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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Kingston in Summer: Wolfe Island

This weekend I took a trip out to Kingston, Ontario to pay Stef one last visit before I leave for British Columbia. She usually commutes through the city by either walking or using public transit, so we took full advantage of having my car for the weekend and arranged activities that required a vehicle.

I spent the full weekend with her, and each day she had a trip planned which involved travelling to a natural area that she had always heard great things about. It was glorious. For our first day in town, we explored a bit of downtown before heading on the ferry to Wolfe Island.

The ferry between Kingston and Wolfe Island is free, but it only loads every hour. We had a bit of a wait for the ferry, but we got ourselves some cold caffeinated drinks and relaxed by the water. The view of Wolfe Island from the ferry showcased some of its wind turbines. Eighty-six turbines make up the wind farm, and they are distributed throughout the island.

Once we got off the ferry we drove through a series of country roads to reach Big Sandy Bay Management Area, a protected environmental area that hosts a public beach.The entrance fee (including parking) was a steep $9 for each of us, but the experience we had definitely made up for the cost. There was a much better deal available for a full summer pass for those who intend to visit often.

To get to the beach, we first had to walk 15 minutes through a natural trail. The area was surrounded by lush habitat for birds, turtles, and small mammals. Apparently the area contains several rare trees and plants, as well as a fragile sand dune habitat.

When we got to the beach, I was beyond thrilled to see waves! It was a very windy day so the waves on the lake were surprisingly large enough for body surfing. It felt as though I was along an ocean. I was absolutely ecstatic! To me, there's just something about the sound of waves that brings peace of mind.

The water was perfect. It was a hot and humid day, and the lake was a comfortable and refreshing temperature. Stef and I played in the waves and swam around for a while. The whole time I just couldn't believe I was in Kingston; it felt like I was enjoying a beach along the ocean.

Unfortunately, I had to get out of the lake prematurely because I kept getting water under my contact lenses. I took it as an opportunity to take pictures of Stef and the surrounding area. As well, we had a secluded spot to put our towels, and we laid down in the warm sand to relax and dry off.

Stef and I stayed until the end of beach hours before we started to make our way back to the ferry. Once again, we drove through the country roads past farm fields and wind turbines. It seems like such an interesting way of life to me; being so close to country and nature, but also a short ferry ride away from the city. Someday, I'd like to meet someone from Wolfe Island and ask them about their life.

While waiting for the ferry, we grabbed some snacks and drinks from a local coffee shop to tie us over. The wait was quite relaxing by the water.

On the ferry ride home, the setting sun lit up the sky. The view was gorgeous. We ended up befriending a phD student named Jonathan who was planning his travels to Southeast Asia and western Canada. Turns out Jonathan had traveled a lot of India, so he and Stef recollected on familiar places.

I stood by and took pictures of the view and the rebellious strands of Stef's hair that swayed around in the wind like a tornado. It was a great end to the day trip. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mer Bleue Trail 51

Several weeks ago, Stef was in town for a short visit. She didn't have much time to spare, but she did manage to find a few hours to go on a hike. We decided to try a new trail in the Mer Bleue Conservation Area, and decided on Trail 51.

Trail 51 is not situated through a sphagnum bog like the Boardwalk Trail (Trail 53). Instead, it's a protected area of the Ottawa Greenbelt that covers both grassland and forest habitat. The mosquitoes were fierce in some of the forested areas that ran through drainage basins, but otherwise it was an excellent hike.

While walking through a field, I spotted a red milkweed beetle in some clover. I love macro photography of insects, so I started taking photos. I couldn't help but find the little beetle adorable and charismatic. Looking back on the photos, it almost seems like the little guy was posing. (You can click the following two photos for a higher resolution version.)

Of course, a hike with Stef wouldn't be complete without a little bit of adventure. We had been trekking along a forested area called The Nut Tree Trail when we came to the end of the woods. Instead of the trail continuing on through a field, we found ourselves in an area cleared of all grasses and trees. The area was filled with only sand and there were tread marks throughout the clearing. 

Unfortunately, while the Greenbelt is protected from urban development, some areas lie under hydro towers that require maintenance. This means that fields must be cleared to allow for machine access. It was a little dramatic to see such a barren landscape compared to the lush environment we had been surrounded by. It's a sad reality, but inevitably these field are cleared on occasion to prevent trees from growing under the towers.

After wandering out into the clearing, Stef and I had a hard time reconnecting with the trail. We had to scour the forest's edge looking for a clear path. Fortunately, we spotted another hiker in the distance who seemed to know where to go, so we followed her direction and eventually found another segment of Trail 51. 

Stef and I continued on to the last part of our route, which ran through a drainage basin. This area was lush, green, and well hydrated, but also overrun with mosquitoes. We even came across a couple of hikers wearing full mosquito nets. Clearly, they knew the trail better than we did. As usual, I endured several bites but came out with some worthwhile photos of the area. 

Despite the construction and mosquitoes, it was definitely a great new trail for Stef and I. Besides, it just wouldn't be a normal hike for us if something didn't go awry. There are many more trails to the Mer Bleue Conservation Area, and this experience made me realize I probably should start exploring more of them. 

Unfortunately, I'm beginning to realize just how little time I have left in Ottawa. I only hope I can explore a little more and take everything in before I pack up and move over 4000 kilometers away.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

So Long, Farewell

This Friday marked my last day in the office. These last few months have gone by quickly, and it was honestly a bittersweet feeling to have to pack up and say goodbye to everyone. My department is such a fun and supportive group of people, and I have no doubt I'll miss them.

Having spent the past year in my department, my coworkers really grew to know me and understand my quirky personality. I've grown so much in a years time; I've become sassier, more confident, a better programmer and surprisingly extroverted. I have no doubt that I owe these changes to my awesome department. 

This weekend I realized just how many memories I've made over this past year at the office. For the rest of this blog I'm going to share pictures and reasons why I'll miss my time spent at the office. Let me just warn you guys that this will be really long, so don't hesitate to skip this post or just scan over the pictures.

Reason 1: Prideful Decorating

Whether it was for Halloween or The Annual Christmas Decorating Contest, our department really took the time to decorate our area and get into the spirit. For Halloween we surprised our manager by decorating her office, and two of us also dressed up as the Yip Yip Martians from Sesame Street and walked around the rest of the building to make people laugh. As well, our over-the-top holiday decorations came in second place for the Christmas Decorating Contest. Yes, that means there was a department that was even more ridiculous than us (that's a fake fireplace and cookies you see in the picture).

Reason 2: The Location

I loved both the location of our building and the location of our department. Our office certainly wasn't located anywhere brag-worthy, but for reasons I'll explain, the amazing window space our department had made for some interesting observations.

Our building was located in a typical industrial park, but we had some interesting neighbors; one of the companies sharing our building happened to be a parole office. Between the usual chaos that occurs in an industrial area, we also has our fair share of interesting characters walking through our parking lot.

This kind sir had been walking by when he decided he would stop, pull out a newspaper, and proceed to read it directly in front of my coworker's car. Is it just me, or does this seem ridiculously abnormal and sketchy? Fortunately, the owner of the car had an amazing window view and we kept a close eye on the man until he went away. 

Ever heard the expression, "fell off of the back of a truck"? Before we took this picture, the back doors of the trucks had been open, blocking the view of what was being exchanged between vehicles. Trucks were always one of the hazards of the area. In my short year working at that location, I saw three tipped trucks obstructing traffic.

Also, see that grey mound in the background of this picture? That's snow. Disguising, old, black snow. We lovingly referred to it as "Snow Mountain" and it didn't melt until about mid-June.

Reason 3: The Characters

I was fortunate that my department was made up of some amazing, intelligent people. Because of them, I always looked forward to coming to work despite sometimes having days of ceaseless, repetitive coding to do. 

Mariusz taking a picture of me while I took a picture of Shane taking a picture of Mariusz's tie. Phew.
This picture was the result of a break spent debating the color of Mariusz's tie.

One of my first tasks was cataloging nearly 40 boxes worth of binders. One day, my coworker decided to build me a "fort" for the library's entrance using the empty boxes. I think everyone enjoyed the surprise as they walked down the hallway and came across a doorway filled with cardboard. It probably wasn't up to fire code, but I kept it there for a few hours before it became annoying to walk through.

Clark is a huge personality in the office. He's an engine guy with a lot of experience working on motorcycles, cars and planes. Somehow, he had obtained a "Rolls-Royce Owners Club" sign that he brought into the office and displayed proudly in our department. Thus began the inside joke that we were all members of the Rolls-Royce Owners Club. 

Even better, Clark could do an awesome impersonation of what he imagined a member of the Rolls-Royce Owners Club would be like. He drew glasses on his computer screen magnifier and would hold it in front of his face and say, "Others work on lesser engines." Of course, the zany impression was complete with one of my Ultimate Frisbee pylons balanced on his head. What a goof!

Clark owns a hand-me-down Buick that we lovingly refer to as the "Opa Car". Clark travels quite a bit as part of his job, and he would generously allow us to use his car for errands and lunches when he was out of town.

Over December though, his poor car became more of a burden. Winters here in Ottawa often drop to temperatures of 30° below zero, and it was my job to ensure his car was cleared of snow and started frequently. Unfortunately for me, over just one night a snowstorm had dumped several inches of snow followed by freezing rain.

It was just before holidays, and I wanted to make sure Clark came back home to a usable car. I spent about an hour digging out the front door of the Buick because the freezing rain had solidified all of the snow. Once inside the car, I was able to turn the defrost on and the process became a lot easier. It was a two person job to move the Buick to a clear parking space, but I think in the end Clark appreciated not having to dig his car out of a icicle.

Driving in the Opa Car was a lot like navigating a boat while sitting atop a couch. I think we all enjoyed taking the Buick out for a spin and were always amazed at how much gusto the car had.

Clark wasn't around for Shane's last day, but we all decided to take him out for sushi using the Opa Car. We decided to have a little fun on the way back to the office by dressing up in all of Clark's accessories that he had left in the car. Here Shane is wearing Clark's Ducks Unlimited hat, rose-tinted aviators, and leather driving gloves. We were probably quite a sight to other drivers.

Reason 4: Being Appreciated

Whether they were joking around or not, I could always tell that the people I worked with liked and appreciated me. It's a little sad for me to say, but the feeling of being acknowledged has been quite rare over my work history. It was really great to work in a team where everyone supported my goals and interests, and I hope in the future I can continue working in a similar environment. 

One of my wonderful coworkers added a caption to my Spartan Race photo and hung it in his cubicle.

My workout goals were always something that I think a lot of people couldn't understand, but my department was really supportive and knew it was a matter of me trying to become stronger. While they used to make fun of me when I said things like, "guys, I'm going to be vascular" they were all really excited and amused when my vein started showing over my bicep. 

They were all my personal cheerleaders and were really proud of me when I completed my first Spartan Race. To this day, if I ever told Mariusz I was worried I'd never make a goal, he would undoubtedly tell me to keep on trying.

Another inside joke with my department was that I was their administrative assistant. This came about because I started sharing a cubicle with Mariusz, which led to me writing on his dry-erase calendar and answering his phone when he was in meetings. To boot, I also started helping out my department by scheduling department meetings and writing meeting minutes.

As a joke, I received a gift from Mariusz on Administrative Professionals Day. However, the gift was perfect and well thought out. I received a few royal gala apples, a fresh basil plant and a card. Mariusz even said, "I was going to get you kale, but it was sold out. I had to settle for fresh herbs." He couldn't have come up with a better gift.

Everyone also treated me wonderfully on my birthday. I was surprised with a cake, and taken out for lunch where I was given a CamelBak as a birthday present. I've already used the CamelBak several times while hiking, and I know for certain that it's going to come in handy when I'm out exploring BC.

I received my last surprise during my last day of work. A few of the departments that I work closely with  took me out for lunch and presented me with a card full of well-wishes and money to go towards my move. I can't believe the generosity of everyone and I'm so grateful to have had such wonderful people in my life over the past year.

Those of you from work who read my blog, thanks so much for the experience! You won't be forgotten and I miss you already. I'll be sure to keep in touch, and hopefully I can do you all proud in the future.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ottawa Bluesfest: fun.

I spent this past Sunday at the Ottawa Bluesfest with my friend Rey. The Bluesfest is a annual music festival which (unlike the name suggests) features a wide range of different musicians and bands from all sorts of genres. The lineup this year was really impressive, but Rey and I had our hearts set on seeing Fun perform.

I've been in love with Fun since their album Some Nights came out, which was instantly welcomed into my iTunes library already dominated with indie music. Months ago I also helped introduce Rey to all of Fun's music after he had mentioned liking their singles on the radio. Fortunately Rey was back from Vancouver just in time to watch Fun perform with me.

Rey and I got to the festival a few hours early to enjoy some beer and watch Tegan and Sara, who were touring with Fun. The whole day had been rainy and dreadful up until that point, but just as Tegan and Sara's stage crew finished setting up the sun started breaking through the clouds. I had come expecting to have to stand through a rain shower, so seeing the clouds clear left me feeling euphoric.

The crowd at Bluesfest was energized from previous shows, and the atmosphere on it's own was uplifting. I was surprised by how many different age groups were there to see Tegan and Sara perform.

We stayed for most of Tegan and Sara's set, enjoying some of their older music that we weren't familiar with. However, we were really excited to see Fun perform, and left early to make sure we got a good spot. It was such a good decision. Half an hour before Fun were due to start, the crowd had already built up around the stage. By then, the rain clouds had completely cleared and everyone was excited to have a perfect night for the performance.

Fun started late because there had been stage changes earlier in the day that threw everything off schedule. The anticipation and buildup definitely teased the crowd. Everyone was so excited for the show that people started cheering and reacting to any stage crew that walked on the stage to setup.

When Fun finally came on stage they started with the intro from Some Nights all wearing tuxedos to suit the theatrical sound of the song. The stage was lit only by spotlight. Then, as the song finished, there was a blast of green light and by the time the light cleared the band had changed into more casual clothes.

You guys, I know it sounds silly to say... but they were just so much fun! They really are performers and put on a great show. The band was so pumped and excited to be there, and the crowd absorbed that energy and gave back nothing but love. Everyone in sight seemed to be having an amazing time either singing along, clapping or cheering.

The band continued to exude seemingly endless energy. Nate Ruess joked with the us, energetically jumped around the stage and even ran into the crowd giving everyone high fives. The concert also included effects like confetti being blown out from the stage and large, glowing balls thrown into the crowd for us to play with. It was by far the most entertaining concert I've ever been to at Bluesfest.

I think the majority of the crowd had just as amazing a time as Rey and I did. We cheered endlessly for Fun. It was to the point that they couldn't continue between songs, and would just pause and look out humbly into the crowd while we went on cheering. They surprisingly looked like they were in awe, with both Nate and Jack often staring out into the crowd between sets with amazed smiles.

I know I'm going on about this, but it had to be one of the most entertaining and fun concerts I've been to in a long time. To boot, the band met all of my expectations; they sounded amazing live, and came off as the most humble and exciting people. I'm definitely even more of a fan than I was before.

I leave you now with a video from the show of Fun covering The Rolling Stones (courtesy of James Skinner). I recommend if you do decide to watch it, that you turn your volume down to avoid some of the rattling that resulted from the crowd cheering.


Can't you just tell how pumped we all were to be there?