April 2nd, 1999, was also the day I became an Aunt to the peanut butter to my jelly.
I can still remember the corner of the rug where my six year old self stood while telling my kindergarten classmates about my niece’s arrival. I’m sure my voice was quiet, shaking maybe. But I was so proud of my new title as Auntie.
I never knew how much joy the job of Aunt brings. When my niece was born, her arrival unlocked a piece of my heart that will forever be full. Bailie’s presence in this world is one of the greatest gifts I will ever receive. She has taught me how to be a loving, protective, and cool (don’t roll your eyes, B!) Aunt. One of my most favorite parts of life is being her Aunt.
Since B came into my life, nine other tiny humans have followed and call me Auntie, too. I have never known a love so real or deep. And I have never felt more pride than hearing one of them say “I love you” or run into my arms for a bear hug. But today is all about my first niece and one of my very best friends.
I always thought that, when Bailie turned 18, I would look back on her life and see all of the things I have taught her. I never ever thought she would be the teacher. Bailie was the kid sister I never had, and within all of our crazy memories, she has taught me how to be a better human being.
Bailie has given me endless lessons in unconditional love. Oh, how I picked on this sweet girl growing up! We went everywhere on my bike: me riding and steering, B standing on my pegs, holding onto my shoulders. I crashed us into bushes, I left her behind when she fell off while a big dog was chasing us, I almost got us ran over by a semi, and I gave her a terrible tire burn on her leg. But no matter how many times I messed up, she always got back on my bike for another ride. B, thank you for loving me despite my flaws and I’m glad we never actually got ran over.
Bailie has always been supportive of my ideas.
When I was convinced I was going to grow up to be a photographer, she sat in my room for hours while I told her how to model for various pictures. (Pictures taken with my fancy Fuji disposable camera!) And then when I decided I would be a coach when I got older, her little legs ran up and down my staircase dozens of times while I practiced using my new stopwatch and told her she had to beat her previous time. I know I will always have a #1 fan as long as B is in my life.
Bailie is brave, and she has inspired me to make courageous choices. When I first got my license but was too shy to place my order in the drive-thru (yes, that was a real problem I had), she happily rode with me and ordered, usually in an accent. When I was nervous about asking a store employee a question or a stranger to take our picture, Bailie spoke right up and asked for me. Over and over she has taught me how to be brave, and now it’s me that finds the courage at the top of the Ferris wheel to calm us both down. I am inspired by her decision for the next part of her life, and once again, she is wearing bravery on her face instead of fear.
But one of the biggest things B has taught me is what it feels like to be valued and admired. She has followed in my footsteps, and sometimes in my shadow, throughout her life journey. I remember her playing basketball, because I played it first. I remember her thinking about band, because I played in the band. But mostly, I remember how important it made me feel to watch her want to be like me.
She looked up to me, and it made me want to be a better person. I will always demand to be valued in my relationships, because Bailie taught me what an amazing feeling it is.
I have always teased Bailie about the special treatment she gets by being the first grandbaby and niece in the family. It never fails- we both do the same stupid thing but family members laugh at her and scold me. (I guess this is what every older sibling must experience!) But, as she turns 18, I realize why she deserves the special treatment. She has taught all of us what it means to be a mother, grandparent, and Aunt or Uncle. She has paved the path for her siblings and cousins to grow up being loved and cherished.
Without the gift of B, we would all be stumbling around trying to figure out how to embrace our roles.
Bailie, you are my person.
I anxiously watch out the window on holidays, waiting for you to show up because that’s when the fun starts. You are the only person in the world I am comfortable enough with to sing along (loudly) to the radio. You are the first person I call when I need my hair done for a fancy occasion. You will always be my first-pick to go on the fair rides with me. You are the Dwight to my Michael, the ketchup to my potato chips, and the peanut butter to my jelly.
Happy 18th Birthday, B! I love you, and I am proud to be your Auntie.
I can’t wait to cheer you on in the next adventure of your life.
Nat King Cole, Rob Kardashian, and Hozier all celebrate this date as their birthday.
So does Tracey Williams.
As I took a walk today, I found myself thinking of Tracey. As I have shared in other posts, I LOVE birthdays. Of course, I love to celebrate my own special day, but I always find an unexplainable joy in celebrating the birthdays of the people around me. I love making them feel important and loved… often giving back the love and kindness they share with me day to day.
Tracey, my former teacher, mentor, and friend, was an extraordinary lady. I only knew her for five years, but she packed so much joy into those years of friendship. It was a privilege to make her feel special on at least one day out of the year.
There was the year I had my classmates help me pull off a surprise party during our English class… in retrospect, locking her out of the room while we lit candles on the brownies sitting on top of her desk wasn’t the best plan. Let’s just say the principal got involved…
There were a couple flower bouquets sent to her… a bright, beautiful bouquet for a bright, beautiful soul.
And then there were the giant birthday cookies. I’ll never forget her message to me after the first birthday cookie… I was experiencing some chaos in my home life that year and Tracey thanked me endlessly for that cookie, followed by dozens of questions and encouraging advice about my own situation. What a truly selfless lady.
To celebrate Tracey’s 45th birthday, and her third birthday in Heaven, I have baked several giant birthday cookies. I will share these cookies with some of the people I interact with daily… people who make me feel important every single day. Some of these people never had the privilege of knowing Tracey so I will also get to share a piece of her with each piece of cookie they take.
I am not a poet, at all. Tracey always told me I had a gift for writing… but I know she was not including poetry in that statement. However, below, ignoring my great rhyme struggle, is the poem I wrote to go with each giant birthday cookie I give away.
Some believe St. Patrick’s Day is full of luck,
while others wear their shades of greens.
Others still search for gold to tuck,
away in the pockets of their jeans.
But I see the 17th of March,
as a day to celebrate,
it’s more than the rainbow’s arch;
it’s more than just another date.
Today is the birthday of my dear friend,
A lady worth more than a pot of gold,
But, you see, today she will spend,
Her special day in a place where she will never grow old.
As the angels of Heaven sing that birthday chorus,
I know my friend will shine her smile,
Lighting up the sky just for us,
Her whisper, in the wind, “see you in a while.”
So, today, I choose to remember,
With a birthday cookie, please take a piece,
Six years ago, I made the same kind for her,
Now, I share this day with you as a release.
As you chew each tasty bite,
Please think of my friend,
Be kind, it would be her delight,
Or give a smile, something we all can lend.
On March 17th, and every other day, I promise to honor Tracey and her legacy by living life to the absolute fullest. She was never without a smile or a cheerful greeting. She was always kind and always laughing. She was passionate with her actions, and she was quick with her love. She woke up and lived as if every single day were her birthday.
On January 7, 2016, I celebrated my 23rd birthday. I LOVE birthdays… I love making people feel important, loved, and cared for on their special day. A couple years ago, I stumbled upon a blog post about a lady who celebrated her birthday by doing a random act of kindness for each year she has lived. I did a little more searching and a little more reading and found many people sharing the same kind of story. I was inspired… my 21st birthday was quickly approaching and 2013 had been a hard year. I decided I would give this idea a try… spreading kindness for each of the years I had been alive. And then I was hooked. I realized that, while still celebrating my special day, I got to share those feelings of importance and love with so many people around me, both those I knew and complete strangers.
As I recently wrote about, my focus word for 2016 is intention. With a birthday so close to the New Year, I found myself in December 2015 brainstorming ideas for my focus word and acts of kindness simultaneously. Once I decided to make 2016 my year of intention, I knew I had to pick 23 intentional acts of kindness. I decided to focus less on the anonymity of the acts and more on the intentionality… Who would I impact? Why did I want to focus on them? How have they shaped my life?
After some careful planning and fun trips shopping, I had my 23 acts of kindness. I had to be intentional with my planning, because I had to work during part of my birthday. I didn’t have as much time as previous years so I had to decide how I would work everything in… I ultimately decided that 11 of my 23 acts would be hand-written letters. I think one of my gifts in life is my ability to covey my thoughts and feelings through written words… I am not an eloquent speaker but, with lots of whiteout and erasing, I can craft a pretty solid letter.
Before I share my 23 acts of kindness and how they unfolded on January 7th, I want to express that I am writing this post out of sincere humility. It is not my attempt to brag or show off what I did on my birthday… my biggest hope is that someone else will stumble upon this post and feel just as inspired as I did a few years ago. I also want to capture the feelings and moments of this day so that I may return to this post and reflect & remember what a special day it was.
Pay for the person behind me at the drive-thru
Obviously, I was at McDonald’s buying a Doctor Pepper before work. So, this was an easy task to accomplish. Or so I thought. Apparently, 9:17 in the morning is not a popular drive-thru time. I ordered and then drove about 2 mph towards the first window, waiting patiently for another car to pull in behind me. I finally decided to pay and just come back later. (I mean, I guess I could get 2 Doctor Peppers in one day.) After I had paid, I saw a car pull in. So, I stared at the worker until she opened her window again and I could pay for the other car’s order. Success!
Donate to Safe Harbor
I hate mornings. They are the absolute worse. But I knew I needed to get up early before work and make a trip to a nearby town to drop off my donation. Safe Harbor is a shelter for women and children… I had contacted them earlier in the week to find out what they needed most so that my donation could be intentional. So, at 8:15 in the morning, I was off with my bucket of cleaning supplies. There was a slight debacle getting the donations inside the shelter (read: dead ends, big dogs, and abandoned alleys), but the joy and surprise on the worker’s face made my morning! The early start to my 23rd year was totally worth it.
Leave candy for the mail lady
This is such a simple act, but I think so many of us often overlook our mailmen. Rain, sunshine, snow, ice… the mail is always delivered. A box of candy with a note of appreciation is such an easy way to remind these workers that we care. (And I even got a thank-you note back the next day… how cool is that!)
Bring muffins to my coworkers
I absolutely love my coworkers. They always make me smile and never fail to ask how I’m doing. I knew I had to bring them a small treat… I didn’t expect that they would have not one but two cakes waiting for me! What lovely people. My favorite moment was hanging out in the break room with a couple coworkers, waiting to cut my cake, and they tried to guess who left the muffins. I have an awful poker face, but I think I pulled it off in that moment.
Flowers for someone who always brightens my day
This was one of my favorite acts this year. First, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a colorful bouquet. On my way inside, I noticed an older man grab a stray cart to take in the store. (Yay! Random act of kindness!) He smiled at me and greeted me with a friendly “Good morning!” And then greeted several other people the same way. I was literally beaming at this point. While I was filling out the little card at the floral counter, the same man came up and asked if I was giving my flowers to someone in the hospital. I learned he had someone in the hospital, and he was going to buy them the same colorful bouquet. (Another act of kindness!) We then had a conversation with the florist about the delicious smells coming from the bakery. What a fun guy!
Anyways, the flowers. I gave them to the office manager at my job. She is literally the glue of our organization. She makes sure everything runs smoothly all of the time. She never complains, and she is always wearing a smile. By the end of my shift, she figured out I had left the flowers… but her giant smile warmed my heart. I was thrilled I could make her day just a bit brighter.
As mentioned, I decided to write a card for many of my acts this year. While I spent time intentionally choosing the individuals I would write to, I decided to keep my anonymity for these acts. So, my descriptions here will be brief.
Card to someone going through a tough time
I sent a note to a former classmate currently going through a battle with cancer.
Card to someone I admire
This was also to a former classmate… someone that has been dealt a rough hand of cards but has reshuffled and came right back at life with such a determined attitude. That deserves some recognition!
Card to someone I appreciate
For this act, I chose someone that does a service for me, and I have never formally thanked her or recognized her skills.
Card to someone who has impacted my life
I knew this had to go to a teacher… but I chose a person that never actually taught me in her classroom. However, she was such a huge support system when I went through the loss of my mentor in 2013. I’ll never forget her kind, gentle words during that time in my life.
Card to encourage someone
I sent this note to an old friend and former classmate. We grew up together, and she has always persevered through life’s challenges. I wanted her to know that I’m thankful for our friendship and encourage her to keep pushing forward.
Paper hearts of positive traits to a friend
I can’t take credit for this fun idea… I cut out about 8 paper hearts. On each heart, I wrote a little description of what I love about this friend. I added a note instructing my friend to pull out just one heart after a rough day to, hopefully, get a boost of encouragement. What a cool idea!
Funny photo to an old friend
As I’ve gotten older, I have realized how ridiculously hard it is to stay in contact with old friends. Our schedules get busier, we move away, and we get overwhelmed with jobs and other responsibilities. So, I had a lot of fun picking out a silly photo from early in our high school years and writing a little note letting my friend know how much I appreciate her.
Encouragement cards to wounded soldiers
Can you think of anyone more deserving of a hand-written letter? I wrote out two cards of encouragement, and I found an address online. There are so many different places to choose from… just do a little research. I’ll leave the address I used here… just stick a note with your cards instructing that they are for “wounded warriors.”
Operation Gratitude/Forward Operating Base
Attn: Angel Cuevas
21100 Lassen Street
Chatsworth, CA 91311
Card to a recent widow
After surrounding myself daily with widows at my job, my eyes have been opened to how the loss of a spouse greatly impacts seniors’ lives. So many nights I lie awake, my heart broken for the seniors I interact with daily. I knew I had to send a note to someone special to our family. Carl and Elma are family friends that have never forgotten my birthday. I’ve only met them a few times in my life, but they always make me feel loved. Elma lost the love of her life and best friend, Carl, a couple months ago. I found a pretty card and wrote her a note of encouragement. When I got home from mailing her letter, I found a birthday card from her in my own mailbox. What a spectacular woman.
Buy stamps for someone at the post office
This was a fun interaction at the post office. I mailed all my letters, and then I asked to buy six more stamps. As I finished paying, I told the clerk that she was to keep the stamps. As she gave me a strange look, I explained that the stamps were for the next people coming in needing to mail a letter. Her friendly words made me smile, yet again.
Donate to charity
I wanted to make a donation to my favorite charity… there are so many I could have chosen from but I had to go with St. Jude’s. I have always wanted to visit and volunteer at this hospital. For those unaware, St. Jude’s pays for the medical costs of treatments so that families from all over the world can give their children the best chance at life. Unfortunately, the day after my birthday, I learned that one of my former basketball players will be battling this ugly disease. She’s 11 and should be out on the court with her teammates… but, with organizations like St. Jude’s, she will get the best care possible.
Donate to Replay Sports
This is a really cool program in my hometown. Replay Sports collects
gently used sporting goods for kids to use that have no way to get these items; this program makes sure that all kids have a chance to play sports by having the necessary equipment. The awesome twist to the program is that the kids must spend so much time doing community service to “pay” for the items. It teaches responsibility while also providing access to sporting goods. For me, nine years of playing basketball, has left me with lots of pairs of shoes. Some pairs only got worn for a season and then thrown in the back of my closet… so I donated these pairs along with some athletic wear that no longer fits. Friends in my local area, consider donating to this program!
Leave soap/quarters at the laundromat
I had fun leaving this donation… a nice old man was behind the counter at the laundromat and after explaining that I was leaving the detergent and quarters for someone needing it, he gave me a big smile and cheerful “Have a good day!” (I also enjoyed seeing the older couple in the laundromat arguing over how to fold their fitted sheet.)
Leave a $5 gift card at Family Video for the next person
Another fun stop! As I was paying for the gift card, the worker apologized profusely for being out of the little envelopes. I responded, “That’s okay, because you’re keeping the gift card.” While she gave me the weirdest look, I explained that I wanted her to give it to the next person that came in for a movie rental. She was literally speechless for a few seconds while processing my request… I guess these things don’t happen too often. (I also can’t take credit for this idea, but it was one of my favorites!) We talked for a few more minutes, and then I left smiling at the family looking around at movies with their small children.
Donate to Mother-to-Mother
This is another local organization that helps mothers with the necessary items needed in raising a child, especially diapers. I made sure to contact this organization so that my donation could be intentional… I found out what size diapers were most needed and grabbed a package to leave with the organization. This act of kindness made me happy because I knew it was benefitting both a mother and her child!
Donate to FCC Food Pantry
My mom volunteers at our church’s food pantry each month so I asked her what items are most needed: laundry soap and dish soap. I made up a few baskets with these items and we left them at the church. (Bonus, the bottles of laundry soap were a bright orange!)
Leave coloring books in a hospital waiting room
I stopped at the clinic at our local hospital. I had planned to just leave a few coloring books and package of crayons on a few tables. But I decided to check with the front desk… I’m glad I did! The receptionists suggested that the coloring books would be better used in the examination rooms in the pediatrics wing. What a great idea… children will have something to do while they wait for the doctor to stop in.
Donate to W.I.A.R.
This organization is the animal rescue group in town. I have such a soft spot for animals, especially strays. I checked in with this organization, too, to find out what items were most needed. Here’s the cool part… when I dropped off the items, I got to go and visit some of the recently rescued animals. They were so precious! Mom had to basically drag me out of there after I had my hands inside of all the cages, petting all of the animals. (If I would have went alone, we would probably have about 8 more animals at home today!)
This was my day… 23 years celebrated with 23 acts of kindness. While I didn’t see the direct reaction from most of the people I tried to impact, my heart was so incredibly full. After my early morning stop, I told myself, while grinning from ear to ear, “I love this day.” And it only got better from there.
With all the constant reports of evil and violence in our world, it’s so important to focus on the good things. You don’t have to spend your birthday doing this… but I challenge you to consider doing it. It gives you such a new perspective and appreciation. And challenge those around you to celebrate your day, not by buying you gifts, but by doing an act of kindness. Mom told me a wonderful story of an older lady she bought lunch for on my birthday… that story made me happier than any of the presents I unwrapped.
Let me end this post with the quote I attached on many of my donations:
“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” –Mother Teresa
Birthdays are my absolute favorite. Whether it’s a friend or a family member, I think it’s important to spend an entire day showering them with love, gifts, attention, and a whole lot of laughs! (I even sing along in a restaurant when they announce a complete stranger’s birthday!) I love my own birthday, of course, but it’s even better getting to celebrate the birthdays of the people I love most.
September 22, 1992.
Brianna Marie was born, and even though I didn’t know it yet (I wasn’t even born!), my future became a whole lot brighter. Brianna has blessed me with many years of friendship so far, and I can’t wait to walk the journey that lies ahead with her in my life. I wrote in her birthday card: “You are the BEST friend” but I didn’t actually explain. Let me try…
I’m a huge Grey’s Anatomy addict, and whenever I try to describe Brianna, I immediately think of Season 5, Episode 19. “Elevator Love Letter.” True fans will quickly realize this is the episode where McDreamy proposes to Meredith. It may seem odd that I chose his proposal as my description of my best friend, but hear me out:
“If there’s a crisis, you don’t freeze, you move forward. You get the rest of us to move forward. Because you’ve seen worse. You’ve survived worse, and you know we’ll survive, too. You say you’re all dark and twisty. It’s not a flaw, it’s a strength. It makes you who you are.”
My best friend has fought through some of the toughest battles life could throw at a person. She has faced each battle with an incredible amount of strength and courage. Rather than buckling under the pain and heartbreak, she picks herself up and fights through to another day. And she doesn’t just push herself forward. She is always picking up the people around her, pushing them forward, too. I admire her strength, because I don’t think I could have even crawled my way forward, let alone charge ahead. Thank you, Brianna, for picking me up during my own battles, no matter how big or small, and carrying me forward with you. Your determination and perseverance are gifts to be admired by many.
My best friend is also incredibly loyal. We have been friends for almost 10 years (even though I don’t remember that first year!), but I have learned recently that friendship is less about numbers and more about moments. Brianna has stayed by my side through the good, the bad, the fun times, the sad times, the boring times, and the exciting times. She has dropped everything when I needed someone by my side. She has sacrificed her own time to make sure my time was of the best quality. Thank you, Brianna, for caring about our friendship so much. Thank you for never looking at your schedule or plans when I need you.
My best friend is the hardest working person I have ever met. Throughout high school, she worked unfavorable jobs while I played basketball or took a nap. (I didn’t get my first official job until late in my senior year!) I have admired her work ethic in recent years as she has worked hard to support herself, moving into her own apartment, and paying for her own car and bills. And it’s not just how hard she works at her job, but in every aspect of life. She worked hard in her studies all through school (and helped explained quite a few things to me along the way!), she has worked hard within our friendship, and she constantly works hard at making the world a brighter place for everyone she comes into contact with.
Some of my favorite things about Brianna include her big, warm smile, her ability to have amazing hair even on her “bad” hair days, her love of cats, her equal (well, maybe slightly less) Doctor Pepper addiction, her encouraging words when I’m feeling down and her laughter when I’m telling jokes (regardless if they’re funny or not), her willingness to join me on all sorts of crazy adventures, and, most of all, her unconditional love and support no matter how annoying, depressing, crazy, or ridiculous I am acting.
This is what I meant by the four letters I wrote: You are the BEST friend, because of all of these things and so much more. I am so thankful for our friendship and how much it has grown in the past year. I am even more thankful that we will share decades of life experiences together. And I’m really stoked to be an old lady with you.
Here’s to your 23 years and all of the ones to follow! But, remember, “no one likes you when you’re 23” so you might want to hurry up and turn 24!