Finding Joy in a Cooler

For this return to blogging, I want to share a recent story about discovering joy.

Joy can be hard to describe. It is much deeper than simply being happy. Sometimes it is easier to describe how we find joy. In the past I’ve experienced the joy of a sunset at sea, and I’ve discovered joy in the twinkling lights of a Christmas display. Perhaps you’ve found it in a beautiful song or in the successful completion of a challenging task.

But can joy be found in an ordinary cooler?

Not once have I ever thought, “Gee, I think I’ll grab me some joy out of that ice chest. I think it’s somewhere between the soda and the beer.”

Yet, that’s where I found it. In a cooler. A cooler sitting just outside my front door.

How it got there is a bit of a story. Here goes…

Before finding the joy, I first discovered terror. Now that’s an emotion that I can fully describe.

I’m talking about the heart-pounding, panic-inducing experience of feeling helpless during a potential life-and-death situation. It was 3:30 am on the Sunday before Christmas. I awoke with a start to hear a banging sound. That alone was scary. What came next was worse.

My wife, who was getting ready for her usual –very early– Sunday morning shift was banging her hand on a counter to get my attention.

When I asked her what was wrong, she could not respond coherently. Her eyes were wide with fear. In that moment, I’m sure my eyes became an instant reflection of hers.

Of course, I called 9-1-1. As I held my wife’s hand, I desperately pleaded with the operator to send help quickly.

I’m pretty sure it took less than eight minutes for help to arrive.

It felt like hours.

When the ambulance arrived, I swear it looked like the responders were moving in slow motion. “Hurry-hurry-hurry-hurry-hurry-hurry-hurry,” I wanted to scream from the door as they grabbed their gear.

Not long after arriving at the emergency room, we discovered that my wife had experienced a mini-stroke.

I don’t like that term. There was nothing “mini” about it. The terror was full-fledged.

Fortunately, she recovered quickly with no lasting neurological impairment. But she did spend a few days in the hospital, thankfully returning home on Christmas Eve.

Enter the cooler.

Erin Carter, a family friend, contacted us that same Sunday to let us know that a cooler would soon show up on our front step. She had arranged for meals to be delivered over the next two weeks.

Joy abounds inside!

An ordinary cooler containing much more than food.

She set it up so that the generous cooks and talented bakers could simply put the food in the cooler, whether or not anyone was home.

Everything was delicious. It was especially meaningful because I’m a less-than-stellar cook. (Yes. That is an understatement. The other day, I burned my own grilled cheese sandwich… while I was carefully watching.)

Frankly, without the food, the boys and I might have subsisted on a menu of pancakes, soup, and sandwiches.

I’m not sure if I can adequately express to Erin, and so many others, just how much their generosity means to us. But I’ll give it the ol’ college try.

It was such a comfort to see the cooler on the front step after returning from the hospital in the evenings. It was a physical representation of goodwill. It symbolized an antidote to the fear we were facing.

Every time I opened the cooler, I smiled. Not just because it contained delicious meals. It served as a reminder of all the folks who were praying, of those who visited my wife in the hospital, of the family members who dropped everything to help out, of the neighbors who came over at 3:45 am on that terrible Sunday to keep watch over our sleeping children.

That cooler was much more than an ice chest. It was a treasure chest.

And the treasure was JOY!

How Not To Apologize

Need to apologize? It’s really quite easy. Just follow this easy process:

Step 1: Say, “I’m sorry.”

Step 2: See step 1.

It’s really that simple.

Okay, maybe it’s a bit more complicated than that… but not much.

Here’s what you shouldn’t do:

First, don’t follow Kenneth Langone’s recent example. Mr. Langone is a co-founder of Home Depot, and recently found himself immersed in controversy over comments he made about income inequality. Now, I’m not going to critique his initial comments in this post. I don’t care to delve too deeply into that issue on this blog. But his response… well it is lacking, to put it mildly. Here it is, quoted from a Daily News article about the comments:

“My remarks were intended to discourage pitting one group against another group in a society. If my choice of words was inappropriate — and they well may have been that — I extend my profound apologies to anyone and everyone who I may have offended,” Langone said in the statement.

So, is he sorry that he made the comments? Personally, I’m not convinced. It sounds like one of those typical quasi-apologies. You know: “I’m sorry that you were offended by something I said or did.” Weak. With a capital W.

Want another example? Try this situation from the Schenectady City School District that recently made national news. For the record, I live near Schenectady, but my kiddos do not attend school there. (Thank goodness.)

Long story short, a five year old girl accidentally got on the wrong school bus and ended up at the wrong school for a full day. Her mother did not discover this until her daughter did not show up at the bus stop after school.

The school district claims they thought this kindergartner was a new first grade student due to arrive that day.  It is a series of errors so strange that it’s almost comical. Except for the fact that I’m sure the mother was absolutely distraught to find out her daughter was missing. For a more complete rundown, you can read about it on the Daily Gazette or Time Warner Cable News.

Quite frankly, I don’t believe the school district is providing the full story.

Thankfully, the young girl was returned safely to her mother.

But then the school district had the nerve to issue a lengthy statement that comes across with a theme of “blame the li’l kindergartner.”

You can read it here. I call it pathetic.

The last paragraph starts with this sentence:

“We regret that Ms. Rodriguez spent yesterday afternoon worrying about her child,” said [Superintendent] Spring.

Is that an apology? Methinks not. Especially after they effectively blamed a five-year-old and her mother for the entire situation.

By the way, I’m sorry in advance if the administration of the Schenectady City School District views my post to be offensive due to any misperception on their part.

That’s not an apology. It’s sarcasm.

-stepping off soapbox… for now-

Bring on Spring

We’ve been overdue for a good ol’ New York winter. And this year, we got one. So did most of the rest of the country.

I’m guessing that my friends in Texas and Georgia haven’t been as accepting of this year’s winter weather, though. Heck, I’m not sure my friends downstate have appreciated all the snow. Certainly, Governor “I panic at the first sign of snow” Cuomo will be glad to see spring arrive. That way he won’t have to close Interstate 84  ’cause a wee little snowflake hit the ground.

Still, I admit it. I’ll be glad to see the arrival of warmer weather. And I’m hopeful that it will get here soon.

In the meantime, I plan to enjoy the outdoor skating rink at the Empire State Plaza during my lunch break one more time today before they close it for the year. Or until winter returns in July. (I’m kidding… it probably won’t return until September.)

Skating Rink at the Empire State Plaza - NYS Capitol in the background.

Skating Rink at the Empire State Plaza – NYS Capitol in the background.

Bring on Spring!

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.

Getting Reconnected

Just a brief post to catch up on things…

Earlier this year, my beloved MacBook died. Like doornail-dead. Like it makes a great paperweight now.

Even so, I had been able to use my even-older iMac to get online. But that, too, started acting persnickety. (I love that word… but not when my computer acts that way.)

Unfortunately, a new MacBook wasn’t in the cards, at least not until I got a tax refund headed my way. But a stubborn desktop has been making it difficult to get my money back from the money-grubbin’ eye-are-ess.  Translation: my computer needed some upgrading before I could get my taxes filed.

But after some fixes, my desktop is running better now, my taxes are filed, and I shall soon have a new laptop. Huzzah!

That means that I should be able to return to the online world with a bit more regularity. So stay tuned. I’ve got some fun stories to share soon…

The Spirit of Z2H

There is no doubt. My blog has been a big fat “zero” in recent years. And I am very grateful that my good friend Harvey convinced me to join him in the Zero to Hero mission. Or “Z2H” as he calls it. (As a former Navy guy… ya’ know I love acronymns.)

But frankly, I don’t think I’ve achieved “Hero” status with my blog. Probably just “Ordinary” status. (See what I did there? I tied it into my blog’s theme.)

Still, I think that I’ve been following the spirit of the assignments. And I am excited about the future of my blog.

You see, I have been struggling to find time and energy to write, especially after spending the entire work day fighting a computer. Yet, I am optimistic that this blog is heading in the right direction. I’ve even started to reach out to some ordinary folks who are doing amazing things. Can’t wait to blog about them.

Plus, it’s been nice to read, comment on, and interact with other bloggers. (Wish I had more time to do more of this.)

For example, there are blogs like Deliberating Dave and Wandering Voiceless. (Excellent names, right?) There’s also my mom’s blog: Souls Under Construction.

That reminds me… I’ve got to catch up on some reading and commenting.

With January 2014 rapidly coming to a close, I don’t know how strictly I will be following the handful of upcoming Z2H assignments, but I’m certainly grateful for the help along the way.

Perhaps I should change the challenge name, at least for me, to Zero to Ordinary.

Hey Harvey… how does “Z2O” sound to you?

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?

The Kickin’ Stone

In my recent cleanup of my man cave, I just came across an old box labeled “desk stuff.” In it is an oddball collection of trinkets and knick-knacks. There is a souvenier from a trip to the Middle East I made as Navy Midshipman. A few Hot Wheels cars rattle around the box. They are Happy Meal toys from my days as a McDonald’s employee. A handful of nametags provides a history of my service at a number of naval commands. A keychain-sized supersoaker awaits the addition of water to spritz unsuspecting friends. There are a couple of spent cartridges from a naval Phalanx close-in weapons system – heavy brass cartridges.

And a stone. A small rock.

The Kickin' Stone

The Kickin’ Stone

I call it my kickin’ stone.

As a kid growing up in a small town in Southern New Jersey, I discovered this unassuming stone on a walk around town. I kicked it gently. Then kicked it again. And again… for a few miles.

At the end of my walk, I picked it up and took it inside my home.

I brought it along with me on other neighborhood walks. When I needed to think, or when I was upset, you might have seen me kicking a stone around the town. This stone. I found it was calming. I discovered that it helped me think.

You see, I ponder while I wander. Often it’s how I do my best thinking, how I come up with my best ideas.

When I get stuck on a project at the office, I’ll frequently take a walk around the “block,” the hallways on the floor where my office is located.

I still take walks around town. I still find it helpful when I’m upset, when I need to pray, when I’m pondering a challenging problem, or when I need to generate new ideas.

Maybe I should take the stone for a trip around my current neighborhood.

He needs a name!

It’s great to have a mascot. But my blog’s mascot is missing something important.

Legs.

Wait, no. I meant a name. He’s missing a name.

Blue Streak

Actually, that’s not quite true. I’ve been informally calling him Blue Streak. It’s the same name as a couple classic wooden roller coasters: one at Cedar Point, the other at Conneaut Lake Park. Doesn’t it look like he is riding a coaster? (In reality, he’s superglued to the dashboard of my car.)

For the purposes of this blog, I think he needs a new name.

In the meantime, I’ve been doing some of the Zero to Hero assignments. I’ve been reworking my widgets. I’ve started a new blogroll. I’ve played with the customization, and I think I’m happy with the blue color, the fairly simple setup. I don’t want it to be too cluttered.

Progress has been great. But poor ol’ Blue Streak needs a name.

Any suggestions?

 

Message on a Sign

I enjoy reading those signs with the letters that somebody has to manually change. LED-lighted digital signs are cool, but I still love the ones that have to be physically changed.

Perhaps, it’s because I used to update my church’s sign every week when I was in high school. It was easy because I lived across the street and because the church’s pastor usually selected the message for the sign.

But I digress…

There’s a pizza place just down the road from me that has a sign where they can add messages.

Here’s the message that has appeared on the sign for a few days now.

Sign Message

Thank you God things can be worse

I’ve been wondering about its meaning since I first saw it.

On my way home from church yesterday, I did something a bit out of character for me. I stopped at the pizza place. Not to order a slice, for that would have been entirely within the realm of possibility.

No, I stopped to ask if there is a specific reason that the message was posted.

Alas, the young lady working at the counter could not provide an answer to my inquiry.

Thank you God things can be worse

Is it a reflection on a difficult economy?

Was there a tragedy in somebody’s life?

Is it meant as a reminder to be thankful in spite of life’s challenges?

Or something else entirely?

Thank you God things can be worse

It’s something to ponder.

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