** A rendition of this story first appeared on the Northern Ontario Travel blog magazine in 2014 for Algoma Country. It has been revised for this blog. **




I've spent many nights wrapped in the comfort of a sleeping bag underneath the stars on the shoreline of Lake Superior. I have witnessed the phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis, more commonly known as the Northern Lights, countless times. But you never ever forget the first time you see those magnificent lights.

My family spent their summers and weekends at Old Mill Bay in northern Ontario. The shallow, warm water bay is five minutes past Harmony Bay on Highway 17, and about a half-hour drive from Sault Ste. Marie. Growing up, it was a popular tent and trailer park, nestled against the Trans-Canada Highway. We lived for the warm breezes, sandbars, and the dark skies.


My mother rarely spent nights with us at Old Mill Bay. My sister and I grew up with a very ill mother, who battled and beat Ovarian cancer when we were mere children, and later endured kidney disease into our early pre-teens. Her kidney failure meant regular dialysis treatments and lengthy hospital stays. My mom often stayed in town while my sister, father and I enjoyed life on Lake Superior. Mom would sometimes visit us during the day on the bay, sometimes early enough for breakfast, and stay until early afternoon, before she retreated back to the Sault for another treatment. She was rarely present for the evening campfires, where my sister, father, and I would eat s'mores and roast spider dogs on the open flames.

Not having our mother around for these traditional camping activities was normal. We understood our mother's illness and the need for her to be in the city to receive treatment. However, things were about to change.

My father donated a kidney to my mother in 2001 after undergoing extensive testing in London, Ontario. The two had a rare, brother-sister match and were the first-ever laparoscopic kidney transplant in north America. The procedure was a success, saving my mother's life.


After they recovered from the transplant, we returned to our second home at Old Mill Bay. Only this time, my mother stayed the night.

In fact, she stayed every night. And took part in our evening rituals that she'd missed for so many years. It turns out my mother loved s'mores. I believe she ate three the first night she stayed at camp!

That first night was just before Labour Day, and the evenings were beginning to cool. The sky was particularly clear, speckled with thousands of stars, and the old man's face on the moon watched over us. The water was perfectly still—a rarity for Lake Superior. The thousands of crickets were singing their evening tune, while the toads croaked in the creek down the beach from us. It was peaceful.

Then, the sky opened up in all of its glory: the Northern Lights. My father, my sister, my mother, and I lay still on the beach, gazing awestruck at the sky. The colours were so vibrant, so spectacular—like nothing we had ever seen before.

We stayed out under the stars for hours watching the lights dance. We forgot about everything else in the world. It will remain one of the most perfect and fond memories of my childhood.

As different cultures have beliefs about the lights and what they mean, so too do I. For me, they embody simplicity and perfection. Awe and amazement. Family and love. And perhaps most importantly, health.

Every time I've seen them since, I remember Old Mill Bay. And the joy of that night spent in my favourite spot in Algoma Country.

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  • Meaghan Kent

The following speech was delivered to the graduating class of White Pines Collegiate and Vocational School at their first in-person ceremony since 2019.


**


Thank you for that kind introduction. Thank you for having me here today. It is an absolute honour to be with you all as you celebrate the end of your high school careers and begin this next journey in your life.


I graduated from White Pines in 2007, 15 years ago. I remember sitting where you all are today, eagerly waiting to throw my cap against the wishes of our principal and teachers. We did it anyways. Do it anyways!


I remember my teachers calling out our names as we crossed the stage to get our diplomas, and they would tell the audience where we were going next year, and what we were studying. Meaghan Smith, heading to Algoma University to study History and French. I was going to become a teacher.


But I quickly learned that not all dreams and goals are realized. Sometimes life forces you to take a different path. And sometimes your passions change.


The French program got canceled in my second year of university so I couldn’t study it. In the words of Ross Geller, I had to pivot. So I decided to study English so I could have the two teachables needed to be a high school teacher. So I crammed a four-year English degree into three years.


In my third year of university, I quickly learned after being a tutor in a grade 4 classroom that I did not want to be a teacher - no offense to the lovely teachers here today. So I went to my academic advisor and asked, "What can I do with a degree in History and English?" He told me I should become a professor. So I pivoted again.


When I graduated from Algoma U, I went to the University of Western Ontario to get my Master of Arts in History. And after completing that, I learned that I really didn’t want to be a professor.


I started working instead. I worked as a recruiter for Algoma U, talking to university- and college-bound hopefuls like yourself, convincing them on the university experience. And then after four months in that role, I landed my dream job. Or so I thought it was. In grade 10, right upstairs from this auditorium, I remember telling my art teacher Mrs. Nisbet that I wanted to be a writer. And she wholeheartedly supported me. She would actually allow me to change assignments so they would better fit my passion in writing.


I worked at Algoma U for 7 years as a writer and in communications. It was a great job. But something was missing. Much like I didn’t want to be a teacher, a professor, or a recruiter, I didn’t really want to be a writer anymore. So I pivoted again.


And every time I pivoted, I was reminded of a professor I had at Algoma U, the late Dr. Alana Bondar. In my fourth year of my undergraduate degree, she asked me in the ladies' bathroom, if "my heart was happy". And ever since that day, I've been reminded that if you're not happy with what you're doing, why are you doing it?


If there’s one piece of advice I can bestow on each and every person in this room - whether you’re a graduate, a parent, a teacher, or support staff - it’s to be happy. Once you find what makes you happy, everything else will fall into place. Trust me on that.


Somewhere in those 7 years at Algoma U, I picked up a camera and taught myself everything that I know today. It started out as a hobby and quickly became a full-time job. I like to say I attended the school of YouTube for photography. Today, I’m a first-generation entrepreneur and I’ve never felt more driven, passionate, and most importantly, happy, in my career. Today, I'm an award-winning lifestyle and wedding photographer, who gets to travel the world. It doesn't get much better than that!


When I tell my clients that I have no professional training or diploma in photography, but degrees in History and English, they often laugh and say "those must be a big waste of money". But they're not. And those degrees hang proudly in my home. Sure, I may not be working in my fields, but I wouldn't trade my experiences at Algoma U or Western for anything. I navigated adulthood, I gained confidence, and had many, many reality checks. I learned to speak up and out. I learned that it’s okay to change my mind and that I will be supported by people - even complete strangers - in those ever-changing decisions. But perhaps most importantly, I learned to be passionate. To immerse myself in what I love and allow it to consume me. I learned that you have to do what makes you happy, not what makes your parents or guardians happy, not what makes your friends or life partners happy. What makes you happy.


Maybe that's going to college or university. Maybe that's going into the trades. Maybe that's entering the work world or taking a gap year to travel. Maybe it's doing that infamous victory lap because you're just not ready yet. And that's okay. Listen to your heart. Make your own decisions. If you're happy, then nothing else matters.


We change. Our passions change. It’s okay to not be the person we once were or thought we were going to become. I am not the person I was when I graduated from here.


So to the Class of 2022, I say, happy exploring. Happy pivoting. You've pivoted over the past two years through this pandemic in your high school life in ways that I cannot even begin to imagine. And look at you - you've come out stronger and more resilient.


It may take you a while to find your joy in life. And that’s okay. Change your major, change your degree, change your school, change your trade, change your job. It’s okay. Just do what makes you happy. It took me nine whole years from graduating from White Pines to find out what really made me happy. You may already know what makes you happy, and if you do, follow that passion.


And to the parents and guardians here today: when your graduate comes to you to one day with a change of heart, support them. Don't be upset that they've changed their major or program, or gone to pursue something radically different. Let them explore and find their true happiness. All of these changes will make sense one day and be a part of their important journey to happiness. If you're anything like me, then you want nothing else for your child then for them to be happy. That's all I want for my three-year-old son. Happiness.


So the next time someone asks you what you want to be when you grow up, tell them this: tell them you want to be happy.


Congratulations, Class of 2022! I'm so proud of you!



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I've been receiving a lot of questions lately regarding newborn photography. Specifically, what is the difference between a "lifestyle" session and a "traditional" or "posed" session. Allow me to clear this up, and provide you with some pros and cons to each session.


Traditional or Posed Session

A traditional or posed newborn session is the most common form of newborn photography, which has been around for decades. Sure, styles have changed - drastically in the past decade, in fact - but the concept of the session has stayed the same.


At the heart of the session is the baby. Parents bring their new babe to a photographer's studio - or sometimes, a photographer will bring their portable studio to the parents' home - and the photographer creates posed fine art images of baby. These sessions are done early in baby's life, often within the first two weeks of birth, before baby develops their startling reflex, and while baby can still curl up in positions similar to those in the womb. This is also usually when babe is still very sleepy, which is crucial to the shoot.


The majority of the photos will feature baby sleeping, wrapped in high-quality swaddles, posed in baskets and buckets, or sleeping soundly on posing tables or beanbags. The photographer will do all of the handling of baby, ensuring the babe is warm, comfortable, and safely supported and positioned. True newborn photographers will have studied and taken many courses and workshops on newborn safety to ensure that the babe's airway is not jeopardized in any position. Newborn safety is of the utmost importance.


Traditional sessions will also include photos of the baby's parents as well as sibling photos. These photos will also be posed, captured against backdrops.


With traditional sessions, you only get posed images. You won't receive candid captures between setups. Perhaps a cute moment happens behind the scene with your new babe and their brother - this unfortunately won't be captured because your photographer won't be set up for this. You may not get to see the full personality of baby or his or her sibling since you're limited to a studio space.


The other thing to consider with a traditional session, is that you will most likely have to travel to your photographer's studio. And this can be extremely daunting and scary for new parents. This may be the first time you leave your house with baby since you've come home from the hospital. Thankfully, most newborn photographers understand this, and will go above and beyond to equip their studio with everything you might need to make that first outing relaxing (for example, I even have nipple shields and a breast pump on hand in case you need them!).


Lifestyle Session

A lifestyle session is a much more recent, modern concept in photography.


Lifestyle sessions are meant to be relaxed and are done in the home of the parents. Unlike traditional sessions, lifestyle sessions are family-centric. They are meant to capture the family unit in their home.


Timing isn't as crucial for a lifestyle shoot. They can be done when baby is young and sleepy, or when they are older. But, lighting can be crucial. Some photographers will only use natural light to capture these images, limiting the rooms they can photograph in your home. Photographers will be drawn to big, lofty windows. For myself, I always bring studio lighting with me, so we can make due with any room.


Lifestyle sessions don't feature posed photos. Instead, they put an emphasis on candid images. The photographer will come into your home for 60-90 minutes and follow your routine with baby. The photos capture your day-to-day activities: snuggling on the couch or bed, feeding baby, changing baby, and baby laying in a crib or bassinet. Many lifestyle photographers will refuse to touch your baby, forcing the parents to be the ones to manipulate how baby is positioned and swaddled in photos. You will definitely want to brush up on your swaddling techniques!


If there are siblings, this is usually when lifestyle sessions are optimal. You will get to see the older child in their natural habitat - playing with toys, jumping on beds. They can be their true self and won't be forced to stay in the bounds of a small backdrop to capture images. They can be kids. And if the older sibling is jealous of the new babe, a photographer will be able to diffuse and hide this with fun activities around the house. For example, mom can be sitting on the bed holding baby, while older brother and dad are reading a story beside them.


One thing to consider with these sessions is that your home is at the forefront of every photo. While photographers are understanding that you are a new parent, they will not be going out of their way to tidy rooms to make them look presentable for photos. Mounds of laundry, unwashed bottles, diapers, unmade beds - all common findings in the home of new parents - can make for unsightly photos. In order to have the best possible outcome with a lifestyle shoot, you will need to put in the time to clean and declutter the rooms you want photographed. You want your home to be magazine ready. And this can be a lot for new parents. Trust me.


My Personal Preference?

I personally prefer traditional newborn photography, and this is why I primarily shoot only traditional newborn photos.


As a mom myself, I cannot imagine having my home photographed after having my own son, Everett. We were in the NICU with him for almost three weeks. We came home to a messy house, almost 100 boxes of goodies to unpack from my baby shower that was only days before delivering Everett. Plus, I was recovering from a Caesarian section that had opened up, struggling with breastfeeding, and was swollen beyond measure. I wasn't overly excited about being in photos. However, I made sure to get a few family photos captured of my husband, Everett, and I to look back on, with our newborn photographer.


I also wanted to really focus on Everett in pictures. I wanted to capture how small he was (even though he was over nine pounds and a premie!), and all of the little details that went with him. I didn't want photos of Jason and I fumbling through parenthood. Struggling to hold him, our dogs getting jealous of our new human, and just stressing that my house wouldn't photograph well.


But, no matter what, get the photos taken - be it a traditional or a lifestyle shoot. When they say the newborn phase goes quickly, they mean it. If you don't get photos taken, I promise you, you will regret it. You will quickly forget how tiny baby is in your arms, their sweet lashes, their little wisps of hair, and how they hold your finger in their hands. Book the session.








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