You know what’s really awesome about cold January days when the temperature is hovering near minus 40C? You look at your website and realize there are nearly half a dozen terrific photo sessions that you clean forgot to share on the blog!

Let’s go back to late October. The air had just started to turn chill – warm enough to be out without jackets if you threw on an extra layer or two. In the case of this fun family of five, it was layers of matching red plaid – soooooo cute! This was one of the “documentary” family traditions sessions that I offered at the end of 2017. I am so hooked! There is something wonderful about tagging along with a family having fun together, and sneaking in snapshots along the way.

A few of you have asked me how this is different from a regular family photo session. In many ways, it’s really not — I’ve always been drawn to the candid “in between” moments during a photo session that show the laughter and emotion and relationships between family members. The main difference is that the goal of a standard family portrait session is basically to arrange the family in pleasing static poses, usually with everyone facing the camera and smiling. The documentary sessions are more about telling the story of your family’s personality, and capturing that in candid storytelling photographs. In a standard portrait session, I’ll say “stand here, and do this with your hands – move a bit this way” and offer similar direction. In a documentary session, I’ll just come along, watch, and take photos based on what the family is doing.

The kids here were great. I could see that they’d been told not to “pose” for the camera, and could equally see that they couldn’t resist doing exactly that. Some documentary photographers are more strict about this than others, and won’t take a photo if the subject is actively engaging the camera. I’m not that strict. I just like to make pretty pictures!

Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders tells stories with candid documentary family photography

Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders tells stories with candid documentary family photography

Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders tells stories with candid documentary family photography

We played a little catch – and a little fetch. :)

Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders tells stories with candid documentary family photography

Candid photograph of a family session at the park

Candid photograph of a family session at the park

Candid photograph of a family session at the park

And then we just played.

Candid photograph of a family session at the park

Candid photograph of a family session at the park

Outdoor family photographs in Ottawa

Outdoor family photographs in Ottawa

After an afternoon of playing (with each other and with me!) it doesn’t seem quite so torturous to stand together for one quick posed portrait that grandma (and mom and dad) will love! Five happy, natural smiles and I even got the DOG to look at me. That’s a major photographer win!

Outdoor family photographs in Ottawa

Y’all, I have to tell you – the more of “documentary” style shooting I do, the more it makes my heart soar. I LOVE these sessions! I love doing them, and I love how much the families love the photos. Here’s what they had to say:

Dani took amazing photos and was so fun to work with! She was very easy going and flexible going with the flow when our kids got too into it and decided to set up their own shots. She captured the unique personalities of all 5 of us plus our goofy dog! So much fun! Pictures we will cherish long-term and enjoy sharing this holiday season.

I’ve got one more Family Tradition documentary session to share with you from the end of 2017, and then I can tell you about the fun NEW project I’m planning for 2018. Stay tuned!


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Happy 2018!

by DaniGirl on January 1, 2018 · 0 comments

in Photo of the Day

I completely missed taking – let alone sharing – a Christmas photo of the family, or even posting a holiday greeting here on the blog. 2017 was just sort of like that, you know?

But here we are in a brand new year, and it’s the coldest new year’s day ever in Ottawa, so we thought we’d celebrate by making some frozen bubbles, as one does when it’s near -40C with the wind chill.

Happy 2018!

And I thought I’d share this greeting from the inimitable Neil Gaiman, because it seems like not only a lovely new year’s greeting, but also a pretty succinct summary of what I’d like to achieve in 2018:

‘May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.’

Wishing you and your family a happy 2018. I am looking forward to an amazing 2018!


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I was standing in the cereal aisle at Loblaws, having a conversation with their in-house dietitian about making thoughtful, nutritious donations to local food banks during the holidays. We were comparing the sugar and fibre content of various cereals, when she looked at a box that was higher in sugar and lower in fibre than the thresholds she’d recommended and said, “If it’s a choice between a child eating a bowl of this or going to school with an empty stomach, this is still by far the better choice.”

My own stomach clenched at the very idea of one of my boys – of any child — spending the whole day at school with an empty stomach simply because there was no food in the cupboard to feed them. I felt tears prick my eyes and very nearly swept the whole shelf into a donation bin. How is it that we have so much and that there are families in our community who don’t have enough food to get them through the day?

Did you know that for more than 850,000 Canadians, one-third of whom are children, the holiday menu will be determined by what’s available in the local food bank? If you’re a long-time reader, you know that for the last few years I have been on a nutritional learning curve of my own, learning to cook from scratch and make smarter food choices for myself and my family. I have to admit, though, that I never put much thought specifically into the nutritional content of the food we donate to the canned food drive or the various food hampers put together in our communities. I was intrigued when Loblaw reached out to me to collaborate on a blog post about the importance of choosing nutritious foods and ingredients to donate to local food drives instead of just emptying the cupboards of whatever your family hasn’t eaten. Loblaw grocery stores have been active in promoting and supporting local food drives this holiday season, and have set a goal to raise $1.8 million and 1.3 million pounds of food for Canadians.

Look for the donation bin at Lobaw food stores near you

Look for the donation bin at Loblaw grocery stores near you

To be honest, I didn’t even know Loblaws offered an in-store Registered Dietitian program before they reached out through this promotion. You can get personalized advice, attend a group session or register for a class in many Loblaws stores across Canada. I went to the Robertson Road Loblaws to speak with Chantal, a dietitian who covers several local stores. We did a little store tour and she gave me insight on making smarter donations to local food drives. Although every donation is welcome, here are some ways to make donations that are healthier and more nutritious:

  • Choose canned protein sources that are packed in water instead of oil
  • Pick low-sodium or no-salt-added food products
  • Consider donating ingredients instead of processed food products (e.g. flour, sugar, spices, nuts and seeds, oils, etc.)
  • For added fibre, donate brown rice instead of white rice
  • Choose whole-grain food products like cereals, crackers and pasta instead of ones made with white flour
  • Granola bars and cereals should contain less than eight grams of sugar and more than five grams of fibre

(Bonus: not only are these good tips for making healthier food drive donations, they’re good rules of thumb to follow for your own family’s nutrition, too! I learned other great tips from her as well. Did you know that longer-grain rice has a lower glycemic index, meaning that it is digested more slowly and makes you feel full longer? And that while green lentils tend to hold their shape when you cook them, red lentils turn mushy and virtually disappear, so they’re a good way to hide a little extra fibre in your soups?)

I’m a big fan of peanut butter donations. Whenever peanut butter goes on sale, I pick up a few for us and a few extra and drop them in the donation bin. One thing I hadn’t really thought of is that the food banks also serve people with special dietary needs like diabetes, gluten sensitivities and high blood pressure, so donating products specifically for people with dietary restrictions is a great choice. Meal supplements for seniors (like Ensure) are welcome donations. Donating dried beans and legumes or shelf-stable nut milks could be beneficial for vegans and vegetarians. And anything for babies (diapers, wipes, formula, iron-fortified cereals and other baby foods) would help young families in need.

Some great food drive items, as recommended by a dietician

Some great food drive items, as recommended by a dietitian

Chantal was full of terrific suggestions for smart food donations beyond peanut butter and processed box foods. She gave me a list of a dozen most-needed food items:

  1. baby food and formula
  2. no-salt-added canned fish and meat (e.g. salmon, tuna and chicken)
  3. no-salt-added canned vegetables
  4. no-sugar-added canned fruit
  5. whole-grain cereals
  6. whole wheat pasta
  7. low-sodium pasta sauce
  8. legumes (both canned – watch for no-salt-added – and dried beans, lentils and chick peas)
  9. peanut butter
  10. rice and whole grain products
  11. snack foods such as granola bars (watch for less than 8g of sugar and more than 4g of fibre), apple sauce, unsalted nuts and seeds, and dried fruit
  12. soup broth

Loblaws also has a “guiding stars” program, where foods with more stars point you toward nutritious foods that contain vitamins, minerals, fibre, omega-3 and whole grains versus saturated fat, trans fat, added sodium and added sugar. The more nutritional value a food has, the more stars it receives, so you can look for the two- and three-star foods to help you make nutrition-conscientious food drive donations.

While food donations are always welcome, many food banks such as the Ottawa Food Bank are able to make cash donations stretch much further by buying in bulk. Cash donations also allow food banks to invest in perishable items like fresh fruit and vegetables.

Each year, my teenagers’ school hosts a canned food drive where they collect tonnes of food for donation to smaller food banks such as the Shepherds of Good Hope. I’ll be more conscientious next year when making my donations, and resist the urge to simply reach into the back of the cupboard for the food we haven’t gotten around to eating. In fact, Loblaws has provided compensation for this blog post, and I want to use part of that to take the boys on a dedicated trip to do some shopping specifically for our local food bank via the bin at the Loblaws here in Manotick. I have some great ideas on which foods I want to pick up! I can talk to the boys about the importance of giving AND squeeze in a lesson about healthy food choices, too. That’s a win-win!

Disclosure: I was compensated for my time in researching and writing this blog post. However, as always, all opinions are my own.


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Euro2018: Booking accommodations in Paris

by DaniGirl on December 18, 2017 · 2 comments

in Euro2018

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we’ve decided to take the boys on the adventure of a lifetime next summer: a week in London, England and a week in Paris. I’m not the world’s most sophisticated traveller, so I thought it would be fun to share the planning process.

I’ve been watching flight costs since late August and haven’t seen any deals (we’re hoping for a January or February seat sale) and though it’s a little risky to book accommodations without having our flights locked in first, it’s so tough finding suitable accommodations for a larger family that I was comfortable locking in accommodations now and hoping to find flights to match later. I’ve read enough to know that Mondays through Wednesdays are the cheaper days to fly, so we’re booking accommodations for Tuesday to Tuesday and hoping for the best!

I’ve been to Paris twice before, once on my own and once on our honeymoon in 1999. Both times, I stayed in a charming and tiny walk-up budget pension on L’Île de la Cité in the very heart of Paris called Hotel Henri IV. I’d have booked it again for the family in a heartbeat based on the location and nostalgia alone, even though the individual rooms on each floor shared a common washroom and part of the hallway to the washroom was open to the outside. Sadly, somewhere between 1999 and 2017, it ceased to exist in its former location.

I spent hours in August and September rifling through vacation rental options. I knew that for five of us, hotel options would be limited and expensive – we’d either be miserably crammed into one room or paying extravagantly for two rooms. Having decided to rent an apartment, I agonized over locations: Le Marais, Sacré Coeur, the Latin Quarter, Bastille, and cross-referenced them against locations of attractions I knew we’d want to visit.

I had a few key criteria in mind, and a few other things that were nice to have but not dealbreakers. We would need at least four discrete beds, because I could not imagine inducing any of the boys to share a bed for a week. It would need to be central to transportation links and preferably within walking distance of several attractions. It had to have “character”, which is a little on the ephemeral side but a key filter to all my searches. And, I really wanted something with boulangeries, cafes and shops within a block or two. I wanted the boys to see “vrai Paris” and how Parisians really live.

By the end of the summer, after countless hours on VBRO, HomeAway, AirBnB, Booking.com and other rental aggregators, I’d built an annotated Google Map of approximately 20 apartments that looked most promising and were in our price range (I was trying to stay under $300 Cdn per night.)

Map of Paris

(Obsessive planner much? Seriously, I am having so! much! nerdy! fun! planning this trip.)

Okay, truth be told, maybe I was a little too obsessive, because having sussed out 20 possible places, I found myself paralysed by indecision – how to choose? So I decided to turn my attention to planning the London side of the trip for a while, and when I came back to look at Paris rentals again, there was a problem. A BIG problem, one that pretty much obliterated the hours I’d invested to Paris accommodation planning thus far.

Apparently, there has been a crackdown by the French government, requiring anyone who rents a property (e.g. through AirBnB and similar services) to register the property and obtain a 13-digit registration number, which must be displayed prominently in any online ads. The registration site opened in October, and all properties need to be registered by December 1st. I’d seen predictions that up to 60% or 80% of current apartments available for short term rental in Paris would no longer be legal (and therefore no longer available) as of the new year.

That certainly put a wrench in our vacation planning. I paused my searching until after December 1st, watching travel forums for advice and speculation, and started revisiting ads in mid-December. None of the listings I’d saved were displaying the registration number — but then it was hard to find ANY listing with the registration number in place. Leave it to me to be searching for a rental in exactly the time period that rentals are in complete upheaval. This is the story of my life as a traveller — missed connections and misadventures abound!

For a while, we considered hotel options. Five of us in a tiny room for a week held little appeal, but two rooms would push us out of our budget. Rooms in a hostel would certainly be an adventure, and it wouldn’t particularly bother me, but other travellers in our party were less enthused by the idea. I worried that when the 80% of tourists who ordinarily rented the now-illegal apartments began searching for accommodations in the new year, even the most meagre hotel options would be swept up. I was just about to resign myself to increasing our accommodation budget by a considerable margin when, driven more by impulse than logic, I saw a previous exchange of messages about a rental I’d put at the top of our list this summer and sent a fresh message to him asking about the registration number. To my surprise and delight, he not only confirmed that he had registered his apartment, but sent me a copy of his documentation from the city of Paris.

I’d had a few concerns about this rental from my searches earlier this summer – it’s about half a kilometer to the Metro, which will be a longish hike carrying suitcases, and it’s a sixth-floor walkup, which will also seem more painful with arms full of bags. The street itself seems rather unremarkable, once you’re used to the sweeping grandeur of Haussmann-designed sidestreets that resemble alleys more than roadways. It definitely wins on character, with two of three bedrooms tucked under attic eaves with skylights looking out over Paris rooftops.

What sealed the deal, though, (aside from the registration number, of course) was location. It’s two blocks north of the Louvre in the 1er arrondissement; if you know Paris, you know the location doesn’t get much better. (It’s the one at pretty much the centre of the map above.) And so we booked!

Photos of Paris apartment interior

Our little pied à terre

So now we have accommodations booked for both France and England, and I’m frankly so relieved I can’t even tell you how happy I am to stop thinking about it. Stay tuned for more details on the London booking in my next post, and may the airline gods be kind to us in finding flight dates to match our bookings!

What do you value most when booking accommodations? Are you a last minute “we’ll sleep wherever we end up” sort of traveller, or do you love to torture yourself by agonizing over every detail like me?


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Have you heard this one? Facebook is launching a Messenger application dedicated to kids ages six to 13. Wait, what? Did you say SIX?

From their launch message, Facebook promises:

Whether it’s using video chat to talk to grandparents, staying in touch with cousins who live far away, or sending mom a decorated photo while she’s working late to say hi, Messenger Kids opens up a new world of online communication to families.

Pretty rosy, right? All warm and cuddly. And I’m here to tell you that while those things might happen, 99% of the messaging is going to be between peers, and I am not sure how happy I’d be giving even my nine year old that sort of technology.

untitled

Let’s talk about all the things that are wrong with this.

Since kids under age 13 aren’t even supposed to have Facebook accounts, to use the app parents must download it and then authenticate it with their own account. So Facebook gets a new “customer” by way of the kid, but potentially also a way to get parents who haven’t previously heard the siren song to sign up for an account as well. And Facebook requires you to use the child’s actual name instead of a pseudonym.

Let’s just give a passing thought, too, to the potential entanglements of shared custody and parents who disagree about whether their primary school kids should have access to Facebook. But who’s to say that the person giving access to the kid is in fact the parent, or even a real person? Much as Facebook would hate to admit it, it’s not hard to fake up a Facebook account.

And then there’s the whole question of Facebook having even MORE data about my family than they already have. They’ve said they won’t serve up ads to the kids, but they haven’t said they won’t be collating the data they collect on our family relationships, or the kid connections, or just about anything else. Sketchy, to say the least.

I guess there’s an argument to be made for the fact that kids will be using iMessage or other texting apps already. I just feel like Facebook is promising a false sense of security and control, and while I love using Facebook, I do not trust their motivations.

I like how The Verge put it:

And yet at a time when I’m still struggling to understand how social media is altering my own mind, I’m hesitant to recommend it to children. The benefits of Messenger Kids to Facebook are too obvious, and too little acknowledged by its creators. And the benefits to children all but elude me.

I also think that my perspective with relation to my hypothetical six (seriously, are we really talking about SIX YEAR OLDS here?) year old and my actual thirteen year old are a little different. It’s possible that I wouldn’t have gotten my hackles up on this if it were marketed as an app for ages 10 to 13, instead of as young as six. In fact, it’s possible I bent the rules to help my then 11-year-old get an Instagram account, but you can bet I pretty tightly monitored it and that there were a LOT of conversations about responsible use. And as an aside, I find it more than a little funny that both my teens have Facebook accounts that sit idle. There are plenty of streaks happening on Instagram and SnapChat, but I’m pretty sure there are cobwebs on both Facebook accounts.

What do you think? Do you share my unease and distaste, or do you think this is a great new way for kids to be able to connect? Or maybe something in between?


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Last winter I spent a disproportionate amount of time kvetching about my boots to Tristan as we walked the dog after dinner each night. Our rural street is sidewalk-free and not a bus route, so it spends most of the winter with a hardpack of icy snow on it, and I hate, hate, hate walking on it when it’s slippery. It makes me feel like a little old lady as I totter along, focusing all my attention on ensuring that my feet are not about to go sliding out from under me. That’s no way to pursue my daily goal of 10,000 steps, with teeth clenched in anticipation of a fall.

Do you remember this article about how most winter boots fail even the most basic traction test from last winter? Of course my boots were not on the list, and I spent the whole winter idly wondering whether better boots would make for more enjoyable winter walks. It’s not the cold temperatures that keep me inside on winter evenings, it’s the fact that I just don’t feel comfortable walking on the ice — especially holding a dog prone to lurching at snowflakes and shadows.

That’s why I was particularly delighted to say “Heck yes!” when the nice folks at Mark’s invited me to a demonstration of the innovative anti-slip technologies and slip-resistant footwear they offer. I’ve always liked Mark’s for their variety of styles from work wear (whether your work is in an office, a hospital or a construction site) to casual wear. One of my family members is sporting a new Mark’s coat thanks to a Black Friday sale, and another wore his elfin-inspired Mark’s winter boots well into May last year. This is just a few of the boots they had in stock that illustrate the range of styles in men’s and women’s footwear that incorporated anti-slip technology:

Photo of boots

I learned on my visit to Mark’s that depending on the boot manufacturer, there are a couple of different types of anti-slip technology. Boots made with the Green Diamond (as seen in this Cascade model) and Vibram’s Arctic Grip (as seen in these seriously adorable Sperry boots) technologies have granules in the soles you can actually feel. They’re slightly different from a technology standpoint but the outcome is the same – improved traction on wet and dry ice.

2017-12-04 14.44.17

What was really fun is that they’d brought a giant slab of ice right into the store, so I could try out the various anti-slip technologies. I have to admit, I was impressed. First I just sort of kicked at the ice, but then I really tried hard to slide across it and it was like trying to skid across a hardwood floor with those little grippy things on your socks – I could feel the boots literally digging into the ice. You can see here where I’ve made scratches in the ice trying to skid.

2017-12-04 14.48.15

Over the years, I’ve tried a few different cleat and crampon-type solutions and have always been frustrated by them. Either they’re a hassle to use, or they fall off, or they destroy my 20m wooden porch as I traverse it from the front door to the driveway. It makes so much sense to have a gritty texture baked right into the soles of the boot, and it’s so thoroughly embedded that even as the rubber wears away through use, new bits of the grippy grit material are exposed, ensuring you many years of traction.

The article I referenced earlier was based on a study that’s put out by iDAPT, part of Toronto Rehabilitation Institute – University Health Network, called “Rate My Treads.” It’s a very Canadian innovation: they’ve set up a lab to test the slip-resistance of boots by having real people walk in the boots across icy surfaces in subzero temperatures with winds up to 30 km per hour. They traverse an incline and give snowflake ratings based on the boot soles’ ability to maintain traction. They found last year that more than 90% (!) of the boots they tested did not meet their minimum standard for slip resistance. Mark’s carries several of the brands that did meet that minimum threshold, though, including Merrell, Sperry, and Wind River. See the full list of boots that iDAPT tested and rated here.

Are your winter boots on the nice list or the naughty list this holiday season?

(Disclosure: I received compensation for participating in and writing about the demonstration of the technology behind Mark’s slip-resistant boots, but all opinions expressed here are fully my own.)


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The Magic of Christmas and the Portable North Pole

22 November 2017 Happy holidays

You know what I love? Christmas. You know what one of my favourite things about Christmas is? Revisiting the same traditions year after year as the boys get older and watching them reinterpret the traditions for whatever age they are at. It’s been nearly a decade since we discovered the Portable North Pole (PNP), and […]

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Euro2018: Planning for the adventure of a lifetime

15 November 2017 Euro2018

Every now and then in my life, a luck bomb explodes. Circumstances happen to come crashing together in a way that makes amazing opportunities drop into my lap. One of those resulted in my amazing solo trip to Europe in 1995, and another resulted in our family trip on the Allure of the Seas back […]

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Photos of the day: The end of porch season 2017

7 November 2017 Mothership Photography

It has been a busy end-of-autumn run on the porch, so busy that I haven’t had time to blog about all the adorable kiddoes and their sweet families who came for portraits. Autumn is the craziest season for family portraits! It was still quite summer-like for fall when this little fellow came to the porch […]

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Ho! Ho! Hooray for Holiday Parades, the 2017 edition!

7 November 2017 Ottawa Family Fun

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. It’s been a dozen (!!) years since our first […]

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