Ta-daaa – 180 Days of Magic

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Changing Gears – It’s a Wrap

Posted by PlayGroundology on December 5, 2008

296px-wooden_hourglass_31One October afternoon time was chugga chug chugging nice and slow. Soft sculpted clouds freeze-framed across the sky parading sleepily for a small boy and his dad. Late autumn dampness was creeping though our clothes as we lay side by side in the still green grass. The sun was at its warmest warm for this time of year. It was glorious mundi. We had fallen into a moment of now that rippled through the rest of our backyard adventure.

Inspired by shiny dots of silver with pluming contrails in the sky Noah rolled over and pushed himself up. “A plane papa, I want to be a plane”, he pointed upwards. He spun around, ran toward me and launched himself into my upstretched arms. Still on my back, I manoeuvred him until he was resting tummy down on my raised legs with his arms winged out. We got clearance for about 20 quick take-offs for destinations we know and love – Montréal, San Diego, Barbados and of course Halifax. Noah was the pilot and the plane, the sky and the earth as he soared above a world of his making. He buckled me in on his flights. I was the lucky dad tumbling into make believe looking up at eyes lit with laughter and a smile stretched from cheek to cheek on my son’s cherubic face.

The afternoon was full of simple, fun moments. We raced around the house 4 or 5 times. The uphill climb from back to front yard tuckered out Noah’s little legs. He more than made up for it on the flat stretches bursting into high gear. Giggling seemed to be the fuel that got us through the blistering pace as we circled the house. With each pass we waved at maman through the picture window on our way to the downward slope and return to the backyard.

We did a little training that afternoon too in preparation for the next day’s tiny tots soccer – a weekly organized activity led by 3 young enthusiasts for 10 or so little ones aged 3 to 5. Noah started his soccer career at about 16 months. Kicky ball is the name he made up for one of his favourite running and up and down the hallway activities. He had at least 10 balls to choose from and we’d pretend that he was a star striker for Barcelona. I’d provide the colour commentary play by play as he moved the ball up the hall and let fly with a fierce shot that went right through the door jamb uprights – un but.

It’s still a game that we like to play in the backyard as we did that afternoon. I suit up as Man U – my Mom’s favourite team – but invariably the dazzling footwork of the Barcelona Kid takes us down to defeat. I added some drills to the menu that Noah had been doing at the tiny tots too. He had red light, green light nailed – when to go, when to stop and how to control the ball. The Simon Says exercise was another story altogether. It took the longest while for him to understand that he was only to perform a requested action when it was prefaced by Simon Says. He grasped the concept finally at the end of a long trail of laughter.

We also invented our own game that afternoon, table top handball. We had a lot of laughs propelling a spinning mini soccer ball across a glass table – more than I would have ever thought imaginable.

During Noah’s nap time that day, Nellie-Rose and I packed ourselves up and headed across the Caldwell Road into Dartmouth for a surprise visit with Gramma Helen, aka GH. Nellie’s one imperative wherever she’s at is to get in, get at, get on, get under places that she isn’t supposed to be. It’s a constant chase, run, apprehend and replace her bum on the floor in a safe, neutral zone. Saucy is GH’s favourite adjective for our Nellie-Rose and it’s a good one. If we considered a continuum of saucy, saucier and sauciest we’d have to place Nellie in the superlative zone. She is without a doubt bold and lively. An argument could be made for flippant too as it’s a rare toddler that can be labeled serious. Our girl was all sauce and cheekiness that afternoon. It was good for Nellie to have some one on one time with GH, to shine her own sun, to giggle, crawl, laugh, pull herself up to GH’S chair and get her little cheeks pinched. It was a mighty fine visit.

Our mid-October return from Barbados signalled the inevitable, the unthinkable, the inescapable. Our 180 days of magic were trickling into the wrong end of the hour glass. We had plenty of fun before the last grain of sand dropped though. It was a time to settle into our own particular brand of domestic bliss, to enjoy the recently purchased house and to establish some new routines in our Eastern Passage home.

dsc00097_2There were plenty of milestones and much excitement in those few weeks. Les petites cousines de Gatineau came to visit for 4 or 5 days. Maxim and Catherine have about the same age gap between them as do Noah and Nellie. They’re younger – Maxim is still part of the 2-year-old club. Noah and Max were good together and Noah was very happy to have a playmate for days on end. We made a trip out to our local beach with hard packed sand, an ever constant blow and cresting waves in an endless march to land. We played a magnificent jam session worthy of being chronicled by the late, great Dr. Seuss. We brought to life a fantastic variety of musical knicks and knacks with a great puffing and banging and shaking and clanging. It was cacaphonous din par excellence, free form, undisciplined and unapologetic noise. Noah was sad when they hopped into the van bound for the airport and Gatineau. I hope the 4 of them will continue to make memories together and enjoy each other’s company over the years.

Noah was a terrifying spider at Hallowe’en letting loose with a deep, dark roar that echoed throughout the house. “All right”, he cried out jubilantly as he left each lighted doorway with a new treat in his bag. He’s still young enough that it was the event that was paramount. His candy loot is tucked away in a dark cupboard forlorn and forgotten, languishing in a ribbed fabric pumpkin we bought in Scotland a couple of years ago. Nellie was dressed up in a sweet green and orange felt suit with matching cap and looked like she was just plucked from the pumpkin patch. She stayed home with papa to help pass out the candies a job that Noah took on after he returned from his trick or treating adventure with maman.

dsc00291One Saturday we scooted down the 101 to the Valley where the summers are hotter, the winters colder and snowier than coastal Halifax. We went for the U-pick apples inside Wolfville’s town limits. We’d done this the last couple of years with my folks and my brother’s family. This year it was a solo run and as it turned out we were late by a week or two. The trees were bare and the pumpkins looked rough – partially decomposed and withering on the vine in their patches. We had a walk through the orchards and bought some bagged apples at the retail outlet.

In Grand Pré on the other side of Wolfville we stopped at the Evangeline Inn. Their café is now a traditional lunch stop for Valley outings. We got in just under the wire as it closed the next day for the season. The place has a well deserved reputation and gets great word of mouth. It’s always busy and there’s often a wait to get seated. The food is good. Their pies are the subject of apocryphal rural legends, their lobster sandwiches generous and succulent and the service is excellent – genuine down home and friendly. I will always associate the café with the day we took out Tomoyo prior to her departure for Europe and ultimately Japan.

Some other notables include Noah’s first visit to the dentist. He and maman are looking after his teeth very well. The dentist and staff created an environment where he was at ease and confident of what was going on around him. They did an excellent job and Noah walked away with a new toothbrush and a treat. All the while that Noah was in the chair, Nellie watched intently. When she got bored she had a lovely view looking south along Argyle St. and was a patient little doll. For an interesting sense of perspective on dentists, read this classic text, Body Ritual Among the Nacirema, that is a standard in many introductory anthropology courses. It continues to give me a smile 30 years down the road.

There’s been a good crop of Noahisms over the last month or two. Some of the recurring ones are: ça c’est close; ça c’est cool; oh mands not even sure of this transcription but we think it’s supposed to mean oh man; and, pronounced in a tone of ‘can’t you see for yourself’ disbelief, papa, come on.

Noah has had another visit with a speech language pathologist as we continue to experience some challenges in understanding everything he has to say. His communications are substantial both in content and volume. We’re not picking up on everything because of problems around pronunciation and speed of delivery. The specialist said that although he is having difficulty with some consonants, he is storytelling at the level of a 5 or 6-year-old.

He does have a flair for the dramatic. When Noah asks to do something and receives a negative response, he immediately hunches his shoulders forward in a very exaggerated posture, bows his head, looks forward obliquely and incants in a quavering voice that speaks to the unconscionable injustice of the situation, “I never, never, never get to _________” – fill in the blank with whatever he has just been denied. This brief, yet highly charged spectacle in which he has the only starring role is becoming less common of late. When it does happen it’s hard to keep a straight face. The transformation into the despondent, shoulder scrunch super-boude pouty sulk is instantaneous. It’s a character performance piece, method acting for the under 5s. Robert DeNiro watch out.

dsc00311_2I got fixated one afternoon on getting Noah some hot wheels. I remember my brother’s loop-the-loop track that he absolutely adored those many years ago. I headed over to the mall with Nellie and went to Toys ‘R Us – not a store I visit very frequently. They had an entire section dedicated to hot wheels and they were all far more complex than anything I remembered. I was overwhelmed, even a little intimidated by the choice and it took me 15 minutes of rooting around, looking at illustrations on the boxes and reading to make a decision. At one point I was just going to leave empty handed as I didn’t see anything similar to what was tickling my memory. Then I saw the 4-lane raceway. This was the closest to the double strips of orange plastic track that my brother had. It wasn’t quite as adaptable but we’ve been having a lot of fun revving the motors and racing to victory.

The sand finally ran out of the hour glass and I had to return to work. I’ve been back in the office for 14 days. It’s been a transition for all of us here at home. There are no words that can adequately express the splendour of this gift of time that we shared. We have had some marvellous adventures over the months that we’ll hold dear for years to come. Yet what strikes me is that it was the daily comings and goings, the small things, the unhurried play, the leisurely visit, a seemingly endless horizon of togetherness that were truly extraordinary. We are very thankful for the moments and the memories…….

I’m well beyond the 180 days now, blogging on borrowed time. You can find our post parental leave stories at Commuter Dad.


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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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Baobab blues

Posted by PlayGroundology on November 3, 2008

It’s hard to believe that a girthful, monkey bread bearing baobab and kiting coastal frigate birds updrafting to higher heights are Barbados memories that went AWOL on me. They are not alone, there’s the fishing village close on Brandon’s with fine people, rum shops and limes with friends as well as the faces and names of individuals who surface unannounced after 2 decades of snowstruck winters. Presence – seeing, smelling, hearing, touching, tasting – is a passport to yesterdays whose signature beat still echoes in my heart. Back then each cockcrow sun and tradewind night had the wonder of new wrapped up in discovery’s expectant learning. In this now, the cadence of morning greetings is a warm singsong, a hopeful welcome to a new days bridge of remembories.

I was an immigrant through marriage 25 years ago arriving in St. Michael with my Bajan wife and three-week-old daughter. It was an exciting time immersing myself in a new country and being Dad to a beautiful little girl who could claim both Barbados and Canada as home. The transition was pretty much painless as I “married in”, the family was modestly prominent and I was endlessly curious. After little more than 18 months on the island the marriage went to hell in a hand basket. I cycled out of the land of mangoes and soursop to wind my back to apples and blueberries.

While in my new home I experienced many kindnesses. For one, newspaper editors took a chance on an unknown and untested young Canadian. This enabled me to cobble together some income writing feature articles – primarily on music, dance and theatre – for The Nation, Caribbean Contact, The Bajan and the Caribbean News Agency. It was a great opportunity to learn about the country and the region, to immerse myself in the Caribbean’s contemporary cultural expression and to meet people some of whom would become friends.

This was my first time back since a 1 week visit in 1990. Mélanie made it all possible by suggesting we make a Barbados splash with our air miles cash. She supported me with the time, space and love to root around in my past, wallow in a bit of nostalgia and prattle on sometimes endlessly about this time in my life. I was able to reconnect with extended family, explore old hangouts and catch up with some dear friends. There’s also been a bit of reconciling the older man I’ve become with the young man that I was through that imprecise and at times selective recall review mirror.

farrell-the-nationPulling into the driveway of the Bagatelle home one hot afternoon – well they were all serious stinking, sticking, sweating, dripping hot, high relative humidity 29∘C feeling more like 41∘C – there was Farrell’s unmistakable voice jammin’ across the airwaves, a welcome touchstone. Red Ribbons was playing, a cautionary tale of deadly AIDS, a words and music story shouting out the danger of irresponsible sexual behaviour. This was Farrell doing his stuff – popularizing, getting the word out, participating in effecting change in how people do, be, see, act.

Later that week, I took the windy roads through cut rock and cane fields to Farrell’s house close by Jericho, St. George – 1 of only 2 landlocked parishes in the country, the other being St. Thomas where we were staying. Farrell gave me good directions but I got lost just the same. With no map to backup the verbal directions, it was more often miss than hit in our meanderings.

Only major roads are named on maps. For all the others it’s pure, or as Bajans would say, bare luck to correctly link up the physical road you’re driving on with the the blue, grey and green lines that represent where you want to be. We had plentiful helpings of asking, backtracking and bemoaning the lack of signage. The Opposition raised the lamentable lack of directional signs in Parliament which led to a little media play. At least it’s on the agenda to be addressed. If totally flummoxed and there are no parliamentarians available to provide a helpful hand, come from aways can always get back to Bridgetown by following the lollipop bus stop signs that declare – “To City”. If you’re country bound though, the flip side, “Out of City” is a tad short on precision and won’t help much in getting a bead on your destination.

That day deep in the heart of Barbados I was set on the straight road by a woman who came out to feed her madly barking dogs and tell me there were no Farrells about that part. She gave Winston a call and sorted out how I was to get from where I thought I already was to where I was supposed to be. I headed off still uncertain of the exact route and there was Farrell out on the main road walking toward the car as I crested a small knoll. I was off course about 3 kilometres because of righting instead of lefting at one of those “it’s time to make a guess junctions”. These were the unassuming but wily converging roads that sucked any pretensions of navigational acumen right out of the map part of my brain. We had the “H” brand on our plates designating a rental vehicle as well as the stunned look of the lost circling and back and forthing so close, yet so far from our intended destination zones.

Farrell shares a new 2 family home with his brother-in-law. I met his wife Beverly who showed me the wedding album keeping dear their wonderful ceremony and reception at Bathsheba. Farrell and I swapped stories out on the balcony enjoying the breeze and the country view of fields sloping gently down and then up toward the island’s high east coast peaks. The fruit trees – banana, plaintain, mango, coconut – gardens, black belly sheep and the broad expanse of sky were welcome conspirators in an unhurried, rooted ambience. That afternoon the sky was split. Half was building steam, greying to angry black – storm a coming. The other half was high bake hot sun and cotton ball clouds in a sweet blue sky. Storm would win and I left before dark drop and rain fall.

We chanced across Farrell a couple of days later in Queen’s Park. These are welcome happenstances at any time and all the more remarkable when far from home. The laws of probability wouldn’t give great odds on bumping into someone you know in a country where you can count friends and acquaintances on two hands.  But there we were matter-of-factly discussing our plans for the coming days. The Park is Bridgetown’s green sanctuary complete with playing fields for cricket and football, a playground for the smaller kids, a massive baobab tree and other flora more common to the island. It was also once the home of a theatre and other cultural spaces but due to lack of maintenance these have regrettably fallen into disuse.

Our surprises weren’t over. Passing by Amen Alley we made our way to Broad St. and one of the many Chefette’s in the downtown core. It was time to hydrate, sit in the sweat resistant AC cool and take in some carbohydrates. I saw a wave from the food prep area and it was Andrea whom we had met nearly 2 weeks earlier at Bathsheba’s tidal pools. It had been our first of 3 visits to the east coast’s rough windswept beauty. On this treacherous, craggy stretch the salt crests roll uninterrupted across the Atlantic linking this rock rattled shore to West Africa. Here all vegetation leans landward seeking to escape the constant buffeting, the push, push pressuring of winds that rarely calm.

As long as there’s no rain you can be oblivious to the wind and deadly currents in the enclosed safety of Bathsheba’s tidal pools. Our first day out they were not busy. Andrea, her husband Alistair and ourselves were alone with the incoming tide and the fish who come and go with the ocean swells. It’s a great place to contemplate, to chill, to wonder how the gargantuan, pockmarked coral boulders arrived in situ. Perhaps they are sentinels sent by the Carib gods…

That afternoon we shared stories with Andrea about kids, daycare and the cost of living. It was good to connect and hear the real love of place. Andrea had visited her mother who lived in Toronto but had no interest in relocating. East coast Barbados was where she wanted to be. They invited us to a kids fair type event over the weekend but sleep schedules, heat and some creeping inertia kept us away. I’m glad we saw Andrea again at Chefette…

Prior to meeting up with Andrea again at Chefette, Noah played in the sunsplashed park and I wondered how I could have misplaced such a huge tree in my memory. In Sénégal years earlier their sorcerer silhouette’s had imprinted themselves on my imagination – guess it wasn’t indelible. Apparently that Queen’s Park baobab came all the way from Africa. Even though Saint Exupéry’s Little Prince feared these mighty and venerable upside down trees would split planets, it turns out that this extrapolation is rooted in exaggeration. There are no island wide fissures radiating from the bole of this import. Everything looks pretty safe for the time being.

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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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All afraid now – the big scare

Posted by PlayGroundology on October 10, 2008

Yesterday morning our hearts sputtered, stuttered, stopped for what seemed an eternity. Nellie woke up at her standard Barbados middle of the night feeding time. We stumbled through our by now familiar bleary eyed routine – Mélanie downstairs to warm the milk, papa rocking and snuggling our little girl. When the milk is ready I start feeding Nellie-Rose and Mé pokes her head in the bedroom next door to see how wonder boy is faring in deep sleep on the big bed.

Mélanie called out to me, “Noah isn’t in his bed”. A second later, it was, “He’s not in his room”. The bottom was dropping out of my stomach and a desperate, clammy feeling of fear swept through me. I was still feeding Nellie as Mélanie went downstairs to look in the living, dining room and kitchen. No Noah downstairs. Disbelief, racing heart, adrenalin pounding and so worried for our little lad.

There was one last room to check – an upstairs washroom next to Noah’s bedroom. We leave a light on there every evening and close the door over until it’s nearly shut. The door was ajar a couple of inches just as we had left it when we went to bed. We pushed it open to discover Noah-David sleeping on the floor with teddy beside him. They had blankets, pillows. a glass of water, a book, some toys along with an assortment of toilet products one of Noah’s new gros, gros travail clean up capades.

What a huge, cleansing wave of relief and happiness. Now we could laugh nervously and bring the internal shaking under control. Noah’s explanation for this turn of events was straightforward, “Teddy and me are camping”. We told him that if he absolutely had to have any other camping adventures to please keep them in his bedroom. We explained that we were worried because we couldn’t find him right away when we saw he wasn’t in his bedroom. He had made all his ‘camping’ preparations after we had fallen asleep, some time after 21h30.

When rationality sank back in and the pulse quietened down to a standard rate, we realized that Noah wouldn’t have been able to leave the house on his own (unable to open the doors) and nobody could have broken in without our hearing them. The house has good built in security features. There are dead bolts on all the doors and wrought iron burglar bars on all the windows and the double doors leading onto the verandahs. There are also usually 2 Rhodesian Ridgebacks running in the fenced backyard but as we didn’t want the responsibility of caring for them they have been farmed out for the duration of our stay.

Security is a fixation in Barbados for businesses and private dwellings, for the rich, middle class and poor. It seems the rule of thumb is that the more material goods one has, the more elaborate the security. For most it’s dogs. With the 2 to 3 dogs per household we’ve seen in our Bagatelle neighbourhood, it seems quite likely that in Barbados dogs are more numerous than people – at least in the area immediately surrounding Bridgetown. Cats on the other hand are pretty scarce and those that I’ve seen, with the exception of country cats, are skinny, bedraggled and veering towards the feral.

We’ve been told on 5 or 6 occasions by Bajan strangers to be careful who we speak with, who we ask directions of. This information is shared with kindness and openness as a help. But according to the Barbadian government crime here is not out of synch with other countries (full 2002 report).

There is a level of insecurity I feel here on some occasions that I am not accustomed to. It makes me leery, cautious and tips toward paranoia. It is usually linked to being lost on the roads. The more elderly people we ask for directions are quietly amused and puzzled as to what might bring us to their particular corner of BIM but they always set us straight on which way to go. Other than admonitions to be careful and the odd less than friendly look there has been no tangible reason to feel vulnerable. In fact, there have been 100s of reasons to feel welcome – small kindnesses, salutations, courtesies and storytelling. All this to say that it’s important to take reasonable precautions. There’s an under the surface tension between come from aways and locals, a corollary of the tourism industry that brings in 4 times the local population in tourists annually (in excess of 1 million visitors).

Barbados is alone in the Caribbean in terms of standard of living and at the top of the class in comparison with countries from the developing world. This is seen in respect to education and health, a variety of other social indicators and infrastructure such as roads, water and sewage. Here’s some quick facts on the country. More detailed government statistics are also available.

Tonight we’re off to a quality of living event in Oistins on the south coast. There’s a regular ‘Oistins Friday night’ with crafts, a fish fry and music sweet music. I’m sure that Noah will be wiggling his hips and showing his moves. We had a dance session at the house last night. His enthusiasm and endurance shouted out that he has been missing this activity. We’ve been a bit negligent, or perhaps not totally aware, of Noah-David’s music needs since we’ve been here. We’ll make sure now to have some tunes jamming every day until we leave. We’re Oistin bound for a socareggae jam.

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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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Boppin’ and Belly Back Slides

Posted by PlayGroundology on September 16, 2008

There’s been a lot of dancing around our house the past few days. It’s Noah’s spontaneous groovin’ to the beat. When he gets fired up, toes tapping, hips swivelling and wiggling he likes to get maman and papa out on the floor. The three of us let loose together sometimes with the little Nellie-Rose doing a dipsy-doodle crawl between our legs. We’re not fussed by styles, or steps. It’s pretty much an expression of free form elation. Noah’s been movin’ to the groovin’ almost since he started to walk. I’ve always thought it would be a barrel full of fun to get a 100 or so 2 to 4-year-old kids together and let them loose to music for 3 to 4 minutes as the intro piece to a professional dance show. Perhaps it’s already been done……

Nellie-Rose is mobility. She’s an unstoppable force. A virtuoso hands and knees girl she’s now crawling around, over, or through just about any obstacle. She’s faster than a speeding puppy. If they had such a thing as baby races I’d put money on her. Over the last couple of weeks she’s developed a new means of locomotion that I’ve dubbed the belly back slide. Her ear-to-ear grin when she’s propelling herself backwards is a true sign of fun’s pure pleasure. The move is simplicity itself. Belly down on the floor and head up so she can watch our reactions, she pushes herself mightily and repeatedly with her hands scooting across smooth surfaces in reverse. The belly back slide is a relatively rare sighting, an unprompted impulse that creates moments of wonderful lightness floating us all to the moment of now.

Ms. Extreme Sport has also started climbing stairs and has turned it into a game of giggles, chase and catch me. Her favourites are the ones that lead from downstairs. They are carpeted and provide a little cushion in the event of slips and tiny tumbles. As soon as she arrives at the first of the eight steps she pulls herself up and turns her head around to look back into the room. She knows that she is not supposed to climb up but this look back is a beaming beatific smile from our capricious imp. She launches herself on a spirited assault on the first step. Perhaps this is how a young Chris Sharma started out?? She never gets beyond the second step before either her maman or I swoop her up into our arms. With supervision she’s able to scramble to the top unassisted – it’s really time for us to get the safety gate in place.

We’ve had to innovate in the area of behaviour change over the past couple of weeks. To assist us we’ve established the Eastern Passage Canada Research Chair in Applied Behavioural Discipline. Noah-David is currently the only undergraduate student conducting research. As the Chair is physically located at the end of the hall that leads to our bedrooms we’re happily able to keep everything under one roof. The Chair has now replaced the bedroom as Noah’s place of conscripted contemplation where he reluctantly sits to ponder what maman or papa have flagged as social transgressions that we’d like to nip in the bud. Early results of the new treatment suggest that it is more effective than the bedroom isolation chamber but the findings are still inconclusive at press time. The initial transition from bedroom to Chair created a crescendo of wails and gnashing of teeth but this past week we have not had to call upon the Chair at all.

In the last couple of weeks we’ve also been able to put the kaibosh to an annoying and unsanitary habit. Constant nagging every day over a couple of months had not proven to be very effective in changing Noah’s inveterate nail biting. The gnawing is now a thing of the past. Maman introduced the solution one afternoon – mittens. Noah’s yelling, sobbing and crying when the mittens were put on were met with a steely determination from both of us. By the end of the afternoon the mittens were removed with the agreement that there would be no more biting or the mittens would be reapplied. Noah’s nails will be due for a clipping soon, hurrah.

Noah-David was threed and the family birthday celebrations were excellent. Grand-maman Nicole and grand-papa Raymond came from Sorel laden with hugs and gifts and my family scooted down the road from Portland Estates for some cake and kisses too. It’s hard to believe that he’s 3-years-old. I think we’re so fortunate that for the majority of that time he has been in our care and will continue to be now until he goes to school. His first experience with another caregiver was an unbelievable hit. We were so fortunate to have Tomoyo come to our home following Mélanie’s return to work. It’s just over one year ago that we said goodbye to Tomoyo and Noah remembers her still – as do we. She was such a wonderful light in our boy’s life. The subsequent 4 months at day care wasn’t quite as much fun though Noah speaks nostalgically of it now. The transition was never really a success and now the lad is home and happy with his maman, little sister and for the time being papa too.

Nellie has had a few digestive problems linked to eating fruit we think. Her little system is having a hard time breaking down the solids resulting in way too much gas for such a tiny body. There has been night time crying, writhing and discomfort. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the colic queen days but luckily for all of us, nowhere near as intense. At about the same time this digestive ailment bubbled up, our Nellie added a new vocal cry to her repertoire that makes me think of a whooping crane in full whoop. It is not a pretty sound. It’s clear intent in its absolute raucousness is to loudly and insistently telegraph a need that must be met NOW. It’s as effective as it is annoying particularly when it is proferred repeatedly in rapid succession because the need requires some preparation before it can be met. This is a sound from my beloved Nellie-Rose that I hope will be retired sooner rather than later.

Rainbow Haven has become a favourite local hangout. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t actually get in the frigid Atlantic wash but we do enjoy trolling the beach and looking across the narrows to the goings on in West Lawrencetown. Noah runs free lugging huge rocks down to the water’s edge to catapult into the lapping or splashing waves depending on the tide’s turn. Nellie scrabbles across the hard packed sand her tiny inquisitive fingers picking up the minutest pebbles and making their own raindrop indents, the “Nellie was here signature” an ephemeral imprint in this large expanse.

As the grey skies started to lift at dawn the full moon dashed out some morse code long and short through skirting clouds. It said the Passage would be in for a fine day. The sun is bright at 8 and the beach is beckoning.

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Crazy times in Hiatusville

Posted by PlayGroundology on September 11, 2008

I hit the snooze button on 180 Days of Magic 3 weeks ago. It wasn’t planned that way. It just had to happen. Some serious time was required to conclude business on the house selling and home moving fronts. A word of caution if you’re contemplating a move with small children in the under 3 set – be prepared for nights with very little sleep. We were on the borderline of sleeplessness in Halifax (old house) and in Eastern Passage (new home) over the 3 days of the actual move and old house clean up. Two weeks and a couple of days after the last boxes were brought in, we’re still arranging the space but thankfully we’re no longer beating the clock against a sale closing. The absence of that very real and inflexible deadline is a huge relief.

Moving was a marathon. We crossed the finish line intact and essentially in good health but I’m not convinced that we had the best training plan in place. I don’t think either one of us fully grasped the snowballing magnitude of the perfect house move storm. A shower of bouquets for ma belle and tireless Mélanie. She worked for weeks in advance of the event packing boxes, shifting through our belongings and identifying garbage, and, perhaps most satisfying, finding and buying the new stuff we’d need. Without this fine preparation we would have been disappearing faster than an elephant in quicksand.

All unpacked boxes have been lugged, shoved, pushed, cajoled into the half-basement storage space which turns out to be just the perfect size. The majority of these boxes contain books that I’ve acquired over the last 30 years. We had an expansive built in bookcase at the old place that was able to hold 80% or more of those millions and millions of bound words – stories of dreams and defeats, betrayals and triumphs. It was another great Bob Sr. special built and designed by my Dad. Alexa and I were his assistants when we put it together it 7 or 8 years ago. We started early one morning and by 21h00 we had a 9 feet wide floor to ceiling bookcase with 32 shelves.

The new home has a much better layout and more liveable space. We have a large family room, bedrooms for each of the 2 young ones, a playroom, a sitting room sans television, a kitchen/dining room, a couple of washrooms and a good sized backyard for growing kids.

Back to the move itself – we rented a cube van to haul our earthly possessions the 25 or so kilometres across and around the harbour – my cheap, cheap, cheap Scottish skinflint percolating to the surface. We were fortunate to have hired a couple of very conscientious helpers as day labourers who gave us everything they had and then some. Will, a Mi’kmaq from the Afton Reserve, and Boris the travelling statistician by the way of B.C. and Russia moved the big, bad and the ugly from one locale to the next.

Day 1 was 2 full loads that included most of the nasty heavy items – fortunately we were leaving the appliances behind for the new owners. In a wet week that seemed to be a warm up for a tropical rainy season we were lucky to get a dry day followed by an almost dry one. On day 2, Boris and I managed the remnants which amounted to another full load that included the meanest, most awkward item we had to move – a bureau from Alexa’s bedroom that lunged at my leg as I lost my footing on the skirt of the truck. That encounter left me with my only visible souvenir moving scar. That day we brought in some house cleaners to give the place the once over. They were life savers and graciously worked around us and the ever dwindling chaos. The owner’s 6-year-old daughter was with her and provided some great comic relief and good conversation. She also came across a few treasures that she was able to take away.

Exhaustion and disbelief set the tone for the 3 nights and 2 1/2 days endurance event. Under cover of darkness I liberated, well disposed of, over 40 bags of garbage and sundry loose items in local dumpsters. I had a lights off stealth approach as I rolled up to the industrial size canisters. After coasting to a halt I unloaded my cargo as quickly and silently as possible always a little paranoid that I’d feel a tap on my shoulder and get challenged about my unsolicited donations. It’s all now long gone to the landfill. This is in addition to the fully loaded 1/2 ton truck that cleared out the basement in mid-June. And here’s where the disbelief comes in – the sheer volume of stuff accumulated over the years, the quantity of last minute dumpster material and the amount of time it took to finally make it a wrap, walk away and leave the old place behind.

In the process I nearly became a candidate for rehab. I developed a real dependence over a 4 to 5 day period for the Tim Horton ice capp made with chocolate milk. Thankfully we’re in Nova Scotia and there is a Tim’s on nearly every block so it was easy to feed my ever expanding appetite for a sugary sweet chococaffeine treat morning, noon and night. At the end I was a shaking mess and resolved to let it go cold turkey. In the 2 weeks since then I’ve only fallen off the wagon a couple of times.

The moving beard is long gone, the last boxes were unpacked yesterday and last night we welcomed Mélanie’s parents as our first sleepover guests. The MacKay Bridge incident with a waving custodian running out into the traffic lane yelling that I couldn’t cross with the truck now seems like a funny footnote to a groggy, sleepless and surreal do-it-yourself move.

The Eastern Passage adventure has set sail. The next milestone is Noah-David’s third birthday which we’ll celebrate with family tomorrow night.

I’ve missed jotting about our daily comings and goings and look forward to getting back at it on a more regular basis. We’ve got a new place to explore and new people to meet. The 180 Days of Magic are drawing to a close but there are some good times ahead before we say good-bye.

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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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Playground Tagging

Posted by PlayGroundology on August 6, 2008

It would be great if you could go on line and get information about local playgrounds. I’m thinking of a comprehensive round up for your community, photos of the equipment, public transit routes serving the site, an activities schedule, age groups for which the equipment is intended, by-laws around usage, leashed, unleashed, or no dogs and other pertinent facts that curious parent minds might want to know.

This project, if it comes to life, will succeed through a collaborative approach. The tools and platforms are there – digital cameras, Google Maps, blogs. I know of about a dozen playgrounds on the Halifax Peninsula – Noah-David and I, and more and more frequently Nellie-Rose, are inveterate playground questers, testers and when we like them, nesters. In the greater urban conglomeration there must be in excess of 50. Looks like it’s time to start planning for the marathon of playgrounds.

This playground tagging is a long term undertaking in the making. To quote a Grade 1 aspiring writer classmate of my brother’s, it will be “balls and balls and balls of fun” while at the same time providing a useful service.

At the family friendly local jo’s coffee emporium, Rachel’s mom was my unscientific public poll of one re this catalogue, directory of playgrounds. She thought parents would find it useful and said she would keep her eyes open for it on the web.

The prototype is up tonight. I’ve just laid down 5 markers. Over the next couple of days I’ll add text to each of the marker boxes and also get some photos posted. I’m also considering the possibility of launching an open blog where people can post playground stories.

There is still some learning to do on my end from the technical perspective. I also need to explore how to disseminate the information and invite others to collaborate. And as always there is the question of time and how much to invest….

At the very least, Noah, Nellie, Mé and myself will have barrels (closely related to balls I understand) of fun visiting playgrounds in the Halifax – Dartmouth area, playing on the equipment and taking a few photos. If we can generate some interest we may get to meet some new parents and kids.

I’d be eager to hear commentary on this and would be particularly interested in hearing from others who may be involved in similar projects.

Long live the playground!!

Take a moment to remember

63 years ago tens of thousands of people were vaporized in Hiroshima with the detonation of the A-bomb. Some died lingering deaths years later such as Sadako Sasaki. Tomorrow in many cities there will be outlines of silhouettes on sidewalks to remind people of Hiroshima’s horror. Sadako’s story is compelling and courageous – a great read for parents and kids alike. I’m just waiting for our copy to arrive at our local kid’s bookstore Woozles.

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Sing me a song, play me a tune

Posted by PlayGroundology on August 5, 2008

Imagine a favourite guitar riff, a rolling, cresting percussion wall, a wailing, charging horn section. Now, select from memory the music that was your personal soundtrack to new love. Listen as the lyrics and score take you back and continue to inspire that frisson de folie, that delicious head over heels, gravity-defying tumbling to points unknown.

The sweet, swaying power of music transforms us into feet tapping, waist winding, gyrating rhythm hounds. Our kids, given the opportunity, will just lap up the tunes like there is no tomorrow. Whether it’s classical, country, jazz, funk, blues, R&B, punk, heavy metal, flamenco, rap, rock ‘n roll, or reggae is not really important. What counts is that kids get to listen to a variety of musical genres and develop an appreciation for what moves them to dance, relax, or maybe even play themselves.

Nellie at 9 months is mesmerized by Apple’s iTunes visualizer a pulsating, spiraling, kaleidoscopic on-screen light show that trips to the beat. She can easily watch and listen for 20 minutes seated on my lap. On our return home from Québec it had been 6 weeks since Nellie-Rose had been transfixed in front of the MacBook screen. It had not lost its powerful magic. Nellie immediately flashed a baby bright smile and her dilated eyes became deep resonating universal language pools. When she’s fussing inconsolably this light and sound combo frequently brings her back to a much calmer state

Noah-David got fully grooving, up on his 2 feet and shaking his little butt just after his first birthday. He’d already been moving to the beat – jumping, rocking and turning – for several months in his exersaucer. Independent, free form dance was new and he loved it. His music of choice was Diogal’s Soré a joyous and haunting contribution to worldbeat from Sénégal, West Africa. His musical tastes at this point are limited only by what we choose to play, or by what he tries to play himself. He has his own drum and flutes as well as a toy guitar and enjoys giving impromptu concerts. We had one yesterday in fact – Noah unplugged, guitar and vocals. He announced that his favourite song was Sur le pont d’Avignon which he has adapted quite liberally. Now that young sister Nellie-Rose has mastered the art of clapping, the appreciation quotient has just upped a couple of notches for our performance crazy balladeer.

Music’s influence and imprint at a young age creates an indelible soundscape. 40 plus years down the road I can still hear the bold brass of Herb Alpert’s Tijuana ensemble. I’ll never forget the racy – for a 10-year-old – and suggestive cover of Whipped Cream & Other Delights. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of that luscious model and at a tender age, whipped cream took on a whole new meaning. I loved those tunes and remember asking my Dad to put them on the platter and turn them up. They were from a world far away but with the drop of a needle the MexiCali chart topping pop filled our house with bursting, cascading notes – warm musical showers that brought smiles and a touch of mischief to our eyes.

The other stand outs in my parents’ musical canon spinning on the RCA Victor console were Frank, Bing, Andy Stewart, Englebert Humperdinck, Nana Mouskouri and the ineffable, inimitable Tom Jones. There was more, but this is all I can remember. Tunes like My Way, Release Me, She’s a Lady and Lonely Bull are part of my permanent songbook and continue to release happy memories when I chance to hear them.

I’m a big BMW fan (Bob Marley and the Wailers) and my kids from a young age have all been able to recognize his distinctive storytelling cadence powered by that signature roots, rock, reggae beat. Makyla and Alexa continue to have lots of time for Mr. Natty Dread. Not only do they have a genuine love for his easy skanking tunes, they also recognize the powerful vision of one love, one heart, one humanity at the core of this Rastaman’s chant. Noah knows that dad loves Big Bob and he can well fine skank his own dance moves to the Rastaman Vibration album. As for Nellie-Rose, she’ll pretty much listen to anything at this point as long as it’s flashing on the iTunes visualizer….

Kyla loves techno and has been an ardent fan and faithful attendee at the World Electronic Music Festival since its inception. Toronto’s known as a big techno town but I need to ask Kyla if her love of this music pre-dated her recurring role as Daphne in Queer as Folk. QAF’s Bablyon dance bar was a TV techno paradise – bone rattling music, hot, drenched, sweating bodies and pulsating, syncopated, strafing lights.

Alexa’s first big music crush was either ABBA or The Spice Girls – can’t remember which came first. Her bigger sister was right there with her on both counts. In fact, Kyla went to the recent Toronto Spice concert. The Brit gals were catchy, poppy fun, let yourself go, girl power kind of stuff. I played the tunes as frequently as they did and the music certainly had as much redeeming value as my first musical infatuation – The Archies, a group of invisible musicians fronting for comic book animated cartoon characters. Come to think of it the 2 groups share some kind of cartoonish commonality.

Alexa also has decent 60s and 70s classic rock iTunes collection as well as a fondness for Johnny Cash, Nirvana, The Clash and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. She’s introduced me to The Fratellis, The White Stripes and Wilco. There’s lots more I could pick up from her as I don’t recognize any of the groups she’s listening to currently – Tegan and Sara, Iron and Winz, Islands, Miracle Fortress, Los Campesinos, Against Me and Wolf Parade. A little bit of tunes in the house at a young age lasts a lifetime and I’ve got lots to look forward to with the 2 little ones discovering their musical signatures.

As it turns out even old dogs can learn new tricks. Years ago, Kyla set me up with Napster and much to her regret downloaded the Funkstar Deluxe version of Marley’s Sun is Shining. I must have played it nearly 30 times consecutively that night – I just couldn’t get enough. That over and over repetitive playing of a new, or favourite song is a trait shared by Makyla, Alexa and Noah – maybe something genetic there, or maybe just a common compulsion. In any event I jumped into that digital pool at the deep end as an early adopter and am now virtually all digital, all the time. Many thanks to Alexa also who repeatedly encouraged me to go Mac where it’s all just so much easier.

More recently, Mélanie has taken me on a Québecois musical adventure that is an ever pleasant, never ending source of pleasure. First I was introduced to Daniel Bélanger and his dreamy, other worldy love poems. Rêver Mieux was my rhapsody to Mélanie and M. Spoutnik was the first Québecois musician whose storytime tunes really circulated in my bloodstream. There are many more great artists that I’ve listened to or heard live – Stefie Shock, Richard Desjardins, Isabelle Boulay, Eric Lapointe, Jean LeLoup, Ariane Moffat, Les Cowboys Fringants, Dan Bigras and the list goes on. Mé is a passionate guide who knows her stuff and is proud of the depth, breadth and abundance of talent in the Québecois music scene. Moi, je suis vraiment chanceux de connaître ça et nos enfants aussi. The Rest of Canada is missing so much……

So now we come back to the McCartney show on the Plains just over 2 weeks ago. In the post where I wrote about the show, I didn’t say anything about the 2 other bands that shared the stage and that was a real oversight. Both are from Québec – The Stills anglos out of Montréal and The Pascale Picard Band francos from Québec City recording in English. Both kicked ass warming up the crowd for Sir Paul and gang. Pascale played one of Noah’s favourite tunes that he has christened Tambours but the singer and other fans know as A While. You can take in a brief snippet of that tune on the Plains below.

As Bob said, “forget your troubles and dance, forget your sorrows and dance”.

P.S. 2 important developments yesterday – Nellie-Rose slept through the night for the first time and she has started to crawl – watch out world.

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