Ladysmith Oktoberfest

This past weekend I headed out with Thing 2 to the cottage that my parents were renting to help them clean it out for the season. Not coincidentally, this happened to be the same weekend as the Ladysmith Oktoberfest celebration, so we had to stop on by. I’m mostly of British, Irish, and Scottish descent myself, although heaven knows that our family tree hasn’t been tracked back very far, so it’s possible that there are many other nationalities mixed in there further back. My husband, though, has strong ties to German and Poland (close to the German border) through his maternal grandparents, so my children share this heritage as well. I thought it might be nice for Thing 2 to get a glimpse of this part of her family history.

Oktoberfest in Ladysmith is a pretty big deal locally. As of the 2016 census, there are only 448 people who live in the Thorne township; I would estimate that less than half of that population lives in Ladysmith proper. Nonetheless, when Oktoberfest rolls around, the hotel and nearby cottages are booked solid, and the fields and yards nearby are filled with campers and trucks and tents. People come to visit with friends, take in the entertainment, shop, dance, drink, and celebrate their cultural heritage. After all, a large percentage of the population thereabouts is of mixed British Isles and German descent — which is why, despite being in Quebec, the area remains predominantly anglophone.

For Thing 2, the highlight of Oktoberfest was the live music. Music has always been able to soothe this savage little beast. She sat, enraptured, as the Kyle Felvhaver Band did two sets. When the Ottawa Valley Step Dancers came in, she was enthralled by the rhythm that their shoes tapped out. And when the band played slow dances and waltzes, her eyes followed the dancers on the floor as they circled around the room. She enthusiastically proclaimed to me that when she is old enough to take music at school, she wants to be a drummer! With Thing 1 starting to learn clarinet this year (just like her dad did), I have a feeling that between the two girls, any peace and quiet we ever did experience at home is now a thing of the past. And yet I can’t begrudge them an instant of it.

Thing 2 also insisted that I take a picture of the decorations on the ceiling with all of the “fairy lights”.

Of course, Thing 2’s second-favourite part of the day was the Bratwurst sausages, which might just be her favourite food ever. She managed to eat a whole one herself, which was pretty incredible considering their size.

Sadly, the weather for Oktoberfest was not the greatest; it alternated between rain and shine all day. But this meant that before we left the cottage for the last time this season, we were treated to an especially brilliant rainbow over the lake. Not a bad goodbye, if you ask me.

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.

Pulled Pork

Last night we had my brother-in-law over for dinner again, so I had to make a meal that was filling enough for a family of four and a grown man who is seriously into Muay Thai. I settled on pulled pork, using my trusty formula (not really a recipe per se).

This time I served it with mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus, although it would have been a perfect day to run the oven and make some fresh bread. I don’t think it went above 15°C (59°F) and it rained most of the day, so it was pretty damp as well. That’s not horrible weather for spring, but by the time we hit June around here we expect it to be a bit warmer. I have been kind of hoping to start working on my garden this week, but the weather just hasn’t been cooperating. At this point I’m just growing a fantastic crop of weeds, and that’s just sad. I can do better than this.

Earth Day

Yesterday I spent most of Earth Day on my bicycle, which I think is appropriate. It was less because it was Earth Day and more because the weather was finally nice (you’d never know we had an ice storm a week before), and I love to cycle.

I cycled with my mother along the Rideau River and the Rideau Canal, taking a break in the middle of the ride for a lovely bite to eat in the Glebe. A good deal of maintenance had been done since the ice storm, so most of the big branches had been pulled off of paths and roads, but the large numbers of smaller sticks and twigs sometimes made it dicey going. Every so often we’d find an area with constant shade, and we’d have to be careful of the ice hidden there. The water was really high on the river (although definitely not as bad as last year’s major flooding), so some of the bike paths that run alongside were a little dicey and sometimes inaccessible. Amusingly, when we traveled alongside the canal we realized that it has yet to be raised back to navigation level and was almost dry at the bottom — the water level is controlled by a series of dams and weirs, and it’s only partially filled in the winter to create ice for the skateway.

While the plants have yet to green up, the bugs were starting to reemerge (I learned that gnats stick to sunscreen) and we saw a plethora of birds. Although there were worries that the robins would starve in the late freezing weather, we did see quite a few of them. Also in large numbers were pigeons, gulls, and Canada geese; although we didn’t see many of them, we did hear songbirds singing in the trees. We even spotted the odd pigeon in the photo above, which caught our eyes because the pigeons around here generally have colouring more like this.

Honestly, it wasn’t the prettiest day. Despite the clear blue sky and the sun shining down, this isn’t the most beautiful time of year to be a tourist. If you wanted to film/photograph something with a post-apocalyptic vibe, this is the time to do it. Just wait a few weeks, though, and it will be beautiful again!

I did do a couple of things that are kind of stereotypically Canadian today, now that it’s warmed up a bit. First, I took my outdoor Christmas lights down. If you live in warmer climes that probably seems quite late, but although I turned mine off on January 1st, by then they were frozen to the ground and under a thick layer of ice and snow. Only now had things melted back enough that I could actually take them down!

Also, today I shoveled the lawn. That probably sounds ridiculous to anyone who doesn’t live where there’s a great deal of snow, so let me explain. At the end of the winter, you’re always left with a few drifts that are the last to melt, usually in areas that don’t get much sun or where you pile snow when you shovel your driveway or paths clear. Well, I have a few spots like that, and I’ve learned over the years that if I want them to melt (and hence dry out) a little faster, I can throw the top layers of snow into the parts of the yard that actually get regular sun. I know it’ll all melt eventually if I just leave it, but by this point in the year I’m impatient for the change of seasons. It probably only takes a couple of days less to melt the snow if I shovel it, but it makes me feel better, gosh darn it!

For our Earth Day dinner, my husband cooked us up some steak and zucchini on the wood pellet grill, which I served with some nice homemade bread. We had actually intended to have hamburgers, but I think everyone else in town had the same idea and we couldn’t find buns for love nor money. I think anyone who could do so fired up the barbecue and cooked outside, if only as an excuse to do something out in the lovely weather. I mean, it went up to 16°C (61°F) for the first time since around October, so I really don’t blame them. Ah well, our dinner was probably healthier than burgers anyway — and it was delicious!

It Was Supposed to Be a Barbecue

Last night I had planned on barbecuing. It’s not really BBQ* season yet, but the snow has melted from around our barbecues (although without any grass growing yet, the ground around/under them is a morass of clay mud). The grills not being buried or frozen closed is pretty much all a Canadian needs to get started cooking in the back yard.

That being said, the temperature plummeted last night. Heck, it snowed off and on since Tuesday night, but it had hovered around freezing for most of that time. But once yesterday afternoon came around, the wind picked up and it started getting cold fast. By midnight it was -7° (-16° with the wind chill), and by morning it was -11°C and felt like -20°C. As winter temperatures around here go, that’s not too bad, but that’s really cold for April. Not only that, but the wind reached 90Km/hr gusts — you know it’s windy when you’re driving and debris is passing your car. With that wind, the cold just cut right through you… So yeah, I didn’t want to stand outside and cook. Not only that, but winds like that make it very difficult to get an even temperature on the grill!

So dinner wasn’t barbecued steak, it was pan-fried. It was very tasty pan-fried steak, though, cooked medium and tender. I served it up with a heaping side salad, which kind of felt summery if you didn’t look out the window…

* Yes, I am fully aware that what we call “barbecue” around here is what people in the southern USA would call “grilling”. We don’t really have a low-and-slow BBQ tradition around here, although those few times I have had it, it has been mouthwateringly delicious.

Ice Day

Yesterday was what we generally call a “snow day” around here, as in the winter weather was so terrible that school buses were cancelled and the kids stayed home from school. But it was really more of an “ice day”, since it had snowed the day before and then the temperature jumped up so we could have freezing rain coating that layer of snow, and then just plain old rain creating puddles on top of it all. It was a mess. It was definitely an ice storm, if not the ice storm.

With the kids home from school and it being too dangerous to really get out of the house (that being the whole reason for the bus cancellations in the first place), I found myself trying to wrangle two active children with increasingly high levels of cabin fever. The day was taken up with playing, crafting, snacking, NERF target practice, and video games. When the weather cleared up a bit, the girls went outside with their father to clear the driveway while I cooked supper (no mean feat after the plough had been by, leaving a burm of ice and slush between our house and the road).

On days like this, you really have to cook with whatever happens to be in the house. My pantry and freezer are well-stocked, and although it would likely take us weeks to even feel hungry feeding on those items alone, I was craving something a bit fresher. I Googled to find some recipes for pasta sauce that I could make without hitting the grocery store, and I found PureWow’s Spaghetti with Avocado Pasta Sauce. I thought that it would be ideal because it is a sauce with a creamy texture (which I adore), but without any actual dairy products.

I served the sauce over cooked spaghetti squash, with baked chicken legs (sprinkled with my usual garlic powder, sage, rosemary, thyme, summer savoury, and sea salt). I only realized after I took the picture exactly how unappetizing the sauce ended up looking, especially since I couldn’t toss it in the “noodles” without them falling apart. Ignoring the other gross things it could look like, the shine on the sauce makes it look like icing or a glaze, which it did not taste like at all. Flavour-wise, it was like eating guacamole, without the heat of peppers. Honestly, it was a little bit bland. I’d like to try this recipe again, but on actual pasta, with some fresh herbs thrown in (Googling has suggested basil and cilantro), and possibly some sliced cherry tomatoes.

At least dessert was a success! I heated a frozen apple pie from Mom’s birthday dinner (I always make two pies when I bake, one for the event and another to throw in the freezer for future use). When reheated from fully frozen, it usually takes about an hour in an oven at 350°F. I served the pie with a scoop of non-dairy vanilla “ice cream” for me and whipped cream for everyone else. There were no complaints on that score!

Ice Storms

Freezing rain happens every winter here in Ottawa. The temperature will be steadily below freezing for a while, freezing the ground and all exterior surfaces, and then we’ll get a day or two of warmer weather that brings rain. The rain freezes when it comes into contact with those cold surfaces, turning immediately to ice. This encases everything outdoors in a slick coating that can make driving or even walking extremely dangerous. Most of the time, the ice doesn’t end up being very thick, and it can be dealt with by a generous coating of road salt and sand. Often, it’ll bring on a snow day (the schools stay open, but the buses are cancelled). Then the weather will shift again and either melt the ice or snow over it.


Photo taken by one of my parents.

Twice in my life I can remember the weather going from “freezing rain” to “ice storm”. The difference is really a matter of scale; we don’t call it an ice storm until the coating of ice is thick enough to damage trees and power lines. The first one I remember was in 1986, pictured above. That’s my little brother and I taking a slow and careful walk around the neighborhood we lived in at the time. It wouldn’t have been a snow day, since the storm occurred over the Christmas break (not that my brother was old enough yet to be in school anyway). I even found an old news broadcast in the CBC Digital Archives.


My parents’ Neon after the 1998 ice storm.

The second ice storm that I remember happened in from January 4th to 10th, 1998. I’m vastly understating the case when I state that this was a much bigger deal. The ice coating was so thick that the weight crumpled enormous hydro pylons, in addition to downing power lines, trees, and tree branches (which then took down power lines, smashed cars, and wrecked roofs of homes and outbuildings). Roads were shut down, over one and a half million people were without power; 945 people were injured and 35 lost their lives (Source: Historica Canada). The storm damage cost billions of dollars to repair. It is considered one of the worst natural disasters in Canadian history.


This birch was bent almost double by the weight of the ice, then the ice froze the branches to the ground.

We were very, very lucky because of where we were living at the time. First of all, we didn’t get as much precipitation as some other areas, which received up to 100mm. That alone saved much of our area. We were on a relatively-new residential street, so the power lines were buried underground. Because we were in a city, even though the power cut out often, it never went out for long. Also because the neighborhood was relatively new, we didn’t have any massive trees that, when downed, could do much damage. Sure, many people lost their trees (or had to trim them back severely), and some fell across the roads and had to be cleared, but nothing was growing tall enough to fall on peoples’ roofs, for example.


An ice-coated park near where we lived at the time.

We were also very lucky that we had a well-stocked freezer and pantry, so we didn’t have to travel until the roads were safe again. We went for a walk on Day 2, which is when I took the photographs, but we only made it to the end of our street before we turned back, worried that we might slip and fall and be injured. Emergency vehicles were having just as tough of a time with the roads as everyone else, so you were in real trouble if you got hurt.


My mom looking through frozen branches.

It was something like two weeks that the schools were closed — and I mean fully closed, not just “snow day closed”. Nobody was going anywhere. Some of my friends, who lived outside of town, stayed out of school longer because their roads were not yet safe, they had no power, and they had to feed the fireplace to keep their houses from freezing.


Branches and berries under the ice. I think this photo is right-side-up.

The reason I am writing about these ice storms is twofold. Firstly, it’s almost exactly twenty years since the 1998 ice storm, an event which had great repercussions along an west-east path of something like 500km. If you lived in the area that the storm affected, and were old enough to have memories of that year at all, you remember the Ice Storm of 1998.


This bush collapsed almost entirely over the fence, weighed down by the ice stuck to its branches and leaves.

Secondly, we had freezing rain yesterday morning, although it was warm enough for most of it to melt later in the day. Overnight it rained, and then this afternoon it is supposed to go below freezing again so that everything will freeze up. The temperature is supposed to drop until it’s back to more seasonal norms, falling over 20 degrees Celsius in twenty-four hours. We’re supposed to get a combination of rain, freezing rain, and snow. I really hope that this doesn’t end up being a proper ice storm. I wouldn’t be at all surprise if we get frost quakes, though.