Otter takes a pose

Keaton has been interested in fishies and water lately, as a result of watching Speedie Didi’s videos on YouTube. So, we took him to The Aquatarium at Tall Ships Landing in Brockville, Ontario — an hour’s drive from Ottawa — which was a science and education museum that showcased wildlife from the St. Lawrence River and their rich history.

The museum itself was a modest size, but the interactive learning opportunities were plentiful. My favourite part was the otter feeding. The little fella was doing all sorts of acrobatics and had such a personality; the sight was so darn cute. I felt like an excited kid, and probably appeared as one, too. We even got to take a photo with the otter; it posed for us! (Auntie Mel Mel was definitely missing out.)

The Power of Water experience was particularly a hit for our toddler. He loved figuring out how to generate electricity with water at the hydroelectric generation table, as well as maneuvering locks and dams and adjusting the water current. There were tricks he figured out as soon as he arrived at the table, without even our help! The set-up was such an educational and fun way for kids to learn the importance of the water of the St. Lawrence River, and how it shapes our daily existence.

Because the museum was a modest size with few visitors, it was a very local and personalized experience for us. We had the pleasure of interacting with staff along the way, who’d personally invited us to try different activities, some of which were learning about the turtle, getting a close up of Alice, the snake, and petting some underwater sea stars, sea urchins, and hermit crabs, amongst other things.

Following our museum visit, we stopped at Don’s fish & Chips, a local fish and chips takeout eatery, which was just a five-minute walk from the Aquatarium. We ended up eating our takeout in the car, which was parked in an indoor parking, as it was a chilly day. Whilst we ate in the dark, with only our interior car light for company, it was still an authentic experience — it was life and its discomforts at their silliest. Keaton, in fact, enjoyed eating his fish and chips while watching cartoons. After all, it was all dark and cozy.

We also took the opportunity to explore downtown Brockville a bit. We found a bookstore that my husband loved and where he could’ve spent the whole day finding gems. However, we had to cut our walk short because it was getting cold, and at that point in the late afternoon, I could no longer muster walking with my pregnant belly. So, we ventured back home.

In retrospect, it was such an enjoyable outing for us. If it was fun for Keaton, us parents had a blast, too — sometimes even more so! I love that my husband and I are spontaneous individuals, and are always open to new adventures, wherever they may be.

Past meets present

Mackenzie King Estate

Fall Rhapsody in Gatineau Park is a must-see during the autumn season. Leaves have changed colours and autumn is in full essence — it’s a magnificent sight to behold.

The last time I’ve been to Gatineau Park was, I believe, in autumn of 2014. I’d met with an outdoors hiking group in Ottawa — yes, with strangers who were really kindred spirits — and together, we embarked on a hiking adventure in the beautiful Gatineau mountains. It had been a long time since I’ve last stepped foot there, and my soul’s been yearning this familiar and comforting — as well as healing — experience.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of tracing my footsteps to the past. We drove up to the Mackenzie King Estate part of Gatineau Park. This Estate was home to Canada’s 10th and longest-serving Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, who’d later gifted his well-loved property to all Canadians. Today, and for many years, it’s become an attraction to many guests, loved for its aesthetic and historical value.

I haven’t been to the Mackenzie King Estate in particular since I was a pea size of about maybe five or six years old. I remember the photos of my childhood trip, but being back in person didn’t feel as nostalgic as I thought it would — it seemed rather unfamiliar. For my parents, on the other hand, they remembered their visit fondly. It warmed my heart to be able to bring them back here.

I love me a photo of myself walking in an abundant pile of leaves.

At eight months pregnant, walking long distances has become challenging, for I feel all kinds of pains and discomforts. Even moving at all is a challenge (imagine a whale trying to flip over in bed). I missed my stamina and energy at this very moment, because hiking has always been my favourite activity; and more than ever, I felt the limitations of my own body.

The sound of the water here was most peaceful. Keaton loved touching the water. He spent some time here with his grandpa, Kong-Kong.

Here goes our little explorer, again trying to discover, dismantle, and/or build something. It was a tender feeling to be back here after so many decades away — this time with a child of my own — and to see him enjoy being in nature so much. It was also, however, a difficult experience.

After many years away from the woods, coupled with motherhood, I had a deep yearning for solitude, reflection, and rejuvenation — and almost painfully so. But with my energetic toddler, moments like these have become rather rare, or if existent, full of disconnect. We all need moments to ourselves — and to varying degrees — but for myself, a solitary being at my core, this pain of lack is felt almost tenfold. I missed being alone in the woods, with only silence and shuffling leaves for company. In essence, I missed myself.

Keaton is such a kind-hearted kid, who’s so full of imagination, will, and compassion. And I love that he’s able to enjoy the little things in life: flowing water, colourful leaves, branches with which to create stories. Watching him walk through the woods — and yes, even running off and driving us bonkers — was very meaningful. When I look at this photo, despite the imperfections and fatigue of life, I see home: my son and nature.

Being back at Moorside on the Mackenzie King Estate brought about an “a-ha” moment. It was then that I remembered my childhood visit here, because I recalled the yellow houses where I took photos with my parents and our family friends at the time. I made sure to take a photo of my parents here during this visit, because it was also a past-meets-present experience for them.

I adored the architecture of the home and getting a glimpse of Mackenzie King’s aesthetic tastes and personality. The English cottage look and feel was simple yet elegant. It was neat to learn that it was also a venue where King had held meetings with other political figures — his countryside home a true source of pride.

My heart can be at peace now, for this year, I’ve had the opportunity to visit Gatineau Park in the fall — a dear place of mine — and to share this memory with my family.

Thanksgiving and Halloween-esque weekend fun

This past long weekend was intimate and fun-filled. My sister (Auntie Mel Mel) came to visit us for Thanksgiving, and especially to see her dear nephew. It had been a while and Keaton missed his auntie. He seemed to instinctively know right away when we asked him a few days prior who was visiting.

Being almost eight months pregnant and preparing all the food was tiring, to be sure, as I’d spent the whole day in the kitchen. But my husband was helpful in taking our son to the park to give me the space needed to get things done. I don’t think I sat down that day with all the cooking and cleaning, which later prompted a short syncope episode.

It was a lovely meal. I did pretty good, which I’m proud of. It made me joyous to see my family — mom, dad, my sister, my husband, my son — all gathered at the table and enjoying food and time together. I was particularly happy to see my sister eating a few hearty plates, especially because she’d been on a strict diet for many years due to debilitating health reasons. To see her indulge after successfully improving her health was heartwarming.

I’d baked a pumpkin cream cheese bundt cake for dessert, which I think was one of the best of its kind I’ve baked so far. Though, aesthetically, this time around it didn’t turn out so cute. I also tried piping some decorative black icing on top to give the cake a Halloween touch, but I made it even worse. I had to cover up the black tracks somehow, so I sprinkled an unforgiving amount of orange sprinkles on top, whilst using red icing blobs as the glue. Not the cutest cake, but very scrumptious nonetheless.

I’ve also been craving pie from Rockaberry in Montreal, so my sister kindly ordered one and brought it with her on her trip here. Their infamous blueberry crumb cheese pie is my favourite, but this time I opted for their pumpkin pie to honour the season. It was also an emotional decision because it reminded me of my husband and I’s marriage weekend, where we’d ordered pumpkin pie to celebrate. I’ve been missing Montreal a lot these days, more so Verdun where my husband and I shared our first milestones. We’d often order cakes from Rockaberry, and seeing their cake again on our table served as a sweet reminder.

My sister was here for the long weekend, so of course, a farm visit had been arranged. We went back to Saunders Farm, which we’d visited this past summer with Nana, my mother-in-law. This was the first visit for my sister and parents. My husband and I knew we wanted to go back; after all, they’re wildly known for their spooky Halloween activities.

Since it was a daytime visit, the activities were family-friendly. I could tell my sister enjoyed the visit, especially sharing the experience with her nephew. My parents, too, had fun. It’s not often that they get to spend time with their daughters and grandkids, doing activities, all at once. Keaton also got to enjoy the Halloween festivities, without them being too much of a scary experience for him. He especially enjoyed the usual play structures and jumbo jumpers.

We went into one of the haunted houses, which, my husband being the Halloween fanatic that he is, ushered us to try. The staging and the decorative and musical elements were impressive. I was especially proud of Keaton and my elderly parents for making it through. Though, Keaton did hold on tight to his auntie the whole time, and my mom also led my dad by the hand the whole way — to keep him alive, that is, because he was so distracted taking videos that he might not have seen where he was going. I’m surprised I didn’t pee myself, either. As a pregnant woman with serious urinary incontinence, I really should’ve worn adult diapers. Elderly people, a toddler, a pregnant woman… I’m sure we looked like a funny bunch.

After that haunted house, my husband and I went to the witch’s coven on our own, as everyone else had had enough scares for the day. Despite all the witchcraft and satanic ritual imageries, I must say that the walk-through was rather romantic. I loved the autumn feels and sceneries. The haunted hayride was also so much fun. The line-up was long and it was especially brutal in the sharp cold, but it was worth it. We all got a good scare on the wagon. Keaton just cuddled next to daddy whilst holding his big lollipop. I’m even convinced that because of the speed and bumps of the hayride, my baby probably really did do a u-turn inside my belly (she was breech). Who would’ve known!

Pumpkin patch dreams & nature’s healing

This past weekend, we ventured to the Gatineau, Quebec side for a farm adventure. Having grown up in Ottawa but spent much of my childhood crossing the bridge with my parents, driving there again — with my own family this time around — after decades, was very reminiscent of old times. I loved the drive there. There’s something relaxing about the Aylmer side of Gatineau. All the nature and trees… it was incredibly scenic and calming.

When we arrived at Potager Eardley, I noted just how busy it was. It was buzzing with human bees. There was beauty in the farm’s simplicity, which I appreciated. There was just enough to keep kids and families entertained and smiling. There was a simple playground, some farm animals, and the shop where one could purchase fresh fruits and veggies, fall decorations, and baked goods as well as coffee. We ordered a waffle with fruits and whipped cream for Keaton, which he — and ultimately, we — enjoyed greatly.

An activity that we did was apple picking. We embarked on the tractor wagon to the apple orchard, and upon arrival, I noted how the apples just adorned the trees like fall ornaments. There was an abundance of apples. While we all enjoyed apple picking, the experience was really dedicated to my mom, who finds the utmost joy in the activity. As soon as she hopped off the wagon, she was off on her own solo adventure filling her bag. It was a funny and cute sight to see her enjoy something so much. (It’s rare to see my mom do anything fun or for herself, so these moments are very meaningful.)

Mom’s bag was filled with Gala apples (her pick), and oh boy, were they ever crisp, juicy, and scrumptious! I don’t think I’ve ever had a Gala apple that fresh. Keaton also enjoyed an apple or two whilst running around the orchard and being playful. It was so sweet to see him hanging by Mama’s side while she was picking apples. He adores her so much, as well as his Kong-Kong. Following our apple picking adventure, we ventured back to the farm to embark on another adventure: pumpkin picking at the pumpkin patch, at the farm’s second location.

We were about to leave when Keaton wanted to stay back and play at the hay bales. There were plenty of kids there, and that’s where he met his new friend, David, who was a bit older than he was. At this point, being pregnant and tired, I’d waited in the car with my mom, while my husband and dad stayed out with Keaton. According to my husband, Keaton had had a blast running around with the older boy, who was so smitten with him he’d call him, “baby, baby!” I’m not sure what it is — perhaps it’s his charisma and confidence — but older children tend to gravitate towards Keaton, and vice versa. For some reason, they just love playing with him. It’s so endearing to watch.

Finally, we drove to the farm’s pumpkin patch, which was located only five minutes from the main farm by car. As we were driving into the parking lot, I was astonished by all the orange pumpkins I saw from afar. I must’ve screeched with excitement many times over. I was so excited to grab a wagon and run off to the fields. It was the most magical autumn sight I’d ever witnessed my whole life.

I’ve always wanted to go to a pumpkin patch ever since I was young. I just never had the opportunity, because without a car and without those around me who could venture far, it just wasn’t feasible. Finally, years later, I found myself at one; and it was the most dreamy pumpkin patch I could’ve ever imagined. There were thousands of pumpkins — an endless sight to behold — that were scattered geometrically to perfection in their chaos.

So far, I’ve been disappointed by the pumpkin patches at farms I’ve visited in Ottawa. The pumpkins in the pumpkin patches were either scarce, or there was just a display of pumpkins that were pre-picked and laid out in the fields. But this one was real; it really was where pumpkins had been harvested and grown. I may be a serious geek, but I definitely swooned over this pumpkin patch. One could be a mother and still be a big kid at heart, right?

Kong-Ma and Keaton also enjoyed the experience. Mom had picked a few lovely pumpkins, and Keaton and I both chose our own, as well. As we were leaving, my husband also bought a few drinks for Keaton that were in a cute pumpkin bottle. It was apple cider, which I wasn’t aware of. I could see now why Keaton drank both bottles, and why so many people rave over it. I don’t think I’ve ever had apple cider; but when I tasted it, it was so fresh and heavenly. We should’ve bought the jugs!

We’ve got a whole collection of pumpkins that we’ve been collecting from all the farms we’ve visited so far. I love how they add colour and vibrancy to the home. Though, I can’t say for now that we’ll stop there. Maybe our whole house will become a pumpkin patch itself.

For now, we’ve been keeping the pumpkins inside the house. We’d left Keaton’s pumpkins and gourds outside in our backyard once, alongside our mums — it was his wish — but the squirrels and chipmunks ate them! (Keaton’s reaction was hilarious. He was so distraught.) In fact, one day a squirrel came knocking at our door, mayhaps looking for Keaton, whom it knew owns all the good stuff.

My husband and I’s five-year anniversary, and two-year wedding anniversary, is fast approaching. Because we’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving next weekend with my sister and parents — Canadian Thanksgiving happens earlier than its American counterpart — we decided to celebrate our anniversary earlier, and to do a very simple activity: a romantic walk along the Mer Bleue Bog Trail.

As a couple, we rarely have the time to do activities together in the midst of our busy lives. In fact, since Keaton was born — we’re also expecting a second child — we rarely went on a date or had time to ourselves. Thus, we really appreciate simple moments where we can simply be and exist alongside each other, and be present.

The Mer Bleue Bog Trail was a perfect pick for us that day. We ventured in the early morning, so it was still relatively calm and quiet, with very few visitors. We enjoyed the silence most of all, and hearing the trees and plants dancing with the wind’s shake and prod.

We’d stopped here for a short while. While it was a chilly morning, the sun shining directly at us provided us with a natural warm blanket on our skin. This is where I began to cry. It had been years since I last spent time in nature, by myself in solitude or with my dear husband. These were years where I’d felt the most distanced from nature, and ultimately, from myself. Now, I wasn’t with my son, who needed my mind, heart, and soul at every moment. I could finally feel myself feel and think.

Being in this moment allowed me to feel calm and safe. It was a conducive environment to concoct an emotional me. All that had been repressed had no choice but to surface. My husband held me as he encouraged me to let my emotions run their course. I can’t hide from myself when I’m in nature. Nature isn’t easily fooled. It’s a wise teacher. It sees, it invites, it opens, it heals.

I don’t think I’ve seen so many beautiful birds at once. There were blue jays, little black and white chubby birds that would sit on one’s hand (I’m not sure what they’re called), snakes, and numerous chipmunks — at least that my eyes were able to detect. It was my first time seeing a snake in person. It was a baby garter snake. I’d heard rustling in the leaves and thought it was a little chipmunk or frog, only to realize it was a snake! (I’m deathly afraid of snakes, but this little guy was actually, dare I say, cute.)

Our date lasted perhaps an hour or so — we then took off to grab some Montreal style smoked meat that my husband had been craving — but it was the most wholesome date we could’ve asked for. We came home to ourselves and to each other, and ultimately, to our son.

The walk was so neat that we invited my parents to come along to the Bog with Keaton later in the afternoon. Alas, we found ourselves there a second time that day. What a treat in nature it was.

We had to wake up Keaton from his nap in the car, because at that point, my parents had already been on the go. They were having fun without us! Keaton quickly caught up, and when he saw his Kong-Ma from afar, he yelled for them to wait for him. It was so cute.

The whole walk along the boardwalk was surprisingly relaxing with our energetic toddler. He listened well and stayed alongside us, and was a very good sport. We were very proud of him. He also liked to narrate — and police — what he was observing. Such a funny little dude.