Category Archives: skating

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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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.

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.

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.