Monthly Archives: June 2016

Hold Your Water

Two nights ago, in Toronto where I live, a miracle fell from the sky. I’d almost forgotten what a soft summer rain feels like. We’ve had an uncharacteristically dry month. I know my perennials were desperate for a few precious drops of water. Despite my best efforts with the garden hose, a newly planted hedge was showing signs of distress. Certainly my lawn had retreated into a self-induced catatonia. And then, suddenly, wondrously, we were presented with precipitation. All became right again in the world.

Our part of the world, anyway. I’m fully aware that I belong to a privileged few who can actually count on clean water to fall, fairly often, from the clouds. And if it doesn’t, all we have to do is turn a tap. At our command, clean water conveniently flows inside our house. We can have as much as we want, at whatever temperature we desire. My households enjoys two outdoor faucets and eight indoor ones, in addition to multiple fresh-water hookups for toilets and appliances. The rest of my community is similarly fortunate.

In the rest of the world, there are people going without every day. The World Health Organization estimates that 663 million people are without access to suitable drinking water. That means for every single Canadian, there are 19 people somewhere in the world (and sometimes closer to home than you realize) who need clean water.

Yesterday a crew of four cyclists concluded their five-day, 1,000-km fundraising route from Calgary to Vancouver (that’s 620 miles for you imperialists). In order to raise awareness about Wheels for Wells, a charity that contributes to sustainable water projects around the world, the team completed their endurance event through the Rocky Mountains without drinking any bottled or tap water. The cyclists only drank from natural fresh water sources, like streams and lakes.

It may sound like they ought to have had water aplenty, and of course they did. We are in Canada, after all, where we enjoy a full fifth of all the fresh water in the world. But tell me, when’s the last time you drank from a pond? I mean, personally, I live close to a creek, but I also live close to urban runoff, and you wouldn’t catch me dipping into that murky stuff.

See how water-spoiled I am?

Props to the cycling team for their achievement. It wasn’t an easy road (no, really, there were a ton of hills), but their dedication helped an important cause. To them I raise a glass – of clean, fresh water, of course.


Cheers. (Photo by khunaspix /

Your Brain Has No-Fault Insurance

Hey, remember that time you cheated, stole, lied or [insert another lapse of ethics here]?

No? If your memory of past transgressions is hazy, there’s a scientific explanation for that. It seems that humans are blessed with “unethical amnesia.” We have trouble recalling our own bad behaviour.

A set of studies at Harvard and Northwestern University shows that when we act dishonourably, we tend to forget the details more quickly compared to other kinds of memories. Apparently, we’re so invested in maintaining a positive self-image that our brains try to avoid any evidence to the contrary. So when people cheat on their taxes or lie to their bosses, they unconsciously refrain from thinking too hard about it – lest it threaten their belief that they are good, kind and pure souls.

What’s the solution? If you start a practice of reflecting back on your day’s deeds, your brain won’t be able to blur out the bad times quite so easily. “A habit of self-reflection helps to keep such memories alive and to learn from them,” co-author Maryam Kouchaki says in a press release.

Sure, it may be painful to relive your more imperfect moments. But perhaps it’s worth it, if it helps you behave better next time.


Watch out, son, it’s a slippery slope. Today it’s just cheating on a math test, but tomorrow it’s offshore tax evasion… (Photo by stockimages/

Ahead of the Pack

There are three ways you can tell that the men behind Saltwater Brewery are salt-of-the-earth good guys.

One: The microbrewery in Delray Beach, Florida, is named after the world’s wide, wondrous oceans. The founders are self-described as “fishermen, surfers and people who love the sea.”

Two: Part of the profits from selling the crafty products – various beers have entertaining names like Screamin’ Reels and Sea Cow – are donated to charities that benefit the oceans.

Three: The team, in collaboration with the WeBelievers ad agency, has developed the world’s first edible six-pack ring. This matters, because no matter where in the world you happen to drink your beer, your plastic six-pack ring tends to end up in the ocean. And even if the rings are designed to break down in sunlight after a few weeks so they don’t entangle aquatic animals… well, all they really do is transmute from big plastic pieces into tiny plastic pieces. Fish mistake these bits for food (totally not their fault – they have fish brains), and end up stuffing their stomachs. Not a very healthy habit. Potentially even fatal.

Saltwater Brewery is trying to help marine life, not destroy it. So its beer cans are now attached to rings made from leftover brewing grain. If these rings do find their way into the sea, they’ll break apart into biodegradable and perfectly edible chunks.

Compared to shards of plastic, this is gourmet fare.

Anyway, who says these will end up in the ocean at all? Maybe this microbrewery has unwittingly kicked off a new foodie trend. Mix in a little chipotle seasoning, and you’ve suddenly got a snack go with your beer.

Hey, why not? I’ve seen what you put in that chip bowl during game time. At least the six-pack ring is low in trans fat.


It doesn’t even have to be chipotle. I’ll bet nacho cheese would be a hit. (Photo courtesy of Saltwater Brewery)

Community Service

Somebody in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood wants you to know that you matter.

Admittedly, he or she doesn’t know you. But he or she nevertheless cares how you feel about yourself. In fact, his or her intentions are so heartfelt that he or she –

Okay. Because English can be awkward and unwieldy, henceforth we are going to refer to this person as “Hoh” instead of him or her. For decency’s sake, we shall pronounce this a way that rhymes with “paw.”

Hoh recently invested time in printing and preparing a series of eye-catching posters. Then Hoh distributed them around the community. Each poster includes ready-to-remove compliments: “You matter.” “You are amazing.” “You make a difference.” Passersby are encouraged to take them, keep them or pass them to others who need them. A sweet idea!

The downloadable posters were originally created by Scholastic Books in New York, as part of a campaign against bullying. Nice to see it’s spread beyond the borders of the Big Apple.

In the Toronto neighbourhood where Hoh lives, these compliments have clearly been welcome. By the time my friend Lorin spotted a couple of them, one had already been completely stripped of its compliments. The other was more than half depleted.

“You matter.” Doesn’t it feel good to have a reminder?


“You absolutely do!” Photo creds to Lorin, intrepid community reporter.