Thursday, January 18, 2018

Beer O'Clock: Riding on a Brew Donkey

Alcohol and weapons: what could possibly go wrong?

Absolutely nothing. In fact, everything went right, thanks to the friendly folks who organized this beer tour, which included a stop at an axe-throwing venue.

Brew Donkey has been operating for four years to whisk craft-beer-loving and adventure-seeking folks as far away as Whitewater Brewing, up the Ottawa Valley, to Beau's Brewing, in Vankleek Hill, to try new beer or solidify their love of favourites. Recently, this brew-touring company has expanded into the Kitchener-Waterloo area, and offers tours to Guelph, Elora, and other neighbouring towns.

I tagged along, last weekend, to see what many people have enjoyed over the years.

Brew Donkey's Web site is extremely easy to navigate and find the tour that suits your schedule and needs. A typical tour includes two or three breweries, with as many as four, if the breweries are in close proximity. The tour provides lunch, water, and snacks on the bus, and includes beer samples at the breweries. Prices range from about $72 to $98, plus tax, depending on the package.

It is highly recommended that you don't drive to their Wellington Street location: first, there is limited street parking in this Hintonburg neighbourhood, and you risk a ticket and possible tow, when you exceed the two-hour time limit; second, there is potentially a lot of beer samples, plus any pints you purchase, and it would be unwise to try to drive home when you return from the tour.

Get a lift or take public transportation, and enjoy the tour responsibly.

I joined the Sip, Axe & Relax tour, which took us to Dominion City Brewing, in Beacon Hill, to BATL Ottawa, near Walkley Road and the 417, and finally, to Stray Dog Brewing, where we wrapped up.

Our bus left Hintonburg at 12:45 and make a stop along O'Connor and Sparks, to pick up more folks. Our tour guide, John, handed out tasting sheets and explained some simple rules about where we were going and expected conduct. Basically, leave the bus clean and treat each other with respect. We didn't want to be the tour that made future tours at peril.

Our group was far from one of those tours.

John explained to me that many tours included folks who were already craft-beer lovers, but also included companies that were taking employees on team-building excursions, folks from out of town, and even those who would take their fathers on a tour.

Keep that in mind for Fathers Day, folks.

We had 23 people in our group, including myself but not counting John or our driver, Don.

At Dominion City, we sampled four different brews: their wet-hopped ale, a gorgeous IPA (I'll be reviewing it, next week), a Yule ale, and a delicious milkshake stout (again, see my next review). We also were taken on a tour, where we were shown how the brewers crafted their beer.

The next stop was to BATL Ottawa, where we were shown how to throw hatchets at wooden targets, about 12 feet away. There is a definite skill in throwing these axes: you must stand in a particular way and move your whole body as you follow through. the axe is held at the bottom of the handle, and you must bring it right behind you, with your arms fully bent. You must also release the axe when your arms are fully extended.

It's a lot to think about but when everything works out, the axe will find its way to the target.

After we had some practice time, we started a competition. We had three rounds of three attempts, with five throws for each attempt. You would be paired with an opponent, where you would throw your axe five times, adding your points before you moved to your opponents spot, and throw five more times. Finally, you would go back to your original spot and throw your last five axes.

I won my first round, lost the second round, and tied my third. In a tie, things change. You are provided a firefighter-sized axe and must stand further from the target. Half-points are awarded if the axe lands outside the target but sticks anywhere on the board.

On my opponent's first toss, the axe hit the floor, as did my first throw. Again, on the second toss, my opponent failed to get his axe to stick. On my second attempt, the unthinkable happened: my axe found the target and landed in the bullseye circle.

This activity is a lot of fun and I'm determined to take my family for an outing sometime soon.

Lunch was provided, while we threw axes, courtesy of Farm Boy and Suzy Q. Tasty sandwich wraps and decadent donuts kept us energized.

By the time we left the axe-throwing venue, it was dark and bitterly cold outside, but our bus was warm and waiting for us. We climbed aboard and headed for our final venue.

I had visited Stray Dog when they held their grand-opening party, last summer. I was already a big fan of their brews and have kept a supply of Shaggin' Wagon and Jeanne D'Ark in my basement. It was good to chat with brewers Marc Plante and Justin MacNeill, and sip a few more samples.

One of the reasons that I chose this particular tour was because both Dominion City and Stray Dog are outside of my general driving zones. To visit these breweries is a major detour to my work route. It made sense to go where I rarely get to go, especially since I like both of these breweries. Brew Donkey was the best solution to getting out to the east end of the city.

The magic of Brew Donkey is that they offer great tours to all of Ottawa's emerging breweries while keeping you fed, hydrated, active, and—most importantly—safe. And all of this at an extremely reasonable price.

Would I do Brew Donkey again? Absolutely. In fact, as I said earlier, it sounds like a great way to treat my father on Father's Day. But Brew Donkey is something that you should do at any time.

Thanks to Brad Campeau for inviting me to join the tour, to my friendly and knowledgeable guide, John, and to our safe and sober driver, Don.

Alcohol and weapons: a perfect combination when you're with a group that knows what it's doing.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Farewell to Dolores

It was news that ruined my whole day.

I didn't get into The Cranberries until 1999, shortly after I had returned from Korea. My brother had a few of their CDs—No Need to Argue and To The Faithful Departed—and because I hadn't yet retrieved all of my music from storage, I would throw these discs onto the player when DW and I stayed with my folks, while we searched for jobs and a house.

I was familiar with this Irish band, instantly recognized the lead singer's wailing, haunting voice. There is no voice quite like that of Dolores O'Riordan: the power and the softness. Strength and beauty.

The shock of Dolores' sudden death at a far, far too young age, currently surrounded in mystery, caught us all off guard.

I was late in falling for The Cranberries but I was hooked. I downloaded Dolores' two solo releases and was excited when she and her band reunited.

With the tributes that came on the radio and TV, it was inevitable that someone would play my favourite song. I heard it, on the radio, with DD16 in the back seat. She couldn't see the tears welling, didn't know about the lump in my throat, preventing me from saying a word.

For my blog post, I lost my inspiration to write creatively. Instead, I'll lament the loss of Dolores, and honour her by sharing the video of my favourite song, "Ode To My Family."

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Getting Organized

When Tuesday evening came around, I thought that I should put together a Wordless Wednesday post for this week. Then, I remembered, I haven't really used my cameras, much, since New Year's Eve.

I took my last POTD picture, processed it, shared it on social media, and put my D-SLR down. I used the photo in a blog post that I never shared on social media because the message that would announce the blog post would use more words than were contained in the post, itself.

I was only wishing you all a Happy New Year, which I did anyway.

So, when it came to a Wordless Wednesday post, this week, I had nothing. I haven't used my D-SLR. I have taken a couple of snapshots with my friend's Ricoh, but I'm far from filling the roll and sending it off for processing.

I've taken a few snaps with my Canon point-and-shoot, but nothing that could be used for a Wordless Wednesday. I like those images to share a common theme or tell a story.

In fact, apart from two images that I captured with my smartphone, I haven't shared any new photographs at all on this blog. Every other image was either captured in 2017 or earlier, or were images that I took from Google searches.

My drought of photo taking will come to an end, tomorrow (Friday), when I post my next photo from my black-and-white project.

I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon and evening, organizing my photo library. I'm highly disorganized when it comes to keeping track of my photos. When I have pulled the image files from my camera and have processed them, I create a file folder with the date that the photos were shot—say, 20180111, for today—and would then provide a brief description of the subjects on the files. That way, my photos would be in folders that displayed in chronological order.

Filing photos by date is not a good way to organize photos. I have to remember when I took the image and hope that the description that accompanies the date helps. But the problem is that as the years go on, I can't remember when I took a photo: Did I shoot my Bate Island Project in 2012 or 2013? When was I in Scotland?

I tend to spend a lot of time looking for photos with this system.

So, when I finished work, yesterday, I went into my files and created a folder structure that works more like a database. Folders are listed according to the subject, not the date. For example, I have a Travel folder, which contains subfolders for destinations my family and I have visited, such as Cuba, Montreal, or Arizona. Some folders, such as France, contain more folders, for Paris, Loire, Juno Beach, and other towns or regions.

Photos can be in more than one folder: for example, a foggy image of Parliament Hill can be found in my Ottawa\Parliament Hill folder and in my Fog folder. I realize that duplicate files will take more storage space but I think this will make it easier for me to find images.

And storage space is cheap.

So, while I'm not shooting as much as I used to, I'm working with my photos a lot more as I get them organized.

Do you have a tried-and-true system for organizing photos?

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Cat People

Great. Now I have that horrible 1980s film in my head.

I've only ever had one pet in my family at a time.

Actually, that's not true: when the kids were very young, we bought a betta fish and a couple of minnows. I think you can see where this is going. The employee in the store said these fish could co-exist. Maybe he didn't realize the size of the fishbowl we were putting them in.

We should have separated the fish as soon as we saw the little bite taken out of one of the minnow's tails. We should have realized that a compromised tail fin would impede the speed at which the minnow could swim.

The message came loud and clear, one morning, when I entered the kitchen to make breakfast, and found nothing but a head and spine lying at the bottom of the bowl. It was next to the miniature, gold treasure chest, but this was no booty. I used our kitchen tongs to retrieve the remains and dispose of them before the kids came down for their oatmeal.

The second minnow followed shortly after. Apparently, I didn't learn from the first lesson.

When DW and I moved in together, before we married, we adopted a kitten from the Humane Society. Leo was an adorable grey and white cat who was social and would always jump on someone's lap when we were on the sofa. We had Leo for 11 years when he developed kidney disease and had to be put down. I was with him right to the end.

It took a couple of years for us to decide to get a new cat, and that's when Edwin joined our family. Ed has been a laid-back dude who has made friends with many neighbours because of his friendly disposition and his ability to control the neighbourhood mouse population.

Sadly, he also bags a few birds, now and then, but the bell that we added to his collar has reduced his success.

Edwin was a solo family cat until he was about nine years old, when, on an impulse visit to a pet store, I walked out with a second cat, Jake.

Jake was cute, but he was hellish. He tore up the house. He tormented Edwin. He tried to dominate the entire family, and when his attempts failed, he'd take it out by crapping on DW's and my bed.

Jake had to go.

We found him a lovely Carleton University student who loved cats and fell in love with him at first sight. For months after she took him, this new cat owner sent us photos and updates of Jake, who thrived as an only cat.

Once again, we were a one-cat family. Edwin continued to be the centre of our family.

A couple of months ago, DD14, who had been asking me for a dog on a daily basis for years, finally told me that she would stop asking for a dog if we would get a second cat. She wanted a kitten, female, preferably a tortoiseshell cat. That weekend, we went to the Humane Society. I wasn't hopeful that we would find a cat to her exact expectations, but that if we found a female kitten that was friendly, it would fit the bill.

We walked out of the animal shelter, with a female tortoiseshell kitten. Her name is Lily.

Edwin didn't warm up to Lily right away, but never tried to hurt or dominate her. Lily was playful and would pounce on Ed, who would meow in protest, swipe at her with a clawless paw (he'd keep them retracted), or pounce back when she persisted. Now, they get along fairly well.

Two weekends ago, DW and DD14 got it in their heads that another kitten would be good for Lily. Edwin was 12 years older than her and he was an outdoor cat. DW and DD14 wanted a kitten close to Lily's age, someone who was as playful as she and would be a companion for when Edwin was outside.

Edwin tends to keep to himself and never seeks Lily out to play.

I said we really didn't need a playmate for Lily: we've always had one cat and they always did fine. I said no, but they could hear that my voice wasn't as firm as when I used to be asked for a dog.

The Humane Society Web site showed four potential kittens, all of whom were at a single Pet Smart store near Parkwood Hills. We drove over to check them out but by the time we got there, every one of them was gone. The last one had left the store less than an hour before we arrived.

It wasn't to be, I told the girls, let's just be content with Edwin and Lily.

This weekend, DW checked the Humane Society's site again, and another kitten was in the same Pet Smart. As we were planning to do some shopping, DW urged me to hurry out the door with her. This time, we took DD16, who loves cats but didn't think we needed a third in our family.

The kitten was in the store, and we learned that she had just lost her sister, the previous day, to another adoption home. This was a nine-month-old female Torby, a tortoiseshell and tabby mix. She was lean but solid, and was extremely affectionate. As soon as I picked her up, she didn't want me to put her back down.

She came home with us.

Our house has gone from a solitary cat to a household of three felines. All of them friendly, all affectionate. It'll be a couple more weekends before we can introduce the latest kitten, who we've named Camille, into the fold, but already she's tried to join the others. Edwin has seen her and has given one of his whatever turns of the head.

Fingers crossed that it works out.

Go ahead, call us cat people. Crazy, crazy cat people.