Thursday, February 19, 2015

Turning 40 with Fun, Fudge and my Favorite People

I've received a handful of emails and Facebook messages from Kindness Countdown followers asking how I'm planning on celebrating my 40th birthday when it 18 weeks...not that I'm keeping track or anything.  ;) 

Today's high temperature is 1 degree.  A whole whopping 1.  And so I thought I would take a quick mental vacation and paint a picture of summer and sunshine and sandals.

To answer everyone's question, I will be spending my birthday on Mackinac Island, one of my favorite places on the planet.

My family took trips to Mackinac when I was a little girl, driving up 360 miles, staying off-island the first night and then waking to take an early morning ferry over to spend two or three days hiking, eating fudge, biking the 8.4 mile island perimeter trail, and taking in the history and sound of horse hooves (all motorized vehicles were banned from the island in 1898).

When on Mackinac, you can't help but gaze at Grand Hotel, a historic resort whose white columns, geranium-lined porch (which measures 660 feet and holds the title as the world's largest) and manicured lawns and gardens transport you to a magical place (the movie Somewhere in Time was filmed on the island, with most scenes taking place in the hotel). 

I remember a particular ferry ride off of the island when I was about 10 in which I announced to my parents and brother, "When I'm grown and have a family of my own, we're going to stay there," I said as I pointed to the magnificent white hotel that boldly stood out from it's lush green surroundings.

I'm beyond excited to say that my bold proclamation will be coming true!  Our family of five will be staying at Grand Hotel for a couple of nights, relaxing, swimming, playing lawn games and duck-pin bowling, renting bikes and perhaps a horse and carriage (something I've always wanted to do), and eating delicious five-course meals.  We'll also be sure to hike to Arch Rock, Scull Cave, and tour Fort Mackinac, which we've covered during this year's Revolutionary War homeschool studies.

You could say I'm just a little bit excited.  Especially today, when it's so cold (-30 degree wind chills) that even the car radio refuses to work until the car has a chance to warm up.

At least I have 18 more weeks of kindness to look forward to in the meantime! 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Week 22: You're Somebody's Type

Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs a transfusion of blood.  A few of those times, it's been someone I care about whose life has been saved by a donor.  This week, I vowed to become one of the regulars. 

I've donated blood in the past but got out of practice after a minor heart surgery and multiple pregnancies.  It felt rewarding to be back in the seat last night, chatting with strangers and making new friends. 

One man I met donates every eight weeks in memory of his son who passed away at the age of 16 after three brain surgeries (and many transfusions of blood).  A woman I talked with said she hardly remembers a time she hasn't donated, starting long ago during a blood drive in college and continuing since then.  The only other young-ish person I saw there said it was his first time donating; his mother was just diagnosed with cancer.

For those of you who have never donated, the entire process takes less than 20 minutes and is pretty painless.  You fill out a quick questionnaire and they test your iron level with a quick finger prick.  Once you have the OK, they set you up in a "bed" and start the transfusion.  For those of you who are easily queasy, there is no need to ever see blood. 

Donating blood is a simple and quick process that can be done on your way home from work or is some child-free time if you're a stay-at-home, homeschooling mama like myself.  And on your way out, don't forget to sign up for the next drive, eight weeks+ later, in your neighborhood.

It was obvious to me last night that we need more donors from the Gen X crew on down to start donating...and "especially type O," a Blood Center of Wisconsin employee told me.  As I mentioned, most of the donors were near, or of, retirement age.  I urge you, if you know someone who has received a blood donation, or if you have loved ones you'd like blood available for in the future, please visit the American Red Cross and find a blood drive near you!  

"When you give blood you give another birthday, another anniversary, another day at the beach, another night under the stars, another talk with a friend, another laugh, another hug, another change." - American Red Cross

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Week 21: Like Giving Candy to a Baby

My children and I were out running errands this past Wednesday when I saw a little boy ask his mama for some candy in a gumball machine.  As she reached into her purse, it occurred to me I had just received some change from paying for my purchases.  I quickly walked over, smiled, and put a quarter in the machine for her. 

The look on the little boy's face and the gratitude from his mom for this small gesture gave me a fun idea:  What if we drove around town and put quarters in all of the "gumball" machines we could think of? 

And so that's what we did!

We started by changing in dollars for quarters from the customer service cashier and then casually made our way to the machines where we slipped a quarter into each slot...and then walked away.  My kids and I were giddy, thinking about the reactions children would have when they found the machines all ready to be turned. 

At the second location we filled all of the machines that cost a quarter and a few of the 75c ones as well.  (I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to the guardian of the child who gets the GIANT fruit-shaped gumball...I just couldn't pass up the opportunity of causing a child's eyes to turn into saucers as a piece of candy that size rolled out into his or her hand.)

When I thought we had hit all of locations I turned to my children and asked them if they could think of any more (besides our Piggly Wiggly that gives well-behaved children free tokens for their machines at the end of each visit).  My daughter said, "There's one in the hardware store daddy always makes me go to.  I bet a kid would love to find one there!" 

And so we made one more stop. 

I had to ask the worker to trade me two dimes and a nickel for a quarter because I had exhausted our quarter supply over the course of our last few stops.  I put the quarter in and then turned to walk away when the man working the counter next to it gave me a quizzical look.  I explained that my daughter wanted to surprise a child that had come into the store with a free gumball.  He loved the idea and my daughter enjoyed knowing someone would be watching for the lucky little boy or girl's reaction. 

What a fun way to spend an hour on a Wednesday afternoon! 

"Candy is childhood, the best and bright moments you wish could have lasted forever." - Dylan Lauren

Thursday, February 12, 2015

It's Halftime

Can you believe the Kindness Countdown has 20 weeks under it's belt?  I certainly can't...or the fact that I'm getting closer and closer to turning 40!  The past 20 weeks have changed my everyday outlook and interactions with people and have strengthened my family...shared experiences create such strong and lasting bonds.  I've also noticed a shift in my children as well...they have become more vocal with their appreciation for the good in their lives and with their empathy and sympathy for others as they initiate ways to give.

I'm so excited to share the things we have planned for the next 20 weeks...and beyond.  I can't see how this will suddenly end with my 40th birthday...

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Week 20: Service with a Smile

Our family took a much-needed break from the Wisconsin winter this past week and ventured to Florida where we gorged ourselves on our beloved Waffle House.  We ate plate after plate of waffles, hash browns (I take mine scattered, smothered and covered) and cherry/vanilla Cokes.

My husband and I have been fans of Waffle House for 15 years and visit them frequently any time we travel south.  How frequently, you ask?  Well, we visited there three times this past week, two days in a row.  And we may or may not have mapped out road trips and day-excursions around them on past vacations.

Besides the delicious food, the service is always flawless.  The employees are some of the nicest people on the planet and are always welcoming, friendly and attentive.  And they offer to-go cups of their syrupy soft drinks, which is always a plus. 

We visited a Waffle House on our way to the airport yesterday for one last fix and our server was exceptionally kind.  He even offered to come home with us to help shovel out the foot of snow waiting for us.  "Just give me a warm bed and some hot food and I'll do all the shoveling you need...all winter long." 

We talked about our children and he smiled as he told us about his son's love of bacon, adding in an off-hand way that he can't afford to buy too much of it for him to eat at home.  While I can't connect with him on the specific issue of bacon (my children and I are life-long vegetarians), I can empathize on the helpless feeling of giving your children all they desire when it's out of your reach.

And this is why I left him a 100% tip. 

I hope his son enjoys his bacon and I hope our server knows he's making a difference in the lives of everyone who comes into his restaurant.  His big smile, booming voice and kind heart stirred me in a special way, and that feeling won't be forgotten any time soon. 

"The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy, we can all sense a mysterious connection to each other." - Meryl Streep