A family of six can feel like a crowded place. At any given moment, someone is liable to be touching your stuff, eating the last of the good cereal or using the bathroom when you need it. As the youngest of my siblings, I was always wedged between Mom and Dad on the bench seat at the front of the car—and if we ever had to give a lift to a friend or pick up family from the airport, I was relegated to someone's lap or the hump in front of the middle backseat.
Danielle Dudtschak can relate. "There are so many of us, you're never alone—which is great, but, sometimes, it can be awful," observes the recent high school grad and eldest of four kids in her family of six.
At least, that's how she felt before travelling to India's crowded Rajasthan region with her parents, twin brothers and younger sister last Christmas on a volunteer trip with Me to We, the Canadian organization affiliated with Free the Children. Me to We's mandate is to spark positive change, both at home and internationally, by shifting "me" thinking to "we" thinking. It was the Toronto family's first experience of Indian culture and first volunteer trip together. "In India," Danielle quips, "you're never alone—ever." Roughly one-third the square footage of Canada, India has 36 times our population. The Dudtschaks watched in worried awe as motorcycles zoomed past carrying four or even five passengers apiece. Even the cows became too numerous for them to count.
The culture shock was exactly what they had hoped for.
Like other families who sign up for volunteer trips with Me to We, the Dudtschaks were looking for more than a vacation. Says Danielle's father, Kirk: "My wife, Rosemary, and I knew we were fortunate as a family, and always talked about doing something that helped the kids see the broader world—both to appreciate how blessed they are and to cause them to want to make the world a better place."
Typically, the cost of the nine-day trip starts at $3,200 per person, not including airfare from Canada to Delhi (or to a destination in Kenya or Ecuador). It's certainly not in everyone's budget, but families can fundraise to pay their passage.
The Dudtschaks' nine-day trip gave them the opportunity to see the India of their pop-culture references, including a guided tour of the spice market in Delhi that made them feel like they'd jumped into a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, as well as up-close encounters with the people and problems of rural Rajasthan. Kirk recalls visiting Kalthana Primary School: "As we went marching in, I was watching a woman washing her clothes on the stone by the pond, and an ox turn the waterwheel, bringing up water from the hand-dug well. Then, my little buddy from the school grabbed my hand and walked with us up to the schoolyard. For me, up until that point of our trip, it had been as if we were experiencing the culture through the windshield of a car."
It was in the schoolyard that my 13-year-old daughter, Bronwyn, and I first really met the Dudtschaks. (We'd officially met at breakfast in Delhi the day before, but we were pretty jet-lagged after travelling first on an overnight flight from Toronto to Zurich, where we spent six hours on a stopover, then catching another plane from Zurich to Delhi and, finally, crashing in bed at 3 a.m. local time.) The trip facilitators had given us little Hindi phrase books, but, face-to-face with the schoolkids we'd each been paired with, the foreign words flew out of our heads. No matter: Most of the kids knew a few words of English, and we relied on pantomime to communicate the rest. "Phone!" was a popular request, and we marvelled at the ease with which these kids could navigate our iPhones and Samsungs. "Games?" asked my little friend, a girl with cropped hair held back by a barrette. No games on my phone. The best substitute I could offer was the notes app and my emojis. "I don't have any games, either," said a boy who turned out to be Danielle's brother Justin. "But I just showed my buddy the calculator, and it's blowing his mind!"
The community requires a well-equipped senior school for kids to move on to, and helping rebuild and refurbish the existing Verdara High School was one of our tasks. The dozen or so families on the trip divided into groups by task: Bronwyn went off to paint murals in one of the finished buildings, while I decided I was better suited to laying bricks and hauling "masala"—the local term for mortar, because it's a mix, or "masala," of cement, sand and water. It was dusty, sweaty work but also satisfying to see our progress day by day.
As we became more familiar with our surroundings and the work that needed to be done in the community, our Me to We facilitators offered us other activity options—Bollywood dance lessons, an Indian cooking class—but many of us, including the Dudtschaks, kept returning to the school construction site. Looking back, Kirk says that choice is what makes him most proud. "Of all the things we could have done, the kids wanted to continue to go back to the school because they were getting such a sense of accomplishment from building the wall."
Kirk and his family are already talking about their next volunteer trip. As he puts it, "If you want an experience that will bring your family together, help you realize how blessed and fortunate you are and help you feel like you can make a difference in other people's lives—and come back feeling all that much more blessed and fortunate—it's pretty incredible.
Local girls dressed in traditional garb to perform for the Me to We group visiting Kalthana Primary School in Rajasthan.
The author and her daughter Bronwyn join the group on a surprise camel ride.
Kids in the Me to We group try their hand—literally—at turning a waterwheel in the village.
The author lays bricks at a school construction site.
The local schoolkids are fascinated with visitors' phones.
Danielle Dudtschak follows the steps of the "water walk," which village women take up to 10 times a day, to fetch water from a central well.
The Dudtschaks (Simon, Justin, Kirk, Rosemary, Nicole and Danielle) ring in the new year dressed in Indian dhotis (for the guys) and saris.
Cattle are numerous (and sometimes adorned) in rural Rajasthan.
Nicole Dudtschak is reunited with her primary school buddy as the Me to We group visits the villagers where they live.
"Of all the things we could have done, the kids wanted to go back to the school because they were getting such a sense of accomplishment from building the wall," says Kirk, looking back.
Instead of reaching for the phone, try these takeout recipes you can make at home.
Always check packaged food labels for gluten, including ketchup (Heinz is gluten-free), sriracha, fish sauce and broth (homemade stock is best – and safest).
Everyone needs a fried rice recipe in his or her repertoire, because it's great for using up leftovers.
Serve these burgers to people who don't like lentils and they'll soon be converted!
Sub in different vegetables depending on what you have in your crisper to make unique brown rice sushi.
East meets West in these tasty little bites. We've doubled up on the spring roll wrappers, which provides extra crunch and prevents the filling from bursting out.
This recipe can easily be left to simmer away in a slow cooker for eight hours before adding the chicken.
Roasting all but one of the garlic cloves pumps up flavour to the max without having the overpowering taste of raw cloves.
No need for messy, greasy deep-frying with these crunchy baked wings. They make a fun meal for two – just add some sliced baby cukes, carrots and cherry tomatoes for a crunchy, fresh side.
Put down that takeout menu! This healthy spin on beef and broccoli will leave you feeling full and guilt-free.
This Vietnamese favourite is easy to make and is just as suitable for a main course as it is for an appetizer.
The essence of this Vietnamese pho lies in the long-cooking, rich beef broth which forms the base of the soup - the slow cooker is the ultimate tool for the task.
Our foolproof dough delivers the most amazing pizza crust you'll ever taste. The long rising time results in a lovely texture and extra-rich flavour.
This twist on a takeout favourite is made with sautéed chicken instead of greasy fried beef.
There's no need to dial up dinner when you can make this takeout classic – better, cheaper and faster – at home.
Even kids who hate fish with devour these fish fingers, and our Sweet Potato Oven Fries provide enormous amounts of vitamins A and C.
Photography by Geneviève Caron Credits: Photography by Geneviève Caron
|This content is vetted by medical experts |
|This story was originally titled "Mind if I Vape?" in the January 2014 issue.|
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How one woman realized she need time away from her social media feeds, and what to do if you need a hiatus, too.
One day last summer, I realized I needed a break. Not from a busy work schedule or family commitments—but from my Twitter feed. I would often grab my phone while I was still in bed to scroll through the morning's updates. Before I knew it, 20 minutes would pass and that lovely sleepy feeling would be replaced by the lives and news of the people in my timeline, some of it upsetting. I'd be off-centre before the day even really started.
This isn't the first time social media has got to me.
Four years ago, I quit Facebook. Between comparing myself to others and dealing with political rants I disagreed with, I felt crummy every time I was on the site. When I logged o for the last time, I turned to Twitter; I really enjoyed the short snippets of news and the interesting conversation the platform fostered. But when it started making me feel like Facebook did—gloomy—I knew I had to log off.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like have become xtures in our media landscape, changing the way we communicate. Mostly, this is a good thing; it makes it easier to meet intelligent and diverse people and to keep in touch with world-changing social movements. But its ubiquity can be overwhelming. Research is starting to show what many of us have already noticed: a link between social media and our mental health.
Pioneering research published earlier this year in the journal Depression and Anxiety looked at the relationship between depression and using one or all of the most popular social media platforms, including YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and LinkedIn. Researchers found that "any level of social media use was associated with an increase in the risk of depression," says the study's senior author, Dr. Brian Primack, director of the Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Primack, also assistant vice-chancellor for research on health and society at the university, notes that the study didn't look at causality; in other words, the question of whether increased social media usage causes depression or vice versa still needs examination. "It's very plausible that it could be a little bit of both," he says.
For most people, however, spending too much time on social media is less about a formal diagnosis and more about a general sense of well-being. A 2014 University of Michigan study about social media breaks (specifically, those who gave up Twitter for Lent) found that "three concerns surfaced with respect to social media use: spending too much time on it, trade-o s of not spending time elsewhere, and a concern about social media not being ‘real life.' "
I knew it was time for a break because Twitter had lost its vibrancy; there was too much scrolling and not enough engagement with what I was reading. Patricia Pike, an addiction and intervention specialist with private practices in both both Vancouver and the San Francisco Bay Area, says that's an important indicator. She advises asking yourself these questions: Are you neglecting interactions with loved ones? Are you distracted and unable to complete day-to-day tasks? Are you living for your next social media hit? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it might be time to rethink your relationship with social media.
I wasn't planning to leave Twitter for good—I don't think that's possible, or even preferable, in today's connected world. Instead, I decided to take a month off. I deleted the app from my phone, logged out of my account on my laptop and prepared to white-knuckle it through the next four weeks. But it turned out to be surprisingly easy. For the first week, I was constantly reaching for my phone, used to scrolling through my feed on a work break or while wait- ing in line. But then, the desire to log on died down and, perhaps stereotypically, I began to feel more peaceful and focused. I started filling my newfound pockets of time with other interests: reading, knitting and suing my phone to call friends and family (gasp!). When my month was up, I cautiously reentered the fray, but I found I didn't feel the old urge to check in constantly.
The break allowed me to do what Dr. Primack recommends: "Learn what patterns of use are more problematic and what patterns are more beneficial." I realized some social media platforms just aren't for me. (No to Facebook, some- times to Twitter and yes to Instagram; I mostly follow knitters, so it has always felt like an oasis.) And now I know I don't have to be "on" all the time to enjoy the boons of social media; these days, my Twitter usage is much more measured.
It's clear that social media—and our increased Internet usage, in general— plays an ever-growing role in our mental health. But temporarily unplugging is a valid form of self-care, a way to minimize overstimulation and hit the reset button. Give me a break, indeed.
5 steps to a successful social media detox
1. Have a plan. Decide how long your break will be, but resist the temptation to make it permanent. "Shutting social media out of your life completely is a great way to set up failure to control your social media needs," says addiction expert Patricia Pike.
2. Write down your reasons. Think about what you want to achieve this break. Is it figuring out which platform works best for you? Or do you feel overstimualted?
3. Use technology to your advantage. Delete the social media platforms you want to avoid from your phone. (If they're not there, you can't mindlessly click on them.) And on your desktop, use time-management apps like Anti-Social or SelfControl to block sites you want to avoid for a period of time.
4. Enlist help. If you think you'll be tempted to long on prematurely, have a partner or a trusted friend change your password for the duration of your detox.
5. Set limits. When you return to social media, put limits on your usage, says Pike. And give yourself a schedule, says Dr. Brian Primack, director of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health. For example, restrict logging on to your coffee break, instead of intermittently all day long.