Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Random Acts of Kindness - Toastmaster Speech # 10

Some people think the world is becoming LESS friendly. Is this true? Some people think that there is no sense of community. Do you know your neighbors? Random Acts of kindness. We have all heard of this. We have watched the movie Pay It Forward. Statistics show that people are actually becoming friendlier. They are helping friends and strangers alike. They are just doing it differently than they did years ago.

• The Bureau of Labor Statistics determined that 64 million people volunteered in 2011. That was more than a million more than in 2010.

• Women volunteer at a higher rate than men in all age groups, educational levels and all other demographic differences.

Kindness is contagious according to a study done at the University of California. But we don’t need a study to know this. We have all seen the effects of a kind act on another person. We have felt the kindness of others. We have all felt the rippling effects of kindness.

Plato wrote and inspiring thought about kindness. I feel its depth is timeless:

“Because you reap what you sow. If you are sowing kindness, you will reap kindness. Give love, love will return to you. Share joy and joy will abound in your life”

As I mentioned in a previous speech I wanted to celebrate my 40th birthday in a very special, memorable way. I decided to complete 40 random acts of kindness for my 40th birthday. Then I decided to take it a little bit further and challenge my friends and family to do 1 random act in my honor. This was life changing for me. I achieved my goal of 40 random acts and I counted 32 random acts by others all for my birthday. A total of 72 random acts were passed on to 72 different people. I can only imagine the ripple effect of that.

My favorite acts that I completed was the coffee gift cards. I stood in line at Cairo’s and knew in my head what I wanted to do. I was nervous. My heart beat fast as I wondered who the recipient would be. As I waited I started hearing the ladies behind me talking. They were upset and complaining about their jobs. Their week was going to be so busy. Their boss was not very understanding of their workload. I kept quiet and just listened secretively. As I reached Bruce’s counter he gave me my usual cup for my usual coffee. I bought it and also bought 2 $5 gift cards. As I was shaking and nervous, I turned around and told the 2 ladies that I bought them each a gift card. I explained it was my birthday and that I was doing random acts. They were ecstatic. Their moods immediately shifted and they became friendly, happy, motivated and excited. It was thrilling!

Albert Schweitzer stated: “Do something wonderful, people may imitate it”.

I mentioned how I was nervous. There were several acts that I completed that made me nervous. It made me reflect upon our society and what has become of it. WHY was I NERVOUS to do something nice? Have we stepped so far outside ourselves that it is no longer acceptable to be kind?

When I drafted my birthday email requesting help in completing these random acts I sent it to everyone. I worried that I would make people uncomfortable or look like I had an ulterior motive. I received an email from my program manager. Uh oh. His random act made me smile. He completed his random act within 2 hours of receiving my email. He woke up that morning with a full agenda as he and his family were to prepare to leave for vacation. Having all coffee drinkers in the house he went to make a pot to get the family moving. He opened the fridge and to his despair… NO CREAM!!! He got himself dressed, left the house quietly and ran to McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts. He got everyone’s favorite sandwich and then a box of Joe with creamers and sugar. When he got home, he was greeted with cheers and happiness. He told them all that it was to celebrate Ann Marie’s birthday. Not knowing WHO Ann Marie was… they all looked at him funny. So he told them my wish. They all volunteered to participate and that added 3 more random acts to my list!

The stories were so infections. The people that participated were surprising. My far away friends Kathy Rehorst and Cheryl Sexton did a kind act to others. My wish reached other sides of the country! My son did 1 kind act a day for 1 whole week – by his own choice. My co-worker Carol performed a kind act without even knowing it. She gave me one of my most cherished compliments ever.

Random Acts are free! You don’t need to spend money to make someone happy. Hold the door. Smile. Offer a chair. After my little project was done, I was standing in line at the pharmacy at Giant Eagle. I had a million thoughts running through my mind. A sweet, gentle, old man came up to me. He put his hand on my arm and said “Don’t forget to smile, this life is better than any alternative” and he walked away. I NEEDED that on that day! If we only took that 1 moment. That 1 second to make someone else’s life an ounce better imagine how rich our life would be?

Most of us that work here have the privilege of living in a small town. Some are smaller than others…but regardless, our communities in Western PA are intimate. Small towns have a way of breeding hospitality and character. We can take our small town charm and infest it into the culture of bigger communities and cities. This time of year, you see football rivalry. Let’s keep the competitive spirit…but engage in kindness as well. Our community is hosting a Fight/Cheer for the cure. 2 rivaling schools are coming together at their next football matchup to raise money for breast cancer research. The 2 teams are working together to advertise and campaign for something greater than themselves. The competition will happen on the field…but the compassion and teamwork will happen off it.

I vow to make my life richer by helping others. I want to inspire you to do the same. I teach my children that making someone else happy is a key to making yourself happy. True random acts are genuine, sincere, thoughtful and considerate. They are acts we do without seeking anything in return. Enhance your senses and you will see far more positive things happening around you. If all of us just did 1 random act a week. Think of others first. The result would be astounding. I challenge you to do what I did. Celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, or milestones with a Random Act of Kindness project. It is a way to pass on your blessings to others. Not everyone is a fortunate as we are. I do complain, I do get frustrated, but I choose to emphasize the good in the world. I challenge you to do the same. We can all make a difference 1 act at a time. I will leave you with a quote by Mahatma Gandhi. “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Thankful Gratitude

The messages we receive from the media, the politicians and the economists are all so bleak and miserable. The stuff that our children hear and see with todays so called role models is worrysome. Many of us are affected by these miserable sentiments. We start to get hung up on the things we hear and see and forget about all the things in our life we have to be thankful for. I am taking an extra effort to live with an attitude of gratitude. Practicing gratitude is a workout of our soul. People that have a strong sense of gratitude or thankful ness do not necessarily have more than others… they simply recognize and see more beauty in their lives. If you condition yourself to look on the bright side of life, life will miraculously get brighter. I am making gratitude a daily practice of mine.

• I am thankful for my husband and my 2 beautiful children

• I am thankful my mother is healthy and able to help me

• I am thankful my sister is my best friend

• I am thankful that I am healthy

• I am thankful I have a job that pays well and is secure

• I am thankful for good hair days.

• I am thankful for my favorite tv shows because they are a diversion

• I am thankful for toastmasters to show me how to become a better speaker

Will you join me? I would like you to all state one thing that you are thankful for.

Feeling Gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. Give your gifts every day.

The Road Trip

The Roadtrip

Recently I took my kids on a 7 hour road trip back to my home town in NY. It made me realize how different this excursion was compared to the roadtrips my family took when I was a kid. I got each of my kids buckled in their seats, handed them their electronic devices, snacks and ear-buds and no one spoke for about 3 hours until a rest stop was needed. It was a very relaxing trip. Everyone arrived at our destination calm, refreshed and ready for our adventures.

This was different than the road trip I took in 1977. My parents had just bought a brand new car. Boy was it a beauty. It was an 8 passenger Pontiac LeMans Station wagon. Wowwie. She was two toned with light cream and that ever popular woodgrain. I remember taking the test drive with them. They let me sit in the back back for the road test. The seat in the wagon portion actually faced BACKWARDS. It was like I was on space mountain! Shortly after my parents took ownership of the family hotrod we had plans to go to Philadelphia. All of us. My mother, father, sister, my 2 grandmothers, my grandmothers beagle and myself. It would be a true test of strength for the new family truckster. Back then there were no electronics and no earbuds. There was mydads 1950’s rock and roll cassette tapes or whatever channel my dad chose on am/fm radio. My sister can still sing every 50’s song that we hear word for word!!

On family trips, my dad was ALWAYS the driver. I think I saw my mom drive with my dad in the car 3 times in my entire life. He liked to drive and use his CB radio. His handle was BIG MAC (our name was McIntyre). We all had CB handles… back then it was open mic night all the time. You could talk to the truckers and to other families. You could complain about the road conditions or warn each other of upcoming traffic… or you could just talk about nothing and pretend to have your own version of cannon ball run. My mom’s handle was Aquarius. Wasn’t that cool? My sister was a teenager and her handle was Magic Girl. Awesome. But I was 6. My handle was NOT very cool. My dad told me to pick something that I liked most. So Breaker, Breaker, Mint Chocoloate Chip Ice Cream hit the airwaves!! Oh, I wish I was kidding.

The seating configuration for our road trip was interesting. See my 2 grandmothers did not get along….at all…..ever. Grandma McIntyre was old, and never really walked well. She had various illnesses and was a very bitter, mean woman. She was extremely conservative and did not like conversation. We know she loves us because she had to, but she REALLY loved her beagle Cindy-Sue. Grandma Fiducia was the opposite. A very sweet, gentle grandma. She spoke very little English having been off the boat from Sicily years prior. She prayed a lot and LOVED her grandchildren more than life itself. We had to keep them separated because without fail Grandma Fiducia would do or say something to make Grandma McIntyre upset. SO. Grandma M. sat in the front passenger seat. Because I was the smallest and youngest the coveted middle seat position in the back was usually mine. I usually had to either sit with my feet up on the hump or straddle it for the duration of the trip. But with a packed car, My mom, my sister, and Grandma Fiducia sat in the back seat this time. Then came the question… What do we do with Ann Marie? I could either sit between my dad and the mean grandma in the front OR I could sit in the back, back. Unfortunately though, the back, back seat could not be up because of all the luggage. If I chose the back back, I would have to sit freely on the platform where all the luggage was stowed… with the beagle. It was fun back there. With no seatbelt laws, I just flaled and whipped around with every bump in the road. On extra-large potholes, I even hit my head on the ceiling. So we set out on our trip. My dad made sure that our windows were all sealed up tight because he didn’t want the air conditioning to escape… that made the smoke from his cigarettes stay tightly in the car. Ahhhh the smell of second hand smoke. There were no GPS systems, so my mom had to use a paper map sprawled out over the entire back seat area. The Map was always a conversation that leads to fighting. My dad didn’t believe my mom knew how to read a map; my mom would get frustrated with my dad’s questions. It was a joyous time.

Back then children did not need to be constantly entertained. I had no toys for the trip, no games, no electronics. All I could do for fun was pull at my sister’s hair from behind her, ask “are we there yet” about 1 million times and when that didn’t work pretend that I had to go to the bathroom, just so we could stop for a few minutes. After 7 hours of travel we successfully managed to keep the grandmas from fighting, the sisters from killing each other, the parents from getting lost and all of us somehow escape lung cancer from 2nd hand smoke. We arrived!!!!! But before we could head out for a fun time on vacation, we needed a nap to recuperate.

The Honeymoon is over - Project 6 TM

I wanted to take this time today to tell you all about my honeymoon. You probably think I am going to tell you how I went on this beautiful vacation, with whispering winds and palm trees, clear blue oceans, the white hot sands and the romance…oooh the romance. NO. This was not my honeymoon. Have you ever heard people say the Honeymoon is over…well mine was almost over before it even started!

We went on a delayed honeymoon 3 months after we got married. This was because my husband was taking college courses at the time and we had to wait for a break. We flew down to Miami and the airplane ride alone was an adventure. There we were on this turbulent flight and WHY…WHY do the put 2 large people in front of each other? Dutch was sitting with his arms tight against him the whole time. His knees we up by his throat. He was very uncomfortable. We get to the cruise ship and we wait…and wait…and wait to get on. When we finally make it to “our room” it was gorgeous. It had a balcony, a stocked bar, a king bed. It was beautiful. They put our suitcase in front of the rooms and this was our room…. But it wasn’t. They made a mistake. They put our suitcases in front of the wrong room. OUR room was really down the hall. It was a tiny inside cabin. No window. It had a fake curtain hiding the inside brick wall. The bathroom was barely big enough for my husband to fit in. He LITERALLY had to keep the door open to sit down so he had room for his knees. Well there we were. All of a sudden he tells me he wants to go home. IS HE KIDDING ME? HE WANTS TO GO HOME? This Honeymoon is going to be over, before it even starts!! Well, even though we were newly married, I already knew how to work him. I said, ok, let me see what I can do. I left the room…. Walked around the boat by myself. I listened to the emergency exit training and went back to the room. I told him that I spoke with the captain and crew and that it would cost us more to leave the ship now then to just stay on and enjoy the 4 days. By this time, he had enough time to cool down and he no longer wanted to leave. He just needed time to adjust. We decided to go deep sea fishing as one of our excursions. The ship docked and we got off in Cancun. We see some locals on the side of the road with a sign for DEEP SEA FISHING. GREAT! We gave these locals $250 cash. They barely spoke English. They told us to follow them and we did. We followed them into a car with another local that did not speak English. They take off driving down back alleys and dirt paths. They are talking back and forth in Spanish. Dutch and I are looking at each other in fear. I don’t care how big Dutch is… he was not going to save us from death by dismemberment. All of a sudden we drive out of the darkness in this beautiful, calm, somber ocean bay. There were yachts docked everywhere. They led us to this boat with a 2 man crew. Jorge and Pedro…15 years later I still remember their names. They had a cooler full of Corona’s and all the stuff we needed to fish! I caught the first fish. It was so hard to reel in. It pulled and pulled. I remember Dutch screaming KEEP THE ROD TIP UP. REEL HARDER, REEL HARDER. I finally said “I’m DOING THE BEST THAT I CAN!!” I threw in a couple choice words that I won’t repeat now. It was a 4 foot mahi, mahi! It was awesome! Dutch was next. He got a fish on. He reeled and reeled. I gave him a sarcastic “GET THAT FISH IN… Reel HARDER”. He quietly apologized stating that it sure was harder than it looked. It was a blast!

We made it through our honeymoon and consider it to be a learning experience. When our plane touched back down in Pittsburgh, he turned to me and said.. DON’T EVER make me fly again. It was one time of our lives that we always look back to and laugh. We had some challenging and scary moments and the Honeymoon was ALMOST over before it even got started!