celebrate kindness

Archive for July 2014

Today was a day of surprises! As a mom, one of my favorite things to do is something unexpected. I love to see the smile on my children’s faces when they get to experience first-hand the joy of being blessed without warning, without precondition, with no strings attached.

My daughter had made arrangements to go bowling with two of her friends and, as expected, my oldest son was quite disappointed when he realized he was not included in my teenager’s plans. Little did he know, I already had plans for him and his brother when all the girls were gone!

“Where are we going?” he asked, a bit disillusioned at having to escort me to run errands. “It’s a surprise,” I replied, my eyes twinkling with just enough mischief to bring a smile to his face. “A surprise? Really?!” It was hard for him to contain his excitement at this point. He wanted to ask questions, to figure out where we were going, yet he wanted it to stay a secret until the last possible moment.

When was the last time YOU were surprised by something fun and unexpected? For many of us, as we enter adulthood with all the stresses and responsibilities, we lose some of that childhood exhilaration for the unexpected. We are wary. On guard. Expecting a forced reciprocity, perhaps.

I think we simply need to be reminded that life is filled with joyful opportunities. ūüôā

We turned into the shopping area and he knew. “I know where we are going! I know where we are going!” There was no mistaking his excitement as he turned to his brother and pointed out the window. “Look! Look! We’re going to Sweet Frog!”

For those of you who don’t have a Sweet Frog nearby, let me share for a moment how MUCH my children love this frozen yogurt shop. They have a dozen different flavors and four times as many toppings. It’s a haven for any sweet tooth and the perfect treat for a hot, summer day. We don’t get to visit often, which makes it an even sweeter treat when we do.

As I helped my boys fill their cups with frozen yogurt and choose their favorite toppings I suddenly, without warning, felt my eyes fill with tears. We were in the midst of making memories. There will come a day when my son prefers to hang out with his friends instead of his mom and not even the promise of frozen yogurt will change him back to being ten. I glanced sideways at my favorite redhead and simply took in the moment.

Sprinkles. Cookie crumbs. Gummies. Such small symbols of bliss, all cascading down a tower of soft, snow-colored peaks. And then it happened. I thought of Renee.

It’s been two weeks since her life here on earth ended, an unexpected passing for a 30 year old first grade teacher at my school. Oh, how she would love this moment! She adored being a surrogate mom to her students as well as a real mom to her three year old and baby on the way. I could almost hear the ring of her laughter as I watched my son put one too many gummies on top of his treat, only to have it fall to the floor. “Kids will be kids.” The whisper on my heart was so audible, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Renee standing right beside me.

Oh, how I miss her smile.

So in that moment, I decided to do the only thing I could. I paid for our treats, then asked the cashier if I could also buy a gift card as a random act of kindness.

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“Please give this to a customer of your choice, maybe someone with a small child”, the picture of Renee’s daughter dancing in my mind. It wasn’t much, but maybe it would make a stranger smile. After all, we all need to be reminded of the power in unexpected joy.

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And as an extra RAK, I left my change in the tip jar. ūüôā

We ended our visit with messy smiles and happy hearts. It was a wonderful day indeed. Maybe you might take time this week to surprise someone with joy! I promise it will bring you happiness as well.

Be blessed and pay it forward!

One of our favorite discoveries at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Corolla, NC was learning about Sysco, the stray cat. ¬†Shortly after our arrival at the hotel, we walked towards the beach and noticed a black cat near the wooden bridge leading towards the ocean. “Mommy! Look! ¬†A kitty!” ¬†My youngest son’s delighted squeal drew the attention of my other two children as they started to walk towards the feline, now turning away to hide beneath the planks of the bridge. ¬†“Be careful,” I warned in my best Mommy voice, “You don’t want to get too close because this cat may not like people. ¬†It can scratch!” ¬†This warning was heeded wisely by my brood of three as they stopped in their tracks and watched from a safe distance.

Allow me to interject some very important information here:  I am not a cat person.

Yes, I’ve loved animals throughout my lifetime and I’ve cared for several pets in my four decades of life. ¬†Dogs. ¬†Fish. ¬†Even a hamster. All loved and appreciated for the times their lives overlapped mine. ¬† However, if someone asked me if I liked cats, my immediate response would be a very long pause of silence.

I am not a cat person.

Several of you are scratching your heads in disbelief, because you know we have a beautiful long-haired white cat named Pinky at home who delights in snuggling and cuddling like a small child. ¬†She is an exception to the rule. ¬†She is declawed. ¬†Friendly. ¬†And she really thinks she’s a dog… when she’s not acting like a cat. ¬†That makes all the difference in the world. ¬†But I’m still not a cat person.

Pinky

Pinky

Knowing that, you can hopefully understand my initial reaction to the stray cat by the hotel. ¬†Stay away! ¬†Don’t go near! ¬†Watch from a safe distance! ¬†Better to be safe than sorry was my mindset.

We continued our journey to the beach and watched the crashing waves in awe.  As the storm clouds rolled across the sky and the wind whipped at our shirts, we headed back to the safety of our hotel.  Walking inside the hallway, we saw this display:

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Wait… what?? ¬†I literally did a double take as I took in the framed photographs and typed story detailing the life of this “resident ambassador of hospitality.” ¬†Yes, you read correctly. ¬†Apparently the very same black cat I had cautioned my children about approaching is a rather loved and adored hotel stray, adopted into the hearts of many. ¬†Pictures drawn with waxed Crayola strokes, pencil sketches pinned to a bulletin board. ¬†Stories written on hotel notepads with happy kitty smiles galore. ¬†This was a very special cat indeed.

This little kitty had a name, too:  Sysco.

The next morning, as we finished our delicious continental breakfast which included bacon, eggs, and an oatmeal mixture that could rival Starbucks, we opened the back door leading to the pool area.  Lo and behold, Sysco was there, eating her breakfast, too.

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Unlike the day before, all I could do was smile. ¬†We watched and waited for her to finish her meal, then as she sauntered in our direction, she rolled over, eyes beckoning for attention. ¬†(She even purred for us!) ¬†My kids turned to me, waiting for my reaction. ¬†Of course, you know what I said…

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Sometimes, you have to allow kids to be kids and appreciate the kindness of others.  This cat was obviously loved.  Cared for.  Adored. It was only fair to allow my kids to add to the generosity of affection.

And you know what? ¬†This self-proclaimed non-cat lover got her own time with Sysco later that night. ¬†We even took a selfie. ¬†ūüôā

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Good night, Sysco

Good night, Sysco

Thanks, Hampton Inn, for reminding us to be kind to animals, even while on vacation.  Your random act of kindness in caring for this kitty made this one of many reasons why we will stay at your hotel again.  (My children would also like to thank you for providing them warm cookies each night, too!)

 

 

When you go on vacation with your family, do you ever have one of those places you just have to visit before you leave? Sure you do! Maybe it’s a favorite restaurant or store, perhaps a visit with a faraway friend. These enjoyable urgencies become tradition and before you know it, your to-do list is set the moment you decide on your vacation destination.

This is our first beach trip to Corolla, NC. (Stop gasping, I know I should have come here years ago!) The wonderful thing about announcing your vacation plans on social media is receiving all the suggestions of places to see and visit.

“Go here – best tuna!”

“If you want to go shopping, you can’t miss TimBuckII.”

“You can’t go to Corolla without getting your Boogie Boards and souvenirs from Wings!”

I wasn’t all that concerned with where to go – I was quite happy to have a pool and beach by my side for a week. Besides, it’s hard to find activities to appease everyone when your children’s ages range from four to fifteen!

But even so, there was one place I knew we had to visit: Duck Donuts. If you’ve ever traveled to the Outer Banks or even visited Virginia Beach, then you just smiled when you heard that name. It’s a small donut shop, tucked between several other local stores, right off Highway 12 heading North.

What makes Duck Donuts unique from other donut chains is that YOU get to custom design your donut by choosing the icing and toppings. They make the donuts; you make them delectable. (No, that’s not their logo, but easily could be. I wonder how much logo makers bring in salary-wise…)

But I digress. The moment you enter this shop, the aroma of freshly baked cake donuts makes you salivate so quickly they have a mop in the corner to keep their floors dry. I am convinced this is what heaven smells like. (Although my daughter, an avid popcorn connoisseur, might disagree.)

The manager, all smiles, greeted us when we walked in. “How’re y’all folks doing today? Is this your first time visiting Duck Donuts?” Maybe he knew we were tourists from the fluorescent tie-dyed Outer Banks t-shirt my daughter wore, or perhaps he greeted everyone with this question, I wasn’t sure. His smile was genuine, as were his words, and we admitted we were newbies.

He pointed to the order forms and explained all the different ways we could create our donut. We had already decided that this would be our dinner, so we ordered a dozen and mixed them all up. (Oh, my Zumba instructor, Toni, is going to kill me with those words…)

While we waited for the order to be made, I saw my youngest son standing by the clear window watching the bare donuts being stacked up for icing. “Momma! Look! Donuts! I want one!” He was loud. Very loud. So loud, in fact, the lady beside me laughed and said, “Looks like you have a hungry boy, there.”

Did I mention that southerners automatically insert themselves into your world just from proximity? She wasn’t being rude. She was simply saying aloud what everyone was probably thinking. “Good heavens, that boy is loud!”

I come from a loud family. It’s in our genes. Carry on.

I smiled at the lady and nodded in agreement. “Donuts for dinner – can’t beat it,” was my reply as we shared a simple moment of shared understanding. As I turned back towards my son to snap a photo, I saw the worker behind the glass pick up one of the donuts with a white wrapper and lean across the top, reaching towards my son. “Here you go,” he said with a soft voice and a smile.

And this is where time moves in slow motion.

My youngest son looks at the man with obvious desire in his eyes. He turns towards me, those same eyes pleading for permission. My eyes dance with shared excitement. Permission granted.

In the same instant, my older son watches the random act of kindness unfold, but his eyes are surprised. Shocked. Sad.

The worker’s eyes twinkle with understanding. Reaching. Grabbing. Offering. Two.

And in an instant, the moment is done.

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There are times in our lives where the kindness of others truly can determine the mood of your evening, even possibly laying foundation to larger life lessons we need to learn. This was one of those times. I’m not sure if the Duck Donuts worker was simply being nice providing a free donut for each of my boys, but it was a random act of kindness that made an impression on us all.

And then… we had donuts for dinner. ūüôā

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If you’re ever out this way on vacation, might I suggest you visit Duck Donuts? Even if your diet screams no, your heart will shout yes. I promise!

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You can even get a bacon topped donut, too. ūüôā

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Today’s random act of kindness is actually a story told through text messages. A few weeks ago, as I was packing up to return home from the ISTE conference, I saw this post on my best friend’s Facebook wall:

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Have you ever lost something of value? ¬†Sure you have! ¬†When was the last time you went looking for your car keys or your phone charger? ¬†You know the feeling well… searching… looking… “I thought for sure it was here…” ¬†It’s an uncomfortable state of mind to not know the exact location of something that belongs to you, especially something valuable.

Now imagine that same feeling, but add the realization that what you are looking for is GONE.  Not misplaced.  Not tucked away in a pocket, purse, or briefcase.  GONE.  What feelings flood your mind now?

Confusion. ¬†Violation. ¬†Fear. ¬†Anger. ¬†Angst. ¬†Roll them all together and you are officially racing up and down the tallest roller coaster hills with no end in sight. ¬†Welcome to my best friend’s world.

As I read her message, my blood froze, then boiled. ¬†I know, I know, cell phone theft is on the rise, but it doesn’t make it acceptable by any means! ¬†In this day of digital identity theft, the thought of a stolen cell phone is close to that of a stolen lock-box at the bank. Stop for a moment and think to yourself: ¬†If my phone was stolen, what items could a thief access without my permission?

Did I mention that my best friend did NOT have a lock code activated? (Please don’t lecture her. ¬†She’s heard it ALL.)

As her friend for more than 20 years, I felt like I had an obligation to do something… anything… but what? ¬†I hated standing to the side feeling helpless, imagining the kick-in-the-gut feeling she was going through at that moment. ¬†So I did the only thing I knew to do. ¬†I started text messaging the person who stole my best friend’s phone.

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(If you can’t read the text messages, click here to read them in paragraph form.)

I sent these texts as I was packing. ¬†Waiting for the Marta. ¬†Boarding an airplane. ¬†Arriving home. ¬†I prayed the person who had my friend’s phone would not only receive the messages by sight, but by spirit as well. ¬†I knew it was a long shot. ¬†“Why even make the effort? ¬†What are the chances the person will really turn in the phone?” ¬†Sure, the odds were against me, but I had nothing to lose. (Well, maybe fifty bucks, but even that would be a fair price to pay for my friend’s relief.)

And then… this message on my friend’s Facebook wall:

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THIS. IS. WHY. I. DO. WHAT. I. DO!

When I say I believe there is good in this world, I BELIEVE WHAT I SAY!  There IS good in this world!  Her phone was returned, unharmed.  Her identity was not stolen (although they are still closely monitoring all their accounts just in case.)  This was a multi-faceted lesson for her, her friends, her family, and now you, the person reading this blog.

How you react to a situation, no matter what that situation may be, can very well determine the outcome.  I chose to respond with love.  Kindness. Appreciation.  Expectation.  Joy.

And in this specific example… we ALL won. Yay! ¬†ūüôā

Be blessed as you rise above the turmoil to bring good back into this world. I will be cheering you on, every step of the way!

As my final post about random acts of kindness shown at the ISTE conference, I would be remiss if I did not include the ISTE organization itself and the vendors who helped to make this conference possible. ¬†Here are a few of my favorite moments: Photo Jul 12, 8 55 26 AM The first act of kindness I received after entering the Georgia World Conference Center and picking up my presenter bag, was a coupon for a “free sweet treat.” ¬†If you’ve never had a King of Pops popsicle, you are missing out! ¬†It was heavenly, especially on such a hot, summer day!

Another ISTE RAK was a fun app challenge where they asked us to create a magazine cover using our own photo, highlighting the rollout of their new digital magazine, Entrsekt.  If we completed the challenge, we received a certain number of points which we could add to our total in their networking game.  Here was my magazine cover, taken right before my ISTE Ignite presentation: Photo Jul 01, 7 19 39 AM Later that day, I received an email that both Heather and I could pick up a free ISTE t-shirt for participating in the challenge.  WOW!  What an exciting random act of kindness!  It was completely unexpected, but thrilled me to no end! In the vendor hall, I discovered that swag was a hot commodity.

My first stop was Edmodo. Earlier in the month, I finished creating an eight module professional development course for the teachers and administrators in my district to learn more about Edmodo, so I definitely wanted to make sure my learning was up-to-date.  I was thrilled to discover that Snapshot would be synced to the Virginia Standards of Learning in the Fall of 2014!  Yay!  I then took my turn at the wheel of goodies and walked away with an Edmodo tumblr!  Sweet! Photo Jun 29, 2 46 34 PM As a SMART Exemplary Educator, I was invited by SMART to attend a rooftop gathering one evening and the views were spectacular!  I was mesmerized!  I also received a bag filled with SMART SEE goodies and got to meet some amazing #smarties as well! Photo Jun 28, 10 03 28 PM My team also received goodies from Graphite, a platform provided by Common Sense Media to inform educators about the best apps, games, and websites for the classroom.  This spring we became Common Sense Media Certified Educators on Graphite and we received matching shirts! How fun! Photo Jul 01, 4 07 54 PM (1)Back in the vendor hall, I had fun interacting with the trade show reps as I played their games and asked questions about their products.  Some people are a little apprehensive about approaching vendors with questions, but not me.  I feel like the more I know about a particular product, the better I can advise others to make informed purchasing decisions!

McGraw-Hill

McGraw-Hill

I was drawn to Edmentum’s display because of their HUGE “Plinko” display (brought me back to my childhood summers watching The Price is Right!) Although the video of me playing Plinko is too blurry to share (seriously!), I did win a mini-frisbee that made me smile! Photo Jul 12, 11 28 46 AM I spent quite a while chatting with the representatives at TechSmith – they were very friendly and kind! ¬†After exchanging stories, they shared several goodies with me, one being this awesome light-up yo-yo: Photo Jul 12, 11 34 31 AM Photo Jul 12, 11 29 06 AM As the vendor hall came to a close at the end of the conference, I was blessed by E-Line Media who allowed me to have a few extra bags we could pass out at our district’s Leadership Conference in August. ¬†The gentleman standing right behind me in the photo was given a few bags, too! ¬†So generous and kind! Photo Jul 01, 2 35 53 PM I was even blessed by vendors on the bus ride back to the hotel! ¬†I realized the Co-Founder and CEO of Remind.com, Brett Kopf, was making his way to sit behind me and in a matter of minutes, I was walking away with the cutest bottles of hand sanitizer you’ve ever seen! ¬†(I didn’t take a picture of the product, only the CEO for our Celeb Selfie wall, lol.) Photo Jun 30, 6 16 49 PM Yes, folks, it’s true. ¬†I’m an official swaginista! I think the gadgets and gizmos are great conversation starters and best of all, I can pay it forward by passing the swag along to others. ¬†It’s truly a win-win for vendors and conference attendees! I could write hundreds of blog posts about the kindness shown throughout this conference, but I¬†think the past few blog posts paint an accurate picture of what I experienced in my random acts of kindness given and received.

I want to send a huge THANK YOU for the generous donation made by Pat McGettigan to the Hanover Education Foundation, which provided funding for this instructional technology learning experience.  Without his act of kindness, none of these memories and learning experiences would have been possible.

Throughout the ISTE conference, I was inspired. ¬†Engaged. ¬†Enthralled. ¬†Humbled. ¬†Awed. ¬†I was challenged by the two words of “What if…?” and I met that challenge by looking inside and allowing myself to dream about the possibilities. ¬†I was able to apply the lessons learned not only to my educational career, but my own personal goals as well. I left the conference excited. ¬†Hopeful. Impassioned. ¬†Invigorated. ¬†And for that, I am forever grateful! ¬†I can’t wait to share what I learned with others!

Thanks for reading and the next time you are offered a freebie from a business, be blessed by the kindness and pay it forward if you can! ¬†ūüôā

One of my favorite parts of the ISTE conference was interacting with people. As many of you know from my previous post, I made a deliberate attempt to show kindness to others, from leaving notes and candy in hidden places to actually purchasing gift cards for random strangers. I was hopeful that others would enjoy my RAKs and connect with me by tweeting out a picture or a shout out for the random act of kindness using the hashtag #ISTE2014RAK. Here are a few of my favorites!

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This gal tweeted her message, then I ended up meeting her in the LeVar Burton session as she stood behind me in line.  How fun!

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I also made sure to look for the good in others so I could acknowledge RAKs received. As I was standing at the ISTE advocacy station, signing a petition for more funding for educational technology, I mentioned how much I loved writing with the pen beside the clipboard. (Those of you know me well in real life are laughing right now because you know my adoration of the ultra fine tipped Sharpies!) ¬†Without hesitation, the girl smiled and said, “Keep it! ¬†I have another one just like it!”

Now this many not seem like a big deal to you, after all it’s just a writing utensil, right? ¬†But it was AWESOME! ¬†This was kindness, generosity, and care all rolled up in a cylindrical container that produced ink upon pressure. ¬†It made my morning!

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I was also appreciative of the kindness shown by vendors. ¬†Yes, many of them had swag to share with a purpose of engaging you as a potential customer, but some went above-and-beyond with their kindness. ¬†My next post will be about them. ūüôā

If I had to choose my most favorite RAK given and received, it would probably be the simple act of smiling at one another. ¬†Have you ever thought how much weight a smile can lift off your shoulders and mind? ¬†A smile is probably the easiest and most powerful tool we each have to show kindness to those we ¬†do and do not know. ¬†Imagine… 16,000 people smiling back at you as you sit beside them, pass them in the walkways, wait with them in line.

THAT, my friend, is the picture of joy. ¬†ūüôā

I encourage you to make a conscious effort to smile at someone today!  Put a little bit of good back into this world.  It will make you feel great when they reflect your smile right back!

Be blessed with kindness!

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Have you ever had one of those days where you just wanted to accomplish one quick task, but discovered you would have had greater success moving mountains?  Welcome to my world.

Today started out simple enough… my goals were to unpack my suitcase, play with my kids who have not seen me for the past 5 days, take a shower, and blog about my ISTE Ignite presentation (not necessarily in that order). ¬†It’s now late afternoon and I’m realizing I’ve only accomplished one of the four line items above. ¬†Can you guess which one?

I am a mom. ¬†Yes, I’m a self-proclaimed tech geek as well, but at the end of the day, I am a mom. ¬†I make messes with my kids then work together to help them clean up. ¬†At any given time you walk in my home, you may see half-completed puzzles, colorful art projects, forts, or intricate wooden train tracks leading from one room to the other. ¬†Needless to say, I don’t do much adult entertaining in my home, lol.

Today my daughter, who owns her own¬†business, was finishing up an order for homemade truffles, but needed a container to transfer the delicacies to our neighbor across the street. ¬†“No worries – I’ll be right back!” I spoke over my shoulder as I left the house to drive to our local Kroger grocery store.

I had one task. ¬†Purchase an aluminum tray with lid. ¬†Sounds pretty simple, right? ¬†Yeah… right…

As you enter Kroger, the brightly colored fruit selections were impossible to avoid.  Cut-up chunks of sweet watermelon on sale? Oh, yes! Cubes of tangy pineapple at the lowest price of the season? Absolutely! Even the cantaloupe was calling my name, its brilliant shade of coral shimmering under the produce lights.  Everyone needs fruit, right?

My hand-held basket was filled before I even found the foil trays. ¬†If you’ve read my previous posts, then you already know my passion for grocery shopping. ¬†For me, this was bliss! ¬†I quickly found the trays I needed, made my way to the self-checkout, and started scanning items. ¬†As soon as I picked up the foil trays, my basket tipped off the metal stand and instantly my fruit containers were on the floor, their lids scattered among the kaleidoscopic colors of red, orange, and yellow.

I had only one task to complete.  And I failed miserably.

I stood there in complete shock, staring at the mess on the floor and all I could do was laugh at the absurdity of it all.  Really? REALLY?  I. Just. Needed. A. Foil. Tray!

In less than two minutes, the mess was cleaned up by the expedient and courteous staff at Kroger. ¬†“Happens all the time. ¬†Don’t worry about it,” said the man with the mop. ¬†“Can I get you another container of fruit?” asked the self-checkout cashier. ¬†I was overwhelmed by their kindness which more than made up for my embarrassment. ¬†In fact, it all happened so fast, I totally forgot to take a photo of the mess, but I was able to capture the residue left by the mop before it dried:

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As I left Kroger and headed back to my car, I saw a gentleman parked near me with the hood of his truck lifted up. ¬†This man had been working on his truck when I arrived and it seemed he wasn’t having much luck getting his truck restarted. ¬†I smiled with sympathy as I walked by, but really what help was I? ¬†I know nothing about fixing cars and could offer no assistance. ¬†Or could I?

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I quickly dumped my bags into my car and returned to the grocery store.  This time I knew I would stay on task with the one item I wanted to buy:

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I passed by the gentleman working on his car yet again, but this time I stopped and handed him an ice cold water. ¬†“Sir? ¬†I can’t help you fix your car, but it’s mighty hot out here, so I thought a bottle of water might help you while you work.” ¬†His smile was worth all the spilled fruit in the world. ¬†It felt so good to pay it forward!

My RAK lessons today:

  • Buying a water for someone working outside on a really hot day is awesome.
  • My local Kroger store is amazing.
  • When someone does something nice for you, it’s always best to show your appreciation and pay it forward. ¬†ūüôā

Best of all… I remembered the foil trays. ¬†My daughter’s truffles looked fabulous as she carried them across the street and I had a happy heart for all we accomplished (and didn’t accomplish) today.

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Those blog posts might have to wait until another day… which is just fine by me. ¬†I have another 100 piece puzzle to put together tonight with my four year old. ¬†As you go about your celebrations this weekend, be sure to celebrate the kindness you see in others. ¬†We are so blessed ¬†to live in this wonderful country, surrounded by such caring people. ¬†ūüôā


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