Monthly Archives: July 2011

Pooling Their Resources

I was touched by the story of a guy profiled in the news a few weeks ago. He’s close to my age, he lives in my hometown, but there’s one big difference between us: about 280 pounds. Not to mention he has been diagnosed with depression and lost both his job and his marriage in the past few years. But Leslie Duff wants to get healthier and seems determined to do it.

Yet according to the news story that first broke back in May, his injured knees meant that the best way for him to get in shape was in a pool. And because of his obesity, he found he was too self-conscious in a public place to focus on his fitness regime.

I admire Leslie’s tenacity. He decided to post an ad on Kijiji seeking use of a privately owned pool in exchange for free pool cleaning or other yard work. Problem was, no one responded.

I remember reading about his struggle, and feeling particularly bad about one of his theories as to why he hadn’t heard from anyone. According to the article, Leslie thought some people might be “turned off” having an obese guy in their private pool.

Can we as a society really be so shallow? (No pun intended.)

Fortunately, there’s been an update. After Leslie’s plight became more public, including a radio interview on CBC, he got hundreds of messages from people offering access to their pools – or simply wishing him well. One family in particular was moved by his story, calling him “a really resourceful individual who’s looking to improve himself.” So they’ve invited him to use their indoor pool on a regular basis – he’s started losing weight already. And he’s cleaning the pool as promised.

The wife added, “You do what you can to help people out… why not?”

“Why not?” Best reason ever to reach out and do a good deed.

Wherever I Lay My Sun Visor (That’s My Home)

Every year, I spend a few days at the hands-down best summer vacation spot Ontario has to offer. I can’t tell you where it is – the location is top secret, and we have to employ a complicated combination of passwords, tricky handshakes and numeric entry codes just to be admitted past the gates. But once we’re there, it’s glorious. We have access to everything a Canadian could want in a summer holiday: lake, food, beach, food, woods, food, activities, food.

All of that aside – oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the food – the place wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for the people. Every year, we spend our holiday with friends both old and new. They make our trip that much more special.

It seems that like-minded people gather here, families who will gladly do without air conditioning and TV for a few days, who don’t mind a few blisters and bug bites in exchange for the privilege of birdwatching or walking a quiet forest trail, paddling a canoe at sunset or dipping in the lake after dark. The place is rustic in parts and even a tad musty in spots. And it’s my belief that this automatically screens out potential vacation-goers who might be more concerned about messing up their perfect pedicures than scouring the sand for the perfect snail shell.

Naturally, when you gather open-minded, nature-loving people in one spot, good deeds will abound. Whether it’s sharing sand toys at the beach, lending binoculars for the nature hike, or doling out drinkie-poos after dinner, fellow vacation-goers here are always generous with each other.

So, now, here’s my favourite good-deed story of the week. Within my first day or two there, I was at the medical station seeking a couple of Band-Aids. I overheard an exchange between a mom and the medic. She needed an antihistamine for her nine-year-old daughter, who typically reacts big-time to bug bites. But mom wanted to save the medicine for later in the day, in case it made the girl drowsy. Problem was, the medic could only offer her children’s liquid – not so portable – and an adult pill, which would need to be swallowed.

I happened to have a pack of children’s chewable antihistamines in my luggage. So I butted in (which I tend to be good at) and arranged to meet the mom in the dining room later with a few tablets.

Just before bedtime, a group of us was frolicking in the lake when the nine-year-old little girl approached me. “Thank you for the Benadryl,” she said politely. I asked after her mosquito bites, and she lifted her arm out of the water to show me the angry red patch. There was another on her leg, which I examined. I asked if the tablets had made her sleepy: Not so far, she said.

I didn’t think any more of it. But the next morning at breakfast, the mom stopped by my table to share a laugh. Seems that after our exchange, the little girl had reported back to her. “Mommy,” she said, “I saw the doctor, and I showed her my bug bites.”

It was just another reason to smile during an awesome vacation.

This is Dr. Lisa, signing off until next time…

A scene of a lakeshore with canoes in the water

I miss it already! Too soon to sign up for next year?

What You Did for Your Friend’s Summer Vacation

I think it takes an extraordinary amount of good will to wish someone else a happy vacation.

Think about it: Your friend, colleague or neighbour is about to go away for a holiday. They’ve arranged to temporarily leave the real world behind, along with all its woes and worries.

They’ll spend idle hours lying on the beach, or dining on a cruise ship, or cycling along a coastline. They’ll sleep in a four-star something or other and have daily maid and laundry service. They’ll enjoy some part of the planet that is breathtaking, that boasts perfect weather, that is culturally enriching. They’ll probably buy themselves fabulous outfits before they go and while they’re away, they won’t cook any of their own meals. Not a one.

And here you are, with nothing to look forward to for the next two weeks but your desk job, your dust bunnies, your roof repairs, your overdue utility bills. If there’s a heat wave, instead of taking a dip in the ocean you’ll likely defrost the freezer. At least it’s refreshing.

So what do you do when your friend closes her laptop, zips up her bag and picks up her tickets? You smile. And you tell her to have a fantastic time. You are stoic.

Of course you wish it was you, not her. You may make some halfhearted joke about stowing away in her suitcase. But in the end, you wish her well with all your heart.

Now, that’s a good deed.

Girl jumping into lake

Lisa is on vacation, small in scale but rich in relaxation. Wish her a good one. PHOTO BY ANNE DEGROOT

Here’s One for the Books

Readers, writers, charity… doesn’t the connection jump to mind immediately? I belong to a few writers’ groups, and recently one of them posted a notice that the community of Slave Lake, Alberta, devastated this summer by fire, needs current books. Apparently the newly minted town library, along with every one of its books, was destroyed in the flames.

Writers work in isolation, often with nothing to keep us company but a mega-mug of coffee and the crankiness associated with impending deadlines. Maybe that’s why most of the writers I know will latch onto any excuse to come out of hiding and help out their comrades. In my experience, they’re a generous and compassionate sort whenever it’s called for.

Soon after the destruction of the Rotary Club of Slave Lake Public Library, the Writers’ Union of Canada voted to hold a book drive through its membership. Between this and other initiatives organized by bookstores, libraries, schools, publishers and other readers and writers, the library has received more than 26,000 books – surpassing the number of volumes they had to begin with. So many duplicates have come in that they’re already planning to sell off the extras and use the funds for any books not yet replaced.

Because the library is still in need of a few more bucks to beef up their collection, they’ll gratefully accept any and all cash donations. Just don’t send more books. (Unless, on the other hand, you happen to be an author: A library staffer reports that they’d be thrilled to receive any personally autographed copies you can spare for their shelves.)

It’s Friday, so I’m feeling the fun: Let’s talk literature. If you could only pick one, what single book would you select for this town library’s collection?

Right Out of the Brew

First, let me say that I am not secretly shilling for a coffee company. No one pays me to write the stuff on this blog. And I’m not expecting a case of free java in exchange for today’s post.

But I will say that I enjoy the recent string of Maxwell House coffee ads that suggest you’re not actually watching a Maxwell House coffee ad. No, you’re really taking what the company calls an “optimism break.”

During each thirty-second spot, you watch a video of an inspiring person. In one, it’s a happy little girl with springy curls in front of a mirror, doing the best personal affirmation I’ve ever witnessed. In another’s it’s an honest homeless man whose life changed for the better after he returned a lost wad of cash. Sure, we saw some of these go viral on YouTube long before they were ever associated with the joe. But add in the mood music, and you’ll get a couple of tears out of me every time.

Each commercial starts and finishes with a steaming cup of what can’t possibly be coffee, since supposedly this isn’t a coffee ad… so, any guesses on the identity of that dark-brown, hot liquid that I know smells so, so good and that I want to just snatch out of the screen? (Does it say “drink me” in a swirling steaminess of subliminal messaging?)

You can watch all six ads on the company’s Brew Some Good website. But no need to wean yourself from optimism breaks after that. On the site, ordinary people are encouraged to upload and share their own optimism, in the form of personal photos, stories and videos. Other visitors can rate these submissions according to whether they perk them up (Ha ha, get it? “Perk”? I’d ROFL, but I haven’t vaccuumed in a while).

No discrimination either. Coffee fiends and tea drinkers alike can stop by. Ah, I can see I’ll have some fun here…

Sophia Makes a Difference, Too

When Sophia Kofoed was six, she wrote a story about a fictional girl named Isabella who finds a successful way to make the world a better place – after her first two ideas sort of bomb. It’s called Isabella Makes a Difference, and it’s a wonderful tale about creativity, perserverance and collaboration. Mighty big ideas for a small first-grader, but this is a pretty special little student.

Now that she’s the ripe old age of nine, Sophia, who lives with her family in California, has had her story self-published as a hardcover picture book. Little sis Kiara did the colourful drawings.

Not only is the story well written (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – mom’s a writer too), but she packs the book with lots of bonuses. She includes lists of charity websites that might interest kids, blank note pages for goal planning, and a backstory to inspire other children to make positive changes.

And here’s the part that makes you want to just hug her: With every book she sells, Sophia plans to donate part of the proceeds to elementary schools. Naturally. By telling others how they can make a difference, this budding author is, well, making a difference.

Sophia, California is a little too far away for a hug. But here’s a sideways heart for you… ❤ I hope you like it. It’s the best I can do from 2,000 miles away.

Book Cover of Isabella Makes a Difference

My copy of the beautiful book is personally autographed by the author and the illustrator – no charge for the happy face and the pencil-crayoned heart.

While the Cat’s Away, the Mouse will… be Showered with Good Deeds?

Were you one of those kids who practised her Juno Award acceptance speeches in front of the mirror? I wasn’t. But that doesn’t mean I can’t come up with a long list of people to thank when something positive happens.

For all my talk of good deeds, I honestly believe that my household regularly receives far more than we give. An example: Last week my daughter and I briefly ran away from home, leaving my husband to fend for himself. When you consider that he’s not able to cook, clean, feed the fish or even put himself to bed at night, this is exactly the sort of situation in which any and all acts of kindness would be welcome.

Sure enough, they rained down. In fact, my husband was caught in a regular downpour of do-gooders, from the neighbour who brought over baked treats to the family who visited with an entire take-out dinner, from the sister-in-law who slept over – and, for more points, mowed my thigh-high lawn – to the personal care attendants who willingly worked extra hours to make up the shifts I had abandoned. Several people on our street made a point of keeping their eyes and ears open, giving “neighbourhood watch” a whole new meaning.

Because of this veritable cloudburst of kindness, I came home to a clean house, a tidy garden, a stocked fridge and a husband who was well fed and happy… if a bit lonesome for his wife and kid.

So, in true Juno-winner fashion, I am picking up the closest thing near me shaped like a microphone – uh, that would be a stapler – and thanking everyone who had anything to do with it.

Keep the beat pumping.

Doggone It, That was a Nice Thing to Do

There’s no question that pooches are pretty sweet. But here’s one that does more good than wagging his tail and licking your hand: Dozer, a three-year-old goldendoodle from Maryland, U.S., has raised almost $17,000 for cancer research.

It started a month and a half ago when Dozer was sidetracked by a half-marathon that happened to be routed past the front of his house. Apparently, the dog decided it would be rather a lark to join in. He tagged along with some of the runners, then crossed the finish line at 2 hours, 14 minutes. Just look at the grin on his face as he finishes the last leg of the race. Dozer even scored a medal of his own.

What the dog didn’t realize was that the race was a charity event to raise money for the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center. Although Dozer’s worried human mom had no idea where he’d taken off to (this is where opposable thumbs and a pen would have come in handy), the owner was taken by the cause. After Dozer limped home, she helped her hound set up his own fundraising page. Who could’ve predicted that a pooch could raise so much cash for a good cause?