Acts of Kindness: We Followed Through

015Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

In the spirit of the holiday, we decided to write briefly today about acts of kindness we have been meaning to perform, and have recently finally performed.  If, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, we took a few steps heavenwards this week by following through on our good intentions.  We met in January to discuss our editorial calendar for the next few months, and thought that planning this post would put into motion all of our good intentions when it comes to committing random acts of kindness.  Resolutions met!  Here are some other wonderful stories of random acts of kindness.


For two years I’ve been carrying around a bookmark from The Children’s Book Bank, a charity close to my heart, but, apparently, not close to the top of my to do list, because for those same two years I’ve had bags of books waiting, waiting, waiting to be taken to them.  The Children’s Book Bank collects and distributes gently used children’s books and distributes them free of charge to children who might not otherwise have a chance to own their own books.  Today, they are getting a few dozen more to distribute.

Since Valentine’s Day also happens to be International Book Giving Day, won’t you please join me in hauling a bag of books to your local book bank, school, shelter or charity?  It will make my terrible procrastination feel a bit less weighty if I know I have at least added to my haul by encouraging others to give, too!


I find the term “random of acts of kindness” difficult to define.  Buying an unsuspecting person a cup of coffee is both random and kind and not to mention surprising for the recipient.  I am sure that the receiver goes about their day with an extra spring in their step, not from the caffeine but from the generosity of a stranger.

But in my books most random acts of kindness fall squarely in the “be a good human” column and sadly, being the receiver of a “good human act” is often just as random, kind and surprising as someone buying you a cup of coffee.

Being a kind human isn’t that difficult.  It’s the little things: shoveling a neighbour’s walk, bringing in your neighbour’s trash bins, sending an out-of-the-blue email to a friend letting them know how fabulous you think they are or waving a polite thank you when someone gives you the right-of-way.  These are the things that make people feel appreciated and feeling good is contagious.

In the midst of the polar vortex, with the sidewalk slick with inches-thick ice, I happened upon an elderly woman pushing her grocery buggy tentatively on the sidewalk, using the handle for balance.  I pulled my car to the side, much to the confusion of my son, and rushed to the woman’s side.  Together we navigated the buggy to a stretch of cleared sidewalk where it was safe for her to make her way home.

The woman was shocked that I had stopped my car to help her and her thank you was so genuine, it reminded me of the weight those words can carry.  However, it was what she said next that filled me with a deep sense of gratitude: God bless you!

I am not an overly religious person, but it was the way she said those words, with such feeling and authenticity that made me feel worthy, appreciated and valued.


I’m into honesty (maybe a bit too much), so I’ll tell you that I googled “random acts of kindness” when 4Mothers decided to write about it.  At first I considered this a testimony to how lost the art of kindness may be, that I needed to “research” examples.  As it turns out though, most suggestions for performing random acts of kindness is just a long way of saying “good”.

To put a little extra intention into “good”, I took into account the distinction of today, and tried to think of who might benefit from a good valentine but wouldn’t ordinarily receive one from me.  Two people came to mind:  a friend whose husband has gone overseas to say goodbye to his ailing sister, and a friend whose long-term relationship is ending and for whom the day will not be especially celebratory.

With the help of my oldest son, I made a three-layer peppermint bark (not nearly as well as the first time I tried it, I might add), but with enough heart that I hope it’s decent enough to be given away.  I have no idea whether this sugar treat will be eaten by the intended recipients, although their children may enjoy them well enough.  But it almost doesn’t matter; in truth, it’s me who needs to give them something, and whatever its contents, I hope the package tells them that someone is holding them in their thoughts.

It’s this that makes me wonder whether an act of kindness can ever really be random.  What creates the kindness is the intention behind it, whether it’s long pre-meditated or spontaneous.  It’s the difference between good luck (also nice) and a good turn.

And the icing on the peppermint bark is realizing consciously and joyfully how much kindness is sent my way, be it an unexpected card in the mail, the woman at the restaurant who commented on how well-behaved my boys were (true story), the pediatrician who cast no impatient glances when those same boys crawled all over her office and my youngest threw a slipper at (and hit) her, and the driver who didn’t honk even though I probably shouldn’t have made that turn.

With this in mind, we wish you lovely valentine vibrations that we hope will carry you through the day and well beyond.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

A Perfumed Evening

scentI hosted my neighbourhood book club this month, and my choice was Chandler Burr’s The Perfect Scent.  It’s a wonderful account of his year following a perfumer and a celebrity as they create new fragrances: Claude Ellena, who makes Un Jardin sur le Nil, his first as the in-house perfumer for Hermes, and Sarah Jessica Parker, who embarks on her first fragrance for Coty, Lovely.

We often do food and drink that’s linked to the book in some way, so I got rose Turkish Delight, Chowder’s violet candies, lavender jelly for the cheese board, and I made a cardamom and ginger dressing for the cantaloupe and a rosewater-flavoured yogurt for the strawberries.  Yum!  For drinks, I had spiced rum punch and Elderflower pear cider and Elderflower liqueur.  All highly recommended!

As part of the evening, I got samples of the perfumes Burr discusses in the book, and I asked everyone to bring their favourite perfume: a smell and tell component to the evening.  We had a tour through all the samples, and it was striking how polarized opinion could be on some of the perfumes.  My favourite perfume, Dzing! by l’Artisan Parfumeur, makes me deliriously happy because it smells like hay and animals and, yes, a bit like manure.  Two other women who smelled it smelled, wait for it, electrical fire!!  One of them had had an electrical fire recently and said it smelled exactly like it.  Obviously not a happy connection.  We rounded out the night by discussing the book and told stories about our fragrance memories and about how we came to love our favourites.

imagesUB2XEPSXWe all had our memories of heavy perfumes we left behind with our youth, like Rive Gauche, Poison, Anais Anais, Obsession and Ralph Lauren.  Do you remember those?   We all had memories of women in our lives who are inseparable from their fragrances.  For me, it’s my mother and Youth Dew.  Inseparable.

My fascination with all things perfume truly began about five years ago when I discovered that there exists a perfume called In the Library, made by Christopher Brosius for CB I Hate Perfume.  It turned out that the only woman in Toronto to carry his perfumes was right around the corner.  Sadly, I really did not like the smell of In the Library, but two of the notes in it, Tobacco and Old Leather, were available as individual scents.  I bought them on the spot, and gave them to my husband to wear.  They are simply scrumptious, and it gives me a profound sense of calm and pleasure to smell those scents on him.  I have since bought about six of his perfumes, each with its own wonderful story and unfolding pleasures.

His In the Library started me on a quest to find other perfume that smelled like books.  I’d get very strange looks when I asked about it, but one store owner who really knew his stuff said, “Nothing like books, but what about hay?  Some people think this one smells like paper.”  And he introduced me to my beloved Dzing!  His store has since disappeared, so my favourite scent remains elusive.  All the better to make you yearn, my dear.

What perfumes have you forever left behind?  What are your current favourites?

Guest Post: Karen Wolfe on the Limits of Etiquette

untitledMy mom tried – hard.  She taught us to welcome guests with a warm ‘hello’, to make requests with a ‘please’ and to follow up with a ‘thank you.’  She taught us to eat the meals set down before us at any table.  We learned to listen to those around us (especially the adults) and to ask to be excused.  Mom even tried to teach us to write ‘thank you’ notes.

But when it came to table manners, she had an uphill battle.  We knew how to hold a fork, knife and spoon. We knew how to set a table properly from a young age and we knew to clear it, but those rules are more about work ethic than etiquette – at least in our home.  Real contribution to the family has always meant more than polite impressions.

The root of her battle lay with the fact that my dad has questionable table manners.  He sets a table in his own creative way, he frequently talks with his mouth full, occasionally puts his elbows on the table, and he has been known to lick his knife.  And as a child I watched judgmental people dismiss him as a result of these habits; now, as an adult, I dismiss them in turn.

You see, people’s attention to etiquette can lead them to swift and superficial misjudgment of character.  And so I have always had rather ambivalent feelings toward etiquette, and to sports and leisure activities encoded with extensive rules;  golf and tennis tighten my jaw; country clubs stiffen my back.   Etiquette is used in social circles to reinforce classism, to justify exclusion – if you don’t know the rules then you are not part of ‘the club’, and if you are not part of the club, then you are expendable or invisible.

Please don’t misinterpret me.  I would like to teach my twin daughters “the rules” so they can wield them wisely. Actually, if I’m being absolutely honest, I would like my husband to teach my daughters “the rules.”  He is much more adept and knowledgeable about the subtleties of polite social interaction.

I would like to teach the girls to be considerate and present. My dad has taught us this.  He has taught us to always shake the hand that is offered first.  He has taught us to sit down with people, to make eye contact with those who are talking, and to actively listen to what they have to say, because everyone has something to offer.  He has taught us to participate in conversations, but to avoid taking up too much conversational space.

From my dad, I have learned that small gestures can have a tremendous impact on the lives of others – taking in a neighbour’s mail, shoveling an elderly person’s driveway, opening up a conversation with someone who is sitting alone.  And from my dad, I have learned that peanut butter can taste great licked from a knife.

I would like my daughters to approach others with his kindness, generosity, and sense of humour.


Karen Wolfe is a mother of twin girls and lives in Toronto.

Manners, Boys

I’m a little … uptight about manners.  In fact, I’m so uptight that I am, ironically, not very polite to my kids when they have less than stellar manners.  Since I’m definitely a glass half empty kind of person when it comes to assessing my kids’  manners, my impolite calling them out happens fairly often.  Basically, I am regularly an obnoxious scold because my kids aren’t unfailingly polite.

Hmmmmm.  A case of the pot calling the kettle black.  I’m working on it.3A26B0E9

The good news is that although I have a tendency to focus on the negative when it comes to their behaviour, we hear great things about our boys when they go visiting friends or relatives.   Practically every time they go somewhere, my parting words are, “Remember your manners, boys.”  Usually, when they are returned to me, I hear a variation of , “The kids were great.”  My Dad, who babysat the boys one long weekend recently and who would have no hesitation in telling me if the boys had misbehaved, said there wasn’t a single problem all weekend.

Hmmmmm.  So that obviously can’t be true, but it  was close enough to the truth I think he wanted to tell me:  Nobody’s perfect, but these kids did their best, and I have no complaints.

Nobody’s perfect; no complaints.  Perfectionist that I am, this is a middle ground I’d happily tread with no fear of hypocrisy or mediocrity.

Mantras to Save Money

As some of you may know, I have a mantra that I say at the till every time I am in a bookstore (weekly, at the very least):  “At least it’s not shoes, at least it’s not shoes, at least it’s not shoes.”

I love my mantra, but I do acknowledge that it is a bit of a Pyrrhic victory to “save” on shoes only to spend on books.  In the very same moment, I proclaim and undermine my virtue by pretending that my spending is anything but indulgent.  Shoes or books, whatever your addiction, if you have to have a mantra when you spend, your purchase is probably less a necessity than an indulgence.  My claim to virtue rests entirely on my perception that shoes are a frivolous indulgence while books are a sound investment.  I acknowledge that I could probably well stand to spend a bit more time and money on clothes (including shoes) and a lot less on books, but there you go.  I can easily resist one, and struggle mightily to resist the other.

I am not a big fan of diets or of deprivation; my attempts to stop buying books have not gone well.  But I have found Eliza’s Cross’s money diet challenge to be an effective and wholesome mantra: “no unnecessary spending.”   As part of her January Money Diet, in its fifth year this year, participants pledge to save money and to try to go for a month without spending cash, taking a 31-day break from all but the most essential spending.  I did not sign up, but I am observing with interest from a distance.

One of the places in which I am most guilty of unnecessary spending is the drug store at the end of my street.  I’ve been in there a lot this month, finally taking myself and each of the three boys in turn for our flu shots (hooray!), and I’m always running in for milk or bread.  We also get loyalty points when we spend, which is terrible temptation to spend more, more, more.  Well, not this month.  In the drug store, when I was tempted to replace the tube of lip gloss that ran out, the one shade out of dozens that I own, I stopped myself short by saying, “No unnecessary spending.”  When I found myself itching to try a new body lotion, in spite of the many half-finished tubs and bottles at home, I said, “No unnecessary spending.”  When I reached for a new shade of nail polish, I thought of all I had, and said, “No unnecessary spending.”   It never felt like deprivation.  It felt calming and empowering.  It made me grateful for what I already have and it made me come home and unearth it.  It was wonderful.

book cityIt did not work in the bookstore.

I have not been on a money diet for January.  I have taken a romantic holiday alone with my husband, I have gone out for decadent meals with him, and for fun meals with friends.  We consumed too many calories, we spent too much on food and wine.  But none of that spending felt wrong or indulgent.  I am a better parent, wife and friend for those luxuries, and that, I think, is what good spending should achieve: a sense of well-being, a sense of being ahead of where you were before you spent the money rather than guilt for feeling behind or in debt.

The money diet mantra has also given me a sense of well-being.  It reminds me of my life of plenty, and makes me grateful for my existing small luxuries.


Carrie Snyder, at Obscure Canlit Mama, has a tradition of choosing a word of the year at the beginning of each year.  It is a word that serves as a theme, or an inspiration, a goal or a summation.  Last year’s word, for example, was “stretch,” and here is what she had to say about it in retrospect:

Every word that occurs to me seems to whisper its shadow, its opposite, which I do find sometimes happens with words of the year — one ends up exploring the dark side of, say, stretch, my word for the past year. At times I cursed the choice, feeling stretched way beyond comfort (twisted ankle, head injury) or stretched too thin. But then I reminded myself to stretch, literally, and that felt good. And I did stretch, grabbing onto goals that once seemed out of reach. I wonder how that’s changed me. That’s what I’ve been wondering about most as I think about a new word: how have I changed, and how do I want to change? What do I fear and why? What do I want to give and why? What do I hope to accomplish and why? (The “and why” seems as important as the “what,” even if the answer is very simple, like it was with last year’s word. In order to keep running long distances, I need to stretch, I reasoned. Seemed practical at the time. Still does, I suppose.)

I have found myself thinking about this tradition of hers and her meditation on it quite a bit in these new weeks of the new year.

I love words, and to choose one, just one, seems impossible at best.  But there is something about the exercise that I can’t resist, and I keep circling back to the word “citizen.”  Of my many and diverse goals, one thing that I want for myself and for my children is for us all to be good citizens.

fluThe idea really came home to me while I was kicking myself for letting the winter get so far on without us all having had our flu shots.  I am not avoiding it, or dreading it, nor do I think it’s not necessary.  I just haven’t made the time for us all to go and get our shots.  And while I was berating myself for this neglect, and telling myself how good I will feel once it is off of my to do list, I realized that what makes me feel so good about getting flu shots is that it makes me feel like a good citizen.  I am protecting not just myself and my family, but contributing to community health.   Every year, I get a sense of satisfaction not just from having crossed it off the list of things to do, not just from having eliminated a task, but more from having contributed to something.

My definition of citizenship, then, means mostly that we think beyond ourselves and our own needs and think about the bigger picture.  It means finding out how we as individuals can maximize our positive impact on our community.  It means finding strength by thinking of others.

So “citizen” will be my word of the year this year, and it will be my goal to push out and beyond myself into something bigger.

Top Ten Reasons I’m Glad/Sad the Kids are Back in School

boyntonReasons to be Glad

10.  Silence.

9.  Three meals a day, at regular intervals.

8.  5-10 fruit and veg, protein, grains.  That’s all, folks.

7.  Middle son begins packing his own lunch.  (Squeeeee!!)

6.  The almighty and blessed schedule rules again.

5.  Snowy walks to school.

4.  Screen time goes back to weekends only.

3.  The Lego pieces will not migrate to places under my feet every five minutes.

2.  I’m blogging again.

1.  I will have the time to plan our March Break vacation!

Reasons to be Sad

10.  Silence.

9.  Three meals a day, at regular intervals.

8.  5-10 fruit and veg, protein, grains.  That’s all, folks.  (We couldn’t possibly have eaten all the chocolate up!)

7.  Lunchboxes.

6.  The almighty schedule rules again.

5.  Layers, snowpants, boots.

4.  Screen time goes back to weekends only.

3.  Less time for Lego.

2.  E-mail backlog.

1.  I have to plan our March Break vacation before I look at the credit card statements….

Giving Tuesday is Here!

Have you heard of Giving Tuesday?  It’s today!  I just learned of it a couple of weeks ago.  It’s a movement to create a day of giving – the Tuesday after (American) Thanksgiving – serving as a counterpart to the retail extravaganzas of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  The hope is for communities to come together and give something back, and then to share their efforts and spread the word.

I felt like a convert upon first hearing.  The day provides for me a focal point for doing what I want to do, but sometimes don’t do as much of as I’d like.  I was especially enamoured by the 10 year old boy in the video who is asking his friends for a toonie donation to a cause, which he’ll then match.

My foray into lots of ideas comes through books, and I borrowed Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier and One Hen by Katie Smith Milway with thoughts of talking about Giving Tuesday with my boys.  Both of these books depict rural lives that are changed fundamentally and positively by small loans that purchase livestock for a family.  They are lovely books, but somehow missed the mark, and trying to have a conversation about giving with my sons in this particular way felt forced.  And like most important conversations, this one needs to feel right, so I let it go.  I’ll find another, better way in.

But for now, for today, there’s still me, and Giving Tuesday led me to my first contribution to Kiva.  I’m inspired by micro-finance, and just found the excuse to act on it.

There are so many ways to give, and I hope you’ll join in on Giving Tuesday however works for you!

Guest Post: Meg Gardner: Green Sins, Where Do I Begin?

I admit, the first thing I think when someone mentions “being green” is guilt.  I add it to my long list of things-I-could-be-better-at.  I drive too much.  I don’t buy in bulk enough.  A TV or two is always on.  And so is a light in some random room – usually the one most recently occupied by the middle child.

I have too many green sins to count.  And when I try to count them and work on being greener, I end up feeling even more guilty that I can’t be truly GREEN.

Can anyone?

My uncle is a meteorologist at Cornell University.  He exists in the same circles as many of the folks involved in Al Gore’s “The Inconvenient Truth”.  So of course, after the movie came out, we asked him his point of view.  Is it all really true?  How do we keep it from happening?  What is the best thing I can do from a scientific perspective?   I expected a specific answer.  Avoid doing X.  We output too much of Y.  The biggest problem is Z.  Instead, he said, “The best thing you can do is not exist.”  There!  My guilt.  Simply existing is not being green.

So now, instead of feeling bad about my sins, I choose to feel good about my efforts.  In Toronto, we have an incredible waste collection system.  Black, Blue and Green.  I’m reminded of the green-ness of this effort when I visit my family back in Wisconsin.


That’s a big garbage can and an itsy bitsy blue recycling bin.  Paper, glass & some (specific) plastic.  No green bin.  (Imagine the look of confusion on my dad’s face when he visits us – I take bets whether a dirty paper towel will land in the right bin)

So when I think about my green-ness, I feel glass half full.  I know I could do better.  But I’m doing better than not doing anything at all.


Meg Gardner is a Home & Family blogger, and she blogs at Loving Albany.  Her beautiful house was recently featured on Apartment Therapy.  Check it out!

It’s Movember: A Fan”tashe”ic Month!

DSC_0141It’s that time of year again, the first week of November.

There’s a chill in the air and men across the land are starting to grow a lower brow, a cookie duster, a bro-mo . . . a moustache.

These men are not trying to dodge winter’s wrath by sporting a lip sweater.  No, no.  These are manly men united in their upper lipholstery to raise awareness and money for men’s health.

Two Australian men started Movember over a pint, pondering the whereabouts of the “mo”?  Where’d it go?  Inspired by a friend’s mother who was tirelessly raising money and awareness for breast cancer research the gentlemen decided to “change the face” of men’s health.  Since 2003 Movember has gone international.  Last year 42.6 million dollars was raised by men (Mo Bros) and women (Mo Sistas) from just across Canada; benefitting organizations like Prostate Cancer Canada.

This month my normally clean-shaven husband and his male colleges have decided to team up, grow a fellowcrow and raise some serious money for Movember.

While I won’t be growing any facial hair to support the cause (oh God, please don’t let that ever happen!) I will be supportive by doing the following:

-       Not laughing in his face.

-       Not calling him names like Selleck, porn-stache or Uncle Rico.

-       As tempting as it sounds, I will not stop shaving my legs in solidarity.

-       I won’t wriggle away when he tries to kiss me while sporting his mouth merkin.

-       I will remind him every day how proud I am of him for making a difference to the lives of others and being a role model to our sons.

What can you do?  Join a team or go rogue and grow some lip foliage!  Support the men in this fan”tache”ic cause by donating some cash to the ‘tashe – even if it’s just your morning latte dollars.

If you know some bro that is sporting a “mo” this month, check out the 4Mothers1Blog Pinterest Movember board for some inspiration to show him that you care!