Monthly Archives: June 2013

Fun is More Than Just a Theory

Can self-improvement be fun? Sure it can – especially if you take low-carb diets and aerobic exercise out of the equation. The Fun Theory website posits that “fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better.” Through the ideas on this website, people can apparently learn to litter less, recycle more, drive safely, and take more stairs. Especially when a garbage bin gives you awesome sound effects every time you use it, a speed camera enters your name into a lottery whenever you obey traffic laws, and a staircase is transformed into a hugely amusing piano keyboard that plays tunes as you step.

To check out the Fun Theory website (corporately overseen by Volkswagen, whose vehicles may or may not have a connection to fun), visit

Tip of the Morning to You

Our street has seen a lot of construction work this month. And with this work comes a parade of tradespersons’ bulky vehicles, expanded variously with trailer hitches and stepladders and hoses, and parked around the worksite like there’s a party going on. Last week, a string of trucks and vans lined a section of the road that has no sidewalk. That didn’t leave much room for drivers and pedestrians to share the road. As I went for my usual morning walk and began passing these parked vehicles, I met a school bus coming the other way along the considerably narrowed street.

Not wanting to risk a flattening, I stepped into a convenient driveway and waited for the bus to pass. I enjoy it when drivers and pedestrians – or drivers and cyclists, or drivers and fellow drivers – make a little extra effort to get along, and then acknowledge that effort. You know what I mean. One person or the other nods, or puts up the palm of their hand in that universal “thank-you” gesture. It’s a moment of recognition, of connection.

This bus driver looked out his window at me as he drove past. But instead of nodding or showing his palm, he raised a hand and doffed his cap to me. Yes, really. I was delighted. Cap-tipping as salutation may have been in style a hundred years ago, but it’s rare nowadays. Made my day, it did.

Positive Post-Its

What’s a whole lot better than finding salt in your sugar bowl and toothpaste on your toilet seat? How about a sticky note on your locker that tells you how much you matter? That’s the kind of “positive prank” that students encountered at William Aberhart High School in Calgary, Alberta, when they showed up for classes earlier this month. A small group of graduating students decided to try something new to mark their rite of passage. They entered the school at 7:00 a.m. on a Friday and made a point of posting special comments throughout the hallways. Notes sported uplifting slogans like: “You are loved,” “You are beautiful inside and out,” “You matter,” and “You are SO attractive.”

“It’s our last kind of hurrah to make people feel good about themselves,” Hannah Rumpel, one of the students responsible for the guerrilla goodness, told a reporter.

Did it work? A student in this CBC video shares what was on the locker note she received: “It said, ‘You’re dope.’ It was pretty sick.” (We assume, because she’s smiling, that those are both good things.)

The graduating group originally tried to keep a low profile. But apparently it didn’t take long for the rest of the student population to pinpoint the positive pranksters. “We’ve heard lots of different stories about people that were really touched by [the notes],” Hannah says.

Pretend I just stuck this on your locker.

Pretend I just stuck this on your locker.


Telling someone “thank you” is most definitely a good deed. Whether they lend you a hand, hold the door for you or let you bump them in line, responding with thanks is a lovely way to acknowledge the person, show your appreciation and make them feel pretty darned worthwhile.

But how about expressing your gratitude on a global level? There needs to be a word for mass-thanking everyone in your life at once. Such was my thought when I read this Facebook note a short while ago, posted by an old friend of mine:

“I want to wish family, friends and those crazy people I know, a great night’s sleep and a wonderful day tomorrow. I know I haven’t told you all enough that I am grateful for knowing you all and that without you I wouldn’t have so many wonderful memories. Mwah!”

In one sweeping status update, my friend managed to cover off on all the fortune in her life, complete with a cyberkiss finish. And I like it, I think it’s a trend that could easily catch on, I just wish I knew what to call it.

So, folks, what’s the word? Batchpraising? Thankbombing? Bulknowledgement? I’m listening…

Another Tale from the Crypt

If you can stand another story about my basement-purging project, I swear it’s worthwhile. No, I won’t talk about the woman who drove for 50 minutes just to come and get a free raised toilet seat for her 89-year-old father. And I won’t go into great detail about the lady who emailed me after she got home from a pick-up to ask, “Is there someone in your neighbourhood that has a pig as a pet? Thought I was going crazy…” (For the record: Yes.)

But I would like to tell you about the guy who came to pick up a box of old tapes. Music-wise, I’ve gone digital, so I posted on our local Freecycle listserv that I was giving away a “…box of about 80 audiocassette albums. They haven’t been played in a few years, so current quality is unknown, but they’ve been well stored. Many, many artists/titles. Examples include: Blue Rodeo, Cat Stevens, Cowboy Junkies, Crowded House, David Bowie, Elton John, Enya, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Harry Connick Jr., John Lennon, Kate Bush, Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, Police/Sting, R.E.M., Sarah McLachlan, Smiths, TV/Movie soundtracks from the 80s/90s, compilations, etc., etc…

I swiftly received a response: “Hi……… Yes, I would love these audio cassettes. There are many titles I love, and as I do a lot of driving, these would be great for me.” I was happy for my collection to go into someone’s tape deck instead of the garbage. So I emailed him back with our address.

As we corresponded, it didn’t escape my notice that his name, not a particularly common one, was the same as one of my husband’s favourite authors. I dismissed it as coincidence.

He confirmed that he’d come the next day. That morning, we exchanged a few words as he (who turned out to be sixtysomething and white-haired) hefted the box from our front stoop and carried it over to his car. Just as he was about to leave, the man turned back to me and called out: “I’ll tell you what, look for me on Amazon. Pick your favourite book, and I’ll send you a signed copy.”


“Are you serious?” I asked. “Are you really — —–, the author? That’s you?” I couldn’t believe it. “My husband has all your books!” He smiled modestly – or possibly a little tentatively. “Go on Amazon, pick the one you like best, and I’ll sign it for you,” he reiterated.

“But – you’re not kidding me? You’re really — —–?” I persisted. “You wouldn’t be having me on, would you? Listen, if I grab your book right now, would you be willing to sign it for my husband?” The guy nodded (again, perhaps a little hesitantly) and came back towards the house, while I fetched four or five novels from our living-room bookshelf. I thought about how thrilled hubby would be. I thrust the stack at the author, along with a pen. He looked down, and that’s when realization dawned.

“Oh, that’s a different — —–,” he said. “See, he spells his last name differently. Mine is spelled this way.”


“It did surprise me when you said you had all my books,” he admitted.

I melted into laughter as soon as I closed the door. Turns out he’s not a multi-award-winning novelist and playwright but, rather, self-publishes short stories and detective novels. Not that I’m not intrigued – I may in fact take him up on his offer. Because, after all, you never know where one good turn will lead.

Highly enjoyable thank-you notes from three of the kids who’ve benefited from our many toy giveaways this month. Notice the beautifully rendered pogo-stick image. That’s what you call appreciation.

Highly enjoyable thank-you notes from three of the kids who’ve benefited from our many toy giveaways this spring. Notice the beautifully rendered pogo-stick image. That’s what you call appreciation.

Human Being John Malkovich

Meeting a movie star is thrilling. Maybe a little less so, I’ll admit, when you’re gushing blood from an artery in your neck. But still, when the blood flow is staunched by a famous actor, that’s got to be worlds better than, say, assistance from a random cat lady or a nomadic vampire or the Governor from The Walking Dead, am I right?

Jim Walpole can vouch for that. The American was in Toronto with his wife, having an enjoyable Saturday night about town, when his evening suddenly took a bizarre turn. Jim stumbled on the sidewalk, then cut open his throat on scaffolding as he fell. Blood quickly pooled around him. (Woozy yet? Shall I go on? I can wait.) Jim’s panicking wife, a retired nurse, hollered for help.

That’s when John Malkovich showed up on the scene. The highly acclaimed actor is here in town for a theatre production. He instantly stepped in to help, using his scarf to stop the blood. A nearby restaurant owner also provided aid until the paramedics arrived. According to reports, John Malkovich kept his cool and seemed to know what to do, although he hasn’t been at all interested in publicity after his dramatic rescue.

As for Jim (who is recovering, after getting stitched up) and his wife, they’re eternally grateful but didn’t actually recognized the actor in the heat of the moment. Nor are they familiar with his oeuvre. (Here’s a head start: Watch the news video here for an inadvertent title drop at 1:49.)

Strange Stories Amazing Facts

As I mentioned the other day, I’ve become involved in a little basement-clearing project because I have many idle hours to fill … okay, not actually true. I have very little time on my hands, but the fact of the matter is, purging is just plain fun. Yes, I’m a sicko.

Part of the process involves raking through our yards of books. I’ll keep anything I’d enjoy re-reading or lending, but everything else must go. Three boxes of books were delivered to Goodwill yesterday. A handful of tomes for tweens went to a friend’s granddaughter. A few collections for very young kiddies are spoken for, boxed and ready for pick-up.

I picked up one particular hardcover volume, unsure how it arrived at our house. It’s a Reader’s Digest compilation and on the cover it says: Strange Stories Amazing Facts: Stories that are Bizarre Unusual, Odd Astonishing Incredible… But True [sic]. (I’ll tell you what’s bizarre and unusual, it’s the casual dismissal of essential commas in favour of a clean cover design.)

As I opened the book, a piece of paper fell out. It was a note I’d never seen before, handwritten by my grandmother ten years ago. The note is addressed to my husband and reads:

Dear Ian:
I read only 2 stories in this book – I hope you don’t mind getting it “2nd hand” but it is good and I wish you to have it. I hope you enjoy it! Have a good Xmas!

My grandmother died in 2009. We weren’t extremely close, but we always stayed in touch. So finding this letter was, in a way, like receiving a message from beyond.

And as I flipped through the strange stories amazing facts, I discovered something else. Tucked inside the book was a pressed pink rose. Not only had my grandmother read from this book, she’d used it to preserve a flower – which she eventually forgot about before passing it on to my husband.

I’ll never know the significance of the rose and why she chose to keep it. But I was touched to find it, and to read her letter. In a way, it was a gift all over again.

Kodak Moment

As a parent who’s been snap-happy since the birth of her child, I can relate to the anguish that Ann Perry-Smith of Vancouver Island must have felt when her car was broken into and all its contents stolen – including a diaper bag, two cameras, and a very special roll of undeveloped film. On that roll was almost every picture that existed in the world of Ann’s newborn baby girl. (If you’re under the age of 30 and you’re wondering what words like “roll” and “film” mean, just imagine someone snitching your iPhone before you’ve had a chance to back up all your favourite selfies.)

The theft was in 2004, and Ann had long assumed those pictures were gone for good. That was until a couple of weeks ago, when the photos turned up… on Facebook, of all places. “I realized right away, these are the pictures that had been lost almost nine years ago,” Ann told a reporter. “I was just shocked, and floored.”

How’d they get there? The pics had been posted by another woman, Helen Maslyk, who found the old film canister at the side of the highway on the May long weekend, after her car broke down. Helen developed the pictures out of curiosity, realized these were someone’s precious moments, and posted them on Facebook, hoping they’d be recognized.

They were. Ann quickly got in touch, and Helen returned the photos, much to Ann’s delight.

You can bet the women are now Facebook friends. “We all love a good story, kindness to strangers, and we don’t hear enough of it,” Helen said in the CBC news article.

Say it with me, young ’uns: they’re called ne- ga- tives.

Say it with me, young ’uns: they’re called ne… ga… tives.