Hot Chocolate

Yesterday morning when I woke up it was a frosty -18°C (0°F) — okay, technically -17.9°C (-0.22°F), but the weather network rounded up. That felt like -27°C (-16.6°F) with the wind chill. Non-natives to the area might just think, “Well, that’s Canada for you, it’s always ridiculously cold there.” Okay, sure, it’s colder here than in many places, but not usually so early in the season. This is February weather. In November it’s generally grey and dreary, and hovers around the freezing point. Yesterday was the coldest November 22nd in the history of the city, beating the 1972 record by three and a half degrees. My friend in Whitehorse pointed out that it was a “balmy” -4°C (24.8°F) where he lives.

So I feel that I am justified in commenting on the fact that winter has come quite early to this neck of the woods. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like winter — for a while. I enjoy the changing of the seasons. It’s when the season doesn’t seem to want to change that I don’t like — either the stifling, humid days of high summer or the dragging, freezing days of the most intense part of winter. Those days when it seems like all there is to do is endure the season, not enjoy it. And it seems like that part of winter has come on pretty darned fast this year. Heck, my husband went on a ten-day business trip, and when he left it was still autumn. When he returned home, it was February.

The kids, though, don’t mind the biting cold all that much, because it means hot chocolate when they get home from school. They walk, you see, so the weather hits harder than if they just hopped on and off a school bus. It won’t be the hearty meals that they remember fondly from this time of year — at least not until they get a bit older. No, it will be that warm mug of hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows while they read at the kitchen table and let the worries of the day fall away. Or perhaps, on slightly warmer days, that same mug after coming in from playing in the snow, red-cheeked and raw-nosed. How do I know that? Because it’s one of my favourite childhood memories as well.

The Nightmare Before Christmas Garage

Halloween is all over but for the consumption of vast quantities of candy. Due to rainy weather, we didn’t get as many trick-or-treaters as I thought we would this year, so we have boxes of full-sized candy bars on top of what the kids accumulated. I think I’m going to have to Google “things to make with leftover Halloween candy”.

Of course, after Halloween there’s also lots of cleaning up and packing away to do, but before I get to that I’d like to share my favourite part of this year’s decorations: the Nightmare Before Christmas garage.

You see, this year marks the 25th anniversary of one of my favourite movies (and Thing 2’s all-time fave so far), The Nightmare Before Christmas. I thought that part of my outdoor decor should definitely reflect this fact. I purchased the little Jack Skellington inflatable on the right, and the larger one on the left was a generous gift from a friend. I made the Oogie Boogie “moon” light cover out of a plastic platter, a black Bristol board cut-out, and a yellow light bulb. The “hill” on the garage door was just more Bristol board taped on and cut out in the desired shape, with breaks and slight overlaps between the panels so I could still open and close the door. Honestly, it wasn’t terribly difficult, but I was really happy with it all in all.

As for actual costumes the day of, I wore my Robin Hood: Men in Tights costume during the day, and my Discworld Death to take my kids trick-or-treating at night. Death was very well received by most, although he did frighten a few little ones (he’s enormous, after all). I really did enjoy chasing the teenagers. The kids wore their Borderlands 2 costumes, and they were thrilled when a few people even knew who they were supposed to be.

I’d say that it was a pretty great Halloween.

Take a Hike

I rather enjoy walking in the woods not far from home; calling it “hiking” might be a bit of an exaggeration, since the areas I frequent are wide, well-groomed trails not far from civilization, for the most part. But I thought it might be nice to take a short hike (about 6.5km) through the Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area (map here).

Now, I could do 6.5km in town on paved streets without really trying, but hiking in the woods is a different matter. The trails here are well-marked, but not nearly as well-groomed as I’m used to — but that’s probably the city girl in me. I had to watch my footing carefully to be sure not to turn an ankle on a root or one of the many, many fallen acorns. That was what made the most noise in the forest while I walked, other than me: acorns falling off of the trees. I’m surprised I didn’t get beaned.

The first part of the trail was pretty steep, with even a few switchbacks to keep the adventure from transitioning from “hiking” to “climbing”. I took the Blue Trail from the Visitor’s Center to the first overlook, and was treated with the above view from the top of Pyramid Mountain. I believe that the water you can see at the bottom is part of the Taylortown Reservoir. Obviously this hike was taken a few weeks ago, before the leaves started to change; I imagine that the view must be even lovelier with the fiery colours of fall.

Continuing on, I was paying such careful attention to my footing that I almost missed this tiny little wizard hiding in a tree.

The Blue Trail continued to Tripod Rock, which is a glacial erratic, which is basically a large rock dropped by the Wisconsin Glacier that doesn’t geologically match the stone in the surrounding area. It’s also called a perched boulder because, well, it’s perched on three smaller boulders. As precarious as this placement may seem, it’s a very sturdy formation and isn’t likely to shift anytime soon, barring human intervention.

Here’s a shot of me with the rock for scale. Please excuse the frizzy hair; it was very hot and humid that day! I should have brought a hair clip. I took these photos with my camera propped up on the bedrock outcrop that is mentioned on the Wikipedia entry map, if you’re trying to figure out the orientation.

From this angle you can see the supporting tripod of boulders more clearly.

Next it was down the Blue/White Trail to check out Bear Rock. This is another glacial erratic and it absolutely dwarfs its better-known compatriot:

This photo was taken from the little bridge over Bear House Brook; my camera was propped up on one of the railings.

After this point I misread a trail marker and ended up halfway through Bear Swamp before the masses of mosquitoes clued me into the fact that I’d made a wrong turn. Then I hiked back to Bear Rock, took the White Trail to the Blue Trail back to the visitor’s center and my car.

Except for my wrong turn, which was entirely my own fault, this was a lovely hike and I highly recommend it! The rock formations are very interesting and make great destinations.

Tornado

This past Friday, September 21st, the Ottawa-Gatineau area experienced two tornadoes. We’d had tornado warnings in the past which never amounted to much more than a nasty storm with high winds, so I honestly had expected the warnings to be down-graded just like every other time. Actually, I was out photographing the promotional photos for my last post minutes before the storm struck. I was editing them as the wind picked up, thunder rumbled, and the deluge started.

My family was extremely lucky: the tornadoes never came close to us. The stronger tornado, a high E/F3, flattened parts of Dunrobin, and then moved on to Gatineau. The second twister, a E/F2, moved through the southwest end of Ottawa.

The thing that I think a lot of people not from around here don’t understand — especially those in the central part of the US, where they get something like 500 tornadoes a year — is that tornadoes are extremely rare around here. So far as I can tell, we’ve never even had one of any strength touch down in Ottawa (although there was an F1 that hit Gloucester in 2000). Because of this, we’re really not prepared for them! Our natural disasters tend more towards slower, cumulative events, like extremely cold and harsh winters, ice storms, and floods. Nobody has a storm cellar, although most single family homes have a basement or are built on a concrete slab — no crawlspaces under homes here unless it’s a motor/mini home, since with our winters pipes and floors would freeze. We don’t have tornado sirens or drills; the emergency alert that was supposed to be sent to all cell phones in the area simply did not reach a lot of customers. I know that I got the message, but my husband didn’t; my father did, but not my mother. Many people continued on with their days as usual, knowing that a storm was brewing, but with no idea of how strong it would be. As a city, we are extremely lucky that no fatalities have been reported so far, although some people are in critical condition.

As I said, my family was extremely lucky. Our only consequences to the storm were a very short power outage (we’ve experienced worse from a regular thunderstorm) and the downed lilac bush in our side yard. It doesn’t even really look like it has fallen from the front, just a bit overgrown…

But it’s pretty obvious once you go push through the branches to the back yard and look toward the front.

Despite the roots snapping, I count us extremely lucky because the bush (okay, it was over two stories, so it was more of a tree) fell away from the brand new back fence, and didn’t seem to do any damage to the houses as it fell down. Since it had multiple smaller trunks instead of one big one, it didn’t have the same impact as a true tree. I’m going to spend today cutting it apart and putting it out for garbage collection, and after that we should be able to tell if it damaged the neighbour’s air conditioner or gas meter at all.

Once again, I would like to reiterate that my family and friends are all fine, although many people I know experienced minor property damage and others went 48+ hours without power. My sincere thanks go out to the city’s emergency services, who responded quickly and efficiently to the disaster. I would also like to thank the electricity company employees who have been working tirelessly to restore power to the city, which was made especially difficult by the Merivale transmission station being taken out by the tornado. They’ve managed to route power around this station and restore power to hundreds of thousands of customers in just over two days, which is exceptional, in my personal opinion.

If you want to help those who have been affected by the tornadoes, here are some ways you can do so:

– Donate money to the Canadian Red Cross, who are providing hot meals to those in need.
– Donate food or money to the Ottawa Food Bank, who are providing supplies so that the Salvation Army can distribute hot meals, as well as helping people in need to replace the food that they have lost due to the power outages.
– Donate food to the Kanata Food Cupboard, who will redistribute the food to those most in need.
– Donate furniture, clothing, or household items to Salvation Army Thrift Stores; if you have larger items, you can arrange to have them picked up for free by calling 1-613-247-1435 ext. 228.
– Donate personal hygiene products and non-perishable foods (they now have more than enough donated clothing) in the former Sears location on the ground floor of Galeries de Hull (320 boul. Saint-Joseph, Hull sector) in Gatineau.
– Donate money to the Ottawa Senators’ GoFundMe, who have pledged to match donations up to $25,000.

Big Family Cottage Trip: Day 2

Since cooking was off the table the night before, we started Day 2 of the big family trip to the cottage with a hot breakfast even though the temperature and humidity were already starting to get out of hand.

I fried up bacon and eggs over hard while Mom cut up fruit for a salad and toasted up English muffins. The end result was homemade breakfast sandwiches and fruit salad, with whipped cream and/or maple syrup for those who wanted it on the latter.

Then we all jumped — okay, cannonballed — one by one into the lake, being sure to keep away from the dock spider, who was still at her post…

Where, at least until the kids came down and started making the normal kid amount of noise, some of the adults got to swim with the lake’s resident loons.

We stayed in the lake for a good hour, but before we knew it there was thunder in the distance. Not soon after, the storm clouds rolled in…

And then the heavens opened up. This meant that we were cooped up inside for a while (I don’t object to playing in the rain, but I draw the line at thunder and lightning). We played cards and taught the kids the game of “Spoons”. Luckily the downpour also brought down the temperature, or we wouldn’t have had the energy for such a competitive game.

Then there was another cold dinner, which was a combination of cleaning out the fridge before we left and leftovers from the night before. I made myself a spincach, strawberry, and goat cheese salad with sesame dressing…

Followed by more of Mom’s potato salad (sans bacon).

For dessert we absolutely had to finish off the blueberry pie and coconut-based whipped cream substitute that Mom brought. Oh, the hardship.

Here There Be Spiders

I was lucky enough over the last few days to be able to make a family trip to the cottage my parents are renting — all of us this time! My husband, Thing 1 and Thing 2, Mom and Dad, my younger brother, and his friend B. We could only schedule the eight of us for a single overnight trip, which happened to be the hottest, stickiest time I’ve spent at the lake yet. The kids didn’t mind so much, except that they didn’t sleep very well that night.

Other than the heat, the first day’s weather was lovely. Thing 1 and Thing 2 spent a lot of time fishing with her Gramps; Thing 2 is finally mastering the patience required to catch little rock bass. And of course, when the kids weren’t fishing or otherwise playing on shore, they were in the lake itself burning off some energy whilst cooling down.

We all kind of avoided one part of the dock/retaining wall for all of these activities, though, because an enormous dock spider had spun a web there. Female dock spiders can get up to about 9cm long, and I think this particular specimen was a good example. It was fascinating enough to peek at and to take pictures — even the kids wanted to see it! But nobody wanted to get too close. Probably a good thing, actually, because according to a bit of research after the fact, dock spiders don’t spin webs to catch prey: they spin them to protect their egg sacks! My best guess is that her egg sack was down inside the crevice she was protecting. I’m glad we didn’t disturb her! (I mean, it’s also possible that the web was from another spider, but she was very assiduously sticking to one spot.)

Anyway, after all of the swimming and the fishing and the arachnid discovery, we had a cold supper (because who wants to cook on an evening that hot?). We spread out the breads and cheeses and cold cuts and salads at the table, but it definitely wasn’t a formal affair.

In my case, dinner consisted of a bacon, lactose-free Havarti cheese, and avocado sandwich on freshly-baked beer bread. (Okay, I lied, I cooked one thing, but cooking a loaf of bread in the bread machine on the deck didn’t warm up the cottage.) The bread was a new recipe that I’m currently testing, and everyone seemed to like it. I hope to post the recipe soon. I paired it with Mom’s Potato Salad (without the optional bacon, and actually made by my mom the night before), and a hard-boiled egg.

Cooking for a Crowd at the Cottage

Another lovely day with friends at the cottage started with eggs (over easy or scrambled), toast (not homemade for a change because we ran out), breakfast sausages, and left-over fruit salad.

Then there was more fishing. My girls usually love fishing, but with friends along they developed a great deal more patience than usual! I think everything’s just more interesting with friends.

All this despite the fact that Gramps was the main one who caught the fish (unusual, that, since with all the kids around he spends most of his time baiting hooks and untangling lines). Friend 1 did manage to catch a small rock bass, and my friend caught this tiny little sunfish and a slightly larger rock bass. She did get one good-sized fish on that tiny little hook, but didn’t manage to land it. The water was so clear that we could all watch it and its buddies swimming away…

Of course, there was also lots of swimming fun to be had, especially since it was even hotter that day than the day before.

For dinner on the last night I made curry and rice, not Glico this time by S&B Tasty Curry Sauce Mix (mild, of course, since the kids have no tolerance for spice). The veggies were potatoes, carrots, and garlic scapes. My kids ate a fair portion, but I’m pretty sure that Friend 1 and Friend 2 weren’t so fond. I get the impression that they’re pretty darned picky eaters, though.

We all had a really great time! I hope that we can do this again.