Ta-daaa – 180 Days of Magic

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Archive for the ‘Parental Leave’ Category

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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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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Changing gears

Posted by PlayGroundology on May 23, 2008

Hoildays are great for so many reasons – the discovery of unfamiliar places and meeting new people, the break from normal routines, the chance to spend more time with family and acquaintances we meet along the way. All of these help us to recharge, renew, relax.

Then there’s the snap back to pre-holiday reality. If we’re fortunate there’s a buffer zone before we have to return work. My zone is looking extremely good from where I sit, 5 ½ months before I need to ride in the 9 to 5 work saddle again.  This is thanks to the birth of our wonderful, wee Nellie-Rose, federal legislation, my employer’s support for parental leave and my wife’s agreement to have me in the house for such an extended period of time.

There are some adjustments to this parental leave experience that are still underway. Financially it will be a bit of a pinch and a squeeze, just not the same amount of dollars coming in and not a significant variation in the dollars going out.

In the areas of childcare and housework there is a real need for us both to explore new roles and responsibilities – the only one I can’t really put myself forward for is breastfeeding. Then there is fitting in the all important recharge time. This should be a bit easier now but I’m very conscious that it needs to be fair and equitable and provide us both with some personal breathing space.

Mélanie and I are feeling our way slowly through these changes. It’s still early days and I think we’ll see more progress as we get a better handle on what each of our expectations are for this gift of time that’s being provided to our little family. 

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Borderlands and sand, sand, sand

Posted by PlayGroundology on May 19, 2008

Shopping for someFriday morning we flipped down to the borderlands in the rental car. The I-5 South gets you there in about 35 minutes. It’s pretty much urbanized all the way down the coast. The signage approaching Mexico is very clear, “this is your last chance to get off the highway and remain in the US” type of messaging. There were no compelling reasons for us to go to Tijuana so we stuck to the US side of the border and looked for bargains in the outlet stores.

There are over 100 outlet stores – Levi’s, Nike, The Gap, Adidas, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Nautica – in viewing distance of the border. The corrugated iron fencing, barbed wire, high wattage lighting and border patrol vehicles abutt the back parking lot of the Las Americas shopping experience. This is fortress and free-spending America all rolled into one. Bargains in the consumer compound and aerial surveillance just outside making sure no illegals get a chance to come and taste the land of milk and honey.

One of the sales associates at Levi’s said that most of the shoppers came from Mexico, Canada and Europe. Very few Americans shop at the outlet locations. The morning headlines on the day we visited reported on the US consumer mood being at a 28-year low. Certainly nothing to jump up and shout about unless the shouting might help turn things around.

Our loot bag from Las Americas included jeans, bathing suits, running shoes and baby clothes we purchased as gifts. The prices were in the bargain zone in keeping with our entire 2-week holiday in SanD.

We booted back up the I-5 for our last full day in the city. With temperatures hitting 30 C we decided on OB before and Mission Beach after supper.

Noah-David got in some quality sand castle building at OB and some toe, ankle, knee, hip wetting wave action where sea meets shore. Lots of giggles, smiles and wide-eyed wonder at the cresting, curling water works, the surfers, the pelicans and planes overhead and the beach with lots of merry, sun worshippers.

We scooted down Sunset Cliffs Boulevard after a quick bite and headed for the Mission Beach boardwalk. It was a 10 minute hop by car. Prior to hitting the seaside promenade, Noah rode another carousel stallion at Belmont Park two hands firmly planted on the pole for his rising and falling equine adventure.

According to the store owners around the Park, things don’t really get humming until after the Memorial Day weekend. Prior to that it’s pretty hit and miss just like the weather before the end of May. Once the sun heats up and is out consistently, the beach becomes a magnet pulling in the local and foreign exotica alike.

The boardwalk was busy with people out getting the last few rays of the day all ages, sizes, shapes and colours a real ratatouille bunch. There was still some wave riders catching a curl and the pelicans were diving for fish to fuel their regal flight.

The beach wasn’t as crowded as OB earlier in the day but there was a little burst of action that coincided with the setting sun, people going to water’s edge to click sunset photos as the red ball lost its bounce and slipped into the Pacific depths. Mélanie and Noah-David tickled their toes in the darking shallows leaving breath long footprints in the packed hard sand. Moments like these are the indelible image track of simple pleasures playing on memory’s reel, looping with no fixed time interval, surfacing as a pleasant surprise, a welcome friend, a warm smile.

As the car was turning into a pumpkin on Saturday morning we squeezed in one more little trip. We just had time for a quick flip to Coronado Island. This meant nighttime driving on the I-5. Cars move quite fast on the SanD freeways and I didn’t know my way around. Mélanie played co-pilot and I sure needed one as I managed to get lost almost immediately on leaving the Mission Beach area. We got back on track and with my trusty co-pilot’s cajoling we made it across the skyhigh Coronado Bridge and back. The passenger ferry landing provided a great vantage point to see downtown SanD. The area looked nice. If we return, we’ll be sure to explore it.


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Posted by PlayGroundology on May 4, 2008

It’s early morning and the sun is shining sweet. The house is quiet – no one stirring. Babies will be on the loose soon. Lots of domestic bliss to get through today before we take off to LAX with final destination San Diego on Monday.

My arm is sore from repeated pinchings. It’s still hard to believe that this is happening. “This” is parental leave – six months out of the workforce to be en famille. Thanks employer, thanks parliamentarians for the legislation. This is the single hugest gift I will receive in my professional life. It’s the cure par excellence for putting the “life” into work-life balance….

Les Canadiens lost last night. That disappointment was tempered by speaking with old friends and older children – one whose adventure is well underway and the other who is just on the precipice of leaping.

Today is ours to caress, weave, shape and savour – we rise on the east coast and we’ll set snugly on the west.

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Posted by PlayGroundology on May 3, 2008

Ta-daaa – so exclaims my 2 ½ year old son when he is engaged in something wonderful – a magical sleight of moment. Relatively speaking it seems to happen quite often. This blog will echo the waving of wands, documenting months full of wonder for a 50 year-old dad on his first ever parental leave thanks to the support of his wife Mélanie and the birth of his six-month-old daughter, Nellie-Rose.

Today is day one and there were at least five or six audible “ta-daas”. Some were  associated with hockey and our role playing as stars on the team of teams, the most renowned professional franchise in the world, les Canadiens. Bravo is another exclamation de rigueur and each time I hear it coupled with “papa” I know that I have arrived – at the beginning of my life.


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