Sunday, September 30, 2007

Just a Little of That Human Touch

There's something endearing about the small towns that are nestled in the heart of the Ontario countryside.

Generally, they're more colourful, warm and inviting than what I'm used to in my daily city life. Rural populations are small, so you don't usually find the kind of specialized shops and boutiques that larger towns have. The stores are often a curious mix of products and services squeezed together to make optimum use of space. It's not unusual to find a single place that sells clothes, magazines, coffee, bait, gasoline and baked goods.

Similarly, the countryside offers an entrancing blend of natural scenery contrasted with man-made articles and structures. A wild frontier tamed by the human touch.

On our way up to the cottage for the weekend, we stopped at a small, colourful cafe in a very pretty town. Business was slow, and hopeful eyes spotted us on our way in the door. A quick scan revealed a brightly-decorated room. There were no other customers, which evoked a pang of guilt since we were only stopping by to find a washroom. We ordered coffee to go. The place was clean and neat, and we made a note and a promise to come back sometime. I snapped this shot of the back wall before leaving.

In the town of Cloyne, Ontario, there's a closed-down, out-of-business hotel and eatery called Land O' Lakes - not so unusual in itself for a place in this locale, but rather than the usual country cuisine that one would expect, this place once specialized in CanadAsian cuisine. If you were to peek through their restaurant windows, you'd see a perplexing array of exotic, Oriental decor combined with forty year-old Western European culture. The most striking of this eclectic collection was the sprinkling of Asiatic artifacts throughout the room, and portraits of three of the four Beatles (John Lennon was missing) peering over them from the surrounding walls.

Just outside of the building, on the edge of the parking lot, this hut once offered their customers an unlikely take-out option.

Once we were at the cottage, I found myself waking up early each day that we spent there. It probably had something to do with my eyes being greeted by the subtle morning hues which painted the lake - a promise of a beautiful sunrise approaching. The morning kept that promise every day. Facing southwest. the lake gave us dazzling displays of the setting sun, but densely-populated trees did not allow for a glimpse of the rising sun until it was fairly high in the sky.

One neighbour's property is just a three-minute walk up the path, however it's a lengthier few-mile ride along the coastline by boat, as the land between the cottages juts out considerably. This near-and-distant cottage sits on a bay facing east, allowing for a full view of the sunrise. This is where I parked myself and my camera each morning, feeling quite grateful that the owners were not occupying their cottage that weekend.

This swing at the edge of the sparkling water swayed gently in the wind, calmly waiting to be reunited with a young child.

Nearby, that same subtle breeze was not enough to encourage this flag to unfold and billow. Its still reflection relaxes in the water below.

On the other side of their cottage, a little cast-iron character sits gathering cobwebs, as if to attest to the truth of a fisherman's patience. The sun lit the surrounding area so intensely, that I found myself snapping several shots of this subject each morning. I posted one image last week. Two more are below.

Later in the day, a wheelbarrow was used to gather wood for a fire. Here, its rusting tray and red frame lean up against a tree before being put to work.

Having only spent a few days at the cottage, we didn't need to do any laundry, but the colourful clothespins clipped to the line reminded me of how long it had been since I have hung clothes outside to dry. For several decades, I've either lived in apartments or in a city with a by-law disallowing clothes lines. No matter how nicely a fabric softener or dryer sheet may smell, they can't beat the scent of fresh air-dried laundry. The clothespins sat empty throughout the weekend but their bright colours appealed to me. I'm easily amused.

Very easily amused.

Sigh! Dinner on the dock. It's one of my all-time favourite ways to enjoy a meal. Barbecued pork kebobs with fresh Tzatziki sauce, and tossed salad made the perfect end-of-summer meal. Served with an ice-cold beer or glass of wine, how could it possibly be better?

With a sunset. Here the lake reflects the contrails left by passing planes.

The nights spent up at the cottage were clear and bright. The moon was near-full, allowing us to see the distant silhouettes of the shoreline, long after the sun disappeared below the horizon. The air was cool but comfortable, and countless stars lit up the night sky. We could easily find the Big Dipper and other less-distinctive constellations.

Each night we lit a fire, and settled in as the slight chill in the air warmed to its flame. The end of a perfect day.

I'll post again in a few days, with the last of my photos taken that weekend.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Out in the Country

There is undeniable truth to the saying "You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy." The same sentiment holds true for city girls.

I was born and have lived in urban surroundings almost all of my life, and though I absolutely love to leave the cityscape behind me to venture into more natural surroundings, I prefer knowing that I'll be reasonably comfortable, warm and dry. I enjoy camping, but these days, given the choice, I'd rather have the comfort of a cabin. Boats? A lot of fun as long as the motor is in working condition. And fishing sounds like a good idea if I don't have to hook my own worms.

So when I had the opportunity to stay up at a cottage for a sunny, record-warm September weekend, it was a no-brainer. I'd be warm and dry, the boat there was almost brand-new, and I'd never been asked to even touch a worm, much less hook one. Country life, here I come!

We arrived late in the afternoon. The lake greeted us with the reds, oranges and yellows of the foliage that it mirrored - considerably advanced compared to the moderate changes back home. The late-day sun reflected off of the water and into our eyes as it lapped gently at the dock, enticing us to take a quick tour of the lake. I expected the true autumn air to hitch a ride with us, but even the steady wind out on the boat felt warm and wonderful.

Over the course of the next few days, we greeted sunrises, hiked a bit, explored a nearby town, ate dinner on the dock and lit evening fires. We even played some Pitch'n'Putt one day, which I approached as I do any other sport - with the agility of a hippo on crack.

And we fished.

Armed with rods and bait, life jackets, bug spray, sunglasses and a few munchies, we headed out to some of the hot fishing spots, which kept our reels humming. My first catch was modest. Scarcely the size of my hand, it was a breeze to reel in. A small piece of driftwood.

My second attempt brought in something larger - at least twice the size of the first. Alas, it was another piece of driftwood, but this one put up a bit of a struggle.

Determined to try again, I plopped my line into the water
and waited till I felt the now-familiar tug. I set the hook. This one felt huge! I reeled and yanked and looked to my left for help. To my great relief, more experienced hands took over the rod and I watched as my catch of the day was landed. A beautiful 8-pounder! Yes, another piece of driftwood.

Eventually the lake gods took pity on me and allowed me to catch a few real fish. We were looking for walleye, but it seems that the sunfish were looking for us, since that's all I caught - over and over again. I was beginning to believe that I was nabbing the same little guy every time. I wouldn't have known one from the other because I never really got all that up close and personal with them. As I said before, I wasn't unhooking them. That's when the foot came down.

"I think it's time you started unhooking your own fish now."

"Are you serious? Now? You want me to touch the fish?"

I was shown how to grasp the fish in such a way that its spiky fin wouldn't jab me (in theory) and how to manoeuvre the hook out of its mouth. With nimble fingers (remember that hippo on crack?), I managed to remove the sharp weapon from its mouth, and tossed the wriggly critter back into the lake. After a few imperceptible shudders (which scarcely rocked the boat), I rinsed my hands in lake water and attempted another cast into the population of hungry miniature fish. Unfortunately, that last one successfully ate the worm. That's when the other foot came down.

"How about a double-header? I think it's time you learned how to bait your own hook."

"Oh, come on now! You've got to be kidding me"

This time I began to shudder before I even touched the worm - or half-worm as it was. I watched a demonstration of a worm body-piercing, and I was on my own. I wasn't prepared for the strength of its tiny body, or for its determination to ease its way out from my tentative grip. Somewhere between a chorus of ewws, ughs and pathetic whimpers, I managed to jab it once, and loop the rest of its body around for a secure, second impalement. After a longer rinse in the lake, I was ready for the next peckish sunfish, which promptly ate the worm.

Despite the unpleasant tasks of baiting and unhooking, that afternoon stands out to me as one of the highlights of the weekend. We never did catch any walleye, but being out there basking in the sun and fresh air, enjoying great company, savouring the beautiful scenery, overcoming much of my apprehension and catching the best damned piece of driftwood of my life made it a wonderfully, memorable afternoon - and weekend.

Now, there's a little bit of country that you'd be hard-pressed to take out of this girl.

Enjoy the photos. There will be more in a few days.

The brilliant shades of autumn greet the morning shortly after sunrise.

Early morning, a neighbour's iron angler watches attentively while waiting for the the big bite.

I didn't catch this pike, so I didn't have to unhook him, which is good because he looks intimidating to me.

Of lesser concern, this sunfish was one of the first of many to be caught that day.

Just outside the cottage back door, this lure tree sits collecting colourful lures, hooks and other lost fishing-related items reeled in by chance.

After a bit of exploring at a nearby bay, we brought back this fish-shaped piece of driftwood and decided that it would be the new lure tree. It now adorns the side of the cottage.

Just a boat, a bumper and a rope, but I liked the way it looked.

Fishing off of the dock in the late afternoon was a pretty typical activity while watching the sunset come to life.

And sometimes all you need is that sunset.

I'll be posting some more photos in a few days. In the meantime you can find some great cottage-life photos over at Frank's blog.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Pints and Half-Pints

Over the years, our street has seen its share of difficult and unusual neighbours. Like most residential areas, we've had the codger who has called the police over urgent issues such as kids playing basketball or street hockey. We've seen those who literally could not mend fences due to opposing tastes. There used to be people next door to me who played their music so loudly that the mirror on my connecting wall would vibrate - at four in the morning. We still have one post-middle-aged male who has spent most of his summers walking or biking around, dressed in nothing more than a Speedo. And yes, it looks as ridiculous as it sounds.

Ours is a very transient area and most of our colourful characters have moved on, but one of my neighbours gives me great concern. Don't get me wrong - he has a very lovable personality. With his engaging smile and flirty eye contact, he has endeared himself to the women, and even the men on our street. Although new to the area, he has become a welcomed part of our regular get-togethers, but during these events it has come to my attention that he clearly has a serious drinking habit.

Despite his obvious charm, he can be loud, demanding, and at times has been known to show a significant temper. The young couple with whom he resides seem to be unconcerned with his frequent liquid dinners, lunches and even breakfasts. Like the rest of us, they have become quite enchanted with him and so they turn a bit of a blind eye.

We all pretend not to notice when he lets out a loud belch or fart, and we're all too polite to complain about how he sometimes eases his way through the women in the crowd, in hopes that he can land a subtle grope at a nearby breast. We don't really mind. We all know that he'll soon imbibe his next fix and pass out shortly afterward - a trickle of drool running down his face. All too frequently, he's been carried home and put to bed in just that state.

In spite of my concerns, I have big hopes that our neighbour will cut back on his excessive drinking one day. Right now he appears oblivious to anything edible that is spread out before him when we congregate for barbecues and planned parties, but I believe that our charismatic friend will eventually come around. I know he's worth the wait.

Just take one look at his big, blue eyes and tell me I'm wrong.

He's 7 weeks old and his name is Winston Ripley: Believe it or not!

He's at the pint of no return.

The ladybug is courtesy of Photoshop. The beer bottle was not.

More Photoshop fun. This blue pattern used to be Mom Erin's shoulder.

Winston appears to be a bit concerned about the camera. Or perhaps it's the fake backgrounds I keep giving him.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

(There Ain't No Cure for) The Summertime Hues

The start of the school year has always signaled summer's end for me, regardless of the few remaining weeks of warm, sunny weather. Flowers are still in bright bloom and the leaves show only vague intentions of changing colour. Even the calendar says we have not yet moved into the next season but for all of my intents and purposes, summer is over.

This is not to say that autumn is unappealing to me. Once the air turns frosty, there will be certain things that I won't miss about summer, such as bee stings, television reruns and the near-constant hum of the air conditioner.

I'm looking forward to the vivid hues that emblazon the trees, and later, the
crisp piles of leaves which will entice children to wade through, and burrow into them. I anticipate the inviting crackle of an outdoor wood-fire as its smokey scent envelopes the cool night air.

After a few months of near-constant barbecue use, autumn will be a time for becoming reacquainted with the oven. It's the season for cooking roasts, simmering soups and turning out hot sheets of cookies or pies. The aroma of freshly-baked bread will waft through the house…

Wait, that's coming from someone else's kitchen. I'm not nearly that domestic.

Winter is the culprit for me. I simply don't like it, and autumn serves to remind me that it's just around the corner. This year will be different since I've begun to look at seasons and weather with a bit of a fresher eye/lens. No doubt the shades of autumn and the stark scenes of winter will captivate me, and occupy my camera right up until those first signs of spring, and the return of my beloved summer.

That's my cure for the end-of-summertime blues.

Here are a few random photos left over from summer.

Just a few weeks ago the water lilies were in full bloom.

Earlier this month, we took a short walk along the Credit River. These flowers are growing tall and wild along its banks.

At a local pond, these two young boys are trying their luck fishing off the edge of the walkway, working cooperatively by baiting or untangling each others lines.

At the park, orange-tinged berries dangle from the branch of a tree high above me.

After a sports-filled morning, a few kids hit the sprinklers to cool down. Their basketball makes quite the splash as it hits a puddle.

My sister, Andrea (hi Andi!) has amazing, flowering plants all around her yard. Everywhere you look, you can find huge, colourful blossoms. This bloom, as well as the sunflower at the top of the post were lovingly cultivated by her green thumb.

Another beautiful flower found growing at Andi's place.

Across the pond, this little girl plays a game of 'hide and seek' with her reflection.

My neighbours Caroline and Lloyd have this hanging plant growing in their kitchen. The star-shaped blooms suspend in clusters, and the pink centers are so shiny and smooth, they actually feel like glass or plastic beads to the touch. The plant was a gift and neither one of them are certain about its name. If anyone knows what kind of plant this is, they'd appreciate finding out.
Edited on June 17 to include the information provided by an anonymous poster who informs me that the plant is called a Hoya. Thanks very much, Anon!

Early in the summer, just before dusk, a heavy rainfall begins to recede and leaves this vibrant rainbow in its place.

Among the few things that I will not be missing about summer, is the irritating jingle of the ice cream truck as it slowly blares its way through our dead-end court. Particularly annoying is the carnival-like music played loudly, and punctuated by an overly-friendly "HELLOOOO!" every 30 seconds or so. I snapped this picture on what turned out to be its last tour of our street for the summer. The poor vendor stopped his vehicle for me, in hopes that I was heading out to buy some of his wares.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Double High-5!

Way to go first to Frank and then to Crabby for figuring out the correct answer to the lyrics quiz!

Frank (whom along with Al, I thought would have had this in the bag ages ago) did respond first but I was lazy and wasn't ready with a post to congratulate him.

In the meantime, Crabby came along and shelled out the right solution as well. You can see their comments in the two previous posts.

The snippets were all from musical pieces whose titles never appeared anywhere within the lyrics of the song, which is fairly unusual outside of instrumentals.

Double High-5, you two!

And because I can hear the whining now, yes Frank, you were first.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Like Magic

When I know the solution to a puzzle, I figure everyone probably sees it with the same clarity.

I guess it's kind of like those "magic eye" images that were so popular about ten years ago. Once your eyes have adjusted to allow you to see the 3D image, the original pattern disappears quickly on subsequent views, and your eyes can easily focus in on the subject. Or so they tell me. I've still yet to see anything more than a vague, concave blob in the general shape of whatever the object is, no matter how much I squint, blur my vision or cross my eyes. I used to watch the people at the mall displays staring, nodding and agreeing that they saw dinosaurs, boats and all sorts of things that eluded me, and wondered if they were all in on some joke or conspiracy. The sample below is supposed to be a fish.

I'm going to keep my song challenge from the previous post open for a few more days because I'm sure the connection will occur to someone soon. The lyrics I quoted in the post below all have something in common. If you read the comments (Share your thoughts), you can see what everyone has said about them so far. Frank is on the right track but I'm looking for something a bit more concrete.

Song titles that have not been mentioned in the comments section, appear on the pink iPod above. The title of the post, "What's Puzzling You is the Nature of My Game" is from the song "Sympathy for the Devil." and #7 is indeed "Romeo's Tune" as pointed out by Abby and Al.

Comments will continue to be moderated.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

"What's Puzzling You is the Nature of My Game"

The problem with iTunes is that they're never really my tunes.

My older son comes home from university periodically and decides that he needs to make some CDs to listen to, for those times when he confiscates his father's car. This means he dumps his entire iPod contents into my computer (he found an application which facilitates this), which in turn means that I either have to fine-tooth comb through my iTunes for songs I want to keep, and delete the rest, or acquire a taste for military marches.

My younger son determines that chatting on MSN, posting on guitar forums, playing Yahoo games, finding his YouTube favourites, competing at Warcraft, locating guitar tabs, downloading data, surfing the web and recording his own music is just a tad taxing for his own computer, so he figures that my Mac is a good place to collect some of his heavy metal musical tastes.

Imagine my frustration when one day last week I even had to wrestle my iPawd from the claws of my cat.

After cleansing my player of all unwanted material, I decided that my my own collection of songs were ready to help me keep up a steady pace as I walked in the park. Several tunes into the outing, I noticed a pattern between some of the different pieces of music that came up.

A few familiar lyrical snippets from eight different songs appear below. Can you figure out what they have in common?

1) "Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

2) "All in a dream, all in a dream
The loading had begun. They were flying Mother Nature's Silver seed to a new home in the sun."

3) "Don't cry.
Don't raise your eye. It's only teenage wasteland."

4) "It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
? Everybody look what's going down."

5) "I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are.
And you make it hard, And you make it hard."
6) "McGuinn and McGuire just a-gettin' higher in L.A., You know where that's at. And no one's gettin' fat except Mama Cass."

7) "Meet me in the middle of the day.
Let me hear you say, everything's okay. Bring me southern kisses from your room"

8) "Slow down, you move too fast.
You've got to make the morning last. Just kicking down the cobble stones. Looking for fun and feelin' groovy."
I'm going to turn the moderation feature on, so your guesses will appear in a few days. Any comments that are not guesses will show up as soon as I get the alert. Good luck!