Be Good, Not Great

A few nights ago, I had one of those dreams.  You know the ones that I am talking about.  A dream so vivid, so poignant that it seems more than real.  A dream that wakes you up at 4 AM with a smile on your face and thoughts rushing so fast that you can barely keep up as you type on your cell phone in the bathroom with door shut so as not to disturb your wife.   A dream of important messages heaven sent to shape your life and to pass on to others. 

In this dream, I was again in my Grandpop’s house on Melrose Avenue in Trenton, NJ.  And there was my Grandpop rocking on the porch.  The picture below is of that very same house that my sister Lori texted me today while she was visiting Jersey, reinforcing the dream’s importance!  As we walked together and talked in each of the rooms, the memories of times shared together came flooding back.  And there was an underlying message tying all those memories together.   My Grandpop – John William Henry – was a good man. 

I say a good man, not great man for a reason.  The best men are good men not great men.  They dole out love instead of striving for power or money.  They love their country and their God.  They care more about friends and less about prestige.  They take time for fun, the Phillies, and to sing Irish songs.  They look like Fred McMurray on My Three Sons and remind you of Jimmy Stewart on It’s A Wonderful Life.    That was my Grandpop!  And here are the four lessons that I learned from that dream, his life and my Grandpop’s home and heart.

Take time for Family and Friends (The Porch) – Grandpop loved to rock on his porch and look out on Melrose Avenue.  Two memories came back to me as I again sat on the porch.  I remembered how he would spend hours on the porch during the evening and weekends talking to and visiting with his neighbors down the street.  Some 50 years later, I can remember their names, their faces and believe it or not their homes.  During that dream, I visited with them again.  Mrs. Curr a widower who gave us tea and cookies in her home as she talked about her garden.  Mrs. Heipel who lived on the end house on Melrose talking about her daughter who had recently moved.  The Toronto’s telling stories of my mother when they were young.  I was happy for the friendship again and a little sad since my porch faces the back yard and I so seldom visit with my neighbors (or remember their names).

The other thing I remember is how gentle and good my Grandpop was.   He was no wimp having boxed when he was younger.  But he knew how to calm his Grandkids when they were cranky and tired.  I again saw him rocking my brother David as he sang “Little Man Your Crying” in a voice not as resonant as Bing’s but close to perfect due to its love.  And as I saw this image again in my mind’s eye, I thought back that although I spent quality time with my kids, I was not as calm or soothing as that gentle man who rocked my brother asleep

Love Others Unconditionally and For Eternity (the Living Room) – We came in from the porch and into the living room with its furniture entrenched in the fifties.   We sat on the couch watching the Phillies like so many times before.  We both loved the Phillies, especially Mike Schmidt (Schmidty as we called him).  In walked my Uncle who had gone missing for several months on another binge as he had done so many times before.  He was the ultimate prodigal son.  He asked to come back to the home and Grandpop with tears in his eyes took him back.  And I thought to the times when I turned my back on others in need because I was too busy and vowed to do better.   

The dream changed again to a different moment.  This one happened outside my other Uncle’s house in Morrisville, PA but in the dream, it was in the living room.  My family was visiting, and my Grandpop walked in with a bag of donuts as he did on most Sundays.  But this time it was different.  It was several weeks after my Grand mom’s passing and Grandpop had returned to the donut tradition for the first time without Grand mom.  I again saw the tear from my Grandpop’s eye when my brother asked where is Grand mom?  I was again a bit mad at my younger brother since I was older.  And I thought on how my Grandpop who was still a young man of 50 when Grand mom passed, yet he never dated seriously or married again.  He would visit his wife’s grave several times a week keeping the love of her in his heart for the rest of life.   And I imagined them again holding hands throughout eternity and I vowed to love my wife like Grandpop.

Be Frugal with Yourself, Lavish with Others (the Phone room).  I wanted to stay with both my Grandparents again, but my dream switched to the phone room.    I was not sure if the room was a formal dining room or a second living room, but I remember it as the phone room due to the rotary phone that rested at the end of a long hutch.  Another thing that rested on the long hutch was hundreds of coupons.  Having lived in the Depression, my Grandpop and his brothers were frugal in saving money.  I again saw my Grandpop and Great Uncle Don talking about the latest coupon that they found for Acme.  My Grandpop would drive to 5 or 6 stores to use the coupons to save a few bucks.  Besides being frugal on the groceries, he did not spend much on himself.  He seldom traveled or bought expensive clothes or items but reveled in the simple pleasures such as the occasional Phillies games.   He was frugal with himself but lavish with others.  As my dream progressed, I thought back on the time he bought my brothers and I a complete Lionel Train set on Christmas.  And how happy he was when our eyes lighted up.  Then I thought back on the many times I had splurged on the latest iPhone or Uber Eats instead of focusing on the ones around me.  I seldom use a coupon even though they are digital now and can easily be obtained on the cell phone I have.  I vowed to spend less on myself and more on others.

Be Thankful for the Simple Pleasures and Family (the Kitchen).   The dream now moved into the kitchen and I saw the big yellow wooden kitchen table where we often sat.  As I sat down at the table, I looked across to a little stand when my Grandpop kept one of his prized possessions – a Hot Dog Zapper!  I do not know if they have them anymore, but my Grandpop sure did take pleasure in it.  He would invite us to sit down and put each of the six hot dogs on two prongs at either end of the hot dog.  He would turn on the machine and after a few minutes of zapping they were cooked (and most often split open a bit!).  He again laughed as he took them off and gave one to each of us around the table. 

As we ate, more of my extended family gathered around and I realized the time had shifted to St. Patrick’s Day.  I again saw my Great Uncles (both cops), my Uncle John and his family, Uncle Gary and my family.  Each of the men had a Schlitz beer or two (I told you Henrys are frugal!) as we went through a chorus of Irish Songs – Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder, Come Meet a Donovan, The Same Old Shillelagh, and of course When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.  And I thought.  We often take for granted the simple pleasure of singing with family and friends.  We forget the expensive items we bought after a few years.  But I can sing verbatim every one of those songs to this day and see the hot dog zapper in my mind’s eye.  Just before I left this part of the dream, one more simple, glorious pleasure occurred.  My Dad did not know the Irish songs of his wife’s family but wanted to participate.  I again heard him sing “The Old Rugged Cross”, his favorite song and the one we played at his funeral.  As I wept, I vowed to spend more time with family and the simple pleasure of life.

And as I woke, one thought ran through my head.  Be good, not great!  Strive for friendship not fame.  Make memories not money to live on through eternity. 

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

Back in the Saddle for St. Jude’s

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

A Heart Filled with Gratitude and Love

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. 

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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/
  4. Fourth is my company.  The culture of Accenture is inclusive and empowering, its program to support employees Truly Human gave me the tools and time to take time for me and to ultimately become more productive. https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/09/04/five-accenture-wellness-programs-that-saved-my-life/
  5. 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 repaired heart!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flag on July 4th
Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

Strength in the Broken Places – A 2019 Resolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas in Jersey

Today I am going to take a break from my typical weight loss blog because I am feeling nostalgic about Christmas and Jersey. I got in the mood by watching Springsteen on Broadway. Hearing about his hometown in Freehold made me think of my hometown in Crosswicks. Mine closer to Philly; his closer to New York; but, Jersey all the same!

Crosswicks, NJ Community House
Christmas at the Community House

(As a side note. How do you know you love your wife? When she convinces you to turn off Springsteen on Broadway to watch Secret Santa on Wheel of Fortune! Giving up your home state hero for Pat and Vana is surely a sign of love. )

Relegated to my study, I got a beer; put on my best Springsteen; and decided to write about Christmas and Jersey. Here are four of my favorite Christmas memories from my childhood in Crosswicks, New Jersey! Like the Saturday Live skit from the other week, featured here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WvwX18oMR4 , Christmas memories are better upon reflection and a glass of wine (and some Springsteen).

  1. The Community House Tree. Crosswicks is a historical town where much history happened. Indeed, George Washington launched his famous Christmas time raids on Trenton and crossing the Delaware from his headquarters at the Quaker Community House in Crosswicks. This history is all fine and good but my favorite memory is from personal history. Each Christmas, the citizens of Crosswicks would light up a large Christmas tree on the grounds of the Community House and sing Christmas songs and drink hot apple cider. For that day, the rivalry between the Black Sox and Red Sox baseball teams would be buried by the tree near the baseball field with voices of joy!
  2. Hoping the club doesn’t come to your house first! My Dad worked as a Steelworker and Union Vice President at DeLaval. His friends from work and their families formed a group simply called the Club. The Club would make the rounds to each family’s house on Christmas. We mostly loved playing with all the kids. Except of course, if you were the first house on the tour. Being the first house on the tour was dreaded because it was when all the kids were really wound up and wanted to play with your new Christmas toys. Wound up kids on Christmas equals broken toys. One sad Christmas, we were the first on the tour. We were excited about our new Evil Knievel motorcycle and track. You would pump the motorcycle with air and it would fly off the track. It was our most prized toy until Jimmy and Kimmey got a hold of it. They pumped it so full of air that Evil and the motorcycle broke after flying a record 10 feet in the air. Much like the real Evil could not jump Snake River canyon, our toy could not make it 10 minutes with the kids from the Club!
  3. Granpop’s Christmas train. My Grandpop grew up in the depression, so he was careful with his money. One of his best cost saving ventures was to buy Ribbon Candy after Christmas at quarter price and put it out the next year! He may have saved his pennies when buying candy, but not when taking care of his grandkids. One Christmas, we woke up and were brought downstairs to see a fully decorated Lionel train set in the cellar. The excitement of us kids was reflected in the joy of my Grandpop’s face as he passed on his love to a new generation.
  4. Rudolph’s Nose and Dad catching Santa. One of the difficult things each Christmas was keeping my brother David from waking up
    from all his excitement at 2 AM . Me and my brother Gary had a ploy to keep David in the room we shared. Still do not know to this day why it worked and fooled him every year. My Dad used to put plastic on our windows during the Winter to keep in the warmth. Besides keeping out the cold, the plastic also fuzzed up the red light on the radio tower about a mile way enough so we could trick David. Each time when he woke up in the night and said “Is it Christmas, yet? Let’s wake up Dad and Mom! “, Gary and I would point to the red light and say that Rudolph was still flying. Even with that trick we could only contain him until 5 AM. Then we had to wake Mom and Dad. Dad in order to delay us while he was getting his Polaroid camera would say “Santa is still down here” and make some rustling sounds to keep us at bay. Oh how we sat on pins and needles until he gave us the all clear signal.

Well, I see Wheel of Fortune is finally done! I am going to get back to the real Boss and hear more tales of Jersey from the master. I hoped you enjoyed these!

My Life through Disney!

My wife and I have had the honor and privilege to watch our kids grow and prosper.  The two things that have been consistent since our eldest blessed us with her presence some 30 years ago is their love for each other and the love of children movies and Costumes.  Like many parents, we mark our children’s growth through the costumes worn and the love of children movies (mainly Disney).  Each of them grew up with a movie or two that they loved and a costume that they did not take off!   I remember my middle son and daughter wore their Hercules and Esmerelda costumes when they were little for some part of 20 days straight.  (I also find it amazing that you can give a young boy two action figures and he will be perfectly content smacking them together for 2 – 3 hours – but that is for another time).  Here is my best attempt to name each of my kid’s favorite children movies and the impact on their lives.

The eldest’s favorite movie was a toss-up between Land Before Time and The Little Mermaid.  Her most cherished gift was a stuffed stegosaurus named Spike from the first movie.  I remember the many band-aids on Spike, until the band-aids no longer worked.  This occurred just recently when Spike 2 (the first one was lost) was chewed up by her Pitbull Lacey!  She loved these two movies and they represent elements of her personality.  She is adventurous, and family focused like Ariel and Little foot, seeking out the new while caring for the past.

My second daughter’s favorite movie was the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Like Esmerelda, she is empathetic to those less fortunate.  She is a defender of the weak against the strong and cares for those less fortunate.   She can see beyond the exterior (like the Hunchback) to see the good in all.

My only son was enamored with Hercules and rightfully so.  He is courageous and strong of mind and body.  He often wore his Hercules breastplate while running through the house; shielded yet always pressing forward.

The youngest loved Mulan.  Brave and against stereotype, she is brave and smart beyond her years.  She takes on the impossible and brings honor to our house.  She is also funny like the dragon sidekick of Mulan.

Isn’t it funny how we can trace our life through movies! 30 years of Disney, memories and kids.  A great investment!

Some invest in stocks,

Others purchase gold,

Other invest in real estate,

And Futures bought and sold,

But we invest in our kids,

My lovely wife and I,

And moments like the one below,

Make me want to cry,

And thankfulness unbound,

With joyfulness and love,

And smiles all around!

IMG_3475

photography of disneyland
Photo by Makenzie Kublin on Pexels.com

 

Don’t Stop Believing: A Weight Loss Journey in Three Intervals

Over the last few months, I have been training to be a Spin Instructor.   The thought that I could be a spin instructor a few years back was unimaginable.  Cresting at 358 lbs., I could not ride a bike for more than a few minutes without one of two things happening.  Either I would throw out my back, or so much pressure would be applied to a certain area that it would become numb, worse yet.

Guy on Cycle
I am on the Edge of Glory

I only started to do spin after I had dropped some weight.  Then, I fell in love with spinning.  Part of it was the music, part of it was the exhilaration, but most of it was my instructor, Corey Ellis.  You can read more about this hero of health in this blog. Heroes of Health Series, Episode 2 – Corey the Cycling King

I knew I had to go that extra step after finishing 4 hours of spinning during Lifetime Fitness St. Jude’s Fund Raiser – Ride for a Reason.  I decided to get certified as a Spin Instructor.  The added benefit is I get to be trained to Corey.  See the picture of me, Corey, Kaisa, and another cyclist after the Race for the Cure.

lifetime

On October 20th, I will get the chance to teach part of a Spin Class for the first time and I am totally stoked.   I have come up with my Simple Set (a series of spinning intervals timed to a music) that speaks to both my weight loss journey and obstacles that we all need to overcome in life.

I have come up for a title and a subtitle for my Simple Set.  The main title is For Excellence We Strive.  The secondary title is called “Don’t Stop Believing, Even When You Are Living on A Prayer, Because You Could Be on The Edge of Glory” (a careful read will tell you the name of my songs!).  Here is the meaning of the two titles.

The main title is “For Excellence We Strive” for two reasons.  First, it is the motto for my class at West Point, the class of 85 (more later).  The second reason is during the training, the cyclist will have three opportunities to strive for excellence only to be beat it in the next interval.  Why?  Because the excellence of today is the mediocrity of tomorrow.  You must always strive for excellence, and when you achieve your goal, it is not time to revel and become complacent.  No, it’s time to strap on your cycling shoes, clip in, and race to beat your previous best!

I will not repeat the second title but instead tell you why I picked the three songs:

  • Don’t Stop Believing – Journey. This first song represents the start of my weight loss journey and simulates climbing up a hill that slowly ascends.  As you make the first few steps on the path to health, it is important not to stop believing you can do it.  Even though the climb is getting harder after the first few moments of success, you need to keep pushing.
  • Living on a Prayer – Bon Jovi. This second song is prefect for the mid part of any weight loss journey.  Three times in this song, you climb up as you pray that you overcome the next obstacle that is in your way.  And three times, you reach the exhilaration as you find success; only to meet the next hill.  I also picked this song because it has the lyric “Oh your half way there, oh Living on a Prayer”.   I remember my half way there moment on my weight loss journey.  It was at my 30th West Point Reunion when I had lost one half of my weight goal (see picture below)

Picture of Classmates
Half Way There – West Point Reunion

Also, many times as I got stuck, I was Living on A Prayer.  Praying that I would not give up.  Praying that I could do it.  Praying for a New Life!

  • On the Edge of Glory – Lady Gaga. I will not lie.  I picked this last song as a tribute to Lady Gaga after seeing her performance on a “Star is Born”.  But, then I realized how well it fit.  Ask any Lifetime member of Wellness that Works (the organization formerly known as Weight Watchers) and they will tell you the last few pounds to your goal are the hardest.  But it is essential not to stop when you are on the Edge of Glory.  The song is perfect for this last set because during the verses you climb large hills but then at the end you feel the exhilaration of the chorus as you spin out at 110 RPMs!

So, there you have it.  I am on the Edge of Glory and hopefully I will achieve it on October 20th.  If interested, message or text me when we solidify the exact time.  It will be at Lifetime Fitness Austin (still trying to figure if it is North or South).

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