Life, the Universe and Everything

In 2013, I had the pleasure of meeting and photographing a charming extended family on a farm just south of town. It was truly one of the warmest, most fun days of portraits and play in the five years I’ve been in business, and since that warm summer day on the farm, I’m happy to have become friends with them as well. Through Trudy and her family, I’ve learned a lot about Type 1 Diabetes, as their youngest son has T1D. Rarely do I open up the blog for guest posts, but I wanted to share my platform with Trudy today on World Diabetes Day, because I really had no idea how a family struggles with T1D, and I wanted to help raise awareness. I also hope that some future family facing the diagnosis and frantically skimming through search results finds this post and finds hope and optimism.

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month and November 14th is recognized as World Diabetes Day.

There are two stories I want to share and they seem to conflict. The first story is the one I tell my young son. People with Type 1 can do anything. The other story is about what happens behind the scenes when a person has Type 1 Diabetes. That story is reserved for adults (family and friends), policy makers, school personnel, babysitters, reviewers of insurance claims and processors of requests for disability tax credits.

Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) is an auto-immune disease – for some unknown reason your body destroys the insulin-producing (beta) cells in the pancreas. When you have diabetes, you no longer produce insulin so you have to inject insulin (exactly the right amount each time, based mostly on food and activity) with a syringe or pump infusion, for the rest of your life. Only 10% of people with diabetes have T1D. Most people, including myself and family members, know little about T1D. We even missed the early symptoms which are warning signs. We are grateful for an informed daycare provider who shared her observations of extreme thirst and frequent urination. We know a lot more now!

Meet my son Dylan, now 7 years old. He was diagnosed at CHEO with Type 1 Diabetes at age two.

Photo courtesy of Dylan's family

Photo courtesy of Dylan’s family

We remind Dylan and his friends there is nothing anyone can do to prevent T1D and nothing you can do to cure yourself from T1D. That’s the one line I hope you’ll remember. Individuals with T1D can accomplish anything and generally speaking, they can eat anything. Dylan is an active young boy and a terrific athlete: he is a skier, he plays hockey, he has won a golf championship and he spends the summer swimming, fishing and paddling with his dog Gracie. He dreams of playing in the NHL, just like Max Domi, who has T1D and started in the NHL this year with the Arizona Coyotes.

Photo courtesy of Dylan's family

Photo courtesy of Dylan’s family

Behind the scenes is the second story, the one about the medical devices and decision making process that comes with management of a complex chronic condition. Some days our kitchen table looks like we’re analyzing air traffic control patterns. We download data from a continuous glucose monitor and insulin pump. These two devices, inserted beneath the skin and rotated to new locations every few days, do not speak to each other. People often believe a pump automatically gives you the insulin when you need it but that’s not how it works. It is based on careful review of logs and records ofr meals/activities/illness/unusual circumstances. You need lots of data to make good decisions. The past data informs future attempts to keep blood sugar in range. It fluctuates every hour around the clock. We are constantly monitoring and making adjustments daytime and nighttime. We calculate insulin to carbohydrate ratios and then figure how many carbohydrates are in an apple, a chocolate chip cookie, a bag of popcorn or mom’s homemade chicken soup with brown rice and quinoa. The number of carbohydrates and factoring in the planned activities is what primarily informs the dose of insulin. There are other variables such as hormones, stress, adrenaline, illness and even weather that mess with our data and make getting the right dose of insulin several times throughout the day and night a real guessing game. It’s hard work to be an artificial pancreas! Insulin will save your life but it can also cause death if overdosed. It requires constant vigilance and we are up several times each night to monitor blood sugar levels.

IMG_4390 Pump site

T1D is considered a disability in Ontario. I didn’t even know that for the first three years we managed our son’s disease! The Canada Revenue Agency explains the eligibility based on Type 1 Diabetes requiring more than 14 hours of Life Sustaining Therapy on the part person with Type 1 Diabetes (or a parent.) This will be for life.

How did I not know? Was I in denial? I was determined to make sure our lives would not change and focused on what was possible, which is everything. That’s still my starting position. Everything is possible with good communication and supports in place. The disability is invisible but requires careful management to keep him alive. In speaking with other parents, I came to understand the meaning of disability and the link to human rights and accommodation; perhaps a few extra minutes is required to take a blood sugar reading in the middle of a provincial school exam or being allowed to treat a low blood sugar by eating a snack that is kept in your emergency kit at your desk when it is not yet recess or lunch time.

Approximately 1 in 300 children have T1D and children under the age of five are the fastest growing segment. Because T1D is pretty rare, we often feel alone. Our school had no record of any previous student with T1D. It was all new. We connected with other families though social media. Children spend close to half of their waking hours at school, underscoring the importance of ensuring that students with T1D are safe and well-managed. Support for students with T1D remains inconsistent across Canada. There are discrepancies in resources and policies across the country, even among schools in the same jurisdiction. A huge advocacy effort is still needed to raise awareness and also to request funding for research.

Our family is well supported by family and friends and this makes a big difference. We are grateful that everything seems possible. We try to lighten the load for others who are on the same path. We participate each year in the JDRF Telus Walk to Cure Diabetes, volunteer with JDRF, meet with policy makers and influencers. With other parents, I helped to create

Team photo 2015

Insulin was discovered by Canadians in 1921. We’re hopeful a cure for diabetes will be discovered by 2021!

Until then, T1D looks like Dylan! Remember both stories. The visible face of T1D and believing that anything is possible and the behind the scene efforts required to manage this disease.

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I wish I’d noticed much earlier that a pair of robins were busy building a nest in our porch light fixture. The top of the fixture had blown off in an autumn wind storm, but since it is in an area protected from the elements, I really didn’t stress about replacing it. Then one day I noticed that someone had been busy and built an entire house in just a few days.

My first inclination was to leave it. A little birdy had worked hard to build a home for his family, and far be it from me to tear it down. What if there were already eggs in it? I didn’t have the heart.

But, that’s my porch light. When I mentioned to Beloved that I didn’t want to disturb the nest, he expressed concern that (a) dried grass and electric current do not mix and (b) even a compact fluorescent light would probably throw off enough heat to cook those poor eggs. Given my reluctance to relocate the nest, he did the next best thing and put a reminding piece of tape over the light switch inside. Good thing I never got around to installing that darkness-detecting auto-on light fixture!

Daddy robin is not terribly pleased with all of our coming and going right under his nest, and he has given me a few lectures for reposing on the porch swing when it’s too close to his nest. I’m happy enough to let them stay until the eggs hatch and the fledglings can make it on their own – within reason.

I did a little research, wondering when we might be able to reclaim our light fixture. Here’s five things I learned about robins:

1. Robins are among the first migratory birds to lay eggs in spring, and will ordinarily have two to three broods between May and July.

2. A new nest is built for each brood. (Phew!) Mama robin sits on her 3 to 5 eggs for approximately 14 days, and the fledglings leave the nest about two weeks after that.

3. Parent robins clean the nest after every elimination, carrying the waste away in their beaks.

4. Only 25% of hatchlings survive the first year. (Seems like a lot of effort for a not-very-high success rate!) A robin’s life span is approximately two years.

5. When you are reading Anne of Ingleside out loud to a 13-year-old and 11-year-old boy, they will not be able to resist throwing each other scandalized glances the first time you start to read about the Blythe family’s adopted pet bird, “Cock Robin.”

So, I figure we leave the nest there until Canada Day, and then we can reclaim our porch light. I may see if I can sneak up there with my camera soon to see if any inhabitants have appeared.


I posted a rant on Facebook the other day in response to one of those quotey photo card things that basically said “I’m happy my childhood was filled with imagination and bruises instead of apps and how many likes you get on a picture.” The whole sentiment behind it infuriated me – the idea that somehow this generation of tweens and teens are having a lesser childhood because of technology.

My ranty reply said, in part, that the kids I know are far more worldly, empathetic and socially conscious than my generation ever was – and there is no better example of that than sentiment in action than We Day.

National We Day in Ottawa 2014

We Day, in case you haven’t heard of it, is an amazing series of events held across Canada and around the world to inspire youth to create change in their communities and around the world. It’s the love child of a stadium concert and a social activism conference. You can’t buy a ticket to get in, though – admission is free of charge to those students who earn their way in through service. Students commit to take action on at least one global and one local initiative of their choice as a part of the year-long educational intiative called We Act.

I think what most irks me about the patronizing “kids these days” quote I mentioned above is the insinuation that technology is making kids more shallow and somehow lesser people. In fact, kids today are incredibly creative and resourceful and they simply use technology as an extension of that creativity. TELUS, a a proud sponsor of Free the Children and We Day, believes that technology can empower people to make a real difference in the world. That’s why, together with Free The Children, they created We365, a free mobile app that enables youth to use their phones for good and propel social change through the power of technology, every day of the year.

National We Day in Ottawa 2014

The We365 app will help youth do even more to help their communities. Using the app, tweens and teens can rally friends around causes they support, share their accomplishments, and earn badges and points. Parents will also be happy to hear that the app tracks volunteer hours, which can be shared electronically and remove the need to keep track of all that pesky paperwork.

I’m deeply honoured that TELUS has invited me and a guest to attend National We Day in Ottawa next week. There will be inspirational appearances from heroes big and small, global and local: among many others, there will be Marlee Matlin, Kardinal Offishal, Amanda Lindhout, Mia Farrow, Spencer West, Neverest, and Ashley Rose Murphy, whose appearance last year so touched my heart. Born HIV positive and not expected to live more than a few days, then adopted into family of 10 children (eight of whom are disabled or have special needs), Ashley is today an active member of both her school council and a rock band. She’s also a talented speaker and wise beyond her years. One thing she said resonated with me all year: “These are the facts of my life. I can’t change them, I can only control how I live with them.”

Of all the attendees this year, though, I do believe the one I am most looking forward to is one just announced today. I first saw the story of “Butterfly child” Jonathan Pitre last year when the Ottawa Citizen ran a feature with haunting photos of Jonathan by photographer Julie Oliver. Jonathan suffers from an extreme form of Epidermolysis bullosa, a rare skin disorder that causes his skin to blister and tear at the slightest friction. Julie’s photographs were haunting and compelling, and Jonathan’s inner strength and spirit touched my heart. It was wonderful to then see the community reacting to his story, with thousands of dollars being raised for research and support to help those with Epidermolysis bullosa. Even the Sens got into the action, offering Jonathan a one-day ceremonial contract as a scout for the team. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say, and I’m so happy to see him being honoured by the We Day organizers.

National We Day in Ottawa 2014

I’ll be live-tweeting from Canada’s National We Day next Wednesday, April 1. Follow along at #WeDay, and watch the live stream at And don’t forget to download the We365 app so you can learn from ‘kids these days’ how YOU can make a difference in YOUR community!


We’ve had our dining room chairs for 15 years now. The summer we got married, we got them from the As-Is bin at Ikea, I know because the words “as is” are still written on the underside of them in indelible sharpie. For the $30 or so we paid for them, they’ve been worth their weight in gold – three moves, two dining room tables, three sloppy kids from high chairs to boosters to toddlers and beyond, and two puppies with the need to gnaw on things.

Back in 2007, when Tristan was five and Simon was three and Lucas was but a twinkle of an idea, the chairs were looking a little rough so I re-upholstered them. (Man, I have been blogging a l-o-o-o-n-g time! Blog is starting to outlast some of the fixtures and furniture!!) Seven years later, they were looking pretty ragged (actually, they started looking pretty ragged at least a year ago, and Bella did not do much to ameliorate the situation) and I’ve been idly thinking about re-re-upholstering them for quite a while.

Beloved and I were running errands in Ikea the other day and we found a pattern we liked, so I picked up three metres’ worth for the princely sum of $30. I vastly overestimated how much I’d need, but I figure I can stash the extras in case of emergency deployment of red wine or other indelible stain. If I were true to form, the bolt of material would sit untouched for months or perhaps years before I actually got around to doing anything with it, but it’s vacation season and my eyes were crossing from editing photos from my latest session, so I thought I’d see if upholstering the chairs would be as painless as I remembered.

Astonishingly, it was. Start to finish, stripping and upholstering five chairs took less than two hours. Here’s one “before” and one “after” chair – you can see why we thought perhaps it was time to re-cover them! I especially like the bit where the entire seam is torn out and you can see the original cushion. It’s only been like that for eight or nine months.

I had considered simply wrapping the new fabric around the earlier re-upholstery job, but decided it would likely be lumpy. The most time-consuming, if not difficult, part of the job was pulling out the staples and de-upholstering the 2007 job. I recruited minions to do that while I worked on the new upholstery.

The actual upholstering is dead easy. I cut the fabric into polygons the same shape as the cushion, leaving a margin of about a hand-width on all sides.

I centered the cushion in the middle and folded up one edge, doubling it over and tucking the raw seam under to make it a little stronger. One staple in the middle, turn 180 degrees and do the same on the opposite side, pulling the fabric taut but not so tight it pulled at the staples on the opposite side, then popped in another staple. At this point, I flipped the works over to make sure I liked where the pattern was centred and, erm, to ensure I was stapling the fabric right side up. (Never assume, my mother taught me.) I specifically chose this pattern because it would be very forgiving – no lines that must be straight, and the print pattern was random enough that it could go just about any which way, and small enough that it didn’t really matter where I centred the cushion. Very forgiving!

Once I was happy with how it was lined up, it was just a matter of doing the same to the other two sides and then stapling about a hundred more staples around each seam. Staples are cheap, don’t be stingy with them!

I didn’t take a close-up of the corners, but I more or less combined the way you tuck in a sheet to make hospital corners (I suck at making beds) with the way you make corners with gift wrap when you’re wrapping a present (I am much better at wrapping gifts.) The fabric is fairly forgiving, so I sort of made it up for each corner, but I did cut a triangle off the end of each corner to reduce the bulk of the fold. Just don’t cut too close to your edge or it will come untucked and fray. And staple the holy snot out of it.

I’m really happy with how they came out, and the fact that I managed to avoid stapling my finger to anything. I figure we’re good for another six or seven years. We’re certainly getting our As-Is money’s worth out of these chairs. :) And then to top off a productive day, I made slow cooker bacon jalapeno beans, roast pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon (thank you Chef Michael Smith!) and roasted Roots and Shoots summer veggies – potatoes, onions, beets and carrots. Damn, I should take a vacation more often!


I started to rant about this on Facebook, but the ensuing conversation in my kitchen inspired me to bring it back to the blog.

Waaaaaaaaay back in 2006, I ranted my displeasure at being offered the choice between a “boy” toy and a “girl” toy happy meal at McDonald’s. I’d asked for a Polly Pockets toy and a Hummer toy, and the cashier repeated back to me “one girl happy meal and one boy happy meal”. At the time, I was at the counter with my two boys standing there at my elbow watching me order. Infuriated, I pointedly re-ordered my meals with toys by type, not gender. In the intervening eight years, I have ordered more than a few happy meals, and each time I have been careful to correct the order taker, who invariably specifies boy or girl toy instead of the actual type of toy on offer.

Apparently I wasn’t the only person rankled by this distinction. In a article, high school junior Antonia Ayres-Brown tells the story of how she took her complaint about the boy/girl gender discrimination all the way to the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and not one but two CEOs of McDonald’s. The current CEO finally listened (although her complaint to the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities was dismissed as “absurd”) and Antonia received a letter back from McDonald’s with the following promise:

It is McDonald’s intention and goal that each customer who desires a Happy Meal toy be provided the toy of his or her choice, without any classification of the toy as a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ toy and without any reference to the customer’s gender. We have recently reexamined our internal guidelines, communications and practices and are making improvements to better ensure that our toys are distributed consistent with our policy.

It’s about bloody damn time, McDonald’s. But let’s go that final step down the road to righteousness, shall we? Why not simply offer one kind of happy meal toy at a time, and offer it to everyone? Some girls like Skylanders, some boys like Polly Pockets. Wendy’s and Harvey’s have been offering a single “flavour” of kid meal toys for years and there has been no anarchy, no fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, no rivers and seas boiling, no dogs and cats living together. I’m pretty sure they bypassed the mass hysteria, too, although the blogger hysteria is clearly still on the table.

You might ask why I think this is important. As I said, it’s the conversation in my very own kitchen that got me all worked up again. In seeing the reference to Antonia’s victory on Facebook, I mentioned it aloud to Beloved. My 12 year old mentioned that there have been “girl” toys through the years that he had liked, and I asked him if he would ever hesitate to order a happy meal with a toy he liked if it was labelled as a girl toy. “Not really,” he replied with a shrug, but that didn’t particularly surprise me. He’s not terribly concerned with rules and norms and what other people think on the best of days.

It was the six year old’s reaction that made me sad. “Would you order a happy meal with a girl toy if you thought the toy was really cool?” I asked him.

“No,” he replied with a tinge of regretful sigh. “I can’t play with toys that are for girls.”



Imagine having the power to light the fire of inspiration in the hearts of 16,000 young people, and then sending them back into their homes and communities thrumming with the idea that they can be a powerful force of change in the world. Imagine the ripple effect of that empowerment and positivity. That’s what happened this past Wednesday at the National We Day event here in Ottawa.

As I mentioned last week, Simon and I were invited to attend We Day by national sponsor TELUS. Tristan also attended, as he earned his way in to We Day by working with his school’s Kids Helping Kids club throughout the school year. If you missed it, We Day is a series of events held across Canada and internationally to inspire youth to create change in their communities and around the world. You don’t buy tickets to attend, though – you earn your way in through acts of local and global good will.

Let me tell you from first-hand experience, it’s not just youth they are inspiring and empowering! I don’t know anyone who comes away from exposure to We Day without being changed by the experience.

We started our day at a pre-show media briefing with Free the Children founder Craig Kielburger and two of the days’ speakers, 11 year old Hannah Alper and the inimitable Spencer West.

My favourite quote was from Craig himself, who said in speaking about how We Day affects and empowers the youth who participate, “I’m confident there’s a future prime minister among our We Day attendees.” Spencer West also spoke about the upcoming launch of his 10-week cross Canada road trip to talk to inspire and motivate Canadian students in the We Create Change Tour.

We Day got underway with a powerful address by Martin Luther King III, son of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. He had all 16,000 participants in the Canadian Tire Centre chanting “Spread the word, have you heard, all across the nation, we will be a great generation!”

Last year’s national We Day focused on the issue of clean water; this year’s theme was education. Through the We Create Change initiative, participants are encouraged to collect coins to raise funds to build 200 schools and improve access to education in developing communities around the globe. $20 buys a brick, 500 bricks builds a school. That’s what I love about all the We Day messages – each grand goal is tied to achievable, empowering small steps. No contribution is too small. Last year through We Create Change, kids collected 140 million pennies. Stacked in a pile, those pennies would reach the International Space Station – SIX TIMES! Those pennies are like the choices we make every single day in our lives. They might seem insignificant on their own, but together they can make a huge difference. Pennies – never underestimate the power of the small.

One of my favourite moments of We Day was watching the boys’ school getting a call out for their actions through the Kids Helping Kids club. Ottawa Senators captain Jason Spezza and players Chris Neil and Chris Phillips presented autographed jerseys to a few of the schools in attendance, and one of Tristan’s best friends went up on stage to accept the jersey on their school’s behalf.

We Day has no shortage of celebrities on the stage from across the celebrity spectrum. From activists like the Kielburger brothers and Martin Luther King III to political figures like Queen Noor of Jordon and the one-day-into-his-job ambassador to the USA to TV and sports stars to rock bands like Simple Plan and Neverest, there are plenty of famous names and faces. However, the stage gives equal exposure to seemingly ordinary people who have made their own lives extraordinary in big and small ways. Spencer West is a great example of this, as is Molly Burke, who spoke last year. Ottawa’s own Fahd Alhattab spoke of growing up poor in our very own city – he’s now one of Canada’s Top 20 under 20.

But I have to say, I was most deeply touched by the simple eloquence of Toronto teen Ashley Murphy, who was born HIV positive and was not expected to live more than a few days. The dynamic young teen, adopted into a family of 10 children (eight of whom are disabled or have special needs), is now vice president of her school’s student council, member of a rock band, and an incredibly talented speaker. She said adversity is not something to be overcome in life, it IS life. She told the rapt audience that you don’t need to be liked by everyone, you just need one good friend and to be able to look yourself in the mirror every morning. But it was this that resonated most with me. She said, and I swear I want to print this out on a card and keep it in my wallet: “These are the facts of my life: I can’t change them, I can only control how I live with them.”

During the lunchtime “red carpet” media interviews, Simon had the chance to take this “selfie” with the eloquent and extremely kind Canadian rap star Jason Harrow, known as Kardinal Offishall. I love this photo because it’s super cute, but also because you can see genuine kindness in the interaction between a 10 year old boy who sees everyone as an equal and a celebrity rapper who obviously does, too.

If you’d like to read more about We Act and We Day or better yet, if you’d like to get your family, school or company engaged in this movement, visit the Free the Children website. You can also download the amazing We365 app, a free mobile app and website that enables young people to track and verify their volunteer activities for school, as well as provide the tools needed to fundraise, take action, and amplify messages for thousands of different charities. Youth who participate in We365 challenges will have the chance to be rewarded with TELUS grants and scholarships. Further, through We365 TELUS will engage with kids via Earn Your Way challenges throughout the year, giving kids a chance to win exclusive opportunities like a hike with Spencer West or a day trip with Craig Kielburger. Challenges could include sharing a photo of one small act of change through the We365 platform. These actions will also be amplified through other social media platforms as We365 activity can also be shared through Facebook and Twitter.

On the drive home from the Canadian Tire Centre, Simon and I were chatting about the day’s events. I asked him, “What did you learn you could do at We Day?” His answer, without hesitation but with a huge smile: “Anything!” And that, my friends, is what We Day is all about.

Thank you so much to National We Day sponsor TELUS for inviting us to be a part of National We Day 2014 and to all the amazing organizers and volunteers who made We Day possible.

Hanging out at We Day with Neverest and the TELUS crew

So what will YOU do to change the world?

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We Day is coming back to Ottawa!

3 April 2014 Ah, me boys

Next Wednesday, 16,000 students and educators from 420 schools throughout Canada will be gathering at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa to mark Canada’s National We Day 2014. For the third year, TELUS is partnering with Free The Children as National Co-Title sponsor of We Day, and they’ve invited Simon and I to attend the […]

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Hey Blogger, did you declare that free soup on your income tax return?

1 March 2014 How I love the Interwebs

So this is kind of interesting. Bloggers, photographers, Facebook business page owners and anyone who earns even a couple of dollars from the interwebs, you might want to pay attention to this. Up-front disclosure – this is not tax advice. Also, as you may know, despite having failed income tax returns in high school (true […]

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Could Bella be a coydog?

5 January 2014 Life, the Universe and Everything

My in-laws paid a quick visit to us this past weekend for the holidays, and it was their first opportunity to meet Bella. After watching Bella pounce on a bone and noting the distinctive stance, he said, “Gee, she almost looks like a coyote, doesn’t she?” That set us off on a fun afternoon of […]

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(Nearly) Wordless Wednesday: 50 favourite photos from 2013

1 January 2014 Life, the Universe and Everything

I was going to post my top 10 favourite photos from 2013, but I couldn’t get it whittled down to anything close to that. Oy, if there was ever a girl in need of an editor, it’s me! Oh well, it’s my blog and pixels are free, right? Heh, just be glad I didn’t post […]

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