Coffee That Stays Warm for Four Years

He wrote, “I have no idea how we met.” Turns out that Alex* was looking through old emails and found some of ours. So he wanted to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving. I admit, I wasn’t sure either. So I did some digging and found out that I had sent him a cup of coffee when he was deployed through Cup of Joe in November. That would be November 2011.

I’ve “met” a lot of wonderful people through this program and even become good friends with a few. In fact, one of them has helped me tremendously and generously with this blog. He’s one of my go-to people for understanding and writing about PTSD. There are others I have bothered for help in different areas. All of them have been very giving with their time because they know I want to make sure what I share rings true.

So I thought that serving more of this special coffee would be a great way to pre-game today’s holiday meal.

What I wrote

Dear Servicemember,

Today is Thanksgiving and you are definitely on the list of people my family is grateful for. Thank you for all you do! Today is also my daughter Sofia’s 11th birthday. Because it always falls near or on the holiday, there’s always birthday cake. So when she was little she’d get confused and wish anyone she met a, “Happy Thanksgiving Day To You” to the tune of the Birthday song. When she was 3, we took her to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. She asked if it was all for her birthday. Her Grandpa said, “Yes!” Lol, I said “Great. Now her parties are all downhill from here.” Well, I hope this coffee and note helps make your day a bit brighter. That, and knowing you are never forgotten.

Sincerely, Gina

How to serve

If you’d like to serve some of this amazing coffee yourself, go to Cup of Joe. I’ve spoken of them often, but the short version is: for $2 you can send a cup of coffee with a personal note to a deployed servicemember and there’s an option to be pen pals if you both want to. You can send as many as you want, or simply one.

Deployed troops enjoying Cup of Joe

Deployed troops enjoying Cup of Joe (photo credit: Green Beans Coffee, COJ)

And from my family to yours, we wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving!

*name changed for privacy

© Gina left the mall, 2015

Giving Thanks to a Soldier, a Friend, and a Stranger

If you have thanks in your heart but don’t have the words in your pen or keyboard, I invite you to use some of mine. Why? Because it has come to my attention that some people hate writing. It could be just people I’m related to (especially at homework time) but I suspect they are not alone. That’s why I’ve jotted down a few words that may come in handy this week for anyone that needs them.

There are many things to be grateful for. Such as the fact that there are too many to list here. So my joyfully incomplete list includes three people you may wish or need to give thanks to on November 28th: a soldier, a friend, and a stranger.

Soldier

Somewhere, thousands of miles from home, there are Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, and Sailors you’ve never met who would do anything to keep you safe, up to and including sacrificing their lives. They raised their hand and took this on. However, choosing this life doesn’t make their hearts less vulnerable. If anything, they appreciate the moments with their loved ones even more. Everyday things like reading to your child at bedtime become like treasure.

I know you’ve probably heard the words, “remember the troops” a thousand times. Possibly a few of those times were me. But the truth is that it’s important they know they are not alone.

One way to remember them is to send a thank-you with coffee through Cup of Joe (COJ) Below are two options if you’d like to do this but need some ideas on what to write:

1. Simply replace the underlined details with your own.

Dear Service member,  My two brothers, sister-in-laws, their kids, my parents, and 2 dogs are all headed to my place for Thanksgiving and then sleeping over. Along with my family (husband, 2 kids 1 dog, 1 cat, 1 turtle) this is the recipe for craziness. The very best kind. Sure, every dish may or may not turn out perfectly. Someone may or may not fight over the X-box. But this much is certain: we are grateful for your help in making this day possible. Because of what you do, we have the freedom to be together in safety. Thank you for this on Thanksgiving and every day. Sincerely ___________________

If you’re not hosting the dinner, you can change the opening to reflect your plans, “We’re headed to _________”

2. Copy or change as you like.

Dear Service member, It is Thanksgiving and you may be far from home, but you are not far from our thoughts. It is your service, and that of your brothers and sisters in arms that allow us to gather at the table, free from fear. Not everyone in the world enjoys this amazing gift. So, I wanted to take a moment to say thank you. Please tell your family that my family thanks them as well. Sincerely_________

Each cup of coffee you send costs $2. You can even send just one.

A friend 

My family is spread out from NY to the Pacific Rim (that’s geographic, not cinematic.) For me, Thanksgiving usually means heading to Nancy’s house on Long Island. If you’re headed to a friend’s and want to include a note along with the wine or pumpkin pie you’ll be bringing, here are my words:

Dear Nancy,  Just wanted to say thank you for including us and making us feel like family. Knowing we have a place to call home for the holidays means more than I can say. Not having to cook for five hours is also pretty exciting too. Thank you for all of it. You rock. xo, Gina

A stranger 

For the first time ever, I’m traveling ON Thanksgiving Day. I’m taking my daughter Sofia to Florida to see Grandma and Grandpa. For the journey through La Guardia Airport, we’re bringing a bag of candy to share. It’s for the Policemen, TSA agents, gate agent, flight attendants or whomever we meet. Maybe they wanted to work, maybe they got stuck with the shift. Either way, there are probably slightly more desirable ways to spend a day devoted to family than x-raying a stranger’s carry-on luggage. Plus, since holiday travel can be stressful, any drop of kindness is probably a good thing.

This time, the words we’ll use are simple and what I wish for you and those you love:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Some of the candy we'll give out at LaGuardia Airport on Thanksgiving Day

Some of the candy we’ll give out at LaGuardia Airport on Thanksgiving Day

© Gina left the mall, 2013

Monster Coffee

“Dear Soldier, Today is Halloween so, along with this cup of coffee, I thought I’d send you a scary story. My 8-yr-old daughter decided she wanted to be a Monster High girl for Halloween. On the off-chance that the Dept. of Defense does not issue Monster High Dolls with your combat boots and you are unfamiliar with them, simply imagine fashionable werewolves, vampires, etc who go to a super-cool high school. As far as I can tell, there are 10 girls and 1 boy at this high school.

My daughter put on her costume and suddenly my little 8-year old looked 16. That was frightening. Later today, she will go ask strangers for candy (clearly a Mom did not invent this holiday) and be surrounded by monsters and more, laughing and having a wonderful time. Of course, one reason she can enjoy this holiday without fear is because of you. The hard work you do helps keep us safe. Thank you for helping my daughter have the freedom to scare me 🙂 We appreciate your service today and always. Sincerely, Gina

This is the note I sent to 10 troops this morning through Cup of Joe (COJ.) It’s twice as long as the messages I usually send but, unlike Twitter, COJ doesn’t limit my character count. That means I can do what I want. BWAHAHAAAAAA (I hope you read that with your inner monster voice.)

As always, COJ lets you send any amount of coffee to deployed servicemen and women for only $2 a cup. You can check the pen-pal option or not check it. Either way, most times you’ll receive a thank-you note. It’s a small thing but a terrific way to boost someone’s morale. If you’ve never tried it, I have to tell you it really is a great program.

Darth Vader kicking butt in a wheelchair

Darth Vader Tie Fighter Costume

Darth Vader Tie Fighter Costume (Photo credit: Tostie14)

A while back I happened upon a blog called Military Special Needs Network. Each staff writer is a military family member with a special needs child (or children.) They created this network to share information, inspire, empower, and connect other families in the same situation. They were also kind enough to help me with one of my soldiers who was facing difficulties. I am very grateful for that.

If you think of those you know with a special needs child, you have an idea of the challenges they face. The stress of deployment adds another layer. So does waking up one day after you’ve got a routine down with teachers and therapists your kid is thriving with and surprise…you’re moving across the country. Or to Germany. Possibly next week. Wheeeeee……

Sometimes when I read their blog I learn about things specific to our military families. Sometimes I gain a deeper understanding of the special needs world in general. And there are topics any parent could relate to. Like finding a great Halloween costume.

Until the other day, I never knew there was such a thing as Adaptive Costumes. In their post, Adapting Halloween, one of the links was for a great Pinterest page with adaptive Darth Vader, Batmobile, a little girl who turned her crutches into the front legs of her giraffe costume, and more. The creativity, the joy, the spirit…these kids looked great. And I think they knew it. Their smiles made my smile even bigger.

That’s one of the things we all want. To make the people we love happy. And sometimes, to make strangers happy too…with or without the aid of monsters. Happy Halloween!

MonsterCoffee

© Gina left the mall, 2013

How To Stretch $16.46 Across The World

I believe every kind act has a ripple effect, the power to resonate. So last week I spent $16.46 to try use my “power” to help nine strangers in some far-off places. I’m not sure what will happen, but I have learned that anything’s possible.

When it’s not just “coffee”

If you’ve been here before, you know I send coffee and notes to the troops through Cup of Joe (COJ). I’ve had troops write me back and say, “I read this to my guys and we all had a good laugh. Thank you!” I love when I get those emails because knowing I made a few people smile in a combat zone, makes me smile.

I’ve stayed in touch with some of the COJ troops I’ve “met” this way. One ripple effect is that they’ve helped increase my understanding, which I’ve then shared here. The post about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is one of many examples. Anyone who has read them and learned something or been inspired only further increases the “ripple.”

I’ve had family members tell me how much it means to them that strangers took a little time out of their day to think of their deployed loved one. As a mom, I try to imagine how I’d feel if my child were far away and I couldn’t do anything to protect them. Granted, my kid is in elementary school, and I am a total mush to begin with. But I think seeing that someone else cares and knowing that your child is not forgotten, has power.

Some people ask me what I write to the troops. Well, anything that pops in my head at the moment. A lot of times, I “steal” ideas from my daughter. This time I wrote:

Dear Soldier,

Yesterday someone asked my daughter what she wanted to be when she grows up. She said, “world-famous swimmer.” They asked, “Olympics?”  She said, “No. Mermaid.”  Her back-up plans are, “world-famous rock climber,” or “fashion designer.”  I’m not sure what will happen in the future, but I do know that I’m grateful she has the freedom to follow her dreams. Thank you for helping to safeguard that freedom. Thank you for all you do. Sincerely, Gina

Below is the first reply I received back.

COJ reply. Name blurred for privacy.

COJ reply. Name blurred for privacy.

I bought 8 troops coffee @ $2 each so that’s $16.00.

Helping an “Angel”

I read a posting from a Soldiers’ Angel that the soldier she adopted was going through a stressful time. She wanted to send him a box with as many encouraging or light-hearted letters as possible. I said I’d be happy to help.

While I’ve become very good friends with a few troops, many times I don’t hear back. And that’s fine. I don’t do this expecting anything in return. But after I write a letter, I like to imagine its journey. In this case, I saw my fellow “angel” heading to her mailbox, getting letters from all over the country. I saw her being delighted with the support and happily filling that box. Then I imagined a soldier hearing his name at mail call and opening letter after letter….different postmarks….different stories…with my voice one among many and all with the same purpose: to make him feel cared for. My part in this cost 46¢ for a stamp.

Use your power

If you haven’t already done so this week, I invite you to use your power of kindness to help a stranger. There are a lot of little opportunities all around us. Of course, if you need ideas, I’ve got a few suggestions including those in this post. But no matter what kind act you do, be prepared for it to ripple back. It seems doing things for others has a way of touching our own hearts. What would the world be like with more kindness on a regular basis? Be nice to find out.

© Gina left the mall, 2013

What are the chances?

What are the chances of reading an article online and then randomly “meeting” the writer in Iraq a few months later? Apparently, 100% because it happened to me with a deployed troop.

6 out of millions

I had just adopted a soldier and realized…I don’t know anything about soldiers. So I thought it might be a good idea to read some stories or articles written by troops. A quick search got me millions of results and I randomly chose six. Clearly, this was not exhaustive research. I just wanted to get a sense of what deployment was like for our troops. To understand a little how they felt when going through it.

A few months later, I started doing Cup of Joe (COJ) a wonderful program where you send a cup of coffee with a message to deployed troops. COJ distributes them randomly to any troop that signs up. It costs $2, many of them email back a “thank you,” and there’s a pen pal option.  I met Jim when I sent out a few COJs that Christmas.

ME:  Dear Soldier, A cup of coffee is pretty small to be a present. So what I really want to give you for Christmas is the certainty that you are not forgotten. And to know how grateful I am for your service. I’m from NYC and whether my day is crazy good or bad, I get to live it in peace. Your hard work and sacrifice gives me that gift. Thank you for all you do. I wish you a merry, happy and safe holiday. Gina

JIM:  That was about the sweetest sentiment I have ever received. I will copy this and save it for Christmas’s in the future. I truly appreciate your gesture and message. May Christmas find you with happiness, love and always security. Warmest of regards Jim Martin

I am using Jim’s name with his permission. Normally I don’t use full names because of privacy and/or security. He was a Senior Medical NCO for a Heavy Brigade Combat Team. When I told him I was a writer, he mentioned that had always been a dream of his. In fact, he had even gotten something published online once. I asked for the link. When I got it, I realized it was one of the six that I had read!!  Six articles out of millions…. thousands of deployed troops and my coffee finds him??  I smiled and laughed at this wonderful surprise. I had loved the emotional honesty in his words. “Meeting” the man who wrote them made it even more special. This is the article: Honor Our Sacrifice

$2

Along with a very nice “small world moment,” I got the pleasure of getting to know Jim. What our troops do, endure and brave is pretty amazing.  What are the chances we can do something meaningful in return with a $2 investment?  I’m happy to say the odds on that are also 100%.

chance

© Gina left the mall, 2013

Coffee And A Serving Of Perspective

What can you get for one $2 cup of coffee? How about a new perspective? This happened when I bought a soldier a cup of coffee through Cup of Joe. In a post about the program, I included my message that went with the coffee and his reply. It was this soldier that gave me a new outlook.

Dear Soldier,  A cup of coffee is pretty small to be a present. So what I really want to give you for Christmas is the certainty that you are not forgotten. And to know how grateful I am for your service. I’m from NYC and whether my day is crazy good or bad, I get to live it in peace. Your hard work and sacrifice gives me that gift. Thank you for all you do. I wish you a merry, happy and safe holiday. Gina

Thank you so much Gina. It is Christmas Eve and guess what? You are the first person to give me a present 🙂 And a cup of coffee is NOT too small to be a present. It is just fine. My name is SFC _____ and I’ve been in Afghanistan for almost 7 months. I have seen some things I hope to forget but I have some things I hope I never forget. As it is Christmas Eve I am just trying to be thankful to have a place like the U.S. to go back to with nice people like you who care enough to give me a cup of coffee. 🙂 Thanks again, ____

I’ll call this soldier “Gibbs” for reasons that will soon become clear.

The question

Gibbs and I became pen pals. It’s not always easy to think of things to write to a stranger. So I’d ask questions. Most people love animals so I’d ask about pets. Or, “did you ever break a bone?” Often, there is some funny childhood mishap involved. One time I asked Gibbs what his most incredible experience in the Army was. What was his favorite memory?

My stealth motive for asking that was to boost his morale. I figured recalling some positive experiences would be…..positive. I didn’t expect the stunning answer I received in return. It was emotionally powerful and the imagery he used… well, I felt like I was there. After I told him how amazing it was, I suggested he print out what he wrote and save it for his kids.

GIBBS:  No. I don’t want to share it. In fact, I’ve never shared that with anyone before.

ME:  Why?

GIBBS: No one ever asked me that question before. Besides, I don’t want to glamorize war. I went to war so my kids and your Sofia won’t have to. No war for them.

ME:  Understood. Big fan of peace. But what about when your kids are grown so they can know you better? You told me your dad was a Vietnam Vet. Is this story the kind of thing you wish you knew about him?

GIBBS:  Yeah. I wish I would’ve known.

ME:  So you’ll save it for them.

GIBBS:  No.

ME:  Well, what about the Library of Congress? I think you can do it anonymously. They are collecting soldier stories.

GIBBS:  Gina, you have to understand, in my real world I don’t talk a lot. With you…you’re not going run into anyone I know so, it’s okay. Nothing is going to bite me in the ass.  But in real life, I’m like Gibbs (from the TV show NCIS.)

ME:  Okay, so the one person you shared this incredibly moving story with is a total stranger you will never meet in real life?

GIBBS: Yes.

As a woman, a mom, and a writer (I’m in a communications field!) this made me crazy. But it’s not about me, is it? This is about letting him chat or vent and just being supportive. So I dropped it. Knowing how much his privacy meant, I deleted the email. And I’ve never repeated what he told me. But his story is an indelible memory that I have the honor of carrying. In my heart, I hope he did share it with someone in his real world. Because I think he is worth knowing and I’m rooting for him in every way.

Payback

Along with the coffee and emails, I sent him a few care packages. One was “dinner and a show.” That consisted of 1 can of soup, some candy for dessert and a DVD of his favorite TV show, NCIS. I admit the DVD was more money than I normally spend on a care package. But they had some bad days and I knew he’d really like it so, I sent it. As his deployment drew to a close, he told me he wanted to pay me back for the DVD. I told him if he sent me money I would hunt him down and “put the hurt on him.”

GIBBS:  Lol…Okay, if you won’t take money, what about this? What about my Unit patch that I’ve worn this whole deployment? It’s been through a lot and I’d like you to have it.

ME:  Don’t you want to save that for someone in your real world?

GIBBS:  I would like you to have it because you were the one who was here with me.

ME:  Tell you what, I will accept it and hold it for you. If you ever change your mind you can have it back.

When it arrived I held it and thought, of all the places this patch has been, the most unlikely is probably the palm of my hand in my little corner of Manhattan. I decided to carry it in my wallet and use it as a “perspective check.” When I have one of those days where I get caught up by the small annoyances, a bad commute, someone rude in the checkout line…what have you, I can look at it and remember. I remember there are worse things and places. I remember to be grateful for the good in my life. And when I face the big challenges, I can look at it then too. I look at it and remember to have courage. Because I am holding proof right there in my hand that difficult times can be overcome. And I got all that with one $2 cup of coffee.

Unit Patch  "Big Red 1"

© Gina left the mall, 2012

Somebody Called Me A Patriot

The word stood out because no one had ever called me that before. Which was fine because I had always associated it with politics and I don’t like politics. I vote, but I don’t discuss it (except with those closest to me.) There’s so much animosity between sides, I just want to cry like that little girl in a battleground state who apparently had enough of the battle.

The only time I really heard the word used was when politicians were trying to out-patriot one another with photo ops. Or accuse someone else of not being patriotic enough if they disagreed with them. Which gave this word some negative baggage for me. And then this happened:

I said/ He Said

It was around Christmas and I bought some deployed troops coffee through Cup of Joe. Below is what I wrote and one of the responses I received.

Dear Soldier,  A cup of coffee is kinda small to be a present. So what I really want to give you is the certainty that you are not forgotten. And to know how grateful I am for your service. I’m from NYC and whether my day is crazy good or bad, I get to live it in peace. Your hard work and sacrifice gives me that gift. Thank you for all you do. I wish you a merry, happy and safe holiday.

Ms Gina, you are the reason we as service men and women, “Do what we Do.” It is close to the holiday season and home is soo far away. I work and live every day helping the Iraqi’s police and security become better. This effort is providing a safe and secure Iraq for the people. But living with the Iraqi’s as advisors comes with great risk. I am truly thankful for my fellow Patriots (you) who support the hard work we all are doing everyday. You are the reason I get up and Soldier on everyday! God Bless You and I hope you have a happy and safe holiday! Keep all of us in your thoughts and prayers. Army Strong! J___ , Captain, U.S. Army P.S. Your cup of coffee means more than you will ever know!

I told my buddy Andy that a soldier called me a patriot and my feelings about the word. He was surprised because he has very positive feelings about it. He got quiet for a moment and then explained that “patriot” doesn’t belong to any political party. He said, “It means you care about this country. You do. And you are.”

The talk

I don’t care if the troops I support vote the same as me or not. I care that they are away from their families and in harm’s way. I care that my daughter and I get to skip down the street without looking over our shoulders because of their service and sacrifice. That’s precious. I was in NYC on 9/11 and I will never forget what it felt like to walk down the streets that day.

That said, I was in a bar with a friend and found myself in a conversation I didn’t want to be in. I think liquor bottles should add that to their warning labels: consumption may cause birth defects and political debates.

He felt I was supporting war and that there should be no military. Well first of all, I am all for world peace. I would be thrilled if our troops only deployed for natural disasters. But under any scenario, I don’t see why you wouldn’t support the troops. Even if you disagree with a political action, there’s a difference between the war and the warrior. Our troops don’t decide where they go. We do. They have a civilian commander chosen by mostly civilians (active military = 1% of the population.) They go and do what this country says at tremendous personal risk and sacrifice to them and their families. If you don’t like what they’re doing, work to change it. But these are our sons and daughters. We have a duty to care. Also, I disagree with the thought that we don’t need a military.

Finally I said, “We both have a lot of passion for our respective beliefs. I’ve helped hundreds of people with my passion, what have you done with yours? Have you written one letter to your congressman? Shown that you care where our servicemen and women are? Done anything to promote world peace…ever?” There was silence. Some hurt feelings too. But we agreed that taking action was good and that we weren’t going to agree on most everything else.

Political Action

Tomorrow is Election Day. My political action will be to vote. Then I’m going to send a few cups of coffee to the troops. Because one reason I have the freedom to vote, a right so many people in the world are denied, is because our troops safeguard it. So I do this small kindness to honor that. And if that makes me a patriot, then that’s what I’m proud to be.

© Gina left the mall, 2012