Trip of a Lifetime

What would you do if you were preparing to canoe a 750-mile ocean race for a big cash prize, and someone wanted to hitch a ride as an extra passenger? What if he wasn’t even planning to pick up a paddle – essentially, he’d nothing but dead weight in the boat?

Would it make a difference if he promised not to take up much space?

A six-canoeist team from Vancouver Island will be one of the groups rushing to Alaska in a marathon boat race on June 4. And these goodhearted folks have no qualms about letting a total stranger tag along.

They don’t know his real name, but they’ve nicknamed him “Ash.” That’s because Ash is literally ash. The paddlers (their team name is the Soggy Beavers – I won’t ask if you don’t) doesn’t know where he’s from or how old he was. But they know, thanks to a message in the bottle, that his final wishes were to be cremated and thrown into the ocean so he could fulfil his desire to see the world. (You’ll note we use the word “see” quite loosely here.)

How could anyone resist helping a guy with his last wish?

When the Soggy Beavers first discovered the bottle during a training session in Victoria Harbour, they might have thrown it right back into the ocean. After all, that’s what specifically what Ash requests in his note. But the paddlers realized their new friend would have a better chance of seeing the world if they brought him along on their race, and then released him in Alaskan waters.

“We figured… he’s in the Inner Harbour. Chances are that he’ll stay here for another couple of months before he gets a current out,” team member Russell Henry told a radio host last week. If, on the other hand, they toss the bottle when they’re closer to Alaska, Ash might get lucky and catch a current to Asia.

“He’s got to see the world, so we got to get him there,” Russell said.

I wish the Soggy Beavers a great race on June 4. Your winning spirit is bound to get you to the finish line.

Bon voyage, Ash. May the ocean currents be forever in your favour. (Photo courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Bon voyage, Ash. May the ocean currents be forever in your favour. (Photo courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

What’s Good Enough for the Goose…

Baby-bird rescue stories are ubiquitous at this time of year. (Here’s one I posted on almost exactly this same date, two years ago.) Last week, staff at the University of Calgary saved a half-dozen baby geese that had just left the nest for the first time… only to discover they were stranded on a rooftop, five metres above an asphalt parking lot. (Why their parents felt compelled to build a nest here is a topic to be explored in future therapy sessions, I’m sure.)

Lucky for this feathery family, the rooftop in question covered the university’s Outdoor Centre, which happened to be well stocked with gym mats. Once the university folks grasped the problem, they hauled out the mats and placed them strategically around the building, enabling the bird babies to jump off the roof safely. Happily, all five goslings survived the drop and the family soon left for greener ponds.

In my quiet Toronto suburb, we too are occasionally captivated by baby-bird cuteness. On my morning walk a few days ago, I encountered a family of seven – Mrs. Goose, Mr. Gander, and their five fuzzy children – waddling down the middle of the street without an apparent avian care in the world. I stopped to take photos, as did a kid who came out of a nearby house.

Then a car approached. Fortunately, by that point the fowl family had safely reached the sidewalk. Nevertheless, the person behind the wheel carefully slowed right down to a crawl, so as not to startle or separate the adult geese and their goslings. It was sweet to see the driver taking such care.

Now a message to the person who piped in the quirky music for this University of Calgary video of leaping goslings: You put a grin on my face. So, thank you for that.

“But John, I still don’t see any sign of a lake. For heaven’s sake, WHY won’t you stop and ask for directions?”

“But John, I still don’t see any sign of a lake. For heaven’s sake, WHY won’t you stop and ask for directions?”

A Bridge is Built

In February, I wrote about the brief 2002 encounter between Mark Henick and Mike Richey on a bridge in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Here’s the synopsis: Teenager Mark was preparing to end his life. Youth worker Mike saved it. They separated, but neither person ever forgot the other.

Over time, Mark healed, then went on to change other lives – and likely save a good many – through his work with the Canadian Mental Health Association.

It’s a ripple effect of unknowable proportions.

Twelve years after they met on a bridge, Mark and Mike reconnected over the Internet. Mark read a long, emotional emailed letter from Mike, then publicly shared a desire to reunite with his rescuer in person.

It finally happened. Earlier this month, the two men were face to face once again. This time, they were both smiling.

Mark used the word “closure” the describe what the reunion has meant to him. As for Mike, he was all about the hugging. “It wasn’t about words or anything like that,” he told a CBC reporter. “If I could have went back in time and given that young boy a hug when he needed it, that would have been awesome. But I still got to do it at the end of the day.”

Now that the two have found each other again, I have a feeling they’ll remain friends. After all, they share a common purpose in their professional lives. They’re both helping people in need. And even by spreading the story of their most personal moment 12 years ago on a bridge, they are surely making a difference. They’re sending a message.

Yes, it gets better.

There may be a hug in it for you, too.

Hearts in the Write Place

I’ve been interviewed before, but never by a girl in pajamas, never under a patio umbrella in my own backyard, and certainly never by someone who says, “Can we take a quick break while I play with the dog?”

That someone would be my 15-year-year old daughter, who was fulfilling a requirement for her high school Careers course. For her upcoming presentation on a specific career, she decided to interview yours truly about the ups, downs and sideways squiggles of being a freelance writer.

There are challenges to this career, sure, just like in any other. But for the record: I love my job. Although I ranted somewhat excessively in response to my daughter’s question, “What are the obstacles you face in your work?”, I did also have a lot to say about the positive stuff.

Why do I bring this up on a good deeds blog? Because one of the best things about being a freelance writer has everything to do with the kindness of others. See, writers love reaching out to help each other. Maybe it’s because we’re forced to work in solitude, so we get hungry for human connections. Whatever the reason, we writers tend to organize ourselves into groups, clubs, roaming gangs. We network online, and we communicate a whole lot (because we’re, you know, good with the words). And it’s great. We support each other when the going gets tough. (The going does get tough.) We encourage each other to succeed. We cheer each other’s accomplishments.

It’s not all vaguely worded inspiration, either. Often it’s solid, concrete assistance. In what ought to be a fiercely competitive field, we writers are tossing each other gigs and leads like so much party confetti. We’re providing referrals and references. We’re giving a heads-up about deadbeat clients. We’re sharing professional etiquette tips, solving sticky grammar problems, passing along techno-advice. Oh, and we sometimes post writing-related humour just because we all find it hilarious. (Man, Bill Murray is funny when he plays himself. I also loved his cameo in Zombieland.)

How many professions do you know of where the workers are constantly helping each other like this? If you’re feeling it, check out my previous stories about writers and good deeds, here and here.

If I had this much sugar in front of me while I worked, I wouldn’t turn to other writers for a helper’s high. (Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

If I had this much sugar in front of me while I worked, I wouldn’t turn to other writers for a helper’s high. (Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

When Client Doubles as Creative Muse

We all have moments when we get a little testy on the job, especially when high-maintenance clients ask for the impossible (or highly improbable). But if you’re the creative type, you channel your frustration into something less like hypertension and more like art.

That’s what a group of graphic designers in Ireland did, taking some of the most ridiculous feedback their clients had ever given them (um, you want the pig to look sexier? And the snow to look warmer? And you’re not even kidding a little bit?) and crafting it into eye-catching, ingenious posters. The series, called “Sharp Suits” – even that makes me laugh – was exhibited at an Irish gallery.

It’s worth browsing through some of the hilarious end products. Poster themes include (remember, these are real comments from actual clients): “I really like the colour but can you change it,” “I’m just not sure that a globe and passport represents travel,” and “I know you said the TV ad would be ‘animated’ but that’s a cartoon!”

The best part is that all of these illustrious (if exasperated) illustrators ended up helping a worthy cause. Gallery-goers could order prints of any posters that caught their eye, and all profits were donated to a children’s hospital in Dublin.

Next time you’re vexed on the job, take a few deep breaths, and try to find the funny in it.

And just be thankful that no one is asking you to make a pig look sexier. At least, I hope they’re not.

On the outside, she’s smiling. On the inside, she’s damning her clients and all their descendants to a house full of pismires and spiders. (Photo courtesy of AscensionDigital / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

On the outside, she’s smiling. On the inside, she’s damning her clients and all their descendants to a house full of pismires and spiders. (Photo courtesy of AscensionDigital / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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.

The Real Reason I’m a Yummy Mummy

When I was growing up, there was a dinnertime rule we four kids all followed. At some point during the meal, we had to tell our mom the food was good. Whether we actually liked it (thankfully, we usually did) or not was irrelevant. What mattered was that we acknowledged the time and effort my mother had put into preparing yet another complete, nourishing dinner for her family of six. It’s no mean feat.

Fast forward a few years, and we’ve put this guideline into place in our own household, where I do most of the cooking. We encourage gratitude. Heck, you don’t even have to tell me it’s delicious (mind you, it usually is). Just say thank you – for taking the trouble to throw together something that both is reasonably edible and covers off on all the major food groups.

Remember that Family Guy episode in which title character Peter muses aloud that wife Lois must love cooking and cleaning – because, after all, she’s constantly doing it? Lois swiftly sets him straight. She doesn’t love it. She doesn’t even like it. She does it because she loves her family. Now, doesn’t that deserve some acknowledgement?

Does another person cook for you on a regular basis? Go tell them how much you appreciate it. They’ll enjoy hearing it, and I guarantee it will turn back in your favour… who knows, you may find yourself with a little extra dessert chocolate pudding.

Yum. Some images are rather more fun to photosource than others. (Photo courtesy of hyena reality / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Yum. Some images are rather more fun to photosource than others. (Photo courtesy of hyena reality / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)