This week, I tried to throw Christine Hennebury a curve-ball in our ongoing game where I send her a photo and uses it for inspiration in a piece of flash fiction. Joke’s on me, as I think this is her best story yet. The last line totally left me wanting to know what happens next!

Christine and I are having so much fun with this, we want to invite you to play along too. Details below!

Photo by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Patience

At first, I used to pretend I was doing something else. Enjoying the night air or whatever. Anything to get out on to the patio.

He never goes out back so he didn’t catch on, didn’t insist that everything outside be as ‘spic and span’ as he wants the inside of the house kept. I could just leave everything in a pile, a secret protest.

These days, I find he pisses me off so often that I can’t go through the pretense of a breath of fresh air. There’d hardly be time to get back inside before I headed out again.

So, now, I just keep my cigarettes tucked into a pink, plastic soap case in the planter outside our bathroom window. After that last soothing draw, I toss the butt down on to the patio and close the window.

You’d think he’d smell the smoke on me but I guess his lousy cologne has dulled his senses because he has never mentioned it. And I know he would mention it.

Another 384 days and the terms of our pre-nup are fulfilled.

For that kind of cash, I can outlast him.

You can read previous stories here:
Anticipation: A photo-story collaboration
The Plan: A photo-story collaboration

So, would you like to play, too? Christine gets one new photo a week, but I can send it to you, too, if you’d like to play along. We’re making up the rules as we go along. Post it on your own site or social media channels, send it to me and I’ll post it here, or you can post it in the comments – however you’d like to play along, but please link back to the original post here and Christine’s site. I think it would be super fun to see everyone’s different takes on the photo of the week. If you’d like to be included, leave a comment below and I’ll get in touch!


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Every year on or around the first weekend in April, the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers host an open house. I don’t remember how exactly we heard about Oliver’s Mapleworks in particular, but they met my planning criteria of a fun family day out that would likely be a little less crowded than some of the larger local maple producers like Wheelers and Fulton’s, and within an easy hour’s drive.

Documentary photos of families day in the life by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

We had THE BEST time! It was a decent day for a ramble in the countryside, not quite spring warm (so not muddy) but not as windy or unpleasant as it has been the past few weeks. (Sidebar: has anyone seen spring? Please release it to the wild so we can all enjoy it!) We were immediately greeted by a friendly woman who engaged us right away, taking us on a tour of the maple condenser and extractor, and the reverse osmosis unit they use to further concentrate and purify the sap.

Documentary photos of families day in the life by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

I think she said they had a couple thousand trees tapped in a sugar bush that has been producing maple syrup since the early 1800s. (You’ll forgive me for any errors in fact or egregious speculation. I wasn’t taking notes!) Most Canadians can tell you that sap becomes syrup by boiling it until most of the water evaporates, but I thought it was pretty cool that they can use a condenser to remove up to 2/3 of the water before the boiling process even begins.

Documentary photos of families day in the life by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

The tour itself was fascinating – turns I don’t know half as much about maple syrup production as I thought I did. And it seems like being a maple farmer is a LOT of work – she said on days when the sap is running, they get started around 10 am (when it warms up enough for the sap to start flowing) and often don’t finish until after midnight or later. Oliver’s is definitely a family operation, and our visit felt warm and friendly like a family-run business, too.

After our tour, we sampled maple syrup, maple butter and my favourite, maple sugar. Did you know that they’re all basically the same thing, just with increasing amounts of water removed? And further, we learned that all maple syrup has a sugar content of 67%. The variations in colour from light to dark come from the sap itself and can change based on the time in the season when it’s drawn.

Documentary photos of families day in the life by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

After raising our own blood sugar levels to what felt like 67%, and after a delicious lunch of maple sausages with maple mustard on a bun and, I kid you not, maple coffee, we had a fun wagon ride with the owner and proprietor of the farm, Dave Oliver, who further educated and entertained us.

Portraits of your family at play by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

But what’s a farm visit without animals? There were miniature ponies, goats, and bunnies to greet.

Portraits of your family at play by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Oh, and did I mention the free range chickens and five day old peeping chicks?

Portraits of your family at play by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

This was seriously one of my favourite family outings this year. The Olivers and their employees and helpers were charming and welcoming, and answered my endless questions patiently. (Yes, I am still that curious nine year old with my hand in the air. Some things never change.) There are more than a dozen maple producers open to the public in Lanark County alone, but I’d have a hard time imagining any of them putting on a better family day out than Oliver’s Maple Works. It looks from their website that they’re open for visits but “please contact us by phone or email if you are planning to visit us so that we can make arrangements to greet you.” It’s a drive we’ll definitely make again!

If you go:
Oliver’s Maple Works
158 Lakewood Lane, Perth, Ontario K7H 3C7
Phone: 613-264-8612
Email: tree.mapleworks@gmail.com


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We’ve been inflicting the pop culture touchstones of our teenage and young adult years on the boys, making sure they have a cultural appreciation of the literary and film influences that helped shape Generation X.

We were doing quite well for a while. The Princess Bride more than withstands the test of time, and Rent was well received. We’re all ecstatic that most of Monty Python’s oeuvre will soon be coming to Canadian Netflix (though eek, I did not remember The Meaning of Life being quite so, um, graphic!) It’s little surprise that since they liked Monty Python, they appreciated my reading of both the full Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (all five parts) and Good Omens by Pratchett and Gaiman. The music from LadyHawke was nearly unbearable, but the story is still sweet and enjoyable. I was delighted to find out that one of the boys added the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack to his Spotify playlists, and the Matrix was better in 2018 than I remember it being in 1999.

On the other hand, not everything passes the filter of a modern sensibility. We started reading Stephen King’s Christine recently, as I have been a King fan my whole life. After a few chapters, though, we gave up. There’s something distasteful in the narrator’s descriptions of the characters that feels not only anachronistic but misanthropic as well, and we just couldn’t get past it. Some of the character descriptions felt like they were pulled out the comment sections of any modern media article – full of othering and judgementalness.

While I remember most 80s movies for young people as being crass and crude (everything from National Lampoon’s franchise to Porky’s and Risky Business) I was deeply dismayed to find on rewatching that many of John Hughes’ movies could be sexist, ageist, racist and homophobic. I adored John Hughes growing up; he wrote what I thought were honest, true depictions of the teenage experience. I could, and have, waxed rhapsodic about the power of The Breakfast Club, how its angst felt like the voice of my generation, and I expected it to resonate equally with the boys. Instead, watching it with them about a decade after the last time I viewed it, I was devastated by the homophobic language, by the idea that the quirky girl has to have a makeover to become “normal” in order to be accepted, by the fact that a boy can be cruel and abusive and still get the girl in the end. Sixteen Candles was even worse – by far. How to reconcile these viewpoints? Can I still profess to love these books and movies when I can see so many troubling themes that I would not endorse or embrace in the woke world of 2018?

I had this blog post half written when I came across this article written by Molly Ringwald in The New Yorker about her concerns about these exact things. How do we reconcile our love for these movies when they are so desperately anachronistic, so out of step with modern perspectives and sentiments? In the article, Ringwald poses the very questions that I’m grappling with: “How are we meant to feel about art that we both love and oppose? […] Erasing history is a dangerous road when it comes to art—change is essential, but so, too, is remembering the past, in all of its transgression and barbarism, so that we may properly gauge how far we have come, and also how far we still need to go.”

In the article, Ringwald references an interview she did with John Hughes before he died.

In the interview, I asked him if he thought teen-agers were looked at differently than when he was that age. “Definitely,” he said. “My generation had to be taken seriously because we were stopping things and burning things. We were able to initiate change, because we had such vast numbers. We were part of the Baby Boom, and when we moved, everything moved with us. But now, there are fewer teens, and they aren’t taken as seriously as we were. You make a teen-age movie, and critics say, ‘How dare you?’ There’s just a general lack of respect for young people now.”

And that made me think of the incredibly brave, ballsy, clever kids in Parkland, FL, and how they have been leading an unprecedented and delightfully subversive charge against the NRA in particular and the Trump administration in general. It’s an almost vertiginous sweep, the distance we’ve come in just a generation or two, and stunning how different the world is now. But aren’t the themes John Hughes so beautifully illustrated – of belonging, of searching for meaning, of trying to fit in and stand out and find your place in the world – still universal?

In the end, Ringwald was able to balance her affection for Hughes and her contribution to the movies with her modern perspective:

John wanted people to take teens seriously, and people did. The films are still taught in schools because good teachers want their students to know that what they feel and say is important; that if they talk, adults and peers will listen. I think that it’s ultimately the greatest value of the films, and why I hope they will endure. The conversations about them will change, and they should. It’s up to the following generations to figure out how to continue those conversations and make them their own—to keep talking, in schools, in activism and art—and trust that we care.

What do you think? How do you reconcile a modern reading of classic movies or literature, when some themes are universal but others are so deeply anachronistic that you can barely bear to watch them, let alone embrace them? From Holden Caufield to the Honeymooners, there are no shortages of cultural touchstones who could never survive a modern filter. Is it enough to say, “they are a product of their times. It’s different now,” as I’ve said to the boys? Does it even bother you?


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Euro2018: Walking up the Eiffel Tower

by DaniGirl on April 7, 2018 · 1 comment

in Euro2018

We’re deep into the planning of our once-in-a-lifetime trip to London and Paris next summer. We’ve got accomodations, flights and EuroStar tickets booked, and now we’re starting to look at what exactly we want to see and do while we’re there.

Of course, on our must-go list for Paris is the Eiffel Tower. I’ve been up it before, when I traveled solo through Europe as a young thing back in 1995, and Beloved and I may or may not have gone up during our honeymoon in 1999. He’s not super fond of heights, though, so it’s possible we enjoyed the splendor from the ground that time.

I know at least two of the boys are keen to go up the Tower, though the third is happy to stay with Beloved and keep two feet planted firmly on the ground. And hey, I bet a girl can take a mighty fine photo from those elevated observation decks! But the tickets are not cheap, and not exactly easy to get either. You have to choose your date and time (to the hour) at least three months in advance. An inveterate ENFP, I hate the idea of being pinned down to any particular date or time for anything. What if it’s pouring rain at our booked time? What if we’re doing something else fun that day? What if we get lost in the subway and miss our booked time, just like I missed my flight home from Paris way back in 1995?

I did a little research, though, and one can take the stairs up at a much reduced cost, and with no advance booking required. Rather than €28 for three of us to take the lift to the second level and be tied to a specific date and time, we can pay €17.50 and go whenever our hearts desire. We won’t make it up to the very top for that price, but I’ve heard the views from the second observation deck are just as good, if not better.

There’s only one small thing to consider in this plan: 669 steps. It doesn’t sound too dreadful at first, but I started breaking it down. I work in the 17th floor of an office tower. There are 20 steps between each floor, so ground to 17th floor is only 340 steps. By comparison, there are 328 steps to the first floor of the Eiffel Tower, and then another 341 steps to the second floor. That’s TWICE the 17 floors up my office tower, if you’re keeping track. And while I’m reasonably fit, I’ll also be just a few days shy of my 49th birthday. While I imagine the boys will lope up the stairs like the long-legged gazelles they are, I was a little worried about my own stamina. That’s a LOT of steps, in high summer no less.

Ottawa photographerSo, I’ve been practicing. Back in January, I started with five floors. I took the elevator down to the 12th floor and made my way up. I added a floor a week, and tried to find the time in each day to walk the stairs at least once. This week, I did my first full 17 flights! Yay, I can now walk comfortably up to the FIRST observation deck of the Eiffel Tower, needing only a couple of minutes to catch my breath. I have just over three months to work on adding that second flight! I promise to share a sweaty, breathless selfie when we make it.

Have you walked up the stairs to the Eiffel Tower, or something similar? How did you do?


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Last week, I introduced a new game that my friend and fellow blogger Christine Hennebury have been playing. I take a picture and send it to her, and she takes it as inspiration for a piece of flash fiction. I love this photo on its own, because it was random and unposed and real, and some day I’ll miss the days when I look up to see a cardboard box running past. Her story makes it that much more perfect, don’t you think?

Photograph of a child running in a cardboard box

Anticipation

I know I probably shouldn’t but I keep ordering them online.

It’s the anticipation that gets me.

First I never know when my shipment will arrive, that depends on the incubation time, I think. Then, you never know when they will hatch. So you end up just watching the top of that cardboard cube like the miracle within will emerge any second.

Of course, if I want to meet the hatchling, I have to follow the instructions to the letter –

1) Remove the packing tape from the box but do not open the flaps.

2) Leave the box in a warm place – sunlight is ideal but near a heater is fine.

3) Drop chocolate and fruit in through the feeding chute every second day – they like oranges and Lindt bars best.

4) Sing or tell stories nearby daily and use a soft voice – that’s so the little one feels connected to you.

5) Leave a plate of chocolate on your kitchen counter – that helps draw the little one out once they’re ready.

Then, I wait and I wonder.

When will they hatch? What adorable ‘grow-with-me’ clothes will they be wearing? What snack will draw them out?

I ache from wanting to open the box early but I know these things have to happen in their own time.

I wait and wait, and sooner or later, I hear that strange snapping sound of the box-top opening and the slap-slap of those bare feet on my wooden floors.

That’s when I run forward, my heart thumping with joy as I watch my hatchling take their first steps toward the kitchen.

It’s just precious, the way they always burst out feet-first and head right for the snacks – their little heads still stuck in their hatching-boxes. It brings tears when I think of it.

Parenting joy is like no other happiness.

If you’d like to read more of Christine’s writing, visit her site. Stay tuned for another new photo and another new story next week!


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Once upon a time there were two bloggers, who were also mamas, and who both liked to tell stories. They found each other in the big wide blogosphere, which was really not so big in the mid-2000s. One blogger felt the pull of words, and she became a writer. One blogger felt the pull of photos, and she became a photographer. Both loved, above all things, to tell stories.

Several years went by, and they each appreciated the other’s craft. And then, one day, like a bolt out of the blue, they realized that there was much fun to be had and maybe some mischief to be found and definitely some stories to be told if they were to come together and collaborate. And here we are!

Welcome to our new project, which needs an appropriately pretentious but as-yet unrevealed title. The game is simple. I supply a photo that holds the potential for a story, and the inimitable Christine creates a piece of flash fiction inspired by the photo. Ready? Let’s begin!

A photography game by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

The Plan

Lying in the forest of legs, I tried to look relaxed. I was playing the part of a stuffed animal and I was determined to pull it off.

I mean, I *am* a stuffed animal, so I already have the right look. I just have to pretend that I am just a stuffed animal, that this adorable face hides only a pile of fluff instead of a magnificent brain.

My client wanted the blueprints for their rival’s new office building so she could wire surveillance equipment in during construction. Her attempts to hack into their cloud had been unsuccessful, so a more hands-on method was needed.

Their company retreat at this downtown hotel provided the perfect opportunity. The CEO always brought her husband and daughter on retreats so they could turn them into a family getaway.

The plan was to ‘lose’ me at the retreat so the only kid there, her daughter, would find me and bring me back to their room. Once I was alone, I would grab the jump drive with the blueprints on it, conceal it in my stuffing, and then wait for my opportunity to escape.

It was a flawless plan that hinged on my acting ability. I relaxed every inch of my fur and thought about listening to my client explain the plan again. My eyes glazed over with boredom.

I was ready.

Fun, heh? If you’d like to read more of Christine’s writing, visit her site. Stay tuned for another new photo and another new story next week!


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Spoiler Alert

23 March 2018 Ah, me boys

We’re standing in WalMart, of all places. I don’t even like WalMart and almost never shop there. But we’re in WalMart and we’ve just walked past several rows of pastel-coloured Easter goodies, and it twinges something I’ve been thinking about. “Hey Lucas,” I begin, leaning down to be closer to his 10 year old ear. […]

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Photos of the day: Bris for twins!

18 March 2018 Mothership Photography

Taking photographs at family events is always a treat, but for once-in-a-lifetime events, it can be a little stressful, too. This week I was honoured to be asked to document the Brit Milah (Bris) of twin baby boys! I was a little nervous about making sure I got the key elements of the ceremony, but […]

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Photo of the day: Dish pan hands

16 March 2018 Lucas

We had a dishwasher catastrophe this week. I’d just started a cycle when I looked over to see thick, angry black smoke pouring out of the electrical panel on our GE dishwasher. It’s only six or seven years old, but it has been doing a mediocre job on and off for a while anyway, and […]

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Photos of the day: Winter at the Long Island Locks

8 March 2018 Ottawa's hidden treasures

Hi! Remember me? I used to post stuff on this blog. I’m back! If nothing else, sharing photos of my favourite Ottawa places keeps drawing me back to the blog. You know how much I love the Manotick Mill, right? But I almost forget sometimes that Manotick has another gem of a location hiding in […]

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