Rants and rambles

This month, I’m celebrating an anniversary-palooza of ten years of blogging by revisiting some of my favourite old posts. I have to tell you, I was utterly delighted to find this post about us getting family portraits done from the winter of 2006. I wrote long before I had even the faintest idea of opening my own portrait photography business, and to be honest I completely forgot that I wrote it and I find it hilarious now. Although I had forgotten this post, I never did forget the experience, and it has served to inspire me in my career as a family photographer, because NOBODY should ever have to go through this to get decent family portraits. Trust me, my lovely bloggy peeps, you do get what you pay for and I genuinely do know whereof I speak on this one!

Our grocery store has a dry cleaner, a café, a tobacconist and a women’s gym on site. They have a portrait studio as well.

Each time I’m in there, which is about three times a week, I stand in the checkout line and admire the oversized portraits of cheeky babies posed with adorable props – fluffy white teddy bears, giant daisies, stainless steel tubs. And I look at those pictures and wonder why I never get around to getting professional portraits done of our boys.

My sister-in-law brings my 14-month old nephew in to her local version of the same grocery-store/portrait studio every few months, and we have a series of exquisite photos of him, from sleeping peacefully on a pillow (barely a few weeks old) to sitting proudly on a rocking chair (his one-year-old portraits.)

One day, all the tumblers clicked into place, and I had an epiphany. My boys are plenty photogenic. They are growing like weeds. They have sweet dispositions and are natural hams. We are in the grocery store every two days anyway – while we’re in there, we should get some portraits done!

*cue ominous music*

For weeks, I was excited. Despite a complete lack of foresight on my part, the portrait sitting happened be the week before my mother’s birthday. What grandmother wouldn’t love a framed 8×10 of her beauties as a gift?

I spent idle hours minutes considering which outfits the boys should wear. I made sure all the laundry was done so we would have my first choices plus full back-up outfits to wear. The day of the sitting, I waited until 15 minutes before we went out the door to dress them, to avoid any potential unpleasantness with half-chewed goldfish or mashed-banana bits. We made it to the grocery store with just the perfect amount of time to spare – not late enough to be frazzled, not early enough to have to spend excessive effort corralling idle preschoolers.

And that’s when the dream of the perfect family portrait began to fade away like film exposed to bright sunlight.

The session before ours ran late, so we waited in an alcove in tantalizingly full but unreachable view of the toy section. Oversized babies leaning on giant blocks looked down on us as the boys went from disinterested to impatient to agitated in the span of minutes. Simon heard the voices behind the black curtain and became obsessed with getting into the studio. Tristan whined that it was taking too long. The oversized babies began to look less cherubic and more sanctimonious with every passing moment.

After a tense quarter hour of waiting, which included some of our lesser moments in public parenting, we were finally allowed into the studio. The photographer was a seasoned professional, likely old enough to drive but certainly not to drink. Which was unfortunate, because I could have used a drink by that point.

There were no giant daisies, no rocking chairs, and no big steel tubs. We chose the fake rock as a prop. (We could have gone with the paint-chipping-off wooden blocks. Maybe there is a reason professional photography studios charge more than $24.99 a package?)

Naïvely clinging to the idea that the picture-taking itself would go smoothly, we had Tristan lean on the (fake) rock while trying to entice Simon out from behind the curtain, where he was playing peeky-boo with himself. Tristan discovered that the (fake) rock was not level, and in fact could act as a catapult, should an unsuspecting brother be placed near it.

Neither boy would look anywhere in the vicinity of the camera.

Tristan was suddenly and chronically afflicted with an inability to smile in anything other than an ironic grimace.

Simon would.not. sit. still.

Eventually, Beloved and I hopped into the picture, hoping at least to confine the boys within boundaries of the frame for the length of a shutter-click. We poked, we begged, we implored, we ordered, we tickled. Finally, regretfully albeit successfully, we made fart noises.

After what seemed like mere moments, our session time was up. Beloved shepherded the boys back out into the alcove while the photographer (I am making air quotes around the word photographer as I type – I can’t help myself) showed me the scant few images she had deigned to capture.

With every passing image of painfully forced smiles, blurry toddler escapes and maternal hairy eyeballs (nobody should have to look at a picture of themselves giving the hairy eyeball), I felt my standards lowering from perfectly composed, beautifully realized portraits that captured the complex but ultimately sweet essence of their personalities and the magic of being a parent to one marginally acceptable pose that didn’t feature someone with a finger up his nose or looking like (s)he had been recently lobotomized.

And then I saw these.

(Oh, and the bit about the fart noises and that throbbing vein over my clenched jaw muscles? Let’s just keep that as our little secret, okay?)


Dear Internet Friends,

I love you dearly, but you make me want to bang my head on the desk when you confuse the homonyms peek, peak and pique.

I would have thought the difference between peek and peak should be fairly straightforward, but when I saw them interchanged for the third time in a single day recently, I knew I had to write this post.

verb: 1. to look furtively. 2. to take a brief look.
noun: 1. a furtive look. 2. a brief look.

verb to cause to come to a peak, point or maximum
noun: the highest level or greatest degree (see here for more definitions)
adjective: of, relating to or being a period of maximum intensity or activity (ie peak business hours)

Every time you misuse one of these spellings for the other, an angel loses its wings.

On the other hand, “pique” is a bit more of an obsure term and I may be able to forgive some misuse. But not after today!

noun: a transient feeling of wounded vanity; resentment. (ie “He slammed the door in a fit of pique.”)
verb: to excite or arouse, especially by provocation, challenge or rebuff.

Here’s a quick quiz for you, with the most common incorrect usage I’ve seen:

“Wow, that’s interesting, you’ve really ____________ my curiousity now!”
(a) peeked
(b) peaked
(c) piqued

You picked (c), right? Right! Now go out and pique somebody’s interest while you’re in peak grammar form. Stay tuned for my next rant on “wallah!” versus “voilà!”

Okay, grammar geeks, now it’s your turn: which grammar errors are curdling your milk lately?


There are a lot (no really? A LOT!) of things I love about the new house. I love the layout, and the location. And the light — oh my sweet lord, the morning light pouring in to the kitchen and then the setting sun bathing the whole front of the house in a rich, warm, yellow, delicious light… it’s truly gorgeous, even moreso than I expected.

I love the extra space in the kitchen, although it’s a new challenge to have to actually walk 10 steps across the kitchen to get something, as opposed to my tiny galley kitchen where everything was literally within arm’s reach. I’m happy to trade the extra space we lost in the master bedroom for the space we gained in the main living space, and even though I’m still a tiny bit anxious about having the big boys down in the basement, they are not in the least bit concerned about it and in fact love their giant-sized and not-shared bedrooms.

We’ve made good progress in getting stuff out of boxes and organized, although there is still a frightful amount of work to be done. We’ve probably got about 65 per cent of the boxes unpacked, and I have a pretty good idea of which box holds what of the boxes that remain. Unfortunately, of those boxes that remain, a large number of them are full of stuff that never really had a proper home in the last house, either. Those are the boxes that you keep shuffling off into the corner, saying, “Oh, I can’t deal with this one now. I’ll get to it later.” I figure we should be fully unpacked some time in, oh, say November. Of 2011.

One of the most challenging issues to date has been mapping our old daily routines onto a new house. It’s taking me forever to get ready for work in the mornings because I am if nothing else a creature of habit, and my habits don’t work in the new layout. I’ll finish one task, like brushing my teeth, and find myself in full-stop mode, standing rather perplexedly in the middle of the bathroom, flummoxed as to what to do next. Muscle memory would have previously carried me through to the next task in the routine, but with nothing where it is ‘supposed’ to be, I have to actually stop and think about what I have to do next and, more importantly, where the stuff is that I need to accomplish that task. Like, my socks. Getting dressed in the old house never taxed any of my pre-coffee brain cells!

And the thing that is most vexing about mapping my old routines onto the new house? There aren’t enough hooks. In fact, there aren’t any hooks at all.

We are, in general, lazy people. We seek to exert the shortest possible amount of effort on activities that involve housekeeping. Hanging a jacket up on a hanger takes four seconds of effort, but draping one over a hook takes less than two. If there are no nearby hooks, any nearby structure will do — chairs, railings, whatever. I’m sure we’d drape things over the dog if it weren’t for the infernal shedding.

The old house was filled with strategically placed hooks — by the front door, in the bathrooms, in the bedrooms. Anywhere one might want to divest one’s self of the contents of one’s hands (jacket, backpack, purse, towel, scarf, just about anything hookable!) there was a hook to prevent the unceremonious dumping of said contents onto the floor.

The problem is that the new house also doesn’t lend itself to the strategic placement of hooks in the same way the old house did. The entryway, while charming with its double door, allows space for neither coat hooks nor even a natural spot for a purse-resting key table or even a set of key hooks. I’m still puzzling over how to make that work.

The bathrooms are another area that cry out for hooks. While I have not yet managed to acquire new waste bins for them (attractive plastic Farm Boy bags currently fill that role, dangling from available knobs) I did set out on the very first day to acquire some bathroom-suitable hooks. We’re minus one shower in the new house, and the main and downstairs bathrooms simply don’t have enough towel bar space to accommodate five bath towels and bathrobes on a regular and rotating basis.

In my new favourite store, the Manotick Home Hardware, I carefully contemplated our needs and decided on a lovely set of over-the-door hooks that would give us a place to hang the here-to-fore homeless bathrobes and wet towels. And imagine my consternation when I arrived home, tore open the package, and stood in slack-jawed dismay at the door to the main bathroom. The 1960s bungalow special feature: a pocket door.

Foiled again.

Speaking of hooks, I think I’ll end this rambly and vaguely incoherent post here with this poor excuse for a conclusion, before the big hook comes up to yank me off the stage. (This is the kind of post you get when I have hours upon hours of time to think about blog posts while doing menial labour but not enough time to actually execute the ideas into coherence!!) 🙂


Dear World,

Could you please slow down just a bit? I am so far behind now, between my work and home and online lives, that I may have to live to 350 to get all caught up.



To that end, I’m curious. I get anywhere from one to ten random, unsolicited e-mails a day with some sort of pitch or news release or information in them. I do a quick triage as they come in, and even if I’m not interested, if it’s obvious someone has taken the time to personalize their form letter even a bit, I will find a couple of polite words to decline.

For those of you who receive these unsolicited pitches, I’m curious — do you respond to each one?


I’m heading out in a bit to see Tristan’s class play. He has the lead! I have butterflies of anticipation in my stomach for him already! He plays a tiger shark who just wants everyone to get along. Too cute for words!

We’ve been studying his lines for two weeks. It’s astonishing to me how quickly and easily he memorizes things. Or maybe it astonishes me how creaky and slow my own brain has become by comparison.


I also have to remember to stop over at Costco to pick up the photographs I sent for printing. How cool is this? A guy in Ireland is doing a gallery show on through the viewfinder (TtV) photography. He’s asked TtV photographers from all over the world to send him 4×4″ TtV prints, which will be mounted with a dot of velcro onto a giant mural nine metres long and one metre tall. Gallery patrons will be invited to take home one of the photos, and the gaps will be replenished through the duration of the show. We can submit as many prints as we want (he’s hoping to get more than 2000 prints) and include on the back any publicity or contact information we want.

So, there’s a good chance that some stranger in Ireland will take home a print of one of these as a souvenir:

Gallery TtV shots

How cool is that? My first gallery showing — well, me and a couple hundred other TtV fanatics, but I’ll take it!


The other day, I was on the phone at work and giving my last name to someone. They missed it and I repeated myself, “Donders, like the reindeer.” After I hung up, because the cubicle farm provides not a scintilla of privacy, a colleague asked me, “What was that you said about the reindeer?” And so I launched into my seasonal tirade, which reminded me that I almost forgot to repost it again this year. (Hey, if CBS can air How the Grinch Stole Christmas every year for 45 years, I’m entitled to a seasonal repeat too!)

And because I understand that the beauty of the Christmas special repeats is their familiarity, here’s last year’s post, verbatim:

“Oh no,” lament the bloggy peeps who have been around for a while. “Not the reindeer thing again!”

Why yes, as a matter of fact. It’s the reindeer thing again. If I can educate one misinformed soul every year about the correct names of Santa’s reindeer, my mission will be a success.

“You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen;
Comet and Cupid and DONDER and Blitzen…”

As you might know, my last name is Donders. As such, it has been my lifelong quest to set the record straight and right the wrongs entrenched by Johnny Marks and Gene Autry.

Here’s a little history lesson for you. The poem “A Visit From St Nicholas”, commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas”, was written back in 1823 and is generally attributed to American poet Clement Clarke Moore (although there have been recent arguments that the poem was in fact written by his contemporary Henry Livingston Jr.) The original poem reads, in part:

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name.
“Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on Dunder and Blixem!

As explained on the Donder Home Page (no relation):

In the original publication of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” in 1823 in the Troy Sentinel “Dunder and Blixem” are listed as the last two reindeer. These are very close to the Dutch words for thunder and lightning, “Donder and Bliksem”. Blixem is an alternative spelling for Bliksem, but Dunder is not an alternative spelling for Donder. It is likely that the word “Dunder” was a misprint. Blitzen’s true name, then, might actually have been “Bliksem”.

In 1994, the Washington Post delved into the matter (sorry for the noisy link – it’s the only copy I could find online) by sending a reporter to the Library of Congress to reference the source material.

We were successful. In fact, Library of Congress reference librarian David Kresh described Donner/Donder as “a fairly open-and-shut case.” As we marshaled the evidence near Alcove 7 in the Library’s Main Reading Room a few days ago, it quickly became clear that Clement Clarke Moore, author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” wanted to call him (or her?) “Donder.” Never mind that editors didn’t always cooperate. […] Further confirmation came quickly. In “The Annotated Night Before Christmas,” which discusses the poem in an elegantly illustrated modern presentation, editor Martin Gardner notes that the “Troy Sentinel” used “Dunder”, but dismisses this as a typo. Gardner cites the 1844 spelling as definitive, but also found that Moore wrote “Donder” in a longhand rendering of the poem penned the year before he died: “That pretty well sews it up,” concluded Kresh.

So there you have it. This Christmas season, make sure you give proper credit to Santa’s seventh reindeer. On DONDER and Blitzen. It’s a matter of family pride. (Or, for more fun with the true meaning of Donder, you can read this post from the archives, too!)


Last week, I was tickled to stumble across this fun list of “cool Canadians on Twitter.” I don’t know why, but Canadian celebrities just seem more accessible, somehow, don’t they? I promptly started following Bryan Adams, William Shatner, Jann Arden, Rick Mercer, Brent Butt, the Tragically Hip, Matthew Perry, and Great Big Sea on Twitter, rounding out my existing CanCon-follow repetoire of Burton Cummings, Douglas Coupland, Margaret Atwood, and Jian Ghomeshi.

For the most part, I don’t see the point in following celebrities on Twitter. I mean, does Oprah really tweet, or does one of her minions do it for her? With more than two million followers, she doesn’t need me. I simply haven’t been interested in following any celebrities up until now.

But there’s something about these Canadian celebrities (and *air quotes* celebrities */air quotes*) that immediately feel more intimate and accessible. When I read Brent Butt’s tweets, his voice and sense of humour are charmingly distinct — and his tweets are distinctly down to earth, like: “Ok… I should get back to work. Then again, I should also eat less cheese, and I don’t think THAT’S going to happen any time soon.” And reading Douglas Coupland’s tweets is like 140 characters clipped directly from his books: “If you read the NYTimes site right after reading The Onion, reality morphs in a not unpleasant way. It’s like the news just had a stroke.” They seem pleasantly — ordinary, somehow.

When I was 15 years old, I had a crush on a boy named Greg. I also had a massive crush on Bryan Adams. And Greg had an older sister who had a picture of herself on a train with Bryan Adams. I think I was more jealous of that girl than any other person before or since. Not only was she Greg’s sister and could see him each day at dinner, each morning at breakfast, any old time she pleased, but she had actually (gasp!) met (titter!) Bryan Adams (swoon!) in person. It was beyond imaginable to me. The idea of simply being on the same train as Bryan Adams was fodder for endless hours of daydreaming, that long ago autumn of 1985.

I laugh now when I think of how my 15-year-old self would shimmer and explode in a cloud of teenaged hormonal delight at the idea of following Bryan Adams on Twitter. It even gave my 40-year-old self a bit of a nostalgic shiver when he recently tweeted “Ottawa today, got my first real six string…right here”. (I missed that concert, but caught a terrific one about a decade back, at Lansdowne.)

There’s something about Twitter, when used properly, that invites an intimacy with both big and little C celebrity that would simply astonish my Tiger-Beat reading self of two decades ago. I’m under no delusion that Rick Mercer will ever follow my tweets (heck, he wouldn’t even pick up the bloggy gauntlet I threw down, back in 2005) but there’s still an undeniable thrill to feel even an illusory sort of connection to actual famous people, yanno? Apparently my inner 14-year-old is barely repressed, even at the best of times!

I’ve been idling over this for a while, but I keep getting tangled up in my own words. What do you think? Do you follow any celebrities on twitter, or through other online forums? Do you actually try to talk to them? Does the fact that an author (or actor, musician, or other celeb) uses social media in a way that invites insight into their personality intrigue you or change how you feel about them?


Memo to the universe: Please slow down!

3 September 2009 It IS all about me

Is it just me, or has the pace of life sped up considerably over the last couple of days weeks? I’m feeling breathless everywhere I go for the sheer number of things I’m supposed to be doing, trying to do at the same time, or simply not getting around to doing at all. Usually, I […]

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Digital cable discontent

15 June 2009 Consumer culture

So it’s been a little less than a week since we’ve had our fancy new digital cable box, and you know what? Even with 600+ channels, there’s STILL nothing on TV. Worse, I now spend my precious hour or so of TV time each night scaling through the digital TV Guide gadget looking for stuff […]

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Wherein verbosity wins out over quality content. Again.

21 May 2009 Rants and rambles

I’m on day two of a migraine, and I’m stubbornly refusing to lower the blinds in my office so the bright morning light is making me squint rather unattractively at the monitor. I keep thinking, “I swear, the NEXT blog post will have actual real content. Just as soon as I get past XXX” — […]

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Good days, bad days

19 May 2009 It IS all about me

One of the most valuable things that this blog has given me has been a record of the minutiae of our daily lives. Not only of the milestones and special occassions and momentous changes, but of the rhythm of every-day life as our family has grown. And because I tend to blog whatever is in […]

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