Archive for May 2014
Last weekend as my husband and I toured the city of Washington, D.C., we spent several hours paying our respect to the fallen at Arlington Cemetery.
Fathers. Sons. Boys. Babies. So many lives lost all in the name of freedom. Yes, there were women laid to rest here as well, but I was overwhelmed by the sheer mass of men whose lives stared back at me with simple timeline markers of birth and death.
The day before, I had toured the Smithsonian American History Museum which grouped their artifacts and stories chronologically by war. The American Revolution, fighting for our initial independence from England; the Civil War, fighting for equality (a struggle we still embody in various levels today)… world wars, cold wars, foreign wars… so much blood shed in the name of freedom.
Like many of you reading this blog post, I was raised in a time where war was a subject you studied in History class. Although there were global conflicts raging throughout my childhood and teenage years, I was greatly protected in mind, body, and soul from such horrors. Call me naive, sheltered, unaware (all of which carry a sliver of truth)… War just didn’t impact me then the way it does now.
I have family members who have sacrificed their time serving our country. My grandfather. My father-in-law. My husband. Cousins. Friends. I don’t think the reality of loss in combat truly affected me until I lost someone I knew. Ten and a half years ago, as I was flipping through my hometown newspaper to find my baby’s birth announcement I saw one of my elementary school classmates listed in the obituaries. Talk about incomprehensible. The day after my baby’s life began, my friend’s life was over, all because his commitment to freedom included the risk of death.
Oh. The. Tears.
It was in that moment right there, holding my hometown newspaper, staring back at that baby-faced boy-turned-man, that I was humbled. Crushed. Educated. Never, ever, would I be the same.
We all have those pinnacle moments when time stands still, and our memory is frozen in time. For me, it will always be the death of JR. I wrote his mom a card and included a photo of my infant son, Daniel, thanking her for her son’s sacrifice and sharing my favorite memories of this amazing guy who always loved to make people laugh. If it wasn’t for JR and the hundreds of thousands of boys before him, I would not be able to sit here today, sharing my simple thoughts on Memorial Day.
Which brings me back to present day and my visit to Arlington Cemetery. As I made my way towards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I was in awe of how many veterans were sharing the same path. Dozens of older men, gray hair peeking from faded blue ball caps marked by their various military units, being pushed in wheelchairs towards the same destination.
As I turned the corner of the path, I realized one such veteran was beside me, so close that I could practically reach out and touch his shoulder. The smile on his weathered face radiated one simple emotion: pride.
I don’t know what struck me in that moment, but without hesitation I turned to the veteran beside me and leaned down towards his ear. “Thank you for your service,” I whispered with a smile. It was only five words, but oh, the weight those words held. I wasn’t just thanking him, but I was thanking JR and all those who came before him for the sacrifices they made for our country’s freedom.
This morning as my family stopped by a Dunkin’ Donuts on our way to meet friends at the beach, I saw a small group of older men, chatting animatedly in the back corner. One man’s ball cap caught my eye and I had to chuckle. Here was yet another opportunity to be kind to a veteran.
So what did I do? I bought them a box of donut holes, shook their hands, and thanked them for their service as my ten year old did the same.
Respect is learned through the words and actions of others. I hope if you see a veteran today you will be inspired to say “Thanks.” It’s the least we can do. 🙂
Last weekend my husband and I were in DC to celebrate our 20th anniversary. (Yes, we’ve been married quite a long time!) He chose a restaurant we had never been to before called Lincoln, which happened to be within walking distance of our hotel. The serving staff was friendly, the food was flavorful and reasonably priced being a downtown restaurant, and we enjoyed the ambiance of the unique decorations.
As we enjoyed our appetizer, we told the waitress we were celebrating our 20th anniversary and had her take a photo of us (after all, we will never be this young again, lol.) Her name was Milena and she had a richness to her voice that matched her beautifully unique features. We asked where she was from and she replied “Eastern Europe” with a smile that held secrets we dared not ask.
After dinner, we asked to see a dessert menu (something we rarely order, but felt we should since it was our anniversary.) A few moments later, Milena returned not with a menu, but a slice of chocolate cheesecake with a lit candle in the top. “For your anniversary. From us.” Oh my gosh, what a surprise! I laughed in my delight! We were being RAK’d by this new restaurant!
As we reveled in this unexpected surprise, the restaurant’s executive chef, Demetrio Zavala, approached our table to congratulate us on our anniversary. “You need champagne! A drink to celebrate! I bring you whatever you want, on me.” More surprises! Such fun! Who in their right mind would turn down free drinks and dessert?
If you are in Washington, DC, stop in adn enjoy a meal at Lincoln. It’s not often in this day and age for a restaurant to provide anything for free (much less gourmet cheesecake and champagne!)… such random acts of kindness show a generous spirit and should be commended!
Be blessed this holiday weekend – more RAK stories to come!
Posted May 21, 2014on:
Dear Misty and Jarod,
If you are reading this blog post, then you have received the gift I purchased for you today as a random act of kindness (RAK). I don’t know you in real life; in fact, I only know of you from doing a random search of wedding registries on Amazon.com this afternoon. I wanted to do a special RAK in honor of my 20th wedding anniversary and I was delighted to discover that you are getting married TODAY! How exciting! You are just now starting a journey I’ve been on for 20 years. Welcome to the club!
Now, most people would probably expect me to dish out some great wisdom here about marriage and love and life, but why would I spoil your wedding day with THAT?! Ha! I thought, instead, that I would share some laughable moments from my own wedding day so you know that bad things happen to good people, even on such an important day of your life.
First off, I hope you hired a really good photographer. That saying “You get what you pay for” still rings in my ears twenty years after the fact. I was 21 years old when I got married, and I’m sure many people thought we would never make it 20 years. (In fact, I’m actively collecting my money from all the bets placed back in 1994, lol.) My family got a “good deal” on a local photographer and when we went to meet him, he was charming with a solid portfolio. Unfortunately he was a “good deal” for a reason. What we learned from our wedding day was that having a horrible photographer actually creates a lifetime of laughter, as we reflect on these experiences each anniversary.
For example, the majority of the photos taken of me prior to my wedding ceremony are in front of a baby’s crib or large, brightly colored stuffed animals. I. Am. Serious. I was asked to get dressed in the church nursery and it never crossed the mind of my photographer to take pictures in the hallway (or even outside!) Of course, the last thing I was thinking about was my surroundings, so we didn’t discover such creative backdrops until the wedding was long since over.
Our photographer shot photos in such bizarre angles that he cut the head off the only picture I have of my grandma. Needless to say having your grandmother beheaded on your wedding day is not quite the gift that keeps on giving. He also managed to capture every grimace, groan, and smirk of the wedding party as they waited. And waited. And waited for their turn to take pictures with the bride and groom.
Twenty years ago there were no such things as digital cameras (geez, now I really do sound old!) Photographers would have to load small canisters of slick, black film into their large cameras praying their gargantuan lenses and flashes didn’t crash to the ground in the process. Our photographer chose to switch out his film right in the midst of us cutting our cake, but in his haste he forgot the most crucial part – to actually put a new roll of film back in the camera. The remainder of our wedding was captured by 138 candid photos guests took with the Kodak instant cameras we provided on the reception tables. (Of which maybe 6 photos had recognizable parts of our wedding day. One entire roll was filled with blurry faces showing silly expressions – a precursor for today’s “selfie”.)
SIDEBAR: We later discovered our photographer was actually drunk at our wedding. I’m not sure if he became inebriated before or during the reception, but almost five years after our wedding took place we actually got to see our photos and were allowed to take all the proofs without paying any extra money. It took us that long to track him down and demand our pictures, thanks solely to the aforementioned grandmother who was beheaded!
We had other disasters at our wedding as well. My veil and slip were left at my step-mother’s house. My husband and I were the very first guests to arrive at the reception so we had to wait for everyone to arrive (that’s what happens when you take a helicopter and everyone else has to drive.) My new father-in-law called me by my mother-in-law’s name when he did the toast. We ran out of food at the reception and I forgot to pack a change of clothes in the getaway car, having to call a relative to deliver them to our hotel. Sometimes all you can do is laugh.
My favorite disaster of the day was when the bustle of my six foot train broke. (Ironically, the same thing happened to my sister when she got married 17 years later, so apparently this is just a family curse, lol.) When it came time for the Father/Daughter dance, my best friend and Maid of Honor danced with us, holding the train. What made this sight even more comical is that we had planned a two-step for our Father/Daughter dance. Having my friend and I BOTH turning under my dad’s arm with every twirl was worth the price of a wedding gift to watch.
One of the most treasured gifts I received for my wedding day was my very first cookbook from my dear friend, Andrea. She knew I had no business being in a kitchen – I didn’t even know how to crack an egg! She gave me this book with this inscription:
Although Andrea passed away from lung cancer in 2008, I was able to share with her just how much her wedding gift meant to me and my marriage. It only took 20 years, but I not only learned how to crack an egg, I now create published recipe guides for Snapguide. (And that’s in my spare time!)
Which brings me back to your gift. I wanted to do something totally random, yet meaningful, for a complete stranger that shared my wedding date. I hope you don’t mind that I stalked your registry on Amazon. After looking over the items still remaining on your list, I decided to buy you two cake pans, because it reminded me of Andrea’s cookbook and all the cooking I’ve learned how to do through the years. (And if you ruin one of your pans, you still have another one to cook with!)
I wish you many years of happiness and joy and I hope when you look back at your wedding day, you can find laughter and love in the memories you both now share. Maybe for your 1st anniversary next year, you will pay it forward to someone else in memory of this random act of kindness.
Be blessed! Congratulations!
Have I mentioned how much I love surprises? I do! So often we get caught in the drudgery of day-to-day monotony that we almost forget what unexpected joy feels like when receiving a surprise. I think this is one of my favorite aspects to being a parent, watching the impact surprises have on our children. Their joy is unmasked, unreserved, so full of passion!
As adults, we rarely respond to surprises in the same manner. When was the last time you clapped your hands and said, “YAY!” at the top of your lungs when something unexpectedly nice happened to you? Somehow in the transition from childhood to maturity, we learned how to temper our reactions. We became more self-conscious of our reactions that might be observed by others. It isn’t that we lost the feeling of joy per se… we just became… well… diminished in our outward response.
I am a joyous person. Seriously! (I suddenly hear the laughter of my closest friends reading this post… they might even argue that my sentiment is an understatement.) I am blessed beyond measure again and again because I simply take the time to appreciate the little things in life – including surprises! Today was a perfect example of how a small surprise could turn around someone’s day. Without too many distracting details, let me just say it was a loooooong day… and by 2pm I realized I was starving, needing to eat lunch. I made my way into the teacher’s lounge and look what I discovered:
What in the world? Someone had set up a mini “manicure spa treatment” station with a cute note explaining all the steps of using the special salted oils and lotion. How fun is THAT?! Oh, I was so excited! If I had been five years old, I would have undoubtedly clapped my hands together and shouted, “YAY” as loud as I could! A mini spa treatment in the middle of my work day? ABSOLUTELY!
Such joy! I did the spa treatment, of course (how could I resist?) and even wrote a little thank you note to whomever left the surprise.
What a thoughtful random act of kindness! I was all smiles the rest of the day. I had luxuriously soft hands thanks to the spa treatment (seriously, this stuff was amazing!) and on my way home I decided to keep the joy flowing by paying it forward with a random act of kindness for someone else.
A long while ago, one of my friends donated a manicure gift card so I could use it for a random act of kindness. It’s been in my purse, following me from here to there, just waiting for a perfect moment to be used. Today was the day!
I drove to the nail salon, and sat in the parking lot contemplating my next move. What if I went into the shop and no customers were being helped? Oh, that would be awkward. I was toying with the idea of going to a nearby store and just leaving the gift card in plain view for someone to discover, when I saw a car pull into the parking lot driven by a pretty, blond-haired gal. Surely SHE would be getting a manicure?
I watched her leave her car and start to head into the nail salon. YAY!! (The five year old inside of me clapped and cheered!) I quickly moved my car closer to where she was walking and rolled down my window. “Excuse me, ma’am? Are you going in there to get your nails done?” She turned and answered, “Well, my feet…” and I extended my arm out of the window, handing her the gift card. “Use this and be blessed!” She smiled, said thank you, and that was that!
Maybe you aren’t a fan of surprises like me, but surely there are moments throughout your week or month that brighten your spirit and put a smile on your face. Share the joy! Tell your story to someone else or pay it forward with a nice gesture. It doesn’t have to cost money or even a lot of time. Revel in happiness, because joy is contagious! 🙂
Posted May 1, 2014on:
Sometimes in the midst of all my random acts of kindness, I get thrown for a loop by someone blessing me instead. It’s always a funny feeling being on the receiving end of a RAK. For starters I absolutely LOVE surprises, so this alone makes my day no matter what RAK is being done! Second, I am learning how to be gracious in acceptance… for so many years I would push away kindness as if it was an unwelcome obligation someone was doing for me. It wasn’t until I had a dear friend look me straight in the eyes and say, “Look. Here’s the deal. You know how wonderful it feels to do something nice for someone else. Why are you taking that joy away from ME?” Whoa! Talk about perspective! Since that conversation, I have tried really hard to simply enjoy the moment (whatever it may be) and remember that RAKs are actually about TWO people, not one!
This week, I was blessed by not one RAK, but two! Seriously?! That’s crazy! Earlier in the week when I went to tutor a student at his home, his mom, Rachael, had already made me dinner for the night. “I really made it last week, but I put it in the freezer because I knew you’d be back today!” It was a HUGE casserole dish filled with spaghetti and homemade sauce (so yummy!) and her son made the sweetest card in appreciation of the help I was giving him with tutoring and an upcoming project in school.
It was such a thoughtful and unexpected gift! And let me tell you – it totally saved me, too, because that night was crazy with taking kids here and there to practices and activities – if it wasn’t for Rachael’s generosity, my family may have been making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for themselves instead!
I saw a neat pin on Pinterest this week that reminded me of this RAK… I think I will do it soon to pay-it-forward!
My next RAK received was the following night – the night I actually did the Rainy Day Joy RAK. I got home much later than normal, following an evening meeting across town, and as I was walking up the steps to put my youngest child to bed, I noticed a small cardboard box waiting at the foot of the stairs addressed to me. “FRAGILE” was labeled on the side in handwritten letters and I could see from the return address it was a package from my sweet friend, Sarah, who lives about 2 hours away.
After getting my kiddos settled into bed, I returned back downstairs and eagerly opened the box. “What on earth did Sarah send me… and why??” Even as the scissors sliced through the packing tape, I was wracking my brain to think of something I had loaned her or left after our last visit together… I was completely perplexed! Inside the box was a bulging gift bag overflowing with yellow tissue paper and a card addressed to me.
What in the world?! Sarah sent me a gift to celebrate my milestone accomplishment of 100 Random Acts of Kindness! Right then I got a lump in my throat. Her card was so very sweet, words spoken from the heart, and it made me naively realize, yet again, that these RAKs matter! You DO read my stories! WOW! And best of all, what’s important to me is valued by many of you as well. How blessed I am to have so many wonderful cheerleaders and encouragers in my life!
As I opened the bag (and wondered to myself, “What is fragile?”), I saw that Sarah had individually wrapped several items in tissue paper. Each item was silly and magnificent as Sarah had used post-it notes to explain the purpose behind each item given. “Mommy, what is so funny?” my daughter asked as my unfiltered laughter interrupted her homework. I could barely talk through the giggles. “Look!” I said, pointing at the ziplock bags, “I wrote about how it seems like I always have ziplock bags in my car because they magically seem to appear when I need them – now I really DO have ziplock bags to keep in my car!” She shared in my excitement as I opened yet another surprise. “And look! Post-it notes! Bahahahaha! I LOVE post-it notes!!” All of a sudden it hit me. I needed to be sharing this joy with Sarah!
So I called her cell number (even though it was late and I knew she would be asleep) and I left a rambling, laughter filled message on her voicemail. “I wanted to open the presents with you because I wanted to you see how fun this is! Thank you so much! You are such a wonderful friend!” It was merely a snapshot of my moment, but I wanted her to experience the pure JOY that was flowing out of me with her gift.
Then I came to the very last gift, wrapped so carefully in paper. As I gently removed the covering, the lump in my throat returned once again as I tried to read through my tear-filled eyes.
Sarah had purchased and painted a small cup and included the little note “To Bless Your Heart… as you have blessed mine and many more 100 times!” It was such a sweet gift. Right there in that moment, I couldn’t make a single sound as the tears flowed down my cheeks.
Sometimes it’s important to remind ourselves that we are, in fact, special to others. We are needed. We are appreciated. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the ways of this world without even a second thought to those closest around us. This gift from Sarah, along with the dinner from Rachael, reminded me that I am possibly the most blessed gal in town. 🙂
So in an effort to pay it forward, this is what I decided to do with the beautiful cup Sarah made for me:
I made a “Pay-it-Forward” Candy Jar for my desk at work. It’s for any teacher who needs a little pick-me-up, with the only requirement that if they take a piece of candy, they will pay-it-forward by doing something nice for someone else. Today, not even 24 hours later, this is all the chocolate that remains:
How fun it would be if everyone who took a piece of candy, commented on this blog of things they did to be kind to others. After all, sharing our experiences with someone else is half the fun! Now I need to make a trip to the store to buy more candy!
I hope you have a wonderful evening (or day depending on when you are reading this) and may you do something unexpectedly kind for a friend. The impact of your action will carry joy in their heart for weeks to come! 🙂