Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Texan and his Japanese girlfriend came to Ottawa the other day...

Yes indeed, I doubt many people can make the above statement, but there it is! Who was this mysterious Texan you ask? None other than Arekusu (formerly Arekusu-sensei) whom I befriended during his 5 month stay in Utsunomiya. He and Haruna, whom I'd also had the chance to meet while in Japan came up to Canada for a couple of days last week, beginning with a tour of Montreal before spending the weekend here in Ottawa with Yoshiko and I. A grand time was had by all, photos to follow...

One of the reasons I haven't posted in a while is that I've started a new job at the office... while continuing to fill the duties of my old one... making things quite hectic and tiring. Luckily, this is for a limited time only, and by the end of August, I should be able to focus on my new duties. I've taken on the roles of Assistant to the General Manager and Coordinator of the Students program for Ottawa. The first part of that has everything from accounting and budgeting to HR and administrative stuff, with some telecoms stuff, purchasing and HR stuff to go with it. All in all, a pretty wide ranging position which will keep me pretty busy. The students side of things means that I deal with the law students which come through the office, help setup the whole recruiting process and deal with all the day to day stuff relating to their becoming licensed to practice law. All of this, for now, on top of my IT role which means that I am currently a man of (too) many hats. It's all good though, I'm getting plenty of stuff done in my first week with no time to get bored, that's for sure!

Anywho, on to the pics from the weekend. Here are Alex and Haruna coming back from a run to Timmy's for some coffee.


Our first touristy thing was to attend the Changing of the Guard ceremony on Parliament Hill. I hadn't been in YEARS, and Yoshiko had never attended, so I thought that'd be a good event to partake. The weather was absolutely AMAZING after a couple of days on rain. Here, you can see the parade arriving on Parliament Hill, complete with marching band.


While this ceremony and its guards are now mostly symbolic, its roots are practical in nature. This ceremony used to be held on the grounds of Rideau Hall, the official residence of Canada's Governor General, who is the representative of the Queen of England in Canada. The ceremony essentially serves to turn over the guard of Rideau Hall from one regiment to another, kind of like a big shift change... with marching bands and guns... lol


Don't be fooled by the symbolism and tradition here however, these are not actors... these young men and women are soldiers, members of the Governor General's Foot Guards, based here in Ottawa and the Canadian Grenadier Guards which are based in Montreal.


The ceremony lasts about a half hour and includes a full inspection of the guards as well as a transfer of the keys and colours from one commander to the next. And then, the whole group marches on off the hill and down the street to their barracks. Quite the show it is, and with Parliament as a background... an added bonus.


After the Changing of the Guards, we decided to run around the market a bit, and sample some of the local fare. On the way, we saw the locks once again in full operation.


It really was a lovely day, with the flag atop the Peace Tower fluttering madly in the wind.


Here is a view of the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica which lies just across from the National Art Gallery. On the grounds of the gallery stands this huge statue of a spider named "Mother"... complete with an egg sack... ick... striking nonetheless.


I was surprised to see that the War Memorial is now guarded by members of the Foot Guards. Seeing as the memorial holds the remains of the Unknown Soldier, and is thus essentially a grave yard, I like the addition, though I'm sure they'll just be on for tourist season.



This memorial is, of course, dedicated to Canada's war dead, and the group of soldiers are passing through an arch which signifies the passage between war and peace.


So that was that for our downtown tour. We headed back home, slapped together some fantastic BBQ, turned in early and slept in. A good day!

Another recent development in the neighbourhood is the arrival of a family of raptors of some kind. I'm having trouble pinning them down exactly as a species. Some have called it a Merlin\Pigeon Hawk... though the Sharp-shinned hawk is also an option in my mind, and the colours match more the SSHawk than the other... hard to tell to my untrained eyes... what do you think?





Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

Yoshiko and I have been keeping a bit of a secret since shortly after our arrival here in Canada. In the last few months, we've told our family and friends, and now it's time to let the rest of the world know.

We are going to be parents! Our little boy or girl will be born on or around December 23rd according to current estimates. We and our families are of course elated and are eagerly anticipating the arrival of our little Christmas baby.

Here is our most recent ultrasound picture, taken on June 13th which was a little over 13 weeks into the pregnancy. Already you can clearly see the head, spinal cord and even a hand waving to the world... very cool!


We'll be going in again shortly for another Ultrasound to check anatomy and hopefully determine whether we should be looking at boys names or girls names... we've decided to go with Japanese names, do you have any suggestions???

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Niagara Falls

Well on this rainy and dreary day, as I wait for the time to come to head out to Brigitte's house to hang out for the evening and enjoy her fantabluous cooking, I figured I should blog about the second part of our trip from last weekend.

Late Sunday afternoon, after saying our goodbyes to John, Sarah and the girls, we piled back into the trusted Explorer and headed on down the 402. Destination: Niagara Falls! One of the most frequent sources of shame during my stay in Japan was when this conversation occurred... multiple times:
Student: I've been to Canada!
Me: Really? Cool! Where did you go?
Student: I've been to _____ and ______ and of course Niagara Falls!
Me: Nice! I've never been to Niagara Falls.
Student: Eeeeeeeeeeeeh?
Finally, I can avoid any recurrence of this conversation in the future, since I am now once of the chosen millions to have visited The Falls.

A mere three hours drive from Sarnia, we arrived at our hotel, which promised a great view of the falls... the road it's on is named Fallsview after all, it would be quite misleading otherwise. Sure enough, as we entered our room, we were greeted to this view:


Man but that's a lot of water! at any given time, the far side of the falls are hidden behind a dense curtain of mist from the 6 million cubic feet of water which pour every minute down into the river 180 feet below. So much water!


This was our hotel, the Mariott Fallsview which, other than the great view on offer, didn't impress me all that much. Just a few little snags occurred which made our stay less than perfect, which at the prices we were paying, you expect them to be. Case in point, we noticed upon arrival that the mini-bar had not been restocked since the last guest and there was an empty bottle of wine in there. It now seems that despite my telling the front desk clerk when we checked out that this had happened, I've been charged about 60$ for the bottle of wine and god knows what else was missing from in there. Not pleased, but we'll see how their accounting department deals with this.


Since we arrived relatively late, we headed out right away for a bit of a walk and to grab a bite to eat. As we were walking around we had a hilariously frustrating encounter with a dense gentleman from south of the border. We got to a point near the Casino where a groundhog was walking around on the grass, ignoring all the passersby.
I said to Yoshiko: Look, there's a groundhog.
The gentleman standing next to us said: What is that?
Me: A groundhog.
Him: No it's not.
Me: ... Yes it is.
Him: Nah, we have those in our back yard down in Buffalo.
Me: What do you call them?
Him: I don't know.
Me: ... (Is this guy for real?)
If you don't know what it is, why are you arguing with me that it's not a groundhog.... DUMBASS! I went on to discuss the fine points of groundhogs with this moron before moving on, still not sure whether he believed me. Maybe he thought groundhogs didn't come this far North? What with the cold and everything? I know US Customs and Border Patrol are pretty tough, but come on.... Good story which I've enjoyed telling a few times already. As we got back to our hotel room, it was getting dark and we were eventually faced with this lovely view of the falls lit up for the night. To the right are the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, with the American Falls also lit up farther on the left.


Monday morning, we were up bright and early and made our way to Table Rock overlooking the falls while the rest of the tourists were still having breakfast. This gave us a nice unobstructed view of the falls and made the visit quite enjoyable.


As we made our way down the side of the river towards the dock for the Maid of the Mist, we spotted one of the tour boats in question down in the water.


They end up getting quite close to the falls, and I found it quite amusing to see at the people in their blue rain suits... like a boat full of blueberries.


Of course, we quickly turned into blueberries ourselves as we arrived at the dock and donned our suits. The ride was fantastic! Well worth the $14. We ended up making a run for the front of the ship where we were bounced around and sprayed from all directions, it was great!


On our next visit, when we'll have a bit more time, we'll definitely hit up the tour which takes you behind the falls... somewhere behind this curtain of falling water.


Seeing as we had a 6+ hour drive ahead of us still, we headed back to the hotel to check out around noon and stopped by the Taki (which means falls) Japanese Restaurant and enjoyed a very nice meal. And cheap! Good stuff for sure.

The drive back home was uneventful, with the 407 helping us avoid the stress of driving through Toronto. That's definitely the way to go from now on.

In parting, one last photo of the Horseshoe Falls.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sarnia

So finally, a few pictures from our time in Sarnia last weekend. Sarnia is right at the mouth of the second largest of the Great Lakes, Lake Huron. On Saturday, we all headed on down to the lake to check it out, my first time seeing Huron... and boy is it big. How big is it? It's surface area is more than Switzerland, or roughly the size of say, Hokkaido.... big lake!


Lake Huron is directly linked to the St-Lawrence River, which via a series of canals and channels and locks eventually connects right to the Atlantic Ocean. It is still used to this day as a shipping route for coal and salt, among other things. Large ships like this frequently make their way up and down the shipping routes, stopping at factories along the way.


The bridge you see here links the US and Canada, via the cities of Port Huron, Michigan and Sarnia, Ontario respectively. I've done the run across this bridge once before with John, quick shopping trip a couple of years back to take advantage of the lower US prices.


Of course, I didn't drive all the way down there to see lakes and bridges! I went to visit my dear friends John and Sarah and my little god-daughters Kadance:


and Simone:


Kadance is 3, and she's sprouted quite a bit during my two years away! Last time I saw her she'd just turned 1... my how time flies.


Little Simone on the other hand, was born in February, while I was still in Japan, so this was my first time meeting the little cutey. What a good baby she is, good temperament... and soooo strong!


The "official" reason for our visit was to take part in Simone's baptism, which went quite well, despite the heat and a few issues, as there always tend to be around these types of things.


It sure was great to see everyone again, and I did my best to get John and Sarah to start thinking about moving back out here again... Ottawa being the fantastic city that it is... and then our kids could grow up together!

Anywho, so that was that. Rough return to work this week after all that driving. I am so happy I managed to get Friday\Monday off to at least spread it out a bit. I'll blog again a little later this week with our photos from Niagara Falls... but that's it for now, off to bed with me!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Home Sweet Home

Always nice to be back... a full report with photos will follow later this week... for now, a quick statistical look at our road trip down to Southern Ontario:

Distance driven: 1,665 km
Stops at Service Centers along the highway: 4
Iced Caps purchased from Tim Horton's: 3
Times I passed the same green Chevy Optra whose speed varied between 80 and 130kph: 6
Traffic jams encountered: 1
Toll highways taken: 1 (twice)
Cities visited: 2
Number of adorable god-daughters visited: 2
Church services attended: 1
Great Lakes admired: 2
American cities seen within spitting distance: 2
Years it took me to visit Niagara Falls: 27
Approximate distance of hotel room from the Falls: 300 meters
Photos taken: 358
Videos taken: 7

That's the general idea, a wonderful weekend, nice to meet little 4 month old Simone and see John and Sarah and Kadance again. And Niagara Falls? WOW! More later!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Cottaging and Canada Day... ing...

Headed on up the line on Saturday morning to spend some relaxing time at the cottage. My grandparents have had a cottage up in Notre Dame de la Salette for many years now, and we frequently make weekend trips up there, all year long. This trip happened to be right smack dab in the middle of strawberry season, so Yoshiko and I went out for the afternoon with my grandmother, aunt and cousin for some picking. Unfortunately, the strawberries weren't cooperating in the section we were in and it took us longer than usual to fill up our baskets, which was fine as the weather was perfect for spending time outside.


We ended up picking 5 or 6 baskets and the ladies spent the rest of the day making delicious strawberry and rhubarb pies with the rhubarb picked fresh from the garden. One of the weekend's highlights for me was introducing my little Yoshiko to canoeing. She'd been kayaking before, on her trip to Vancouver some years back, but had never hopped in a canoe. Our little lake is perfect for paddling around on, the water is usually pretty calm and when it isn't it's not too hard to find some shelter from the wind. Here is Yoshiko trying her hand at paddling.


We ended up having a very nice ride, spotting some turtles and a baby beaver on this trip and the resident blue heron on our little run around the lake on Sunday. I've always loved the serenity of paddling on a quiet lake, so soothing.


Leaving from the cottage on Sunday after dinner after a day of very strange weather, we spotted one of the many rainbows which dotted the skies for this Canada Day 2007.


After taking just a few moments to unpack our things, we headed to the downtown area to take in the tail end of the Canada Day festivities, specifically to see the fireworks display, which is always great. We ended up parking on the Quebec side of the river and finding a spot behind the Museum of Civilizations from where we had a rear view of the Parliament buildings and the fireworks.



We really lucked out with our spot, allowing us plenty of room to set out all our chairs and affording us a great view of the fireworks, which are launched from the rear of the National Art Gallery (glass building on the left) and aimed right over the river in front of us.


As usual, the fireworks display did not disappoint, making the sky as bright as day at some points in the show. I even managed to get a few shots of the fireworks with Parliament lit up in the background.



A great first Canada Day for Yoshiko, next year we may brave the crowds and make our way to the hill for the party... we shall see.

This is going to be a very short week for me, as I have Friday off and we are heading 728 kilometers down to Sarnia to see my dear friends John and Sarah and my god-daughters Kadance and Simone, the latter of which was born while I was in Japan and I have yet to meet! Looking forward to the road trip, it should give Yoshiko a bit of a better idea of the scope of this here country of ours... with this 700 kilometer trip, she will have traveled the span from Quebec city, some 400 kilometers east of here, down to the western tip of Southern Ontario, a total of 1100 kilometers, and yet just a small sliver of Canada. Of course for now, I have 2 more days of work to go through... then a heck of a long drive ahead of me... but still... it'll be great to see everyone down there!

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