Good Golly Miss Dolly

We love hearing stories about secret admirers and anonymous gifts. Probably it’s because we know that if someone has chosen to keep their identity secret, it’s pretty clear they aren’t seeking acknowledgement – they just want to enjoy the pure pleasure of doing something nice for someone.

Also, packages are fun.

Sheza Hasan certainly seemed to have a good time opening the large present that was left on her doorstep last week. There’s no doubt it was a surprise indeed, given that the repurposed cardboard box once held disposable children’s pull-ups. Yet packed inside were over two dozen carefully hand-sewn cloth dolls. Each doll has her own fabric pattern, her own skin tone – and her own colourful, removable hijab.

That was the point of the gift, according to the accompanying note (stuffed inside a pink envelope with Sheza’s name, a curlicue and a heart). “I noticed that dolls wearing hijabs seem hard to find, so I made 25 simple ones,” the benefactor wrote. She – if indeed she is a she – added that she herself isn’t Muslim. “I’m not sure who to give them to, but I thought you might.”

Sheza, who lives in Milton, Ontario, calls the stealth seamstress a “wonderful soul” for making her feel accepted and welcome, especially since she has been on the receiving end of racist vitriol in the past. “Between being told by [a] stranger to ‘go back to my effing country’… this warmed my heart and reminded me that there are ALWAYS more good people out there than the other kind,” she wrote on social media.

Sheza herself wears hijab, and says she and her sisters never saw dolls that looked like them when they were little girls. “Growing up, we’re seeing images out there in the community, and none of them reflect us,” she told a news reporter. ”The only time we see something in the media, it’s usually negative.”

Thus when Sheza showed the dolls to her kids, she emphasized the kindness and respect behind this stranger’s efforts. Now she plans to distribute the dolls and make sure they’re visible in the community.

“Some gestures touch you deep into your soul. This was one of those for me,” Sheza added.

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We don’t know what the dolls are stuffed with, but we think it’s some proprietary mixture of warmth, compassion and friendship. (Facebook Photo)

Make a Choice Not to Suck

Looking for a novel way to do some good? Has it become tedious, all that paying for the coffee for the next person in line at the drive-through? Are you tired of making soup for the sick, are you bored with donating blood? Keep doing those things – they’re making a difference – but here’s a new idea to add to your roster: Say no to straws.

That’s what the Dakota Tavern in Toronto is doing, after staff there learned about the harm that plastic straws are doing to wildlife and the environment. For instance, plastic gets mistaken for food by marine animals, and it disrupts their normal feeding and reproductive patterns. (Not convinced? A cringeworthy video of a sea turtle with a straw lodged impossibly deep in her left nostril has been making the rounds… and changing minds.)

At the Dakota Tavern, a new sign on the wall reminds patrons that “Straws Suck.” Many other dining establishments around the world are also making the choice not to stock straws. Some places make biodegradable straws available to customers who request them. (Straws, after all, can be made of paper or bamboo. Then there’s my personal favourite, cookie wafer rolls. And what kid hasn’t ever sipped their milk through a piece of red licorice with the ends bitten off?)

According to the Plastic Oceans Foundation, we are throwing away over eight million tons of plastic every single year. Straws can’t be recycled, so they get dumped into the garbage, where they end up in oceans – and in sea turtles’ noses.

Straws suck. But you certainly don’t have to. When you order a drink, consider doing without a straw – or ask for a stick of licorice to go.

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The drink looks delicious. But the straw looks mean. (Photo by Zirconicusso / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

It Did Happen to Her

One of my broken-record themes about good deeds is that they rarely cost anything. But here’s a story about one that set a couple of men back a full thousand dollars.

They forked it over willingly, though, after getting to know a waitress at a pub. (Is this sounding a little too It Could Happen to You?) The establishment is not that far from my own neighbourhood. The server’s name is Melissa Lombardo, and when she’s not handing out beer and munchies, she’s an aspiring singer/songwriter.

The two guys at her table the other night (in fact, it was the wee hours of the next morning) seemed friendly. They cracked a few jokes and asked her a few questions, and by the time their bill was ready, they had learned a little bit about Melissa’s goals and dreams.

That thousand dollars? It was the tip they ended up leaving for Melissa. They called it a “surprise bonus,” something they occasionally like to give to servers who seem deserving. The men rate ambition and honesty as top qualities.

Melissa, of course, was floored. “You hear about these kind people, but it’s just so nice to actually see somebody that kind and generous,” she told a reporter. “The fact that that’s real is so amazing to me.” The young woman, who says she’s had misfortune in her past, is determined to use the money to make a proper studio recording of her songs.

She also hopes to perform a similar astonishing good deed for another person one day. I’m sure her two newest customers would approve.

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Melissa Lombardo has a voice that’s ready to be shared with the world. “Just being heard and somebody actually hearing my passion… it was just so nice,” she says in a news story. (YouTube photo)

Rescued in a Jiffy (Lube)

As any driver knows, it can be challenging to find the words to describe that funky noise your car is making. Is it more of a clunk or a click? Low frequency or high? Constant or intermittent? Is it pinging or popping?

Or is it, perhaps, meowing?

When Khrystyna Kova of Wetaskiwin, Alberta, got back in her car last Wednesday morning after driving her daughter to school, she heard the unmistakable sound of a cat. And it seemed to be coming from somewhere inside the vehicle.

On the off chance that her car wasn’t haunted by a feline poltergeist, Khrystyna hastened to a nearby Jiffy Lube. Mechanics there popped the hood and eventually spied the source of the plaintive mewls – a small kitten, trapped, unbelievably, behind the engine. Yes, the very engine that had been powering up a Honda Civic just moments earlier.

At first, they couldn’t even get him out. Shop manager Blair Backman did his best to reach the tiny animal from beneath the car, but the space where the cat was trapped was too small for his arms.

Another customer, Tanya Marceau, overheard what was happening and came over to help. She had an asset, she assured them: skinny arms. While Blair called out directions from beneath the car, Tanya was able to reach in and nimbly work away at some wiring that had entangled the kitten. After 20 minutes, she finally pulled him out.

Thankfully, the kitten seems fine now, apart from a probably lasting distaste for the Indy 500. Happily, he also has a new home. Khrystyna suggested Tanya keep him, after noticing how effortlessly she comforted him. That suited Tanya just fine. And thanks to her new kitten’s new name, she’ll never forget where he came from.

“We named him Jiffy, because we saved his life at Jiffy Lube,” Khrystyna said in a news story. “That cat has nine lives… It’s a miracle.”

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Photo by Nick Sgambelluri/FreeImages.com

Tire Pressure

There’s nothing worse than getting a flat tire on Friday at 5:00.

Come to think of it, there are thousands of things that are worse: wasp stings, eczema, incarceration, halitosis, vandalism, corn smut, Milli Vanilli… and that’s just off the top of my head.

So let me rephrase it: A flat tire is a major inconvenience on a Friday at 5:00. Made even more so when you just got on the highway, you’re running late – and you happen to be quadriplegic.

Such was my husband’s dilemma a few days ago. But thanks to the kindness of strangers, he got through it a little less scathed. First, of course, we give a nod to the driver who alerted my husband to the flat tire in the first place, gesturing like mad to get his attention. The guy almost managed to communicate the problem before the on-ramp to the highway. Almost, but not quite.

My husband, of course, began to fret just a little bit, listening to the steady thump of a shredding tire as he crawled along the highway towards the nearest exit. Meanwhile, I called the nearest tire centre – Google helpfully informed me it was “CLOSING SOON!” – to let them know he was headed there.

The woman who answered the phone, Diana, was as compassionate as could be. “Oh no!” she commiserated. “We can put his spare tire on when he gets here, and that will get him home.” Our wheelchair van is secondhand; I wasn’t even confident it had a spare tire. “Now I’m going to cry!” Diana responded. (Spoiler: She didn’t cry. But she was seriously considering it.)

Luckily, my husband made his way to the tire centre before closing time. The workers were prepared to receive him, and one of them even knew where to find the spare tire in its secret hidden compartment made invisible by several magical enchantments.

They got the spare on. My husband was almost ready to set off for home (at the prescribed speed, a.k.a. a snail’s pace, with four-way flashers going). Just one more hold-up: They wouldn’t accept any money. Diana was insistent. “Absolutely not. I’m a hockey player!” she exclaimed.

We’re not sure what that means. Are hockey players extra-tough? Extra-sweet? Extra-resourceful? All of the above, probably.

We’re grateful for the good deed. Sometimes I don’t think people realize what a real difference they are making. You saved my husband in a pinch, Lady Diana.

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Our spare tire. So tiny and adorable.

Holding Court on Mental Health

Before now, had you ever heard of a member of royalty talking openly about mental health issues – exposing very personal struggles – in order to help others?

Yesterday, a British charity posted a video of a Facetime call between two well-known royals: the Duke of Cambridge and the Lady of Gaga – er, rather, Lady Gaga.

It appeared to be a comfortable, convivial chinwag. Lady Gaga sipped from a teacup at her kitchen counter, while Prince William leaned forward earnestly in his Victorian upholstered chair.

They were there to chat about mental health. Lady G discussed how it feels to experience anxiety and depression, even in the midst of ostensible success and fame – and why talking about it makes it better. It raises awareness and stamps out stigma. Ultimately, it means more people will reach out for help.

“We have to make the strongest, most relentless attempt we can to normalize mental health issues, so that people feel like they can come forward,” LG explained.

Prince William agreed. “It’s so important to break open that fear and that taboo.”

The Facetime call was arranged through Heads Together, a British charity overseen by Prince William, his Duchess Kate and little bro Harry. The trio say their previous work with vulnerable people has taught them that all too often, fear and shame are stopping people from seeking essential mental health treatment.

“We shouldn’t be ashamed of it,” Prince William said. “Just having a conversation with a friend or family member can really make such a difference.”

In an interview the same day for the suicide-prevention organization CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), the Duke of Cambridge elaborated very Britishly: “There may be a time and a place for the ‘stiff upper lip,’ but not at the expense of your health.”

The call ended with cute little waves at each other, and a promise to chat more when Lady Gaga tours the U.K. A royal friendship has been forged. And surely it will have a positive impact.

Fun fact: 83% of men and women surveyed say they find it helpful to talk about their mental health issues. Another 2% said they find it almost as therapeutic to sip from a teacup.

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It’s uncanny how similar this room is to my own home office. (Photo by Heads Together)

Beauty and the Beasts

A few recent stories of animal-directed altruism have had me smiling. There’s this report about a firefighter in California who used mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to bring a dog back to life. I’m sort of stuck just trying to figure out the anatomy of that, given the wide disparity between the shapes and sizes of their respective oral cavities. Nevertheless, this combination of quick thinking and a little inter-species first aid led to the successful revival of a beloved pet – one who otherwise would surely have succumbed to the smoke from a house fire.

Feathered creatures deserve our love too, which is why a group of residents in a Boston retirement home have been busily supplying the chicken coop next door with tiny hand-knitted sweaters. (Endless games of Parcheesi can get tedious, after all, and idle hands are the devil’s playthings.) Apparently this particular breed of chicken isn’t used to cold weather. The chickens are now proudly strutting around in their knitwear – dare we say, getting a little cocky.

If you think that’s weird, I mean special, this isn’t the first time a group of do-gooders has made outfits for birds. In past years, knitters have supplied an Australian charity with handmade penguin sweaters to protect the birds from oil spills. (The sweaters keep them toasty warm while preventing them from ingesting oil as they groom themselves.)

So many different ways to be kind to animals. Wacky? Perhaps. Wonderful? For sure.

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“Don’t look now, Selma, but I’m afraid that bimbo Gertie has copied your outfit again.”