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Fish Extender Gifts Received Blog Logo

“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…” ~ Clement Clark Moore

Do you remember the Night Before Christmas? The children, all tucked in their beds (sugar plums dancing in their heads) as they waited with anticipation for the surprises to arrive the next morning. St. Nick arriving, his belly like jelly, trying to tiptoe so quietly around the house, delivering gifts for others to enjoy. Participating in a Disney Cruise Fish Extender gift exchange is similar: the preparation, the anticipation, the surprise.

(For those of you stumbling across this blog for the first time, you can catch up on the Fish Extender saga by clicking here, here, and here.)

Each morning as my children awoke, they jumped from their beds wanting to check their “stocking” to see if any treasures were left the night before. I reminded them that we weren’t officially part of the Fish Extender exchange, but participating as Pixie Dusters, so any gifts we received would be extras shared by generous families. Our purpose was to bless others without expectation of reward.

But oh, how we were blessed in return!

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Coloring books with crayons. Personalized drink holders. Flashlights. Stickers. Disney-themed toys. Luggage tags. Bookmarks. Mini game boards. Lanyards. Keychains. Candy. Cups. Lip Balm. Even detergent and stain remover wipes for any emergency laundry needs (which we needed, but didn’t have!)

We received handmade scarves that we wore almost every day. (We didn’t even think about bringing scarves on our trip to Alaska – genius!)

One family even surprised us with a handmade Disney bag which we used every day to carry our souvenirs, toys, and books from on-board activities and excursions.

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Sometimes the surprises arrived while we were sleeping; sometimes while we were eating meals. Each and every gift was appreciated, no matter the type or cost.

I was reminded again and again about the kindness of others. Such thoughtfulness was shared with our little family of five. Remember, we weren’t even supposed to receive any gifts at all! I connected with the Fish Extender Facebook group literally three days before we left. And yet… so many families chose to add us to their list and bless us as if we belonged to them from the start.

Even typing this blog post brings tears to my eyes, remembering the overwhelming feelings of love and gratitude.

The gifts continued throughout the week. I was humbled by the thoughtfulness and creativity of others. One family gave an open-faced locket filled with Disney themed charms. I literally gasped with awe when I discovered the jewelry hidden in my Fish Extender pocket.

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Another family blessed my youngest child with a handmade super hero cape and mask from The Incredibles which he wore, but refused to pose for a photograph. (“Mommy, pictures take away my powers!”)

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My daughter kept meticulous care of her gifts, choosing to empty a clothing drawer so her treasures would be safe throughout the voyage.

We were even surprised with strangers decorating our cabin door with handmade signs and magnetic whiteboards. (Did you know that the cruise ship doors and walls are magnetic?)

I simply cannot thank these strangers enough for the joy they added to our vacation. The entire Fish Extender experience showed my children first-hand the power of “give and receive.” We now have tangible treasures to remember your kindness and stories to share with others. You have woven your thoughtfulness into our family memories which will be retold for generations to come.

You have blessed us beyond measure!

If you are planning to take a Disney Cruise and love the idea of random acts of kindness, I recommend you to join the Fish Extender Facebook Group to get more information. (This is a closed group, so you will need to request to join.) The passengers on my cruise created their own closed group which allowed us to share information on a Google Sheet and post photos/memories from our trip.

A special thank you to the following families for all our gifts received (if I left anyone off the list, please let me know and I will add you!) You truly transformed an already fabulous vacation into something only Walt Disney himself could create.

The Johnson Family

The Miller Family

The Fontenot Family

The Green Family

The Adams Family

The Peauroi Family

The Hanks Family

The Mill-Nap-Hacks Families

The Kennedy Family

 

 

 

 

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As many of you know, our big vacation last summer was taking an Alaskan Disney Cruise. One of the awesome things about taking a Disney Cruise is this secret RAK experience called “fish extenders”, which I blogged about here. While that blog post gave an overview of the fish extender process and showcased the fish extender I made, I never told you what happened next!

Since I was late in joining the Fish Extender Facebook group, I was put on a list of “Pixie Dusters”, which meant our family would receive random gifts that others had as extras (we were too late for the official gift-swapping exchange.) I, however, had a secret plan of my own. I decided to RAK fish extender gifts to every person/family that “liked” my Pixie Duster post on the page.  We ended up with list of 10 families – 41 people in all.

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Did I mention that we less than 72 hours before our plane would depart?

We. Got. Busy.

My two boys found pictures of Disney characters online and started recreating them out of Perler beads. My daughter grabbed her paint brushes and started decorating picture frames. I headed to the store to see what small gifts and Disney-themed trinkets I could find. We spent the next three days making, organizing, printing, and gluing so we would be ready to give our gifts away.

We prepared memory-making gifts for elderly grandparents and baby-safe gifts for tiny infants. We bought sparkle nail polish for the teenage girls and painted Mickey Mouse ears on the side for fun. We had beads. We had stickers. We had journals, pens, and more.

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Once everything was spread out and sorted, we packaged the gifts in family bags with a personalized note attached.

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We even packed a huge bag of truffles to bless the Disney Cruise workers who would make our vacation so special.

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The next blog post will share all the fun we had blessing others – check back soon and feel free to share!

 

The transition between summer break and the start of school has come and gone and I am finally catching my breath to blog.  WOW – what an amazing time it has been!  It’s always so inspiring for me when I see kindness in others – I often wish I could screen capture my moments and post instantaneously to share the joy!  Here are a few excerpts of the kindness that has been shared around me the past two weeks:


 

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At our very first faculty meeting of the school year, I was presented with the WOW book.  This is a new journal we are passing around to co-workers in our school who inspire us in a variety of ways.  We write an entry inside the book about why we think that person is special, then we pay it forward to that person so that they can recognize the next WOW member of our school. There is even a special page inside the front cover dedicated to Renee Parr, the first grade teacher who passed away this summer.

When I was called to receive the book, I was humbled beyond words – one of the few times I could barely speak!  Even writing this I am awed that someone would find me worthy of this honor.  WOW indeed!


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One of the highlights of Teacher Work Week is the freedom to choose our own lunch time and eat wherever we want.  (No cafeteria food, no frozen lunches for the microwave!)  I was delighted to find a coupon for a FREE grilled chicken sandwich – thank you Chick-fil-A for remembering teachers and sharing in kindness!

As I approached the local restaurant, I could tell lots of other teachers were enjoying their free sandwiches, too, because the drive-thru line was wrapped around the lot!  I decided to park my car and go inside to place my order.  I entered the double doors and saw the line was just as long inside the building. Suddenly the person in front of me turned around and said, “Would you like to go in front of us?  We’re still waiting for our friends.”  How kind! Within moments I was facing the cashier, placing my order.

Now this alone would be a wonderful RAK, but it gets EVEN better!  As I’m standing there contemplating fries vs. salad, I hear a voice over my shoulder saying, “I’m buying her lunch.”  I turn around and there is our school’s P.E. teacher, Barry,  standing behind me.  “What?” I question, still trying to process the fact that I’m getting RAK’d back.  “Your lunch.  I’m buying it.”  I started to protest, and he looked me square in the eyes, using my own words against me: “Don’t deny my the joy in doing a Random Act of Kindness…” All I could do was give him a hug and say thank you, humbled once again.

Getting RAK'd back by Barry

Getting RAK’d back by Barry

Our cashier thought it was great!

Our cashier thought it was great!

Then I paid it forward by purchasing a cookie for another teacher in my school (which I placed on her lunchbox when she left her classroom, totally forgetting to take a picture!)



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I came to work one day and found this adorable sticky-note pad on my desk, in the shape of an iPhone, with a cute note on top saying, “iHope you have a great year!”  I sent an email to my faculty thanking whomever left the surprise, but the RAK giver still remains a mystery.  Hopefully they will read this blog and know how much I loved this gift – oh, how it brightened my morning! (And little do they know, but I adore school supplies!  The results of being a teacher!)

Following this RAK, I paid it forward by blessing my son’s teacher with an item off her classroom wish list:

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At my first team meeting of the school year, this cute little guy below was introduced as the “Hedgehog of Happiness”.  One of my teammates said, “Give this to Tamara – it needs to be on her desk!”  Oh my gosh, what fun!  He made me smile all day!  I wish everyone had a “Hedgehog of Happiness” to remind them of the joy found in simple things.

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I paid it forward by sending surprises to my children’s teachers and writing a note in my son’s lunchbox.

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During the first week of school, I received two RAKs – one was a sweet gift from a kindergartner whose mom used to teach across from me when I was a classroom teacher at another school.  Pumpkin Cheesecake handsoap – oh my graciousness, what a wonderful scent!  It reminds me of fall and cooler weather.  Hand washing is VERY important in our line of work, so now I can stay germ-free while pampering myself a bit at the same time.

The other gift I received was a personalized clipboard from our school’s PTA. How thoughtful!  Even though I’m a technologist, I still carry a clipboard in my laptop bag which holds important documents, sign-in sheets, and my to-do list.  Now I have a fancy clipboard to replace the boring brown one I’ve been using for years!

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As my first week back to school round the corner towards the weekend, I realized I had missed all my favorite exercise classes (Zumba and Body Pump.)  For me, that’s the greatest challenge of the school year – trying to meet everyone’s needs and interests while still carving out time for my own. My Zumba instructor, Toni, invited me to meet her for a salsa lesson one night (dancing, not the dip, lol) and I finally made it out.  Oh my goodness, THIS was such a fun way to end my first week back at work!  Our instructor, Boris, was AMAZING and despite feeling a bit uncoordinated at times, he provided an hour long mental break filled with laughter and learning (that alone was a RAK for me!)

Then as our lesson ended and I pulled out my wallet to pay, Toni reached across me and said, “Oh no, this is my RAK for YOU!  Thanks for coming out and dancing tonight!”

(We forgot to take a picture together, so here’s photo of my dancing shoes instead, lol.)

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Could this week get ANY better?  I smiled all the way home!  I also paid it forward by covering the toll money for the person behind me on the highway. 🙂

I hope you’ve enjoyed my summaries of kindness shared by others in my world – I can’t wait to do more RAKs soon!  A little bit of kindness goes a long, long way… who can YOU bless with a little bit of joy this week?

Thanks for reading!

Yesterday as I picked up a few Christmas gifts for family members, I realized my store coupon was actually three separate coupons attached together.  I bet you can guess what I did next!

RAK coupon

You’re right!  I used the first coupon for my purchases, then found two other customers waiting in the checkout line who had no coupons to use.  We all saved money on our selections, and I left the store with a smile about a mile wide.  It’s such a great feeling to do something nice for someone else!

Have a blessed day!  More RAKs to come!  🙂

 

Yesterday I had the pleasure of completing 3 Random Acts of Kindness right in a row – the ultimate Triple Play! My first RAK was planned in advance, but the other two were 100% spontaneous “let me bless you because I can” moments. So much fun!

My planned RAK involved a coupon for a free car inspection my husband donated to my project a few months ago. (He bought a fundraising pack for my daughter’s chorus group and this was one of the perks included.)  I decided to save the coupon for the month of December, when I knew money might be tight for some. The coupon itself was a little key ring tag (not a paper coupon) – I was lucky I never lost it because it was very tiny!

Knowing it could easily be overlooked, I decided to place it in a ziplock bag with a little note and my business card.

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Thursday afternoon, I went driving up and down the parking lot at Kroger, desperately seeking a car that had an almost expired inspection sticker. I couldn’t find a single one! Wow! It’s the very first week of the month and every car I saw had a renewed or current sticker. Bummer!

On Friday, as I was leaving work, I scanned the parking lot on a whim. Bazinga! The very last car in my row needed to be inspected in December! Perfect! I placed my ziplock bag under their windshield wiper and said a silent prayer that the person I was blessing would see the gift before they turned their wipers on.

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I then made my way to the local mall to pick up a few birthday gifts.  The weather was a bit dreary:  cold, wet, blah.  I passed the holiday bell-ringer as I entered the mall and sheepishly apologized for not having any cash to place in his Salvation Army tin.   (If you know me well, you know I rarely carry cash.)  As I passed through the main doors, I saw a woman pushing a shopping cart filled with store-bought bags as an older woman stood beside her with fingers wrapped around the handle of an infant stroller.  I immediately backed up and reopened the glass door so the ladies could pass through easily, but they pulled their cart to the side of the wall as the younger gal started to gather all her belongings and bags.

Have you ever stood there, holding the door for someone, only to realize you’re just standing there looking awkward because no one is walking through your door?  Yeah, that was me.  While I’m sure it was less than 20 seconds, it felt like an eternity.  Suddenly it dawned on me:  Why don’t I help the lady carry her bags to her car?  It was obvious that she was struggling to carry everything in one trip (and to be honest, it kind’ve reminded me of when I bring groceries in the house, not wanting to return to the car for more bags.)  As I walked towards her and offered to help, she politely refused at the exact same moment two of the bags fell from her hands.

We both shared a laugh at the irony (she obviously needed some help) and she agreed to let me bless her with kindness.  As the older lady (her mom?) pushed the stroller, I carried two large bags while the lady carried the rest. (And as a sidebar, the baby in that stroller could NOT have been more than a month old… so tiny!  So precious!)

I walked with them out of the mall, past the Salvation Army bell ringer, straight to their car.  The lady thanked me profusely, but I just smiled and said, “Be blessed!” as I turned and walked away.  No photos.  No business card.  Just one person being nice to another person.  🙂

As I approached the mall again for the second time, I smiled at the bell ringer (who had seen the events unfold, I’m sure) then continued with my tasks at hand.  I bought the birthday gifts, did a little bit of window shopping, then decided it was time to head home.  As I rounded the corner back to the mall entrance (which was conveniently located at the end of the food court), I couldn’t resist the wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread.  “Garlic Knots – 5 for $1.99”  I peered through the slanted glass display and was suddenly thrown back to my college days when we would call in late night deliveries to our dorm rooms for freshly baked “Crusties” from Chancey’s restaurant.  Such great memories!  I smiled as the cashier asked, “What can I get for you today?” and pointed to the bread.  Thinking they would just grab a few pieces of bread from the display, I was shocked when she said, “It might be a minute, we are baking a fresh batch right now.”  A fresh batch?  Straight from the oven?  YES!  I would be MORE than happy to wait a minute or two!

I eagerly watched them pull the bread from their huge conventional oven, the same way you might pull out a pizza, and pack up my small package of Garlic Knots.  (Did you know the wooden tool they use to pull pizzas out of the oven is called a “peel”?  Yeah, me neither.  I googled it, lol.)  When the cashier handed me the styrofoam box, I could still feel the heat radiating from inside and the aroma was magnificent!  What a treat indeed!

And then I froze in my tracks.  Literally.

Because right in front of me, through the glass doors of the mall entrance, was… the bell ringer.  Still ringing his bell, despite the cold, wet, dreary day.  And in an instant I knew that this bread was not meant for me at all.  I may not have had change in my pocket for his shiny red canister, but I had a container of freshly baked bread to share.  So, of course, you know what I did.  I walked right up to the bell ringer, apologized yet again for not having any change, then handed him the container of bread and said, “I hope this warms you up!  Thanks for all you do.”  Then I walked to my car, with a smile on my face, thankful for unplanned surprises.  🙂

I didn’t even think of taking a picture to document the moment until I was already in my car driving away, but I slowed down by his stand and snapped a photo over my shoulder (you might have to look really hard to see him through the rain spattered window):

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So, my dear friends, the next time you are encountering a cold, wet, blah day, be encouraged!  You just never know when you may have an unforeseen opportunity to bring a ray of sunshine into someone else’s life.  🙂


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