March Break starts on the 13th, and parents who forgot to register for day camp are now racking their brains for ways to keep the kids happily occupied all week. Here on the East Coast, we had a dress rehearsal for the break in mid-February when a winter’s worth of snow got dumped on us over several days, cancelling school and releasing an avalanche of “What are we doing today?” heard across the region. We should therefore be ready for the real break… but are we?

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World Water Day, March 22, is an excellent time to reflect on how much our survival as a species is connected to the fate of this precious resource.

Water is threatened on all sides by pollution, privatization, and industrial and domestic overuse, yet we often treat it as though it were a limitless commodity, a kind of earth-abuse that will come back to haunt us and our descendants for years to come.

Wanting to shrink our ungainly eco-footprint with respect to water, my family has been able to reduce its water intake to about one-quarter of the Canadian national average. Between October of 2015 and October 2016, our most recent annual water billing period, we have averaged around 250 litres per day–in our household of three people, or just over 80 litres per person per day (by comparison, a March 18, 2009 National Post story states the average single Canadian and American uses about 340 litres per day).

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This past holiday Monday, I and a group of friends and family held a fundraising dinnerat my son’s school in support of two organizations supporting human rights and immigrant settlement in our community. Our goal was to make a dish from each of the seven countries on the current US travel ban (Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, Syria and Libya).

I’m happy to report that we sold all 50 tickets to the event, and raised over $1000.00 in support of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia.

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Last week, I attended a roundtable discussion on the topic of food waste, one of the great shames of modern life. Every year, 28% of the food produced worldwide is wasted; the land mass needed to grow that amount of food would cover China and Mongolia. Worse still, much of the food we throw away will end up in a landfill rather than as beneficial compost (except in fortunate municipalities where composting is mandated). A whopping 47% of wasted food occurs after purchase, which means we consumers are responsible for the bulk of tossed edible items, some of which are still perfectly safe to eat.

This needs to change.

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…A whole lot of “news” is inaccurate, urgently negative, and/or horrific, much like the ingredients in processed food, and many of us feel torn between our desire to remain well-informed about current events and our need to maintain our emotional equilibrium. This is not a selfish impulse—if we are flattened by despair, how can we act to better our world? There’s a reason airline passengers with dependents are instructed to put on their own oxygen masks before helping others with theirs, in the event of emergency.

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There are some books that seem to provide us with the warmth we need when the temperature drops outside, often in the form of memorable descriptions of food. I often search the bookshelves for them in the winter, especially on snow days, which provide the perfect backdrop for a cozy read-aloud with a child. Here are a few favorites to look for on your own snow-day trip to the library or bookstore:

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When my kid started school this fall, I came face to face with a challenge experienced by all parents of young, school-aged children: what the heck am I supposed to give him/her for lunch every day?

As with many first-world parenting issues, this one should really be no big deal. So why is it many of my parent acquaintances find themselves rummaging through their cupboards at 7 a.m. on a Monday morning, searching for snack crackers through clenched teeth while their offspring whine, “Are you giving me celery sticks AGAIN?”

I remember primary orientation day at school mostly for the terrifying directive given by our son’s friendly and well-organized young teacher: “Please send a healthy lunch and two healthy snacks to school every day in non-disposable containers. We want to reduce waste as much as possible, so no juice boxes or other packaging. And no sweets.”

I quickly realized how spoiled we had become during our kid’s preschool years, with its supplied lunches and snacks; back then, I barely registered what he ate between breakfast and supper since his food needs were being so seamlessly attended to.

It was the dawn of an uncomfortable new era.

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If you know me, you know that I have a kid who hates public toilets. They’re loud, unpredictable, and ubiquitous; try going on a trip without visiting one (sadly, we have).

With my five-year-old’s aversion showing no signs of abating, I decided to write a children’s book about a public toilet that swallowed a swimming pool, to help us all laugh about his dislike. It’s called The Big Flush, and I get my first look at its printed self next week!

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They’re the things we keep carefully wrapped and stored away all year in basements and attics.

They once belonged to our parents, grandparents, or us when we were tiny; though battered and aged, these objects glow with the luminescence of decades’ worth of Christmas memories. They are our time capsules, instantly transporting us back a generation or more to our childhood when we waited breathlessly, sleeplessly for Santa to arrive.

The stories attached to Christmas objects are part of their hold on us. Here are three of mine:

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In my twenties, I was a Master’s student in the University of Toronto’s Medieval Studies program (having realized the intense market demand for medievalists—ha!).

I discovered that I studied at the same library that housed a truly ambitious project, the Dictionary of Old English, which was in the process of documenting every known use of every word in the Old English language for future generations of scholars.  Like medieval monastics, the compilers of the dictionary gathered in their scriptorium atop U of T’s flagship Robarts Library and laboured for hours, sifting through obscure texts that most people have never heard of, in search of words. When I graduated in the spring of 2000, the project, begun nearly twenty years previously, had just published the letter E.

Two weeks ago, a friend sent me a notification that the dictionary committee was pleased to present its latest published letter: H.

Sixteen years; two letters.

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