forever. We don’t have Passy’s wonderful fashion flair but if we did these are the colours we’d be wearing.

Monday morning we dragged our butts out of bed at 3h00 for a 3h45 departure to Robert L. Stanfield Airport. Noah-David had been counting the sleeps for a week so he was pretty psyched to roll out of the sack and get bundled and buckled into his car seat. Nellie-Rose on the other hand had no idea what was about to unfold. She’d already done the long distance deal to San Diego in May so we were pretty sure she would be up to it. There is only a 1 hour time difference between Nova Scotia and Barbados which makes body and sleep adjustments much easier.

After circling the periphery of the airport parking area twice thanks to construction, bad signage and a broken ticket dispensing machine, I made my way to the only other available parking that requires a shuttle ride to get back to the terminal. It’s now about 4h30 and Mélanie is waiting for me with the kids and 9 or so assorted pieces of luggage. She’s looking forward to my quick reappearance and I’m out dipsy-doodling trying to find a spot to park our chariot for the next 3 weeks. I asked the driver of the shuttle how long it would be before he pushed off. He thought it might be 5 to 10 minutes before he filled it up. I told him my situation – wife with 2 kids under 3 waiting with luggage a go-go. He radioed in his dispatcher and let him know that he was leaving right away. Nice gentleman – thanks again.

Overjoyed might be a bit of an exaggeration but Mélanie was glad to see me approaching. At this time there were very few people checking in which was fortunate because it resulted in us getting some personalized and very helpful assistance. As the boarding card dispenser couldn’t read my chip card (a yet to be perfected technology these chips) one of the agents took us directly to her station allowing us to get past that glitch. This individual was absolutely superb – empathetic, sympathetic, a customer service dream. She took us under her wing and dispatched us with the minimum of fuss all the while engaging in small talk with Nellie and Noah and larger talk with us. Her and I are the same age which she picked up from my passport and she too had started a family later in life. Her parting words to me were, “you look after yourself for those babies.” Her bagging, tagging, lifting, checking and printing took about 20 minutes and was all with a smile, all in a day’s work. With 2 little ones hanging off us and a serious insufficiency of sleep this agent was manna from heaven. Thanks…

We spent 7 hours on planes that day and the 2 sproglets were better than best. They got the sleep that they needed and managed to live within the space confines of economy seats. With Nellie-Rose always on one of our laps it was tight by times. She was Miss Social Butterfly giggling, cooing and making eyes with everyone around her. Her funful gregariousness was like a repeat command performance that Noah had made a couple of years earlier on a flight to Scotland en route to an adventure to the Outer Hebrides. When we landed at Sir Grantley Adams International Airport, Noah-David broke out into a spontaneous Barbados song that had everyone on board smiling.

The moment that we stepped out the rear door of the plane and started down the stairs to the tarmac, we knew without a doubt that summer had made it this far. There was a humid wall of heat that we shimmered through as we made our way to the zig-zag processing line. We still had to get through Customs, get the car hire and make our way to my former mother-in-law’s house.

More on that in our next post.

For now, we’re safe, hot and happy in Barbados. Sunrise at 6h00 and sundown at 6h30 providing plenty of opportunity for all of us to discover new places and for me to reacquaint myself with old haunts.

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Why can’t we see the wind?

Posted by PlayGroundology on September 20, 2008

Earlier this week we hopped in the car ocean bound in search of wind. The air was breathless still in our yard as we readied to go – not a blade of grass in motion, not a whisper of leaves to be heard. On the trip out for what I hoped would be our first kite adventure together, Noah asked, “why can’t we see the wind?”

Now before you think that our just turned 3-year-old is a budding philosophical giant wrestling with the metaphysical, I need to come clean. During a far ranging discussion on storms the previous week that encompassed lightening, thunder, rain and other meteorological mysteries we did bandy about the concept of wind’s invisibility. Noah took this information to heart, tucked it away and in a puff of curiosity as we motored along Cow Bay Road breezily popped the question.

My answer was less than stellar and certainly not scientific. It was along these lines – you can feel, hear and see the effects of wind but cannot see or touch the wind itself. As we were driving I was able to point to a flag aflutter as an example of seeing the effects of the wind while not being able to eyeball the wind itself. This has satisfied our lad on the wind issue for the time being. A quick google provides one, two alternate responses. Take your pick in the event that this question ever comes your way.

Rainbow Haven Beach had just what we were looking for – even though we couldn’t see it – lolloping, blusterous gusts of blowy wind. We assembled our $3, “Made in China” clown face kite very rapidly and thrust it into the air. It swayed and danced tethered on a string its tail swishing 20 metres above our heads. Noah wanted to know if any birds would visit the high flying kite but nary a one glided anywhere near. Maybe like some young children, birds are spooked by clowns. Perhaps it’s the rictus-like, just a bit too happy perma-pressed smile….

Our first time kiting was a great success. Noah-David took the helm himself on 3 separate occasions and looked skywards into the sun as our paper (oops composite fabric) bird tugged and bobbed and weaved. The wind’s pull was steady enough to tire his arms so he asked for a couple of breaks. This will be an ongoing past time with many more outings on the horizon. We’ll continue to spool out the fun, string flying through our fingers and kites sailing away on eddying updrafts. As we speak almost exclusively in French with the 2 sproglets, I was curious to find the origin of cerf-volant. Seems it wasn’t a flying deer at all as a literal translation would suggest but a flying serpent, snake, or dragon…

I’ve also enjoyed kites with my 2 eldest daughters. Alexa and I had many kiting adventures on the other side of the harbour. My favourite spot was the springy moist ground above Pebble Beach at Duncan’s Cove. Never any question of having to search for the wind there. Always a blow, a gust, a send a kite into the air breath of wonder. Makyla and I did our first kite flying when she was just over one-year-old in Barbados. There’s a big Caribbean tradition of kite flying at Easter that we took up one of the 2 Easters we lived there.

As a kid I loved the bat kite and stingray designs. We’d have dog fights with them high above our playground that bordered on Toronto’s 401. The bat kites with their red decal eyes and foreboding black silhouettes could be vengeful marauders when they swooped into or dove onto other kites. The material couldn’t withstand direct hits and a mid-air collision would often result in rips and tears that we would doctor the best we could with hockey tape. Broken strings would break hearts too as the wind would waft a flopping kite across the 401 never to be flown again by its original owner again.

40 years down the road the materials have become much lighter and more resilient. Despite the increased technical sophistication, I think a young boy, or a young girl’s thrill of flying a kite hasn’t really changed much in the thousands of years that we’ve been looking skyward string coursing through our fingers and wind teasing our hands. For more on kites, consult Best Breezes an excellent blog and website on this enduring source of of fun and simple pleasure.

Nellie-Rose is making headlines again with an alarming means of expression. She’s really throwing herself into it head first. In some circles her new move is known as a Glasgow kiss. In less picturesque language it’s simply a head butt. You wouldn’t think there would be much cause for shying away from a wee baby’s forehead. When Nellie gets excited though she lets fly and usually the closest target is somewhere on our faces. She would be a mean striker on a soccer pitch. Given that she can propel her cute little noggin backwards too, we need to be doubly alert. Really what we need is eyes in the back of our heads. If she gets a direct hit or even wings the cheekbone, or nose with the exceptional velocity unleashed from her well developed neck muscles, we’re talking big surprise and some measure of pain. We can usually see these special kisses getting telegraphed but there’s still a need for caution and defensive measures as she’ll try and pop off 5 or 6 in rapid succession when she’s in that exuberant, ecstatic zone. We love to see Nellie-Rose in that state of happiness and so far none of us have had to get treated at emergency. Here’s hoping that this is a phase that will quietly fade away into the night with minimum of fanfare.

Before leaving the lovely Nellie altogether, take a listen to this whooping crane recording and then throw in a soupçon of bray and you’ll have an idea of the insistent and not quite endearing sound that our girl makes when she wants something to happen right away as in yesterday. Her ‘honk’ is a bit more prolonged and the pitch is not as high. Fortunately this Nellie call is of relatively short duration and has a low daily frequency. The goos and the gaas, the i yaaas and all the rest are how she really converses with us inviting us to her world as she crosses into ours. Thankfully the whooping honk is reserved for special occasions.

Not to be outdone by his sister, Noah-David tools along on his own path. On this birthday week that has meant: fingernails that are growing now that they’re no longer velcroed to his teeth; the first afternoon at tiny tot soccer – a high energy giggly gang of 3 to 4 year olds being put through a basic soccer boot camp by 3 teens; the first time that Noah asked to have his picture taken – an action shot falling off the bottom of a slide at the Woodside Playground; and his first selection of a toy bought with his own money, birthday dollars from his great grandma in Québec.

As soon as he tried the Color Roller – a real sight and sound extravaganza – the sale was clinched for Woozles. Despite suggestions, nothing else would do. Six days later the intensity has started to diminish but this number is still in the revered land of top toys. The roller’s sound factor combined with Noah’s ability to push it like a lawnmower are attributes that should ensure this toy a long, playful life.

A couple of quick postscripts. Noah’s highlight at tiny tot soccer was getting to hold on to the only yellow checked ball. That afternoon on the Tallahasee gym floor our lad was flashing pretty constant smiles and rolling in the giggles. The next outing is sure to be fun.

This afternoon walking Nellie-Rose back and forth in the front room while patting her back softly to ease her into napland, our darling little sweetpea returned the kindness and gently patted my shoulder for a couple of minutes. Shortly afterwards, she was asleep in my arms. This was just the cutest.

Only 2 more sleeps and we board a plane for Barbados.

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Home alone – the sequel

Posted by PlayGroundology on August 21, 2008

Well we didn’t do 2 consecutive days with dad and kidlets home alone. I think we were very wise to slip in a buffer Wednesday. This gave the Noah and Nellie a chance to enjoy maman’s softer, nurturing side. As an added bonus the kids were able to recover from our solo day before being exposed to another one.

We’ve got some synchronized sleeping of the nap variety just underway. This is beginner’s luck of olympian proportions. I don’t know what I did to deserve this 30 – 45 minute kid-free break. It’s most unexpected particularly after the inaugural experience 2 days ago where it seemed they were both on some kind of sleep deprivation kick, perhaps just a bit wary of closing their eyes in maman’s absence.

Immediately preceding the synchro napping, the judges scored Nellie very highly in the you can’t make me eat event. Her double back arching twist refusal fakeout, only to devour the entire spoonful a millisecond later, was de toute beauté as one of the Québecois judges remarked.

Just before getting back to the house for some lunch, Noah was inspired to perform what I like to call his bilingual freestyle nugget croquette song and dance. Surely another hopeful for official event status in years to come. Other events the IOC could consider for subsequent olympics – mixed doubles diaper changing using environmentally friendly cloth diapers, 300 metre trike endurance race and the sexiest one of them all, the 10 metre crawl to crown the planet’s fastest baby bolt.

I’ve been doing more disciplining in the last couple of days. This has been exclusively in relation to Noah-David and has centred primarily around meal times and how he tends at least a few times a day to get in Nellie-Rose’s face. Disciplining is not a foreign concept for me but I’ve certainly got to brush up on it. Our standard approach now is to put Noah in his bed for any transgressions of behaviour and let him know why we’re doing it. It’s hard though on days when he is sequestered on multiple occasions as I did to him 2 days back. My patience isn’t what it used to be when my 2 older girls were toddlers. I’ll be looking to increase the patience factor as well discover innovative solutions to those difficulties that are like rites of passage for children growing up.

Today’s “home alone” has been a much better experience for everyone. As day was breaking, Noah and I had a run through his electronic, adobe flash ABCs. This is an excellent resource from Starfall. we’ve run through it hundreds of times over the last 2 years and Noah continues to learn and get enjoyment from it.

We also checked out a couple of playgrounds and a huge deep sea oil derrick after dropping maman at the new house. The Caldwell Road playground wasn’t very exciting. Back on the Halifax side of the harbour we flipped over to the Northwest Arm and hit the playground at The Dingle. Great spot, right on the water, lots of shade, picnic tables and good equipment for the kids. I took some photos to add to the Playground Chronicles – a project – that will document and map playgrounds in Halifax-Dartmouth. I hope to be able to launch the map, a blog and website within the next few weeks.

Well, the synchro sleep isn’t going to last forever. It’s now clocking in at 46 minutes. There is a possibility that we will see personal bests getting smashed here today. It may turn out to be a nap that goes down in history. I’ve got to run and grab a shower while I can.

We’ll have at least 1 adventure this afternoon – going to pick up maman and flashing up the ozone generator in the new house. We’ll try for another adventure of some sort before we hit the road for Eastern Passage.

Postscript – sleepus interruptus at 49 minutes, no personal bests today. Shower on hold as little Nellie was nestled in my arms. That’s certainly no hardship there. Hopefully I won’t get the boot from bed for smelling too manly………..

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Home alone

Posted by PlayGroundology on August 18, 2008

We are just short, a smidge shy of madness – long days, abbreviated nights, legalese, realtese. For days on end we’ve been stuffing years of accumulated possessions in boxes for transmigration, or in plastic bags for friendly curbside pick up with final destination incineration, or the landfill. We’re cleaning out this old house and nothing will be left behind.

To spruce up the new place and make it home, we’re affixing our personal stamp. We’ve splashed fresh inviting colours throughout and there will be new flooring in 85% of the house. It’s all taking time, coordination and some uphill slogging on the learning curve. This is one of these situations where the the getting there, the journey itself, is exhausting and probably best contemplated from the comfort of the new home weeks after the contractors have beautified the premises. It’s this final destination that I’m pining for, the big pay off. But let’s be realistic there’s miles to go before we sleep those easy dreams of contentment characterized by clear dawns of new beginnings and blurry memories of the actual move.

Noah has noticed the difference in activity. As he has been out to the new house on several occasions now, he can probably attribute the change in atmosphere and decrease in parent focus time to our preparations for the home-in-waiting. Each visit we make he is very excited to spend time in all the rooms yelling out to us to join him in his, his maman’s or Nellie’s bedroom. His preferred escapades on these occasions are exuberant jumping lifting him a full 2 1/2 inches off the floor and supersonic circular running to the accompaniment of merrily riotous laughter.

Just beyond riotous laughter on the excitable spectrum are incandescent tears and Noah has let loose some real torrents in the last couple of days. Monday was particularly rough. The first home alone day – all day – with Dad certainly had growth potential in the free and easy fun department. The morning was great but come lunch time we were on a runaway bobsled hurtling downhill. It was a cryfest bedroom sojourn for not eating lunch before nap, a full blown waterworks for nap time, back to the bedroom for refusing to eat lunch after nap and then a final for good measure bedroom exile for not sharing toys with his little sister. This was way too high a quotient of tears, sad faces and anger inflected voices for me to take. We were both relieved when maman came through the door from her hard work, home alone and isolated day at the new place.

There will be more home alone days in the coming week and I hope to be better prepared. I’ll be maman’s chauffeur so I can keep the car and get around on adventures. For Noah-David, adventures are divisible in the following categories – parks, playgrounds, the museum, the Discovery Centre, a ferry crossing, the waterfront. All are accessible by public transit, or by foot, but a vehicle just makes getting there so much quicker and increases the on site ‘adventure’ time.

The sproglets were brilliant today. Noah burned off some of his boundless energy on a mid-morning adventure at The Discovery Centre. He played endlessly in his two favourite areas – a BRIO Thomas the Tank table and an indoor sandbox with bulldozers, dump trucks and such. He also had time to continue his climbing exploits – up, over and through windows on the big wooden truck. And as we left, our little rascal was wiggling his butt in the funhouse mirrors.

In the afternoon Nellie and paparoo were the dynamic duo out on a crosstown string of errands. Nellie-Rose was an absolute angel – 5 different stops in 1 1/2 hours, in and out of car seats and shopping buggies and waiting patiently until papa was helped at each of the locations. Not only was Nellie well behaved, she brought smiles to, and played the coquette with, everyone who crossed her path. They say the Gaels proffer 100,000 welcomes and you my Nellie love who have yet to orbit the sun have already sown 100,000 smiles and more and each one you flash my way makes a heartbeat moment that lives forever.

The relatively newly minted high school graduate received her UK WWOOF catalogue today along with the most recent issue of WWOOF UK NEWS running a front page story entitled “Poo Power” reproduced here for your reading pleasure. This new information will assist Alexa in mapping out her 4-month trip and choosing the organic farms where she wants to work. With departure day in early September it’s all very immediate and very happening. I’m happy for Alexa for this first long solo adventure but like all parents of the just leaving home set I’m a little apprehensive.

Big changes and new developments for all of us – we’ve got our tickets to ride, ride, ride and it’s all fine.

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In my arms

Posted by PlayGroundology on August 14, 2008

Tonight we switched on the iTunes visualizer for wee Nellie-Rose. She was somewhere between happy and not – fussed enough to refuse her food, present enough to lean into a gentle caress. Her new baby smell went the way of the winter melt but her arms wrapped around my neck and her snuggling forehead nestling in the hollow of my shoulder was as sweet as a bursting raspberry.

Geoffrey Oryema’s Makambo lullabied my girl’s heavy drifting eyes until she lay motionless against me. Her tiny body overflowing with energy when awake ebbs peacefully to restful still. Makambo takes her there with the magic interplay of voice and music, the lilting whistle and unhurried pace. From the first time I heard the song it reached deep inside to a universal connector and sailed me to a peaceful eddying place – soothing but accented with bone weary sadness.

I couldn’t understand the literal meaning of Oryema’s lyrics but if the video I came across tonight (linked above) is an accurate rendition then my imaginings weren’t too far off. Really it’s a perfect baby cradling song, a plaintive air to hold her close and warm and safe. A song that reminds us of the despair of war, the hope for peace and the magical promise in a child’s laughing eyes.

Let’s always remember that arms are for hugging. It’s really their functionality and design to embrace, connect and bond. Our arms were at it tonight long, crazy never ending hugs. In our close stillness with soft, shallow breaths I knew that we were building life and dreams and tomorrows.

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Crawl, climb and crash

Posted by PlayGroundology on August 14, 2008

The minute hand has tracked well past midnight and I’m tuckered, tired and ready to crash, I need to write a little though before I hit the sack for a few sweet sleep deep hours. We’ve been preparing for a big move almost since we arrived home from Québec 3 weeks ago. We’re just about ready to close our new house across the harbour.

Mé’s been the champion on the house prep and packing. I’ve been doing a lot of adventuring and getting kids out to the park, the museum and on shopping errands. We’ve both been getting stretched – time, energy and patience wise and the kids have watched a little more TV than would usually be the case.

Treehouse and the Olympics have helped to keep our Noah and Nellie entertained when we parents have been otherwise occupied. Though I do feel a little niggling twinge of guilt on the quantity of square box being watched, I believe the quality of the programming is consistently strong. There is only one show that we positively do not allow to peek into our kids’ consciences and that’s Barney and Friends. Everything else on Treehouse is pretty much a go. I particularly enjoy watching In the Night Garden with them. Igglepiggle, Upsy Daisy and friends are new favourites for Noah and the very first TV favourites for Nellie. It’s an inviting world of simple make believe replete with its own creatures, languages and cultural expression. For the past few days, Noah and I have been snuggling up on the couch to the 6h30 airing. It’s one way to start out a grey day.

Noah is starting to do like a beanstalk boy. Each visit to the park brings on new attempts at dizzying heights on ladders, climbing bars and ropes. There was one oops, slip, slide and bump on the bum witnessed by Granma Helen and Grampa Bob at Ardmore Park. With the barest of encouragement, he was up and climbing after dusting himself off. Vertical is fast becoming the direction to conquer. It’s exciting to watch our little lad take more risks, to push himself and explore his strength, balance and problem solving. These are small steps up but for me they are great leaps of heart leading to new confidence and bravery. And the smile when he pulls himself over the precipice is like a flash of Everest white – clear, bright and clean.

We’ve had a lot of mini-adventures and domestic blissings this past week – playgrounds, museums, ferry rides, parks, a bit of kicky ball, coffee shops, the odd timbit and the discovery centre. Today was a double header for Noah. This morning out with Dad on a cross harbour ferry jaunt. A man in his 60s just drank in Noah’s storytelling on the way over to Dartmouth. He didn’t understand a word but he was proud to say that his Mom was French from L’Ardoise. We headed for the boat playground on the waterfront and there was already a bunch of kids there from a francophone day care. I’m glad for my little Québecossais that French is heard frequently. The Discovery Centre was the afternoon venue for fun with maman. Noah indulged in a little Thomas the Tank play a new infatuation that was the cause of great unhappiness during a recent visit to Chapters. Today’s Thomas moments were cheerful for all.

Yesterday Nellie and I did a little jaunt out to Point Pleasant Park. We didn’t stray to far from the car. The low, dark clouds were spraying us with misty rain as Nellie gazed at everything around her. An East Indian man came up to us and repeatedly snapped his fingers, an opening gambit to draw a smile, He did eventually but Nellie can be a hard crowd to play – stubborn, intent and forceful. Did I mention feisty and independent in her own right? I doubt that we’ll experience any lack of assertiveness issues with this girl. Green, red and yellow double deckers braked briefly beside us recounting to the passengers of the 3 cruise liners now on shore and touristing about the gallows being located at Point Pleasant and then moved to Hangman’s Point. We cuddled in the rain as cranes loaded trucks with containers from China and beyond. Nellie is such a warm and welcoming bundle to hold tight and snuggle. Her smiling mischief just sweeps me away…..

Late last week we had an incredible show right in front of the house. The City’s work crew was. outside filling in potholes. We had a great vantage point from our front stairs to check out the process and say hello to the workers. A dump truck, a handheld roller, shovels and rakes to fix up the hole in front of our house.

We’ve had a few domino days of late. We’ve set up some straightforward courses and let them tumble. Their clicking and clacking is punctuated by giggles, laughter and the occasional “wow”. As soon as we get into the new house, I’ll enlist Noah to be my assistant to create a show of shows of colourful dominoes. We haven’t done too badly on the play quotient I guess but it it will up dramatically when we get into the new place.

Right, I did put ‘crawl’ in the header. Aside from getting out of bed that way some mornings this past week and checking some of the speedy olympic freestyling in the Beijing water cube, all our crawl marveling and cheerleading has been dedicated to our little Nellie-Rose. She is officially on the move and can cover great distances in multiple shuffles of knees and hands. Our lives will never be the same with both kids now fully mobile. She’s also already trying to pull herself upright on any available prop. Seems like she’ll be doing the bipedal 2-step thing before we know it.

Alexa bought her ticket today for the UK. She is rockin’ happy and looking forward to the WWOOF experience. I will be missing her. She will soon be counting the days.

Gonna be a long day with not enough sleep. Lots to do housewise. We’ll be back soon.

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Crowds, concerts and kids

Posted by PlayGroundology on July 7, 2008


Plains of Abraham - Lynda Lemay and Charles Aznavour

You can’t escape the speakers in Starbucks but the mokka is good and a couple of nights ago Presse Café was not open. The Ste. Foy franchise of this Québecois chain is conveniently located just a few coffee beans away from our hotel but that evening wasn’t keeping its posted hours. It was a lockdown blackout at 21h45 the javaflow cut off for the day even though 23h00 was advertised as closing time. Maybe this was to give staff a chance to take in the celebrations around the 400th. That’s what brings our happy gang to Québec City. No such compassion, or empathy at Starbucks apparently. The idea that I might get out and write something with the kids napped down in the hotel room eventually pushed me across the street to where the wireless costs money and the drinks are more expensive.

I only stayed long enough to think back on the Rencontres show outside the Assemblée Nationale on that first day we joined in the festivities. Quel spectacle – M. Champlain in period costume narrated the production from start to finish. With the worldliness of a well travelled 17th century explorer-cartographer he introduced musicians, dancers, artists and bridged it all with brief historical vignettes, snapshots of the city through its 400 years from the early days of bare survival to the riotous 30s of the last century.

Where there was a clear view of the stage or one of the jumbotron screens there were also massive gatherings of people, standing, sitting, kneeling, swaying, sweating in the sun’s shimmering heat. There wasn’t a postage stamp of grass, sidewalk or road to stand, sit or walk on. The ramparts of Vieux Québec were awash with music lovers seeking the best vantage point of the main stage.

Tens of thousands saw, felt and heard a story of conquest, perseverance and cultural rayonnement from the likes of Robert Charlebois, Gilles Vigneault, Ariane Moffat, Florent Vollant, Diane Dufresne and others. Marie-Jo Thério sang a haunting and powerful rendition of Évangéline – dispossession, deportation, dispersal – enfin, le grand dérangement.

Getting out through the crowds, well before the end of the show, was quite simply hell. Both Mélanie and I were surprised at the rudeness and lack of consideration. This was an event in the middle of the day open to everyone, including families. We thought that people would have been more helpful in clearing a small, temporary path for our stroller to get the kids out. Instead we were greeted with stony stares and annoyance, a “how dare they interrupt my enjoyment of this show” attitude. The mighty Mélanie did a masterful job of commandeering the intense push that got the stroller out and away from the boorish hordes. The kids were oblivious to the bad vibes but it had both of us hopped up. Fortunately we haven’t had to repeat our big push campaign and after venting our spleen we’re ready to leave the nasty experience behind us like a unpleasant smell.

That was quite a slide

That was quite a slide

We’ve been asking a lot of the 2 little ones over the last few days . It’s been a series of late nights usually accompanied by music – Sylvain Cossette’s 70s tribute show in Sorel on Friday, arrival in Québec Saturday, Lynda Lemay and Charles Aznavour on the Plains of Abraham Sunday and tonight The Wailers at Place d’Youville. Tomorrow we’ll be BBQing with friends and hitting the sack early for the return trip to Sorel the following day and the tail end of le Festival de la Gibelotte. We always make sure to plan some family-kid oriented fun during the day – parks, river walks, swimming and the occasional dreaded television viewing. Despite the nutty schedules for Noah and Nellie they’ve been enjoying themselves at the evening venues, grooving to the music and contributing to the general merriment in their own rights.

Tonight Noah-David is psyched for Bob Marley tunes as am I. He said to me a couple of times during the day that it would be just like ma maison à moi, just like at home. There will be dancing and singing tonight for sure – zion train will be coming our way.

An interesting television series on the 400th was broadcast on Radio-Canada over the winter and into the summer. Excerpts are available on line.

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The numbers are up

Posted by PlayGroundology on July 3, 2008



Early this morning our numbers weren’t as strong as the 400 years racked up for today’s anniversary celebrations in Québec City. We couldn’t touch that. Noah-David and I were impressed by our own numbers though – 4 garbage trucks, 2 return trips across the vieux pont de Sorel, 2 buses, 1 white school bus, 1 construction crane, 1 gang of cows and 1 gang of seagulls. Quite an observation record from 6 to 8 in the morning all thanks to an alert little boy who loves to see, name and count his world.

He’s been doing up to 10 solo, out loud and confidently for months. The tenner count is handy for hide and seek with grandmaman, grandpapa and tante TiTi and great to burst into when he wants to get a handle on quantifying his cars – possibly the only item he can count 10 of other than fingers and toes. He’s also pretty accurate with the handful of 1 through 5 finger action – though there is 1 finger that he has a hard time springing up without its buddy – in case you’re wondering it’s not the middle one.

One of our recurring daybreak traditions is counting ourselves downstairs in unison every morning from bedrooms to living room and office. We go down each wooden step in an unhurried manner giving us lots of time to pronounce and enunciate each number 1 through 16. Almost always we count in French but occasionally I’ll slip into English and Noah keeps up pretty well with a cute accented inflection and intonation.

For the little ones – looking out to and up at the world – it’s the daily activities, the reading, the listening to music, the singing of songs and the trying to understand the world around them that provide counting’s first magic taste for order, sequence and chaos.

I’m counting down now to a couple of free shows at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal on a solo mission to the city. Mélanie and the kids just dropped me off at the métro a couple of hours ago. Moments ago I heard a baby our Nellie-Rose’s age talking away as happily and boisterously as her. For a moment Nellie-Rose was in my arms telling me a story that only she can tell. Maybe there are numbers there too like the ten thousand million hundred times she looks and will look at her maman adorlngly, or maybe it’s the 24 million heartbeats, or 5 million breaths she’s already taken.



This year we’ll be sure to be singing the 12 Days of Christmas song. It will help build Noah’s repertoire beyond Le pont d’Avignon, Oh Canada and the theme songs from Passe Partout and Toupie et Binou. The 12 days tune I find it to be a bit tricky with all that backward action but hopefully Noah-David will be able to set me straight. We’ll practice for awhile too before the season is upon us. Maybe a good car song as we wind on down the roads of Québec, Ontario and Atlantic Canada. If you see me on the side of the road somewhere in Newfoundland with a bag and no car in sight, you’ll know it wasn’t that great of an idea.

In keeping with the number’s theme here are a couple of sites for kids to explore and have fun with numbers – BBC Numberjacks, PBS Kids, Curious George Count Your Chickens, and Counting Rhymes for Toddlers.

For the adults, here’s a flash of what happened on the 3rd day of the 7th month over the years – UK, US and Canadian perspectives.

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A beautiful day

Posted by PlayGroundology on July 1, 2008


It was the first day without rain or threatening thunder for the last week. Hot sun baked our tracks as we rolled down the 133 flanking the Richelieu River. We’ve got a picnic on board and the 2 little ones are getting rocked to sleep, car cradled coziness. Original destination Mont St Hilaire but the beautiful weather urges us on to the source of the river and we track all the way south to Venise-en-Québec a tiny community hugging the shores of Lake Champlain.

It was just before our picnic on the big bowl of a bay stretching to Vermont and New York state with cotton ball cloud collages dabbing a sun soaked sky that I saw it. It, was complicity in spark. I was in line at the local épicerie check out to pay for a shovel, pail and other sand toys when right there in front of me it happened. The spark was almost visible, the complicity delicious. It was a smile, a glance, a sparkled eye, a shift of shoulder, a tilt of the head, an inflection, a last lingering look – all speechless but speaking volumes. Not sure if the young check out woman and her would be suitor were lovers, strangers, or somewhere in between but quietly, almost imperceptibly they sparked right before my eyes leaving a smile in their wake.

Down the road a couple of miles we pulled into a private beach – $10 to park . It’s the waterfront adjunct of a camping ground across the road – full of urban refugees like us seeking open, halogen-free skies. A front end loader – big bonus for heavy machinery crazed Noah – had recently finished smoothing a fresh batch of sand along the 200 feet of lakeshore. This was our open air home for the next couple of hours, our first beach since California. We spread our blanket, lathered on more sunblock, made sand castles and dipped our feet into the water. The only minor annoyance were seados and speed boats buzzing like horseflies across the bay. Nellie-Rose and I found a remedy for this in a 4-seater garden swing where we glided in the shade with her cooing in my arms for what seemed like a welcome eternity. Just before hitting the road, I took the plunge in the water which was a lot warmer than California in early May. The sandy shallows extended 100s of feet from the shore. We might try and get back to this spot and at the very least, we’ll be sure now to carry bathing suits and towels with us at all times….

Chillin\'Earlier in the day, Noah-David and I sortied at our usual just after 6 time for another in the continuing episodes of early morning adventures. I drove some new roads in Sorel and after juicing up with 2 timbits and a coffee we took rue Victoria to the end of the line. Where the street ends a farm begins – there is really no transition, a manicured hedge and then the symmetrical row upon row of corn now pushing 2 feet out of the black earth. There are 4 large horses on this farm that were gathered together unhurriedly eating as we approached the fence penning them in. As we came closer, each in turn lifted its head in our direction and sauntered over. They must get lots of visitors and be the darlings of the neighbourhood children. These huge horses have a solid presence like sentinels silently proclaiming their strength.

We rolled east along the St. Lawrence passing by palatial homes until we were in full blown country – farms, woods, churches, the occasional store, baling fields and tractors. We turned around where the tour boats for les iles de Sorel dock right next to a dinner theatre and le Survenant restaurant. It was getting time for the girls to be up. We quickly slipped into Presse Café to check the wireless and I was able to get a little MacBook netblast. Noah-David was able to check in on his 2 downtown fountains, 1 of which has 2 waterfalls that continue to keep him spellbound. When we got home, Nellie-Rose and maman were ready to rock ‘n roll – so we did right on down the highway.

Grandpapa We had a great ending to our day – a double celebration. Grandpapa Raymond had a happy 61 birthday and Mélanie’s sister Stéphanie and her love, Jasmin, just bought their first home. We had a delicious meal at their new place and got back to rue Hébert sated, satisifed and ready for sleep. Noah-David stayed behind with Grandmaman Nicole and Grandpapa Raymond to have just a little more fun. By the time he got home, Nellie-Rose and I were already away in the land of Nod.

I still had that smile from just before lunch. I was reminiscing on all the arcing electricity that has sparked Mélanie and I, la fébrilité as she calls it, and looking forward to all the current that still has its course to run. Yes, Mélanie was the hottest woman on the beach, filling my dreams, shaping our tomorrows.

A beautiful day.

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Sun is shining – well almost

Posted by PlayGroundology on June 28, 2008


Noah and I are practising tandem eye opening this week. He’s always been an early riser. I have been too the last few years. His wake up flag runs up the pole anywhere between 10 to and 10 after 6h00. I’m usually up at 5h00, sometimes 4h00 but this week it’s been mostly around Noah o’clock.


I love the almost stillness, the birdsong fresh on morning’s lilting breeze. Today is monotone grey with a low ceiling. The sun is shining, just not here, not now. If we could get a peek above the the stacking cloud cover at maybe 3 or 4 thousand feet we’d know that the sun hadn’t really forsaken us.


Noah-David and I float up the stairs in a relative bubble of quiet. This is partly possible because he’s drawn snug to my chest, my arms wrapped tightly around his little torso and waist. Just surfacing from sleep he’s warm and soft to touch, full of the sweetness of new possibilities.


We leave Maman and Nellie-Rose side-by-side in the cool curtained basement a curled apostrophe and a loving cupped crescent. They will sleep for another couple of hours with any luck. They both need it as Nellie’s restless night moves nudge and push at Mélanie making the deep replenishing zzzzzzs as elusive as the perfect day.


Round and roundBy 6h20 Noah and I are dressed, buckled into the Sentra and halfway to downtown as we scarf down a banana. Not much activity in early morning Sorel. We don’t see more than a handful of people in Carré Royal – the main square – and the streets leading off of it. But there are squirrels. The one that we come upon puts on a good show of being unfazed by our presence. As we approached it had been digging with its forearms in fresh dirt. Our arrival sent it off to the lower reaches of a tree trunk where Noah’s pursuit had it spiralling around and around like a barber pole’s endless stripes just out of reach of childish laughter and pitter-pattering feet. 



SurpriseWe came across 2 still water fountains no jets shooting in the air, no streams plummeting back to earth just quiet unbroken mirror surfaces. Noah poked his head over the lip of the second fountain to see what was on the bottom and a surprise whoosh of water sent him jumping back about 6 inches. He was as shocked by this turn of events as he had been focused looking through the water’s smooth surface. Seems there is an automatic on switch timed for 7h00 at the town fountains. I’ll need to remember that for future outings. Noah probably won’t be quite so quick to peer over the edge.


One dépanneur is open. A man with a fishing rod over his shoulder unlocks a chain link gate and walks through to the mouth of the Richelieu River to make that first cast of the day. At 7h00 there’s an employee waiting to hand over some keys to the morning shift at Presse Café but nobody shows to open. We pass back at 7h30 and the girl is still outside now joined by a friend, a workmate – still not open. I’m curious about the hours because they have wireless internet. I’m hoping we can all pop in some day for a coffee, a cake and a surf.


C\'est fouWe did see a boat this morning pulled high and dry out of the Richelieu. These are some of the things that Noah finds funny and as he recounts it, c’est fou. Boats are for water. We discover the Sorel Tim’s and wrap things up there sharing a plain toasted bagel as we drive back to rue Hébert.


Nellie-Rose and maman have just woken up but aren’t totally out of bed. We’re lucky because that means that there is still some time for those start of the day serendipity moments. We fall back almost weightless on the welcoming bed to laugh and laze and giggle…..








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Dogs, fireworks and Teddy

Posted by PlayGroundology on June 26, 2008

Noah-David was like a whirligig in a summer storm – perpetual movement, arms flying, body spinning round and round like a whistling top. Our boy was a bundle of stories that just had to be told. Sound effects, gesticulations, hurried breaths punctuated a 20 minute non-stop saga encapsulating the life and times of Noah-David Cordeau Smith over the previous 24 hours or so.


Tuesday night’s trip to Ste. Pie figured prominently. It was a family gathering to celebrate la Saint-Jean. “Kaboom”, said Noah – “green, red, orange, yellow!” He liked the fireworks well enough but they were a little loud. Once inside a car he was more comfortable and thought the cascading colours were like hands bursting open in the night sky.


Earlier that evening he and the Ste. Pie dog discovered each other. All indications are that it was love at first sight. It’s a tiny dog that loves to yip, run, dodge, dart and play – the same basic modus operandi that powers toddlers. Some walking took place. Even though he had the leash in his hands, we’re not entirely sure if Noah was walking the dog, or if Nemo was walking Noah. They also played some hide and seek with Noah, little hands cupped over eyes, counting to 10 and beyond. It seems that Nemo’s barking was the perfect beacon to lead a giggling little boy to a propellor tail rendez-vous each and every time.


There was a dramatic weather recap too with a recounting of rain, thunder, lightening and rainbows. He’s an engaging storyteller who wants his listeners to understand where he’s been, what he’s experienced and the role he’s played in the unfolding events.


Nellie-Rose is becoming a conversationalist running her own salon so to speak. She’s not very fussy about the fcompany she invites – seems any extended family member will do. Her new refrain is, “ay-ya-ya, ya-ya, ya-ya, ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya”. She introduces subtleties of varied tempo and increasing and decreasing volume to keep us all on the ball. When encouraged – and I love to encourage her because it’s just so much fun to watch and listen to her as she builds up steam – she can sustain a 10 minute call and answer exchange a broad, toothless smile taking up nearly her entire little face.


She’s definitely on the talking trail with us now. Her lit up face, her bright dancing eyes and that sunshine smile are all clearly calling out, “I’m talking with you now, I’m talking, telling stories for you.” The fact that we can’t understand her is just a minor glitch that’s sure to be cleared up in the coming months.


It was the Teddy – Noah reunion yesterday too. There was general happiness, hugs and Teddy been thrown in the air and most of the time ably caught in Noah’s arms. A few hours after the reunion, Noah passed by Teddy lying on a bed downstairs. He glanced over crooning “Teddy” in a sweet voice and then hopped onto the mattress pulling Teddy into his arms for a roll, a squeeze and a caress. The spontaneous release of affection was cute and endearing.


I also brought with me a Kim Possible helicopter picked up years ago from some fast food joint. It used to be Alexa’s and with a little soap and water it looked, and smelled, almost like new even after having spent years in the basement. Noah has a thing for helicopters and this one has been even a bigger hit than anticipated. It’s going to be bed with him and has been almost constantly in his hands since yesterday afternoon. It’s really got something going for it – 2 moving parts that make noise. Dropping form the undercarriage there`s an emergency rope with a grappling hook. When this rope is pulledout all the way, it starts to get pulled back up in to the body of the helicopter by the forece of the rotating blades. At 50 I find the simplicity and design pretty awesome. That rope has already been pulled in excess of a couple of hundred times in the last 24 hours and it’s still humming along.


More to tell about bike rides, horses, spitting, playgrounds and living out of a suitcase in future posts.



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Teddy’s Triumphant Return

Posted by PlayGroundology on June 17, 2008

He’s back from San Diego an incredible journey for a young bear cub. Triumphant might be a bit of a stretch as our errant Teddy arrived in cardboard packaging with one corner caved in. Two weeks cross-continent by ground transportation. It must have been a harrowing trip. Our heroic Teddy alone in the dark and literally all boxed up brought to our door by Canada Post.

I couldn’t get Ted to talk about his re-entry to Canada. He didn’t have any papers. I don’t know if he was searched, or detained at the border. His lips are sealed about what I can only guess was a traumatic experience. We’re thrilled that he’s back where he belongs – well almost. His best buddy Noah-David is 1,000 plus kilometres away. If there’s no change of plans, they won’t meet up for hugs and cuddles until next Wednesday.

Sad to say that the Noah – Ted long distance reunion didn’t really go according to plan. Maybe I should have known better. I told Mélanie about his arrival earlier in the day on a phone call. I asked her not to share the news with Noah when he woke from his nap. I wanted to be the hero and show off Teddy on a video call.

I flashed Teddy on the screen very early into our Skype call. Instead of, “papa, papa” in ecstatic tones, there was an immediate meltdown, anguished sobs and inconsolable, free flowing tears. Try as we might, we couldn’t turn the situation around and instead ended the call. Mélanie was able to comfort our Noah-David and this morning when we spoke he talked about Teddy in a confident matter of fact voice. Eight sleeps until he sees Teddy and papa…..

It didn’t take Teddy long to get back into the swing of things. With Noah temporarily out of the picture he had no supervision (I was too busy at the keyboard, or on the phone regaling people with the news that he was back in town). Not surprisingly he got up to a few shenanigans.

Ted letterFirst off was the rather unsubtle remonstrance about how he got home. I still don’t know how he did it but he managed to stuff himself into the mailbox pretty much thumbing, well I guess pawing, his nose at me. The message was as clear as a pristine stream – why had I chosen such an unceremonious means of getting him back to Halifax? If the plane was good enough for the trip out to San Diego, why wasn’t it the transportation of choice to get him home?

Next he got himself stuck halfway up a tree in the backyard. Being a domestic bear he didn’t have the necessary skills to get himself back down. Shortly after his rescue he commandeered one of Noah’s cars for a spin. That nearly ended in disaster. Luckily for all of us I came out just in the nick of time to prevent him from careening off the deck into an ignominious wreck in the flower bed.

He seemed to be taking a page from Yogi Bear’s mischievous suite of tricks, or maybe trying to emulate the adventurous Paddington from the darkest jungles of Peru. I’m hoping that after today’s escapades he’ll lean more to the philosophic Winnie as a role model and see the value in close friends and simple pleasures.

These bears have created quite a stamp on the popular imagination – from plush, stuffed buddies to starring roles in cartoons – let’s not forget Little Bear and his nuclear family. And then there are the ubiquitous teddy bear picnics held in cities, town and villages across North America and teddies’ connection with a famous American President.

They are fine friends for little boys and girls. We’re so happy that Ted has come home. I’m looking forward to delivering him into adoring arms next week in Sorel, Québec. We’re glad that teddy’s accidental loss didn’t wind up with him going to the wild side.

A google search on teddy bear racks up 4.6 million hits. Seems like teddy bears are here to stay.

Many thanks to Dave at Point Loma Hostelling International in San Diego for getting Teddy back home to us.

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Father’s Day Flashback

Posted by PlayGroundology on June 14, 2008

KylaNearly 15 years ago I wrote a Father’s Day piece for our local paper, The Chronicle Herald. It was a difficult time of my life and the reflections on being a Dad and being a son helped me to weather a sometimes rocky road. Back then I was a single papa doing it alone with the support of my immediate family and a few close friends. Their help was invaluable.

A decade and more later the rocky road has many fewer bumps and I live with Mélanie the woman I love and our 2 children – Noah-David and Nellie-Rose. Alexa, my second oldest daughter lives with us half-time and on this Father’s Day my folks, her uncle, aunt and cousins will celebrate her graduation from high school. The years have passed very quickly.

I’m going to excerpt that article here because it still rings true and I think captures a soupçon of that distilled essence that is being a parent, loving and being loved by our children. The words still dance joyfully for me.

Our routine and rhythms are well established (I wrote about Alexa and I): play times, stories, cooking projects, crafts, day care, tantrums, tears and laughter.

Not all has been serene. Father has been cranky, short-tempered and overwhelmed. Daughter has had severe bouts of mother withdrawal, sleeping difficulties, as well as the requisite cuts, sniffles and accidents that constitute the rites of passage for the toddler set.

The challenges of daily life aside, we have revelled in the warmth of needing one another – hugging and snuggling, growing with each other and executing the spontaneous dance of discovery.

Alexa bearWhat each of us remembers is unpredictable, but today we share moments, transfixed like dawn’s dewdrops on a blade of grass. It is the dawnings and duskings of the days which I hold dearest. The expectations of new adventures about to unfurl and the security of special blankets tucked under a chin as we touch on the closing of day’s events.

Both my daughters are poets. I envy their inventiveness with language, their lack of concern for grammatical stricture or structure, their ability to create new meaning from old words.

It is this unbridled sense of wonder which is their unconscious gift to me. I try to emulate this as best I can in my stumbling adult manner but they are the masters in this field. Their streams of consciousness flow like playful rapids, swirling, rising, falling and I can only marvel at the creativity unleashed. Take time to grab each precious moment, savour its fragrance, bask in its glow.

My 2 oldest daughters still have their poet’s eyes. Alexa’s sketch book is full of beauty that she creates and her photos have that indefinable seeing quality about them – subject matter, composition, light. Makyla was an actor for a time in high school most notably as Daphne in Queer as Folk. I was very proud of her rootedness, her ability to keep the experience in perspective. Now her poeting focuses on animals. As a vet assistant she loves and cares for animals in distress. If I had any pets I know I’d like her to be looking after them in times of trouble.

Noah-DavidNow we have and cherish the 2 Ns – big brother Noah and little sister Nellie. The dawnings and duskings are still incredible, moreso even as I didn’t expect just a few short years ago to live this gift again. And here we are with new discoveries and growth every day, with language redefined, in French and English this time, and with bright expectant eyes embarking new adventures.

I don’t need anything for Father’s Day. I’m all gifted up, abundant in riches. These moments with the children fill my memories. They give me pause to offer thanks. Though the growing with our children is not less precious, their time as wee ones holds a special place in my heart – these are the days of endless wowing, of being and becoming, of simplicity’s compelling magic.

My kids weren’t with me the Father’s Day I wrote The Chronicle Herald piece. This year Alexa is here. Kyla is in her Toronto Tdot. Noah-David, Nellie-Rose and Mélanie are in Sorel. Our kids and Mé will get to celebrate with her dad, Raymond, a fine man who is just about to retire from an active career as a phys ed teacher for primary students. He is one of the one’s who give a damn and cares for the kids under his tutelage. Tonight in Sorel there is a charity walk to benefit a cancer foundationNellie-Rose and Noah’s and Nellie’s grand-maman Nicole will be amongst the walkers. Before they set out, organizers will release a host of butterflies to fly free in the warm blue sky, beating rainbow sundrop wings on a flight of hope into the night.

As for my Dad, Big Bob, he and my Mom Helen are still forces to be reckoned with. We hung out today down at a local café and did a little reminiscing about teddy bears, rocking horses and other kid stuff. Long live the kids in all of us…..

The photos in order of appearance are of – Makyla, Alexa, Noah-David and our wonderful Nellie-Rose.

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