Category Archives: Guest Stories

Very Warm and Very Fuzzy

By the time she died, she had eight names. That alone should tell you she was pretty special.

Aileen Genevieve MacDougall Stewart Hilchey Alison Pyke Brown was my friend Judi’s beloved mom. She died a month ago. In her 98 years, she’d been given up for adoption, raised by a new family, and married twice… which accounts for all the names. She was known to be an extremely gifted knitter, quilter and seamstress, creating all kinds of beauty with her hands.

These were skills she made a point of passing down to Judi and her sister Heather as they were growing up. “Neither of us is as talented as she was,” Judi admits. But Judi says Heather in particular has invested a lot of time in working with and spinning wool, resulting in some strikingly lovely pieces.

As Aileen aged, her eyesight failed and she developed arthritis in her hands. Sadly, these changes marked the end of her knitting days. Because she also felt the cold more easily, she was constantly in need of a wrap or a shawl. But thanks to daughter Heather, Aileen was kept well supplied. “Heather would make her shawls from hand-woven yarns with different textures,” Judi says. “With the blindness, the feel of objects became extremely comforting to my mom. She loved the feel of soft, cuddly things.” Heather’s hand-made garments were particularly special: “The combination of yarns was chosen with care and love.”

Thus it was a stab to the heart when, after Aileen died last month, her most gorgeous, custom-created, hand-spun shawl was inadvertently sent to the nursing home’s central laundry – and run through a commercial washing machine. Long story short: The shawl was ruined. “It came out as felt,” says Judi.

Devastated, my friend came awfully close to throwing the whole mess away. But then she hesitated. Judi has a bird-nest helper in her back yard – a cute, crafty wrought-iron holder of colourful yarn scraps, available for the busy birds who are building their spring homes.

Instead of discarding the fluffy blobs of shawl, Judi stuffed the pieces into the nest helper.

Why did she do it? “I don’t know if I have an answer,” Judi says. “Just, when I held the shawl in my hands and was about to throw it out, I thought that Mom loved the birds, and would want to share with them.”

I never met Judi’s mom. But even to me, this feels right. Aileen’s shawl may no longer be keeping her warm, but parts of her special garment will go on to help nurture new life.

We never really disappear.

If you live in London, Ontario, keep an eye on your backyard trees. You may spot some of these fluffy bits in a new bird’s nest or two.

If you live in London, Ontario, keep an eye on your backyard trees. You may spot some of these fluffy bits in a new bird’s nest or two.

A Close Shave

When our kids get into accidents, it feels as though our hearts have been ripped from our bodies, turned inside out, stuffed full of nails and used in a game of tackle football.

Actually, it feels a lot worse than that.

So you can imagine the agony my Canadian-Dutch friend Ella experienced last month, as she waited for her son to get through emergency brain surgery in Groningen, Netherlands.

Ten-year-old Reuben had been happily playing with his friends when he suddenly fell eight feet from a ladder, receiving a very hard knock to the head and bleeding around his brain. (Doctors said later that had his operation been delayed by just five minutes, he wouldn’t have survived.) It was a horror show – but one with an extremely happy ending. In the days after the surgery, as Reuben was gradually weaned from an array of tubes, bandages and monitors, it became clear that the little boy was recovering.

Naturally his parents were overjoyed and relieved at the outcome. But Reuben wasn’t so happy with his less-than-stylish new look. The left side of his face was bruised and swollen, an entire hemisphere of his head had been shaved, and an enormous incision, laced with dark stitches, curled around his scalp.

After he got home, Reuben opted to have the rest of his head shaved – what choice did he have, really? – but was still distressed over his reflection in the mirror. So, naturally, his mom stepped up. She told her son he could cut off her hair, too. All two-feet-plus of it.

It worked. “When I told him he could shave my hair off, his face lit up completely. One of his first moments of genuine happiness since his accident,” Ella told me. As Reuben operated the electric shaver on his mom’s head, he “was all smiles,” she said. “Afterwards, he sat by me for the longest time, resting his head on my shoulder.”

“I would do anything for my children and people I love,” this devoted mother reported. “Doing this for my son was the ultimate ‘I love you, support you and will do anything for you’ gesture I could think of to show Reuben.”

Ella is no stranger to radical haircuts – she has been growing and donating her hair, over and over, almost her whole adult life – but this was different. “This was the first time in over twenty years of cutting my hair that I didn’t donate it,” she noted. “This was just for my son.”

Today, Reuben is still recuperating. His mom is staying by his side, helping him with jigsaw puzzles, and baking chocolate cookies upon request.

I don’t know whether they’ve spent any of their together time online-shopping for matching scarves or hats (possibly toques, with a nod to Ella’s Canadian heritage) to cover up their buzz cuts. But it doesn’t matter.

We know their hearts already match perfectly.


Like the Way Melissa Etheridge Does

I’m at that age where some of the adults I know – we’re talking full grown and fully established individuals – are folks I first knew as small little kids. These people are 20 years younger than me, yet they’re well over the age of majority. It’s freaky.

When I first met Danny, I was a university graduate living in the basement apartment of his parents’ house. He was four years old. Sometimes I babysat him, and often I walked him to school. He was energetic and spirited. Once, he rehearsed and then performed a rousing one-man-band rendition of “I Have a Little Dreidel,” just for me. The things you never forget.

The grown-up version of Danny works as a flight attendant. If I had to place a bet, I’d gamble that he’s the upbeat, friendly sort who rolls with the punches. I’ll bet his passengers like him. The respect, apparently, goes both ways… along with occasional starstruckness. Here’s what Danny wrote on Facebook last week: “Melissa Etheridge and her lovely wife were on my flight yesterday. Can I just say that they are the nicest, coolest and most amazingly CHILL people that I have ever had the pleasure of interacting with?”

Danny embraced this opportunity to let Melissa E. know how much her music has meant to him. One amazing performance in particular, he told her, “…influenced me as a kid to feel music with as much passion as possible.”

The singer’s reaction? She patted his arm, thanked him and called him kind. Her wife called him a sweetheart. (“I’m part of their family now, right? That’s how that works?” Danny added hopefully in his online report.)

Their flight out of Quebec City was considerably delayed while ramp crew took frequent warm-up breaks to prevent frostbite. (If you’re from this part of Canada, you know it was so cold last week that even the snowmen were shivering.) “Melissa and her wife were the ONLY two people to ask me how I was holding up and feeling while dealing with the delay,” Danny wrote. “Her wife was joking that Melissa should get on the interphone and do a couple numbers.”

He was struck by their graciousness, and their compassion. Especially while he laboured his way through day nine of a long 11-day work stint. “This was very much welcomed and appreciated,” he noted. “Both of them were complete class acts.”

Of course celebrities can be do-gooders like anyone else. They step in to staunch blood when it’s called for. They donate to ALS research while drinking scotch and looking classy. And they ask a weary flight attendant how he’s feeling, right when he most needs to hear it.

“It was definitely a moment,” Danny told me. Thanks to this and a couple of other musical encounters over the past week, he’s rediscovering his love for guitar playing. (Dreidel songs, too? We are left to wonder.) Melissa Etheridge not only cheered my young friend Danny, she inspired him. Rock on.


When Stacey Butler and Cory Bembridge adopted their Newfoundland puppy, Rosco, the couple in Moncton, New Brunswick, had no idea their furry new friend would need two hip replacements before he was a year old. Because of a genetic disorder, Rosco has abnormally low muscle mass in his hips. It’s treatable with surgery – in fact the puppy, now nine months old, has already had one side done. But Rosco needs weeks of rehabilitation before he can have his other hip operated on.

The problem? Rosco is hesitant to put weight on his good side. The veterinarian recommended regular sessions in a swimming pool, but that isn’t an easy prescription to fill, especially at this time of year. (Hello, Canadian winter, have we met?)

So Stacey posted an ad on Kijiji. “I knew it was a long shot,” she told a reporter. “I thought, I have nothing to lose, and it can’t hurt.” It certainly didn’t. By the time Stacey woke up the next day, dozens of emails were already pouring in. A few days later, her ad had received over 400 responses (and over 30,000 hits).

The best part happened next. After word spread through media, Stacey and Cory heard from Eagles Pool Services, a Moncton business. Owner Cory Eagles was willing to custom-build one of his pools in their basement, just so Rosco could have easy access to the therapy he needed.

When he realized this solution wasn’t going to work – Rosco can’t climb a flight of stairs on his own and, um, he is a Newfoundland dog – Cory E. suggested setting the pool up in his own shop instead, where he would keep the heat turned on.

Without hesitation, he offered to throw in a spare key so that operation Rosco Rehab could take place whenever it suited Stacey and Cory B.

“I will be forever indebted to Eagles Pool Services,” Stacey told me. “Without them, my puppy may not have stood a chance. Because of them, he now has that chance to get stronger and have his second surgery.”

In the meantime, Stacey is endeavouring to answer all the responses to her Kijiji ad. “I can’t put into words how I’ve felt over the past week, because it still hasn’t sunk in,” she says. “I have been contacted by people across Canada, and the U.S., and even the United Kingdom.”

Lots of the messages were simple emails of support, and a few of them even offered advice. (Sample tip: Fill the bathtub and let Rosco swim in it. Yeah, super idea – if Rosco were a Chihuahua.)

Representatives from another pool and spa company have already offered a backup – in their showroom, of all places – if the first arrangement falls through.

Canadians have warm hearts, no question. It’s a survival tactic. You see, we rely on that extra heat when our outdoor thermostats start dropping.

Seriously? Look at him. I don’t even own a pool company, and yet I want to rush out right now and build Rosco a therapeutic spa with my bare hands. (Photo courtesy of Stacey Butler)

Seriously? Look at him. I don’t even own a pool company, and yet I want to rush out right now and build Rosco a therapeutic spa with my bare hands. (Photo courtesy of Stacey Butler)

Along for the Ride

A few weeks ago, my super-talented friend and colleague Karin Melberg Schwier gave 50 Good Deeds a lovely shout-out on her blog. She called it “a completely happy place you should go to from time to time to restore your faith in humanity.” Did I mention Karin is really pretty?

Karin went on to share that she and I had been corresponding lately about some of her recent good deed experiences. Yes, friends do send me their tales of kindness. They do this well and often. It’s usually the highlight of my day.

Apparently, positivity happens frequently in Saskatoon, where Karin lives. On her blog she told a new story, this one about giving a ride to a total stranger on a violently windy day. It happened after the stranger helped Karin’s stepson sort out a jammed newspaper box. When Karin offered a lift and the stranger explained where she lived, she graciously added: “I hope that’s not out of your way?” And they were off.

Here’s the part I particularly enjoy. It was out of Karin’s way. As in, 180-degrees, wrong-way, totally-opposite-direction out of Karin’s way. But Karin never let on. She happily drove the woman home. On her blog she reflected, “We had time.”

From this completely happy place, I’m signing off…

Karin and stepson Jim sharing a laugh, perhaps over the audacity of their plucky good deed. PHOTO BY HEATHER FRITZ

Karin and stepson Jim sharing a laugh, perhaps over the audacity of their plucky good deed. (PHOTO BY HEATHER FRITZ)

Strait from the Heart

Fundraising gimmicks? Trust me, I’ve seen them all. Racing around in underwear to collect donated clothing? Yes. Playing piano for 20 hours straight, to support the arts? Yep. Posing semi-naked in a calendar, along with your fellow buff – uh, I mean brave – firefighters, to raise funds for cancer research? Oh my, yes.

Here’s what I had not seen, until now: A young magician who’s willing to spend two weeks inside the (increasingly rank, we assume) confines of a straitjacket, in the middle of a hot Canadian summer.

But that’s what’s happening this July. His name is Mark Correia, and he’s doing it to raise money for Parkinson’s disease. Mark, who is also an actor, is a graduate of Etobicoke School of the Arts and currently enrolled at The National Theatre School of Canada. Mark is a longtime admirer of Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991 and currently supports research through his non-profit foundation.

“Michael J. Fox has been my personal hero for as long as I can remember,” Mark says. “When I first saw him in Back to the Future, I knew I wanted to act for the rest of my life.” And the way Fox now copes with Parkinson’s has made quite an impression on Mark. “When he was diagnosed with a life-altering disease, he was able to turn it around and become an activist and inspiration for those like him… He didn’t let something he couldn’t control get in the way of something he loves.”

Mark adds: “That’s what life is, taking what is thrown at us and and using it to move forward.”

Speaking of moving forward, just how do you take public transit – or, for that matter, get through airport security – in a straitjacket? How about bathing, dressing and, um, relieving yourself? “I’ll leave that to your imagination,” he says coyly. Let the fun begin. Mark will accept “task ideas” via email or YouTube comments, so if you’re feeling particularly creative, why not challenge him to weed his mother’s garden, or, say, make a pasta sauce from scratch?

Mark anticipates that the biggest trial may actually be sleeping in the jacket. He says he’s done it before, and it’s truly miserable. “That is one of the worst parts. When you wake up, your limbs are sore and blood isn’t really circulating.” Good thing he’s young.

Besides, it will be worth it in the end. Mark hopes to raise at least $25,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation – and even, if the stars align, make an appearance on The Ellen Degeneres Show.

Want to help Mark reach his goal, and potentially see your own name on television? Donate $100 to the cause, and your name will be permanently written on the outside of the jacket. Or give a smaller amount. If you can’t afford to donate, you can still get your helper’s high by liking him on Facebook, or sharing his YouTube video to spread the word.

Besides raising funds and increasing general awareness of Parkinson’s disease, Mark has high hopes for his upcoming summer stunt. “Hopefully I’ll inspire people to use the work they love to effect positive change in the world,” he says. “We can all do our part.”

Here’s how the straitjacket will look at the start of the stunt. Methinks, after a fortnight, this fresh snowy whiteness will be but a distant memory.

Here’s how the straitjacket will look at the start of the stunt. Methinks, after a fortnight, this fresh snowy whiteness will be but a distant memory.

They Say It’s His Birthday

Colin sounds like a terrific, quirky little kid. He lives in Michigan. He has a sister named Ella, a magnificent smile, and a fondness for wearing shirts and ties to school – even when no one else does. Oh, and he’s about to turn 11 years old. On a scale of one to ten, Colin rates his mounting birthday excitement at “about 50.”

But because Colin’s disabilities affect his social skills, he’s convinced there’s no point in having a party. No one would come. He has no friends.

Or so he believes.

Once Colin’s mom got over nursing her shattered heart upon hearing this, she set out to prove him wrong. She started a Facebook campaign called “Happy Birthday Colin,” and began encouraging folks worldwide to send him “positive thoughts and encouraging words.” This, she felt, would create for her son an unforgettable birthday celebration, far better than any party magician, pinata or pin-the-tail game could ever provide.

I think not even Colin’s parents could have predicted just how amazing this upcoming event is proving to be. The Facebook page has over two million likes (put that into perspective: that’s almost the same number as Conan O’Brien’s page). Incredibly, hundreds of thousands of birthday cards have already been mailed to Colin’s post office box, along with myriad parcels.

The best part? It’s all being kept a secret from Colin, who will be surprised – thunderstruck may be a better word – on his actual birthday, March 9.

It’s not too late to add your greetings to this particular pile of wishes. Visit the Facebook page to post a message, or send a card to Colin at P.O. Box 756, Richland, MI, 49083-0757, U.S.A.

We’re gonna have a good time…

We’re gonna have a good time…