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Assessment.

What does that word mean to you? Obviously, the word assessment can invoke different reactions and emotions based on your own personal experiences.  Maybe you work in the educational sector and correlate that word to standardized testing. (Wait – aren’t we on summer break?!  Why would I bring that up now?!) Maybe the word assessment made you cringe as you related it to the value of your home or property (which, I’m assuming, was valued at a higher rate several years ago.)  I would be surprised if you smiled and jumped up with glee at the mention of that word.

Working with elementary aged students, we use the word assessment quite often.  We assess academic skills, social skills, knowledge, behavior.  Sometimes we do formal assessment, like a paper/pencil test. Other times we do informal assessment, jotting down notes we want to remember about what students are doing.  As professionals, we receive our own assessments from our principals or district leaders.  It seems like wherever we go, or whatever we do, someone is being assessed for something.

My dad knows all too well the meaning of assessment.  In order for him to advance in his line of work, he has to complete online assessments to earn various levels of certification.  While this may not seem like a big deal to some, let me clarify… IT. IS. A. BIG. DEAL.  I can barely lift his study manual with one hand, it’s so enormous.  Each of his assessments require a passing score and many assessments only allow you to have a limited number of attempts.  Run out of attempts and you have to start the process all over from the beginning. Is it a coincidence that assess rhymes with stress?

My dad reached the pinnacle of stress with this last round of assessments.  Missing the cut-off score by one question does nothing to boost the ego or the paycheck.  In fact, my fun-loving, always jovial dad started to disengage from the family when assessments would approach.  “Don’t try to call, because I might not answer.”  “I can’t go there, I need to study.”  Need to… STUDY? Are you kidding me?  How old are you anyway, Pappy?

Old enough to know that assessments matter.

Today I received the jubilant news that my dad, the guy who welcomed me into this world at the mere age of 19, had passed his final assessment to receive his certification in EPIC.  These are the things dreams are made of!  Celebrate good times, come on!  Let’s celebrate!

Without a moment’s hesitation, I went to the store and picked up a few items that I knew would make my dad smile, then I left them on his porch while he was at work.

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Yep, balloons and beer.  Welcome back to the real world, Pappy.  Welcome back.  We have missed you!  🙂

The next time you hear of someone reaching a milestone or completing a goal, take a moment from your day to share in the celebration.  You might be surprised how good it makes you feel, too!

 

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Living in the 21st century provides many perks and conveniences.  For example, I can do most of my shopping online and have items delivered to my house without even having to change out of my pajamas.  Talk about convenience!  In fact, this shift in mobile purchasing has actually reshaped our country’s advertising and marketing strategies for Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year!

There are times, however, when convenience and speed aren’t necessarily a priority for me.  As much as I love technology (I’m a tech-geek at heart!), there’s something to be said for doing things “the old fashioned way.”  That’s how I feel about grocery shopping.

I think my fascination with grocery stores began when I was in college.  I scraped change to make ends meet, never having enough money to splurge on “good stuff” (hence, I survived off ramen noodles, lol.)  I loved coming home to visit my Grandma Payne and she would always end our visit with, “I’ve got to pick up a few things from the grocery store.  Would you like to come with me?”  This was always said with a smile and a wink because we both knew the trip would end with her writing a check well over $100 and my car being stocked full of necessities.

I remember walking with her through the aisles, never rushing, always taking our time looking at all the options.  I can still hear the ping of the cash register buttons as the price was manually punched in.  I couldn’t wait to be at an age where I could buy ANYTHING I wanted from a grocery store.

Even today, grocery shopping is my favorite chore.  While I now make lists on my phone instead of paper, I still appreciate the old-fashioned feel of a grocery store.  I like the brightness of the store. I enjoy chatting with the friendly workers who greet you with a smile as you walk down the aisle (not just at the entrance.)  I like the fact that someone is willing to bag my groceries and take them out to my car without expectation of a tip.  (Although, it took me a while to be OK with that one – I have tried to tip them so many times!)  In fact, when I’ve been away from the house for a few hours, my family jokes that I must have ended up at a grocery store.

So you can imagine my delight in meeting Mr. Leslie “Leon” Hobbs five years ago.  An older black gentleman, Mr. Leon was at the end of my checkout line, bagging my groceries as I tried to waddle through the narrow space to place my grocery items on the conveyor belt.  I was 8 months pregnant, it was a hot and humid August day, and for the life of me I could not get around my cart to reach in and grab the canned vegetables that slid to the back of my cart.  Mr. Leon tapped me on my shoulder saying, “Excuse me Miss, let me get those for you.  You need to rest.  You have a baby in there!”  We both laughed as I backed out of the aisle (even the memory makes me laugh now because, seriously, I was HUGE!).  Mr. Leon finished unloading my cart, then continued bagging my groceries and walked with me to my car.

“Where to, pretty Miss?”  His smile was infectious.  I was drawn to his sweet, southern style as we approached my car.  “Now you need rest.  You let me take care of those bags for you.  You don’t need to work when it’s so hot out here.  I’ll do it for you.”  I will admit I felt a little awkward, even in my pregnant state, to stand idly to the side while an older man loaded my groceries.  In my mind it didn’t seem right!  I was perfectly capable of loading my own groceries!  But the one thing I learned about Mr. Leon that day was that any argument would fall on deaf ears when it came to helping him do his job.  This was HIS job and HE was going to do it!

After putting my groceries away, Mr. Leon reached into his pockets to pull out two plastic wrapped mints.  “This one is for you, and this one is for the baby when he comes.”  He would never take a tip, pushing back any money offered to him.  “No ma’am, this is my pleasure to serve you.  You are the reason I am so blessed to work here.  Thank you for shopping at Kroger and allowing me to have this job.”

My day was always brighter after a visit with Mr. Leon.

Since that time, Mr. Leon has become a familiar name in our family.  Whenever we shop at Kroger, we look to see which line he’s bagging and we will get in his line, no matter how long the wait.   He seemed to have an endless supply of mints and somehow always found a way to slip in a “few extra” for the kids he knew I had at home.  We always said “Hi, Mr. Leon!” if we saw him in or out of the store. His eyes would light up when you called him by name, yet they would spark a fire if you ever tried to grab those bags to load yourself.  He took pride in his job, and it showed.

You can imagine my heartbreak when I learned that Mr. Leon had passed away this past weekend.  What?!  Not Mr. Leon!  No!  Like a child, I wanted to stamp my feet in refusal.  How could this be?!

“To every thing there is a season… a time to live and a time to die.”  It was my Grandma’s favorite bible verse (even carved into her headstone), and it was my immediate answer from God.  Mr. Leon passed away because he was a good and faithful servant and his time was done.  It was that simple.

I contacted the Kroger store manager, Mr. Scott Jones, and was told they would hold a balloon release later in the week in Mr. Leon’s memory.  In the moment of acceptance, I felt so helpless.  I wanted to do something, anything, to process my grief, but what could I possibly do to make anything better?

I RAK’d it out.

I accepted money from friends to pass along to his family.

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I attended the balloon launch.

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A Kroger employee passed out Leon’s mints to the crowd.

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The yellow balloon made me think of Mr. Leon’s bright smile. I love how it’s the last balloon to lift off.

I signed Mr. Leon’s banner.

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And I realized through all these acts of love and remembrance that I was not alone.  Apparently Mr. Leon treated EVERYONE the way he treated me!  So many people shared stories of how Mr. Leon brightened their day with kindness.  It was truly overwhelming to see a community gather to show their appreciation for someone who carried groceries to their car.  It only goes to show that you CAN make a difference in someone else’s life just by doing what you do, but doing it well.

I returned to my beloved Kroger store the day of his funeral to discover an empty candy bowl at his memorial site.  I did the only thing I could do.  I bought some mints from the store and refilled his cup for all the times he refilled mine.

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The next time you are shopping and someone offers to bag your groceries, take them up on their offer.  Smile at them.  Let them know how much you appreciate them doing their job well.  Take a moment to enjoy the “old fashioned” way of doing things.  You never know how far your kindness will reach.

Today I had the opportunity to share in a very special random act of kindness; one not of my own, but of a friend.  Pam Larson, one of my high school gal pals from two decades ago, reached out to me and asked if I’d like to share in doing something in memory of her mom, Patricia.  On this date fourteen years ago, Patricia closed the chapter on this life as she passed away from congestive heart failure at the age of 54. She had many medical issues in the ten years leading up to her death: kidney transplant, quadruple bypass surgery, squamous cell carcinoma in her sinus cavity… not to mention other complications and setbacks along the way.  To say Patricia was a fighter, is an understatement.  She gave all she had, again and again, just to have as much time as possible with her family.

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Patricia also spent A LOT of time in the hospital.  Her sunny disposition was a bright spot through all the trials.  In fact, one of her favorite songs was “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin, an upbeat song released in 1988, two years prior to Patricia’s kidney transplant.

It was in that spirit of celebrating joy instead of sadness that Pam asked me to join her today’s RAK.  We brainstormed a bit about what we could do (thankfully, Pam didn’t have 14 inches of hair to cut and donate because that might have ended up with her needing a wig, lol.)  We finally decided that delivering 14 smiley faced balloons to the cardiac unit of the local hospital would be a welcome surprise to bless others and share Pam’s story of honoring her mom’s memory.

Our first stop was purchasing the balloons.  Pam and I were almost giddy watching the store associate blow up each balloon, floating to the ceiling of the store, its long white curling ribbon trailing down to our eager fingertips reaching above.  Before leaving the store, we taped a memorial RAK card to each balloon so the recipients would know more about this special RAK.

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The memorial RAK card attached to each balloon

The memorial RAK card attached to each balloon

The RAK card included this quote by John Barrymore:  “Happiness often sneaks through a door you didn’t know you left open.”  We thought this would be a great quote because these happy balloons would be sneaking into the rooms of 14 different people! 🙂

Our next task was somehow getting all 14 balloons in Pam’s very compact car.  Below are the photos from THAT adventure (so much laughter!)

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So many balloons!

So many balloons!

Success!  Let's go!

Success! Let’s go!

As we headed to the hospital, Pam reflected on various stories about her mom.  It was a sweet time of remembrance and I knew that her mom would have loved what we were doing in her memory.

We arrived at the hospital and walked towards the entrance, the wind whipping the balloons all around us.  Have you ever had to carry so many balloons at once on a windy day?  It is NOT an easy task, let me assure you!  We approached the main desk and were directed to the cardiac unit on the second floor.  It was time to share some joy with others!

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The head nurse of the cardiac unit intercepted us almost immediately.  “How can I help you?” she asked with quizzical smile.  Pam explained our purpose: that her mom had passed away 14 years ago and she wanted to honor her memory by making 14 people smile with an unexpected surprise. The nurse informed us (after checking with her supervisor) that we would not be allowed to enter the rooms, but she would peek in her patients’ rooms and if they had a visitor, she would ask if the visitor wanted to step out in the hallway to receive a balloon from us.

Before she could finish her explanation, one such visitor stepped out of a patient’s room and said, “I would love to bring in a balloon!”  Our first RAK! We were thrilled!  As we giggled to one another, we realized we had a bit of a quandary… all 14 balloons were in a tangled mess from the wind blowing outside.  Although it only took a few minutes to separate a balloon, it felt like an eternity with this hospital visitor standing beside us waiting. Thankfully she was patient (a hospital pun for you medical people out there, lol) and after accepting and delivering our very first balloon, she returned to the hallway to hug Pam and pose for a picture.

Finally untangled!

Finally untangled!

Pam's first RAK hug

Pam’s first RAK hug

It wasn’t too long before Pam spotted a visitor walking down the hall.  “Excuse me, ma’am, are you visiting someone today?”  The lady smiled warily before she responded, “Yeeeeessssss”, then her smile spread across her face as Pam told her about the meaning behind the smiley balloon.  This lady stopped.  Listened.  Hugged.  She even added her own thoughts about this experience.  “We each have two dates – the day we are born and the day we die.  Then we have this line in between.  What you do during this line is what matters.  This is your purpose.  And what you are doing today is part of your purpose.”  These words nearly opened the floodgates for sure!

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There were more hugs.  More smiles.  I am convinced that just walking around with a smiley faced balloon in hand can make people happy.  We saw so much joy in the eyes of others today!  We were also able to share a few balloons with the oncology patients, too – a perfect place to continue our RAK in Patricia’s memory.

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When all 14 balloons had been given away, we left empty-handed, but our hearts were full of joy.  Pam told me on the way out of the hospital, “You know – this is the first time I have ever been happy on April 27.  Usually I am so sad and depressed, missing my mom, but today I know she is smiling down on us.  She would have LOVED this!”

So essentially… it was a healing RAK for Pam, too.  🙂

Be encouraged my friends to share your joy with others, even if it takes you a little bit out of your comfort zone.  I promise the rewards will multiply as others pay-it-forward, too!

As always, thanks for reading and sharing in my fun-filled RAK adventures!

 

Today I began my new set of adventures: honoring the 26 lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.  Random Act of Kindness #1 was dedicated to Noah Pozner, age 6.  I learned from the internet that Noah “had a huge heart and was so much fun, a little bit rambunctious, lots of spirit… he was really the light of the room” according to his Aunt in a CNN interview.  I knew right away what I could do to remember this sweet soul, a son quite similar to my nine year old:  balloons!

My first stop was the Dollar Tree where I purchased 6 of the brightest, happiest, smiley faced balloons I could find; one for each year of his short life.  The sales associate, Dean,  was extremely helpful, holding the balloons while I attached a new business card to each string, taping a quarter on the back to act as a weight (and an extra surprise!)  He shared his pen so I could write a message on the back of each card as well.  He asked me if this was something for my son (noticing the little boy’s name on the cards), and I was surprised to find myself getting a little choked up explaining the purpose of the balloons.  “No, these are not for my son.  I’m doing 26 acts of kindness to honor the lives of those from Sandy Hook Elementary School.”  He nodded (as did the other sales associate in the next lane over), and in a solemn voice asked, “Is he one of them?” pointing to Noah’s name.  “Yes.  Yes he is.  Today is Noah’s day.  He’s my first random act of kindness.  I’m taking these balloons to a nearby playground and leaving them for children to discover and enjoy.”  Ringing up my purchases, Dean smiled and said, “That is really nice of you.  Really nice.”  I gathered my balloons, returned his smile and said, “I can’t wait to surprise the kids!”

Driving to the playground, my brain was swirling.  I was really hoping the playground would be empty so it truly could be a “drop and run” kind of act.  Turning into the gravel lot, my tires crunching loudly as I pulled into a parking place, I could see several families already enjoying the swings and slides.  What would they think when their children saw what I brought?  Would they allow them to come near?  Would they caution them about speaking to a stranger?  It wasn’t my intent to hand out balloons; I wanted to leave them on the fence and had created a sign to explain my purpose:

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As I tied the sign to the fence and started to separate the balloons, I heard a little boy to my left ask his Grandma, “What are the balloons for?”  As his Grandma replied, “I’m not sure”, I looked up and met the eyes of a boy who very well could have been Noah himself, only a few years older.  I smiled and said, “Oh!  The balloons are free!  Would you like one?”  He came near (under the watchful eye of his Grandma, mind you) then as I untangled the balloon strings, a little girl came forward (who I later discovered was his sister.)

“Here you go!  Have fun!”  Smiles all around.  Mission accomplished!  I started to untangle the rest of the balloon strings (it was a little bit windy) and saw the Grandma approaching me.  She had read the card attached to the balloon and simply said, “Thank you.  Thank you so much.”  She engulfed me in a tight hug and it was in that moment that the impact of this purpose, these 26 acts, hit me full force.  With tears streaming down my face, my voice cracked as I sobbed, “It’s the least I can do.”  Our tears were shared as she repeated “Thank you.  Thank you.”

As we finished our hug, we started laughing through our tears.  Oh, how good it felt to laugh in the midst of such an emotional, heart-felt moment!  I asked her permission to take a picture for this blog:

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As she went away with her grandchildren, I finished my task of placing balloons on the fence.  Two balloons taken, four remained.  This is what it looked like when I was done:

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This is the business card I attached to the bottom of each balloon string:

Front of card

Front of card

Back of card

Back of card

I hope the children who found the last four balloons (and quarters, too!) were as blessed as I was with the Random Act of Kindness.  It was a much more emotional task than I ever imagined, but I am so glad I took the time out of my day to bring a smile of joy to someone else.  For Noah, I hope your memory continues to be lifted as high as smiley faced balloons as others pay it forward.

Blessings to each and everyone one of you reading this blog.  🙂


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