putting our money where our heart is

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A Meal In Their Shoes


“There is no darkness but ignorance.” William Shakespeare

For Christmas, one of the gifts I gave to my husband was a date night at Dark Table restaurant. Dining at Dark Table happens ENTIRELY in the dark. The darkness is absolute and more surprising than I could have ever expected.

I imagined being completely focused on the food placed before me, trying to identify it first by smell and and then by taste. I pictured an experience where the act of eating, something I often do mindlessly in front of the TV or computer, would be one that reminded me what I take for granted about food and the pleasure you gain from it when you take the time to truly appreciate the talents of a good chef.

Dark Table certainly offered that experience but it also offered a taste of something else – something completely extraordinary that I could never have anticipated – a glimpse into the world of blindness.

Before entering the restaurant, we ordered our meal outside in a heated and lit area. Two courses of the meal would be a surprise but we could chose our main. We were introduced to our server, Rose, who is blind, as are all of the servers there. Rose asked us to form a single file line behind her, placing our left hand on the left shoulder of the person in front. We first entered an enclosed foyer and only after the outside door was completely closed so no light could penetrate the darkness, we entered the restaurant relying on Rose to guide us to our table.

Arriving at our table after a shuffling of small, tentative steps and some disorienting turns, Rose placed my hand on the back of my chair and I felt the edges to figure out which way it was facing and how to sit down. She led Carlo to the rest-rooms and while I was there alone, I explored the table. It was round with a table cloth and another smaller, frilly-edged cloth. There was no glassware yet, just our plates with a napkin, a single serve butter packet and a knife and fork on either side. As I waited for Carlo I struggled to identify whether I did indeed have some limited vision or if the light shapes I was seeing were merely retinal afterimages.

I recognized Carlo’s voice in the darkness and as they returned I felt relieved to have them back with me. Rose ensured we knew where to find everything we would need and soon returned with fresh baked bread. If I could only smell one thing for the rest of my life, it might be this. I brought my bread to my face and smelled it for an inordinately long period of time – a pleasure I would have denied myself in a lit restaurant.

With butter inevitably on both our bread and our hands, Carlo and I shared our initial reactions to the restaurant. We both felt a heightened sense of alertness and laughed when we realized we were unable to sit back and relax in our chairs. We were both leaning forward over the table, in a state of constant anticipation of when the other might say something. With no visual cues, it took a bit of time to develop a comfortable pace of conversation. We had to make adjustments like enunciating more clearly and helping each other to know that what we said was heard and understood by placing a deliberate “oh” or “ok” or “wow” as appropriate when the other finished saying something.

I felt as though I had to be ready for anything because I had no way of telling what was going on around me. I didn’t know how big the restaurant was, how many people or tables there were or where the walls were. We were regularly surprised by other guests bumping into us as they were led past by their servers. All the times Rose checked on our table, I didn’t once hear her approach and her voice beside us was always a surprise. Luckily a pleasant one as Rose was a lovely person. Still, your body responds to so much unknown in ways you can’t control – you may find your first response is fear.

“Fear causes the organism to seek safety and may cause a release of adrenaline, which has the effect of increased strength and heightened senses such as hearing, smell, and sight.”
Wikipedia on self-preservation

A friend who’d been to the restaurant before me said, “It freaked me out and I had to leave half-way through the meal.” At the time, I couldn’t understand how the darkness could freak you out that much but as I sat in the restaurant, the retinal afterimages now gone, truly understanding that I couldn’t see a damn thing, adrenaline coursing through my body, floating in a sea of utter blackness, I too was a little freaked out.

There was a large group of people to my right. At least, they sounded like a large group but could have been only four people. I marveled at how relaxed and jovial they were and decided that we must come to the restaurant again because knowing what to expect, we might enjoy it even more the second time around. At times, their raucous laughter was jarring and distracting and made it difficult to hear Carlo – something I found a bit stressful as I also couldn’t see him.

I kept feeling a need to reach out to Carlo to regain a sense of how far away he was. While any light producing devices are forbidden, and in fact one guest was asked to put his phone away, Carlo would push his sleeve back and reveal the glow-in-the-dark hands on his watch and this gave us both a bit of comfort – being able to confirm that we could still actually see. At one point I even felt a bit sad but at the same time, talking through all of this with Carlo, we found ourselves on conversational journeys that were among the most stimulating and interesting we’ve ever had. While coping with this feeling of vulnerability, able to vocalize it and process it intellectually, I forged ahead as above all else, the main feeling I had was excitement.

I won’t tell you what our surprise starter was because I’d love for everyone who reads this to go there and wouldn’t want to spoil it! My main dish was ravioli in a cream sauce with some kind of cheese stuffing and an herb I couldn’t recognize. It smelled and tasted amazing but without my sight, I had trouble pinning down all of the ingredients. I was happy with my choice as the ravioli was easy to stab with my fork and perfect bite sizes so it wasn’t too messy. Carlo ordered a stuffed chicken with seasonal vegetables and potatoes. He had a little more trouble with his dish, even though the chicken was sliced. We used our hands a lot and needed more napkins from Rose – her most popular request.

Our dessert was also a surprise and if I hadn’t asked at the end of our meal, I never would have known what it was because we both guessed wrong! We were very close but we could tell we were off a bit. Combining my guess with his, the result would be closer to what it actually was but we were still missing some key flavours. Despite not knowing exactly what it was, it too was delicious.

After dinner, I called out for Rose, as was the protocol, and asked if she could lead me to the ladies room. As we walked, Rose asked how we were enjoying the experience. I told her that I was finding it absolutely amazing. There were so many things that I’d never thought of before that people without sight must experience. Rose replied, “Thank you for saying that. A lot of people don’t even know we’re blind.”

I asked if Dark Table was connected to a charity and Rose told me that they are a business but that there was a fundraiser there recently that raised a lot of money for the blind. She also said that a program called CareerConnect Canada (a program through the Canadian National Institute for the Blind) helps to find employment for blind people at places like Dark Table.

“With an unemployment rate of 70%, the blind face obvious challenges in a society that is preoccupied with visual communication, but in a dark dining environment, the tables are turned—the non-sighted servers guide the sighted.”
O’Noir website

My research at home revealed that Dark Table is owned by Moe Alameddine whose two similar restaurants in Toronto and Montreal, O’Noir, share profits “to support local associations that serve blind and visually impaired people of all ages.”

I would definitely recommend supporting the CNIB with a donation but of course, they also have volunteer opportunities and other ways to get involved.

When I thought of blindness before, I thought mainly of the barriers to mobility, of my love of visual art and how much I would miss it, and of difficulties finding work and making a living. Now, what strikes me the most is wondering if blind people ever really get over that sense of fear in public places. I can’t quite imagine ever getting so used to it that it wouldn’t bother me at all though I can see how you would have to learn to cope with it in order to live your life. I think the hardest thing for me would be feeling vulnerable.

I can’t tell you how Rose feels but I can tell you that she was young and beautiful, she had a lovely gentle voice and she was a fantastic guide. When we began the experience I admitted to her that I was a little nervous but mostly excited.  We were already in the dark at that point.  Rose said she was excited for us and I could tell she was smiling and genuine when she said it.  At the end of the night, I thanked her and again told her how much I enjoyed it.

As we walked away and said goodbye to Rose, she waved at us.  Carlo waved back and instantly realized she couldn’t see his wave.  She slipped back inside the restaurant and we walked on, eyes wide, soaking in the sights of the street and indeed the entire world, once again available to us.


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Where is your heart today?


My dad, who we lost to Cancer on November 27, 2001.

Since I started this blog I have been keeping notes on news and information about various charities and this week there were so many things to make note of!

Just now, I read that the remaining members of the band Pussy Riot, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, were released from jail.  They weren’t due out till March so it is possible this is being done to improve Russia’s public profile in advance of the Winter Olympics in February.  I’m happy for them and I can’t help but wonder, will they continue to express their political views?  Will they stay in Russia?  This article on CBC’s website said that, ”Tolokonnikova said that she and Alekhina will set up a human rights group to help prisoners.”  I am looking forward to hearing more about them in the future. What does this have to do with Pink Monday?  Well, I was thinking about Amnesty International and all the work they have been doing to help political prisoners including Pussy Riot.  Quite worthy if you are looking for a charity to support this Christmas.

Yesterday I volunteered at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre with my friend Angela.  We set up a Christmas crafts table and were there for 2 hours.  About 7 women came and went from our table.  Some sat wordlessly and colored.  Some didn’t stop talking!  I helped one woman make a Christmas card.  I helped her to spell “Year” and “Daughter”.  She broke my heart a little.  While I was there, a woman came into the centre wailing and needing comfort from the staff.  From what we could glean, she had been threatened by a dealer who was going to cut off all her hair as punishment and to send a message to others about not paying back your drug debts. The workers there really are on the “front lines”.  The centre has a shelter and showers.  I saw meals handed out.  I saw a mountain of gifts in the office downstairs, and was told another truck-load was coming for the women on Christmas day.  I saw a table full of loaves of bread for the taking and another full of scarves and hats.  A truck came by and gave out winter coats to anyone who needed them.  I had to tiptoe down one hallway because there was a room where a yoga class was in session. At our crafts table, I made origami Christmas boxes and Angela colored a mandala.  I thought about how the crafts were meditative and calming and how maybe just a few minutes of that could be enough to offer a bit of peace to someone who was having a bad day. If you’re interested in supporting them, check out their website. They may still need food items for the holidays and you can call them at 604-681-8480 x 226 to find out what hasn’t been donated yet.  If you keep receipts, you’ll get a tax receipt for spending over $20.  They are also trying to build up contacts in the food industry who might be willing to donate so if you know anyone, ask them if they’d be interested in connecting with the centre.

Perhaps you heard a news story last week about Tom Christ?  He’s from Calgary and he won $40 Million dollars last May and he’s donating every penny! He’s kept it quiet till now, he didn’t even tell his kids, but Lotto Max wanted their publicity so the news is out. He was golfing when he heard the news and he said he knew immediately where the money was going. Two years ago, he lost his wife to cancer.  She was young and fought cancer for 6 years but in the end it took her from Tom and their children. It was difficult listening to the emotion in Tom’s voice as he talked about losing his wife. He never wanted all this media attention.  He said there were a lot of charities he wants to give to and get his kids involved with. He plans to give most of the money to the Cancer Society because of how close he is to the cause.

It’s a cause I’m rather close to myself. I’ve lost many family members and friends to cancer so I guess it’s appropriate that I’ve recently signed on to a new temporary part-time job at the Canadian Cancer Society.  I’ll be telerecruiting volunteers for the Daffodil Campaign in April. I’ll also be supporting them with a donation at that time.

Today’s post is dedicated to the loved ones I’ve lost: My dad, Willard Olson, my Grandma, Dagmar Hermanutz, my Auntie, Phyllis Dzus, friends, Tim King and Rona Castagnier, and to all the wonderful survivors I have in my life who might not be here today if it weren’t for the research dollars donated by people all over the world. Thank you!

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Micro-Lending with Kiva

This is the Bethleem 2.1 Group I chose for my 2nd Kiva loan:  Edoxie, Ida, Eléonore, Marie Noëlle, Bricia, Isabelle, Chouchouna, Valerie and  Carlène

This year I wanted to celebrate Christmas in my family a little differently.  I asked for donations made in my name instead of gifts.  I also decided to give back something that would promote philanthropy and further involvement in charity with my family members.  I sent them Kiva gift cards. Through Kiva, they can provide a micro-loan, providing opportunities that alleviate poverty to people all over the world.  

You can choose any date you want them to receive the gift confirmation so I chose Christmas eve, because in my family, that’s when we have always opened our gifts. I was able to do four gifts in one transaction and they will each receive their own separate email and Kiva Card. I chose the same amount for all so that made it easy. If you are giving different amounts, you will need to do separate transactions.

Now each of them can browse through all the different individuals and groups who are asking for micro-loans, and they can choose who to give to.  If the lendee they chose is successful with their venture, the loan will be paid back and they can re-lend to someone else in the future.  It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

I’ve given my own micro-loan too.  It’s my second one.  The first one I gave to a woman in Tanzania who was using it to buy cattle. This time I’m giving a little more and lending to a group from Brazzaville, Congo.  One of the leaders of the group, Edoxie, is the leader of this nine member micro-entrepreneur group. She sells fish and her goal is to diversify the quality and variety of fish to attract more customers and grow her business. Her future plans are to become a wholesaler and save money for her children.

I found this group by using the Kiva filters – I chose to give to women, then a group, then to those in an area of conflict. Their are many attributes to help narrow down your lending interests such as youth, water and sanitation, job creation or fair trade.  You can also chose a sector such as agriculture, construction, retail or health (among others).

“Knowing that someone out there wishes the best for you is enough to give you drive to achieve your dream.” – Sammy, a Kiva borrower in Kenya.

Sammy’s sentiments are reflected in the repayment rate – an astounding 99.01%  Here’s a cute little animated video that explains how micro-lending works:

Try it!  – browse through the available loans and read some of the success stories.  Maybe there’s still someone on your Christmas list who would be the perfect recipient for a Kiva gift card.

Happy Holidays!


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My Favourite Charity Hubs

Support charity in honour of a loved one this Christmas and don't leave the comfort of your own home!

Support charity in honour of a loved one this Christmas and don’t leave the comfort of your own home!

The greatest thing about giving to a charity in honour of a loved one is you can wait till the last minute!  I’m doing a bit of both this year for my family but to send the real presents on time out of province, I had to finish all my shopping, wrapping and parcelling this weekend.  I did it!  I’m ready!  It’s going to the post office today.  Whew!

So if you ask someone else to give to charity in your name, you’re giving them a gift too – the gift of time!!!  The gift of not having to compete with the other holiday shoppers and stand in long lines!  The gift of never even having to step foot in a post office!  The gift of not driving around for 28 minutes just looking for parking!

But where to start?  I wanted my family to choose a charity on their own so I didn’t give too much direction.  I thought it might be helpful though if I posted links to a few websites that are charity hubs – that represent a variety of causes where you can browse, as if in a virtual charity mall, to find the cause that you think will be the best fit.  This list includes Canadian specific sites and some from other countries as well. I’ve used many of these sites and some were referred.  None are from a random google search.  Though you can try that too!

I know there are more than these so if you know of some great ones, please let me know! Like this page sent to me by my friend Rayna.  It’s an article in Best Health Magazine about gifts that help others.

Happy Shopping!

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Giving Tuesday

This Pink Monday post is in honour of Giving Tuesday which is on December 3, 2013.

ImageWhat is Giving Tuesday?  According to their website, “It is a new Canadian movement for giving and volunteering, taking place each year after Cyber Monday. The “Opening day of the giving season,” it is a day where charities, companies and individuals join together to share commitments, rally for favourite causes and think about others.”

Let’s get back to that – first I have to Google “Cyber Monday”! Did you know it was Cyber Monday today?

Ok, thanks for waiting.  According to Wikipedia, “The term “Cyber Monday” was created by marketing companies to persuade people to shop online.” Ah, I thought so.

Now, back to Giving Tuesday (I’m learning a lot doing this blog!).  Giving Tuesday was launched last year in the US.  I’m blatantly copying and pasting here because there was an excellent question in the FAQ section, “Did Giving Tuesday make a difference last year?”  And the somewhat astounding answer to that question:  “Over 2,500 partners came together for the inaugural GivingTuesday in the US in 2012. The movement got national awareness, recognition and endorsements from The White House, Bill Gates and the Clinton Foundation. Online giving increased 50% year-on-year, based on data from Blackbaud, Network for Good, and DonorPerfect. The movement was heralded as the “Social Innovation of the Year” by and “One of Five Philanthropy High Points in 2012” by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.”

One word – WOW.

What about in Canada?  Ya, you bet.  “GivingTuesday was started in Canada by a group of organizations including GIV3,, and now includes 15 founding partners.”

What can you do?  Well, GIVE of course, but not everyone is in a position to do that.  You can also volunteer or how about considering becoming a Social Media Ambassador.  Or just help spread the word!

Happy Pink Monday and don’t forget tomorrow is Giving Tuesday.  🙂