Changing Lives One Key At A Time

Wednesday, October 28, 2015
There are many reasons why I blog, so many in fact that on many occasions I've considered writing a post just talking about my reasons for blogging.  Today's post is a prime example of what inspires me to write, why I share post after post, month after month.........because along my journey my eyes are opened to people who inspire me, people who touch me or who are touching others, people whose story I feel compelled to share.  If you look at my Directory under the Intriguing People category, you will see a long list of such people and today, another post, another person will be added to that list.

It probably sounds cliche but if we were brave enough to admit it, I think we all wish we could do something to change the world, change the lives of others.  Some of you already have - whether it be through your job, your church, some volunteer work, or even some singular act of kindness towards a neighbor or stranger.  If you have, you know the feeling you get from witnessing the effect some small act can have on a person's life.  Well, this post is about one person who took a simple act, which spiraled into something so huge, it has changed the lives of thousands.  You may think you can't change the world, but here's a story demonstrating that maybe you can.

This is not a new story - but it is new to me.  When I heard about it today, I felt compelled to share. As I began to research, I was blown away that practically every media outlet has covered it.  Yet, I'd missed it.  Maybe you have too.   This story is about paying it forward and it begins with a key. Because I want to share this message in the best words possible, I am going to quote directly from a website:
This story begins with a New York hotel room key. Actress and singer/songwriter, Caitlin Crosby, started wearing the hotel key as a necklace while on tour and had the idea to start engraving old, used keys with inspirational words. Realizing that, in a way, we are all like these keys – unique, flawed, scarred, and sometimes discarded by others – she wanted these keys to have their purpose renewed over and over again." Caitlin always knew she wanted a charitable dimension to The Giving Keys, and within a few months she found the missing link. On a rainy day walking on Hollywood Boulevard, Caitlin saw a couple named Rob and Cera sitting under an umbrella holding a sign that read Ugly, Broke, & Hungry. Caitlin invited them to dinner, where she serendipitously discovered that Cera made jewelry. This was a magical a-ha moment where Caitlin asked them to be her business partners. Rob and Cera joined the team and started making Giving Keys the very next day.
Step by step, Rob and Cera saved enough money for a hotel room, then an apartment, and then a home to call their own! Today, they are living in San Diego where Rob works for the San Diego Zoo and Cera is also employed. This was the start of our company's passion to help those who have been affected by homelessness. Read more about our impact here.

Intrigued yet?   I'd like you to take 12 minutes to watch this TED talk video featuring Caitlin Crosby telling her own story of how she began the Giving Keys organization.  Click on the link below to watch the You Tube video...

 "While on tour, Caitlin started The Giving Keys which employs those transitioning out of homelessness to make jewelry out of repurposed keys. Each key is engraved with a message like FEARLESS, HOPE, STRENGTH or COURAGE. When the wearer of the key encounters someone else who needs the message - they are encouraged to give it away and share their “pay it forward” story.
Over the last three years, The Giving Keys has employed 28 people who have struggled with homelessness, helped 22 move into permanent housing, and collected thousands of pay it forward stories. Today, they have over 50 employees and their products are sold at Nordstrom, Anthropologie, Fred Segal, Kitson and nearly 2,000 other retail stores around the world."

If you watched to the video, you know that the object of the keys is this..... to purchase a key with a word that speaks to YOU - it might remind you of your worth, encourage you toward a goal, comfort you in your time of need, etc....  You wear that key until a time when you meet someone who may need that key and it's message more than you do.  You give them the key....and Pay It Forward.  If you go to the Giving Keys website, you can read over 1000 of touching stories of people whose keys have changed their life or someone else's in over 20 different categories such as endurance, friendship, strength, peace, cancer, brave, inspire, let go and many, many more.  These stories give strength, provide hope and inspire others to Pay It Forward everydayHere's one of them taken from the Giving Key website:

Keeping Strong Through It All

A dear friend sent me a Strength bracelet when my mom was in hospice care. She was there for 45 days. I wore the bracelet every day and didn't take it off. I was struggling with her dying process, looking at it helped encourage me to stay strong. This friend also texted me every day and asked how my mom and I were doing. My mom passed March 8th 2015 the day before my birthday. Today I saw a friend on Facebook who has a husband that is in ICU and needs surgery for a very serious condition, it is a life/death scenario. She has two teen boys. Her husband is the sole provider in the family. I am sending a strength bracelet to her to encourage her to stay strong and keep the faith. I have been waiting for just the right moment to pay this forward and this was it. I love what this company is doing, it is so inspiring and I am so happy to be a part of paying it forward. 
 I don't know about you, but this truly inspires and touches me.  Even if homelessness isn't on your list of charities, the simple act of giving a key to a person who needs hope and encouragement is something so simple yet could change a person's outlook.  We spend $5 dollars on a greeting card, $4 on a cup of coffee.....why not invest a little more Paying It Forward and making a difference in the lives of the homeless as well as the person who will be touched to wear a key with a personal word of encouragement?

Here's two more videos (90 seconds and 4 minutes respectively) explaining this truly special cause:

These Giving Keys are sold locally at several stores, including one of my favorites - the Apple Barrel in Schoharie whose Facebook post today introduced me to this great organization.  They can also be purchased online through the Giving Keys website.  Your first reaction might be disappointment - they are a key, not a piece of jewelry from Tiffany's.  It's about the message, not a fashion statement.  Please take a moment to check out their site, read some of the stories, watch the videos in this post and then consider purchasing a Giving Key. It's one small step to changing the world beginning with one person in your life! 

Pay it Forward today - share this post with a friend and whether you purchase a key or perform some other random act of kindness....start to change the world today!  
It only takes one person and that person is YOU!

 Text within quotes in italics was taken directly from the Giving Key website
 to ensure accuracy and content.

Butterfly Paradise at Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory

Sunday, October 25, 2015
The air may be getting colder, the wind causing a shower of leaves outside your door, but there's one place not too far away where you can enjoy a tropical paradise.  In this paradise you'll be surrounded by tropical plants, the soft sounds of birds chirping and thousands of butterflies gracefully floating all around you.  This place is not in the tropics and you need not travel there by plane - this exotic destination is located just a couple hours away at Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory in South Deerfield, MA.  When you visit Magic Wings, you leave your worries and cares at the door (and your coat), and enter the warmth and mesmerizing tropical oasis within its walls and for a time, all you can think of is the beauty and serenity that surrounds you.  Come, let me take you on a journey to paradise!
If you're a regular reader, you have probably read my previous post about Magic Wings.  We have visited a number of times over the past few years and when we found ourselves close-by this week, we couldn't help but visit again.  Magic Wings is one of those places you never tire of.  Opened in October of 2000, this 8,000 sq. ft conservatory is filled with over 4,000 tropical and domestic butterflies, as well as an assortment of tortoises and reptiles, a koi fish pond and several exotic birds.  You'll wander through the jungle of breathtaking tropical plants while soft, peaceful music lulls you into tranquility as butterflies of all varieties flutter around you.  Magic Wings is the perfect name for this unique conservatory because what you experience during your visit is nothing short of magical.  Here's a peak of some of the butterflies you'll see at Magic Wings....

Atlas Moth - from Asia, considered one of the largest moths in the world with a wingspan of 9.8"

 Sometimes, you even get lucky enough to have one land on you.  This beautiful butterfly took a liking to John and rested on his hand for several minutes.

The staff at Magic Wings is knowledgeable and friendly, eager to introduce visitors to the residents.  This is Randy....Randolf the Russian Tortoise.  He was happy to pose for the camera but would have been just as willing to be aggressive if he weren't in the firm grasp of his handler.  When we first arrived one of the employees was demonstrating what happens when one lizard sees another through the glass of its cage.  The little boy was wide-eyed with wonder as the employee explained with great enthusiasm what the display meant.  Even I, as an older adult, was captivated by the story.
 When we later found Randy behaving as if in "distress", our kind tortoise handler explained to us naive visitors, that Randy was just being a little.........randy.  LOL.  I'd never considered that creatures besides dogs occasionally get a little affectionate with inanimate objects.  But're never to old to learn and the folks at Magic Wings know their stuff!!!

   Just a few of the tropical plants you'll see.....
 If you haven't seen enough, take a look at my previous post about Magic Wings.  That one is filled with some different varieties of butterflies.  Then plan a trip to South Deerfield soon.  It's an easy drive either over the Mass Turnpike or if you prefer the scenic route, we went through the mountains over Route 2 through Williamstown, North Adams and Greenfield.  Also stay tuned for my next blog featuring Historic Deerfield.  You'll want to check out this beautiful village which is just up the road from Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory.  For more information, the link for Magic Wings is included below as well as the link to my previous post.   Magic Wings is open everyday but Thanksgiving and Christmas and while you're there, check out their beautiful gift shoppe and the Monarch Restaurant. 

Thanks for reading and as always, please use the links below to share this post with a friend.

Change Doesn't Always Come With Our Blessing

Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Sometimes we get too comfortable in our lives.  We get into ruts, we take life for granted, we live our lives going around in circles doing the same things day after day, week after week, year after year.  We may not even feel unhappy or unfulfilled because sometimes familiarity  means comfort, sort of like when we stay in the same job or unhappy relationship because what we're used to is more comfortable than change.  You know what I mean, right?  Then out of nowhere something comes along, some force beyond our control, and something happens to thrust us out of our comfort zone and into a place that we never thought we'd go.  And somehow....totally unexpectedly, even a little incredibly, we find ourselves not just surviving, but thriving in that unfamiliar territory.  Here's the story of the shake-up of my world, a force of epic proportion, a force that changed my life.
Carousel at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis
About 3 years ago my husband was on his second year of retirement.  I was still working part time as a Service Coordinator in a senior living complex.  I loved my job and loved the people I helped 'age-in-place' at my facility.  On the days I didn't work, we babysat our then 2 yr. old granddaughter.  Life was pretty awesome, but I didn't feel we were getting the most out of my husband's retirement so after a brief discussion with him, we decided it was time for me to retire.  That would afford us more time with our granddaughter and more time to enjoy this stage in our lives.  Well, if you've read the About Me section of this blog, you know what happened next......a month later my daughter was offered a big promotion with her company and that promotion would mean them having to relocate Indiana.  If you're a grandparent, or a parent, you can probably imagine our devastation.  It was especially hard because this was the daughter who would never go on sleep-overs as a kid and called home everyday from college.  How could this be happening?  How could she possibly think of moving all the way to Indiana?
This is pretty much the vision I had of Indiana.....what everyone told me Indiana was all about.
Well, after much angst and deliberation, she realized she had to go.  She'd worked for seven years for just this position.  It would be crazy to turn down the offer, so in March of 2013 she and her family moved to Indiana, just north of Indianapolis.  Let me say here that our lives had not been without life-altering changes.  Our first-born daughter was diagnosed with insulin dependent diabetes when she was 10 1/2 months old.  At the time, that seemed like the biggest challenge we would ever face, but now, once again, we were being met with another challenge, one that seemed even more insurmountable. I felt as if my world had come to an abrupt halt and for a time, I seriously felt as though my life had come to an end.  I questioned my purpose and I felt empty and depressed.  The life I'd built, the family I'd nurtured, the entire world around me had changed.  Holidays would change as their absence left a void at the dining room table.  Our already small family was now down to five.  Our days were no longer filled with the sounds of sweet toddler laughter; our home was tidy and barren of toys or reminders of little girl playtime.  Life as we knew it, as we loved it, had come to an abrupt and screeching halt and it felt like someone had turned out the lights and taken away my breathe.
Well, it took a while but eventually I found my way out of the dungeon I'd found myself in.  John and I began to do the things we'd hoped to do during our retirement.  He was reading the books he'd saved for retirement and I rediscovered my love of photography.  We found ourselves taking rides, mostly to find subjects to shoot, but eventually what we found was ourselves.  We got to know each other'd been over thirty years since it was just the two of us.  In those thirty plus years we'd raised two daughters and as any parent knows, raising kids doesn't leave much time for focusing on just the two of you.  Even though I felt I'd worked hard at having date nights and anniversary dinners, we'd never gone away alone in all those years and when the time comes that you find it's just the two of you again.....well that's a pretty interesting time.  It's not even the same as when the kids go to college, although that's a challenging time too.  It's sort of like starting life all over again as husband and wife - a life where it's really just the two of you.  And if you take a moment to think about it, that's a really cool thing and a really sacred time of life.
Until Laura moved to Indiana, I was a homebody.  Like my Dad, there was no place like home.  But unlike him, I could enjoy some time away, even though that time was always limited to 3-4 days and a distance not exceeding a 4 hr. car ride.  Yeah....I know, it was pretty pathetic but I was happy with that. Things were different now.....I had a child living in the midwest....far enough to travel by plane or 13 hrs by car.  For a non-traveler, Indiana felt like the other side of the globe.  The first two times we visited, we flew.  Both times had adverse affects on my health.  Each time thereafter we drove and here's the point of today's post.....
Here's an example of husband realized...earlier pic without and now with photo & quote.
Had life not thrust me out of my comfort zone I probably would still be happy.  Instead I have grown in ways I couldn't have even imagined.  I have hobbies that I am passionate about including photography and blogging, I have a reason to leave the house every day and have seen so many places I would have never had a reason to see before, I have traveled by car to Indiana (13 hrs worth) several times - making a four hour trip to the coast feel like a trip to Albany,  and I have seen some of the most beautiful countryside that I would have never seen had I not had a reason to get out of the Northeast.   All of these things and more are the result of one change, one change that I thought would kill me and instead has enriched my life in ways I couldn't have possibly imagined.  Now don't misunderstand, I still hate it that Laura and her family are in Indiana.  I hate it today as much as I hated it three years ago, but I understand and have for a while that sometimes change happens for a reason.  Laura has grown, her family has grown and she and her husband know they can live independently, far from any family, and thrive.  John and I know we can enjoy our retirement, just the two of us. We know we can survive 13 hrs. in a car together and enjoy it. We fill our days with adventure and fun and wonder how people can be bored in retirement, and everyday we feel grateful to be fortunate enough to be retired and enjoy this stage of our lives.    I still hate going away for more than four days, but at least I go.  I look forward to a day when our Indiana family is back in NY but until then I am making the most of what I cannot change.  On our recent ride back from Indiana (for the second time in 2 months), I was reminded of what a ripple effect one change has had in my life.  Like always I soaked up the breathtaking scenery along the route and reminded myself how lucky I was to experience it - something that I'd never have seen had Laura not been offered her promotion.  Remember....change often comes without our permission.  It's scary, even maddening and often beyond our control.  Sometimes, though, in the end change is the best thing that can happen to you and sometimes once the dust settles, you will see that the change that you stubbornly and relentlessly resisted isn't so bad after all and maybe one day you'll even be grateful for that change.  So next time you're faced with a change, one you are sure you aren't up to, stop for a moment and take a second to enjoy the journey.  You might just enjoy the view along the way.

Here's a glimpse of some of the beauty we experience on our drive to Indiana..............It's amazing what you can capture from a car window at 70 mph......

 On our first drive out, we even got to see Niagara Falls - frozen, but still Niagara Falls!

Change is hard but if we're patient, there's usually something worthwhile at the end of the road!  Happy Travels!

p.s. Although these photos accurately depict the drive from NY to Indiana, Indianapolis and its surrounding suburbs are even more commercialized than the Capital District. At the end of one of the streets in Laura's development, opposite the stop sign, sits a cornfield much like the ones above! Don't let people tell you Indiana is nothing but cornfields. ;)

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