Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Holidays in the hometown

We've been spending our holidays at home in Ottawa. It's been lovely, hanging out with friends and family and taking advantage of the fun things that Ottawa has to offer.

Rob working hard at building a gingerbread house

my birthday feast with the family

mi yuk gook, the Korean seaweed soup that is traditionally served on birthdays

my birthday party at the board game cafe Monopolatte

Birthday cake

Going sledding in Kanata

eating dinner at Union613 in Centretown

The main dining area at Union613

Looks like a normal bookshelf in the basement, right?

This is the speakeasy behind the bookshelf in the basement

Duck hearts

Chicken boudin

yummy cornbread

Pig jowls

And babies. So many babies!

Lincoln, eating at Kelsey's Diner 


 Peekaboo twins

Our niece Lucy, rocking a great shirt

And now, we're off to Mexico! Warm, sunny Mexico!

Monday, December 30, 2013

the ice storm: my first day in Ottawa

I was at our last party of the night.  People were dressed in bathrobes, drinking white Russians, living out a movie scene from the Big Lebowski. I was tired and waiting for the party to wind down. We had gotten up at 4AM that morning to fly into Ottawa that day.

One of the party guests was complaining about a previous party he had attended earlier that night. It had been boring, and he was now looking for an adventure.  "Come on," he urged us. "It's time to do something crazy.  Let's do something wild!"

But the night was ending, and eventually the party guests left to go relieve the baby-sitters watching their kids. We left too, but the adventure was just beginning for us.

First there was the ice storm.  I hadn't realized what my friend had been talking about when he asked me, back in Yellowknife, whether I was going to be flying into "that mess down South." I realized now that what he had meant was the massive ice storm moving into hit Ontario and knock out the power in Toronto. Ottawa had power but was getting massive amounts of wet wet snow.

Flashback: I have no memories of surviving the great North American Ice Storm of 1998, which led to, according to Wikipedia, the largest deployment of Canadian military personnel since the Korean War. I was thirteen years old.  My entire family had the flu for the whole time. We slept through the whole thing.

In the midst of that snow storm, I had received a parking ticket, which was buried under several inches of snow forming on the dashboard. The parking ticket was for $85. This in itself was irritating, but what was more disturbing was the fact that my car was not unlocking.

This car is old; we were driving it back when I was still in high school. Parts of it don't work anymore. One of the parts that don't work are the manual locks. Now we can only use the remote locking function on our key. The remote locking function was a cool feature in 1999, as were cellular phones, but now it's a total pain in the butt, especially when, as it turned out, the car battery was completely dead. This meant we couldn't even unlock the door to get into the car to pop the hood to jump start the battery. We were kind of screwed.

We called CAA. As it turned out, we weren't the only lost souls in the snow storm.  It was going to be an hour's wait. In the snow.  We went back to the party, but everyone was asleep. We went back to the car. We couldn't even wait in the car. I passed the time by periodically brushing the falling snow off my windshield, but it seemed like a futile Sisyphusian effort. By this time, my hair was completely white, covered in snow.  Luckily, there was the Kettleman's Bagels nearby, Ottawa's bagel shop open twenty-four hours a day for some reason. We waited there.

Eventually the tow truck that CAA sent arrived.  "The battery's dead," we told him. "So we can't open the door."

The tow truck driver - let's call him Jeff - fiddled around with our car using a long wire.  "I can't open your door," he announced. "Your battery's dead."

Jeff told us we needed a special tool that he didn't have. He'd call CAA to find another tow truck with the special tool.

We went back to Kettleman's, bought a bottle of water, and waited. "Can you believe it's going to take two tow trucks to fix the car?" we mused. By this time, it was about 3AM.

Eventually a second tow truck arrived. "This must be our tow truck!" we figured, and left the bagel shop to greet him.  Instead, we watched as the second tow truck driver (let's call him Bunny) backed his truck right into the first tow truck, Jeff's.  There was a loud boom.  Oops.

"ARE YOU SERIOUS?" screamed Jeff.


Bunny got out of the truck and nonchalantly walked up to the parking meter to pay for parking. Now that I think about this, this is what we should have done in the first place to avoid our parking ticket, the first of our problems.

Jeff jumped out of the car, stalking after Bunny. "WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO THAT FOR?" he shouted. "YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO HIT MY TRUCK."

"What?" said Bunny.

Then ensued the fight of the tow truck drivers.

In the midst of the  "I always knew you were trouble, you and your father" and "I've never seen you in my whole life before" and "I'm going to punch you right in your face", it dawned on us that this second tow truck was not going to be able to fix our car either.  Back to the bagel shop.

lonely view from the bagel shop

From the bagel shop, where I watched a teenager in a t-shirt wipe the snow off his car while eating a bagel, and Jeff and Bunny continued to go at each other in the adjacent parking lot, I talked on the phone to CAA.   "Can you send another truck?" I asked. "These first two seem...busy."

The CAA dispatcher sighed. "We don't have any more trucks," he told us.

Why would anyone sit around a kitchen island, pining for more adventures? Adventure seems to follow me around and nip me at my heels. And they are not always good.

fuzzy photo of a teenager in a t-shirt, wiping snow off his car while eating a bagel

Eventually CAA told us we'd have to go through a private tow truck company that we'd have to pay ourselves and hopefully get reimbursed for it later.

And so a third tow truck arrived.

Let's call the third tow truck driver Walter. Walter was a different breed of tow truck driver; the kind of rugged tow truck driver that didn't have a contract with CAA and roamed free.  He wore no gloves in the snow; gloves are for wusses. He used his cell phone as a flashlight. He pulled out the exact same kind of wire that Jeff had used and managed to unlock our car door.  Before I had a chance to blink, he also jump started our car, and all of a sudden our car was running.  Walter was impressive.

I pulled out my credit card to pay him. It was a massive fee for about ten minutes' worth of work, but I was just glad that the car was running so we could finally go home and put this whole adventure behind us. It was now 5AM and I had been up for more than 24 hours. I needed to get the heck out of here, and never go back to Kettleman's, now that it was all over.

 "Your credit card's been declined," Walter informed me.


Back to Kettleman's. I withdrew some cash from the ATM there and paid Walter off.

(As it turns out, Walter had just been entering the wrong expiry date, but I'll forgive him because he magically got the car working after two failed attempts.)

Now we could head home. In the middle of a snow storm. Twenty-five kilometres down a completely unploughed highway where 10 centimetres of snow was piling up. With a car that still had a few things wrong with it, such as a non-functioning windshield wiper fluid mechanism.  Also, I then discovered that the gas needle was hovering just above empty.

Flashback: I was eighteen years old when I crashed my car. I was driving home from work with my fifteen year old sister, in the middle of a severe snowstorm much like this. We came upon a curve on the road. We hit black ice and I felt the control of the car slipping from my fingers. "Stop!" my sister said, and obediently I slammed on the brakes. We spun out, flew off the road, and into the fencing.  I distinctly remember stepping out of the car while Coldpay's Parachutes album continued to play. We were all right, but the car was wrecked. Ever since then, I have learned to never slam on the brakes on an icy road, even if my sister tells me to.

(Years later, Coldplay curiously put out this dramatic music video about a car crash)

Back to the story. I drove 40 km/h the entire way home, even down the Queensway highway.  By the time we got home, it was almost 6AM. I went to bed and fell into a deep coma.  By the time I had slept enough to get out of bed the next morning, it was 1:30PM and the whole world was covered in snow and ice. Parts of Toronto were out of power for two days. I had to spend another half hour chiseling a thick layer of ice off the car.

"Life in the north is so much easier," my friend commented.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone!

 One of the talented photographers, Denise LeBleu, in town shot this beautiful photo of the northern lights here in Cambridge Bay:

I am so thankful that I live here.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My favourite Christmas Carol

It's Christmas Eve!  Here is me - not just me, but a choir of me and my clones - singing my favourite Christmas carol, "Angels We Have Heard On High" in four part a capella vocal harmony.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas festivities in the Arctic

I find the days leading up to Christmas to actually be a stressful time of year. Besides the feeling that you need to pinch pennies to afford presents, there's also the weather. There's less sunlight (or none at all, if you live here), and often bad weather will cancel our plans and flights.  In addition, there's the pressure you feel to finish up all your work before the holidays begin.

I think that the days leading up to Christmas is a season where we try to keep each other cheered up, remind each other that we're all in the same boat, and that we've got each other's back.  We may not feel naturally joyful for Christmas, but it's about finding joy wherever we can.

Some photos from the children's Christmas concert presented by the elementary school students:

These square-dancing kindergarteners were so cute, it brought actual tears to my eyes.

Everyone is dressed so sharply!

Drum dancing and singing in Innuinaqtun

Hey there, dancing Santa!

Our friends also had an Ugly Sweater Party. How's our Christmas sweaters?

I'm wearing two sweaters here!

Then of course there's gingerbread house decorating with the kids. So much candy.  So, so, so much candy.

I was there to "help out" - and by helping out, I mean decorate my own gingerbread house.  Here's what mine looked like. As you can see, I spent a lot more time on the landscaping than the actual house itself.

And then, suddenly, SANTA ARRIVED!

We've seen Santa around town before.  We live awfully close to the North Pole, you know? He claims his name is "Gary" but I know the truth behind that white beard and that jolly smile.

Santa, me, and another Christmas sweater

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Friday, December 20, 2013

je chasse la lune

Le soleil ne se lève pas ces jours, mais la lune se lève chaque jour.  La lune est pleine cette semaine. Chaque matin, la lune est encore là, près de l'horizon, en descendant. Quand j'ai fini le travail, la lune commence à monter le ciel. C'est une vue merveilleuse. 

Parfois, nous conduisons dans le camion, chassant la lune.  Nous cherchons la meilleur place pour voir la lune.

the moon in polar twilight

C'est quand je me souviens que j'ai besoins d'un meilleur camera.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

dirty tricks for living without running water

We went a couple of days without water last week.  Although we do sometimes run out of water, it's usually only for a couple of hours, and not for days. This time though, it took two days for the water truck to get to us.  In those days with no access to running water in our home, we learned a couple of handy tricks...
  • Leave those dishes in the sink. Avoid looking at it. There is nothing you can do about it until you get running water again. 
  • Go to work early. Pretend it's because you have initiative and you want to seize the day, but really it's because you want to sneak into the office bathroom to brush your teeth, wash your face, and wipe down your underarms with baby wipes.
  • If nature calls, consider the fact that if you go in your toilet, you will probably have to flush it down with multiple expensive Dasani bottles of water that cost three bucks apiece at the local Co-op grocery store.
  • However, if you pee outside your house, consider that while everything is frozen outside, it doesn't actually snow all the much, so you will probably have to stare at that yellow patch outside your house for the rest of the winter (ie, until June).
  • Always keep a reserve supply of water in your house for moments like this. However, if you decide to go outside and melt some snow from outside, don't eat the yellow snow.
  • You can only go so long without a shower.  Do you still have that key your friend gave you so you can keep an eye on her house while she's on vacation? Use it. Go take a shower in her house. I'm sure she won't mind.
  • Apologize to your plants and the empty humidifier in the guitar room.  It's not fair, but the law of the jungle says you've got to prioritize, and any water you have is going to have to go into your vodka water cocktail.
    to avoid doing dishes at your own house, invite yourself over for dinner at a friend's house. bonus points if it's chocolate fondue out of a decapitated snowman's head.
Eventually our water service was restored.  It was a glorious feeling to have running water again.  Now I could do laundry! Now I could do the dishes! Now I could take a shower!  I never thought I'd be so excited to do these things.

bought this beautiful print from Ulukhaktok. Water, water everywhere!