The Big Picture: Reader Giveaway

 Family photo session 2017 by  Lisa Tullet Photography

Family photo session 2017 by Lisa Tullet Photography

When my first daugther was born, I was like any other over-the-top parent and eager to share as many photos of my darling as I could. First, I would turn the scanner on and wait half-an-hour for it to warm up. If I wasn't too bleary-eyed from sleep deprivation, I would start the process of dialing up to the interet while I waited (glerrrrrrrrrb, sputter, click, vrrrrrrroooom, beep). Otherwise, I had to add another 20 minutes to get a connection (at which point, the baby would totally be over the bouncy seat). Then I'd scan and save the photo(s) I wanted to share, before finally attaching them to an email for family and friends. It would often take another 20 minutes for the photos to attach before I could finally hit send. It was an hour long process, but I did it anyway. And I went through all of it again when my son was born two years later. 

Because the rigamoreole of sharing those photos was already so involved, I thought nothing of taking it to the next level by popping the kids into adorable outfits and coaxing them into smiling for a photographer. I scanned those photos, too, and then mailed hard copies to grandparents. 

When high speed internet and smartphones arrived on the scene and social media became mainstream, just before my fourth child was born, I fell into the habit of instant uploading and sharing for its convenience and ability to reach more family and friends. My photos become more candid and less formal, and that was okay. But when I decided to surprise my husband with some professional photos of me and the kids for Father's Day (after our youngest was born), I remembered how much I love a good family portrait. My childhood home was filled with them, and nostalgia is one of my favourite feelings. 

There's something so special about being caputured by someone else's camera. For the last seven years — since that Father's Day photoshoot  — it's become a given that our family will end up in front of a photographer at some point during the year. And the kids look forward to it (mostly) as much as I do. 

I've changed my approach a lot in recent years, when it comes to how I think the photos should come together. The girls choose their own outfits now (though I'm quietly delighted they conspire to compliment one another and weigh in on their brother's options) and we all wear clothes we already have in our closets. We're (read: me) a lot more laid back about the process these days.

I used to get quite stressed trying to find matching outfits in an attempt to make the photo look cohesive (as though that sameness would be what defined our family). But I've gained a lot of perspective as the kids have gotten older and their personalities have made themselves known. Sameness is not what makes a family. Acceptance and celebration of who we are as individuals is what makes us close. 

I don't want perfect or curated photos anymore. I want to look at these photos and remember who we were in that moment. I want to see what someone else saw when we tumbled and stumbled in front of their camera, like our family always does. I want to feel love and pride for the many ways we came through another year of struggles and triumphs together.  

I haven't completely returned to printing our photos (though I have lofty goals of catching up on that someday) but I do make it a priority to print our annual family photo. 

One of my lucky readers will be able to create a print one of one of their favourite photos, too, because I've gratefully accepted an offer from Canvas Factory to give away a 16 x 20 canvas print. This contest is open to both my Canadian and U.S. readers. All you have to do is enter below between today and March 4th. 





Why Feeding Kids Matters

 Serving hot breakfast at my son's school 

Serving hot breakfast at my son's school 

It was my middle daughter who first set me on a journey to feeding kids in schools. She'd always been good about packing her own lunch and eating what she brought without complaint. Then, three years ago, I noticed (with alarm) that she was bringing her food home untouched. I wondered how she was making it through the day without any nutrition. She initially gave me excuses about being distracted or not having enough time, but now I know she was trying to figure out how to explain it.

Finally, after I had reached a point of being exasperated and quite worried, she admitted the classmate she sat beside at that time didn't have enough food in his lunch bag. And because of the school policy that prohibits students from sharing food (for allergy safety), she felt unable to eat her lunch beside him. She reached a point that it was so upsetting to her, she would pull out a book instead of opening her bag in front of him.

My heart sank when she first told me, but I also felt determined to help her and her classmate find a solution. Truthfully, I had been so focused on making sure my own child was eating enough at school (like so many parents do), that I hadn't spent a lot of time thinking about children who don't have access to enough food.

We came up with a plan, with the help of her wonderful teacher, to create a box of school-safe snacks that would be available to all students in the class so that no one felt singled out. But it was hard for me to stop thinking about, even after my daughter told me things were better once her teacher was involved. 

Shortly after that experience, I was volunteering in my cousin's classroom and noticed she had filled the shelves in the coat/backpack area with boxes of food. She told me that it made it easy for students to discreetly slip food into their pockets or bags without having to ask. She paid for the food herself, because she said it was hard to teach hungry kids. 

I knew I had to do something to help and was very glad to find out my son's school ran a hot breakfast and snack program every morning. For the past two years, I've been part of a team that helps to feed students before they start their day. We aren't just feeding kids who don't have enough to eat at home. We also feed kids who are responsible for getting themselves to school and appreciate a warm meal, as well as kids who just enjoy eating breakfast with their friends. We are working hard to remove the stigma of in-school food programs and create a sense of community instead. 

 Hot breakfast program at my son's school

Hot breakfast program at my son's school

We know student nutrition is a vital part of a successful learning environment, but it's also an aspect of school life that's easily overlooked unless you are directly affected by it — either as a parent or an educator. At the heart of these programs are volunteers who understand the importance of feeding kids, as well as behind-the-scenes fundraising that helps to make that happen.

Toonies for Tummies is a grassroots program that partners with Canada's grocery, food and consumer industries to raise money for feeding kids. To date, over 1.1 million children have benefited from this program, and 100 per cent of the donations remain in the communities where they are donated. 

It's so easy to make a huge and lasting impact on a child's life, by helping to ensure they are well-fed when they are at school. Not only does it improve their well-being physically, it also creates a sense of community and safety for every child who participates in these programs. 

From February 2nd to the 22nd Longo's grocery stores will be accepting donations for the 2018 #Toonies4Tummies program. On February 3rd, Longo's will dollar match every toonie that's donated. On February 17th, Metro and Food Basics will also be running dollar match days.

You can help by saying yes when your cashier asks if you'd like to add a toonie to your grocery bill this month. You will see signage for the Toonies4Tummies program clearly displayed at participating locations. And if you and your family want to make even more of a difference, you can also make an online donation on the Toonies For Tummies website. 

Once this campaign comes to a close, there is still a lot of work to be done. Perhaps your child's school offers a breakfast program that's looking for donations or volunteers. Or maybe a monthly grocery shop for your community food bank would be a great way for your whole family to get involved in making a difference. 

There are so many families in your community that can benefit from your generosity. You can make a big difference with a small act. I'll always be grateful to my daughter for showing me how to take the first step. 


I am honoured to be participating in the 2018 Toonies4Tummies campaign. I have been compensated for writing this post, but also passionately believe in the importance of feeding kids in schools. Thank you for taking the time to read about this wonderful campaign. 




Like A Fish: A Review of Goldfish Swim School

 When you enter the school, it feels like you're on an island getaway, which is the perfect antidote to winter swim lessons

When you enter the school, it feels like you're on an island getaway, which is the perfect antidote to winter swim lessons

If I was to describe our youngest child in a sentence, I'd probably say something like she does life her way. And by that I mean she knows herself, what she likes, and how she wants to get things done

It serves her very well in her day-to-day, and we couldn't be more proud of her confidence, but sometimes she needs a nudge to help her see things from a different perspective. How we deliver that nudge determines how well it will be received. And trust me when I tell you she has given us plenty of opportunities to practise our delivery.

In the past year or so, I've spoken a lot about being in the sweet spot of parenthood with our four kids. They're all school-aged now. They can eat, dress, and participate in extracurricular activities independently. We've finally retired the bulky baby gear like diaper bags and strollers, which means vacations actually feel like vacations — except when it comes to being in the water.

Our little dynamo decided at some point in her early years that swimming — without clinging to a parent the entire time — wasn't going to happen. So my husband and I always end up at the bargaining table with the winner staying dry and the other getting into a bathing suit for the hotel pool. We've tried swimming lessons and made very slow progress — as soon as there's any mention of going underwater or jumping in, she holds her ground (literally). 

We are in the planning stages of our annual summer road trip, and this year's journey will take us oceanside. All kidding aside, water safety and swimming skills are extremely important to us. We want all of our children to feel confident around the water. So when the opportunity came to try a new swimming program, we crossed our fingers and went for it.

Goldfish Swim School has just opened its first Canadian location in our town. The program has been successfully running in the U.S. for several years, and they've established very family-friendly systems and a program that has thought of everything. I booked an appointment to go and see the facility without her, and as soon as I walked in I knew she'd be easy to convince. It's designed with kids in mind and so well-suited to the age they teach (infants to 12 years old). 

When we arrived for her first lesson, I watched her face light up with excitement. She could see that the space was built for kids her size and she immediately felt comfortable. When I say they've thought of everything, I'm not exaggerating. Instead of being in a chaotic, open concept change room, each family can use a gender-neutral room with plenty of space and hooks to keep things off the floor. The temperature is perfect and keeps the shivering at bay. Cold and swimming lessons do nothing to convince a kid that it's going to be fun

 The change rooms are fantastic for privacy and usability. 

The change rooms are fantastic for privacy and usability. 

After getting though one day of lessons, she wanted to head into the change room to get herself ready independently. Like I said, she likes to do things her way. There are plenty of large cubicles in the main area to keep things dry and safe until the end of the lesson. 

The head lifeguard comes out and calls the students in for their lesson, by leading them through the open concept shower area. Swimmers take a shower before entering the pool, and parents can observe from the other side of the glass (where it's warm and dry!). 

 She felt so grown up doing this on her own

She felt so grown up doing this on her own

Then it's time for parents to head to the observation area and make themselves comfortable (did I mention that you're still completely dry?). There are snacks and coffee/tea/hot chocolate available for parents, and free wifi too!

 Comfortable seats, coffee, groovy tunes and free wifi. It's a parent's paradise

Comfortable seats, coffee, groovy tunes and free wifi. It's a parent's paradise

The pool itself is heated to a balmy 90 degrees and is one consistent depth of 4ft, which helps to keep the nerves calm (for her and me). She was immediately comfortable because she knew she wasn't going to be swimming in the deep end. And the side-to-side lanes are much less intimidating than being in a more open space. Each lesson (after your child's appropriate level has been determined) follows a step-by-step program with specific swim requirements. And parents are invited on deck for the last few minutes to hear about those skills and observe their child demonstrating something (s)he's been working on. 


In addition to your child's swim instructor, there is also a qualified lifeguard on deck for every four kids, which provides a safe level of supervision for everyone in the pool. It also meant extra high fives and words of praise for my kid and she just loved hearing that she was doing well. She absolutely thrived in the lessons and counted down the minutes until the next one. 

 It was so wonderful to see her confident and happy in the water

It was so wonderful to see her confident and happy in the water

What I noticed more than anything else was how the set-up of the program at Goldfish Swim School really encourages and fosters independence. I think she easily made progress in the program, because she felt like she was in charge. It suits her personality, but would also work well for kids who need some extra support.

 Taking care of business on her own. She also loved using the automatic bathing suit dryers

Taking care of business on her own. She also loved using the automatic bathing suit dryers

We started out at the school in one of the Jump Start Clinics, which allowed us to come every day for a week and really get comfortable. It was perfect for figuring out whether this program would work for us longterm. The program is set up as a month-to-month payment and it's a perpetual lessons model that let's you choose a schedule that works for your family (including easy to schedule make up lessons). 

We are officially counting down to the start of our summer vacation now and it feels like we'll be at a new level of independence this year. We feel confident that with continued lessons, we'll have taken measures to make sure our kids are safe and happy in the water. And knowing that makes our time at Goldfish Swim School time well spent. 

 Showing off one of her new skills

Showing off one of her new skills

Because I'm a local parent and blogger, the wonderful staff at the Goldfish Swim School generously invited my daughter to enjoy a week in their Jump Start Clinic in exchange for my honest review. I was not otherwise compensated for this post and my opinions are genuine. 

For a review by my dear friend about their experience with her extraordinary kiddo, click here (there's an adorable video that you'll want to see!)