Monthly Archives: August 2012

It’s My Search Party and I’ll Cry if I Want to

This funny little story out of Iceland has been making headlines. Organizers of a tour group became alarmed when one of their group members went missing. Their bus had made a stop to look at a volcanic canyon. A passenger, they reported, had left the vehicle and never returned.

A search party was promptly assembled in the community. One of the women who joined in the search was a member of the tour group. I have no way of knowing what went through her mind at first, as she helped the other volunteers who scoured the region on foot and in vehicles. She probably just wanted to be of help. Warms your heart, doesn’t it?

But at some point, this good Samaritan made the connection. The physical description of the missing passenger… well, it was starting to sound sort of familiar.

You’ve anticipated the punch line, am I right? Turns out the woman was tracking herself. She hadn’t actually gone missing. But she had changed her outfit while the bus was stopped, and no one had recognized her when she came back. Instead, they decided she was lost.

I guess nobody bothered to do a head count. I should think that would have been a dead giveaway.

What a way to put Eldgjá on the map. At least the story has a happy ending – I’m pleased to report that no one fell into a volcanic canyon. And I’m sure our story’s hero has learned an important lesson. Next time, don’t bother to freshen up on long road trips. Your seatmate might not like it much, but at least you’ll stick in her mind.

Sealed with a Kiss

If you’re up for another story about a sweet kid, let me tell you about the daughter of my friend Susanna. Her name is Julia. As a future marine biologist (not to mention aspiring Broadway performer), she’s devoted to helping sea mammals.

In the past, Julia has baked goods and made necklaces to raise funds for the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, California, where sick or injured seals and sea lions are rehabbed and released. This past weekend, Julia raised the stakes. To mark her bat mitzvah, the 12-year-old organized her own animal-rescue fundraising carnival at her neighbourhood park in Bonita Canyon, California. She’s clearly a persuasive as well as caring girl, since the preteen managed to get her hands on a donated bouncy castle and snow cone machine, in addition to convincing her friends to help with face painting and games.

Her mom reports success. Julia raised $500 through carnival activities and $300 more from her bake and jewellery sales. “She was quite pleased with herself, and very excited for the animals,” Susanna says.

There’s more: At Julia’s upcoming bar mitzvah celebration, the flower budget will be blown instead on basket centerpieces stuffed with items the marine mammal centre can use. “I’d rather do something we can donate than spend a whole bunch of money on something we are going to throw away,” she told a local newspaper reporter.

I haven’t seen Julia in person since she was a baby. But it’s clear that this talented girl is growing into a thoughtful human being. On behalf of all the cute-looking seals, way to go.

Spread Too Thin

I’m not above highlighting a company motto that generates goodwill. I’ve written about Maxwell House’s “optimism breaks” (think kindness with coffee), and about Druxy’s “Be Good Today” messages, stamped on their sandwich wrappers like so many little notes from Mom.

When I opened a jar of peanut butter the other day, I was somewhat tickled to see a cheery message planted especially where the nut-tolerant types would see it. On the foil seal, I was advised to “SpreadTheFeeling.ca.” Some affectionate X’s and O’s were thrown in for good measure.

Well, I like talking about spreading feelings as much as the next person – maybe just slightly more – so I eagerly logged onto the website, expecting some optimistic messages or good deed ideas or, at the very least, a laughing baby.

Imagine my indignation when instead I was automatically shunted to the main site for Kraft peanut butter – hey, I came for inspiration, not a recipe for peanut-butter cones with jam, gummy bears and mini marshmallows (no, not kidding). Where were the X’s and O’s I was promised?

I’d hate to leave you for the weekend without detailing an actual good deed. For the record, while I was in a coffee shop writing this, the guy at the next table borrowed my spare pen. I didn’t exactly spread the feeling. But at least I didn’t force him to eat a peanut-butter cone.

Photo of the foil seal on a jar of peanut butter

All was not lost – my toast was pretty good.

Best Wishes

Imagine having your dearest wish come true.

It’s the least that can be done for a child who has faced down serious illness, and that’s the philosophy behind foundations like Make-A-Wish Canada. Kids typically ask for a Disney cruise, or a celebrity encounter. Not Isabella Tonn. When it came to expressing the wish closest to her heart, the 10-year-old cancer survivor from Edmonton, Alberta, confided that she desperately wanted to cuddle baby orphans.

Thanks to Make-A-Wish, her dream will come true. This month Isabella is travelling to Mexico with her family, where they will visit an orphanage, donate clothes and toys collected in Canada, and, yes, give out lots of hugs to babies.

Happily, Isabella’s surgery has been successful and she is expected to enjoy good health. And the girl who loves orphans will soon become big sister to a set of toddler twins from Haiti. Little do these wee ones know that they are set to join a family with extra-big hearts.

Baby, It’s Warm Inside

Experts who study the science of kindness will tell you that the warm fuzzies of doing good deeds are real, and documented. One of the latest scientists to prove this is social psychologist Dr. Lara Aknin at the University of British Columbia. She and her team recently found that toddlers – yes, we’re talking about tots not yet two years old – got more pleasure out of sharing a treat with others than getting a treat themselves.

Ever think you’d read the expression “warm glow of giving” in a research study paper that also talks about “proximate mechanisms that sustain prosociality”? Yep, even Ph.D.s find this stuff fascinating.

Nature is a smarty pants. That good feeling after giving helps ensure we do it again and again… and we all know by now that helping is healthy!

True Colours

Artists (I know a few of them) are nice people. They’re creative and interesting. Sure, they tend towards the flamboyant and excitable, sometimes the mildly alcoholic. Almost without exception, though, they’re unfailingly fun to be around.

I have a feeling that artist Jenny Lynn Unrein is more of the straight-and-narrow type. But if her work is any indication, she’s bright and she’s colourful and full of cheer.

“JennyLU,” as she’s known, is in her 20s and devoted to her art. She sells prints, notecards and calendars on her website. But Jenny also displays an eternal willingness to donate art to charitable organizations. Why? “It’s showing that you care about them. It’s showing respect and kindness,” Jenny tells me. And: “It helps me to give back.”

I first heard about Jenny through my friend’s new book, Flourish, profiling people with disabilities who live vibrant, passionate lives. Jenny has Williams syndrome, a rare genetic developmental disorder. Her stepmom Wendi says that when it comes to people with this condition, the urge to help others is “in their DNA!” (She’s right on the nose, as the gene differences lead to various likeable personality traits.)

Admit it: Jenny’s art lifts your spirits. But you don’t have to have Williams syndrome to want to help others. Maybe we need a name for the condition that we’re all born with, this drive to make a difference that is widespread in our species. Big-heart syndrome? My guess, people, is that you all test positive…

Sunflower art by Jenny Lynn Unrein

“Make a Difference,” by JennyLU Designs. You bet you will, Jenny.

Pictures Perfect

Some people love a challenge. So confesses my tech-minded friend R., who was determined to find a way to extract irreplaceable photos from my old cell phone. Especially when the service provider’s agent told him it couldn’t be done.

See, I’d upgraded to one of them newfangled smart gadgets. But I wasn’t ready to give away my old flip phone while it still held a clutch of precious memories. Some of those pics were several years old and priceless: snapshots captured in the pumpkin patch or park with my child, at the greenhouse with Grandma, in restaurants with friends. And there was no straightforward way to capture them, save e-mailing them to myself one at a time at a cost of about seven bucks apiece.

Enter R., who can peer into the gears of anything. He found a roundabout, rather sneaky way to get at them (it’s probably best if I don’t know the details, but the word “hacking” was used at least once). He wrote with satisfaction to tell me the photos were home free, and I was delighted. Excuse me now while I go take another walk down memory lane…

Good deed indeed.

Photo of girl inside transparent plastic ball, floating on a pool

Irreplaceable Photo Number Twenty Three: Wouldn’t any parent reach for their camera phone while their child plays in a floating hamster ball?

Turn Around, Bright Eyes

If you happen to live near Prince Edward Island (and you’re not prone to vertigo), you may have taken this weekend’s opportunity to visit the region’s first-ever rotating house. The 5,000-square-foot dwelling shaped roughly like a Boston cream doughnut is currently under construction in North Rustico.

It’s designed to turn one full rotation every 45 minutes. That means no matter what room you’re in, if you stay there long enough, you’ll have a beautiful ocean view. (Note to guests: Bring reading material into the bathroom.)

The house is a compelling sight to passing strangers. So homeowners Steve and Stephanie Arnold decided to open their partially-finished doors to the public on Saturday, for a modest $5 per person. They threw in music and a barbecue for a real warm neighbourhood get-together.

All money raised was directed to their community’s fire department, to help purchase a rescue truck. Which means that any neighbours who supported the cause were also helping themselves. And they only had to get a little dizzy to do it.

Fortune from a fortune cookie says: "You believe in the goodness of people."

Things that make you go hmmm: Looky what I found in my fortune cookie…

Bear Necessities

I suppose Shirley and Tom Schenk couldn’t “bear” it after listening all night to the cries of trapped baby bear cubs. The next morning, the couple from Ruidoso, New Mexico, set out a plan to rescue the three cubs, who’d become stuck in a dumpster with no way to climb out. This video, posted two weeks ago and already with over half a million views, shows Tom backing up the pick-up truck so Shirley can install a ladder. Presto, up pop three sweet furry faces! Come on, you know you want to see it

Screen shot of bear rescue video showing dumpster, truck, woman and ladder

“Bear with me… help is on the way!” (Sorry, these puns are clearly getting out of control…)