Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Children's Garden

Winnipeg, home that I love, has an amazing new place to play. In the heart of Assiniboine Park, there is a new place designed with kids in mind, a nature playground. My son calls it "The Beach Park" because of its huge sand and water feature. But it's official name is, "The Children's Garden".
Come peek inside with me.

Already, just with hearing the name, I fell in love. The Children's Garden. It sounds like somewhere fairies would hide. But when I arrived at the entrance for the first time, and saw the hand-painted sign on the enormous door... Well, I fell a little more.
Through the gate, you see a long path paved with bricks. Planters filled with flowers can be found on either side, and trees tower just behind them. Even though the garden is large and crowded, the entry is spacious and quiet. You know you are walking into someplace special.
The planters give way to sculptures. On the right, there is a sea serpent, fashioned out of twisted branches, resembling driftwood. To your left, you can spot a birds nest, made of logs, with child-size eggs for your little birdies to pretend to pop out of. As you continue forward, you walk between two rows of a merry band of frogs, ingeniously designed to grow along with the rest of the garden.

This is a place charming, and full of whimsy, but it is also most definitely a place to play. The first structure you come on is this one, full of climbing ropes.

It attracts the older kids, who see the web of ropes as a challenge, and race each other to the crow's nest of their conquered pirate ship.

The older kids also love to pile onto to these oversized swings, which can hold as many as five riders or more, depending on how cozy those riders are all prepared to get.

Just beyond that, you feel like you have stepped into the land of the Teletubbies, as impossibly perfect, little rolling hills rise up to meet your feet, with a few coloured spheres thrown in, just for fun.

Adjacent to those are a few more slides. There is a low one, perfect for the youngest riders to explore, and two long winding ones built right into the hillsides. These hills are actually made from crushed and coloured recycled rubber, which makes them non-slip and fun to scramble up, but also a little hot in the sun. No bare feet here!

But none of those are my son's favourite part. He calls this place, "The Beach Park," after all. And this is why.

Starting at this fountain, a trickle of water begins.

It winds around, and weaves back and forth in a concrete trench, all through this beautiful 'sand box' until it disappears under a little bridge at the far side.

All along the sides, kids dig and play, trying to build dams out of sand and round heavy rocks. They can stop the water with a series of rubber locks, or pump it up to pour down a built in water wheel. They can climb in, and splash and stomp, and generally do everything every kid WANTS to do with a public fountain, but isn't allowed. In the children's garden it is not just allowed; it is encouraged.
Parents and grandparents sit along the side of the park in the grass and on lovely wooden benches, enjoying the shade of the trees. And we do what visitors always do in a garden. We gaze upon the beauty of growing things.

Even if they do move a little faster here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Finger paint is the devil

Before attempting this project, do yourself a favour, and run your child a bath. You will need it. Finger paint is the devil. Move the curtains out of reach, strip off as much clothing from your child as you are comfortable with, and put newspaper on the floor. If your child is anything like my child, this still will not help much, but at least you will feel like you tried.

Ah, Father's Day. Time to appreciate dads with cute little crafty projects. Time to put into action ideas that sound quaint and easy. Time to add a few more gray hairs.

This project is fun (for your child), doesn't require many materials, and can be done in a short amount of time. It turns out a cute gift for a dad or grandpa. It also uses finger paint. Finger paint is the devil. See above.

But if you think, nah, surely this women is just inept, I could totally handle my 3 year old when both of his/her hands are full of paint, then read on. But don't say I didn't warn you.

For this project you will need: a canvas, some letter stickers, a permanent marker and finger paints.
Isn't it lovely how clean everything is right now?

Use your letter stickers to put a message on your canvas. These will act as a 'mask' for your message, so because it really doesn't matter what colour the stickers are, choose based on letter style. A thick font works best. Burnish them with your fingernail to get them as stuck to the canvas as you can. Stickers do not stick as well to canvas as they do to paper, and you do not want them coming up mid-project.

After the stickers are adhered, set your little artist loose on the canvas. Well, not exactly loose. If you want the painting to have different colours, instead of turning into one mix-y black and greenish mess, you may need to provide some guidance. Even if that doesn't matter to you, there may still need to be direction given to keep the paint on the canvas, and not on, say, one's chest...

But to each their own.

I have no photo of this step. Just picture the Tasmanian Devil with blue hands. That is pretty much what it looked like at my house.

And then, ta da! This is what you end up with.

After you have deposited your child in the tub, and while the paint is still wet, remove the stickers to reveal your message. Once the paint is dry, you can use the permanent marker to add your child's name and the year.

Cool, right? Almost makes you want to try it?

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Conservatory calm

I wrestle my 3 year old into his clothes and then into his car seat. I snap the baby seat in place, and drive. Wait for a train for 10 minutes. Fight my way through traffic on the 3 lanes of Portage Ave. Loop around the underpass, up Tuxedo, right onto Corydon... Pull onto Conservatory drive. Find a parking space, unbuckle 3 year old, put baby in carrier. Chase three year old with umbrella through rain.

Through one set of doors. Catch 3 year old, and through another set of doors. Up a path, past a crowd of school kids. Around a corner. Breathe.

All around me, at my feet and above my head, are the lush, thick leaves of tropical plants. Soft light filters through the greenery onto the path before me. The air is heavy with humidity, and from somewhere I hear water quietly falling. I can smell black earth, and dusty paving stones, and warm, wet, growing things.

It is well with my soul.

I duck under the canopy of a low growing tree, and follow my quick-footed son. He has spotted a bench to climb onto, and off of again. He runs by the pond, pausing for just a second to watch a koi fish circle in the water. We round the corner and see a trickle of a waterfall, landing in a small pool where five turtles are unhurriedly passing the time. A friend I meet up with asks me, "Do you come here very often?" Sigh... Not as often as I'd like.

We've come to another set of glass doors. Opening them, I recognize the sweet fragrance of hydrangeas. There are so many here, nestled together with tulips, snapdragons, lilies, and many more flowers I cannot name. As the light rain drizzles down the greenhouse roof, I watch as Nik runs to and fro along the paths, up the steps and around the gardens. I find a bench to sit down, and nurse my baby.

Fish and turtles pass slowly through still pools. Trees tower overhead. Ivy creeps near our feet. A group of school children pass through on their way to transplant some seedlings. Seniors take photographs. A young man with autism taps a garden tie rhythmically as he watches a gardener misting plants. The room is alive, but not frenetic. Everyone seems at peace in the midst of these beautiful, growing things.

Time passes and tummies rumble. The time comes for us to leave again, sooner than I would like. Back out through the doors, into the drizzle, babe in arms, and 3 year old in tow. Back into the car seats, down the drive, into the traffic... Back to life. Back to that list of laundry to do, diapers to change, kids to feed, groceries to buy.

But I carry a little peace with me. A lighter breath. An acknowledgement, a gratitude for my moment of conservatory calm. Namaste.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Carny goodness

What is it about festivals? They inspire the masses to come out of their houses, and meet in the street. To listen to music they would never otherwise listen to. To eat food they would never otherwise eat. Yesterday, I saw teenagers standing around listening to bluegrass gospel music. I saw tables full of seniors eating soft serve ice cream and families gathered happily around greasy paper bags full of soggy french fries.

At the midway, we stand in line to buy tickets so we can stand in line again to ride something mechanical for 90 seconds. We shout over loud speakers blasting crackly versions of Ozzy Osborne songs. We pay $3 for a chance to win a made in China stuffed toy worth 10 cents. We are collectively impractical. And it is so much fun.

Yesterday was the first day of my community's annual street festival, the Hi Neighbour Festival. Like last year, and the year before that, we left the house on foot and walked 20 blocks to arrive at the center of the action. But this year also had it's firsts. This was the first time Alexa was with us. It was also the first time Nik was old enough to ride the midway rides, and request his own balloon animal from a colourful and friendly clown.
We ran into friends at the festival, too. One of my La Leche League leaders was there, with her son, growing like a weed. I also spotted a few kids from last year's Vacation Bible School, taller than I remembered.
These annual community events mark the passage of time as much as any season change, any birthday. With the arrival of another festival, we welcome the beginning of another summer. Amidst the colours, and the noise and the crowds, there is an energy. We are a community vibrant for another year together.

Nik as "Hi Neighbour Sam"
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