To my two mothers gone up above, Continue to bless us with undying love, Hold in your hearts, your family, And continue to teach us “how to be”. With our Blessed Mother, calm our fears, And with love overflowing, dry our tears.
And to the mothers of our children, With us on earth, Lead our families and nation, To a rebirth, Remind us of the love, taught at your knee, And mirror God’s love, for all to see!
Last night I saw the movie Tolkien and I highly recommend it to everyone! A wholesome movie about a great person and one of the top 5 influences in my life. The movie documented the fundamental moments of Tolkien’s formation that was behind his masterpieces The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. And as I relived his early life through early adulthood, I thought about how much Tolkien and his works were instrumental in my own growth. Here are the six key moments when the works of Tolkien formed me and changed me.
My First Book Purchase – The first books that I bought with my own money (you can read about how I earned that money here https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/01/14/a-penny-a-minute-a-lifetime-of-lessons/) was the box set of the Lord of the Rings. I have posted a picture of the Two Towers to show you just how much value for the money I got! I remember buying them like it was yesterday at Quakerbridge mall and then using the remaining buck and change on the new entry at McDonald’s – a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and Fries (1973) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quarter_Pounder . I raced home put my name on the cover in case someone tried to take it and devoured the books like I did the Quarter Pounder. I have now read those same books with pages falling out at least once a year. The first time I read them all in a weekend. For a ten-year boy in the 70’s, it was the equivalent of a new Harry Potter book (which my children equally devoured). I remember cowering in the bed as I read about the Black Riders for the first time and adding Frodo and Sam to my evening prayers.
Bonding with my best friend – My best friend in elementary through middle school was Paul. He loved the Lord of the Rings as much or more than me and we talked about it endlessly. He also introduced me to the Lord of the Rings allusions in Led Zeppelin songs such as Misty Mountain Hop and some Galadriel references in Stairway to Heaven. He also had pictures from the Lord of the Rings calendars decorating his room where we worked on building rockets for Mr. Pickett’s rocketry club. We parted ways in high school as our lives took different turns (The Road Goes Ever On!). But I will never forget the joy I had in discussing the latest calendar and references to LOTR by Led Zeppelin!
Love of Family – My Dad was a Steelworker, no-nonsense Blue-Collar man. He did not care for Fantasy, elves and hobbits. In contrast, I was like Frasier to my Dad’s Marty Crane. All through 1978, I looked for every news item on the upcoming rendition of the Lord of the Rings from Ralph Bashki. My dad got tickets for the opening day for the whole family, because he knew how much I loved it. He also got me for Christmas the LP Soundtrack. The movie was not good but my whole family sat through it as I tried to explain what was happening. They sat through it and tried to cheer me up as I was disappointed. Even though my brother David still ribs me by humming the March of the Orcs, I never felt more loved since my family showed their kindness and support for something I cared about.
My Senior High School Thesis – I love to write and get just as much joy from writing as I do from reading LOTR. I feel exhilaration after writing each one of my blogs and unlike most loved writing essays for school. My senior thesis for High School was one of my favorites – Christ Imagery in the Lord of the Rings! I am not sure if that is even a topic that is allowed in school’s today. I learned so much from studying this subject. Unlike Lewis who is clearly allegorical in the Narnia series, Tolkien is more subtle but nonetheless profound. Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf all represent elements of Christ. Frodo the clearest as he carries the heavy burden to Mount Doom. Aragorn as a king in disguise that leads to a new Kingdom. Gandalf perhaps the least subtle as he arises from the dead in white after battling the Balrog. Tolkien did not like allegory, but he did understand those fundamental truths that our highest calling is to sacrifice. I still remember the exhilaration of getting an A on the paper, but more so the feeling that the LOTR revealed a deeper truth!
Falling for the Fellowship – I waited for 23 years for the next movie version for the Lord of Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring. My wife and I had four kids waiting for its arrival! My oldest daughter Kate was at the age where she could stay up late to catch the movie with me on the first day (BTW – she is an English teacher!). It came out the day before I had to lead an Oral presentation for the biggest deal in my career. Nevertheless, I got the only 2 last tickets available for the midnight showing on the first day. In the last two seats behind a bar that partially obstructed my view, I and my daughter waited in anticipation. I was literally praying that it would not be like the earlier movie. I will not lie to you. When the scene of the Shire and Gandalf came on the screen, I wept tears of joy. Peter Jackson had captured the essence of the books that defined my life. The decency of the Hobbits. The goodness of Gandalf and the evil of the Dark Riders that used to make me shake in my bed so many years ago. This will sound like the ultimate geek, but I count that first viewing of the Fellowship as one of the top 10 moments in my life. (BTW It inspired me to win the most important job of my career the next day!).
Dancing in the Glade – I thought nothing would ever match the scene of the Shire but last night’s scene from the Tolkien movie did it. My favorite story from Tolkien is not LOTR but one chapter from the Silmarillion – Of “Beren and Luthien”. I love it for three reasons. 1. It examines the love between people of two different cultures (Elves and Man). 2. Beren and Luthien fight against all odds to defeat evil. 3. Last and most important, it shows the never-ending love between a man and his wife. For the uninitiated, Beren and Luthien Tinuviel represent J.R.R. Tolkien and his wife Edith. They were married for over 50 years. Edith was Tolkien’s muse and the anchor to his life. The image took my breath away as I sat next to my wife of 32+ years and thought of her in that glade. In the movie, they show Edith dancing in the woods in England, the image that Tolkien explains in his poem below.
“The leaves were long, the grass was green, The hemlock-umbels tall and fair, And in the glade a light was seen Of stars in shadow shimmering. Tinuviel was dancing there To music of a pipe unseen, And light of stars was in her hair, And in her raiment glimmering.” (Read more here – https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/luthien).
Six events that shaped a life! Thank you, J.R.R. Tolkien and the makers of this film, for making this film that explains the life of this man who shaped me and so many others!
Most people try anything and everything to lose weight when first starting. They will try the latest supplements, liquid diets, eating only select foods (cabbage soup anyone), the hottest fitness craze, eating at only certain times – you get the picture. Let’s do A through Z and sticks to the wall and un-sticks my diet.
I was a proponent of the more is more approach for years and it didn’t work. Over the years as my weight climbed and my hope failed, I tried everything, many simultaneously, from being a vegetarian (failed because M&M’s are not meat!), popping Green Tea pills, cleansing in various ways, the latest exercise craze, and on and on… Then I discovered two things. Weight Watchers (WW) and the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18077875-essentialism . Both teach the same thing – Do less, but better. The key to weight loss and a better, more successful life is by correctly assessing the few important priorities, focusing on these priorities exclusively, and dumping the rest. Mr. McKeown provides how to do this in his book and WW in its classed for a Essentialist’s Playbook for Weight Loss.
You can lose 170+
pounds like me by not doing everything but these three things:
Track everything you eat or drink. The best way to know how to lose weight is to
track what you eat. By consciously tracking
your food intake, you will better understand portion control and the trigger
foods you need to avoid. You use this
along with weekly weight tracking to find out what works and what foods to
avoid. That way you focus on what works,
rather than trying everything that doesn’t!
Be kind for yourself. You can’t focus on what is important if you
are unhealthy in body or your soul. It
is therefore important to focus on your health both mentally and
physically. Take time to journal
positive thoughts, rest, and relax. A
few minutes a day of being kind to yourself will not only help you lose the
stress that sabotages most people’s health.
Take time to exercise. Study upon study have shown that sitting is the
equivalent or worse to smoking for health.
It does not take much to get the exercise your body needs and craves. Get up for 10 minutes every hour and take a
walk. Also, block out 30 minutes in the
morning to recharge and energize.
Bottom line: You do
not need to do A through Z to lose weight and be a better you! All you need is the essential 1-2-3! Go out and practice Essentialism to gain a
new body and soul.
I hate flying on planes; doubly so after a hard week at work on a late flight. Such was the case when I boarded a plane back to Austin a few years ago. Little did I know that my temperament and life was going to change in mid-flight!
I had just settled into my aisle seat. I always get an aisle seat, especially back
then when I was a bit north of 250. I
had already gotten up one time for the person in the window seat. Now I was spreading out hoping against hope
that I could dissuade someone from taking the middle seat. It was not to be.
Near the end of on-boarding, a young clean-cut guy asked if the seat next to me was taken. People were pressing so he was standing directly to the side of me, blocking my way from getting out. I said in an abrupt manner, “I could let you in if you would move and stop blocking my path.” The lady behind him caught my grumpy facial expression, took pity on him, and moved back so I could let him in. Yeah, I thought, I now had a tall occupant with wide shoulders occupying the seat next to me. Fun! Time to lean out in the aisle a little more.
I glanced over to size up my neighbor, since by this time I
was feeling a little bad about how I acted.
I noticed three things off the bat that were different. First the guy was reading a religious book;
something not expected from a young man without a collar. Equally unique was the Miraculous Medal
around his neck; something you do not often see except on a Nun. Lastly, I noticed he had a rosary in his
Thinking I had a priest or a seminarian next to me, I began
feeling even more sheepish than I did before.
So, I decided to try and make amends for the way I acted and strike up a
conversation. I reached out my hand to my neighbor and said,
“Hey I am sorry about how grumpy I was a moment ago. My name is Don.” He replied his name was Travis Moran and we
struck up a conversation.
Wanting to find out more about Travis, I said, “I noticed from the religious book and the rosary that you must be Catholic. I am too, even though a few moments ago I may not have appeared to be. I was just about to listen to a podcast of Father Mike Schmitz. Have you heard of him?” Those who regularly read my blogs know I am a devoted listener to Father Mike Schmitz’s podcasts. He is an excellent speaker whose lessons on life and God are inspired. Travis promptly pulled out his cell phone and showed me a picture of him with Father Mike and others. Travis had just been to the SEEK conference in San Antonio and heard Father Mike and others evangelize. This was the first indication that maybe Travis and my meeting was not by chance.
For the first time in a long time, I decided to talk to the
person next to me on the plane. I
usually do not like to talk on planes.
But this was unbelievable. Travis
is an amazing young man. He was discerning to be a priest when he got another
calling to be a physical therapist for Special Needs kids in Connecticut. Working with his father and others, he treats
autistic and other special needs children at Crossroads Physical Therapy. I was so impressed by his kindness and
devotion to God that I was not sure if it was all real so I looked him up (see http://www.quchronicle.com/2011/12/this-is-me-a-man-with-faith/).
I now asked him about book that he was he reading. It was
called 33 Days to Morning Glory. He
explained that the book was a 33 day retreat to grow closer and consecrate yourself
to Jesus through the intercession of Mary.
Ok, I thought. A little deep for
me but he was so devoted I listened attentively. Maybe God was speaking to me.
We talked for another 20 minutes or so until Travis asked if
he could take time out and say his daily rosary. As we closed our conversation, he told me he
was praying his daily rosary today for my intention. I thanked him. Later as we left the plane, we shook hands and
I told him how much I enjoyed the conversation and prayers. Little did I know that this was not the end
of this change that started in mid-flight.
Or so I thought! Instead with at that late hour, I through blurry eyes bought another book: 33 Days to Merciful Love! Noting that I ordered the wrong book, I later bought 33 Days to Morning Glory. After reading a few chapters of each book, I put them aside as work and life distracted me. The original spark faded until several months later, when God broke through again.
I was on a work trip in Raleigh, North Carolina. I could not sleep and got up at 4 O’clock. Wanting to get some restless energy out, I walked the streets of Raleigh with my earbuds in, listening to the latest podcast from Father Mike. It was the opening homily for Lent and as he finished, he told his parishioners at UMD that he had a book for all of them. The book was 33 Days to Merciful Love! Here is the actual podcast with the link to the book https://soundcloud.com/bulldogcatholic/wholehearted-part-i-go-big-be-small I have never felt God’s presence in my life more, as a tingle ran down my spine.
Third time is the charm.
I could not ignore the message any longer. I performed both internal retreats covered in
the books. At the end, I consecrated
myself to Jesus through Mary. It was a
life changing experience and though not yet all the way there, those retreats have
helped me to grow closer to the Lord. I now hope to bring others closer to Jesus both
as a Core Team member with the Life Teen ministry.
I still tear up thinking about this change in Mid-flight and
Mid-life. I hope this true-life message inspires
you to put down that iPhone on the plane and to be a little more kind to the
person in the seat next to you. It just
might be God trying to talk to you!
A few nights ago, I had one of those dreams. You know the ones that I am talking about. A dream so vivid, so poignant that it seems more than real. A dream that wakes you up at 4 AM with a smile on your face and thoughts rushing so fast that you can barely keep up as you type on your cell phone in the bathroom with door shut so as not to disturb your wife. A dream of important messages heaven sent to shape your life and to pass on to others.
In this dream, I was again in my Grandpop’s house on Melrose
Avenue in Trenton, NJ. And there was my
Grandpop rocking on the porch. The
picture below is of that very same house that my sister Lori texted me today
while she was visiting Jersey, reinforcing the dream’s importance! As we walked together and talked in each of
the rooms, the memories of times shared together came flooding back. And there was an underlying message tying all
those memories together. My Grandpop –
John William Henry – was a good man.
I say a good man, not great man for a reason. The best men are good men not great men. They dole out love instead of striving for
power or money. They love their country
and their God. They care more about
friends and less about prestige. They
take time for fun, the Phillies, and to sing Irish songs. They look like Fred McMurray on My Three Sons
and remind you of Jimmy Stewart on It’s A Wonderful Life. That
was my Grandpop! And here are the four
lessons that I learned from that dream, his life and my Grandpop’s home and
Take time for Family
and Friends (The Porch) – Grandpop loved to rock on his porch and look out
on Melrose Avenue. Two memories came
back to me as I again sat on the porch. I
remembered how he would spend hours on the porch during the evening and
weekends talking to and visiting with his neighbors down the street. Some 50 years later, I can remember their
names, their faces and believe it or not their homes. During that dream, I visited with them again. Mrs. Curr a widower who gave us tea and
cookies in her home as she talked about her garden. Mrs. Heipel who lived on the end house on
Melrose talking about her daughter who had recently moved. The Toronto’s telling stories of my mother
when they were young. I was happy for
the friendship again and a little sad since my porch faces the back yard and I
so seldom visit with my neighbors (or remember their names).
The other thing I remember is how gentle and good my
Grandpop was. He was no wimp having
boxed when he was younger. But he knew
how to calm his Grandkids when they were cranky and tired. I again saw him rocking my brother David as
he sang “Little Man Your Crying” in a voice not as resonant as Bing’s but close
to perfect due to its love. And as I saw
this image again in my mind’s eye, I thought back that although I spent quality
time with my kids, I was not as calm or soothing as that gentle man who rocked
my brother asleep
Unconditionally and For Eternity (the Living Room) – We came in from the
porch and into the living room with its furniture entrenched in the fifties. We sat on the couch watching the Phillies
like so many times before. We both loved
the Phillies, especially Mike Schmidt (Schmidty as we called him). In walked my Uncle who had gone missing for several
months on another binge as he had done so many times before. He was the ultimate prodigal son. He asked to come back to the home and
Grandpop with tears in his eyes took him back.
And I thought to the times when I turned my back on others in need
because I was too busy and vowed to do better.
The dream changed again to a different moment. This one happened outside my other Uncle’s
house in Morrisville, PA but in the dream, it was in the living room. My family was visiting, and my Grandpop
walked in with a bag of donuts as he did on most Sundays. But this time it was different. It was several weeks after my Grand mom’s
passing and Grandpop had returned to the donut tradition for the first time
without Grand mom. I again saw the tear
from my Grandpop’s eye when my brother asked where is Grand mom? I was again a bit mad at my younger brother
since I was older. And I thought on how
my Grandpop who was still a young man of 50 when Grand mom passed, yet he never
dated seriously or married again. He
would visit his wife’s grave several times a week keeping the love of her in
his heart for the rest of life. And I
imagined them again holding hands throughout eternity and I vowed to love my
wife like Grandpop.
Be Frugal with Yourself,
Lavish with Others (the Phone room). I wanted to stay with both my Grandparents again,
but my dream switched to the phone room.
I was not sure if the room was a formal dining room or a second living
room, but I remember it as the phone room due to the rotary phone that rested
at the end of a long hutch. Another
thing that rested on the long hutch was hundreds of coupons. Having lived in the Depression, my Grandpop
and his brothers were frugal in saving money.
I again saw my Grandpop and Great Uncle Don talking about the latest
coupon that they found for Acme. My
Grandpop would drive to 5 or 6 stores to use the coupons to save a few
bucks. Besides being frugal on the
groceries, he did not spend much on himself.
He seldom traveled or bought expensive clothes or items but reveled in
the simple pleasures such as the occasional Phillies games. He was frugal with himself but lavish with
others. As my dream progressed, I
thought back on the time he bought my brothers and I a complete Lionel Train
set on Christmas. And how happy he was
when our eyes lighted up. Then I thought
back on the many times I had splurged on the latest iPhone or Uber Eats instead
of focusing on the ones around me. I
seldom use a coupon even though they are digital now and can easily be obtained
on the cell phone I have. I vowed to
spend less on myself and more on others.
Be Thankful for the
Simple Pleasures and Family (the Kitchen).
The dream now moved into the
kitchen and I saw the big yellow wooden kitchen table where we often sat. As I sat down at the table, I looked across
to a little stand when my Grandpop kept one of his prized possessions – a Hot
Dog Zapper! I do not know if they have
them anymore, but my Grandpop sure did take pleasure in it. He would invite us to sit down and put each
of the six hot dogs on two prongs at either end of the hot dog. He would turn on the machine and after a few
minutes of zapping they were cooked (and most often split open a bit!). He again laughed as he took them off and gave
one to each of us around the table.
As we ate, more of my extended family gathered around and I
realized the time had shifted to St. Patrick’s Day. I again saw my Great Uncles (both cops), my
Uncle John and his family, Uncle Gary and my family. Each of the men had a Schlitz beer or two (I
told you Henrys are frugal!) as we went through a chorus of Irish Songs – Mrs.
Murphy’s Chowder, Come Meet a Donovan, The Same Old Shillelagh, and of course
When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. And I
thought. We often take for granted the
simple pleasure of singing with family and friends. We forget the expensive items we bought after
a few years. But I can sing verbatim
every one of those songs to this day and see the hot dog zapper in my mind’s
eye. Just before I left this part of the
dream, one more simple, glorious pleasure occurred. My Dad did not know the Irish songs of his
wife’s family but wanted to participate.
I again heard him sing “The Old Rugged Cross”, his favorite song and the
one we played at his funeral. As I wept,
I vowed to spend more time with family and the simple pleasure of life.
And as I woke, one thought ran through my head. Be good, not great! Strive for friendship not fame. Make memories not money to live on through
After a 30+ day shutdown decided to re-post this timely blog. I was in church and as in every week before July 4th we sang America the Beautiful. This time I really looked at the words and as I sang at the top of my lungs (anyone who ever heard me sing knows that is the only way I do it), I choked up. You see I could sing some of the lyrics like spacious skies by rote. But other parts I should read and remember. And on this July 1 as we head into the celebration of our nations birth, I want to convey the words that choked me up. In this time of uncivil discourse, I think it is necessary to remember what binds us together as a nation. It is not military might or economic strength but rather the belief of liberty for all, freedom from oppression, and most of all, the steady march of progression toward a more perfect union. So, let’s dissect the versus focused on the bolded sections.
1. Verse 1. O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
Commentary. We are truly a blessed nation. We have resources and the freedom to pursue happiness and the means to do it. So why the vitriol and the rancor on both sides. We need more brotherhood and sisterhood and less tweeting on both sides. We do not have a problem, we have an opportunity! We have people that believe in our country coming to our borders for a better life. True, it is not all of them. We cannot take in those impostors who want to harm us. But most people escaping from the south just want a better a life. Surely the country that rebuilt our enemies with the Marshal Plan, sent people to the moon, and built a nation of immigrants can discern in a professional way the people that do not wish us well. We have done it before and we can do it again. Instead of protesting, roll up your sleeves. This immigration problem is solvable and we a nation built on immigrant citizens and a history of practical solutions to thorny problems can do it. The President and Congress can do it if they put down the iPhones, look up to the Heavens, and realize how blessed we are. Call me naïve, but I think at the end of the day, we all want a fair but firm response to the immigration crisis. Heck we may even consider a new Marshal Plan for the South.
2.Verse 2.O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern impassion’ d stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness! America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
Commentary. This is by far the most consequential verse. The first line “O beautiful for pilgrim feet” speaks to how the pilgrims escaped religious persecution and later civil strife to find this beautiful country. Like the pilgrims of yesteryear, the pilgrims of today are seeking the same thing – liberty and the ability to reach their human potential. We must be a resting place for those men and women of good intent to find their home free from persecution. Note I said good intent. There are some with ill intent but we need a humane process and procedure to discern who they are. Those of good intent have and will protect our nation, build innovation, and will progress us on our path to a better nation. Which brings us to the later stanzas of this verse. We have flaws as a nation but we are the best thing going. Do not kid yourself. But we will lose our leadership status if we neglect self-control as one stanza of the song points out. As one President and a famous Saturday Night sketch pointed out we must practice prudence and self-control. All of us, especially the President, need to stop the late-night twitter rants and practice prudence and self-control. Lastly, our liberty is built in law. We somehow need to figure out a way to expedite legal immigration and provide asylum for those who need it and an opportunity for those that want it! Laws do that and where the law stops or hinders it we need to change it.
3. Verse 3. O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine!
Commentary: It is a disgrace to those men and women that laid down their lives for this beloved country, that we cannot stop the bickering, and the twittering, and find a solution to this immigration issue (and other issues facing our nation). We are to be refined, refined by the blood of patriots, and anyone who does not look in their hearts to find a middle way does the soldiers that fought and died for this country dishonor. We also must show mercy to those like us are seeking a better life and freedom. I ask everyone to rise-up, roll up their sleeves, and put on their working boots to solve our issues. And our President and Congress need to lead the way or get out of the way!
4. Verse 4. O Beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years Thine alabaster cities gleam, Undimmed by human tears! America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
Commentary: The patriots dream is that their country continues to press for a future! One that sees beyond the years and today’s expediency to understand the nation’s imperative is to welcome those decided in the course of liberty and freedom. In the end, America is not a nation but an idea. An idea that those with the will and the drive can escape to a new beginning where the tears will stop, the freedom will flow, and the nation will prosper!
One of my favorite quotes is from Ernest Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms. He writes “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places”. Truer words have never been written! Each of us one day will face a hardship that tests our very fiber, but if we make it through, we will grow and flourish. You assuredly learn from your mistakes, but you grow from your pain. The imperfections of this world are designed to test our mettle and prepare us for a more perfect world beyond.
Although the world breaks everyone in some way, many but not all become stronger in those broken places. What gifts have been bestowed on us, so we can be strong in the broken places? St. Paul provides us with the answer: Faith, Hope, and Love with the greatest being Love. As we end this year, let me provide three examples of these saving gifts through the lives of others.
Faith is trust in God and self that things will get better either in this world or the next. It isa powerful weapon in confronting hardship and in forging a new life. One example of abiding faith is St. John Paul II. As a priest and bishop, he showed faith that his beloved Poland wouldshake the bonds of oppression from the Soviet Union and it came to pass. As a new Pope, he had faith in the protection of Mary who shielded him from anassassin’s bullet. He later showed faith in the redemption of others by forgiving this would be assassin. As he aged, Saint John Paul II showed faith in God’s plan by showing us his weakness as he confronted Parkinson’s.
Hope is the belief that things will get better despite current hardships. Gandhi epitomizes hope to me. He faced obstacles and trials as he strove to establish the modern nation of India. Any one of the obstacles that he faced would have dissuaded a lesser person. But through the March to the Sea, the horror of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, and his many imprisonments, Gandhi retained his hope that the dignity of man would prevail. In his words, “To believe that what has not occurred in history will not occur at all, is to argue disbelief in the dignity of man.” Hope is the belief that the ultimate purpose of man will shine through despite the broken places.
Love is the greatest gift. It transforms the heart and soul. I have seen it do this to my brother David, his wife Debra, and his mother-in-law Marge. Debra is dealing with the debilitating disease of Aphasia and has been in a nursing facility since September. Please read more at this link https://www.gofundme.com/6d948wg . She can no longer speak and must use a respirator and eat through a feeding tube as she rehabilitates. Though she may not recover fully, she shows her love to David and Marge by getting up each day and taking on the rehabilitation exercises. Marge shows her love for her daughter by coming by daily and sharing time. Despite some of her own health issues, she is always there for her daughter in this time of hardship. Perhaps the most transformed by love is my brother David. We have had our occasional arguments over the years which is to be expected from a younger and older brother. He has in the last year become an inspiration to me and others. He is there after work every night to spend time with Debra and provide her with support. He also fights for his wife as he strives to get justice from the insurance company. I am inspired that the kid that used to tantalize me daily has been blessed with love in the broken places.
As we ring in this new year, let us learn from the examples above and strive to become stronger, more perfect in love! Let’s God’s glory shine through the broken places to be an inspiration for all to see.
I was watching a documentary on the life of Charles Krauthammer today and was surprised that he was once a speechwriter for Walter Mondale. This leader of Neo-con Republicanism once wrote speeches to elect the most traditional Democrat that ever existed, Walter Mondale. And as I watched, I asked how this nation devolved into an us versus them mentality.
It was not always that way. We once had civil discourse and the social intermediaries (clubs, little league, community centers, and other institutions) that brought us together. Listening to Charles’ life, I have to agree with Charles when he said, “Of course we are shaped by our milieu. But the most formative, most important influence on the individual is not government. It is civil society, those elements of the collectivity that lie outside government: family, neighborhood, church, Rotary club, PTA, the voluntary associations that Tocqueville understood to be the genius of America and source of its energy and freedom.”
We have gotten extreme, but it was not always that way. We did not always launch ourselves into the opposing sides of Twitter feeds at the drop of a hat, but rather listened to the opposing sides of people we respected in our community. We sought out the commonalities that brought us together and the spark of humanity that resides in each one of us. We listened to one another and learned from one another at the PTAs, Little Leagues, Community Centers and institutions of everyday life. We need to return to these social institutions and turn away from the emptiness of social media.
The best example of a community of sharing and caring is the town that I grew up in Crosswicks. My town’s main claim to fame was it was the launchpad of the revolution – the Battle of Trenton that won us a country and a nation. In that town of Crosswicks, we had a mix of liberals and conservatives that all got along and progressed for the betterment of our country and our community. Thinking about my hometown, I started thinking how did our nation – the collective Crosswicks – become so Crosswise? What caused the demise of the democracy? Simply this. When you cross the wicks (Crosswicks) of a candle, the light burns brighter. But when you get cross wise, the fire of freedom becomes extinguished.
So tonight, I will ruminate on what made our little hamlet of Crosswicks bring people together instead of pulling them apart. And the answer is quite simple – it was community organizations not affiliated with governments, Facebook, or corporate organizations. It was organizations by the people, for the people and run by the people. Let me talk about three of them:
Little League – Back before the day of club Soccer run by professionals, we had Little League. It was run by volunteers who wanted to teach kids a sport and bring communities together. I am now 55 and can still remember every moment of every Chesterfield Red Sox versus Chesterfield Black Sox game. The whole community came together to watch the teams compete. There may have been some arguments on the fields of friendly strife, but what I remember the most was being with my friends, learning from my father and other parents, and sharing fun with the community. I am not trying to cut down club soccer which is still a unifying organization. But there is something different learning from the people of your community instead of professionals that are getting paid.
Scouts – I cannot talk to Girl Scouts, but I can talk to Cub and Boy Scouts. These institutions brought together people from all walks of life for fellowship and fun. Both my mother as a Den Mother and my Father as a Cubmaster were involved. We got to learn how to compete fairly in the Pinewood Derby and Rocket races. We also learned how to develop our skills and help one another with our various badges. As part of a Den, Pack or Troop, you learned how to cooperate and care for those in your group. You also learned about how through differences and diversity, you create strength. I will never forget how our Boy Scout troop was able to take the disparate talents and succeed in a weekend campout.
Community Center and Library – The heart of Crosswicks was the community center and library. In the summer program at both institutions, I first fell in love with books, learned how to draw a cartoon dog and cat, and participated in parties on Halloween and Christmas. It did not matter the color of your skin, your political institution, or your religion. All the people in Crosswicks were brought together to share in fellowship and learn new skills. In the end, it is really what you learn and apply rather than what you earn and deny that makes a mark on the world.
These are just three of the intermediary institutions that brought us together in Crosswicks. I will never forget the friends that I made. And, even 40 years later, when my friends from Crosswicks express their disparate views, some quite different from my own, I listen and learn. Never underestimate the power of Crosswicks and intermediary institutions to bring people together. Let us all as a nation, cross wicks and make the light of our common humanity shine brighter!
At basically the nadir of my 50+ years, I decided to turn my health and my life around somehow, someway. I did not get all the way at once. I still had the bout with my colleague when I was gasping for breath after climbing a set of two sets of stairs. Read it here. But at least at that point I decided to do something, somehow. This is the story of how I went from Fat to Fit Again by killing the 7 deadly habits that explained in my most recent previous blog.
Before I discuss that let me talk to you a bit about Habits. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg linked here The Power of Habit is a must read for anyone that is seeking to change the habits that caused them to gain weight (or any other nefarious thing). I listened to the audiobook half way through my 178 lbs. weight loss journey (wish I read it earlier).
If you are struggling with any bad behavior DROP EVERYTHING AND READ IT NOW! The proposition from the book is we are creatures of habit. The book can be summed up by this quote “There is nothing you cannot do if you get the habits right!” On any given day, you do at least 40% of anything by habit. For example, you get up, your breath is sour, and you smell so you brush your teeth and take a shower. Depending on what is more important to you (I brush my teeth first), your habit is consistently the same. Every habit is triggered by an event (halitosis from sleeping with your mouth closed), followed by the habit (brushing my teeth for 45.7 seconds followed by mouth wash) to gain a reward (the ability to hopefully kiss my wife without her turning away!).
First you must realize your trigger, then the habit to give your reward. If you can realize the trigger (sometimes it is deceptive so use root cause analysis) and the resulting reward, you can change the intervening habit to get a similar award. We are not Pavlov’s dog, but we are sure close. The key things with humans is you can discern the trigger, change the habit, and earn the same or similar award. So now I will tell you how I dealt with the 7 deadly habits that changed me from Fit to Fat again. In all seven, I list the bad habits I had, the trigger that caused it, the habit that I changed and the reward that I still got even though the habit was changed.
Bad Habit: Binge Eating of Peanut M&Ms. New Habit: Eating filling fruit. I told in the last blog how I would drink cup full of Peanut M&M’s to sustain me from long nights of driving my team to create software. I changed this habit in three ways. First, I tracked the number of Weight Watcher points associated with a cup of peanut M&M’s (27 WW Smart Points per cup– more than 4/5 my daily allowance). Then I figured out the trigger. It was at approximately 3 hours after lunch when I felt tired and needed to get out of the chair. The habit was to walk to the front desk and fill a coffee cup with Peanut M&Ms and the reward was a burst of energy from sugar. What I did once I realized the trigger and the reward, I just changed the habit to get a similar award. An Apple has natural sugar but is zero points. So, I walked a similar distance to the break room and grabbed an apple.
Bad Habit: Overworking New Habit: Delegating and mentoring. One of the main reasons that I gained weight is I tried to do everything myself and ended up working 16+ days. The trigger was an overwhelming sense of responsibility to my job and the satisfaction of a successful project. Beyond the ancillary consequence of gaining weight since I put my health secondary, I was not fully utilizing my team or giving them a sense of accomplishment on their own. So chiefly for selfish reasons, I realized I could no longer be an iron man and started to delegate. I adopted an approach of Mentoring and not Mangling with dictates and proclamations. This not only gave me time to focus on my health, it also allowed us to accomplish the mission, thus fulfilling my sense of responsibility.
Bad Habit: Not Sleeping New Habit: Sleeping more (but still not enough!). Delegating helped me to get more sleep. But I also took other measures. Instead of working or listening to books on one of the many plane trips that I took, I did a mindfulness exercise (in my case as a Catholic I said a Rosary), then calmed I went to sleep on the plane. Also, exercise helped to induce me to get more sleep. I also monitored my sleep habits with a Fitbit. Despite all these efforts (and another effort I will mention later), I was only able to up my average sleep to 6.2 hours from a paltry 5.1. But it is progress. Sleep by the way is one of the most important factors to weight loss. Almost every week I failed to lose weight on my weight loss journey it was due to a lack of sleep.
Bad Habit: Stressing out New Habit: Working out. Stress was one of the triggers to so many of my bad habits. Depression and binge eating are too in particular. There are two ways I countered the trigger of stress. When I felt it coming on, I made sure I planned a Beer Walk after work. That is where I would make a 2-3-mile trek to the Banger’s Bar that is just off trail in Austin Town lake. I would have a beer and then walk back. Here is a picture of me returning from my most recent beer walk and enjoying an Austin sunset! The other thing I do is I sing Karaoke with an app called Sing Smule. I don’t do it in the office (well at least not normally). But singing a few tunes is a great way to get the stress and the fat invoking Cortisol down!
Bad Habit: Not going to the doctors New Habit: Doing exactly what the doctor told me. In my previous blog, I talked about how I skipped going to the doctors because of work and paid for it. I paid for it in two ways. I had Sleep Apnea and an undiagnosed condition that caused me to retain 25+ lbs. of fluid. Once I finally went to the doctors, I kept going. And I did what they told me. That meant living with a CPAP for a year and taking it to all my favorite Midwest states for work (don’t try to get distilled water at midnight in Topeka). I also took my meds. These two simple things took off 25+ lbs. in water weight and reduced my shoes size by 21/2 sizes.
Problem: Depression Antidote: Being Thankful and Grieving. I had a lot of things go wrong in 2012 most importantly losing my Mother – my last parent. I drove on and tried to work myself out of the grief. Bad idea. After a year of trying that, I pulled myself out of my funk by taking time to grieve and being thankful for all the good things that were coming my way (Kid’s graduation, daughter’s wedding). When you are sad, look for something for which to be thankful but more importantly take time to remember the person you lost! Here is the blog I wrote about the thankfulness I felt on another sad moment. Life’s Game Changers – The Power of Thanksgiving
Bad Habit: Not drinking water and drinking Coke. New Habit: Drinking flavored Sparkling Water. This sounds weird, I do not like drinking water. But I love carbonated drinks. Once I realized I was drinking a lot of calories, I decided to try zero calorie, sparkling water. To save money, I got a soda stream machine and I buy flavor pods available in the store. Water along with sleep.
And there you have it. I changed my habits and transformed my life. 178 lbs. gained and then lost and never, ever coming back again. You can go from Fat to Fit like me with the Power of Habit.
The above is my take on e.e. cummings’ classic “In Just Spring” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47247/in-just after my first run in Spring. Everyone wants to get out and lose those 10 pounds of insulation gained during the Winter months. But before you go out and become the little lame woman or man, here are three rules to follow In Just Spring.
Take it Slow – It
is always tempting to walk that extra mile or two when the weather gets warm
and the bluebonnets are out. That is
exactly what I, my wife, and our dog Boots attempted to do on the trails on Brushy
Creek. Even with a stop at a sandwich
shop for a quick bite, we ended up struggling to make it back to our car. We ended up dragging our 70 lbs., huffing
Bernese Mountain dog the last few yards.
We are still recovering!
The lesson learned is simple. Do not overdue it with the first flowers of spring. In the winter it is a struggle to get out and about (read how so in this blog https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/12/09/baby-its-cold-outside-but-exercise-anyway/ ). Now that the weather is more conducive to exercise don’t try to catch up all in one day. Take your time to slowly build up your miles, so you too don’t become the little lame woman or man (or dog!).
Do the essential –
A corollary to the first rule is to focus on the essential. In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined
Pursuit of Less, Greg Mckeown says that the key to success to health and
life in general is to do “less but better”.
When waking up after our winter fog, it is tempting to try everything at
once to get fit. It is understandable, we
are excited to get swimsuit ready for the summer. So we take up the latest diet, try a myriad
of fitness fads, and buy the newest exercise equipment from Amazon. But it is better to focus of the
essentials. Track the food you eat
diligently, get plenty of sleep, and focus on the now. Don’t do everything! Do the essential well to
enjoy the Spring and the new you.
Be in the Moment – The flowers are in bloom and the sun is out. It is time to focus on the now and enjoy the new life of Spring. One way to take it slow is to take in nature. Sit on a bench. Take a picture. Lie in the bluebonnets like Boots the dog! Clear your mind of anxiety and enjoy the blooming beauty all around you.
Follow these rules to avoid becoming the little lame, middle-aged
woman or man. Spring into the season and
a new you!
This Friday marked a major milestone on my road to recovery from a major heart procedure. A little worse for the wear but not so bad if I do say so myself. Luckily our instructor did not end her usual unleash song, Tina Turner’s Rolling Down the River. I would have ended up breaking Rule 2 below and looking more worn. I simply can’t resist going 120 RPM’s on the chorus of that song.
For those of you follow my blog regularly, you know how much I love spin class. I fell in love with the music, movement, and madness that is spin about a year ago. It is indeed one of my favorite ways to relieve stress. But before getting back in the saddle, I first had to follow these three rules:
1. Rest, recover, relax. This first rule was the hardest for me. Having lost a ton of weight a few years ago, I was nervous that taking time off to rest and recover would throw me back off track. So, I did a very stupid thing and broke this rule. I went for a long 5 mile walk the day after returning from the hospital. Initially, I felt great as you can read in this blog. https://weightlossleadership.com/2019/02/13/a-heart-filled-with-gratitude-and-love/ But, it was not to last. During that whole week, I was recovering from the walk.
If I was going to get healthy,I needed to go back to the basics and follow this first rule. So, I took the entire next weekend completely off and rested and relaxed. It did a world of good and sped up the healing process. It is very important to take time for yourself and relax after surgery before diving into your normal regimen.
2. Ease back into exercise. The second step after taking time to rest is to ease back into exercise. As much as I wanted to, I did not get on the bike until three weeks later. Instead, I went back to basics and walked at a much slower pace and for shorter distances than that first Sunday. This less strenuous regimen provided two major advantages. First it allowed the bruise around the insertion point to heal. Second, it gave me a benchmark on my heart rate and gave me confidence the procedure had worked. I now was ready to take the plunge (or in this case the seat!
3. Unleash without fear. The last step is perhaps the most important one. Once you have taken the time to recover, you cannot be afraid to test the limits. It is the same lesson we all learned as kids. Get back on the bike when you have fallen off! I did watch my Fitbit carefully the first few songs but then gave into the vibe! You must trust in the professionalism of your Doctor’s and your own preparation. Get back in the saddle and ride!
And that is what I did and will continue doing. This coming Saturday, I will again be participating in Lifetime’s Ride for A Reason to fund the good work of St. Jude’s Children Hospital. Last year I rode all four hours and will hopefully do so again if the three rules allow. Please consider supporting the good work of St. Jude’s through a donation at the link below. The last picture is of me after last year’s event. https://fundraising.stjude.org/site/TR?px=4996114&pg=personal&fr_id=103544
Last Sunday I walked Brushy Creek trail like so many Sundays
before. But something was different. It wasn’t the light rain that was falling or
the new audiobook on my iPhone. No, this
day was different because of the overwhelming gratitude that I felt as the rain
touched my face.
The morning before I was discharged from the hospital after a six-hour heart procedure. Sounds like something that might not elicit gratitude. But in me it did. You see a scant 4 years ago making it through or even to the procedure would not have been likely. Weighing in at a hefty, 358 lbs. breathless and bloated, I was stressed out and strident To read more how about how I came to this unfortunate state, read here. https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/04/09/fit-to-fat-lessons-learned-while-doubling-my-weight/
I needed a change to get healthy and I needed help to make
the change. Luckily, God set people in
my life that helped me to get fit. He
also guided the hands of the gifted doctors and the kind deeds of caring nurses
to bring me through on the other side. I
began that Friday with a heart that was broken and left with a heart filled
with gratitude and love!
As I slowly walked, amazed that I could do so after the
procedure, I looked back on five things for which I was grateful.
First is God. Throughout my journey to better health, God put people in my path, thoughts in my head, and love in my heart. One such person is Father Mike Schmitz whose podcasts taught me to love myself, love others and to love God. Another person is the ICU chaplain who is responsible for producing weekly Christian Meditations. These meditations have helped me to become calmer and look to God for answers. Less everyone think that God only works through podcasts, time and time again, events occurred at of nowhere to lead on me on the right path. One example is the company email that I got for a discount to Wellness that Works on the day I was about to give up (more on this organization in number 3). More recently, I have found passion and purpose as a Core member with my church’s Lifeteen group.
Next are the doctors and nurses of Austin Heart. This gifted group correctly diagnosed my condition five years ago and set me on the pathway to health. With medication and skill, they helped me to get my initial problem under control, so I could lose the water and weight. With a stronger heart, I was able to exercise and get fit. More recently, they were able to diagnose a second serious problem and address it with my recent procedure. These doctor and nurses listed to my concerns and thoughtfully guide my decisions.
Third is WW, the organization formerly know as Weight Watchers and now Wellness that Works. This organization and its Round Rock lead Julie Faircloth provided lessons, tools and nurturing support that have brought both fitness and comradery. There are no better friends than my Saturday group. To read more about this amazing group, read this blog https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/04/22/the-whys-of-weight-watchers/
Lastly and most importantly is my family and friends. My wife has helped me through and loved me, through my weight gain and my journey to health. She has been a rock and helped me through the recent procedure staying with me every step of the way. She is kind but firm, leading me on the right path. She is my hero and my heart!
And then the walk was done.
The rain had stopped, and the sun now shown as gratitude flowed in my
The key to improving your health and losing weight is your environment. We in the 21st century live in a toxic environment. Artificial food, false friends, and feelings of discontent lead to stress, weight gain and self-medication. To embark on a journey toward health, we need to put away the fast food, vitriol and anxiety of everyday living to embrace real food, real experiences, mindfulness and thankfulness.
I know I lived in that environment up until a few years back
and experienced its negative consequences.
With ready access to Quarter Pounders, Diet Cokes, and M&Ms, I doubled
my size and diminished my disposition.
These unhealthy eating practices were exacerbated by too much face time at
work and Facebook for leisure. The
result was an unhealthy, grumpy middle-aged man who could not walk around the
block. Something had to change! Only when I started to change my environment
did I change my life!
There were three aspects to my environment that I decided to
change in January 2015. Weighing more
than all but three of the heaviest players in the NFL with a goods deal less muscle
tone and height, I had to take the following actions to change my environment
and restore my hearth:
Changed my food environment. The first aspect that I set out to change was
my pantry. There were several nemeses
that I had to swap out. The first was
Ice Cream. I was an absolute ice cream
fanatic. So much so that I created an
acronym for my Ice Cream addiction – ICR.
This is how it is used. Once my
kids could drive, I would call out – “Hey, Kyle can you go on an ICR. Get me a large M&M blizzard and get
something for everyone else.” ICR if
you have not figured out yet is Ice Cream Run and it supplemented the ice cream
I already had in the freezer. In
addition to Ice Cream, I kept a pantry well stocked of chips, peanut M&Ms,
and a big 1-gallon plastic container of mixed nuts. All available for ready access whenever I
became stressed. This had to change so I
sought out alternatives.
I initially replaced my DQ Blizzard with
Skinny Cow Ice Cream sandwiches and eventually Non-Fat Greek yogurt with Banana’s
(I still stay away from Ice Cream totally since it is a trigger food). I replaced peanut M&M’s overtime with WW
Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie flavored bars that are individually wrapped, the
same calories of a two peanut M&M’s and less likely to gouge on by the cupful! I replaced chips with a crunchy, healthy
alternative that absorbs Salsa just as well – Broccoli. I dealt with my Mixed Nut affliction in a
similar way that I did Peanut M&Ms.
I swapped out the tub full of Mixed Nuts from Costco with individual
packets of smaller size that are less likely to gouge on in fits of stress
eating. These and other food changes got
me one third of the way to a better environment.
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 and Twitted. 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!
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!