A mother’s love is a gift that resounds through eternity. Bringing a new life into the world enriches the diversity of the universe. A mother’s choice for life is an act of faith, hope and love.
My Mom was the leader of the family. She was the soul and the heart who taught us how to laugh, love and get along in the world. I learned many lessons from my mom but here are just three with appropriate antidotes.
How not to take myself so seriously! Anyone who knows me knows that I am an intense guy. Part of that is from my Dad who always said this or that is the greatest or the best thing ever. And part of that is just my anal retentive self. Mom was the opposite. She used to loosen me and my Dad up. Here is an anecdote. My mom went with me to back to school day back in my junior year when we moved to Texas. Every 15 minutes we would have to switch classes and meet the teacher. I walked directly to class while people were trying to flag me down and say high. My Mom in her Jersey accent would say Donn…nie, why didn’t you say hi to those cute girls that were saying hi to you! I said something like Mom we have to get to class and I do not want us to be late. As always, I was too focused on the mission and what was next. My Mom tried to focus me on relationships and what was now.
Sing from your heart. My love of singing and whatever literary skills I have come from my Mom. She loved Debbie Reynolds and old Irish songs. I grew up with the songs “Tammy”, Irish tunes, and “Frankie and Johnnie Were Lovers” running in my mind. She taught me to sing from your soul, from my heart. She also was quite a writer herself as was my Mother In Law Audrey. To this day, I can never hear the song Tammy without weeping out loud. It was the song of my childhood and is cemented on my soul!
Love, love, love to the End! What is it with Mothers? They love us always and to the end. My Mom was the same way (as was the Mother of all, the blessed Mother). Two anecdotes stand out. I remember back in Jersey being bullied by some kids. I was the nerdy kid. Heck my nickname was Richie Cunningham. My Mom one day tracked them down and chewed them out. They never bothered me again! The second anecdote was the time in the aftermath of my Dad’s passing. Mom was the rock that kept us all going. She demonstrated devotion and everlasting love by staying out in the country of East Texas until the house was sold and the estate settled. She was struggling but she continued to lift us up and get things done.
Last Thoughts. My last memory of my Mom is the most meaningful and testament to her love. I was sitting in the hospital in Richmond, Texas. My mom was on a respirator and the Doctor asked me and the rest of the family if we should pull her off the respirator. Even though she pointed to it to stop, we were struggling to give our OK. We sat there and finally gave our OK. But Mom had saved us. She knew her time and had passed. I will never forget her final act of love. How she protected us from that decision.
In closing, there will never, ever, ever be someone as great and more deserving of your respect than your mother. Love them! Bless them! And, thank them for what you are and what you will be! Not just this Mother’s Da
I am missing Jersey more than ever with the loss of my Brother David earlier on Christmas Week, Dec 20. David always looked upon Christmas with anticipation. The first of the four vignettes below relay one of my favorite memories of David. I will always remember my baby brother who could not wait for Christmas. Miss you brother and hope to see you again in the place where Christmas Day is eternal. For you all who remember him here is a link to his memorial. https://www.woodlawnfh.com/obituaries/David-James-Grier?obId=23460064#/celebrationWall
There are many reasons I still long for Christmas in Jersey. Here are just four.
Rudolph’s Nose and Dad catching Santa. One of the difficult things each Christmas was keeping my brother David from waking up from all his excitement at 2 AM . Me and my brother Gary had a ploy to keep David in the room we shared. Still do not know to this day why it worked and fooled him every year. My Dad used to put plastic on our windows during the Winter to keep in the warmth. Besides keeping out the cold, the plastic also fuzzed up the red light on the radio tower about a mile way enough so we could trick David. Each time when he woke up in the night and said “Is it Christmas, yet? Let’s wake up Dad and Mom! “, Gary and I would point to the red light and say that Rudolph was still flying. Even with that trick we could only contain him until 5 AM. Then we had to wake Mom and Dad. Dad in order to delay us while he was getting his Polaroid camera would say “Santa is still down here” and make some rustling sounds to keep us at bay. Oh how we sat on pins and needles until he gave us the all clear signal.
The Community House Tree. Crosswicks is a historical town where much history happened. Indeed, George Washington launched his famous Christmas time raids on Trenton and crossing the Delaware from his headquarters at the Quaker Community House in Crosswicks. This history is all fine and good but my favorite memory is from personal history. Each Christmas, the citizens of Crosswicks would light up a large Christmas tree on the grounds of the Community House and sing Christmas songs and drink hot apple cider. For that day, the rivalry between the Black Sox and Red Sox baseball teams would be buried by the tree near the baseball field with voices of joy!
Hoping the club doesn’t come to your house first! My Dad worked as a Steelworker and Union Vice President at DeLaval. His friends from work and their families formed a group simply called the Club. The Club would make the rounds to each family’s house on Christmas. We mostly loved playing with all the kids. Except of course, if you were the first house on the tour. Being the first house on the tour was dreaded because it was when all the kids were really wound up and wanted to play with your new Christmas toys. Wound up kids on Christmas equals broken toys. One sad Christmas, we were the first on the tour. We were excited about our new Evil Knievel motorcycle and track. You would pump the motorcycle with air and it would fly off the track. It was our most prized toy until Jimmy and Kimmey got a hold of it. They pumped it so full of air that Evil and the motorcycle broke after flying a record 10 feet in the air. Much like the real Evil could not jump Snake River canyon, our toy could not make it 10 minutes with the kids from the Club!
Granpop’s Christmas train. My Grandpop grew up in the depression, so he was careful with his money. One of his best cost saving ventures was to buy Ribbon Candy after Christmas at quarter price and put it out the next year! He may have saved his pennies when buying candy, but not when taking care of his grandkids. One Christmas, we woke up and were brought downstairs to see a fully decorated Lionel train set in the cellar. The excitement of us kids was reflected in the joy of my Grandpop’s face as he passed on his love to a new generation.
I hoped you enjoyed these. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
I am reposting this blog about my brother on his departure from this world and on to the next. I am so glad he got the opportunity to drive through the rain and find a new life and love. David was one of a kind. Miss you brother.
The other day I went to see “The Art of Racing in the
Rain”. At first, I was not sure why I
wanted to see it. I hate driving cars,
especially in the rain. Just ask anyone
who has had the misfortune of driving with me.
I am also not overly fond of Dogs.
I despise being headbutted and sniffed by my daughter’s overly
affectionate Pitbull or any dog not named Boots (he is OK).
So why did I absolutely love this movie about a racing car driver, his family, and his Dog Enzo? And why did I cry a river of tears when (spoiler alert) both the driver’s dog and his wife died? A bit because I am the ultimate sap! I punch my fist in the air when Mr. Smith saves the boy scout camp and weep at every Walton episode. But this was something more. Then I realized. The movie reminded me of my Brother David, his love of cars, his departed wife Debra, and their dogs – Alvin, Jasmine, Zooey.
David has loved cars ever since he was a little kid. One of the most memorable events of my childhood (and one that haunts my dreams) is when David, I, and Gary were waiting for my parents in the station wagon to go on a trip. David all of 4 years old sat in the front seat. Suddenly, he switched into the driver’s seat, shifted the car in neutral and started steering the car like a crazy man. My brother and I were helpless as the car backed down our sloped driveway. We drifted down the hill across a major road (safely thank God) and ended up in the neighbor’s front yard across the street. My parents rushed out to get us and I will never forget the joy in David’s face or terror in the eyes of my brother and me!
Terror was also in my eyes every time I drove with
David. He treats the Houston highway
like the Daytona 500. My heart races as he passes cars, barely missing the bumper. I in contrast drive like the future Grandpop
I aspire to be. He has translated his
love for cars into a career as a truck driver.
He can drive the biggest rig with
speed and precision. He was a lot like
Denny, the movie’s lead, except he drove trucks instead of cars.
Also, like Denny, David loves dogs. In this, he is like his namesake, Uncle
David. Both love Dogs with a passion I
cannot fathom. Uncle David currently has
8 and David 4. They bring them both joy
and I never realized why. The dogs yap
and yip. Not my cup of tea. Until the movie showed me why – Dogs are more
empathetic than people. They can realize
when you are hurting and give you just what you need to race through the rain
and not crash into the wall of life.
In the movie, Enzo the dog helps Denny deal with the premature parting of his wife Eve. Enzo realizes the signs of Eve’s impending death and helps Denny and Eve deal with her illness and eventual passing. Eve is like my Sister-In-Law Debra who was afflicted with various neurological and eventually led to her passing. Now that David has passed I feel the story even more. And a pray that it brings some solace to my new sister in law and my siblings.
Enzo kept Denny whole by driving with him as the rain pulsed
down. Likewise, David and Debra shared
the latest antics of Alvin, Jasmine, Zooey, and Cuddles. David would make Debra’s eyes twinkle with
his imitation of the dog’s barking for Debra’s return. The dogs
also helped my brother to be strong for his wife through unconditional love.
In closing, there are two quotes from the book/movie that
really resonate with me. This one is a quote from the movie. “If
a driver controls his own conditions, then the rain is only rain”. David through his dog imitations and frequent
Facebook posts worked to control the uncontrollable. In so doing, my younger brother taught me a
lesson of how to keep strong through the storm.
The last quote is from the mind of Enzo the dog. It is so poignant and meaningful I cannot do it justice. It is even poignant today with the passing of David.
her soul leave her body as she exhaled, and then she had no more needs, no more
reason; she was released from her body, and, being released, she continued her
journey elsewhere, high in the firmament where soul material gathers and plays
out all the dreams and joys of which we temporal beings can barely conceive,
all the things that are beyond our comprehension, but even so, are not beyond
our attainment if we choose…”
Tonight, before you go to bed be like Enzo, David, and the dogs. Race on through the rain and love unconditionally. Turn away from the wall and toward new life through love!
In Advent we wait expectantly for God’s Love Incarnate. Not the gooey eyed love that we experience on a porch swing and a first kiss, but rather the long, hard fought victorious love that endures past a last kiss. The love of a God who so loved the world that he gave his only Son. The Love of our Lord who in the dungeons of Caiaphas, the agony of the Garden, and nailed to the Cross loves us, dies for our sins to be resurrected and gain us a path to Heaven.
The Love of Mary who agrees to bring God into this world and stands there at the foot of the cross. She takes that hard-won love with her to the house of John where she leads the apostles until she is assumed into Heaven and crowned its Queen. The love of a God that endures in the church and the sacrifice of the Saints. The Love despite our faults and sins is coming again to the Mount of Olives!
In closing, the poem that I wrote a few years back on the passing of a loved one is appropriate today. My brother went on to the next life today on this last week of advent. I look forward to we meet again and hold him deal to my heart.
Love does not come easy, it’s built in trials, minute by minute, day by day. It is built on sorrow, As much as hope, Tears and hardship, As much as laughter. It does not flit, It does not float, It is SOLID, and it ENDURES! Why love then? It is our purpose and mission, What we were built for, What God designed! Because love does not last, for a minute or an hour. It lasts a lifetime, and through eternity. So, drive on through the pain, And strive through the sorrow, And with one last kiss, Reach for the tomorrow. And, remember in waiting, Not the words left spoken or tears, But the smile and loving eyes, That resound through the years.
As discussed in the previous blog, my Mom and Dad left Houston for the Land in the late 90’s. It was out in the middle of nowhere in East Texas. I never kept the hand-written directions. So, I did not know how to get to it anymore, since it was before the time of Google maps and I did not have the street address. Until on a whim while on vacation in Tyler, TX, I found the new street address on-line! I now had the location and was close enough (still an hour away!) to drive to the Land on the way back home.
The land and the house that my Dad built looked much the same. I was a bit amazed at how well the metal house has stood the test of time for 20 years. The only thing missing were the cows. I walked around a bit and again thought about that amazing, last Thanksgiving when 10 new calves were born. Getting up to leave, I glimpsed the lake that he dug with an old rusty backhoe. And with that I left for home with what I thought was the last lesson still in my mind’s eye. Except it was not the last one!
I remember the first time my Dad started building the lake. He had just got the backhoe and had begun scraping out a ditch. He took my brother and I out there. Then pointing to a muddy gouge with a few puddles, he said proudly, “Look at my lake!”. My brother and I started laughing. Dad said, “Why are you laughing?”. My bother pointed out, “Dad, when you say lake it connotates images of water! This is not a lake. It is a puddle.” Dad just shook his head, climbed in his backhoe and said, “You will you see smart alecks”.
And we saw. A year or two later there was full-fledged lake. The next year there were fish in the lake and a dock. But Dad kept tweaking the lake up to the day he died. We wondered why he did this, since he proved his point and given us our initial lesson. Having returned to the land and now with the direct coordinates in hand, we were about to find out.
I sent my daughter the coordinates just before leaving from home. She fed the coordinates into Google Earth while we were driving back. The resulting aerial picture of the land and the lake floored me. The picture is above. The lake is more than a fair replica of the State of Texas! The lake was dug before satellite imagery or drones were available. My Dad through persistent sweat, determination, and will made a lake in the shape of the state he loved! He also left us several final lessons from the grave that are applicable for everyday life.
1. Plan with the end in mind. We did not know it until many years later, but my Dad had an ultimate vision for the lake. With each tweak and every plough, he was turning a mud puddle into a lake in the shape of Texas. The lesson for all of us is always start something with the end in mind. A clear vision gives you a clear direction and keeps you on course even when the going gets tough.
2. Don’t get discouraged. My Dad did not get discouraged even when his two oldest sons mocked his first efforts. There will be trials along way. Some rain must fall when building a lake. But drive on through the rain and stick to the plan.
3. Strive to the end. The weeks before my Dad passed away, he was still making tweaks to his lake to make it further resemble Texas. He was striving for excellence up to end. This is a lesson for us in our work. It is important that when we achieve some success not to stop. For the excellence of today is the mediocrity of tomorrow. Finish the race. Keep striving to the end to make your goal a reality!
4. Try and Try again. I will perhaps never know how Dad shaped the lake into the outline of the Texas! He did not have satellite imagery to guide him. But what he did have was a vision, determination, and the willingness to try and try again. He ploughed and experimented until he got the lines right. Sometimes a wrong turn threated to turn his Texas lake into one of Oklahoma! But he shifted his backhoe, back filled the wrong cut and soon he was on the right side of the Red River!
Happy Thanksgiving from the Land with one last message from Big D, communicated almost 20 years from his passing from this life to the next. I know he is up there in the heaven smiling down on a little ranch in Slocum, TX and a lake in the shape of Texas that started as little less than a mud puddle. May we all strive to the fulfill a vision as big as Texas!
It’s 3 days after Thanksgiving, and you are tired of turkey and leftovers. So, you decide to go out and eat or order on UberEATS. What do you do to stop adding to the pounds? Here are 5 proven methods to stop from overeating when eating or ordering out!
1. Track before you attack. The first rule is always to figure out what you will have before departing. Most restaurants now post nutritional values in menus on their website. Read the menu, pick your menu items, and record the calories before departing. Like a good soldier, never eat without a good plan of attack.
2. Bring it to Boots! Portion control is the key to keeping your weight down and your friends happy. In my case, my friend is a bear/dog named Boots shown below.
I always think of my buddy Boots when craving a big steak. I then make a conscious choice. I eat 5 oz. instead of 10 oz of a Porterhouse, cutting my calories in half and making my dog leap in delight! This trick also works with humans, but it is more fun with dogs. Half your plate and make your friend feel great!
3. Stop the cravings at the Concierge. Rule 3 works best when traveling, but is easily modified during the current pandemic. I had access to a concierge lounge back in BP (Before Pandemic) time, when I was traveling a lot for work. I would hit the concierge lounge and load up on vegetables before going to a restaurant for dinner. Many times, I would skip dinner and just eat in the concierge lounge. I lost over 100 pounds following this trick. I swear by it! The approach still applies even with limited or no travel. Eat some vegetables or small appetizers at home before ordering or eating out. Fill up on veggies, instead of filling out on steak and burgers!
4. Eat like a Plebe. The faster you eat the more you repeat (think Buffet). When I eat out, I go back to my training and eat like a Plebe! We learned to eat slow at West Pont, by squaring our meals, so we would not wolf down food.
Here is how you square a meal. You lift your fork straight, bend your fork at a 90 degree to your mouth, straighten your arm back out, and then bring you fork completely down. You do not bring your fork back up until you completely chewed your food. On top of this, you needed to take small bites to be able to recite knowledge to senior cadets without your mouth full. All served to slow how fast we ate, and cut down on our food intake, while practicing good manners. 35 years later, I still eat like a Plebe.
5. 3 out of 5 Ain’t Bad. I cannot claim this last rule, since I learned it from a colleague. Every meal at a restaurant usually includes 5 options: bread, appetizer, entrée, dessert, and alcohol. The simple rule is to keep it to three!. Either Bread, Drink and an Entrée or some other combination. Remember scrap 2 and keep 3! While I can’t claim this idea, I can confirm it works and claim the below song parody to emphasize. Make like Meatloaf and remember.
Each morning I wake up with a why in my heart and head; sometimes two! What is a why? A “why” is the motivation for taking on something difficult and the purpose for doing so. A why drives you forward even when you feel you can’t go on. Why’s are imperative to change a bad habit or get out of a rut.
I did not always have a why nearby. I did not have an overall cause or purpose from 2007 to 2014. I wandered without a why, for those seven years. In the process, I gained over 100 pounds, lost my drive, and in general was a bear to be around. The years of wandering without a why are described in this blog: Fit to Fat: Lessons Learned While Doubling My Weight
Then three things hit simultaneously at the end of 2014 that got me back on track. First, I learned that I had a serious health issue caused in part by my weight. Second, I received an invite to my 30th West Point Reunion. Third, I received a discount to Weight Watchers (now WW) through my company. The three combined to develop that first why. I decided to lose weight and increase fitness to look presentable for my 30th reunion and regain my health!
I was introduced to the power of “why” at Weight Watchers and have expanded my understanding through my own story and experience. Here are 4 things you need to implement your unique why.
1. Visualize Your Why. It is important to have a visual representation as to the outcome you want to obtain. A visual representation serves to remind you why you are making the change and helps to keep you motivated when times get tough. One way to do that is to create a Vision Board; a series of pictures and text snippets that visualize your goal.
Below you see the visual representation of my first “why” that I created at WW on the Hay House Vision Board app (located here Hay House Vision Board). I wanted to do two things as represented in this Vision Board: to lose weight to look decent for my reunion and to get healthy in memory of my parents. Pictures include my company from West Point, a picture of my parents, my WP graduation picture, a picture at near peak weight with a classmate, an image of my family, and me working out in support of my mission! I topped it all off with my class moto “For Excellence We Strive, 85”.
I looked at the Vision Board each day. It drove forward when times got tough. I looked at it after getting through TSA with my CPAP machine, so I could get good rest on a work trip. Or when hitting the hotel gym at 9 PM after work. Or when avoiding a beer and eating vegetables at the concierge lounge. Slowly but surely it kept my eye on the prize as I lost 100 lbs. before the reunion.
2. Adapt Your Why. Once you obtain one “why”, focus on another. Whys are not static. The excellence of today is the mediocrity of tomorrow. A new reason or mission can drive you on to greater things. Here are three of my subsequent “Why’s” to show you what I mean.
First, my reunion served to stoke two new motivations. Having lost 100 pounds, I wanted to lose the other 50+ lbs to achieve Lifetime designation on WW. Second, I wanted to do something to remember a fellow officer who was lost in Afghanistan by supporting returning Veterans. Combining the two, I created my second Why that led to the creation of the McEvoy Memorial Walk in support of the Merivis Foundation. I trained from August to Veterans Day in 2015 to walk 50 miles in one day in support of Merivis and the Young Marines of the Capital Area (read more here Go Big to Get Small – The Art of Improbable Goals ). In the process, this why drove me to my Lifetime weight goal and raised funding for these worthy organizations. Here is a YouTube clip on the walk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaaijB9ybX4
My next goal was to maintain my weight and support the children of St. Jude’s by becoming a Certified Spin Instructor and riding the entire 4-hour St. Jude’s Ride for a Reason. I talk about this motivation in the following blog Spinning is Winning! A Ride for A Reason.
Spinning helped me maintain my weight, diversify my exercise regime, help a worthy cause, and gain a new skill. Now I was ready to play it forward with my current Why.
My current why came about due to two events: a milestone birthday and the ongoing pandemic. Having been given so much, I wanted to pass it on to others. I came up with a new acronym for my Why – CRAFT. The acronym stands for Coach, Religious, Author, Friend, and Teacher. You can read more about CRAFT here 5 by 5, Rumination on a Milestone.
In simple terms, I wake up each day whether in this blog, my continued workouts, or wellness programs paying it forward. It is now my mission to teach others how to heal both their body and soul, especially during this difficult time. To impart what I have learned through example, stories, and wellness programs. Read about one such wellness program called Peloton Pandemic Pandemonium here .
3. Share your Why. When you determine your why, do not keep it to yourself. Share it with friends and family to help prod you on and keep you on track. The ability to share helps you immensely. I am grateful both to my WW Round Rock Saturday group and my sister in law Sheri and niece Rachel for creating Facebook groups. These communities allowed me to share my motivation and progress toward health. Live and share your why with friends to keep moving forward!
4. Wake Up with Your Why. I end with the beginning. Each day you can take concrete steps to wake up with your why. I accomplish this through journaling and meditation. I use the Kindness Journal (located here Kindness Journal) to help prompt me along to realizing my why.
Each day I record three “I am statements” to help me visualize my end goal. Here is a recent example in pursuit of my current why: “I am a devoted coach that passes on the lessons that have served me on my health journey to improve the lives of others”. I also visualize my favorite moment from the day before and list the thing that I will do today to help make the world better. The journal helps me focus on why I was put on this earth. Along with meditation in the form of prayer, I remain fixed and progressing towards my why.
In closing, do not wander and wallow in the unknown without a why. Instead, visualize your why with these four simple tricks and build a better future for yourself and others!
I just finished watching my favorite annual show – The National Memorial Day Concert. But this year it was different. Unlike other years, the show was not live in front of a large crowd because of the current pandemic. Despite being apart, the stories, speeches, and songs of the soldiers that sacrificed their lives for this country served to unite. And served to remind us we are all in this together. Also, how important it is to respect the sacrifice of our fallen by being kind to each other and working together to defeat today’s silent enemy.
I believe one of the most improbable goals in human history was undertaken by our founding fathers and mothers when they established this country. A country formed for the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
But the experiment is fragile. Too often in today’s time, we do not listen to our fellow Americans. To see their side and to honor their equal right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Indeed, there is too much me and not enough us. And it is a disgrace to the sacrifices that these brave service men and women gave. They gave all for us. Can’t we honor their memory by at least listening to the ideas of our fellow Americans and engage in Civil Discourse?
We all must endeavor to see in shades of grey. To listen with open ears and understand what the other side is saying to honor the memories of our fallen. Indeed, it is fitting that the uniform of the United States Military Academy is Grey. Life is seldom Black and White. It is grey! And it is our responsibility to diligently discern the grey by nurturing this fragile dream of democracy and listening to our fellow Americans. To hear a compelling podcast on this topic from a guy pleading to you as I do, listen to Dan Carlin’s Common-Sense podcast linked here Common Sense – Shades of Grey.
A few years back, I walked 50 miles in honor of Veterans. It at the time seemed an “improbable goal”. But what is more improbable, is that a citizenry of people of every creed and race giving their lives for a single idea. So today as a plea for all of us to get along and work together to defeat this pandemic, I take you through a virtual 50-mile walk with each 10-mile marker in honor of the fallen in the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard.
Mile Marker 0 to 10. Army. Col. Richard (Dick) McEvoy. I will start with the person that I know best. Richard (Dick) McEvoy, USMA class of 1980, was KIA in Afghanistan on August 22nd, 2015 while training the Afghani police. He was a contractor with DynCorp after serving 28 years in the service. Col McEvoy (then Captain) and I served together. He was the epitome of the USMA motto: Duty, Honor, and Country. He was the S-3 and I was the S-2. I also worked with him when he was the Commander of A Company. His company always got the highest scores in inspections and had astounding Esprit de Corps. I looked up to Dick and he was a role model as a calm, no nonsense commander that balanced mission and troops. He went on to train other soldiers as the Commander of the National Training Center. Here’s more about Col. McEvoy here McEvoy Memorial
Mile Marker 10 to 20. Navy. LAUREL BLAIR SALTON CLARK, M.D. (CAPTAIN, USN), NASA ASTRONAUT. Service is not confined to battle in wars, but also advancing the cause of freedom through the courageous act of exploration. Captain Clark perished in Space Shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003 while reentering the earth’s orbit. I remember it like it was yesterday since she perished near Palestine, Texas where the Space Shuttle broke apart upon reentry. She advanced the US Space mission by conducting over 80 experiments. She also had a distinguished career in the Navy prior to her mission. Her squadron won the Marine Attack Squadron of the year for its successful deployment. She represents the brave women that defend our country and advance the cause of freedom. Nearly 200 women have been KIA in Afghanistan and Iraq alone. Read more about Captain Clark here Captain Clark
Mile Marker 20 to 30. Coast Guard. Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Brandt Bruckenthal. The Coast Guard is a crucial branch of the Armed Services. They defend our country and embark on humanitarian missions that serve our country and advance our image. Petty Officer Bruckenthal was a damage controlman, who with two U. S. Navy sailors were killed in the line of duty while conducting maritime intercept operations in the North Arabian Gulf.
Bruckenthal and six other coalition sailors attempted to board a small boat near the Iraqi Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminal. As they boarded the boat, it exploded. Bruckenthal later died from the wounds he sustained in the explosion. Bruckenthal was the first Coast Guard member killed in action since the Vietnam War. His service as well as others in the Coast Guard such as our family friends the Lawrence’s advance the cause of freedom by defending our coasts. Read more here about Petty Officer Bruckenthal here Petty Officer Bruckenthal
Mile Marker 30 – 40. Marines. Ira Hayes. Ira Hayes was a Pima Native American who was immortalized both in the statue in Washington as he lifted the flag on Iwo Jima during WWII but also in one of my favorite songs by Johnny Cash called the Ballad of Ira Hayes linked here Ballad of Ira Hayes. Ira did not die on the hills of Iwo Jima but back in the country he defended. He represents all the Veterans that defend us with all their hearts, guts and souls but when they return we do not care for them adequately or honor their sacrifice. He is memorialized in a statue; let us remember him in our hearts and our actions as we care for the cause of the Native Americans.
Mile Marker 40 – 50. Air Force (Army Air Corps). The fallen of the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen is the popular name of a group of African-American military pilots (fighter and bomber) who fought in World War II. They formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces. They have been immortalized in the movie Red Tails and they went on to produce 3 Generals in the Air Force – Daniel James was appointed a brigadier general by President Nixon for keeping his cool in the face of Qaddafi’s troops, Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the original commander of the 332nd Fighter Group and the first black general in the U.S. Air Force and Lucius Theus, who retired a major general after dedicating most of his 36-year career in the Air Force. They were one of the most decorated units in WW II and had an amazing record against the German Luftwaffe. This group of the first African American Aviators fought valiantly in WW II even though they did not have rights in the Jim Crow South. 66 of the 450 Tuskegee Airmen lost their lives in WW II, dying for a country that did not accept them in some areas. Read more about the importance of memorializing these great Americans and others on Memorial Day here in a letter from the Tuskegee Airman Institute President Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Letter.
Our journey of 50 miles on Memorial Day demonstrates the resilience and sacrifice of the men and women of this nation. Immigrant or native, white or black, men and women -each gave the ultimate sacrifice. The least we can do on this Memorial Day is to listen to one another with respect and support this fragile goal of Democracy! We are all brothers and sisters with one idea – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So, the least we can do is to love and understand one another!
George Washington when he was 16 wrote out 110 rules of civility to guide his life. Washington originally wrote down the rules presumably as an exercise in penmanship but later committed them to practice and memory. They helped develop the decorum, civility, and courage that guided Washington through war and the birth of this nation. You can read the Washington’s Rules of Civility here Washington’s Rules
The rules originally composed by French Jesuit priests in 1565 range from the practical to the profound. At the root of the rules is respect and civility toward friend and foe. Rule 1 lays this idea out perfectly with the words: “Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect, to those that are present”. Many currently in the public sphere would do well to take this rule to heart!
Most of the rules have application today. One of them that I found particularly compelling is Rule 18: “Read no letters, books, or papers in company but when there is a necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave: come not near the books or writings of another so as to read them unless desired or give your opinion of them unasked also look not nigh when another is writing a letter.”
The letters, books, and papers in Washington’s time are the cell phones, twitter feeds and social media today. Here is a brief update of Rule 18 refined for today’s technology. “Do not look at your cell phone or multitask while in the company of others, whether it be in person or Zoom. Put your cell phone in silence mode and only look at it in an emergency after asking permission. Do not stalk or gaslight your colleagues on social media. If your opinion differs, comment in a civil tone grounded in fact!” Let’s break it down further.
1. Put Your Cell Phone Down. We are tempted to pull out our cell phones at the drop of a hat. Many of our conversations become nothing more than a battle of dueling cell phones. With information at our fingertips, it is even more important to listen with full attention to your colleague, instead of trying to one up them with the trending twitter feeds. Washington knew the importance of being attentive even when the equivalent to today’s social media posts were the dueling pamphlets of competing patriots!
2. Do not stalk, talk. It is easy today to form a preconceived opinion of someone from stalking their social media feed or what others say about them online. It is also possible to ruin a person’s reputation by adding fire to gossip or rumor. Instead of forming an opinion from second-hand thoughts or unclarified comments, build your judgement of a person’s thoughts and character through direct dialogue. Peering into one’s media presence out of context is like ‘looking nigh when another is writing a letter’ in Washington’s time. Look not nigh, look them in the eye!
3. Guard Your Opinions with Reason and Civility. It is easy to react with emotion when someone writes something you disagree with on social media. Resist the urge to do so. If you feel you must post your opinion, do so factually and civilly. Better yet, pick up a phone or meet the person you disagree with to understand the context. I recognize there are times when the other person may have not acted with respect or is gaslighting you. Resist the urge to fight fire with fire. Instead dowse the fire with the cool water of reason and civility.
Rule 18 is just 1 of Washington’s 110 Rules of Civility. Most still resonate today. For example, just think how better off some politicians would have been if they followed rule 2: “2. When in company, put not your hands to any part of the body, not usually discovered.” Some of them may be of a bygone era but not many! I encourage you to read Washington’s Rules of Civility. What the world needs now is more civility, respect, and courtesy.
I decided to write this blog after seeing several pictures of my old hometown from my childhood and current friend, Katherine Caldwell. Other pictures are in the video at the end, also produced by Katherine Caldwell with a new song to an old tune from me. But the one below of Main Street blanketed in snow got me dreaming of Christmas in Crosswicks.
I never tire of thinking of Christmas in my hometown. The snow glistening in the trees. The 100+ year old Christmas tree bursting into light! Neighbors singing Christmas Carols around a bonfire and later warming themselves with hot apple cider. The candlelight service in the 200-year-old Quaker Meeting House. There are four main reasons Christmas in Crosswicks is special and makes the holiday shine brighter.
1. Christmas in Crosswicks is Historic! Crosswicks was settled by Quaker immigrants back in 1677. Christmas celebrations and worship have been ongoing ever since. The Quaker Meeting House that still stands and holds the annual Candlelight service each Christmas was built in 1773. This years’ service went virtual except for the musicians due to COVID on Dec. 20, keeping the tradition unbroken.
The Christmas of 1776 is particularly noteworthy. Crosswicks was occupied by Colonial troops of General Cadwallader in preparation for the historic Battle of Trenton which one of the turning points of the Revolutionary War.
I am also proud that despite Covid, Crosswicks celebrated the 101st lighting of the large Christmas tree that sits in the Quaker fields near the Community House. To see the magic, look at this link for this year’s virtual ceremony. Crosswicks Christmas Tree Lighting.
One last historic Christmas moment relates to a historic building that was three buildings down from my home. Brick’s Mincemeat Factory was built in 1879 and until 1968 was the state’s largest producer of mincemeat. It is now a historical building but still holds special memories of the mincemeat pies we had each Christmas. Read more here – Brick’s Mincemeat Factory
The historic nature of Christmas in Crosswicks makes it special but not necessarily unique. I encourage all in this unprecedented year to learn more about the history of your town related to Christmas.
2. Sharing of Faith and Fellowship. Crosswicks had diversity when it comes to faith and denomination. I already mentioned that the city was founded by Quakers and the Candlelight service at the Quaker Meeting House is a fixture of the holiday season. But one of the things that I remember most about the holiday season is learning about Hanukkah at my elementary school each year. I still remember the dreidel song taught to us by one of my friend’s mother. Also, that Hanukkah was the Festival of Light represented by the menorah.
We also had the United Methodist Church which was attended by my good friend. I would sing with her father, a retired Methodist minister, songs like Go Tell it on the Mountain that we did not normally sing in my Catholic Church. We also had the historic Grace African Methodist Episcopal Church organized in 1868 located 3 buildings down the street from my house. The church was the first African American denomination organized and incorporated in the United States. I remember the Christmas hymns of joy echoing forth from the Church. We of Crosswicks were of different faiths and denominations but we shared our beliefs and joy openly during the season
3. Joining in Civil Community. We also joined each holiday season in civil community. Each year our family joined our fellow “Crosswicksians” in the annual bonfire and Christmas Tree lighting. We would all circle the tree at the Community Center and sing Christmas Carols both secular and religious. Voices rising together as one community we sang of hope and love! Later we drank hot apple cider and ate donuts as we shared fellowship about the encroaching holiday Season. To close the day, Santa Claus would ride on the back of the firetruck and toss candy to all of us. It was all a kid could want!
4. Exploring the Wonders of Winter with Friends. After all that candy, cider, and donuts, we needed an outlet to burn off the calories. Our rural town (imagine that in Jersey) offered a wealth of options in the winter month. No Netflix for us! We grabbed our skates and went skating on the Frog Pond behind the library or better, yet we sled down “the Hill” behind the old Firehouse. I remember leaving the house at 8 am on some days and not returning until 9 PM. The only break would be a grape soda and some candy at Applegate’s Market.
We even exercised when getting our Christmas Trees. No Papa Noel’s or Walmart for us. We went with our Dad to cut down a tree at Nicholson’s Tree Farm. I am envious of my cousin since she still lives down the street.
In closing, Christmas in Crosswicks was full of faith, fellowship and fun. That is why some forty years later, I am still dreaming of Christmas in the Crosswicks. You may be dreaming of Christmas in your hometown. Christmas in the year of Covid just feels different from those of the past. We are asked to remain apart and not to congregate. And when we are not standing apart, we are sometimes ripping each other apart with cutting remarks.
For all, the light of Christmas may seem a bit dimmer this year. And, despite our best efforts to set our homes alight like the Griswold’s, we cannot capture the brightness of a smile or the warmth of a human touch. Light does not come from a bulb! Rather it comes from hearts joined with the joy of Christmas!
I think God and nature conspired to replicate the Christmas star this Solstice, 2020 to remind us that when two planets conjoin their lights, the heavens are brighter. Let us conspire, like my neighbors in Crosswicks, to virtually cross our wicks to bring the light of hope! Let us share the spark of humanity with each other to break the isolation of Covid and the rancor of rivalry!
We may not be able to be together in real time this year, but we can strive to be together virtually. Reach out to old friends on Zoom. Say a prayer for someone in need. Donate to a charity. And most of all honor the light that has come into the world with worship and kindness for all. And until next year, I am dreaming of Christmas in Crosswicks. Let me close with a song.
The lyrics are below:
Christmas in Crosswicks
I am dreaming of Christmas in Crosswicks,
Just like the ones I used to know,
Where people got together,
In all kinds of weather,
To watch the Christmas tree aglow!
I am dreaming of Christmas in Crosswicks,
And the bonfires in the night,
May all your memories be bright,
And when we cross the wicks with neighbors, we bring more light!
Peloton for those uninitiated is a virtual platform for cycling and other exercise programs. You can ride with other cyclists around the world virtually! You can do so either on the Peloton stationary bike or by using the Peloton virtual service available on your phone, with your own equipment. On Peloton Live In-Studio rides you can compete with other cyclists on the virtual leaderboard. They have excellent instructors who are fun and uplifting like my four favorites Jenn Sherman, Leanne Hainsby, Alex Toussaint, and Kendall Toole. The others are great too!
I had used the virtual Peloton app as a supplement to my gym spin class. But now decided to get the bike. I loved it from the moment I got it. And it made me think that my fellow work colleagues would love it too. So, I and a friend came up with a virtual stress valve program appropriately called Peloton Pandemic Pandemonium. Each week we pick up to 3 live rides and post the time and date on our company’s local website. People join with our group’s hashtag and we have a fun virtual race. Also, we give each other virtual high fives and chat as we ride.
Peloton Pandemic Pandemonium helps us stay healthy and happy during these difficult times. Here are the three major ways that PPP helps to keep you sane in these insane times:
1. Endorphins! Spinning, especially the Peloton variety is an endorphin rush. The mixture of music and interval exercise brings a flood of endorphins that helps to counter the darkest thoughts. The endorphin- exercise connection is well documented (read here WebMD Article). PPP is the way to crush, despair with an endorphin rush!
2. Tune-in and Sing! I love exercising to music. Nothing is more relaxing and stress relieving then belting out your favorite tunes as you spin. The good news about PPP is you can sing in the comfort of your own home. No embarrassment and no drowning out by the person next to you. But watch out! Singing too loud while biking at 100 RPMs can nearly cause you to pass out. I need to watch it the next time we do another Hamilton (Robin Arzón) or Bon Jovi (Kendall Toole) theme ride. (Need to add Jenn Sherman’s Epic Sing Along Series).
3. Community. Peloton and our company group PPP is a community. We care about each other. We high five when people hit a milestone and pick them up when they fall-down. In addition, theme rides really help celebrate commonalities and share hardships and trials. One of the best such rides is Kendall Toole’s ride on World Mental Health Day which focused on the importance of Mental Health. See my thoughts especially on Veteran’s Mental Health here. Mental Health Thoughts
So, there you have it. Three ways Peloton helps you with the Pandemic and Pandemonium of today! Message me or comment if you would like to participate in PPP!
Two songs sung by two Elvis’s are my go-to’s during this Pandemic. Both speak of driving through hard times with hope around the corner. They acknowledge the pain while seeking the future. And my favorite part. You can belt them out with a beer in hand after a hard day.
The first one is from that other Elvis, and truth be told my favorite Elvis – Elvis Costello. Unlike his other hits, he did not write this one (Nick Lowe did) but Elvis does the best rendition – “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding” . For you have not hear it, here is the official version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ssd3U_zicAI.
I once listened to this song on repeat at least 20 times after a hard week. The first verse and the chorus tell the story:
“As I walk through this wicked world Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity I ask myself, “Is all hope lost? Is there only pain and hatred and misery?”
And each time I feel like this inside There’s one thing I wanna know What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding? What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?” Lyrics Nick Lowe
Every time I read a friend attacking another friend on Facebook in some political fight or hear about the loss of another brave soul I ask myself the same question in the first verse. But then catch myself and realize that the peace, love, and understanding lies within me. Our soul longs for peace. We just need to cling to it and understand that everyone carries pain. It is up to you to bring inner peace, to show love to your friends and enemies, and understand the pain and hope of others. Rise to the occasion, extend a hand and be the peacemaker.
The second song is by the THE Elvis – Elvis Presley. This song was sung for the first time in Elvis’s Comeback Concert in 1968 at the end. It was written by Walter Earl Brown and came 2 months after Martin Luther King’s assassination. It also contains some MLK quotes. Only 5 at the time, I still remember it. Here are some of the words.
“There must be lights burning brighter somewhere Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue If I can dream of a better land Where all my brothers walk hand in hand Tell me why, oh why, oh why can’t my dream come true,
There must be peace and understanding sometime Strong winds of promise that will blow away the doubt and fear If I can dream of a warmer sun Where hope keeps shining on everyone Tell me why, oh why, oh why won’t that sun appear
We’re lost in a cloud With too much rain We’re trapped in a world That’s troubled with pain But as long as a man Has the strength to dream He can redeem his soul and fly”
The Elvis’s sang the truth! What’s so funny ‘bout peace, love, and understanding? Absolutely NOTHING! Is there a light shining brighter somewhere? It is in our grasp. If we choose to live, love, learn and lead!
I have hope in Hamilton! I have hope in humanity! I have hope in the USA!
This July 4th I watched patriotic, uplifting musicals from dawn to dusk. Hamilton, followed by Sound of Music, followed by Hamilton, followed by Yankee Doodle Dandy, followed by Hamilton yet again. Then I read on CNN an opinion piece that Hamilton did not age well. In my best Lin Manuel during Cabinet Battle #2 “Are you out of your ### #### mind”. Here are five reasons Hamilton is quintessential American, quintessential human, and resonates and resounds.
1. Hamilton is a work of staggering genius! I love anyone who can take a tome like Chernow’s Hamilton and turn it into a work of artistic genius. Do not get me wrong. I read Chernow’s Hamilton from cover to cover and as a history buff, I loved it. But how Lin Manuel could turn that book into 20+ songs ranging from rap (Hamilton, Not Giving Away My Shot, etc.) to ballad (Quiet Uptown, Burn) to Pop Song (Helpless, Schuyler Sisters, Wait for It), to Broadway classic (All King George songs) is beyond me. And just so you do not think I am confining to my enthusiasm to this blog. I stood up at the beginning of intermission at Hamilton and embarrassed my kids by shouting “This is a work of staggering genius!”. This got some head turns but mainly high fives from those around me. Lin Manuel is a modern-day Shakespeare! So, take that CNN!
2. Immigrants, we get the job done! This country was built by immigrants. Hamilton is the prototypical immigrant, who built this country. He was young, scrappy and hungry, and refused to give away his shot! My Great Grandfather Charles Henry came here during the Irish Potato famine and built a life in the US. He built a life by the sweat of his brow and love of this country. One thing I will always remember is he tried to enlist at the age of 50+ during WW II and was denied due to his age! My great uncles fought with Patton in WW II. We are a country of immigrants that get the job done! Read my blog from a past July 4th on the topic here: America the Beautiful But Broken: A Prescription and a Promise (Re-post)
3. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I get the gist of the CNN critique of Hamilton. Yes, the founding fathers punted on the question of slavery. But I do not agree that they should not be celebrated. Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and others set in motion this fundamental truth. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” They were men of their times but had the moral courage to set in motion a belief that resounds through history. We as humans are fallible. But as humanity we progress. Only when we forget the creator, and the fact that there is something that bonds us together beyond the color of our skin do we diverge from the arc of justice. Fight for the arc! Bend, love and do not break.
4. Diversity in opinion, breeds innovation and progress. One thing that really resonated in Hamilton was the diversity. The play had diversity of race, but I am talking about the diversity in opinion of our founding leaders. I absolutely love the diversity expressed in the Cabinet Battles and the whole play. We are free to express our divergent opinions in the USA. They drive us forward, even at times we may take a step back. But please in Civil Discourse not in duels. Barbara Jordan taught me Civil Discourse Ms. Jordan’s Lessons on Civil Discourse No more Quiet Uptowns. Let us resound the valleys and peaks with liberty and love!
5. Last reason is personal. I love Hamilton. I love the genius of our nation. That despite the fallibility of human nature, that we progress. We love. We wallow in angst but lead. I love this country with all its flaws but most of all its genius. I HAVE HOPE IN HAMILTON!!!!!!
This Father’s Day I celebrate Dads as builders! I revel in those fathers that built buildings, built large families, built Turbines, built farms and built all of us up to love! Amidst all the tearing down recently in our country, it is time for us Fathers to build up! Here are four examples of Father’s building up.
1. Building a family with bricks and good earth. My Father-In-Law along with his wife built a loving family of 10 borne on bricks, love, and good Minnesota earth. The first time I met Cal, he took me to his Raspberry farm to work and to talk about his tractor. This was the same raspberry patch that my wife and her nine siblings learnt responsibility each summer. Later, Cal took me to see the buildings he built as a Union Bricklayer. As we talked, I appreciated how he built a family brick by brick, berry by berry. A man of few words, his example spoke volumes.
2. Building engines that power cities, civil life, and a family. My father Big-D was a dynamo! Like the turbines that he built at his work, Big-D energized civil life and a family through respect and love. He was a Union Vice President, a Cub Master, a baseball coach, and president of several civic organizations. He taught me and the community how to throw a curve ball, build a car for the Pinewood Derby, and how to negotiate to get what a worker needs and deserves. Countries are built on civic organizations not tweets! Read more here (American Anthem: More Crosswicks less Crosswise ) Dad along with my mother taught us how to live, love and learn in a community.
3. Building in the background with humility and hard work. God is the ultimate father as builder. He built heaven and this good earth which we are called to protect. And when God was selecting an earthly father to protect and teach his only Son, he selected St. Joseph. A quiet, humble man, Joseph patiently taught the Son of Man how to build amongst humanity with his hands and heart. Joseph stood in the background and let his work show forth through the works of the Son. Joseph prayed and sent a path for what all good Father’s wish for their Sons; a life that eclipses their own and sets the world aright.
4. Building bridges of love. My first three examples are no longer walk in physical form with us. But I know that their example lives on teaching us to build bridges of love across all humanity. I see the builder in my cousin-in-law Uriah and the example he sets forth for Jessica my cousin, and their two young daughters, one only days-old. I see it each day as he builds up the love bursting forth in a young family through hard work and compassion. Getting up at night to comfort a little one and waking up each morning early to work each day just a little sleep deprived. And I remember how hard it is to be builder and cheer as his family grows in love and to serves as an example to all of us that love knows no bounds.
A Father’s love knows no boundaries. It builds up instead of tears down. It builds bridges across humanity and through time! It is color blind and love rich. Let’s all be builders in our families and society!
Some of the most important lessons we learn from our Fathers are those during time of conflict. It is inevitable that a son and his Dad will have a confrontation as a son grows to a man. A good Dad turns that confrontation into lessons that the son takes with him for a lifetime. On this Father’s Day, I recall one confrontation and what my Dad taught me.
When I was 16, I made the rash decision to run away. I was distressed that I was moving away from my home in New Jersey and losing my friends. It was understandable in some respects. I was half way through my junior year and was tied to my school and in particular my first girlfriend. I thought the world was ending but really it was only beginning.
I remember the day as it is almost yesterday. My Dad was a bit steamed after my Grandpop, Uncle, Aunt and cousins came over to wish us off. As to be expected, everyone was sad to see us leave and a lot of tears were shed. I remember my Dad saying something to the effect that he could not take another person crying (my Mom’s family was Irish and as the stereotype goes a bit emotional). I just got upset and belligerent after hearing that. I told him “Well, I am half my Mom’s side and I am not crying and promised to take off.” He half dismissed it but I did not. At that moment, I decided to run away.
My great idea was I would run as fast as I could the 5 or 6 miles to Yardville to my Uncle Johnny’s house and hide out in the woods. Then when my family left for Texas heartbroken, I would have my cousin bring me food while I lived out in the woods behind their house (I said the idea was rash!). Just to show what crazy things teen age love can do, I decided then and there to take off. I ran with all my might and with the stuffed toy Dog (Little Rascal) my girlfriend gave me. I set off to Yardville to hide out in the woods.
Back then I could run fast. I ran out of Crosswicks out past Ocker’s Barrel where my Dad worked when on strike (which you see below). I got 4 and a half miles and was just about to turn off the main street to my Uncle Johnnie’s house when my Dad in the car caught up to me.
I do not know how he knew where I was going. I will never forget it. He told me that he was sorry and that I and all of my Mom’s side were tough. He then explained that we needed to move to Texas to make a better life. Part of the steel mill was moving down South and as a result he was not reelected as union Vice President. He got an offer in Texas for his work and we needed to move to make a new life. He then hugged me and I got in the car.
My brothers and my sister (although she was a bit young) can attest that I was not a happy camper on the way to Texas. I sat sullen and made sure that I never took a turn in the middle seat. My brothers adjusted better. Each chance I could I would either write or try and call my girlfriend. Let’s just say I was not a happy camper.
But I should have been! Texas turned out to be a great place to complete my High School years. And we literally were still in Jersey (not New Jersey but Jersey Village, outside of Houston)! I learned four valuable lessons on my attempted run away and capture:
I was self-absorbed. Yes, I lived 16+ years in New Jersey but my Mom had lived 38! She was leaving the family and friends she grew up with for the family she nurtured and loved. I still remember my Granpop’s hands shaking and my Mom tearing up on the day we left. My Dad, although a Texan by birth, was also leaving behind more. He had lived in New Jersey for 20 years and was now had ties as deep there than in his native state. Known as Big D, he was leaving his friends, co-workers and the community where he was the coach of the Red Sox, the Cubmaster of Pack 55, and institution at NBC wresting matches and football games.
Moving to a new place meant new friends. After a few months adapting (boy the football coaches had fun with me and my brother’s accents!), I met new friends, dated new girls and created lasting relationships that still endure.
I learned a lesson that I covet as a Father. Sometimes when you are providing for your family you have to make a hard decision. My Dad would have liked nothing more than to stay in New Jersey where he built so many bonds. But the steel mills were moving South (and later off shore).
The last lesson from him is the power of apology. I should have apologized to him not the other way around! I will never forget when he caught up to me in the car and took me home. It takes a big man to apologize to angst filled son!
I turned off the news yesterday because I just could not take it any more. Whether you watched CNN, MSNBC, or FOX, it was all the same. People pointing fingers. People shouting at people and not listening to each other. And much worse than that. As I shut down the vitriol on my TV, I asked how has this nation devolved into an us versus them mentality.
It was not always that way. We once had civil discourse and the social intermediaries (clubs, little league, community centers, and other institutions) that brought us together. I think the late Charles Krauthammer who both served as Walter Mondale’s speech writer and conservative commentator, said it best: “Of course we are shaped by our milieu. But the most formative, most important influence on the individual is not government. It is civil society, those elements of the collectivity that lie outside government: family, neighborhood, church, Rotary club, PTA, the voluntary associations that Tocqueville understood to be the genius of America and source of its energy and freedom.”
We have gotten extreme, but it was not always that way. We did not always launch ourselves into the opposing sides of Twitter feeds at the drop of a hat, but rather listened to the opposing sides of people we respected in our community. We sought out the commonalities that brought us together and the spark of humanity that resides in each one of us. We listened to one another and learned from one another at the PTAs, Little Leagues, Community Centers and institutions of everyday life. We need to return to these social institutions and turn away from the emptiness of social media.
The best example of a community of sharing and caring is the town that I grew up in Crosswicks. My town’s main claim to fame was it was the launchpad of the revolution – the Battle of Trenton that won us a country and a nation. In that town of Crosswicks, we had a mix of liberals and conservatives that all got along and progressed for the betterment of our country and our community. Thinking about my hometown, I started thinking how did our nation – the collective Crosswicks – become so Crosswise? What caused the demise of the democracy? Simply this. When you cross the wicks (Crosswicks) of a candle, the light burns brighter. But when you get cross wise, the fire of freedom becomes extinguished.
So tonight, I will ruminate on what made our little hamlet of Crosswicks bring people together instead of pulling them apart. And the answer is quite simple – it was community organizations not affiliated with governments, Facebook, or corporate organizations. It was organizations by the people, for the people and run by the people. Let me talk about three of them:
Little League – Back before the day of club Soccer run by professionals, we had Little League. It was run by volunteers who wanted to teach kids a sport and bring communities together. I am now 55 and can still remember every moment of every Chesterfield Red Sox versus Chesterfield Black Sox game. The whole community came together to watch the teams compete. There may have been some arguments on the fields of friendly strife, but what I remember the most was being with my friends, learning from my father and other parents, and sharing fun with the community. I am not trying to cut down club soccer which is still a unifying organization. But there is something different learning from the people of your community instead of professionals that are getting paid.
Scouts – I cannot talk to Girl Scouts, but I can talk to Cub and Boy Scouts. These institutions brought together people from all walks of life for fellowship and fun. Both my mother as a Den Mother and my Father as a Cubmaster were involved. We got to learn how to compete fairly in the Pinewood Derby and Rocket races. We also learned how to develop our skills and help one another with our various badges. As part of a Den, Pack or Troop, you learned how to cooperate and care for those in your group. You also learned about how through differences and diversity, you create strength. I will never forget how our Boy Scout troop was able to take the disparate talents and succeed in a weekend campout.
Community Center and Library – The heart of Crosswicks was the community center and library. In the summer program at both institutions, I first fell in love with books, learned how to draw a cartoon dog and cat, and participated in parties on Halloween and Christmas. It did not matter the color of your skin, your political institution, or your religion. All the people in Crosswicks were brought together to share in fellowship and learn new skills. In the end, it is really what you learn and apply rather than what you earn and deny that makes a mark on the world.
These are just three of the intermediary institutions that brought us together in Crosswicks. I will never forget the friends that I made. And, even 40 years later, when my friends from Crosswicks express their disparate views, some quite different from my own, I listen and learn. Never underestimate the power of Crosswicks and intermediary institutions to bring people together. Let us all as a nation, cross wicks and make the light of our common humanity shine brighter!
What does it mean to be commissioned? The simple Webster definition is “an instruction, command, or duty given to a person or group of people.” But what is the instruction, what is the duty? Who gives the command and to whom is the command given? And is their one great commission that we all should follow?
I started thinking about this on May 24, the day when as a Catholic, I celebrate Jesus’s Ascension and the Great Commission. Here is the first reading that occurred on that day from Acts 1:
He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
And what was the power that was bestowed by the Holy Spirit? The power to know that you are loved and to bestow that love on others. To live out the commandment in courage and strength that Jesus gave on the last supper
This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.
This was the Great Commission and commandment that we are meant to follow. What happened on May 25th , 2020, the very next day after this celebration, was the opposite of the Great Commission. Call it the Great Betrayal. An officer who was commissioned: “TO PROTECT WITH COURAGE, TO SERVE WITH COMPASSION” did the exact opposite. There was no compassion shown to George Floyd nor courage displayed by the officers that renounced their commission.
Now as the nation struggles with this betrayal and the many that have occurred before it, we need to cling to the hope and love set forth in the Great Commission. We need to practice the three P’s: Protest Injustice, Protect Your Neighbor and Heart, and Pray for Love and Understanding. We have seen many doing just this but unfortunately there are others who tear down instead of build-up.
In search of hope, I look back and forward to two other commissioning’s – one recent and one happening this week. On Saturday May 30th, Nasa and Space-X went on a successful co-mission as they launched the first commercial manned rocket to the space station. The private and public sector blended their unique talents on a co-mission to space and allowed us to hope that we could boldly go were no man has gone before – a world were differences are celebrated. As Gene Rodenberry, creator of Star Trek puts it:
“If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.”
“The oath to support and defend the Constitution binds us together as one team, dedicated to defending our Nation and upholding its values. We strive to embody these ideals and aspire to live by our core values of duty, honor, and country. Every word, every action, and every attitude should uphold those values so that we may live and lead honorably. The Nation looks to West Point as an example of what is possible when people from diverse backgrounds unite and aspire to honorable living.
Consider how your words, actions, and attitudes impact other people. Are you building up others and making them feel valued? Are you strengthening trust within the team? Are you extending forgiveness, and actively listening to other points of view? Are you inspiring others to greatness? If so, encourage others to do the same. If not, then choose to improve—immediately. Muster the moral courage necessary to confront and solve problems with effective, honest, and empathetic dialogue that seeks solutions rather than sowing seeds of division and disunity.”
LTG Darryl A. Williams
Let’s build up instead of tearing down. Let’s celebrate the differences. Let’s love one another and protect each other’s heart. Let’s live out the great commission!
I wrote this blog a few years back but have decided to re-post due to recent events. It is relevant today as we stand in solidarity to stop the brutality we saw done to George Floyd. We must take this opportunity to work to overcome slavery’s stain. To stand with people of color and all of us to Protest the Injustice, Protect our Neighbors, and Pray for Love, Kindness and Justice for all.
I am just returning from a week long vacation visiting historic sites in Virginia. This is the first of a series of blogs on what I learned. This lesson is the most important. I gained it while visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC and tours/talks on slavery at Montpelier, Monticello, and Colonial Williamsburg.
What I took away from this experience is four things:
We owe a debt of gratitude to those enslaved and their descendants for building this country that is hard to repay. The impact that African Americans had on building this country far surpasses their percentage of the population. From the plantation slaves to the Tuskegee Airmen from Marcus Garvey to Martin Luther King, the smarts, sweat, ingenuity and determination of African Americans was a driving force in building this country.
Slavery was just pure evil and despite the myth, there was no such thing as a “good” slave owner. This was hammered home on both at the Montpelier and Monticello tours. Madison’s stepson John Payne Todd after taking over the estate, ran the estate into bankruptcy and along with his mother Dolly Madison sold off the slaves and broke up families in attempt to pay off debts due to John’s profligacy. Monticello’s tour of Mulberry Row hammered home even more poignantly the evil nature of slavery. Our tour guide was from the Bronx and in the typical no-nonsense way of a New Yorker shattered the myth that Jefferson was a lenient slave owner. Although he decried slavery in his writings, he only freed 6 slaves (less than 1 percent of those at Monticello). And, of those freed, 4 of the 6 were his children by Sally Hemmings as genetic testing suggests. Most of the rest were sold to pay off the debt of Monticello upon his passing. This does not take away from all the good that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison done. Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and Madison’s Constitution set in motion the ideas that would eventually topple the paradox of slavery. But these flawed men could not fully escape their times.
The stain and impact of slavery continued through segregation and still echoes today. The African American museum is arranged so you start underground with the initiation of slavery and progresses as it is abolished in the Civil War and segregation is ended with the Civil Rights Act. You learn the impact on family structure as families are broken apart and sold to different owners. You see the injustice of people being lynched just because of the color of their skin. Perhaps, the most moving moment in the whole museum and one that makes me ashamed of my historical ignorance was the memorial to Emmett Till. I always thought that the event that initiated the Civil Rights campaign of the sixties was Rosa Parks, but it was the murder and memorial for Emmett Till six months prior. Emmett, a fourteen-year-old young man, who was visiting his relatives in South, was brutally murdered for supposedly looking at a white woman in a disrespectful manner. His beaten body was then dumped in a swamp. When his body was recovered, his mother bravely requested an open casket funeral for all to see the evil of racism. Unbelievably, the two individuals that all evidence points to have committed the act were found not guilty by an all-white jury. I was happy this week to see the case to be reopened with new evidence. Emmett Till and his brutal murder was one of the key event that launched the Civil Rights movement and we as Americans must remember its history along with Rosa Parks, the sit-ins, and Martin Luther King. We must not forget. And we must stand-up and pass the legislation in Emmett’s name being held up in the Senate currently.
We must be ever vigilant. The museum climbs from the basement to the ground floor with the presidency of Barrack Obama. In this way, it is meant to show America as it progresses from the depths of slavery to the promise of a more equal future. But there is nothing in the museum that prevents a person from walking back down through history into the basement. Indeed, in the last years we have taken some giant steps back with George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor. But we have and need to start climbing again. America in better than this! We still hear the echoes of slavery and the vestiges of the past. This time I spent in our nation’s past has hammered home in me the need to be ever vigilant. We cannot let the mistakes of the past repeat themselves. We must continue to stand for civil rights and secure justice. To be on guard and fight for equality for all and a more perfect union.
Two recent events forced me to accept something that I have been putting off for two years. I am now officially a “Senior”, and, as such, there are certain things I need to adjust.
The first event’s linkage to my advancing age is apparent. My youngest of four children Kendall graduated from college recently. She may not have been able to walk across the stage due to the current pandemic. However, her name flashing across the scoreboard at Texas A&M’s Kyle field signified that my wife and I were officially empty nesters (Gig’em!)!
I did not embrace my age two years ago! When I turned 55, I staged a ritualistic burning of my AARP card application on YouTube (see video below).
I was trying to show that I had no intention of slowing down in what I then thought was a humorous way. It was not! The part not captured on the video could have caused me to miss my next birthday, but in hindsight was funnier. The part I cut out is the AARP card caught fire rapidly and I had to drop it. I asked for someone to give me some water to dash the flames. Unfortunately, the pan with the water had been in the sink with some oil that had not been removed. The pan lit up like a torch until someone gave me a lid to snuff it out. Almost lit the house on fire! Not good for my health and those around me (although that video would have gone viral!). How did I finally embrace my age and adapt to stay fit? Read the second part of the blog series on the event that was the final tipping point – Boot’s whimpering at the rain here link A Daughter, A Dog, and A Not So Old Man (Part 2 of 2)
Boots and my attempt to calm him reminded me that I no longer had the stamina that I once had. At 3 AM, with the lightening striking, thunder rolling, and Boots barking, I decided to sing him a lullaby like I did when the recently graduated Kendall and her three older siblings were scared. It worked for a bit. I sang the following to the tune of Bing Crosby’s Little Man Your Crying while petting Boots. Like Kendall’s lullaby I changed the lyrics but this time for a dog, not a girl.
Little dog you’re crying, I know why your blue, the rain is loud and took Your time to walk away. Better go to sleep now, because little dog you had a busy day. Lacy took your dog bones, now I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’ll go out and get you new ones right away, better go to sleep now because little dog you had a busy day.
Lacy is my oldest daughter’s Pit bull. The song worked! But I had to keep singing it or Boots would cry. So, I decided to get up and do the next logical thing. Do aerobics!
What? That does not sound logical. Well I was not going to come up with multiple Boots lullabies. Unlike my kids, the dog did not fall soundly sleep. Each flash of lightening made him howl anew. Since I had to stay up with my frightened dog and it was my weigh-in day for WW, I decided to do some exercise to music earlier than usual. But unlike other Saturdays, I was feeling all my 50+ years and was not ready for High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or something like that. So, I did what I never said I would do. I did an exercise video for Seniors.
And boy was I glad I did. I had avoided Senior based videos since I thought that such videos would be boring and not much of a workout. Instead the videos by Paul Eugene (see here) were energizing, fun and just the right level to get a great workout.
I liked the first one on Latin Dance for Seniors so much; I did a second Aerobics one! If I had done HIIT or something more strenuous in my dog induced, sleep deprived coma, I would have ended up with a pulled muscle or on the floor. Instead, I was ready for the day and more.
When the videos ended, the rain had stopped, and Boots was finally asleep. Lucky for me he feared rain but loved Paul Eugene! The sun had started to come out and I decided to take a walk. And then the biggest surprise happened. On the path to my park, I saw a Doe that looks to be ready to give birth!
It took me back to the days of Kendall and lullabies, but not depressed with my advancing years. And hopefully in a few years as I stay healthy Sweating to and with the Oldies, I may have the chance to rock a grandchild instead of a dog! Embrace your age! Stay Healthy!
I would never say that the current pandemic is a blessing in disguise. It is a painful scourge that has caused pain to many and has dramatically changed our lives. But I would call it an opportunity, if we are bold enough to seize it. An opportunity to reflect on what is important and perhaps change the direction that we are taking individually and as a nation. In that way, it is reminiscent of a personal health scare that I had some five years ago. This event, while extremely negative and scary at the time, changed my life for the better.
Six years ago, I was on a downward trajectory. The bottom hit in 2014 when I was out of shape (350+ pounds), stressed and overworked. I was in Kansas on a work project and I was trying to keep up with one of my colleagues who had offered me a lift to the hotel. I was trying to keep pace with him as we climbed the stairs. On the third flight as we approached the car, I could not catch my breath in the brisk air. It took more than 5 minutes of deep breathing to get it under control. My chest was constricted and heart beating out of control. In that way it had some of the symptoms of the current virus.
Something had to change! Left to my own devices, I would have done what I always done – driven on. But this was something scary and new. The Iron Man’s armor was beginning to rust, and I had to reassess my habits. In this case, one of the habits I had to change was eating junk food. A sugar junkie I used to literally drink Peanut M&M’s as I drove through another 14-hour workdays.
This scare made me make abrupt changes to some of my habits, but not all. Instead of eating junk food such as M&Ms, I switched to apples. Instead of sitting in a chair for 14 hours, I got up and took a walk. Slowly over a year and a half I took off a 150+ pounds and got healthy. But I still retained some bad habits.
That is where the current pandemic comes in. It is a similar shock to the system. But instead of getting rid of junk food, it has forced me (as I suppose some of you) to reassess and replace junk values with real ones. Chiefly these three:
1. Reassessing Work-Life Balance. I am not sure I ever practiced work-life balance. I was more Work first then life; but the current situation changed that. Work can disappear in a second. If you pour yourself into work only, you lose your identity. And then what do you have when work goes away? Fortunately, that has not happened to me yet. But the situation has caused me to reflect and rebalance. I focus now on life first. That has also rippled into my reactions with others. I used to focus exclusively on work in discussions. But with everyone working from home, it has made me more tolerant and even appreciative of the lives of others seeping into work. Just the other day I had the joy of seeing a colleague’s child sing “Baby Shark”. My kids are all adult and with no grandchildren to date it was fun (although you younger parents must think I am nuts!)
2. Slowing down instead of speeding up. I used to change gears at the moment’s notice. With no restrictions, I would get in a car or plane to meet a friend, take in a movie or fly to a client site. The need to social distance and shelter at home has slowed everything down and took away our freedom of movement. But if you think about it, maybe we were too frantic in the first place. We now have more time to plot our next move and to think reflectively.
3. Appreciating the human touch. I am not one for crowds. Truth be told I am a bit of a curmudgeon. But with the inability to see people real time, I now have a longing to be back with friends and family. I cannot wait to be back in the office and see my colleagues at work or sit with my Weight Watchers group in the studio again. Virtual Zoom meetings can help replace some of the interaction, but it cannot fully satisfy the human longing to be with each other. Springsteen says it best that when facing a world with too few answers:
“You might need somethin’ to hold on to When all the answers they don’t amount to much Somebody that you can just talk to And a little of that human touch”
– Bruce Springsteen “Human Touch”
I would like to close with one a verse of my favorite Irish song. Although I could not sing it with others on St. Patty’s Day, I am hoping the shock of Covid-19, like a thunderstorm in April, can lead to a flowering of new life in May. And we can again shake hands …
One of my favorite songs is Simon and Garfunkel’s “Feeling Groovy” and nothing makes me feel groovier than taking a slow walk Saturday around Lady Bird Lake in Austin. The song goes something like this with apologies for some modifications:
“Slow down you move to fast,
Got to make the Saturday last,
Just kicking down Lady Bird Lake,
Austin is great and feeling groovy.”
Here is a picture I snapped last weekend during my weekly trek. These turtles sure know how to Slow Down, bask in the sun, and feel groovy.
While the word Groovy may have been out of vogue since the Seventies, slowing down to regroup is still key to a better life. Even more so in this time of constant noise and nuisance. Nothing restores the soul and the spirit then a good podcast, a crisp wind and nature all around.
Slowing down is the key to the healthy and happy life. I seldom miss a Slow Walk Saturday for the following three reasons:
1. Time to reflect and adjust. When we are running from one task to the other, there is seldom time to reflect, learn from experiences, and adjust. I find that when I slow down and quiet my mind that I come up with the answer that I need. Proof point? I have been so busy with work and life that I have been having writer’s block. A few minutes and miles and I had ten new ideas when I had been stuck for at least a week. Sometimes the best thing when you are struggling for a solution is slow down, quiet your mind and be thankful for the nature all around you.
2. Destress and feel blessed. Nothing stokes compassion and soothes the soul than to experience nature. It is hard to feel hassled when you see 20 turtles sunning on a log or see a bird take flight. It is a wonder this world! Our role is to revel and reflect the love of God in his creation. Not to strive and stifle. Slowing down makes us thankful for the pauses and pleasures that are in each day!
3. Listen and learn. When you are alone with your thoughts and those of a good book, you learn new things about yourself and your place in the world. I recommend to everyone the library application Libby which provides audio books for free if you have a library card. I have learned so much while walking and listening from how Changing your Habit can Change Your Life to How to be 10% Happier. Truly my Slowdown Saturdays have made me a better person!
Life is not a sprint. It a slow walk to the better angels of our nature. So, take the time to slow down and feel groovy.
This in the sixth in the Be Good Not Great series. The purpose of this series is to examine the lives of those people that seek goodness over greatness. Hopefully the lessons from their lives will inspire us all to eschew worldly greatness to store up the more eternal treasures of love and kindness. You can read the first of this blog series here: https://weightlossleadership.com/2019/03/16/be-good-not-great/ .
Most of us are familiar with the Mr. Rogers from the PBS show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and the recent Tom Hank’s movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”. I have had the uncanny luck to have had three Mister Rogers in my personal neighborhood. Each of these good men taught me the importance of slowing down to listen, teach and learn. I still struggle with inculcating this lesson in my daily life. It is sad to say that in this hurried world the loudest voice is often the last voice. But it shouldn’t be that way. To connect with another person’s heart, you must take the time to be quiet and listen; to provide guidance in a patient, introspective way. The three Mr. Rogers in my life modeled this lesson during my childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
The Mr. Rogers of my childhood was Fred Rogers from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Each day after elementary school I would watch his show. I loved the routine to it. He would come in through the door with the stop light flashing yellow; a signal to all that it was time to slowdown. Then he would switch into his sweater and sneakers to impart his daily message of patience and love. He talked in a slow and quiet manner; a contrast to the Saturday cartoons of the day and even a sharper contrast to the hyperactive shows of today. He provided me a different sort of male role model; no less masculine but more nurturing. Something that I needed sometimes since I had a larger than life Father, more akin to Fred Flintstone than Mister Rogers.
In the wonderful book, “The Simple Faith of Mr. Rogers” by Amy Hollingsworth linked here: , Mr. Rogers explains his talent as ‘The Gift of Going Slow”. As he explained to Amy in the book:
“…I’ve never been a kind of hyperactive, runaround kind of person. I think one of the greatest gifts that we can give anybody is the gift of one more honest adult in that person’s life – whether [the recipient] be a child or an adult.
And so, for me, being quiet and slow is being myself, and that is my gift.”
Indeed, the gift of slowing down is one that we all should strive to obtain. Taking time to care for one another and to glean from the introspection the needs of the heart. Also, slowing down to discern the right path forward. As this first Mr. Rogers sang in one of his many songs:
“I like to take my time I mean that when I want to do a thing I like to take my time and do it right.”
The second Mr. Rogers was someone in my actual neighborhood in Chesterfield Township, Bill Rogers. Bill was co-coach with my Dad Big D on our little league baseball team Red Sox and worked with my Dad at De Laval. Mr. Rogers and my Dad made a great coaching team leading us to many wins over our arch nemesis the Black Sox and other teams in our little league division. They made a good team both coaching and work since they had contrasting styles. Dad would get in the faces of the umpires, rival coaches, and players. He could be both inspirational but also intimidating. In contrast, I learned more how to improve my baseball skill from Mr. Rogers, who had a more patient teaching style. It may have been a Father/Son thing; but when I wanted to learn the technique to properly field a grounder, I went to Mr. Rogers. He would take the time to show me to follow the ball into the glove, get to low to the ground and use two hands to secure the ball. I also had the pleasure to visit Mr. Rogers and his family at their home. I spent time exploring the woods near their house with Glen and talking to his daughter Mandy and Mrs. Rogers. I was always struck by the kindness, love and respect of the Rogers’ household.
The last of the Mister Rogers that taught me the lesson of patience and introspection was my Sunday School teaching partner for over ten years – Roger. He was called Mister Roger by our middle school students as a sign of respect. Mister Roger much like my Dad and Mister Rogers as Little League coaches made a great team as Sunday School teachers. I was always thinking of crazy ways to teach the lessons of Christ through entertainment. Roger in contrast would use quieter, more spiritual methods that nevertheless captured the teen’s attention. I still remember with amazement the popularity of his retelling on the Legend of the Candy Cane. It is really a great children’s story, but I thought it a little young for our rambunctious, middle schooler audience. In addition, Roger read the book by showing the illustrations in the book by making slides and showing them on a projector. Nevertheless, the teens were captivated as Roger read the book that relates the Christian symbolism of the candy cane and its meaning for Christmas. Sometimes the simple, quiet approach works better than one that is flashy. I learned this powerful lesson from Roger, a truly devout man and Confirmation sponsor to my two middle children.The three Mr. Rogers in my life have taught me the lesson of quiet, patience, and introspection in a world that is often loud and overwhelming. During the blessed season of Christmas, it is important for all of us to learn the lessons of the three Rogers and take some quiet time to think about the good people that shaped our life. And especially God’s only son that came to teach us in the stillness of a silent night. Merry Christmas!
Recently I and my wife went on a ten-day Pilgrimage to religious sites in Israel, Palestine and Italy. While I looked forward to the trip, I was worried about gaining weight. We went on a tour in which each moment of the day was planned to include where and when to eat. Hearing stories of how people gained 10 or more pounds on a tour had me worried. I was used to controlling my eating habits by eating primarily at home and tracking my food intake and timing consistently through the WW application. Having lost over 150 pounds on this regimen and keeping most of it off for 4 years, I was facing the unknown. I did not know what food would be offered nor did I know if I could even spell it to find in the application! Also, I knew the all breakfasts and dinners would be offered buffet style. I had avoided buffets since losing the weight because they always have been my nemesis. I had images of Golden Corral with numerous desserts and heavy American food and I was worried I could not control my eating habits.
Well, I should have rested easier, especially in Israel and
Palestine (although Italy still posed problems due to its Pastas). The buffets at the Israeli hotels in Tel-Aviv,
Nazareth and Jerusalem were a lot different than their US counterparts or those
on cruise ships. There were five main
distinguishing factors that made the buffets healthier than their US
counterparts on the trip:
1. Vegetables, vegetables, vegetables! At each hotel there was an abundance of
vegetables. They were fresh and varied. They also were front and center taking the
place of the heavier entrees that are in US buffets. Another change were vegetables were available
for breakfast along with fruit. For a
devoted WW, it was a zero-point heaven and I loaded down with new and varied
tastes. I loved the Israeli peppers and pickles that tasted different than
those used in the US.
2. The best Hummus
anywhere. Sorry Greece. Israeli Hummus is incredible and varied. In the morning there was about 5 types and
the evening 7. In the US, I can tolerate
Hummus, but it is not my favorite. In
Israel, it is a different story! It tastes
so fresh and tasty. Sorry American Greek
restaurants, Israeli hummus it is where it is at!
3. Kosher food and whole foods. All the food in the Israeli buffet is Kosher and is prepared to exacting standards. It is not processed like its US counterparts and you can taste the difference. In addition, whole foods are bountiful. Nothing processed. Indeed, for the first time, I enjoyed a fish cooked whole from the Sea of Galilee (see below). I was a little nervous but was able to figure out how to eat correctly from a YouTube video! It was delicious.
control. I was really worried about the
dessert table, but I should not have been.
Although I enjoyed a desert each meal, I did not have to worry about
overindulging. No large ladles dipped in
Apple cobbler or big slices of cake. The
deserts were smaller so you could have a dessert and not be tempted by
overindulging. The only problem on
portion control was the coffee. We had
to get up early each day and the coffee cups were small. Also, for some reason, Israeli’s love instant
coffee and seldom could I find brewed coffee.
Oh well, you can’t have everything.
5. Fish, fish,
fish. I usually do not like fish but here
it was varied, plentiful and the main offering.
I even ate fish for breakfast!
Had my first taste of salmon and pickled herring in the morning and it
was surprisingly good!
At the end of my ten-day vacation, I had only gained .2 lbs.
while still eating dessert each day. I
think I would have lost wait if the entire trip was in Israel, but we also
traveled to Italy for 3 days. I cannot
resist Gelato and pasta. Also, an
Italian cappuccino blows is cheaper than the US and is about 10 times
better. Still, gaining only .2 lbs.
while indulging in the Gelato’s for three days is quite a coup!
To date, the series has included only real people with whom
I have directly interacted. In this blog
I focus on a person that I have interacted with since the seventies, but only through
TV– John, the father on “The Waltons”.
For those not familiar with the series, “The Waltons” ran for
9 years in the 70’s and early 80’s with specials continuing into the 2000’s. It covers the trials and tribulations of an extended
of family of 11 (John, his family, and John’s parents) living through the depression
and World War II in the backwoods of Virginia. The Waltons make it through those hard years
of poverty and personal tragedy with their souls intact largely due to the sacrifices
of John and his wife Olivia (who is equally deserving of being the subject of this
One of my favorite episodes of the series clearly
demonstrates John’s focus on being good while foregoing opportunities for
wealth and fame. In the episode, John is
uncharacteristically anxious and short with others. His high school reunion is approaching and one
of his fellow classmates want him to organize the reunion. The classmate came to John because back in
high school he and his classmate Grover where always vying for the lead
position in the class. Grover went on to
Washington to lead an agency in the Roosevelt administration, while John stayed
on Walton’s Mountain eking out a living for his family. John becomes even more anxious when the
person who was supposed to host the reunion cannot and John’s wife Olivia agrees to host the reunion at the Walton home.
When the seemingly successful guests arrive, they all have
problems. Grover, for instance is having
marital problems and his wife does not attend the reunion. Another one of his classmates, a rich car
salesman, has kids who act spoiled and misbehave throughout the reunion. In contrast, the Walton children are the
epitome of hospitality and work together to make the reunion a success.
The show ends with what I considered the greatest quote from
the show and one that highlights the difference between being good not great. Grover, John’s former high school rival says
“Six years in grade school, five years in high
school-everything I ever ran for, I was always running against the same Johnny
Walton… The greatest day of my life was when I beat John Walton out for
senior class president. I don’t think he ever lost any sleep over it. Now I’m
an ambitious man – some would say successful; probably it’s all John’s fault. I
was always running; he was always going past me at a walk. And here it is, 25
years later-here I am, and there’s John. Then look at me… and some of you…
still running, still wearing ourselves to a frazzle for all sorts of things
that John Walton has accumulated while he was out walking – a happy home, a
fine wife and children. We’re sitting here well fed at John’s table, and I’m
still boy enough to be graveled at the sight of him. ‘John – the boy most
likely to succeed.’ Well, he’s the boy who did.”
This ending always gets me because it shows the choices a
parent makes for his family. There are
so many episodes where John demonstrates his love for family over that of money
of fame. Here are three examples:
In one of the later episodes, John demonstrates his ability
to organize competing, local sawmills in Virginia to deliver a large order for
a rich government contractor. Noting his
ability, the contractor offers John the role of Vice President of lumber operations.
This job holds the promise of wealth,
travel and a fine home. The only issue
is John would have to uproot his family.
He declines the role for the lesser opportunity of running a co-op in
his hometown for a lot less money and prestige.
One of the key attributes of a good father is being humble
enough to accept the sacrifice of your children. In another one of my favorite episodes, John
and Olivia use all their emergency money to buy their son John-Boy, a new suit
for college. The whole family participates
in the joyful event. John is proud that he
can provide clothes for his son to fit in with the wealthier students not on
scholarship. Then the family’s milking
cow Chance dies and John is humbled since he does not have the money to replace
it. John Boy takes it upon himself to
sell back his suit to pay for a new cow.
This action shows the goodness of his father John in two ways. First, John-boy is following the example of
sacrifice he has seen modeled by his father.
Second, John is humble enough after initial reluctance to accept the
money. John does what needs to be done
even though it eats him up inside to provide his son this simple gift.
In the last example, a developer comes to Walton’s Mountain
and notes the beauty of the nature and a hot spring on the mountain. FDR with his affinity for Hot Springs has raised
the demand for these resorts and the developer offers John a lot of money for
the mountain and his home. He at first
contemplates selling the land and moving the family but decides against moving
the family, especially his parents from the home. This episode clearly illustrates the sacrifices
many sons and daughters make to care for their parents in their older
years. A good father indeed must first
be a good son.
I could list at least another 20 episodes of the basic
goodness of John Walton and his love for family. Caring for your family and your spouse is
what a marriage is all about! A good
parent thinks of their family first and career second. Money and fame disappear, but a love of a
good parent lives on! So, when facing a decision, let’s be like John and focus
on what’s good for the family, rather than what is great for you!
My favorite show of all time is The Waltons for many reasons.
I always love stories that tear at your heartstrings and The Waltons is the
penultimate show in that catalog. In its 9 years on Television, it tackled such
weighty topics as a death of a beloved Grandpa, the loss of a spouse, the
breaking up and then reunion of a family after a fire, and a myriad of other
topics that we all deal with daily. Through it all, the Waltons showed the
power of kindness and the unconditional love of a family for one another.
That is why this weekend, when I got sick and tired of the
current bickering of our national family, I binged watched the Waltons. I did it initially to improve my mental
wellness. I wanted to remember what good
old American values looked like and how people used to be able to focus on
their commonalties instead of differences.
After watching a few episodes, I realized that the lessons of the
Waltons are not just good for your soul, but for overall wellness. The Waltons are fit, well (but not overly)
fed, love the outdoors, well rested and self-aware. They
are a walking, talking commercial for wellness.
Here are six reasons why:
1. Love of the Outdoors and respect for Nature.
The Waltons spent a good part of their
days outdoors. Whether they were walking
to school, climbing the mountain named after them, or fishing with Yancey
Tucker, they had a healthy respect and love for nature. Breathing the fresh mountain air and enjoying
the sunshine, the Waltons were never in need of a Vitamin D shot or a few
rounds in the gym. Grandpa perhaps said it best, “You can’t own a Mountain, any more than you
can own an Ocean or a piece of Sky. You
hold it in trust. You live on it, you
take life from it, and once your dead, you rest in it.” The Waltons drew life and health from the mountain
and in so doing held their land in a sacred trust.
2. Spend time as a family. Wellness is not all about physical
fitness. It also includes loving someone
and having them love you in return. The
Waltons never tired of spending time with one another. They drew strength from each other. Picking each other up when they were down. John Boy was right when he said, “I’ve done an awful lot of thinking of what
makes this family work, and I think it’s because there’s enough love to go
around and some to spare.” Let’s all spare some love!
3. Eat fresh food in moderate portions. Another key to wellness is eating fresh food
and in moderation. On almost each
episode, there is at least one scene with the family gathered around the table
eating what they had grown or caught.
Also, with so many people in the family, it was hard not to eat in
moderation. And when you did, you always
had Grandma there to make sure you did not eat too much. Note this conversation between Grandpa and
Grandma. Grandpa: “I could do another sandwich” Grandma Walton: “You’re the one at this table who could do a
little starving.” Grandpa “Esther, we
have got to keep our strength up!” Grandma: “Strength? I think you just get weak
carrying all that around”. We all need
that inner Grandma keeping us from eating too much!
4. Love your work, but find time for rest and
play. The Waltons worked hard and
enjoyed their work. They enjoyed their
craft and the satisfaction of creating something with their hands. As John Boy Walton said, “One of the things that I find distressing
about life today is that people don’t really seem to enjoy their work anymore.
When I was growing up on Waltons Mountain my father and my grandfather loved
their work and they instilled a respect for work in each of us.”
But when the Waltons were done work, they found time for relaxation. As the good Lord ordained, they rested on the seventh day. We should all follow these words from John Boy’s journal: “Sunday afternoon on Walton’s Mountain was a time of quiet contemplation We took it easy or else worked at a slower pace and enjoyed a brief respite from the cares that beset us during the week. After we came home from church and had dinner, we permitted ourselves the luxury of play and relaxation”. Find time for play after working at what you love!
5. Get plenty of rest after saying goodnight
to loved ones. Everyone who loves
The Waltons knows where I am going with this one. One of the two keys to wellness is to get
plenty of rest and never, ever go to bed angry at a loved one. No matter how much Jim Bob irritated Mary
Ellen or John Boy struggled to write his next chapter, they always ended the
night with Goodnight Jim Bob, Good Night Mary Ellen, and, of course, Good Night
6. Listen and be Thankful. The two greatest keys to wellness is being
thankful for what you have and to listen and be mindful of the beauty around
you. It is amazing the lessons that you
can learn when you stop and listen to the wonder of nature. As John Boy wrote in his journal, “ I think
if we learned to listen, we could hear all kinds of miracles.” Truer words have never been written. You and this whole world that God has
wrought is a miracle speaking to our hearts!
Stop and take time to listen.
The series focuses on people that strive for goodness over greatness; who eschew money, wealth and fame to care for other people.
I still remember the first day at the first home my wife and
I owned as if it were yesterday. We moved
into an established community in our then sleepy, now rapidly growing
town. The house was 70’s vintage and we
were excited but a little daunted.
We got the home for a good price. But it did come with some things that we needed
to fix. The most urgent being a large
bump in the sidewalk that led to our door.
The bump was due to a tree root that grew under one of the sidewalk panels. It was a hazard especially for my wife who was
pregnant with our second child and our 4-year-old. I was ready to fulfill my duties as a
husband, father and new home owner.
I had managed to lift the sidewalk a bit and was trying my
best to cut off a portion with a small axe I had. I was not making any headway and was sweating
buckets. When out walks a wiry, 60ish
year old man with silver hair, from next door.
I stopped my work for a moment and greeted him. he introduced himself and said, “I am TM your
neighbor and son you looked like you could use some help!” I said, “Hi Tim. I am doing ok, but it is sure good to meet
you”. Which was wrong on two accounts.
First because of his Texas twang, I called him Tim instead
of TM. This part was ok because he thought
he heard TM due to my Jersey roots. Second, I was not Ok. I had worked for an hour and made hardly a
dent on the root.
After 15 minutes, TM returned with his own axe and said “Don,
please let me help you out. I have been
doing this for awhile and we can knock it out together.” Even though I was embarrassed I
relented. And I was glad I did. TM immediately made more headway in 10
minutes then I had done in the last hour and a half. When it was my turn to spell him, he let me
use his axe and technique. We got the
root out and sidewalk level in less than 40 minutes together. It was the start of a great friendship and mentorship.
TM was the perfect example of seeking goodness over
greatness. Born and bred in Leander, he
moved to Cedar Park during its infancy to run one of the Cedar Yards for which the
city was named. He was a great mentor, devoted husband for 68 years, loving
father and a devout church goer. You can
read more about TM here. https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/austin-tx/thomas-pearson-7060600
There are four lessons from the life of TM to follow as we strive for goodness:
Be a Good Neighbor. The help with the tree root was just the first example of TM being neighborly. He was always there with a ready hand and a kind smile to help my wife and I with our expanding young family. With both of us working, we did not always have time to keep the yard up. When he saw us struggling, TM would take the time to mow the side of our yard closest to him or water some of plants when we did not get to it. He also helped us with some ideas on landscaping and brought over some vegetables from his garden. We in return tried to help him out, but never could match his generosity.
Be a Good Family Man. TM was a devoted husband and father. His only daughter was confined to a wheel chair after she was in an accident. He and his wife helped care for her. To make things easier, his daughter and her husband lived with TM. TM had a specially outfitted van and helped with the medical visits and care. He was always cheerful and willing to help. I also never saw a harsh word exchanged between the two couples despite the stress of living under the same roof.
Be a Good Mentor. TM was also always ready to pass the lessons of fatherhood to me. One conversation stands out. I was playing soccer with my son in our backyard and we were getting loud. My son kicked the ball and it sailed into TM’s garden. Instead of a harsh word, he handed over the soccer ball with a smile. I told him I was sorry and asked him if we were bothering him by being too rowdy. TM said, “You do get a bit loud, Don. but I know what you ae doing and you need to play with your son. It is what they remember and how they learn so have at it!” I try to remember that lesson when the two boys that are our new neighbors kick a soccer ball against our car.
Take care of your community. TM also reached out to the larger community. His yard was an example to the whole community. He also put on the best Christmas light show for many years. Showing pride in your home and community inspires the same in your neighbors. TM also sang and played guitar at his church. He used his talents to the joy and betterment of those around him and the world is better for it.
We moved to a new home about a mile away in 2007. Up to the end of our time next door, TM remained
a good neighbor and friend. Even helping
us with fixing up the house for sale. Unfortunately, I did not follow his good
example. I got caught up with work and
growing family and despite living only a mile or two away from him, we did not
go to see him that often. When he passed
in 2016, I did not know until quite a bit later. This is something I will always regret.
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast…
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself.”
I now know what does not love a wall. It is not elves, it is God and his love. Be like TM and not me! Break down the walls of cell phones, work,
and a busy life. Take a sledgehammer to
that wall, much like TM took an axe to that tree root and make time for your
neighbor. And above all, love your
neighbor as yourself!
I had the good fortune in my early adult life to be in the Army. One of the perks in the Army is that you are paid to work-out every day. It was part of your role description and responsibility. An unfit soldier will put himself and his platoon at risk. I therefore had the pleasure and pain both at West Point and later active duty to exercise on a regular basis. Sometimes, it was exhilarating like singing cadence at the top of your lungs while on a battalion run. Other times brutal, such as the yearly Obstacle Course administered by the Department with a Heart at West Point. All of it good, necessary and part of your job description!
This all seemed to change when I left the Army and joined
the consulting world. Early morning
calls replaced morning PT. Long hours on
planes and in front of a desk slinging code took a toll on my health. It seemed in my mind at the time that fitness
and taking care of myself was no longer part of my job description or even
opposed to it. I and companies at that
time did not yet see the impact of wellness on work. The drive for more billable hours and seemingly
higher productivity dominated. This corporate culture (or my take on it)
resulted in weight gain, lost health, and a decline in productivity over time.
Like the Army, corporations have now come to realize that being
fit is a necessary part of the job.
Indeed, wellness is almost as important to the survival and strength of
the company as it is to an Army platoon.
Here are three reasons why:
Improves Decision Making. The enemy of all good decisions is
stress. Exercise and fitness help relieve
stress and keep away fatigue. A simple 20-minute walk will provide a few
minutes to clear your mind, allowing you to focus on the problem on hand. Better yet, get up and walk around the office
when taking a phone call meeting when things get heated. The simple step of
standing up will shake off the cobwebs that tend to collect during back to back
Comradery. The best thing about the Army was the
comradery. One way it was built was through
morning PT. While I am not advocating
each company go on a company run each morning, I am recommending a common
fitness program like Accenture Active. This
program has really helped me to know my colleagues better through fitness
events (MS 150, Annual Veterans Walk, etc.) and programs (active rewards
programs, Fitbit competition). One
example was a random competition that I and some colleagues engaged in on one
Saturday. One of my friends started a
Fitbit weekend competition and although we were all in different states, we
kept apprised with the others’ progress. We all engaged in friendly and sometimes hilarious
banter through the Fitbit app as we each surpassed 10 miles.
on Sick Days. Staying fit helps to
keep you out of the doctor’s office and in yours during working hours. Research conducted at Brigham Young University, the Center for
Health Research at Healthways and the Health Enhancement Research Organization,
suggests unhealthy eating is linked with a 66% increased risk of loss of
productivity while lack of exercise
is associated with a 50% increase risk of low productivity. My experience bears
this out. Before returning to fitness, I
was habitually hit with bronchitis and, at least twice a year, pneumonia. Both resulted in sick days and loss of
productivity when I worked through it.
Since returning to my target weight in Nov. 2015, I have had neither
bronchitis or pneumonia. Not sure how many
days have been saved but approximate it as at least a week a year. And, an increase of productivity on those
days that I should have been recovering and drove through and worked despite my
These are just the top three reasons why you should consider staying fit as part of your role description as a consultant. Increased productivity, esprit de corps and better decisions are just three reasons exercise is an imperative in the working world. Let me close with a cadence I wrote for my team as we run from one project to another:
I recently read Pivot to the Future, a new book by Accenture’s Omar Abbosh, Paul Nunes and Larry Downes. I highly recommend it for all IT professionals and, less expected, for individuals seeking weight loss. The concepts in the book can help those striving for a happier, healthier life!
Pivot to the Future highlights the key elements
of Accenture and its client’s recent success. The key point of the book
is to show how Accenture and other top tier companies are releasing trapped
value by continuously conducting a Wise Pivot. A Wise Pivot is leveraging
the lessons of the old and applying them with the tools of new in releasing
As I thought about it, I
applied this concept in my weight loss journey to build a better, more fit and
engaged me! The new tools that I applied
were the research and technology provided by WW and others to drive into new habits,
new thoughts, and new ideas while leveraging the old!
1. A New Take on Habits – In every bad habit, there is the seed of a good habit. Charles Duhigg explains this in his phenomenal book, The Power of Habit. Each habit consists of a trigger, a method to get a reward, and a reward. The key concept is it is sometimes hard to change the trigger or reward, but you can achieve it in a different way. All you need to do is pivot to a new method of achieving the reward and its manifestation.
One example of how I did this
was my addiction to Diet Coke. Even
though it is called Diet Coke, it is not good for diets (although somewhat
better then leaded coke). I used to drink 4 – 6, 16 ounces of Diet Coke’s
a day, which was not good for my heart condition and weight at the time (358
lbs.). After studying this habit, I
realized the reward I was getting from drinking Diet Coke was an energy boost
to momentarily take away fatigue and satisfying my craving for carbonation. I soon realized my fatigue was attributable to
a lack of hydration. I therefore
switched out Diet Coke with sparkling water that better reduced my fatigue and
hydrated me! Now instead of consuming double or triple my daily allowance of
sodium and caffeine, I am satisfying my fatigue and carbonation fix while
hydrating! I Pivoted to the New through
my examination of the old (read more on this here https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/04/13/fat-to-fit-again-the-power-of-habit/).
2. A New Way of Thinking – Another key element where you can seize on the old to achieve the new is thoughts. We often focus on negative memories when we are dealing with a problem. But likely there is an equally compelling positive experience to counter the negative one. The key is finding the positive and discarding the negative. Two ways to emphasize the positive and disregard the negative is mindfulness and keeping a gratitude journal. These two new practices have often helped me to find a positive example to counter the negative ones racing though my head. Also, it is important to remember that each failure is a lesson to propel you forward! Here is added insights on how to change your thoughts and change your life. https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/07/01/stop-the-negative-talk-and-take-a-walk/
Ideas from the Old Each old idea holds the root of the new!This
is as true in wellness as it is in business.
Here is an example of an old idea turned new idea in health.
Calorie counting has been an element of weight loss ever since people have sought to lose weight. However, we have subsequently learned that not all calories are created equal. A calorie of protein satisfies more than a calorie of saturated fat. Likewise, it once was thought that a good dose of fiber could counter the ill effects of sugar (not true).
The way I blend the old idea of calorie counting with the newest research on wellness is to use WW’s Smart Points. Since I began, 4 years ago, WW has changed their point system three times; each time incorporating the new research of weight loss with the old discipline of watching what you eat. Each change built on the former one and research to build a better path to wellness. Instead of chasing fads, I believe mixing the new with the proven tenets of the past to build a better future!
You too can change the old you
into the future healthier you. Use these
three concepts to create a healthier you and a better world.
I decided to repost this to remind all Americans it is more important to be good not great. Right now we are neither. But we need to be good. To get our people and allies and protect them. Let’s be good even if we are not great!
A few nights ago, I had one of those dreams. You know the ones that I am talking about. A dream so vivid, so poignant that it seems more than real. A dream that wakes you up at 4 AM with a smile on your face and thoughts rushing so fast that you can barely keep up as you type on your cell phone in the bathroom with door shut so as not to disturb your wife. A dream of important messages heaven sent to shape your life and to pass on to others.
In this dream, I was again in my Grandpop’s house on Melrose
Avenue in Trenton, NJ. And there was my
Grandpop rocking on the porch. The
picture below is of that very same house that my sister Lori texted me today
while she was visiting Jersey, reinforcing the dream’s importance! As we walked together and talked in each of
the rooms, the memories of times shared together came flooding back. And there was an underlying message tying all
those memories together. My Grandpop –
John William Henry – was a good man.
I say a good man, not great man for a reason. The best men are good men not great men. They dole out love instead of striving for
power or money. They love their country
and their God. They care more about
friends and less about prestige. They
take time for fun, the Phillies, and to sing Irish songs. They look like Fred McMurray on My Three Sons
and remind you of Jimmy Stewart on It’s A Wonderful Life. That
was my Grandpop! And here are the four
lessons that I learned from that dream, his life and my Grandpop’s home and
Take time for Family
and Friends (The Porch) – Grandpop loved to rock on his porch and look out
on Melrose Avenue. Two memories came
back to me as I again sat on the porch. I
remembered how he would spend hours on the porch during the evening and
weekends talking to and visiting with his neighbors down the street. Some 50 years later, I can remember their
names, their faces and believe it or not their homes. During that dream, I visited with them again. Mrs. Curr a widower who gave us tea and
cookies in her home as she talked about her garden. Mrs. Heipel who lived on the end house on
Melrose talking about her daughter who had recently moved. The Toronto’s telling stories of my mother
when they were young. I was happy for
the friendship again and a little sad since my porch faces the back yard and I
so seldom visit with my neighbors (or remember their names).
The other thing I remember is how gentle and good my Grandpop was. He was no wimp having boxed when he was younger. But he knew how to calm his Grandkids when they were cranky and tired. I again saw him rocking my brother David as he sang “Tora a Lora” in a voice not as resonant as Bing’s but close to perfect due to its love. And as I saw this image again in my mind’s eye, I thought back that although I spent quality time with my kids, I was not as calm or soothing as that gentle man who rocked my brother asleep
Unconditionally and For Eternity (the Living Room) – We came in from the
porch and into the living room with its furniture entrenched in the fifties. We sat on the couch watching the Phillies
like so many times before. We both loved
the Phillies, especially Mike Schmidt (Schmidty as we called him). In walked my Uncle who had gone missing for several
months on another binge as he had done so many times before. He was the ultimate prodigal son. He asked to come back to the home and
Grandpop with tears in his eyes took him back.
And I thought to the times when I turned my back on others in need
because I was too busy and vowed to do better.
The dream changed again to a different moment. This one happened outside my other Uncle’s
house in Morrisville, PA but in the dream, it was in the living room. My family was visiting, and my Grandpop
walked in with a bag of donuts as he did on most Sundays. But this time it was different. It was several weeks after my Grand mom’s
passing and Grandpop had returned to the donut tradition for the first time
without Grand mom. I again saw the tear
from my Grandpop’s eye when my brother asked where is Grand mom? I was again a bit mad at my younger brother
since I was older. And I thought on how
my Grandpop who was still a young man of 50 when Grand mom passed, yet he never
dated seriously or married again. He
would visit his wife’s grave several times a week keeping the love of her in
his heart for the rest of life. And I
imagined them again holding hands throughout eternity and I vowed to love my
wife like Grandpop.
Be Frugal with Yourself,
Lavish with Others (the Phone room). I wanted to stay with both my Grandparents again,
but my dream switched to the phone room.
I was not sure if the room was a formal dining room or a second living
room, but I remember it as the phone room due to the rotary phone that rested
at the end of a long hutch. Another
thing that rested on the long hutch was hundreds of coupons. Having lived in the Depression, my Grandpop
and his brothers were frugal in saving money.
I again saw my Grandpop and Great Uncle Don talking about the latest
coupon that they found for Acme. My
Grandpop would drive to 5 or 6 stores to use the coupons to save a few
bucks. Besides being frugal on the
groceries, he did not spend much on himself.
He seldom traveled or bought expensive clothes or items but reveled in
the simple pleasures such as the occasional Phillies games. He was frugal with himself but lavish with
others. As my dream progressed, I
thought back on the time he bought my brothers and I a complete Lionel Train
set on Christmas. And how happy he was
when our eyes lighted up. Then I thought
back on the many times I had splurged on the latest iPhone or Uber Eats instead
of focusing on the ones around me. I
seldom use a coupon even though they are digital now and can easily be obtained
on the cell phone I have. I vowed to
spend less on myself and more on others.
Be Thankful for the
Simple Pleasures and Family (the Kitchen).
The dream now moved into the
kitchen and I saw the big yellow wooden kitchen table where we often sat. As I sat down at the table, I looked across
to a little stand when my Grandpop kept one of his prized possessions – a Hot
Dog Zapper! I do not know if they have
them anymore, but my Grandpop sure did take pleasure in it. He would invite us to sit down and put each
of the six hot dogs on two prongs at either end of the hot dog. He would turn on the machine and after a few
minutes of zapping they were cooked (and most often split open a bit!). He again laughed as he took them off and gave
one to each of us around the table.
As we ate, more of my extended family gathered around and I
realized the time had shifted to St. Patrick’s Day. I again saw my Great Uncles (both cops), my
Uncle John and his family, Uncle Gary and my family. Each of the men had a Schlitz beer or two (I
told you Henrys are frugal!) as we went through a chorus of Irish Songs – Mrs.
Murphy’s Chowder, Come Meet a Donovan, The Same Old Shillelagh, and of course
When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. And I
thought. We often take for granted the
simple pleasure of singing with family and friends. We forget the expensive items we bought after
a few years. But I can sing verbatim
every one of those songs to this day and see the hot dog zapper in my mind’s
eye. Just before I left this part of the
dream, one more simple, glorious pleasure occurred. My Dad did not know the Irish songs of his
wife’s family but wanted to participate.
I again heard him sing “The Old Rugged Cross”, his favorite song and the
one we played at his funeral. As I wept,
I vowed to spend more time with family and the simple pleasure of life.
And as I woke, one thought ran through my head. Be good, not great! Strive for friendship not fame. Make memories not money to live on through
The key to improving your health and losing weight is your environment. We in the 21st century live in a toxic environment. Artificial food, false friends, and feelings of discontent lead to stress, weight gain and self-medication. To embark on a journey toward health, we need to put away the fast food, vitriol and anxiety of everyday living to embrace real food, real experiences, mindfulness and thankfulness.
I know I lived in that environment up until a few years back
and experienced its negative consequences.
With ready access to Quarter Pounders, Diet Cokes, and M&Ms, I doubled
my size and diminished my disposition.
These unhealthy eating practices were exacerbated by too much face time at
work and Facebook for leisure. The
result was an unhealthy, grumpy middle-aged man who could not walk around the
block. Something had to change! Only when I started to change my environment
did I change my life!
There were three aspects to my environment that I decided to
change in January 2015. Weighing more
than all but three of the heaviest players in the NFL with a goods deal less muscle
tone and height, I had to take the following actions to change my environment
and restore my hearth:
Changed my food environment. The first aspect that I set out to change was
my pantry. There were several nemeses
that I had to swap out. The first was
Ice Cream. I was an absolute ice cream
fanatic. So much so that I created an
acronym for my Ice Cream addiction – ICR.
This is how it is used. Once my
kids could drive, I would call out – “Hey, Kyle can you go on an ICR. Get me a large M&M blizzard and get
something for everyone else.” ICR if
you have not figured out yet is Ice Cream Run and it supplemented the ice cream
I already had in the freezer. In
addition to Ice Cream, I kept a pantry well stocked of chips, peanut M&Ms,
and a big 1-gallon plastic container of mixed nuts. All available for ready access whenever I
became stressed. This had to change so I
sought out alternatives.
I initially replaced my DQ Blizzard with Skinny Cow Ice Cream sandwiches and eventually Non-Fat Greek yogurt with Banana’s (I still stay away from Ice Cream totally since it is a trigger food). I replaced peanut M&M’s overtime with WW Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie flavored bars that are individually wrapped, the same calories of a two peanut M&M’s and less likely to gouge on by the cupful! I replaced chips with a crunchy, healthy alternative that absorbs Salsa just as well – Broccoli. I dealt with my Mixed Nut affliction in a similar way that I did Peanut M&Ms. I swapped out the tub full of Mixed Nuts from Costco with individual packets of smaller size that are less likely to gouge on in fits of stress eating. These and other food changes got me one third of the way to a better environment.
2. Changed my social and work environment. The next thing I needed to do was change up how I spent my time. During the day and into the early evening I was spending time locked to a desk in conference calls or directing my team. At night, I read the latest political debates late into the night on Facebook. Both resulted in too much work time and not enough downtime. Additionally, the constant diatribe of uncivility on social media was stressing me out. I could feel the cortisol racing through my veins as I dealt with the next work issue or latest political debate.
I decided to take two measures to change my
social and work environment. First, I vowed
to get up and move for 10 minutes each hour and to block out 1 hour for working
out in the morning. Additionally, I
vowed to leave no later than 7 PM unless the world was ending. At first, I thought these actions would
detract from my work effort, but I was wrong.
Instead, it fostered communication between my team and I and provided me
with the respite to come up with better actions.
The second thing I did was make a determined effort to spend less time on social media and to spend that time on positive feeds. I accomplished this in two ways. I monitored and reduced my time reading social media. When I could not reduce it as much as I hoped, I decided to change my feeds and to listen to mindful podcasts. I actively sought out positive Facebook groups such as Spreading Positivity and liked their content. Over time, my Facebook feeds have changed because of this determined effort from politics to positive messages. Many of these serve as inspirations to my blogs! I have switched my environment from Trump to Tranquility!
3. Changed my internal environment. The most important environment to change to get healthy is the internal dialogue running through your head. The change in the social and work environment helped a lot in this endeavor, but I was still having negative thoughts. To counter them, I took up meditation and mindfulness. I have used the Headspace application as well as the Christian Meditation blog to get mind off the problems running in my head to the progress I am making in my heart!
Changing your environment is the first step to changing to
the new you! I did it and so can you!
Last Thursday I had the pleasure to attend the Austin Chamber of Commerce Business Awards with some of my Accenture colleagues from the Austin office. We were finalists for two awards – the Employee Wellness and Environment award for large offices. Here is the group at our table.
Smiles abounded at the table even though we did not win. Why were the smiles so broad? I can’t speak for my friends, but I can speak for myself. I was smiling because Accenture’s wellness programs helped save my life!
This may sound like an overstatement. I promise you it is not. Before I became an active participant in Accenture’s wellness program I was on a downward trajectory. Too much stress and not taking care of myself drove up my weight and ruined my fitness.
The bottom hit at halftime at my son’s senior homecoming game. My son was nominated as Homecoming King and I and my wife were to escort him on the football field. Carrying over 300 lbs. on a hot Texas evening, my calves became so tight I could barely move. I had to momentarily move behind the bench and stretch out my legs. Luckily, just before I took the field my legs stretched out enough so that I could hobble onto the field.
My wife and son were kind but that was a close call with my health and only one of many. I had to do something. So, I explored Accenture’s wellness programs and they came to the rescue. Specifically, these five programs helped me to lose over 170 pounds, restored my health, and improved my outlook on life and ability to handle stress.
Wellness check-up – Each year our company provides for a free wellness checkup for employees and their spouses. The wellness checkup is followed up by recommendations and assistance as well as a discount on your insurance. The wellness checkup indicated that I had a health issue. I was contacted and followed up with a more complete physical (also discounted through the company) that verified the issue and provided the proper diagnosis. With the treatment prescribed, my shoe size shrunk back down two sizes. It also helped provide me with enough energy to seriously attack my weight problem.
Employee Discount Program for Weight loss program – I now had the immediate health issue under control, so I looked around for a weight loss program. I was toying around with a liquid-based diet since it worked in the short term in the past when an email appeared in my email box offering half off on Weight Watchers for a year. With that single email and discount, my life was forever changed. Those who regularly follow my blog know the impact Weight Watcher’s has had on my life; leading me to lose over 170 pounds in a year and a half. The Why’s of Weight Watchers! I still attend every week. But the first step to this life changing program was the Accenture discount email that I received on January 1, 2015 (Yes, I kept the email as a memory!).
Accenture Active – Another program that was key to my transformation was Accenture Active. I was one of three leadership journeyers during the first year of the program. In this role, I was afforded weekly sessions with the other journeyers and a fitness coach. In addition, I had the opportunity to blog on a weekly basis as a means of encouragement to me and to others. Also, the program provides a Fitbit to each employee and their spouses as well as a program called JIFF that allows you to get prizes for meeting wellness goals and tasks. With the Fitbit and the encouragement of JIFF rewards, I went from being able to walk 1000 steps a day to 10,000 steps or more daily.
Mindfulness Training – With my fitness on the right trajectory, I had to tackle the underlying problem for my health issues in the first place – my reaction to stress. Accenture again came through with a program. My boss worked with a local company to provide mindfulness training for leaders. In the class, I learned the practice of meditation and mindfulness that I use daily. I may still have some moments, but this program has really helped me in focusing on the now and not worrying unnecessarily about the future.
Truly Human Campaign – I had my head and body half way in order, so I now had to turn to my heart. Accenture has a program for that also called “Truly Human”. It provides programs and advice on how to leverage the unique talents of individuals. It provides exercises and tips on how to be kind to both yourself and your colleagues. I wrote about the importance of taking care of your heart as well as your body in this previous blog. Feed your soul, heal your body The Truly Human campaign helped reinforce my daily practice of thankfulness journaling and capturing positive events in a happiness journal.
I want to thank Accenture for my new lease on life. To end, I will close with a catchphrase from my time at Accenture Active – Life’s Attractive When Your Accenture Active!
This is the first of a series of Father’s day blogs. The leader that I learned the most from (which is probably similar to a lot of you) was my Dad – Big D. Yes believe it or not I am Little D or Donnie, Jr. to my family . Here is a picture of Big D and Little D.
One of my Dad’s favorite sayings was you have to “Get the Iron Out the Door”. Coincidentally, that is the root of the title of the Quarterly Professional Services newsletter, “Getting the Iron Out the Door”. Two of the lesson I learned from Big D relates to getting the iron the door.
What is the Iron? Where is the Door? The iron refers to large turbines that reside in dams to generate electricity. Big D was a steelworker/machinist and later the manager of Turbocare in Houston, Texas. These turbines would come in the “door” of Turbocare from all over the world (Columbia, US, India, etc.) for maintenance or emergency repair. As soon as the turbine came in the door, it was Big D’s responsibility to drive his team to get the repair done as quickly as possible while fixing the root problem and maintaining quality. You can imagine the pressure to get these turbines back repaired. They powered cities like Detroit or Bogota. Every day that the turbine spent being repaired, part of the electrical capacity powering the city was out. A brownout could occur or even a blackout. In addition, they could only be carried by a train or ship and for some of these places the ship or train schedules where tight.
Now “Getting the Iron Out the Door” did not mean rushing around and slapping a fix in, as Big D explained to me. It was too costly to send a half repaired turbine out the door. The shipping costs alone are enormous. You first needed to physically and electronically inspect the turbine to determine the root cause of the problem which was usually a blade bent a fraction of an inch. Then and only then you could precision machine or weld the blade or rotor with the problem. Lastly and most importantly, you needed to test the balance of the turbine to precise specification. The whole while the clock was ticking and the ship or train was waiting. If you made the right decisions on balancing speed with quality, the Iron went Out the Door and did not come back. See the picture of a turbine going out the door of Turbocare below.
How do I take Big D’s lesson in leadership to my life as in Accenture overseeing IT engagements? Maybe our systems in Public Service do not power cities but they help feed hungry children (SNAP), keep a family afloat in an emergency (TANF), and help care for people with urgent medical conditions (Medicaid). Our job each day is to “Get the Program Checked In”, so we can meet the deadlines of our client. In so doing, we cannot sacrifice quality for speed. The “shipping costs” using our analogy are families not being served. How do IT developers like Big D see the clock ticking but not hear it, “Get the Iron Out the Door” without it coming back in.
Do a careful analysis to find the root cause of the code problem or a careful impact analysis to perform a comprehensive design. This is analogous to finding the blade bent by a hair or the hair line fracture in the Turbine.
Next follow the design and analysis precisely. Use precision code and tools to fix the root cause of the problem or make the new functionality first time right!
Lastly, test your application to specification. A program not to specification will be subject to warranty (come back in the door) or worst yet cause a family to miss the benefits for which they are eligible.
I miss Big D each and every day. Let us heed his words of leadership well and Get the Iron Out the Door and not allow it back in!
At basically the nadir of my 50+ years, I decided to turn my health and my life around somehow, someway. I did not get all the way at once. I still had the bout with my colleague when I was gasping for breath after climbing a set of two sets of stairs. Read it here. But at least at that point I decided to do something, somehow. This is the story of how I went from Fat to Fit Again by killing the 7 deadly habits that explained in my most recent previous blog.
Before I discuss that let me talk to you a bit about Habits. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg linked here The Power of Habit is a must read for anyone that is seeking to change the habits that caused them to gain weight (or any other nefarious thing). I listened to the audiobook half way through my 178 lbs. weight loss journey (wish I read it earlier).
If you are struggling with any bad behavior DROP EVERYTHING AND READ IT NOW! The proposition from the book is we are creatures of habit. The book can be summed up by this quote “There is nothing you cannot do if you get the habits right!” On any given day, you do at least 40% of anything by habit. For example, you get up, your breath is sour, and you smell so you brush your teeth and take a shower. Depending on what is more important to you (I brush my teeth first), your habit is consistently the same. Every habit is triggered by an event (halitosis from sleeping with your mouth closed), followed by the habit (brushing my teeth for 45.7 seconds followed by mouth wash) to gain a reward (the ability to hopefully kiss my wife without her turning away!).
First you must realize your trigger, then the habit to give your reward. If you can realize the trigger (sometimes it is deceptive so use root cause analysis) and the resulting reward, you can change the intervening habit to get a similar award. We are not Pavlov’s dog, but we are sure close. The key things with humans is you can discern the trigger, change the habit, and earn the same or similar award. So now I will tell you how I dealt with the 7 deadly habits that changed me from Fit to Fat again. In all seven, I list the bad habits I had, the trigger that caused it, the habit that I changed and the reward that I still got even though the habit was changed.
Bad Habit: Binge Eating of Peanut M&Ms. New Habit: Eating filling fruit. I told in the last blog how I would drink cup full of Peanut M&M’s to sustain me from long nights of driving my team to create software. I changed this habit in three ways. First, I tracked the number of Weight Watcher points associated with a cup of peanut M&M’s (27 WW Smart Points per cup– more than 4/5 my daily allowance). Then I figured out the trigger. It was at approximately 3 hours after lunch when I felt tired and needed to get out of the chair. The habit was to walk to the front desk and fill a coffee cup with Peanut M&Ms and the reward was a burst of energy from sugar. What I did once I realized the trigger and the reward, I just changed the habit to get a similar award. An Apple has natural sugar but is zero points. So, I walked a similar distance to the break room and grabbed an apple.
Bad Habit: Overworking New Habit: Delegating and mentoring. One of the main reasons that I gained weight is I tried to do everything myself and ended up working 16+ days. The trigger was an overwhelming sense of responsibility to my job and the satisfaction of a successful project. Beyond the ancillary consequence of gaining weight since I put my health secondary, I was not fully utilizing my team or giving them a sense of accomplishment on their own. So chiefly for selfish reasons, I realized I could no longer be an iron man and started to delegate. I adopted an approach of Mentoring and not Mangling with dictates and proclamations. This not only gave me time to focus on my health, it also allowed us to accomplish the mission, thus fulfilling my sense of responsibility.
Bad Habit: Not Sleeping New Habit: Sleeping more (but still not enough!). Delegating helped me to get more sleep. But I also took other measures. Instead of working or listening to books on one of the many plane trips that I took, I did a mindfulness exercise (in my case as a Catholic I said a Rosary), then calmed I went to sleep on the plane. Also, exercise helped to induce me to get more sleep. I also monitored my sleep habits with a Fitbit. Despite all these efforts (and another effort I will mention later), I was only able to up my average sleep to 6.2 hours from a paltry 5.1. But it is progress. Sleep by the way is one of the most important factors to weight loss. Almost every week I failed to lose weight on my weight loss journey it was due to a lack of sleep.
Bad Habit: Stressing out New Habit: Working out. Stress was one of the triggers to so many of my bad habits. Depression and binge eating are too in particular. There are two ways I countered the trigger of stress. When I felt it coming on, I made sure I planned a Beer Walk after work. That is where I would make a 2-3-mile trek to the Banger’s Bar that is just off trail in Austin Town lake. I would have a beer and then walk back. Here is a picture of me returning from my most recent beer walk and enjoying an Austin sunset! The other thing I do is I sing Karaoke with an app called Sing Smule. I don’t do it in the office (well at least not normally). But singing a few tunes is a great way to get the stress and the fat invoking Cortisol down!
Bad Habit: Not going to the doctors New Habit: Doing exactly what the doctor told me. In my previous blog, I talked about how I skipped going to the doctors because of work and paid for it. I paid for it in two ways. I had Sleep Apnea and an undiagnosed condition that caused me to retain 25+ lbs. of fluid. Once I finally went to the doctors, I kept going. And I did what they told me. That meant living with a CPAP for a year and taking it to all my favorite Midwest states for work (don’t try to get distilled water at midnight in Topeka). I also took my meds. These two simple things took off 25+ lbs. in water weight and reduced my shoes size by 21/2 sizes.
Problem: Depression Antidote: Being Thankful and Grieving. I had a lot of things go wrong in 2012 most importantly losing my Mother – my last parent. I drove on and tried to work myself out of the grief. Bad idea. After a year of trying that, I pulled myself out of my funk by taking time to grieve and being thankful for all the good things that were coming my way (Kid’s graduation, daughter’s wedding). When you are sad, look for something for which to be thankful but more importantly take time to remember the person you lost! Here is the blog I wrote about the thankfulness I felt on another sad moment. Life’s Game Changers – The Power of Thanksgiving
Bad Habit: Not drinking water and drinking Coke. New Habit: Drinking flavored Sparkling Water. This sounds weird, I do not like drinking water. But I love carbonated drinks. Once I realized I was drinking a lot of calories, I decided to try zero calorie, sparkling water. To save money, I got a soda stream machine and I buy flavor pods available in the store. Water along with sleep.
And there you have it. I changed my habits and transformed my life. 178 lbs. gained and then lost and never, ever coming back again. You can go from Fat to Fit like me with the Power of Habit.