Of all the things in nature, save for maybe PEI beaches, I think I have more photographs of coneflowers than anything else. There’s something about them, like sunflowers, that I just can’t resist. Heaven is 30 minutes in my garden on a quiet Sunday morning, creeping around them and playing with angles — and then hours spent with Lightroom and Photoshop, satisfying my curiosity on the question “I wonder what would happen if I tried this. Oooo, how about this?”

Apparently, THIS is what happens:

Coneflower studies

Coneflower studies

Coneflower studies

Coneflower studies

Coneflower studies

Coneflower studies

This next one, the observant viewer will notice, is not a coneflower. Somehow, a rogue clematis caught my attention. Isn’t it a little late in the season for clematis? Regardless, I loved the dreamy effect of the very shallow depth of field and the way the leaves seem to swirl around the purple centre.

Coneflower studies

You think this is repetitive? You should see the other 114 variations on my hard drive!

Do you have a favourite? The more I look at it, the more I think maybe that first one might be wall-worthy.


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Sometimes, I have an anecdote that I want to share like I did back in the day, but I don’t have a photo to go with it. Despite having my own stock library of nearly 6,000 images on Flickr alone, sometimes there just isn’t a photo that goes with the story.

And sometimes, I have photos that I like that don’t really have a story.

I’m really sort of appalled that it took me this long to marry the two of them together.

I like this photo, of a red fishing shack full of lobster traps. We discovered it wandering around the fishing village of French River, in Prince Edward Island.

image by Ottawa family photographer Danielle Donders

When Tristan first stayed in the house by himself, I used to make him text me when he arrived and about every hour. That lasted about a month before we both got tired of it. I was less strict when Simon started staying by himself, partly because I had calmed down a bit, and partly because by then Tristan was usually also home with him. They were both quizzed thoroughly on a long line of do’s and don’ts — don’t answer the door, don’t tell people you are home alone, don’t use the stove. Okay, maybe they were all don’ts.

This summer being home on vacation, Lucas learned how to prepare a tin of tomato soup for lunch. A few days later, Beloved and I returned from running a few errands together, having left the three boys with the elders more or less in charge, and saw the soup-rimmed pot and bowl in the sink. We looked at each other, at the intact stove, at the opened tin and dirty pot, and flinched.

As happens so often with the third child, the rules slipped a little bit. Maybe because he wasn’t staying home entirely by himself, or maybe just because he’s the third child and that’s the way it is with third children, Lucas didn’t get the lecture about not using the stove. It’s only the second or third time he’s ever used the stove. He’s not the most attentive creature when it comes to details. Or safety. Somehow, though, he’d remembered to turn off the burner, and to avoid putting anything flammable near the stove, and even put the dirty dishes in the sink.

Of course, everything was fine. I’ve got three more grey hairs, though.


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While La Machine might have been the most amazing street spectacle ever to visit Ottawa (no hyperbole here!) it’s not too late to visit Ottawa’s other fabulous FREE summer shows. If you’re into light shows, I hear Kontinuum and the Northern Lights show on Parliament Hill are both awesome, but we were blown away (again!) by the spectacle that is MosaiCanada.

MosaiCanada-2

What is MosaiCanada? A beautiful tribute to Canadian culture embodied in the most amazing living sculptures, created from millions of annual plants and flowers. You are led on a wandering path past a life-sized replica of a CP rail station and passenger train with steam locomotive, past dragons and foxes and prospectors and totems and hockey players and Mother Earth herself.

It. is. amazing.

MosaiCanada-4

I loved it, the kids loved it. It was terribly hot, blazingly sunny and ridiculously crowded the day we went, and we still loved it. Tristan loved the dragons with their Asian flair (sadly, not quite as cool as Long Ma), Simon liked the hockey players and the northern lights, and Lucas loved Mother Earth so much that he asked to borrow my phone so he could take his own photo of her.

MosaiCanada-5

Though I loved Mother Earth in her majesty, and Anne of Green Gables waiting patiently outside the station on her suitcases, it was the tiny details I loved most – the play of colours, the way the sculptures interacted with one another, the incredible detail in each piece. Really, I only took a few photos because it’s the kind of thing that pictures simply cannot do justice. You need to experience it in real life to get it.

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This is a perfect adventure for families of all ages and sizes. The paths are wide and stroller-friendly, and there are benches often if one neds to stop and rest, as well as plenty of seats in the shade. Kids can wander, within reason, and can get quite close before the rope barriers remind them not to touch. The colours are breathtaking, and the flowers achingly beautiful. It took us a little shy of two hours including a four-block walk to and from parking on a busy summer morning to take it in.

And it’s FREE! Parking can be expensive, but we found free two hour parking on the streets just north of Jacques Cartier Park on a Tuesday morning. This one is definitely worth a morning or afternoon out – I’ll be heading back in the fall to see if or how the seasons change the sculptures.

MosaiCanada-1

If you go: MosaiCanada is at Jacques Cartier Park in Gatineau through October 15, 2017. It’s open 10 am to 7 pm every day. Admission is free, but expect a queue during peak times. Guided tours are available for $10 (we just read the plentiful signs near each sculpture.) Parking on site is $20, but there are less expensive and free options within a three or four block walk. See the MosaiCanada site for more details.


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If you’re a long-time blog reader, you know that as a family, we have been stalking Chef Michael Smith for about four years now. We’ve long been fans of “the world’s tallest freestanding chef” and have been visiting his Flavour Shack in Souris every year that we visit Prince Edward Island. For my birthday in 2015, we even sprang for a night out with the family at his amazing FireWorks restaurant in the Inn at Bay Fortune – although the Chef was not in attendance that evening.

You might even remember that last winter, I got to meet Chef Michael when he was in Ottawa on business, and I managed to convince him to Face-Time with Beloved and the kids. I’m not kidding, we’re serious fans!

So when the stars aligned for our 2017 visit and we found out that Chef Michael’s annual charity event, the Village Feast, not only coincided with our visit for the first time ever, but would take place practically walking distance from our cottage, there was no way we could *not* go.

To our delight, right there as soon as we walked in was the man himself, offering oysters for sale to raise funds for the various charities that the Feast supports. And didn’t we just walk right up and say hello, as if we hadn’t been stalking the man for more than four years? I asked him if he remembered FaceTiming with the kids last year, and he was delighted (or so it seemed) to be meeting them face to face.

Here’s a memorable photo: that moment when your family meets your culinary boyfriend:

The Village Feast with Chef Michael Smith

The Feast itself was amazing. We had salmon cakes and fresh greens, steak cooked to perfection, PEI potatoes mashed with gravy, a Kenyan curried bean dish called Githeri, and strawberry shortcake for dessert. Especially considering it was food cooked for a thousand people, it was the best meal we had on PEI.

We were just finishing dessert when I noticed a familiar face in the crowd. Loretta from Chef Michael’s Flavour Shack has taken our family portrait each year that we’ve visited PEI, by sheer coincidence of her being at work in the Flavour Shack every time we’ve visited. I walked over to say hello and asked if she remembered us, and not only did she remember us, but she was happy to take a “Village Feast” version of our annual PEI family portrait.

The Village Feast with Chef Michael Smith

On our way out, we stopped for a quick final chat with Chef Michael. I was amazed at how accessible he was – if this event were back in Ottawa, he’d be thronged with people trying to say hello or get a selfie. There was plenty of that going on – he signed my new Village Feast souvenir hat, which we needed in the blazing afternoon sun! – but it was a steady stream of folks instead of a big crowd. Most of the people just wanted to greet him as one greets a neighbour in the local grocery store, not an internationally recognized celebrity with his own TV shows. It was charming, and typical of the small-town vibe on PEI.

Lucas and I each tried oysters. Chef Michael carefully instructed Lucas on how to hold and eat the oyster, and I was just a little bit relieved when Lucas didn’t promptly spit it back out.

The Village Feast with Chef Michael Smith

Isn’t that awesome? He is as kind and magnetic in person as he is on TV – a perfectly Canadian celebrity. :)

A few days later, we saw via this local newspaper that the Feast had surpassed expectations, raising more than $100,000 for charity. It was one of many great moments from our trip to PEI this year.

Feast news


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It isn’t every day that one gets to see a giant spider and a three-story tall dragon performed street theatre on busy Ottawa streets. I was curious to see La Machine, the unique street theatre presentation featuring a giant mechanical spider and a steam-and-fire breathing horse-dragon, but was leery of the crowds. In the end, we decided to go as a family to see Long Ma, the giant horse-dragon, “awaken” at City Hall this morning.

It. was. amazing.

This was the scene when we arrived: Long Ma sleeping in front of Ottawa City Hall.

Long ma awakens #lamachine

You can see the little fellow in front of me did not appreciate the efforts of the musicians playing to awaken the dragon. (You can see them on the pedestal.)

It didn’t take long for Long Ma to awaken and start moving, and then to start breathing fire and steam.

Long ma awakens #lamachine-2

Long ma awakens #lamachine-3

And then, to our surprised delight, it started moving – right toward us!

Long ma awakens #lamachine-7

We had to retreat to let it pass by. (Look at that tongue – how cool is that?)

Long ma awakens #lamachine-10

Long Ma rolled off down Laurier and then Elgin streets, in search of Kumo the giant spider. So. Many. People.

Long ma awakens #lamachine-12

It was truly extraordinary, and worth braving the downtown crowds to see it – although I’m not sure I’ll be able to entice the family downtown to go in search of Kumo the spider. I’d love to see their final “battle” on Sunday but I fear half the city will be there. If you’re curious, you can read the back story behind the event on the La Machine page on the Ottawa 2017 site. The gist of it is that Kumo has stolen Long Ma’s wings, and has been disturbed from her rest by the underground work on the LRT downtown, and now Long Ma roams the city in search of them.

If you do go, I’d suggest bringing water bottles and sunscreen, a decent camera and a bucketload of patience. We were downtown at least an hour early, parked four blocks away, and the crowds were still intense – but at least good-natured. I think it will only get more crazy as the weekend goes on. There are also a few more photos on Mothership Photography’s facebook page.

Have you been downtown to see Kumo and Long Ma? What did you think?


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Lighthouses are an iconic part of the PEI experience. In 2016, we even drove from one tip of the island to the other to earn our “tip to tip” lighthouse certificate! This trip, we visited no fewer than seven lighthouses in our adventures exploring PEI. They are as varied as they are beautiful, but after visiting the same places year after year, I felt like I should shake things up a bit with my photos.

There’s the “lighthouse peeking over the dunes” shot for some classic PEI flavour. This is Covehead Lighthouse, in PEI national park.

Covehead Lighthouse PEI

There’s the landlocked lighthouse. This is the New London Lighthouse, which we found while exploring near French River. I’ll have more photos from that adventure another day. We didn’t get too close, but it looks like the lighthouse keeper’s cottage is still attached to this one. How much fun would it be to live in a lighthouse? New London, by the way, is the birthplace of Lucy Maud Montgomery. One can imagine that the author of the beloved Anne of Green Gables stories gazed often upon this lighthouse!

Cape Tryon Lighthouse PEI

And speaking of iconic (did you say “cliche”?) shots, you can’t go wrong with some lobster traps in the foreground and a lighthouse in the background. This is the Souris lighthouse, and if you like seaglass, you simply must visit the wonderful seaglass exhibit inside the lighthouse.

Souris Lighthouse and lobster traps

This year, we paid our first visit to PEI’s oldest lighthouse at Point Prim. I thought a black and white treatment worked, and really like the addition of the silhouetted person walking into the lighthouse.

Point Prim Lighthouse, PEI

By the time we got to the last day of our trip, I had taken a LOT of pictures, of the boys and of lighthouses and of the boys with lighthouses. We started to get a little silly. I noticed that Lucas was just about the right size to make this forced perspective shot work.

Lucas and the Souris Lighthouse

About two seconds later, Tristan nearly gave me a heart attack by leaping from one boulder to another nearby, and a new idea was born. With a little bit of planning, a big leap and lot of luck, this shot worked out just about perfectly.

Tristan leaping over Souris Lighthouse

Lighthouses are awesome! Do you have a favourite? Which of these shots do you like best?


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Photo of the day: the boys in Souris

26 July 2017 Ah, me boys

We’ve just returned from our annual vacation in Prince Edward Island, and I have a *cough* few photos to share. This might be my new favourite photo of the boys, taken in Souris. I might have thought, years ago, that vacationing with teenagers would have been a very different experience. We’ve just spent the most […]

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Blogging about a book about a blogger: Mitzi Bytes

9 July 2017 Books

I was intrigued by the premise of the book Mitzi Bytes. It’s about a blogger who started her blog way back in the primordial swamp of the blogosphere, a dozen or so years ago, and who kept writing as her family grew and evolved. (You can see why I was intrigued!) Unlike me, however, blogger […]

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Photos of the day: Manotick’s Remembrance Park sculpture by Nathan Scott

5 July 2017 Ottawa's hidden treasures

I have been watching the progress of Manotick’s new Remembrance Park over the last few months. It’s a beautiful project in the town square beside Watson’s Mill, designed with six gardens to honour the branches of the Canadian military and those who support them. I had no idea there would be a life-sized bronze sculpture […]

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Photo of the day: First and Last Day of School 2016-2017

28 June 2017 Ah, me boys

Our annual first-and-last day of school photo is getting harder to execute – one boy finished school two days ago, and one biked off with his friends before the other was even out of school. But we still managed! We are getting quite the collection. Beloved was joking that in a few years, we’ll have […]

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