Today, we will not speak of the sudden shock that is September. It’s hit harder than a bucket of ice water, don’t you think? Let’s change the subject. On Saturday, my family and I were driving home from a pleasant outing, making the most of the tail end of summer before this unspeakable new month. We exited the highway and started along a busy avenue. It was nighttime.

When we stopped at an intersection, we picked up on an all-too-common sight in this city. There was a homeless man standing on the traffic island, bundled up in shapeless clothes, holding a cardboard sign: HUNGRY. Now, my husband had ambitiously prepacked a ton of snacks for our day trip. These remained largely untouched. So while I fumbled in a bag to find them, he called the homeless person over. And when I reached my hand out with three granola bars, the person smiled, and took them, and she said, “God bless you.” It was not a man at all, but a middle-aged woman.

The traffic lights had already changed. The driver behind us had the decency not to honk in impatience, and the woman stepped out of the way. We drove on. Someone in our car referred to granola bars as ideal giveaways for the hungry – they are individually packaged and strong on nourishment, being high in nuts, fruit and grains.

Well, shut my mouth. Yesterday we drove home from yet another pleasant excursion (we’re really pushing this summer thing to its extreme limits) and encountered yet another cardboard-sign-wielding hungry person at an intersection. This time it was a young man. Feeling smart, we hauled out another granola bar and beckoned to him.

“Are there nuts in it?” he asked right off the bat.

That was unexpected. “Thanks anyway,” he said graciously, backing away.

The takeaway? Even homeless people have dietary restrictions. I’m now thinking about the high price of EpiPens. And vulnerability. And I’ve decided that even though it’s September, and summer is fading, I’m lucky. My belly is full with a hot breakfast, and I did not stand on a street corner to beg for it. One more thing: I think we’ll start carrying nut-free granola bars in the car.

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?

Liar, Liar

If you hope to teach honesty to your kids, maybe you should double-check what’s in their personal library. According to a recent experiment at the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study, University of Toronto, a child’s choice to tell the truth can be influenced by storybooks. But it doesn’t necessarily work the way you think.

In the experiment, when researchers read aloud the story of George Washington and the cherry tree – in which the young man is praised for his honesty – children were much more likely to tell the truth themselves about whether they’d peeked at a toy they were expressly forbidden to see.

But when they tested kids with the relatively more upsetting story of the boy who cried wolf, or Pinocchio, the literature had no effect on encouraging the kids to ’fess up.

In other words, scaring them straight doesn’t really work.

That’s bad news for the many generations of parents who relied on tales of elongated noses and brutal wolf attacks to traumatize – er, train their children to tell the truth. But it’s welcome news for moms and dads who might prefer to use more positive reinforcement to drive home the same lesson.

On a side note, it’s too bad this research wasn’t available for German psychiatrist and author-illustrator Heinrich Hoffmann in the 1800s, before he published Der Struwwelpeter, a gruesome collection of cautionary tales for kids.

Being of German descent myself, I owned a copy of this book as a child. And thanks to its contents, I was intimately familiar with the extremely dire consequences of everything from playing with matches (you’ll burn to ashes) to daydreaming (you’ll fall into a river and nearly drown) to refusing dinner (you’ll shrivel and die within a span of just five days) to thumbsucking (an evil tailor most certainly will appear out of nowhere, and use his oversized scissors to cleanly amputate your digits – the stumps of which, incidentally, will spurt blood).

Nice to know that gentler stories may have a much stronger influence on the moral development of our children. As we catch on to this new trend, perhaps we should be rewriting that old taunt, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” What do you think? I’m just free-flowing here, but how about “truth, truth, candy for your sweet tooth…”?

Many of the brutal images from Der Struwwelpeter are inappropriate for a family-friendly  blog. That didn’t stop generations of parents from sharing them with their kids (who no doubt were destined for many years of therapy down the road).

Many of the brutal images from Der Struwwelpeter are inappropriate for a family-friendly blog. That didn’t stop generations of parents from sharing them with their kids (who no doubt were destined for many years of therapy down the road).

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 /

Photo courtesy of dusky /

Lows and Highs

What’s more stressful than raising triplet babies? Try raising triplet babies with eye cancer. That’s what Alberta’s Low family is doing. In a staggering defeat of the odds, baby boys Thomas, Mason and Luke are identical triplets – who all have retinoblastoma, a condition so rare that this family alone accounts for about 15 percent of all cases expected to be diagnosed in Canada this year.

The babies are being treated at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. It’s a daunting commute from their home province, considering the family has to do this regularly for the next little while. Early on, the challenging search for a place to stay was enough to putting those already-high anxiety levels through the roof for mom Leslie and dad Richard. They need a place that will suit a family of six (because there’s also big brother Benson, age two, to consider) and it needs to be within walking distance of the downtown hospital – in other words, a rental no ordinary family can reasonably bankroll. Their recent 10-day hotel booking cost them $3885.

So they put an appeal on their blog. Does anyone in Toronto have a lead on affordable downtown accommodation – one that doesn’t involve corrugated cardboard and a sidewalk?

And that’s when the generous heart of Toronto showed itself. News outlets reported that in just two days, the Low family had heard from over 1,000 different people who wanted to help. After a week, that number had reached 2,000. A great many folks proposed housing solutions, while others simply wanted to donate diapers, food or kind words.

It was overwhelming and wonderful, and the busy Low parents have taken the time to gratefully acknowledge the emotional and practical support they’ve received.

“We’ve had genuine offers from people willing to go live with extended family and give us their house. Others offering to move into their basement and give us the upstairs. Offering homes while they vacation. We’ve been in awe,” they wrote on their blog.

They added that when they try to read the messages out loud to each other, “We’ve had tears streaming down our cheeks as our [breath] catches.”

When we’re talking about parents who have probably shed enough worry tears for ten families in the past year alone, it’s nice to know that this time, they’re crying tears of happiness.

Here, the Lows’ four beautiful sons show Toronto what they really think of it. (Photo courtesy of Leslie and Richard Low)

Here, the Lows’ four beautiful sons show Toronto what they really think of it. (Photo courtesy of Leslie and Richard Low)

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)

Sugar, Flies… Sounds Like Summer

We at 50 Good Deeds like to use our powers of kindness for good, not evil. But researchers in the psychology department at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg have shared some interesting findings about kindness and interrogation tactics. They say that people are more likely to give up information when interrogators appear friendly and considerate, as opposed to direct questioning.

In layman’s language, you’ll attract more flies with sugar, not vinegar. In their recent study, the Swedish researchers used what’s known as the “Scharff technique.” This is named after a German Nazi interrogator who successfully obtained secret information from a military prisoner by befriending him, bringing him on a scenic walk and even sharing homemade treats. No torture chambers here.

I will say this, though. Hanns Scharff truly did seem like a genuinely nice guy. He pushed his government to drop war crime charges against a group of captured pilots, possibly saving them from death sentences. Other tales abound of his legendary kindness.

So perhaps the lesson here is not that you should fake being nice in order to trick people. Maybe, instead, it’s that you ought to inject kindness into every job you do, no matter if you’re a teacher or a doctor or an officer of the Third Reich. It will pay off, whether it’s curing someone’s cancer or, uh, supporting the Hitler regime.

My job for the next two weeks is to take a summer vacation. I will be sure to inject kindness into it. I think I’ll start by generously pouring myself a mojito. That’s nice, isn’t it? See you later this month.

Photo courtesy of KEKO64  /

Photo courtesy of KEKO64 /