milk and honey

Jon’s dad has told me the story of how he got engaged not once, not twice, but perhaps five or six times.  I know his wife took 24 hours to say yes and that he borrowed money from his brother for her ring.  
Lately, Jon keeps telling me that his softball team begins playing on Friday, April 25th — he reminded me last Monday, last Friday, and just before he fell asleep tonight.  His face lights up with 7 different kinds of joy each time he talks about his team’s inevitable victory.
I’ve never told Jon’s dad that I already know how he got engaged, and I never remind Jon that the softball information is on the calendar. Thing is, I like seeing their faces light up when they talk about something that gets them 7 kinds of excited.
You know what gets me excited?  Are the pictures giving it away?  Spring.  It’s probably not necessary to tell everyone that my favorite season has arrived, but I’m busying enjoying walks and bike-rides and blooming flowers and feeling the plain-old-goodness of 50 and sunny.
Do you have a story that never gets old?  Something that makes you smile every time you tell the tale?

make some happy

I just wanna wear jumpers and jump around the puddles. Or overalls and run over all the hills.  What about shorts and sit behind the shortstop? Am I going too far with this, or should I make a silly about a skirt?

Thing is, I have an overwhelming urge to stick my toes in the mud and walk across the creek.  I want the sun to shine so bright that I can swim in the lake and sip sweet lemonade.  Imagine bare legs tanning and light freckles emerging under the endless summer sky.
But perhaps I’m jumping too far ahead?  Shouldn’t I be more excited for the spring that keeps promising to come?  The spring, of course, is when everyone is hopeful.  The flowers begin to bloom and people everywhere are excited about picnics at the park and walks by the river and bike rides at the lake.

My imagination is getting the better of me on this cold winter’s day.  To get over my winter blues, I bought myself some ice cream and flowers.  Gotta make your own happy, right?
Speaking of creating happy – Matt Richardson emailed me about a KickStarter campaign he’s doing for his new greeting card business, Gramr Gratitude.  Matt founded Gramr Gratitude to encourage people to become happier by writing handwritten letters.  The idea that practicing gratitude makes us happier is nothing new, but Matt designed his company so that saying “hello” and “thank you” and “you’re so kind” is not only easy, but fun.

Gramr Gratitude inspired me to do a random act of happiness centered around, you guessed it, thankfulness.  I put together a pre-paid greeting card and left it for a stranger.

early birthday present

I would like to be gifted three public walls.  If that’s too much to ask, just one will do.  Thing is, i’ve got questions to ask and i need some answers, stat.
So one question per wall: who do you love? what are you reading? what are you thankful for?
Or, I suppose, I could use one wall for questions and the other two for something else?  That might be ideal because i think every town needs a doodle-wall — a space designated for crayons and markers and pens and bringing all your notebook creations to life.
If the universe smiles upon me and I get three walls, well, the third won’t go to waste:  I’d create a community directory.  How would this work, you wonder?
People would take a polaroid, write their name and an interesting fact on the white space, and then hang their picture on the wall.  This way, when we’re in the park or waiting for the bus or walking our dog, we can smile and wave and call one another by name.
Can someone call the mayor for me?  Help me get my walls? What would you do if the mayor gave you a wall?

wishes grow on trees

My greatest argument in favor of the Christmas wish-list comes from my allegiance to Angel Trees.  Instead of ornaments, Angel Trees are usually decorated with little angels that contain a name of a community member in need, their age, and a short list of what they want for the holidays.  I’d bet $5 that you could find one of these trees at your local church, Salvation Army, or city hall.

I worked for a community action agency that used Angel Trees to collect gifts for families living in homeless shelters, and, let me tell you, the gifts collected from the simple holiday drive truly bring joy to the people who need it the most.

If you’ve never participated in an Angel drive, it can be a little daunting adding another Christmas Wish List to your already packed shopping trips.   The reality, however, is that you probably haven’t seen a holiday list so sweet and humbling in quite some time.

Last year, Jon and I shopped for a single mom with two children, and the mom requested bath products, the son requested socks and art supplies, and the daughter requested warm pajamas.  Simple, right?  We picked up all the items at Target, and felt warm fuzzies knowing that the family would have fun opening the gifts on Christmas morning.

Do you shop for families with Angel Trees? Or do you have a different tradition for giving back during the holidays?

go overboard

Research by Professor David Rand at Harvard University suggests that children and adults have an innate desire to strengthen the community. Children are quick to react to the impulse, but adults are more likely to pause, consider how the community will judge their behavior, and refrain from helping.

Dale Miller, Director of the Stanford Graduate School of Business’ Center for Social Innovation, reasons that people fear being seen as opportunistic or self-interested, and so they refrain from publicly helping others. Moreover, people fear that seemingly selfless actions will inspire cynicism and suspicion from peers.

Luckily, Professor Miller is working to overturn the Darwinian theory of self-interest, and arguing that compassion motivates people to help others (not self-interest!). He contends that people who overcame hardship practice altruism to return the favor and help the people around them. Altruistic individuals understand suffering and have a sincere desire to alleviate it.

What do you think?  Are you quick to help others?  Do you worry that people will think you have selfish motives?

PS- The awesome hoop art was made by StitchCulture. Check out her Etsy shop and say hello!

don’t sweater it

We tend to focus more on our shortcomings than our strengths.  It seems that almost everyone is seeking to improve X, Y, or Z so that they can accomplish 1, 2, and 3.  This game of improvement is a handmaiden of goal-setting and progress, and it’s important that we play along in order to grow as individuals.  The trick of the game, however, is to consistently consider your strengths and remember to value the abilities that you already possess.

With that said, I present to you my horribly unartistic community chalkboard.  The handwriting is almost embarrassing, but I’m focusing on the idea more than the design.  You with me?

Most my mornings start when Kinzie licks my face left right and center to wake me up.  Sticky and slobbery, I walk her around the neighborhood so she can do her thing.  I put a sticky chalkboard along our route, and I plan to leave daily messages on the board.

I’m hoping to get a little more inventive with my messages each day.  I’m also hoping that someone writes back one day (hint hint).
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ace in the hole

Quick fact: Researchers at Berkeley refer to Darwin’s work as “survival of the kindest.”

Darwin believed that charity evolved to ensure the survival of family and build prosperous communities.  The idea of helping family seems instinctive, but the argument for community is that individuals benefit from a stimulating, creative and progressive environment.  People reach their full potential when their community inspires and motivates them to fully develop as individuals.

Our inclination for altruism is so engrained that we’re capable of becoming addicted to the good feeling it provides.  Jordan Grafman, neuroscientist at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, published a study confirming that philanthropy provides the same high as eating chocolate cake, having great sex, or winning at the blackjack table.  Philanthropy just feels that good.

My hands spent today crafting a paper wreath for the holidays, but my mind was working overtime to plan a fun random act of happiness for tomorrow.  The wreath is below, and I’ll share my super silly experiment with you right after it happens (as always):ImageImageImageImageImage

networked for kindness

In 1967, psychologist Stanley Milgram famously declared that there are six degrees of separation between all people.  Eman Yasser Daraghmi and Shyan-Ming Yuan of Chicao Tung University hypothesized that the degree of separation is shrinking due to online networking.  The scientists incorporated Facebook networks into the six-degree theory and found that the average number of separation between two individuals is actually 3.9
Networked communities like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are narrowing the distance between global citizens. If you’re anything like me, working on your computer and consistently checking various social networks, then you’re having daily interactions with people around the globe.  Chances are high that you’re interacting with your Internet connections more than your geographical neighbors.

Social networks connect individuals based on affinity rather than geography.  For the first time, we can choose our friends based on interests and similarities rather than proximity.  If you’re one of the millions of city dwellers living in a community without a connection to your neighbors, then you might even feel more comfortable interacting with your online social networks than your next-door-neighbors.

The geographical distance between the people that we share our daily lives with is expanding, and that means we need to re-evaluate our definition of neighbor and community.
Small towns are famous for their hospitality.  The kindness stems from the knowledge that they will inevitably run into the same people time and time again.  Chances are high that the person you smirk at in the grocery store will become your new co-worker or, worse, future boss.

The density of the city almost guarantees that we interact with new people on a daily basis.  But exercise caution: chances are high that you’ve interacted with these ‘strangers’ on digital networks in the past.  Chances are even higher perhaps, that you will interact with them in the future.

And so, what is the proper course of action for these strangers that we encounter in our urban communities?  Kindness.  Be kinder than necessary to everyone that you meet at the market, the café, the park and the bus stop.  You may not meet again in the exact same space, but chances are high that you will reconnect in a digital sphere. Image

naked cake party in the streets

A gathering without cake is just a meeting.  Cake transforms events into parties, and the sweet treat has been the honorary centerpiece of birthdays and weddings for centuries.  Last night I threw a party in the streets, and i brought … Continue reading