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It Doesn’t Have to be Over – Keep the Giving Spirit Alive all Year Long

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The best gift you can give is kindness.

The other day, I saw several of my neighbors waiting for the trash collector. When he stopped in front of each of their houses they greeted him. They asked about his holiday plans and gave him a gift showing their appreciation for doing a great job all year.

He comes early. I wanted to spare him my fuzzy blue bathrobe, so I watched from my office window. It was foggy, but I was still able to see the smile on his face as he took the red and green gift bag I’d left for him on the lid of our trash can.

We know how small gestures of kindness from others affect us. But we don’t always know how our simple deeds may impact others.

Several years ago, my daughter asked me to be a team leader for a group of friends who wanted to volunteer for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. The day of the event I spontaneously invited one of her friend’s parents to join us. At the time, we didn’t know them very well. But they came and had a great time.

Over time, we became good friends enjoying boating, barbeques and family trips together. Last year, this friend invited me to help with Relay for Life. I didn’t know it at the time, but she had been very involved and had volunteered every year since the first time we walked the High School track together.

At the first meeting they asked each attendee to tell the group why they were getting involved. My answer was simple, Barb asked me. I was selfish. Barb’s a fun, upbeat person and I like hanging out with her. Going to the monthly meetings was guaranteed girl time.

Barb stood up to tell us why she was involved. To my surprise, she was there because I had invited her all those years ago. And at that time, unbeknownst to me, she was fighting cancer. That first relay meant a lot to her and her family. She’s a survivor. Now she does what she can to help others win the fight too.

I was touched to have helped. And I’m so thankful for the years of friendship we’ve shared.

A small pebble can make big ripples.

A high school art teacher was the one who encouraged me to pursue an education in fine art. His support gave me the confidence to follow my dream. And in turn, several of my students have gone on to be successful glass artists. But, the acts and results don’t have to be huge to be of great value. Small gestures are equally as significant.

I appreciate it when a stranger holds the door to the pack and ship store for me when I’m carrying oversized boxes. Or when a driver backs off, so I can merge onto the highway. These simple acts of kindness impact my day in a positive way. They buoy my mood. And positive energy encourages more positivity. They’ll never know how much their generosity meant to me. I keep that in mind when I come across strangers at the mall, or people who provide a service for us. I offer a warm smile; I ask how they are and genuinely care. I like to think it brightens their day, maybe it lessens a burden or at the least, makes them feel special, like someone cares.

When I saw my neighbors greeting our trash collector, I could see how much he appreciated being remembered. It’s these minor moments of compassion and consideration for each other that make this season so special.

You may never know how your actions affect another person. But, when I offer kindness to others it warms my heart. It puts a smile on my own face and a spring in my step. And that’s a good start.

Give from the heart. Pass it on.

Cheers!
Lisa

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Be Selfish – 5 Ways to Become a Better Parent

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By Lisa J. Vogt

You’re thinking, what? Did she just suggest that I should be selfish? Mom’s aren’t allowed to do things for themselves. This is where you’re wrong and I’ll tell you why. When you feel rested, emotionally centered and beautiful, you shine brighter than any star. And that glow lights the way for your entire family. Therefore, your selfishness really is for the good of your family. See how I turned it around to minimize your guilt? It’s a mom thing.

In my experience, when I’m stressed out and at my breaking point, all I need to flip my attitude from worlds-end to sunshine and butterflies is an act of personal kindness. I don’t need an exotic cruise or hour-long massage, though that would be nice. In a crisis, you’d be surprised how simple pleasures can power a shift in perspective.

It’s different for each of us. What works for me may not work for you. The trick is to dig deep, but keep it simple. Don’t over complicate your needs. Identify what makes you happy. What makes you feel special and pampered?

Here are a few ideas that work for me. Maybe they’ll work for you too.

1 Take it Outside

Amazingly, a short 20-minute walk makes a huge difference in my mood. Outside, I can’t help but take in the vastness of the sky. I admire the way the sunlight filters through the trees. I hear the hawks calling to each other. I feel the breeze on my cheeks and enjoy the steady rhythm of my legs moving me forward. With so many beautiful distractions it’s hard to hold onto troubles. I begin to feel small. My problems seem trivial. Once you’re there, your mind clears and there’s suddenly room for constructive problem solving.

The great thing about this exercise is you can do it anywhere at any time. If you’re at work, walk around the grassy perimeter of the parking lot. Watch the squirrels bounce from tree to tree. If it’s raining, go anyway. Just take an umbrella. Unless you’re the Wicked Witch of the West, you won’t melt. And if you are behaving like her, you really need this. Walk at night. Star gaze. Listen for the nocturnal wildlife to begin their day.

For this to work, you must leave your cell phone behind. Seriously. Remember this is your time. Be selfish. The world will revolve without you. It takes the full 20-minutes to relieve your mind of worry and rebuild the strength to handle things logically, instead of emotionally.

I’ve tried to take my phone, promising myself it will stay in my pocket. I have not been successful yet. Something always comes up. A text, an email, an idea to research, all of which could have waited.

Best of all, if you really commit and leave your phone behind, halfway through your walk you won’t care that you even have one. What a relief it is to be free from the silver thread for a few minutes. You’ll love it!

It’s okay to take a friend or dog along, provided having their company makes you happy. And they’re willing to abide by the no cell phone rule. It’s only 20 minutes.

2 Buy Yourself a Lavish Gift for No Reason

My kids come first. I love shopping with my girls, and helping them select clothes or jewelry they’ll enjoy. But it’s rare that I purchase something for myself.

One day, I was feeling overwhelmed by my long to-do list. I decided a break from my routine would put tasks back into a manageable perspective. I went to the mall by myself to shop for myself. Wow, I thought as I walked around the stores, I’m so light on my feet. The only person I have to please, is me. I feel a pang of guilt just writing that. I bought myself silver, hoop earrings. They weren’t expensive, but every time I wear them that special, light on my feet sensation returns.

Lavish, doesn’t have to mean expensive. Buy yourself something that gives you the feeling of being pampered and treated special. It might be flavored coffee from a quaint café, when you usually drink regular at home. It could be fresh flowers for your bathroom, where only you enjoy them. Maybe it’s a leisurely trip to the book store and a new book. Get creative with your ideas. Try new and different gifts each time to keep it exciting.

3 Be a Rebel

Moms are queens of compromise and expert mediators. We want everyone to be happy and get along. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched a gory, horror movie peeking out from behind a pillow, because it brought the entire family together for two hours.

I’m don’t care to watch TV shows. I do like movies though. Romantic comedies, thrillers with unexpected twists, and nature shows interest me. I’m rarely in control of the TV remote, so when I am it’s a real treat. For me, watching a funny chick flick or a show on whales, uninterrupted is heaven. The light-hearted stories are relaxing and uplifting.

Sometimes, when I need a lift, I behave selfishly and watch a sappy Lifetime movie on the family room TV. On these nights, I lounge comfortably on the sofa while everyone else cleans the kitchen and washes the dinner dishes.

Where do you compromise? Is there something that’s important to you, but you never voice your opinion for the sake of family peace?

Be selfish. Speak up. You have the right, and obligation as a mother, to ensure your emotional well-being is healthy. We’re the most influential example our kids have, when we’re happy they flourish.

Now a confession. I’m not all that brave. I like family harmony as much as any mom. I mostly get my Lifetime fix when my husband’s out of town. Just like I expect him to get his MMA fighting fix while he’s on the road.

4 Eat Something Devilishly Decadent

Hot, crispy French fries dipped in an ice cold, thick and creamy chocolate milkshake. I know how to party! If this doesn’t make you feel alive, there’s no hope.

I also love a fresh Fuji apple with chicken salad, a toasted bagel with flavored cream cheese, or a hot fudge Sunday. Your food choice doesn’t have to be unhealthy to be devilish. But it should be something special, a real treat you’re excited to eat.

5 Spread the Love

Happiness is contagious. Don’t wait until you’re ready to snap to pamper yourself. I’m actively making being selfish part of my life. I’ve learned it doesn’t have to be often, nor does it have to be an earth-shaking event. Often the simpler treats are enough to recharge my batteries. When I feel good about myself I have the strength of mind and stamina to create a nurturing, positive environment for my family.

Small acts of kindness bestowed on yourself keep your glowing spirit shinning bright.

Shine on,

Lisa

What small gift would make your day?

What’s your devil’s food?

 

 

 

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Lost Love Affair – The Art of Hand Writing

By Lisa Vogt

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Call me a romantic, but there’s something special about hand-written notes. Maybe it’s because it has become such a rarity to put pen to paper anymore.

Remember the excitement you felt as a kid when you received a birthday card in the mail? It’s likely you recognized the handwriting on the envelope and knew who the card was from before tearing it open. Below the printed sentiment inside would be a hand-written note expressing wishes for you to have a special day. Or at the very least, there’d be a jovial closing followed by a signature. The message was sincere, the connection personal.

I worry that my kids, with all of today’s technological influences are missing out on a form of creative expression that truly humanizes us. Hand-written notes, like old family photographs, make our deceased relatives real people with real life stories. Their decisions, good or bad, and their way of living directly influenced who we are and where we are now. It’s conceivable that the impact of their lives will reach well into the future.

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Looking Back

On the top shelf in my closet is a plastic keep box. It’s filled with silly little things I treasure. There are love notes Joe wrote to me when we were newlyweds and he had to travel for work. I have a hand-made coupon book decorated with flowers from my oldest daughter. It’s filled with vouchers for kisses, hugs, movie dates, and other sweet promises. There’s a rough pencil drawing on a rolled piece of graph paper. It’s a map of a dream farm with a barn, fencing and of course a horse. On the bottom corner my younger daughter, the artist and horse lover, signed her name.

Imagine a future without that human element. Handwriting is as unique and beautiful as the individual.

I’ve enjoyed watching my kids grow up through their penmanship on pre-school, elementary, middle and high school assignments stashed in my keep box. I’ve even gone so far as to save their letters to Santa. It’s been fun to see their spelling improve and their vocabulary expand year after year. The Santa letters are also mirrors that echo their wonderful individuality and their headstrong personalities. One daughter has always been fashion conscious including trending clothes, jewelry and makeup on her list. While her sister has pleaded with Santa to bring her a horse consistently, every year since she could hold a crayon.

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Those notes, letters and drawings are a testament to my kids’ lifelong dreams and ambitions. I wouldn’t trade them, the letters or the kids, for anything.

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Leave a Legacy

Tucked in between cook books, inside my kitchen cabinet is a curled manila folder stuffed with wrinkled, oil stained slips of paper. To the unknowing observer the oddly sized, discolored papers look like worthless scraps that should have been thrown away long ago. But to me, the folder’s messy contents are priceless.

Written on those tattered, creased bits of paper are favorite family recipes that have been passed down from generations. But the real gems are the handwritten recipes given to me by my mother and my mother-in-law, both of whom sadly have passed away. Beyond the obvious regional and ethnic origin of the dishes, it’s easy to tell who gave me the different recipes. My mother’s meticulously neat, tight handwriting featured elongated loops that steadily slanted to the right. While my mother-in-law’s curly hand writing reminds me of a lovestruck teenager’s flowing hair ribbons. She had a flourish for writing. She decorated the pages with lavish full loops and finished off her detailed instructions with plump hearts and X’s.

When my mother was alive, I took for granted that she’d always be here to write out her recipes for me. The thin sheet of paper with her handwritten recipe for Spanish Pot Roast has renewed significance now. It’s so much more than good comfort food. Holding it brings back fond childhood memories of my hardworking family. We were five busy individuals going in different directions. But we managed to pull it together and sit around the dinner table on Sundays to enjoy home cooked meals and conversation. Mom’s writing style was unique, artistic and all her own. I’d recognize her penmanship as easily as I’d recognize her voice, her smell, her warm embrace. The flimsy pages are a real piece of her I can hold on to.

My mother-in-law loved to cook; it was her creative outlet. She’d make elaborate, multi-course menus on weeknights, even though she worked a fulltime job. On special occasions, she’d extend the menu to include sweet made-from-scratch pies, delicious cookies and lighter-than-air cream puffs. When I hold those fragile handwritten recipes she gave me and follow her directions, she’s here and I don’t miss her quite so much.

I hate the thought of my kids missing out on the simple pleasure of this intimate, personal connection to my mother, my mother-in-law, and eventually me.

True, it’s easier to communicate with a clipped text, or by cutting and pasting someone else’s thoughts, or by sharing a picture rather than pulling out a pen. But we can help younger generations appreciate the value of writing things down on paper. Because personalized notes transcend time. They connect the past, the present, and the future.

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Handwritten notes may be a thing of the past, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Slow down for just a minute. Write a quick note. Let someone you care about know they’re special in a way that doesn’t momentarily light up a screen, but lasts forever.

For our kids’ sake, let’s keep it alive.

All the best!
Lisa

What fond memories does a specific handwritten letter trigger for you?

What’s in your keep box?