Garden-Variety Good Deeds

Anyone who shops at garden nurseries on a regular basis knows that the bill adds up faster than you can say “variegated sedge.” That’s one reason why gardeners get so much joy out of dividing and sharing their own perennials. All those flowers, ferns and other freebies can save you a pile of cabbage.

Another reason is more fundamental. It seems to me that gardeners like finding new places for our plants because it means we’re spreading a little bit of beauty to one or two more corners of the world.

Last week my hubby and I visited a private garden where the homeowner and resident cultivator invited us to browse through her flowerbeds, point at perennials that caught our eye, and bring parts of them home to start a new life. She’d never met us before – we were introduced by a mutual friend. She may never see us again (although I did promise we could return the favour, anytime she wanted!). But thanks to her, new patches of sweet woodruff, tall woodland sunflower and green lady’s mantle are now taking hold in our own back yard.

I could go on and on about the good deeds that constantly crop up (hee hee, “crop”) among gardeners. In fact, I’ve discussed this in other blog posts, here and here. But for now I’ll just share this woman’s parting words, as we loaded up our van with pots large and small:

“Gardening is a lesson in generosity.”

It certainly all felt very generous to me.

P.S. If anyone knows the name of the mystery silver perennial that's front-and-centre in this pictue, we'd love to hear from you...

P.S. If anyone knows the name of the mystery silver perennial that’s front-and-centre in this pictue, we’d love to hear from you…

Dear Future Mom: It’s All Good

It started when a pregnant Italian woman reached out to her country’s national Down syndrome support organization. She had learned her baby would be born with the disorder, and didn’t know what that would mean for the future. “I’m scared,” she wrote. “What kind of life will my child have?”

In a spectacular case of show-don’t-tell, the support organization opted not to write back with pamphlets and statistics, and all the answers to all the FAQs. Instead, the group decided to create a video demonstration of how beautiful the child’s life could be.

“Dear Future Mom, don’t be afraid. Your child will be able to do many things,” explain a series of smiling, attractive, confident and capable men, women and children with Down syndrome. They proceed to give examples of all the things people with Down syndrome can do – go to school, get a job, travel – while standing in front of their bookshelves, laptops and hip cityscapes. And then, importantly, they note: “Your child can be happy. Just like I am. And you’ll be happy too.”

At the end of the video, they all hug their moms… who are all, without exception, smiling broadly. (Yes, okay, I got teary, so what?)

It’s a fabulous idea, so worthy of its 6.5 million views on YouTube to date.

And as I write about this, I’m contemplating the messages that I could have benefited from, if they’d been told to me while I was pregnant. “Dear Future Mom, don’t be scared,” the people in video would have said to me. “Yes, your child will throw tantrums. She will experience diaper malfunctions. She will suffer through ear infections and bullying.” They would go on to say: “When she’s a teenager, she’ll go to parties, and she’ll ride in cars driven by high school students. And you won’t ever fall sleep until she’s home.” And then the people in that video could have provided that same exact much-needed reassurance: “Dear Future Mom,” they would have said to me. “Your child will be happy. And you’ll be happy, too.”

No matter what our kids’ differences, all new moms could use a boost in confidence. How fabulous that this group of individuals has put so much effort into helping one expectant parent (and likely countless others, too) to feel uplifted.

Dear Future Mom: It won’t be long at all before your smile looks this huge…

Dear Future Mom: It won’t be long at all before your smile looks this huge…


…And one day, when your child is all grown up, you too will take selfies with this much joy in them…

…And one day, when your child is all grown up, you too will take selfies with this much joy in them…

Morris, Who Works Like a Dog

It’s devastating to lose a loved one. People who are in the business of funeral arrangements understand that.

Dogs, on the other hand, don’t. Maybe that’s why Morris, a Polish-lowland-sheepdog-cum-funeral-director in Alberta, can get away with teasing a grin out of even his most distraught clients.

The rest of us, when confronted by someone who is grieving, might offer murmured words of condolence, perhaps a comforting hug. We’d be solemn.

Yet Morris doesn’t hesitate to capitalize on his own cuteness. At the Baker Funeral Chapel south of Edmonton, he eagerly trots over to the saddest visitors, offers up his shaggy sweet face and his large hazel eyes, and induces them to scratch his ears – and break into a smile.

All in a day’s work at the funeral home, co-owned by Jason and Allie Wombold.

The Wombolds adopted four-year-old Morris only a month ago. The family that had raised him since puppyhood were dealing with a busier lifestyle, and Morris needed more attention than they could give him. “We brought him home and immediately fell in love with him,” Jason told me.

The Wombolds probably weren’t sure what to expect when they brought their new pup into the workplace with them. But he got into his groove straight away. His unofficial new title could be Chief of Cheering Up. “He seems to know who to go to, and when to go,” Allie remarked in this news story.

“He provides an unconditional calmness to the grieving families,” Jason says. “He truly is a comfort dog… Morris doesn’t care what kind of day you’ve had, he just wants to be your friend.”

Meanwhile, Morris has turned into a bit of a local celebrity; his story has been covered in the paper, local TV news and on the radio. Jason joked to one reporter about putting Morris in a funeral-home-issue suit and tie, since they’re now bringing him to work every single day. “He’d probably love to wear that.”

And we’d love to see that. Wouldn’t we, readers? (I’m betting it would be even more charming than a cat in a shark suit riding a Roomba. But that’s just my opinion.)

Right now you’re smiling too, aren’t you? I rest my case.

Right now you’re smiling too, aren’t you? I rest my case.

Crying Shame

I’m baffled by people who are unaware that babies make noise. Somehow these people have never observed that young humans cannot speak to express their basic needs, and are hence equipped with a loud signaling ability. Unfortunately, there are people who expect babies never to cry, are convinced that all parents have access to an instant shut-off switch, and/or believe it’s appropriate to try and squish crying babies with their reclining airplane seats. Shudder.

So it was refreshing to read about a compassionate psychology professor at Hebrew University in Israel.

Sydney Engelberg was teaching a class on organizational behaviour last month when a baby in the lecture hall started crying. No, it wasn’t the world’s youngest frustrated genius. In fact, Sydney encourages his mature students to tote along their tots when they come to class.

If Sydney were someone else – say, an emotionally unstable airline passenger – he might have panicked at the first bleats out of this babe’s mouth. He might have assumed that the crying baby was a grave security threat, and that the sounds coming out of the infant’s mouth were actually strains from hell’s unholy choir.

Fortunately, Sydney is a dad himself and has considerable experience with human babies. Instead of sending him out of the room or banning his mother from all future flights, I mean classes, he offered to take the baby himself and try to calm him down.

Maybe the little tyke just wanted to be moved around, or maybe he needed a change of perspective. Maybe he’s actually fascinated by the application of decision making strategies in the workplace (assuming that’s what the lesson plan covered that day). In any case, the baby settled right down, Sydney continued to lecture with an infant in his arms, and someone captured this adorable Kodak moment.

“We just find it all very funny,” Sydney’s wife told a Yahoo Parenting writer. Daughter Sarit was a little gushier in her Facebook post: “My father is the best in the world.”

I don’t know what Sydney himself has to say about his baby picture going viral. I’m sure his list of professional qualifications has a whole lot more impressive stuff on it than “baby whisperer.” But of all the possible reasons for becoming suddenly well known, comforting a crying infant is not a bad one at all.

And it’s eminently better than trying to squish him.

Handsome intellectual man holds baby… I think my ovaries just twinged a little. (Photo: Imgur)

Handsome intellectual man holds baby… I think my ovaries just twinged a little. (Photo: Imgur)

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.