Thawing the Pipes

Elsa has been on a rampage in Upstate New York this winter. Or is it Anna? I get those two confused. Either way, things have been freeeeeeeezing over the past few months.

Before you start torturing me by singing, “Let it Go,” I am encouraged that this frozen nightmare seems to be thawing out. And not a moment too soon, especially for some folks in Troy, NY who have been dealing with frozen water lines for the past few weeks.

Sadly, many of these people were without water for far too long. As I understand it, the frozen portion of their pipes were in city-owned sections of their water supply lines. Yet, the city, and in particular the mayor, said that it was not the city’s responsibility to thaw these pipes.

If my recollection is correct, it seemed there were a number of reasons that the city refused to directly help the homeowners. For example, city officials claimed the homeowners were to blame because they didn’t leave a trickle of water running. (This was disputed by some of the homeowners.) I also read that city officials called the frozen pipes an “act of nature,” negating the city’s responsibility. Other reports say the city claimed it could not act according to the city charter, in particular because the situations did not rise to the level of an emergency.

Clearly, the whole situation has been poorly handled by city officials. Even if the frozen pipes are entirely the responsibility of the homeowners, the city is coming across as being unresponsive.

Frankly, I’m still waiting to read the news report that declares the blocked pipes were caused not by ice, but by fish stuck in the pipes. Should that happen, Troy could call it an “Act of Cod.”

(Have I ever mentioned that I love puns?)

Seriously, though, there was one particular case that was especially troubling, and in the end – encouraging. One woman who had been without water for nearly two weeks is undergoing chemotherapy. Her son had been trying to navigate the difficulties with the city, while taking care of his mother.

Enter the plumber. After an exhortation from his mother, he donated his abilities and time to help out this family, free of charge. He did not wait for the city to come to a resolution, or for – please tell me it’s gonna be here soon – spring to arrive.

He fixed the problem. He thawed the pipes. Water flowed once more.

His example is one that I admire: while the city fiddled… he fixed the problem.

It’s another great reminder to listen to your mother!

Positive Spin on a Flat Tire

Sometimes, it takes a flat tire to remind us that small acts of kindness are profoundly important.

Yesterday, after the challenges of a difficult Tuesday, I was looking forward to a less-wild Wednesday.

Still, the new day brought its own set of daily difficulties. It wasn’t out of the ordinary, but a traffic backup delayed my arrival at work. When I finally pulled into the parking garage, my tire pressure warning light dinged at me. I didn’t think much of it, figuring one of the tires was running a little low, and the bitter cold morning had lowered the air pressure in the tires. I assumed that a quick stop for some free air at my local Stewart’s Shop would do the trick.

That's not quite right.

That’s not quite right.

However, I failed to notice the gigantic screw that was buried deep into my tire. It would later prove my assumption false.

Since I was already late, and parked in an obscure corner of the garage, I simply locked the car and headed for the office.

Eight hours later, after trying to remember where I parked the car, I found it, covered in slush and salt.

With a very flat tire.

And of course, I was wearing a suit.

Every time I changed a flat tire, I was wearing a suit. Once I was in my Navy service dress blues uniform. Another time, I stopped after to help a young lady tackle her car’s flat tire. (By the way, it helps to loosen the knot in your tie before you loosen the lug nuts.)

I could have called for roadside assistance, but why wait? So, I put on the teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy, LEGO-sized wheel that pretends to be a spare.

I grant you, I will not be called up by a NASCAR team anytime soon to join their pit crew. But the job was completed, and I miraculously avoided destroying any clothing in the process.

A minor victory in a challenging week, I suppose.

Perhaps most notably, the whole affair served as a lesson in the importance of kindness.

Three strangers stopped to check on me that evening as I battled my car.

I have never met any of the three, but they all asked if they could help or make a phone call on my behalf. All three expressed concern that I could be stuck in a dim and dirty parking garage. Each refused to go until they were sure that I was okay.

I do not know their names. I have not heard their stories. It is not likely that we will cross paths again. Still, I appreciate each of them. I am grateful for our short conversations and for their caring nature.

Those little acts of kindness… they do make a difference.

Have you made a difference today?

The Naval Officer and the Olympian

Indeed, the little things matter. On occasion, you may come across a story that begs to be retold – an inspiring and unlikely story. A tale of generosity and patriotism. A true story.

Like this one:

Earlier this week, I came across a narrative posted on Facebook by my friend Joe. He and I were both in the Navy ROTC program at RPI, graduating in the same year. To say that he is a bright guy is an understatement. He graduated with an undergraduate degree in applied physics and later obtained a graduate degree in mathematics.

Oh yeah. He’s also a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, a 19-year veteran who has served on nuclear-powered submarines. I gather that his current role requires him to travel overseas quite a bit.

Which brings us back to the story. It starts in an airport lounge in Munich, Germany. Joe was heading home, but had a lengthy six-hour layover before he could board his flight to Washington DC.

In Joe’s own words:

…I noticed all these Team USA shirts, and quickly realized that a lot of our Olympic athletes were coming into the lounge, on their way home from Sochi. One guy was showing some others a couple of medals, and I heard them mention bobsledding, so I hit up Google and determined that it was Steven Holcomb, with his two bronze medals.

Now that’s cool! Especially since everyone, (and by everyone… I mean me), knows that Bobsledding is the best Winter Olympics event. Well, Bobsledding, Luge and Skeleton. And Biathlon. And Women’s Ice Hockey. And don’t forget about Snowboard Cross. But I digress.

Joe’s story gets better. Again, in his own words:

A few hours later, I’m waiting to board my flight to Dulles, and seeing a lot of the athletes are on my flight. Steve Holcomb walks up to the counter, and tries to talk them into giving him a free upgrade to first class, even flashing his medals to try to convince them, but he doesn’t get anywhere, so he goes back to his seat.

If I were watching that, I would wonder why the airline isn’t stepping up to upgrade an Olympian. I mean, come on, you can’t buy that kind of PR. I think many of us might shake our heads, and go back to our eBooks.

Not Joe:

I had already cashed in one of my free upgrades on United, so I had a seat in first class. I decided to ask at the counter if I could give another one of my upgrades to someone else…

This time, the airline came through. Not only did they upgrade Steven Holcomb’s ticket, but they seated the intrepid Olympian next to the dedicated Naval Officer for the nine-hour flight to the States. Along the way, Joe was introduced to quite a few members of our Olympic team, and he enjoyed the opportunity to chat with Steven Holcomb during the flight:

Steven Holcomb is a great guy to talk to. He’s proud of what he has accomplished, but certainly not arrogant about it.

In another Facebook post, Joe described how he has enjoyed and appreciated the generosity and hospitality that many others have provided to him during his travels, given in recognition of his military service. He viewed this as an opportunity to “pay it forward.” Here is more that he wrote about it:

My wife… is always helping others both personally and through her work with various charities/nonprofits, and I guess I’m just trying to follow her lead and help others. I just wish I could have done more for the entire US Olympic Team.

I think, though, that other members of the US Olympic Team deeply appreciated Joe’s generosity as evidenced by this Tweet from skeleton racer, Katie Uhlaender:

So, too, did Steven Holcomb who expressed his gratitude for Joe’s actions and for his distinguished military service:

And finally, here’s the Naval Officer, holding one of the Olympian’s bronze medals.

Joe with the Bronze Medal

Joe with the Bronze Medal. Photo used with permission.

Too cool.

And very inspiring. I’d give ’em both gold medals… for generosity and patriotism.

Those Pesky Little Details

Are you a trees or a forest person? Do you focus on the big picture or the small details?

I’d like to think that I do both, but I’m probably a “trees” kind of guy. And leaves. And branches. And bark. And those little tiny critters that like to bore holes in the tree.

You get the idea.

I believe that the small details are important. The little things in life do matter. Whether it’s spell-checking an email, making sure the checkbook is properly balanced, or ensuring that the mirror of a certain space telescope is ground and polished to the proper specifications… the details matter.

I just hope I can get my son to understand that those pesky details matter when he does his math homework.

But despite the title of this post, the little things in life aren’t always so pesky. Often, it is the little things in life that make a difference.

The little things can make the ordinary amazing.

Have you ever had a really tough day? (Duh. Everybody does from time to time.) But then, something little happens and changes your day completely. For the better.

Maybe it was a smile from a stranger. Maybe it was a note from your wife.

Earlier this week, it was a Tweet from a college friend who said my return to blogging inspired her to update a blog of her own, called Marion’s Mittens. It’s a blog she created to help sell mittens, scarves and more that are handmade by her grandmother.

Awwww, shucks. – I shyly look down and shuffle my feet. –

It made a busy and somewhat frustrating day so much better!

Side note: given that it feels like a zillion degrees below zero right now, Marion’s creations look very warm! Technically speaking, since details matter, I think it feels like a zillion-point-two-eight-three degrees below zero right now.

It’s true. The little things in life do matter.

I want that concept to be an important part of this blog. I’ve even created a category for this idea. I call it: “It’s the Little Things.”

What are the little things that have made a difference in your life recently?

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