Monthly Archives: November 2012

Lucky Strike

As we approach the end of the year, it’s normal to take stock of just what kind of year it’s been. Has it been lucky? Have you had a team of invisible angels laying four-leaf clovers everywhere you step? More likely you’ve had your share of challenges mixed in with the triumphs. Perhaps you’ve had problems at work, or grappled with health issues, or been bereaved. Such is the way life pummels us from time to time.

But if you’re like my friend Brandie, you’re able to decipher and feel grateful for the moments of pure pudding. Because you know you’ve had them. Human nature is such that we are almost always in contact with well-meaning pals, and well-meaning people we’ve never even met.

I know Brandie recognizes this, because she made her sentiments known on Facebook this week. “In some ways 2012 hasn’t been the easiest year,” she wrote. “But I also have to acknowledge that it’s the year I left a purse full of cash and cheques on the subway and got it back, lost my car keys in the snow and had them turned in by a ski lift operator, misplaced my iPhone and found it, and – yesterday – recovered my bank card from the florist. Thank you, universe.”

And thanks, kindness of strangers. I might add cheekily that if a person routinely carries around a purse packed with cash and cheques, if they have both the means and the mobility to ski on their leisure time – if they own an iPhone and a bank card, for that matter – they could be worse off than all that. (I recommend this “First World Problems” video if you really want to feel like a dung beetle for ever complaining about your caffe latte being too sweet or your Internet connection too sluggish.)

It’s not easy to struggle, and we all do. But it’s also not a bad idea to make like Brandie, and take time to appreciate when things actually do turn out for us.

Wake Up and Smell the Kolache

If you find you’re doing more favours during the holiday season, it might not be because you’re blissed out on good will. Rather, it may be because you’re inhaling the aroma of all those freshly baked Christmas cookies.

That’s what’s suggested by a new study at the University of Southern Brittany, France. When a young man or woman stood outside a store and accidentally-on-purpose dropped something while pretending to dig through their shopping bags, passersby were more likely to help if they got a whiff of fresh pastries. The proof is in the pudding: Outside a clothing store, a stranger stopped to pick up the dropped item about half the time. But outside a bakery, over three-quarters of the passersby lent a hand.

Were they lulled into benevolence by the smell of bread? Were they hoping for a pastry reward? Researchers believe that any pleasant scent, not just the aromas of baking, will trigger kinder behaviour. (Is that why my neighbour likes to cut my grass for me? Because we all love the smell of the fresh mow? Mystery solved.)

Special Offer for You, a Student and the Food Bank

Earlier this year, I wrote about a special rejuvenation retreat that would transport you both in body – all the way to Vietnam – and mind. Not only did it promise to pump you up in all the ways that count, but part of the fees paid by each participant would also send a child to school for a year.

If you missed that event, maybe you’re still hankering for an experience that will bring you into caves, up mountains, and across breathtaking bays, all the while getting your yoga on. (Apparently you can also look forward to some pretty mouthwatering cellophane noodles.) Lucky for you, you can get in on the next Adventure Yoga Retreat, scheduled for December 22, 2013, to January 4, 2014.

And it gets even better: Loyal readers, if you use the promotion code 50GOODDEEDS when you book your spot, our hosts at the World Karma Project will knock $800 off the retreat price. Plus our good friends will donate another $100 to charity. I’ve chosen Food Banks Canada, because even hungry folks here at home deserve cellophane noodles (or soup and peanut butter).

Bottom line: You get your dream trip, a Vietnamese kid gets educated, and some Canadian children get fed. Who was it who said you can’t always get what you want?

Go to Temple

What is ostensibly planned as a promo for a biopic turns into a pow-wow about benevolence. Watch this lovely four-minute TV interview with Temple Grandin, who is probably the world’s most famous autistic woman (I’d say the title of most famous autistic man is sewn up by Bill Gates, if the buzz is true).

Turns out Temple is a big fan of being nice to others. In her chat with CBC’s George Stromboulopoulous, she promotes Roy Rogers’ legendary Rider’s Club Rules (which include “be courteous and polite” and “protect the weak and help them”), disapproves of any TV show that includes the phrase “You are the weakest link,” and advocates a kinder, softer touch with animals.

Temple Grandin, the made-for-TV movie starring Claire Danes as the Grandin dame herself, has been out for a couple of years. And this TV interview is almost as old. So forgive me for stale news – but then again, sweetness never gets stale, does it?

Tree Amigos

Tragic stories were heard in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Naturally, there were plenty of opportunities, too, for acts of kindness. My friend’s tiny but safe New York apartment, which sits empty when she and her partner are in Toronto, was well appreciated by the three displaced couples who were welcomed to cram themselves into it. Another colleague took a leadership role in running a shelter. Me, I didn’t play a part in helping anyone weather the storm. But a couple of days after the wind blew through town, I did stop on the street for an old woman who needed my help.

Actually, first I passed her on the sidewalk as we walked in opposite directions. We smiled politely at each other like we were just two ordinary pedestrians – one, a brisk walker on her way to buy a snack from the corner store, and the other, strolling more slowly, toting a cane and dragging an eight-foot branchy section of tree behind her like she does this all the time. This piece of found fallen birch was obviously a casualty of the hurricane. The question was, what did she want with it? As I walked on, I pondered the possibilities. She was quite a beautiful older woman. I imagined she had the face of an artist and that she would display the birchwood in her glorious front flower garden, or create some kind of nature-inspired sculpture. I admired her for spotting loveliness somewhere unexpected.

I left the store thinking these romantic thoughts, turned back in the direction of home, and easily caught up with the woman – who was travelling at the speed of a snail – a few minutes later.

I almost passed her again. But then: “I have to ask,” I blurted out, waving my hand toward the wood. (I’m sure my daughter would tell you in embarrassed tones how often I interrogate total strangers.)

Instead of responding to my implied question, the woman smiled, nodded, and held the end of the branch out to me. In heavily accented, broken English, she made it clear that yes, she would appreciate the help I was offering her, thank you very much. Her house was on the next corner.

That’s when I realized she was struggling beneath her burden. So I stepped up, kicking myself for not noticing earlier that she needed a hand. As we walked together, me hauling the chunk of tree and she able to walk a bit faster now, with the help of her cane, I tried to ask my question again.

She didn’t speak much English, but I finally established that her plans for the beautiful birch wood was to burn it to ashes. Yes, she’d been happy to find this treasure trove of perfectly free firewood. She couldn’t wait to put it to practical good use.

So she wasn’t a free-spirited artist after all. But she did freely express her gratitude. And if I helped a tiny bit to keep her warm over the upcoming wintry nights, that can’t be a bad thing, can it?

Birch Tree

Break out the marshmallows.

Singing Your Praises

Hey you… yes, you. You’re awfully clever, you know that? You bet. Smart as a whip. You’re doing a great job, there, reading those words and scrolling that mouse and efficiently sipping whatever’s steaming in that mug beside you. Oh, and did I mention you’re rather easy on the eyes?

How did that feel? Like I just handed you a million dollars, maybe? If so, there’s new research to back you up. According to a team of Japanese researchers, giving compliments can be just as powerful as giving cash… at least when it comes to learning a new task.

Both acts of generosity cause an area of the recipient’s brain called the striatum (I think I spent a night clubbing there once) to light on fire, which in turn appears to boost performance. When folks in an experiment were taught a finger exercise on a keyboard, they seemed better at learning it if the researchers gave them compliments.

“To the brain, receiving a compliment is as much a social reward as being rewarded money,” team leader Norihiro Sadato at the National Institute for Physiological Sciences says in a press release.

So if you want to give someone a boost, try praise instead of pay. It’s, apparently, as good as gold.

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

What started as a joke ended up setting in motion some unsolicited medical advice from total strangers… and may have saved the life of a young man.

Here’s how it goes: 18-year-old kid is rooting around in his medicine cabinet, finds a pregnancy test kit left behind by his ex-girlfriend, thinks it would be a laugh and a half to pee on the stick. Surprise: The test comes out positive. That’s weirdly funny, so his gal pal in Hamilton, Ontario, draws a comic strip about it and posts it to Reddit.

The comic artist in question, who informally goes by “CappnPoopdeck,” told CBC news that she only drew the strip to tease her buddy. One doubts she spent much time considering that a pregnancy test checks for certain substances, and that that her friend might be harbouring hormones that just aren’t supposed to be brewing inside a healthy male.

Poopy, therefore, was astonished when her comic attracted a slew of comments from concerned strangers who wrote: “Check yourself for testicular cancer.”

“Whoa.. just saw all the cancer comments,” she responded online. She promised to pass the info on to her friend, and added: “Thank you for letting me know guys, we may have dodged a bullet here!”

Creative expression – and the kindness of strangers – may indeed have caught a cancer in time. The young man saw his doc, a small tumour was found, but it can be treated. Not only did Poopy post a full report on Reddit, she also, naturally, drew a comic about it. She even urged people to check themselves for testicle and breast lumps, helpfully adding the URL of a health website. Poopy is the kind of pal you want to have. “Thank you again, Reddit,” she wrote in her comic. “Namaste.”

Comic strip panel showing horrified face

Oh, the stigma…

You’re Loved by Lindsay

Imagine writing inspired and ever-original messages of amour. More than a thousand different times. To people whose names you don’t even know.

Over the past eight years, artist and writer Lindsay Zier-Vogel has composed and then hidden 1,100 love poems in various odd places, like inside library books, phone booths and cherry bins. She leaves them for strangers to find.

She has no way of knowing who has discovered her sweet sentiments, and what it’s meant to them. Has it made them smile? Laugh? Gaze into the distance and weep with happiness?

“Potential excites me like nothing else,” she declares in a recent article. As for me, I can’t say I’ve ever found anything unexpected while browsing for books or shopping for fruit – except, perhaps, a startled wasp. But if I ever come across one of Lindsay’s poems, I’ll count myself lucky. If there’s love going around, I don’t mind catching a little bit of it.

Transplant with a Twist

On Tuesday we talked about hearts; today we’re talking about kidneys. Two kidneys, in fact. These organs began their journey together, but have now gone their separate ways, each one generously donated to a person who couldn’t live without it.

But because of a peculiar quirk of fate, this pair of kidneys will probably always stay in close contact. Their new hosts – both young women in Halifax, Nova Scotia – just happen to be solid friends.

Lisa Walsh-Kirk, age 24, and her pal Jessica are kindred spirits who met when they were 12. Until recently, both women were recipients of donor kidneys that were failing. And until recently, both women were on a very long transplant list, in essence competing with each other for an organ they both desperately needed.

When Lisa got the call, after five long years of waiting, that a kidney was available for her, she headed for the hospital in a state of shock – and was further blown away to find Jessica already there. Turns out her friend had gotten the same call. It quickly became clear that the two young ladies were both about to benefit from the exact same kidney donor.

“It was meant to be,” said Lisa, who even got to be roomies with her bestie while they recovered. She added in a news story that she would love to meet her donor’s family one day, and promises to take top-notch care of her new kidney.