Tuesday, July 21, 2015

I Turned 40 and It Was Fabulous!

My 40th birthday has come and gone.  Today marks three weeks since entering my 40s.  I am to happy to report that I'm settling in quite comfortably.

Thank you to those of you who sent me birthday wishes on the big day!  It was lovely to hear from people near and far, from long-time friends and new virtual ones. 

This blog post is dedicated to those who asked me to share photos and stories from my time on Mackinac Island...I hope you all enjoy hearing about it!

I awoke the morning of my 40th birthday in a hotel room only 45 minutes from the Shepler's ferry dock in Mackinac City.  We wanted to be nearby to ensure a full day on the island, to make the most of our vacation.  We were delighted to discover we were booked on one of the Mighty Mack ferry rides. 

During this trip, which is only offered 2-3 times each day, the ferry takes you on a tour under the Mackinac Bridge.  This large suspension bridge spans the Straits of Mackinac to connect the Upper and Lower peninsula of the state of Michigan.  Big Mac measures 26,372 feet and is the longest suspension bridge between anchorages in the Western hemisphere.  The tour was breathtaking!

Upon docking, we were told that our suitcases were taken directly to Grand Hotel from the ferry, allowing us the freedom to relax, take in the sounds of horse hooves, and walk the streets, venturing into cute souvenir stores and fudge shops.  We were even offered a still-warm fudge sample off the marble table!  It doesn't get any fresher or more delicious than that!

We had a delicious lunch at Cawthorne's Village Inn before heading to Grand Hotel in the afternoon.  The wide-spanning greens, beautiful gardens, lawn games, and pool facility were awe-inspiring.  We had so much fun playing a family game of bocce before checking into our room and rocking on the numerous chairs that line their l-o-n-g porch. 

Once inside, I unpacked our clothes while my children and husband camped out on the balcony, watching horses and bikers pass by.  My reward came a few moments later when there was a knock on the door and a gift basket arrived full of wine, fudge, fruit and cheese!  What a lovely birthday gift!  I wasted no time joining my family on the balcony, drinking a glass of red wine before our 5-course gourmet dinner! 

The next morning we rented bikes and peddled around the 8-mile island circumference, stopping for a picnic lunch and to stack some stones on the beach.  My husband, son and oldest daughter rode individual bikes while our youngest daughter rode on a tag-along connected to my bike (trailers and toddler seats are also available to rent). 

We really enjoyed seeing Arch Rock and hiking to the top.  What an impressive natural formation it is! 

After our bike ride we walked over to Grand Hotel's stables to visit the horses, learn about the history of their carriages, and play a game of horseshoes. 

The stablehands were friendly and answered all of our questions about caring for the horses and amused my children, telling them about each horse's personality. 

Before dinner, we enjoyed a quick swim in the pool (just look at that view!) and then gave the free snowcone machine a whirl.  My children were thrilled to have dessert before dinner!

We headed downstairs to the world's largest porch (660 feet!) once we were dressed for dinner and asked one of the numerous photographers to take our family's photograph with the lake, columns and flags behind us.  What a treat it was the next day to go downstairs and look through the high-quality photographs...one might just end up in our Christmas card this year! 

After a good night's sleep, I took an early morning run.  The quiet time and seeing the scenes of the island as the sun rose was breathtaking.  

I have been coming to Mackinac Island for 40 years and have never experienced it quite like I did that morning; downtown was deserted, families of geese roamed the beaches...it was calm and serene...and all mine. 

As I rounded the corner up the hill and saw the sun greeting Grand Hotel, I couldn't help but reflect on the past year, on the 40 random acts of kindness my family completed, and all that had brought me to this special place with people I love.  It was a special moment I will always remember. 

After breakfast, our children played a game of chess on the porch, and then we packed up our suitcases to be taken to the ferry to ensure it met us back in Mackinac City where our car was parked.  Before leaving Grand Hotel, we headed to Sadie's Ice Cream Parlor to enjoy Mackinac Island fudge cones one last time. 

The kids were excited to take a carriage ride to downtown where they each picked out a souvenir (more than one horse stuffed animal made it's way home with us), and then we played a round of catch on the grass in front of Fort Mackinac.  It was bittersweet to head to the ferry dock to start our trip home...happy to head home to a life we love with such lovely memories, but very sad to see the vacation come to a close.

I have thought about our trip each day since we arrived home...and am already, if only mentally, planning our next visit to Mackinac Island. 

The kids would like to visit Butterfly House and tour Fort Mackinac again (we did so on a previous trip, but our youngest said she doesn't remember it).  I will definitely wake up early to experience a quiet run or walk as the sun rises again.  And without a doubt we will stay at Grand Hotel. 

Please feel free to comment or email me with any questions you might have about planning a trip to Mackinac Island.  I'm happy to help and would love to live vicariously through your trip until I'm able to head back there again myself.  (:

I hope this finds you all well and happy and kind! 


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Kindness Countdown in the Press

A feature article was written about the Kindness Countdown and published in the Ozaukee News Graphic this past week.

It was an honor to spread the message of kindness within my community and share how the past year has changed my family.

Below are scanned images of the article you can click, enlarge, and read. 

On a related note, as a child of the 80s, it's quite a thrill to have an article written about me printed alongside one written about Rick Springfield!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Week 40: Kindness Countdown Favorites

This is it.  The final week of the Kindness Countdown!  

I had planned on ending these 40 weeks of random acts of kindness with a Habitat for Humanity project in my county, a project I could continue working on long past my 40th birthday.  Unfortunately, I've been told there is an issue with receiving the permit and that the project is on hold.  (I'm on the list of volunteers to contact once the project is approved and am looking forward to lending a hand soon!)

After giving it much thought, I decided that my family and I would do a "best of" instead.  I asked each of my children what their favorite activity has been this past year, added my own, and then we set off to make the days of others a bit brighter.

Week 16: Collecting Carts in the Cold
Our first stop was Costco.  You may recall my son and I picked up all of the abandoned carts in the Costco parking lot back in January.  In -2 degree weather (-21 degree wind chills).

While it wasn't as big of a sacrifice this week with weather in the comfortable 60s, we did a thorough job cleaning up the abandoned carts and also offered our services to those who had just completed their shopping.  My daughters, who missed this random act of kindness earlier this year, were thrilled to join us this time and to lend a hand, sharing the experience.

Week 2: Cleaning Up Our Park
The next stop was cleaning up a park that is near and dear to us.  It is our favorite (and often-frequented) frog-catching location.

We couldn't help but notice the trash that had accumulated in the river the last time we were there, so when my daughter suggested we clean up a park, we knew just which one we'd be working in.  I feel bittersweet in telling you that we filled a giant yard waste bag of trash with plastic bags, bottles, cans, chip bags, pieces of insulation, fishing line, etc.

I hope the frogs, geese, ducks, turtles and fish all feel much more comfortable in their home.  I know we will now enjoy visiting them that much more.  

Week 6: Give and Take
One of the activities that moved me this year was hanging up the "take what you need" and "what will you share?" flyers...and driving around to the various locations the following week to check on their status.

We hung signs in four different places this week (a laundromat, coffee shop, ice cream parlor, and restaurant) and then, a few days later, went back to check on them.

As with the last time we hung up these signs, it was touching to see people acknowledge that they needed understanding, courage, love and healing.  And equally touching to see others devoted to giving those gifts.

Downloads of the flyers are below...I encourage you to hang them up in your neighborhood...and share the gifts you can. 

Week 27: Easter Egg Hide
We left plastic eggs at the various locations we repeated activities this week.  My children love dressing up in funny costumes and when they saw stick-on fake mustaches at the store last week they asked if we could put them in the eggs.

We hid a few eggs in carts we returned to Costco.  We put some in trees and on the playground at the park we picked up.  And we hid a few at the locations we displayed the signs in this week.  I hope everyone laughs and enjoys the mustaches as much as our family does when we wear them.  (:

It was a busy week of giving and, as always, we had so much fun!  My 40th birthday is Tuesday, only two days away.  I'm going to be spending some quiet time later this week reflecting on this past year and what it has meant to me.  I'm looking forward to sharing more of my thoughts once I've fully processed everything.  For now, I will say this:  It's been an amazing whirlwind, and I'm so very thankful for these memories and shared moments of giving with my family! 

And I thank you all for sharing along in the journey! Thank you!

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." - Winston Churchill

Monday, June 22, 2015

Week 39: Balloons Bring Big Smiles

School is out for summer!  For millions of children in the United States it means freedom from getting up early and having homework.  Unfortunately, it also means that those children now need to tag along while their parents run errands.

Running errands isn't anything new to my children since they're homeschooled, but it certainly doesn't make them immune from complaining about being bored and asking how many more stops we have to make before heading home.

This week's Kindness Countdown activity was to help frazzled parents dealing with bored children at the busiest errand location I could think of:  Costco.

I purchased $40 in helium balloons from my local grocery store and drove them over to Costco. (After a quick stop to take the above picture :)  I planned this random act of kindness to occur at lunch time; there is no worse time to run errands with kids...I know this from experience.

My children and I caught infectious smiles after seeing the joy on the children's faces who cheerfully accepted the balloons!  To bring a child that much happiness...it was an amazing feeling!  And equally rewarding were the knowing looks of gratitude I received from the parents.

This activity quickly became one of my favorites.  And after 39 weeks of acts of kindness, that's saying a lot.

I'll definitely be doing this again in the future! 

"Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon." - Winnie the Pooh

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Week 38: Recycle for Sight

Summer is underway and life is hectic and full.  My children and I were out catching frogs this afternoon, discussing our plans for this week's Kindness Countdown activity when I realized that I hadn't written about last week's random act of kindness.  Oops!  I apologize for my tardiness...and without further adieu...

My friend Stacy has been supportive of the Kindness Countdown since week one, but this week she provided more than kind words.  When I mentioned I was going to be donating old glasses and contacts to a deserving charity to recycle, she put the word out to her friends and co-workers and they generously added to my collection.  My friend Nanette helped too.  What a blessing these supportive ladies are...to more than just myself. 

After cleaning out my closet to locate my old glasses, collecting a handful from my friends, and throwing in some contacts that my aging-eyes no longer have use for, I donated the lot to the Lions Club's Recycle for Sight program.  

Why did I select the Lions Club?  I researched various donation programs in southeastern Wisconsin and found that a few of the other centers either weren't forthcoming with their practices or flatly admitted they didn't donate glasses to those in need. 

I can confidently recommend, after much research, that you donate to the Lions Club if you have glasses you no longer need.  Their Recycle for Sight program collects, cleans, and reconditions old glasses and then ships them to people in need all over the world. 

I wake up each morning to a blurry world and feel much more confident when I put my glasses on, when I feel I can fully participate in life and more easily interact with those around me.  I cannot imagine not having those glasses to reach for or my contacts to put on. 

It makes me smile to think of those who will be receiving this gift!  I hope they receive not only improved sight, but a renewed vision for life as well. 

To find a collection center near you, visit lionsclub.org.  

"Vision without action is merely a dream.  Action without vision just passes the time.  Vision with action can change the world."  - Joel A. Barker

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Week 37: Caring Cards Left on Cars

The hours between 3:00-6:00 pm are commonly referred to as "the witching hours" among stay-at-home parents.  By 3:00, you have pulled out every trick you had up your sleeve and are often bone-deep tired as you try to figure out what your family will eat for dinner.

I don't remember those hours being much more enjoyable pre-kids.  By 3:00 I was often mentally checked out at work and thinking about errands I needed to run on my way home and what I needed to pick up from the grocery store to make for dinner that night.

And then there are the countless number people that are in both camps...working all day and then rushing to pick up their children or meet them at home for dinner, homework and bath/story/bed time.

I had all of the above in mind for this week's Kindness Countdown activity.

My children and I placed short, encouraging notes (download available on Kind Over Matter's blog) on cars in multiple grocery store parking lots during those overwhelming hours.  The hours when people would be rushing home from work or picking up last minute ingredients for dinner. 

AKA: When they were likely to need a bit of encouragement. 

We sat in our van, watching people come back to their cars and read their notes after we finished in each location,.  It was so nice to see the recipients smiling as they drove away. 

There have been days when I have felt defeated, deflated at best, and a stranger has held a door for me, smiled a knowing smile, or offered a kind or encouraging word.  Those simple gestures never fail to turn my day around. 

We all have the power to affect moments, moods, and days of others.  Let's use our power for good. 

"One kind word can warm three winter months."  - Japanese proverb

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Week 36: Homeless in the Heat

Southeastern Wisconsin is heating up.  The temperatures have been in the upper 80s the past few days served alongside generous portions of high humidity.  It is during our hot summers (we reach the 90s more often than I'd like along with an occasional day or two or 10 over 100 degrees) and bitterly cold winters (don't even get me started on the -40 windchill...) that I find myself thinking about the homeless population even more often than usual. 

This week, my children and I visited a homeless shelter I've volunteered at (making lunches and handing them out to those in need) this week to drop off bottles of water and toiletry items. 

A carton of milk is handed out with each meal, but I've made an effort to donate bottles of water regularly the past few summers so that the recipients have a bottle to take with them and refill throughout their days to stay hydrated.  This time we dropped off 80 bottles.

In addition, we donated 125 shampoos, conditioners, soaps, tubes of toothpaste, toothbrushes, sunscreen, and hand-wipes that we've been setting aside from hotel visits and purchasing at a discount.  

On our way out of the facility, we passed a father and his young son walking in to receive free lunches. Once we got outside I looked at my children and said, "That boy and his dad are here to eat lunch."

Without missing a beat, my kids huddled together and decided to give the boy a large bin of LEGO bricks they had just purchased at a rummage sale on our way into Milwaukee.  When the father and son came back out, I approached the dad and asked if my children could give his son a gift. 

They happily accepted and were cheerfully on their way. 

We got back into our car feeling richer haven just given possessions away.

It's pretty cool how that happens.

"It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving."  - Mother Teresa