A bike and a rough road

Do you ride a bike? For me, there is something transformative and symbolic about a bicycle. I can still remember, 102 years later, the feeling of my father’s hand releasing the back of the seat when I was a novice pedaller at age four or five. That instant I became a solo rider? I owned the world. Still do, on a bike.

When we were 12 or 13, my two best friends and I rode the 12 or more miles to the wilds of Douglas, Ontario. I’m not sure why. The candy at Lynch’s store? It was hot, so in a rural, sloping field full of boulders we took off our tops to sun ourselves in trainer bras. At least mine was a trainer bra.

At age 15 or so, one of those friends and I rode our bikes on the side of the highway from Combermere to Barry’s Bay, Ontario, for ice cream. It is hilly there, for the record.

Then, as a younger mother with more balls in the air than hands to catch them, I fell in love with a rusty dumpster bike. My husband brought it home for me. It was one of his “finds” – rescued as it leaned against an overflowing collection bin for Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Right away, she ceased to be an it. She was Miranda, my trusty, majestic steed, purple and beautiful in her own yesteryear way.  In the warmth of many summer nights, I cycled around the neighhourhood, captivated by lights in windows and the scent of fabric softener as people’s clothes dryers tumbled away somewhere inside.

It was liberating, exhilarating, empowering.

When Miranda was stolen (or pedalled into the gentle embrace of her next good home, I hope), my husband surprised me at Christmas with another purple bicycle. Instead of responding with grace and gratitude, I was a little cranky. I was expecting an ugly sweater. The gleaming, fancy new two-wheeler was no Miranda and didn’t have quite the same pedigree, in my eyes. (I’m a snob that way.)

Still, I became fast friends with Nameless the it bike while my boys – big and little – and I went on umpteen cycling adventures over the years. The rush of mountain biking in New Hampshire was incredible, something I hope to experience again, and a summer lunch excursion to Manotick – in the countryside outside Ottawa– was memorable as well. Especially when my husband was the one in front, facing the headwind.

Bicycling makes me very happy.

That’s why I was so thrilled today to read, at bringingthesunshine.com, about Sarah Kate riding her bike. It is, I think, its own form of flying. I wish her wings and adventures.

That’s why I only really want to talk about Tracy Dort-Kyne.  Hers is a story about a bike and a mother and a family in need.  Like a lot of us, Tracy is a mom. She’s a single mom and has three boys.  September 4, when she was training for the Centurion Canada 2011 road race, she crashed her bike near Blue Mountain. Today, she and her family are dealing with a Complete C3/C4 spinal cord injury.  The road ahead is anything but smooth: paralysis from the neck down and months in hospital.  Tracy’s care will be extremely expensive and the long-term impact of her injury is incalculable.

She is a mom of three boys. A sister. A daughter whose parents are from Ottawa. She loved to ride her bike – just like me.  And you.  Please help Tracy and her family in this new journey.


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No Armageddon (or ceiling!) in NUTSella’s Garden of Growing

Come. Come Ronnie McD, Timmy and Dunkin. Come Ant(h)onys and Gene. Come all you canpers. It’s time for one of our les plus populaires activities at Canp NUTSella: Cultivation.

Oh joy. Oh rapture!  Digging dirt, spreading dung, mulching cults and fertilizing culture are all part of the wonder in our Garden of Growing.  The tillage is continuous and absolutely everybody is included in the action. Look! See what a bumper-to-bumper crop we have so far! We’ve got spuds fresh in the packages, dandy lion seeds sailing in the breeze, tomatoes doing the salsa and all sorts of delirious treats.

Let’s put on our green thumbs, okay? We’ll sew a big patch of kindness, lots of tolerance, a row or two of silly and a few snarky seeds, just cuz (… halos might cause sun damage). As you canpers know, growing involves caring, sharing and putting in that little extra effort to tend our fare earth.

So…since our friends at Camp US are struggling to figure out how to raise a ceiling, pay bills and stay clear of Armageddon, we’re going to be helpers today.  We’ll put in a few plants for them too.

Sure as It’s Mother’s Day, I’m a Serial Ki..Ki..

Nana was buried in a cookie jar. It’s a long story and hard to believe, but true. My mother in law travelled the world in her lifetime. This time?


A tiny lady with glowing skin and a quick smile, she was always game for our family escapades and celebrations – however quirky. Lego got dumped on her living room carpet, the pots and pans came out for playtime and Santa drove by on a fire truck one Christmas Eve shouting Ho Ho Ho as she and wee boys stood in her doorway entranced, waving. She was joyful, Nana, and dear to us.

My own mother I cherished. Years ago, I bought fabric and thread and spent days putting together a book, With Love, to let her know that. She knew anyway. Somewhere here in the life history of things kept, there is a story cut out of a newspaper. It has a picture of my brother and me kissing mom on the day she was honoured as MS Mother of the Year. After she died – a happy death, soft, shimmery and full of life – people told me, people I knew not well, how much they loved her. How much she meant to them.

It took me years to realize, after her death, that we weren’t the Brady Bunch with a lot less kids. That mothers don’t belong on pedestals.


What I love best is the passion she had, the wild Irish life force, the unshakeable, unwavering faith. She prayed with fervency and laughed to shaking at sacrilegious jokes. Able to see the humour and the good.

My mother, her sisters and the many women who mothered me had a language that was rich, outrageous and coloured with affection. It warmed and nurtured. My cousins, my brother and I were raised with tis, twasn’t, fairies and the divil himself. Threats of violence were signs of affection and were a source of comfort.

Potatoes and um. Translation: Not quite sure what I’m making for dinner.

For’ninst ya. Translation: Beside you.

I’ll give you a dollar on pay day if… Translation: Would you please do something for me, darlin’ girl?

Go play in the traffic. Translation: Time to find something else to do, sweetheart.

I’m going to kill him. Translation: I love him, but Jesus Mary Mother of God that (kid/husband/dog/cat/sibling…) is driving me out of my one simple mind – don’t you know?

The divil never did darken our door, but I grew up to be a serial ki ki….. hyperboler.

So in honour of my mother and my children, I will scream bloody murder if tisn’t a grand time today for kindness, tolerance and good humour.

We will say Ho Ho Ho to Nana and have potatoes and um for dinner. (I’ll kill them all if they don’t cook it.)

And sure as I’m Irish, I’ll smother them all with ki.. ki.. kisses.

People live in one another’s shelter.  Irish proverb
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New York City? SWEET

As a first-time visitor, I expected certain things from NYC: Action. Diversity. Energy. What I discovered bowled me over. The Big Apple was full of sweetness. It was extraordinary in a world-class – and classy – way. Everywhere we went during our week in Manhattan this spring, people were kind to us. They smiled, they were courteous and they went out of their way to be helpful.

What’s up with that? We toted around a Lonely Planet NYC City Guide each day and although the 448-page book was useful, the editors might consider adding a chapter called Good Times, Great Manners. Surely the city folks must be used to tourists. After all, there were nearly 49 million visitors in 2010. Still, the simple human kindness we encountered over and over again was pretty special.

When I showed up one morning at Madison Square Gardens to see if I could get my boys tickets to that night’s home-town match between the Rangers and the Islanders, the fellow at the ticket window was a prince – with a sense of humour. “As long as you don’t cheer for those Maple Weeds,” he teased, producing tickets for two great seats. Curious, I asked if there was anything better to be had. There wasn’t. These were the last two adjoining seats in the place.

In Macy’s at Herald Square, I lost my kids. The vast landmark of a department store could give Ikea lessons in how to baffle novice shoppers. After going up, over, down and all around a few times, there he was – a security guard, happy to come to the rescue. I think his name was Save My Bacon. The young gentleman taught me how to use my cell phone. (Too bad I’ve forgotten already.)  He also delivered me directly to the lads and took the time to chat with them. When I hugged him in the middle of the crowded department store, he grinned. It was the Little Critter book Just Lost – only better.

At lunchtime on a bustling street, we stopped to fill up the hollow teen legs. As I was coming out of the ladies’ room there was a wee old lady ahead of me. She had one of those wire shopping carts with wheels, as well as a big canvas bag she used as a purse. We both glanced at the door – and she pulled out two paper towels, one for herself and one for me, so we wouldn’t get sick from the germs on the handle.

The same sort of scenario played out at subway stations on three different occasions. We bought the card, swiped it, couldn’t get it to work for all of us and some good samaritan helped us out, getting us through the gate with ease. One of my guys loves high-end brands and even at the most luxurious of retail addresses, employees and fellow shoppers were unfailingly warm and friendly, despite my Hermès-free ensemble.

Such niceness. Who knew? I am shocked by this revelation.

There have been spring holidays at a number of places over the years. We’ve done the tropical beach thing and gone skiing at Lake Placid, Tremblant and in New Hampshire. One year we went to Nova Scotia on the train and a couple of years ago, we headed to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, by way of the road trip of a lifetime. In Nashville, we saw a show at the Grand Ole Opry, but the real show was at a local restaurant where we encountered Elvis and his twin brother, Elvis, sitting in different booths. Since one of the kids loves to see the sights, we visited an attraction or two in every state. I plotted stops along the way based on proximity to popular landmarks and outlet malls with labelicious stores. Regardless of the best-laid plans, the biggest trip hits were the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Savannah, Georgia, beach bicycles and gators.

In NYC, the same strategic mom-thinking applied. Each day, a different part of town was explored, with cultural attractions and shopping part of the itinerary.  There was a difference here though I couldn’t help but notice. Random people looked me in the eye and nodded hello. Strangers were willing to chat and make that all-important extra effort to be cordial. New York was the City of Genuine Hospitality.

Tourism is a huge business, intersected by the equally hefty hospitality industry. At any locale or venue, from a ski destination to an island resort, friendliness is a standard expectation. People are paid to be pleasant and accommodating. In Manhattan, the gracious reception was courtesy of just about everybody we were lucky enough to meet. Thanks, New Yorkers, for the warm welcome.

NYC Love List

  • Inside Trump Tower, the walls were the same colour as The Donald’s tan. How cool bronze is that? On the bottom floor, Donald Trump bottled water was sold and guess who’s mug was on the label?  (Whoever came up with that idea, you’re fired!)
  • The boisterous, emerald-tinged crowd on Fifth Avenue gave a resounding, prolonged cheer for the two city garbage men marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. A second aha moment arrived with a parader who stopped along the route to (presumably) propose to his sweetie. A small box popped open, lips locked, cameras flashed and she joined the parade (eyes undoubtedly smiling).
  • For the first time ever, my “frugal and shrewd” son ventured into the retail jungle and bagged big game. The kid has taste! He scooped up swanky shoes and designer shirts sans maternal intervention.
  • Although the calendar said the end of March was near, people were still skating around the outdoor rinks at both Rockefeller Center and Central Park. How about that, Canuck dads?
  • Times Square after dark was all sparkle and pizzazz, like a carnival with concession booths and free admission.

  • Other parts of town were captivating in their unexpected beauty. We came across striking architecture, public spaces and parks in the same manner you’d uncover surprises in a pop-up book.
  • It was fun to get around. We could cover 50 blocks with ease and both the street and the subway were prime people-watching territory. “Look at the man spray-painted gold.”  “Did you see that lady’s six-inch fingernails?”
  • On practically every corner, cops in different shades, shapes and sizes were part of the scenery. Except on St. Patrick’s Day – when they were all in the parade.
  • There’s nothing like a vacation – okay, child entrapment – to bring about sibling harmony and family closeness. Perhaps my favourite part of the getaway was my son’s request for a St. Paddy’s meal at an Irish pub. “We can eat the food of our ancestors and honour our heritage,” he explained. “Just not on March 17,”  he added. “It gets too rowdy.”  So we went to the pub on St. Patrick’s Day Eve – and he eventually decided on spaghetti.