A night of music under the stars

This past weekend here in Ottawa was hot.  The days lingered, light fading only late, and they were the kinds of days that made you want to not waste a second by spending time inside. Isn’t that what summer is for? Wearing a swishy skirt and sunglasses, lathered up in sunscreen, and gosh darn it getting out of the house!

Saturday was a great example of soaking up what the city has to offer. I made my way down to Confederation Park in the early evening because my brother, an excellent jazz musician here in Ottawa, was playing keyboards in the Aretha Franklin orchestra. Pretty amazing! It was a warm evening, and as we meandered through downtown, I couldn’t stop looking all around at the people strolling, new statues, colourful posters plastered on walls, and buildings I’d forgotten about.

Ottawa convention centre

locks Ottawa

We ended up a couple hours early so after my brother went to get ready, we went get a drink. We came across a trailer that was offering 4 free samples of local Ontario wines. The first pourer guessed that I would drink red, and that my friend would drink either red or white – being that is was Saturday night after all! I guess I seem like less of a party animal than she did? True to form, I did drink the red, and sampled a couple of whites as well, and they were all pretty good.

Once we hit the crowds again, we wove our way up behind the sea of lawnchairs, and squeezed ourselves in amongst the other concert goers. I met some interesting characters – one an Indian man who works for the RCMP, and mentioned he had 2 cats that he thought of often. He was dancing freely, flowing with his hands waving in the air. The second fellow was retired from working in Parliament and had recently taken up playing the sax. He also informed me about a new sport he’d learned in Florida called pickle ball. So the time passed nicely and I chatted with my new friends until the music began.

The music started, and swelled, and I caught a few glimpses of my brother at the keyboards, tucked away behind the piano player, as the band went on for awhile. After a bit, The Queen of Soul herself swanned out onto the stage, and poured out a few songs that were pretty impressive. Her vocal chops could still handle the range, it seemed, and she commanded the stage with confidence.

Aretha Franklin Ottawa Jazz Festival

There were a few things about the concert that felt a bit off, though – I knew they were using a mix of her touring musicians (in weirdly sloppy white t-shirts) and bandleader, plus the best talent here in Ottawa, but sometimes it was a bit too messy of a mix. Like when the backing vocals were soaring and moving, but there were no singers on stage, and then the track would fade out and the song trail off uncertainly. Or when Aretha headed off stage mid-show, and the musicians jammed out for awhile – sounded sharp, Bobby’s McFerrin’s daughter came out singing Pharell’s Happy – great song, but totally different than the vibe of the rest of the older, classic tunes.

My favourite songs were Chain of Fools – sprawling and fun, it tumbled out over the bopping heads of the crowd; RESPECT – bellowing, and all the right notes of boastful; a version of Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You – featuring Aretha also playing piano in addition to making the melody her own; and Moody’s Mood for Love – a jazz song that was originally a saxophone solo but set to words and popularly covered many times (by Aretha Franklin, and more recently by Amy Winehouse).

Aretha Franklin playing piano Ottawa

Aretha Franklin Ottawa Jazz Festival

Aretha Franklin is a fantastic singer who can put on a decent show and moreover, is a legend who deserves all of the praise she’s built up over the years – so for that, it was a magical evening and one I’m glad I got to take in.

Clearing the cobwebs

The other day during nap time, I successfully made a to-do list about a page long, and then abandoned it in favour of things that just can’t wait, like laundry and groceries and haven’t looked back at it since. I have been feeling a bit overwhlemed again lately, between work and other work and things piling up, but it is what it is – recording a video a day is a challenge that we have taken on that eats up a lot of time, and there are a lot of things just can’t be done while a certain red-headed baby is awake and so active, even if we try.

So it’s about living in the moment and not worrying tooooo much about not getting everything done. Luckily, entertaining a small someone opens the door to many other moments: walks and ice cream and long summer evenings. There definitely were a few things that made me smile, feel thankful, and not worry so much this week.

This is my Ten Things of Thankful post for this week, getting back on the bandwagon after missing it for a few weeks!

- Baby J starting to make his meaning clear. Sort of. Among other things, he is saying “thank you” and “you’re welcome” now and imitates our exact tone but comes nowhere near close to saying the words correctly. Very cute.

sunglasses baby

- Finally getting the winter tires switched off our car. Yes, about time!

- The summery smell of these perfumey white lilacs that are popping up in trees, lining the street and lingering in the air.

- We went for breakfast and some playtime at McDonald’s this morning, while waiting for the tires to be changed, and had a nice time: Baby J snagged a bite or two of Tyler’s mcmuffin and I discovered that the oatmeal was actually not as bad as I thought it would be. A older fellow stopped by our table, telling us we looked like a nice young family, and gave us a card he’d gotten for a free ice cream.

- My talented husband. He recorded this song the other day – just played around for awhile, practiced and then did this great version of a classic song but totally different:

Obviously I’m biased, but isn’t he great?

- Getting a few other nagging items belated crossed off the to-do list. Rounding up receipts, weeding from between the cracks in the backyard patio stones. Cleaning junk and rooting out clothes from our closet. Hot gluing poor bobble head Dwight’s noggin back on his neck. Little things that feel good.

- Realizing that Baby J is old enough to thoroughly enjoy walking in the woods. A specific area of the Greenbelt near here, to be precise, where we used to walk all the time, and where we were walking when we came up with his name, in fact. The paths change from dirt tracks amid grass to gravel lined with trees, sticks, and plants galore; the area sprawls out and he just loves following the trail, veering off now and then too.

baby in woods

- Watching my boy and his dog. We let Baby J take Herman’s leash on a big empty field the other day and he was tugged along, running and laughing gleefully. This went on for at least half an hour! They both had a great time and I’m excited to watch their relationship grow.

- Fresh local strawberries in season.


- Getting back to writing. I’ve missed blogging over the last few weeks. It wasn’t writer’s block exactly, but I’d sit and start a post and not finish it, get sidetracked, and the words just wouldn’t come back, or I wouldn’t feel happy enough to publish it. This post too – started Friday night, added on Saturday, published on Sunday. Better than nothing, though.

That’s it for this week. Hopefully next week holds some more lovely little moments as well.


Sweet Potato Pancakes

Cooking for a little kid is getting to be kind of fun. He can eat more and more of what we eat as his teeth come in, and he seems to enjoy trying new things right now, as well as trying to use a spoon and fork. I’ve been trying to get creative with uses for a single ingredient, like the all mighty sweet potato.

It’s a favourite around here because it’s easy to stretch into multiple uses: toss into soups, to puree and let him go at it with a spoon, to steam or to roast with a bit of oil and herbs. I recently decided to try them out at breakfast too and found this recipe for sweet potato pancakes. I’m not a big pancake eater, myself, but I’ve made these several times and we love them around here!

sweet potato pancakes

Sweet Potato Pancakesrecipe, halved and altered a bit, from Weelicious
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 medium egg
3/4 plus 2 T cups milk
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup sweet potato puree

1. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients.
3. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined.
4. Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat and lightly coat with butter or oil.
5. Pour about 1 tablespoon of the pancake mixture onto the griddle, making as many pancakes as will fit and cook for 2 minutes.
6. Flip the pancakes and cook for one minute longer.

I have topped these with applesauce or maple syrup. Baby J likes them plain, too!

sweet potato pancake

How do you like your sweet potatoes? Feel free to share!