25 Days of Giving Day Twenty-Three: Believe

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In 1992 I was twenty-two years old and living in Chicago. The market was tough for recent college grads, and after a part-time series of temp assignments and waiting tables, I took a job selling industrial products on the south side of town. It wasn’t a career move by any stretch, but it paid the bills and afforded me independence and the opportunity to spread my wings beyond the Kentucky state lines that bordered my childhood.

Anyone who’s visited Chicago in the winter knows it’s cold…complete with a biting, frigid wind that can cut you in half and come back for more before you’ve barely taken a step. It was on this kind of night, having worked late and in a hurry, that I jumped into my car, popped the clutch toward I-94, cranked up some music, and began the long drive home.

Just as the chorus crescendoed, my car started to sputter, gurgle, and lurch. In my haste to pick the right mini-skirt, tights, and oversized sweater that morning I’d forgotten one small detail. To look at my gas gauge. Before completely running out of fuel, I was able to ease my car onto an exit ramp, right in front of this:

Long before rap culture decriminalized the word, Chicago’s Robert Taylor homes were the true definition of “ghetto”. Worse than anything you’ll ever see on The Wire, these gang-riddled, drug-controlled, high-rises were the living, breathing embodiment of a failed social experiment better known as Hell.

There were no mass-market cell phones back then, so in order to get help, I had to walk right into the middle of the most brutal section of the housing development, better known as “The Hole” in my mini-skirt, tights, and not-feeling-so oversized sweater. The streets were busy that night, and for the first time in my life I was clearly part of the minority, the only white girl in a sea of black faces, hardened to the harsh elements, who, like me, were just trying to get where they needed to go. I hurried, one uncertain step after the other, to the first high-rise I came across. Surrounded by darkness, there was a security guard in a low-lit office at the base of the building. He either didn’t see me or didn’t want to be bothered, so I balled my hand into a fist and banged on the bullet-proof window.

“Please, Sir,” I yelled into the howling wind,”Can I use your phone?”

“Ain’t no phone here baby girl,” he answered. “You best keep moving and find somewhere else to be.”

I hesitated, somewhat stunned by his response, and stared through the window, willing him to change his mind. When he crossed his arms and turned to watch his security monitors instead of meeting my gaze, I knew I was truly alone.

With no other choice, I walked back into the dark night. The snow was falling with a hard sense of urgency, and the swirl of faces around me faded in an out, like ghosts. I stumbled and caught myself, the slick pavement beneath me now covered in a sheen of icy snow. Not knowing what else to do I stopped. I looked left, then right, only to see replica after replica of a building that could offer me no shelter. In that moment, surrounded by nameless strangers in a dangerous place no one wanted to own, I lost something critical to finding my way. Hope.

And then something miraculous happened.

“I know you,” I heard from behind as someone caught my elbow in their grasp.

“Excuse me?” I replied. I turned, startled to see an old lady about my grandmother’s age who seemed to have come out of nowhere, bundled up in her winter clothes.

“I saw you from the bus when your car broke down,” she said. “Follow me. I know where to go.”

We didn’t talk. The temperature had plunged to a degree that made my nostrils cringe and shocked my lungs with every breath. But slowly, step after step she led, and slowly, step after step I followed.

After weaving around multiple, desolate buildings, we moved deeper into the projects and came upon a county hospital. I have no idea how we got there and couldn’t replicate the path. Again, there were people everywhere, but I had the acute understanding that no one wanted to offer a hand. Except her.

She led me to a bank of telephones and gave me a quarter.

“Call 9-1-1″ she instructed, “and tell them where to find your car.” I did exactly as she said. When I turned to thank her for the quarter, for taking time to help me, and for somehow seeing me when I felt invisable, she was gone. She had literally disappeared into thin air. Standing in her place was a police officer, who again took me by the elbow and said three simple words: “You’re going home.”

Sometimes I sit on the right side of God, and other days on the left. On that night, however, I was fully in his sight. I know, with a whole heart and eyes wide open that an angel was sent to me in the moment when I needed her most. I don’t know why or how, but something much bigger than me was at play, and it was an experience so profound that I have no choice but to believe.

I believe in the greater good of humanity. I believe that no matter the circumstance, everyone on this earth has the power within to rise up. I believe in equality. I believe in the kindness of strangers. I believe that tomorrow holds the possibility of being better than today. I believe life is worth living. I believe in me. I believe in you. The Giving Challenge for today is to Believe.

25 Days of Giving Day Twenty-Two: Spill Your Secrets

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When I was young, I was the queen of the white lie. My intentions were good, but somehow the result often ended up being…bad. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more comfortable in my skin and with my beliefs. With age comes experience, confidence, and a certain nonchalance known as having better things to do than worry about what everyone else thinks. Wisdom is the benefit to those wrinkles around your eyes that no cream or bovine cellular fluid injection can erase, an advantage that can only by earned over time.

With that thought in mind, today’s Act of Kindness is to Spill a Secret. To get things started, here’s one of mine:

In 2012, I believed I had a real chance to appear on The X Factor. Finally, there was a show willing to highlight the talent of a not so young but not too oldish aspiring songstress. Like me. For a full five days in a row, I pulled out my son’s amp and microphone and sang The Dixie Chicks’ Wide Open Spaces over and over and over in the playroom while the kids were at school. Then one day, my husband came home from work early, secretly recorded what was to be my audition tape, and tweeted it to the world. He didn’t get any retweets, so I locked myself in our bedroom for two days and cried. O.K., that was a lie. Not a white one. A real one. The truth is I realized that years and years of no vocal training except singing in the shower wasn’t gonna cut it, plus the weird synthesizer effects I was using to make my voice sound like Natalie Maines gave me a headache and made my dog whine. So I gave up and started serial watching Doomsday Preppers instead.

My destiny.

When you share your secrets you make yourself more vulnerable, transparent, real, and best of all, give all your friends something to talk about at the Girl’s Night Out they somehow forgot to tell you about. Give it a try. Just lay it out on Facebook that you’ve got a Chucky doll collection, because anyone who blocks you after the fact wasn’t a true friend anyway. You won’t regret it unless you’ve committed a felony, in which case, you might want to skip today’s act of kindness and catch up on back episodes of Snapped.

That’s not my house.

 I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days(ish), to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, delight, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.

25 Days of Giving Day Twenty-One: Forgive and Forget

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Everyone wants to be heard. It’s a natural, inherent desire that often has the power to lift you up, and can sometimes bring you down. The up? Kind words, personal validation, anything that lightens your load. The down? Meaningless conflict, petty arguments, self-righteous posturing that takes the air out of a room and returns…nothing.

The Giving Challenge for today is to Forgive and Forget, and the scope of that forgiveness is entirely up to you. Maybe it’s as simple as ignoring a Facebook comment that only ignites one side of a debate. Maybe it’s more difficult, like excusing a longstanding grudge that, when you look at it from the inside out, grew stale long before its expiration date.

Whatever you choose, there’s one thing, based on personal experience, that I know for sure. The greatest beneficiary of your gift will be you.

I saw this on the backside of a bathroom stall at my son's basketball tournament yesterday. Proof positive that inspiration can come from really strange places.

I saw this written on the backside of a bathroom stall at my son’s basketball tournament yesterday. Proof positive that inspiration can come from really strange places.

*If you’re wondering what happened to days nineteen and twenty? So am I.

 I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days(ish), to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, delight, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.

25 Days of Giving Day Eighteen: Make Someone Laugh

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The Giving Challenge for today is to Make Someone Laugh. If you’re not feeling particularly funny, just tickle someone, preferably not a cop, priest, or your parole officer.

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One from the archives. Happy Holidays from our family to yours!

 I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days, to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, delight, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.

25 Days of Giving Day Seventeen: Check Your Ego At The Door

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Birmingham, AL: $481.00. Charleston, WV: $1,000.00. Moraine, OH: $15,000.00. Bellingham, MA: $20,000.00.

All the denominations listed above are payments that Secret Santas across the country have donated towards items, often toys and children’s clothes, held on layaway. I love the anonymity of these acts because secretly extending a helping hand to another person is the purist form of giving. The reward is internal, not external, yet the act is powerful, emanating from the most complicated organ any of us possess: the heart.

With that in mind, The Giving Challenge for today is to Do Something Anonymous. Even though the generous folks in the scenarios above parted with cash for their anonymous acts of kindness, you don’t have to spend money to secretly do something nice. If you’re having trouble figuring out what that might be, use the photos below for inspiration. It took me about 60 seconds to roam the house this morning for examples of how a child (let’s say mine), could anonymously make someone’s day (again, let’s use me as an example), by doing something kind in secret (one more time, for me).

 

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Thanks to mysterious shadowing created by the iconic IKEA Maskros pendant light, you can’t even tell that my middle child’s bed is never made. Like ever. Not in the history of never is it ever made. What a gift from the heavens, if, just once, I could walk into her room and not see, you know…this.

 

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One of my top Secret Santa wishes is that my kids will someday hang up the clean clothes that I wash, dry, fold, and organize into neat piles to be put away. This is a picture of those very treasured possessions, thrown in a heap onto a dresser by my youngest daughter. While no animals were harmed in the making of these photos, our dog is seriously scared shitless to go into Essa’s room.

 

We are the world. We are the children. We are the ones who make a brighter day when we f****** hang up our towels.

We are the world.
We are the children.
We are the ones who make a brighter day when we f****** hang up our towels.

 

We are the world. We are the children. We are the ones who make a brighter day when we f******* close our dresser drawers.

Ahhh, the infamous “I’ve got way too much homework to close my drawers” excuse. Full discloser: nothing in this picture was photoshopped to make my kids’ crap look skinnier than it is.

 

No words for this one.

No words for this one. Not one.

So there you have it. Several real-world examples of how to anonymously make someone’s day. With those thoughts in mind, go out and do something secretly fantastic, and stop by my house if you need some inspiration.

I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days, to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, delight, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.

25 Days of Giving Day Sixteen: If You Can’t Say Something Nice Don’t Say Anything At All

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I know how to use my words, and when I’m angry, they quickly become weapons. There’s nothing like cutting someone down to build yourself up. It feels great. For about five seconds. Then the rush of self-righteous adrenaline that so efficiently fueled your vocabulary dump completely dissipates, and you’re left wondering what made you so mad in the first place. Even worse, your reflection in the mirror becomes distorted as you ask yourself, over and over, why the person staring back felt the need to be so mean.

The Task for Day 25 is to Say Something Nice. Period. If someone is rude to you? Walk away. When annoyance escalates to irritation? Take a deep breath. Avoid talking behind anyone’s back. For an entire day, compliment instead of criticize, then see how you feel at the end of it…up or down, happy or sad, empty or full. Not only will the world be better for your effort, I have a feeling I know where you’ll end up.

I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days, to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, delight, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.

25 Days of Giving Day Fifteen: Speak Up for Someone Who Can’t Speak for Themselves

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Not long ago, I found myself rushing to the grocery store to get something one of my kids needed the next day for school. It was late and I was tired, preoccupied, and annoyed. Like most moms, I was running behind an endless to-do list that seemed to square itself and multiply whenever I wasn’t looking. Snow swirled outside, it was an unusually frigid night, and a humid chill was biting, snapping, and pushing people indoors. All I wanted to do was get what I needed, check out, and go home.

Turning down the frozen food aisle, I came upon a young boy, about my son’s age, and an old man. The man was huge; well over six feet tall, unshaven, wearing dirty old jeans, suspenders, and an untucked shirt.

The boy? Small. Cowering. A little disheveled as he gazed up at the man while simultaneously trying to avoid meeting the harsh gaze in his eyes. He reached for a frozen pizza, and the old man smacked it out of his hand, mocked his sagging posture, and demanded, “What do you think I am, an ATM?”

The boy looked down at his feet and didn’t say a word.

In that moment, I knew something was wrong.

I slowed down, eased up close, cleared my throat, and tried to make myself known. The old man realized I was there, made eye contact, and didn’t smile. I didn’t smile back. Then he grabbed the boy by the shoulder, threw a glare in my direction, and dragged him toward the door.

I felt a mixture of emotions in that moment…anger, confusion, pain, sadness…but the one that overwhelmed me and now makes me feel ashamed?

Fear.

That man scared me, and in a split second I used fear to assess and rationalize what I was about to not do…my husband was out of town, the kids were home alone, and the storm outside was getting worse. In an attempt to justify my inaction, I convinced myself that the old man was probably the boy’s grandfather, unemployed, and having a bad day.

Except my gut told me that wasn’t the case. The little boy needed help, and I didn’t extend my hand.

I’d give anything to have that moment in the grocery store back, to actually listen to my sixth sense instead of brushing it aside, to have made a different choice. But it’s gone. Left alone, the voice of indecision becomes that of regret, and it doesn’t go away.

I’m now haunted by that innocent child in the grocery store, wondering where he is, and at the same time, who I failed to be. The Challenge for Day Fifteen is to speak for someone who can’t speak for themselves. I realize this opportunity may not present itself today, but it will in the not too distant future. Whether it’s helping an elderly woman who’s struggling to get her groceries from the cart to her car, saying “hi” to a kid at school who seems to always end up on the wrong side of everyone’s jokes, or diffusing a tense situation with a smile, whenever you take the opportunity to help someone who’s in a worse place than you, you give them a voice.

If you’d like to help an innocent child, please visit http://www.casaforchildren.org.

I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days, to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, delight, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.

25 Days of Giving Day 13: Stop and Listen

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When I was a child, I was so quiet that my parents nicknamed me “Mouse”. It suited me perfectly, because instead of speaking up, I was much happier keeping still, burying my nose in a book, and staying out of the conversation. Then I turned 13. Ready to face the world in my Capezio shoes, pleather pants, and a super-sweet, unicorn-inspired Swatch watch, I moonwalked my way into teendom and haven’t stopped talking since.

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That’s me on the right in my 8th grade yearbook, my bestie Susan in the middle, and my friend Alicia on the left, who had clearly taken the Sunday afternoon modeling class at the mall. Me? Still struggling to look at the camera.

Except when I do. Stop talking, that is. Back when I learned that all you had to do to solve Nancy Drew’s problems was skip to the last page, I also unintentionally discovered something else…the value of listening. I was so quiet that conversations went on around me as if I wasn’t there. But I was, and I learned the nuances of pregnant pauses, skipping a beat to absorb a thought, and that, in conversation, it’s O.K. to take a moment to reflect before responding.

So the task for Day 13 of the Kindness Challenge is to stop and listen. To everyone…husband, child, stranger, friend. If you’re not sure exactly how to do this, I have a foolproof method for success. Don’t interrupt. When you let someone else’s conversation flow without acting on the impulse to immediately interject your opinion (and, let’s face it, ego), you open a door to true engagement. Everyone wants to be heard, so make that happen today by simply slowing down, pulling back, and letting someone else talk.

I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days, to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, delight, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.

25 Days of Giving: A Week of Saying I Love You

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Love is one of those rare things in life that you can buy never get or give too much of…three words that, used often, will win friends and influence people gain exponential power and potency over time.

With this thought in mind, the Challenge for Days Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, and Twelve is to say “I Love You”. Because it’s late I want to focus on my family, I did a little too much fa-la-la-la-laing this weekend I need to get through my daily affirmations, and Gemini are known to be non-commital creative, I’m only writing one post upping the ante and asking you to say “I love you” this week in five different ways.

Monday – Obvious: husband, child, brother, grandma. This is the “duh” special kind of love that we all take for granted should pay more attention to than we realize. It’s the love we trash when we’re in a bad mood assume will always be there, and is the most expensive painful when it’s taken away.

Tuesday – Unexpected: This category is often dominated by, but not limited to, your mother-in-law someone you have a hard time communicating with. Today is a day to just tell her how you really feel about her cooking get over it and say what you’ve wanted to all along: “he loves me more” “I love you.”

Wednesday – Overdue: This one acts just like it sounds. Stop throwing away money at the track procrastinating and dipping into your kids’ 529s, making excuses. Pick up the phone, call someone you haven’t spoken with in a while and say “can I borrow some money?” “I love you.”

Thursday – Unrelated: someone you aren’t connected to through years and years of extortion by blood.

Friday – Anonymous: someone you tend to stalk don’t know. I have a simple vision of some duct tape, an x-acto knife, and Depends a piece of paper, a Sharpie, and a car windshield. All you have to do is say is “don’t move or you’ll lose a bicuspid” “somebody loves you,” then run for your life, start the weekend with a smile, you’ve just gotten away with murder completed five incredible acts of kindness.

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I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days, to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, delight, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.

25 Days of Giving Days Six and Seven: Get Inked

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I’m a textbook discarder. Anytime my husband brings something into the house, I’m on my way through a different door hauling something out. I’m all about clean lines, order, and lists. Lots and lots of lists.

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The Story of My Life. Literally.

Giving away unnecessary stuff makes me feel good, and a lack of clutter equals a lack of complication in some kind of metaphysical, big life meaning thingy that I haven’t quite figured out.

Ironically though, the only thing I won’t let go of is memories. Not the painful ones that wake you up in the middle of the night with a big, fat “why?” staring down from the ceiling. Those conveniently go out with the trash as soon as I can gather them up. I’m talking about the good ones. The real, sometimes raw, but more often relevant things from the past that have made a big contribution to my present. I have every high school note, my letters from college, cards given back and forth for special events…all of it. It’s a treasure trove of boyfriends, break-ups, and besties that I can’t live without.

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But thanks to the worldwide web and the ghost of Steve Jobs, collecting memories is harder today than it used to be. We email instead of pulling out paper and pen, and thank you notes have almost become a thing of the past because it’s so much easier to text a quick line or two instead. Just like that, some of our best memories are deleted instead of being filed away for a rainy day.

Life is busy, and even though any kind of connection counts, there’s nothing like opening the mailbox expecting bills and finding a letter from a friend. So the task for Days 6 and 7 is to write a letter, because it’s a foolproof way to make someone you care about smile. Even though it takes more time than an email or a text, the reward is well worth the investment. All the way around.

So who are you going to write this weekend? We’re all writing to Aunt Mid, who at 96 has thrown in the towel for her annual holiday trip from Nebraska to Colorado. She’s an amazing woman, and hopefully our letters will help make her Christmas a little more shiny and bright.

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Aunt Mid at the tender age of 94.

I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days, to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, delight, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.