Category Archives: Events

St. Valentine Did Good Deeds

Today’s history lesson, folks, addresses the obscure origins of Valentine’s Day. I know these days you can ask Siri anything, but she might sass you, and we promise we won’t.

It appears there may actually have been more than one man in centuries past who had the name Valentine and ended up sainted in Christian tradition. The most likely contestant for the inspiration behind our modern-day holiday was a priest who,  around 270 A.D., refused to stop performing marriages for young couples.

Apparently, the Roman emperor at the time wanted all the eligible young bachelors to remain single so they wouldn’t be wimpy soldiers. He reckoned it’s hard to carry out a military offensive when you’re worried about getting killed in battle and leaving behind a family. Distracting!

So Emperor Claudius II, also known as Claudius the Cruel, signed the third-century equivalent of an executive order, banning marriages between young couples.

Valentine didn’t believe in thwarting young romance. So he continued to sneak around pronouncing people husband and wife. Good deeds in the name of love.

According to legend, the emperor had Valentine jailed and eventually executed. Not a pleasant finish, but it’s likely what led to February 14 being designated St. Valentine’s Day by the presiding pope in late-fifth century. Eventually, St. Valentine’s Day also became a day linked to love, and by the 1400s, people started celebrating the holiday by writing cheesy notes to their precious other halves.

The rest is history. No, wait, that part was history.

Is there someone you love? In honour of St. Valentine, such a great guy, be sure to reach out to the object of your affection. Take comfort in knowing no Roman emperor will divide you.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Love makes the world go ’round.


Photo by Hannah Chapman /

Have a Nice Day

Today is December 3, the annual United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities. (What, you thought it was only National Roof-Over-Your-Head Day, National Apple Pie Day and National Ice Cream Box Day?) (I did not make these up, people.) The UN day recognizes the fact that about 15 percent of folks around the world – over a billion people in total – live with a disability.

Every year, the UN day is observed with a different theme. This year’s is “Break Barriers, Open Doors” – in other words, get rid of those pesky stairs and ancient attitudes, and try to be a tad more welcoming to your friends, co-workers and neighbours with disabilities.

It may sound like a good deed to be more considerate, open-minded and fair. Of course it is. But this is one of those kindnesses that will always circle back. A more inclusive community means a better chance that people with disabilities can contribute – by getting an education, by paying taxes, by leading positive change. Not to mention becoming a friend, actually having the opportunity to enrich your life or someone else’s life because there are no barriers at school or in the workplace or in policy or at the local bowling alley.

After all, if a certain Toronto studio theatre were not accessible 21 years ago, I wouldn’t have met the love of my life and given birth to the star of my universe.

If that isn’t life-enriching, I don’t know what is.

Here’s the celebratory card that my above-mentioned universe star made for her dad, several December 3rds ago.

Here’s the celebratory card that my above-mentioned universe star made for her dad, several December 3rds ago.

Zombie Race with Grace

There are only so many fair-weather weekends available in summer, especially for Canadians. So it’s a tough call sometimes when we northerners are making our seasonal plans. When I was penning events into our calendar this year, the Zombie Survivor race in Cochrane, Alberta, didn’t make the cut.

Nevertheless I’m a tiny bit jealous of those who did make the trek last Saturday, all those runners who risked their brains just for the thrill of dodging the undead. The idea is you dash along a five-kilometre route over uneven terrain and around obstacles, while loads of people dressed up as zombies lurch after you. You ask me about my idea of a good time, and it’s all packaged up right there.

What does any of this have to do with good deeds? Part of the event’s proceeds were slated for donation to Kids Cancer Care, a charity that supports families coping with childhood cancer. They didn’t have to, but they did. So it proves that even zombies have hearts (albeit slowly rotting ones).

How I’d look if I succumbed to the zombie apocalypse: No one promised it would be pretty. (Dead yourself at

How I’d look if I succumbed to the zombie apocalypse: No one promised it would be pretty. (Dead yourself at

We’ll Take a Cup of Kindness, Yet

Dear reader: This is the 300th post on the 50 Good Deeds blog! Can you believe it? That means we’ve found 300 ways to talk about good deeds. And I’m convinced there are hundreds more.

Take, for example, the EXCHANGE exhibition at the Foundling Museum, which you can visit in London, England, until September. In this exhibition, ceramic artist Clare Twomey has placed more than a thousand cups and saucers on display. Each one of these cups has an act of kindness printed on the bottom. (Are you keeping count? We’re now at 1,300 ways to talk about good deeds!) Ten museum visitors a day are allowed to choose a cup to keep – but only if they pledge to carry out the good deed. All one thousand saucers are staying behind to document the deeds.

What, are you telling me you don’t live anywhere near the northwest London borough of Camden Town? Don’t fret. The artist has found a way to bring EXCHANGE to the wide world. Go to the online edition, and there’s a mechanism for 10,000 more good deeds to be carried out. (Are you still keeping count? Now we’re at… a lot.) Click on a pale blue cup icon to suggest an act of kindness, or click on a pink cup to take on one that someone else has already proposed. (Fun challenge: Can you find the one written by me?)

If this is what you mean by being in your cups, I’m all for it.

If this is what you mean by being in your cups, I’m all for it.

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?

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?

Happy Blogday

Know what’s special about today’s message? Hint: It involves cake… at least it will if you send me some. Welcome to the 200th post of the 50 Good Deeds blog! It’s hard to believe, but this blog has been alive for just about two years.

As my celebratory gift to you, I’ve got security camera footage and photographs that will make you smile, and remind you that we’re all driven to do good. Enjoy the links, and don’t believe the critics. We are an unselfish species. Our survival depends on it.

Even if we don’t have cake, there’s no shortage of good wishes from me to all of you. Thank you for your visits, your comments (both online and off), your warm reception! I couldn’t have made it to 200 posts without knowing you were along for the ride.

Flower bouquet

If you don’t have access to a kitchen, I’ll accept flowers too…

What a Way to Pad Your Résumé

You know what day it is today, don’t you? It’s Tampon Tuesday – or “Maxi Mardi,” If you happen to live in Montreal. No, it’s not a day dedicated to feminine hygiene. (We kind of hope you take care of that pretty much every day on your own.) Rather, one Tuesday a month, Jack Astor’s Bar & Grill restaurants in three Canadian cities collect donations of tampons and pads for the food bank, in exchange for an evening of free food and business networking.

See, when you’re living close to the poverty line, it gets mighty expensive to host your Aunt Flo for five to seven days. With Tampon Tuesday, this monthly event makes it easier to, well, cope with your monthlies.

The first Tampon Tuesday was launched two years ago in London, Ontario. According to organizers, over 4,000 boxes of feminine hygiene products have been collected thus far. And now the initiative has expanded to restaurants in Toronto and Montreal. So if you live in one of these cities and don’t have plans for later, why not put on a suit, buy a pack of Kotex, and come make connections?

It’s a worthy cause. And giving is good. Period.

Have a Heart. Then Give It Away.

I know this blog usually spreads good news. And I apologize in advance if that’s what you’re counting on. I don’t mean to bum you out on Valentine’s Day, of all days, when every moment should be filled with candy and sticky kisses and almost unbearable sweetness.

But today’s story is bad news. Specifically, it’s a new report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) about organ donation – or, rather, organ non-donation. CIHI says that the number of organs donated over the past five years has not gone up, while the need for the organs has been rising. End result? A wider gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Organ donation is a supreme act of generosity. It can happen if you’re living or dead – depending on the organ, of course. There are some you really can’t manage without. Others, you won’t really miss.

Organ donation saves buckets of money in health care, and makes life a heck of a lot more pleasant for the person who gets the new kidney or liver lobe. Yet thousands of Canadians are waiting every year, and some don’t survive.

What can you do? Sign your organ donor card, or, depending where you live, join an online registry. Have a body parts pow-wow: Tell your next of kin what you want done with your vitals after you no longer need them. Spread the word.

Then kiss a loved one. Because it is, after all, still Valentine’s Day.

Dozens of Canadians are waiting for a heart transplant they may never get. Won’t you be their valentine?

Ha Long Bay, Hello!

This isn’t something my own personal post-holiday bank balance will permit me to indulge in, but it could be a dream trip for someone who has the cash ($4,300 plus tax) and the time (March 3 to 17). It’s called the Adventure Yoga Retreat and it’s a way of doing a good deed for yourself and for others at the same time.

The “yoga” part is probably self-explanatory. The “adventure” part refers to the fact that you’ll be doing your sun salutations and downward dogs on beautiful Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, home of hundreds of breathtaking limestone islets and caves. Organizer Adam Quang, a yoga, tai chi and meditation instructor in Toronto, chose this location because of the epiphany he himself felt while kayaking at sunset here. In his words, “Suddenly, I feel so alive – as if every sense of my being is expanding… I feel connected to all beings… In this moment I think, ‘This is what I want people to experience!’”

Adam connected with me recently through a mutual friend. He thought his work might be right up my alley – he was right. Adam has founded an initiative called the World Karma Project to encourage acts of kindness, which he believes can prevent wars and eradicate hate. According to his math (I haven’t verified this because big numbers intimidate me), if one person performed one good deed per month, and each of those twelve recipients performed good deeds for twelve more people, then by the time this karmic pandemic has spread eight times, over 5 billion people will have been touched by kindness.

Now because Adam is all about building up your own karma bank, part of the money you pay to go on his Ha Long Bay retreat will send a Vietnamese child to school for a year. Another portion will be donated to a trust fund for the family of a Toronto woman who was killed in a cycling accident. It’s the first time Adam has put together a retreat like this, so if you want to get in on the Ashtanga action, click here to learn more.


Photo of kayakers at sunset on Ha Long Bay, Vietnam