February 2014

I love Photoshop. I don’t always use it, but it sure is fun to play with sometimes when I feel like stretching the possibilities of a given photo. There’s a handful of blog posts I’ve been thinking about writing on the subject of Photoshop in a more philosophical sense, but this one is just for fun because I’m happy with how this turned out.

This photo of Lucas and Tristan from this past weekend was a nice enough photo. The boardwalk leads the eye nicely to the subject, their jackets pop nicely from the background, and I think it tells a lovely little story.

outdoor portrait of brothers on the jack pine trail in winter

But by the time I’d finished it, I took a hard look and thought, “Meh.” It was a perfect candidate for a little tweak.

Although I’m pretty comfortable with a lot of Photoshop’s tools, there are some menu items I’ve never clicked before. Up until last month, the Oil Painting filter was one of them. I kinda thought the idea of rendering a photo as an oil painting was kind of cheesey, to be honest. But then I saw some amazing work in a photography forum and I was inspired to try it. I don’t love it at full strength, but look at the dreamy quality of this as compared to the version above.

outdoor portrait of brothers on the jack pine trail in winter

I love how subtle it is – you don’t really notice you’re looking at something with a filter on it, but the colours are richer and there’s a lovely dreamy quality to it. When I zoom way in, you can see how the details have been rendered smooth and sort of swirly – I love the effect on Lucas’s hair and the winter grass.

portrait of brothers on a winter walk detail

I think this would be really neat on a portrait of a girl taken from behind with really long, curly hair, or a whimsical sort of shot with lots of details, like a little tea party in the woods or something. I can see hanging this on the wall as a canvas – it really takes an ordinary shot and gives it that wow factor, but I really think you need just the right photo to pull it off.

What do you think? Do you like the effect?


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It went something like this…

*Ring, ring*

Hello?

Hey DaniGirl, it’s the Universe calling.

Oh hey, Universe! It’s been a while! Always a delight to hear from you, though. What’s new?

Oh you know, the usual – lately I’ve been entertaining myself cooking up theories on black holes with Stephen Hawking. He’s a riot! But that’s not why I’m calling.

I wouldn’t think so. I love cosmology and am fascinated by quantum physics, but I never did take any high school science.

Speaking of things you never did – that IS why I’m calling. I saw you out there on the slopes at Calabogie yesterday with the Grade 6 ski trip.

Ha, did you? I had So! Much! Fun! I had chaperoned last week, too, although I have to tell you I was pretty much in it for the drive up and the photo ops. Watching the kids last week inspired me, though, so I screwed up my courage and tried it out.

You’d never been skiing before, right?

Not really. I went out once with some friends when I was 23 or 24, but I hated it. The chair lift intimidated me, I never got the mechanics down and I think I might have quit after one or two runs down the bunny hill, during which I barrelled straight down the hill screaming the whole time. Years and years passed and I never had the opportunity to try again, and as I got older my knees got quirky and I kind of wrote off skiing as something that I just couldn’t do.

So what changed your mind?

I was hugely inspired by the kids last week. Many of them had never skied before, including Tristan. A few of them were so frustrated and discouraged after an hour they wanted to quit and go home. But they got some one-on-one help and I could see them making amazing progress during the day. One of the moms in particular went out of her way to help Tristan and a few others, and by the end of the day he told me not only did he have an amazing time but he wanted his own skis for Christmas.

Sounds like a good lesson in perserverance for the kids.

It was! Tristan is like me – he doesn’t like to do something if he won’t be good at it right away. So I had that in mind when the second day of skiing came up. It was a little bit embarrassing being so clueless to everything, including how to get the ski boot into the bindings and even how to attach the ski pass to my jacket. But everybody was terrific, from the friend who attached my ski pass to my jacket to the instructors who seemed to take a special interest in getting me through the basics.

Lookit me, I'm a skier!

So how did you do?

I had only one goal in mind for the day. I wanted to ski once down the bunny hill, preferably not barrelling straight down and out of control like I did 20+ years ago.

And?

Well to my great surprise, after an hour or two I was feeling pretty comfortable on the learning side of the bunny hill. I moved through the drills pretty much at my own speed, and instructors would stop me every now and then with corrections and pointers. On the other side of the bunny hill was a little test course, and the kids had to ski it to the instructors’ satisfaction before they were allowed to on to a lesson on the big hill. I started out the day with no real goal beyond one run down the bunny hill, but after a while I thought maybe I would even try that out. The first time I tried it was a little embarrassing – it was too steep for me and I lost control. Rather than sweeping down the slope in big turns, it was 1993 all over again and I was shooting straight down like a cannon ball.

Trust me, it's scarier than it looks. Bunny hill indeed!

But you didn’t give up.

Nope. Back to the practice run I went, over and over again. I had to convince myself to go inside and get some lunch, I was having such a good time. By mid-afternoon I was getting tired, but I’d become comfortable on both sides of the bunny hill and could control my speed and direction far better than I’d ever expected at the beginning of the day. I only fell once, and I was nearly at a dead stop when I did – I just lost my balance and tipped over sideways. Getting back up on my feet was the hardest part of the day!

So did you feel like you’d done what you’d set out to do?

Oh, way way more than what I expected. I was ridiculously pleased with myself not only because I exceeded my own expectations of myself, but because I wasn’t done yet. The wonderful friend who helped Tristan and his friends get their ski legs last week had remarked on my progress and offered to accompany me on the chair lift for a run down one of the big hills. Although the logical part of my brain was telling me to quit while I was ahead, I knew I had to try it once.

Good for you! Were you scared?

Terrified. But sheer donkey-ass stubbornness has gotten me through a lot in life, and this was to be no different. As it turns out, one of the instructors who had been helping me on the bunny hill hopped into the chair lift line beside us, and between him and K they offered me tips and advice on the ride. What I think they were actually doing was distracting me, because the chair lift brought us up about three times higher than I thought it would from the ground. As I often do, I was imagining my fate splayed across the front page of the Citizen: “Mom of three maimed in freak ski accident.” I’m glad they were there to distract me from myself.

My ski instructor, protector, human security blanket, videographer and new BFF!

Where are the scenic photos from the top of the hill?

Ha, that’s a measure of how freaked out I was. It never even occurred to me to pull out my camera, although the views were stunning. In fact, I hardly took out my camera at all during the day – that, too, is a measure of how much fun I was having. There’s very little that will pry that thing out of my hands for long!

So how did you do on the big run?

Well I don’t know how people do this without their own personal ski instructor and safety blanket, but I really felt like K made all the difference for me. She told me what to expect from each section, warned me on the steeper bits and even told me not to be surprised if she grabbed by jacket to slow me down if she thought I was out of control.

And were you out of control?

Only a couple of times for very brief interludes, but K never had to intervene. I wiped out once, and pinwheeled my arms frantically another couple of times to get my balance back, but I think I was pretty good most of the time. The hill was way WAY bigger than I’d anticipated. By the time I hit the bottom of the run I was positively drunk on adrenaline, pride and terror – that is a powerful cocktail!

So you hopped right back on the chair lift and went for another run?

Hell no. My knees were shaking so badly I could barely make it back to the chalet. I kicked off those skis and called it a day, but I was beaming the whole time. Turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks!

Well done! You proved something to yourself.

I sure did. In the grand scheme of things, learning to ski down one hill may not seem a huge accomplishment, but I really feel like I proved something to myself. I overcame my fear of being embarrassed about not knowing how to ski – or even attach my ski pass! – and proved to myself that I am perfectly capable of doing something physical like this “at my age.” I’m pleased that Tristan saw the whole thing, too. It was a great day all around. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll consider a family ski trip before all this infernal snow melts. If nothing else, I’ve still got two boys’ worth of class ski trips to look forward to!

You were worried about being sore today from the exertion. How are those knees?

My knees fared better than I expected. They’re a little tender today, but I was expecting worse. My shins and the tops of my feet ache from the ski boots and my core muscles all the way up to my shoulders are a little tight today, but I feel pretty good. Heck, I even got a bit of colour from the sun – didn’t even cross my radar to put sunscreen on my face as it was supposed to be cloudy verging on rainy, but we had hours of blazing sunshine. I never expected to soak through my clothes in sweat, either. It was a day of unexpectedly pleasant results!

Great to hear, DaniGirl. Now don’t be so quick to assume you can’t do something – or worse, are too old to do something – in the future.

That’s the best thing I learned yesterday, Universe. Thanks for calling, always a delight to hear from you!


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Just got this from the National Arts Centre and it sounds like a great way to spend Family Day – we’ll even be downtown already!

The National Arts Centre will be hosting family activities in the lobby on Monday February 17 from noon until 4 pm

(You can see a clickable and bilingual version of this poster here.)


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The older the boys get, the more concerned I am about their online safety. The ‘net can be treacherous for savvy adults, let alone kids – will they click on a phishing link and download some malware? Will they be exposed to inappropriate content? Will they be bullied or worse?

And yet, I’d be hypocritical to restrict their access too broadly. I truly believe that the key to keeping kids safe online is constant vigilance on the part of the parent, and open lines of communication. By constant vigilance, I don’t mean spending hours peering over their shoulders – my eyes glaze over at the idea of more than 10 minutes of Minecraft at a time. But there are no closed doors in our house, online or in real life. They know I can and will read all of their e-mails, texts and internet searches. We talk often about the perils of overdisclosure, and how to comport one’s self as a good online citizen. And they know they can always, always come to me if they see something that makes them uncomfortable.

chromebook kitchen

It’s because I am so interested in the topic of online safety for kids that when TELUS sent me a list of tips for parents, I wanted to share it with you. (This is NOT a sponsored post, I am sharing because I think this is important, valuable information.)

Here’s what TELUS said:

Did you know that Tuesday, February 11, 2014 is Safer Internet Day? We will be hosting a live web discussion and Q&A with our partner @MediaSmarts about measures we can take to keep our kids safer online. MediaSmarts has recently revealed the latest findings on what Young Canadians in a Wired World are doing online, which will act as the basis for our discussion. You’ll also have an opportunity to ask the experts any questions you may have on this subject to find out what more you can be doing for you and your family to stay safe on the Internet.

Feel free to invite all your followers to join us too and follow the conversation on @TELUS #TELUSWISE.

You can follow the conversation live on Twitter, or you can dial in to a webinar for more info. Here’s the logistics:

  • To be part of the discussion, you must call into the conference bridge as well as log in to WebEx.
  • If this is your first time using Web Ex, please ensure you log in 10 minutes early as it will take a few minutes for Web Ex to set up on your computer.
  • Go to https://telus.webex.com/telus/j.php?J=925419345
  • Enter the event password: WISE123
  • Click “Join Now”.
  • To join the audio portion of this call, dial 1-855-353-9183 and enter passcode 67758#.

If you can’t tune in to the webinar, here’s ten tips from TELUS on keeping your family safe online:

1. Google yourself – Put a Google Alert on your name so you can track your digital footprint.
2. Set strong passwords – Prevent hackers from getting into your computer, smartphone or online profiles.
3. Turn off geo-tagging – Avoid location details being attached to things like photos when taken on a smartphone.
4. Install security software – Some smartphones come with software to locate your phone when lost; take advantage of these free services.
5. Configure your profile settings – Ensure privacy is set on all your online profiles.
6. Keep your browser updated – and clear your browser history and cache at least once a month.
7. Be cautious using free Wi-Fi – Make sure your device is secure so hackers can access personal information.
8. Choose new aps carefully – Only use your device’s App Store to ensure downloads are safe and virus free.
9. Beware of risks using Bluetooth technology – Only enable connections with trusted devices.
10. Delete personal data when recycling old devices – Use the factory reset to properly remove things like photos, passwords and files.

It’s my middle child who is pushing me out of my comfort zone with social media. I forbade his Twitter account but allowed Instagram. Now he wants to post Minecraft screen-cap movies to YouTube.

I do this for a living and I’m still not ready for this. How are the rest of you managing it?


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A love letter to Lucas, Age 6

by DaniGirl on February 8, 2014 · 2 comments

in Lucas

My dear, sweet Lucas, today you are six! years! old!

Sweet Lucas, you are an adorable kid. You are warm and affectionate and love to share kisses and hugs, not only with your mom and dad, but grandparents and teachers, too. You draw beautiful artwork woven with expressions of “I love you mom” written right into them. I secretly hope you never grow out of the practice!

Lucas in the sunshine

You are a smart, curious boy, Lucas. You ask intriguing questions out of the blue that give me an occasional glimpse into your busy mind. “How do you stick the light to the ceiling?” and “Where does the snow go?” and “How do you see only one thing if you have two eyes?” and my favourite, “Where does the water in your mouth come from?” You are unique among your brothers for both the sheer number and the startling complexity of your inquiries.

"Take a picture of me upside down, Mom!!"

Ah, your brothers. It’s not easy being the third of three boys, but you have found many ways to cope. You will repeat yourself, never escalating your tone or volume, again and again until you are acknowledged to your satisfaction. Being the youngest leaves you in the precarious position of being both wise beyond your years and “the baby” in everyone’s eyes except your own. You’ll forgive me if I hold on to your sweet babyness for just a little while longer, won’t you?

Weekend with the cousins

You started school full days this year, even though you are still in kindergarten. I struggled for quite a while with the idea that you were too advanced for a mixed kindergarten class, and wanted to skip you ahead to Grade 1 this past fall. While I think we made the right decision, I still wonder if you weren’t more than ready for Gr 1 even now. You can read quite well now, recognizing many sight words and sounding out many more complex ones. You can count well past 100 in English and know all your colours and the seasons in French. In fact, I worried you were a little bored in school before the Christmas break, as you became quite resistant to going, but the lure of seeing your best buddies seems to be winning you over again. I still miss your company on my Wednesdays off, though!

First flower of spring!

You are a boy who knows what he likes. Currently, your favourite things are peanut butter, just about any fruit, breakfast for dinner, animals (especially dogs and cats, but you were recently charmed by a hedgehog and you love to browse at the pet store), Minecraft, daddy’s iPad, Playdough, dinosaurs, your Imaginext playsets, Lego, Hexbugs, and anything involving arts or crafts. And video games, of course.

Lazy day

You are still best friends with Owen. In fact, since you two are joined at the hip and even share the same birthday, you’ll be hosting a joint super-hero birthday party this year! Your other friends are Cole and Darrien and Hudson and Matthew and Dante. You are sweetly oblivious to the names of most of the kids in your class, especially the female ones, but you do profess great affection for Mme Spicer, Mrs Innis and Miss Cheryl.

This is totally why I had kids.

Oh my Lucas, how you can draw! You surprise me every day with your creatitity and your ability. Your talent is far beyond your years, and I am truly amazed by your drawings, not to mention the copious amounts of them. Oh the trees we have killed! How many six year olds know about primary and complementary colours, and the ROYGBIV order of the colours in the rainbow? Not only do you love to draw but you are startlingly sophisticated in your creativity.

Artist at work

You love your bedtime stories, Lucas. We have recently graduated from board books and simple storybooks to chapter books, and we are currently working our way through Charlotte’s Web. You also love the National Geographic Kids books that Daddy brings home from the library – books about everything from stars and planets to meerkats to dinosaurs, and you and Daddy have discovered the fun of iPad digital books this year. Your preferences are wide-ranging and ecclectic!

untitled.jpg

We tried to enroll you in skating lessons this past fall, but you were so miserable that we pulled you out after a few weeks. On the other hand, you adore your springtime swim lessons and one of your favourite places in the world is the Manotick pool during the summer. Although the pool closed for the season on Labour Day weekend, you asked regularly if we could go back until there was snow on the ground.

Christmas Tree Quest 2013

Another huge event in your life this year was the arrival of Bella. It was you who seemed most affected by her arrival – you were the easiest for her to catch and nip as a puppy, and your toys were the ones she found and chewed, and you are the only one not tall enough to step over the baby gates that still, to my lasting annoyance, bar the stairs and your room from her. I think it was safe to say that you did not love having a puppy in the house, but you do love her now. Every night, the two of you charge up and down the hallway together, and you’ve learned that if you give her a toy to carry, she doesn’t try to catch your pajamas with her teeth as you play. It’s sweet to see how much she obviously loves you and your brothers, despite the fact that you might occasionally forget to be gentle with each other.

There's a new girl in town!

Lucas, I could go on for pages telling you how much joy you bring to our lives. You are a delightfully affectionate, clever, sweet boy. You charm us, you delight us, and you make us laugh. You’re a wonderful companion and a talented artist and you hold your own ground impressively against two older brothers.

Black and white beauties on the beach

Happy sixth birthday, my adorable Lucas. We love you!!


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Before I had kids I used to be secretly horrified by the conditions of the cars of my friends with kids. How hard is it to keep your car clean, I wondered sanctimoniously. Ha. Shame on me.

How hard indeed. My little Mazda 5, a car I continue to adore into its fifth year, is filthy. Despite my ongoing (oh fine, occasional) efforts to keep it tidy, I have failed. My car is a mess. I have managed to keep the outside more or less clean, depending on the season, but the inside is no match for me. Candy wrappers, hot chocolate cups, bits of crayon, goldfish crackers, and pieces of dollar store crud toys are just a few of the things ground into the upholstery and carpet. I’ve slopped enough coffee in it to fill a kiddie pool, and you could make four whole dogs out of the dog hair in every crack and crevice. And why why WHY Starbucks, do you insist on giving me those little green stopper sticks that serve no purpose whatsover except to migrate into unreachable fissures and reproduce?

In every season but winter, I honestly do make efforts to keep the interior clean. I just don’t understand why it’s so consistently dirty – I throw away the trash regularly. Well, there’s the aforementioned coffee slops, of course. And erm, the undisturbed dust on the dashboard. And well, of course I haven’t done anything about the dog hair, because oh my christ but it is everywhere. But at least I try, when it’s not winter, to pass a vacuum over the hotspots every month or two, and fish out the flotsam and jetsam the kids wedge under the seats. All bets are off in the winter, though.

Which is why I was cursing this endless winter just yesterday when I found myself with my head mostly under the front seat and my arse sticking out the passenger side door, fishing Crayola marker lids and car wash receipts (oh the irony) out from under the seat. I filled an entire bag with accumulated crap. Though my hands were frozen into claws as I continued to root out bits of a deteriorating Wiggles colouring book and a dried up chapstick, my heart was light. I was removing the surface clutter in anticipation of a more serious cleaning – I’d acquired a coupon for car detailing, and my car was going to have a well deserved beauty appointment!

185:365 My new Mazda 5!

Back in the day when we were both a little more shiny and new.

I don’t think I can put into words exactly how excited I was about getting my car detailed. Not just a quick pass at the gas station vacuum, not a few embarrassed swipes at the dashboard grime with a napkin before my mom got into the car, but a full-on bath! Maybe, maybe – dare I hope? – maybe they could even vanquish that odd but omnipresent smell that was less like new car and more like, well, feet?

And I don’t think I can put into words how annoyed, how frustrated, and how mortified I was when Canotek Auto Detailing refused the job.

I have waffled back and forth on whether to out the company here. I try to always be cognizant of the reach of my voice, and to always use my powers of social media for good. I have to be righteously offended to turn on the spotlight and out someone for crappy service. Sorry to say it, but Canotek Auto Detailing belongs in the hall of shame.

I cleared most of a precious Wednesday off to make the 30 km trek out for my appointment. He barely glanced at my car before telling me that oh no, there was no way he could do this job in 45 minutes (though I’d been told on the phone to expect the appointment to last 60 to 90 minutes.) No, it would be extra to clean this car.

No thanks, I said with my best smile. I’d read some reviews that complained of this business upselling, and I was mostly prepared for it. Do what you can in 45 minutes and that will be good. Oh no, he said, I can’t do that. I can’t just start the job and not finish it. I asked him what’s involved in the package, and he says interior vacuum, clean surfaces, exterior wash, window cleaning, and undercarriage wash. Great, I say, looking at the snow still caked on the roof and falling outside. Skip the exterior and undercarriage wash and just do the vacuum – that’s all I want. He flat out refuses.

No matter what I say, he’s got an argument. Just do the vacuuming, I say and he replies that he can’t run his $1700 vacuum for 45 minutes, he’ll burn out the motor, he’ll pay more in hydro than he will earn from the coupon deal. He is fixated on the $7 that he says he earns from the group deal and I tell him that I totally get it (you might remember I costed out the value of these deals from a business perspective and it’s rarely worth it for the business) but that he chose to offer the deal and I am choosing to take him up on it. The more we talk, the more obstinate he gets. I hate confrontation and I don’t like to be rude and I really just want my car a little bit cleaner than when I got up this morning. I’m totally willing to negotiate on what gets done but when tell him that there’s no way I’m paying for anything extra, he flat out refuses my business. He tells me to go back to Living Social and get a refund, because he’s not running the risk of ruining his expensive vacuum and paying all that electricity consumption for $7.

I’m equal parts shocked and mortified as I back my car (still dirty) back out of the bay. I mean, yes, the car was dirty — that’s why I bought a detailing package! And yes, I get that it may have been dirtier than baseline. But for a business owner (I checked, he was the business owner, or at least said he was) to completely refuse to honour the deal or come to any sort of compromise was, in my opinion, ridiculous. He clearly gets by on the up-selling, and while I’m sympathetic to his need to make a profit, I’m not cool with him doing it via bait and switch. His obstinance and eventual rudeness didn’t do much to ameliorate my opinion of him and his business, either.

Don’t get sucked in by this deal. I’ve got a note in with Living Social, and I’m reasonably confident they’ll refund my money, but I’ll pursue this if I have to. He’s still running a deal with Groupon, although his website is returning a 404 right now. (Kinda wish I’d clicked that before I bought the deal. :/)

So, anyone want to recommend a car detailing place? Preferably one with an industrial vacuum and a better attitude? Because, sadly, my car still smells like feet.


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Facebook turns 10 — and Blog turns 9!

4 February 2014 Meta-blogging

It’s the heart of the birthday season at our house. Simon last Saturday, Lucas this Saturday, Tristan in a couple of weeks, my mom just before that. For some curious reason, late winter is also social media-versary season for me. As you might have heard in the media, Facebook turns 10 today with 1.23 billion […]

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Sponsored: Diet is a four-letter word

2 February 2014 Reviews, promotions and giveaways

I like it when pitches for sponsored posts align with the ideas rattling around in my head. This is another one of those instances. Canadian Olympian and mom Silken Laumann worked with Multi-Grain Cheerios on the World Without Dieting campaign. This is the basis of the campaign: We believe that nutrition is healthier than deprivation […]

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Protected: A love letter to Simon, age 10

1 February 2014 Simon

There is no excerpt because this is a protected post.

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