I’m gobsmacked at how a word or phrase that seems unique on first hearing can become commonplace so quickly. Gobsmack is a perfect example.
I don’t remember exactly what I was reading when I first encountered gobsmack. But it wasn’t that long ago. I was reading something and a person described himself as gobsmacked over something. Although I had a feeling the person meant he was surprised, I had to go look up the word. I found that it means “utterly astonished; astounded; flabbergasted” and that it originated in Britain.
I thought it was interesting and swore to remember this unusual word to use in a column or article at some point. But then a few days later I was half-listening to some morning TV program and I heard the word. Some actor declared that he was gobsmacked at the public’s reaction to his movie. Maybe the word wasn’t so unique.
It turns out it isn’t. I’ve read and heard it about a dozen times since then.
The same thing has happened recently with a phrase—“the STP Syndrome.” The first time I heard the phrase was in a statewide meeting at which someone was bemoaning the difficulty in finding volunteers for a project. The speaker said it was a case of the “STP Syndrome,” and explained that STP does not stand for the fuel additive, but is an acronym for “Same 10 People.”
The speaker went on to explain that so often in an organization it is the same 10 people who show up at meetings, that serve on committees, that do all the work. Just about everyone at the meeting nodded. We had all experienced STP Syndrome.
I thought it was an incredibly clever acronym, but I also had a somewhat negative thought. I’ve been involved on some committees that would be delighted to have 10 people involved. Sadly, STP can also stand for “Same 2 People.”
After hearing the phrase, I thought I’d tuck it away to be used in a future meeting to try to encourage people to get involved, to be part of the STP. Once again though, within a few days I heard the phrase again. As I read about the March 2014 West End visioning meeting at Birch Grove, there it was.
The facilitator of that meeting encouraged the West End leaders to make sure all citizens had a voice. He said community planning is not successful if it is impacted by the STP Syndrome—if only the same 10 people show up at meetings. A good message, but I was disappointed that my great new phrase was already in common use.
Not too disappointed though. Although it sometimes seems like STP Syndrome is rampant, if you take a look around Cook County, you’ll see that voluntarism is alive and well. There are a few boards and committees that are stretched thin, but it’s because there are so many amazing opportunities to give back to our North Shore community.
There are many, many community members who wear multiple hats, serving on an arts or service organization board while also helping out with a trail association or a local church. There are people who act or build sets at the playhouse and people who offer classes at community education or higher education. There are boat builders at North House and interpreters at one of our community’s historical museums. There are people who read to children and people who monitor water conditions in our lakes and rivers. People serve on the PTA and are Girl Scout and Boy Scout and 4-H leaders. Volunteers are there for those who need help at the Violence Prevention Center and for those who need a friend at the Care Center. There are volunteers who rescue animals and volunteers who fight fires and serve as First Responders.
When I stop to think about it, our community is blessed with an abundance of volunteers. We don’t really suffer from the “Same 2 People” or “Same 10 People” syndrome. No, if you take all the folks that volunteer on the myriad boards and committees and organizations in Cook County, we probably have a thousand volunteers or more.
April 10-16 is National Volunteer Week 2016, so it’s a good time to thank these thousand-plus volunteers. Thanks to you for being the “Same 1,000 people.” When I think of all you do, I’m gobsmacked!
The interior joy we feel when we have done a good deed is the nourishment
the soul requires.
I love living in Cook County. I like being here in the bitter cold, in the humidity of summer. I like it when the lakes are frozen and we have to fish through the ice and when we get sunburned fishing from a boat. I can endure mosquitos and biting flies. But mud season tries my patience.
Every year around this time, I start thinking about a vacation. When I look at my mud-covered car or as I wipe up muddy dog prints for the umpteenth time, I dream of heading out of the county, of going someplace warm—someplace dry!
That was the case once again this year, but the annual Community Easter Egg Hunt gave me a different perspective. The Community Center and Kids Plus crew always does a great job. There are always fun activities for kids— tossing games, fishing for prizes, Easter crafts and cookie decorating, a cake walk, a delicious brunch and a friendly Easter Bunny. This year the “bunny” went above and beyond. The big bunny not only welcomed little ones to come sit on his lap; he walked around and high-fived kids. And then he joined the kids who were enjoying the ice left behind by the Cook County Curling Club.
It was amusing to see the bunny skating circles around unsteady skaters using chairs for support, giving them thumbs up or racing up and down the rink with talented little skaters. Kudos, Easter Bunny, you made my day—and that of many happy kids.
And this year, for the first time in many years, it didn’t rain. It has rained on the day of the Easter Egg Hunt for so many years that organizers have come to expect it. Umbrellas and Easter egg hunting just go together in Cook County.
But this year we were blessed with a fresh dusting of snow. It was only about an inch and it melted away quickly, but for the 10 minutes it takes for excited kids to collect the hundreds of bright colored, candy-filled plastic eggs, there was beautiful, fresh, white snow on the ground.
That made me happy to be here, despite the fact that the snow melted and once again made a mess of my driveway and much of my yard.
What really made the day special though was something that happened at the end of the Easter Egg Hunt.
The Egg Hunt was over and most of the happy families had made their way back inside the Community Center to open the plastic eggs to “ooh and ahh” over all the candy collected. As the last few people headed in, there was a family standing off to the side with two small boys. One little boy was in tears; the other looked sadly on at all the kids with overflowing Easter baskets. It was clear they had arrived too late for the egg hunting adventure. Their parents looked almost as sad, obviously disappointed that their children had missed the fun.
But then something wonderful happened. Other parents noticed. They stopped their excited children and bent down to whisper something to them. Kids with candy-filled eggs looked at the kids without. With barely any encouragement from their parents, kids went up to the dejected young boys and handed over eggs. Despair turned to delight as the late arrivals filled their pockets with eggs.
I saw the family inside a little bit later, all smiles as the kids took part in the Easter activities. I said to Mom, “Wasn’t that neat that kids shared their Easter eggs?”
She nodded and said, “It was wonderful! It was almost better that way.”
That is so true. It was sweet to see sadness turn to happiness because of the kindness of others. It was touching to see little kids showing empathy, setting an example for all of us. It was a wonderful Easter moment.
And it was just what I needed to find good cheer in the midst of mud season.
There is no small act of kindness. Every compassionate act make large the world.
Mary Anne Radmacher
In my efforts to get ahead, to write the imaginary column-in-the-can I talked about in Unorganized Territory a few weeks ago, I have Post-It notes stuck all over my desk, on my laptop, and on the dash of my car. The Post-It notes have phrases intended to give me an idea for a column later. Unfortunately these cryptic notes don’t always help.
At the time that I write them, the notes apparently make perfect sense. However, later if I can decipher my own scribbled handwriting, I can’t for the life of me remember why I wrote “Nellie Bly” or “Canadian spelling” or “gloves in pocket.” These were topics worthy of a column. But unfortunately I frequently don’t leave myself a good enough clue to know what I was thinking.
Over time I’ve become more careful about writing notes to myself. I try to jot something that will joggle my memory later. So I was delighted this week when I discovered a Post-It note in my purse that made sense. The crumpled sticky note reminded me to share some thoughts on the simple things in life.
First, a question. Well actually, first a small complaint— who developed these weird rectangle laundry jugs that stand on a shelf with a spigot? Are there that many people on the planet that have a shelf designed for a big jug of laundry detergent?
I am not one of those people. I do not have shelves in my laundry room at all, let alone one designed to accommodate a pouring spout on a laundry jug.
I bought laundry soap in these convoluted jugs several times before I realized what a hassle they were to use. In my little laundry area, the soap jug sits on the floor. So to use this new-fangled soap container, I have to lift up the big jug, balance it precariously on the edge of my washing machine, remove the cap that serves as a cup, fill it from the little slow-pouring spigot, set the cup down on top of the washer, put the jug back down on the floor, open the washer, pour in the laundry soap, close the washer, rinse the cap so it won’t drip all over the awkward jug and the floor, and finally replace the cap.
How is this easier than the good old-fashioned jug that only requires opening, pouring into the cap, dumping into the washer and replacing the cap?
After fighting with the unnecessarily elaborate laundry jug, I started shopping not for the type of soap I preferred, but for the type of container. It has been tough. These goofy rectangle containers are on all the store shelves. There is only a tiny section of old-fashioned bottles of laundry soap. But I take the extra time to find them.
I don’t care if the rectangle jugs with the pour spouts are a bargain. Unless I’m getting the laundry soap free, I’m going to buy the detergent that comes in a simple jug with a handle and a twist-off cap.
I know this is an incredibly silly grievance. The point I want to make—the reason I scribbled “weird laundry jugs—who needs them?” on my pink Post-It note—is that I need to not let myself be bothered by little things like this, but instead to appreciate the little things.
There are much more important things in the world to be concerned about, so it doesn’t make sense to be upset about an uncooperative laundry soap dispenser. Instead I will just not buy the complicated new style of laundry jugs and I will stick with my simple, traditional bottle of laundry soap that works perfectly well.
Laundry is easier now. It’s a simple thing, but it makes me smile every time I fill the washing machine.
Now if an enterprising inventor could figure out how to keep socks from going missing in the wash, life would be truly wonderful!
Here’s to the moments when you realize the simple things are wonderful and enough.
Cook County News-Herald staffers love to get out and about the county. So we decided, while we are traveling the highway and bushwhacking through the forest, to take pictures to see if our readers can guess WHERE ARE WE?
Everyone who guessed in the March WHERE ARE WE? was correct. The photo was taken of the historic stone footpath bridges at the Tofte Town Park. We especially enjoyed the note from Beverly Johnson of Schroeder who wrote, “where I played when I was young.” Drawn from the correct entries was Mike Nelson of Tofte. Mike wins a free subscription to the Cook County News-Herald.
Try your luck! Take a look at the April photo. If you think you know where this photo was taken, send us your answer. You don’t have to be the first to reply. The location will be announced next month and a winner will be drawn from all the correct answers.
Whoever is drawn from the correct entries receives a free one-year subscription to the Cook County News-Herald (a $32 value). Good luck!
Answer to the April WHERE ARE WE? must be received by May 17, 2016.
Send your entry to:
Cook County News-Herald
PO Box 757
Grand Marais MN 55604
Drop it by our office at:
15 First Avenue West