Category Archives: Ideas

Ahead of the Pack

There are three ways you can tell that the men behind Saltwater Brewery are salt-of-the-earth good guys.

One: The microbrewery in Delray Beach, Florida, is named after the world’s wide, wondrous oceans. The founders are self-described as “fishermen, surfers and people who love the sea.”

Two: Part of the profits from selling the crafty products – various beers have entertaining names like Screamin’ Reels and Sea Cow – are donated to charities that benefit the oceans.

Three: The team, in collaboration with the WeBelievers ad agency, has developed the world’s first edible six-pack ring. This matters, because no matter where in the world you happen to drink your beer, your plastic six-pack ring tends to end up in the ocean. And even if the rings are designed to break down in sunlight after a few weeks so they don’t entangle aquatic animals… well, all they really do is transmute from big plastic pieces into tiny plastic pieces. Fish mistake these bits for food (totally not their fault – they have fish brains), and end up stuffing their stomachs. Not a very healthy habit. Potentially even fatal.

Saltwater Brewery is trying to help marine life, not destroy it. So its beer cans are now attached to rings made from leftover brewing grain. If these rings do find their way into the sea, they’ll break apart into biodegradable and perfectly edible chunks.

Compared to shards of plastic, this is gourmet fare.

Anyway, who says these will end up in the ocean at all? Maybe this microbrewery has unwittingly kicked off a new foodie trend. Mix in a little chipotle seasoning, and you’ve suddenly got a snack go with your beer.

Hey, why not? I’ve seen what you put in that chip bowl during game time. At least the six-pack ring is low in trans fat.

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It doesn’t even have to be chipotle. I’ll bet nacho cheese would be a hit. (Photo courtesy of Saltwater Brewery)

Community Service

Somebody in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood wants you to know that you matter.

Admittedly, he or she doesn’t know you. But he or she nevertheless cares how you feel about yourself. In fact, his or her intentions are so heartfelt that he or she –

Okay. Because English can be awkward and unwieldy, henceforth we are going to refer to this person as “Hoh” instead of him or her. For decency’s sake, we shall pronounce this a way that rhymes with “paw.”

Hoh recently invested time in printing and preparing a series of eye-catching posters. Then Hoh distributed them around the community. Each poster includes ready-to-remove compliments: “You matter.” “You are amazing.” “You make a difference.” Passersby are encouraged to take them, keep them or pass them to others who need them. A sweet idea!

The downloadable posters were originally created by Scholastic Books in New York, as part of a campaign against bullying. Nice to see it’s spread beyond the borders of the Big Apple.

In the Toronto neighbourhood where Hoh lives, these compliments have clearly been welcome. By the time my friend Lorin spotted a couple of them, one had already been completely stripped of its compliments. The other was more than half depleted.

“You matter.” Doesn’t it feel good to have a reminder?

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“You absolutely do!” Photo creds to Lorin, intrepid community reporter.

Blood Hounds

Recently, while working on a magazine story about blood donations, I unexpectedly landed on a website for dog donors. To be precise, the website is for the human owners of dog donors, since it’s kind of difficult to type out Google searches with canine paws, especially when those pesky dew claws get in the way.

The Canadian Animal Blood Bank, based in Winnipeg but with additional collection locations in Edmonton and Toronto, holds regular blood donor clinics for dogs. We don’t believe the dogs mind these acts of altruism; in fact, some of the clinics’ regulars have donated 10 or 20 times already. (Since the promise of a few food crumbs will convince a canine to do just about anything, we’re guessing these patient pooches get some pretty tasty treats after their donation.)

To be eligible to donate, dogs must weigh more than 50 pounds, be between one and eight years of age, and be of even temperament (um… obviously). The blood that’s collected is shipped all over Canada as needed.

And is it needed, you may wonder? Turns out dog transfusions aren’t all that unusual, and in the case of an accident or illness, they can save a pet’s life… like Annie, an Irish wolfhound who almost bled to death trying to give birth to her seven puppies, or Misty, whose blood couldn’t clot properly after she swallowed rat poison.

My favourite story is about Copper, a cute golden retriever-bloodhound mix who unfortunately contracted parvovirus. This is a potentially dangerous disease and dogs are normally vaccinated against it, but Copper was still a puppy, and his immunizations were not yet complete. He almost died from complications. But thanks to a blood transfusion, he recovered fully.

Why do I love this story? Because as soon as Copper was full grown, he pranced straight to the nearest blood donor clinic to give back. Literally.

Nice to know his gift was not all in vein (please forgive me).

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This is Booker. Not only did he donate blood this weekend, he further suffered the indignity of donning this Easter Bunny outfit. We’re all grateful to you, Booker. (Photo courtesy of the Canadian Animal Blood Bank.)

Sofa, So Good

Basement purging is one of my favourite ways to do good deeds for others, because it simultaneously leads to a less cluttered house for me. The Internet makes it painless to repurpose almost anything instead of dumping it as trash. Plus, as you meet the various takers for your rejected stuff, you often collect some pretty hilarious stories.

My kindhearted neighbours are preparing to downsize to a condo. I won’t share their names publicly, lest I trigger a neighbourhood protest rally outside their front door. But I will say they recently experienced that sofa-shedding process that almost anyone goes through when they’re moving, downsizing, renovating or remodeling. It’s practically a rite of passage. It centres on an old, loyal couch that has seen your household through several decades, possibly even through multiple homeowners or generations. When purchased new, the camelback lines and emerald-and-brown floral pattern made a stunning statement as a living-room showpiece. Over time, however, the cushions begin to sag even as the colour palette stops trending. At some point, the sofa, now on the shabby side, is downgraded to the basement level, where it is jumped on by small people and spilled on by beer (hopefully not both at the same time). Eventually, it’s time to haul the sofa back up the stairs and out the door.

Now, not all used sofas are ugly or uncomfortable. A great many are still structurally sound, with a neutral colour scheme as an undeniable bonus. My neighbours’ couch fell into this category.

Sofas, as a general rule, are tough to relocate to good homes, because they’re difficult to transport and potentially life-threatening on stairs. When I think about the stuff I’ve given away, many takers arrived by bike or by public transit. One guy even carried our superfluous wooden door away with him to the bus stop. When my neighbours recently made inquiries about donating their couch, they were told it would cost them two hundred bucks in handling fees. Sadly, the piece of furniture thus languished curbside for garbage pick-up.

But they didn’t totally give up. As a thoughtful touch – with the faint hope that someone with access to hearty movers would spot the couch and realize it was the perfect piece for their own home – my neighbours covered the couch with clear plastic to protect it from the elements. At least it wouldn’t be ruined while it sat outside in bad weather.

I would love to be able to tell you that within days a truck drove up with Sofas-for-the-Needy R Us stenciled on the side, loaded up my friends’ couch and carted it away. I’d like to say that the children currently sitting on this beloved couch are so comfortable and secure that they’re finally able to concentrate properly on their studies, and that every one of them will eventually be offered a full scholarship to the university of their choice… but that would be wishful thinking. Sadly, no one claimed the couch for their own, and the garbage truck eventually picked it up.

At least my neighbours tried. They had generosity in their hearts, and a practical idea in place. Maybe someone who spotted what they’d done will do the same when it’s their turn to donate furniture. And maybe, this time, it really will result in a bright future for a bright family.

You never know.

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I don’t have a photo of my neighbours’ sofa to show you, but it was a whole lot more plasticworthy than this one.

Chairman of the Beard

On this blog we’ve talked about growing moustaches for charity. This is a story about shaving off a beard for charity. A man in Clarenville, Newfoundland, who apparently felt that four decades was long enough to live with face fungus, recently made big plans to shed his full-length, bushy white beard. (Why, yes, he does in fact sell Christmas trees during the holiday season.)

Ralph Lethbridge – known to his pals as “Boonie” – wanted to leave a legacy as he prepared to embrace a baby-smooth chin, so he decided he’d do some fundraising. His charity of choice: the ALS Society of Newfoundland and Labrador. Three of Boonie’s friends have had the disease. Boonie hoped to raise $5,000 for the cause.

Reportedly, Boonie is a bit of a legend around town (hey, it’s a small town). Thus the idea got popular pretty quickly, and a few weeks ago, during a local Clarenville Caribous hockey game, the ice rink ended up doubling as a barbershop. To the cheers of spectators, a variety of helping hands – including Don Cherry, jokingly wielding a chainsaw – took turns trimming and shaving Boonie’s facial hair until it was completely gone.

Boonie must be feeling proud. Donations poured in as the story took off, and he ultimately raised over $50,000 for the non-profit organization.

But he did have to work to overcome his apprehension first. That’s according to Todd Cole, Clarenville’s director of leisure service, who helped arrange the event. “He was so nervous before it,” Cole told a reporter, “that he got up on the ridge where he goes cutting wood, and started speaking to the trees and moose. Apparently they said, ‘Grow up, Boonie, for f—’s sake!’

Cole (rather needlessly) added: “The whole family is truly salt-of-the-earth people.”

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Proudly impersonating Santa one last time. (Facebook)

Top Tales in 2015

It may be a bit late for a reflect-back-on-the-year-that-was post, but since someone wished me a “happy new year” just last week, I say let’s go for it. Today, we’re revisiting the most popular 50 Good Deed posts of the previous year. Which stories captured the most views? We did this a year ago, and after a series of careful double-blind studies with control groups we came up with our results: In 2014, it was puppies and babies that grabbed your hearts. Kind of a no-brainer, right?

But in 2015, the top posts were a little different. Not that they’re without youngster or canine representation. In third place, “Morris, Who Works Like a Dog” told the story of an adopted sheepdog who has quickly learned to pitch in at the family business… specifically, a funeral home where skills like consoling, comforting and making cutey eyes are in great demand.

The second-most-popular post was “A Close Shave.” This was about my friend Ella, a.k.a. selfless mother of the century, who encouraged her son to shave her head – losing 26 inches of her hair to the floor – just so she’d match him, after his life-saving emergency brain surgery.

Both these stories are heart-rending, because they involve loss, or near loss, and these are terrifying to contemplate. For a complete change, let’s turn to the number-one 50 Good Deeds story of 2015, about a celebrity act of kindness: a few caring words from singer-songwriter  Melissa Etheridge. The words in question were directed at my friend, a (rather starstruck) young flight attendant, while everyone on board his plane coped with a long delay. There are no puppies or children in this story – unless you count my friend’s tired dogs after spending many hours on his feet – but, probably thanks to a few tweets and then a retweet by the fabulous singer herself, “Like the Way Melissa Etheridge Does” gathered more attention than any other blog post all year.

I am always grateful to readers who spend time on this website when there are countless others competing for your attention (did you know that if you enter “blog” in a Google search, you get over five billion results?). Thank you for being an important part of these stories of kindness – because, of course, that’s what you are. No matter where we are in the world, and no matter where we are on our journeys, there are threads that connect us all. (I’m tugging one right now, do you feel it?) Happy new year.

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Here you go, fans: A cute baby, and something furry.

Words to Live 2016 By

Try this: Ring in the new year, wait a few hours, then take some time to scroll through your social media feed. The tide of benevolent messages is guaranteed to raise your spirits. (As for your hangover, we regret there’s not much we can do for that.)

On January 1, fueled by goodwill, folks have a tendency to log on and throw out a general smattering of new year’s wishes for all their friends and acquaintances. There are oodles of platitudes about prosperity and good health – I can get on board with those, as I happen to be a fan of prosperity and good health. But I’m touched by the notes of real compassion tucked in and amongst these messages. So many of you are concentrating on what we can and will do for others during the next 12 precious months.

I’ve collected a few New Year’s gems to share:

– “A new year… where we are all better people and are able to touch someone as much as they have touched us. Make a difference both in your life and others’ lives in 2016.” (posted by a thoughtful guy who used to help my husband with personal care)

–  “Let’s stand up & recognize our common humanity on this earth!” (posted by a politician I’ve known since our fun-filled university days together)

– “Be kind to all, for everyone is fighting some kind of battle.” (posted by a disability advocate and friend)

– “Because it is a leap year, we have 365 days left to look after ourselves so that we can look after others.” (posted by another esteemed colleague)

These sentiments are meaningful because I know the people who wrote them, and thus I know a little about their own struggles and triumphs. It’s remarkable to me that the people who’ve pushed through treacherous times are often the ones who are most focused on others. Is it because they know exactly how it feels to receive compassion, and yearn so strongly to pay it forward?

It’s inspiring, it’s uplifting, it’s an awesome attitude for a new year. If I haven’t said it already, happy 2016. And I do mean happy.

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