Valentines in March

A month passed! I thought I would update y’all on my “Chain of Hearts” writing project. I am proud to announce that, in March, I made pretty good progress on my goal (of writing every workday for at least half an hour). There was March break, which accounts for some (completely legit) gaps midmonth. There was March 22, where I’m pretty sure I wrote but forgot to give myself a heart OH WELL. And then as for the 30th and 31st, I just kind of forgot and then had kind of a beyond overwhelming Friday and … no.

So: two, possibly three, workdays where I didn’t write. But: 16 (maybe 17) work days PLUS two bonus weekend days where I did. We will focus on the days where I did, because life is too short to measure it by its failures, in particular when those failures are so massively overshadowed by its successes.

Similarly, I am doing my very best to absolutely ignore the voices in my head that say, “Only half an hour day? Only a hundred words?” YES, ONLY THAT, VOICES. And look what it’s got me: more new writing than I’ve had in the months and months preceding that. Two pieces that, in their slow unfolding, got me thinking and discovering and realizing new things.

(The voices, by the way, are total assholes. In case that wasn't obvious. I am becoming increasingly effective at shoving them out of the way, over in their own corner where they’re harder to hear, while I just plug away at the writing. Or the whatever else.)

I have nearly completed a draft of a new essay. It’s about my father and my stepmother. Ha ha. They know I’m writing it, although they haven’t read it and who knows if they or anyone else ever will — best, I have discovered, when writing personal essays about living family members, to write as though your words will fall into a bottomless pit, never to emerge.

Seriously, they’re cool with it.

I also submitted the essay I wrote in February to two different places. Fingers crossed.

I also submitted a different essay, from the archives, that, if published, I won’t ever tell you about because it will be published anonymously, for all the reasons one might publish an essay anonymously, because my life is that interesting. Seriously, though, I feel a little bad that I won’t be able to tell you about it if it’s published, because it’s kind of funny and possibly elucidating, but also little too excruciatingly personal to publicize.

In March, I also discovered that I did not get the grant that I had applied for to work on a YA novel. And, I have to say, I am a teensy bit relieved, because I think that maybe I didn’t really want write that novel, at least not right now. I mean, I would definitely like to HAVE WRITTEN that novel, but the idea of having to complete it for the end of the year filled me with a fair amount of dread/nausea, and it didn’t feel like the good kind of dread/nausea.

Also? If I decide to write that YA novel, I can write it whenever I damn well please, grant or no. Maybe I will, one day, in half-hour chunks. VOICES.

As for those missed days of writing at the end of March, I decided that I didn’t need to make them up over the weekend. I decided that there was no “making up,” no “behind,” just an ongoing commitment to keep coming back to the page. Besides, over the weekend I needed to quilt. Like a maniac.

And now, here we are in April, and I will hit “publish” on this blog post and then I will give myself a heart for Friday (600+ words!). Have a good weekend.

Don't break the chain

Have you heard of Jerry Seinfeld’s life hack for writing? The idea is that you get out a paper calendar and a big red marker, and you put an X through each day that you write (or exercise, or refrain from drinking, or clean the cat boxes, or meditate – whatever floats your boat). The idea is simple: don’t break the chain. Regular, incremental effort will lead to real outcomes.

I have written every workday since February 8. By written, I mean not simply personal journalling (that habit is firmly established), and not work for clients, but my own stuff. And, for each day of writing, I have given myself a heart on my lovely paper calendar from the Canadian Cancer Society. I even wrote on one weekend day. I’ve written a complete draft of an essay that I’m quite enamoured of, and I’ve started a second essay. I’m aiming for a minimum of 25 minutes of writing a day, minutes during which the Internet is turned off and the phone is away. Ideally, I put in my time well before noon, before it starts to feel like something I’m avoiding.

So far, so good. My writing practice ebbs and flows. I have looked for hacks and applied them for decades. Sometimes they work, for a while, or not. Right now I’m just focusing on that chain of hearts.

Making breakfast easier

Please support the Grocery Foundation’s #Toonies4Tummies campaign

Eggs over easy are trending around here at the moment. They’re Isaac’s current go-to breakfast. In a delightful development, he has begun taking on more and more responsibility when it comes making his own breakfast and school lunch. Many mornings, I’ll straggle downstairs a bit behind him to find the kettle boiled and tea steeping (and then I have to remember to ask whether he used the caffeinated or decaf tea; I’ve learned that lesson the hard, fumbling, sleepy way), and butter melting in a frying pan. He’s forgiving of both my own and his ineptness when it comes to flipping the eggs —for the life of me, I can’t figure out how to turn over fried eggs, well, easily. More often than not, a yolk or two breaks, and then Isaac says, “Well, I guess we made scrambled eggs instead.”

A few mornings a semester, I get to help make scrambled eggs for not only my kids but for all of his schoolmates. On these mornings, I set an alarm, throw (OMG-you-better-believe-it’s-caffeinated) tea into a travel mug, and walk the five minutes to the kids’ school for 7:30 AM, where I join a half-dozen or so other parents and whichever kids they’ve managed to drag along with them. We’re the weekly (hot) Breakfast Club, supplementing the school’s daily breakfast offerings with eggs, smoothies, parfaits, fruit salads, mini-muffins, and other goodies.

There’s something satisfying about cracking and scrambling eight dozen eggs, or spooning yogurt and strawberries into tiny cups. Part of it’s the people: Breakfast Club attracts a lovely crowd of parents, and we talk as we peel bananas or defrost morning-glory muffins. The kids — buzzed about being allowed in the teachers’ lounge, about the magic of being in school before hours — are generally more helpful than not, running the blender, pushing the food trolley and adding blueberries to parfaits.

And, when everything’s ready and the kids go off their buses, whoever’s hungry heads to the gym to sit down and eat. No qualifiers, no stigma, no discussion: just grab a plate or a granola bar for later, and chow down.

I love watching my own kids eat breakfast, and I love watching their various schoolmates eat breakfast, too. It’s more than just the Jewish mother in me: virtually all research confirms the positive impact of student nutrition programs on everything from behaviour and attention to initiative and academic results, Not to mention high-school graduation rates.

Which is why I volunteer. And which is also why I am once again acting as an ambassador for The Grocery Foundation’s annual Toonies for Tummies campaign. Right now, through February 23, you can donate $2 (the cost of providing one meal to one student) at grocery stores across Canada — hint: in Thunder Bay, it’s Metro — to the campaign. Or, do what I do and donate online at the Grocery Foundation. This campaign helps make my kids’ school’s breakfast program possible, and 100% of donations stay local.

But my kids are in elementary school. What about student nutrition programs in high schools? Will high school students — so sensitive to peer pressure — grab a much-needed breakfast or lunch?

“That was one of the really big topics when I got involved with student nutrition and Toonies for Tummies,” says Kaelyn McCallum, a Grade 11 student at St. Ignatius high school in Thunder Bay. This is her second year as a Grocery Foundation Youth Ambassador, and the campaign is focusing on student engagement. “Would people feel judged? Could we break down any stigma?”

Fortunately, the answer seems to be yes: “I’ve noticed more and more students picking up breakfast or lunch or a snack,” says Kaelyn, 16. “Tons of people go. And kids know that it’s not just about whether your parents have enough money to buy you lunch. It’s because you forgot to eat breakfast, or you didn’t have time, or you forgot your lunch at home or didn’t pack one, or just because you’re hungry and you need a snack. It’s been really cool to see that.”

Kaelyn is organizing two fund-raisers at her school in support of the 2017 Toonies for Tummies campaign: a three-day basketball tournament, and a dress-down day, where students can donate a dollar for the privilege of not wearing their uniforms. She’s hoping to raise at least $2000, which would provide 1000 meals to elementary and high school students in Northwestern Ontario. (A thousand meals! Kvelling.) In Ontario, the Grocery Foundation is partnering with the Ontario Student Nutrition Program Network to help optimize donations at school nutrition programs throughout the province.

If you've got a Toonie or two (or more) to spare, it's a no-brainer to donate to student nutrition. You don't even have to be fully caffeinated to get that.

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Disclaimer: I am a #Toonies4Tummies Ambassador, and I am being compensated for my involvement. All opinions, as well as my decision to support this campaign, are completely my own.