The Secret

Every day, bit by bit, the secret we reveal,
In every moment, in every thought, in all we feel.
As we try to guard, our soul leaks out,
In drips and drabs, in whispers and shouts.
And with every step, we drown with doubts.

What are lies? What is true?
Where to run? What to do?
Who to trust? What to defend?
And how does this mystery end?

As we discern what to let go and protect ,
In this world we try so hard to dissect,
We spy that discovery is hidden,
the final answer we seek is lost; forbidden.

So, with our last heartbeat and final breath,
We find we must love to reach beyond death.

Bad Times Are Coming

Bad times are coming, and may be already here,
So, bend your back, carry the cross, and prepare to shed a tear.
Good times have come and went, with all the games we played,
We lost our bearing and our hope, as from God we strayed.

Bad times are coming, I am worried that it’s true,
We threaten life and forsake love, with the things we do,
We turn away from nature, and think we rule the world,
It’s a wonder God still loves us, with all the sins we hurled!

Bad times are coming, it is time to take a stand,
We’re off the path, we went astray, in the schemes we planned.
It’s time to stop and listen, to our soul and to our heart,
Before the lies of the deceiver, tears us all apart.

Washington’s Rules of Civility Revisited for Today

George Washington when he was 16 wrote out 110 rules of civility to guide his life. Washington originally wrote down the rules presumably as an exercise in penmanship but later committed them to practice and memory. They helped develop the decorum, civility, and courage that guided Washington through war and the birth of this nation. You can read the Washington’s Rules of Civility here Washington’s Rules

The rules originally composed by French Jesuit priests in 1565 range from the practical to the profound.  At the root of the rules is respect and civility toward friend and foe.  Rule 1 lays this idea out perfectly with the words:  “Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect, to those that are present”.  Many currently in the public sphere would do well to take this rule to heart!

Most of the rules have application today.  One of them that I found particularly compelling is Rule 18:  “Read no letters, books, or papers in company but when there is a necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave: come not near the books or writings of another so as to read them unless desired or give your opinion of them unasked also look not nigh when another is writing a letter.” 

The letters, books, and papers in Washington’s time are the cell phones, twitter feeds and social media today.  Here is a brief update of Rule 18 refined for today’s technology.  “Do not look at your cell phone or multitask while in the company of others, whether it be in person or Zoom.  Put your cell phone in silence mode and only look at it in an emergency after asking permission.  Do not stalk or gaslight your colleagues on social media.  If your opinion differs, comment in a civil tone grounded in fact!” Let’s break it down further.

1.  Put Your Cell Phone Down.  We are tempted to pull out our cell phones at the drop of a hat.  Many of our conversations become nothing more than a battle of dueling cell phones.  With information at our fingertips, it is even more important to listen with full attention to your colleague, instead of trying to one up them with the trending twitter feeds.  Washington knew the importance of being attentive even when the equivalent to today’s social media posts were the dueling pamphlets of competing patriots!

2.  Do not stalk, talk.   It is easy today to form a preconceived opinion of someone from stalking their social media feed or what others say about them online.  It is also possible to ruin a person’s reputation by adding fire to gossip or rumor.  Instead of forming an opinion from second-hand thoughts or unclarified comments, build your judgement of a person’s thoughts and character through direct dialogue. Peering into one’s media presence out of context is like ‘looking nigh when another is writing a letter’ in Washington’s time.  Look not nigh, look them in the eye!

3.  Guard Your Opinions with Reason and Civility.  It is easy to react with emotion when someone writes something you disagree with on social media.  Resist the urge to do so.  If you feel you must post your opinion, do so factually and civilly.  Better yet, pick up a phone or meet the person you disagree with to understand the context.  I recognize there are times when the other person may have not acted with respect or is gaslighting you.  Resist the urge to fight fire with fire.  Instead dowse the fire with the cool water of reason and civility.

Rule 18 is just 1 of Washington’s 110 Rules of Civility.  Most still resonate today.  For example, just think how better off some politicians would have been if they followed rule 2:  “2. When in company, put not your hands to any part of the body, not usually discovered.”  Some of them may be of a bygone era but not many!  I encourage you to read Washington’s Rules of Civility.   What the world needs now is more civility, respect, and courtesy.

Christmas in Crosswicks

Christmas is meant for community. We are brought together each year by the light that came into the world.  This joy is to be shared among friends, family, and neighbors!   

I remember sharing this joy and love in my hometown of Crosswicks, NJ.  I have written two other blogs on Crosswicks linked here if you want to read more.   American Anthem: More Crosswicks less Crosswise A Penny A Minute, A Lifetime of Lessons

I decided to write this blog after seeing several pictures of my old hometown from my childhood and current friend, Katherine Caldwell.  Other pictures are in the video at the end, also produced by Katherine Caldwell with a new song to an old tune from me.  But the one below of Main Street blanketed in snow got me dreaming of Christmas in Crosswicks.

Crosswicks in Snow image by Katherine Caldwell

I never tire of thinking of Christmas in my hometown.   The snow glistening in the trees.  The 100+ year old Christmas tree bursting into light!  Neighbors singing Christmas Carols around a bonfire and later warming themselves with hot apple cider.  The candlelight service in the 200-year-old Quaker Meeting House.    There are four main reasons Christmas in Crosswicks is special and makes the holiday shine brighter.   

1. Christmas in Crosswicks is Historic!  Crosswicks was settled by Quaker immigrants back in 1677.  Christmas celebrations and worship have been ongoing ever since.  The Quaker Meeting House that still stands and holds the annual Candlelight service each Christmas was built in 1773.    This years’ service went virtual except for the musicians due to COVID on Dec. 20, keeping the tradition unbroken. 

The Christmas of 1776 is particularly noteworthy. Crosswicks was occupied by Colonial troops of  General Cadwallader in preparation for the historic Battle of Trenton which one of the turning points of the Revolutionary War.   

I am also proud that despite Covid, Crosswicks celebrated the 101st lighting of the large Christmas tree that sits in the Quaker fields near the Community House.  To see the magic, look at this link for this year’s virtual ceremony.  Crosswicks Christmas Tree Lighting.  

One last historic Christmas moment relates to a historic building that was three buildings down from my home.  Brick’s Mincemeat Factory was built in 1879 and until 1968 was the state’s largest producer of mincemeat.  It is now a historical building but still holds special memories of the mincemeat pies we had each Christmas. Read more here – Brick’s Mincemeat Factory

The historic nature of Christmas in Crosswicks makes it special but not necessarily unique.  I encourage all in this unprecedented year to learn more about the history of your town related to Christmas. 

2. Sharing of Faith and Fellowship. Crosswicks had diversity when it comes to faith and denomination.  I already mentioned that the city was founded by Quakers and the Candlelight service at the Quaker Meeting House is a fixture of the holiday season.  But one of the things that I remember most about the holiday season is learning about Hanukkah at my elementary school each year.  I still remember the dreidel song taught to us by one of my friend’s mother. Also, that Hanukkah was the Festival of Light represented by the menorah. 

We also had the United Methodist Church which was attended by my good friend.  I would sing with her father, a retired Methodist minister, songs like Go Tell it on the Mountain that we did not normally sing in my Catholic Church.  We also had the historic Grace African Methodist Episcopal Church organized in 1868 located 3 buildings down the street from my house.   The church was  the first African American denomination organized and incorporated in the United States. I remember the Christmas hymns of joy echoing forth from the Church.  We of Crosswicks were of different faiths and denominations but we shared our beliefs and joy openly during the season

3. Joining in Civil Community.  We also joined each holiday season in civil community.  Each year our family joined our fellow “Crosswicksians” in the annual bonfire and Christmas Tree lighting.  We would all circle the tree at the Community Center and sing Christmas Carols both secular and religious.  Voices rising together as one community we sang of hope and love! Later we drank hot apple cider and ate donuts as we shared fellowship about the encroaching holiday Season.  To close the day, Santa Claus would ride on the back of the firetruck and toss candy to all of us.  It was all a kid could want!

4.  Exploring the Wonders of Winter with Friends.  After all that candy, cider, and donuts, we needed an outlet to burn off the calories.  Our rural town (imagine that in Jersey) offered a wealth of options in the winter month.  No Netflix for us!  We grabbed our skates and went skating on the Frog Pond behind the library or better, yet we sled down “the Hill” behind the old Firehouse.   I remember leaving the house at 8 am on some days and not returning until 9 PM.  The only break would be a grape soda and some candy at Applegate’s Market. 

We even exercised when getting our Christmas Trees.  No Papa Noel’s or Walmart for us.  We went with our Dad to cut down a tree at Nicholson’s Tree Farm.  I am envious of my cousin since she still lives down the street. 

In closing, Christmas in Crosswicks was full of faith, fellowship and fun.  That is why some forty years later, I am still dreaming of Christmas in the Crosswicks.  You may be dreaming of Christmas in your hometown.  Christmas in the year of Covid just feels different from those of the past.  We are asked to remain apart and not to congregate.  And when we are not standing apart, we are sometimes ripping each other apart with cutting remarks. 

For all, the light of Christmas may seem a bit dimmer this year.  And, despite our best efforts to set our homes alight like the Griswold’s, we cannot capture the brightness of a smile or the warmth of a human touch.  Light does not come from a bulb! Rather it comes from hearts joined with the joy of Christmas! 

I think God and nature conspired to replicate the Christmas star this Solstice, 2020 to remind us that when two planets conjoin their lights, the heavens are brighter.  Let us conspire, like my neighbors in Crosswicks, to virtually cross our wicks to bring the light of hope! Let us share the spark of humanity with each other to break the isolation of Covid and the rancor of rivalry! 

We may not be able to be together in real time this year, but we can strive to be together virtually.  Reach out to old friends on Zoom.  Say a prayer for someone in need.  Donate to a charity.  And most of all honor the light that has come into the world with worship and kindness for all.  And until next year, I am dreaming of Christmas in Crosswicks.  Let me close with a song.  

The lyrics are below:

Photos by Katherine Caldwell, lyrics and sung by Don Grier to tune of White Christmas

Christmas in Crosswicks

I am dreaming of Christmas in Crosswicks,

Just like the ones I used to know,

Where people got together,

In all kinds of weather,

To watch the Christmas tree aglow!

I am dreaming of Christmas in Crosswicks,

And the bonfires in the night,

May all your memories be bright,

And when we cross the wicks with neighbors, we bring more light!

Waking Up to Your Why

Each morning I wake up with a why in my heart and head; sometimes two!  What is a why?  A “why” is the motivation for taking on something difficult and the purpose for doing so.  A why drives you forward even when you feel you can’t go on.  Why’s are imperative to change a bad habit or get out of a rut.

I did not always have a why nearby.  I did not have an overall cause or purpose from 2007 to 2014.  I wandered without a why, for those seven years.  In the process, I gained over 100 pounds, lost my drive, and in general was a bear to be around.  The years of wandering without a why are described in this blog: Fit to Fat: Lessons Learned While Doubling My Weight

Then three things hit simultaneously at the end of 2014 that got me back on track. First, I learned that I had a serious health issue caused in part by my weight.  Second, I received an invite to my 30th West Point Reunion.  Third, I received a discount to Weight Watchers (now WW) through my company.  The three combined to develop that first why.  I decided to lose weight and increase fitness to look presentable for my 30th reunion and regain my health!

I was introduced to the power of “why” at Weight Watchers and have expanded my understanding through my own story and experience.  Here are 4 things you need to implement your unique why.

1.  Visualize Your Why.   It is important to have a visual representation as to the outcome you want to obtain.  A visual representation serves to remind you why you are making the change and helps to keep you motivated when times get tough.  One way to do that is to create a Vision Board; a series of pictures and text snippets that visualize your goal. 

Below you see the visual representation of my first “why” that I created at WW on the Hay House Vision Board app (located here Hay House Vision Board).  I wanted to do two things as represented in this Vision Board: to lose weight to look decent for my reunion and to get healthy in memory of my parents.  Pictures include my company from West Point, a picture of my parents, my WP graduation picture, a picture at near peak weight with a classmate, an image of my family, and me working out in support of my mission!  I topped it all off with my class moto “For Excellence We Strive, 85”. 

I looked at the Vision Board each day.  It drove forward when times got tough.  I looked at it after getting through TSA with my CPAP machine, so I could get good rest on a work trip.  Or when hitting the hotel gym at 9 PM after work.  Or when avoiding a beer and eating vegetables at the concierge lounge.  Slowly but surely it kept my eye on the prize as I lost 100 lbs. before the reunion.

2.  Adapt Your Why.  Once you obtain one “why”, focus on another.  Whys are not static.  The excellence of today is the mediocrity of tomorrow.  A new reason or mission can drive you on to greater things.  Here are three of my subsequent “Why’s” to show you what I mean.

First, my reunion served to stoke two new motivations.  Having lost 100 pounds, I wanted to lose the other 50+ lbs to achieve Lifetime designation on WW.  Second, I wanted to do something to remember a fellow officer who was lost in Afghanistan by supporting returning Veterans.  Combining the two, I created my second Why that led to the creation of the McEvoy Memorial Walk in support of the Merivis Foundation.  I trained from August to Veterans Day in 2015 to walk 50 miles in one day in support of Merivis and the Young Marines of the Capital Area (read more here Go Big to Get Small – The Art of Improbable Goals ).  In the process, this why drove me to my Lifetime weight goal and raised funding for these worthy organizations.  Here is a YouTube clip on the walk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaaijB9ybX4

My next goal was to maintain my weight and support the children of St. Jude’s by becoming a Certified Spin Instructor and riding the entire 4-hour St. Jude’s Ride for a Reason.  I talk about this motivation in the following blog Spinning is Winning! A Ride for A Reason

Spinning helped me maintain my weight, diversify my exercise regime, help a worthy cause, and gain a new skill.  Now I was ready to play it forward with my current Why.

My current why came about due to two events: a milestone birthday and the ongoing pandemic.  Having been given so much, I wanted to pass it on to others.  I came up with a new acronym for my Why – CRAFT.  The acronym stands for Coach, Religious, Author, Friend, and Teacher.  You can read more about CRAFT here 5 by 5, Rumination on a Milestone

In simple terms, I wake up each day whether in this blog, my continued workouts, or wellness programs paying it forward. It is now my mission to teach others how to heal both their body and soul, especially during this difficult time.  To impart what I have learned through example, stories, and wellness programs.  Read about one such wellness program called Peloton Pandemic Pandemonium here .   

3.  Share your Why.  When you determine your why, do not keep it to yourself.  Share it with friends and family to help prod you on and keep you on track.  The ability to share helps you immensely.  I am grateful both to my WW Round Rock Saturday group and my sister in law Sheri and niece Rachel for creating Facebook groups.  These communities allowed me to share my motivation and progress toward health.  Live and share your why with friends to keep moving forward!

4. Wake Up with Your Why.  I end with the beginning.  Each day you can take concrete steps to wake up with your why.  I accomplish this through journaling and meditation.  I use the Kindness Journal (located here Kindness Journal) to help prompt me along to realizing my why. 

Each day I record three “I am statements” to help me visualize my end goal.  Here is a recent example in pursuit of my current why:  “I am a devoted coach that passes on the lessons that have served me on my health journey to improve the lives of others”.  I also visualize my favorite moment from the day before and list the thing that I will do today to help make the world better.  The journal helps me focus on why I was put on this earth.  Along with meditation in the form of prayer, I remain fixed and progressing towards my why.

In closing, do not wander and wallow in the unknown without a why.  Instead, visualize your why with these four simple tricks and build a better future for yourself and others!

Advent: Love’s Everlasting Kiss

The Mount of Olives

In Advent we wait expectantly for God’s Love Incarnate. Not the gooey eyed love that we experience on a porch swing and a first kiss, but rather the long, hard fought victorious love that endures past a last kiss. The love of a God who so loved the world that he gave his only Son. The Love of our Lord who in the dungeons of Caiaphas, the agony of the Garden, and nailed to the Cross loves us, dies for our sins to be resurrected and gain us a path to Heaven.

The Love of Mary who agrees to bring God into this world and stands there at the foot of the cross. She takes that hard-won love with her to the house of John where she leads the apostles until she is assumed into Heaven and crowned its Queen. The love of a God that endures in the church and the sacrifice of the Saints. The Love despite our faults and sins is coming again to the Mount of Olives!

In closing, this poem came to me as a remembrance for my sister in law. This morning I believe that Love in the form of the Holy Spirit asked me to send this poem at the start of a new liturgical year on the Priesthood and Passion of Jesus:

Love does not come easy,
it’s built in trials,
minute by minute,
day by day.
It is built on sorrow,
As much as hope,
Tears and hardship,
As much as laughter.
It does not flit,
It does not float,
It is SOLID,
and it ENDURES!
Why love then?
It is our purpose and mission,
What we were built for,
What God designed!
Because love does not last,
for a minute or an hour.
It lasts a lifetime,
and through eternity.
So, drive on through the pain,
And strive through the sorrow, And with one last kiss,
Reach for the tomorrow.
And, remember in waiting,
Not the words left spoken or tears,
But the smile and loving eyes,
That resound through the years.

Peloton Pandemic Pandemonium

The ongoing pandemic is stressful.  The recent pandemonium around the Presidential Election even more.  What is the anecdote?  Peloton Pandemic Pandemonium (PP))!  What is that?  Read on!

My love affair with spinning is chronicled in several of my previous blogs listed here Spinning is Winning! A Ride for A Reason Back in the Saddle for St. Jude’s Don’t Stop Believing: A Weight Loss Journey in Three Intervals Heroes of Health Series, Episode 2 – Corey the Cycling King.  Spinning classes helped me regain my health, brought me new friends, and a new skill as a certified instructor! So, when the pandemic hit, I loss my number one stress outlet.  My gym and cycling class were closed.  I could no long Clip-In and Tune Out before or after a long day at work.  What to do? Peloton!

Peloton for those uninitiated is a virtual platform for cycling and other exercise programs.  You can ride with other cyclists around the world virtually!  You can do so either on the Peloton stationary bike or by using the  Peloton virtual service available on your phone, with your own equipment. On Peloton Live In-Studio rides you can compete with other cyclists on the virtual leaderboard.  They have excellent instructors who are fun and uplifting like my four favorites Jenn Sherman, Leanne Hainsby, Alex Toussaint, and Kendall Toole.  The others are great too!

I had used the virtual Peloton app as a supplement to my gym spin class.  But now decided to get the bike.  I loved it from the moment I got it.  And it made me think that my fellow work colleagues would love it too.  So, I and a friend came up with a virtual stress valve program appropriately called Peloton Pandemic Pandemonium.  Each week we pick up to 3 live rides and post the time and date on our company’s local website.  People join with our group’s hashtag and we have a fun virtual race.  Also, we give each other virtual high fives and chat as we ride. 

Peloton Pandemic Pandemonium helps us stay healthy and happy during these difficult times.  Here are the three major ways that PPP helps to keep you sane in these insane times:

1.  Endorphins!  Spinning, especially the Peloton variety is an endorphin rush.  The mixture of music and interval exercise brings a flood of endorphins that helps to counter the darkest thoughts.  The endorphin- exercise connection is well documented (read here WebMD Article).  PPP is the way to crush, despair with an endorphin rush!

2.  Tune-in and Sing!  I love exercising to music.  Nothing is more relaxing and stress relieving then belting out your favorite tunes as you spin. The good news about PPP is you can sing in the comfort of your own home.  No embarrassment and no drowning out by the person next to you.  But watch out!  Singing too loud while biking at 100 RPMs can nearly cause you to pass out.  I need to watch it the next time we do another Hamilton (Robin Arzón) or Bon Jovi (Kendall Toole) theme ride.  (Need to add Jenn Sherman’s Epic Sing Along Series).

3.  Community.  Peloton and our company group PPP is a community.  We care about each other.  We high five when people hit a milestone and pick them up when they fall-down.  In addition, theme rides really help celebrate commonalities and share hardships and trials.  One of the best such rides is Kendall Toole’s ride on World Mental Health Day which focused on the importance of Mental Health.  See my thoughts especially on Veteran’s Mental Health here. Mental Health Thoughts

So, there you have it.  Three ways Peloton helps you with the Pandemic and Pandemonium of today!  Message me or comment if you would like to participate in PPP!

Elvis and the Pandemic

Two songs sung by two Elvis’s are my go-to’s during this Pandemic. Both speak of driving through hard times with hope around the corner. They acknowledge the pain while seeking the future.  And my favorite part.  You can belt them out with a beer in hand after a hard day.

The first one is from that other Elvis, and truth be told my favorite Elvis – Elvis Costello.  Unlike his other hits, he did not write this one (Nick Lowe did) but Elvis does the best rendition – “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding” . For you have not hear it, here is the official version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ssd3U_zicAI.

I once listened to this song on repeat at least 20 times after a hard week.  The first verse and the chorus tell the story:

“As I walk through this wicked world
Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity
I ask myself, “Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred and misery?”

And each time I feel like this inside
There’s one thing I wanna know
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?”  Lyrics Nick Lowe

Every time I read a friend attacking another friend on Facebook in some political fight or hear about the loss of another brave soul I ask myself the same question in the first verse. But then catch myself and realize that the peace, love, and understanding lies within me. Our soul longs for peace. We just need to cling to it and understand that everyone carries pain. It is up to you to bring inner peace, to show love to your friends and enemies, and understand the pain and hope of others. Rise to the occasion, extend a hand and be the peacemaker.

The second song is by the THE Elvis – Elvis Presley. This song was sung for the first time in Elvis’s Comeback Concert in 1968 at the end.  It was written by Walter Earl Brown and came 2 months after Martin Luther King’s assassination.  It also contains some MLK quotes.  Only 5 at the time, I still remember it.  Here are some of the words. 

“There must be lights burning brighter somewhere
Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue
If I can dream of a better land
Where all my brothers walk hand in hand
Tell me why, oh why, oh why can’t my dream come true,

Oh why.

There must be peace and understanding sometime
Strong winds of promise that will blow away the doubt and fear
If I can dream of a warmer sun
Where hope keeps shining on everyone
Tell me why, oh why, oh why won’t that sun appear

We’re lost in a cloud
With too much rain
We’re trapped in a world
That’s troubled with pain
But as long as a man
Has the strength to dream
He can redeem his soul and fly”

The Elvis’s sang the truth!  What’s so funny ‘bout peace, love, and understanding?  Absolutely NOTHING!  Is there a light shining brighter somewhere? It is in our grasp.  If we choose to live, love, learn and lead!  

Here is my attempt at channeling Elvis.

Not Elvis but maybe not bad. Be the brighter sun!