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So somehow I missed First Contact Day. You know, the day Vulcans pass by Earth just as Dr. Zefram Cochrane makes the first human warp flight in the Phoenix

As recorded in the historical document Star Trek: First Contact.

Right. Anyway, I missed it. The good news is that the real thing won’t take place until 2063. We still have time for benevolent alien species,* a future of livable space ships, the Federation, currency-free economy, and peace on Earth.

What do you say we get started:)

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Photo by Benjamin Suter on Pexels.com

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* Granted, there are a lot of ways this could go: String theorist Michio Kaku: ‘Reaching out to aliens is a terrible idea’.

Precious Things

Books are precious things, but more than that, they are the strong backbone of civilization. They are the thread upon which it all hangs, and they can save us when all else is lost.

— Louis L’Amour

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Photo by nappy on Pexels.com

That Was Fun

Happy Easter!

What with no travel or outside family, this isn’t a great year for giant eight-layer cakes, so today I’m revisiting my one and only Easter dessert, the Bunny Cake.

It was fun to make. Will I do it again someday? Maybe, maybe not, but techniques like the meringue mushrooms, grass, and fondant were interesting to do.

Also, chocolate and bunnies are delicious:)

Dark Ages Indeed

I just learned a new word-related thing and thought I’d share. The correct phrase is “just deserts” not “just desserts.”

Despite its pronunciation, just deserts, with one s, is the proper spelling for the phrase meaning “the punishment that one deserves.” The phrase is even older than dessert, using an older noun version of desert meaning “deserved reward or punishment,” which is spelled like the arid land, but pronounced like the sweet treat.

— ‘Just Deserts’ or ‘Just Desserts’? | Merriam-Webster*

I always thought this term was a food reference. Shows how my mind works.

And now that I know I was wrong, I can start being right. Learning stuff is great.

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* So wait, no “dessert” before the 16th century? Dark ages indeed;)

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Photo by Marta Dzedyshko on Pexels.com

I don’t know about you but I am more than ready for Spring.

Most of my family is south of the border, and they keep talking about things like 60℉ weather and unfrozen soil and flowers. Crazy talk! 

We still have a patch of snow out front but today might be the day it finally disappears. So as one last goodbye to winter, let’s visit the world’s largest ice carousel, in Lappajärvi, Finland.

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Crater lake Ice Carousel – world’s largest 310 meters / +1000 feet – YouTube

For all the nitty gritty details, check out this in-depth video:

Go for 30,000 tons of spinning ice, stay for the custom cutting rigs, mad scientist stuff, and awesome accents. It took days, and is an impressive testament to the lengths people will go to in order to escape the winter doldrums;)

Planning to try this next year? Safety first, of course, but here’s a how to.

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Now, onward!

Photo by Tiia Pakk on Pexels.com

Welcomed Home

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.

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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.

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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

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.

Not So Easy

If you, like me, have spent the past week wondering how a ship like the Ever Given could get stuck so well for so long, here’s a fun interactive for you:

Steer through the Suez Canal

Navigating the Suez Canal is a high-stress, complicated feat that requires master piloting skills. To demonstrate, we worked with Master Mariner Andy Winbow and Captain Yash Gupta to produce this simulated passage.

Try your hand at traversing one of the most highly trafficked nautical thoroughfares in the world.

Aaaaaand, yeah, that’s a collision. Even in a simplified simulation like this one, it’s like trying to drive a freight train on ice. 

And that’s today’s experiment with “walking in someone else’s shoes.” Or wheelhouse, as the case may be. I find this sort of thought experiment useful, both as a writer and as a human being.*

Here’s to all those who do hard things!

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Photo by Ludvig Hedenborg on Pexels.com

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* Which I 100% am, no matter what my QR code says.

Where to Next?

After almost a week and an estimated $60 billion in lost trade, the Ever Given has finally been freed from its unplanned docking site in the Suez Canal. What’s next for this disruptive container ship? Imagine it anywhere in the world with this nifty new map adaptation.*

Ever Given Ever Ywhere

Why should the Suez Canal have all the fun?


Oh look, the boat is trying to run the Rideau locks at Parliament Hill!

nope nope nope

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My only regret is that I can’t sail this ship through the canals on Mars;)

A Short History of Martian Canals and Mars Fever

Historical map of planet mars from Giovanni Schiaparelli, 1888
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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* The site’s very busy as of this posting, so if at first you don’t succeed, try for 6 days, 3 hours and 38 minutes;)