The Time I Toured the Food Bank

It’s funny how you can be so exposed to the community programs in your area but still it washes over you and you don’t notice its impact.

I know about the food bank (who doesn’t?) but what I didn’t know was how to help. What sort of food are they looking for? And why? And who uses the food bank anyway?

Once the opportunity to participate in a campaign looking into these very questions arose I knew I had to do it.

The food bank in my city is located on a main road and is well signed. I haven’t been there before but had no trouble finding it.

I thought it would be pretty straightforward to volunteer at the food bank as part of my education but it didn’t work out. My husband volunteers at a food bank but it only operates one day a week, and during the hours I already work.

But I was not deterred. There’s another food bank near me and they’re open five days a week!

…and open only when I’m already at work. So volunteering was out, but I could still donate.

First, since I wasn’t sure what exactly to do, I went on the food bank’s website. I read page after page of ways I could donate (with food, money, or time) and realized the food bank does so much more than hand out food. They run summer sports programs for kids, nutrition programs, and even a dental clinic.

I found a “what to donate” list, but it was from April so I called the office to see if they had any recent updates. From there I built my shopping list and was off!

I wrote my shopping list for what I wanted to pick up for my food bank donation and also my own fridge. I find I can stick to my budget a lot better when I write a list first.

The top items the food bank in my area needs are rice, peanut butter, and protein drinks.

It seemed easy enough but I always seem to make everything more complicated. First I couldn’t find the protein drinks (they were in the pharmacy) but that was child’s play compared to the peanut butter.

Do you know how many types of peanut butter there are?

Which one is right? After a few minutes of pondering I went with regular. The safe choice.

Not only is peanut butter high in protein but it doesn’t require a fridge or a stove. This ensures families without appliances can still have healthy food options in their diets.

I’ve donated items to the food bank before, but I’ve never gone to the store specifically to purchase items to donate. I felt a joy about the whole thing. I think it was because I was being purposeful, not just clearing out my cupboards and ditching the stuff I was never going to eat anyway.

Also I was looking forward to going to the food bank to make the donation. I had arranged to take some photos and had a few questions to ask while I was there. So I prepared my donation and set off.

Here is a sample of the items I brought to the food bank: Chunky soup, Kraft peanut butter, rice, Boost protein drink, instant noodles, canned tuna.

The first thing I saw was a table filled with produce—I was told they are working with several local farms to provide enough fresh fruit and vegetables for everyone. Along with local produce they also provide recipes so people can learn how to prepare items they may not have tried before. (Great idea!)

For more photos from my day at the food bank visit my Google+ album.

The back store room was filled with cans of food organized and stacked by type. A volunteer showed me how the hampers were packed and why it was important for them to be well-balanced and health-promoting.

I learned there are about 9,000 people (this number includes families) in my area who make use of the food bank, and in the summertime their need increases somewhat because children are out of school and don’t have meal programs in place.

When I phoned to ask what the critical needs were I was told the food bank was completely out of rice. They weren’t exaggerating!

My visit to the food bank was short but I learned a lot. For instance I knew people used the food bank but I did not know it was 9,000. And I did not know how much the food bank adds to a community with programs, education, and community support.

Spending my lunch break at the food bank is one of the most memorable half hours I’ve had in ages. I can’t wait to donate again!

On Writing for Free

I wanted to talk a bit today about writing for free.

Mostly this is on my mind because I hear so many opinions about it. Here’s the story (don’t worry, I’ll keep it short).

A couple years ago I joined Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC…and yes it is fun to say) thinking it was a pretty big step forward to helping me become a “legit” writer. I like being part of a professional association because it helps me take writing seriously. I think before this I was more wishing I was a writer, hoping I could get enough experience for someone to notice me.

One of the first things impressed upon me was about writing for free. I think it’s safe to say the more outspoken members and perhaps even the others feel a professional writer should never write for free, not ever. At least, that’s the party line I heard over and over. But after a couple years I’m hearing a bit more underneath the blanket statement, which leaves me a might confused.

Well, I guess if you’re trading services then it’s alright.

If you’re able to network and get other paying gigs as a result of the free work, then you’re doing yourself a favour.

As long as the person asking you to write isn’t being paid either, it’s probably OK.

You can write for free if you have a time limit and good reasons for doing it.

So…the black and white rules are a bit muddier now.

I should mention I’m a big fan of making money from things I write (I love this guide on how much you should pay a professional writer), and am not advocating writing for free. In fact I agree with the notion that if you work for free then you undermine the industry. However, there are always exceptions.

And that’s where I’m at today.

When I think about writing for free I can’t say I have a firm opinion on it yet. Maybe each situation is different. Or maybe the traditional “you write a story and we’ll buy it from you” model isn’t the only one out there. Maybe there are other ways to make money writing in an…alternative way. You know? Like getting a sponsor, or advertiser, or putting a ton of writing out there aimed at selling a product or service you have. Those also seem like really good ways to make a go of it while not technically writing for free.

Anyway, this was on my mind and I wanted to share about it.

Tasty Cool Drinks for Hot Summer Days

Raspberry Banana Smoothie

Obviously I’m a massive fan of smoothies. Who isn’t these days?

And I thought it was pretty simple…put a bunch of stuff in the blender and bing, bang, boom smoothie. Perfect every time.

However, I am solid proof the smoothie-making process is anything but simple.

I think my mistake is assuming everything that can be blended should be blended. So I ended up throwing everything at risk of spoiling into the concoction.

Generally my smoothies ended up tasting alternately like celery or dirt.

So now I follow recipes. (Lesson learned.)

There are a million places to get frozen blended drink recipes but how do you know which ones are tasty? Don’t worry guys, I’m here to help. My husband and I consider ourselves quite the experts in all things tasty and have given these two our top rating. Of “tasty.”

Frozen Fruit Smoothie

Fruit Smoothie Ingredients

Tasty cool drinks for hot summer days

It’s so simple. SO simple. And yes, tasty. This recipe includes six ingredients.

  • Frozen raspberries
  • Frozen banana
  • Oranges
  • Plain non-fat yogurt
  • Vanilla extract
  • Mint

You can grab the proportions from the link in the recipe title.

I should have had all this on hand but I had to duck out to get…most of the ingredients. But I found the recipe days ago and it just had to be in my belly.

So in my version I used some ice to make up the difference for not freezing the berries and banana.

I thought it was passable but my husband’s friend said it could have been colder. So I will freeze the fruit next time. And then it will be EVEN BETTER!

You may be worried the drink won’t be sweet enough without sugar, honey, or nectar but I can tell you it definitely is. No sugar required.

Quick Iced Coffee

Iced Coffee

I’ve tried to make iced coffee before, and I’m actually semi-surprised I tried again. It hasn’t gone well.

But it’s too hot for hot coffee! And I need coffee.

So we try again.

This recipe is pretty much the perfect way to use up leftover coffee. All you need to do is chill it and you’re good to go. Here are the other ingredients.

  • Ice cubes
  • Protein Drink
  • Mint

Like…yeah I have that on hand!

This drink is probably better if you have a flavoured protein drink—otherwise it’s a bit bitter. Maybe if you don’t have any of that you can add something to sweeten it up, but the point of this drink is to be low fat so if you add sugar it’s kind of defeating the purpose.

I like the protein idea. Haven’t heard of that one before. Anyway, for more detailed instructions just click on the link in the recipe title.

Result? Tasty!

In fact it was so tasty I only got a sip of this one before my drink got hijacked. But don’t worry, I have the recipe bookmarked.

Why Write Book Reviews

I wanted to address the main reasons why I write book reviews. To keep reading, to further my education, and to stay connected to the writing community.

Many of you know I’m trying to make my living as a writer. Like, the professional kind. It’s something I’ve wanted for a long time and am only (really) growing into now.

Part of the reason it’s taking so long is because there is so much to learn. And a larger part of it is because I have a lot of fear associated with the whole thing.

So I’m taking steps to conquer my fear, because I really, really, really love writing.

One of the steps to achieving this goal is by writing book reviews. Here are a few reasons why.

Reviewing books keeps me reading

Hear me out. When you read a book for pleasure what do you do? Maybe you’re resting on the couch, letting the sunbeams lull you into a cozy, dream-like state. (Ahh.) And you read through your book of…OK it’s probably not that deep, let’s just admit it…whatever and have an enjoyable morning. And hopefully you find more moments like these to sprawl and enjoy your time with your little escape-pod of awesomeness. And that’s super!

But where do you go from there?

Nowhere. You either give the book to someone else, or donate it to the thrift store. The book goes away and your relationship with it ends. You find another book and repeat the cycle again.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with consuming words in this way. But for me it stopped working.

I found I couldn’t justify escaping into a book, not when there’s so much else to do, so I stopped reading.

I know, right? Because when you’re a writer you simply must read. Voraciously. A way I found around my problem was to try reviewing books. It got me reading but it also gave me a writing goal—the review. So I was reading, then writing and publishing. Perfect.

My writing improves through composing book reviews

Perhaps this should have been my main reason for getting into book reviewing in the first place but it’s a happy bonus nonetheless. By writing book reviews I have to really think about what I’m reading and form arguments and opinions about the book.

Going through this process it’s safe to say I’m more thoughtful as I read (and more forgiving in some instances). As well it’s helping me notice more. I look deeper into what the author was trying to accomplish with her/his story. I ask more questions: Did s/he have an agenda? Do I agree with the premise? What can I learn from this story?

I write down things I like about how the author forms sentences, or develops characters. And I write down things that don’t work for me.

These lists often end up influencing my writing. Like I said, a happy bonus.

By reviewing books, I’m meeting more writers

Crazy, right? Writers by nature are solitary creatures. They hunker down alone in their dimly-lit offices (well, mine is anyway) and refuse to come out until their deadline is met. Ish.

So imagine connecting with other real-life writers? Wouldn’t that be amazingly social.

If you’re a writer you know how difficult it is to talk about writing with non-writers. Because people who don’t write don’t get it. And that’s OK. But you need someone to talk to and that someone is probably another writer.

It was what I needed, anyway. And I found by reviewing books I was starting to hear from writers through Twitter and Goodreads. They’d ask me about the book I read, or thank me for reviewing their book (gasp!). I started meeting people and eventually have joined communities of writers. People just like me!

I love my friends, but having a community of like-minded people to talk through writing stuff with has really upped my game. And I have book reviewing to thank (in part) to that.

This list is incomplete but I wanted to address the main reasons why I write book reviews since I’ve had a few questions in that arena. Sure I want to expose readers to new books and help authors further their careers but neither are my motivation behind taking the time to do this. Mostly, I’m doing it for me. To keep reading, to further my education, and to stay connected to the writing community.

Pin it! Why write book reviews

This list is incomplete but I wanted to address the main reasons why I write book reviews since I’ve had a few questions in that arena. Sure I want to expose readers to new books and help authors further their careers but neither are my motivation behind taking the time to do this. Mostly, I’m doing it for me. To keep reading, to further my education, and to stay connected to the writing community.

The Sky Beneath My Feet [Book Review]

The Sky Beneath My Feet

The Sky Beneath My Feet by Lisa Samson

Here’s the tag line, which kept me reading the description of Lisa Samson’s The Sky Beneath My Feet: Being married to a saint isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

And here’s the description, which made me request this book.

“Beth’s husband won’t be joining the family on vacation at the beach this year. He’s not even joining them in the house. Instead, Rick has holed up alone in the backyard shed. Nobody knows exactly what he’s up to. Maybe he’s immersing himself in prayer. Maybe he’s lost his mind. Maybe he’s even the modern-day prophet or the saint the neighborhood artist imagines him to be. But while ‘St. Rick’ waits for an epiphany, Beth will have to figure out what to do with herself and their teenage sons, possibly for the rest of her life.”

Even though I don’t directly relate to this description—on any level—I was intrigued by the premise. This lady’s husband went to live in the yard? How ridiculous!

And I have to say, the first 12 chapters held my interest. Beth, the protagonist, is married to a pastor but isn’t the way I have experienced/imagined pastor’s wives to be. She’s relateable, funny, sarcastic, and even irreverent. She also uses hip phrases like “Confession:” and interacts with Christian swag ironically. So I felt a bit kindred with her, despite having nothing in common.

The supporting characters in the book were (for the most part) interesting as well. Some were more interesting than others but all had a few ounces of crazy in them to make sure not even one character was normal. Maybe that’s true about all of us, I don’t know. But after a while I started hating how “quirky” everyone was. In their own unique way of course.

The quirkiest character of them all was St. Rick, who bailed on real life in favour of hanging out in the shed. The book makes it feel like it was for ages but when I went back and checked this all took place over a span of three weeks.

And then I thought, OK I’ve gone without my husband for three weeks before and my life doesn’t fall apart. In fact three weeks is not very long at all. So, what’s wrong with this lady? Does she have ZERO identity or personality outside of her husband?

So by chapter 12 I began to turn on Beth. Her constant whining about her situation no longer inspired support—in fact it inspired eye rolling—and I found myself yelling at my e-reader “Just go to Florida already, stop WHINING about it!”

Oh yeah, for some reason her reluctance to go for a 12-hour drive to Florida was a major story line in this book, although I cannot figure out why it was so important. Sure she had an epiphany while there but could that have happened somewhere else? Yes, I think so.

But before I get too mean, I have to say apart from a few problems in the plot it was a good read for the most part. The writing is tight, and I usually knew who was speaking (although sometimes I do need a name attached to a sentence, especially when there are four people in a conversation) and understood the underlying motives behind character’s actions.

As well it was a quick read. I think it took me three days and I probably would have got through it faster if I had stayed engaged past chapter 12.

For me the real tragedy in this story is when Beth begins dealing with her feelings of being robbed of her hopes/dreams it really doesn’t go anywhere. She states the feelings, then the story reconciles and is wrapped up neatly with a bow. Literally everything was wrapped up with a bow. It happened quickly and after a couple hundred pages of build-up the end was a complete anti-climax.

Also you have to have some basic knowledge of Quakers if you’re going to bond with Beth. I have zero knowledge apart from the picture of that guy on the oats but Beth never tells me what a Quaker is, let alone why it causes friction between her and St. Rick, or why it makes her different. No reference point.

Anyway, so I did enjoy the book but feel it wrapped up too quickly, and too neatly.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review.