Ah, me boys

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.


{ 2 comments }

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


{ 1 comment }

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.

Boys 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 part of 10 days together in close quarters, though, and it was great. The boys tolerate our ideas of “adventures” (“let’s drive across the island so I can take a picture from a scenic lookout!”) as long as they’re liberally paired with stops for ice cream and the occasional used book store or comic book shop. And when we’re “home” in the cottage, they have liberal device and screen time – it’s their vacation too, after all.

Stay tuned and I’ll share some of our favourite PEI adventures from this year over the next couple of weeks.


{ 0 comments }

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!!!


{ 0 comments }

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.

2017-05-17 18.46.50

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!)

2017-05-17 17.59.28

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.

2017-05-17 18.08.46

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.

2017-05-17 18.10.36

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.

2017-05-17 18.11.49

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.

2017-05-20 18.45.23

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


{ 1 comment }

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!


{ 1 comment }

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. […]

1 comment Read the full article →

Photo of the day: Sunday art project

16 January 2017 Lucas

Nothing makes Lucas happier than creative work – drawing, painting, building. And nothing makes me happier than bright colours and interesting photo opportunities. That’s a win-win, wouldn’t you agree?

0 comments Read the full article →

Seven years of Christmas tree quests

14 December 2016 Ah, me boys

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 […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Photo of the day: Decorating the tree

11 December 2016 Ah, me boys

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 […]

0 comments Read the full article →