Looking for winter family fun in Ottawa this weekend? Forget the crowds at Winterlude and head out to Manotick to celebrate Shiverfest!

The Shiverfest fun starts on Friday January 30 at the Manotick Arena with an exhibition figure-skating show by the Rideau Skating Club at 6 pm. At 6:30 pm, come warm up by a roaring outdoor bonfire built by our local firefighters, and enjoy hot chocolate, Timbits and music. There will be a family skate at 7 pm and at 8 pm, a Children’s Party with a novelty and magic show with Magic Dave and Circus Chris.

Activities on Saturday, January 31 include a fundraising Pancake Breakfast at the Manotick Arena organized by the Manotick Kiwanis from 7:30 – 11 am, craft time for children, sleigh rides in Centennial Park at 10 am, all day tobogganing and skating in Centennial Park and the ever-popular Chili Contest at the Manotick Legion between 12 and 2:30 pm.

Shiverfest horses

The Manotick Arena will host Little Ray’s Reptiles from 1-2 pm and “Bands that Amp it Up” from 6-9 pm. There will also be an Open Mic Night at the Hard Stones Grill, beginning at 8 pm.

Sunday, February 1 features the popular Trivia Contest at the Mill Tavern from 1 – 4 pm. You might just be lucky enough to win a prize like this one, a framed photo of Watson’s Mill on a frosty winter day, donated by Mothership Photography.

This year Shiverfest is donating a portion of funds raised to YOMA, the Youth of Manotick Association – family fun AND you’re supporting a great community organization. The forecast looks sunny and cold for the weekend, with lots of fresh snow between now and then, so there’s no reason NOT to get out and enjoy winter!

Disclosure: I pilfered much of this text from the Manotick Village and Community Association newsletter. Why reinvent the wheel when they said it so well?


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The request was simple enough. Beloved mentioned in passing the other day how much he loves hot turkey sandwiches for dinner. No problem, I can do that. Back in the day, this would involve storebought turkey with a can of gravy beside oven-baked fries from a bag. Oh baby, how far we’ve come!

I have still never actually roasted a turkey, although I’ll probably try that one of these days. In the name of simplicity, I decided to go with the store-baked sliced turkey from Farm Boy. Have you tried it? SO GOOD and probably the next best thing to home cooked. On the menu plan, I scheduled hot turkey sandwiches for a day I knew someone would be able to swing by Farm Boy to pick up some fresh sliced turkey. And some kale for a salad. The kale is always so good fresh from Farm Boy. And potatoes, baking potatoes for mashing, because gravy.

I knew that the gravy would make or break the meal. In years past, I would have bought a can of gravy, but I have recently started making my own gravy, and it’s been decent. I knew I’d need some stock for the gravy base, since I wouldn’t have any pan drippings. I learned this year how to make stock by boiling leftover roasted turkey (thanks mom!) for soup, and I watched Chef Michael Smith make stock from a raw chicken not too long ago on a re-run of Chef At Home. (They run an episode of Chef At Home every day on the Food Network, and we PVR all of them. Every single one. Whenever we have a night with nothing else on, we watch an episode or three. I highly recommend doing the same if you (a) are as obsessed with Chef Michael Smith as we are and (b) want to learn how to cook straightforward and excellent meals for your family.)

So you can in theory make stock from raw chicken, but at the butcher a whole chicken runs approximately $14. That seems a lot for a pot of stock when you can buy a litre carton of the organic stuff for a couple of bucks. (I know, you can probably get cheaper chicken, but I’ve become a bit of a princess about my meat and try whenever possible to buy the ethically raised stuff from Manotick Village Butcher.)

I was in the grocery store with a $3 carton of organic stock on my grocery list when I had my eureka moment. Remember when I said I’m a bit of a princess about my meat? Yeah. When I was thinking about chicken (or turkey) parts for stock, I had been thinking about nice whole roasting chickens, or at least bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. But in the meat aisle, I discovered all the sketchy bits are WAY cheaper. Deboned, skinless turkey breast is about $12 per kilo, but turkey necks and backs are about $4 per kilo, and this previously frozen wing and, erm, something was about the same. And from THAT I can make about six or eight litres of stock – which suddenly makes it both more cost effective AND more flavourful AND more healthy, because I am controlling exactly what’s in it.

You may be laughing at my eureka moment, and I’m okay with that. I’m laughing at myself because of (a) how ridiculously pleased I am with myself to have make these leaps of culinary development and (b) that it’s taken me 45 years to get here.

Here’s my $3.83 worth of turkey parts stock a-simmer on the stove:

Image: turkey simmering in a pot

Honest to god, it couldn’t be easier. You just dump the random turkey parts into a pot about 3/4 full of cold water with some carrots (I used baby carrots because that’s what I had, although I don’t usually buy them anymore) and celery that was a little coughLOTcough limp and some onion flakes because dammit, how are we out of onions again? Oh, and a bay leaf and a wee bit of sea salt. And oh my holy turkey, does it ever smell good!

You have to skim off the floaty bits every now and then, and leave it just at a simmer, not a boil, for a couple of hours. I’ll let it cool, and skim again, and then strain into two containers. One will get turned into turkey gravy with a little butter and flour for dinner, and the other will end up in a ziploc bag in the freezer until the next time I need stock for soup or gravy. If the meat weren’t the nasty bits, I’d even pluck it off the bones and add it to the freezer batch too, but, well, remember what I said about being a bit of a princess about my meat? I’ve got my money’s worth with the stock and gravy, and the rest can go in the compost.

So, is this as huge of a learning curve for you as it is for me, or am I alone in discovering what everyone else already knew?

Edited to add: Awesome tip from Foodieprints blogger Don Chow on Facebook: “if you broil the stock fodder (bones or wing) to colour (not cook) it a bit, you’ll get a darker stock…also, you can make stock in your slow cooker.”


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Some blog posts are more fun to write than others, and I had WAY too much fun collaborating with Beloved and all three boys on this one. And then I had TWICE as much fun creating the visuals.

Blog post title graphic: One dozen reasons why kinder eggs are better than chicken eggs

(A dozen! Get it? Cuz they’re eggs? I slay me. Just wait, it gets better!)

Let’s do this countdown style. One dozen reasons why Kinder Surprise eggs are better than chicken eggs:

12. Because the white inside a Kinder Surprise egg is not slimy.


11. Because people are delighted when you surprise them with the gift of a Kinder egg.
(Not so much with the chicken egg.)

10. Because chicken eggs don’t have toys inside!
Here’s a look at some of the new toys in the classic eggs for 2015! (There’s 50 new toys in each of the classic and pink eggs!)



9. Because you can keep a Kinder Surprise egg stashed in your glove compartment or work desk drawer or other hidey hole and they won’t spoil.


8. Because a Kinder Surprise egg makes a much more compelling bribe reward than a chicken egg.


7. Because Kinder eggs don’t come from a chicken’s, um, chicken parts.


5. Because it’s easier to share a freshly unwrapped Kinder Surprise egg with your brothers than a freshly cracked raw chicken egg.


4. Because Kinder Surprise toys are more fun to play with than yolks. Seriously, it’s no yolk!

Did someone say yolk, I mean joke?

Riddle: What do you do if your Kinder Surprise egg is upside down?

Where were we? Right – countdown! Top three reasons why Kinder eggs are better than chicken eggs:

3. Because you don’t have to cook a Kinder Surprise egg before you eat it.


2. Because you don’t have to spend five minutes trying to pick out slippery and evasive bits of shell when you unwrap a Kinder Surprise egg.

And the number one reason why Kinder Surprise eggs are better than chicken eggs? BECAUSE THEY’RE CHOCOLATE!!

What’s that? You want more jokes? Of course I have more jokes!

Riddle: Where do Kinder eggs from from? Eggplants, of course

Joke: Why should you never tease a kinder blogger? Because they can't take a yolk.

Craving a Kinder Surprise egg of your own? Who could blame you! If you aren’t already, follow Kinder Canada on Facebook, because they’ll be celebrating Games and Puzzle Week from January 26 to 30 with prizes and giveaways!

DISCLOSURE: This post was not endorsed by chickens. Also, I’m a #KinderMom who is part of the KINDER® Canada influencer team. As part of my affiliation with KINDER® Canada, I am provided with special perks and products. All thoughts, opinions and horrific exquisite puns are my own.


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In honour of the blog’s tenth birthday this month, I’m revisiting a handful of favourites from my archives. I think this post from 2005, which I refer to as “my epic wail,” was a seminal moment for me in a lot of ways. Years later, people still mention it to me, and it brought a lot of readers to the blog – people who I’m assuming felt exactly the same way. I think it resonates with people because it’s very close to a universal thing in parenting – we all at one point or other feel this sense of being stuck on a hamster wheel that’s spinning out of control.

It’s interesting for me to look back on that. I remember how raw and ragged I felt when I wrote this, and how exhausted and miserable I was. I want to go back to 2005 me and say three things: first, hang on. It gets better. (Ironically, this is the same thing I want to tell 14 year old me, and nine year old me.) The second thing is: breathe. Having two babies in the house while working full time was an insane thing to do. I stopped feeling like my life was spinning out of control when I dropped from five to four days a week, even though I’d subsequently added another child to the mix. I’m still stupidly busy, with all the other squirrels I’m chasing, but it’s been years since I’ve felt that desperate panic. The third is: iron. Whenever I start to get that breathless, anxious feeling, or when I find myself worrying over everything – and I mean everything - I make myself take two iron pills. They’re better than antidepressants for me.

The final thing that fascinates me about this blog post from 10 years ago is that I could bare my soul like this. I could never write with this sort of vulnerability any more. Blogging has given me many, many gifts – almost too many to count! – but it’s left some scars, too.

header history collage

Warning: you are now exiting the whine-free zone. Serious self-pitying ahead.

Is this it?

Do I spend the rest of my life on this out-of-control treadmill, trying to please everybody and succeeding to please no-one?

I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.

Revision: I’m feeling completely overwhelmed.

There is simply not enough of me to go around these days, and I feel like all the most important relationships in my life are suffering because of it. I don’t like the person I’m becoming because of it.

I don’t know how I’m supposed to keep working eight hours a day, plus commuting almost an hour each way, and still find enough time at home to be the mother I want to be to my boys. (As I typed that sentence, tears began to cascade down my cheeks. Shit.)

The boys wake me up about a half an hour before the alarm goes off most days, and although I’d really like the extra 30 minutes of sleep, at least it’s a little more time we can spend together. Then I have to ditch them on their father as I get ready for work and rush out the door, missing my bus about 1 day in 3.

I spend my day at work trying to cram in more work than I can possibly accomplish and leave almost every day feeling like I’ve worked my ass off but accomplished very little. Lately I haven’t been able to keep up at all.

By the time I get home, it’s time to start dinner. Dinner itself is a nightmare of stress lately. Tristan eats almost nothing, so I have to choose between letting him starve (tried it- doesn’t work), bribing him with treats (only works half the time) or just giving in and making him something he will eat. Then it’s a challenge to get him to sit at the table throughout the meal. Three times a day, each meal is a power struggle, and I just feel that if I had more time, more energy, I could approach this from an angle that would allow me to solve the problem rather than just riding it like a wave every single day.

Even if I manage to keep myself together through the day and evening long enough to have some fun with the boys, by the time we put them to bed I have absolutely nothing left over for Beloved. Nothing. We sit together and watch TV and chat for an hour or two and then I go to bed. He’s told me he is frustrated by my constant exhaustion. I don’t blame him.

Weekends don’t really provide any respite. There are so many things that need to get done around the house I could make a to-do list as long as my arm, so I have to balance spending time doing something as a family, whatever that might entail, or catching up on endless domestic tasks.

I can’t imagine how we’re ever going to get beyond the things that are desperate for attention (the 6-inch high lawn covered in weeds, the dirt scooped out of my plants last week and still waiting to be vacuumed off the bedroom rug, the endless loads of laundry) to get to things like painting, fixing the chips in the drywall, cleaning out the garage, replacing the broken banister spindle and all those other little routine maintenance tasks which really aren’t such a big deal, if you can find an uninterrupted hour or five and get around to them.

Is this it? Am I always going to feel this out of control?

I just don’t see how it can get any better. It’s been four months since I’ve been back to work, so it’s no longer just a matter of readjusting to a routine. Simon is finally sleeping through for the most part, so I get around seven hours of sleep a night and although I’d prefer nine, I should be able to function on what I’m getting.

I am constantly sacraficing one thing for another. As the old cliché goes, every day I rob Peter to pay Paul, except my currency is time. Revision: my currency is pieces of me, of my attention. I don’t know how to make “me” a bigger pie, so there is enough for everyone.

And that’s to say nothing about having anything left over for myself. Frankly, I’m the least of my worries. The biggest thing I do for me and me alone is what you’re reading right now, and for now that’s enough. But I have to steal time for that too. Usually from Beloved, occasionally from work. So I do it, but I feel bad about it. But I’d feel worse if I didn’t.

I am perpetually behind, perpetually running, perpetually forgetting things, remembering things I should have done yesterday, last week, last month.

I am not convinced I am doing right by my beautiful boys. I am short on patience, short on energy, short on creativity. Short on time. Short on quality. They deserve better than a frazzled, frustrated, tired mommy struggling with guilt and inadequacy.

Because we spend less time together, I want our time together to matter more. I have less time to mother them, so I must reach a higher level of mothering in the time I have.

It seems like every day is a struggle. I talked to my mom on the weekend, and she tried to tell me that this is just life with babies in the house, but I’m not mollified. Is it this hard for everyone? It sure doesn’t seem like it.

I want to do more, be more as a mother. I feel awful about the very dear friend who has called me about five times in the past month, whose calls I am now actively avoiding, just because I don’t have anything else to give to anyone right now. I feel awful because I should have more to give to my husband. We need to do more to strengthen our friendship, our marriage.

If I just knew that by holding on for X amount of time, things would improve, I think I’d be okay. But I’ve been on that verse for over a year now, and my CD keeps skipping.

Sorry, no big conclusion here, no epiphany, no relief. Just me sitting here with my mouse hovering over the delete button, wondering whether to even bother posting this.


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I was all fired up to blog about this outrageous story about a Maryland family who were reported to police and eventually had child protective services threaten to take away their children for the egregious sin of letting their six and eight year olds walk a mile or so to a park unattended.

But then I stumbled across this even more rant-worthy story. A mother in the UK sent an invoice to the child’s family in the amount of £15.95, which is just shy of $30 Cdn, when said child failed to attend the birthday party to which he had been invited.

decorations

I have more than one problem with this. Ahem. First, if you’re sponsoring an activity for your five year old’s birthday party, does it really need to have a value of $30 per person? What the hell are we doing with these out-of-control birthday party costs?

And that doesn’t even broach the question of invoicing the parents for missing the party. Okay, so let’s back this up. What actually happened?

The parents of a five-year-old schoolboy have been invoiced for failing to attend a school friend’s birthday party and have been threatened with legal action if they do not pay.

Derek Nash and Tanya Walsh found a brown envelope with a £15.95 “no show fee” left in their son Alex’s schoolbag last week, sent by his classmate’s mother Julie Lawrence.

Lawrence claims that Alex’s failure to attend her child’s birthday party has left her out of pocket, and that his parents had her details to tell her that their son would not be attending.

Nash said he had been told he would be taken to small claims court for refusing to pay.

And I thought $25 loot bags were over the top. Yikes!

We’re right on the precipice of birthday season here, with two parties booked in the next three weeks and one more birthday following up in March. (So far, one in home party and one on location party have been scheduled.) In the past, I’ve spent upwards of $200 for a party with a dozen kids and felt we got good value for that – sometimes, no amount is too much to pay to keep the screaming, sugar-jacked eight year olds out of YOUR living room, I totally get that.

Over the years, disasters have happened. The day before Tristan’s sixth birthday party at Starr Gymnastics was the epic snow dump we received in March of 2008, with 60 cm of snow falling in about 30 hours. We shovelled frantically to get out of the driveway and made it to Starr in time for the Sunday-morning party, but only his cousin and a dear family friend managed the same effort. Oh well. I wouldn’t dream of invoicing the parents for the missed party. In other years, we’ve called family friends in at the last minute and offered paid-for spaces at a party to their older children when guests cancelled at the last minute. Stuff happens.

As far as I’m concerned, the money I pay for my kid’s birthday party is a gift to that child. In other years, we’ve bought a gift that was more extravagant than we’d usually consider (eg refurbished iPods) in lieu of a party, and the kids were on board with that. I’m not running an entertainment facility and I don’t charge kids for admission to parties — I pay for parties because my boy has looked at me with those beautiful brown eyes and said, “Please can we have a party at LaserQuest again? Last year’s party was the best ever and I really had fun!”

We’ve had terrific discussions about where to host a kid’s birthday party in Ottawa (one of my more popular posts – note to self, you should update that one of these days) and the perils of loot bags (really, don’t even get me started.)

What do you think? Is this or is this not the most ridiculous thing you’ve heard of when it comes to kid parties? Or can you see a justification for this that I’m missing?


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I am still chuckling over the irony in the post I wrote back in 2006 about getting our family portraits done at the local grocery store studio. That was the last time I was ever in a big box store studio, for good reason.

Nine years later, I’ve learned a thing or two about portraits. While my “mommy goggles” love the subjects of these portraits, which made me love the portraits themselves, I can’t help but pick out some significant faults that make me cringe when I look at the finished product, some more egregious than others. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Ten things that are wrong with these portraits:

1. That backdrop

Seriously? It’s stained. It’s wrinkled. It’s AWFUL. And that colour? Is that brown or grey or khaki or what? I remember having the choice between this and a stark white and some sort of 70s inspired print, and this was the best of the three. It’s the stains that kill me, though. They completely detract from the portrait subjects. This is a “professional” portrait studio – at least have some not-filthy backdrops, for goodness sake.

2. The seam in the background

See that seam running down the middle of the background? First of all, it shouldn’t be there AT ALL. There’s a reason the most popular background you can buy for your studio is called “seamless”. And while it would be distracting anywhere in the frame, it’s horrible that the seam runs directly down the centre, effectively cutting the family in half. It would have taken just a few seconds and a critical eye to slide that out of the way. Better yet, a larger aperture and moving the subjects forward a bit would throw the (really really awful) background pleasantly out of focus. Backgrounds should either be complementary or practically invisible and certainly not so obvious – that curtain and its seams and stains and folds draws all the attention away from the portrait subjects, and also makes us look rather slovenly.

3. The posing

While I forgot that I wrote this blog post, I haven’t forgotten the actual experience of having the portraits taken. We received no direction about posing ourselves AT ALL. I had grabbed Simon and pretty much dropped myself into the photo, leaning in a bit to see past him. By fluke, our heads line up to make a moderately pleasing diagonal line, but look how unflattering that pose is for me, from the tension in my extended hand to the way I almost disappear leaning between the boys. I wasn’t posing, I was acting as a human corral trying to keep Simon in the picture. A photographer’s job is to give advice to the models about posing for flattering body shapes and pleasing composition and to capture family dynamics, not to simply activate the shutter once all the required bodies are inside the frame.

4. The outfits

Okay, mea culpa. I can own this one. It’s only been in the last two or three years that I’ve really come to understand how to dress a family for portraits. In this case, I had simply dressed everyone in their favourite outfits without really thinking about pulling everyone’s outfits together for a cohesive look. I’m not talking about dressing everyone in white shirts and jeans, either – we were close with the shades of blue in Beloved’s shirt and jeans and the blue strip in Tristan’s shirt and my blue jeans – but the colours in Simon’s outfit aren’t echoed anywhere else and my stark white t-shirt is a little too plain. The electric blue toes on Tristan’s socks keep yanking my attention to his feet and away from his face. Our outfits are not at all harmonized; coordinated outfits would have helped pull us together as a group.

This is what I’ve learned about dressing the family for portraits: coordinate the family’s outfits together in the same way you’d coordinate an outfit for yourself. Go for mostly complimentary neutrals and choose one colour (or two, if you’re bold!) to run as an accent through the outfits. Maybe mostly blues and cool greys with an orange strip in dad’s shirt, an orange scarf on mom, a warm yellow pinstripe in daughter’s plaid skirt and an orange t-shirt underneath a grey shirt on junior. Or something similar. You don’t have to be matchy-matchy, but you should consider everyone’s individual pieces of clothing as part of one big family outfit.

5. Cropped limbs

See how my leg is cut off right at the knee? See what it does to my leg? Just call me stumpy. There’s an old rule in photography that you never cut off a limb at the joint. If you must crop, and you should try whenever possible to avoid cropping limbs like this at all, cut in mid-bone. On the other side, the crop on Beloved’s leg is better, but I would have worked harder to ensure the entire family was whole with a bit of room to breathe on the sides for good measure. Same with the picture of Tristan and Simon – see how Tristan’s jeans tangent the edge of the frame, but there’s room on the other side between the edge of the frame and Simon?

6. Tristan not looking

It’s hard photographing excitable toddlers. Trust me, I know this. However, it’s the photographer’s job to WORK to ensure that the kids are actually looking at the camera, if that’s the goal of the portrait. If I need to take five snaps and do a head swap to get all the kids looking into the camera, that’s what I’ll do. It looks awkward and unbalanced to have one kid looking and one not. (And it would have been so much nicer had the photographer suggested the boys have some sort of contact or interaction with each other in that photo of the two of them instead of having them look like they were randomly plunked there, which is actually what happened – Beloved and I each dropped a boy on the rock and stepped back and SNAP.)

7. No attention to detail

I’d've loved it if the photographer took a second to tell me that Simon’s pants were riding up his legs like that, so I could tug them down. And all that crumpled leftover backdrop going every which way in the foreground is really distracting. It could have been smoothed and straightened in two seconds. As it is, both compete for attention with our faces.

8. The props

A big styrofoam rock? What’s a rock doing in a studio portrait anyway? You know I love props in my own portraits – wagons and apple boxes and cute kid-sized furniture. But this just doesn’t make any sense to me. I know I chose it – but it doesn’t help tell any sort of story, or contribute anything to the photo. It’s jarringly out of place. A nice bench or stool or even a crate would have made more sense.

9. The lack of direction

The photographer gave us no direction at all. I would have been grateful for suggestions about posing, props, or even any attempt to interact with the kids beyond looking bored and impatient when they acted like the two- and four-year-olds they were. I admit, I tend to err on the side of pushy during a portrait session, but I think direction is the job of the photographer, not the subject. The photographer should absolutely listen to the input of the subjects – they’re the customer, after all – but at the end of the day, being a photographer is about more than just pushing the button.

10. The abject lack of creativity

I get it. These are high-volume, low-budget operations. The idea is to get people in and out as quickly as possible: line ‘em up, take the photos, get ‘em out. But there’s no story here, and there are so many ways to elicit reactions that will result in a capture of the family’s personality and dynamic: have the subjects touch each other, have them look at each other, make them laugh by telling a corny knock-knock joke (I got a million of ‘em!) or asking who has the stinkiest feet in the family, ask dad to tickle one of the kids, tell mom and dad to kiss and watch the kids react… or just change up the poses a little bit, so everyone is feeling less stiff and anxious in front of the camera. Zoom in, zoom out, shoot from anywhere except dead-on straight.

What we have here is a picture, but not a portrait, and while it’s us, it doesn’t really show who we are.

What do you think? Are my expectations too high? Am I being overly critical? I mean, it took me five years of running my own portrait business to develop all of these skills, so should I be expecting them from someone who is probably told to get behind the camera, don’t touch the settings, and sell as big a package as possible while still getting the clients in and out as quickly as possible? Have you had similar or opposite experiences with grocery store or department store photo studios?


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Flashback faves: Picture this!

16 January 2015 Flashback faves

This month, I’m celebrating an anniversary-palooza of ten years of blogging by revisiting some of my favourite old posts. I have to tell you, I was utterly delighted to find this post about us getting family portraits done from the winter of 2006. I wrote long before I had even the faintest idea of opening [...]

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Photo of the day: Ice flowers

15 January 2015 Photo of the Day

Leftovers from our little ice storm last week: Pretty, but oh so cold! (I’ve sent my main camera off for service. It’s been a week. I’m starting to twitch!!)

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Flashback faves: So THIS is why we don’t host dinner parties

15 January 2015 Ah, me boys

In celebration of 2015′s anniversary-palooza and 10 years of blogging, I’m revisiting some of my favourite blog posts ever. This is from the spring of 2005. We had some friends over on the weekend for dinner. No no, we didn’t have them à la Hannibal Lecter, we had the grilled chicken fajitas you told me [...]

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Time travel – the 2015/10th anniversary edition

14 January 2015 Editorial asides

Can you believe the blog is TEN YEARS OLD this month? I’ve been blogging for a decade. And that’s not the only milestone anniversary I’m celebrating in 2015. Mothership Photography is five years old this summer. In March, I’ll be celebrating the 25th anniversary (!!) of my first day of work with CRA and Beloved [...]

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