What time is the street ballet?

The ballet of the good city [footpath] never repeats itself from place to place, and in any one place is always replete with new improvisations.

-Jane Jacobs

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The diversity of urban life lends itself to street ballet every minute every day. As diversity has a spectrum, so echoes the spectrum of the street ballet. The Meanwood ballet’s got nothing on the St Kilda’s ballet. And I would say St Kilda’s street ballet is akin to Venice Beach’s ballet. No destinations? No people. No people? No ballet. William H Whyte was right. People are attracted to people. In neighbourhoods, that means that there are places to see and be seen.

Lucia’s Neigbourhood by Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek elucidates the manifold footpath improvisations occurring in one girl’s neighbourhood. Like Have you Seen my Dragon? or Footpath Flowers, a child walks through the neighbourhood. The intent here, however, is to give you a tour. From an early morning walk through the park, to the opening of the corner shops all the way through evening night markets, Lucia narrates the life of the people in her neighbourhood. She even lends cultural credo by talking about the Senhor Da Pedra festival where the street is decorated like Portugal. Lucia talks about porches, grandmas sitting in the sun, teenagers hanging out and the comings and goings of the tram driver. Illustrations are digitally rendered and are significantly replete with people.

Ankle biter 1 indulged me with this book. It’s not his thing. It encapsulates what he already lives. Honestly, he’d rather live it than read it. (And so he should). The problem with the tour concept is that for him, nothing happens. There’s no ‘adventure’ for him. (This book or this book provides ‘adventures’). It illustrates ‘community’ with all the people out and about but honestly, the static of the scenes doesn’t invite him to participate. Perhaps this will come back out when he’s ready to practice reading. Ahhhh for him to recognise the words ‘street ballet’, ‘neighborhood’ (even sans ‘u’) and porches.

I won’t lie. I ordered this week’s book right off the bat when I read that “seven-year-old-Lucia” was learning about Jane Jacobs. I should have read the title. It’s not blatantly about Jane; it’s about Lucia. This book, however, elucidates the type of neighbourhood that Jane would advocate. There is high movement and involvement among and between people due to the density, mixed neighbourhood uses and small street blocks. This is probably a cheeky primer for undergrads. For children, meh. Although this book is based on Montrose Avenue which has been internationally celebrated. Perhaps better as a moving piece rather than a static one?

Our street ballet usually involves dogs and small kids and sometimes a perusal of our library. Slowly the delight of the daily improv will radiate here. So what time is the street ballet? Depends. Who’s out on your street? What about your neighbourhood attracts other people?

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Five things I’ve learned about my little free library

It’s been about a month or so since the opening of the free little library and here’s what I learned:

  1. You get a superiority complex because with this little library, you initially curate books for people to read. Yes, I think you should read ‘Atonement’ but what? you’re not interested in ‘Moby Dick’?
  2. I’ve seen at least two people take phone photos of the library. I don’t know if they think it quaint or if they are going to report it. Let’s hope it’s the former.
  3. Gypsies exist. You heard me. One day, ankle biter shouted, “The movers, they’re taking away the library.” Yea, whatevs. Later during the day, just to prove to him that nobody took the fridge, I opened the door. Lo and behold, our library was a bit askew. The gypsies took the motor. Good on them.
  4. I think the takers and givers are not the same people. I’ve been placing an additional adult novel or two per week just to keep it full. Right now there’s equal parts children, young adult and crime fiction currently donated and on offer. And thank you unnamed chef for donating an 80s collection of cookbooks. They may make their way to the op shop but who am I to say?
  5. Have we made more friends? No. Any books that have been taken or given have been done anonymously. It’s like Christmas when we open the library. We never know if there’s something new- and if something is missing or something new, it means someone’s day is just a wee bit brighter.

A Free Passport to the World

Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.

-Henry James

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I do love me a good summer. Summer for me has always meant days immersed in the sun languished in the Channel Islands, Albuquerque tribal lands, an Avonlea farmhouse, the Concord forest. Distant adventures courtesy of the pages of a book. No, not a passport but a bonafide book book. It’s no secret, if you’ve been following along, we love books here. A true passport for a quick getaway, an endless holiday or something inbetween. The library has always been and always remain our travel consultant for our holidaying minds.

This week’s book humbles us. Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown and illustrated by John Parra is about a little girl Ana who loves making stories yet owns one book. One day along with the other village children, Ana encounters a man with two donkeys, Alfa and Beto with a sign that reads, Biblioburro (translated: donkey library). This moving library offers children the opportunity to borrow books for a few weeks. In the interim, Ana reads and dreams new stories. She waits for the Biblioburro to return. When they do, she has a surprise for the librarian. The illustrations are stunning with surreal mural montages that celebrate village living and whimsical imagination. It includes a glossary of Spanish terms used in the book.

Anklebiter 1 has recently relished the ‘story’. Move over picture books. He’ll sit and look at images but likes to listen to the unfolding narrative. He loved the notion of burros (donkeys) and a traveling library. He had many questions about Ana’s stories. “Why does the bird have legs?” “Can I fly on a butterfly plane?” He says ‘libro’ (book). This libro has been on rotation for a few weeks now. That says something.

I adore this book because it is inspired by Luis Soriano Bohorquez’s own acts of literary kindness. Bohorquez and his two trusty donkeys deliver books to children living in remote Columbian villages. It opened up my eyes to the various forms of libraries as well as the pulp deficiencies many children experience. An urban imagined for children should always include access to books. With free access to several libraries, we are fortunate and rather spoilt for stories both fiction and factual. Libraries need not always be brick and mortar. And we are sharing the wealth. Before television, before cars and video games, there were books. Books transport us and library cards are the true passports. Where will you travel during these remaining days of a northern hemispheric summer?

Have we lost the art of wonder?

wonder. N. a feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable or unfamiliar.

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Even before the anklebiters (and perhaps more so now that they’re here), I have tried to relish in the serendipity of the everyday. The chance to see or experience how the world unfolds in the great outdoors. Both manmade and natural. Framing the world through these eyes has more than once urged others to see the world anew. “You see things differently.” Sure, it started in childhood because how could we not be impressed with water flowing from the sink or wind rustling through the trees or the tickling softness of a brown black caterpillar about to feast on the strawberry reserved for mum’s special treat? Somewhere along the line, boys and pop music and jolly ranchers obscured the vision but added alternative bouts of wonder. But an eighth grade English teacher re-invigorated these eyes, asking to scribble thoughts in a weeklong exercise of observation. And observe I did. The skies opened up with sherbet surprises announcing dusk. Silhouettes of Joshua trees square-danced in the moonlight. I remembered to look up and out and I haven’t stopped. I’ve been lucky. I haven’t lost the art of wonder.

This week’s book is the graphic corollary to my research. Children are experiential beings; they interact with the stimulus around them. Walking is just not walking it is truly the art of wonder. Sidewalk Flowers (or here abroad known as Footpath Flowers) written by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Sydney Smith visually entertains such ideas. It is a graphic novella sans words and follows the neighbourhood escapade of a father and daughter. Daughter is enrobed in a red hooded jumper that contrasts with the black and white depictions of the neighbourhood. As Father and Daughter traverse the footpath, passing busstops, shopfronts, park benches, the scenery starts blooming. Colours slowly filter in as Daughter gathers flowers during the jaunt and redistributes such gems. Unbiased kindness as Daughter touches physically and metaphorically the lives she encounters all whilst Father projects an oblivious air as adults often do.

Ankle biter 1 sat through a reading. He didn’t seem impressed Although he did like the canine cameo. “Will he eat (the flowers)? Or is he saving them for later?” Without spoiling too much, he did have questions about the distribution of Daughter’s flowers in the park. I think this one is more for adults or older children than anklebiters. I enjoyed it immensely for all my ranting above. Being surrounded by children and seeing what they are seeing- truly, I cannot help but be immersed in wonder. Truth be told, you don’t need children to be amazed with what’s around you. Get out of your car and open your senses. Skill yourself in this art of wonder because it really isn’t lost it’s just unused.

Can we coexist in shared spaces?

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I missed a job application deadline.

I would have been a contender. Really. Yep, whip out those violins. Anyways, when investigating the position, I came across the UK’s first affordable cohousing project, Lilac. Imagine: living lightly on the earth and a village helping to raise children. I probably wouldn’t have done it pre-kids but now, I’d do it in a heartbeat. My husband possesses a directly opposite opinion, yea pre-, no post-babies. I suffer currently from a lack of community. But introduce me to a built-in community where my front entrance is a revolving door for little ones, nips of G & T and wedged for moments of silence. Why, yes please.

This all came to mind conveniently with this week’s book The Tree by Neal Layton. Birds, squirrels, owls and rabbits harmoniously live in the tree. Along come the humans with grandeur plans for a mansion in the wilderness. A dislodged nest manifests the reality of natural habitats and a new solution for shared space emerges. Whimsical illustrations coupled with minimal text portray subtle environmental satire reminiscent of Michael Leunig. Can we live lightly with respect to the ecosystem? Absolutely, if we scale down.

Ankle biter 1 and 2 enjoyed the simplicity of the book. The sparse text allowed Ankle biter 1 to narrate his own story. “What’s a drey?” I had to look that one up myself. “What is that cloth around the tree?” The first reading was a good one for Ankle biter 1, subsequent readings were not so as the book is too simple for his budding taste in longer narratives (i.e. chapter books). Ankle biter 2 though will humour me and sit through this short tale.

For me, this book is not exactly co-housing but definitely shared spaces in an infill-kind of way. It opens up questions about sprawl and development of treading lightly on the earth and co-existing with others. Build up not out. Will it instil compassion for others? Who knows, at least it gives a reference point when we see the highly sporadic fallen bird from the tree along our neighbourhood walks. A serious contender for best book about housing development for the young ankle biter set. What about you dear reader? Would you consider co-housing?

How to start a little free library

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Little free library.

Take one. Leave one.

I finally did it. I opened up my own little free library. It’s been something I’ve been wanting to do since my mother-in-law spied and frequented one back in Melbourne. Before we moved, I carted a few over and left some cherished but extra unneeded weight: David Sedaris, Bill Bryson and some Bronte. I always promised myself when we got settled wherever we landed, I’d establish my own nook of communal kindness.

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free little library coming soon

To help you start your own, here are four things you need:

  1. You want to share and open your footpath space with others. For being a side street, we do get an awful lot of foot traffic: four-legged and otherwise. That being said, you do need to appropriate a space for your little library.
  2. You need a library: a container for your books. There are some neat ones out there to get you inspired like this one or this one. But here, Leeds is wet. And we’re all thumbs with wood and nails. So I’ve just been waiting for the perfect receptacle. It so happened that down the road, someone put out a lil bar fridge. It’s a bit small but it’s something. The seal works just enough to keep the rain and frisky cats out.
  3. You need books. Some kindred spirits passed along a few books which I never got an opportunity to read. So I shared them out along with some others: a mix of children and adults because that’s the kind of hood in which we live.
  4. Patience. It’s up to you how you want to promote your little library. We’re rather low key here and had a quiet opening. I’m solely relying on the paw and footfall. I’m considering it a summer trial: see if I have equal amounts of takers and leavers.
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little free library open

Let summer reading begin!

Is there such a thing as too tidy?

As every parent to ankle biters know, tidiness takes a back seat to cooking, laundry, storey time, laundry, fixing school bus’s perpetually breaking door, laundry, sleep, laundry. I mean we have it easy because we don’t own much ‘stuff’ to even try to tidy. Cutesy trinkets, glamorous flower vases, magazine subscriptions, furniture: we bid you adieu when we moved pre-kids. So yes, keeping the home tidy hasn’t -knock on wood- been too much of a hindrance for this family.

Still, this week’s book is a joy: Tidy by Emily Gravett. Pete the Badger is the Marie Kondo of the forest. He tidies everything and everyone in his wake. Scrub, sweep, discard. To a point where a tidy landscape for Badger meant nary a tree in sight. With no trees to help divert the pouring rain, floods and mud ensue to the bane of Badger’s existence. ‘Concrete over Everything,’ becomes his battle cry to maintain pure, unadulterated tidiness. With a satisfied contentment and associated hunger, Badger seeks respite. Shock horror. His home is buried beneath the concrete. With his forest friends at hand, they replant trees and return the forest to its natural untidiness. The illustrations are lush and unfold across two page sceneries.

I won’t lie, Ankle Biter 1 appreciated this story because of the DIGGER that makes an appearance. “Why is he brushing the birds?” “Where will all the garbage bags go?” “Why is it flooding?” “What are the worms doing?” “Are they eating the worms?” So many questions and only a good book can not only instigate this line of inquiry but help answer them as well.

This book brought back to mind an undergrad class where I learned that while COE meant Corps of Engineers to some, it meant Concrete over Everything to others. So with memory in hand, I chuckled over this book and cherished the complexity emanating from its simple yet engaging story. Yes, everything is connected to everything else. (I’m looking at you fallen leaves, thank you for your mulch).

And Yes, I think there is such a thing as too tidy.

Forget about house tidying.

Stop trying to tidy up the great outdoors off our children.

Uninspired playgrounds, structured play, even our involvement hinders their growth. Play is MESSY. Get outside, dirt beneath the fingernails (of course I bought a nail brush), my goodness, what’s that in your hair, hours in the sun/rain mixed with earth parfum GRUBBINESS. For in all this glorious dirt, the ankle biters learn about movement and imagination and smelling the difference between soil and scat and whole host of other things that I’m sure manifest themselves as the days go by.

Support untidy play.