Teaching Compassion Through Acts of Kindness

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A few years ago, I was searching for a way to teach my children compassion. Such a challenging concept for small people to grasp. On some scale “compassion” is a natural born instinct. In my home, one of my children in particular, was struggling with the idea of compassion.It became clear to me that Compassion was not as born into us as I had previously thought. I set forth to find a way to bring more opportunities for compassion into our home. The days of kindness became a part of our February endeavors. I witnessed an incredible change in my children during those days of kindness. Because of this, I have occasionally brought the days of kindness to other months of the year. Below, is how I started this “tradition” in our home.

The Days of Kindness

By definition, compassion is to show sympathy for another being’s distress. Children appear to be, naturally, very compassionate. When a friend gets hurt, children present bandaids, toy sharing, etc as gifts of kindness to show compassion. As our children grow, despite our efforts, they are exposed to the hate in the world. They become less in tune with their natural instincts of compassion. The Kindness Elves, were developed as a way to initiate acts of kindness. Pop and Sparkle, are presented to your children through a wonderful book where they discuss how they came to be, where they live, etc. The elves ask two children in the book to do acts of kindness for their neighbors as there is an obvious need. The needs are not HUGE, this does not cost a lot of money, but the needs are huge emotionally. For example, one elderly neighbor is lonely, so the kindness elves suggest that the kids take a boardgames to her home and play with her. Zero cost.

The idea is to encourage the next generation to be more compassionate. To take action when that distress is recognized and to do so through acts of service. Here is what this looked like in our home.

Who Needs Us This Week?

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Pardon the messy kitchen and mostly naked children, but collaboration on acts of kindness as a family is rather messy. The above photo was one of our largest acts of kindness. I will say that this one cost a bit and required a lot of my time and energy, but the recipients and my children loved it. They were certain that they made the Kindness Elves proud.

Valentine’s Day of 2017 we were living on base at Camp Lejeune, NC. Fourteen known families in our immediate neighborhood had put their husbands/fathers on a deployment ship (MEU) a few days prior. The boys and I decided that we would make chocolate covered strawberries for those spouses now alone on Valentine’s Day. I know, huge undertaking. Do not start at this magnitude! Ha! Anyway, whether you are a fan of Valentine’s Day or not (my husband and I are not) you are inherently aware of being alone on that day. We set fourth to make 120 chocolate covered strawberries and deliver them to all fourteen families. So we did, but this is how the day went.

The kids awoke to the Kindness Elves leaving them a heart shaped note (pictured above) requesting that they help mom make chocolate covered strawberries. Because it would bring joy to all of the Moms in the neighborhoods who are alone on Valentine’s Day. They were stoked of course because chocolate + Strawberries + Sprinkles = kid fun. We started a long process of cleaning, coring and dipping strawberries. That evening we walked around the neighborhood with a wagon delivering kindness and compassion for their new found situation.

Starting Small and Consistent with Acts of Kindness

Our acts of kindness were sometimes small, but brought great happiness. As you plan out your week of kindness consider any families you know who just had a baby. Consider anyone you know who just had a surgery, or hasn’t heard from you in awhile. Include your children in your own intentions. A local friend of ours had recently had a baby so we decided to make the older siblings play dough to help them feel special as well. The play dough recipe is on my blog.

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An opportunity arose to include botany and a school lesson in our acts of kindness when a distant neighbor was building planter boxes. We went to the store and picked out a few different types of seeds and planted them in starters and gifted them. You could also do this with the Target dollar section starter seed kits. Make this work for your family because ALL ACTS OF KINDNESS DO GOOD.

When it is time for Pop and Sparkle to head back to Cloud 9 where they live they depart in the night through the window and they leave a journal to document your acts of kindness throughout the year. Since we are no longer new to this, we have gifted our Kindness Elves kit to another family, but the elves are a beautiful way to start. As the person facilitating the kindness days, the elves come with a whole kit and everything you need to have a success week of kindness days. Once you get the hang of it and planning it out it is easy to incorporate into your year more frequently. Children want to show others compassion and so do adults. We all struggle to find ways to do it simply. By instilling Days of Kindness you will cause a ripple effect that does good as well. Raising compassionate people is challenging, but I hope I’ve given you a useful tool to help accelerate the process. Do good as you go.

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A Music Lover’s Tour of Austria

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If your appreciation for the arts is heavy in the music department; then a tour of Austria is the perfect vacation destination. Surrounded by the creative inspiration of the Alps you can find a rich history of music and culture going back centuries. Have espresso at Mozart’s Cafe, see the palace rooms that were once full of young composers, sing “The Hills Are Alive” right where Julie Andrews did. Austria will fill your heart with song and set your taste buds on fire!

A Mozart Tour of Austria

Beginning your time in Austria with the Western part of the country will give you the best timeline for Mozart’s life. Because the composer was born and raised in Salzburg, Austria you should start your journey there! Salzburg is incredibly proud of their famous prior resident. Mozart’s childhood home has been completely preserved and remains very much the same as when the family inhabited it. The childhood home has been turned into a museum that IS WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE. The home has the original “doorbell” on its exterior. Little details like the doorbell and door knocker are absolutely incredible and give such depth to the aesthetic design of the time period.

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I was able to stand in the room that Mozart’s mother gave birth to him in. If you are a classical music, music theory lover (joke, no one is a music theory lover), you understand the magnitude of a space like that. The genius that was Mozart is truly paradigm shifting. As you tour Mozart’s humble beginnings you may find it hard to imagine the rise to fame that would follow. Therefore, you have great food for thought while you sip on your Composer Cappuccino next door at the Mozart Cafe. They serve you chocolates with Mozart’s face on them. I mean it doesn’t get any better than that.

If time permits, continue your tour to the other side of the country to Vienna, where you will find Mozart’s adult home. His home post fame is definitely more elaborate and really shows the shear amount of wealth acquired by his family. He would eventually leave the family home and the control of his parents to lead his own short adult life.

The Sound of Music

Millions of people have fallen in love with the Sound of Music musical. So much so that an entire tour industry has been developed around the films production. In Salzburg, Austria you can book a Sound of Music tour that will take you to all of the major filming spots. Along the way you will visit Mirabell Gardens where most of the Doe-Ra-Me scenes were filmed. Yes, there are dozens of people at any given time hopping up and down the exterior stairs. You will stop to see the famous glass gazebo where Lisle sings I Am 16 Going On 17.

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The Sound of Music tour is an all day affair that will take you way out of the city of Salzburg to the Lake District of Austria. Here you will see where Julie Andrews sang The Hills Are Alive, you will also see the beautiful church that the wedding scene was filmed in. Throughout the time on the tour bus you will be participating in soundtrack sing along as well as Sound of Music trivia and behind the scenes details. The tour is absolutely amazing, worth every cent and then some if you are a true Sound of Music fan.

The Hills Fill my Heart with the Sound of Music

The lyrics in the Sound of Music describe Austria best. The Alpine landscapes and views are stunning. They bring to life creative juices and inspiration that you didn’t know you were capable of. The beautiful surroundings also had this effect on my children. As a family we adopted some wonderful habits from our time in Austria. For example, we have “afternoon coffee” now because of the relaxed ambience we experienced around the 2pm hour in Austria. So much about the Austrian culture should be implemented in our lives, especially so in regards to the Austrian love of music and film.

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If you find yourself considering a trip to Austria please heed my advice and schedule in a whole lot of unscheduled time. Allowing yourself and your family to sip the afternoon away discussing the beauty you have witnessed will bring the experience to its fullest potential. Get out there and enjoy.

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A Music Lover’s Tour of Austria

If your appreciation for the arts is heavy in the music department; then a tour of Austria is the perfect vacation destination. Surrounded by the creative inspiration of the Alps you can find a rich history of music and culture going back centuries. Have espresso at Mozart’s Cafe, see the palace rooms that were once full of young composers, sing “The Hills Are Alive” right where Julie Andrews did. Austria will fill your heart with song and set your taste buds on fire!

A Mozart Tour of Austria

Beginning your time in Austria with the Western part of the country will give you the best timeline for Mozart’s life. Because the composer was born and raised in Salzburg, Austria you should start your journey there! Salzburg is incredibly proud of their famous prior resident. Mozart’s childhood home has been completely preserved and remains very much the same as when the family inhabited it. The childhood home has been turned into a museum that IS WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE. The home has the original “doorbell” on its exterior. Little details like the doorbell and door knocker are absolutely incredible and give such depth to the aesthetic design of the time period.

40159023 10160959159755533 2599145187691200512 n

I was able to stand in the room that Mozart’s mother gave birth to him in. If you are a classical music, music theory lover (joke, no one is a music theory lover), you understand the magnitude of a space like that. The genius that was Mozart is truly paradigm shifting. As you tour Mozart’s humble beginnings you may find it hard to imagine the rise to fame that would follow. Therefore, you have great food for thought while you sip on your Composer Cappuccino next door at the Mozart Cafe. They serve you chocolates with Mozart’s face on them. I mean it doesn’t get any better than that.

If time permits, continue your tour to the other side of the country to Vienna, where you will find Mozart’s adult home. His home post fame is definitely more elaborate and really shows the shear amount of wealth acquired by his family. He would eventually leave the family home and the control of his parents to lead his own short adult life.

The Sound of Music

Millions of people have fallen in love with the Sound of Music musical. So much so that an entire tour industry has been developed around the films production. In Salzburg, Austria you can book a Sound of Music tour that will take you to all of the major filming spots. Along the way you will visit Mirabell Gardens where most of the Doe-Ra-Me scenes were filmed. Yes, there are dozens of people at any given time hopping up and down the exterior stairs. You will stop to see the famous glass gazebo where Lisle sings I Am 16 Going On 17.

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The Sound of Music tour is an all day affair that will take you way out of the city of Salzburg to the Lake District of Austria. Here you will see where Julie Andrews sang The Hills Are Alive, you will also see the beautiful church that the wedding scene was filmed in. Throughout the time on the tour bus you will be participating in soundtrack sing along as well as Sound of Music trivia and behind the scenes details. The tour is absolutely amazing, worth every cent and then some if you are a true Sound of Music fan.

The Hills Fill my Heart with the Sound of Music

The lyrics in the Sound of Music describe Austria best. The Alpine landscapes and views are stunning. They bring to life creative juices and inspiration that you didn’t know you were capable of. The beautiful surroundings also had this effect on my children. As a family we adopted some wonderful habits from our time in Austria. For example, we have “afternoon coffee” now because of the relaxed ambience we experienced around the 2pm hour in Austria. So much about the Austrian culture should be implemented in our lives, especially so in regards to the Austrian love of music and film.

40101617 10160959133460533 3220864531538378752 n

If you find yourself considering a trip to Austria please heed my advice and schedule in a whole lot of unscheduled time. Allowing yourself and your family to sip the afternoon away discussing the beauty you have witnessed will bring the experience to its fullest potential. Get out there and enjoy.

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Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

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Perhaps the most recognized castle in the world, Neuschwanstein Castle sculpts the landscape of Bavaria with romance, art and a vision come true. King Ludwig II brought a fairy tale to life with the construction of Neuschwanstein Castle. Today the castle experiences up to 6,000 visitors per day during the high season and is a world renowned symbol of romanticism.

The Plans for Neuschwanstein

Crown Prince Ludwig II, was born in 1845 and spent every summer of his childhood in the Bavarian Alpine landscape. His father had very recently built a new castle, Hohenschwangau on the ruins of the original Schwanstein Castle. The summer home of his childhood, was overlooked by two other castle ruins; Vorderhohenschwangau and Hohenschwangau. By the tender age of 14, Ludwig II was so familiar with the ruins and landscape that he began sketching the area. These sketches would be the first blue prints to one of the most famous castles in the world.

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New Hohenschwangau. The childhood home of Ludwig II.

Ludwig’s father adored the Middle Ages and the chilvary based stories of knights and ladies. He decorated every bare surface in Hohenschwangau with murals and art. These details and stories allowed Ludwig’s imagination to run wild and he would later put it to the test with the construction of Neuschwanstein. In September of 1869, construction began on the expansive wilderness retreat. Young Ludwig, aged 24, was a reclusive young king. He went into great debts to remove himself from the bustle of Munich.

After going into over 14 million marks worth of debt to build his dream palace, Ludwig II would only spend 11 nights inside its thick walls. In a short 15 years after the first stone was laid, the King would die at the young age of 39. He named his palatial home New Hohenschwangau. The name would be changed upon his death to Neuschwanstein and thus opened to the public.

Planning Your Trip to Neuschwanstein

Neuschwanstein and its neighbor Hohenschwangau (childhood home and castle inspiration) share a central access. Both are located deep in the Bavarian landscape and require a rental car or planned tour company to access. As soon as you know that the trip will happen you need to book sleeping accommodations. Fussen is the nearest village with these accommodations and they are reasonably priced given the distance to the castles. The morning of your tour you will arrive to a parking lot entrance that presents with a “downtown Disney” feel. The street giving access to both castles is lined with restaurants and high end shops. If you did not prebook your castle tickets then you will need to jump in line at the ticket building. This line could take you upwards of 2.5 hours to get through.

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You will want a full day to tour both houses. I highly recommend touring Hohenschwanstein first, as this is the childhood home that gave much of the inspiration for the later building of Neuschwanstein. By doing so, you will have a much deeper understanding of the design and decor that went into Neuschwanstein. It is also important to leave time to tour the museum and to hike through to the bridges, waterfalls and views offered by the landscape. Prepare for a very full day, but one you will never forget.

With three lakes, a waterfall, two substantial hikes (accessible) and a long climb to the entrance of Neuschwanstein (can pay to ride a carriage) you need to be prepared with good quality shoes, snacks and water. Because of its location the weather is not overly hot, but it is typical to have mountain created rains. A poncho would be a nice addition to your day pack.

Once in a Lifetime Visit

Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau may be a once in a lifetime experience for many people. With that mindset it is easy to get wrapped up in the shops and trinket stores. Do yourself a favor and order different foods off of the restaurant menus. Hike to get to the best views. Pay extra for a more in-depth tour option. The memories and the view will not fade and those are the areas worth spending more money and time. Neuschwanstein is a fairytale book experience. It is easy to see the inspiration that Walt Disney must have seen when he was planning Cinderella’s Castle design. There is nothing better than seeing it for yourself though. So go. Get out there and have a wonderful time.

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Vienna, Austria: A History of Europe

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While walking the streets of Vienna you almost expect to bow for a passing carriage. The prestige atmosphere is overwhelming. Ruled by the Habsburg family for over 600 years, Vienna’s rich history revolves around this family dynasty and their social, economical and cultural associations. As a result, 600 years worth of prosperity, wealth, and building have made a Vienna a beautiful metropolis. With endless amounts of architecture perfection and gardens to wander for days Vienna, Austria is a must see European city.

Where to Begin in Vienna, Austria

To get the best accumulative understanding of Vienna it would be best if you began your touring at Schonbrunn Castle. Built in the seventeenth century as a “hunting lodge” for the crown Prince. This palatial building would continue to be developed for the next century until it was worthy of housing the royal family. Consequently, Days upon days could easily be spent touring Schonbrunn. There are numerous tour options and the tours are packed full of information about this influential family. The tours have a heavy focus on the 18th century. Highlighting Maria Theresa, who ruled the Habsburg family for forty years. In modern terms we would call her a “mom boss.” She meant business.

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Maria Theresa was the Archduchess of Austria until her father’s death when she became Empress. Her extensive strategizing began long before she actually held any power. The Empress knew, as a woman her greatest claim to fame would be the rulers she created in her own children. She would go on to mother 16 children.

Spreading Her Descendants Across the World

Consequently, in most large family dynasties, only the oldest child would get to rule. Maria Theresa simply wasn’t satisfied with that outcome. She plotted and planned every aspect of her children’s lives to accurately marry them off to other country’s crowned elite. Her husband was not a fan of Maria Theresa’s strategizing and stayed out of her way in regards of the marriages of their children. Maria Theresa went as far as marrying off their mentally handicapped daughter, who subsequently died of smallpox right before that marriage. Maria Theresa simply offered the next daughter in line. The Empress was relentless and as such was called the “mother-in-law of Europe.”

Due to the wide spread of Maria Theresa’s children she was able to leave a royal seal on almost every European royal family bloodline. Therefore, she would have descendants ruling Naples-Sicily, Spain, France, Parma, the Wettin Dynasty, Bourbon Dynasty, a nun and an ArchBishop of Cologne. Mom goals. Just kidding, but truly Maria Theresa knew her stuff. Because the Habsburg family infiltrated so much of Europe, Vienna’s history is not just Austrian/Bavaria it is a magnificent dedication to one of Europe’s most influential families.

The Royal Catacombs

If you are a fan of Edgar Allen Poe, you will greatly enjoy this next suggestion. Given the size and duration of rule, the Habsburg family experienced a lot of funerals. That is to say, death was incredibly common pre modern sanitization practices and unfortunately for the royals it did not exclude them. Macabre tombs and expensive funerary art was a huge part of the imperial dynasty.

The Habsburg Imperial Crypt is a must see in regards to culture, art, money and funerary practices of the time. Containing the tombs of twelve Emperors, eighteen empresses and 113 other royal family members. The Imperial Crypt is a great way to spend the day. You get to quietly wander through the underground crypt museum (air conditioned). Taking in the wonder that you didn’t know existed in regards to death. A large portion of the Maria Theresa era family members are interned here.

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With the exception of one, all of the tombs collected here are made from metal and carved with the highest level of skill available at the time. Therefore, if you enjoy history or specifically art history this is a MUST SEE stop in Vienna, Austria.

A Continuation of Cultural Appreciation

The Macabre art and cultural norm doesn’t end with the Imperial Crypt. Just down the street you can find a whole new level of “internment.” The royal family, upon death, would have their body parts placed in three different locations. Their bodily remains would be interned in a Bronze tomb in the Imperial Crypt. The hearts of 54 members of the royal family are held in special silver urns in the Herzgruft, or “Heart Room.” Located a few blocks away in St. George’s Chapel of the Augustinerkirche. The embalmed entrails of princes, queens and emperors are kept in the Ducal Crypt below St. Stephan’s Cathedral.

The entire history of Vienna revolves around its royal family history. Therefore, the history of the Austrian royal family isn’t just the history of Austria, but the history of Europe as well. Vienna, Austria is a modern, happening city, but its tourism is heavily embedded in its royal family history and architecture. As a result, if history is not your thing be sure to stop at the many cafes and street food vendors. Wander through the art galleries and shops. Sit on the benches and absorb the architectural details. Vienna has so much to offer its visitors. Get out there.

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