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

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!).

Next Year’s Project

Bike Rally Departure Day 2010

Bike Rally Departure Day 2010

In 2010, I did something I’d been scared to do for years before: I did a charity bike ride from Toronto to Montreal, the Friends For Life Bike Rally. It might sound simple, but looking back without having done that, this project wouldn’t exist, and not just because it prepared me physically to do a long bike ride. It taught me a bunch more.

I learned about the Bike Rally in 2007 about the time I as just getting up the guts to ride a bike again. I still remember that year being really proud of myself because I rode 30 kilometres. All by myself! By the end of the year, 50 KM wasn’t too hard to do, and I’d started commuting to work by bike on many days and even started riding a bike in the winter. I knew my bike could take me anywhere, and I wanted to try riding somewhere outside of the city. A google search directed me to the Bike Rally and I loved the idea of riding for a cause. After all, riding a bike a long distance is pretty great on its own but if it’s possible to raise money for a good organization that’s even better. Except one thing stopped me. I had no faith that i could raise the minimum amount. I talked myself out of it that year, and two more years after that. Some might say I guaranteed my own failure. And they’d be right. Finally in late 2009, I made the decision, I would just try. I would either raise the minimum $2,200 and go, or I’d raise a smaller amount of money and if it wasn’t enough, I’d have done some good. As most of you know, I didn’t fail that year, or the year after. And between those years I raised about $7,000. What impact could trying when the inspiration first hit have had? Regret is not productive, but learning from it is. If the inspiration hits, I now try to do it right away. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but other times, like with this project, it works so well I surprise myself.

The ride itself taught me a lot as well. Some who have known me for a while, know that I have a pretty cynical side. And it was much worse back in 2007. You know what the best treatment for cynicism is? Being surrounded by kind people. The Bike Rally is a six day ride across eastern Ontario and western Quebec. Three hundred or so riders and about 100 crew participate. Everyone there is there because they want to help. They want to support an organization that supports men, women, trans women and men, and children who are living with HIV. After a week spent with people like that I began to realize: I share a city with amazing people. Heck, I share a world with people like this, quietly doing good. As we rode along the route we would meet people, sometimes in towns, sometimes just at little houses along the way, who were sitting outside to cheer us on, offer us snacks and water, or just give a wave.

It’s an amazing opportunity to see the power of commitment. Sure, there were many obvious athletes on this ride. But I was surprised to see how many riders were not the stereotypical cyclists. I rode with people close to twice my age, some with chronic illness, others who had mobility issues when off the bike and even with blind riders riding as the stoker on a tandem. Why were they there? Because they believed in the cause they were riding and with that passion came a great deal of power. They inspired me to question what I was giving. Not just physically, but all around in life. The riders all showed me that if I worked as hard as I believed in something than amazing things would happen.

Six days is all it took to realize that while 600 kilometres sounds like a huge and possibly unattainable goal, it isn’t. Not when you break it up into pieces. It’s a 30 KM ride to the first snack, and another 30 to lunch and another 20 to another snack before riding 20 more to dinner. And each one of those was the size of the small ride I did around town not long after getting on my bike for the first time as an adult.

Six days is all it took to realize what happens when you build kindness upon kindness. It infects everyone around you, it inspires people, and in our case it raised over a million dollars a year (This year over $1.5 million) This wasn’t over a million dollars donated by a wealthy philanthropist, this was raised by coworkers who gave a few dollars to support their colleagues, it was given by people having yard sales, or bake sales, selling items at $1-2 each. It was made by people sitting on a bike trainer on a city street with a hat on the ground in front of them pedaling hard to encourage people to toss a loonie or toonie in to help.

How can you not watch this and be inspired about how the world could change if everyone just did a little? I sure couldn’t, and that’s how this project came about.

And so just a few days before this year’s Bike Rally participants left Toronto, I signed up to ride in the Bike Rally again. And so you’ll see me, July 27th, along with these guys, on what will no doubt be the source of even more inspiration. If you’d like to sponsor me, you can make a pledge here. And if you’re in Toronto (or want to come here in July 2014), I encourage you to join us. You can sign up here – and prepare to be inspired.

2013 Bike Rally Departure

2013 Bike Rally Departure

Unexpected Pledges Arrive!

kindness signs south lake union

Almost exactly a year ago, as we were riding through eastern Ontario bound for Ottawa, we received our first batch of pledges from The Moorings, a retirement community outside Chicago arrived. A day later another batch arrived, bringing the total up to 50. We were amazed and touched by all of them.

Just two weeks ago, even though we aren’t doing a ride this year, we received another batch of pledges from The Moorings. Seeing all of the pledges made my week. It makes me really happy to know that even though we aren’t riding this year, and aren’t even actively searching for pledges, the project itself is going on, seemingly with a mind of its own,

Here are the pledges. It was especially moving to read them – each one is a small story in and of itself.

• Every act is kind
• I slept in longer this morning
• Lots of friendships
• Employees pushing me in my wheelchair
• I was brought to the Men’s Luncheon at the Midrise
• I took care of two teenagers that were stranded at O’Hare
• We are taken to Vespers
• A resident donated her People magazines to us
• Just being here is an act of kindness
• I was taken on the patio. It was a wonderful act of kindness
• I am helped out of bed in the morning
• My family bought me a surprise
• My brother complimented my hair.
• My twin sister is coming to visit
• Someone cleaned my glasses
• Being with my daughter
• A phone call at 6:30am seeing if I am okay and behaving myself.
• God for being there for all of us.
• I have a therapist that comes and works with me. She always has a pleasant attitude.
• My CNA helped me get ready this morning.
• My activity person is cute as the dickens.
• Someone helped me at 4am when nature was calling!
• Received a Thank you note
• I saw my 7 day old great granddaughter Tabitha
• Someone smiled at me and said hello
• Someone ate lunch with me
• My friend tells me what channel the Black Hawks are on
• Za Za the dog visits me
• The staff at Wrigley Field helped us to our seats.
• My friends sang happy birthday to me
• Tori brought us cookies and muffins
• Lots of people searched and helped me find my upper teeth
• People helped me with directions down the hall
• People greet each other in the hallway and are kind
• Giving a smile and saying I love you
• Someone played the piano for us
• Everyone helps us down the hall
• Evan is kind to us everyday
• I had a bath this morning
• Someone acknowledged me today
• Having help getting up in the morning
• I am loved and treated like an individual
• We are cared for and loved
• I felt included
• I was brought a nutritious drink
• Someone held the door open for me
• My son visits me everyday
• People welcome you at the front door
• Ann plays music by her window and waves when I leave work everyday
• We feel like family
• Getting help out of bed
• All our needs are met
• The nurses help feed us in the dining room
• I comforted a friend

– Photo by Cactusbones under Creative Commons license