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Posts Tagged ‘Olivia Grace Armand Foundation’

Ornaments Tell a Story

In Family, Life Lessons on December 21, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Growing up, I didn’t have a Christmas tree in the house.  Most Jewish families didn’t.  Years ago, when I started dating my wife, having a Christmas tree became as much a part of my holiday tradition as having a menorah to light for Chanukah.  In all honesty, the tree itself wouldn’t be very meaningful to me, if not for the ornaments adorning it.

Every family has their own tradition and vision of what a Christmas tree should look like.  Some decorate their tree with such elegance that it adds a touch of class to the room in which it sits.  Others use an abundance of lights causing the tree to catch the eye of all passersby.  Our tree is far from elegant, and it is so subtly lit that it would draw very little attention to anyone passing by.  But it has meaning to us.

Even though we didn’t add many new ornaments this year, it looks different than it did in years past, largely because my 4-year old did so much of the decorating.  My wife and I did our part to make sure that the top of the tree wasn’t bare, and my son took care of the middle of the tree.  But this year’s tree is very bottom-heavy with ornaments, and quite frankly, a bit sloppy looking.  That’s what happens when an excited 4-year old is allowed to decorate with reckless abandon.  And though it wasn’t intentional, my little one managed to create a tree that is a microcosm of our lives right now…chaotic, cluttered and a bit cramped.

Some of the ornaments date back to when my wife was a kid.  The rest have been added over the years as our lives have grown together.  One look at our tree and you know instantly who our favorite sports teams are.  You know what characters from our childhood hold a special place in our hearts.  You know some of the places that we have visited.  You know when my wife and I celebrated our first Christmas together…our first Christmas with our son…and our first Christmas with our daughter.  The hanging dreidels and menorah ornaments show that in our house, our tree is actually a “Chrismukkah” tree.

It is said that every picture tells a story and that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Perhaps that is why my wife and I both love the picture frame ornaments that hold photos of the kids when they were younger.  The ornaments on our tree tell a story, but not the whole story.

The holidays are a joyous time, but can also be painful.  While decorating this year, we got to experience the sheer joy on my little one’s face as she hung each ornament in her own little haphazard way.  We also experienced sadness as my son broke down and cried as he held the ornament inscribed with our departed dog’s name on it.  Thankfully, the moments of joy far outweighed the moment of sadness.  But that is not true for everyone.

The picture above is of an ornament that is very special to me, and to the others who have received it as well this year.  It commemorates the life of Olivia Grace Armand, a little girl who passed away on 12/11/2009 (10 days before her 5th birthday).

Today would have been Olivia’s 6th birthday.

Today, Olivia celebrates her 2nd birthday in heaven.

Today, the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation ornament hangs on our tree and tells a story of its own.

It reminds us that life is precious, and that we must live each day to the fullest.  It reminds us that things are usually not nearly as bad as they seem.  It reminds us that we should be grateful for the things that we have instead of longing for the things that we don’t.  Lastly, it reminds us that the greatest gift that anyone could receive is the moments that they get to share with the ones that they love.

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A Year Ago Today…A Little Angel Earned Her Wings

In Family, Giving Back, Inspiration and Motivation, Life Lessons on December 11, 2010 at 3:11 am

The text message simply read…..“She’s gone.”

As my heart sank into my stomach, I stared at the message in disbelief, wanting it to be a mistake, wishing that I could somehow turn back the hands of time and make things right with the world again.  With tears streaming down my face, I dialed the phone to reach out to my good friend, Trish.  It was a call that I knew that I would have to make someday, but I wasn’t ready to make it yet.  And surely, Trish was nowhere near ready to receive it.  Not before her sweet Olivia got the chance to celebrate her 5th birthday.  Not before Olivia’s wish was granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  And not when things seemed to be looking up.

But ready or not, Olivia Grace Armand earned her wings a year ago today (just 10 days before her 5th birthday).

When I made the call, I didn’t expect Trish to answer, but I felt like I had to leave a message, even though nothing could possibly lessen the blow of this tragedy.  To my surprise, Trish answered.  She was in the room getting ready to give “Cookie” one last bath.  As she told me what she was doing, I broke down…crying uncontrollably.  We both did.  No words can accurately capture the pain that we shared in that moment.

I don’t remember everything that was said.  I just remember telling Trish over and over again that I was so sorry.  And I’ll never forget that somewhere in the middle of our conversation, Trish seemed to be the one comforting me.  There are no words to describe the incredible strength of this woman who has been dealt the cruelest hand that one can possibly be dealt…the pain of losing a child.

Trish knew that this day was coming years ago when her daughter, Olivia, and her son, Mikey, were diagnosed with a rare metabolic storage disorder called Mucolipidosis II (or “I Cell”).  Children with this disorder are born without the Lysosomal enzyme which is responsible for breaking down complex carbohydrates in the cells.  Although both Olivia, and her brother, Mikey, were given bone marrow transplants to obtain the missing enzyme, it does not cure the disease…it merely slows down the progression.  Children with “I Cell” rarely survive beyond ten years.

Many people (including me) were in constant contact with Trish when Olivia went into the hospital last November.  We were all elated when the news was good, and saddened and worried when things took a turn for the worse.  We all fell in love with Olivia through the photos, videos and stories that Trish shared on Facebook.

Even though I never got to meet her in person, I feel a very strong connection to this amazing little girl.  My kids feel that same connection to her.  They love watching the videos of Olivia and Mikey.  My son is old enough to understand what is going on…my daughter is not.  At 4 years old, she cannot grasp the gravity of the situation.  She just adores these kids, and cannot get enough of watching their videos or seeing their pictures.  There is an excitement in her voice and on her face that is simply indescribable.

The video that always comes to my mind is the one of Olivia eating pancakes during her final days.  She seemed so happy and full of life, and as adorable and lovable as usual.  I remember smiling while watching it last December, and thinking that things were going to be okay.  After watching it again today, it is still so hard to believe that this little angel earned her wings five days after this video was taken.  It just makes no sense.

Trish has done amazing things since her daughter’s passing.  She has shown strength and courage that many may dream of, but very few achieve.  Less than a month after ^^Olivia^^ earned her wings, Trish established the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation (www.OliviaGraceArmandFoundation.org) to “pay it forward” in her daughter’s name.

Because of their disorder, Trish’s children have spent many days in hospitals.  Aside from the support of her friends and family, the one thing that helps Trish during these trying times is the incredible nurses who dedicate their lives to pediatrics.  They are truly unsung heroes who help to ease the pain for families whose children are hospitalized.  But there aren’t enough of them, and Trish is doing her part to change that.

Today, on the one-year anniversary of ^^Olivia^^ earning her wings, the first pediatric nursing scholarship is being awarded by the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation to a very worthy candidate named Susie Kustad.  Once again, in her darkest hour, Trish will be the one giving support.  Simply amazing!

The presentation of the first scholarship today will surely be a very bittersweet time for Trish.  The fact that she chose to present it today speaks volumes about who she is as a person.  If only there were more people like her in the world.

The greatest gift would be to bring ^^Olivia^^ back into her mother’s loving arms.  Sadly, that is not possible.  But it is possible for others to help Trish in her quest to increase the number of pediatric nurses in this country.

Despite a tough economy, we can all find a way to contribute something…a few dollars or whatever you can afford.  Think about the good that can be done if each person decided to give one less gift this year and put that money towards this incredibly noble cause.  Please visit www.OliviasCookieJar.org to donate whatever you can.

During this holiday season, remember that the greatest gift that you can give cannot be found in a store.  It cannot be gift-wrapped, and it can NEVER be returned.  It is the gift of time, and being there in the moment with your loved ones.

This holiday season, think about the little angel who earned her wings (a year ago today) as a reminder of what is truly important in life!

Olivia’s life was short, but her impact will last a lifetime!

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Make A Wish

In Family, Life Lessons, Pursuit of Happiness on August 10, 2010 at 4:25 pm

During our recent trip to New York, we celebrated my daughter’s birthday.  Actually, we celebrated her birthday three times (on the actual day, with my family and finally, with my wife’s family).  Suffice it to say that we got our fill of birthday cake.  At each celebration, my daughter would happily blow out the candles and “make a wish”.  At her age though, I’m not so sure that secret wishes are really made, considering the fact that she was constantly verbalizing the things that she wanted.  In fact, the timing of our New York visit was determined by her repeated wish to go to the beach on her birthday.

By the time that the final candle was blown out on the third birthday cake, we were all a little bit heavier from our indulgence, and my daughter’s Pavlovian mindset had her associating presents with dessert.   And though she was very happy with the gifts that she received from everyone, there were still some gifts that she couldn’t get until we got home because of the limited space available in the luggage that we were bringing on the plane.   But she didn’t seem to mind at all.  She got to do everything that she wanted to do on her birthday, and ended up with many of the things that were on her birthday list.

Saying “goodbye” to everyone at the end of our trip was difficult (as we knew that it would be).  Even though we were all exhausted by the time that our visit came to an end, I think that if my daughter had one last birthday wish, it would have been to stay in New York even longer so that she could spend more time with family.  But as the saying goes…“all good things must come to an end.”

As much as I would have liked to have stayed in New York to spend more time with family and friends, I have another reason that I wish that we could have stayed a little bit longer.

My friend, Trish, who lost her daughter (Olivia) in December to a very rare metabolic storage disorder called I-Cell was bringing her son, Mikey, up to Long Island just days after we left New York.  I got to meet Mikey earlier in the year at the first-ever “Bowling For Cookies” event in Florida (where we raised money for the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation).  However, my wife and kids – who have fallen in love with Mikey through pictures and videos – have not gotten the chance to meet him, and this would have been a perfect opportunity.

Our visit to New York can best be described as “bittersweet.” We knew that, when it ended, we wouldn’t be seeing everyone again for a long time (probably until next summer).  Trish’s visit with Mikey, on the other hand, goes way beyond bittersweet.  They are staying in a beautiful beach house on Long Island, but they are doing so courtesy of Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Mikey, like his sister, Olivia, was also born with I-Cell, and the life expectancy for children with this disease is relatively short.  Olivia passed away just days before her fifth birthday and the Make-A-Wish Foundation trip that was planned for her.  Mikey celebrated his fourth birthday at the “Bowling For Cookies” event in April, and will be celebrating another birthday of sorts (4 years post bone marrow transplant) at the upcoming “Bowling For Cookies” event taking place on Saturday, August 14th at Sheridan Bowl in Mineola, NY.

Sometimes, a little perspective is all you need to make you realize just how lucky you are.  As bittersweet as our visit to New York was, it was nothing in comparison to what Trish is going through.  Staying in a beautiful, relaxing beach house on Long Island with Mikey is a memory that will stay with Trish for the rest of her life, but I am sure that she would gladly trade it all in for the restless nights that I spent on pull-out couches and air mattresses, and the sore back that I ended up with due in large part to the endless hours spent in the car (nearly 2000 miles travelled over the course of three weeks).

I’m very happy that my little girl got to “make a wish” as she blew out the candles on each birthday cake.  I’m glad that we were able to celebrate her birthday with the family that has not gotten to see her growth first-hand over the past year.  I don’t know if she actually made a wish or not, but it doesn’t really matter either way.  She had a great birthday, and enjoyed every minute of every celebration in her honor.

I wish that we could have stayed in New York to visit with Trish and Mikey, and attend the upcoming “Bowling For Cookies” event on Long Island.  But more than anything, I wish that Trish’s New York visit could be only as bittersweet as our visit was.

Looking Back at April

In Family, Giving Back, Inspiration and Motivation, Pursuit of Happiness on May 2, 2010 at 6:25 am

Each month, I do a recap to measure my progress while keeping myself accountable to my goals.

Here is my look back at April…

THE PURSUIT OF HEALTH

After going off course in March due to a change in schedule and some extenuating circumstances, I was determined to do better in April.  Unfortunately, April started off much the same way that March ended.  While I am disappointed overall of my progress for the month, I am happy to say that I wrapped up the month on a high note, which will lay the foundation for May and the months ahead.

Part of the reason that it took until the end of the month to “right the ship” is because I was waiting for a new workout video to arrive.  Of course, that is no excuse for not doing something else until it arrived.  But since I can’t go back in time, I’ll just have to look ahead, and stop worrying about mistakes that I made early in the month.

The video finally arrived just as I was about to go out of town.  My wife and I decided to start the new workout when I got back, although we watched it a few times just to see what we needed to do to prepare.

Since the video was made by a friend, and we are acting as “testers,” it did not have the full workout to follow along with the instructor.  We wrote out each exercise and a list of things that we would need to do the workout.  I was happy that the workout could be done at home without having to spend a lot of money on equipment.  As we watched the video, I thought that it would be a good, effective workout, but one that I would be able to finish the first time that I tried it.  WRONG!!!

This workout is going to whip me into shape, but it is not something that can easily be finished coming off of the couch, largely because it is about going all out for a short period of time rather than being able to pace yourself.  It is going to take several tries before I can complete the entire workout in the way that it is intended to be completed.

Always one to look ahead, I asked the creator of the video what happens when I start to plateau.  His response was interesting, and something that I never thought about.  He admitted that the workout is going to start to feel easier at some point, but then it will start to get more difficult again if done properly.  Because the workout centers on a lot of jumping, and giving maximum effort in short bursts, it can actually build upon itself.  This is because, as the muscles start to develop, it will allow me to jump higher and move faster, so the same exact workout will end up having a higher degree of difficulty.

Of course, all of this exercise wouldn’t be as effective without an altered diet as well.  But unlike many “diets,” this one does not tell you what to eat, when to eat it, and how much to have.  It doesn’t have that feeling of dread, and it can be modified depending on your lifestyle and your goals.  This nutrition plan is more about what not to eat than what to eat.  I won’t say that it is easy, especially if you want to eat meals outside of the home, but it is manageable.

In addition to the 3-day-a-week exercise plan, and nutrition guidelines, I will also be incorporating fun exercise into the mix on the off-days.  Thrilled to hear that swinging a bat is good exercise for the off-days, I immediately found a batting cage nearby.  I went for the first time yesterday and really enjoyed myself.  The best part is that it is much cheaper than what I am used to paying (it’s only $1 for 20 balls).

I believe that May will be the month where I take a huge leap forward in my pursuit of health.

THE PURSUIT OF WEALTH

Because I have to rely on other people to get my projects off of the ground, there have been unforeseen delays.  If I had to sum up April in a word, it would be “progress.”

One of my projects is finally ready to take a big step forward, and I will actually be reaching out to others to see if they would like to be a part of it in the next week or so.

The other project took a slight step backwards, but in some ways, I think that the step backwards may end up being the most progress that I made this month.  I’ve learned that not everyone makes an ideal business partner.  And while I had hoped to be moving along with this particular project, I think that things may work out much better by partnering with someone else.  I guess time will tell if I was right.

THE PURSUIT OF “HAPPYNESS”

With the difficult month of March behind me, I thought that April would be better…and it was.

While I found some frustration in my pursuit of wealth, I made progress.

While it took a while to get my pursuit of health back on track, I finally did it.

And, as usual, I had a lot of fun with my wife and kids.  Ultimately, this is what it all comes down to anyway.

But when I look back at April 2010 in the future, the thing that I will remember most will be the first-ever fundraiser for the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation called “Bowling For Cookies” (which I wrote about recently).

I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child.  Even worse, I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child and having another child with the same terminal illness.  But that is the hand that my friend Trish has been dealt.  And while no one would blame her for falling apart, she has boldly taken a step in the other direction by launching the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation.

I proudly serve as a board member for the foundation, and was thrilled to have been a part of the first fundraiser.  It is hard to believe how much has been accomplished since Olivia passed away in December of 2009.

Without going into too much detail, I can honestly say that the results of the fundraiser blew me away.  If you want to see why, please read “Bowling For Cookies.”

The work that I do with the foundation truly makes me happy.  Part of it is because of the good that will come as a result of our collective efforts, but for now, the best part is supporting a friend in something that means so much to her.

“While her life was short, her impact will last a lifetime” is the tagline for the foundation.  The first fundraiser already proved that this is true.  The next fundraiser is planned for August, and it should be great as well.

I encourage anyone who hasn’t done so yet, to please check out www.OliviaGraceArmandFoundation.com and www.OliviasCookieJar.com.

CONCLUSION

April was much better than March (as anticipated). A lot of good things started to fall into place.  Hopefully the foundation that has been laid in April will result in a great May!

Bowling For Cookies

In Giving Back, Inspiration and Motivation, Pursuit of Happiness on April 27, 2010 at 10:32 am

Olivia Grace Armand, affectionately known as “Cookie,” died of a rare disease called I-Cell (or Mucolipidosis Type II) on December 11, 2009 (10 days before her 5th birthday).  Within a few weeks of Olivia’s passing, her parents, Trish and Mike Armand, established the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation.

Being that Olivia’s brother, Mikey (who turned 4 yesterday), also suffers from the same rare disease that took his sister’s life, it is logical to think that the foundation was set up to find a cure for I-Cell, but it wasn’t.  Unfortunately, the harsh realization is that very little can be done for Mikey at this point, but that hasn’t stopped Trish and Mike Armand from wanting to selflessly “pay it forward.”

Because of their disease, Olivia and Mikey have spent countless days in hospitals.  The Armands give a lot of credit to the doctors that they have dealt with, but the ones who have given them comfort and strength are the incredible pediatric nurses that they have encountered over the years.  For this reason, the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation was established to provide pediatric nursing scholarships to the unsung heroes who provide an emotional support system that goes beyond medical care.

Needless to say, I was honored when I was asked to be a board member for this incredibly noble foundation.  Although I haven’t personally had much experience around pediatric nurses, I have seen the difference that compassionate nurses can make in the lives of family members who are dealing with a dire situation.

In 2001, a severe head injury caused my father to go into a coma.  The neurosurgeons did absolutely nothing to comfort us.  In fact, their stark presentation of my father’s condition made things even worse.  The only solace that we ever received was from the compassionate nurses.  Even though it has been nearly nine years since my father’s passing, I still remember one particular nurse named Colleen.  Colleen treated our family as if we were long-time friends, and it didn’t take long for me to trust whatever she told us.

My father’s fight for his life lasted for 5 days, until he finally couldn’t fight any longer.  During that time, Colleen would tell us what was happening, and what was likely to happen next.  She was never wrong!  Even though the news was never good, she always delivered the message with great compassion.  The night that my father died, Colleen hugged each of us, and cried with us as we said our goodbyes.  I’ll never forget Colleen as long as I live, so I know exactly why Trish and Mike feel so strongly about giving back to pediatric nurses.

In a short time, the foundation had already raised $10,000 leading up to the first fundraiser, “Bowling for Cookies,”which was held this past weekend.  I am truly honored to have been a part of it.

When I arrived in Florida on Saturday evening, I was greeted at the airport by Trish and a few other board members (some of whom I had never met before).  It was a fun-filled evening with a lot of laughs.  By the time that the night came to an end, I felt as if I had made new friends.  We only spent a short time planning for the event the next day, and since none of us had done this before, we were going to have to learn on the job (so to speak).

After having a quick breakfast together, we started our day by going to visit Olivia’s gravesite.  Although visiting a cemetery is usually very solemn for me, Olivia’s final resting place felt different.  Trish described it best in one word…“peaceful.” The wind chimes hanging from a small tree blew gently in the breeze as we all stood together talking about the day.  I was sad that we were standing by the grave of a little girl, but happy that we were about to do something special in her name.

We arrived at the bowling alley about four hours before the event was to begin.  At first, it was a little confusing trying to figure out each of our roles, but before long, we were working together as a team, and getting things done.  Slowly but surely, the lobby was transformed into a greeting area that made you forget for a moment that you were inside of a bowling alley, the billiard room became a silent auction staging area, and it began to feel as though we were a team of people who had done this together before.  Each of us seemed to just gravitate towards a responsibility as Trish led the way, which couldn’t have been easy with all of the stress and emotion that she was feeling.

There were many touching moments throughout the day.  It began with the first family showing up, and each of them wearing purple (the foundation’s official color).  As the bowling alley filled up, Trish gave a speech thanking everyone for coming.  Through the tears, and a quiver in her voice, you could feel the passion that she has to make this foundation a success.  And perhaps the most touching moment of all came when Trish picked the winning ticket for the 50/50 raffle, which ended up being a $400 cash prize to the winner.  Everyone applauded as Trish’s friend Jason came forward to claim his prize.  As Trish went to hand Jason the money, he immediately told her not to hand it to him, and that the money was for the foundation.  Trish announced Jason’s generosity to the crowd, choked up, with tears in her eyes, and said…“you see everyone, this is what paying it forward it all about!”

Shortly after Jason’s show of generosity, everyone attending the event sang “Happy Birthday” to Mikey.  And though I couldn’t see his face from my vantage point, I got the full description from Trish’s dad and step-mom, who told me that he usually gets a little scared around the candles, but not this time.  They told me that he really enjoyed himself, just like everyone else who attended the event.

“Bowling For Cookies” was a tremendous success.  It seemed as much a celebration of Cookie’s life as it did a fundraiser for nursing scholarships.  Being that this was the first event, I had no idea what to expect in terms of money being raised, but I do know that my expectations were exceeded.  We ended up raising over $8000 to go towards the “Cookie Jar!” Pretty amazing when you take today’s economy into account!

I encourage everyone to check out www.OliviaGraceArmandFoundation.org for more information about this amazing little girl and to make donations.  Please also visit www.OliviasCookieJar.com to shop in the Olivia Grace Armand Mall, where all proceeds go directly to the foundation.

Looking Back on January

In Giving Back, Inspiration and Motivation, Pursuit of Happiness on January 31, 2010 at 10:52 pm

On January 1, 2010, while out taking a walk, I decided to finally launch a blog that I had been thinking about for some time.  Like many others, I really felt like I needed a fresh start, and was glad to see the last decade come to an end.  Although I was never one that bought into resolutions very much, (as they are often times broken before January comes to an end), I was determined to make this year the beginning of something better.  A new and improved mindset if you will.  My first post on this blog, entitled “Beyond Resolutions,” described that the blog would chronicle my pursuit of health, wealth and “happyness.”  Please read the post to see why “happyness” is spelled incorrectly, and in quotes.

When no one is watching, it is easy to revert back to bad habits of the past.  Change can be difficult, but can also be well worth it in the long run.  If nothing else, this blog has given me a sense of accountability (something that I never had when making resolutions in the past).  Even though no one reading this blog is likely to call me out for not following through on any of the changes that I laid out, there is always an underlying push going on in the back of my mind because I am reporting my progress.  With that in mind, I’d like to take a look back on the month of January as a sort of report card to keep myself in check, while keeping my readers in the loop.  So here it is…

THE PURSUIT OF HEALTH

Millions of people promise to take better care of themselves as the holidays end, after they’ve eaten too much, exercised too little or a combination of both.  The gyms get crowded, but start to thin out little by little.  Once the holiday bliss fades, and people return to “the grind,” stress starts to set in, and excuses are made.  I’ve been there and done that enough times to recognize the pattern.  However, I am determined to make real changes in a permanent way.

I decided that the best approach for me (not necessarily for others) was to take things one step at a time.  The first step was literally to start taking steps and walking every day for exercise.  I didn’t reach my goal of walking every day, but I came pretty close.  On 26 of the 31 days of January, I walked at least a couple of miles, undeterred by the weather (for the most part).  What started out as something that I was pushing myself to do, quickly became something that I enjoyed doing.  In fact, I was disappointed on the days that I didn’t walk.  Quite a change from the “old me.”

THE PURSUIT OF WEALTH

The simplest way to determine my success in this area is by measuring my income.  However, I don’t think that using money as a measuring stick is a good idea because it fails to take into account actions that I have taken to build towards the future.  Using actions taken to plant the seeds for the future as a measuring stick, I’d say that it was a good month, and a solid start.  But there is more work to be done in all areas.

Working on different projects requires the ability to prioritize, juggle and set aside the proper amount of time for each.  Since this is the first time that I’ve ever worked on more than one unrelated project at once, it didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped.  While most of the important things got done in my desired timeframe, one project is still in the “waiting room” (so to speak).  As my journey continues, I need to work on improving my time management to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks.  The project that didn’t receive nearly enough attention is one that didn’t have deadlines or other people counting on me to make it happen.  It is really designed to create another stream of income while pursuing better health.  I am looking forward to getting it off the ground, and sharing it with others as soon as possible.

My goal is to make sure that February is better than January was.  And since I am looking at this as a marathon, and not a sprint, I can already say that my goal in March is to do better than I do in February.

THE PURSUIT OF “HAPPYNESS”

I can honestly say that 2010 has been better so far than any point in 2009, and most of it can be attributed to my renewed sense of discipline and determination to reach my objectives.  Have there been bumps in the road?  Absolutely!  But there is one big difference this year, and that is my ability to deal with adversity, recognize it for what it is, and continue on my journey.  After all, it is the pursuit of “happyness” that I am focused on, NOT the pursuit of perfection (which I know does not exist).

My overall progress in my pursuit of health and wealth has been a key factor in my pursuit of “happyness,” but it is only part of why I am encouraged by 2010 so far.  I’ve enjoyed writing every day, and connecting with people on a whole new level.  There have been great moments with my family, which is really what all of this is about in the long run.

Perhaps my biggest achievement so far this year though is helping to get the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation launched.  In the time since Olivia’s passing, some incredible progress has been made.  Like me, the foundation is a work-in-progress, but things are definitely headed in the right direction.  The logo has been completed, and it has truly captured the spirit of both Olivia and the goals of the foundation.  Fundraising events are being planned, and the overall awareness of the foundation is nothing short of incredible.  I truly believe that the best is yet to come for a foundation that is going to change many lives in the future.

While I am truly saddened by the reason for the foundation’s existence, I am proud to be a part of it and doing something positive to help my friend Trish put the pieces of her life back together.

CONCLUSION

January turned out to be about as good as I could have expected.  I’m looking forward to continuing on my journey and having my readers along for the ride in my pursuit of health, wealth and “happyness!”

It Makes a Dad Proud

In Family, Giving Back, Inspiration and Motivation, Life Lessons, Pursuit of Happiness on January 24, 2010 at 9:16 am

The past ten months have been a time of tremendous transition for my family, in particular, my son.  At the age of six, he started learning some pretty difficult life lessons.  It started last March with the loss of his great grandmother (Bubby).  Two weeks after his great grandmother passed away, he was dealt another crushing blow.  Our dog (who had been with him his whole life) had gotten so sick that we were going to have to put him to sleep.  This was also around the time that we told him that we were going to be moving to Texas, which meant leaving the only place that he has ever called “home.”

We made the decision to move to Texas to give my kids a better life.  Even though my son is (and always has been) wise beyond his years, the concept of a better life was difficult to comprehend, especially considering that it meant giving up his home, his school, his friends and proximity to most of his family.  While the transition hasn’t been easy on any of us (with the exception of my 3-yr old daughter), it was most difficult on my son.   Needless to say, my wife and I both worried about how my son would handle the move – particularly the change in schools.

When we met my son’s teacher early in the year, she gave us a glowing report, and told us that he seemed to be adjusting very well, not just academically, but socially as well.  Like his pre-school, kindergarten and first grade teachers, his current teacher told us that she wished that she had a classroom full of kids like him.  This is not to say that he is perfect, or that I am some starry-eyed parent who only sees his children through rose-colored glasses.  It just so happens that my son, who has excelled in school with nearly perfect grades, saves all of his not-so-perfect moments for us at home.

I am very proud of the fact that my son’s behavior in school is beyond reproach.  I imagine that it has something to do with his maturity level, which he displayed to me last week at the trophy presentation for his football team.  At the end of the team lunch where the trophies were presented, my son’s coach gave a brief speech.  In his speech he told the team that playing football is costly for parents, and that it is something that we all work hard to pay for.  He then asked the team to give the parents a round of applause to show their appreciation for us.  Most kids clapped politely.  My son, who has been learning the value of money, stood up and gave me a big “thank you” hug as tears welled up in his eyes.  He may not be one of the all-stars on the field, but off the field, no kid on the team is in the same league as far as I’m concerned.

Respect for teachers and parental appreciation are great qualities that my son possesses.  But perhaps the moment that has made me most proud recently is my son’s generosity towards others.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you are already aware that my friend Trish recently lost her daughter to a rare metabolic disorder.  Unfortunately, Trish’s son, Mikey, suffers from the same disorder.  My son has gotten to know Trish’s children through the videos and pictures on Facebook, and by asking me questions about both of them.

Olivia Grace Armand passed away two weeks before Christmas.  Although it was only a small gesture, I wanted to get Mikey a gift.  I decided on a NY Jets blanket since Trish is a big fan of the team.  My son saw the blanket on the computer screen and asked me what it was for.  When I told him what I was doing, he told me that he wanted to pay for it with his own money.  I told him that it wasn’t necessary, but he insisted.  After a bit of negotiating, we agreed to split the cost, but that he would pay the extra penny.  During checkout, there was an opportunity to donate a dollar to a military charity.  Without hesitation, my son asked me to make the donation and to allow him to pay for it.  Once the order was complete, I asked him if he wanted to make a card for Mikey to go with the gift.  He immediately sat down and made a card with a NY Jets theme.

For a 7-yr old kid, my son is acutely aware of things that are going on in our lives, due in part to his penchant for eavesdropping on conversations that I have with my wife.  He knows that I am a part of the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation that was started recently.  When he found out what the foundation was all about, he went running into his room to donate his own money because he wanted to help.  I told him that I’ll find a way for him to contribute without having to spend the money that he’s been saving.  I also let him know that he can make a bigger difference by helping to raise money than he could by just donating some of his own.

It was just decided that the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation will be raising money by selling bracelets featuring the foundation’s website on it.  When I asked my son if he wanted to sell the bracelets to help raise money, his eyes opened wide, he smiled and gave a very enthusiastic “YES!”

I have certainly made my fair share of mistakes in life that I would like to go back and fix.  But it is easy to leave those mistakes in the past when I think about how lucky I am to have a caring, generous son who is willing to go the extra mile to help others…it makes a dad proud!

A Little Bit Goes a Long Way!

In Giving Back, Inspiration and Motivation, Life Lessons, Pursuit of Happiness on January 22, 2010 at 8:57 am

On December 11, 2009, at 8:16pm, Olivia Grace Armand passed away (10 days before her 5th birthday). Olivia had a very rare metabolic storage disorder called I-Cell.  When her mother, Trish (my good friend my high school), sent me the text letting me know that “Cookie” was gone, my heart sank.  We spoke on the phone while Trish was still in the room with Olivia.  Words cannot describe the sheer anguish that we both felt.  To make matters worse, Trish’s other child, an adorable little boy named Mikey, suffers from the same rare disorder that took his sister’s life.

This kind of devastating loss renders many people almost useless.  But not Trish!  She is sad…very sad.  She misses so many things about her amazing little girl.  We all do.  At least those of us who got to know Olivia through the videos and pictures that Trish posted on Facebook.   Rather than curl up into a ball and shield herself from the world, Trish decided to do something that will change the lives of many other people faced with the same situation.  Within a week of Olivia’s passing, Trish established the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation –www.OliviaGraceArmandFoundation.org.

The Olivia Grace Armand Foundation will provide scholarship funds from “The Cookie Jar” to inspired nursing students, or nurses who want to further their education in Pediatrics.  There will be annual fundraisers to help keep“The Cookie Jar” filled.  This is Trish’s way of “paying it forward” to those that dedicate their lives to helping others, like the amazing nurses who have been there for Trish’s children time and time again.

One of the ways that Trish is promoting the foundation is through a Facebook fan page –http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=240224893166&ref=ts.  When I woke up in the middle of the night two nights ago, I checked to see how many people had signed up.  At the time, there were 917 people.  I put out an update encouraging my friends to join to help reach 1000 members (a goal that Trish set).  Within hours, several people had copied the update and made it their own.  Friends of friends started doing it as well.  By the afternoon, 50 people had joined, leaving only 33 to reach 1000.  I put out another update thanking people for joining, and letting them know that we were on 33 people away from 1000.  Within minutes, others copied the new message and made it their update.  And then it happened!  The foundation fan page reached 1000 members in almost no time.

By the end of the day, 31 of my friends had become a fan of the foundation.  Some of the friends that signed up were from the town that Trish and I grew up in.  Others came from a variety of places (fellow sleep away camp alumni, friends from college, co-workers from previous jobs that I’ve held, industry contacts, and bloggers from around the country who I have never met face-to-face, but still consider them to be good friends).

The 1000th member turned out to be one of my friends from college, who I hadn’t communicated with since graduation (until Facebook).  Trish was so appreciative of the show of support that she decided to reward the 1000thmember by sending her some cookies and a Starbucks gift card (because Olivia’s favorite cookies were from Starbucks).  What an incredible woman!  In her darkest hour, she still has the ability to give back to others.  Through the tears that flow regularly, she was able to smile at the progress that it being made in the name of her beautiful daughter.

At this moment, there are 1143 members of the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation fan page.  This is a great start.  The more exposure that the foundation gets the more successful it will be in generating donations and raising funds for a very worthy cause.  With the power of social networking, the exposure can increase exponentially without much effort at all.

If each of the 1143 members brought in 2 new members, there would be 3429 members.  If those new members each brought in 2 new members, there would be 8001 members.  And if those new members brought in 2 new members, there would be 17,145 members.  The potential for growth is extraordinary when you look at it in these terms.  If everyone just took a few minutes out of their day to help spread the word and “pay it forward,” amazing progress could be made.

What if each member donated $2 and got two more people to do the same?  With very little effort, and for less than the cost of a large cup of Starbucks coffee, “The Cookie Jar” could be overflowing.  How many people would benefit from having more dedicated, caring, passionate pediatric nurses?  Think about it…if your child needed to be hospitalized (for even the smallest ailment), wouldn’t you want a nurse that would take care of him or her as if it was their own child?

Please consider becoming a fan of the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation page on Facebook if you haven’t already.  If you are already a fan, please do what you can to help spread the word, and set a goal of bringing 2 of your friends into the fold to do the same.  Many people are struggling financially nowadays, but it is hard to imagine that we can’t each come up with a $2 for such a worthy cause.  We can all make a big difference with very little effort or expense.

A Little Bit Goes a Long Way!

A Little Help From My Friends (for Olivia Grace Armand)

In Giving Back, Pursuit of Happiness on January 6, 2010 at 12:28 am

We’ve all seen flocks of geese flying in a “V” formation across the sky. Most people probably don’t know why they fly in this pattern. I didn’t either until I was given an inspirational postcard years ago by a mentor that I have great respect for. Though I don’t have the card anymore, I still find it inspiring to watch the “V” formation as it passes overhead because I remember the teamwork message.

Today while driving, I saw a “V” formation off in the distance.  Usually I just marvel at the precision, and then the moment is gone.  However, today was different.  I didn’t just see the “V” formation passing overhead; I actually watched the teamwork taking place right before my eyes.  It was truly an amazing sight to behold.

The leader of the “V” formation feels the same resistance and drag as if it were flying alone, which is why the leader keeps rotating.  The benefit of the formation is that the flock increases its flying range by an astounding 71% in comparison to flying alone.  This is because the flapping wings create uplift for the next goose in line.  As fatigue sets in, the tired geese rotate to the back of the formation.  All the while, the geese in the back of the formation honk to encourage the geese in the front to maintain their speed.

Should one of the geese get injured or sick, two of the other geese will follow it to the ground to offer protection until the injured goose can fly again or dies.  They will then launch out and try and join another passing flock or try to catch up to their own flock.

Although teamwork is a nice buzzword that people tend to use in the business world, the reality is that it true teamwork (where each team member acts selflessly for the greater good) is not all that common.  However, it does exist in the world.

If you’ve been following my story, you know that my good friend, Trish, recently lost her daughter, Olivia, to a very rare disease called I-Cell.  When Olivia went into the hospital, a number of us checked in with Trish on a regular basis to see how Olivia was doing.  Through Facebook updates and e-mails, we all monitored the situation as if we were going through it ourselves.  And to some degree, we were.

Olivia Grace Armand (affectionately known as “Cookie”), touched all of our lives in ways that are difficult to put into words. When she passed away, a piece of each of us did as well.  At our age, it is not uncommon to have lost a parent.  I’ve been through it myself when I lost my father in 2001.  However, the loss of a child is something that most of us have not experienced until Olivia’s passing.

Right now, our friend Trish is hurting.  Like the geese, we want to offer her whatever support that we can.  She is an amazing woman, but she does not have the strength to fly on her own even if she wanted to.  As she mourns the loss of her daughter, she still has to take care of her son, Mikey, who, unfortunately, suffers from the same disease as his sister, Olivia.

Both Mikey and Olivia (before her passing) have spent countless days getting various treatments in hospitals.  Through it all, Trish recognized that the nurses that helped take care of her kids did so with tireless dedication and compassion.  The world needs more people like this, and Trish wants to help make it happen.

In her darkest hour, Trish has somehow mustered up the strength to start the Olivia Grace Armand Foundation. This foundation will provide scholarship funds from “The Cookie Jar” to inspired nursing students or nurses who want to further their education in pediatrics.  Annual fundraisers will be planned to help keep “The Cookie Jar” filled so that Olivia’s memory will live on for many years to come.  Trish has asked me (and some other friends) to help her with the foundation.  I am truly honored to do so.

If you would like to help Trish “pay it forward” to those who dedicate their lives to helping others, please consider making a donation to “The Cookie Jar.” I realize that the tough economy has tightened most household budgets, but any donation would be greatly appreciated.  I believe that we can all make a difference even if we only gave a dollar or two and help spread the word so that others can do the same.

If silly videos on YouTube can travel the world through sharing, there’s no reason why this message shouldn’t as well.  Please share this with your friends and family, and ask them to do the same.  You have my permission to copy and paste any part of this post that you want to use!

Donations can be mailed to:

Olivia Grace Armand Foundation

c/o Caprise

130 Sedona Way

Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418

To read Trish’s entire story, check out her website:

www.OliviaGraceArmandFoundation.com

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