This has definitely been the year of all things Harry Potter in our lives. I’ve been reading the series to Lucas for more than a year (we’re about half way through the Half Blood Prince), and our trip to England last summer was pretty much based on cramming in as many Harry Potter references as we could manage, including a visit to the Harry Potter experience at the Warner Bros studio.

And since Lucas turned 11 years old this week, it seemed only fitting that he receive his official letter of acceptance from Hogwarts. It was surprisingly easy to make our own custom, personalized acceptance letter to the famous school of witchcraft and wizardry!

The Harry Potter wiki gave me the wording I needed. I found the Hogwarts logo on the wiki and used it for the header.

Personalized Hogwarts acceptance letter

It was short and simple, so I decided to add the second page with required list of supplies and books as well. This time I used the Hogwarts crest as a watermark. The wiki even had the signatures for Professor McGonagall and the Chief Attendant of Witchcraft Provisions. Details make the illusion hold together!

Home made Hogwarts acceptance letter

I picked up a small pack of parchment-like paper at the stationery store, but you could easily print it on regular, thick paper and use a wet teabag to give it a little colour and character or even burn the edges a bit. The fonts, in case you were wondering, are Luminari for the Hogwarts header text and Copperplate Gothic Light for the body text.

The question of how to deliver it was a little bit trickier. Dangling in the fireplace seemed like a fun but potentially messy option. When I started thinking about owl post, my first inspiration was borrowing an owl stuffie from friends, and then I realized that all three boys are collectors of the Funko POP figures, and a plan was born.

A little fishing line, a bit of shiny ribbon and the chandelier helped our new Hedwig POP figure deliver the scroll tied to her ankle containing the letter from Dumbledore.

Hedwig delivering custom Hogwarts acceptance letter

She’s a little small. In truth, she looks more like Pigwigeon than Hedwig. But, she did an excellent job delivering the letter, right at the beginning of Lucas’s birthday party. His friends noticed her before he did!

Lucas gets his Hogwarts letter from Dumbledore

Hedwig delivering custom Hogwarts acceptance letter

I love the look on his friends’ faces!

This was an easy and fun gift for an avid Harry Potter fan. I only wish I’d thought of it three boys ago! (And yes, I know that strictly speaking, the Hogwarts letter of acceptance doesn’t need to be delivered on one’s 11th birthday — but it was fun that we could make it work!)

If you have any questions about how we pulled this together, or suggestions that will help someone else do a better job, please don’t hesitate to comment!


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What’s that old expression, about never working with children and dogs? Clearly, I never got that memo.

I was looking back over the last year or so of my photography clients and realized that more and more families are asking if it’s okay to bring their dogs along for a family portrait session — and the answer is a resounding YES! (Ahem, as long as they are mostly well behaved and won’t be too much of a distraction.)

How could I say no to this level of adorableness?

Manotick family with dog

Family portrait with dog in Manotick

Ottawa family and dog photography

It, ahem, doesn’t always go as planned.

Family photo of kids with dog in Manotick

But is there any photo more sweet than a boy with his best friend?

Photo of a boy and a dog

I was even asked to be the photographer for an elopement at a local dog park. Now that’s my kind of wedding!

Photo of a wedding in the Manotick dog park

Wedding photography at the Manotick dog park

Lately, I’ve started working with more small businesses and entrepreneurs to showcase their business stories — but there’s still room for a little doggy love – especially in the case of this little doggy!

Photo of an entrepreneur and her dog

Whether you’re looking to capture your ENTIRE family, pets included, or show how your pup is a part of your daily work and home life, I’m happy to tell your story with your pet!


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

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

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

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

Yay me! New tricks for this old dog.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

There were so many of them!

Do you love spicy food? ME TOO!

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

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


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

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

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

Preheat oven to 375F.

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

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

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

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

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

🙂


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

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

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

#52in2019 #Week1

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

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

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

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

#dogwood52 #week1 #dogwood2019 #52in2019


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Photos of the day: Winter Fun at Watson’s Mill

3 January 2019 Mothership Photography

I don’t know why more families don’t seek winter family photo sessions. It’s certainly different from a family photo with the bright blues and greens of high summer, or the saturated colours of autumn, and granted, you need to be a little bit more diligent in playing along with the weather – there’s a fine […]

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Ho! Ho! Hooray for Ottawa, Gatineau and Eastern Ontario Santa Parades, the 2018 edition

12 November 2018 Happy holidays

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. Sometimes the parade season sneaks up on me, but […]

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Photos of the day: Maranda at home

19 October 2018 Mothership Photography

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

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

11 October 2018 Mothership Photography

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

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