February 2015

Did you see?? The sun came out AND it was above minus 20 today. It was practically summer!! We celebrated with a walk on one of our favourite Ottawa trails, and were delighted by the number of animals who came out to say hello: pileated woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees, a merlin, a few playful red squirrels and then, to our delight, a big fat porcupine came sauntering up the trail beside us.

Winter walk on the Jack Pine Trail

Winter walk on the Jack Pine Trail

Winter walk on the Jack Pine Trail

Winter walk on the Jack Pine Trail

Winter walk on the Jack Pine Trail

Winter walk on the Jack Pine Trail

Winter walk on the Jack Pine Trail

Winter walk on the Jack Pine Trail

(I did not zoom in for this – in fact, I had to back up to get him in the frame as the porcupine sauntered past us!)

Winter walk on the Jack Pine Trail

Winter walk on the Jack Pine Trail

It was a gorgeous afternoon out, made even more delicious by the recent spate of miserable cold.

If you’re interested, I’d love to do a few sessions of winter portraits out there before the snow melts and the trails get muddy. For any weekend in March, I’ll offer a spring thaw discount if you’d like to do a “feed the chickadees” family portrait hike at the Jack Pine Trail – $150 for the session fee, and you only buy whatever prints or files you want. Prices are listed on my photo site.

I’ll even bring the bird seed!

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Photo of the day: Think spring!

by DaniGirl on February 22, 2015 · 1 comment

in Photo of the Day

I got tired of waiting for spring to make even the faintest hint of an intimation that it was going to show up this year, so I took matters into my own hands.

Spring, goddammit!

Spring, goddammit!


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10-pages-in book review: Sweetland

by DaniGirl on February 17, 2015 · 2 comments

in 10-pages-in, Books

Waaaaay back in the day, I used to write what I called “10-pages-in” book reviews. The idea behind the 10-pages-in review is that early in a book there’s often a tipping point where you decide whether a book is worth the effort. At 10 or 20 pages in, you can still comfortably walk away and not feel like you’ve invested too much to quit. Or, you know you’re so hooked that you start canceling playdates and dental appointments just to make more time to read.

I’m more than 10 pages in to Michael Crummey’s Sweetland, but by the time I’d hit the 10th page I was in love. It’s one of those books where you keep checking to see how much is left so you don’t gorge yourself and read it too quickly – you want to slow down and savour it, but you also want to gobble it up in one big feast.

The Goodreads synopsis for Sweetland sums it up well:

For twelve generations, when the fish were plentiful and when they all-but disappeared, the inhabitants of this remote island in Newfoundland have lived and died together. Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, they are facing resettlement, and each has been offered a generous compensation package to leave. But the money is offered with a proviso: everyone has to go; the government won’t be responsible for one crazy coot who chooses to stay alone on an island.

That coot is Moses Sweetland. Motivated in part by a sense of history and belonging, haunted by memories of the short and lonely time he spent away from his home as a younger man, and concerned that his somewhat eccentric great-nephew will wilt on the mainland, Moses refuses to leave. But in the face of determined, sometimes violent, opposition from his family and his friends, Sweetland is eventually swayed to sign on to the government’s plan. Then a tragic accident prompts him to fake his own death and stay on the deserted island. As he manages a desperately diminishing food supply, and battles against the ravages of weather, Sweetland finds himself in the company of the vibrant ghosts of the former islanders, whose porch lights still seem to turn on at night.

I am utterly enchanted by this book. I love the way the dialogue perfectly captures the rural Newfoundland idioms without reducing them to caricature. I love the gentle quirkiness of the characters. I love the way past and present are layered so they bleed through each other. I love the protagonist and his obstinate ways. I want to crawl inside this book and live there.

It’s more than a little ironic that given the book is about relocating people off the tiny rural island, a huge part of my heart yearns to move to just such a place. Between reading Anne’s House of Dreams to the boys and this book, I’ve practically packed our bags and moved us to Canada’s easternmost coastline. I’m not sure why PEI and Newfoundland suddenly call to me so strongly, but they do, and these wonderful books with their roots deep in a sense of place are only throwing gasoline on the fires of my imagination.

I’m already dreading the ‘tragic accident’ that’s mentioned in the synopsis, but even more I’m dreading the end of this book. I don’t want it to be done, and have already lined up Michael Crummey’s previous novel, Galore, as my next book.

Have you ever read a book that made you want to crawl inside and live there? What books have captured your imagination like this? To be reading two at the same time is rather dizzying. It also means I’m spending a rather alarming amount of time casually perusing real estate listings on PEI…


I am pretty sure I am the LAST person you expected to be celebrating Hockey Day in Canada. The boys wanted to go out and play for a while on our local rink though, and while an hour outside in the -15C plus windchill was not high on my list of favourite ways to spend a Saturday afternoon – we had a blast. Well, they had a blast and I took pictures, and everybody was happy. And when it started to snow but the sun was still shining through a bit? Well that was downright magical.

See? (Yes, we have a spare. Always good to have an extra kid around, especially one as sweet natured as this one.)

Hockey day in Canada

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Hockey day in Canada-4

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Hockey day in Canada-7

Hockey day in Canada-8

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Hope your Valentine’s Day was also filled with sunshine, smiles and love!


To commemorate 10 years of blogging, I’ve been sharing some of my favourite old blog posts. This one is from way back in 2005, when I still had enough energy and clarity of mind to research a topic and mount a passionate debate about minutiae, rather than just whinge in 140 characters or less, and when it wasn’t completely lame to quote Wikipedia as a source.

header history collage

It’s Nancy’s fault. She asked “So, which one is it (zed or zee)? Anyone know? And should we really care? Is it really a Canadian versus American thing? Or something else?”

Ooo ooo ooo! (dances in chair, waving hand in the air) I know, I know! I care!!

In fact, my darling Nancy, it is not so much a Canadian thing to say “zed” as it is an American thing to say “zee”. According to wikipedia:

In almost all forms of Commonwealth English, the letter is named zed, reflecting its derivation from the Greek zeta. Other European languages use a similar form, e.g. the French zède, Spanish and Italian zeta. The American English form zee derives from an English late 17th-century dialectal form, now obsolete in England.

Is it really worth all this debate? Even Shakespeare himself cast aspersions on the dignity of the 26th letter of the alphabet with an insult I’m going to try to work into at least two conversations today: Thou whoreson zed! Thou unnecessary letter! (King Lear, act II, scene II.)

You got me curious, though, so I did a little bit more research on the subject. According to the Concise Oxford Companion, “The modification of zed to zee appears to have been by analogy with bee, dee, vee, etc.” It seems Noah Webster, the dictionary guru, seems to have mass-marketed the “zee” pronunciation, along with the incorrect spelling of “centre”.

Apparently we Canadians aren’t the only ones feeling the effects of the Americanization of the “Sesame Street” phenomenon you mentioned and its influence on how you learned to say zee versus zed. I found a research paper titled, “Can Sesame Street bridge the Pacific Ocean? The effects of American television on the Australian language.” The introduction to her thesis talks about how just like here, Australian kids learn to say “zee” by watching Sesame Street and their parents correct them to say “zed”.

Sesame Street’s influence also gets mentioned in this chapter from the textbook Sociolinguistic Theory: Linguistic Variation and Its Social Significance. He says,

With the use of “zee” stigmatized, it is perhaps strange that children should learn it at all. One source is pre-school television shows beamed from the United States, notably one called Sesame Street, which was almost universally watched by children in the 1960s when it had no serious rivals… Sesame Street and its imitators promote the alphabet with zeal, almost as a fetish, thus ensuring that their young viewers hear it early and recite it often. The “zee” pronunciation is reinforced especially by the “Alphabet Song,” a piece of doggerel set to music that ends with these lines:

ell em en oh pee cue,
ar ess tee,
yoo vee double-yoo, eks wye zee.
Now I know my ey bee sees,
Next time, won’t you sing with me?

The rhyme of “zee” with “tee” is ruined if it is pronounced “zed,” a fact that seems so salient that many Ontario nursery school teachers retain it in the song even though they would never use it elsewhere.

More than just ending the alphabet song with a jarring non-rhyme, the zed/zee conundrum poses problems for people trying to market technology across the border. CNews reports on a Toronto law firm who lobbied Bell Canada and Nortel to change the pronunciation from “zee” to “zed” in the directory on their voice mail system:

“We’ve had inquiries about why it is the way it is when we’re Canadian,” said Tammie Manning, a communications analyst at the law firm. “(People said) we’re not the States. We’re independent. Why should we be subjected to that?”

Several officials from Nortel insisted the technology to make the switch from “zee” to “zed” was simply not yet available. But by mid-afternoon Friday, following several calls from a reporter, the company’s director of corporate communications said Nortel would change the “zee” to “zed” as soon as possible.

And then, of course, there is the infamous Joe Canadian rant from Molson’s, which although overplayed and out of date, still merits mention in the discussion:

Hey, I’m not a lumberjack, or a fur trader, and I don’t live in an igloo, or eat blubber or own a dogsled. And I don’t know Jimmy, Sally or Suzy from Canada, although I’m certain they’re really, really nice. I have a Prime Minister… not a president, I speak English and French, not American and I pronounce it About, not A-boot.

I can proudly sew my country’s flag on my backpack, I believe in peacekeeping, not policing, diversity not assimilation, and that the beaver is a truly proud and noble animal. A toque is a hat, a chesterfield is a couch, and it IS pronounced Zed, not Zee… ZED!! Canada is the 2nd largest land mass, the 1st nation of hockey, and the best part of North America. My name is Joe and I AM CANADIAN! Thank you.

So you see, dearest Nancy, it DOES matter, in a patriotic sort of way. Aren’t you sorry you asked?


A love letter to Lucas, Age 7

by DaniGirl on February 8, 2015 · 0 comments

in Lucas

Lucas, my baby boy, today you are seven years old. Not so much a baby anymore, I guess!

Souris and Basin Head PEI

Lucas, you are warm and affectionate and curious and stubborn and an incredibly talented artist. You love nothing more in life than a blank page and the time to fill it, and I continue to be blown away by your natural artistic ability. Not only do you draw well from your own imagination, but you can mimic just about any style you see and you can easily reproduce posters, book covers and video game boxes. When I recently took up learning to draw myself and found the process rather tedious, you assured me “it’s a great start Mom! It was hard for me when I started, too – just keep practicing.”

A 10 photo essay on pumpkin smashing

Aside from drawing, you love to play games. Uno, Apples to Apples, Settlers of Catan, Dungeons and Dragons, mancala – you are always the one most willing to play a game with me. You also love Lego and hexbugs and Sonic the Hedgehog and superheroes, and of course you love video games like Minecraft and Super Mario Bros, just like your big brothers. You’ve discovered watching videos on the tablet, and you’d do that for hours sometimes if we let you.

Two on a swing

You love to play outside, and you are always willing to go for a walk with Bella in the evenings, even when it’s wintry and cold outside. You also love to go on walks in the woods or to feed the chickadees. In the summer, your favourite place in the world is in the swimming pool – diving off the diving board and swimming in the deep end.

Winter walk to feed the chickadees

I have been sad to see you in a different class this year from your friends Owen and Cole, but I think you are finally starting to get comfortable with some new friends. This year you have invited Owen and Cole, along with Matthew, Hudson, Adam, David and Chris, to your birthday party. You insisted on a party at your house, so we turned it into an art and cupcakes party. You, of course, can hardly wait!

Sir Lucas

This year, you started grade one. In just a year, you have gone from reading your first complete book (“If you give a pig a pancake”) to reading dozens and dozens of books. You are reading way above your grade level, but you seem to like math and French in school as well. You have a quick and curious mind, and you absorb new information like a little sponge. You have a bit more of a tendency toward mischief than I’ve seen in your brothers, but I think that may be partly from boredom. I still wonder if I didn’t do you a disservice by not pushing harder to get you skipped ahead a year in Kindergarten.

Catching snowflakes

Your favourite foods are peanut butter, just about any fruit, goldfish, pizza (but with the cheese peeled off), edamame, and tacos. You’re still a bit of a picky eater, but I have confidence that you’ll come around soon. You also love to help, whether it be setting the table, putting away the silverware or acting as my sous chef.

Adventures in PEI

Lucas, you are a delightful little boy who loves to laugh and who brings joy to us every single day. I enjoy our “coffee and newspapers” mornings and silly games like “pee race” more than you can guess. I hope this is your happiest birthday and best year ever.

Birthday cupcake

Happy 7th birthday, my sweet boy. We love you!


How to host an at-home art themed birthday party for seven year old boys in five easy steps

7 February 2015 Lucas

For his birthday party this year, Lucas was insistent on an at-home party. Really, I asked. Are you SURE? I am always willing to throw money at an on-location party, partly so someone else will have to deal with the mess and the noise and the chaos, and party because I am just not the […]

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Photo of the day: Simon in the snow

6 February 2015 Photo of the Day

Simon’s turn for a portrait in the snow! Don’t you love his sweet smile and creamy skin?

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Photo of the day: Catching snowflakes

4 February 2015 Mothership Photography

So far this winter, Ottawa has managed to dodge the snow that has been less merciful to southern Ontario and especially to our friends in the Maritime provinces. It has, however, been brutally, relentlessly cold. When the temperatures crept up within a few degrees of the freezing mark, I took advantage of the opportunity to […]

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Guess whose photo is on the cover of the local Yellow Pages directory?

2 February 2015 Mothership Photography

So this is a fun story. Back in the fall, I was contacted through Flickr about using one of my photos of Watson’s Mill in Manotick. It’s one of my favourite photos, but as I’ve assigned my licensing rights to Getty Images, I can’t license it privately. I explained that to the person contacting me, […]

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