Monday, September 04, 2017

Exploring Nature in Owen Sound and Grey County, Ontario

Owen Sound is a small town located just a bit more than 2 hours driving north west of Toronto. It's part of a bigger countryside called Grey County. Lots of protected green land, forests, farms and natural wonders dot this area. Hiking, zip lining, treetop trekking, camping, fishing, horseback riding etc. are all very popular activities here in the summer and fall. Given that we have young kids, we were somewhat restricted in our outdoor activities, but still decided to make a weekend trip to Owen Sound.

Hiking through this heavily wooded area, it was surprising to see how cool a forest cover could make your environment. It was a warm 29C outside, yet it was easily a little chilly under these trees. Then of course, there were sudden clearings and you were right beside a pond.

This was the Inglis Falls Conservation area. The hike is through a marked trail in Harrison Park, and very easy with kids, although you cannot take your stroller here (your kids must be old enough to walk and run).

Parking nearby in the conservation area (near the dam) is $8 for the day. All of this, of course is for Inglis Falls.

It's one of the many smaller waterfalls that dot the Grey County area. You can actually take a Waterfalls Driving Tour that can let you see as many as 18 such waterfalls in the area. Not all of them are easily accessible and require some rough hiking. And when I say small, I am comparing them to the giants such as Niagara Falls and so on. Inglis Falls, for example, is 18m tall.

With Owen Sound being the only sizeable city nearby after Collingwood, there's a lot of undisturbed land here and with that, a lot of wild flora and fauna.

You could also drive around a bit, and explore the farm and the countryside from nearby lookout points.

We even saw lots of butterflies in action on a farm near the Bruce Conservation Area. Unlike Toronto, where you hardly see them in nature unless you go looking for them in various parks, here the butterflies seemed to be quite unafraid of people and didn't flinch or fly away when you went near to take pictures.

Farming is big here, and when we drove and parked on a lookout point on a high hill, we could see farm country for miles in all directions.

Owen Sound also has some great beaches (such as Cobble Beach) on the fantastic Georgian Bay waters, and nearby on Kelso Beach there was a festival going on, with visitors having the chance to get a ride on a hot air balloon. This was the first time I did this, and it was quite the experience (especially getting on and off the balloon). We did this with both kids!

One of the must-go places in the summer is the Grey Roots Museum and Archives. Amongst their many attractions, they have a great tiny model of Owen Sound in the 1800s.

You can see miniature horse drawn carriages and almost hear the sounds and cries of the times of Sherlock Holmes in this model.

During the time we went, they also had a castle exhibition, partnered with Legos. Lots of castle exhibits, and lots of Lego-built castles for everyone to see.

In addition, they also had play areas for kids where they could build their own castles with Lego (provided).

The museum also has a huge outdoor heritage village exhibit. This is where they have a whole village with the original buildings etc. from the 1800s. You can walk through this exhibit and there are folks there (dressed in period costumes) who explain how Irish refugees and settlers made Owen Sound home. You see a tiny cottage and marvel that a family of 10 used to sleep there.

There was a huge building that I thought was the church, but it was the village school. I was surprised to learn that there was only one instructor here, but each classroom had kids from ten grades learning at ones. Yes, ten! The teacher would seat the students in rows so the first row was all grade 1, the next grade 2, and so on. Then he or she would proceed down the rows and oversee the work and all the students. It was very much like the village in Back To The Future 3.  The kids really enjoyed this museum.

One final waterfall (and hike) we saw was the Weaver's Creek Falls.

This waterfall has two lookout points. The first can be accessed by kids, but the second one, which I didn't go to, is the one where most people choose to go to. It's a steep walk (almost a climb) down the cliff (about 20-30 meters) and you can get right at the base of the waterfall for some fantastic pictures.

Overall, Owen Sound is a good place for a day trip and overnight stay. When you go with young kids you are slightly restricted in what outdoor activities you can do, but if you plan your trip it can be fun for everyone involved.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Ten Eid Ul Adha Etiquettes

(these are not necessarily from hadith or sunnah or religion, but also from my common sense)

 1. If you are collecting the meat from a butcher, there will be people on the day of Eid at the butcher asking you for meat as charity. Do not question their integrity (I am not aware of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) ever investigating the financial well being of a person asking him for charity). Just donate a little meat to them. Because of the refugee crisis in the USA and the world, there are a lot of needy people in and around Toronto.

2. When visiting a house, do not ask "have you given a sacrifice" as you don't know their personal economical situation. They may be paying off a debt or some other expense which takes priority over the ritual sacrifice.

3. In the case that you visit a house where you KNOW the people to be financially well off and somewhat non-observant, it is OK to tell them about udhiya and sacrifice and charity, as we are asked to preach the goodness of our religion.

4. If you owe someone money for the sacrifice (say the organizer of your group) please pay it off immediately. It is not a sacrifice until YOU have paid out of your own pocket.

5. While it is not required to donate some meat for charity, it is a commonly accepted good practice.

6. Eid is one of the few visible celebrations in the Muslim community. If you do NOT celebrate it, and do not take time off work, nor imbibe the celebrations in your kids, do NOT complain when they later come to you as to why Christmas is so much better than Eid. Give gifts and money to your kids. It's sunnah.

7. If you have sacrificed a lamb, remember that the Prophet's favourite piece of meat was the shank of a lamb (as far as I am aware of). So enjoy that piece - it's sunnah! :-)

8. Please call ahead before visiting a house. Yes, it's Eid, so guests are expected, but it is also the custom of the land to announce your visit beforehand, so the hosts can be prepared to receive you.

9. Have some common sense when posting pictures of Eid. Is it really required to post pictures from the slaughter house? We all know (or should know) where our food comes from. But our Facebook (and other social media) have friends who have fled warzones, or who are triggered by pictures of blood or otherwise. Pictures of your animal being garlanded or fed before the slaughter, for example, make much better sense.

10. Have fun and enjoy. It's Eid.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Great American Eclipse 2017

It was about five years ago when I first read about that a total solar eclipse would occur over North America in 2017. I remember making an entry in my Google Calendar (an event 5 years then into the future! ) for August 21, 2017 - "Total Solar Eclipse, 2017, Nashville".

I always wanted to experience the totality of a full solar eclipse. And why not? It's a once in a generation or lifetime experience. I was very young when the Middle East experienced a total solar eclipse, but from where I lived, the sun was only covered 80% or so. Ever since then, I had always wanted to experience a total solar eclipse. So when I saw that in 2017 there would be one in North America, I thought to myself, why not?

Yesterday morning I flew in to Nashville. Along with my brother, we had researched the city and a few places on where to see the eclipse. We did a recon, and decided on Centennial Park, right by the Parthenon. This morning, along with our family and friends, we came early in the morning and staked out a picnic spot in the park.

It was a long wait. We had cards, we had foods, and there were toilets nearby, but the sun was beating down hot and strong. It was a balmy 33 C. Many times the clouds covered the sun, leading for many of us to fear all of our planning and travelling would come to nought, but the clouds would then veer away. And right on time at 11.58 pm CDT, to huge cheers to the thousands in the park, the eclipse began!

We played cards to while away the time, in between taking peeks at the sun (safely, with our eclipse protective glasses), as the sun grew smaller and smaller. 

The air was noticeably starting to become cooler and cooler. I took these pictures with my camera on a tripod, and a solar filter covering the lens.

Slowly the anticipating started to grow. We packed our cards and began to wait anxiously. There were no clouds in the sky. It was clear. Totality would begin around 1.27 pm CDT.

I had decided early on I wouldn't take a lot of pictures, but rather experience the moment. It was the best decision. As the air became cooler, and the sun smaller and smaller, the birds started to cry, and the crickets started to chirp. Their chirping grew louder and louder. Everyone started to cheer more passionately. It was a very exciting, surreal, amazing, superlative time. You have to experience it to know what I am talking about; it cannot be described. And right on cue, the sun disappeared!

Totality lasted for about 2 minutes, and it was nothing like I had experienced before. I had only read about how day suddenly turns to night, and how it suddenly feels like you have entered another universe, and how suddenly other worldly you feel in this great cosmic dance, but nothing can compare to the real deal.

And then just like that, there was a small diamond ring in the corner, and then the sun slowly began to re-emerge, to huge cheers.

And just like that, the Great American Eclipse was now done. It was certainly something I am glad I took the initiative to plan, and experience. The next total solar eclipses in North America will be in 2021 and 2024. Hope to experience it again then!

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Happy Canada Day, eh? The Top 5

 It's Canada's 150th birthday, and we are throwing a grand party from coast to coast to coast. I am glad my parents came here oh so long ago from the Middle East to pursue a better life for themselves and their kids, and I've always been really proud to be a Canadian. So from memory, here's some top moments of being a Canadian.

1. My West Coast trip.

If you wanted to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, it's right here at home in Canada.

2. The time when we won the Olympic hockey gold.

Well, there's several.




But the greatest of them HAS to be the 2002 victory. Everything was in place for a great story. The game was in United States, our biggest rival, AND they were playing the final against us. The return of the NHL stars. The lucky loonie. The late equalizer.


3. Justin Trudeau's Election Night Speech, 2015

It had been a bruising election. On one hand was an ego-driven Prime Minister campaigning on policies of hatred and bigotry targeted at Muslims, and against niqab wearing women in particular. It would be a precursor to the campaign of hate in the United States to follow in 2016. The election grew particularly ugly in Quebec, with incidents of attacks against Muslims and minorities reported. The Prime Minister then spoke of "old stock Canadians" and seems to have been hell bent on wining by dividing the country. We Canadians needed to repudiate that, and to reject that so thoroughly that the mere thoughts of such bigotry would be buried, at least for a little while.

Enter Justin Trudeau, the son of the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the man who built Canada as it is today. He won, and won a majority. And in his very first speech as Prime Minister-elect, on his election night victory, he gave speech for the ages. One particular section (19:30), about a hijab wearing Muslim woman, even caught the attention of Americans and one of my American friends mused that we would never hear an American politician say something like that.

4. The kindness of Canadians when I broke my foot

Toronto is a big city. It's a busy, bustling, and often chaotic city. Yet, in early 2016, when I had a broken foot and limped to work on crutches, I never had to stand on public transit. People would rush to offer me their seat. This was also the time when I saw a women being racist towards a minority woman, and the whole train basically turned on that lady and forced her to get out at that next station.

5. The day when I became a citizen

Canada is not a perfect country. It's a work in progress. Some injustices, especially towards the First Nations, are still quite recent. Yet, over all countries in the world, it has something that others don't.

You have to live here to get it.