Here’s a picture of Harvard in his soccer outfit looking mighty pleased with himself. Why? Did he chest the ball down and volley it across the goal Götze-style to win a major tournament? Nope. Did he pull off a backheel nutmeg against a defender and spinoff him to score a goal? (Well, yeah, he did that, but that’s not what this post is about). No, Harvard did something far more impressive today, but if you squint, you might miss it. Today, Harvard got the green bracelet.
 

 

This little strip of Tyvek means that he passed the Splash WavePool swim test! He’s been stressed out about this test for a week now. You see, at his soccer camp, they all get to spend an hour in the wave pool to cool off a bit, but since parents aren’t around, you’re stuck in the kiddy pool if you can’t pass the swim test. The thought of this made him pretty anxious. Getting on stage at the NAC to perform in front of a couple thousand people? No problem. But swim a length of a pool? Sleepless nights and hand wringing. As Caroline explained, Harvard is pretty good at most things. As a result, he hasn’t had to face this sort of pressure and self-doubt very often. That face is the face of a boy who has genuinely triumphed over adversity, faced his fears and slayed them. In his mind, his afternoon was a Percy Jackson-level epic tale and he is it’s star.
Well done, Harvard. You’ll face a lot of challenges in life, and you’ll be racked with doubt and uncertainty, but you can always look back on this and know that sometimes you can just hold your breath, close your eyes, and persevere.
 

Arlen got his first report card. He was very excited to show us. According to Arlen, “It’s all A pluses. Well… it doesn’t actually say that, but that’s what Mrs. McGean means,” and you know what? He’s right.

It’s finally happened. The school year is at a close and report cards are coming home. Parents all harbour this dirty little secret about June report cards. We don’t really care. We’re tired of school and the packed lunches, daycare runs, the ‘do at home’ posters and dioramas, and the too-easy “J’aime lires”. We look forward to summer just as much as kids do. We know how they’re going to do in those report cards. There’s no real surprises anymore. And the more important thing is that there’s nothing we can do about it anyway, because we’re as exhausted as they are. So we get them, we read them, we praise our kids for their accomplishments, we lie and tell them we’ll work on their deficiencies over the summer, and then we file them away for ‘later’.

School’s over for another year, and looking back, it’s been a pretty good one. The guys are all doing well in school, they’re well-rounded kids who are polite, friendly, confident, and smart. Sometimes it is important for me to remember the problems that we don’t have, rather than those that we do. And then, I’m really proud of all three of them. I might not always say it, but that is what I really mean.

 

Beaverland.

We just got back from a week at a cottage in Beaverland, a half hour north of North Bay. The trip began as all road trips do: anxious questioning if the stove is on for the first half hour, and eventually stopping for a roadside meal. Poutine was on the menu, but it was the onion rings that won us over. You don’t expect a whole lot when you see a couple of teenagers slinging pre-made food in a deep fryer on the side of Hwy 17, but man, those girls put out some of the best onion rings I’ve ever had. So good, we made a point of stopping in there for another three orders on the way back.

"The perfectness of this ring cannot be a natural phenomenon."

“The perfectness of this ring cannot be an accident.”

But it’s not about the journey, it’s about the trip. Beaverland is lovely. It’s on the Marten River and I’m sure it has lots to offer that we never even got to. For us, it was all an elaborate excuse to see old friends, to make a few new ones, and to enjoy the uncomplicated life for a little while. On each of these points, the trip was a resounding success. While Caroline has seen Dave, Angela, and Rowan more recently, it’s been too long for me, and a lot has changed. Eliott is their newest addition and he’s a real charmer. He cut his teeth (literally) on the trip and was such a tough little guy that he kept his wits about him the whole time. Rowan’s become a proper boy in every sense, and Harvard and Sebastian rekindled their friendship despite the years in between meetings.

This doesn't look like a guy with two bone shards slowly piercing his lower gums.

This doesn’t look like a guy with two bone shards slowly piercing his lower gums.

There’s also new friends. Mark and Amy came up with their two kids, Charlie and Lorelei. I haven’t spent time with pre-linguistic toddlers in quite a while and it was quite an experience. Caroline and I got to how different it’s going to be when we’re grandparents. Being the family with three (more or less) independent kids, meant that we could tag in to help out with the little ones, but we were always walking with a net. The “In Case of Emergency – Call Parents” switch was unused, but it always sat there, ready and waiting. The easy out makes watching kids really quite enjoyable. I did have to change a diaper one time over the weekend, and I realized that I’ve lost all my diaper moves. Lorelei was a sympathetic recipient and a perfectly patient little girl as I bumbled my way through the whole thing. She was so confused how I could be so bad at this, so she just observed, taking notes for next time.

The week was filled with lots of fun stuff for the kids. There were scavenger hunts, boat races, lots of imaginary sword play, a game of capture the flag, and a raspberry pop-up store that consistently sold out all of its inventory within minutes of opening.

And every night was a movie night.

And every night was a movie night.

Arlen spent the majority of the week dressed inappropriately, but here he is encouraging his boat to go faster.

Arlen spent the majority of the week dressed inappropriately, but here he is encouraging his boat to go faster.

The four amigo's and their Raspberry popup shop.

The four amigo’s and their Raspberry popup shop.

But the trip wasn’t really about kids. Out loud, I’ll tell people that it’s a great opportunity for the children to run amuck in pre-industrial nature, but the truth is that it’s just as important for parents to enjoy some wine, eat some good food, and have some actual grown-up conversations. And this is why I’m home and I miss the company of others right away. Mark and Amy are a thoroughly charming couple and felt like old friends mere moments after our initial introductions. There were lots of memorable anecdotes tossed and received, a conversation covered the future implications of the democratization/commoditization of music, photographic gear was lusted after, and — yes, there was lots of shared reflections on parenting. Flowing through, between, and after these conversations was a lot of great food and drink. But the three stand out culinary experiences were: my introduction to a real Margherita (did you know that it’s not a radioactive green slushy?), Alsatian pizza (carmelized onions, bacon, gruyere and sour cream topped with arugula and lemon garlic dressing – our new favourite pizza), and a French Toast bread pudding with brown sugar and almonds (yeah, you know that’s gonna be a hit).

Looking back, I didn’t take enough pictures, I drank too much, I should have brought another sweater, but like any memorable vacation, the minor regrets will smudge and fade, but the people and places will only grow brighter.

Jeff, ruining another great picture.

The obligatory camp shot. Here’s the proof that I really am a bumbling techno-neophyte that so many fathers deny they are.

I haven’t even touched on the other big aspect of the trip. That will get it’s own post in short order.

 
put your eye in your mouth

Best in show

When Harvard was little, he and I found ourselves with lots of time to wander the streets of Toronto. He’d ride along in a baby sling and we’d wander up and down Queen Street and hit up lots of galleries and buy German sandwiches. The sandwiches have changed, but he’s still a great partner to take along to gallery shows.

On Friday, the Matt Family went on the Northern Scene Gallery Crawl and saw a bunch of art from Northern Artists. The exhibit at the Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG: the gallery with a terrible acronym that they resolutely they use with pride) was by far the best show we saw. The lower level was full of whimsical drawings and sculptures from Inuit artists, but Harvard plonked himself down in front of a piece by Zin Taylor called “Put your eye in your mouth” and sat entranced for the full twenty minute video. I had to pull him away from it because the bus was leaving for the next show. Harvard has decided that media art is the way to go. He later found another piece “The Soniferous Æther of The Land Beyond The Land Beyond” by Charles Stankievech, a visual exploration of an arctic labratory (?) with a droning soundtrack and lots of slow pans. Harvard’s review: “Thumbs up, but it could use more action.”

I’m pretty proud of him and his taste. It was a blast and it fills me with a little belated guilt that I haven’t taken him to more shows.

 

I admit it, we totally threw him into the deep end with the cello. But Sebastian being Sebastian, he worked hard and is quickly getting the hang of it. And last Friday he had his first public performance with his Suzuki cello group at Kiwanis. He had a lo of fun and it was so nice to see how proud he was of his own accomplishment.

Seb cello 2

Seb cello 1

Seb cello 3

 

We love our house and, luckily, there are very few things that need to be done to it. Still, there is a small but expensive list of repairs/improvements that will need to be addressed when we have the money and time to do so (repoint the exterior brick, replace the rotten support beam holding up our addition, fix the bathroom floor to prevent further water damage to our living room ceiling, replace the countertop in the kitchen). We were at a granite place to look at counters for my parents’ kitchen and came across this slab of rock. It’s a beauty. Luckily for us, nobody else will probably like it a much as we do, so we’ll have time to save up.

our countertop

 

“What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails
That’s what little boys are made of!”

Having boys can be a lot of work. They’re like steam engines: if they’re not pushing a freight train, they’re liable to explode. But there are the other times; the times that you don’t jump to mind when you think of boys. The times when a pile of new books comes back from the store and a silence descends on the house and a new adventures begins in their imaginations.

 

It is a well-known fact that we are a soccer family. But Ottawa is a hockey town and when I had the opportunity to bid on 6 Ottawa 67s tickets, I jumped at the chance because while the NHL is on strike, the 67s get to play at Scotiabank Place. Turns out these games really are great fun (only one fight broke out, and even that one seemed almost staged, it was so ridiculous), and they know how to keep a young crowd engaged. And that is as close as I’ll ever get to endorse hockey.

hockey 1

hockey 3

hockey 2

 

A sweet note from my son

Halloween candy made an early appearance this year. I woke up this morning to hear Harvard tell me that there’s a special present waiting for me downstairs. Let me be clear. It is not my birthday. It is not Christmas. There’s really not anything special about today (quite the opposite actually — it’s Monday). I went downstairs to find this little note and present left for me.

A tiny little package

Then I realized what it was. You see, Harvard and his brother’s had snuck downstairs and were surreptiously eating candy that morning. The present was a pre-emptive bribe to get me to either ignore or endorse their candy binge. But the worst part? It totally worked. I do like Starburst candies.

 

I was extremely fortunate to visit Nunavut last week. The plan was to go to Pangnirtung and Rankin Inlet, but the weather was not playing along (everyone from up North did warn us that the the weather can be unpredictable this time of the year what flights are concerned). So we were fortunate enough to spend a couple of extra days in Pang. It is hard to put into words how beautiful Pangnirtung is, and how warm and welcoming its people are. I kept telling everyone that I will be back and I want to bring the kids. If you are into art, culture, nature, hiking, photography …., this place should be at the top of your list of places in Canada to visit. Pang has so much to offer: the beautiful Uqqurmiut Art Centre (www.uqqurmiut.com) with its printmaking and tapestry workshops, the Angmarlik Visitor’s Centre with its knowledgeable staff, and lets not forget Louis at Auyuittuq Lodge, who handled us tourists with a firm, but kind hand (not to mention excellent food!). I can’t wait to come back.

 
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