I have been living in Ottawa for more than 25 years and recommending Rideau Hall as a destination and activity for free Ottawa family fun for nearly a decade, so I figured it was high time we actually headed over and checked it out. It was, to be honest, not at all what I expected. And even though I’ve seen it on the news dozens of times and you can hardly escape hearing about it if you live in Ottawa, I truly think this one qualifies as one of Ottawa’s Hidden Treasures!

I knew that we would see the Ceremonial Guard. They do a changing of the guard ceremony each hour through the summer tourist months, and we happened to arrive just in time.

A visit to Rideau Hall

And while I had a vague idea that there were lovely grounds to walk, I was delighted by the gorgeous green gardens with towering trees and unexpected treasures placed here and there like this totem pole.

A visit to Rideau Hall-2

The main building is well back from the front gate where the changing of the guard takes place. Because there is no entrance fee nor checkpoint through which to file, we didn’t realize that during the early afternoon access to the residence and main building is only by guided tour. A helpful guide stationed nearby explained that if we were to return after 3 pm, we would be able to take a self-guided tour at our own pace, and I would be free to take photos. Photos are not allowed during the guided tour.

A 40-minute tour seemed a little beyond the comfort level of my wrangy companions, so we decided to either come back later in the day or another day for a self-guided tour. As we were walking away, the boys wanted to check out the big fountain to “see if the water is warm.”

A visit to Rideau Hall-3

I had read that there were children’s activities, so we headed loosely back in the direction of the visitor’s centre near where we had entered. Just wandering the grounds without even entering any of the buildings is a lovely outing in itself.

A visit to Rideau Hall-4

A visit to Rideau Hall-5

The boys are headed toward a small playstructure tucked away in one corner. :) As I wandered around, all I could think was “oh my goodness, what an amazing location this would be for family portraits!” I wondered if there was a fee to shoot portraits on the grounds, or if a permit is required. (Did you know you now need a permit to shoot professional portraits in the arboretum?)

After a pause on the play structure, we headed over to the visitor’s centre next door to ask about the children’s activities. We stopped on the way to check out the flags. Lucas knew right away which flag represents Prince Edward Island – the whole family is truly and completely smitten with the province!

A visit to Rideau Hall-6

The children’s activities comprised, at first glance, a couple of small tables set up with colouring sheets, pencil crayons and markers, and some board puzzle cut-outs of various Governors-General coats of arms. The oldest and youngest boys are magnetically drawn to any artistic activity, so they were instantly engaged. So too was the middlest boy, who is magnetically drawn to anything with a screen and an internet connection – in this case, the gg.ca website!

A visit to Rideau Hall-7

I was flipping through the guest book, marveling at how far some travelers had come and enjoying their comments, when the young docent stationed in the visitor’s centre asked if we would mind if the official photographer came by and took some pictures of the boys colouring for potential use on the GG’s website. I laughed and said they certainly were experienced in that, and since they were still fully engaged in creating their coats of arms and didn’t mind, I said sure. A few minutes later, a photographer and his assistant with an arm full of model releases showed up.

A visit to Rideau Hall-8

Altogether, we probably spent the vast proportion of our time at Rideau Hall in the visitor’s centre between waiting for the photographer to arrive and Lucas’s insistence that we not leave until he finished his coat of arms, and the young docent’s easy chatter and eager explanations made the afternoon for us. He explained how it works when the Royal Family visit (we had speculated on that in the car ride over), the various seasonal activities for the public, and shared interesting insight and minutiae about Rideau Hall. We talked about the complexities of the Governor General living in the midst of such a public place, and he mentioned how you can always tell when the Governor General’s grandchildren are on site because of the row of bikes near the residence. He told us that His Excellency so loves to read to his grandchildren that they call him “Grandpa Book.” Isn’t that the most charming thing?

And then he pointed out that the boys could try on the knight’s helmets that I thought were merely decoration. Of course, the boys were all over that.

Sir Tristan:

A visit to Rideau Hall-9

And Sir Lucas:

Sir Lucas

(Sir Simon declined to be photographed.)

On my way out, I remembered to ask the question I had been wondering about: could we take formal family portraits on the grounds? Of course, answered the docent, “this all belongs to the people.” I love that! Who wants to do portraits at Rideau Hall???

So even though we never actually made it inside Rideau Hall itself, we had a lovely visit nonetheless. If you do go, be sure to engage the helpful and knowledgeable staff – they are everywhere, and the several with whom we spoke seemed to genuinely enjoy sharing their time and knowledge. If you’ve never been, I recommend this as a refreshingly low-key but entirely pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.

If you go: Rideau Hall is located at 1 Sussex Drive. Short-term parking is free on local streets. You can enter through several gates on the grounds. See the Relief of the Sentries at the front gate every hour on the hour from 9 am to 5 pm through August 23. Admission is completely free! See the Rideau Hall website for additional details.


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We’ve had our dining room chairs for 15 years now. The summer we got married, we got them from the As-Is bin at Ikea, I know because the words “as is” are still written on the underside of them in indelible sharpie. For the $30 or so we paid for them, they’ve been worth their weight in gold – three moves, two dining room tables, three sloppy kids from high chairs to boosters to toddlers and beyond, and two puppies with the need to gnaw on things.

Back in 2007, when Tristan was five and Simon was three and Lucas was but a twinkle of an idea, the chairs were looking a little rough so I re-upholstered them. (Man, I have been blogging a l-o-o-o-n-g time! Blog is starting to outlast some of the fixtures and furniture!!) Seven years later, they were looking pretty ragged (actually, they started looking pretty ragged at least a year ago, and Bella did not do much to ameliorate the situation) and I’ve been idly thinking about re-re-upholstering them for quite a while.

Beloved and I were running errands in Ikea the other day and we found a pattern we liked, so I picked up three metres’ worth for the princely sum of $30. I vastly overestimated how much I’d need, but I figure I can stash the extras in case of emergency deployment of red wine or other indelible stain. If I were true to form, the bolt of material would sit untouched for months or perhaps years before I actually got around to doing anything with it, but it’s vacation season and my eyes were crossing from editing photos from my latest session, so I thought I’d see if upholstering the chairs would be as painless as I remembered.

Astonishingly, it was. Start to finish, stripping and upholstering five chairs took less than two hours. Here’s one “before” and one “after” chair – you can see why we thought perhaps it was time to re-cover them! I especially like the bit where the entire seam is torn out and you can see the original cushion. It’s only been like that for eight or nine months.

I had considered simply wrapping the new fabric around the earlier re-upholstery job, but decided it would likely be lumpy. The most time-consuming, if not difficult, part of the job was pulling out the staples and de-upholstering the 2007 job. I recruited minions to do that while I worked on the new upholstery.

The actual upholstering is dead easy. I cut the fabric into polygons the same shape as the cushion, leaving a margin of about a hand-width on all sides.

I centered the cushion in the middle and folded up one edge, doubling it over and tucking the raw seam under to make it a little stronger. One staple in the middle, turn 180 degrees and do the same on the opposite side, pulling the fabric taut but not so tight it pulled at the staples on the opposite side, then popped in another staple. At this point, I flipped the works over to make sure I liked where the pattern was centred and, erm, to ensure I was stapling the fabric right side up. (Never assume, my mother taught me.) I specifically chose this pattern because it would be very forgiving – no lines that must be straight, and the print pattern was random enough that it could go just about any which way, and small enough that it didn’t really matter where I centred the cushion. Very forgiving!

Once I was happy with how it was lined up, it was just a matter of doing the same to the other two sides and then stapling about a hundred more staples around each seam. Staples are cheap, don’t be stingy with them!

I didn’t take a close-up of the corners, but I more or less combined the way you tuck in a sheet to make hospital corners (I suck at making beds) with the way you make corners with gift wrap when you’re wrapping a present (I am much better at wrapping gifts.) The fabric is fairly forgiving, so I sort of made it up for each corner, but I did cut a triangle off the end of each corner to reduce the bulk of the fold. Just don’t cut too close to your edge or it will come untucked and fray. And staple the holy snot out of it.

I’m really happy with how they came out, and the fact that I managed to avoid stapling my finger to anything. I figure we’re good for another six or seven years. We’re certainly getting our As-Is money’s worth out of these chairs. :) And then to top off a productive day, I made slow cooker bacon jalapeno beans, roast pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon (thank you Chef Michael Smith!) and roasted Roots and Shoots summer veggies – potatoes, onions, beets and carrots. Damn, I should take a vacation more often!


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This sweet family came for portraits on the porch today. Aren’t they lovely – erm, I mean lovely and handsome.

Siblings

I am so used to chasing toddlers and preschoolers lately, it was a bit of a relief to work with people who actually sit still for more than three seconds at a time. :) Sadly, they weren’t too interested in posing on my little red wagon though. (Actually, they were such a fun and funny group that I am pretty sure that if I pulled out the wagon they would have totally rolled with it!)

Their mom had asked me for advice about how to dress for the session and I loved how she pulled everyone’s outfits together. I always suggest choosing two or three dominant and coordinating colours and dress the family as a unit, in the same way you try to coordinate your own outfit every day. They all had various tones of blues with bits of greys and white for accent, and they all came together so well!

I’ll share more photos from this fun family portrait session soon!


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Summer of the fox

by DaniGirl on July 25, 2014 · 2 comments

in Ottawa Family Fun

Summer 2014 is shaping up to be the summer of the fox around here. It started with Tristan adopting the fox as his favourite animal recently. One of his hyphenated surnames sort of looks like the French word for fox, which led to the translation of our family name as “Thunder Fox”, which is a pretty good gamer name. There were foxes in PEI that den in the sand dunes, although despite his best efforts we didn’t see one.

Foxes have been in the media this week, too. There was the real fox found sleeping in an OC Transpo bus:

Funny, I follow Stu Mills on Twitter and listen to CBC Ottawa every morning, but I heard this story when we were out of town in southern Ontario. That’s one little #BusFox who has legs – Stu’s original tweet has been re-tweeted more than 2,000 times!

And I totally got sucked in by this story about a little environmentalist fox who kept breaking into a cafeteria for employees of the tar sands operation in Alberta and pooping on the kitchen fixtures for at least long enough to share it on Facebook – until I realized it was from a satire site similar to the Onion. Oh well. it was still a good story.

The best foxes by far, in my humble opinion, are the two baby foxes that have been adopted by Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo. When we got back from PEI and heard that Little Ray’s had two baby foxes, we hustled out there with the boys. I swear, every time we go to Little Ray’s I wonder why we don’t go more often. Once a year is just not enough! I never leave without learning something, and the boys always enjoy the critters.

Little Ray's Reptile Zoo

Ha, can you see the expression on Beloved’s face in the bottom picture? He does not appreciate the snakes so much.

We enjoyed the reptile show (heh, some of us liked the snake parts more than others), but we LOVED this special guest at the feeding show:

what did the fox say

An 11 week old baby red fox. Isn’t he gorgeous? And the kids got to pet him, too. Such a lovely creature. If you’re looking for something to do with the kids this summer, Little Ray’s is one of the best places in town for a family adventure, whether you’re a fox fan or not.


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How often do you get to see FIVE generations in the same room?

Five generations

That’s Beloved’s grandmother, his father, his sister, our niece and our grand-nephew. Isn’t that extraordinary?


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I am the first to admit that when I launched my portrait business four years ago this month, there was a lot I didn’t know. I’ve learned so much about using or creating light, posing, interacting with subjects, the effect of various focal lengths, and digital post-processing to name but a few.

In the end, though, sometimes all you have to do is show up and point the camera in the right direction, because the cute speaks for itself. I mean, really, does it get any cuter than these two?

Portrait of sisters on a red wagon by photographer Danielle Donders

Sometimes the hardest part of a photo session is not keeping the adorable kids for myself at the end of the day!

More photos from this fun porch portrait photo session soon – if you think these two are cute, you should see the whole family!


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Watch out for that wrong turn in Maine when you’re outrunning a hurricane!

11 July 2014 Ottawa to PEI 2014

It’s been a week since we left PEI. I think maybe I’m drawing out the blogging of our vacation so I can continue to relive it in real time. We haven’t really left until the blog posts are done, right? You might remember that through a fluke of good timing our departure was conveniently scheduled [...]

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Photo of the day: World cup fever

11 July 2014 Photo of the Day

About a week or two into the World Cup, Simon came home asking for a soccer ball called a Brazuca. He and his friends played World Cup soccer each day at recess, rotating who would be each country, and he wanted to play at home, too. My suggestion that he play with one of the [...]

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Photo of the day: Lupins at the seashore

9 July 2014 Ottawa to PEI 2014

One of the unexpected beauties of our trip to Prince Edward Island were the beautiful pink, purple, yellow and cream lupins growing wild almost everywhere we went. These ones were growing between the dunes at Basin Head provincial park, but they were in just about every vista we saw. I don’t remember ever seeing them [...]

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Mastermind Toys is now open in Barrhaven and you could win a gift card!

8 July 2014 Reviews, promotions and giveaways

I‘m taking a break from All-PEI-All-The-Time blogging to share a terrific little bit of news that hits a little closer to home. Did you hear that my very favourite toy store, Mastermind Toys, has opened a Barrhaven location? You might remember last year I blogged about it when they opened their first store in Ottawa, [...]

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