Dr. Dad

"Dad!" exclaims Alice, her eyes wide. "I'm going to puke!"

I look her up and down.

"No, you're not," I say.

"Oh, good," she sighs. "Let's play!"

Bear in the night

2:30 am.

Alice: Dad?

Me: Zzzzz.

Alice: Daaaad!

Me: Mph?

Alice: Is my bear right handed or left handed?

Me: Mzznff.

Alice: DAD.

Me: Mmm? Oh. She's right handed.

She sighs.

Alice: No, Dad. She's left handed.

French onion dip

In the kitchen.

Jane: What are you making?

Me: French onion dip.

Jane: Onion? Yuck.

Me: That's what I thought when I was your age, but French onion dip doesn't taste like the onions you're thinking of. It's deeeeeelicious.

Jane: What did you say the fist time you tried it?

Me: Something like, "Hey, this is pretty good!"

Jane: What did you say after that?

Probably, "Gimme some more!"

Jane: Tsk. Shouldn't you have said "please"?

Guinea pigs and mortality

Erin is reading a book to the kids. It's about guinea pigs.

Erin: "Guinea pigs usually live 3-5 years..."

Alice interrupts her.

Alice: Then what?

Erin: Well, then they die.

Alice: (distraught) GUINEA PIGS DIE?

Erin: Of course. Everything dies. Guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs...

Alice: (if possible, even more distraught) JAKE IS GOING TO DIE?

Erin: Well, yes. Someday. But everything dies. People die...

Alice: (maximum distraught) I'M GOING TO DIE?

Erin: Oh, gosh....

Alice understands what death is. She just hadn't considered that it happens to all of us.

We spent much of the day consoling her, as we did with Henry and Jane when they both realized the same thing.

I tried many of the same points I used when talking to Jane about it after Grandma D died. None of them worked on Alice. She would like to be 3 forever, thanks.

Trimming the tree, part two

Part one is here.

Is it all done?

Me: I don't think we could fit another ornament on it.

Henry: Let's turn out all the lights and look at it!

We run around the lower level of the house and flip off every switch. We all meet back on the couch.

Jane: Wow.

Henry: It is so beautiful. Let's all just be quiet for a minute.

It is a lovely tree, I think. What an absurd and beautiful tradition to bring a tree inside, wrap it in lights, and dress it with old crafts and memories.

Alice: Can I have a pet?

Trimming the tree, part one

Part two is here.

Erin sits on the floor beside an old familiar box. She is untangling decorations and handing them to impatient hands.

I stand next to the tree helping the kids hang their delicate treasures.

Alice is hanging every ornament from one branch. I move them when she's not looking.

Henry is beside himself. He is trying to find a way to suspend Lego figures from the tree.

Jane hangs a craft she made two years ago. She stands back to take it all in.

"Christmas reminds me of my whole life."

Moments earlier


8:04 am. I am already half an hour late for work. I stand at the bathroom sink rinsing out Alice's clothes. I am vaguely aware of Henry standing at the door.

Moments earlier

We all sit at the breakfast table. I am about to take my first bite of toast.

Alice: I don't feel good.

She projectile vomits all over everything. Herself. The table. Our breakfast. Erin.

Moments earlier

Alice: I'm hungry!

Me: How about a nice big bowl of yogurt?

Alice: Yay!

Moments earlier

Erin drags herself down the stairs. She looks tired.

Me: How are you feeling?

Erin: Exhausted.

Me: How is your cold?

Erin: Stupid.

Me: Oh, my love.

Three hours earlier

I am sleeping.

Jane: (whispered) Daaad. My stomach hurts.

I force my eye lids open with my fingers.

Me:  OK, Janey. Let's go to the bathroom.

One hour earlier


Henry: (whispered) Daaad. I think I messed my pants.

Me: (eyes popping open) OK, buddy. Let's go clean you up.


I am rinsing clothes. I curse our washing machine. Three weeks ago it began spewing blobs of oil onto our clothing. Our new washer won't be installed for another week.

Henry stands at the door.

Henry: Dad, want to see the pirate scene I made?

Me: I'd love to buddy. I just have to finish doing what I'm doing here.

He stomps his foot on the floor.

Henry: You only ever do what you want to do!

Whoops: the accidental blog post explained

Enough of you lovely readers caught my accidental post this morning about Henry's health that I feel I should explain. Henry has been sick for about three weeks (details below), and I was sending an email out to a bunch of concerned friends to give them an update. In the "to" field, I accidentally included the email address that updates Tomato Transplants. Hence: the accidental blog post.

So, what's wrong with Henry?

Short answer: we don't know. He woke up the night after Hallowe'en to an explosive stomach bug. Truly awful. It would last four or five nights, then stop for a few days, then come back worse than before. We took him from clinic to Emergency Room to clinic to doctor to x-ray to ER to ER. Finally, we were referred on to a pediatrician who has narrowed down three possible causes, all of which are treatable.

Two days after that visit, Henry is eating well and feeling good. He just begged me for a mid-afternoon bowl of cereal. ("Wellllllllll... okay.") We're keeping a close eye on him, but I think we've turned a corner.

Thanks very much for all the emails and messages of concern. You guys are the best guys.

Now back to the regular narrative of life.


Alice is sleeping. Erin is sure of it. Her breathing is slow and even. She lies completely still on her bed.

Just as Erin decides it's time to get up from this cuddlefest, she feels a tiny hand patting her on the back.

Alice: Mum, you're a great bro.

Cold cups of tea

Two cold cups of tea sit on the table in the kitchen.

We thought we'd have two minutes to share these cups of tea together. Two minutes when no one was screaming. When we weren't running sick Henry to the bathroom. When there was no stuff to do.

So naive.

Somehow, in the midst of the stuff that inevitably needs doing, we collide in the kitchen next to the cups of tea.

Erin: We'll be cats in the next life.

Me: Cats?

Erin: Yeah. You and me. And we'll live with a really nice family and they'll take great care of us. And you know what we'll do all day?

I am smiling.

Me: What?

Erin: We'll stretch out together in sunny patches. We'll only get up when the sun moves. We'll sleep on all the beds. All the couches. Warm spots on the floor. It'll be lovely. Together.

Me: I love you so damn much.

Her eyes are bright.

Erin: Cats. Remember.

We run off in our different directions. Stuff calls.

MOriginal Luv Songs

Yes, I am participating in Movember: the moustache-growing, prostate-cancer fundraising activity that's sweeping the nation this November. I am part of a great team of fellows (and one lovely Margaret) from my work called Taskforce Awesome.

Thursday evening, we announced on Twitter and Facebook that I would write an original song for the first four people who donated at least ten dollars to my Movember page (found at mobro.co/davyay). I'd write and record them over my lunch hour the following day. To whet the whistles of potential donors, I posted what I called my MOriginal Luv Song Sampler on YouTube. (watch it here).

Two of the songs were snatched up right away by my friends Christina and Melanie. By mid-morning Friday, the two remaining songs were purchased by generous donations from my friend Jenna, and an anonymous donor.

My good friend and colleague Neally (mobro.co/neal) is a video producer. He stood patiently by as I wrote the songs. As soon as one was finished, we'd record it. We recorded all four songs in about 40 minutes.

We did them all in one take, so there are, um, mistakes and stuff. But we chalked it up to spontaneity. Yeah, spontaneity.

I think #4 turned out the best, myself.

We had lots of fun, and raised about 150 bucks for the day. Taskforce Awesome leads our network at the University of Prince Edward Island, but we're not being complacent. No sir. I expect a mad rush at the end by the students. Our motto: slow and steady growth. Actually, our motto is "But, baby! I thought that you hated cancer!"

I guess we have two mottos.

Anywho. Donate, if you can! If you'd like to buy a song, stay tuned. We may do the whole thing again next week.

Bluenoser in Leamington

This story features my dad in Leamington, Ontario.

It is a rainy morning. It has rained for days. The forecast predicts nothing but more rain. Still, he's walking to work.

It's just a 15 minute stroll from his house to his office. Not a big deal on any other day. But it is wet. It is cold.

He rounds a corner. A boy is walking toward him. He looks to be about nine.

Dad: Well, are you wet yet?

The boy looks undeterred by the weather. He puffs up his chest.

Boy: I'm from Nova Scotia.

Hidden walkways and backyard catapults

Saturday afternoon. In the backyard. The kids play while I do a bit of yard work.

I have finished cutting the tiny patch grass in our new yard. I'm on my hands and knees pulling weeds. But hold on...

What's this? There's brick under this grass. I pull up some more.

More brick! Wow! What's is this?

Jane: Dad, do we have any long pieces of wood I can use?

Me: (absently) Sure. There are some old planks stacked over there by the gate. Find one that doesn't have any nails in it.

Jane: Thanks.

She scurries away.

Where was I? Yes! The bricks!

I grab a trowel from my work box. The layer of sod growing on top of the bricks peels away so easily. There's an old walkway under here!

Jane: Dad, do we have any big rocks?

Me: Um... I think there's a cinder block over by the sandbox. Be careful. It's heavy.

How far does this walkway go? I peel back more sod and find the edges. It's at least four feet wide and runs from the side gate to the deck. I pinch weeds and bits of grass from between the cracks.

Jane: Alice? Can you stand over here for a minute?

I sit on my knees and gaze at what I've uncovered. This is really beautiful. If I clean this up, it'll look really smart.

Jane: No, not there. Right there. On the board. (pause) Yes. Right at the end.

Someone put a lot of work into this. I can't believe I didn't see this before. I'm like a landscape archaeologist. 

Jane: Ready, Alice? 

I look up. Jane has created a see-saw using a long plank and cinder block. Alice stands on the low end. Jane is about to jump on the high end from a perch on the deck.

Jane: One... two....

Me: Jane! Don't jump!

The girls stare at me. The sun shines through their curly hair giving them both halos of gold.

Jane: But Daaaaad. It's a catapult.


Early morning. Alice sits on a stool in the kitchen.

Me: You want toast?

Alice: Yes.

I drop a slice of bread into the toaster. A minute later, it pops up. I grab it.

Me: What would you like on your toast?

She is looking around the room, humming to herself.

Me: Aliiiiice. What would you like on your toast?

Alice: Ummmm. Butter. And jam.

Me: Raspberry, apricot, or strawberry?

Alice: Strawberry.

I butter her toast. I scoop a spoonful of strawberry jam from the jar and plop it on top.


Me: You didn't, actually. But OK.

I scrape as much of the jam from the toast as I can.

Me: Better?

Alice: Better.

I place the plate in front of her. She isn't looking. She is humming. She is chatting with the dog.

She looks back to her toast.

Alice: DAD! I said butter aaaaand strawberry jam! Can't you listen?

I stare at her.

Alice: And, not toasted. Just bread.

It's Willow. Except when it's not.

Sunday afternoon. In the car. Alice is playing with her toy hamster.

Jane: Is her name Wilbow?

Alice: It's Willow.

Jane: Winnow?

Alice: Willow.

Jane: Woollow?

Alice: WILLOW.

Jane: Will-ee?

Alice: For the last time! It's WILLOW! WILL-OW! WILLOW!!!

Jane: Okay okay okay. Willow.


Alice: Actually, it's Sarah.

Nice folk deserve cookies

Sunday afternoon. Still at the farm. Henry is running a fever. I look up the number for Cooper's Red and White -- a small gas and grocery store in nearby Belfast.

Man: Hello.

Me: Hi. Is this Cooper's?

Man: Well, yes. But we're closed Sundays. This is our home number.

Me: Oh, Sorry. This is the number listed online.

Man: That's OK.

Me: You don't know if anything is open today, do you?

Man: What do you need?

Me: Just a bit of Tylenol for our boy. He's running a fever. I don't need to bother you on your day off.

Man: Now, now. Why don't you just come by the store and we'll set you up?

Me: Really?

Man: Really. We live in the house attached to the store.

Me: Wow. I'll be there shortly.

Twenty minutes later, I'm in the store with the girls. The man is ringing up our sale.

Me: Thanks so much. This was very nice of you.

Man: Not a problem. I hope your boy's feeling better.

Me: You're all dressed up. I hope we didn't stop you from going out.

Man: Not really. My wife's gone to a benefit in Iona. I told her I'd meet her there when I was all through here.

Me: Thanks. When my wife heard you were opening special for us, she sent these along.

I pass him a bag of fresh chocolate-chip cookies.

Man: You didn't have to do that.

He smiles.

Man: I'm not going to say 'no' to them, either.

I ask his name. David Cooper. There's a nice fellow for you.

Princess' problem

We are farm sitting for friends. They have four horses, two sheep, a dozen chickens, three dogs, a llama, a donkey, and several cats.

Princess is the charming 35-year-old horse who the other horses tend to pick on. She spends her days in a separate part of the barn, or in her own yard.

She has just walked past the kitchen window for the third time in as many minutes. Something is bothering her. I go outside.

Me: What's the matter?

Princess: I don't like that thing.

Me: (looking around) What thing?

Princess: That thing.

She's pointing her nose at the pickup truck. A blue garbage bag that I'd shoved into the door to keep out the rain is flapping in the wind.

Princess: I don't like it.

I grab the bag and stuff it into the cab of the truck.

Me: Better?

Princess: Yup. Now let's go inside.

We walk to the barn. I open the door and let her in. She stops on her way to her stall to investigate a canvass sack lying by her food bin.

Princess: What's that?

Me: It's a bag.

Princess: What's in it?

Me: You know what's in it. Keep moving.

She looks at me with giant brown eyes.

Princess: Craig would give me what's in that bag, y'know.

Me: Craig's not here. Get in your stall, you big sook.

She walks into her stall. I remove her halter and hang it on its nail. I reach into the canvass sack and pull out an apple. She snaps it in half with her teeth.

Princess: I knew you'd give me one.

Me: Don't talk with your mouth full.

Alice sets the rules early (in the day)

It is 4am. Alice is half awake. She rolls one way, mutters a few half syllables, then rolls back.

Her arms and hands flail and discover another body in her bed. Suddenly alert, she feels around in the dark. She is trying to figure out who this person could be.

Alice: Daaad. No boys allowed.

For Jeff

Grade 13. Leamington District Secondary School. Cafeteria table.

I am blathering about Gillette's new Mach 3 razor. No one, I explain, needs three blades to shave their face. The commercials are ridiculous. Only an idiot would truly believe they need this new beard-removal tool.

My friend Jeff has been listening patiently. His bright blue eyes twinkle.

Jeff: I think it's a great idea. I can't wait to shave with it.

Me: Don't be a dupe! They're tricking you into buying a much more expensive razor that does the exact same thing as your old one!

Jeff shrugs.

Jeff: My old razor doesn't do a great job. I have to go over my face twice, sometimes three times to get a close shave. I'm going to buy it.

He is so nice. I just want to hug him. He is not offended in the least that I just effectively called him an idiot and a dupe. He just wants a closer shave.

I lost contact with Jeff after high school. Still, for the next 14 years, every time the men's shaving industry came out with the Next Great Razor, I thought to myself: Jeff would love that.

Jeff tracked me down by email this summer and we corresponded regularly for a few weeks. He said he was sorry we'd lost contact. I was sorry, too. We agreed it wasn't anyone's fault. Just one of those things.

Jeff died this weekend. It was very sudden.

Jeff and I had a lot in common. We both married young. We both started our families young. We both lived far from our families. We didn't see eye to eye on everything, but we agreed on the important things.

I don't have any profound thoughts about life and death. I will certainly miss that man. He was one of the good guys.

I remain a skeptic about the Mach 3, but for the rest of my life, I will greet each new leap forward in razor technology with great enthusiasm. For Jeff. He'd love that.

we were here

It is early evening. Henry and I have just taken the last bolt out of the swing set. We pull it apart into manageable pieces and carry them to the side of the house. We'll load them on the truck Saturday morning with everything else.

Erin: It's such a beautiful night, guys. Let's go for a walk.

The kids balk. They're tired. They want to practice handstands.  

Me: We're going to be really busy in the next couple of days. This could be our last chance to go for a walk together.

Jane: OK. But I'm bringing Gerry.

Jane's hands are cupped around something. Blades of grass stick out between her fingers.

Me: Who is Gerry?

Jane: My pet cricket.

Me: OK.

We walk north along the treeline through the long grass of our neighbour's field. Erin is quiet. This is hard.

Henry: I've got something in my shoe!

Me: Take it off.

Henry: It's wet!

Erin helps him remove the grass from his shoe. We keep walking.

We turn a corner and look into the valley that defines Springvale, PEI. The sun, low in the sky, bathes the green and yellow fields in the golden light of early fall.

Me: So beautiful.

Erin: We are punishing ourselves.

We walk into the valley. Alice is amazed by how long her shadow is.

Alice: I am so big!

Jane talks about how much she loves Gerry. She shows me his little head sticking out of her hands. It is green.

Me: Gerry's not a cricket. He's a grasshopper!

She pauses.

Jane: A grasshopper?

Me: Yup. Careful. They spit brown juice.

She flings Gerry to the ground. A minute later, she is crying.

Jane: Why did you have to tell me that? I'll never see him again.

Me: I'm sorry. If I could take it back, I would.

We come to another line of trees. It's as good a place as any to turn around. Erin grabs my hand.

Erin: This was a good place for us. It was exactly what we needed exactly when we needed it. But it's time to go.

I nod. She is smiling. Her eyes are not smiling.

We climb out of the valley. Jane searches for Gerry. More wet grass sneaks into Henry's shoe.

In our yard, where the swing set was, there are two bare patches where the grass doesn't grow. The earth here has been trampled down by bare feet dangling, spinning, flying high, swinging low. Up and down. Up and down. These are the marks that say we were here.

Alice, in denial

Alice sits on the front step. I am tying her shoes.

Alice: I'm a little girl?

Me: Do you think you're a little girl?

Alice: (nodding) I think.

Me: Not a big girl?

Alice: No.

Me: You used to be a baby.

Alice: I remember.

Me: Pretty soon you'll be a big girl. After that, you'll be a teenager. Then you'll be an adult, like me.

Alice: Not like you. Like Mummy.

Me: Right. And maybe you'll be a mummy, too. And then maybe you'll be a grandma. And then... you'll be an old lady.

Alice: An old lady.

Alice considers this. I finished tying her shoe a few moments ago.

Alice: Wheeeeeeeeeeee!

She runs away with her arms trailing behind like some sort of superhero cape.

A well-earned carrot

Jane has gripped the green feathery top of a carrot and begun to tug. She rocks it back and forth, trying to coax the root from the ground. The earth finally yields, and Jane stands holding a perfect carrot.

Jane: Wow.

Dave: It's a beaut.

Jane: Yeah.

Dave: Think about how that carrot came to be in your hand. Remember this spring when this garden was still just part of the lawn?

Jane: Yes.

Dave: Do you remember cutting and ripping the sod with me? Turning over the dirt with our spades? Then mixing in manure compost?

Jane: Yes.

Dave: Do you remember helping Mummy make ridges with the hoe to plant the seeds?

Jane: Yes.

Dave: Do you remember putting the tiny seeds in the ground, covering them with dirt, and watering them?

Jane: Yes.

Dave: And do you remember how you wanted to pick them as soon as you saw a tiny bit of green come up? But you waited, and weeded, and waited some more?

Jane: Yes.

Dave: All that work made a carrot.

Her eyes have not left the carrot this whole time. She is ready to take a bite. She just has one more thing to say.

Jane: I deserve this carrot.

Old Grandma D

Erin and I sit sipping coffee at the breakfast table. The girls play in the next room.

Jane: Let's play Old Grandma D!

Alice: OK!

I shoot Erin a confused look.

Me: Grandma D has become a game?

Erin: Didn't I tell you? Listen.

We hear the girls adjusting the couch cushions.

Jane: Ready?

Alice: Ready.

Jane/Alice: Ollllld Graaaandma.... DEE!

There is a soft booming sound, then giggling.

Alice: Again!

Jane/Alice: Olllld Graaaaandma.... DEE!

Erin and I creep to the door. The girls have pulled the couch cushions about six inches forward so that a lip of unsupported cushion hangs over the edge of the seat. They sit near the edge, shifting their weight forward little by little until there is nothing left holding up their bodies. They slide to the ground with a bump and a "Dee!"

Jane/Alice: Ollllld Grandma.... DEE!

Peels of laughter.

Erin: (softly) I think Grandma D would like this game.


A murder of rowdy and obnoxious crows flits from park to park in downtown Charlottetown, stopping only to preen feathers and harass pedestrians. The crows weave through city blocks toward their evening roosts in Victoria Park.

They rush past a man from Japan, likely a tourist. He is swept up in the noise and excitement of it all. He approaches Erin, speaking in broken English.

Man: What.. is.. happening?

Erin: We're crows!

Henry/Jane: Caw! Caw!

Man: Do the people of Char-lot-town dress as crows every year on this day?

Erin: Nope! This is the first time! It's a special night called Art in the Open.

He falls behind as he stops to takes a picture. Erin and the kids are now several dozen steps ahead. He rushes to catch up.

Man: This is.. wonderful!

Erin: I know!

Man: This is...

He searches for the word.

Man:  ..avant-garde!

Erin: It's somethin'! Caw! Caw!

(photo by Beth Johnston)

Blowing up the Sun

In the car.

Me: ...first of all, blowing up the Sun would be pretty tricky. You'd need a very big bomb. Probably bigger than the Earth. And when the Sun blows up, if it doesn't blow up the Earth at the same time, it would likely blast us into deep space. All the air and water around the planet would be blown away. Even if all that stuff didn't happen, without the Sun, the Earth would be colder that you could possibly imagine. Everything would die. I guess what I'm saying is, it's not a good idea to blow up the Sun.

The kids sit quietly thinking for a moment.

Jane: (whispering to Henry) Dad never let us do anything.

Messing with their minds

Lunch. At the picnic table.

Henry: Daaad!  Mum says she can't blink, is that true?

I look at my bride. She is smirking.

Me: Of course it's true.

Erin: My parents were so busy, they never had time to teach me.

Jane: You have to learn how to blink?

Erin: Of course! Don't you remember all the hours we worked on that?

Blank stares.

Me: They were so young. They wouldn't remember.

Kids: Wow.

Me: It's kind of like how I can't move my arms above here.

I raise my straightened arms to about 30 degrees.

Me: I think the doctor said I have some sort of bone-shield covering the socket of my shoulder joint.

Henry: You're making this up!

Me: (calmly) Name one time you've seen me raise my arms higher than this.

They think for a moment.

Me: See? You can't name one time.

Henry: Does it hurt?

Me: (shrugging) No. I just can't do it. You learn to live with it.

The conversation fizzles out. The kids run to the yard to play.

Erin is still wearing her smirk.

Erin: Have we crossed some sort of parenting line?

Me: I think, maybe.

Even wizards need to be polite

Friday supper. At the picnic table.

Henry: (pointing his spoon at various family members) Stupify! Stupify!

Family: Munch munch munch.

Henry: (pointing his spoon at his plate) Wingardium leviosa!

Family: Munch munch munch

Henry: (pointing his spoon at Jane) Avada kedavra!

You know the rule. No unforgivable curses at the table. Please eat your supper.

He shows genuine remorse.

Henry: Sorry, Dad.

He tucks in to the business of eating. He notices his potatoes could use some condiment.

Henry: Accio ketchup!


Henry: Sorry. Accio ketchup, please.

The other curious incident of the dog in the night-time

4 a.m.

I am vaguely aware of wagging near my head. I open my eyes.

Jake: Oh, hey Dave! *wag wag wag*

Me: Mmph?

Jake: I think I need to go outside! *wag wag wag*

Me: Bathroom?

Jake: I guess so! *wag wag wag*

I get up. We walk to the front door. He steps a few paces from the house into the wet grass. He is just standing there.

Jake: *sniff sniff sniff sniff sniff*

I lean against the door frame and close my eyes.

Jake: Boy! What a beautiful night! *sniff sniff sniff*

Me: Yup.

Jake: *sniiiiifff* I just love the smell of the air just after it rains!

Me: *yawn* Uh huh.

Jake: *sniff sniff sniff sniff sniff sniff*

Me: Are you going to go, or what?

Jake: I guess not! Let's go back to bed!

I follow him back to the room. He collapses on his rug and falls instantly asleep.

I forgive him for this. He is a good boy and does not ask for much. After a few minutes, I fall asleep, too.


5:12 a.m.

Wagging again.

Jake: Oh, hey Dave!

Drunk again, apparently

It is a sunny Saturday evening. We've been invited to the home of some new friends for supper.

Our kids and their kids are getting along great. No hesitation. Just play.

This is nice, I think to myself.

Paul, our host, offers me a beer.

"Sure." I say.

We stand and chat next to the swings. Henry is swinging and listening.

Henry: Hey, Dad. Just drinkin' a beer, eh?

Me: Yup.

Henry turns to our host.

Henry: My dad gets drunk all the time.

Long pause.

Me: Thanks, Cornbread.

Early morning dogs

It is 5:34 a.m.

Alice and I are on the couch. We are playing dogs.

Alice's Dog: Hello.

My Dog: Hello.

Alice's Dog: I have blue eyes.

My Dog: I have black eyes.

Alice's Dog: I wish I had black eyes.

My Dog: I wish I had blue eyes.

Alice's Dog: Let's dance!

My Dog: Okay!

They dance.

Alice's Dog: I am wearing a red collar.

My Dog: I don't have any collar.

Alice's Dog: I wish I didn't have a collar.

My Dog: I wish I had a red collar.

Alice's Dog: Let's dance again!

My Dog: Yay!

They dance.


Take a picture, it'll last longer



I am pushing the girls on the tire swing. Alice straddles the rope on top of the tire. Jane is wedged inside the tire itself.

"Higher, Daddy! Higher!"

I am already pushing them too high, but I oblige. Their cheeks bulge with the kind of smile than cannot be repressed. They are giggling and laughing.

"I'm getting dizzzzzzzy!"

Bits of sunlight sneak through the leafy canopy and dapple their tanned faces. The air catches their golden curls. The wind ripples their sun dresses.

I'm going to take a picture.

I never take pictures, but I'm not going to let this moment go by.

The camera is in the house. We're having fun right now. We'll come back later, recreate the scene, and then take a picture.


After supper. We're sitting on the picnic table. 

It's past bedtime, but the sun is shining. It's Friday night. There's no rush.

"Oh!" I say, remembering. "Girls, let's go take your picture out on the tire swing."


They run to the swing. I step inside the house and grab the camera. Before I walk out the back door, I can hear the shouting.

"HENRY! DAD said he was taking OUR picture!"








The tire swing knocks into Jane. She topples to the ground.

"MWAAAAAAAAAH! Daddy! He hit me! Mwwaaaaaaah!"

I pick up a sobbing Jane. Alice's eyes are just starting to stream sympathy tears. The three of them are a symphony of screaming.

I slip the camera into my pocket. Jane wipes her puffy red eyes.

"I thought you were going to take our picture? We look so pretty."

The future

We are eating breakfast. Henry is swaying back and forth in his chair.

Me: What are you doing?

Henry: (still swaying) I'm time traveling. To the future.

Me: Woa. How far in the future?

Henry: Ten seconds.

He stops swaying and looks around. His gaze lands on Jane.

Henry: You're still eating that toast?

Roller coaster

We're driving along a winding country road. As we begin climbing yet another hill, Henry starts the game we've been playing lately: roller coaster.

"Still going up! Still going up! Still going UP!" he chants. We all join in.

"Still going UP! Still GOING UP! STILL GOING UP..."

Our voices become incrementally louder and more shrill with each chant.


We reach the crest of the hill and begin our descent.


My cheeks hurt from smiling. The kids are giggling. It's so wonderful that they're sill young. Every little thing is so fun.

"Dad, know what I was saying?" says Jane with bright eyes. "I was saying, "Still GROWING up! Still GROWING up!'"

I clutch my chest.

"Ooooh! Ouch, Jane! Ow! Oh!"

I am being maybe a touch dramatic.

"What?" she asks. "What'd I do?"

Erin puts her hand on my arm.

"You shot your daddy in the heart again, sweetie."

Paper money, part two

Part one is here.

I am four years old. I'm sitting on the red carpet in my bedroom. A small pile of coins lays before me. 

"One," I say, sliding a coin to create a new pile, "two, three, four..."

My seven-year-old sister stands at the door, watching.

"You're doing that wrong," says Karen.

"No, I'm not," I say, my face flushed. "I know how to count. Five, six...."

"No. You're doing it wrong," she says calmly. She holds up one of the brown coins. "This is one," she explains. She puts it aside and picks up a fat silver one with a beaver on it. "This is five. And this," she says, picking up a smaller silver coin with a boat on it, "is ten."

"But it's smaller than the beaver."

"It's still ten," she says.

"I'm going to count it my way," I say with some defiance, "then we'll count it yours."


I count my way. She counts hers.

"Hey, you have a dollar!" she exclaims.

I don't know what this means.

"Yay!" I yell.

"Let's see if Mum will give you paper money for it!"


We run out of the room. 


Mum did trade it for paper money, which was pretty fabulous. I nearly gave it away a few Sundays later to a nice man who ate supper at our house. He was so nice. I wanted to show him I how nice I thought he was. I ran to my room, pulled the dollar from my bank, and offered it to him. He was very flustered and refused it.

I'm not sentimental with things, but I still have that dollar. I have no idea why I've kept it. I never planned to do so. After a few years, I still had it. I got into the habit of keeping it. I kept on keeping it.


"Bee! Bee!"

Jane and Alice are running as fast as they can around the corner of the house. Their eyes are lit up with terror.

"We saw a bee!" yells Jane. She is shaking with fear. "It tried to sting us!"

"Calm down," I say. "Bees don't want to hurt us. If we're nice and quiet, they'll always leave us alone."

They don't look convinced. They repeat their "Bee! Bee!" retreat several times that day.


After supper. I'm clearing the dishes from the picnic table. 

A bumble bee flies up from the garden below the deck. It lands immediately on the lady slippers in the vase on the table.

The bee knows just what to do. She finds the opening at the bottom of the flower and crawls inside. 

What an amazing creature. The complex social world of bees is fascinating. I think about how I've wanted for the last few years to start keeping bees. Maybe this is the year...

The bee emerges from the blossom. Her wings begin to buzz as she takes off.

She flies straight at my face. Her giant stinger points down. It looks.... stingy.

I leap down six steps in one bound and keep running.

"Bee! Bee!" 

Not our money

"We're going to the truck to get our tools," says Doug to the woman, as casual as can be. I wince in embarrassment, knowing what's coming next. "If you have anything hidden in your ducts, now would be a good time to move it."

It is the summer after my second year of college. I'm working for a heating and cooling company. Doug is the journeyman who I work with. Mostly, we install new ductwork into houses. Some days, like today, we fix ducts that were installed 20 or 30 years ago.

"Why do you always say that?" I say to Doug. We're back at the truck, and I am loading my arms with a stack of five-inch pipes. "Who hides stuff in their ducts?"

"Loads of people," he replies. "Maybe not these people. Maybe not the people tomorrow. Someday, we'll be in some person's house who does, and you'd better be sure you're not the one who gets blamed when their long-lost, long-forgotten wad of cash goes missing."

I scoff.

"Who would forget about a wad of cash?"

"Shaddup. Get a move on."

We haul our gear to the basement and get to work. I start pulling the grates from the end of the ducts; Doug starts lifting ceiling tiles to expose the ducts themselves. 

Three tiles in...

"Oh, crap."

I turn around. Doug is two steps up on a step ladder, looking down. I follow his eyes to the ground and see the biggest wad of cash I've ever seen.

We stare at it in silence. The bill on the outside of the wad is a very old fifty. Several of the inner bills fell out when they landed: each is a hundred-dollar bill. The wad is about two-and-a-half inches thick. It is coated in dust.

"That is old cash," says Doug, finally.

"Uh huh," I say.

"It's probably been there since the 70s."

I nod. "Yup." 

"No one knows this money is here."


"Except us," says Doug.

We stare.

"The down payment of a house," says Doug.

"My entire student debt," I say.

He sighs.

"Come with me."

We march upstairs and find the lady of the house.

"Can you come with us for a minute?" he asks.

"Sure," she says. She is puzzled.

We walk downstairs. Doug points his finger at the money.

"This just fell from the ceiling tiles." His hand is as close to the cash as it can be without actually touching it.

Her eyes flare. She is more amused than surprised.

"Did it now?"

She picks up the money and (I am not making this up) shoves it into her bra.

"I bet he forgot about that twenty years ago," she smirks. "Thanks for your honesty, boys. I'm going shopping."

She walks back upstairs, grabs her keys, and leaves the house.

"Close your mouth," says Doug.

He steps back on his ladder and pushes aside the next tile in the ceiling.

A lesson learned

Saturday afternoon. Jane has been sent to her room.

Near the end of her time out, Erin goes in to have a chat. She is just wrapping up.

Erin:  ...Okay, Jane?

Jane: Okay.

Sometime during their talk, Jane laid back on the bed. Her breathing quieted down. She lay very calm.

Erin is impressed. Not long ago, Janey would have been so agitated by whatever event got her sent to her room, she'd never calm down, and never really listen to what we had to say. Is this evidence our little girl is maturing?

Jane: Know why I laid down like this? It's so the monsters think I'm dead and go away.

Active reader

Erin sits across from Henry as he reads his book. He is, apparently, enjoying it.

His eyes go wide. His brow furrows. He gasps. His right hand lets go of the book so his can flap his arm. He sighs. He smiles.

He notices his mother staring at him.

Henry: What?

Erin: Nothing. I just never realized how much fun it could be watching someone else read.

Sweet insubordination

Supper is ready. I am in the kitchen.

Me: Supper! Wash your hands and come to the table!

Two sets of tiny feet scurry to the bathroom. That means one set is still in the living room.

Me: Henry! Let's go. Suppertime.

Henry: In a minute.

Me: No. Now. It's supper.

Henry: No, Dad. I'm not coming yet.

Me: Cornbread -- it's suppertime. Go wash your hands.

Henry: No.

Oooooo, I'm mad. I stomp toward the living room. I see Erin is on her way, too. 

Me: Henry....

Erin: Henry....

We stride into the room: a lean, mean parenting unit. 

Henry lays on the couch. He is clutching a novel.

Henry: Just two more pages! Pleeeeeease? It's just getting to the good part!

Saying "granola"

Early morning. Alice and I are the only ones awake. I'm pouring bowls of granola. She's still rubbing her eyes.

Alice: We having a nice bowl of gran-golga.

Me: Granola.

Alice: Gra-doggle-olga.

Me: Gra-

Alice: Gra-

Me: -nola

Alice: -nola.

Me: Granola.

Alice: Gra-nola!

Me: Right!

Alice: With milk.

We eat a bit.

Me: Y'know, my mummy used to make granola for us when I was little.

Alice: And now... you are big.

Me: And you are little.

She takes a bite, chews, swallows.

Alice: Granola.

Paper money, part one

Here's a story my dad told us last week when we were visiting.

"I was, oh, maybe seven or eight. And I must have been feeling pretty bold because I said to my mum, 'Mum, I've never had any paper money, you know.' And she looked at me and said, 'Is that right?'

"And do you know what she did? She walked to her purse and took out her wallet. She didn't pull out a one-dollar bill. She didn't pull out a two-dollar bill. She pulled out a five-dollar bill. I was stunned.

"So I said to her, 'This is all mine?' She said yes. And I said, 'Can I spend it on whatever I want?' She said yes.

"Six months later, I walked into McVitty's store in Leamington and bought the ball glove that I would use all through grade school. It cost four dollars and ninety-five cents. No tax. I don't know what I did with the nickel."

A moment passes.

Mum: I never knew that story before.

Dad sits back.

Dad: Now you do.

Kitteny soft, for those who go for that sort of thing

We're speeding along the highway from Moncton to the Confederation Bridge. We pass a large industrial building on our right.

Henry: What's that?

Me: That's where they make Royale Bathroom Tissue. Toilet paper.

Henry: Why do they have a picture of a white kitten on the building?

Me: I guess because they want you to think their toilet paper is as white, soft, and fluffy as a kitten.

He thinks a moment.

Henry: I don't think I'd like to wipe myself with a cat.

"The train doesn't feel like home"

Two hours into our 33-hour train ride from the Maritimes to southern Ontario. Trees and rivers rush past out window. Everything is exciting. Everything is new.

Jane: (smiling) The train doesn't feel like home.

Me: What do you mean?

Jane: It just... doesn't feel like home.

20 hours and two trains later. Jane pauses mid-drawing to say something that's struck her again.

Jane: The train doesn't feel like home. Do you know what I mean?

Me: I think so.

But I don't. Not yet.

Seven hours later. Our train has broken down in the middle of southern Ontario farmland. A short wait becomes a long wait. A second train comes along and pushes us the rest of the way to the next station. A voice comes on the public address system telling us we must gather all of our belongings and switch to another train.

It is late. Jane and Alice are sleeping. Somehow, Erin and I manage to shoulder all six bags and both girls. Henry is a big help.

I am carrying Jane. She stirs.

Me: We have to move to another train.

Jane: I thought we'd be there by now.

She begins to cry.

Me: I'm so sorry. I know it has been a long trip. I know you're tired. But if you just close your eyes again, when you wake up again, we'll be there with Grandma and Grandpa.

She cries harder. Between gasps, she says again what she intuitively felt from the beginning of the trip.

Jane: The train doesn't feel like home.

Me: I know.

And I do.


Henry is choking on a mouthful of carrot.

Henry: *cough* *hack-hack*

He picks up the water cup by his plate. It is empty.

Henry: *cough* Can I *hack* have *cough-cough* some *cough*  H  *hack*  2  *cough-hack-cough*  Oh?  *cough*

Erin pours him a cup. He drinks. Crisis averted.

Erin: Wouldn't it have been easier to have just said "water?"

Henry: Mum. I'm a scientist.

Jake: fur ball

Jake lays on the floor by the couch. Only a dog can make the cold hard ground look this comfortable.

Alice approaches. Jake settles in for a good session of petting.

Alice: Does Jake has skin?

It's under his fur.

Alice: (moving the fur around with her fingers) I can't see it.

Erin: It's under there. Keep looking.

Alice: *gasp* I think he has green skin!

Jane walks in the room.

Jane: (rolling her eyes) Silly Alice. Jake doesn't have skin.

Sisters. Semantics.

It's just before lunch. Alice stands on a chair beside me at the kitchen counter.

Alice: I holding mustard.

Me: Yes. We'll need that in a minute for the sandwiches.

Alice: And cheese.

We hear the front door burst open. Two angry feet kick off a pair of rubber boots and stomp across the house to the dining room. There is a scraping of chairs on the floor, then silence.

Alice: Who that?

Me: I think Janey is hiding under the table.

Alice: I go talk to her?

Me: Good idea.

Alice climbs down from her chair and walks to the dining room.

Alice: Jane? You in there?

Jane: No. Go away.

Alice: You mad at something?

Jane: Yes. 

Alice: You mad at Henry?

Jane: Yes. And I want to be alone.

Alice: OK.

They are quiet a moment.

Alice: I be alone with you, Janey?

Jane: OK.

More silence.

Alice: You want be alone with me in the tent?

Jane: Yeah! Let's go!

...unlike that moralizing jerk Santa.

Sunny Saturday afternoon. Tomorrow is Easter. 

We're hiking on our friends' farm. Jane is explaining to Margaret about the Easter Bunny.

Jane: He comes in our house at night and hides eggs for us to find. Chocolate eggs.

Margaret: Mmmm. Sounds like my kind of bunny.

Jane: And you don't even have to be good for him.

Creamy is gone. Long live Creamy! UPDATED: STOP THE PRESSES!

This is a portrait we took of Creamy before Christmas to give to Henry as a present. I'm so glad we have it, because, alas, we no longer have Creamy.

Creamy was lost this morning as Erin and the kids did some running around in town. They searched everywhere. He's gone.

So many nights have we delayed bedtime as we've searched the house for this little dog. He has been dragged around the yard, rescued from beneath the couch dozens of times, and survived a couple of surgeries.

He was named Blackie when we first got him. Henry wasn't initially terribly fond of him, but he latched onto him as soon as we moved to Cape Breton. One day at Tim Horton's, a bit of coffee cream spilled on his leg, and he was Creamy ever since.

Henry shed a lot of tears this morning when he realized he was gone. Erin drove all over town, retracing their steps, but they couldn't find him. I hate the thought of that dog sitting in a puddle of slush on this cold, dark night.

But things aren't so bad, thanks to my co-worker Ty and his daughter Sadie.

Today, in my office.

Ty: I don't want to get your hopes up, but I think we may have a dog that looks just like Creamy.

Me: Really? Like, exactly?

Ty: I'm not 100% sure, but if it is, I'm sure Sadie would love Henry to have him. She went through a phase of loving those animals about a year ago, but has grown out of it.

A few hours later, he tweeted me this photo.

It's the exact dog.

As we drove out to Ty's place this evening, we came up with the story that made Henry feel better. Creamy went to the vet to fix some of his problems with stuffing, scratched eyes, and worn out nose. But he ran away. Lucky for us, he ran to Ty's place in Cove Head.

Henry made Sadie a thank-you card. When he met New Creamy he gave him a big hug, and everyone felt better. Until the car ride home. Erin caught Henry with tears in his eyes.

Erin: You OK, buddy?

He wiped his eyes.

Henry: I'm not crying. I just breathed in funny and it came out like crying.

He was fully crying when we got home. We talked about Old Creamy. We decided it wasn't the fur, or the stuffing, or the eyes, or the tail that made him special. It was the love that Henry gave him that made him special. And that if he gives that same love to New Creamy, then he won't be New Creamy at all, he'll just be Creamy.

Friggin' stuffed dog is making me cry. (and probably Erin)


The Superstore called about a half-hour before closing to say they'd found Creamy. The next day was Good Friday, so if I didn't get there right away, we'd be Creamy-less until Saturday. I sped all the way and did some serious negotiating to get past the doors as they were being locked for the night.

I got him

Henry was asleep when I got home, so I put him beside his head on his pillow. He awoke the next morning and flipped out.

Henry: He's everything good that makes Creamy Creamy.

Thus endeth the saga.

Missing: Creamy

Creamy is missing.

Yes, this Creamy. This Creamy. This Creamy. This Creamy. This Creamy.

Most importantly, this Creamy.

Look who is playing a few video games whilst listening to his ipod. Yup, it's good ol' Creamy.

He is a ratty little stuffed dog who no one in the world would love but my heart-broken son.

Henry had him this morning in Charlottetown as he accompanied Erin to a doctor's appointment, and later at the grocery store. Erin went back to check, but couldn't find him.

If you find him, can you please let me know? Henry is destroyed by this.

Country livin'

In the car.

Jane: Daddy! Craig and Margaret asked us to watch their farm for a few days this summer!

Me: I know! Isn't that exciting?

Alice: They has horses!

Me: I know!

Henry: And a llama! And sheep!

Alice: Aaaaaand (thinking) chickens!

Henry: We can find eggs!

Alice: And they has a donkey!

Jane sits back in her car seat and smiles.

Jane: And a huuuuuge TV.


The girls would like a tea party.

Erin puts the water on to boil. She takes down the small pot given to us by our wonderful neighbour in Cape Breton. When the water is ready, she steeps the tea and brings it to the dining-room table.

The girls wait with their china cups before them. Erin puts a small amount of milk in the bottom of each cup before pouring in the tea. The girls add their own honey.

Alice stirs her milky-brown tea, listening to the tinkling sound of her spoon gently striking the inside of her china cup.

Alice: Can I have marshmallows?

A memory

Henry is barely two. 

It's evening. He's having trouble falling asleep. I lay beside him on his bed, waiting for him to drift off.

His breathing becomes slow and heavy. I am sure he is sleeping. I am pretty tired myself, and consider joining him. I am very relaxed.

I pass gas.

He passes gas.

Henry: Our butts are talking, Dada. 

Jealousy. Donkeys. Mummies.

Erin and the kids are making plans to visit our friends' farm. Jane remembers a run-in she had last time with a donkey named Ruth.

Jane: Ruth pushed me over. Twice.

Erin: I think it was just once...

Jane: Why would she do that?

Erin: She was jealous.

Jane: Why would that make her push someone over?

Erin: If I spend extra time with Henry or Alice, you feel jealous and it makes you impatient and sometimes even angry.

Jane: You sometimes get jealous, too, Mum.

Erin: Not really. Older people usually learn to be patient about things like that.

A light clicks on in Jane's mind: a realization of a universal truth.

Jane: Donkeys and children get more jealous than mummies.

From Away (EDITED)

If you've a moment, why not take a listen to a radio documentary I made for CBC Radio's Maritime Magazine? It's called "Islanders By Choice", and it's about the experiences of people who move to PEI (or anywhere in the Maritimes, really), from Away.

Go get it here.  (EDIT: Whoopsie. How'd that Carpenter's song get in there? Here is the real link.)

If you like any part of it, credit goes to producer Christina Harnett.

The Birds

Late summer 2008. We're eating lunch on the picnic table behind our house in the north end of Saint John.

A flock of unfamiliar birds flits to the boughs of a poplar tree in the centre of our yard. At first glance, they are grey with yellow tips on their tails. As we keep watching, we see their feathers hint at tones of peach and yellow.

Erin: Beautiful.

Me: What are they?

Two-year-old Henry: Cedar waxwings. 

We are not shocked at all. Henry, at age two, has devoured our copy of Peterson's Guide to Eastern Birds. Literally. The book is held together by his saliva and a roll of duct tape.

It's the only book he ever wants to read. We have leafed through its pages hundreds of times. I am not exaggerating when I say he has memorized every bird in it.

We wonder sometimes if it will be a life-long love of birds, or whether it's a passing phase fed by the ooohs and aaaahs of visitors when we trot out the book to display Henry's genius party trick.


This week. The kids and I walk around the campus at UPEI enjoying the spring weather.

A half-dozen small birds dart back and forth from the shelter of a bush to the limbs of an over-hanging tree. We stop and watch. A woman walks by.

Woman: Wow, neat birds! I wonder what kind they are.

Henry: Chickadees. 

The woman is impressed.

Woman: That's pretty good. Do you know a lot about birds?

Henry: Nah. I only know chickadees. And crows. They're black.

Hullo, Olive

It is a cold winter morning in Toronto, sometime in the mid-1940s. My grandfather clears the final few shovelfuls of snow from his driveway.

He looks at his watch. He is running a bit behind. If he doesn't catch the next streetcar, he'll have to drive to work.

He sees his neighbour's yard still full of snow. A recently widowed mother of one, she has to get to work this morning, too. Grandpa picks up his shovel and begins to clear her front walk.

Her door opens a crack.

"Good morning, Gerry!" calls the woman. She smiles. "What would I do without you?"

Grandpa stands and waves.

"Hullo, Olive."


Ten years later.

"No offense, Gerry," says Grandpa's boss, "but the prime minister and his wife are here to hobnob with the mayor and council, not us. Probably best that we keep a low profile at this reception."

Grandpa nods politely. He is a secretary in the clerk's office at the city of Toronto. A legendary fast typist, it's Grandpa's job to take the minutes at city council meetings. This fame isn't enough, apparently, to win an audience with Prime Minister John Diefenbaker or his wife.

"They're coming," says a voice from across the room.

The doors open. The Diefenbakers enter the hall. The prime minister is immediately snatched up by the mayor and a handful of councilors.

Standing demurely next to her husband, Mrs. Diefenbaker scans the room. Her eyes light up as they land upon a familiar face.

"Gerry!" she calls. "Gerry Trueblood!"

She makes a beeline past the waiting row of city councilors to my grandfather. She gushes over him as if he was the only person in the room. Grandpa's boss (and the row of snubbed councilors) looks on in shock.

"Hullo, Olive," says Grandpa.

Colours, by Jane (part two)

(Part one is here.)


Jane: Red and yellow make orange.

Me: Yep.

Jane: Yellow and blue make green.

Me: Mmm hmm.

Jane: Red and blue make..... um.....

She closes her eyes and thinks really hard.

Jane: Uh....

Erin: I'll give you a hint. It's what Alice is wearing.

Jane: Pants?

How to build a trebuchet out of snow: a tutorial by Henry (age 6)

It's easy.

Take two big snowballs. Put them on the ground.

Then, get a bunch of snowballs and put them on top.

Next, you need some snowballs. Bigger ones than the other ones, but not as big as the other ones.

Now, take some snowballs and put them in a line, sticking them together.

Then, you need one big snow ball here and another one here.

Finally, make a pile of snowballs for ammo, and you have a snow trebuchet.

Like sandwiches through the hourglass


Jane: Is Aunt Jane the same age as Aunt Karen?

Me: Nope. Aunt Jane is is four years older than Aunt Karen. Aunt Karen is three years older than Uncle John. Uncle John is seven minutes older than me.

Jane: How long is seven minutes?

Me: (casting about for something she could understand). Seven minutes is about the amount of time it takes for me to make and eat a piece of toast.

Henry: He is one slice of toast older than you.

Just add "er"

Alice recently had a grammatical realization: one who runs is a runner; one who bakes is a baker.

Wearing a tutu, she demonstrates her new understanding of language.

Alice: I a balleter ( ed - pronounced: bah-layer ). You the watcher. Sit on the couch.

Later, in addition to the tutu, she sports a cowboy hat.

I a ballet giddy-upper.

Reading for fun and self-preservation

Henry and Jane sit on the couch, their little feet dangling over the edge of the cushions. Jane listens patiently as Henry reads her a book.

Me: This is a nice scene to walk in on.

Henry: (smiling) I agreed to read her a book if she agreed to stop kicking me.


Alice builds a tower of blocks at the kitchen table. I make coffee. Everyone else is sleeping.

Alice's tower topples.

Alice: Rrrrrrr. I angry at someone.

Me: Who are you angry at?

Alice: Maybe Henry.

A moment

It is middle of the afternoon on this snow day. We have assembled many puzzles. We have made light sabres from paper tubes, paint, and tin foil. We have had dance parties in the kitchen. Now it is time for popcorn.

We all sit around the little round table by the big window in the front room. Except for the munching, we are silent.

We watch the wind blow outside our window. The drifts are magnificent, and grow more so with each puff of wind and snow. We are all lost in our individual thoughts about the day, and about the fun that still lies ahead.

Jane: What does dog puke look like?

Maritime Magazine podcast

As promised, the podcast for my Maritime Magazine story, "The Supernova Hunters, Part Two", is up. 'Tis here, if you are so inclined.

Compromise: when no one gets what they want

Alice and Jane both received dolls for Christmas. They love them. They play with them every day. It's girly heaven.

Until this afternoon, when neither wanted to play with their respective babies. Nor the backup babies. No, they both wanted to play with Stella.

Poor Stella. The ratty, unloved third-tier doll with the unfortunate and un-washable stain above her lip that makes her look like baby Hitler. This afternoon, Stella had her moment in the sun. Everyone wanted her.

Alice screamed. Jane cried. Then Jane screamed and Alice cried. It was a fun half-hour.

Finally, Janey suggested they share Stella. Alice thought this was a wonderful new idea, despite me having already suggested it dozens of times.

Jane: I'll be the mumma. You be the grandma.

Alice: No, I mumma. You grandma.

Jane: I don't want to be the grandma. I'm the mumma!


This went on for another ten minutes. Then...

Jane: What if we're both the grandmas?

A pause. A consideration. A decision.

Alice: OK!

Two-year-olds of the world: Alice has your back

Alice stands on a chair at the kitchen counter. She is helping Erin make icing for cupcakes.

Erin: Use your spoon to mix it up.

Alice: (mashing awkwardly at the butter with her big wooden spoon) It's too hard.

Erin: You'll get it.

Alice pokes, stirs, and grunts. Eventually, the cocoa, butter, sugar, and milk start to mix together in a mass of creamy dark brown.

Alice: It's changing!

Erin: That's what's neat about baking. There are some magical changes.

Alice: Mah-jih-kal changes. Magical changes.

Erin: It's not every two-year-old who can say "magical changes."

Alice turns on her. Her brow furrows. Her stare is intense.

Alice: Yes we can.

My wife

Wednesday evening.

The storm is finally whipping up. All afternoon, they warned of it. Here it is.

Erin has Henry at his weekly basketball class. The roads are getting bad. She probably cannot see this from the gym. I consider calling to tell them to come home before it gets worse.

Nah, she's a big girl.

An hour goes by. They are not home. Surely, they didn't stop somewhere on the way home. Surely.

The door blows open. Snow swirls around outside. Two bundled packages of human stumble onto the landing. One of them holds a shopping bag.

Me: (more of a statement, than a question) You stopped for groceries.

Erin: We can't have a storm day without butter.

Maritime Magazine

I'll be on the CBC Radio program Maritime Magazine this coming Sunday morning to update a story I produced for them back in 2006. The original story was called "The Supernova Hunters." It featured a couple of amateur astronomers who did what many believed was impossible for anyone but a professional -- they discovered a supernova. They've since discovered several more, and now one the fellow's daughters, just ten-years-old, is discovering them, too.

If you like geeky science stories, or just enjoy hearing old Davy yakking on the radio, it'll be a real hoot. It's 8:30 a.m. Atlantic this Sunday morning. It'll be also available early next week as a podcast. I'll update with a link when it's live.

UPDATE: Listen to The Supernova Hunters, Part II here. Part I, from 2006, can be found here.

Putting the "fun" in "funeral home"

Driving. Me at the wheel.

Me: See that funeral home? It's really popular.

Henry: Yeah, people are dying to get in.

I smile. I have trained him well.

Expecting the worst. Receiving the best.

It's a slushy, snowy day. We are driving home to PEI from New Brunswick. Erin is at the wheel.

Erin: What's this guy doing?

Me: Who?

A dark BMW passes us on the left.

Erin: I just passed this guy. And now he's passing me.

Me: (grinning) Beemer Man probably disliked being passed by a woman.

Erin: Whoa!

Beemer Man abruptly cuts in front of our car and turns on his four-way flashers. He is slowing down.

Me: He's trying to force you over.

Erin slows the car. She considers pulling up beside him to ask him what the problem is, but there are cars coming up fast from behind. We park behind him on the shoulder of the highway. The kids in the back seat are being uncharacteristically patient.

Beemer Man throws open his door and jumps out. He is obviously agitated.

Erin: This could be bad. What should I do?

Me: Just be patient. You haven't done anything wrong.

Beemer Man approaches Erin's window. I ready myself to defend, verbally or otherwise.

Beemer Man: Your gas cap is dangling off the side of your car. If you get any weather in the tank, you could have some serious engine problems.

Erin: Oh! Thank-you!

Thanks a lot!

I jump out, replace the cap, and return to my seat. As Beemer Man pulls away, Erin and I both wave like ninnies.

Erin: That was nice.

Me: That was nice.

Erin: We were such jerks.

Me: We were such jerks.

Dentist. Therapist.

As I sat in the chair yesterday having my teeth cleaned, I remembered I intended to write a sequel to this post.

Later, in my first appointment with my new dentist.

Dentist: I noticed a bit of wear on your teeth.

Me: What would that be from?

Dentist: Well, most often stress.

I nod.

Dentist: It doesn't appear to be old damage. I don't mean to pry, but would you have gone through a stressful period in the past two years?

Me: Oh, yes. I would say so.

Dentist: Have you had headaches?

Me: Yeah. And I never had them before.

Dentist: Most often in the morning, I bet. After a night with clenched, grinding teeth.

Me: Wow. You're totally right.

Dentist: I wouldn't even mention any of this if I didn't see evidence of improvement.

Me: You can see that?

Dentist: Looks to me like you haven't been grinding in the past several months, maybe half a year. Which tells me things are maybe better than they were?

I stare at him a moment.

Me: Can we set up a counseling schedule?

Left behind

Two of the selling points on our current house (can a rental place have a selling point?) were the kids who live next door. Jonah, eight-years-old, is Henry's constant companion. Jane calls Jonah's big sister, Jessica, her best friend.

Jess was eleven when we moved in. She was and is the nicest kid you could ever meet. Erin and I have watched her play with Jane many times and have smiled at her creativity, patience, and sense of play. 

But eleven becomes twelve, and twelve becomes thirteen. 

Hide-and-go-seek is a little less frequent than it was. Games of tag almost never happen anymore. Jess has friends over, and she goes to a lot of sleepovers. She and her friends occasionally invite Jane over so they can paint her nails and fawn over her golden curls. Jane relishes these moments. But they are rare.


New Year's Day, Jess comes home from a slumber party. She looks worn. Jane nearly jumps on her in the driveway.

Jane: Jess! Want to come over to play?

Jess: I'd love to, buddy, but I have to clean my room.

Jane does a twirl. They both love to dance.

Jane: Well, you can come over after that.

Jess hefts her bag on her shoulder. She looks around. Bits of remnant makeup from the night before circle her eyes. She looks too old and too young.

Jess: Well. I'm pretty tired. I think I'm going to take a nap.

Jane: (frowning) What about after that?

Jess: I think we're going to visit some friends after that.

Jane: OK.

Jane walks back to the house. Her head is slung low, but not in the dramatic mock pout she has recently refined. 

She growls at Alice, who runs crying to the kitchen. Tears beget tears, and suddenly Jane is crying, too. I give her a hug.

Jane: Why won't Jess play with me?

Me: She wants to, Jane. She's just...

I don't finish my sentence. "She's just growing up without you." 

We hug some more, then play a few rounds of hide-and-go-seek. She has fun, but the remnant red from crying circles her eyes. She looks too old and too young.

The living, the dead, and the fictional


Jane: Is Anne dead?

Erin: Um, Anne who?

Jane: That girl with red hair.

Erin: Anne of Green Gables? She's not real, Sweety.

Jane: Yeah, but is she dead?

Erin: Well... she's not alive. But she was never alive. She is from a book. 

Jane: OK.

A few moments pass.

Jane: So when did Anne of Green Gables die?

Erin: (calmly) Anne of Green Gables is a character in a story. She was made up by a woman more than a hundred years ago. She is in a book. There never was an Anne of Green Gables. She's just a very nice character from a story. 

Jane: So she's not alive.

Erin: Correct.

Jane: But if she was really alive...

Erin: If Anne of Green Gables were alive, she would definitely be dead. Yes.

Jane smiles. She settles back into her car seat and gazes out the window.

Jane: I was just checking.