Roasting marshmallows in the light of a million finished words

I was going through boxes of old papers last week — you know, the kind of task you can do when a child is home sick from his March break camp and therefore actual writing is impossible. Not that I entirely minded having the sick child around (at least, not until he broke a bottle of red nail polish across the bathroom counter and then attempted to clean it up with a new hand towel), because this going-through of papers was a task I had long neglected.

I have approximately 25 years’ worth of journals, and the idea that all this cringingly personal writing was lying around the house, somehow uncategorized and — more to the point — vaguely available to prying eyes, has been weighing on me of late.

It’s not that I think that anyone would actually be interested in reading through several thousand pages of my handwritten notes. (Actually, I just did some rudimentary math, and it’s approximately 20,000 pages, conservatively. Ye Gods.) It’s not that there’s anything particularly scandalous in there. It’s just that these decades worth of journals are glimpse (more accurately, an exhaustively thorough probing) into the most trivial, boring, tedious, repetitive details of the inner workings of my brain. This is the stuff that I get out of my brain and onto the page each day in an effort to be a functional human being, to write (hopefully) better and more interesting things that people were actually meant to read. These are 20,000 pages of to-do lists and whining and anxieties and ideas and ruminations on my weight, on what I did and what I didn’t do but wished I had. Ad nauseam. These journals are writing for nobody but me. (I’ll be fair: there’s likely lots of happiness in those 20,000 pages, too, but I’ll wager that the happiness isn’t any more interesting than the less happy stuff.)

And, while some people would argue that the above is a precise description of blogging, blogging to me has always been a conscious decision to write for other people. It’s a highly curated, carefully chosen, absolutely non-daily slice of life. And, yes, I strive to be “honest” online, but honesty isn’t the same thing as subjecting any of you to the ongoing monologue in my head about whether there are enough leftovers for the kids’ lunches.

In my organizing, I came across this, the earliest journal I have:

Don’t judge.

The diary has only two entries. The first, dated, Saturday, December 3, 1983, is also, coincidentally, the day I got my first period. It is, predictably, appropriately, histrionic. Thirty-three years (whoa: thirty-three years? Gah.) later, it still feels too embarrassing to read out loud, or to transcribe for you here. Not because of the biological facts of the entry, but because of my tween-before-tween-was-a-thing need to write about it as though I were performing for an audience. It includes lines that may well have come straight out of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, to wit, “‘I am now a woman’ as they say’” and, “I feel so fat. Now I know why I’ve been so edgy all week.” Yeah, like I had any idea.

This is 12-year-old me pretending to write for myself but really writing for other people.

The next entry is a bit over a year later, and my 13-year-old literary critic agrees with me:

This is me. I hate it here. The last entry is a year ago, and it’s stupid. I was trying to write in a dumb way. I’m more open now. I just feel lonely, and wish this whole thing never happened.

Well, then.

I have no idea what “this whole thing” was about now, but 13-year-old me doesn’t care to explain, because she doesn’t need to. She’s writing for herself, in her moment, not for the woman she actually became. And I respect her curmudgeonly little self a little bit more for that, even as I’m trying to applaud the 12-year-old version of her for at least getting some words down on the page. Because that's hard shit.

All my old journals are now arranged chronologically in bankers’ boxes. They have been sealed, with instructions on the top of each box to destroy immediately — without reading — in the event that I die or am incapacitated. Don’t say you weren’t warned. I authorize an Internet posse of you all to ensure this happens.

Or maybe, one day soon, I’ll have a beach bonfire and roast marshmallows in the heat of all those words. I’m not quite there yet, but if I don’t need you to read them, then why on earth am I still holding onto them?

Good news about breakfast

The Grocery Foundation is launching Toonies for Tummies 2016

Isaac has always been an early riser, and he’s always been a big fan of breakfast. Ideally, in his world, I would make him French toast every day, with liberal lashings (read: puddles one could wade in) of syrup. And I do, often. Because there’s not that much else to do at 7 AM, after he crawls into bed beside me and we listen to the news. (“Why do you always want to listen to the news, Mama? It’s always bad news.”)

On the days when I feel less inclined to make the effort for French toast, he’ll eat mammoth bowls of oatmeal (ditto syrup preferences), or muesli, or a smoothie (bananas, yogurt, frozen blueberries, raspberries) or the occasional bowl of Cheerios. If he’s growing a lot — as he seems to be, currently — he’ll eat similar amounts at other meals. If his body is taking a little rest between growth spurts, breakfast may be his most substantial meal of the day.

Either way, I love watching Isaac (both my kids, in fact) eat breakfast. I love seeing him fly out the door in the mornings after eating. I don’t subscribe to a whole lot of parental truisms, but one I do agree with is that little is more satisfying than seeing your child tuck into a healthy meal. Particularly breakfast. It’s no secret that kids who go to school hungry have a harder time learning. And yet, according a 2011 Household Food Insecurities in Canada study, one in six Canadian children goes to half without breakfast.

One in six. That’s 1.15 million children (out of nearly 4 million Canadians overall) who experience some level of food insecurity. That’s one in six children in every class in Ontario already set up to lose out before the day has even begun. That’s one in six kids with a headache, a growling stomach, who feels lightheaded or nauseated. One in six kids who is grouchy, unfocused, irrational, uncooperative. (You know what your kids are like when they’re hungry.) One in six kids without the resources they need to take in information, sit still, pay attention, “behave,” enjoy school, learn how to read or subtract. Those are kids in your children’s classes. That may be your kid.

It literally makes my stomach hurt.

And other people feel the same way. Kaelyn McCallum, who’s in grade 10 at St. Ignatius High School here in Thunder Bay (that’s her below), grew up listening to her parents — both teachers — talk about the students in their classes who came to school hungry, who didn’t have packed lunches or the money to buy them. “It’s a really big thing,” says the 15-year-old. “Everyone should have the right to have a breakfast and lunch and proper meals so that they can learn.”

But here’s the good news (see, Isaac, there is good news): student nutrition programs can and do help. Organizations like The Grocery Foundation are crucial. For the past three years, The Grocery Foundation has championed student nutrition in Ontario, investing $3.34 million to help programs like Breakfast for Learning achieve its mandate of providing healthy meals and snacks to children and youth across Canada. as well as supporting student nutrition programs in high-needs schools last year with a $1 million donation. The Foundation’s voucher program offers schools discounts on several healthy food items, stretching limited budgets and providing school nutrition programs with greater purchasing power for fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy, and whole grains. Most recently, the Grocery Foundation is working in partnership with the Ontario Student Nutrition Program Network (OSNPN), which works with agencies helping to support student nutrition across the province.

All of which is why I am partnering with The Grocery Foundation on the 2016 Toonies for Tummies program. Did you know it costs less than two dollars to feed a kid a healthy breakfast at school? From February 4 to 18, you can donate a Toonie (or, obviously, more) at participating retailers (hint: in Thunder Bay, it's Metro) — or online, right now! — to help make sure that kids in your community get the food they need to learn. Every donation made in your home community stays in your home community. Have a look:

Here’s more good news: high school students across the province — including Kaelyn — are mobilizing to educate their peers. A group of 11 youth ambassadors from around Ontario who will be attending Toonies for Tummies’ Agents of Change Nutrition Summit — the first of its kind — in Toronto on February 8. There, they’ll share their views with each other as well as representatives from industry, on how to collectively engage youth about the issues of food insecurity, and how to promote and advocate for school-based nutrition programs. Kaelyn will present her idea of holding a poster contest across Ontario, with school, city, regional and eventually provincial winning designs of posters highlighting issues of food insecurity to raise awareness.

(Speaking of raising awareness, I'll be participating in a Twitter chat on food insecurity #TooniesforTummies with The Grocery Foundation on February 2, from 1 to 1:30 PM EST, and again at 9 to 9:30 PM. Join us @Groceryfndtn to talk #Toonies4Tummies !)

“The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is that food insecurity is way more common than I thought it was,” says Kaelyn. “It’s in every school, in every city in every province across Canada. And people don’t know about it. It’s such a silent problem, but so many people have so much that if they know about it, they can give. I feel like it’s a problem we can eventually, hopefully, solve. People need to be aware of it so they can help get children and youth the food they need.

“Every kid,” says Kaelyn, “needs and deserves a full stomach to learn.” And every parent needs and deserves that security for themselves and for their kids. Together, we can make it happen. Please donate what you can to Toonies for Tummies, and spread the word.

Disclosure: I am being compensated for writing this post. All opinions, including my decision to support this campaign, are my own.



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The new popcorn maker is just as bad as the old popcorn maker

 Both of these popcorn makers suck. ( At least the outlet behind them works .)

Both of these popcorn makers suck. (At least the outlet behind them works.)

The new popcorn maker is just as bad as the old popcorn maker. And that's saying something. Because the old popcorn maker was the worst.

I lost custody, as one does, of the original popcorn maker during the separation, which was fine. These things happen. And so I picked up its replacement at a thrift store.

And it sucked.

I've been writing a list of reasons my head for months about why it sucked. Here they are:

  1. The on-off switch did not work. Instead, we turned it on and off by plugging it in and unplugging it.
  2. It was very loud.
  3. It got too hot, too quickly, and popped only about half the kernels. The unpopped kernels hid among the popped ones, occasionally and painfully jarring one's molars. It wasted a lot of popcorn.
  4. The plastic thingy on the top to melt the butter was warped and didn’t fit properly into its hole. And it barely held any better anyway.
  5. Instead of depositing the popped kernels into the bowl set front of it, the popcorn maker chose instead to spew popcorn all over the kitchen counters and floor, unless you wrapped a tea towel around it and guided the kernels into a bowl the way a midwife might gently guide a baby into the world. (I’ve been watching a lot of Call the Midwife lately.) But then the popper got really hot and burned your hands, which is not at all what newborns do.

That’s a lot of reasons for a small and single-use kitchen appliance to suck. I mean, the thing had only one job to do, and it couldn't do it. So last week I decided enough and got all crazy and wild and bought a new popcorn maker, as in brand-new, from a retail store, and just now Rowan and I tried it out and I am not pleased at all to report that it’s just as bad.

It started off auspiciously enough. The new popper is bright red, and more attractive. “The on switch works,” said Rowan, a hint of awed relief in his voice. He turned it on. “And it’s quieter.”

Now, it’s probably true that we put too many kernels in the new popper. And maybe that’s why it got all jammed up and the popcorn got stuck and compacted and the popper at least had the good sense to abruptly shut off as the kitchen filled with smoke and I had to scrape the blackened kernels out with a knife. Still, maybe that was just a poor start and we would get the hang of things. We tried again, with fewer kernels, and the maker squeezed out some popcorn, but the butter never melted, and when I tried to pop a another round, because that was barely enough popcorn to feed an 11-year-old boy and his mom during an episode of Friday Night Lights, it wouldn’t turn on again because overheating. I checked the instructions — apparently, you're supposed to wait 30 minutes in between popping your quarter cup of corn.

I don't have that kind of time, SUNBEAM.

Plus, decidedly un-fluffy kernels.

Conclusion: The new popcorn maker is also the worst.

There's no hidden message here, no deeper meaning I need to get into here. The old one sucked, and so does the new one, and that is deeply disappointing. I just needed to get that off my chest. The end.

As my mother might have said, this should be my worst problem.