Winnipeg Zoo

Our trip to Winnipeg had to include visiting the Zoo. They started on the redevelopment upgrades before we left, and we were able to catch some of them, including Toucan Ridge the Lion Pavilion, and the beginnings of the Polar Bear Conservation Center but none of the exhibits.

This time we saw the new entrance, the Australian Walkabout, and the completed Journey to Churchill. The Journey to Churchill includes the polar bear exhibits, Artic foxes, wolves, musk ox, caribou, snowy owl, and seal habitats. The Conservation Center also includes a 360-degree theater with cultural informational movie, and underwater viewing tunnels. I can definitely say that the Polar Bear exhibit is an upgrade from the old one. The fact that they are only taking rescued polar bears from Churchill makes it that much better.

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The Assiniboine Park Conservancy plans to raise and spend $200 million on the Park (including the Zoo) by 2020. They have already completed phase one (nature playground, Streuber Family Children’s Garden, Riley Family Duck Pond, Qualico Family Centre, and the Park Cafe) and phase two (Journey to Churchill). They will soon be opening the McFeetors Heavy Horse Centre. Phase three will be a horticulture attraction called Canada’s Diversity Gardens.

 

I couldn’t find any information on the plans for the rest of the zoo. There are many empty pens, or as we called them, “Goose Exhibits”, and most of the farm was closed. I was also dismayed to hear about issues the zoo has had, including wolves tunneling into the polar bear enclosure, and polar bears chewing through the silicone sealing and causing leaks in the viewing tunnel. It seems like those are some big oversights in planing. I can only hope that those responsible for all the goodness (such as the polar bear rescue) continue to fight for upgrades to the zoo, and for conservation and educational efforts that will help animals and humans for generations to come.

Soylent Review

We got our first Soylent shipment July 20th! We quickly realized that we would need to bump up to the 2-box plan.

We started making it in the container, but then soon found it easier to just make in individual servings.

In August we had a shipment that was much different than our previous two orders – it mixed up much chunkier than the others. The customer service was quick to respond and send us a new order to replace the others. Apparently it is somewhat common for inconsistencies to happen in some of their plants since it is still new.

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I even sent some to my brother when he had his jaw wired shut, although he preferred Ensure flavor choices when drinking plain.

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It’s 100% better than other sugary meal replacements out there, and 1000% better than going out for fast food. We feel healthier on it, by far.

Update: We’ve since tried the new flavors, and by far like the Coffiest the best!

Exploding Kittens

We backed Exploding Kittens, one of the most funded crowdfunding project. It arrived on July 31

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We finally got to play it on August 20th

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This game is fun. Quick, easy, and perfect for when you’re a family stuck in a cabin!

Rustic Retreat Bed and Breakfast

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We went down to Souris, Manitoba for a family wedding, and got to stay in a fantastic little cabin. The “Rustic Retreat Bed and Breakfast” was a standalone building stocked with some food (for the “breakfast” part). The absolute best part of being there was the nature. It was out in the country, with a nearby barn, chickens (whose fresh eggs we could have), horses, a garden full of blooming flowers, and a walk to a lake overlook. It was really a little slice of heaven.

Canada Aviation and Space Museum

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This weekend we went to the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum (we got a free ticket from Street Eats). It was a fantastic museum! Ottawa has a great many museums, and this one convinced me that I really do have to get out and see more of them. There were full-sized models and actual planes, and a lot of other fun things to see. I especially liked that they had a section that talked about steampunk (early flight dreams), a section for the Military, and a section for space!

Of course, the early adventurers area has me dreaming up a new feisty heroine who happens to be a pilot… we’ll see!

Ottawa Street Eats 2015

Ottawa Food Trucks and Craft Beer

Hosted by TW Events at the Aviation Museum

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August 1, 2015 was the date of the first ever Ottawa Street Eats event organized and hosted by TW Events.

I was excited to experience so many food trucks in one place, since I usually avoid downtown and don’t get to try many of these mobile eateries. This event got me thinking though, was it just me, or were food trucks more popular in recent years than in previous generations?

We have TV shows like Eat St. on Food Network which started in 2011, and movies like “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” (2012) featuring a young couple with duelling food trucks, “The Five-Year Engagement” (2012) with Jason Segel’s character opening his own taco truck after being a restaurant chef, and Jean Favreau’s “Chef” (2014) also featured a man losing his restaurant job and starting a food truck. Even Walt Disney World has gotten on board with this trend when they opened their Food Truck Park in Downtown Disney in 2014.

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Turns out, food trucks aren’t a new thing, but their popularity has been on the rise since 2008 due in part from the recession (and people not wanting or being able to invest in full traditional restaurants) and also in part from social media and the ability for food trucks to post daily where they will be serving up their food around town. There are also factors such as health inspections, online reviewers, and people eating on the go that have lead to the increased popularity

Mobile food trucks/carts/stands do have a long history. Some say that every food truck can be traced back to Walter Scott, who sold sandwiches, pies, and coffee to journalists in Rhode Island out of a wagon with windows cut into it in 1872. Others argue that it was in 1866 when Charles Goodnight set out in the Old West with his chuckwagon that started it all.  He used a US Army surplus wagon with a mounted wooden box as a mobile kitchen and served beans, coffee, cornbread, cabbage meat, and biscuits to cowboys on cattle drives.

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No matter which camp you are in, the truth is that both Scott and Goodnight started something awesome, and now we have food trucks that allow chefs to take their food to where the crowds are. From busy urban street corners with hungry office workers, to construction sites, fairs, or even being rented out for weddings, the real winners are the people who are no longer limited to the permanent restaurants in a location.

That brings us back to the Street Eats Festival in Ottawa this weekend, because what is better than one food truck but MULTIPLE food trucks? Founder and Organizer, Tanya Whelan, decided to make Street Eats an event that not only celebrated local food trucks, but also local craft brewery while providing entertainment for the whole family. She booked local DJ DSound, and the winners of the 2014 Live 88.5 Big Money Shot, The Lionyls for great live music. The event also had games and contests, and plenty of seating for people to hang out. Food and Beverages were purchased with tickets, so you only had to exchange money with the ticket sellers and not each vendor. Everything was DELICIOUS!

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It was a great day to remember, sitting there and enjoying good food (my favorite was the Nacho Libre poutine from Big D’s Dog House) and good music and watching planes take off regularly behind the Canadian Aviation Museum. I also loved the compost sorting center, and the free water refills provided by Aquahaulics.

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Not only would I make sure to attend this event again, but I also recommend others do as well! Food trucks serve up good food by people who truly love what they do, and Ottawa Street Eats gives us access to 15 local vendors that give us a taste of the city!

 




Varekai (Cirque du Soleil)

Varekai-logo    I’ve been wanting to go to Cirque du Soleil again, since we saw Ka in Las Vegas several years ago. When I saw the Bus Ads for Varekai at the Canadian Tire Centre here in Ottawa I made sure to get tickets so we wouldn’t miss out! The show has been touring worldwide since 2006 and had done an impressive 4500 (plus) shows to date, so I was sure it would be worth the price of admission.

I wanted to know what was going on during the show, at least as much as you can at a Cirque du Soleil performance, so I did some reading before attending. My research explained that the show was about the forest that Icarus lands after his fall from the sky. Varekai means “wherever” and the show features upbeat music in the Romani spirit. Each act would pretty much be the creatures playing around, and Icarus experiencing the wonder of it all.

Jessica-Ripley-Canadian-Tire-CentreWe pre-paid for parking, and were able to easily park and enter. We went the afternoon show, and got there at doors open. We quickly found our seats, and settled in. The show started with some clowns warming up the crowd by interacting with the front row audience members.

All of the acts were fun to watch. Normally in shows like this my favorite acts are the aerial ones, but this one had a beautiful “Slippery Surface” act that I couldn’t get enough of. Icarus got to play in a “pond” with lots of colorful water creatures, who seemed to glide across stage while they do partner and group acrobatics. The Russian Swing act in the finale was also spectacular and full of action. Either one of the acts could have lasted 10 times longer and I would have been a happy camper.

I adored the music, and I did not realize during the show that it was performed live, even though I saw the musicians on stage! They have the soundtrack available for purchase, which I intend to buy. I also enjoyed the bright, colorful, and practically gender neutral costumes.

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I personally could have done without the clown acts. The forest creature acts were so immersive, and it was jolting to go back to the “here and now” with a magician and his assistant. I also didn’t particularly find their acts funny.

I love Cirque du Soleil. The world-class entertainers give a performance that strikes awe and amazement in us. It reminds me of when I was young and we’d go to the Ringling Brothers Circus… but Cirque du Soleil does not have the animal rights issues, which makes it much easier to enjoy. It is always hard for me to justify ticket prices, but I did not regret the purchase, as it gave a few wonderful hours of getting lost in amazement, in a way that simple movies just can’t do. I’d go again, and I look forward to the next show I get to attend!




Ottawa Geek Market March 2015

Ottawa-Geek-Market-Doctor-Who-2015This weekend I pried myself from the computer and made my way to the fifth installment of the bi-annual Ottawa Geek Market. I figured that in all of the years that I’d been in Ottawa I’d yet to attend, so now was as good a time as ever.

In Winnipeg we had the Comic & Toy Expo, and I figured the Geek Market would be similar. Although, that is hard to determine what my expectations should be because of the extreme growth that C4-Lite experienced while I lived there. The first year I attended the Winnipeg Comic & Toy Expo it had almost a craft show / flea market feel. It was fun, and unique, because it was a place where you knew you would connect with local vendors and crafters (unlike the bigger Con, where international vendors set up shop). By the last year I was in Winnipeg though, the Comic & Toy Expo was pretty much a mini Comic Con, complete with celebrity guests and everything.

Ottawa Geek Market is interesting, and presents a weekend of fun for people of all ages. There were vendors, artists and crafters with booths and tables full of fun collectibles. There was also a great showing of local social and fan clubs. There were not celebrity guests, but there was plenty of attractions and entertainment, including game areas (tabletop and video games), stage activities, and a geeky scavenger hunt. There was also a gaming tournament and costume contest.

I would highly recommend this event for families. I saw plenty of kids dressed up and as excited as though they were at Disneyland. They got to play in a bouncy castle and a craft area, and the video game area was chock full of kids when I walked by. Even the swag bags seemed to communicate that the event was targeted for families based on the “goodies” and coupons inside, including a free child’s meal at Boston Pizza and a Child’s movie ticket for Ottawa family cinema. There was also an Ottawa Family Living Magazine and a Parenting Times magazine.

The cover charge was very high, in my opinion, considering the lack of activities for adults. I paid $20 at the door. They do offer free entry to “Real Life Superheros” (police/RCMP, 911 dispatchers, fire fighters, paramedics, military personnel and veterans, parole officers, probation officers and correctional services staff). They also offer free entry to kids 12 and under (with the purchase of an adult ticket). Advance tickets are about $5 off, if you happen to be around one of the advanced sales locations. They also advertise that $2 off of each ticket goes to local charities (this year, Heroes are Human). They also offer special admission for the last hour of each day (just $2).

The next Geek Market is scheduled for October 3-4, 2015 at the Nepean Sportsplex. Geekmarket.ca

Ottawa Comic Con will be May 8-10, 2015




Don’t Phone it in on Special Occasions

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Once upon a time it was a good idea to jump on a trending topic, and to stay current.

The first time I saw this getting out of control was with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. People realized that people liked seeing the ice bucket challenges. They got views and attention, and everyone from celebrities to small businesses, joined in. Granted, it made over $100 million for the ALS association, so while it may have gotten annoying, it was at least “for a good cause”.

Recently, within the last few weeks, I’ve seen way too much of this sort of bandwagoning. For example: #TheDress. This image quickly went viral, and advertisers were quick to join in. It was widely talked about until audiences began to automatically ignore anything on the topic. It wasn’t a very effective marketing strategy.

Also consider “March Madness”. Perhaps that gets a certain audience excited, but if you focus your advertising on it, you are ignoring all of the people who don’t care about it.

It’s not just trending hashtags though. Another common content mistake happening is people phoning it in on holidays or other days of importance. In the last few weeks I’ve been inundated with “Happy International Women’s Day”, “Happy Daylight Savings Day”, “Happy St. Patrick’s Day”, and “Happy First Day of Spring”! I call it phoning it in, because advertisers are posting this with no real enthusiasm, and no follow-up content. It’s as though they are getting a “free day” on social media, without realizing that all they are doing is lumping themselves in with all the other posts that audience eyes will glaze over. People don’t subscribe to multiple different pages just to end up seeing the same thing from all of them on some days.

There is a lack of originality in doing this, and there is also a lack of alignment with business goals, branding, and consumer expectations. There is also a risk in watering down meaningful topics. Have you ever heard Valentine’s Day called a “Hallmark Holiday” because of its connection to consumerism? An expectation of buying cards, stuffed animals, and boxes of chocolates for loved ones has caused meaning and enthusiasm for the day to dwindle. This year we saw a great deal of criticism when advertisers jumped in with “Happy Women’s Day” on International Women’s Day, with a complete lack of sensitivity toward the international efforts to raise awareness of political and economic disadvantaged woman worldwide. You definitely don’t want to risk offending people in this way.

I have two suggestions (besides the underlying tip that you should always research something before you post about it):

  • Have a content calendar, based on your marketing plan. Follow this plan, and never have to “phone it in” on any day.
  • Post according to your regular schedule, and then add into your social media posts a mention of the designated holiday. For example “Today we have a post on Original Facebook Content! Take a read while you are enjoying a Shamrock Shake or a Green Beer on this St. Paddy’s Day!”

Following these two tips will ensure that you continue being known as a high-quality content provider.




Opinions on OPL Main?

Libraries are Great Work Spaces

I’m a big fan of Libraries, and since moving to Ottawa I’ve seen how amazing they can really be. The Ottawa Public Library is the largest bilingual public library system in North America, with 24 branches, two bookmobiles, and even a book vending-machine service. I’m also a big supporter of their used bookstore, run by the Friends of the OPL.

As a writer, I love getting out of the house to work, and I love that no matter where I am in the city I can open up the OPL app and find the nearest location where I can find a work station that suits my needs. Granted, I can always go to a coffee shop, but there is something special about working at a library (and not needing to buy an expensive drink or avoid the stink-eye of people waiting for a seat).

The latest OPL expansion happened over at the Beaverbrook branch, and it did not disappoint. The location closed in February 2013 and reopened in August 2014 as a new amazing workspace. It is equipped with two public meeting rooms (each with 45 person capacity), numerous small rooms for group work, an abundance of electrical outlets, and plenty of open seating by large windows to give you wonderful natural lighting while you work. Prior to the Beverbrook Branch reopening in August, my favorite work place was the Stittsville branch, which has one little closed-off room which always had space available for you to work in peace and quiet.

What Will Happen to the Central Branch?

Now on the forefront of OPL news is the central branch location.

Located downtown, at Laurier and Metcalfe, this 44-year-old branch was opened in 1971 and is currently badly outdated and it has outgrown its 81,000 square feet of space. It is often criticized for being much less user-friendly and accommodating than the neighboring coffee shops, especially when you consider that it is very difficult to get cell reception or reliable Wi-Fi.

Last summer a consulting firm was brought in and reported that it would be an estimated $70 million to renovate the current location. This renovation would strip the building down to its shell and rebuild with new glass facades, upgraded heating and electrical systems, better internal accessibility (including fixing the current one-way escalators) and increased room for meeting rooms and work areas. There is a lot being said about looking into a Public-Private Partnership (P3) to make these enhancements a reality.

OPL just announced that discussions concerning the Central Library are open to the public and set to start soon. If you would like to be a part of it, join in one of these three ways:

  1. Participate in the open public session on March 31 at 7pm at City Hal. Register at OttawaCentralLibrary.ca
  2. View the public session live webcast on OttawaCentralLibrary.ca and then submit your input online through April 6
  3. Visit the Main Branch from March 21-27 to write comments on the “idea board”

The results of this input will be made available to all in June 2015 through a report to the Ottawa Public Library Board.

Take a bit to think about what you would like to see in the central library upgrades, and make sure you chime in with your thoughts!