Monthly Archives: December 2012

Could Your Town Convert a Grinch?

This will be my last post of 2012, so I’ll leave you with something merry to chew on (besides Grandma’s fruitcake). The Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto has come up with a mathematical formula for calculating the cities with the highest potential for Grinch conversion. Specifically, which metropolis is most likely to grow a Grinch’s heart three sizes bigger?

The variables they take into account include density of population (assuming more people means more merriness), number of costume rental stores where Santa suits can be easily procured, number of retail stores for gifts and butchers for roast beast, and number of music-makers. They also measured nighttime illumination levels – because, apparently, lights are required in order to catch the Grinch’s attention. And they even counted the hospitals, assuming the Grinch would need serious medical attention after such an accelerated change to his heart tissue.

The study only looked at American cities, and I guess Whoville isn’t on any U.S. map because even though it’s a sure thing, it didn’t make the top ten. The community that did take the top spot for Grinch-heart-growth potential was Trenton, New Jersey. Other towns that were tapped include New York City, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and Detroit.

Such a complex research project… I would expect no less from the world’s leading think-tank on the role of sub-national factors in global economic prosperity. But I don’t care what any numbers say. I know my own community scores high on holiday cheer, and I’m looking forward to sipping some of it over the next few days. I hope that you, too, enjoy special time with those you love. All the best.

My friends, we will meet again in January. Joy to the world.

My friends, we will meet again in January. Joy to the world.

My True Love Gave to Me WHAT?

And here you thought the 12 days of Christmas were reserved for swimming swans and pipers piping. Galt Toys, a U.K.-based educational toy company, is holding a good deeds contest and calling it their “12 Days of Christmas Kindness Competition.” The winner gets 200 pounds – that’s British currency, not holiday-cookie weight – to spend on an online toy shopping spree.

How do you enter? First, commit an act of kindness. You know how to take care of this step on your own. Next, announce your good deed to Galt Toys on Twitter (@Galttoys), by email ( or on Facebook.

Other people have already joined in the competition, a quick scan of the Facebook page confirms. Zoe and her daughter bought coffee and a sandwich for a homeless man. Amarjit writes: “A woman was struggling to carry her child’s pushchair up some stairs and l carryed [sic] it for her.” Rachel reports: My good deed was today helping our elderly neighbour change his tyre.” (Of course I’m quoting directly here. I don’t often get a chance to repeat words like “tyres” and “pushchairs.”)

It’s not too late for you to sign up, too. The contest closes at midday tomorrow (which is approximately breakfast time, for those of us in North America). Go do your deed, spread the word on Galt, and maybe win lots of British playthings.

Baby not included. Sorry.

Baby not included. Sorry.

The Shirt Off Her Back

My sweet girl knows her way around good deeds. Once or twice I’ve trumpeted her kindnesses on this blog. Very many go unsung. Today, I will sing.

My daughter’s non-profit choir held a fundraiser recently. And as the children successfully went about collecting cash from friends and rellies, their names were entered into weekly draws. In fundraising lingo this is called incentive. Of course, all the kids were pining for prizes.

On the very last day of draws, a selection of choir merchandise was laid out on the table. The second-last name to be called was music to my daughter’s ears. She approached the table to make her pick.

But there were just two items left: a pair of bluebird-coloured choir sweatshirts. One was size small – which fits my thirteen-year-old daughter to a tee (no pun intended) – and the other was extra-large.

My kid was all set to take the small shirt. Then she got a look at the slight, ten-year-old girl approaching the table after her, the kid whose name had been drawn last. My daughter sized her up (no pun intended here either), and made up her mind.

“Here, you’d better have this one,” she said, thrusting the size-small at the tinier tot.

That left my do-good daughter with an XL shirt. She can’t wear it, but she can swim in it. Still, she wants to keep it for sentimental reasons. Frame it? I’m just brainstorming here.

Kids are naturally kind. All we need to do as parents, really, is make sure it sticks.

Maybe a quilt? Still brainstorming.

Maybe a quilt? Still brainstorming.

Love is All You Need

And now for some more mental manipulation from the University of Southern Brittany, France (all in the name of good, of course). This particular psychological experiment was held in conjunction with a blood drive at various university campuses. Students were asked to donate blood by friendly researchers wearing T-shirts. As it happens, these tees were key to the experiment. Some of the shirts were plain, some had the motto “Donating = Helping,” and some read: “Loving = Helping.” The result? Students were more likely to give blood when asked by someone in a “Loving = Helping” outfit. The other motto had no effect compared to a plain shirt.

What does this tell us? Maybe, the researchers theorize, the word “loving” prompts people to think about the needs of others (instead of that nasty poke in the arm). It’s also possible that just hearing the word “loving” puts folks in a positive frame of mind… and we know that happy people are helpy people.

Either way, it’s clear from this and other similar experiments that love conquers all, love finds a way, love actually.

Now excuse me, I’m going to go think up ways to print the word “love” on all my power suits, as it never hurts to have an edge in a business meeting…

Toy Story

James Groccia’s parents have reason to be proud of their kid. Not only did he save up for two whole years to buy a one-hundred-dollar LEGO train set, but when he discovered the toy had been discontinued after he’d finally raised the cash to pay for it, he took action. The 10-year-old wrote a letter to the toy company’s corporate headquarters, eloquently communicating his disappointment and describing the Emerald Train as the “LEGO set of my dreams.” Did they by chance, he asked politely, happen to have any leftover sets kicking about?

James has loved LEGO since he was four. He plays with it every single day. James has Asperger syndrome, and he’s even part of a LEGO playgroup to help him work on his social skills.

He explained all this in his letter. Then he signed it, “Your most loyal LEGO fan.”

That was in September. In October, a large box was shipped to James’ Massachusetts home with his name on it. One of his parents set up a hidden camera and caught his priceless reaction as the “world’s most loyal LEGO fan” opens the package to discover none other than the “LEGO set of his dreams.” This is what the happiest boy on the planet looks like.

It was a sweet gift, and the reception couldn’t have been better. But the letter enclosed in the package was just as uplifting. “I commend your willpower and patience to save money for over two years just to purchase this set,” wrote Megan, identifying herself as a consumer services advisor. In the video, James reads her entire letter out loud: “We are excited to know that we could help make this dream come true for you… Who knows, maybe you will be working for the LEGO Group one day. You certainly have the heart and passion for our work to do so.”

The Groccias posted these captured moments on YouTube, calling the video “Why LEGO is the BEST Company in the World.” LEGO admits this isn’t a good deed they can pull off every day, but I’m betting the team is feeling almost as proud as James’ mom and dad.

“We’re really humbled by the family’s gesture to share this moment,” a rep told me. “We’re happy to see joy-filled news spread so far.”

Very happy child

Come on. Wouldn’t you grab at any opportunity to make a kid produce this expression?

Tree to Be

Of those millions of North Americans who plan to celebrate Christmas, a good many kicked off the season this past weekend by decorating a tree. For some, that may have meant trolling the out-of-town farms for the perfect balsam fir to haul home. For others, it required digging through the basement boxes for a more polyvinyl-chloride-inspired way to express their holiday spirit.

Which brings us to a burning question. Which do you think is kinder to the environment – a genuine, traditional, farm-grown tree, or a plastic knock-off?

There are arguments for both, which is why public opinion is divided. According to the Ontario Forestry Association, 46 percent of us believe that fakes are environmentally friendlier, while 42 percent think true trees are better for the planet.

Real trees, says the OFA, release precious oxygen when they’re planted densely on farms. They’re replaced with seedlings once harvested. And after the holidays they return to mother earth as mulch, thanks to our municipal waste programs. Fake trees, however, gobble up fossil fuels in their manufacture and transport, and eventually languish in landfill.

I’m not sure it’s as clear cut (no pun intended) as all that. After all, fossil fuels are also required to truck the farm trees into the cities where they’re sold, or to pick them up at curbside after Christmas, even to chow them down into that very special, slightly tinsel-tainted park mulch. And when artificial trees are made from recycled materials, they’re doing at least some good.

Which makes it all a little confusing for the poor person who just wants to hang sparkly stuff. Personally, I go for the biologically genuine. I hope it’s the greenest choice. But besides that, there’s just something special about that lovely piney scent that fills the air and clogs up my nose the instant I walk into the room.

Nothing like a little nasal congestion to bring a family together, right? It’s the real thing for me.

Close-up of cedar  tree

Good things come in trees, right?