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. Leaving my office, walking down Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee towards my car, hugging a loved one 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. The kids and I 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.