Monthly Archives: February 2010

Skating in the Imaginarium

Noah’s pining for a skate. Since stepping off the ice at Parc Monseigneur-Nadeau’s outdoor rink, he’s been waiting to lace up again. Our regular morning outings at Cole Harbour Place aren’t happening for us this week.

His desire is palpable, bubbling, ready to burst. Noah usually pipes up once a day, “Papa, when are we going skating?” I don’t think we can wait until our next regular Cole Harbour date. I need to check other rink schedules for public skates.

In the absence of getting to the rink, Noah turns the family room and the upstairs hallway into his own private ice surfaces. This is a pretty standard move. They become the arenas for his beloved hockey games with myself, or Nellie-Rose as his doomed-to-lose opponents. The atmosphere here is quite heady with daily dosages of Olympic hockey and Noah’s own brand of early morning, mid-afternoon and evening indoor pick up games.

What is quite remarkable however is Noah’s invention of skates for floor surfaces. He fashions blades with Lego blocks and glides around the basement floor as if it was the most natural thing to do. By now I’m used to seeing Noah and Nellie on their multi-coloured blades but I continue to marvel at the inventiveness that has such transformative powers for Lego blocks. I no longer exclaim about the ingenuity of it all each time I see them but I still smile deeply at the imagination that makes this all possible.

Nellie-Rose is smitten with the new skating technology. She has no ‘real’ skates of her own and hasn’t been on the ice this year. These ‘skates’ put her and Noah on a level playing field. Her recent interest in hockey, gauged by her willingness to play with big brother, has gone through the roof.

The first series of the Lego skates was made with single blocks. Version 2.0 is made with double blocks making for a more comfortably fitting skate. There has also been some experimentation with the blades’ length. The longer blades are hinting at speed skates. Nellie is quite steady on her feet. She moves in an actual skating motion to get her and her Lego from place to place.

Noah takes his ‘skates’ to bed at night maybe in an effort to dream them into real blades. Our lad’s imaginarium is certainly hard at play. It’s great to see him fashioning the world around him and having fun in the process.

This morning he thumped me 10 – 4 in the Eastern Passage gold medal Olympic Classic. That’s right, he was Team Canada.

I’ve got to track down the manufacturer and get myself a pair of those specialty skates for our downstairs scrimmages. Maybe they’ll help me win a game or two.

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Homeward Bound

We meander along the 20, the 185 and the 2 over three days to get ourselves back to The Passage. The leisurely pace cuts down on the long hauls buckled up in the car and allows for extended lunch stops – read play breaks for Nellie and Noah, sanity time outs for maman and papa.

Our guys actually do very well on long trips. Our newest recruit, Lila-Jeanne, is in constant snooze mode. We rarely hear a noise from her. Whenever there is a little stirring, big brother gives her a light stroke on the cheeks and expertly administers the soother to get those sucking muscles back into a calming tempo.

We pull into Rivière du Loup’s Quality Inn our first night. They have a trio package just for us – swimming pool, continental breakfast and high speed internet. Noah and Nellie love paddling and splashing. The time in the pool is a healthy release for all the pent up energy accumulated over the hours in the car.

After a good night’s sleep it’s hard to contain the enthusiasm of discovery in the small eating area. Nellie and Noah are ricocheting from the plates and the cutlery, to the fruits, to the muffins and then buzzing about deciding on seating arrangements. Once the table is selected, it’s time for the settings. They are exuberant, boisterous despite my feeble attempts to contain their energy. From the smiles at the tables around us, it seems there are no serious disappointments on the lost opportunity of a quiet breakfast. With full bellies we’re ready to roll to New Brunswick.

Noah and Nellie have books, drawing games, plush buddies, their own MP3 music player and each other to keep themselves entertained. There’s a certain tipping point though where questions become the de rigueur means of whiling away the time for Noah. Questions rocket out of his mouth like there is no tomorrow. It’s as if he is acquiring knowledge at an accelerated rate to store up for future reference. Each answer from the passenger seat begets another question from our lad.

Noah – Why is there a moose on that sign?

Me – It warns drivers that there are moose in the area.

Noah – Why do drivers need to know that?

Me – Sometimes the moose cross the road and that can be dangerous for drivers.

Noah – Why don’t we ever see any moose?

Me – They’re deep in the woods and usually come out at night.

Noah – Why do they come out at night?

Me – Because there are less cars and less noise.

Noah – Why does that sign have a way bigger moose?

Me – Because there are more moose in this area.

Noah – Why are there more moose here?

Me – Maybe the forest is thicker, or there is more food for them to eat?

Noah – What kind of food?

He’s really on a roll now and before we’ve clocked another couple of kilometres, my head will be spinning. I know it’s time to invoke the silence zone and give our weary ears a rest from the rapid fire grilling.

I play the silence card and it works – for about ten minutes. The question factory jumps right back to peak performance producing high volumes. Where are the authentic, wild woodsy moose posing by the roadside when you really need them?

We are saved by a Burger King pit stop in Grand Falls. There’s an excellent play area for kids with climbing, crawling and sliding apparatus. It is becoming a New Brunswick rite of passage for us. Nellie is now able to get through the entire set up with just a little help from Noah. Her skills have improved since the last time we dropped in on our way to Québec.

Another favourite on our Halifax – Sorel treks is the McDonald’s in La Pocatière just west of Kamouraska when traveling from the Maritimes. They’ve got a snowboard ride with an animated course that both kids love. The bakery in Kamouraska has excellent fare but is only a seasonal operation.

Hotels are synonymous with pools for us. Fredericton’s Delta gets high marks because they have a wading pool of approximately 250 square feet that is a wing of the main pool. This trip we stop on the way there and the way back. It’s our last night before we hit The Passage and fun is in the air. On this evening their game is to throw a small rubber whale and turtle from their pool into the main pool. Papa’s charge is to lunge after these missiles of love and lob them back into the holding pool. There are plenty of squeals as I thrash about in the water on my retrieval missions. Every four or five throws, Nellie implores me to rescue her waterlogged, sinking turtle from its slow descent to the bottom. There’s a lot of giggling and shouting as they race after the animals when I throw them back. We all enjoy the wetness and the laughs and head back to the room satisfied with a good night’s play.

We’re off to a leisurely start for our last day on the road. We have some minor frustrations accessing Harvey’s on Regent St. on the way out of town. It seems like the place is situated to cater only to the car traffic coming down the hill toward the river. Mé expertly navigates a detour to allow me to sate my craving for one of their burgers. Harvey’s is a favourite from years ago that was rekindled this winter wonderland tour on our way to visit with Jean, Cadi and gang in Ville Mercier.

Noah is in a question crescendo as we roll along the TransCanada. Lila is seemingly oblivious to the ride. Nellie is mostly contemplative. At Sackville’s coffee stop, I bump into a former professor. It’s the second time in three years that I see him at this Tim’s. He’s retired now but still involved in his first love the Tintamarre theatre. As infrequently as it happens, I always enjoy a few words with Alex. He brought verve, excitement and passion to our stage experiences and imbued us with the love of language, of story and the confidence to strut our stuff.

We’re only a couple of hours away from home sweet home. It’s blustery over the Cobequid Pass and clear sailing from Truro to The Passage. There’s been a dump of snow in the last 24 hours. I’m wondering if we’ll be able to power our way through what is on the driveway. I’m not relishing breaking out a shovel. Joy of joys, the driveway is clear and a path is made right up to our front door. It’s the best welcome home gift ever courtesy of Mé’s friend who took the time to come by and shovel.

We’re back at the OK Corral and ready to crash in our own beds.

Winterluding

The days are clear and bright as crystal. Each step crunches as we break through the old snow’s crusty covering. The powder underneath is a fine spray of fresh wisped away almost weightlessly, each flake a granule of geometric perfection. There is a lightness in the air, a cleansing crispness that shines and sculpts faces buffing cheeks and furrowing creases.

An unrehearsed symphony weaves its way in diminishing waves across open spaces. The refreshing crack of pucks and children’s voices are counterpoints to the traffic releasing us from its drone. Slapshotting sticks, squeals of laughter, skates spraying to a stop float across the white expanse. This soundscape rings true like impromptu celebrations, breathless victory dances and joyful embraces of fun.

We are getting a high quotient of snow and ice time over the last couple of weeks. I’m enjoying plenty of kid flashbacks to winter days in North York – extreme tobogganing, outdoor hockey, snowball fights, frozen feet and perpetually wet mittens, the standard stuff.

There have been windows of winter wonder in the adult years just nothing sustained. Alexa and I had a few Citadel Hill sledding adventures and had a blast of Winterlude in Ottawa when we lived there. Halifax is not a blustery winter place. There was no snow on the ground when we left at the end of January. We can’t really lay claim to a deep of winter tradition unlike the culture in Québec as immortalilzed in the Gilles Vigneault classic, Mon Pays.

Sorel has a strong recreation program that maintains several outdoor rinks with boards, lighting and cabanes for changing and warming up. We’ve checked out Parc Nadeau and Parc de la Rivière and have been eyeing the rink at Parc Bibeau. It’s the largest of the ice surfaces we’ve seen.

The skating and hockey are Noah activities. It’s quite amazing the leaps he has taken on our few capades on the ice here. We’ll get Nellie-Rose out next year. By that time Noah will be skating with the greatest of ease and we’ll be able to focus all of our attention on our new skater. Noah will be there to give her a helping hand too.

Neliie-Rose is getting some quality sliding in. The hill is just a short walk from rue Hébert. Raymond and I pull the kids up and give them a little push down. We’ve got the legs for about 20 trips. The kids are still going strong when we start to beg off. Toward the end, Nellie is tumbling off the back of the sled on the way to the top. Our only clue that something is up is Noah’s infectious laughter. When we turn around from our beast of burden duties, there is Nellie sprawled on the hill giggling about 15 metres away.

At the bottom of the run, where the squeals of delight start to trail away, the flats are a sheet of ice. Some of the smooth spots prove tricky for Nellie to keep her footing. She does well though only landing on her bum a couple of times. She improvises a little skating routine pushing her feet out and to the sides in an alternating sequence. She nails the movement and has a nice skating flow on the go minus the blades.

The day before our departure, we are treated to a St. Valentine’s Day sleigh ride. La tante Danièle takes the reins and King and Prince, the gentle giants, pull us along the back trails. It’s a greatly anticipated family adventure in a class all its own. We’re out for over 2 hours and even though it’s a toasty -8 °C and the trees cut the wind to a whisper, I’m very glad Mé ensures I’m wearing the proper gear.

There’s a big gathering at La Halte today. Four sleighs, six horses, five or six dogs and about 25 people are milling about the cabane. There’s a wood stove inside burning hot, bubbling chocolate for fondue with strawberries and pineapples. Hot dogs, toasted buns and all the fixings are the main course. Coffee with liqueur, champagne and beer are the beverages on offer.

There is lots of laughter and camaraderie. Danièle and Richard know everyone under this blue sky clearing. They are a passionate lot. They love their animals, the outdoors and the bonhomie of the woods and sweeping fields. Everyone is welcome to share a few moments of cheer, to befriend the cold, to imagine the days when sleighs ruled the countryside.

An older fellow comes to speak with Danièle. He has a horse he’s been trying to sell for two years, a ringer for King, he says. He wants to know if Danièle is interested. Danièle extends her arm, “My team is here. King and Prince pull this sleigh. I’m not looking for any other horses.” It’s a no pressure pitch. The old guy says, “You never know, he’s getting old…” Danièle is not biting. She’s polite and says she’ll keep in touch.

Out of reach of the horses, Noah, Nellie and Maxime are eyes to the sky, immersed in the snow waving their arms and legs in unison making angels. The white stuff’s powdery texture means no forts, projectiles, sculptures, snowmen, or other fun possibilities of this nature. Now that the yummy Krispy Kreme donuts have all been scarfed the younger adventurers are starting to get restless for this show to get back on the trail. There is one notable exception, Lila-Jeanne. She’s as quiet as falling snow, not a rustle, not a sound.

Noah’s favourite spot is the securely fastened saucer that drags, sometimes flies, behind the sleigh. It glides in a bumpity-bump fashion over everything including generous quantities of road apples in various degrees of freshness. Doris and Sam do whizz, buzz, zips skirting the saucer on each side at full run. Noah hears them charging and looks out of the corner of his eyes for the flash of balled muscles in full stride. They’re our outriders making sure everything is right.

Noah is riding the saucer like a pro. He gets a little additional speed and requests even more juice. Then it happens. The saucer is off the trail. He tips and at the same time King falls to his knees. Prince continues to canter dragging King and the sleigh. I run back for Noah. His tears are quickly dried with a kiss and a hug. He has snow up his nostrils and in his mouth. Despite the scare he hops back into the saucer and continues until we hit the road.

The woods are lively
Light and clear
But biting cold this time of year
I’ll keep you warm, I’ll hold you dear
I’ll not let go, I’ll keep you near.

Apologies to Robert Frost for the doggerel.

Super Hockey Friday

We have lived the dream.

Yesterday, the zamboni gods smiled upon us. In a hockey fuelled day it just kept on getting better and better. Not bad given that by midday we were seated rink side in Brossard watching a practice of les glorieux. There they were in all their paddingness, doing set plays, listening to Jacques and Kirk, getting mentally and physically prepared for today’s Super Bowl Weekend encounter with Crosby and his Penguins.

The previous evening’s victory was a close thing won in a shoot out against the Bruins. It was the first Noah-David had seen live. It set the stage for our Super Hockey Friday.

On our return to Sorel, we got some food into the little belly and headed over to Parc de la Rivière. The idea was to do some sledding and scoot around in boots on the outdoor rink. I brought the skates along just in case.

The playground equipment got a minor workout and then it was straight to the rink with skates on. It was everything he talked, hoped and dreamed about for the last few months.

He was skating with a hockey stick, his Montréal Canadiens puck, real goals and his grand-papa Raymond. No chair this time. His balance was good, his ankles straight. Light years of brightness were radiating from the smile bursting off his face. He took passes, scored goals, fell down, got back on his feet and skated the length of the rink. We were all six inches off the ice, floating on his exploits.

I tried to track down Yzerman’s number to see if there were any spots left on the big ‘O’ team but I couldn’t find it. Noah’s ready to go. I’m looking forward to our next visit to the rink.

Seeing is believing. Watch out Ovechkin.

on the road

eight days, one snowstorm, 1200 kilometres, two hotels, one friend’s house, two wins for the canadiens, three cities – three fast food joints – three provinces – four fill ‘er ups, frozen rivers, snowy highways, runny noses, one – ‘oh-oh we’re lost’, one, then two, then three sick kids all at once, two swimming pools, three crazy cold days, two changes of plans, 72 – ‘are we there yets?’, 27 – ‘me toos!’, 86 – ‘whys’, 131 smiles-giggles-laughs, 121 teardrops, 63 diaper changes, 11 fights over toys, 537 hacking coughs, two backyard hockey games, three sledding sorties, one batch of cupcakes, two craft sessions, five games of badminton, one snow-in-the-house activity, two frozen playground visits, two indoor playground romps, 20 outdoor hockey rink goals, one montréal canadiens practice, plenty of hugs and kisses for the kids from grand-maman and grand-papa, two bleary-eyed parents, three absolutely fantastic kids doing their best to roll with the program and, despite the fact that we’ve got nasty coughs and the occasional fever, balls and balls and balls and snowballs of winter fun……