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All In Hand

Here you'll find the sum total of Miss Vicky's Remarks thus far.

'Bye, 2005! Bests and Worsts

Miss Vicky Sat Dec 31, 2005

Well, New Year's Eve.... this year has simply FLOWN by. Of course, it's been busy. Work kept me hopping, as usual, as did my various voluntary commitments. There have been many changes at home. And then there's the newest addition to my life - the blog. A lot to reflect upon; a lot to be grateful for.

I have spent a few New Year's Eve's with pinklitva in the past; she introduced me to a great tradition, which I have brought to other gatherings and small celebrations. Today I'm bringing it to the blogosphere. Heck, I think I may even make it one of those pesky memes!

As midnight approaches, the tradition is to gather folks together and take turns reflecting upon the year that was, and dream a bit about the year that will be. I'll start things off:

Three Worst Things of 2005:
1. My shoulder injury, which effected my swim training, thus my energy, fitness, and so on. It's frustrating as heck.
2. The Renovation Diet. It was really hard to live without a kitchen for two months! As fun as it was to try the local takeout and dining options, I am now saddled with some extra poundage and an empty wallet. And it was pretty darned stressful at the time.
3. Meh. It was a pretty good year - I'm hard pressed to think of a third "worst", and had to struggle to pin down the other two (really, they're not too bad. I am a very lucky person)

Three Best Things of 2005
1. Blogging. Well, what did you expect? The site helps me write on a regular basis, it's brought people together, I've been able to use it to advocate for some things I feel passionate about, it's become a resource about the community, it got good press in the Citizen, and we're up to a couple hundred visitors a day. It's also been a wonderful collaborative project for the Webgeek and I. Which brings me to my next "best"
2. The Webgeek and Winston moved in. It took me a while to come around, but I'm pretty darned happy right now, and most of that is the result of my relationship with WG. I'll spare you all the mush, don't worry.
3. My Mom and SABLE moved to Ottawa. It has been a couple of decades since we lived in the same city, visits were intermittent and short-lived. We're very close, despite the geographic distance, but it's so nice to have her in town, to share Sunday suppers, and so on. And it's been wonderful watching them discover everything Ottawa has to offer, and introducing them to my favourite spaces and places.

In addition to the bests and worsts, you also have to add a wish for the year ahead. Not a resolution - we all know how THOSE turn out - but a wish. Something you'd really like to see happen. Now, I'd like something really cool to replace the Side Door Bingo Hall, but that's not much of a wish, isn't it? How about a lofty wish like more women in parliament after January 23rd? I have a personal wish as well, but I'm not quite ready to discuss it in public. You'll all know soon enough, trust me. I suppose the best I can hope for, really, is to be just as hard pressed to come up with "worsts" this time next year.

Now..... the tagging.... how about Scott at Progressive Bloggers, Skippy at The Amazing Wonderdog and.... um.... how about Hadeel.

And of course, members of the Faithful Legion are welcome to chime in here!

The instructions for the tagees: Write a post in your blog listing the three worst things that happened to you in 2005, the three best things, and one wish for 2006, and tag three other bloggers.


Unwrapping the holidays

Miss Vicky Thu Dec 29, 2005

Christmas really is one of my favourite holidays. Not for religious reasons - I set institutional religion aside quite some time ago. Not for the whole "getting stuff" aspect - although I love finding the right gift for loved ones, and I sure could use the socks I got in my stocking, the commercially-crazed aspect of the holiday really does grate (especially the aggressive marketing to children). I enjoy Christmas because it's a time that people really make an effort to connect with others, through social events and various ritualized activities.

There has been a flurry of social events and functions these last few weeks. It's been tiring, but it has allowed us to connect with folks we hadn't seen in a while, interact with some of the neighbourhood in ways that go beyond nods and greetings on the street or in the stores, and eat more canapés than we could ever want. This last week has been all about family.

We picked up our tree late, on the 23rd, once we realized the backsplash wasn't going to happen. One of my favourite new traditions is walking the tree home from the Parkdale Market. I love the smiles we get when we pass folks on Wellington as we cart the tree back home. On Christmas eve Chefgeek and Special Patrol Group came over for a raclette brunch and tree decorating. Then we headed off to the Webgeek and Chefgeek's dad's place for an evening of appetizers and the First Annual Gingerbread House Decorating Challenge. Of course Miss Vicky's team (which included Chefgeek) won the day - would you expect any less? although there were some interesting innovations in all of the houses - liquorice allsort shingles, for example.

The next morning we got up and headed over to Mom and SABLE's place for stockings, gifts and an amazing cranberry-focaccia french toast brunch. Our family's approach to stockings involves everyone getting a couple of small (under $10) items for everyone else's stocking; opening them on Christmas morning is probably one of my favourite parts of the day, as people tend to put a lot of thought into finding interesting or entertaining items (my mother, for example, really enjoyed her "She who must be obeyed" journal).

Before I go on, I should explain my family background a bit, lest you misunderstand the following. The inner hostess in me really comes out this time of year. I can't help myself; I was born this way. My Gran Ross, the spouse of a Brigadier General, developed some pretty impressive hostessing skills. The life wasn't easy on the family - even the second generation of military brats (my siblings and I) grew up having to learn appropriate table manners, the "what if you had to eat with the Queen" threat hanging over our heads at every meal. This was no empty threat - whenever we went to visit my grandparents, there was the picture of them greeting Her Majesty and Prince Philip on the Calgary airport tarmac. It could happen! What fork do I use for salad, again?

Gran went all out for the holidays, and this drive passed along to my Mom, and to me. Actually, the two of us pretty much channel Gran as the holidays approach. There's an almost compulsive desire to bake, haul out the good silver, set puddings on fire and bring as many people together as possible. Both of us were slightly foiled this year, as my siblings decided to stay in Kingston instead of coming to Ottawa for Christmas dinner, thus reducing the numbers at Mom's feast to four (we made the best of it, though, as you shall read shortly). And our kitchen renovations set back my traditional holiday bash a couple of weeks, but I was determined to open my home, backsplash or no backsplash.

Webgeek and I spent the afternoon getting ready for our Boxing day bash - I worked on filo pastries and WG made zucchini fritters and chili jam - then we put on our holiday finest and headed back to Mom's place for supper (me: electric blue 1960s silk cocktail dress, WG in his escher-frog tie). Mom and SABLE went all out - beautiful antique lace tablecloth, silver serviette holders, a small dish of mixed nuts at each setting, gorgeous candelabras, Gran's cobalt blue bohemain crystal and SABLE's sumptuous china, decorated with a delicate gold and blue pattern that complements the crystal amazingly well. I know, I know, it all sounds very posh and upper-class snooty. Blame it on the Brigadier.... but it is fun to play dressup once a year.

Christmas supper is highly ritualized. In addition to the table setting, the menu doesn't really alter from year to year. It begins with homemade fruit cocktail, followed by the traditional turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, turnip, and other veg (this year it was green beans). Dessert is the flaming pudding, complete with crackers, ridiculous hats and really bad jokes. We picked up this year's Plum Pudding at the Hintonburg Craft Fair - it was dark and lucious, especially good with Mom's hard sauce. All the food was amazing, and the one benefit of a smaller crowd was that there were plenty of leftovers for the Webgeek and I to take home.

Boxing day was spent getting ready for our bash. We didn't have quite the turnout we normally do at the Finishing School's holiday event - we'll be definitely going back to the earlier date next year, but the food was great, the mulled wine flowed and the conversation was interesting. The highlight, of course, was Pinklitva's arrival - it was great to see her after so long!

The next day SPG, Chefgeek, the Webgeek and I piled into the car and drove to Montreal to see their cousin dance in the Grand Ballet Canadien's Nutcracker. I hadn't been to the ballet for ages, and really enjoyed it. Afterwards we went to WG's aunt's place for a fantastic Eritrean meal with WG's mom's parents, aunts and uncle.

Yep. A whirlwind few days. Hence the Blogging silence. I hope everyone has enjoyed their week, no matter what they celebrate!


Neighbourly heroism and holiday tragedy

Miss Vicky Thu Dec 29, 2005

Kudos and thanks to Spadina resident Steve Bova for his quick thinking, and for taking the time to get to know his neighbours. Yesterday morning Steve noticed smoke coming out of a home on his street, called the fire department and rushed to alert sleeping residents. Three people were safely removed from the triplex; one woman on the third floor perished as firefighters were not able to reach her in time. I'm not sure what's going to happen to the tenants who are now homeless; if I hear of any calls for donations I'll let you all know.


Seasonally Adjusted Greetings!!

The Webgeek Sun Dec 25, 2005

Miss Vicky and I are off to do the family thing with her mom. We went to see my father and family yesterday, and will be seeing various friends & relations over the next few days as well. Hope everyone else's statutory holidays are doing well. Warm wishes to everyone.

Merry (insert your winter festivity here) to all, and to all a good night!

Last Minute Shopping Ideas

Miss Vicky Thu Dec 22, 2005

Shockingly, no one has written to ask Miss Vicky for gift shopping tips. She can only assume everyone is leaving it to the last minute, so here are some unsolicited ideas for Kitchissippi shoppers. I'm going to take a more-or-less geographic approach, starting at the O Train tracks and heading west.
Bargain hunters might find some kitchen items with an Asian flare at the 168 grocery market on Somerset just as you enter Hintonburg. I haven't been there in a while, but it's a fascinating place and worth a visit.

For antiques or quirky secondhand items, check out June's and A Fine Thing. (Hint: folks with Fiesta collectors on there list will find great deals on dishes at A Fine Thing).

Levonian makes high quality custom shirts; I haven't asked but a gift certificate might be a nice gift for someone who appreciates the finer things (or for someone whose wardrobe could use a little sprucing up).

A little further West on Wellington is Christie's, another good spot for antique-hunters. In the Parkdale Market district is one of my favourite gift shops, Ravensara. They sell some unique items, including handknit puppets by a very talented woman who lives in the 'hood. They've also got funky ornaments, essential oils, interesting folk art and great jewellry - a real range of choices in different price ranges.

The CUBE gallery's Great Big Smalls show continues to December 23. Next door to the gallery on Hamilton is BeadNik, a new bead store that is bound to be a hit with kids and crafty folk.

On the corner of Wellington and Holland is the World of Maps, which offers a fantastic range of maps, globes, travel books, atlases and fun stuff for the geographically-inclined. A few doors down is Heavens to Betsy, a regular destination when Miss Vicky needs to find a funky gift. They have amazing baby stuff, fun hats and scarves and bags, retro toys, jewellry and wallets, and more tchotchkes than you could ever want.

Across the street you'll find Collected Works, a wonderful independent bookstore with a great kids section.

Wild Willy's florist offers some great arrangements, and Miss Vicky has found fresh holly there in the past. And Nectar has tea and teapots for the tea granny in your life.

Continuing west on Wellington....Thyme and Again offers interesting tableware, candles, ornaments and other items, both edible and non-edible. Bridghead is selling fair trade gifts, including bags made from recycled materials, gift baskets for caffeine addicts and great travel mugs. For originally-designed clothing and accessories for women, check out Clothes by Muriel Dombret. Fresh Air Experience is a good spot for skiers and outdoor enthusiasts, and Tim's across the street has a wide selection of used sports equipment.

Further down in Wellington Village are a couple of funky furniture places that also sell home decor items, Blueprint and Alteriors. Flowers Talk has some cool vases, and Bija Bijoux is a highly reliable destination for funky jewellry. Foodies might enjoy a basket from the Bagel Shop or any of the other spots on this strip. The Weekend Reader has a huge selection and good prices for new and used books.

In Westboro are a number of great stores... Kitchenalia, Mrs. Tiggywinkles and Lost Marbles for toys for kids of all ages, the Village Quire for paper, lululemon for the yoga-obsessed, Bark & Fitz for furry folk, Ten Thousand Villages for lots of fair trade fare, MEC, the Expedition Shoppe, Bushtukah.... need I go on?

Why hit the malls when a stroll through our mainstreets offers so many possibilities?


Reality Game Show Idea: "The Candidate"

The Webgeek Wed Dec 21, 2005

Miss Vicky and I had a bit of a revelation during our morning Bridgehead/dog stroll this morning. Since we're likely to have a string of minority governments, we might as well embrace the idea and have some fun with it. Let's turn it into a "seasonal" game show, a la "The Apprentice". Lets film the front-runners in a few ridings 24/7 to see who'll overcome questionable former statements, idiotic press blunders, and bad platform policy to come out on top and "win" the electorate over.

I mean it pretty much already is a game-show now. Each riding has the standard characters: "the incumbent", "the challenger", and "the long shot". Add to (or combine with) that the occasional "star nominee", "entitled party stalwart", or "fresh-faced replacement", and you've got all your standard archetypes.

You can begin the series with each party's nomination meetings, to get that season starting "Idol"-esque painful audition footage. Next comes campaign team selection. Will the party send in a big-gun campaign manager, or relegate them to "unwinnable" status. Can they find a decent press writer? Can they find a sane press writer? Can they reign in that over-enthusiastic, but completely hapless volunteer? What will they do with the gaggle of poli-sci majors who only want to "write policy"?

Next comes the series of tasks.

  • Meeting the constituents. Follow canvassers door-to-door as each Candidate meets: The crazy, single issue, angry voter; The blindly over-loyal "other party" supporter; The blindly over-loyal "your party" supporter; The lonely retiree; The naked guy.
  • The community events. How many interest group events can they hit without getting associated with "too special interest" an event? How much cheap box wine can the candidate imbibe and still "stay on message"? How will they handle that wingnut fringe party candidate at all the same events? How will they handle a Party leader and/or "Star Candidate" from another riding showing up and stealing thunder? Or better yet; how will they handle a party leader never, once, bothering to show up?
  • Dealing with the press. Watch each candiadate try and navigate t media gauntlet: The college newspaper reporters; The biased columnists with an axe to grind; The hour-long talk radio interview; The "hot button" national campaign blunder that just won't go away; The press release/media event that fails completely; The headline grabbing competitor; The headline grabbing family member.

Which candidate will crack first under the constant pressure? Who will drop out? or at least drop into obscurity? Who will totally lose it and start accusing competitors of finance mismanagement and "dirty politics"? Who's party minions will be caught out stealing lawn signs? And the true genius of this idea would be the slogan. Instead of kicking people off with "You're Fired!", they'd get "You're Inquired!" I mean; that is the Canadian way.

Budget update

Miss Vicky Tue Dec 20, 2005

Council reversed its decision on the funding needed to close the Bayview Snow Dump to overnight deliveries. It was a squeaker - 11 to 10 with the Mayor as the deciding vote. Arts funding has also been reinstated, with many of the initially-opposed councillors (including ours) changing their minds. It passed 14 to 6. Congrats to everyone who wrote, called and emailed!


Renovation Diet recap

Miss Vicky Tue Dec 20, 2005

What bliss, to be able to cook your own dinner in your very own kitchen! So far our meals have been all about the oven, as we've been without one for quite some time now (the old one busted months before we began the renovation). The holiday baking should begin later this week once we start to clear out the chaos in the rest of the house.

I did want to express my profound thanks to the 'hood for providing us with some fantastic meals while we were kitchenless. We're pretty lucky to live within walking distance of so many great places to eat. So I thought I would replay some of the highlights of our renovation diet.

Let's start with breakfast. Most days this invovled a stroll up to Bridgehead with Winston and our travel mugs. I usually opted for the scone; the Webgeek favours the Tripleberry muffin (he is still bitter about the loss of the carrot ginger muffin they used to have). We'd eat our breakfast as we walked the dog along the river, or through the neighbourhood.

Some days, of course, you need more than that. Thanks to the Breakfast Blogger, we decided to try Cozy's. Blueberry Pancakes the size of your head, I swear! Plus great people-watching and friendly staff. And it's cheap. For a more upscale breakfast/brunch, we favoured the Agave Grill (I recommend the breakfast burrito) or Stoneface Dolly's new location on Preston. Three Bakers and a Bike also does a yummy Sunday Brunch, but it's sometimes hard to find a seat in this tiny shop. And of course there is always the Bagel Shop - we would occasionally stop in for fresh bagels on our morning stroll, instead of the Bridgehead treats.

As I usually lunch at work, we didn't take advantage of the many lunchy locations along Wellington. Although there was one work-at-home day when I popped around the corner to Wellington Sandwiches for their White Angus wrap (roast beef with cream cheese) and a cup of hearty lentil soup.

Our suppers alternated between the fast-and-convenient and the more leisurely Dinner Out. Not a cheap way to live, to be sure. Fortunately we were able to break things up with the occasional Dinner at Mom's. Fast-and-convenient usually meant takeout from the Spring Roll House (or eat-in, if we were craving Pho), pad thai from the Phnomn Penh or curries from the Indian Express. Thyme and Again provided us with healthy, balanced alternatives, especially when I needed a spinach salad fix. Which happens a lot.

Sometimes suppers out meant pub food, and specifically the Royal Oak or Daniel O'Connells. I can't say I'm wild about the food at the Oak, but I do enjoy the Club and their wings, and there is always a good crowd there. We wandered outside of the 'hood a few times to the Manx for their addictive Lamb Curry Wrap, or up to Westboro to the Works for a burger.

Supper highlights for me included:
Hino's - Japanese Bistro on Wellington I'd always been curious about. The food is excellent, which leads me to wonder what was holding me back before.

Allium and Absinthe - two bistros on Holland with great food and pleasant, funky atmospheres.

Caribbean Flavours - on Somerset heading into Chinatown. Not a place you want to go for a quick meal but the Jerk Chicken special we had was tremendous. The Ginger Beer is pretty potent. I'm just sayin'.

The Roses - Handy Indian Buffet right in the heart of Wellington Village. Heritage on tap, friendly owners and tasty food with lots of vegetarian options.

Stoneface Dolly's - What more can I say? One of my favourite Ottawa restaurants.

Agave Grill - always a good place to go for a healthy Mexican meal

another budget blunder

Miss Vicky Mon Dec 19, 2005

I received an email about arts funding in the 2006 budget. I'll let it speak for itself:

Council has chosen to cut $80,000 in previously approved funds from 6 Ottawa arts organizations - Arts Ottawa East, Council for the Arts in Ottawa, La Nouvelle Scene, Ottawa Art Gallery, Ottawa Arts Court Foundation and the Ottawa School of Art.

There is still time to put this money back in the 2006 budget!

$80,000: Small beans for the City but a big deal for the Arts
- Each dollar invested by the City is leveraged to produce $10 of programming
- The City has chronically under funded the Arts. This money was approved last year in recognition of this.
- We need the money! This money is already built into our budget for this
fiscal year. We will have to make cuts if it is taken away.

Your voice is needed!
Councillors will be hearing from many groups with different requests. They need to know that the Arts are important to you! A call or e-mail today will let your councillor know that you are paying attention to their votes during this budget, and will influence your vote during next year’s election.

How they voted yesterday:
Yeas: Holmes, Feltmate, Legendre, Stavinga, Rick Chiarelli, Bédard, Cullen, Mayor Chiarelli
Thompson, Little, Bloess, McCrae, Bellemare, Hunter, Deans, Jellett, Harder, El-Chantiry
Out of the room: Doucet, Brooks, Hume

Let our councillor know how you feel about arts funding:
Councillor Shawn Little

What is frustrating about this and a few other decisions is that groups had no idea that these programs would be on the chopping block, so there was no chance to mobilize and advocate for their retention. Small wonder the public debate on this budget was minimal - all the tough decisions were left to last when folks thought their services were safe.

Snow woes

Miss Vicky Mon Dec 19, 2005

Friday's huge snowfall also launched another seasonal tradition in Ottawa - complaining about snow removal. It doesn't take much more than a few centimetres of accumulation to get folks wondering aloud when the plow is going to come by. So when we get a lot of snow at once, the chorus is particularly vocal. It's as if folks expect the snow fairies to descend upon our streets and sidewalks, wave their frosty little wands and *poof!* the banks are magically transported to some magical location far, far away.

The fact is, snow removal is a messy and expensive business. Let's look at what the city has to deal with.

Geographically, Ottawa is Canada's largest city, encompassing 2760 square kilometres, and over 110 km from east to west. The city clears snow and ice from 5,439 km of roadways, 35 km of Transitway, 1,500 km of sidewalks, 360 bridges and 6,340 bus stops. That's a lot of work for a lot of expensive equipment. We pay an average of $129 per year in property taxes for road and sidewalk maintenance.

The city has set certain standards for snow removal - which roads and sidewalks get plowed when. When a huge snowfall occurs, I'm guessing the targets are a bit more difficult to meet - certainly that seems to be the case right now, since they don't seem to have gotten around to bus stops yet. It occurred to me this weekend, as I hurdled over the snowbanks at every intersection, that this is particularly hard on seniors and people with disabilities (in fact, someone was badly injured by a bus when she fell from a snowbank into the transitway this weekend).

Snow removal is complicated. In addition to determining priorities, ensuring your equipment is in working order and managing a 24-hour schedule for clearing and removal, there's that tiny issue of where to put the tonnes of snow that is collected with each accumulation.

Which brings me to the Bayview Snow Dump, a longstanding source of frustration for the community. Initially set up as a temporary site, the huge pile of snow, salt and assorted debris just kept getting higher every year - as did the blood pressure of the folks living around it. Your spotless urban streets mean
sleepless nights for the folks along Bayview, thanks to an endless convoy of noisy trucks careening through the neighbourhood. We're not just talking traffic here - we're talking an almost constant flow of screeching brakes, banging tailgates, diesel fumes, flashing lights and other fun stuff.

Then there is the pile, which gets so big that it takes months to melt once the weather turns. Plows don't discriminate, right? The piles that are removed to snow disposal facilities contain a lot more than snow. You get road salt, sand, garbage and whatever other nasty substances get packed into those snow banks, which are then scooped up and added to the pile at the snow dump. When the snow melts, it leaves a dirty, toxic, sludgy mess. And the snow and accompanying salty substances have to melt somewhere, don't they? In the case of the Bayview location, this means into the ground and right down to the Ottawa river.

A few years ago the issue grew into a full-blown community crisis when the city contemplated forking over a lot of cash to a consultant to study the feasability of turning the so-called temporary site into a permanent facility. They didn't get too far with it, and after lot of public outcry they made the wise decision to end the all-night brigade to the location and phase out the facility by 2009.

The Location is also one of the sites pegged for development as a mixed-use centre. It's proximity to downtown and the Lebreton/Bayview transit hub makes it an ideal location to increase density and transform into a vibrant urban centre. Having a huge pile of frozen toxic water kind of detracts from the appeal, and although the plans for the area are not particularly concrete right now, it makes sense to get rid of the snow dump as soon as possible.

So it came as a bit of a surprise to our neighbourhood council-watchers when the money that had been set aside to keep the dump closed at night was identified as a "service enhancement" in the budget and sliced off in last week's last-ditch attempts to whittle the tax increase to a level acceptable to the majority of the council. Especially since the decision to close the dump at night and phase it out altogether was unanimous at both committee and full council. Shawn Little was on the radio this morning suggesting that his fellow councillors didn't understand what they were voting on, and that it was "his job" to bring the issue back for reconsideration and point out the error of their ways. I'm glad he'll be bringing it up at tomorrow's meeting, but I have to wonder - why didn't he point this out to his colleagues in the first place? How did the cut make it through last week?

Makes me wonder what else slipped by council in last week's deliberations. I'm guessing the budget shenanigans aren't quite over.


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