Today’s entry on the (never-ending) list of things I never expected to do as a parent: ordering Kool-Aid packets off the Internet so I could dye my son’s hair.

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It never gets old, this parenting thing!

It’s not that I didn’t want Tristan to colour his hair, or even that I didn’t want to pay for it. Last March Break, he had a single foil of red put into his hair at his bangs. He quite liked it, and it faded nicely to a copper before disappearing entirely around the end of the summer. In the interim, I had my own hair coloured at a salon for the first time ever, adding all the colours (because really, why limit yourself to just one?) and over the year learned everything I never knew about caring for colour-treated hair.

This spring, I picked up a couple of tubes of semi-permanent colour in cyan and magenta, and we tried to add a little colour to the bottom inch or two of Tristan’s hair at the nape of his neck. First we tried the cyan, which came out more of a murky green on his dark golden hair, and was virtually undetectable pretty much from the first day. A few weeks later we tried the magenta, leaving it on longer, but to the same result. In fact, you could see the magenta dye in my cuticles longer than you could see any trace of it in his hair.

He didn’t want to commit to bleaching his hair as he quite likes his natural colour, but still wanted to have a little pop of colour. And that’s when my brilliant Facebook friends told me about Kool-Aid dip dyeing. Did you know that’s a thing? Maybe it wasn’t on my radar because I never dreamed of colouring my hair until I knew I could have all the colours, but I’d never heard of it before. I poked about for a while on Google, and it seemed simple enough: a packet or two of unsweetened Kool-Aid, some hot water, and 15 minutes of your time. Sure, that’s worth trying.

Problem: did you know they don’t sell those little enveloped of unsweetened Kool-Aid mix in Canada anymore? When did that happen? I have clear memories of buying it for the kids when they were toddlers, but they have no memory of ever drinking it. (I picked up the closest equivalent I could find, those pre-sweetened singles that you add to a glass of water, and they gobbled them up like crack. But – don’t use those in your hair. You need the UNsweetened mix.)

You know you’re down the rabbit hole when you are reading Facebook posts lobbying Kraft to bring the unsweetened envelopes back to Canada, and you are really past the point of no return when you decide the best course of action is to actually order some from the Internet. (I found this site to be reliable and quick, should you also be looking for a source.)(Not a sponsored post – more of a PSA!)

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Getting the Kool-Aid was definitely the more challenging part of this adventure. Actually colouring Tristan’s hair with it was surprisingly easy!

I read a few tutorials online to get a feel for the process. (I swear, I will read a 10,000 word blog post before I will watch a three-minute video. I am old skool, give me words, please!) It seemed I had two basic options: mix Kool-Aid in boiling water and dip the hair in it, or mix Kool-Aid with conditioner and paint it onto the hair. I wanted the path of least resistance and most intense colour, so we went for the dip dye.

I put a cup of water into a pot and brought it to a simmer, then added two packages of (unsweetened) Kool-Aid. Tristan chose the Strawberry flavour because we were aiming for more pinkish than red. It was, as you can see, quite red.

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I let it simmer for a few minutes, but because we were on a tight timeline, not for too long. I imagine if you let it boil down a bit, the colour would be even more intense. While it was boiling, I pulled Tristan’s hair into a little ponytail at the base of his neck.

This is where you have to be careful. You want the mixture to still be hot, because heat opens up the hair cuticle so the colour is more fully absorbed. On the other hand, you do not want to scald anyone. I poured the mix into a small mason jar, but a juice glass or mug would also work. Be careful – it will be hot! I let it sit for three or four minutes.

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I sat on the sofa and he sat on the floor at my feet with an old towel on his shoulders. (Important! Kool-Aid may stain your towels and clothes!) I carefully dunked his ponytail and held the jar in place for about five minutes. I think it may have been closer to six.

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And that’s all there was to it! I pulled the ponytail out of the dye mix and carefully squeezed the excess out of his hair, and then released the ponytail and towel-dried the ends of his hair. He let it air dry and this was the result.

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It was a little sticky, but he left it overnight (with a towel for a pillow case!) and rinsed it with lukewarm water the next day. The colour is AMAZING! So much more vivid than the tubes from the beauty supply store! It’s been a few days and I haven’t seen much fading at all. By some accounts I read online, it should last at least a few weeks. Others said it just grew out.

Have you ever dip-dyed your hair? I hear it was quite the thing to do circa 1995, but I totally missed it back then. This was fun, and we still have quite a few packages left over. Heck, maybe I don’t need to go back to the salon for my rainbow touch-ups???

self-portrait of Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders


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If you’ve worked with me for family portraits, you know my sessions are always a mix of some shots that are more candid and some that are more posed. My favourites are ALWAYS the candid ones. To me, they’re the ones that tell the true story of your family in this moment in time. It’s how I document my own family: rather than posing the kids, which always looks a little stiff, I just give them something to do and step back, taking photos of them being themselves.

About this time last year, I had a super fun morning with this sweet family out playing in a local park. When they got back in touch this year, I was thrilled that they were looking for a session in their home. I suggested the idea of a ‘day in the life’ storytelling approach, and they loved the idea. Mom and Dad planned a bit of science fun with some corn starch (and maybe some flour?) and some food colouring, and I was ready with my camera.

Here’s a few of they key shots (there were so! many! more!) that do a good job of telling the story of the day.

Candid storytelling photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Candid storytelling photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Candid storytelling photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Candid storytelling photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Candid storytelling photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Candid storytelling photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Candid storytelling photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Candid storytelling photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Candid storytelling photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Of course, there’s always a few minutes for some more traditional posed shots, too.

Candid family photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

A day in the life - fun with science!

Candid family photographs by Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

There are a lot of reasons why this sort of session is better than lining everybody up and asking them to say cheese. It was raining while we did this session, so we did not have to worry about the weather. I was a little worried about the light, but with those big windows, even the diffuse light of a dark day was plenty – and lovely, in fact. And really, what’s a better backdrop for your family than your home? If your home is not perfectly tidy, that’s okay, too. It’s just more authentic *you* for the photos. :) (Trust me, I am never one to judge the mess level in someone else’s home. Glass houses, y’all!) Your family will be more at ease in front of the camera when they’re in a comfortable environment and have something fun to do. And there’s no shortage of things to do during a storytelling session: do a craft, bake some cookies, play in the yard, have brunch, plant some flowers — anything you’d do with your family anyway, just with your own personal mamarattzi sticking her lens into the middle of it.

If you’d like me to help document the story of a day in the life of your family, don’t hesitate to get in touch!


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A tulip story

by DaniGirl on May 16, 2017 · 0 comments

in Life in Ottawa, Photo of the Day

Five years ago, I got some of my favourite photographs of Parliament Hill, as seen over the tulip beds behind the Canadian Museum of History.

Pretty Parliament

Though I’ve taken many, many, MANY photos of the tulips and the Parliament Buildings since then, I thought this would be a good year to go back and revisit those iconic shots with a better camera, a better lens and frankly, better technical chops.

It’s a bit longer of a walk from where I’m working now to the History Museum, but I showed up for work early to buy myself some extra lunch hour, ate my lunch early at my desk, and set off with my camera into a perfect spring day.

It’s been about a week since the flooded Ottawa River crested, and parts of the foot path that had been submerged just last week were clear and dry.

(I quite liked this shot from last Tuesday, the day the flood waters crested. None shall pass on this submerged multi-use path behind the Library and Archives buildings!)

Photo of Ottawa flooding by Danielle Donders

When I crossed the Portage Bridge, the waters were still high and raging. The sound of rushing water was still powerful – but not as intense as last week.

As I crossed over to the Quebec side and picked up the multi-use path on the other side of the river, there were clues to which perhaps I should have paid more attention. But, I did not.

Photo of blocked path by Daniele Donders

You’d think this would be a clue to which I should have paid attention.

Photo of sinkhole in bike path by Danielle Donders

The water was washing right up on to the path in a few spots. Still, I did not take the hint.

Photo of flooded bike path by Danielle Donders

You’d really think this would have been a sign of things to come. (Get it? Sign? I slay me.)

Photo of underwater sign by Danielle Donders

Nevertheless, she persisted. And what she found when she finally arrived at the back lawn of the History Museum, looking out over the still-swollen Ottawa River and the Parliament Buildings beyond, was one sad little tulip, and the remains of a tulip bed that had been, until very recently, completely underwater. Ottawa’s great flood of 2017 was not kind to the flower beds.

Photo of tulip and Ottawa flood by Danielle Donders

Alas, poor tulips, I knew them well.

I guess we’ll have to wait until Spring 2018 to revisit that iconic tulip shot from behind the History Museum. If anybody needs me, I’ll be on Parliament Hill. They chose it for its elevation – the flood waters never came anywhere near these beauties!

Photo by Danielle Donders


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My big-hearted friends are fostering a mama cat and her brand new litter of kittens, and they were kind enough to let the boys and I come over for a visit. You didn’t think I’d leave my camera behind, did you?

This is Abby. I love this photo because her expression says everything I felt about giving birth and newborns. “What the HECK just happened here?” I think I had that look in my eyes until the kids were in school.

Hello kitties!

See how her paw is positioned? She reflexively strokes them to bring them in to nurse. So sweet!

There are five kittens in the litter: three tabbies, a black and a grey who reminds us a lot of Lucy. Abby herself is barely an adult at 18 months.

Hello kitties!

Don’t worry, Mama Cat, Lucas seems to be saying as she carefully watches (but tolerates) him holding one of her babies.

Hello kitties!

They are so! tiny! And can you believe at five days old they’re already double the size they were at birth?

Hello kitties!

Tristan is our cat whisperer. Lucy and Willie sleep on him at night, and this little kitten went right to sleep in his hands. Even Mama seemed less distressed when he was holding one of her babies than she was with the other boys.

Hello kitties!

This is my favourite though, I think. A wee little baby having a lazy suckle from a patient mama.

Hello kitties!

I’ve never seen animals so young before, so it was a real treat to be able to share them with the boys. And no, we didn’t keep any of them. Yet. Lovely as they are, and beautiful as the miracle of their arrival is, I’m still quite glad that Lucy and Willie are fixed. There’s enough kitties in the world!


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Back in 2008, I heard a story on the CBC radio program Spark about Jamie Livingston, who took over 6,000 Polaroid photos – one each day for 18 years. That story inspired me to start my own “photo a day” project in 2009, which lead in time to my photography business and so much more. I recently stumbled across the retelling of Jamie’s photo project in this video, and thought it worthy of sharing here. It’s really amazing to think of him taking these photos in the days before digital!

If you can’t view the video, you can see the original on Mental Floss.

If you’ve been reading along lately, you know I’ve been inspired to incorporate more storytelling into my photography. Over the years I’ve worked on my technical skills (exposure, focus, light, etc) and then my compositional skills. I’ve refined my digital post-processing skills, played with black and white, and worked on how to pose people.

Now it’s time to level-up once more and hone my storytelling skills. I’ve always valued a photograph with a “moment” more than a technically perfect photo, and lately I’ve started to move my photography business in the direction of less posed portraits and more documentary photography. And so, the very same story that inspired my Project 365 has motivated me to start a new project: the Story of the Day. I don’t think I have the stamina to do one every single day, but that’s what I’ll be looking for in my personal photography this year: photos that tell a story.

Here’s a great example! This is breakfast at our house. Lucas has made some freezer waffles for himself and instead of syrup has coated them in peanut butter and chocolate sprinkles. As he eats, he’s watching YouTube videos and Bella is watching expectantly for a stray morsel to drop. The light behind him is what brings it all together, I think.

"Are you going to finish that?"

I love this picture, and I’m excited about the idea of telling more stories through photography this year. I know from looking back on my archives, the photos that document the minutiae of every day life are the ones that resonate with me. And, I’m just a sucker for a new project. I think I’ll aim for one Story of the Day photo each week. One down, 51 to go!


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It’s a weeknight and Beloved is working late, which almost never happens. I’m in charge of making school lunches, which happens as seldom as I’m able to get away with, and I realize that we have no home-baked snacks. Beloved, who is usually in charge of lunches, has taken to heart my preference that we reduce our processed food consumption as much as possible, and pretty much every day, the boys have some sort of home-baked snack in their lunches.

Except, Beloved is away and we are out of cookies. This is a confluence of events I could not have foreseen in my wildest nightmares, let alone foreseeing it in the Bearpaw aisle when I did the groceries earlier this week. This is my comeuppance for being the uppity family that doesn’t rely on Oreos and Pirate cookies anymore. We don’t buy that kind of snack food BUT WE’RE OUT OF COOKIES on my lunch duty day.

As I’m poking through the cupboards thinking of sending them with crunchy lentil surprise (SURPRISE!), I come across three audaciously freckled bananas. Just this past weekend, I threw away the 352 frozen freckled bananas that we have been keeping stashed in the freezer in case the banana bread fairy were to drop by and find herself impelled to bake a loaf or seventy. Huh, I think. I could make banana bread.

So you might have noticed earlier that I made reference to Beloved doing the baking. I don’t bake. I will admit that over the last five years or so, I’ve turned into a confident, creative cook of the sort I did not even know existed within me five years ago. But baking, with its reliance on measuring and recipes and exactitude paying attention, has always eluded me. Beloved is a much better baker than I am. But it’s banana bread. How hard could it be? *insert ominous music here*

I find a decent recipe on Canadian Living, and run a comparison of the ingredient list to what we have in the pantry and we have a match. (Seriously, when did I become a person with a pantry sufficiently stocked that I can bake on a whim? Probably around the same time I became a person who bakes on a whim? Perhaps you might keep a watchful eye for other signs of the pending apocalypse.)

I’ve got the dry ingredients done when we develop a banana issue. Apparently three bananas fall far short of the required two cups. I look longingly at the now-empty banana hook, but additional ripe bananas fail to materialize. I figure the bananas are probably only adding flavour anyway, and I am not fond of an overly obnoxious banana taste, so I carry on with about 2/3 of the prescribed banana. In mixing the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, the additional purpose of the bananas becomes clear: my batter has the consistency of, um, not batter. Something drier than batter, more like the houseplant that you forgot behind the shutter for a year. I cast one more longing glance at the empty banana hook, and then start rooting through the fridge thinking of banana alternatives. More eggs or milk will mess with the structure too much. What else do we have?

Cream cheese? Great for mashed potatoes, not so much for banana bread. Spicy adobe peppers? I’d actually eat that, but the kids’ mouths would burst into flames. I’m reaching for the sour cream and have to move the apple sauce out of the way when I realize – APPLE SAUCE! Substituting one mashed-up fruit for another seems like a decently plausible idea, and it vastly improves the texture of the batter.

It sure LOOKS like banana bread.

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Beloved will be so surprised when he gets home from his meeting and he finds my first ever loaf of chocolate-chip banana bread a sink load of every dirty dish in the kitchen waiting for him!


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A Visitor’s Guide to Ottawa 2017 Family Fun

10 February 2017 Ottawa Family Fun

An old bloggy friend reached out recently and said he and his family were thinking of visiting Ottawa for the first time this summer, and asked if I had any recommendations for things to see and do. Yes, I might know a thing or two about family activities in Canada’s capital! While I’ve got oodles […]

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Before and after: A fun maternity and newborn photo shoot

4 February 2017 Mothership Photography

Last autumn, one of the final photo shoots I did before the wind turned bitter and the snow started to fall was a maternity session with a friend and former colleague at the Lime Kiln Trail. It turned out to be one of my favourite sessions of the year, and not just because of my […]

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Photos of the day: Reflections of Parliament

23 January 2017 Life in Ottawa

I miss not working downtown anymore mostly because I miss creeping around with my camera. I’m sure the two most-photographed buildings in my archives are Watson’s Mill in Manotick and the Parliament Buildings, and I’m not sure which one would come out ahead quantity-wise. So when I had the occasion on Sunday morning to do […]

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Five books that changed my life, and other rambly bookish thoughts

18 January 2017 Books

I have been thinking about reading lately. At the end of last month, Goodreads kindly wrapped up all the books I read in 2016 (I’m fairly diligent about recording them) and told me I’d read a whopping 15 books during the year. That includes the five novels I read out loud to Tristan and Simon […]

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