Let’s Schmooze!
Like Me, Pretty Please!
Subscribe to the Tribe!

Enter your e-mail address to get Mishegas of Motherhood in your Inbox:


Chicago Mom-Author-Moviemaker Inspires Niceness Worldwide

When I think of good deed doers (as in mitzvah makers), I think of Amy Krouse Rosenthal. She’s a mom, a writer, a short film maker (as in both her height and length of her mini movies). She’s a visionary, an optimist, and a player (as in word juggling and positive pranking, more on that later). She happens to be Jewish, and she celebrates all walks of life by spreading niceness. In a world with so much negativity, Rosenthal is a positive force to be reckoned with (as in tikkun olam, repairing the world).

If you ask me, she’s the original “Happiness Project.” Only her message to spread the love comes across in a very soft spoken, unpretentious kind of way that deserves just as much accolades as the wildly popular book with the same title. Rosenthal lives in Chicago with her husband Jason and their three teenagers (Justin, 18, Miles, 16, and Paris, 14). She knows the craziness of adolescence, carpools, soccer practice, sleepovers, schoolwork, dinnertime, while finding crevices of time for writing, book tours, and filming. In fact, the roadmap to her success follows her real life.

“Everything influences my work. Yes, motherhood. But really everything everything everything gets into my brain and bloodstream and gurgles around in there and ultimately manifests itself into something in my work,” explains Rosenthal. “It’s like the fish who is asked ‘how’s the water?’ And the fish is like, ‘what water?’ It’s so all-encompassing that it’s actually just seamlessly integrated.”

I first met Rosenthal more than 10 years ago at a Jewish fundraiser in St. Louis. She was promoting her book, “The Same Phrase Describes My Marriage and My Breasts: Before The Kids They Used to Be Such A Cute Couple,” which gives you an idea of her down-to-earth approach to motherhood. Back then, I admired her poise, charm, and wit as she casually sat on top of a table, her feet dangling, and flipped through the pages of her hardcover book. She read aloud her own words in a chapter called “Boys.”

“We’ve never purchased toy guns or weapons of any kind. We don’t watch television. In fact, the most violent item in our house is the Cuisinart. Then two toddlers became two boys. As if programmed in vitro, guns were swiftly crafted from twigs, swords from breadsticks…”

Today, she’s written more than a dozen books, including The New York Times bestsellers “Duck! Rabbit” and “Cookies: Bite Size Life Lessons.” Her latest children’s book “This Plus That” comes out next week and is already getting rave reviews. As far as adult reads, Amazon named her “Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life” as one of the top 10 memoirs of the decade.

Her numerous literary and filmmaking accomplishments can be found on her website www.whoisamy.com. You’ll want to linger online because her website is like a playground in cyberspace. Check out the film “17 Things I Made,” which led to the 18th thing, the creation of “The Beckoning of Lovely. A Feature Film Featuring You.” This simple, yet profound movie reminds me of a Woody Allen type of story without the slapstick, just pure, simple observations of unscripted human behavior and really cool original music in the background. Using a flip camera, she shows us how niceness is contagious as she captures annual spontaneous public gatherings at “The Bean” sculpture in Chicago’s Millenium Park. The first one took place on 8/8/08, followed by another on 9/9/09 and another on 10/10/10 and, if all goes according to plan, another on 11/11/11, which will culminate in a full-length feature film. By the way, she plays with numbers as well as words, and she is the queen of puns. You’ll see what I mean.

I’m hooked on her blog, MissionAmyKR.com, which is produced by Chicago Public Radio and connects followers worldwide through weekly interactive “missions” or feel-good projects. To date she has produced 69 of them. Her very first video blog (or vlog), “Always Trust Magic,” asks readers to “leave anonymous, little notes taped to ATMs as a way to surprise and delight the next person who arrives there. Write whatever you want as long as it’s nice. And as long as you don’t try to sell anybody anything…And we all sign our notes the same way: ATM = Always Trust Magic!”

Some examples of creative ATM messages are “To Do Today: Enjoy Life,” written on a post-it note; and “Keep Your Chin Up,” scribbled on a Polaroid picture of someone’s chin; and “Sometimes you just need a nap. Sometimes you just need time with kin. Sometimes you just need a napkin,” printed on —what else—a paper napkin; and “Chase your dreams,” spelled out on a Chase bank receipt; and, finally, “We are all one” written on a one dollar bill.

See what I mean about the puns?

Rosenthal’s YouTube films, such as “The Money Tree” and “Chip the Monk,” are entertaining, thought provoking, and worth your time, especially since they take only a couple minutes to watch, but the high you get afterwards lasts a long time.

In another classic called “GraFEETi”—get the pun—Amy took messages that readers sent her and tucked the folded-up notes inside unsuspecting empty shoes around the city. For example, at yoga class, she left behind, “Always take steps to rise above, and leave the petty and small behind.” And “Wake up every morning with the thought that something wonderful is about to happen.”

In the Target store shoe isle, she delivered, “Be not afraid of going forward. Be afraid only of standing still.” And “If the dream is big enough the facts don’t matter.” And “No matter how cute your shoes are, look up!” And “The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance. The wise grows it under his feet.” And “Don’t judge a person until you’ve walked in their shoes.”

Finally, her last stop was at her home where she snuck into the closets of her husband and kids and tucked away these inspirational tidbits: “Tip toe through the tulips.” And “Do not go where the path may lead; instead go where there is no path and leave a trail.” And “Take nothing but memories. Leave nothing but footprints.” And “Fall seven times. Stand up eight.” And “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And “May the road rise to meet you.” And “You are now in you’re right place.”

(Gosh, her family has a lot of shoes).

The point is for everyone to be a little nicer out there in the world. For example, her positive prank to “TP” someone’s house meant decorate their yard with Tootsie Pops instead of toilet paper. I liked this idea so much I aerated my neighbor’s front yard with lollipops. Unfortunately, it rained all night long and the next morning the suckers were soaked, but my dog enjoyed licking them nonetheless. Besides, it’s the thought that counts.

Some other ideas for positive pranking include “Ding Dong Ditching,” as in ring a doorbell and leave a box of Hostess Ding Dongs with a nice note attached on someone’s doorstep; tape a sign that says “Kiss Me” instead of “Kick Me” on someone’s back; and since there’s already too much “vandalism” in society, cause some “bandalism,” as in break out in a happy song in the middle of a crowd.

So you get the idea. These “mitzvah missions” can be carried out anywhere, anytime. Spread the love in your hometown, and let me know how it goes.