Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Week 15: Kindness Close to Home

Six days ago, my family and I were two hours from home celebrating Christmas with my husband's family when I became suddenly feverish and achy and developed a cough and headache.  I looked at my husband and said, "I'm not feeling well.  I'm sorry, but I think we need to go."

It was an endlessly long ride home.  The van heater was on full blast with all vents pointing to a frigid, teeth-chattering me while the rest of my family suffered in a mama-made sweat lodge.

Once home, I said hello to our dogs and goodbye to my husband and children...I retired to bed at 3:30 in the afternoon.  Later that evening, I awoke to our youngest child crying because she couldn't kiss and hug me goodnight.  I snuck to her door and told her I loved her...and did my best to explain to my sweet six year old why not giving love was an act of love in this case.

For the next three days I ventured out of bed the least I could.  I fetched my own water, Advil, blankets and occasional snack.  I did everything I could to cocoon myself in the flu in hopes of protecting my family.

Sadly, despite my best efforts, I awoke on day four to the sound of my daughters both coughing.  A cough I recognized.  I bounded out of bed with strength I didn't know remained, and told my husband to stay downstairs.  I went upstairs and saw my children's faces for the first time in days...but their eyes were glossed over and their cheeks were red.  I kissed each of their foreheads, both for comfort and to confirm their fevers, and told them to get back into their pajamas and bed.

It is now day three of their flu-journey (that sounds so much more adventurous than this is) and there is still one to shield from this nightmare, my husband.  And so I am now multitasking the flu: resting, making trips upstairs to bring them juice, Popsicles, pretzels, tomato some more, bring up some snuggles (the best part of having fellow flu-suffers in the house), water, an apple or pear...and then rest some more.

The Kindness Countdown is at home this week...I'm trying to nurse my children (and myself) back to health.  Nothing glamorous.  Nothing mothers and fathers haven't been doing since the beginning of time.  But hopefully my kids will remember the little games I've invented this week to lift their spirits and give them positive things to think about in their dark moments as I do some of the things my mom and dad (and my grandma and grandpa, when my parents were working) did for me when I was sick.

I'm doing my best to line the flu in silver.

"Love begins by taking care of the closest ones - the ones at home." -Mother Teresa

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Week 14: Won't You Be My Neighbor?

We moved into our home six years ago after months of stress...a home sale that fell through and our family being split up for weeks across the country as we awaited the move-in date of our new house.

The first day together in our new home was a special one as we shared stories from our adventures apart, walked each room carefully, opening all of the cabinets to get a feel for our new dwellings, and enjoyed greetings from neighbors who stopped by to make us feel welcome.

One of the most special visitors was our next door neighbor who brought us a homemade pineapple upside-down cake and has spent the last six years as a steady presence in our lives.  She comes outside to chat when she sees the kids playing outside and has smiled as each of them learned to ride their bicycles.  Because she is elderly, she doesn't hand out trick-or-treat candy, but each year she stops over to bring the kids special treats purchased just for them.  And when she sees me outside raking, shoveling or pulling weeds, she always says, "Don't work too hard.  If there's anything I know it's that the work will always be there."

Obviously, we are very fond of Florence. 

For this week's Kindness Countdown activity the kids and I decorated a gingerbread house for her to enjoy...and nibble on, if the she wants.  She was thrilled when we brought is over and said she's going to use it for her table centerpiece for Christmas Eve's dinner when her family gathers together.

Wishing you all peace and love during this special time of year! 

"The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." - Mark 12:31

Monday, December 22, 2014

Week 13: Free Candy Canes!

I took a trip to Phoenix, Arizona years ago to visit my cousin, Dana, just before Christmas.  We had a lovely time shopping and laughing and catching up, but one of the most memorable things we did was hand out candy canes to strangers.  Everywhere we went. 

We stopped at the gas station to fill up her car on our way home from the airport when I was introduced to her tradition.  She got out of the car with her Longaberber basket full of candy canes and proceeded to walk around the pumps, handing out goodies to everyone buying gas.  I watched each person light up at her small gesture and thought, "Oh, now this is FUN!" 

My children and I filled up our own Longaberger basket this year and have been handing out candy canes for the past few of weeks: in the post office, parking lots, gas stations, and to little kids holiday shopping with their parents.  ("Thank you, they were just saying they were hungry and I have two more store yet to go," one mom told me.)  I've even hung a few on door handles as treats for drivers when they return to their cars.

For each candy cane I've given out I've received a smile, thank you and "Merry Christmas!"  What a lovely way to spend the hectic weeks leading up to Christmas!

Next year will mark my cousin's 27th consecutive year of handing out candy canes...and my 2nd.  This tradition will most definitely continue!

"I wish we could put up some of the Christmas spirit in jars and open a jar of it every month." - Harlan Miller

Friday, December 12, 2014

Week 12: Worse than Cancer

Do you know what is worse than cancer?  Pediatric cancer. 

Fighting for your life is tragic.  Having a child fight for their life is unbearable.  Yet children and their parents are bearing it every day...and helping others during the battle.  Example:  Emma Rose.

I heard Emma's story for the first time this week and decided then and there it would be this week's Kindness Countdown activity.  Read her story and you'll know why:

"Hi! My name is Emma Rose. I am an 18 year old Leukemia (ALL) patient. I was diagnosed with cancer in January, 2012. It was a tough first year, but I am finally feeling better. I recently finished my treatment. Now I am at school studying to be a pediatric oncology nurse. When I was diagnosed, so many people helped my family and me in many ways. Now, I want to do something to give back. I want to help other kids with cancer who are also being treated at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin.  

I collect soft comfort items and things kids can use during their stay. Right now we are especially in need of gift cards. Our newest Wishlists are on Amazon. If interested in donating gifts to help the Kids at Children's WI, please go to Amazon, click on Wish Lists and then search for Emma Rose. You do not have to order through Amazon! You can send any donations you would like to my PO Box. One of our major donation drives was called "Movie Night". Thanks to the generosity of our followers and WE Energies' donation of 100 copies of Honor Flight- The Movie, we were able to put together 100 movie tubs for the kids. Each tub contained several movies, popcorn, candy and other items for the children and their families. The tubs were given to the children on the HOT Unit, in MACC Clinic, in the BMT Clinic and at Ronald McDonald House. Since the children cannot go to the movie theater, I wanted to bring the movie theater experience to them. Thank you so much!"

Because most of the gifts that are donated to Children's Hospital of Wisconsin are for little kids, Emma's current project is collecting gift cards to Target, Amazon, iTunes, Panera Bread, etc. to give to teens with cancer for Christmas.  My children picked out two and we sent them on their way yesterday. 

Please consider helping Emma reach her goal of 100 gift cards.  Any dollar amount is fine.  Donations can be sent to Emma Rose, P.O. Box 485, Theinsville, WI 53092.

"Some days I had to tell myself, 'Get through the next 5 minutes.  You can make it through 5 minutes.' And I did.  I made it through months of my daughter's cancer treatment, 5 minutes at a time." - Mom of a cancer patient

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Week 11: It's on Me

I woke up this morning and was thinking about the Kindness Countdown activity I have planned for tomorrow and realized that in the hustle and bustle of homeschooling, work and holiday preparations I never posted a writeup on the activity I did last week.  Oops!  I hope you don't mind two back-to-back posts.  (:

2014 has not been the kindest year to many of my friends and family.  People I care about have logged too many hours in hospitals across the country worrying about children, spouses, parents and grandparents.  And while I've spent a lot of time this year praying often and fervently, cooking meals and writing words of compassion, encouragement and sympathy, I have also found myself wishing I could be there more for them.  Wishing I could, just for a minute, make them happy.

In memory of those feelings, I took bags of quarters to a nearby hospital and, with a note attached, taped them to vending machines.

I know that when I've had emotional visits at hospitals in the past it's helped to take occasional breaks to recharge.  Most times that has included a walk in the halls to grab a snack or soda.

My hope is that if someone is in such need, having their goodie unexpectedly paid for by a stranger will lighten their load, if even just for a moment.  Or if a worker is having a difficult day, I hope they too will find some relief in an unexpected random act of kindness. 

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” - Ian Maclaren

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Week 10: Socks for Christmas

Earlier this week my husband and I took our kids to a homeless shelter in Milwaukee we donate to regularly to give them bags of new socks, underwear and gloves.  These gifts will be wrapped and given to the homeless guests at a party in a couple of weeks. 

"We always joke about getting socks as gifts, but these people really will be happy to unwrap them," my daughter said when we got in the car. 

It truly is something to setting aside 24 hours to be thankful in our fortunate country is apparently too much to ask for.  Instead, Thanksgiving is now spent perusing ads, discussing a list of "needs" to fight the crowds for, and then, long before the sunlight fades, clearing the table and packing into the malls. 

And all the while there are people around us who would be thrilled to receive socks.

"'Socks are Dobby's favorite, favorite clothes, sir!'  he said, ripping off his odd ones and pulling on Uncle Vernon's.  'I has seven now, sir.  But sir ...' he said, his eyes widening, having pulled both socks up to their highest extent, so that they reached to the bottom of his shorts, 'they has made a mistake in the shop, Harry Potter, they is giving you two the same!'" - J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Friday, November 21, 2014

Week 9: Operation Christmas Child

Operation Christmas Child is the world’s largest project of its kind.  They ship gift-filled shoeboxes to needy children around the world to share God’s love in a tangible way during the Christmas season.  I said the world's largest and I meant it!  They have collected and delivered more than 113 MILLION gift-filled shoeboxes to children in over 150 countries!

There are over 500,000 volunteers working on this gift-giving project each year and shoeboxes are collected all over the world:  United States, Australia, Austria, Canada, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.  This year three of them came from our home. 

The first step in the process*, is to decide whether your gift will be for a boy or a girl, and then to select an age category (2-4, 5-9, or 10-14) of the boy or girl.  Our family quickly decided to pack boxes for children similar to my son and daughters.

Next, we started making a list of the items we wanted to include in our boxes.  We read through the suggested items to include and my kids marveled at the hygiene products listed, taking a moment to appreciate the fact that soap and a toothbrush are not gifts they need to be excited to receive...but perhaps they should be a bit more grateful for them.

When all was said and done, we had three strategically packed boxes filled to the rim with goodies! 

My son's box included a hairbrush, wooden football peg game, a bar of soap, four toothbrushes, a paper airplane kit, super hero stickers, markers, deodorant and a puzzle of Chicago.

My daughters' boxes contained markers, notepads, flower and dolphin stickers, a magnetic drawing board, hairbrushes and hair clips, Hello Kitty toothbrushes, stuffed animals (a dog and a cow, one of my daughter's favorite animal), a jewelry-making kit and a foam sticker art kit.

With each box you are also asked to donate $7 to pay for the shipping.  You can either include your payment in a provided envelope or pay online.  Operation Christmas Child has added a new feature this year; if you register your boxes online, you will receive and email confirmation letting you know which country your box was delivered in.  We're very excited to receive that email next month!  And we're already looking forward to packing our boxes next year! 

"The things you take for granted someone else is praying for." - Unknown

* - If you would like to pack up a box to donate this weekend, you can find all you need to know (suggested items to donate, shoebox size, drop off locations, FAQs, etc.) on their website:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Week 8: Pay It Backward

We live close to Milwaukee and while the city has a lot to offer, it obviously pales in comparison to Chicago, which is only 100 miles south.  My husband and I make it a priority to visit Chicago with the kids every other month or so.  There is so much there to enjoy: amazing shopping for antiques and home restoration, the Art Institute of Chicago has (deservedly) been named the best art museum in the world, there are many fun festivals throughout the summers, you can watch movies and television shows being filmed, and a perfect Chicago day isn't complete without a yeasty breakfast from The Doughnut Vault, hot chocolate from XOCO, and fresh-made pasta from Eataly!

But getting there?  That's the less-than-fun part. And so this weekend I thought we'd make it a bit more enjoyable for a few drivers. 

The first random act of kindness I recall doing as an adult was paying tolls for people behind me in line on my first solo trip from Milwaukee to Chicago at the age of 18.  This was in the days before the I-Pass, or as my kids like to call it, the "olden days"...when everyone had to inconveniently stop and dig out the appropriate change. (Fortunately for the college student I was back then, tolls were only 50 cents, not $2.80 as they are now.)

I remember looking in my rear-view mirror hoping to catch a glimpse of the expressions of those in line behind me.  Once or twice drivers pulled up alongside me to wave or give a smile or thumbs up.  What a fun feeling it was to know that I put those smiles on their faces.

Not as many drivers use the cash tollbooth these days with the availability of the automatic I-Pass and the ability to drive through without slowing down it offers. My own kids questioned why I was slowing down as we approached the first toll and even the tollbooth operator said, "You already paid for your toll with that," as he pointed to our handy dandy gadget.  I explained to him (and my kids) that we wanted to pay for the car behind us.  He smiled and handed me my change adding, "I'm sure they're appreciate that."

Unfortunately, I don't have any fun stories to share of interacting with drivers after that, but we had some discussion in the car about how nice it would be to be fully intent on purchasing something only to have it already paid for, no matter how small the item was.  We also all agreed that we enjoyed giving that feeling to others.  We're definitely planning on doing another "pay it backward" act of kindness in the next 32 weeks.  Stay tuned...

"I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same."  - Rachel Scott

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Week 7: Crafting Kindness

I was fortunate to grow up near my immediate family.  Both sets of grandparents were a short bike ride away, and their homes were always full of special treats, fun activities, and loving memories just waiting to be made.

Unfortunately, not all families can live in such close proximity to one another and celebrate holidays together.  I often think of the elderly who reside in assisted living facilities without family nearby this time of year.  And so we decided to do something to brighten their Thanksgiving for this week's Kindness Countdown activity.

My children and I went to my parent's house and assembled 20 of these little tom turkeys, filling each with miniature chocolate bars, to take to the assisted living facility in their town. My parents have always been wonderful about spreading cheer there (and countless other places), and each time they deliver goodies, the director tells them how much these little creations mean to the residents...especially during the holidays.

Oriental Trading is my family's go-to place to order holiday craft kits for this purpose.  The items are fun and easy to create and they're colorful and attractive when they're complete.  And with prices per piece being under a dollar 99.9% of the time, you don't have to break the bank to spread kindness! 

"A population that does not take care of the elderly and of the young has no future, because it abuses both its memory and its promise." - Pope Francis

Friday, October 31, 2014

Week 6: Give and Take

What kind of day are you having?  Are you motivated and full of life with extra patience to spare?  Or are you running on fumes and in need of some strength?  

Me?  I'm in the latter category today...I woke up to freezing temperatures in a messy house with bickering children and an impossible to-do list.  Sadly, "woe is me" was my first thought as my feet hit the floor.

After a stressful morning, I called an early afternoon meeting and told my kids we were going to use a do-over.  Do-overs are fantastic!, at any moment you can begin again.  If you snap at someone or overreact inappropriately, you simply need to proclaim "DO-OVER!" and go back to the moment you derailed.  The humor helps to diffuse the situation and everyone appreciates being forgiven...and having the opportunity to give forgiveness.  It's a win-win! 

And so, we all said good morning once again, pretending we just woke up.  And that's when I told my kids this week's Kindness Countdown activity:  Peppering our community with give and take flyers!

I came across this Take What You Need photo on Pinterest and thought it was spectacular!  I imagine I would have felt my load lighten if I had come across the flyer when feeling down and out and blue.

And then I thought about how nice it would be to have a similar What Will You Share? flyer hung next to it prompting people to share those gifts with others.  And so I created the flyers and we posted them around town.
The first place we went into had a sign posted next to the community board requesting individuals seek approval from the customer service counter prior to hanging up their notice.  We went to the desk as a formality (I couldn't imagine they'd say no to love, hope, understanding, faith, patience, courage, peace, freedom, passion, healing, strength and beauty) and I asked the girl if I could hang up the flyers.  She looked at them and said, "I don't really think so.  We only post flyers for upcoming events."  She then added, "Well, I suppose you could leave them for the manager to take a look at if you want."  I'm anxious to see if they end up getting posted...

I'm happy to report we received nothing but positive responses from the other locations we visited.  Some store owners even insisted we hang our signs in prime, visible locations.

I hope people will notice the flyers and smile, or if they desire, tear the gift they need most in that moment (or the compassion they wish to share with the world) and use it as a bookmark, tuck it in their wallet, or stick it on their computer screen as a reminder that someone somewhere care.

And I hope the give and take turns their day around...I know it did mine! 

"The more we give away, the more is given to us." - Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

Share the and print your own Take What You Need and What Will You Share? Kindness Countdown flyers to post in your community: 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Week 5: Layaway No More

Months ago I sat down with a cup of coffee, a blank notebook, and an idea of what the Kindness Countdown could be.  As I started making a list of random acts of kindness I'd like to spread I thought about sharing the adventure with others.  It was a difficult decision, however, because I didn't want people to read about the experiences and think more of me...I wanted them to read about the experiences and think more about the good they could spread in their life, where they are.  Please keep that in mind as you read about this week's random act of kindness...

"Be a layaway angel" was near the top of my list back on that sunny June day.  I expected it to be my most valuable activity, both in price and in experience.  However, I failed to expect the degree in which it would affect me...and others in the vicinity as it all went down. 

The weather has changed a lot here in Wisconsin the past few weeks.  Even the Canadian geese are flying south.  It's time to dig out the winter coats, hats, gloves and boots...and buy replacements for items outgrown by my children over the summer months.  And while I'm in the position of needing to purchase items on sale, or with a powerful coupon code, I know there are people who find this time of year extremely difficult.  They've just gathered up the funds to purchase school supplies and now they are required to purchase these additional necessities....and all as the holidays approach.  And so I thought this would be a good time to lend a hand.

The kids and I headed to K-Mart this week where we waited in a very long line with a woman my age shopping with her mother.  I noticed the mother looked at little girl's boots, asking her daughter if one pair would be good for her granddaughter.  "They're cute," she replied, "but how much are they?"  Her mother brought them over and they talked about how she needed to have winter boots soon with frost showing up each morning this week.  And so they added them to their pile.  That's when I noticed the other items in their cart...primarily clothing for their precious daughter/granddaughter.

I stood there and thought "I came here to pay off a stranger's layaway account, but here is someone who needs my help now."  I approached the woman and timidly explained that I had come to the store that day with the intention of paying off someone's layaway account with children's items on it, and that if it was OK with her, I'd like to change the plan and buy the items in her cart.  She looked at meand said, "I appreciate it, but no thank you."  And then after a long pause she added, "Wait, can you say that again, I think I'm in shock."  And so I explained it to her again.  And then her mother hugged me.  And then she hugged me.  And then the older woman in line behind them hugged me. 

The woman behind the counter just stared at us as we moved the cart out of the que and let the woman behind her move forward.  As she pushed her cart ahead she said, "I'm just so happy to be a witness.  You always hear about bad things and here is a great one.  I have exercise class tomorrow morning and we always begin each class sharing positive things we've seen or heard.  You are going to be my story tomorrow morning.  I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!"

As we walked towards the registers, we could hear people wishing each other a "Happy Thanksgiving" and "Merry Early Christmas."  It was impossible not to smile. 

We walked up to the register and together placed the children's boots, sweatshirts and jeans on the counter.  I then added the Frozen dining set in the cart and a pair of women's shoes, the only item she had picked out for herself.  She quickly said, "You don't have to do that."  I smiled and said, "Mothers deserve special things too."  And then we hugged again. And she promised she would pay it forward. 

What a blessing this experience was to my children and me...a reminder of how fortunate we are to "have enough and then just a little extra," as my son said when we got into the car.  And I felt honored to be able to lighten the load of that mother even if it was just for a moment.  It takes a village and I was pleased to be a part of hers today.

If you'd like to participate in a Layaway Angel program, please visit your local K-Mart or Walmart to help out struggling parents and those who need a bit of help making ends meet.  I've been told that  K-Mart employees are able to look up account specifics if you'd like to assist with children's clothes, food, school supplies, toys, etc., but that at Walmart, you simply specify a dollar amount and they will locate an account for you.  What a thrill it must be for the recipient to receive a telephone call explaining their balance has been paid in full!

Another option to keep in mind as Christmas and Hanukkah approaches is to visit Toys "R" Us which sets up a similar program for toy purchases.  What a gift it would be to bring smiles to the faces of parents trying to bring smiles to the faces of their children.  

"The best feeling you can ever have is to give to others." - Oprah

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Week 4: Furry Friends

I was born into a family with a dog, a white miniature poodle named Carmel.  She was my first friend and I was devastated when she parents say I would go outside and throw treats into the air, hoping to send them to her in Heaven. 

Soon after her passing my parents, brother and I got a black miniature poodle we named Kid.  She was my faithful companion through all adolescent joys and drama...sports teams made, my first boyfriend, my first broken heart, the passing of my grandparents, holidays and illnesses.  She was there for it all.  I missed a college final exam to go home to say goodbye to her (I had a compassionate professor who not only understood, but urged me to schedule test-taking time in his office later in the week).

The house seemed so empty when I came home from college that summer.  I called a family meeting and urged my parents to add another dog to our family.  My mom opened the paper and there we found an ad placed by a family that lived near my college town who had a little red poodle that needed a home.  Later that week I was in their kitchen meeting my new sister, Lacey...and the people who would become life-long friends...the kind that are more like family (xoxo, Cathy and Co!).

When searching for my first post-college apartment, I was sure to find one that allowed dogs.  Shortly after my now-husband, Aaron, and I talked about marriage, I had him go with me to pick out a wire fox terrier puppy we named Skone.  Skone was at our wedding and as our family grew, he happily greeted each of our children when they were brought home from the hospital...and could be found outside of their door during our naps.  He was such a good boy...and his passing was extra painful because it was the first time our children lost a loved one. 

A couple of months later we found ourselves parents to two puppies, Maude (a gray Schnauzer/Poodle mix a neighbor was selling when their dog had unplanned puppies) and George (a ginger Wire Fox Terrier rescued from southern Illinois).  For the record, I do not recommend adding two puppies to your family at once; good grief that was a difficult time.   I'm happy to report they are both about to turn 3 and are calming down...a little bit. 

Our pups have given our children an opportunity to practice responsibility and compassion, and have given the unconditional love only God and doG are capable of.  They give kisses to calm tantrums and keep secrets whispered in their furry ears.  They bound at the door when we come home and snuggle up at night.  And so, this week's Kindness Countdown activity is dedicated to dogs...both those we have loved and lost and those new to our hearts. (Please join me in welcoming my new sister, Molly, whom my parents adopted two weeks ago!) 

This week we had a family outing to purchase 44 pounds of dog food and six dog toys followed by a trip to our local Humane Society to donate them.  And of course we stayed for quite some time to love on the dogs, cats and other small animals up for adoption. 

If you're looking to add a pet to your family, I highly recommend visiting your local shelter or Humane Society or searching online to find a rescue animal that suits your family's needs (non-shedding, appropriate size, etc.).  If you're willing and able, there are also independent rescues around the country in need of foster parents for dogs and cats while forever homes are located.

I'd love to write more, but all of this talk about dogs has me in the mood for a pick up game of fetch.  Until next week...

"The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog. A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer; he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wing and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens." - Senator George Vest, 1870

Friday, October 10, 2014

Week 3: Kindness is Free


We lost a very important member of our family this week and have been living a gypsy-esque life on the road.  Fortunately, the possibility for random acts of kindness are always at hand, and so I present to you, Week 3...the time we handed out handmade bracelets and pictures to residents at an assisted living facility.

Our family woke up early in a tiny motel room Wednesday morning with some free time for the kids and me as my husband went to meet with family at church.  The kids and I got in the car and drove to the office supply store (thank you Google Maps) for paper, markers, crayons and tape.  We spent a couple of hours preparing homemade goodies to take to the assisted living facility on our visit with my husband's grandmother, their Great (with a capital G) Grandma, later in  the day.  When all was said and done, we had a pile of pictures drawn (don't you just love the underground bugs drawing?!) and a healthy pile of rubber-band bracelets thanks to the trusty and toteable Rainbow Loom

Later in the day, we found our feisty 96 year old Grandma in the dining hall playing Sheepshead with a gorgeous group of ladies.  After we said our hellos, we asked Grandma's friends if they'd like a bracelet or picture.  "How much are they?" they asked in unison.  "They're free! We made them to give to you," we replied.

A bracelet was offered to everyone we passed on our way to Grandma's apartment and each and every person inquired about the price.  I'd like to know (but really, I hope I don't know anyone) who is going to assisted living facilities and selling things to people living on a fixed income...

Grandma's friends were so very happy to receive these gifts (women love accessories, no matter the age) and the kids and I couldn't have been more pleased to be a part of bringing the beautiful smiles to their faces!  And Grandma is thrilled to have a few extra bracelets and pictures to give away to some of her special friends we were unable to meet that day. 

This may not have been the random act of kindness we had planned for the week, but it was a great reminder that kindness can be found any where and at any time.  And that it should always be given away for FREE!

"At the right time, a kind word from a stranger or encouragement from a friend, can make all the difference in the world.  Kindness is free, but it's priceless." - Doe Zantamata

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Week 2: Cleaning Up Our Park

Just look at that park!  Such beauty and grace! Who would possibly want to litter in such a gorgeous setting?  A lot of people, apparently.  Which is why my children and I headed there for this week's Kindness Countdown activity.

In preparation for the 40 random acts of kindness I'll be completing over the coming weeks, I've been keeping a list of good deeds I'd like to complete.  My children asked to have "pick up litter" added to the list, so when I told them it was the activity for the week, they were thrilled.  When I told them it was happening today, they couldn't have been more excited..."Are we going to go pick up trash yet?" they asked every 15 minutes.  Seriously, you would have thought they were speaking in code and "pick up trash" translated to LEGOLAND.

We visit the park pictured here often, and have picked up the large pieces of litter we've spotted over the years, but today we equipped ourselves with plastic gloves, 13-gallon garbage bags and eagle eyes. 

My youngest and I worked together while my older two children teamed up as the litter-picking dynamic duo. Everything in our family is a competition and I learned today that picking up trash is not an exception.  I'm happy to report that it ended in a tie...but sad to report there was enough trash for both teams to fill their large garbage bag.

A highlight of this random act of kindness occurred while we were picking up a particularly dirty section of the park that housed a mound of cigarette butts (Sidenote: I called our Parks Department when we got home to request a garbage can be placed in the area...I was assured it would be there by the end of the week).  A man approached and said, "I hope you don't mind me saying, but I think it's really nice you and your kids are here doing this.  Thank you."  But wait, that wasn't the highlight...

After he passed, my almost 6 year old happily and nonchalantly stated, "Well, if we don't do it, who will?"  I couldn't have been prouder of her cheerful attitude and willingness to positively impact her community.  This week's kindness experience is a true trash to treasure tale! 

"Unless we are willing to encourage our children to reconnect with and appreciate the natural world, we can't expect them to help protect and care for it." - David Suzuki

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Week 1: Food Pantry Donation

The Kindness Countdown is underway! 

For this first random act of kindness, my husband, our children and I had the idea to go to the grocery store to purchase $40 worth of food to donate to a local food pantry. 
On our way to the store, our muffler started making a very. loud. noise.  It has been a titch louder than normal and on our radar this past week; my husband and I have had discussions about looking under the van soon and the possibility of needing to take it in.  But suddenly, as I turned the key to start the van for the first Kindness Countdown adventure, we instantly knew that taking it in was now a necessity...a fact confirmed by each pedestrian who stared as we passed.

This loud noise and the (stressful) talk of needing to pay for a visit to a car repair shop provided the perfect opportunity to once again discuss the mission of the Kindness Countdown with our three children.  It went a little something like this:
We are not a family of great means...but we have more than many.  We work hard for every dollar we make and spend it wisely...and we will be responsible with the money we spend over the next 40 weeks to ensure we spread the kindness wide and reach as many people as we can.  Kindness certainly doesn't have to cost a cent, but we are blessed and want to give to others where we are able.

As we walked the aisles of the grocery store, we compared prices, read ingredients and selected items we thought would be healthy, tasty and satisfying.  When all was said and done we had spent $40.75 (we saved $23.83 thanks to in-store sales) and had purchased the following:
  • 3 containers of natural peanut butter
  • 4 jars of marinara sauce
  • 9 pounds of pasta
  • 7 boxes of macaroni and cheese
  • 5 pounds of rice
  • 5 cans of crushed tomatoes
  • 6 cans of vegetables

I smiled as my children happily picked out their favorite vegetables and shapes of pasta to donate.  I cheerfully began fielded excited questions (the moment the grocery bags were placed in the donation cart) on when/what the next act of kindness would be. And hearing my children say they are grateful for the fresh fruits and vegetables they're able to eat each day confirmed to me that while I started the Kindness Countdown to spread smiles, our family is also being blessed by giving.

We may have only just begun, but already I know this is going to be oh so much fun!

"We rise by lifting others."  - Robert Ingersoll

Monday, September 1, 2014


Hello!  My name is Shannon and I'm a 44 year old real estate agent and homeschooling mom of three children (August, Martha and Hazel), two dogs (Maude and George), and a small flock of chickens.

I had mixed feelings, 5 years ago, about turning 40. I wouldn't say I was feeling old (5 years later, I still don't), and I certainly wasn't dreading turning 40, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel different as that milestone approached. I think it was because I could clearly remember when my parents turned 40 (I won't lie, back then, 16 year old me thought it was a pretty huge number)...and I realized my own children were probably paying attention to everything I was doing at this "old" age as well.

As a result, I reflected upon the many trials and countless blessings of my 39 years, and decided to do something big as I approach turning 40 (on June 30, 2015)...something that I hoped would make many people smile.  And that something was the Kindness Countdown.

And so, I completed 40 random acts of kindness over the 40 weeks leading up to my birthday...for complete strangers (and a few people I knew) and documented them here to entertain and hopefully inspire others to spread kindness in their lives.

It was a lot of fun, and a pretty big success! The Kindness Countdown Facebook group has grown to over 750 people, all following along for the positive news articles I've continued to share there. It inspired my family and I to always keep an eye open for someone needing a helping hand, and a lot of the kind things we did over those 40 weeks have become family traditions and healthy habits.

And sooooooo....I'm doing it again!

Over the next 45 weeks, my family and I will once again be completing acts of kindness to countdown to my 45th birthday (June 30, 2020)! But this time it will be bigger and better...45 kind acts we can't wait to share!

I hope you'll follow along!

Like the Facebook page, and follow the Gilded.Living Instagram account to stay up-to-date via your feeds!

(And if you know of anyone looking to buy or sell a home in Wisconsin, give me a call (414.698.1747) or shoot me an email (!)