Monthly Archives: October 2011

Saga for the Stomach

I love food and many pursuits related to it. I love eating food, smelling food, choosing food, admiring food, reading about food and thinking about food. (Ironically, I hate putting away groceries. Pulling them out of the pantry is so much more fun.)

I am also one of the lucky people on this planet who can count on regular, well-balanced meals. A billion other people in the world go through the day hungry.

When you combine kindness with calories, you get this guy: Narayanan Krishnan, who has devoted his life to caring for the starving street people in his community of Madurai, India. And he can make a mean rice and dahl.

Narayanan gave up an overseas job as a star chef more than nine years ago, when he was just 21, and has been feeding hungry people ever since – almost two million meals to date, nourishing over 400 individuals.

His charity, Akshaya Trust, was given a huge boost last year after CNN named Narayanan as one of its top-ten heroes, and he’s now constructing a residence and treatment centre for the community’s homeless. “I want to save my people. That is the purpose of my life,” he writes on the charity’s website.

This seems to be the week for writing about international initiatives. But when these videos are so touching, you can’t help but want to spread the word. Check out Narayanan Krishnan’s online story (and watch him chop vegetables like a maniac) here. Mmm… is it politically incorrect to want to sample some of that simmering stew before he gives it all away to the needy?

Krishnan feeding a homeless person

Narayanan Krishnan achieves inner happiness by cooking hot meals for the hungry. It’s just like meditation, but tastier.

They’re Finally Seeing the Light

And now from the department of absolute ingenuity: Empty plastic one-litre bottles are literally lighting up households across the Philippines.

Several million families in the Philippines don’t have access to electricity, says the MyShelter Foundation, a group that is spearheading the initiative. Even in the middle of the day their homes are dark, meaning indoor activity is impossible – and the risk of tripping over stuff is significant. The bruised-shin-saving project is called Isang Litrong Liwanag, which in the Tagalog language means A Litre of Light.

One dwelling at a time, Isang Litrong Liwanag is brightening these households with solar bottle bulbs (a prize to anyone who can say that five times fast). It’s a nifty invention: Combine a plastic bottle with water, bleach and a small piece of metal roofing, stick it through a hole in the roof and seal it all together, and you can divert enough sunlight to rival the power of a medium-wattage light bulb. Check out this video as you hum the tune to “You Light Up My Life.”

This is not the first place in the world to use bottles as makeshift light bulbs, but this may be the first initiative to bring light to such a widespread number of homes. Feel like pitching in? You can certainly drop off your empties at a bottle depot set up for this purpose. But for those who don’t happen to live near Quezon City in the Philippines, the organization also accepts money donations by PayPal.

P.S. If you’re passing a newsstand in a Canadian city in the near future, pick up a November issue of Canadian Family magazine. It includes my how-to article on teaching generosity to children. And a little plug for this blog, naturally.

Just Another New Kid in Town

I do a lot of walking in my neighbourhood. And while I will admit to a certain degree of geographical challenge, I do know my way around much of my own community. A meandering creek forces a few streets to bend unexpectedly or lead into dead ends. But there are familiar routes I’ve walked so frequently, the sidewalks bear my permanent shoeprints.

That’s why my ostensibly good deed a couple of days ago led to a laugh. I was headed to meet my daughter after glee club practice (hers, not mine). A woman, on foot like me, stopped to ask directions. It seems she needed to get to a bank several miles away and had just been dumped by a bus driver. I could see why the driver told her to get off the bus – she had been travelling in completely the wrong direction – but either he didn’t explain or she, having English as a second language, didn’t understand.

After I figured out her problem, I was able to tell her where she was supposed to go. I explained which numbered bus she needed to take if she couldn’t face a 30-minute walk to her bank. I told her that in order to catch a bus in the right direction, she would have to cross to the other side of the street. When Bank Lady still seemed unsure, I pointed out the crosswalk she could use. And as she continued to question me, I peered across the street to look for the closest bus stop. Finally I identified one, made sure she saw it too.

After all the directions and the pointing and the explaining, I figured she was finally set. Then came her parting words: “You aren’t familiar with this neighbourhood?”

I stammered a reply and smothered a snicker. It just goes to show you, you won’t always receive a “thank you” when you do a good deed for a stranger. Sometimes all you’re gonna get is a mildly critical comment.

If you can live with that, you’ll be satisfied simply by knowing that some lady has been able to cash her paycheque just because you took a couple of minutes and helped her out.

Midlife Rambler

Today is World Menopause Day. Being the intellectually curious type, I checked out the website of the International Menopause Society… and promptly laughed my head off, since it all seems to be made up of men. Last time I checked, menopause was a pretty female-specific experience.

I won’t get too personal about my own proximity to the change of life, but let’s just say that although I’ve sworn to my only-lonely daughter that the baby factory is closed forever, it’s probably operable for a scant couple more years. Still, it never hurts to know what lies ahead.

Naturally there are all kinds of purported remedies for the symptoms of menopause, from soy to sage to snakeroot. My favourite, though, is the suggestion that doing good deeds will help stave off some of the moodier effects of menopause. At least we know that one works.

What’s also neat is a recent study that tracked cranky folks throughout their workday. We don’t know how many of these employees were menopausal, but researchers did find that people who started the day in bad moods had a greater tendency to perform acts of altruism – and subsequently feel better. Crummy moods apparently compel us to do nice things. Hot flashes or not, nature knows how to get us out of a funk.

Speaking of good deeds, anyone catch the new episode of House on TV last night? Hm, extreme altruism as a symptom of a serious medical problem… care to discuss?

Bad Manners Blow

You might not be able to avoid coughing and sneezing, but you can have some say in where the germs land. We’ve been hearing for a while now how important it is to aim for our sleeves or a tissue, not our hands or – mercy me – the air around us. It’s all about being considerate of other people… or so we thought.

Well, a new survey shows that those who do put a bit of common cold courtesy into place are actually less likely to get sick themselves. Talk about what goes around, comes around. The Hygiene Council found that people who wash their hands frequently, take care where they’re coughing and sneezing, and stay home from work when they’re contagious are actually healthier than those who don’t mind their manners.

And now for a few fun facts about Canadians, gleaned from the same survey: Women are more likely than men to practise regular handwashing (yay for me), and people with neurotic behaviours have better hygiene habits (yay for me). Plus the older and richer you are, the more likely you are to have good personal hygiene (no comment).

Whatever your regime, here’s wishing you a weekend free of illness. Go forth and lather.

Box of facial tissue

You know the drill: "Catch it, bin it, kill it."

Be Kind to Your Infanticipating Friends

Be nice to pregnant women. Is it really necessary for someone to tell us that? Yes, according to a non-profit group in Los Angeles that has been promoting acts of kindness towards expectant mothers.

It’s not just a feel-good initiative. In the U.S., black babies are much more likely than white babies to have a low birth weight or be born prematurely, leading to a higher mortality rate. More and more evidence links these pregnancy problems to mom’s stress levels. Women who are both knocked up and stressed out may be releasing hormones that lower immunity, increase the risk of infection and even bring on preterm labour. Other studies show that black pregnant women experience more stress than white women.

That’s why Healthy African American Families started a cool new campaign called “100 Intentional Acts of Kindness toward a Pregnant Woman.” This list of suggestions was generated by talking to black women who were pregnant or recently gave birth, and asking them: What do you wish friends, family members and total strangers would do to make your pregnancy better?

Over half of them wished those close to them would be more supportive, encouraging, understanding. (I love the woman who gave the suggestion: “Don’t argue with me.” It’s simple, it’s to the point, it’s a precious pearl of wisdom.) A quarter of them just wanted their partner to pick up a kitchen spatula once in a while, for Pete’s sake.

If the women in the focus groups wanted more from their family and friends, it was the total opposite when it came to strangers. They wanted less – less staring, less touching of the baby bump, less smoking around them, and definitely less commentary about how painful, exhausting, horrible and downright traumatizing the delivery would be. A full quarter of women just wanted strangers to offer up their seat on the bus, dammit.

You can read the complete list of 100 acts of kindness here. Some are big (“throw me a baby shower” and “pamper me”) and some are heartbreaking (“don’t break up with me during my pregnancy” and “don’t tell me about the death of someone’s infant”).

But a great many are simple and easy for others to do, like “tie my shoes,” “open the door for me” and even “wish me a good pregnancy.”

If this initiative really works, if the theory is correct, then just by following a few of these tips with the pregnant women we encounter – whether they’re black or white, whether we love them to pieces or don’t even know them – we could be boosting the health of all our community’s babies.

Welcome to the world, little ones. We’ve got your back.

An adorable laughing baby

One of my very cutest, healthiest nieces pictured here. We must've been pretty nice to her mom when she was expecting.

Mother Earth is Feeling Giddy

As we gear up for Canadian Thanksgiving, into my in-box lands an e-mail from a publicist (I get a lot of these). This one’s kinda neat: “Last Minute Ideas for Thanksgiving that Thank the Earth,” it says. I’ve heard of last-minute sales on roasting pans and cranberries, but earth appreciation?

The promotion is for an Edmonton-based “eco designer” who thinks we should be decorating our holiday tables with strung acorns for napkin rings and hollowed-out pumpkins for flower vases, not high-end earthenware gravy boats shaped like turkeys, or jacquard placemats accented in harvest gold.

According to the tag line, this designer “sees opportunity where most people only see waste.” Now, putting aside the mildly disgusting image this instantly brings to mind, I can see her point. It’s all about being grateful for the resources we have, and doing our planet a good turn by upcycling raw materials instead of consuming yet more junk leading to yet more landfill.

I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving (or “Thanksliving,” in the spirit of an eco-friendly holiday). And whether you’re eating from fine Danish porcelain dinnerware or a giant organic grape leaf, the important thing is you have food on your plate, and love all around you.

A hollowed-out pumpkin is used as an ice bucket for beer bottles.

Be still my beating heart: Hands-down best use of a Thanksgiving pumpkin. PHOTO COURTESY OF LINDA BODO

Here’s to Cyber Sunshine

There’s really no such thing as too many fuzzy duckling photos, is there? On a fairly regular basis, I open my in-box to find surprise gifts. There are the jokes, the cartoons, the funny captions and bumper stickers. And plenty of baby animal photos.

Each one represents a friend who sincerely meant to send me a lift, improve my morning, make me smile. I think these can all be counted as acts of kindness, don’t you?

Of course I’m also forced to sift through the warnings my colleagues send me about found rat tails in fried-chicken containers. Then there are the chain letters promising a year of misfortune if you don’t forward them instantly to all your acquaintances, not to mention the stories claiming little Katie will be cured of cancer if only she gets enough postcards.

Sometimes my friends send me brief supportive notes in their own words: “How are you?” “Are you hanging in there?” “Just checking in!” “Want to have cocktails?” and so on. But I believe that even when all the email says is “What if the hokey pokey IS what it’s all about?”, or “Where are we going, and why am I in this handbasket?”, it’s still a moment of connection… of knowing you have allies out there who want to share a few moments of lightness and fun.

Speaking of happy faces and unexpected surprises, look who smiled back while I was making breakfast on Sunday morning…

Egg yolks in a bowl resembling a smiley face

They must have thought (erroneously so, as it turned out for them) that they were about to have an egg-cellent day.