Monthly Archives

May 2016

Bianca Sprague meets Little Fox & Froggie

I teach an online course called the Maternal Support Practitioner Training for my business bebo mia inc. It is a doula training that covers fertility to the first 6 months postpartum. We offer two sessions a year and running it is a highlight for me! The women it attracts are dynamic and interesting and from all over the world, so their stories and backgrounds make for a wonderful group of humans. One of the exercises we do in the first couple of classes is each student needs to draw the female reproductive organs from memory without looking at Google or any other references for help. I have opened hundreds of emails over the years looking at sketches on scraps of paper, or written on the back of colouring books, or some more Type A gals do colour coded drawings, with question marks as buffers next to answers they are 90% sure are correct. This year my mind was blown.

I received this:

Little Fox & Froggie

Stumbling Across Little Fox & Froggie…

Immediately, I was sooooo in love. I emailed my business partner, Natasha, and told her about it. We thought it was so fun and different and wonderful and beautiful. Natasha explained that Ella Simioni – the woman who submitted this gem – was an artist and sent me over to her business site. That is how I came to fall in love with Little Fox & Froggie.

I reached out to her immediately. Firstly, she lovingly shipped me the original of the uterus drawing for my office (plus some other little goodies) and then she shared why she did the assignment the way she did. She told me that the female reproductive organs reminded her of an elephant’s head and she vividly recalls waiting in her midwifery office during her prenatal appointments and staring at a poster they had of the lady parts required to make and grow a baby. This was her rendition based on her pregnancy memories and the elephant-faced-uterus and friends.

Lil’ bit about Ella.

Ella SimioniElla is a Toronto mama to two littles called Mia and Kipling, or Kip as they call him, who are 6 and 4. I loved her and her brand even more when I heard her fabulous kid names. Clearly, Ella always had this great talent as an artist, however, she didn’t start her children’s illustrations business, a dream she always had, until after having children – she says that they inspired the name for her business. Kids will do that! Interestingly, her Grammoo (which I am going to assume is one of her grandparents) told her to be a greeting card maker. Such wise words, Grammoo!

Ella just oozes whimsy with everything she touches! It is magical. And she shared some beautiful pearls o’wisdom for women who are considering starting their own adventure in business:

Start from where you know, be true to yourself, be real, and try your best to ignore the inner critics – they’re almost always wrong!

Like most self-employed people, Ella enjoys the flexibility of setting her own hours and deciding when and how much she wants to work. She loves her extra cuddle time with the kids, her ‘spontaneous adventures’ and outings such as trips to the library. On the flip side, when you are running a household while juggling two children and a business, it can be hard to fit in the amount of quality time with your children that you would like to have. I know that struggle is real! I love that I get to pick up Gray from school and have her home with me. AND, I cannot have my work day end at 3pm, so I need to work until at least 5pm which still disappoints her. Every. Day.

And… the partner piece?

OK, then we got into the partner portion of her life and business. When you are doing freelance work, it is unpredictable at best. Some of my friends who work freelance talk about the feast or famine aspects and that can be an added stress for a mompreneur. What does her husband say about it all?

I’m fortunate to have a husband who values my being home and working on my own endeavours. He never challenges my slow times – which I thoroughly appreciate. 

Once again I found an entrepreneurial mama who is following her passion and who has the support of her partner. Whoop! I love finding these women since the research stats are clearly showing the support is not there, from husbands, in the vast majority of cases. Thank you, Mr. Little Fox & Froggie!

I wrapped up her interview with an ‘any final comments’ kind of question. Her answer? “Follow your joy.”

Amen sister.

I strongly suggest that you head over via any of the ways that you can get a hold of Little Fox & Froggie – She does fabulous cards and illustrations and nursery art – you will be sure to give a memorable and original gift! You can email her here, or go over to her Facebook page or Instagram channel.


Bianca Sprague and Ella Simioni

The NBA is LeaningIn

My recent blog post started a great discussion on my Facebook Pages – thank you to all those that contributed! A friend of mine brought up the position the NBA is taking with the LeanIn movement. They are getting involved with a campaign that has quite a few worthy objectives – one of which is encouraging couples to be 50/50 in their partnership. They offer some great advice and have included a service that will text you tips to your phone through the week so couples can strengthen their support of one another. Players such as LeBron James and Russel Westbrook are getting involved with the and NBA collaborative. What are some of the highlights of the NBA LeaningIn?

  1. Communicate Openly – Stats show that women are interrupted more than men, so male partners need to ensure that they are giving female partners the space and time to speak.
  2. Make Decisions as a Team – With over 50% of millennial men believing their careers will take priority over their female partners, there is already an uneven playing field around couples’ goals and expectations.
  3. Do Your Share at Home – only 9% (yes, that low) of two-income households say that they share the household chores evenly, even when the females are the breadwinners! Male partners, do your part at home, it makes everyone happier = more sex… Hey-o!
  4. Encourage your Partner to LeanIn – Women struggle to negotiate (4 times less likely to than men actually), so by encouraging female partners to do so means more money, more promotions, and better self-confidence. This is when role playing at home in order to practice helps.
  5. Model Equality – Breakdown gender stereotypes for your children and communicate the wide range of values both parents find important. Teaching your children to express feelings and speak up for themselves will lead to healthier little ones which can only make the world a better place, right?!

Russel Westbrook NBA


The campaign does a big focus on home life, being a strong partner and being a better dad, however, it doesn’t stop there. It goes on to clearly state simple action items men can do to support women leaning in, in the workplace. It made me sad to read them actually. I know we are still back at baby steps here and it does not make it an easier pill to swallow. Some of the tips?

  1. To challenge the “likability penalty” women suffer – you know, the Sophie’s Choice of do I show my strength and competency OR have people like me? How can men support women breaking through this? When a man hears that someone is calling a woman ‘bossy’ or ‘shrill’, he can ask for specific examples and they question if it would be the case if a man did it.
  2. Give women credit – I am getting sadder by the sentence…
  3. Evaluate performance fairly – did you know that if you change the name on a resume from a woman’s to a man’s the hire-ability rate immediately goes up 61%. Yup, crying now.
  4. Share the office housekeeping – When women fail to help they drop 14% lower in favourability over men and if a man helps out with these tasks his favourability goes up 12% higher over a woman’s who does the same thing. Oy vey. That is a case of damned if you do and even more damned if you don’t!

LeBron James NBA

I know that these tips and suggestions have a goal to create more equality in the home and in the workplace. Something about it really bums me out. They are such small things, like letting women speak and consider their ideas at home and at work and don’t have them clean your office because it should not be a social expectation. The NBA is a big brand and I am hoping it has the impact to inch us forward toward equality at home and at work. Hell, we need it! In Canada, over the last 40 years women to men wages went up from 77 cents to the dollar in 1977 to 82 cents to the dollar in 2015. 5 cents! In 40 years! Even the cost of Heinz ketchup went up 2632% over the same time period.

These steps are important, they just feel so damn small! Thank you to the men that see women as equals. Thank you to the husbands and male partners that are great dads and good husbands and kind citizens of their communities. Pass on your pearls of wisdom to everyone that will listen.

I appreciate that this is predominantly based on heterosexual relationships. I am not NOT acknowledging the complications that happen in same sex relationships, hell I know all about those! This campaign is founded on the male social positions relative to females. I will be discussing same sex relationships as well on the site.

I would love to hear how you feel about this campaign and the whole LeanIn movement. How do you think it will make a difference?

Closing thoughts by my wife (an avid and passionate basketball player, coach & fan):

I feel that this campaign propagates a heteronormative culture. While it takes very tiny steps forward for women, it takes a giant step back when we consider the many types of relationships and marriages that now exist. I fear that this will cause some inherent shaming for male athletes that are openly gay, or thinking about coming out.

Interestingly, after she was done passionately speaking about the issue, she considered reneging on the quote to not seem like ‘an angry lesbian’ or ‘too intense’. Perfect example. Mic drop, I’m out.

Women bastardizing feminist terms at work.

Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In and COO for Facebook and mother of two (she is kind of a big deal!), continued the conversation about women in the corporate world in her 2013 book. In true fashion, this term ‘lean in’ somehow has been twisted and used as another weapon of war with women.

Recently I was talking to a female friend who had resigned from her corporate job that afternoon. We were discussing the conversation that had occurred between her and her female boss. When my friend, let’s call her Jane, started by saying she would be leaving the firm in 3 weeks, her boss immediately replied, “yes, I thought so, you have been ‘leaning out’ lately”. This response from her boss caught Jane off guard because that was not her experience at all. Rather than stepping back, she had thrown herself into her work as a last ditch effort to ensure she had tried it all before throwing in the towel. In fact, she had for the last month been working weekends too, clocking 50-70 hours per week at the office. 

“Leaning out”? Like no longer being ambitious, or expressing that she is no longer participating in the work force? What is ‘leaning out’? I am confident that Ms. Sandberg did not imagine further isolating working women by pitting one group, those that ‘lean in’ against the others, those that ‘lean out’. This Jane is a wife and mother. She is ambitious, a hard worker, and not afraid to get her hands dirty. And she did not like the culture where she was working. 

Stop using exhaustion as a badge of honour!

10 Guideposts for Wholehearted livingMs. Sandberg highlights that women are scared to even appear to be placing their families over their careers. In order to seem like work is their first priority, they overwork themselves as an overcompensation technique. Interestingly, in the book Daring GreatlyBrené Brown talks about the 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living. She urges individuals to stop wearing exhaustion like a badge of honour. Listen up mamas, she is talking to you!

It is extra hard for these women who are working in or out of the home, as well as doing the unpaid full-time job of ‘mom’. Work ethic in the office is based on hours clocked at work rather than achievements which is what it should be based on. On the whole, people are at their places of work more than before as the work day extensions continue. A recent Forbes study shows within the corporate world 62% of employees work more than 50 hours a week, and 10% work more than 80 hours per week. We do not have to turn to the corporate work to see this phenomena. The average person over 18 years of age with a full-time job in North America works 47 hours per week. While the office work day keeps getting longer, the research is telling a different story about productivity. In some cases working from home is actually more productive and Stanford Researcher professor Nicholas Bloom has proven this with his research.

Going back to Jane, when she took the job, she was told that there was a flex time arrangement and the option of working from home on days when there weren’t any client or team meetings was available. Like most women who are offered this, Jane was hesitant to take her boss up on the offer, as she did not want to jeopardize her career or appear less committed than her peers. A few times her sick child forced her to use her work-from-home card and, as suspected, her boss said ‘nice of you to join us’ the following day when Jane returned to the office. The best part about this?! Jane’s boss, her boss’s boss and the boss above them all are all women. 

What is ‘leaning out’?

So let’s look at this ‘leaning out’ comment again. Ms. Sandberg explicitly states that leaning out would be women removing themselves from the workplace, or turning down opportunities and promotions, because they are planning to get married or have children in the future. Women essentially pull out of the race too early and miss out on some of the career growth they would receive and satisfaction/impact that would come with it. It is not in reference to prioritizing the needs of your family while you hold a corporate job. In fact, she highlights that women need to be supporting women in the corporate world. That is how we are going to shift women being normalized and respected, rather than seen as tokens or anomalies, in the corporate world.

As Madeleine Albright says, ‘There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.’

Jane’s bosses missed an opportunity there! Rather than any kind of authentic exit conversation where each party got to express what was happening for them, if they wanted, it was an immediate put down. The vice president said that she assumed Jane was going to remove herself from the corporate world since her home life seemed to require a lot of attention. Wha?! Of course a spouse and child takes attention. Just as her office job did. How are we supposed to get anywhere ladies when we are stepping on one another?! That is what Ms. Sandberg was talking about! The days of tokenism are changing. There are more women in the corporate world, not as many as there should be, however, that number is growing. You do not have to step on one another in order to take the coveted leadership spot reserved for a female. If we want to stop the gender wars then we first need to stop the us versus us war that women are waging.

Doesn’t matter if you work in or out of the home or if you have children or not, take pause. Take a moment and ask yourself how you can help a woman in your life. How can you support her and move her forward towards her goals? If we all did a little more of this and a little less bullying, our overall success and happiness scores could only improve.

Any ideas how you can make a difference for women in your work place, family or community? We would love to hear about them! Comment below and let’s continue this conversation and make some changes!

Photo credit: Matt McClain for The Washington Post

Bianca Sprague meets Verve Photo Co.

When you flip through the Verve Photo Co. portfolio, a Toronto-based boutique wedding and lifestyle photography company, you are transported to some of the most beautiful weddings… Ever! Photographer Melanie Galbrand-Chen, founder of Verve Photo Co., has been a contributor to WedLuxe Magazine, Weddingbells, The Wedding Co and Style Me Pretty with stunning editorials and real wedding shoots. Her work is so moving, it even makes me (a wedding cynic) feel weepy. Melanie has travelled all over the world documenting couples’ special moments, including their engagement, wedding and maternity shots.

I had the honour of being present for the birth of Melanie and her partner’s first baby, Bijou who is now 5 years old and I fell in love with this fabulous couple. Melanie has a quiet and powerful presence that immediately makes you feel like you are in competent hands. Her wife, Karen, in comparison is boisterous and high energy. Together they are a powerful force. They are parents to two beautiful girls, Bijou and Indigo, now 2.

wedding photographer

Melanie started her business back in 2009, before she was a mom, and since the births of her girls she has been able to modify her business so that it also incorporates the goals and needs of her family. Currently, she identifies as a full-time mom and part-time mompreneur. Even with her clients taking up a ‘part-time’ piece of her life, her days are incredibly long! The ‘mom hours’ are the typical 7am – 8pm, however, her ‘business hours’ are 8pm – midnight or later. Yup, I did the math on that too, and that leaves very little time for sleep. Melanie did highlight that her work is seasonal, but still, during wedding season it does not afford for many free hours for this mama.

Melanie and Karen collectively made the decision to not put their girls in daycare, so Melanie is home with the girls through the week, and Karen’s job also gives her chunks of time off where she can be home with the girls too. They appreciate that this is not an option for all families and they are grateful that it works for them. According to Melanie, this is one of the best things about being your own boss! You get to decide how much or how little you want to work. In Melanie’s field, she loves that she also has creative control over her work. She feels that this is something that she would have to give up if she was an employee.

One of the questions that I love to ask these mamas that are kicking ass in their business: how does your partner play into all of this?

In this case, Karen supports Melanie’s entrepreneurial spirit to the fullest. Karen understands that during Melanie’s busy season they have to sacrifice their one-on-one time during evenings (and some weekends) so that Melanie can work on and in her business. Photographing destination weddings is one of Melanie’s main services so she is regularly out of the country on weekends, leaving Karen to happily hold down the fort.

Thinking about starting your business? Melanie advises,verve photo co

‘Businesses take time to build momentum and you have to be prepared to grow your business consistently in the little time you have as a mom.  Just know that you will get back what you put in, so as little or as much is up to you and what works for your family and schedule.’

Melanie has built an amazing business that has allowed her to grow her career and creativity while being present for her two girls, with her very supportive partner… That is a great gig!

Need a last minute Mother’s Day gift? How about a family photo session with Melanie – a gift that lasts a lifetime! Check out her website and her Instagram channel for more information!