The Return: Have A Vision As Big As Texas

We are approaching Thanksgiving.  This year, 19 years since my Dad’s passing, I will be thankful for the lessons that I learned from him. 

I wrote about two of those lessons in previous blogs linked here. Getting the Iron Out Door – Lessons from Big D for DevelopersLife’s Game Changers – The Power of Thanksgiving The second blog is about the day of his passing and the miracle of the Thanksgiving cows.  This October for the first time in 19 years, I returned to the Land described in the blog where I thought the last lesson from my Dad occurred.  But another lesson, equally as important was waiting to be discovered this year!

As discussed in the previous blog, my Mom and Dad left Houston for the Land in the late 90’s.   It was out in the middle of nowhere in East Texas.  I never kept the hand-written directions.  So, I did not know how to get to it anymore, since it was before the time of Google maps and I did not have the street address.  Until on a whim while on vacation in Tyler, TX, I found the new street address on-line!  I now had the location and was close enough (still an hour away!) to drive to the Land on the way back home.

The land and the house that my Dad built looked much the same.  I was a bit amazed at how well the metal house has stood the test of time for 20 years.  The only thing missing were the cows.  I walked around a bit and again thought about that amazing, last Thanksgiving when 10 new calves were born.  Getting up to leave, I glimpsed the lake that he dug with an old rusty backhoe. And with that I left for home with what I thought was the last lesson still in my mind’s eye.  Except it was not the last one!

I remember the first time my Dad started building the lake.  He had just got the backhoe and had begun scraping out a ditch.  He took my brother and I out there.  Then pointing to a muddy gouge with a few puddles, he said  proudly, “Look at my lake!”.  My brother and I started laughing.  Dad said, “Why are you laughing?”.  My bother pointed out, “Dad, when you say lake it connotates images of water!  This is not a lake. It is a puddle.”  Dad just shook his head, climbed in his backhoe and said, “You will you see smart alecks”. 

And we saw.  A year or two later there was full-fledged lake.  The next year there were fish in the lake and a dock.  But Dad kept tweaking the lake up to the day he died.  We wondered why he did this, since he proved his point and given us our initial lesson.   Having returned to the land and now with the direct coordinates in hand,  we were about to find out.

The Land and the Texas Lake

I sent my daughter the coordinates just before leaving from home. She fed the coordinates into Google Earth while we were driving back. The resulting aerial picture of the land and the lake floored me. The picture is above. The lake is more than a fair replica of the State of Texas! The lake was dug before satellite imagery or drones were available. My Dad through persistent sweat, determination, and will made a lake in the shape of the state he loved! He also left us several final lessons from the grave that are applicable for everyday life.

1. Plan with the end in mind.  We did not know it until many years later, but my Dad had an ultimate vision for the lake.  With each tweak and every plough, he was turning a mud puddle into a lake in the shape of Texas.  The lesson for all of us is always start something with the end in mind.  A clear vision gives you a clear direction and keeps you on course even when the going gets tough.   

2.  Don’t get discouraged.  My Dad did not get discouraged even when his two oldest sons mocked his first efforts.  There will be trials along way.  Some rain must fall when building a lake.  But drive on through the rain and stick to the plan. 

3.  Strive to the end.  The weeks before my Dad passed away, he was still making tweaks to his lake to make it further resemble Texas.   He was striving for excellence up to end.  This is a lesson for us in our work.  It is important that when we achieve some success not to stop.  For the excellence of today is the mediocrity of tomorrow. Finish the race.  Keep striving to the end to make your goal a reality!

4.  Try and Try again.  I will perhaps never know how Dad shaped the lake into the outline of the Texas!  He did not have satellite imagery to guide him.  But what he did have was a vision, determination, and the willingness to try and try again.  He ploughed and experimented until he got the lines right.  Sometimes a wrong turn threated to turn his Texas lake into one of Oklahoma!  But he shifted his backhoe, back filled the wrong cut and soon he was on the right side of the Red River! 

Happy Thanksgiving from the Land with one last message from Big D, communicated almost 20 years from his passing from this life to the next.  I know he is up there in the heaven smiling down on a little ranch in Slocum, TX and a lake in the shape of Texas that started as little less than a mud puddle.  May we all strive to the fulfill a vision as big as Texas!

3 out of 5 Ain’t Bad – What to Do When Eating Out!

It’s 3 days after Thanksgiving, and you are tired of turkey and leftovers.  So, you decide to go out and eat or order on UberEATS.  What do you do to stop adding to the pounds?  Here are 5 proven methods to stop from overeating when eating or ordering out!

1. Track before you attack.  The first rule is always to figure out what you will have before departing.  Most restaurants now post nutritional values in menus on their website.  Read the menu, pick your menu items, and record the calories before departing.  Like a good soldier, never eat without a good plan of attack.

2.  Bring it to Boots! Portion control is the key to keeping your weight down and your friends happy.  In my case, my friend is a bear/dog named Boots shown below.

I always think of my buddy Boots when craving a big steak.  I then make a conscious choice.  I eat 5 oz. instead of 10 oz of a Porterhouse, cutting my calories in half and making my dog leap in delight!  This trick also works with humans, but it is more fun with dogs. Half your plate and make your friend feel great!

3.  Stop the cravings at the Concierge.  Rule 3 works best when traveling, but is easily modified during the current pandemic.  I had access to a concierge lounge back in BP (Before Pandemic) time, when I was traveling a lot for work.  I would hit the concierge lounge and load up on vegetables before going to a restaurant for dinner.  Many times, I would skip dinner and just eat in the concierge lounge.  I lost over 100 pounds following this trick.  I swear by it!  The approach still applies even with limited or no travel.  Eat some vegetables or small appetizers at home before ordering or eating out.  Fill up on veggies, instead of filling out on steak and burgers!

4. Eat like a Plebe.  The faster you eat the more you repeat (think Buffet).  When I eat out, I go back to my training and eat like a Plebe!  We learned to eat slow at West Pont, by squaring our meals, so we would not wolf down food. 

Here is how you square a meal.  You lift your fork straight, bend your fork at a 90 degree to your mouth, straighten your arm back out, and then bring you fork completely down.  You do not bring your fork back up until you completely chewed your food.  On top of this, you needed to take small bites to be able to recite knowledge to senior cadets without your mouth full.  All served to slow how fast we ate, and cut down on our food intake, while practicing good manners.  35 years later, I still eat like a Plebe.

5.  3 out of 5 Ain’t Bad.  I cannot claim this last rule, since I learned it from a colleague.   Every meal at a restaurant usually includes 5 options:  bread, appetizer, entrée, dessert, and alcohol.  The simple rule is to keep it to three!.  Either Bread, Drink and an Entrée or some other combination.  Remember scrap 2 and keep 3!  While I can’t claim this idea, I can confirm it works and claim the below song parody to emphasize.  Make like Meatloaf and remember. 

I want you,

But I don’t need you,

And there ain’t no way I am ever going to eat you,

Now don’t be sad,

Because 3 out of 5 ain’t bad!

Three Out of Five Ain’t Bad

Feed your soul, heal your body

There is a definite connection between body and soul.  Be happy, feel better.  Share kindness, win friends, and feel good.  On the other hand, when you are stressed or miss your work out, it is not always easy to turn the other cheek.  Common sense confirms recent studies that caring for others improves both the wellbeing of those you helped and your own!

I have struggled to learn this lesson over my 50+ years.  I am naturally an intense person and a bit of a curmudgeon. A person that is sometimes not kind to others and in particular myself.  Driven to achieve, I sometimes drive other people out and beat myself up.  This often led to regret, guilt and more often then not an eating binge.  A happy person is a healthy person and visa versa.

That is why when I started on my weight loss journey two years ago, it was just as important to cleanse my soul as my body.  I took several measures to help me improve my disposition and correspondingly my health.  This is what I did.

  1. Write in my Kindness Journal – I journal six minutes a day in a Kindness Journal.  It sets my goals for the day on how to be a better person and helps me vision the person I want to become.  It also provides me a place to recognize those items the day before for which I was most pleased (being kind to myself) and reflect on those that were kind to me.   Lastly, I set my intention on one kind or beneficial act that I will do to make the world better for others.  I use this particular journal but you can use another Kindness Journal
  2. Record happy thoughts in HappyFeed – Besides writing in my Kindness Journal, I record three things each day that I am happy about.  I use the iOS application HappyFeed.  You do not always have to write something earth shattering.  Sometimes I write something like “I got 8 hours of sleep last night!”.  The key is to dwell on what makes you happy whether than what makes you stressed.
  3. Pray, Meditate and Give Thanks – When you are thankful, there is no room for worry.  You feel better about yourself and also those around you.  Also the Power of Thanksgiving can break through even the darkest hour.  I spoke to this in the following blog.  The Power of Thanksgiving
  4. Help Others – Helping others has benefits for those you help and others.  First, when you help others, you focus on them and not the issues that you are facing.  Also, you are so preoccupied with the task at hand whether it is building a house for Habitat for Humanity or walking to raise funds to combat cancer, that you often do not have time to overeat.
  5. Smile – The simple act of smiling lightens your mood and that of others.  Better yet laugh, it is the best medicine as they say.


Life’s Game Changers – The Power of Thanksgiving

I will start the first of the Game Changer series with a story appropriate for the current holiday season. The event it depicts is both one of the happiest and saddest in my life. As I spoke about in one of my recent blogs, I learned many lessons on leadership and life from my dad -Big D. This story is the last one that I learned from Big D and one that I will never, ever forget. It is about the power of being thankful – the ultimate game changer. So without further to-do here is the story of the Thanksgiving Calves.

Big D and my mom moved out to “The Land” in the late 90’s when my Dad retired from Turbocare in Houston. The Land was a 30 to 50 acres of land (depended on how pumped up Dad was feeling that day) in a little town called Slocom in East Texas (population 250). On The Land there was a lake (built by my Dad and mom), trees (sycamore, sweet gum), acres of Coastal Grass, and 10 extremely overweight cows.

The cows were overweight because my Dad treated them like pets and allowed his grandchildren to feed them early and often. Each cow had a name – Rosie, Susie, Big Bertha, etc. – and each one was given to a grandchild for a portion of their inheritance. Dad use to point to a cow and say something like this:

Big D – You see Rosie over there.

Kerri – Yes, that’s my cow! She likes to eat this feed.

Big D – Well Rosie will have a cow and that cow will have another cow and that will be for you.

Kerri – Yeah, Grandpop. I love cows.

In the summer of 2002, each of those cows was ready to make the first deposit on the grandchildren’s inheritance. Each was pregnant and set to deliver sometime in November. Unfortunately, Big D was not to see it from here on earth. On November 5, 2002, Big D passed away from a heart attack out near the fence where we would feed the cows. This is the sad part of the story.

thanksgiving cows

Now let’s turn to the happy part and the moral of the story. I and my entire family went out to The Land for one last Thanksgiving to be with Mom. As we arrived, some light snow had fallen. As we rounded the bend to The Land, we saw two calves that were just born and starting to walk. The rest of that day and into Thanksgiving Day, nine of the ten calves were born. The only issue was Rosie and her calf – the one belonging to Kerri.

You see Rosie got extra feed from Kerri and Big D. This was on top of the prodigious coastal grass. Needless to say, Rosie was having trouble birthing her calves. With one hour to go to before Thanksgiving dinner, the issue had reached a crisis.

Rosie was mooing loudly and was running around with her half born calf. Jim Bachman in the farm over had come by to wish us well. He immediately assessed the issue and told my brother and me that we had to get Rosie to the vet. Jim went and got his truck and trailer. He also brought our other neighbor, John, another admirer of my Dad, and we started to try and corral Rosie into her pen so we could load her into the trailer.

So for the next hour and a half while the turkey was getting cold, we went up and down The Land trying to get Rosie into her pen. After many fits and starts (a cow in birth distress is really fast and scared), we finally got Rosie behind the plywood gate that passed as our pen.

The next step was filled with hilarity and near tragedy. My brother Gary before anyone could stop him got this great idea that he could rope Rosie. Doing his best rendition of John Wayne, he made a makeshift lasso and threw it at her. It did not land correctly but did serve to spook Rosie yet again. I was just outside the pen when a 700 lbs. cow broke through the plywood gate and straight at me! Let’s say that I moved faster than I had ever done before or since jumping away and landing face down in the mud. Rosie just barely missed me.

Although that last action nearly killed me, it also served to finally tire Rosie out. At 7:00 PM, we finally got Rosie in the trailer. John went back to what was left of his Thanksgiving Dinner after I and my brother thanked him profusely. Then off Jim and I went to see the vet who was on call 3o miles away.

On the way to the vet, I was secretly saying a prayer that the calf would be all right. Over and over again, I thought “Please let the calf be alright” while I and Jim told stories about Big D and how he would have dealt with Rosie and the calf. I knew he was up there somewhere smiling. We finally got to the vet about 7:40.

Now what comes next is amazing. I had never seen a calf being born and it is awesome site. The vet wrapped a rope around the half born calf and pulled. After a few moments that seemed like an eternity the calf was born – Rosie, Jr. After lying on the ground for a few moments, the calf made its first few steps and was alive. Rosie although in rough shape at the time fully recovered.

And at that moment in time, despite missing Thanksgiving Dinner, I was never more thankful. I was thankful for the gift of the cows from my Dad. I was thankful for the timing and the happiness that the birth of the calves gave to me and my family. I was thankful for Jim and John who gave up most of their Thanksgiving to get Rosie to the vet. I was thankful for the gift of new life facilitated by the vet.

Now, whenever I feel let down or frustrated, I think back to the story of the Thanksgiving calves. And that is a Game Changer. Being thankful can change your attitude. It can lift you out of the despair of failure and lift you toward the hope of tomorrow. Here are some thoughts on the power of giving thanks.

1. Like Jim and John who helped to catch Rosie, thank your family and friends that help you on a daily basis. No person is Island and our loved ones help us to accomplish the mission that God has given us!

2. Be thankful for your vocation. Your vocation gives you exciting, interesting work that quite frankly puts Thanksgiving dinner on the table (of course sometimes it prevents you from eating it).

3. Be thankful for the inheritance that was given to you from those that have led the way. Like the Thanksgiving calves that were the inheritance given to my kids from Big D, we all need to remember the people that helped you along the way.