Category Archives: Ideas

Ice Ice Baby

I have just three words for you: ice bucket challenge. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you live either under a rock, or someplace where they don’t make ice. Tahiti, perhaps. So for all those Tahitians out there who are reading this, I’ll sum up. You get nominated by a friend. You take a video of yourself pouring a container of ice-infused water over your head. Almost universally, you react with a shriek, or a shocked gasp at the very least. Then you challenge two or three friends (or frenemies) to do the same.

The main rule of the game is that anyone who doesn’t accept the ice bucket challenge within 24 hours must donate money to ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) research instead. Some people choose to do both. Patrick Stewart won my heart all over again by writing a cheque and using his bucket of ice to freshen his scotch.

Is this latest viral phenomenon a good thing? Debatable, say some, who criticize the use of guilt and threats of dire consequences. But then again, you can’t argue with 80 million dollars, which is the amount that’s poured into the ALS Association in the U.S. in the past four weeks and is 30 times what the charity received last year in the same time period. An ALS Canada spokesperson admitted she’s been blown away by the donations the ice bucket challenge has brought in for her organization. “I have never seen such funds and level of awareness coming in such short period of time,” she told a reporter.

Plus it’s endless fun to follow all the videos. I’ve seen the challenge taken on by celebrities. I’ve seen it done by my friends, my friends’ kids, my kid, my kids’ friends. One chum of mine used her bucket of ice to cool down after completing her first-ever marathon. (Kudos, Shawne!) Another took a break from fighting her own cancer to do the challenge (she carefully removed her wig first to keep it dry). A university-pal-cum-church-reverend allowed himself to be fully and icily drenched in front of his congregation, and in full ministerial robes… while memorializing his mother, who died of the disease.

I can’t say I’m completely dry-eyed as I watch these.

But then I bring myself right back up by Googling “ice bucket challenge fails.” How can you not laugh at wardrobe malfunctions, ambushes by rooftop, and oh-so-many slippery grips and top-heavy containers? Then there’s the poor Irish lassie who can’t stand the icy shower and runs away – smack into a hard metal obstacle. She seriously bumps her head and injures her face and this is obviously NOT in the least bit funny… that is, until you hear her mother shout in an Irish lilt: “Quick-quick! The ice!” Now that’s fast thinking, mammy.

Here, a person of my acquaintance undertakes the challenge. You might be tagged next – are you ready?

Here, a person of my acquaintance undertakes the challenge. You might be tagged next – are you ready?

I’ll Drink to That

Certain organisms only flower in summertime. Like roses, or climbing honeysuckle. And then there’s the lemonade stand – a not-so-rare phenomenon that appears in driveways and on sidewalks during the summer months. This particular entrepreneurial venture is never old. Maybe that’s because of the incredible appeal of the über-cute proprietors – who can say no to a kid?

When you drop a dime (or, more likely these days, a tooney) on a paper cup of that trademark watery, lukewarm, semi-sweet beverage, do you ever wonder where your money goes? I imagine a lot of kids are hoping to splurge on a bike afterwards, or an ice cream cone or two.

But for some children, it’s much bigger. Quinn Callander, a seven-year-old boy in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, used the profits from his lemonade stand in July to raise money for an impressive cause: his friend’s surgery. Quinn’s buddy Brayden has cerebral palsy, and a U.S. operation to help him become more mobile was going to cost his family $20,000. Thanks to Quinn, the price tag is no longer a barrier. By selling lemonade – and crowdfunding online – Quinn pulled in $24,000 for his pal.

In my own neighbourhood, young Julian has organized five lemonade stands over the years (not to mention two hot chocolate stands during less balmy weather), starting from the tender age of five. So far he’s raised $2,419, which he’s donated to charities like Free the Children and the World Wildlife Foundation, as well as towards rebuilding a vandalized playground.

“It’s just a nice thing to do, because it helps other people in the world,” Julian says. “It’s a fabulous feeling knowing you’re helping people.”

And if that isn’t enough of a reason to do it, Julian notes: “Plus the lemonade and Rice Krispie squares taste good.” Nice to know that Julian’s business plan includes regular in-house food inspections. All for a good cause, of course.

Photo courtesy of dusky / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of dusky / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Colour Me Beautiful

So we’re back from summer vacation. I’m nicely tanned – okay, maybe not tanned exactly, but the tip of my nose certainly shows signs of sunburn. Even while on holidays, we encounter acts of kindness without trying.

One of my family’s shorter trips last week was to the Alton Mill Arts Centre, a breathtaking assembly of galleries and studios and gleaming original floorboards in a restored 1800s mill in Caledon, Ontario.

That’s where we met visual artist Lucille Weber, who takes creativity one step further by selling racks of splattered paint shirts alongside her colourful paintings. She does this to raise funds for dogs in the far north. Buyers of these bespeckled garments are asked to submit a photo of some activity while wearing their new purchase – be it walking, cooking, skydiving or whatever it is one generally does while wearing a painty shirt.

Lucille is donating all proceeds, plus the photos, to the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Northern Dogs Project, a group that provides veterinary care, medicines and foster homes to pooches. Our friend Lucille has collected over $2,000 from her shirts so far, and is still going strong (want to buy one? She’ll ship free of charge!).

Notwithstanding the fact that Lucille’s lovely shirts have the potential to take the fashion world by storm… I think the true beauty lies in this artist’s heart. Don’t you?

It would be like wearing a dropcloth, but with a considerably more flattering fit. (Photo courtesy of Lucille Weber)

It would be like wearing a dropcloth, but with a considerably more flattering fit. (Photo courtesy of Lucille Weber)

Cash ’n’ Carry

I’m mellowing out to lovely, folky, Atlantic-inspired electro-acoustic music while I write this. That’s because today’s story is about Joshua Van Tassel, a composer/producer from Nova Scotia whom I’d never heard of before this week. And to get in a proper frame of mind, I’m helping myself to a few sample tunes on his website.

Last Friday, Joshua made the news after setting out to make a music video for one of his songs, called “I Think You’re a Salesman.” Josh travelled around Toronto with his film crew, their equipment… oh, and a grey wool coat pinned with 200 ten-dollar bills for giving away to strangers.

How does this fit “salesman”? I guess Joshua was flogging the concept of good deeds. For a really, really good price. He encouraged everyone he met to take a bill from his coat – and then do something nice for another person. (Of the varied responses that ensued, many will be portrayed in the final video.)

Director Hiep Vu pointed out to The Toronto Star that this good-deed theme is a departure from the “dancing girls and fast cars” in typical music videos. Yeah, I wouldn’t really miss the girls and the cars.

“If there was one thing I’d hope the video could do, it would be to inspire other people to make just a little bit of random kindness every day,” Joshua told me. “It doesn’t have to monetarily focused. Just holding a door for the next person behind you would be great.”

Their experiment worked – sort of. It actually took five hours to get through all 200 giveaways. That’s a little longer than you might expect for free money, especially when a brisk March wind has it flapping tantalizingly. “We had no idea what kind of reactions we’d get, and believe me, I got them all! Happiness, distrust, anger, gratitude,” Joshua says.

But some results were promising. A few folks vowed to give the money to charity, or to people in need. Oddly, others planned to spend the cash on victuals for themselves – hot dogs and beer were both mentioned. One guy outlined a creative compromise that involved a coffee for himself and a kind word for someone else (I hope he wasn’t just referring to a “thank you” for the barista).

Paying people to pay it forward? It’s an innovative idea. And if it pushes a few men and women out of their comfort zones, where they can zone in on someone else’s needs instead, isn’t it worth it?

“If even 10 percent of Toronto’s population thought a little more about the other humans surrounding them throughout the day, I feel like the city vibe as a whole would drastically improve,” Josh says.

Of course, his music helps, too.

Not just talent and empathy, but also a strong fashion sensibility: Notice how the purple hues of the currency bring out the plum tones in the tie.

Not just talent and empathy, but also a strong fashion sensibility: Notice how the purple hues of the currency bring out the plum tones in the tie.

Feed This

Ever hear of Neknominate, or the Chug Challenge? It’s an online drinking game. You’re supposed to down a pint of beer and post the video on social media, then nominate a couple of buddies to do the same within 24 hours.

Sometimes this is done in combination with an outlandish stunt. People have imbibed from toilets, or mixed their drinks with insects or engine oil. In a Canadian spin, they’ve filmed themselves walking the dog or pumping gas semi-naked, outdoors, in winter, and then drinking the beer. (I wonder how many people opt for the alcoholic fortification first, and then perform the outdoor stunt?)

Neknominate has led to at least five known fatalities. That’s not cool. So a separate batch of young people have turned the viral video challenge into a different trend, called Feed the Deed. You perform an act of kindness and post it as a video. Then you nominate two or three friends to keep it going.

I heard about the Chug Challenge from a particularly sociable nephew. Enough said there. I heard about Feed the Deed from my teenage daughter, who was excited to be nominated and put considerable thought into her good deed. Eventually, she decided to make a card for Colin, the little Michigan boy I wrote about last week. His mom is collecting birthday wishes to prove to him he has friends. My daughter circulated her card at school and asked a whole bunch of other students to sign it.

Listen, if you’re ever losing faith in humanity, just read the sorts of things teenagers write when they want to lift someone’s spirits.

Other friends involved in the Feed the Deed challenge have bought coffees for bus drivers and garbage collectors, donated to charity, and given out pet treats at an animal shelter.

It’s thirsty work, but I doubt these kids are chugging beers at the end of it. Instead, they’re drinking in the gratification of helping those in need.

And not a frosted stein in sight.

And not a frosted stein in sight.

It’s Not Rocket Science

Wouldn’t you love to donate your time to a good cause, while at the same time getting the opportunity to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations?

Well, if by “exploring strange new worlds” you mean writing down the shapes of faraway galaxies, and if by “seeking out new life” you mean scrutinizing deep-sea video footage for evidence of marine animals, and if by “new civilizations” you mean counting the cluster of birds hanging out at your backyard feeder… then there are non-profit agencies that could certainly use your help.

It’s called citizen science, and there are lots of ways you can be a part of it. It’s especially easy for amateurs to get involved these days, thanks to online videos, apps and websites that provide everything you need to make a difference from home. No need for laboratories, telescopes or hip-waders. Or science degrees, for that matter.

You won’t be paid, but you may be singlehandedly responsible for discovering the next black hole or spotted jellyfish. And if that isn’t a shining example of the final frontier, I don’t know what is.

Distant galaxy, or deep-sea species? Yes, folks, and THAT’S why they call it “amateur.”  (PHOTO COURTESY OF SARAH STROTHAM/MARINE PHOTOBANK)

Distant galaxy, or deep-sea species? Yes, folks, THAT’S why they call it “amateur.” (PHOTO COURTESY OF SARAH STROTHAM / MARINE PHOTOBANK)

Knit Picks

We’re long-time fans of yarnbombing, simply because this kind of street art gives us a lift. Now, thanks to a few mysterious gangs who know how to wield a pair of knitting needles in wintry weather, yarnbombing is literally giving people a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Last week, someone wrapped more than a dozen hand-knitted scarves around the necks of historical statues in downtown Ottawa, along with notes that offered the free scarves to anyone who needs them to keep warm.

The temperatures in the Ottawa region dropped to minus 28 degrees Celsius last week. For you people in the southern U.S., that’s the official freezing temperature of… well, just about everything.

It’s not the only place where yarnbombers are fighting the cold. A “Chase the Chill” campaign has been going on in Winnipeg for several years now. And knitters in Easton, Pennsylvania, introduced the idea back in 2010.

So don’t be alarmed if you see that a bronze World War hero in your community is suddenly sporting a multi-hued muffler. Hopefully, it will make someone smile. And maybe even toasty-warm.

Yes, okay, I admit this scarf is store-bought. I can’t knit worth a darn… (get it?)

Yes, okay, I admit this scarf is store-bought. I can’t knit worth a darn… (get it?)