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A year of lunches

7 Feb

Lunch with Mary Final

Photo credit: Carolyn Thrasher

I’ve decided to, just this once, stray from my regular blog posting format and take a moment to look back at an awesome year of lunches.

I started this blog one year ago with my first post about my good friend, and at the time new mom, Ali Piazza Kaniouras. When I started, I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I figured my friends would stop by my site, my family would definitely read it, and that was about it.

Never in a million years did I think that not only would my friends and family read it, but complete strangers. I have met people who know my blog but not me. So weird! And never did I ever think NOW Magazine would care about my blog.

So first things first, I need to thank a whole lot of people:

When I started this blog, I never knew how much I would actually learn (and how much I would love doing it). Of course, I am learning all of the stuff that I post on the site, but also (and I might get a bit cheesy here) I grew a lot through the process. I really stepped out of my comfort zone. Approaching complete strangers, asking them for lunch and then getting the nerve to actually GO on the lunches. Some of the people I took out are a bit intimidating given their tremendous successes.

The Lunch it forward section of my blog has been an insightful glimpse into the minds of my lunch guests, as well as readers – hearing who they would want to take out for their dream lunch. I hope that conversation continues into year two.

I have also learned a lot about the world of social media and blogging. And it’s this knowledge that has helped me be recognized at work and led to me being invited to Vancouver to work during the Olympic Games. I can’t wait!

So I turn 30 in a week. Yikes. So that gives me one more year to get my lunch with Paul Krugman, squeeze in as many lunches as I can and maybe take this lunch blog thing on the road!

Doctors without Borders and CAMH Psychiatrist Dr. Steven Cohen

10 Dec

Lunch with Mary 027

Date of lunch:
Thursday, December 10, 2009

The company:
Dr. Steven Cohen is a psychiatrist at CAMH (the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) in Toronto. He has also worked with Doctors without Borders in both Chad and Sudan. He recently, as in last week, returned from Ethiopia where he was working with TAAPP. My friend Sham works with him at CAMH and when she found out that I wanted to take out someone who has worked with Doctors without Borders, she helped me to get in touch with Steven.

The food:
We ate at Swan Restaurant on Queen West near Ossington. I have been to this place once before a few years ago and was pretty disappointed but was much more pleased this time. The food was great! I had the clubhouse with avocado inside – a golden sandwich ingredient. The one thing that was weird was that the sandwich did not come with a side, unless you count two cucumber slices and two olives as a side. I could have used some mixed greens, just saying. Steven had the hot plate special which seemed to be a salad with Portobello mushroom and goat’s cheese, yum! We both drank water and Steven had a coffee. The total bill was $28 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
I think the lesson from today’s lunch wasn’t exactly something specific but more that it is really refreshing to speak to someone who has dedicated their lives to helping others and who is pretty selfless. I get very upset about the way women are treated in many countries around the world but I still don’t go out and change things on the ground like Steven does. It’s very admirable and makes me want to commit to trying harder to make a difference.

The lunch:
I was very excited for this lunch. I am a long time donor to Doctors without Borders, it’s one of my favourite charities and I think they do amazing work. But the work that Steven does in Toronto is pretty fascinating as well. He is currently a Fellow in the University of Toronto Forensic Psychiatry Fellowship.

What this means is that he works with people with mental illnesses that are in the criminal system, like Dr. Elizabeth Olivet from Law & Order (incase you can’t place that reference, neither could Steven but I’m pretty sure it’s similar). Yesterday, he spent the day at Penetangishene Prison, checking out the facility and meeting with prisoners.

Before moving to Toronto and very soon after graduating Steven applied to Doctors without Borders and was soon off to Chad for 6 months. Steven was the Mental Health Officer for the Farchana Project, providing services on the eastern border of Chad. You should definitely check out his blog from his time there. Shortly after returning, he went to Sudan for two months working in the refugee camps.

In his work with TAAPP (a collaboration between the University of Toronto and Addis Ababa University Departments of Psychiatry), he went to the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, to train doctors there to be psychiatrists in order to help people with mental illnesses that are currently not getting the care they need. The goal of TAAPP is to “produce a workable, effective model for accelerating the creation of medical specialists in Ethiopia”.

A WHO study from 2006 quoted on the TAAPP website found that “while the African continent bears 24% of the global burden of disease it has only 3% of the world’s health workforce and less than 1% of the world’s financial resources for health.” This emphasizes why organizations like Doctors without Borders are so necessary but also shows that the training work that Steven did that is pushing Ethiopia towards becoming self-sustainable when it comes to mental health care is an important long term goal.

I have seen in the news that foreign aid workers have been targeted by kidnappers in Sudan. I asked Steven if he was scared and he said that he knew it was a risk but he was okay. He then asked me if I have ever considered doing this type of international work. First I said that I wasn’t a doctor. He then explained to me that there are other jobs with Doctors without Borders that deal with the logistics. Then I told him I was too chicken. I am not proud of it but I honestly think I am too afraid to travel to places where foreign aid workers are the target of kidnappings. That is why I have so much admiration for the people that do it.

Steven told me that his mom didn’t talk to him for three days after he told her he was going to Sudan just after returning safely from Chad. My mom would do the same I am sure.

It was a great lunch. As soon as I left, I realized that I barely scratched the surface of all that I wanted to learn. But I am grateful for the conversation we had and I look forward to hearing about where Steven goes next.

New mom Ali Piazza Kaniouras and baby Evan

6 Feb


Date of lunch:

Sunday, February 1, 2009


The company:

One of my dearest friends from high school who is a brand new mom! Her beautiful and amazing son Evan was born in August. I thought taking Ali out for lunch would be a great chance to hear what it’s like to be a mom for the first time. And Evan came too – although he quietly slept the whole time in his stroller. Did I mention he’s amazing?


The food:

We went to Soho Bistro at Yonge and Lawrence in Toronto. Ali had a chicken quesadilla and I had the turkey bacon club on focaccia, both meals with mixed greens and I had a coffee. The meals looked amazing when they were served but we both thought it was a bit bland – needed a bit more spice, flavor or sauce of some sort – I’m not a chef so I don’t know what exactly was missing but it was something. Total bill with tax: $27


The lunch:

I have known Ali since the very first day of grade 9 (I seem to remember she was wearing overalls – Osh Kosh pinstripe) but I have never quite seen her in this light. She is so happy and at peace. Ali has always been a positive person but I think Evan has just put her over the edge to where she has found true happiness – as a long time friend, it’s a great thing to see.


But I did get to hear how being a new mom comes with challenges. Little baby Evan wakes up about every two hours EVERY night so Ali has not slept a night through in five months. He also tooted on my leg – but I was cool with it, the smelly bugger! Ali mentioned that everyone told her that her life would totally change when she had the baby. I have heard this too from many women at my work. Obviously her life has changed in that she’s on mat leave and almost all her time is dedicated to taking care of Evan but she seems to have taken the change in stride and the adjustment hasn’t been as life altering as she had anticipated. Ali knows that this may change once Evan starts crawling… and then walking!


When Ali first found out she was pregnant, she said the wave of emotion she felt was something she had never experienced before – joy, fear, anxiety, anticipation all rolled into one. But as she went through the pregnancy and right into the 18!! hours of labour – she said she was just amazed at her own body. I remember seeing her at about 8 months and I couldn’t get over her belly! So round and awesome – I could even feel his feet.


Ali’s parents live in Ottawa so I wanted to know if it was hard to be a new mom without her mom around. Us both being from Ottawa and living in Toronto, it is likely something I will deal with when I am a new mom (yikes – that is scary even to write!!). She does try to see her mom and visit Ottawa or vice versa when possible and her husband’s family is in town so that makes it easier. But I know I call my mom sometimes to remind me how long it takes to boil an egg so I am sure I will miss my mom and wish she was around more to check out a weird sounding sneeze or red cheeks or anything.


Ali has a glow about her and hanging out with her is like a breath of fresh air – her positivity is contagious. And I am so happy to have met Evan because now I just want to spoil him, hang with him and Ali and watch him grow up.



Evan and I – so smiley!