Mid-Month Marvels: Rise Against Hunger

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’m calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

Here are two daunting statistics for you. 821 million people in the world don’t get the food they need to live a healthy life, and malnutrition is the single largest contributor to disease in the world. But this need can be addressed. The number of people facing hunger in the world has dropped from 24 percent in 1990 to about 10 percent today.

Rise Against Hunger is a nonprofit organization whose sole purpose is to address this need. And according to their website, “the world has enough production potential and distribution capability to feed everyone.”

Rise Against Hunger focuses primarily on distributing meals at schools and health facilities in underprivileged countries. This has a multilevel impact. If parents know their child will get a healthy meal by going to school, this will also increase that child’s chances of getting an education. And having food at health facilities allows people to also address their health concerns.

But this organization also responds to natural and man-made crises, because in any major crisis, food is often the thing that is most needed. That makes perfect sense. You can’t survive a drought or a flood or a war zone or an earthquake if you don’t have food.

But the part of this organization that intrigues me most is that they firmly believe in community empowerment. They provide programs that promote better agricultural methods, business skills and market access. This increases local food production and income abilities. They also support fish and livestock production to diversify diets.

There are many ways you can partner with Rise Against Hunger to create a world without hunger. You can host fundraising and meal packaging events. You can volunteer, and you can also support them financially. You can even take a one to two week trip to a country in need and volunteer to represent the organization there. You can help spread the word about the great need for this organization, and also educate people about the complex need that surrounds the hunger issue. Your company can become a corporate sponsor, and fundraise as well.

Please join me in supporting Rise Against Hunger. It’s a very worthy cause with an international reach. We are, after all, all in this together.

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Mason Bee Rentals

A friend of mine crowed on Facebook that she just received her mason bees in the mail. Naturally, I had to learn more. It turns out that you can rent them from rentmasonbees.com. They come to you in early spring with a bee house, a nesting block, 50-60 mason bee cocoons and a box with return postage for when you send them back in the fall. What a nifty idea!

Why mason bees? They pollinate your garden for you. They aren’t aggressive. (You really have to mess with a mason bee a lot to get stung because they’re naturally gentle creatures.) They’re super low maintenance, since you’re not dealing with honey. Just hang the box and let them do their thing. They’re also a great learning experience, and a great way to help the planet.

Why rent them? Well, each mason bee does the work of 100 honeybees. And at the end of the season, 50 mason bees can produce 500 eggs. When you send them back free of charge, the company will clean each cocoon and sterilize each nesting block to free them of predators and then safely keep them in hibernation under just the right conditions. The next season, they send these healthy bees to farmers, who need 1000 bees per acre to pollinate their crops, which, in turn, feed all of us.

What’s not to love about this program? If you’re interested, you better hurry, though, because they ship the last mason bees of the season on April 26th. So get your bee on!

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What to Cook When You Hate to Cook. Recipe 11: Travel Food

I was taking a 13 day road trip, and I didn’t want to do what I had done on my last road trip, namely, eat pizza every single day. Don’t get me wrong. Pizza is one of my favorite foods. But less is more. Multiple days of it and I feel as though I’ll need a jackhammer to loosen my intestines.

Why so much pizza? Well, in the time of COVID-19, a lot of restaurants are closed, and/or stressful to enter. The one reliable source of takeout in a strange town, unless you want to resort to a fast-food chain restaurant (Noooooooo!) is pizza. So I needed to make a plan.

I decided to do my best to eat healthy. I would pack picnic breakfasts and lunches, and either pick something up to eat at a grocery store, or support a local restaurant for dinner. Not only were my intestines thrilled, but I saved a lot of money, too.

So what follows isn’t really a recipe (sorry) but more of an idea of what to pack for breakfasts and lunches and snacks for 13 days.

  • A dozen hard boiled eggs
  • Yogurt
  • Breakfast bars and/or granola
  • Cold cuts. (I went with turkey and ham and cheese.)
  • Sandwich thins. (Fewer carbs and they take up less space. Sadly, the same number of calories.)
  • Fruit (I went with apples and grapes.)
  • Carrots
  • Peanut butter
  • Nuts
  • Ranch dressing
  • Jerky
  • Dried fruit
  • Water

After that, all I needed was a cooler, plates, bowls, utensils, a roll of paper towels, and cold packs that I’d refreeze every night in the room. Sometimes, for a change of pace, I’d pick up salad fixin’s from a grocery store and add cold cuts and ranch dressing to that.

The beauty of many of these things is that they can be mixed and matched for variety. The ranch dressing is good on sandwiches, and it makes a good snack when combined with carrots. I used it to make egg salad, too. The peanut butter made for a good sandwich, and it’s also good with apples, granola or nuts. I used a different combo of cold cuts on my sandwiches each day. I could make my own trail mix.

You can even do this on road trips where you plan to fly to your first destination and rent a car. There are really efficient collapsible coolers now, or you can buy a cheap styrofoam one upon arrival if, unlike me, you don’t feel guilty about adding that to the landfill afterward. Then all you have to do is hit a grocery store, and away you go!

Making healthy choices may take a little extra effort, but it’s worth it.

Okay, okay… I bought chips when I stopped for gas, too. So sue me. I was on vacation.

What are your travel food ideas? Share them in the comments below!

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Vancouver for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

I just love Vancouver, Canada! I’ve visited once a year since I moved over to this side of the continent, and I suspect that will be a long-standing tradition for me. It’s a ridiculously short drive from Seattle, and it feels familiar and exotic at the same time.

It’s such a vibrant big city, full of art and quirkiness, and you hear so many different languages on the street that you genuinely feel that you’re at a cultural crossroads. Each neighborhood has a different style and personality, which makes it a great deal of fun to explore. And the food… My God, the food…

I’ve been a visitor in this fair city enough times to have discovered several dining favorites. What follows are my picks for all three meals of the day.

Breakfast:

Le Petit Belge. I stumbled upon this little restaurant because it was a short walk from my hotel. It got quite a few bonus points for also serving delicious food in a delightful setting. This place makes very light, flavorful Belgian waffles, and offers a variety of toppings. I tend toward the sweet toppings, such as strawberries, whipped cream, chocolate, mixed fruit, or ice cream. But they also offer savory toppings such as prosciutto, asparagus, salmon, avocado, cheese, and bacon. In addition, they serve other breakfast fare such as eggs, omelets and breakfast bowls. And you get to eat these delectable things while sitting in their cute little dining room and watching the city’s denizens walk by. A great Vancouver experience.

Lunch

For lunch, I suggest two possibilities.

If you’re looking for a casual and filling meal, and are not averse to fried seafood, then you absolutely have to check out Go Fish. It’s a little outdoor establishment on the banks of False Creek. Their menu is simple. Eat your crispy cod, salmon or halibut, fresh off the dock, with the delicious fries, or try their Tacones, all while gazing at Granville Island, just across the way. The only down sides are that they are closed on Mondays, and since the seating is outdoors, you’ll want good weather for this dining experience.

If you’d prefer something healthier, I highly recommend the Granville Island Public Market, which is open 7 days a week. You’ll be overwhelmed by the variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, and your mouth will water when you contemplate the abundance of desserts. You can also pick up fresh baked bread, cheeses, and meats, and create your own picnic, right on the spot. Or if you’re feeling lazy and want someone else to do the food prep for you, there’s an international food court with some wonderful options. After you’ve eaten, you can shop for unique gifts amongst the stalls that are overflowing with handcrafted art.

VancouverFood

Dinner

I discovered this restaurant on my most recent visit. Since Vancouver is known for its seafood and Asian cuisine, and since I had enjoyed Go Fish for lunch, I asked my hotel concierge for his recommendation for a Chinese restaurant. Without hesitation, he recommended Peaceful Restaurant on Seymour Street. (They have several locations. That just happened to be the nearest one.)

Oh. My. God. This turned out to be the best Chinese food I’ve ever eaten. It made me want to move to Vancouver, just so I could eat there once a week. Specializing in very flavorful Northern Chinese cuisine, this place has gotten several awards.

I was anxious to try one of their noodle dishes. You have a choice of “hand-pulled” noodles which are thick and round, or the “knife-bladed” which are, of course, flat. I had the stir fried beef and veggies with hand-pulled noodles, and my goal in life is to fill my above ground swimming pool with the stuff, and just dive in every night at around 5pm. Dear husband had the Peaceful House Stir fried noodles with spicy seafood and pork. The menu is extensive at this place, and the Dim Sum gets raves as well, but we didn’t try it this time around.

At the end of the meal, dear husband practically had to peel my fingers off the door frame and carry me away, kicking and screaming in protest.

Incidentally, they have franchising information on their website. If someone in Seattle takes them up on this opportunity, I will kiss that person on the lips, on camera, at the top of the space needle.

I have no idea why I left Vancouver. Please remind me.

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Generic Generics

Back in the eighties, when I was making my way in the world all alone for the first time, generic products had become quite the thing. It seemed like every grocery store had at least one aisle where all the items were packaged in stark, black and white, no-nonsense boxes and cans and bags. And they were dirt cheap. You could get anything from coffee to paper towels to tuna to corn flakes.

Theoretically, the money that companies saved by not having to advertise and promote these products, and even, one assumes, the savings of not using colorful, eye catching packages, was passed on to the consumer. In addition, some products were sold below market value to draw customers in.

In most cases, the ingredients listed on these generic products were identical to their name brand counterparts. It was usually pretty easy to tell that this food was actually put out there by those same companies. Every single element about it was shaped the same. But you could save a ton of money by buying generic.

Unfortunately, generic food came with certain side effects. First and foremost, there was the embarrassment factor. When you filled your cart with these black and white products, you were telling the world that you were poor. As a struggling young adult, my kitchen cabinets were filled with them. I made it a point to make sure the cabinet doors were closed when people came to visit.

And then there was this underlying distrust of the food itself. Even if the ingredients were identical, this little voice in your head would go, “Why are they not taking ownership of their product? Are they ashamed? Are they trying to get rid of substandard food? Am I eating dumpster quality pasta or something? Who do I sue if I find a dead mouse in there?”

Generic food got the reputation of not being as good as the name brand stuff, even though in most cases people could not tell them apart in blind taste tests. There were a few exceptions, though. Everyone I knew agreed that generic macaroni and cheese was the best. Go figure.

Generic products have evolved over the years. They’re now kind of generic, but not. They have the pretty packaging. They even have a brand, sort of. They proudly sit on the shelves right beside the major players, instead of being relegated to a shameful little aisle of their own. Their labels reflect the store brand of the particular grocer that you frequent. That way, they can still benefit from a reputation, and yet not waste their profit margins on product-specific promotions and advertising. And we all can pretend we’re buying something “legitimate” that isn’t “for poor people.”

Win/win, I suppose. But it sure makes you realize how taken in we are by reputation and colorful ink. Still, in this day and age, when we are pelted with imagery everywhere we turn, I sometimes miss the plain, colorless simplicity of the generics of my youth. Especially the macaroni and cheese.

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Love Languages

A friend of mine turned me on to the book 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Have I read it? No. I’m already overwhelmed without adding another book to my reading list. But the subject intrigues me quite a bit.

I have always noticed that people have very unique ways of expressing love and also of feeling loved. I think it’s important to know what signifies love to your partner, so you can express it in a way that means the most to him or her. It’s also interesting to examine what equals love to you, so that you can see when someone is expressing love to you in a way that you’re not noticing.

If your partner’s love language is touch, for example, and he touches you a lot, that’s his way of expressing love, even if your language is different. Learn to appreciate it. And touch him a lot. And tell him what means the most to you.

Here are the 5 types of love languages that Mr. Chapman has identified, in no particular order:

  • Acts of Service– This is the one I relate to the most. Having someone do something for me when they can see I’m overwhelmed is practically an aphrodisiac to me. Want to show me you love me? Do my laundry! My boyfriend recently went to my house and left some chicken in the fridge for me so that I wouldn’t have to make lunch for the next day, because he knew I’d be exhausted. That moved me to tears.

  • Quality Time– Pay attention. Listen. Focus. If you want someone to feel special, just be there.

  • Words of Affirmation– Some people feel most special when they hear “I love you” or “I’m proud of you.”

  • Physical Touch– We’re not just talking sex, here. This means hand holding, or even just resting your hand lightly on your partner’s arm.

  • Receiving Gifts– This isn’t about being a gold digger. This is about being really touched by the effort it takes to obtain or make the gift, and the thought you put into determining what that person would like.

This is a fascinating avenue of inquiry. If you want to know what your love language is, take the test here. You may learn quite a bit.

I don’t know if Mr. Chapman gets into this in his book, but there are also a lot of toxic “love” languages out there. Here are a few I’ve seen:

  • Feeding– When food equals love, it tends to bring on health issues. I’ve seen many mother’s do this. “Eat hardy!” “Did you get enough to eat?” “Let me make you your favorite cake.” It’s a form of love, I suppose, but it’s very destructive.

  • Jealousy– I’ll never understand people who actually enjoy it when their partner is jealous. “He must really love me if he gets that upset.” That’s not love. That’s a warped control dynamic.

  • Teasing– It may start off as cute and funny, but over time it can evolve into insults and cruelty. Again, not the best path to go down.

What makes you feel most loved? Let me know in the comments below!

Love Languages

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Taking Health for Granted

It really is ironic that right about the time when you have the most freedom and discretionary income, that’s when your body really starts breaking down. The mind is willing, but the flesh is weak.

I have come to tolerate routine aches and pains that my 20-year-old self would have been horrified by. And that’s particularly annoying because it’s her stupid antics that have caused me to be able to predict the weather in several of my bones.

I would love to climb more mountains, but I know those days are gone. I want to go to foreign lands and try exotic foods, but I don’t seem to digest things as easily as I once did. I can’t cover the same amount of ground in a day as I did 30 years and 80 pounds ago.

Older people used to warn me that this would happen, but I was too busy being young to listen. If I had really gotten the message that I shouldn’t take my health for granted, maybe I’d have done more back when I could do more. But no.

I don’t know what terrifies me the most: becoming physically dependent upon indifferent caregivers, or staying relatively spry, but becoming the overwhelmed caregiver of my loved ones as life passes us by.

No matter how much you jog or do sit-ups, age is inevitable. Things fall apart. The center does not hold. So maybe I need to stop looking backward with regret. What’s the point?

It’s time to assess what’s possible now, and take advantage of it while I can. Do more. Now. Because 10 years from now, it’s a safe bet that I’ll be even further down the hill.

Aging

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How I Live Now

There was a time, not so very long ago, when I could have told you the exact amount of cash I had in my wallet, down to the penny. I’d wake up in a cold sweat, wondering how I’d pay my bills, or what on earth I’d do if I became seriously ill with no health insurance. For most of my life, I was about one flat tire away from utter homelessness. It was exhausting.

I learned to add rice to a can of soup to make it a meal. I was the coupon queen. I wore clothes until my meager sewing skills couldn’t keep them together anymore, and then I’d replace them at the thrift store. My shoes would all but disintegrate on my feet.

For entertainment, I’d play with my dogs, or take a walk, or watch PBS. I checked out mounds of library books. I knew when all the museums and galleries were free.

I’m not saying that all the joy in life is brought about by money, but life sure has improved now that the financial pressure has eased considerably.

I still keep a tiny bit of cash on hand for emergencies, but I couldn’t tell you how much. Mostly, I sleep through the night, and while I still avoid extravagant, unnecessary bills, I don’t worry about my ability to pay the ones I do incur. My health insurance is probably better than what most people have here in America. (Which isn’t saying much.) And recently I replaced all four of my tires at once without batting an eye. (Okay, maybe I swallowed hard for a second, but there was absolutely no eye batting.)

I still don’t eat at five-star restaurants, but I actually buy organic fruits and vegetables without considering them a splurge. And if I really want something in particular to eat, I figure out a way to get it. I can’t remember the last time I even opened a can of soup. I still use coupons, but I’m not ruled by them. I still shop at thrift stores mostly, but every once in a while I’ll get myself something really nice to wear. And my shoes are in good shape.

I have a lot more fun than I used to. I can afford to get out there and engage with the world. I eat out. I see the odd movie. I pay admission fees without perspiring, and occasionally donate a little extra to museums. I still love library books, though.

Sometimes I’ll look around and wonder how I got to this place. It was a long, hard struggle. It doesn’t seem real to me. I doubt it ever will. I keep expecting to wake up to another can of soup. And I doubt I’ll ever be able to retire. Because of that, I’ll always appreciate how I live now. I’ll never take anything for granted. I’ll always feel as though I’ve taken off a pair of shoes that were two sizes too small. For now, it really feels good to wiggle my toes!

Life. It’s so fragile, so precarious. Enjoy it as much as you can, while you can.

Financial Stress.jpg

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Vancouver Food

One of the best things about Vancouver, Canada, is the food. It’s a city by the sea, and it’s very much an international town. That bodes well for seafood, as well as Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, First Nations, Italian, Greek… you name it, they have it in Vancouver.

I’m told the best things to eat during a visit are salmon and sushi. And I’ve read that the sushi is much more affordably priced than anything you can find in an American metropolis. I wouldn’t know, not being a sushi person myself. But the salmon? Yes please. And keep it coming!

Vancouver is surrounded by farm country as well, so if you have a chance to eat fresh, seasonal produce and dairy products, do so. You’ll notice the difference. Make yourself a picnic lunch and eat it in Stanley Park, while taking in the view. There could be no better dining experience than that!

Whenever I travel, I try to avoid chain restaurants. I like to support the local economy. I also know that starting a Mom and Pop restaurant is a risky proposition at best, so it feels good to lend them a hand whenever possible. Some of the most delightful meals I’ve ever eaten have been possible because of this practice. It’s not as much of a risk as it used to be, because we all have access to on-line reviews.

So, do your homework, and get out there and dive into the culinary richness of Vancouver. You’ll be glad you did.

Vancouver Food

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Clicking Your Way to a Better World

I must admit that I spend entirely too much time on the internet. You do, too. Don’t believe me? What are you doing right now? Tiptoeing through the tulips? I think not.

(Not that I’m not happy to see you. I’d miss you if you weren’t here. I really would.)

Sometimes I think I really should make a permanent, all-encompassing change in my life and reduce my screen time to, say, an hour a day. But gimme a break. I’m as likely to do that as I am to give up pizza, and I have the thighs to prove it.

I do try to do the next best thing, though. There are quite a few sites out there that allow you to have a positive impact on the world simply by clicking a button. That’s amazing. I can save the world while staying comfortably potatoed on my couch. (Yup. Potato is now a verb. Because I say so.)

What follows are some of my favorite “positive click” sites. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

  • Ecosia. This is a search engine, similar to Google, with an important difference. For every 45 searches you do on Ecosia, they will plant a tree. They’ve planted more than 20 million trees so far. That makes me incredibly happy. So Ecosia is now my default search engine.

  • Free Rice. This is a fun site. You can feed the world while learning things. Basically, you choose a topic, such as English Vocabulary, or World Landmarks, or Language Learning, or SAT Test Preparation, or Human Anatomy, and you’ll then be asked a series of questions. For every question you get right, they donate 10 grains of rice to the World Food Program. 10 grains of rice doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up quickly. So learn stuff and feed people. It’s the ultimate win/win situation!

  • The GreaterGood. I cannot say enough about this site. Everything you do there will have a positive impact. They have various categories, such as Hunger, Breast Cancer, Animals, and Veterans, and if you go to those sections of the site once a day and click, you will be helping these causes, and it won’t cost you a penny. But beware. They also have a store, and it has the coolest clothes and shoes and jewelry that you have ever seen in your life. And when you buy an item, more donations kick in. For example, I bought an awesome jacket, and because of that, they donated 50 bowls of dogfood to an animal shelter. I think about that every time I wear that jacket, and it makes me feel even warmer.

There are all kinds of websites out there that have positive side effects. You just have to look. If you can suggest any other sites of this type, by all means, include them in the comments section, below! And keep on clicking!

make a difference

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