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A Few of My Favourite Things

As the hours of sunlight have dwindled, so has my energy. However, I have been taking a lot of pictures. The following slideshow is a few of my favourite things in and around Montreal. You will already have seen a few of these things posted, but most should be new. Sorry gals at work. You'll have to view these at home (Our employer has filtered out the fun stuff--Dratts!).
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A True Cottage Caper

(The following is a true story, but also an assignment in an online intense, intensive course called Method Writing given by Jordan Rosenfeld. The object of this assignment was to make the reader feel uneasy. Please let me know if I succeeded.)

After my mother's funeral last summer, we headed back to our rented cottage several miles outside the tiny Quebec municipality of Mandeville in the Lanaudiere Region. We were relieved to get off the highway and travel through the rolling hills on the shores of the Maskinonge River. We were in dire need of some rest and relaxation, and our kids needed to be outside instead of cooped up in hotel rooms and waiting in hospitals.

As we turned down the last stretch of dirt road leading to our cottage, we saw a large group of young men between the ages of 16 and 19 coming down a trail and onto the shoulder of the road. As we passed, I saw my husband glance into the rearview mirror for a better look.

"That does not look good," he said.
"Why not?" I asked. "It just looks like a group of kids on holiday."
"They look a bit old for summer camp," my husband replied.

We continued a little bit further until we arrived at our cottage.It felt wonderful to be at our destination and relax. The purple phlox had bloomed while we were away, and the calmness of the pond made everything seem peaceful. As our children ran around outside, happy to finally stretch their legs, we unpacked the car. Half-watching the kids, I saw my husband try to unlock the door, but mysteriously, it was unlocked. I then saw him bend over and pick up a bread knife between the doors. He walked into the cottage and emerged a few minutes later.

"Someone's been in there," he said when he came out.
I could feel dread in the pit of my stomach."I really don't need this," I said.
"I know," he said."My feelings exactly."

We got the kids, and we went into the house to check if anything was missing. As I walked into the house, I had the eerie feeling that strangers had indeed been there. I remembered my father's girlfriend, Shelley, telling me what it felt like after their house had been broken into, cringing at the thought that someone had gone through her personal belongings. I also remembered her saying that it had taken months before they realized all the things that had been stolen.

"If anything is missing, our homeowner's insurance will cover it, but we'll have to file a police report," I said.

I sat with my kids in the living room, while my husband called the police. It was very unsettling to think that someone had broken into the cottage. It made me feel anxious and unable to sit still. But how could someone break in with a bread knife, particularly one that came from inside the cottage. It didn't make sense. Even stranger, the lock had not been broken and showed no signs of tampering.

My husband came back. He'd spoken with the police who instructed him to contact the owner. He called the owner and learned that neither she, nor anyone else she knew, would have gone into the cottage while it was rented. My husband also asked if there was anything of any value in the cottage that could have been stolen. Apparently, the only thing of any value was the TV and satellite system, both of which were still there. By this time, I'd checked all our valuables, and we had taken them all with us.

As the day wore on, we tried to remember if we had taken the bread knife out of the kitchen for any reason on the day we left. If I'd needed to cut something, I would have used scissors, not a knife, let alone a bread knife. Anyway, I would have put the knife back and not left it between the two doors. But what about the unlocked door? Were we in such a hurry to get to the hospital that we forgot to lock it?

By nightfall, we started to assume that we'd forgotten to lock the door. We couldn't explain the bread knife, but we decided to forget about the whole thing and get on with our holiday. Sleep, however, was not to be had that night. Our neighbours, as we discovered, were the group of 16 to 19 year olds we'd seen on the road the day before, and they kept us up most of the night.

We left early the next morning for the beach. My children were dying for a swim in Lac Maskinonge. After some beach fun, we headed back to the cottage. When we walked through the door, I again had the distinct feeling that someone had been there, but I said nothing. We were just settling in to watch a movie when we heard someone calling from outside the cottage. The accent sounded like someone from Montreal, but there was a hint of something else. My husband and daughter went out to see who it was. A few minutes later, my daughter came running back into the house.

"Who was it, honey?" I asked.
"A really big man, and he had your computers," she said.

My husband walked through the door a few minutes later with our computers.
"Well, it looks like the party animals are also a bunch of juvenile delinquents. We're going to have to check our things to see if they stole anything else."
"What kind of delinquents are we talking here? Violent offenders who are too young to prosecute or neighbourhood vandals?"
"I'm not sure. The co-ordinator just said that they were 'at risk' youth."

After looking through our stuff, we discovered that our DVD player was missing. Our anger was building. How were we supposed to be on holiday with a bunch of "at risk" youth next door who'd already broken in at least once, but probably twice?

In the meantime, my husband had called the owner who was going to report the neighbouring cottage owner to the municipality. In order to house at risk youth or delinquents, cottage owners had to obtain a special permit, something she was sure the owner didn't have.

We were in a very uncomfortable situation. We'd spent a lot of money to rent this cottage, but for reasons beyond our control, we hadn't been able to use it. When we finally could spend some time there, we were getting broken into whenever we left. If we were heartless, we could just call the police. But we wondered if pressing charges would teach these boys a lesson or just turn them into criminals. Even though they returned some of the things they stole, they hadn't returned it all. Someone who was truly repentant, we reasoned, would return everything. Clearly, they had learned nothing from this and would probably be back.

What would you have done reader? Would you have called the police?

With a full head of steam, my husband marched over to retrieve our DVD player. A few moments later, I could hear his loud, but controlled voice. After 10 minutes, he emerged from the woods with our DVD player and some DVDs that we hadn't even noticed were missing. When he came in, I asked him what he said.

He told the co-ordinator that we wanted all our stuff back and that he wanted to speak directly to the pair who'd broken in. When he had both of them in front of him, he told them that it was too bad that two people had to ruin everyone's holidays, theirs and ours. He added that we were still debating whether to call the police and press charges. Clearly, by not returning all our things, they were not sorry for what they did. Afraid for his job, the co-ordinator then jumped in and announced that the entire group was leaving the next morning.

My husband was still sweating and angry when he retold the story, but I could see that he was as relieved as I was that they
were leaving.
"I guess my mother was looking out for us," I said.
"Someone was. It's rare that you ever get stolen items back, and it's even rarer to have the chance to tell the thieves what you think of them to their face."
"I wonder if you're T-shirt drove the message home to those two?"
My husband looked down at his shirt, and we both laughed.
On his blue T-shirt, NEVER WRONG was written in large navy letters.
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Fun Way to Track Bike Use and Carbon Footprint

Montreal's bike-taxi or Bixi was definitely this summer's shining star, and Bixi fever is spreading fast. Both London and Boston have signed agreements to use the Bixi in their future city bike-share programs. Effective, September 28, 2009, there were 10,297 regular users and 103,209 occasional users in Montreal after just four months in operation. A resounding success!

Faced with a mysterious flat tire in September and my son changing daycares, I decided to put my regular bike into retirement and subscribe to Montreal's Bixi. Four days after signing on, I received my key in the mail. Not only does the Bixi web site keep track of my stats, such as the distance I travel and how many litres of gas I save, but it also allows me to keep track of activity at my favourite docking stations. Yes, we are still talking about bikes.

As you may already know, Bixi is not a bike rental program. In other words, you never have to return the bike to its starting point. Instead you drop your Bixi off at the closest station to your destination. However, if the docking station is full, you have to find another one. Sounds simple enough...right? At a cost of $78 a year, you get a Bixi membership and the first half-hour of cycling is free. Therefore, if your trip takes 29 minutes and the docking station at your destination is full, then you will probably have to pay $1.50 for the next hour.

Knowing the location and the status of the Bixi docking station closest to your destination is therefore key to saving on any additional charges. I learned the hard way this week when I ventured into unfamiliar terrain, the Centre-Sud neighbourhood of Montreal. (Photo on left: funky Centre-Sud organic fairtrade café that I happened upon while searching for a docking station.)

Because I live on the Plateau, I assumed that Bixi stations were as ubiquitous as they are in my hood. Wrong. As I was driving around the Centre-Sud trying to find an obscure side street by the name of Provencale, I noticed very few stations.

I eventually asked someone who gave me directions to one nearby. Unfortunately, when I arrived, the station was full. I had to pedal a fair distance and incur the additional charge before finding an available dock. As you can see in the capture below, I have started keeping track of dock availability close to home.

Other than this problemcita, I have been very pleased with my first week of bixiing to work. I no longer have the hassle of removing my seat or child carrier and lugging them around downtown with me. I also don't have to find a safe place to lock my bike up, as there is a huge Bixi docking station close to work. But the best part is, if it rains, I can take the metro home and don't have to worry about having my bike stolen overnight.

BTW, you may remember from my post in August that bixi users had travelled enough kilometres to go around the world 57 times. This dizzying globetrotting has now surpassed 87 times.

Related Posts:
3 Compelling Reason For A Bike-Share Program in Your City
City Cycling: Why Renting Beats Owning
A Review of Montreal's Bixi Rental Bike

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