Ah, me boys

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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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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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. I recently stumbled across the retelling of Jamie’s photo project in this video, and thought it worthy of sharing here. It’s really amazing to think of him taking these photos in the days before digital!

If you can’t view the video, you can see the original on Mental Floss.

If you’ve been reading along lately, you know I’ve been inspired to incorporate more storytelling into my photography. Over the years I’ve worked on my technical skills (exposure, focus, light, etc) and then my compositional skills. I’ve refined my digital post-processing skills, played with black and white, and worked on how to pose people.

Now it’s time to level-up once more and hone my storytelling skills. I’ve always valued a photograph with a “moment” more than a technically perfect photo, and lately I’ve started to move my photography business in the direction of less posed portraits and more documentary photography. And so, the very same story that inspired my Project 365 has motivated me to start a new project: the Story of the Day. I don’t think I have the stamina to do one every single day, but that’s what I’ll be looking for in my personal photography this year: photos that tell a story.

Here’s a great example! This is breakfast at our house. Lucas has made some freezer waffles for himself and instead of syrup has coated them in peanut butter and chocolate sprinkles. As he eats, he’s watching YouTube videos and Bella is watching expectantly for a stray morsel to drop. The light behind him is what brings it all together, I think.

"Are you going to finish that?"

I love this picture, and I’m excited about the idea of telling more stories through photography this year. I know from looking back on my archives, the photos that document the minutiae of every day life are the ones that resonate with me. And, I’m just a sucker for a new project. I think I’ll aim for one Story of the Day photo each week. One down, 51 to go!


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Nothing makes Lucas happier than creative work – drawing, painting, building.

And nothing makes me happier than bright colours and interesting photo opportunities.

Sunday art project documentary photography

That’s a win-win, wouldn’t you agree?


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The year we moved to Manotick was the year we swapped our almost 20 year old artificial tree for a (formerly) live one. Though I had never had a “real” tree, we have come to love our annual Christmas tree quest and I could not imagine ever going back to an artificial tree.

Conveniently, 2010 is also the year I launched my photography business. Fun to see both how much the boys have grown and how much I have grown as a photographer over the years!

2010: they were babies!!

The Great Christmas Tree Adventure 2010

2011: clearly I hadn’t unlocked the mysteries of white balance because everything is blue.

Searching for a tree

2012: the year we discovered Thomas Tree Farm, where we’ve gone every year since. Also, the year Tristan was big enough to take over one end of the tree.

Christmas tree quest 2012-6

2013: Lucas is wearing the coat today that Simon was wearing that day.

Christmas Tree Quest 2013

2014: I never noticed before that it’s always Simon’s task to carry the saw.

Christmas tree quest 2014-5

2015: that weird year we wore spring coats until Boxing Day. Also, add reindeer to all the things!

Christmas tree and reindeer

2016: where did all these man-sized children come from?

Christmas tree picking 2016-6

Do you have a favourite holiday tradition that you do every year? Our holidays are steeped in tradition, but hunting for the Christmas tree is probably our family favourite!


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Things you see in this photo:

* three boys decorating a Christmas tree
* two boys who are nearly as tall as the tree itself
* my boys are still wearing pajamas even though this is late afternoon (lazy Sunday FTW!)
* a nearly triangular tree that is far wider than we expected
* that our tree is full of mismatched and home-made ornaments and though will never make it to the cover of a decorating magazine, each of those ornaments makes me smile

Decorating the tree

What you don’t see: now that it’s a few days later, the entire bottom section has been stripped of its ornaments by Lucy the kitten. We keep finding smaller, lighter ornaments stashed throughout the house where she has dropped them.

We seem to be in an ongoing cycle where the fragile ornaments are on the tree (the childless years) then off the tree (the toddler years) then on the tree (the Katie years) then off the tree (hello clumsy, exuberant Bella!) then on the tree, and once again back off the tree (Lucy has not yet actually scaled the tree, but we’ve caught her thinking about it.)

I’d say “this is why we can’t have nice things” — but maybe the nicest things are the ones that endure the likes of toddlers and boisterous puppies and curious kitties?


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Photos of the day: Christmas tree quest 2016

4 December 2016 Ah, me boys

We are a family that loves routine, and the highest elevation of a routine becomes tradition. There’s few traditions more sacred to our family than the annual trip out to Thomas Tree Farm to get a Christmas tree – and the photographing of said trip! This year, Lucas got to make the first couple of […]

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Photos of the day: Piano in the Park at Watson’s Mill

25 September 2016 Lucas

I had heard about Pianos in the Park, but didn’t realize until this week that they had installed a piano right around the corner from us at our favourite place. The Ottawa version of Pianos in the Park (apparently it’s an international movement) is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing pianos to local parks. They’ve […]

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Photos of the day: Apple picking

17 September 2016 Ah, me boys

One of our favourite seasonal markers is our annual trip to a local orchard to pick apples. It looks like it’s been a great growing season, and when we visited last weekend, the boughs were heavy with ripe Lobos, Paula Reds and MacIntosh apples. As usual, we picked more than we could ever eat. Beloved […]

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Photo of the day: “Joy is to fun what the deep sea is to a puddle. It’s a feeling inside that can hardly be contained.” ~ Terry Pratchett

24 July 2016 Lucas

Only time for a quick photo today. This is from Basin Head – of course. “Joy is to fun what the deep sea is to a puddle. It’s a feeling inside that can hardly be contained.” ~ Terry Pratchett I love this quote and how well it goes with this photo. It’s from Hat Full […]

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