Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Two Most Important Days in Your Life

The Quote

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. - Mark Twain
I saw this quote while watching JEOPARDY! one night; I immediately looked it up and bookmarked it. What a powerful quote! It got me thinking about the "why" and whether I have found mine yet.

I filed it away but started really thinking about it a few days later. At first I decided it was wrong - there are far more than two important days in many of our lives; getting married, having children, choosing a career, etc... Then I realized he wasn't just talking about important days but the most important days - what a difference that one word makes. Even when I made the distinction between "important" and "most important" I had trouble; I guess the trouble is that I think there are more than two days.

We don't have any say in the first day - we don't ask to be born and don't pick the circumstances - but the second day is the truly special one. I don't think we have a say in the "second" day, either; I think it just happens and we may not even notice for a long time. Naturally, the days that my children were born would have to be the most important for that was when I became responsible for someone other than myself. That is a shared "most important" day as I share that responsibility with my wife. There are other monumental events that would fall into the same category; meeting my wife, getting married, choosing a profession, etc... but I think the quote points to something a bit more abstract.

I have given this a lot of thought and think I know the second day. It would have been some time around mid-October in 2007 - the day I first volunteered for the JDRF Walk for a Cure in Avon-by-the-Sea, New Jersey. I didn't know it at the time but that would be the first of many times I have volunteered for a good cause. The first year I worked in the "Counting Room" going thru envelopes and counting money. It felt good to be helping but....

My "Why"

Team Photographer for JDRF - 2008 thru 2013

In 2008 I volunteered as a Team Photographer and continued in the job thru 2013. It was while volunteering as a photographer I learned the "why" but I don't think I realized it for a few years. You see, photography has always been something I loved and it was something I did primarily for me (you can read about my obsession here - Why Photography?). I would show my work to people but the underlying reason for shooting was to satisfy something deep inside of me. Volunteering as a photographer allowed me to use my skills to help others. Participants in the walk were so happy to have a group photo, it made me feel good that I could give them something in return for their supporting diabetes research. After the 2013 walk it was time for me to move on.

Event Photographer - 2014 thru ?

Immediately after deciding not to return to the JDRF walks I started looking for new opportunities. I had been wanting to volunteer with American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) for a few years but always forgot until I saw someone post they had just walked.... I also wanted to get involved with the Lustgarten Foundation. Within days of my last JDRF walk, I found local Lustgarten Foundation and AFSP walks; they weren't until June and September, respectively, but I wrote right away. I got my answer from both rather quickly - YES! I wasn't going to be a Team Photographer - I was going to be an Event Photographer. I covered both events in 2014 and started looking for more - in 2018 I covered six (6) between May and November. I truly believe this is my "why", as well as why I was given the gift of photography.

Working as an event photographer is hard work but it may very well be the most rewarding work I have ever done. I get to meet some truly incredible people, while collecting memories of the day for them to re-live over and over again. Someone asked me if I got paid for my work, I replied, "Yes, with smiles, laughs, high-fives and 'thank-you's!" That is far more satisfying than money will ever be.

So, while I can't pinpoint an exact date, I do believe I know when I discovered my "why." Have you found yours? If so, what did you find? Let me know in the comment section below.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

You can't always choose the path that you walk in life....

You can't always choose the path that you walk in life, but you can always choose the manner in which you walk it. - John O'Leary
I forget where I saw this quote but I grabbed it as soon as I did. It is seldom I come across something that rings as true as this. Other, similar, sayings come to mind like "play the hand that is dealt you" and "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade." They are not exactly the same but the sentiment is close. There are those who get the world handed to them and those who have to fight for everything they have. We have very little control over much of what goes on in our lives but there is one thing that we have total control over - how we behave and how we react to events in our lives, the good and the bad.

When your feeling down, it is easy to think that life dealt you a lousy hand. You feel that no matter what you try to do, you can't seem to get ahead so - why bother? You think, "I'm not giving up, I'm facing reality. It doesn't matter what I do." We've all had these feelings at some point in our lives; at least I know that I have. It may have been a teacher who decided you were a "C student" and no matter what you did, you were getting a C. The boss who rides you like a rented mule for no apparent reason or, maybe, no matter how hard you try you just don't seem to get the recognition that you feel you deserve. When faced with these situations you are presented with a choice - accept it and give up or you can resign yourself to the fact that you can't please everyone and continue being the best version of you possible.

It's not easy but, in my humble opinion, the only person you need to satisfy is the one looking back at you in the mirror. In life there are no guarantees but I believe there is always promise. The promise that, if you work hard, you can succeed. There will, invariably, be setbacks (or speed bumps as I have heard said) along the way but if taken in stride you will eventually reach your destination. Don't give up and don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't do something or that you aren't good enough.

There will be obstacles that you cannot overcome; don't let them define you. Use your setbacks as learning experiences and you will find fewer obstacles as you go forward.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Ice Cream, Oh How I Love You!

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!

I can't remember if I first heard that rhyme from my grandmother or her sister, Inez. Now, I don't know about you but I love ice cream and so did Inez! If it were up to me ice cream would be it's own food group and we would be required to eat at least one serving with each meal.

Last week's stroll down Memory Lane was all about my grandmother and popcorn (Popcorn and Sleeping at Grandma's house), this week is all about ice cream! Ice cream, for me, is more than a delicious cold treat, it is a big part of my life with scores of memories in each scoop. When I was growing up I spent two (2) weeks each summer visiting Inez along with my brother and sister. This was the highlight of my summer and it usually started right around July 4th. My grandmother's other sister, Viola, would host a big family reunion and then we would go from there to Inez's. She lived in a big farmhouse that belonged to my great-grandparents and it had a small, enclosed porch in the back. This porch housed the most important appliance in the house - a large chest freezer! The freezer had three or four compartments and I remember the furthest one from the door was filled with ice cream. All kinds of ice cream! Every night we would get a big bowl of ice cream to eat while watching television - shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Chiller Theatre, Creature Feature and The Twilight Zone - just to name my favorites. I often had butterscotch and maybe chopped nuts on mine. If we had gone out to eat for dinner it is quite possible we had ice cream for dessert but that wouldn't stop us from having it while watching television, too.

It has been more than 40 years since I spent a summer there - my siblings and I replaced by cousins - and the house, unfortunately, is no longer in the family but I still love having ice cream while watching television at night. I don't have a chest freezer (yet) and don't have ice cream every night but when I do I am instantly transported back to Flanders and the green vinyl easy chair that I sat in. When I was little we both sat in the chair together but as I got older the chair became "my spot" when I was there.

Not all of my ice cream memories come from my summers in Flanders and not all involve watching television. I can't eat a Good Humor bar - especially the Strawberry Shortcake - without thinking of church, Dilger's Market and my aunts, Chris and Cindy. I will explain. Most Sunday mornings I would go to Sunday School and then go back to my grandmother's house. There would be me, my brother and sister, and my aunts, who are only 10 and 11 years older than I. On the way home from church we would stop at Dilger's Market where my grandmother would get her newspapers and we would each get a Good Humor bar - I typically got the Strawberry Shortcake. I don't know when the market closed but it has been a very long time and I don't believe any store took it's place; the building is still there, boarded up and long since abandoned but I got a craving for a Strawberry Shortcake Good Humor bar....

Then there is Dairy Queen. My Little League team, the Lions, was coached by Mr. Marks. The Marks' lived a couple houses away from me and Johnny was one of my first friends when we moved there shortly after my 5th birthday. Mr. Marks coached Little League since before we even started playing and everyone in the neighborhood who played baseball played for the Lions. There were no exceptions that I know of. We always had a really good team and won most of the time. When we won we would all pile into a few cars - back then it was okay - and go to Dairy Queen for a celebratory ice cream cone. The big treat was the addition of the hard shell coating that we got on the cones. Years later I worked for a company just a few miles from the same Dairy Queen and would go there for lunch some days. Guess what I had for dessert when I did.... Every time I see a Dairy Queen I think of baseball, Little League and the friends I played with.

My parents used to take us to Carvel for an occasional treat. I remember that my "usual" was a sundae with vanilla soft serve and wet walnut topping. I still love that sundae but there aren't a lot of Carvel's around anymore. The one that we used to frequent is still an ice cream place but it is a privately owned store.

I think this is a good place to stop - I could go on for a while and have more stories but I heard you are supposed to "leave them wanting more" and so I stop. What are your ice cream inspired memories? What is your favorite flavor? I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Popcorn and Sleeping at Grandma's house

My wife and I visited with my aunt yesterday and she was telling us about a conversation she had with one of her grandchildren. He wanted to tell her that they ran out of "Grandma Cookies" and needed more. She is known for her cookies and her grandchildren look forward to the care packages. She turned to me and asked if there was something that my grandmother did and then she answered herself with "Pepperidge Farm Coconut Cake". That has been one of my favorite cakes for as long as I can remember, I also loved my grandmother's lemon bundt cake with lemon glaze. These are very strong cherished memories but the #1 thing is popcorn! I don't know if my grandmother made popcorn for me because I loved it or if I loved it because my grandmother made it for me. I do know that whenever I sit down with a bowl of popcorn, I am a kid again, sitting on my grandmother's couch watching television.

I have read that popcorn is a healthy, low-fat, low-calorie snack - yeah, maybe, but not the good popcorn. I want my popcorn popped in oil and covered in melted butter and salt. The "good for you" stuff is popped with hot air with little to no butter - you can salt that stuff for days and nothing will stick to it. You may as well be eating a rice cake....

When I was growing up the big treat was spending the night at my grandmother's house. I remember begging to go over on a Saturday night. I would sleep on the couch in the living room where I would lie and watch television - often it was the "NBC Saturday Night at the Movies". If memory serves me correctly the first time I ever saw "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" was when it ran on Saturday Night at the Movies. It was always a treat staying at my grandmother's house but what stands out most is having popcorn. She would pop it on the stove in a big pot and then put it in individual bowls with lots of salt and butter. There was also a glass of milk to go with it - I don't think I ever drank a soda in her house. For me, the popcorn was a great treat but the real treat were the pieces that stuck to the bottom of the pot and got a bit burned. You know the ones I mean - they are perfectly white but they have that one, flat, side that is black. I loved those! That is not something you can get any way other than cooking in a pot with oil - well, Jiffy Pop was good for the burnt kernels, too!

When I got older and lived on my own I would use a pot and make popcorn like my grandmother used to make. I then read somewhere that a wok was the best vessel for popping so I tried it. It was great! There were a number of advantages - it was easier to shake, it held more popcorn and it actually used less oil. There came a time when the wok was used only for popcorn and we bought a new one for everything else. One reason for this is because after a while there were spots where the burnt popcorn left remnants. That wok is long gone and replaced by a popper with a rotating handle. This is a great popper but by keeping the kernels moving they don't get a chance to burn.... I am tempted to let it sit for a minute when the popping is done but the rest of the family doesn't like the smell and I am afraid to leave it too long and end up with that big black mass of cinder you get when you really over do it.

So, are you a popcorn lover? How do you pop yours? Do you eat it "straight" - butter and salt - or do you like it flavored? Cheese? Caramel? Spicy? What about microwave popcorn? I didn't even get into that. I like microwave popcorn for the convenience but prefer the old-fashioned way. Now for the most important question - where do you stand on the burnt kernels? Let me know in the comments below.

Image attribution

Image by delgraphica from Pixabay

Image by 41330 from Pixabay