As Joni Mitchell observed, “It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees…” Well, as of this writing I haven’t yet sourced my balsam fir, but only because I have a to-do list as long as a tree trunk. My gift list seems even longer, which is why any strategy that makes shopping easier will score points with me.

My neighbour has come up with what I think is a brilliant plan to raise funds for a children’s hospital, meet gift-shopping needs and clean out the spare-gift chest in her home.

If you have kids, you are familiar with the spare-gift chest. Only you may call it the spare-gift cupboard, or perhaps the spare-gift nook. In my case, it’s the spare-gift cardboard moving carton. That’s the place where you store the extra games, books, puzzles and craft kits that you bought on impulse or on sale, the ones you collect and stash away. They’re not there for a rainy day, but rather for a day when you discover your eight-year-old has been invited to two different birthday parties, they’re both tomorrow, she forgot to give you the invitations until right now, and there’s no way you can go out to buy presents and finish the report your boss needed yesterday. Oh, spare-gift cardboard moving carton, you have saved us many a trip to the 24-hour drugstore for Mickey Mouse bubble bath.

As our kids get older and their parties involve a lot fewer Lego kits and Little House on the Prairie box sets, you realize you aren’t actually using the spare gifts all that often anymore. That’s where my neighbour is. So she’s purging, and this is where she gets creative. She’s systematically selling off her stash of gifts – in exchange for donations to the children’s hospital.

It’s holiday cheer for everyone. It raises money for an excellent cause, and it frees up some storage space in her home. Plus, it enabled me to find the perfect present for a pint-sized relative.


To avoid the risk of ruining surprises, I won’t post a pic of the toy I bought. But here’s something else that was up for grabs. (Admit it – even you would love the gift of a Darth Vader piggy bank.)

Coming Up Roses

The kid has taste. That’s what I think.

Twelve-year-old William Haley of Bowmanville, Ontario, has a favourite colour magic marker. When we say favourite, we mean he’s so utterly enthralled with these markers that he’s not going anywhere unless one of these bad boys goes with him. The colour is officially Crayola-classified as “primrose,” but that doesn’t tell you much. Primroses, the real ones, come in all kinds of hues –predominantly yellow ones, if Google Image Search is any representation. When primrose is a Crayola marker, however, it’s a striking purply-pink shade that strongly reminds me of one of my most comfortable shirts.

When William, who has autism, identified the primrose marker as the one he absolutely had to have, had to use, and had to carry with him everywhere, his mom Stacey started to panic just a little bit. Markers do wear out. And it’s not like you can go to the art supply store and buy primrose in an economy pack. It’s more like you can spend hundreds of dollars (as Stacey certainly has) on sets of multicoloured markers that might include a single primrose nestled between the cornsilk and the tropical rainforest.

But once Stacey put the word out among friends that she was looking to trade her abundance of specialty-coloured markers for any primrose spares, the story spread quickly. Of course it did. Soon the family received dozens of marker donations from strangers. Even the Crayola company got in touch. (Spoiler alert: William is going to have the best Christmas ever when he discovers what’s wrapped up under the tree, and it’s not tropical rainforest.)

At this point, Stacey says, they’re pretty set. She’s thrilled to have enough primrose markers to last for a very long time, and she encourages well-wishers to support another child with autism instead. “There are always plenty of families in need. Maybe there is some way to help them,” she told The Toronto Star.


Authentic primroses in their natural habitat. (Photo courtesy of artur84 /


Chocolate, Sweetness: Now I See the Connection

Today’s the fourth annual Giving Tuesday. It’s a relatively new tradition of taking stock of your wallet after Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and thinking more about charity, less about the sale price you scored on that stainless-steel, one-touch espresso machine.

A recent British survey by Galaxy Hot Chocolate shows we’re not too shabby when it comes to giving. (You already knew this, didn’t you, readers?) The survey found that about 3 in 4 people will pay it forward whenever someone does them a good deed. In fact, they do 1.27 acts of kindness for every one good deed done to them. That’s an average, of course – I don’t think these sweet-lovin’ folk are suggesting people will pick up only a quarter of a piece of garbage, or give a quarter of the directions to a lost stranger.

The same research found that the most frequent good deed – at least in Britain, although I can personally verify that this is not uncommon in Canada – is holding the door open for someone else. (Again, we recommend you go more than a quarter of the way on this one.)

These good deeds don’t take more than a few seconds of your time. And yet, if this survey is accurate, they spawn even more acts of kindness for other people. It’s like a virus, only with fewer sniffles…


I’m looking for the ripple effect, but it’s hard to see under all those mini-marshmallows… (Photo courtesy of OZphotography /


From Paradise, Nova Scotia, to Champagne, Yukon… We Welcome You

I mostly avoid discussing things like politics, religion and sebaceous glands on this blog. Some topics are simply too divisive, and this is a place for connection. But I don’t know anyone who is untouched by the stories of anguished families in desperate need, no matter where they come from or whom they pray to.

I’m gladdened by the open-hearted response of the Canadian community in the midst of a global crisis. We want people to be safe. We want them to feel welcome. And we want them to be able to cope with our challenging, yes-blizzards-do-blow-sideways Canadian winter.

I’m also impressed by the boundless creativity of Canadians when it comes to finding original ways to support the cause. For instance, a newlywed couple called off their fancy wedding reception, used the money to support a family of refugees, and asked wedding guests to do the same in lieu of eight-piece bakeware sets. Writer colleagues of mine have organized an upcoming evening of readings, music and silent auction. Two women in my community are offering surprise grab bags of novels – guaranteed to be good reads, they promise. (I’ve ordered two. If you’re itching to know the titles, I’ll report back.) My daughter’s class is collecting warm coats to distribute to new families, in the hopes that icy blasts of snow need not be another burden for them to bear. Here’s one that sounds even more fun than the surprise books: surprise dinner. That event was put together by a youth group in Stratford, Ontario.

Why are Canadians such divergent thinkers? Is it because we’re accustomed to outsmarting snowdrifts, or planning just the right angle for that slapshot, or tracking down the nearest Tim Hortons, or [insert another Canadian stereotype here]?

Fun fact: In a report called (rather unoriginally, I think) the Global Creativity Index, Canada just ranked fourth in the world. Apparently we score well because our country is good at embracing diversity, which in turn helps our productivity, competitiveness and economy.

I say it also helps our capacity to support newcomers. Canada, you go.


A donated coat: Sharing the warmth, literally. (Using the word “literally,” correctly.)

A Touch of Magic

Everyone loves a good mystery. Years ago, my husband and I booked tickets to see a well-reputed magician. It’s not that I’m a huge aficionado of this entertainment genre, but the event happened to be bundled with a fabulous lunch – and for that, I will fall hard.

Now dear hubs, as many of you know, uses a wheelchair. And one of the mostly weird and occasionally wonderful ways in which this detail impacts on our social life has to do with theatre seating. We don’t sit where we choose; we sit where we’re put. Once in a while, the designated wheelchair seating area turns out to be prime real estate. That’s a party. More often, though, it’s in the fringes. Off-off-off Broadway, if you will. On this particular occasion, we were made to sit up front but on the extreme periphery of spectators – at such an awkward angle relative to the stage, in fact, that we were able to discern all the magic behind the magic. We saw through all the smoke, mirrors and sleights of hand whose success depended on a very specific audience viewing angle.

Sure, it was interesting. Mystery solved. But it also spoiled the magic.

In a way, that’s how I felt last week when I finally discovered the identity of one considerate, yet perpetually mysterious, neighbour. Long-time readers of this blog may remember “The Case of Citizen Stealth.” This story centered on a certain unknown, unnamed individual in my community who regularly retrieved our garbage bins from the curb for us after they’d been emptied on pick-up day. From my seat at the computer I’d hear the big plastic bins being shuffled and moved, but I never saw anything, never caught anyone in the act. And I always wondered which of my countless kind neighbours could take the credit for this good deed.

Then suddenly, mystery solved. Last week I spotted her walking past my office window, and seconds later the bins were rolled up the driveway. I hadn’t guessed it was her. I suppose I could have or even should have, because she’s the type who does many favours, and frequently. But she doesn’t even live on my street, although she walks along it, so her name hadn’t crossed my mind.

Is the magic spoiled? In a way it was nice not knowing. It left all possibilities open. It could have been the grumpy guy across the street. It could have been the reclusive pair nearby. They could have all been taking turns. Until last week, the potential was there.

But nothing has changed, really, has it? The potential is always there. And almost every person possesses a drive to do good. This week, especially, we have to remember that. This week, especially, I am thinking about the words of Mohandas Gandhi: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

It’s called dilution, and it’s not magic. It’s a basic law of chemistry.

I’m grateful for the ocean. And my neighbours.


I like big bins, and I cannot lie…

Not in My Backyard… or the One Next to That

It got a lot of people hot under the collar. Which was the point.

It started one Friday morning in a certain Toronto neighbourhood populated by a lot of, let’s say, fairly comfortable people. An empty store was boarded up as though in preparation for new construction. And then a large sign was hung – to announce the new homeless shelter that would soon be built here.

A toll-free number was helpfully added in case of “questions or concerns.”

Concerns is rather an understatement. Residents called and left emotional, angry messages. One caller was “distressed.” Others called this an “awful idea” that would “ruin a neighbourhood” or “affect my business.” Put it somewhere else, they suggested. It was “absolutely absurd” to bring drug addicts into a perfectly fine neighbourhood, said someone else. Said one caller, self-congratulatingly: “I’m a very tolerant person. But this just really is going over the edge.”

A hidden camera captured passersby grabbing information flyers, taking pictures and trying to peer into the construction site. “People were very upset, people were crying,” a journalist in the community told The Toronto Star. Pardon us, did we ruin your Friday?

Next day, the sign was replaced with a new one: “You told us you don’t want a shelter here. Neither do we.” It was followed by an appeal to help solve homelessness.

The brilliant stunt was revealed as an exercise to raise awareness. According to Raising the Roof, the Toronto charity that set this up, at least 35,000 Canadians will have nowhere to go home to tonight. About 235,000 in total will be homeless at some point in the year. That doesn’t even take into account the 50,000 couch-surfing “hidden homeless” Canadians with no place to call their own.

Click here to watch a video showing the community’s negative – nay, completely bitchcakes – reaction. The video ends with a pointed comment:

“What would happen if we were this passionate about ending homelessness?”

Oh, peevish Toronto neighbourhood: Like a campfire marshmallow, you just got burned.

Maybe now these folks, and anyone else who hears about this stunt, will find themselves all fired up for a very worthy cause.

Photo courtesy of Raising the Roof. You nailed it, friends.

Photo courtesy of Raising the Roof ( You nailed it, friends.

So Much More than a Feeling

It was a typical weekday lunch hour. My dog and I were eating carrot sticks while listening to the all-request show on the radio. (I won’t freely admit I listen to a station aimed at baby boomers, but let’s just say that on this radio frequency, “pop” always means Iggy.)

A woman from Newmarket, Ontario, called in to make a song request. “I recently lost three limbs, and it was my first time out in my electric wheelchair,” she told the radio host. (You had my attention at “three limbs.”) “Two different motorists stopped to ask me if I needed any help with anything,” she continued. “I said, ‘Thank you so much for stopping, but I’m good to go.’

“But it really warmed my heart.”

The woman wanted to send a song out to all the compassionate people of her community. Her request? “More than a Feeling,” by Boston.

This story warmed my heart, so I’m sharing it here. You’ll agree it’s totally worth the earworm… I hope.

No animals were deprived of carrots in the making of this photo.

No animals were deprived of carrots in the making of this photo.