Friday, November 24, 2017

RAK Friday 2017

One of my favorite traditions this time of year is starting my holiday shopping on Black Friday. Yes, I know I'm crazy to admit this, but I love being in the mix of all the people on the busiest shopping day of the year! I love the energy of everyone going from place to place and I'm fascinated by all the different ways retailers try to lure you into their stores. I'm also a sucker for a great deal, so I scan the sale ads days before, mapping out my route from start to finish.

Another reason why I love shopping on Black Friday is the opportunity to "Be the Good" and show kindness to an endless array of strangers on a day when many people expect stress and strife. As a RAKtivist with the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, I am committed to doing acts of kindness and sharing my stories with the world; after all, if you believe there is good in the world, you have to be the good to make it happen.

This morning my daughter and I woke before sunrise and headed out to start our day. We took an early-morning selfie in Kohl's to mark the occasion then spent more than an hour in the store.

We smiled at strangers.

We asked others for their opinions: "Which necklace do you think looks better with this sweater?"

We complimented people on their patience while waiting in line and chatted with those around us to make the time pass by faster.

Everyone was pleasant, even at 6:45 am. It was a delight! We finished with our purchases and I left my still-valid 15% off coupon for someone else to use and enjoy.

Our next stop was Old Navy at Willow Lawn Shopping Center. We were delighted to discover a huge bin filled with $1 fuzzy socks! It gave me a giggle because I remembered Tara Martin posting #gratitudesnaps about her mismatched fuzzy socks as she relaxed by the fire in her living room. That sparked another random act of kindness as I placed one dollar bill inside the bin with a note, then hid it to be discovered by another happy soul looking for cute, cuddly socks.

Can you find the hidden money?

My daughter and I were tempted to stick around to see who might discover the surprise, but we had several more stores on our list so we RAK'd and ran. As we made our way through the parking lot, we saw a Goodwill collection truck, so I donated several bags of toys and clothes I had collected from our home.

Across town, we visited Regency Mall, spending a bit of time in JCPenney's. As you can imagine with hundreds of people walking through crowded aisles filled with clothes, shoes, and accessories, things get toppled over or fall off hangers. While I try not to judge people as inconsiderate, I am aware that some people make poor choices which adds more work for others. As I turned the corner into the Junior's section, I saw this disarray and decided to make it better for the sales clerks working today.

Egads! Disaster!

I repackaged the shoes neatly, back in their box.

I hung the shirt on the hanger, then organized them all from small to large.

Now we can walk down the aisle!
As I was leaving the Junior's section, headed towards the shoes, I saw a sales clerk speaking to an older woman leaning on a cane. She had a piece of clothing in her hands, trying to balance the item with her purse and the cane. I started to pass them when I heard the sales clerk say, "I'm so sorry, ma'am, but there aren't any more carts available in the store. If I happen to see one, I will grab it for you, but there just aren't any to grab."

I quickly turned back to the Junior's section in a near sprint, because I was almost positive I had seen someone pushing a cart towards the checkout register. Sure enough, I got there just as the woman was paying for her items. "Excuse me," I gasped as I caught my breath from running in the store (which I'm sure broke some rules of civility, but this was important!) "Would you mind if I took this cart off your hands? There's an elderly woman with a cane who would greatly appreciate the convenience." 

The stranger smiled at me as I smiled back, her voice echoing what I had hoped she would say. "Oh, of course! Please! Take it. I'm all done with it anyway." I grabbed the cart then headed back to the shoe section, but alas the older woman was nowhere to be seen. How could a woman with a cane walk away so fast?

I turned to the left and there she was, just a few feet away from where I had seen her last. "Good morning! I overheard your conversation about needing a cart... please take this one!" Her eyes lit up and she thanked me profusely. I snapped a quick photo as she walked away, leaning on the cart for assistance.

It was a delight to see all the signs of "Joy" scattered throughout the stores. As an honorary Joy Ambassador (Thanks, Akilah!) and proud member of #JoyfulLeaders, my #oneword2016 reminds me that we can find joy in all things if we simply stop and look beyond the surface.

Before leaving JCPenney's, I walked in the fitting room and left a little note of kindness on the mirror. Then I hung some more clothes that were crumpled in the bottom of the return rack.

"Smile! You are beautiful!"

A bit of a mess...

... nice and tidy, now!
As my daughter and I meandered through the mall, we saw a candy kiosk and left a few quarters in the machines - a sweet treat to brighten a child's day!

Quarters in dials, ready to turn!
Apparently Chewy Spree are more expensive, so we left a quarter on each side!
One of the unique things about living in Virginia is seeing all the different places the word "Love" appears. Our state motto, "Virginia is for Lovers," has had its fair share of ridicule (especially with recent events in the media,) but I adore living in a state where you are reminded of love as you walk around town, ride on a train, or drive down the highway. It's a common practice to stop and take a photo when you see these signs, so I took one of my daughter then she took one of me.

Before we left, I reached in my purse and pulled out a Target gift card, knowing this would be a perfect place to leave someone a gift of love to brighten their day.

As we finished our shopping at Regency Square Mall, we headed to Short Pump Town Center to round out our day. Even though the two malls are only five miles apart in distance, the traffic you encounter on the drive from one to another is enough to make you want to return home, crawl in bed, and pull the covers over your head.

We waited patiently as the traffic inched forward. We allowed cars to pull out in front of us and gave people space when they needed to turn. When we finally entered the parking lot (which resembled a terrifying game of symmetrical Tetris) we showed kindness to others as we made sure not to hit any pedestrians.

As luck would have it, we found a parking space right away, just as the car facing us turned on their blinker to claim the spot we had planned to take.

It took less than a millisecond for me to tap on the gas and pass by the open spot, allowing the other car to have it.

Five minutes later, we finally parked, but instead of being frustrated and angry, my daughter and I celebrated our good fortune that we had time, energy, and patience to wait it out. We knew our timing was perfect for whatever was yet to come.

One of the things that makes Short Pump Town Center spectacular is that it's an open air mall, allowing for grandiose displays of decorations to match the seasons. For Christmas, one of my joys is seeing the two-story Christmas tree decorated in all its majestic glory.

As we took a little Starbucks break and waited in the line that was out the front door, I thought about that tree and the ornaments so perfectly placed around it. An idea sparked inside my head and I quickly googled "origami ornaments," choosing one I could make from a dollar bill. Within minutes I transformed a basic bill into a heart ornament, ready to share.

The Starbucks barista was friendly and kind and we placed money in his tip jar as a thanks for great service. They had a Black Friday special where you could purchase a cake pop for a reduced price with a hot chocolate, so I treated my daughter to this random act of kindness while we enjoyed our quality time together outside.

Finishing our treats, I walked back towards the giant tree and added my origami ornaments, thinking of Angela Maier's mission to remind others "You Matter." It seemed like a perfect opportunity to share some of that positivity with others.

A close-up picture of the note, with a You Matter reminder!
Walking back towards my daughter, I passed the Short Pump fountain. Have you ever experienced the joy of throwing coins in a fountain, making a wish as you did? I thought it might be nice to have a few more wishes in this world, so I pulled out a few coins from my purse and scattered them along the ledge, allowing someone else the joy of a possible wish come true.

Click here to read more about the history of Short Pump and the significance of the fountain.

Wishes already made.

New wishes to waiting to share!
We continued our holiday shopping, making sure to say thank you to all the cashiers who rang up our purchases and holding doors open for others as we entered and exited stores. We did a LOT of smiling throughout the day! It was amazing to see just how many people smiled back in return.

Driving home, the fall colors sparkled in the afternoon light and my daughter snapped a photo from the inside of our car, knowing how much I adore the beautiful shades of autumn.

Upon returning home, we surprised the boys with snowmen sugar cookies, our own little "Thank You" for allowing us girls to spend the day making memories.

After the shopping bags were brought into the house, my youngest came to me with a simple request. "Mommy, can we go to the playground?" Even though my feet were tired from walking and I was eyeing up an evening on the sofa, I looked down at my sweet boy's face and said, "Sure, honey. Go put on your jacket and let's go!"

I spent my final moments of RAK Friday showing kindness to my son, a priceless gift of time and attention. 

Then as the sun began to set, we made our way back home, my heart filled with love and joy from another amazing RAK Friday. Imagine how much good we could put into this world if each of us committed to doing just one act of kindness each day. Oh, the ripple effect our kindness could have on the world!

Believe there is good in the world.

Be the good.

Click the links below to read more of how we've spent RAK Friday in previous years!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Cotton Candy Skies

My daughter coined the phrase first, her tiny hand tucked neatly in mine as we walked on the sidewalk near dusk. "Look, Mommy!" she squealed, her face glowing with excitement, "God made cotton candy skies!" My eyes turned upward as we stopped in our tracks, the view so breathtakingly beautiful all we could do was watch in hushed amazement as the colors swished and swirled against each other, a vivid masterpiece of brilliance that dissipated as quickly as it began.

Even though she was only five, her metaphor resonated with me and for more than a decade we have repeated the phrase each time we see a sunrise or sunset that shimmers with shades of pink, purple, and blue.

Cotton candy skies are rare as they only occur for a few moments and not shown every day. They are easy to miss if your focus is on other things. This morning as I was writing in the shadows of my living room, my attention was drawn from the words on my laptop to the window on my left. From the corner of the glass, I caught the darkened sky filling with layers of pink and knew the sun was starting to rise. Immediately the laptop was put aside as I raced to find shoes and a coat, unlocking the door to view the sunrise from the middle of my street.

This morning's sunrise was spectacular!

I started to take a picture then quickly realized it couldn't capture the magic of the moment. That's when I slid the bar from photo to video and tapped the button to record:

As I stood there staring at the incredible shades of light, I became hyperaware of the sights and sounds around me. I heard the birds chirping in the distance and saw leaves fluttering to the ground. I gazed at the bands of color stretching across the sky as the morning sun peeked through the distance.

There were no cars.

No people.

Just me with the cotton candy sky.

It was exactly what I needed to start my day.

This month Theresa Holloran has been sharing her insights from The Zen Teacher: Creating Focus, Simplicity, and Tranquility in the Classroom, written by Dan Tricarico. It's been a joy to see her favorite sections of this book and her reflections on the passages. Today's post came from page 120: "Find your happy place. And then go there as often as you can."

Today I am thankful for the small moments that fill us with childlike wonder and fill our hearts with gratitude. I spent a few moments in my happy place and it completely transformed my day. How will you start yours?

As we transition into the holiday season and fill our calendars with activities and events, I challenge you to find your happy place.

Look up.

Embrace the stillness.


Monday, November 6, 2017

Umbrellas and Rain

It was a typical Monday morning with voices of students and teachers filling the building after another two-day reprieve. I was walking from one class to the next when I passed a teacher in the hall pushing a loaded cart of supplies. "Perfect timing!" I proclaimed as I held the door open for her to enter the building. She smiled in response then stopped to chat for a moment or two.

We talked about our weekends and upcoming projects on the horizon. We shook our heads in disbelief as we contemplated one-fourth of our school year already complete. "Where does the time go?" As we started to part ways, I thanked her for bringing a little sunshine to my day and she paused with a laugh and said, "You are an umbrella to my rain!"

Perhaps this is a cliche others know well, but it was the first time I had ever heard it. The visualization has stayed with me the entire day.

How can we be more like umbrellas to other people's rain?

We can offer shelter from the storm.
There are times throughout our week when it seems the winds whip from every direction and you can barely stand upright. Seek out others who may be running for shelter or are hovering in the shadows to stay dry. Make a genuine effort to connect, to check-in, to listen and empathize. Be that safe place people can go where the storm of judgment and criticism is kept away.

We can surround others with strength.
Just like the metal ribs of an umbrella stretch out to hold the canopy in place, we can strengthen our students and co-workers by stretching ourselves to meet their needs. Perhaps it's something simple like offering to help on a task or maybe it's a bit more complex like brainstorming ideas and solutions. Supporting others with strength reminds them that they are not alone and we can battle the storm together.

We can get wet to keep others dry.
Sometimes support means doing things beyond our designated roles and responsibilities. It's staying late after school to help out a struggling teacher. It's helping to clean up the cafeteria floor when a carton of milk is spilled by a student. It's offering to help, being willing to serve, and taking one for the team. Our willingness to get wet by the storm shows others that even in the hardest downpours, the work we do still has value, importance, and worth.

Let's be like umbrellas today, so we can we can shine a light on sunny skies tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Value Vulnerability

Several weeks ago, my attention was drawn to Chapter 5 of Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth, by Aaron Hogan. This section, aptly titled "Value Vulnerability" made me uncomfortable right from the first truth:

"Vulnerability is prerequisite for all innovation, creativity, and change."

Ugh! Just the thought of sharing vulnerabilities makes many people squirm, myself included. I've spent much of my career holding firm to the teacher myths that we need to know all, do all, be all. It's quite a challenge to allow that shell of perfectionism crack and shatter to the ground; it's even harder to share about it with others.

What I've learned from Aaron's writing (as well as posts from other educators in my PLN) is that I'm not alone. We've all had amazing days as well as those moments when we questioned why we got into this profession in the first place. What helps us make it through the rough spots is realizing that we are not alone: vulnerability makes us real.

Today I was chatting with another teacher when her voice lowered to a near whisper. "I did something horrible," she confessed. Her students had spent quite a bit of time working on a special piece of artwork and she wanted to preserve the delicate designs. With best intentions, she took the papers to the laminating machine, but as the oil pastel creations were pressed between the layers of plastic, the heat from the machine melted the colors and smeared them across the designs.

All the students' masterpieces were ruined. 

As I listened to her story, my heart ached for the angst she experienced in that moment. I could feel my own skin bristling at the loss, the horror of having to explain everything to her students who had worked so hard to create such a special project.

She was mortified, but didn't allow her embarrassment to stop her from being vulnerable with her students. After they arrived this morning, she gathered them near, explained what happened, and apologized. She readjusted her schedule to provide time to talk about the mishap and offered students the opportunity to use class time to recreate their colorful drawings.

Sometimes the greatest lessons we teach begin with the greatest lessons we learn.

Her students responded with empathy. They consoled her. They offered forgiveness. 

By sharing her vulnerability with her students, she actually strengthened her classroom culture as they openly discussed her feelings of panic, shock, dismay. She showed them that even teachers make mistakes, thus shattering the perfect teacher's myth in the most humbling of ways.

I was a little surprised she opened up to me in this way, sharing such a heartbreaking faux pas. But as she described her students' reactions to the news, I realized the importance of this shared moment.

We rise together. 

Aaron Hogan's words reminds us:

"Being vulnerable with your colleagues is being willing to step into the struggle and walk with them toward a better place."

Today I am grateful for the reminder that I don't have to be perfect. We all make mistakes. We all have those horrendous moments that make us want to run and hide. But there is a hidden beauty in revealing our inadequacies to others.

It helps strengthen our resilience so we can then strengthen others along the way.