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.


11 ways to visit the United States right now

women's March.JPG

I got home yesterday evening from visiting my dad and stepmother in Florida, where they’re spending the winter. I was conflicted about the trip, which I booked post the election of He Who Shall Not Be Named, but before his travel ban on people from predominantly Muslim countries. I debated cancelling, but in the end, I went, for a host of reasons that have to do with things like family and the majority of voters in the states who did not vote Republican and my sense that it might be important or at least useful (or is that useful but at least important?) to support progressive, inclusive, Americans and their businesses and communities. I’m not defending or justifying my trip, but setting it in some context.

Being in the States, I started thinking about ways in which Canadians could (more rather than less) ethically travel there. There are no easy answers or perfect solutions or courses of action, but here are some of my ideas:

1.       Acknowledge that being able to make the “choice” of whether or not to travel to the United States (or anywhere else, for that matter) automatically confers a certain amount of privilege on you. It means that you have the time and money to travel. And it also means that you’re likely white- or light-skinned, likely not Muslim, likely not a refugee, and likely not born or currently residing in a country currently torn apart by war. You can’t shed that privilege, but you can acknowledge it. And use it to others' advantage.

2.       Further to that, if you’re a straight white man, acknowledge that EVEN THOUGH you look an awful lot like the demographic most likely to kill another American, you’ll be seen as less of a threat than any of the people blocked by the ban.

3.       In the States, support the arts: visit a museum or gallery, see a play, go to a dance performance. See a Meryl Streep movie. I found the above photograph by David Parise, commemorating the Women’s Marches, at a gallery on NW 2nd Street in Miami, near the Wynwood Walls.

Coke bottle with instructions on how to make a Molotov cocktail, 1970, Cildo Meireles, produced during the most violent period of Brazil's military dictatorship. At the Perez Art Museum, Miami.

Coke bottle with instructions on how to make a Molotov cocktail, 1970, Cildo Meireles, produced during the most violent period of Brazil's military dictatorship. At the Perez Art Museum, Miami.


4.       Join a protest or attend a demonstration.

5.       Call or visit the local mosque in the community you're visiting. Express your support for Islam as a peaceful faith, and your dismay at Islamophobia. Make a donation.

6.       Donate to a U.S. organization, like the ACLU or the Southern Poverty Law Center, that defends human rights and freedom of speech.

7.       Support businesses that support progressive causes

8.       Visit a national park.

9.       Acknowledge that we in Canada are not perfect, either: we’ve got a bunch of stuff to work on in our own backyard, not least of which are issues around our First Nations peoples and the ghastly Conservative party leadership race.

10.   Talk to people. Tell them you’re Canadian. Say things like, “I’m really thrilled that my country has been so welcoming to Syrian refugees,” or, “It really gives me peace of mind to know that if I get sick or break my arm, I’m covered under our universal healthcare policy,” or, “It was a little unsettling to find the Fort Lauderdale airport just a few weeks after the mass shooting there. I like living in a country with gun control.” Not to put too fine a point on it.

11.   Support actual, real, facts distributed by responsible media. Listen to NPR, buy a copy of the New York Times or Mother Jones.

I’m not telling you to go to the States, or not go to the States. I’m not justifying my trip or disavowing it. What I am saying is that if you go, consider your trip in context. There are hundreds of ways to have a positive impact: so, pick a few and make one.