Posts Tagged ‘random acts of kindness’

Paying it Forward

Monday, October 26th, 2009

There’s a man here in our area who is called the San Diego Highwayman. Sixty-something, he is a gardener — not only a backyard gardener, but a gardener sewing the seeds of kindness on our interstates. A former mechanic, Thomas Weller spends a big chunk of his time cruising local highways in his own “Search and Rescue” station wagon, on the lookout for someone having a roadside emergency. He says there’s just too much anger, distrust, and fear in this world and by offering a helping hand he hopes to be doing a little to make the world a kinder place. It all started 40 years ago, when he plowed into an Illinois snow bank and would have frozen to death had it not been for a stranger who helped him out. When he asked the stranger how he could repay him, the Good Samaritan simply told him to pass along the favor to someone else.

The San Diego Highwayman has been paying it forward ever since — to the tune of about 5,000 favors. When someone he’s helped asks how to repay him, Mr. Weller simply hands him a card that says: “Assisting you has been my pleasure. I ask for no payment other than for you to pass along the favor by helping someone in distress that you may encounter.”

Now, I’m thinking that if you’re “lucky” enough to be stalled on the freeway shoulder with an overheated radiator, a flat tire, an empty gas tank, or any number of problems, and the San Diego Highwayman pulls up behind your car, it could be a life-changing experience, or rather, a world changing experience. Such blatant and dramatic acts of kindness don’t happen that often, and I think that being the recipient of such an act would be impossible to forget. Having been on the receiving end of Thomas Weller’s generosity and caring would change the way we respond when faced with an opportunity to be of assistance to someone in need. One act of kindness can multiply exponentially if enough of us pay favors forward.

Not too long ago, the Highwayman pulled up behind a couple of cars, one disabled and the other assisting. Pleased that another person was out there willing to help a motorist in a pinch, he asked the do-gooder why he’d stopped to help this stranger. The man replied that a while back, his wife had had a blow-out and had been helped by a man who gave her a card asking for no payment, but rather to return the favor to someone in need.

May we all be on the giving end this holiday season, in some form or another, knowing that our actions could be smoothing the rough edges of life of someone in need. I think that Mr. Weller, sower of seeds of goodwill, would be first to tell you that the pleasure would be nearly all yours.

Teaching Children Through Our Actions

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

As I was on my morning walk, I strolled right by a bank’s drive-up instant teller. A woman was using it, standing outside her SUV because it was too far to reach from inside her car. The sun was bright, and she was struggling to shade the screen with her hand because of the glare. Behind her SUV, a city maintenance truck and a third car were waiting, their engines idling.

What bothered me about this scene is that right around the corner of the building there are two instant tellers in the lobby. Using them would only have required parking (free!) and walking about 30 steps. Instead, the woman chose to get out of her car and fight the sun’s glare, and the other two people decided to sit in their cars, wasting time and gas. All this on a 70-degree day!

As I continued my walk, the sight of another woman made my day. When I saw that she had a plastic bag on each hand, I jokingly said, “I see the bags, but I don’t see the dog!” She laughed and told me the bags were for picking up trash. (She was using them as gloves.) While there are many popular “awareness” movements right now, from breast cancer to autism, is there any greater way to provide awareness than through real action and purposeful living like this? As great as pins and bumper stickers can be for getting the word out, this woman’s generous act speaks more than 100 anti-litter stickers.

If we want the next generation to be loving and reverent caretakers of the earth and each other, we parents have to step up to the plate with our actions. It’s not enough to use peace signs, bumper stickers, and tattoos to proclaim our love and values. We’ve got to demonstrate the very core beliefs we value. Do we buy our children a giant inflatable bouncer house for Christmas while proudly wearing a “Save the Earth!” t-shirt? Do we drive our Hummer 30 miles to pick up our organic, free-range Thanksgiving turkey?

Just as the two women I watched this morning told two very different stories, we tell our children stories every day through our actions. This holiday season, we’ll be singing songs with our children about peace and goodwill and sending cards about spreading joy, but my hope is that each one of us in our own unique ways will be living peace, goodwill, and joy through our actions-be it in volunteering in soup kitchens or in buying gifts that support artisans and sustainable living. Our children truly are watching.

“Searching” for Peace

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Maybe this is common knowledge, but did you know that it’s possible for a website with a “search” feature to keep track of all of the words typed into the “search” box? When you think about it, it’s an amazing tool that can be used to find out just what people are interested in, eager to know about, or are looking to buy.

I tell you this because during the start of the Iraq War, we noticed a huge surge in the number of searches on our website for the word “peace.” The conflict was on all of our minds, no matter where we stood politically. We were worried, scared, and not at all comfortable with the fact that our country was at war. So a lot of us were searching for anything that said “peace” — whether it was the word, itself, the peace symbol, a dove, or anything, really, that communicated hope for a sense of harmony in the world. But now, with the war headlines much smaller, the number of searches for “peace”? Not so many.

I’m pretty sure most of us would agree that the absence of war does not equal peace. And I’m pretty sure most of us would agree that just because we no longer hear daily war casualty numbers doesn’t mean that peace resides in the Middle East. One could say that what has replaced the war headlines — the world economic crisis — is certainly a situation riddled with anguish, fear, and despair — many of the traits of war, itself. So, I’m wondering if, judging from the decrease in the number of “peace” searches on our website, many of us believe that we now have less need to think about and work for peace. I hope not.

Because — and we’ve heard this a million times — peace comes from within. It needs to begin very close to home. It might begin with finding something to be grateful for and for sharing your gratitude with a smile for those you meet. It might begin by picking up an extra bouquet at the farmers’ market for your neighbor who doesn’t get out much. It might begin with taking a deep breath and waiting a moment before you open your mouth to vent to someone. Or maybe by volunteering your time to an effort that makes the earth a gentler place. I guess what I’m saying is that for there to be greater peace in the world, there needs to be greater peace in our own, personal worlds. Internet searches for the word “peace” are fine, but the real search begins within.

The Mug of Peace(available at our sister site, IsabellaCatalog.com) At first, it was the irrepressibly cheery colors of this hand-painted ceramic mug that caught my eye. What really sold me, though, was the small peace sign embossed into its side. I just love starting my day with this optimistic mug. Whether paired with tea, coffee, or hot chocolate, it’s the perfect gift for all your peace-loving friends. Microwave and dishwasher safe. [Review by Janet Kelly]

Chinaberry Interviews Susan McKinley Ross

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Susan McKinley Ross creates fun: games, toys, crafts – anything involving fun for children. She licensed her first toy in early 2003, and she’s been busy ever since with her growing business, Idea Duck. I had the great pleasure of meeting Susan in 2004 when she was helping us select toys for the Chinaberry catalog. Today, we carry her award-winning board game, Qwirkle. When we had lunch together at Toy Fair last January, I could have listened to Susan for hours! Since we ran out of time, I thought I’d continue our conversation here and share it with you all!

Janet: When you were a child, immersed in toys and games, did you ever one day dream that you would become an award-winning game maker?  What DID you see yourself doing?  In other words, what were your aspirations?

Susan: Growing up, I had no idea there was such a thing as a toy designer. Or a game designer. I thought these products just magically appeared. The whole concept of product design was outside my realm of experience. We’re aware of authors, directors, fashion designers, but as a culture, we’re not very clued in to the people who design things like toys or silverware. Every single product was designed by someone and I’m fascinated by that. It’s a career I stumbled into, but if I had known it existed, I would have sought it out.

As a child, I spent hours making mud pies, playing with my dollhouse and inventing imaginary worlds for my miniature toy animals. I think that’s why I’m drawn to low-tech toys. I want to design toys that I would have enjoyed myself.

In elementary school, I planned to be a lawyer and do good things for the world. When I graduated from college, I was blessed to get a job working at Hospice. I still sing the praises of the amazing people who do Hospice work. Working at Hospice taught me how important it is to do the things you love to do. I realized I wanted to be doing something creative in my work life. It turns out I wanted to be designing toys and games, even though I didn’t know that was what I was headed for.

Janet: What were your favorite games growing up?

Susan: I’m lucky. My family played games often. They never thought that I was too young to play. They taught me whist (a simplified version of bridge) when I was six years old because they needed a fourth player. We played a lot of cribbage and a lot of gin rummy. We played Scrabble, Monopoly, Password, Pay Day, Rummikub and Mille Bournes. When I was in high school, I played a lot of card games with my friends - hearts, spades, canasta and pinochle. We also played Trivia Pursuit and Pictionary. These are all very popular games that anyone my age would have had access to. I was just lucky to grow up with people who liked to play games.

Janet: Could you tell us a little about the monthly game night you and your husband host in your home? What is your favorite game now?

Susan: My husband, Chris, introduced me to a much wider variety of games than I knew about. Since we both love games, we’ve hosted a monthly Game Night for 12 years. It’s similar to a book club. Ten to fifteen people come over and we break into a few groups and play games. Game Night gives us a regular opportunity to play lots of games with lots of different people. It’s a fun way to spend an evening with our friends, and it’s a huge help to me as a game designer.

My favorite game is Puerto Rico. I also love Dominion and Agricola. These are complex games that offer many routes to victory. I like games that offer choices, so that if your first plan is blocked, you can still puzzle out a good back-up plan. One of the things I like about Qwirkle is that as you play, the board grows and so does the decision tree. Late in the game, there are lots more choices about where to play. You get to search the board to find the best possible place to play.

Janet: You’re such a creative idea person!  What inspires you?

Susan: When I started doing this work, I was mostly inspired by looking at all the amazing products out there and trying to figure out what made them interesting. I’m a huge fan of HABA toys. They’re so beautiful! When I see their toys, it makes me dream of designing something just as wonderful.

It’s always inspiring to see something beautiful, be it a toy or a greeting card or a children’s book. Toy Fair is a wonderful event and it makes my head spin with new ideas. I love it. But my absolute favorite part of going to New York for Toy Fair is my yearly pilgrimage to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Going there inspires me for weeks.

The best part of my job is when I’m in the throes of inspiration. Sometimes I wake up with a great idea and I’m blessed that it’s my job to hold onto that idea and develop it. It is completely compelling. I really let myself indulge in the joy of inspiration because it helps sustain me when I hit the difficult stages of product development.

Janet: If you could have only one item in the Chinaberry catalog, what would it be?

Susan: I love the Chinaberry catalog! When I read your catalog, it’s like having a conversation with a good friend. I’m always trying to find new things I enjoy, and Chinaberry is a great way to do that.

The thing that I’ve been meaning to order from Chinaberry is the new Himalayan Salt Inhaler. I’ve always been fascinated by the Neti Pot, but this looks even better. Leave it to Chinaberry to find a useful new version of a classic item.

Janet: And, lastly, tell us about your May Day ritual.  I know I’ve been getting your May Day flowers for the past five years, and I’ve saved every single photo.  Tell us how it started and how many pictures you send.

Susan: When I was growing up, my Mom and my grandparents taught me about May Day. They taught me to make a bouquet of flowers, leave it on our neighbor’s porch, ring the doorbell and hide in the bushes. Of course, the neighbors always knew it was us! But it was fun to do anyway. In high school, my cousin Stephanie and I would get up very early and drive around town delivering May Day flowers. And candy. We didn’t have enough flowers for everyone, so we gave some people candy. The best part was that we’d pick a few completely random houses to leave flowers.

Eventually I figured out a sneaky way to deliver hundreds of May Day bouquets. I make one beautiful bouquet, take a picture of it and email it. A few years ago I decided to turn the photo into a card so my favorite people would get a love note on May Day. I send out between 200 and 250 cards.

It gives me great pleasure to keep this May Day tradition alive. In general, I’m holiday crazy. But I especially adore celebrating May Day because it’s entirely my decision to celebrate it. It’s not a commercial holiday. There’s no apparatus to support May Day. It’s just a great excuse to remind people that I’m thinking of them. I usually deliver 5-10 actual bouquets on May Day. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see people and let them know how grateful I am for their presence in my life.

Janet: Be sure to check our blog May 1 for Susan’s 2009 May Day bouquet!

Raising Kids Who Care

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Article written by Martha Fay in Reader’s Digest

Raising kids who care

It’s easy–if you lead by example. Five families show you how to get started, stay committed, and make a real difference.

ENCOURAGE THEIR PASSION

Phil and Anne Holland-McCowan
John, 16; Harrison, 13
Atherton, California

John Holland-McCowan was sitting on a beach in Hawaii with his parents and his baby brother, Harrison, happily playing with coconuts and driftwood. “I’m so lucky,” the almost-five-year-old suddenly announced. “I have all these toys to play with and all my toys at home.”

His startled parents replied that he was indeed lucky, since a lot of kids didn’t have any toys at all. “That’s when he started to cry,” recalls his mother, Anne.

“How can that be?” John asked. “We have to get toys for those children.”

His parents naturally wondered if it was just some kind of phase, but as soon as they returned home, John began hoarding his small allowance to buy toys for other kids and urging his friends to do the same. His parents responded by organizing pizza suppers for other families interested in helping underprivileged children. “We just want to cheer kids up,” John explained.

“It was so great and so simple,” says Anne, who set out to find a place that would allow children as young as six and seven to volunteer. “It took a lot of phone calls,” admits the longtime volunteer. “We finally got Scribbles and Giggles [scribblesandgiggles.com], a day-care center for medically fragile children, to let John and his friend Jane visit. They went and just played with these kids, zipping around the room as if they belonged there. And these were children with tubes in their throats and all kinds of medical problems.”

John and his friends named their enterprise Kids Cheering Kids (kidscheeringkids.com), and today there are 19 chapters in the greater San Jose/ South Bay area; another in Metairie, Louisiana; and still another in Portland, Oregon. John is 16 now, a six-one sophomore and a water polo star at Menlo High School. He still visits kids at the San Jose Family Center, helping out with a carnival they’re putting on. He’s also working with Angels on Stage (angelsonstage.org) in the South Bay to prepare a performance of The Wizard of Oz starring children with disabilities.

The spirit of helping is as fresh as it was that day in Hawaii. “The whole purpose,” he says, “is to make the kids feel better.”
(more…)

Making Connections

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Because I travel a lot, I often observe some pretty amazing things in airports and airplanes. Many of these “amazing” observations don’t exactly make my heart sing, so it was particularly refreshing to have an experience recently that did. I believe it helps to share such stories, especially considering the not-so-great news that bombards us from every direction.

Not long ago, a coworker and I were trying to make a tight connection at the end of a particularly grueling trip. As our plane pulled up to the jet way, my colleague bemoaned, “our next flight has already boarded.” We were seated in the back of the airplane, so it looked pretty hopeless that we’d make our connecting flight. But a girl who was part of a group of teenagers traveling home from an FFA convention overheard the comment and took it upon herself to organize her large party to stay seated and let us get off before them. This gesture allowed us to skip ahead 30 people, enabling us to make our flight by the skin of our teeth.

Now, as most of us know, the teenage years can be difficult ones. So many times the kids get a bad rap. More often than not, what you read about them is less than complimentary, especially compared to the endearing infant and toddler years when we can’t get enough of our kids’ cuteness, can’t stop taking pictures, and want to capture every moment. But things change through the years: we, they, the world. Expectations become more complex, and how our teenagers choose to be in the world affects a wider and wider circle of others with whom we share this planet.

I recently ran across a quote from Dr. Benjamin Spock that got my attention: “In automobile terms, the child supplies the power but the parents have to do the steering.” Without parents who showed by example how to be gracious, how to be patient, and how to be considerate of others, these teenagers on our flight would have never even thought of allowing us to deplane before them. But kudos to them and those who raised them! In this generation of “It’s all about me,” I believe it’s more important than ever for parents to live in a way that demonstrates that it isn’t “all about me.” It’s about all of us, together, connected and aware that we are all in this together.

Words of Wisdom from Gandhi

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009
Wall art of Gandhi created by Will Kasso

Wall art of Gandhi created by Will Kasso

“Be the change you wish to see in the world”
- Gandhi

I just love this quote from Gandhi. I now have the bumper sticker on my car–mostly to remind myself of the responsibility we all share to “be the change we wish to see” in our families, communities, counties, states, countries, and the world.

A new arrival, ‘Be the Change’ Pendant, is now available at our sister site, IsabellaCatalog.com.

The following is an excerpt from an interview with graffiti artist Will Kasso:
Question: One of your latest portraits is Gandhi. Why?

Kasso: Well, Gandhi was a great human being. His contribution to society, the world for that matter, is undeniable. He directly influenced Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a host of others for positive change. So when I decided to do the wall, I wanted to paint someone that ignited change, since aerosol artists are the most misunderstood and stereotyped artists on this planet.

Words of Wisdom from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

Martin Luther King, Jr. with family after hearing that he won the Noble Peace Prize.

Two nights ago, I began reading the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. to my girls at bedtime. This is one quote–taken from ‘The Drum Major Instinct’ speech–that stood out to me, especially as we prepare to welcome in our new president, our first African-American president. It is up to all of us to help make the world a better place. We each have unique gifts that we can use to help others in need.  Please consider volunteering with your family and make a real difference in your community. What a great quality to teach our children about–service to others.

“… And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.

You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.

You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.

You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve.

You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve.

You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.

You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.”

- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Words of Wisdom from Sydney Smith

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

“Resolve to make at least one person happy every day, and then in ten years you may have made three thousand, six hundred and fifty persons happy, or brightened a small town by your contribution to the fund of general enjoyment.”

- Sydney Smith

A Worthwhile New Year’s Resolution

Monday, December 29th, 2008
(Click image to purchase these Lead-Free Crystal Champagne Glasses)

(Click image to purchase these Lead-Free Crystal Champagne Glasses)

I’d been standing in line at the grocery store for what felt like longer than a flight to Thailand. The minute another woman got in line behind me, a clerk appeared at the next register saying, “I can take the next person in line!” (You probably know where this is going, right?) Yes, the woman behind me hopped over to that register faster than I could say “Huh??”, and by the time she pulled out of the parking lot with her groceries, I was still waiting in my line, and a line had now formed at the other register as well. When I was finally greeted by the clerk’s “Find everything you need today?” I was imagining that woman already at home knitting in front of the fire. Arrgh.

Whenever I get together with friends these days, our conversation generally includes at least one horror story about a recent brush with rudeness, and I’m not talking about misplaced salad forks. Of course, compared to the growing risk of a human flu pandemic, a national etiquette crisis may seem like pretty small stuff, but I’m obviously not alone in my concern. I read in the “U.S. News & World Report” that nine out of ten Americans think that rudeness is not only a serious problem that’s getting worse, but it is also creating more opportunities for violence. (more…)