Life in Ottawa

About five years ago, I was taking my in-laws on a tour of the Rideau Canal. We watched a pair of skaters zoom by us, pushing some sort of wood contraptions on skis. I was immediately fascinated, and later that evening my father-in-law and I perused various sources with plans to build your own kick sled. Nothing ever came of it, but I never forgot my curiousity, and it was sparked (that’s a pun, by the way) all over again when a friend posted that she had received a kicksled for Christmas and she posted a link to the site in Quebec from which it had been ordered. I had to wait about two weeks for them to come back in stock (coming as they do on a boat from Finland) and another week for my new toy to make its way from the vendor to me.

Last May, I impulsively bought a kayak, slightly worrying that I might try it once or twice and that it would then take up space in the garage forever. It turned out to be my favourite toy ever, and I kayaked happily two and three times a week from May through November. Turns out the same mojo was at play with the kicksled. I was a little concerned buying one without ever having tried it, but from the moment I stepped on to it, I was in love.

kicksled on ottawa trail

So what’s a kick sled, or maybe it’s kicksled, or as they’re called in their native Scandinavian countries, a spark? (See, that’s the pun I made earlier!) It’s the love child of a scooter and cross-country skis, and looks a lot like a dog sled in search of a dog – in fact, you can buy dog harnesses should you wish to skijorn. You stand on one long runner and kick with the other leg a few times, then glide and shift. It’s a terrific workout, and a lot less intimidating than cross-country skis. If the sled is going too fast, or the hill is steep, or you’re worn out and need a break, just step off and walk. What’s interesting is that I have weak knees and complainy ankles and hips, and although I walk at least 30 minutes each day, any more than that and my knees and hips tend to ache. However, I can easily kicksled for 6 or 8 km with nary an issue.

kicksled mini video

This pandemic winter has been, by sheer chance, a great one to learn to kicksled. The trails are often compacted as soon as the snow stops falling. (Ideal conditions for a kicksled are hard packed to icy snow, or a very fine powder. Deep powder slows it down, as does even the tinest bit of road salt or sand.) I tend to go out very early in the morning to miss the crowds, but the kicksled is easily manoueverable to share the trail. Unfortunately, like kayaks and other personal watercraft were in summer 2020, they’re also very hard to come by. There aren’t a lot of kicksled vendors around – buying online from Quebec seemed to be my only option.

So two or three times a week for the three weeks or so that I’ve had it, I’ve been out exploring the amazing wonderland that is Ottawa’s winter trail network. There’s a dearth of information on kicksledding in Ottawa, so I thought I’d share that as I find it, too. People are fascinated by the spark – I’ve yet to go out that I haven’t been stopped at least once, sometimes three or four times, by curious folk who want to know what it is and where to get one. I’m beginning to think I could fund the college educations of all three kids just by dragging a few extra sparks behind me when I go out and selling them to curious onlookers. At the very least, I should probably be getting a commission from goslide.ca for the number of people I send their way. (Not an affiliate link yet, but if you’re from GoSlide, let’s talk! :D) The brand of kicksled I have is the ESLA, made using traditional methods in Finland for generations.

If you’d like to know more, this site has a great deal of information about kick sled history. Kicksleds are very common in Norway, Finland and Sweden, where they are used like we use bicycles – to run errands, to explore, to get out of the house. They’re creeping into North American pop culture, where the Netflix series Home for Christmas featured a woman zipping about on her kicksled, and the movie Kicksled Choir was recently nominated for an Oscar.

So hey, between posting about my summer kayak adventures and winter kicksled adventures, there may be life in this old blog yet! If there’s enough interest, I was thinking about setting up an Ottawa Kicksled group on Facebook or Reddit to share info, trails, resources, etc. If you’re interested, let me know your preferred platform and I’ll set it up.


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It’s been a weird summer, hasn’t it? Thanks to COVID, we didn’t do half as many little day trips and family adventures as we usually do, though I am grateful that my pre-teen and teenagers are generally willing to still come along for the occasional day trip. We love small towns and have been to Perth, Almonte, Carleton Place, Prescott, Kemptville, Carp — and somehow, we have up until this summer completely overlooked Brockville. Please allow me to share our rave review of our simple but wonderful day trip to Brockville.

Marina

We started with fish and chips from Don’s take-out window. We’ve been looking for good fish and chips in or near Ottawa for years, and this is easily the best we’ve had since the Black Dog Café closed their take-out window. We took ours a block or so to Hardy Park and sat on benches on the boardwalk, enjoying the river view but not the bees. So! Many! Bees! Definitely worth both the trek and the bee sting on Beloved’s hand, though.

Fish and chips

After that, we wandered over to the Aquatarium for our scheduled tour. I was really impressed with the way they managed everything with respect to COVID. We really haven’t gone out much at all since the pandemic started, and though I was a little twitchy at first being led around in a small group with three other families, the guide was clearly cognizant of social distancing and did a great job of managing the group, and a cleaner trailed behind us wiping surfaces as we passed. Our guide Alex also added a lot of value with her stories and narration. We had a Groupon, so if you can snag one it makes the admission even more reasonable.

Otter!

We loved (LOVED!) the otters, and the beaver (Justin Beaver, natch) and other sea creatures were quite cool, too. Four of us have been playing Animal Crossing rather obsessively this summer, so we were amused to see so many of the critters from the game live in the Aquatarium: welks, sea stars, urchins, sea snails, turtles, sturgeon, pike, and blue gills. If your kids (or you!) love Animal Crossing, it’s worth it for the otters alone!

fish at the aquatarium

Our tour took maybe 75 or 90 minutes, and I genuinely enjoyed all of it. However, the real hit of the afternoon was the Brockville Railway Tunnel. It’s only a block or so walk from the Aquatrium (which itself is only a block from Don’s fish and chips and two blocks from the park – everything is so convenient!) to Canada’s oldest railway tunnel (constructed between 1854 and 1860), which has been converted to a fun tourist attraction. As you walk the 525m tunnel, light shows play around you. My snap-and-insta-loving teen was in selfie heaven, and we took a few shots that will make great cover art when the band drops our first album. I really did not expect them (or me) to be as entertained as we were, and it’s completely free.

Being on the St Lawrence seaway, Brockville is also just a lovely little town. We finished our visit with ice cream on the boardwalk and another little wander along the water. We didn’t even have time to visit the shops of the quaint downtown that reminds of me of the many villages of my southern Ontario childhood. We’ll visit those when we go back, because we all agreed that Brockville is a new family-favourite day trip destination.


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In the decade we’ve lived here, I’ve harboured a not-so-secret covetousness of other people’s boats. Many Ottawa folks don’t know that half of the village of Manotick is on an island in the Rideau River called Long Island, and we’re only a couple hundred meters from water to both the east and west of our place. I love water and have always been drawn to it, and living on the island, I look at the river almost every single day. I walk along it, sit on the dock and dangle my toes in it, and just sit contentedly to look at it. But finally, this spring, I realized a long-term dream for my own boat: I got a simple little kayak. I have to admit, I was a little worried that I might like the *idea* of kayaking a lot more than I liked actual kayaking. But, it turns out I love it even more than I ever expected I would.

Having finally acquired a boat, I needed to figure out a way to get it to the water, and it seemed silly to drive such a short distance. So I also invested in a little wheely cart to go along with my kayak so I could walk to put it in the water. In theory, it’s wonderful: I can put in at one spot, wheels tied to the back of the kayak, and get out wherever I like, and drag the kayak back home behind me. However, the first few outings were a little less than ideal until I figured out the trick of not having the wheels collapse and divest themselves of the kayak every couple hundred steps. One of these days I’ll post a video to show how I finally figured it out, because nothing I found online seemed to help. I’ve got the hang of it now, but it certainly took longer to get the knack of the wheely cart than it did paddling the kayak!

My friend Yvonne snapped this photo of me taking my kayak for a walk after we went paddling together one morning.

woman pulling kayak on a wheeled cart

I thought it would be fun to share some of the things I discovered poking about the neighbourhood with my kayak, as from the looks of the waterways lately more than 50% of the population has ALSO decided that this, the year of the COVID, is indeed the ideal year to get a kayak / SUP / canoe. I spent a while googling information on whether you could paddle the back channel and didn’t find much, so this one is for a future kayaker wondering the same thing!

As I mentioned, Long Island splits the Rideau River into the main channel to the east of Manotick and what’s known as the back channel to the west of the island. Coming from the south, you can go part way up the west channel (moving toward Ottawa) until you get to the weir at Watson’s Mill. This is a lovely area known as Mahogany Bay, and they’ve just installed a public dock that’s perfect for personal watercraft and swimming up a bit from the Mill.

After the weir, the back channel continues on parallel to Rideau Valley Drive for a bit, where the weir near the Long Island Locks also dumps into it. It then continues on past Nicholl’s Island and joins back up with the main channel at the base of the Long Island Locks.

shallow water in the back channel of the Rideau near Manotick

I knew the back channel was shallow in spots, but I also know that a kayak doesn’t need a lot of depth, so one sunny Saturday morning in early summer I set off from the “Duck Lot” launch kitty-corner from the base of the Mill. It was shallow and I could see an impressive number of huge boulders in the clear water but I got a ways down before I actually managed to wedge myself on one. Perhaps a more agile kayaker could have avoided them, but I had anticipated something like this might happen and just stepped out of the kayak to drag it for a bit of a hike through the knee-deep water and around the worst of the rocks. The water became deep again and it was pleasant paddling on the slow-moving water, and very peaceful save for the sounds of traffic on the road on the other side of the trees. I was surprised that many of the homes were completely obscured from the waterfront by trees, as most of the lots on the main channel are fully exposed to the banks.

A turtle on a rock in the Rideau River

A northern map turtle, basking in the sun.

I encountered a few more shallow spots, what might have even been Class I rapids, and got stuck again, but was able to wiggle myself off the boulder. But mostly, it was a very pleasant paddle. There’s a bit more wildlife in the quiet back channel than in the main channel, and I saw several turtles sunning themselves. Unfortunately, there’s really nowhere to get off the river except down near the dog park, on the far side of the bridge that turns from Maclean to Barnsdale, and it’s quite rocky there. When the water is a little higher, I’d like to continue on down past the north end of Long Island and around Nicholl’s Island. As it was, I went for the partial circumnavigation and pulled my kayak out, hauled it across the dog park on my wheely cart, and put back in on the main channel side, to the delight of several dogs taking a dip. One cute little French bulldog tried to hop right into the kayak with me as I pushed off. Pro tip: the water access at the dog park is quite crowded with wet doggos on a sunny Saturday morning!

So, while you can in theory paddle the back channel from the Mill to the dog park (formally known as David Bartlett Park) I’d suggest you choose a day when the river levels in the channel are high.

I’ll have another post with places you can put your kayak in and out from the main channel in another post. Any other locals care to weigh in with tips for personal watercraft around Manotick?


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How have you been faring during these days of pandemic lockdown, friends? We’ve been very lucky in that we’ve had the means and ability to hunker down and wait things out, and after seven weeks, the fear is no longer as pervasive as it was the first little while.

Being home and pulled from our usual routines has left me with a lot of unexpected time on my hands. I might have used that time and excess energy for domestic chores (okay, probably not that), or honing my photography skills, or even blogging. In fact, what I have been doing is dedicating several hours most days to my latest obsession: tarot cards.

tarot cards

You didn’t see that one coming, did you? I certainly didn’t. I’d never held a tarot deck before I bought one for myself on a whim, and never had a reading done. I knew of the cards, and had a vague understanding that they were something like a fortune-telling parlour trick. What I didn’t realize is that what they are is in fact that elusive manual to life that I’ve been searching for all these years, a road map to better understanding of myself, my relationships, and the world around me. No, really! Hang on and let me explain.

Have you ever done one of those tests that help you understand your personality type? There are workplace ones with colours, and of course the Myers-Briggs personality types. There are zillions of online quizzes to find out “how employable are you?” or “what’s your life purpose?” or “where will you find your soulmate?” We can’t resist these types of assessments because as humans we seek meaning – some of us more than others. I’ve always been a seeker, looking for order in the chaos and meaning in the randomness of human existence. I think that’s why I was so instantly and obsessively drawn to tarot cards. I see in them the universality of human experience and more importantly, where I fit in to the great cosmic puzzle.

There’s a fun quote in Good Omens about how you can’t see London when you’re in Trafalgar Square, a much more fun interpretation of not being able to see the forest for the trees. The tarot cards use archetypes, the languages of symbols and numbers and colours, and simple illustrations of the wide spectrum of human experience to give us that wide-angle perspective so we CAN see London, as well as Trafalgar Square, and maybe even most of England, too.

Leaving the existential angsty bits behind, what does one actually DO with tarot cards? I use them for mindfulness, for personal insight, and to get in touch with my intuitive inner voice. I do NOT use them for fortune telling. Over the last little while I’ve come to see tarot cards as a powerful and useful tool, but I do not believe they can predict the future. I think they can help us understand ourselves better, our motivations and behaviours and blind spots. I think they can help us understand those around us, too – colleagues, spouses, kids, and friends, in the same way that knowing your colleague may be a “yellow” when it comes to problem solving and communicating, but you are a firm “blue” and you need to find a way to overcome those differences to work together. Tarot gives us insight into the things that make us human, and therefore helps us better connect to other humans, and to ourselves.

When I found out back in 2010 or so that I’m an ENFP in the MBTI, it rocked my world. I literally titled my blog post talking about it “This explains everything!” Knowing my Myers-Briggs personality type gave me a fundamental understanding of my behaviours, motivations and ways of interacting with the world. It truly changed my understanding of myself. Almost instantly with tarot, I felt the same sort of light bulb moment of clarity. And when I started getting deeper into the tarot, I felt like I did when I launched the blog 15 years ago: “this is crazy, my friends and family are never going to understand this weird behaviour, but this is something I must, absolutely must, do.”

One unexpected gift from the tarot has been mindfulness. Each day I draw a card and think about how the energy of that card has or might manifest itself in my day. The result of this has been a few quiet moments when I ask myself a question we almost never ask, but I think we really should: what did today mean? How often do we pause to think about what happened in a day, what went well and maybe not so well, and how we might do better the next day? Wasn’t it Socrates who said that the unexamined life is not worth living? These tiny moments of mindfulness are to me the equivalent of a gratitude journal, giving the seeker in me a chance to take that step back and breathe and take a look at that bigger picture.

I’m sure most people who have held a tarot deck haven’t become instantly obsessed, and many of my friends have talked about digging their deck out of storage as they listened to me rave about my new passion. Rather than indulging in a passing curiousity, I’ve gone all-in on my tarot passion. First I launched an Instagram account to journal the card of the day (and let me tell you, that felt an awful lot like the Project 365 photo-a-day whim that culminated in me being a professional photographer!) And when that wasn’t enough, I created a blog and website about learning tarot, too. You guys, I’m not kidding: o-b-s-e-s-s-e-d. Not wanting to pester my friends too much peddling my readings, I started doing free readings on a tarot site and quickly racked up more than 25 readings with an average rating of 4.7/5 stars. So now I offer those on my website too. It’s called Rideau River Tarot, inspired by the river that I see every single day as flows around the island we live on here, but also because water is the element of tarot linked to emotion and intuition, and because curtains are an important symbol in tarot and Rideau means curtain. Mystical and practical, which is more or less how I’m approaching tarot. And Tristan drew the tarot suit icons for my blog header!

Rideau River Tarot blog

Sort of crazy, right? But it feels so right, like when I started out on my bloggy journey all those years ago, or the Project 365 photo journey. I only wish I’d discovered tarot earlier in the game – but at least I’ve had an excess of time on my hands during our pandemic life pause to fully indulge my new passion. I’ve been reading books and listening to podcasts, doing research and of course playing with the cards. I’ve written blog posts about books and resources for learning, about MBTI and tarot, and about ways you can use tarot cards that aren’t divination, including as creative writing prompts, for mindfulness, and even to help you generate random encounters and characters for your D&D adventure. I’ve got SO MANY ideas! And one of these days, I’d like to start offering lessons and workshops, something I found surprisingly lacking here in Ottawa.

After months of debating whether and when I should come out with my quiet obsession, I’m here to share it with you. So, what do you think? Are you already someone who enjoys using tarot cards? Are you interested in learning more about tarot? Do you have any tarot resources to share? Do you think I’ve lost the plot entirely? 😉 It’s okay if you do. People thought I was crazy with the silly blog thing a decade and a half ago, when blogs were solely for tech geeks and lovesick 14 year old girls. I have this feeling that tarot is the next yoga, about to move from fringe to mainstream culture, and I am here for that.


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I have been a fan of Ottawa’s Andrew King for a long time. He’s a talented painter with a delightful whimsical streak, but he also loves Ottawa’s quirky side as much – if not more! – than I do. His Twitter feed and Ottawa Rewind blog (and book!) are a constant source of delight. I was aware that he’d moved to Manotick a few years back, and it’s clear he loves living here as much as I do.

Earlier this week, I literally gasped in amazement when I saw some of his latest paintings on Twitter: he’s been doing a wonderful series of some of Manotick’s most iconic buildings, but in a way I’ve never before seen them captured. Here’s a few of them:

Original artwork by Andrew King

Original artwork by Andrew King

Original artwork by Andrew King

Original artwork by Andrew King

Are they not exquisite? They fill my heart with joy looking at them. I love how they’re iconic Manotick and yet utterly unique. I especially love this one because he’s sought out and captured the former home and studio of Group of Seven artist A.Y. Jackson. Did you know he used to live in Manotick? One of my favourite parks for family photos is named for him!

Original artwork by Andrew King

We are, in fact, on an island here, but I’m pretty sure I’ve walked just about everywhere you can on the island without finding a lighthouse. This reminds me of my other happy place, PEI, though, so I’m okay with it. 😉

Original artwork by Andrew King

Extraordinary, right? I was so taken with them that I reached out and introduced myself (we’ve been following each other on Twitter for years, but never had reason to make contact) and asked if I could share some of the images on the blog. Andrew, who used to live in Westboro, moved to Manotick three years ago. He told me that for him, over time Westboro had lost the small-town neighbourhood vibe that he had loved to infill, traffic noise and corporate greed. In Manotick, he found what I’ve loved for the 10+ years we’ve lived here: a close-knit community where everyone smiles and says hello.

When I asked him about the inspiration for these paintings, he said, “Being a late 1800s mill town, [Manotick] has done a remarkable job of preserving that original character, which I wanted to capture in my paintings. That is this show, Views Of A Village, a place I know proudly call home and hope to for a long time. The historic buildings inspire me as does the laid back river lifestyle that the town is built on. With all these great elements it provides me with a relaxing and inspiring painting environment at my home studio…and if it’s good enough for Group Of Seven artist AY Jackson to build his studio, then I guess I picked a good spot!”

My camera and I agree wholeheartedly. 😉

Even more delightfully, he’s exhibiting his work at Manotick’s newest cozy spot to gather, the wonderful new Cafe 692 on Manotick Main Street. Here’s some bonus art with all the details you need if you want to come see the paintings in person:

Andrew King at 692 Cafe

If you can’t make it for the opening on Thursday, Andrew assures me that the art will be on display for a few weeks at least.

If you go:
Views of a Village at the 692 Café
5546 Manotick Main St
Opens February 20, 7 to 9 pm


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Have you checked out the newly renovated and freshly amazing Canada Science and Technology Museum lately? We went last week on an adventure to celebrate my birthday, including a stop at the special Leonardo da Vinci exhibit and it. was. AWESOME!

Ottawa’s Science and Tech museum has always been one of our favourite places to while away a Sunday morning. You might remember that it closed in 2014 due to mould and structural issues, and somehow we missed getting back into our routine of regular visits after the grand re-opening in 2017. It was great to see old family favourites (Simon in particular spoke with great fondness of the famous Crazy Kitchen) and the locomotives, but the whole museum feels fresh and new and full of things to discover.

You could say Lucas flipped over it!

Photo of a child upside down in a classroom

If you’re looking for something to do in the waning days of your summer vacation, I can’t recommend the special travelling Leonardo da Vinci exhibit highly enough. I thought I knew a lot about da Vinci – I knew he was of course the painter of some of the world’s most highly regarded paintings, like the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, and I knew he dabbled in science and math. I understood that he contributed to massive leaps in the understanding of the human form, architecture and technology, and yet I never really understood the scope of his genius until we spent an hour submersed in this exhibit. It’s a wonderfully modern presentation (give yourself time to sit and enjoy the multimedia SENSORY4 immersive experience) that was as fascinating for me (eager to learn but by no means knowledgeable) as it was for Beloved with his degree in fine arts, and all three kids with their very different appetites and attitudes enjoyed it as well.

I’m sure we’re one of the last families in Ottawa to finally return to this amazing local treasure. The kids did admit that they missed the old fibre optic crawling tubes, but that the new permanent exhibits more than made up for it.

Child playing with gears at Canada Science and Technology Museum

Have you been yet? What did you think?

If you go:
Canadian Science and Technology Museum
1867 St Laurent Blvd, Ottawa, ON
Leonardo da Vinci exhibit ends September 2, 2019; additional fees apply.


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Ho! Ho! Hooray for Ottawa, Gatineau and Eastern Ontario Santa Parades, the 2018 edition

12 November 2018 Happy holidays

Dust off your jingle bells, dig out your Santa hat and strap on your reindeer antlers! Welcome to one of my favourite holiday traditions, the original and most comprehensive listing of all the Christmas, Holiday and Santa Claus parades for Ottawa, Eastern Ontario and West Quebec. Sometimes the parade season sneaks up on me, but […]

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Ottawa Family Fun: Lunch at Tavern on the Falls

27 August 2018 Mothership Photography

If you’re looking for a wonderful little spot to bring the family for lunch and a lovely view of the intersection of Ottawa’s two rivers, we had a really lovely lunch one summer afternoon at Ottawa’s new Tavern on the Falls. It might have been because it was a Monday, or because the sky was […]

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Photos of the day: Family fun at Manotick’s locks

24 June 2018 Mothership Photography

This was the third year in a row that I met up with this fun family for a “day in the life” candid documentary photo session. The first two were so much fun that they ended up being among my favourites of the year, and I was worried that we couldn’t possibly have as much […]

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Ottawa family fun: Open House at Oliver’s Mapleworks

9 April 2018 Ottawa Family Fun

Every year on or around the first weekend in April, the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers host an open house. I don’t remember how exactly we heard about Oliver’s Mapleworks in particular, but they met my planning criteria of a fun family day out that would likely be a little less crowded than some of the […]

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