Wedding in Pontypool, Ontario by Jessica Lee

Newlyweds Amy and Michael in Pontypool, Ontario.

Newlyweds Amy and Michael in Pontypool, Ontario.

I recently had the opportunity to photograph a wedding in Pontypool, Ontario, an area I probably never would have visited if not for this wedding. I love opportunities like these - opportunities that you don't plan for but rather opportunities that present themselves organically to you. It's how I ended up living in Saskatoon for six weeks, road tripping to Washington D.C., road tripping to Maine, road tripping to Sherbrooke, Quebec, camping on an island in Puerto Rico, etc. etc.

In this instance, the bride's family owned an RV park in Pontypool, Ontario, where the wedding was held. The reception took place in a barn, and all the food was cooked by the groom's father. It's always fun to witness how the uniqueness of each couple is shown by what they choose to splurge on (in this case, open bar), the location they decide on, and all those choices that make up a wedding - for example, the practical, no-nonsense bride wore Birkenstocks under her dress - whereas in some other weddings I've been to, the bride had seven outfit changes.

Vows written on the groom's hand before the ceremony.

Vows written on the groom's hand before the ceremony.

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Beyond making beautiful photos and experiencing each unique quirk about each couple, my favourite part of a wedding would be listening to the speeches; I've heard so many memorable ones throughout the years and I love hearing all those little anecdotes which reveal different sides of a person. It's truly an honour to be invited into someone's life to capture such a special day.

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Family members reacting to the ceremony

Family members reacting to the ceremony

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Congrats Amy and Michael!

Congrats Amy and Michael!

IFSC World Cup Bouldering in Hamilton by Jessica Lee

I had the opportunity to shoot photos this weekend for the World Bouldering Cup in Hamilton. Best part of the weekend? Definitely being part of the excitement. The crowd was WILD! Other than that, it was cool to watch so many top-level athletes working on the problems. There were so many different ways to climb a route, this was especially evident in men's problem #3 where Guillaume held the last hold facing the crowd, whereas everyone else faced the wall. Jan Hojer used his upper body strength to pull up from the problem, while others used their legs and hung upside down.

Anyway, without further ado, here are a few photos:

Cabin Weekend at Metcalfe Rock: Climbing in snow and other harsh realities by Jessica Lee

We drove up to Metcalfe Rock, in Northern Ontario this weekend for an early April climbing trip but of course, we underestimated Canadian weather.

While most of the snow in Toronto had melted already and weather was in the positives, it was a different story up North.

Along the way, I found out that the "cottage weekend" I had in mind was not what was available.

I had packed shampoo and body wash thinking that our cottage would have plumbing- which is a reasonable thing to assume, given we live in the 21st century.

But as we drove towards our destination, my friend Hunter casually mentioned to the car, "by the way, there is no water or electricity at the cabin".


I took a deep breath and told myself I would get through it.

After two hours of driving through thick fog and an unlit road, we somehow managed to make our way to the cottage without proper GPS coordinates and no address. We came into a muddy road, then proceeded to hike up a steep trail in the snow towards the unknown. There were no surrounding lights so there was no way to gauge how far away the actual cottage was or if we were even heading in the right direction.

Thankfully, we arrived after 10 minutes of hiking.

The cabin smelled musty and we had to turn on the gas to light up the lamps- so very old school and "rustic".

Here are some photos I took of the cabin after we started a fire and lit the lamps:

It's a beautiful design when you can see where everything is.

We put some chicken in the oven and ate salad while we started a heated game of Cards Against Humanity.

We played until 1 am then settled in for the night. I slept beside the fire but since the building had no heating, I found I needed to wear my winter jacket inside my sleeping bag to keep warm. With no running water and having to run out to the outhouse (in the snow) for bathroom breaks, it wasn't exactly rough, but it reminded me of all the luxuries I had at home.

Throughout the trip, I would frequently pause before taking a drink to determine if I was really thirsty because the pain of running out to the cold in the dark to use the outhouse wasn't worth an extra cup of tea/juice.

In the morning, I woke up to seeing the air my breathing created in the cold air. I did not want to get out of my warm sleeping bag to make breakfast. But one of the guys volunteered to find the spring where we would get our water from and another said he would go with him. So I said I would make breakfast. We had bacon, mushroom tomato omelettes and potato hash.

After we cleaned up, I took some photos of the cottage. It was really cool to see what the cottage looked like when it was all lit up properly through natural lighting.

The guys decided since it was obviously too cold to go climbing (the original purpose of the trip), we would go cross-country skiing.

Here is Hunter trying to take a photo with his lens cap on:

It was my first time cross-country skiing, and the first time I was seeing huge amounts of snow in Canada this season, since I spent most of this Winter in Europe.

Cross-country skiing is different from downhill in that only the front part of your foot is attached to the ski so you have less control during slopes, but it's easier to glide forward.

It was a beautiful trek at 8 km. I don't normally go out for hikes in weather like this so I don't often get to see nature in the winter.

We finished the trip and by that time, the rest of our climbing companions had arrived at the cottage.

At 4 degrees, it was too cold to climb outdoors but we came up with some creative solutions, deciding to make up routes on the frame of our cabin.

Night rolled in again, and after some digging, we discovered a board game about climbing made in the 80s. It was a hilarious night.

On Sunday, it finally became warm enough to climb outdoors.

My fingers were freezing and I couldn't feel my tips for most of the climb, but life isn't perfect. After waiting for a whole weekend, I finally got to do what I came to do!

We climbed for a couple of hours, then packed it up and headed home.

More photos:

The cabin is owned by the University of Toronto Outings Club, but is available for private rental. UTOC offers very reasonable rates for private bookings of the cabin by both members and non-members. Many different groups have had great experiences at the UTOC cabin. Contact utoc@utoronto.ca for more details.

For more posts about climbing on this blog, click here.

Wine tasting the Niagara Escarpment, Ontario by Jessica Lee

Wine tastes the way it does because of the climate and the soil it's grown in.

And because of the moderating effects of the lake surrounding the Niagara Escarpment, it is a great place to grow grapes.

I spent Sunday on a work-sponsored field-trip down south near St. Catharines, Ontario, tasting wines and learning more about them.

Here is a photo of my co-workers packed in a school bus:

I've only been with the company for about a month, but I really like how everyone is so welcoming and friendly. Or that they give off that image at least. There was a great camaraderie on the bus ride to and from Toronto.

The last wine tasting I did was back in Australia, in Adelaide. It was with a bunch of strangers, so the feeling was quite different, though I enjoyed it very much. I find that alcohol generally tends to go better with people you know, however.

Cave Springs Cellars was gorgeous. It made me wonder what it would be like to work at a winery, picking grapes. Of course in my head, I envision waking up every day in a distinguished stone house and prancing bare feet in the grass, through the vineyards to work in a lovely, flowing white summer dress.

The reality probably looks something like muddy rain boots, ratty jeans and a farmer's shirt- which I suppose is something I could deal with as well... (oh the sacrifices!)

We spent the day touring the place and learning about what affects the taste of wines. What really interested me the most was that the owner knew so much about the soil- what it's made of (limestone mostly), and it's history (the field used to be a cow pasture so there's lots of organic matter in it). I mean, thinking about it now it's really obvious that he would have to since it affects so much of his crop, but being from the city, I obviously know nothing about soil except that you grow things in it. Soil is a whole new field of knowledge I'd be interested in learning about (haha get the pun?).

I learned from one of my co-workers that when you swirl the wine glass, you can see the tannins (the flavour in wine which comes from the grape skins) dripping down. They look like thin, clear lines. The more tannins you see, the dryer the wine will taste; and the dryer the wine is, the more alcohol it will likely have.

Afterwards, we ate lunch on a hill and had prosciutto sandwiches, cheese, almonds, fruit preserves, couscous salad, chickpea salad and a raspberry custard tart. I think all of this was supposed to go with the wine we drank.

Then, it was time for our second tasting, but this time with specific food pairings.

I found that there was no right or wrong answer when it came to pairings, as everyone has a different palate.

We were all given a plate with smoked cheese, Italian Cacciatore sausage, honey soy-glazed shrimp, chocolate salt tart and a gherkin. We sampled these foods with Cave Spring's 2010 Estate Riesling, which is a fresh-tasting white wine that had a citrus/lime scent.

Personally, my favourite pairing was with the cheese and the shrimp and not so much with the chocolate tart- though it tasted great on its own. My co-worker echoed this opinion, but someone else found they liked the tart with the wine.

The next tasting we had is what is called a "vertical tasting" because we sampled the same estate wine, but made from different years.

It was incredible because I could actually taste the differences between them though they are made from the same grape, from the same winery using the same process.

We sampled years 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005. My favourite was the 2009, which was the coldest year, which means there is more residual sweetness in the wine.

It was a wonderful day of co-worker bonding and learning about wine. I'm extremely fortunate I'm with a company that encourages drunkenness wine knowledge in its staff.

Now if anyone asks me about say tank fermenting versus fermenting in bottles, I can say with confidence that tank fermenting produces coarser bubbles in the wine because the bubbles are bigger.

Honestly though, that is one of the few impressive things I know about wine, and it's all for show. I really am still in the beginning stages of learning. I can't wait to taste more though.

Between a rock and Waterloo, Ontario by Jessica Lee

I spent my weekend in Waterloo, Ontario, which is known for:
a) A university town which houses Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Waterloo
b) the headquarters of phone company, Research in Motion
c) and for an abundant population of Canadian geese apparently.

I arrived by Greyhound just before midnight as the student night life was revving up. Young freshmen walked in swarms on the streets to house parties. It's strange thinking that I used to be one of them- the idea of going to a university house party would have excited me four years ago, but now as I'm on the verge of graduation, I realize I'm all past it.

Things that excite me now include:
1. Exploring the big, wild world
2. Trying new things
3. Graduating university and never having to pick up a textbook in my entire life again ever! (Unless I want to)

I stayed over at my friend, Kat's place. She lives in a party neighbourhood. When I woke up, and left the house at 10 am, there were already celebrations starting up again because it was homecoming weekend.

Waterloo isn't a bad town to live in.

The main street has lots of cute cafes and is pleasing-enough to the eye, but I know for sure I would want to kill myself if I were stuck here for four years of my life, finishing university. There is just nothing going on here!

It could be a nice place to settle down for a while, or a good place to "refocus" because there wouldn't be many distractions. If I were to write a book, I would choose a place like Waterloo to live in.

This was one of the cafes I walked by: I snapped a photo because the drinks "Vanilla Almond Steam" and "Cotton Candy Creme" intrigued me.

I never did get to try the drinks however as I had to make my way to Grand River Rocks climbing gym for The University Bouldering Series competition.

This is what it looked like as I got there:

It was an exhilarating atmosphere as I had never been in the presence of so many skilled climbers at once. At times, I felt like I was being judged for picking easier routes to climb.

How the bouldering competition worked was like this:

There were 50 routes you could climb and the six hardest climbs you picked and completed would be tallied-up to your final score.

This is a photo of a climber scaling climb #50 aka the most difficult climb in the competition. He had to leap for the hold and it wasn't even a good hold.

A crowd had gathered around to watch, and cheered when someone finally made the jump and stuck on to the hold.

It's moments like this that make me really like climbing.

I also like when I get to the top of a really hard climb.

Here is a photo of everyone crowding around the score results.

I placed 10th place out of 19 competitors in the girls beginners division, which is okay for my first competition, given that I had just gotten back into climbing several months ago. My goal was to not come in last place, which I achieved. My goal for the next competition happening in a month from now is to place in the top 5- which could have been totally achievable this round had I strategized for this competition. I had trained for a month prior, but on the day of, I missed breakfast because I was running late and I used up all my energy on the easy climbs. There were a few harder climbs which I was one step away from completing, but just couldn't push through at the end because I had lost my strength.

My goal is to eventually place in the intermediate category- sometime before I graduate- which is coming soon.