celebrate kindness

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Today is the day.

I wish I could end that sentence with the exclamatory exuberance I usually display when I speak and write, but the simple fact is I’m weary.

I’m weary of negativity. I’m weary of trash-talking. I’m weary of back-biting nastiness that benefits no one.

So today, on such a most important day for my country, I choose joy because despite my weariness, I am blessed.

I am blessed to live in a country that allows me to speak my opinion without incarceration or death.

I am blessed to have the opportunity to engage in debate, but hold true to my values and beliefs without fear.

I am blessed to have the privilege to be anything I want to be: student, teacher, mother, wife, author, speaker, entrepreneur.

I am blessed to make eye contact with anyone I meet, to smile and say hello no matter the perceived or actual level of social hierarchy.

I am blessed to live in a place of prosperity. I have all my basic needs met and never find myself walking miles for clean water or sanitized facilities. I don’t sleep on a hard floor. I enjoy the luxuries of a refrigerator, a washer/dryer, and air conditioning in the summer.

I am blessed to stand in a line that wraps around an elementary school building, to have the opportunity to cast my vote for our country’s next leader.


I am blessed to stand next to my daughter, who at the age of 18 is voting in her first presidential election.


And even though it’s not much, I’m blessed to show kindness to others by giving away little gifts of appreciation to the volunteers at my voting precinct.


I have the option to choose anger and hate or love and joy.

Today I choose joy. ūüôā

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Sometimes we get so caught up in our own whirlwinds, we forget the whirlwinds of those around us. Thank goodness for Facebook and Twitter! With just a quick tap and a scroll, I can catch a glimpse of what’s happening with everyone else and realize that my issues are, in fact, just a drop in the bucket compared to someone else.

I really love using social media to stay connected with friends and family. In this fast-paced world in which we live, sometimes it’s the only lifeline I have to know when people are hurting or when there’s cause for celebration.

Today was a perfect example of the importance of being connected.

I saw this post on my Facebook feed from a gal I knew in high school (we sang together in show choir):


Oh my goodness! This is serious stuff! It’s incomprehensible to imagine someone my age, that I went to high school with, having to battle such life-changing situations.

However… There is joy in the journey! I love how my friend requested absurd balloons – how funny is THAT?! So awesome!

After work today, I stopped by the Dollar Tree and picked up a few goodies, each with a special meaning. My only purpose was to make my friends smile, so they know they mattered to me. ūüėä



Yep, that’s right – I bought a Princess balloon for a grown man in his 40’s who I know would rather be mud-bogging than trapped in a hospital bed with a gown that only ties in the back. Princess indeed!

I laughed all the way back to my car!

I got Mountain Dew to jump start that old heart of his with caffeine in case the surgery didn’t work. I added a box of Lifesavers as a last resort for survival. I bought a crazy-faced Pez because, well, you’re never too old to get Pez as a gift! I also bought a pack of Pez refills because NOBODY gets excited by the lemon Pez candies that come with the package. C’mon now Pez makers… Would it be too much to ask for some grape and strawberry?

Then I added two 100 Grand chocolate bars, because both my friend and her husband are worth 100 Grand to me. ‚̧ԳŹ

The gift was received with laughter, which made me smile, too. Take time today to reach out to those around you! A quick note, a small surprise, just letting people know you care.

Who knows? Maybe one day you’ll be surprised by a Princess balloon, too. ‚̧ԳŹ

Tonight as we pulled into the Cracker Barrel parking lot for dinner, my son spotted something on the ground. “Look what I found,” he exclaimed, as he bent over to pick up the rectangular object. “It’s somebody’s wallet!”

  
Have you ever misplaced your wallet? Oh my goodness, talk about instant panic. I could only imagine this poor woman’s plight as she was probably frantic at this exact moment. 

  
I tried to locate some contact information for the gal, but despite having a wallet filled with cards there was no phone number to find. I searched the internet for the address shown on her driver’s license, but someone else’s name appeared. I even tried to find her on Facebook to no avail.

Now what?

The right thing to do would be to turn in the wallet to the manager, but that made me nervous. Nothing against Cracker Barrel, but I’ve had friends who’ve picked up their lost wallets from businesses with everything important gone. I didn’t want that to happen to this girl.

I approached the server stand and asked if anyone had come in asking about a wallet. The ladies stared back at me, shaking their heads no. Suddenly one of them broke the silence. “Wait a minute! Angie! Angie lost her wallet just today when she was helping someone who locked their keys in the car! I bet that’s Angie’s wallet!”

I clutched the wallet to my chest, still cautious to give it away, and asked for Angie’s last name. When she told me the name that matched the information inside, I shrieked with joy and gave her the wallet. “Yes! This is hers! Oh my goodness, how wonderful!” We walked together to find a manager and I wrote a quick note on his notepad:

  
He promised to put her wallet in the store’s safe until she returned back to work.

Sometimes it’s all about being in the right place at the right time. So relieved this story has a happy ending! ūüôā

Well, my faithful readers, let me begin with a huge apology for such a delay in my RAK postings. ¬†With the wonderful Christmas break away from school, work, and pressing responsibilities, it was such a delight just to be wrapped up with the fun festivities of the holiday… spending time with my family, enjoying the season, and just savoring the precious moments that came my way.

I wanted to start off this new year of 2014 with something inspiring… motivating… invigorating… and I think the best way I can capture all three of these is to share a few random acts of kindness I’ve seen play out right before my eyes.

This weekend I will post several little stories that warmed my heart and made me smile, so keep checking back in (or just follow my blog so it shows up in your feed, lol).

Today’s story happened literally ten minutes ago. ¬†I was running around taking care of some errands after work when I decided to stop in for a Starbucks using a gift card my daughter bought me for Christmas. ¬†(Have I mentioned how much I love my thoughtful children?) ¬†It’s a dreary, chilly, rainy day and I thought it would be nice to sip on a salted caramel mocha while writing this post, so that’s exactly what I did!

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As I was sitting here, typing away, a young gentleman approached me with his hand outstretched. ¬†“Excuse me,” he said, “Do you drive an Acura?” ¬†A set of car keys rested in the palm of his hands as he smiled with kindness. ¬†I shook my head no and suggested he give them to the barista in case the owners returned looking for the keys. ¬† ¬†He followed my suggestion and approached the workers, asking them if they knew who the keys might belong to.

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I thought that would be the end of the story, but no.  This sweet young man was clearly concerned about who could have lost their keys.  He walked out of the Starbucks and searched the parking lot, looking for the car in question.  He returned and looked around for possible owners (keeping in mind there were only 4 customers in here, including the two of us.)  He paced the floor, running his hands through his short blond hair.  It almost made me wonder if he himself had ever lost his car keys; he obviously knew all too well the level of panic that could come from losing something of importance.

Several minutes later, after it was apparent that the owners were long gone, he settled down and chatted with his friend who had accompanied him into the Starbucks. I continued to type, minding my own business, but simultaneously touched by his concern and kindness for someone he didn’t know and would most likely never meet.

There are good people in the world, all around us.  We just need to open our eyes and recognize who they are, and appreciate the moments when we can witness such kindness in action.  That alone inspires me, and I hope it inspires you as well!

I will write again when time allows, but until then, look for opportunities to bless one another with kindness – no matter how great or small your actions, they DO make a difference! ¬†ūüôā

Sometimes it’s hard to get in the holiday spirit when the weather is rainy, dreary, and just plain blah. ¬†Yesterday as I fought a monsoon rainfall leaving church, I thought to myself, “Uggggh!” ¬†The rain and wind were so powerful, there were literally sheets of rain pounding the street in front of me as I returned home, already drenched.

Photo Dec 22, 11 26 44 AM

It would have been too easy to just shut my front door and stay inside all day.  Yes, I had errands to run, but who wants to shop for groceries and Christmas gifts in this mess?

But, you know me. I’m a master of creating my own motivation. ¬†I went inside, grabbed my raincoat and headed back into the rain.

Photo Dec 22, 11 25 43 AM

As I was looking through the various items in my purse (searching for Chapstick, actually), I came across a $10 off coupon from JCPenney. ¬†Whoa! ¬†$10 of free stuff?! ¬†That’s awesome! No sooner had the thought hit my brain about the free merchandise, I knew exactly what I wanted to do… bless someone else with a $10 surprise.

Photo Dec 22, 11 05 12 AM

Forget the grocery store – I went straight to JCPenney, searching for “the one”… that person God nudges for me to bless. ¬†I walked around the various departments, looking at people, watching, waiting… and then I saw her. ¬†A mom about my age, her teenage daughter nearby, hands full of clothes overflowing her arms. ¬†Yes! ¬†She was the one who needed this coupon! ¬†I went straight to her and gently touched her arm as she looked me in the eyes with a smile.

“Hi… I have a coupon I’m not going to use. ¬†It’s worth $10… would you like to have it?” ¬†I didn’t take the time to explain that I deliberately drove to this store for the sole purpose of blessing her; I simply gave her the coupon and my business card and figured she would find out later if she looked up this blog.

“Thank you so much!” she replied and our exchange was done. ¬†We walked in separate directions, but my heart was happy with joy, knowing I had blessed someone else.

I even wrapped up my day by returning a wayward shopping cart stranded in the grocery store parking lot. ¬†Sometimes the blessings occur with no one to see. ¬†ūüôā

On those dreary days where you feel unmotivated… think about blessing someone else instead! ¬†I promise it will change your perspective and make you smile! ¬†Be blessed my friends! ¬†Merry Christmas!

Yesterday was a great day for a mini beach trip with¬†the kids and my mom.¬† High temps coupled with beautiful, fluffy white clouds – such a change in the rainy, unstable weather we’ve had recently.¬† I packed the van with chairs, towels, beach toys, cooler, bags of snacks… everything we could possibly need for a fun day in the sand and surf!

We chose a small beach about 45 minutes away Рa little inlet that would allow the kids to play without the crowds of tourists.  What a quiet, peaceful way to spend the day!

beach-sand

We settled in, three kids coated from head to foot in 70 SPF sunscreen, and after a brief bout of a three year old screaming at the top of his lungs, “CARRY ME!¬† CARRY ME!¬† I DON’T WANT TO WALK ON THE SAND!!” everyone was soon playing and having a good time.¬†¬† My daughter approached me, her small red sand shovel extended away from her body, her voice equally filled with fear and fascination.¬†“Mommy!¬† Look what I found!¬† Is this a jellyfish?”

beach-jellyfish

Lo and behold it was!¬† Now, I don’t know what your experiences¬†are with jellyfish, but I have vivid memories of going to the beach in late August and battling the waves while trying to avoid the inevitable encounter with a stinging jellyfish.¬† “Oh no!” I said as I cautioned her.¬† “Don’t touch it!¬† You’ll get stung!”¬† No sooner than the words escaped from my mouth, a nearby teenager¬†looked my way and said nonchalantly, “Oh, you don’t have to worry.¬† Those jellyfish don’t sting.”¬† She then proceeded to tell me¬†all about the “moon jelly” type of jellyfish that are more like round blobs floating in the water, not like the stringy, tentacle laden jellyfish of my youth.¬† “You’ll see lots of them here.¬† Won’t hurt you a bit.¬† Touch it!¬† You’ll see.¬†¬†You’re fine!”¬† We took the dare, touched the jellyfish, and were surprised how squishy and non-threatening the little¬†sea creature was.

Well, my son overheard this conversation and that was all he needed to spark his curiosity.  Within minutes he transformed from an ordinary nine year old into a professional jellyfish scientist, collecting specimens to compare and contrast cellular shape, size, and color.

beach-danplaysand

beach-bucket

After an hour of this, and a brief break for lunch, the kids were back in the water splashing and playing their own games.¬† It was easy to lose track of time as my mom and I chatted, baking in the warm sun.¬† Suddenly, my son came running out of the water, holding his upper right arm, screaming and crying.¬† “I got stung!¬† I got stung!”¬† At first I thought he might be joking, but the closer he ran to me the faster I ran to him.¬† “Put sand on your arm!” I shrieked, realizing too late that despite my careful packing, I was completely unprepared to deal with a jellyfish sting.

“Here!¬† Use vinegar!”¬† I turned towards¬†a deep voice noticing a man surrounded by his family, ¬†holding out a Ziploc bag with a bottle of clear liquid inside.¬† “For the jellyfish sting.¬† This will make it go away!”¬† As I tried to calm down my son, this stranger came towards me and quickly removed the bottled liquid, uncapping the lid and pouring it generously over my child’s arm.¬† “Thank you!¬† Thank you!”¬† I couldn’t find any other words to express my appreciation at his act of kindness.¬† He poured more vinegar on my son, calmly reassuring him that the pain would¬†dissapate quickly.¬† “You’ll be OK. I promise.¬† The vinegar will make the pain go away.¬† You’ll see.¬† You’ll be fine.”¬† As he poured just a little bit more vinegar on the bright red welt now very apparent on my son’s skin, I looked at him with unabashed gratefulness.¬† “But we used almost all of your vinegar!¬† I’m so sorry!”¬† He smiled at me, his eyes reassuring my panic, simply replying, “It’s fine.¬† That’s why we have it.”¬† He gazed back at my son with a final nod of a job well done and patted him on the head.¬† “All good now?”¬† Just as he promised, the pain had diminished and my son was back in the water, enjoying his day.

beach-danfloat

I returned to our spot on the beach and asked my mom for a pen, so I could write a quick note of appreciation to the kind gentleman as I knew this was worthy of a #26acts RAK blog entry.¬† We searched through our bags and containers, but couldn’t find a single writing tool at all.¬† I decided I would just approach him and tell him about the blog, but when I turned to make my way towards his family’s spot on the beach, there was no one there.¬† NO ONE.¬† No chairs.¬† No towels.¬† No family.¬† Nothing!

Now, I am not going to go off on a religious tangent of what I believe this encounter could have been.¬† All I will say is this man was in the right place at the right time to save the day for my son.¬† I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about this heaven-sent angel in my midst.¬† ūüôā

This RAK is dedicated to Grace McDonnell, age 7, a beautiful blue eyed, blond haired girl who loved the beach, seagulls, and lighthouses.¬† Shortly after this encounter with the stranger and the vinegar, I captured the graceful flight of a seagull, an image I know would have brought a smile to Grace’s face.

beach-seagull

Grace was an artistic child, one who loved to paint and draw pictures for her parents and loved ones.¬† She especially loved making peace signs, even drawing them on her bathroom mirror fogged with shower steam.¬† At her funeral, her parents and her brother Jack brought sharpie markers and decorated¬†her¬†white¬†coffin with colorful drawings of her favorite things:¬† ice cream cones, lighthouses, and of course, sea gulls.¬† “We had peace when we left,” stated her mom in an interview with Anderson Cooper, noting that her coffin was covered with beautiful pictures, drawings, and notes from those who knew her best.

It’s with that knowledge that I am taking this RAK received and paying it forward in the next few weeks.¬† I plan to purchase a pack of colorful sharpie markers and will attach one to a small pad of paper with an invitation to “Draw.¬† Create.¬† Live Life.¬† Share Peace and Grace.” I will leave these markers and papers in various places to be discovered by children.¬† Playground.¬† Park.¬† Doctor’s office.¬† It’s the least I can do to celebrate Grace’s memory and show my appreciation for the kindness of others.

Be blessed my friends!  Always look for ways to encourage one another and pay it forward!

This past week we surprised our children with a secret vacation – destination unknown! All we told them was that they could bring one backpack and needed enough clothes and toys for two days. Yes, they would need a bathing suit. No, they couldn’t bring all their stuffed animals. Needless to say, we had A LOT of nervous energy and excitement leading up to the big reveal!

Our plan was to take the Amtrak train on a Sunday morning to Washington D.C. (an adventure in itself as our youngest child had never been on a train before!) Once there, we would hop on the Metro to get to our hotel and drop off our backpacks. From there we would walk to the National Zoo and spend the rest of the day there. On Monday we would visit the museums then head back home that evening on Amtrak. Sounds pretty simple, right?

(Allow me to pause here to allow time for your laughter.)

Let me remind you… I have three children. One is a shy teenager. Very responsible, but a planner. Has to have things organized and done in order. One is an energetic nine year old. Easily distracted, especially with new things. My youngest is a slightly temperamental three year old. Need I say more? Thankfully I have a husband who runs marathons. Surely he could run after anyone that mistakenly got on the wrong train?

amtrak

The trip itself was indeed an adventure as expected. We never told the kids where we were going until we got to each destination which made every stop even more memorable. I took hundreds of photographs. We laughed. Ate. Walked. And walked. And walked. We realized the hotel wasn’t “just” off the Metro (more like a half-mile walk) and the walk to the Zoo? Yeah, add another mile to that. In 90+ degree weather. The Zoo visit was fun but excruitiatingly hot, except for the last hour. That was completed in a downpour of rain. Just another notch in our belt of family vacation memories, lol. The good news is we ended the trip with the same three children we started with. Mission Accomplished!

As many of you know, I am always on the lookout for ways I can bless others with Random Acts of Kindness. I realized halfway through the Amtrak ride that I left all my RAK cards at home, so I decided to focus on acts of kindness I noticed in others. You always hear the stereotype that city people are rude and uncaring, but I think comments like these flow from the mouths of individuals whose cups are half empty, not full.

So I started a kindness list. I already had half a page before we even left our town!

  • A lady overheard my three year old ask to use the restroom and offered to watch our backpacks and my nine year old so I could take him (I had the two youngest children by myself at the time.)
  • The train station doors were locked, so another lady came to me to offer alternative places that might have a restroom.
  • The train station operator just happened to come around the corner at this time and opened up the train station doors early. (OK, so maybe this RAK was from God, but it was still a major act of kindness!)
  • As we boarded the train and got settled, the lady in front of us offered up her seat so a mom with two small children could sit together.
  • My daughter, who was STARVING, shared her breakfast sandwich with both her brothers. She also offered to sit in the same row with them to help out.

train

As our adventure unfolded, there were countless more RAKs to witness. A man giving directions to a family, obviously lost. The restaurant owner who took time to “chat” with my youngest child as we waited for our meal. My daughter offered to switch tennis shoes with me when I felt a blister starting to form. My son offered to hold the little guy’s hand as we walked through a crowded section of the zoo. A stranger named Leon chatted with me for almost an hour while I sat with a sleeping child in a stroller at the National Air and Space Museum. (Who, by the way, was the friendliest man I met on this trip. I learned so many interesting things about him! He was in town with his family celebrating his daughter’s graduation from high school. If you like country music, you can check out his online magazine!) It really is inspiring to take a step back and SEE all the kindness that surrounds you!

I was especially appreciative to receive a RAK towards the end of our journey. My husband and I had split into separate directions (he went back to the hotel with my daughter to retreive our backbacks; I forged ahead to the train station alone with the two boys.) As I was exiting the Metro with my boys, my youngest decided THAT would be time time to throw a tantrum, as he did NOT want to get on the escalator without his sister by his side. If you can picture a mobbed train station (it was 5pm after all), a tourist mom with a backpack, a zippered lunch cooler, two children AND a stroller… all trying to hop off a Metro train, take 5 steps, and step on a moving escalator. That, my friends, is a recipe for DISASTER!

escalator

Thankfully, there are kind people in this world. An older gentleman saw my plight (as my three year old was trying to pull me down in a full-fledged-sit-on-the-floor-no-way-am-I-getting-on-that-thing tantrum) and grabbed my stroller as I lifted my child onto the moving staircase. He smiled and tried to chat with my son (who sadly wasn’t feeling as kind to reciprocate the conversation), then he stayed with me carrying my stroller over the exiting threshold of the escalator until we were safely out of the crowd and off to the side. I thanked him profusely, but he just smiled and said, “No problem! I remember those days. Enjoy your journey!”

I wanted to hug him for all he was worth!

Needless to say, we made it home unscathed; weary but happy. As I started to post vacation photos on Facebook the next day, I saw a message from a sweet friend who was traveling to DC later in the week. She called me to ask how my vacation went and we laughed about the various escapades I enjoyed throughout my visit in the city. As it turned out, her daughter was scheduled to play in a basketball tournament and was a bit leary of the Metro system. “What was your experience like? Be honest.” All I could do was laugh, because my experience was GREAT!

It was just a bit later, after we had ended our call, that I remembered my husband had overpaid on our Metro tickets. (Just a heads up, if you purchase paper tickets, DO NOT LOAD ALL YOUR MONEY ON ONE CARD – each person in your party needs their own Metro card! If you make the error we did, you will NOT receive a refund!) I immediately called my friend back and offered her the extra tickets that still had a remaining balance on them. “Oh thank you so much! How much do I owe you? I can bring some cash when I meet you.” Again, I just laughed. “Just take the tickets! We can’t use them anyway! Be blessed!”

And just like that, I completed Random Act of Kindness #20 without even realizing it.

RAK tix

This RAK is dedicated to Olivia Engel, age 6, who shares the same first name as my cousin and the same middle name as my sister. Olivia was a great helper to her mom, often going out of her way to care for her younger brother, Brayden, who is the same age as my youngest son. She “developed an affinity for all things fun” and I’m sure she would have enjoyed all our adventures on this trip. You can click here to learn more about sweet Oliva.

I hope this time of summer fun is filled with happy memories for you and your family. The Sandy Hook parents are experiencing their first summer vacation with a “new normal.” Be mindful to be present and aware of just how special these moments are in your life!

Be blessed my dear friends!


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