How To Take Timeless Family Portraits

BethAnneJones-10_EYears ago I hired a photographer to capture my family. The boys were ages 4, 3 and 1 and I was desperate to hang onto their cuteness . . . and populate a very barren, very large wall.

Family portraits run the gamut from the cheap(er) and cheerful to investment photography. Since I wanted these prints to be enlarged and framed, it was important to me to have a professional whose artistic eye and professionalism I admired. I splurged and hired a high-end photographer who took beautiful photos of my family and years later I still cherish them. These photos are classic in part due to her creative genius but also her guidance on how to create lasting, timeless portraits.

Thinking of capitalizing on the warmer weather and lush greenery, and taking family pictures this summer? Before you do, heed some this advice I compiled by asking photographers for their best tips on creating classic photos.

Research!

Take the time to research a photographer. When you’ve narrowed it down, be sure to set a meeting and go through their portfolio. Ask lots of question about their process. Do they prefer to do staged photos or candid? What equipment do they use? How are the photos presented? Are the prints colour corrected and photoshopped as necessary?

Price is something that is best discussed up front. Is there a sitting fee in addition to the proofs? How many proofs are provided? Are photos ordered in packages or a la carte? Know what you plan to do with the photos. This will help to determine the dimensions and overall cost.

Location! Location! Location!

Researching the location is just about as important as the photographer. You’ll want to choose somewhere that is comfortable and maybe even familiar to your family. If walker-bound grandma is going to be in the shoot maybe hiking along a bramble path isn’t the best fit. If wearing stilettos in your photo is a must, a cobble stone street may be great for posed shots but not as natural for candid shots of you chasing around after your toddler.

It’s also worth noting the natural light. Know what time the sunlight is soft as opposed to beating down. Squinty eyes, sweat stains, and shadows don’t make for the best photos. Neither does the dog parade or all you-can-eat rib festival encroaching on your frame. If choosing a public place, ensure there are no events scheduled on the day that might conflict with your plans. Also, permits are required for many locations. A good photographer will know this, but it’s worth checking into so you’re not disappointed.

What To Wear!

imgres-1This is where things can get tricky.   Remember the 80s? Perms and frosted lipstick were the beachy waves and smoky eye of today. Hair and make-up should be simple and natural or else you may find yourself groaning over your look in a few years time.

Clothing can also be a challenge. White can make you look larger and washed out, and black can look severe. Stick with clothing you feel comfortable wearing that reflects your personality but at the same time is not too trendy or flashy and unless you’re being paid to advertise for Gap, keep clothing with logos in the closet.

imgres-1Planning outfits for the entire family is an exercise in patience and good humour. Remember that episode of Modern Family when Claire loses her mind trying to make sure everyone is picture-perfect in their all-white ensembles? You don’t need that stress. Instead, make sure everyone is in the same colour palette but not matchy-matchy. I’ve never understood the appeal of family photos where everyone is wearing jeans and a black top, or khakis and a white-button down. It looks less like a family photo and more like a greeting card from your local Walmart staff.

I love this photo. It pretty much sums up everything not to do if you want to create a timeless photo! Thanks Awkward Family Photosimgres-1.

Be Yourself!

It may sound obvious but be yourself. Take some time with the photographer and take some silly shots to help loosen up or play with your kids with the photographer snapping in the background.

Don’t be afraid of “time and place”.  The night before my family photos my middle son scratched his older brother ALL OVER HIS FACE. It looked liked poor Jack had been locked in a closet with Cujo. He still has the scars to this day. I had a Claire (from Modern Family) moment, and cried to the photographer that the pictures “were ruined” but she calmed my nerves and reminded me that photography is for capturing the now. She graciously photoshopped several of the images but she didn’t do them all, and for that I am actually grateful.

Lastly, speak up! Most photographers shoot with digital so you can preview the shots on-site. If you don’t feel good about the direction of the shoot, you need to say something. Photographers take pictures, they don’t read minds.

 

Advertisement

How to Take a Still Life with Your Phone Camera

As I mentioned in my post last week, I have been really energized by the practice of carrying my phone along on my walks and trying to capture some of what I see around me.  The fact that I give myself the task of capturing one good image from each walk means that I am looking around me more carefully, and when I see something interesting, I am then thinking about how best to frame it, capture it, translate it.

Here are some of the steps to capturing a great still life in nature.  If you are inspired to go out and take any photos after reading this, please post them and tag us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.  I’d love to see where your walks take you.

1.  Pay Attention.

What moves you?  What brings you a moment of joy?  Pay attention to your surroundings and tune into what’s important to you, what catches your eye.  What has been capturing my attention lately is colour and light.  Who can resist the bright flowers and the crisp greens of spring?  I took this picture on a really bright day, and what caught my attention was the way the leaves cast shadows on each other.

11391408_10155710377625014_7375440691098891968_n

 

The shadows multiplied the shades of green, and highlighted that really juicy pale green of the young leaves.  I tried it from several angles and distances.

This was too close to capture the feeling of the wide bright sky:

Data dump Sept 15 2015 263

And this captured the blue sky but not the intensity of the bright light, and the background is too busy:

Data dump Sept 15 2015 261

 

I finally realized that I would have to get underneath the tree and shoot towards the sun from an angle only possible from the ground, so I sat down on the sidewalk and got this:

Data dump Sept 15 2015 264

 

Now I had the shot that captured what I was seeing: new leaves, green shadows, bright light, blue sky.  This was taken with my iPhone camera with no filters, and it’s pretty close to the final image that I published on Instagram.  I then edited and framed the photo in Phototoaster so that the leaves on the bottom were off centre and in sharp focus, leaving the background foliage blurry, and I made the colour more intense.  These are effects that I added after the fact with my photo editor app: Phototoaster.  I love Phototoaster.  I am not the kind of person who likes to experiment or play with technology because I don’t have the patience, but Phototoaster is the exception.  With this app, you choose a photo from your phone camera album (the original is not changed), and then you have fun and play.  You can add shading, intensify colour, blur the edges, make it black and white or sepia, choose a texture that makes it look like an oil painting or an old photo.  So many possibilities and so much fun.  Taking the picture is really only the beginning; most of the effect comes from using the photo editor.

2.  Get Close.  Really Close.  Closer!

Data dump Sept 15 2015 025

 

Data dump Sept 15 2015 019

 

Data dump Sept 15 2015 024

 

I lost some of the resolution by using the zoom to get so close to this tiny lilac blossom, but I still like the final effect.  Get as close as you can without using the zoom to get the best resolution, and then play with the zoom when you edit.

3. Compose.

I did not want that lilac flower to be in the centre of the square photo, so I composed the photo with it off-centre, and the eye travels from bottom left to top right with the movement of the stalks.  Figure out where you want the eye to go.  Do you want symmetry or asymmetry?  Do you want attention all in the foreground, or do you want to keep details from the background?

4. Crop.

I do all my cropping in Phototoaster so that my original is not changed.  It’s a really important step that allows you to cut out any extraneous “noise.”

5. Edit.

This is the really fun part!  I have so much fun taking a photo through different incarnations.  When I took this photo, I wanted to capture my sense that the poppies were on fire.  Something about the early morning light shining through those fragile, feathery petals looked like flame.  This is as shot:

Data dump Sept 15 2015 179

 

And then to intensify the colour I played around with focus until I got the best impression of fire that I could.  I actually had a hard time deciding between these.

Data dump Sept 15 2015 180

 

Data dump Sept 15 2015 181

 

6. Frame.

It’s the final step to making your image pop.

Iphone photos Sept 2015 1380

 

 

 

Oral vs. Written Family History: Not the Only Options

Which is the better way to preserve memory, stories told or stories written?  The debate is a long-entrenched one, with written documents claiming ascendency over the oral tradition in the western world.  So suspicious are we of oral testimony, even when you swear an oath in court, you do so with your hand on the Bible, a written text.

As anyone who has ever lost the contents of her computer’s hard drive or suffered a flood or a fire or an over-zealous co-habiting purger will know, written documents are exceptionally vulnerable.  The written record is only as good as its ability to survive the elements and the whims of fate.

My husband is an avid Franklin expedition historian, and he has been writing about the search for the missing ships of the ill-fated English captain for years. When researchers finally found the lost ships of the Franklin expedition, they were right where the Inuit had said they were all along.  I admit to feeling delight at that confirmation, not least because it validated the oral tradition.  I felt an odd sense of satisfaction in knowing that the written tradition that I hold so dear had not come through in this case.  I am overly dependent on writing and on photographs for recording history, and I like to think that something like a needle in a haystack could be found with stories that have been told for hundreds of years.

The oldest piece of English literature, Beowulf, is a marvel to me.  How did the bards manage to pass that poem down through time and generations?  How many hundreds and thousands of times did people gather to hear it before it was written down?

How do we know that what got written is definitive?  Does definitive matter?

It does in court, which accounts, perhaps, for covering both bases by swearing on the Bible.

There are other ways to confirm a spoken promise, though.  We also seal deals with handshakes, and it’s that tactile element of history that’s got me thinking these days.  In last week’s posts, Beth-Anne, Carol, Kerry, and I all chose objects to illustrate our family history that we can touch, and even though some of these are out of reach of small hands, some of them do get frequent handling.  I like the idea of capturing history in things that get frequent handling.

As poor as my memory is (Very poor.  For my own purposes, I’m squarely in the written and photographic record camp because I cannot be relied upon to remember anything.  I hoard books not just because I’m a bibliophile but because they are a (false) security blanket.), I do remember a designer on a TV show once saying about a very expensive front door handle that it was worth the price.  “It’s something that you will touch every day.”  That has stayed with me.  Something you will touch every day is worth paying more for, and something you touch every day would also surely be a wonderful piece of family history.Data dump Sept 15 2015 134

How does a tactile record of family history look?

I’m about to find out.  For Eldest’s Grade 8 graduation, I am having a quilt made for him from a selection of his old hockey, camp, school, books, movie and sports t-shirts.  They tell a story of who he was as a kid, a story that he will throw over himself every day, whether he sits to watch next season’s hockey games or read the next Hunger Games-like series that captures his imagination.  I picture him bundled up in it, and that’s the kind of (security) blanket in which I have full faith.  It is a gift I plan to give to his brothers, too, and to all three of them I will say the same thing:  If you ever tire of this and are tempted to throw it away, don’t.  Bring it back to me, and I will give it a home until the stories it tells speak to you again, as I hope they will for many, many years to come.

Family Heirlooms According to a Purger

FullSizeRender (1)

Yesterday,while other families spent the day outdoors enjoying the soaring temperatures and sunshine followed by a festive display of fireworks, I spent it indoors doing something that gives me great pleasure.

Purging.

Closets, drawers and cupboards that is.

I delight in giving things the toss to the donation bin or garbage bin, it doesn’t matter; the high I get is the same. Thankfully, my partner in life shares my need for clutter-free living. Some extol the comfort they feel in keeping playbills and movie stubs, bric-a-brac and dated magazines, first teeth and hair clippings. I simply can’t relate.

Years ago we moved house and before any piece of paper, item of clothing or page of a book was packed, it had to pass muster. Do I really need this? Do I really want this? Have I looked at/used/wore/thought about it the past year? The past two years?

I held up a stack of my wedding programs. Toss. The pale blue cardstock littered the recycle bin save for one. A small shoebox overflowing with cards and letters was given the once over before dumping much of its contents in with the programs. I have saved a few items: baptismal outfits and meaningful, heart-felt cards and pictures (rarely get rejected), but for the most part, rightly or wrongly, I like to attach my emotions to people and memories and not to stuff.

I am not a complete Scrooge. I do own things that I care deeply about. Our champagne flutes that I carried around Europe on my back come to mind. Recently there was a casualty and our set of 6 diminished to the odd number of 5. My husband and I both looked at the cracked glass, and for a minute there was a moment we wished we could turn back the clock and be just a bit more careful, but it was short lived and I mitigated the blues by toasting the fun times we’d had with that glass.

The pottery my boys made, the hand-knitted blankets and sweaters, and my grandmother’s ring are among the material things that I own and would be sad to lose because they are truly irreplaceable.   I like to think that I have a carefully curated collection of material items from books to clothing that won’t burden my sons too terribly when I die.

I don’t expect the boys to keep much, and I’ve made the task an easy one. Just like my mother and grandmothers (all extremely Spartan women), I have little to bequeath.

But if I am to tell the tale of our family’s history through one object, it is one that is explicitly off-hands to curious, little fingers. It is the cake topper that adorned my grandparents’ wedding cake 67 years ago.

The bride and groom are stoic, with linked arms and pursed expressions, as if knowing that marriage and the years ahead are not made of taffeta and butter cream.

This small, ceramic figurine serves as a reminder of the long marriages that make up my family’s tree. Certainly they weren’t marriages without flaws and struggle. Certainly they weren’t marriages that were perfect or even near to, but certainly they were marriages built on something to last decades and serve as the foundation for a generous number of descendants.

When the time comes, many years from now, for my family tree to add branches, I will carefully pass the bride and groom down to my boys to serve as a symbol of unity, commitment and yup, hard work.

Ceramic Bowl, Used for Making Yorkshire Pudding

 

Iphone photos Sept 2015 1416I can hear the sound of fireworks as I type–my neighbours out celebrating Queen Victoria and our fossilized connection to the English crown–but to me, nothing says England like a dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Although I grew up with a Canadian passport, England was the country that most felt like home because it was where we went between countries, on most holidays, and to live for some stretches of time.  My grandmother was in Yorkshire, my aunt in Bristol, and my parents had a house in Surrey for a few spells.  In all three homes, come Sundays, you would smell the roast in the oven and feel the excitement of a special day.  And in all three homes, a Sunday roast meant Yorkshire pudding.  My grandmother scorned the use of an electrical beater and would beat the batter by hand, and the sound of her rapidly mixing the batter is on the soundtrack of my childhood.

We made it two different ways, either as one large rectangular pudding in a baking tray or as individual puddings in muffin tins, but whichever way it was made it was always the most popular part of the meal.  Yorkshire pudding does not keep, but we never had to worry about leftovers because it was always devoured.  My brother, a notoriously fussy eater, could have lived on it.

When my grandmother died and we went back for the funeral, one of the few things my mother chose from the contents of the house was the ceramic bowl my grandmother used for making Yorkshire pudding.  It was an object that held so many memoires of family gatherings and good times.  It had magic in its years of use.

The fact of my mother’s having singled out such an ordinary thing to cherish from my grandmother’s house speaks volumes about the combined power of food and memory, the power of these things to connect us through generations and over oceans.

I now include Yorkshire pudding on the menu for my special dinners.  They are not the weekly Sunday staple of my childhood, but a highlight of holiday meals, and my boys are proudly carrying on the tradition of leaving no leftovers.  I’m now vegetarian, so I like mine served with the mushroom gravy and lentil walnut loaf from Oh, She Glows, roasted potatoes and a mountain of green beans, but anyway you make it, it’s a crowd-pleaser.  This is a good recipe from The Guardian, and I would add that it’s very important not to open the oven door during the cooking time, otherwise the puddings will sink.

Sound of the batter being beaten and the sizzle when it hit the pan, the smell of the roast out resting while the puddings cooked, and the last-minute frenzy to gather all of us and get the meal on the table–all of those sense memories are captured in this simple bowl.

Get Out and Bounce!

OK.  I’m calling it.  Yes, it snowed in Toronto last night, but winter is over.  Officially.  The calendar and I both say so.  It’s now just a matter of mind over sub-arctic winds.

As hard as it may still be to imagine a summer’s day, the sunny weather IS coming, and with it, the chance to gather outdoors for your parties, fairs and assorted extravaganzas.

Adventure Mania has a great range of bouncy castles for your events, with products to suit toddlers to teens.

A brand new offering for 2015, they’ve just brought in a movie screen bouncer, so that you can transition from daytime bouncing to night-time movie theatre.  The rental comes complete with a PS3 console, a loud speaker, and a projector, with a movie screen that is 9 feet long, and 5 feet high.

movie

 

There is a huge selection of bouncers with movie and game tie-ins, and you can combine them with various things, like slides and basketball hoops.  For your little Frozen fans, one of their most popular rentals is the line of Frozen bouncers.

anna

 

There is also a bouncer that operates rain or shine, so if you want your bases covered for your event, this is a great, safe bet.

wet

 

Haley Chiappino is the Event Specialist at Adventure Media, and she is a delight to work with.  Such a friendly ally in what can often be the stressful process of event planning.  You can reach her at (905)864-3290 or info@adventuremania.ca.  Best of all, if you mention this blog post, you will get a 10% discount for your rental.  They rent everything from bouncy castles and slides to sno-cone makers and carnival games.  All you need for a fun day in the sun.  Based in Milton, they serve the entire GTA, and you can check out their full range of offerings here.

disney

 

*Adventure Mania offered 4mothers1blog a rental for review consideration.  The opinions expressed are our own.

The Magic and the Mystery of Making Things

alafoss-lopi-1231I make and craft and create to discover the magic and the mystery in things.  Pickles?  I can make those!  Handknit sweater?  That, too!  A felted handbag?  I learned how to do it one summer seven years ago.  Lip balm?  I made some this year!

What all of these things have in common is not necessity or having to make do or any kind of motive of need or fashion.  Nor is crafting a particular passion.  I can go for months without taking up a new project.

What they have in common is that I wanted to unravel the mystery of something that struck me as beautiful and rare.  I loved making lip balm with my boys not only because it was a great idea for Valentine’s favours, but mostly because it took all of the mystery out of something I use several times a day.  I had been paying an outrageous $40 per tube of lip treatment because after many, many tries, it was the only one that worked.  Learning how to make my own, made cosmetics something totally accessible, and I could control the quality and the contents.  That was a powerful feeling.

I have known how to knit since I was a child, and my mother, bless her patience, helped along many a hobbled project when I was little.  Most of them I abandoned.  In elementary school, I think I may have completed a knitted bear, and perhaps a blanket to go with it, and in high school I made myself one simple summer sweater, but I was not a star knitter by any stretch of the imagination.  My mother was.  She knitted, crocheted and sewed the most beautiful and intricate things.  She always had a project on the go.  When I got to university, and my mother was an ocean away, I happened to see some gorgeous Icelandic wool on sale in a bin in big department store, of all places.  It came in a cellophane package, with about ten balls of wool for the main colour of the sweater and one ball each of the secondary colours.  There was a pattern for a chunky fairisle sweater, and it looked so wonderful for the Montreal winter that was already hinting at its severity.  (I had moved from Egypt.  I was not at all used to Canadian winter.)

I love the internet! This is not the pattern I used 25 years ago, but that's the model, complete with her white headband.

I love the internet! This is not the pattern I used 25 years ago, but that’s the model, complete with her white headband.

At first, I just looked at it longingly, feeling that it was something so far out of my reach, and then I thought, “No, I have what I need to be able to make that.”  I bought the wool and the needles, and I set out to make it.

The only problem was that in all the knitting I had done, my mother had always cast on the stitches for me.  I had never done that alone.  I didn’t have any choice but to go it alone this time, so I taught myself how to cast on simply by closing my eyes and remembering the motions of my mother’s hands as she did it.  There was a trick and a rhythm, and after a few false starts I found them.  I was amazed at the time to have been able to draw that out of my memory.  Muscle memory by proxy.

Making that sweater was so much more than just arming myself for a cold winter.  I felt such a sense of accomplishment in moving myself from beginner to intermediate knitter, and my joy at succeeding at the project was immense.  I wore that sweater for years with great pride.  I made two more, all with the same sense of joy, and with increasing confidence and willingness to improvise with colour and pattern.  It was also contagious: several other women in my dorm went off and bought the same kit, and we’d sit and knit together, avoiding term papers and the drama of the wider world for just that little while.  Making our own sweaters gave us a common purpose and a space apart from the world that worked so hard to define us.

The moment of remembering my mother’s hands casting on my stitches is a touchstone for me.  I think of it often and fondly as a minor miracle of memory and motion and chance.  How many times would I have actually witnessed her casting on stitches?  How carefully was I watching?  I often wonder if or what motions of my hands my own kids will remember years hence.  We don’t plan these moments, but in some way, shape or form, I hope that there will come a time when they are trying something and can close their eyes and see me doing it.

A Labour of Love: My Dollhouse Adventure: Guest Post by Holly Forsythe

If you have little kids who enjoy adorable movies about piglets—and are, therefore, quite possibly the sort of person who is thinking about building a dollhouse—you’ll probably recall the opening sequence of the 1995 movie “Babe.”  The first shot depicts the foyer of a lovely Georgian home, with elegant furnishings and stained glass lunettes, which is suddenly disrupted by the intrusion of a giant thumb. As the camera pans out, we realise we’ve been looking at the interior of a dollhouse that Farmer Hoggett, the film’s central human character, lovingly embellishes for his granddaughter. The moment gives us a reassuring wink about the controlled and affectionate handling of the miniature world portrayed in the film. It also gives us an early insight into Farmer Hoggett, whose patient, imaginative, and inventive nature enables him to perceive the latent talents in the story’s porcine protagonist. You have to be a certain kind of person to build a dollhouse.

IMG_0539

 

I wasn’t necessarily planning to be that sort of person. My daughter, Grace, fell in love with a dollhouse in a waiting room. She talked about the toy for months. She’s an unusually gentle, thoughtful, and self-denying little old soul, so when she asked for a dollhouse for her birthday, I didn’t have the heart to say no…even though the prospect terrified me a little.

IMG_0538

 

You can buy dollhouses in quite a few different forms: as kits, ready-made, with or without furniture, and in a number of different scales. I was a little surprised that the major toy stores don’t really carry proper dollhouses. Ours stocked three kinds of mass-produced sets, but they all seemed more babyish and generic than what we had in mind. We also decided against the generic toystore sets because their scale was too small. The most common scale for proper dollhouse furniture is 1:12 (also called “one-inch scale”): that means that one foot of length is represented by one inch in the dollhouse (so a doorway, that would be seven feet high in reality, is 7 inches high in the dollhouse). The toystore brands commonly used a 1:18 scale (“two-third inch scale”), which would make it difficult to collect furniture from eclectic sources.

The Little Dollhouse Company, located near Mount Pleasant and Eglinton, is pretty much the only dollhouse store in Toronto. There used to be brick-and-mortar dollhouse stores in Cambridge and Elora, but they’re only online now.  We started looking around online on Craigslist, Kijiji, and Ebay. There were quite a few mass-produced dollhouse systems available second-hand and also quite a few kits in unopened boxes: not everyone has the resolve to build a kit, but if you do, that kind of dollhouse is a keeper.

NOS-vintage-Presidents-Choice-Victorian-Wooden-Dollhouse-20131221175716

 

By the time my husband lucked out with a great kit online, Grace’s birthday was looming very close, so we decided to break the construction into two phases: we hired a student from George Brown to do the basic construction so Grace would have a present to open; afterwards, I would complete the finishing touches to the structure (porch, gingerbread, fireplace), paint, and furnish it. If you hire someone to build your kit for you, I recommend that you establish a fee for the entire project: our poor student worked day and night to meet his deadline and we definitely went over budget paying him by the hour. That being said, I think it was a smart decision to have the main structure built by someone who knew how to make things square and level.

The kit itself was very clear about the assembly process. It had diagrams to correspond with each sheet of plywood and very detailed instructions. It’s tedious but essential to read the instructions completely before beginning. If you’re a “wing it” person, this is not your sort of project. The process is broken into stages: at each stage, you carefully remove specified pieces from the plywood sheet using an exacto knife, sand them, paint them, and glue them in a precise order following a diagram. The results are much tidier if you paint before assembly (I painted the student’s part of the structure after he assembled it). Most of the online guides assume that you’ll use house paint, but acrylic craft paint worked just fine for me: since you have to paint pieces at many separate stages, it’s smart to use premixed colours. I got small bottles of premixed colours at the local craft store for a dollar each (the acrylic in the crafter’s/stencilling aisle is way cheaper than the artist’s acrylic). You need wood glue for a lasting hold, but you can sparingly use your glue gun to hold pieces in place while the wood glue slowly dries. This will allow you to hug your children instead of standing around holding gingerbread to the roof while it dries (haunting memory). And you will need to hug your children for inspiration. As I say, I only did the superficial decorations on Grace’s dollhouse but, working from morning drop-off to afternoon pickup and then again from their bedtime till mine, it took me ten days to finish.

163

 

In our case, the structure was assembled before the interior was decorated. In rooms with hard-to-reach places, I painted (with the premixed acrylic) but I wallpapered the more open spaces (I found some really pretty pads of paper for scrapbookers, which was heavier than wrapping paper). We’re furnishing gradually. Most pieces of furniture cost at least $5: to furnish a room, it will generally cost you around $30, depending on your source. I found a dollhouse furniture maker on Etsy who had reasonable prices and contacted her to arrange a starter kit order. We raised $70 for the furniture from the guests at Grace’s birthday party and that will get us the living room, dining room, bathtub, bed and dresser (plus shipping!). We’re going to let the rest of it be a labour of love instead of desperation.

159

 

No matter how you do it, setting up a proper dollhouse is going to be relatively expensive. If you decide to take on some of the construction or decoration of the house, it is also going to be fairly time-consuming. This is probably why the people who are really into dollhouses don’t make them for children. There is a quiet subculture of dollhouse hobbyists who enjoy building and furnishing elaborate structures for their own satisfaction. For the most part, these grownups wouldn’t be very comfortable letting children play with the product of their labours. If you come across one of these experts in your dollhouse adventure, don’t let them know that you think toys are for children. Hardcore dollhouse hobbyists have immersed themselves in a special kind of creative impracticality: benefit from their knowledge, use them as a resource, and you can substantially limit your own dip into that pool. Hopefully, my first-and-only-time experiences in dollhouse building can help save you even more time (certainly) and money (hopefully) if you decide to take the plunge.

::

Holly Forsythe Paul has worked at the University of Toronto as an adjunct professor of English since 2003.  She lives with her talented husband and two lovely daughters in Toronto.

 

Potted Potter: A Great Dose of Fun

potted-potterOur posts for January are about health, and if laughter is the best medicine, you can get yourself a great dose of fun by going along to see Potted Potter.  You will have to hurry, though; the show is in its last week for its run in Toronto.

Beth-Anne, Carol and I took our boys to see the show in December, and I have to tell you that it was one of the highlights of my lead-up to Christmas.  “Attend” is my word of the year for 2015, but of course, I had had the word in mind for a while before writing about it for the blog.  Writing this blog has brought us many wonderful things, including friendships for which I am eternally grateful, but another thing I’m grateful for is Opportunity.  We are invited to interesting events and occasions, and I will be honest and tell you that I weigh each and every invitation very carefully.  It takes a lot to get me out of my routine and my happy place (pajamas, bed, book).  When the opportunity came to see Potted Potter smack dab in the middle of the chaos that characterizes the weeks in mid-December, I thought long and hard about accepting; I think we all did.  Like you, we all had a lot on our plates, but I wanted to get an early start on my word of the year, and I chose to attend.

I’m so glad I did.  It was such a gift to witness not only my nine year old’s belly laughs, but Carol’s and Beth-Anne’s too!  We all had a hoot, and you really do not have to be a Harry Potter expert to enjoy the show.

The premise of the show is that two actors act out all seven books in the Harry Potter series in 70 minutes.  It’s a fast-paced physical comedy that brings into play humour both broad and subtle.  There’s a straight man and a funny man, there is a wild and wacky frenzy as the two attempt to act out as many of the major roles as possible.  Unexpected costumes, props and choreography add much to the fun.  There are jokes pitched high and low, and the actors appeared to improvise references to everything from Frozen to Toronto’s Gay Pride Parade and disastrous Mayor Ford.  The jokes come at you a mile a minute, and while the kids are still laughing at the ones pitched to them, the adults are laughing at the subsequent allusions pitched to them.  There is even audience participation, as members of the audience are invited to participate in a Quidditch game, while two kids get invited up onto the stage.

Before the show, you can order a butter beer from the bar (the recipe is secret, but they will alert you to possible allergens).  The lobby and the sidewalk outside the Panasonic Theatre are quite small, and it felt very crowded very quickly, so you’d be well advised to arrive and take your seats early.   It’s just steps from the subway, so getting there and home was a breeze for those of us on the TTC.  Parking was not easy to find, so, again, arrive early to give yourself wiggle room.

I had one very special night with Middlest, and we went out for dinner after the show, just the two of us, and it felt like just the right way to kick off the winter holiday.  It would also be a great way to kick off the new year.  Here’s to attending!

Potted Potter is at the Panasonic Theater, 651 Yonge Street.  It runs until January 11, 2015.

You can get tickets here.

Bedtime Stories Are My Abiding Delight

I am a big believer in making time, and lots of it, for books before bed.  My family was even interviewed about it once by Andrea Gordon at the Toronto Star.

Four years later, and the boys are bigger and, significantly, they play a lot more hockey.  All three boys play competitive hockey, and we make 10-12 trips to the rink a week.  This is a good thing, mostly, and I’m a little bit proud and a lot relieved to be raising kids who are so eager to be fit and healthy and active.  (Not my DNA.)  However, hockey eats into time for all kinds of things: playdates, family dinners, unstructured time, and, yes, bedtime stories.

Time is never found, it’s made, and I make time for bedtime reading whenever it’s remotely possible, which is still usually four times a week of an hour of reading aloud before bed.  I am a stickler for bedtimes, because some of us are quite cranky if we don’t get a full night’s sleep, even if some of us are in our forties.  But if I can squeeze in a chapter before Youngest’s bedtime, I will always go the extra mile to do so.  I’m now reading aloud to Youngest and Middlest, and it’s all Harry Potter all the time.  After Youngest pops off to bed, Middlest reads by himself, sometimes curled up with me and my book, and sometimes for up to two hours before it’s time for his lights out.  (Definitely my DNA.)  It’s a magical time.  I am so profoundly grateful for it.

endgameEldest does not read with predictable regularity any more, though, and that saddens me.  He is at the rink most often, and he comes home late.  He will occasionally get immersed in a series, but it’s not a dependable thing.  I recently heard an interview that impressed me so much, I went out and bought the book for him.  (Seriously, go listen to this interview: James Frey being interviewed by a boy named Joshua for The Guardian.  It’s not often I am more impressed by the interviewer than the interviewee, but this kid is sharp.)  Anyway, I learned from this interview that James Frey’s new YA novel The Calling, the first in the Endgame trilogy, has a puzzle built into it, and the first person to solve the puzzle has a chance to win $500,000 of James Frey’s own dollars, currently sitting in a vault in Las Vegas in gold bars.  “This will get his attention,” I thought.  I’m glad to say that while it did get his attention, and while he did find my enthusiasm about the interview infectious, he did not make a huge effort to read the book quickly to solve the puzzle to win the gold.

Reading should be its own reward, and I’m glad that money was not sufficient enticement.  I have a quiet faith that one day, when there is somewhat less hockey (and soccer and basketball and swimming) on his schedule, Eldest will make his way back to daily and lengthy engagements with a book.  Reading is my abiding delight, and I do so want them to have that kind of pleasure in their daily lives.