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!

I’m Back, Right on Track

I was temporarily derailed on my Weight Loss maintenance program the last few weeks.  So much so that my Lifetime standing was potentially threatened.  The first two weigh-ins this month I was off by two lbs. Not the worst thing but I really cherish my Lifetime distinction.

What got me slightly off track?   It was not dramatic.  I did not suddenly binge eat a bunch of M&M’s or stop exercising.  Nor did I stop my other good habits (in fact they saved me – more on that later!).  No, it was three items that without the habits that I learned at Weight Watchers would have derailed me permanently.

I think of these external items as the Weight Gain Axis of Evil!   Before the discipline and training I received at Weight Watchers, this Axis of Evil caused me to balloon up in a matter of weeks.  The diagram below shows the three elements of the Axis:

The Weight Gain Axis of Evil
The Weight Gain Axis of Evil

Here is how they impacted me in my temporary setback.

  1. Travel woes.  Both weeks I was traveling for work out of town and had a delay on some of the flights.  Plus traveling two time zones away.
  2. Work Stress. I was taking on more work responsibility while still retaining my current work.   In addition, I had a packed two-week schedule with deadlines and planes to catch.
  3. Lack of Sleep. I could not sleep for the most part driven by the first two elements of the Axis.  First, I kept thinking it was 5 am when it was 3 am because of the time zone difference.  Second, I had to catch planes early in the morning and late at night.  Third, the work stress and the tight schedule made me anxious making it difficult to fall asleep.

I caved in the past before Weight Watchers when I confronted the Weight Gain Axis of Evil.     I would wake up too early or go to bed too late causing Cortisol to race through my veins.  Then the stress  elevated the cortisol level and the fatigue factor, making me eat more and exercise less. The result in the past; easily a five-pound weight gain in a week with additional weight gain until I could get of the loop.

This time however I was able to recover from the fleeting set back with the lessons I learned from Weight Watchers.  Here are the 5 items that helped me.

  1. Don’t Panic! – Like the Hitchhiker traveling the Galaxy (one of my favorite books), Don’t Panic!  I remembered the rough patches I had before and how I eventually was able to overcome them.  I was not going to let a two-week setback remain permanent.  Remembering my Weight Loss Journey when I lost 170+ pounds, I knew if there were fits and starts in weight loss, there would also be partial setbacks in weight maintenance.
  2. Look beyond the Scale – There are more things to Weight Watchers than just the scale. According to the Lifetime member rules, I only need to weigh in once a month to maintain my status.  But comradery and the friends I have gained at my Round Rock class means more to me then a temporary loss of Lifetime status.  THEY WERE THERE FOR ME AND I WILL BE THERE FOR THEM.
  3. Listen closely at Class – While you are at class enjoying the comradery, listen! Two lessons from the last two classes helped me get back on track.  One was the practice of mindfulness (see 4).  The second was the discussion of the “The Power of Habit”.  After class, I reread excerpts from that book and tweaked a few of my habits that had grown stale and needed tweaking!
  4. Mindfulness – Weight Watchers has teamed with Mind Space to teach members the practice of mindfulness and meditation to overcome stress. After attending and participating in the recent mindfulness exercise that was introduced recently, I restarted my practice to handle the extra stress of the last few weeks. With the calming effect of mindfulness, I increased my sleep and it was deeper also.
  5. Blue Dot Focus – I never lost my habit of tracking even during my set back.  But I did lose the focus of trying to get a blue dot award (staying in a recommended point zone for a day).  I had become astute at using every one of my weekly points and some of my activity points.  In so doing, I had been paying less attention of hitting a blue dot 5 out of the 7 days in a week.  This week, I went back to that goal and in so doing retained some of my weekly points.

My 5 ways to defeat my Weight Gain Axis of Evil may be different from yours.  Indeed, you may have a different Axis.  The point is to examine and to attack your weight gain nemesis with optimism, pluck and the lessons of Weight Watchers.  In closing:

I’m Back,

Right On Track,

Come and Give my Hand A Smack,

Weight Watchers All the Way!

Weight Watchers All the Way!

A Walk with History (Part 2): Meandering Toward Monticello

Some of the best events in life are not planned.  That was indeed the case when my wife and I set off from Washington, DC to Monticello, VA.  Our plan was to leave Reagan National about 9 AM and drive the 2-and-a-half-hour ride to Monticello to arrive around lunch.  But as luck would have it, my medication and my body’s reaction to it was cause for some serendipitous detours see map below:

Map of historical sites
Map of stops while meandering toward Monticello

This time I mixed up one of my medications. I usually delay taking this medication when on a road trip, because its purpose is to rid my body of excess water, making numerous bathroom stops necessary.  Essentially, I need to stop every 1 hour (or less) to do number 1.  So unbeknownst to me at the start, our route to Monticello would be a meandering one.

The urge to purge struck me about 10 miles from the Chancellorsville Visitor Center.  I did not know at the time that I was stopping there but when I saw the National Park sign 8 miles later, I had to decide.  Pulling into the parking lot with nary 15 seconds to spare, I put the car in park, left the car running (lucky my wife is used to this) and sprinted to the Visitor’s Center restroom.   I really should be on one of those “Got to go commercials” for overactive bladders!

After finding relief, I linked up with my wife again and said since we are here we might as well look around.  I am glad we did since he learned some historical lessons.

Chancellorsville was a tactical victory for the Confederacy but ultimately a turning point in the war for the Union.  How can I say this? The Confederacy did win on the battlefield against Hooker’s Army of the Potomac with an army half its size.  But it lost one of its two indispensable Generals – Stonewall Jackson (Lee being the other one).  Also, Lee was unable to stop the withdraw of the Army of the Potomac.

In the hour I spent meandering on the trail right outside the Visitor’s Center, I learned two important lessons in history and life.  First, often the hinges of history rest on the shoulders of one or two people.  Think of Winston Churchill in WW II.  To a somewhat lesser extent, what if Stonewall Jackson, the  ears and eyes of the Confederacy was at Gettysburg.  I am glad he wasn’t for the sake of this great nation, but the question made me ponder how often one person can impact history.  The second thing was I was surprisingly moved by the simple stone monument put up on the National Park site to recognize where Stonewall Jackson was shot and ultimately died.  It was put there in 1888 by members of Stonewall Jackson’s staff.  In the current debates of today, it would be easy to say pull the monument down.  But I think not.  It is a pivotal part of our nation’s history.  If we tear it down, we would remove the memory of how the tide of the Civil War started to turn.

Historical Marker
The marker showing where Stonewall Jackson was gravely wounded at Chancellorsville

With our first circuitous stop in our march to Monticello completed, my wife and I got back in the car.  It was now 11:30.   Our stop had taken a big bite out of the time we could spend at Monticello, so we looked for a plan B.   We looked on the map and decided I would never make it to Monticello without taking another rest room break.  Looking at the map and scanning the internet, we noted that Montpelier, the residence of James Madison was closer and would make a good stop.  So, after taking a bite to eat, we drove to Montpelier.

I barely made it!  Again, I came to a racing stop at the visitor’s center as I rushed into the rest room.  After regrouping, we decided to take the Constitution tour or Montpelier.  And I am glad we did!  Our second serendipitous stop taught us the good, the bad, and the ugly about James Madison.

The good was the brilliance of James Madison and his contribution to our country.  Thomas Jefferson is known as the poet of the American Revolution with his writing of the inspirational Declaration of Independence.  But James Madison was responsible for the prose of the American Revolution – the Constitution and Bill of Rights upon which our republic is built and the Federalist papers that underpin these documents.  The Declaration of Independence without the construct of the Constitution is essentially no more than a dream.  The Constitution and the Bill of Rights make it a reality.  And James Madison was the driving force of both.

Montpelier - Home of James Madison
Montpelier – Home of James Madison

The Bad was the paradox of slavery.   James and Dolly Madison were slave owners and Montpelier would not exist if it was not for slave labor.  Here was James Madison who created the Constitution and Bill of Rights that declared all men equal under the law denying the freedom other men and treating them as property.   There is an excellent exhibit at Montpelier called “The Mere Distinction of Color” that shows the unvarnished truth about how James Madison and other founding fathers treated the slaves.

This exhibit eventually descends into the ugly truth of Montpelier.  James Madison to bail his stepson John Payne Todd from debtor’s prison had to mortgage Montpelier.  Later when he died, Dolly to pay off her son’s debts primarily due to his alcoholism had to sell all of Montpelier and the slaves residing on it.  Families were torn apart as they were separated and sold to different slave owners, creating an ugly legacy for the architect of the Constitution – the greatest force for freedom and liberty ever designed.   What irony!

After visiting Montpelier, it was 4 O’clock.  Too late to visit Monticello that evening but only 29 miles away from Charlottesville and our hotel for the evening.  Even I can make it for 29 miles without stopping for the restroom.  So, we pulled into our hotel.  More meandering on our trip to Monticello would happen after dinner as we visited the University of Virginia.  But we will leave that for Part 3 of this blog series to be discussed together with our visit to the UVA founder’s home – Monticello!

If you found this blog interesting, please click on the following link for the first in this series. A Walk with History (Part 1): Overcoming Slavery’s Stain

5 Weapons to Win the War on Weight

Ready for weight loss
Ready for battle with my weapons in weight loss!

For many, losing weight and keeping it off is akin to warfare.  It was for me.  Many days during my year and a half journey to lose a 178 lbs.  I felt like I was in the Battle of the Bulge.  I was pummeled on all sides by my enemies –  junk food, worry, and inactivity.     I needed the right weapons to beat back the break in my defenses and drive to victory.  And I found them in these five key weapons in Weight Loss warfare:

  1. Bananas – The banana is the ultimate weapon in defeating junk food cravings for several reasons.  First, they are very discreet and compact.  You can hide them in your backpack or briefcase and pull them out whenever a junk food frenzy hits!  Indeed, they were my weapon of choice in defeating my arch nemesis – Peanut M&M’s.  Second, they come with their own protection a removable skin that keeps them clean and ready to eat in all sorts of terrain – Nature’s MRE.   Lastly, they sustain for the long haul with their fiber and potassium.  Eat one and you can drive past a full candy bowl without slowing down.
  2. Sneakers are the ultimate weapon against our next enemy of health – inactivity. Sitting and remaining dormant are two of the most powerful armaments in our foe’s arsenal. There are more expensive tools to defeat them – gyms, the latest exercise equipment, etc. – but I have found the trusty sneaker to be the most effective.  Sneakers are like the famous Kalashnikov rifle that the Soviet’s used in WW II.  You could drop the Kalashnikov in the mud or march in the rain and it would always fire when you pulled the trigger.  Likewise, sneakers are a lost cost, effective way to beat inactivity.  For example, when I am out of town for work and know I will be away from the gym, I find a hotel about a mile or two from the workplace, lace up my sneakers and take a twenty-minute walk.  I then switch into my shoes and put them in my backpack; along with my trusty banana that replenishes my potassium!  There they remain until ready for access with my next bout with inactivity – lunch!
  3. Audiobooks – Two other enemies in the struggle against weight gain is lack of knowledge and boredom. Audiobooks are the perfect antidote to both.  Take them on a trek while walking on a trail and you will forget the foes trying to drive you away from your objective.  I have whiled away the hours listening to James Patterson as I worked off the weight.  Next, audiobooks provide you inspiration and knowledge to counter the enemy’s every move.  For example, The Power of Habit taught me how to counter the triggers to eating.  Walking with audiobooks strikes fear in our nemesis to health!
  4. Weight Watchers – An effective game plan and strategy is the greatest force multiplier on the battlefield.  Weight Watchers provides that game plan with its program Freestyle.  The program provides you the structure, support and tools to defeat cravings and the disinformation campaign that our modern lifestyle deploys.
  5. Your Mind – The most powerful weapon in the weight loss struggle is your mind.  The harbingers of weight gain use worry, negativity and self-loathing to distract you and bring you down.  To counter them, practice mindfulness and positive thoughts.  This will counter the senseless eating that often accompanies worry and restlessness.

The winning combination of the five weight loss weapons will bring you success.  Use them and drive to victory and a new you!

Vanquish Weight Gain During Vacation!

I have just come back from a week of vacation and was able to maintain my Lifetime Goal weight at Weight Watchers when I weighed in the week following.  How was I able to vanquish weight gain during vacation?  I was able to maintain the hard fought 175 lbs. (actually lost a pound) using 6 simple tricks!

Washington Monument
Washington at Night
  1. Wherever I Went I was Walking! One of my favorite movies is Forest Gump and the line I love the most is when he starts the jogging craze in the 70’s – “From that day on, if I was going somewhere, I was running!”.  Being on the backside of fifty and with somewhat creaky knees, I modified Forest’s plea to walking.  It is low impact and allows you to take in your vacation at a more leisurely pace.  Almost all the tours I took in Washington and Virginia historical areas were walking tours – averaging over 15 k steps a day with the peak day over 30 k.  Walking the streets of Williamsburg and the hills of Monticello and Montpelier allows you to take in the sights and sounds of our Founding Fathers and Mothers the way they did.  It also allows you to eat some more food and counter it with exercise.
  2. Indulge but count. Which brings me to point to.  You should indulge a bit on vacation.  The new Weight Watcher’s program allows you to do just that.  While on Vacation, I shared a few deserts with my wife for the first time in a long time.  But I was also careful to track everything I ate to know that I was in striking distance for the week.  By tracking and not attacking the buffet line, I was able to enjoy some of the colonial recipes and comfort foods in Virginia in a controlled manner.  I was able to indulge and avoid the bulge!
  3. Drink water to counter the beer. One thing that I indulged in during the trip was beer. I love microbrews and the beer recipes from earlier times (Williamsburg has beer based on 300-year-old recipes that are off the charts!).  Besides counting the points for each beer, I was careful to drink water to remain hydrated and trigger my metabolism.  Beer dehydrates you, so it is important to balance your beer with water that is clear!  (A little Dad joke for you all!)
  4. Destress, rest and learn something new.  This fourth point is a critical one.  You are on vacation and the purpose is to destress and rest.  It is therefore important to put work on hiatus or at the very least plan the times people can reach you if critical tasks are at hand.  Here is a case in point.  I really needed to take a work call but there was a show about Martha Washington that I wanted to see which overlapped the call.  I got to the show early to get a seat that would allow me to listen to the first hour of the show and then sneak up to a hill that had a great view of Williamsburg but was isolated enough to take the call.  It is better to turn off on Vacation but in my case, I get more stressed if I do not balance critical work with fun. By planning, I was able to destress by learning about Martha Washington for the first hour and still was able to take a critical call.  A little planning on vacation goes a long way!
  5. Vacation with someone that has your back. It is also important to vacation with someone who understands how far you have gone on your weight loss journey and wants to help you.  My wife Colette is great in this respect.  She has always been able to maintain her weight (I envy her metabolism).  When we go out to eat, she is very accommodating in the places we select and does not push me to eat something that would push up the points.  On the flip side, she does not nag me not to eat something if I make a choice to indulge.  Lastly, she knows how important it is to me to track my Smart Points, so she allows me to use my phone while at dinner.
  6. Wait to weigh in. This last point is the most important one.   The best way to maintain your weight on vacation is to not obsess about the scale.  I did not weigh myself until the Sunday evening after I returned.  In addition, I was mentally prepared to be higher than I normally am on a Sunday evening prior to my next Saturday weigh in.  In this case, I was 3 lbs. higher than my normal Sunday weight but had confidence when I hit Weight Watchers the next Saturday, I would be at the goal weight I needed to maintain.

So, there you have it.  Vacations are for fun!  You can control and ultimately vanquish the vacation pounds by applying these and other simple rules from Weight Watcher’s Freestyle and other lessons learned.

A Walk with History (Part 1): Overcoming Slavery’s Stain

I am just returning from a week long vacation visiting historic sites in Virginia.  My wife and I visited DC, and then went to Chancellorsville, Montpelier (Home of James Madison), Monticello (Home of Thomas Jefferson), the Historic Triangle (Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown), and returned to visit heroes and friends at Arlington National Cemetery.  In this trek in the past, I learned a lot about our great country and gained insights into our future as we continue to perfect our union.

This is the first of a series of blogs on what I learned.  This lesson is the most important.  I gained it while my wife and I spent 4 hours in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC (not nearly enough) and had 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.
  3. Slave Quarters at Monticello
  4. Slave Quarters at Monticello
  5. 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.

  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 basement.  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.

America the Beautiful But Broken: A Prescription and a Promise

Today 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 imposters 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 the sheep from the goats. We have done it before and we can do it again.  Instead of protesting, roll up your sleeves.  This immigration problem is solvable and we a nation built on immigrant citizens and a history of practical solutions to thorny problems can do it.  The President and Congress can do it if they put down the iPhones, look up to the Heavens, and realize how blessed we are.  Call me naïve, but I think at the end of the day, we all want a fair but firm response to the immigration crisis.  Heck we may even consider a new Marshal Plan for the South.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flag on July 4th
Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

Stop the Negative Talk and Take A Walk

Some say the key to weight loss is reducing calories while others say exercise is the key.  Both are important but for me be the key to weight loss is controlling negative thoughts.  A positive outlook and a can-do attitude works wonders on both your body and your soul.   It has in my case!  In the past three years, I have been able to shed over 170 pounds and a lot of mental baggage by doing three simple things.

1. Stop Negative Talk. The very first thing you should do when striving to lose weight and be a better leader is stop the negative talk.   You need to replace the words can’t do with can do.  Also, you need to stop the practice of “worst casting”.  This is the racing voice inside your head that blows the simplest setback into a full fledge downward spiral.  Here is an example of thoughts in my head before I learned how to tackle it.

“This project is not going well. But I am the only one that can do it.    I need to work to at least 10 PM to pull it out or it will not get done.  I am so tired.  Need some energy.  But if I take a break I will never pull it out.  And then everyone will come after me.  How can I get some energy to keep going?  Grab a cup full of peanut M&M’s and another cup of coffee and I will make it.  I am still too tired but worth a shot”.

This my friends is how I gained over 80 lbs. in less than a year.  I worst casted myself into weight gain!  I reveled in being the Iron Man that could beat Murphy and stop disaster from coming down upon us.  But in truth, Murphy’s law (Everything that may go wrong will go wrong) was not in play.  Instead, I was being both a pessimist and an arrogant leader not trusting of the collective wisdom of the team.   It was only when I had faith in myself, a clear realization of the situation, and the belief in my team that I could break the cycle of worst casting.

So here is how the sound of the voice in my head is now.  “The project is having some problems but we can tackle them.  But I am still so tired.   I will call up my team to see if they have some ideas.  Then I will take a walk and clear my head.  We will then be able to solve this tomorrow. [Don takes a walk].  I came up with three ideas that will solve this by leveraging the ideas from my team.  I am energized.  I write an email, set the plan for tomorrow and go to bed!”

See the difference.  When I let the negative talk dominate, I worst casted myself into eating M&M’s, sitting in a chair, losing sleep, and not engaging my team.  I was still able to overcome Murphy’s Law because it was not really in play!  Also, I did it by force rather than smarts.  When I stepped back and stopped the negative thoughts, I exercised, engaged my team, got some sleep, and came up with a better solution with a cleared head.  First rule to weight loss and leadership – stop the negative thoughts in your head.

2. Take a Walk. I already alluded to this in rule 1.  When your mind is raising and your feeling stressed, don’t reach for a Whataburger – take a walk!  Preferably outside.  It will do three things for you.  First, it will destress you and calm you down.  Especially if you are out in nature and you can hear birds singing and smell the flowers.  Second, it will allow you to catch up with your thoughts and put them together in coherent patterns.  One thing that really helps on this second one.  Listen to a relevant audio book.  I cannot tell you how many times I solved the latest problem or come up with a blog story.  Third, it will allow you to capture ideas in a less rushed manner.  Nearly half my blogs and many of my work solutions start the same way.  I am walking around Town Lake listening to a self-help or sometimes a philosophy book.  An idea or a solution pops in my head.  I press the button on my iPhone and say Siri Take Note.  Then I record the idea and use it when I get home.  It is a great way to solve problems and write great blogs (and often to scare the person walking beside you!).

3. Be Kind. The last thing to defeat negative talk, work inefficiency, and weight gain is KINDNESS.  Be kind to yourself.  You are doing the best you can.  Be kind to others.  Often, they are doing the best they can and if they are not, you need to help them achieve their potential.  I will not lie to you.  Kindness is something I am still working on.  It is hard to tackle 50 some years of being a driver and a bit of curmudgeon.  But more often than not, you can kill the problem with kindness.  And shed the weight by being kind to yourself as you move to a healthier you.

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American Anthem: More Crosswicks less Crosswise

I was watching a documentary on the life of Charles Krauthammer today and was surprised that he was once a speechwriter for Walter Mondale.  This leader of Neo-con Republicanism once wrote speeches to elect the most traditional Democrat that ever existed, Walter Mondale.  And as I watched, I asked how this nation devolved into an us versus them mentality.

It was not always that way.  We once had civil discourse and the social intermediaries (clubs, little league, community centers, and other institutions) that brought us together.  Listening to Charles’ life, I have to agree with Charles when he said, “Of course we are shaped by our milieu. But the most formative, most important influence on the individual is not government. It is civil society, those elements of the collectivity that lie outside government: family, neighborhood, church, Rotary club, PTA, the voluntary associations that Tocqueville understood to be the genius of America and source of its energy and freedom.”

We have gotten extreme, but it was not always that way. We did not always launch ourselves into the opposing sides of Twitter feeds at the drop of a hat, but rather listened to the opposing sides of people we respected in our community. We sought out the commonalities that brought us together and the spark of humanity that resides in each one of us.   We listened to one another and learned from one another at the PTAs, Little Leagues, Community Centers and institutions of everyday life.  We need to return to these social institutions and turn away from the emptiness of social media.

The best example of a community of sharing and caring is the town that I grew up in Crosswicks.  My town’s main claim to fame was it was the launchpad of the revolution – the Battle of Trenton that won us a country and a nation.  In that town of Crosswicks, we had a mix of liberals and conservatives that all got along and progressed for the betterment of our country and our community.  Thinking about my hometown, I started thinking how did our nation – the collective Crosswicks – become so Crosswise?  What caused the demise of the democracy?  Simply this.  When you cross the wicks (Crosswicks) of a candle, the light burns brighter.  But when you get cross wise, the fire of freedom becomes extinguished.

Picture of Crosswicks

So tonight, I will ruminate on what made our little hamlet of Crosswicks bring people together instead of pulling them apart.  And the answer is quite simple – it was community organizations not affiliated with governments, Facebook, or corporate organizations.  It was organizations by the people, for the people and run by the people.  Let me talk about three of them:

  1. Little League – Back before the day of club Soccer run by professionals, we had Little League. It was run by volunteers who wanted to teach kids a sport and bring communities together.  I am now 55 and can still remember every moment of every Chesterfield Red Sox versus Chesterfield Black Sox game.  The whole community came together to watch the teams compete.  There may have been some arguments on the fields of friendly strife, but what I remember the most was being with my friends, learning from my father and other parents, and sharing fun with the community.  I am not trying to cut down club soccer which is still a unifying organization.  But there is something different learning from the people of your community instead of professionals that are getting paid.
  2. Scouts – I cannot talk to Girl Scouts, but I can talk to Cub and Boy Scouts. These institutions brought together people from all walks of life for fellowship and fun.  Both my mother as a Den Mother and my Father as a Cubmaster were involved.  We got to learn how to compete fairly in the Pinewood Derby and Rocket races.  We also learned how to develop our skills and help one another with our various badges.  As part of a Den, Pack or Troop, you learned how to cooperate and care for those in your group.  You also learned about how through differences and diversity, you create strength.  I will never forget how our Boy Scout troop was able to take the disparate talents and succeed in a weekend campout.
  3. Community Center and Library – The heart of Crosswicks was the community center and library.  In the summer program at both institutions, I first fell in love with books, learned how to draw a cartoon dog and cat, and participated in parties on Halloween and Christmas.  It did not matter the color of your skin, your political institution, or your religion.  All the people in Crosswicks were brought together to share in fellowship and learn new skills.  In the end, it is really what you learn and apply rather than what you earn and deny that makes a mark on the world.

These are just three of the intermediary institutions that brought us together in Crosswicks.  I will never forget the friends that I made. And, even 40 years later, when my friends from Crosswicks express their disparate views, some quite different from my own, I listen and learn.  Never underestimate the power of Crosswicks and intermediary institutions to bring people together.  Let us all as a nation, cross wicks and make the light of our common humanity shine brighter!

A Father’s Day Tribute: The One Song That Always Makes Me Cry

I think for all of us there is one song that strikes so much emotion that by the end of the song, we can’t avoid the tears.  I know the song for me and it is particularly poignant on this Father’s Day: Trent Tomilson’s One Wing in the Fire.  Quite frankly I can’t make it through the first verse without breaking down most of the time.  Here is the song if you want to listen. One Wing in The Fire

When we are growing up, most of us think of our Dads as heroes and some of us (like yours truly) as God like.  They protect us, nurture us and lift us up.  As we get older, we usually evolve into a more nuanced view.  Our fathers may lose a bit of the hero or God like status.  But as we deal with our own personal struggles as Fathers we realize that with all their faults, our Fathers may not be Gods but at the very least, they are Angels, even though they may have One Wing in the Fire.

My Dad, known affectionately as Big D, was larger than life to his family and friends.  He was our Cub Master, Baseball Coach, Union Vice President, friend to our friends, and all around great Dad.  But he did like all of us have flaws.  He was like the subject of Trent’s song – An Angel with No Halo and One Wing in the Fire.  I would like to reflect on three portions of that song to explain why it is so important to me and even now 15 years since his death brings deep emotion.

The first verse has these words:

“Daddy’s been a back-row Baptist
With his share of front-row sin
His Saturday night still on his breath
Every Sunday when he’d walk in
He’s never led the Benediction
He’s never sang in the choir
But he’s an angel with no halo
And one wing in the fire”

My Dad always called himself a back-sliding Baptist, even as he supported our Mom in raising us Catholic.  He also had been known to have a few drinks on Friday and Saturday nights and raised a little heck.  But he was an Angel in the way he cared for Mom, me and my siblings both spiritually and physically.   I remember him attending each of our Sacraments and religious holidays.  He also supported our church by being the coach of its basketball team.   He may not have sang in the choir, but each St. Patrick’s Day and Easter, he sang the protestant hymn the Old Rugged Cross to be part of the Henry clan singing Irish tunes and hymns around the kitchen table.

If I can make it through the first verse,  I usually falter on the third verse.  This verse goes like this:

“Daddy’s always been there for me
From T-Ball to touchdowns
Fixed my car and fixed my heart
When they’ve been broken down
I know he calls for more forgiveness
Than most folks do require
But he’s an angel with no halo
And one wing in the fire”

Truer words have never been said than the first four lines of that verse.  My Dad coached me from T-ball through Little League.  Many in Crosswicks still remember the rivalry between Don Grier’s Chesterfield Red Sox and Bill Haluska’s Chesterfield Black Sox!     Besides being my baseball coach, he was my Cubmaster, basketball coach, and all-around Football and wrestling supporter.  The picture attached here shows Dad supporting me my Junior year in Football.

big-d

He was always the loudest in the stands (although sometimes he got a little too loud, like the time he was expelled from the Shawnee Wrestling Match).  Finally, let’s not forget about fixing cars and hearts.  My Dad could fix our family car by himself except on rare occasions.  Even though my brother and I could not help him that much since we could not tell a 3/16th wrench from plyers (think Frazier and Marty Crane from the Frazier TV show and you get the picture)!

If I am still composed by this time, I cannot make it through the last verse:

“Well, I just can’t imagine
What Heaven might be like
If me and mama make it
Without daddy by our side
Lord, could you please remember
When it’s time to call us higher
That he’s an angel with no halo
And one wing in the fire”

This last verse always brings me back to one of the most poignant days of my life – my Dad’s funeral.  Even though my Dad was a Baptist, my Mom asked me if I could get a Priest to preside.  With some trepidation, I asked the local Priest in Palestine, Texas to preside.  He was a missionary priest from India and I was concerned that his homily/eulogy would not resonate with my Dad’s side of the family.  I was also concerned as to whether he would do it since my Dad was not Catholic.

But God works in his mysterious ways.  The priest not only agreed to do the service but gave one of the most memorable homilies of my life.  The gist was this.  We all enter this world crying.  We have left the nurturing embrace of God and mother’s womb to face an uncertain world.  But when a person leaves the world, it is his family and friends who do the crying, but they should not.  It should be a time of joy and hope since the departed is returning home.  It is the duty of those on earth to wish them well and pray for a speedy return to the loving embrace of the ultimate Father.

On this Father’s Day, I ask all of us who have Dad’s who are Angels who may have one wing in the fire to pray for their speedy flight to Heaven.  Think of all they have done for you and pray God dusts off the ashes, shines up their halo, and welcome them home.