Bloggy thoughts: Should I stay or should I go?

It’s been about six months since I published a blog post, and in the year before that I only posted a handful of times. I’ve been wondering: is it time to shutter the blog? The kids are too old for me to write about them now; their stories are their own to tell. I used to summarize the theme of the blog as “raising a family in Ottawa” but I feel like the lion’s share of that work is done. And while photos have sustained the blog for the last few years, I don’t feel like I have enough to say about taking them anymore, at least not enough to keep the blog interesting and relevant.

So, is there value in me blogging any more? There’s a cost to consider. It’s not overly expensive to host the blog, and I host my photography site off the same domain, so that’s not going anywhere. More problematically, it’s been a while since I updated the look and especially the functionality. Google tells me it’s not particularly mobile friendly. I can’t even remember half the ways I hacked the code over the years and my eyes glaze over every time I think of making any changes to it. And now Flickr has a new model where the thousands upon thousands of images that I had hosted for free going way back to 2005 will now cost about a hundred bucks a year to keep, or else I’ll have a blog riddled with broken links and lost images.

Turning 50 has been a big year for me, and I have new things that I’m interested in now. I’d like to blog about my new knitting addiction (make all the things!) and I’ve been exploring Tarot cards. I’d like to have a place to talk about the food I’ve enjoyed making, the ways I’m expressing my creativity through making things, and how satisfying it is to be a woman on the far side of 50 who has figured out so many of the very same things I whined about when blog and I were both younger and less sure of ourselves.

I don’t even particularly mind that I’m likely to be talking to myself. The heyday of the blog, a dozen years ago when Lucas was the Player to be Named Later and I was up to my ears and sinking in the quagmire of parenting three under six with a tribe of online friends and followers has long since passed. I don’t mind talking to myself – I do it all the time! I’m just not sure if I’m invested enough in the idea of continuing to do the kind of updates and maintenance that I really should do. Oh technology.

I guess I’m not quite ready to say goodbye, or even see you later. Maybe I’ll just putter around here for a while, without any pressure or expectations from myself, and if I decide I’m going to keep on keeping on, one day when I’m full of energy and enthusiasm I’ll look into overhauling the works. If a girl can grow and change and mature, her silly old blog can follow suit, right?

Our newest sponsor: Manotick School of Music

It is with great bloggy enthusiasm that I welcome our newest sponsor, the Manotick School of Music.

We’ve had the boys enrolled in lessons at the Manotick School of Music for quite a few years now and I’ve always been pleased with the school and especially the wonderful teachers. Tristan took a couple of years of guitar lessons (one of my favourite blog posts from that era is Five reasons why guitar lessons are better than hockey!) but his interest – and practicing – waned after a couple of years and he’s on a musical hiatus right now. Simon took a year of piano, took a year off, and asked specifically if he could start up lessons again this year.

It’s an exciting time for the Manotick School of Music. As of a few months ago, the school is under new management. The owner and director of Manotick’s Musical Thought Studios is taking the school in new directions, and they are offering lessons in piano, guitar, voice, drums, violin, woodwinds and brass. They also offer piano parties, workshops, ensemble quartets and recitals, among other things, and they’re developing a youth musicianship program in the coming months. You can even take lessons on the gorgeous grand piano in the director’s home studio – how awesome is that?

Oh, and in case you missed it, here are my five reasons guitar lessons are better than hockey:

1. We do not risk growing out of this guitar in mid-season.

2. Guitar lessons do not take place at 6 am on a Saturday, or in damp, dank 12C arenas.

3. There is little to no risk of a concussion in guitar lessons.

4. Other parents do not yell angrily at your child during guitar lessons. (Although the jury is still admittedly out on whether we will yell angrily at our own children in the act of encouraging the practicing of said guitar lessons.)

5. Chicks dig guitar players.

Of course, the same could be said about piano lessons! In fact, I was just reading (yet another) article about the benefits of music lessons. In this case, they found that music lessons early in life protect the brain’s speech and auditory functions as you age, and goes on to say that “children who engage in music lessons boost their attention span, memory, and even IQ.”

It’s a dream of mine to one day have a piano in the house. In the interim, I’ll enjoy Simon thumping out Ode to Joy on our electric keyboard. It never fails to make me smile. He’s having fun AND growing his brain. What’s not to love about that?

If you’re interested in music lessons with Musical Thought / Manotick School of Music, you can see the current teacher availability on the Musical Thought website or contact the director at 613-692-2824.

Disclosure: the Manotick School of Music and I exchanged services for the purposes of this sponsorship. However, I would have fully endorsed the school and its lessons despite our advertising agreement and we have been a client of the school since 2011.

Time travel – the 2015/10th anniversary edition

Can you believe the blog is TEN YEARS OLD this month? I’ve been blogging for a decade.

header history collage

And that’s not the only milestone anniversary I’m celebrating in 2015. Mothership Photography is five years old this summer. In March, I’ll be celebrating the 25th anniversary (!!) of my first day of work with CRA and Beloved and I will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the day we met. That’s a bonanza of things to celebrate, so I’m hoping to do a whole series of retrospective posts in the next little while. I figured I’d launch it with this little meme I first published in 2005 and revisited in 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2012 – heh, I have always been a little guilty of repeating myself.

So, here’s the 10th anniversary edition of the time traveller meme!

25 years ago today I would have been:

  • Still in the “practice marriage” to my first husband
  • Just moving back to Ottawa after a failed attempt to move back to my hometown of London, ON
  • Unemployed (for the only time in my life) after having quit my job as a cashier supervisor at Zellers in hopes of getting a job with the government. I’d quit university to work full time at Zellers a few years before.
  • About to move out of my in-laws’ house to an apartment in Vanier

15 years ago today I would have been:

  • A newlywed, coming up on our first anniversary and our infertility diagnosis
  • Freshly graduated (magna cum laude, no less!) from the University of Ottawa
  • Living in a tiny condo townhouse off Hunt Club
  • Working on assignment with Industry Canada in my first comms job in government

10 years ago today I would have been:

  • Just coming back to work in public affairs at CRA after my maternity leave with Simon
  • Wondering how I’d ever balance work and life with two toddlers
  • Living in a townhouse in Barrhaven
  • About to launch Postcards from the Mothership

5 years ago today I would have been:

  • Finishing up my first year of working part-time four days a week, and (temporarily, as it turns out) working with Army News on web and social media
  • Just about to move from Barrhaven to Manotick
  • On the cusp of launching Mothership Photography

1 year ago today I would have been:

  • Starting my “one decade to retirement” countdown but still enjoying my work as the social media lead for CRA
  • Scouring the internet for PEI cottage rental information
  • Finding out about my photo being used on the first of three book covers last year

This year I am:

  • Super excited to have booked not one but TWO weeks in PEI later this summer
  • Pretty much obsessed with PEI
  • Celebrating 25 years since my first day of work with what was then Revenue Canada Customs, Excise and Taxation
  • Still in love with my camera, and blogging, and social media in general

Today I:

  • Am proud that I’ve also learned in the past year or so how to cook and eat real, whole foods and cut processed foods out of our family’s diet almost entirely
  • Am cooking recipes for dinner I learned from Chef Michael Smith
  • Met my activity goal of 10,000 steps
  • Feel like I’m pretty much on track on this whole “lead a good life” thing – and am so grateful for that fact

Next year I hope:

  • That my life has more PEI, more photos, more gratitude, more family joy, more home cooking – and maybe five less pounds 😉
  • And — maybe a kitchen reno, finances willing

In five years I hope:

  • To be within four years (gasp!) of retirement
  • To have nurtured the blog and photography business to greater successes
  • To have taught myself graphic design skills I can use for both the photography and blog businesses

And speaking of time travel, you know what else is significant about 2015? It’s the year Marty McFly visited when he and Doc Brown visited the future from 1985. We just watched Back to the Future parts I and II with the boys over Christmas – speaking of revisiting, if you haven’t seen them lately, they really do stand up to the test of time! Turns out that’s what I was doing 30 years ago – watching Back to the Future for the first time in theatres as a shy, awkward, boy-crazy dreamer who only wanted to get married and have babies. If only I’d had the faintest idea how much more awesome life would turn out than I could have imagined back then!

A new year, a fresh start

Some people head to the gym in January to work off those extra cookies. Some people put away the Christmas decorations and use the opportunity to clean house and purge. Not this girl. Nope, I spent hours on my arse staring at my computer this weekend – but I’m pretty darn happy with the results!

First, I overhauled my Mothership Photography site. That’s a task I’ve been meaning to take on for years, almost right from the time I launched in back in 2010 or so. My graphic design skills have improved immensely in the past few years (did I mention I even toyed with the idea of going back to school part time for graphic design?) and I love the bright clean new look.

Here’s the before and after:

new website banner for Ottawa photographer Danielle Donders

Much improved, right? And how much do I love the little camera logo that Beloved sketched out based on an idea I had but couldn’t quite pull together? I love it so much that it may just be my next tattoo! 😉 I’d love it if you took a little tour around and let me know if you see any problem areas or if, yanno, you just want to heap me with lavish praise for my mad web design skillz.

And speaking of mad design skillz, the bloggy header had started looking a little stale to me a while ago, too, so while I was at it, I freshened that up too. I think it’s much cleaner and I like that the two sites have matching fonts. Here’s the new headers:

Worth the investment of six or eight hours on a snowy January weekend, right? Now I’m ready for a terrific 2015. And about that neglected house cleaning…. 😉

A note about the blog, compensation and sponsored posts

There have been a spate of complaints on some of my sponsored posts over the last few months. I’m not quite sure why people are complaining (mine may be one of the least monetized blogs I know!) or whether it’s several people or one person with several aliases who are posting the complaints. I’ve tried addressing the comments with comments, and then just deleting them, but since they’re continuing, let’s talk about sponsored posts out here in the open.

I blog for the connection with you, the reader, and for the joy of sharing a view of our lives as I see it. I blog because I love to do it, and if I weren’t making any sort of profit from it, I would still be blogging in more or less exactly the same way I have been doing for the past eight years. But yes, I write occasional sponsored posts. I have a great working relationship (and a one-year contract) with Fisher-Price, and I just finished a set of sponsored posts with Conceivable Dreams. I chose to work with these two organizations because I like them, because I would promote them even if they weren’t offering compensation, and because I think they offer something that may be of interest to the people who read this blog. On the other hand, I turn down dozens of pitches each week for various promotions that I don’t feel I could personally endorse, or that I don’t think would have any value to you as readers.

The negative comments that have sprouted up recently are along the lines of “stop selling out with these sponsored posts.” I don’t see being compensated for my time and effort as selling out, I see it as perfectly reasonable. Aside from the out-of-pocket expenses relating to keeping this blog running (domain and hosting, etc) why shouldn’t I be compensated for my time and effort? Like ads on Google or commercials on your favourite TV shows, the sponsored posts help me keep generating the rest of the content that you might prefer.

There was a time when I felt more equivocal about advertising and sponsored posts, and perhaps because of that I have always tried to minimize the amount of sponsored content I post. I am very selective about the advertising and other paid blogging opportunities I accept because whatever I share here on the blog is the equivalent to a personal recommendation, and I don’t take that responsibility lightly. But if an opportunity arises to support a brand or cause that I like, and that opportunity involves monetary or non-monetary compensation, I see absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t take it on.

Maybe you have a different opinion? I’m open to your thoughts here, on this post, and I am genuinely happy to discuss the issue. But this is my space and like it or lump it, my rules apply. If I visit your place and I don’t like the new lime green sofa, I’ll just choose to sit on it and keep my mouth shut or sit on another chair – that’s just good manners. You are welcome to not read the sponsored posts, or to not visit at all, if they truly offend you that much.

If you have genuine concerns and would like to discuss them, let’s do that – but simply scrawling “stop selling out” on every sponsored post isn’t a conversation, it’s graffiti, and I’ll continue to delete those comments from now on.

What do you think, bloggy peeps? It’s not 2006 anymore; blog monetization is the rule rather than the exception for most successful blogs, I think. And I have genuinely tried to be conscious of balancing sponsored and non-sponsored content so the latter largely outweighs the former. Are you perturbed by the sponsored content or do you think it has intrinsic value of its own?

Crowdsourcing the bloggy peeps: What should I call my photo biz?

I thought maybe the new bloggy banners would scratch my spring-ish itch for re-invention, but no such luck. Now I’m thinking of re-naming the photography business, and I need your help!

Back in 2009, I launched an Etsy site to sell some of my photographs as fine art prints. Due partly to inattention and neglect, and probably partly because the prints were never actually as good as I thought they were, nothing never really came of it. Well, except for one thing. When I was creating the Etsy account on a whim one night, I needed a name, and at the time, Mothership Photography seemed a perfect complement to my online empire (ha!) here on the blog.

The fine art business fell by the wayside, but I co-opted the name when I started taking portrait commissions. Since I was aiming at a family community that was largely blog based, and since it harmonized with the blog name, and since google confirmed that nobody else on the internet was using the name, it seemed a good fit.

Well, the little photography business grew and grew. I started selling my work commercially through Getty Images and taking commissions outside of the realm of bloggy friends, and last year the gross income crossed the five figure income mark. It’s a full fledged business now! And it looks like another agency will soon be representing some of my images. (Yay! More details on that soon.) And with all this growth in different directions, the name just doesn’t seem to fit anymore.

Another thing that I don’t like about the name is how harsh other photographers are on “moms with a camera”. I’m reasonably confident in my own skills, no thanks to other photographers intimating moms like me are an icon of the downfall of modern photography (ahem!) but I do wonder if I am not undermining my own credibility with the somewhat cutesy Mothership Photography label.

And so, for the last few months, I’ve been pondering it. Change the name? Embrace the name? I think I’m at a crossroads. If I am going to change it, I’d better do it sooner than later and if not, I have to own it for keeps.

On the other hand, I think a large part of my success with family portraits is the fact that I *am* a mom and I know how to deal with kids, to put them at ease and get them to show their sparkle to me. And I do have two years invested in the name, and a Facebook page. And a logo! (Oh how I love the little shooting star in my logo. I even considered the name “Shooting Star Photography” – it has a PUN! – for a while, but lots of other people had that idea first.)

The biggest hurdle of all, though, is not brand recognition or marketing but this: what the heck SHOULD I call the photography business? There’s already a DaniGirl Photography on Facebook in Amarillo Texas (4 likes) and one on MySpace with no entries, and a blogspot blog with one post, so that one is more or less available.

I could go with the more traditional “Danielle Donders Photography”. Angela cleverly suggested “Donderful Photography”, which makes me smile. And Beloved and I rolled around the floor laughing at the logos and marketing mischief we could develop if I called it “Double D Photography”.

The porch portraits are working for me. “Perfect Porch Photography”? Hmmm, maybe I’d only get calls for real estate shoots. Some of my favourite photography concepts are “whimsy” and “serendipity” but those are already pretty much taken. I want something that represents ME, my creativity and sense of fun and play, but is also professional and says more than just “I bought a DSLR and now I’m a photographer”, yanno?

What do you think, oh clever bloggy peeps? What IS in a name? Shall I commit to Mothership Photography once and for all, or do you like one of the other alternatives? Or maybe you’ve got a clever idea to share?

Look up ^^^ there – new blog banners!

I‘ve been hankering for a bit of a bloggy makeover. I’d started playing with new banners three or four times in the last year or so but never managed to put together anything I like. When I started using the new watermark, I thought I’d pull that font into a new header, and eventually I’ll pull the same style into a new header for my photo site as well. (If you’re reading through a feed reader or on the mobile theme, please click through and take a peek! You might also have to clear your cache – my computer keeps calling up some of the old headers even though they’ve been deleted from the server.)

So – what do you think?

There are eight versions right now, and it should randomly rotate through them as you refresh or click on individual blog posts. I pulled together the typewriter and the camera on the left as a bit of a play on the idea of telling stories in words and pictures, and because a blog banner with my Nikon and MacBook didn’t seem quite so visually appealing. And the photograph at the right is just because I like the idea of a bit of variety in the headers, and I think these pictures offer a bit of a riff on my common bloggy themes of family and play and life in Ottawa.

Here are all of the current headers:

Blog banners

Already forgot what the banners used to look like? Here’s the ones I made up back in 2010:

New blog banners

Let me know what you think, I’d love to hear your comments!

Facebook fan pages redux

If you’ve been reading for a while, you know I haven’t been a huge fan of Facebook. Over the last year or so, I’ve been slowly warming up to it, though, and find myself spending as much if not more time on Facebook than Twitter.

More and more lately, and especially after a conversation on (ironically) Facebook, I’m feeling motivated to finally publish the fan page I created for this blog a few years ago. (I know, welcome to 2009, right?)

The last time I thought seriously about this, I couldn’t think of a reason to have a fan page for the blog because I couldn’t see the value-added; what would be on the fan page that wouldn’t be on the blog? But not that I’m not blogging as obsessively as I once was, I do find things fall between the cracks, or just get posted to my personal FB page, just because it’s a quick and easy way to post a thought or two. There are fun things for Ottawa families that I don’t have time to post, or wee things that don’t seem to merit an entire blog post. There are shareworthy links that I might have posted on Pinterest, had I not quit it several months ago, or other bits of flotsam and jetsam that die in draft format because I can’t get them out quickly enough. I also have a few ideas for some fun giveaways and contests.

I was going to put up a poll asking you whether you’d be interested in “liking” a fan page for Postcards from the Mothership, but then I decided to let the liking speak for itself: if you’re interested in hearing a little bit more, please do!

Postcards from the Mothership

Promote Your Page Too

Consider it a sort of Postcards-lite, with a little extra something on the side. I hope to see you there!

Upgrades and other timesinks

I have spent waaaaaay too much time this weekend with my nose pressed to the monitor of my laptop, doing back-ups and upgrades and all the ridiculous site maintenance issues that I should do more frequently but never seem to get around to doing.

First, I updated the banners on my portfolio site, and then made a matching one for the Facebook page for Mothership Photography. (Are you a fan yet? Now would be a good time! *hint hint*) I’ll wait here while you click around and enjoy them. The photo site has rotating banners like this site does, so you get a fresh image when you refresh. (Speaking of refresh, I haven’t updated these ones since 2009. Eek, I suppose that’s next on my list!)

And then I got around to fixing something that’s been bugging me for a while – I changed the ugly navigation menu across the top of this site to more closely match the one I had coded into the photography site, and I dropped the navigation below the blog header. How is it displaying for you? All in one line? Readable? Looks okay in IE and Firefox from here, but that’s about as far as my attention for testing goes. (One of so many reasons I would make a lousy coder. No mind for details and no patience for testing or debugging!) Here’s what it looked like an hour ago, for comparison:

What do you think? The navigation menu doesn’t get lost, does it?

After all this time, I still do my site backups manually. Do you have a favourite plug-in to do yours? I don’t know why I don’t trust a plug-in to do this, but for some reason I don’t.

Now I’m off to back up EVERYTHING – blog files, photo files, Lightroom, client files, the whole she-bang. After we lost a hard-drive full of pictures, I’ve become a fan of redundant backups, so I have online backup through Backblaze and two separate external drives, which I try to rotate between home and office. Sigh. I think I need to hire a digital housekeeper right after I find the funds to hire an actual housekeeper…

Crowdsourcing: Recommendations for online backup?

Hey bloggy peeps, I need your advice.

Beloved and I have been discussing online backup of our computers for a while, but haven’t yet got around to it. I happened to say this weekend that I really, really want to get around to this before it’s too late — and today, my 1TB back-up drive with I can’t even tell you how many photos, including a good chunk of my professional work and most of my first 365, stopped working. I’m still holding out faint hope even as I’m sick with the possible loss — but at least it wasn’t *everything*.

At least I have whatever is on the laptop, which is 80% of the digital negatives from the last year or so, and most but not all of my other documents. Silver lining, I suppose. Beloved has downloaded some diagnotic tools, so maybe all is not yet lost.

So anyway, do you do online backups and if so, with what company? I’ve heard good things about Carbonite, and Rogers Online Protection would be an easy choice as we already use them for cable and Internet. We have an HP laptop running Windows, for whatever that’s worth. Any opinions or advice are most welcome, thanks!