Monday, October 14, 2019

Week 8: Merch Table With a Mission

My family and I attended a spoken word performance by Tanner Olson, AKA Written to Speak, on Friday night, where my son and I volunteered. 

I've been following the Written to Speak Facebook page for a couple of years now, finding Tanner's words inspiring, and often, just what I need to read or hear at the time. (Funny how that always seems to happen!)

I was quick to lend my family's services when I learned he was coming to town to perform his poems, tell a few stories, and join in some fellowship, I knew it would be an inspiring night, and I was right!

My son worked the PowerPoint slides for the two performances and I sold Tanner's merchandise before and after the show to the attendees (and my own family - my daughters LOVED the show and were so excited to get autographed poetry books and a t-shirt). 

Volunteering at the event was loads of fun as most of the people there had been, like me, following Tanner's journey to a full-time poet/performer for a handful of years, and were excited to see him live!

He has a great ability to balance humor and thoughtfulness pretty perfectly; one moment you're laughing out loud and the next you find yourself thinking "Huh, I never thought about it like that before."

His poetry inspires the reader/listener to recall childhood moments, reminds them to set new goals, of God's love, of hope and kindness. 

I can confidently say everyone left the event smiling and feeling lighter than they did walking in on the first freezing night of the season. And Tanner's bags of merch were a little lighter as well!

Here's a snippet of one of the poems you'll find if you check out the Written to Speak Facebook or Instagram pages or purchase his book (it's like I'm still working his table... ;) 

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Week 7: Putting the FUN in Fundraising

The Saukville Community Food Pantry is an organization that services all of Ozaukee County, providing community meals, free food in a market atmosphere, school supplies, shoes, and more to those who need it. 

I joined the Board of Directors in the first quarter of this year and have greatly enjoyed lending my ideas, marketing skills, contacts, and time as well as working alongside the other members for such a great cause! Plus we have I did this week!

I attended a Chamber of Commerce meeting on behalf of the Pantry Thursday night at a local brewery, Rebellion (hence the flags), and talked with the packed house of people from my community for a couple of hours. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it!

I talked with a graphic designer about helping us with some merchandise, discussed the possibility of a couple of companies holding food drives in their offices, and walked away from the brewery with a guarantee they'd donate a package to an upcoming raffle event we're having!

The event definitely put the FUN in fundraising and helped to make the night successful for the Saukville Community Food Pantry! Thanks, everyone!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Week 6: A Little Give and Take

Some days we need a little help: a kind word from a stranger or hug from a loved one. Other days we've got hope and compassion in spades and can't wait to give it away.

What kind of day are you having today?

Like most people, I've found myself on both ends of the spectrum this week...and just about everywhere in between.

I was grateful when a dear friend picked up the phone when I called late this week; she listened, shared words of wisdom, and made me laugh during our hour-long conversation. Her love, compassion, and understanding really turned my mindset around.

Earlier in the week, a close friend of mine was in need of some hope, peace, and courage of her own. It was an honor to be able to listen, help carry her burden, and provide a glimpse of a view with a little more light.

Life is one big give and take with those we spend our days with, both people we know and strangers we encounter.

And so this week, I performed a re-do of one of my favorite Kindness Countdowns activities from 5 years ago: creating and hanging up Give and Take flyers.

I posted some up at a bustling local cafe, in the grocery store (life is busy, people running errands can always use something to smile at), inside a laundry mat (I used to contemplate life pretty hard while waiting for my laundry back in the day), and in my office (while high-stress moments have been known to happen there - it's a real estate office, it goes with the territory - it's also full of some of the most motivated and kind people I've met).

Yesterday, while spending the day with my son, I revisited most of the flyers. And do you know what I noticed? More items to share were removed than those in need.

That doesn't mean people aren't yearning for compassion, freedom, and patience. It just means they're still willing to share the strength they have with others.

Isn't that cool?

If you'd like to perform this act of hope and kindness in your community, feel free to download the flyers below. You never know whose day you'll turn around!

Except your own, that is a guarantee.

If there's one thing I know for sure, it's that doing something nice for someone else is the quickest ways to brighten your own day.

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." (

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" on Instagram!

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