Monthly Archives: December 2009

Eastern Passage Coliseum

Except for a lone light in the office, the Eastern Passage Coliseum is quiet and dark. The star player is tucked snugly in bed dreaming of the games yet to be played. His new sticks are leaning upright in the corners at the end of the hallway right outside his bedroom door. I’m surprised the sticks aren’t under the covers with him. They’re ready to be grabbed though just four or five steps after he hits the floor. Within less than a minute of waking, he’ll be starting to warm up or be looking for a game.

The excitement won’t be quite as intense now that grand-papa has made it back to Sorel, home of Stanley Cup champion Marc-André Fleury. The couple of days prior to his departure it’s hockey pandemonium in our family room. Grand-papa Raymond and Noah are great rivals on the makeshift rink. The most uninhibited laughter booms throughout the house as they wheel about the cork floor looking to exploit a moment of miscalculation, searching for an opening to sail the puck through the goal.

This is magic time for them, a foundation for admiration, wonder and their ever growing love for each other. With each drop of the puck, the fun filled excitement pumps our little boy’s heart to bursting. His imagination blooms in the competitive atmosphere inventing new team names, rules and fake outs.

The Curious George motif on the just-after-Christmas sticks that maman found is cause for delight. George is a favourite literary and cartoon scamp for Noah and Nellie both. These sticks are about twice the size as the souvenir sticks we had been playing with previoulsy. This is a big help to the 50 plus gang as we no longer have to do the Quasimodo. We can nearly play in a natural stance.

About 30 days downstream from buying our family membership at Cole Harbour Place, I’ve finally made it to the cardio fitness centre. We’ve been swimming and skating several times but this was the first time for me on the machines. It was a modest 35 minute workout to get things rolling. I went shortly after the kids hit the sack last night. Noah wanted me to stay home. I told him, “With some exercising I’ll be in better shape for hockey.” That’s all he needed to be sold. He now wants to start an exercise program when he gets up in the morning. That will be a great way for us to begin the day.

I’m not sure what teams will be taking to the ice here later today. The traditional Penguins and Canadiens are losing favour of late to the likes of the Crabs, the Lobsters and the Whales. We’ll have to see what the day brings and what team selects me from the draft. Here’s hoping that I’ll go in the first round to a contender.

I’ll have to be careful that I don’t get bamboozled out on the ice. He’s now adopted one of grand-papa’s tricks. He calls out, “Look over there it’s a monkey.” Must be the Curious George thing again but there’s no monkey around. He just side steps me as I’m looking up at the ceiling and smokes a goal right through my legs.

Another favourite is the delay tactic. Grand-papa made me wise to this one before he left. After a few gruelling periods of end to end action we need to wind a game down. A favourite means is the ‘next goal wins’ clause. Now, in response to this call Noah slows down the action, gracefully stickhandling in an unhurried, unflustered paean to near inertia. He avoids the next goal, rags the time around the floor like a puck and extends play until that awful, inevitable final siren sings out.

Raymond had a sweet move just as he was leaving yesterday. He pulled out a small piece of carry on luggage and laid it flat on the floor. He positioned himself behind it and started pushing it forward while calling out, “Watch out, Zamboni coming through, watch out.” Noah’s a Zamboni nut waving madly at the drivers as they glide by. He found this to be very funny as did I.

We’ll be looking forward to Raymond’s next visit when hockey fever will sure to be raised several notches. In the interim I’ll take up the slack and make sure that Noah and I keep to our training regimen. We’ve got to be ready to play and to cheer on the Canadian Men’s Olympic Hockey team, getting unveiled later today, when they take to the ice in February.

Noah has just arrived in the office – a big smile on his face, two hockey sticks in hand. Apparently I’m going to be the goalie and he’s going to be the player. Also just in case there is any doubt, Noah is going to win.


Sex, lies and global warming

Big doings going on in the world this 18th of December. In Nova Scotia it’s the last day of school before the Christmas break. On the roads early this morning, there are crossing guards decked out as Santa Claus. Behind every wheel of passing school buses there are more Santas each sporting an hygienic mask – an H1N1 accessory.

The Tallahassee Pre-School kids are buzzing with excitement. Their parents, grandparents and family friends are seated in the gym, or chasing after younger siblings. We’re all waiting for the show to begin, the big Christmas concert. Outside the small dusting of snow and an icy wind add a real winter wonderland dimension to the festivities.

The teachers have worked their charges lovingly. We’ve been hearing about the preparations for at least three weeks, since rehearsals started. We’ve heard snippets of some of the songs and they’ve nested in our personal soundtracks. Noah was very excited to take Nellie and I up onto the stage a couple of weeks back to show us where he had been rehearsing.

The concert is a hit. At just under ten minutes it’s an up tempo production. The kids are having a great time – singing, smiling, waving, fidgeting. Stage fright hasn’t visited this group. Maybe Santa is keeping it at bay.

There’s a small reception after the show, an opportunity to talk with some of the other parents. The kids take this time and use it wisely. They run wild – chasing, bumping, pushing, tagging and laughing. This is the first outing to the school for Lila-Jeanne. She’s whisked away by one of the teachers intent on loving her up. The one and only inaugural Christmas concert for Noah has been un succès fou. A great morning for everyone.

Across the Atlantic in Copenhagen, the UN Climate Change Conference – Cop15 – is winding through its last day. There is no great hope of the conference resulting in a breakthrough. President Obama doesn’t have quite the command of the audience as he had a few days earlier in Oslo. Arguably he’s doing the best he can with what he’s got. His presence alone is not expected to result in miracles.

Let’s make no mistake though, this meeting in Copenhagen is directly linked to our Christmas concert. In fact every child in the world will be positively or adversely impacted by the outcomes of these deliberations. We have a responsibility to clean up, reverse trends, mitigate the mess produced by 20th century manufacturing and the carbon emissions happy lifestyle prevalent in the industrialized countries.

It wouldn’t hurt for us to sit up and take notice individually and collectively. There is an imperative to contribute to solutions, change behaviours, reduce footprints. My household could do much more. We just need to identify what that ‘more’ is and get on with it. Sometimes an imaginative rendering of the problem can help serve as an inspiration to start questioning, to look for alternatives to the status quo. The story this fall from The Malidives on an underwater Cabinet meeting struck a chord with me as an inhabitant of a coastal area. However it seems like common sense, backed up by scientific evidence, is being snookered by economic greed.

A quick note on the title of today’s post – thanks to Marilyn Waring, former New Zealand MP, author and academic. In the 1990s with the National Film Board of Canada her writings and research were the subject of Who’s Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies and Global Economics.

There’s a rash of climate change pinnochioisms spreading across the globe – half truths, quarter truths and completely devoid of truth assertions masquerading as the gospel according to… As far as the ‘sex’ goes, let’s look at it more like ‘gender’ as Waring did. In many parts of the world the impact of climate change will be weighted more on women. The UNFPA State of the World Population 2009 says it all in the subtitle, Facing a changing world: women, population and climate.

Making things okay for our kids is a primary directive for responsible and loving parents. Let’s hope we heed the call. Women have a great track record for pursuing social justice issues –Women for Peace and all the women around the world who have campaigned against torture, human rights abuses and war come to mind. They are working on the side of the angels, campaigning for sanity in the world and the safety of our kids. Some, like the made in Canada Raging Grannies, take this on with a twist of satire and parody.

Birthdays and Passings

Our small family got together recently to celebrate my dad’s 75th. It was a quiet brunch at a favourite restaurant followed by a decadent chocolate cake. He’s vibrant, hale and hearty but we’ve had a couple of scares.

Nearly 10 years ago he was hospitalized for over a month after wiping out on a snowboard. The jury is still out on the cause of that accident. What is sure is that his determination, focus and commitment to rehabilitation reversed the paralysis which was the most debilitating result of the injury. I believe that a streak of Scottish stubbornness as wide as the Clyde helped to will his recovery.

Five years later over a period of two months, he went from daily 5K runs to barely being able to walk 100 metres from his car to the grocery store entrance. Bypass surgery ensued. All went well with the procedure and recovery. It was terrible though to see him post-op. His pallor and the intricate whorl of tubes connecting him to monitoring devices was reminiscent of Star Trek TNG’s borgs.

He was discharged from the hospital on his 70th birthday, the same day I finally quit smoking. He bounced back. When I called on this most recent birthday morning, he had just finished a 30 minute run. He’s been at the running since his early 40s. He calls it his cheap insurance policy. It seems to be working well for him.

My dad has always been there for me. He got me to the early morning hockey games, the rain or shine soccer matches and stepped in to assume Akela’s mantle and lead a pack of Cubs when the incumbent suddenly died. He organized bottle drives, camping trips, the best birthday parties with a small coterie of friends and showed me how to do things.

In short, both he and my mom were present. They were there for my brother and I. They had moments of despair through my teenage and early adult years and with good reason. They’re in for the long haul though and toughed out the difficult times. It’s the being present, the love, the constancy that makes all the difference. I’ve always felt that if I can do half the job my parents have done, I’ll be on the right path. Thanks again to you both.

On the same day my dad was celebrating his 75th, the people of Québec were mourning the passing of a cultural icon. Gilles Carle was getting a send off in style, a state funeral to honour his contributions to the world of cinema and Québec’s cultural tapestry.

I’m not a total philistine when it comes to the arts. Thanks to my love Mé I know a thing or two about Québec music, literature and film. Years ago I even worked at a film festival and once did a brief and enjoyable stint at the Canada Council for the Arts. All this to say that prior to his death, I had no awareness of Gilles Carle. I’m sure that I was not alone in my ignorance and that a majority of the population across the rest of Canada, cinema lovers included, were in the same boat.

The ‘two solitudes’ are still alive and well in our country. We’ve got a long way to go to bridge the gaps. Actions that foster a better understanding and awareness of our respective popular culture and arts scenes will help move us along in the right direction.

The National Film Board has made several Carle films available on line. I’m not sure how representative they are of his oeuvre but it’s a starting point. I enjoyed Patinoire’s quintessential winter playfulness and the breezy portrayal of a singular landscape in Percé on the Rocks. Both are shorts. There is also a selection of longer documentary and fiction films.

It’s never too late to celebrate what we have, or what we’ve lost. A breath of story can keep us moving sweet and preserves our memories of those who have danced their last waltz.

Is that a boa or a marsupial?

No need to ask Noah about the goings on at pre-school today. He came skipping out the door with his surprise. It’s a gorgeous mixed media piece, unmistakably a Christmas tree. The inverted ice cream cone provides the familiar shape. The fruit loops of many colours and the icing are decorative pièces de résistance. This is a Noel creation sans pareil. Even though each of his classmates had one, no two were the same. The application and colour of the icing and the placement of the fruit loops made each edible sculpture unique. Check the Hungry Housewife for an ice cream cone Christmas tree recipe and other fun treats for the kids.

Noah placed his work, complete with protective saran wrap covering, in the empty co-pilot seat. He wanted to ensure that it arrived home safely. When I asked what his plans were for the Christmas tree, his response was quite emphatic, “I’m going to keep it forever and ever and ever on top of my bureau.” No chance then of getting a taste of this delectable art. We’ll have to make sure to monitor its decomposition, or would that be deconstruction? It will undoubtedly adorn his bedroom beyond Epiphany but likely not have the molecular stamina to stick in until Easter.

Nellie-Rose was making art in parallel with big brother Noah. While he was at school, she had free rein with many coloured strips of plasticine. Mé and I got her underway with a standard three ball snowman then got fancy and popped a hat on top and stuck a couple of spindly arms on the middle ball. This is about as good as it gets for me with the plastic arts – just a basic no talent. Nellie added her own touch by slapping on a mouth that was just slightly larger than the head. This toying with scale, the playful manipulation of the materials are perhaps the forerunner of a budding cubist.

Older daughter Alexa has just concluded her first semester in the foundation year program at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. I was thinking of her earlier in the day and sent her a link to an article about Canadian artist Michael Snow from Saturday’s Globe and Mail. Michael sounds like a man who is still playful in the execution of his work, has fun and perhaps does not take himself too seriously.

Alexa is having fun of a sort too I’m sure. She’s working her little toosh off at school and then pulling shifts at a local cinema. She’s been happy with her school work and has been getting good grades. Recent projects include a materials assignment where she was trying to make clear bracelets out of a resin. No luck on the clear part – some learning though about the properties of various resins for hardening and colouring. She also recreated an 80s punk fashion photo shoot with the help of friends as models and stand-in tech folk. Lastly, a strike for public art when she spray bombed a marsupial on a school wall with the slogan ‘legalize eucalyptus’.

It’s certainly one way of making sense of the world, creating your own narrative and putting it out for display and interpretation. As you can see from the photos above our species has a knack for getting at this kind of thing from a young age. The adult world can just suck the ability to see, play and make correspondences right out of a person. Remember Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince and his boa constrictor that swallowed an elephant…

Elephants, swimmers, grampas and centennials

We’re just sitting here talking about Lila-Jeanne’s noises – not the gas inspired farts and burps, or the air squeezing through narrow passages giving life to snores and hiccoughs – no we’re talking the trumpeting, nasally charged noise that is Lila’s personal signature. There’s no telling when she’ll join the conversation with an insouciant riff just letting us know she is there.

Out shopping with maman this afternoon she was on a roll. She had a monologue going on loud enough for other shoppers to hear and then look around to find the source. When their eyes lit on Lila, Mé looked at them and said, “I’ve got an elephant here.” Yes, there were smiles.

It’s been a sporty day. Nellie and I went for our first swim together. This was a contentious issue for Noah last night before bedtime and all morning from wake up to school drop off. There was some behaviour on the loose and well articulated unhappiness pointedly delivered about his absence from the pool excursion.

Nellie had a blast skimming along the water’s surface like a boatman supported in papa’s hands. Then she saw the slide. It was a must do. Nellie and another girl were taking turn about and watching each other’s exploits as they whizzed down and landed with a splash in their respective parent’s outstretched arms. The perpetually wet plastic makes the ride slick and speedy. Nellie leaned too far back on one of her descents and banged her head on the slide hard enough to make the tears flow.

After some hugging, buoy like bobbing and softly spoken words we made new fun over at a basketball net. Nellie was the champion player coming in to the basket with ball firmly gripped in both hands. Just as we approached, I whooshed her out of the water, lifted her to the full extension of my arms and watched as she slam dunked the ball through the hoop. This was a repeat many times activity capped with a giggle each time she threw the ball through the hoop.

Before our session was over, there was rafting on a large size float board, sliding on a ‘baby’ slide, soaking in the shallow, warm pool, more swimming in the water with papa and, at Nellie’s request, a final conquest of the nasty, head bump slide. The final whooshes were without incident, a sure indication that there will be more sliding and gleeful squeals on subsequent visits.

We popped into Canadian Tire on the way home – two visits, in two days. There could be a trend developing here. I feel a third visit coming on tomorrow to swoop up one of the new $1 coins that will be available December 5 and 6.

Coming out of the store, a fellow shopper looks at Nellie in my arms and asks me, “Grandad?”

“No, I’m the dad,” I reply.

“Yes,” he says with a laugh. “I had a girl when I was 44. She’s 19 now.”

“I know what you mean,” I say. “I had a girl at 52. She’s just two weeks old.”

“Wait, you mean two years don’t you?” he says pointing at Nellie.

“No, this is a new baby I’m talking about. It’s her little sister. Got it all figured out how this happens now though,” I say with a grin.

This causes some more laughter. “You have a great time with those girls and enjoy your day,” he says as we part ways and head for our respective vehicles. This was my first taken for a grampa by mistake encounter. There will be many more of those in the years ahead.

What better way to end the evening than to watch les Glorieux thump the Bruins on the centenary of the club’s founding. Les Canadiens have a mythical stature in professional sports that is beautifully captured in Roch Carrier’s The Sweater, a great story and a wonderful NFB animated short. Unlike Carrier, I would have been thrilled to receive a Maple Leafs jersey by mail order catalogue when I was a boy. Living in Toronto I was a natural Leafs fan and on occasion sat in the Greys at the Gardens for an Original Six dust up.

It was all class tonight at the Centre Bell. This was a time to recognize great individual achievements and team efforts, to pay respect to the players, the fans and the game. Two more banners were raised high above the ice surface to join the timeless immortels. Émile Bouchard (3) and Elmer Lach (16) joined 13 other former Habs whose numbers have been retired. Bouchard’s son Pierre, also a former Canadiens, wheeled his father onto the ice for the ceremonies. Toward the end of the celebration the elder Bouchard blew kisses to the crowd. A moment of tenderness, love and thanks. What a night, what a franchise, what a treasure.

Skating dervish

We’re back at the rink – our earliest arrival yet. It’s three days pre Copenhagen, a balmy 14°C in Halifax under torrential rain. I wonder what the cumulative environmental impact is of all the ice making machines across the country. That’s a wondering I’m sure the WWF could help to answer.

We skittle quickly from the car to Cole Harbour Place. I’m down on my knees in the stands trying to get the lad’s skates on. “Papa, it’s taking a long time,” says Noah with a note of impatience as I fumble with his laces. As soon as the last skate is tightened he scoots off his seat and walks confidently to the open door at ice level. I set him up with a chair and he’s off.

It’s a great skate. Only eight falls this morning – a good thing as I forgot his rain pants. Best of all two unassisted jags of self-propelled blading for about 10 meters a shot. It’s a ‘look ma, no hands’ moment. Noah is beaming. His confidence is buoyant, yet measured. He’s still prone to the unanticipated vagaries of a treacherous slip, sliding smooth iced surface. A few times he calls out, “Papa, did you see, I nearly fell? I nearly fell, did you see?”

Today he’s not interested in being pushed around seated in a chair. He takes two short breaks in the stands to slake his thirst and then back onto the ice. It’s all about moving around the rink today, pushing with those muscled little calves and getting a better bead on steering that sometimes unpredictable chair.

He doesn’t want the end to come and asks, “Why does it always have to have an end?”. He does have the distinction this time of being last off the ice. There is a bonus too. The zambone as he calls it does its sweeping, brushing and mini-flooding. We wait until it’s all done and then make a quick hit at the library – movies for maman and papa, Curious George for Noah and toddler books for Nellie-Rose.

We hit Canadian Tire on the way home. A couple just leaving the ice when we arrived at Cole Harbour Place noticed that Noah had no face mask on his helmet. They highly recommended we get one as it provides better protection. There have been a few accidents among the pre-school crowd resulting in teeth getting knocked out and bloody lips. Noah and his helmet are now inseparable.

As soon as he wakes from his nap, he goes straight for the shiny black head gear. We snap it on and he starts calling out to maman, “Can you hear me, can you hear me now?” He then takes a few steps away from us and repeats the questions. We let him know that his wearing of the helmet neither impedes our hearing , or the ability of his voice to carry over distance. It’s like the helmet is glued to his head. He wants it on, on, on and asks, “How do goalies eat?” For starters we tell him that no one eats on the ice. It’s really about removing the mask.

Nellie is pretty nonplussed about the masked, helmeted brother. She takes it all in stride. She cracks us up a couple of times in the course of the day. At one point, maman admonishes her for having her finger buried up her nose. Nellie pulls her finger out, holds it up for inspection and says, scrunching up her face to maximize the cute effect, “It’s a mouse, squeak, squeak, squeak.” The ‘mouse’ line is now her standard response when asked about the finger in the nose. The show and tell and the squeak, squeak, squeak are a new twist from her ever expanding bag of tricks.

A short while later, Nellie is getting up close and personal with the kitchen floor. Her keen eyes discover a brown mark and she cries out in alarm, “Oh no, dog caca, dog caca.” Fortunately she’s mistaken. The stain is residue from an errant drop of one of maman’s beloved chocolate fondues.

Nellie is truly velcro sister. Whenever Lila is accessible, Nellie is right there. She is kissing, stroking, touching, poking, petting, tickling, rocking and anything else she can dream up. It’s all very loving but we need to have eyes in the back of our heads to make sure that Lila is not being crowded by big sister’s exuberance. It’s a joy though to see the pure delight that illuminates Nellie’s face when she’s close to her Lila.

Lila is two weeks old today. She is beautiful tout court. Cradled in our arms, her eyes are searching, constantly moving across our faces. She is a quiet baby, a hungry baby, an absolutely adorable baby. We are all madly in love with her.

As for Noah, seeing that he is fast as lightening, I might have to start calling him flash.

Cool runnings

Tomorrow Noah and I will be lacing up for the third time this season. We’ll be skating round and round and round the ice surface at Cole Harbour Place – Sid the Kid’s old haunt. We had a couple of sorties last winter. They were outdoors at Frog Pond and the Kiwanis Park on the Caldwell Road. They were not overly successful venues to actually getting our hockey mad lad to learn how to skate.

After just two times this year, the learning has gone exponential. Earlier in the week he was out on the ice for a solid 45 minutes. He keeps his balance through the age old Canadian tradition of leaning on a chair. On two occasions he went half way around the rink without falling. When he does lose it – the balance that is – 30 or 40 times a session, he’s a real champion about picking himself up and dusting himself off. So far, he’s managed to retain his patience, his sense of humour and not get discouraged. By my estimation, Noah will be skating unaided by props within the next few weeks.

We’re fortunate that the rink is virtually deserted during the morning public skate hour. There are no worries of Noah getting inadvertently knocked over by a passing skater as he veers off any semblance of a course and winds up going opposite the prevailing direction. There are quite a few other kids using a chairs as props also. He’s not alone and this is a good feeling.

He’s excited about his accomplishments to date as am I. I think he’s doing fantastic but I’m not sure if I’m providing him much beyond encouragement. Right now it’s about Noah-David getting comfortable out on the ice. The fact that he never wants to leave is a pretty good indicator that this one is just about in the bag. The letting go of the chair and general teaching to skate will be the hardest part. My dad did a fine job teaching me even though he never clapped eyes on a pair of skates until he emigrated to Canada from Scotland in his early 20s.

I’m sure Noah and I will sort things out. There are some helpful sites to give parents a hand. Canadian Parent has an excellent article on Teaching Your Toddler to Skate. Wondertime also provides some practical tips. I’ll be putting some of these into practice tomorrow.

Noah is fast like an éclair he says – a bolt of lightening. Given a little time and some practice, I have no doubt that Noah will be able to give even Anthony Lobell a run for his money.

On your marks, get set, go… Watch out Olympians.