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 of blog posts about ideas for family adventures for those who live in Ottawa, I don’t think I’ve ever written a tourist’s guide for families that visit Ottawa.

Ottawa is a beautiful city to visit in any season, but this summer promises to be especially full of fun with the Canada 150 celebrations, and the Ottawa 2017 agenda.

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There are a few things I’d recommend for anyone and everyone who visits Ottawa. There are obvious choices, like the Parliament Buildings (take the free tour and don’t miss the Parliamentary Library!) and the Peace Tower. The Byward Market is always good for a wander, and I’ve yet to meet a kid who would say no to a Beavertail, or a visit to Sugar Mountain. I also think the Diefenbunker, Canada’s quirky cold war museum and living time capsule should be at the top of any visitor’s must-see list.

Diefenbunker-14

If you like the Diefenbunker, you’ll also be intrigued by Canada’s Aviation and Space Museum. In fact, we have no shortage of excellent museums in Ottawa, and each will appeal to different visitors. Families with young children should make time for the always intriguing Museum of Nature and the Children’s Museum in the Museum of History, formerly known as the Museum of Civilization. The National Gallery of Canada is exactly as amazing as you’d expect it to be, but we were surprised by how accessible and fun their Artissimo children’s programming is. Don’t forget to visit our famous Maman, the 10m (30 ft) bronze spider sculpture who guards the National Gallery courtyard.

Ottawa Family Fun: Artissimo at the National Gallery

If you like history, I’d highly recommend Parks Canada’s excellent (and affordable) Voyageur Canoe tours on the Rideau Canal. You’ll choose between one and two hour guided tours and learn about the history of Ottawa and Canada as they are tied to the building of our iconic Rideau Canal, all while paddling along in a huge voyageur-style canoe. While you’re there, be sure to stop in at the Bytown Museum at the lock station beside the Chateau Laurier for a little bit more history of Ottawa, formerly known as Bytown, and the Canal. Speaking of the Canal, it’s worth a visit to one of the city’s lock stations to see the Parks Canada employees turning the cranks to open and close the locks by hand, just like they’re been doing for the past 170+ years. If paddling isn’t your style, another Ottawa activity that’s been on our bucket list for a while is the Haunted Walks. I hear they are quirky, entertaining and generally awesome.

Voyageur canoe tour

If you’re looking for outdoor adventures during your stay in Canada’s Capital, I hear that the zip-lining park at Camp Fortune is amazing. (It’s on our to-do list for this year!) Waterpark lovers will not be disappointed by the waterslides at Mont Cascades (on the Quebec side) or Calypso water park. Based on our experiences, I’d probably recommend the more expensive and slightly further from downtown Calypso for families with very young children, but we have preferred the smaller and less busy Mont Cascades the past few years.

Animal lovers of all ages will enjoy Canada’s flora and fauna at Parc Omega, about 45 minutes from downtown. During the drive-through tour you can see many animals native to Canada, including deer and elk, foxes and coyotes, wolves, bison, bears and many more, all in natural habitats. For something more domestic in the heart of the city, the animal barns at the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum are always a hit with the littlest animal lovers. A little further out in the suburbs is Valleyview Animal Farm, also great for the youngest kiddies.

The grey wolves of Parc Omega

Through the summer there are two excellent FREE daily spectacles on Parliament Hill. Every morning (late June through late August) at 10 am, you can see the Changing of the Guard, immediately preceded by a short march up Elgin Street from the Cartier Drill Hall. Every evening through the summer, you can also see the Northern Lights sound and light show on Parliament Hill. I’ve heard it is excellent. And free, did I mention free?! Also free on Parliament Hill, every Wednesday at noon there is a huge yoga class on the lawn of the Parliament Buildings. Just bring your yoga mat and show up to claim your space, weather permitting.

Yoga on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

Speaking of free and quirky, the unusual and beautiful rock scupltures by John Ceprano on the Ottawa River are worth a visit, too. If the weather is warm, wade out onto the limestone flats in the shallow water and make your own!

rocks

Oh my goodness, there is so much more! History buffs will also enjoy Rideau Hall, home to the Governor General, and its extensive grounds perfect for picnics and wandering. Of course there is my neighbour and muse, the stately Watson’s Mill in Manotick. And don’t forget the Cumberland Heritage Museum and its throwback to life in Canada in the 1920s and 1930s, with dozens of true-to-the-era reproduction buildings – including a working sawmill and blacksmith forge – heritage breed farm animals, people in costume, vintage tractor-pulled wagon rides, and more.

Watson's Mill

Phew, that’s a long list. Ottawa is a great place to visit with families! If you’re looking for more suggestions, check out my archives where I’ve been blogging for years about Ottawa’s hidden treasures and fun family activities. There’s so much more to say – this may have to become a series. Consider me your bloggy ambassador to Ottawa!

Peace Tower tour

Ottawa friends, how did I do with this list? Did I miss anything important? What’s at the top of your list of recommendations for tourists to our beautiful city?


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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!

First and last day of school 2017

We are getting quite the collection. Beloved was joking that in a few years, we’ll have to be flying the big guys home from University to complete my set!

First and last day of school 2015-2016

First and last day of school!

first & last day of school

First and last day of school

First and last day of school 2011-2012

188:365 First and last day of school 2010 - 2011

Happy summer!!!


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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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A new project: Story of the Day

2 April 2017 Lucas

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. […]

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The one with the banana bread

7 March 2017 Eating and thinking and thinking about eating

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 […]

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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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