A European Traveling Adventure with my Teen Boys

I’ve done several trips with just one child sans husband and they were all memorable.  The first was with my son to Bermuda.  We were a walk from the beach with lots of restaurants and at age eight he was surprisingly not bored once.  The second was with my daughter also at age eight to B.C.  Another beach and more good food.  We were joined at the hip for tandem biking in Stanley Park, singing lustily on the drive from Nanimo and kayaking in Tofino.

For my son’s 16th birthday I invited his best friend, also turning 16, and we experienced the Netherlands, more specifically Amsterdam, and Paris and Biarritz, France.

Some people like to tour on buses or boats, some like to create their own schedule, some like to wing it – I like to find small personal operators and “experience” somewhere in between.  For the French part of this trip I hired Evelyne Dufau, a neighbour of mine from Toronto.  She owns and operates Expérience Authentique

After two consultations, Evelyne designed an experience to please both myself and the two boys in France by connecting unique accommodations, transportation, food, shopping, outdoor activities, French language and art. Here were some of the highlights from this memorable 2006 trip.

We took the train from Amsterdam to Paris and a taxi to The Marais section, one of Paris’ oldest and most visually stunning areas with it’s narrow cobblestone streets and gorgeous French men.  There we stayed at the Hotel de la Bretonnerie which is gently loved, well priced, quaint and wonderfully located.

The Marais reminds me of SoHo with lots of dining along narrow streets, very different than the wide avenues of central Paris.

The Marais reminds me of SoHo with lots of dining along narrow streets, very different than the wide avenues of central Paris.

Of course, immediately after I paid for dinner on our first night, the boys ditched me.  I reassured myself that with the hotel’s card in hand, a map, their rudimentary French and charming smiles, they could find their way back and they did.  The boys breathless arrival was accompanied by a story about their walking into a “sports” bar and finding it entirely male.  They weren’t sure why everyone was staring at them or why they were having such bad luck finding any teenage girls.  I had not bothered to mention that the area in which we stayed was the “gay/hip” area of Paris, but it appears that they found out.

While they had their own Paris adventure, I stumbled across a film festival within five blocks and enjoyed an evening of free short films on a balmy Paris night.   It was no matter that my French is pretty pathetic, the films were all subtitled.

Stumbled across this free event complete with deck chairs and emcee Charlotte Rampling

Stumbled across this free event complete with deck chairs and emcee Charlotte Rampling

Our visit to Paris was brief and beautiful, including my bribes to visit the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay in exchange for surfing lessons later on in Biarritz.  Like the trip to Amsterdam, we mixed equal parts of Anne Frank House and Dine with Dutch with Coffee Shops, the Cannabis Collage and a graffiti walkabout.  It all worked to expand all our Cultural minds.

These Canadian boys were a fascinated and a little freaked out by the gendarmerie who were smiling broadly while carrying automatic weapons.

These Canadian boys were a fascinated and a little freaked out by the gendarmerie who were smiling broadly while carrying automatic weapons.

My triumph was seeing a brief look of awe with the sheer scale of this painting.

Triumph was seeing mouths agape and a brief look of awe with the sheer scale of this painting.

Instead of climbing the tower, we decided to sit and watch the tourists and mess with the gypsies who tried to mess with us.

Instead of climbing the tower, we decided to sit and watch the tourists and mess with the gypsies who tried to mess with us.

We had been advised about the swarming rampant at tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower and Sacré Coeur [Sacred Heart Church].  It’s so easy to let fear itself be the thing that ruins your travel experiences.  I’ve done that to myself in the past and found the best antidote is be prepared and use humour whenever possible.  I discussed this with both boys and we managed to sidestep the bracelet-making circus at the Sacré Coeur, but under the Eiffel Tower my son was approached by a group of women who proceeded directly with their scam.  My son, ever the polite Canadian, decided instead to mischievously pretend he was psycho and began gibbering and laughing maniacally.  The women were shocked and unsure of what to do.  As they backed off, my son trailed them and I, with ice cream cone in hand, watched from a nearby bench with some concern.  At the point where I was sure the husbands or a Gendarme would appear – it was over.

Traveling with teens can be as challenging as living with them.  They are not yet adults and clearly too big to put in a time out.  2006 was before the day when every child had a cell phone and I was glad as it forced me to do things differently.

First I had to trust that they were able to make good decisions and second they had to agree to make them.  I worried, but the entire point was that I wanted them to have the experiences.  To see that there was a different world out there that they could navigate and to plant the seed about equal parts of curiosity and responsibility being the best part of being human.


The people in Biarritz reminded me of Canadians. It was cool and windy, but everyone was out in their bathing suits.

In Biarritz, Evelyne had booked us into another spectacular place overlooking the ocean, which included breakfast on the terrace, in Villa le Goeland.  We walked everywhere including to the beach where she had arranged surfing lessons for Colin and Mike.  While the boys surfed I managed to get in some shopping, mostly table and bed linens which my sisters and I are addicted to.

The staff and the surf kept the boys engaged physically and mentally and they dropped into bed contentedly having only grumbled once.  Apparently the gaggles of French teenage girls disappeared at night and the only people they ran into were the gendarmerie who teased them about Canadians lax laws concerning pot smoking.   What?

Evelyne’s specialty is South West France, particularly the Basque Regions that straddle France and Spain.  My sweet sixteen year old boys were excited about what I told them would be bar hopping, but they were in for a cultural surprise.  Our driver regaled us with stories of the Basque people and history [comparing it to Quebec] and we soon arrived to the beautiful City of San Sebastian.  We parked in the port section, cleverly not dominated by condos and whose medieval architecture was home to a large number of bars in close quarters serving beer, pintxos or pinchos and tapas.

Having ordered a selection of small plates of hot and cold food to share, the beer arrived and eyeing it my son whispered that they were ripping us off because the glass was just one third full.  Our guide laughed and said yes, but since we had four more bars to go there was no use filling up in one place.  Pace yourself he said, enjoy the food, the beer and the company.


I can't say enough about how adventurous the boys were about eating.

I can’t say enough about how adventurous the boys were about eating.

If you didn’t already guess, food is really important to me as a travel feature, heck as an everything feature.  On the last night  in Biarritz, however, the boys were ready for some comfort food and ordered fresh shrimp, “French” fries and Coca-Cola – I could not believe at last that the novelty of ordering wine or beer had worn off.  The night’s finale was a fisherman beside the roadside restaurant who swung his catch, a wiggling squid, around the crowd, the screaming girls, and the catch discharged to be someone’s calamari.  Welcome to France!

The Faun

I spend sleepless nights dreaming of creatures that I can bring to life with my products and imagination. I am so lucky to find people to work with to help me execute my vision. Here student Rebecca models The Faun with Make-up by Angela using Snazaroo pucks applied with paint brushes. Creature Design and Costumes by Fee Fi Fo Fun Costumes

Photographing Children with Alison Pentland

Even with a  squirmy toddler, a camera shy eight year old or a sullen teen, there is always hope that you can capture that memory or special moment.  As a mature person who is now on round two of taking pictures of squirming kids, here are  Grammie Pentland’s best tips on how to photograph your kids and grandchildren.


Natural Light in an Outdoor Setting

1 – Natural light in an outdoor setting with a point-and-shoot.  Here I used my handy Panasonic Lumix camera from Blacks Photography.  Even with a bribe of my pushing her on the swing, my granddaughter did not want to have her picture taken.   I think her hands covering part of her face adds to the shot.


Don’t always go for a full body shot. Shake it up.

2 – Don’t be afraid to change the angle or frame it strangely.  Fake out your grandkids by photographing just their feet in the lake or a close up of their eye.  Have them lay down in the grass and aim at camera at them from the top down.  It distracts them and usually makes for a more interesting photograph.


Indoor Diffused Natural Light and Distractions

 3 -Diffused Light and Distraction – here I sneak a shot using my iphone with Instagram.  I didn’t stop to ask for permission or to make her pose, just found a unguarded moment as she watched her favourite show holding day-old balloons from her birthday.


It’s the Moment that Counts, not the Photography

4 – Focus on capturing a moment warts and all.  This jolly old Elf at Sherway Gardens gets the Santa-of-the-Year Award.  When he realized my granddaughter would not be cajoled into posing, he whispered something to my daughter.   I used my iphone camera to shoot them all covering their eyes.  This memory is priceless and will be pulled at my granddaughter’s wedding.

Next week we speak with photographer Branda Dale who says, ”  I  use photography and the creative process in order to transform my client’s perceptions of themselves and of  their relationships with others.”

Rolling the Credits – Proper Referencing

It really frosts my berries when giving credit is missed.  In this case, I mean credit to me and not that you forgot and later shamefacedly amended your work to pay homage to the original idea, but that you were and are oblivious to anything but your own awesomeness.

Andy Warhol's original Campbell's Soup cans artwork, on display at the MoMA, New York

Andy Warhol’s original Campbell’s Soup cans artwork on display at the MoMA, New York – for original source of image please click image.

YorkU stepped up my ability to reference works, but it was a course with NIGS about on-line referencing where I realized that giving credit has become a chimera.

Referencing pre-technology was about where you place quotation marks, underline or what style to use, today it’s about giving credit at all.

We have too much technology and no self-discipline leading to generations guided by entitlement and instant gratification.  Anybody can now take a piece of art, music or other works and with a few tweaks of a photography or an audio application, can call it an original.  We can burn a disc, make a button, screen a t-shirt and make money on it.

The possibilities of our specialness are unlimited.  Enter contests online for free stuff or your five minutes of fame in photography, poetry or music to annually replace the Hockey Night in Canada theme.  Nominate [WTH] and Vote for yourself daily [WTH] in your community business association, Blog or Small Business Group as Fill-in-the-Blank of the Year.  Are we so starved for attention?

This is not someone of an older generation taking exception to the Culture of whipper-snappers-of-the-up-and-coming-young-and-beautiful-things.  Actually, I am talking about my own family [except you Alex 🙂 and contemporaries with comments like, Well if the technology is there it must be okay, or Everyone’s doing it or They make enough money anyway.  I mean if you are going to do it for fame or to make money on it, at least unabashedly know that that is the nature of your beast.

Maybe all this proliferation of specialness is a secret government ploy to keep us like rats.  Distracts us in the maze, if we know there will be cheese.  Maybe it’s our Revolution and we actually believe we are sticking it to the man.  Maybe it’s our societal reaction to too much government and feelings of helplessness that we take what we want, when we want it and screw everyone.  Maybe we’re just brats and this is our Darwinian march to extinction.

My dad said there is nothing new in the world and I agree, so if you are going to take something and make it artistically your own, good for you, but please share the credit.   Don’t give me some crap about the artistic integrity being diluted blah blah blah.  If you can’t find a way to do it without distracting from your own work, then you are just lazy.

Now I’m going to find a mirror to gaze at myself in.

Kids in Photography with Hope Hanson-Baker

This back lit shot is a good example of how spontaneous non-traditional shots can create great memories.

If the biggest challenge in photography is lighting, try and turn it into something interesting.   The photograph above is dark.  You can’t see the faces of the subjects.  It’s not not the kind of picture you’d see framed on a mantle, but I guarantee that the child in this photo will remember in it, the rush of joy flying in the strong arms of her father.  That is power of candid shots.

Hope Hanson-Baker of Plum Tree Photography took that candid shot.  She is no stranger to kids.  She spends most days wrangling two of her own little girls and a busy photography studio in South Mississauga, Ontario that specializes in kids.  Her birthday cake smashing sessions for one year olds are renowned and her Spring Bunny sessions are so adorable that even my 23 year old daughter wanted to pose.

Plumtree Photography Children's Portraiture

Plum Tree Photography Children’s Portraiture

When I asked Hope for her best trick in kid’s photography she gave a refreshing answer.  She said bribery.  “This is not the time to worry about teaching children how to behave,” she laughed.  I tend to agree with Hope.  I made my bed every morning for over twenty years and our three kids, now young adults, still leave their beds unmade here and at their own places.

Hope’s photography goal is about capturing who a child is, not just what they look like.  No easy feat especially in studio photography.   The space looks and smells unfamiliar.  The kids are likely wearing scratchy stiff clothing which they have to keep clean.  They might have to hug a sibling that they’d rather smash with their Elmo doll.  So if a little chocolate carrot is dangled, why not!

Both of Hope’s images were captured using a Nikon Professional camera and lens.


The Leash

The Leash by Alison Pentland

Eager and impatient I pull
I am the writer, the business owner, the mother, the wife and lover

behind me, the dog
grizzled beard, velvet ears, tremorous legs, softly wagging tail

who is on the leash
I stop


Callebaut, Age 14, Labrador Retriever, hates swimming and doesn’t retrieve in favour of a slow meandering search for good smells, cookies and getting his ears rubbed.

Photographing Children with Melissa Avey

I like the choice of black and white processing. It keeps the focus on the subjects and not the living room.

I’ve asked five Canadian photographers to offer their best tips for photographing children.  First is what I learned from Melissa Avey who lives in Cambridge, Ontario with her husband and three children.

With Candid Photography if you take the time to de-clutter the shot, you might just miss it.  Using a Nikon D800, Melissa snapped her son and her Father-in-Law, aka Papa, in his living room.   The smaller jacket was for a child of one of his colleagues from years ago, so there were a lot of memories for him with it.  “Now,” Avey says, “we have the memory of our son and Papa being cool together in their jackets!”

Many times the shot is better when the subjects are involved in the pose.  Melissa said that Grandpa is a forensic accountant and it was his idea for them to show their backs.

The space around the subjects is interesting as it emphasizes at once the strength and fragility of fathers and sons.

As for Professional Portraits, this outdoor one of father and sons was taken on a Nikon D7100.  Melissa’s tip is to invite grandparents to the session to watch or get in on the action.   Avey says, “Even if it’s just that one image, if Grandma is around, include her.  It will be a special moment for her and living memory for you and your children.”

Melissa is right when she says that the memories created are truly the most important part of the photograph, but for more reasons than you think.  As an anthropologist, I’ve learned pictures passed down through family members or archived as part of a societal history, like literature and music connect us to spaces, time and Culture of our collective human past.  Like the 1951 image by UPI photographer Arthur Sasse of Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue or the 1985 photograph taken by Steve McCurry of Afghan refugee, Sharbat Gula, our curiosity drives us to learn more.

I found Melissa’s gallery of poses very quiet and contemplative.  Her photographs are of all ages and in variety of places, but my favourites are those with young children outdoors.  She too admitted the same, ” Especially in the pretty winter light.  It’s usually so soft coming through windows.”

Melissa is an accredited member of the National Association of Professional Child Photographers.  She serves Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and even Toronto, if you bring chocolate.  Website: http://www.aveyphoto.com Phone:  (519) 240 6494

Next week, we’ll feature the advice of Hope Hanson-Baker of Plum Tree Photography in Mississauga, Ontario.

Photographing Children – a five week series

Photographing Children - a five week series

I love photography, but am challenged by my squirmy toddler granddaughter who blows me a raspberry every time I aim the camera her way. Every Wednesday for the next five weeks, I’ll be offering the advice of Canadian photographers who all have very different styles, but surprisingly simple advice for taking pictures of children.