Parking

There is so much to love about summer. There’s plenty to dislike, too. Like mosquitos. And hornets who build a nest under the deck and sting you when you try to weed the garden. And rabbits who eat all the parsley before you even realize it has begun to grow in earnest.

But there’s so very much to love about summer, and love it we do! One of our favourite things to do is to grab our well-loved rainbow blanket and some tennis rackets, maybe the badminton set too, pack a lunch and a book or three, and head over to the park from a lazy afternoon.

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We love that park. With tennis courts, big fields, a baseball diamond, swings, teeter-totters, many lovely shade trees, and not one but two climbers to play on, it’s a great place to hang out for a while. On our most recent visit, we didn’t play tennis. Instead, we played “whack the tennis ball.”

What? You’ve never heard of it? It looks rather like tennis. It’s played on a tennis court. Or not. You keep score. Or not. You have teams. Or not. You argue over whose ball is the bounciest. You argue over who gets the pink racket (neither of them want it). And you laugh a lot. (That part isn’t optional.)

We also did not play badminton. Instead, we played “whack the birdie” which, like “whack the tennis ball,” is rather fluid in its rules and regulations. This particular game was played while using a chain link fence as a net (though we did have our net with us, we were just enjoying being lazy too much to bother with setting it up). Getting the birdie stuck in the fence was worth an extra 5 points each time. Whacking the birdie at the fence and having it not get stuck, but rather go right through the fence was worth an extra 10.

And we ate snacks, read books, and talked and talked and talked.

I do love a day of long, wandering conversations while hanging out at the park.

About half way through our lazy afternoon, we started to hear music. Not radio music, and not live music, but rather that particular poorly recorded and even more poorly played back jingle of show tunes and traditional children’s songs that heralds the arrival of…

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…the ice cream truck.

The kids were off in a flash, money in hand, and returned a few minutes later with drippy cones and huge smiles.

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Well, they were smiling, but they’re teenagers. Heaven forbid they smile for the camera.

So what do you love about summer?

 

On the wonder of flying things

Do you remember how, in this post, I might have mentioned that I think I need a flying car? My son had build one out of Lego and proceeded to spend a good 597 seconds explaining all the features and extolling the virtues of said flying car.

He was so in love with his flying car (which, I might mention, took far fewer Lego pieces to build than it took seconds to describe) that he went on and on telling me about it.

He was so in love with his flying car that by the time he finished telling me all about it, I was sort of in love with his flying car too.  A lot. Enough to want one of my very own.

Yes.

Well.

I think I’ve changed my mind.

Our young man recently turned 12 and for his birthday, his father bought him another flying thing. Not a bird, oh no! He bought him a quadcopter. You’ve seen them, I’m sure — remote controlled helicopters with 4 equal-sized rotors instead of one large and one small. They are odd looking in the extreme, some of them. They are expensive in the extreme, some of them. You can get Bluetooth enabled programmable quadcopters with video and still cameras capable of doing all sorts of stunts and capturing all sorts of images.

Like what your roof looks like. Or what your tree looks like when seen from overhead. Or what you look like, head tipped up towards the sky, remote controller in your hands, mouth smiling widely as the copter hovers overhead like a bizarre sort of bumblebee.

We didn’t buy that model.

No, we bought a much simpler (and cheaper!) version that does have a camera, but you have to take the micro-SD card out and download the photos to your computer. No live streaming over Bluetooth, no sirree. No live webcam of your amazing flying skills and spectacular scenery.

Which is probably a good thing.

The first time we took the quadcopter out of the box, we managed to get it to go a little bit up in the air before it crashed into the coffee table. Then the bookshelf. Then the television. It got stuck in the loops of the carpet. It got stuck under the ping pong table. It drifted lazily a few inches above the floor with one motor not activating as much as the other, giving it a very definitive sideways tilt. And then giving it a very definitive crash, with rotors popping off and everything.

Luckily, the rotors pop back on just as easily.

The next time we flew the quadcopter, we flew it outdoors. A little afraid of losing it, and with the battery already half used up from our previous flight, we didn’t get very far. Though we did take a lovely photograph of the blurry gray expanse of road in front of the house (right before coming in for a crash landing on that very same pavement right in front of our house).

The third time we flew, we had a little more success, finally mastering the fine art of gaining height and steering well enough to keep the quadcopter from crashing into landing on the roof. Though we apparently still suck at the landing thing and had to reinstall the rotors more than once after coming back to earth more forcefully than we intended.

The fourth time, K ventured out with a dear friend of ours who happily engaged in an hour’s play. He, being adult and male and rather engineering-minded (and having not spent his own money for the quadcopter), was willing to push things further than this cautious Mama was, just to see what was possible (and much to K’s delight).

Together they flew high and fast and far, zipping this way and that, taking photographs and hoping they turned out to be something more than a blur of pavement.

And then they landed the quadcopter in a tree.

They rescued it with a hockey stick and kept flying until the battery gave out, and K couldn’t be more delighted with his new hobby. He can’t stop talking about it. Or flying it. Or talking about flying it. Or talking about the photographs he took while he was flying it.

He is so in love with his quadcopter that after listening to him go on and on and on for about 587,692 seconds this time, I am sort of in love with it too. Though after listening to him tell me in great detail (and with much laughter) about all the times and all the places he has managed to crash his quadcopter…

…I think I can do without a flying car, thankyouverymuch.

At least until they figure out how to take the plunging-wildly-to-your-doom part of flying cars out of the equation.

Morning thoughts

A few mornings ago, while the rest of my little family slept cozily in our tent, I walked along the riverbank and soaked in the feeble warmth of the early morning sun as it slanted across the river. I watched chipmunks chase each other from branch to branch while a plump red squirrel chattered in annoyance. The stringy croak of a frog broke the air every few minutes and a young crow let out its characteristic “caw” in protest of something or other.

Nearby gulls blithely ignored the crow, too busy enjoying their feast of minnows and snails to bother with him. Their webbed feet left perfect impressions in the soft sand at water’s edge. As I walked along, alone in my early morning explorations, I saw another set of footprints interspersed with theirs, but as familiar as my own, if somewhat smaller. I was not the first person up and about that morning, it seemed.

I followed the footsteps for a while and spied a larger, shod set had kept pace with the smaller bare feet, my own belatedly adding to theirs. I gave the gulls a wide berth, enjoying the sight of them fishing and socializing too much to wish to scare them off with too close an approach. Thirty feet or so was plenty of distance, for while they sent the occasional watchful glance my way, they otherwise ignored me.

Not so the blue heron who, at a distance of 100 feet or more, took suddenly to wing, abandoning its spot among the reeds in favour of the distant and perhaps more peaceful shore.

Not a minute later, I spotted a second heron wading among the cattails while something unseen (but not unheard) made the bushes at my back rustle and branches snap. This heron, too, took wing before long.

There were treasures of a different sort to be found as well. The graceful spiral of a snail’s shell. The carcass of a dragonfly with a blood red body and gossamer wings edged in black and shimmering in the morning light. A single feather, black as night and as long as my forearm from wrist to elbow and belonging to the young crow perhaps. An orchid, rare and endangered, native to my home province and glowing sweetly orange from amidst a tangle of green leaves. A stone, somewhat thin and mostly round that gave me 5 good skips across the water when thrown just so.

It is hard to put into words how much I love the quiet wonder of the world we live in. These woods and rivers, the crisp air of an autumn morning on the side of a mountain, the steep rise of a rock outcropping leading to an even steeper plunge into lake water so clear it is as if there were nothing at all between you and the fish hovering some 15 feet below.

I love the city too, though it often saddens me. There is much of the natural world to be found hidden in its concrete and steel embrace. Spiderwebs on street signs. Bird nests on window ledges. Raccoons and mice and, yes, rats, too. Birds flying high or waddling along in search of the scraps we people leave behind. Bees big and small, busily moving from flower to flower, uncaring if they are ornamental or merely weedy volunteers springing up in the cracks of a sidewalk, ensuring that the wild daisies and stinging nettles and flowering crab apples will fruit and go to seed again this year as they did last. Butterflies sipping eagerly at puddles or water on the side of the road. And fish in the storm drains, quicksilver in the murky water and just as eager as their river cousins to devour a little bit of bread dropped by happy little fingers.

Even in the midst of asphalt and steel with a dearth of wild trees and rambunctiously populated meadows, there is a plethora of wildlife to be found if you look for it, really look. It makes me marvel at the adaptability and resilience of God’s creatures.

There is a miracle here, happening everywhere and in every place at every moment. Life finds a way, in the city just as readily as on the riverbank, if not so abundantly. I feel like a child in its presence — small and surrounded by things far greater than I am, by events and happenings I do not yet fully grasp, and filled with a peaceful sense of joy at the beauty of it all.

And my words, as always, feel so inadequate when faced with so much wonder.

Strawberry season

The Man We Call Dad loves strawberries. For the past few weeks, he has been wondering almost daily when strawberry season would begin. And nevermind that I had planted strawberries in our back garden and he could simply take a peek outdoors to see if there was a flash or two of red… oh no! The Man We Call Dad has been suffering the most powerful hankering for strawberries you’ve ever seen. A few berries at a time would not be enough. He wanted baskets of them.

Last Sunday, with Auntie N as a happy accomplice, he got his strawberries.

As for me, I have never really liked strawberries. I suspect I am slightly allergic, as every time we go picking them, I wind up with an itchy rash on my forearms. So while The Man We Call Dad was off picking out the most perfect basket of strawberries he could find, I took photos of the fruit farm’s funny little house in the hill.

Yes, in the hill. See?

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Bagpipes, brass bands, horses, and more…

Have you ever had a day that you know perfectly logically is an unusual sort of day that only happens once a year, yet at the same time feels so comfortable and familiar that it sort of feels like coming home?

The day before the first of July, we took Auntie N to the RCMP stables for the Sunset Ceremonies. They take place only once a year here in Ottawa, and it is well worth going. The police band plays, there is a pipe and drum band performance, and agility dogs and horse jumping and other skills, plus the RCMP demonstrates some of their more technical skills, including chasing down a bad guy in a minivan amidst much noise and smoke and cheering. The main event is the Musical Ride, and oh, is it ever something to see! I never tire of watching those beautiful horses wheel around in all sorts of patterns.

They perform on Canada Day every year as well, but the crowds tend to be crazy and unless you are willing to stake out a spot very, very early in the morning, you won’t see much more than the tips of their standards as they gallop and wheel around the front lawn of Parliament Hill.

But on the day before Canada Day, settled comfortably in our camp chairs on a little grassy knoll overlooking the performance grounds at the RCMP stables…

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When that pipe and drum band marched in, I just knew that I was exactly where I needed to be for the next couple of hours.

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There is something about listening to bagpipes and drums that makes my heart happy. The dancers were lovely, too, but it is the band that makes me settle further back into my chair with a smile on my face and a deep sense of joy resonating through my core.

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The kids liked watching the dogs get put through their paces. They liked sitting in a truly all terrain ATV, too.

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And when a minivan darted out onto the field with RCMP in tactical vehicles in hot pursuit, K practically vibrated with excitement.

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The Musical Ride is, of course, the highlight of the evening, and I never tire of watching them wheel and turn and charge as they run through the patterns that make up their performance.

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But I think the highlight of the evening this year had nothing at all to do with what was happening in front of us. In fact, it took place while we were waiting for the show to start.

While waiting for the performance to start, I pulled out a couple of bottles of nail polish I had stashed in my bag before we left and I went to work on B’s fingers, to her great delight.

Or rather, it would become her great delight, but at first, it involved much negotiating.

Or arguing, depending on your point of view.

“But Mama, I don’t want white nails!”

“Yes, you do.” I told her.

“No, I don’t!” she insisted. “I want something colourful! Like pink! Or purple sparkly polish!”

“No you don’t.” I told her, and I started painting her nails white. She resisted. I ignored her resistance. “Just trust me. Be patient. You’ll love it.”

She gave me the most skeptical look a 10 year old has ever given their mother in the entire history of 10-year-olds’ skeptical looks.

But she let me do it. And after the white had dried and she, still frowning, expressed once again her great doubt about the benefits of white nails while I got out the red and started working on the second layer.

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Canada flag nails. I gave my daughter Canada flag nails for Canada Day. We did the first hand in one direction, and the other hand in the other direction, because I wasn’t sure which would look better.

She loved them.

She loved them so much, she insisted I take a photograph of them.

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She loved them so much that when Auntie N offered to snap a quick family portrait, she held up her nails to make sure the camera wouldn’t miss them.

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Personally, I didn’t notice them. I was too busy being blinded by my children’s beautiful smiles.  We do like attending the RCMP Sunset Ceremonies oh so very much.

 

 

The First

The first of July is our nation’s birthday. Living in the capital as we do, I can tell you first hand, it is one heck of a party! This year, we were joined by one of my sisters and the kids were thrilled to have their Auntie N along for the celebration.

Within minutes of arriving downtown, we found a little crowd clustered around the most unexpected collection of characters just hanging around for photo ops:

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The Canada Aviation and Space Museum is currently showing the Star Wars Identities exhibit and it is on my bucket list of cool things to go see this summer.

We worked our way closer to the Parliament buildings and the main stage where all sorts of concerts and speeches and things were happening.

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We saw the Sky Hawks parachute in…

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… the Governor General’s Foot Guards…

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…the Snowbirds did a couple of flybys…

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…and we even saw Superman. Yes, it’s true, The Man In Steel himself was there, riding on his daddy’s shoulders:

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Later on, once we had tired of the main stage shows and overhead acrobatics, we had a picnic lunch and wandered around watching street performers and hanging out with K’s favourite statuary display and trying on their hats, before heading home to get out of the crowds and the heat and rest up for the evening.

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Later on, we returned to the downtown core to find that the crowds, while thick, were not nearly so terrible as last year when it was standing room only with people jammed together as tightly as you can imagine.

We had room to walk around, to take in the sights and the performers, and we even found a nice little grassy spot at Major’s Hill Park where we could settle in and listen to a concert before the fireworks.

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I hope you and your family had a lovely Canada Day yourselves, and for our friends and family in the USA, that you had a lovely 4th.

Thunderstorms and plans gone awry

Today was supposed to be a day full of thunderstorms and rain and with two children fully rested now after a few days of no school, I spent last night planning and plotting as to how I could keep them suitably entertained and exercised while at the same time finding enough hours in the day to get my own work hours in.

Mother Nature, of course, declined to cooperate, and our day, while not at all what we planned, turned out to be marvelously wonderful.

The children slept in, as they have been lately, and I managed to log several hours of uninterrupted work before they started moving around. Then, while they lounged about in pyjamas playing on various electronic devices (a luxury resulting from Mama being hard at work and not entirely paying attention to anything other than the fact that they were quiet and hadn’t ventured out of their rooms), I kept working as long as I could.

I fully expected I would soon be interrupted, but I wasn’t.

Instead, I was distracted by a car pulling up across the street and some familiar-but-not-recently-heard voices. Our neighbours were finally, at long last, home!

They have been away for 3 years in Germany, you see, and we have missed them. The kids have grown enormously, though their adorable faces are still recognizably them in the way that kid faces tend to be, while at the same time being oh-so-different and more grown up and a curious mixture of welcoming and shy.

What else was a Mama to do but shriek with joy, bully the kids into real clothes, and rush outside to dispense hugs and hellos and more hugs in the midst of much happy chatter.

And, with the rain keeping its distance despite the almost suffocating humidity, the whole gang of us — two Mamas and six kids and a wagon full of sand toys and soccer balls and water bottles and snacks — headed up to the park for a good long romp (and a good chat) that somehow felt like we surely had done this just yesterday, even though it has been quite literally years since they were last home for more than a quick visit.

We kept looking at the sky, us Mamas, but the rains, though threatening in a sort of nonspecific hazy way, failed to arrive. The sun, while not shining brightly, exactly, was strong behind the oppressive overhead haze. We made tentative plans to go swimming in their pool after a quick bite of lunch and a few minutes of rest and off we went our separate ways… only to have the rains finally arrive at long last.

Out came my much delayed rainy day plans: A Lego challenge, and a movie-making adventure. I challenged them to build a car out of Lego, then use the movie app on the iPad to make a movie using their car.

They were excited at the prospect and immediately built a wonderful pair of vehicles. B’s is rather conventional, with four wheels, a driver behind a windshield, and a trunk complete with a suitcase full of money and a decapitated Lego minifigure head inside a motorcycle helmet.

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Because every Lego car needs a decapitated head and a suitcase full of money in the trunk, don’t you think?

B laughed herself sick when I declared it so, insisting that she had not put a decapitated head in her trunk. It was just a helmet. Like an ordinary helmet. It just so happened that the minifig head was stuck and so the helmet came with a head of its own.

But not a decapitated head. Just an ordinary head.

And couldn’t I just pretend that the head just wasn’t there?

K’s Lego vehicle was somewhat less traditional a car. It didn’t have wheels, for one thing. Landing gear, yes, but no wheels. And it flies. Because who says cars won’t fly in the future, right?

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I think I need a flying car.

And during the whole “Is that a decapitated head in your trunk?” conversation, he sat off to one side smothering his laughter behind a far too grown up look of amusement before finally taking his sister’s side and insisting that I must have misinterpreted the contents of her vehicle’s trunk.

I left them to their movie making then and got back to work myself while they made props and signs and gathered up Playmobil and other assorted pieces to assist with their movie.

They never did get to making the movie, though they’ve now got it all planned out — and it isn’t going to be a movie, I’ve been informed. It’s a movie trailer since those are shorter.

They might make the movie later.

Or not.

But they are definitely making the trailer.

As for the title of their movie about a car that flies and another car with a trunk that most definitely does not contain a decapitated head inside a motorcycle helmet?

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Yup. You read that right.

The Beheader #1.

Coming soon to a theatre near me.