Nov
27
2012

Make This Year's Holidays About Giving Back

One Mom's Committment To Feeding Hungry Bellies

Make This Year's Holidays About Giving Back

*This is a series of posts that will run until early January 2013 that will share inspiring stories of giving back and giving of yourself in order to experience the feeing of true happiness. If you have a story to share, please contact me directly at haeisen@gmail.com or leave a comment below!

Something I've learned since becoming a mom and working with so many amazing yummy mummies is that if there's one thing moms are really good at, it's recognizing a problem and finding an appropriate and often creative solution. As moms, we often have no choice but to act as "problem solvers" for our own kids. But, this inspiration often extends beyond our own families as well. What inspires me even more about Karyn's story (below) is that she demonstrated this amazing problem solving ability long before becoming a mommy.

Karyn Sherman is a French junior kindergarten teacher in London, Ontario. She's also a brand new mommy to a little girl named Layla. Four years ago she came up with an idea that would go on to change the lives of many students and families within the school where she works. She partnered with her husband (then boyfriend) to bring this vision to life.

When you recognize a problem or challenge within your community, workplace, or home, do you leave it up to someone else to develop a solution, or do you step up in order to bring about real change? I think Karyn's story will inspire you to take action this Holiday season and into 2013. It certainly has inspired me!

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It was four years ago while watching The Oprah Winfrey Show that Food 4 Kids was born. Oprah was featuring a food program in North Texas that empowered children in a way I had never seen. As a junior kindergarten teacher, I saw firsthand the affects of poverty on children. My colleagues and I noticed when our students arrived with barely any lunch, and we felt helpless when they told us they were hungry. As I sat listening to the story of the North Texas food bank, I realized there was something we could do to help.

Food 4 Kids is a very simple program that my husband and I run out of an elementary school in London, Ontario (where I teach). Every Friday, children in urgent need of food leave school with their backpacks full of non-perishable food items. Teachers refer families to the program and parents are contacted for their approval. In four years we have never had a family refuse the helping hand. Many parents tell us how proud their children are to bring home the pasta, rice, soup, crackers, tuna, cereal, peanut butter, and canned items that will feed their family for a week. As they leave the school and pass by my classroom these students often give me a wink or comment on how heavy their backpack is that day.

From the inception the school board loved our idea and was more than willing to approve it right away. The tricky part was finding funding. There are so many worthy organizations out there looking for support, that it's not always easy to find funding sources. But, we have been very blessed to have the support of  London Lawyers Feed the Hungry, CellCycle.ca, Norampac, Western Meal Exchange and an amazing team of parent volunteers. Our funders provide us with the money necessary to purchase the food needed by the families within our school community.

My husband Jake and I are still involved at every level. While I'm on maternity leave, a colleague at the school has agreed to step in and oversee the packing of backpacks on Fridays.

Over the past three years we have fed a total of 84 children and served 23 families. We have sent more than 6,000 food items home with the students, filling more than 1,000 backpacks-worth of food. I guess you could say we are making a difference, one backpack at a time.

Thanks to our current donors, we've never had to refuse a family. But we're always looking for more funding sources in order to keep the program running and extend our reach.

Now that I have a daughter of my own, I have become even more passionate about the program. I cannot imagine how hard it must be as a mom when you are struggling to feed your family. Any difference and helping hand we can offer feels great! Furthermore, I want Layla to grow up knowing how important it is to help others. What better way to teach her then leading by example.

If you are interested in starting a branch of Food 4 Kids in your area please contact us at K560@hotmail.com. If you are interested in donating to the program we would love to hear from you too!

 

Nov
13
2012

It's (Going To Be) A Girl!

Why I'm So Excited About My Latest Ultrasound Results

It's (Going To Be) A Girl!

Last week I got some pretty exciting news. My second child, who is now about half-way to being born, is going to be a GIRL! I was totally surprised by this news, primarily because everyone I spoke to (including a psychic) predicted that this time I was for sure going to have a boy! When we left the ultrasound appointment the technician had refused to tell us the gender. She did graciously print a photo of our baby's legs spread wide open, allowing us the joy of trying to decipher what the picture actually represented. Using Facebook and lots of online searching I discovered that there's something called 'The Turtle Sign' which apparently indicates the fetus is a boy. I searched for the little 'turtle' but truthfully had no idea what I was seeing, or looking for.

Impatiently, we emailed the photo to my husband's cousin (a doctor in Ottawa) who forwarded it on to his friend (an obstetrician). Later that night we got a text message that read: "110% girl!" I still didn't believe it. (Side note: I now feel just a little bit guilty circulating such a 'private' photo of my daughter's lady bits via text and email to so many people! That'll be the last time that ever happens!) The next day my doctor's office called to confirm the gender of our baby: female.

Eeek! We're having another girl. I couldn't be more excited. I love girls. I spent most of my life surrounded by boys (two brothers, way too many male cousins, and two nephews—so far) so I think I'm more than deserving of two daughters! And, while I know there's been lots of talk about gender preferences and whether or not it's OK to admit you're excited about one gender over the other, I'm going to come right out and say it...I'm thrilled to be having another girl! And here are my top five reasons why:

5. Dollar cost averaging:  My daughter is a girl. We have more girly clothes, toys, and dolls than we know what to do with (see the photo below for just a glimpse of my living room). In fact, my parents' condo locker is filled with bags and boxes of Willow's hardly-worn clothes. I'm thrilled that all of those adorable baby outfits will get to be worn again. And think of all the money we'll save! (That is, until our daughters become teenagers!)

4. Getting my kiddo excited: When we told our toddler that the baby in my tummy was a girl, her reaction was priceless. It went something like this:

Me: Willow, guess what? You're going to have a sister. The baby is a girl.
Willow: A girl? Not a boy? Thank you Daddy!! (big hug!) Thank you Mommy!! (big hug!) I SO excited! Three girls in our family: Mommy and Willow and baby!

I truly think that it will be easier getting my soon-to-be three year old on-board with the whole sharing her life with a new baby, now that it's a girl. She'll have a real-life doll to dress up, and play with! I just have to figure out how to prevent jealousy from forming between them. I never had a sister, so I don't know much about these things. But I'm certainly going to be looking for good advice.

3. I LOVE pink! What can I say? I've always been a bit of a girly girl. I always had a pink room. I've always loved pink clothes. There's nothing more fun than being able to dress up a little baby girl in cute frilly dresses and lots of pink! Plus my office (which I'm soon going to be transforming into a baby room *sigh*) is a beautiful lilac/pink colour, so now there's no painting necessary.

2. No bris: This one just had to be said. When I thought I was having a boy, I started giving more thought to the whole circumcision issue, and the fact that Jewish boys are supposed to have a bris (a ceremony celebrating this religious milestone, usually paired with bagels, lox, and cream cheese). Now that I'm having a girl, I don't actually have to get into my feelings on the subject. Nor do I have to defend myself to relatives and friends. Instead, I get to bypass the whole thing altogether. And for that, I'm extremely grateful! 

1. Names: My husband and I have been wracking our brains trying to come up with a good boy name, assuming this baby was going to be a boy. With a kid named Willow we felt as though we owed it to our second child to come up with something original. But when it comes to boys names my husband is 'traditional' and likes names that are biblical and, well...sometimes just weird. I prefer unique names, ones that elicit the response: "Wow! What a cool name." Let's just say we were at odds when it came to naming a baby boy. Once we found it we were having a girl, this opened us up to a ton of amazing names and combinations of names that we both loved. We've almost settled on one that will be perfect, but have a ton of back-ups too! For us, naming a girl is way easier than naming a boy. 

So, while I know I'd love any child that I gave birth too, I must admit, I'm pretty excited to bring another pink bundle home from the hospital this spring.

Nov
02
2012

Our Thursday Morning Escape to Orange Dot

Where 1980s Club Med Meets Broadway

Our Thursday Morning Escape to Orange Dot

On Thursday mornings my daughter and I escape to a place called Orange Dot where everything is bright and colourful. Where the instructors (see the two lovely ladies pictured above!) resemble Broadway performers with more enthusiasm than I can muster on even the best of days. Where books and toys and music and laughter take centre stage. For me, it's a saving grace. Because on Thursdays I swap my work-at-home-mom hat for my stay-at-home-mom hat—and have the daunting task of keeping my highly energetic and on-the-go toddler entertained for 8 whole hours (minus two for her nap when I sneak away to get some work done!). Though I work from my home office all other days of the week, Thursdays often prove to be the most stressful. Seriously, I’m more tired after managing my two-year-old for a day than I am managing my own business.

This year, when summer came to an end (and with it came the end of hours spent playing in the park), I decided I needed to enroll us in some kind of program that would entertain and stimulate my daughter while taking a bit of the pressure off me.

I feel so lucky to live in Toronto where I have access to so many amazing kids programs. I grew up in a small town and my mom had no choice but to do all the entertaining herself. I took to the Internet searching for mom and tot programs and was thrilled when I came across Orange Dot  (an amazing prenatal and postnatal centre on Avenue Road near Lawrence) and realized that they offered the perfect class that was actually held on Thursday mornings. I had done a bit of work with Orange Dot some time before I became a mom, and had always meant to try one of their classes, but the timing had just never worked out.

The class we enrolled in is called Triple Dot Playschool and it's intended for kids aged 14 months to 5 years (though Willow seems to be one of the oldest in our class). The program includes singing, dancing, and storytelling all performed by professional (and hugely talented) children's theatre actors, plus arts and crafts programs, and a mini music/dance class (taught by a trained National Ballet School instructor with live piano accompaniment). Willow is enamored by the instructors, has learned all the songs and dance moves by heart, and doesn't stop smiling from the moment she walks in the door until the moment she leaves. And, the best part is, all I have to do is be there, dance a little, play a little, and let the professionals do the rest!

Orange Dot also has an awesome roster of programs for pregnant mums-to-be and new mummies including Prenatal 101 and I'm a Mommy classes, and their famous Butt-Kickin' aerobic/dance workout that is sure to whip your pregnant butt into shape (I'm still too scared to try it!).

Lucy Benayon, who dreamed up this centre and has been running it successfully since 2006, has just as much energy and passion as the instructors she hires—and she's a mom of four! Her kids, 8, 5, 3, and 1, have all grown up in Orange Dot, and she bases all of the programs on what she'd want her own kids to experience/learn.

Lucy cleverly likens Orange Dot to a cross between Club Med in the 1980s and Broadway. "The love and energy that oozes from us is contagious," she says. "I feel it when I come in to work every morning."

The Orange Dot studio is also filled with the most amazing collection of children's books, all handpicked by Lucy. It's next to impossible to walk out without my daughter pointing out at least three new books she wants—every week. Lucy finds the most original titles from the less-known authors and combines these with other adorable/unique gifts for mom and baby, all available for sale in the little Orange Dot shop.

When I find a place that makes me truly happy, I just have to share it! And, Orange Dot is one of those places. These are the kind of people you want to spend your morning with and this is the kind of energy you want your kids to be immersed in. It's children's programming at its finest—and two hours out of the day that I don't have to struggle to entertain my kid.

What are your favourite mom and tot programs/activities? Fall is nearing an end, and soon I'll be on the hunt for more classes to fill our Thursdays. Do tell...