Category Archives: Entertainment

Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song

Fred Stobaugh was neck-deep in grief after losing the love of his life. Then he read about an online songwriting contest. Something about it reached Fred, who isn’t actually all that musical, and moved him to write a tribute.

There was just one hitch: Fred is 96 years old, and he doesn’t use the Internet.

No matter. He scrawled his song on paper and mailed it in a big envelope.

“We didn’t quite expect an entry like Fred’s,” says producer Jacob Colgan in a Green Shoe Studio video. The studio, based in East Peoria, Illinois, had asked contestants to upload videos to YouTube and send them the links. No wonder Fred’s submission stood out.

Fred had plenty to say about his departed wife, Lorraine. After all, they spent 75 years together – two dating, and 73 married. “Listening to the lyrics, and the passion behind the lyrics… it was just so heartwarming,” Colgan says. So, even though the song didn’t meet the contest requirements, the studio made the decision to transform the lyrics into a real, professional song – at no charge. When they told Fred, he cried. “Music means so much to so many people,” says Colgan.

“I wish we could do all the good times over again,” the lyrics of the song, called “Sweet Lorraine,” read in part.

Fred says the song – you can hear it at this link or buy it on iTunes – is helping him through his mourning. “It just seemed like she’s just sort of with me… She’s smiling down, and she likes that song, I know.”

Big-Hearted Bigwigs

Think celebrities are all about themselves, all the time? Certain superstars may be big, but they’re benevolent. That’s what I learned from this recent article on Cracked.com. Many famous people routinely perform acts of kindness, whether it’s Tom Cruise rescuing total strangers, or Keanu Reeves giving away millions of dollars for leukemia research, or Johnny Depp saving, in turn, a horse from euthanasia, a friend from a mugging, and movie-set extras from assured smushedness (apparently a stunt car was veering towards them). Of course, we all agree that Johnny Depp does a good deed just by allowing us to look at his face. But it’s heartening to know that even when it feels like the world revolves around you, you can still give back to the world.

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?

Crazy Little Sing Called Love

What can you do with a beautiful voice and a heart of gold? Give the gift of song, that’s what. That’s how one young musician, Anya Parker Lentz of Short Hills, New Jersey, makes her mark.

Anya, 16, is unquestionably a rising star. Check out her song samples and you’ll agree. But as she makes a name for herself, she isn’t forgetting her friends. When close pal Jake was diagnosed with dystonia, a neurological movement disorder, Anya was so moved that she wrote a song called “Mission Possible.” And when Jake and his family started an annual fundraiser to support research and awareness of the condition, “Mission Possible” became the unofficial theme song. True-blue Anya performs, of course, at Jake’s fundraising event.

Now this caring young teen is carrying on the kindness throughout the month of October with an online giveaway. Commit a random act of generosity, go to Anya’s Facebook fan page and post a comment or photo describing the deed you did. Each week, Anya’s planning to award one participant a signed CD and a print of original lyric art.

Why make the effort? “I know I’m not going to reach every single person that reads my posts or hears me talk about paying it forward, but you never know who you do reach, who you do truly inspire,” Anya says. “A simple act of kindness can make the biggest difference in someone’s life, so I take every opportunity I have. If I make even a tiny difference in someone’s day, it could turn into a huge act of giving if people just pay forward the small good deed.”

How did a 16-year-old get so smart? In many ways she’s an ordinary kid. Her hobbies include yoga and sewing, and her website attests that she’s “prone to giggle fits with her closest friends.” But Anya also stands out, with her musical talent and her sincere wish to reach out.

“I just want to make a difference,” Anya says. “It’s my goal to make my own lifestyle one of giving and being kind, and doing everything I can to make people smile.”

Her new album, not surprisingly, is called The Giving.

Photo of Anya Parker Lentz

That sing you do… it really is making a difference.

Comedy of Errors

If ABC had asked me, instead of asking a million anonymous Americans, to name the best comedy television show ever, I wouldn’t have pointed to I Love Lucy. Nothing against the clownish antics of beloved Lucille Ball. But I’ve always been much more likely to laugh out loud watching Friends. Could be a Gen-X thing, I guess.

And maybe it’s thanks to my influence, but my 13-year-old daughter has also become a big Friends fan. When she craves down time and some cuddling on the couch with her mom, she’s often liable to want a half hour of snappy dialogue between six Manhattan twentysomethings with good hair.

This week, we watched “The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS.” (Just why Phoebe hates PBS isn’t all that important here, but I can tell you it has to do with a traumatized adolescence and an unexpected snub from Big Bird.)

During this episode, Joey argues that there’s no such thing as a totally selfless good deed. Phoebe doesn’t agree. And she sets out to prove Joey wrong. But every one of her attempts (raking her neighbour’s leaves, making a charitable donation) ends up backfiring, since they make her feel great every time.

Spoiler alert: By the end of the episode, it looks like Joey’s won the debate. Phoebe’s frustrated because she can’t help but get joy from her acts of kindness.

But I’m not making a fuss over it. As scientific research has shown us again and again, we derive pleasure from doing good deeds. It’s part of our make-up. And, yes, we get lots of tangible benefits from our benevolence, like better health and greater self-esteem.

So is that selfish? Does it matter? When the helper and the helpee both come out on top, I call that a win-win situation.

Photo of Lisa Kudrow in role of Phoebe

Oh, Pheebs, you mustn’t let it get to you. You carried your brother’s triplets out of the goodness of your heart.

Small Act, Big Tears

If you happen to live in or near Toronto, don’t miss your chance to see a powerful film – for free. Chris Mburu was a bright but poor boy in Kenya who couldn’t afford to pay for an education. Hilde Back, living in Sweden, was a Holocaust survivor who thought she ought to address some of the need in the world. It “felt natural,” she said, to donate money to a child – in this case, $15 per school term through a Kenyan aid organization – but she wondered what became of the boy she sponsored. Had her help made any difference? And then some. Chris, a Harvard Law School graduate, works today as a human rights lawyer for the United Nations, advocating for a better life for people around the world. As a tribute to Hilde, Chris founded his own scholarship fund in his Kenyan village, now educating a cascade of new kids.

“You cannot change the entire world,” Chris says in A Small Act, the documentary that traces the giant, global impact of Hilde’s single act of kindness. “So, sometimes it’s just as good to help one child.”

Any film whose trailer makes you choke up is worth checking out, don’t you think? A Small Act is showing at 6:30 next Wednesday, September 19, at the Isabel Bader Theatre. And did I mention admission is free?

Bombshellie Kellie

A true friend lends you her favourite sweater. A true friend doesn’t laugh when you belt out your best rendition of “Rolling in the Deep.” A true friend hugs you when you need it.

And a true friend shaves her head. Even though she’s famous, even though she has nice hair, even though she’ll invariably be compared to Britney Spears.

I’m not a country music listener. But I’m fond of Kellie Pickler, who made her adorable debut on American Idol. She stole my family’s hearts when she described eating salmon for the first time on her climb to fame, in front of millions of live-TV viewers. Now she’s a well-known recording artist in her own right.

You’re probably old enough to know that a life of celebrity doesn’t mean the living is always easy. Kellie’s bestie, Summer Holt Miller, was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 36. She recently endured a double mastectomy and, this month, began chemotherapy. Like so many other cancer patients facing down side effects, Summer decided to preemptively shave her head.

To support her friend – and to remind the world that mammograms are important even when you’re still in your tender young 30s – Kellie Pickler stood by Summer, and they both got buzzed into baldness together.

Incidentally, the two women have also teamed up with Athena Water, a U.S. company that’s donating a portion of profits to the American Cancer Society in honour of Summer’s battle. (Note: I’m not getting free water to write this.)

I’m always impressed when folks use their rank to spread awareness about worthy causes. In this case, Kellie’s radical haircut serves double duty. I’m sure Summer appreciates having her friend by her side on this hard journey. But the two women are also passionate about helping other women at risk. “If this compels even one person to change their mentality toward waiting until the age of 40 for their mammogram, then it will be worth it,” Miller said in a television interview.

Booked your mammy yet? Go get ’em, tigress.

Kellie Pickler and her friend Summer with shaved heads.

Friends don’t let friends face cancer alone.

Flugelhorn Flash Mob

What’s worse than sitting on the tarmac for twenty minutes? How about the crushing boredom of a flight delay? Next time I’m stuck waiting for take-off, I hope I’m sharing my flight with the fourteen members of Lemon Bucket Orkestra. ‘Cause then I know there’ll be a party.

Don’t know this group? You mean to say you’ve never heard of the biggest Balkan-klezmer-gypsy-party-punk band in Toronto? Well, I hadn’t either. At least not until the video of their impromptu performance on a delayed plane made national news. Lemon Bucket Orkestra pulled out their sopilkas and darbukas and treated passengers to a free concert while everyone waited to take to the air.

Nice! The group has since returned from a tour in Romania and has upcoming concert dates in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. Check out LBO’s website for details.

And next time you’re boarding a flight, keep your eyes peeled. You never know when a fellow passenger might break out a flugelhorn!

Group photo of the band

Group shot: Where’s the fourteenth member? Unless that mega-sized sousaphone counts as a person…

If Music be the Food of Love

You know journo school is doing something right when its documentary film students are churning out videos like this one. My friend passed me this link, which features the brother of a buddy of his (follow that?). The specifics don’t matter, anyway – we’re all connected, and the subject of this film seems to know that, intuitively.

Stephen Gates survived a car accident with an injured brain and a body in pain. He retained his ability to play violin, and play he does – it’s all he wants to do. Stephen will seek meals at a soup kitchen so he can use his grocery money to maintain his instrument (barely, as the bridge is badly warped and the bow is held together with duct tape). He doesn’t care. He doesn’t want fame and fortune, he says. He wants only enough cash to live, and to practise the violin.

In the video, Stephen admires the people he’s met who work not for pay, but to make a difference. Clearly, this ideology resonates with him as well. “My life after [the accident],” he says, “because I had no job, my job was to be a nice person. It was to think about how to do nice things without money.”

You can’t beat a career path like that. Check out “The People’s Violinist,” here.

Family Portraits

A schoolteacher friend of mine tipped me off to a movie trailer for a film called That’s a Family! This award-winning documentary comes to us from GroundSpark, a U.S. organization dedicated to social change. That’s a Family! gently reminds the viewer that families are cast in all kinds of shapes and sizes.

My friend has been discussing the film’s theme with her students, as part of the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day curriculum. “The students have loved it, and I love their reactions,” she wrote to me, adding: “I wish adults could be so accepting.”

She thought the film might be suited to 50 Good Deeds. Why, on a blog about acts of kindness? Maybe because striving to accept members of a family unit for who they are, even when their skin colour, disability, sexual orientation or gender happens to be different from ours, is big-hearted behaviour. Especially if that broad acceptance (oops, I could almost make a pun here) doesn’t come easily and naturally.

And it doesn’t, for everyone. Our species evolved to be somewhat xenophobic. In a caveman community where everyone knows everyone else, strangers could mean a threat. And that distrust of diversity can be hard to shake if it’s hard-wired.

So I say, if you’ve made a point of overcoming that fear, if you embrace differences – heck, if you embrace people with differences – then you are committing a supreme act of kindness.

Acceptance is the new black. Tell all your friends.