hey stranger hey

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The little phrase ‘take some love and pass it around’ has been floating around in my mind all day.  Perhaps it’s because I find books and love interchangeable?
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Thing is, Alessandra Rissotti, Community Director at GOOD, contacted me about recreating my ‘something for nothing’ book project from 2013.  58 GOOD readers participated last summer, and we’re hoping that even more people will get involved for the 2014 project.
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Last summer, I left my book collection next to a sign that read “something for nothing: take a book.”  This year, I made individual bookmarks that invite strangers to take, read, and share a novel.
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The project is simple and sneaky: take your favorite reads out of storage, dust them off, place a bookmark inside, and leave them around town.
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A happy surprise for a summer day, right?
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Here’s to hoping someone returns the favor.
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If you want to get involved, print out your own bookmarks here

drive-thru flowering

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I’ll do just just about anything to make myself or someone else laugh.  Perhaps that’s why I run amok committing random acts of happiness?The senseless acts are a surefire way to make a stranger smile, and I usually end up laughing about my awkward behavior.  More often than not, other people are laughing about my awkward behavior too.  And you know what?  I’m 100% okay with that.
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My friend Ashely stopped me in the elevator and asked if we could do a kindness project.  I immediately agreed, but then I was a bit stumped: what to do on a cold and rainy day?  The rain has been pit-pat-falling-down for the past few days, and the only thing I wanted to do was curl-up, read, and maybe drink a chai or three.  Except getting that chai meant driving to Starbucks or Caribou and winding myself through the drive-thru.
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A bit of a ‘give-a-mouse-a-cookie’ situation, but I started thinking about how register guys & gals would probably rather bundle-up at home than make me a chai  And then lightning struck (literally and figuratively): we could surprise drive-thru workers with flowers.  And so, that’s what we did tonight.  This video captures the reason I love these random acts of happiness oh.so.much:

fire the imagination

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“The city is melting away.”  Promising words coming from anyone besides a fire chief, right?  I’m keeping the windows open to hear the pit pat of snow melting off roofs, and my rain boots are a necessity for navigating the puddles that are here there and everywhere.  The melting makes everything feel clean and fresh and hopeful.  
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For some reason, my thoughts crossed and I realized that firemen probably aren’t too keen on the word ‘melt.’  And then, what do you know, I remembered that my friends at the fire station needed new pillowcases.  
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The last time I was there, they told me that they don’t have a budget for linens, and that the 21 pillowcases inside the station are older than me.  A call to action or a simple statement?  For me, it inspired a random act of happiness — pillowcases for Station 8. 
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dirtier than ever

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I did something a bit, well, strange today.  And you know what? I felt pretty bad about it.  I immediately wanted to scream apologies from my window and do something to keep my karma clean.  It’s not that I felt bad about what I did, but I felt bad for thinking it was so.very.strange. Because in all honesty, it was pretty gosh.darn.awesome.
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Some people count sheep when they can’t sleep, but I use the spare 30 minutes or so to watch TED talks.  The talks inspire and motivate and inform, and, before I know it, I’m drifting off to sleep with new insights and ideas and conversation starters. 
 
I couldn’t sleep the other night, and so I watched Robin Nagle’s talk about trash.  Not just trash, but the 11,000 tons of trash that New York City produces each and every single day.

 Nagle points out that sanitation workers toil to keep the city clean, safe, and beautiful, but that they hardly receive a word of thanks for their efforts.  On the contrary, people tend to attach a negative stigma to the people that risk their own health to clean up after us messy folk.

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I thought about the random acts I’ve done for police officers and mailmen and other types of public officials, and realized I was guilty of the exact bias Nagle was describing – I’d honestly just never thought that much about my trash (I recycle, but I’m not wondering who is picking it up and where it’s going and all that jazz).
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Being that it’s Random Acts of Kindness week, I thought I’d use the opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to the sanitation workers that work (often without recognition) to make our neighborhoods such nice places to live.

winter sweet

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Nothing brings people together like subzero temperatures.  When the weather drips and drops and dances into negative temperatures, the majority are brought together indoors for warmth and companionship.  This makes winter a wonderful time for intimate gatherings focused on loved ones rather than the hullabaloo outside your door.

Knowing that we’re all experiencing the same freezing temperatures and snow piles and icy roads helps build camaraderie.  What’s more, when the spring comes, everyone feels an almost overwhelming gratitude for the simple pleasures of sunshine and warmth.
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A friend called yesterday to see how I was coping with the -20 daily temperatures.  Honestly? It makes walking Kinzie a little difficult, but I busy myself with small gatherings and crafting and reading and yoga and baking and cleaning and try to keep warm.  I wear Long Johns and sip hot coffee/tea/anything with steam.  To be honest, it doesn’t seem as much like coping as it does going through the season.

Minneapolis schools have been closed the past few days, and a handful of businesses have followed suit.  For the most part, my friends and I are reveling in the joys of good old-fashioned snow days.  Perhaps this has something to do with my affection for winter?  I love myself a snow day or three or seven.
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Now, winter wouldn’t be quite as nice without snow days, and so I decided my first rah rah rah project of the year would help brighten the day of someone who works year round, despite the whims of weather.  Dog walkers, snow shovelers, mailmen, and trash collectors are all eligible under this category, so perhaps this project continues through the season.  Either way, today I left a small gift for my mailman:
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lights camera action

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If the weather outside is frightful then chances are pretty close to 100% that I’m bundled up inside with a movie or a book or a board game.  I probably invited friends over to avoid the icy roads, and we’re noshing on takeout while Kinzie zooms around looking for fallen treats.

Minneapolis just welcomed winter, and since the sun is on vacation, it’s a pretty dreary picture of clouds, snow and ice outside my window.  Knowing that people are going to be heading into their homes for respite, I thought I’d do a little rah rah rah experiment that made their cozy night a little happier:
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out of the blue

Unexpected pleasures stop us in our tracks and remind us that life is good.  These bits of joy disrupt our day as a reminder to enjoy the moment and focus on the little things.  A welcome distraction, right?  Street art is a simple way to send an inspiring message to the masses, and the distraction from daily activities is almost always appreciated.

To get in on the action, I planned a small street art project of my own.  Without the innovation, budget or scope of the artists above (click on the pictures to learn more about their artwork) I still figured I could make my neighbors smile by ‘eye-bombing’ inanimate objects.  What do you think?  Is my silly little project worth a smile?
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smile on a stick

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Candy apple on a stick makes my tummy go 2-4-6.  I spent loads of playground time singing the candy apple song with my elementary school crew, but I hadn’t thought about the hand-clapping anthem for nearly 15 years when it popped into my head today.  What was the occasion?  A rah rah rah experiment aptly titled ‘smile on a stick.’

I just might have discovered the fastest way to make a stranger smile:
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All my smiles came from spending a gorgeous day in St. Paul with Lyda Ham.  She’s a talented Twin Cities photographer with lots of heart and just as many laughs.  Oh, and good news — Lyda writes a lovely blog of her own, and you can read all about her adventures here
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stop drop kaboom

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It was the best of times and it was the, no wait, full stop.  It was simply the best of times.  I wish I could report on an uber-exciting weekend, but, alas, I spent all of Friday & Saturday helping Jon recover from the flu.  Instead of donning a costume or visiting friends, I made chicken noodle and caught up on Shark Tank with my favorite man.  Side note: does anyone else love that show?

Come Sunday morning, however, I was up and at um’ for some rah rah rah action.  My game plan? Bring sweet treats and thank you notes to the local firemen at Station 8.
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I expected to ring the bell, drop the treats and be on my way.  A quick and easy gift to make the men smile, and then poof bam be gone.  The firemen were so grateful for the chocolates, however, that they invited me inside to the see the engine.  I got a little excited about that, and, before you know it, I was stomping around in a fire suit learning the tricks of the trade (hot tip: always leave a little skin exposed when entering a fire so that you are cognizant of the rising temperate – if your skin starts to burn, get out.)
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I got a tour of the kitchen, and I was impressed with the spread of pancakes, bacon, eggs, donuts, and sausage on the table.  The firemen explained that they always did a big Sunday brunch together, and that they all take turns cooking.  Kind of like a family, right?
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The tour ended at the firehouse dorms where 21 men sleep in shifts.   A fireman made a joke about the exposed pillows, and then his station mate explained that they are always short on pillowcases.   So, can you guess what I’m doing? Organizing a pillowcase-drive with my apartment building.  A very near random act of happiness will involve returning to this fire station with loads of linens.

Kaitlyn and Sarah spread some joy to public officers with their own rah rah rah project in Milwaukee.  Head over to their blog, TheDuck&TheOwl, to read about how they spread happiness throughout their corner of the Midwest.

urban happiness

What role does geography play in our happiness?  Can we increase our happiness by changing our zip code?  The journalist Charles Montgomery studies how urban design affects human happiness, and he believes that we can manufacture joy through the urban landscape.   Specifically, he believes that we can “redesign our cities, our minds, and our own behaviors”…  “to build a city that is more convivial, more fair, more fun, and more happy.”

Montgomery offers a number of ways to make the city more fun, and my favorite suggestion is starting conversations in elevators.   He recognizes our inclination for personal space,  but he believes that the benefits of a good conversation outweigh the potential awkwardness : “Even a casual conversation with strangers has the potential to flood your system with feel-good hormones. Go ahead. Talk about the weather.”

I decided to encourage chatter by hanging conversation starters in elevators.  I’m not sure that anyone will answer the questions, per se, but perhaps they will chat about why someone hung silly paper all over the place.  Either way, mission accomplished. ImageImageImageImageImageImageSpeaking of urban happiness, I’m planning another rah rah rah project with my friends Kaitlyn and Sarah (TheDuck&TheOwl), and we want you to join us.  Are you up for it?

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The plan is to spread happiness to the public heroes that make our lives better every single day.  Grateful for the librarians that keep the bookshelves stocked?  Thankful for the firemen that continuously defend the city?  Let’s show our appreciation by giving them goodie bags filled with sweet treats and thank you notes.

I plan to spread happiness in Minneapolis, and Kaitlyn and Sarah will bring smiles to Milwaukee.   We’re both planning to blog about the project on Monday, and we’d love to read about how other bloggers got involved.  If you choose to participate, send us a link (in the comment section of the post) so that everyone can read about your random act of happiness.  Ready, set, RAH!