Stop Trying to Make It Easy

hard work ethic
My hard working, never say stop Grandmother with one of her favorite tools – the meat slicer

Back in the summer months of 2014, I decided to break one of my financial commandments – no spending money on a gym membership. I started to be bored working out at home, in the very sparse and dungeon-like confines of the basement, where I keep my heavy bag, jump rope, and a variety of weights. No longer inspired to exercise by myself, I needed a change of scenery.

Although it was hard to commit to the monthly payment at first (my frugal grandmother would have thought this a very frivolous expense), I jumped in and was quickly happy with the decision. My gym is clean, the staff is friendly, and there is more than enough variety of equipment to get in any type of workout that you choose. And the fact that it is extremely close to my house makes it all the more appealing.

On the surface, total win.

The only issue so far? The months of January and February. After the New Years cocktails are a fleeting memory to most people, stampeding crowds of fitness wannabees descend on gyms and fitness centers, with dreams of getting in better shape, taking every parking spot in the lot and leaving not a treadmill open.

It’s enough to make me look forward to the “dungeon” again.

The sad part, or perhaps not so sad, is that by mid March at the latest, the massive crowds will have fizzled out. Hopes and dreams for the quick fix will have been dashed. The monthly payments will be still taken from their bank accounts, even if they never show up again.

In time, I’ll be able to park anywhere I want, and every dumbbell and elliptical will be there for the taking.

New Year’s resolutions will be abandoned, and there will be clear sailing for the rest of us until next January.

Quitting is the easiest option when you realize the quick fix and the short cut will not work. They will never work. Leaves me wondering why everybody wants it so easy.

Stop trying to make it easy.

The image for this post is a favorite of mine. I have plenty of pictures of my grandparents that remind me of how they got where they needed to be. By working their asses off. By continually grinding.

Once they had their minds set on becoming responsible, productive American citizens who would eventually employ fellow citizens, they became unstoppable.

They never looked for the easy way to do anything. With my grandparents, the very thought of “the easy way out” or less than maximum effort would have been laughable.

I don’t even need to bring to detail their early years, the years of the factory jobs and building their own businesses from practically nothing. I can just use an example of when they were in their 70s and 80s, working every day. Rosina, in a restaurant kitchen for half of her day, then in her private kitchen for the other half. Twelve hours. Without consideration of “making things easy.”

I had prime role models growing up.

With their help and guidance, it’s now easy for me to get through the months of January and February at the gym, sailing right through the spring. It’s easy to feel privileged and blessed with abundance when money is tight for some, because of the way they taught me to spend and save.

In car crazy America, I have no problem driving less because they never drove at all. I’m inspired to keep my small mortgage instead of “moving up”, as they never needed a bank to give them one in the first place.

My route to the gym passes on the road to the cemetery where my grandparents are now. Done purposefully or not, I don’t know. I do know I can’t pass by without a signal that the hard work is about to commence.

As I drive by, I remind myself to try and embody the lifestyle that they embraced. Go hard. Be fast. Don’t stop.

And for Heaven’s sake, stop trying to make it easy.

The Most Valuable Land on Earth

OakwoodStatueThere’s a concept about the most valuable land on earth being the graveyard: because with all of those people are buried unfulfilled dreams, unwritten novels, music not created, businesses not started, relationships not reconciled.

While difficult to quantify, you can be sure that it’s got a ring of truth. We all know people that are still alive that have all but abandoned any dream they once had. Going through life on their day to day, paying their bills, nothing more, nothing less.

We love the days of the week named Monday and Friday. As sure as the sun rises and sets each day, you can listen to your workmates curse the one day, and thank God for the other.

Why is one day of the week any different than the other? Because people want to escape their boring jobs, and on a grander scale, their monotonous lives.

And some pass away with having done just the chores of birth, school, work, and retirement with nothing else to show for it.

It’s a waste. Don’t we have more potential than that?

A couple of years ago, a good friend at work decided to fulfill a dream to join the military. She chose to face the rigors of boot camp and the chance of deployment to the Middle East than spend her life in a cubicle.

Most thought she was a little insane. The more accurate perception should be brave, smart, and unwilling to settle. Maybe the most sane out of everyone.

The situation reminded me of the Morgan Freeman quote from one of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption, as follows:

“I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. But, the place you live in is that much more grey.”

To fulfill a dream, no matter how small, should always be a focus of  life, in addition to all those “chores” to be completed to live in the moment and support your family.  We don’t do this because of the bugaboo of fear.

Fear Strikes Out

I break this kind of fear into two categories: the fear of failure, and the fear of rejection.

It’s OK to have these types of fears. Everyone does. But they need to be managed so they don’t stand in the way of your entire existence.

Strangers In A Strange Land

I can’t think of anyone that should have been more fearful than my grandmother, when she and her family emigrated from Sicily to come to this country, looking for opportunity. She:

  • was leaving the only home she ever knew
  • had limited education at that point
  • had a language barrier she struggled to overcome
  • didn’t know anyone in America
  • didn’t have an immediate place to live
  • had to endure processing with arrival here
  • was just a teenager, thrust into a strange land!

How did all those fears wind up affecting her throughout her life? She had her bumps in the road, and very painful experiences in later years, but she and my grandfather certainly lived their version of the American dream. They:

  • Got factory jobs and proved themselves to be quickest, most efficient workers
  • Ran successful businesses in not one, but two, restaurants
  • Built a house and paid cash for it
  • Put the house on an expanse of land that featured fruit trees and large gardens
  • Took a dream trip back to their homeland to visit family
  • Survived very hard times, starting with the Great Depression
  • Were married for over six decades
  • Were mentors and teachers for many (including myself)

Pretty impressive stuff, in my opinion. Fear can be a killer, but my grandparents refused to let it stand in their way.

Burning Clocks

With Wrecking Ball, Bruce Springsteen set out to write a song about the demolition of the old Giants Stadium. He instead came up with an anthem about fighting back hard times and the ultimate decay of our lives.

In the song, the lyrics ring out “When your game has been decided, and you’re burning the clock down…”

Folks, life is short. The game has nearly been decided. Our clock is burning down. It’s hard to take action on the truly important because of the all of the little things that need to be done. As my cousin once said, “Life gets in the way.”

Make a point to push it out of the way.

Decades from now, none of us will be here. No one will remember, and no one will care whether you lived your life just paying the bills and watching reality television, or if you chased down your own version of the immigrant dream.

Historical greats of the past are now a blip on the radar screen, profiled in only books and memories. Unless you cure cancer or eradicate poverty, you will be too. So what’s stopping you?

Seriously, if my two little, tiny Italian grandparents can come to America and create their own world with all their obstacles, what excuse can the rest of us possibly have?

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25 Health & Weight Loss Tips From A Former Fat Guy. I Need Them More Than Ever

After my last post, I was all pumped up to write the next, revealing tips and advice on how I lost a bunch of weight when I was younger, and how I have managed to maintain my good health since then.

I started the draft of the post, doing my outline and taking notes, thinking of what a great piece of writing it would be, and how it could help. On the Friday before Columbus Day, I received a mail packet from my physician with the results of a recent blood test.

Briefly, some of my test results were less than optimal. My blood glucose levels were on the high side, but that wasn’t the number that set off the alarms. I had a triglyceride reading of 472. Above 500 is something my doctor refers to as “dangerously high”.

To say I was bummed by this would be an understatement. I was shocked, frankly. I thought I was living the right kind of life, that would keep me healthy. But, I wasn’t really living it at all. I definitely got more than a little mad at myself for this. And my ambition to write the next post was a little deflated.

For those that are unfamiliar with triglycerides, just think “fatty acids in your blood”. An overabundance of them puts you at risk for heart disease. Factors like a diet excessive in carbohydrates and alcohol use can raise your triglyceride level.

Apparently, the “party all weekend” mentality has caught up with me.  🙂

To lower these numbers, my doctor wanted to put me on a low dose prescription medication. I think I’m going to hold off on that for now, and try lifestyle change instead. Modifying my diet, as well as stepping it up with daily exercise.

After some consideration, I’ve decided to go through with the original post idea (it was meant to be part two of this previous post), although part of me feels that I’m obviously not the expert on living a healthy life. But, I have lost a ton of weight before, and I can keep this info in front of my face and make myself healthier by sharing with others. A win-win.

I don’t have a problem going this route now, as starting to change my eating and activity  habits seems to be working for me. Last week, I weighed in a 206.5 lbs. This week I’m at 203.

Here’s my two cents on what helped me lose weight in the past, and what will hopefully get me back to better health now:

  • Eat healthy foods that you actually enjoy eating.
  • For me, this includes fruits like apples and bananas, eggs, chicken breast, turkey, and green veggies cooked with garlic and olive oil.
  • Go for natural foods every time, not stuff in a box.
  • Just because the box has words like “lean” and “healthy” on it doesn’t make it so
  • In other words, be wary of food marketing. Educate yourself.
  • Eat only pastas that end in the letter “i”  🙂
  • Exercise. Your first move: push the plate away.
  • Moderation, in all things, is the key.
  • Avoid drive-through windows like the poison center they are.
  • If you must do the drive-through, get the salad.
  • Salads don’t mean “boring eating”. You can add to them with lean proteins, nuts,  and berries to make them filling and tasty. Just no fatty dressings.
  • Track your meals for a week. You might be surprised what you put in your body.
  • Pick a “cheat day”. Mine is Sunday.
  • On that day, have yourself some pizza and ice cream.
  • Just don’t eat a whole pizza and a gallon of ice cream.
  • Use the stairs. Leave the elevators for the elderly and the handicapped.
  • Exercise. Try walking. You have all the equipment you need.
  • Eat sweet potatoes instead of white.
  • By the way, have I mentioned fruits and veggies?
  • I’ve cut just about all sugar out of my diet. You can reduce it too.
  • I’ve eliminated white flour. This is poison too. Whole grains only.
  • Ask yourself: Would a caveman have eaten this?
  • Cavemen ate meat they killed and plants that grew on trees or in the ground. They didn’t have Pringles and Doritos back then.
  • Consume alcohol moderately, or not at all. Red wine is a good choice if you must.
  • Exercise. My doctor’s letter practically screamed the word “aerobic” at me. I’m running now. For my life.

Bonus Tip: Exercise some more. Make it fun! Since I’ve gotten those test results, I’ve walked, jogged, sprinted with my dog, played touch football with my son and his friend, did jumping jacks, and calisthenics. I jumped rope last night for the first time in years. Wanna sweat? Try jumping rope for 15 or 20 minutes. I had a blast!

What would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments, I can use all the help I can get!

Hi, My Name Is Joe. And I’m Addicted To Food.

My wife and I indulge in a guilty pleasure each morning before we leave for work. Nope, it’s not what you’re thinking. This little slice of sin that we partake of is seeing what senseless drivel NBC is promoting on the TODAY Show.

I will give credit when it is due. At times, the show will have a story that is riveting and inspiring, like the one about the late Navy SEAL Aaron Vaughn. But, for the most part, I think a lot of what TODAY offers is, to be kind, less than stellar.

It’s like that train wreck that you shouldn’t look at, but you can’t turn away.

What the show seems to specialize in is turning the spotlight on people who do things that are stupid and/or detrimental to their lives, and then refuse to take responsibility for it. For that, you get the reward of an interview with Matt and Ann.

One of this week’s features was “food addiction”. You know, the type of addiction that happens with drugs and alcohol, but with burgers and fries instead.

It was, in a word, awesome. It detailed the life story of a woman who said she tried all kinds of diets, and always struggled with certain types of food. She was addicted to it. She finally opted for surgery as a last resort to lose weight. No mention of attempting a  healthy lifestyle, vegetables, walking, exercise, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Just diets (which ultimately fail: lifestyle change = success) and surgery.

I will say, I did empathize. Because I think I’m addicted too.

You heard me right. My name is Joe. And I may have a food addiction.

My drug of choice is Italian food. When I’m not eating it, I’m talking about it with a friend or a co-worker. If I’m not talking about it, I’m probably thinking about it. Or I’m watching my wife cook it. Sometimes, I cook it. I’ve just begun, within the last couple of years, to take a serious interest in what happens in the kitchen. And I’m not bad at it.

I make a mean tomato sauce. And I do some other things very well too.

Yup, say words like marinara, carbonara, puttanesca, cannoli…you may as well be on a street corner, whispering “Hey, pal…you want some of this?”

We all have our issues. I’ve certainly had my struggles with food. When I was a kid, I was the pudgy pre-teen that was an easy target for the occasional cruel comment or joke. I did what I needed to do, taking responsibility for myself, to take that weight off. Back then, I used inspiration from Sly Stallone’s breakthrough project to possibly save my life.

Back when I was a kid, there was no such thing as a frivolous lawsuit against a restaurant you thought made you fat because they put a gun against your head and forced you to super size the fries. Nope, that phrase “personal responsibility” reared its ugly head.

Almost one in three people are obese at this point in our country, and there seems to be some confusion as to why it happens, and what can be done about it. In the battle for the title of most obese nation, America’s the champ. Were number one…

Although weight loss tips may not apply to everybody (read: don’t post an angry comment here on how your glands don’t allow you to lose weight–I’m covering all my bases), some very simple but time tested principles will always work when trying to drop some lbs and get in better shape.

Want some tips from a former fat guy on how to lose weight and keep it off? Sweet. Stop by for the next post to get the “skinny” 🙂 To make sure you don’t miss it, just subscribe already. I won’t spam you, offer you a free e-book (yet), or try to sell you anything other than the advantages of putting some Old School principles into your hectic, short attention span, modern life.

My grandmother and grandfather showed them to me. So I know they’re right.

Like this post? Tweet me. Share with your friends. Facebook is good. Do the right thing.

What Do You Believe In?

My eleven year old son lost a tooth the other night in what has been a succession of lost teeth over the last few weeks. The only difference with this one is the tooth fairy forgot to  slip some money under his pillow in exchange for the tooth (damn short term memory).

This led to a discussion with Mom about, well, how Mom and Dad actually are the tooth fairy. Over the initial shock, he seemed to take it pretty well. Since his reaction was less than explosive, my wife took it a step further… to include Santa and the Easter Bunny.

At first, I couldn’t believe she was doing it. I think both my son and daughter are growing up too fast as it is, and I wasn’t sure if telling him that Santa and his reindeer are fiction was the greatest idea.

I thought, in the past,  maybe my writing partner Gabrielle would spill the beans to her brother about Santa and his holiday crew (she has an affinity for the Great Pumpkin). Impressively, she kept it tightly under wrap.

Turns out he suspected it, anyway. Although Suzie and I have always made a big fuss about leaving cookies and milk for Santa and seeing hoof prints from the reindeer in the snow, the little boy spied gifts from Santa he unwrapped on Christmas Day in the back of a mini van in a department store bag.

I know they’re growing up. I know the concept of “being realistic” is setting in.

I knew they weren’t going to believe forever.

Tooth fairy or not…there’s some things Dad thinks they have to believe:

I want them to believe in themselves. Without self confidence, the world can be a hard place. Even if they don’t feel confident, I’d like to see them fake it. Until they are. With a good dose of confidence, their opportunities will open right up.

I want them to believe that they will always have something to offer the world. Because they do. I’ve already posted of my daughter’s budding talents in art, writing, and photography. My son already has a martial arts black belt, and is honing his skill in baseball. They have the ability now to help and inspire others if they want to.

I want them to believe that no matter how many times they get knocked down, they can always get back up. Dad can tell them a little about rejection. I work with it every day. The sting of rejection goes away the more you deal with it.  If you’re not meeting some resistance, you’re not doing anything of consequence.

I want them to believe there are no shortcuts. The very best way to win, do a task, fulfill a dream, achieve a goal is desire: to want it just a little bit more than the next guy (or girl) and give maximum effort to do it.

It’s a very simple solution that their great grandparents could have taught them. Just outwork everybody else.

I want them to believe, no matter what, Mom and Dad will always have their back. Enough said here. My wife and I could not imagine loving anyone more. We’ve got your back.

I want them to believe that no matter how old they get, living the dream is always possible. Even if they get caught up in the cycle of education, getting a job, paying the bills, wrestling with the mortgage, and wondering if a retirement is even possible… they can always believe in something more, no matter what “it” is.

Even if you’re in your forties and you still wonder what you may be when you finally grow up…you’ve still got time.

That’s my case. What do you believe in?