Over the Christmas break, I found myself with enough time on my hands to try a funky little photo tutorial I’d found online. (I mean, I could have done something productive like housework, but isn’t playtime what vacations are all about?)

You might remember this photo from the amazingly fun impromptu family photography session we had at Watson’s Mill in Manotick in between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I absolutely love outdoor family portraits in the winter, especially when it’s just below (but not too far below!) freezing and overcast so the light is soft and even. The hint of tiny snowflakes in the air was just the icing on the cake. And if some drifting snow flakes are awesome, MOAR SNOWFLAKES must make it better still, right?

I followed this tutorial to add moving, drifting snow to a still photo, and while it’s far from perfect (there’s a little hitch where the video loops, and the speed is a little off) it was fun for a first try.

Fun, right? I learned a lot, since it was the first time I’ve ever used the Timeline feature in Photoshop. Let’s just say it’s convenient to have a spouse who happens to teach Photoshop at the local college on hand when I get a little lost. But I figured out myself how to resize it because apparently it’s one of WordPress’s peccadilloes that you need to upload a .gif in full size in order for it to play.

Yay me! New tricks for this old dog.

It’s possible we still have just a little bit of winter left to get through, so if you can’t wait for spring for your family photo sessions, now I know how to make the winter ones just a little bit more fun!


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If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you know that Chef Michael Smith is my food bae. I credit him for pretty much single-handedly empowering me to cook, something I’ve grown to love doing over the past few years. This year for Christmas, though, after watching the Netflix series together, Beloved gave me Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat, and it is hands down the BEST cookbook I’ve ever read. It has 200 pages of food science, art and magic, woven together with humour and great stories, and then 150 pages of recipes based on the principles in the beginning of the book.

I couldn’t wait to take the recipes out for a test drive! The first one that made my mouth water was Pork Braised with Chilies. One of the ingredients was eight dried chilies. I’d never purchased dried chilies before, but was sure I’d seen then somewhere in my travels.

My first stop was the produce section of the grocery store. Don’t they keep them beside the sun-dried tomatoes in the little pouches? Nope. Mexican foods? Nada. Spices? Ethnic foods? Nope.

Thwarted, I rescheduled the menu and tried Farm Boy the next day. Farm Boy rarely disappoints, but the first person I asked for dried chilies took me to the ground spices section and the next two just shrugged apologetically. I grabbed a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and figured I’d make due with that. We were on our way home from the Barrhaven Farm Boy when we passed the street we used to live on, and the little shopping plaza with — the Indian food shop! I bet they have dried chilies.

Hoo boy, did they ever! To my delight, I got what seemed like a lifetime supply of dried peppers for the astonishing price of $2.50. (We lived for years on the same street as Nasa Food Centre, a South Asian grocery store, but never went in. Tristan said the smell was an assault to all his senses, but it left me drooling and promising to go back!)

They were so beautiful that I had to dump the bag onto the counter and have an improptu photo shoot before I started putting some in the pot.

There were so many of them!

Do you love spicy food? ME TOO!

So, two questions. First, seriously, how do you spell the plural of chili? Is it chiles, like on Samin Nosrat’s site, or chilies? Spell check favours the latter, but also throws an error on the u in favour, so it’s not exactly reliable to me. And second — what the holy heck am I going to do with all those peppers? I used six of what must be a hundred! Ideas?

Oh yeah, and the pork braise is smelling amazing, too. If it tastes half as good as it smells, Samin may be my new kitchen BFF. I’ll keep you posted!


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I found a great Shepherd’s pie recipe a couple of years ago, and it became one of my Dad’s favourites – so much so that I stopped making it for about a year after he died, just because it reminded me a little too much of him. Last year, I tried out a couple of vegetarian and vegan versions (this Minimalist Baker vegan one is especially good) and to my delight, the kids actually liked the lentils in lieu of meat. So then I had an “aha” moment and pulled them together – half the lamb (because ouch, lamb is expensive) and all the lentil and potato goodness. Here’s how we do it. This will serve 5 – 6 comfortably, and I make it in our 5Q dutch oven.

1 cup green lentils, rinsed
2 cups water
1 – 2 bay leaves
Generous pinch of kosher salt
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
300g ground lamb
1 cup low sodium broth
1 156 ml (5.5 oz) can of tomato paste
1 teaspoon chopped fresh or dry rosemary
1 cup frozen peas
4 russet potatoes, (peeling optional – I don’t) and cut into small chunks
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup sour cream

90 minutes before dinner is served, add rinsed lentils, bay leaves and water to a small saucepan. This article gives good tips on how to cook lentils. Bring to a rolling boil and then turn down to a simmer. After approximately 10 minutes, add salt and continue simmering another 10 or 15 minutes, for a total of 20 to 25 minutes. The lentils should be underdone and still slightly tough. Drain any excess water.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Heat up a dutch oven on medium-high. Add canola oil and heat until it shimmers. Add onion, carrots and lamb, breaking up lamb with the back of a spoon as it browns. Cook 7 to 10 minutes, until meat is no longer pink. Carefully drain the fat and return dutch oven to stovetop. Add the broth, tomato paste, and herbs. Simmer until the juices thicken, about 10 minutes, then add the frozen peas and the lentils. Stir until combined

Meanwhile, add potatoes and enough water to cover them to a large pot, toss in another generous pinch (or handful) of kosher salt, and bring to a boil. Boil until fork tender, approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Drain, add butter and sour cream and mash. Scoop the potatoes onto the meat and lentil mixture in the dutch oven and use a fork to even out the top and make cross-hatching marks for browning.

Bake, uncovered, for approximately 30 minutes. If you can get the peaks of the cross-hatched potatoes to brown just a bit, you win!

Served here with steamed green beans tossed with lemon, butter and salt, and pickles. Yum!

By the way, you can sub out the ground lamb for any ground meat, but technically then it’s cottage pie instead of shepherd’s pie. I always thought those shepherds were doing a questionable job, turning their wee lambs into pie, but it IS delicious, so there’s that.

🙂


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A lot of amazing things will happen in 2019. In July, Beloved and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, and then in August I turn (gasp!) fifty!

I wanted to do another photo challenge to mark this amazing year, but another 365 photo-a-day project felt too ambitious. A 52-week photo challenge is perfect! And I liked the #Dogwood52 photo challenge because each week has a prompt, and I figured that would keep me from being lazy and maybe push my boundaries a little bit.

Right off the bat, I was stumped. The first weekly prompt is ‘take a picture that tells us who you are, without actually showing your face.’ I’ve been thinking about it for days. How to tell the story of me in just one photo? Mom? Writer? Photographer? Friend? Collector of vintage crap? Lover of books and grunge and spicy food? And then it occurred to me to include ALL THE THINGS!

#52in2019 #Week1

It’s me in 50 items! I like that some of them serve double and even triple duty on facets of my personality, like the photo books are family AND photography, and the Monty Python card deck says I’m equally happy playing cards or riffing about how your father was a hamster and your mother smelled of elderberries.

And yes, the blog is in there too. I haven’t forgotten entirely how to blog, but I might be a little rusty. Here’s to getting a little more practice in on that, too, in 2019.

It’s going to be an awesome year. Let’s do this!

What would your collage about items that tell the story of YOU have in it?

#dogwood52 #week1 #dogwood2019 #52in2019


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I don’t know why more families don’t seek winter family photo sessions. It’s certainly different from a family photo with the bright blues and greens of high summer, or the saturated colours of autumn, and granted, you need to be a little bit more diligent in playing along with the weather – there’s a fine line between pink cheeks at -10C and frostbitten noses at -25C. But there’s something magical and utterly Canadian about being bundled up with scarves and mitts against gently falling snow – and in the case of this almost-impromptu winter session, a treacherous coating of ice so bad we had to be deliberate with every single step!

Winter family photos at Watson's Mill

Of course, it doesn’t hurt when you have a beautiful family, a cute dog, and a great location like Watson’s Mill in Manotick for your background. I love it when all the elements come together!

Winter family photos at Watson's Mill

Winter family photos at Watson's Mill

Lucky for me, in addition to being charming and lovely and willing to negotiate icy walkways and paths, this family had a great sense of humour, and responsed with good humour to my prompts and suggestions.

Winter family for blog 1

Winter family photos at Watson's Mill

And they came with ideas of their own, like recreating a family piggy-back shot from years past. (We had to find a non-icy spot to pull this one off!)

Winter family photos at Watson's Mill

I always know a photo “works” when it makes me smile while I’m editing it. It’s good to know that sisters can be just as much fun as brothers!

The other really nice thing about winter family portraits is that my weekends are usually wide open, so chasing that perfect not-too-cold and not-too-snowy and not-too-messy weather is a lot easier. If you’d like to try winter family portraits, I have all sorts of ideas for great locations – get in touch and book your session today!


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Dust off your jingle bells, dig out your Santa hat and strap on your reindeer antlers! Welcome to one of my favourite holiday traditions, the original and most comprehensive listing of all the Christmas, Holiday and Santa Claus parades for Ottawa, Eastern Ontario and West Quebec.

Photo of Santa Claus at the Christmas parade 2013

Sometimes the parade season sneaks up on me, but with the few light flurries we’ve already had, I feel like I’m ready for the holiday fun to begin. Did you know that this post annual post is officially a teenager now? I almost didn’t compile the list this year, but after thirteen (!) years, I didn’t feel like I could stop now! Take a close look at the details – I noticed a lot of parades moving from a traditional week or day of the week, and lots of route changes for this year, too. There are more than 20 parades crammed into one three-week period!

Here’s all the info I could scare up about the 2018 Ottawa, Eastern Ontario and West Quebec Santa Claus and Christmas parade line-up, in chronological order:

Kanata Santa Claus Parade
Saturday November 17, 2018 at 10:00 am (note the change to day of the week and time versus previous years!) The parade begins at Terry Fox and Castlefrank and proceeds Castlefrank to Abbeyhill Drive and on to Hazeldean Mall. Food and money will be collected by volunteer firefighters along the route for the Kanata Food Cupboard. Join Santa at the mall after the parade!

Ottawa Help Santa Toy Parade
Saturday, November 17 starting at 11:00 am. The parade starts at Ottawa City Hall and moves west on Laurier Avenue to Bank Street, then follows Bank Street south to TD Place. New toys (no used toys, please) and cash donations will be collected by the Ottawa Firefighters.

Cornwall Santa Claus Parade
Saturday November 17, starting at 5:00 pm. The parade will run from St. Lawrence Intermediate School, 1450 Second Street East. It will then proceed west. The theme for the parade is “Christmas Movies.” Join us afterwards for Santa’s Street Hockey Challenge!

Petawawa Santa Claus Parade
Sunday November 18, 2018 at 1:00 pm. Parade departs from the Wolfe Plaza. The parade will then travel along Mohns Avenue, Doran Road, Herman Street to Murphy Road and terminate in the Civic Centre parking.

Barrhaven Lions Club Light Up the Night Santa Claus Parade
Sunday, November 18, starting at 5:30 pm. (Note the change back to Sunday this year!) The parade runs down Strandherd Drive, starting at Beatrice Drive and ending at the park n ride, where it turns north for dispersal. Please remember to bring non perishable food items or cash donations for the Barrhaven Food Cupboard.

Kemptville Kinsmen Santa Parade
Saturday, November 24 starting at 5:00 pm – note late afternoon start time. Parade Leaves Kemptville College Parking Lot (Stinson Rd lot), from College Rd turns right on Concession road, turns left onto Clothier Street then left onto Prescott Street. Parade ends at Holy Cross School. The theme is “North Pole Fantasy.”

Brockville Santa Claus Parade
Saturday, November 24, starting at 5:00 pm. The parade is in the evening again this year with a theme of “Light Up Christmas. The parade will be marshalled along North Augusta Road from Pearl Street to Reynolds Road using the street and various parking lots.

Carleton Place Santa Parade
Saturday, November 24 starting at 5:00 pm. Wear red and white, bring your food donation with you. This year’s parade theme is ‘A Christmas Carol’.

Pembroke Santa Claus Parade of Lights
Saturday, November 24 starting at 5:30 pm. This winter, we will be celebrating the most exciting moments and traditions of Christmas Morning. The Santa Claus Parade of Lights will transform Downtown Pembroke into a joyous commemoration of the Christmas season. The parade will begin at Moncion Metro and end at Festival Hall.

Arnprior Santa Claus Parade
Saturday, November 24, starting at 6:00 pm. The Arnprior Santa Claus Parade will leave Winners circle at 6 pm. It will head down Daniel St turning left on Eady St and then right onto John St South. It will continue down John St South and turn right onto Madawaska Blvd. and then right again back onto Daniel St.

Orleans Parade of Lights
Saturday, November 24, starting at 6:00 pm. Once again the Ottawa Professional Firefighters Association will be hosting Santa’s Parade of Lights on St-Joseph Blvd. in Orleans. Toy and cash donations will be collected by firefighters along the route.

Gananoque Santa Parade
Saturday, November 24, starting at 7:00 pm. (Note later start time.) The Gananoque BIA is proud to host the annual Santa Claus Parade. The parade will begin at Gananoque & Intermediate Secondary School and head downtown along King Street making it’s final turn on Park Street.

Clarence Rockland Santa Claus Parade
Sunday, November 25, starting at 4:30 pm. The route will be the same as last year, starting on Héritage Rd. and ending at the Knights of Columbus hall.

Constance & Buckham’s Bay Santa Claus Parade
Saturday, December 1, starting at 10:00 am (note earlier start time.) Don’t miss the annual CBBCA Constance & Buckhams Bay Santa Claus Parade; floats gather on Baillie Ave. Parade runs along Bayview to Len Purcell and winds up at the community centre for hots dogs, Santa, and hot chocolate. Be sure to check out the Christmas Market & Craft Fair. Bring your non-perishable food item for the West Carleton Food Bank.

Merrickville Christmas Parade
Saturday, December 1, starting at 11:00 am. The annual Merrickville Santa Claus Parade, hosted by the Merrickville Volunteer Fire Department Association, will make its way up St. Lawrence Street starting at 11:00am.

Manotick Christmas Parade
Saturday, December 1, starting at 1:00 pm. Parade runs from the Manotick Arena and then south down Manotick Main Street. This is our favourite of the season! 😉

Perth and District Santa Claus Parade of Lights
Saturday, December 1, starting at 5:00 pm. The annual SANTA CLAUS PARADE OF LIGHTS makes its way through Downtown Heritage Perth. Starting on Sunset Blvd. at 5pm, the parade of lights will travel south through town (Wilson to Gore), turning onto Cockburn Street and ending at Queen Elizabeth School. The parade always ends with a visit from Mr. and Mrs. Claus on the last float!

Renfrew Santa Claus Parade
Saturday, December 1, starting at 5:30 pm. Parade will start at Bonnechere St South and Munroe Ave West. It will end at Opeongo Road and Raglan Street South.

Stittsville Parade of Lights
Saturday, December 1 starting at 6:00 pm. The parade will proceed along its usual route south on Stittsville Main Street, from just south of Hazeldean Road to Carleton Cathcart Street. Each year, dozens of beautifully decorated community floats set the tone for Santa’s much anticipated arrival at the end of the parade. Merry makers are also encouraged to stay for the lighting of Village Square Park, our new Christmas Market in Village Square Park (5 pm to 9 pm), and to share in some hot chocolate, cookies, and a visit with Santa.

Aylmer / Gatineau Santa Claus Parade
Saturday, December 1, starting at 6:00 pm. A tradition that goes back several years, this light-filled parade that departs from the Aylmer marina and attracts crowds from the entire region.

Hawkesbury Santa Claus Parade
Saturday, December 1, starting at 7 pm. Visit with Santa and some Hawkesbury’s associations while enjoying the parade that will start on James Street, will continue along Main Street and will finish at Hamilton Street.

Casselman Santa Claus Parade
Sunday, December 2 starting at 5:30pm. Route: Starting at the Laflêche boulevard, Isabelle street, St-Isidore street West, Percy street, Dollard street to finish on Principale Street South.We encourage all participants to make a donation of can foods or others to be used for Christmas baskets. (A truck will be at the start of the parade to collect donations.)

Osgoode Christmas in the Village
Friday December 7, starting at 7 pm. Parade route is from Osgoode Main St and Nixon Rd along Osgoode Main St to Stuart Holmes Arena. On Saturday, December 8, celebrate the festive spirit and join the Osgoode Co-operative Nursery School for their 26th annual Breakfast with Santa at the Osgoode Community Centre. Enjoy a delicious pancake breakfast and while you are there, do some Christmas shopping at their popular Silent Auction featuring a display of various local products.

Carp Santa Claus Parade
Saturday, December 8, starting at 12:00 pm. The route starts at The Diefenbunker – 3911 Carp Road and follows Carp Road, turning left onto Donald B. Munro, left onto Langstaff Drive, left on Juanita Avenue and right on Carp Road, finishing at the Diefenbunker. (Note route change: This is the opposite of last year’s route. The parade will be going all the way down Carp Road first.)

Pakenham Santa Claus Parade
Saturday, December 8, starting at 1:00 pm. Don’t miss Santa’s favourite event with the Pakenham Santa Claus Parade! Pack a thermos of hot chocolate and head to downtown Pakenham for an old-fashioned, festive parade.

Missing this year: At the time of publication in early November, I wasn’t able to find information about Richmond, Smiths Falls, Embrun, Almonte, Eganville or Metcalfe this year. If you have any information about these communities or others not mentioned above, please let me know and I’ll update the post throughout the season.

holly border

And don’t fret if you can’t make it to the parade – how about one of these other fun family events with a holiday theme in our region?

Barrhaven Breakfast with Santa

The morning of the Barrhaven Santa Claus parade, Sunday November 18, bring the kids for a breakfast with Santa at Mother Theresa High School. Seatings at 8:00 and 9:30.

Magic of Lights Drive-Through at Wesley Clover Park
November 16, 2018 through January 5, 2019. This magical event, that has quickly become a holiday tradition for many Ottawa residents and visitors, is composed of lighted displays celebrating the joy of the holidays. A “drive through” experience from the comfort of your own car, at every turn and in every direction the route is overflowing with spectacular light displays and animations. New attractions in 2018 will include “Candy Cane Lane”, a 200-foot animated Candy Cane celebration, as well as an all new twinkling “Snowflake Forest.”

The Vintage Village of Lights
Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from November 30 to December 2, 2018, 3 pm to 8 pm at the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum. There’s holiday cheer to share with family, friends, and loved ones of all ages at the Vintage Village of Lights! Our 1920s and 30s village is illuminated to set a picture-perfect scene as you explore the festive touches, decorations, and embellishments that have been a part of Christmas traditions through the years. As you enjoy your stroll around the Village, be sure to check out some of the fun activities we have planned including: decorating gingerbread; taking a horse-drawn wagon ride; receiving a Santagram; printing a greeting card; personalizing a wooden tree ornament; a site-wide advent calendar; and more. And, of course, don’t forget to say hi to Santa!

2018 Canadian Pacific Holiday Train
The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train hits the rails again in November, visiting over 150 communities. Since the program’s inception back in 1999, more than $7.4 million and over 3 million pounds of food has been collected in Canada and the United States. At each event, the Holiday Train provides a box car stage, a line up of great musical talents and a corporate contribution to the local food bank. The community, in turn, is encouraged to donate food and funds, all of which stays in the community. Local stops include Finch, Merrickville, Smiths Falls and Perth on November 28 and then Trenton, Belleville and Brighton on November 29. Check the holiday train schedule for more details.

Canadian Museum of History Tree Lighting Ceremony: Thursday, November 29
Thursday, November 29 at 6 p.m. Invite your family, friends and colleagues to count down to the lighting of the tree. Enjoy Christmas carols by la Chorale 7e-8e, from secondary school De La Salle’s Centre d’excellence artistique de l’Ontario, along with complimentary Beaver Bites and hot chocolate (while quantities last). You can also take the opportunity to visit the Museum’s Christmas Market, which opens the same day in the Grand Hall and will be open until 8 p.m. Note that the activities will take place outside, so please dress accordingly.

Upper Canada Village: Alight at Night
Bundle up for an evening stroll through this picture-perfect postcard setting! With close to one million lights adorning the heritage buildings, trees and fences of Upper Canada Village creating a one-of-a-kind magical backdrop for its annual Alight at Night Festival…a true winter wonderland! Times and dates vary, starting November 30 through January 5, so check the link for details. New this year: don’t miss the 1965 carousel of prancing horses that young visitors can ride!

Manotick’s Olde Fashioned Christmas
Saturday December 1 and Sunday December 2. The Village is transformed into a Village of Yesteryear. There will be a Victorian Tea and Penny Sale, horse-drawn wagon rides, pictures with Santa, face painting, strolling carollers and more.

Christmas Tree Lighting at the National Gallery of Canada
Tuesday December 4, 2018. Free admission from 5 pm to 8 pm, tree lighting at 6:30 pm in the Scotiabank Great Hall. All are welcome to enjoy special treats and activities, such as making a spinning snowflake ornament to decorate your tree, in-gallery sketching, watch Christmas movies in the auditorium, listen to the melodies of Stellae Boreales (and sing along to your holiday favourites) and enjoy a ride aboard VIA Rail’s Christmas Mini Train on the outdoor Plaza. See link above for more details and activities.

Christmas Lights Across Canada: December 5, 2018 to January 7, 2019
The 34th edition of Christmas Lights Across Canada will kick off with an official illumination ceremony on Wednesday, December 5, 2018 at 7 pm. Every night from December 5 to January 7, enjoy the Magical Winter Lightscapes multimedia show projected on the Parliament Hill buildings. People of all ages will get into the holiday spirit as hundreds of thousands of dazzling lights shine in Canada’s Capital Region and across the country.

If I’ve missed anything, or if you’d like to share information about your family-friendly Ottawa Christmas or Holiday event, please feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me at hello(a)danigirl(dot)ca and I’d be happy to add them to this (now epic!) post.

How many parades will YOU attend this year?


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Photos of the day: Maranda at home

19 October 2018 Mothership Photography

Traditional head shots aren’t a genre of portrait photography that I’m drawn to, but when Maranda wanted some photos of her being herself in her amazing condo for her business website, it sounded like a lot of fun. She’s a non-traditional sort of person, and she wanted photographs that would show her personality. Now THAT […]

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Photos of the day: An elopement! At the Manotick dog park!

11 October 2018 Mothership Photography

I don’t generally accept requests to take photographs at weddings, but not because I don’t like them. Being invited to document someone’s most important day is a huge honour, and there are always so many beautiful moments to capture. (Truthfully, it’s photographing wedding receptions that’s not really my jam, mostly because they occur to close […]

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Photos of the day: A summer-like autumn day at the orchard

7 October 2018 Mothership Photography

When this family and I planned a fun family adventure photo session at the Log Cabin Orchard south of Ottawa in mid-September, we weren’t anticipating blazing heat and high humidity, but that’s exactly what we got. Lucky for me, we also got two adorable girls and two patient parents, and bunnies! And apples – lots […]

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September Photography Special: Family Photographs at the Log Cabin Orchard!

4 September 2018 Mothership Photography

No lining up in a row! No poses! No stiff or cheesy smiles for the camera! No Sunday-best outfits! Just fun photos to remember your family as they really look and play in this beautiful moment in time. This September, I’m offering candid family photography sessions at the delightful Log Cabin Orchard near Osgoode. These […]

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