November 2011

Last week, I hauled out the Santa hats for our annual Christmas card shoot. The boys recognize this tradition, and are wonderfully patient subjects. It was getting dark quickly, but the sun was perfectly screened by light cloud cover and the light on the porch was lovely when I got a few good shots. This isn’t the best of the lot, but it is my favourite of the outtakes.

336:365 Christmas card outtake

Here’s the official portraits from 2009 and 2010, too!

Merry Christmas 2009Happy Christmas

(Ha, I just realized that they’re in exactly the same seating arrangement for all three pictures — complete coincidence!)

With a little bit of patience, you too can take great pictures of your kids (no, really!) for your own holiday cards. Here’s a few tips:

– work with them when they’re at their best. Full bellies, post-nap, playful mood and nobody in a rush. Also, a calm photographer goes a long way towards making kids calm, so don’t try to cram a session in while the spaghetti is boiling over or you’ve only got 10 minutes before you have to leave for hockey practice.

– be playful. Tell the kids a knock-knock joke, and snap pictures between the responses. Make funny noises. Make funny faces. Genuine laughs are way more beautiful than what a six year old boy *thinks* a smile is supposed to look like.

– get in close. Fill the frame with the kids, or even just their faces. Also, try avoid shooting down at them. Get yourself to face level or even shooting slightly up at them.

– look for the best light – and turn OFF the pop-up flash on your camera. This is the dimmest part of the year, so good natural light is hard to come by — but it’s worth hunting for! Think about shooting with an open door or window behind you (but watch out for your shadow) or shoot beside a big window or patio door. Soft, diffuse light is better than direct light, though. (Oh, so many rules!) If you’re outside on a bright day, look for open shade with bright light nearby.

– try to capture catchlights in their eyes. Catchlights are those bright points of light that bring sparkle to the eyes, and are either a reflection of the light source itself or a large surface of light like an open window or bright patch of floor. Catchlights are so important that Photoshop books will teach you how to fake them, but it’s better if you can just and capture them.

– avoid having the kids look at the camera and say cheese. Nothing spoils a good photo faster, IMHO! Catch them interacting with each other, with a favourite toy or book, or even interacting with you — but no canned cheese smiles, please!

– give the kids some control. Tell them that once you get a couple of shots you’re happy with, they can do a funny-face one, or one with everyone doing rabbit-ears, or whatever it is that they’re trying to do that you don’t want to send to all 150 people on your greeting card mailing list.

– think about what they’ll be wearing and try to coordinate the colours. They don’t have to be matchy-matchy, but think about having a bit of one colour on each person, or complimentary colours. Or go for matching props, like with my precious Santa hats, or maybe matching mitts or scarves. Unity is good, cloning is not.

This year, I’m feeling mildly guilty that I chose to print flat, single-sided hoilday cards — preprinted with a greeting and our names, no less! — rather than the folded cards that I’ve personalized by hand in prior years. And I had even had grand designs of creating my own template from scratch at one rather optimistic point back in September, but have defaulted to one of Costco’s templates. I feel like such a slacker!

But at least I had the photos taken and the cards ordered before the end of November. I think that’s a new speed record for me! Now it just remains to be seen if I’m organized enough to send them out this year…


I can’t believe I’ve got more than 90 per cent of my second 365 project in the can. Did this year just fly by or what?

This week’s pictures are all over the map. Actually, that’s not quite true — they were all taken within or around Manotick. But I couldn’t really come up with any sort of cohesive theme outside of “I really don’t have time for Project 365 this week!”

I like it best when cuteness asserts itself for the photographic taking, like when Willie hopped up onto the table to try to entice Tristan away from his homework. I thought him settling in on the Petit Robert was pretty cute, but the yawn was an unexpected bonus that I just happened to be ready to catch.

333:365 Homework is boring

I tried to play with a longer exposure and pan the camera with the movement of these geese, but I’m not thrilled with the result. It was an idea better in concept than execution, I think, but it was the best of the lot and I didn’t have any other pictures for the day. It was fun spooking a giant flock of geese into flight just by stopping by the side of the road, though!

335:365 Goose pan (as opposed to goose in the pan)

When I saw this stump with its little ecosystem, it looked like a faerie playground to me. 🙂

330:365 Fairy playground

And then we had snow! I was pretty excited to see how much snow fell when we woke up on Wednesday — and by the time we got everyone into their boots and ski pants and scarves and hats, I was pretty much done with winter. Lucas seemed plenty perplexed by the white stuff!

334:365 First snowfall

I’ve been playing a lot with textures lately, and I really love the effects from the Spring Painterly sets from Flypaper Textures. I love how the brush strokes and deep blue hues transformed this rather mundane photo into something moody and a little mysterious. I’m really pleased with this one!

331:365 Blue hour at the farm

I used another texture from the Spring Painterly set to enhance this picture of some fall berries.

332:365 Orange and red berries

And last but definitely not least — yes, it’s that time of year again! We hauled out the Santa hats and turned the porch into a portrait studio again. This one is one of the outtakes, but I like the expressions on their faces and the interaction.

336:365 Christmas card outtake

At the end of the day, they’re still my very favourite subjects to photograph. 🙂


I received this information about a great series of information sessions put together by the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and I thought I’d pass the information along to you.

CHEO Connects is a free information series for parents in the community, providing trusted information and access to local experts. There will be six evening events rolled out over the 2011/2012 school year — each covering both physical and mental health topics for a specific age group.

Each CHEO Connects session will help parents focus on key such things, including: What is “normal” for this age group? What are the biggest red flags I should watch out for? What I can do to help make a difference? CHEO experts will be on hand to answer questions.

This Monday, November 28 2011, the session focuses on 6 to 9 year olds. The sessions begin at 7 pm at the Adult High School (300 Rochester at Gladstone) and you can choose two of the following breakout sessions to attend:

Self Esteem, Friendships and Social Skills: What You Need to Help Your Child – Dr. Simone Kortstee
How can we help our children accept themselves and be confident in who they are? What can we as parents say and do to help them get along with others without losing themselves? In developing more independent friendships, what do our children need to know about peer pressure and bullying?

Helping your 6 to 9 year old develop skills for co-operation and self-management – Dr. Virginia Bourget
At this age, children develop increasingly effective executive function skills. Learn to understand and facilitate the abilities that will allow your child to regulate his/her emotions and behaviour with growing independence. Parental strategies for those times when adults and children can’t seem to agree will also be discussed.

Depression and Anxiety in Children: Tips and Tools – Dr. Marjorie Robb
With all the changes that children 6 to 9 experience, some stress and anxiety is to be expected. Children become more independent, and school and friends start playing a more important role. This presentation will look at signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety in children with an emphasis on “red flags” that parents should be aware of and suggestions about first steps to take in responding.

Healthy Activity and Balance! Can We Do Everything Well? – Dr. Annick Buchholz. Dr. Laurie Clark, Kelly Hefferman, RD
Healthy active living begins in childhood and carries on into our lives as adults. How can parents ensure a balance amongst school demands, extra-curricular activities, eating and sleeping? This session will review suggestions for how to help create balance in our children’s daily activities in order to promote physical and mental health.

This sounds like an amazing resource, doesn’t it? You can get more information on the CHEO Connects Web site.


It’s only in the last year of blogging with Fisher-Price that I realized how many of the toys and product lines we already love come from them. One of my concerns when I first started blogging with the PlayPanel was that the big boys might feel excluded, as in my mind Fisher-Price had the best baby gear, and great toys for babies and preschoolers — but I wasn’t sure what they’d have for school-age kids.

Well, I needn’t have been concerned. With great product lines like Imaginext, Hot Wheels, and Rescue Heroes, there are great toys for every age and stage. Here’s my top five recommendations for toys for kids ages six and up from the Fisher-Price catalogue. (Note: Although I am compensated for my participation in the Fisher-Price playpanel group, this post is written purely on my own initiative, and all opinions expressed here are entirely my own.)

1. The Kid-Tough Digital Camera
All three of my boys love our Fisher-Price Kid-Tough Digital Camera. I gave up putting it away, because it migrates out into our living spaces so often. Now it resides, just like Mom’s camera, casually on the nearest flat surface, so it’s always within arm’s reach. I wrote a tongue-in-cheek review of this camera here, but no joke – it really does make a fantastic gift. I think it’s my top toy recommendation this year! (Edited to add: I almost forgot to mention that the most fun part of the camera for an older child is the free downloadable digital studio software. Super-easy to use, and the kids have fun adding mustaches and frames to their pictures!)


2. The Imaginext DC Super Friends Batcave
We bought an earlier version of the Imaginext Batcave for Simon quite a few years ago, and we laughed the whole of Christmas Eve at how entranced then 18-month-old Lucas was by it. Even now, it’s a favourite toy for all of them. It’s got action heroes (kids love superheroes!) and moving parts and it also makes a great clubhouse for your Smurf collection. (Well, that one may be unique to us.) Regardless, I think this is a fun toy, and it’s HUGE, which may be either a pro or con in your books. This is one, though, that you won’t resent for the space it takes up, because the kids play with it so often. Three years later, and this one is still in heavy rotation!


3. The Big Action Construction Set with Remote Control
Remote control. Need I say more? The Big Action Construction Set is solidly-built, doesn’t get stuck where the hardwood meets the shag carpet, and happily bounces down the stairs and keeps on ticking. This is a fun set that’s easy for little fingers to manipulate but entertaining for bigger kids who love trucks and heavy machinery.

4. Hot Wheels Trio Super-Stunt Builder
I’ve yet to meet a boy who didn’t like building toys or race cars. This ingenious set combines the best of both worlds. The Hot Wheels Trio Super-Stunt Builder set is a great twist on the classic Hot Wheels set, because you can build and rebuild the set into any configuration that suits your fancy using Trio’s colourful and easy to snap-together and pull apart blocks. You’ll see based on all five of these recommendations that I’m a big fan of toys that allow room for imagination and creativity — this one combines that with a little boy’s need for speed. Another great gift suggestion!

FP Trio Hotwheels 2

5. Kid-Tough Walkie Talkies
Walkie-talkies are such a classic toy, aren’t they? Give two boys a set of walkie-talkies and they’re cops, then they’re truckers on the long haul, then they’re Mission Control and an astronaut in orbit. These are solidly built, easy for little fingers to use (these seems to be emerging as key criteria for success in this review – and Fisher-Price excels on both counts!) , have a decent broadcast reach, and are another toy that’s great for stimulating active, creative play.

Okay, so it occurs to me that there is a definite gender bias in my recommendations, and they’re clearly geared towards little boys — although most little girls I know would happily play with a lot of these toys! I’m at a disadvantage here, as I can only authentically recommend toys for boys with any sort of expertise. Care to add in your suggestions for girls? Bonus points if you found it in the Fisher-Price gift catalogue! (Or, you can always use the Fisher-Price toy finder tool.)

(Disclosure: I’m part of the Fisher-Price Play Panel and I receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group. However, as always, the opinions on this blog are entirely my own.)


With the last of the leaves of the season finally (mostly) raked up and bagged, I could finally turn my attention to decorating the porch this weekend. I swear, I have as much fun (and take as much time!) decorating the porch as I do the inside of the house. It takes a long time to hang 25 feet of garland, lights and balls and affix them firmly enough that they don’t blow away before spring thaw!!

2:365 8 hrs of Christmas 1 pm

And with that, I officially give myself permission to start getting excited about the holidays! I feel like I’m a wee bit ahead of the curve this year, but I’m sure whatever lead on the season I have now will be lost by mid-December. I’ve got the fixin’s for my famous shortbread and peanut brittle in the cupboard, and I bought a new set of cookie cutters so we could try one of those stacked-stars-into-a-Christmas-tree thingees this year. I’ve got some wrapping paper and tags stashed away, and I’ve even started my Christmas shopping. Yay!

Have you started your Christmas shopping yet? Are you an online shopper, or do you still prefer to head out to the shops? I was quite pleased with myself on the weekend when I knocked off a good chunk of my to-do list with two online stores and a visit to the Third World Bazaar sale here in Manotick. What a great selection they had this year!

If you’re an online shopper, you might enjoy this. As you know, I’m blogging for Fisher-Price this year, and Mattel is pleased to offer this online gift-finder. Or, if you’re more of a hands-on shopper, the Mattel Holiday helpers will be at various stores this Christmas season providing useful advice on appropriate toys for kids of all ages. If you’re in the Ottawa area, you can visit them on the following dates and locations:

  • November 24 – 25, Zellers at Place d’Orleans
  • November 26 – 27, Zellers at Billings Bridge
  • December 3 – 4, Sears at Rideau Centre
  • December 10 – 11, Sears at St Laurent Shopping Centre
  • December 15 – 16, Zellers at Bayshore Shopping Centre
  • December 17 – 18, Zellers at Hazeldean Mall

Mattel has also partnered with Holiday Helper Tarra Stubbins, a professional organizer. Mattel’s partnership with Tarra gives consumers access to expert shopping and organizational advice this holiday season on a series of YTV vignettes and on Mattel’s Facebook page. Mattel’s Holiday Helper will give families everywhere tips for holiday travel with the kids, efficient shopping strategy and advice for gift-giving.

Between now and Christmas, I’ll write a couple of posts with my recommendations for some of the best toys and gear I’ve seen this year with Fisher-Price. I’ll start this week with my favourite ideas for older kids, and we’ll work our way down to the wee ones. Sound good?

In the meantime, tell me: are you feeling the holiday spirit yet? Are you like me, a bit of a kid who delights in the anticipation? Or are you dreading the extra work you’ll have between now and the end of the year? What do you do that makes you feel like Christmas is finally on the way?

Disclosure: I am part of the Fisher-Price Play Panel and I receive special perks as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinions on this blog are my own.


Project 365: Natural beauties

by DaniGirl on November 20, 2011 · 2 comments

in Photo of the Day

It seems I’m doing most of my picture-taking at sunrise and sunset these days. Not really surprising, since they bookend the work day, and with continuing mild temperatures, dusk and dawn are pleasant times to be out hunting for interesting shots.

These spiky, weedy things, for example. I have no idea what they are, but they make an interesting silhouette in front of the rising sun, don’t you think?

326:365 Picky

And this one, too. The morning sun blazing through a couple of branches and falling on some but not all of the leaves made an interesting composition early one morning. Tip: look for triangles when you’re composing your photographs — threes and triangles always seem to have extra visual appeal. Why do you think I had three boys? 😉

327:365 Sunrise in the forest

This is a sunny beauty of another sort. May you find in your life the joy of being three years old and on a swing!

325:365 Luke on the swing

I am drawn to old barns, especially the really decrepit ones. I couldn’t get far enough back to get all of this one in the frame without falling in the ditch on the other side of the road (apparently there *is* a limit to how far I’ll go to chase a picture!) so I’m not entirely satisfied with this one — but it’s close enough.

324:365 Barn in B&W

I took this one last weekend when we visited my brother’s family. It always warms my heart to see the boys interacting with my parents.

323:365 Lucas and Papa Lou

With this long, lovely and mild autumn, I’ve been slow to get all the leaves raked up. I’d stuffed more than 20 bags myself over a couple of weeks when I finally bribed enlisted the boys to help me. I filled another three while they jumped and tossed and eventually filled this one. With nearly 30 bags filled, I think we’re finally ready for the inevitable snowfall.

328:365 Leaf slaves

Speaking of snow, how do you like these spectacular squall clouds? As I was driving home on Thursday, I was on the lookout for the perfect foreground for these towering snow clouds, and when I saw the baled hay in this field I knew it was perfect. (I’d stopped and taken quite a few others, but I love how the light behind me makes the field golden, and how those giant clouds dwarf the huge trees in the foreground.) Ian Black featured this photograph on his weather report on the CBC Ottawa news on Friday night. 🙂

327:365 Snow clouds coming in

Not long now and you’ll be seeing a lot of snow pictures, I think. How much longer can this blissfully mild autumn interlude last?


Seven days of free family fun in Ottawa!

18 November 2011 My 15 minutes

This week, CBC Ottawa has been doing a series on savvy spenders, featuring ways to save on your groceries and on your clothing budget. And today, they’ll be airing a segment on free activities for families in Ottawa — featuring me and the whole family! It’s been about three years since I wrote what was […]

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Wahoo, made my first sale on Getty Images!

17 November 2011 Photography

As I mentioned this summer, I’ve been invited to license some of my pictures as stock photography with Getty Images. I was really excited to get the invitation, but it’s been a very s-l-o-w process just to get the invited pictures up on the Getty site and ready for sale. First, an image has to […]

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Five great books to read aloud to boys

17 November 2011 Ah, me boys

One of the great pleasures of my day is reading out loud to the boys at bedtime. Beloved and I take turns; one night I’ll read to Lucas and he’ll read to Tristan and Simon, and then we’ll switch. Lately, Tristan and Simon and I have taken to sharing some of the reading – they’ll […]

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Project 365: Pumpkins and pinecones and a gentle goodnight to autumn

12 November 2011 Photo of the Day

There was a stat quoted in the Ottawa paper the other day, to the effect that in the 75 years they’ve been keeping records there has never been a year that no measurable snow fell before Remembrance Day. Hasn’t it been just the most lovely, pleasant autumn? The photo ops have been throwing themselves at […]

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