strolling to duck lake

On our last morning in Nipissing, we took a stroll up to Duck Lake with Sherry, Yan (the other half of Piebird) and their friend John. Duck Lake is a 30 minute stroll behind the house, down the river bank, across the river (in the dreaded canoe), up a hill (a long one!!), across a gravel road, past the alpaca farm (Yes!! Really!!) and through the woods. When you get to the top, you cross a boggy road (with great difficulty – it helps to wear gumboots) and voila – you’re at Duck Lake!

The banks of the lake are marshy and boggy and there’s a cranberry patch growing there. Sherry and Yan and John picked berries and I ate one and I’ve gotta say, fresh cranberries are not very nice. No sirree.

On the way back down the hill, we passed a great, big BEAR POO!!!! Eeeeeek!!!!!

Across the river

Past the alpaca farm (hai guyz!!)

Through the woods

Across the boggy path (this raccoon wasn't wearing gumboots, I don't think)

Last stop, Duck Lake

Cranberry harvest

Cranberries (taste better in juice or jam or muffins)

O Canadaaaahhhhh!!!!!

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hai chipmunk!

On Sunday morning, while strolling about on the farm and patting some goats, I heard a strange, scratching, scruffling sound. Looking around, all I could see was flowers and grass and blue sky and goats. And a suspicious looking sunflower, that was bobbing about all over the place.

Moving closer, I found the source of the strange, scratching, scruffling sound.

This little guy, busily nomming away and filling his cheeks with seeds. Muchos cuteness!!

piebird

When I visited Toronto two years ago, I got a little over the city life, and sought out a weekend away in the Canadian wilderness. A quick google search turned up this place: Piebird, a vegan farm in Nipissing, a tiny town in northern Ontario.

When Rich and I started planning the Adventures, I put my hand up, edge-of-my-seat, primary-school-style, for a return to Piebird.

 After a non-delicious breakfast and dishwatery coffee at an egg-themed cafe opposite the bus station (it had a hilariously punny name, like Great Eggspectations or Eggsactly What You Want, or something. Canada loves a good pun-incorporated into their business names, like Curl Up and Dye [hairdressers] and I Feel Like Crepe [crepes and martinis]. Anyway, breakfast at this place was anything but Eggscellent) we loaded up on snacks, boarded the bus, and settled in for a 5 hour trip north.

Sherry – half of Piebird – met us at the Powassan bus stop, where we picked up some supplies (like a loaf of cheese and jalapeno bread -??!!) and we were soon on the road to Nipissing, home of Piebird.

It’s such a beautiful, amazing, superlative-inducing place. A huge green lawn precedes the house, fringed with a row of tall pines. A herb tea garden grows in the middle of the lawn – if you’re feeling like you have a tummy ache, or are low in iron, or are having trouble sleeping, you can stroll out to the lawn with a cup of boiling water and pick some herbs (usually prescribed by Sherry, but you can freestyle too) and pretty soon you’re enjoying a hot tea and your ailment is on the decline.

In the next field, there’s a farm FULL of vegetables – beans and sorrel and tomatoes and sunflowers and carrots and beetroot. This is where nearly all the Piebird meals come from. There’s something really special about picking your dinner and then eating it straight away. Tis delicious, and sticklers like me don’t even flinch at an insect-munched piece of lettuce or a split tomato.

Monster carrots (delicious though!)

There’s a pen next to the vegies, and that’s where Ginger, Billy, Sadie, Sunshine and Pepe live. These guys are the most spoilt goats I have ever met in my whole entire life. They all know their names (and come running when you call them). They get cuddled to sleep at bedtime. They enjoy face massages and tummy rubs. They are so tame and friendly I was pretty sure they’d break into song or ask a question about how many Roald Dahl books I’d read.

Billy and Sadie, enjoying the serenity

Two cats roam the farm – Chapeau and Pinky. Chapeau is a tabby (and is enormous – he’s like a panther) and he does this creepy thing where he lies on your chest and sucks on the shoulder of your jumper (if it’s woolly). He gets this delirious look on his face and dribbles all over your clothes and it’s kind of disgusting but pretty endearing as well. I’m a cat person, so I had no qualms with this.

The river behind the house is dark and slow and is home to muskrats and otters and beavers and the occasional splashing crashing moose and bear… On our second day at Piebird, Rich and I went for a canoe adventure up the river to the dock (mebbe about 40 minutes away). Getting into the canoe was a struggle. Keeping balanced in the canoe was a struggle. Getting out of the canoe was a struggle. But it was a fun paddle. A little bit ‘Deliverance’ – the river is edged with thick woods, that are so quiet they give off a creepy, who’s watching-kinda vibe… We were passed by a few speedboats filled with fishermen who kindly turned off their engines when they spotted us – there was one youth-filled boat who sped by who did not slow down; they leered at us menacingly when they passed us, which added to the ‘Squeal like a pig, boy’ atmosphere. Eek! We made it safely back to the Piebird banks without tipping out of the boat. Until, of course, when I actually tried getting out of the canoe. That was when I misjudged the depth of the water, and my gumboot sunk deep into the submerged mud and I lost my balance and fell face-first onto the muddy banks… Oops. Splash.

Rich, of course, emerged unscathed, white shoes (not even gumboots – how hardcore is he??) untouched.

After spending the last few weeks in bizzy ol’ Toronto, it was SO ace to just laze around and do nothing. Sleep in; read books; wander about the farm; cuddle goats. Four days of this was what we both needed (Rich didn’t really explore the goat cuddling to the same extent as me).

Getting the bus back to Toronto on Sunday afternoon was a little bit like leaving school camp. For the first hour we chatted about stuff we’d done, and the people we’d met, and the food we’d eaten, and how great it would be to just up-sticks and move to the country and start up a B&B farm and learn how to successfully get in and out of a canoe. Then we had an hour of quiet reflection; staring out the window, thinking ‘Really? Could I really actually do something like that?’. And the remaining three hours (yes, THREE HOURS) were spent rolling our eyes at the two Beavis & Butthead, food-throwing, squeaky-voiced teens at the back of the bus. Urgh.

back in bizniz

When we left Turkey, I thought to myself “We have had so many adventures and there hasn’t been enough time to sit down in my cave/on my farm/in my log cabin to write about them all. Luckily I’ll have plenty of time in Canada to catch up and be up to date and spread the word of ‘the adventures’.”

But that didn’t really happen. Being in Toronto kinda slipped me into a bit of a city trance, and I seemed to spend my days wandering around, watching movies, and researching the next legs of ‘the adventures’. I’ve been to Toronto a coupla times – I lived there for a few months in 2007, and came back for a visit in 2009, and now again on this trip, so I feel like it’s a bit of a second home for me. In that way, ridiculously, I feel like “How can you have adventures in a place like this? A place that’s so familiar?”

Rather than having adventures in Toronto, we had moments, that were funny and silly and amazing and great. The Moments of Wembolina doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, though they are just as important as adventures.

Like the flashmob at Megan and Giancarlo’s wedding, where, midway through the speeches, someone stood up and started singing. After their line, someone else got up, and within a minute, 30 people around the room were on their feet, singing passionately, and Megan was sobbing and shaking in a state of shock and bewilderment and awe. I can’t even put it into words; it was amazing.

Meeting Lainie and Brian’s newborn twins was pretty incredible too. Lainie was induced the day after Megan’s wedding. Lainie was part of the flashmob. Lainie was dancing at the wedding at midnight. In fact, Lainie was jumping up and down and took part in a choreographed dance with the bride; at the end of the dance, it was agreed that they would both fall to the ground. Which they did. Within seconds, Lainie was surrounded by a crowd of concerned onlookers, scrambling to help her up. The twins look a while to come out – they were cosy in their tummy-home – but they’re perfect and beautiful and both destined for great things.

Last Monday we went to the Polaris Prize – Arcade Fire unsurprisingly took home the oversized cheque for $30,000 (which I was a little disappointed about – I really like that band, but I always thought that the Polaris was for more indie bands. Arcade Fire have a Grammy and a Juno and countless other awards… I was really hoping to see Austra or The Weeknd win). During the show, we were sitting next to the drummer from Austra’s mum, a beautiful Polish woman who told us all about the Iron Curtain and moving to Toronto and her relationship with her daughter. I think I enjoyed chatting to her more than I did the event.

Rich and I have seen a ton of movies while we’ve been in Toronto too (Rich more than me); ‘Beginners’ was definitely my favourite – it seems to have a heap of strange parallels with my life, which was a bit weird and creepy but amazing as well (mental note: seek out Mike Mills’ email address; send fan letter to be equally weird and creepy). We saw ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ last week (pretty bad, but I like all the Melbourne shots) and when we left there was a throng of middle-aged women and camera crews and reporters in sequinned dresses in the Scotiabank Cinema foyer, waiting for Hugh Jackman to arrive for the ‘Real Steel’ premiere (now THAT looks like a great movie… sheesh). I saw a familiar looking blonde chattering away into a camera and realised it was Mrs Hatzilakos from Degrassi! THAT was exciting.

But most of my favourite moments in Toronto happened on walks; walking around the city with Rich; strolling to the beach with Cynthia and her dog and eating olive bread and drinking iced tea; dawdling along Queen Street East, enjoying the most delicious ice-cream I’ve had in ages, escorted by a huge Bernese Mountain dog called Dylan (many of the best moments, not just on this trip but in life – for me – involve food and animals) …

Toronto – you and I did not get off on the right foot when I first visited you a few years ago. But you’re a nice place, and I hope I’ll see you again soon.

conversation with brandon

Rich and I went to the baseball last night: the Toronto Blue Jays vs the New York Yankees. We know nothing about baseball. We had a quick lesson with a friend before we went to the game – how many innings, why the batter never swings on the first pitch, that it’s kind of a zzz-y game. A bit like cricket. Or soccer. Not much really happens.

We’re sitting next to a guy in a Blue Jays jersey and he’s VERY passionate. He sings all the songs. Does all the clapping. Boos in all the right places. Jumps out of his seat and roars when appropriate.

Rich struck up a conversation with him. His name was Brandon and he was in town for a conference from Saskatchewan. After a few tidbits about the game, they got to chatting about travel. Rich chatted a little about our trip – not much though. This is the conversation that followed:

Brandon: You going to Las Vegas?

Rich: No

Brandon: You heard of Las Vegas??

Rich: Yup

Brandon: You GOTTA go to Vegas. Everything’s so big. And eye-opening. It’ll change your life!!

Rich: In that we’ll lose all our money?

The conversation fizzled out after that. We went and got a beer and a hot dog and some Crackerjacks (that’s caramel corn, apparently – they feature in the ‘official’ Toronto Blue Jays song), ate til we felt verrrrry ill, then moseyed outta there to catch the last 20 minutes of Wilco’s set at Massey Hall.

the cliched running moment

It was bound to happen sooner or later. That moment when I would have to run. Not a wun (that’s ‘walk-run’ – I tend to wun when I see the tram coming), not a jalk (that’s ‘jog-walk’ – I’ve been known to jalk when I’m pretending to jog around an oval, which, let’s be honest, has happened twice in my entire life), but a run.

A frantic run.

An all-out, handbag-falling-off-my-shoulder, backpack-crazily-boinking-from-side-to-side, heart-pumping (almost stopping) dash.

Let me set the scene.

Rich and I have been in Turkey for the past few days. I’ll fill you in on that another time. On Wednesday morning, bright and early (5.30am if you wanna get into exacts) we were collected from our hotel and taken to the airport, for a lovely looooong wait before our flight to Toronto, via Heathrow. The flight was due to land at Heathrow at 11am, and our flight to Toronto was due to depart at midday. Easy, right?

We had a great time at Istanbul airport. Sitting. Playing Scrabble. Counting up our Turkish lira and figuring out what to spend it on in the food court (we had just enough for a weird olive bread thing, two biscuits and a bottle of water). O, it was a joyous morning.

The plane was a few minutes late taking off, and by the time we got to Heathrow there seemed to be 8 million other planes coming in to land, so we had to get in line… We circled over London rooftops for a while, but not too long. Not long enough to get me stressy about making our connection. We still had plenty of time. We were due to arrive at Terminal 5, and depart from Terminal 5. Like I said – easy.

We landed, got off the plane, and I started my power walk to gate B34.

Rich said “Slow down, we’ve got heaps of time”.

I slowed down.

We rounded a corner, and what was this? A security checkpoint. With a pretty long line. This is unexpected. The clock overhead told me it was 11.25am. Which is OK, because our flight closes at 11.40am. We’ve still got plenty of time. We’re in the Terminal. It’s ALL. GOOD.

Five minutes at security and we’re through, and on our way to B34.

Passing a newsagents, Rich says “I’m just gonna get a magazine.”

And I say “I don’t think we have time for that.”

And Rich says “I’ll just be one minute.”

And I say “Welllll, I guess I need a magazine as well.”

So we spend maybe one minute browsing and selecting, and two minutes lining up at the cash register.

At 11.33am (or thereabouts) we’re out of the WH Smith, magazines in hand, with 7 minutes to get to our gate. Still easy, yes? Yes! Of course it is. Until I notice a sign that says:

Passengers for Gates B32-B40, Allow 15 minutes to get to Gate

Not. So. Easy.

We race down the escalator, excusing ourselves to the passengers standing on the left hand side as we push our way past. At the bottom of the escalator, what’s this? We have to get on a TRAIN to get to our gate. What the what???

Fortunately, the train is there, and within minutes, we’re off. It’s about a 2 minute journey, which is doable, and OK. Yes, it’s OK.

We get off the train, and there’s a ticket scanner and a second security checkpoint. There are two other people there, so no lines (phewf!) but just as we’re getting our tickets scanned, an announcement is made:

Gates closing, flight 6207 to Toronto, gates closing

The woman behind me says “Shit” and we all start running.

Have I ever told you about my unsubstantiated fear of UP escalators? Especially really long, really steep ones? Like the one at Parliament station? That’s where it all started. One morning on my way to work, I was on the escalator, going up, up, up, and suddenly my knees started shaking, my heart started pounding, my head went a little bit dizzy and I thought ‘I’m going to fall backwards and tumble all the way to the bottom and then my hair will get caught in the scary escalator teeth and then I’ll die’. I’m not proud of this. But ever since that moment, I get panicky and mental on escalators. Often I’ll see an escalator and know that it’s going to make me come over all jelly-like, and I’ll take a lift or the stairs, or I get Rich to hold my hand really really tight. I can fill you in on this more detail at a later date if you like: Escalators of the World that have made my Life Difficult.

So you know what I’m about to say. After getting our ticket scanned, and hearing the announcement that our flight is about to close, I run right into…. the steepest longest escalator at Heathrow. Rich is already way up ahead. There is no time to look around for an alternative. I have to do this.

So with my bobbling backpack and already-fallen-off-my-shoulder-handbag, I run up that escalator like there’s no tomorrow. Yes. I run. And then when I get to the top and round the corner, O great, there’s another one, and I run up that one too. It’s a real Rocky moment. I kick myself a little when I get to the top that there’s not enough time for me play Eye of the Tiger on my iPod and run around in a little circle (in slow motion) with my hands up, fist pumping the air.

But there’s no time for slo-mo, 80s filmic moments. There’s more running to be done. Down a corridor, heart beating in my throat, until finally, there it is. We get to the gate, and the air hostess gives us a disapproving shake of the head. She scans our tickets, we board the plane, put our backpacks in the overhead locker, and settle into our seats, feeling out of breath from our helter skelter sprint through Heathrow.

And then…

We sit on the tarmac for 45 minutes.

Hooray for running.