Rain and reptiles on a Saturday afternoon

I vividly remember the first time I took then two-week old Tristan out of the house by myself. It was the day my mother left after a week’s visit, and I was weepy with her departure and Beloved’s return to work and unsure how I’d manage to take care of the baby all by myself. I put him in the stroller and walked, with Katie the dog, around the block. It seemed a momentous achievement. The next day, we walked all the way to the grocery store across the park. My confidence grew and I became comfortable with all manner of expeditions — until the next child arrived.

When Simon was born, he was almost a month old before I ventured out with both boys by myself. We went to WalMart, and I can still recall the barely-repressed panic I felt. What if Tristan (then 22 months old) bolted? What if Simon howled? I had toured Europe by myself for four weeks in 1995, and that trip to WalMart was the far more daunting expedition.

Already, I don’t really remember the first time I took out all three boys by myself. It was likely the grocery store, too. And we love to walk around the block together. We all had dinner at Dairy Queen about a month ago while Beloved was working late — I thought that was pretty brave of me, and we did fine. And yesterday, we left Beloved at home to catch up with some work while I took the boys out for a perfect rainy-Saturday adventure exploring the wild creatures at Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo.

I have to admit, I had backup. It was my friend Yvonne who came up with the idea for a trip to Little Ray’s, and since she is also the mother of three boys aged four to ten, she’s quite familiar with all things reptilian. About every three minutes, you could see one of us doing a mental head-count — one, two, three, four, five, and where is child number six? Oh yeah, in the stroller having a snooze. Talk to me again when Lucas gets mobile and see how confident I am to venture out in public!

Anyway, if you are looking for something a little out of the ordinary to do on a rainy day in Ottawa, I can’t say enough nice things about Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo. There are plenty of creatures in cages, terrariums and aquariums — most of whom I was quite happy to see behind glass. Tarantulas, scorpions, lizards and geckos and other little creepy-crawleys. But they also have some really impressive large animals, like the tank with two eight-foot alligators. Yowza!


They have a couple of mammals (possums and skunks) and some gorgeous birds like this parrot


What’s really cool, though, is the fact that every 20 minutes or so, they have an interactive show of some kind. Here the boys had a chance to pet an albino something-or-other snake.


Simon and I passed on the tarantula, but Tristan was fascinated!


Speaking of fascinating, it was weirdly chilling but very cool to watch this constrictor (not the same one we were petting above) make a tasty lunch out of a dead rat.


The boys got a kick out of feeding kale to these three tortoises.


And of course, the evidence that a good afternoon was had by all! (Look closely, you can even see Lucas napping in the baby mirror!)


The patter of the “wildlife educators” is priceless and alone worth the price of admission. I could write a whole post full of the fun and trivial stuff I learned, so we’ll definitely be going back for another visit, or maybe enrolling the boys in one of Little Ray’s day camps this summer. Of course, I should have seen this one coming: ever since our visit Tristan has been campaigning hard for a snake as a pet. However, since Beloved shares Indiana Jones’s sentiment on the subject, we won’t be getting one any time soon. I’d let him have a snake before I let him have a tarantula or a scorpion. Maybe just not one quite this big!


I wish I could remember what kind of constrictor this one was. Lookit the size of him — he’s easily thicker around the middle than my thigh, and that says a lot these days!! (As I was framing this photo, I couldn’t get that old line from Seinfeld out of my head: “The dingo constrictor ate your baby!”)

If I don’t blog soon, I’ll burst

So! Many! Bloggable! Moments!! And no time to blog them all. Oh, it’s like bloggy constipation, and if I don’t get it out soon, I’m quite sure my head will explode.

Here are things that I’d dearly love to blog about if only I had the time. And trust me, in my head, they’re all most excellent posts.

  1. Last Friday, Tristan turned six. SIX! My beautiful baby boy, my first-born son, is six. And I will write him a proper birthday post one of these days, I swear I will.
  2. On Saturday morning, we woke up to the sounds of Simon barfing. Of course. Stomach bugs and birthday parties just seem to go together, don’t they?
  3. Also on Saturday, the snow came fast and furious. Oh my sweet lord, the snow. We’ve had 86 cm of snow (that’s somewhere around 20 inches, I think) in the past week, including a spectacular dump of 56 cm on the weekend. I’ve never seen so much snow at one time. And to make it even more spectacular, we’ve added it to a near-record four METRES of snow that’s already fallen this winter. That’s more than 13 feet of snow, people.

    This was my house on Sunday morning:

    Way too much snow

    Those snow banks on the side of the driveway are about as tall as me. I had to use the shovel as a catapult to heave the snow up higher than my head with every. single. shovelful. Oh, my aching shoulders! Really, I’ve never seen anything remotely like it.

  4. And what else was Sunday? After two hours of shovelling (after Beloved had shovelled for an hour the night before, and I had shovelled for an hour the day before), you might ask? Why, it was Tristan’s sixth birthday party!

    Tristan is SIX!

    Even though half the guests couldn’t make it because of the storm (the sidestreets were impassable until late in the day Sunday and even the parking lot of the party place — Starr Gymnastics, and I can’t say enough nice things about them — wasn’t plowed until half way through the party) Tristan still had a wonderful time, which is good enough for me.

  5. Unfortunately, my brother and his family were trying to make the trek up from Toronto on the weekend, in the midst of the blizzard of the decade. They wisely waited an extra day until the snow stopped falling, but it still took them more than eight hours to make what’s normally a five hour drive on Sunday…. missing the party entirely, unfortunately.

    The good part is that we had all day together on Monday to enjoy Ottawa’s gorgeous Children’s Museum which also deserves a post of its own, but this photo of cousins Brooke (age 14 months) and Simon will have to surmise a fun afternoon.

    Brooke and Simon

    You have to be just a little bit crazy to visit the children’s museum on the first day of March Break, I think, but it was surprisingly easy to get around and have fun despite the crowds.

I’d love to blog it all in detail, but I have another weigh-in this morning with the midwife (Lucas is doing well, gaining slowly but steadily) and Tristan now has the barfy virus. Thank you, supreme ruler of the universe, for heeding my “Please, just not on Sunday!” plea on that one.

Thanks to all for your comments and e-mails wondering how we’re doing. The answer is crazy, but in a good way. If you could find someone to either do my endless piles of laundry, or blog what’s in my head, or both, I’d be most grateful!!

Christmas in the Capital

Edited to add: Click this link for the 2017 Santa Claus and holiday parade info!

I love Christmas. I love parades. I *really* love pink-cheeked children wrapped in snowsuits lining the streets for the Santa Claus parade. I look forward to it every year, and am just happy now that at least I have a good excuse to go every year… maybe to more than one!

Just as I did at this time last year, I’ve compiled a list of local Santa Claus parades. If I’ve missed one in the greater Ottawa neighbourhood, drop me a note and let me know!

38th Annual Ottawa Help Santa Toy Parade
Saturday November 17, 2007, starting at 11 am. The parade will start at Elgin and Laurier, City Hall. (Edited to add: note the revised parade route! Parade will now travel from Elgin Street down Laurier Ave to O’Connor, and follow O’Connor – instead of Bank Street – as far as Gladstone. The route will then follow Gladstone to Bank, and follow Bank Street to Landsdowne Park.) Bring toys for collection and distribution to Ottawa’s less fortunate families.

Barrhaven Lions 11th Annual Santa Parade
Saturday November 17, 2007, starting at 6 pm. Follows Strandherd Drive from Beatrice to Greenbank.

Kanata Santa Claus Parade
Saturday November 17, 2007, starting at 10 am. Parade runs from Castlefrank to Abbeyhill Drive to Hazeldean Mall.

Gananoque Santa Claus Parade
Sunday November 18, 2007, starting at 1 pm. Come and visit Santa and all his reindeer at the annual Santa Clause Parade down King Street.

Gatineau Santa Claus Parade
Friday November 23, 2007, starting at 7 pm. A tradition that goes back several years, this light-filled parade in the Aylmer Sector attracts crowds from the entire region. Departure from the marina at 7pm.

Santa’s Parade of Lights, Orleans
Saturday November 24, 2007, starting at 6 pm. Once again the Ottawa Professional Firefighters Association will be hosting Santa’s Parade of Lights on St-Joseph Blvd. in Orleans.

Carleton Place Santa Claus Parade
Saturday November 24, 2007, starting at 5 pm. Sponsored by the Carleton Place BIA, departing from the Carambeck School/Pool location.

Stittsville Parade of Lights
Saturday November 24, 2007, starting at 7:30 pm. The floats will line-up at the Ottawa School Board parking lot across from Brown’s Independent Grocers, beginning at 6:00 pm. The parade is set to begin at 7:30 pm. and will travel along Stittsville Main St. to Carleton Cathcart St.

Smiths Falls Rideau 175 Santa Clause Parade
Sunday November 25, 2007, starting at 1:30 pm. Annual parade featuring marching bands and floats celebrating the Rideau 175 theme as well as the local arrival of “Jolly Old St. Nick.” Location: Community Centre.

Rockland Parade of Lights
Sunday November 25, 2007, starting at 4:00 pm. The Clarence-Rockland Chamber of Commerce is proud to invite businesses and community groups of the City of Clarence-Rockland to participate in the 2007 edition of the Parade of lights, departing from Héritage Avenue. Children are invited to the Knights of Colombus Hall after the Parade to meet and take pictures with Santa Claus.

Pakenham Santa Claus Parade
Saturday, December 8, 2007 starting at 2 pm. Join Santa and the Pakenham community for the annual parade followed by free hot dogs, hot chocolate, free skating and a visit with Santa.

Perth Santa Claus Parade
Saturday December 1, 2007, starting at 5 pm. (Sorry, no location details on this one, but I’m assuming if you know Perth, you know where to go!) (Edited to add: thanks to Hugh Chatfield, who provided a wealth of information about the parade and other events in Perth, including a Facebook site and a Flickr Photo stream. Detail from the Facebook site: “The Perth & District Children’s Santa Claus Parade will wind its way through the streets of Perth on Saturday, December 1, leaving Sunset Blvd. at 5pm. The theme this year is “A Nursery Rhyme Christmas.” Join the hundreds of people on Foster and Gore streets watching this classic parade.”)

Almonte Santa Claus Parade
Sunday, December 09, 2007, starting at 2:00 pm. Join everyone on Bridge/Martin/Ottawa Streets in Almonte for an afternoon of Christmas excitement as Santa Claus pays a visit.

In addition to the parades, here are some other ideas for Christmas fun in the national capital region:

Upper Canada Village – Alight at Night
November 29, 2007 to January 5, 2008
5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. (except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day)
Bundle up for an evening stroll around the this gorgeous 1860s-era village, and see heritage buildings all magically lit, with over 200,000 lights – a true winter wonderland! For an additional fee, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, skate outdoors under the stars or ride on an illuminated toy train!

Christmas Lights Across Canada
December 6, 2007 to January 6, 2008
Launched in 1985 by the National Capital Commission (NCC), Christmas Lights Across Canada is one of a host of unique programs which was created to liven up the winter months. Originally only Parliament Hill was illuminated, but the program has grown to include 16 NCC sites and over 51 other sites along Confederation Boulevard.

Canadian Pacific Rail Holiday Train
See the Holiday Train as it stops in Smiths Falls and Perth, Sunday December 2, 2007.

Got any other tips or ideas to share? Leave a comment or e-mail me at danicanada (at) gmail (dot) com and I’d be happy to add them to this post.

An afternoon at Cannamore Orchard

It seemed like a great idea. A couple of friends from work with boys the same age, getting together for an afternoon of apple-picking. We found a date that worked for everyone, the weather forecast called for sunshine and mild temperatures. The only problem? No apples. Thank goodness somebody thought to call ahead the day before we went! I guess with the gorgeous weather we’ve been having, all the pick-yer-own orchards have been picked clean. After checking with a handful of places, we decided to try Cannamore Orchards because not only did they have some pre-picked apples available, but they advertised a bunch of fun activities for families.

And that’s how we discovered another of Ottawa’s hidden treasures: Cannamore Orchard.

Cannamore pumpkins

It’s about a 40 minute drive south-east of the city. Personally, I’d never heard of it, but then, we’d always done our picking at Kilmarnock Orchards. While Kilmarnock is gorgeous, Cannamore offers some great stuff for kids to do other than just picking apples: a play area with a brightly-painted wooden train to climb on, a rope maze, a goldfish pond, several “finger mazes” and the “dark maze”, an enclosed and pitch-black maze that made me very, very happy I allowed the kids to choose running shoes with flashing lights on them! (Tristan led a group of kids AND parents fearlessly through the surprisingly long and surprisingly dark maze.)

There are a few animals on site, and a sheltered picnic area with a snack bar. There’s also a gift shop with fudge and fresh pies (I forgot to ask if they were baked on site, but the one I bought was still warm on the bottom!) and inexpensive hallowe’en decorations and pumpkins and… what else? Oh yes, APPLES!

And what better way to end a day of fun like this? A wagon ride, of course. The “Spooky” wagon rides don’t start until next weekend, but the 20 minute loop through the forest and orchard and around the aviary featured a preview of the spooky bits to come, and was plenty of fun for our gaggle of boys.

Who would’ve guessed you could have so much at the orchard when all the apples have been picked? If you’re looking for an inexpensive and entertaining way to spend a few hours enjoying a gorgeous autumn day – not to mention the freshly picked apples and pumpkins – I’d recommend checking out Cannamore Orchards. (There are, of course, more pix on Flickr.)

Ottawa’s Hidden Treasures – Hogs Back Falls

I love the light in September. It’s warm and golden, and instead of glaring overhead it comes dappled through the leaves at a gentle angle. And then, of course, the trees are starting to change colours, green giving way to gold and even scarlet.

Stone steps, Hogs Back

Every year in September, when the light gets like this, I get drawn to Hogs Back Falls. It’s one of my favourite places to go for an easy hike right in the city, a little oasis of trees and rough-hewn paths along side the Rideau River where it splits from the canal at Mooney’s Bay. I was telling the boys this morning that I’ve been drawn there in every season, but I never miss a walk at Hogs Back Falls in September, and I usually can’t resist bringing my camera along with me.

This was the boys two years ago, in September 2005.

Sharing birdseed, 2005

We forgot to bring birdseed to feed the nuthatches and peanuts to feed the chipmunks today.

Back in the day, we’d walk along the wide gravel path at a snail’s pace, first pushing a stroller and then holding the hand of a creeping toddler.

Simon at Hogs Back, September 2005

Suddenly, taking these two intrepid on a hike is a lot of work. Paths must be followed, rocks climbed over, trails explored. The boys surged ahead while it was me who brought up the rear, sweating lightly despite the early autumnal chill. And this used to be such a leisurely stroll!

Tristan and Simon, Hogs Back Falls, September 2007

Hogs Back Falls

Fall colours

No doubt, Hogs Back Falls is gorgeous any time of year. But on a sunny September day, when summer forgets to submit to fall and the air is warm and golden, it may just be one of the most beautiful places in the city.

The end of Storyland?

I read in yesterday’s paper that Storyland, near Renfrew, will likely be closing at the end of this season, and the news made me sad. First the Hershey chocolate factory in Smith’s Falls; now this.

Storyland is truly one of Ottawa’s hidden gems, tucked away in the woods near a scenic overlook on the Ottawa River, 40 minutes from the city. We paid our first and now maybe only visit to Storyland last summer, and I found it a sweet and nostalgic place; a downmarket cousin to the fancy and expensive theme parks in most metropolitan areas.

There were two things I loved about Storyland. First, it appealed to me because it reminded me of my own childhood favourite places, where the slides were metal and coated in chipped (and likely lead-based) paint instead of modular plastic in primary colours. Like this!

July 06 004

The other thing I loved about Storyland was its simple and authentic charm, and its inherent lack of glitz, loud music or moving parts. If Disneyland is a $200 computerized, interactive, automated remote control toy, Storyland is a free wooden train set discovered stashed away in your grandparents’ basement. Not only is it filled with character, but it’s staffed by characters – literally. The (mostly young) staff are dressed in character costumes inspired by Mother Goose and the Brothers Grimm and Disney alike, and are open and friendly and unselfconscious about their attire.

There are playgrounds and paddleboats, a bouncy castle and mini-golf. What really gives the place its charm, though, are the little features tucked away on easy to follow paths, like this wishing well:

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Or Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage:

July 06 003

Or the three little pigs:

July 06 010

When I was growing up, my favourite place to visit was a little park in my hometown of London, Ontario called Storybook Gardens. I’d like to bring the boys back there some day, simply because of the many happy memories I have of going to Storybook Gardens at least once, and usually many times, over the course of a summer. Storyland is like the country cousin of Storybook Gardens, just a little bit more wild and unkempt, but maybe a little bit more fun because of that.

I’m sad to see Storyland close its doors. Maybe I’m just nostalgic, but I’d like my kids to spend more time in charming places like this. Matter of fact, gems like this one – relics of the 60s and 70s just like me – are probably tucked away in hidden corners all over the place. Is there one near you?

Edited to add: Hooray!! On May 10, 2008, a small article ran in the paper stating that Storyland has a new owner and will re-open on June 21. Yay!

Ottawa’s hidden treasures

After more than 900 posts, I’m always looking for new stuff to write about. Now that I’m in vacation mode (can I get a ‘hallelujah’?) we’ve been doing what I love to do… touring around the city, doing all of our favourite summertime things. And in doing so, I realized that there are a lot of wonderful things to do in this city with families, some better publicized than others. And that writing about all of Ottawa’s “hidden treasures” would give me lots of inspiration through all four seasons AND encourage me to get out with the boys more. Granted, none of the stuff I’ve been thinking of blogging about is truly “hidden”, but how often have you heard about something in or near your neighbourhood for years and never actually gotten around to checking it out yourself?

And thus, an idea is born!

The outing that inspired this brainwave was a trip to the Ottawa Farmers’ Market at Lansdowne Park. I’ve been inspired to try to buy locally, but it hasn’t been easy. In the height of strawberry season, my local Loblaws offers only berries trucked in from the US. The open-air market in the Byward Market, a mere half a block from where I work, doesn’t restrict vendors from outside our geographical area. I’ve been to the North Gower farmers market and was disappointed by the selection, and the Carp market is more than an hour round-trip.

And then I finally got around to checking out the Ottawa Farmers’ Market last week. Granted, it’s practically downtown, not exactly conveniently located for a suburbanite like me. And the day we decided to go, the neighbourhood was packed to capacity for the FIFA Under 20 World Cup semi-finals (bad timing on my part.)

But the selection! Not just cukes and tomatoes, but potatoes and onions and lettucey-type greens. Beans and snow peas and zucchini. For the first time, I could buy an entire week’s worth of vegetables from a farmers’ market. I saw after the fact they also have horse-drawn wagon rides through the Glebe… next time, for sure.

One day, I’ll get brave and actually buy some of my meat from the farmers’ market, but for now I’m happy to savour locally grown and freshly picked produce… cuz nothing tastes better than a toasted tomato and salt sandwich (bacon optional) with a tall cold glass of lemonade.

So, it probably cost me an eigth of a tank round trip, and the price is quite a bit higher than in the grocery store, and the selection is excellent now but not so great early in the season. This “buying locally” thing isn’t cheap or easy… but it’s a start, right?