Monthly Archives: November 2011

Great Grandma

Who knew a move to a retirement home could bring out the best in someone? Back in summer, the frail mom of one of my dearest friends was compelled to make just such a move, leaving behind forever the house she’d kept alone for so many years.

My pal Heather has often mentioned her mother’s wonderful personality – positive, modest and kind. Clearly, Heather was impressed with her mom’s ability to settle in after what must have been an enormous and emotional upheaval. Of course, no family member looks forward to this kind of transition, but we do it because we hope for certain benefits for our loved one: more care, increased safety, better accessibility.

Last week, Heather (who, by the way, was toying with the pseudonym Apple for this column) mentioned one benefit of the move that was completely unplanned: “My mom is getting a great deal of satisfaction from helping people out,” she told me. Just the other day, for instance, her mom had come to the aid of a lost and wandering floor-mate who couldn’t recall her room number. She brought her downstairs and found a staff person, much to the other woman’s relief and gratitude.

Between disoriented seniors and all the recreational activities, mealtimes and social events, the opportunities to do a kindness must abound in a retirement home. Every single day, you can’t help but encounter other people. Every single day, you have the chance even just to share a smile, or wish someone a good afternoon.

“This is the kind of social interaction she never had when she lived alone in her house,” Heather told me, pointing out she’d never expected that the opportunity to do more good deeds would turn out to be so meaningful for her mother. As for Heather’s ma herself, she emphasizes that she’s not exceptional – she finds staff and residents alike are generally kind and helpful to each other in this place.

Still, it’s a perk to be able to be neighbourly again. “I think she feels good helping others, and it makes her feel she has something of value to offer,” Heather said. “As people get older, they are so often the ones who need help.”

They say you can’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs. In the same vein, altruism never gets old.

That’s the Ticket

Wouldn’t you rather pay for your parking tickets with karma instead of cash? Yesterday a B.C.-based parking management company was offering a special deal to drivers with past parking violations: Bring your unpaid tickets to one of four Salvation Army locations, donate a new toy for a needy child for the holiday season, and wipe your record crystal-clean. A spokesperson for the Imperial Parking Canada Corporation (Impark) claimed there’d be no limit imposed. Got 10, 11, 12 tickets? Give a dozen Let’s Rock Elmos or Nerf Vortex Nitron Blasters, and all fines would be forgiven.

It’s dubbed Toys for Tickets. “It’s a spectacular event. It usually draws a huge crowd,” Senior VP Julian Jones told a reporter in the week leading up to the event. “We raise just a huge number of toys and it’s a great amount of goodwill.”

All in all, thousands of unpaid parking tickets – along with even more toys – were turned in yesterday to four B.C. locations. “The people were very generous with the toys that they donated. It was beyond successful,” an obviously elated Sally-Ann spokesperson told the media.

If you live elsewhere in Canada and have a big heart (not to mention a sordid history of parking violations), take note. Toys for Tickets events are planned for other communities in the upcoming weeks, like Red Deer and St. Albert in Alberta, and Niagara Falls and Oshawa in Ontario.

Now if only someone would launch a Toys for Utility Bills…

Say No to Drugs, Yes to Good Deeds

You may not need more proof that doing good deeds is good for your health. But you’re probably just as fascinated as me to learn more about it. The latest news: Kids with drug and alcohol addictions are more successful in their recovery when… wait for it… they help others.

So says a psychiatric team at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, which recently published results from its “Helping Others” study. The researchers investigated almost 200 teens in substance abuse treatment. They found that the kids who helped others as prescribed in 12-step programs had fewer cravings, and were more likely to have a good treatment outcome, compared to other teens in treatment.

After we all take a moment to weep over the drug-addicted kids, it’s worth noting that here, again, is an example of how serving others also serves ourselves. The 12-step programs aren’t for everyone. But acts of kindness never go out of fashion.

A Good Deed for a Good Paws

Convinced your dog is the cutest pooch on the planet? If you uploaded your pet’s mug shot to the Fido Casting Call contest before yesterday’s deadline, it’s quite possible I voted for him or her. Visitors to the website were free to pick as many winning pups as they wished, and each vote earned a dollar for Lions Foundation of Canada’s guide dog program. The dog that tallies up the most votes will be photographed for an upcoming Fido phone ad, along with VIP treatment at a hotel and doggy spa. (I think the owner gets to tag along too.)

Talk about an easy good deed. I sat at my computer, clicked on a lot of super-cute furry faces, and voted for all the dogs I wanted to kidnap and take home immediately. There were many. If your pet was raising one furry little eyebrow, doing the irresistible doggy head tilt or just gazing with please-pick-me in his eyes, he got my vote. Suffice it to say, Fido’s donation for guide dogs spiked considerably.

(Now all I have to do is hide the website from my daughter. She’s allergic to dogs, but that doesn’t stop her pining for one. She recently penned her Christmas wish list and ended it with: “A gecko – preferably one that looks and acts like a dog.” Santa, can we get right on that?)

P.S. Sincere apologies for the stinky-bad pun in the title of this post. If you have something better, please share (and if you have something even stinker, that’s fun too!).

Extremely cute labradoodle-mix dog

“You like me… you REALLY like me!”

Happy Birthday, Whoever You Are

If you happen to be one of the 19 million people celebrating a birthday today, please accept my heartfelt wish for many happy returns of the day.

This weekend my daughter partied with one particularly philanthropic friend, a birthday girl who has been asking for charity donations in lieu of gifts for about the past three or four years. After all, who needs another Princess Charm School Barbie when you could be helping people in need? Did I mention I love this little girl to pieces? At my daughter’s own birthday parties, her friends have given up loot bags for several years running so they could send a beehive or a goat or a year’s worth of school lunches to a family on the other side of the world.

Children, as you know if you’ve met any, have a finely honed sense of fairness. Maybe that’s why they so generously help others when given half the chance. You know that Canadian Blood Services motto, “It’s in you to give”? That’s what I think about kids. They may be made of sugar and spice and puppy dog tails, but most of them are also full to the brim with kindness.

Birthday cake with candles

We have cake on the light side, too.

Breaking Bread with Bon Jovi

What’s not to like about Jon Bon Jovi? Good looks: Check. Musical talent: Check. Altruism? Check-check-check-check-check-check… (wait, I think that’s the sound of my heart beating faster…)

Bon Jovi’s new restaurant, Soul Kitchen, opened last month in Red Bank, New Jersey. Its catchy tagline: “Hope is Delicious.” Well, if hope comes grilled to perfection and drizzled in a balsamic glaze, then I’d probably have to agree.

The premise of the place is that whether or not your pocket’s full, your belly is guaranteed to be. Everyone hungry is welcome, and no prices are printed on the menus. If you’re down on your luck, you can pay little or nothing. If you’re in a position to fork over more than the basic cost of your meal ($10), you’ll help subsidize another person’s salmon fillet. Anyone, whether flush or flat broke, can work off the restaurant’s costs by volunteering as kitchen or serving help.

Bon Jovi says his idea was inspired by a Colorado café called SAME (So All May Eat), where people in need can nosh, then volunteer in lieu of paying their tab. “At a time when 1 in 5 families are living at or below the poverty line and 1 in 6 children in NJ are food insecure, this is a restaurant whose time has come,” he writes on his blog. Bon Jovi hopes Soul Kitchen will spark similar initiatives in other communities.

I’m not sure exactly which desserts are on this restaurant’s menu, but clearly there’s no shortage of sweetness in this establishment. Rock on.

Both a Borrower and a Lender Be

I’m a big supporter of public libraries. They fill a critical role in the community, and open up the world to every comer without discrimination. But when I recently heard reports about live bedbugs found crawling out of library books, I reflected on the informal – and completely bug-free – book-lending system that goes on in my social circle. (Actually, first I retched, then I reflected.)

See, I have four or five friends whose literary tastes and mine happen to be listed on the same menu. We have made a habit of circulating our own books to each other over the years: “You will love this story.” “Here’s a must-read.” “Let me know what you think of this one.”

You can probably relate to this. I know you enjoy reading, or you wouldn’t be here. So maybe you agree that lending a book is a pretty great deed. Think about it: Just by handing over a slim packet of leaves to another person, you’re passing on hours of entertainment, mystery, education, laughter. Yummy! In fact, the book I’m reading right now (The Shadow of the Wind by Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón, in case you’re curious) is in my hands only because a pal thought I would probably enjoy it. I am.

Here’s another way good deeds and literature intersect: My friend Dwayne, a man of many talents – raising toddler twins isn’t the least of them – is giving away a book he wrote, absolutely free. It’s a fairy tale for adults. Intrigued? I was, especially when Dwayne told me this blog was part of the reason he decided to share his story without cost (he was also inspired by the selflessness theme in his philosophical book). You can download it here – and check out his beautiful paintings while you’re wandering around his websites.

Detail of a princess paddling a boat on the water

Like the artwork? Dwayne has plenty more where that came from.

Sweets from the Sweet

Here’s hoping those of you who celebrate Halloween enjoyed the most entertaining kind of creepy on Monday night. As for us, my daughter was bound and determined to present herself as a double-A battery, and by George, with a few pieces of black bristol board, aluminum foil and about sixteen rolls of packing tape, she actually pulled it off (although Grandpa insists his granddaughter is no less than a triple-A).

As if we aren’t already suffering from extreme candy hangover, my friend Benita has an extra-sweet story to share. Benita lives on a high-traffic trick-or-treating route, so she typically buys enough candy to satisfy about 300 little spooks. When the stock is depleted, the house lights go out.

Thus by 8:00 p.m. on Monday night, my friend was down to the dregs of the candy bowl. And that’s when a large group of costumed kids trooped up to her front door for their handout.

Benita was forced to explain that she had only five chocolate bars left; after an impressive scrimmage, more than a few disappointed kids left empty-handed.

“Once everyone had cleared the area, there was still a little girl standing on my steps,” says Benita. “She was only about four years old, so I thought she had not understood.” Benita bent down, apologized and gently explained that she was all out of candy.

Instead of retreating down the driveway or, worse, bursting into tears, this little sugar plum took Benita by surprise. She opened her candy bag, pulled out one of her own treats, and magnanimously handed it over it to my friend.

“You don’t have to do that!” cried Benita, astonished.

“That’s okay,” said the girl, “because I have lots.”

That single Halloween moment has stayed with my friend all week. “Imagine what the world would be like if we all shared what we have lots of?” Benita says.

“That little girl touched my heart.”

A hand holding out a piece of Halloween candy

It sort of gives new meaning to taking candy from a baby, doesn’t it?

In the Mood for Movember

Ready to pony up some ’stache cash? Today marks the first day of Movember, the annual worldwide fundraiser for prostate cancer that sees men of all shapes and sizes growing hairy lips of all shapes and sizes. Some of it may be visually unsettling, but it’s all for a good cause.

Last year I had the pleasure of cheering on several Mo’ Bros and their crumb-catcher campaigns for charity. This year I can’t wait to find out which of my male pals, colleagues, neighbours and family members are preparing to sport a ’stache for cancer research. (Tallying the facial growths of total strangers can also be an interesting pastime. Last November my daughter and I spotted a most bushy and disturbing mo’ on a fellow transit rider, and immediately turned to each other with the same unspoken question: Is it for Movember, or is he always this creepy looking?) You go, guys. Way to keep us guessing.

Lisa with a moustache

In the spirit of solidarity, I’ve created my own fashionable fuzzy. It’s official… I’m a Mo’ Sista!