Monthly Archives: March 2012

Ain’t That Just Ducky

From the “everybody go awwwww” department: A Washington loan officer shows his soft side in this video, as he saves ducklings from otherwise plummeting to their certain demise. One at a time, they launch themselves off a building; one at a time, he deftly catches them.

It’s not that these babies, born on a second-floor window ledge, have a death wish. What they have is an inexorable instinct to pursue their mother’s quacks no matter from where they are issued – in this case, it’s the hard pavement below.

And can I just say our banker buddy Joel Armstrong succeeds most impressively? That’s probably because he went through all this once before, in the previous year, with the first feathery brood to hatch outside his office window. That time, he missed one of the ducklings as they took turns dropping to the ground. That he saved most of their lives was still an impressive feat, but my guess is the do-gooder was determined to top his previous record.

This video is actually three years old so I can’t call it news, just loveliness. And perhaps I can also call it a perfect way to spend a few minutes of your time on a Friday morning.

Female duck

If anyone knows where to find a parenting skills workshop for waterfowl…

A Little Less Lonely Planet

Jeff Ragsdale was one disconsolate dude. He was in New York, had survived a bitter breakup, and felt completely isolated in a city of eight million.

Some folks, feeling thus forlorn, might hide away in their flat and flip channels all day. Not Jeff. Last October, he put up fliers telling the world around him how lonely he was. He included a phone number. His real one. “If anyone wants to talk about anything, call me,” he wrote in his solicitation.

It worked. He received calls and texts – thousands of them. Many originated within New York City limits but they also came from far-flung places like Japan, Saudi Arabia, and that country of the far north called Canada.

One woman, describing herself as “incredibly lonely, too,” invited Jeff to go for a walk. A total stranger spontaneously told Jeff he’s “deeply loved.” Another kindhearted woman confessed she once went out with a stranger she met on Craigslist – simply because he had no one else with whom to celebrate his birthday.

Some people had advice: write gratitude lists, consider buying a co-op. Some wanted advice – a few were desperate. Every single person who contacted him had one thing in common: They wanted to make a connection. They wanted Jeff to feel surrounded by people who care. Perhaps it was their way of making the world that much less hostile.

My favourite comes from Jermaine, who sent Jeff a simple ten-word message: “I saw Adam Sandler in a supermarket. He looked sad.”

See, I think Jermaine is saying, you’re not suffering alone. Even superstars, even the funny ones, they all can feel empty and alone from time to time.

To date Jeff has received a staggering 65,000 calls and texts, and counting. He’s collected them into a book, freshly available on Amazon. Author Bret Easton Ellis calls it “a healing work of art.” (Ellis, if you don’t know, wrote American Psycho. I’m just saying.)

Check it out here. Or if you just want Jeff to know you’re thinking of him, give the no-longer-so-lonely guy a shout at 347-469-3173.

Tutu Kind

My daughter cracked her pinky toe yesterday. It was a typical weekday morning at our house. Not that injuries happen on a daily basis. But rather, instead of getting dressed after breakfast, my kid was running full-speed down the hallway shouting at me to chase her – isn’t that how every household prepares for school? Her foot rudely collided with a wall corner, and howls of pain ensued. Poor kid. It meant a trip to the local hospital, waiting at triage, waiting at registration, waiting in the pediatric clinic, waiting in the fracture clinic, back to pediatrics, then being told by a doctor that toe fractures don’t really get treated anyway. By then, drive-through poutine was definitely in order.

But I do have a point to make today. It’s that whenever we spend hours in a healthcare setting, I’m always impressed by the opportunities for kindnesses, whether it’s consideration shown to us (a cheerful staff person who gushes nonstop) or small ways we can make a difference to others. In the pediatric clinic we pulled smiley faces at the fretting, fussing toddler, and he goggled at us and settled down for a few minutes. Outside X-ray we loaned the bored boy a copy of OWL magazine (of course I’m going to give this mag a shout-out, after all I write for it regularly, and did I mention how his eyes lit up at the sight of it?). When people are under the weather, bedraggled, less than par, it’s human nature to help out.

Of course we have nothing on Bob Carey of Brooklyn, New York: This guy regularly puts on a pink tutu to help sick people. And, what’s more, he takes photographic evidence of it and publishes it widely. It’s partly to raise money for the disease his wife is battling, and perhaps more importantly it makes her giggle. Laughter is the best medicine, right? And kindness is chock-full of vitamins.

Bottoms-Up Bungalow

Sometimes you have to turn your world upside down to make a difference. A builder on the island of Borneo has done his part to draw attention to the environment by creating a “house in reverse,” or Rumah Terbalik in his Malaysian language. The topsy-turvy living quarters include furniture, appliances, light fixtures and even a toilet attached to the ceiling (I won’t even attempt to imagine the logistics of that).

The builder claims his vice-versa villa is a reminder that we’re depleting our natural resources, and that one day we’ll find our entire world has turned upside down.

I’m focusing on the best part: According to the website, the house, even in reverse, is wheelchair accessible. If I ever find myself in southeast Asia with my hubby, you can bet Rumah Terbalik will be on our bucket list of local attractions.

Too Cool for Contagion

Have you noticed that fewer of your friends and co-workers have been hacking, sneezing, dripping and whining this winter? A couple of weeks ago I read a news story explaining why there’s less flu going around. Sure, part of it is thanks to the milder winter and the vaccinations that more of us are getting, yada, yada, yada. But one flu expert says it’s also because people are more conscientious than ever. We’re taking care not to transmit illness to the people around us, he says.

How are we doing that? We’re coughing and sneezing into our arms, instead of spraying our loved ones with germy droplets. We’re washing our hands when we’re supposed to, not spreading viruses willy-nilly on keyboards and doorknobs. We’re giving work and school a miss when we feel miserable. And this one I love: Apparently we’re replacing risky handshakes with much more awesome “fist bumps.”

This is bad news for the Kleenex makers, but good news for those of us who don’t enjoy plagues. Our consideration towards others is helping to stem the spread of nasty sickness.

That’s even more awesome than a fist bump.

P.S. Check out my past blog posts on the links between kindness and contagion, here and here. I’m not obsessed, just hygienic.

Close-up of handwashing at a sink.

Tip: Wash your hands for as long as it takes you to hum “Happy Birthday.” Not only will you destroy the germs, but you’ll also feel sort of special.

What a Way to Pad Your Résumé

You know what day it is today, don’t you? It’s Tampon Tuesday – or “Maxi Mardi,” If you happen to live in Montreal. No, it’s not a day dedicated to feminine hygiene. (We kind of hope you take care of that pretty much every day on your own.) Rather, one Tuesday a month, Jack Astor’s Bar & Grill restaurants in three Canadian cities collect donations of tampons and pads for the food bank, in exchange for an evening of free food and business networking.

See, when you’re living close to the poverty line, it gets mighty expensive to host your Aunt Flo for five to seven days. With Tampon Tuesday, this monthly event makes it easier to, well, cope with your monthlies.

The first Tampon Tuesday was launched two years ago in London, Ontario. According to organizers, over 4,000 boxes of feminine hygiene products have been collected thus far. And now the initiative has expanded to restaurants in Toronto and Montreal. So if you live in one of these cities and don’t have plans for later, why not put on a suit, buy a pack of Kotex, and come make connections?

It’s a worthy cause. And giving is good. Period.

Now We Know Why Monkeys Don’t Text

What’s the difference between a preschooler and a monkey? They’re both cute, cuddly and bipedal on a good day. But it turns out the preschooler is a lot better at sharing.

You may not be totally convinced of that if you’ve spent any time in a daycare room. But scientists at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews spent five years studying the ways that three- and four-year-olds share information and rewards to help each other solve problems – and all the ways that chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys don’t. The researchers are convinced that this generosity with information is exactly why human knowledge has become so sophisticated so fast, leaving chimps in the cultural dust.

“Our study proves that it is our social skills and, in particular, the human ability to cooperate that explains our successes and achievements in a fast-moving technological age,” lead researcher Dr. Lewis Dean says in a press release.

So if you’re marvelling at the processing speed of the new iPad, chew on this: It’s a good thing the folks at Apple play as nicely as preschoolers, instead of behaving like the hairier of the primates. You’d have trouble logging onto YouTube with a moldy banana peel.

Courtesy at the Car Shop

Who says all car mechanics are rip-off artists? On his way to work yesterday morning, my hubby decided to stop in at our local garage to attend to a pesky burned-out turn indicator (pesky, because you never know when you might want to bear right). Did they have time, hubby asked, to change the bulb? Turns out they didn’t mind sparing a few minutes for him. And while they were at it, could they maybe check the interior light that had stopped working sometime around Christmas? Sure. It was only a matter of snapping off the plastic cover, applying some wiggle action and persuasion, and the bulb was lighting up again.

Talk about an accommodating group of grease monkeys. It would have been a different scenario entirely if hubby had gone to the local brand-name automotive service department: By the time he took a number, waited for his turn with the electrician, paid a hefty diagnostic fee for him even to lay eyes on the vehicle, and then shelled over the considerably-marked-up cost of one back turn indicator bulb, it would have cost my husband in both time and dough.

So how much, you’re probably wondering, did our local garage charge? That’s the best part. The mechanic headed into the shop for a quick chat with the shop owner, came back and announced, “We’ll get it the next time.” Final bill: zero.

Full disclosure: One of these mechanics has a brother-of-the-same-mother who lives two doors down from us. So if he screwed us, he’d probably get an earful. But we think he’s a nice guy all on his own.

Man behind wheel of vehicle

"Just can't wait to get on the road again..."

I Want to Believe

I’m a sucker for corporate-engineered schmaltz, I guess. After all, I relished the “optimism breaks” broadcast by Maxwell House. Now I find myself drawn in by the Coca-Cola ad that points out all the reasons to believe in a better world. Here are a few: “For every corrupt person, 8,000 people are donating blood.” “For every wall that is put up, 200,000 welcome mats are put down.” “While one scientist is creating a new weapon, 1 million moms are baking chocolate cakes.” (Side note to my kid: Sorry, today I’m not one of them.) And, hoping against hope that porn sites have been excluded, I savoured this fact about online searches: “Love has more results than fear.”

If that isn’t enough to lift your spirits, the whole ad is spun out to a tune about freedom of speech and choice, sung by magical woodland elves – no, actually it’s a cute group of schoolchildren. Also, watch for a quick and senseless cameo by the Dramatic Chipmunk.

Of course there’s product placement – this is a commercial, after all. But we can still like the message, and all these zany statistics. (Want more? Here’s the (rather poorly edited) India version.) For those of you who still weren’t convinced that most people are fundamentally good, let’s hope this has tipped you over the edge.

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend… and just remember, we survived February! From here, it’s a cake walk to spring. Namaste.