Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sugar and Spice: I'm Trying to be Nice

Day 10

Ms. Anonymous, I know who you are.  You can’t hide any longer behind your letters and your phone calls to city hall.  I’m calling you out. 

Winning affords one generosity. 

Today I gathered ingredients.  Tomorrow I bake. 

The boys and I will deliver cookies to a long list of neighbors who supported us throughout our tree house appeal.  We’ll make one special delivery to the woman who started the whole thing in motion. 

“I wouldn’t give that woman cookies!”  says my mom.  Yells my mom.  From three states away. 

“I’m not doing it for her.  I’m doing it for me.”  I am. 

I love to bake.  Nothing expresses my thanks, my concern or my happiness more than a plate full of cookies.  They say, “I cared enough to make these for YOU.” 

By giving her cookies, I’m showing my kids that you can disagree with someone and still work things out. As happy as I am about the zoning board’s decision, I’m certain it makes her blood boil that such an eyesore won a stamp of approval to exist in her community.  

It will be an effort on both our parts: mine to give them; hers to accept them.  One day and a yes vote don’t erase the two months of angst she caused my family.  At the end of the day, she knows she lost.  

It’s a start in the right direction.  It’s a good faith effort to put things back. 

Tree What We Did Together

Day 9

For the past two months, my family has been in a public battle with the city and the zoning board to save a recently constructed tree house.  The house wraps the largest tree in our yard.  The tree sits behind our existing back yard fence. 

A knowledgeable neighbor well-versed in zoning jargon called to complain.  According to newer zoning laws, the city considers this tree to be in our front yard.  Zoning laws forbid the building of yard structures in any front yard lot.   

The city told us of the anonymous complaint they received and instructed us to remove the house.  My Mamma Bear came out.  I may have even growled. 

We circulated a petition.  We took photos.  We wrote our appeal.  We waited.

In the meantime, we played in that tree house as if we were going to lose it.  We hosted a sleep over.  We designed an entire birthday party around it.  Partygoers at “Camp Finny” even ate cake in the tree house!  If the city forced us to take an ax to it, we vowed to enjoy every minute it was in our yard. 

Then came last night.  The zoning board meeting I’d dreaded for two months. 

I tried to distract myself with cleaning.  Everything.  I painted the inside of the garage for goodness sake.  It’s never looked so sparkly and organized since we’ve lived in this house.  I think we could stick a bed in it and call it a guest room!

Even in all my frenzy, I worried.  Nothing makes me more anxious than not knowing.  How would the kids react if we lost?  How would we tell them?  What would we do with all this wood?   

While here I am writing a blog about my acts of random kindness, I have to pause and write instead of the kindness of others. 

Last night I was overwhelmed by the kindness of neighbors and friends who wrote letters, attended the meeting and spoke up to city officials to help us.  I’m not forgetting all you who sent good thoughts our way either.  Thank you!! 

One special standout to all the superstars was Mrs. Joanne Gluck, 84, who lives four houses up from us.  We became friends the summer of her heart surgery.  She walked each morning and afternoon as part of her rehabilitation.  My house became her turn-around point.  Every morning and afternoon, my boys and I would greet her in the yard and talk with her until she’d caught her breath and felt rested enough to manage the walk home. 

She was a dynamo at the zoning board.  A spitfire of a lady who in my opinion helped push the board to vote in our favor. 

When the final vote came after an hour of testimony and discussion, I burst into tears.  I couldn’t imagine telling my kids that we lost. 

One board member commented specifically on Mrs. Gluck’s support and how wonderful it was to see different generations living together and making up a community.  My husband and I witnessed the very best of community last night. 

I’m a firm believer in karma.  Be good and good things happen.  Be a nasty, noisy neighbor who calls to complain about three little boys’ tree house and … well, you get the point. 

Karma isn’t only about good things happening to you.  If you have good karma, you see the good.  You’re more aware.  You sit up and take notice and the world is an overall nicer place to live.

So raise your glass to good karma, kindness, great friends and neighbors and happy hour in our tree house some Friday night soon! 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Litter Bug

Day 8

Since many of my random acts of kindness have been convert operations, I haven’t been able to accurately gauge how people are reacting.    

I hope when my unsuspecting neighbor returned from work and found his trash can and recycling bin pulled from the curb to his house he was pleased.  

I would be.  I’d think, “Alright, one less thing for me to do tonight.  Thanks, mystery trash person!”  But I’m projecting. 

I think it’s important to note with respect to full disclosure that when I go to a restaurant I’m so happy that someone else is doing the cooking and cleaning, I don’t care what the waitress brings me.  Wrong order?  Doesn’t matter.  At least I don’t have to do the dishes. 

If I came home and someone had raked my leaves or shoveled my snow-covered drive, I’d smile all day.   

My neighbor could react differently from me both at home and in a restaurant.  Maybe it was less “Alright” and more “Why THERE?  I never put the can THERE.  Geez.  The nerve of some people.” 

Having said this, I don’t think the idea that someone might not like your random act of kindness should deter you from doing something nice. 

My opinion (based on no scientific evidence whatsoever) is 99.9 percent of people will appreciate a kindness.  With odds like that, what can go wrong? 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ding Dong Ditch Martha-style

Day 7

If Martha Stewart ever ding dong ditched, I imagine it went down like this.

She spent the morning collecting the most beautiful and fragrant flowers from her garden before tying them together artfully with a brightly colored gossamer ribbon.  After returning her well-oiled shears to their designated gardening tools spot, she re-applied some lip gloss and tightened her shoelaces. 

At a brisk, efficient pace, she jogged up to an elderly neighbor’s doorstep.  She arranged the flowers in a pleasing way to showcase their (above mentioned) fragrance and beauty.  She hit the bell and high-tailed it out of there.  Being Martha, she hid behind a nearby topiary bush and captured her neighbor’s surprised and delighted face for posterity (or possibly for inclusion in a future holiday letter). 

Now, let me tell you how our version went down. 

First of all, I grabbed as many of my kids to join in my impromptu weekend activity.  Where’s the fun if you don’t drag your kids in on the craziness?

With our rusty, left-in-the-rain-once-too-often-shears, we found the few flowers not dead or dying in our garden and trimmed them within an inch of their short, remaining life.  (I would like Martha to know that we DID find some pleasing ribbon and used this to pretty up our sad, wilting bouquet.) 

I skipped the lip gloss and instead sent Angus ahead as our scout.  Since he’s small I figured our elderly neighbor wouldn’t see him right away.   

I should have foreseen the obvious.  Angus doesn’t follow directions.  Ever.  He ran right up to Mrs. Jack’s door, rang the bell and handed the flowers to her.

Finny and I stood in full view of her front door and waved happily as she attempted to follow Angus’ explanation as to why he was handing her flowers.  She nodded.  We waved.  She waved.  Angus turned around and waved at us.  We waved back at him. 

While clearly not a stealth operation, I think Martha would consider it a success.  

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Coffee and A Sleeping House

Day 6 

The movement is starting!  I can feel it!!

My kids are looking for ways to be kind to others (not each other, but baby steps, right?).

A neighbor signed up to cook lunch for the Rothenberg Academy in Over-The-Rhine.  When I say "cook" I mean grow organic food and prepare it with only the best ingredients.  I'm in awe, Lee Ann!!  

Another friend is launching a new community-based magazine next week in Columbus that will highlight the good works in her town.  Go, China!!

I'm brewing another pot of coffee and seeing what plan I can hatch before the family wakes up.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Candy From a Baby

Day 5

Rain!  Awesome! 

I envisioned great random acts all day of sheltering strangers from the rain with my large golf umbrella.  From the grocery store to their car, from the gym to their car, from the library to their car, the possibilities were endless!   

I swear as soon as I pulled away from the house, the skies began to clear and all ideas of random kindness evaporated along with the puddles.  (Maybe this was karma telling me you can’t really PLAN random acts.)

Plans foiled, I kept alert and went on with my day.  After school, the kids and I hopped in the car and drove to a neighbor’s to watch the high school Homecoming parade.  Every year a dozen cars filled with members of the marching band, the Homecoming Court and a handful sports teams drive through the neighborhood in route to the stadium and the night’s big game. 

The parade turned the corner from Trailwind onto Baywind.  Lights flashed.  Sirens blared.  Cheerleaders cheered. 

My kids scrambled like professionals.  Let’s be clear.  We go for the candy. 
Not one stray piece escaped their laser eyes. 

The last car turned south onto Zig Zag as the school bus rolled up.  Five minutes earlier and the busload of kids would have been joining my kids in the hunt.  Five minutes later than usual and they missed the whole thing. 

The kids lowered the windows of the bus.  My boys started throwing their candy into the open windows to loud cheers. 

My neighbor looked at me and laughed, “There’s your random act of kindness!”  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Kindness for Me or You?

Day 4 

Even as I dropped two huge bags of clothes and shoes to Goodwill I wondered if this really counted.  I mean, technically, Goodwill did me the favor.  Two bags out is two less bags in. 

Ah, I love it when everyone wins!  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Get Over Your Kind Self

Day 3

When I had the idea for this blog, it never occurred to me that some people would react negatively.  I thought of it as my own personal social experiment.  What would I learn in a year?  What would my kids learn?  Would I actually stick with the plan?

That’s why this unnamed person’s comment took me off guard.  I mean who’s against kindness, right?

“It’s a little braggy.” 

“What?  My blog?” 

“Well, yeah.  You’re just going to write about all the nice things you do for other people for a year?” 

I mean I’m nice, but I’m not that nice.  I was NOT feeling kindness and benevolence at that particular moment. I mean, is she worried people will think I’m the nicer sister?  Oh, did I give it away?   

To clarify, it was never my intention to shout to the world, “Look at me!  Look at how kind I am!  How thoughtful!”  This shouldn’t be a one-way conversation.  I want to hear from you.  I only want to spark a conversation on how to become more kind.  I'm looking for ideas.   

My husband, the voice of reason in our house, suggested I turn her comment on its face and make her the recipient of my random kindness.  And I will.  But not today. 

Today I baked brownies for a friend who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.        

And to my sister, I want you to know they were the chewiest, most chocolaty, most AWESOME brownies ever.  They may even have medicinal powers of healing.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Simple Hello

Day 2

“Do you know what a random act of kindness is?” 

I pose the question to my eight-year-old son.  

“It’s where you help a person and the good deed wasn’t planned to do but you just did it.”

He tilts his head in thought.  “Does saying “hi” to someone count as a good deed?” 

“Did it make the person happy?” 

“Yeah.  Every time I walk up the stairs I say “hello’ to a teacher up there.” 

“Then it counts.” 

I should have answered, “It absolutely counts!”  

I’m thinking of all the times I’ve been at the grocery store or the gym and rushed through a conversation or brushed past someone with a quick greeting instead of stopping to talk.  Rationally, I know the milk would still be in the cooler if I took an extra five minutes to talk with an elderly neighbor.  So why the rush? 

At mid-day at my gym, the machines are mostly filled with seniors and stay-at-home moms.  We are an odd bunch to watch for sure.  The moms (myself included) are frantic to burn off as many calories before their hour of free day care is up or the school bus arrives home.  In sharp contrast, the seniors mosey from machine to machine talking to each person they meet.  For them, I always sense the gym is more about the journey and not the destination.  

Today, I enjoyed the journey.  I was a smiling fool.  I talked to the lady on the treadmill, the lady at the front desk and the man at the magazine stand.  

I can’t wait to tell my son that I said “hi” to someone and it made him (and me) happy.  

Monday, September 19, 2011

Toothpaste and Soap

Day 1

It's amazing what you take for granted.  Especially when you have so much.

My friend and I drove to Over-The-Rhine today in downtown Cincinnati to drop off items we'd collected last week at our children's elementary school.  Soap, toothpaste, hand towels, washing detergent.  Nothing special, right?

The collection is a part of the Make A Difference Committee that my friend and I co-chair.  It helps on an as-needed basis with our sister school located in one of Cincinnati's poorest neighborhoods.  School officials ask and we try our hardest to answer.  

Turning onto Vine from Taft, you don't have to be Dorothy to know we aren't in Montgomery anymore.  Broken windows.  Tired buildings.  The neighborhood feels as if it can't buy a break. Today's rainy weather doesn't help.

Miss Georgia from the Rothenberg Academy greets us with a huge smile and welcomes us out of the rain into the cafeteria.  A sweet-faced boy dressed in a light-blue button down shirt and navy pants stands beside her ready to help.

"Are you strong?" I ask.  "You look strong."  He gives a serious nod.

He puts out both hands to grab one of the smaller boxes, struggling a bit under the weight before walking purposefully towards Miss Georgina's office with the new supplies.  Together, my friend, Miss Georgia and I carry a dozen boxes from the car.

She'll use these items to put together take-home bags for each student and talk to them about hygiene.  She'll give the kids toothpaste and teach them about tooth decay.  She'll hand out soap and wash cloths to help her kids with the very basics.

Who knew brushing your teeth was a luxury?  


Let's Start a Movement

I'm ready to do something radical.  Something even a little crazy.

For the next 365 days, I'm going to do one random act of kindness to a complete stranger and blog about it.

Why now?  Why not?

I don't think kindness needs to wait until the start of a new month or as an add-on to a growing list of new year's resolutions.

What I'm hoping for is a movement.  Join me.   The act doesn't need to be showy.  It doesn't have to be big.  It's the act of kindness that is important.

I've always loved that insurance company's commercial that shows one person picking up a child's doll and handing it to her.  The mother of the child then helps another.  And the cycle begins.  

Bad things can happen in cycles too.  A brother pinches a sibling.  The sibling kicks the dog.  The dog bites the mailman then the mailman in turn drops a pile of letters into a puddle.  

Why not start the cycle in a positive direction? 

I tell my kids to "be the change you want to see in the world."  You want the world to be a kinder place? Lead the way.

I challenge you to do one kind thing to a complete stranger EVERY DAY for an entire year. Report back here.  Tell us what you did.  Tell us about the reaction you received.  Tell us how it made you feel.  

Do it as a family.  Do it by yourself.

Don't forget to check back in to tell us how you're doing.  I'll report from my three blocks of Cincinnati.  Let's see how far we can make this movement grow.