File this one under Ick


My list of bus-riding grievances might just warrant its own blog.

I spend my bus rides almost exclusively reading old-school science fiction, and occasionally checking e-mails and Facebook on my iPad. I keep to myself, so as not to bother or be bothered by other people. Seeing as my home time is mainly taken up by my daughters, my husband, household chores, meals and laundry, I enjoy these few minutes in my little literary bubble.

Yesterday, on my way to work, I was reading Nineteen Eighty-Four (Yes, for the first time. Yes, I’m serious. Those of you wishing to taunt me on the subject can use the Comments section), when I noticed a small, repetitive scraping sound. Its source was the girl sitting directly to my right, filing her nails. Right there. On the bus.

The girl wasn’t just fixing a chipped nail; she went on for over 10 minutes. This girl, who seemed perfectly normal at first glance, simply had no basic concept of acceptable behaviour. I suppose I should be grateful she didn’t start picking and flicking random bits of her breakfast from her teeth.

But it’s difficult feeling grateful when you’re staring at a small pile of finely ground nail bits accumulating at the top of her backpack. I tried focusing on my book, but the relentless scraping sound of her file was too distracting. I kept looking at her, thinking at some point she’d remember she wasn’t in her bathroom. Eventually, she looked right at me, realized I was in fact staring at her, and finally stopped filing, dusting off the top of her backpack with her hand.

As I sat there watching the fingernail dust falling to the floor, I pondered: how do I always end up with such fine specimens of humanity on the public transit sweepstakes? Between the Nail Filer, the guy who repeatedly passed gas next to me, and the man who yelled at the girl on the cell phone, I’m feeling nostalgic about traffic and outrageously unjustified downtown parking fees.

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Baby it’s cold outside


It’s cold as hell out there. For anyone who hasn’t had the excruciating experience of walking out their front door lately, think twice before you do. That is, unless you’re either actively looking to lose a few fingers to frost bite, or your home is on fire.

I’m not sure what kinds of shenanigans Mother Nature is up to lately. Last week, London, Ontario got nearly 100 cm of snow; and now, Sarnia is dealing with 360 cars in the ditch following 3 days of insane snowfall.

We can’t complain about record snowfalls in Ottawa (yet – give it time), but we are experiencing temperatures of near -30 C with windchill. Look, don’t get me wrong, I know we should expect ridiculously low temperatures during Canadian winters. But that’s my point: it isn’t even winter yet. Winter solstice isn’t until December 21st.

It’s technically still fall. As in leaves falling from trees. Our eyelashes shouldn’t be freezing shut for at least another two months. Even my car mocked me as I tried to start it tonight.

I end this post with the hope that Mother Nature behaves soon, and that I eventually regain at least partial feeling in my fingers.

Calypso


Yesterday was Chris’s birthday, and we decided to celebrate by heading over to Ottawa’s newest attraction, the Calypso theme water park. Considering the recent heat wave, cooling off in the water sounded like it would hit the spot.

√  Swimsuits and towels: check
√  Sunscreen: check
√  Life jackets for the girls: check
√  Snacks and water bottles: check

The number of slides and games was impressive. The more we walked around the park, the more slides we discovered. We were surrounded by tall, swirling, colourful, fun-filled slides, and the happy sounds of splashing, laughter and music everywhere we went. I challenge any grown-up to go to Calypso and not turn instantly into a 10-year-old child.

The pirate ship area was the girls’ favourite, with its water slides and activities for kids of all ages. In fact, this section attracted an unexpected audience: 18-25-year-olds. At the very top of the pirate ship was a colossal wooden barrel adorned with a skeleton head, which periodically fills with water. When the bucket is full, it tips over and causes what can only be described as a tsunami to crash down over the entire setup and its occupants. Evidently the 18-25 year-old crowd enjoyed the refreshing tidal wave, anticipating its every descent. Note to parents: hold small children firmly by the hand, lest they be washed away.

Stepping out of the kid zone:

The Acid Test twirls and releases you into a giant bowl whose edge you spin around three times, before eventually being sucked into a hole in the middle and being led back to a pool area. Recommended for anyone wondering what it would be like to be flushed down a toilet. Highly amusing.

The Zoomerang starts off with a pitch-black twirl; the light reemerges just in time for you to realize you’re about to experience a several-storey-high drop of death, gain tremendous speed, climb up a ramp until gravity takes over, and speed back down toward the pool area. An adrenaline rush to say the least.

In the midst of all the fun, I had occasional nervous moments. Although we were always careful to hold on tight and sit securely with the girls, I had fleeting images of one of them bouncing off the tube, or other equally unpleasant thoughts. I never have those fears on roller coasters; so why was this worrying me now?

Then it dawned on me: roller coasters involve being somehow strapped to the riding vehicle, which is in turn tied to rails or other guiding system. You could send me to the moon on a coaster and I’d probably go back for seconds; but the free fall nature of the water slides, especially with my girls, occasionally made my mind wander to the dark side. Rails good; free fall bad.

A note to anyone heading to Calypso (or any other water park): wear flip-flops to the washrooms. The fact that it’s a water park doesn’t make them any cleaner. In fact, I’d say the opposite, since there isn’t a single spot on the washroom floors that wasn’t covered in a wet, brown film. My 3 1/2 year-old let out a loud “Ewwwww!” with a frown when she saw the person in the next stall barefoot on the giant petri dish that is the floor.

That being said, the rest of the park is much cleaner. Everyone, especially our girls, had a great time. Highly recommended to anyone visiting the Ottawa area.

Wednesday (mis)adventures


Between full-time careers, a photo business, the house, meals, and the girls’ soccer and swimming, it’s safe to say Chris and I lead borderline chaotic lives. As a side note, the previous sentence also serves to explain my inexcusably long absence from my blog over the past couple of weeks.

Once in a while, we call up our neighbours and ask their daughter to babysit. We adore our daughters; but just once in a while, having dinner as grown-ups, without hearing which daughter took the other’s toy, having to convince them that vegetables are not actually evil, or cleaning up spills and messes, is a treat.

And so it was that Chris and I planned on a date for last Wednesday, June 23. In fact, we made plans with our neighbours, the ones nice enough to lend us their daughter. As new motorcycle owners, we decided that if the weather cooperated, we’d go out riding and stop for dinner somewhere; otherwise, we’d go out for a movie.

I was at work, looking forward to that evening, when at 1:41 p.m., I felt a vibration under my feet, which quickly progressed into an unsettling tremor, shaking our desks and walls. It was as though God was pushing a small city around in a cart. We headed outside and waited until the authorities told us it was safe.

And by “authorities”, I mean colleagues who’d put on hard hats and fluorescent orange vests, carrying walkie-talkies.

After arriving home, we were all the more anxious to have a little time to unwind from the day’s events. So off we went with our neighbours, riding along back roads, feeling the wind on our faces, and smelling the trees (and occasionally manure).

Somewhere in Green Acres, our neighbours’ bike broke down. After circling the bike for a while, they thought they might start the bike by compression if Chris pushed it. Luckily, it worked. Not wanting to tempt fate, we thought it best to double back.

That’s when we started feeling light rain, like little drops of mockery on our faces. After a few more turns, a loud, startling POW! resonated, causing each of us to likely need a change of pants. Our neighbour’s bike had backfired, and was dead again. After a little cursing and more pushing, we were bombing our way home before anything else could happen.

Once we were safely back, the four of us climbed into their car, drove over to Kelsey’s, and had 3 pitchers of Rickard’s Red, with some food on the side. How will our next date ever top this one?

Public Transit Driving Us Mad


OC Transpo bus

OC Transpo bus

We all know the advantages of public transit: it’s better for the environment; it helps reduce traffic; you avoid eye-gouging downtown parking fees; and for some, it’s even a bit of free time to read or listen to an iPod.

Public transit works great in theory. In reality, anyone who’s utilized OC Transpo’s services might tell you differently. It seems we’ve forgotten, but after the OC Transpo strike that started on December 10, 2008 and ended 51 excruciating days later, OC Transpo vowed to offer Ottawa residents a better, more courteous service. And I have to admit, that first week back nearly brought a tear to my eye: drivers were on time and seemed genuinely happy to greet riders.

Since then, bus drivers have, with a few exceptions, returned to their old habits: they’re rude and impatient, they close the doors and take off even when they see you there, and they think bus schedules are just a suggestion.

Their mandate is “to deliver safe, reliable, and courteous service at a reasonable price.” Seeing as I haven’t yet had an accident while riding a bus, I’ll grant them “safe”. I’m still waiting for “reliable” and “courteous”. Buses are so often late (or fail to come at all) that I’ve got their customer service number in my cell phone contacts. This despite the fact that after the strike, their customer service reps stated a zero tolerance for lateness.

But why doesn’t their mandate mention “sufficient”? OC Transpo has held consultations, where the public can attend and express their opinion — if they happen to see the tiny notices temporarily taped to bus stop poles. Following these consultations, some bus routes were changed, while others were eliminated altogether. All to better serve residents.

Meanwhile, other buses are so over-packed that after the first few downtown stops, people are standing packed all the way to the doors, and the buses can’t take in any other riders.

I and many others have been both calling in and e-mailing our grievances. I question whether the online form we fill out even goes to a valid account, since we never actually receive a response. However, by phone, the reps take note of every comment, and encourage riders to call. The rep today (with whom I’m now on first-name basis) informed me that the next schedule changes will take place in April. I urge all disgruntled riders to do their part and tell OC Transpo we expect better, either by phone (613-842-3600) or through their online form.

What do YOU think of OC Transpo’s post-strike service?

Spring is in the air?


Mist on the windshield

Mist on the windshield

Don’t get me wrong.

I know we haven’t had the mother of all winters. No record snowfalls burying our cars and street signs like it did in 2008. No unbearably long stretches at -30ºC. Overall, a Canadian’s dream winter.

Last week, from March 12-15 or so, temperatures climbed up to around 16ºC — that’s above zero. My daughters wore thin spring jackets to school. Joggers were spotted wearing shorts. I wore flip flops on a walk to the drug store. Ah, the exhilaration of having your toes feel the warm breeze!

Then we headed to Sherbrooke, QC for the weekend. Originally, they were announcing around 12ºC, sunny with a few clouds. The weather forecasts again proved themselves consistent in their inability to accurately predict weather and temperature.

Not only was it barely above freezing point, but it actually started to snow on Sunday. Or, as my brain translated, a trillion pigeons circled overhead while letting loose. And on the 2nd day of spring no less.

We drove back home to Ottawa through an insulting mix of snow and rain, which eventually faded into a fine mist. The kind that mockingly speckles your windshield, but never quite enough to justify the wipers, who would only smear it all over the windshield, causing more reduced visibility than the mist.

Sigh. Did someone not get the memo? It’s spring.

On the other hand, we’ll appreciate our upcoming vacation in the Dominican Republic all the more. I can already taste the rum…