2015 Holiday Card Drive Begins Today

Card Drive
It’s early July. Daegan and I have been on the road on our tandem bicycle for just under a week. We’ve traveled about 250 miles through heat and humidity, up hills so steep our rear tire spun. At the same time, we were having the time of our lives, passing through some of the most beautiful country our province has to offer and staying with some of the kindest and most interesting strangers who opened their homes to us through the couchsurfing.org website.

All of this was for a good cause, the 500 Kindnesses project: a charity ride we came up with to encourage folks to pledge to perform acts of kindness in the same way other cyclists might ask for donations when participating in a charity ride. We were within site of our goal of 500 pledges and had our fingers crossed that people would make the pledges before we arrived in New York City a few weeks later.

But today we have two concerns: the everpresent concern of staying cool and hydrated, and now a new concern. We are on the Trans-Canada trail, a separated bike trail leading to Ottawa that at the moment was passing through a swamp. The swamp was so filled with biting insects that even wearing insect repellent when we look to our left we see the shadow of our bike, my head followed by Daegan’s head, and then the shadow of the cloud of insects in hot pursuit. Slow down even a little and they would start biting. It was a challenging ride, but finally we made it to a coffee shop where we could load up on cold drinks and calories to fuel our trip. When I stopped I checked my email and there was a message from Geri, an Activity Specialist at The Moorings – a retirement home outside of Chicago. Over the previous months the residents of The Moorings had been following our project and posting their own pledges of acts of kindness on their bulletin board. Geri would collect them and send them to us. Today, though, was a simple message of encouragement – the residents had seen how far had gone and had heard the weather was hot. Were we drinking enough? Were we resting when we needed to?

Throughout the ride we received many messages like this and often at the times we most needed them. Now the holidays are coming and they could use your messages. As you’re preparing your holiday cards, please send an extra one to the residents at The Moorings and bring them a bit of holiday cheer. You can send them to:
Geri Wozniak
c/o The Moorings of Arlington Hts
761 Old Barn Lane
Arlington Hts Il 60005

For those of you on Facebook, please consider joining the event and inviting your friends.

Photo by Jagrap used under creative commons license.

2013 Holiday Card Drive is Underway!

Moorings Residents with their cards

In the summer of 2012, residents of The Moorings of Arlington Heights shared their encouragement for us as we rode and stories of the acts of kindness they were performing for each other as pledges. That winter, we organized a holiday card drive for them. I have to say – if you know me you know I’m a very optimistic person with a very positive view of humanity and still you all exceeded my expectations. Over 400 cards arrived from around the world along with letters, postcards, family photos, and even videos of people singing holiday songs. They saw cards from as far away as New Zealand and from places as exotic as a castle! Classrooms full of children made cards of their own. As the cards started rolling in we got almost daily updates from the residents telling about that day’s arrivals.

A holiday card drive is an excellent illustration of the power of a small act multiplied over hundreds. The act of writing and sending a card is simple – it takes only a minute. And yet it so meaningful to those on the receiving end – especially when multiplied hundreds of times over.

So this year, help me make this an even bigger year. I’d like to see at least a thousand cards arrive. When you’re writing out your cards this year, make up another one for the residents at the address below. The residents loved seeing photos and hearing stories of your families also so if you have photos or stories, please share away. And please tell your friends about this event and invite them to participate. For those of you on Facebook, you can find the facebook event here.

Cards can be sent to:

Geri Wozniak
c/o The Moorings of Arlington Hts
761 Old Barn Lane
Arlington Hts Il 60005

Streetview Story – Randolph, Vermont

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Off and on I’ve been sharing on Facebook what I’ve termed “Streetview Stories” on my personal profile. I take a screenshot of a google streetview photo of where something happened in my past and share the story of it. I want to share this one with more than just my Facebook friends, though.

In early 1982 I was about 11 years old and we were living in central Vermont. One nearby town where we did our shopping was Randolph where there were a couple of grocery stores, a Ben Franklin department store and then in the field of vision we see here were a few things. Down that little street on the right is where the pizza place used t obe where I saw my last soda bottle vending machine – the kind where you pulled the glass bottle straight out after your coins released it. Across the street from that place is where I demonstrated that I could parallel park on my driver’s test in 1986. It’s funny how much comes to me in this one photo.

In the centre of the field of view is a newish building. The old one that was there burned down some time ago in a pretty big fire. That one had what I remember as a set of pretty tall concrete stairs at the top of which was a thrift store where you could still get shirts and pants for a quarter or two. Next door to that for a short time was a bookstore. In the days before big box bookstores or even amazon.com ordering, and before I figured out interlibrary loans, there was going to the bookstore and asking them to order a book for you.

My mom took me in one day because I wanted Broca’s Brain by Carl Sagan. They didn’t have it on the shelf so we ordered that. They also had a copy of Isaac Asimov’s “Asimov on Chemistry”. I was nuts for chemistry at the time and when I asked my mom if I could get that too. “Sorry, it’s too expensive to get two books. We’ll just get one.” And so we ordered my book and went home.

A couple of weeks later (instant gratification was still under development back in those days) we got a call to go pick up the book and made the half hour trip back to Randolph to get my book. When I got there, she rang my mom up and then just as we were about to leave the owner said. “Oh wait a minute.” and reached under the counter. “This is for you.” She handed me this and made an eleven year old very happy and likely planted one of the seeds for this project.


Lessons Learned While Running

For most of my life I’ve considered myself to be anything but athletic. When I was a kid I was so bad at gym that I was in “remedial phys ed” class because I couldn’t catch (I now know it’s because my vision in one eye is so bad I lack depth perception), and I found the feeling of being out of breath distressing – as in I thought it meant I needed to stop so I didn’t hurt myself. And so I couldn’t run. It was like this for the first 37 years of my life or so until I started riding my bike. Cycling taught me that maybe I could do athletic things. I even learned that being out of breath just meant you were working hard and death was not imminent. But I still had a “thing” about running. Sure, others did it, but I’d tried. It felt horrible and I couldn’t do it. And so it was always something someone else did.

And then a few things happened. The first was I read a cartoon at The Oatmeal that talked about long distance running. And as I read it I thought “All of these things he is saying about running is what I feel about long distance cycling.” That percolated in the back of my mind for a while and then I volunteered as crew at the TriAdventure and knew that was an event I wanted to do sometime in the future. But (uh-oh!) there’s either a 15KM run or a 3 KM swim involved. And while both sounded hard, The Oatmeal made running sound do-able. And so a few weeks ago as my vacation started, I started running using an iPhone app to help me get started, slowly and gently. And here’s the surprising thing. I had a blast. It wasn’t so hard after all. And at the same time I got to explore all of the little laneways around our neighbourhood with interesting graffiti like this:


After a week or two of running, a friend posted about a 5K race – a charity event to benefit a local hospital. Against my better judgment (and the advice of my 10 year old self: “You’ll get out of breath for SURE!”), I signed up. And then a week or so ago I learned that the day after that 5K there would be another run, the Terry Fox Run to benefit cancer research. I wanted to do that one as well. At first I just felt sad that I couldn’t do both. And then I thought: “Well, if Terry Fox felt strongly enough about something that he could basically run a marathon a day with one leg, surely I can suck it up and do this if I believe in it.” And so, I signed up for my second 5K, even before I had run more than 3K on my own training – with lots of walking intervals besides.

And so it was that I found myself, first Saturday morning running my first 5K race and doing better than I had hoped. About half way in, I teared up a little, thinking about the 11 year old who had pretty much written off doing anything athletic because clearly I wasn’t built for it. “Remedial gym this!” became a bit of a mantra for the rest of the race. Finishing was a bit tough. I really had to push myself in that last kilometre, but in the end I made it. And after a couple minutes recovery, I felt fantastic, and pretty proud of myself.

Then yesterday morning came. I had another 5KM to run, and though I wasn’t sore, I could feel in my legs that I’d done something pretty challenging the day before. Still, I boarded the subway and headed downtown. And right at 10AM, I headed out with a crowd of other people into the city.

A thought came in to my mind as I was about 2 KM in. I was running up Yonge street and it was getting pretty tough. It had been a bit of an uphill run the whole way and a big hill was ahead. I still had 3 KM to go and a piece of me thought “Wow, if it feels this rough now, it’s going to be pretty bad by the time you get to the end” But then another thought occurred to me. I thought of Terry Fox, the person whom the run was named after, and what he had given. And I asked myself simply “Can I give more in this moment?” Not, “Can I run the rest of the route.” or even “Maybe I can just walk the last KM” but “Can I give more than I am giving right now.” Almost always the answer was yes. And if you look at the photo, you can even see that happen. See the dips in the green line (my pace), especially on the hill (grey shading is elevation) at 4KM and then the end? And see that they’re often followed by at least a recovery if not a spike? That’s that recurring thought coming back over and over. And as you can see, my past self, the one who doubted me 2KM in was completely wrong to worry. 5KM came and went (and faster than my previous day’s 5K, besides!). And because the “5KM route” was over *8* kilometres, I managed to do 160% of what 40% of the way through the run, I doubted I could manage. Where Saturday I jogged across the finish line, during Sunday’s run, I ran across the finish line, faster than I had at any other point in the run.


I don’t know if those extra three kilometres were added intentionally or not. And really, I don’t care. I got two good things out of the challenge I faced yesterday. The first is “Can you give more right now?”, and the knowledge that I can always do more than I think I am capable of with the right attitude and commitment.

What’s a Charity Ride Like?

I know a lot of you haven’t participated in a charity ride before, so I thought I’d share with you a little of what the experience is like. As I said on our Facebook page:
I have seen people give their all on this ride in ways that I’ve never seen elsewhere. People who suffer from chronic illness, blind riders, riders who require mobility assistance off bikes, riders just a couple of weeks after major surgery, riders nearly twice my age. Seeing crew members giving up a week of their summer to feed, support, cheer on, and keep 300+ riders safe is amazing. And seeing supporters like you not just at our departure in Toronto and arrival in Montreal but along the route on tiny rural roads handing out water and cookies and cheering every rider as if they were wearing the yellow jersey in the Tour de France gives me inspiration to give not only my best on the ride, but every day.

Seeing that kind of commitment and effort from someone working to support a cause they believe in is both inspiring and gives me hope for the future.

But if a picture says a thousand words, and there are 30 frames per second then here are just over 1.7 million words about the ride I’ll be doing again next summer. (This video was filmed the last year I rode in the Bike Rally and then went onward to Quebec City as a part of Long Ride East.

If you’d like to make a financial pledge you can do so by clicking here. Or you can pledge an act of kindness here, and I will give $1 to the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation on behalf of 500 Kindnesses.

And of course if you’d like to ride or volunteer as crew, visit bikerally.org for details!

Being Neighbourly

Kind Package and Notes

Today there’s been a pretty sad photo going around Facebook, a really hateful letter from one neighbour to another about their child. I think it’s easy to read a letter like that and extrapolate that into a judgement of our culture and where it might seem to be going. And so I’d like to share some neighbourly interactions submitted by folks like you who made pledges to this project over the past couple of years:

Sharing Seeds: “I will share some organic seeds from my garden with friends and neighbors and will share food with our food bank. – Pledge #12, Afton, New York, USA”

Handmade Sharing: Over this next week, I’ll have shared the joys of tablet weaving with make-and-take projects as part of Black Sheep Handweavers Guild’s workshops-in-the-corners night, brought yarn and things to the yarn swap at Purlescence Yarns in conjunction with the last day of this session of Spin U, Sandi Luck’s technical spinning course, And I’m bringing jam to my next door neighbor in celebration of where his guava and lemon trees lean generously over the fence… – Pledge #8, San Jose, California, USA

Next Door: “Our family will make sure we visit our newly widowed neighbour at least once a week to make sure she is doing well and help out whenever we can. – Pledge #380, Barrie, Ontario, Canada”

Being There: “As a way to begin – tomorrow, I will go to the local cafe and buy a coffee for a neighbour, whether I know them or not. I will then drive for four hours and be present and available to my family on the day of my beloved uncle’s funeral. I know that nothing is better in times of grief than to find kindness and compassion to usher in what strength and love may attend. But it will start with just buying someone a coffee. Maybe that will be a good start for their day too. – Pledge #79, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

RAOK Suggestion #4 Post a nice note

Soup: “I will make soup and bread this weekend to give to a few neighbours who have small children. – Pledge #71, Essex, UK”

Love Thy Neighbour: “Every day I try and help my neighbor who is 94, shes my blessing..Every Thursday she gets all excited because she knows we are going shopping, doesn’t matter how long it takes. I make sure she gets to look at every thing she wants and she can be all day and I want her to enjoy the one day she can get out and be active.I help her do everything, Love Thy Neighbor…I pray some day when I get older and need someone there for me that God will see my need and send me someone to. I learn so much from her, sometimes people dont appreciate older people but remember we all have history to share and I love all her stories about her life and I also learn so many things from her, I pray too if I live to be 94 I have a alert mind as she has..she remembers things I forget..so pls always help when u can we need to reap what we sew and our rewards will be plentiful.♥ – Pledge #327 – Daphne, AL”

Neighbours Helping Neighbours: “I will pick up trash in my neighborhood, and will enlist the help of my 14 year old son. We do this regularly anyway, but this time we will also knock on doors of a few elderly neighbors and inquire if there is anything special we could do for them in the way of hauling off or picking up trash items. – Pledge #158, Fort Payne, Alabama”

Feeding a Friend: ““We have really good friends who live in our neighborhood, who are self employed, and struggling this year. They’re awesome people, but aren’t always good at setting boundaries, and end up spending more time on our local church than they should, etc., always finding non-monetary ways to contribute to the community.
I’m being kind to my friends’ stomachs.

Icing on the Cake: ““I’m going to make an extra cake this week and take it round to my neighbour. – Pledge #47, United Kingdom”

an easter surprise

Cherry Tomatoes: “I will share my abundant sweet and delicious cherry tomatoes with my neighbours and friends.
– Pledge #24, Toronto, Ontario, Canada”

Learning English: “I will help my new neighbour from Poland to learn to speak English. – Pledge #23, United Kingdom”

Picking Fruit: “I have fruit trees in my garden and this year we had masses of fruit. I didn’t think anything of it until I saw this on Facebook earlier today. So I packed boxes of fruit and gave it to my neighbours. – Pledge #20, Toronto, Ontario, Canada”

our upstairs neighbor baked us a pie!

Morning Train: “I pick up a neighbor at the train station and drop him at his house every week. – Pledge #406, Highland, New York, USA”

Shorty's Thank You Note

Freshly Mowed Lawn: “I’m a single woman and I know how hard it is to keep a home alone. Yesterday, I mowed the yards of two single neighbors so it would be one less thing they’d have to worry about doing this weekend. – Pledge #378, Cumming, Georgia, USA”

I love to cook, but there are only two of us, so when I make soups or stews, it’s always a fine line between “enough for leftovers” and “I never want to see this food again.”

Therefore, I’ve begun setting aside a quart container (the plastic containers that the frou-frou soup comes in at the grocery store (I like their clam chowder) or yogurt containers, or whatever) and filling it for them every time I make anything in a large batch.

It stretches their grocery budget a bit, especially at the end of a month when they’re living on peanut butter and ramen, and helps ME, too, because I’m not wasting food.

I COULD, of course, learn to make smaller quantities, but when one of them stops by to pick up soup, we often sit for a cup of tea, allowing them to de-stress, since when you work from home, leaving the office isn’t always possible. – Pledge #141, Bozeman, Montana”

A card Gordon got from my neighbour!

Good Neighbours: ““I have a new neighbor in the house across the street this week. The original neighbor is in California, and for the past year I’ve been raking her leaves, shoveling her driveway/sidewalk, collecting mail and flyers, moving stuff around a bit to make it look lived in. I plan to bake cookies for the new neighbor and let him know we’d be happy to lend out tools or supplies if he needs anything while getting settled (those important items always seem to be at the bottom of the last box unpacked!) – Pledge #131, Toronto, Canada”

Yard Cleanup: ” I will help my neighbor clean up his property. Regardless of the fact that I benefit too from him having a cleaner yard, he’s overwhelmed with all his junk, I’ve got a truck to help him haul it away, and the time to help him. – Pledge #12, Tennessee”

Sharing Tea with a Neighbour: “My neighbour’s Mom passed last week in Vancouver, (we live in Vernon) Her sister is not having a gathering of any sort, and asked her not to travel to Vancouver…so the plan is to have a tea here for her Mom. Our neighbour has some physical challenges. I will clean her house and supply some set-up skills, so her church friends can have a lovely afternoon. I often share a portion of supper with neighbours who are single and need a proper meal, and I always give my Dad my undivided attention. I have never bought into black friday, and everyday is a good day to share. – Pledge #15, Vernon, British Columbia, Canada”

Family Thanksgiving: “Something really nice happened today. A customer came through my line with a turkey, some veggies, stuffing and some gravy. I informed him if he just spent $5 dollars more, he would get a discount on his turkey. He told me,”no that’s ok, I am buying this for my neighbour, who is down on his luck and having a bad year. I am going to bring it by his house as a surprise, so he can celebrate Thanksgiving with his wife and family”. – Pledge #29, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA”

Combining My Projects


Stir Fry Action

Those of you who know me in person know that I love to cook. I really enjoy the act of taking a few simple ingredients, putting a little work in, and coming up with something delicious. And as it turns out I’m cooking up something for next year.

In 2010 I did my first Bike Rally to raise money for the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation and rode to Montreal. In 2011, I did the ride again but to raise more money I started Long Ride East, a project in which I rode beyond Montreal after the official Bike Rally – how far I rode was dictated by the amount I was able to raise. In the end, I rode another 400 kilometres to Quebec City – a little over 1,000 Kilometres.

The following year, I wanted to do something different, and partly inspired by many friends who said “The Bike Rally is a great cause – I wish I could give you some money, but I’m pretty broke right now,” I came up with 500 Kindnesses. This project, as you know, raised acts of kindness – something everyone can do.

In 2014, as most of you know, I’ll be doing the Bike Rally again. I’m really excited to be joining so many amazing and kind people working for such a good cause. But this time, I’m taking everyone in to account. For those of you who can, I’d love it if you’d make a pledge to support the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation by clicking here. But for those who would prefer a “payment in kind” as it were, that option is also available. Just visit the Pledge Page and pledge your act of kindness. At the end of each month I will make a pledge to the Bike Rally of $1 for each pledge received that month (up to a total of $200) in the name of 500 Kindnesses Participants. I’ve just reset the pledge counter to zero (with the target as 3 more than we have – as we can always use more!).