Thursday, July 18, 2024

Week 3: Sharing a Side of Smiles at Supper


Each week of this little Kindness Countdown project of mine over the years has been memorable, but there are a few that stay with me, long after they're complete. Last week was one of them. 


My boyfriend Mark and I, along with our friend Al, headed to the Denver Rescue Mission to work alongside a cook to finish preparing dinner, set up the two meal services, and clean the kitchen after. But it was so much more than that. 

We learned there are three professionally trained chefs employed at the Fort Collins location and each of them takes pride in preparing great tasting food for the homeless men who visit for breakfast and/or dinner each day utilizing the food donated or available to them at their local food banks. 

Keith, the chef we worked with that evening, told us they are in need of morning meal helpers, milk and egg donations, and anything else people are willing to give. He told us there are some regular meal patrons he has seen for long stretches of time, and others who are homeless temporarily due to economic/health issues. 

We were there for a couple of hours last Tuesday evening; the first dinner service saw 30 visitors before we closed up, cleaned and refreshed the tables and line, and then reopened the doors. Every single man we met was kind; they returned our smiles, thanked us for being there. One may commented, "You could probably be anywhere in the world tonight and you chose to be here. Thank you." That has echoed in my heart so many times...

As we loaded up their plates, we thanked homeless veterans for their service, smiled and laughed alongside the men while they were there. And when dinner service was complete, we watched the patrons work together to clean up the space and prepare it for the sleeping mats they'd roll out later that evening. 

Mark, Al, Keith and I had a great discussion as we prepared for dinner, discussing how precarious life can be, and how amazing it is to have resources to use when needed...and the importance of helping when you can. 

And we could. And so we did. And plan to do so again and again. 

May this find you in the "able to help" boat, and may you find a great local organization near you like the Denver Rescue Mission to share your fortunes. 

I promise you'll feel them grow tenfold with the effort. I know we did/do.

Monday, July 8, 2024

Week 2: Malt Across Many Miles

I've lived in the Milwaukee area my entire life; that's 49 years and counting in a place where beer is taken seriously. 

My dad has always enjoyed trying new breweries while I remember my grandparents having their faithful favorites. And although I'm more of a whiskey girl, I've never been known to turn down a beer with friends or family, enjoying them all because of the company. 

This week, I put in some effort, a little bit of money, and thousands of miles to help a couple of others enjoy time with their favorite people sipping some of their favorite beers. 

The idea for this week's act of kindness came to me a couple of months ago in my local Piggly Wiggly while talking to my friend/old neighbor about some of our favorite drinks. Being the liquor buyer for the store enables him to access just about everything he'd ever want, but for his favorite, available only in the Russian River Valley of California. Knowing my sweet boyfriend was taking me there for my birthday a handful of weeks later I asked him for more details. 

Fast forward to the end of June: I stopped in a couple of stores searching for Piney the Elder but quickly learned it was rarely available outside of their brewery, and so we drove an hour out of our way to visit Russian River Brewery to purchase some bottles of this beloved beer, along with some bubble envelopes to wrap them in to keep safe in my suitcase for the flight home. 

My pal Doug sure was excited to receive the surprise bottles this week, and I was so happy to be able to make it happen. And so I planned to do it again, utilizing those same bubble bottle holders to bring some of Wisconsin to Colorado.

Wisconsin's most sought-after beer outside of the state comes from New Glarus (specifically Spotted Cow and their seasonal fruit beers), and I quickly remembered a conversation with some employees at New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado when in town a couple months earlier. As a result, some bottles found their way into my suitcase last week when packing for a return trip. 

Mark and I stopped in over the weekend to make beer delivery #2. Being the 5th of July, it was busy, but we found Ramone just inside. I handed him the goods, he looked at me, smiled big and said, "You just made my day! Come with me!"

He escorted us to two seats at the small bar, told one of the bartenders to fulfill our order on him, and secured the New Glarus to the back room. Mark and I had a great visit, sipping a sour and cold beers on the hot day, eating from the food truck, and almost playing our traditional game of bags in their awesome outdoor space (like I said, it was busy). 

In summary, it was a fun week playing a Sudsy Santa of sorts. ;) I hope the beers become a part of some fun memories as the deliveries have for me. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Week 1: Beginning at the Beach

Welcome back to the Kindness Countdown! Unlike previous years that saw me performing 40 acts of kindness over the 40 weeks leading up to my 40th birthday, and 45 RAoK as I counted down to age 45, this final round will contain two bonus projects: an entire year of activities (52 weeks) as I count down to my 50th birthday!

The other change I foresee t\his go-around is my children's involvement. Unlike the past two projects completed while I was homeschooling, my kids are all 10 years older now, two of them adults in college living out of the house. While they have all expressed interest in continuing to be a part of it, their involvement will be limited during the school year. 

However, along with their growth comes a sincere desire to help areas of their lives they see a need. I'm excited to work alongside them to do what we can in spaces that matter to them. Stay tuned for those activities, and in the meantime...


To kick things off, my three kids and I, armed with black garbage bags and handy dandy grabbers, headed to the beach in Milwaukee on June 30, my 49th birthday, to spend some time cleaning up the shoreline. 

We filled two garbage bags in about an hour with everything from bottle caps (so many bottle caps) to lone socks, balloons, plastic silverware, packages of edibles, remnants of fireworks, food packaging, personal hygiene items, and enough plastic straws to make a healthy bouquet. 

One man approached us on his way to a trashcan and asked "Are you guys picking up garage? Right on! Thanks!" He added his garbage to one of our bags and that's about the time my kids and I started to look around and noticed the lack of garbage cans near the beach. And so began the first of what I believe will be many discussions with my kids (two of them now voters) as a result of this little project of mine.

We contemplated how long it would take the beach to fill back up with garbage (not long was the consensus) and if it's worth doing things like this knowing it won't change the majority of people's practices (yes was the majority). And that led me to explain to the kids why I, someone who generally believes good deeds are best done in private, started this blog a decade ago. 

I have received a whole lot of messages from strangers over the past 10 years saying they happened upon my blog in a magazine or podcast and were looking for fun family activities as a way to give back, or were inspired by the simplicity of most of my ideas and were going to replicate them in their own community. 
'
Reminding my kids (and myself) of the ripple effects of Kindness Countdown, especially 5 years ago when it was features in People, Real Simple, Women's World, etc, encouraged me to keep going and see how far and wide I can project the idea that kindness is cool, areas of service are all around you, and you don't have to have a lot to make a big impact. 

Thanks for tuning in to this first week; I hope you follow along for the next 51! What a year this is gonna be!!




Monday, June 29, 2020

Week 45: Picnic Party with Pinwheels



Well, this is it, the last week of my little project. I truly can't believe it's over. What a wild ride this has been!

Never did I ever think I'd find myself shifting to performs acts of kindness related to a global pandemic. And I certainly couldn't have predicted being in Real Simple, People, local newspapers/radio and news stations, and a couple of other avenues still coming in July!

For my grand finale, I threw a picnic party at a park in my town and invited friends and family who have supported me over the past 45 weeks...actually more like 45 years.

It was so much fun! I didn't take any pictures with the exception of my adorable nephew when I was setting up and one shot of me after cleaning up.


I guess in this day and age, and for someone who spends a descent amount of time on social media, that's a sign of a great time. (Note to self: do more things that make me forget to check my phone.)

My family was there, my parents, brother, sister-in-law, and nephew. A friend from college stopped by, a family of friends from my daughters' Irish dancing days (they beat us at Kubb!)joined in the fun, the owner of my gym, some couple friends of ours (who were supposed to be in Europe, so that's one COVID silver lining), friends from years and years ago, neighbors, etc.

It was amazing to have people from so different many parts of my life overlapping throughout the afternoon!

I supplied everyone with alcoholic beverages (I offered soda, but this is Summer in Wisconsin so...) and had a snack table laid out. We played yard games, told stories, and caught up.

The only thing missing were birthday hugs.


To expand the celebration, I set up 45 pinwheels in the park which I then posted to our town's Facebook page.

It was fun watching kids running across the field during the party to snag a birthday pinwheel! And it was really special to have hundreds of people join in the celebration with "reactions" and comments, wishing me a happy birthday and sharing plans to celebrate their own future birthdays with giving instead of receiving.

It was a good day! And it's been a great 45 weeks!

But that's a wrap on the Kindness Countdown project for a bit.

Tomorrow I wake up 45 years old.


A new year ahead of me and a blank slate. I'm trying something new this year...my only plan is go where opportunities and experiences take me...to wake up each day and work to be my best self and live my best life.

If you want to follow along, check out my Instagram page, gilded.living, where I share daily stories and post on big and small happenings in my life, good books/food/drinks, travel destinations to check out, inspirational thoughts and experiences, snippets of my fitness journey (it sure is interesting at age 45), Wisconsin sports teams (Go Pack Go!), more kind acts (good habits die hard), and more!

If you want to stay inspired to do good, check out the Kindness Countdown Facebook page where I will continue to share good news I happen upon in hopes of helping people focus on the good around them and inspire others to brighten their own little corner of the world.

Until we meet again, be well. Lend a hand where you can. Take care of yourself and others.

I truly believe the world is a better place with you in it and that you were born in this time, with your unique set of talents, to do big and beautiful things.

So what are you waiting for? Now is the time! GO DO THEM!

xoxo,
Shannon

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Week 44: Small Town/Big Hearts


This Summer marks 13 years since my family and I moved to the small town of Cedarburg, Wisconsin.

Our city is a historic landmark, is often referred to as a "Norman Rockwell painting come to life," and is full of tourists soaking in the charm of the old buildings, gift shops, and delicious eateries every weekend of the year.

But it's during the week that Cedarburg shines for me. It's in the faces of my neighbors, the amazing care our mail carrier Darla takes when delivering our (too many) packages, and the endless smile our G-Man Michael (a real life guardian angel!) greets us with each week despite hauling away countless loads of trash compliments of the perpetual projects in our 1880s home. 

This week was all about showing some extra love to the hard working, big hearts that care for my family each day/week.


I put together some little care packages for them, including scotcheroo bars and smile cookies. 

Because I was fortunate to catch Michael during his early morning weekly round to our house, I also added in a hot cup of coffee and lots of words of appreciation. And because Darla is always speedy in her delivery and I don't always see her stop by, I left a note of gratitude to go with her sweets. 

To quote Sesame Street, "who are the people in your neighborhood" that take extra care and may be occasionally overlooked? Why not take a moment to offer them some much-deserved thanks...and maybe a cookie or lemonade on a hot day? 

PS - Can you guys believe I only have 1 week of this project left?! Time sure does fly when you're having fun!

Monday, June 15, 2020

Week 43: Pick a Pinwheel


Last week, during an interview with Woman's World magazine, I was asked what inspired me to start the Kindness Countdown in 2014 and why I coordinate this blog alongside the kind acts. I've been asked this question many times, and my answer always includes two pieces:
  1. I remember my parents turning 40 so I viewed my milestone birthday as an opportunity to impact my children while making some fun memories while helping others (the project), and
  2. Unfortunately, Milwaukee is one of the most racially segregated cities in the nation and we were in the middle of some particularly turbulent times, the local and national news seemed to focus on nothing but negativity so I wanted to do my part to give people some happy things to think about and maybe nudge them to do the same in their own community (the blog).
Point 2 obviously resonated with the interviewer last week. Race relations have continued to be the #1 topic in the nation since May 25, when George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis. People all over the world are listening, questioning the status quo, looking inside to challenge themselves to do better, and coming together. 

This week I wanted to celebrate that. 


Last week, over 30 local artists in Milwaukee were give the OK to turn a storage building on North and Holton into a memorial in the form of murals as a way to heal and inspire. I took my kids there this weekend (it was incredibly moving) and we tried out best to leave some joy behind, across the street. 

I took 50 of the 100 pinwheels my youngest and I had assembled for a project I have planned at the end of this month and commandeered them for this week instead. Then I created a yard sign with the following message:

PICK A PINWHEEL,

Take a deep breath, now exhale. In this moment,

watch the colors and light dance and shine.
Carry your pinwheel home and remember:

Life is precious!
Live it to the fullest!
Let your colors and light shine for the world to see!


My kids and I found a small grassy area across the street from the art memorial, we placed the sign in the middle and then filled the area with pinwheels for passers-by to help themselves to. 

We were there when the first pinwheel was picked. The woman smiled big as she selected her favorite color, read the sign, turned to me and said, "Who doesn't love a pinwheel? This is great!"

I know this isn't much. I know we have a long way to go.

I wish I could fix our city's/nation's problems right now, last month, 400 years ago.

I can't. 

But I can keep loving, listening, and looking for ways to help.

I can continue to ensure my children have diverse experiences to learn from so they keep on listening, loving, and looking for ways to help too. 

And I can pray for peace, love, understanding, and change. 

Those things I vow to do.

Will you please join me?


Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Week 42: Post-Quarantine Kindness


The world is opening back up, and I've been focusing my attention on helping those who were out of work or had to close or modify their businesses during the stay-at-home orders.

One way I've been trying to help is by giving big tips when I can. 

My son was the first in our family to get a post-quarantine haircut. (Lucky duck!)

Him and I, my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew, all have the same stylist: the friendly and uber-talented Leah! When I say we love her, I mean we LOVE her!

A visit to Leah at Special Effects in Mequon is guaranteed to brighten my day, even if I'm in a good mood when I arrive. I don't know that I've ever met a sweeter human. 

My brother, son, and my hair is thick and grows really fast, making the quality of our cuts important, making it REALLY important when we're going months in-between cuts (whether intentional or "unprecedented"). I can't tell you the number of times during quarantine my son and I talked about how we appreciated our hair growing out looking as good as it possibly could. 

That's just one of the reasons she got a 100% tip when she cut my son's hair.


Same thing with the local coffee shops in my town of Cedarburg who were hit hard during the stay-at-home orders...they've been receiving big tips in appreciation of their amazing products and service too!

Who in your life has been affected financially during the first half of 2020? How can you help?

Maybe take this big tip idea and run with it.

Perhaps you could make a social media post singing their praises to boost their business.

How about committing to gifting items produced or sold in local shops for birthdays and holidays this year?

Every gesture you make, small or large, is sure to encourage a smile and have a ripple effect in the lives of those in your community.

What could be better than that?