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I want to test an embedded table, so I thought I would give you all a peek at the sign-in sheet from our latest Home Owner’s Association meeting.

What’s that, you say I am not actually in an HOA and these people can’t exist anyway?

Au contraire, mes amis!

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My embed code is mysteriously not working, so until it does, have a screenshot.

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Photo by Jean van der Meulen on Pexels.com

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You know how one day you can look up and something that made sense yesterday no longer does? Or a collection of disparate facts coalesces into a unitary whole? Or perhaps you walk into a room that has looked essentially the same for years and suddenly, something pops out at you? 

That happened to me this morning.

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This is my dragon:

Sir Dragon (not sure about the origin of the “Sir” but maybe he ate a knight once?)

He is wood and paint and gilt animated by magic. I found him years ago, on Bali, brought him home in a shipping container via the Port of Boston, and we have been together ever since.

He has yet to tell me his given name.

* * *

Originally designed to hang from a ceiling hook, for years he has made a comfortable aerie at the top of my largest bookcase. He presides over a stack of treasure that includes copies of The Expanse, Butcher’s Codex Alera, a first edition of Following the Equator by Mark Twain, a set of Lord of the Rings letter openers, one of many copies of Lord of the Rings, a hand-woven coin purse from Peru, a black cat carved in peat, a sand dollar that reminds me of my grandfather, a set of magnetic train cars, and other treasures.

He looked like this:

ho hum

I walked into the room and looked up, seeing the usual painted wood and wings. The epiphany occurred when I realized that I’d spent the past who knows how many years staring at the blank underside of the dragon’s wings.

Why not flip them around?

too right, Sir Dragon!

* * *

It only took two minutes to rearrange my view on dragons.

Today, I took that idea and upended a work-related problem I’m tackling. What, I wondered, if I flipped the question on its axis and came at it from another angle?

And suddenly a whole new path appeared.

* * *

Next time I’m stuck on a problem in work or writing, I’ll try turning it upside down and/or backwards.*

Thanks, whatever your name is!

* * *

* Have I mentioned that I used to write that way? I began my academic career (a.k.a. kindergarten) an ambidextrous upside-down and backwards adventurer. No longer, but it’s still fun to remember.

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There is a secret world coming to life in my back yard, goldfinches, dandelions, chickadees, red maple, cardinals, crows, robins, roses, insects, earthworms, that unidentified bush the bees love, and yesterday, the first butterfly.

At once common and precious, my spring smells of freshly-turned soil and violets.

Violets get their scent from ionone. It’s an extremely sweet scent that many people describe as also being dry. “Powdery” is the word that’s usually used. Another word is “ethereal,” or “ephemeral.” After stimulating scent receptors, ionone binds to them and temporarily shuts them off completely. This substance cannot be smelled for more than a few moments at a time. After that, people go anosmic to it. Then, after a few breaths, the scent pops up again. 

— How Violets Steal Your Sense of Smell

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violets in grass
Photo by Darius Cotoi on Unsplash

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I learned some sad news last night. Nothing personal, exactly, but it affected me all the same.

Jean-Claude Chartrand, the chef at our favorite restaurant, has died. 

I feel for his family and for those he led. His loss will reverberate throughout the community. And yes, I also feel some personal sorrow. His restaurant is lovely, and going there always felt a bit like coming home. 

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I met Chef Chartrand once or twice in person, but mostly I knew him through his food, and through the warmth and care that showed in his restaurant.

L’Orée du Bois is located in a converted century-old farmhouse, and the dining areas are cozy rooms with exposed wood and windows that overlook the garden, the smoke house, the patio, and the forest.

They added a timbered patio we haven’t been able to try yet, and lined the path through the forest beyond the herb garden with benches, lights, and a fire pit. 

It might be odd to say because I’m an American English speaker with roots far from here, but everything about this French Canadian restaurant suits me. I’ll be honest, it was one of the things that convinced me that I could make this new country a home. That I would fit here.

Because to me, that Québécois restaurant at the wooded edge of Gatineau Park, anchoring this southerly edge of our neighboring province, is perfect.

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L’Orée du Bois is the place we go when we want to celebrate, or take visitors out for a dinner that is both special and comfortable.

The food is inventive, delicious, often surprising and frequently local. It is the type of establishment where wine pairings are spot on, the staff are thoughtful and friendly, maple pops up on the menu with reassuring regularity, and typical haute cuisine rules about avoiding ingredient or menu substitutions are meant to be broken.

My kind of place.

Many of the ingredients are sourced from local producers. Admire a hand thrown butter dish? Enjoy the mushroom medley or the red deer medallion or the fiddleheads? Chances are good that it was made or farmed or harvested nearby. I didn’t know Chef Chartrand, but it was clear he cared about his community.

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When my mother came to visit, we took her there. Chef Chartrand came out to the dining room to speak with us, making sure that everything was good and that we were happy, then stayed to chat a bit under a framed chef’s hat signed by Justin Trudeau and his family. My mother is hard of hearing, and restaurants can be awkward places to talk. The chef was kind and thoughtful and helped make her evening special.

The last time we took my father (he has been several times) we were given a tour of the kitchen, the wine cellar, and sent home with a selection of handmade chocolates.

L’Orée is where Mr. Man took me the first time we visited Ottawa, even before we started talking seriously about moving here. It’s where we went after we bought our house. When I became a Canadian citizen. And the day we married, we took pictures in the herb garden out front while waiting for our table.

Thinking we should expand our horizons, we tried other restaurants, but always came back. The alternatives were always… something. Too crowded, too cold, too bright, too self-important, too self-consciously avant-garde. Too much something, and not enough L’Orée du Bois.

We always went back.

* * *

As the pandemic took hold and lockdowns began to stretch from weeks into months, we worried that the restaurant might not make it. When they opened for takeout, we went as often as we could. Celebrating the holidays without family this year, we ordered bag after bag of take-out to get us through the season. 

Smiling staff handed out hot mulled wine as we waited for our pickup. It’s that kind of place. 

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Information on Chef Chartrand is limited but the announcement mentioned that a staff member tested positive for Covid-19. Just days later, Chartrand was gone. 

L’Orée du Bois chef Jean-Claude Chartrand dies days after his restaurant closes due to a COVID-19 case among staff

Jean-Claude Chartrand, the celebrated chef and co-owner of L’Orée du Bois, has died, just days after a worker at his much-loved West Quebec restaurant tested positive for COVID-19.

For more details on Chartrand, his life, and his community, see this article in Le Soeil (Google translate).

I am sorry for his family, and the region is poorer for his loss.

* * *

We have vaccines. We have hope. But please, for yourselves, for those you love, and for the health of our collective future, stay careful. Stay safe.

We may be close, but danger still lurks. We have not yet reached the edge of the woods.

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Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

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I usually try to stay fairly upbeat here but today I’m sad. 

The neighbors out back are taking down two big magnolia trees. Those trees always had the first flowers of Spring and I was looking forward to their pink and white petals. 

Photo by Chris F on Pexels.com

Nope. Instead, we’ll have a lovely view of the water tower a few blocks away.

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Now, I know that sometimes you just have to take down a tree. We had to do it ourselves, when the Emerald Ash Borer came through. These trees didn’t look sick, but you never know.

Still. 

My parents raised us on The Lorax, and childhood books stick with you. It’s hard to see big trees come down. 

I’d hoped the new cardinal families that moved in over the winter would set up house and stay. They still might, but it feels less likely today. And then there are the tree-dependent squirrels. 

Right now I’m looking out at the back yard and it no longer feels quite as cozy, quite as welcoming as it did. We still have our trees and some at the near neighbors, but stretching away to the south the sky opens up and what I see now is suburbia, in all its generic glory.

Sigh.

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All that said, it will be fine. I’ll indulge in a bit of virtual “hanami,” or “flower watching,” as cherry blossoms announce the first signs of Spring. I’ll think about ways to use the yard as a place for everything from trees to flowers to birds to squirrels to insects.

Himeji Castle is even more beautiful than when Mr. Man and I visited. 

And I think it’s time to pick up another bird feeder.

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This is a lovely piece about a ship, a bird, and making the most of even trying circumstances. It’s a message I think we could all use right about now:)

What a Songbird Lost at Sea Taught Me About Survival | Audubon

She has reminded me that all of us can find ourselves lost. Winds don’t only carry songbirds to sea.

And here, floating atop this undulating unknown, Homeslice reminds me I am still on Earth. There is air and water, light and dark, and there is life in all forms, including restless humans, migrating birds, and the symbiotic methane-fueled fan worms discovered on our trip. Including even the sort-of-living viruses that plague us. We travel the wind, walk on land, float in currents, or remain anchored in sediment. We’re all surviving on this spinning island in the cosmos. And there’s more than one way to survive, even at the bottom of a sea of Mondays.

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Female Scarlet Tanager, Ottawa, ON
Matt Osborne, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Yesterday’s post was a long one and right now, the federal tax institutions of two countries are calling my name. Also my wallet.

So today we have a technique using Affinity Photo to make a picture look more like a painting. Compare the original vs. modified versions below and you’ll see that the method isn’t exact, but it’s a quick and easy way to take the edges off reality.

(And the way taxes usually go, that will probably come in handy;)

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Original Photo by David Clode on Unsplash
Original Photo by zhengtao tang on Unsplash

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Also, I like birds and fish. Enjoy your weekend!

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It’s been a good Saturday morning, even with all the usual laundry and smoothie and house stuff on the menu. I’m getting things done but still had the feeling at the back of my mind that I should be doing more, making better use of my time by… something. My mind was a maelstrom of possibility, alive with whatever idea caught my attention in that moment. 

Would I be a better me, I wondered, if I were more focused?

It’s a version of what’s called “time anxiety,” the feeling that there’s never enough time, or that you aren’t making the most of the time you have.

“Am I creating the greatest amount of value with my life that I can? Will I feel, when it comes my time to die, that I spent too much of my time frivolously?”

— Time anxiety: is it too late? – Ness Labs

No pressure, right?

This clock is definitely judging me.
Photo by Krivec Ales on Pexels.com

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But between “Getting started with Arduino” and finding the date for the announcement of the Nebula Award finalists (March 15th fyi), I came across a Nancy Kress short story that spoke directly to the moment. 

End Game – Lightspeed Magazine

It’s a great story, full of concrete science with well-structured ideas that still have heart. It’s also something of a cautionary tale, but I often like those because they are like signposts from the future, showing us what to be aware of, and what not to do. (Such stories are also safe, because you leave the bad things behind when you finish the story. I like that part too.)

If I had to summarize the core theme of this story in just a few words? Nature abhors a cheat code.* 

So you know what? I’m going to take a breath, step back, and enjoy the weekend. Learn, read, build, bake, clean, think, and otherwise do. Here’s to making the most best of the day.

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A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

— Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

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* Technically, it might be more precise to say that “no cheat code goes unpunished” or “be careful what you wish for,” but I liked the image of Nature in the background shaking her head as she pressed the “fine, you asked for it” button;)

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Photo by Ian Beckley on Pexels.com

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Digging through my files looking for some obscure notes, I ran across this piece of commentary on Ottawa. I wrote it during the first trip up here after Mr. Man convinced me to consider a move, so I was less of a tourist and more a potential consumer. It was also funny to see what I thought the first time I came to this place I now call home.

This was years ago now but the perspective (from inside a coffee shop! full of people! unmasked!) caught my attention.

Look, I thought, this is how it was, once upon a time, and how it will one day be again.

* * *

OTTAWA 10:18 on a Monday morning and I’m in a Starbuck’s. We’re situated in one of the ubiquitous strip malls that remind me of Denver, and it’s surprisingly busy. What I’ve noticed so far: Canadians are generally not interested in bumper stickers. They seem to be much more interested in the resale value of their cars than in informing their fellow passersby that they oppose free trade, or love puppies, or want to follow their bliss (which, let’s be honest, often looks a lot like a 18-wheel truck halfway through a 48-hour run between New York city and Las Vegas). How committed can they be, I ask you, if they aren’t willing to sacrifice a bit of paint for their cause? Honestly. 

I’m freezing in here, as the climate control unit appears to be set up for a constant stream of hot-blooded Northerners, all anxious for their coffee fix. There is a constant flow of conversation as well, as interestingly plebeian as any space designed to provide a safe haven for meeting, greeting, and eating. A couple of enthusiastically large women are discussing jobs (one just lost hers due to her refusal to sign some important yet binding piece of paper and she’s happy as a clam to be anywhere that isn’t at work with her tool of a boss), kids (they don’t look old enough to have them but they do, along with husbands, tattoos, concerned mothers, and similarly unemployed friends to drink with at 11:00 in the morning. 

The cars are mostly new out here; we’re down South of the city now, in one of the several growing areas of development focused on providing big shiny new buildings for high-tech and other companies, large houses on tiny lots, gravid with the cars necessary to live in such a spread-out region. It’s not my kind of place, but I can see that it appeals to a lot of people. People who want to drive new cars from the office two blocks down the street to get a grande half-fat half-soy mocaccino with caramel on top. Not that I’m making fun, mind you. I’m drinking what appears to be a banana smoothie but is in fact a vente orange mango vivanno. I just don’t want to buy a car. Another sad note, the wireless here is decidedly not free.

One thing I notice is that as the day wears on, the brand new cars and fancy dress are replaced by a little more rust, more single women with artistically highlighted hair, fewer professionals. Perhaps this is more like an American experience than I’d expected, and I’ll see an influx of students come in soon with bags under their eyes, laptops, and the look of perennial stress that marks the perpetually intellectual. Ah, but wait, what’s this? A taste of home writ large, in the form of a bronze and white two-tone Chevy Bel Air flaunting the high gas prices as effectively as it does the slim parking spot it is bursting out of. Home sweet home. A Toyota hatchback the size of a basketball shoe slips into a slot nearby, its more practical size offset by an undeniable air of regret for its lost stature.

Most of the darker-skinned people I’ve seen so far here are South Asian. Yesterday, the lack of fellow African Americans left me feeling lonely, but on the plus side there will be whole new ethnicities to be mistaken for, and the food’s bound to be tasty. Not surprisingly, though, white prevails here. Outdoor tan white with big boots and pickup trucks, soft lumpy white with purses and a coffee and keys and flip-flops and two kids and a mini-van, self-conscious white striving for haute couture and perfect hair while casting constant glances at nearby windows to check, just to be sure, and big hand solid grip white, leading a child through a crowded room to safety.* 

Am I’m the only person here working on a laptop? Everyone else is either reading the paper or chatting with a friend. Wait! I see another fellow typist working in the far corner, injecting caffeine to spur the process along. That’s reassuring. I don’t mind being a foreigner, with darkish skin and a predilection for over-tipping due to acute unfamiliarity with the local currency, but surely we’re all in the same century, yah? Or perhaps not, since everyone else seems to have a cell phone, a car, a purse or pockets no doubt brimming with cutting edge technology, and I, I have only my little laptop. Thank God. I don’t think I could stand to be any more connected frankly. Am I antisocial, or just old school? I prefer to think the latter, and I support my argument with the fact that I will be keeping my loom, my books on food preservation without modern methods, and my books on basic survival under situations of extreme duress. I’m not anti-people, I’m just a geek.**

The people here are kind, I find. We crisscrossed a number of neighborhoods yesterday checking out the environment and looking for rental signs, and at one point stopped by the side of the road to take stock of our progress and plan out next steps. A woman knocked on the window and asked if we needed help. She’d seen the tell-tale signs of otherness: Massachusetts license plate, big map, pen and paper spread out before us. Of course, we weren’t lost at all but it was a great opportunity to chat with a woman who had lived in the Old Ottawa South area for the better part of her life, and was eager to help us spot the three or four houses in the area with for-rent signs. It was the sort of thing that might happen in any neighborhood anywhere, but that fact that at no time did I wonder if she had a pistol concealed in her handbag made it that much sweeter.

The bad news, of course, is that everyone seems to agree that Old Ottawa South is the best neighborhood in the entire city, and are unwilling to move out and give us our chance to experience it for ourselves. Perhaps we’ll find a place there. The fact that the squirrels are cute, fluffy, and completely black threw me. Not gray, not a ruddy brown, but black, like a shadow of a squirrel that’s escaped from its owner. Another non-surprise is that one is expected to pay a little something extra for the sunshine and water, the trees and green grass that tickles the toes. We’ll have to decide how far we want to travel down that road, softly green and floral scented though it may be. 

The river and canal are pretty as pictures, though, if pictures could capture the sense of motion inherent in a body of water surrounded by the swirl of cars, children, and the insufferably fit. 

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* This initial impression only captured part of the picture. The city is a great mix of ethnicities and countries of origin.

** I have a cell phone now but still don’t use it much:)

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Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3464o.pm010730

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I cut Mr. Man’s hair this morning. I think this is the fourth time, and I’ve noticed a pattern. I try something new, I read up on it, get through round one but have some issues. Next attempt, I read up more, address the issues from round one, and find new issues. Rinse and repeat.

The haircut came out pretty well, actually, just not perfect. Next time I’ll see if I can fix what wasn’t 100% and find new ways to move forward. 

That’s my goal, to make new mistakes.

I’ve found that this pattern also repeats in other arenas, like writing. All I can say is, start at the beginning and do your best, improving as you go. As Beckett’s quote goes, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

And that, my friends, is progress:)

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cat chasing laser pointer
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

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