Saturday, September 21, 2019

Week 5: Happily Helping Humans & Horses


Rides & Reins is a therapeutic riding center located 30 minutes from my house.

The organization is doing incredible things; I'm proud to say my daughters have been a part of it for the past 5+ months, taking full advantage of their homeschool schedule, volunteering three hours each week.

They clean the barn, groom and tack horses, and side-walk with the clients to ensure their safety and overall experience.

I had the pleasure of joining them for a shift for the first time this week. And to say it made an impact on me is an understatement.

When someone participates in therapeutic horseback riding, they are likely to experience physical, emotional, and developmental rewards.

I saw all of that and more.

My afternoon of volunteering started with lots of sweeping (both inside and outside the barn; "It's the first thing our clients see" the President of the organization told me, "We want to make a good impression!") followed by fetching some handsome horses from a field, and then grooming and tacking them.

Grooming horses has always relaxed me. Back when my youngest started taking riding lessons years ago (she now volunteers more than she rides), we would arrive early so I could spend extra time currying coats, cleaning hooves, and brushing tails and manes.

I was happy when it was time to prepare the horses (I got three cleaned and dressed) and it was an honor to actively participate in a student's lesson. I shadowed an experienced side-walker in hopes of returning regularly to lend a hand when my daughters are there.

Seeing my girls work hard for such a good cause, sharing special moments with the riders, giving them smiles and encouragement when they need it, and being patient and calm to provide a peaceful environment for the horses and their riders made me beyond proud to be their mama!

(Especially because patience and calmness don't necessarily come naturally to my girls and me ;) - it turns out this is therapy for us as well!)

I learned a lot about the services Rides & Reins has been providing the past 20 years and the benefits of horseback riding for the students they serve. Here is an excerpt from their website if you'd like to learn more too:

"Because horseback riding gently moves the rider's body in a manner similar to the way a person walks, riders with physical disabilities often show improvements in flexibility, balance, and strength.

Not only does therapeutic riding offer physical benefits to students, but also psychological benefits. The rider feels a sense of achievement that often enhances motivation towards recovery. It also builds concentration skills.

Individuals having special needs often form a unique relationship with a horse that can lead to self-confidence, patience, and increased self-esteem. Medical professionals, as well as the American Physical Therapy Association, recognize the positive qualities of therapeutic horseback riding." (ridesandreins.org)

I'm so glad I joined my girls on this adventure! It was an honor to assist this great mission and I'm looking forward to lending a hand at the barn again soon!

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Week 4: Anniversary Appreciation


The 18th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on bustling New York City, the capital of our great nation in Washington DC, a peaceful field in Pennsylvania, and every freedom-lover across the globe took place this week Wednesday, September 11.

Like everyone else, where I was, who I was with, and what I was doing is forever engraved on my heart. My husband and I simultaneously leaving our offices, walking towards each other on Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee, meeting in the middle of the street and hugging with tears streaming down my face was like something out of a movie.

The tragedy of that day was felt especially strong in my family; my father was a Captain on the fire department in St. Francis, the city I grew up in, for 40 years, and then a volunteer on the department in Belgium for another decade.

When I saw the first tower fall, my heart sank.

Just as I do for every car crash, building fire, and other cause for alarm, when I saw the towers fall, my initial thought was for those brave souls climbing UP, knowing they had just come tumbling down.

The firefighter community is a tight one. I didn't just have one dad looking out for me, keeping tabs of my whereabouts, making sure I wasn't in trouble, growing up. I had 12 guys doing that in my small town, a dozen guys and their families who I could turn to, whose lives were intertwined with mine.

And I thought of them, and the family of firefighters in NYC on September 11, 2001. And I think of them all on each anniversary.

This week's Kindness Countdown activity was to make a "THANK YOU" sign and drop it off with a couple dozen black & white cookies for our local volunteer fire department.

The two volunteers there when my children and I arrived asked what organization we were with so they could reach out and thank them. My daughter said, "We just thought it would be a nice thing to do."

"My father was a fire fighter for many decades," I added.

Our eyes met and we nodded. There was no mention of 9/11. We didn't need to say the words. I think we both understood the inspiration for delivering sweets on that specific day.

And then we smiled and got a tour of the incredible fire department in Cedarburg, Wisconsin.

What an impressive one it is! And this is coming from someone who has visited countless fire departments across the country (my dad's department had a wall of patches on display growing up, and we'd pick up a handful of them each year on our travels).

It was a pleasure to spend some time at our department, hear stories from the volunteers, look at the large collection of antique gear, and share our gratitude with them.

They're true heroes!

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Week 3: Caring for Cuddly Creatures


Being a family of five that includes three lifelong vegetarians and one member who's meat-free 93% of the time, it's safe to say we are mightily in love with animals.

In addition to us humans, we have two dogs, a handful of chickens, and a pair of tanks that a couple of fish and snails call home. We hike and sit quietly observing animals pretty often, leave out food and water for a neighborhood mouser cat who, as of the date of this blog post, has been too shy to allow us to get close to, and we use baby voices to talk to every pet we meet or see being walked (and sometimes make up another voice for what we imagine they'd say back to us; that's on the spectrum for normal mental health, right?).

As I was saying, we love animals.

So, when we were brainstorming areas we wanted to spread kindness to, cuddly creatures was a no-brainer.

This week, my kids and I headed out shopping for loads of toys for dogs, kittens, rabbits and guinea pigs, along with a few bags of food, and visited our local Humane Society.

After dropping off the donations we headed back to spend some time with our new furry friends.

My youngest daughter fell in love with a 6-month old kitten named Alfalfa. Despite being fully aware of multiple family members being allergic to cats, she still begged and pleaded for me to bring her home.

Regretfully, she did not find her forever home with us. But I have no doubt she'll find one soon; I'm not sure many will be able to resist her spunky personality and adorable face!

I'm thrilled to announce, however, that this adorable little pup *did* get adopted while we were there!

I spoke to a young man who came to see about another dog on their website, but upon locking eyes with this little fella, "he put his paw up on the glass and I just knew he was the one," the man told me.

If you're looking to add a furry friend to your family, I hope you'll first visit your local Humane Society or shelter. There are so many sweet babies just waiting to give you all their love.

It was an honor to give them a little bit of ours this week.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Week 2: Third Coast Cleanup


If you know me, are Facebook friends with me, or have glanced at my Instagram for even a second, you know I LOVE nature, getting my hands dirty, climbing trees, wading through streams, hiking, adventuring through this great world. 

I'm incredibly grateful to have lived 44 years on the shores of Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes, AKA the world's largest source of fresh water! It makes every sunrise more beautiful, the winters a little less frigid, and was the reason I learned navigation at an early age (Lake Michigan = East). 

Passing along a love for The Lake is one of my most favorite things to do as a parent. We have an extensive fossil, rock, and sea glass collection. Heart-shaped rocks ring the trees in our yard and sit on the window ledges in our home. Rock tumblers run 24 hours a day in our basement. I have no doubt my legacy will live on.

But this summer's adventures to the Lake have been a bit more challenging due to the record high water level. We have gotten creative in our times of day to go (when the tide is low) and have ventured to beaches not visited before (more touristy and crowded). 

We left a recent trip to McKinley Beach located near downtown Milwaukee feeling downtrodden and depressed at the large amounts of trash thrown on the sand, intermingled with the driftwood, and hidden in the boulders my kids like to play on. 

That afternoon was the inspiration for this week's Kindness Countdown activity: cleaning up the Third Coast!

My daughters and I (my son has a terrible cold and my husband was repairing the breaks on our van) headed back to the shores of McKinley and Bradford armed with plastic gloves, large garbage bags, and a desire to leave the beaches better than we found them.

Over the course of a few hours we had collected 50+ pounds of garbage. We picked up countless plastic bottle caps and cigarette butts, a baby diaper, lots of straws and liquor bottles, balloons, plastic silverware and storage containers, broken shoes, and chip bags.

We passed one family playing at the beach who thanked us for our hard work. A few others made sad faces as we squatted down to pick up bottles cast aside in a field of wildflowers. 

I'm not gonna lie, it was gross and tiring work, but we all agreed we'll definitely do it again. Walking back through the sand and seeing it clean, as it should always be, felt so good. 

We may not be able to change the world, but we most certainly can fix our small piece of the planet. Hopefully doing so will inspire others to do the same. 

PS: If anyone reading this works for Milwaukee County, pretty please with sugar on top add more garbage cans to the lake shore. An increase in strategically-located bins near beaches and walkways (especially in the summer) will greatly decrease the amount of litter. 

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Week 1: Back to School Smiles


I'm baaaaaaaack!

It's hard to believe, but it's been 5 years since I started the Kindness Countdown to my 40th birthday. And even harder to believe that I'm now counting down to my 45th! How does time speed past so fast? I mean, just look at the size of my kids! My 15 year old son towers over me, my 13 year old daughter and I share clothes and shoes, and my youngest is double-digits, going into 5th grade next week!

While we've kept the kindness thing going these past 5 years, all of us were excited to once again embark on this project, to add some structure and planning, to think of all the people and areas of our life/community/country/planet we care so much about and want to help. We've got some really fun things planned for the next 45 weeks and we're excited to share them all with you! So let's get started!

Here we go, Week 1:

This week Tuesday, my family and I helped to hand out school supplies and back-to-school shoes to 250 children whose families needed a little extra help during what can be an expensive time of year.

I became a board member of the Saukville Community Food Pantry at the beginning of 2019, and when I found out about our school supply drive, I was excited to sign up to lend a hand!

My children and I arrived early to sort items, open packaging, and help develop the strategy for distribution (my husband came a couple of hours later due to a meeting). Because the Pantry has done this before, there was already an excellent system in place, registering 50 kids per half hour to eliminate the bottleneck effect that sometimes occurs at events like these.

We worked alongside amazing people, both young and old, who became fast friends. It's funny how quickly you can bond with other kind-hearted people, isn't it? (:

It was amazing watching the youth volunteers offer up special color, character, and uniquely designed items to kids they thought needed a little something extra or who would appreciate them most. It's no wonder their smiling faces made it on the cover of our local paper!

Seeing my kids smile when they saw the smiles they helped create is engraved on my heart.

As we were walking out the door my youngest said, "That was fun, I hope we can do it again next year!" and my middle child said, "I can't wait to see what you have planned for next week!"

I'd say the Kindness Countdown is off to another great start!

Be sure to follow along over the next 44 weeks!

"Like" the Kindness Countdown Facebook page! "Follow" gilded.living on Instagram!

Trust me, you won't want to miss all the KIND fun we have coming up!

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! 

xo,
Shannon


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!