Little knitter

We watched our little friend Dannika for a few days last summer. We were still living in Saint John and she came to stay at our house. She's a couple of years older than Henry, and so stayed up a little later.

I remember Erin had taken our kids into the bedroom while I sat up with Dannika. She was old enough to spend time by herself looking at books. While she quietly read, I hauled out my knitting.

After about 30 seconds, I could tell she was paying more attention to what I was doing than to her book.

"What are you doing?"


"What are you knitting?"

"Socks. For Henry."

"How do you do that?"

"Why don't you sit beside me and I'll show you?"

She plopped on the couch. I showed her the ball of yarn sitting beside me. She watched how it fed into my fingers, wrapped around them and got twisted up by the sticks to become sock. She was very patient and very curious.

"How do you know how to do that?"

"I read how to do it in a book. And I took a couple of lessons."

"Can you teach me?"

"You might find it a bit hard. It took me a long time to learn."

She looked disappointed.

"Would you like your own ball of yarn and some needles?"


She unwound the ball, wrapped it around her needles and moved them around in a knitting way. She kept looking up to what I was doing for pointers. We knit for a half-hour before it was time for bed.

It's been probably six months since I've seen Dannika; a lot has happened in her life in that time. She's been, literally, around the world and back. She and her family are back in Saint John again, and she's started to ask about knitting.

Her mum sent me a note today to tell me she's teaching herself to knit in order to teach Dannika. I wish I could be around to help, but I think the end result will be another two knitters in this world. Surely, that can only be a good thing.

Two low-grade fevers still like to dance

Jane joined Henry today on the infirmary list. They both have low-grade fevers and are moving relatively slowly. Jane especially looks cute with her flushed cheeks.

I got them ready for bed while Erin was out at a class. Henry insisted on yet another spin of Elvis Costello on the player. Bedtime quickly morphed into PJ dance party when "Pump it up" came on. Normally we have to put this song on repeat so they can keep a rockin'. Tonight they barely made it through one play.

Sick, silly kids.


Our house has been eerily healthy this winter. On my birthday, I found a year-old card some friends in Saint John gave me for my last birthday. It read:

Happy Birthday! I hope your little family is feeling better.

I had forgotten how sick our house was last winter. Sore throats, heavy chests, fevers, coughs. I don't think there was one week over three months that all of us were well.

Our neighbours two doors down had influenza all of last week. Several of my colleagues have been off with stomach bugs. Someone, whose office is just down the hall from mine, has had a deep, rattling cough for more than a week. And still, our house had been healthy.

Saturday we had a little party and I think every guest was just recovering from something. Four different strains of cold and flu came to wish me happy birthday.

We started to suspect the kids might be sick the next day. No symptoms, other than extreme crankiness. Yesterday, Henry threw a tantrum about everything (everything). It was almost a relief when I came home from work today to find him wrapped up in a blanket on the couch.

Weak smile. "I'm sick, Daddy. Feel my head."

"You're pretty warm, Cornbread. How are you feeling?"

"Ok. Mummy made me a warm apple drink."

He was pretty quiet all night. We read Little House on the Prairie to him for more than an hour. He was pretty tired, but still insisted on listing every team in the NHL before Erin carried him up to bed.

"Tampa Bay Lightning. Minnesota Wild. New York Rangers. Edmonton Oilers (they're a great team). Toronto Maple Leafs..."


Through his twenties, my dad always wanted to turn 30. Sure he was married, had four kids, owned his own farm, car, truck, tractor and dog, but Dad always thought you couldn't be taken seriously until you were 30.

I'm 30. My birthday was Friday. We had a little party on Saturday night. A nice mix of people with half a dozen kids running around the house. Over by 9pm. A Respectable Party.

It's been 15 years since I first read Leonard Cohen's "I Have Not Lingered in European Monasteries." My friend Josh once ripped a page out of The Spice-Box of Earth with this poem on it and gave it to me. I carried it around for many years and always had it taped to the wall beside whatever my current bed was. I haven't seen it in a few years, but I'm sure it's in a box somewhere.

It reads a little differently now than it did half my life ago. I'm no poet or critic, but it's what I've been thinking about as I turn Respectable.

Even though I've seen the movie

Henry tells me he doesn't want to go to Chelsea.

I think it's time to hide the Elvis Costello CD.

Henry quote

Upon waking up this morning:  It's a new day with snakes and robots.

The House at Poo Corner

Warning: potty talk ahead.

Jane's hit the stage in development where she's starting to gain control over her bowel movements. The hilarious part of this stage - and it seems almost universal - is that kids seem to need to be by themselves to take a poo.

Our little pal Sophie never liked to be far away from her mum, but still needed that privacy. Her solution: close the glass door to the TV room. I used to try to talk to her through the door during these moments when she was "away." She pretended I wasn't six inches away from her face.

The other universal is The Look. Absent, yet focused. Staring unblinkingly at a vague spot in the room. Holding half a breath. Cheeks slightly flushed with effort.

Jane has a spot in our kitchen she likes to go: behind the table, just barely out of view from the rest of the room. Erin calls it her Poo Nook.

Our first morning in Halifax, we had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. They sat us in a booth in the back corner (note: everywhere we ate sat us in a booth in the back corner. We felt marginalized the whole trip). Beside us was another booth that jutted out from the wall by about a metre. The jutting created a dead space that was almost perfectly hidden from the rest of the room. As soon as we sat down, Erin pointed it out as a perfect Poo Nook.

Sure enough, within ten minutes Jane was there. Absent, yet focused. Staring unblinkingly at a vague spot in the room. Holding half a breath. Cheeks slighly flushed...


I'm dripping with cliche when I say the best part of any trip is coming home. A half hour after walking through the door yesterday from Halifax and I was in a state of bliss.

Henry sat at the kitchen table working on a puzzle. Erin flitted in and out of the kitchen putting the flotsam of our trip back where it collectively belongs. Jane stood on her footstool beside me at the kitchen counter helping me mix pancakes for our Welcome Home Supper. I think it was Henry who suggested putting Elvis Costello on, genius child that he is.

Jane wiggled her little rump along to "Pump it Up." Henry, so glad to be home, sat shaking in his seat.

Erin ran in during "Radio Radio" just to give me an evil smirk while delivering the line:

And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools trying to anaesthetise the way that you feel

All is right. Drip, drip, drip.


We're heading to Halifax for a few days. Don't rob my house, ok? Promise?

It's the first time we've left the Island since moving here in September. I might not be near enough a computer to tell you about our adventures until I get home. Maybe an almanac....

By the way, you should see (and pat) Erin's belly. She's showing early and carrying high. Beeeautiful.

Smokey Mountain, a snow drift and That Jesus Song

I had a bit of an accident last night driving home from northern Cape Breton. Through the day, I kept monitoring the weather. It was bad, but not so bad to turn home early. Coming down the south side of Smokey Mountain just after sundown, it quickly went from kinda bad to stupidly bad.

The snow covered the road in a thin, slippery sheet. Months of passes by the snow plow have built great banks along both sides of the road. I tried to keep my speed as slow as possible, but I watched as momentum pulled the needle from 40 to 50 to 60. I dared not touch the breaks for fear of skidding.

The road slowly curved to the right. On my right was the mountain. On the left, not the mountain (read: scary dropoff).

There's no mistaking the feeling when you lose control of your vehicle. I could feel the back wheels start to drift. The back end of the car was coming around and I could tell it wanted to become the front.

At this point, a scene from Henry's favourite movie popped into my head: Pixar's "Cars." The scene where the old, gruff race car teaches the hot, young punk about 'push' steering: "If you turn your wheels far enough to the right, sooner or later you're going to start to turn left."

The car was now sliding nearly perpendicular to the sides of the road. I turned the wheel as hard as I could to the right. Sure enough, the front end slowly started taking control and moving left. It was, however, too late to avoid a crash. In the split second before I went into the drift, I thought to myself, "I wonder what this will feel like?"

The bank was probably 2 metres high. I splashed right through it. Most of the way, anyway. It was a reasonably soft landing. Nothing was broken on the car but I was seriously stuck. Even my all-wheel drive couldn't move me out.

I sat for a few minutes before calling roadside assistance. The woman in the call centre in some not-Cape Breton location had a hard time understanding "Cabot Trail", "Smokey Mountain" and "Cape Breton." I spoke slowly. She eventually got it. She told me it would be a couple of hours before help would arrive.

She was wrong. About an hour later, a friendly Caper in an extended-cab pickup truck came by. He had tow cables and managed to pull me out with little effort. I thanked him about 300 times, but forgot to ask his name. Thanks, un-named stranger.

The worst part came 40 minutes later when my car drifted across St. Ann's Bay on the Englishtown Ferry. Unbidden, the (absolutely vile) song "Jesus Take the Wheel" came into my head. It would not leave.


Erin has cut my hair for the last six years. She does a great job. It's a nice ritual to sit in the middle of the kitchen while she slowly trims bits of me away. She likes to take her time and I like her touching my head.

The kids make it difficult. We try to do it (the hair cutting) while they're napping. Often, the noise of the trimmers wakes them up. Then Erin rushes through the rest or tries to finish with a kid at her ankles. It's not as fun as it used to be.

Erin's friend recently recommended a men's hair place for me. They also cut kids hair, so we figured Henry and I could make a date of it. The first time he would just come to watch how it all works.

Now, when I hear men's hair place, I think barbershop. We showed up on Saturday morning to find a men's spa. I'm not really a spa guy, I thought.

I was wrong.

We walk into this funky den of grey, silver and black. Two women are on duty; one escorts Henry to his own chair, turns on the cartoons and heads into the back room to get him a cup of hot chocolate. The other puts me in the chair beside him.

She starts off with the buzzers, trimming around the edges. She swings the chair around 180 degrees (almost violently), tilts 'er back and washes my hair with water hotter than I'd ever be brave enough to spray someone with. Rather than wash, she attacks.

Towel dry. Scalp burn. 180 degree spin again. Scissors. Quick, sure cuts. It's going so fast, I almost ask her to slow down. But the best is yet to come.

"Sandalwood, mint, or unscented?"

I have no idea what she's asking.

"Um.. unscented."

"Do you have sensitive skin?"



I wonder what her response would be if I had said 'yes.'

Steaming hot towel. The shaving begins. Warm lather on a brush (unscented, I get it). The only disapointment comes when she gets out a safety razor instead of straight (they're apparently illegal in salons in NS). Shavy shave. Another hot towel. She even cleans out my ears.

"How was that?"

"Excuse me?"

"Your hair? How is it?"

"Oh." I forget why I'm here. I put my glasses on. It looks great. "Great!"

I remember I didn't come alone.

"You ok over there, Cornbread?"

Henry, open mouth, glaring at TV. Occasionally sipping chocolate.


Cartoons and hot towels? I'm pre-booking for next month.

almanac 11

A snow storm is blowing outside of my window as I type. About 15 centimetres of snow sits on my driveway waiting for me to shovel tomorrow morning. A small price to pay for how well I'll sleep tonight through the howling winds.

Here's one of my favourite Dennis Lee poems. It's called Like a Giant in a Towel:

When the wind is blowing hard
Like a giant in the yard,
I'm glad my bed is warm;
I'm glad my bed is warm.

When the rain begins to rain
Like a giant with a pain,
I'm glad my bed is warm;
I'm glad my bed is warm.

When the snowstorm starts to howl
Like a giant in a towel,
I'm glad my bed is warm;
I'm glad my bed is warm.

And when the giants realize
That no one's scared of their disguise,
They go to bed and close their eyes-
They're glad their beds are warm;
They're glad their beds are warm.

The Order of Good Cheer

That went well, I think.

The food was yum. The hockey was great. The camaraderie was nice.

We made a point of dividing up the hockey teams (Ptarmigans vs. Snow Geese) more than a week in advance to ensure pre-game rivalry. I was on a conference call one day last week when a member of the opposite team peaked his head in my office and yelled "Snow Geese Rule!" The other folks on the call were a bit confused.

More than one person commented that they hope this was the first annual Order of Good Cheer. A small victory.

almanac 10

Surprise!  Another 15 cm of snow overnight.  The world is right again.
Should have:  shoveled it before work.
Did:  sipped coffee while whooping Henry for 2 out of 3 games of checkers.