family, kindness

Kindness Scavenger Hunt

On Christmas Day, I received a plain, white envelope from my middle child, Daniel. Inside was a cryptic note with $3 attached – money he provided from his own wallet. “It’s a Kindness Scavenger Hunt,” he announced. “It starts at Dunkin’ Donuts tomorrow!”

The next day we jumped into my car – just he and I – to jumpstart a journey of joy!

The adventure begins!
“Welcome to the Scavenger hunt adventure, but as you will see this isn’t your normal spelling bee.
Whenever you’re ready, let’s go Mommy, to buy someone’s Dunkin’ Donut coffee.”
Our first stop!

Dunkin’ Delight – RAK 1

I wrote a quick note for the stranger explaining why they were getting a free coffee, then Daniel and I walked into the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shop.

I approached the counter as the cashier smiled, ready to take my order. “I would like to buy a coffee, please, but not for myself. I want to prepay for a coffee and you can surprise someone with it instead.”

The cashier was a little confused by my request at first, so I elaborated. “I have three dollars to spend and I want to buy someone’s coffee but nobody is in here. Can I just buy the coffee now and the next person that comes in and orders a coffee is good to go because I already paid for them? You can put any change in your tip jar if you like!”

He glanced at the drive-thru window and said, “Someone just ordered a coffee! You can buy it for them!” How exciting to complete this act of kindness right in the moment! I quickly gave him my money, then asked if I could take his photo as he handed my note to the guest in the drive-thru.

My note for the stranger with cash for the coffee.
The cashier giving the note to the stranger in the drive-thru.

How fun was that? This quick RAK brought us such joy! As we turned to make our way out of the coffee shop, Daniel directed my attention to the light switch by the door.

Another clue.

Another RAK.

The adventure continues!

“Round and round the gumballs will show, but where will these four quarters go?”
Four quarters were taped to the back of the clue.

Kroger Candy – RAK 2

It was very convenient that our local Kroger supermarket was in the same shopping plaza as Dunkin’ Donuts – and the first place I could think of that still had old-fashioned gumball machines! Daniel and I headed that way and filled the machines with quarters to create a joyful surprise for some kiddos who would visit soon.

We picked the gumball machines lowest to the floor for little eyes to discover.
Then we added two quarters to this one – a jackpot win for one little kiddo!

(If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know how much I adore our local Kroger. Other acts of kindness here include Remembering Mr. Leon, First Birthday in Heaven and even my very first act of kindness for Celebrate Kindness!)

This time my next clue was taped to the plastic bag recycling bin beside the sliding doors. Where would our adventures take us next?

“A meal that kids eat a bit, and I think that they are lovin’ it!”
Money taped to the back of the clue.

Happy Meal Joy – RAK 3

If you guessed “McDonald’s” as the location of our next act of kindness, you would be correct! It was time to surprise someone with a paid Happy Meal!

Daniel and I right before we performed our next RAK.

As a mom of three, I know how excited little kids get to receive a happy meal. I also know that this RAK would bring joy to a mom or dad, too, because everyone enjoys a free meal, especially when it’s an unexpected surprise!

We prepaid for the Happy Meal with the cashier shouting to the drive-thru crew, “Don’t make that happy meal – she’s paying for someone else!”

As we started to leave the restaurant, lo and behold there was another clue hanging on the Christmas tree in the lobby, this one leading us back to our home.

“The last gift cannot be beat, located at… (our address)”

As we made our way back home, it was impossible to contain our smiles and laughter. “Are you having so much fun?” Daniel asked.

Yes!

So. Much. Fun!

Homemade Happiness – RAK 4

When we arrived home, I told Daniel we needed to take a photo by the door. He agreed, then after the fourth selfie of the day (you KNOW how much I adore selfies!), Daniel whispered, “Look down.”

There, at my feet, was another clue waiting to be discovered.

Home again!
“The ‘happy place’ is what it’s called; the first drawer is where it’s installed.”

My happy place.

Do you have a happy place in your home? A special area that you can call your own, that brings you immense joy every time you sit or stand there? A place that fills your heart, calms your soul, and reminds you that everything is right with the world?

I do.

It’s my writing desk in my Joy Room.

My writing desk

Following the clue, I opened the top desk drawer to discover… another clue!

“Happiness is found along the way… not at the end of the journey” ~Darunee Williams

“But if you want your actual present, it is located in the drawer below this segment.”

So I opened the bottom drawer and discovered a personalized gift for ME:

“This coupon is redeemable for two hours with the thermostat at 78 degrees or lower.”

I laughed so hard at this coupon, I nearly fell on the floor!

See, in my house there is an ongoing war about what temperature the thermostat should be set on. I am the ONLY person in the entire house who is constantly cold. In fact, I even wear fleece jackets in the blazing heat of summer. (Shhhh – don’t tell!)

Since my husband is a conservationist, I am never afforded the luxury of blasting the heat in my home to my heart’s content. Instead, you will often find me bundled up under blankets, curled up in the corner of my sofa, trying to stay warm.

As you might guess, winter is my least favorite season.

This coupon was a gift of indulgence.

As my incredible Kindness Scavenger Hunt came to a close, I hugged my sweet fifteen-year-old son and thanked him for the unexpected joy in the journey. His creativity, ingenuity, and thoughtfulness took kindness to a whole new level.

When you begin to live your life as a Kindness Cultivator, others take notice and want to help you scatter seeds of kindness, too.

Perhaps this story will inspire you to create a Kindness Scavenger Hunt of your own. If you do, let me know! I’m sure it will create ripples of kindness every place you go!

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kindness

Kindness Boomerang

A common question I receive about my acts of kindness is, “Do you ever hear back from the people who receive your RAKs (random acts of kindness)?”

Yes.

Yes, I do.

When I began my kindness journey six years ago, it was with intentional purpose to share the stories with others while also providing a way for kindness recipients to get an “insider’s view” of what led up to their specific kindness or why it had meaning to me. It’s a fun way to keep the conversation going, keep the kindness spreading, and also becomes a living journal of my adventures.

I also LOVE surprises and nothing beats the surprise of having someone reach out to let you know they received your kind act! It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it can transform an ordinary day into a magical moment!

While I share several of these heartfelt “kindness boomerangs” in my new book, A Passion for Kindness, (which will be released in February – just around the corner!), I had another one happen on Christmas Day and it made my heart soar once again.

As many of you know, one of my favorite kindness days of the year is RAK Friday, where I go out in the crowds of Black Friday shoppers and do lots of little acts of kindness wherever I go. One of the RAKs I completed was jotting down a note of affirmation and encouragement and leaving it inside of a “Be Kind” purse at a local store.

Photo from my RAK Friday blog post.

I took a photo of the note, tucked it inside the bag, said a little prayer that whoever would find it would be blessed, and went on about my day.

This is the message I received on Christmas Day – a comment posted to my website:

The next day I received an email from the mom, Rita, that included these photos:

Rita shared that the purse was a gift from her childhood friend for her daughter, Maria, who is “known for her kindness to others.” It was such a thrill to hear how this RAK was discovered and to know another seed of kindness will scatter to others!

Have you received a surprise act of kindness this holiday season? I would love to hear your stories, too! Comment below and let’s keep the kindness going!

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family, reflection

Ornamental Memories

As we prepare for the holiday season, it’s fun to reflect on our family traditions and those things that warm the heart. One of my favorite traditions actually begins in November with the decorating of our Christmas tree.

In years past we have waited until December to put up the tree, but with our children growing older and time constraints with weekend activities, we’ve slowly inched our way into November, putting the tree up the weekend after Black Friday (or RAK Friday, if you’ve been following my blog for a while.) Much to the chagrin of my middle child, Daniel, the past two years we’ve put the tree up the Wednesday before Thanksgiving simply out of convenience, to which he quickly laments, “Can we finish one holiday before we start another one?”

He makes me laugh.

Ever since the children were little, we have given them full reign for decorating the tree. We aren’t caught up in competing with the Joneses for the most perfectly decorated evergreen, so whatever the kids do to our tree is acceptable and loved.

There have been years where all the ornaments were clumped in one section, marking the height of the youngest who could only reach so far.  We stopped adding tinsel when the kids were babies, and our tree topper changes each year as the kids take turns choosing their favorites.

We’ve had weighted ornaments pulling down limbs, dragging their glittered sparkles along the floor as traditional white lights glisten in the background. We’ve swept up broken glass from the ornaments caught by the cat and one year had the entire base of the tree empty to avoid a toddler from grabbing and pulling off ornaments, nearly toppling over the tree.

When we decorate, we have Christmas music playing as the children wait anxiously to open the official ornament box, a well-worn, simple cardboard box with layers of clear packing tape along the edges marking decades of travel and use. With a slice of the scissors across the seam, the box bursts open and we are reminded again of the memories this unassuming container holds.

Our ornaments vary from handmade to store-bought, each playing a role in the stories of our family, from reminders of our wedding day in 1994 to each year a new child arrived. When we first got married, so many years ago, our Christmas tree was a meager three foot tree that stood on our cedar chest in the living room, a thread of popcorn and cranberries wrapped around to compensate for the lack of ornaments we could afford to buy or make. Since that time, our tree has grown well over six feet with countless memories captured and on display.

As part of our #CompelledTribe task to spotlight a treasured holiday tradition this month, I would love to share a few ornaments with you with the stories that make them special. Perhaps they will fondly remind you of the ornamental memories you have in your home, too!

Joyeux Noël

I love when teachers carve out time in their busy teaching scheduled to allow time for students to create holiday gifts for their families. Oh, if they only knew what treasures these are! When Daniel was in fifth grade, his teacher, Mrs. Post, challenged them to create a cross-stitched ornament to give away.

Even though I was an avid cross-stitcher in my youth, my son had no clue this used to be a passion of mine. He was simply completing the task set before him. However, with each needle he flossed and each stitch he created, he poured himself into making a memory that captured time, dedication, talent, and love. Each year he chooses to hang this ornament and we recall all his favorite teachers in the process. He always reminds me that he didn’t finish the bottom part, and I always remind him that it’s perfect the way it is. 

I love that he proudly displays this on our tree and never once worried about someone teasing him for cross-stitching a gift. He knew then, as he knows now, that this gift has my heart for so many reasons!

Pinky Joy

As we decorated our tree last year, our sweet cat, Pinky, curled underneath, her white fur blending in with the white trimmed edge of our tree skirt. Two weeks before Christmas, with both Katrina and I out of town, she passed away after almost a decade in our care.

This year, we have a JOY ornament to celebrate the joy she brought into our lives as the only cat we’ve ever owned. She was given to us by a friend and was the cuddliest cat you’ve ever seen. She was a princess in our home, an indoor cat who loved to taunt Flash, the neighborhood boy cat who would stretch out along our front porch, purring for attention.

Our youngest child, Caleb, adored Pinky and she cemented in him the idea that cats really do rule the world. She loved to chase a long, green fishing line around the house and greeted everyone at the door as if she was the maître d’. He made sure this ornament was front and center on our tree this year.

Our Family – 2009

In 2009, I was a new mom again, having given birth to my third child a mere nine weeks before. As a Christmas gift from Mom Letter, we received the annual Hallmark ornament, a cute little gingerbread house with a place to spotlight a family photo.

As any new mom can attest, I was exhausted and frazzled that holiday season and ended up packing away the ornament without replacing the stock photo that came with the frame. When 2010 arrived, I hung the ornament on the tree without paying attention to the fact that I had neglected to change out the photo.

During that holiday season, someone pointed out the error and in the moment, I simply laughed at my ignorance, passing off the faux pas with a joke. At the end of the season, I packed away the ornament once more, the photo unchanged.

Each year when I see this ornament I chuckle, remembering the year I was too busy to add a photo. Now, I have plenty of time to make the switch, but the memory is so funny to my soul that I keep the ornament as it is, and hang it from our tree. I am reminded of the pursuit for perfection, at which I fail miserably quite often, and the peaceful contentment that comes with accepting myself just the way I am. 

School Photo Simplicity

As mentioned above, I love ornaments made in school. When I was in Mrs. Norwood’s fourth grade class, we had a PTA parent use a copy of our fourth grade school picture to create a personalized ornament for our family. I proudly gave this ornament to my mom and she carefully hung the delicate ceramic near some other handmade ornaments I had created over the years.

Of the decades of school photos I brought home, this was the only one I ever liked. I remember my mom being so excited for me to wear the green corduroy jumper, my monogrammed initials woven in navy blue across the front. My hair was long, as it is now, a simple hairstyle with a part in the middle.

When my mom passed away last year, her husband Bob gave me the ornaments I had made for her in my childhood as part of my Christmas gift. This particular ornament brought me to tears, as the flood of memories poured into my heart, the heartbreaking loss of my mom all the more real.

Now the ornament is hung on my tree, tucked a bit within, almost 40 years old in the making. Perhaps, one day, it will hang on the tree of my children and grandchildren, too.

Now that the kids are older and taller, I no longer have to hang the higher ornaments and I can sit back and watch the transformation take place in front of my eyes. It is truly a magical moment to behold! We often finish our task with hot chocolate and a cookie or two, and finish decorating the rest of our home to be ready for the holidays.

If you have a treasured tradition, I would love for you to comment below! It’s always fun to get to know one another better with the moments that resonate on the heart.

From our family to yours, we wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and restful time to restore and renew as we look forward to a brand new year around the corner!

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education, ITRT, kindness

Special Delivery

As a technology integrator assigned to two schools, it sometimes gets a little confusing to know which day I’m at which location. Even though I have my calendar linked to my email signature, and have signs in both schools letting others know of my whereabouts (and they are consistent from week to week), I am often asked, “When are you going to be here again?”

The email I received two weeks ago from one school’s secretary was brief and concise: “Please come to the office today. You have a special delivery.” Intrigued and a bit perplexed, I responded back, letting her know that I wasn’t at her school that day, but I would be there the next morning. “You received flowers,” she replied, “Come today if you can.” As luck would have it, my day was jam-packed with lessons, collaborations, and an after-school professional development session, all of which prevented me from leaving the other building until almost 5:00 pm. The flowers would have to wait until the morning.

The next day, as I made my way into the front office, I scanned the desks and caught a glimpse of a beautiful poinsettia plant. Excited that this might be my special delivery, I smiled at the secretary, expecting her to hand me the poinsettia. Instead, she handed me a box. 

A box of… flowers? This was a first for me! In my 40+ years of life, I’ve received flowers a handful of times, but they’ve always arrived in a vase with water for a specific occasion. Who sent me flowers in a box? And why?

As I pondered the mystery aloud, our systems operator (Sysop), Jason, approached me, vase in hand, and said, “I can walk with you back to your classroom and explain what happened.” This intrigued me even more! I didn’t know who sent me flowers, had no clue why, and now something “happened” that needed explanation! What in the world was this all about?

As we walked to the computer lab, Jason filled me in. “The day before Thanksgiving break, I was leaving for the day and saw a box with your name on it. The side of the box said “Benchmark Bouquets,” so I figured there were probably flowers inside. You weren’t here and I didn’t know how to get a hold of you. I knew the flowers wouldn’t make it a week in a box, so I took them home and put them in water then ordered another set of flowers to be delivered so you could still have your surprise.”

Let that sink in for a moment.

This man, who barely even knows me (I’ve only been working in their school two days a week for the past few months), spent his own money to repurchase flowers so that I might still experience the joy and wonder of surprise.

His kindness brought me to tears!

Opening the box, I discovered that the flowers had been sent from my home school, Mechanicsville Elementary, in celebration of being named an R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence recipient during a recent ceremony. Jason had saved the message from the original delivery and handed it to me as I hugged him for his incredible empathy and compassion.

We took a photo together to capture the moment and I spent the remainder of the day in awe of the kindness of others. Despite the original communication snafu, I was able to properly thank my administrators for the beautiful flower arrangement and thank my Sysop for his incredible act of generosity.

Sometimes the special deliveries we plan in our mind aren’t always delivered in the ways we expect. Perhaps that’s because there’s a greater story to be told in the process. I will always remember this moment, not simply as an acknowledgment of an accomplishment, but the humbling reminder of the power of kindness. 

Jason could have easily walked past that box without a second glance. He didn’t have to take action. When he realized flowers were inside, he didn’t have to take them home. He most certainly was under no obligation whatsoever to spend his own money to replace them.

But he did.

Stories like these are why I wrote A Passion for Kindness, which will be released in February 2019. Each day we have countless opportunities to impact other lives in a positive way! While many prefer to keep their acts of kindness silent and hidden away (and that’s great!), I’m here to amplify the good, sharing stories of real people stepping out of their comfort zones to make this world a better place for others.

These beautiful flowers remind me that there are incredibly kind people in this world. May you have the courage to be kind to others in extraordinary ways, too!

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