Emphasis on the word “Random”. But also Kindness.

When I was growing up, and my family was on vacation, my brother and I would often ask, “Are we going on an adventure today, Dad?” The answer was almost invariably YES. As the world learned from “Up” and every explorer, dreamer, doer ever, adventure is out there. I like to think of my birthday as a little adventure every year–a way to explore, dream, discover, celebrate, laugh, cry, and reflect on my most recent trip around the sun and become even more enthused for my next one. Last year, Ophelia Fedora and I journeyed to Chicago, to celebrate 23 with moments of childhood. For March 9, 2014, I wanted to spread kindness. Kindness is one of my favorite things, and I’ve adopted as one of my personal mottoes a quotation by Mary Oliver that goes like this:

“I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.”

 I do not believe in tattoos, but I do believe in bumper stickers, and soon Nelly the Dream Wagon will be emblazoned with these words. I wanted my 24th birthday to be joyful, to be fun, to be a little crazy, but above all, I wanted it to inspire mischief and kindness. So, (not to brag, just giving information) for every day in the month of March, I’m doing an act of kindess. 24 days, plus 7 to grow on! I also enlisted some help in this, and I love that all these kind, good vibes are going out into the world. In fact, today, Ophelia and Thor ignored my request for “KINDNESS ONLY” and did me a solid by way of cake and tulips. So, our shenanigans were off to a great start.


Cake and tulips–what more does one need when Milwaukee decides to be gray?

Up until a few days ago, there was only a tentative plan for Hannah Fest 2014. Back in October, Ophelia and I discovered a spy-themed restaurant in Milwaukee and immediately identified it as the proper place for a birthday meal. Then, just in the nick of time, this video  popped up, and everything was clear.

We would be stealthy. We would be spy-like. We would spread kindness and mischief, and we would have an adventure. So, on Saturday, Ophelia and I took a brief break from endless grading to gather supplies, and then set aside a few hours with Thor on March 9 for our jovial surveillance.

First, we paid a visit to Robert Burns, at Thor’s suggestion. This fits rather well, I always say that my new year begins on my birthday, since that’s the day my life of years began, so the man who wrote “Auld Lang Sang” is an excellent person to celebrate.


Indeed you are, Robbie. Indeed you are.


I think he wears the new addition rather well.

I should point out that it is cold in Milwaukee. Very cold. Not as cold as a couple weeks ago, when I hated myself for leaving the South, but couldn’t cry outside about it because my tears would freeze to my face, but still pretty flippin’ chilly. So, our mission would need to be accomplished inside because 1) I did not want to get frostbite on my birthday, and 2) There would be no one outside to watch and surprise. The Milwaukee Art Museum was the perfect spot.


Spies establishing their cover as ordinary, art-loving tourists.

I forgot to take a picture, but at Goodwill, Ophelia and I found this, and I filled it with a note, $2.03 (three lucky pennies!), a giant purple daisy, and an affirmation. Because I know how museums work, and didn’t want the pouch to end up in Lost and Found forever unclaimed, I enlisted the help of a wonderful security guard, explained the mission, and got his approval and his promise that he and his fellow security guard would not touch the drop. I also took the time to leave a reminder in the coat room.


“Stop and look around.” Maybe you’ll see a horse, or a present, or a Warhol. You never know.


Position #1. Is it part of the exhibit? YOU DECIDE.



Thor and Ophelia being inconspicuous. I was the twitchy, suspicious one.


Lots of traffic in this hallway. Lots of waiting. Lots of muttering under my breath and diving for my camera. We set a time limit of 30 minutes, but I was very impatient.

We had some interested stares…


I muttered more than once, “Take the bait, kid”, but children these days are very suspicious. (I’m kidding, children are delightful. The kids in the museum today were very interested in skipping down the long hallways.)


Finally, I decided the position made it seem part of the installation, so I sidled over, and scooted it onto the floor. And LO AND BEHOLD–CURIOUS PEOPLE.



“AHA!” I thought as I followed them. “They are heading for the exit! They will have JOY now!”


They did not head for the exit. They turned it in at the desk, where I reclaimed it and explained the plan to two other very nice museum people.

So, I left it on the floor again. At this point, I’m pretty sure Thor and Ophelia wished I hadn’t returned to our bench, as I had literally been peering around walls photographing strangers. I would make a terrible spy, as I am not actually very stealthy.


A lonely little fake petunia…



Our time was almost up. I scooted the drop farther into the aisle. But I was spotted. DRAT.


“Is this yours?”
“Nope, it’s been there awhile.”


“Oh, there’s money in here.”
“Guess I should have picked it up.”


Thanks for being such a cool, calm guardian.

Cue hyperventilating with excitement and nervousness as I stalk two more total strangers into the lobby. But they, too, are responsible people, and turn it in at the counter. When I’m approached by a museum staffer asking what I want him to do with it, I ask him to keep it. Why? He and my dad have the same name. Museum Staffer #1 gets a tiny astronaut figurine, and the cookies I forgot to put in the pouch. Working in a museum is exciting and rewarding, but can sometimes be more of the same. I hope I added some randomness and hilarity. If museum work doesn’t become a reality in my future, at least I always have the fallback career of spy.


Very bad spy Maude Causal takes random birthday selfie in broad daylight at the scene of the drop.

And then we went to our safe house, and played trivia, and ate burgers, and laughed. Later, I cried like Kristen Bell around a sloth because the beginning of 24 was full of randomness and insanity and sprinkles and magic and fun. And also kindness. The kindness of the four people who thought to return something that seemed lost. The kindness of museum people, who went along with a stranger’s muddled request. The kindness of friends who sent messages from everywhere and filled my heart with happiness. Thank you, Today. You are the best.


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