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.


Bicycle, Airships and Things that GO! A sustainability primer


Do the ankle biters know what that means? No.

Do they know the watershed from which the water filling their evening personal pool originates? Certainly not.

Do they know that 90% of the things they own are preloved? Maybe the younger one, but he’d never say.

Do they know that their veg is a little less than perfect or their fruits a bit wonky? No way.

But ask them about their favourite way to get to school and from both you’ll get an enthusiastic ‘BIKE.’ Or jogger pram. Sometimes bus. And before they could speak, trams. Do they know that these forms of transport are better for the environment? No. They just know what they like. And they like the freedom and the speed and seriously the wind on their face. “I like the fresh air, mum.” To inculcate sustainability, or preservation for the future, such a concept needs to be incorporated into their daily lives. They know no other and that they have fun doing it, so much the better.

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Thus, this week’s book is a special one. Bicycles, Airships and Things that GO! weaves a sneaky spy tale set against a futuristic sustainability backdrop. Written by Bernie McAllister, this book follows a family of four bears on an excursion from their eco-village to deliver an LED light suit created by Momma Bear to the Sunnyside Science Museum. Along the way they embark upon various forms of transport: bicycles, air ships, bike buses, high speed trains and ferries. A mischievous pair, Monkey and Toucan, are out to steal Momma Bear’s invention. Will they succeed? Think of it as a triple scoop delight of Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things that GO!, Thomas Friedman’s Hot Flat and Crowded and Hanna & Barbera’s the Jetsons. It certainly gives a nod to Scarry’s animal anthropomorphism, explanatory captions as well as the loveable Goldbug (here represented by solar hornet). With its display of wind turbines, solar power plants and electrical vehicle charging stations, it resonates with Friedman’s clean technological breakthroughs. And the Jetsons? Well, the future awaits and we have the inspiration and technology now. The story isn’t overtly about sustainability but it’s easy to convey as much or as little as necessary if you are reading to ankle biters as I do.

Source: Press Kit | Kids Future Press

Ankle biter 1 sat intently through an online viewing* of this book. His favourite page features balloon cars. I think it’s because, other than the bikes, it was one of the few tangible things he recognises. “How do they move?” Silence and then “Do the balloons move the cars?” A nascent STEAM wonder on our hands.  He also asked about the wave energy machines. “What is THAT?” I thought they were large ocean snakes. (Are they? *ACK* I had to look it up. Perhaps during later readings, I could talk about biomimicry???  Floating snakes could feasibly inspire wave energy collection, hey?) Given the digital nature of this experience, finding solar hornet was a buzzkill- all pun intended. Rather than the glowing solar entity it should be, solar hornet is a difficult shadow to uncover. As for the story in of itself, it’s agreeable akin to this book about public transport or this book about cross-town adventures. Although when Momma Bear recognises the precariousness of Toucan’s and Monkey’s situation, I expected a tiny act of kindness.

I do adore this book because it provides an opportunity for the ankle biters to envision something different. We can’t expect change- sustainable, resilient, healthy, stimulating, whatever buzzword we want- if we can’t envision alternatives. This book helps depict an urban that I can imagine. I delight in the overflowing bike parking garages, vertical gardens, rooftop gardens, indoor urban farm and most especially the interactive public art installation inspired by this. Building an ankle biter’s budding vocabulary with ‘bus-top garden’ and ‘interactive tiles’? Yes, please. This book is gracious enough to include real world inspirations for each page. As such, there is much that can spark the urban imagination.

Whew. Will you read it? We will, again and again.

*For this review, I was generously given a digital, watermarked copy to review. The opinions here, as always, are my own.

The scent of spring

is temporarily stifled beneath snow.

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Um, yes snow. We are nearing the end of April and I am watching snow flurries drift across the window. The ankle biters are besides themselves. “Snowmen. Snowballs. Dig Dig Dig!” That’s West Yorkshire for you. And I take a moment to remind myself why I love my husband and the choices we make. My toes are cold but I do have a warm cuppa cocoa.


It’s been a bit quiet round these parts not because I haven’t been reviewing books to stimulate my budding urbanists. Every day we read  intriguing ones (like this one or this one) and really awful ones (honestly, I save you from the turmoil and don’t post on such books). Suffice to say, visiting family have been  welcomed distractions. But it’s now back to some semblance of routine (insert happy dance).

To get back into the groove of things, I’d like to introduce you to Red Ted and the Lost Things by Michael Rosen illustrated by Joel Stewart. Like the tried and true Courduroy, Red Ted starts without a caretaker. Unlike Courduroy, Red Ted is mistakenly abandoned at a train station and initiates his gumption to find his way home to his beloved Stevie. He befriends pessimistic Crocodile. Together, they navigate their way from the vaults of the lost and found, through the tunnels of the train station and onto the business of the streets. Here they befriend Cat who upon sniffing Red Ted and detecting a distinct cheese smell guides them to an identical diffusing cheese shop. Alas, the very cheese shop where Red Ted’s beloved Stevie lives. A great introduction to graphic novels, Stewart provides  monochromatic panels punctuated by the vibrancy of the main characters, Red Ted, Crocodille and Cat.

Ankle biter 1 is at the stage where he has firm attachments to his own furry inanimates. During each reading though, Ankle biter 1 clutches Brownie and George with a bit more fervour. I think he likes the fact that his furry inanimates can have fantastic adventures in the great yonder but still find their way home. Oh and he liked the bit about the cheese. Me? C’mon- public transport! And the myriad of stories attached to THINGS LEFT BEHIND. Everyone has stories. We have stories. We wish our beloved beanies would find their way home. In addition to that, the scent of the city that lingers in the story. It could be could have been bread, coffee, sewers, exhaust.. But cheese, lovely delectable cheese. The delight of a local cheese shop. The captivation that citites, neighbourhoods, homes have their own unique aroma. The confirmation that scents embed memories and connect us to place. Even if it is buried beneath the snow.

Mischief in the street

Toucan stripes.


Zebra crossing. Call it what you will but those painted lines pretend to demarcate areas of safety for those afoot. Pretend because those lines act as drag strip race starting and finishing lines where drivers think pedestrians mere spectators. And spectators we are until we start to change our mindset about how we use and share our streets. Sorry automobiles, the time of your reign is over. Streets are for people. Way back when, The City Repair Project started cultivating community with the Sunnyside Piazza pictured below. Like Hans Moderman, Ben Hamilton-Baillie and David Engwitch, we should envision a new way to cross, walk, run, hop along our streets.

Streets made for people * theurbanimagined.wordpress.com

Cue this week’s short story, Lofty’s jungle fun taken from the Bob the Builder Annual 2005. For those of you uninitiated, Lofty is a blue crane truck (sometimes with wrecking ball) and part of Bob the Builder’s construction crew (with the likes of Scoop the digger, Muck the bulldozer). With two avid construction equipment ankle biter aficionados, it was only a matter of time that I’d mention Bob. I’m not quite sure why Lofty gets top billing as it is Spud, the scarecrow who steals the show, literally and figuratively in this story. A school mural is being painted by Molly. Vertically challenged, she Romper Rooms**some paint tins to use as stilts to finish the top edge of the mural. Spud absconds with the romper stompers stepping in paint along the way. He runs across town and leaves polka dotted trails especially over the new road crossing. His escapades finally end when he is hooked by Lofty. Spud is then required to clean up his mischief in the public realm.

Ankle biter 1 loves his Bob the Builder. Incidentally he broke out into the theme song during a premeditated silent stint in a publicly crowded place. He absorbs his two Bob annuals. Although there is no excavator in the crew, he eyeball-drying focuses on each adventure. So no brainer he loves the short story. I adore the story twofold. One, murals. Nothing like a little colour on the wall to enliven a space. Better yet if Molly invited the children to paint along- at least handprints-. Two, it hinted at the possibility of shared streets. Although I don’t like the fact that Spud was made to clean up his mess. Those polka dots may very well slow down traffic. Zebra crossings and footpaths should be made more colourful, more user-friendly. Place it on the radar of both perambulators and motorists.  Take a cue from Jody Xiong who created a green pedestrian crosswalk. Not only a statement on environmental responsibility but a visually arresting shared space. Next time you walk across the lines, think how the space might be altered with colour.

Jody Xiong creates a visual shared space *theurbanimagine.wordpress.com

**Yea, I may have dated myself. But back in the days I remember watching Romper Room. Boy, did I want to drive in those cardboard box fire engines!!! And because my parents weren’t suckers to advertising, I made do with my own romper stompers sans cans. More like walking strings. Ahhh childhood.

Images taken from Sunnyside Piazza — The City Repair Project, author’s photos of Bob the Builder and Green Pedestrian Crossing in China Creates Leaves from Footprints | Colossal

Transport as an adventure

Once upon a time, I sat on top of a jeepney roaring along the roads with the wind in my hair. The top is the best place to be- away from the adhesive humidity, the elders chewing betel nut, the sticky children selling balut (bird embryo), the toothless women sucking said balut, the act of balancing one cheek on a seat sliver (we’ve all been there). I sat atop spare tires, sacks of rice, duct taped Islanders (the slipper of all thongs); shared space with chooks in cages and locals who thought me ‘cowboy’ but not in a good way. Some how, the soundtrack of Wedding Singer diffused the air, as the jeepney swerved with its elephantine carriage and motored incrementally up the mountainside. I was also comically hoisted through the window right when I thought I had the perfect place to sit.

the freedom of public transport

So trust me when I say transport is about the journey and the destination. Which is why I am pleased to bring you this week’s book Off to Market by Elizabeth Dale and Erika Pal. Inspired by Dale’s adventures riding a matatu (minibus) in Uganda, it is about families hopping into a bus to journey to the local market. More and more passengers (animal, vegetable and mineral) are squeezed in alongside young Keb.

Young Keb, who is sitting on top

of a goat and two sheep who all wriggle non-stop.

The weight of the carriage, however, forces the bus to a standstill until young Keb volunteers a solution which engages the entire bus to get to market on time. The double-paged spread evokes the real life how many can we squeeze in and let’s squeeze even more scenarios of transport in provincial areas. The illustrations also delightfully render a communal bond among neighbours and within the market.

Ankle biter mildly enjoyed this book. Although he couldn’t comprehend that goats and ducks ride in buses (“Why are the goats riding on buses? They belong on farms”); he liked the fact that one day, there may be an opportunity for him to ride on goats IN A BUS. (Sorry Charlie, probably not here.) The message of a small person making a difference was also a bit lost in him. Perhaps we’ll revisit this later. I liked it for the aforementioned remembrance of good times past and the mindful realisation that we are fortunate to have a network of public transport as well as destinations within walkable and cycling distances. Although nothing beats good stories emanating from frigid encapsulation on red-eye foreign forms of public transport. Share some favourites below, I’d love to hear!

A mindful saunter


Here and now.

An awareness of the full stop.

Mindfulness is hard.

How do you find the breath when both anklebiters are screaming (one indignant at being asked to pick up his blankie and the other hungry because dinner is delayed due to aforementioned indignation). The first time, Sure, easy. But come the bewitching hour no-one sees straight. I guess I could laugh. It’s a new year and I’m trying to find my way.

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Someone recently recommended Thich Nhat Hanh’s A Handful of Quiet:Happiness in Four Pebbles. In the back of my head, my friend keeps saying,The Here is NOW.”  Mindfulness is being introduced in UK schools as part of  adolescent mental skills trainingCollectively, I am being told to SLOW dooooowwwnnn.

Enter the mindful saunter. Each week the ankle biters and I take a stroll in the hood. Our favourite thing to do is play “what’s that noise.” Which in some way is a practice of mindfulness- which is rather manifested naturally in the beauty of children’s curiosity. To take pause, each week, I’ll share the noises we hear but extend it to include all senses. Mindfulness is full awareness.

What we heard: brmmp brmmp brmmp of the little orange digger

What we tasted: the sweet and tangy of an early hot cross bun sweetly and freely presented by a lady on the bus

What we smelled: The dampness of the moss along the rocky ledges

What we touched: The icy cold layer on the shallow puddle

What we saw: The cherished green leaf

Five distractions to start your weekend

Source: Tasmanian Government

1.1 meters = a safe buffer in urinals as well as when passing cyclists on roads in Tasmania

Albert Heijn, a supermarket chain in Amsterdam started INSTOCK, a restaurant using excess food from the grocery store

Imagine, cycling rather than vehicular traffic in Copenhagen

“Perch & Repair” drones being created by the Uni of Leeds to  repair potholes

How we have lost touch with nature in that picking apples is a novelty?