Sunday, 5 April 2015

Giving Back

What do you do to give back? I was always told-not even taught, hahaha-that I had to give to others in some way. I had to give to those who didn't have and to those who did have. Whether it was kindness, a hug, a ride, money, or time and/or energy, that was a rule. When I was finally making enough money that I had disposable income at the end of each month, my mom told me it was time to either find a charitable organization to donate money to or volunteer. Volunteering was much more difficult for me because of time constraints. However, every month, I would give money to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

When I left Ontario for British Columbia (for graduate school), those donations stopped since, as a poor graduate student, I couldn't afford to give. I can't explain exactly why I never resumed donating to any organization. All I know is that for the past few months, and more pressingly now for a few weeks, I've come to understand how badly I WANT to give back. As Easter approached this year, we received a big paper bag tucked into the (crappy) LFP newspaper. It was a request to donate food (before Easter weekend). The bag was from the London Food Bank and reading the statistics stamped onto the bag, I felt my heart drop. If you're interested in the (alarming) stats, please refer to the following websites: http://www.oafb.ca/hungerreport2014 and http://www.londonfoodbank.ca/events/2013-spring-food-drive/

I filled up the huge paper bag with non-perishable food items and dropped it off at my local London Fire Hall (as per the instructions on the bag). It felt good to give back, but I felt horrible about the current situation that many Ontarians are facing: the inability to afford food. As I read the statistics online, I saw a familiar group call out to me: recent grads. My heart sank even lower. Only a day after I dropped off the bag (it was reassuring to see other donations when I went to the fire hall!!!!), I received The Economist with this headline:

Sadly, I question whether I made the right choice. I know how thankful I am for my degrees as they've taught me invaluable life lessons, but if I can't afford to pay my bills, then what good has it done me??? You can find articles here: http://www.economist.com/printedition/2015-03-28

Yesterday, I decided that I needed to start doing MORE good without any consideration to how it will benefit me. Sounds easy, but of course there's the argument that doing good makes one feel good, so it is not an unselfish act. I understand that sentiment, but I have never gone out of my way to seek recognition or hope that karma will bring those good deeds back to me. I just want to make someone's life a little easier, make them smile and perhaps let them know that someone-even if it's a stranger-cares :)

I'm also increasingly aware of the world that we live in and I'm not happy participating in aspects which are completely self-serving. Yes, money is important, but it's not everything. I'm a realist and I believe in balance. However, I am someone who wants the best for others. I am someone who believes that there is good in every human being. I know that I cannot live happily if I don't lead by example. I teach, but I don't feel like that is giving back enough. I can do more and so I should be doing more. In spite of this, I have yet to find a profit OR not-for-profit organization that will hire me to work for them. Shocking, isn't it? I've offered my services, time, resources, knowledge, etc., easily to over 100 organizations and not one has taken me up on my offer. I, optimistically, assume that this means that I just haven't found the right organization for me. So, until I find an organization...Or it finds me, I have a small mission.

My mission was clear: bestow ten acts of kindness on different people: acquaintances, strangers, people who may seem as if they need it and people who seem as if they don't. EVERY person is fair game! I'm not giving myself a time limit. I've decided to do this partly to recognize sacrifice (especially with Easter here!), partly to give since I am able to, partly as a way to lead by example and hopefully inspire others to give back as well and partly because I would feel terrible if one day some doctor, nurse or other medical worker/volunteer came to know me and thought, "Wow, what did we save her life for?!?" I can't begin to list the people who have helped me, but they're numerous, and I don't know some; there were countless doctors and nurses who worked to keep me alive when I was sick as a child. I think it would be a waste if I was saved and I didn't do anything to This is the time to serve :)

(Random) Act of Kindness #1: One of my all-time favourite ways to give is to go through the drive-through at Tim Horton's and pay for the order of the person behind me. My mom used to do this all the time and people would literally honk and wave their arms at her in thanks. It's simple, but I LOVE IT!!! Bonus if it's morning rush hour!!! Start someone's work day by getting them their AM dose of caffeine! I did this on Thursday while I was on my way to work :)
(Random) Act of Kindness #1: Complete.

While trying to think of what to do for numbers 2 through 10, I got a brilliant idea: get suggestions from readers. Why not? I'm sure there are people out there who would love to give back, but are unable to for some reason or another. Obviously I'm not able to donate hundreds or thousands of dollars. However, if someone can suggest a worthy cause to donate to, I'll happily look into it and follow-up! I am able to give time and even my efforts in ways that others may not be able to because of time or physical restraints. I can do something on your behalf and make that clear :)  Or, is there some way you wish someone would help you? In desperate need of a night out with your partner and wish someone would kindly offer to babysit your kids (or pets) for free? Are you physically impaired and need some help but don't know who to ask? Ever wish your child had a mentor who they could do things or speak with openly in a safe environment (no judging or spilling of secrets) with? Let me know something that you think someone would appreciate and I will do it! Lastly, my aim is not only to help people. I am open to helping animals (domesticated and wild) as well as the environment :)

My last request is an important one: Please HOLD ME ACCOUNTABLE!!! I can get scared, worried AND lazy. That's part of the reason I'm posting this publicly, lol!!!

Happy Easter!!!

*I wrote this post almost a week before Easter Sunday and have since started the process of applying to volunteer with the Alzheimer Society (London & Middlesex), and if it's successful, I will count that towards one of the acts of kindness)*

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Deep Freeze

Oh, have I missed the winters in Canada: white, fluffy snow, the joy I feel when the sun reflects off of it brightening up even the coldest day! I can deal with the terrible road conditions, the slush as the snow on the road becomes brown from salting and sanding and I can even say that I LOVE the dryness and cold temperatures-even if that means my skin doesn't and/or I get sick. I know someone, somewhere is GROANING and waving their fist at me! I'm sorry!!! I'm the Canuck who actually LOVES winter!!! Yeah, I can predict the "love" I'm going to get for that statement ;)

Want to giggle??? Jimmy Fallon on the winter situation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OoV0CAvCi0M

Now, I haven't been home for two winters and I was sooo looking forward to winter 2014-15!!! However, what a surprise I had! January was cold, but something happened in February that I was NOT prepared for: a deep freeze. It felt like temperatures dropped overnight and we went from the minus teens (degrees Celsius) to minus 20-30s (with the windchill), and OHHHHH, MAN was this girl NOT prepared (psychologically). Thank God I was physically prepared: my aunt had bought me hideous pairs of the WARMEST pajamas EVER for Christmas (Thank you, Auntie M!!!), and last fall my wonderful sister invited me to take advantage of the corporate discount she gets at the Columbia outlet store (located near Highbury Ave and the 401), so I was able to feel warmer!!!

In spite of the freezing temperatures, I went out, lol! I attended a benefit for Salthaven Wildlife and Education Centre with some good friends. The event was held at Aroma (a Mediterranean restaurant on Richmond Street): Richhttp://fginternationalcorp.com/. I LOVE the ambiance at this place! However, the food was substandard. I had a nice fish dish with a butter sauce, veggies and rice.

 The chicken dish
My fish dinner
 The vegetarian dinner
 The starter salad
 The program
 I donated a peanut butter chocolate cheesecake to the silent auction, and my "date" for the evening (my friend, and artist, K), donated artwork.
Our host, flanked by us ladies: Jeve, owner of Jeve's Pet Care (and the organizer and host of the evening), artist, K (on Jeve's right), moi and our FAVOURITE yoga instructor (newlywed and newest resident of the USA!!!), J :)
Salthaven is a wonderful rehabilitation and education facility! I enjoyed hearing the story about a rescued Canadian goose who has successfully been reintroduced to the wild! It's a wonderful cause and if you have time, energy or resources, I encourage you to give...Anywhere, really (I personally donate to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation). The dinner reminded me of how precious and precarious wildlife is. We deplete natural resources with little to no thought or consideration to how we impact the world around us. It made me realize how little I want to be part of the rat race many of us run today. I digress.

Jeve's Pet Care:
Please also check out Jeve's website! He's had his business for over 8 years! Well-known and loved, I'm all for supporting this local business dedicated to caring for and loving people's pets: http://www.jevespetcare.com/

Salthaven:
If you're interested in learning more about the wonderful things that Salthaven does (and has done), please check them out at: http://www.salthaven.org/home

Now, I also ended up helping a friend of mine while her sister was on vacation. I provided childcare for the three sweetest young boys! No names or information, but only LOTS of love for these three!!! I had a BLAST!!! We read-A LOT! We sang. We baked. We played. We cried-me especially as I learned how different boys toilet training are from girls! We got sick. Oh, yeah. We ALL got sick. We had fun...At least I did!!! We took pictures and did homework. We practiced vocabulary and even did some phonics! It was a blast and I got to feel like I was actually doing something important, something worthwhile. As much as I want to post pics of these three cuties, I won't since they're not my children and I respect that. However, take my word for it: they're adorable!!!

After a week of taking care of three boys-three and under-I welcomed the idea of going out dancing and hanging out with people my age, even if it meant freezing my bum-bum off walking to club from the car!

Braving the cold: Yeeeehaaaaw! We had the dance floor to ourselves!!! RIGHT ON!!!

The bone-chilling weather didn't stop life from going on, and no matter how much I tried to forget the pain of losing my mother, I had to face reality: by early March I had to contend with what would have been my mother's 59th birthday and (on the same day) my father's mother's birthday (she passed away just a year before my mother in a battle against cancer). Thankfully, I had little time to dwell on it as my sister's birthday arrived only a few days later. At her request, we went to 168 Sushi on Oxford Street West. Since I've already blogged about this restaurant, I won't go into any detail. I still like it, but for me, all-you-can-eat buffets are hardly worth the money since I can't eat a lot at one sitting (although I don't stop eating throughout the day! LOL!!!). However, I DO think that if you're a sushi lover and you eat more than 5 nigiri (individual pieces), 4 temaki (hand rolls), or 2-3 maki (log-style rolls), then you're getting your money's worth! One other tip: make a reservation!!! There is usually a loooong line! Many thanks to our very kind waiter! :)

Mid-March proved to be busier than I'd imagined: my father travelled to Japan only days after the Irish chef came to Canada on vacation, my teaching schedule was jam-packed and we had family friends over for dinner (not a big deal when it's just another night, but a big deal when it's in the middle of a hectic schedule).

My sister and I made dinner:

 Appetizers!!!
Beef chow mein, chicken spring rolls, miso soup and salad with sesame dressing. SOOO YUMMY!!! 

Luckily, the warmer weather arrived just as the Irish chef did. He arrived later in the month of March for only a short trip while the students were on term break. Have I told you that? That the Irish chef is teaching in Saudi Arabia? While he was enjoying temperatures in the high 20s to mid 30s, while we just started to see the temps rise just above zero. I made sure I bought him warm clothes and my Aunt had bought him a comfy pair of Roots jogging pants for Christmas that he hadn't yet had the chance to wear. I felt terrible when the cold first hit him...and then hit him and he hadn't recovered even by the end of his trip...Welcome to winter in Canada? :(

His cold, however, didn't stop us from eating!!!

Brunch at Black Friars (http://www.blackfriarsbistro.com/): I'd never had brunch at Black Friars and it was AMAZING!!!  I think it's one of the BEST restaurants in London, and the Irish chef agrees! The brunch menu can be found here: http://www.blackfriarsbistro.com/brunch.html.
 The Irish chef chose an open-faced warm pork sandwich with a variety of mushrooms and jus, complete with a Caesar salad :)
 My dish was warm egg whites over a bed of rice with red Thai curry sauce and fresh papaya, orange, apple and strawberry!!! It was incredible!
My sister chose the apple stack pancakes made with Ontario apples, warm caramel sauce and a dollop of whipped cream on top. It was heavenly.
 My father loves his seafood and opted for a special: shrimp spanakopita
 The Irish chef was in need of some good home cooking and had this dense chocolate cake with Kahlua sauce. It was fantastic and I don't even like chocolate!
My father loves fruit in his dessert. He chose the fruit cobbler and it was sooo yummy!!!

After my father left for Japan, the eating never stopped ;)

Dinner at Mythic Grill (http://www.mythicgrill.ca/) with the Irish chef and my sister:

Appetizer #1: Greek salad
 Appetizer #2: Dolmades
 My sister's favourite: spanakopita, sans shrimp, lol!
 The Irish chef chose a special: sea bass
 My favourite: moussaka!!!
Look at how tall it is!!! LOVE!!!

I always enjoy the food at Mythic Grill and the service is always good, but for some reason, it felt like dinner was lacking this time around. Not sure exactly WHAT it was, but it just wasn't as great as I remembered it. If I'm being totally honest, my best friend's mother's dolmades are MUCH better ;)

I couldn't NOT take the Irish chef out for brunch at the Little Beaver (a favourite of his) and The Church Key:
The floating/rotating buffet, meaning it changes each week. These were the options last weekend
 The Irish chef chose the Mediterranean Seafood Gnocchi
 My breakfast was the Thai "Benedict" Bowl: prior to dumping the "Hollandaise" sauce
After pouring the sauce all over breakfast! YUM!!!

Lastly, my group of friends decided to have a wine and cheese par-tay!!! We showed up with wine, cheese, crackers and Asahi (beer, for the men). Ohhh, man. Was the cheese AMAZING! I picked mine up at Angelo's (http://www.angelosbakery.com/), but my friend and her husband got theirs from a spot very close to the Western Fair grounds and I'm SO SORRY I can't remember the name of the shop ( T_ T )  <<<That's me crying.

 The wine: I brought the one in the front (silver label). It was tasty, but I was driving, so none for me!
I have grown to adore red wine and my favourites are Argentinian and Chilean Malbecs as well as (Argentinian) Mendoza wines! \( ^ - ^ )/
 We brought the Irish Guinness cheddar (we HAD to!), and the Wensleydale with cranberries. The caramelized onion cheddar was to DIE for!!!
 The spread: Ohhhh, yeah!!!
There was brie baked in that bread-warm, gooey brie cheese!

When my partner left, the weather cooled, turned grey and rained, as if it could tell how it felt to see him leave. However, we hope he will NOT return to Saudi Arabia any time soon. We have received some troubling news and, as a family, need to make some changes. Who knows what the future will hold now. Just when I thought I had (some of it) figured out, lol! Not so fast, Mik!