Monthly Archives: October 2013

Feline Groovy

It’s not every day – thankfully – that you hear voices crying out to you from the trash bins. (Well, maybe you do, but that’s perhaps another story for another time.) In the case of my friend Tina, she was startled by teeny-tiny mewling sounds while taking out the garbage one swelteringly hot night. And she got concerned. She donned mask and gloves, tipped over the bin, and began sifting through the trash, piece by piece, until she uncovered (warning: disturbing content) a family of five newborn kittens, tied up in garbage bags. Sadly, Tina was too late for two of them.

But my friend brought the surviving three babies indoors, cleaned them, fed them and made sure they were safe. Then our fearless Tina went back outside – at almost midnight, now – to comb the streets in search of cat mom. Unbelievably, she found her. “Not sure it’s theirs, but I coax her back to my place with food,” she wrote later in a reflection. Happily, Tina had zeroed in on the right baby mama, as became clear once they were reunited – and cuddling.

That was three months ago. Tina, who lives on the island of Cyprus, has cared for these baby kittens so well that they’re now healthy, frisky and ready for adoption. Thanks to Tina’s kindness and quick thinking, all three seem to have recovered fully from their very close call.

And speaking of close, another homeless litter of kittens (I started to write kitty litter but decided to rephrase that) made its debut right on my driveway a few weeks ago. My husband spotted them one evening as we returned home. I alerted my friend and neighbour, Natalie, who won’t tell you this herself but actually moonlights as a cat whisperer. What that means is that she and her family spent many hours and evenings at the back of my driveway, patiently enticing the five tiny felines out of the bushes with kitty num-nums, until she’d managed to take four of them into custody. A cat rescue agency has accepted them for neutering, vaccinations and adoption. These are, apparently, essential steps to combatting our community’s cat overpopulation problem. (We’re still on the hunt, by the way, for the renegade fifth kitty. Our children have distributed flyers door-to-door in the hopes that someone has spotted him – somewhat, akin, I think, to old-timey wanted posters.)

Not everyone would have the patience or the expertise to lure cats to safety and nurse them to health. (It doesn’t take much patience or expertise to donate a couple of dollars online, mind you, so if you’re inclined that way, you could always support your local animal rescue group.) Kudos to both Tina and Natalie for helping these itty-bitty kitties.

Four days after rescue: Tina’s tiny trio is lucky to be alive.

Four days after rescue: Tina’s tiny trio is lucky to be alive.

Two and a half months after rescue: Better look out for this posse of preciousness…

Two and a half months after rescue: Better look out for this posse of preciousness…

Can’t Buy Me Love

Recently there’s been some press around a set of studies at the University of California, Berkeley, that examined behaviour and motivation among the upper class – people with higher education, important-sounding careers, and a whole lot of do-re-mi. Their conclusion? These men and women tend to be less ethical and compassionate than those without as much money and prestige.

Among their wacky findings, people in a higher socioeconomic class were less likely to stop for a pedestrian at a crosswalk. And they were more likely to help themselves to candy that’s meant for children. Come on, it’s for children!

We already know from other studies that wealthy people are less generous to charities, and more likely to cheat for cash. The researchers theorize that many upper-class folks don’t think greed is such a bad thing, compared to poorer, less educated people.

Social psychologist Paul Piff, at the University of California, Berkeley, led the research and says there were clear patterns after studying thousands of individuals. (You can listen here to his recent interview on CBC Radio.) “The wealthier you are, and the more status in society you have, the more likely you are to see yourself as deserving of good things in life,” he explains in the interview. “You see yourself as more entitled to better outcomes.”

But the good news is, you can be rich and keep your moral code. Just look at my hero Warren Buffett, who earns enough money to swim in, but instead gives most of it away to good causes.

I can’t speak for his demographic, for obvious reasons. But I’d like to think that if my own personal net worth were suddenly to rise several notches, I’d still stop for a pedestrian at a crosswalk. And I’d never, ever steal candy from a baby.

…not even if it was made with chocolate.

…not even if it was made with chocolate.

A Holiday that Isn’t Just for Turkeys

Now that this blog has been around for more than three years, it’s safe to say there’s an established annual tradition. Every year, right around this time, I’ve written about Thanksgiving and thanks giving. Of course, thanks giving should happen on more than just a day in October. And for most of us, it probably does. (Who you thank, of course, is your own business. I just try to wallow in a cloud of general appreciation.)

Still, it’s important to have a designated day to focus on our good fortune. (And eat pumpkin pie. It’s important to have a day to do that, too.) This month, my little family has been challenged with a couple of significant problems, plus a few assorted minor ones. And when these trials hit, I’m reminded of how easy it is to slip into frustration, host a pity party, fantasize about the runaway life.

Yet when I try to dwell on the positives in my life – the health and happiness of my child, the warmth of my marriage, the roof over our heads, the close community we live in, the taste of pinot grigio (my friend and oft-advisor firmly believes that no pity party is complete without a glass of wine)… it never, ever fails to make me feel at least a little better.

So that’s what I did this Thanksgiving. I felt thankful. And it’s helping. It’s no reason to give up my glass of pinot grigio – let’s not get giddy about this – but it truly makes a difference.

P.S. I had the pleasure of sharing my enthusiasm for good deeds on CBC Radio yesterday afternoon. Here’s the link to the 7-minute interview if you want to check it out.

I tried to take a picture of a pumpkin pie that WASN’T half eaten, but that’s an endangered species around here.

I tried to take a picture of a pumpkin pie that WASN’T half eaten, but that’s an endangered species around here.

Why, I Oughta… Help You Out

Does your blood pressure often come close to the boiling point? If you’re prone to hypertension – a leading cause of heart attack and stroke – you probably know that factors like smoking, sitting on your butt all day, and, yes, getting stressed and angry all contribute to the problem.

A study at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has found one way to bring down that high blood pressure: Help someone. Researchers at the university recruited more than a thousand older adults with normal blood pressure. When they interviewed the same folks four years later, they discovered that those who had done volunteer work were much less likely to have developed a blood pressure problem in those four years.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t quit smoking or ever step on a treadmill. But it’s good to know that helping others is another way to protect yourself from hypertension. In a way, by giving from the heart, you’re giving back to your own.

Music Marathon

I don’t know if Frank Horvat quite knew what to expect when he volunteered to hold a 20-hour piano-thon. The event would coincide with the 20th anniversary of Lakeshore Arts, a community arts organization in Toronto, and raise money to support its programming. But I’ll say this for him: He was dedicated. “I wanted something unique to help feature Lakeshore Arts,” says this acclaimed pianist and composer. Plus, he admits, “I’ve always been fascinated by endurance events.”

Endurance this certainly called for. Starting at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, Frank played piano nonstop with but a single five-minute break each hour. (We can only imagine he found ways to fill those five minutes.) Every note he played was improvised. The piano-thon was broadcast live on the Lakeshore Arts website, while the donations poured in.

By the time I learned about Frank’s creative quest and tuned in to the live video feed, it was already the next morning. Frank had surpassed the 20-hour mark and raised almost $6,000. But he was still playing, having decided to keep reaching for more. Either that, or in his sleep-deprived state it was just easier to keep the hands moving across the keys in a kind of inertia.

“I think I’m still sane, so that’s a good thing,” he dictated in an email to his fans, after the first 20 hours had passed. But he also urged more donors to step up. At this point Frank’s music was a little less, um, lively compared to the first hour. Don’t get me wrong, his playing still sounded great – but my own back and shoulders were cringing in sympathy just watching him. He claims he was tired but not at all sore. (He’s younger than me, the punk.)

Also by mid-morning he had donned a pair of sunglasses. Apparently the shades were necessary because of the morning sun and camera lights. But Frank confesses to dozing off on purpose during the piano-thon. “I often dream of music in my head while I sleep, so it didn’t seem that big a deal… instinctive, I guess.” He says. “Every time I did one of those little snooze episodes as I played, I woke up feeling much better.” Uh, wow?

Frank ended up playing for 24 hours. Total raised: over $7,100. (A lesser man would have spent almost that much on Advil in the days since.) He’s received a ton of emails since, and his story is making the social-media rounds. “I even went to a music store this morning and got the ‘Hey, you’re the piano-thon guy!’” Frank says.

He adds: “I’m humbled by all this attention I’ve received. But I’m also very happy to raise attention and funds for a great community arts organization like Lakeshore Arts. There are so many small organizations like this in our city – and other cities – that do so much.”

If you like music and happen to have 24 hours open, you can listen to the entire piano-thon on YouTube.

Frank isn’t patting himself on the back in this picture. But he probably should be.

Frank isn’t patting himself on the back in this picture. But he probably should be.