Lost and Found

I wish I could reach back,

Reach back in the past,

When my soul was innocent,

And my heart pure.

When I could look at something,

And say “There, that’s right,

I know it to be right,

I have no doubts.”

But age begets doubts,

And time desperation,

In a world charged with sorrow,

Nothing is for certain,

nothing for sure,

All we can do is love,

And love some more,

Hoping God is smiling on us,

To bring about a better day!

Hope in Hamilton!

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!!!!!!

Love this Country!

I love this country,

more and more,

From the Rockies’ peak,

To Grand Canyon’s floor!

I love this country,

Yes, it’s true!

Whether in a Red state,

Or one that’s Blue.

Watch West Side Story,

Or Hamilton.

Let’s pull together,

And act as one.

March the streets,

Have your say,

But let’s come together,

At the end of the day,

And love this country!

Love it true,

And wave it proudly,

The Red, White and Blue.

Don Grier, July 2, 2020

Let’s Celebrate Fathers as Builders!

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!

The Lessons I Learned When Running Away

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.

Ocker's Barrel
Ocker’s Barrel as I ran past

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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!

American Anthem: More Crosswicks less Crosswise

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.

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!

Commissioned to Love

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.

Acts 1

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.

John 15:12

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.”

Gene Rodenberry

I also look forward to the graduation and commissioning of the West Point Class of 2020 on June 13th.  I look forward to the cadets to taking the oath to serve.   In the words of LTG Darryl A. Williams, our first black West Point Superintendent (you can read the full letter here https://s3.amazonaws.com/usma-media/inline-images/about/Public%20Affairs/homepage/pdfs/superindendent_sends_06.04.2020.PDF):

“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!

A Walk with History: Overcoming Slavery’s Stain

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.

National Museum of African American History and Culture
National Museum of African American History and Culture

What I took away from this experience is four things:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
    Slave Quarters at Monticello
    Slave Quarters at Monticello
  3. 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.
  1. 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 basementIndeed, 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.

Memorial Day Walk with Heroes – Respect Their Sacrifice and Each Other

Memorial Day Honoring Tuskegee Airmen
Memorial Day Honoring Tuskegee Airmen

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!

A Daughter, A Dog, and A Not So Old Man (Part 1 of 2 Part Series)

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!)!  

Graduation Name - Kendall

The second event, our dog Boots’ reaction to the loud rainstorm in Austin last night may not be so apparent (more in Part 2 of this blog!) A Daughter, A Dog, and A Not So Old Man (Part 2 of 2).  But both conspired to make me finally accept my new season in life.

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)

A Daughter, A Dog, and A Not So Old Man (Part 2 of 2)

In the first part of this blog series here A Daughter, A Dog, and A Not So Old Man (Part 1 of 2 Part Series) , I showed I was ready to risk life, limb, and house instead of embracing my age.  So how did the dog and the rain change my disposition

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!

Getting Rid of Junk Food and Throw Away Values

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 …

Slow Down You Move too Fast

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.

Lessons from Three Mister Rogers: Taking Time to Care

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!

Mediterranean Magic: 5 Ways to Maintain Weight on Vacation

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.

St. Peter’s fish from Sea of Galilee

4.  Portion 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!

Be Good to Your Family: John Walton

This is the fifth of my Be Good Not Great blog series.  The idea for the series came to me in a dream of my Grandpop in the original blog: https://weightlossleadership.com/2019/03/16/be-good-not-great/  and  a related poem: https://weightlossleadership.com/2019/08/01/be-good-not-great-poem/.  In this series, I tell stories of people that fulfilled God’s purpose of being good while foregoing worldly greatness. 

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 blog). 

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 the following: 

“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!

6 Wellness Lessons From The Waltons

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 John Boy. 

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.

Be A Good Neighbor: TM

This is the fourth blog of the Be Good, Not Great series.  The initial idea for the blog series came to me in a dream about my Grandpop and resulted in a poem and a blog in less then an hour.  Read it hear. https://weightlossleadership.com/2019/03/16/be-good-not-great/

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Robert Frost writes in his famous poem “Mending Wall” see full at this link https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44266/mending-wall:

“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!

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!

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.

Change Your Environment, Change Your Life!

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.

Man in field of bluebonnets
55 Bday Picture

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:

  1. 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!

Five Accenture Wellness Programs that Saved My Life

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.

Table Celebration
Austin Chamber of Commerce Business Awards

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.

Homecoming picture
Nearly missed homecoming

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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!).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

Getting the Iron Out Door – Lessons from Big D for Developers

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.

big-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.

turbine 1

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.

  1.  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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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!

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.

Nothing …

I close my eyes and dream again,

Of a distant time, way back when,

My doubts were quiet, my heart sure,

That our love was lasting, true and pure.

Then opening my eyes, I see your face,

And my illusions vanish without a trace,

For the eyes that once shone for me,

Now stare off in the darkness, sullenly.

“Where did I fail, what went wrong?”

I ask in a voice that once was strong,

You just frown and turn away,

“Nothing … nothing ” is all you say.

Don Grier 2020

Kindness flows

‪Kindness flows,‬
‪Through the crevices of life,‬
‪Always seeking to salve,‬
‪The sorrow and the strife.‬
‪Goodness builds,‬
‪And does not tear down,‬
‪Breaking down the barriers,‬
‪Upon which we are bound.‬
‪So be good not great,‬
‪Kind but strong,‬
‪Seek for the truth,‬
‪Right the wrong!‬

NYPD Blue

23 died when the towers fell,

You left your families, walked through hell,

For a cause both righteous and true,

Selfless sacrifice of the NYPD Blue.

42nd street was a mess,

And so was Times Square,

In the eighties,

Before Giuliani was there,

You built back a city,

Where dreams again flew,

You restored it,

The officers of the NYPD Blue.

The whole world took notice,

At the work you had done,

And sought to learn,

How the streets were won.

How soon they forget,

What is undeniably true,

New York is not New York,

Without the NYPD Blue.

Shades of Grey

Some see black,

Some see white,

I see Grey!

Some see Blue State,

Some See Red State,

I see the United States!

Some see left,

Some see right,

I see center!

Some say you got to stand for something,

Or you’ll fall for anything.

I say stand too hard for something,

And you will fall for anything!

In the end, the Beatles had it right,

The Love you take is equal to the love you make!

Listen, learn, love,

As we discern the best answer,

Through Shades of Grey!