Tag Archives: Ottawa

Reconstructing Summer


At the Newark airport
a small girl waits in line
with her parents.
She’s dressed in a frenzy of pink
that trumpets her arrival
and suggests that her parents
are happy to let her dress herself.
She notices the rope that keeps us in line.
Steps under it.
She grabs the metal post beside her
and spins around it,
the top of her head grazing the rope,
her long blonde hair flying out
in large hypnotic circles,

We discover how to use a GPS,
name her Beatrice.
One day, as she urges us over
an ancient wooden bridge,
we spot a small set of locks
under an awning of leaves.
We disobey her,
change our route
and sit on the bank
of the Rideau Canal.
We admire pink peonies,
breathe deeply
and think of a girl
we once knew.

I start a cloud collection.
I gather them from vast skies
above green fields of the Ottawa Valley
and pluck them from the various blues
that our planes pass through.
I stuff them in the pockets of my eyes,
and wonder if I’ve taken these clouds
for granted.
In the whole wide world
(at least the parts we’ve seen)
no other clouds compare.

We spend an afternoon at a farm
where my sister is housesitting.
A black lab named Ralph wins my heart
when he lies down with his large head on my feet.
Our parents have met us there
and we feast on pizza with green olives
and large glasses of iced tea
that leave rings of sweat on the table.
In the heat of the day,
soothed by the sound
of McDiarmids talking,
I fall asleep on the couch.
Later, we visit the chickens
who are both uglier
and more beautiful
than expected
and Megan introduces the one splendid rooster
who looks like he’s wearing harem pants.
I find that strangely fitting.
Over grey gravel roads,
my mother and I race
the storm clouds home

At our favourite ramen place
back in Yokohama
they’ve added lettuce to the big red bowl.
We wonder
if they saw us
and knew.
“These people haven’t had vegetables in days.”
Lettuce and ramen go together
much better than you might think.

Between three and six
in the morning
jet lag
pins me hard
against the glass wall
between asleep and awake.
But poems fill these hours:
images and words flow
like water over smooth stones,
they move like starlings,
plunging and soaring as one bird,
forming new patterns in my mind.
I write until I fall asleep.

When people ask about our summer
we’ll say it was fine. It wasn’t.
It was painful
in spots
but also filled
with so much beauty
that I couldn’t count it.


P.S. This was first published as The Sunday Reader. If you’d like to receive The Sunday Reader directly in your inbox every two weeks, you can subscribe here.

Halfway around the world

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

When planning our trip home this summer (Ottawa for me and Calgary for DP), the cheapest plane tickets we could find got us from Bangkok to New York City via London. So, I was thinking… if we were going to be in London, why not spend a few days there? And if we were going to be in Europe, why not fly to Spain and see our friends in Barcelona? Why not see some shows in London and New York City? After four nights in Manhattan, we’d take Amtrak’s Adirondack route from Manhattan to Montreal and then, the following day, we’d take Via Rail home to Ottawa. We’d rent a car and drive to Toronto and Kingston. What could be easier?

So that’s what we did. We traveled halfway around the world.  (The other half – the half that leads to our new life in Yokohama, Japan – begins in just two weeks!)

We visited ten cities and many small towns in five countries and slept in 11 different beds. In Barcelona, we had our photos taken. We’ve seen many dear friends with whom we shared stories and some extraordinary meals. (Unfortunately, there are some friends we won’t have a chance to see this year. This always makes us feel a whole host of emotions situated along the sadness/guilt spectrum but not seeing everyone is one of the few drawbacks of our mostly-lovely nomadic life. Knowing and loving many people is not always compatible with our strong need for rest, recovery and some time for ourselves at the end of each school year.)

The journey has been:
a) heart-warming
b) exhilarating
c) delicious
d) exhausting
e) all of the above (and still a very good idea!)

Today, exactly one month after our Bangkok departure, I had my first full day in my jammies. In short, I had a vacation from my vacation. To say that I have enjoyed this day without commitments would be an understatement of criminal proportions. I even loved the scary wind storm and ensuing power outage that gave us a reason to light our seldom-used, big red Christmas candles. I felt a bit disappointed when the power came back on and the bright lights ruined the lovely mood. That’s exactly how I used to feel as a kid… like “Why is everyone so excited about the power? It was more romantic with the lights out.”

I have so much to share but after a month on the road, I got stuck and wasn’t sure where to start. So I’m just starting.

Hello! How have you been and what have you been up to?

Princess Sophie, Prince Tyler and the Art of Photography

“Are you a princess? I said and she said I’m much more than a princess, but you don’t have a name for it yet here on earth. ” — Brian Andreas

Princess Sophie
This is my niece. She is absolutely gorgeous and definitely more than a princess. She lives to be photographed. I actually have to coax her not to pose for me. In her head, she’s a New York City socialite or a Monterrey diva.

Prince Tyler
My nephew Tyler – also gorgeous – cannot have his picture taken without rolling his eyes or scratching his forearm or jumping up and down so the chances of my getting a blog-worthy photograph of him right now are exponentially lower. Trust me, though, he is a gorgeous boy with nutmeg hair and a generous sprinkling of freckles across his nose and cheeks.

The Art of Photographing Nieces and Nephews
1. Always show up with hugs and kisses… and your camera 
2. Pay attention to what kind of mood your subjects are in.  Bad day? Put the camera away.
3. Ask permission to take their photograph. They will appreciate being asked.
4. Take a lot of photographs. (I’m talking, here, about many… heaps… tons.  Line up your shots and take them quickly!)
5. When the kids are done, you’re done. This will help ensure that the next time you want to take their photograph, they’ll have a positive memory of the experience and will be keen to play again!
6. Ask them to choose their favourite shots of themselves and their siblings.  Get them to tell you why they like a certain photograph.  (I promise, you’ll learn cool things from them!)
7. Bonus: If you have a point and shoot digital camera in your house, lend it to the kids.  They take the most amazing photographs because they don’t have any knowledge or preconceived notions about “the rules” for photography. Create a gallery of their best shots. If your child/niece/nephew shows real interest, you can begin with a few simple lessons but don’t let technique get in the way of genuine enthusiasm and a unique vision of the world.

This photograph of Sophie – which I love (especially the appearance of a halo above her head) – is one of 28 I took within about five minutes. I’m convinced that great photographs are part skill/training, part luck and part tenacity.

What are your tips for taking interesting and memorable photographs of children?

two thousand words {brighton and a golden field near ottawa}

{Above: Brighton, England as seen by Monna
Below: Reids Mills, Ontario, Canada as seen by DP}

two thousand words is a weekly post featuring one photograph from Monna and one from DP.

Lately I’ve been thinking a great deal about travel and about staying still.

It’s true that DP and I have seen so many amazing places but more often than not we’re just passing through.  The photograph above was taken at a university in a lovely seaside town that I visited for less than 24 hours and DP captured the other shot by pulling the car off to the the side of the highway as the sun began to set.

As we pass through the world, we gather up these beautiful moments in the form of photographs and imperfect memories.

I’ve been thinking about the way that my parents or grandparents, in particular, lived their lives.  How well they knew a particular field or road or village. How familiar they were with their small part of the world.

Recently, I have felt like putting away my suitcase for a while and just staying still. 

Do you ever feel that way?