The Real Art of Racing in the Rain

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 recently departed wife Debra, and their dogs – Alvin, Jasmine, Zooey.

Three dogs ready to race!

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 two weeks ago.  You can read more about Debra’s passing in this link. http://obituaries.acremation.com/o/grier/44141/?fbclid=IwAR13i5PLQAHaRBC57t9KCHuu0ZcY4DzbH95BjYpVd7iZS7ql-umZeC3nu6I

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.   To me it will always mark the moment that Debra passed and reveals  the true nature of her kind soul. 

“I saw 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, Debra and their dogs.  Race on through the rain and love unconditionally.  Turn away from the wall and toward new life through love!

Love’s Everlasting Kiss

Love does not come easy,

it’s often 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.

Listen to Learn and Lose!

Photo by jonas mohamadi from Pexels

Listen to Lose
Photo by jonas mohamadi from Pexels
Listen to Lose!

When people start on a weight-loss journey,  they talk too much.  They talk about the latest diet they are trying or the latest fitness craze that they are meaning to get to tomorrow.  But talk is cheap.  You need to listen to lose! Listen to your heart, listen to your body, and  listen to others.

  1. Listen to your heart. The you that you are meant to be is one heart beat away.  So, listen what your heart is telling you to do.  Do not turn to things that stress you out.  The latest fitness craze does nothing if your heart is not in it.  It just stresses you out and will cause you to stop when you are discouraged.  Instead, do what you love.  Also, be thankful for what you have.  A thankful heart is a stress free, restful heart.  Stress is often the reason for losing sleep and gaining weight.  Lastly, strive for a goal that inspires you.  Your heart needs to be in it to win it!
  2. Listen to Your Body.  Your body knows what it wants.  That is the reason too many hamburgers and fries give you indigestion.    Feed your body with the good stuff.  Choose vegetables and fruit over candy and sugar.  Remember, just like listening to someone, you must listen to your body closely to understand what it is saying.  You may think is  saying I need sleep when in  reality your body is saying I need to exercise and get energy, or I am dehydrated, and I need water. 
  3. Listen to Others. Some people are struggling as you are and may have caught on to something new that you have yet to discover.  Others may have won their battle with weight and have inspiring stories and important teachings to tell.  Also, when you have met your target, listen to others to pass on your lessons and to provide you with a reason to stay on track. 

Like all things, you learn more through listening than talking.  So close your mouth, open your ears to Listen, Learn and Lose!

The Fab Four of Fitness and Football

This is the third in my blog series Heroes in Health.  The first two in this series (linked below) examined two recent heroes who have helped me and others on our path to health. https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/06/10/heroes-of-health-series-episode-2-corey-the-cycling-king/ https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/05/13/heroes-in-health-episode-1-mother-of-weight-loss-and-a-freestyle-life/

On this one I reach back almost 40 years to examine the lessons learned from four men who were then as they are now on the cutting edge of fitness and health: the four football coaches of Northern Burlington Regional High School in the late seventies – Coaches Charlie Pirrello, Hank Kearns, Carmen Pastore, and Gary Smith.  Beyond football, these four men taught me more than fitness.  They taught me and others how to be men, to put team before self, and to judge on merit not title, race, or creed.

Coach Charlie Pirrello, the head coach of the fab four is a legend in NJ High School Football.  The 2018 inductee to the NJ Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame he has led 7 teams to the State Championship in his 50 years of coaching.  The first of these was led by my 1981 class that won on the last play of the game.  Unfortunately, I had moved to Texas after my Junior season and missed it.  But I still felt part of the team and loved seeing my quarterback (I was a Center), Chris Warrington throwing the winning pass! 

Hank the Tank Kearns, the Defensive Coordinator and JV Coach, was equally a big influence in my life.  His nickname Tank was an understatement; he was more like the Hulk.  I still remember when the linebackers were not deploying correct tackling form, he jumped in there without pads and flattened the running back!  Hank is still a fitness inspiration to me.  I follow he, Coach Pirrello and Pastore on Facebook and Hank is either biking or doing some other fitness activity. 

Carmen Pastore was the Offensive Coordinator. A former college football quarterback Coach Pastore helped orchestrate our vaunted Veer Option Offense that first came into vogue in 1975.  It was cutting edge then as it is now. 

Last was Coach Smith who taught the backs.  My brother’s coach, I remember him for his humor.  One day I went up to look at the depth chart.  Instead of seeing Donnie and Gary Grier the names on the list where Abnormal and Normal Grier.  He gave me the nickname Abnormal because of my intensity, the fact that I was on the line, and the way I yelled at the top of my lungs “Huddle” when gathering the team.  I wore that name like a badge of honor since I was a gruff lineman and linebacker while my brother was a defensive and offensive back.

The Fab Four are great coaches and leaders of men for these four and many other reasons:

  1. Constantly striving for excellence through learning and adapting.   The coaches of NBC were constantly looking for new ways and techniques to get better.  I looked forward to each summer training sessions when the coaches would return with the latest fitness techniques.  Two I remember distinctly are the Total Fatigue Weightlifting Circuit and interval running with proper technique.  Total Fatigue included completing a circuit of weightlifting that went from largest muscles (legs) to smallest muscles (triceps).  I still do the regime today since it has become one of the key approaches to gain muscle mass and endurance.  Back then it was new.  They also emphasized negative training (2 seconds up and at least 4 seconds down).  Next was interval training where we first practiced our running form (I still attempt to run like Hank the Tank taught me to this day) before completing sprint intervals.  One last thing that sticks in my mind is there willingness to adapt when something did not work. One year our football camp included three a days and we really worked hard – overly hard.  The coaches realized that we worked out too much resulting in a few injuries.  The next year they adapted when they added a rest period in Coach Pastore’s pool which resulted in a better record. 
  2.  Inspiration is as important as perspiration.  Each year the coaches made a playbook that we needed to memorize from cover to cover and guard with our lives.  The secret sauce of the playbook was not just the cutting-edge plays from the Veer Option, it also contained fitness and nutrition tips and life lessons.  I wish I still had that playbook because the quotes were so inspiring.  But you can get a good feel for them by reading Coach Pirrello’s Twitter feed.  Here is one recent one.  “I am your coach. When you get discouraged, I will encourage you. When you come up short, I want to help you come up big next time. And I will never give up on you even if you give up on yourself.” Charlie Pirrello.  He never gave up on us and today I still draw inspiration from these four great men. 
  3. Judge each man by his merit.  The late Seventies and early Eighties was a difficult time to coach.  The drug culture was in vogue.  In addition, there was sometimes difficulties in race relations.  NBC had one of the most diverse teams in the state having McGuire Air Force base in our school.  Also because of McGuire Air Force Base, we had new people coming into team each year.  I remember distinctly the day Willie Drewery joined my class in my Sophomore year.  Unknown to the program at the time, he was welcomed in with open arms and became a linchpin. He later went on to a Professional Career.   The coaches never differentiated on race, creed or color. All that matter was your football ability and the content of your character.  One way they enforced this is making the team hold hands in the huddle and by teaming up weight training partners from different races and cultures.  Lastly, our pre-game ritual included listening to equal doses of Bruce Springsteen and Chic that had a big hit at that time.  In this way, we avoided the fighting that went on in some of our rival schools.
  4. Care for Each Player.  The coaches spent time with each player if they gave a 100% and strove to be a team player.  My brother was a football talent, playing Varsity his sophomore year.  I was less of a talent playing second team Varsity and first team JV.  Even so the coaches never neglected me and worked with me to make me the best player I could be.  ,They also were always there for you.  I still have the note from Coach Pirrello to my new football coach when I had to leave for Texas for my Senior Year.   I still choke up reading it and the care Coach P gave.  I was never going to break Franco Harris’s Freshman Rushing record like my brother, but he and his coaching staff still treated me with the same respect and care.  To this day, one of my greatest awards is winning MVP for the Junior Varsity team my Junior Year.  To me, winning that award for NBC was the highlight of my high school athletic career and one of the highlights of my life. 

One last thing to say.  Charlie was not only my coach.  He was more importantly my World History teacher and one of the best teachers I ever had.  He was just as inspirational and engaging in class as he was on the field. 

40 years is a long time and a blink of the eye.  Whatever the years, the fab four still shape the man I am today!

Fitness: A Corporate and Personal Responsibility

Accenture fitness walk to raise money for Vets
Memorial Walk for Veterans

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.

Luckily the corporate culture and my thought processes have recently changed.  Corporate wellness programs, such as Accenture’s Truly Human Campaign are now focused on fitness and the human aspects of work.  To read about this campaign, look at my prior blog here: https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/09/04/five-accenture-wellness-programs-that-saved-my-life/

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:

  1.  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 calls. 
  2. Builds 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.
  3. Cuts Down 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 illness.

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:

Everywhere we go,

people want to know,

who we are,

where we come from,

so, we tell them,

we are Accenture,

Pivot Wise Accenture,

Future forward Accenture,

focus on the human Accenture.

Hooah!

The Ballad of Big D

He was larger than life, his name – Big D,
Born with a heart of gold for all to see,
He loved and fought for his family,
A hero and a teacher, he was everything to me.

Water’s for tear drops, Dickel’s for drinking,
you always knew what Big D was thinking.
Whether at a baseball game or Union hall,
There was never a doubt on what side he’d fall.

Chorus: Big D was not perfect, but he showed perfect love,
In the right direction, you didn’t need to shove,
He always led, never followed,
His pride he at times swallowed,
Guided by a nudge from the Lord above.

He drank a little, cared a lot,
His friends, Big D never forgot,
Luby, Pete, Andy, and John,
None of them forgotten, all of them gone.

We lost him that day, out on the land,
And what followed seem like it was planned,
For God conspired to bring forth new life,
Baby calves to ease the sorrow of his kids and wife.

Chorus: Big D was not perfect, but he showed perfect love,
In the right direction, you didn’t need to shove,
He always led, never followed,
His pride he at times swallowed,
Guided by a nudge from the Lord above

Bridge: Love endures, Faith abounds,
In the silent solace that was found,
From the last story he told his family ,
We love you forever, Our Dad Big D.

Chorus: Big D was not perfect, but he showed perfect love,
In the right direction, you didn’t need to shove,
He always led, never followed,
His pride he at times swallowed,
Guided by a nudge from the Lord above.

If you want to read more about the stories behind the ballad read these blogs on Big D:

https://weightlossleadership.com/2017/12/28/lifes-game-changers-the-power-of-thanksgiving/

https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/04/04/the-lessons-i-leaned-when-running-away/

https://weightlossleadership.com/2017/12/26/lessons-from-leaders-how-to-get-the-iron-out-the-door-and-not-have-it-come-back-in/

https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/06/17/a-fathers-day-tribute-the-one-song-that-always-makes-me-cry/

Pivot to the Future You!

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 trapped value.   

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/

3.  New 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.

5 Melodies to Melt the Pounds

Counting calories, exercising, and mindfulness are all common tools for weight loss.  But one critical tool that people sometimes fail to consider is music.  The right song at the right time can drive through that last mile.  It can take your mind away from the stress and away from late night refrigerator raids.  Lastly, a timely tune can inspire you through the hardship, the self-loathing and to a new you.

I can testify to the power of music in curbing the calories and the negative thoughts.  I could name 100’s of songs that kept me going in my 170 lbs. weight loss journey.  More importantly, music has been instrumental in keeping the weight off. 

Each person is different.  My songs may not be your songs but here are my Top 5. 

  1. Theme from Rocky – This one is my favorite song for two scenarios.  First, it is hard to stop going no matter how tired you are when you here the first note of the Rocky theme.  Many times, I was on my last leg only to go another mile after hearing Rocky.  Second, I have a food strategy based on the Rocky theme.  The equivalent of an Apollo Creed, first round punch is my weekend eating habits.   In my case, I tend to eat too many Smart Points (unhealthy calories for you not in WW) on Saturday after a long week and my Saturday weigh-in.  I usually end up with very few weekly Smart Points by Sunday.  That is when the first chime of the Rocky song comes into my head.  The rest of the week I eat healthy, exercise and gain back some of the weekly Smart Points.  The whole time that I am doing the Rocky strategy the tune is running in the back of my mind.  If you want to use this strategy, here is a link to the Rocky Theme. https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=liPSTWdYiKs
  2. Don’t Stop Believing, Journey – There were many reasons for me to give up when I first started losing weight.  Tipping the scale at over 350 lbs. with sleep apnea and a heart condition to boot, it was hard to believe I would ever turn it around.  Roadblocks and obstacles stood around every corner.  But,  that is when I would crank up Journey and run through the stirring chorus “Don’t stop believin’, Hold on to that feelin” .  The feeling and dream that I held on to was I could again be healthy.   NEVER stop believing! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcjzHMhBtf0
  3. One Thing Remains, Jesus Culture – This may be the least traditional weight loss song, but to me this is the most important.  Self-hatred and fear were two things I had to overcome both in getting healthy and life in general.  When you don’t know were to turn, you should seek love.  To me,  Jesus is love.  And as the song goes “His love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me”.  This has become my favorite song when facing the negative thoughts and fears running through my mind.  I am forever grateful for our Life Teen Minister for introducing it to me.  Another benefit of this song is I sing it so loud when it comes on that I am sure to drop a pound or two.  For you have not had an opportunity to hear it, here is a link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_KXsMCJgBQ
  4. Shake it Off, Taylor Swift  – My cycling instructor Corey often mashes up songs with those of Taylor Swift to inspire us.  He says that Taylor Swift goes with everything and he is right, especially when it comes to weight loss.  Besides the song being so danceable that you must move, its lyrics are compelling.  To paraphrase, if you have a bad day, instead of eating a bag of M&M’s just shake if off!  I included a link just in case you were heading to the refrigerator now to drown your day! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfWlot6h_JM
  5. YMCA, Village People –  This is a no brainer.  First, it talks about going to the gym!  So,  if you are thinking about staying on the couch, just turn this oldie up.  Second, it is even more danceable than Shake It Off and it comes with its own choreographed dance moves!   Last some of the lyrics resonate including the initial ones “Young man, there’s no need to feel down. I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground. I said, young man, ’cause you’re in a new town. There’s no need to be unhappy.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeADaAg0f_w

Get happy and lift yourself off the ground!  Find your own songs or use these to melt the pounds and become healthy!

A Prayer for Mothers on Earth and Above

To my two mothers gone up above,
Continue to bless us with undying love,
Hold in your hearts, your family,
And continue to teach us “how to be”.
With our Blessed Mother, calm our fears,
And with love overflowing, dry our tears.

And to the mothers of our children,
With us on earth,
Lead our families and nation, To a rebirth,
Remind us of the love, taught at your knee,
And mirror God’s love, for all to see!

Mary

Talking Tolkien

Last night I saw the movie Tolkien and I highly recommend it to everyone!  A wholesome movie about a great person and one of the top 5 influences in my life.  The movie documented the fundamental moments of Tolkien’s formation that was behind his masterpieces The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.  And as I relived his early life through early adulthood, I thought about how much Tolkien and his works were instrumental in my own growth.   Here are the six key moments when the works of Tolkien formed me and changed me.

  1. My First Book Purchase – The first books that I bought with my own money (you can read about how I earned that money here https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/01/14/a-penny-a-minute-a-lifetime-of-lessons/) was the box set of the Lord of the Rings.  I have posted a picture of the Two Towers to show you just how much value for the money I got! Two Towers book well used I remember buying them like it was yesterday at Quakerbridge mall and then using the remaining buck and change on the new entry at McDonald’s – a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and Fries (1973) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quarter_Pounder .  I raced home put my name on the cover in case someone tried to take it and devoured the books like I did the Quarter Pounder.  I have now read those same books with pages falling out at least once a year.  The first time I read them all in a weekend.  For a ten-year boy in the 70’s, it was the equivalent of a new Harry Potter book (which my children equally devoured).  I remember cowering in the bed as I read about the Black Riders for the first time and adding Frodo and Sam to my evening prayers.
  2. Bonding with my best friend – My best friend in elementary through middle school was Paul.  He loved the Lord of the Rings as much or more than me and we talked about it endlessly.  He also introduced me to the Lord of the Rings allusions in Led Zeppelin songs such as Misty Mountain Hop and some Galadriel references in Stairway to Heaven.  He also had pictures from the Lord of the Rings calendars decorating his room where we worked on building rockets for Mr. Pickett’s rocketry club.  We parted ways in high school as our lives took different turns (The Road Goes Ever On!).  But I will never forget the joy I had in discussing the latest calendar and references to LOTR by Led Zeppelin!
  3. Love of Family – My Dad was a Steelworker, no-nonsense Blue-Collar man.  He did not care for Fantasy, elves and hobbits.  In contrast, I was like Frasier to my Dad’s Marty Crane.  All through 1978, I looked for every news item on the upcoming rendition of the Lord of the Rings from Ralph Bashki.  My dad got tickets for the opening day for the whole family, because he knew how much I loved it.   He also got me for Christmas the LP Soundtrack.  The movie was not good but my whole family sat through it as I tried to explain what was happening.  They sat through it and tried to cheer me up as I was disappointed.  Even though my brother David still ribs me by humming the March of the Orcs, I never felt more loved since my family showed their kindness and support for something I cared about.
  4. My Senior High School Thesis – I love to write and get just as much joy from writing as I do from reading LOTR.  I feel exhilaration after writing each one of my blogs and unlike most loved writing essays for school.  My senior thesis for High School was one of my favorites – Christ Imagery in the Lord of the Rings!  I am not sure if that is even a topic that is allowed in school’s today.  I learned so much from studying this subject.  Unlike Lewis who is clearly allegorical in the Narnia series, Tolkien is more subtle but nonetheless profound.  Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf all represent elements of Christ.  Frodo the clearest as he carries the heavy burden to Mount Doom.  Aragorn as a king in disguise that leads to a new Kingdom.  Gandalf perhaps the least subtle as he arises from the dead in white after battling the Balrog.  Tolkien did not like allegory, but he did understand those fundamental truths that our highest calling is to sacrifice.  I still remember the exhilaration of getting an A on the paper, but more so the feeling that the LOTR revealed a deeper truth!
  5. Falling for the Fellowship – I waited for 23 years for the next movie version for the Lord of Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring.  My wife and I had four kids waiting for its arrival!  My oldest daughter Kate was at the age where she could stay up late to catch the movie with me on the first day (BTW – she is an English teacher!).  It came out the day before I had to lead an Oral presentation for the biggest deal in my career.  Nevertheless, I got the only 2 last tickets available for the midnight showing on the first day.  In the last two seats behind a bar that partially obstructed my view, I and my daughter waited in anticipation.  I was literally praying that it would not be like the earlier movie.  I will not lie to you.  When the scene of the Shire and Gandalf came on the screen, I wept tears of joy.  Peter Jackson had captured the essence of the books that defined my life.  The decency of the Hobbits.  The goodness of Gandalf and the evil of the Dark Riders that used to make me shake in my bed so many years ago.  This will sound like the ultimate geek, but I count that first viewing of the Fellowship as one of the top 10 moments in my life.  (BTW It inspired me to win the most important job of my career the next day!).
  6. Dancing in the Glade – I thought nothing would ever match the scene of the Shire but last night’s scene from the  Tolkien movie did it.  My favorite story from Tolkien is not LOTR but one chapter from the Silmarillion – Of “Beren and Luthien”.  I love it for three reasons.  1.  It examines the love between people of two different cultures (Elves and Man).  2.  Beren and Luthien fight against all odds to defeat evil. 3.  Last and most important, it shows the never-ending love between a man and his wife.  For the uninitiated, Beren and Luthien Tinuviel represent J.R.R. Tolkien and his wife Edith.  They were married for over 50 years.  Edith was Tolkien’s muse and the anchor to his life.  The image took my breath away as I sat next to my wife of 32+ years and thought of her in that glade.   In the movie, they show Edith dancing in the woods in England, the image that Tolkien explains in his poem below. 

“The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadow shimmering.
Tinuviel was dancing there
To music of a pipe unseen,
And light of stars was in her hair,
And in her raiment glimmering.” (Read more here – https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/luthien).

Grave of JRR Tolkien
True Love Never Fails

Six events that shaped a life!  Thank you, J.R.R. Tolkien and the makers of this film, for making this film that explains the life of this man who shaped me and so many others!

The Essentialist’s Playbook for Weight Loss

Most people try anything and everything to lose weight when first starting.  They will try the latest supplements, liquid diets, eating only select foods (cabbage soup anyone), the hottest fitness craze, eating at only certain times – you get the picture.  Let’s do A through Z and sticks to the wall and un-sticks my diet.

I was a proponent of the more is more approach for years and it didn’t work.  Over the years as my weight climbed and my hope failed, I tried everything, many simultaneously, from being a vegetarian (failed because M&M’s are not meat!), popping Green Tea pills, cleansing in various ways, the latest exercise craze, and on and on… Then I discovered two things.  Weight Watchers (WW) and the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18077875-essentialism .  Both teach the same thing – Do less, but better.   The key to weight loss and a better, more successful life is by correctly assessing the few important priorities, focusing on these priorities exclusively, and dumping the rest.  Mr. McKeown provides how to do this in his book and WW in its classed for a Essentialist’s Playbook for Weight Loss.

 You can lose 170+ pounds like me by not doing everything but these three things:

  1. Track everything you eat or drink.  The best way to know how to lose weight is to track what you eat.  By consciously tracking your food intake, you will better understand portion control and the trigger foods you need to avoid.  You use this along with weekly weight tracking to find out what works and what foods to avoid.  That way you focus on what works, rather than trying everything that doesn’t!
  2. Be kind for yourself.  You can’t focus on what is important if you are unhealthy in body or your soul.  It is therefore important to focus on your health both mentally and physically.  Take time to journal positive thoughts, rest, and relax.  A few minutes a day of being kind to yourself will not only help you lose the stress that sabotages most people’s health.
  3. Take time to exercise.  Study upon study have shown that sitting is the equivalent or worse to smoking for health.  It does not take much to get the exercise your body needs and craves.  Get up for 10 minutes every hour and take a walk.  Also, block out 30 minutes in the morning to recharge and energize. 

Bottom line:  You do not need to do A through Z to lose weight and be a better you!  All you need is the essential 1-2-3!  Go out and practice Essentialism to gain a new body and soul.

Change in Midlife, Mid-flight!

I hate flying on planes; doubly so after a hard week at work on a late flight.  Such was the case when I boarded a plane back to Austin a few years ago.  Little did I know that my temperament and life was going to change in mid-flight!

Photo by Ross Parmly on Unsplash
A change occurs midflight

I had just settled into my aisle seat.  I always get an aisle seat, especially back then when I was a bit north of 250.  I had already gotten up one time for the person in the window seat.  Now I was spreading out hoping against hope that I could dissuade someone from taking the middle seat.  It was not to be. 

Near the end of on-boarding, a young clean-cut guy asked if the seat next to me was taken. People were pressing so he was standing directly to the side of me, blocking my way from getting out. I said in an abrupt manner, “I could let you in if you would move and stop blocking my path.” The lady behind him caught my grumpy facial expression, took pity on him, and moved back so I could let him in. Yeah, I thought, I now had a tall occupant with wide shoulders occupying the seat next to me. Fun! Time to lean out in the aisle a little more.

I glanced over to size up my neighbor, since by this time I was feeling a little bad about how I acted.  I noticed three things off the bat that were different.  First the guy was reading a religious book; something not expected from a young man without a collar.  Equally unique was the Miraculous Medal around his neck; something you do not often see except on a Nun.  Lastly, I noticed he had a rosary in his lap. 

Thinking I had a priest or a seminarian next to me, I began feeling even more sheepish than I did before.  So, I decided to try and make amends for the way I acted and strike up a conversation.   I reached out my hand to my neighbor and said, “Hey I am sorry about how grumpy I was a moment ago.  My name is Don.”  He replied his name was Travis Moran and we struck up a conversation.   

Wanting to find out more about Travis, I said, “I noticed from the religious book and the rosary that you must be Catholic. I am too, even though a few moments ago I may not have appeared to be. I was just about to listen to a podcast of Father Mike Schmitz. Have you heard of him?” Those who regularly read my blogs know I am a devoted listener to Father Mike Schmitz’s podcasts. He is an excellent speaker whose lessons on life and God are inspired. Travis promptly pulled out his cell phone and showed me a picture of him with Father Mike and others. Travis had just been to the SEEK conference in San Antonio and heard Father Mike and others evangelize. This was the first indication that maybe Travis and my meeting was not by chance.

For the first time in a long time, I decided to talk to the person next to me on the plane.  I usually do not like to talk on planes.  But this was unbelievable.  Travis is an amazing young man. He was discerning to be a priest when he got another calling to be a physical therapist for Special Needs kids in Connecticut.  Working with his father and others, he treats autistic and other special needs children at Crossroads Physical Therapy.  I was so impressed by his kindness and devotion to God that I was not sure if it was all real so I looked him up (see http://www.quchronicle.com/2011/12/this-is-me-a-man-with-faith/).

I now asked him about book that he was he reading.   It was called 33 Days to Morning Glory.  He explained that the book was a 33 day retreat to grow closer and consecrate yourself to Jesus through the intercession of Mary.  Ok, I thought.  A little deep for me but he was so devoted I listened attentively.  Maybe God was speaking to me. 

We talked for another 20 minutes or so until Travis asked if he could take time out and say his daily rosary.  As we closed our conversation, he told me he was praying his daily rosary today for my intention.  I thanked him.  Later as we left the plane, we shook hands and I told him how much I enjoyed the conversation and prayers.  Little did I know that this was not the end of this change that started in mid-flight.

I could not get the conversation with Travis or that book out of my mind on the drive back home.  So that night I went on to Amazon and purchased 33 Days to Morning Glory  see here https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13559128-33-days-to-morning-glory.

Or so I thought! Instead with at that late hour, I through blurry eyes bought another book: 33 Days to Merciful Love! Noting that I ordered the wrong book, I later bought 33 Days to Morning Glory. After reading a few chapters of each book, I put them aside as work and life distracted me. The original spark faded until several months later, when God broke through again.

I was on a work trip in Raleigh, North Carolina. I could not sleep and got up at 4 O’clock. Wanting to get some restless energy out, I walked the streets of Raleigh with my earbuds in, listening to the latest podcast from Father Mike. It was the opening homily for Lent and as he finished, he told his parishioners at UMD that he had a book for all of them. The book was 33 Days to Merciful Love! Here is the actual podcast with the link to the book https://soundcloud.com/bulldogcatholic/wholehearted-part-i-go-big-be-small I have never felt God’s presence in my life more, as a tingle ran down my spine.

Third time is the charm.  I could not ignore the message any longer.  I performed both internal retreats covered in the books.  At the end, I consecrated myself to Jesus through Mary.  It was a life changing experience and though not yet all the way there, those retreats have helped me to grow closer to the Lord.   I now hope to bring others closer to Jesus both as a Core Team member with the Life Teen ministry.  

I still tear up thinking about this change in Mid-flight and Mid-life.  I hope this true-life message inspires you to put down that iPhone on the plane and to be a little more kind to the person in the seat next to you.  It just might be God trying to talk to you!

Be Good, 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 heart.

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 “Little Man Your Crying” 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

Love Others 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 eternity. 

In closing here is a poem that also came to me as part of this dream https://weightlossleadership.com/2019/03/14/be-good-a-poem-for-lent/

America the Beautiful But Broken: A Prescription and a Promise (Re-post)

After a 30+ day shutdown decided to re-post this timely blog. I was in church and as in every week before July 4th we sang America the Beautiful.  This time I really looked at the words and as I sang at the top of my lungs (anyone who ever heard me sing knows that is the only way I do it), I choked up.  You see I could sing some of the lyrics like spacious skies by rote.  But other parts I should read and remember.  And on this July 1 as we head into the celebration of our nations birth, I want to convey the words that choked me up.  In this time of uncivil discourse, I think it is necessary to remember what binds us together as a nation.  It is not military might or economic strength but rather the belief of liberty for all, freedom from oppression, and most of all, the steady march of progression toward a more perfect union.  So, let’s dissect the versus focused on the bolded sections.

1. Verse 1. O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Commentary.  We are truly a blessed nation.  We have resources and the freedom to pursue happiness and the means to do it.  So why the vitriol and the rancor on both sides.  We need more brotherhood and sisterhood and less tweeting on both sides.  We do not have a problem, we have an opportunity!  We have people that believe in our country coming to our borders for a better life.  True, it is not all of them.  We cannot take in those impostors who want to harm us.  But most people escaping from the south just want a better a life.  Surely the country that rebuilt our enemies with the Marshal Plan, sent people to the moon, and built a nation of immigrants can discern in a professional way the people that do not wish us well. We have done it before and we can do it again.  Instead of protesting, roll up your sleeves.  This immigration problem is solvable and we a nation built on immigrant citizens and a history of practical solutions to thorny problems can do it.  The President and Congress can do it if they put down the iPhones, look up to the Heavens, and realize how blessed we are.  Call me naïve, but I think at the end of the day, we all want a fair but firm response to the immigration crisis.  Heck we may even consider a new Marshal Plan for the South.

2.Verse 2.O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern impassion’ d stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

Commentary.  This is by far the most consequential verse.  The first line “O beautiful for pilgrim feet” speaks to how the pilgrims escaped religious persecution and later civil strife to find this beautiful country.  Like the pilgrims of yesteryear, the pilgrims of today are seeking the same thing – liberty and the ability to reach their human potential.  We must be a resting place for those men and women of good intent to find their home free from persecution.  Note I said good intent.  There are some with ill intent but we need a humane process and procedure to discern who they are.  Those of good intent have and will protect our nation, build innovation, and will progress us on our path to a better nation.  Which brings us to the later stanzas of this verse.  We have flaws as a nation but we are the best thing going.  Do not kid yourself.  But we will lose our leadership status if we neglect self-control as one stanza of the song points out.  As one President and a famous Saturday Night sketch pointed out we must practice prudence and self-control.  All of us, especially the President, need to stop the late-night twitter rants and practice prudence and self-control.  Lastly, our liberty is built in law.  We somehow need to figure out a way to expedite legal immigration and provide asylum for those who need it and an opportunity for those that want it!  Laws do that and where the law stops or hinders it we need to change it.

3. Verse 3. O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine

Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine!

Commentary:  It is a disgrace to those men and women that laid down their lives for this beloved country, that we cannot stop the bickering, and the twittering, and find a solution to this immigration issue (and other issues facing our nation).   We are to be refined, refined by the blood of patriots, and anyone who does not look in their hearts to find a middle way does the soldiers that fought and died for this country dishonor.  We also must show mercy to those like us are seeking a better life and freedom. I ask everyone to rise-up, roll up their sleeves, and put on their working boots to solve our issues.  And our President and Congress need to lead the way or get out of the way!

4. Verse 4. O Beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Commentary:  The patriots dream is that their country continues to press for a future!  One that sees beyond the years and today’s expediency to understand the nation’s imperative is to welcome those decided in the course of liberty and freedom.  In the end, America is not a nation but an idea.  An idea that those with the will and the drive can escape to a new beginning where the tears will stop, the freedom will flow, and the nation will prosper!

Flag on July 4th
Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

Strength in the Broken Places – A 2019 Resolution

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places
Seeking Strength in the Broken Places

One of my favorite quotes is from Ernest Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms.  He writes “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places”.  Truer words have never been written!  Each of us one day will face a hardship that tests our very fiber, but if we make it through, we will grow and flourish.  You assuredly learn from your mistakes, but you grow from your pain. The imperfections of this world are designed to test our mettle and prepare us for a more perfect world beyond.  

Although the world breaks everyone in some way, many but not all become stronger in those broken places. What gifts have been bestowed on us, so we can be strong in the broken places?  St. Paul provides us with the answer:  Faith, Hope, and Love with the greatest being Love.  As we end this year, let me provide three examples of these saving gifts through the lives of others.

Faith is trust in God and self that things will get better either in this world or the next.  It isa powerful weapon in confronting hardship and in forging a new life.  One example of abiding faith is St.  John Paul II. As a priest and bishop, he showed faith that his beloved Poland wouldshake the bonds of oppression from the Soviet Union and it came to pass. As a new Pope, he had faith in the protection of Mary who shielded him from anassassin’s bullet.  He later showed faith in the redemption of others by forgiving this would be assassin.  As he aged, Saint John Paul II showed faith in God’s plan by showing us his weakness as he confronted Parkinson’s.

Hope is the belief that things will get better despite current hardships.  Gandhi epitomizes hope to me.  He faced obstacles and trials as he strove to establish the modern nation of India.  Any one of the obstacles that he faced would have dissuaded a lesser person.  But through the March to the Sea, the horror of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, and his many imprisonments,  Gandhi retained his hope that the dignity of man would prevail. In his words, “To believe that what has not occurred in history will not occur at all, is to argue disbelief in the dignity of man.”  Hope is the belief that the ultimate purpose of man will shine through despite the broken places.

Love is the greatest gift.  It transforms the heart and soul.  I have seen it do this to my brother David, his wife Debra, and his mother-in-law Marge.  Debra is dealing with the debilitating disease of Aphasia and has been in a nursing facility since September. Please read more at this link https://www.gofundme.com/6d948wg .    She can no longer speak and must use a respirator and eat through a feeding tube as she rehabilitates.  Though she may not recover fully, she shows her love to David and Marge by getting up each day and taking on the rehabilitation exercises.  Marge shows her love for her daughter by coming by daily and sharing time.  Despite some of her own health issues, she is always there for her daughter in this time of hardship.  Perhaps the most transformed by love is my brother David.  We have had our occasional arguments over the years which is to be expected from a younger and older brother.  He has in the last year become an inspiration to me and others.  He is there after work every night to spend time with Debra and provide her with support.  He also fights for his wife as he strives to get justice from the insurance company.  I am inspired that the kid that used to tantalize me daily has been blessed with love in the broken places. 

 As we ring in this new year, let us learn from the examples above and strive to become stronger, more perfect in love!  Let’s God’s glory shine through the broken places to be an inspiration for all to see.

American Anthem: More Crosswicks less Crosswise

I was watching a documentary on the life of Charles Krauthammer today and was surprised that he was once a speechwriter for Walter Mondale.  This leader of Neo-con Republicanism once wrote speeches to elect the most traditional Democrat that ever existed, Walter Mondale.  And as I watched, I asked how 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.  Listening to Charles’ life, I have to agree with Charles when he said, “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.

Picture of Crosswicks

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

Fat to Fit Again! The Power of Habit

My last blog told the story of how I went from a fit Army officer to a 358 lbs. behemoth sprawled faced down after tripping leaving work at 3 AM with broken glasses and bruised pride.  You can read it hear. Fit to Fat: Lessons Learned While Doubling My Weight

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!   IMG_3391The 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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
  7. 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.