We went camping over the weekend. It's always exactly what we need and is always over too quickly.

It's a chance to step away from routines, deadlines, clocks. 

The only electronic device we bring is my iPhone, because it's also my camera. 

Having such a small and easy-to-carry photo taker (and those tiny cameras just get better and better) helps me capture the quiet moments—they work quickly and without a lot of distraction.


Since receiving an iPhone 5 for my birthday last year, I've been treating it more like a point-and-shoot camera with the added perk of being able to fiddle with elements like colour and saturation before I post, save or share my photos. 

And as the cameras continue to improve on smartphones, so do the photography apps. The list is endless, and it's easy to get overwhelmed with the options. One of the best ways for me to discover new apps, is to find photos that please my eye (and we all have preferences) and then familiarize myself with the apps those photographers are using. I primarily use Instagram to find inspiration, but it's everywhere. 

Last week, my gallery on How To Take Great Photos of Your Family was featured on Today's Parent, and one of the apps I mentioned was very recently launched. 


I stumbled onto the Fat Mum Slim Photo-A-Day challenge while poking around on Instagram, and I loved it. Chantelle takes bright, simple, clean photos that really appeal to me, and she is a big supporter of sharing photos and building a supportive community. Her new photo editing and sharing app, Little Moments, is so fun and easy to use (and includes an awesome photo prompt function). Chantelle is generously giving one of my readers the new app for free (told you she likes to share).

Just enter below to win. Happy snapping!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

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We haven't had a summer like this for 10 years; since we last fussed and obsessed over every small movement and moment that our firstborn experienced when we took her out on adventures small and big.

Was she okay?

Was she having fun?

Was there a way we could we make it more fun?

Wheeeee...this merry-go-round/playground/choo-choo train is SO MUCH FUN!

And then kids number two, three and four came along and I feel like one of us was perpetually turfed to the periphery—while the other hogged all the fun with the "big kids".

Someone had to feed or change or shush the baby or chase a toddler or push the stroller. And often times, the most tired grown up just stayed home with the youngest kid rather than hold the rest of the family back from having a good time. 

But this summer is going to be different. 

We now have four walking, talking, non-napping, self-feeding tiny humans in our charge. 

The world is ours to conquer.

The adventures are waiting. 

Fun is around the corner.

When we were offered the chance to take them on a rafting trip, we gave an enthusiastic OH YEAH! instead our usual knee-jerk ARE YOU CRAZY?


Here's a round-up of what it was like to paddle down the Grand River (just over an hour west of Toronto) with four kids between the ages of four and 12: 

Safety first: we were introduced to our wonderful guide, Katie, who reassured us that none of our family members would tumble out of the raft at anytime during our trip. She then led us through a very kid-friendly safety lesson and provided each of the kids with easy-to-understand tips for handling a kid overboard situation. They were equal parts fascinated-mortified at the thought of being carried downstream by the current. Each of us were then outfitted with life jackets. Crisis averted.


Paddle: We climbed into the raft and pushed off from the Grand River Rafting launch area in Paris, Ontario. It's a popular (catch-and-release) fishing area, and a gorgeous and peaceful stretch of water to spend time with your kids: turtles, birds, chipmunks, geese and ducks in abundance. The rapids are beginner level and the water is consistently shallow.  


On the water: The raft was spacious and easy to move around inside of for the purpose of stretching legs, grabbing a drink of water or re-applying sunscreen. There was plenty of musical oars happening with the kids, too, as the youngest one declared it necessary to sit here, there, here, there, here, there. You get the idea. 


Natural springs: Right about the time that the fidgeting reached epic levels (I'm looking at you four-year-old), we paddled up to a naturally-occuring spring along the bank. We were able to pull the raft up onto the shore and get out of the boat to get up close to the spring and have a sample. We also saw tiny minnows and tadpoles in the shallow water. 


To the woods: We got back into the raft for another while, and headed towards a hiking trail on the opposite bank. Again, we were able to pull our raft onto the bank before being led on a family hike by our very knowledgable (and patient) guide, Katie. She took us along a beautifully wooded path and pointed out several educational aspects of the surrounding forest.


We sampled berries right off the tree—but not the poisonous kind, which Katie very carefully taught the kids to avoid—and got up close with some of the teeny creatures that hide in the shade of the woods. Our eight-year-old—who just finished reading Charlotte's Web—enjoyed this part of the trip most. She's our most outdoorsy kid; always keen to learn more about nature. She had her hand up asking and answering questions for Katie.



We had a moment of regression and had to take turns handling the four-year-old to prevent her from throwing herself down some steep embankments—especially after Katie took the time to point out stinging nettle plants and poison ivy plants (just looking at it makes you itchy).

She also taught the kids about jewelweed and how it could be used as a natural anecdote to either of the aggressive plants. And when we got ravaged by mosquitoes, she ripped off some Burdock leaves and opened the stems for the kids to rub on their bites. Katie was raised with plenty of time outdoors and went on countless camping excursions, during which she and her siblings were taught how to live off the land. In other words, they camped without hot dogs and s'mores!


By the time we reached the end of the trip, we had paddled about 13 km. JB and I were so proud of how much the kids all pitched in with the paddling (they were sore the next day from the work out). 

Tips for next time: I would recommend packing separate water bottles, as well as separate snack containers. Sharing just facilitated more moving around the raft that wasn't necessary. I would also recommend a pair of binoculars for any kids interested in seeing the wildlife more closely. Bug repellent would have been handy for the walk through the woods, too. 

We did manage to pack hats, water resistant shoes, and plenty of sunscreen. All came in handy.

There was opportunity to go swimming off the side of our raft, too. If we had not had our youngest with us, who as this point had thrown her hat over her face and put herself down for a nap, we would have given it a try for sure. 


Thank you: The kind folks at Grand Rafting shuttle you back to your vehicle, so there is no worry that you have to turn around and do it all again upstream—though it would be a fun challenge (without a raft full of hungry kids).

Thanks to the generosity of Heart of Ontario, we headed to the well-known and very popular Burger Barn near Ohsweken on the Six Nations reserve. We were starving and the food was the perfect way to end a busy day. The kids LOVED their meals—though they opted for the kids' chicken wings—and JB and I really enjoyed our burgers. 



It was a perfect way to spend a the day and a fantastic kick-off for our epic summer adventures. Watch this space to see what else we get up to and, of course, I'd love hear some ideas from all of you.


Thank you to Heart of Ontario and Grand River Rafting for extending this offer to our family. I was not compensated for this post, but we did have a complimentary trip.

Thank you to Burger Barn for the delicious lunch.

Thank you to our wonderful guide, Katie. The world needs more gentle spirits like you.

If your family is keen to explore more of the region, be sure to check out the Red, White & True Canadian Heritage Passport which has 20 offers (and over a $400 savings) for heritage sites, museums and activities across the region.

You can also find ongoing special offers here.

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It may have started with a restlessness. 

Or a need to drift away from the busyness.

Something pulled Grand Experiences owner, Jamie Kent, away from his corporate job towards the river almost two decades ago, and it was a call worth answering. 


Anyone who climbs into one of Jamie's boats will feel his gratitude for the water and benefit from his immense knowledge about the beauty that surrounds the Grand River.

We jumped at the chance to be pulled from our own rapids and placed gently into the heart of Canada's only Carolinian forest, where we would end up having a rejuvenating weekend with the Grand Experience's crew and their generous partners.


Grand Experiences is located in the beautiful Ontario town of Paris, which is one-hour west of Toronto and easily accessible by major highways. It has a quaint and wonderful small-town vibe with unique cobblestone architecture and a bakery, bookstore and chocolatier lining its main street. It also boasts the historic, beautifully renovated and recently re-opened Arlington Hotel, which will now be available as part of the weekend canoeing package. 


The Voyage Into Paradise package had us paddling in a guided canoe for two days over approximately 15 of a possible 300 kilometres and included a two-night hotel stay, fine-dining dinner experience and two gourmet lunches.

We felt the sun on our faces and along the backs of arms as we dipped our paddles in and out of the water and listened to the soundtrack of the river, while taking in the sight of the wildlife and forest that surround it. The stress melted away with each kilometre that we travelled. 


It's funny how many times JB and I bumped elbows and caught each other on the chin with our paddles, as we tried to find our rhythm. It was a reminder of how easily (and unknowingly) we can fall out of sync with one another during the blurry days of raising a young family. To move the canoe forward we had to focus on arriving at the same destination. It's the perfect challenge for any relationship. 

What makes a river so restful to people

is that it doesn't have any doubt—

it is sure to get where it is going

and it doesn't want to go anywhere else ~

Hal Boyle


The water in the Grand River is shallow and warm and at times quite rocky (creating something of a fun obstacle course). The rapids were very gentle on this stretch of the river, making them friendly for first-timers. We could hear the flow of natural springs along the bank and glided over 80 species of fish (it's catch and release fishing only). There were countless species of birds, including the majestic Bald Eagle. And we were treated to the sight of several Turkey Vultures and Great Blue Herons as they soared across the bright, blue sky. When the river is clear, you can often see them diving for fish. 

To put your hands in a river

is to feel the chords that bind the earth together ~

Barry Lopez

After paddling through the morning, we pulled up to Brant Conservation where we were met by an Aboriginal-inspired lunch prepared by Deliciously Different Catering. Each dish was thoughtfully planned (bison, mushroom ragoût, wild rice, salmon and asparagus) and we could not have enjoyed it more (we were also starving from all the paddling). 


After lunch we paddled on to Turtle Island, where we were met by a First Nations Storyteller. It happened to be National Aboriginal Day, as well as the summer solstice. There was a lot to celebrate, as we listened to the telling of First Nations myths and legends. We also heard the tranditional cedar flute and a beautiful welcoming song. The stories about how we are all connected—both with Mother Earth and with one another—were so fitting, as we sat with our fellow canoers around the welcoming campfire. 


We returned to our hotel to clean up and slap on some aloe vera (pack the sunscreen, you're going to need it out on the water) before heading out for a delicious meal at the Water Street Cooker, which sits above Lake Ontario in Burlington. It was the perfect venue to take in the sunset and refuel for another round of paddling in the morning. 


In the morning, we were shuttled over to Coote's Paradise at the Royal Botantical Gardens, which is currently undergoing an extensive recovery process in an attempt to return the water to its natural marsh state. It was another gorgeous morning to be out in the canoe, and we were treated to turtles, birds, swans, geese, ducks and several deer sightings, as we paddled through the quiet water. Learning about the multitude of efforts by dedicated scientists, botanists, naturalists and volunteers to restore this beautiful area was very humbling (and inspiring). 


Once we pulled back onto the shore, it was time to think about food again and we found ourselves at Laking Garden under a gazebo nestled on the edge of the newly designed iris garden. Again, the food and its pairing with the view of Coote's Paradise was spectacular and appreciated after another morning of paddling. 


The weekend came to a close with a personalized tour through the newly designed Laking Garden with the RBG staff. It is so much more than a beautiful place to wander. This one-of-a-kind and world-renowned garden has dedicated staff and volunteers working tirelessly to maintain the bio-diversity of plant life not only in Canada, but worldwide.  

This trip helped me and JB find our rhythm, during a time of year that's chaotic and messy. And although we had to return to the busyness, we did so with a new energy. We recommend this trip (and any of the many other excursions available at Grand Experiences) to anyone who wants to get re-connected—both to the people they take the trip with and with the beautiful scenery that will be encountered along the way.


Much gratitude to The Hamilton Halton Brant Regional Tourism Association for making this trip possible.

Deepest thanks to Jamie and his team at Grand Experiences for an incredible journey, including guides: Sarah, Mark, Megan, Dan and Cory. 

Thank you Cindy at Deliciously Different Catering.

Thank you, Russ, for the tour of beautiful Paris, ON. We can't wait to return for a festival.

Thank you to the Water Street Cooker restaurant and the Waterfront Hotel in Burlington, ON for a warm welcome.

Thank you Kristen, Alex and Jean for their time and expertise at the Royal Botanical Gardens.

And last, but definitely not least, thank you to my parents, Tom and Doris, for taking care of our children and giving us this time together. 




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don't let her fool you

Spiritisland{Spirit Island, Meligne Lake, Jasper National Park}

We've just landed back at home after a wonderful family vacation in Alberta.

Mountains, aqua-coloured lakes, wild animals.

It was eight days of visual candy. And we ate it all up.

My iphone did, too—just ask my Instagram feed. 

All said, the kids did very, very well. There were minimal blips in behaviour, and we made it through eight breakfasts, eight lunches, and eight dinners electronics-free. I had quietly set a goal that we be able to maintain our at-home rule for being without screens and gadgets during meals, but I wasn't confident we could pull it off. 

I worried about the effects of time changes, routine shake-ups, and long restaurant waits. But I didn't have to. There was always a lot to talk about—like our plans for the day or our favourite parts of the days we had already left behind. 

They were so good about rolling with the punches: the unexpected rainfall, the lack of movie time in the cabin without cable, the long car rides. They enjoyed each other's company, and were thrilled to have our undistracted and undivided attention. They also had the added gift of travelling with a grandparent, and new bonds were created along the way.



But don't let my words, or the above photo, fool you into thinking it was all easy. It's always challenging to put your family outside their comfort zone, and it can be downright intimidating when you're doing it in front of an audience. 

And travelling with a rowdy, exuberant, stubborn, fearless three-year-old just ups the ante/sweat/tears for everyone. Based on her performance on a flight just over a year ago, we had reason to fear the four hour journey there and back. And although she redeemed herself on the flight to Alberta, there was a good foot-stomping, arm flailing, screeching episode that came just as another row of screeching toddlers had quieted. 

I scooped her out of her seat beside JB, who looked at me like he wanted to throw me up against the emergency exit and kiss me passionately with gratitude, and ran for the cargo space at the back of the plane. We sat on the floor in the dark, as the flight attendants quietly walked around us, and we talked about how hard it was to sit for so long. We named all of our beloved stuffies at home, and talked about how excited they would be to see her. We sighed with contented delight at the thought of being reunited with our favourite pillows. We got excited about seeing her favourite cousin when we got home. 

The sobs eventually subsided and she put her arms around my neck and whispered into my hair, You are my best Mommy.

And I knew we would be okay.

We headed back to her seat, where JB greeted us with a lollipop, and big sister offered her the pink headphones. A new episode of Toopy and Binoo popped up on the screen, and all was quiet again. I thought about returning to my book, but I realized there was only an hour of vacation left, so I put my own headphones on, and we laughed at Toopy together. 

Undistracted and undivided. 


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