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